Dec 22, 2014

Islam Lessons in North Carolina

Sources: FOX News, The Inquisitr, WCTI. I know, not the best sources (like, FOX, what), but I couldn't find better ones; besides, one can sieve through all the biased stuff to get down to the facts of the news.) 

(source. Click image for larger view)

I came across a recent North Carolina controversy regarding a vocabulary lesson for high school seniors that included elements about Islam. Personally, I wish Singapore had more religious education. I wish that I knew earlier that Hari Raya Haji commemorated Abraham's sacrifice. I wish we were more aware of the beauty in our differences. It's great that students are being taught about who Muhammad was, and about what Islam really is about, in light of all the Islamophobia being triggered from the actions of extremist groups.

1. What's wrong with teaching about Islam? 

This worksheet was accused of "[pushing] the religion on students", being "Islamic propaganda", etc. A parent said “What if right after Pearl Harbor our educational system was talking about how great the Japanese emperor was? What if during the Cold War our educational system was telling students how wonderful Russia was?”

Is this lesson dangerous to national identity? The sentence completion worksheet does sound a bit pushy, but this is part of their World Literature lessons, "which emphasizes culture in literature". It's allowing the students to step into Muslims' shoes. Is that dangerous? A person who knows more is always more equipped to make informed judgments. Instead of worrying about the student getting sucked into other cultures just by knowing about them, why not dare to see how the world is beautiful in multiple ways? (And these lessons were for high school seniors - 16-17 years old. They're almost entering university. They probably aren't about to be swayed by every piece of information.)

Is the parent worried that learning about the beauty of Islam will make students sympathize with extremists? A terrible act (or even many) doesn't make its entire culture inherently bad; it's this sort of polarising that results in senseless racism and hate. Is Islam the enemy, or is extremism?

Fear is triggered by the unknown. In light of terrorism, should we condone irrational and ignorant Islamophobia, or teach people about what Islam really is? The parent's attitude is exactly what the school hopes to curb. Extremist Islamic movements doesn't make Islam an ugly religion. (If you would allow me to draw this analogy - it's a little like using Westboro Baptist Church to form your impression of Christianity.) I personally believe that it isn't religion that kills; it is people who do. People take the bits of religion that they agree with and run with it. But even if you believe that religion is the cause of these horrible events, does that make the religion not worth learning about? Doesn't it make sense to "know your enemy", to understand what exactly you're against and why?

The same parent said “I just told my daughter to read it as if it’s fiction. It’s no different than another of fictional book you’ve read.” Which part of the vocabulary guide is fiction? Muhammad's previous career? The five pillars of faith? The fact that it was an influential movement? The sentence completion worksheet is obviously an imagination-stimulating exercise, but it's a wonderful one: it invites the students to step into the world of another, to realize beauty in other cultures.

The real issue, I think, was identified by one of the students: “If we are not allowed to talk about any other religions in school – how is this appropriate?” 

2. Avoiding discussion of religious diversity

The problem is that countries and schools are shying away from religious discussion. America is largely moving away from the public mention of religion. Military personnel aren't supposed to talk about religion - when a fellow soldier is wounded, or grieving, or badly in need of something to hold on to, you aren't supposed to mention your faith even if it's the one ray of hope. Giving out religious material is banned from the classroom; public religious talk is treated with wariness. Last semester in school, we discussed how France (and Singapore) banned the Muslim headscarf in public schools, in the name of secularity. Schools seem to be avoiding religion to create an impression of sameness, so that the country can more easily forge a national identity, like as if we can't handle our differences and thus we must pretend they don't exist. I wish we did the opposite instead: teach one another about our faiths, deepen our understanding of one another, and celebrate our diversity.

In upper primary I hung out with the Indians and Malays, so I celebrated Hari Raya with ketupat and green packets, and Deepavali with curry and Bollywood movies. I watched my Indian friends dress up, flowers and oil and beautiful bangles. In secondary school, practically everyone wore saris on Racial Harmony Day. And when Nazeera dressed up in traditional Malay dress with her tudung, everyone was amazed by how mature and graceful she looked. Last semester I was so fortunate to have learnt more about the Abrahamic religions, and it's beautiful how they build upon one another.

Recently Divina showed me around a Hindu temple, and I was delighted to find a shrine dedicated to Rama, Sita and Lakshmana (we read The Ramayana in our curriculum). She invited me to receive a blessing from the priest - "would you like to experience it?" - but I didn't want to spoil the sacredness. Divina also says that her guru teaches about Jesus often, and that she loves Jesus too, and that John 3:16 is beautiful. I guess in polytheistic Hinduism, talking about Jesus as a god isn't a big problem. Above her door hangs a sign that says "Lord, Bless our Family". Every time Divina leaves the house, she touches the forehead of her guru in a photograph, and then her own forehead; it's lovely that she constantly remembers her devotion, and the source of her protection.

3. Why Islam in particular?

This bit is in response to the second half of the FOX article. Given the current political climate, it’s a great idea to get students exposed to Islam when they don’t know anything about it except from radical extremist terrorism. It'll help them form a more nuanced view of the matter, and recognize that the faith isn’t the one to be condemned, but the hate-filled murderers who use a loving message for evil. Learning about Islam is especially urgent now, more than Buddhism or Hinduism, because of the extremist movements. You don’t want a hate war ensuing from ignorance. A huge proportion of people don’t realise that Allah is also the Jewish and Christian God, and that Jesus is also revered (albeit only as a prophet) in Islam. How different would our feelings and fears be towards Muslims if we were more educated about Islam? (It would be great if Judaism and Christianity were discussed more too, of course, but I’m guessing the school assumes that the students know far less about Islam than the other two.) It’s a great idea that the school is getting the students to understand the religion for what it really is.

Good job North Carolina. I’m glad students are being taught something important. Maybe it wasn't taught in a tactful way; I hope that with refinement, the curriculum will be more publicly approved, not taken away altogether. Then we'll have fewer people who are irrationally afraid of the religion and its people, or who ignorantly condemn Islam, because of the actions of extremists.

Dec 19, 2014

amor vincit omnia

In fact, you are right: Love does conquer all. But lesser loves submit to greater loves. The greatest Love stands, an undefeated tower; in its light all other loves stand or crumble.

Dec 15, 2014


I am in a Greyhound bus on the way to Orlando, and I am looking at the night sky. There is no other car on the road, no streetlights, only a short constant row of dark trees blocking the horizon. The sky is almost all there is outside my window. I am looking at a drape of black spotted with stars like splotches of paint, so bold, so clear. And even here, as on the wall of my dorm room, Orion the hunter watches over me. 

Jupiter creeps out over the row of trees, and with my Sky Safari app (thank you Prof. Penprase and Cosmic Origins!), I learn some new stars: Procyon from the Canis Minor constellation, and the heads of the Gemini twins. The entire time I am thinking the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Look at His beautiful handiwork all the way out there, and also consider His handiwork in us. 

Occasionally a series of super bright streetlamps come barging their way in, and the stars give way. Or a few cars with bright headlamps, or a little rest stop. When the fierce human lights command their power, the black is just black; the stars knowingly take a step back. I try to close my eyes, get some sleep, but the stars are still whispering. 

It is dark again, and the stars reappear. Hello, home. 

Dec 14, 2014

God's Transformation, feat. Nick & Ivan

(I'm not supposed to post the (beautiful) photos we took at the wedding yet, so here's a picture from yesterday at World of Coca-Cola featuring an unsuspecting Nick and cheeky Ivan, who had tricked him into trying the Zimbabwean drink that, according to Nick a few seconds after this photo was taken, tasted like medicine.)


So I'm with the cousins in Atlanta to attend my aunt's wedding (congrats!), and today I learnt that Nick now leads a youth cell group, and he's been receiving training from his youth pastor. At the wedding today (in a cabin in the woods; it was incredible) Nick and Ivan were talking about Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller and understanding apologetics and all the things we all still didn't know, yet knowing that it was important to "always be prepared to give an answer...for the hope that you have" (1 Pet 3:15).

They're both eighteen now, and the whole time I was amazed at how different they are from the Nick and Ivan I once knew. Like, you have well-behaved children, and then you have really bad ones. Once upon a time Ivan and Nick were just...people you would never come close to associating with the "good Christian kid".

