Monday, 11 December 2017


Escapist stories. This is what I told Hannah and Cindi on the way to the airport, leaving Kigali, and Rwanda for probably a long while. I also told them this might be the most cheesy-sentimental I’ve felt, probably ever, and probably the most called for. Anyway, a movie marathon is what it is, the escapist stories I mean. La La Land is playing right now, providing a really bittersweet melancholic melody, in piano-heavy jazz. I’m also trying to beat jet lag as quickly as possible (and also, procrastinating on writing all the feelings I have about the program I’ve finished. Oh! Intense fighting started, good dialogue.

I felt like escapism resets the perspective, it helps you skip the sadness toward the gladness that you’ve participated, ‘done the thing’, it reminds you of the greater, yet unfamiliar (to you) world out there.

It’s been close to a week now. An overdue time to reflect after some initial reunion ecstasies. I’ve had flashbacks in fits and starts a few times now, and I’ve been taking every appropriate opportunity to share, as planned. So far, it was Conor that I shared the most with, but more abstract politics, whereas I don’t know where to begin with my host family and friends and just wholesome everyday life. And yes, people aren’t thatttt interested really, outside of some big picture summaries, as expected. I don't hold any grudges against that though, i'ts something understandable and something I probably would have done myself. Plus, people are often I think more interested in your experience rather than the information I want to share, because while the former is personally important and I guess more accessible to others, what I really wish is for people to know more about Rwanda, and to give it a shot. I find myself, I think, thinking about Rwanda sometimes a bit too much like Singapore when it is not.

It's been a few days since I uploaded my photos of Rwanda, in some ways kind of rushed and forced, because I really didn't know what to say. I didn't really think I had the patience to deal with people like Nico, who while jokingly didn't even know 'where in Africa' I went, in some ways also speaks to a larger problem, because I'm sure he would have remembered if I had mentioned going to South Korea.

As with all posts that take longer than a week to write, it's probably time to let it go to rest. I've had really not much respite and time to reflect over my time in Rwanda, sitting here so far away... on no coffee day no less. But I suspect that Rwanda will be in my memories for a blog post years to come, as did JLOC, or London before it. Musekeweya means New Dawn, something that Rwanda has embraced and I must learn.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Who's not here

I think about this a lot. About ‘who’s not here’. And maybe I am overthinking it. But I’ve always found it unequal that loud people don’t suffer from quiet people, only the reverse. And in abstract, this is an extrovert’s world, understandably so. I find it odd that quiet people try to sleep, but don’t really, because of loud people in the next room. I don’t know if this is only because I’ve tried to sleep, without success while loud people were in the next room, while my mom was shouting at my younger brother, or while people partied in the room over. I’ve thought about what is fair - that quiet people are naturally quiet, but also loud people are naturally loud, as I am. Probably, it is just a tragedy of contact, an impasse of genetics and environment. And yet Rhiannon walking out of her room, annoyed at Kathryn’s phone ringing all the time, is indicative of the fact that yes, people do ‘tank’, they ‘tahan’, they take it in their stride for other people’s convenience. And that is in a way a choice too. But it is, a tad unfair. Yet it is also true people aren’t born to cater to anyone’s needs, so maybe this consideration was taken into account when making that choice - I want to sleep early, but I understand if others don’t and this is also their house. And I think this is about the number and normality - who is being the odd one in need of accommodation? It is the introverts, mostly, who cater.

Rights and Charity

What is white saviour-ism? This was the discussion I had with two friends on the program at the bus stop and bus on the way home. None of us had a proper answer, although I thought about it a little more on the way home, which is why I wanted to type out my thoughts on the subject. Although I still have no formal conclusions on it (or any other social concept really), I thought things I had not thought of before. One is the disconnect between calling things like education and clean water ‘rights’ when the donor funding for it is called ‘charity’. This I feel, is one of the sources of white saviour-ism (of which I am also guilty of). For me, there is no ‘charity’ when it involves money flowing from white, western countries, to formerly colonized states. It’s returning money and resources and culture and dignity, all of which were siphoned away by force. A force that was in a sense, arbitrarily given and bestowed by great thinkers in the right places with flooded coal mines. In other words, in our contemporary sense, ‘illegitimate’. Of course, you can disagree on that front, and I think yes, society in general does somehow give all these concepts of ‘social justice’ weight and relevance. Without a collective agreement on what is right and wrong, who is to say what is right or wrong?

