love me long time ugh help i’m dying

Say you’re lucky enough to get the beautiful and talented and adorable real-life doctor AND actress, Australian-born Renee Lim [1] in your new comedy show (which is relatively funny – I laughed a lot). Do you let her natural comedy stylings shine with the words, completely unrelated to race, that you have in your script?

Or do you cast her has the heavily-accented, heavily made-up, younger Thai girlfriend of your midlife crisis white father?

GEE. I just don’t know! It’s so hard to decide! Both options are so excellent!

mae, from please like me
sorry i know it’s hard to see but you can just make out her blue eyeshadow and her finger bling

Aside from her accent and her heavy bangles, Mae isn’t even Thai – as if bangles and an accent defines a Thai woman. She could totally be Chinese-Australian! (Or Thai-Australian even though I have issues with the pan-Asian identity – but not a brand new immigrant) Later the series looks at the playful mockery that is part of the “Asian” mindset. She could totally be Chinese-Australian!

It’s not the show I have a problem with – it’s that this is how Australia sees its South East Asian women.

This is not new. South-East Asian Australian women have long been presented as sexual objects, and as objects of ridicule (within a sexual sphere or with a sexual component).

In 1994 we were subjected to Cynthia, played by Juliet Perez[2], who was born in Australia. Cynthia was “a gold-digger, a prostitute, an entertainer whose expertise is popping out ping-pong balls from her sex-organ, a manic depressive, loud and vulgar. The worst stereotype of the Filipina.” [3] She was heavily accented and frustratingly other, laughable and deplorable and completely unable to be related to.

Her Thai-ness, much like Mae’s Thai-ness, was completely unnecessary; it was defended by producer Al Clark as “a misfit like the three protagonists are, and just about everybody else in the film is, and her presence is no more a statement about Filipino women than having three drag queens is a statement about Australian men,” which, uh, fuck that shit, Al, because white Australian males are the very definition of the Australian man, but I don’t see the reverse being true about heavily accented Filipino Australian women in small desert towns, completely separated from their communities and cultural networks. Do you?

Representations of South East Asian women outside of Australia (but still connected to Australians) only reinforce this. Turtle Beach, set in Malaysia, features my beloved Joan Chen as Minou, a Vietnamese woman married to the Australian ambassador. During the movie she sacrifices herself for her children, because South-East Asian women are self-sacrificing for the family, I can only assume. [4]

In Serangoon Road (we all know how I feel about that by now), all the South East Asian women are completely separate from the Australians – there are no SEAzn Australian women in Serangoon Road, which is woah quite the factual error. Maybe my beloved Pamelyn Chee is about to get it on with an American played by an Australian, which is another issue but the point remains.

South-East Asian women on Australian TV can’t be Australians. They’re always from somewhere else; they’re always othered and markedly different. Ien Ang [5] suggests that this is also in part to present a safe multiculturalism to Australians – some SEA women can be Australian, but they’re still markedly different.

The ABS doesn’t give me the data on percentage of Australians who were born in Australia but are of SEA origin/descent/ethnicity (or if it does I’m not able to work it out). But look around your life. How many SEAzn women do you know who look like this, who act like this? Because fuck if I do (I don’t). I have a broad, hilarious Australian accent (except when I’m talking to my mother) and there’s no way I’m sacrificing myself.

This cultural stereotyping for the purposes of entertainment (AND WRONGNESS) is by no means limited to us South-East Asian ladies. There is (was) one non-Anglo Aussie on Packed to the Rafters and his family is played for stereotypical Greek family laughs [6]; Benjamin Ng talked Gangnam Style and the stereotyping of Asian males in the Drum last year [7]; Hany Lee came on board Neighbours as an exchange student (rather than, say, a Korean-Australian) – despite being born in Australia.[8]

If we seek to see ourselves, reflections of ourselves, and actual realities in our media, then Australian media is obviously not presenting us with that, and it’s for a whole lot of reasons. There’s a whole lot of stuff to say here about authenticity, perceived authenticity (and inauthenticity), accepted stereotypes, racism and the Australian identity, but it’s late and you’ve heard it all before. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was 19 years ago, and was hardly even the first cut, and here we are with Mae in 2013, migrating to Australia with her bangles clacking, loving her old white man long time. The Australian identity, if it exists, contains multitudes, and it’d be nice if I wasn’t injured by trying to find it in my Australian media.

PS I’m authentic even when I’m not speaking Manglish at a clip.

Further Reading:

This seems creepy, but Ben Law’s thesis http://eprints.qut.edu.au/29272/2/Benjamin_Law_Thesis.pdf

Asian Women in Australian Soap Operas: Questioning Idealized (sic) Hybrid Representation, Monika Winarnita, Asian Social Science Vol 7, No 8, August 2011. available at: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ass/article/download/11487/8052 …

Footnotes and References

[1] Renee Lim interview with Asians on Film, Asians on Film, (no pub date) accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9xEbHDOwuk*

* WATCH HER IN THE NEWTOWN GIRLS, SHE’S ADORABLE AND QUEER

[2] JULIET PEREZ PLAYED RITA REPULSA IN THE MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS MOVIE IN 1995 HELP HELP AMAZING (imdb)

[3] More Than Just a Laugh: Assessing the Politics of Camp in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Ann-Marie Cook, (no pub date) accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.academia.edu/370668/More_Than_Just_a_Laugh_Assessing_the_Politics_of_Camp_in_The_Adventures_of_Priscilla_Queen_of_the_Desert

[4] The sacrificial Asian in Australian film, Olivia Khoo, real time 59, feb-mar 2004, pp15, accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.realtimearts.net/article/59/7336

[5] Ien Ang, quoted in Asian Women in Australian Soap Operas: Questioning Idealized (sic) Hybrid Representation, Monika Winarnita, Asian Social Science Vol 7, No 8, August 2011. pp4.

[6] All-white Australian television fails the reality test, Melissa Phillips, The Age, February 17 2012, accessed 27/10/2013 available at http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/society-and-culture/allwhite-australian-television-fails-the-reality-test-20120217-1tdbo.html

[7] Gangnam style and the stereotyping of Asian males, Benjamin Ng, the Drum, 25/10/2012, accessed 27/10/2013, available at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4329226.html (don’t read the comments, as always)

[8] Racist debate about TV shows is not always black and white why am I even referencing this stuff properly, Colin Vickery, The Herald Sun, 04/07/2011, accessed 27/10/2013, available at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/racist-debate-about-tv-shows-is-not-always-black-and-white/story-e6frfhqf-1226086750176

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serangoon road s01 e05: heatwave

In Heatwave, Episode Five of Serangoon Road, white people try to save brown babies, the MI6 dude tries and fails to be menacing, and CIA dude takes the Secretary of My Heart on a date and is super embarrassing and rewarded for pushing and pushing after she kept turning him down. Also the text explains ang moh, and Tony Martin is drunk. 

The episode opens at the boat shed, where Alaric talks about how with a few more good jobs of easy money, he can buy a new boat. Don is a downer but he is wearing a new shirt!; Alaric takes money very seriously.