I remember the year I noticed Ivan's stark transformation from a terror of a child into a gentle, loving, quiet preteen. 2009: I was 16, he was 13. I mean, he was quiet. I was like, woah, dude, I don't even know you anymore. And he told me that at church camp the previous year, he and his older brother Ian had encountered God in a very tangible way for the first time. I guess the transformation was more dramatic in Ivan because Ian had always been the better-behaved kid, but that marked the start of their lives in Christ. Whenever Ian messages me to clarify or challenge something I said on Facebook regarding Christianity, I am reminded again of the work that God is doing in him, and that only God brings us to desire to know Him. While Ian's the more word-focused, "is this biblically founded or not" type of Christian (reminds me of Kenneth the Yale-NUS DF heh), God's work in Ivan is more evident in his relationship with Him and the grace and love that he shows to others, I think.

And I guess I only realised the change in Nick on this trip. I see Nick very rarely, and I had a pretty bad impression of his fourteen-year-old character, to say the least. I noticed it this time: courteous, helpful and obedient to his parents, not distasteful in his jokes (but still hilarious), genuine, not a single swear word. He was talking about his challenges as a youth leader, and the kids whom he really cares for and whom he'd love to see grow up; his difficulties in answering their questions or helping them with their problems, that motivate him to read up more, question more, understand his faith better.

"It's 24/7", he said, and that pretty much sums up my experience leading CF, too. It's a 24/7 job. As a church or ministry leader people somehow seem to expect you to be flawless like God, and you often trip up with a slip of the tongue, or a graceless act, or just about anything when people scrutinise and judge you that way.

It's tiring, and it often feels unfair. "Hey, you don't judge that Christian when he does this, why judge me." Once I poured it out to Yixuan and Baoyun in frustration. Frustration that I had to set higher standards for myself, when it might not even be a sinful act but could be judged to be so. Frustration that I always felt judged, like I lugged about an iron chain of watchful eyes 24/7. And then Yixuan said "but isn't it a wonderful thing to be able to represent God?" That sentence changed the way I saw everything.

Looking at my cousins, I'm also reminded of Theo, and how much he has changed since really coming to Christ around this time last year. Just in one year, he has become such a different person, so selfless and so thoughtful for other people, so helpful, so gracious in speech and thought, so anxious to live out a close relationship with God. It's incredible to witness. And I wonder if people see the change in me. I see the inward change in myself, in my thoughts and decisions and motivations, but I wonder if people who've known me through the years can also see God's work in me this tangibly. I don't think so. I mean, I wasn't a very good fourteen-year-old either, but I think I was a somewhat decent kid. And I still say 'shit' and 'damn' very frequently, and I very often forget to be graceful or reflect Christlikeness in my speech. And I'm a pretty awful child to my parents. I'm sorry, Mum and Dad, that you guys think I cannot stand you guys and would always rather be somewhere else and won't listen and will always do things my way. I was eating Sun Chips on my bed and Mum said "You know, I don't know if I should make you eat better food or just let you learn for yourself, because it's so bad for you and you'll come to see the effects one day", and I didn't say anything because I didn't know what to say, and I continued eating my Sun Chips because well the packet had to be finished anyway and I knew that once the school semester started again I'd go right back to eating junk, so why pretend? And then I thought "I'm probably a terrible child." But then, also, "will I ever please my parents?", and then, "does any child ever fully meet their parents' expectations?"

Anyway, now I'm rambling.

(I never actually try to end a post properly eh, must be a subconscious rebellion against all the pretty concluding paragraphs I try to squeeze out when I write essays)

Dec 9, 2014

"No, you know what? Let's talk about Kong Hee."

They say that the thing you see when you look into the mirror is your insecurity. Your fat thighs, maybe, or your acne, or your eyes that will never be pretty no matter how hard you try, or your race or sexuality. On a typical day I look in the mirror and see a City Harvest Christian. I have good reason to feel socially insecure as a Christian, and especially as a CHC-goer. Everyone judges you for being a CHC-goer, including other Christians; or at least that's how I felt for the longest time. "Oh my god, the china wine church" "Oh your pastor pocketed the money?" "Everyone's queueing up to give money to your pastor" "You all got the Greece trip? Your church bribed the school ah?" "All these biblically-shallow, feel-good worshippers" "Prosperity gospel" etc. I thought it was miraculous that people accepted me as the CF leader. This must be somewhat similar to how a homosexual pastor might feel.

I don't see the need to justify myself, or my church, or anyone. The church's been publicly shamed for longer than I've been in it. I do take the stand that my church is as sound in its main theological beliefs as any other church, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with its mode of worship, etc. But my membership does not mean that I fully adopt the complete City Harvest identity as my own identity, just as how my passionate and steady commitment to Yale-NUS doesn't mean I fully take its identity as my own. City Harvest is a place where I feel free to worship and learn to develop my relationship with God; beyond than the immediate institution, I am first a Christian.

Besides, I also don't think it should be necessary for me to completely reject the ways and beliefs of my church - "I go there, but I don't agree with any of it" - in order to feel socially accepted. This church guided me in my journey with Jesus; without it, I wouldn't have known God like I now do. Yes, I don't drink it all in; not all of what I believe is from the church; I disagree with the ways in which they present certain things, and - well - unlike many Christians (enough to get me extremely frustrated and worried), I am very much for evolution, as much as the average non-Christian. But I owe a great deal to this place.

Also I have come to be very frustrated at the self-righteousness of many demeaningly cynical non- or anti-Christians. Oh, look at those opiate-addicted religious people, naive, unquestioning, just buying these lies. Look at this City Harvest, the thousands of stupid sheep just buying it all in. Maybe it is my insecurity, but I often feel like people try hard to continue being nice to me upon finding out which church I belong to. Oh, this sad girl. I hope she doesn't give money to the church.

I'm not giving anything, any devotion or defence or money, to a human being. And this is why I will neither defend nor demean my pastor and his wife, but I ask that, like I do, like Jesus does, you do not judge. I ask that you do not mock him, because are you more righteous than a God who will never deride a sinner? More righteous than a God who will cry for our sins, cry for the heartbreak that we inflict upon ourselves? I am a human being, and I too try not to judge. I think the basic thing we can do is practice respect and acceptance, instead of laughing at a person. Today I was invited to watch a series of videos of supposedly deranged people doing embarrassing things in public, like stripping naked in a station or wailing uncontrollably at losing a flight or picking a fight in a bus. Was I supposed to laugh? What if the person in the video, or a deranged person I encountered in the streets one day, was someone I knew, someone who had a pleasant demeanour in secondary school but who possibly got very stressed out when she started working at a law firm, and lost it all one day? Would I find it funny then?

I find it uncomfortable to be around people who practice derision, or a self-righteous sort of compassion, or arrogance that assumes a higher ground, that assumes we can save ourselves because our hearts are so good, or that those who believe in anything beyond are too naive, not enlightened like you are. Right now, halfway around the world from Singapore, I miss the gentle, all-loving respect and humility that I could easily find in those around me, in Christians and non-Christians alike. Humility is something rare and precious, something we all need to be whacked in the head to remember from time to time.

I don't think this post makes much sense. I'm just typing.

Nov 30, 2014

Perfectly Normal

At the institute of mental health, an old woman meets her husband clad in a pale blue uniform. He is in a wheelchair; she takes the bench. She lays out a small spread of packed food - bee hoon, chicken rice, curry. They share their lunch in silence, make home of whatever they have.

 At the institute of mental health a pretty girl who looks slightly older than me holds her bible close. She is quiet, mousey; she retreats to a corner and reads and reads and reads the bible. The way she walks reminds me of how I walked through the school corridors once, for two weeks in 2012; as if caught in a trance, a zombiefied version of luna lovegood, shrouded with an aura of grief. She will not talk to you. Behind me an old man brings food for his wife. they are having a casual chat in dialect, probably hokkien; she’s just digging into the food and talking and talking about what people did and said and he has his food in one hand, he looks at her, smiles and grunts in affirmation, leans back against the wall.

"These two girls, early in the morning they’re singing the national anthem, it’s so funny. And you see all these people just stripping out of nowhere. Like nicki minaj but not hot. But it’s really sad that there are some people here who are fine, but they express themselves differently, but society deems what is right and normal and they don’t fall within that spectrum.