Back to it, if I were to join an NGO working to ‘rebuild’ or ‘uplift’ communities ravaged by poverty, disease, mismanagement and going further back, colonialism, I must believe myself to be the shameful one. The shameful one because I grew up easy and because we have to reverse/restore the power dynamic between the foreigner and local in such places. We must be convicted to our contemporary sense of social justice of restoring a wrong, and not ‘I do this because it is the right thing to do’ - somehow conveniently forgetting or ignoring ‘how we got here in the first place.’ Obviously, so many factors play into the ‘global’ problems of today, including by ‘locals themselves’. But many, or a significant amount that has not been corrected, can be traced to colonialism. What are we hoping for in the end? A restoration of positive liberty - the ability for an individual to, through his or her own agency, change his socio-economic position in life. It doesn’t matter if there are laws protecting free speech if psychologically or financially, communities are undermined in using those rights.

It’s not charity, it’s returning what we (or our ancestors/nations/peoples) stole - what our birth-right lottery dispositions give us are all built in some way on that exploitation and have nothing to do with the people today, except by its effects. Although we cannot (and should not) correct inequality in general, I feel that we must restore the basic rights that people would have if not for war, genocide and unchecked, mercantilist exploitation. These are all fancy and lofty words and ideals of course, but I think we must hold them in mind when doing so-called ‘charity’, so that we never misplace our sense of righteousness. It’s not just about ‘being born lucky, with all these opportunities given to me’, it’s about recognizing that those opportunities came at a cost - to others, probably. And if we are not ready to deal with that as individuals - because after all, even people born with privilege didn’t technically choose to be born with it - then so be it, but we should acknowledge that they (the opportunities we were granted) are there for arbitrary historical reasons, and that not correcting them even though we know this, is kind of selfish. Perhaps even, ‘donors’ should be called ‘people who are returning resources that would not have been theirs if not for racism mixed with cannon fire and chattel slavery’. [I wrote this a while back and can’t remember if I had more to say or was just rambling, either way wanted to get this on before I forget]

Monday, 23 October 2017

Move along

[As in a day ago] Just had a mini-scare with my computer as I was going to type out this post - windows explorer (i.e. basic windows 32-bit stuff) crashed and upon restarting the computer couldn’t find the boot drive. I thought it could either be overheating, hardware-dislodge, a virus, or me just straight up killing the program. It turns out it was the latter, and there was a fail-safe feature where win32 restarts itself after a while (as does many important computer functions, thankfully) Still, did not stop me from letting Sunday know immediately and make an appointment with Kathryn to go to Mumujyi. I should try and find a laptop case.

A Rwandan was singing Let It Be (Beatles) on TV to an audience of what looked like students in some kind of (religious) forum? And so I’m listening to it now too. I told my host-dad my real dad really liked this song, and I remembered it was made after MLK was shot? But then I could totally be wrong and I had no internet to lawyer myself. Regardless, it’s a beautiful song. I just thought it sentimental hearing it on a Friday evening in a place I did not expect.

I just went through my system’s event log because Sunday texted me to say if I couldn’t fix it I should let him know so I was curious to see if the system could tell me when it revived it’s on boot drive. Couldn’t exactly find it, but whatever, it’s running, and I’ve backed my boot onto my hard-disk.
Just went through my system event log again to see what happened to my trackpad not working. Discovered that the computer shut down around 4pm while I was gone and the kids were using it. I asked them about it and they were being furtive while mumbling about the computer crashing so I suspect they just let it overheat/did not check to see if the power was working - both resulting in a crash and damaging my computer more. I am actually so annoyed but this was a risk I took with the computer and plainly they had no idea what they were doing so what am I to do really.

In fact I was trying to write about my 4-hour bizarre adventure on no-coffee day. It starts off with my host father asking me out of the blue if I was free to accompany him to visit an uncle. I was technically free (but not for 4 hours I should think) and tried to ask him if we would be back in time to take a photo before the sun set and he gave me an affirmative reply after I asked him several times. Typically, he didn’t actually understand what I was saying and I was to return well after sunset. Again, kind of knew it would happen but also didn’t want to be a dick with my fast-paced lifestyle. We set-off and first thing he tells me to do is to take an SIT-forbidden mode of transport (moto), classic start to adventures of course. We then end up in a church session, sit down in the crowd for about 5 minutes, only for him to take a call and take me out of the church? What was the point you ask? No idea, something about the uncle wanting to meet there so let’s just casually sit in on church. We then get into his (admittedly expensive-looking, but I didn’t pay attention at the time) car and wade out of a packed to the brim carpark (as in, church-goers straight up parking in the lane) only to literally just cross the street to park at a pub and wait for my host dad’s uncle’s technician who apparently was going to fix his lights. Why didn’t we just let his car sit in the church carpark? Not really sure, but I guess it made going out later faster. We wait about 40 minutes just drinking beers (while his uncle was noticeably drinking wine). His light-fixing ‘technician’ arrives, and then we drive off to Bugesera, which was a familiar name to me and, in typical no-coffee day ashion, I realized it was outside Kigali, so a long drive we go! I of course, was still under the impression that we were just going to the uncle’s house and giving the guy a lift to fix his lights.'

