Random thoughts about life, love, science and what it means to be human

Return to home, thoughts about identity

Working in academia has been idyllic; I have a paycheck, access to the university library, some physics and engineering to wrap my (not very physically and practically oriented) brain around and sufficient biology to keep it happy while it writhes around a physical problem courtesy of my boss.  Just have to ignore the bureaucracy and remember to cite my boss’ name if I need to get the smallest thing done (something I find a very frustrating bottleneck in a system purported to value efficiency).

Family is as demanding and emotionally unavailable as ever, and I’m getting better at saying no while being sucked back in.

Discovered a couple good restaurants around town, but am still searching for like-minded company in my social life.

Outside of work, what has been occupying my thoughts is identity–revisiting/reclaiming what is Asian/Singaporean about my identity and questioning its interaction with this the society of my birth and childhood and one which in many ways I abhor.  To wit, what place a western educated liberal feminist queer Singaporean has in Singapore, and for the foreseeable future.  What makes this Singaporean a Singaporean and what about me clashes with what a Singaporean ought to be?  Why do I feel so weird so misunderstood so lonely so uncomfortable and out of place in a place that should fit as comfortably as a glove?  It’s been hard trying to fit back into a society that on one hand has changed as much as I have, and on the other in perhaps the most important way stayed despairing static.  The returning me also seeks new people to interact with, new aspects of the city with which I was not familiar before I left 7 years ago.  As many friends have asked me–why am I back?  Am I back for good?  I think I myself seek these answers.

I think the disquiet stems from the fact that a lot of what I think of as “Asian/Singaporean” I find abhorrent–the denigration of self, Confucianism, authoritarianism, patriarchy, conservatism, magical thinking, the blind acceptance of authority (e.g. the state newspaper), unquestioned middle-class privilege, xenophobia/ignorance–classism, racism, homophobia.  I find it hard to resolve my own identity with these unwavering obnoxious qualities of my society.  Of course it isn’t all bad.  It is quite reassuring to at least have a family that is unquestioningly physically if not emotionally there when I need it.  I credit my post-colonial Asian middle-class background for instilling in me the sense of responsibility, organisation and drive that have seen me through as I have gone through various aspects of my life.  Yet in many ways I think this society has judged and spat me out as a lost cause–I’m that idiot forthright feminist environmentalist maverick cousin/daughter/friend that shall be gently tiptoed around.  I see no way of academic advancement for me here, certainly not in science in such a pragmatic and economically driven academic climate which favours only purpose-driven science like engineering, something I have neither interest nor aptitude in and find antithetical to the concept of academia.  Strangely the feeling that all is lost has, amidst despair and depression, awakened the resolve to be me as hard as I can, which is what I think my role in this society should be.  I believe that Singapore is stagnating under this current authoritarian model that worked well in times of Singapore’s economic dominance in the region but is not the best solution for competition with up and coming Asia.  It is not the most effective use of our human resources to stifle the masses when there are already so few of us compared to almost any other country.  No matter how ruthlessly you stifle the masses in the name of efficiency and economic growth, our current growth model can only take us so far. I truly think we need to build a more open and inclusive Singapore from the ground up, to create a different, thinking population, one that utilizes every citizen to their best strength.  I think any initial loss of efficiency and growing pains will be worth it in the long run.  My short months being stifled under the top-down ass-covering bureaucracy where every minor decision has to pass through the bottleneck that is my boss’ sorely vied for attention span have shown me that, if nothing else.  Creativity and innovation, self-respect and self-ownership are the only ways to move forward against the competition, not mass importation of “foreign talent” and more of the same from the powers that be that tries to disguise itself as one that is open to discourse without actually doing any discoursing through its myriad new government sanctioned portals.

On my reading list is stuff by <a href=””>Yew Kong Leong</a> and <a href=””>Catherine Lim</a>.  I need to find more stuff by and about radicals in Asia.


New toys

FINALLY got my Nexus 5 in the mail (took awhile for it to get from the warehouse in KY to Portland by UPS ground and then international shipping to Singapore via vPost).  As new phones go, I have to say my reaction to this one is a bit lukewarm, compared to the excitement of my last 3 phone upgrades (N95->iPhone3->Galaxy Nexus).  Guess it is my first phone in awhile that isn’t a major jump forward in technology for me.  Or perhaps that the Gnex was such an amazing device that it leaves little wanting, even after 2 years of abuse (a few brutal drops and broken headphone jack excavation).  Shame about Google dropping support for it.  Looking forward to hacking the hell out of it, now that it is my backup device.  Could also be the 2300mah non-removeable battery (wtf Google) and minor problems with the initial KitKat release. On first glimpse Kitkat on the Nexus 5 seems quite a bit sleeker and LTE is an improvement.  Am I the only one who finds that reviews are becoming increasingly useless as Nexus goes mainstream?  All that hype, and no one pointed out the obvious battery flaw.