Frank, Claire, Black and Macca turn up at the boat shed to go on an excursion; Macca is drunk and declares that Don should “shoot me now.” Alaric is super unhappy that Claire has come along on their first security job. I do enjoy the continuity of Alaric being suspicious of Claire, and I’m hoping that it goes somewhere in the show. It turns out the company for which Black and Frank work is doing aid work in Malaysia, funding and supplying a hospital. Black goes on and on and on about the good work they’re doing here, and I have a lot of issues. Because while aid work and funding is all well and good, the history of especially Europeans of parachuting in and doing a thing and then buggering off is hugely problematic, and this situation highlights all of that.

Alaric speaks for us all
Alaric speaks for us all

I think I can’t roll my eyes any further, but then Claire sits beside a child dying of malaria and the child looks on in wonderment and touches her hair. He’s super ill, and Claire interrogates the nurse, who hints that maybe something is wrong when Claire is all “you can tell me, you won’t get into trouble,” which, Claire, you’re the Australian wife of a businessman in Singapore, you’re hanging out in some Malaysian village and you seriously think you have any power? Let me tell you a thing, my friend, and that thing is that you are wrong.

Claire tries to convince Black and Frank to investigate and Black is having none of it and when she threatens the image of the company Frank gets annoyed and insists that she leave it alone.

There are too many white people in this episode, where are all my hilarious and great Singaporeans? This show is set in Singapore, I don’t need white saviours we got enough of those already!

On Victoria Street, Pamelyn is getting a cup of tea and CIA dude taps her on the shoulder. “You ang moh have the most terrible manners,” she says, and then actually explains ang moh which sure, I guess. Also it’s true, ang moh do have the worst manners. CIA dude talks her into a date; Joan tells her off and makes fun of her. I am pissed off that the text is rewarding CIA dude for ignoring her repeated nos, and that Pamelyn says he saved me from a problem, I can let him take me to dinner, there won’t be a second. Just another boundary that the show is going to erode, I bet, and I’ll be disappointed in you all.

Don bribes a lab to run tests on the medicine that has been given to the malaria kids; it’s been watered down! “Who would do such a thing and why?” Claire asks. Even Don rolls his eyes.

This is the second job that the detective agency has taken from the company; first the investigation to bribes last episode, and now investigating who is watering down the medicine that the company is paying for at the hospital. I’m hoping that this is a developing plot point, and not just lazy writing.

Pamelyn notes “patronising ang moh woman; only she can save the children” at Claire coming along to deliver the new supplies; Alaric asks why is she even here, the question we are all asking. I like that the text is interrogating and questioning the idea of the white saviour and the short term aid work done especially by Western interests; but it’s such a simplistic, obvious questioning. It’s so formulaic, so basic, that it almost begs a question: what even is the point of this? This storyline, this episode, this work and this show?

"patronising ang moh woman; only she can save the children" preach it pamelyn
“patronising ang moh woman; only she can save the children” preach it pamelyn

On the boat to Malaysia, Don asks if Claire and Frank will ever have kids. I seriously don’t care. I know this is supposed to add depth but, especially when Claire mentions that when she thinks of being a mother she thinks of a boy about the age of Amir in the hospital, it simply serves to highlight that any aid work, any investigation and assistance, is only being done to assuage the guilt of white interests, rather than in the interests of real local change and capacity building.

Surprise! At the hospital, Amir is already dead. Claire is sad, and I’m relieved that at least she’s not sobbing, because I was worried it would happen. Alaric continues to say what we’re all thinking: it’s not the first time someone went with the cheapest option, and “short-term do-gooders – now it’s all blown up in your face isn’t it?” Alaric I love you and your anger. You’re beautiful. He points out that Amir died because the other kids had parents who could afford to buy the real stuff on the black market.

Back in not the Raffles, Frank tells Claire to drop the issue, and not to get people mad. So Claire gives an interview to Macca, who doesn’t mention her name but makes no attempt to hide her identity. Don goes to the Duke bar and chokes Macca, making him spill his drink. Macca gets all sassy about Don protecting Claire; “And if it was her, she’s over eighteen,” he snaps, and ends with “and you’re a bloody prince charming yourself, aren’t you?” It’s interesting, actually, that the only people who ever really question Don are Macca, Joan and Alaric. Everyone else just accepts his image. I hope this goes somewhere.

Claire continues to be incredibly naive; she also says that she doesn’t want to stop, and gazes meaningfully at Don.

sometimes the cinematography is really good
sometimes the cinematography is really good

Macca, drunk and in the dark, gets picked up by some bully boys in suits and escorted to see the dude from MI6. I seriously don’t care about the MI6 storyline, but I suppose I should because of the history of the British in Singapore/Malaya/etc. “Is that a threat?” Macca asks. “Of course not, we’re MI6.” I laugh.

Frank is taken off a big project as a punishment for Claire going to the newspapers; Frank gets annoyed, and wants Don to find out what’s going on. In a warehouse in the dark, Don and Alaric watch some guys come to pick up some boxes, put them in a boat, and unload deported unionists who have been smuggled back in. I don’t understand what Alaric is doing here, given he’s only in the Import Export, but I’m glad he’s here!

On the date, Pamelyn wears an awful debutante dress. They are surrounded by white people. Because Pamelyn wants to move to the USA to study, CIA dude has American food served to Pamelyn, including a hotdog on a plate and wine from his father’s vineyard. He says “music is also a part of [her] education,” and a guy comes out playing violin and CIA dude sings Yankee Doodle Dandy in the middle of the restaurant and I’m so embarrassed by how awkward this is that I press the mute button until it’s done, I just can’t deal with it. Is this supposed to be charming? There’s no way she’s gonna consider that charming, I speak as an arrogant, embarrassing to my parents, Gen Y SEAzn and I find that behaviour frankly embarrassing, and I’m not even Peranakan. I call bullshit. Unless she’s rebelling against her parents. Then I buy it.

Back at the Detective Agency, Alaric suspects something and everyone suspects it’s one of the secret societies, because a boat captain on his own wouldn’t be able to pull off something like this. Alaric dashes off into the jungle, discovers the secret lab where dilution is taking place, and there’s lots of Malays smoking and siphoning. Somebody spots him because of course, he runs and is chased and I am worried for him, why didn’t he say where he was going? He does the worst hiding job ever but somehow he isn’t found.

When Don is surprised at Alaric going off to find the lab, he reminds Don – “I said I didn’t pretend to care.” TAKE THAT WHITE PEOPLE. With Ario and the police in tow, they discover the lab has been cleared out, and when they surveil the warehouse Ario lets the boat captain go, but captures the men he’s with. This scene moves fast and frankly could do with better exposition but, we learn that MI6 swooped in to bust the union leaders being smuggled in earlier in the day, and the captain is being let go because he’s their informant. The meds is just whatever.

throwing shade from shade
throwing shade from shade

Joan gives a smile when she reports back to Claire. Nobody is being punished; “Welcome to Asia.” I cry laughing.

There’s a lot of romance in this episode, and it’s bugging me. CIA dude comes to tell Pamelyn that he’s being sent to Saigon, and the implication is that it’s because of what he said to Black in the previous episode. But CIA dude is secretly CIA! How can Black have this much control over CIA dude’s postings? Pamelyn gets sad because despite telling him there will be no second date, they haven’t kissed yet so they do, and then she’s all “oh my god we’re in trouble,” and Pamelyn is working it but I’d find it more moving if it were at all believable, see rant three paragraphs previous.

