Personal Essays

This Old Dog Longreads

For each year that I move around the sun, my sister ages seven times as much. The odds are in my favor that even though we grew up together, I will experience her tail end before mine ever comes.

What 'Roma' gets right about being a domestic worker The Atlantic

In my memories of being cared for by nannies, I often felt as if I had a second mother, one who was consistent, present, and generous with her time, and whose emotional clockwork mirrored mine. When my father left the family, our maid at that time, Lena, cried with me and my grandmother in the kitchen. “Poor thing,” Lena murmured as we pressed into her. She held both of our trembling frames, trying to be strong, yet her face was as wet as ours. And when my younger brother was diagnosed with diabetes, Jane, our maid then, broke down in sobs late at night—something I only know because I shared a room with her. She followed his health changes with fervor, traded days off to keep my brother company. Eleven years later, when I met her in Dubai, where she was working, she was glad to see me but admitted, “How I wish your brother were here.” He’d been on her mind the whole time.

To Paris and Notre-Dame, Our Sanctuary CommonEdge

She had found Paris too heavy, burdened by its history. “Paris trembles with the weight of the dead,” she said. The past week, more than any other, reminds me of how alive Paris is, even if its heart is nearly a thousand years old. Tremble it may under the weight of its histories, roof, spire, and all, Paris still sounds to me more like a Daisy Buchanan whisper that draws us ever closer.

When you have to make your own home for the holidays Washington Post

We sat cross-legged on the floor, sweet tea between us, our knees touching in comradeship. By our sides were two snoozing babies; we gently rocked them in their cradles. Over time this developed into a rhythm between us, a metronome to the stories she would tell: about Saddam Hussein’s troops coming into her village and killing her friends; about men in French grocery stores mocking her language; about how she loved and was unable to see her husband for 20 years; how they met in secret and saved up coins for illicit toll booth calls. Each morning we started our day with hot milk tea, bread warmed over the cup, and a sense of kinship through our respective homelessness — it gave us hope through a cold winter

Disappear: The Eternal Endpoint for Everything, Except Love Singapore International Festival of Arts

To live with loss and death is a human condition which is bestowed upon every man and woman, but some of us live close to it, day after day, fearing the loss which is about to come our way; and some of us live as if flying above loss’ palm, seeing it grab hold of objects, memories, places in time, but never us, not yet. I count myself in the former. I take heart in the composer’s pain. I was born close to my own Pompeii. I was that precocious child who, instead of having the skills of football (I wish), was gifted with a preternatural awareness of death. While my peers would only begin to worry in their 30s or so about their parents getting old, the person I loved the most – my grandmother – was already old. She was old when I was born, and she has only gotten older.

Whether or not Roma wins Best Picture, we need to talk about reality The Independent

It perplexes me to think that domestic workers—often underprivileged, vulnerable women, who take home $9,000-$12,000 on average in the US and are often unable to pay rent at some point in the year— fill gaps in the American family so better-off can be free to do more.

Dominate: An Unfeeling Experience of Being a Bank Singapore International Festival of Arts

The performance did not strike a chord in that small intimate place in my heart that desires to be provoked, and I waited in vain for a flotsam of a feeling to surface.

My Airport: SIN Popula

There is a local pastime in Singapore where families bring children to watch planes meet earth where there was once mostly water.

Crazy Rich Asians: representing you, stereotyping us MediaDiversified

In Singapore seeing more “crazy” “rich” Chinese is not a milestone; it is more of the same. At its core, representation is not just a matter of ticking off boxes to get certain ethnicities (or in this case, Asian-looking faces) on screen. It also matters who the characters are and what role they play in the story. People of colour seeking media representation in America need to be mindful of using the rest of the world as a playground to explore and legitimate their diasporic identities.

My Singaporean Mom Always Wanted To Cover My Freckles. Here's How I Learned To Show Them Off Bustle

And this she was determined to impart to me as well. Every morning while waiting in line to drop me off at school, she'd have one hand on the steering wheel and the other patting concealer down over each of my freckles. While the word "freckle" seems to have come from sunnier origins, like "spark" and "sprinkle," my freckles were to be kept in the dark. Lindsay Lohan I was not. I was to appear to everyone masked in concealer cream and sun blocking serums. And when, to her dismay, my freckles grew nevertheless, my mother would tap her finger on the insurgent spots and make a note to herself: “Need more SPF.”


The Country Where Diversity Is Enforced by Law Reasons to be Cheerful

In Singapore, the government dictates the ethnic makeup of apartment buildings. Is this what racial harmony looks like?

Young Israelis Are Uniting in Protest Against Netanyahu Vice

“When I go and see an overwhelmingly secular protest, I shake my head because I don’t think that’s how you change things here anymore,” Brunswasser says.

Can a Light Rail Train Link a Divided City? Bloomberg

“It was here that I first fell in love with Jerusalem, as a 16-year-old, looking out at the square overflowing with young people, having fun with a freedom and an abandon that didn’t exist for teenagers in major American cities,” Brunwasser told us over headphones as we rolled by the public plaza.

