images augmented by imagination and quiet sounds

More in the “Creeping on Dog” series. The second-last photo from the bottom is a special “+ Man” edition.

(explanation and beginning of the series here:

Richmond SA
Winter/Spring 2014

— 1 week ago

Documenting shop façades in Adelaide, a series in the making.
(see part one here)

(top: Anthroposophical Society, Halifax Street)
(middle: Creperie Bruxelles, Henley Beach Road)
(bottom: James Music, Sturt Street)

Adelaide & Mile End SA
Aug/Sept 2014

— 1 week ago with 2 notes
#adelaide  #façade  #typography  #design  #shop design  #architecture  #australia  #photography 
No Thanks For Sharing

My indictment against the sharing economy (dubbed very accurately somewhere else as the “1099 economy”), plus its links with the quantified self, privilege/access, and prosumption. It was first published on my Medium account.


How many times have you looked at the term “sharing economy” and deemed it an oxymoron?

Sharing is a virtue. Most of us, in most cultures, have grown up understanding that concept. You share your music with Peter because he’s your friend. You share ideas with Liz because you respect and love her. You share food with the homeless and underprivileged at weekly Food Not Bombs servings because you want to make a difference. You want to share your house with travelers Johannes and Ingrid from Germany, whom you have never met, because you hate the current economy and want it to collapse. But really, the extra $200 wouldn’t hurt. That’s one less shift a week. Maybe even two or three, depending on where you are.

The idea that the sharing economy is an alternative to traditional capitalism is a sham. It is venture capitalism sweetened by the principles of neoliberalism — which masquerades as a socialism of sorts, thinly veiled by attempts to brand ‘trust’ and ‘sharing’ as social goods.

In the sharing economy, social good become social goods.

The rise and success of the sharing economy in cities like London, Sydney, Singapore, and San Francisco come as no surprise. The current, primary economy is struggling, and a depressed labour market has resulted in people trying to find ways to supplement their income by monetising their possessions and labour in other, non-conventional ways. The existence of the smartphone and the Internet have also opened pathways to new apps and websites that enable more of these sharing opportunities. Right now, to be plugged in is to consume, and with the once-radical ideas of the left (freecycling, couchsurfing, and community gardens, for example) taking a foothold in mainstream consciousness, what better time than to buy in? Collectively, collaboration and cooperation become co-opted.

In Rob Horning’s address at Rhizome’s Internet Subjects #1 panel, he noted that the sharing economy “is a reflection of capitalism’s need to find new profit opportunities in aspects of social life once shielded from the market, in leisure time once withdrawn from waged labor, in spaces and affective resources once withheld from becoming a kind of capital.” The sharing economy engages our labour like never before: within it, we don’t need the boss to tell us to keep our phones switched on at all times, in case there is that urgent memo. We do it ourselves, in our bid to be the first (and best) Airtasker, or to get the Lyft job. A traveler intending to come visit my city might ask about my sublet on AirBnB.

Horning further states, “For the sharing economy, market relations are the only social relations.”

When we were creating our personal brands on Facebook in 2004, the sharing economy was already slowly crystallising. The search for identity becomes tied in with the monetisation of our individual selves, as we struggle to define the terms between quality and quantity. When we track our best running times on FitBit, we are creating a quantified self that is every bit as valuable in the free market as the self that considers how many more extra hours we can squeeze in during a work day to take up those Uber jobs. By voluntarily deregulating ourselves, the sharing economy easily props up the principles of neoliberal capitalism while giving the illusion that what we’re doing is progressive. It enables a nostalgia that is driven by the post-millennial fetishisation of “how things used to be”.

In the sharing economy, the fantasy is that everyone emerges a winner, when all the while, competition is rampant.

The sharing economy sell is telling. When the phrase “collaborative consumption” is being used to denote a different way to conceptualise the economy, the immediate take-away is positive. It sounds like the classic “Buy 1 get 1 Free” until it is not. How does one re-imagine the workings of a sub-economy where its existence hinges on the presence of the principal economy? A case in point: how have subcultures thrived apart from the dominant paradigm since their inception?

At the same time, it is impossible to talk about the sharing economy without considering privilege and access. A popular belief is that the sharing economy would decrease income inequality, as ideas of ownership and class become less stratified as more people ‘share’. But when the lending of things and labour become transactional, the lines become blurred. A class of consumers convinced they are prosumers echoes what writer and futurist Alvin Toffler envisioned in Future Shock (1970), and then later on in an interview with Business 2.0 in 2000:

“we recruit customers to become our allies and in effect, co-producers.”