All this got me thinking about what I would like to see my mobile device being able to do.  I think the next thing I want is seamless integration between my mobile device and my computer (i.e. ultimately I want to bring my phone around, get home, stick it in the computer, and be able to work on my projects seamlessly between the two).  This is somewhat possible now, via the cloud, but still quite clunky (e.g. limited document support, and pdfs edited via mobile dropbox don’t sync back to the cloud properly).  I did try for an Ubuntu Edge, but it died.  Oh well.  Time to experiment now, perhaps with Ubuntu Touch on the old Gnex…?

Guess the other alternative is (gosh dare I say it) Windows (which would be less intuitive and way less pretty but integrate well with the office environment).


Recently I made the acquaintance of a person let’s call them X who seems to me like a classic BPD case.  An internal struggle ensues because I am not sure I know how to be supportive of someone like X.  But yet I can clearly see X is not in a good situation and sorely needs a friend.  First of all it seems like X is misdiagnosed, and therefore is not receiving appropriate help.  I suspect X’s emotional instability has contributed to X’s bad history with therapists and suspicion of the idea of treatment in general.  X is clearly not stable at the moment.  X also has an odious bully of a relative who invited himself into my private chill out session with X.  Upon finding out that I am a fellow member of a support group X attends he immediately dismissed me as harmless and proceeds to verbally and emotionally abuse X right in front of me, after I have repeatedly told him this makes me feel very uncomfortable.  He is pushing himself into my personal space and trying to bully me into submission.  I shield tightly and refuse to engage.  I feel powerless, which is triggering for me.  I try not to let X see this.  In the end, X is extremely apologetic about asking me over (which may or may not have been a poorly thought out attempt on X’s part to call out for help in a not too appropriate way).  X is trapped in a cycle of guilt which again reeks of classic BPD.  X sends me 10 smses apologizing.  I try to validate how X feels, reassure X that I am ok, and we both agree that next time perhaps it would be better to meet outside, where the bully cannot assert himself.

In the meantime, I am trapped in a dilemma.  I really identify with X because when I was going through the depths of my depression I felt powerless and like I was losing control of my life.  After all the mind is everything and when one loses that well then you can’t even advocate for yourself. Having just one friend who cared and believed in me totally made a difference.  However X is difficult to relate to and X’s relative is toxic.  Without knowing a single thing about me he has dismissed me as crazy and helpless and no doubt a bad influence on X.  I have obtained appropriate medical care and stabilized but the spectre of the chasm never quite goes away.  This is something I fear greatly and odious bully makes me doubt myself.  I am very angry with odious bully, both because of his callous treatment of my emotionally sensitive friend, and also because of the way he tried to push me, a stranger with no history with him, around.  At first I put some of his smug domineering behaviour down to losing patience with X, but clearly he simply has no respect for anyone.  Yet I feel like I can’t openly say anything about the bully to X because it is just going to be misconstrued.  I’m pretty sure I will draw the line at meeting X at X’s place in future.  This is for my own mental health.  As for how to continue engaging with X, well that remains to be seen.  I am also worried that if I try to help X odious bully is going to use his knowledge of my disease against me, and well I am not sure I am ready to deal with that.

I hate Singapore. I keep expecting better of people and then being reminded of how different this place is compared to the aware inclusive sensitive progressive culture I found in California.  I don’t even know where to begin.  I am dealing with such ignorance and sloppy thinking.  And then there are the people who get it and just don’t give a shit. And there are plenty who still think that just because they have a Y chromosome that they have some kind of god given mandate to lord it over the household and emotionally (and sometimes physically) abuse people under their self-perceived power. I feel stripped of my power and belief in myself.  Doubtful that if I ever have a relapse I can get the kind of help that will actually help me, rather than being labelled and dismissed as something broken and useless by people like him. Self-doubt is something I can ill afford.

It’s been awhile

Life has (mostly) gone on.

I had another extreme depressive episode and decided to give up my phd attempt.

I came back to Asia.

Was in Cambodia for a bit.

And am slowly adjusting to life back in Singapore.  Back in a marine research lab.   Doggedly pursuing academia despite the lack of qualifications.  I love it too much. It’s in my blood.  I seem to have washed up in a nice lab.  But haven’t figured out who here to talk nerdy science for the sake of science with yet.  Like last week’s Science research article about genomic recoding which totally got eclipsed by the damn human skull on the popular press.  Actually I quite like life without the qualifications.  Being an underling is a lot less complicated than the political and administrative morass of being a PI.  At least I get to do science.  I get to do a LOT of science, actually.  Some days I feel like a science data analysis/reading/writing machine.

Some days I resent having to give up my phd. I put my nose to the grindstone for the last 4 years on a grad student salary.  I also am dealing with a bit of guilt, for letting assorted people who took a chance on me down, most notably my advisor who was and continues to be a delightful human being.

