Friday, April 30, 2010

Man Asia Literary Prize rules changed

The Man Asian Literary Prize today announced a new format, opening it to all novels by Asian writers published in English each year. The cash value of the prize will increase to USD 30,000.

The Man Asian Literary Prize will now be awarded to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English, and published in the previous calendar year. In the past, the prize awarded USD 10,000 to the best Asian novel not yet published in English. With this new format, the prize will be the first of its kind to recognise the best English works each year by Asian authors and aims to significantly raise international awareness and appreciation of Asian literature.

Announcing the changes, the chairman of the board of the Asian Literary Prize, Professor David Parker of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: “For the past three years, the Man Asian Literary Prize has been very successful at opening a new window for the world onto Asian writing that had yet to appear in English.

“ However, it can be a long time before winning novels are published and enjoyed by the reading public, a good example being the 2008 winner, the brilliant novel Ilustrado written by the Filipino, Miguel Syjuco, which has only just been published.

“The new format of the Man Asian Literary Prize will allow the literary community, media and general public to be fully involved in reading, discussing and comparing the books which the judges are considering, and will consolidate its position as the world’s leading prize for pan-Asian literature published in English.”

Under the new rules, publishers will be responsible for entries and will be entitled to each submit two novels by August 31 each year. Entry forms will be available from May 2010.

For the 2010 prize, judges will select a long list of 10-15 novels in December 2010, which will be pared down to a short list of about five or six in February 2011. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in Hong Kong in March 2011.

The Man Asian Literary Prize covers 27 countries and special administrative regions stretching from Afghanistan to Japan. Details of the new rules and more information on the prize can be found at


Thursday, April 29, 2010

George Orwell's 'Animal Farm': Not 'Just for Laughs'

George Orwell’s two seminal works of fiction, Animal Farm and 1984, were written in a tumultuous time. Animal Farm, published in 1945, was written as a Stalinist era dystopian allegory which made Orwell famous in the post-war world. 1984, published in 1949, another dystopian work of fiction, documented totalitarianism and its methods of controlling people—perpetual war, government surveillance and mind control.

Today, these two works of Orwell are more relevant than they ever were. If you take the Chomskyian view, not much has changed—only the Stalinist regime has changed to late capitalism, where the rule of the pigs has transmogrified into the rule of the corporate oligarchs—the war on terror is perpetual, technology is enabling the government to track their citizens with ever greater ease and corporate media plays as the mind controlling arm of the rulers. Democratic socialism (that Orwell subscribed to) is dead.

At such a time, when W!ld Rice chose to stage Animal Farm (adapted by Ian Wooldridge) to kick off its 10th anniversary celebrations, the expectations ran high. Would it echo the siege of our times? Would it mirror the globalised utopia that we live in today—trapped in our consumerism and relative powerlessness?

The good news is that the production lives up to the expectations. The adaptation has been well localized and it leaves the audience in no doubt that the play speaks to them about their own everyday reality (work hard, pay the rent-seekers, and work harder—a slippery slope of never making enough, never having enough). To establish this connection, there are hints galore and you don’t have to be too discerning to spot them.

The writer (Orwell and Wooldridge) and director (Ivan Heng) make us take ample note of the fact that tyranny is the fate of human beings. No matter how many times they overthrow a tyrant, there will always be a new tyrant who will rise from their ranks. Revolutions spring in our breasts the hope for a new future and every time, after the war has been won, blood has been shed, sacrifices have been made, this optimism is crushed by a new tyrant, rising like a phoenix in a new avatar, necessitating another revolution. There is no escape from this human fate—the cycle of revolution and tyranny.

There is also a comment on the role of organized religion (which is ironically so Marxist): Moses the Raven keeps referring to the Sugarcandy Mountain. I wish this oblique reference to a life of perpetual happiness in the heaven could have been made more direct and contemporary. Like in the scene where Squealer distributes the apples among the sheep (audience) and calls them organic produce. That is contemporization and it is wholesome.

The plot, as it were, is faithful to the book and the characters are selfsame—Old Major, Napoleon, Snowball, Squealer and so on. The actors have played their part so convincingly that you forget they are playing animals and that they are talking about things that are familiar to your bone. Pam Oei as Squealer gets the most laughs but then at times the play falls in the danger of skidding into the realm of comedy (as in a skit—in satire, we must remember, the desire for social change remains underlined). Lim Yu-Beng as the sinister Napoleon is impressive. Gani Abdul Karim as Boxer is believable but it is Benjamin (sorry, missed the actor’s name but the guy who plays the donkey) who takes the cake for me.

