The island of Pala, the utopian setting of Aldous Huxley’s last novel, is populated by mynah birds, incessantly squawking, “Attention! Attention!” This highly vocal ‘speaking’ bird - listed alongside ants, mosquitoes and snails at the top of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Most Invasive Species list - is ubiquitous across Asia. Annual Singaporean magazine Mynah derives its name from these birds, following their command and paying attention to what they see as “a constant presence never examined.”
Continuing this inward looking theme, Mynah’s long-form nonfiction is dedicated to telling stories of its country of origin, local stories “that lie forgotten at void decks, unnoticed in your phone’s camera roll and stashed away in parts of the city that our transit lines still can’t reach.” Their definition of Singaporeanness is wide and inclusive; one gains this status by residence and personal identification, rather than merely citizenship.
The magazine begins with a profile of the first publicly gay Christian minister in Singapore, public underground art, and an eulogy for a housing estate as it undergoes redevelopment. The magazine picks up pace in the middle, with award winning author Joshua Ip reminiscing about his youthful pastime of LAN gaming, designed in the manner of a 90s Windows desktop, which cleverly uses pop up windows and hover boxes to display illustrations and footnotes. A long-running English-language drama, Tanglin, is then deconstructed, alongside an analysis of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s social media presence. A light-hearted swipe at Western views of the country - “shopping is a perennial Singapore pastime" and “the Raffles Hotel is the most beautiful colonial dream I've ever seen” - is presented via a Bingo card, and is a neat, knowing reclamation of Singaporean stories.
Daniel Soo explores the conversation between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine, epitomised by the notion of eating ‘heaty’ and ‘cooling’ foods, informing me on a subject that had bemused me whilst living in Beijing last year. Next, Bangladeshi construction workers, a hidden population in Singapore, are given disposable cameras - an idea that has been 'done', but produces interesting results nonetheless - and asked to provide moving testimonies:
“My house old, broken already. Roof got hole. Can see the sky. I want to earn money, fix the house, but money no have. When I have more money I want to build new again my house. Then my family stay together, then I stay in India together with my family. Now father mother sick ah, nobody help.”
Another acclaimed author, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, recounts her experiences as a Singaporean student in Chicago, using it as a starting point to explore notions of race in her home country, finding it to often contain remnants of colonial categorisation. A conversation between Jennifer Anne Champion and Pooja Nansi, two of Singapore’s foremost poets is followed by a visual mixtape and examination of internet-led clothing brand O-mighty. An interview with a Singaporean dealer now growing marijuana in California is the only article that seems a little tenuous in its connection to telling forgotten, local stories, as it is a well-worn tale. Finally, expats recount recipes that evoke a feeling of home, in an article that explores movement and belonging.
Juria Toramae’s exploration of little-known coral reefs off Tuas, an area in the West, and the rich biodiversity that lies there, is the star of Mynah. It is accompanied by her beautiful photographs and unpacks Singapore’s marine history, ecological policies, linking it to climate change. Afterwards, Marie Ee explores Singaporean ghost stories, and artist Robert Zhao shows his photographs of Colonial-era Singapore from his forthcoming book Cingapura. Finally, Karen Gwee looks at public mourning in the internet age with regards to the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s much loved, first Prime Minister.
Although the typeface of the logo reminded me of fellow Singaporean magazine, Rubbish FAMzine, Mynah’s eclectic, DIY aesthetic is far from their marbled paper and harmonious fonts. The articles are certainly elucidating about Singaporean culture. The only complaint is that it is not entirely clear who the magazine’s audience is. I suspect it intends to be relatively international, however although some articles contain footnotes that explain local references, others contain abbreviations that presume a level of exposure. Nevertheless, reading the magazine is an illuminating experience, giving a picture of a varied, multicultural Singapore that rightly counteracts many mainstream Western narratives.
The mynah bird can be seen in the logo on the magazine’s cover, its beak open, mid-squawk. "Of course you don't want to," an island native said to Huxley’s cynical shipwrecked journalist, Will Farnaby. "But you've got to. Listen to what the mynah's saying."
Mynah issue #1 published in Singapore, October 2016 in English. 160 pages.