Ode to My Youth • 母校,生日快乐

Saw a couple of tiny girls in Hongzi at Bugis today and suddenly remembered. Happy 102nd birthday, Nanyang! ❤

Selina Xu NYGH Graduation

一九一七八月十五,是宝贵的良辰。 在火药气味浓厚中,可爱的母校出现。

I remember those golden, burnt-edged secondary school days of folding notes and passing them with furtive glances in ordered classrooms when the teacher isn’t looking; of six heads huddling over one glowing phone screen playing Boys Over Flowers on blurry, drowsy mornings before the bell rings; of splaying over beds in late-night talks at the boarding school about boys from across the bridge; of group therapy sob sessions over fictional characters and novel endings; of shared Facebook stalking sessions of the latest eye-candy; of traipsing to Starbucks in the humid heat during 1-for-1 promotions paid for by pooling our allowances together; of weird shenanigans in class such as playing “I love you” on Google Translate when we had to discuss Romeo & Juliet and collapsing into laughing fits; of curiously acquainting oneself with the awkwardness of one’s adolescent body in the mirrored walls of the dance studio during Chinese dance classes; of the collective panic before NAPFA 2.4km tests around the red tartan track; of proudly making hilarious iMovies such as “The Hungry Games” (featuring four of us eating gummy worms at midnight), a talk show featuring us acting as To Kill A Mockingbird characters (I was Mayella Ewell), and a student council election video with young, shining, grinning faces; of the girlish excitement at looking older in our yellow blazers, blue flaps and white pencil skirts; of the simple pleasure of fried fish soup, hot milo, Soghurt stamps, school bookstore snacks, an early recess, bright jackets by each club to don over our pure white Hongzi; the novelty of (and subsequent disillusionment with) a sandwich vending machine; and hollering Jay Chou songs onstage.

I remember graduating in a blur of tears, photos, hugs, and that deep tidal wave of immediate nostalgia in the final moments (A Simpler Era furiously waving goodbye on the platform, receding into a speck).

我的青春,谢谢你温柔地来过。

Selina Xu NYGH Council

Lots of love,

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Happy 54th birthday, Singapore!

Happy happy National Day, all my Singaporean friends! 🎂🇸🇬✨

It’s weird how frequently I’ve thought of you, Singapore, in the day-to-day of my job. Like when the White House published a memo attacking China’s developing country status in the WTO and the first thing my eyes were glued onto in the text (read here) was Singapore. Or when it was LGBTQ Pride Month and we were looking for stills from different countries – Pink Dot’s Repeal 377A eventually made it onto the show, a brief glimpse, just for a second or two. 💗 Or when my boss tells me about his sons studying “Singapore Math,” which seriously cracks me up (it’s actually a thing in the U.S.).

Also, when you’re 54, I’m 21. This means I’m finally choosing between the dual nationalities which I’ve held for most of my life. (I was born in an Auckland hospital and got onto my first plane ride as a month-old tiny baby to Singapore.) But actually, the choice was made long ago. When I think of home, you are the first place that comes to mind. In a few days, I’ll be back on the island and will be officially taking my oath to be Singaporean only — for that, I’m grateful. Somehow, I’ve found you by choice instead of by birth or by heritage, and that makes our ties all the more precious and alive.

I was watching PM Lee’s NDP message on The Straits Times website today at work and he felt almost fatherly. I was enraptured by that familiarity — his inflections, mannerisms, the earnestness of SG politicians (of a technocrat breed), and inklings of the nanny state that really does seek to take care of you (I cannot imagine any U.S. politician genuinely saying, “Each one of us must strive to improve ourselves, do our best, and chase our dreams.”).

And, although you’re not perfect, you’re still mine. Somehow, being elsewhere around the world only makes me think of you — your ingenuity and almost strait-laced wholesomeness, your efficiency and embeddedness in a global nexus, and also your singlets and slippers, hawker centre uncles and aunties, lahs, humid heat, and all that fills my heart with a fierce fondness across the Pacific that can only be called love.

Happy 54th birthday, dear Singapore ❤️

Lots of love,

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Another Christmas Comes and Goes

Not winter, but always Christmas.

My mom sweeps into the room and starts shaking me by the shoulders. She briskly turns off the air-conditioning.

WAKE UP! she thunders.

For the first time in twenty years, I know that Christmas starts with no immediate present to unwrap on the morning itself, and so I roll around in bed and burrow my head under a pillow. I know that because my parents have already given me presents in advance. My mom has revamped my winter closet with new sweaters, skirts and a pair of boots after I fulfilled her condition of losing the freshman fifteen over the summer. My dad has allowed me to plan for our family vacation entirely from scratch — we will celebrate the New Year from December 29th to January 6th in Taipei, the cradle of bubble tea (≧◡≦).

