A brave new world? — Alvin Pang
AUG 9 — At exactly one, her ringtone chimes. She takes the call in the kitchen, where the ghostly, gossamer, life-sized image of her son flickers into view next to the white countertop.
“I have great news, Ma,” his voice, disembodied yet familiar, seems to be radiating from every flat surface in the room. “I’ve snagged a gig back in Singapore!”
“Singapore? I thought you were auditioning for New York like Uncle Ng suggested.” She reaches for a kettle and fills it in the sink.
“Only second-raters settle for New York these days,” he insists. “This is the big time. All the best acts are here.”
“Well I always thought the place to be was New York.” She triggers a power switch. The kettle murmurs to a boil. “Or London, or Berlin ...”
“That’s not where the action is any more. Sure, we multicast worldwide anyway, but the ones that can afford to actually host the creatives are along the New Silk Road: Shanghai, Seoul, Bangkok, Jakarta, Perth ... It’s harder to get a gig at the Esplanade than Carnegie Hall. Here, let me show you what I’m working on.”
He gestures at a wall, and sparkles coalesce into shape all around her. Scintillating figures, shifting diagrams, dancing patterns of moving words and images. A textured soundtrack begins to play, as a distinctly Singaporean voice narrates each sequence. Textual manifolds. Ergodic 4D documentaries. Confessional Architecture. It is a tapestry woven in sound and light from a dozen cultures, real and imagined, compelling and bewildering both, like having several vivid dreams at once.
“Our revels now are ended,” he grins, as the spectacle comes to an end. “Been developing this showpiece since my Ministry of Innovation days. And now they want me to do something when the next Singapore satellite goes in orbit.” His projected image crosses its arms. “So what do you think of my little masque?”
It’s all still song and storytelling at heart, she muses. Whatever was wrong with curtain and stage? With keyboard and screen? With pen and paper?
She is surprised at herself; at how proud she is of his Shakespearean allusions. Few of his generation know the old classics she was brought up with and grew to love, now that Cultural Studies and National Literature are all the rage in schools — something she has advocated for most of her adult life.
There are days when she wonders if they have not swung too much the other way. She believes in a balanced diet, has brought up her children with broad tastes before it became fashionable, but it is difficult to sell middle-aged moderation to a nation in its youthful prime, giddy with opportunity, influence, liberty, wealth.
She remembers when all she had was a small room of her own, a few quiet pre-dawn hours and her imaginative ambition; her thirst. And then there were the years before the Creative Licence Protection Act ...
“What about Jason,” she asks instead. “And how is my granddaughter?”
“They’ll grant Jason a work visa as a tag-along spouse, once I start my show in Singapore.
“Sarah’s fine. The Imagineering programmes in the Singapore universities are very competitive, but her grades should be good enough to get her in. Maybe you could give her some advice? You know she’s got your knack for words, but there are so many options these days ...”
She pours hot water into a leaf-filled mug and purses her lips. “Get Sarah to give me a call, I’ll see what I can do before I leave for Stockholm.”
“Thanks, Ma. We’re all so proud of you. A Nobel Laureate in Literature, from Singapore! Who would’ve thought we had it in us?” Her son’s luminous tele-presence leans forward as if to embrace her.
“O brave new world,” he intones, beaming, “that has such people in it.”
“It’s new to thee.” She smiles, and sips her tea. — Today
* Alvin Pang, 40, is a poet. He was Young Artist of the Year for Literature in 2005; Singapore Youth Award (Arts & Culture) in 2007.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.