Fun With Pronouns

Photo Credit: baralbion.CC-BY-NC-ND.
Photo Credit: baralbion.


How to begin to tell you about where I come from. A small dot on the map of the world. In terms of operational principles, very much like everywhere else: if you’re white you’re likely to do well, if you’re brown or black odds are the odds are against you, if you’re yellow you’d better learn to speak good English and be prepared to work hard for a decent living. I’m yellow and I speak and write good English. I’ve worked hard — not with my hands but with my head. I can solve for X, find the square roots of imaginary numbers, integrate and differentiate complex equations without understanding a thing I’m doing.

How to show you what it’s like to grow up in a well-ordered schizophrenic post-colonial city. Spend most of your childhood worrying over your grades. Read books by Englishmen and Englishwomen. Fantasize about boarding school, fairies, gingerbread and gollywogs. Watch TV with the maid until your parents come home from work: Chinese people crossing the sea to build a new nation from scratch in The Awakening; Malay people dressed as cats in Aksi Mat Yoyo; Indian people singing, dancing, rolling down hills in Bollywood movies; Ang Mohs saying “YoYoYo” on MTV. Watch less TV because you have to stay back after school and run laps around the basketball court for being overweight. Have your friends laugh at you for being in the Trim and Fit Club.

Hang out at malls everyday in secondary school, shopping for hip street clothes even though you have to wear a uniform. Develop an addiction to bubble tea. Sit for hours in fast food restaurants because there’s air-conditioning. Do countless Ten Year Series to prepare for the Cambridge ‘O’ level exams. Watch Hollywood movies like there’s no tomorrow. Cry like your life ended when you fail your maths test. Buy things when you are angry, buy things when you are sad, buy things when you are happy. No money to buy things then watch TV.

A glossary I don’t know how to begin to parse:

The difference between going to
Keming Primary School Bukit Batok Secondary School Ngee Ann Polytechnic
Raffles Girls’ Primary School Raffles Girls’ Secondary School Raffles Junior College Harvard University.
Where to put “lah” in a sentence.
Which one is the real Katong laksa stall.
Why bus fare hikes cause more public outrage than electoral walkovers.

What is: Baby bonus. The Water Issue. National Service. The 5 Cs. Al-Ameen and Al-Azhar. Family as the basic unit of society. Maid abuse. The Merlion. The Esplanade. NDP, EDB, PSC, HDB, HUDC, TOP, GST, SBS, MRT, PAP, countless acronyms that stand for why you should never, ever take anything for granted, because nobody, nobody owes you a living.


I expect you come from someplace very different.
I want to know everything about you.
No, not that polite conversation here’s the story of my life in two sentences kind of shit. That’s for strangers.
I’m your friend.
You can trust me.
I promise.
Tell me all your dirty secrets.
Tell me what you long for and what you would do about it.
Tell me what’s stopping you.
Tell me what you dream about at night. Don’t leave out the dreams that terrify you.
Tell me what it feels like to be in bed with someone you love.
Tell me what it feels like to be in bed with someone you do not love.
Tell me what you think about when you masturbate.
Tell me about all the times you cried alone and wished to be found.
Tell me what you would do if you were sure no one was watching.
Tell me about all the times you’ve laughed and felt guilty afterwards.
Tell me about all the people you have done nasty things to in your head.
Tell me when you have been cruel and enjoyed it.
Tell me when you wanted to be punished.
Tell me what you would rather be doing with your life.
Tell me what you regret and know that you can never change.
Tell me what you pray for.
Tell me the solution to all your problems.
Tell me your last wish before you die.
Tell me how not to judge you.
Tell me to listen like you were God speaking to me.
Tell me I could be you and you could be me.
Tell me to try and understand.
I can promise you nothing.


Funny how the simple addition of the letter “S” opens the pronoun up to

  1. Getting catcalled on the street
  2. Having people mistake your breasts for your eyes
  3. Having the small of your back become public domain for tipsy party guests
  4. Receiving special favors from strangers like rides and free meals with ambiguous gestures of gratitude expected in return
  5. Monthly breast exams, menstrual cramps, birth control, that lovely invasive procedure known as the pap smear
  6. Other invasive procedures such as date rape, I was just jogging in the park rape, I thought you loved me like family rape, I don’t feel like it honey rape, Weapon of Mass Destruction rape
  7. More unique experiences in the years to come, including: pregnancy, childbirth, domesticity, “working motherhood,” hot flashes, hysterectomies, hysteria
  8. Of course some the above only apply within a certain cultural framework, in other settings there are also the privileges of: special initiation rites, veils to protect her beauty, operations to restore her virginity, honor killings, etc.

