Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Cost and Value of Heritage in Singapore: The Belitung Shipwreck and Bukit Brown (14 April 2012, Mochtar Riady Auditorium, Singapore Management University)

The Cost and Value of Heritage in Singapore:
The Belitung Shipwreck and Bukit Brown
(14 April 2012, Mochtar Riady Auditorium, Singapore Management University)
Presented by The Singapore Heritage Society and the School of Law, Singapore Management University

From the introductory text:
In general, heritage refers to the inheritance – both physical and intangible – bequeathed on the present by the past. Beneath this straightforward understanding, however, lies myriad implications and complications, particularly in the present age of globalised interests and diverse nation-states. While there is little dispute about the overall value of heritage in providing a window of knowledge to the past, that value is usually complicated by questions of ownership, the costs of recovery and preservation/conservation.

Such questions raise further issues, including the tussle between tradition and development, the ethics and legalities surrounding heritage recovery and conservation, and engagement between the state and civil society. 

Such issues were ever-present in the recent Belitung shipwreck controversy as well as in the ongoing debate over the future of Bukit Brown Cemetery. The manner in which Singapore has approached these two heritage issues and others has significant implications and consequences for how Singapore determines the value of its heritage, or, indeed, how heritage is defined in Singapore in the first place.

What are the considerations and concerns involved in making such decisions? How far is Singapore willing to go to preserve or to conserve heritage? 


Dr Michael Flecker is Managing Director, Maritime Explorations. Michael has 25 years of experience in surveying for and archaeologically excavating ancient shipwrecks. His speciality is ancient Asian ship construction. He earned his Ph.D. from the Southeast Asian Studies Department of the National University of Singapore based on his excavation of the 10th century Intan Wreck in Indonesia.

Dr Hui Yew-Foong is a Fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. As an anthropologist, his research interests include the Chinese minority in Southeast Asia, religion and politics, and the heritage value of cemeteries. He is the author of Strangers at Home: History and Subjectivity among the Chinese Communities of West Kalimantan, Indonesia (2011).

Mr Kwa Chong Guan is a Member of the National Heritage Board and Chairman of its National Archives Board. He is also a member of the Asian Civilisations Museum Board and chairs its Acquisition sub-committee.

Assistant Professor Jack Tsen-Ta Lee has been with the School of Law, SMU, since 2008. His primary areas of teaching and research are constitutional and administrative law, but he has a particular interest in cultural heritage law, having studied the subject when he did his Master of Laws (LLM) at University College London on a British Chevening Scholarship.

Dr Kevin YL Tan is the Immediate Past President of the Singapore Heritage Society and the author of over 27 books and over 50 articles on law, history and politics. He is currently Adjunct Professor at both the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore and the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. 

About the Singapore Heritage Society: 

In 2012, the Singapore Heritage Society celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary. The Society is a non-government organisation and a registered charity, dedicated to the preservation, transmission and promotion of Singapore's history, heritage and identity. The Society has been active in advocacy efforts for many heritage issues in Singapore, such as the development of Chinatown during the early 1990s, the fate of the old National Library at Stamford Road, and currently, the future of Bukit Brown and the former KTM railway land. The Society has, since its inception in 1987, worked and will continue to engage with relevant state agencies and interested individuals and groups to increase awareness and interest in Singapore's heritage and past.

Here are some of my notes on this forum organised by SMU and the Singapore Heritage Society. In a strange coincidence, I finished typing out these notes an entire year after the actual talk, so some liberties may have been taken with the way they were expressed by the original speaker. The point of this document is simply to make some of the points of interest mentioned in the forum available to more people who may not have attended it. If I have misquoted anything, please let me know and I would be happy to edit it.

1. Dr Kevin Tan - Preamble

  • In discussions here, are we creating false dichotomies - pitting progress against heritage? Or are these real hard choices that need to be made?

2. Dr Michael Flecker - Heritage in Singapore: The Belitung Wreck

  • Singapore has acquired "regional cargo" after spending 32 mil to acquire the Belitung Wreckage. Most of this cargo is Changsha wares dating back to around 826. This was retrieved by the Australian commercial company Seabed International which had been combing that area. As there were fears of looting which was already ongoing, the Indonesian government engaged them to do the salvage as quickly as possible. 
  • Work was done in two seasons. In the first season there was little to no archaeological work done (some data was lost) but the company that did it was well familiar with the practices done by archaeologists having worked with them in the past. In the second season everything was gridded and there was as much archaeological work done as there could possibly be done. 
  • Items were lovingly restored and desalinated in NZ for no reason besides that Seabed liked to go to NZ. On 24 Oct 2004, ST News Page 3 prints article with headline "Sentosa bid to buy Sunken Tang Treasures". In 2011, the wreckage is exhibited at an exhibition entitled "Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds" at Marina Bay Sands ArtScience Museum.
  • However, because of the lapses in the first season there has been intense debate over the manner in which the Belitung Wreck was treated and salvaged, and whether it should be allowed to be exhibited. Smithsonian has said they will not exhibit the artifacts because it was not ethically obtained.
  • Although the spectacular Changsha wares and Gold Cup and other beautiful artifacts have been generally seen as emblematic of this cargo, there are also many other notable and interesting items in the cargo that are perhaps less spectacular but no less interesting and should not be missed out on, such as the arrowheads, lead bars, star anise, and walnuts. These may not have been in the show itself.
  • In a sense, from reading the comments made, it appears as if those parochial colonials at the Smithsonian rather we see nothing. They would rather we put it all back into the sea. But all these items are in the warehouses already and there are so many studies that can be done that can be meaningful. It is up to Singapore now to decide what we do with the artifacts and what meaning we want to make from it. Who cares what the Americans say?

