in silence

i have had a thankful few days where i am rediscovering what it is to dream again, to see your future not as static but evolving with every decision you make in the present.

it was the one consequence that i did not forsee when i made my decision. so much of my motivation to work, to be, has always been bound to the sense that i was actively discovering for myself what sort of future i want to create, what kind of life i want to lead. and to feel like that, at least in the near future, had already been deciding felt slightly paralysing. but i’ve realised that it doesn’t have to be. and i’m grateful for that.

fingers crossed, moving ahead.

to write in a bid to transgress your own privacy, but to write and to transgress the privacy of other lives when they are entangled with your own?

E.L Doctorow – False Documents:

Therefore I have to conclude that the regime of facts is not from God but man-made, and, as such, infinitely violable.

(…) there is no fiction or nonfiction as we commonly understand the distinction: there is only narrative.


i am so much stronger today than i was a week ago and i want to relish this, i want to remember how i made it through, i want to be able to be there for myself.

to burn brighter

Slightly past six my roommate and I made our way out of Old Campus, joining the mass of students, professors, and children gathered on Cross Campus. That night, the harsh shadows usually created by street lamps were softened by the warm glow of candles cradled in hands and the cool toned “SOLIDARITY” projected against the façade of the Sterling Memorial Library. Behind me, there was a father carrying his daughter on his shoulders and teaching her how to hold her candle upright. “Here, do it this way so it won’t burn the cover or drip on you.”

I am not American and neither is my roommate. We are two international freshmen from Singapore and Lebanon. The night of the vigil outside Sterling on the 29th of January 2017, we started at the fringe, wiggling our way through little gaps in the crowd in a bid to try and get into earshot of the speakers before finally finding a spot peering out of the Berkeley courtyard.

Yet, as silent faces lit by candlelight slowly came to be accompanied by the voices of individuals speaking on and about their thoughts on the executive orders that had come to pass, I found myself feeling more, instead of less, alone amidst a crowd that was supposed to be gathered in support of the communities that these orders set out to alienate. I cannot reproduce the speeches that I heard verbatim and will not try to. But I recall the fervent assertions that this, this discrimination on account of citizenship, on account of race, this rejection of refugees, this was not America. I heard assertions of speakers growing up viewing and believing in an America that was kind, compassionate, and welcoming. I heard speakers proudly sharing about how a Muslim family had been welcomed by American synagogues. I heard assertions that these orders ran against the foundation of what America was built upon. I heard the cheers that all of these assertions received in affirmation. But I could not cheer along.

At a vigil resisting the decisions of a Presidency whose central campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again”, the absence of a critical look at, and acknowledgement of, American history up till this point was jarring. What about the colonization of Native Americans, what about Angel Island and its immigrants in the early 20th century? Were these all, not America? Standing amidst the crowd in the vigil, I felt like I had no place in it if I did not want to join in the cheers extolling the virtues of America. The vigil was titled “Candlelight Vigil in Support of Immigrant & Refugee Communities” yet the speeches of the night spoke more about America than about any of the communities directly affected by the ban. At my most critical, it felt to me more like a people gathered in solidarity to salvage the image and ideal of a country that they felt was being threatened instead of a people truly gathered in support of the immigrants and refugees whose lives were being threatened by these laws.

As these speeches drew to a close, I stole a glance at my phone only to notice that I had missed two calls from my roommate’s mother back in Lebanon. My roommate and I had been working together for the entirety of that Sunday and she had not checked her phone at all. On any other Sunday, there would have been no reason for her anxiety. When we talk about our thoughts on the ban, my roommate tells me about her anxiety, being from an Arab country that is often perceived in a similar light as the countries affected by the ban. Yet, she is quick to tell me that she, still, is lucky. Lebanon is not on the list of countries affected by the ban, it is a country that is largely peaceful, she is here, in America, at Yale, by choice – if she had to, she has family, friends, an entire life still waiting for her back in Lebanon.

As an international student from Singapore, I cannot claim to understand what it must feel like to be in the position of those directly affected by the ban. But I can share the perspective of one, maybe two, international students at the vigil between Cross Campus and Sterling; I can share how being in the crowd that night was an alienating experience.

This is not a critique of all the people who gathered and who spoke that day at the vigil. It is hard to speak out on such a sensitive issue in front of such a large crowd. I know I am scared to share this opinion on a public platform, I imagine it must have taken much courage for every speaker to share theirs that day too. Their voices are important voices, and their opinions are important opinions – their visions of what America stands for are the reasons why I continue to be grateful to be here. But there is a threat, and there are fears, beyond that of what America stands for, that this ban poses. The missed calls I received from my roommate’s mother that night in the middle of a vigil was just one small indication and reminder of that. And that night, at the vigil, as a student who was not looking to rally behind a nationalistic cause, it felt like the fears and worries of those directly alienated by the ban were secondary.

