Both servings of Singapore Siu Dai offer comics and brief comedy sketches that exaggerate the ironies of life on the island and lovingly poke fun at aptly named fictional characters meant to caricature the island’s people.
Though I can’t help but feel that the target audience consists of people who are familiar with acronyms like MOE (Ministry of Education) and the ubiquitous Singlish speech particle ‘lah’, there’s a glossary that explains these and other potentially opaque terms, noting whether they are Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin or Singlish.
Luckily for foreign readers, one of the entries explains the phrase ‘siu dai’, which means ‘less sugar’, the idea being that these sketches depict Singapore, warts and all.
There’s a third Siu Dai book that I haven’t yet managed to snag.
When I Read Singapore Siu Dai 1 and 2
Singapore Siu Dai 1
Date started / date finished: 17-Nov-20 to 17-Nov-20
Length: 129 pages
Originally published in: 2014
Singapore Siu Dai 2
Date started / date finished: 19-Nov-20 to 23-Nov-20
Length: 139 pages
Originally published in: 2014
Award-winning Singaporean author Catherine Lim has written many books, but this is the first one to find its way into my collection. I don’t think it’s typical; it’s a rather short novel based on a cruise she went on.
I’m not a fan of semi-fictionalized stories (like Roots) that chase two rabbits and catch neither. Memoir-type stories are interesting as accurate representations of unusual situations, whereas novels entertain by telling carefully constructed, dramatic stories. If you’re composing a memoir, you create drama by choosing what to include and what to omit, but you don’t invent things. If you’re writing a novel, you invent pretty much everything. If you switch back and forth from recording to creating, I never know whether you’re relating something that happened, or something you imagined. The result is a feeling of cognitive dissonance.
The genesis of Meet Me was, according to the author’s preface, accidental, and its publication reluctant. When Lim was on the Queen Elizabeth 2, she wanted to write satirically about the people she met. After penning her thoughts, however, she found that the ship had subverted her intentions and made her instead write unflatteringly about herself, at which point she thought maybe she wouldn’t actually publish anything about the cruise. Nevertheless, here we are. And there she is on the cover.
If you’re going to read a navel-gazing book about a female author’s mid-life crisis, read Eat, Pray, Love. There’s a reason Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest to find God or a man or whatever is one that hundreds of thousands of people have read about and/or watched. To the extent that Gilbert rewrote her own experiences by leaving out the messy or unsatisfying bits, her story became stronger as a story. When we read narrative non-fiction, we still look for narrative as well as truth.
When and Why I Read Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2
First book I've read by this well-known Singapore novelist.
Date started / date finished: 10-Oct-20 to 11-Oct-20
Length: 210 pages
Originally published in: 1993
Amazon link: Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2
I attended a talk on worldbuilding by Singaporean author JY Yang and took some photos and notes. My notes are not comprehensive, but are hopefully characteristic.
In keeping with Yang’s preferences, in the notes below, I have used they/them/their pronouns. (Still, being somewhat of a traditionalist in the realm of English grammar, I wish there were a distinct gender-neutral singular.)
About JY Yang (from Sing Lit Station)
After six years of writing speculative fiction, JY Yang finally finds themselves at the end of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Tensorate series, with the fourth and final volume, The Ascent to Godhood, out in July this year. As a postcolonial feminist writer who deals specifically with gender, cultural imperialism and structures of power in their work, JY Yang is currently embarking on the epic journey of crafting their first novel-length work of fiction. Described as a far-future space opera centred on the descendants of a doomed generation ship, it has giant robots, space stations under siege, emperors and hierophants, holy artifacts and faster-than-light travel. It is Joan of Arc meets Gundam.
About the Event (Worldbuilding “Lecture” at Sing Lit Station)
There were no PowerPoint slides; I can’t imagine the talk proceeding in that way. Yang was animated, spontaneous, and concise in sharing about their struggles and successes as a writer. The talk was neither wholly about worldbuilding nor off-topic, neither wholly driven by the author nor wholly driven by the audience. The chairs were filled, but there was space for everyone. It was a good-sized group, but still felt intimate. A delightful event.
Continue reading New Terrain / New Works featuring JY Yang at Sing Lit Station