Tag Archives: Southeast Asia

Two in the Afternoon (microfiction from Touching JB)

We were sitting on the chairs in front of the wood burning stove when they materialized. Their arms were like Japanese Easter eggs. Finally, the young man stopped with his thumbs and looked up from his phone. On top of his peppery skull was a filet of pink hair. Circular wire eyeglasses, yellow irises. He moved his head a little, then reached for the curry puffs. Started eating before he paid. The girl took hers without looking up.

The man behind the counter smiled sincerely, thanked them. Behind him, the wall was full of photos and newspaper clippings, most from when the man’s hair and beard weren’t white. Near the cash register: two playful photos of him and his wife at the Taj Mahal. Once, at the 123 Cafe, he'd told me that theirs was an arranged marriage. She passed away. Lung cancer. He didn’t say more.

The chairs we are in are comfortable. I am eating a piece of cream bread, she is chewing and studying her red bean puff. Saluddhin’s bakery has an authenticity that would usually capture my attention, but now I cannot help thinking about a game called Firewatch. It’s about a man living alone in the forests of Wyoming, a man whose wife may have early-onset dementia.

..............30.................

I am on target to finish a 50,000 word book by the end of April. The book is called Touching JB and is a mix of writing about travel, VR/AR, Johor Bahru, Singapore, Southeast Asia, food, history, gaming and memoir. I am excited about this and hope I can stay on schedule.

 

Touching JB: a relaxed description of a book and photo project set in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

so far, the best introduction to this project.... Touching JB is being crowdfunded... thanks for thinking of it... https://www.zingohub.com/#/en-GBL/c/touching-jb unrelated

Touching JB: intro to the new book by Stephen Black

Touching JB: I am very very hugely, remarkably, extremely mega-excited about this project. Adrenaline, research, romance, Johor Bahru and assam laksa. Onward!

Borg 9 Flats Livestream

A woman my age sat down next to me. Her hands were wrapped in fresh white bandages. “What happened?” She stared at me with different emotions, hatred mostly. “You wouldn’t understand. You got 100 ringgit?” I was livestreaming Borg 9 Flats on Twitch. I wasn’t doing a marathon or anything.  Just seeing if anyone would show up. Maybe I could sell something. Only rosenervegas was watching. “You want one?” I pointed to the shrimp crackers by my keyboard. I wanted to see those bandaged hands  try to pick up a shrimp cracker. She reached in. I jiggled the camera so she was in the video. ”Smile, you’re on candid camera.” “What’s that for? You CIA or something?” “Can I buy you a Coke?” “lol,” rosenervegas wrote. She reached across to get a cracker, almost touched me. badcarmel: feed that walrus rosenervegas: lol The schoolgirls came in and logged on.     Monsterbaby:  you got emo one looks like creepy pasta princessbluesky12: like love hina ravertravel1: hand transplants Jordanthe2: she can juggle my balls Our bodies were in the little rectangle at the bottom of B9F, between the map and the skinlist.  We were grainy and green, like bad reality TV. The cameras here are crap. I watched myself watching her as she spilled Coke on her bandages. Everything on Twitch, every warrior and weapon in B9F, was glowing and vibrant. Especially the  castle. Everywhere around us were deep crashing sounds and little boy yelps and curses, Swordfight clangs and techno. Amongst all the kids thrashing in their chairs, me and the woman with the bandaged hands were like snails. Ugly clowns. “You’re alone, right?” She sighed and sat back. It was just me in the grainy green rectangle again. hawkfire: where mummy go? bleakshywire: wa happen 2 hr handz? Dontiana came in. No one was leaving. Rayviking: handburnbaby where’d she go? "Drink your Coke," I said. She asked where the toilet was. No one else watched her walk  to the back. When she returned, she was different. Like she’d put on makeup. She reached in for another cracker and the camera picked her up. rosenervegas: she’s baaackkk.
The woman gestured with her bandaged hands. “ I can't understand you,” she said. I found a pencil. She winced when I slid it into her bandages. I thought I was careful. This would be entertainment, two players on the same piano. Dontiana: is she gonna write or play B9? Frenchmeow: got bandage hand emotes? Monsterbaby: wat is hapn I gently moved her hand over the Q W E keys. I use D for Flash. I jumped into my smurf account and started driving.  She caught on, and started stabbin’ the keys. I was throwin’ stones. Five new people showed up. We started screaming.We were scoring. Not much, but we were scoring. (the background to this story is explained here.) and yes, WordPress destroys my formatting. Every time.

Let’s Spend the River Together

the writing spree begins now; in  Johor Bahru, Malaysia at 2AM... What a delight it is when unplanned events suddenly enrich our lives. A small example: I wanted to research the possibilities of short story/gaming mashups. This search led me to the work of Marc Laidlaw.  His words and ideas helped shape the legendary Half-Life.  His blog post about writing for games  is a burning  Panthunian crystal, set high on a hill; guidance  for the  hooded, tired traveler that was my question. However, what was delightful is this: I have been researching hands, especially all that is profundis , as well as writing about photography. Mr. Laidlaw had once been approached about doing a “cover version” of The Viewfinder by Raymond Carver.  Hats off to  Larry McCaffery for that idea. Fingers and a camera figure prominently in Carver’s story! My  “cover” of The Viewfinder is now in its second draft and will be in the JB book. I will do my best, but it will never be as good as this story about a musical cover: http://www.blacksteps.tv/the-greatest-music-of-all-time/   PS: Just discovered this, about the use of photography in The Viewfinder:  https://www.scribd.com/document/263990334/Raymond-Carver-in-the-Viewfinder   PSS Here is the latest draft of my cover of The Viewfinder.           Weaselspittism

I am a Cat

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.

