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Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 10:34:01 -0600 (CST)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: SINGAPORE: Mail Brides in Cyberspace
Article: 48586
Message-ID: <bulk.8013.19981127121537@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 195.0 **/
** Topic: SINGAPORE: Mail Brides in Cyberspace **
** Written 7:01 PM Nov 25, 1998 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 3:06 PM Nov 20, 1998 by newsdesk@igc.org in ips.english */
[/* ---------- "THEATRE-SINGAPORE: Mail Brides in C" ---------- */

Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Mail Brides in Cyberspace

By Kalinga Seneviratne, IPS
17 November 1998

SINGAPORE, Nov 21 (IPS) - Commerce-savvy Singapore is not one to miss the chance of cashing in on business on the Internet. With the so-called "E-commerce" predicted to increase five-fold this year and reach some 34 billion dollars, the island state is busily trying to position itself as the Internet business hub of the East.

Singaporeans themselves already are among the millions of clients of the virtual shopping malls. But if the response to a local play here is any indication, a considerable number of Singaporeans are not about to ignore the downside of cyber shopping.

Indeed, as the play 'Mail Order Brides and Other Oriental Takeaways' points out, "the Web" has not only made available such merchandise as books, compact discs and assorted foodstuffs there are brides for desperate grooms as well.

'Mail Order', written and directed by a cable TV newsreader Pek Siok Lian, was supposed to have only a two-week season. But that was extended by a week till Oct 29 due to popular demand. Now there are plans to re-stage it for another week in early December.

During a special performance at the New York International Fringe Festival in August, the play also received high praise from critics. The 'New York Times' has since included 'Mail Order' in its Fringe Selection list.

"The festival office told us that 'Mail Order Brides' was one of the best-attended shows at the Festival. We had standing ovations at the end of almost all performances," boasts producer and artistic director Ekachai Uekrongtham.

'Mail Order' came out of Ekachai's and Pek's desire to write something about "the seemingly impossible romance" between the bargirls of Bangkok's Patpong red-light district and their Caucasian clients.

"We soon realised that the Patpong girl is not alone", recalls Ekachai. "All over Asia, thousands of Asian women dream the same dream of being taken away from poverty or tradition-bound lifestyles by men from more developed countries."

As part of their research, they did a Web search, using the phrase "mail order brides." The effort with one search engine yielded nine entries with links to more than 100 sites and another inundated them with more than 160,00 possible matches.

"What is noteworthy is the fact that these businesses hawking human commodities are Western outfits catering to a western clientele, and their goods are touted as exotics from the developing world, especially mostly attractive yet submissive young Asian women" says Pek, who is also the play's director.

She asks,"Is this yet another form of Western hegemony or is it simply flesh trade?"

According to the play's programme, the number of "mail order marriages" between Asian women and Western men in 1986 was estimated to reach at least 2,000. By 1994, such marriages involving women from the Philippines and Western men had reached 19,000.

Interestingly enough, nearly all the hopeful brides-to-be making their cyberspace postings from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are Filipino women working as domestic helpers in these countries.

But there is also a growing trend of Singaporean men seeking mail-order brides from China. While only eight mainland Chinese women became the brides of Singaporean men in 1986, at least 1,000 such marriages took place last year.

A Chinese mail-order bride is among the play's four characters, as are a Filipino domestic helper, a Thai sex worker and a Singaporean "sarong party girl" - a woman who runs after Western expatriates.

The sex worker, the maid and the Chinese bride 'wanna-bees' make postings on a Website, hoping foreign men will rescue them from their unsatisfying lives.

The sarong party girl comes upon the Website while surfing the Net, is incensed, and gets sucked into the site's chat room. The play's first half is a series of short monologues where each woman tries to justify her actions.

By the second half, the maid, the Chinese bride and the sex worker have all undergone terrible experiences, and are lamenting their decision to go online.

The Filipino domestic helper who left her job in Singapore to marry a U.S. soldier has been raped by his friend; the Chinese mail-order bride is in jail for stabbing her Singaporean husband who tried to rape her and the sex worker has contracted AIDS.

When 'Mail Order' was first staged last year, the 'Straits Times' reviewer Clarissa Oon criticised it as an "unimaginative one-hour- plus rehash of all the worst stereotypes of Asian women, Singaporean men and their Caucasian counterparts".

The play has since been restructured, and it was this version that was chosen as the first Asian entry to the New York festival. But Oon remains critical of 'Mail Order' and says it still lacks a real dialogue on what it means to be an Asian woman today.

Literature graduate Emma Yong, who plays the role of the Filipino maid says though: "I am moved by my character's courage. She risks everything by advertising herself to unknown strangers on the Internet - in the slim hope that she will be rescued from a life of poverty and servitude."

Lawyer Deborah Ng, who plays the Chinese bride, also says of her character: "She's a China doll with a will of steel who embarks on a journey to make a better future for herself by looking for a husband."

Pek herself is unperturbed by remarks that the play presents stereotypes, retorting, "We are seeing these things happening at our own doorstep."

Dr Phyllis Chew, head of the Singaporean women's association AWARE, is very supportive of the play. "It is a clear feminist statement of the discrimination and exploitation faced by millions of Asian women as they struggle to better their lot," she says. "Any play that highlights the plight of women, whether they are underpaid, overworked, abused or raped should be encouraged."

Pek in fact is excited about the idea of presenting 'Mail Order' to wider audiences in the West because the men who fuel the industry and the Internet companies that act as the brokers tend to be from there. Her partner Ekachai adds that they are now looking at the possibility of creating a new production of the play in the United States.

"If all goes well, we hope to jointly produce it with an established theatre company there and have it tour around America in the near future" says Ekachai. They may also bring the play to Britain and Canada next year.

As for Oon's reservations about 'Mail Order', the dilemma faced by many Asian girls in search of Caucasian husbands seems to be summed up neatly by Beatrice Chia, who plays the Singaporean party girl.

Toward the end of the play, her character says: "Maybe I'm the Occidental Oriental. No, the accidental Oriental. The original banana. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside!" (END/IPS/ks/cb/mk/98)


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