Who are we, Singapore?

img_0126-e1564059838352.jpgThe tall skyscrapers, city lights
The renowned airport, busy flights
Is it shopping centres opened till late
Or the heartlands of housing, neat and straight?
The white trains with red stripes,
The buses of different types
‘Please mind the platform gap’,
No food, no drinks but remember to tap
The suit and ties of Raffles City
The bustling night life of Clarke Quay
Is it the greenery lined along our streets
Or the readily available affordable treats?

It has been 2.5 years since I have left Singapore for Sydney. Each time I leave this fast-progressing city and the hustle of its crowd, I wonder how much of it I would still recognise when I next return to this sunny island. It is strange to be using GoogleMaps to navigate directions along streets I once knew like the back of my hand. It is awkward to be replied in proper English at a local food centre after stumbling to order in Mandarin. It is uncomfortable to be asked “Where are you from?” by a fellow Singaporean while making your way home in the neighbourhood.

Living away from Singapore, the conversations about the country only scratch the surface or at best, paint an incomplete picture of what it is like to be Singaporean. As a minority in a foreign country, I wear different hats after introducing myself as a Singaporean – sometimes as a tour guide and other times, a living artefact from a land people have only heard of or transited in. In response to genuine curiosity, I am often invited to share ‘what life is like in Singapore’.

As the years pass, I am more unconfident and unsure in representing a country I try hard to remember, but only manage to vaguely. I pause to consider the stories I tell about life in Singapore, I scrutinise the words I choose and increasingly, I struggle to describe ‘what life is like in Singapore’ because coming home each time, I stand from a greater distance to see the wide diversity of experiences and the spectrum of narratives that can be told about a person’s life in Singapore. Every time I return, the culture of this nation and its distinctive features only become more salient.

Two weeks from the nation’s 54th birthday, this is my question: who are we, Singapore?  

img_0027.jpg  img_0026-e1564059005894.jpg

We are trying hard to make a living
Working hard to do the right thing
Striving hard to get to the top
Praying hard to find a job
We are victims to the story we tell ourselves
of the ‘one way’ that life is meant to be –
The studies, the job, the marriage, the house
And the “you better find yourself the right spouse”.

Who are we, Singapore?

We are the neighbours who
Stare blankly in lifts or make small talk
The friends who
Gather after long days just for a walk.
We are thriving in the system or
Falling through the cracks
“Each person for yourself” but we are
“One people, one nation”.

Who are we, Singapore?

We are the uncles at coffee shops,
Raised voices and a beer each.
We are the businessmen in formal wear,
the migrant workers in fluorescent vests,
the mothers busy holding families together,
the children holding out under pressure,
the cleaners in corridors, the servers in restaurants,
the domestic workers raising children that are not our own.

Who are we, Singapore?
We are so many and we are one.

Time passes like water running through our fingers, there is a tangible sense of its flow but any attempt to grasp at it would prove futile. I recall the last days before leaving to Sydney for the first time, my heart’s desire was to remember Singapore for what it was. Many times now, I have returned to a city I only recognise the silhouette of and undoubtedly, the Singapore we see today is changing still. The Singapore we study in today will be a different one we work in the marketplace of or the one we raise our children in. And many times over as we walk through our lives, we may have a different answer each time we look around ourselves and ask, who are we, Singapore?



7c26e51ebce7ca90051467e4a1149782If Life would ask me for a dance,
Seasons would be the rhythm of his sway.
Three steps forward and two steps back,
Life might spin me around
And then hold me close again.

The fast song comes on and I know,
I would be out of breath in minutes.
But Life would wait for me to catch my breath,
He would watch me
And smile.

Then perhaps we’d do a slow one,
I would close my eyes as Life leads me
On the dance floor I would
Occasionally laugh, thinking “Thank you for being
Here with me.”

Have you ever thought of life as in seasons? I grew up in Singapore where it is summer all year long. We have ‘periods of heavy rainfall’ but apart from that, a summer wardrobe could take you through the 12 months of the year. I know my friends from abroad find it hard to imagine –

“You mean it never gets cold?”.
“Uh… yeah… (long pause). I mean, you can walk into a shopping centre?”

On the other hand, I recently told my dad I was on my “winter break”. No paraphrase here, he answered, “Winter… means what ah?” I had to explain that in other countries, we have different seasons in the year, each lasting a couple of months and taking a different form. For me, waking up daily to the embrace of Singapore’s humidity is a reverse culture shock, an unrelenting hug that reminds me that I’ve crossed geographical borders.

