book review: asia on tour: exploring the rise of Asian tourism

Recently Steph had an article at Overland, A short history of the dangers of travel writing. This is a part of how she wants to write more about decolonising travel, and you’re going to be seeing more of that here on No Award. Today, a book review: Asia on Tour: Exploring the Rise of Asian Tourism, edited by Tim Winter, Peggy Teo and T.C. Chang.

Continue reading “book review: asia on tour: exploring the rise of Asian tourism”

The Colonialism in Your Heart

cycleToday, let’s talk about your favourite topic and mine, colonialism.

I spent three days at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival last week, and it was lovely! And currently the Singapore Writers Festival is on, and I am attending that as I’m able. I have many thoughts about many things, and I’m going to spread them out over a few days, actually probably a couple of weeks TBH, because Liz needs space to talk about classic boarding school novels and Star Trek and things like that.


But today: colonialism.

Continue reading “The Colonialism in Your Heart”

Ancillary Conversation


Ann Leckie’s 2013 debut novel Ancillary Justice exploded on the SF scene and, in 2014, won a whole lot of awards and considerable praise for its portrayal of imperialism and depiction of gender. The blurb:

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

Space opera. Corpse soldiers. Artificial intelligence. Space politics. These are things that No Award is here for. And to the surprise of absolutely no one ever, we have some opinions about Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. So many opinions, in fact, that mere Twitter conversations couldn’t do them justice. Accordingly, we are joined here today by Dr Sophie and Dr Jonathan.

Continue reading “Ancillary Conversation”

other places; other people; othering people

A travelogue is an old tradition; an old form of writing. There are records of travel diaries as early as the second century CE; there are Arabic travel journals in the twelfth century and Chinese travel literature in the tenth. There are diaries and journals; maps and economics; boredom and poetry.

A travelogue is the transcription of an adventure; of an exploration; a movement into the unknown or, less commonly, into the known. Travel literature considers one’s identity, and one’s country, and one’s world.

A travelogue is, often, a reflection of the self.

A travelogue tells the audience a lot about a traveller. Between the lines are the things the traveller sees every day, and the assumptions a traveller makes, and the joys a traveller takes from moving through the world.

writer's victoria tweet:
writer’s victoria tweet: “what drives people to suffer in parts of the world with unpronounceable names & indigestible food? we’ll ask @tomdoig”


In Australia, and predominantly in English-language writing, a travelogue is about the traveller; and in its way, it is about the other. This requires an assumption around who is the audience, and who is the other, for there are few other ways to represent those with whom the narrative comes in contact.

I love travelogues. I love them for what they tell you about a person, and a place, and sometimes, what they tell you about yourself. I love travelogues of Australians in Australia; non-Australians in Australia; Australians not in Australia. (I also love travel tales of people in China and Malaysia and Singapore, the other places of my heart) I love these because whether these are travel stories of people in their homes or not in their homes, their stories are always new to me, and there’s always an exploration and an unfamiliarity and a joy, of sorts.


I love it when people talk about their travelogues!

In other news, here’s Other Places, a thing Writer’s Victoria is hosting tonight:

What drives people to leave the comfort of their everyday lives and suffer in far-flung parts of the world with unpronounceable names and indigestible food? Is it our essentially “nomadic” nature, as Bruce Chatwin claims? Is it “The Call of the Wild”? Or is that just a bunch of pretentious First World rubbish? All of the above, according to Tom Doig, author of Moron to Moron: two men, two bikes, one Mongolian misadventure. Come along and find out why.

The audience: clearly not me. Though I choose to leave the comfort of my inner-north Melbourne home, it’s for the comfort of the family home in Malaysia, with its squat toilets and five grown adults in two bedrooms and mosquito netting. I’m a person with a name that is, in its way, unpronounceable (certainly many people mispronounce it). My food is, to many people, indigestible. So, in the dichotomy of the audience and the other, I’m pretty comfortable in assuming I’m the other, here, despite having been born in Australia and loving a good travelogue.

People not from the “first world” travel, and then write about it. People from the first world can be pretty rubbishly pretentious.

“The Call of the Wild” is primarily a racist concept used in racist situations (white people talking about not-white people).

I really wanted to go, because I love travel writing and I’m currently working on a brown person’s travelogue (mine). Now, I really want to go and find out if this event is gonna be as casually, thoughtlessly racist as it sounds like it’s going to be, but I really can’t justify the $50 just to get angry.

If you go, let me know. I’ve got some questions.

writer's victoria tweet:
writer’s victoria tweet: “are travel writers responding to ‘The Call of the Wild”? we’ll ask @tomdoig on Monday. Join us…”

Other Places
Writer’s Victoria
The Wheeler Centre
September 8, 18:30 – 20:30
Non-member $50 / Member $35 / Concession $30

I have not made my sadness known to Writer’s Victoria, as I’m not currently a member. Lately, as I publish more and more regularly, and as I truly begin to consider myself the writer part of ’emerging writer’, it’s something I’ve been considering. But right now, after this, I don’t want to. How can I expect support from an organisation that promotes this exclusion?

serangoon road e08

Today on Serangoon Road, everything happens in just one day, Don stars in an action movie (AND continues on in his state of undress damn dude tone it down), and Joan cries beautifully. Also I can’t find the title for this episode.

The episode opens with two white girls running through a corridor with lots of doors and someone chasing after them. It is basically a horror movie on a boat. They scramble for a room and someone breaks down the door; lots of screaming; credits.

horror movie cold open
horror movie cold open

At the wet market, all ang moh are inappropriately dressed. Claire has a very low cut back to her dress, and Don continues to wear his singlet with his overshirt. Dude I am a girl in 2013 and I wouldn’t dress as inappropriately as you are in 1964, what is your problem, do you have no respect for Singapore. Claire tells Don off for getting high, and he shrugs it off, classic addict.

