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Alternative Literary Eco-system

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On July 12, filmmaker Jason Soo and poet Ally Chua received their Singapore Unbound Fellowship awards from award-winning filmmaker Tan Pin Pin at UltraSuperNew in Singapore. The award enabled Jason to travel to Thailand to interview the exiled aging members of the Communist Party of Malaya, a project for which he would never have received funding from the government. Ally, who will be coming to NYC this year, will experience the freedom and trust that a true writer deserves since she does not have to complete any reports at the end of her stay. Having selected her, we believe in her talent, promise, and determination. She will be free to grow and follow her writerly instincts.

As I explained at the event, Singapore Unbound has developed a literary ecosystem that provides an alternative to the one run by the state. Our biennial literary festival and monthly readings offer a showcase for excellent writing. The fellowship…

The Southern Ridges

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Yesterday I ran to the top of Mount Faber without stopping on my fourth try. Fourth try! I'm really out of shape. At 106 meters (348 ft), Mount Faber is one of the higher hills in Singapore. It is part of the Southern Ridges, a trek through nature established and maintained lovingly by National Parks Board.

From Mount Faber, you could run, or walk, to Telok Blangah Green and then to HortPark, a one-stop gardening resource center. There in the orderly park you could run into Ralph Waldo Emerson, or at least his words. He tells us still that "The earth laughs in flowers." As is characteristic of the American philosopher and writer, the words are unforgettable. Flowers appeal to our eyes and nose. They can even be touched and eaten. But heard? As bursts of laughter from the earth? So they are.

I have the good fortune to meet many flowers of Singap…

The Spirit of Writing, The Spirit of Independence

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Is there really a spirit of writing here, in Dumaguete, the sea-facing capital of the province of Negros Oriental, in the Philippines? My guide, fiction writer and heritage activist Ian Rosales Casocot, thinks so. He teaches creative writing at the oldest writing workshop in the country. He has seen many writers, new and established, discover that spirit in their time here. Yesterday I broke my dry spell in Asia and revised a poem that I had shelved.

Silliman University, where Ian teaches, is the oldest private American university in Asia. It is a living part of the country's colonial history. As Ian wrote in his blog, when the victorious Americans took over from the Spanish, they imposed English on the country to transmit their values. Ian remembers having to speak English only in grade school. To enforce the rule, the students were made to play a "game" called Badge. Whoever forgot himself and spoke Bi…

Cebu Day 1-3

First visit to the Philippines. Arrived in Cebu on Wednesday. Had dinner in Jollibee near the Maxwell Hotel.

On Thursday, visited the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. The Christ child is the patron saint of Cebu, but a child with dark skin and black curly hair. Devotees lined up to pray to the icon in the chapel but there were replicas for sale in the church gift shop too. Replicas in the basement museum too, which are for traveling around the country and for bathing in the sea on a holy day. Along the cloisters of the church were paintings and stories about the miracles of the Child. The Tuba (drink) Provider. The Fishmonger (the Child plays a prank on a seller of fish). The Patriot (The Child signs up to defend the Philippines). The Speedy Boater. The Rainmaker. Beautiful and cool garden in the middle. Woman sitting under the shade of the Church. Saw Magellan's Cross behind the basilica.

Walked through the Carbon market to Ermita neighborhood, which reminded me of Goh Poh Seng…

Future Tense

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Because I'm flying tonight, first to Singapore and then to the Philippines (for the Cebu Literary Festival), I'm writing my weekly column on a Sunday and scheduling it for posting on Thursday. I'm writing in the future tense.

My neighborhood bank in Harlem has just reopened after a thorough renovation. When I told GH, in my Singaporean way, how much quicker the shiny new ATMs are, he reminded me that the machines have replaced human cashiers. Some people have lost their jobs. If the bank was less efficient before, it was because they did not wish to invest in people and open up more counters.

Automation has replaced human beings at a frightening speed and will continue to do so at a dizzying rate. As consumers we have adapted perhaps all too readily to the changes. Even if the machine revolution cannot be stopped, it can be slowed down, so that all of us have time to plan, train, and adjust, to figure ou…

A Perched Privacy

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Last week I was packing up my office stuff in preparation for a move. My school is opening an extension across the road. Unlike the lower school and some other departments, which are moving into the new building, the English Department is only moving from one floor to another in the old building, but still I will miss the tiny office where I have worked for the last 14 years. I will miss the view of the East River and the passing boats.

All moves, big and small, involve complicated feelings. This Sunday I'm flying back to Singapore on my annual visit, back to the country I thought I had left behind in order to come out as a poet and a gay man in NYC. I have made a home of New York, but a made home is not the same as homemade. Those of us who flew away from our birthplace in search of transcendence, whether in art or love, often find ourselves searching for a hearth as well in our adopted city.

This was true of H…

More Than One Kind of People Movement

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On Sunday more than a million Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest against the passing of a bill that will extradite suspected criminals to China for the first time. The protesters suspect that the bill will be used to target political dissent and so accelerate the erosion of their civil liberties. Pictures of the protest march moved many Singaporean on-line commentators to praise Hong Kongers for their love of their freedoms and to wish that Singaporeans would be just as active and passionate about theirs.

Faced with government intransigence over the extradition bill, Hong Kongers mounted a second, smaller, protest on Wednesday, which was met by police tear gas and rubber bullets. 72 people had been hospitalized by the end of the day. Together with other civil-rights organizations, Singapore Unbound condemns the use of excessive force by the government to suppress a people movement. As expected, the Hong Ko…