Hits and Misses: A Last Look At 2019
Dear Reader,

This letter was originally intended to be some sort of forecast on “what we can expect/hope to see in 2020”, but as I lie on my couch reflecting, I realised that I’m not quite ready to let go of 2019.

It’s been a weird year; things have gone a little pear-shaped in the countries that matter, and I’m frankly a little terrified about what might happen in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I am not ready for it. Perhaps this is what happens when you hit your late 30s; you delay the inevitable and live in denial for as long as you can. 

So, before we get into what we can expect in 2020, l would like to spend a bit of time talking about a few of the more memorable stories that we published this year.

As an editor at RICE, I am frequently asked by friends, family, and members of our audience to explain the thought process behind our work. Sometimes, these questions come from a place of intrigue e.g. “what is your ideation process like?”; on other occasions, it’s slightly more emotional i.e. “why the fuck did you publish this?”

Over the course of 2019, I’ve learnt that I don’t always have the right answer to these questions. While our defining objective is to provide our audience with insights into contemporary Asian culture, our thought process is occasionally not as sophisticated as I would like to have you believe.  

Sometimes, we are simply looking to satisfy our own curiosities. For example, I’m not sure if I can explain why we decided to write a lengthy essay on lao sai, other than that we were curious about excrement. In fact, here’s a blow-by-blow account of how this article happened:

Pan Jie:Dude, did you know that much of Singapore’s modern success can be attributed to Diarrhoea?”

Me: No I didn’t. But if you’re going to write about lao sai, it better be good shit.”

Pan Jie: “Ok.”

Two weeks later, I received a 6,000-word essay linking our triumph over diarrhoea to modern Singaporean developments. Most of our readers enjoyed this piece, and it started with us simply asking whether we were curious enough to find out more about the subject.

Unfortunately, this somewhat cavalier approach to content can also result in mistakes. The most glaring one being the recent essay on Malay privilege which received a lot of criticism. 

If you’ve been following our work, you’ll know that we comment frequently on race and class issues. We are also committed to ensuring a diverse representation of views on our platform. So when we decided to publish this personal account that a reader had submitted to us, the intention was to provide the audience with an authentic view of what it was like to grow up as a privileged Malay individual in Singapore. In doing so, we hoped to spark a discussion of the complex relationship between class, race, and identity.

We have always aspired to preserve the voice and authenticity behind the experience of every writer, even if this might sometimes be naive or misguided. In this specific instance, we acknowledge that we should have intervened at an editorial level to ensure the story was told in a more sensitive way. 

Having learnt from this experience, we remain committed to delivering stories and articles that bring new perspectives to these difficult issues. 

Stories like The View from Kukoh, where we shared the experiences of Belle, Ikhmal and Mary, living and growing up in Jalan Kukoh, one of Singapore’s poorest estates. In producing this series, we realised how important it was to give air-time to the experiences of these individuals—even, and especially, when these experiences did not conform to what society deems as acceptable (in this case, society’s view of what poverty is supposed to look like). Also, a bit of an update: Belle was an intern at RICE, and we got to know her through an NGO. She has since moved on and is doing great. 

Beyond the stories of people and their lives, we also explored a spread of unusual subjects. Some favourites of mine include an interview with Gong Tao Help Desk (if you are desperately in love with a girl or a boy you met a Thai Disco, please give them a call), a hopeless attempt at reviewing Funan Mall (getting a truly cynical person to review something is a hopeless endeavour), a pointed deconstruction of why we feel tired all the time, this feature on the state of reading in Singapore, and this illuminating account of how a family gets trapped in the poverty cycle

2019 was also the year that we took a renewed interest in the region. If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that our core brand promise has always been to bring you insights into contemporary Asian culture (if you can remember, we started off by publishing content from the region such as this tremendous photo-essay on throwing up in Lan Kwai Fong). We intend to make good on this promise. 

This year, we’ve followed up with more coverage on Hong Kong. In particular, this feature written by Sudhir Vadaketh on the Hong Kong protests, which I recommend you show to anyone who still insists on comparing Hong Kong to Singapore. 

I’m also proud to say that we’ve launched RICE Thailand and you can expect us to deliver fresh perspectives and stories on contemporary Thai culture (yes … it’s all in Thai, but we will also be producing content in English). 

Which brings us to 2020. 

I am not in a position to tell you how to think or feel about the coming year. But as a publication, we have never been interested in chasing virality or the news cycle just for the sake of staying relevant. Instead, we care about uncovering the weird and ridiculous stories, asking uncomfortable questions, and making sense of the things you’ve always been curious about.

And we’ve only lasted as long as we have because you, as our readers, care about this too. 

So when 2020 rolls around, we’ll be right there with you. As a colleague once said, “Other publications try to tell you what’s going on, but at Rice, we are on the journey with you.”

2019 might have been strange and confusing year for the world, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here’s to an even crazier 2020. Stay curious. 

For feedback, story leads, or general comments, reach us at community@ricemedia.co

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