In the Detective Agency, some Australian girls are missing, and one of them has a very wealthy father. They were on a freighter bound for London; they had tickets but their families definitely didn’t know. Some Australian was to meet them in Singapore and take them home, but they never got off the boat. Wealthy Father is a close friend of the Prime Minister. Joan’s FACE when she realises this means they have to agree to find them. Some Australian and Don go to visit the Captain, revealing nothing; Don visits Fortune Teller Auntie who makes him hand over money before she admits that there were some men from the boat around, yes. Don gets in a fight in the Black Orchid saving the dude he needs to talk to, who pees on a wall and says the Captain harassed them when he drank, and they’d been hanging about with some Chinese dude named Hawk. He has a hawk tattoo. He’s a known associate of the Red Dragons.


Meanwhile Girl from the club takes to following Joan, and tells Joan that she gave birth to Winston’s baby! During Seventh Month she left the watch (as appropriate); Joan assumes she is asking for money. Joan gets mad; goes to the Black Orchid to see what she can see, and it’s strangely empty except for Kang’s Bar Friend. She says she never saw Mei Lin with another man, but cannot say if or if not his baby. Outside the bar, she flips her shit, and when she sees Claire she gets SUPER MAD on Don’s behalf, telling Claire not to ruin Don’s life. (This happens shortly after Claire tells Lady Penelope that she’s left Frank – so Lady Penelope orders two double gin and tonics for them)

joan noooo
joan noooo

A ransom demand is dropped at the Consulate demanding $10K or the girls will be killed. Some Australian thinks it’s Red Dragons despite Don telling him it can’t be, because the Red Dragons are strictly old school (drugs, prostitutes); he starts making demands of Ario, goes over Ario’s head, Ario is not impressed because now he has to go raid the Tong premises and like that’s not gonna bite him later.

Police start their raid, my boyf Kay Song, the leader of the Red Dragons, appears sharpening his cleaver. Nothing comes of the raid except for Kay Song being mad, and Ario being mad. “Why do you Colonials always think you know best,” he snaps at Don as he leaves. WHY INDEED also Don why are you even on this raid. A Tong Goon turns up and holds a gun to Don’s head as he demands “走了.” Kay Song’s FACE in this scene is so unimpressed, and so great, Chin Han you’re the best. He’s gently picking away at his meal (a delicious looking fish why am I vegan regrets regrets); he asks Don to tell him about the raids, and mentions that Hawk is no friend to the 13 Dragons.

Man Laughing With Fishie
Man Laughing With Fishie

Grand baba, who is also eating, gives Kay Song permission to let him deal with this dishonour. He deals with it by shooting at the Polis! Ario super unimpressed.


Having officially been bought out of the Import-Export by Alaric (“you know, how some people make great friends, but lousy business partners,” Alaric says as he hands over 500.), Don has to pay to get info on secret ways to get people off the big ships that come in. He asks Alaric to find out if there was a milk run the night the boat came in – when pimps take prostitutes to the ships for crew who can’t come ashore. Alaric finds out that there was a run, and two extra girls came back. He ends with “Eh, bring them back yah.” I like that after last episode’s break up, Alaric has voiced these boundaries and that a business break up doesn’t have to mean a relationship break up, and obviously his positive encouragement just reinforce that. It’s cool.

Man Inappropriately Dressed
Man Inappropriately Dressed

Don wanders around a kampung asking if people have seen the girls in his photo. Just as someone says yes, Don sees a dude with a hawk tattoo leaving a shack. He gives chase, but ultimately loses him as Hawk pulls a pile of crates down and makes a run for it. No matter though: in the shack is a girl! She is shaken and freaking the fuck out, and is on her own and very dirty. I fear the worst. In the Detective Agency she reveals after the Captain harassed them, Hawk offered to get them off the ship. He made Singapore sound great with Raffles and monkeys in parks, which, those monkeys are vicious, why would you want to go near them seriously I’ve been injured by them, my sister has been injured by them, they steal food and they are just nope.

So Wealthy Daddy won’t pay up, now that his girl is safe, even though Gina is still missing. But the money has already been wired, so Sam takes the money and goes to make the drop. Pamelyn and Joan tie up Some Australian, so he has an alibi, that they stole the money from him.

Don Hany Stars In: Some Video Game
Don Hany Stars In: Some Video Game

Hawk takes the money, they lose him, Sam runs up a ladder and spots him over the rooftops (HOW CONVENIENT), watches Hawk set up a decoy Chinese dude and run into a place. It’s true, I guess, that no one ever looks up, but you think people would learn eventually. Sam spots Ario and they meet up; while they’re spying to see what’s happening, there are gunshots! They enter to see a white girl being used as a hostage, and some Chinese men exiting. Ario recognises the men as Kay Song’s, so he’s gonna try to get Gina back.

I have some questions during this scene. A) why is Don taking command over a copper. B) Why is Ario letting him. WHY IS DON TAKING COMMAND OVER THE COPPER.

Man Laughing With Banquet
Man Laughing With Banquet

Outside Tong Place, there are guards. “Touch me and you’re dead,” Sam says to one, and I laugh out loud. Inside, Song Ge is sitting down to a banquet with many people. He grins at Sam. I have restored honour, made a lot of money, and killed my enemies, he tells Sam. I should thank you. When Sam demands Gina, he continues: You should be grateful I don’t kill you where you stand. But in concession to Sam’s point (“I should thank you”), he clarifies: When my men arrived, your princess was counting money with Hawk. So don’t go shedding tears for her. But he admits, like Sam said to Some Aussie earlier; we don’t kidnap (and kill) white girls.

Sam finds Gina in some gardens, because of THE CLUE dropped earlier about monkeys in gardens. It’s all about money and Camilla losing heart and Gina having no money to go on alone and feeling betrayed. He hands her over to Some Aussie, but doesn’t mention she had a hand in it. “If he’s smart enough, he’ll work in out for himself,” he tells Joan.