She’s still young. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s still her mother’s daughter. She’s still fresh from her first big love affair. She has an inkling of what it might take to raise a child with someone she loves. She’s belligerent about her right to wear small, short skirts, but also terrified by the power and danger that something so ridiculously simple might invite. She wants to pop her gum in the face of middle-aged men. She wants to be free of her mother. She wants to do all the things people tell her she can’t do, like write books, be your own boss, have as many lovers as she wants, find a cure for cancer, join the army, be President. While raising four babies at the same time. Sometimes she wishes she could hide under the safety of a chador. She wants to tell you she’s more than tits, ass and a pretty face, even if she goes to the gym regularly to make sure her respective body parts are nice and taut. At the same time she wants to be ravished. She wants to be looked at like your favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, but only because you will love ice cream forever. If youth and a little bit of beauty might be granted clemency for stupidity, then let her keep dreaming that she is powerful and immortal.


This is Indian Territory.

Inconceivable that
The same large hands a baby might nestle in
The same strong hands that beat other boys up for being bullies
The same friendly hands that grab shoulders to say playfully, tag, you’re it!

Might be the same hands that force their way under blouses and skirts
The same hands that have the strength to hold a woman down against her will
The same hands that say in sign language, access denied to the Old Boy’s Club.

There must be a way for us to be friends.
There must be a way for us to be different but equal.
There must be a way for us.

He’s sitting by his computer, lonesome, reading old emails stashed neatly in a folder with her name on it. He’s thinking about calling her but doesn’t have the courage. He’s afraid she’ll hang up on him. That he might hear another man’s voice on the other end. He curls up in bed and thinks about all the women he’s loved and lost. He has no regrets; he is filled with regrets. He doesn’t want to be like his father, that old has-been. He wants to carve a path on his own, to make his mark on the world, to pee on a tree. Sometimes he thinks that if he owns a swank apartment, a flash car and has a career that brings in close to ten thousand a month everything will be perfect. His mother will be so very proud of him. And yet sometimes that all feels so very empty. He doesn’t know what he wants except maybe to take care of someone and have someone take care of him, in all this madness and joy that is love and life. This is why the curve of a woman’s hip holds so much promise. If he buries himself deep enough in her bosom, maybe he will be safe again, maybe he will find his center, maybe he will have the strength to start all over again.


Words the tin drums of our century, firing up the war dance against the unknown and the unnamable. Phrases like “Axis of Evil” like they popped out of some garish cartoon, where anvils fall on smiling animals only the animals spring back to life while people do not. Never Again. Save Darfur. In Rwanda you had your race printed on your identity card so you could always tell the difference.

How difficult it is to come together these days.
How uncomfortable.
How violent.
How dangerous.
How beautiful.
What a realm of infinite possibility.

Let’s try to stay together. Let’s put our differences aside.
Let’s work on communicating.
Let’s negotiate a compromise.
Let’s build trust.
Let’s keep working on it.
I love you.
You love me.
Why should things be so difficult?

The United Nations, The United States of America, European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Former Soviet Union and the Newly Independent States.


There’s this story about them. About these people who live amongst us but who are clearly completely different. It’s easy to tell. Everything about them is a disturbing color. They carry out blood sacrifices that stain their hands pink. They eat things no normal human being would even dream of going near. They gather from time to time to make strange noises and move in a lewd manner, as if they were under the influence of evil. Or perhaps they are creating evil; who knows the meaning of their behavior. Who knows if they even have a unified system of meaning at all. They’re savages. They are nowhere as sophisticated as we are. Nowhere as civilized and moral and rational and loving and kind and wise and did you know they eat their babies when there’s a drought, have three wives at a time and cut off the toes of young boys to mark their transition into manhood? They’re too much. They’re too many. They threaten our well-being. Our values. The cornerstones of our existence and our community. Let’s not even begin to talk about the birds, bees, flowers and trees, when it’s hard enough to have to live on this earth with them.


And then there are the dogs and gay people. Friendly, loyal and self-effacing to a fault, because they want so badly for people to like them. Don’t leave (me) out, please. There has to be space for more than just (he) or (she). If (you) give (them) an inch they will take everything from (us) so don’t even offer a sliver of hope. Here is the edge of understanding. Here is the city limit do not cross. Beyond is the unspeakable, the inconceivable, that which is beyond, that which encompasses everything, that which is self, other, good, evil, true, false, rational irrational, right, wrong, yes, no, me, you, he, she, us, them, it,



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