In Singapore, the leaves don’t change colour throughout the year and you never have to replace your singlets for summer to long-sleeved woollen tops. Really, the only inkling of ‘seasons’ we have is to do with fruits and vegetables affecting their market prices. It is no wonder we sometimes find it challenging to think of life as in seasons. The Bible, in all its wisdom, says “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

I suppose that means we can look at our lives as a series of seasons woven together, each one taking us through a part of the longer journey. In every season, our pace, purposes and choices differ. Our seasons find us planted in unique places, positions and communities only for such a time as this. A closer examination of these details bring us clues to our current season. The thought of changing seasons might be unsettling for some. For others, there might be comfort in that the pain and struggles of this season are only temporary. Yet others may wrestle with the season, entertaining thoughts of “if only” and “maybe then”, looking way beyond the current or dwelling in the glory days of one’s past.

I hope to be one who dances with the season, who knows when to catch the wave and when to swim against the tide. I want to be found present, savouring the moments and appreciating every gift that the season brings. I pray to God that He would cause me to take firm strides through uncertainty, holding tightly to the knowledge that every day will add up to a glorious beautiful. I am reminded of the seed planted in the soil – it is buried for a season and yields fruit in another, between which it simply remains. It doesn’t know when it would see the daylight, but persists knowing that the harvest is worth the wait.

To Be Refreshed

modern-minimalist-watercolor-flower-leafHave you ever –
Walked with a little dance in your steps,
Humming a song under your breath?
You look up and
The sky is a canvas painted blue,
The birds singing creation’s tune.

When did you last –
Laughed till your stomach hurt,
Or smiled so wide your cheeks ached?
You slow down and
Let the memories settle in or
Lingered in a simple joy.

Do you remember –
Closing your eyes to hear the wind
Brushing your hair against your skin?
You lay down and
Follow the rhythm of your breath,
Find your heart a place to rest.

I wonder today, what your first thought was as you awoke from slumber. At the turning point from your restful sleep to the morning’s daybreak, what crossed your mind first? I wonder did you run by in your head the plenty of things you had to do or perhaps, imagined in your mind what the day’s passing would look like? Did you cuddle under your sheets for a little longer? Did you close your eyes and try to finish the dream that never ended?

Monday morning, I wake up to cloudy skies and rain pattering against the windows. Somewhere in the middle of my 6-week long winter break, I am awakening these days with a single thought, that today is the day to be refreshed.

Hurried, busy; tired crazy – how easily do we settle into the pattern of our modern-day hustle? Walking the streets of Singapore two and a half years since my move to Australia, I feel like a stranger in my own country. The pace of endless busyness and the weary faces looking down into phones, I had almost forgotten the everyday move of people into trains and buses. I only have fading memories of the fatigue that build up over the week, only vague recollections of what it was like to restlessly pursue ever-heightening standards. Exhaustion, our heart’s cry, as we try and try again to kick the ball into a moving goalpost, to run enough laps around the track to finally impress the distracted coliseum.

Imagine awakening each day to a different drum beat: not the anxious rattle in your heart, with a mind on overdrive faster than you can follow but a steady drumroll of excitement to the day, with anticipation for what is to come. Imagine a quiet to the distracting voices and noises, drawing our attention to the breath that fills our lungs. Our lives could sing the melodies of joy and together be a symphony of thankfulness, if only we took time to stop running and be refreshed. What refreshes you? Would you join me and take a moment today (only a moment, it wouldn’t be long) to do just that? Silence the thought that ‘you are undeserving of rest’, uproot the pride that says ‘you don’t need the refreshment’. Decide in your heart that today is the day to be refreshed.

Can I Tell You About Grace?


This one is for those whom God has written into my life. In His divine power and mysterious plan for glory, God has purposefully converged our paths for a season in our lives and whether it is the fresh footprints in the wet sand or the hardened ones on the dry concrete, may this piece of writing convey my heartfelt gratitude that at one point (past or present) we came together at our first ‘hello’ and Love united us. May every word here speak into your heart saying thank you, my Friend, for walking with.

There are parts of our stories we prefer not to tell: we prefer if they remained under the carpet, swept beneath the rugs. Hidden in the dusty corners or better yet, locked away in the cupboard of forgetfulness. Let time wash away the memories, and let it take away the pain and the sorrow, the tears and the hurt. Our stories of fear and betrayal, anger and hurt filed into the forgotten in hopes that then, the rest of the story will be beautiful. We think, ‘Maybe then, when people read what is leftover, they will finally accept me.’ We hope that leaving out the flaws and mistakes, leaving out the things we regretted doing, those around us would finally look at us with approval and say, ‘You are good enough.’ Will they maybe even say, ‘I love you’?

