Should He Stay or Should He Go?
Troy Chin's learning journey continues
By Malcolm Tay
The Resident Tourist (Part 6)
Troy Chin took longer than usual to release the latest part of The Resident Tourist, the ongoing graphic-novel series based on his life, but in his defence, he has been busy.
In the past three years, the former music executive has added two more titles to his bibliography: Bricks in the Wall (2012), a grab-bag of mocking tales about the music industry, and Forgetting (2013), an online interactive comic that follows a noir-style tale in the first person, with music by local band In Each Hand A Cutlass. Chin has also mentored hopeful comic artists under Noise Singapore, a National Arts Council initiative aimed at nurturing budding talents under 35.
He had established his inimitable voice in the first two parts of Tourist, which initially debuted on his website, and by the third book the random scenes of him smacking mosquitoes and getting wrong phone calls yielded to a more considered narrative, which shifts between his formative years on the island, his working stint in New York and the present. Over time his manga-inspired artwork, too, grew more polished: the lines smoother, the shading more even and varied.
Chin's wise-guy veneer chips off in the fifth volume, published in 2011, revealing a more tender side in his romance with Mint, and in the end of that relationship. In the sixth and newest part – issued this year by Math Paper Press, the publishing arm of homegrown store BooksActually, which will also reprint the earlier parts – he offers his take on National Service as "an unwilling conscript", a viewpoint that many male Singaporeans arguably share.
NS can arouse fierce nostalgia, gilded by hindsight, in those who enjoyed their time in camp to some extent. Chin prefers to keep a clear eye on those forced gap years. His candid recount captures the jagged transition from junior-college student to army recruit and what it was like serving in the armed forces in the mid-1990s.
Commercial caterers now manage the cookhouse but when Chin enlisted in 1996, it was still run by military chefs. As the queue advanced, they would dump ladlefuls of the day's menu onto your metal mess tray, the main compartment of which would be mounded with overdone rice even if you ask for less. You would try to force at least half of it down and get a shelling from the duty sergeant for banging the rest into the rubbish bin ("Then don't ask for so much next time!").
That was Chin's experience, as it was for most recruits at the time. He recalls other absurdities of army life: the platitudes ("you can do anything you want – just don't get caught"), the gnawing need to stay unseen or avoid reporting sick for fear of getting punished, the constant threat of the wild boar that no one ever saw, the friendships that can spring unexpectedly from all of this.
While he touches on the growing resentment against foreigners in the fifth book, he takes it further here in covering the 2011 general election. Going to a Workers' Party rally "mostly for the material", he finds himself among the 10,000 estimated to have appeared at Yishun Stadium and admits that "it was hard not to get caught up by the excitement of it all".
But Chin would have no chance to comment on the sidelines and ends up playing a cog in the election machine, when a friend ropes him in as a polling/counting agent for the opposition in the East Coast Group Representation Constituency. It's the civil servants who tally the ballots, he explains, but the polling/counting agents "observe the process and prevent any wild shenanigans from taking place". This he does with his usual wit ("I don't think the drawing of a penis signifies a vote of confidence").
The sixth volume confirms Chin as one of Singapore's most persuasive storytellers, though a few Tourist fans have told him via his Facebook page that they found it less engaging than the previous ones. This book, he replied, "is a necessary piece in the bigger puzzle". With a little luck, we won't have to wait another three years to learn what that means.QLRS Vol. 13 No. 4 Oct 2014