Tiong Bahru Market, 5.30pm



Blue signs on the tables, blue signs on the walls, all telling us to practise courtesy. When finished your meal, return your plate and your tray to the old cleaners, the elderly who scrape scraps into buckets, jangle cutlery into tubs, some slight comfort coming from the fans blowing respite onto their backs.


There is greenery edging in too, from the trees that make the centre of this place, a green that pops against the storm grey of the sky and the orange, papaya, carrot, passionfruit, all the other juices for sale, $2.50 and under.


The palm trees peering into the food centre wave ever-so-slightly in the breeze, predicting the deluge, warning patrons of pig organ soup to slam down their offal and scurry home, plastic bags crinkling in their fists, takeaway kueh smacking against their calves, in a bid to stay dry.




The red lanterns adorning Tian Tian Yuan Dessert House are particularly bright at this time of the afternoon. Too early for night lighting and yet the sky so grey, they form a beacon in this dim centre, beckoning us closer for tapioca balls, shaved ice, and sugar.


Where light filters low, sound pipes up. An Auntie shouting at her worker in Mandarin, the sizzling of early dinners, filling every empty space of this centre with life.


And then 5.35 hits and the night lights switch on. I can see things properly now: the courtesy sign that reads tempat meletak dulang in Malay, the neon rainbow of Tow Kwar Pop, and the bright yellow t-shirts of three generations sharing a meal together, all of them glowing bright against the mottled cream of their tables.


Noise grows, people move, and a new feast begins.



Meet an Artist: Alvin Pang

Meet an Artist: Alvin Pang

Alvin Pang is an award-winning poet, writer, editor, anthologist, and translator. Working primarily in English, his poetry has been translated into over fifteen languages, and he has appeared in major festivals and anthologies worldwide.

His new collection of poetry, What Gives Us Our Names made me cry over brunch, and can be purchased online.

Alvin also tweets very interesting things here.ImageI was lucky enough to have Alvin share his thoughts on Singapore, writing and food and here they are condensed in pithy excellence for you to enjoy:

What words do you think sum up the work that you make?


What drives you to make art?

Boredom, curiosity, surprise

What is your next project?

Several commissioned selections/anthologies of Singapore poetry for international journals and publishers, all at once!

What is your dream future project?

A book of fiction (either collection of short stories, or a novel.  A verse novel?!)

What is your favourite spot in Singapore? What is your least favourite spot?

Fav: It’s a secret. But it’s somewhere green and mostly uninhabited.
Least fav: anywhere crowded, really.

What is your favourite arts venue in Singapore?

BooksActually!ImageWhat is your favourite poem/play/film/artwork about Singapore?

I’m fond of Dave Chua’s Gone Case (novel), especially the killer closing paragraph.  And Yeng Pway Ngon’s startling novel, UNREST.   But no one single work does it for me, really.  Perhaps the anthologies I’ve put together: NO OTHER CITY: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry (Ethos:2000), or TUMASIK: Contemporary Writing from Singapore (Autumn Hill: 2009) simply because they suggest the diversity and range that is quintessentially Singaporean.  I like not having to choose 🙂

What is your favourite hawker centre?

This is a toughie. Telok Blangah rates highly, as does Maxwell.  Kreta Ayer used to be a great choice for newbies but parking is too difficult.  Adam Road is a favourite.

What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?

I don’t do it often, but I make a killer Roast Beef at X’mas.  Also my Teriyaki Chicken is a frequent fav.

Finding Your Inner Quirk

One. Week. Left!

It’s quite horrifying and unbelievable to think that I only have a week left in Singapore.

The first month has gone so incredibly fast; a whirlwind of teaching, meeting new people, going to events, learning about the culture, museum- and gallery-hopping, and eating many many egg tarts from Tiong Bahru Pau.ImageThe last week has been bittersweet, as my series of workshops have all culminated in different ways.

On Wednesday, I held my final workshop for adult writers. For the last 3 weeks, this ensemble has been coming together to share inspiration, gain support and advice, and to form a few collaborative documents that can help us with our creative process in the future. They have been a joy to work with, and I look forward to sharing some of our work with you all soon, to see if it inspires you on your own creative journeys.ImageI also wrapped up the final session of my Finding Your Voice workshops with writers aged 16-22. These young writers have been dedicated, open to new ideas, and have created a very exciting collection of monologues inspired by the setting of Tiong Bahru. These will be shared soon too!

In a stroke of perfect timing, fellow Australian writer Kim Ho, he of the much-acclaimed film The Language of Love, happened to be in Singapore.ImageKim came to share his film (watch it, here) and a Q&A with my team of young writers, and then was able to hear their final pieces of work being shared with the class.ImageFinally, yesterday was my final workshop in Singapore, a community event at Tiong Bahru Community Centre, focused on writing about the unique estate of Tiong Bahru.ImageIt was a very exciting day of sharing, storytelling and laughter, with a mixture of local residents and other people from wider Singapore. We engaged with the locations, people and stories of Tiong Bahru while sharing a few creative exercises.

