Best Australian Kids’ Show Themes DEFINITIVE RANKING IN ORDER, WORST TO BEST, NO ARGUMENTS
A terrible song, bookended by the nightmare face of all Australian childhoods. Mulligrubs me. Mulligrubs you. Come and be a Mulligrubs too
GENIE FROM DOWNUNDER
Please try not to ask too many questions about why the Genie from Down Under and his son are white and not Indigenous Australian, since if an Australian Genie is released from an opal they should surely be Indigenous? I mean, who am I to ask these totally relevant questions. This theme tune is ranked worse than the next one because it’s so terribly out of tune and flat and poorly sung. Rhys Muldoon, we expect better of a Play School presenter.
What a dull, lifeless bathmat of a song. Perfect.
So long, so boring. Plus every quokka knows that Blinky Bill is a bit of a wanker.
Time for some meditation.
THE BOOK PLACE
Such a creepy worm, but I’m happily bopping along right now.
I remember the show but somehow not this totally perfect dance track theme song.
REAL FRIENDS ARE UNDER THE SKIN!? And of course minus points for EC the creepy doll. How did this song get so high on this list?!
Excuse me whilst your judge goes off to have a bit of a cry.
SHIP TO SHORE
It’s so jaunty! DOOP DOOP DOOP DU-DOOP-DU-DOOP-DOOP. ALSO THERE’S A CLUB REMIX
ROUND THE TWIST
HAVE YOU EVER EVER FELT LIKE THIS Ominous and therefore everything you need from an Australian childhood. PS now available on Netflix, much to our joy. No Award will shortly be engaging in a rewatch and review, so stay tuned.
JOHNSON AND FRIENDS
How am I supposed to get anything done when my heart is full of such joy?
*not documented, Humphrey B Bear because I couldn’t find something from the 90s only some sort of hideous modern animation, Cheez TV, Feral TV. The Silver Brumby (not in the list because I literally can’t remember this song).
In the final episode of Serangoon Road, we suffer through flashbacks of Winston’s last night, solve Winston’s murder, and I am fooled so thoroughly by how the show ends that I clapped my hands in delight.
We open with Winston’s Last Night, weirdly energetic fight-kissing with Joan (who isn’t wearing a cheongsam!!) and Winston on the ground. In a series of flashbacks we establish that Don passed by Winston (they conversed briefly), and that after visiting Second Wife he ended up tracing a path towards the Unionists Headquarters. How they do some of this detectiving is a mystery to me as they leap from Dixon Road looking for his favourite kopitiam to some other road and the union headquarters located upon it. I wish Don wouldn’t mumble so.
The effort to solve the mystery of Winston’s murder steps up its pace, as the well-dressed murderer from the previous episode is let out on bail and disappears into the streets of Singapore. While combing the streets with Joan, Don meets Claire’s gaze across Dixon Street. I laugh because it’s so awkward and I don’t want them to get back together. Don visits Professor Union Leader (E07) in jail, who is ALIVE after being SHOT IN THE HEART and arrested for being a unionist which I thought was a treasonous act? Who admits that he had a meeting with Winston but Winston never turned up so he thought nothing of it. Then he heard he was killed, and he knew his brother had paid for someone to intercept Winston but never mentioned this before? And that they had a meeting because Union Professor had paid Winston to investigate his brother James Lim? And Don just accepts this. Apparently. I don’t even know.
Pamelyn lays it on thick with how if CIA dude doesn’t help them find out about James Lim (the businessman from E03, and Professor Unionist’s brother) then the detective agency will close and her family will make her marry a Peranakan boy and she’ll never get to go to America with the love of her life. I roll my eyes so hard they’d fall out of my head if they hadn’t already done so at CIA dude’s horrendous Mandarin. Fortunately, Don makes fun of him on my behalf.
