By Tan Kaiyi

Singapore flag on HDB

I was setting up the livestream on the living room’s television when Ma called. “Ah Boon, hand me the gift packs on the table.” I ignored her for the moment, playing around with the video settings. Finally, the words “The Parade Will Start In…” appeared on screen, followed by a countdown timer below them.

There was an ongoing discussion to call the parade ‘a ceremony’. I remember a member of the opposition questioning a minister of the ruling party on the choice of words. “It’s a show of power, of our strength,” the minister had said. “Is it? Many performances seem more like acts of reverence, not deterrence,” his opponent had fired back. She had a point though. The parade usually began with protective blessings from the leaders of our four major religions.

But nothing changed. It was still called a parade.

Ma shouted for me again. I yelled back, saying that I heard her.

I took up the four scarlet packs, one for each of us, from the dining room table and walked into the kitchen. There used to be five but that was two years ago.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé


Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write because it is the thing I do. And this ability, if you choose to call it that, didn’t come from anything I did, as much as it came from my life’s circumstances. My parents are each writers in their own respect —my father, a historian, a professor, and now a columnist, my mother a journalist who started a lifestyle magazine and then became a political columnist. Because of them, I grew up in a house of books, and from very early on, I was a reader, hardly unique. All of us writers are.

Throughout my life, I did try to do other things, but it would always come back to writing. If I could do it all over again, I would be a physician and specialise in women’s health but that I suppose is for another life. The conventional path of a reader in my day at least was to go into law or literature. In school, I worked in the publications. My first part-time job was as feature writer. My first full-time job was as an advertising copywriter. Even though I applied to be an account executive, they made me a writer. I’ve worked as a magazine editor, as a special projects editor, a script writer, an English instructor, and a translator from Tagalog to English. That’s how I’ve made a living all my life, and that’s not likely to change in the future.

Perhaps the better question to ask is me is why I write fiction. I write fiction because like so many writers before and after me, I’m entranced by stories. So I pursued my graduate degree in Creative Writing (at Bowling Green State University) to learn the craft of fiction. I am always curious about the workings of the human spirit, what draws men and women to act the way they do, what circumstances allow good to emerge or evil to be unleashed. I am fascinated by the human heart. What’s more, I believe that literature or more specifically, fiction, allows people to learn truths about the human condition.

There are many people who want to write, who want to be seen as a writer. That isn’t me. Right now, two years short of fifty, the way I am seen is not ever of grave concern. Being a writer has come naturally to me, and I venture to say that it has come more naturally to me than being a wife has, or being a mother. It also defines me as these two other things, as grateful as I am for them, define me. I am a woman. I am a writer. I am a wife and a mother. I am Filipino, in my heart and soul, if not on paper, but an atypical Filipino.

I do not always love writing. There are too many days when I would almost rather do anything else: play tennis, watch television or go to the movies, sing karaoke, swim, go for a walk, hang with my family. But I write, not so much out of choice as much as because it is inextricably linked to who I am and thus, involuntary.