NO STOP DO NOT WANT
NO STOP DO NOT WANT

Because white people in Singapore in the 60s all knew each other, Claire knows exactly who to talk to despite never having interacted on screen before. She confronts MI6 dude, threatening to expose him, and MI6 dude threatens right back, implying he knows about her and Don getting it on. She backs down, and in a completely excruciating scene Don and Claire officially break up and there’s lots of moody music and they awkwardly hold hands and I’m crying laughing and I just don’t understand why we’re supposed to care.

This scene goes on and on and on and frankly highlights how this episode was just too much white people. I want more Singaporeans!

singaporeans! as background
singaporeans! as background

Next week: SINGAPOREANS. And my Tong Boyf Chin Han.

We’re halfway through the season, and I still don’t know where we’re going with this. There are some amazing beats, some excellent cinematography, and some excellent threads. Joan Chen is basically phoning in her performance, but every now and then she’s given a great bit of dialogue and someone excellent to work off, like in episode two with Xiang Yun, and you see what could have been. Even if it’s often clunky, I’m grateful that the series does present some realities of the era and the setting and attempts to interrogate them, not just being all “wow it was a great time!” – which it was, if you were white.

Serangoon Road has a lot of potential in its themes, in the stories it’s telling, and in the way it’s trying to widen the audience for shows heavily featuring stories and faces that aren’t white. And I do feel like all of those things have been improving from episode to episode. I just wish I could trust it to keep on improving. At some points, only my love of the setting and my familiarity with the Singaporeans is what keeps me going.

A Miscellany

  • Rachael Blake I love you so much, when are you going to actually have a role in this show? “Darling it sounds too hideous for words” yes you’re the best.
  • At Claire’s house, Don takes off his shoes before entering. YES GOOD. However this is ruined by Claire wearing her shoes in a BEDROOM later in the episode. WHITE PEOPLE. YOU ANG MOH HAVE THE MOST TERRIBLE MANNERS.
  • I didn’t want to include all of Alaric’s amazing lines, also including “This is a bad idea. Sorry, this is another bad idea. You never have any good idea.”
  • Macca is so drunk through the whole of this. I love him.
  • MI6 dude on why he doesn’t care about dying brown babies: “there’s a greater good in ensuring the successful transition of the region.” a) oh god, the british in SEA in the 60s ugh; b) UGH
  • Anachronisms of the week: Claire wearing short dresses. Like, I know we’re nearly up to mini skirts here but maybe still too short? Please hold while I ask my mum.

serangoon road s01 e04 Give Me Money

On Serangoon Road 1×04 ‘Give Me Money’, the fantastic gambling B plot becomes the A plot, we get lots of Alaric Tay, Don wears appropriate clothing (and gets hired to investigate the man he’s cuckolding), and once again I talk about white people taking the SEAzns of SEA for granted (those jerks). Also the acting gets better and so it’s a shame about those spiralling viewing numbers for My ABC. 

o rly?
o rly? ps thanks for doing up a button, Don

We open to Alaric Tay counting in Mandarin, and the fortune telling Auntie telling Don’s future. Future dark. Very bad. Don is all ‘非常好,谢谢你’ which is funny because that’s not what the subtitles tell you (the subs say ‘Thanks Auntie I needed cheering up, which a) sarcasm and b) he literally says ‘very good, thanks Auntie’ which yes might be sarcasm but even then! Also some other bits are wrong lah). I love this entire section! Then Alaric gets pickpocketed by a street kid while Auntie is asking for cash and I laugh a lot, genuinely this time and not in making fun like the other episodes.

I realise for the first time that Auntie Fortune Teller is actually sitting right in front of Brother Song’s place of business, and now I’m starting to wonder (hope) that she is something important later on in the series, particularly since later on in the episode Don explicitly asks if Kay Song is in and she says ‘not happy. Come another day.’ Guardian Auntie Fortune Teller?

Alaric attempts to pay Brother Song, who attempts to talk him into more gambling but whilst Alaric is considering, the money is fake! Tong Goon One throws him onto the pool table and Brother Song pulls out a knife and a lighter, starts discussing which eye to take as he sterilises the knife (he’s so courteous). Which eye is he gonna take?!

However before Brother Song can take an eye, a bomb goes off outside! Don protects Auntie Fortune Teller with his body from the bomb blast, what a good boy. The explosion is the opportunity that Alaric takes to run away from Brother Song, grabbing Don as they dash off to find Harry Wong, who gave Alaric the fake money. “Harry Wong when I’m dead I’m gonna come back as a ghost and haunt you,” Alaric yells when they discover that Harry Wong has done a runner.

Cut to the agency, where Pamelyn the Secretary of My Heart can’t find anything on Harry Wong. Maxwell Black, who has the world’s most worrying moustache, turns up; he gets shot down by Pamelyn and told off by Joan, good work Singaporean women I love you all. Maxwell Black wants the agency to investigate a problem in his company, and Don always knows where the bodies are buried. Frank Simpson in particular might be a problem, and a reminder because I never talk about him that he’s the man Don is cuckolding; Pamelyn looks like she’s trying not to laugh. Joan takes the case while Don is all Nooooodundoeeeeet.

NOPE
NOPE
look at that great side-eye
look at that great side-eye

Two Tong Goons turn up to take Don to see Brother Song, where Brother Song is sharpening a fucking meat cleaver. Now, like any good Chinese girl, even this vegan one, I own a meat cleaver and I love it, but holy crap the noise as he drags the cleaver along that whetstone is chilling and fucking terrifying low in my belly. Chin Han totally sold me in this scene, the quiet, serious, slightly psychotic menace that I’ve always assumed Tong leaders have.

He tells a quiet story, about a hawker with legendary char siu bao; his son was a gambler, and the son tried to sell his sister he was so in debt, so addicted to gambling; but he wanted to stop, so he cut off a finger so that whenever he was tempted to gamble, he’d look at his finger and be reminded not to. He keeps sharpening the cleaver as he tells Alaric that Alaric is not as good as that hawker’s son; he is just shit, so he’s gonna have to cut off a finger for him. Don just keeps watching, not saying anything, because he knows he’s been brought to watch this for a reason; one of Brother Song’s men is leaking to the police, and he wants to know which one it is. Don says he has a policy of not working for the gangs, which is a shame, because Brother Song just ties Alaric’s hands in place and keeps going with the prep for cutting off a finger; Alaric gives the best WHAT NO face ever as Brother Song considers cutting off a whole hand, and it’s at this moment that the scene goes from ‘I’m pretty sure Brother Song is bluffing, this scene is overwrought’ to ‘OMG IT’S HBO MAYBE HE’LL DO IT?!’

NOPE
NOPE

“Fuck you la I thought you my friend,” Alaric says after Don agrees to work for Brother Song; “You very selfish you know, I got to do everything on my own is it?” I love Alaric so much, I know he’s just here for humour and in this particular instance to move the plot along but I love him so much.

