I’ve now been in London for a month, which calls for a sort of 满月(full month) moment of reflection.
1. First off, 满月is exactly the sort of sudden over-demonstrative Chineseness that has lately possessed me. I am working through it with some amusement, to see how far it can go. It started with me very quickly getting sick of sandwiches, which led to a trek to an Asian grocer to buy the holy armada of Chinese condiments (sesame oil, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and wine). Then a minor moment almost crying to see vacuum sealed lotus root in the store, as if in 2017 such a thing were actually miraculous. Then explaining mooncakes to my flatmates and getting the story wrong.
2. But really it is such things as having a perfectly fluent Mandarin conversation with the PRC shopkeeper trying to sell me a wok, in which suddenly I hear my accent stretching out to match hers like muscle memory. Or how I slip into another skin at a Malaysian cafe where the auntie talks like a kopitiam waitress, the cadences alternately Hokkien and Canto, and she corrects my teh ping to a teh tarik ice.
3. I watched Ninagawa’s Macbeth which is staged like a grand Buddhist funerary rite, the whole thing a prolonged weeping for human weakness. The Paradiso from Fauré’s Requiem is enmeshed with low mourning cries that rhyme with Taoist chants. East Asian and European expressions of grief emanate from the same pit of ancient knowledge. I weep in the same way I once paused in sadness before a cathedral in Berlin, wondering what my ancientness is, having grown up in a place that believes itself to be 50 years old. Who are my ancients? Did we lose them on the boat from Hainan, did we sell them for keys to a flat, did they turn away when I was born again to Jesus Christ, when I learned verbal acrobatics in a language they never spoke?
4. Sometimes, semi-consciously, I trace Chinese characters with a finger onto my arm; like the needle of a seismograph.
5. The Singaporean in me: misses drying clothes in the sun; thrills to the Indian food served at a friend’s home; wants belacan and rotting shrimp; looks at the Thames and thinks of mangroves; multiplies English rain by a factor of thunderstorm; delights in what little Malay he can speak; fries the packet rempah and in the cloud of chili incense imagines warming spirits filling this rickety old flat.
6. I now find myself saying “we” to mean “not you,” to mean “we from over there,” “we whom you know nothing about,” “we who once made up my entire universe but now are compacted into a signpost for that place where things are said and done differently”. “We” is one of the few things that keep me from disappearing, though increasingly I don’t know who “we” are.