in silence

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.

a streetlamp mutters

in the quiet of the convention centre, on registration chairs that were awaiting no one, we tried to trace the birth of our friendship. we searched for details that could be labelled as the point of conception, the date of birth, the place of birth, our first steps – but they couldn’t quite be found.

was that moment the first step or the first crawl?

first word or first laugh?

my aunt is the youngest of many siblings and by the time she was due her mother’s womb no longer recognized the anxiety of delivery. birth rang the doorbell in the middle of a mahjong game and demanded a place at the dinner table when they were in a train carriage speeding towards the nearest hospital.

the place of birth on her birth certificate is listed ‘between lampposts xx & xx’

perhaps our friendship too was born between lampposts, arbitrary markings between distance and intimacy. that night we laughed our way from the spotlight of one streetlamp to another, pausing in between to talk or take a photo, faces pointed into the light, smiles pointed towards each other.

under the shutters, between the lampposts, i knew that the birth was still happening and that this was a friendship into which we could be reborn over and over and over.

draft IX

recently I’ve just been repeatedly thinking and writing about how we have so little time left in this school, how six years have just passed us by

I keep saying it, and even I am tired of how often I say it but I feel like I can’t say it enough or I haven’t found the right way to say it so I will continue trying to say it again and again – what I really want to say is how thankful I am for the past six years. For the people, for the joy, for the pain, for the growth, for the sense of community, for a family. Most of us have have never really belonged to another community where phrases like “hunt as a pack” and “fly in v-formation”, phrases that remind us we are in this together, we are stronger together, are uncommon. It is easy to forget that this isn’t a given wherever we go, that this, this is something special.

Last year gave me so much pain. But it gave me a lot of joy as well. Recently I’ve been trying to do my college applications and I’ve written a lot about the things that matter to me – anthropology, the aeta, my film, spoken word. But there’s one thing that I haven’t written about – school and leadership. Mostly because when I think about it I’m not sure where to start. All I know is that despite the tears and the late nights, it is an experience that I will be thankful for, over and over again. It was through it that I realized how much this school matters to me, how much the community and our experiences matter to me. There were, and are still decisions and changes being made that I disagree with. But I’m not sure – at the same time I’ve also come to the recognition that people genuinely are trying to do what they believe is best for the school. Maybe it’s not what we believe is best but who’s to say??

“people think we are idealistic and it’s not possible but sometimes when you hold yourself up to those ideals you realize there’s so much more you can do. (…) it’s not about it being crazy that the kids spend so many hours doing art, so many hours being out in the community, it’s not that these things distract from their work, it’s just different ways for them to grow, to complement their learning. (…) but that’s what I always believed la, what can we do??”

I don’t deny that a large part of the changes that are being made are in response to the student community’s feedback, that we are incredibly busy etc. etc. but I think sometimes even we don’t know what we are capable of doing until we are pushed to do it. Instead of pulling the bar lower, why not continue holding it up high but providing as much support as possible to ensure we all get there?? I know all this is easier said than done but it’s been done before and I believe it can be done again??

But I didn’t mean for this to go down this thread of thought sigh perhaps this is a conversation I can have again soon but I don’t think now is the time for it anymore. I guess what I really wanted to say was that these experiences, the things I’ve gone through, I’m truly thankful for them and I really do believe that they’ve changed me for the better. And I so dearly want these things to exist as part of the school years from now. I don’t know if it will happen but I really do hope it will.

And again, I feel like there’s so much more yet to be said. But I am testing out all the different ways to say this in the process. I hope there’s some value in that.

seventh month

there are fires blooming across our island tonight

I watch them, find myself mesmerized by the way they are tilted into the wind, as are the incense sticks bent over in reception of presences from years gone by. I watched them with an engaged detachment; I do not attach a sense of loss to this scene.

The smoke briefly conjures an image of my grandfather.

And then it, too, is gone.

A few months ago, I felt like I had found remnants of my grandfather in the wholeness of a stranger. I wonder where that man is now.


Haven’t written/ posted anything here in ages so I figured I’d share something I wrote awhile back. I’ve been filled with plenty of thoughts but most of them are thoughts that will stay safely within the confines of my journal so I am sorry to anyone who checks this space, I will likely be silent for awhile. Also, I complete my major exams in less than three months from now so I will see you all then ~

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