Category Archives: Singapore

69th Discussion: Lydia Kwa’s Pulse

Moderator: Brian
Attendees: Alexius, Kenneth, Raj, Timmy

The idea of bondage in a predominantly Singaporean setting intrigued us to read the book, though not enough to sustain our interest in it – all of us disliked it, with Kenneth finding the novel “myopic” and not relatable, and Brian claiming “struggling” to finish the book, “paragraph by paragraph”.

THEMES
The usage of kabuki was questioned – why the Japanese term instead of bondage? Kenneth explained the difference between Japanese bondage (not a sexual fetish, more instinctive, cultured and all about aesthetics) and Western bondage. He further added that the ideology was only touched on a superficial level. Brian had hoped that there were more bondage scenes.

With reference to the above and sex, Raj opined that Natalie only did bondage and controlled sex because she has difficulty letting go and being free. Overall, we are in the belief that the book painted Singapore and Singaporeans as a repressive society.

Raj found the portrayal of mother figures in the novel stereotypical and delusional – far worse than the portrayal of gay men. Kenneth thought how the grandmother was written was a representation of her generation, while Alexius saw her as offering Natalie nothing much apart from “gambling her life away”. There also seemed to be a generational divide, with the old folks seeming guarded and the younger generation adopting a devil-may-care attitude.

Kenneth interpreted the use of fortune telling as an “informed way of looking at life”, though Alexius found it stereotypical in relation to race, preferring that tarot cards be used instead.

On the issues of race and racism, Raj described the book as “rojak gone wrong”, noted that Indian people were only featured in the book as an afterthought. Brian highlighted the anti-white sentiments. Alexius observed that the Peranakans were aggressive and quipped that “if Adam was an ang moh, he should have gone with a Malay boyfriend.”

There was also semi-political tones adopted throughout the book which, according to Alexius, alluded to the government’s relations with the Malay community. Brian, however, begged to differ, stating that the book tries to avoid being political.

CHARACTERS

None of us liked any of the characters, with Alexius deeming all of them as fakers.

Brian outright hated Natalie, while Raj found her to be full of herself.

Alexius felt that Selim sacrificing himself to be a stretch though Kenneth empathised with the character.

There were still a couple of things that we liked about the book: the romantic innocence and first loves (Raj) and an oddly “feel good book” as “other people have duller lives in comparison (Alexius). Brian liked a particularly paragraph in Chapter 5 which he thought went against the rest of the book. Raj was touched by the ending.

By the end of the discussion, we still stood firm in disliking the book. Brian deemed the book empty, while Raj thought it tried to cram in too many ideas and didn’t challenge anything. “Like a city bus,” he purred.

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Filed under Canada, Family, Lydia Kwa, Queer, S/M, Singapore

23rd Discussion: Eleanor Wong’s Invitation to Treat (17 Aug)

Li Sian and Raj were against the rest of us. Li Sian argued there is a general development of the trilogy from the personal coming out to themes such as kinship and religion and finally to building a lesbian community. There is a political awakening in each of the three plays. Both Jason and Davina liked Wills & Secession for the issues being brought up and because Grace is the only character Davina could identify with. Javin thought that the plays are preachy and self-righteous and the characters don’t have psychology behind them.

1. Themes:

a. Class: One reason why Davina couldn’t identify with the trilogy is that the lesbians are all middle-higher class earners. It seems that, Aaron argued, to be lesbian in Singapore, one has to be successful or risk non-representation. Alex reminded us that these are plays, written for a relatively exclusive class of people. Davina then continued that these are “dangerous” plays. What if this were the one book she turned to to find out the lesbian existence in Singapore? The plays would easily fall into the stereotype that homosexuality is a rich person’s “disease.” The poor can’t be gay. Feeding on Davina’s idea, Aaron said that the opposite is true, that is money is used to glamorize lesbianism and indeed why such insecurity, and such overcompensation? On the other hand, Li Sian reasoned that it is unreasonable that we shouldn’t expect activistic work from the plays; and Timmy commented that Wong is only writing the world she knows. Raj, while defending the play, called it “self-centred” but so what? Aaron noted then that if Wong is only writing for herself, then she’s “self-centred,” why do we read her? If she is writing for others, to be performed as plays, then she fails to represent lesbians probably.

