Friday, 15 June 2012

What kind of people are we?

[Having been repeatedly told that we must re-examine our cultural identity, perhaps it is time we put forward a few questions to help ascertain what kind of people we really are.]

Do we gaze upon the rich and mighty, and rejoice that all is splendid and well?
Or do we see the weak and deprived, and decry injustice gross and obscene?

Do we bow down to people with money, happy for them to buy control wherever they go?
Or do we insist all citizens are equal, livid that so few have a real say over how their workplace and country are run?

Do we crave to cut the benefits of the sick and the poor, suspecting most claimants of fraud?
Or do we want to tackle above all the wealthy tax dodgers, knowing they cheat us out of billions more than anyone else?

Do we blame immigrants for taking low pay jobs others reject, and for diluting our traditions?
Or do we object to people not being paid a living wage, and welcome immigrants for enriching our culture?

Do we seek to dismantle public services so the corporate elite can make more money at the expense of others?
Or do we aim to build collective provisions so that none would end up at the mercy of the affluent few?

Some say we need to define who we are as a people,
Some say we should just be free to have fun.
Some say one religion should characterize us all,
Some say to each their own worship of god, moon or sun.
Some say ideological differences should matter,
Some say ‘Right/Left’ are mere labels to be spun.
But when at last we’ve had enough of navel-gazing,
When all has been proverbially said and done,
We are either creatures who stand aloof from the common good, or
A people who stand in solidarity as one.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Kuan's Wonderland: a political fable

Can popular fiction engage parts of the citizenry that dense political arguments have not been able to reach? In Kuan’s Wonderland, a mirror is held up to the absurdities that dwell behind the façade of 21st century civilization, with the help of “a fantasy universe unlike any that has come before” (President, the Independent Publishers Guild).

The novel opens with a ten-year old boy being captured and sent to the strange realm of Shiyan, where no one is what they appear to be. Threatened with torture, Kuan is told to reveal a secret he does not even know he possesses.

At birth he had been taken away from China by his father to live in a remote part of the world. Oddly, every now and then he would show signs of intelligence far beyond his years, but to his father’s immense disappointment, most of the time he behaved simply like an ordinary child. But life could not go on as before once he was snatched from his home. As he waits in vain to be rescued, he begins to wonder if he will have to make his own way back if he is ever to reunite with his father.

As Kuan struggles to flee Shiyan, he has to make sense of the many ambivalent characters who may help or hinder him. He discovers that the agent who interrogated him has a dark secret of his own. He desperately wants to trust the red-haired doctor working for his captors even though he knows nothing about her. He is brought before the enigmatic Chairman, the most powerful figure in Shiyan, whose intentions towards him remain uncertain. And there is the mysterious being called Amo, also caught up in Shiyan against her will, but capable of leading them both to safety if she manages to keep herself alive for long enough.

Like a set of Chinese Boxes, as more plot-twists are unpacked, more are revealed within Kuan’s Wonderland. Through the disturbing experiences he endures with Blessing, Elephantium, the Purgoratory, and the dreaded Potokans, Kuan edges ever closer to a confrontation with the real enemy in Shiyan. Finally, he realises what he must do, even if it means facing up to the secret about his father that has been kept from him all those years.

The dark fable concludes its journey as the soothing illusions of the prevailing world order fall away, revealing the grotesque treatment of the vulnerable perpetrated in the name of peace and prosperity.

It leaves us with a choice: find escapist comfort and pretend that all is well; or escape from unjust acts by rallying opposition to end them.

[Kuan’s Wonderland, by Henry Tam, is available from; or
Customer reviews can be found at: Kuan’s Wonderland (Reviews)
The Kindle edition can be downloaded to any device including PC, Mac, iPad, Android, provided it has received a free Kindle reading app. The Amazon page for the book will indicate how to obtain the app.]