Those who knew me growing up may remember that I was cared for by my maid, Beth, for more than ten years. This essay was particularly difficult to write, because it forced me to dig into my memory, acknowledge certain truths, and reconcile the separation. I was very close to my maid and, more often than not, I try not to think about our past in order to move forward in the present. Interestingly, the process of writing this turned out to be rather therapeutic, and the final product is, in a way, a celebration of our relationship. Who knows, one day she might chance upon this and we can be reconnected again. Till then, here’s our story in Litro Magazine.
Good news! In October, one of my fiction stories was published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, an online space that captures the literary heartbeat of Singapore. Featuring talented local writers like Lee Wei Fen and Alfian Sa’at, I am honored to be published alongside them.
As a born and bred local myself, I am happy to be able to contribute to Singapore’s literary scene. I love writing about my country. It is a tiny dot of a city where many people across the world have mistaken it for being a part of Malaysia or China. It is neither. Instead, Singapore is an independent country that is more than its squeaky clean image. It is a city, with one of the world’s most hardworking people, that had progressed from a third world nation to a first world nation in a few short decades. Our land pulses with the energy of our people carrying big dreams and even bolder personalities. Over the years, we have attained world-class standards in education, science & medicine, tourism, engineering, etc. But these successes came with a price. We may be one of the richest countries in the world, but we, as with other capitalistic countries, cannot avoid the widening income disparity and the social impact of the increasing influx of foreigners/foreign talent. As a result, a sizable group of Singaporeans, despite their contributions to the nation, are finding themselves less and less represented, their voices fading into silence.
My story, Off Duty, was inspired by these oft-forgotten citizens that had worked hard to make Singapore what it is today, but are not reaping the same rewards as the younger generation. I hope to portray more slices of everyday Singaporean life in my future stories. For now, here’s the link to Off Duty: http://www.qlrs.com/story.asp?id=1129
So things have been a little crazy lately (hence the long hiatus) but three main things happened that have kept me more than occupied! One, I’ve a baby! She’s a beautiful girl who is turning 7 months this month! Two, I’d graduated from the University of Southern California with a Master’s in Professional Writing (Fiction). Three, I’ve completed my novel!
So lots of things are happening at the moment, and at the same time, I’ve been publishing some of my shorter pieces of work. Here’s the link to one that was published a couple of months back:
How the Financial Crisis Broke My Family
When the financial crisis hit, many families were affected including mine. Here’s my story in Role Reboot. I’ll post the links of my other stories that had been published in other journals/reviews soon. In the meantime, you can check out my new other blog on motherhood and parenting at www.bigandtinylove.wordpress.com
So yes, I am writing a novel.
The very declaration still rocks my nerves a little and for a while, I thought that if I didn’t tell anyone about it, it might save me some embarrassment if the pages never see the light of day. Also, I didn’t want people to have the impression that since I am working on a story now, it means that I will have the published book in my hands by the time I graduate — this is the kind of unrealistic expectation that paralyzes more than motivates.
But I realized that there is no shame in attempting something new and working on it, regardless of its success. As Edmund Burke once said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” I love that quote. Writing a novel was way more difficult than I had expected, and while the journey had its low points and I had to scrape draft after draft and correct mistake after mistake, it also has countless high points where the deep sense of satisfaction that accompany a page of good writing makes the tough times worth it. Writing can be a pretty isolated activity, and I am really thankful for the support and feedback I’ve been getting from my fellow writers and lecturers in school. The literary world is as tough as it is so it’s awesome when writers band together to cheer each other on.
My novel, based on a family living in contemporary Singapore, is still in its early stages and is bound to change so I shall not delve into it. But I will continue to post updates on this blog so stay tuned!
Every time I make a trip back to Singapore, I will inevitably feel a sense of displacement. Many things can change in a year. Buildings get torn down, new infrastructures raised. Places I used to frequent no longer look the same or, worse, are no longer there. My church has moved and its old space has been demolished. My parents are not living in the same neighborhood. Old favorite restaurants or hawkers have closed down. Even when I meet up with friends, there is always a little dissonance — as if everyone has moved on in the one year when I was absent.
When I told this to a friend, she quickly replied, “But you have also moved on!”
While that is true, I guess the difference is that I wasn’t around to witness the happenings (new engagements, weddings, pregnancies, job promotions) and even though I was updated while living overseas, it can still feel a little overwhelming and sudden whenever I meet relatives or friends face-to-face. It makes me feel like we are all really growing up, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.
Not that growing up is a bad thing, but with that also comes a longing for the past. Which brings me back to my first point. I find it harder and harder to hold on to the ever changing Singapore, where I am not around to make new memories, and old ones are constantly being torn down.
This time around, my trip back to Singapore was very short, because it was a stopover en route to Ireland where my husband was going for a conference. Nevertheless, I was glad to be able to spend time with my family and meet up with some friends. I was the one who had bugged my husband for weeks to make a trip back to Singapore, and I was so excited to return that I couldn’t sleep the night before my flight. But less than a week after landing, I began to miss LA.
And that is my problem.
When I am in LA, I would long for Singapore. But when I am in Singapore, I would long for LA (#firstworldproblems). And while that may sound like a privilege (and on most days, it is) what also happens in actuality is that I end up feeling like I am always between two places, never belonging to one. Life in LA is much more relaxed, and I must admit that there is a certain appeal, and a certain kind of freedom and liberation, that comes with going to a place where no one knows you. Suddenly, I find myself having all the time in the world without any obligation to anyone. Yet, the flip side is that it can get lonely, especially in the beginning (you will be surprised at how disconcerting it can be to not know simple things like where to get a haircut or buy groceries) and at the end of the day, I am still a foreigner in the States. And believe me, that truth becomes particularly stark when say, you are stopped by a traffic police officer or are in sudden need of urgent care at a clinic. Those were the times when my husband and I wished we were back in Singapore where we were familiar with such procedures.
Many people have asked us (very often, in fact, and understandably so) when my husband and I will be coming back, and if we are coming back at all. Our response is always that Singapore holds our family and friends and that makes it home for us. But at the same time, we cannot deny that living overseas has its perks (lower cost of living, for one!) and ultimately, it depends on what opportunities we will have when the time comes. As for now, I guess the challenge of being in between places is learning to make a third place out of it: to make it as homely and personal as possible, wherever I may be.