I’ve been reading ebooks and listening to audiobooks intensively in the past few weeks, all thanks to Libby. I’ve gotten through many titles, including:

  • Designing Your life
  • In Order to Live
  • The Kinfolk Home
  • Grit
  • A Pale View of Hills
  • 1Q84
  • Quiet
  • Good Morning, Midnight
  • Northanger Abbey
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People in a Digital Age

Creating insta stories of noteworthy ideas and quotes has become quite a habit and I’ve gotten so much good stuff I just need to share.

Good Morning, Midnight (I totally thought it was good morning good night for the longest time.)
Designing Your Life
How to Win Friends and Influence People in a Digital Age
In Order to Live



The Power of Introverts

As I write this, I’m listening to Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s an insightful read (or listen) on how introverts can and should be valued. It strokes my ego in ways that could be totally factual. I’ve always wondered why I prefer to ‘shy away’ from crowds and prefer not to make small talk, even though I have learnt to do so.

I love people, yet hate them. I don’t like isolation but like being alone sometimes. Doing my own business at home hasn’t been entirely easy. I look forward to my scheduled social gatherings with my close friends, like never before. I make sure I don’t go overboard and yak non-stop when Immanuel comes home from work.

I’m still listening and it’s still good but does get dry at times. Introverts or extroverts – everyone is woven intricately and differently.

But one fun fact that I got was that Pixar’s campus is really cool and seems to satisfy both personality types.

Rainbow colours everywhere

I went down to a centre for a volunteer interview today. After how the previous interview panned out, this went very smooth. While I know it’s for a volunteer position, I don’t take it lightly.

I’m looking forward to have some mornings occupied with meaningful activities – the way I designed my life to be.

Though I told the coordinator that I’d want to commit for 3 months for now, if this suits my new rhythm for the year, I’d gladly extend the stint.

Side note: a little walk in the market near the centre landed me a suitable toolbox for the flowers.

What am I about?

I don’t know yet. I’ve had a few glimpses of what I am about, and a little clearer of what I hope to be about, but the journey ahead is still pretty long. And I need to remind myself that there’s no hurry to be completely sure of what I am about yet.

I love how this appeared in two of the books I’m reading now. Stay the Path, and the one here, The Last Arrow.

Changi Airport / Staying the Path

I love this place. Changi Airport has been a huge part of my life. My memories of it as a child aren’t that clear. But the memories I have of it when I was still in Anglican remain vivid.

I remember dashing into the train after school at Tanah Merah, and doing silly things at quiet areas with my friends. Lying on the stairs, pretending we were mannequins are among the many things we did there as teenagers. Many of those spots and now gone but I’ve kept some in photos for my personal viewing pleasure. Camera phones had just come out then and though the quality isn’t good, it’s at least a preservation of the stupid things we did.

I remember studying at the airport. McDonalds, TCC, viewing galleries, Burger King, staff canteens, and I’ve lost count. All the food options made it so convenient. Students in Singapore study here all the time. It’s the one airport that I’ve seen people actually come all the time to do non-airport things. As an adult, I spent countless nights here marking assignments at Krispy Kreme and again, the viewing gallery.

I remember all the flights in and out of the country. The several short trips with my friends and the rare long one to Italy. I remember crying the entire flight back from Paris, and leaving with joy in my heart for my honeymoon in Japan. Trips are always something I look forward to but coming home to the warmth of Changi Airport cushioned the disappointment of coming back to real life in Singapore.

I remember all the good meals I’ve had with my family at the airport – from fast food, to cafes, to ramen, sushi and tonkatsu, to hawker fare, to Penang cuisine, and our ever delightful Aston’s. It’s the one activity that we all enjoy and living near the airport made it our favourite ‘mall’ to go to.

As I write this, there are countless families hanging out here, children running around or scooting while parents watch them knit these memories into their childhood.

Today, the airport has served as my place of refuge again. I come here whenever I don’t know what to do (both in the lost and bored sense). I brought a book that Immanuel got for me from Hillsong. Bobbie Houston’s Stay the Path. I listened to the audiobook before but as I’m reading it now, it seems pretty fresh to me. Which should be a sure sign that I should terminate my audible subscription.

