I can’t recall how I met Colin Goh — it might have been through reading his book about Singaporean English, Talking Cock. I admired the comic that he produces with YenYen Woo, and we ate dimsum once together in Brooklyn, which was several books, movies, and kids ago for all of us. It was exciting to work on adapting David Moser’s account, and I asked Colin a few questions about what it was like on his end.
What appealed to you about adapting Moser’s essay?
Initially, it was because I’m also a trumpet player, and have long wished I could have played in a funk band!
But because I’ve been documenting the vernacular English in my home country of Singapore, the part about when and for whom it’s alright to use certain terms or phrases really resonated with me.
I was also keen to take on the assignment because it was a nice break from drawing anthropomorphic Chinese snacks in my regular series, Dim Sum Warriors.
Learning belatedly that David is a Beijing-based academic (who speaks better Mandarin than I do!) added a certain piquancy to the project!
You took a lot of care to portray the clothes of the 1970s accurately. How did you do that research?
As a child of the 70s myself, I was scarred by its fashion trends. Singapore certainly took many cues from what was happening in the US and the UK. I remain haunted by high waisted pants, bell bottoms and strange flappy things around the cuffs.
You’re a filmmaker and writer as well, and you’ve gotten into trouble in Singapore (where you’re from) for your depictions of swearing. Are there any words analogous to the “n-word” in Singapore?
Yes. Each of the main races in Singapore – the Chinese, Malay and Indian (mainly Tamil) – have their own pejorative terms for themselves and each other, and just like the ‘n-word,’ how objectionable these terms are depends on the context and who’s saying them.
I was the first filmmaker to ever argue directly before the Appeals Committee of the Singapore Board of Film Censors, because my first feature got stuck with a restricted rating over a few instances of profane dialogue. The profanities were in Hokkien, a common Chinese dialect in Singapore, which I had actually bleeped out deliberately for comic effect.
As I learned, the Singapore censors were fine with audible English profanity, such as the f-word, but not those of a commonly spoken tongue, even though they had been bleeped out. As the censors told me, they were afraid “the audience might lip read.” I argued that this made no sense, but the censors refused to budge on the rating.
A curious instance of post-colonial hangover, alas, that perhaps might form the basis for a future piece for Schwa Fire.
To read “Corliss” in the third issue of Schwa Fire, go to http://bit.ly/1rwGith. If you’re not a subscriber, the comic only costs $.99. You can also subscribe to Season 1 for $6.99.
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