The long-awaited movie of the hit TV series is almost here!

"Life doesn't always turn out to be your fantasy. That's why you need friendships that are real, to get you through it all."
- Carrie Bradshaw

The Amazing Race Asia Finale

It's Valentine's Day, a hokey holiday if there ever was one, and one that I've always happily ignored. This year, it coincides with the final episode of The Amazing Race Asia, which was telecast tonight, so there was a big distraction from all the lovey-dovey nonsense that's usually around every corner on this day.

AXN-TV had organised a big party in Singapore to celebrate the final episode, with almost all the contestants from around Asia in attendance at Indochine's Forbidden City nightclub/restaurant. Adrian had invited me and a big group, including his Mom, Dad and brother, my sister Karen, Wilfred, Matthew, and we all went down to Clarke Quay for this exciting evening. I also invited Norman but we didn't have enough invitations but Matt managed to get his friend Meng, who works at Indochine to bring Norman in as well.

It was quite packed inside with the teams, the TV execs, the press, well-wishers and some fans all eating, drinking and watching the big screen TVs for the start of the telecast.

I watched part of the show with Adrian's family who was seated at one part of the room but went to join Adrian and Collin and the other teams in the area in front of the stage as it progressed towards the end. The big news of course (which isn't news by the time I am blogging this) is that Adrian and Collin WON! It was such an incredibly thrilling moment, to see them coming over the bridge at the final Pit Stop and win. And especially since my best friend is part of the winning team. It was a very emotional moment and there were tears all around amidst the hugs and cheers, and even the other teams were crying as they hugged Adrian and Collin. They may have known who the winners were but it was everyones first time watching the episode as a viewer and seeing how it all played out.

Anyone who knows Adrian will attest to his innate decency, warmth and wonderful personality so we were all very happy to see him win such a big and exciting challenge. And I was so happy to have been a small part of it and appearing on one episode to give Adrian a support message from home in Episode 8.

I have to say that it was one of the happiest nights of my life! 

Some pics:

The banner on the AXN website

Images of the final moments capturing the audience reaction

The celebrations

With Collin and Adrian, the champions of The Amazing Race Asia Season 2!

With Paula and Natasha, Team Thailand

With Marc of Team Philippines, the team that emerged third

With Matt, Karen, Norman and Wilfred

Adrian and Collin on stage with host Allan Wu

Receiving the cheque on stage from the AXN management

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer, a 165 metre high, 150 metre wide giant observation wheel which has 28 fully air-conditioned capsules has just been completed and is a striking addition to the Singapore skyline. It opens to the public of 1 March but for the next three days, private previews of the attraction are on, and I was invited by ABN-AMRO  Private Bank as their guest for the inaugural flight today. 

I invited Eu-Jin along and we had a fabulous time on the flight. This being the Chinese New Year period, they had the "Yu-Sheng" ceremony on board, where we tossed the salad togeterh and ate while rising high above the ground. Each capsule is 4 metres by 7 metres and can accommodate 28 people.

The view was pretty spectacular from up there so I will just let the pics speak for themselves.

The TV cameras and newspaper reporters were all there to cover the event and I appeared in the Straits Times the next day, in a pretty big photo illustrating the article. :-D

The view at night (pic from the website)

The new Singapore skyline (pic from the website)

The capsules (pic from the website)

Me with Eu-Jin on board

Looking out to the city below

The view

Looking down at another capsule at dusk

Inside our capsule - the table was set for this inaugural flight, usually there are seats in the centre

Joe Lee

I was fortunate enough to have met Johann Lee when he was in Singapore for the opening of "Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol 3," the final in the trilogy of plays about the gay Singapore experience, written by local gay playwright Alfin Saat. Johann or Joe as he's known, had written the book "Peculiar Chris" back in 1992, and it was Singapore's first gay novel, appearing at a time when the word "gay" was always whispered and before the internet created the gay universe as we now know it. He emograted to the UK and gave up his Singapore citizenship shortly after the book's publication.

"Peculir Chris"  became the basis for Alfian's play, in which the characters of the book interact with the book's author, and where the author comes back to Singapore after years overseas and discovers much has changed about the homeland he left.