Joan is quietly processing what she’s learnt this episode. After going to Black Orchid she went to find Mei Lin, who reveals that Winston visited the baby on Wednesdays (which was when he told Joan he went to Mahjong). But the night he came, he believed someone was following him, and gave the watch to give to Joan for proof. He didn’t love the girl, only the baby. The baby doesn’t even get a name in this, which argh. Anyway Joan acts the shit out of both the scene with the mistress, and the later scene with Don, looking beautiful with tears in her eyes and as she raises her arm in frustration. “I don’t even get to scream at him, slap his face, and chase him out of the house,” she says, and admits his family wanted him to cast her aside, because nobody wants a barren woman. “Our culture,” she clarifies for anyone who might not be sure.

We close out the episode with a Claire who is unsure, but really only because other people who she’s come to trust are making her doubt herself. She’s been told by Lady Penelope that she doesn’t belong in Chinatown (“where do I belong?” she rebuts); then when she finds Don after what she describes as an awful day, he tells her not to leave Frank. “It’s no life here. You don’t belong here,” he says, so it’s a good thing she hasn’t told Frank and can go back to him. OH WAIT; I shake my hands at the screen as she agrees she hasn’t told Frank and can therefore go back to him. I also realise that today in continuity Claire was supposed to get her stuff from the house, so what happened to that. I don’t really understand what she is doing? Claire. I don’t care yet, but I’d like you to make sense.

This episode was delightfully low on CIA and MI6 dudes, but sadly made up for it in whiteness with excessive Australianness.

classic 60s-70s white dudes in SEA
classic 60s-70s white dudes in SEA. colonialists. ugh.

Two episodes left, and I still don’t know where we’re going. We’ve found out where Winston’s watch went but we still don’t know who killed him; Don and Claire keep breaking up and getting back together and who even knows; spy shenanigans will PRESUMABLY involve either Australians or Singaporeans again soon otherwise what even is the point; and the strongest story lines, as always, are the ones involving the Singaporeans. This series would be so much stronger if there were more Singaporean story lines and less of the other things, there are some AMAZING local actors in this production and they’re just not being used.

looking exotic woooo
looking exotic woooo

There was also, as there often is, a lot of ~atmosphere~ in this episode, lingering shots on random things, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s scene-setting or exotification. Either way, at least it’s comforting and familiar to me.

A Misc

Pamelyn doesn't take CIA dude seriously
Pamelyn doesn’t take CIA dude seriously
  • Cinematography: SO GREAT.
  • Pamelyn and the CIA dude: Pamelyn looking fine. CIA dude still not worthy of her. They could run away to Australia if she’s denied her Visa. After she has her degree, she might let him marry her, which, show, you haven’t sold this yet! Also no.
  • Spy storyline: SURPRISE MI6 dude convinces CIA dude to spy for him. “The shame goes away,” he says, when CIA dude slinks off. “Chin up, you’re a real spy now.” So funny. This picture is perfect though, so colonial it hurts, white clad white dudes, buzzing of the mozzies at night, out in the air no regard for the rest of us. Bet there’s some malay butlers bustling around off screen.
  • In further gross MI6 business, “Those Australians have got their knickers in a twist. It seems they’ve lost two of their breeders.” Did I hear this right? Because I’m actually unqualified to analyse this, breeders is a term queers often use about straight couples having kids but ALSO it is an Englishman referring to Australians so maybe it’s just misogynistic and paternalistic and gross rather than also confusing.
  • When Joan checks her makeup before knocking on the door: so great.
  • Malay watch: adorable and mostly untranslated. Mandarin watch: eh. Singaporeans acting great in mando though.
  • “What an awful day,” says Claire to Don as she falls into his arms. I laughed because of how different and yet how terrible their days were.
  • Next week: ERNIE DINGO. So I assume it’ll be racism against Indigenous Australians.
would you wear this dress?
would you wear this dress?

Serangoon Road s01 e07: My Girl

In episode 7 of Serangoon Road, Pamelyn and the CIA dude keep on making out, Alaric is accused of smuggling explosives into Singapore, and everybody actually makes a compelling attempt at acting.

Characters are introduced to the episode with romance: Pamelyn and CIA dude make out in the dark after possibly having had a date; angmohs are spooning and Claire is gonna stay in Don’s apartment. Pamelyn, over CIA dude’s shoulder, notices some late night workers: turns out to be a bomb! CIA dude tries to chase them down but instead the dude gets SHOT IN THE HEAD and CIA dude gets punched out.

At the Detective Agency, Pamelyn and Joan talk about who might be responsible for the bomb and how happy Pamelyn’s parents will be that she was interviewed as an eyewitness (not at all), and James Lim, whom you might remember from episode three (he had a dead wife and a live girlfriend who was also another man’s wife), turns up to say that his brother Professor Lim is under suspicion because he believes Malaysia for the Malaysians and he just wants him to be safe!!!

Everyone believes him.

this is my believing face
this is my believing face

They accept the case, in part because Pamelyn was once a student of Professor Lim’s. Don goes detectiving, and Ario turns up looking for Alaric, whom he claims is a known associate of the bombers. Meanwhile in other detectiving, after failing to actually make a difference in the bombing, CIA dude has been noticed “at Langley” and has been raised a class or something, and gets to read some files that MI6 has finally decided to share because they want to protect against the commies! What a coincidence!

