Review: Grandmother Tongue

“Grandmother Tongue” is written and directed by Thomas Lim. I had the chance to talk to him last evening after the show. I was too shy to approach him (yes, I am that reserved), however, and held back. I wanted to say: What a dazzling gem of a play it is and how much I enjoy and could relate to it. But then I thought he definitely has already heard such sentiments expressed by countless people over and again and again. Because it’s the story of how our pioneer generation suffered, in silence, the Great Lingual Disenfranchisement caused by the… ok, hush, you-know-who are always listening.

For all its humourous lines and situations, what struck me most afterward, and what lingered on, was the sense of pathos. It’s a painful play to sit through – and I mean that in a good way. My 80-plus-year-old Ah Ma and I si heng hua lang. And I cannot really communicate with her except via the most basic of phrases: Eaten already. You good? I good. Don’t know. Didn’t go out? We go home. What makes it all the more mortifying is: I don’t know – I don’t even know! – what dialect, exactly, we are speaking. My birth cert says mum and dad are both Henghua, so I guess we are speaking Henghua which seems to be closely linked to Hokkien.

It wasn’t like that though, and it could have turned out differently. A few of my cousins, raised largely by grandma, are conversant in her dialect. And I remember my parents used to speak to us kids in a rojak of English, Mandarin and dialect when we were younger, then stopped completely when we enrolled in primary school. And I have since become one of those largely monolingual potatoes (or maybe an undercooked french fry) – I can understand a bit of spoken dialect, cannot speak it; understand some Mandarin, can barely speak it; and I’m all the time using those big words in writing and speech in English – a third or fourth language to my mum and one which is totally hm zai le gong simi to grandma.

It made me think how it must have been like for grandma all these decades.

And it hurts.


Review: Off Kilter

Joe Kilter kept looking at the clock – a prominent orange glow high on the back wall of the darkened stage. (So was I, Joe. So was I.) Waiting for time to tick by. The minute hand didn’t budge. At the post-show dialogue, Ramesh Meyyappan, in his first remarks to the audience, admitted some technical glitches occurred during the show and apologised. But I think most of us were not even aware something had been, well, off about Off Kilter – which, by the way, is seriously meta. Ramesh’s professionalism and improvisational ability meant he seamlessly sailed on and carried all of us along, never missing a beat nor a collapsing shelf (which he caught in the nick of time).

Off Kilter is an exploration of mental illness and identity, about how we forge such ingrained routines and internalised stories about our lives, and what we do for a living that we lose ourselves – in all senses of the word – when these are disrupted, or when, all of a sudden, they dissolve beneath us. Performed with verve and heart, it also packs an urgency and immediacy which pokes you in the head: “Oh oh! Isn’t that me? I feel that way too! Sometimes I get this strange sense that..”

This is the first one-man performance of Ramesh’s I have caught (the only other show of his I watched previously was “Butterfly”, an ensemble piece). And what a treat for the eyes and mind it was. Beyond saying what others have been saying – that Ramesh is a virtuoso of physical and visual theatre – I cannot find more to add except this. I love the little details and touches he incorporates using his body and expressions alone – the cinematic slow-motion interludes and freeze frames, the transparent ways he shows anguish, relief, despair, resignation with every fibre of his being, and the “small” illusions which did so much to convey the largeness of his vision.

[Image description: A group of five fans, including me, taking a post-show photo with Ramesh.]22424449_1479645235482102_4158545695647945802_o.jpg

Adrian, 2014


I’m only writing this because I want to say: There is a Dr A. Yap. I hate to admit: Unfortunately, it’s not me. He is, instead, this gentleman here who is probably the most scholarly yet outdoorsy chap I know. Adrian seems to have gone everywhere you can and cannot think of (he played tour guide during my Tokyo trip). He knows – and writes! and speaks! and signs! – handfuls of languages, redefines ‘outgoing’, was a PSC scholar, has a PhD from Japan, and I really should learn from him how to squeeze every pip out of the oranges of life.

