There are four graves in my life. My mother and her brother, my uncle – their deaths two years apart – in the graveyard by Masjid Derga on Jalan Langgar, and my grandmother and my grandfather – their deaths ten months apart – in the graveyard by Masjid Albukhary, also on Jalan Langgar. The name plaque fell off my mother’s tombstone almost immediately, the white wooden frame marking her grave from her crowding neighbours rotted and removed a few years after that. Abbot’s engraved tombstone has eroded, the terracotta vase marking his plot disappearing in the shuffle of years. Tok’s and Wan’s stones are higher quality, names clear and gold, but their graves are sinking slowly – the graveyard is said to be built on an old paddy field. It’s been a very, very long time.

1996, 1998, 2003.

I haven’t visited the graves since 2009. The four plots are like furniture in my mind – I don’t much think of them but I can never forget they’re there. Last year, I attended three funerals and I stood there looking at the hole in the ground wondering about what death after life meant for those of us who get left behind. As I cupped my hands beneath my chest and left my brain empty for the prayers of others around me, I thought that maybe it was time to go back. Maybe it was time to close the distance I had maintained from this part of the past.

There’s everything in-between I don’t quite know how to write about yet. But on the morning of the 20th, I kneeled in the familiar red-brown dirt and said hello to my mother’s grave. I did not pray. I was now a person with different beliefs. I stood there carrying less and more than I did in all those other iterations of myself before this. I stood there a person my mother had never met. I had abandoned all the rituals I had been taught, but I wanted to do something that would tie this visit with the before, and so I tiptoed to the plot of a neighbour of hers and plucked a budding frangipani from a sapling tree, putting it at her headstone like I did when I was nine, ten, eleven, like I did when it was easier to miss her in an uncomplicated way. 

Her grave had its own sapling growing low over her headstone, sprouting “floral starfish” of light yellow-green, and I plucked one for myself, the one thing I could take away. 

I was going to keep it. It was going to wilt in my bag as it followed me back home to Kuala Lumpur, but that morning I cupped it in my hand as the sun fell into the car, and I let it swim in light. We got to the other pair of plots, my brother picking his way through his personal map to find our grandparents. When I got to Tok, I knew I wasn’t bringing that flower back with me.

Small spiky weeds clung to my black skirt as I placed the spindly tendrils of this unnamed plant under the stone that carried my grandmother’s name and date of death. I thought about how in her last years, Tok’s senility and broken heart had her calling the names of my mother and my uncle from the door of the house of her only surviving child. I thought about the undercurrent running through the decision to bury them apart. I thought, “Mama says hello.”

When our visits stopped, the death of my father’s mother severing his last obligation to Kedah, to long drives, to that chapter, he said to me, “I don’t believe they’re there anymore.” It was like he was setting me free, too. I believe in bones and dirt and memories. I believe that the after life is mainly about life after the death of someone we love, and how things continue even in the face of an infinity of endings. 

I’m done with being made to think that absences will speak back to you. I’m done with prayers, but I think I’m learning something about offerings. 



My mother drinks this vitamin C supplement that turns a rather impertinent shade of neon purple when it is dissolved in some water, which is FANTASTIC because I’ve come to believe that if a potable solution deliberately impersonates distilled highlighter ink in appearance, then it must have also been engineered to taste like a fruit that corresponds to the colour of that drink (i.e. a last-minute reprieve to make up for the displeasing shade—e.g. radioactive pink/strawberry, sad yellow/mango, dank blue/blueberries, etc).

So. What exciting artificial flavour did the manufacturers of my mother’s vitamin C supplement select for their suspiciously shaded solution? NOTHING.

It tasted like the plain water poured into it. Plain water is delicious on its own, but all my years of drinking rainbows had me trust that a purple-coloured drink should taste purple (whatever this means) or effervesce, at the very least.

I didn’t realise how jarring it really was to have expectations dashed—I am so spoiled, so used to imbibing purple drinks that hearken to more saccharine, sexed-up imitations of açai or grape that do not readily occur in nature. I wouldn’t have minded if it tasted completely rancid, just as long as it tasted like something. The absence of flavour was more offensive than the reality of an unpalatable one.

Plugging in contemporary buzzwords to see if this applies to everything: The absence of a significant other is more offensive than dating a cast member of Jersey Shore/The absence of a well-paying job is more offensive than the reality of receiving minimum wage/The absence of democracy is more offensive than government.

