Bookmaking at Woolf Works! [UPDATED]


Please join me at Woolf Works, Singapore’s only co-working space for women*, for a series of four bookbinding workshops.

Each workshop is limited to 10 participants, so register now!

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, July 25, 2pm – 5pm
Make a Coptic Stitched Book!
The Coptic stitch technique is a historic binding using decorative papers and exposed sewing at the spine, and originated in Egypt in the 2nd Century C.E. SG$20.00 per person, which includes a set of professional-quality tools and materials.

Saturday, August 22, 2pm – 5pm
Make a Long Stitched Book!
The long stitch technique is a sturdy, distinctive binding that dates all the way back to medieval Germany and allows the spine to lie flat. SG$20.00 per person, which includes a set of professional-quality tools and materials. SOLD OUT!

Saturday, September 26, 2pm – 5pm
Make a Single Signature Hardcover Book!

The simplest method of binding a single signature codex, or a book bound on one edge, is with a pamphlet stitch. In this class, you will make a hardcover case using book cloth and decorative endpapers. SG$20.00 per person, which includes a set of professional-quality tools and materials. SOLD OUT!

Saturday, October 24, 2pm – 5pm
Make a Hardcover Japanese Stab-Bound Book!
In this technique, the book block, or the body of the book, is a stack of single sheets rather than a signature. In this class, you will make hinged hardcovers so the book will open easily from front or back. SG$20.00 per person, which includes a set of professional-quality tools and materials.

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

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan


Last week, a kerfuffle exploded on Twitter over Roxane Gay’s review of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians on NPR’s “Code Switch” blog. Gay called Crazy Rich Asians “refreshing” as it featured an entirely “people of color” cast. Singaporean literary types rightly pointed out that her review conveniently ignored Singapore literary history, a canon that has often rendered non-Chinese narratives invisible (as I’ve alluded to here). Gay then responded defensively and even blocked her critics!

In Gay’s defense, I “get” her perspective as a USian POC and would likely have seen Kwan’s book in the same light just a few years ago. I, too, have imposed my own narrative onto other parts of the world; this, too, is a privilege. But living internationally has shifted my disturbingly provincial, U.S.-centric point of view. It’s hard work to throw off the hegemonic/neo-imperialistic/exceptionalist claptrap that we USians have been indoctrinated with, even for feminist and progressive POCs like me. 

Kwan’s second novel, China Rich Girlfriend, a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, also features only Chinese protagonists and minority characters for “color”—a driver named Ahmed, two nameless Thai ladies-in waiting (?), Gayatri Singh, the daughter of a maharaja (??), who warns that her gem-encrusted dagger is “an ancient Hindu relic” in which a “evil spirit is being held captive” and will cast great misfortune onto the firstborn of the person who unleashes it. (Magical Brown Person™ much?) And over half of Kwan’s novel is set in “new China” where “people attend church in a penthouse above the clouds” and “private jets are decorated to looks like Balinese resorts.” There exists a subtle Orientalism in the way the exploits of rich Chinese people are reported for the consumption of Western readers; China Rich Girlfriend is guilty of this as well. 

China Rich Girlfriend‘s thinnest of plots that is as predictable as any of the beach reads that have come before it. And Kwan’s prose is weighed down by earnest and unnecessary footnotes—do today’s readers really need translations for “xiaolongbao” and “xie xie”?—and ponderous and awkward expository dialogue. China Rich Girlfriend was a bit of a slog, tbh, and not as “glittery,” in Gay’s words, as its predecessor. 

(Many thanks to Doubleday [Random House] for sending this book my way.)

Bookmaking at Read! Fest 2015


I will be teaching FREE (pre-registration is required) bookmaking workshops this July as part of the National Library Board’s second annual Read! Fest, a nation-wide literacy festival with the objective of helping Singaporeans (and Singapore residents!) rediscover the simple pleasures of reading!

In this three-hour workshop, we will construct a carousel book, a multi-layered sculptural construction that folds flat like a bound book but can open either full length or into a circle to create a set of “scenes.” These books became popular in the Victorian Era and we’ll be using local literature as a key visual element in the construction.

So, join me on: 

  • July 11 at Bedok Public Library (2pm – 5pm); 
  • July 12 at Bukit Batok Public LIbrary (2pm – 5pm); 
  • July 18 at Yishun Public Library (2:30pm – 5:30pm); or
  • July 19 at Clementi Public Library (2:30pm – 5:30pm). 

Each workshop is limited to 15 participants, and online registration opens one month prior each workshop. You can also “egister” at library eKiosks an any NLB branch.

Harihara: Songs of Oothukadu and Gopalakrishna Bharati by Varija Menon and Aditi Gopinathan


On Saturday, a friend and I attended Harihara: Songs of Oothukadu and Gopalakrishna Bharati by Varija Menon and Aditi Gopinathan accompanied by S. Selvapandian on mridangam and Ghanavenothan Retnam on flute, a beautiful and rejuvenating performance staged as part of the Esplanade’s ongoing Carnatic Composers series of concerts. These performances explore the rich diversity of Carnatic music and the composers who have defined the genre, from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

Harihara presented a series of compositions by Oothukadu Venkata Kavi, whose work I am familiar with, and Gopalakrishna Bharati, whose work I am less familiar with. The artists presented nearly a dozen devotional works, in praise of Krishna and Shiva respectively, by these two artists, with little break in-between numbers. And while I know quite a bit about Carnatic music generally, I would have appreciated more information from the emcee regarding the specific kritis performed that evening or, at the least, a program outlining the ragas and talas. The concert was very much for connoisseurs of the genre who could, for example, follow a complex composition in tala Mishra Atam, an eighteen beat cycle, with little introduction or scaffolding.