Alaric lies to Don about who he’s smuggling for, and what, and then fires a warning shot: “you can tell Mrs Simpson that Singapore’s very small. When someone sees something, everyone sees it.” Pamelyn meets up with a friend, another ex-student of the Professor’s. We learn that Pamelyn and Felix the friend once dated, but she broke up with him because he was boring. Felix has some super nerdy glasses, and also knows where Professor Lim is! They head to his car and he tells her she has to get into the boot! I am worried at this point but it’s all good, they get to meet Professor Lim and he says ‘thanks but no thanks,’ as opposed to Felix kidnapping her which I was mildly concerned about, god Pamelyn, haven’t you ever heard of telling people when you’re getting into the trunk of an ex-boyfriend?

what a wise decision
what a wise decision

Meanwhile CIA dude has been reading the files. He finds a file on Pamelyn! She has pigtails and looks adorable. Old MI6 Dude and Old CIA Dude turn up, and Old MI6 Dude knooooows about the Pamelyn file, he knoooooows he conveys it with his smug ang moh face. After they leave, CIA dude turns back to Pamelyn’s file: the informant was Felix! CIA dude later asks Pamelyn about this; “Why would he lie about me?” she asks. CIA dude can’t pronounce Yao.

omg baby pamelyn is a communist! GASP
omg baby pamelyn is a communist! GASP

Alaric takes on some crates of what look like baijiu. He checks them, all looks good, off he goes but at the boat house THE POLIS. Under the baijiu is explosives! ALARIC IS IN JAIL IN HIS TIGHTY WHITIES! Alaric admits to Don that he’s been running alcohol for the unions, but definitely not explosives or anything. Don gets to make a deal with Ario that if he can get the professor, Ario will consider letting Alaric go. Otherwise he’s getting hanged for something something.

omg those pants
omg those pants

CIA dude follows Felix, breaks into his room and threatens him in a fairly hilarious way. I laugh SO HARD. Felix admits he placed the report because Pamelyn broke up with him, what a loser. CIA dude drops the report in a street fire which surely is pointless, because 10SGD says MI6 dude has a copy.


Alaric admits to Don that he has no idea where the Professor, as head of a union section or movement, lives or is hiding, but he does know where he prays. Don heads on out, first being followed by a man on a motorbike (whom he beats up, and throws on a table in front of James Lim), and then staking out the place of prayer (Professor Lim goes in for some incense, unsurprisingly). Don follows the professor to a union meeting, where the professor is sad about the violence and some other guy is like NO WE MUST THROW OUT THE 外国人. The polis crash the party with guns and smoke grenades, and Don calls out a come with me if you want to live to the professor. While they’re escaping, the professor gets shot by a man in a mask, who is later revealed to be one of James Lim’s goons. Is it because his brother is a threat to his attempts to be a politician in Singapore? How did the polis and/or James Lim’s man find where they were? What is going on?!

In the boathouse, Alaric is out of prison and they fight because it was Alaric who told the police (and/or James Lim) where to raid, and also maybe he has been smuggling guns for the unions. But not explosives and he’s Singaporean, damnit, he’s totally allowed! Don gets angry because now the professor is going to die (from his wounds, presumably); Alaric reminds Don that he was about to be hanged and Don was the one who made the original deal with Ario. Don, somewhat understandably but also somewhat inexplicably, becomes upset and breaks the partnership up. “I always knew you’d plan an angle, I didn’t have a problem with that. But I never thought you’d lie to me like that. We’re done,” he ends, but Alaric gets the last word. “We’ve been done for a while.”

mostly i just capped this cause shoesforall wanted the clothes
mostly i just capped this cause shoesforall wanted the clothes

Outside of the Expat Hangout, Claire breaks up with Frank (her husband, you may remember him but he’s been pretty boring so far so no problems if you don’t), who asks, “you think that will last?” She heads over to Don’s place and knocks and waits and knocks and waits and he’s not there. Instead he is GETTING HIGH, which he hasn’t done in an age. Claire tries again at the Agency and Joan answers the door; takes her to the boathouse where Alaric is getting drunk and, reluctantly, leads them back into Chinatown to the den where Don is getting high.


Joan is disappoint (but pretty). Alaric promises to bring him home in the morning, and I’m worried about Alaric’s motives. On the beach he was reluctant, is he trying to sabotage Don? Show if you ruin Alaric you’re in so much trouble.

questionable choices
questionable choices

CIA dude and Pamelyn sit in a boat house on some water, chatting about how she’s gotten into her USA universities and she needs to not make trouble or it’ll get her VISA revoked. She has an adorable fringe and makes fun and he’s all grumpy until she agrees. Then MI6 dude turns up with photos of them together (…is it a secret?) revealing they’ve both been followed, and therefore photos of him threatening Felix, and CIA dude realises that MI6 wanted him to find the file in order to incriminate himself. NOW HE HAS TO BE AN MI6 PATSY.


In a way, this episode is about questionable choices. CIA dude chooses to scale a drain pipe and harass a guy in his own apartment. Claire chooses to leave her husband for a guy who passes out in a drug den. Alaric chooses to smuggle for the unions and then lie to his business partner. These choices will have ongoing repercussions, and I hope they’re AWESOME, but continuity has not been amazing so far so I’m sceptical.

This episode had its ups and downs, and after CIA dude found out about Pamelyn’s file I noted “ugh so far this episode so boring”, but by the time it wrapped up I was cheered and totally into it and whilst I could remember writing it down, couldn’t remember feeling bored! So second half, excellent; first half, not so much. Not a lot of gross colonialism in this episode aside from all the ‘we must keep Malaysia for the British!’ and ‘KEEP US FROM THE COMMIES’ which as usual was accurate and I hate everyone.

The advertising and branding for Serangoon Road has been all about it being against the backdrop of Singapore becoming Singapore, and despite Joan getting caught up in that mob in episode three and the bombing that started it all in episode one, this is the first time I’ve really felt that it’s all had an impact on what’s going on in any meaningful way.

what a cute fringe
what a cute fringe

Script-wise, I loved the bringing back of James Lim from several episodes ago, keep up the continuity. And there was some excellent acting here, the relationship between Pamelyn and CIA dude felt genuine and believable (even if the build up still doesn’t); Claire really did struggle with leaving Frank; Alaric is upset and stressed about by what he feels is Don’s disinterest. Really the only one who didn’t feel compelling was Don. Interested to see where we go from here, with only three episodes left; but with only three episodes to go, it feels like it’s only just hit its stride and I’m not sure it actually has the momentum to keep my interest held and that cool stuff going. We’ll see.