Can I tell you about grace? I am but a broken person with an endless list of broken promises, broken relationships, broken memories. So much of my life has been spent walking into the broken glass of people’s dreams and hopes, descending into the deep wells of other’s failures and disappointment or my own. Like a moth attracted to a flame, I was addicted to the very things that reminded me of my own helplessness, worthlessness. But if you met me from the distance in the past or even now, it would be easy to think I have it all going for me. And from afar, that is how many of our lives look – figured out and well done. Miles away, no one can smell the stench of despair, no one can see our tear-stained scars.

Grace is the miracle that we are alive. It is the beautiful choice that our Creator made which manifests in our every breath. He chose to create us. He decided to love us. And this decision He makes sustains us in every step we take.

 It is the wonderful truth that in spite of all the wrongs we have done and regardless of the multiple falls we will continue to take in our lives, we are alive. Here we are today. Isn’t that amazing?

Truly, the shards of shattered glass can be found in every step of this road of life but because of you, I am reminded time and again that we are never alone. Grace never leaves us. Thank you for walking with me on our broken roads to redemption, for accompanying me as we journey homeward. I once lived without God and without hope. Amidst the inconsistences of those around me and myself, with the mess of my own weakness, His fingerprints of grace are found all over my life. He was there to wipe every tear. He was there to comfort. He was there to strengthen.

We have a God whose love extends beyond the depths of our fears, grace that covers over every broken piece. I am a fragile clay jar and for a long time, I’ve been trying to use my bare hands to hold together these pieces. Grace has been the Loving Hands beneath mine this whole time.

Can I tell you about grace? Grace is the Father’s heart crying when He sees us in pain, yet giving us choice to do as we will because He loves us. Grace is Jesus who has been waiting patiently all my life for the day I would let go and let Him. Grace is the God in heaven who is right by our side every day as we awaken, hoping that “maybe today, is the day, she will come home to me”.  Grace is the reason that, after all we’ve done and after all we’ve been through, we woke up this morning and we are still here.

The Miracle of Being Broken

As the semester draws to a close, I am thankful for the stories that began in Sydney and continue to be written still. The characters interwoven across each other’s pages and the plot twists that take us all on a ride no short of adventure. Thankful for the new encounters with love and the challenges to seek greater possibilities. The interactions over coffee and microwaved takeaways or the mealtimes in Asian restaurants, knitting our souls together in the harmony of love will remain close to my heart for a long time. Time and again, the privilege of heartfelt conversations see the unveiling of our broken memories, steepest letdowns and suffocating helplessness; as if we have lived our lives being told to sweep under the rug our truest of emotions and water down the real experiences that have shaped us into becoming. With the gentleness of the morning rays and warmth from the winter sun embrace, will you take a walk with my thoughts as I propose that we are broken for a miracle?

Our lives are littered with brokenness – our memories are shattered with disappointment, hearts broken by betrayal. Unexpected turns in our lives, like flower vases lifted high to be admired then carelessly dropped to the ground. One moment we are celebrating milestones that far exceeded our imagination, and in the next we are watching the broken pieces on the ground, wondering how could this be? How do dreams turn into nightmares? Fullness into emptiness? Long roads turn out to be dead ends? Which pain would be more tolerable, we wonder – if we stood amidst the fragments of our hopes or if we bent over on our knees to pick them up with our hands?

Our world is crowded with brokenness – look around you and see the souls lost to anxiety, hear the unspoken thoughts about everyday worries. Do you not see? Our desperate immersion in temporal distraction? The tears we don’t know how to cry? Can you not hear? The joyful songs that have left our voices? Our childhood ambitions have been hidden to be forgotten, and the hopes that once were have been abandoned to “be realistic”. We have fallen short of the people we once dreamed to be: tapping out of the ring for an indefinite water break because the fight to become better versions of ourselves seems impossible. Our deep desires to love and be loved truly are doused by the intoxication of discouragement. We are bruised and broken by the punches hurled by the everyday crowd telling us to settle down and settle fast.