3. Dr Hui Yew-Foong - Documenting Bukit Brown
  • (Brief history of formation of Bukit Brown) Prior to 1922, where were chinese people buried? If you were Christian, you would be likely to be buried in Bidadari Cemetery. If you were from a clan, you would be buried in a clan plot. If you were rich, you probably had a private plot. After Bukit Brown Cemetery was set up to accommodate all of the Chinese community including rich and poor, it was decided that everyone should have equal access to burial plots and that no one could have two plots. Introduction of a bylaw in 1923 meant that spaces for the dead were to be mediated by the state rather than by clan, with no special favours allowed.
  • (On the task of documenting all the affected graves in Bukit Brown) There are about 4000 affected graves and they are to be assessed using GIS + Fengshui.
  • Graves are not just the burial of the dead but also a monument to life - a mnemonic landscape of people - the Nanyang Chinese.
  • A look at some of the notable graves affected (not comprehensive list here, just what i noted down from Dr Hui's talk):
    Khoo Seok Wan (邱菽园 Qiu Shu Yuan) - Khoo Seok Wan was a poet and literary figure who coined the chinese phrase "星洲" (xin zhou / star island), which is a popularly used name for Singapore.
    Ong Seah Say (王声世 Wang Sheng Shi) - A member of the Tong Meng Hui, formed by Sun Yat Sen.
    See Tiong Wah (薛中华 Xue Zhong Hua) - municipal commissioner and local leader
    Wee Chim Yean (黄深渊 Huang Sheng Yuan) - Lieutenant of the Bengkalis.
  • (Intangible heritage) Numerous unmarked grave plots with fresh offerings - qingming leaves traces. Anthropologists like to make it out to be an "economic transaction" or as gift giving in the sense of potlatch

4. Dr Hui Yew-Foong - Belitung / Bukit Brown

  • Legal Implications/Issues of Belitung - Was its recovery lawful? Would it have been more ethical to leave it in situ? Or salvaged in another manner? Indonesian waters - should it be under indonesian law (domestic law) or international law? If they engaged in seabed exploration then is that under Indonesian law? Even Elizabeth Bartman (president of Archaelogical Intstitute of America) admits it is technically legal.
  • Counter-argument to the arguments against its recovery - In situ would be impractical due to looting incidents. The sale of the artefacts funding the excavation project which would have otherwise been financially impossible. It was also sold as a whole set by Salvor, not piecemeal. Attempts were made to apply proper archaelogical principles and recording in 2nd season of excavation.
    Does this encourage treasure hunting (as feared)? No, not really.
  • Is a judicial review of Bukit Brown possible? Can we sue the government under "administrative law" to ask for them to review the status of Bukit Brown and what will be done with it? Law is made so that you want suitable cases to be considered, but you also don't want to encourage a litigious society.
  • What are the options? There are possibly two - 1: ask for quashing order (ie: dont do this now), or 2: mandatory order (reconsider the law now!). Next issue is the concept of "interest". How do you prove interest? How do you prove that you have financial, legal, or an expectation to have a greater say in decisions about that land more than others?
  • Example 1: Rose Theatre Trust case. An Elizabethan theatre which built in 1587 by Philip Henslowe which was the first to stage a production of any of Shakespeare's plays. Was threatened with the prospect of development works to build over the plot. An initial application was made by the standing of interest groups working with that space to ask for an order under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Act 1979 to give the Rose Theatre protected status. This was refused and they went on to challenge the decision by way of a judicial review of the administrative action of the Secretary of State. Unfortunately the Divisional Court ruled they did not have standing to challenge it. If the individuals do not have standing, the group doesn't have more standing as a whole either. This case helped pave the way for thinking about what constituted the standing of interest groups.
  • Example 2: World Development Movement Ltd. 1995. UK overseas aid budget was to be used by an organization to construct a hydro-electric power station on Pergau river in Malaysia. World Development Movement, an anti-poverty campaigning group asked for judicial review of the provision of this financial aid for the project, as it was believed this was not good use of overseas aid budget. It was heard by the court and the group was deemed to have had sufficient interest to challenge it because of their knowledge and expertise in the area.
  • So what can we do about Bukit Brown?

5. Kwa Chong Guan

  • What is Belitung's significance? What is archaeology's significance? Framing SG's history in that long history of trading cycles. Its not entirely "God-given", although the conditions were right for a good port. We were chosen as a location for a port, and there could have been many other good ports along the way. Do we even have to ask the question of whether Singapore's history starts before 1819?

See also:
Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds (Catalogue)
UK Planning Policy Guidance 16: Archaeology and Planning

NUS Museum - Prep Room

IMG_3988 IMG_3987

From a visit to NUS Museum's amazing Prep Room.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Curating Nation Talk Series: Guerrilla Archaeologists and the Singapore Story (12 April 2012, NUS Museum)

Curating Nation Talk Series: Guerrilla Archaeologists and the Singapore Story, 12-April-2012, 6.30pm, NUS MUSEUM
From the introductory text:
"Most people think Singapore and archaeology are boring subjects, but the combination of the two can be exciting. Since Singapore has no laws covering archaeology, it is possible and sometimes necessary to go about the exploration for new sites in unorthodox ways. The term "underground" can mean something different in Singapore than it does in normal archaeological contexts! In this talk Prof John Miksic will provide an account of the history of archaeology in Singapore since 1984, and its connection with museums."


Prof. John Miksic grew up in western New York State, where he found stone arrowheads made by the Iroquois on his grandfather's farm. In 1967 he participated in his first archaeological expedition, to northern Canada to study Inuit. The next year he joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Malaysia, whereupon he was entranced by the archaeological potential of this region.

Here are some of my notes on this talk by the archaelogist John Miksic, who has been excavating archaeological artifacts in Singapore for longer than I have been alive. The talk was conducted at the NUS Museum with about 100 people who had signed up to attend and there was a great Q&A after it, and a walk-through the Sherd Gallery where there is also a new video installation.

[List of key points]

