Why We Hate Cheap Things by The School of Life

Why We Hate Cheap Things. In the past, pineapples were expensive and people who bought them kept them as status symbols until they rotted and fell apart. It had almost a ritual quality. Savoring one was like a luxury. The top of the South Towers of St Paul had this divine fruit being perched on it. By the end of the 19th century, technology enabled large plantations to be built. Now, it is no longer deemed as a rare fruit. When the price falls, we become less passionate. In the past, when flying was dangerous and expensive, it seemed thrilling. Now, taking a flight on a commercial aircraft seems a little boring. We definitely do not appreciate the skies as much as Leonardo da Vinci would. The same can be said about having a hot bath. In the past, heating the water was considered difficult. It was largely reserved for war heroes or for the very rich. Now, it is a very common experience and some might even view it as a waste of time. We view cheap prices with a lack of value. Due to the Industrial Revolution, we are now able to make things cheaply. In the past, because of hand labour, more expensive things were associated with higher quality. There was a price to pay for craftsmanship. People hoped that with industrialization, prices would fall. In 1911, the commercial car was born. However, industrialization might have robbed certain experiences of loveliness, interest and worth. Now, it might seem bizarre if we are interested over cheap things. We now favor the things that are expensive. A child’s mind is more curious and wonder-like in nature. Children do not understand money. They can be obsessed with things that do not cost a lot. To adults, costs = value. Over time, when children understand money, they believe that saving for a big purchase is good. The artist Paul Cezanne was obsessed with painting apples and noticing their texture. Every apple exuded their own colour and aura. He was excited over apples, even though he was extremely rich. The fact of life is that we can get great things for little money. We have given up on too many of our native loves. In the modern society, we are drawn into advertising. The issue is that cheap but useable objects do not have sufficient advertising.

We need advertising pursued with the same sense of drama and intensity and ambition but directed towards biros, puddles and olives. – The School of Life

There are two ways to get richer: one is to make more money; the second is to discover that more of the things we could love are already to hand. – The School of Life

Contemplation of the history of the pineapple suggests a curious overlap between love and economics: when we have to pay a lot for something nice, we appreciate it to the full. – The School of Life

A reduction in our esteem for an experience follows a reduction in the cost of obtaining it. – The School of Life

This means that we often end up feeling that we can’t afford good things and that our lives are therefore sad and incomplete. The money hierarchy constantly makes us feel impoverished, while the truth is that there are more good things within our grasp than we believe. – The School of Life

Why We Look Down on People Who Don’t Earn Very Much. If you don’t earn a lot, what you say is unlikely to command much respect. There seems to be a link between talent, effort, skill and income. This is capitalism for you. A person’s wages are determined by the scale of their social contribution. Economics would say that wages solely depend on demand vs supply. Christianity insisted that a person’s worth has no relation to their financial standing. Whether you go to heaven depends on merits. Karl Marx thought that workers should be paid based on their contributions to society. This meant that the wages of the hitmen, casino owners would do down while that of the nurse and the farmer would go up. In the past, lacemaking was a job which was poorly paid. Many painters noticed this and painted pictures of lace-makers at their craft. The artists hoped that through their paintings, more would appreciate the lacemaking craft. Art gives us a sense of a person’s true merit and a willingness to disregard wages. Art can be the answer to bridge the gap between money and human value.

We recognize the phenomenon in our society well enough: the more someone earns, the more they are likely to be admired by strangers, and perceived as interesting and exciting. – The School of Life

On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate. Arts graduates complain about finding employment. Some of them are also underpaid. Some people can’t understand why artists should be paid to study history. People lack a real understanding of what the humanities are about and how it can benefit humanity. The universities also can’t explain why students should pursue humanities. Humanities are the closest we have to replace religion. They are bodies of work that teach us how to lead our lives. We need to reinvent universities. There are practical aspects of reading 19th century literature. Humans crave nourishment as well. There needs to be a new definition of culture.

Good Materialism. Materialism is generally seen as bad. Is there such a thing as good materialism? We have failed to distinguish good from bad materialism. Even religious people have made material items, like shrines, artworks etc. They did so because they believed it developed their souls. Some material possessions can be seen as transubstantiation, where they have both a practical and physical form. Material objects can have a spiritual role in our lives. They can give us a chance to understand ourselves better. We should only purchase things which can lead to the better encouragement of ourselves.

