Ahead of the Competition
Not many can be described as "novelist, poet, conservationist and lawyer" in one breath, and even fewer (i.e. none) have their novel adopted as an O-level literature text by Singapore schools. Somehow Daren Shiau ’96 manages to balance this and his family life with heading the Competition Law practice at Allen & Gledhill, and was just named as one of the Global Competition Review's "40 under Forty". With all of these "competing" interests, what makes him tick?
LL: How does it feel to be listed as one of Global Competition Review's Forty Under 40 top global competition lawyers?
DS: Very encouraging, especially because the GCR has never previously named any Southeast Asian competition lawyers. In some ways, it validates my decision to specialise in competition law at Allen & Gledhill in the mid-2000s, when the regime was in its infancy.
When GCR contacted me, I immediately disclosed that I am in fact 41 this year! They had thought I was 39 based on public sources (probably my call date), but had not factored in National Service. I offered to relinquish the honour, but they decided to let me keep it because they had received thousands of international votes for the shortlist of peer nominations and, given the projected announcement date, they lacked the resources to identify a 41st lawyer to replace me. So I was lucky!
LL: Which do you think is better - being listed by GCR, or seeing your works like Heartland or Peninsular: Archipelagos and Other Islands get recognition?
DS: It’s hard to compare the two. Hearing from people who have read my books brings a very different kind of joy. I enjoy most interacting with students who are reading Heartland as part of their ‘O’-Levels.
I’m often asked what the right answer is to exam questions, or what happens to unreconciled characters in the storylines - for which there is no one right opinion!
LL: That’s something first year Law students in tutorials should learn too! What’s with all your Facebook photos of Rio de Janeiro? What were you doing there this April?
DS: I attended the annual conference of the International Competition Network, a global network of competition agencies. National antitrust authorities have the option of appointing a non-governmental advisor to accompany them to the annual conference, which is held in a different city each year. The Singapore Competition Commission nominated me as its NGA, which is a tremendous privilege. I interacted with competition officials, and spoke on developments in unilateral effects jurisprudence.
LL: What did you think of Rio?
DS: Rio is a city of natural beauty, but also of profound contrast. There is a massive income divide between wealthy districts such as Ipanema, and the ubiquitous slums, both of which occupy the small coastal city. Against advice from some friends I hired a local guide to bring me into the favelas. It is a decision I do not regret. The little alleys were pulsing with samba and funk music, and the smell of barbecued meat. I learnt about social projects to bring kids off the streets: the difficulties and challenges, but also the small successes.
On my last night in Rio, I attended a street party in Lapa, one of the poorest areas in the city. There were more than 10,000 people on the street. I almost missed my flight the next day!
LL: When will your next literary work be published?
DS: My third book ‘Velouria’, published in 2007, was completed after a long hiatus. In 2011, I edited a mono-titular anthology ‘Coast’ in which featured over fifty Singapore-based writers, all submitting pieces titled ‘Coast’. The highlight for me was receiving submissions from non-traditional writers such as Eric Khoo the filmmaker, as well as the family of deceased Singapore writer Goh Poh Seng, whose first novel ‘If We Dream Too Long’ was one of the inspirations for my own first book.
LL: Who are the 4imaginaryboys, and what do they do?
DS: I have been collecting indie vinyls since my secondary school days, and am fortunate to have three childhood friends I am in close touch with who share that interest. Once in a while, we bring in a band we like to perform in Singapore, under the banner of 4imaginaryboys, itself a reference to The Cure’s first album.
LL: We hear that you are bringing in cult band The Jesus and Mary Chain to perform in Singapore on 26 May 2012; how did that come about?
DS: The Jesus and Mary Chain is one of our favourite bands. JAMC had previously split and have not been touring for a while. So when they agreed to play a Singapore gig for us on 26 May, we were very excited.
LL: Why do you do so much; and how do you balance it all?
DS: There’s a short existential answer to it, but I shan’t bore you with that! <Laughs>.
To be honest, most of my time now is spent on work and conferences.
I often feel a desire to bring things to their logical conclusion. I write because I enjoy literature, I do shows with indie bands whose music I appreciate, and I undertake social causes I believe in. Work-wise, I’m fortunate to practice in a niche area I enjoy, supported by a very talented and hardworking team.
LL: What do you think the future holds for the arts in Singapore?
DS: I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this question! <Laughs> I would say that the opportunities today are very different from what they were two decades ago.
LL: What advice would you give to lawyers (young or old) who are struggling between their artistic pursuits and legal practice?
DS: It really depends on the individual. Different pursuits have varying demands on time: a writer who has not written for a decade will still be known as a writer. A dancer who has not danced for ten years, however, will probably be regarded as a former dancer.
As far as the arts is concerned - do what you love, but always know why you love it!