In real life, Joe Lee then went back to the UK and wrote a second novel, "To Know Where I'm Coming From" where the protagonist, like himself the author, goes back to Singapore and rediscovers his old homeland, old friends and new loves.

Joe Lee recently posted this on his Facebook, a public message about his own life choices, and I can very much relate to what he feels, having left the US after 20 years to come home to Singapore.

TKWICF – I know where I came from, and I want to go back
1:48pm Thursday, Jan 3
My closest friends know this already, and now that I’ve stunned my boss and she’s agreed to grant me a one-year career break to review my life and keep my options open, I can post this on FB…

In a bizarre case of life imitating art (To Know Where I’m Coming From) imitating life imitating art (Happy Endings) imitating life imitating art (Peculiar Chris) imitating life... I've decided, like my protagonist Ben Goh, to try to move back to live and work in SG. Maybe I knew at the time, on some level, when I wrote TKWICF, that I was mapping out my own future in a way.

It's not an epiphany but something I've been considering for half a year at least actually. I've discussed with my family and close friends, and they know where I'm coming from, and are supportive. They understand that...

- I really want to spend time with mum - I don't think she has much (quality) time left, with the Parkinson’s getting pretty bad.
- My nearest and dearest... my family and oldest friends... are all in SG.
- I need a break from my current job.
- I have no partner here.
- The cold and grey is really getting to me.
- I hate the crime here... the way people don't respect their elders... and the thought of growing old here is pretty grim.
- The more time I spend in SG the more intolerably decrepit I find LDN. Grunge and edge may be cool when you’re 21 but now what appeals to me is safe, clean and reliable.
- I'm not an avid traveller anyway so living in London has no appeal in terms of access to Europe.
- I'm SO done with the clubs & drugs scene.
- I've SO grown out of my potato queen phase (as I discovered in a spectacular way recently) - I want a nice SG chinese boyfriend! (and of course I'll have more options in SG than LDN)
- And I'm feeling increasingly Asian as I get older.

I’ve spoken to the Singapore High Commission and whilst they can't reinstate my citizenship (which is fine - I don't necessarily want to give up my UK passport), they tell me I can apply for residency, which will take months. Then it will take more months to liquidate one of my two flats, pay off some debts, and move back to SG.

The other big change is that I *may* give up accountancy and finance for good - I only went into it to stay in the UK and at the moment I just can't see myself doing it for the rest of my life (but I need time to verify that). I don't have kids, I've never been a designer goods or fancy restaurants sort of guy (regardless of whether I can afford them) and right now I just want to do what excites me (not sure what yet), though I know I'll have to start all over again, which is scary... but good scary. I’ve met a number of amazing SG friends during the last two trips who have consciously shunned the rat race and materialism to just do things they’re passionate about, and they’ve been truly inspiring.

This kind of monumental life change happens quite a fair bit in the corporate world here in London (maybe in SG too?)... people quitting their jobs to do something completely different because of burn-out or just because they realise life is short. And I need to do this while I'm on the right side of 40.

So... if all goes to plan, I will back in SG ‘in the summer’, back to an HDB (translation: public housing)/MRT (translation: public transport)/hawker food (translation: cheap) existence (i.e. ‘poor’ by some people’s standards - not mine)... but I will be with my family, and where my heart and soul are. Until then, I'm planning to save, detox and work hard on my body (while I still have it!) so maybe my friends can pimp me out and I can bag an eligible boyfriend when I return. ;-)

He also wrote this other note, about a review of his second novel by noted Singapore gay activist Alex Au, which appeared on the Yawning Bread website:

TKWICF - Yawning Bread article by activist and
academic Alex Au
3:57pm Tuesday, Jan 8

[The Yawning Bread website (according to Wikipedia) is a high-quality, award-winning collection of essays on various topics, particularly Singapore GLBT issues. It was started in November 1996 by activist Alex Au and has grown to be the leading site for intellectual comment on gay issues in Singapore.]

I met Alex Au, and Dr Russell Heng (another academic and activist), for the first time when I was in SG in December. Over lunch, we discussed SG gay history, activism and gay parenting, and I left Russell’s apartment with my head spinning with ideas about what can be written into book #3. Both men, though deeply intellectual, are very warm individuals. Alex is a particularly exuberant character, snapping away merrily with his camera while we ate and chatted as though he was documenting a formal interview.

