Kamusta? Ni hao?
As a Chinese Filipino, I have had brushes with otherness in my
native and adopted societies. While growing up in Manila, I was aware that I was fairer and had smaller
eyes than most people around me –and for a while got teased for this. Living abroad, first in Taipei
in the 1990s and now in Singapore, has
made me realize that I speak and, in certain ways, think differently from many of my colleagues.
This otherness could be frustrating, especially when I was just
starting to learn Mandarin, the language of my maternal grandfather’s family. How could one make sense of noodle-like
brushwork on billboards or bus guides in the grimy, old section of Taipei, for instance? But might this otherness, the experience
of the migrant or itinerant writer, also be liberating? It gives me some objectivity in exploring ways of looking and
voicing my experience of self and others in a much more integrated world. It is akin to being a foodie with a long record
of sampling soups and dishes from various food stalls, all over the place. Being other also opens up possibilities for cobbling
together colloquialisms, imagery and poetic forms from more than one cultural tradition in my writing. The resulting fusion,
rojak or halo-halo may appeal to some adventurous readers out there.
Formerly a journalist and editor, I currently teacher English Language and Literature at
a magnet for smart students, the National University of Singapore High School of Math and Science. I have been published in
Routledge's New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative
Writing, the Hispanic Culture Review (George Mason University), the Southeast
Asian Review of English, the Singapore National Arts Council-published anthology Reflecting
on the Merlion, the Ethos-published & Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond and
Moving Words, the Math Paper Press anthology The Coast, the Under the Storm anthology of contemporary Philippine poetry, Ceriph
as well as in online journals Double Dialogues (University of Melbourne) and
Bukker Tillibul (Swinburne University of Technology).
am a veritable citizen of the global economy, with some achievements in editing, journalistic writing (for the English-language
Taiwan News, Asian Infrastructure Monthly and the Far Eastern Economic Review) and teaching overachieving students (e.g.,
in Hwa Chong Institution [College] and NUS High). Among the cities I have called home are Manila,
Taipei and Singapore.
In my 20s, I became like Clark Kent—that is, a journalist. I was so for an English-language daily in Mandarin- and Hokkien-speaking
Taiwan. I reinvented myself and, along the way, picked up a foreign tongue, that of my maternal grandfather.
In the prime of life, I teach English—spelled in British fashion—in a place that is uniquely Singapore. This island
is both Asian in its vaunted Confucian values and Western in its occasional high-risk, high-gain investments.
I draw inspiration from all sorts of music and feed off great writers (and souls) such as St.
Augustine, Geoffrey Chaucer and Flannery O’Connor. I face the future with a sunny outlook that
has served me well but with slight quavering.
I am also exploring the use of
St. Augustine of Hippo's interpretive theory of reading (distinguishing between literal and figurative interpretations) in
the study of cupiditas (disordered love of self that prevents communion with others and the Other) in the works of Chaucer,
Jonson, Pope and Flannery O'Connor.
St. Augustine says that the end of interpretation
(principally of the bible and secondarily of other Christian-inspired texts) is charity, the ordering of values with turning
to God on top and turning to the self at bottom. It follows then that any allegorical text that may seem to subvert this order
should be interpreted not literally but figuratively.I am trying to see now just how each writer brings the uniqueness of
his or her time and culture to the shaping of allegory in depicting evil or the lack of good in fictional characters. In so
doing, I am testing just how fruitful still is the classical interpretive mode of St. Augustine in generating criticism and,
in that light, will outline some fictional models for the depiction of cupiditas (which necessarily presupposes a prior and
Singapore is a grab bag of things representing the full continuum
of goodness (It's clean, all right, but no Disneyland.). The heat is unbearable (worse than in Manila), but its lush gardens
(even airconditioned ones with piped-in bird songs) make it a pleasant home.The weather here sort of reminds me of Taiwan's
spring: it rains at least once a week. Because of that, Singapore's shrubbery looks a deep shade of green all year round --unlike
Japan or Texas in late winter.
This city-state is not really as uptight as most
people think. Some people jaywalk; I've seen peoople without a car seatbelt on; teenagers can now stand up and dance at concerts
(not like in the early 2000s); my pants or shoes occasionally get smeared with -- chewing gum. Hey, they're loosening up!
Prior to postgraduate research, I worked in Taipei as a business reporter and columnist
at the English-language daily Taiwan News. I stretched my mind by covering diverse fields from information technology to cross-strait
relations. That experience gave me opportunities to grab freebies and to chat with world shakers (great salesmen too) such
as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Intel Chairman Andrew Grove, Acer Chairman and CEO Stan Shih and Yahoo! co-founder Jerry
A decade ago in Manila, I tried to put sense into the papers of woolly-headed
economists as an editor for top think tank and academic institution University of Asia and the Pacific (formerly Center for
Research and Communication). I was also privileged to have taught Composition to four batches of "creme-de-la-creme" students
As there are many sources and intensities of light, so are there
many shades of truth in this fractured world. Given our very limited stay here, I think it is quite good to reach for the
fullness of truth that faith and reason can make us attain (As Pope said, "What nothing earthly gives, or can destroy,/ The
soul's calm sunshine, and the heart-felt joy,/ Is virtue's prize.... [not] 394 erring Pride....").
This is a struggle for me and most people.
HOBBIES AND INTERESTS:
Music keeps me sane. I have a very eclectic taste, with my faves ranging from Bach's Brandenburg
concertos to the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour to the Black-Eyed Peas' "APL Song." Among current pop artists, I find Coldplay
and Kanye West riveting.
'Used to be a big film buff ("Seventh Seal," "Rashomon," and "ET" top my list). Film is to
our generation what theater was to the Elizabethans and the novel to Victorians.
"Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a
tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility." -- St. Augustine
Catholic Education Resource Center
Singapore Poetry Today
Under the Storm: An Anthology of Contemporary Filipino Poetry
A Tribute to Edwin Thumboo (with mention of my reading)
Singapore Writers Festival 2012 (with a reference to the panel discussion on the City and Literature)
Elite Skills (Online Writing)
A Look at China