Growing up, I never thought of myself as ‘pretty’. Pretty was my older sister, who got stopped on the street by modeling scouts and asked out by Eric Cantona when Manchester United visited Singapore. I was the awkward, bookish sister, who wore pink plastic glasses and could hang with the boys, but was never seen as a ‘girl’.
She died alone at night. One by one she had watched the lights go out around her, including her husband Tony a few years earlier. At home, she had always found something or other about him annoying, but in their final years at the old folks home, his presence became a surprising source of comfort.
I will say this off the bat: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me is the most powerful book I’ve read all year. And everyone should read it.
Between the World and Me is an electric force. And yet his words are never complex or bombastic, but slow and quiet. His words have a life of their own so that they are not just words, but an energy that leaps off the page. To read Coates is to burn; to come so close to fire something in you ignites. To read Coates, for me, is to realise the gap between the writer I am right now and the writer I want to be.
One or two years into my new job at a large Singaporean organisation, I found out that my senior from high school had been appointed to shadow a prominent minister. Over lunch, I asked him what he had learnt.
My cousin in Shanghai was two years old when his mother, an architect, was taken away by the Red Guards, a student-led paramilitary movement, during the Cultural Revolution. All he remembers is his mother suddenly disappearing; his father, a doctor, had also gone missing days earlier. For what felt like an eternal darkness, he and his elder brother, who would have been five or six around that time, were left alone in their flat. He doesn’t remember how they survived those days. Maybe neighbours came by and brought food. Maybe an extended relative checked in on them. After what felt like forever, his mother returned, but she was a completely different woman.
Sometime in my youth it became cool to make fun of the military displays, tacky costumes and cheesy mass dance performances at Singapore’s annual National Day Parade. As a working single National Day became a welcome day of rest, perfect timing for a short getaway.
Without you there is no us, without you there is no homeland
당신이 없으면 우리도 없고, 당신이 없으면 조국도 없다
Suki Kim’s book title jumped out at me from the library shelf. My time with the sons of North Korea’s elite, the sub-title said. What did “Without You, There is No Us” mean? Was it a subtle criticism of Orientalism, how we see North Korea as ‘the other’, ‘the great axis of evil’? Or was it a suggestion of North Korea’s interdependence: that as much as they rejected the rest of the world, they still needed it.
My lifespan on Twitter is eleven years and counting, but really, I’ve only started using it actively in the past 5-6 months? In that short time span, I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate) to see both extremes of Twitter: the warm, supportive, welcoming community of writers–and the highly charged, reactionary keyboard warriors, and the anonymous army of trolls that follow.