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"It's not Much But I Try" by Puay Rae Ann 2D/20

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

There is a worn tapestry in the corner of my room

Its threads faded from age and frayed at the ends

And every day I weave in new threads

Whispering broken incantations into the cloth

Staining it a deep red

It’s not much but I try

To mimic the exact shade of pink

Of the first cheongsam that my mother bought me

To let the laughter of a lunar new years celebration

Bleed into the tapestry like wine

The green clack of mahjong tiles like stones

Over the soft chatter of meaningless conversation

It is one of my favourite sounds

But no matter how much I try

The incantations refuse to leave my lips

Like a petulant ten-year-old on their first day of school

And no matter how many times I stain the threads

I can never get the shades just right

So now I’m left here

With a torn tapestry in the corner of my room

Its threads faded from age and colours all wrong at the ends

I know that no incantation will save it now

But I try anyways

I whisper my broken incantations

And I stain the threads

It’s not much but I try



Something I learnt about my family culture was that both my Cantonese mom and Hokkien dad grew up in a family where insulting your siblings was one of the joys in life. That’s probably why my siblings and I turned out the way we did. Upon interviewing them, they had many insults to share with me, For example, my mother said that her siblings would often call her a ‘se lui bao’, ‘de bao’ and a ‘ham bao’, which meant that she was a misbehaving girl and a crybaby. From my father, I learnt a particularly colourful way to describe somebody who is ‘deaf’, ‘chao yi lang’ which basically means that somebody has an ear infection and because pus comes out of your ears, they smell terrible, and thus you are unable to hear (we have since been using this phrase to describe my ten-year-old brother)

What I was trying to do with this poem was show my love for my culture within my friends and family, but my lack of knowledge and overall incompetence with it. What I mean by this is that while I love the Chinese language and culture, because of the household I grew up in, I am largely unfamiliar with its nuances. I grew up in a household that is often described as an ‘ang moh pai’ kind of place. I grew up speaking English because that was the language that my parents and schoolmates were the most comfortable with. As a result, I was, and still am, inept with the Chinese language. Now, I feel alienated from a culture that I’m supposed to identify wholeheartedly with, and it doesn’t feel great. I do see myself as a sort of observer to my culture, not somebody who actively participates in things that would define it because I have never been very in touch with the traditions and rituals of my culture. Up till a month ago, I had no idea that at the start and end of the year we’re supposed to leave offerings to some god. I have also met people of other races who know more about my own culture than me, which is shameful in and of itself.

Some ways that I tried to convey my love for my culture was the imagery of some of my favourite things about my culture, like the traditional costumes, the family gatherings and the language (this is not implying that I’m good at Chinese. I’m just saying that I like it) I attempt to use similies to express things, and of course, the not-so-subtle metaphor of the tapestry. I also tried to show that despite my incompetence, I try to connect to the culture as much as I can, through the means of stories passed down through generations, or simply being around people who share my culture and are able to share things about it.

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