CIA dude does some snooping and discovers the file for James Lin exists but is empty; Big CIA Dude comes in and admits he knows CIA dude is the leak to MI6. This leads CIA dude to sass MI6 dude, and tries to play him, asking MI6 dude for stuff in return for directly helping him to get a position in Washington. In more white boy news, Frank comes to find Don, and the cinematography is excellent; Don is in the Black Orchid, laughing as he shakes hands to seal a deal with some Chinese dudes. Frank is actually excellent here, as a character though not as an actor, telling Don that he and Claire are leaving Singapore, but he wants Don to make his case to Claire because he’s not gonna spend the rest of his life with Claire if a part of her never leaves “here.”
Back at the Agency, CIA dude tells Pamelyn there’s no file on James Lin, like a big lying liar, and Joan’s songbirds are dead! It’s a threat! (“I can get her some for cheap, maybe even throw in a duck,” says my loveheart Alaric). Don however decides this is enough, and storms over to James Lin’s office where they can hear fighting about a key and JAMES LIN AND THE MURDERER DUDE ARE FIGHTING and then the murderer dude CUTS OFF JAMES LIM’S HEAD. It goes rolling down the stairs!
There’s a safe in the office, and Alaric and Don decide to break into it by using explosives. Yes. Excellent. As they’re setting it up Don asks how Alaric knew his gf was the one; “There’s only one Ju-E and I like her. There’s nobody else.” NO DON DON’T GO TO CLAIRE NO. Don asks if they’re using too much explosives; “what else am I gonna use this for?” which as you may suspect goes super well, but works to break open the safe. Alaric, after his financial woes, delights in dancing around as money falls from the sky and he shoves the cash into his pockets; Don is more interested in the folder lying there, with negatives and documentation.
A flashback reveals James Lin having dinner with a white dude; as if there’s ever any doubt, the white dude turns out to be Big CIA Dude. Don confronts Big CIA Dude (his name is Wild Bill, by the way), who is playing card games with other white dudes in some bar populated solely by non-Asians. Don threatens to take it to Ario, the murder of a chinese citizen, if Wild Bill doesn’t fess up; he fesses that James Lim had a silent partner, and Wild Bill didn’t care if James Lin dealing with the CIA went public so he’s not the one who had Winston killed but James Lim had political aspirations so probably didn’t; and maybe the silent partner cared…? IS IT THE TONGS I BET IT’S THE TONGS.
Back in the Agency, Joan makes a discovery and hears a sound, assumes it’s Don but obviously it’s not; it’s murderer dude. Joan cowers, is afraid, gets thrown around a lot but then she brains him with the giant rotary phone before stabbing him in the hand with a letter opener and then Don comes storming through and beats him like fuck.
After tying him to the couch and…leaving him there…Joan and Don decide to tell the Tiger General that Kay Song has been in partnership with James Lim to sell land to the CIA, on the grounds that the Tiger General would kill him for it.
In the Dragon House, the Tiger General is watching his coffin being made, as is a tradition. They ask for an audience (in English?!) and explain what’s been going on (IN ENGLISH?!) and when Kay Song gets his men to beat up Sam, Joan starts calling out for help IN ENGLISH out IN FRONT OF THE TONG HOUSE like that would ever help. Joan. Geeze.
The Tiger General gets mad at Kay Song: they come and they go and finally we have Singapore for ourselves, and you help the Americans take it. This is obviously a completely open and explicit discussion of colonialism and the possibility of being complicit in that; and perhaps a discussion of older Singaporean values versus more modern Singaporean values. He says “do not let me see the body,” of Song Ge; and then Song Ge suffocates Grandfather Dragon as they all just watch. He speaks softly; My grandfather had a heart attack, he says. We have witnesses. I’m sorry you had to be here for this sad day, Mrs Cheng, Sam. You may now leave me to my grief. It’s such a quiet, compelling, amazing scene of a psychopath and a community in the middle of a whole bunch of stuff that makes no sense.
In the CIA compound, or wherever these guys hang out, we find out that Wild Bill is being sent away and CIA dude gets to stay. MI6 dude is going to Washington, and hands over Pamelyn’s file to CIA dude. CIA dude makes him promise it’s the only copy. I kept my word, MI6 dude says. I hope she’s worth it. CIA dude basically chews the scenery through this entire section, as he always does.