Don meets up with Claire in a garden, and Claire talks about how she wants to see the orchids in Singapore. CLAIRE YOU’RE IN SINGAPORE DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE NATIONAL FLOWER IS. I mean that’s like coming to Australia and saying you want to see a wattle or something JUST OPEN YOUR EYES. Don, because he’s apparently not that good at detectiving (like Claire, who can’t find orchids in Singapore), tells Claire that he’s been hired by Maxwell Black to investigate her husband Frank. Claire is horrified and convinced that Don is completely wrong, but she doesn’t even bother to insinuate that Don is happy to finger Frank for it because he wants to get rid of the competition. “If he was on the take I’d be seeing some of the benefits,” she says, as she flashes around a previously not seen plot device diamond bracelet. “He brought it home from one of his trips – it’s not real he can’t afford it on his salary,” she continues, as if she’s not even thinking about what she’s saying. I hate everybody in this scene, it’s so ridiculous.

Pamelyn’s connections tell her that Harry Wong is back in town, same game different spot, so Don corners him and Alaric walks down the alley with a knife in his hand, so ridiculous looking I love it. He threatens to hack off Harry Wong’s arm with the world’s tiniest knife and Harry Wong caves, telling him that Brother Song told him to pay Alaric fake money. This is clearly a ploy to get Don to work for Brother Song but I didn’t think Don was that good, I’d like a little more show not tell, Serangoon Road. How does Don know where the dead bodies are buried? How does Don get such a good rep that his business partner gets framed to ensure his complicity? What how tell me.

Macca in the bar, where I guess he lives but that’s about right for an Australian journalist in 1964 in Singapore, and he tells Don that Frank Simpson seems like a good bloke – but they all start out like that, “present company excepted” and I don’t know what he means! Did Don start out bad? Are there more backstories?

Don keeps digging, and he ends up talking to a dude who works with Frank, and fingers Frank for it immediately. Implies that Frank enjoys the good life while others try to save to company money. In the officer, Pamelyn and Joan are using Xiangqi tiles to mark out where Frank travels. “We’re building the suspect’s profile, is that correct?” Pamelyn asks, she’s such a cutie. I suspect it’s all a stitch up. Don goes directly to Claire to ask for their tax records because he’s the worst detective ever, and Claire reminds him “If he goes, I go,” which just to remind everyone that’s not a love thing, that’s because she’s just there in Singapore as his plus one.

I get really excited because from this we go to a shindig, and it’s some backstory I assume because Don pulls a box out of a locked drawer and it contains MEDALS. We cut to Frank and Claire getting ready. I would wear Claire’s dress. Claire asks if people change; “people accept things here, cross lines that they wouldn’t at home.” Is Claire thinking about her affair? WHO EVEN KNOWS

(the orchids are behind you, claire!)

appropriate attire!
appropriate attire!

ALERT ALERT, for the first time in this series Don has chosen to dress himself appropriately for the occasion – he is in a white suit and wearing his medals, with his hair slicked back. Malaya? Frank asks. “What attracted you to Singapore?” Don asks him after a moment. “We live like kings,” Frank replies, “you’d be mad not to take it.” Subtle, man. Also, reasons why I hate Australians in SEA in the 60s and 70s, Exhibit A: this fucking attitude. I’m gonna cut you all, for serious ugh. Claire makes some noises about how she lost her dad as he earned those same medals in some war; I didn’t know that, says Don. Claire notes there’s a lot about each other they don’t know. I don’t care.

Pamelyn is at the fancy shindig! She sasses white dudes, and says no again to the CIA dude but maybe not so harsh this time. Meanwhile Don makes off with a briefcase full of tax records that Claire got for him, and runs it back to the office where he and Joan start rummaging through it.

Gross Maxwell Black gets all up in Pamelyn’s personal space and she can’t say no for some reason. CIA dude cuts in when Black starts fondling her arse and telling her she has a great derriere (actual thing he says). Pamelyn just watches while CIA dude is all threatening and Black is like ‘you’re nothing’ and I realise that there’s a reason why CIA dude is always like ‘I’m at this event as the American Cultural Attache’ it’s because he’s UNDERCOVER. It took me four episodes to work that out, was that just me or was it the series failing to tell us that? Pamelyn says “you were quite scary just then” and I am like Pamelyn no, don’t start dating him.

gross
gross

We already know how much I love that Pamelyn is the one with the social capital to shoot him down, and even though he’s all “I’m an amazing white american man! I’m with the CIA and went to Yale! I deserve the whole world!” she just keeps shooting him down. I love that she’s the one out of his reach. And there is a long line of SEAzn women who left SEA by marrying a white military man and going back to their home country in the 50s, 60s and 70s (I am the product of that long line of SEAzn women) and there’s a lot of inequality, imperialism and colonialism built through all of that. So I really don’t want them to start dating. And I definitely don’t want his persistence in ignoring her ‘no’s to pay off. So anyway this storyline is I am pretty sure about to go somewhere problematic, at which point you’re going to hear even more about this shit so stay tuned.

Max shuts down the party and throws everyone out, because as Frank says it’s the team. What?

In the office, Joan is starting to guess something is up with Don and the case, I wish he wouldn’t keep secrets from Joan because why would you, and Claire calls to say they’re heading home so THE STUFF. As Don runs for his car some Tong Goons come for him and there’s this thirty seconds where it gets all very Wu Xia with Alaric. There’s hilarious tension music in the car with Claire and Frank, as Claire tries to convince him to take the long way home. At the house, Don breaks in and Alaric pretends to be a ridiculous local (he is) to delay Frank.

local in the car - could have fooled me
local in the car – could have fooled me

Of course Don gets away with it, and talks Claire into having the bracelet valued – it’s way expensive (no price given to us). Don leaves Claire on the street, in direct contrast with two weeks ago where he was all “don’t go to Bugis Street” and “it’s not Sydney, Claire,” and drinks tea at a street vendor with Joan. As they’re chatting some Red Dragons turn up so he visits with Brother Song. Armed with the knowledge that everyone knows he’s working for Brother Song, they get into a fight and he says he’ll do the work but only in exchange for information about a white man who’s spending more than he should.

In a hilarious scene, Brother Song gives instructions to Tong Goon One in English (WHY), the other gang is I think Malay, there is a melee between the Red Dragons and the rival gang, and a kid (the same kid who picked Alaric’s pocket in the opening) picking pockets. Don ends up in the melee, the police turn up, the scene is literally on fast forward, the kid picks up the gun and shoots it, Don picks up the kid and the gun and runs. Is he about to get done for shooting? NO BECAUSE IT TURNS OUT BROTHER SONG’S LEAK IS THE KID. The kid has been talking to the rival gang but not the cops, so there’s a second traitor! Joan and Don bribe the kid to spin a tale to lure out the other traitor in the Red Dragons and chuck him out.

At their dockside warehouse, Alaric gets mad, telling Don this is just like the story with the goat and the tiger, and Don is the goat. The tiger turns up, and it’s Tong Goon One! Another ridiculous scene occurs where Don is all “this is just like Kalimantan” and Alaric is all “no this is not like Kalimantan” and then they start dancing and singing kalimantan in front of the gun that the goon is holding? I cry with laughter as they confuse the goon and then grab the gun and the goon; and the goon is revealed to not be leaking to the cops, but a three year undercover cop, who was going to kill them to keep his place. This part of this scene is so terrible, a definite return to the poor form of episode one, but thankfully it is over quickly.

