More Bookmaking at Woolf Works!


Due to popular demand, please join me at Woolf Works, Singapore’s only co-working space for women*, for another series of four bookbinding workshops.

Each workshop is limited to 10 participants, so register now! All workshops are SG$20.00 per person, which includes a set of professional-quality tools and materials.

All proceeds from this series will be donated to AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), Singapore’s only specialized service for women who face sexual assault.

Saturday, February 20, 2pm – 5pm
Make a Tacket-Bound Book!
Binding with tackets is one of the oldest and simplest ways to construct a book. In this workshop, make a tacket-bound book, an exposed binding that dates from the 2nd Century. SOLD OUT!

Saturday, March 19, 2pm – 5pm
Make Miniature Books!
A true miniature is less than three inches tall, and miniature books present difficult design and structural challenges for the bookbinder. In this workshop, make two miniature books: an accordion book in a wrapper with a tongue-and-slot enclosure and a sewn book with a ribbon-mounted casing

Saturday, April 16, 2pm – 5pm
Make a Travel Journal!
Make a versatile book that goes wherever you go! In this workshop, construct a classic hardcover travel journal with a pen loop, a gusset pocket for memorabilia, and an elastic closure.

Saturday, May 21, 2pm – 5pm
Make a Drum Leaf-Bound Book!
Looking for an ideal structure a sketchbook? In this workshop, make a sewn board binding, made famous by Gray Frost, which lays flat when open and is durable for journaling and sketching.

* Workshops are open to all genders, not just women! All workshops to be held at Woolf Works, 176 Joo Chiat Rd, #02-01.

Peter Brook’s Battlefield


When Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata hit the stage and screen in the mid-1980s, it was taken to task for being appropriative and orientalist. (Google “peter brook’s the mahabharata and orientalist.” I’ll wait. ) When I was eleven- or twelve-years-old, I watched the screen adaptation which starred Mallika Sarabhai as Draupadi and Mamadou Dioumé as Bhima. Even then, I remember being both enthralled by this adaptation which used a Western dramatic paradigm and a multicultural cast, and angry and disappointed by its simplification and very selective evocation of the cultural and religious context of the Hindu epic.

Decades later, Brook is revisiting The Mahabharata. His new play, Battlefield, focuses on one section of the epic, dealing with the aftermath of a military conflict. Here, Singapore Repertory Theater, in co-production with Young Vic Theatre, Les Théâtres de la ville de Luxembourg, PARCO Co. Ltd/Tokyo, Grotowski Institute, Théâtre de Liège, C.I.R.T., and Attiki Cultural Society (tbc), premiered Battlefield on Tuesday at the beautifully-restored Capitol Theatre. What was staged last night was Parisian company Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord’s production, adapted and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne and starring Carole Karemera, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba, and Sean O’Callaghan and musician Toshi Tsuchitori. (I was, for some reason, under the impression that this was a locally-directed, locally-cast production from the press materials I had received.)

Over time, I’ve become wary of criticism which insists on a single authentic version of anything but, before the performance, I told my theatre companion that I still had mixed feelings about its casting—Karemera, McNeill, and Nzaramba are Black, and O’Callaghan is white—given my history of engagement with Brook’s work. I still feel wronged that the actors frequently mispronounced names and places, and they should be embarrassed by this. An actor worth his/her mettle should be able to character names such as “Dhritarashtra” and “Duryodhana,” let alone “easy” words such as “Ganga” and “Karna.” And Battlefield, like The Mahabharata, only displays the bare bones of the primary storyline without the layers of symbolism and subtext interwoven with subtlety and sophistication found in the text’s one hundred thousand stanzas.

However, this was, overall, a moving and satisfying theatre experience, especially in light of the day’s news. Battlefield alleges that the impact of war is eternal and that this unchangeable must be confronted. It asks the audience to face the horrors they have experienced—and perpetrated—and posits profound questions about death. Rwandan actor and activist Karemera shone in two memorable scenes—as Kunti and Ganga, both anguished by the deaths of their sons, Karna and Bhishma respectively. American McNeill sparkled less; his Yudhishthira was rather wooden. In set simplicity, costuming, music, and in acting, Battlefield was striking and minimalist, and Tsuchitori on djembe, is in full view. Although he did not participate in the action other than in accompaniment, he is a constant part of the unfolding events on stage, watching intently.

Battlefield runs until Saturday, Novembe21 and tickers are available via SISTIC (SG$48.00 to SG$108.00; SG$15.00 for SRT Youth). The production will then tour London, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Amiens, Rome, Modena, Florence, Washington D.C. and New York City. Take note, U.S.-based friends!

Happy Diwali!

Happy Diwali!

Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, although the deities, rituals, and stories that are associated with the holiday are different in different parts of the Subcontinent and the diaspora. Deepavali is observed today in Singapore (as most Singapore celebrants trace their roots to Southern India) as a public holiday. My family considers tomorrow, the third day of the five-day festival, most auspicious; we believe on this day that Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, visits our home. On this night of a new moon—the last night of the Hindu year—total darkness sets in the night sky.

