As someone who just turned legal last September, clubbing in Clarke Quay eventually became a biweekly routine. After a night of destroying my liver with alkey (alcohol), and wholeheartedly dancing from techno bangers to hip-hop hits, the last thing I want to get asked is, “How are you heading home?”
“I’m walking,” is my go-to response, bracing my drunk self for the predictable reaction.
“Wow! You so rich ah, you stay in condo is it?”
Goddamn it, not this again.
If I’m rich, I wouldn’t have to secretly take a sip of your gin and tonic or steal drinks from random strangers’ tables. But I’m at the lazy-drunk/sleepy time of 3 AM; I prefer to head home now than elaborate on the fact that I stay at an ‘ulu’ HDB area located nearby.
However, there are lucky nights when I am ‘rich’ enough to afford a cab home. Taxi uncles are such a blessing when it comes to navigation, until they start talking to me. I definitely don’t find it an issue, but please, not now. I reek of alcohol and I can barely walk straight, so what makes them think I can keep up a conversation?
“Uncle, Chin Swee Road.”
“Huh? That area still exist ah, I thought en-bloc already?”
Uh, I don’t know la. It hasn’t en-bloc yet so just drive me hooooommmeee.
Living in Jalan Kukoh for the past six years has made me realise how well poverty in Singapore is hidden. Surrounded by the delightful views of reflective glass condos in Robertson Quay, well-maintained blocks of Pinnacle@Duxton, and the multi-million dollar skyscrapers of Raffles Place, I’ve always dreamt of a good or ‘better’ life.
But I’m aware that not all dreams come true.
The CBD area can easily be seen from home, which gives me mixed feelings. It’s hard for me to decide whether I am inspired to have a better life, or demoralised at the thought that I may not have a choice but to live here forever.
Still, there’s nothing much I can do but be grateful to even have a roof over my head.
I also have the tendency to browse local property sites and wow at everything in IKEA, so I’m slowly becoming an 18-year-old auntie. It brings me joy to view houses for sale or rent, and imagine how my dream home would be. I’d look at the layout of the house and plan how it should be furnished and decorated.
At the same time, with my living conditions, financial situation, and family background, it’s most likely that my dream home would be nowhere near possible.
In my old home, I witnessed my brother being abused for bringing home bad results. A specific argument between my parents even resulted in my dad being imprisoned afterwards. I still remember the look on his face as he was handcuffed and taken away with one police officer on each side of him.
Without a father figure to guide me through the crucial milestones in my life, I lacked love and support from an important family member. I struggled with self-esteem issues and didn’t feel worthy of the good things I wanted.
During kindergarten, I was constantly bullied—or at least I think it was bullying? I remember the mean things my group mates would say to me. Not being the brightest kid back then, I was called “dumbo” or “stupid” for scoring 4 out of 10 for spelling.
Since it happened almost every day in school, my teacher would reply with the most abrupt, “Ok,” whenever I complained. I soon became one of those brats who’d cry in the morning before entering the class.
I’ve always felt like a disappointment just for existing, so I was shocked that it was possible to feel even worse when I finally moved into my new home environment.
I hate the house that I live in—a one-room rental flat with a window facing Landmark Tower, which is a condominium across the CTE. I’ve always imagined the houses there to be spacious with huge windows; well-organised, adequately furnished; a balcony facing Duxton or the CBD.
In contrast, my personal space is the utility room (some of my friends call it the maid’s room lol) with less than 20 steps around its circumference. It has poorly painted walls, and everything of mine is strewn everywhere. Super ratchet.
Sometimes, I like to think that I live in a budget dollhouse. Unfortunately, the aesthetic is nowhere close.
It doesn’t help that my grandmother, the only person I live with, is a stubborn hoarder. It takes so much time and effort just to convince her to throw her things away and tidy up the house.
Living in this kind of environment puts a strain on who I am and who I want to be. Having a distorted self-image makes it 10 times more difficult for me to cope with my identity crisis; I constantly want to become a better individual, yet I feel unable to achieve what I want in life.
My mind deludes me into believing that the whole world is against me.
I guess my astrological sign is never well-aligned.
