All posts filed under: experiences

Sharing stories from our lives.

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From the moon

In July 1974, my sister and I were dressed in matching blue-and-white shirts and no-fuss haircuts, exploring a ship while it sliced through a Norwegian fjord. We were on “home leave” – returning to the United States for the first time since we’d moved to Jakarta the previous year. Before this trip, our family vacations had consisted of car trips; my sister and I sitting in the backseat, a suitcase forming the demilitarized zone between us, with stays in motels and dinners of fast food. But now, we were traveling around Scandinavia for a few weeks, eating reindeer meat and dainty, open-faced sandwiches. As my sister and I raced around the boat, a white haired woman with both loud clothing and voice – an American – smiled and asked where we were from. Since I was ten and therefore much older and wiser than my 8-year-old sister, I replied, “Indonesia.” The woman turned to her friend and said, “Look at the two little Indonesian boys!” We giggled but didn’t correct her. With dark blonde hair and blue-gray eyes, it was unlikely …

Fourth grade in Tokyo

What accent are you?

Have you ever stopped in the middle of a conversation to think consciously about what accent you’re speaking in? To check if you’re pronouncing things ‘correctly’? I have. A lot. Raised by Singaporean parents, I grew up speaking English while living in Japan, causing me to adopt a Singaporean accent. Singaporean English, while based on British English, is also heavily influenced by American, Malay, Chinese and Indian dialects. The result is a creole called colloquial Singlish, which doesn’t comply with traditional language rules, and can be extremely difficult to understand. At age 6, I started attending an American international school in Tokyo called Christian Academy in Japan. I still remember the day when I was called out of my fourth grade class and informed that I needed to receive speech lessons to improve my pronunciation. My mum was furious. Why did her son, who spoke perfectly good English, need speech lessons? I was also stumped: what was wrong with the way I spoke? Every week, I practised my ‘r’, curling my tongue upward, towards the roof and back of my …

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A Moment of Clarity

I had told myself I wouldn’t have culture shock in America because I’d spent a lot of time here before. I was ready for air-conditioning and smooth highways, and I couldn’t complain about those. What I hadn’t realized was that I had secretly, unknowingly formed prejudices against people based on a first impression. This had made me quiet and melancholic.