Hola babies, here’s the mad last-minute rush to write my year-in-review on Dec. 31 (I swear some things never change), but honestly this has always been one of my favorite things to write. These past few months I’ve been thinking about how blogging fits into my new adult life, especially when I already write so much at work.
I started this blog in 2017, months before heading off to college. The first-ever post was a short story taking place in a Macau casino, and later that year I wrote a post on whether to take up the PSC scholarship. The blog, in essence, is a place for me to make sense of life decisions as they come hurtling in my face and to experiment with my writing (a.k.a. storifying my life). Fast-forward five years (holy crap!) and everything’s changed, but not really. I’ve graduated, become a full-fledged independent adult, and I’m still struggling as ever to make sense of how I live and who I am. If you know me, you know this is true: I’m perpetually in a state of existential crisis. Always was throughout college — still am today.
2022 in tldr is pretty straightforward, though that’s not what I want to write about today: I did senior spring with lots of firsts, submitted my thesis on Sinofuturism, went on Israel Trek for spring break, graduated in May, moved to NYC, started my first-ever job at Bloomberg, had a whirlwind few months, relocated to Singapore (still at Bloomberg) to write about China, ended the year in Japan.
2022 in long form though is all about small details. Little things that I hope I can still remember years down the road that often escape broad-arc, milestone-esque, big-sweep autobiography. So first I want to talk about my hair. (I’m serious.)
I started this year by randomly deciding to shear off a few locks of my hair (Jan 1, McKinlock 2nd floor bathroom, reason: too lazy to dry my hair), and I ended this year by chopping off my hair to ear-length on a whim. Good way to bracket 2022.
So much of my childhood was intertwined with my hair: for much of primary school it defined me. It was wild and untamed, one of a kind, on good days resembled Cleopatra’s headpiece, on bad days resembled Einstein; it earned me nicknames like “Bush” or “Chihuahua” (what???), boys’ sketches on the whiteboard, constant remarks from taxi drivers about my race or where I was really from; and chafed again conventional standards of beauty in straight-hair Asia. It made a statement, one that I wasn’t sure I could live up to as a 12-year-old. Remember when you were 12? And struggling to understand how people saw you? Yeah.
So at 14, and partially at the urging of one teacher (who thought my hair was too messy), I got it straightened, which was in one word a DISASTER. The hairstylist thinned my hair by so much, it stuck to my scalp and I went from looking like Hagrid (or Hermione, if you’re feeling charitable) to looking like Severus Snape.
And around the time my hair started growing curly again on top but remained straight at the bottom (a half triangular, half rectangular shape), I was anchoring our school’s TV show, which meant my bobbing talking head of straw and frizz was blasted to the entire school (population: 1200 students) every other Friday.
At 16, my hair grew long and I was traveling for the first time by myself on a trip to Guatemala. On the trip, surrounded by strangers and feeling anonymous, I tied it up — and I remember that instance as the first goddamn moment in my entire adolescence when I suddenly knew without a doubt I was pretty. Before that, I’d been confident (though often oscillating between narcissism and insecurity because that’s what happens when you’re a Gemini), or so I thought. I loved myself, or so I thought. But in some random hostel in Guatemala surrounded by people of heterogenous body shapes, facial features, ethnicities and nationalities, when the switch flipped — and I felt good about my hair — did I realize just how much I’d used to hate it. In primary school I’d hated how much attention it drew, how different it made me look, how un-Singaporean, un-Chinese it felt. In secondary school, after that disastrous hair rebonding episode, I’d then come to begrudgingly accept my unruly short hair as what it was. Then, at 16, when I tied it up and went back home with that less conspicuous hairstyle, people didn’t stare as much anymore. Suddenly I fit in. And that was the year I started wearing contact lenses. So I began associating my newfound attractiveness with my brand-new hairdo.
That tied-up hairstyle (small bun/bunny tail) stuck for nearly 8 years — so comfortable I was with it that I could hardly consider ever experimenting with something different. This was the hair that I was gonna live with till I die. I would occasionally amble around the dorm with my hair down, do two pigtails when I felt cute. One time my roommate asked, “Why don’t you just keep your hair down?” And I recoiled at that suggestion. “Never!” I told her, “It puffs up like a cloud.”
I’m not sure what changed my mind. Was it the weather? My newfound sense of independence? Or my realization of little I can change of the world, so I decided to channel my agency into remaking myself? Or that I just don’t give a fuck about what people think anymore at age 24?
Maybe none of the above. I just felt it one day, like a shift in the air and a realignment of my neurons. Out of nowhere I thought of the short unruly hair of my youth, and then came a surge of fond affection instead of repulsion. It was as easy as that. On the same day the thought arose, I got it cut. Chop. Chop. And after the act was irreversibly done, I looked at my reflection and felt three things: (1) What the hell was all that childhood trauma for? The hair was cute. (2) I felt weirdly young. (3) Is it possible for a new hairdo to sharpen into relief who you want to be?
When I went to work the next day, people stared as I stepped onto the train, and some of the old self-consciousness crept back. When the wind blew, I kept wanting to check how my hair looked. The shape of it hovered on my mind — it was distracting. The bunny tail updo was safe and needed no extra thought. This new short bob had a life of its own — it altered its size and silhouette based on humidity and weather. How temperamental.
By the stairs in the office, the cleaning lady was sweeping. Surprised, she asked, “You cut your hair?”
“You, natural curl?”
I nodded again.
“You can straighten it, you know?” She wasn’t being unkind. My instinct was to agree with the underlying sensibility driving her words: the ingrained idea to not deviate.
Instead I said, “I know, but I like it this way.”
By the time I got home, the day felt like a journey. A journey of hair. The journey brackets the 24 hours, this year of 2022 — but also my childhood to adulthood. I am now an adult with the very same hairstyle I had at age 10.
When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was to fit in. Now, as an adult, all I want is to be different, to stay special the way kids know they are. It took me a decade to grow into my hair, to ride the waves, embrace the frizz. So, of all the momentous things that happened in 2022, I say this first, Bless my curls.
2022 Highlight Reel
Thank you, God, for filling my year with your love, blessings and teachings; thank you for bringing all these people (and many many more) into my life; thank you for each twist of fate, every high and low. May I continue doing you proud. And to each of you, my dear reader, may 2023 be a year of dreams coming true. ❤️
Lots of love,