We are still enmeshed in the desire to possess – but we are encouraged to feel rather bad about it. – The School of Life

Why We Are So Bad at Shopping. We need to learn how to shop. Shopping for others is tricky, but we don’t seem to think so for ourselves. Capitalism is supposed to provide us with unlimited options. However, humans are influenced by group instincts. There are very standard consumer patterns in our economy. Our shopping choices are really not that personal. Humans like to follow trends etc. They like to buy what it is fashion in the modern age. We do not want to appear weird in front of our friends. We do not analyze pleasurable activities much. Product reviews don’t help us too much as well.

Part of the problem is that we lack the ability to know, looking back over experiences, what truly brought us pleasure. Our brains aren’t so keen on taking apart their satisfactions – and therefore plotting how to recreate them. – The School of Life

It isn’t that we are too focused on shopping, we are not thinking deeply enough about what we’re doing. We haven’t yet learnt to be doggedly precise enough about pinning down our own fun and making sure we get it. – The School of Life

Using Sex to Sell. Using sex to sell seems cheap and low-class. Ficino believed that humans will move from sex to love. The next stage would be to long and have the capacity to understand. To get someone to understand something, it would to get the person interested in sex. Ficino suggested to Lorenzo to paint pictures of beautiful and sexy people. There is nothing wrong to use it and it has been used in the Renaissance period. However, it is useful to sell something noble. Once our senses are ignited, it is easier to learn. However, there is a need to sell things like books related to wisdom and philosophy.

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Singapore Writer’s Festival 2017 (Part 2)

Why I Write: The Social Responsibilities of a Writer. Many people struggle with mental illness and there is a need to break the silence of mental illness. Try to live each day with dignity. Life is full of ups and downs. But the question is how we live life courageously in the face of trying circumstances. Writers write because there is something deeply that they care about. It is important to write from the heart (pain/loss). It is also important to place content in a suitable medium (make it accessible to blind readers, for instance). Listening without judgment is a skill that not many of us have. Use your sight to observe others and observe keenly. In life, everyone wants to be understood, even the poor or the mentally less able. Learn to inculcate understanding/ acceptance among others. Learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Changing Singaporeans’ mindsets towards mental illnesses is crucial. The aim of most of these books is for Singapore to become empathetic society. Caregivers need support as well and not just the patient/family member etc.

Against All Odds. Sam and her family had a happy life and marriage. They had 3 kids. However, after a fall in Thailand, she was paralyzed from the waist down and this put an end to her sporting endeavors. She could no longer do the things she enjoyed because of this spinal injury. After the incident, she felt depressed and upset with life. However, one day, a penguin came into her house and she found that because she could take care of something so fragile, it sparked inspiration in life and for her to keep going on. If you a writer, something will call out to you. Enjoy the moment in life, carpe diem. The penguin story is a spontaneous thing that happened and it was not planned for. Her husband (Cameron) captured beautiful images of the penguin and told the story of Sam through the bird. The penguin lived with them for 2+ years and the whole family, including the boys adored them. Although Sam can no longer surf, she can still kayak in the lake and train for the para-Olympics competitions. There is a need to learn to compromise after you had a serious accident. You will have to learn to do things in a different way. It is crucial to be physically and mentally active if you want to keep your zest for life. Exercise can definitely help you in a huge way. It is important to remain optimistic in the face of trying circumstances and you will eventually find a way forward.

Aram Across Religions. There are some commonalities across religions. Aram is an Indian word which means ‘what should someone do/what should someone avoid’. It has deep roots in ethics and values. Dhamma is what distinguishes humans from animals. Animals go by their instinct while humans have choice. This is the main difference between animals and humans. Even if you are very intelligent, without aram, you are like a block of wood. Aram consists of 2 main values – basic human values (Do not do harm to others) and values related to one’s life (value-specific ones). Religions all set out with the aim of creating Universal peace. It is interesting because all religious buildings end up with a peak at the top of the structure. Buddha emphasized the importance of discussing points of agreement and not disagreement. There is no need to argue. Literature is important as it portrays experience. All religions move to one being, with common values. There are many things that can be learnt from the Bible. William Wan drove the Kindness movement in Singapore. Love, Kindness, working humbly are all common values that all religions share. However, it is also possible to be an ethical, moral and virtuous person even if you do not faith in God. Buddha also struggled deeply to get rid of his human weaknesses and achieve human enlightenment. There is nobody that cannot be reformed and transformed. It is always important to remain grateful and to remember your roots. You are never good alone as everyone needs the help of others. Rama is a role model for mankind as he shows how to be good when the odds are not in your favor. On the surface, religions have many differences. However, when you go deeper, you will realize that religion is a lot more common than you think. As a human, we need to learn to be passionate and compassionate.