“Here nobody will judge you. You can sing to yourself or twirl your hair the whole day and they will just smile and acknowledge, you're okay. Everyone knows that everyone has gone through something terrible that brought them here, they are all good people but something happened that made them this way. Here we all understand that.”

A woman is banging furiously on the door. Threatening them to let her into the meeting area. Shouting with a passion. A soft electronic beep, she storms in, a torrent of the food so bad they don't let me go out i cannot see my family. I look around at the double-enforced window grills and the pale yellow hospital concrete walls and the complete lack of natural scenery and the doors you cannot open without a staff pass and I think,  I would be just as enraged if I had to live in an environment like that, and then they would simply prescribe me a longer observation period. The woman shouts about having a settle to score with the nurses. "Don't be a coward ah, hide in the glass box. You want to fight you come out and fight lah. I not scared. My father is a policeman. Although my parents are not alive."

The old man has left, but his wife is still talking.

Nov 11, 2014

city night

i fall asleep comforted by the stars of lit bedrooms, students at their desks. they watch over me. the glow-in-the-dark Orion on my wall is my guardian. i fall asleep to the hum of aircon vents and the occasional song of traffic. the city is omnipresent.

Nov 9, 2014

You have not loved;

you have not known the way your heart expands beyond the ribcage to fill every fibre of your body, the way the world stops at the slightest touch. You have not understood the emptiness, the unwholeness when you are not held, the arms that ache. You have not understood the desire to simply sit and be with, to rest, to feel at home tucked into the embrace of another; to breathe together; to hear nothing but breath and heartbeat. The way your soul simmers into white tranquility. You have not understood the way the universe revolves around your hand in hers as you both observe, learn fragility. Incomprehensible beauty. You do not see the glory that has been built into this world, the mystery that puts a filter over your eyes that you cannot see anything for what it is, she becomes your world, and because of her the world is beautiful, all the curiosities of the human condition encapsulated in your first kiss.

You have not let all your treasures and insecurities fall to the floor in a careless heap, you have not put everything you live for into cupped hands as an offering, all that you once worshipped now worthless in the light of greater beauty. You have not allowed your monsters out of the deepest darkest place, you remain afraid. You remain sealed, a Ziploc full of air, self-sufficient. Never a leak. A leak is dangerous.

You have never let yourself be abandoned to danger. The moment you realise what you have given away it will be too late. You have not let go. One day you will. One day a girl will capture you in the most curious ways, you will wonder what has come upon you, why your thoughts won't leave you alone; you will get frustrated. You will agonise. And you will give yourself away. And later when she walks away and tears off a bit of your soul you will be left with a permanent hole. And you will struggle for duct tape but you will leak. And then you will be left naked and afraid.

It is important. We are human; we all have our patched-up tears; it is the condition of love. One day you will know, and you will curse yourself for your childish stupidity, you will not understand how the majestic parthenon - a temple of love - can so easily crumble. And we will all lie upon our ruins. One day then, perhaps, you will also find it in yourself to pick up the bricks again. Pristine, we are only young. We all have to break. Grow. Build ourselves from ruins.

Nov 2, 2014

I am an aunt

Today I went for my cousin's baby's first-month celebration.

I wore an electric blue dress. This was the second time I wore this dress - the first time I wore it was in this same house, the day she got married. My brother and I happened to be somewhat colour-coordinated again. We stood at the porch, bracing ourselves for all the aunts we were supposed to greet, and we mused about how in ten years' time, this was going to be us. In ten years' time I'd be 31 and he'd be 27, and the baby showers and weddings would be for our own friends (and hopefully ourselves). My aunt despaired that none of my cousins were going to be doctors. My family sat at a table and talked about that morality course I did and the expectations of working life. My brother and I traded stories of the week in hushed tones, away from the crowd. On the way back we shared music, Ed Sheeran and Charlie Lim.

She still looks and talks like a university student, which makes me nervous. I'm supposed to pass through this ritual, too, not too long from now. Her friends were there, other young people with babies, and I thought: will that also be us in ten years' time? My Council friends and me, my college classmates and me, gathered round in a house with our kids running into table corners and demanding to see the koi in the pond? Who the heck are we going to marry?! Roi, Welly, Abi, Emme - where will we be, and whose rings will be around our fingers? Will Alex and Geri still be together, and together for life? (Please get married, y'all are so sweet)

And will we remember these days, too, the 7ams on the bleachers sleeping on our schoolbags with our skirts too long and our hair too neat; the days we watched the football boys practice and mused about how love was a war and "we are veterans"; the days my friends skipped lunch break to hold me as I cried. The late nights in bedrooms and common lounges talking about Aristotle and morality and life; the 4ams we discussed theology and cried and prayed; the days we tried to use words bigger than ourselves, and the days we jumped on bouncing castles. The days we travelled, a bunch of schoolmates sharing our love stories in a Greek bar and lying on a Greek pavement to look at the Greek night sky. I think about New York and the first memory that comes to mind is of the night I missed my flight - me screaming falling flying towards carnival lights and Sabri laughing the most carefree laugh.

Will we look back and think of ourselves as kids? Kids trying to be all grown-up with grown-up philosophy, kids talking about Marx's fetishism of the commodity and the tyranny of bureaucracy like we understand this society, arguing for/against feminism in lengthy scribbles in the lift, kids puking in the corridor, kids falling in and out of infatuation. I have the habit of thinking of my past selves as far more immature, perhaps because I change and learn so much each year. But I also always think I'm stronger than I really am, more mature and disciplined, and I fall to the bottom and remember we are only human, we are still in many ways children.

Will we ever feel 'ready'? Will we feel ready to bring up another life, to wipe a child's ass and chide him for biting his fingernails, to explain why the sky is blue and why we should share our toys and why we cannot eat too much chocolate. Will we ever feel ready? I guess many people are never ready enough. Parents are also kids. Parents are also navigating a new world. We are always incomplete, inadequate. We will sit around cut fruits and cookies and our own children will befriend one another and we will fight with the person we're supposed to live with for a lifetime. We will throw things and words around. We will share our parenting woes and we won't know what to do. And there will come the day our children realise we are also only human, just like them. They will become disenchanted, and we will feel like we've failed.

When I'm married and my kids are teenagers will I look back at this and laugh at myself? I enjoy reading my primary school diary entries, that's for sure, and I'm quite ashamed at the weird kid I used to be but I still am one; I still say stupid things and dream stupid things. Also, I want to be a taxi driver, but I have to be at least 25. I want to travel. I hope I travel. I wonder if one day I'll be able to think of myself without deriding the immaturity of all my previous years, accept that we learn by trial and error, through elimination and scraped knees.

Oct 28, 2014

seven years ago yesterday

Seven years ago yesterday, I fell in love for the first time.

Well I did have that crush in primary school, which admittedly lasted longer than any of my relationships have - over three years - I even wanted to follow him to secondary school but my dad promised me a phone if I went to a girls' school. But just a crush is just a crush, an entirely different experience.

Yesterday when I woke up I was reminded of the date, and made a mental note that it'd be nice to do a post about it, but it slipped my mind, and now it's 2.33am; the day has passed so it shall be seven years ago yesterday.

Seven years ago yesterday, I was at a concert with a friend. We held hands playfully; nothing there. But something. Something. No one ever confessed or asked the other, but not too long after, we both simultaneously fell into deeper water, in tentative reciprocal "i miss you" texts and wide grins at phone screens.

Seven years ago minus two months, I lost my first kiss. We were in an elevator, the top floor of a building, the lift buttons unpressed. Suddenly the door opened without warning and a woman in heels walked in. We quickly pulled away. She pressed for the ground floor. That was the longest, most awkward elevator ride in my life. It was hard not to laugh.

Six years ago, I started to sleep with my phone under my pillow. Six years ago, I would often spend my time after school taking the bus to a house in Bishan and we would play with the dogs or play Runescape or just be with each other. It wasn't always pleasant. You see, the teenage phase is often wrecked by hormones; it's hard to leave unscathed. I was often dealing with a perpetually worried, perpetually insecure, binge-drinking self-harming victim of school bully, who would often spend our hours together just crying. Just crying. Why? Dunno. Worried about losing me. I said "stop drinking. Stop harming yourself. For me. Stop it because you love me." And it worked. And till this day I am thankful that this good thing came out of it.