[This is a new series about friendship – via capsule stories of exactly 100 words and the unveiling of new-old photos from my digital darkroom.]

Review: ReSound ENZO2 Hearing Aids

It’s slightly over a month since I got my pair of ReSound ENZO(2) hearing aids, so they’re due for a brief review. Note this is an initial impression and I’m also not endorsing this brand or model in any way; it’s too soon to gauge how well it holds up over the longer term. (The warranty is two years and I’m hoping to use them for at least six, if they last that long.)

Is ReSound the best in the business? Well, I don’t know. And I don’t care that much. Why? No one can possibly trial all the various brands and models of hearing aids (HAs) available out there, so I whisper a prayer to the gods, listen to my (pretty) audiologist’s recommendations, and put my faith in the principles of the free-market economy – trusting that cut-throat competition means all the dozens of brand models have roughly equivalent quality in terms of sound clarity, features, functions, and so on. What matters is something seemingly trivial but which is a big deal to me – the ability to stream effectively.

My HAs can stream audio directly from my iPhone – which means, unlike for most other models, I do not need to clip on a teensy-bitsy-troublesome-to-use-and-easy-to-lose loop accessory on my shirt or hang around my neck to get that function. The HAs are also under the ‘Made for iPhone’ scheme; I can directly control them wirelessly via the phone itself or the ReSound app – for the volume, audio programmes, geo-fenced settings.

Speech sounds crisp and clear for the most part (when the surroundings aren’t too noisy). The HAs are tiny and light enough I can wear them most of the day without excessive discomfort. And the streaming works a dream. On my commutes, I treat the HAs as akin to a pair of high-end music earphones by setting them to stream music from my phone and switching off the external microphones. Audio from Youtube, Netflix, phone calls (which I don’t use though), music apps and all other audio sources stemming from the phone can be streamed. (Having worn hearing aids for more than thirty years, I have long shed every shred of self-consciousness about wearing them in public.) At home, I also stream audio from the TV via a separate streaming device – attached to the TV set – when watching the occasional Netflix show and with captions on. (Not sure if this is a bonus – inane dialogue and cheesy lines have never sounded clearer.)

Misc notes: Not waterproof, so there’s a mad scramble to take the HAs off and put them away when sudden drizzles occur. And I wish there are options for brighter colours, like light blue, light green or even purple. In the end, I chose “anthracite” which is atas-speak for dark grey. But at least, for the first time, I’m able to ditch horrible beige.

Overall, I’m happy with my new HAs.

Update: Just been informed by Sharad (the big man of GN ReSound in Singapore) that my hearing aids has an IP 58 rating, which means (via googling): “The equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions which shall be specified by the manufacturer. Normally, this will mean that the equipment is hermetically sealed. However, with certain types of equipment, it can mean that water can enter but only in such a manner that it produces no harmful effects.” In short, I can keep them on when it’s raining – very cool!

(Image description: Photo of a hearing aid with tubing and ear mould attached, beside a fifty-cent coin for size comparison. The hearing aid is slightly bigger lengthwise but smaller across its width.)


Something’s taking off soon

Got to love this part “.. and when they rage”.

I’m attending!

p/s: I contributed an essay for the book in which I wrote about that fateful morning I was born (around 2am), my childhood collection of stamps, my eternal love for Rose, and my raging advocacy for something or other. Cannot miss hor.

(Picture shows an illustration of Hong Lim Park – with greenery and a sign saying “Speakers’ Corner”. The logo of Ethos Books is also present.The text reads: You are invited to the book launch of The Art of Advocacy In Singapore. Edited by Constance Singam and Margaret Thomas. Singapore Writers Festival 2017. Sunday, 5 November 2017. 11.30am to 12.30am. Gallery II, The Arts House. Free admission.)

Image taken from here.

2 + 2 = ?

“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

The powers that be in Singapore do Orwellian very well.