On Wednesday, when every one in Singapore is back at work and school, our preschooler will paint diyas, tiny clay lamps, to place in our doorway for Lakshmi can find her way.

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Yesterday was Dhanteras, an auspicious day to buy gold, silver, and utensils or to begin new businesses or to gamble. I don’t shop, or own a business, or gamble, so, instead, on the eve of this public holiday, we joined a half dozen of our three-, four-, and five-year-old neighbors for a diya-painting, cracker-bursting, puri-eating, Bollywood-dancing party. Little children in their best dhotis, kurtas, and lenghas are too cute.

Celebrations continue through the week (Thursday [Annakut/Govardhan Puja] and Friday [Bahi Dhuj]), but these days are less significant for my family.

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ICYMI:  I’m over at The Aerogram with Diwali reflections on visibility and meaning in the U.S. and Singapore. An excerpt:

When I first arrived in Singapore in 2010, I found it utterly delightful to live in a country where Diwali is a public holiday and where cab drivers handed me my change and wished me “Happy Deepavali.”

Yet, I soon learned that Diwali is actually quite invisible, except for the lights at Serangoon Road in Little India and the fact that it is a holiday, to those outside of the country’s minority South Asian community.

Singapore, which touts its vibrant and diverse cultural heritages, only trades in a facile, photogenic, and superficial multiculturalism. I, too, thought that because I could nip down to Little India, everything I could want, from sparklers to saris, from mithai to mehndi, would make a beloved holiday “easier” to celebrate.

However, most non-Hindu Singaporeans have no impulse to see community celebrations of Diwali on a bigger, more visible, scale, whereas Halloween for example, is embraced with such gusto across so many different national and ethnic groups because of the pernicious nature of American cultural imperialism.

So, ironically, while nearly nine percent of Singaporeans and permanent residents, and a number of non-residents (economic migrants) — many of whom are Hindu — trace their ancestry, wholly or in part, to the Indian Subcontinent, Diwali had been much more meaningful to me in the United States, than it is here, despite its public acknowledgement.

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A Diwali greeting from me to you: May the season illuminate new dreams, fresh hopes, uncharted paths, and different perspectives.

Women’s Action


PSA: Women’s Action, a memory project that documents and celebrates the history of the women’s movement in an independent Singapore, launched this weekend! It covers the Singapore woman’s history through ten themes with original videos and photo essays, archival pictures, and researched stories. It is really a spectacular resource.*

Two themes—Education and Civil Society and Activism—are live, but bookmark the site for all nine. “The interweaving of certain events and milestones across the ten themes is also testament to the many ways in which women’s issues cannot be separated from the rest of society, and how we are always connected in our journey,” say the project’s team.

The project is spearheaded by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), and is funded by the Singapore Memory Project’s irememberSG fund as part of SG50 Celebrations.

*Full disclosure: I’m one of the project’s writers.

My Panjim with Chryselle D’Silva Dias


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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Chryselle D’Silva Dias, a freelance writer/journalist based in Goa, India. Her bylines have appeared in Time, BBC, The Atlantic, VICE,, The Guardian Weekly, Marie Claire India, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal Asia, Silverkris, and Architectural Digest (India) among others.

And now, over to Chryselle…

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Panjim is Goa’s capital city, one that feels more like a charming over-grown town. The city is a curious mix of old and new, of heritage buildings and new structures with glass facades, of hole-in-the-wall joints that only the locals know about and contemporary cuisine that the world appreciates.

Must eats?

If you’re hungry in Panjim, head to one of the little eateries along every street, the one that seems unremarkable in its decor, or menu. If it is crowded with locals, that’s the place to eat. Whether it is for the staple fish-curry-rice or a mid-morning snack of pav-bhaji (freshly baked Goan bread with different types of gravies), traditional Goan restaurants are in a league of their own. I love Cafe Aram (18th June Road). Its chana-masala (chick-peas cooked in a spicy base) with puris (fluffy deep fried Indian bread) fills you up and leaves you perfectly sated.

For a meal, try the blink-and-you-might-miss-it Anandashram (31st January Road), a favourite lunch-time spot for commoners and politicians alike. Their fish thali is sumptuous and the queues waiting in the aisle for a table are testimony to its popularity.

A short distance away is the popular Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro, one of the oldest bakeries in town (31st January Road). Traditional Goan sweets and savoury snacks line the shelves in this tiny bakery. The freshly baked biscuits and cakes are tempting. Say hello to Gleta, the owner if she happens to be there when you visit.

Cream Centre near the Panjim market has the most delectable dessert – Gadbad, which literally means “mess.” The mess in question is a tall glass of several scoops of ice-cream, mixed with bits of fruit and nuts. A tall chunk of heaven, for sure.

If you’re looking for a change from traditional Goan food, head straight to Black Sheep Bistro (near Old Passport Office, off 18th June Road), my favourite contemporary restaurant in Goa. Their menu features farm-to-table recipes ensuring fresh food with a local twist (chorizo with chocolate, anyone?). Their cocktails are amazing as is their service and attitude. The owners Prahlad and Sabreen are friendly, professional and evidently love what they do. Which is why we love them too!