A Miscellany:

  • As always, Singaporeans very excellent.
  • Not enough Joan in this episode
  • This episode title is relevant, at least superficially, to the story lines of the episode! Good work everyone.
  • Lots of untranslated Mandarin in this episode, which I loved. Totally adorable, and also interesting choices at times – when Alaric and Joan are talking on the beach and Claire is with them, they’re using Mandarin. An exclusionary tactic? (I dig it) (Haha sometimes we ARE talking about you) Interestingly, in the scene on the beach the translations are quite different from the actual Mandarin. Spoken the conversation is “I’m looking for Sam. You know where he is?” “Not here.” Translation reads “Sam didn’t come home. You seen him?” “No.”
  • There needs to be more eating! Only eating in this episode is Don eating noodles from a hawker while staking out the temple and Claire having lunch with Rachael Blake.
  • Claire can pick up her stuff tomorrow, after Frank’s gone. Is he gonna sabotage her stuff?
  • Love Uncle Owner, who disapproves of Claire staying over but also knows about back alley doctors and takes Don to them to find Professor Lim.
  • No Auntie Fortune Teller 😦
  • Will the new, attractive journo in the bar mean anything in upcoming episodes? (ps Macca sleazed onto her, surprise)
  • Next episode: Aussie girls missing; my boyf Song Ge; “now you’re a real spy” hahaha.
where does the dress end and the flowers begin?
where does the dress end and the flowers begin?

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.


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 e02 reach out

In this week’s Serangoon Road, Macca the Journalist convinces Don and Joan to take on the case of a woman’s missing husband, I fall in love with Xiang Yun, Alaric Tay is devastatingly absent and I have some feelings about the attitudes of Australians in SEA in 1964 and even now. So many spoilers, for history and for this episode.

We open to some Singaporean cops searching two small boats, shining lights in faces, and asking to see identity papers (this is the English translation, which distracted me so I can’t remember what the Mandarin was but it wasn’t identity papers). A lady looks stern and silent (it is Xiang Yun and you should love her); she jumps over board without moving a facial muscle and I flip my shit.

Look at that stone cold acting from Xiang Yun
Look at that stone cold acting from Xiang Yun

We move to the boring white lady hanging out with Don Hany, where he warns her that Bugis Street is “not Sydney or Paris Claire, it’s dangerous” and please, I don’t even need to bet you $10 that she goes to Bugis Street in the next ten minutes.

bikes in singapore: quaint thing of the pastThis cap comes to you courtesy of the credits, which I actually quite like. Reminds me of being at home, with the Chinese calendars all my family always has hanging on some random hook in the house or apartment.

The next scene in Bugis Street had me crying with laughter which I am almost certainly sure was not its intention. Don Hany glimpses his white lady chatting and smiling to a local Malay vendor (NOT EVEN TWO MINUTES) and as Don gets distracted by his white lady, Alaric Tay gets distracted by porridge and this is basically the last we see of him all episode, bye Alaric I love your delivery of “I’m going to get porridge.”

Claire who adds nothing of interest and fun to this show follows the Malay trader down an alley where he gets aggressive and tries to sell her some sex and then his buddies come to steal her purse and Don comes to rescue her, which a) racist and b) oh what a surprise, thanks everybody.

Today’s A-Plot mystery of the week is about Xiang Yun, who moved from China to Singapore when she was 18, and whose husband sent her away during the war and then OH NO NO MORE HUSBAND and Xiang Yun has just smuggled herself back in to Singapore to see if she can find him. I actually quite enjoyed many elements of this week’s A-Plot (most especially Xiang Yun) but I have some questions: 1) if she was living in Singapore for several years, now that she’s back, why is she considered an illegal immigrant? Would like to know her status at that time. 2) it is hinted that it took her a long time to get the money together to smuggle herself back into Singapore and out of China and I can attest to that on a personal level but twenty years? with no risk of indenture at the Singapore end? hmm. not sure.

Don and Joan take on the case, and start by trying to locate where Xiang Yun used to live. Now, this show has some bad acting at times, but usually the Singaporeans can be relied upon to be excellent actors. Except apparently not in this scene, featuring some terrible acting by Singaporeans and I retract the ‘adequate angmoh’ I granted Don Hany’s Mandarin last episode.

Singaporean terrace houses! Love them
Singaporean terrace houses! Love them

This episode’s random incursion to the lives of white expats introduces us to Nicholas Bell playing Maxwell Black, who tells us “it’s all very civilised once you get used to the heat” and that it’s key to marry “keepers” because they’ll stay with you and not fly away; I expect next episode we’ll be meeting another expat who is going to tell us to marry a local woman and I’m going to raze everything to the ground. The thing is this scene is not wrong. It’s averagely acted and poorly scripted but the thing this show is doing right is the condescension to the environment and the situation and the locals, as if nobody matters but themselves and their opinions. It’s perfect, I am a product of this time and it is so perfectly written I want to kill everyone.

The one thing that jars in this characterisation of every Australian in SEA in this period is when Claire tells Don that their taxi driver pointed out the ‘Tiger Dragon,’ leader of the Red Dragons and grandfather to my boyf Song 哥, eating in a noodle house. Unless their taxi driver is their regular driver and it’s just a dialogue issue, local driver isn’t going to tell two whities that info.

