mental indigestion

Two Tales July 12, 2008

Filed under: Kay poh recommendations — mel @ 10:47 am

After the little complaint about the censored short story, author Wena Poon dropped an e-mail suggesting that I check out the rest of her short stories in their (untouched) entirety. I managed to get a copy from the library and read this book through the week. For some strange reason, it provided a little reprieve from the very localised issues I was facing at work. Perhaps because the characters were all displaced (but in a familiar sort of way) which in turn took me out of my present situation. Two stories I liked:

“The Man Who Was Afraid of ATMs” reminds me of all the pictures of rosy-cheeked mum’s friend’s children in bright checkered blazers that were sent back. With a tinge of envy, my mum would show me these glossy photographs, and sometimes even prop them up on the hall mantel. In particular, Sharon from Toronto’s pictures were a big favourite, because this kid just radiated with pure joy. I’ve learned over the years that my mum’s greatest regret was not staying longer in London, and as such I only have one set of blazer-adorned studio photos, which she hates because my nose looks too flat (“I just want to keep pinching it.”) I’m glad for this other side of the immigrant story with this unassimilated ATM grandpa character, which I realised is an issue many of my overseas friends hardly ever talk about.

“The Shooting Ranch” was a rather dark tale of a Singaporean family in Nevada. One line which made my heart break a little: “I just wanted to get married to a Singaporean Christian man and settle down and have a simple life.” Many Christian women hunt down Christian men because of religious compatibility (and implicitly, eternal happiness), but at the end of the day, it’s still a human you are marrying. This human has choices and sometimes, the choices will hardly be holy. Disturbingly enough, the anti-Western father antagonist reminded me of a group of Hwa Chong boys who wanted to beat up my male classmates after my female classmates said something sarcastic to them at some sports events in junior college. Apparently, that group hated “outspoken banana females”.

There are eleven stories in all for this collection, all very readable and authentic (from the point of view that there are no flowers, phoenixes and other overtly oriental symbols). I like the neutral, observational tone throughout this collection of stories, which is refreshing since most local literature can get quite angsty. Actually, I am a little unsure whether this is truly “local” literature, but it is a great read for anyone who is a) Singaporean and living abroad b) Singaporean and wanting to live abroad c) Singaporean and has lived abroad for a certain number of years.


3 Responses to “Two Tales”

  1. Almostgotit Says:

    I didn’t know you had these stories in you (the stories I’m hearing between YOUR review of someone ELSE’S stories.) People who have lived in one place their whole lives have no sense of what it is like, both to lose this sense of place and to gain at the same time the sense of being from a place at all.

    Your mother’s wanting to pinch your nose, which brief mention you just threw out there, is so hugely evocative. Would someone who only sees Asian noses 24/7 even have a real sense of there being other kinds of noses? Even to the point of thinking that she preferred them?

    The particularity of this one thing, this thought of flat Asian noses, is also of particular interest to *me* because my Asian sister-in-law referred to her own “flat nose” in a conversation with me a couple days ago. Her own mother, recently come to the U.S. after a lifetime in China, had been focussing on flat noses. It seemed strange to me, as I’ve never ever thought before about Asian noses at all (I’m white). I was even more surprised, many years ago when she herself was a new immigrant, when my sister-in-law said she might like to “do her eyes” someday to make them less Asian. She is so physically beautiful that I just didn’t understand.

    Now, though, I think maybe I do. I believe these are sign not of any particular “defect” she thought she had, but instead a marker of her displacement and re-placement. She’d grown up in a very homogenous part of China and now lived in the U.S. I only understand a little of what that is like because of my own experiences living abroad and being a foreigner. Not many Americans have that experience, so most of us also fail (I think) to appreciate the great awareness of place — and displacement — that only that experience can provide.


  2. mrdes Says:

    Hi, got your link from Wena’s website ( The “Case of the Censored Short Stories” is pretty funny – I nearly fall off my chair laughing. I swear I didn’t see the paste-over when I read the collection in May.

  3. melch Says:

    Liz: In general, a sharp nose is an indication of beauty for most Oriental people (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) not quite sure if it is a product of Westernisation thing or just a long-lasting tradition like how being fair is considered pretty too. However, that being said, my mum definitely has some British colonial-hangovers and generally likes to be considered “Westernised” both in terms of appearance and social conduct. (This is really a complex condition due to a billion of factors which I hope to explain more to you one day!)

    Mrdes: Must be someone went to comprain 😛

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