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Category Archives: short stories
Last night, an old woman gently pushed my nose towards a newspaper covered with fish bones and lemongrass. A rat ran over one of the sparkly shoes under the table full of women from The Golden Place and two of them screamed. The man who sells pens came by, so did the man with the folding rattan chair. Distracted by the hissing of an intruder, I stepped on a hot cigarette butt. The man with the burnt face gave away perfume samples he pulled out of a new duffel bag. The monk looked into the eyes of everyone, offered his bronze bowl to a few. I listened to happiness, drunkenness, boredom, and suspicion. Music played from little radios. Barefoot children stared at me. Now it is morning and I’m lying in the shadows of the red plastic chairs. Coins are being counted on a metal table and the man behind the Chinese newspaper is smoking and drinking coffee. When I used to live in the place with big windows I only worried about rainy days. I had no scars, no friends and both of my eyes.
the following is being rewritten and is very far from the most current version. the conversation I had with Alvin was great; this blog post is so-so...Our greatest challenge may be learning to bear incoherence. “The officer pulled me into the search area. Went through my car, my wallet, my personal letters,” Alvin says without emotion. The incident took place about thirty years ago. ”A friend had handwritten the Chinese characters for ‘democracy’ on a flyer. The officer asked me about it and I said it was related to an artwork I had done.’ Don’t distribute this,’ he said, and he let me go.” Tiananmen Square,1989: we had been talking about it. At the time, I was living in Tokyo and working at ABC News. All of our cameramen and sound guys were over in Beijing. One had hidden an 8mm video camera in a box and documented the demonstration. One afternoon during that time I was at home with our baby. On TV a student demonstrator was asked a question; her carefully pronounced answer made a reference to Abraham Lincoln. I was moved to tears. Fragility, innocence and youth amidst an unplanned massive demonstration in the most influential historical area in Asian history. During Tiananmen Alvin had been involved at The Artists Village(TAV), the first artists commune in Singapore. He made an installation in an unused chicken coop, entitled Personal Views, China’s Democracy and there was Blood. Tang Da Wu did a performance within the installation. Tang Da Wu founded TAV and is regarded as the founder of contemporary art in Singapore. At the time, the influence of TAV was felt throughout Southeast Asia. Even now, TAV members like Lee Wen, Amanda Heng , Zai Kuning, Koh Nguang How, Vincent Leow and others are exhibiting work in Singapore and internationally; their works usually reflect the activism and sense of social responsibility that were part of the TAV experience. Koh Nguang How is a documentary artist now; he was working in a museum at the time and visited TAV whenever he could. In preparation for my interview with Alvin, I sent Koh a Facebook message, asking if he had any questions. Koh’s attention to detail is impressive; he told me Alvin’s wife is from Taiwan and that Alvin did not speak Mandarin. Koh wanted to ask me if Alvin had any problems teaching in English. Mandarin was the language being used at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, where Alvin taught Western Art History, Aesthetics of Art and Psychology of Art.”Nanyang” is a Chinese phrase that translates as “Southern Seas”, though it often refers to all of Southeast Asia. During the years that Alvin was teaching, Singapore was continuing to define itself.English became the language of instruction. Koh’s question highlights the complexities of language in Singapore, especially in regards to Chinese dialects. Mandarin is the one of the four official languages of Singapore and the official language of China. The word translates as “speech of officials”. “No, I didn’t have any problems, as English was so widely spoken. My classes became so popular we kept adding more. Even students who only spoke Mandarin wanted to attend. I told them they could, but that they would still have to write a term paper, even if they wrote it in Mandarin. Students were very hungry to learn about art then.” Alvin has studied in Oakland California, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur and Rome. In Rome he became involved with a community and an exhibition, that made the most of an abandoned building owned by the Vatican. Those experiences prepared him for the possibilities of TAV. The Artists Village: in our conversation, silence often follow the phrase. Like the Impressionists in Paris, Andy Warhol in New York or Damien Hirst in London’s world of advertising, TAV is associated with a specific time and place. TAV is, perhaps, most noteworthy because it was a pioneering achievement. The internet, numerous art schools, globalization, the commodification of art and changes in government policy now make the Singaporean art world very different than it was in the Eighties. “We should not encourage escapism” is a phrase I wrote down years ago, upon viewing an exhibition about Singaporean art in the Sixties. It felt like the Singaporean art world then was lost. Alvin mentioned the West’s first art critic, Giorgio Vasari and his book, Lives of the Artists. “A