My experience is not representative of what every non-American might have felt at that vigil. I believe there were those who were comforted, those who felt a resonance with and gratitude for the speeches delivered at the vigil. In the time that I was simply standing amidst lit candles, out of earshot of the speeches, there were numerous speakers I missed and if your speech addressed what I am saying here, I apologise. To all who spoke and who were present, I thank you for the reminder that people want to make a difference. But from one member of the Yale community to another, I believe we can do better. I believe we can express our concern about and love for a country and place we view, or are coming to view, as home while recognizing its transgressions in the past. I believe we can speak about our own fears while providing the space and stage for those of others without requiring them to be tied back to our own.

Behind me in the vigil, a child was learning how to hold her candle upright in the crowd. Let us all learn how to wield our candles, hold them high in the crowd. Let them and let the photos of the night be a glowing reminder that there are people, so many people, who will invest time and effort into speaking up against policies that set out to alienate and discriminate. But let them not simply be empty or easy symbols, let us speak about the difficult realities, let us really give time to fears and stories that are not our own. Let our candles not glow only as a message to those whom we are resisting, let them glow because we are creating the warmth of home for those who have been told they do not have one here.

27 january 12:43 am

old words –

today we walked through trees, sidewalks, four-lane streets, quiet bus stops, searching for light, for a beautiful place

everything felt beautiful but not beautiful enough, the light didn’t fall just right, our faces didn’t quite catch the glow

this is fall, earth’s last cuddle against our bodies, heat escaping through the amber of the leaves before fading fast into the cold

this is fall, this is new to me – the sunset shifting earlier and earlier; daylight saving? that one stolen hour is now no longer just an adjustment in the schedule of a lover in a land far away

today we talk, we feel the foreign tones of our accents rolling back over our teeth, back over our skin, today we rejoice in the moment when we taste the flattening of a friend’s accent as we make our sojourn into fall, “this, this is what it feels like to be the minority now”


 

I feel so lucky to be here but these have also been some of my hardest months. I claim not to be homesick but I am beginning to wonder if this dull sadness latent at the back of my mind, if the constant sense that I am on the edge of a collapse, are the symptoms of a traveller too far away from home. Because how else do I explain that when he talks to me about comfort food, I tear while thinking about the taste of lotus root soup upon my tongue, its sweetness, its familiarity. It is the taste of soup against my tongue and then, suddenly, it is the memory of my mother – the ease of her cooking, her concern, even her nagging (there are things that distance has yet to romanticize).

i didn’t want to feel scared tonight

it is 10.40pm and i am walking home from teeth where two women shared their poems about the fear of sexual assault. i walk halfway back with another freshman and then we part as i head off to pick up a book from the library before it closes. before we part i laugh about how annoying it is to be wearing the hood of my rain jacket, about how, with the hood on, my peripheral vision is basically non-existent because all I can see is the small triangle of the floor before me.

it is the kind of annoying that balances on the edge of being funny. or at least it is until i turn the corner to walk alone and i hear male voices and male bodies running swiftly up behind me. when your peripheral vision is non-existent and you cannot turn your head fast enough to catch a glimpse of what is running up behind you, a male body shaking with a chilling cackle is enough to make you seize up with fear. they pass and it turns out to be two college boys running from the rain, laughing at each other. they were the ones doing the running but as they dash across the street through blinking traffic lights i remain on the pavement and i am the one catching my breath.

even as i write this, it feels like paranoia, it feels like unwarranted fear – but how do i explain that i would not expect to have reacted in such a visceral manner to their presence, to his cackling by my side, how do i explain that when i seized up i shocked myself with how much fear i could feel from such a brief moment? how do i explain that i was walking on a road that was supposed to be safe, that i was just outside old campus, the gated community of freshmen suites, but that i still felt like my body put me in danger?

a week and a half into freshman fall i was just a few metres from the spot i was at tonight when a drunk middle aged man stared at me, moved towards me (i backed away) and then mumbled “sorry, i can’t help it, you’re beautiful”.