A Brighter Tomorrow? Aram and What the Youth Want. There are 17 Singapore sustainable developmental goals that we all thrive for. It is important to get youth to be involved. Jessica Cheam founded a start-up called Eco-business, which is an NGO. She aims to tackle issues like inequality and climate change. It is important for young people to be passionate about such causes. The story is yours to shape and to develop. The future is in your hands. It is important to give words of encouragement sometimes to others. Help the youth where no one believes in them. Help those people in welfare homes. Ultimately, love is important and if you really care for someone, put your heart into it. Love the person you want to help. Give the opportunity to a young person and you just might change someone’s life. What is the modern Singapore story? Singapore has moved from a third world to first in just 1 generation. However are Singaporeans still hungry? Do they still want to live the material dream? Different generations of people want different things. Migrant female workers are marginalized and can’t speak well. Many are from low-income families and marry poor men. There is too much social injustice. Amanda Chong is doing work in this area to help these migrant workers and their kids. These segments of society need more attention and bringing out the successful stories will help them. Can you be a protagonist in your own story/life?

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The Roll-Away Pumpkin by Junia Wonders and Daniela Volpari

Marla Little’s pumpkin was rolling down the hill. She warned others that it was rolling. She screamed for help and started chasing it. The farmer followed her and gave chase too. The baker saw the pumpkin and decided to join them in the chase, so did the milkman. The butcher joined the party too. The parade marchers followed suit. A group of people thought that the vegetable parade happening after seeing the party chasing after the pumpkin. They were extremely excited as a result. A plump lady decided to prepare food for the party as she felt they needed food. The pumpkin rolled toward the cauldron where the plump lady was brewing soup. She tipped the cauldron so that the pumpkin would enter. The most delicious pumpkin soup was served to everyone. Marla Little was happy. The End.

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Panel Discussion: What are the Boundaries?

This panel discussion was held on 14 April 2016 and featured the following speakers: Loh Chin Ee, Suzanne Choo and Zhou Decheng.

Some of the important questions to ask are the following: Should literature even be taught? Which approach should be adopted? What kind of materials should be covered? The discussion is focused on literature that is taught in the secondary school curriculum. From surveys, over 25% of Singapore’s have heard of local authors like Catherine Lim, Russell Lee, Low Kay Hwa etc. There is a category of works known as canonical works. Should they be introduced? They are essentially a series of books chosen by a select group of people that reflects popular local culture. Should students be made to study such books? Should you choose a popular work or less popular works that reflect societal values? There are 3 possible approaches that be adopted. The first is the heritage view. This is a view that works chosen should reflect the national identity and should have cultural value. This is in line with social studies. However, should controversial books like those on race/religion be chosen as well? The next approach is the multi-perspective one. This is where important issues are raised. These include issues like ‘home/belonging’, ‘cost of living’, ‘family’ etc. Books chosen based on this approach should contain issues where students can relate to. The last approach is the world-lit view where both local and world literature should be studied. By world literature, it does not only include UK and US publications. This approach allows the student to develop a global perspective on issues. Ultimately, there are many questions that still need to be answered. Such as, who selects the books? Should some works be made compulsory or do teachers have some freedom to decide? Should more shorter works be selected, or just one or two long works?