  • There are usually three reasons for doing archaeology:
    1 - to preserve memory and create identity, saving minds and memories
    2 - to prevent injustices or falsifications of the past (it can be used for political purposes or it may come about in the course of colonialism)
    3 - because of the financial value, and the question of defining its context or value
  • Archaeological sites of interest in Singapore are generally concentrated in the town area, with a clear boundary.
  • It is suggested that Fort Canning "was preserved because we found artifacts" there. It has now been turned into a "Heritage theme park" - we were shown a series of images such as the "Myriad of Activities" signboard which emphasizes the diversity of activities at Fort Canning Hill, and the "Mural of Stone", featuring stories of the Singapore River, carved in Bali in a Borobodur style. There are two main walks on Fort Canning, one being the 19th Century Walk and the other being the 14th Century Walk.
  • "It is not endangered, so we are not going to dig it up." - in the case of Padang and other sites, it was opportunism that allowed them to do archaeological studies, being proactive to ask for permission to do the study. But the government was agreeable to allow the museum to carry out digs before excavation began for construction work. In places like the Old Parliament Building, intact artifacts were also found below the floor board.
  • There was sand under the padding, all the way to Kampong Glam. This pure white sand corroborates with Sri Tri Buana's encounter with the pure white sandy beach, which Indra Bopal answered, was the land called Temasik.
  • It is often said that the origins of Singapore's history starts in 1819. In an ST interview with the writers of a encyclopedic book about Singapore called the "Singapore Epic", the writers or editors were commented that they did not want to cover events before 1819 because it would allegedly confuse people and dilute the discussion on Singapore's History. But the real question should actually be: is it identity if it doesn't sell? What tourists want is shallow, simplified content, it is not necessary to think so hard or go so deep into things. But doesn't identity exist for the sake of the ones who have that identity, and not for the benefit or consumption of others?
  • The example of Singapore's influence - Singapore, Michigan: There was once a city in the US called Singapore, Michigan. It was called Singapore because Singapore's reputation had travelled far and wide, although this city was eventually subsumed into Chicago and no longer exists. The essence of Singapore which that town in US wanted to embody by taking on the name of Singapore was: let's become rich by trading!
  • The reputation of the island has also travelled across the seas in the stories of the oft-overlooked Wang Dayuan. The 14th century Chinese traveller wrote of the settlement of Dan Ma Xi from the Malay word Temasik (in 1330) and wrote of both Malay and Chinese residents on the island. Some were said to have been sailors suffering from Malaria who had been left behind on the islands because they were too sick to travel - in the end they ended up living on the island for longer stretches of time and had small settlements similar to the sites of Indonesia sites at Padang Lawas and Kota Cina. (Wang Dayuan's account also talks of the Dragon's Tooth or Long Ya Men (which incidentally has since been reconstructed in fiberglass as an attraction).
  • These and other early records suggest that the current site of Singapore was actually the first place in Southeast asia where Chinese people had resided.
  • Singapore's "history" must be seen within the greater context of time - archaeology provides tangible proof that the "history" or Story of Singapore begins way before 1819.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Occupy Tiong Bahru: Sold Out / Goddess of Mercy

A response to the curation of Occupy Tiong Bahru
and the exhibition Goddess of Mercy (M1 Fringe Festival)


On Reading and Writing the Story of Tiong Bahru


The story of Tiong Bahru, as it has been presented to us in "High Quality Stories" (Occupy Tiong Bahru's catalog), is a story that is familiar to all. It tells a story of the tensions involved in gentrification and heritage tourism. It is a story about the problematic nature of commodifying this pure and "authentic" history, packaging it into something that can be sold to upwardly-mobile yuppies, young hipster professionals, and how these issues can be dealt with thoughtfulness, self-awareness, and aesthetically interpreted by a group of artists within the neighbourhood itself.

"These are real people, with real lives lived", Alan Oei's blurb to "High Quality Stories" reminds the visitor. "OH! is part of the gentrification process. But at the very least, let's uncover some of the stories that haven't been told in the race to annoint the place as the hippest neighbourhood in Asia..." Similarly, in her article entitled "Out with the Old", Adeline Chia writes that she despairs of the "cool" factor and the "familiar contradiction" of wanting it to be "cool enough, but still under the radar" so that other young professionals would not move into Tiong Bahru, causing an increase in the housing prices in the area. At one point, she writes: "I am a cliche laughing at a cliche."

No doubt that the above statements reveal the intention to display some self-awareness of one's complicity in the situation - something present in many of the pieces in the catalog and in the works - and also serves to explain and excuse oneself from the psychological burden of being part of this gentrification. I appreciate the attempt at candour, but personally I find that it is not an acceptable excuse. Because in the first place, there would be no need for these apologies if one did not participate in the business of turning histories, stories, and cities into commodity.

In his book entitled "Tristes Tropique", Claude Levi-Strauss wrote the story of his adventures through many "exotic" tropical locales in the course of his career as an anthropologist. The story that Levi-Strauss writes, is a story in which he observes that genuine 'travel' is increasingly being replaced by the motions of tourists moving though what he calls a "monoculture" - tourists attracted to tours and travel guide books which actually only "preserve the illusion of something that no longer exists". The assertion he makes in his memoir is that today we are faced with the appalling indictment of living in a cultural void, where there is actually no such thing as that nostalgic "vanished reality" and the treasures of history and heritage have actually already been long been plundered from its original site. In other words, "they" become more like "us" and lose their "other-ness" in the process of mutual contact via tourism.

While the original agenda of the Open House tours have been to promote a renewed interest in art and Tiong Bahru's local heritage, it is surely clear to many (yes, you self-aware, ever-so-slightly-hipster individuals) that the transactions involved may not necessarily be fueled by a genuine interest in local cultural traditions, but rather a desire to possess these things and to "live" the lifestyle through this voyeuristic lens into people's homes. Works like Lavender Chang's long exposure nude portraits of the homeowners in their bedrooms are said to be reflecting our voyeurism back at us, but could potentially be read by outside viewers as some kind of exhibitionism or self-indulgence (no offense meant to the homeowners, who so graciously let everyone tramp around their homes for two weekends, but this is simply to state the obvious of what would be the next alternative reading of the work).

What I suspect is that people presume that Tiong Bahru's heritage is somehow valuable (and hence frequently commodified as a designer lifestyle and consequently a hot property/rental zone) because we assume that anything from the past is more "authentic" than whatever is in the present, and that the present is to be seen as something that has lost this element of "authenticity" (and thus devalued). Not surprisingly, visitors and reviewers of Occupy Tiong Bahru appeared interested to see how the artists' works would respond or react to the hidden histories of the area. Meanwhile this forms the paradox - as the overarcing storyline presented by Occupy Tiong Bahru openly tells the visitor that the artistic reinterpretation and subsequent response to Tiong Bahru via the Occupy Tiong Bahru project is "part of the gentrification process" - in other words, it suggests that the artistic reinterpretation of works in houses in Tiong Bahru is complicit in desacralising that which had once been a "real" and "authentic" Tiong Bahru.

