Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



I come from a much smaller island-city-state-country called Singapore. I’ve been setting down roots in Australia since 2003. I love both countries immensely. In 1986, I became a writer. In 2002, a blogger. In 2004, a wife. In 2011, a mother. Somewhere in amongst all that, I did event and conference management, public relations, marketing, and online communications for over a decade. I’m currently a freelance web manager for a modern dance school, a part-time Communications and Marketing Manager, a part-time writer, and a part-time stay-at-home mother. I don’t sleep much.

10 years

I find her death anniversaries the hardest of all.

Not so much because of the sadness — that has baked itself on my soul and all the adages are true: you’re never the same after a significant loss. Even when you’re happy.

It’s not even so much the wistfulness. Of laughing at something the kids say and then wishing in almost the same breath that she got to hear this for herself. That she got to know them. Watch them become people. Figure out which bits are ours, which bits are theirs, which bits are all their own.

I baulk at every anniversary. It’s been 10 years and there’s no ritual. I lit a candle one year. I made her signature claypot garlic prawn dish several other times. I posted on Facebook. Wore her clothes. Looked through photos. Sang a song. Sometimes I even have a good sob. Usually very short, not very indulgent. More on that some day.

I blog. Some posts don’t make it out in the wild. Maybe this won’t either.

I think fleetingly about making a grand gesture every anniversary and every anniversary, I choke because it all sounds too trite, too banal, too surface. And then I think it has to be trite and banal and surface because writing what I really feel could come across a little too dark, almost histrionic.

10 is something, isn’t it. It’s a whole decade. Some sort of milestone that involves an element. I just looked it up: tin or aluminium. Hardly sexy elements. Very everyday and supposed to symbolise resilience because they don’t rust. Funny. I thought tin rusted all time, but apparently they don’t rust — they oxidise. Which is the semantic equivalent of saying someone ‘graduated to glory’ instead of just ‘died’.

I’ll tell you what, though. This death — her death, my mother’s death — shadows my everyday.

I don’t think she’s ever really left my side.

And maybe that’s why the grand gesture for every anniversary eludes me. I remember her every day. And I remember she’s dead every day. Every day is an anniversary.

10 things I miss about her (in no particular order)

  1. Her smell
    I don’t know what it is anymore. But the top drawer of her dresser was a veritable pot pourri of Clinique, Estee Lauder, roses, musk, that weird sweet glue from ang-paos because that’s where she kept the emergency money, and she. And there ain’t no perfumery on earth that smells as comforting as that.
  2. Her smile
    Fun fact: she had such great teeth, the Dean of Dentistry at the national university hospital in Singapore actually took photos because they were in such good nick for her age. So hey, teeth model!

    And she loved funny people. And she loved to laugh. And I miss making her laugh.
  3. Her ears
    She was a damn great listener. I try to be that for my daughter but I quite suck at it. There are days where I wish she were here to hear. To sit with my precocious tween and give her another set of arms and another set of ears.
  4. Her love of shopping
    It’s so funny to think how I’m shooing our kids to bed by 8pm because her diaries betrayed how bloody late she used to keep me up. I was her little shopping buddy even at the tender age of 3 or whatever. We’d go out, walk the length of Orchard Road, meander through Metro Galleries Lafayette and if she had enough money, we’d take a taxi home. I’d fall asleep on her lap, her hard patent-leather handbag as my pillow. Shopping was our shared love even when we were broke. Especially when we were broke. It’s ironic I live in Canberra now because it’s a retail desert compared to the mecca that is Singapore. It don’t matter. I window-shop with Arddun now because it’s what I understand and what I do best and what I remember. It’s my shorthand for love, my legacy, my heritage. “Your mother is a shopper. Your mother’s mother was a shopper. Your mother’s mother’s mother was also a shopper. You come from a long line of women who like cheap clothes that look expensive.”
  5. Her love of games
    She used to tutor a boy 3-4 years older than me — Christopher — also single child with a single mother. Latchkey kid. Home alone after school every day in a Tanglin Halt 2-bedroom flat that managed to be even tinier than our home. I used to read his books while she tutored him. And then she made it a point to stay on half an hour longer, giving him her time and those wonderful ears. They’d play UNO or Boggle, because he was lonely and the boy could talk. When I got old enough, I’d join in, my flat butt numb and sore and flatter from sitting on cold terrazzo tiles for two hours while inhaling his Ladybird book collection like a reading fiend.