We wrap up in a series of scenes across the Agency. Joan is looking at a photo of Winston; Don is looking pensive. Uncle Owner is dancing hilariously. Alaric and Ju-E are cuddling, CIA dude turns up to talk to Pamelyn, and Don is having memories of Claire. I bet he goes back to her, and I’m so boooreeedddd.
I realise that it’s Moon Festival, which is nice! There’s lanterns like I had as a kid (like I still have now), and family and moon cake and Joan gazing into her wine and she’s all “go to her” and I’m all NO JOAN WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT.
So Don is running and Claire and Frank are getting into the car Frank steps away. Don says he loves her; she slaps him. Don talks about how great they are and what they’ll do tonight instead of her leaving Singapore, and she makes out and she’s like “and what about tomorrow?” and he says “We’ll work it out” and “I love you” and Claire says “I’ll always love you” and “it’s too late” and then she walks away and gets into the car which has already started to drive away (I guess Frank thought she was gonna stay) and she just looks at Frank and gets in the car and doesn’t look back and I shriek and clap my hands in delight. CLAIRE YOU’RE THE BEST.
We cut to MI6 dude pushing a copy of the Pamelyn file into an envelope addressed to Wild Bill. “Take that, you little piece of shit,” he says, as he seals it. I laugh and clap my hands in delight. You were a jerk but well played, that man.
In Serangoon Road, Don turns up as everyone gathers in the street and watches the awkward CGI fireworks. There’s dragon dance (I don’t dragon dance at moon festival, but sure, I guess) and firecrackers and people smiling warmly at one another, and that’s where it ends, content and not-revenged and Chinese (with two interloping white guys) on Serangoon Road.
Hey so that was a series! As a finale it went where it needed to go, tying up all the loose ends and giving us an ending. The major season arcs of who and why Winston was killed, and boring white romance thingies, were resolved. But we didn’t learn any more about Alaric’s gambling, which was such a major thread in earlier episodes, and Ario was completely wasted. He spent so much time letting Don dictate things, despite being a police officer, and I’d like to know why. There was some effort towards lines towards a second season, primarily the postage of the file to Wild Bill and Song Ge’s dismissal of Joan and Don, and of course in the celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival, but all in all it felt like an end.
This final episode was also about relationships and connections. A lot of the flashbacks were about Winston’s relationships with the people around him (dancing and making out with Joan and teasing her; Don offering him help as they passed by one another; being firm with Second Wife and the boy). There was Pamelyn establishing boundaries in her relationship with CIA dude, Don trying to work out his relationship with Claire (and Frank trying to establish where his own relationship lies), the reaffirmation of Alaric and Ju-E’s relationship. Even the storyline as it extended out beyond Winston’s murder was about relationships: the Lim brothers spying on one another; Song Ge’s relationship to his Grandfather, and Joan and Don’s relationship to the Red Dragons. It was excellent in just this way, because if you’re going to tell a story of Singapore you need to be telling a story of families and relationships.
Speaking of families, I’d love to know if there was non-Asian confusion about Joan suddenly being Auntie and Second Wife and the boy being considered family (explicitly, with “中秋节 being a time for family”), as it isn’t something that needs to be explained but given the explainy-ness of other parts of the series, perhaps it does?
Sometimes in my reviews I think I came across as hating this series. I didn’t hate it at all. I loved the feelings of familiarity and home-ness I got from watching this, and the way my heart warmed and the way I felt homesick whenever they got something right (or even close to right); and the way it jarred when it was so wrong. I appreciated when the terrible things were accurate, like pompous Westerners (men and women) in their cooled, tidy, clean, separated enclave, too precious to dirty themselves near locals, not bothering to learn any of our dialects or languages (my father was one of those people, in fact). But this was not a great series, even on its own; and it was an awkward one when you remember it’s not only from My ABC, but from HBO Asia as well, when HBO is so well known for amazing television. This was not worthy of that – at times it was awkward, clunky, and filled with average writing and dialogue that was pedestrian and added no real character quirks, merely served to push the plot along.
But I still enjoyed the ride.