The next paradox that emerges as a result of this is that we would not be able to value or appreciate the concept of the "authentic" without this rampant and flagrant circulation of "fake" copies/approximations of the "original" thing. Yet, we can only confirm the "authentic" as having that "authenticity" only if it has re-entered the market of commodities (and thus becoming available for the consumer to buy it and only then to have to evaluate it for this concept of the "authentic"). Therefore I come to the conclusion that this obsession for the authentic is actually created only when one participates in this business of commodifying histories, stories, and heritage.

The easiest way to stop this madness and escape this paradoxical, never-ending loop of desiring a "vanished reality" would obviously be to stop focusing on the question of "authenticity" and what is "real". This is perhaps where I do not fully agree with the overall direction taken in presenting it as a paradox, from the "tongue-in-cheek" title that, as it turns out, did not really engage with the relevance of the Occupy movement halfway across the globe, to the very mention of "prestige anxiety"; which can be said to be predicated on one's insecurity of the market valuation of these "relics" of Tiong Bahru.

I find it far more useful and also far more important to stop focusing on the commodification, and instead use this an opportunity to question how we construct authenticity - or even how we can construct multiple authenticities.

We need no reassurances of the quality of these stories, or discussions on quality or authenticity. For me, I reckon that it is more important to show works that inspire and encourage others to write their own stories. There is no need to focus on the missing gaps of the story or the fragmentation of "reality" in the space between past and present - I would rather read it as a sort of call-to-action for Singaporean artists and curators to go and fill it in by themselves!


Walking away from the guided tour

As one of the last tours that Saturday night, our group faced a number of logistical problems as many previous groups had been delayed and we were forced to visit the houses in a desultory fashion. We also had to wait over ten minutes outside each flat. Certainly we were there to "occupy" Tiong Bahru's various corridors for unseemingly long periods of time. I am not bothered by having to deviate from the proscribed order of landmarks on a tour, neither do I mind a little waiting, however, a combination of logistical errors also revealed general attitudes amongst people here with regards to how they approach and explore new spaces - and this made me despair.

We had arrived late at the umpteenth flat, so our guide had led us to a clearing outside the house, where we could watch it from what appeared to be a respectful distance. It was clear that the wait would take several minutes as the group before us was not yet done, so I meandered off the pavement into the grass under the trees, and I found a severely chewed-up rat trap, a pear-shaped orange-coloured fruit (that was not an orange), and a moderately thick tree branch that had somehow managed to grow itself into a perfect 90 degree angle, like a pipe with a perpendicular joint.

Even in the most unremarkable terrains, I always like to think that curiosities can still emerge, from the tiniest slivers of clues we can begin the process of building whole narratives. The point of exploration, I think, is to find a way to alter the everyday experience of place into something different every single time. To approach everything as if you had never been there before, even if you have been there a million times, and to force yourself to relinquish the complacency of saying to yourself, "I expect it'll be the same picture and the same story all over again so there's no point looking at what's around me."

chicken in a bush

Once, on one of these meanders, I even found a rooster in a bush.

After this little meander, I returned to the sight of my tour group still crowded together, standing and waiting helplessly on the pavement. A middle aged woman clutching her handbag walked past the group, observing what must have been an unusual sight of a crowd of people standing on the pavement, facing the entrance of a building some metres away. It simply seemed utterly absurd that everyone was perched atop this concrete pavement between two large, expansive patches of grass. I believe at this point our well-meaning but increasingly flustered tour guide was also trying to reel in the attentions of our group by periodically offering up nuggets of charming but textbook-sounding histories, but by this point it had honestly gone all pear-shaped for me. I was equally exasperated by what looked like a "self-kettling" by the attendees of this Occupy, which was being reinforced by the manner in which the tour was being conducted by our guide. People stood silently waiting their turn before going into the houses briefly to take a few "snaps". This was utterly bewildering to me (and perhaps exacerbated by logistical constraints) - because I thought, weren't we all here because we wanted to explore Tiong Bahru?

I pointed to the strange division between concrete pavement and grass and asked, "Why are you all standing on the pavement! You could walk on the grass or stand on it!"

I've realised that the part of the city that is significant to me is off the map and off the path - and this is probably explains why I am so interested in cartography. And something that Iain Sinclair had written in a commentary about the London Olympics also came to mind. Some months ago I had read an interview in which Sinclair mentioned that one of his book covers involved a picture of a pilgrim "stooped under a rucksack, reading as he walks". He had described walking as "a form of reading, in the same way you can read a painting, or landscape." He wrote: "The way to explore London’s territory initially was walking, which involved a burden of other people’s knowledge. So the rucksack represents this unread mass of material. Not just fictions, but testaments, documentation, statistics, obliterated council papers, adverts."

I completely agree with this idea of walking as reading, but I recalled distinctly that I took issue with the fact that within the same article, Sinclair had voiced a belief that the urban writer (who conceived of his prose as inspired by the city and while walking along) was going to die out, only to be replaced by the jumpy image-sampling internet writer - which he also seemed to suggest was inadequate of being able to produce the same kind of complex, textured prose that Sinclair himself had produced in his career as a writer. My gut response to this at the time was that it was inaccurate to say so - because I was of that internet generation, and this hadn't stopped me from walking or looking for those "magical, obscure places". But now I see his point in all this. It is not the internet that he was actually taking issue with, but the very "culture of listing, exposing, producing the guidebook", abetted by the internet and mobile technologies, that is stopping people from walking. Sure, I hadn't stopped walking despite being connected to the internet, but this could not be said of everyone else. The Internet was enabling people to find exactly what they wanted, and in doing so, indirectly preventing them from taking the long route on foot to find what they wanted.

Likewise, the guided tour experience draws a line from point A to point B and in doing so, allows the tourist to skip everything inbetween - when in fact the more important discovery was to be made in the spaces between, this "conjunctive loci" of the ellipsis written into the story . . .

In those seemingly empty spaces between those points lie the most interesting part of the city, waiting for us to find them and fill in the blanks.


Goddess of Mercy

Before going to see Occupy Tiong Bahru, we went to see Alecia Neo's installation "Goddess of Mercy" at The Substation. In my view, this was almost a microcosm of Occupy Tiong Bahru - in that it was also bringing audiences into a representation of "rustic" (Bukit Timah) or "shophouse" (Queenstown) living spaces.

To be honest, I believe that which is sacred remains sacred because it is not put on display and remains outside of circulation. It also certainly does not need to made digestable, or to be re-presented in the context of art and set down right in front of the audience. We often talk of this issue of making things or viewpoints "accessible to an audience" - especially in the context of Singaporeans' level of art appreciation" - but I do not think we need to simplify anything at all at this point if Singapore is to develop into a nation of people who are able to think for themselves.