I fall asleep from the beer and smooth ride out of time while trying to stay awake, so kind of hazily if you know what I mean. We near the place and drive through typical houses one finds in the country-side and then enter the gates into a really nice looking house (i.e. much more expensive than its surroundings). I step inside to realize by ‘light fixing’ my dad actually meant ‘setting-up the light fixtures’ because this house was brand new and under furbishing and looked like one of those ‘model showroom apartments’ with contractors about fixing up the lights and finishing touches. In fact, as we stepped out, it dawned on me that the gated plot of land had 3 (and a half, for the workers) houses and a sizeable garden/porch. My host father, seeing my expression goes ‘he is a rich man’. No kidding. ‘He is the owner of the petrol station.’ Wait, just the one? ‘The one outside our house…not Engen, SP’. Holy crap, this guy literally owns the Rwandan gas station company and this is probably his very expensive retirement home.

So as it turns out, my host family has low-key (very) rich relatives (well, I guess I only saw one). It was then, sitting on the steps to the house and watching the sun slowly set over my plans to take a photo of my host family, that I felt a very strange sense of ‘epilogue’, the same kind you see in books, movies, video games, any story really. It was, after all, the last Sunday I would be staying with my host family, and I was, admittedly, killing the 2 and a half hour on those steps contemplating melodramatically and thinking about this post. I saw traces of that alpine glow on the hills and farmlands just outside Kigali as the breeze gently blew and the soft chatter of arguing over lights went on in the background. It was cinematic, it was sombre, it was a really epilogue feeling. What you have to go through before it ends, so that your longing turns to gladness that it happened. I thought of the many times I had the same feeling, somewhat in this order: when Neo and Trinity fly over the clouds in The Matrix, when Samurai Jack returns to the past, loses Ashi, but finds the ladybug and hope, sitting with Chris in the large playground in downtown Chicago, the epilogue of Witcher 1, Odysseus nearing the end of his journey (well, odyssey) staying on that perfect life island for many years. All this time too, I was thinking about how I used to imagine myself being some random olive farmer on the hills of Greece, cut off from the world but serene and happy. But I couldn’t do it then and I couldn’t do it now, I’m too restless, and there are things to be done still. It’s exactly what it is with epilogues too - the credits roll, but the characters always move on, they always do something after glimpsing the sun (as in the Matrix), the things that need to be done to keep building a ‘better future’. Some kind of obligation keeps them tethered, but that image of ‘heaven’, of some ‘lovely retirement home in the countryside’ - as this rich guy’s house was - keeps them working till that goal, maybe for their children or people. In fact this bizarre adventure even felt a little religious, as if falling asleep hazily on that car ride was like entering into a dream, and this was a glimpse of a peaceful old life that I would never obtain, at least not now. It was a glimpse of what ‘heaven’(?) looks like but I feel too obligated on earth (i.e. thinking about all the work I should be doing instead of watching the sunset for 2 and a half hours in the country side). The fact that the house wasn’t finished too, in fact added to that perfect epilogue feeling, where people are still building their dream, but there is peace after a conflict - Rwanda’s story itself.

I don’t know if the rest of the journey needs to be said, nor whether this absurdly long narrative/melodrama was necessary. But it was said, and it seems my study abroad, despite being a month from finishing, is reaching its epilogue chapter after a jam-packed, heavy course on Genocide history. Pretty tired trying to speak French and dispelling myths about Asia/Singapore too.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

A post from Uganda

(Actually two weeks ago) Today (yesterday, since I don’t have wi-fi at home) I cooked laksa fried rice and chicken rice for my host family and showed them pictures of Singapore. They liked it, which was great because I low-key messed up the texture of the rice using unfamiliar equipment, and with my host mother letting all the steam out for the laksa fried rice (which I should have used more water anyway) They retired soon after…which led me to another episode of aching nostalgia. It’s as if I have a secret life in me that I have not returned to, a place I’m supposed and do call home. It’s as if I will go back, and see all my friends and family again as if nothing’s changed even though that isn’t true. It’s as if I’ve been wandering for so long I miss the cheesy Changi Airport signs that welcome all traveling, admittedly also upper-middle class, Singaporeans, receive. Or maybe it was just the memories that each photo held, some kind of mysterious but familiar memory of just me and Daphne which tears at me, especially those city-lights on the riverfront. Maybe it’s being tired for the first time of the bigger world out there, with all its glories and failures at the same time. I know that Singapore is not ‘clean’ despite what the stereotypes and the government promise. But it’s still home. This has always kept me tethered, however arbitrary it is. That picture of Ying Yue at the Singapore Art Museum makes me want to read her blog and reconnect, even though I’ve tried it before but I guess my comment was lost. I know too, that I can get that same feeling of personal nostalgia, and I have, walking anywhere alone with my camera. But maybe it’s because those old photos of Singapore were my best of my oldest, they have that defining feature of ‘being there for me’; and I know that nobody else would have taken some of those very specific shots. Maybe because at my core is this melodramatic, pretentious melancholy that I know, when it came down to it, would let me walk out of a party/club if I wasn’t feeling it, by myself (or with Chris), down an empty, incandescent-lit street. I am bummed, although not surprised that the only person who connected with me over ‘the moon and the sun’ by ANECHOIS was Karen. I hope she’s doing well. I think I’m going to try and give Steele a copy of the EP/album since Yggdrasil is literally his door image. Maybe it’s just because it’s no coffee day.

