Saint Jack

I read Paul Theroux’s Saint Jack years ago when I was in junior college, and enjoyed it partly because I thought it was banned. I only found out this morning that it was never on the MDA’s banned wagon. (Thank you Rambling Librarian for setting me straight)

But if I were to re-read the book, I think I’d still come off feeling the same glee (you know? the tee hee hee kind?) at reading about a brothel named ‘Serene House‘, situated near the then PM’s house on Oxley Road (although in reality, it’s the name of a cluster of apartment blocks off Farrer Road).

Saint Jack is set in Singapore in the 70s (it was written in the 70s too), where Theroux taught for a stint at the then SU (Singapore University), sharing the faculty with local literati such as Edwin Thumboo. A friend of mine had a stepmother who met Theroux during his stay in Singapore, and she once mentioned that he was a ‘difficult person to get along with’. Apparently, the feeling was mutual, and Theroux used some of his colleagues’ names as the names of characters in his novel – there’s a nervous bartender called Thumboo.

The other thing that got me chuckling was Theroux’s impeccably (IMHO) accurate caricatures of people he met while in Singapore, and which appears in the novel – the small group of English-educated Singaporeans in the 70s, educated in mission schools, and when asked of their religious leanings, reply, ‘we are Meffidists’; the office peon of Indian origin who has a physical impairment that makes him walk as though he were cycling an invisible bicycle; the inscrutable Chinese towkay who grunts in lieu of speaking.

Then there are the historical artifacts – and by them, I mean things which were commonly used in the 1970s in Singapore, but which have fallen by the wayside with the advent of technology, and by the increasingly American-centric consumer culture. Things like ‘signing a chit‘.

There’s a lot more to be said about the novel’s protagonist, Jack Flowers – about how he’s caught in a Singapore that’s at a crossroads, about how he embodies the unmistakable sense of alienation and exile – but I’ll leave that to the people who write that best.

In 1978, a film based on the novel was shot in Singapore. It was subsequently banned from being screened here, ostensibly because of nudity. It was never a box-office hit anywhere else, in any case. But as recently as 1997, it was allowed to be screened at the Singapore International Film Festival under an R(A) rating.

Two days ago, the papers (Today) wrote that the ban on the film had been lifted, and was now available under an M18 rating. While there wouldn’t normally be fanfare surrounding the film at all, there are a few reasons to want to buy the DVD and watch the film.

A few weeks ago, a Ben Slater emailed me, thinking I’d be interested in his new book about ‘Saint Jack’ (the film), called ‘Kinda Hot’, because he’d seen the tagline on my blog that has a quote from ‘Saint Jack’.

‘Kinda Hot’ is about the making of the film, and how the director, Peter Bogdanovich, had thought he’d duped the authorities into letting him shoot the film here, and also talks about Singaporeans involved in the making of the film.

It’s probably going to be a darn good read, and the book’s being launched tomorrow at Borders. Slater himself will be there at 2pm to give a talk, and he’s also indicated that some of the cast of the movie will be there as well.

Surf stop: High Browse Online

P.S. If you’ve got any questions regarding books or authors, like the one I had about ‘Saint Jack’, you can always ask your friendly neighbourhood librarian. There’s a promotion on, where you can ask ‘any question under the sun’, and stand a chance to win an iPod Shuffle:

Actively Seeking Knowledge or ASK! is an advisory and enquiry service by the Public Library Services. For the period up to 31 Mar 06, attractive weekly prizes of movie tickets, popular titles and a monthly bonus prize of an iPOD shuffle are up for grabs! Simply be a library member and you can join in our ASK! Promotion to win.

How to take part?
Simply ASK! our librarians at the regional libraries ( Tampines, Woodlands and Jurong) or just drop us an email at any of the following addresses:
This promotion is valid till 31 Mar 2006 and is open to all adults, young people and children.

What questions can I ask?
Well, almost anything under the sun. However to stand a chance to win the prizes, yours should be an interesting or thought-provoking question. Examples: – Why is the sky blue? – How do I decide what digital camera to buy? – Why doesn’t superglue stick to it’s tube? – Do you have novels relating to double colonization?

Winners will be notified either via email or telephone. Winning questions will also be displayed at all libraries. Staff and immediate family members of NLB are not eligible for this promotion.

So, go ask now!

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More on poppy

More on poppy seeds and the baked items they’re sometimes on. Because I’m still disturbed by the discovery that it is (or is it ‘they are’) a controlled item. So, it was fun looking at some articles on the matter – that being that you could fail a routine drug test if you ate a poppy seed bun. Read especially this article from a site called ‘The Straight Dope’ (the name probably doesn’t refer to a dimwitted heterosexual).

Read it yet? Yah. So, what’s our stand on this? It’s ok to ban something because it serves some greater purpose? Like MRT doors working properly being more important than the enjoyment of chewing gum so ban chewing gum? Like guns and bullets are deadly so we’d better ban metal so they can’t be made?

I still think I ate a bagel with poppy seeds on it at some Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf! I’m gonna go there and find out!

Surf stops:

  • Urban Legends Reference Page
  • The poppy seed defence
  • Erowid Poppy Vaults

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    Poppy seeds are banned?

    ‘There’s no more poppy seeds in any bakery in Singapore because the police will investigate… you know? You know what poppy is used for?’

    So the fella behind the counter at the Orchard Towers’ Jason’s Supermarket’s Hiestand Swiss Bakery’s (hooray for Apostrophy Man!) kiosk told me when I asked for buns with poppy seeds on them.

    Is that true? How many poppy seeds do you need to eat to get stoned?

    Apparently the poppy seed ban has been around for ages, and I just didn’t realise it because I seldom have a strong craving for poppy seeds on baked goods.

    So there you have it, poppy seeds are contraband, and to think I actually asked for them over the counter!

    Singapore Customs’ (yay, apostrophe!) tradenet website, a.k.a. ‘the banned wagon’, has poppy seeds at number 41 on their list of controlled items (‘Toy walkie talkie’ is at number 53). The population of our fair country is banned from importing or purchasing poppy seeds from places like supermarkets, as one expatriate pundit puts it:

    “as they may be inclined (being illiterates as they are and mindlessly bowing to mindless rules) to abuse poppy seeds and cultivate a cash crop of opium and revert to days of yore when opium dens proliferated and the mindless populace wasted away on their backs in a drug induced coma….”

    These ain’t poppies (pictures of poppies are banned too, I reckon), but we used to consume the sweet nectar from these ixoras

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    Anything/Everything/Nothing Prohibited

    Depending on how you look at it – think of the half-full/half-empty perspective, this signboard I saw in a toilet at Dover Road was too good to pass up. Out came the phone cam (while I stood at the urinal – a little bit of maneuvering required) and so now I give you this photo:

    Singapore National Flag
    Singapore National Flag

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