Hunting for dinosaur bones in the digital age Quartz

I’d never seen large animals look so small, or move with such a cinematic stillness, as I did in the Gobi. A dozen of us arrived at Gurvan Saikan airport, in the south of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, just in time for the break of dawn. As we left the airport and traveled the hour-long drive through the great Mongolian steppe to our campsite, specs of motion in the distance slowly transformed into a caravan of camels or a flock of sheep following each other towards a knoll.

How Singapore’s Famed Food Hawker Culture is Faring in the Pandemic Business Insider

A Facebook user by the name of Yvonne Chen posted about a "granny" stall owner selling dim sum at Kwek Seng Huat Eating House who "is very elderly and even shaking when she's standing up but is still opening her stall everyday and trying to get on with life amidst the virus.”

How a Nest Made Out of Bird Saliva Became a Delicacy in Asia Business Insider

Who would have thought that a nest made out of hardened bird spit would be a delicacy, a skincare product, and a popular gift across Chinese-speaking countries in Asia?

Smartphones haven't made us into activists. They've turned us into helpless bystanders. World Economic Forum

Our cameraphones may make us feel like social-media activists, but when we’re recording an event instead of intervening, we’re actually just real-world bystanders. There is a gulf of dissonance between what we publicly declare as our values—online or otherwise—and how we act.

The Strange, Fragile Normalcy of Life in Singapore Bloomberg

Hailed for its early efforts to contain Covid-19, Singapore has recently seen a surge in new coronavirus cases. Still, daily life is surprisingly unaffected.

An Rong Photographs Asian Couples In Love  Vice

In America, we haven’t had Asian American romantic leads that don’t end up with a white person, or a non-Asian person. And you wonder: Are we not supposed to be in love with each other?

A Jerusalem Shipping Container Becomes a Portal For Empathy CommonEdge

People are milling about, asking if they may have a trip into obscurity. “Also, what is this?” they ask with some apprehension.

One thing North Korea has that the South doesn’t: Google Maps Asia Times

Google Maps has charted new worlds for travelers: unknown terrain becomes easily navigable in an instant, making it possible to drive from Luxembourg to Latvia without having any familiarity with the route. It has become the go-to app for getting all sorts of directions – unless you are in South Korea.The host country of the Winter Olympics does not allow Google Maps to provide driving and walking directions. In fact, it is the only country in the world where this is the case.

Togetherness in Israel Sits on Rooftops Playboy

Every summer, Mekudeshet “Sacred”), a massive city-wide festival operating under the Jerusalem Season of Culture, puts together an original rooftop tour to ferry participants out of their comfort zones and onto the rooftops of buildings they would never otherwise venture.

The Buddhist Traveler in Buenos Aires Tricycle (Print)

This South American city has long been prized for its Belle Epoque architecture, narrow streets, numerous bookstores—more per person in 2013 than any other city in the world—and coffee shop culture. And though you wouldn’t mistake it for Bodh Gaya, Buenos Aires has seen a sizeable increase in Buddhist residents from Asian countries since the 1980s. Today, the city is home to about 5,000 immigrant Buddhists and 25,000 converts. The renowned writer Jorge Luis Borges, a Buenos Aires native, was one of many Argentinians who have been drawn to the dharma. If you find yourself in the city of Porteños (as the residents of this port city are known), here is our guide for the Buddhist traveler.

Can Architecture Save China’s Rural Villages? DnA’s Xu Tiantian Thinks So ArchDaily

“The real China is in the countryside.” Aric Chen of M+, Hong Kong, remarked in his opening piece for Rural Moves—The Songyang Story.

‘Comfort women’ controversy crosses Pacific to California Asia Times

“Breaking the relationship over a memorial is outrageous and absurd,” said Lillian Sing, a retired judge and co-chair of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition. “It shows how afraid the Osaka mayor and [the] Japanese prime minister are of [the] truth, and are trying to deny history.”

A First Job, and Independence, for Bedouin Women in the Negev DesignMilk

These home accessories are not only delight to look at and plop down onto, they also tell a small but proud story of Bedouin women empowerment. Bedouin women are traditionally not allowed to hold jobs outside of their home. They spend most of their time on domestic chores and taking care of their children. Now, Zur and her team go to Hura, a Bedouin township in the Negev desert, to teach Bedouin women how to crochet and make Iota’s home products. Not only have they created a home-based industry in the Negev where women can work, for most of these women, it is their first opportunity to earn an income.

Other hats of all shapes and sizes

Guest editor at Narratively

Data visualisation researcher for David McCandless’ new book

Editorial committee, Nightingale by Data Visualisation Society

Recognition and Awards

2021 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow 2021 Thompson Reuters workshop: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery 2017 Campbell Fellow 2015 Leslie Fellow 2012-2016 Wiley Scholar