As if the days of our lives had been written into a book and we have chosen to stop flipping to the next pages because of the brokenness that had been spilled across numerous pages now. We have lost count of the occasions of stumbling and falling, feeling cornered to despair by the broken pieces scattered all over. Afraid that the subsequent pages would spell depths of brokenness we had never known before, we have decided to stay on the same page. And perhaps, you and I have been on the same page of our stories for a while now. We have been reciting the story of our brokenness far too long, we can remember every word from the lies spoken to us – “You are not good enough”, “You will never make it”, “You are struggling alone”. Our souls are starving for the truth, but it starts with turning over the page believing that the story has yet to end. There is more.

In this age where vulnerability is shunned and authenticity is rejected, we are all too afraid that the shattered pieces of another’s life will remind ourselves of our own. We are afraid to see our own reflection in the brokenness of another’s life, terrified to unwrap the bandages we have desperately bound around our bleeding hearts of hurt. Our joy is held hostage by our refusal to recognise our deepest pain. Part of being alive is to acknowledge and embrace our brokenness, to bravely lift up our sorrows and hurts for healing. The startling suicide rates are testament to the cries of this earth, our throbbing hearts of inexplicable pain and the desire to numb it all that we cannot put into words. On days that we are honest, we know little about where we are headed and what all this is for.

Dearest One, you were never meant to do this alone. Your struggle is real and the pain is searing, but there is no wound that is incurable, no sense of loss that cannot be redeemed. The lost time of your youth? Lost memories with your family? Lost relationships with those you still miss today? We are all people of brokenness – what matters is Who we place our broken pieces in the hands of. My life was transformed radically the day I came to know Jesus, He was unafraid of my own brokenness and mess, that I myself had did not dare look at. Just as I expected another one to scoff at my weaknesses or brush off my sadness as “a phase that will pass”, He spoke into my life with compassion and picked up the broken pieces, saying I love you. Little did I know then, that He has a track record of turning beauty from ashes and creating testimonies out of trials. One of His biggest miracles of feeding the 5000 men and their families with just 5 loaves and 2 fish began with His breaking the bread. The miracle of our salvation comes from the breaking of His body on the cross at Calvary.

The miracle begins then, when we place our broken pieces in the hands of a loving God of miracles. Our souls are parched dry with hopelessness and the Hope for our hearts has never stopped knocking: will you let Him in?


“Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.” (Mark 6:41-44)

Easter: There Is Food For The Hungry


Breathe deep, slow down. As we savour the weekend in gratitude of the well-timed break, do you hear the grumbling of your soul? Do you sense the hunger of your spirit? Hungry for rest, longing to enter a safe embrace that protects you from the hustle. Hungry for freedom, longing for a refuge from constantly striving to prove yourself. Hungry for love, longing for a faithfulness that promises forever and keeps it. This piece is for the hungry; it’s for you and me, and all willing to confront the calling of our souls.

We live in a day of endless scrolling, mindless busyness and reckless pursuits. We are fueled by short-term pleasures: the cheap thrills and the expensive things. We are restored by the diesel of entertainment – episodes of a drama series, sequels to a movie and levels of a video game. We are sustained by our outfits of the day and incoming likes on social media. People’s praises, our expanding portfolios and the notifications on our phones all like breeze that brushes our faces. We are tempted to believe that they are here to stay, but they time and again reveal themselves to be distractions just passing by. Day after day, we return to the solitude of our souls, hearts and minds. As our heads lower to the pillow and we stare into the ceiling (if only we consciously put aside our phones that distract us), we are with ourselves truly. Then, the question arises, ‘What is this life for?’, ‘What is all this worth?’.

When we are quiet enough, still enough; we find ourselves thirsty after drinking, hungry after eating. The stomach of our souls have been corrupted by our misfeeding and the desires of our souls seem ever unsatisfied. But just as there is physical food to our stomachs and physical rest to our minds, perhaps the impending dissatisfaction points at a greater source of fulfilment. The nights of loneliness and the days of meaninglessness are all clues to a greater place of purpose. And just maybe, it hints that we are looking in the wrong places.

For all who are hungry, Easter points at the bread of life that tastes of rest, of freedom and of love. All in one, the goodness is saturated. The connection to its nutrition is a relationship that leads to fullness that is never hungry again. We so often settle for the lesser option – the nachos without cheese, popcorn without salt, peanut butter without jam. Don’t miss out on this one: the gift is the Giver.