I have a wrap up post to come, which will be going up at Peril Magazine, talking about some of the themes of Serangoon Road after I’ve had a chance to percolate on them. Some things I’m gonna be talking about include: Don’s total disrespect for everyone in his constant refusal to clothe himself properly, I mean seriously, that is more inappropriate than the Mr Darcy goes swimming scene in the 1995 BBC P+P; Colonialism and westerners in SEA in the mid-20th Century; interracial relationships in SEA in the mid-20th Century; race relations; the representation of SEA in western media; the sense of home on my tv here in Australia and what that means.
Uh but if you wanna chat about this on twitter, fb or in the comments here. PING ME. Do it now.
DON DRESS APPROPRIATELY HAVE SOME RESPECT. EVEN THE DUDE IN JAIL CAN DO IT.
Old people memory dancing, so awkward
Pamelyn, Secretary of my Heart, makes CIA dude apologise for lying about the file. I know you can’t tell me all about your work, she says. Just say no comment.
When Joan tells Pamelyn about Second Wife and the baby, she says “your Uncle Winston had another family,” which is the exact right way to say it. At the mistress’ house, the boy calls Joan Auntie and implies that she’s paying for his new school, which, nwaaah. Family.
Language watch: Joan says kopitiam but Don says coffee shop. Whhhhy? No Hokkien for like a million years. Lots of lols Mando, but technically should have been more also.
After all that give give give help from Ario to Don, nothing came of it! Ario why you helping this mat salleh what.
They tie murderer to the couch, bandage his hand, and then just leave him there?
Wild Bill: so amazing with the lines. “Make sure you find them before they find you,” he says to Don in the bar about the silent partner; “You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”; “It’s not that you did it, it’s whatever he’s got on you that made you do it.” This entire scene had some cliched lines but was still somehow excellent. “I can’t use you. Everyone crosses the line; it’s important you look back and you can still see it.”
Grandfather Tiger also excellent lines, mostly to Joan and Don: “Speak.” to Don: “Not you.”
Were the negatives in that file they gave to Grandfather Tiger (which Kay Song then burnt)? Could use that for future!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
WHERE IS THE KOMBI?!
Next episode: Aussie girls missing; my boyf Song Ge; “now you’re a real spy” hahaha.
In Episode 6 of Serangoon Road “Tracks of My Tears”, it’s time for the Hungry Ghost Festival! Kay Song’s sister goes missing, a mysterious adorable baby is left on the doorstep of the detective agency, and boring ang moh things happen. Also I get more grumpy about colonialist attitudes in Singapore. And who comes up with these episode titles?
The episode opens with prayers and performers during Hungry Ghost Festival, and Kay Song doing some praying! I love that he has Tong Goons to place his incense on the altar for him.
Sam is back in his white shirt watching performers, and he and Kay Song exchange mysterious nods as he leaves and wanders out onto the street. There are a lot of gratuitous lingering shots of people praying and burning hell money and joss sticks. A little kid flips out, calls him e’gui and there’s sinister music and I cry laughing.
We cut from calls of e’gui to blue coloured scenes and the sound of air raid sirens, so I guess we’re in a memory! Two men walk on the grass to a house. Cut to house. It’s Claire’s house! Is Claire living in Don’s childhood house? Surely not because that’s creepy. I don’t understand why Claire is still here she’s so booooring. Claire gets out of bed; Don creepily watches the window like a creeper.
Sinister music plays over this entire section, which is great. Cut to Joan in the street finding A BABY. The baby has a water-stained note with it to which Don says “it’s definitely written in Mandarin but I can’t make it out” to which I say: a) lol; b) dude you are talking to two Singaporeans. You think maybe they might know that?
More importantly, Pamelyn asks who abandons a male baby; and starts sassing (Mr Callaghan, where were you nine months ago?). Don gets a totally hilarious look on his face.
CHINESE HISTORY NOTE: Or Chinese current note, I guess. Similarly to Europeans, historically girls are for marrying off and boys are for bringing in a new girl to the house. So you never give a boy away because he’s an asset, and also in our patriarchal society he is the one with the family stuff going on, the one in charge of looking after the ancestral tablets, etc etc. This is in part what’s led to the huge disparity in male vs female children and young adults in China since the promulgation of the One Child Policy.