Upon arrival at the makanan, Don gets beaten up and Song blows him off before Song’s grandfather delivers a deadpan “等一下” and Song covers, inviting Don in. I cry with laughter. Grandfather passes on apologies to Joan, and I wonder what is going on. We cut to Joan buying vegetables in the wet market, who is definitely a much better actor in this episode than in the previous one.

really broke the costuming budget on that one

Don and Xiang Yun visit a house she is sure she used to live in; she yells “this is my teapot” and “this is my hair piece” while pulling out a hair piece from a woman’s hair and it’s great. I never catch this woman’s name and you know I’m just going to spoil it for you so I’m telling you now that she’s Second Wife, and she’s pretty great. She later confesses to Xiang Yun that she met Xiang Yun’s husband because she was dressed like a man to avoid being taken as a comfort woman, they were all taken in a truck to be executed (this is the Sook Ching massacre, if you want to learn more) and Xiang Yun’s husband shielded her and she was saved and he died. I start making notes about how unlikely this is since the bodies were always checked so there’s no way she got away with it, and I’m glad to know this was a hole in Second Wife’s story and not the plot. Joan, Second Wife and Xiang Yun act the fuck out of this scene, which makes me happy, and Second Wife puts the hair pin into Xiang Yun’s hair and it BLEEDS and NOBODY SAYS ANYTHING and I’m like WHAT EVEN. I remain confused for the next twenty minutes. Meanwhile, Joan and Xiang Yun share a quiet moment about sadness and loss and I really love them, it’s an understated scene between two seasoned, wonderful Chinese actresses and it’s the best scene of the whole series so far. Joan’s quiet little “sorry” underscores this really sad, lovely scene, and I wish more of the series was like this, but I’m not optimistic. I love you, Joan.

love you, Joan

Working out why Xiang Yun collapsed and how she was poisoned was super obvious. When Second Wife put the clip in Xiang Yun’s hair there was the trickle of blood and nobody mentioned it on the show so I thought I’d imagined it, which is not a feeling I appreciate when watching a show. However when she collapsed I may have started flapping my hands at the television in disgust over how plodding and predictable it was, of course it was the clip and of course it was Second wife. There are procedurals and then there are procedurals, 我的朋友, and this one is not that clever.

I was frustrated by Second Wife and by Violin Girl. Second Wife as an actor was great, I loved her, but was frustrated by the script she was offered, because she’s all “I did it for you” and also is an unfortunate Indonesian stereotype and I hope, along with the Malay thieves and lack of Malays and Indians in the script, that we’re not going to have to be all stereotypes and racism (though I would like us to deal with racism in the text, it being a very critical component of Singaporean politics of the decade). I was glad when Daughter turned out to be Violin Girl, it explained her non acting, and her ridiculous slapping of the Secretary of my Heart, in the scene where the Secretary of my Heart was code switching like a champion and non-sequitering like the best of SEAzns.

Xiang Yun wakes up to find her husband staring at her, and it’s all very sappy. I like the cinematography in this scene, which I think borders on ‘too sappy’ but actually ends up okay. I hope desperately that Don doesn’t let this send him back to his white girl because he deserves better. This is all so sappy lah that maybe I should just accept that but I expected better than this from my ABC.

creepy grandfather (alive and dead, seriously, guan gong)
creepy grandfather (alive and dead, seriously, guan gong)

Don and Joan go to see my boyf Song 哥 and his grandfather and they have found the criminals bothering Joan (and beating Don up in the last episode). It was an accident, he says, but “if you like you can watch” because “my grandfather can have them killed.” Joan is horrified; I can’t work out why this conversation is in English when it should be conducted in Mandarin. Joan is given a statue of Guan Gong in compensation; Don thinks it’s a warning; the Secretary of my Heart thinks it’s bad feng shui; I think it’s probably got drugs inside it CHECK THE BOTTOM. Joan’s face as she says “the bad forces gave it to us” is priceless.

Joan tells us that she needs justice, and I ask aloud what kind of Singaporean she is.

The episode closes out with ‘Love Hurts’, the original version by the Everly Brothers, over Macca the journalist typing and looking at a picture of Xiang Yun and her husband (a photo in which two Chinese people are smiling? I think not!), Don and his white lady staring soulfully out of (separate) windows across the streets of Singapore, and Joan Chen doing some paperwork before smelling her pen (??!!) and tearing up. As she strokes a photo of her husband there is lightening and thunder. Because we are supposed to feel sad, everyone. NOBODY MOVE, EVERYBODY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT LOVE IS HARD. Maybe I just need to accept that this is a sappy kind of show?

I’m super happy that Don and Claire broke up. Yay!

Anachronisms of the week: Don’s hair continues to be long. I overlooked it last week but this week he went into a super exxy formal event with long scruffy hair and a blowing white shirt over a singlet; Singapore used to deny men entry to the country if they weren’t tidy enough, there’s no way he got into that building looking like that, even if he was waving his Aussie passport around. And also “partners” instead of “wives.” I know I prefer the term partner to the term wife but it’s awfully out of place in 1964 Singapore.

This script is much better than the previous episode’s script, but still not amazing. I continue to be disappointed by my ABC in this regard, especially as everyone on twitter kept talking about Wildside because Tony Martin and Rachael Blake and I’d just like to remind everyone that Wildside is the greatest Australian drama ever. Thank you for your attention in this regard.

wtf dialect

Some odd Mandarin/language issues this week – the Secretary of my Heart comments that she can’t read the book about poisons because she doesn’t “even know what dialect this is” but it is Chinese, how hard was it to read in 1964 it was all traditional so it should all be good okay?

I love all the shade that the Singaporeans constantly throw onto the Americans. This week the Secretary of my Heart shut down the CIA dude (who was talking during the violin recital!) and she’s all “or are you just not one of the brighter ones” and basically the best. I also enjoyed learning her backstory this week, that she breaks up with boys when her parents approve of them and she’s Peranakan and can trace her family back 500 years; usually in these things it’s the whiteys with the background and the Asians who are considered second, and I’m glad to see this subversion here.

I’d really like to know how they got so many great actors into a show that’s this bad; I’d also like to know why so many of them are acting so badly. I know how well they can do! Tony Martin here as Macca the journalist; Rachael Blake makes an appearance (I hope to be repeated) as Lady Penelope, looking all suave and lovely; JOAN CHEN who is usually so amazing and yet not that great in this (though much better this week than last).