There’s not a day or hour where I don’t see trash (although I’m one) around the neighbourhood. I’ve even seen sanitary pads, diapers, and styrofoam boxes containing food waste being thrown out of windows.
Once, I was almost hit by a plastic bag filled with ice while walking home from the bus stop. From then on, I started walking only in sheltered areas, not wanting to take any chances.
But the worst kinds of litter are the ‘trinkets’ left behind by drug abusers, such as used needle syringes in drains or stairwells.
Regardless of Singapore’s strict drug laws, drug abusers still roam the neighbourhood, unintentionally causing potential harm to others. In an estate like Jalan Kukoh, mischievous kids as young as four wander without any adult supervision. It’s hard to imagine what these curious, miniature humans would do should they come across used drug instruments.
Older folks make up a part of the neighbourhood’s population, and from what I know, loneliness may have even caused a few to commit suicide. It’s not all bad though—some seem to have made peace with what’s left of their lives, choosing to relax at the benches under their blocks with people who feel the same. I also have neighbours who take care of their grandchildren more than a few times a week.
Most of the people who live here usually dress in plain shirts and Tat Sing slippers. But for me, my clothes, accessories, and make-up can make it hard to believe that I reside in Jalan Kukoh.
Basically, I look like an emo loser from MySpace days (back in 2010), which I personally think is more than ‘just a phase’. I usually don a black t-shirt with ‘Pleasures’ printed across in Nirvana’s ‘BLEACH’ album cover font, which I pair with either satin pyjama pants or Dickies 873, and an abused pair of 1970s Chucks in collaboration with CDG Play.
I know dressing up and looking presentable may be expensive, but having low self-esteem comes at a price. To me, it’s more than worth it to spend on items that help boost my confidence.
It’s pretty obvious that I wouldn’t leave the house without any make-up. Specifically, without my eyeliner which is the most crucial part of my make-up regime. I draw my winged liner, as sharp as I can like the weapon I’d use to cut my enemies. Using a thick layer of mascara, I emphasise my almost non-existent eyelashes. I’d like to believe that if I can bat my eyelashes fast enough, I’ll be able to fly away from my existential crisis and problems.
To finish my look, I accessorise, hoping to receive the attention I never received in my childhood. I slide a heart ring down my middle finger, so that flipping someone off would not only be offensive but also aesthetically pleasing.
Then I click a chain earring on my right earlobe and a key earring on my left. The dangling key reminds me of the key to my childhood home, and the metal rings that form the chain have rusted. The earrings represent the ‘corruption’ of an ideal family I thought I’d have.
Oh wow, so deep, it’s like I’m a reincarnation of Shakespeare or something. I hope you didn’t drown like Ophelia did.
Up till two years ago, I always wondered why people consume drugs when everyone says it’s harmful. But then a few acquaintances who consumed illegal substances offered me my first hit of cannabis when I was tipsy. I’m not going to bullshit you and say that it was life-changing; it didn’t cure my depression or borderline personality disorder.
However, it helped tone down my erratic thoughts and feelings. It was an unhealthy coping mechanism that slowly became an addiction.
It didn’t take too long for the law to catch up. In 2017, I committed a crime unrelated to drugs that led to me getting caught. It was a pretty dumb mistake; things would’ve been different if I didn’t do it, but I don’t think it would’ve been better.
I’m currently serving my sentence, and it’s such a chore. But I’m not ashamed of my past as it has impacted my worldview and made me more self-aware.
For getting caught, I was ‘awarded’ a one-month programme called HATCH that pairs at-risk youth with industry internships. They gave me this opportunity to be an intern here at Rice.
In my spare time, I binge watch shows on Netflix (for free, since it’s not even my account) or hang out with my friends whenever I’m invited. Though I hope to try out DJ-ing, I currently lack the resources to do so.
I’m still lost, but I aim to be successful or at least financially stable soon. For all the issues I’ve faced, a plastic paper printed with Yusof Ishak’s face seems to be the number one problem solver.
P.S. My all-time favourite shows are Breaking Bad, Rick and Morty, Dexter, and Workaholics.
Have something to say about this story? Write in: firstname.lastname@example.org.