Dear friends, I will be appearing in two events at the Georgetown Literary Festival in Penang, one of my favourite kampung-like cities in the world. It’s my first time at this festival, so quite thrilled. Friends, food and fun aside, I’m looking forward to meeting Rehman Rashid, whose classic book, A Malaysian Journey, partly inspired Sumana and my own bicycle trip around Malaysia in 2004. … Continue reading Georgetown Literary Festival, Penang: Nov 28-30
Dear friends, I just wanted to share some thoughts from my second book launch this past Tuesday. If you want to find out more about the book’s content and cover, please see my earlier post here.
I really enjoyed the launch. As in, it was genuinely fun. Lots of banter up on stage between Donald Low, my co-author, David Skilling, the moderator, and myself before the event. Engaging conversation and audience questions throughout on a range of important and sometimes emotive subjects, from Goh Keng Swee’s doubts in 1972 about Singapore’s emerging economic model to the recent uproar over the mooted Philippines Independence Day Celebration in Singapore this June.
If you are keen to see what you missed, here is a 22min video of the session.
Dear friends, I am very happy to announce the release of my new book, Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, co-authored with Donald Low, with contributions by Linda Lim and PJ Thum, and published by NUS Press.
Do you recognise the image on the cover? Scroll to the bottom of this post to find out more about it.
Availability in Singapore
Donald and I will be taking part in a discussion at NUS, moderated by David Skilling of the Landfall Strategy Group. Bookhaven will be selling copies there at S$20 per book (usual price S$24).
Date: April 22nd 2014 Time: 6:00pm to 7:30pm Venue: Bookhaven, NUS U-Town. 2 College Avenue West, Singapore, Singapore 138607 (see here)
Registration is free, but necessary as space is limited. Click here to do so.
For those who cannot make it on April 22nd but still want a personalised copy autographed by the two of us—at the launch price—please order through me directly by April 22nd morning, for collection at NUS Press.
To order, send an email with your details, including autograph instructions (if any), to firstname.lastname@example.org. The S$20 is payable to NUS Press upon collection there (see here).
Otherwise, the book should be available in all good bookstores, including NUS Press itself, by end April.
Digital versions (Amazon, Apple, Kobo and B&N) will be ready by end April. We are still working out the Google Play delivery. Worldwide hard copies should also be available on Amazon by July 31st—although they are notorious for delays with hard copies.
Do check back here for updates; or click the “Follow” button at the bottom of this page to receive my blogposts automatically.
What is the book about?
The book is a collection of essays on Singapore, each dealing with a different policy or social dimension—including history, meritocracy, social security, housing and identity.
More important than the specific topics, perhaps, is the spirit of the book. Each essay challenges one or more assumptions of the Singapore consensus—from vulnerability to elite governance—and suggests policy alternatives, some fairly radical, to the limited and narrow options that are often presented in public discourse here.
Will greater welfare necessarily harm Singapore’s competitiveness? Does Singapore need high immigration in order to keep growing and raise living standards? Are ethnic classifications—Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others—and quotas in HDB estates necessary in order to maintain ethnic harmony?
Note: This is an on-the-road blog post. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin. In the interest of clarity, although I wrote most of this letter when in India, I am actually clicking “Publish” when in S Africa, where I am visiting my wife for a few days.
By the time Kirit and I reach Punjab, buses have broken our backs. Unable to secure a seat on any northbound train, we board a series of overnight buses—Pondicherry to Hyderabad; Hyderabad to Nagpur; Nagpur to Indore; Indore to Jaipur; Jaipur to Chandigarh; and, finally, Chandigarh to Amritsar—collectively taking more than 50 hours over some 3000km, greater than the distance from Hong Kong to Singapore, or Houston to San Francisco.
In Indore we break our journey for a few days, visiting my Nani’s house every day for home cooking. Then, as if to compensate for those comforts, our karma delivers the bus from hell. We have two “upper sleepers” on a “Non-AC bus” to Jaipur. This doesn’t sound too shabby, but when we board we find a dirty, old interior. The faux leather plastic on my bed’s “headrest” is completely worn, exposing the spongy foam beneath. Every time I lift my head up, I find little bits of black foam clinging lovingly to my hair. The bed itself is sandy. That is partly its steady state, and partly my doing, as I keep my soiled slippers up there with me, rather than down below on the even filthier bus floor, where they might get trampled on by even filthier slippers.
Across the aisle, on a double-sleeper on the other side of the bus, are my travel companions: an elderly man and his white terrier, “Kutta”, literally dog in Hindi. Kutta is actually quite cute, but he annoys me by barking sporadically and also because I’m envious of his royal diet: burfi, which I look at longingly, every time the man places one delicately in Kutta’s mouth. Kutta’s bark isn’t the only aural pain. At every available opportunity our bus driver blares his irritating horn, which in India can range from the multi-layered melodious to the fart-like. The racket is worse than anything those post-South Africa 2010 Vuvuzuela nuts conjured. I regret booking a sleeper in the front of the bus.
Note: This is an on-the-road blog post. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin. In the interest of clarity and transparency, although I wrote most of this letter when in India, I am actually clicking “Publish” when in Singapore. I am back home now for a few days break.
India is helping me slow down. On Day 1 I am frustrated when I find out it will take three days to get my Indian SIM card. On Day 5 I hear that the new estimate is one week. Babu Uncle, in a rare rationalisation of Indian delays, says something about terrorists and cellphone-activated bombs, but all I can think about is the Roaming Charge Bomb that Singtel will dispatch in three weeks.
Moreover, it’s getting embarrassing and tiresome responding to well-meaning folks who repeatedly ask, “You don’t have a local number?” For writers working abroad today, a local cell number is essential, not only for convenience’s sake, but also because it symbolises, in some small way, a semi-permanent, serious kind of scholarship, as opposed to parachuting, fly-by-night analysis. Continue reading “Letter from India: Kalarippayattu”
Dear friends, given the recent hullabaloo over the arrest of a Singaporean cartoonist, and the fact that it’s Labour Day, I thought I might share a somewhat naughty cartoon that pokes fun of Lee Kuan Yew’s handling of workers (Pekerja), the opposition (Pembangkang), minority cultures (Kaum minoriti) and Chinese education (Pendidikan Cina).
This is the front cover of the Feb 1983 issue of a now defunct Malaysian bilingual monthly publication, Nadi Insan. This hangs on the “Press Freedom Wall” in Malaysiakini‘s KL office.
No disrespect to the old man; but I always find it interesting to see depictions of Malaysia and Singapore (and our leaders) by the other side.
I have so many questions about this cartoon: Did LKY do something particularly nasty in late 1982 to provoke this cover? What exactly does the caricature represent? It seems like he’s wearing a sumo outfit, but with the face and fangs of one of those scary Indonesian monsters. Comments, thoughts much appreciated. Continue reading “Cheeky Harry cartoon from Malaysia, 1983”
Singapore’s national security policies are outdated and in dire need of revision. These policies are heavily influenced by the paranoias of the 1960s, when a vulnerability fetish gave rise to a siege mentality amongst Singaporean leaders that persists today. But Singapore’s main security threats now are not other states but non-state actors, specifically pirates and terrorists. Continue reading “Singapore’s outdated national security policies”
Dear friends, I wanted to share some good news about my book, Floating on a Malayan Breeze. Barely two months after the launch, the book has been sent for a second print run. The first run of 1,750 is almost gone. That is small beer for an international book, but pretty good for a niche topic–when I first signed up with HKU Press, an editor … Continue reading Floating on a Malayan Breeze has been sent for a second print run!