What was I doing thousands of miles from home, in a place that had no interest in who I was or where I came from? Was it wishful thinking, hoping to find an audience for my work in the US? What I came to realise was that Tin House may mean the world to a writer from Singapore, but a writer from Singapore may not necessarily mean anything at all to Tin House.
In this room, in almost the exact same spot where my desk now sits in this photo, lies my earliest childhood memory. I was in kindergarten, around four or five years old, sitting in the wardrobe, wearing a dress I did not want to wear. I remember the soft, warm colour of morning filtering through the curtains, my sister still sleeping in the next bed.
2019, was for me, that year of change. It took me several more months to do something about it, but once I did it was as if a door had opened in my heart and the pieces began to fall into place. I realised I had gotten it all wrong. I was afraid to call myself a writer because for years I had struggled to get anything published, only to realise I was trying to put the cart before the horse.
(me, left, and my older sister)
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’.
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.
Somehow last night I crossed 1,000 followers and for someone who had like 200 followers my first 10 years on Twitter that’s just insane.
I started posting more actively a couple of months back after leaving Facebook, with a vague sense that I might find an audience here. I never imagined I would meet so many new friends/make so many new connections here, just by opening this door in my heart and “putting myself out there”.
My first memories of Tiananmen were formed in London: I was six, it was June, 1989, we were in a small hotel room, and it was my first family vacation. My father was in London for work, we had tagged along. I climbed a tree for the first time at a family friend’s orchard; I was so shocked to discover apples and oranges grew on trees. Then: one morning, my father watching the news. His face, creased with worry. I crawled out of bed and peeked at the television:
People. There were so many people on the screen they filled it completely. Flags, banners, people shouting, people angry. My father, his face creased with worry.