The first hint of dawn filters through the green gold crepe curtains, in the distance a rooster crows. Anticipation and anxiety wakes me at six in the morning even though I would like to sleep in; it is my first day as Writer in Residence at the Toji Cultural Centre in Wonju, South Korea.
The quiet is unsettling, although it should be calming, although it is what I have wished for so long, the reason I wanted to come here. Neither cars nor voices, nor the thud-thud of my children’s feet, laughing as they run around the house. I turn on some music, but it sounds out of place in this wooden cottage nestled in the mountains. Midway through the song I turn it off.
The mountains are carpeted by thick fog, as reluctant to rise as I was. The night before we had arrived in near darkness, the mountains vague shapes around us, the surroundings so quiet I could hear every step I took. In a strange way this room reminds me of my apartment in Minoo, Osaka, where I attended graduate school. In Minoo my apartment had one balcony facing a bamboo grove, the other the mountains; my room here has a small balcony shrouded by the crown of a maple tree and a window in the centre facing the mountains.
Over breakfast I meet an artist from Daegu. It feels odd at first, but I introduce myself as a writer from Singapore. Over time, I think, it will become more natural.
I have been thinking about self-worth, and how we draw our self-worth from our roles in society. A dear friend wrote an essay about how Singaporeans find it hard to divorce their sense of self-worth from our social class. Teo You Yenn also mentions something similar in This is What Inequality Looks Like. We like to label ourselves in ways that reflect our education, our background, our place in society. Back home I have multiple identities that I can call on to feel good about myself: a highly-educated working mom, an investment professional, a linguist, all big-sounding words that reflect my so-called superior breeding and status in life. But do any of these words reflect who I truly am inside? Do any of these words give me true happiness?
I am a writer from Singapore.
Around me are artists, photographers, musicians, dramatists, poets.
All of a sudden life feels more simple, and more beautiful.