Six years ago, I think, I folded 1314 straw hearts. Our birthdays almost coincided, but my present was very late, because 1314 straw hearts aren't easy. I counted them three times. Accompanied them with a glass bottle of M&Ms labelled 'happy pills', because the crying really needed to stop. (Yesterday I finally got around to buying loom bands at the market, and I made 8 bracelets. I've gotten hooked. It reminded me of all the other useless therapeutic obsessions I had, like friendship bracelets and small straw hearts. On our first year anniversary, I folded 93 paper stars with Chinese song quotes inside each one.)

Six years ago I accidentally sent a "goodnight babe" text to my mum. After that I deleted my mum's number from my phone in fear. Also, six years ago, my parents found out. They were furious. They said no. I had to let go. I tried very hard to keep from crying, but I said "I can't." And why? So much to say in response, so much to prove, and I blurted out "because I'd just die."

I hated how it came out, so childish and stupid. But what did I know, a fifteen-year-old; what did I know about keeping it cool and rationalising it out. We continued to spend every waking hour together anyway; there was never a train ride unaccompanied, a sick day without panadol at my bedside; there was never a text I had to wait for.

Six years ago, around this time, I came to church. I had gone to Sunday school as a child, but I stopped when I entered secondary school, and I prayed to the walls; never read the Bible; never let God be a part of my life; never thought about what it meant to believe. Six years ago, around this time, I first stepped into the building that is now my spiritual home. I was taken aback by how engrossed people were in worship. There was a God they knew and loved, a God whom I realised was a complete stranger to me. That night at the altar call I cried hard, out of a desire to know Him, and gave my heart to Christ.

It was very tough at the start. I was full of cynicism, questioned everything; it even got to a point where I prayed to just blindly believe. (Thank goodness God doesn't grant blindness to those who have received sight.) But as I grappled with frustrating doubts, God was also ever-present. There came the days of enthralling first love all over again. I cried at every cell group meeting, so moved by the tangibility of God. Answered every altar call, even the salvation ones. I read the Bible on the train to school and in the classroom during recess break. He gave me delight even as I questioned His word, and my own worth in Him. (Even up till last year, I didn't understand God's love. I still don't know if I do.)

And I guess as we run closer and closer to God, the things of our past selves just fall away. Or maybe the relationship just started to run dry, as so many do after a year or so. Five years ago, we began to argue every single day. No loud shouting fights, just cold exchanges. An hour later I'd be fine. But at the other end of the receiver would be endless crying, bottomless fear - it had started again. It frankly only annoyed me, and after a while, I couldn't be bothered anymore.

Five years ago, we broke up. I said "you need to learn to love yourself before you can love others."

Funny, because we seem to have switched places since. You have become a person so full of self-confidence and generous love. When I held that birthday fundraiser last year you donated $200 even though we hadn't spoken all these years. You have really learnt to love yourself. I, on the other hand, shrivelled up. You see, in that crucial teenage stage when you didn't know how to love yourself, you poured all your love on me; I never needed to love myself because you fed me with all a person needed. All that was meant to be reserved for yourself and more. When that was gone, I realised I was empty. And I have been empty ever since. In 2011 I wrecked myself over a boy, and it was my fault - I needed him in order to stand, and when he couldn't be my crutch I crumpled to the floor. Last year I clung on to a friend like my life depended on it, because it practically did. One day he said "I'm not going to support you until you learn to support yourself."

This year, I am a lot better. I have learnt to be okay with spending time alone, at least for now. I am learning to be independent; travelling and living alone have really helped. And I am treasuring the freedom of not being shackled to any person. I still don't know what it means to love myself, and I don't think I do, and I don't know if anyone can define self-love. But I'm learning to let me be enough for myself, and that's a start.

P.S. I still remember your phone number. I don't know if you've changed it. But somehow I feel like when you change it it'll be like a whole identity has been washed over; something tangible has disappeared; evidence cleared.

Oct 21, 2014

midnight weaving musing missing

i haven’t written in a while. i am in despair my creative nonfic pieces are a hot mess i don’t want to read my pieces out for goodness’ sake and there are things i were supposed to write for like i wanted to write about befriending strangers in poland and the tragic beauty of fleetingness like a rose and it is tragic it is as if he has died, as if i lived for three days, four, and a portion of me died 

damn i miss poland, but a place doesn't make an experience as much as the people; as much as watching french-rapping old men in bill piel attire (collared short-sleeved shirt and berms) over beer with jack daniel evans and isaac nam

as much as braving the rain along the riverbank and then taking shelter under a piece of glass barely big enough to cover us both as he talks about watching my favourite movie black swan on the alps and some guy getting a heart attack

and then finding ourselves in a place so dull that they put an advert over it on the map

and especially the last night and that berlin story and growing up in tanzania and oh

the castles and the churches and the cobblestone path memories are so fragile so beautiful i could cry

maybe it’d hurt too much to go back

but then i’ll just hop on another free walking tour in hope of similarly fun company - but never as good, never as good; never have i clicked so well with someone and never again

i wonder what agape will be like when it comes; we can play around with half-assed love now, the fun of the flutters, but it’s nothing. it’s a mockery of something more beautiful. how much more beautiful? will i get to know? will he have a thirst for travel, will we be explorers together, explorers of ourselves and of each other, and will we be work on farms in new zealand and at that divine pie place meliartos in athens and will we be english teachers in japan and will we own a cottage in oxfordshire. will we breathe israel and eritrea and egypt. will we target the little islands. will we explore this country’s own little islands. will we be explorers. will he laugh on rooftops and in fields with me, guitar and beer. will he also be a romantic shithead. will he not mind me being around 24/7. will we cry together and lift our sorrows up to the Lord. will we work hand in hand, two hearts as one. 

will i miss these days in dorm rooms, and the friends sleeping over. will i miss iowa with hamid (the most incredible days) and looking for fun on a dead monday night in philadelphia with sandra and chancing upon a karaoke bar and befriending the two dudes with a car. chris and alex? generic names. one of them was born in scotland and he didn't even know that their national animal is the unicorn. (one of their national animals, anyway.) will i miss amsterdam street with sabri sandra sarah, or the night these two guys tried to hit on us and we spent the entire night making them guess which countries we were from so that we could finish our beer and leave. no karaoke thanks. and i had to lie about my surname because i wasn't going to say i was a hoe. will i miss poland. i think i always will.

the first day i went on that walking tour in poland i befriended a guy from hong kong. can’t remember his name. can’t remember if he told me his name. we walked back towards the square together and halfway through he ran after a lemonade girl to try to hit on her, but she was attached. of course she was. she was absolutely beautiful. the most captivating eyes.

Sep 27, 2014

Other people will not heal you

"All I need is a girl" you say. You have that deep pit in your soul, people call it chronic depression but you just call it chronic loneliness; we were made to be with another, and that's all you need to solve yourself.

Listen to me: she will not heal you. If you are not enough for yourself, no one will be. For the longest time I latched on to people, clung to them because I thought they were what I needed, but then I needed more and more until I squeezed them dry while I was still left thirsting.

I never understood it when people said they needed alone time. Alone time is lonely. Restless. Purposeless. But over the week I became addicted to the tranquility that comes with being with myself. Invited my thoughts to a little tea party. And slowly I will learn to listen to them again, not shut them out with other people's voices and the noise of work. Slowly I will learn to be enough for myself. Only then can I let other people in.

Sep 26, 2014

final act

The day you died I didn't cry.

People were shocked. Nobody expected it from you - you were always full of cheer and loud infectious laughter. But I knew better. Sure, you kept up your radiant exterior, groomed and scrutinised it in front of the mirror; but your soul was a black hole, a growing mass of darkness, and I knew suicide was the only way you would go. Couldn't imagine you dying any other way. You shot yourself in the head - finally gave in. No long letter to loved ones or notes of thanks to friends; only a short post that said something about the actor taking his final bow.