The next area of discussion was on cosmopolitanizing literature education. Arts for arts sake? Oscar Wilde once commented that ‘All art is quite useless.’ In secondary schools, there are many questions in exams that are focused on style. This is closely related to aestheticism. However, this is a dangerous trend and could be the trend of why the number of students studying literature is declining. Formalism is the study of the text alone, without taking account author’s background or the students’ emotion. There is basically nothing beyond the reading of the text. This is the idolatry of the text. Is there no social value in the works? Does the text really no meaning beyond the words used? Is literature really useless? In Singapore, there is a heavy emphasis on American and British works. Instead of formalism, we could introduce cosmopolitan ethical criticism. This encourages students to think about ethical issues, morals and philosophy. This makes them better able to empathize with others and makes them better citizens of the world. Greek ethics is useful and can certainly improve students’ lives. Text could be chosen based on their underlying ethical issues and concepts. Literature could be a good way to introduce simple ethical concepts to students. Some of the text covered in the secondary school syllabus include ‘George Bernard Shaw – Pygamalion’; ‘Arthur Miller – Death of a Salesman’; ‘Mildred Taylor – The Road to Memphis’; ‘Where Angels Fail to Tread – EM Forster’. The books are heavily Western centric. Is there room for more controversial text?

The last discussion was on Chinese literature in Singapore and why we need a paradigm shift in thinking to improve it. The current syllabus covers about 50% classical works and 50% modern works. There is much emphasis on Chinese poetry. The syllabus is also classified according to genre. Both translated works and analysis are tested. Li Bai’s war poems are included as well. In addition to poetry, there is also fiction works like short stories and flash fiction that are covered. Martial arts novels are included too. Even sensitive areas like Gender issues could be themes covered in books.

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Panel Discussion: Why Study Literature?

Why Study Literature? (15 March 2016)

This panel members comprised of Philip Holden, Loh Guan Liang, Tan Tarn How and Tan Chee Lay. The topic of discussion was ‘Why Study Literature?’ The hard truths are that there are less Singaporeans reading literature nowadays despite them believing that there are benefits associated it. Refer to this article on the StraitsTimes. The essential question to ask is ourselves is ‘Can literature even be taught and studied’? Does the Singapore education system support creative ways in teaching literature when there is heavy emphasis on grades? Can the two co-exist?

The current form of assessment in literature requires students to sit for exams and regurgitate facts. This might not be the way to get students interested in the subject. This is because studying for exams often requires memorizing and rote learning. Hence, students might be passive in their learning and not appreciate a sensitive reading of the text. The aim of a literature education is for students to be able to apply what they have learnt. This could be done via the introduction of creative writing in schools. Currently, the required readings in schools, like Shakespeare, might seem too advanced for certain segments of students. As a result, for those who do not have a strong English language proficiency, they might lose interest in literature altogether. This is certainly not ideal. Elements of English literature could be incorporated in the English language syllabus. In lower Secondary, literature should be taught in a fun way so as to pique student’s interest in literature. At this level, a portfolio-based assessment could be introduced. In upper Secondary, some form of examination is inevitable and students should be prepared for some level of rigour in assessment.

Literature is great because it teaches you that accuracy does not equate to the truth all the time. Reading is proven to improve grades in students. In addition, it is the great equalizer and a child from a not well-to-do family who reads widely might be able to break free from poverty via the knowledge attained from reading. In general, literature helps formulate better citizens and make them more tolerant and aware of conflicts that arise in the world. Literature opens your mind to different values, ideas and concepts out there. The beauty of reading fiction is that it enables one to live other people’s lives and see things from other people’s point of view. Asking why people like literature is akin to asking why do people sing, write, dance etc? Such a question is essentially asking something more fundamental: why is there is need for arts? Why are the art important? Singaporeans are known to lead materially comfortable lives but have not attained the level of human flourishing in order first-world cities. Most of us lead mundane drone-like lives, living from day-to-day. Do visit Tarn How’s blog on human flourishing here. Basically, people who like literature are covet rebels. They value self-expression and protest against the certain conflicts that exist in the world. They believe in the value of individuality and do not like to be told what to do. Chinese literature used to be huge in the 1920s, 1930s. However, it has taken a back seat in recent years and you can hardly find a Singaporean Chinese writing in the Chinese language. Despite this, the Writers’ association/Singapore Writers’ association are doing good work. Some of the community centres have also worked hard to compile Chinese short stories/poems written by Singapore Chinese into books.

