Hello from the whole Jom team. We’re co-writing this final newsletter of the year. Final? Well, for those who’ve only recently joined our Jommunity, we’re all off for the last two weeks of the year, and for one week in June. We’ll maintain this policy until we’re big enough to accommodate leave schedules and absences while maintaining our editorial standards. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we build this media outfit together.
Our highlights this week:
“Who deserves healthcare?” by Tsen-Waye Tay, Jom’s co-founder
Over the past few months Waye has spent time with Sherry Toh, a Singaporean who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare, genetic neuromuscular disease that afflicts some 40-50 Singaporeans. Unlike children with SMA, 24-year-old Sherry has had a challenging time raising funds for her exorbitant treatment costs. Waye’s essay is not just a portrait of Sherry, but also an exploration of thorny ethical issues: should the patient’s age be a factor when allocating scarce medical resources? Should society spend more on treatments for people who are more likely to eventually contribute?
But Waye’s piece is not just an intellectual exercise; the far more urgent action we all must take is to help Sherry, who desperately needs money to support her treatment. Her birthday, coincidentally, is tomorrow. Read the piece, and then donate here.
Corrie Tan, Jom’s new arts editor
We’re delighted to announce that Corrie Tan has joined Jom as our new arts editor. It’s an adjunct position. Corrie’s full-time job is as a senior lecturer in fine art at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (University of the Arts Singapore).
Corrie describes her work as making sense of art through intimate writing. She is a performance scholar, critic, dramaturg and facilitator working at the intersection of care ethics, collaborative performance practices and new articulations of arts criticism in South-east Asia. As an arts journalist and theatre critic, she has written regularly about performance and culture for platforms such as The Guardian, ArtsEquator and The Straits Times.
We’re excited to see what Corrie will bring to the role! You might have already read her first piece for Jom, a review of Wild Rice’s Hotel, in our print issue. Please welcome her if you see her around.
Singapore This Week
In our weekly opinionated digest, we talk about the end of the lease for the Raffles Town Club; a Singaporean teenage love tragedy that highlights the need for better sex ed; “Rizz”, the word of the year; “Tropical, and Time & the Tiger”, two new exhibitions at the National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum respectively; the UN Resolution 377, or “Uniting for Peace”, in the context of Gaza; the state of venture building in Singapore; and our city-state’s plans to build a large language model for South-east Asia.
Jomrades’ books and movies of the year
It’s our first time trying out something like this! Rather than a single “Books of the year” type thingy from the whole publication, we thought we would ask each Jomrade to share their own personal favourites.
It’s been a long year for many of us. We’ve tried to live our best lives while also remaining connected to humans far away who’ve struggled simply to live: from the impoverished in Singapore to those under relentless bombardment, whether in Gaza, Ukraine, or elsewhere.
In such situations rest, reprieve, and end-of-year cheer can seem unwarranted. Yet we each, wherever we are, deserve and need some of it. We expect that you, just like all of us, get a chance to relax a bit these next few weeks. And we hope that, of the diverse offerings featured in our capsule reviews below, something speaks to you.
If so, in some small way, we’ll continue to be in touch. Thank you all so much for your support this year. We couldn’t do this without you. And we look forward to continuing our shared work and passion with you in January.
The Jom team
Charmaine Poh, Head of visual culture and media
Ways of Being: Animals, Plants, Machines: The Search for a Planetary Intelligence (2022) by James Bridle
Detailed, effervescent and humbling, the narratives in Ways of Being open up questions about more-than-human intelligence, cybernetics, and language, pointing us towards the solidarities we must build urgently in this epoch. I appreciate the way Bridle upends canons and foundations in a bid to re-think with the world; there is no better time to reconsider our place as only one piece of Earth’s vast puzzle, and to re-learn, and re-search, how to be within it.
“Tiger Stripes” (2023) directed by Amanda Nell Eu
I have an affinity for stories about young girls marching to the beat of their own drum. In this film, sitting somewhere between the coming-of-age and body horror genres, a Malay girl living in rural Malaysia begins to experience puberty, with unexpected repercussions. This debut feature by Malaysian director Amanda Nell Eu won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes, and was nominated for the Caméra d’Or. It was censored in Malaysia before being released; it’s their loss. May its rambunctious spirit live on.
Corrie Tan, Arts editor
Spiderweb Capitalism: How Global Elites Exploit Frontier Markets (2022) by Kimberly Kay Hoang
Hoang, a sociologist, does a fantastic job of demystifying the thick snarl of networks that deliberately obscure the accumulation of wealth. She tugs at threads in developing markets such as Vietnam and Myanmar and watches them unspool in developed ones. Singapore in particular is home to plenty of ultra-high net worth “spiders”, as Hoang calls them, who shroud themselves in shell companies and offshore vehicles as insulation from prosecution. A meticulous, confronting and accessible ethnography about the tangled trails of money and morality across the globe.
