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 everywhere, for instance? But might this otherness 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 also opens up
possibilities for cobbling together words, imagery and poetic forms from more than one cultural tradition in my writing.
Formerly a journalist and editor, I currently teach English Language
and Literature at 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 Singapore National Arts
Council-published anthology Reflecting on the Merlion, the Ethos-published & Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond, Ceriph as well as in online journals Double
Dialogues (University of Melbourne) and Bukker Tillibul (Swinburne University
of Technology). I have also been invited to read poetry at the University of Melbourne and in the Poetry and Voice conference of the University
of Chichester. In 2011, I won the City Loves Writing competition
of the British Council’s Writing the City website and was admitted to a writing
residency at the Vermont Studio Centre in the US.
I draw inspiration from all sorts of music and feed off great writers
(and souls) such as St. Augustine, Geoffrey Chaucer and Flannery
I am also 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 places 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 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.
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 superior caritas).
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 make it a pleasant home (Looking out the living room window, I'm treated to a soul-soothing
sight of a palm-lined garden that conceals the awkward backhand of some NUS dormers at the tennis court.).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.
is not really as uptight as most people think. Some people jaywalk; I've seen a housemate without a car seatbelt on; teenagers
can now stand up and dance at concerts; a pair of my slacks once got 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.