Pitching advice from my editorial guardian angel Ann Friedman


A good query email is one that’s sent directly to the assigning editor for the specific section you’re pitching. The email features a compelling subject line (think of it as a proto-headline) and a tight paragraph explaining the piece you want to write, why it’s timely, and why this outlet is the perfect place to publish it. A second short paragraph in the email explains who you are and why you’re the best writer for the job. It also includes a link to your personal site, which has an easily navigable archive of your work. It ends with a note about when you’ll be following up. Depending on how timely the piece is, that follow-up date can be anywhere from 24 hours to several weeks away. Basically, it’s just to help you set a timeline and enable you to pitch the piece elsewhere before the time hook expires, rather than twiddling your thumbs for weeks waiting for a reply that may never come.”


Why Mixed with White isn't White


By Sharon H. Chang

When I wrote my first post for Hyphen, Talking Mixed-Race Identity with Young Children, I was deliberately blunt about race. I wrote about how I don’t tell my multiracial son, who presents as a racial minority, that he’s white — but I do tell him he’s Asian. While the essay resonated with many people, others made comments like this: 

“Your child is as white as he is Asian… Why embrace one label and not the other?”

“Why is he Asian but not white? He has white ancestors as much as Asian ones. So if it’s OK to call him Asian, it’s OK to call him white. Or, if it’s not OK to call him white (because he’s not completely white) then it’s not OK to call him Asian, because he’s not completely Asian either.”

“Your child is neither white nor Asian. I once heard this description: When you have a glass of milk and add chocolate to it, you no longer have just a glass of milk and you no longer just have chocolate because you have created something completely different. A bi-racial or multi-racial child is not either/or.”

In the 1990s, psychologist and mixed-race scholar Maria P.P. Root wrote the famous Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage, stirred by her examination of mixed-race identity, interviews with hundreds of multiracial folk across the U.S., and the struggles multiracial people face in forming and claiming a positive sense of self. “I have the right not to justify my existence to the world,” it reads. “To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify. To create a vocabulary about being multiracial or multiethnic.”

Almost two decades later, these proclamations still ring so true. Some people are completely unwilling to honor my family’s choice to identify as mixed-race and Asian because it doesn’t align with their own ideas about how we should identify. The right of a mixed-race person to self-construct and self-define, even today, endures continual policing from people with their own agendas.

If it’s not OK to call him white…then it’s not OK to call him Asian”; “Your child is neither white nor Asian.” These critiques are so often centered on whiteness: a sense of disbelief that I would “deny” it to my son, and the conviction that, if I won’t teach him he is white too — or at least partly white — then he is nothing at all. Even the problematic chocolate milk analogy — which the commenter clearly thought was progressive — begins with a glass of white milk with “color” added. White is seen as normative, and there is a total failure to recognize that racial categories are political

Of course I talk to my son about our white family members who are a part of his life and his identity. But those stories are about growing up in Virginia, or window candles at Christmastime in New England, or his Slovakian great-great-grandmother who came through Ellis Island alone when she was sixteen. Those stories are about our history, not about being “white.” “White” is not an ethnic celebration, a food festival, or a heritage parade. It’s about having unearned power and privilege based on the way you look.

In Dr. Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay on white privilege, she listed a series of unearned privileges white people enjoy. Among them: “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time”; “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented”; “I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial”; and “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the ‘person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race.” Are any of these true of my multiracial Asian son? My son, who barely has any children’s books that reflect his racial image, who is constantly scanned and assessed aloud based on “how Asian” he looks, my son who has had many more white teachers than teachers of color? 

Telling my child he’s white also won’t help him understand why children who were less than one-quarter Japanese were interned during World War II; why a stranger would look at him and say there are no “pure races” anymore; why a leading theatre company in our city unabashedly staged a yellowface production of an operetta; why kids on the playground pull back their eyes in a slant and spit out one of those ridiculous anti-Asian chants that just won’t go away. When I tell my son that he is Asian, mixed-race, multiracial, and a person of color, I’m not denying him parts of his ancestral-ethnic heritage. I’m teaching him about the race politics that intrude upon our lives whether we want them to or not. I’m preparing him to exist in a world that obstinately persists in being racially divided. And I’m trying to let him know something about the ways he has and will continue to be judged throughout his life, not because he’s white — but because he’s mixed with color.

(via unicornology)