That's how it had always been. A one-man show, no co-hosts, no audience participation. You refused help because that's the kind of steely independence you forced on yourself the day you realised that's all there would really ever be. But I don't think you ever accepted that, that we are all fundamentally alone, because if you did you wouldn't be bitter about it. You had been acting for as long as you could remember. You decided one day that the world was a play, and no one really wanted the truth, so you played along. You had to retire someday. (Of course you had to shoot yourself - you had to go out with a bang.) There was no other way to cope with that massive black hole, sucking everything into its path and crushing it to bits under your oppressive tyrannic philosophy that everything was a lie.

I tried pulling you out of it many times. Sat with you and pleaded and cried and wrote long letters. But you wouldn't budge. I was merely unenlightened, happily naïve, and you had built a fort to protect yourself against anyone who tried to convince you that we weren't all lonely. Your loneliness made you completely self-centered - if no one was there for you no one should matter. And what is one man worth? How much can one man hold? You looked only to yourself, a microcosm that refused to collide or share, and you would obviously run out of yourself someday. We feed on other people and feed them too. You cut yourself off from the social ecosystem, from the web of life, and of course humans can't survive on their own.

I gave up the day I realised nothing I say would convince you. It came as a relief to you, too; I had gotten annoying. So I left you to harvest the black hole until it devoured all of you. I wrote you a eulogy (a pleasant one - funerals aren't for the dead they're for the living) but the real message, the final long letter, i slipped into your grave. It would not have been right to cry.

(i'm sorry this is a bad piece very disjointed and just not good i took a few hours to write it because 90% of the time i was distracted by facebook sigh)
('final act' is a pretty damn good title though. don't you agree. like, act. heh)

Sep 19, 2014

you are not a reflection of those who can't love you

"When they don’t love you the way you want to, you mourn that for however long you need to. But then you get back up and you remind yourself. You are not a reflection of the people who can’t love you. You will love again. You will be loved again." 

Caitlyn Siehl

I look back at the ruins of three cities. I partook in empires. But they fell one by one, and all that we built gave way to tears like tsunamis and anger like fire and all that is left are the cold blackened walls, a hollow fort.

I wish I could rebuild the cities, I would do all I can, but it is irreparable now, pointless to try. Besides, the ruins have their own tragic charm. Now we leave the site as it is, a Delphi, lifeless remnants that once were. Grass will grow over the dull bricks, and tourists will come and explore. And nobody will know it like we did, and as much as you disregard the memories, I hope at least you don't resent.

Sep 16, 2014


Maybe once, when we were naïve, we shared our lives with those around us. We let our happiness rise and fall with theirs, a tidal wave to remind us that we are intricately connected to other souls. But then we grew older, and our needs grew stronger, and we were lonely no matter how many people we had. So we poured ourselves out to others in desperation, expecting a reciprocation. But we never got back enough; people always disappoint, and the hole in your heart would always remain a hole.

Perhaps one day, for the last time, we gave ourselves away. Trembling hands presented all we had. He accidentally dropped it to the floor.

So we swept it up with cupped hands in a hurry, tears in a flood, and fled to a small dark cave. We drilled into ourselves the belief that we would always be alone. This world is full of empty bubbles of individuals, and we will never, ever fully combine. Protect ourselves. We learnt to grow our own strength, so that we needed no one else. Neediness was an abominable weakness.

We learnt to cut ourselves off, reject our nature of being sociable creatures, organisms that did need others to survive. We sealed off the hole in our hearts with layers and layers of silver duct tape. Locked it up in a freezing incubator, away from the hands of humans. We recited the mantra: dependency is death. We began to take pride in the fact that we could survive a whole night alone, then a week, then four years. Four whole years of keeping our heart in, a glorious achievement. We did it all on our own.

Then one day, someone walks alongside you on the beach and lies with you on the sand and puts his hand over your heart. No. Fear creeps up your back, but you keep yourself still. His words are a ray of warmth, and your heart begins to thaw, and you don't know what to do. You miss it so much, the feeling of having a heart of raw flesh, but you see, you know what is coming and you tremble at the thought. The waves are receding, receding, and if you didn't know any better you'd think oh this is so strange and beautiful but you have seen it before. In the blink of an eye the tsunami will sweep over you and devour everything you knew.

But you let him. You let him reach into your heart and hold it in his hands. You are a gaping crater in full display. He notices the duct tape over the hole. He picks at the tape to undo it, wanting to know what lies beneath. And when the wind rushes in you are aware again that you are emptier, hollower than ever.

(We have, in my view, created a society in which people find it harder and harder to show one another basic affection. In place of the sense of community and belonging...we find a high degree of loneliness and alienation. - dalai lama)

Aug 31, 2014

Oppressive Freedom: To My Liberal Arts College

When Yale-NUS College was still being formed, we received a lot of flak, mostly from people from America and particularly people from Yale. They argued that a liberal arts college should support the free airing and discussion of views, and that won't happen in Singapore, where they restrict free speech. And so we, the Yale-NUS student body, are out to defend our right to this freedom here. We had Nicole Seah over for a talk, we have access to nationally banned books, we have the children's books that NLB threw out, we started our own little Pink Dot movement around the world. This student body prizes itself for being forward-thinking - we openly welcome discussions about feminism, prejudice and homosexuality; it's in our readings, our paper assignments, our lunchtime chats.

Or do we? Do we encourage discussion - a free, respectful airing of views from both sides?

With these issues, there is a "correct" opinion we hold; it's just different from most of society. We think that our forward-thinking views are not shared by others enough, and this college is giving people a chance to speak up, giving the oppressed us the right to express ourselves. The problem is that everyone is assumed to subscribe to this opinion, to the point that it becomes oppressive. There is no space to openly prefer the status quo that the rest are fighting against.

Try it. Use your supposed freedom to say something that the majority doesn't agree with, and you will be called names. You will be treated differently. The tyranny of the majority happens here too, just in reverse. If you believe that NLB did the right thing, if you are openly against Pink Dot, if you feel your manliness melting away when a girl's fixing your laptop, if you openly prefer to hang out with people of a lighter race, you will be slammed.

When I was disturbed by how all my American creative writing classmates in Iowa had chosen to write about divorce, a law student friend of mine made a loose and insensitive remark that criticised the American government and the First Amendment. Immediately the Facebook post exploded with extremely hateful, passionately angry comments by my schoolmates calling him names, denouncing him for being arrogantly ignorant, stupid, and a terrible person. (Disclaimer: I deleted the whole thing in the end, so I can't go back to it to check what exactly was said.) No one actually bothered consulting his views, or asking why he said that. None of them actually knew him, either.

Yesterday another friend told me that he preferred I not drive him around, because he'd feel really ashamed of himself. (While I passed on the first try, he has failed the test five times and has yet to succeed, and he felt inadequate, dependent, when I had to trouble myself for his sake.) He offers to carry bags for girls, he goes the extra mile to watch out for their safety. Is this being sexist? When I took the first statement out of context, within five minutes he was called a hypocrite; he was asked if he couldn't take having women in power.

And, in fact, let's suppose that he was in fact being sexist. Did that mean it was okay for the rest of the school to hurl him names, to verbally punish him for not being a part of the majority? Where is the freedom to talk about these things in a civilised manner? If we only call other people prejudiced but never accept the fact that the problem exists in our own community, aren't we simply avoiding the problem?

And so we self-censor. Of course self-censorship is vital, especially on the internet; but people feel afraid to say something unless it is entirely politically correct. People are afraid of unintentionally treading on others' toes, because they will get slammed for it. People are afraid of being called religious bigots, to the point of not daring to speak up for their own religious beliefs or even tell others about their religion. (If you do not share the same values, you deserve to be condemned.) People prefer not to speak, or remain anonymous when voicing controversial opinions. (It has become so easy to speak behind a veil. What if Alloy on Confessions had a name? What if we gave a name to every Confessions post? Why are they too afraid to give us a name?) We have become afraid to air our views. We said "we'll be nothing like the free-speech-restricting government", yet we are very much like it. The difference is that we have different kinds of censorship, and that Singapore codifies some of their regulations on speech.

Here, you tread the almost-invisible line of political correctness, not knowing if you've crossed it until you're hit; and many people choose not to try altogether. Keep your opinions to yourself. We have become oppressive, too, just like the people we said we'd never be.

