A “child of Asia”.

I have wrapped up my last meeting of the day. I skip the metro to take a long, slow walk back to my hotel. I walk past several eateries. Suddenly, a lady calls out to me. I turn to look and see a Chinese granny sitting alone inside a Chinese eatery. I am still on Adventurous Mode from being on fieldwork, and decide to walk in. Continue reading A “child of Asia”.

Six first impressions of the US.

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Phoenix is basically Western Australia with cacti.

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As punishment for being Internet researchers we now have to dine in the desert.
It’s like academic Survivor.

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These are so pretty.
I feel bad making these pretty things into poop.

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I am tweeting from a toilet cubicle.
There are four teens taking toilet mirror selfies.
An adult woman is telling them they are beautiful

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Our über driver: “People are so nice. I’ve driven in NO funeral processions.”
Our über driver is now singing Waltzing Matilda in honour of the two Australians in the car.


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I’m sitting in Johnny Rockets.
80s jude box music is blaring.
Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock comes on.
This man takes his wife’s hand.
They walk to the floor space in front of the cashier.
He counts down.
They dance.

This is my grandmother.

This is my grandmother admiring a photograph of her wedding portrait on my iPhone.

“Hey! How do you have this? There’s only one copy! It’s hanging in Uncle James’ house in Canada.”

Ahmah is over 90 but boy is she sharp. I told her I visited Uncle James and Auntie Rachel when I was in Toronto this July.

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“You mean you took a plane? For over 20 hours? And you used your phone to take a photo of the photo? Wah you’re so clever.”

I told her I learn from the best. It was extremely precious watching her admire figments of history through a screen; her veiny, wrinkly, scrawny fingers tapping on her image over and over.

“I was only 20 when I got married. Yeye was 22. We were so young. I was very beautiful and fair and my hair was very long. We were so young.”

She points to a frame on her bedroom wall.

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“You see? That is Yeye. Yeye has gone home. One day I will join him. Some times he visits me at night.”

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This is my grandmother telling my sister off for wearing torn jeans.

“What happened to your pants? Why is it torn? You should sew it up. Take my sewing kit from the kitchen.”

My sister replies in jest that she is poor; hipster fashion requires validation.

“You have no money?”

Ahmah laughs and smacks my sister on the butt.

“You’re so naughty. Look at jiejie’s skirt, it is not torn.”

Just then, her helper comes in. Ahmah’s ad verbatim response?

“Ah fan, you see? It say it no money. It wear broken broken. It so naughty!”

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This is my grandmother fishing bills out of her handbag and forcing them onto my sister and I.

“You take lah, you take. Ahmah has money. All your uncles and aunties give me money. I don’t spend so much. So I give you loh.”

As usual, my sister and I turn her down while secretly anticipating the routine wrestle. Never have I seen my ahmah as aggressive and forceful as when she wants to give her grandchildren money.

Once, she stuffed a $50 dollar bill *into* my bra because I had refused her. Another time, she stuffed money into my sock. Yet another time, she pretended to have an asthma attack *and then* stuffed the money down my shirt.

Don’t mess with ahmah.

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This is my grandmother’s boss face in life.

Especially when she begins to nag me about marriage, love, and life…

“你结婚了没有?你几时请阿嬷喝酒?阿嬷等你等很久。你几时结婚?啊满很乖的,不抽烟、不赌钱、有打工。你要做朋友做久久。选一个就好,心好就好。不要选来选去,选这么多人,心很乱。你这样就好。啊满很好的,你不要放手,放手就给别人抢去。知道吗?”

“Are you married yet? When are you going to invite me to your wedding? I have been waiting for very long. When are you getting married? Sherman is very well behaved: he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t gamble, and he has a job. You must be friends for a long time. Just pick one partner, as long as your heart is happy. Don’t go picking around, dating so many people. Your heart will be a mess. You’re just fine like this. Sherman is very well behaved. Don’t let go of him. If you do, others will snatch him away. Do you understand?”

At least ahmah isn’t nagging me over pimples and beauty regimes this time.

See more of ahmah in Grandmotherly Folklore and Lessons from my grandmother.

Politics, everyday life, and habitus.

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After having spent ten days closely following political rallies and campaigns while tracking social media discourse out of academic interest, I took to the polls on Friday morning to cast my vote for the Singapore General Elections 2015.

Despite a mixbag of polarizing emotions (quick stats here, detailed results here), the next day I picked up my three favourite nieces for a fun-filled weekend – lunch, swimming, pizza party, lanterns in the park, chilling at the playground, late-night movie, sleepover, breakfast, and games – as a final hurrah to mark the end of their weeklong school vacation.

As a 14-year-old and two 10-year-olds, they know very little about politics apart from the fact that Friday was a public holiday “so Aunty Crystal doesn’t have to work and can come for lunch”.

In the afternoon, I took 14yo for lunch before picking up the younger ones, and told her about the previous night with my friends.

14yo: “How come your friends are so sad?”

Me: “Because the parties they voted for didn’t win.”

14yo: “Not enough people vote?”

Me: “Yeah.”

14yo: “And the PAP always wins?”

Me: “Yeah.”

14yo: “I also stayed up to watch. But I was so sleepy I fell asleep around 1145pm. I didn’t wait for Aljunied. Every body was waiting.”

After we had all met up, I chatted with the girls and told 10yo #1 that I had been to the Underwater World (est. 1991). She couldn’t comprehend.

10yo #1: “Do you mean SEA Aquarium [est. 2012]?”

Me: “No, Underwater World!”

10yo #2: “There’s no such thing!”

Me: “There is! It’s just very old!”

10yo #1: “Do you mean Dolphin Island [est. 2013]?”

Me: “No, Underwater World! Ask [14yo] if you don’t believe me!”

14yo: “Yeah, it’s Underwater World. It’s very old. No body goes there any more… ever since SEA Aquarium opened.”

10yo #1: “Aunty Crystal, then why don’t you just go to SEA Aquarium?”

In the evening, while waiting for the rest to get ready for lanterns in the park, 10yo #1 stood in front of the teley while the evening news was on.

10yo #1: “Why they all wear white?”

Me: “It’s their uniform.”

10yo #1: “Eh! Got woman! Got woman!”

Me: “Yeah! It’s mostly men…”

10yo #1: “I didn’t know they got women!”

En route to the park, we took a long walk to a nearby market to get candles. Both 10yos shared stories about their classmates.

10yo #2: “Our class has three Tricias. Tricia [something], Tricia [something], and Tricia V.”

Me: “What is V?”

10yo #1: “Tricia V. V is like her surname.”

10yo #2: “It’s too long, we don’t know how to say.”

10yo #1: “We just call her Tricia V.”

10yo #2: “She’s Indian.”

10yo #1: “We don’t know how to pronounce her name. Actually we never learn. We’re so racist.”

The next morning, while we were taking turns to shower, 10yo #2 caught a glimpse of the Straits Times’ Election special edition on my floor.

10yo #2: “This 69.9? Is it 69.9 vote for the PAP?”

Me: “Yeah. 69.9 per cent.”

10yo #2: “Who is the other party?”

Me: “WP.”

10yo #2: “So PAP win?”

Me: “Yeah.”

10yo #2: “How come the rest don’t vote for WP? Is it because they scared? Is it because PAP is good?”

I love my nieces a lot, and have spent many years tutoring them in English, Math, and Piano lessons. But this weekend, they taught me several lessons about politics, everyday life, and habitus.