Part of "Goddess of Mercy" featured Dr Nalla and her son Tan Ying Hsien, whose house was also the site of Alecia and Clarence Chung's previous exhibition, where they "restaged" the family's own photographs in their own home before it was going to be demolished.


There is a video of Dr Nalla Tan being pushed in her wheelchair - showing her in a state of deterioration from Alzheimer's where she has become nothing but a pale, uncommunicative shadow of her former self. The very fact that she is no longer able to speak as Dr Nalla Tan worries me because it is her life being "restaged" as art without her ability to give her consent. Many younger audiences will be unfamiliar with Dr Nalla Tan's former role as a feminist, her being one of the first to talk about sex education in Singapore, and being one of the first females to become a doctor in Southeast Asia. These were roles and parts she had actively played in her life without expecting an audience. So why bring the audience in to see this now? I can only say that I did not understand the motivations behind this entire nostalgia trip.

The re-staging of the living spaces within the gallery as if they were a "shrine" to the memory of the living, while the living (Dr Nalla Tan) are actually still alive but unable to agree or disagree or comment on it, is simply problematic to me.

Again, bringing people directly from point A to point B - such as in the case of recreating two spaces in the same gallery in order to "equip" the audience with "visual library" with which to explore the question of faith, health and disappointment is to me a facetious suggestion at best. I find it to be a visual library of commodified symbols, not so different from the Peranakan-themed restaurant next door satisfying people's desire to purchase heritage and authenticity in their lives in a situation where things are increasingly less real.

Again, this is akin to a "guided tour experience" which has already drawn a line from point A to point B - or in this case, brought point A and point B and recreated them in this gallery, allowing visitors to become lazy by skipping that the crucial journey required in trying to understand these things.

I feel that it is important especially for art about spaces and memory to encourage people to make the journey and the walk on their own if we are to move on from the constant state of paradoxes into a more productive phase of identity-making for Singapore.

Singapore and Singaporean art needs to have more critical engagement of the issue of how and what we choose to we define as "historic" or "memorable", and who gets to define these things. Who will write our stories in the years to come? And who are the stories written for? I would love to see more curators and artists pushing themselves harder to deal with these issues, because I feel that is the only way to really move forward and take control of the present.


As this entire blog is written in the spirit of promoting criticality, discussions and comments would be more than welcome.

Additional Note #1: This response is predominantly regarding the overall presentation of the works rather than the specifics of any of the individual artists and their works shown at Open House; it should be obvious to anyone who attended Occupy Tiong Bahru that the context and location overwhelmed most of the artwork placed within the houses itself so it seemed more logical to write about that first - I will try to write about individual works in a separate entry.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I\D & Under the Velvet Sky (Blu Jaz, 15 February 2012)

I/D & Under the Velvet Sky launched their Split EP with a gig at Blu Jaz. Below us on the second floor, there was a poetry slam, on the ground floor were hordes of people drinking and chattering. I shouldn't have to marvel that venues like this still exist in Singapore, but I have to say that I am glad that Blu Jaz should have the space to have so many things going on all at once.


Under the Velvet Sky's set was like a bunch of guitars and a saxophone wildly mating against the backdrop of a lush bassline. I guess I like them because one imagines all sorts of stories while listening to them.


I\D's set is surprisingly crisp and sharp in this recording, as the spikes and bleep tones were intensely loud at the venue and I can hear it more clearly here. Angular, minimal; almost ritualistic in its repetitions.

Afternote: Under The Velvet Sky and I\D also did a jam together which I tried to record despite a low battery but I've been experiencing a glitch where griffin italk does not save the last recording to disk if it runs out of power while recording... A pity as it was really epic especially with all the horns going head to head!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Field Sounds: Deepavali behind Rowell Road

Dolphins on Rowell Road

Dolphin stickers on a wall along Rowell Road

I was sitting at home on Deepavali day, confronted with the noise of a chinese funeral in front, a traffic jam, the general hustle and bustle of Little India on a public holiday, when suddenly I could hear another noise - what sounded like somebody screaming. Alarmed, I went to check out the sound.

Directly behind my kitchen window (which was in a seperate unit across the corridor), there was a crowd of young indian men dancing in the streets. They were really young and practically still boys, so their exciting shouting and singing was so high-pitched that I had initially mistaken it for screaming. There was a drumbeat - but they did not actually have drums, and the sound was that of them crouching in the streets with empty plastic bottles and they were hitting them on the ground rhythmically. Some were singing, some were shouting, and some of them were in the centre, dancing wildly and showing off their dance moves. It was amazing that they managed to invent an whole impromptu dance party with just an empty backstreet and a few plastic bottles.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Field Sounds: Newton Getai

Dug up some old recordings of a Getai in the Newton Circus Carpark that were recorded back in August 2011.


Unknown Getai Singer - 我问天

There were a number of acts and I did not catch their names. But I recorded this getai singer doing an unexpectedly energetic and jaunty cover of 我问天 (I ask the heavens), theme song to the long-suffering taiwanese drama serial "爱“. (I much prefer the theme tune this way actually, rather than in its serious melodramatic ballad form - just imagine! "我问天!!!" shouted with a flourish of palms, toothy grin, and a dance of glittery sequins!)

黄青元 - 昨夜星辰

The amazing evergreen singer 黄青元 (Huang Qing Quan) made a stellar appearance at this humble stage, singing a couple of his old favourites such as 昨夜星辰 (Last night's stars).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Field Sounds: London Radio Surfing (Stamford Hill, 2 June 2011)

Sat in the house all day waiting for the plumber to come. The result: Turning the radio dial from one end to the other end really slowly and recording it.