We need more than people aggressively sounding alarms whenever someone unintentionally airs a controversial view - when their words sound ignorant or insensitive towards a specific community, or anti-feminist, or sexist, or homophobic. We need to be able to discuss why it's still a problem. Put this righteous anger aside and try to understand the reasons behind the matter, and accept that it isn't always us-versus-them, and that we haven't reached the ideal state of values yet, if there even is one.

(By the way, just in case you were wondering: Anyone who remotely knows me know I love Yale-NUS to bits, and that hasn't changed one bit. This is my one main gripe about the student culture. But many liberal arts colleges probably face a similar problem, and I'm writing this post not out of despair, but out of love and hope, because love is also about believing in the best for the school, and love makes you want to not give up.)

Aug 24, 2014


[by Seneca, translated by Robin Campbell. Decided to put this up because I thought this piece was hilarious, and also had some really nice ideas that I agree with. The two other great pieces I read tonight for my Creative Nonfiction class are Plutarch's Consolation to His Wife and Seneca's On Noise.]

Ill health—which had granted me quite a long spell of leave—has attacked me without warning again. “What kind of ill health?” you will be asking. And well you may, for there isn’t a single kind I haven’t experienced. There’s one particular ailment, though, for which I’ve always been singled out, so to speak. I see no reason why I should call it by its Greek name [EDIT: haha this is hilarious because we ALL call it asthma now], difficulty in breathing being a particularly good way of describing it. Its onslaught is of very brief duration—like a squall, it is generally over within an hour. One could hardly, after all, expect anyone to keep on drawing his last breathe for long, could one? I’ve been visited by all the troublesome or dangerous complaints there are, and none of them, in my opinion, is more unpleasant than this one—which is hardly surprising, is it, when you consider that with anything else you’re merely ill, while with this you’re constantly at your last gasp? This is why doctors have nicknamed it “rehearsing death,” since sooner or later the breath does just what I has been trying to do all those times. Do you imagine that as I write this I must be feeling in high spirits at having escaped this time? No, it would be just as absurd for me to feel overjoyed at its being over—as if this meant I was a healthy man again—as it would be for a person to think he has won his case on obtaining an extension of time before the trial.

 Even as I fought for breath, though, I never ceased to find comfort in cheerful and courageous reflections. “What’s this?” I said. “So death is having all these tries at me, is he? Let him, then! I had a try at him a long while ago myself.” “When was this?” you’ll say. Before I was born. Death is not just being. What that is like I know already. It will be the same after me as it was before me. If there is any torment in the later state, there must also have be torment in the period before we saw the light of day; yet we never felt conscious of any distress then. I ask you, wouldn’t you say that anyone who took the view that lamp was worse off when it was put out than it was before it was lit was an utter idiot? We, too, are lit and put out. We suffer somewhat in the intervening period, but at either end of it there is a deep tranquility. For, unless I’m mistaken, we are wrong, my dear Lucilius, in holding that death follows after, when in fact it precedes as well as succeeds. Death is all that was before us. What does it matter, after all, whether you cease to be or never begin, when the result of either is that you do not exist?

[note: third paragraph left out - full essay here]

Aug 23, 2014

Can't save everyone

There's a Facebook friend of mine, a girl who's twelve or something maybe, probably a Children's Church kid who added me when I was serving there. I barely know her, can't remember what she looks like. She posted a picture of her hand holding a penknife on Facebook, and her friends were dissuading her from it, but she said she had already done it. Out of stress.

And my heart goes out to her so much. I want to send her a Facebook message or something. It doesn't have to come to wilfully being an enemy of your own body. As Plutarch says in the reading I'm currently supposed to be doing, "a troubled soul should itself receive support from a robust body". But, like, I don't even remember her, and she probably doesn't remember who I am either. Will it be of any use? Previously one of my City College ex-students posted something about his dad, and I felt like I should send him a message of encouragement, but he didn't seem to open about it. Probably a little weirded out.

And then there's everyone else who's going through tough or transformative periods but who would feel really weirded out if they realised I knew. Sometimes if you realise people know about your problems you'd feel exposed, naked. I mean, there are times I'm feeling crappy about stuff and if some random person were in the know about it I'd be like "what the hell, who has been gossiping?". Sorrow is often private.

I guess sometimes we can't show support explicitly. Sometimes, I guess, the best sort of help is to stay away. But this girl? I mean, she put it on Facebook. Then again, that generation isn't very cautious about what they post, and they might not realise that some Children's Church volunteer whom they used to see once a week would chance upon their self-harm post.

I remember Facebook-messaging her once to ask about how she was doing. Not well, she said. And I asked why, and she told me about school and stress and friends. And I empathised... and she stopped replying me after a bit but if I had had the chance I'd have asked her to stay strong and stuff...but really, how much can you do over Facebook? How much can you to for someone who wouldn't be open to external resources, for someone whose friends and other contacts you don't know, for someone you can't even recognise anymore?

I guess I'll still message her again, though. Show her someone cares. Probably better than nothing.

Aug 8, 2014


Thirteen minutes to class. The bus is taking too long to come. I'm brisk-walking along the pavement back to school, shoving my face into my chicken rice and trying to eat it like a biscuit because it's wrapped in that brown takeaway paper, and because the auntie didn't give a spoon. Struggling to manage my laptop and my lunch and the midday heat, I'm suddenly overwhelmed with the sense that I cannot do this much longer.

I have not slept for more than 3 hours per night in the past 1-2 weeks. Mornings I get up at 7 and rush to SOT, at 1pm I rush back to school to be in time for class at 2, and there has been acapella practices and CF prep meetings and start-of-the-year class meetings and whatever else; before that it was Orientation and all the preparation, starting from right when I got back to Singapore.

Yesterday after class it was cramps, Salvation Army, acapella, CF meeting. Tonight at 8pm it's the Morality class dinner, then acapella, then the overnight prayer meeting till 5am; tomorrow morning there's tuition, and then finally maybe I'll get the afternoon to sleep - but I cannot, because I really need to complete my readings for the Morality course, as well as my shelf of SOT readings. There is too much going on, I've been running around, barely been getting any time to sleep, let alone to myself, and the school term hasn't even started yet. I haven't even had the time to catch up with the friends I hold dear since I left for the summer. Barely had any proper conversations.

I watch as my bus passes me by. Twice.

Two tuition kids, Savation Army and Crest mentoring; Orientation, two acapella performances, CF, SOT, etc, etc. True, thank goodness I'm not overloading this semester - but instead I'm enrolled in two schools at once. "It's the life you chose, Karen." "You can't save the whole world." It's true.

I'm not sure how much longer I can do this, but if I persevere till mid-Sept when SOT ends, I will have done it. And then suddenly I'll be eight hours freer per day and I won't know what to do with my life.

Seven minutes late for class.

Aug 6, 2014

My door is closed

I've always wanted to get into the habit of leaving my door half-open whenever I'm in my room but also available. I like how Chris Tee does it because I know when I'm welcome to go in for a short chat, and when he doesn't want to be disturbed. Closed doors are less approachable.

But today I realised I can't do this open-door thing. When my door is open, my room spills out into the great big Outside, the suite's living room and all my neighbours and the corridor, and perhaps I feel like I need to expand to fill all that space. I end up feeling lonely with all the pairs of slippers outside my neighbours' rooms and all the voices through the walls (ikr, they're so happening), because I have opened myself up to the party, but no one's joining in. Actually I don't know. If someone pops by my room I'd generally also rather have the door closed anyway.

I don't know. It's absurd, I don't know how to describe it. But when I close my door I feel like I give myself a safe, comfortable space again. It's a bit like travelling alone versus travelling in a group of strangers you can't click with. Technically you're more alone in the first case, but in the first case I feel far less lonely, less small, because the quota is only big enough for myself.

When I close my door I am sufficient for the space. It is mine again, cozy and personal, not shared with everybody-and-nobody and the great big Outside. So I guess I'll be keeping it closed. But please feel free to come in for a chat - my heart's still just as open.

Jul 25, 2014


"See you," I said.

He hesitated. In that fraction of a second I knew. I used to find it funny too when someone said "see you" but you both knew it probably wasn't going to happen.



