Postmodernism

Postmodernism

In "Foreign Bodies", although Hwee Hwee

Tan explores what has been done before – the blend of East and West, themes
both light and serious – the treatment has her own signature, and the political
satire existing side by side with the Christian preaching is unique. The
main effect that emerges is that of humour through the contradictions within
each component and against each other, in the motley selection. Especially
engaging is the exposé on the cultural practices, idiosyncrasies
and two-facedness of Chinese Singaporeans. On the one hand, both local
and non-Singaporean readers derive fun as the former see themselves in
a comically unflattering but true light, while the latter get acquainted
with the local culture in an entertaining way from Tan\'s light-hearted
portrayal. Later in the book, deeper issues push to the droll surface because
facing the characters in the end is the dilemma of life-choices and moral
integrity. This engages the reader into a contemplation of serious issues
beyond Tan\'s wit. On the other hand, alienation may also result from readers
in disagreement with her views on certain aspects of Chinese culture, those
who find her pro-Christianity stance too forward and those unable to identify
with the characters.

The novel acquaints non-Singaporean readers
with Chinese moralistic myths and legends like the eighteen levels of Hell,

Chang-E the maiden of the moon, and Mu Lian who saved his mother from hell.

They learn about interesting Chinese beliefs like "that it was good luck
for gifts to come in pairs" or that a pregnant cat can resurrect a corpse
by jumping over it. National pastimes including karaoke, gambling and soccer
mania are described as staples of the general populace. Singlish as an
essential part of everyday communication is illustrated by Mei\'s conversation
with an MRT warden after Andy spilled a drink at the station, which is
followed by an explanation to Andy who does not comprehend the language.

The reader is introduced to Mei\'s prying relatives (which are, of course,
ubiquitous creatures that anyone from any culture will know). "They only
want to know so that they can say bad things about us. Laugh about us.

They only want to gossip". Other perennial topics for idle local gossip
revolve around discussions of property prices after an arrest etc. In addition,
a keen sense of home is recreated for Singaporean readers. The strong Singapore
feel comes from the Singapore slang words kaypo, wah leow, eng, lah, xiao,
ang moh, ai-ya, gek sim, pei she, chin-chai, ca jiao etc; familiar place
names such as General Hospital, Woodbridge Hospital, Geylang, Tiong Bahru,

East Coast Park; and Singaporean\'s love for acronyms POSB, HUDC, HDB, CID,

NTUC, MP etc.

Slices of life distinctively Singaporean
are drawn from social, moral and cultural issues. The gold tooth of Mei\'s
grandfather, which is "his only luxury", symbolises the frugality of the
older generation that scrimp on themselves. The preoccupation with good
fortune is made comic. For example, Eugene\'s parents have his original

Chinese name changed into an auspicious one because the number of strokes
in the original name was unlucky, or Mrs. Lam nags at her maid Melissa
that she sweeps away luck for using broom during the Chinese New Year.

Food and bingeing serve as a form of consolation for Singaporeans (with
an emphasis on local cuisine) – "I got the most calorific dishes possible
– roast pork rice, fried kway teow, and fried carrot cake...and burped. It
felt so good" after being dismissed by Andy from representing him.

Many instances of Tan\'s portrayal of Chinese
culture are often hilarious. In the extended family situation, it is hard
for Andy to remember Mei\'s niece and he calls her "Zhen Chou" (really smelly)
instead of "Zhen Cai" (genuine fortune), besides showing the language difficulty
for non-Chinese speakers. There is a stigma of being an older unmarried
woman as Mei\'s mother worries about her daughter who is nearly 30 years
old and reaching the "expiry date". She likens marriage to going to NTUC
to "grab first, worry later". This "kiasuism" is compounded with the pragmatism
of Singaporeans who see divorce as easy, "can refund or exchange" if not
satisfied. Mei\'s mother also typifies the Chinese Singaporean housewife
who has the superstition that Fengshui improves luck, to the extent of
writing to a member of Parliament requesting that a tree affecting her

HDB unit\'s Fengshui be cut down. The humour sometimes comes to the level
of pastiche, for example, when Mei is asked by her mother "You pass motion
now still got bleed or not?", the "bad taste" of alluding to bodily functions
effectively indicates the mother\'s concern. Little is known about Singapore
expatriate children and