I love how Ps Bobbie talks about being convicted of who I am, where I’m headed, and what I am about. Because these are the exact questions I’m trying to answer in this season. Through journaling and blogging, I’m hoping to pick up the many pieces of my life – scattered thoughts, rushing too much too fast in my career, and the next transition I’m facing. By no means do I consider myself a leader, but I do desire to be a servant. Many times I’ve struggled with pride and self-righteousness, and beating myself hard over things that don’t even matter to others. With 90 years left, I want to live my life clearly. I may not always have clarity, but I want to be clear about the person I am about.

And that bit on ‘what compels you’ got me. To know the things I stand for and care about, and know the things that I can let go. Not everything is meant to be put in such deep focus, and for me in this season I know my focus isn’t working in a school and teaching large classes, and handling all the responsibility that they zap my energy, drain my mind and take time away from my family. Did I do exceptionally well? No. I’m not on that track. If I wanted it, I guess I could slog even harder to get it. No guarantees though. But I think I did a fairly good job, considering that my rankings were decent. I genuinely cared for some students, got along well with my colleagues, and did many things for the school. But none of what I did compelled me.

I enjoyed parts of my job but rather than energise me, I was perpetually drained. One can get drained on a job but I couldn’t deal with being drained and being in front of my students. What a role model I would’ve been if I continued next year?

I made the decision to leave now so I wouldn’t have to find out.

So many thoughts on just the first 2 chapters. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it.

Fall down 7 times

On his daily ‘going out’ ritual – something that seems so mundane and natural to me can actually be a ritual to another. What insightful comments on our dealings with fashion – so much of it unnecessary.




Some excerpts from the book.

People with autism live with different norms, understandably because of the way they are thinking. Each individual, with autism or not, is different – so why hold us all to the same standard?

Inspiring – what language can do to express the complex emotions that one feels

R sent me this inspiring piece of someone articulating a strong belief and acting on it. While I could never write like this, I am glad that such brilliant people exist and are effecting change in our society.


Inspirational tales from society’s margins

My first encounter with storytelling was through my father, who would tell me two different kinds of stories on sleepy car rides.

The first kind featured a hobbit traversing treacherous territory with a ring in his pocket.

The second kind was stories from his childhood in a one-room flat in Geylang Serai. I heard of how he slept shoulder-to-shoulder with five siblings under a table.

Sometimes, he would rummage through bins in the market for bruised fruit to quell his stomach’s rumblings. At nights, driven by a deeper hunger, he studied by the buzzing light of the common corridor.

Both kinds of stories seemed equally fantastical to me, as a child ensconced in a life where I knew no unmet need. But, as stories tend to do, they opened my eyes to lives outside the borders of my own experience.

Given the rapid trajectory of the Singapore story, many of us are separated from poverty by a single generation.

Yet, while the majority have joined the middle class, there are some who still live like my father did as a boy.

As privilege has become entrenched, the engines of social mobility have slowed, and it is harder today for families to escape the poverty cycle. These families often go unseen, and their isolation deepens the inequalities they face and weakens their trust in institutions.

To the poor, society can appear to be suffering from collective amnesia about their struggles. A woman living in a low-income neighbourhood once told me: “In Singapore, I am alone. I have to be strong … No one is here to protect me. If you show people your weakness, they will condemn you.”

Just opposite Robertson Quay, a district frequented by the well-heeled for brunch and yoga, is one of Singapore’s poorest neighbourhoods — Jalan Kukoh. The neighbourhood is cut off from the wider Chinatown community by a highway, rendered invisible to the city around it.

It was in Jalan Kukoh that my friends and I started the ReadAble literacy programme for children in 2014.

Many of our students have migrant mothers who do not speak English and Singaporean fathers who are either deceased or incarcerated.

Some migrant mothers are unable to work as they do not have the requisite immigration status; they have no choice but to rely on charitable handouts.