^Wrote that a while ago but never remembered to post it while I had wifi, so I'm at a café now in Northern Uganda to post it. I've had a lot to say since, but as I'm tight on the wi-fi, I decided to just go with it.

Started this draft like 2 weeks ago

Sieving through pictures of Singapore to show my host family was perhaps the most powerful feeling I got to date since leaving my home … a deep and mysterious melancholy so indescribable (not in magnitude, just the fact that I can’t describe it) they must have invented the word ‘nostalgia’ and missing home just for it. To me, even though my family isn’t tight-knit and close, it is still special and maybe it’s the Chinese culture still in me, but I owe a great debt and will always try and be there for my parents when they are old. I say that, not knowing what kind of scenario that may be tested; after all, I am abroad while my dad is at home recovering from cancer.

Thinking about ‘why now’, and maybe it’s knowing that my friends and family back home are living their lives out and sharing and creating memories without me, and that the longer I’m away, the more I fade into their memories…except there’s Whatsapp and all is fine and dandy to a degree/till I get a degree haha geddit? I also miss Chris a lot (duh), I think mostly when I read her blog or feel cuddly. Rwandans are a warm bunch though and hugs are often and soon. My host mother is very sweet and has a hearty laugh whenever I imitate my host sister.

We did a 'processing session' last Friday; it's like a 'do whatever you want summer camp style' time allocated at the end of each week for students to lead some activity, be it etching out tensions (like last week) or building human pyramids. Last week we did a 'toilet paper pass' where we just picked a person in the group to say nice things about in a circle and passed them the roll to pass on to another person. Jack K passed me the roll and talked about how his support group back home was his fraternity, which happens to be Lambda Chi, how coincidental and wholesome is that? I'm so glad he's got great character and setting a good example for a historically problematic institution.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Peux ce que veux, allons-y

‘Rwanda is the Singapore of Africa, small and smart’ -Arsenal shirt wearing neighbour

‘Singapore is a small country, but a big idea’ - ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo

I feel like I will not be able to really write out everything I’ve seen or heard that interests me, or that I won’t have the patience to outside of point form. And yet I feel so saturated with cool stories and observations it would be a terrible waste outside of my notebook ‘quickies’. I just hope my subconscious keeps up all this time. I am generally, I think, not ‘surprised’ by much, which makes me quite stoic/stone-faced to many. It was more a surprise to my host family for example, that I have washed my own clothes by hand before in my life, rather than me being nervous or surprised at having to do it here. It is not that I know everything already, but many things I know I don’t really know and so can’t really assume much and so come here and see, which excites and intrigues me, but doesn’t ‘surprise’ me or ‘break stereotypes’. It does help to confirm/unconfirm ‘commonly-held’ stereotypes that I know and gives me something to tell people who do hold them. I am not perfect of course, but it does mean I don’t know ‘where to begin’ outside of listing everything I’ve heard and seen and felt and smelled chronologically. I guess I’ve chosen, like always, to talk in general, in abstract, in weird jumbled blog-bytes.

^Wrote all of the above a day or two ago and have not just started my genocide classes here in Kigali, beginning with a movie called 'Ghosts of Rwanda', focusing a lot on the US perspective (it was made by PBS). I consider myself quite a stoic person who has loosened in outlook because I think it is more humane; the one part that did move me to tears was seeing Captain Mbaye's death in the movie. There can certainly be no heroes in a genocide, but he might have been the closest.

Practicing language is a good thing, because it is hard and it forces you at first. Alors je vais écrire un peu en français et peut-être en kinyarwanda. C'est la raison je n'ai pas publié ce poste plus tôt. J'ai décidé à essayer de faire la conversation avec le gens ici. C'est ce que je dirai: Muraho! Amakuru? Nanjye, ni meza. Nturuka he? Nturuka muri Singapour. Ndi umuyeshuri. Wowe se? Ukora iki?

C'est tout pour maintenant.