MICHAEL CHI­ANG ON ART, FOOD & BE­ING NICE

HE WROTE HIS FIRST PLAY, BEAUTY BOX, OVER A WEEK­END HE HAS A WIKIPEDIA PAGE WHICH HE THINKS MIGHT HAVE BEEN CRE­ATED BY A NA­TIONAL BODY OR A CULT OF FANS WITH AT LEAST 10 STAGED PALYS AND MU­SI­CAL HE'S OUR COUN­TRY'S MOST PRO­LIFIC PLAY­WRIGHT (DE­SPITE TAK­ING

Female (Singapore) - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID FUHRMANN LIM

Michael The Chi­ang 60-year-old– in the is localour most pa­tois suc­cess­fulhe so cham­pi­ons play­wrightin his( Beau­ty­plays – World­wins lor has. played to an

es­ti­mated 250,000 peo­ple). His plays re­flect Sin­ga­porean foibles and deal with is­sues like

cen­sor­ship, sex-change, cul­tural iden­tity, class wars and com­ing of age, with a

dash of pathos and hu­mour. (You’ll find all this in his lat­est tome, Play Things: The

Com­plete Works 1984-2014 .) Chi­ang now gives us a ver­sion of Sin­ga­pore he’d like to see.

Re­claim our cul­tural her­itage

“I do feel nos­tal­gic for di­alects. I’m Hainanese, my mum was Can­tonese. And, when my grandpa passed away, I never spoke Hainanese again. I feel there are cer­tain things we’re los­ing touch with; it’s a bit of a shame. It’s like, we get Hong Kong se­ri­als on tele­vi­sion but the Can­tonese has been dubbed over. The re­al­ity is that, in this age of stream­ing, down­loads and DVD rentals, any­one can ac­cess di­alects. I’m not say­ing we pro­mote them, but we shouldn’t sup­press them.

“This might be the last stretch: If those in the next tier don’t have grand­par­ents who speak to them in di­alect, I think they will lose out. We’re us­ing Man­darin, but we’re los­ing di­alect. I miss that, which is why writ­ing Beau­ty­World was nos­tal­gic, be­cause it re­minded me of the old Hong Kong films my mum used to take me to. When I wrote

MyLone­lyT arts, I had a whole chunk of Can­tonese in there; it re­minded me of my child­hood.”

Grow the theatre art scene

“I think the art scene is ac­tu­ally quite vi­brant, healthy, but it’s ex­pen­sive to put on a show. Ide­ally, there will be some sort of bal­ance so that the younger peo­ple who want to get into arts, want to be heard, to cre­ate, will at least have a chance to find an au­di­ence. But venues are hard to come by; they are not cheap to rent.

“When they first an­nounced the two in­te­grated re­sorts, I thought, ‘Oh wow, fi­nally got more the­atres’. It’s so hard to book theatre space. You book 18 months in ad­vance; if you haven’t booked for next year, for­get it.

“But al­most no (lo­cal) shows go to the IRs. There are a lot of

over­seas shows like The Lion King, Priscilla, Queen of The Desert and Jer­sey-Boys, which I find a bit of a shame. Tourists are com­mit­ted to com­ing here, stay­ing at the ho­tel; they’ve got the fam­ily in tow. If you have a proper show­case for lo­cal pro­duc­tions and Sin­ga­pore-writ­ten shows, it’s a good way to do a bit of sell­ing of our tal­ent. In­stead, we’re bring­ing in all the for­eign shows. Why not Chang

&Eng , Beauty-World , in­stead of Phantom?

“If I were in Mumbai, I’d rather watch a lo­cal pro­duc­tion of The

Tem­pest than an im­ported ver­sion of The Sound of Mu­sic do­ing its Asian tour.