“Return to Seoul” (2022) directed by Davy Chou
An astonishing portrait of Freddie, a French-Korean adoptee, and her Nietzschean “eternal return” to a biological mother, motherland and mother tongue that repeatedly forsake her. We can’t tell if she ends up in Seoul by accident or by design, where she resists and resigns herself to a country and culture she both refuses and desires to understand—and be understood by. First-time actor Park Ji-Min embodies these polarities with a crackling magnetism as she attempts to “sight read” each new encounter, an extended musical metaphor culminating in the film’s deeply satisfying, bittersweet conclusion.
Faris Joraimi, History editor
Moominsummer Madness (1954) by Tove Jansson
This is the fifth instalment of the Moomins series of children’s books, whose haunting insights into life’s profound questions have won them adult superfans. A volcanic eruption causes a huge flood in Moominvalley, forcing the Moomin family to take shelter in a floating theatre. They learn about props, scenery, and make-believe. My favourite part involves the free-spirited wanderer Snufkin overthrowing the Park Keeper obsessed with rules and signs. Children’s literature can be political, and show us how to live with disasters.
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (2021), directed by Dean Fleischer Camp
I watched this on a flight (sacrilege!), out of sheer curiosity: what on earth is that talking sea-shell with one googly eye? Marcel is a character from a trilogy of viral YouTube short films. People loved his quirky observations living as a tiny creature in a human home. Its sentiment takes time to steep, and considers our relationship to internet fame, the messy reality behind the camera, the soft wonders of domestic life, and what we owe to our community.
Jean Hew, Head of research
When Harry Met Sally (1989) by Nora Ephron
I fell in love with Nora Ephron this year. She’s warm, sharp, convincing and above all things, funny. I loved her voice in Heartburn so much that I made my way through her entire oeuvre. But When Harry Met Sally is truly special: perfectly paced and tightly structured with witty dialogue that strikes every emotional chord. You’re probably familiar with the movie, but I implore you to read the screenplay. It’s a smart, tender (and short!) read that outshines today’s romcoms, which sometimes feel too self-aware and reductive about the genre.
“BoJack Horseman” (2014-2020), created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Somehow a cartoon about an anthropomorphic horse holds some of the most nuanced, insightful discussions about addiction, abortion, gun culture and sexuality. “Bojack Horseman” is satire at its best, with some truly dark and moving moments. It also plays with different storytelling formats, including an entirely silent episode in Season 3. Will Arnett’s voice acting is exceptional in Episode 6 of Season 5, “Free Churro”, a 26-minute-long monologue that’s some of the best TV I’ve ever watched.
Sudhir Vadaketh, Editor-in-chief
The Overstory (2018) by Richard Powers
Though a fan of eco-horror flicks, eco-fiction is a new genre for me. By weaving together the stories of nine humans with the trees in their lives, Richard Powers breathtakingly demonstrates the essential connectedness between beings. The enormity of this work is a marvel to behold (and occasionally intimidating). His taut, precise prose inspires me as a writer. When I’m in the company of trees now, I feel them differently, and I think about the passage of terrestrial time in new ways.
“Midsommar” (2019) directed by Ari Aster
In the throes of a deteriorating relationship, an American couple join their friends for a pilgrimage to a secret festival held by an insular community in Sweden. This folk horror movie satirises utopian projects like Burning Man, while exploring the tenderness and messiness of kinship structures, as friends embark on a transformative journey in search of community. Ari Aster masterfully needles the spaces of contention that exist between humans. Florence Pugh’s star turn alone is worth the time.
Tsen-Waye Tay, Head of content
An Army Like No Other: How the Israel Defense Forces Made A Nation (2020) by Haim Bresheeth-Zabner
With Israel’s military assault on Gaza playing on our minds, this thoroughly researched book by a disillusioned Israeli veteran is a timely entry point into understanding the evolution and workings of the Israel Defence Forces, and how it has deeply influenced Jewish-Israeli society. Bresheeth, himself a young conscript in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, is uncompromising in his critique of Israel’s most powerful institution and its centrality in building what he considers an apartheid nation led by a brutal Zionist settler-colonial mentality.
“Memoria” (2021) directed by Apichatpong Weerasethkul
“Memoria” is the Thai director’s English-language debut. Enigmatic, dreamy and languid, the film considers how the vestiges of memory can alter our perception of reality and shake the foundations of our sanity. Jessica is able to hear a mysterious sonic boom that no one else does. Perturbed, she embarks on an existential journey, enlisting the help of a doctor, archaeologist and sound engineer to identify it. Tilda Swinton brings an earthy quality to Jessica as she grapples with the fracturing of time; the fragility of selfhood; and alien ethnographies.
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