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Featured Writer: Xiao Gan


At Botanic Garden I swarm to the golden wattle tree instead of the Vanda Miss Joaquim.

I renounce faith in the merlion, instead carry a unicorn totem.

Try to speak to my grandparents with a language from outer space that I know;

end up meeting with only beginner sign language speakers

Somehow I am still 3rd in my class after the test for a tongue that most students failed to keep from swallowing.

I guess everyone else won’t be able to summon the ghosts at Haw Par Villa after this.

I search for their gravestone in broad daylight,

rifling through internet archives and DNA tests and photo albums

Feed everything into google translate and the ghosts get confused all over again.

They stumble through the ouija board spelling out their best hanyu pinyin,

(‘aiyo, don’t become another kantang’)

Why are you using the colonialists’ language?

When will the foreigners let you go home?

But still, sometimes the creole that migrants speak will coat my tongue,

and the ghosts come to my dumb supper (‘chope a seat for me, the food is shiok’)

Increasingly, I crack the codes that they left for me to read,

(‘don’t be so cheem leh’)

and the prayer sticks at the altars are set alight again.


- Vanda Miss Joaquim is the national flower of Singapore, while the golden wattle tree is the national tree of Australia.

- The Merlion is the national animal of Singapore.

- Haw Par Villa is a ‘park that contains over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, legends, history, and illustrations of various aspects of Confucianism.’ (source from Wikipedia)

- ‘Aiyo’ means ‘oh no’ in Singlish

- ‘Kantang’ means Western potato, or Singaporeans who have lost touch with their mother tongue and culture

- ‘Chope’ means ‘reserve’ in Singlish

- ‘Shiok’ means ‘great’ in Singlish

- ‘Cheem’means ‘complicated’ in Singlish

Xiao Gan is from Singapore. She enjoys writing and math.

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