    Card games and board games were how we passed the time. After dinner chit chat over Uno, then Boggle as I got older, then Chua Dai Di. Long games into the night, the TV stuck on some romcom or other. She wasn’t a mother that knew how to play make-belief with me. She couldn’t bake. Couldn’t help with my homework past primary school. But we shopped and we played games and talked long into the night. She’d templated how I play with my children now.
  6. Her loyalty
    It only dawned on me much later on in life that there are mothers who aren’t loyal to their kids. And this, despite the immediate baggage my mother inherited from her own childhood. But her fierce love and loyalty shielded me from the worst ravages of not-much-money and the world’s prejudices when it comes to women — particularly women rendered Little by circumstance. We didn’t have much, but I had the happy confidence of the richest of them because I was loved hard and felt secure in her love always. This is probably the thing I miss the most: knowing that no matter what happened, I could count on her to always have my back. That her loyalty could outlast my marriage, even my own children. She would love me most and best, even in her most flawed ways. It is through her that I first glimpsed El Shaddai. God loves like a mother. I just didn’t understand at the time. I do now.
  7. Her love of blue
    She bought me a blue handbag. Her clothes were a sea of greens and blues. Her bedsheets were blue. My bedsheets were blue. My bedroom furniture was pine and blue. She loved blue so much, she completely overdid it when she finally renovated her kitchen. EVERYTHING in that little kitchen was blue. We called it the fish tank. It looked a lot like the Queenstown MRT station c.1998, right down to the tiles. It was, frankly, bordering on awful. But she was sooo chuffed she finally got a new kitchen, we didn’t have the heart to tease her too hard. I fly that blue flag pretty high now. It’s still my new favourite colour. My 10-year-old favourite colour.
  8. Her friendships
    For an introvert, she sure made a lot of friends. And they sure loved her and mourned her loss.

    To be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone who is conventionally successful. But to watch as so many people came from near and far to mourn this tiny, humble woman when she died… to know she touched that many people with her time, her care, her checking in, her greeting cards for all occasions, her authenticity. There was no artifice about her: what you saw was really what you got. She was unthreatening and silly and fun and REAL.

    (Unless you were a bratty child or manchild, then you’d probably get a tongue-lashing. But it’d always be a fair tongue-lashing.)

    She died so rich. She taught me a lot about what it means to live well. What success should look like. What’s ephemera and what’s real and worth holding on to.
  9. Her courage
    It ain’t easy being a cycle-breaker. It takes a lot of self-awareness and even more self-reflection. It comes from a place of unfathomable love and the determination to swallow lifetimes of hurt so the next generation can finally heal. I’m not in counselling, but even my paltry understanding of trauma sobers me when I realise how much it must have taken my mother to carve a path she never walked before. I mean, we all do it with each generation. But to do so carrying so many monkeys on her back… I am eternally grateful.

    She didn’t just break one cycle — she broke quite a few. Watching her pick us up again after an implosion? Watching her piece our lives back together into something stronger and better? Such a priceless lesson in resilience and grace. Such a timeless lesson in knowing when to cut losses. Such a masterclass in cherishing one’s own worth.
  10. Her faith
    We were always, I suspect, reading from a slightly different hymnal. I came to faith differently from her. I was born into it. She stumbled into an oasis. Our lenses are different, but the saviour is the same.

    I don’t know if she was ever scared. But I know she was God’s right to the end. In these last five years of questioning everything I’d ever been taught to think about God and Jesus and the bible, my faith has deepened but now looks different from hers. Our linchpins hold together different parts of a very complex puzzle. Our faiths are both child-like. She trusted God implicitly. I keep asking why and how things work.