We have a little side adventure with Don that goes nowhere, where he tries to locate a woman named Shuang because maybe he impregnated her? It’s pretty weird, but it comes to nothing because he tracks her down and she’s married and has a baby in the house with her and dead end adventure.
CIA dude drops by on Pamelyn, finds her looking after the baby. “It suits you,” he says; “Conrad if you upset this baby I will shoot you,” is her reply. Go Pamelyn, sass him, he’s not good enough for you!
Back in Serangoon Rd, Uncle Owner is very superstitious, spending the whole episode burning hell money, waving joss sticks and admonishing Don that it’s a bad time to be helping strangers. Song Ge threatens Alaric, asking where his (Song Ge’s) sister Weilin is. Alaric might know because he’s been selling black market LP’s to her. But before the threats get far, a dude comes in and whispers to Song Ge, who runs out. Alaric and Don chase him down, and find him by the water’s edge, where there’s a body floating; it is Kay Weilin.
“Man, don’t go in the water,” Alaric comments from the distance of a bridge far above the water. “Spirits of the drowned are everywhere this time of the year.” A) I hear you, bro; B) pipe for the non-Chinese?
Down in the police station Ario, as always our token speaking-part Malay, tells us that she died of blood poisoning from complications of giving birth. He reveals that there’s no sign of the baby and that the family didn’t know she was pregnant. Should Ario be giving this much info to Don? Are there gonna be favours owed? I don’t understand their professional relationship. Don realises that the baby is a member of the Kay family and they desperately need to get him out of Chinatown because, Don decides, they can’t leave the baby with Song Ge and his Dragon family.
So he takes the baby to Claire, sneaking past Song Ge and Song Ge’s Tong Goons, who are ripping through Chinatown trying to find the baby. Because that’s his only solution? How is she gonna explain this to Frank? They’re only supposed to be acquaintances as far as he knows. Claire at least protests that he can’t just do this, but she takes the baby anyway because she’s a lady.
Investigation reveals that Kay Weilin had an angmoh friend so Don meets up with Pamelyn who coaches him on turning up to an event where they might be able to identify and discover the friend. She tells him he needs to look stern, but that he actually looks like he needs a digestive tea. I laugh because I love Pamelyn most when she’s being sassy. That’s all I want. Sass. Don tells her to do better than CIA dude. “You sound like my father,” she says, which, there’s nothing wrong with that in this instance, you ARE too good for him, Pamelyn!
Pamelyn discovers the ang moh bestie and attempts to charm her but is literally the worst, and I can’t tell if this is language issues, acting issues or script issues. It’s like with Violin Daughter from ep 2 all over again. Ang moh bestie isn’t buying it and sashays off.
Back in Chinatown they discover that Auntie Fortune Teller, who knows all the Amahs in town (historically quite possible), actually knows who Kay Weilin’s Amah is and they wheedle it out of her by suggesting that if the Kay family finds the Amah first they’ll kill her! Auntie Fortune Teller gets him to promise on his ancestors to keep her safe, which is an interesting thing to get an ang moh you don’t fully trust to swear.
In the kampungs, Don gets beaten up until he reveals he knows about the baby; Amah actress not so good, reveals that she left Weilin by herself to go cover up with the family and when she came back Weilin was feverish and then she died, so she gave the baby to the ang moh bestie and consigned Weilin to the water and now Weilin is doomed to come back and seek revenge. We are a superstitious bunch, aren’t we? (I would probably be scared too, ngl). As Amah is tearfully confessing to it all being her fault, Don says, “so [ang moh bestie] took the baby,” which, thanks Don, have some sympathy you’ve only been dealing with us your whole life, I mean seriously.
Back in the office, Team Detective are trying to come up with a new way to get in contact with ang moh bff and get her to spill what she knows. “What about that ang moh party tonight?” Pamelyn asks, as if all ang mohs know each other which given Singapore in the 60s, they probably do hahah. After Claire calls the office for “help” from Don re: the baby (what would Don know?!), we cut to another party which I swear they’re all held in the same place (also possible), and Pamelyn is wearing the same dress she wore on her date with CIA dude! PAMELYN YOU ARE PERANAKAN HAVE SOME RESPECT. Don is wearing a suit. CIA looks like he could use a digestive biscuit.
