New book by Felix Cheong: Singapore Siu Dai 3, The SG Conversation Dabao
OUR columnist Felix Cheong, the wisecracking mouth behind And on Saturday and Cheongster Café, will launch his 11th book today (Aug 26), titled Singapore Siu Dai 3: The SG Conversation Dabao. The first two volumes of the series were published in 2014 and have already sold in excess of 3,000 copies, receiving praise from well-known humorists like Neil Humphreys, Colin Goh, Benjamin “Mr Miyagi” Lee and Moe Alkaff.
The third book ($13.91 with GST – you can’t deny the taxman his dues) will be available at bookstores like Kinokuniya and MPH. You can also support this starving writer by buying the box set of all three volumes ($42.80 with GST).
Here, Felix talks about the trigger behind the Singapore Siu Dai series:
Why the title Singapore Siu Dai?
Any kopi addict worth his weight in sugar knows siu dai means “less sugar” in coffeeshop lingo. The stories thus portray a Singapore that is not dripping with the “Look, honey!” sweetness put up by the Singapore Tourism Board. The subtitle, SG Conversation, is also a send-up of the talkfest from a couple of years ago (to which I was curiously not invited!). It’s my 50-cent contribution, as a writer, to nation-building.
Why are all the stories so short?
Because they’re meant for people with a short-attention span! The stories are written in a genre called flash fiction, sometimes called postcard fiction. Short, short stories that can run from just a few paragraphs to a couple of pages. It’s good enough a read on the train between stops.
You had previously published poetry and fiction. So how did you get into writing humour?
You have to blame Facebook and the haze. It was June 2014 and, thanks to friendly fire from an unfriendly neighbour, Singapore was shrouded in its worst haze. Everyone and his dog could see the disparity between the official PSI reading and what we experienced with our own nose.
Instead of posting a rant on Facebook, I made fun of the situation in a short, short story posted as my status update. Something clicked into place and before long, I was polluting Facebook with these story posts, day after day, often written on the bus ride to work and taking on themes as varied as Singaporeans’ obsession with Hello Kitty and our genetically-codified kiasu-ism.
Writing humour was also a new toy for me as a writer. It helped me exercise (exorcise?) parts of my brain I don’t often use. It’s an art in itself.
You joke about some pretty serious things, from population policies to defamation suits. Is there a “serious” message behind the Siu Dai series?
Any satirist worth his salt knows laughter is the best way to lessen the pain of having salt rubbed into your wounds. After the laughter dies, you suddenly realise just how much the sting hurts.
That’s what I wanted to achieve with the Siu Dai series. To get readers to wake up to who we are – really – as a people, why are we the way we are and who do we want to become.
What are some new areas that you touch in Siu Dai 3?
Some of the stories poke fun at the GE2015. (I’m an equal-opportunity satirist and I spoofed both the ruling and opposition parties.) Others took a long, hard look at our national hang-ups with elitism and exams (you can’t dissociate one from the other).
What was your favourite part about creating this book?
The strangest (and by extension, my favourite) part was how these characters assume a life of their own. For instance, the three bumbling wannabe terrorists in a sequence called “Three Terrorists in a Tub”. They were inside my head for a good week, squabbling!
What were some difficulties faced?
The main difficulty was two-fold. Because the stories were often inspired by topical issues, I had to fully realise the stories as stories in their own right, without hoping that readers could recall the issues.
The other difficulty was being able to suggest political follies without landing myself at the wrong end of a defamation suit. The jabs had to be clear and the sucker punch landing just hard enough not to bruise anyone.
Is there a personal favourite of yours in Siu Dai 3?
That’s my favourite most hated question. It’s like asking me, which of my children I’d rather shoot first? All the stories are my favourites. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have let them out into the world in the first place!
Felix Cheong, 51, the recepient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award (Literature) in 2000, has written 11 books, including four volumes of poetry and two young adult novels. Currently an adjunct lecturer with Murdoch University and University of Newcastle, he holds a masters in creative writing.
Featured image by Felix Cheong.
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