Apr 30, 2016

the ~real world~

In twelve months, all I've ever known will come to an end. You've translated the entire Funeral Oration of Pericles from Greek to English. You can write a ten-page paper about the religious practices and beliefs of the Qin dynasty. You could tell someone the distance in kilometres that their apple travelled to get to this supermarket, and how we could lessen our carbon footprint. No one cares. Suddenly it's all about employability. I come from a liberal arts college; I know nothing about marketing or business strategies or finance management... I can make a nice poster on PowerPoint? Point out the grammatical mistakes on a document? Make tea?

Suddenly you have to crawl out of this lovely hole of books and dead languages and ancient religions and... do something that matters to other people. I've been crawling around like a little toddler going to whatever caught my attention - a learning trip to Jerusalem! a course on Tamil poetry! a job at a bubble tea store! a video documentary project! - and now it's time to grow up and Be A Useful Citizen. Suddenly all I've known counts for naught. I've been getting by pretty easily, taking the subjects and courses I loved, studying when the time came and Getting Decent Grades, but it's time to be thrown to ground zero again. Luhong has been spending the past few days in my suite sending out résumé after résumé. Recent NUS Philosophy grad! Hire me! But why would a company care for a fresh grad when they can hire interns, who probably know as much and cost much less?

As I'm on the bus contemplating the lonely disorientation of a liberal arts History major in a capitalist world, a guy diagonally in front of me calls out to an older man in a heavy Chinese accent: "Hi prof! I took your class last semester." "Oh, are you staying in UTown?" "No, I'm in Eusoff." They then proceed to converse in Chinese - gosh, bilingualism fascinates me every time. And I realise - aha. There is yet another way. I could stay in this lovely bubble of books forever. I've always felt more inclined to teaching secondary school kids but, ah, I'm sure to feel suffocated by the system - but there's no way I'm getting a PhD, loljokes - maybe if I were to start my own creative writing school - but NO ONE CARES FOR CREATIVE WRITING BECAUSE IT'S IMPRACTICAL AND LOFTY LIKE THE LIBERAL ARTS ARE -

anw back to studying for my Greek exam i mean what is the point even -

Apr 24, 2016

memento mori

when i die, if you have a memory of me, would you take some time, reach into your heart to retrieve it, hold it in your hands and sit with it awhile? my wake could be in a garden, picnic mats and open mics; you could sing me a song, or recount a memory. i will permit sarah sharing about our childhood sleepovers, sumay sharing about the time i drove her around on her birthday and got us lost for two hours (and dropped her cupcakes), wei liang recalling my half-awake council camp mumbling, james telling everyone about the first time i tried to make indomie. but also, if there was a time i helped you through a thing, or provided comfort and support, or prayed with you, or sowed a good seed in you, would you remember that, too, and allow my death to renew your strength. if i sinned against you, as i have done to many, would you forgive me and cover the hurt with peace.

tuesday afternoon, i rush to scribble Psalm 23 on my notepad as we make our way to the ward. dad tells me to keep my paper, but i'm not done; they'll understand when they receive it.

"you aren't scared, seeing her like that?" her mum asks. why would i be? she smiles, slightly surprised, and nods. as i leave she is opening my letter.

that night i am scheduled to lead a worship meeting in school. once i reach back, though, i head first to the hammock. give my heart space to check itself, give it room to breathe, feed it a few hymns, re-center. it is well, it is well with my soul. at that moment something in my heart clicks. but i know that whatever awaits her is far greater than what this earth could ever hold for her.

wednesday: i wake up to the news that she was struggling to breathe, and then breathed no longer.

friday at the wake, her mum says "thank you for the psalm. it was her favourite."

joel is at the table and my family is engaging him in a conversation about - of all things - army rifles and career prospects in pharmacy. my skin crawls with impatience. as soon as there is a break in the conversation i whisper can i pray for you? an awkward silence at the table. the two of us shuffle towards the front, near the coffin. i curl up in my seat. i breathe, and i pray, at peace, holding the hand of God.

"how are you?" i ask. he pauses. "actually, i'm quite okay." he chuckles. "God has been preparing me for this. It's just that now it's a different season. First it was without the cancer, then with the cancer, and now without Joanna." we talk about our families and campus ministry (turns out he leads NUS Nav?? how did i not know this before) and about God and what it means to shine for Him. he motions to Joanna from time to time.

It's good that I'm more level-headed now, someone's got to be the rational one in the family. It used to be Joanna. Joanna was the one who brought our family close together.
I think it makes a difference when you're able to be that beacon of light for your family. See Joanna, she always made an effort to interact with the older ones. She was always talking to the aunties. And if she didn't make that effort she wouldn't be able to speak into their lives. I think you can do more as a beacon of light where you are, too.

saturday, again, a table of peanuts and smartphones and mindless chatter. jonathan takes a seat, alone, a table away. i am the first one over.

