Editor | Jasmine Su
Photographer | Audrey Lim
Contributing writer | Loo Zhao Xuan
I grew up lying beside my aunt on her bed while she read out stories about Christ, the love of God, and how Jesus saves unconditionally. After she dried my hair, I would run to my grandmother’s room and fall asleep as she repeated stories about how different Buddhist monks achieved self-enlightenment through asceticism.
As I grew older, my mother, a pious Buddhist, sent me to a Christian school, and at night I would play CDs of Christian stories my school gave out on very low volume. Of course, when my mother came in to check if I was asleep, I would quickly turn it off and lie motionless while my eyelids flickered. Caught in the religious cross-fire within my family, I listened to both sides patiently because, like every kid, I loved stories, be it Christian or Buddhist.
One night many years later, when I had outgrown bedtime stories, I walked past my younger brother’s room and heard him playing a CD series titled “Bedtime Stories – Basic Civil Law,” a series of stories meant to introduce children to different legal codes. And I realized that each child grows up with very different tales. What kind of tales did you grow up with?
While I was growing up, the stories that my parents most frequently shared were those about their hardships. Both of my parents grew up in poverty and barely managed to complete high school. My dad would often repeat his story as a miserable insurance agent going from door to door, trying to feed the family not long after I was born. My mom, on the other hand, often recounted how she got deported by the Singapore Police Force while working without a legal employment pass. She still remembers the embarrassment that deeply etched into her heart.
Like many others who grew up with similar stories, I could feel the economic pressure and the insecurity towards my future. I think this insecurity has informed the person who I am today. It motivates me to work for a greater financial freedom for my family. At difficult times, these tales remind me to not lose track of my origins and how my parents’ hardship has made all of this possible.
Zhao Xuan is from Malaysia and currently studies in Yale-NUS College