Similarly, who gets to decide if they have time to engage in extraneous ‘tasks’ facilitated by third parties if they are constantly at a menial job with limited access to the Internet? Who gets to create an identity based on being an Uber driver without having to supplement that income with (quite likely) another cab-driving gig with a taxi co-operative? Who is able to find the time to persistently hawk their skills on apps like Airtasker or TaskRabbit, building up a portfolio while (very likely) depressing an already-depressed market for temporary, casual and/or freelance work? And most importantly, who gets to lay out the conditions surrounding these kinds of precarious employment? The bubble exists in the vacuum until it is near-bursting.

Are there alternatives? Absolutely. The gift culture, which the sharing economy appropriates from, is one. Community-oriented bike-sharing and free library initiatives, as well as “Rough Trades”, comprising of the trading of labour and/or material goods without money exchanging hands, is another. Food Not Bombs and guerilla co-operatives that espouse collective ideals without the mediation of a third-party are all good ways to begin. Whether the workings of the dominant paradigm will bleed into the dynamic of these structures is another story. The sharing economy, however, does not belong in these categories, and is by far the least feasible option towards a more equitable society.

The cogs are spinning in their gears.

In the sharing economy, people are sharing not because they want to, but to get by.

— 1 week ago with 2 notes
#sharing economy  #1099 economy  #neoliberal capitalism  #neoliberalism  #capitalism  #tech  #quantified self  #prosumption  #consumption  #gift economy  #brands  #privilege  #venture capitalism  #essay 
"There is a politics to exhaustion. Feeling depleted can be a measure of just what we are up against."
Sara Ahmed
— 1 month ago

The Murray River brings great joy & senseless despair.

Renmark SA / Murtho Forest SA
May 2014

— 2 months ago
my version of abstractivity

Breaking lines up
into false
poems;         forever banished
inside blogs which disappear
into the dark hole of

  I see
the wordsmiths above

— 2 months ago

Documenting shop façades in Adelaide, a series in the making. Inspired by my dear friend Lara Soulio, who took the first photograph.

(top: Cacas Night Chemist, Hindley Street)
(middle: Di Fabio Bros, Pulteney Street)
(bottom: Hong Kong Grocery, Grote Street)

Adelaide SA
Jul 2014

— 2 months ago with 3 notes
#adelaide  #façade  #typography  #art deco  #design  #shop design  #architecture  #australia  #photography 
Made some sambal from scratch lately, to pair with nasi lemak (also made from scratch). Instead of using a mortar & pestle to grind the ingredients into a paste, I very unorthodox-ly used a hand-blender. But hey.Richmond SA June 2013

Made some sambal from scratch lately, to pair with nasi lemak (also made from scratch). Instead of using a mortar & pestle to grind the ingredients into a paste, I very unorthodox-ly used a hand-blender. But hey.

Richmond SA
June 2013

— 2 months ago
Inhabit / Occupy

I first submitted this piece to the zine Motherlands & Hometowns, a themed zine series by the wonderful Disaffekted Ethnic Queer Youth (DEQY) collective in Sydney, who recently raised more than $700 for RISE, a refugee advocacy group at their pop-up cafe-cum-benefit gig, held in conjunction with the zine’s release.

This essay discusses my feelings surrounding home, belonging, and migration; on grounding and re-grounding and finding my roots and my place. It is a topic I am sure I will keep exploring for the years to come.


I am writing this from home, 6000kms away from home.

Almost 2 years ago, I moved from Singapore to Adelaide to be with my partner. It’s not as exciting as it sounds—I moved for love, and it’s wonderful, and “an incredibly brave thing,” but that’s not what I want to talk about. Migration is as migration does.

Most of us have done scores of migration over generations and centuries, over lands and times. I am a 3.5 generation Chinese/Singaporean, and also, to a certain extent, 1st generation Singaporean/Australian. I feel my identity stretching out across 3 different lands: one I’ve only very slightly visited, another I’ve spent most of my life in, the other I’ve only just lived in (and always remembering: it isn’t even mine in the first place).

They all coalesce to become something—Home, always shifting, in my body.