I took lots of notes, but two things are particularly memorable, giving me insight into the mind of a true activist. When I asked Alex about his passion for activism and what keeps him up at night, he said, “Activism is in my genes… it’s always been that way.” And when I asked him how he'd like to be remembered, he replied, “I don’t care. If I did, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly.”

I gave both men copies of TKWICF, and below is Alex's article after having read it.


Coming and going and coming back to haunt us again


Call it what you may -- divine retribution, perhaps -- but a big part of Singapore's cultural output is gay. It seems that the more the official state tries to deny its gay sons and daughters, the more its history will be seen through the gay lens, for that is what the artistic and cultural output of any place will serve as in the long run: a record of how people saw their own times.

Is it because the very experience of exclusion impassions the gay Singaporean? Is it because gay men tend to be articulate and creative? Is the latter stereotype really true?

Whatever the reason, it is delicious irony that much of the representation of Singapore to itself and to the world is mediated through gay people. And I will wager that in time, much of what future Singaporeans know of our history will be through the works left by its gay pariahs.

Just recently, in the issue dated 28 November 2007, Time magazine featured one of Singapore's leading poets, Cyril Wong, who "relishes waving 'a purple flag' in socially conservative faces." Another poet from a different generation, the late Arthur Yap, considered among the best poets Singapore has ever produced, was also gay; you cannot understand many of his works without knowing that.

Ask around who Singaporeans think is the most inventive filmmaker today, whose films regularly make their way to film festivals around the world, and the name Royston Tan comes up. Guess what? He's gay. And he's not the only filmmaker who is.

As for playwrights, gee, I wouldn't know where to begin. Perhaps we can start with Alfian Sa'at and Eleanor Wong, and you can google from there.

* * * * *

Due to globalisation, the notion of "Singapore" no longer stops at our shores. Many Singaporeans live and work abroad; many others who grew up here have chosen to leave for good. Yet, neither do they wish to, nor can, completely erase their origins.

Today we talk about Singapore's "second wing" when referring to the diaspora. However, not long ago, the trope was "stayers and quitters". Whichever it is, it's not a fully resolved part of the national story and it will not be until the participants in the process write of their experiences.

One who is writing is ex-Singaporean, now naturalised British citizen, Johann S Lee. His second novel, To know where I'm coming from should be out in the shops around now. It tells the story of a Ben Goh, the only son of an upper class "District 10" family who left Singapore to study law in Britain and never returned.

At 30, Ben meets Rob, a relationship that lasts 7 years. It's not an untypical one. They are two persons with quite different personalities, Ben the more organised, Rob, a dancer, more likely to go with his feelings. They try their best, but like all relationships, they struggle with the ideal of communicating. As all of us know, in any healthy relationship, some subjects need to be discussed, but often, in the very raising of a subject a whole cascade of doubts and misassumptions is triggered. And so, whatever it is, is left unsaid.

When his relationship comes crashing down, Ben decides he needs a change of scene, and so takes a long holiday back here in Singapore with his best friend Holly. While she discovers Singapore for the first time, he rediscovers a place that in some ways has changed dramatically, and in other ways, not at all. He encounters a new gay phenomenon in theatre, in digital space and in activism, even as the laws and bans are still in place. He meets old friends that have stayed to make a difference and new friends who have turned out gayer than he himself thought possible for a place like the Singapore he knew.

One of them is Peter. There is a chemistry between the two of them, but can there be a future? Ben's home is London -- and he had made up his mind 15 years ago that it would be so -- while Peter's is Singapore. Can the diaspora truly reconnect?

And then there's family, especially parents who are getting on in age, with illness around the corner. Where does one strike the balance between personal aspirations and family obligations, when one wants to be 10,800 km from the other?

* * * * *

The name Johann S Lee may be familiar to some Singaporeans. His first novel Peculiar Chris topped the local bestseller list for several weeks when it came out in 1992. Though he has often referred to it as "my embarrassing adolescent ramblings", it was a book that made an enormous impact on a generation of gay boys in Singapore, being the first gay-themed novel ever written by a Singaporean.

Alfian Sa'at used it as his muse when he wrote Happy Endings, staged last July by Wild Rice Theatre, directed by Ivan Heng, to, well, wild success.