A Miscellany

  • Ugh so much awkward white person sex. Must we?
  • Rachael Blake as Lady Penelope looks like she has vampire teeth. I keep hoping she’s secretly a vampire.
  • Xiang Yun’s accent was very Singaporean for someone who was only supposed to have lived there for sixish years.
  • The scene where Don and the Secretary of my Heart talk to the poisons experts was so terrible, it was weirdly scripted and very poorly acted and I’m disappointed in everyone in that scene. Nice to see got some uncle speak Hokkien though.
  • Clothes somewhat anachronistic in this episode, how hard is it to get clothes from the sixties I have clothes from 60s SEA and I wasn’t even born for another two decades. (谢谢妈妈)
  • Don Hany’s pufferfish face was so ridiculous but I loved it.
  • Minus two Singaporean ladies – where were Malina and adorable headband girl?
  • Why did the Secretary of my Heart sit down at the front of the recital when she was only going to have to get up and leave at some point? Along with this and talking to herself and non-sequitering, I’m not sure she’s a great detective.
  • Rachael Blake and Tony Martin have been married since 2003. a) how did I never know this? b) I LOVE THEM SO MUCH ARGH OMG. For non-Australians this is what happens when two actors you loved and whose characters you shipped on a show they filmed when you were a kid, get together. You die of glee.

Next week: Disrespect of Chinese and Singaporean customs; lots of explosions.

Pacific Rim and the Chinese Jaegar Program (and what that means in 2013)

If you know nothing about China at all, one thing you might know is that China loves design, and function, and building Really Really Big Things Really Quickly. And then building a second one. And then a third one that’s even bigger, with extra columns and squiggly bits. And then keeping them forever until they’re held together with duct tape.

The other thing you probably know about China is that there are a lot of people.

So it shouldn’t have surprised you when, in Pacific Rim, the Chinese Crimson Typhoon, piloted by the adorable Wei triplets (played by Charles, Lance and Mark Luu), turned out to be one of the four remaining Jaegar.

[Please note that this post contains spoilers for Pacific Rim (and also vague spoilers for Iron Man 3)]

The Logistics of the Chinese Jaegar Program and China’s Role in the World of Jaegars and Kaiju

This construction work is not limited to building large things quickly. It extends to a massive scale, manufacturing product after product and having a massive impact on global movement of commodities and industrial components. Production and manufacturing in China covers a whole lot of areas relevant to Jaegars, including industrial production, electrical production, and electronics. Although in recent months there has been a slight dip in employment figures in this area, this is considered to be due to an increase in automation, which further supports the Jaegar production cause, at least in theories. Reverse engineering is also a significant element, the copying of what already exists until one cannot tell the difference. Fake Apple stores are perhaps the most well known in the West, Apple stores that are so convincing in appearance and behaviour and electronics that even the staff have no idea they are working in a fake. And in 2004, when NEC discovered there were NEC counterfeits coming out of China, investigations revealed the entire company had been copied – 50 factories across China and Taiwan, complete branding, corporate HQ, royalties, products in major stores, warranties and final products “of generally good quality”.

Deloitte tells me that in 2010, China contributed 20% of the global manufacturing total. Between 1980 and 2009, China went from 0.8% to 13.5%. A quote from Deloitte that sounds like a negative but I actually think contributes to my point: “Many Chinese products have low added value, a challenging position amid rising costs and a shrinking export market. In the current state of the global supply chain, China’s manufacturing industry mainly plays the role of “manufacturing, processing and assembly…” The report points out that China has poor logistics, marketing and sales channels. It’s not explicit, but the implication is for export, and that China still relies heavily on Japan, Europe and the USA for these and for upstream goods. Which goes perfectly, actually, with China being an essential part of Jaegar production and ultimately developing its own Jaegar program.

Chinese minerals are less plentiful than its human and natural resources, but it has been seeking to rectify it. China is one of Australia’s strongest trading partners in recent history, with hundreds of major projects and dual owned operations especially in the mining industry. Australia exports significant quantities of iron ore, coal, gold and crude petroleum to China every year, amongst everything else. This every else includes a whole lot of professionals – every Australian I met while I was living in Beijing was either an English teacher, a politician, or an engineer. The top imports from China to Australia are, tellingly for the logistics of building Jaegars, telecom equipment and computers.

China has a great desperate need to participate in the Jaegar program. I go into it a little in regards to Hong Kong a little later, but China has a huge inferiority complex in regards to its national borders. China was a whole lot of separate countries until it was unified in 221 BC by Emperor Qin, who was originally the king of Qin. He is known as the First Emperor, he built a lot of the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors are his guardians in death and he nationalised the road system. He is not really relevant overly to this post but I want to emphasise that he put a whole lot of effort and reform into combining China into one country, and nobody is letting go now. There is shame in failure is basically our cultural creed. It’s why Tibet is a huge deal, it’s why Xinjiang is a huge deal, and it’s why Hong Kong is a Really Fucking Big Deal. It’s the undercurrent to a lot of things, the concession and the Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion being a case of Those White Jerks, This Is Your Fault. It’s the undercurrent of China is the centre and the pinnacle of the world, the rest of you are all ghosts. It’s the core of the military programs and state control and every thing else, and it’s why when the Kaiju come China will grab onto what it can do and won’t ever let go.

China’s massive military and constructive complexes are often incredibly problematic, but combined with the Chinese historical love of building the biggest things ever (the Great Wall; the many fake mountains just for the hell of it, well actually for the feng shui of it but still), its giant population, its huge population in its massive coastline, its history of needing to maintain national integrity, and the fact that it’s already bringing in a lot of resources, means that China will be going for it so fucking hard.

The Illogical 暴風赤紅

It’s not that Crimson Typhoon isn’t the English translation I would have given of the Chinese Jaegar’s name (it isn’t, but it’s close enough that I’ll handwave). It’s not that it uses character combos with which I’m unfamiliar (Chinese names get esoteric, that’s totally legit). It’s a little bit that the name sounds like it was invented in English and translated into Chinese characters, rather than the other way around.

Mostly, it’s that the name is written in giant traditional characters, when it’s a Chinese craft. It’s a Chinese craft, presumably funded/governed/controlled by the Chinese government. The Chinese government has spent a lot of time and money on making sure that simplified characters are the characters that get used for everything. The likelihood of the Chinese Jaegar, something of pride and awesomeness and achievement, having its name in traditional characters, is completely laughable.