How do you improve the situation? It would certainly be beneficial for people who like English literature to attend Chinese literature-related events and expose themselves to different cultures. Literature should transcend languages and should be viewed as one. To address the lack of readers/writers, the government could do more in the areas of funding translations works from other languages to English and vice versa. Books in the libraries could be arranged by themes instead of by different languages (current practice). This novel approach might encourage more people to read books in other languages. Views towards works that contain smatterings of Singlish could be viewed more favourably in future. It might even be feasible to introduce such works as literature text for students. The bifurcation of the study of the English language with English literature is a trans-national issue and other countries also battle this problem.

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Singapore Writers Festival 2015 (Part 3)

For part 2, click here.

What is the point of reading literature? Is Singapore at a crisis point in terms of number of students studying literature. The numbers of students studying is declining. Is this concerning at all? Does the rousing turnout at the Singapore Writers Festival mean something? It is important to build a literary eco-system and change the way literature is taught in schools. Literature trains critical thinking and builds a core of critical readers. It also hones critical thinking. There is still this perception that literature is for the elite and for those who have done well in the English language. It is important that more students take literature, believe in it, and convince the future generations to take it as well. The speakers suggested incorporating literature in the study of humanities and the English language in school. In the early days, literature was too associated with the British and the ‘high’ culture. As a result, English literature was separated from the study of the English language. Many in Singapore see language as a form and tool of communication. Reading a book can give you insights which may not be present when you watch a movie made of the same book. It would be good to start students from young, even at the pre-school level. Parental influence and emphasis on reading is also very important for the child. Teachers could be taught how to select rich text for the children. There is currently little data on reading habits in Singapore. One could argue that the arts is not necessary as it does not help to build material wealth. However, the fact is that there are many benefits associated with reading. For instance, it hones your imagination, makes you more human, builds empathy etc. There are segments of society who are very dismissive of the arts as it doesn’t allow one to make a lot of money. Reading must be seen as something that is pleasurable and should be looked forward to even after one leaves school. It also is a great way to hone language ability. In Murakami’s book ‘The Elephant Vanishes’, one of the themes is that of the power of reading and how it can hone philosophical thinking. One way to encourage more to read is to make reading more social (for example: book clubs, SWF etc). Ultimately, literature can be seen as a great equalizer. The poor should read even more as it enables them to dream of a better future and make their life more ‘rich’. The more society reads, the more the chances of writers emerging. Reading is a great way to expand one’s knowledge and imagination. Back in the 1960s, Singapore was more about survival and people had to work hard to make a living. As a result, there was less emphasis on reading and on building an arts culture.

Our Lives, Our Stories. This book is a collection of memoir writing exercises which are all autobiographical in nature. There were a total of 7 authors who each wrote about 3000 words each. The book was published by the National Library Board, Singapore. It all started with a writing workshop at the library. The workshop taught skills like guided autobiography writing. One story was about an author recalling her past as a child helping out in the kitchen in Malacca. Back then, people cooked dishes like salted vegetable and soup. There is still value in traditional cooking in modern society. Recalling the past helps recollect and bring back nostalgic memories. Another story was about the author’s late father. It recalled the moments of how he set foot in Singapore. Her father had a great influence on her life. The third story of how an author recounted the years before her mother’s passing. A major theme of the stories are that of traditional culture, like the Peranakan culture. In the past, families or neighbors traded food with one another so that each family could try different types of food. In general, most grandparents were strict and children grown up to be exact and disciplined. Life is essentially a long journey and it is all about a stream of consciousness. By default, many people live their lives on auto-pilot and do not reflect very much on the past. Writing helps to aid the reflection process and can be therapeutic in nature. After the workshop, many of the authors were pushed and motivated to continue writing. The workshop had the effect of kick starting the habit of writing. Even if your work is not published, writing is a good form of healing and can aid one to overcome grief or grow to accept difficult situations. One can always keep a journal. Knowing your past helps you understand your present situation better. Writers who often write about memoirs usually feel obligated to share with the world something important to them.