Recorded from a radio in East London

Friday, March 25, 2011

I will send you to a better place - Zai Kuning (The Substation Gallery, 25 Mar 2010)

I will send you to a better place flyer
onisstudio: Since 2006, Zai Kuning has been speaking passionately about the lost of the Substation Garden, which has been disconnected from the arts centre itself ever since Timbre Group opened its first food and beverage outlet. The arts community's response towards the lost of the iconic tree, the changing landscape around The Substation, and the community it used to gather varies from nostalgia, ambivalent pragmatism to resentment.

i will send you to a better place - zai kuning
Commissioned for a work for the Singapore Biennale (SB) 2011, Zai proposed to close Timbre and return the garden to the arts community for the period of the Biennale. However, the proposal failed to materialise. Bearing in mind Kuo Pao Kun's words " great failure is more worthwhile than mediocre success', Zai conceived this exhibition and monologue as a response to the failed project, focusing on his personal experience and thoughts about the Garden, the Substation, and his conversation with Matthew Ngui (director of SB 2011).

I want my garden back because I miss the tree
Its 4pm now but the garden is lock and the tree is as
lonely as me

I want my garden back because I miss the tree
And now they have turn the garden to be so ugly
Im feeling sad and angry for the garden and how we use
to play freely

- Zai Kuning's open letter to the artscommunity, 2006

Zai Kuning's Recorded Monologue (partial recording)

Zai Kuning's Speech (25 March 2011)

Zai, thank you for giving this speech. I hope you do not mind but I have recorded it almost in full because I think this is one thing particularly worth documenting and more people should be able to hear this. The situation with Timbre and the Substation Garden is something that is close to my heart as well, as it also can be said that I "found myself" at Substation.

One day during my secondary school days I was leaving the now demolished National Library when I heard the strains of music coming from someplace nearby. I followed the sound and I found a bunch of local bands playing at the back of the Fat Frog Cafe of Substation... and in the years following that chance encounter, I always seemed to go back to the Substation.

The first gig I organised was also at the Substation; my first foray into design work was also working with Moving Images (I was trained only as a writer, but this first stab at doing visual work has more or led to me working professionally as a designer now, many years later). My first solo exhibition was also held at The Substation last year under the auspices of their visual arts open call - I am ever grateful for the opportunity and their support of my work. I would not have had the space or resources to produce my work about the Singapore River if not for the Substation.

Space is always important here because there is so little of it. While I am not homeless, I work on my own independently and this takes me to many different offices and different places in a single day, and this sometimes feels like I'm some sort of refugee. I am often moving through town carrying all sorts of ridiculous amounts of equipment and books (and constantly picking up more and more). Sometimes in the lull between meetings and the going-ons, I try to look for a harbour at which to shelter at for a while. But over the years, these "meeting spots" have gotten fewer and fewer, with the loss of things like winfood and four face buddha. These days I don't know where to go. Sometimes even when nothing is happening at the Substation I actually end up walking there and sitting there alone on whatever bench or chair that has been left outside.

Which I always think is a great pity. Sometimes even in the short moments of rest, great things can happen. Practically all of my closest friends today are the product of random encounters, walking around places. How would these connections have been made without the spaces in the city where people meet? I wish for more spaces in which people can sit and meet and create things without being pressured to buy something, or to consume something. A neutral space, like you said.

What can we do to get back the garden?

A passage i like from Constant's "Another City for Another Life":

"The crisis in urbanism is worsening. The layout of neighborhoods, old and new, conflicts with established patterns of behavior and even more with the new ways of life that we are seeking. The result is a dismal and sterile ambience in our surroundings.

In the older neighborhoods, the streets have degenerated into freeways and leisure activities are being commercialized and corrupted by tourism. Social relations become impossible. The newly built neighborhoods have only two all-pervasive themes: automobile traffic and household comfort — an impoverished expression of bourgeois contentment, lacking any sense of play.

To meet the need to rapidly construct entire cities, cemeteries of reinforced concrete are being built in which masses of the population are condemned to die of boredom. What is the point of all the extraordinary technical inventions the world now has at its disposal if the conditions are lacking to derive any benefit from them, if they contribute nothing to leisure, if imagination is absent?"

See also:
Mayo Martin: We RAT on Zai Kuning and his invisible Biennale work!
The Substation

Friday, March 11, 2011

Citysounds: Allah Akbar / In Excelsis Deo / Huat Ah Heng Ah

Night falls over Jakarta

Taman Rasuna - Allah Akbar
(Jakarta, December 2010)

One thing that one often forgets about visiting a staunchly Muslim country - that is, until one arrives - is that startling, huge sound of muezzins at prayer time, echoing at least five times a day through the city. Like a beacon of light sweeping through the city, the voices rise from the many minarets across the city, calling muslims to prayer. There was always one at about half past 3 in the morning, and due to the stillness of the night it was always incredibly clear as the sonorous sounds echoed off the skyscrapers in the adjacent and more affluent parts of Jakarta city. I did not see so many mosques in the rich part of town, but I did see them at almost every other street corner in the poorer, low-rise areas.

Who was keeping awake at 3 in the morning? Who was listening and who was still praying at this hour? It was as if the voices from the poorer quarters of Jakarta competed with one another to be heard, and under the blanket of darkness, I did not know who might still be listening.


Gereja Katedral Jakarta - Gloria In Excelsis Deo (Bahasa version)
(Jakarta, December 2010)

On the night of Christmas Eve, thousands of Christians pack the Gereja Katedral Jakarta to attend the Mass services conducted in Bahasa. One of Jakarta's largest Catholic cathedrals, the halls within the Gereja Katedral Jakarta are opulently grand in European style - tall stained-glass windows, wooden pews decked with holly and ribbon, small roman birdbaths of "holy water", and gilded paintings of Jesus and the Apostles on the walls. Dressed in their Sunday's best, the services draw a cross-section of Jakarta which appears predominantly Chinese and generally very bourgeois or affluent.

The refrain of "Angels we have heard on high" will be familiar to even english speakers. As the faithful crowds sung it, I wondered, did they translate this song from the English, or the Dutch, or was there a Latin version of the song? There was something jarring about this. The only words I recognised were the Latin words, and in that, one is reminded that Latin was not even the original language of the Bible. I could not even begin to imagine how the Indonesians would relate the Bible to their context of living in Indonesia. An artificial bubble world. But of course I am simply thinking too much - it is not so complicated for most, for Christianity is often just another sign of the gentrification or western influences in those parts.



Xing Gong Temple (Jalan Ulu Air Molek) - Heng Ah Huat Ah
(Johor Bahru, February 2011)

On the 20th day of every new Lunar year, an epic Chingay procession is held in Johor Bahru, where five deities (representing each of the Chinese dialect groups which have settled in Johore - Hokkien, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hokchew, Hakka) take a tour around the city, hoisted on the back of followers eager to bear the load of the huge shrines (for good luck!).