“There should be a mix. I’d say, at least one week a month, have some­thing lo­cal and just make the process work: Find the most com­mer­cial lo­cal pro­duc­tion so that it cov­ers cost, and you cre­ate work for lo­cal theatre tal­ent. It can be a show­case of Sin­ga­pore singers, not just theatre shows. The same way, in Malaysia, there’s a cer­tain re­quire­ment – you must air a cer­tain num­ber of Malay movies a year (the Na­tional Film Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion of Malaysia has a Com­pul­sory Screen­ing Scheme for cine­mas)... I would do that, set a quota. The IRs have got the cash to sup­port lo­cal art, and they should make a con­scious ef­fort to sup­port it, sub­sidise it. I feel there’s a way to make the quota work – they can af­ford it!”

Im­prove re­la­tions with for­eign work­ers

“It’s not such a bad idea hav­ing a nice mix of peo­ple living with us. It’s a mat­ter of bal­ance, maybe it’s just a ques­tion of mu­tual re­spect, but it’s be­come a bit muddy, or mud­dled. There are a lot of pretty de­cent for­eign work­ers, but peo­ple tend to neg­a­tively stereo­type them, no mat­ter that th­ese stereo­types are of­ten in­ac­cu­rate. So many of us are now fix­ated with find­ing fault with any­one who’s not Sin­ga­porean, but where did we come from? My dad and my grand­dad are from China. I just feel that we, of all peo­ple, should be more em­pa­thetic.

“The whole us-ver­sus-them thing is a bit too strong. Maybe we started off on the wrong foot, and it’s go­ing to take a lot to step back and re­alise that we can do bet­ter.

“Bet­ter living con­di­tions is one thing that would help: a whole lot of peo­ple shar­ing one room – it’s not pleas­ant. You have to imag­ine what it’s like to be them: They move here for a few years for a job, they’re work­ing in the sun for seven days a week, and they go back to this small space. There are peo­ple look­ing at them strangely on the bus; it’s not a very nice feel­ing.

“I don’t know how to build a cam­paign of com­pas­sion, that would have been some­thing I’d

“I don’t know how to build a cam­paign of com­pas­sion, that’d have been some­thing I’d love to do. Can we have a bit more com­pas­sion, a bit more em­pa­thy? Let’s get back to ba­sics, to be­ing re­spect­ful and de­cent.”

love to do. Can we have a bit more com­pas­sion, a bit more em­pa­thy? That’s some­thing I wish I could find a way to change. Let’s get back to ba­sics, to be­ing re­spect­ful and de­cent.”

Re­think our re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence

“We def­i­nitely have too many iden­ti­cal malls, in the sense that the ex­pe­ri­ences are the same. The same brands ev­ery where, whether you go to Jurong, the north­ern or west­ern parts. So, when I step into a mall, I’m think­ing, why can’t it be more like Bangkok or Ja­pan? I just feel that (over­seas) there’s a cer­tain pride in cre­at­ing some­thing spe­cial, so if you want to find this par­tic­u­lar designer, this par­tic­u­lar arts and crafts shop, you have to go all the way there to get it. I feel that’s some­thing we should do, cre­ate some­thing with a bit more unique­ness, a bit more spe­cial, so that you don’t feel you’re get­ting the same thing.”

Use food to at­tract tourists

“With food, we are re­ally one up on other coun­tries. It’s not just that it’s us, but that we have the best of all the dif­fer­ent cuisines. It’s so eclec­tic, with so many dif­fer­ent things, you never get bored eat­ing here. From the low- end ko­pi­tiam noodles to the Ma­rina Bay Sands Miche­lin-starchef places. We’ve got great in­ter­na­tional food, it’s just quite end­less. Over the years, I’ve re­alised how spe­cial it is, but we also take it for granted.

“If only I could find a way to con­vince vis­i­tors – even if they don’t like spicy food – that a par­tic­u­lar food is mild enough for them, be­cause I think peo­ple want to sam­ple var­ied cuisines, and it’s so ac­ces­si­ble. Just go down to an HDB block and it has ev­ery­thing. I think it’s unique.” (No, he didn’t say “uniquely Sin­ga­porean”.)

“With food, we are re­ally one up on other coun­tries. It’s not just that it’s us, but that we have the best of all the dif­fer­ent cuisines.”

Laugh again at ArmyDaze, and cry at Pri­vateParts. Play­Things: TheCom­pleteWorks1984-2014 ($35.95) is out in book­stores.

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