Lee came back for the gala and was so moved, not only by the stage production, but by everything else he saw about gay Singapore, including Indignation, the gay pride season, that when he got back to the UK, he threw himself into a frenzy of writing, despite not having written anything in the 15 years since Peculiar Chris.

The outcome in a mere two months was To know where I'm coming from. It's a much more mature book than the first, but the talent for telling a story with honesty and enrapturement is still very much there. There's a flow and deftness with language, but more: he provides a glimpse of how someone who has left Singapore might view and feel the Singapore of today, and in so doing, he fleshes out the dilemma of being of Singapore but out of it.

And yet, still wanting to be part of it.

"I was challenged by a friend as to whether it is a good idea to 'limit' this book by self-labelling it as a 'gay novel'. In fact, I am being more specific than that -- this is a Singaporean gay novel." -- Johann S Lee

Thank goodness for that.

One day, I think it is safe to bet, this novel will be on the required reading list for Singapore students, even if some people might turn in their grave, or more likely in the Singapore context, stew in their urn. It will be on that list precisely because it is suspended in the tension between being gay and being Singaporean, being away and being connected; precisely because it captures a moment in our shared national history.

© Yawning Bread

Rasina's Birthday On the High Seas

Rasina's birthday party. She held it on board the Il Lido yacht, which sounds pretty grand but it's really only about 50 ft and although it has two bedrooms, it's not quite as large as I'd expected. Most of the boat was not air-conditioned, which I guess is normal for yachts, but in Singapore's humidity, I wasn't really thrilled by the al fresco ambiance. Still once we started moving out to the open seas the breeze picked up and it was quite pleasant. The Il Lido restaurant that owns the yacht is one of Singapore's best and once the ship leaves the harbour, they stop and serve a gourmet four course meal. It was quite nice and the food was very good.

I was quite relieved that Rasina had invited a pretty nice bunch of people, as I hadn't known who would be there and had some initial fear of being stuck on the boat with some pretentious or snooty society types. Thankfully her other guests were people I knew and liked, who were al nice and down-to-earth.

Arriving at the dock to board the yacht

On board with my friend Belinda, who owns Flower Diamond. The pendant I'm wearing is from her boutique. Behind us on the right is Dr Bernard Cheong, one of the world's top watch experts, who was my guide when I went to Switzerland last April for the Baselworld Watch Expo.

With Andrew, the yacht's captain, who is also the Il Lido restaurant manager

One thing about being at a party on board a boat is that you can't just leave when you want. We played some party games and enjoyed the sea breezes as we cruised around after dinner, and finally docked around 11pm. The annual Zouk Out rave/dance party was also taking place at Sentosa that same time, with revelers arriving just as we were leaving. Traffic was a nightmare and although they had called me a cab, I had to wait a while before it arrived and we then joined the traffic line inching its way out. Thousands more were arriving, ready to party the night away but I had my fill of fun for the night and was happy to be heading home. 

Ikebana Chrsitmas Lunch 2007

The Ikebana Association invited me to their annual Christmas Lunch, which was held today at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront's ballroom. I arrived late and the fashion and flower show was already well underway. It was quite a theatrical affair with many a socialite all garbed with flowers and leaves and playing out a fantasy theme. THe florists who helped them stage the whole show and created the elborate botanical  constructions was Harijanto Setiawan of Boenga Florists, who also did the floral arrangements for the 25th Anversary Tatler Ball in October. He's very talented and does great work - check out

24 November

SRT Ball 2006: Surrealism

Frank had asked me to be his guest at the 2007 Singapore Repertory Theatre Ball, at the Fullerton. The SRT's annual fundraising ball is a very popular event, which is not surprising as it always has some theme that necessitates attendees dressing up in oft-extraordinary outfits. This year's SRT Ball had the most unusual theme I've every encountered for such events - Surrealism. Interesting for sure but how on earth does one dress for a Surrealist-themed Ball?

