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
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…TKWICF – I know where I came from, and I want to go back1:48pm Thursday, Jan 3
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. ;-)
TKWICF - Yawning Bread article by activist and
academic Alex Au3:57pm 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