that same night (when i was still collecting myself from the encounter with the drunk man), a lady with only her incisors showing clutched what looked like a pregnant stomach and approached me, tearing and asking me for money to get food. she says, “i’m sorry i know i’m scaring you, i would ask someone else but-” it was clear why she’d picked me – was my vulnerability so obvious that night? how do i explain that i wanted to help but i was too scared at that point to know how to react, how do i explain why i just couldn’t respond until a female upperclassman saw how lost i was, passed the lady a dollar bill and pulled me away. how do i explain why the two other male upperclassmen who had seen me in the same situation did not think to do anything but thought to condescend upon the female upperclassman saying, “you shouldn’t have given her money, she’s a well-known regular and she’s been saying she’s pregnant for years” after she had stepped in to pull me away?

i don’t want to be angry – i don’t want to be angry at the male upperclassmen.

more importantly, i am not angry with the woman who approached me that night – living as a yale student in new haven means having to constantly reckon with the reality of social inequality that surrounds you. it is likely she did what she thought she had to do and the reality she has to contend with is one that i cannot at this point comment on.

but i grew up a fearful child – my most recurrent nightmare was one in which i struggle to hold on to the lock on the door as a man tries to break in; one afternoon when my sister’s ex-boyfriend came into our apartment to drop off his bag when i thought i was going to be at home alone for a few hours, i ran out at him with a penknife. i don’t want to be a fearful woman, i try to tell myself that i shouldn’t have to be scared, i don’t have to be scared (i am lucky,  i am here, i am safe) but the fear continues to be a gut reaction i cannot shake. i continue to be reminded that my body is coded by the words “vulnerable”and “prey” even though i wish it wasn’t and i try not think so.

i don’t know how to end this post. i can only hope that the reminder that a woman’s body is still enough to make her feel unsafe on a street and the concession that i truly felt fearful tonight, despite not wanting to, are enough. i can only hope that these are more important than a neat ending to a age-long story that really hasn’t seen its conclusion yet.

 

because the answer lies in the nights where we are bodies at 3am blaring out the national anthem through our invisible trumpets. you tell me that this must be blasphemy. we laugh and the room is full of laughter; tonight, the room is ours.

30 november

on my to-do list – to finish my anthropology final essay, to write a new piece for teeth. it’s kind of hard to admit to myself that i haven’t written in so long, i begin to wonder if the reason i don’t feel like myself some days is because i haven’t created anything in so long after having had to do so for so many years.

i’m unsure what the reason is – am i just too scared? it’s hardly that i feel like there is nothing i need to process. i stand in the shower and think about the days that have passed me by – i think about returning from thanksgiving break and finding the intensity of american accents around me overwhelming (or surprising). after nearly ten days of resting in a slice of home i realize my tongue is no longer as adept at adapting; the ginger steamed cod, the ground beef and eggs, hainanese chicken rice (because primataste packs still count right??), rice and rice and rice.

i recall mentally laughing as five ethnically white friends of mine sat around in the common room asking each other “do i have an accent? do i” (“hmm… nah nah i don’t think you do” “maybe a little?”)

i read an essay in a singaporean magazine about race in singapore and muse over the graphic at the end of the piece. it mimics a child’s crayon drawings with check-boxes stating “jiak kentang”, “neighbourhood school one”, “elite school one”, “got accent” – i am wary about what i reveal about my thoughts but in both spaces i still check the “got accent” box, no?

but this is home now isn’t it? this is home – the sun that sets at 4.23 pm, off-beat alarms taking turns to pester their owners in odd intervals between 8 am and 9 am, waking up briefly to smile at your roommate before tumbling back into the half-formed dream (that makes both of us), early morning dining hall conversations where a friend asks if you still feel the same way about your friendships here as you did a few months ago (that so many were fleeting, tottering).

this is home that i am trying to build, over dinner time conversations with a friend where we laugh over the distant reality of protective parents, in the moments where i struggle to be fiercely myself, truthfully myself (a difficult task when you recognise that there are so many aspects of yourself that you are still discovering), through the twice-weekly breakfasts with familiar faces that keep my sleep covered eyes battling their way to math class if only for the sweet promise of homely conversation that follows.

i still write too long sentences, i’m still struggling to figure out the things i care about, there are still days where i don’t feel good enough, that i don’t feel like i’m the person i want to be (will i ever really). but today i wake up after an evening spent figuring out a new song on off-tune pianos, after an evening spent running, after an evening spent marvelling at a beautifully written introduction to an essay, today, i’m okay, today i will appreciate that.

 

5th october 2016

I flew off from Singapore on the 17th of August. It’s now the 5th of October. More than a month has passed by so quickly. Between orientation, settling in, choosing classes, getting involved in extra-curricular’s, the onset of midterms and papers, there’s been so little time for me to take a breath and reflect on the things that have passed me by.