It wasn’t just the depression of course.  My thesis was also extremely unfocussed, consisting of random collections of data after 4 years, none of it anywhere near ready for publication.  While I did get a lot out of it, both professionally and personally, I don’t have the most important thing to show for it—that most important title after my name.  Which means I get paid a pittance, compared to what I can really do with my training.  Not that I’m in this field for the money, of course.

I have to say the reverse culture shock has been quite the monster.

I still don’t know how to explain why I gave up my phd to old acquaintances, so for the most part I’ve been avoiding them. :/  The thing I fucking hate about depression is how it disrupts my already pathetic attempts to make friends as a socially inept scientist.  Consistency and reliability? Hah!

Heck, I don’t know how to explain why I left to the lovely progressive people I left in CA.  People I actually got along with philosophically and who actually cared about me as an individual.

This place is a shithole. I am not allowed to get a government flat until I’m 35, purely because I’m not married, and I can’t afford a 300sqft private box at $800k a pop.  Let’s not even start to talk about gay rights.  Wtf does no one see a problem with this?

My family is needy.  There is no emotional maturity to be found here.  Nor a shoulder to cry on.  Just endless demands for my attention.  While I would rather show them how to fish than give them a fish they would rather not listen.  I have to re-learn how to say no.

I seem to have come out on even keel at the moment.  Who knows how long it’ll last.  This fills me with trepidation.  Looks like I still need schooling in changing my viewpoint and living day to day.  I hope professional help isn’t as hard to set up here as it is in the land where Obamacare is still being debated.  But I am also beset with worries about revealing any of this in a place without fucking nondiscrimination protections.

Malis, Phnom Penh

Malis is Chef Luu Meng’s attempt to clean up Cambodian food and serve it in a fine dining context. They also research and recreate old Cambodian recipes. I chose to sit outside in the pleasant courtyard with the koi pond and the fountain and the stone buddha. I found it slightly annoying to be seated along a narrow walkway in full view of every guest entering the restaurant. I also would have personally preferred to have more comfortable chairs to lounge in to match the garden in paradise theme rather than their heavy straight backed wooden ones. There are many offerings on the menu, and portion sizes are quite large so it is best to go with friends. For what it is, the food is good value for money. Dinner cost me $30. Since I am headed to the coast next I decided to give the seafood a miss. I was stuffed on a gigantic portion of delicious amok, made with goby, which incidentally is yummy. My favourite item was the bamboo soup with dried fish. It did the best job of showcasing the well-balanced subtle flavours that Cambodian food is known for. I also ordered the deep fried eel which was a daily special. It came with a slightly sourish black peppery prahoc fueled sauce. I was slightly underwhelmed by this dish. The sauce was intriguing but the eel was nothing special. After visiting the prahoc (fish paste) market near Battambang it was nice to see how the various preserved fish products are used in good Cambodian cooking. The non-alcoholic drinks menu consisted of very standard juices and soft drinks and could use some livening up. The service was polite and responsive but a little awkward and reticent for a restaurant that is supposed to showcase traditional Khmer cooking to the outside world. Would have appreciated more advice on Cambodian history and food and culture and help with navigating the massive menu!

Back in Phnom Penh (briefly)

This time I’ve washed up in the expat neighbourhood of BKK1. I am boggling at the prices of things here, which are comparable to the US. I wonder why people would travel to Cambodia to pay US prices for goods and services. Trying to decide whether to go for high end Cambodian (Malis) or really good French bistro food (La P’tite France) tonight. Hmm…


Cycled around a bit and got to see the countryside today. Visited the fish sauce  market and tried some bamboo sticky rice, both specialties of this province. Got to talk to a few bright Cambodian kids too. Tha is understudying to take over the nascent bicycle co-op/tour company. And a couple more kids whose names I can’t spell were hanging around the bat cave at Phnom Sampeau trying to practice English with the foreigners who were waiting for the bats to come out. It was refreshing to be able to strike up a conversation without feeling like someone wanted something from me.  I also  discovered two good places to eat nearby on buffalo alley close to the White Rose restaurant which is a local landmark. Both are Chinese style noodle shops but one specializes in southern style and the other northern style handpulled noodles. The noodle broth was spectacular at the former and dumplings were great at the latter! Both places had printed menus so no haggling required. Noodle dishes were $1.50. Getting about 10 delicious dumplings for $1.50 is pretty awesome. There is a sizeable Chinese community in Battambang. I keep seeing Chinese foods and businesses and buildings but all of them seem to have greatly assimilated and it was hard to strike up a conversation even though I’m pretty sure they understood me. I think this is unusual for a Chinese diaspora and wonder if it has anything to do with the Khmer Rouge years. By all accounts sticking out in any way shape or form would have been a really bad idea.