Title: Ten Sticks One Rice
Author: Koh Hong Teng, Oh Yong Hwee
Publisher: Epigram Books
“While we might not have been born on the same day… let us hope that it may at least be the same day that we will-“
Hock Seng, an illegal satay seller who is often on the watch for the authorities, is battling Stage 4 Cancer, and at the same time, a veteran in a local triad. Upon hearing the news of the death of an elder, Hock Seng’s story is played out as he organises this elder’s funeral.
Hock Seng, From the Brotherhood
Hock Seng’s struggles with himself, his triad, and his family takes a different stand from what we have been educated to believe secret societies generally are. Instead of a ruffian, we can see a hardworking man who probably took a different choice in life – someone we may know in our families or growing up. While he “fits” the media portrayal of a rough-talking person, we later see that Hock Seng is, fundamentally, a man struggling to continue standing by the values he grew up with (Brotherhood) in our present environment.
Growing up, the terms “secret society” or “triad” were generally associated with violence, ignorant good-for-nothings. The theme of Brotherhood is prominent through Hock Seng’s past (told via flashback or recounted by another party) – one of the basic foundations which secret societies are built on. The story focusses on the realities and virtues of the triad, instead of the “glamour” and “darkness” commonly shown in other media.
It also looks at the changing priorities through the generations, where brotherhood is getting less and less prominent to the extent of Hock Seng having to constantly remind his sons to think about the family and look after each other.
Style & Structure
Ten Sticks One Rice was published as a graphic novel, with Koh managing the transitions between both the present day and the past quite seamlessly. The flashbacks bring out the values which Hock Seng hold true to himself – Brotherhood. Touching on a subject not commonly seen in Singaporean culture, the constant use of Hokkien and swear words add sincerity to the story, though it seems unappealing at first.
Ten Sticks One Rice was created by Koh Hong Teng and Oh Yong Hwee. To find out more about the book, click here.
In the meantime…
And with that, I’ll see you next week!