Don visits Brother Song, and Brother Song reveals who the white dude is; it’s the other white guy from Frank’s office, what a fucking surprise. “Tonight he’s losing but shows no fear,” Brother Song says. “Plays like a man who can afford it.” The other guy is all “the gambling is for my sins, I went along with it, Frank’s the guy, ask him about the bracelet” and this scene is super average but importantly Don is wearing a different shirt from his white thing! It’s yellow and buttoned up and maybe it’s even been ironed or steamed?! Good work costuming.

Don tells Frank, as opposed to Black who employed him, and Frank and Don agree the other dude was setting him up. Frank says he had no idea the bracelet was worth so much and that the other guy told him to accept it! They agree he should give it back. Joan gets mad because she found out about the bracelet and Don talked to Frank and not Joan.

Frank and Claire wander past the office, and Frank confesses he couldn’t bring himself to give back the bracelet and now it looks like Claire’s just going along with wearing a bribe diamond bracelet worth more than a house and there’s funny looks all around. Frank invites Don to dinner with him and Claire but Don demures, and he better be questioning them in his head! Don I want some continuity here please! SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHERE TO FIND ORCHIDS IN SINGAPORE COME ON.

this is how i feel right now
this is how i feel right now

This episode closes out with a man smoking something and drinking something and looking at pictures of Don and Claire being all smiles in the garden where Claire can’t find the orchids. Obviously someone is surveilling them! This is meant to be sinister but come on what is the real cost to Don here? He’s already questioning his relationship to Claire, he makes this big point of avoiding expats and living within the local community, and he’s cut down his Import-Export business involvement to do more detectiving (which admittedly he’s shit at). What does he really lose if these photos get out? Unless someone tries to kill him ooh I hope it’s Frank.

NO IT’S WEIRD MI6 GUY FROM LAST WEEK UGH WHATEVER I HOPE HE HAS A PERSONAL VENDETTA OR SOMETHING.

Anachronism of the week: when Maxwell Black shuts down the soiree and it’s all ‘for the team’ – concept of team in corporate speak not that big in the 60s, surely?

Hokkien watch: several uses of ang moh.

I actually really enjoyed this episode! The acting is getting better with each episode, and so, I think, are the plots and the dialogue. There’s still some continuity and anachronism issues going on, and it really is very sappy but I don’t think that last is going to change and so I’m learning to love it for what it is, a slightly cheesy Singaporean adventure tale. I wish there was more focus on the local stuff and less on the expats but some episodes I do feel like there’s a lot of local/not-white time, so that’s cool. Though I think Don actually was in basically every scene this week. It’s a shame Australian numbers are dropping so drastically, but I’d be interested to see comparison SEA and USA numbers.

Next week: Joan tells Don to shape up, yay!

For your bookshelf: The Deep by Tom Taylor

You know how it’s much easier to talk about something you hated than something you really enjoyed?  That’s why I have a lot to say about Pacific Rim, yet I’ve been trying to write this post about The Deep for a couple of months.

That’s fitting, though, because it took me a really long time to read it.  I heard last year that an excellent Australian comic about a multi-racial family of aquanauts was being adapted into an animated TV series, and I thought, “Huh, I should read that.”  And the first two volumes sat in my shopping cart for a really long time.

Finally I bit the bullet and bought them, but because I had procrastinated so long, I kind of … forgot that I had bought nearly $50 worth of comics?  Which is fine, I do that a lot, and then I get parcels that I had completely forgotten about ordering!  It’s just like Christmas, only I’m spending money on myself.

Only, this time the package never came.  Several months passed until I went, “Hey, I should buy The Deep!  Why didn’t I do that sooner?”  A tickle in my memory prompted me to go through my emails and bank statements, where I discovered that I had bought it.  And I would like to congratulate Gestalt Publishing for being incredibly on the ball when I asked about it on Twitter, sorting the problem out and sending my comics.  No emails required, just Twitter.  Problem solved in 140 characters.

And then I read it, and it was AMAZING, and made me very happy, and I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to figure out how to convey its brilliance.  Without, you know, scanning the entire thing.  Because that’s what I want to do:  take my graphic novels out and push them in people’s faces, going, “See?  SEE?  MORE ENTERTAINMENT SHOULD BE LIKE THIS!”

The front cover of The Deep: Vol 1 - black father, Asian mother and their teenaged daughter and younger son make eye contact with the viewer, looking cool and heroic
The Deep: Volume 1

The Nektons are explorers.  Their terrain: the oceans.  Father William, mother Kaiko, and their children, the brilliant Fontaine and the gifted and hyperactive Antaeus, explore the depths of the oceans, encountering unfamiliar sea creatures and oceanographic mysteries.  Theirs is a scientific and ecological mission, set against the backdrop of William’s quest for … well, that would be a spoiler.

Okay, so it sounds a bit like seaQuest DSV crossed with Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it’s more like … no, that’s it exactly.  Shut up, I loved seaQuest DSV.  Well, I loved the first season.  It was so great.  When I was 13.  Anyway…

I compare it with Avatar because Ant reminds me very strongly of Aang — he may be a genius, but he’s also very much a kid.  Much to the dismay of Fontaine, who is the sensible, methodical member of the family.

Fontaine’s parents are also a source of much eyerolling, given that their mother likes to play shark, and their father just really loves old maps.  This would make her completely unbearable, except that she actually has a sense of humour, and really loves her family and their mission.

The Deep is unpretentious but competent.  It sets out to be a really good family comic, and that’s exactly what it is.  It made me want to write and draw, and I have the dodgy sketchbook pages to prove it.  (No, you can’t see them.  It’s embarrassing.)

What makes it notable, obviously, is the diversity of the characters.  We rarely get to see a black man being intellectual and eccentric, and western media rarely portrays Asian women as badass goofballs.  Frankly, Kaiko is so great, it’s a mystery to me why there aren’t entire Tumblrs dedicated to her.  (I searched the tags, and found The Deep has no presence on Tumblr whatsoever.  Guys, this is exactly what you say you love.  Get on it.)

FOR EXAMPLE, here is the result of an, uhhhhhh, encounter with a journalist determined to portray the Nektons as a menace to society:

It was at this moment that I fell in love.
It was at this moment that I fell in love.

Click on the image for the full-sized version.

I guess I don’t really advocate pushing journalists into the sea, even if they are hacks who demonise families and cause panics that result in shark-deaths.  But Kaiko’s nonchalance, coupled with SUNGLASSES, coupled with her family surrounding her and being all, OUR WIFE/MOTHER IS GREAT, DEAL WITH IT, that’s pretty excellent.

For bonus stereotype-busting, the Nektons pick up an eccentric old white man with mysterious and possibly mystical knowledge that will aid them in their Spoilery Quest.  And then, just when I was starting to find him slightly irritating, he departed at the end of volume 2.

But all the inclusivity and stereotype-defying in the world isn’t going to achieve anything unless it’s coupled with an entertaining story and good characters, and that’s why I think everyone should read the comics, and watch the TV series when it appears.  I can’t maintain a one-woman fangirling forever, and all this hand-flapping is getting tiring.