Others work low-wage jobs as cleaners or hawker assistants and struggle with the burden of childcare.

It was through interacting with these migrant mothers that I discovered the power of storytelling — for the person who tells it and for those who listen.

Inviting someone to tell their story immediately diminishes isolation. It is a way of saying: “We are equals. Your truth is significant to me.”

Several women expressed that nobody had wanted to hear their stories before. A Cambodian woman who had been trafficked into prostitution in Vietnam, before marrying a Singaporean man, said: “I want people to hear my story. Sometimes I type fragments into my handphone, but I fear no one will ever read it. I have never experienced the warmth of a home or a parent’s love. I have never experienced love at all.”

The word “empathy” has its origins in the Greek word “empatheia” — “em”, into; “pathos”, feeling. It implies journeying into the unknown landscape of someone else’s emotions.

It demands that we jettison our own lenses of viewing the world and allow another to guide us through the cartographies of their lived experience. Empathy is ultimately an act fuelled by the imagination and storytelling is its vital precursor.

We often disparage choices that the poor make without understanding the context in which they were made. It is easy to dismiss their choices as irresponsible or ignorant. Why does the woman who suffers domestic violence stay with her husband? Why does the mother persistently ignore text messages from volunteers who are offering free tuition to her children? Why does the 10-year-old girl refuse to speak in class when she is perfectly articulate in the playground?

By listening to their stories, I learned that the woman chooses to stay with her abusive partner because he sponsors her long-term visit pass. To leave him would be to risk separation from her Singaporean children and, worse still, leaving them in his negligent care.

The mother does not respond to texts from volunteers because, after buying the week’s groceries, she does not have enough money to top up the credit on her handphone. The girl refuses to speak in class because she is myopic, and has always seen the whiteboard as a vague blur.

She remains silent to hide her deep shame that, at Primary 4, she still does not know how to read.

Storytelling is also a tool of empowerment: it fixes people as the protagonists in their own lives and allows them to communicate the values and expectations which informed their decisions.

It is tempting to consider marginalised people as objects to be acted upon or problems to be solved. For example, we may believe that the actions of the poor are structurally compelled, and determined solely by their socio-economic circumstances.

Listening to their stories forces us to consider them as individuals with complex motivations who are actively strategising within constraints and exercising their agency.

The insufficient recognition of agency can fix people in dependent positions, and these patterns of value may be institutionalised in laws and policies.

For example, stereotyping migrant wives as vulnerable victims of socio-economic circumstance reinforces the idea that they are burdens to society, and may feed into the State’s rationale for denying them permanent residence and citizenship.

However, recognising agency compels us to think of social change in terms of building the capacity of marginalised people, as opposed to prescribing decisions and values to them. We trust their ability to use these endowments to make choices which advance their own circumstances.

I was particularly moved by Su, an Indonesian woman who married an elderly Singaporean man.

Her husband died, leaving her with a young daughter. Su is committed to her daughter’s education, although she is not educated herself.

She insists on giving her daughter spelling tests, even as her daughter has to first teach Su how to read out the words. She worries that she is not a good mother given her limited resources. Su told me: “I have to teach my daughter, you do not have a daddy. There are things that cannot be yours. You are different.”

Listening to the stories of migrant mothers inspired my co-workers and I to include them in our literacy programme. We build their capacity in functional English, so they are empowered to navigate life in Singapore.

We teach them how to read letters from schools and government agencies, fill out forms, and even give spelling tests to their children.

Perhaps the greatest virtue of storytelling is that journeying into feeling with another can inspire one to walk alongside them.

In a society where isolation is deepening rifts, storytelling can open up border crossings and draw experiences from society’s margins back into the centre. It begins with a deliberate act of listening. It is then up to us to turn empathy into action.


Amanda Chong is a lawyer and poet with a strong interest in gender justice. Her first poetry collection is “Professions”. This piece first appeared in The Birthday Book 2017, a collection of 52 essays that examines challenges and opportunities for Singapore with the theme “What Should We Never Forget?” TODAY will be carrying other essays from the book in the coming weeks.