Political myth is in no short supply in modern Singapore. In our most familiar histories, material progress and political quiescence are the natural products of visionary—if at times heavy-handed—leadership. Episodes of subversion and suppression are no longer swept entirely under the carpet, but seen as the inevitable growing pains of today’s glitteringly successful neoliberal city-state.
“Please mind the platform gap” is a phrase travelers on the Hong Kong MTR hear every time the train stops. It is a curious phrase, not just the now somewhat quaint “mind” but also that of course the platform has no gap: what is meant is the gap between the train and the platform. First-time travelers must perhaps parse the sentence for meaning; I had to. And it forever stuck in my mind.
Not only in mine, evidently. The phrase (which has its own Wikipedia page) is central to one of the stories in Ho Lin’s recent collection China Girl.
Kevin Kwan is a Singaporean relocated to New York, and Rich People Problems is the third of his rollicking romps of money and status in Asia. The first, Crazy Rich Asians, a brilliant title, and a brilliant idea, was a smash-hit success. It is currently being made into a movie which seems certain to be a riot. The three novels follow a core cast of characters, but each can be read as a stand-alone title.
Clearly targeting a female audience, this epic of love and sedition nevertheless offers far more than the average chick-lit romance with its carefully investigated and balanced view of the struggle for Indian independence in the years before and during World War II.
When the end came, it came quickly and, for most of the Japanese inhabitants of occupied Manchuria, unexpectedly. Kiku Kyuzo, protagonist of Beasts Head for Home, was of one of the great many Japanese left behind when Manchuria fell to the Soviet Army in August 1945.
For those who had been living under Western imperialism in Asia, the sudden loss of presumed superiority in almost all things political, social, and cultural of the European colonial powers after Japan’s sudden attack in late 1941 was a seminal event. Japan’s own, often violent, experiment in colonial administration that immediately took its place, lasting through to the summer of 1945, and its attempts at pan-Asianism reinforced for the many that the “civilizing” project need not demand colonial masters from abroad.
What better subject for satire than new money and those spending it? The wealthy suburbs of Delhi provide rich pickings for Diksha Basu who sets her tale of social jockeying amid its denizens.