You can read a sample of the first volume here, as well as ordering it in hardcopy, but it’s also available from ComiXology. Samples from the second volume are here. Now, I am off to re-read them, and to ponder what dark secrets lie in Jeffrey the Fish’s past.

if you are the one (stereotypes for dating)

While living in China I met my friend Wendy, also a Chinese-Australian from Melbourne. We would hang out often, through the afternoon and into the evening. Eventually, though, she would run off from me, to go watch her Chinese dating show. I would make fun of her. Then we came home to Melbourne.

fcwr-4

If You Are The One (非诚勿扰) is that Chinese dating show. I love it.

The premise is that there are 24 women, and they stay on the show episode after episode until they end up with a date. Each episode features 4 guys; they show some (pre-filmed) videos and the women ask questions, and through this process the women turn their lights off if they become disinterested in the contestant. At the end, if there are lights on, the guy can choose one of those remaining women.

Often, even if there are lights on, the guy will say no to those remaining, and leave without a date. Frequently, they will leave without a date anyway, because all 24 women will have turned off their lights. Sometimes the contestant will have a large number of women to decide between, and the women will have done the hard sell on themselves, which is always super excellent – I love a woman who puts herself forward, and is in a situation where she is supported in putting herself forward, as they all are on 非诚勿扰.

Each guy is on stage for between five and ten minutes, so everyone has to decide fast. The guys might have a better idea of the women, as the women stay on episode after episode (and are filmed and screened regularly), and viewers can get an idea of their personalities. The questions are pointed, and cover all sorts of things; the decisions are snap and sometimes seemingly random. The outcome is serious.

Prior to watching 非诚勿扰, I’d always considered dating shows boring, superficial things; nothing wrong with them, but kind of pointless and not for me. At the end of each opportunity, two people leave to have a date, and if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out. 非诚勿扰 is not like that. It is portrayed as very life or death, must end in marriage stuff. If it’s going to be ‘let’s have a date and it might not work out,’ people clarify with “let’s start as friends and see what happens,” rather than the other way around.

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Now that we are home, and 非诚勿扰 airs on SBS2 Tuesday through Thursday nights, Wendy and I watch it together, from our own couches. We text our often snarky comments back and forth, making snap pronouncements and guesses as to the outcomes. It is easy to do.

非诚勿扰 is incredibly stereotype based; it’s all snap decisions and assumptions, and every word and every choice is weighed for significance and, usually, allows someone to be found wanting. One contestant came out in a t-shirt, and a woman berated him for not caring about his appearance. Another woman came to his defence – she was an art gallery owner, and analysed his clothes, correctly deducing that he had designed the print on the shirt and was wearing it for the first time this evening, and based on that deduction would be happy to leave her light on for him. (He chose her, in the end)

If a contestant is a little large, or 胖, we assume they will lose a number of lights. If the contestant is nerdy looking, or old, or bald, or too ridiculous when they come out; if they focus too on one thing, or talk too much about their parents, then the women will turn their lights out.

One contestant says “I lived in Taiwan for so many years, and most girls I have met are Chinese, so I’ve become accustomed to getting along with Chinese girls…Unlike foreign girls who always keep talking during a chat, showing no respect to others, Chinese girls are generally more considerate,” said Joel. “Maybe they’re influenced by traditional Chinese culture, Chinese girls are good listeners.”

Gosh! We are, aren’t we? I know I totally am.

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(the contestant’s reply to ‘every girl you know in Australia is very independent?’ was ‘i don’t hang out with locals’)

Over two weeks SBS2 aired the Australian specials of 非诚勿扰, and despite the many things I could say about the show, it is this in particular about which I would like to chat.

非诚勿扰 is allegedly based on failed Australian dating show Taken Out, and is currently so popular in Australia it’s discussed on AFL forums. It’s been profiled on the Vine, with an article entitled ‘Why we’re obsessed with If You Are The One’.

Why ARE Australians obsessed with 非诚勿扰? Why am I?

We’ve seen dating shows before, and we’ve seen this dating show in particular before, and it failed. But it’s now so popular here it’s on SBS2 three nights a week (though last night’s episode was a repeat).

How much is laughing with, and how much is laughing at? These two screencaps at The Vine really highlight that for me:

fcwr-2 fcwr-1

This is a Chinese way of speaking, of communicating; of making sense of the world. Was this cap set chosen because we’re making fun of Chinese people? I mean, I know it’s awkward in English but are we as Australian viewers being encouraged to make fun of Chinese language quirks? (an aside: I totally struggled with this when I spoke Mandarin every day)

Don’t get me wrong, I make fun of Chinese people. But that’s a thing I get to do as a Chinese person, having lived in China, understanding what it is exactly that I’m making fun of; understanding that I am, in essence, making fun of my self, of my family, of my history.

And I wonder, what is the line between real and unreal; between stereotypes for good and for bad? And how will that impact me, in my life? People take this show seriously, so I feel justified considering its messages seriously.

There is growing scepticism within China as to whether foreign specials, and participation of foreigners on the show, is viable and realistic, or simply a ratings grab. Can foreigners have stable long-term relationships with Chinese people, due to the cultural differences?

The Australians on the show (all Chinese, born outside of Australia – from China and Malaysia), if they mention dating an Australian woman, say it didn’t work out due to cultural differences.

As someone with an Anglo-Australian father, even I’ve had a whole lot of cultural differences in failed relationships with other non-Chinese Australians, yes, but to attribute all of them?

My mother, when I first started dating, advised me not to date a mainland Chinese man – for fear he would be too traditional, too feudal; he would expect me to stay at home and look after the children. The opposite, indeed, as suggested by this article:

Zhou also said she believes that many foreigners don’t fully understand China. “All they have learned is the old feudal culture, which says that women should stay at home raising children and doing housework. I also met one who didn’t want his girlfriend to be a model or an actor, as he thought that was not appropriate for Chinese women.”

Even news.com.au is talking about 非诚勿扰, and they mentioned the Australian special:

If they’re serious about a dating show, they – and you – need to get onto If You Are The One. Chinese dating show. Big there – 50-odd million viewers – but not huge given the population. It’s culty though. You wait til you watch it. SBS has now put it on Tuesday through to Thursday, because people are discovering it and its frank charm. It’s a kind of panel show, the guy comes out, there are questions, they give their assessment, he gives his, his friends appear in a video and say their piece, he picks his girl, the end. It’s sensational. None of the fakery of The Bachelor. It just feels fake doesn’t it? They’re all too scared to say anything real, I feel like. So last night there’s a guy on, Luo Si, 29, he’s from Sydney, where the universities have no gates – this is what he says – and his experience with relationships is very discouraging. “Like waves, they don’t settle down … I just want to find the right girl. But who is the right girl? Can you tell if you believe in love? What is love?” Fantastic. His friends came on – and it would’ve been better if this bit hadn’t been shown – and talked about how he was in love with a girl he chased for two years. She showed “no reaction.” Each time he was rejected, one them said, he’d drink by himself. In the end Luo Si chose the girl who said she liked cooking and cleaning.

It’s culty, they say. But what makes it culty? Is it the seriousness and the earnestness? Is it the ridiculous costumes my current favourite wears? Is it the attitudes and the silly noises and dances? Or is it the laughter, the laughing at and the laughing with?

my current favourite always wears costumes
my current favourite always wears costumes

I love laughing with it, too. And I love the insights it gives to Chinese culture, traditional and otherwise, and how it reminds me of being in Beijing, even reminds me of the friends I have long since left behind there.