"how are you?"

he says that before the service, his mum was just busy, busy, busy rushing around and doing things. he forcibly took her away from the hall, led her down a path into the woods, and made her have her dinner there. she needed that space, he says. both joel and jonathan echo concern for their mum.

today, just before they put the coffin in the hearse, the family stands by it one more time. joanna's mum is bent over, her fingers tracing the glass, her husband struggling to hold her together.

at the viewing hall her mum is crying. someone says "it's okay, it's okay." but it isn't. it will be okay, but it is not now, and that's okay.

as we leave with hugs i give her mum psalm 91:1. he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High shall rest in the shadow of the Almighty. "Yes," she nods. "You're right. You're very good at memorizing verses eh. When I was a teenager I used to do that. It helps, you know. Comes back to you from time to time, when you don't realise. But it's okay to grieve also, because Jesus wept."

Apr 21, 2016

the pit

This is what it looks like.

You find that within you there is a vast, endlessly deep dark pit. It's damp and the starkness of the black makes your skin crawl. You are afraid of yourself. You are too much for yourself to handle, and you believe that no one else would be able to take you, either. You notice others who similarly carry that deep hole within them. You see it, and it makes you turn the other way in fear because you know what depth it is and you cannot deal with one more. Similar poles repel and two negatives attempt to navigate their magnetic fields around one another but the repulsion is overbearing, and you flee. And it makes you want to hide from others, too. You see positivity and you are drawn to it in an instant, but no, oh no, they will never understand, and you hate how your heart has zoomed ahead of you to cling to that light. You cannot do it. Now you have to reach out into that open space to grab your heart and bring it back. It leaves a rip; the heart wasn't ready to let go. But the light is too bright, it will always be uncomfortable on your eyes. Yet the darkness will consume you. You don't like who you are, you don't like that pit, but it is growing and soon the little rational man in your head will be unable to sidestep the hole. You are terrified by who you are becoming and you avoid those who are like you and you also believe no one will like what they see if you show yourself. It is easier to avoid human interaction altogether. It gets cold but you can wrap your arms around your shins and convince yourself it is sufficient.

what a curse

we are drawn to love, and hence to pain. what a curse it is to be born into blood relations and inevitably placed into social settings, to be tied to so many people. if each relation were a string, we are all a messy web of connections, all tied to one another, and we are tugged at from all sides because each loved one's pain is yours, too. what a curse it is to be unable to hurt yourself without hurting others. what a curse to live, and die, and hurt those around you simply because you have come into the world and will have to leave it. humans cannot help but love, and are doomed to have that love ripped from us.

what a desire we possess to hurt ourselves when we draw near in heart to other people. we give them the permission to hurt us, even by doing nothing at all. we look for hands to shove our hearts into, and they will not hold you.

Apr 20, 2016


He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

may legions of angels bear you up
and carry you away to a place that is so much richer in glory, peace, joy, love, and beauty
than this world could ever offer

Apr 17, 2016

no more shame

"Marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well."

Year 1 Sem 1. There was one night in Greece, the bunch of us came to a road-or-pathway, threw all our bags aside, and lay on the ground to marvel at the stars. We were all a mess of legs and arms and heads staring agape in wonder. It was a night of silence, punctuated with the occasional excitement of having seen a shooting star or the scramble to get off the road-or-pathway when we saw headlights round the bend. One of the first comments that were made as soon as we lay down was by Teck Yuke: "wah, must really thank God leh." A comment made with a sigh of awe, gratitude at the beauty of creation, all the greatness of the work of the Creator who also cares for you and me.

"Mm," I quickly and curtly replied, and that was all. I actually felt almost ashamed, like I had to shush a little child, don't say that in front of other people, don't say that here. Why was I ashamed? I had no reason to be: I was there with Yixuan and Baoyun, and other Christians were there too, and... and it was just us, in the dark of night, and we all knew and loved one another.

I realise that I'm totally comfortable with talking about God or praying in a big space when the situation is meant for it, like at a Christian Fellowship gathering or at cell group or when I'm supposed to advertise a CF thing. But I cannot pray in a park, or find peace with God at an open space, or talk openly about God in a random situation, caught off-guard. I never talk about God with my family. I would never randomly say "praise God" in a gathering. I cannot pray in my room or read the Bible in peace unless my door is closed. And I've just been wondering why that is.

If He is God of all, I have no reason to be ashamed.

And so maybe I'll start crawling out of this strange shell by being more intentional about telling people what I want to tell them, praying for / with them and speaking words of love in any situation, and being more comfortable in my own skin.

They say that the thing you see when you look in the mirror is your insecurity. It used to be my Christian identity, a label people put on me, "the CF girl", and it used to make me want to fight against that, "I am more, I am more". One day Yixuan said "but isn't it such a privilege to be representing God?" Now, as I continue to slip up and represent my God badly at times, I want to be His ambassador out of gratitude, out of the knowledge that He is who I belong to, He is all there is of me; His name is the song of every atom of my body and every aspect of my personality, which was crafted by Him.

