Dear paid subscriber,

This past week has seen a multitude of jokes online about S Iswaran, former transport minister with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), who’s just been handed 27 charges by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). We’ve collated some of our favourites below. 

Many questions remain unanswered. Why did Iswaran accept gifts he could easily afford? Why hasn’t Ong Beng Seng also been charged? Why has Davinder Singh, who’s represented the PAP elite before, chosen to now represent Iswaran in his battle against the AGC?

Many, including Jom, last week wondered if Iswaran might somehow end up embarrassing the PAP given his claim: “I am innocent and will now focus on clearing my name.” Should Singaporeans expect some courtroom drama later this year? 

Maybe not. A more prosaic conclusion to the affair would be if, at Iswaran’s upcoming pre-trial conference, the AGC and “Davi” manage to hammer out an agreement to resolve the case without going to trial. If this happens, then we might look back at Iswaran’s bluster last week as a bit of posturing ahead of the negotiation.

Such an outcome would undoubtedly please the PAP. It could draw a line under the affair, and frame the incident as internal cleansing that validates its no-nonsense approach to corruption—contrasting it, perhaps, with the years-long town council saga that has embroiled the Workers’ Party’s leadership.

Political analysts have started to pontificate about these issues ahead of the next general election (GE). Exciting! The last time we had proper GE rallies was in 2015. (The 2020 GE was affected by pandemic restrictions.) Jom has just recruited an ancillary eight-person team to boost our coverage. The GE must be called by November 2025, but we’re planning to ramp up our political analysis from June this year. We’ll be ready.

From our island state to our region: most of the Jom team is actually in Siem Reap this week. We’re attending the annual Angkor Photo Festival, which has been helmed for the past few years by Singaporean Jessica Lim. (We wrote about the festival, and Jessica, last year.) If you’re around, come say hi!

The festival brings together some of the region’s most notable photographers, who then coach some of its brightest young prospects. Jom is trying something new this year. We’re gonna commission six to 12 of these young South-east Asian photographers to work on photo-essays that have transnational or regional significance. We hope to publish these in 2025.

As you probably know, we have regional ambitions in the medium term, but are now focused on Singapore. We don’t want to be distracted, certainly not ahead of a key GE. We consider these Angkor commissions, which won’t require too much of our time, as our first, gentle steps towards that broader regional goal.

Reply and let me know what kind of South-east Asian stories you’re keen on! We’ll see if we can identify photographers to work on them.

This week’s essay, by first-time Jom writer Law Zi-Ting, examines regional differences with one of our beloved foods: those spherical, luminous green, globules of exploding yumminess called buah Melaka in Malacca, klepon in Bali, and onde-onde in Singapore.

Zi-Ting’s piece, “Making onde-onde and learning what it means to live”, is really a meditation on life, specifically what it means to embrace ambiguity in a world that operates on data and strict binaries. Like the best food journalism, it uses a familiar delicacy as an entry point to reveal deeper truths about the human condition. It’s been almost a year since Zi-Ting and I first spoke about this piece, and we’re all thrilled by her dedication throughout 2023—in cooking, and writing—that has led to this essay.

I also love the way Jeanette Yap, our illustrator for this piece, uses scale, perspective and colour to capture the range of emotions Zi-Ting must have been feeling. After you’re done reading, do return to the hero image at the top for a second look.

It’s only Jom’s second proper food piece, after “Lei cha, a gift from the Hakkas”, and we hope that other food writers read them, and are inspired enough to pitch stories to us

Finally, in Singapore This Week, we talk about an ethnic Chinese White supremacist in Singapore (yes, really), fewer teenage pregnancies, new writing in theatre, green computing, and a two-part history special from Faris: one on heritage trades, and one on a spicy academic debate that has enlivened scholars of Malay history in Malaysia and Singapore this past week.

Jom baca, jom main, jom makan onde-onde,
Sudhir Vadaketh,
Editor-in-chief, Jom

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