In China, an article in Time suggests, 非诚勿扰 and shows like it are popular because they’re honest, and because they place capital in being honest, and there is a lot of dishonesty in China and across the world, in dating and in other areas. And I love that about it, too.

One of the Australian contestants was doing well, he had 24 lights on at the first video, and still over ten as his last video began. In it, his cousin tells a story of when they were younger, they were making dumplings and the contestant was sent out to purchase chives, and brought back ‘green vegetables’ (this usually means gailan or bokchoi) instead. The cousin laughed and said, but I’m sure he’s better now, but it was too late. Almost in unision those lights turned off, the implication already there: this man cannot look after himself. That from a 20 second tale about vegetables.

One woman, when asked how she budgets, confesses that she spends all her money by the end of the month and doesn’t save at all. A previous woman was notoriously stingy, rejecting immediately any man who she felt spent too much, regardless whether he had the personal wealth to support it.

“I can’t tell if you didn’t shave or if this look is intentional,” murmurs one woman. “You look much better in the video than in real life,” states another. I love them and their honesty and their abruptness. It seems so genuine. I think this is in large part why I love this show.

I have no real conclusions, except to state that based on the assumptions on this show, I’m only ever gonna have great relationships with other half-Chinese half-Anglo Australians from Malaysia.

If you’re in Australia, you can watch If You Are The One with English subtitles on SBS2 or on SBS Ondemand. If you hang out on twitter you can chat about the contestants using the #ifyouaretheone hashtag, which the SBS2 twitter does quite actively. If you’re not in Australia, you can watch it on the Official Youtube (no English subs).

serangoon road s01 e03 Ball of Confusion

In episode three of Serangoon Road, the acting and the writing gets a bit better, Don speaks Malay (his Mandarin gets worse and he keeps wearing that damn singlet), an upper class Chinese-Singaporean man in 1964 opens his own front door, actual Malay people get actual speaking parts, and I talk about Colonialism. 

We open with riots on Victoria Street, white people with film cameras, and my excitement that we might be about to see actual Malaysians. A news recording is played over this scene, with the reporter mispronouncing Klang and Geylang which is always hilarious. The voice also confirms deaths of Chinese and Malays, and that a curfew will start at 1800.

We learn that the detective agency is not doing well; so not well, in fact, that Joan is going to brave the riots in order to deliver photos to a client in order to receive payment, risking getting hurt and getting caught in the curfew that is to be enforced as of noon (WHEN DOES THE CURFEW START COME ON GUYS). It was also Winston’s last case, aww! She speaks Singlish to emphasise her point and does kind of okay at it.

Joan gets as far as she can in a rickshaw before she has to get out and make it two blocks in high heels and carrying her parasol. Though this scene is intercut with shots of Alaric Tay griping adorably, and also shots of Malays rioting and getting beaten up, it is fairly obvious that Joan is going to get caught up in the protest and caught out by the curfew. A Chinese man storms towards her and rips the photos she is carrying out of her hands, and it seems probable this is intentional.

wah wah helo

Don and Alaric Tay and the Secretary of My Heart are talking about the curfew and stressing about Joan. Alaric bitches about his useless partner (Don). We get extensive shots of riots, and rioting, and police, and the dirtiness of the streets, before we cut to the lovely whiteness of the Raffles Hotel.

I can’t believe I didn’t realise it earlier, but all the scenes with the Expats swanning around is Raffles ETA NO WAIT I’M WRONG, as dc points out below but I still think my points stand because the bar scenes with Macca are from Raffles /ETA. OF COURSE IT IS. Let’s talk about Raffles, shall we: the Raffles Hotel was named after Stamford Raffles, the white man responsible for the Colonisation of Singapore, and a variety of other colonialist acts; and has for over a decade been a place where expensive foreign things happen (including foreigners). Foreign writers stayed there and named the Raffles Hotel the “Grand Lady of the Far East,” in case you needed a racist and patronising name for a hotel. In the now it’s still a hotel but also features a shopping arcade which includes Tiffany and Louis Vuitton, to give you some idea of its price range.

Anyway in the glaring whiteness of Raffles, Don is speaking in Malay and asking Claire to “keep the ladies busy with a game of bridge” and telling her not to go outside and how bad it’s gonna get. For once I sympathise with Claire, when she gives him her very best “are you shitting me” look.

Some random English dude whose name it takes me forever to work out because Don has gone to mumblestown warns Don to “stay off the streets” because “people are using the riots to settle old scores.” He waggles his eyebrows meaningfully and I consider giving him a moustache to twirl (ala Genevieve).

In blatant disregard of this warning, Don steals a USA embassy car so he can break curfew. He speaks some okay Malay and the show continues with no subtitles. There were several instances of Mandarin and Malay spoken with no subtitles in this episode, and I think I love it because it assumes the intelligence of the audience to work it out, and also I think indicates that this show acknowledges that despite being primarily an Australian production, it knows its audience is multilingual, that its audience knows the words already and if it doesn’t, it’s smart enough to work it out. Thanks for trusting us, My ABC. I had a momentary worry that the non-translation was because that stuff wasn’t vital and was therefore discarded but I don’t think that’s the case, as with the scene later in this episode where the Secretary of my Heart suggests that Don pose as her chauffeur as she poses as a diplomat, and he nods his head, opens the car door for her and says this adorable “boleh.” That’s adorable and totally adds something! Which is why I’m leaning towards textual intelligence.

Don continues his search for the missing Joan, stopping and discovering her bag with some blood on it. How did he know to stop there? Secretary of My Heart disappoints me by basically phoning in her phone conversation with Don, with the amazing line “I have a really bad feeling about this” which is never a line which should get past any sort of script development ever.

We cut back to the Raffles, where the Malay guards are preventing people coming in trying to escape the riots, and Claire pulls and tugs until they let a Tamil family in. I know this is supposed to be about the development of Claire’s story so this makes me pretty grumpy because yes of course the first actual Indians shown in this series need help from a white person, but also wow, a Tamil family is given refuge in the Raffles by a well-meaning white lady and Malays try to stop them and could this point be any more unsubtle? And also wrong, come on my friends. I hope no one actually thinks that the British colonising Malaysia and Singapore was in any way a good thing, like, yes we can’t change the past and the way both Malaysia and Singapore are now has a lot to do with the British colonisation and nobody get in a tardis or anything because you’re gonna be in so much trouble, but to have this lovely little message of COME SHELTER IN THE RAFFLES particularly when contrasted with all the other controlling white powers are doing in this episode, it’s enough to make me very angry.

So while I’m getting angry about white colonialism, Joan wakes up in some sort of complex and is helped by a photographer before the police storm it, and she escapes. Don runs into a police station and is told he is being silly looking for one single lady, so he yells in AWFUL Mandarin and then Joan just appears and I don’t understand? It is very funny though. I literally can’t work out what he says, he starts with 今天 and ends with 吗 and that’s all I can tell you.

Remaining with Joan’s bag is one last picture from the case she was couriering; the Secretary of My Heart recognises the one person in the photo whose face is fully visible as a wealthy Singaporean Chinese man. I love how she always knows the high flying Singaporeans; it is presumably because she is Peranakan and also awesome.

