Highlights and rates of 2018

It’s that time of year to look back and take stock. I hadn’t thought that I’d written all that much this year, but realised I hadn’t done all too badly once I went through my portfolio!

So I’ve picked out some highlights, and, taking inspiration from the transparency modelled by Alice Driver and my fellow New Naratif colleague Deborah Augustin, I’m sharing my rates too.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” in World Policy Journal

I love it when I get the opportunity to write long pieces about Singapore (it really doesn’t happen often) and this one really touched on so many things that I’ve wanted to delve into about my country: instead of just talking about how we’re tightly controlled under one political party I was able to dig a little deeper a look at our history and the erosion of civil liberties that brought us to where we are today.

Rate: I was promised US$500 for this piece. Unfortunately, World Policy Journal has since gone under and I have yet to be paid. I’m not sure if I ever will. *sigh*

Why Singapore’s moves to curb “fake news” may backfire in The Washington Post

At the beginning of this year I would never have thought that 2018 would be the year I got published in both WaPo and the NYT. I wish I could have got my byline into these two big publications for happier topics, but it is what it is. In this piece I talked about how efforts to clamp down on “fake news” could end up being counterproductive if they don’t manage to build trust within society. 

Rate: My records say that I was paid S$379.40 for this op-ed, which means the rate was probably around US$275 to US$300.

What Trump is Learning from Singapore — and Vice Versa in The New York Times

This year I’ve had multiple experiences of reading the US news and thinking, “Oh, Trump would just love Singapore.” And love Singapore he did... especially our death penalty for drugs. While he was talking that up, Singapore was in the middle of looking into what to do about “fake news”, and so, as an independent journalist who is also an anti-death penalty activist, I ended up in the position of being able to, from my experience in both issues, talk about how we’re just trading terrible ideas. This op-ed, though, got an unhappy reply from the Singapore ambassador to the US, which was also reported in the local media. 

Rate: I was paid US$500.

Migrant workers: The truth and stories behind human trafficking in Singapore in Esquire Singapore

This is another piece that got an unhappy response, although I can’t link to the Ministry of Manpower’s comments to my editor because it isn’t publicly available. In this piece, I wanted to look at the issue of human trafficking from a different angle; so many people think of human trafficking in terms of sex trafficking, when the reality is that labour trafficking is far more prevalent. And there’s lots of overlap being trafficking indicators and conditions endured by migrant workers in Singapore. Not to say that every worker is trafficked, but that there’s a real problem of exploitation and abuse when things like wage theft, confiscation of documents, and deceptive recruitment (making false promises about job scope or salary) is commonplace.

Rate: I was paid S$0.50 per word for this piece so it worked out to S$1,039.

The Singapore therapy cats providing comfort and companionship in Southeast Asia Globe 

I’m a cat lady. So I always love it when I get to squeeze cats into my work. In this case, hanging out with the Luv Kuching Project and their volunteer therapy cats was just bliss.

Rate: I was paid US$0.18 per word for this piece so it came up to US$235.26.

Free expression in the dock in Singapore in Asia Times

I’ve been lucky to be able to report on Singapore with Asia Times, and this is just one of several articles I’ve written for them this past year. In this one, I covered the contempt of court trial related to Jolovan Wham and John Tan’s Facebook posts—the first such cases under the relatively new Administration of Justice (Protection) Act. Jolovan and John were later found guilty and they’re still waiting for sentencing.

Rate: As with all the articles I’ve written for Asia Times, I got US$250 for this.

The many ways to be Chinese Singaporean in The Interpreter

This year, I was also lucky to be able to write for the Lowy Institute. This piece was an interesting follow-up to Amy Qin’s story in the New York Times, and I was happy to have the opportunity to expand on my own thoughts about being Chinese in Singapore.  

Rate: I was paid AUD250, which is the standard rate for most of my pieces for the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter.

Hollywood Has No Time for Crazy Poor Asians in Foreign Policy and Crazy Rich Asians: Hollywood and the Communist Party share a simplistic idea of what it means to be Chinese in Hong Kong Free Press

It was no secret that I had a lot of feels about Crazy Rich Asians, particularly because the reaction in the US was so effusive, seemingly without a care for how other countries and communities have been portrayed (or even thrown under the bus) in their quest for Asian American representation. I don’t begrudge Asian Americans the representation that’s been long overdue, but considering how rarely Singapore gets representation in international pop culture, had also many thoughts about how my country was used in this film. I also got more interest from editors than I’d ever had for anything else—these are two of my favourite pieces about Crazy Rich Asians, one from before I’d seen the film, the other after.

Rate: I was paid US$300 for the Foreign Policy piece. Although HKFP offered to pay me, I didn’t invoice them because I wanted to support their work.

“Circling” Around Human Rights in New Naratif

If I didn’t write as much this year as previous years, it was because I spent a lot of time editing other people’s stories for New Naratif (for which I am paid US$2,000 a month). So it was a treat to be able to come out of the editing cave and write features myself. This one, on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR), came from AICHR reps being generous with their time and thoughts, helping me piece together the challenges that they’ve faced trying to make something out of a very constrained institution. 

Rate: I didn’t invoice for this piece.

Too Young To Die in New Naratif

New Naratif launched two podcast series this year. I co-host Political Agenda with PJ Thum every fortnight, but also had the opportunity to put together an audio package for Southeast Asia Dispatches, which features stories, commentaries and interviews from around the region. In this package—the first podcast package I’ve ever done!—I take a look at Golden Mile Complex and the struggle to save Singapore’s modernist icons.

Rate: I didn’t invoice for this piece.

The last man executed in Singapore, until the next in The Interpreter 

For the first time since I started working on the death penalty issue in 2010, Singapore executed four men in a week this year. They also broke with their usual protocol of hangings at dawn on Fridays, and executed two men on a Wednesday. It made for a very tough week, wondering if the authorities will now be hanging people any day of the week, making it harder for abolitionists like myself to track cases and react or respond to them. I spent time with the family of Prabu N Pathmanathan, and wrote for the Lowy Institute about my fears regarding Singapore’s capital punishment regime. It wasn’t any easy one to write, but an issue that really needs to be out there more.

Rate: I was paid AUD250.

The Spice Girls in Smile

Travel writing! I actually love it but almost never get to do any. This year, though, I was lucky to sneak a bit of work into my first trip to Seoul. This story on the Sunchang Gochujang Village actually took me three hours out of the city, which gave me the opportunity to see a lot more of South Korea and hang out/work with a friend from university, so it was absolutely perfect.

Rate: I’m getting S$800 for this piece—because of the invoicing and payment cycle I haven’t actually been paid yet.

All in all, I’m really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this year, particularly to be New Naratif’s Editor-in-Chief. My work is also part of New Naratif: The FIrst Year, a book featuring a selection of articles from our first year of operations. You can buy a copy of the book here. If you’d like to support New Naratif’s work, sign up as a member of our community.

I also had fun curating the We, The Citizens newsletter on Singapore. I look forward to doing it some more in 2019—I still intend on keeping it free! And who knows what I might come up with if the elections really do hit us next year…

Kirsten Han