They convince ang moh bff to separate from her parents and she reveals that Weilin thought the boy she was sexing thought he was going to marry her. Awwww! And he’s here tonight! Dude (Chinese Singaporean with an Australian accent which is funny because he’s supposed to be English-Educated Singaporean doing uni in England) is in denial; he never received any letters though ang moh bff swears Weilin wrote them. His father storms into the room and admits he stole the letters! The boy wants to take the baby on but his father won’t let him, making it clear that he should never have gotten involved with someone from a Tong family and now he’s just gonna have to deal with how the father is choosing to fix it. Boy storms off, making it clear he’s not emotionally mature enough to have an infant anyway.
Back in the office, the phone rings. “Guess who,” Joan says, holding the phone out to Don. The looks on her and Pamelyn’s faces are priceless. Don turns up at Claire’s house and I’d like to know where Frank is in all of this? Claire comments that Don is a natural with kids arhghg help. He says he was around kids a lot growing up – in Changi? Claire asks. Claire you don’t just ask someone! Frustrated by not being able to give the kid a home that isn’t in the Kay clan, Don asks Claire, “You know any expat kids who wanna adopt a Chinese baby?” Claire, continuing to show some basic common decency as a human baby, replies “He’s a baby, not a puppy. Given expat circles I think a dog would have a better chance.” Thank you, Claire. DON YOU ARE THE PROBLEM WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM YOU CANNOT JUST PALM OFF A CHINESE BABY TO A RANDOM EXPAT FAMILY ALDKAJFADF.
Sorry. Hi. We cut quickly to the detective agency and Serangoon Road. There is a mysterious woman walking the streets holding a package, which she drops on the steps of the Cheng Agency, which is becoming a bit of a pattern. She knocks and runs off, and Joan comes out to discover the locket from episode 3, with the picture of Joan and Winston in it. DUN DUN DUNNN.
Meanwhile, trying to hit an emotional note, Claire advocates for giving the baby to the Kay family and asks “did your life turn out the way you thought it would?” Don has some more misty flashbacks, and we transition to the truck that appears to have replaced the Kombi. “This is gonna get you killed, man,” says Alaric.
I’m so pissed off that it’s up to the white people to decide to give the baby to the Kay family. I get why they spent all this time investigating – if Weilin went to so much effort, given she was living at home, to hide her pregnancy from her family, clearly she maybe didn’t want them to know and maybe she didn’t want the baby to be a part of the Kay family, for whatever reason. But Weilin died without leaving written instructions, her ang moh bestie knew she wasn’t keen on it but didn’t know what else to do, the father can’t take the baby and Kay Song is tearing Chinatown apart for the baby. What does that tell you, you judgemental ang moh?
In what is probably Don’s longest monologue so far, Don gives the baby to Grandfather Kay, and shows honour and respect in returning the baby, and asks that in return he grants a favour: not seeking vengeance. Grandfather Kay is clearly feeling magnanimous and/or wants Don to do him more favours in the future; he grants the favour for the boy and the girl, but he says, a member of my household – “she cannot go unpunished.” Don asks him to reconsider, but Grandfather Kay doesn’t even look at him, he just keeps playing with the baby as he says “It is already too late.” The music over this whole scene is amazing.
Don races off to the kampung to find Kay Amah, leaving behind Alaric who went to get drinks or something (for reals). In the kampung, Kay Amah is cooking and turns to find Song Ge staring at her. He floats into the room, Amah serves him some food and he kneels down beside her at the table. He is quiet and kind of menacing. “I’ve been having these dreams, Amah,” he says. “I would have you sing.” It’s kind of menacing and kind of not, and I honestly can’t tell whether he’s gonna kill her or not, so excellent work my friend. Amah sings and Song Ge lies his head on the table and looks up at her.