Easter says, the hunger of our souls points us upwards. Not leftwards to the chocolate Easter eggs or rightwards to the bunnies hopping, it points us upwards. Not even forwards or backwards, because we would be bumping into each other. The out-of-the-world hunger is satisfied only by a similarly out-of-the-world source – this is why nothing we try from this world has a taste that remains past today and sustains beyond tomorrow. We are pointed to the cross on which the One who so loved you died and the tomb from which He rose again three days later. The hunger is real and the questions are valid, but we get lost in the search. The food exists and the answers await – not in this world, but out of it. Do you believe? 

Listen, nothing is without worth and neither are you. Everything with breath and place on this earth is created with a purpose, including you and I. It is this purpose that gives us worth – just as a jug is worthless until it is used to contain water and a watch useless until it is worn to tell time, we are living in fullness only when we are connected with purpose. Seek purpose wholeheartedly. Look upwards, to the only One who has the answers to your purpose. Look to the One who not only says He would give His life for you, He did. 

Easter is about Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the cross so you and I might live full lives of eternal worth. It is about the victory He has won over your past, present and future fears, insecurities and anxieties. Easter is about He who knows you fully and loves you completely, that He looks into your darkness and says “let there be light”. He looks into the mess you’re in right now and says “here I AM”. The promise has been delivered, not to be withdrawn. What will you say – do you dare believe? 


Broken, Loved and Beautiful


“You have an irreplaceable role to play in this world and important purposes hang on your life.” (Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge)

The lingering disbelief that many have towards this truth is evidence of the long assault on our hearts in this broken world. Growing up with absent fathers and overworked mothers, we have presented ourselves bare first to our families and then everywhere else, in search of a love that satisfies us. All appears futile. We strive in every possible sphere to prove ourselves (to ourselves and) to the audience of the world – our planners are filled and every commitment is a search for affirmation, asking “Am I good enough now?”, “Am I beautiful enough now?”, “Am I loveable enough now?” Underlying the insecurities is the critical question of “enough”. Our hearts are broken, dreams broken. Our vulnerabilities have been trampled on more times than one and we wonder if the brokenness has any room for fixing anymore.

This one is for the Beautiful One behind the screen, this was written specially for you. The pursuit of perfection is misguided and our understanding of beauty has been corrupted; my prayer is that you open your heart to the endless waves of gracious love that surrounds you and open your palms to receive the contentment that comes with starting from ‘I am enough’. Receive the promise in every sentence – broken, beautiful and loved one.

You are a recipient of love. Look all around you: at the friends who shower you with endless care and the family that protects you in your most fatigued of times. See the gentle smiles of those who care for you and feel the warmth from the hugs you receive – not just physical smiles and hugs, but the ones you see with your heart, and experience with your eyes closed. Allow them to embrace you. Let the fond memories of hearty laughter and joyful days affirm you: you are loved. You are deeply loved. You are loved not because of what you do and achieve, but simply because of who you are.

From the day you were born and even before, you were loved as you are today. You have inherent worth and beauty, you are precious in your being. The beauty you possess is a light that radiates from within, it is in your soul. It invites those around you to rest and brings life to the powerless or weak. You are that beautiful. And you are so very loved.

We have mixed up our starting points and destinations. Too often, we begin from a place of “I am not enough” and strive to prove ourselves worthy of love, thinking the destination lies in hearing a close one say “I love you”. Misguided, we wonder, “When people see all that we really are, will they still say “I love you” and mean it wholeheartedly?” We question, “Do they love me because of me or because of what I do for them?” The truth is, there is a love that sees all of us and says, with a compassionate smile and a humble heart, I love you. This was the voice that was present even before you were born, it persists today and will continue to forevermore.

If you are here reading this today, I want to tell you that you are already loved with that love – the one that fully knows you and fully embraces you. You were not made to live in fear or endless striving. Just by being (and without doing), you are loved. May you find the courage, then, to live in every moment with the starting point that “I am loved and I have nothing to prove”. Watch your life transform as you come from a place of enough.

We are in a world vulnerable to emotional assaults of different forms – the temptations to compare our lives with others, the contest to prove ourselves more productive than all around us and the passing remarks that seem to tell us to “try harder”. We are imperfect people offering imperfect love, and that’s okay. Forgive others and forgive yourself. Forgive the cracks and brokenness, forgive the tears that stream uncontrollably and the times you felt you fell short. Forgive the number of times you have given your hearts away with high hopes only to be disappointed. Broken again. Our cracks are where light shines through and it is our brokenness that makes a way for true beauty.

Remember this: you are protected by a shield of love, you are loved and you are blessed unconditionally. Let the truth be etched in your heart that this is enough and you are enough.