Dear reader,

Happy National Day! And Happy Birthday to Jom! If you think I’m conflating our humble little organisation with our country, well hey, we learn from the best.

But seriously, some of our OG Jomrades might remember that Jom launched last August 11th with a series of National Day pieces, all free, outside the paywall. We’re doing the same today, with “Rethinking the social compact in the ‘gardened’ city” by Jiang Haolie and Daryl WJ Yang, and “Postcard from Aotearoa: coming into right relationship” by Unsu Lee.

Before I describe them, a reminder about Jom’s thinking on pieces around Singapore’s National Day. Philosophically, we hope for the series to counter the establishment view that love and belonging can be expressed only through a flattened, stereotypical form of chest-thumping bravado. In keeping with what many artists have already been doing, we want the series to help broaden the space in society for a more critical, meditative notion of belonging, community and solidarity.

In their piece, Daryl and Haolie, recent graduates of the soon-to-be-shuttered Yale-NUS College, make a plea for a reset in state-society relations. They believe it is in both the ruling PAP’s and Singapore’s interests for the party to “...lean into the organic evolution of Singapore’s maturing democracy…learning from and partnering with ‘loving critics’; paring back the paternalism of consultation in favour of a more transparent and open relationship with citizens and civil society; and harnessing the idealism of young Singaporeans instead of stigmatising ‘activism’.”

I’ve gotten to know Daryl and Haolie over the past few years, and am always inspired by their generation’s social consciousness. That’s not to imply that this zeal is altogether lacking in us middle-aged fogeys, as is clear from Unsu’s postcard, which describes a personal journey of discovery and transformation, one that possibly has broad political, social and ecological lessons for us all.

“I am on a quest for personal metamorphosis. Living all my life in an urban setting, reliant on malls and supermarkets to supply my basic needs and pleasures, I have lived my life as a hungry, consumerist caterpillar. I have no doubt that my net effect on the planet has been negative. But just as the caterpillar can transform into a pollinating butterfly, I have a desire to become a net producer in this next stage of my life.”

Unsu is one of my oldest friends. We spent a lot of time together in Berkeley and San Francisco in the early 2000s. One highlight was hanging at Burning Man in 2002, the first time I went. Unsu was making a documentary about it; I was writing my undergraduate honours thesis on it.

I mention Burning Man because while many go for the hedonism, Unsu and I were (also) fascinated by the art and the movement’s powerful social philosophies and imperatives. Radical inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, as well as decommodification and “leave no trace” are some of the “10 principles of Burning Man”. We spent much time discussing these, both in the unforgiving Black Rock Desert in Nevada, and subsequently back in the real world. Reading Unsu’s postcard today, it’s easy to see the continuation of these themes in his life.

His postcard is also a wonderful demonstration of why Jom started this Postcard series. There are some 180,000 Singaporeans privileged enough to live in different parts of the world. Many of them, like Unsu, continue contributing to Singapore from afar. It’s important that we cherish our diaspora and learn from their transnational perspectives.

In “Singapore This Week”, our weekly digest, we also touch on transnationalism in the form of a new book on the Bugis people. There are also blurbs on Singaporean filmmakers leaving their mark around the world, HealthTech, and the alarming spike in online child sexual exploitation and abuse, much from South-east Asia.

I’m also thrilled that at 8pm on August 23rd, we’ll be having an exclusive Jom virtual chat between Soh Rui Yong, national marathoner, and Nick Fang, our sports editor. Log on to ask Rui Yong all your burning questions or submit them beforehand to These behind-the-scenes Zoom chats are a benefit for Jom’s Supporters and Patrons, who belong to our upper two subscription tiers. (Tier breakdown here.) If you’re a Member, and would like to upgrade your plan, you can do so on your Account page.

Finally, a quick update on the POFMA directives issued to Jom. On Tuesday, Justice Valerie Thean at Singapore’s High Court heard our challenge. Jordan Tan and Keith Han were the lawyers arguing our case. Valerie has reserved judgement, so it could be a while before we learn of her decision. Regardless of the outcome, I’m really happy with the work that Jordan and Keith did; as well as that of the whole Jom team throughout this process.

This coming Monday, which’ll be four weeks since the directives, we’ll be able to pull down the notices currently hogging the top of our website. The aesthetic tragedy for Jom over this period is the fact that the POFMA notices have supplanted the beautiful visual art, some commissioned months ago, by the following people: Suhui Hee, Alecia Neo and Marie Toh. The POFMA directives, in other words, have had an impact not just on our writers but our visual artists too.

It’s unfortunate, but anyhow, come Monday, we’ll have our normal magazine look back. The artists up this week: Marie again, for Unsu’s piece (she does all our postcards); and Marvin Tang for Daryl and Haolie’s.

Maybe there’s something comforting about Jom reclaiming its space in the week that our magazine–and our country–celebrate our birthdays.

Sudhir Vadaketh
Editor-in-chief, Jom

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