Wait, so there’s really no surprise? No Santa? I mumble to seek confirmation, peeking from below the pillow with two narrowing eyes.

Go open the fridge, my dad calls from outside the room.

Against all odds, all past coercion to compel me into weight loss, and all the snarky remarks they’ve heaped onto my appearance, my parents — who currently would gladly trade one fewer A on my transcript for less 5 kilograms on the scale (indeed, a true paradigm shift in priorities since I got into college) — there are three pints of my new favorite ice cream flavor glittering in all their loveliness on the shelf: my beloved White Peach and Raspberry from Häagen-Dazs.

I have no time to taste it because my mom then shuttles us out of the house for dim sum at Mouth Restaurant. There are baskets of har gow and chicken claw and crispy liu sha bao and fried shrimp balls in Chardonnay sauce and the best carrot cake of my life and panfried chee cheong fun and crystal dumplings and squid ink char siew bao and the list (of items that go into my tummy) surges on.

We then watch Bumblebee, who is now my newly-crowned spirit animal. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind that much having to express myself through songs exclusively. Quite unexpectedly, the film also reminded me about hospitality (as often associated with Christmas) when faced with the Other (Autobots and Decepticons!) — a topic I wrote about in a paper last week comparing Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

As today draws to a close, another Christmas comes and goes. This year, there’s the taste of childhood, the glow of content on everyone’s faces, the thrill of being in that liminal place between childhood and adulthood (I still get presents, but they come with more responsibility), the drawn-out festive feeling that’s no longer as anchored to a particular calendar date —  Christmas is captured in an accumulation of moments: persistent photoshoots along Orchard Road, matching pink and red t-shirts under the sun, fake snow, illusionist performances, and mumbling lyrics through lemonade-coated tongues at Gardens by the Bay — and the immense gratitude I have for my parents who have given me the best gifts of time and love not just on this special day but also every day while I was growing up.

Thank you also to God, who further unearths with each year the magic of Christmas beyond the traditions and the symbols, the wrapped presents and the tree. Thank you, Father, for helping me find Christmas in my heart.

Wishing all of you and your families a wonderful and blessed holiday season. ❤

Merry Christmas, 🎄🎄🎄

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🎅🎅🎅

Happy 53rd Birthday, Singapore!

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Local icons for the 2017 National Day designed by homegrown illustrators The Fingersmith Letterpress & Festive Folks, http://thesmartlocal.com/read/quirkiest-hdb

To the sunny island-state who fed me a diet of chicken rice, pineapple tarts, dim sum, herbal soups, bubble tea, zi char, and Pokka green tea,

To the towering institutions, well-worn wooden lecterns, scribbled whiteboards, laughter-filled halls, bleary-eyed mornings before sunrise, and the strict, snarky but wise teachers who educated me, equipped my mind and oriented me towards the world,

To all the exams I’ve taken, the essays I’ve written, this looming belief in meritocracy that pulsates in the system and dominated much of my life, all the invisible privileges I’ve received growing up in a place that values the mind and its gauged merit, the unprecedented opportunities that would not have been possible for an immigrant family elsewhere,

To this country that anchored a girl to a metaphorical homeland that rises to the fore, even amidst the many heritages that crowd within her frame,

I say: Singapore, you have a big heart—you embraced into your fold a family with three nationalities and, although your own culture is hotly debated and nebulously defined, you embedded in an itinerant girl something she can never abandon—a love for cities that are created in the shape of you.

I also say: in times when people tightly grasp at territorial borders and erect concrete walls between one imagined community and another, I look back in wonder at the path that led me to where I am today,

And I could not have stood here, were it not for you.

So, happy 53rd birthday, my dearest Singapore! 🎂❤️☀️

As I Stand, I Feel

Minutes before the day ends in my time zone, Merry Christmas everyone!🎄🎄🎄

1. Christmas

Today, I am grateful for

  • Funny presents (the wrapped mango slices still win)
  • This year, my dad told me with a straight face: “I’m no longer going to be Santa because you’re nineteen.” My parents pretended to be Santa for years in order to make me happy (till I was eighteen!) ❤ I’ll always be the girl who ardently believes in Santa but I guess I’ve finally grown up in their eyes. 😦
  • Many many hours of sleep
  • The yearly tradition of unwrapping a Moleskine planner for 2018 (here’s to better time management skills, as always)
  • Singalongs on the way to lunch and back with my family, with light from the sultry Singapore sun streaming into the car and falling softly onto our crinkling eyes and pink faces
  • Sending the same poorly photoshopped picture of my face on a chubby Santa’s body to random friends and receiving replies ranging from “STOP REUSING THE SAME PHOTO EVERY YEAR” (old friends) to “SO CUTE” (new friends)
  • The geniuses who wrote Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Mariah Carey herself and Walter Afanasieff)
  • God, who is always here for me, and on this day, his magic is everywhere. Thank you for loving me and bringing all these people into my life. I love you.