They find out that the person who ordered the surveillance is in fact the dead wife of the dude in the photos, a Chinese businessman named Lim.

The Secretary of My Heart functions as the pipe in this episode, and with her educated faux-British attempts makes me saaaaad. She’s all “this is real detective work, we’re peeling an onion” and “he lied, you know that?” I laugh.

Don continues to wear his white singlet with an open thin shirt on top of it. I know it’s warm but seriously, I cannot believe he’s still wearing it and also that’s just rude, can’t you dress up to meet any single person on the whole of Singapore HAVE SOME RESPECT MAN.

I claw my eyes out as Claire gives orders in the worst Mandarin I’ve ever heard, it’s pretty bad and I’ve watched Firefly is all I’m saying. I literally have no idea what she says, but Don asks her to help identify who’s in the photo based on the clothes.

Don goes to Macca who is a) drunk and b) helpful, and helps him work out who the Malay photographer is. At his newspaper, Malay photographer declares “you are part of Malaysia’s problem” which, he is not wrong, because expats who shun the other expats and pretend like they’re locals and aren’t contributing to the Colonialism, particularly in this critical period of the 60s, were totally an issue.

My favourite quote of the episode is probably “The Empire’s stuffed and noone’s seen the memo” and I loooove it, simply as an entry point to talk about all the ills of Colonialism and Imperialism and all the things that have been left behind. This is part of why I love the little nods here and there about how Westerners treat Singapore and SEA and how much they are unwanted. Macca is the best giving us this exposition, it’s obvious but he means it and I love it. Macca also reveals that MI6 is filming everything (and using 16mil).

ARIO

We spend some more time in the police station, because Don has been arrested along with Malay photographer, who has been arrested for allegedly setting off some explosions, and Don feels compelled to get him cleared, and in the hopes that clearing him will help him work out who attacked Joan. In the police station we are hanging out with Ario Bayu, who EXCITING SPOILERS is going to be with us for a while as an actual named Malay, so that might be good? Or it might be terrible, only time will tell. (Though Ario is himself an actual Indonesian, which leads us to other problems)

Don and CIA dude walk and chat in the makanan, and CIA dude eats his bowl of noodles as they walk. I’ve never really seen this much walking and noodle eating in my life, is this seriously a thing? Anyone? He confirms the existence of secret MI6 movies that he really wants to get his hands on but isn’t allowed to, because MI6 are babies who don’t share.

sr3-market

We see Don staring into the fan at his house and considering the clues, and I laugh a lot because I thought this scene was going to be ominous and it’s actually not. Don ends up really sweaty and is all shirtless, and this show continues to fan service. Later, Alaric Tay confesses after a small fight with Don that maybe MI6 gets film deliveries once a week, and they wander off to steal it.

I am super sad that I used a cap from the credits in last week’s review because it turns out that cap I used is actually from this episode! It is Don doing crime! I’m totally into this scene, where Alaric Tay is ridiculous-ing for all he’s worth, stopping the van in the road and annoying everyone, and Don steals the film that MI6 has had processed.

The Secretary of My Heart meets up with the CIA dude and flirts with him, telling him she saved him some kacang putih hahaha and letting him think he has a chance for about thirty seconds by telling him she wants to see a film with him. She reveals it’s a film that Don stole from MI6, and his little heart falls though he gets to keep the footage, which he does. “You still owe me though, Sam,” CIA dude says as he crunches kacang putih like he’s watching a poorly edited movie (and the Secretary of My Heart whispers to him, “don’t dirty my floor.”) Someone on twitter points out this footage looks like it’s from WW2, not 1964, but now that I’ve just watched a season of The Hour I’m not so sure I agree anymore. Anyway this scene closes out on riot footage and Don’s smug face and slightly better acting from everyone all round, good work team.

Having saved their new Malay friend (who I hope turns up again in the future!), it’s time to get back to the mystery of the dead wife and who attacked Joan. Claire works out who the woman he’s having an affair with is, and warns Don away. This is all very sinister and then also comes to nothing? Joan sasses Don, and Don goes to visit Lim, the Chinese businessman, with a print out of the Chinese man who assaulted Joan taken from the MI6 footage. Lim, an upper-class Chinese-Singaporean in 1964 with a property so large it has a back yard, a front yard, a long driveway and two storeys, answers his own front door. I mean, I have Chinese-Singaporean friends in Singapore who don’t even answer their own doors now, let alone in 1964, I am just saying. Don confronts him and he brings out the man from the footage, who is all like “yeah tell the lady I’m sorry,” and is then dismissed with a 没事 which I think is interesting given the dude ANSWERED HIS OWN FRONT DOOR even though we have already SEEN HIS AYI. Don refuses to leave until they also resolve who ordered the work to be done, given the dead wife; Lim takes him out into the back lawn to meet the lady with whom he is dallying, who is just sitting around in the back patio waiting for Don? I’m not sure, but she fesses up to having him followed and Lim pays Don some money to keep it all quiet and then Susannah skips off into the distance and I have no idea why any of this happened.

As the two men watch her go, Lim gives words of warning and advice about having affairs with married women, and we cut to Don standing outside the police station watching Claire. I roll my eyes again, because sometimes I think this show is doing better and sometimes it tries to hit me over the head with a sledgehammer.

joannnnn

Joan basically floats into the office (an aside, I just discovered that Joan played Guan Yin in a 2010 tv adaptation of Journey to the West and she is adorable in it, and Guan Yin historically does a lot of floating, so we should draw some parallels between Patricia and Guan Yin, I’m just saying), and shows the Secretary of My Heart “our first dirty money.” They reminisce about the first time they were paid in chilli crab, and I was talking about how much I miss chilli crab just yesterday, but this is the sacrifice SEAzns make when they go all properly vegan and stuff. The Secretary of My Heart softly comforts her and Joan just nods sadly and and it’s all lovely. I stand by my claim of last week, the best scenes in this series are the quiet ones, especially the quiet ones that involve Joan.

We end the episode in the bar, where Joan does the Beijingren 八 with her hands to indicate 8 (for 80-20%), offering Alaric Tay that great deal so she gets to steal more of Don’s time for detective-ing, and Alaric gets more of the proceeds from their Import-Export business. I’d take it, Alaric! From behind a beaded curtain, a tiny Chinese girl says “that’s her, isn’t it?” and she’s told to say nothing; so she follows Joan out of the bar and fondles a fob watch, which when opened contains a photo of Joan and Winston. I’m taking bets on whether this girl is secret mistress or secret daughter.

A Miscellany

  • Don spends so much time making sure Joan is safe in this episode. Shipping it? I sure am.
  • I am not shipping CIA dude with Pamelyn, on the grounds that no.
  • Needs moar Alaric Tay, so far he’s really just comedic relief and extra helping hand
  • Good work with the continuity! Don attacked in episode one, resolved in this episode. Nice!
  • Was this episode confusing? I found it super confusing. I can’t believe it’s called ‘Ball of Confusion’ I mean really
  • Hokkien watch: use of ‘ang moh’

Next week: my boyf Song, something something something. Maybe I’ll talk some more about Australians perpetuating colonialism in SEA.