Apophenia Near the Causeway

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...

Alvin Tan, photographed by Stephen Black at Art 52 Gallery, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

  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.

Coccoon by Alvin Tan and craftsmen from the Orang Asli community. Iskandar Puteri, Johor Malaysia  (2016) photo by Stephen Black

Touching Johor Bahru 1

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

Are You In a Film or In Reality?

We’re on one of the few picturesque streets in the old quarter of Johor Bahru. We see three Malaysians loading a truck with furniture that they are carrying out of a big red colonial house. Now we see a man quickly walking; he is late: BIFF DANKLE, an American with long hair that may or may not be fashionable. He pulls at it constantly; BIFF’s nervousness is obvious. He's carrying a manila envelope. BIFF approaches SIMON MURRAY and smiles respectfully.

SIMON crushes his cigarette and puts his hand out. He is in his early sixties, in excellent shape, and with movie star good looks.

SIMON reads quickly.

BIFF pretends not to study SIMON’s face.

BIFF again recites to himself some of the films that SIMON worked on: The Last Emperor, Life of Brian, Titanic, Distant Voices Still Lives, La Vie de Boheme, Indiana Jones... He’d seen photos on SIMON’s website; his pals like Madonna, Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr... SIMON is humble, but not afraid to mention those with whom he’d enjoyed himself, famous or not. One moment SIMON might mention Sir Laurence Olivier, the next moment, nearly in tears, he'd describe the cheerful, sweet innocent face of Jimmy Wu, the bespectacled little boy with Backlington Syndrome who had hobbled six miles through a minefield in the snow in the dead of night to gaze upon the glasses that SIMON had made for Harry Potter.

One moment SIMON might explain the influence his mother had upon British postwar playground design; the next he'd be describing an Oscar party he’d attended with both Playboy’s Miss January 1983 and a former Miss Texas who had “worked with Elvis”. BIFF remembered wistfully how SIMON once had effortlessly segued from a naughty casting couch story set in a Viennese penthouse to a description of his father’s meeting with Gandhi, to tips on how to get building permits in Los Angeles. SIMON knows both the dark secrets surrounding the present location of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper costumes and the simple joy of sharing 

sewage pipe in the middle of the road.

“This is surreal,” SIMON says.

BIFF’s heart leaps. He hadn’t thought that the script he’d risked his health and sanity for would be considered “surreal”. But if SIMON MURRAY thought it was surreal, then his script was surreal, goshdarnit! Great! Actually, BIFF’s aim was to write a mashup; something like Waiting for Godot meets Mission Impossible. One draft had been titled Waiting for the Pink Panther.

“Absolutely surreal” SIMON repeats.

Eventually, BIFF understands, sadly. His script is not surreal; SIMON's mind is preoccupied with Something Else....The  Meaning of Life. The Undefinable Power Which Pervades Everything Yet Cannot Be Proved. Malaysia. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.The fact that Life is unscripted, yet filled with countless scenes containing countless varieties of brutality, no matter how much we think otherwise.

SIMON lights another cigarette. We hear only the sound of diners in the cafe across the little street. BIFF becomes aware of  the aroma of herbal soup.

”OK… No bulldust”, SIMON says. “Your script. Some good ideas, but... don't do  two things at once. You can’t be both opera and MTV. Ballet or gangsta rap. You must decide. Hemingway or The Bard. Whattsap. Commitment. Your  Mr. Yellow character is unbelievable; I am unclear as to whether he has Parkinson's or just a silly walk. Your script should be a ticket away from reality. It's not."

SIMON looks at the truck. "I had hopes..." Suddenly SIMON  starts barking like a big basset hound; the loudness he makes is the sound of being upset and surprised yet happy. The men packing the truck stop. SIMON is amongst them immediately. He shows them how to pack properly.

Stephen Black: VR startup in Singapore. Why?

An outline of reasons as to why Singapore is the place for Stephen Black's planned  VR startup.
  1. As Creative Director/Producer for the CDK, a CG-generated VR project for a Singapore-based joint venture, SB became very familiar with Singapore's working environment, including government policies and business practices. (The CDK is described more fully elsewhere on this blog.)
  2. As a long-term resident based in Singapore since 2002, and the author of a bestselling book about Singapore (i ate tiong bahru), SB has a familiarity with Singapore as well as a personal and professional network.
  3. The government of Singapore provides support for VR and VR-related startups. https://www.spring.gov.sg/Nurturing-Startups/SEEDS/Pages/spring-start-up-enterprise-development-scheme.aspx VR in Singapore
  4. As a teacher of VR-related educational software in the Singapore educational system, SB has experience "in the trenches", regarding the demands of institutions, schools, teachers and students. The Singapore Ministry of successfully tested the CDK and  presented the results at an international educational symposium.
  5. Singapore is a regional hub, with strong connections throughout Southeast Asia,India, China and Japan. This fact, combined with SB's living experiences in Japan, Hong Kong, Paris, New York and Bali create a strong  possibility for an active beta network that will be an influential force for global take-up.
    two male avatars in a very red gallery

    Stephen Black and Eugene Soh in the virtual lobby of gallery.sg, the location for the SPOKEN exhibition

    6. Safe and stable, Singapore has trustworthy legal and business infrastructures. 7. English: yes! Other languages? Yes, yes, yes and yes!
  6. 8.Singapore's multicultural population is also very smartphone savvy.