Feeling a close connection to the motherland (China), an acquaintance once told me, “you can’t feel emotional ties to something that’s broadly conceived.” And that may be half-right, considering how I’ve never even been to Shantou, and don’t know where my mother’s ancestors lived in Fujian province exactly. I’ve never even been. But I know the traditions, the sayings, the food, and I remember both my grandmothers fussing over me in a way I felt was specific to their respective cultures. My mother’s father was a Mao aficionado, despite living in Singapore all his life. The putonghua used to colonise an entire land filled with people belonging to various ethnicities and tribes is something I read, speak, and write with ease.

I think about Singapore, a place I grew to love as I was only just leaving. Growing up, I never saw Singapore as home; it was only a place of residence. In my adolescence and young adulthood I would imagine my home as being somewhere “out there,” waiting to be discovered. I travelled a lot during this time, trying to see if I would stumble upon a city where I could see myself moving to. Melbourne, Berlin, Bandung, Kuala Lumpur, Brussels, Hong Kong: these places seemed close, but not quite.

Where was home? Home is relative. Home is right here, in my mind and body, fluid and constantly in flux.

Like any other hometown, Singapore is associated with cultural cringe and ambivalent feelings. I think about the glitzy high-rises and clean streets juxtaposed with its atrocious human rights record; the ease of mobility I experience as a member of the dominant race; the drug laws and the capital punishment; the times I spent getting lost in far-flung suburbs (only 40mins from the city centre). William Gibson, it’s not just the “Disneyland With the Death Penalty” and you fucking know it. I spent my formative years there, owning my reality: my heart broken and restored, over and over.

When someone from Australia refers to Singapore as my ‘home’, despite all good intentions, I feel insulted. Singapore was my home, is my home still, but it is up to me to call it. Adelaide is my home now, too, and when you inquire about my trip ‘home’ (there), it feels as if you are invalidating my efforts at building a life (here). At the same time, is it really? I am a settler too; I stole the land I’m standing on, just like (most of ) you.

Where is home? I carry it within me.

I remember travelling elsewhere, people attempting to place me. “Where are you from?” they ask, and nothing I say feels like a truth. “I live in Australia,” I reply now. These attempts to delineate geographical lines are once again repeated, both in Singapore and Australia: in the former, it is received as a source of pride, a forced alienation resulting from a desire to disassociate; in the latter, it is alienating—implying a cultural failure on my part to assimilate. Underlying it all is this: the privilege to reject something vs. the lack of privilege to own something, to belong. I am trying to assimilate to a culture that once stole the land it stands on. Remember, I am complicit too.

Sometimes, I don’t know where home is. Home is where my affections are centered, and they can be many places at once, temporarily and permanently.

I carry it within me.

— 2 months ago
#migration  #belonging  #home  #motherlands  #hometowns  #grounding  #migrant  #occupy  #colonialism  #settlerhood  #settler  #culture 
"Creeping on Dog" series
I’m not at all a dog person (reasons: they smell, and are overly needy and excitable) but I love my housemate’s dog Topper. I sometimes also call him (Lord) Toppington or Top Dog. He’s my special one.
Richmond SAJuly 2014

"Creeping on Dog" series

I’m not at all a dog person (reasons: they smell, and are overly needy and excitable) but I love my housemate’s dog Topper. I sometimes also call him (Lord) Toppington or Top Dog. He’s my special one.

Richmond SA
July 2014

— 2 months ago
These unnamed egg-laying devices have escaped and are hanging out on a table in the backyard. The other two appear to suffer from Stockholm’s Syndrome and don’t escape as much. Wonderful moment caught on camera. I found 16 eggs hidden in the overgrowth the other day.
Richmond SAJune 2014

These unnamed egg-laying devices have escaped and are hanging out on a table in the backyard. The other two appear to suffer from Stockholm’s Syndrome and don’t escape as much. Wonderful moment caught on camera. I found 16 eggs hidden in the overgrowth the other day.

Richmond SA
June 2014

— 2 months ago
On the exceptionalism of “the good refugee”

My piece in Overland, on the exceptionalism accorded the “good refugee”—especially in the wake of their deaths—while hundreds of others remain willfully ignored. Exactly who deems some to be more worthy than others?