Wanderlust and the Promise of the Other. People love travelling for a myriad of reasons. One of which could be to escape the pain after a divorce, for instance. Travelling to a new world brings about new beginnings for all. The featured authors all write from direct experiences. It is always possible to find something new about yourself while travelling. While on the road, keep walking till you get lost. There is inherent beauty in taking the less-trodden path and taking a detour. Even if you take a detour, good things might happen. While travelling, most will realize that not everything goes according to plan. For instance, one of the authors wrote about his experience when he missed his flight. Sometimes, it is helpful to do things that are common to the natives. For instance, one could take a train in the peak hour traffic. It might be difficult to structure a coherent plot when travel experiences are so scattered. At times, experiences help shape your plot. It can all come together. One can worry about the form of the story later, after the first draft. It is also common to add spice to the character’s lives so as to make the plot seem more interesting. When you feel bored overseas, it can also add flavor to the story you are crafting. Language is essentially only one form of communication. When you don’t speak a common language with a native, you will perform hand gestures or body language in order to get your message across. If you can’t fully comprehend what the person is saying, you can interpret his body language and guess what is he trying to say. There is beauty in silence too. Because you can’t speak a common language, you tend to be aware of non-verbal cues and be naturally more aware of your surroundings. Researching on the place before you travel can only do so much. It certainly won’t expose you to the soul of the country and the heart of the city. Often, the books only feature touristy places. Also, sometimes, your travel plans might be disrupted for various reasons. As a result, you might feel frustrated that your plans are not coming to fruition. However, it is important to appreciate the detour. When travelling, one can just plan the essentials like accommodation and transport. It helps to stay with the locals as that represents a more unique culture of the place. Try to write from your own travel experiences.

Critical Stage: Literary Reviews. Is criticism and book reviews important in the literary world in Singapore? Currently, there is a limited number of book reviewers out there. The Straits Times’ Life section did cover book reviews for a few years before ceasing to continue. Currently, there is only a book column in the ST on the weekends. However, it usually covers only foreign books which the general public finds popular or appealing. With the advent of the Internet, reviewers can review books on blogs, social media or good reads etc. Social media has definitely changed the book reviewing landscape. It is natural for authors to want to find out what readers think. There are opportunities for writers to get feedback. The literary scene in Singapore is booming and writers need to get the word out that they are published. It is common for writers to review each others’ work. There is certainly an art to reviewing books and a reviewers’ role should be taken seriously. The Straits Times still has a big part to play in promoting Singaporean literature. There are many publishers out there. The Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS) is a book platform to review Singaporean literature and for writers’ to get feedback. There might be issues of conflict of interest if authors’ review fellow author’s work and if they are close friends etc. It is important to stay objective when reviewing books. When reviewing, it is important to try to stay neutral and objective. The truth will allow authors’ to learn and improve on their literary style. There are basically two types of reviews. The first is more about ‘rating’ a book. The second type is more of a critical essay. This form is definitely more value-adding. Critical essays enable the author to understand how their other works may have affected their current works, or even how their writing styles might be similar to other authors. In general, it is important to have critics. Do reviewers have such a large viewership that they can influence what others read? Everyone is entitled to voice their opinion online. Authors shouldn’t argue with reviewers who have given them a bad review. Readers are discerning and intelligent people who know how to differentiate a good review from a bad one. Authors are certainly not entitled to receive reviews. Is writing its own reward? Should you even care about reviewers at all? Writers need to market their books because of the booming publishing scene in Singapore. Therefore, reviewers serve an important function of raising awareness for author’s works. Naturally, there is always an element of subjectivity to book reviews. The fact is that Singaporean books are not being reviewed much overseas. Reviewers need to ‘have mercy’ in their reviews as issuing a nasty review might kill an author’s confidence to publish more works.

The Fluid Identities of South East Asia. SEA has a rich colonial history. SEA in the past has been associated with port cities and trade routes. Is the colonial mindset weighing heavily on our culture? Were we exploited by the colonials? When there was still the Malayan Archipelago, people moved about because of trade routes and wind direction. The Portuguese, Spanish and the Dutch came to SEA. Nation-states only emerged after colonialism. Many SEA nations tried to dissociate themselves from their colonial past. However, Singapore embraced it and even now, many roads still have British names. We sort of incorporated what the colonials had and integrated into our culture. Have we lost our roots with our ancestors in China? Indonesia is separated within districts and each has its own unique culture. Each district has its own strange rituals and dances. Is this politically motivated? In Indonesia at least, their identity is very much tied to politics. Even in HCMC, you will see colonial buildings being restored. However, is this just to attract tourists to Vietnam? Some SEA cities have European quarters and ethnic quarters as well. In Singapore, there are many remnants of the colonial past. In an increasingly globalized world, will there be a homogenization of cultures/ethnicities? In general, the people with mixed heritages generally do well and thrive in society. For instance, the Peranakans are doing well in Indonesia. They have found their place in society. In the past, Islam spread in SEA mainly because of trade. However, is the movement getting too radicalized and fundamental in recent times? How can SEA stay relevant with the rise of China?  China is practicing what is called ‘covert’ colonialism by exerting soft power. The fact, however, is that China has been around in SEA before colonial powers. There is always still debate between ethnic and national identity. Malaysia and Indonesia occasionally debate over where did certain food/culture originate from? Each of them want to lay claim to it. There might be an element of truth when some Indonesians say that they prefer to be colonized by the British as compared to the Dutch. The British, hypothetically, would have been able to introduce the rule of law and bring order. The Dutch, it could be argued, that they did not introduce anything new to Indonesia.