At the temple before they go on their tour of the town, event organisers from the temple lead the crowds in vigorous cheers of "Huat Ah! Heng Ah!" The event is clearly more than just religious ritual but also symbolic of the Chinese community's aspirations and power within Malaysia. After respects have been paid and dances have been made in honour, the "gods" are paraded proudly through an 8km stretch traversing the financial centre of the city which they presumably watch over. The ensuing float procession is decorated in bright LEDs, neon lights, accompanied by acrobatic performers, worshippers with huge joss sticks, offerings, and a long entourage of lion and dragon troupes from all over Malaysia and other parts of Asia.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Perspectives from the Ideal City - Peter Chen (Post Museum, 24 Feb 2011)







Peter Chen's "Perspectives from the Ideal City" features some stunning panoramic prints documenting what seems like a systematic demolition of unbelievably iconic pieces of Singapore's Post-Independence architecture, deemed by various policies to be of architectural unimportance, or overridden by a competitive market driven by practicality and money.

From the Artist's Statement: "However, one occasionally sees a momentary rupture in the fabric of the city as it leaves in its wake a physical presence that reveals itself through the fissure in its arithmetical logic. It is the intention of this research to capture the momentary isolation of such 'reveals' - urban slippages that betray the conditions of the capitalism where progress was unable to erase or assimilate."

I enjoy the idea of these spots being a kind of "urban slippage" - the same way I relate to the Singapore River being some kind of psychogeographical faultline. Through the demolition of such sites which have already etched into people's hearts and memories, even the empty spots where they used to lie still remain haunted for those who find meaning in spaces and memories; it is the punctum of the image. I am also glad that someone has taken the pains to document these places before the connection becomes more and more faint and the dots can no longer be connected between memory and place.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shipwrecked (ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, 18 Feb 2011)

Three shows have opened at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, namely: "Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds", "Traveling the Silk Road", and "Genghis Khan".


"Shipwrecked" is a collection of over 400 items found in a shipwreck off the coast of Belitung island in the Gelasa Straits (Gaspar Straits). I was actually involved in some of the production work for the exhibition so it is probably not possible for me to give an objective account of it - naturally I really like the Shipwrecked show a lot more than the other two exhibitions (which were brought in from the US). I guess it also feels a lot more significant as these are the first time the artefacts are being exhibited here as an original Singaporean collection, whereas the other two shows (Silk Road, Genghis) are shows which were acquired from other collections and then adapted for the space.


Touchscreen map interactive I worked on.

As the story goes, the shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Belitung by sea-cucumber divers in shallow waters of just 20 metres, making it an incredibly rare find in recent times. Found in the coast of Indonesia, it was an arabic dhow that would have sailed from Tang China, to the Abbasid Empire near present day Iraq and Iran. In the course of its epic maritime journey, it would most likely have passed Singapore (Temasek) although there are speculations on the variations of routes ships would have taken around this area.


Octagonal Gold Cup with dancers and musicians on the sides.

Stem Cup (Nose Wine Glasses)

Stem Cup (Nose Wine Glasses)


Bronze Mirror

Despite what appears as a somewhat tenuous connection, Singapore took an interest in this shipwreck, and it was eventually bought over by Singapore Tourism Board & Sentosa. George Yeo's (Minister for Foreign Affairs) speech at the opening belies the metaphorical nature of this acquisition, citing this shipwreck as proof of Singapore's context as the networked city - and an opportunity for us to "relink Singapore to other places like China, Oman, etc."

One may ask what is the ostensible connection between these various things - Pottery from 9th century Tang China? Camels and spices from the Silk Road? Mongol warriors? So how are these related to art or science? At this point only the permanent collection at the ArtScience Museum directly deals with the intersection between art and science. It seems the only thread connecting the three exhibitions is TRADING AND CONQUERING! Perhaps over time (and under less pressurising circumstances) the exhibitions chosen for the space will have more direct relation to art/science; otherwise it should become a museum for exhibitions about maritime/overland trade and conquests! TRADE/CONQUEST MUSEUM? Uh, that might be apt for Marina Bay Sands? (I like it best when people are directly honest about what they are doing...)

Speaking of pottery collections, I was at NUS Museums recently where I found the most amazing display of broken pottery in their permanent collection! I LOVE THIS CABINET!


So, it's all broken into pieces, but we can't quite just throw it away, can we? But what happens to all the broken historical artefacts of the world? Do they still have collection value? And if they don't have collectors value, then what other value do they have?


I love how it looks like someone has lovingly tried to piece it together but the gaps are still so huge between the cracks. So endearingly earnest.


Random Ubin Pottery


Complete & Unabridged, Part I (Lasalle, Institute of Contemporary Arts, 18 Feb 2011)

"In 2011, Mr. Roberto Chabet, one of the Philippines’ most influential contemporary artists, will be celebrating fifty years of his professional practice as an artist, curator and teacher. OAF, together with the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts (ICAS), and King Kong Art Projects Unlimited are presenting a series of exhibitions of works by Chabet and over 80 acclaimed and emerging Filipino artists whom he has taught and mentored."

[From Lasalle website]: "Complete & Unabridged, Part I presents 30 contemporary artists from the Philippines who studied under the guidance of pioneer Filipino conceptual artist, Roberto Chabet. As a driving force and mentor of several generations of Filipino artists, Chabet taught for over thirty years at the University of the Philippines – College of Fine Arts (UPCFA) and curated exhibitions at key artist-run spaces in Manila. Complete & Unabridged, Part I offers a spectrum of works including painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, installation, photography and video that reflects a diversity of interests and practices in art in the Philippines. While not all may follow the same trajectories and paths, they are connected by a continuing discussion around alternative forms and ways of thinking about art, which Chabet has consistently raised through his own art, curated exhibitions and teachings."

Selection of some works at the show:


Felix Bacolor - Terminal (2011)

This is the most striking piece, which can be seen even from outside the gallery.