(first published in Overland Literary Journal, Winter 2014)


People are tired, very tired’ – Ahmad Al-Akabi’s friend, interviewed after his suicide in Villawood Detention Centre in 2010

Recently, 29-year-old Tamil asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai set himself on fire and later died, with 90 per cent burns to his body. Leo was afraid of being sent back to Sri Lanka, where conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese is still rife, after a civil war that officially ended only five years ago.

Leo’s death follows the 2011 suicides of Josefa Rauluni, who jumped from a balcony railing at Villawood, and Mohammed Asif Atay, who hung himself at Curtin. Both men had been wrought with depression after being held in detention centres indefinitely, awaiting their asylum claims to be processed.

Many more asylum seekers have taken their lives after attempting to seek refuge in Australia, and mounting evidence has shown prolonged, indefinite waits severely influence mental and physical health. Such evidence is especially concerning because of Australia’s policy of mandatory detention, which, for the past twenty years, has had no time limitations. Asylum processing times now average as long as 305 days. Some asylum seekers, such as Jayasaker Jayrathana, who committed suicide by poison in 2011, had been waiting for two years.

This death toll does not include the numerous unnamed individuals, nearly 1000 at last count, who have died at sea.

We only seem to hear asylum seeker stories after lives have been abruptly halted. The varied and personal accounts – of family left behind, the reasons people fled from their home countries, interests and histories – are heard after these deaths hit the news. ‘He was a very good man’ and other such commendations seem to follow. But why are asylum seekers only given due recognition after they have suffered under the prison-industrial complex, one that they did not choose to have a part in and, most importantly, did not deserve?

Most asylum seeker deaths are barely recorded. It almost feels like a taunt: why did you even try coming here in the first place? Most people know the answer: because there was no other way. The myriad accounts from Iraqis, Syrians, Iranians, Sri Lankans and Hazara Afghans, among others, illustrate the complicated conundrums many whom choose to seek asylum face – a ‘fight or flight’ response aggravated by imminent danger of persecution. Indeed, fleeing is often the logical decision, albeit one fraught with fear and danger.

He was such a caring, gentle person’ – Cathie Bond, good friend and ‘mum’ to Leo Seemanpillai, interviewed after his self-immolation in Geelong in May 2014

It is worth noting the litany of ‘human interest’ narratives that appear in mainstream media following asylum-seeker suicides. Most trace a trajectory of the individual performing good deeds and being known as happy and generous, virtuous qualities given as proof of their humanity. Without a doubt, this recognition needs to be accorded; after all, they were people. Still, questions remain: whose gaze are these stories for, and who deems some to be more worthy than others?

We wouldn’t hear these stories if people – journalists or refugee advocates, for example – didn’t share them. If not for the ongoing work done by advocacy groups, some of these deaths wouldn’t even appear on the radar. Take the case of Fatima Erfani, an Afghani asylum seeker who, after being detained for two years at a detention centre on Christmas Island with her husband and two children, died of medical negligence in 2003. She had had high blood pressure, and was not given adequate medical attention. There was barely a mention of her death in mainstream media, apart from an article in The West Australian, which included the line, ‘People who know them describe the Rezas [sic] as an intelligent family with high standards who would have made good migrants.’

And therein lies my question: what determines a ‘good’ migrant, and why are they the only ones worthy of life and dignity and basic human rights in the eyes of Australian society? Surely, the thousands of asylum seekers who sought other lives in Australia would be able to contribute to the community in many and varied ways, and would have, if given the chance.

We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come’ – then-Prime Minister John Howard, during his campaign for re-election in 2001

The conferment of ‘human being’ only to migrants considered ‘deserving’ or ‘good’ is chilling. It plays into the spectacle of idealisation that determines a path towards creating the ‘authentic asylum seeker,’ one that fits the role(s) Australian society expects. To deviate from the narrative would be to err.

Do we require the construction of an ‘intimate distance’ in order to feel compassion and sympathy for people forced to flee their home countries? Is this the only way we are able to properly identify with an Other? This disparity calls for a critical examination of the particular exceptionalism attributed to ‘good’ refugees – because hundreds of others remain wilfully ignored and despairing, lost in the cycle of indefinite mandatory detention. Until we face that, there will be many more anonymous asylum seekers who become yet another newspaper story or a mere statistic: a person who died needlessly in the pursuit of freedom.

— 3 months ago with 4 notes
#exceptionalism  #refugees  #asylum seekers  #incarceration  #refugee rights  #migration  #polemic  #australia  #prison industrial complex  #asylum