personal, travel, UCSB

Traces of Places

Another whirlwind week, and though I’m not, I already feel behind…

Sometimes, though, I will gladly let myself fall slightly behind professionally, if I am given an opportunity to participate in something more significant. Something that will make me stop and reevaluate myself and my reasons for pursuing this profession that so many haveĀ  warned as being saturated by thousands of promising people just likeĀ  me.

Wednesday was one of those days. Thanks to the suggestion of one of my advisors, Shirley Lim, I was lucky enough to host Singapore born, Australian transplant, poet Kim Cheng Boey as he visited UCSB for a reading from his poetry collection Days of No Name and his new book Between Stations.

The experience, more than just another line on my CV, was incredibly rewarding on multiple levels. Aside from being a beautiful writer, Kim Cheng turned out to be a beautiful human being. He not only shared his writing, but he shared a good deal of time talking and sharing with me, even offering me a spare room in his house if I ever visited Sydney. I hadn’t been familiar with his previous work, but his person reinforced the welcoming, sensitive, and hospitable personality that we become acquainted with in his newest book. And the readings he shared from this book were beautiful, poignant, and oftentimes heartbreaking. Over the course of some twenty or so personal essays, in Between Stations, he traverses a series of memories of his long-lost Singapore, travel experiences, and the process of relocating in Australia.All of which are fraught with the exercise of looking back and of remembering.

Acutely aware of and conflicted by his choice to move to Australia, torn by his memories and ties to family and “home” in Singapore, Kim Cheng pushed himself to reveal intensely intimate details of his life, details that may be familiar to anyone who might consider themselves a hyphenate, or bi-cultural, or otherwise queer individual crossing various boundaries of space and self.

As Boey writes so beautifully: “How much of the world I carry within me will survive the uprooting and translation that the act of emigration triggers?…I feel a kind of homesickness already, an urge to salvage that which is disappearing even as I begin to say goodbye.” (40) Though I don’t know if any of my relocations could ever be considered as monumental as his, I do understand the fear of loss and the desperate attempts that result in order to retain those remnants of home, that luggage that we keep within ourselves always. I see it in my parents, who traveled immense distances under unimaginable conditions to start anew, from nothing. And I am fully aware that I cling to the bits of myself that can most easily be described as Vietnamese. And I seek out those that I can share these bits with. And I rejoice when I find people who delight in the sharing and the exchange.

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