book about TAV is a good idea,” he says. I let the topic drift away. I could throw myself into creating a reading experience based upon the Artists Village, but I would not want to write a book about the Artists Village. A movie script, maybe, though where would the drama lie? Perhaps there were personal dramas at TAV: romances, scandals of some sort, infighting, egotism, probably betrayals: but if so, they are unrecorded. An unimaginative movie script would follow a three act structure: Act One: Tang Da Wu revolutionizes and modernizes Singapore’s contemporary art scene by establishing TAV and attracting the island-nation’s youngest, best and brightest. Act Two: Utopia at the end of a coconut tree-lined kampung dirt road; Pure Art, but with weekly visits by the police. Act Three; Exile and Loss. On our table is the catalogue of Alvin’s paintings, in which he wrote: I hope my paintings trigger an original sensation within the viewer; natural and freely formed without history or preconditioning. And so it is with this writing; I hope to give you, the reader a sense of our conversation, a sense of the topics we touched upon. Alvin, TAV and the quiet street in Johor Bahru where we talked are all worthy of narrative writing. But I haven’t been inspired to write logically, just as Alvin is not inspired to paint realistic landscapes. Perhaps I am like an Expressionistic painter, using sentences and ideas instead of brushstrokes and pigments. Hijikata’s widow told me that her husband, the co-founder of butoh, and the writer Mishima and had fistfights over differences in aesthetics. Now...eyes glued to “smart”phones, plastic souls bury themselves in low-level radiation screen displays. Facebook comments pass for heated debate. Articles I want to read: TK Sabapathy. “No way out” The Strait Times, Singapore Art & Entertainment May 20, 1993 Jennifer Tan. “Art that faces up to problems of the world” City Weekly, Singapore. May 13, 1993 “No Bed of Roses For Alvin” New Straits Times, Malaysia October 28,1987. I learned the word “apophenia while researching the phenomenon of seeing faces in clouds, a concept I wanted to compare to the act of viewing Alvin’s paintings. I also discovered molybdomany, shadow people, pareidolia, patternicity and the work of Chonosuke Okamura , who won an Ig Noble Prize for his reports of finding tiny, tiny humans in ancient limestone. "There have been no changes in the bodies of mankind since the Silurian period,” Okamura wrote, ”except for a growth in stature from 3.5 mm to 1,700 mm." My word research also found this phrase; "a specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness". Finally, this fact: a person withschizophrenia initially experiences delusion as revelation. If there are patterns in this text, I must find them, for discovering patterns where there seem to be none is a very good thing. My life, my meeting with Alvin, the historical events that occurred within our lifetimes; there must be patterns. Banksy. The Beatles. The kway teow I’ve just eaten, the breeze and the frangipanis above us, the patterns of the tiles below. This is a Sunday afternoon, March 12, 2017. I met Alvin a week ago; our lives share some of the same patterns. Visas, passports and turnarounds. The last painting in Alvin’s catalogue, is called Late Arrival. I cannot judge his brushstrokes, nor if there is actually detail in the completely black areas. On the upper left of the painting, is a soft-edged raggedy flag-like shape of blue and blueish-white. Close to, and parallel with, the left edge of the painting is a warm brown horizontal shape like a tree branch or rifle. On the bottom right, a spike, the same tonality asthe brown on the left. Untitled Indigo is the name of first painting in the catalogue. It is a remaking of the yin yang symbol in soft fractions. A whirlpool. A map studied at twilight or dawn. Related post: http://www.blacksteps.tv/amanda-heng- performance-art- in-context- a-singaporean-perspective-by- lee-wen/ The italicized sentence which begins this essay is from an article which appeared on the Psychology Today website on July 31, 2012. Being Amused by Apophenia, waswritten by Bruce Poulsen Ph.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reality-play/201207/being- amused-apophenia Thank you very much Koh, and Eric/Art 52.
I've plenty of notes about this place, as well the nights I've spent with the present owner at the 123 Cafe... http://johorkaki.blogspot.com/2012/01/indian-curry-puffs-salahuddin-bakery-in.html?m=1 https://m.facebook.com/pages/Salahuddin-Bakery-Jalan-Dhoby/151382781582630 https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g298278-d7139589-Reviews-Salahuddin_Bakery-Johor_Bahru_Johor_Bahru_District_Johor.html
This post documents progress on Tiong Bahru Mouth, which is a collection of short stories and a visual art project, both by Stephen Black. Visual art, in this case, means photographs, videos and 360 videos. There is also a haiku component which is hidden on the internet. PHOTOGRAPHS http://www.blacksteps.tv/tiong-bahru-mouth-images/ VIDEOS Coffee and Light Tiong Bahru Mouth Wakes Up Jian Boh Shui Kueh at Sunrise Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh glutinous rice packing Galicier Counter at CNY Two Friends in a Hardware Shop A Couple Descending
- This will be a book of photographs, facts, history and stories about the people, food and community of Tiong Bahru and the surrounding area.