    As much as my faith no longer looks like my mother’s… as much as I think I’ve taken the red pill and can no longer really turn back… her life of faith was steadying and sure. I miss her because I long to tell her what I’ve been going through. What I’m still going through. What I’m learning. I’m certain that as uncomfortable as she would’ve been, she would have listened. And tried so hard to understand.

Mei Ling Market & Food Centre

Dearest Fruit of my Loins,

According to Google Maps, it’d take us 12 hours to get from Canberra International Airport to within whiffing distance of the hawker centre that nourished me through my growing years and beyond. It remains the nearest hawker centre to my childhood home. In its bosom, I learnt how to cross a street all on my own and order takeaway for my mum and I. I learnt how to use my manners and pluck up the courage to ask for extra chilli — nevermind my crap Chinese intonation. I observed unwritten boundaries regarding drink stall territory, heard the neighbourhood gossip, and was in turn gossiped about now and then. I know about the last thanks to Teresa from Teresa’s Hairdressing because she gossips about everybody and reveals all her sources. She’d make both a formidable and terrible journo.

Continue reading “Mei Ling Market & Food Centre”

5 Things I Miss While In Lockdown

At the time of starting this post, I’m in Week 4, Day 3 of Lockdown 2.

We’re well, in good health overall, and the full bite of cabin fever hasn’t set in and festered because we’re only in Week 4, Day 3 of Lockdown 2. We’re pottering along just fine. And I know it’s largely because there’s a confluence of privileges working in our favour — things like our education, location, white-collar jobs in fairly inelastic industries that allow us to work from home, and nifty things like easy access to technology and food.

It feels churlish to complain about anything. This isn’t meant to be a list of complaints. I just miss some things, and I also appreciate some other things about being locked in with my family.

Continue reading “5 Things I Miss While In Lockdown”

A First(ish) Easter

Growing up CofC had meant eschewing major traditional Christian events like Christmas and Easter on account of them both being pagan festivals, rebranded and rebadged.

So for 40 years, I didn’t have a particularly churchy Christmas or observe Holy Week. The CofC in Canberra didn’t ever plan a shindig on Good Friday, while the church I grew up with in Singapore used to spend that public holiday hunkered down in a whole-day retreat.

Continue reading “A First(ish) Easter”

On Your 8th Anniversary

I don’t write about you much. I think about you every day. You’re never really far, anyway. You shadow every waking thought, lace every decision I make like a fragrance I’ll never want to forget, except I’ve already forgotten your smell.

They say it’s always the first thing that goes.

All I know is that you smelled like Comfort. And Home. And Unconditional Love. Big, fierce, protective, passionate, ain’t-nothing-that-can-tear-me-away-from-you-except-death love.

I don’t write about you because tears prickle the eyes easily. Still. It’s been 8 years. You’d think I’d be used to your long trip away from me by now.

(I’m not.)

Some of my earliest memories of you include walking into a crowded auditorium for a gospel rally. Of begging you to let me play with the white pet rabbit at the YMCA. Of running through tunnels there until you tell me it’s time to leave.

And then taking the bus home, walking up two long flights of stairs on short, spindly legs, ordering my favourite mee pok da (the one with the 炸云吞 you never let me get precisely because it’s deep-fried) and walking home together, hand in hand.

I remember bus rides to Orchard Road, falling asleep on your lap, your maroon patent leather handbag my hard and bumpy pillow. Sometimes, I’d actually fall asleep amidst the roar of the engine in the 64, the wind blowing overhead and teasing your hair, my legs already too long to tuck underneath my chin without jabbing across the narrow aisle.

I miss our talks long into the night, where I’d tell you almost everything about the boys I loved but knew I wouldn’t marry.

I miss, I miss, I miss sharing with you. Curled up on your narrow single bed in the dead of night.

To this day, it fills me with extraordinary pride that my friends liked you. Even loved you enough to happily lunch and dinner with you on their own. I never needed to play chaperone.