Apr 2, 2016

Thinking Racially

(Was planning to post about this a long time ago, but a psych study my friend was doing reminded me about it today so here I am finally posting it, when I should be doing my assignment that was due at midnight)

In lower primary my best friend was a girl from China. We would talk on the phone every day. "What are you eating?" "fruit loops! You want some?" "Yes send it over!" *pretends to push fruit loop through the receiver* "Did you get it?" "yes, it's yummy!" We'd go over to each other's houses and play some snowman math game on the computer; her mother would speak in English to my mum, and my mum would reply in Chinese, each sharpening the other.

In Primary 4 I hung out with the cool kids. There was Sharani, Rupini, Aruna, Mardiana, Syazwani, and me. I was the only Chinese in a clique with three Indians and two Malays - I couldn't hang out with the other Chinese kids because... they all spoke Chinese, and I didn't. So I got to hang out with the cool kids. Later on all the Chinese girls also wanted to hang with them, but it got too much, and the original cool kids slunk away - "we're leaving the clique, together" - and the Chinese girls wanted to leave with them, too, but it doesn't work that way, hun.

I never really thought racially when I was young - it was never a thing for me, and no one ever talked about it: not my parents, obviously not my friends. I mean, it was fun to point out our multiracial clique when the topic of racial harmony came out in social studies or whatever, but it didn't really mean anything to me. These people were simply my friends lah. Race didn't mean much, other than the fact that I got to eat yummy chicken at Aruna's house on Deepavali, and that I got green packets on Hari Raya and marvel at Wani's maisonette. We didn't define ourselves by our ethnicities, anyway; we were defined by Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne and Myuk pencil cases. In Primary 5 Nazeem was all the cool stuff. He rewrote Michael Jackson's Black And White for a National Day song competition in school ("they print our birthday message on the sun / I had to tell them we ate cake durian") and we got first prize!

When racial discourse became a big thing at Yale-NUS, I really didn't get the point of it. I was like, they're megaphoning about a problem that either isn't there, or to an audience that already agrees with them. But then, yknow, I have to check my Chinese Privilege. As a Chinese person I wouldn't see what my other friends might see. So I just took their word for it, and sympathised with the (quite ludicrous and shocking) instances of racism in Singapore that my friends brought up from time to time; and then I started to notice when people around me made passing racist (or prejudiced in any other way) remarks, and it really irked me, and I wished my friends wouldn't say those things, but then I'd be too timid to bring it up. But I hadn't noticed these things before. I guess being in this school allowed me to develop a sensitivity to it.

But then I also realise that because of this discourse, I have begun to think racially. I work at an F&B place, and when a Malay or Indian (or non-English-speaking Chinese, or non-Asian) person comes up to the counter, I notice it. I mean, I don't think anything less; I just notice it. If it's a Malay customer I instinctively try to guess the order, and then I try to stop myself, but I'm usually right anyway. And at first I didn't like how I was thinking racially. No, no, these things didn't even matter to me before. Why are they standing out now? They shouldn't be. If I have always been colour blind then it's a bad thing that because of the racial discourse that has been happening in my school, I have developed colour vision. I don't want to. I want to remain oblivious to colour.

When I was talking about this to a visiting Yalie - "I'm not sure if this is a good thing" - she said "I think it is." And then I started to give it more thought. I recalled the time I gave a Muslim friend Percy Pigs - "everyone likes Percy Pigs!" - it didn't even occur to me that (i) they were gummy pigs, and (ii) they contained gelatin. She pointed it out to me a year later, and I was like, OMG. I AM SO SORRY. And - well - yeah. Being racially aware means you're also being sensitive - unfortunately, it takes being cognisant of one's ethnicity to be able to be considerate towards that person, too. You don't want to forget the Halal needs of a Muslim friend who's coming over, or jio a Hindu friend out for steak, or jio a Muslim friend out for beer. That's just not being sensitive. Like how I do appreciate people being respectful of my religion around me and not swearing with Jesus' name or saying 'omfg' or mocking the Church. Like how early on in freshmen year (perhaps during orientation??) when the school was planning to hold a mandatory event on a Sunday morning, the Christians voiced out their request that the school be sensitive to their religious obligations. Like how all the toilets in Singaporean public schools have bidets for the cultural needs of the Muslims, and how public schools end classes early on Fridays so that the Muslim boys can go for prayer. (sigh, and why can't our school get this right??)

I still hate talking about things racially; writing the first few paragraphs of this post the way I did was quite unnatural and counter-intuitive; even as I was doing my friend's psychology study, I got quite irked at the frequent mention of race. And I don't like seeing people that way, putting a label. But being aware doesn't mean putting it at the forefront, but just knowing to be considerate in that area, and remembering. Imagine - if we were colour blind, we run the risk of assuming everyone is like us.

I realised that as I began to think racially at my F&B job, I also began to make a conscious effort to receive and return money with my right hand when I served Malay customers. It might also have been because of my time in Aceh. But I guess that's an example of where thinking racially does good. Once I gave change with my left hand to a Malay customer and felt quite bad about it. I wanted to be sensitive, I wanted them to know that it mattered to me.

Anw random thought vomit over time to do my overdue essay