Menon and her mother, Gopinathan, were dazzling, no doubt, and their voices were absolutely perfect. I was also particularly taken with Selvapandian whose mastery of a number of percussion instruments, including the mridangam and the kanjira, a South Indian frame drum of the tambourine family, was on display here.

The Carnatic Composers series continues in September with Songs of Prilgrimage: The Music of Muthuswami Dikshitar by Sai Vigneshwar, Sudarshan Narasimhan, and Nishanth Thiagarajan.

Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle

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Despite being a self-proclaimed ceramics-lover, I only recently visited Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle, home to the last of two dragon kilns in Singapore. This behemoth kiln contains three main parts: a front firing chamber, the main chamber where ceramic pieces to be fired are placed, and a chimney at the tail end where smoke is emitted. When it is lit, the kiln resembles an fire-breathing dragon!

The kiln’s business thrived in the seventies, but as the demand of pots, vases, cups, and other such wares slowed down, the dragon kiln closed down in the late nineties. In 2003, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) financed the restoration of the kiln, and the site was refurbished. Today, the complex is home to a one-stop shop for ceramic pots, lamps, tableware, and more. The kiln is also now at the center of a revival in ceramic art on the island.

We spent the afternoon wandering around the lush and spacious grounds, admiring shelves of locally-made ceramics and items imported from elsewhere in Southeast and East Asia, and purchasing gifts for family and friends in the United States, including a set of hand-painted chopsticks. A number of artists were hard at work during our visit, building works with slabs or painting with clay slip. Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle also offers pottery classes for children as young as four, and I hope to introduce The Preschooler to one of my favorite arts here when she is of age.

Postcards from Melbourne, Yarra Yarra Valley, and the Great Ocean Road

 I’m once again over at momfilter, a lifestyle blog for families created by Pilar Guzmán and Yolanda Edwards, the founding editors of the now-defunct but still-beloved Cookie Magazine. “Postcards from Melbourne, Yarra Yarra Valley, and the Great Ocean Road” is the fifth of several short reflections on travel and family.

An excerpt:

What I miss most about the life in the United States now that we live in Singapore is that great American pastime, the road trip. Long, leisurely road trips were a fixture of my childhood, and I’ve seen much of the United States east of the Mississippi River and eastern Canada. We would drive hundreds of miles on the countries’ most iconic highways with the windows rolled down, examining crumpled maps from AAA and playing the License Plate Game.

So, in an effort to recreate those experiences for our preschooler, now with smart phone rather than Rand McNally map in tow, we flew to Australia, where the U.S. Dollar is currently very strong against the Aussie Dollar, to experience the charming waterfront towns, the stunning vistas, and the rugged cliffs of Victoria State from behind the wheel of an automobile.

We spent three nights in Melbourne, one night in Yarra Valley, one of Melbourne’s many wine countries, and two nights on The Great Ocean Road, a 243-kilometer stretch of road along the coast between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford and one of the world’s most scenic coastal touring routes.

Continue reading “Postcards from Melbourne, Yarra Yarra Valley, and the Great Ocean Road.”

Swara Sandhya: Confluence of Sunset Melodies by Shakir Khan and Srividya Sriram


Yesterday, I caught Swara Sandhya: Confluence of Sunset Melodies by sitarist Shakir Khan and violinist Srividya Sriram and accompanied by T. Ramanan on mridangam and Nawaz Mirajkar on tabla, a brilliant performance staged as part of the Esplanade’s ongoing “Chakra” series of concerts. These performances explore the time-specific nature of the raga, or melodic frameworks of Indian classical music. “Orthodox musicians in India never play a raga at any other than its proper time,” according to the late French musicologist Alain Daniélou, “for at the wrong hour it could never be developed so perfectly nor could it so greatly move an audience.”

Swara Sandhya presented a series of ragas written for dusk, such as Hamsadhvani, a Carnatic raga which has been borrowed by the Hindustani tradition; Kalyani (Carnatic)/Yaman (Hindustani); and Keeravani, a Carnatic raga which also has been borrowed by the Hindustani tradition. These ragas are meant to evoke grace and majesty, love and bravery, and devotion and dedication, and Swara Sandhya so deftly, so beautifully, explored the intersections between these two classical music traditions.

My favorite performance, by far, of the evening was a nearly hour-long composition, written especially for this concert, in raga Keeravani. The composition opened with an improvisational Carnatic ragam thalan pallavi (roughly equivalent to alaap, jhor, and gati/khayal in Hindustani music), continued with a Hindustani sawaal jawaab, literally “question answer,” or percussive debate featuring mridangam and tabla, and closed with a Hindustani drut in teen taal, or a fast-tempo movement in a sixteen beat cycle. So, so good.

As usual, I was disappointed in the turnout to see, arguably, India’s most promising young musician, Khan, son of celebrated sitar player Shahid Parvez, and three of Singapore’s musical masters, Sriram, Mirajkar, and Ramanan, in a dazzling display. These events are hardly publicized in the mainstream press, so perhaps that’s why? The Chakra series continues in August with Prath Sangeet: Music of the Morning by Sunil Avachat on bansuri and Sarang Kulkarni on sarod. GO BUY TICKETS.


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