2. Homecoming

After more than twenty hours suspended in flight, starving (I can never eat airplane food because I get airsick) and groggy-eyed, a swift transit in Dubai, and four movies (I rewatched the Christmas classic Home Alone which is laugh-out-loud hilarious and so cute; Reese Witherspoon’s Home Again which cannot be salvaged by all the prettiness on the screen; the immensely satisfying Captain America: The First Avenger; and the 4-hour-long monster of a movie, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton which left me feeling wistfully disoriented on a dark plane), I finally land in Singapore at 8.30 am SGT. Stepping off the jetway and into the arrival lounge, I suddenly understand how much I want to be here—clean carpeted grounds doused in warm lighting, the staccato hum of Singlish with lahs freely tossed around, harried parents ushering skipping kids on December holiday family trips so much like a scene from my own childhood—and all the latent feelings of homecoming erupts. It’s like becoming aware of my own breathing.

Mayday Concert on 17 December 2017 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium

3. 青春(Youth)

在我心中,青春所有的感动都有一个最好的代言人:那就是五月天(Mayday)。去听一场他们的演唱会就好像是再次祭奠一次那似乎刚刚离我而去的懵懂时光。这是几万人一场的盛大缅怀。那种倾心的感动,可能是当阿信嘶喊 “至少在我的心中还有个尚未崩塌的地方” 时我那狂跳的心脏,也可能是当《干杯》接近尾声时我和十年的闺蜜相视一笑然后齐声激昂地高唱:“有一天 就是今天 今天就是有一天 说出一直没说 对你的感谢 和你再干一杯 再干一杯永远 喝了就能万岁 岁岁和年年!” 也许,如五月天所唱,青春是挽不回的水,转眼消失在指尖。但,我们依然年轻,依旧热血,无名却充满了莫名的渴望,等待着此生一次的发光。所以,坐在驶向远方的车,摇晃着脚丫,塞着耳机,哼着歌,继续谱写着我后青春的诗篇。一生一次,足矣。

A direct translation would be “LIFE Private Unlimited Company”. The official title of their world tour is Life.

4. Memory

Waking up naturally when sunlight is peeking through that slit between my curtains; the humongous life-sized Winnie the Pooh that meets my eyes at belly level when I face the right side of the bed; Natasha Bedingfield’s husky voice crooning “We got all the memories” from my vibrating phone at 10.05AM sharp; my mum’s hot ginseng honey lemon tea in a white Pooh Bear mug (anything can be skipped for breakfast except for this because my mum will resolutely not let me out of the house); my favorite Pokka green tea—bought religiously as a substitute for coffee from the Nanyang Primary drinks stall to the Nanyang Girls’ High vending machine to the Hwa Chong café—arranged neatly in packets of six in the pantry; the Kinokuniya main store at Ngee Ann City, renovated but still where I immediately feel at home (no other bookstore in the world makes me feel this way, probably because I spent hours there as a kid whenever my parents went shopping at Orchard Road); the chewy golden bubbles in the Koi green milk tea; my mum’s tomatoes with eggs; sitting crossed-leg on the sofa hugging a fluffy, pudgy Android soft toy while watching Chinese singing variety shows with my dad; rearranging my bookshelf by color; trekking along the Bukit Timah Rail Corridor with the exact person I was with five years ago; meeting up with friends and magically picking up at exactly where we left off; loving this city and its breaths, compressions, sinews, words, and you, you, you.

Trekking with one of my longest friends, Xin Min!!! We’ve known each other since we were nine and awkwardly squatting beside each other during orientation.

5. Writing

The longer I don’t write a post, the harder it is to try to process everything in words. It seems so much easier to upload an Instagram story peppered with emojis and geotags than to pause—and think, How do I want to remember this? What is this story of my life that is being written at this very moment? I have opened this WordPress page a number of times since coming back to Singapore and found life too fulfilling, too familiar, too vanilla, too disarming, too soft to be made sense of in words. This gentle gentle life.

Since arriving back at home on 16 December, it feels like I’ve fallen out of the orbit of one hemisphere to another, shedding one outer life and slipping into another. Yet, my inner life remains stretched across time zones, pulled between disparate tent poles—weirdly shaped and not fully-formed as of now. Everything shifts, nothing unfolds. I ought to be geographically removed from college enough to contemplate what 2017 has been like, but it’s like my mind refuses to think; Just feel and let it wash all over you, it says.

So I feel and let it bleed over the page.

Ho Ho Ho 🎅

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