Posts

Squeaky Wheel

 Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here . The drug-pushers have reappeared at certain street corners of Harlem, the neighbors have complained, and the cops flex their presence with mobile posts. But the policing is lackadaisical because the cops know it's a cat-and-mouse game. More, they know there is an international network of producers, suppliers, and middlemen behind the street-corner pushers, and it is the network that must be dismantled, and not the pushers, who are often addicts and victims themselves.  Some problems appear so vast and complicated that we content ourselves by tackling their most immediate manifestations, instead of aiming at their sources. Our "solutions" fall hard on the little people, and not the powers-that-be. Worse, the problem is then blamed on the little people, thus obscuring the source of the problem and the lack of effective action on the part of the authorities. This is true of Harlem, but also of Singap

Put Cruelty First

 Column written for the weekly Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here . To oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the patriotic motive is foolish, because the same motive may heed the drumbeat of our invasion of others. To oppose the death penalty out of pity for the victim is insufficient, because the soft person is unstable and easily becomes a bully in a mob of bullies. War and legal execution of criminals are acts of violence on different orders, but they share the same element of cruelty, and so must be hated by the genuine liberal. This is just one lesson I took away from reading Judith N. Shklar's 1984 book  Ordinary Vices , recommended to me by a dear friend. Born in Riga, Latvia, of Jewish parents, she fled persecution during World War II with her family to Canada. Later, she became the first woman to receive tenure in Harvard's Government Department.  Ordinary Vices  is written with an eye not on fellow academics but on the ordinary reader. To our current pre

When I Go Home with Someone

Very pleased to be one of the 21 poets in this zuihitsu portfolio , edited by Dana Isokawa and published in the Asian American Writers' Workshop's magazine The Margins. Asked for a note to accompany my three zuihitsu, I wrote this: "I was introduced to the zuihitsu in a workshop on Japanese poetic forms taught by Kimiko Hahn and immediately fell in love with it. How fresh Sei Shōnagon sounds across the centuries! What is the secret to such eternal freshness? Trained in traditional Western forms, I was looking to expand my repertoire by looking again to the East, and what I found was not so much a form as a voice. Sure, Sei Shōnagon is a privileged snob, as a literary friend pointed out with a sniff, but I love to put on her beautiful robe, rub some precious rouge on my cheeks, burn a fine incense stick, and wait for my lover to arrive in the night."

How to Treat Your Immigrant Artist

 Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here . At a dinner party that I moved from Singapore to New York for—with guests by turns intensely and merrily passionate about books and the arts—my hostess, an art historian and curator, spoke about a Black immigrant artist who was receiving a great deal of attention right then and the difficulty of getting in touch with her because of the phalanx of gallerists and publicists monitoring everything that she said and did. It's a danger of being an immigrant artist, I replied in a non sequitur, the temptation to produce work that would please, even flatter, your host country.  Oh, my hostess said, I don't hold it against the artist. It's so hard out there, you do everything you can to survive and thrive.  Her words came back to me yesterday while I was viewing the show  "Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands"  at the National Portrait Gallery in DC. The show is billed as the first solo exhibition

Moral Disgust

 Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here . The SUSPECT editorial team has heard that a reader of our journal was horrified by the depiction of child rape and marriage in the story  "Beauty and the Jinn"  by Rahad Abir. The reaction was not unexpected, but nevertheless we're glad to have this opportunity to explain our editorial stance and share some of our internal discussions, which are still evolving.  Rahad Abir's story "The Beauty and the Jinn" is very realistic in depicting child rape and marriage for the purpose of exposing what is prevalent in his native Bangladesh, as Rahad's audio recording at the end of the story explains. The story's realism is intended to provoke moral disgust and outrage over what is often normalized or silenced in the country, and, as one editor reminded us, elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia. Another editor added, "As it stands, the story makes clear two things—the devastating i

"The Pediatrician"

The Pediatrician for Lakshmi Ganapathi (WhatsApp video call, October 19, 2019) The playground, a pin cushion, needles here, needles there, stuck in her mind but also the fun of being children among children, without a care for streaming, only screaming their hearts and lungs out in mock threat and fear. The honest threat struck in an HIV hospice in India, where as a volunteer she heard a sex worker her age—eighteen—dying and the steep silence of the stricken mother whose ten-year-old just died. Their chronicles made her resolve to work in global health. Singapore gave next to no room for it but corridors of senior doctors screaming at juniors, or else dropping words like acid. She saw her self changing, her world contracting to a conveyor belt, another Yeo’s packet drink with a well-wrapped plastic straw. She wanted more, for herself, for her work, friends who are less, not more and more, like her.... Thanks, Lakshmi, for sharing your stories with me. And thanks, Ian Chung, for publish

Canceled By The State

 Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here . Constance Singam is a towering figure in Singapore's civil society. President of the women's rights group AWARE for three separate terms, she also served as the President of the Singapore Council of Women's Organizations. Her advocacy is not limited to gender equality. She helped create the Society Against Family Violence, The Working Committee to support activism in Singapore, and a foreign workers' rights group that became Transient Workers Count Too. She is one of the lead signatories of the #READY4REPEAL petition to abolish the anti-LGBTQ law, 377A. Singapore Unbound was honored to have her judge our first writing fellowship to NYC, together with two other judges. The launch of her newly expanded memoir  Where I Was: A Memoir About Forgetting and Remembering  is keenly anticipated, as it promises to bring the story of this remarkable woman up to date, including the so-called AWARE saga, in w