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Singapore Writers Festival 2015 (Part 2)

For part 1, click here.

Unravelling Haruki Murakami. History has a big part to help create a shared identity among people. There is a common rhythm across Haruki’s books but each book still retains a unique ‘voice’. Haruki is an extremely prolific translator and author. He is truly one of literature’s greats. Essentially, he writes solely in Japanese and gets translators to translate his works to English. When asked by a young student how would one go about writing about oneself, Haruki suggested that he write about a particular object. One will then be able to see how one interacts with the object. This is what differentiates one person from another. Despite translating contemporary American novels into Japanese, it is difficult to draw direct references of American works to his works. Haruki’s work has generated mass appeal and global outreach. In Japan, he is a private guy who shuns excessive publicity. As someone who shuns excessively publicity, Haruki might appear to not be interested in literary prizes etc. However, when overseas, he takes on another persona and promotes both his works and also the Japanese culture. Due to his fame and recognition, he is essentially like a Japanese cultural ambassador. One either loves or hates his books. One explanation as to why he often delves on themes like nostalgia/recollection of the past is because Buddhists believe that life is about constant change. Therefore, one has to learn to deal with loss or even losses like the ‘loss of adolescence’ and emergence into adulthood. Another explanation could be that Japan, after undergoing the WWII and with America’s presence, had lost its ‘inner self’. Therefore, in terms of culture, it was still trying to find itself and how it can be positioned in the world. Likewise, most of the characters in his books are lost and can’t imagine a hopeful future. They have lost their place in this world and need to find a way out of it. Haruki, although not a real political activist, was concerned about the 1995 Kobe Earthquake etc. That tragedy had a great impact on his life. Haruki doesn’t intentionally seek to promote Japanese culture and values through his writing. One of the main reasons why his characters are so relatable is because they are emotionally deep and mature.

Invisible: The allure of the unseen. Philip Ball is a famous science writer who has a PhD in Physics. In the past, since the Greek era, people dreamt about invisibility. In reality, it isn’t so easy to achieve though. Famous authors who wrote Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings have also used the concept of invisibility in their stories. Plato, in his work, The Republic, also warned others of the dangers of invisibility. Will man commit evil acts if he cannot be seen? There are many variants of invisibility that scientists are working on. Some form of cloaking etc is already present. Some types of squids/flatfish can camouflage extremely well with the surroundings, rendering them almost invisible to the naked eye. Likewise, scientists have tried to create a garment which can change colour, depending on your surroundings. Modern technology still has a long way to go. H.G. Wells wrote about the Invisible Man. Other modern forms of technology include the use of meta-materials, refraction etc. Most of the ideas stem from being able to bend light. There are also psychological aspects to invisibility. For instance, is it useful if it can make someone less shy? There is much debates in terms of psychology at the moment. What if people turn invisible so that they can escape reality and its responsibilities? Can invisibility have applications, apart from military, that are good for society? Do know there are ethical and code issues which need to be thoroughly examined with the advent of such technology. Ralph Ellison wrote about ‘The Invisible Man’. In his case, it was about being ‘socially invisible’ and being repressed etc. As humans, we consciously choose to see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear. Therefore, some things are also rendered ‘invisible’ to us in that sense. Invisibility is still associated with myths, danger, supernatural etc. As a result, there is still this fear about invisibility which needs to be overcome once the technology is in place.