The movie itself is set in Hong Kong, where traditional characters are frequently found; and often very contemporarily used, sometimes because of habit and sometimes in an active eff you to the mainland government. However it is still a Chinese craft, and HK is part of China now, despite two systems one country, and with the potentially for active eff you at the government and the fact that Jaegar was almost certainly built on the mainland, there is no chance that thing is named 暴風赤紅 over 暴风赤红.

If you’re interested, 暴風 is really strong wind (force 11), and 赤紅 is kind of like crimson, I guess.

I wrote some more about names at Tumblr, and there’s a bit more in my next post (tomorrow, on Australia and the Jaegar Program).

The Colonialist Narrative: the Hannibal Chau Problem

Liz already mentioned in her overview post that Ron Perlman’s character, Hannibal Chau, was originally meant to be not a white dude, yet somehow, played here by Ron Perlman (a white dude). Whilst that on its own is sketchy, it is super sketchy in context. What we have here is a white man, taking on a Chinese name, running a crime syndicate based out of Hong Kong, specialising in the highly illegal bits of a rare animal, for hilarious medical purposes, because that’s what Chinese people love, you know? This is the most blatantly inappropriate colonialist narrative since Tom Cruise was in the Last Samurai, though I’m pretty sure the Wolverine movie is going to also hit this. Hong Kong, the symbol of China’s super embarrassing failure and capitulation to Western Imperialist forces (see: about 1000 words ago), brought back into China’s arms in 1997 with the end of the loan, is being slowly sucked back into being a part of China. This is for better or for worse and I am not at this juncture discussing the good and bad of it. It is a huge ongoing issue for China, and for Chinese people. China’s concessions to the West were in significant part due to the Opium War, which was a symptom of the forced trickle of opium into China that was a deliberate ploy by Western forces to open China up against its will. Hong Kong was a part of this. So now we have a white dude, taking on a Chinese name, supplying illegal products for what looks like Traditional Chinese Medicine to Chinese people through the port of Hong Kong, surrounded by nameless Chinese thugs. Good work, everybody! Super good work.

The Reflection of China in Current Movies

The increased ‘good guy’ role of China in particularly USA blockbuster movies is indicative of China’s changing role in the geopolitical situation. This is reflected often by small but not necessarily insignificant moments in movies such as Pacific Rim. I do not think it is insignificant, in a ‘right now we are in 2013’ sort of way, that one of the four remaining Jaegars is Chinese, that the movie is set in Hong Kong, that there are three super hot ethnically Chinese Jaegar Rangers wandering around in the background, that they are spoken of with admiration.

In years past China has played the role of unquestioning, unthinking bad guy in movies, aided by the USAmerican tendency towards ‘communist’ as shorthand for ‘evil, unthinking pod person’ (because socialism is a bad thing? Americans.).

This has changed recently, starting with the slow shift towards China as ally in movies, and moving towards dual cuts – Iron Man 3, for example, contained a full 4 minutes extra of Fan Bing Bing’s face and plotline in the Chinese cut. The Mandarin, the advertised baddie in Iron Man 3, had me flailing in rage months before the movie came out, and there is some speculation that the changes to the role and plot in that movie were intentional in courting mainland Chinese demographics. The Christian Bale ‘what these Chinese ladies need is a White Saviour’ movie the Flowers of War (金陵十三钗) was a movie that set about intentionally creating a favourable image of Chinese people for a Western audience, sometimes to the detriment of the Japanese characters. It is also a contentious piece of history between China and Japan, with Japan denying it was all that bad and China maintaining it was super bad. The choice to make this movie could be seen as declaring a side. Red Dawn was to originally feature Chinese villains, who in post-production were digitally replaced by North Korean soldiers (which some sources described as ‘unprecedented‘).

Not to get all ‘everything has happened before’ up in here, but changing movies in the changing geopolitical situation is not only necessary, it’s precedented:

The cinematic depiction of the Chinese has been correlated with US policy towards China, as well as the Western attitude towards the Asians. In the 1920s and the 1930s, the fears of Chinese expansion (immigration) in the United States, reinforced through the circulation of racist thoughts by some US newspapers, pulp magazines, and books, found their way to Hollywood through dozens of movies portraying Chinese as dirty, criminals and tyrants…As China turned into an ally in the 1940s, a more positive image of the Chinese was established. This shift was brief with the rise of Communist China…Hollywood went right back into attack mode.

(Hollywood’s Representations of the Sino-Tibetan Conflict: Politics, Culture and Globalization, Jenny George Daccache, Brandon Valeriano, 2012, Palgrave Macmillan)

These moves are a form of soft politics, a game at which China is incredibly adept. Soft politics forms an explicit part of China’s overall “Going Global” or “Going Out” (走出去战略) concept, and it’s not a surprise that movies is one area where they feel they can easily sway things.

In the real world, China is also a rapidly rising power. Aside from the need to capture the Chinese movie going public, is it really reasonable to posit a future where China isn’t making a significant contribution to whatever amazing world saving efforts the USA is making? In 2013, China owns just over $1.1 trillion (about 10%) of the USA’s world debt, they’re going to have to collect on that some day and it’s important to keep them on side. And when they’re providing more money, they’re gonna want their fingerprints all over everything, just to prove they’re the best again, that China will never again be bested by Western powers.

My Face

You know what I don’t have a problem with? USAmerican movies having to rethink how Chinese people are represented, beyond just stereotypes. And it’s wishful thinking, but maybe this will extend to actual consideration about how other groups are represented, too. And it’s more complicated than that, of course it is, but at least I have that, and maybe one day I won’t need to search so hard to find a representation of myself or my culture that rings at least a little bit true. (And also maybe we could see a bit more of the Luu triplets, I’m not gonna stop going on about that)



There’s so much more to say, but at 2000 words this is going to have to do.