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Peter Guest

Journalism & Photography

How the ‘Queen of Dragons’ helped steal elections

Hannah Yeoh is a natural target for the online hate mob. Young, female, successful and highly visible. Since her election to the state assembly in the Malaysian state of Selangor in 2008, she has faced the usual kind of abuse on social media—insinuations about her marriage, the occasional death threat.

Last year, it metastasised…

Read more in Wired

Blurred lines

Orchard Towers is a nondescript concrete block, studded with neon signs, beaming out of ugly bars, advertising buckets of beer and “drunk sit”, overlooking the north end of Singapore’s main shopping artery. During the day it fades into the background: a dated mall among a cluster of newer chrome-and-glass developments. By night it throbs with weird energy as patrons from the bars sidle out into massage parlours on the upper levels. Known locally as the “Four Floors of Whores”, Orchard Towers is an oasis of negotiable morality at the heart of a notoriously conservative country, its survival a mystery following the purging of the low-rise brothels of Sungei Road and the streetwalkers of Geylang.

“Is it literally that they were daytime and horizontal, versus Orchard Towers, where they are nighttime and vertical? What made [the others] have to go?” wondered the writer Amanda Lee Koe.

Read more in the Times Literary Supplement

Malaysia’s most ‘dangerous’ cartoonist

Walking through the lobby of the hotel he is staying in in the Malaysian island state of Penang, Zunar took in the high ceilings and polished tiles and said wryly: “It’s much better than where I stayed last time.”

This time last year the satirical cartoonist, who rarely uses his given name of Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, was due to open an exhibition of his work at Penang’s George Town Literary Festival when the police swooped in and arrested him on sedition charges. He spent the three days of the event in a cell.

Read more in Nikkei Asian Review

Singapore’s Rebel Bookseller Seeks New Narrative

One evening in May 2015 in Singapore, a week before the public launch of a much anticipated manga-style novel, publisher Edmund Wee received a phone call summoning him to the National Arts Council.

The book was “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye,” a sprawling, ambitious retelling of Singapore’s post-war story by celebrated local artist Sonny Liew, and the government-backed Arts Council had contributed thousands of dollars toward its publication. But on the eve of its launch, someone got cold feet about the story, which weaves the titular fictional character into real historical events and in doing so, subtly challenges the government-approved narrative of the nation’s rise.
Read More in Nikkei Asian Review

Singapore’s farmers raise rare voices

Read more in Nikkei Asian Review

Heading north from Singapore’s high-rise center, the tower blocks give way first to sprawling warehouses, and then to dense tropical greenery, specked with red warning signs that mark the boundaries of the army’s live fire ranges. Even further north, a few kilometers away from the heavily-guarded border with Johor, in neighboring Malaysia, are curving lanes fringed with allotments and humpbacked white greenhouses, a tiny patch of farmland on the fringes of the hyper-modern city.

“Every country needs a countryside, even a city-state. You can’t concretize the entire country”, said Manda Foo, the executive secretary of the Kranji Countryside Association, which represents around 40 farms in the area.

 

Indonesia’s indigenous voices turn on Jokowi

The image of Indonesian President Joko Widodo still gazes out from billboards along the dirt road that leads from the North Sumatran capital of Medan to Tanjung Gusta. On a recent weekend the town — a scrappy suburb to the west of the city — took on the air of an unusual rock festival, with thudding music, craft stalls and food carts, as thousands of representatives gathered for the quinquennial congress of the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago, which is known by its Bahasa Indonesian acronym, Aman.

The president was supposed to be the guest of honor at the gathering, but he cancelled at the last minute, choosing instead to travel to West Kalimantan to open a new border post. He sent his environment minister and chief of staff but his absence was taken as a snub by many delegates, who were mulling over whether to endorse “Jokowi,” as he is known, for a second presidential term.

“If I was a president who had promised so much, and delivered so little, I wouldn’t come,” said Abdon Nababan, who just retired as Aman’s secretary general after leading the organization for 18 years.

Read more in Nikkei Asian Review

Leuser’s Last Stand

Singkil, in South Aceh, is where the swamp meets the sea. The road from Subulussalam snakes through it, following the course of the Alas River to its mouth, then veering left along the coast.

On the southern side, the Indian Ocean breaks against Sumatra’s shore, the spray from the wave tops just visible through the trees; on the other, a dark-red mud track runs into the peatland forest. It is early November, and the near-daily rainstorms have soaked the earth, making it a brutal struggle through the thigh-deep peat to reach solid ground. At the end of the track, a tunnel has been smashed through the trees, leaving broken trunks and turned-over soil.

“That’s just happened today,” says Ahmadi, a chain-smoking, whip-thin activist who seems able to skate over the top of the peat, pausing only to light up. A local informant has tipped off an Acehnese environmental organisation that Ahmadi belongs to, and he has come to investigate. It is barely noon.

Read more in Raconteur

Ahmed El Attar: Not Talking About A Revolution

There is a moment around halfway into Ahmed El Attar’s The Last Supper that the audience stops trying to follow the subtitles that struggle to keep up with the cast’s overlapping conversations about used cars, political connections and the rudeness of Parisians, and instead leans back to watch the corners of the stage, where Egypt’s social dislocations play out in small, subtle tableaux.

I specifically wrote a lot of text, because I feel a lot of text kills the text. At one point, you realise that it’s not important. [The characters] are not saying anything,” El Attar says, wreathed in the smoke from a cigar that he waves and jabs to emphasise his points.

Set at an upscale dinner party being held against the distant backdrop of the Egyptian state’s disintegration, the play satirises the vanity and hypocrisy of Egypt’s moneyed class, who decried the instability and disruption of the Arab Spring, but refused to acknowledge their own role in creating the conditions that led to it.

Read More in Raconteur

Selling Out Hong Kong

The Tiananmen Square Museum is almost hidden on the fifth floor of a nondescript office building on Austin Lane, a narrow backstreet of strip clubs and grime-clogged air conditioning vents in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. On the ground floor, a security guard takes the names and ID card numbers of visitors; upstairs, the single-room office has been transformed into a maze of boards covered with densely packed text and photographs from June 4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army crushed demonstrators staging a pro-democracy sit-in in Beijing.

The museum is closing. After a long and costly legal battle, launched by the building’s management company and bankrolled by its freeholder, its founders have decided to sell their lease and raise money through crowdfunding to open another. Albert Ho, the chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which maintains the memorial, is convinced the two-year campaign of harassment and expensive legal manoeuvring is motivated by the owner’s links to Beijing.

“This economic factor is, of course, a highly effective invisible hand in controlling and affecting people’s decisions,” Ho says.

Read More in Raconteur