- Please note that Tiong Bahru Time is a working title that may or may not be used. However, the idea of time is definitely the foundation of the book. Examples: breakfast time, lunch time, Hungry Ghost Month, the Monkey God's Birthday, the pre-war flats, the post-war flats, daytime, nighttime, the seasons, 24 hours in Tiong Bahru, childhood, adulthood, The Sixties,etc.
- The photographs and text will be mainly by Stephen Black, whose previous book on Tiong Bahru, i ate tiong bahru, is a national bestseller. Stephen Black holds Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology and his works have been shown in galleries and museums worldwide. He has worked at various roles for companies such as CNN, Cartoon Network, Fuji TV, Fox and France 2. His 360 short film entitled Beach Road was featured at the 2015 Brisbane Film Festival and nominated for Best Experimental Film at the 2016 Las Vegas VR Fest. Elsewhere on this blog are posts about his involvement with music, CG-generated environments and other artists.
- At this time the total number of pages will likely be about 200 pages; size not yet determined.
Parts of this post are outdated, but the information about the books is current.Itwas first written to celebratee a crowdfunding success on Zingohub.... The i ate tiong bahru glassware crowdfunding campaign went 30% over target in the first three days... and ended at 175%- well over target! i ate tiong bahru A national bestseller in Singapore, iatb is a collection of short stories about Tiong Bahru, a community living in an estate composed of uniquely styled Art Deco buildings. "Unlike anything else I've read.""Black's love letter is one of the best introductions to a country and a state that you might read" Art Review Asia. More reviews here. Free download from Amazon on November 13,2016.
If you are an art collector, an adventurous reader and a drinker of caffeinated beverages, YOUR DREAM HAS COME TRUE...(click to join the club)Obama Search Words Stephen Black's first book; dynamic, it captures Barack Obama in a style like no other. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016. Obama Search Words was once enrolled in an Unglue campaign. Here is the video produced for that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo-4cmUQubA Furikake Japanese rice seasonings, love and a look at life in Clementi, a small town in Singapore. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016 Bali Wave Ghost "a mad work of genius", Richard E. Lewis, author of the bestseller Bones of the Dark Moon, a novel set amidst the horrific killings in Bali during the Sixties. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016 Fires by Cyril Wong, who is a Singapore Literature Prize-winning poet, fictionist and critic.Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016 Flame Magnet- Do not download this book unless you are adventurous. This isn't something you read, it's the start of a lifelong journey. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016 Contact With Shadow....not free, but becoming unglued! Check out the video as well as a photo exhibition. CWS is an undiscovered classic, full of melancholic swirling laments about lost love. amidst exquisite descriptions of Singapore. Also includes plenty of references to history and little-known baked goods. ..the end... here, however, is an email which I am sending, in various forms, to everyone on my email mailing list... HELLO
Just letting you know that I am starting a new book about Tiong Bahru, this one emphasizing photography. The working title is Tiong Bahru Time.... Here is a brief blog post about it.
And... the i ate tiong bahru glassware crowdfunding project is in the final countdown...less than 24 hours to go!
Finally, there will be another free giveaway of Book Merah ebooks....check here.
As you may know, I Ate Tiong Bahru has sold 2000 copies. It is a bestseller!
All the best and see you in Tiong Bahru!
Today is International Coffee Day... Cheers! I had first thought that I would dig out some old photos of Tony's coffee chop, Hua Bee. Orange melamine saucers, thick porcelain cream-colored cups and the old, white-haired coffee maker in his singlet, pouring out a stream of black liquid from his silver coffee maker. Pale blue walls, kaya toast on at least one of the tables, softboiled eggs somewhere... Something nostalgic, with a bit of a postmodern touch as a nod to Michael Lee, artist and curator, with whom I ate countless bowls of mee pok... But then I thought..."What would Tony do"? And I thought Tony would look upon today as a chance to make money! So, no nostalgic photos today! Instead I, channeling the spirit of Tony, ask you to consider getting one of the few remaining print copies of i ate tiong bahru or an iatb ebook, or an iatb T-shirt, or one of the glass iatb cups that, very soon, will be featured in a crowdfunding campaign on Zingohub. Although there is one short story in iatb exclusively about coffee, something entitled Blued Coffee, the following is an extract from the story called Fa Fa Away. Cheers....and just leave your money on the table. Tony likes it when you leave coins... sb .......................................
Mr. Tang is not at Tony’s.
Tony’s is not yet busy.
