First, I wanted to tell you about a new section in the newsletter: “Other SG stuff we like”. You subscribe to Jom partly for curation, us introducing you to new content on Singapore, not just ours. We’re not going to do it every week, only when there’s something we like. Today we have “Terraforming Singapore: Is the future made of sand?” by Nabilah Said of Kontinentalist, and “What to make of Singapore’s high ‘crony capitalism’ ranking” by Linda Lim in Academia.sg.
Meanwhile, today we’ve published our third photo essay. You may recall that long-form journalism, photography and illustrations are Jom’s mainstays (even as we develop other formats like podcasts and video).
In “Love and loss in modernist times: goodbye, Golden Mile and Peace Centre”, we look at Singaporeans’ fascination with malls—specifically, malls on their deathbed. And these aren’t just any old malls, but two with recognisable names for generations of mall rats. Those who grow up here almost certainly have an attachment to at least one mall, an inescapable part of teenagehood. Yet there’s a different kind of vibe with decaying malls, often a weird blend of nostalgia and escapism, as old traditional shops meet new tenants, like KTV lounges, seeking a welcoming space.
For this series, we commissioned and licensed photographs from Woon Shyue Jiun, an architect. Jean Hew, our head of research, and Tsen-Waye Tay, our head of content, wrote the accompanying text.
Woon’s bio says that he “uses photography as a tool to explore subtext in the built environment. In his daily practice as an architect, he turns aspirations and dreams into constructible reality. At night, he reverses the process—deconstructing reality and spaces into fiction and figments of imagination.”
Woon’s visual approach involves minimising the photographer’s presence. It’s true not only for the subjects captured, all seemingly unaware of him, but also you and me, the viewers. “Especially with architecture photography, you can tell where the photographer is,” he told Jom. “I try to remove that. So you have a more direct relationship with the space.”
Woon’s camera is pointed at unconventional places and objects, and sometimes through glass, whose reflections add a shimmering layer of complexity to the scene. The resulting images—a bus about to herd off tired workers; a shattered glass on a stairwell door; a bar hostess racing up a staircase, her white stiletto balanced precariously—can feel, to anybody who’s visited Singaporean malls at night, more like fragments of one’s memory than something new. Did Woon actually photograph something for us? Or did he just help us reach into our past?
A major story in Singapore This Week, Jom’s weekly digest, also elicits our past—the colonial one, where Rajahs resided in massive estates while lording over a grossly unequal society. At one level, there’s really nothing wrong with Vivian Balakrishnan, foreign affairs minister, and K Shanmugam, home affairs and law minister, living in properties well in excess of 100,000 sq ft. At another level, there’s a potential conflict of interest (see blurb below) and the optics are just horrible, particularly ahead of an election in which housing will be a key issue.
Over the past two decades, Singaporeans have occasionally been reminded that our highly paid civil servants and politicians really do exist in a parallel, privileged universe, whatever their “common person” pretences. One recalls the 2009 article in The Straits Times by a senior civil servant about spending almost S$50,000 to attend the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris with his family.
If the ruling People’s Action Party does lose further support at the next election, this week’s revelations about the Rajahs of Ridout will probably be remembered as a seminal moment. I’m really looking forward to seeing what our comedians, satirists and other artists do with this material.
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