And that's how it goes. You're roaming around on your own and you cross paths with hilarious people with fascinating experiences and the craziest stories to tell, and you spend a couple of hours together braving the rain with no idea where you're going, or checking out the old men doing Polish punk rap in their striped polo tees and bermudas, or standing by the river at midnight, and you're just laughing about everything in the world. The conversations take you places - you're in a bar but you're also watching Black Swan on the Swiss Alps, getting mobbed in Vietnam. But you also know that once the night is gone, so is he. You know that if you happen to meet again it's out of the norm. And so you treat each goodbye like a last one.

And you think, man, if only he were born a couple years later, if only we were born in the same country or went to the same university or whatever, if our paths had the opportunity to cross more often, perhaps we would've made great buddies. Perhaps he'd be the one you'd go on night walks with, or the one whose room you'd crash with a tub of ice-cream. But fate doesn't work that way, and sometimes its fragile fleetingness is all the beauty it can ever offer. Maybe it will catch you even more unaware than you realise - maybe you scheduled to meet again, but he doesn't turn up, and you're wondering why but you have no way of contacting him; you realise you don't even know his name.

Jul 14, 2014


There was once a woman who really loved her son, who worked hard to make sure he could have the best of everything. She toiled day and night at the hospital to earn that semi-d, that grand piano, to earn the ability never to let money be an obstacle. He wanted that $400 Lego toy? Done. He wanted to try figure-skating? Done. Wanted to play the violin? Done. She only had the best hopes for him.

But maybe he preferred to hang out with his buddies, the ones who taught him how to shoplift and who bought him smokes. You know what it's like to be fifteen. The thrill of doing something you're not supposed to - forbidden fruit tastes sweeter. Or maybe his mum really, really wanted him to do Medicine, but he had a passion for archaeology. Or maybe when he grew older he loved to travel and rarely came home, and she missed him so dearly.

She could have locked him in the house, or tabbed his phone. She could have forced him to take the path she felt was best. She could have forbidden him to travel, taken away his passport. Out of the fiercest love, the kind that fears and fights to protect. But forcing your will upon your child isn't loving the right way. He knew what she wanted for him, but still she let him keep his options open.

She had to put herself aside and say, okay. It'll be okay. Maybe every parent had to lose their kid to the outside world. And there's no point trying to stop them, because they won't see it the way you do, and maybe we all have to learn the hard way. When a parent tries to stop a child that age they just turn their backs on you. It was okay to let him do what he wanted, perhaps to fall and learn - as long as she still had him.

There was once a God with a man He crafted with His own hands. He loved Adam so much, he made him to be like Him. He put him in a beautiful paradise and showed him His own identity - a God of overflowing abundance and creativity, a God of love, joy, peace, faithfulness and more; a God who could give him all he wanted.

There are many ways he could be like God. There was the tree of life. Adam could be immortal, and he and God could be together in communion in that beautiful garden forever. There was also the tree of knowledge. Adam could see what God knew about morality, both sides of the coin. He couldn't have both at once. If he were immortal, he wouldn't know about evil, so God could guide him in the ways of goodness and perfection forever, and while Adam wouldn't know all God knew, Adam could behave sinless like God.

But if the man knew about good and evil, he would have the option of committing evil, and turning evil; and a man with the potential to be evil cannot live forever, for harm of completely uncontrollable negative power. See, even a serial rapist will die one day - he can't terrorise eternally.

I want to keep being with you forever, said God. But I can't do that if you know that there's a flip side to goodness. So you must not choose to take it, because then I will not be able to make sure you will always be good. Let me guide you in all your ways. Choose to depend on Me, and you will have all you'll ever need. My nature is good, and also immortal, and you can only have both or none: be like Me, or not like Me.

God could have not given him the option. But maybe that's never how things work out. Like my dad refusing to let me own Britney and Avril CDs when I was 11. Like NLB removing homosexual books from a children's library in the hopes that children wouldn't be exposed to its reality yet. Maybe God even knew what would happen in the end. Maybe it pained his heart to leave that option open for him, even when he knew it wouldn't lead to good. But what would be the value of Adam's love and obedience if he really just didn't have a choice?

Jul 10, 2014

singlehood freedom

Sumay came over to my house to chill yesterday; apparently her mum said maybe she and I would grow up to be like a couple of our aunts, 50-year-old never-married singles travelling the world, all independent and free. My mum also once nervously voiced the worry that I would never get married


Anyways life is long and God's plan is the best plan, whatever that may be. See, Mr Fong, that heck of a charming well-loved man (I once told him that he'd be doing women a favour if he dated them), stayed single until he was 30, and look at what he found: a girl of the same age who had also never been attached, with such a heart for God and service; and look at how they love and serve God together. (can't wait for us to be invited to your wedding mr fong ahem ahem)

Plus once we get married we'll (hopefully) never be single or alone again. Can you imagine that?! I'll probably miss this freedom a lot, not being tied emotionally / mentally / by a covenant to any other human being. It can be so draining. Once you get attached to the person you end up marrying, you'll be with him for DECADES!!! even MORE THAN HALF A FREAKING CENTURY!!! That's scary. I like my freedom, not having to care about anyone if I don't feel like it. Travelling for months and walking around wherever because I can, and not having my heart tied back home. Ah, there's so much time. We have the rest of our lives to be shackled. This freedom is only for now.

Jul 7, 2014


I have a friend who felt like she was sinning against God, and didn't feel worthy of being in church anymore. I likened our relationship with God to my relationship with my dad. Sometimes I do things that make my parents pissed, like come home too late at night. But what's worse than making them angry is cutting off my relationship with them because of it.

Someone close to me once stopped drinking and self-harming because I told her she had to, but when she did it again from time to time, although I was hurt, I had to deal with it and help her again. It would have been worse if she stopped talking to me altogether out of guilt. That would have completely missed the point. As much as we always aim to please our parents, or significant others, or God, out of love, what's worse than disobeying them is giving up the relationship because we feel we aren't worthy.

(Gen 8:21, after Noah left the ark and built an altar: Then the Lord said in His heart...)

If God said it in His heart, how did Noah know it? That goes to show how close Noah was to God, how much he knew His heart.

Noah had God's favour in a time of corruption, but we also remember Noah's sin - how he got drunk and humiliated himself in Gen 9:21. And how about David and his lust and murder? We're all human. We all have our weaknesses, don't we? But Jesus has already died for our weaknesses so we could have a relationship with God. Don't let our weaknesses stop us from being spiritual.

(woohoo back in SOT!!!)

Jul 6, 2014

less boring ways to go home

It's been a while. Take a nice leisurely walk, instead of the bus. Take the longer route, the one you took before they built the new train station. At night, like you used to in your school uniform and scratchy socks. Put some music on. Maybe even have bubble tea in your hand. Observe how the yellow light spills into a pool on the grey sidewalk, and on the asphalt beside. Let the row of trees on your right form a mysterious umbrella over you. Listen to the cars and the sound of playing children and pattering feet and bicycles. Search for the familiar head of your apartment block, like you used to when you tried to get lost to find a different way back. Arrive at grandparents resting and grandkids playing at the exercise area, and maybe the erhu man's around if you're lucky. Listen to the sound of basketballs dribbling and teenagers shouting. Let your eyes drift to the bright white lights. Let the echo of the bouncing balls and laughter across ages carry you home.


Turn off the aircon, roll down the car windows. Let the wind howl a continuous greeting, tickle your face, tousle your hair. Turn up the radio. Gently nudge the accelerator along; let yourself play a game with the speed limit. Wait for a wild singable song - Titanium, perhaps, or Sexy Love, your favourite song when you were fifteen. Sing loudly, and let the wind shout along. Feel how fast you are going; don't confine your journey to an enclosed box. Let the wind lift away every little piece of your heart, until there is nothing left but lightness.

Jul 3, 2014



french guy takes me to coney island the night i miss my flight; carnival lights and screams amidst dark 

we walk past a burlesque advert

"burlesque is nice to watch, for girls also"


"no really, the women are not naked. and also it's not like a strip show, where the men put the money in her (undies), you pay before you go in, so none of that weird stuff."

"yeah, i always found that super degrading for the woman."

"i think it's more degrading for the men. because they fall for it. the woman understands the whole situation. she is in full control." 

Jun 23, 2014

What I've Actually Been Doing This Summer

This post is gonna be done slightly Jack Kerouac style, inspired by On The Road and laziness. I realise I never really explained what I was doing in the States, so here goes. 

