Tiong Bahru Social Club

If like me, you’ve not been a big fan of local movies, Tiong Bahru Social Club might help restore some faith in that area. Given that it’s still out in cinemas, this review will be spoiler-free.

“Wes Anderson meets Black Mirror”. But I’m sure you’ve heard that already. Playful, cheeky and quirky, it’s a soft sci-fi movie set in Singapore. The cinematography is beautiful, with bright bold colours that are aesthetically pleasing.

With very few lines of dialogue, the plot is deceptively simple. I’ve read reviews saying how the plot is too thin or empty, but I beg to differ. A lot of the storytelling occurs when you read between the lines and in the characters’ expressions and beautifully constructed scenes.

Though it’s a utopian (or dystopian) version of Singapore, the movie accurately captures many aspects of Singaporean culture and pokes fun at certain uniquely Singaporean habits. The movie is primarily in English, but the way it effortlessly switches between different languages makes it feel authentically Singaporean.

I thought it was a wonderful movie, one that hits very close to home, leaving you in a slightly contemplative mood about Singapore’s society.

Knot for want of

Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I’ve recently been rather obsessed with Charlie Lim’s music. Very late to the party, I know. There’s a line in my favourite song, Knots, that really stood out to me and it goes like this:

Don't you think it's for the best
That we don't always get what we want

At first glance, this line might sound a little strange. How can not getting what you want be any good? To answer this question, I’ll borrow an excellent example from the Skepticism episode of Philosophize This!, which is a great podcast by the way. Let’s consider things from the opposite end, and assume that we’ll get whatever we want whenever we want it. Sounds perfect! Right?

Things might be amazing initially, but not for long. The satisfaction that you get from buying a new iPhone or a new car does not come solely from ownership. Much of the satisfaction and joy comes instead, from the months or years of hard work put into saving up for the purchase. This principle applies to most things, not just monetary purchases. The sense of achievement gained from seeing your hard work come into fruition is an amazing feeling. And this would be lost forever if we simply got whatever we wanted instantly. Not so perfect now, is it?

Now, you’re probably thinking that this isn’t exactly the opposite of Charlie’s lyrics, he didn’t say “that we don’t always get what we want instantly. And you’re right. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off, at least not in the way that we wanted it to. Success doesn’t come by easily, and that’s precisely why in the off-chance that it does, the satisfaction that comes from is much sweeter than if we succeeded all the time.

Taking a step back, and applying the Stoic principle of identifying things within or beyond our control, we see that we can’t control whether or not we’ll get what we want, but we can control our wants and desires. Seneca puts it succinctly what this means for us:

No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic