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This Might Not Be For You

This Might Not Be For You
By Al Ibrahim • Issue #3 • View online
A Malaysian friend of mine who now lives in Singapore sent me the link without context. I woke up one morning to the Youtube video, and below that a question:
What do you think of this?

Get your shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi
Get your shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi
The video – which was posted on the official Singapore government Youtube channel – is a high-production PSA in the form of a music video of a Chinese uncle urging Singaporeans to go get vaccinated.
It’s very colourful. Sleek. Has matching sets that keep changing and background dancers choreographed for each set. Basically, solid music video aesthetics all around.
Oh, and the entire thing is a rap song.
“I think the art direction looks good,” I replied to my friend. “But the rapping is horrendous.”
The text was a sort of test. An expat friend of hers had apparently seen the ad and called it totally awful.
“How can anyone take this seriously?” the expat friend had said.
“Do you agree with her assessment then?” my friend asked. “Because we (the locals) think it’s hilarious!”
Turns out, the rapping Chinese uncle is Phua Chu Kang – which most of you reading this probably already know.
To the uninitiated, Phua Chu Kang is the titular character from the very popular Singaporean sitcom which ran from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s.
“We all grew up with Phua Chu Kang,” my friend said. “We love the characters, and the government is banking on that.”
There’s an experiential difference between watching a TV show week to week and bingeing it all on a weekend. It’s also true with books. And podcasts. And movie franchises. Basically any sort of narrative work. Because pace is a function of time, and time makes narratives, the experience of a narrative is always shaped by the pace of consumption.
If you watch Before Sunrise in 1995, you’ll leave the cinema wondering what became of Jesse and Celine. Assuming you liked the film, things from within the film will start reaching out and changing you.
Perhaps you’ll add Kath Bloom to your mixtape. You’ll start reading Auden in the voice of Dylan Thomas. And perhaps you’ll even add Vienna as a stop in your next Euro trip if you have the means.
And while all this is going on, in the background, Jesse and Celine keep living in your head. Their lives go on. You might find yourself in a situation and wonder – What Jesse would do? What would Celine think of this?
So by the time you walk into the cinema in 2004 to watch Sunset, not only are you a different person, shaped in part by the film that came before, but you’ve also known Jesse and Celine for nine years. They’re pretty much old friends by then.
And then after that cliffhanger of an ending with Nina Simone singing Just in Time, you have to wait another nine years before Midnight.
It’s absurd to think that you and someone who watched all three films back-to-back on a Sunday afternoon would have the same experience. In fact, the two experiences are so far removed from each other that you might as well have watched two entirely different trilogies.
The last season of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd started airing the year I moved to Malaysia. And even if for some reason I’d had access to it at the time, it’s very unlikely that I would have been able to follow it. For one, it had already been on the air for 7 seasons. But more importantly, I was so new in the region that I wouldn’t have had any grasp of the culture.
The final episode of the series aired in February of 2007.
So when in 2021 the Singapore government brought back Chu Kang to rap for Covid (they also had him rap for SARS in 2003), they definitely didn’t have me in mind as a potential audience.
And for good reason: it’s not meant for me.
Sometimes we read a book, listen to a song, or watch a movie that comes highly recommended – often by people whose tastes we otherwise trust – and we just don’t get it.
“How can anyone take this seriously?” we find ourselves thinking.
The answer, usually, is quite simple.
We haven’t read the right books. We haven’t watched the right movies. We don’t understand the culture because we haven’t lived the right life.
And even if by some miracle we got all the context instantaneously uploaded into our brains, we still haven’t lived out the experience of knowing in the appropriate timescale.
This dispatch is all about things that came highly recommended by people who I love and trust that ended up being… well… not quite for me.
Things I Made Last Month
(That, to be fair, might not be for you)
Youtube
How to get FEEDBACK that's actually USEFUL
How to get FEEDBACK that's actually USEFUL
Blog
Legitimate Power
Everyday
Things That Are Not For Me
(But might very well be for you)
Book
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
Nine goes so hard for this book that even though neither I nor The Other Al particularly liked it, she loaned it to another friend with the preface – “The two Als are wrong.”
TV
Alice in Borderland | Netflix Official Site
“I stand by the fact that it was good,” The Other Al wrote to me after I told him what I thought of the show. “My definition of good is just different from yours.”
Film
‎Gangs of Wasseypur - Part 1 & 2
“Gangs of Wasseypur is Anurag Kashyaps’ magnum opus.”
Podcast
Vox Media: Podcast Network | Galaxy Brains
“It’s Pop Culture Happy-Hour meets Radiolab.”
Music
Hamilton Soundtrack (Full Musical) - playlist by Boisterous Pop | Spotify
“It has the blessings of everyone from The Roots and Jay-Z, to Run DMC.”
And that’s all from this dispatch.
Reply to me with something that was recommended to you that turned out to be not quite for you.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Al Ibrahim

I'm a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and an all-around creative enthusiast based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

On the first Monday of every month (more or less, but more and more less these days), I send out a dispatch of some of the best things I've read, made, watched, learned, and listened to in the previous month.

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