Singapore Writers Festival closes with 'kiasu' fun

Writer Ovidia Yu kicking off the traditional closing debate of the Singapore Writers Festival at the Victoria Theatre on Nov 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: AKSHITA NANDA
(From left) Adrian Tan, Arianna Pozzuoli, Rishi Budhrani, Petrina Kow, Gwee Li Sui, Ovidia Yu, Oniatta Effendi and Shamini Flint participating in the closing debate of the Singapore Writers Festival at Victoria Theatre on Nov 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - On Sunday (Nov 12), over 600 viewers packed into the Victoria Theatre voted against kiasuism - or fear of losing out - but, ironically, they had lined up nearly six hours before the start of the show to claim free entry tickets.

All tickets to the debate were snapped up within an hour.

Entry to the debate - usually one of the most popular events at the annual Singapore Writers Festival - was limited to holders of a Festival Pass. The pass costs between $10 and $25 and granted access to most events at the 10-day festival organised by the National Arts Council.

Each pass-holder was entitled to only two free tickets to the debate, with tickets given out from 1.30pm on Sunday. By 2.30pm, all 614 seats were claimed.

At the start of the debate, writer Ovidia Yu, 56, said to the audience: "I think we've got most of you on our side because we saw the queue for tickets." She spoke in favour of kiasuism, as did fellow writers Shamini Flint and Gwee Li Sui as well as educator and arts practitioner Oniatta Effendi.

Calling for a more relaxed way of life were stand-up comic Rishi Budhrani, spoken word performer Arianna Pozzuoli, voice coach Petrina Kow and lawyer cum novelist Adrian Tan.

Attendance figures for this year's festival were not available but 15 separately ticketed masterclasses, lectures and workshops were sold out. These include Saturday's lecture at the Victoria Theatre by American-Dominican author and activist Junot Diaz plus a writing masterclass on the same day by British writer Tony Parsons.

Sunday's How to Build a Fictional Universe by Australian author Jay Kristoff was sold out as well.

The highlight for many attendees was the closing debate, which traditionally takes the form of topical, stand-up comedy. Given the topic This House Believes That Kiasuism Is A Good Singaporean Trait, both sides roasted MRT system failures and the reserved presidential election, among other recent events.

Tan said that kiasu traits may have brought Singapore from Third World to First World but now Singaporeans had to ask what they wanted of their society.

"The proposition says: 'Think about your forefathers,' now think about your kids. Are we going to vote for fear or are we going to vote for love? Let's vote for love." His motion was carried resoundingly.

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In the audience were two 15-year-olds who were happy they queued early for the free tickets to the debate.

"At 1.30pm the queue was already quite long," said aspiring writer Shreya Ramasamy, a secondary three student at Crescent Girls School. This was her first time at the writers festival and it has encouraged her to show her jottings to others for feedback.

She and her schoolmate Sanjana Rajasekaran attended several author panels, including a session with American writer Jay Asher, known for his bestselling young adult novel about suicide, Thirteen Reasons Why.

Ms Rajasekaran said of Asher: "He was quite good. He gave us insights on his book and thought processes while writing the book. It's quite good because we can use it for writing essays."

She is interested in the arts but for kiasu reasons, may not attend the writers festival next year. "I'd like to but I have my O levels," she said, laughing.

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