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…

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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.
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Singaporeans Reveal a Pent-up Desire for Debate on Social Issues

One of the strangest things I have been accused of this year is the vicarious murder of two dozen chickens. It was February, and the Singaporean papers were a few weeks into a long-running drama that would only peter out in late March, and which was by then the basis of animated monologues from Singapore’s frank and imaginative cabbies.

In January, the government had declared that flocks of semi-wild chickens roaming near housing estates in Sin Ming were a potential health hazard, and had them removed. That, I was told, was just the cover story. In truth, the birds’ fate was a symptom of Singapore’s rush to build condos for ang mo, or white men, like me, whose vision of gentrification had no place for livestock. Later, I would hear that the chicken slaughter was in fact a sign that the technocrats that run this gleaming city have no respect for the mythical “kampung days” when people lived in idyllic villages. In one elaborate work of fiction, the chickens had gone into cooking pots across the Malaysian border.

Read More in Nikkei Asian Review

Singapore’s farmers raise rare voices

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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

Dark Mood Overshadows Singapore’s Economic Outlook

In Infinium Robotics’ headquarters, in a double-height unit in a grubby industrial estate on the northwestern edge of Singapore, there are scattered parts of miniature helicopter rotors on the floor and in plastic tubs all around the walls. A 3D printer is on hand in a corner, ready to replicate broken pieces of equipment or fashion new ones. From behind a screen, a pair of engineers are concentrating on trying to make a dinner plate-sized drone land on a small cross on the floor.

Founded by former Singapore Navy officer Junyang Woon, Infinium Robotics is working on commercial drones that can autonomously patrol warehouses, scanning stock and taking inventories. The system is designed to reduce the need for humans to perform the manual and labor-intensive task of stocktaking. Woon has already signed up a local company to run trials in a 9,000-sq. meter warehouse nearby, and has interest from several others. “Industry players are really looking into this. We feel there is a huge demand,” Woon said.

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Erik Solheim: China Can Take the Lead on Climate Change

In December 2015, negotiators emerged exhausted but triumphant from all-night negotiations in Paris with an ambitious global climate change treaty. Buoyed by an uncharacteristically sympathetic U.S. administration and a willing Chinese government, traditionally progressive countries got a deal that committed its signatories to reduce carbon emissions to avert catastrophic climate change.

It was a high point after years of stalemate. A year on, the election of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump — who has stated on several occasions that he does not believe in man-made climate change, and will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement — has stunned the international community.

Erik Solheim, a former leader of Norway’s Socialist Left party who took over as head of the United Nations Environment Programme in June, is one of those tasked with rallying climate change campaigners demoralized by America’s dramatic reversal.

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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