I hope the workshop has inspired some people to start writing and keep writing, and share their stories with the wider world.ImageIt has been a challenging and rewarding opportunity to offer three very different masterclasses within a short period, but I have gained so much from the artists I have worked with.

This experience has brought home the realisation that everybody has a story, an inner quirkiness, a combination of odd passions, skills and loves that make them who they are. Once we tap into this inner self with dedication and rigour, we can create work that is personal, meaningful and engaging. Our unique way of seeing the world. Our own inner voice.

Thank you to the Tiong Bahru Community Centre and Grey Projects for hosting us so well.

Now back to the Pau stall.

Well, that was fun!

We found our voice.

Farewell, lovely youth participants of the Finding Your Voice workshop series. They have made beautiful work over the last 4 weekends, and I hope to share their final pieces with you soon.

We were also delighted this final weekend when Kim Ho, the writer and star of the short film The Language of Love, popped by the workshop to show his acclaimed film and talk to us.

Ellen DeGeneres thinks Kim’s film ‘amazing’ and we all agreed.

Watch the film, below.

kim and jess

Meet an Artist: Jasmine Ann Cooray

Welcome to today’s guest artist, Jasmine Ann Cooray.Image

Jasmine Ann Cooray is a poet from London, of British and Sri Lankan heritage. She works with young people as a mentor and workshop facilitator, developing confidence through poetry and performance. She aims to create spaces for voices all of kinds to speak out. She is currently the writer in residence at the National University of Singapore, which is a yearly 6 month residency offered to international artists. She is also training as an integrative psychotherapist.ImageJasmine is known for her vivid images, inclusive performance style, and storytelling through personal experience. She is often moved to address the taboo issues through her writing, and has performed in a variety of spaces in the UK, Singapore and the Phillippines. Her debut poetry pamphlet ‘everything we don’t say’ was released with Tall Lighthouse Press in 2009 and awaits reprint with Math Paper Press in 2014. She is working on her first full collection.  She never gives a substandard hug.

(I can definitely vouch for the hug!)


(photo by Alvin Pang)

If you want to see Jasmine’s lyricism and warm hugs in person, you have many opportunities in the next few days.

Tonight, Jasmine’s exhibition titled “The Invisibility Project” opens at The Arts House. Jasmine has curated an evening of poetry and visual art that responds to the voices and people whose voices are unheard or unasked for in Singapore.Image

This weekend, Jasmine is running a workshop called WRITESingapore and is also performing at the We Can! Arts Festival, produced by AWARE Singapore.Image Despite being a resident artist, and not someone who lives here all the time, Jasmine has been here long enough to know everybody, to walk all around the island, and to drink warm wine on a rooftop with me.

So here is her Singapore:

What words do you think sum up your writing? 

Honest, Raw, Explorative.

What drives you to write poetry?

I started to write poetry when I was an angsty teenager trying to exhume demons. Later it became a way for me to process life events, tell stories, and talk about issues that I’m drawn to.

What is your current and/or next project?

I am working on my full collection, and hope to have something pulled together some time next year. In the meantime, I need to go over my first pamphlet and make sure it is sound for reprint in Singapore early next year. I also have a loose plan to put together a storytelling piece with stories that anthropomorphise emotional processes in some way. In terms of development, I am setting up a youth poetry collective in Singapore called Burn After Reading, which is a sister branch of the same collective in London. I hope to make something where the members can support each other and grow over time.

What is your dream future project?

Too many to choose from! I’d love to work with younger kids to develop self awareness and confidence through writing and speaking. This is the idealist in me- trying to create a world where people feel better about themselves in general. I’m also very interested in looking at how poetry can be a springboard for connecting people- sharing experiences through work that can then be discussed in a group. I’d also like to develop a space where arts facilitators can come and skillshare – often artists who work in education are learning as we go along, and having a support network like that would be great.

I’d love to work with more musicians too, it is so much fun and stimulates the musical part of me.ImageWhat are your favourite and least favourite spots in Singapore?

I like to walk in the evening- it is so cooling and calm and the sounds are amazing. I also just love the wild places- the parks, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, The Botanic Gardens though they are more organised. I love the wet markets and the food courts with birds flying all over the place. I also have a guilty pleasure of sitting in coffee shops like Artistry or Working Title or Carpenter and Cook (I know, hipster) for ages writing, the trend feels a lot like home.