Don swings to a stop at the kampung and leaps out of not the Kombi. Song Ge walks into sight, pulling his sleeves down. They face off, Don all puffed and Song Ge all quietly sinister. “I slit her throat and fed her to the crabs” he says, and Don believes him until Amah comes into sight. He’s sending her off to hid! “If my Grandfather finds out, it is you who I shall be giving to the crabs” Song Ge threatens as Amah sails off; doesn’t look back.
In the boat house, Alaric agrees to something with two Chinese guys, without their ang moh partners present. “Don’t worry about him, just keep this between us,” they all agree. ALARIC NO. Why sometimes such good decisions, other times clearly such bad decisions!
Joan plays with the locket and talks out loud. We pull back and discover she is sitting talking to Winston at his tablet. She is puzzled and unsure and I love you Joan. Uncle Owner is still burning money, and this was so superficially about ghosts, I really did expect more instead of this sledgehammer of meaning and just bam bam bam! It really could have been about ghosts, or about the Chinese fear of ghosts (especially in SEA), instead of whatever this mess was.
We end with Claire hiding out in Don’s house, telling him she’s gonna leave Frank. But if she leaves Frank won’t she have to go back to Australia? I find it hard to believe she has her own funds. Then the ang mohs make out and I yell at the screen.
This was a weird episode, with real attempts to make sure that the A plot was basically the entirety of the focus, with only little hints of other things, but it still felt like it lacked whatever was needed to bind it together. The moments with the ghosts and babies and traditions felt forced, not artificially added on but as if they were uncomfortable being there; but at the same time it gave some excellent moments of colonialism and attitudes in Singapore in 1964. I feel very mixed about this episode: I definitely can’t say it was a good one because there were some notes I loved; but at the same time it was terrible.
The writing and the acting has definitely dropped again in this episode. WHY MY ABC WHY.
Don and CIA dude get into fights over the Singaporeans in their lives. Don threatens CIA dude re: Pamelyn (I don’t care how you treat me but “you upset her, that’s another story”); CIA dude threatens Alaric (he’s on a communist watchlist ?!!? “if we do not stand up against communism it will destroy us.” Americans.)
I wish they’d stop trying to make fetch happen with Pamelyn and the CIA dude. It’s so contrived and awful, AND he just keeps pushing for a yes past every one of her nos until she just gently drops into not a no. “I’m repulsed by every single thing you stand for,” Pamelyn says, and I wish they’d stick with that!
Alaric: “you know I can’t read white guys.” I hear you, 哥哥.
I’m always glad when we get more background on characters, but Song Ge was super upset only this was the only time we’ve ever seen Kay Weilin. Dead lady only in a Singaporean setting for the gangster baddie is still a lady in the fridge. Expansion only with dead ladies is it?
Fortune Teller Auntie! So the best. She tells Don to stay out because it’s Chinatown business and I love it, because no matter how much he wants to be a part of it he still always holds himself a little separate, like all ang moh in SEA at the time. Perfect characterisation. Also yes, he should go give sacrifice instead. Baby Grandaddy tells Don “you’re an outsider, you don’t understand;” I would really love it if they keep exploring this aspect through the show, how Don wants to be considered wholly Singaporean but he never will be because he won’t let himself be.
Every instance of Joan making fun of Don makes me happy.
Why ‘Tracks of My Tears’? Why not something to do with it being 中元节? Something to do with ghosts or…something.
Speaking of all ang mohs knowing each other, did I mention that time I was trailing behind my parents at 10:00 in some random shopping centre in Penang and my dad literally bumped into another ang moh he knew when he was stationed at Butterworth 25 years earlier? All ang mohs really DO know each other in SEA in the 60s-70s.
No Rachael Blake, no Tony Martin. Boooooo.
Hokkien watch: lots of use of ang moh.
Next week: Alaric is caught smuggling explosives and Pamelyn refuses to help clear him. DUN DUN DUNNNNN
Say you’re lucky enough to get the beautiful and talented and adorable real-life doctor AND actress, Australian-born Renee Lim  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!
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, 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.”  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. 
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  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 ; Benjamin Ng talked Gangnam Style and the stereotyping of Asian males in the Drum last year ; Hany Lee came on board Neighbours as an exchange student (rather than, say, a Korean-Australian) – despite being born in Australia.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.