I rummaged through my wardrobe and was stumped. I didn't wnat to wear a costume, as I was planning to go out to the clubs after the dinner, and didn't want to be walking around as half-swan or whatever. I finally decided to wear my new Neil Barrett jeans, which has metallic silver splashed all over the front side, and teamed that with a YSL black shirt. The jeans were quite surreal, but I worried that the whole outfit looked too casual as I wasn't wearing a jacket. But it passed muster, and even the event's organiser herself, Olga Iserlis, one of the reigning queens of Singapore society, approved of it when I arrived. "Those jeans are very surreal!" she pronounced.

The whole ballroom was beautifully decorated, with picture frames hanging askew from the ceiling and other artistic elements. The crowd had taken the theme much more seriously than me, with people in all manner of totally surreal outfits wandering around. There were women with third eyes on their heads, headless men carrying umbrellas, half men-half women, men with bowler hats and angel wings, women with teacups on their heads, and assorted woodland creatures. Frank was wearing what looked like a conservative and elegant tuxedo, complete with top hat, until he stood up and you saw the ballerina tutu he was also wearing. True to Frank, it was a designer tutu, this from Emmanuel Ungaro.

Even the menu was apprpritely themed, with the first dish looking like an ice cream dessert but actually being the appetiser, a course that resembled a huge eyeball, and dessert that looked like a cheeseburger.  But while the food was indeed imaginative and unusual, it didn't taste great, so no one ate much - which helped get many drunk even faster, thus adding to the evening's revelry.

The party was a blast, with everyone is a highly spirited and silly mood, so there was much laughter and fun. Frank won the night's Best Costume Award for men, while Tina Tan-Leo, as a half-man and half-woman, took the Best Dressed Award for women.

Eu-Jin, Celina, Chie Yang and I trying to eat Celina's lobster, which was part of her surreal outfit

With Eu-Jin, Celina and Chie Yang in a more conventional pose

Norman, Georgia Lee, Frank and me

With Eu-Jin

Olga, Frances, Karen, Celina and some other surreal woman

Audrey Tay, Dick Lee and Celina

The party continued till late but I left with Norman around 11pm. We drove over to Mox, where we met up with some friends and had more fun.

It was a really fun night.


(no subject)

OCT 17: Port of Livorno, Italy - Florence & Tuscany

Thankfully we didn't have to wake up as early as in previous days, as the ship docked at Livorno, Italy at 8 am today, instead of 7 am as in the day before. We left the ship and met the day's tour guide, and got onto the bus that drove us from the seaport to Florence. It was quite a long drive and I dearly wanted to nap but I forced myself to stay awake and take in the scenery around. We arrived in Florence and thankfully, my sister Karen had been there a couple of times before so she could tell us exactly where to go.

Florence was as old and full of character as I had expected. We started at the Piazza della Signoria, the town's central square, where the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), the world-famous Uffizi Gallery and the Santa Croce Church are located. It's an amazing place, especially when you consider that the buildings are really old - the Santa Croce church for example, was built in the 13th century, almost 800 years ago! It is famous for the Giotto frescoes and also for the tombs of some of Florence's and Italy's most famous sons - Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.

Piazza della Signoria, the heart of Florence

The Palazzo Vecchio

The Santa Croce Church where Michelangelo, Galilieo and Machiavelli are buried. Artists sit outside, painting and selling their works.

Posing by one of the many statues in the square

Being grabbed by one of the human statues

After admiring the history and architecture, it was time to get to the shops. Florence is the second and final stop in Italy for this cruise, and loving Italian designers like I do, I had to see what other clothing I could get. Singapore may have Dolce and Gabbana and Prada boutiques but they carry a truly pitiful selection and the prices are much higher so it only makes sense for me to buy while in Italy. We walked across the town and along the banks of the Arno River, and had lunch at a restaurant that was recommended by our tour guide earlier. We had hearty Italian fare with the famous Brunello wine of the region, and were fortified for our shopping. There were obviously not as many shops in Florence as there were in Rome, so we didn't spend a lot of time shopping. I did buy the "Kerouac" leather jacket from Tod's though, as my old jacket (purchased back in 1999) was quite worn out and I need one for when I travel to a cooler climate.

We gathered back at the Piazza and went back on the bus, which then took us on a drive through the Tuscan countryside. It had been a long-held dream of mine to see Tuscany, and although this was through the windows of a bus, it was still satisfying. The rolling hills and farmlands were beautiful. I would love to go back again and see it up-close and drive myself through the country roads and visit the farms and vineyards.