I’m not so into the vast spaceship-style shopping malls. I feel like there is no escape in some of them- you have to pass through an assault of neon just to get out. I briefly visited Sentosa and found it a very surreal Disney-like place, and unfortunately an environment of forced joy does not appeal to me.

What is your favourite arts venue in town?

The Arts House has some cool spaces in it, like the Play Den. I also like the small bars and café’s that host poetry nights like Home Club and BlueJazz, and the Substation always has a lot of stuff to see..

What is your favourite hawker centre?

There is one in Clementi that does the best Pad Thai, mmm it is so tasty, I have to be careful not to inhale it. And the Lontong at the NUS campus is really good too.

What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?

I recently learned a Filipina dish called kinilaw na talong that is really flavourful and simple- smoky aubergine, tomatoes, chilli and a vinegary coconut milk sauce. I had it in Bohol in the Phillippines and had to try it out.

But when I am going for comfort food I make a load of aloo sag, fish curry, dhal and rice let the carbs do their numbing work.

What do you think Singapore looks like in 20 years time? 

No idea. It seems like it is in constant development so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was bigger, shinier, more imposing. I would be sad if it lost its natural spaces- they are a necessary respite from the rest of the island.

Thanks, Jasmine!

Meet an Artist: Tracie Pang

Meet an Artist: Tracie Pang

It’s a new week, which means a new local artist to introduce you to!

I was delighted to have Tracie Pang take part in my Q&A this week.


Tracie is Co-Artistic Director of Pangdemonium Theatre Company with her husband Adrian. Their most recent play was a local production of the Broadway hit Gruesome Playground Injuries, playing at the Esplanade Theatre, and as we are propelled ever closer to 2014, Pangdemonium have an exciting new season to share.


The new season is an exciting mix of dark comedy, poetic drama, and a musical love story! You can read all about it here.

Here is Tracie’s Singapore for you to enjoy:

What words do you think sum up the work that you make?

Powerful story telling. We try to be wide ranging and varied in our choices but the core of the work comes from choosing good writing and stories to tell.


What drives you to make art?

It is just a passion, I can’t imagine doing anything else and being happy. I want my children to have access to expression, joy, heartbreak and all the fine details in-between. The theatre can be a magic space to get lost in for a couple of hours and my hope is to give people that opportunity to be a part of that magic and to learn something from that experience.

What is your next project?

My next project is a play called FAT PIG by Neil LaBute. It is a piece about self image and social conformity. Very funny and very sad.


What is your dream future project?

Oh I have a lot of dreams! I do hope that one day I can work with a writer on developing a new piece that I haven’t dreamed of yet!

What is your favourite spot in Singapore? What is your least favourite spot?

Hard to say, I love to be around the bay near the Esplanade, the view is spectacular and I love the energy of artistes constantly being around the Esplanade. My least favourite spot is probably the Tax office, although the route going up to the 2nd link (causeway) is pretty ugly!

What is your favourite arts venue in Singapore?

I love working in the Esplanade Theatre, it is so well designed back stage and front of house and the staff support is great. I am also looking forward to Victoria Theatre reopening after its renovations, it has been closed for years now, but it was the first theatre in Singapore that I worked in and it holds good memories.


Photo from Pangdemonium’s production of ‘Next to Normal’

What is your favourite play/film/artwork about Singapore?

I don’t think that I have one, I have enjoyed many pieces of film and theatre that has come out of Singapore but I am not sure that one stands out to me that tops the others.

What is your favourite hawker centre?

East Coast Lagoon – I can cycle from my home to the beach, the food choices there are fab, and I love the sea breeze mixed with the smell of cooking Satay on the BBQ’s.

What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?

I love to cook a good roast chicken, there is never anything left over once my boys have devoured it.

What does Singapore look like in 20 years?

Assuming that we avoid any major calamity, I think Singapore will go from strength to strength as a major player in the region for business and also the arts. I think it will be at the forefront of development in many areas, it is quite a resilient little red dot.


Thanks so much for taking part, Tracie.

You can follow Pangdemonium on Twitter, and their website holds all the details of their 2014 season.

Write Way Home: a workshop about Tiong Bahru


What makes Tiong Bahru feel like home?

The architecture? The wet market? The Monkey God Temple? The bookshop? The fishball noodle soup?

Join your neighbours and Grey Projects resident writer Jessica Bellamy for a free workshop exploring what makes Tiong Bahru so unique. For ages 16+

Jessica Bellamy is a playwright from Australia currently in residence at Grey Projects week residency, part of which involves offering this workshop for the community (and for fans of Tiong Bahru from outside of the estate).Whether you’re a budding writer, or just interested in a day of creativity, come and engage with your home and your community for a day of writing workshops

When? Sunday 8 December 2013

Where? Tiong Bahru Community Centre

How much? FREE

To express interest and reserve your place, contact jessica@jessicabellamy.com.au