b. Religion: Li Sian provided us with the statistics that 35% of the highest earners are Christians and 50% of the politicians on a *er-hum* certain country are Christians. So when they speak in Parliament, their morality stems from their high class status and their religion, very out of touch with the society.

c. Men: Jason pointed out that all men are depicted as assholes, especially Grace’s husband. Timmy further observed even the one gay man is stereotypical, acting as comical relief and perfidious. Li Sian defended the writing that at least the men are complex and interesting.

d. Women: Raj notes that the lesbians are all strong woman characters but Aaron pondered over the lack of representation.

e. Politics: Li Sian very astutely noticed that the personal is political where it comes to Ellen although Javin found the message to be propagandistic and preachy.

f. Love/ Relationship: Raj noted the parallel image of a 3-way relationship in the first and last play. Li Sian saw the acceptance of a threesome as queer. Isaac suggested that the plays are about opening spaces of possibilities, including the possibility of a 3-way relationship. Jason, however, brought up the line that resonates throughout the plays, that is, there is no rule book for lesbians but he contended that there surely must be, such as respect for each other.

2. Characters:

a. Ellen: Lots of conspiracy theories revolving Ellen. Timmy claimed Ellen makes use of Jon. Li Sian thought it was a marriage of convenience. Javin believed that Ellen takes a stab at normalcy and Raj conjectured that Ellen is tired of failed lesbian relationships and she’s filling up the gap left by her parents. Li Sian has much respect for Ellen as “she changed my life.” Ellen is radical as a gay icon, Li Sian argued convincingly, because Ellen has a child, lives her life as she wants–honestly–while doing activist work. Aaron wondered if Ellen’s first world problems are trivial because the problems portray a very selfish, egoistic and narrow-minded self. Even Isaac, known for his beneficence, agreed that although Wong is writing on a universal issue, she presents it such that few people could identify with it. Li Sian rightly countered that first world problems are problems too. Jason chipped that although Ellen is flawed and egoistic, it is what makes her human. Aaron further claimed that Ellen has no personal development. In each play, she makes the same kind of mistakes over and over again. When will she ever learn? When will she grow? Raj alleged that perhaps it’s Ellen’s personality, so why can’t she make the mistake over and over again?

b. Sam: Jason pitied Sam for her parentage although Li Sian said that from experience children from divorced families are happier than from families in which parents stay together in an unhappy state. Aaron said that Sam grows up sane and successful to prove a point, of course, that lesbians can make good mothers.

c. Grace: The naming of “Grace” is important, Jason noted, since it is the cause of Ellen’s overcompensation and her attitude towards her parents. Li Sian liked how Grace proves that a Christian can also be accepting of homosexuality, can be a good person and a good sister. Javin jumped in, saying that Grace as an exemplar is propagandistic.

As we concluded the session, no side could convince the other. Raj still liked the plays, just because. Like a true blue diva. Li Sian still liked it because it has everything, from the political to existential cycle of being gay. Timmy was still on the fence, saying that the plays are about being human. Being diplomatic, Jason said it is thought-provoking and Davina said it is a starting point for Singapore lesbian literature. Alex hated the mawkishness of it; Isaac thought that although the book is on a universal theme, not many can identify with it; Javin believed it was trying too hard to persuade and convince the audience to accept homosexuals. Having watched the performance, Aaron was at first partial to the plays but as the discussion went on, he had a nagging feeling the plays were elitist and the characters are very unlikeable.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Eleanor Wong, Family, Lesbian, Love, Play, Politics, Religion, Singapore

1st Discussion: Johann Lee’s To Know Where I’m Coming From (17 Sept 2009)

Isaac, Nathan and I were at the meeting. It was a cozy and comfortable discussion. There isn’t much to write about the book because we didn’t like it much: thought that the plot is implausible; the characterization of characters, weak and full of stereotypes; the protagonist is narcissistic and egoistic; and the general moral of the book is uncritical.

However, Nathan seemed to have a soft spot for the trilogy. Perhaps because it speaks to him. 🙂

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Filed under Class, Family, Gay, Johann Lee, Love, Post-Colonialism, Singapore