Fathers

Our fathers left their lands to look for better ones.

They left their lands and their loved ones and the lives they had built up around nice jobs and nice houses and the corner-shop snacks of their childhood. They went overseas, often alone at first. Searching for new homes and small money. Trading in the clunky words of a new language, trying not to look the fool. Modern day scouts for their fledgling families.

The weapons of our fathers were moderation and caution. For their families, it was better to have a safety net than an SUV. They learnt to calculate when not to take risks and when to hold their tongues. Because they could not rise in the ranks of a foreign company through youth or charm or eloquence or appearance, they learnt to put their heads down and swallow racism and work hard and complain little.

They weathered anxiety so that we would not have to. They absorbed worry, turned it over and over silently, wore it down. Buried it deep, heaped it over with other things. Traded their dreams for their children’s.

Our fathers put their cultural memories into a little box that they brought with them to the new land, and sometimes opened. The children laughed, thinking that there was no use for such things in this new, loud, opportunistic place. We dismissed their wariness, not knowing that it allowed us to survive, and ventured bravely forth into the world, believing it is ours.

I, Impostor

I don’t have original thoughts. All my opinions come from much more creative people. I read them and listen to them, and I absorb their brilliant ideas, and mash them together into something that sounds sort of clever, but isn’t so much once you scratch the surface. One day someone will find out.

I’m not as smart as people think I am. From young, I learnt to follow rules. To read the subtext of society’s expectations. To prep hard for exams. To choose the safest and most likely answer. That way, you can get good marks, even if you’re not a genius. One day someone will find out.

I think they can tell I’m not capable. I’ve only weaselled into this position through luck and upbringing. I’m not eloquent like that guy in the glasses. I’m not technically skilful like that woman in the green skirt. I haven’t even done my laundry in a week, and last night I cried myself to sleep. Who am I to give them advice?

One day someone will find out that I’m a fraud.

How to be a Woman

Keep trying your hardest to be a Woman.

Look after your appearance. People will disregard you if you’re unattractive. Doubly so if you’re fat. Ensure you apply anti-wrinkle products. Age is inversely correlated with relevance.

Don’t be too emotional. If you do get upset, quickly minimise it by attributing it to your hormones. But don’t be too aloof, either. Women should be warm, not cold.

Always have a prepared answer for the questions:
1. When do you want to have kids?
2. How many kids do you want to have?

Laugh genially at jokes about women belonging in the kitchen. You must have a sense of humour, even if it’s not funny.

Be relaxed enough to be ‘one of the blokes’. Be savvy enough to be ‘one of the girls’.

Work bloody hard for that promotion, to make up for the fact that you may need to take maternity leave, or drop to part-time, or you’re just not as tall and white and relatable and impressive as the dude who used to be your colleague.

Remember that your time isn’t yours. Apart from work, remember the other important things. Keep your house modern and enviable: a steady stream of candles, cushions and kitchen appliances are helpful. It’s advisable to have a repertoire of signature dishes ready to whip out in front of unexpected guests. Of course, if you have kids, that comes first.

Know how to apply make-up so that you look like you’re not wearing make-up.

Drink wine, but not too much (drunks aren’t attractive). Read, but not too much (nerds aren’t attractive). Exercise, but not too much (bodybuilders aren’t attractive).

Curate your Instagram.

Don’t be an expert. Always be ready to receive an explanation from a Man. Bonus points if you smile and nod a lot.

Distance and affinity

I’m pretty sure he’s Filipino, from his chestnut skin and rolling accent. He wears a short-sleeved shirt, pale blue, with his name embroidered on the pocket: Paul. The same name as the Filipino nurse I met in my first rotation as a fresh-faced intern: too-friendly young Paul who stood against me in the medication room and pressed his hand over mine and made me freeze.

This Paul is a generation above. Salt-and-pepper hair, thinning at the temples. A slight stoop to his shoulders. A slight paunch at the gut. He walks along the corridor towards me, tacking to one side with the weight of his bucket and mop.

‘Hello! Where are you from?’ His round eyes regard me warmly, as though we’ve met dozens of times before. Perhaps I remind him of a daughter, or a niece, or an old girlfriend.

I smile and reel out the words I must have said a hundred times.

‘Oh, I thought you look Filipino! I’m Paul. Are you the new doctor?’

I nod sheepishly, glancing away from his cleaning equipment.

Over the next six months, we wave intermittently at each other, and exchange simple words, with a mixture of distance and affinity.

The Hospital Is Not Your Mother

– Hey, Younger Me.

– What’s up, Older Me?

– What’s going on with you? Why are you slaving away at work? Why are you losing sleep over stress?

– There’s too much work. I have fifteen patients to see in a day, but even if I skip lunch and write my notes really fast and speed-walk between wards, I can only see ten.

– Please take a lunch break.

– But if I don’t take a lunch break, maybe I can leave work on time.

– Take a bloody lunch break.

– Well, I’m having lunch with my supervisor while we do an assessment.

– Didn’t you do an assessment last week?

– There are so many to get through. We have to do one almost every week. I prepped til 11pm last night and then I couldn’t fall asleep.

– Oh dear.

– I need to make a good impression with my supervisor, so he’ll give me a good mark for the rotation, and a good reference for my next job.

– I know.

– I have to go. They’re paging me about an aggressive patient in ED.

– But you were just going to pee.

– I have a large bladder.

– Hey, Younger Me. Just wait up one sec.

– Yeah?

– Stop killing yourself for the hospital.

– What?

– Pieces of yourself. Your time, strength, purpose and passion. You’re giving it to the hospital. What for? They’re not going to give you any love. The hospital is not your mother. To them, you’re a mere cog.

– I’m doing it for my patients.

– Not anymore. Not when you’re like this. Go home, Younger Me. Step out of the whirlwind, just for a space, and you’ll see.

– I can’t. They’re paging me in ED. I’ll see you later.

Two Minute Research

He walks past me, doubles back, and approaches with an earnest smile. Black backpack. Black skinny jeans. Black sneakers.

‘Hi! Do you have two minutes? I’m doing some research and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.’

We are kin unmet: brittle black hair,  almond-shaped eyes, olive skin that holds scars easily. There is an immediate sense of similarity.

‘What sort of research?’ I ask, tucking my handbag in to my side.

‘I’m doing a theology course.’

It’s not an answer, but more than an answer. He talks about his studies, and I’m listening, but he’s not telling me much. I smile and listen harder.

‘Mind if I pull up a seat? I’ve been walking around all day.’

We sit, knees pointing together, in the foyer of the library. He’s talking about his faith now. I wait for the research to begin. At my elbow is another Chinese girl, playing on her phone. Several feet away, a tall white man huddles over his laptop.

‘I was wondering, where are you at, in your beliefs? Do you believe in God?’

I stare into his crinkled eyes. I’m at the end of my journey; he’s in the middle of his. The question is a bridge through time. I could tell him so much, but it’s impossible in this space. I give him a single word answer.