Must dos?

Panjim is a very walkable city so put on your comfy shoes and explore.

Dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, or Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Panjim Church is the city’s most iconic landmark. It is one of the oldest Christian shrines in Goa, and is believed to have been built in 1541. The four-tiered zigzagging stone stairway that leads up to it was added a good three centuries later in 1841. The magnificent bell in the belfry, at 2250 kg, is second in size only to the “Golden Bell” of the Sé Cathedral in Old Goa, and once belonged to the Monastery of St Augustine in Old Goa (whose ruins are well worth a visit when you are in Old Goa).

Check out the magnificent Azulejos in the Institute Menezes Braganza. These beautiful blue and white tiles depict scenes from Os Lusíadas, an epic poem by Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões. It tells the story of Portugal’s 15th- and 16th-century voyages of discovery. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 and the azulejos are a work of art to be preserved and celebrated.

Walk around Fontainhas, Panjim’s charming Latin Quarter where time seems to stand still. The old houses and by-lanes are mostly well maintained and is lovely to walk through.

Must shops?

Marcou Artifacts (31 January Road) has pretty, traditional and sometimes humorous ceramic goodies for your home. From rooster-shaped bowls, sea-horses for your balcony wall or a Mario Miranda cartoon coaster, there’s something for every taste and budget here.

The mother-of-pearl windows that still adorn many traditional homes are increasingly difficult to find, but you can take home a shell-inspired souvenier or three. Shell chandeliers, necklaces and vases are popular, as are packets of the luminescent, disc-shaped “capiz.” (Try Shankwalkars, next to the Old Secretariat.)

Must art?

At the end of the 31st January Road, Gitanjali Gallery (31st January Road) is an increasingly important destination for local and national artists. Drop in to check out their latest exhibition and you might discover a new favourite. Owner Miriam Koshy Sukhija welcomes guests and is very knowledgeable about her work. A few hundred yards away (follow the little road to the left of the Gallery) is the elegant Fundação Oriente (Filipe Neri Road), now the permanent home to an impressive collection of paintings by António Xavier Trindade (1870-1935).

Goa is also home to the annual Goa Art and Lit Festival. This year, the festival will be from 10-13 December 2015 and speakers include popular authors, poets and international journalists.

Must Go?

Panjim is a fairly small city with promenades along the river and pavements (on most roads) for pedestrians and you can easily walk around. If your feet get weary (or the humidity gets to you), there are other ways to travel.

The yellow and black rickshaws are available at most corners and will take you in and around the city. Or hop on to a unique taxi service – the motorcycle taxi, which is exactly what it sounds like. These motorcycles with their “pilots” (as the drivers are called) have yellow and black number-plates and bright yellow mudguards which make them easy to spot. Public buses are available from the main bus stand and along the main roads, but not easy to find in the inner roads. For rickshaws and motorcycle taxis, do determine the price before you set off, to avoid any confusion at your destination. There are also traditional taxi services available but these tend to be more expensive.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Chryselle D’Silva Dias; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

GIVEAWAY: Emily Saves the Orchestra by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra


I’m giving away three tickets to Emily Saves the Orchestra by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra! In this family concert, “drama, dance, dazzling masks and costumes are woven together with orchestral music in a story about bravery and hope… audiences across the globe have fallen in love with this production which features excerpts from some of history’s most beloved pieces, including Beethoven’s Ninth SymphonyThe Nutcracker and William Tell Overture.”

Emily Saves the Orchestra is suitable for ages 4 to 14. (Every patron requires a ticket. No admission for infants-in-arms.)

To win a set of three tickets to Emily Saves the Orchestra at Victoria Concert Hall on Saturday, November 21 at 2pm, leave ONE comment below. (Entries without an email address will be disqualified. Multiple entires will be disqualified.)

This giveaway is open to my readers in Singapore only and will close on November 9, 2015 at 12:00AM UTC/GMT +8 hours. Three winners will be chosen by and be announced on November 11, 2015. Good luck!

Many thanks to all who entered!

The lucky winner of this set of tickets is… Kelly (comment #1)!  Congratulations, Kelly! I will be emailing you shortly for your mailing address.

Five Years in Singapore

Final Eps-01

Five years ago on Saturday, we left our beloved New York City for adventure in Singapore; we landed in Changi International Airport at 6:00AM on November 2, 2010. So, today: a post to commemorate this milestone.

Never in a million years did I think we’d stay in Singapore for more than twelve or eighteen months, that I’d raise a child so far away from home. But, as they say, life had other plans. Living overseas has been a humbling experience, one that has taught me much about myself and my place in the world. The past half decade has included moments of joy, anger, frustration, ambivalence, loneliness, inspiration, confusion, and wonder, and I am most grateful to the friends who have opened their hearts and homes to me in these times.

So, cheers… to five more years?

(Additional credits: Illustration by Ivan Woo.)


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