Gaston Damag - Yes/No (1986)

Jonathan Olazo - Narratives of Exhaustion and Endings 1-3 (2008)

Jonathan Olazo - Narratives of Exhaustion and Endings 1-3 (2008)

Dan Raralio - Press Statement / Wet Dreams / Brain Drain (2009)

Dan Raralio - Press Statement / Wet Dreams / Brain Drain (2009)



Agnes Areliano - Haliya Bathing (1983)

Juan Alcazaren - Involuntary (2009) chopping boards

Juan Alcazaren - Involuntary (2009) chopping boards

Soler Santos - Fallen Tree (2010)

Soler Santos - Fallen Tree (2010)

Ronald Achacoso - Love in the Time of Velvet Painting (2009)

Ronald Achacoso - Love in the Time of Velvet Painting (2009)

"Complete & Unabridged Part I" is open till 26 March 2011 at Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chopping Play: Korean Contemporary Art Now (ION Art Gallery, 21 Feb 2011)


"The participants of "Chopping Play" [...] are all well-recognised contemporary Korean artists in their 30s and 40s who each epitomize the bold flair and creative vision that differentiates contemporary Korean art from their broad Asian peer group. Their evocative and dramatic works have been at the very epicenter of the transformation in Korean Contemporary art heralded by the epochal Gwangju Biennale in 1995, embracing diverse values, globalization and a determined assertion of self through conceptual art." [Kim Inseon - Curator]

A collection of accessible works embracing western pop culture references, collages of modern life. If you're here to find out what are the special Korean bits in Korean Contemporary art today, you might be disappointed that it is not apparent at all. The references in the works here are as global as any generic modern East Asian city - even Singapore also inadvertently feels like an east asian city because we are 78% chinese here.


Images of our animal friends from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dreamworks' Kungfu Panda as painted onto chinese watercolour scrolls may be a neat (or highly sellable) concept but it unfortunately felt like an oversimplification for me, especially without detail of brush strokes. To me, this reflected a shallow understanding of Chinese watercolour. Korea of all places is steeped in such traditional arts, and imbued with what I perceive to be a type of "Korean aesthetic" influenced by "Chinese aesthetics" and confucianism/daoism... In general maybe I hoped too much to see works which reflected or dealt with the question of modern Korea.



I quite liked the sculpture works in the show though. Facial expressions were all excellently done.


Chun Sungmyung - The window blows to you (2011)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Improvisations with Otomo Yoshihide (Lasalle Creative Cube, 19 Feb 2011)

otomo yoshihide



An awesome night of improvisations by Otomo Yoshihide (Guitar and Turntable), Leslie Low (Guitar), Brian O'Reilly (Upright Bass), Yuen Chee Wai (Electronic), Darren Moore (Drums), Tim O'Dwyer (Saxophone).

Set 1: Otomo Yoshihide, Leslie Low, Brian O'Reilly, Yuen Chee Wai, Tim O'Dwyer

Set 2: Otomo Yoshihide, Darren Moore, Tim O'Dwyer

Set 3: Otomo Yoshihide, Leslie Low, Brian O'Reilly, Yuen Chee Wai, Darren Moore, Tim O'Dwyer


There is something almost classic about the arrangement of the second set, which was simply saxophone + drum kit + guitar/turntable (if one can even speak of "classic" combinations of sounds where experimental music is concerned!). The highlight for me was the second half of the second set; a kind of ecstatic free jazz frenzy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cigondewah - Tisna Sanjaya (NUS Museum, 17 Feb 2011)


"Where a clean river once flowed, it is now filled with waste. Clear water has now been replaced with a rainbow of colours reminiscent of the moi indie paintings - red, yellow, green, brown, and sometimes even black, depending on the toxic discharge from the factories upstream." (Artist's statement)


Indonesian artist Tisna Sanjaya purchased a plot of land in his hometown Cigondewah which had been adversely affected by rapid industrialisation and turned into a plastic waste dump, and built the Cigondewah Cultural Centre over it. The work of the centre is to rejuvenate the area and community, providing spaces for pigeon lovers to have races, football fields, and to engage and solve the environmental problems in Cigondewah. By contexualising social action as art, this erosion between "art" and "life" is posited as a metaphor for the need for the erosion of the boundaries between disclipines, ownership of works (art market), and local bureaucracies/social networks - in order to get things done.


Official opening speeches in Singapore are often crammed with pep rally platitudes, reiteration of mission statements, and upper management truisms. The very mention of the words "global city for the arts" is enough to induce teeth gnashing in those sensitive to bureaucratic speak.

But this time I was amused to hear the provost say that NUS takes an interest in art because (and i quote verbatim) "art is that distinguishing factor that will make Singapore a vibrant place to live, work and play".

Standing in front of Tisna Sanjaya's Cigondewah project, one wonders whether he actively realises that he's talking about the "qualities" which make Singapore more "livable" (what does Singapore have to do with it? why is he bringing up Singapore now?) in front of a show conceptualizing social changes / collective action to make Cigondewah more "livable" as art itself.


"seni sebagai jalan hidup" (art as a way of life)


ART = KAPITAL (Joseph Beuys)

i am often glad that I studied literature instead of fine art because i feel like writing is the most basic way to articulate an abstract idea. and art is just one scaffold that represents that abstract concept. yesterday I read Ban Kah Choon's essay "Narrating Imagination" - about the strength of metaphors/similes especially in the context of places with insufficient physical space (such as in Singapore). Where space (or lack thereof) needs to be de-emphasised, it is useful to speak of psychological spaces and to use abstract thought to divert attention away from the development of space. One doesn't even have to look to art for inspiration, for this is a common tactic used in Singapore politics!

From a post I made in 2007:

PM Lee, on the Gardens by the Bay: It is “far more impressive and convincing than any sales pitch by a minister, or a Powerpoint presentation by EDB. A potential investor who arrives in Singapore sees the greenery on the way from the airport to the city centre. He notices not just neatly manicured areas, but also patches of thick vegetation left undisturbed to be bird sanctuaries. He senses the planning, organisation and execution that has made this happen, the social discipline and the public standards that extend to all aspects of life in Singapore”.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan: "We have good infrastructure. You know that we've got a very business friendly environment; we have a favourable tax regime. But at the end of the day, the decision to locate and where to do business is also dependent on individual, how people live, how their family lives, how do they feel here. Do they feel safe here; do they have a good quality of life here? This is where the garden and greenery play a part. They are part and parcel of the whole total lifestyle package”.

I think we're pretty advanced with inventing metaphors here. After all, we're an entire nation built on imaginary constructs of what we want to be. Now, to follow in that tradition...