I still wake up each day incredibly grateful that I’m here, even on the days that feel too stressful, the days that I went to bed crying because everything felt too hard, too fast. Truthfully, I didn’t expect college to be this hard or this stressful. But it is. What we would have spent at least a week covering in school flies by within half a lesson here. Essays that we were given ungraded drafts, comments and weeks worth of work for in school are now a one time submission worth 20% of your grade, to be done within a week.

Honestly I’ve cried so many times since being here.

I’m still thankful though, to be learning and growing; I really really love the classes I’ve been in and the professors I get to interact with. I’ve come to learn about more about the sentiments surrounding South Africa after apartheid, I’ve come to realize that Japan isn’t as homogenous as it frames itself to be, about the experiences of Filipina women married into rural Japanese areas, I’ve looked through old documents and newsletters published by the Rohingya around 1992 when Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and realised how much faith they had in her, cementing how betrayed they must have felt with the way she has chosen to approach Rohingya issues now that her party is leading Burma.

Tatmadaw Militant: “Why do all of you support Aung San Suu Kyi so much? What can she do for you?”

Rohingya person: “When she is in power we will have a free state that truly cares about its people, we will have our rights.”

Tatmadaw Militant: “You will regret this, you will all regret this.”

The above interaction was quoted from memory and not exact but you see why, reading that, upset me. I’ve come to question whether the framework of “indigeneity” as created by the western world is alienating within Southeast Asia, preventing the progression of the rights of minority ethnic groups within the region.

Meanwhile, the other day in class, hearing a classmate censure a book for having “no strong feminist female characters” just because her definition of “strong feminist female characters” mandated having to behave in a way particular to the notion of feminism as defined by small pockets of western media, it struck me (for the first time really) how ‘white feminism’ really was an issue. That it (and she) ignored the way people from various backgrounds all over the world are struggling to negotiate different systems of power, systems that cannot be understood in the same way that gender inequality is understood in the context of university grounds, cities like NYC etc. I spoke up in class about it and was glad I did. The experience help me concretise ideas that had been communicated to me and floating around in my mind for awhile.

It sounds kind of silly but I genuinely feel like I’m learning and I’m so thankful for that. Beyond everything that’s going on in the classroom, there are beautiful things that have been happening around me as well. Friends, suite-mates, suite-mates-turned-friends, who are endlessly kind, who grab a meal for me on days when I’m rushing between classes and can’t stop at the dining hall or the days when I’m holed up in my room trying to complete an essay.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve gone apple-picking, celebrated an anniversary, auditioned and been accepted into a slam poetry group, belted songs from musicals loudly with a friend, jammed on a ukulele with a different friend, took a train by myself to a different state, a different city.

This is equal parts an update on my life for the people I care about back home but who I haven’t been able to catch up with yet and also a reminder to myself that, despite the stresses that have been piling up, I’m in a good place. That there are so many reasons to be happy and that I can work through all these little milestones. I’m trying to remind myself that college was never meant to be easy, that that’s the reason why I’m doing it. And as long as I’m learning (and learning well) along the way, building new relationships, growing old ones, as long as I continue to be happy with the person I am and the person I’m becoming, any stumbling that happens on the way is worth it.

I truly truly am thankful, I have every reason to be.

i don’t know how to finish this

it’s just another AA meeting, where we confess
to schools and colleges like they are our war medals
for it was a bloodbath, and we are the victors and
everybody knows – it is the victors who write history

leap day

it’s been so long since i’ve written. the process is beginning to feel foreign and realizing that scares me.

it’s strange, i’m confused. i’ve felt so much and so acutely over the past few months but haven’t had the urge to transfer all or any of that into writing.

looking back on pieces that i’ve written before and that i felt proud of at the time, i can see why they mattered to me but i no longer feel like i can write that way. i’ve always enjoyed a style of writing that is lyrical, emotive and evocative. but above all i treasure honesty in writing and i feel like i don’t know how to write in a way that encapsulates all of those traits.

to encourage the lyricism, i find that i drowned out half of who i am to paint my world as a more beautiful version of itself (even if tragically so). i don’t want to do that anymore?? i can’t do that anymore?? i think back on the selves that i inhabited when i used to write and they feel like drugged states. i no longer want to write in those states but i want to write nevertheless. it’s hard figuring out how to get there.

i want to be able to write in a way that is coarse but still beautiful, i want my writing to be able to permit oppositions and contradictions, to welcome them and encourage them. even now as i try to explain this it all sounds a little phony, i really don’t know how to get to where i want to be with my writing anymore.

for months i’ve been waiting for myself to ‘feel like writing’ and to know what to write about, how to write it but i’m so tired of just waiting. i’m going to begin making an active effort to figure this out and find my way there i suppose. i really don’t want to just give up.

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