SG50 anthologies – What Makes Singapore Singapore. ‘Living the Singapore Story’ is a collection of interviews from 58 ordinary Singaporeans. The objective of this book was to get the best possible story from each of them. Everyone is extraordinary in their own way and has contributed to Singapore. The Institute of Policy Studies’ Singapore Chronicles is an ambitious 50 book project on various key topics in Singapore. For instance, the first book is on the Singapore Constitution. Some of the other topics are like sports, arts, food etc. Each book is about a 100 pages long and delve fairly deeply into each topic. The next book on SG50 is ‘50+ things to love about Singapore’. This book embraces the quirks about Singapore and what makes us unique. It also debunking myths and misconceptions about Singapore. Some of them might be a little new even for Singaporeans. The last work is ‘Singathology’, which feature 50 new works of Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award recipients. This will examine the narratives of the nation. It will feature diverse bodies of works in the 4 national languages, each with their own unique literary tradition. It was difficult to bring together so many diverse writers to collaborate on a massive project like this. There will be 2 volumes of works, the first titled ‘Life’ and the second titled ‘Art’. Issues which are thought provoking will be surfaced. For instance, what is the role of art in Singaporean society and what is its relevance? Another example is the role of political discourse/dissent in society. The people involved in the above projects all admitted that even they were all familiar to Singapore, there is still much to earn. In general, the objective of these anthologies is to make people admire Singapore and for Singaporeans to fall in love with the country all over again. The above body of works are of historical significance. Future generations will be able to learn and appreciate what was life like, what people’s aspirations were during SG50. Where does Singapore go from here?

A Clockwork Orange. The book is largely based on government control, censorship and violence. Is society a mechanical creation? The book has achieved a cult status and the protagonist, Alex, is your everyday man. Everything is written from Alex’s perspective. It claimed international acclaim when Stanley Kubrick produced the film in 1971. Essentially, the first half of the book is about the crime and the latter half about punishment. It is also about the battle between State vs Men. The author, Anthony Burgess, invented a new language which incorporated English with Russian, French etc. Some of the young men in the film turned psychopathic and hated the way youth were blamed for everything in society. The book is largely a battle between ‘Forced Good’ vs ‘Chosen Evil’. Which is better? Personally, Anthony sided with Alex. However, he hated the plot and initially did not want it to be produced into a film. Due to its scenes of violence, the book was banned in certain countries, including Singapore. However, can literature and movies be blamed for original sin? Did this novel led to be increased number of rape scenes and crimes? The soundtrack of the play by ABA production features music from the 1960s, and certainly pieces from Beethoven. For the Singapore version of the play, slight modifications to the play in relation to homosexuality and religion had to be made. However, the essence of the storyline remains intact. One of the reason why this book is universally popular is because of the fact that some people always feel the need to act out against authority. Subconsciously, the book will trigger the audience to think of their current government and its level of control on its people. Even though films might be banned, there is always a group of people who crave censored films and will take the extra effort to try and watch it. The crew admitted that their close bonding really helped when having to deliver such a physically demanding play.

The Adopted: Writing Creatively Within Restrictions. This was a collaborative project with 5 different Singaporean writers. Should writers not talk about their work and let the work speak for themselves? In generally, writers like pain and suffering as they see it as a form to make the soul grow. The 5 writers went on a trip to Siam Reap, Cambodia in order to embark on this project. They had set a certain structure on how to go about writing the stories. For instance, there was a fixed theme for each day. They were supposed to draw inspiration from their environment for the stories. Every story had to have this common character. The traits of the common character were that he was passive aggressive, indecisive, introverted in nature etc. Themes like the subconscious, ‘reality vs dreams’ emerged in the stories. Other themes include the meaning of fate, self-will, the idea of loss and how to deal with grieve, what it means to be human etc. It is important to be observant on your surroundings. When you travel with someone, you will find out more about their quirks and behaviors. The stories were arranged in an order that mimicked a western symphony in the sense that there were 4 movements. There are also elements of surrealism in the book. The stories were written in an ambivalent nature so that the reader can interpret the plot in different ways. In this way, it gets the reader thinking. Some of the stories are left unresolved because life is essentially open-ended and you have to make your own ending. Nothing on earth is truly resolved and similar to the Singapore Identity, it is an act of ‘becoming’. There is certainly truth and wisdom to be learnt from reading fiction.

SWF