I loved that they saw you as a person and a friend, and not just as my mother. It’s totally #parentinggoalz to be that mother for my own children’s friends one day, but I suspect we are quite different people and you were way cooler.

The generosity of your spirit and your heart for others… They weren’t just turned towards the people you love like me and Shawn & Andrea and Ah-yee.

I wish I know for certain that you know how well things turned out for the many, many, many children you educated and helped and befriended. Who are now grown and married and seem well-adjusted enough. I bet you’d have known how they were doing. Your stash of greeting cards are still in my stationery sideboard.

I love that you kept a Filofax of greeting cards you’d bought a year in advance to send to people you liked and love. Like, carefully curated greeting cards filed by month for births and marriages and birthdays and anniversaries and I-love-you-just-because.

I love and ache over how people still remember you fondly and with deep sadness about your passing. How they would have liked to grow old with you.

I wear your clothes now. I’m now at the age you were when you wore what you still had hanging in your cupboard when you died. It doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to me when I wear your clothes because I look so different in them. It’s hardly like looking in the mirror and seeing you. But there are times when I realise that when you were my age and wearing what I’m wearing, I was already 20. I’d stare at myself in your clothes and the enormity of what you accomplished comes at me wave after shuddering wave.

You were a rockstar.

We had so little and yet we were pretty content, all things considered. I now live in an insanely large house compared to what we had. And just like back then, my life today is enough and also NOT enough.

I miss you like a tree without most of its roots. I’m still growing (sideways now.. fatter… you would have said something about that, I’m sure).

But boy, do I miss you.

Time to reconnect

It’s the first day of Winter and Reconciliation Day. Yesterday, the children had bible class online and talked about Sorry Day and what reconciliation means and looks like. Out of the mouth of one babe (not mine — a much better taught one), a little boy gave the perfect stock answer: it’s about making an effort to fix a broken relationship.

(Or something very close to that. I didn’t have pen and paper ready, but what he said was gold.)

Continue reading “Time to reconnect”

Happy Birthday to my Sister from Another Mother

One of the main things I am hugely thankful for in the midst of this pandemic is technology — specifically our ability to afford it, understand it, and be in community with others who enjoy such privilege and access.

This afternoon, I got to catch up with Audrey — one of my sisters from another mother. Audrey’s family and mine are linked in many ways — primarily through church but also through proximity in terms of distance, life stage, and opportunity. My mother had tutored all three kids in that family, and they, in turn, had been my babysitters twice or three times a week at one stage, when my mother had to work late evenings tutoring other kids. I’d eaten their dinners, learned all their hiding places, played in their playground, watched their TV, read their books, practised on their piano (badly), and loved each of them as I still do.

Audrey is the friend who is closer than a sister, and easily one of the kindest people I know. Her Christian faith is deep with far-reaching roots so I find comfort in knowing she’s still here — running the long race, face tilted towards the Son. Her faith is child-like but hardly naive — the best kind of child-like there is — while I find myself constantly questioning and doubting and uneasy. I really treasure this woman, even though we can hardly find the time to chat between the children, the time difference, and our jobs.

Until today. It’s her birthday, and thanks in part to this pandemic, we managed to have a long and luxurious chat — she in her kitchen, me amongst the books. She’s one of those lifelong friends with whom I can easily oscillate between the superficial and the sacred, the shallows and the deep. So much shared history that there’s such an easy shorthand. So much silliness that we can dissolve into the kind of laughter that hurts.

As for that kitchen she was sitting in, it’s where I experienced that crazy unconditional love — her stripping and cleaning my stroller when Arddun (still not quite 2 years old then) had taken suddenly and violently ill while out at the zoo. That was a seriously gross endeavour and Audrey had been amazing. Honestly, I wouldn’t have taken it well if someone else’s kid had made such a mess and I helped clean it up. I can barely stand my own kids’ mess, much less someone else’s.

Happy Birthday, sis. You know I love ya and miss ya. xx

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