On Returning

Content advisory: adult language

When Chloe Tong writes of returning, she invites us to consider the leaving as much as the coming back – the homecoming, after all, is simply a corollary of the sojourn. Tong’s work is an anthem for anyone who has left home shores for others. Unflinchingly, she tackles alienness, explores the constant instability of life abroad, all while delicately capturing the wonders of little odysseys and embracing each stumble into familiarity. Going ever further away can make every pocket of home resonate even stronger, and Tong reminds us of that with the impactful grace of a plane’s wheels kissing familiar tarmac.

This is not a how-to, an itinerary. This will not teach you how to get from A to B under X dollars. This is not like, share and comment. There is no discount code at the end.

This is not a complaint about thirty-two degrees celsius. This is not a layman’s commentary on Brexit; the Brits would’ve fucked themselves over eventually even if they remained.

This is an inside joke you will never understand. This is the neutral accent you put on with angmohs. There are two Chloes, two Beccas and two Isabelles in your class. You realise your mother gave you a very white name. This is solidarity. This is for every time somebody knows that the country you are from is not a part of China. This is the double take every time they realise how well you speak English. This is giving up explaining why you’re so good in the first place. You learn that in Britain, Asian means Indian and you are oriental. Oriental is also word used to describe supermarkets and bikini wax flavours.

This is a kitchen argument on the pronunciation of scone. No one can pronounce your real name. Someone hasn’t done her dishes in two weeks. Chicken rice mix from a jar will never taste as good as the real thing. This is a game of drunken twister and Joe has skipped your turn for the third time but you don’t mind. This is a never-ending prank war. This is a Marquez novel peeking from under his strewn scarf. This is a Deeper Conversation. This is an impromptu night out, a neon mistake. This is a schoolgirl fantasy played out at three AM. This is the perfect omelette, pale and cheese-stuffed.

This is a Syrian girl child selling roses to tourists past midnight in Taksim. This is homelessness, the man asking you for a cigarette has worn its scent for too long. You give him the last stick in your pack of Luckies. This is a cancelled flight to Barcelona. This is a metro strike in Rome. This is a tube strike in London. This is a tram strike in wherever-the-fuck else. This is subpar Asian food spelled wrong on the menu. This is a misplaced lah tumbling from the mouth of someone who thinks he knows Singlish. This is nihao said by a white person. This is 你好 said by a young Chinese cook who lights up when you order Thai takeout in Mandarin.

This was winter. This was spring. This is the feeling you get when someone calls you by the name you were born with. This is the wonder of a Moroccan pigeon pastilla. This is the bad bitch who changed her tampon in the Sahara. This is the aftermath of an Ibizan rave. This is summer. It is still summer.

This is, to all Singaporeans and residents of Singapore, a warm welcome home.

TONG JIA HAN CHLOE is a postgraduate at Warwick University. She is part of Burn After Reading, a collective of young poets in Singapore. Her work can be found in Inheritance, an anthology on family histories by Math Paper Press.

Photo credit: Chloe Tong


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