That skit in Little Britain, in which the Indian woman keeps getting asked to repeat a phrase that is totally intelligible? It used to happen to me when I lived in England, despite the fact that I set aside my Malaysian accent for the convenience of my British coursemates.

Once, when I was in a train from Oxford to Paddington, I chatted with a blind man all the way through and He never asked me to repeat myself. Not even once.

When it finally came up that I was Malaysian, he said he’d never have guessed from my accent. I was being considerate, as I didn’t want him to find it hard to understand me.

The difference between him and my coursemates was that my coursemates could *see* I was foreign.


Your ignorance isn’t welcome here

I met a young man just the other day, an acquaintance of a friend. He (I’ll call him Mr A) comes from a wealthy family, attended university in Boston, USA. My friend describes him as privileged and obnoxious and I agree with her. He is a cocky bastard and did not endear himself to me when he, almost as soon as we met, made what I consider to be a remark that betrayed his racism and ignorance.Read More »

Save yourself, feed Africans


‘She has no running water, no makeup, no clothes but the ones she herself has sewn, and no strict diet to follow – her figure is kept flawless because she is in a constant state of malnutrition. ‘

This and other send-ups of the “white saviour” trope are on Barbie Savior’s Instagram page.  The entries are hilarious, but also horrifying – because of they reflect the reality of widespread attitudes towards communities in Africa and Asia.

If you haven’t yet, you have to read this excerpt from Louise Linton’s memoir about how her gap year (spent saving Africa) turned into a nightmare, and also this brilliant send-up of her book.

But lies and satire aside, here’s Teju Cole‘s well-considered argument against ‘the white saviour industrial complex’.

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

boy snow birdFirst published on 25th May, 2014 in The Star.

Review by DAPHNE LEE


Author: Helen Oyeyemi

Publisher: Picador

IN Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi’s fifth novel, nothing is what it seems, hardly anyone is what they appear to be. The whole is misdirection, right from the title, with its three names that reveal and conceal. Boy, Snow, Bird – names that make a show of telling the truth yet hint at mysteries and secrets.

Take Boy – not a boy, but a beautiful girl – an icy beauty, white-blond, black-eyed. With a name like Boy she could only be a character in soap opera or a fairy tale. She is neither. Boy’s life is a nightmare thanks to an abusive and sadistic father who traps rats for a living. The time comes when Boy decides to leave, to avoid death or maiming, and seek her fortune. She ends up in Flax Hill, a small New England town where she meets Arturo Whitmore, a widower with a daughter named Snow.

Lies are at the centre of this story, they are its foundation and its decoration. They drive the plot, and shape the lives of the characters. The story is a broken mirror (mirrors are an important in this book): each piece of glass tells a lie of some sort, and the whole is a distorted image that changes according to your perspective, and depending on the kinds of patterns you see in the cracks. Maybe there are no patterns. Maybe you see rifts, dividing lines that you can fall through, disappear into.

Read More »

Good Golly, Ms Blyton!

golly1First published on 30th March, 2014 in The Star

AS I was in Penang for a couple of days this week, I popped by Chowrasta market to look at the secondhand book stalls. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to poke around for very long. However, I still left with a bag of books, including  two Bahasa Melayu translations of Enid Blyton titles.

One of the latter was Tiga Anak Patung Hitam, the BM version of The Three Golliwogs. I used to have this book in the original English, and it was an edition in which the dolls are still called Golly, Woggie and Nigger. In later versions of this book and the others in the series, the Golliwogs’ names are changed to Wiggie, Waggie and Wollie.Read More »