The static set of the Manor Farm is a bit simple, even boring. However, the music by the man in white Jenson Koh nicely complements it. In a particular scene, I like it when he walks on to the stage and creates a storm with his drum sticks. Bravo! I also like the ‘Who let the dogs out’ part—it gives the play a cool contemporary feel, sutures it to our present times (why did I think of Abu Gharaib when that song played on?).

As David Hare has said recently, in Stalinist Russia, the most powerful protest you could make was to stage Hamlet. In our globalised land, it could well be George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Full marks to the cast and crew of Animal Farm for this powerful and timely production. It’s a must see for anyone who has a taste for reality.

When: 21 APRIL – 08 MAY 2010


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

iPads in Singapore

From my official tech blog:

Last week, we ran an IDG story about Apple’s iPads selling well in Asia ahead of the official launch. The report mentioned that iPad appeared to be selling well in Asia despite the fact that Apple's official overseas launch wasn’t until the end of May.

The report was filed from Taipei. It said that the popular iPad was on sale at two stores near the main electronics bazaar in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan.

Well, it turns out that Singapore is not that far behind Taipei in terms of iPad sales. This is not surprising at all because Singaporeans are gadget lovers anyway. Not too long ago, they had displayed their love for Apple’s products with serpentine queues when iPhone was first launched by SingTel here.

Personally speaking, it was only last week when I first saw an iPad in Singapore. I was attending a publishing workshop when I spotted an Indian entrepreneur, Manish Dhingra, director of Mediology, playing with the device. Naturally, many from the crowd, including myself, were interested to have a look at it, something that Manish graciously offered.

“I got it in the US,” he told me. Manish happened to be in the States when the iPad was launched and luckily he could secure a piece for himself before the stores ran out of the supplies (perhaps you know that iPads are manufactured in China).

During the workshop itself, one of my colleagues mentioned that some people were selling iPads through online forums in Singapore. They were selling the pieces with marked up prices. For example, the 16GB (without wi-fi) iPad should be available for around S$700 (US$499). It was being sold for S$1,500 and above! And people were snapping them up!

iPads at Mustafa

This Monday, my colleague Allan surprised me when he told me that he was getting his iPad from Mustafa. Mustafa, if you don’t know, is a very well-known 24 hours Indian specialty superstore in Little India, Singapore’s famous district for everything Indian. I thought Allan was joking. How could Mustafa be selling iPads? Was it even allowed?

A little later, a triumphant Allan returned with his black iPad. “I got it at Mustafa,” he preened. “Mustafa had imported around 70 pieces and now I think they are down to 3.” I’m sure it would all be gone by now, I thought as I was talking to him.

Allan’s wasn’t a bad deal. He got the 16GB wi-fi iPad for S$1,089 all right. Compared to the exorbitant rates being charged elsewhere, this is not a bad rate.

I did a little more research. Apparently, the iPad is being sold at many more places in the Lion City: Sim Lim Square, Far East Plaza, Lucky Plaza, Funan IT Mall, and City Square Mall. Moreover, some enterprising Singaporeans are selling new iPads shipped from the US on eBay. Naturally, they are charging a premium rate for them.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Which principle do you follow?

Read this (from a Noam Chomsky interview) and think for a moment:

There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice. Benda says that the credo of any true intellectual has to be, as Christ said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ Chomsky exposes the pretenses of those who claim to be the bearers of truth and justice. He shows that in fact these intellectuals are the bearers of power and privilege and all the evil that attends it.”

This is a nice interview and as ever Chomsky's views are thought-provoking. Even before discovering Chomsky, I was a skeptic. Where do you find yourself? Ask yourself that question. Here is more advice from the intellectual: “I try to encourage people to think for themselves, to question standard assumptions,” Chomsky said when asked about his goals. “Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin by taking a skeptical attitude toward anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself. There is plenty of information. You have got to learn how to judge, evaluate and compare it with other things. You have to take some things on trust or you can’t survive. But if there is something significant and important don’t take it on trust. As soon as you read anything that is anonymous you should immediately distrust it. If you read in the newspapers that Iran is defying the international community, ask who is the international community? India is opposed to sanctions. China is opposed to sanctions. Brazil is opposed to sanctions. The Non-Aligned Movement is vigorously opposed to sanctions and has been for years. Who is the international community? It is Washington and anyone who happens to agree with it. You can figure that out, but you have to do work. It is the same on issue after issue.”