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.
Whether or not you agree with the arguments of Hong Kong’s student activists, everyone can agree that their emergence has been one of the biggest changes to Hong Kong’s political situation for at least a decade.
A specialist book, Writing the South Seas is, steeped with lexicon which could take getting used to unless you work in the field. The title, however, is vivid: the term “South Seas” or (Nanyang in Mandarin) is familiar to everyone of Chinese ancestry from Southeast Asia. It refers to the lands south of China which are connected by an expanse of water aptly known as the South China Sea. Between the 1850s and the 1940s, the waves of this sea carried twenty million people from southern China to the varied countries of the Nanyang. Some of my ancestors were among them.
Born and raised in Beijing, Bei Dao spent decades in exile in Europe because of his alleged involvement in the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. City Gate, Open Up is his eloquent, moving memoir in which the foremost Chinese poet rebuilds Beijing, his fond hometown and lifelong anchor, through poignant memories and portraits, rendering the generations who have lived through such surreal, turbulent times.
The Opium Wars are probably the only actual shooting wars in history that are named after a drug. They may be the only major wars between countries that are named after a commodity of any kind. Britain and Iceland had their cod war, but that hardly counts. The United States had a Whiskey Rebellion and Australia had a Rum Rebellion. France and Mexico fought a desultory Pastry War in 1838 that cost Santa Anna his left leg and catapulted the rest of him to dictatorship. But the Opium Wars set the trajectory of the East Asian interstate system for 100 years and resonate in historical memory to this day.
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.