We sat down with our TOC’s ex-Editor Joshua Chiang to talk to him about the causes he cares about, his new life in Phnom Phen, and why he’s chosen to remain an asshole. We also get Joshua to confess that he likes Vivian Balakrishnan and Tan Chuan Jin and to tell us why…
(Images by Lawrence Chong)
CZX: Why did you move to Phnom Phen?
JC: Cos I can. LOL!
CZX: Ok this is going to be a short interview… No, seriously. Why.
JC: I could probably list reasons such as high costs of living, crowdedness, stress, etc, and these are all valid reasons, but it has to take more than that for me to leave half my family (one of my siblings is in Phnom Penh also) and my friends behind.
I guess the simple answer could be that since young I just felt I didn’t quite fit in with the physical environment.
I think Singapore’s urban landscape is so well planned that it just didn’t feel organic and real.
I guess I just like things to be a little dusty and scratched maybe.
The funny thing though, is every time I come back, it felt as if I never left.
Maybe Singapore isn’t really a place or an idea, but the relationships and patterns of behaviour you have accumulated over time. (This one is cheem. Must include)
CZX: Speaking of patterns of behaviour, tell me about your trolling habit. Have you sought professional help?
JC: What are you talking about. Trolling IS the therapy!
My irreverance is my armour against the absurdities and BS in the world you could say.
CZX: But for someone pretty irreverent you take some causes quite seriously…
JC: Yeah, like the death penalty and conservation.
CZX: What started you caring?
JC: You know… I never really thought about how it all came together.
You can’t say I’m so empathetic that I care for every death row inmate out there. I don’t. That’s just too huge a thing to feel for.
But I take it from the perspective of what the act of State sanctioned killing does for our souls, for our society.
How we actually damage OURSELVES in the process of execution. The cost of DP isn’t just the families, but our mental, psychological and spiritual well-being as a collective.
CZX: Tell me about the campaign to save Vui Kong and why you cared so much
JC: When we were campaigning for Vui Kong, some people say that we picked him because his poor background and his conversion to buddhism makes him a poster boy for the Anti mandatory death penalty campaign…but that wasn’t how I saw it.
Before Vui Kong, people on death row were just statistics, and a black and white photo in the papers. I always skip those sections in the newspapers.
But then when Vui Kong’s appeal came about, I wanted to see for myself not just how the court hearing would be like, but what a person on death row looks like.
And when he stepped out onto the dock in the prison attire with his hands behind his back, I realized that here we are deciding on the fate of a real human being.
CZX: This was the first Court of Appeal challenge?
JC: Yeah, I think so.
He was standing there and it could’ve just been anybody. I didn’t know him then, I didn’t know much of his backstory, and he didn’t show much emotions to indicate what type of character he is…
Then we met his family.
And you realize the suffering wouldn’t just end with Vui Kong. It will continue with his family.
Now I’m very much aware of the deterrence argument etc. or even the ‘eye for an eye’ argument. But I think up to some point, you’ve just gotta decide where the suffering ends.
You gotta ask, are we killing people for a real sense of security, or for the illusion of security?
CZX: All that about the death penalty’s pretty intense, are you religious?
JC: I don’t have a religion, but there was a period of time where I was very deeply involved in the spiritual journey. There was a Catholic phase, there was a zen buddhism phase… and all these were happening in between spells of depression.
Then one day I just woke up and decided that I’ll just remain an asshole.
CZX: Do you think the amendments to the mandatory death penalty had anything to do with the campaign to save Vui Kong?
JC: Most definitely. I won’t want to call it applying pressure at the right places, but when we mount a very sustained, well reasoned, well-argued campaign, people in the corridors of power are themselves gonna drop all the easy assumptions about the MDP and drug mules in particular, and ask, is this too high a cost to pay for our security?
I’d like to think that, even as I frequently caricature and troll these ministers, they are still human beings. And if you are human, you have compassion.
CZX: speaking of trolling ministers, how many FB walls are you banned from?
JC: Shanmmugam, Fabrications About the PAP, that’s all.
I kinda like Vivian and Chuan Jin really.
CZX: really?? tell me more…
JC: Oh, cos they didn’t ban me. LOL.
Honestly, I find it hard to curse and swear at them like how some people do it.
I don’t think I need to, nor that we should, respect their positions… But I think we need to recognize they are people too.
Being bitchy is fine in my books.But being abusive, that’s like… so neanderthal. We’re homo sapiens for a reason.
CZX: So now your trolling is part of your activism?
JC: I’ll confess to being pretty ambivalent about it.
Nowadays I tend to just comment on their threads to bring attention to certain issues. Eg recently, PM Lee posted a picture of a groundbreaking ceremony, and he wrote about being grateful to the foreign worker who manned the bulldozer.
And everyone were going, “oh yes, yes, we should be so grateful! You’re a great and humble leader!”And I was like, waitaminnit, does your policies towards migrant workers in our midst square with this gratitude you feel?
I was helping TWC2 for two years before I became more involved with TOC. And the number of times we hear about errant employers getting away with all sorts of abuses is just unbelievable.
And if you look at the things I care most about with regards to social issues, it’s always the ones that has the most direct impact on a person’s life. And ones in which the person caught in the situation has the least ability to escape from.
CZX: Tell me about your art. You like illustrating for kids. If i were to ask you to psychoanalyze yourself, why do you think you like drawing for kids? second childhood?
JC: Second childhood presumes that you actually left your childhood behind…
I won’t call it “liking” to draw for kids…
There was a time where I was so discouraged I decided to shut down my company Cerealbox Studios. I called my working partner and told him my decision, and how we should proceed toss out the work and projects in the backlog.
And when I woke up the next day, I went to my cupboard and took out all my drawings with the decision to toss them away, and ‘start afresh’.
That afternoon, I had to go back outside to retrieve most of the drawings. I simply couldn’t do it no matter how much I might hate it sometimes.
So, I don’t think it’s a question of like. It’s a question of calling.
CZX: Is it difficult?
Sometimes it’s difficult because you tend to judge your own worth. What is the contribution of an illustrator/storyteller as compared to… say…. an engineer. Or a scientist?
But when I looked back at my childhood and I went goo-goo eyed at all these great inventors and warriors, and heroes and adventurers. And I find the unifying thread…they all came to me in the form of stories and pictures.
CZX: How do you think civil society’s developing and where do you see it all going?
I think there civil society’s become a lot more democratic and grassroots. Where the people leading some groups/movements/campaigns aren’t necessarily your usual artist, writer, academic, cerebral fellow.
My personal opinion on the Gilbert Goh movement aside, I think it is good that civil society is going down to the grassroots level.
And then there is the pushback, where even groups that people perceive to be affiliated with the Establishment are using the same space such as Hong Lim for their brand of activism.
And it’s all good.
But I think we’re probably reaching a point where the question of civil disobedience as a valid response will increasingly be raised.
And that includes hacktivism.
I don’t have any answers, but it’ll be good to watch.[spacer style=”1″ icon=”none”]
Joshua was a member of our core team when TOC got gazetted. He’s now a part-time illustrator and full time Facebook troll. He’s been a really important part of our team, so please buy his book.
The Chronicles of Oujo is a tale of one boy’s journey to realise his dream of being an adventurer. The Adventurer’s Academy of Anthor offers training, and all he has to do is pass the school’s entrance examination—a gauntlet of traps, deadfalls, fire-breathing dracoflies—to get in. Hey … no one ever said chasing your dreams would be easy.