Tony’s wearing one of the pale yellow Izod-like shirts he always wears. He moves back and forth from the cooler in the back to the tables on the sidewalk. He takes someone’s order and brings out somebody’s kaya toast. He does little things by the cash register. He ignores me, like he always does. I don’t mind. It’s a compliment, I guess. An inexplicable one.
Finally, he whizzes by. I barely hear him.
“Kopi C kosong?”
I give him the slightest nod possible.
“KOPI C KOSONG,” Tony blares out.
In the back, by the stove, the potbellied and nearly bald magician shuffles up to his stage. Wearing a white cotton T-shirt, shorts and sandals, he begins to make magic with brown powder, water, a long-nozzled silver pot, a well-used cloth strainer and a blue ring of fire.
Tony! He leaves my coffee and slides away his coins. Instantly he’s taking another order, talking with someone.
Good coffee in a thick, white ceramic cup, the faded orange poster from the Seventies explaining the ‘new’ money of Singapore, the simple pattern of the blue tiles on the floor, the ambience of fifty years ago... Not even a radio... Just the sounds of conversations.
I enjoy this, but I’m neither naive nor nostalgic.
This area used to be cluttered with trash of all kinds. Pigs were raised everywhere. Trucks filled with gangsters armed with big knives and steel bars used to roll by, almost daily. The kampungs were so dangerous that the police only entered in pairs, guns drawn. The newspapers were full of crime stories: acid attacks, suicides by hanging, rapes, extortion, stabbings, “intent to traffic heroin,” and all kinds of counterfeiters and thieves. Arrests were made because someone had “waylaid a compatriot,” or “committed an affray by fighting in public.” There was once a “strangling with a black negligee.” In 1986, one of Malaysia’s most wanted criminals was in his sister’s flat in Block 78. The police surrounded the place. He took a hostage. He, the hostage and his accomplice made their way to Kim Pong and Tiong Bahru Road. They boarded a bus. Shots were fired, the last being that of the fugitive ending his own life.
Crime was not the only danger. For decades newspapers and the government had warned that the kampungs were fire hazards. In 1961, it happened – again. The Bukit Ho Swee fire, Singapore’s biggest, destroyed 60 acres and left 16,000 homeless. Over 8,000 people took shelter at the Kim Seng Road School. The kampungs were completely erased; photos show pigs roaming amidst piles of tin roofs and little more. Within nine months the HDB built five public housing flats, the start of the Bukit Ho Swee estate.
I’ve ordered mee pok and no matter where the auntie sets it on my table, it will be picture-perfect. Yellow noodles and fishballs in an orange bowl, two well-used wooden chopsticks on top. Next to this a tiny bowl of cut chillies soaking in a mixture of soy, sugar and spices.
Tony and the magician who makes coffee have worked hard for a long time. If they want to sell the shop, then more power to them. (I assume they own it – who knows?) It would be nice, though, if the new owners knew a bit about history, had a sense of taste and contributed to the local and global community. (Yes, I am naive. Indonesian, Australian and Japanese speculators don’t usually have this mindset. Not to mention Singaporeans and mainland Chinese.)
My table is like the other round marble topped tables, my chair like the other red plastic chairs. The man with the long moustache is here, smoking his pipe as he checks the race results. His tobacco smoke is always sweet. Maybe the woman in the blue skirt will be here.
And, perhaps it would be nice to have a big coffee chain here, one with comfy chairs and jazzy, slightly ethnic music; an edgy, cool place for hipsters and the wives of expats to chill in the hood. Perhaps not.
Hey! Thanks for reading this far! One of my other books, Bali Wave Ghost is a free download today on Amazon...
I am now driven to write a story, program a game and produce a song inspired by a 1921 painting by Picasso. The first collection of words follows below. The phrases been inspired by the painting itself, the works of Gertrude Stein, and Surrealism, one of several art movements Picasso was involved with. A sure start, but experimentation, additions, reduction and refinement are on the horizon. I am most concerned that the phrases are interesting, but possibly lacking a sense of character; emotion. Another issue is the present lack of rhythm. Other posts about this project will follow.The second post is here. Minotaur, minotaur on the wall… Who’s the fairest of them all? Blood sweat and tears; Hidden but real. I am Olga, aiding an army transfer. Curve an arm Cube a body His perspectives loud radios Mine are mine Our moment is dead, our moment lives on. Bull cracking rose Regret dragging grace Shaming pride Our bottle gains life a guitar takes off its clothes One dances a duet Calculus, surrender and furs. infant ever after Elegant excitement burnt a weary-making fury weight of smoke, after him in public. Our moment lives on, our moment is dead. His oil and cardboard heart exuberant red hole ghost, Music shapes a piece of pain, a rose on fire, the horns of the rain.