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

Singapore mixes unique cocktail culture

When Elex Ng was developing the menu for his new cocktail bar, Nanyang Club, he sought inspiration in a nearby Chinese medicine store. His early experiments with dried mushrooms and herbs were underwhelming. “Then I saw this whole dried-out octopus. I was like: ‘Okay, why not?'” he said.

The result is the Fisherman’s Wife, a very local twist on the classic whisky sour that cuts the flavors of dried octopus and oysters with ginger and citrus. It is the kind of idiosyncratic drink that Ng, who fell into bartending after leaving the army, thinks may come to define the cocktail scene in Singapore, which remains heavily influenced by western and Japanese bar culture.

Read more in Nikkei Asian Review

Private eyes enjoy public boom in Singapore

Lim Yong Yi is a human lie detector. Lim took the helm of his family’s private investigation and security firm five years ago, and, looking for an advantage in the city-state’s competitive market for PIs, invested in training on how to read facial micro-expressions. The science was pioneered by the American psychologist Paul Ekman and used`, sometimes controversially, by law enforcement and intelligence agencies worldwide.

Read More in Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

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.


Robot City: Surviving the Fourth Industrial Revolution

This is one vision of the near future. Chain bars gradually filling up with a Tuesday night post-work crowd. Travelators idling outside the Subway and Starbucks that click on when you approach, ready to carry you from the ‘food centre’ to the ‘fitness zone’. On the walls, bright and cheerful signs telling the residents to eat right and be happy for the sake of their health.

This is Mapletree Business City on Singapore’s west coast, a gleaming black-glass business park bulging with manicured greenery, and the centre of the city-state’s ambitious plans to become a ‘smart nation’, roping its transport, health and housing systems together using data and connected devices – the so-called ‘internet of things’ – and exploiting advances in automation to reduce the number of people needed to keep the country running.

Read More in Raconteur