I was awarded with the Summer Writing Fellowship by Yale-NUS to go to the University of Iowa for two weeks to attend their creative writing course, and I decided, since they were paying for my plane tickets, I might as well make the best of it and go around as much as possible. 

The night of my birthday, after NGO Bootcamp and a chill-out with a few lovely people at Vivo,  Wei Liang and Derrick arrived at my doorstep with cake and a beautiful framed set of photos of us, and the dudes fetched me to the airport. 

My first stop was Mississauga, Greater Toronto, where I stayed with my mum's friend's family. Over the weekend we drove up to their cottage.

Then I stayed for a couple of days with Zach, and he and Nik took me around, which was really fun. Also met the primary schoolmate Bryson for dinner!

Then I left for Ann Arbor, and just getting there was another crazy story. I changed train itineraries at the last minute and had to get to the other end of Canada, find my way to the Detroit border, and then find my way to the train station to get to Ann Arbor. Thankfully the bus driver that got me past the border also had a bit of time, and helped me out. He was from Albania I think, and we talked a bit about how Singapore's doing, and Japanese hentai. Also, apparently you can get an orgasm by having someone else stick their tongue into your eye????!?!?!

 I only had two days in Ann Arbor, but i absolutely loved the vibe. Brown brick buildings infused with the energy and creativity of youth.

Ann Arbor is where I met the friendliest strangers. From the Potbelly's guy and the live singer to the NeoPapalis girl to Billy the liquor store guy, everyone seemed genuinely interested in you, and wanted a good chat. I was alone, but felt far from lonely.

Then I moved on to Chicago for about a week, where Fang Jiunn and I started at the theatres with Maleficent and ended with The Fault In Our Stars - the day-before premiere!!! Walked down the Magnificent Mile, got some Garrett's, checked out the Bean and a gay bar in Boystown, etc. Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, UChicago. Our apartment had two adorable cats - one was practically a dog with its attention-seeking meows and nudges, and the other was a beautiful timid tricoloured female.

And then it was Iowaaaaaaa
and I cannot emphasise enough HOW MUCH ART THERE IS. okay? okay. just understand that this town, while small, is alive with music and art and nightlife. All these young people looking for a good time, all these creative people looking for some energy, families looking to dance. I love it. I love how the whole community comes together to make music and hold festivals. I'm so glad I got to spend my time with Hamid. I learnt a whole lot in the two weeks of our writing course - I gained so much invaluable feedback about my writing (which I hope has improved) and a whole lot of ideas from everyone else. The pieces I put up on my blog are all pre-edited, so while I've received comments about them, I haven't gotten around to doing a second draft. During the course, I experimented with a lot of different things, like dialogue and stories inspired from other stories (e.g. Isaac), and while they probably aren't my best pieces, they were fun to try. 

So, my bus from Iowa to Chicago reached really late thanks to traffic, and I missed my train to Pennsylvania. Thankfully, Fang Jiunn hooked me up with the Carnows, and I spent the night at a beautiful home. And I'm so glad I got to go to The Pancake House again - that Danish Garden pancake!!! 

So, on the road again. I had a wonderful five-hour chat with a guy called Brian, and it was lovely seeing a person grow up through his stories - from childhood memories to high school to getting married and having kids. 

Okay, let's do this.

iowa bar-hopping, among other things

I guess it's what comes with being a college town. At night, even after the live concert in the heart of the town where everyone's gathered round and families are dancing, the streets are more than alive. Music and loud voices become one, young people take over every square foot of sidewalk. $2 beers, $25 for 21 pitchers (?!?!?!!), $4 long island teas. Packed college bars, packed with noisy young people, gosh, never anything like it in Singapore. Also, because bars are a casual and cheap thing, there's none of that crazy dressing up for clubbing that you have in Singapore. We were in shorts and slippers (okay, that was probably pushing it a bit too far).

In America it's apparently common for bars and clubs to be kind of the same thing - the bar also has a dancing area. The town goes mad with life. It's incredible. Wild young vibe. All you need in any place at all is young people.

Gosh, we had the best time. Some hilarious moments. Eden, S13. Unfortunately when we finally got into the mood to get up and bop around to the beat, the music stopped because it was 2am. (It's really safe in Iowa City, so being out at night wasn't a problem.) We got really bummed about it so we continued to roam the streets downtown to see if there were any other places open. The kids were still all over the place, just sitting around and talking, but gradually it started to fizzle out, and by 2.30 it was pretty empty. Bummer. We should have left the house earlier. 

Things I loved about Iowa City?

- The bar-hopping was definitely fun. And so cheap. Wouldn't be able to do that in Singapore. 

- Writing alongside hilarious retired white women. (Hamid and I were probably the only people from outside North America, and on the first week, we were 2 of the 3 people who weren't working or retired.)
Our Week 1 prof, Hugh Ferrer
- Friday evening public concerts, and the whole town being there, and families dancing along.

- Murals and sidewalk prose.

- Farmer's Market on Saturdays, with live music and kids chalking up the sidewalk and art classes.

- The art & music festival the weekend we arrived, and the gay pride the weekend we left.

- All the adorably-painted benches and Herky statues and public pianos.

- The Hemleyyyyyssssssss, and Scamper the absolutely affectionate cat.

- Our visit to their friend's place - they have a friggin' farm.

- Watching Hamid read everything aloud in that stupid patronising tone. That crazy fellow. I'm so glad I got to spend my time in Iowa with him. ^^

Jun 19, 2014


I wonder
Who these people
Really are

And are we just trying to be naughty
Like the sixteen-year-olds we were, falling over ourselves for black and Jack and smokes and forbidden loves
Are there images to upkeep
Do we cry because we feel we should, blow our problems out of proportion because that's what we do
Do we take happy photos and sad things to be Mysterious, or because we can't decide on what we want to be
Do we type a certain way to achieve a certain impression
Are we struggling to Be Something

Our Friendship

(I think back at the times I cried to the point of your exasperation, until you refused to comfort me anymore; the Bublé fangirling moments; laughing at the Ramayana and the Odyssey; the nights I hated everything.

No more sadness, though. By the time I return from my backpacking trip, I’ll have learnt to depend on myself for sustenance. And then I can love with strength instead of weakness.)

Our friendship is a huge clunky interstate train zooming along the railway tracks. The carriages pick up all sorts of funky things along the way – vegetables, elephants, wooden planks. Sometimes they’re colorful and lovely to look at; other times they’re heavy, and the carriages groan and creak a little. But no load has ever derailed us. The carriages never run out of space; they just keep adding on. And the train keeps on going.

 3 june / chicago

Jun 18, 2014

gentlemen (v2)

You can't expect her to know when to stop. They hand her the clear potion and she downs a shot for every boy who has given only to take away. She sells it like the worst kind, but she can’t stop, there's no point. Your soul can't regenerate: once a piece is lost it's lost forever, clinging to the feet of yet another, someone whom she thought would last longer than the moment.

She thinks of the 6ams; she rolls over, her head nestling against his back, and he stirs awake to find a stranger wanting more than he paid for in her drink. Walks out the front door, and she glimpses a shred of herself stuck onto the underside of his shoe; he drags her soul out to the sidewalk.

Him is a thousand hims, a collective; they once had names faces memories that made your spine chill, shiver with heart-trembling intimacy. But the more she remembered, the bigger a piece of her they tore away. It doesn't heal: the rip remains red and raw.

Shots make you numb. That's the only way. Here's one for the boy who explored the whispers of the bushes with her when she was fifteen. Who smoothed over every rise and filled every crevice. Who moved with her every breath.

Here's one for the boy who held her hand and said she had more beauty than she thought. She thought he was like the rest, who wanted her before they would look at her seriously, so she gave him what they wanted. He had run away in the night; she heard his sobs when he awoke and realised it was done. He still took a piece of her when he left - a bigger piece than the rest.

She’s on the floor now, the marble that feels like home. Shapes are bending over to take an amused look. Go on. Look. she wants you to join her. Show her you won't walk away.

Touch her. She wants it. Look at her eyes. Touch her, give her the electricity of hope. Stop refusing, she's scared, like you don't want even the least of her anymore. You're making her worried. You're making her cry.