New Beginnings mean very different things to different people, yet sometimes, we find comfort in uncannily similar experiences. We are honoured to have Zee Wong - cat lady, theatre practitioner, brand consultant, and writer with an undying love for a good cup of teh tarik, share intimately with us what New Beginnings mean to her in our inaugural SCENE SHANG Tales that Bind.
Climb to the top of the stairs in my childhood home, and you will see a pale mango-wood dresser with a large square mirror. The dresser holds a few tchotchkes - a box with a hand painted geisha on the lid, that used to be mine; an old photo of my sister and I as babies, fuzzy hair and innocent eyes and all; a postcard my sister sent us from her travels; a photo of my sister in her graduation gown in London; and a photo from my graduation ceremony in Singapore. In my graduation photo, I am smiling weakly, stunned that my four-year toil in business school culminated in a quick handshake with the Dean as he flatly said these words - "Look there (at the camera) and smile."
It'd been so long since I ascended the stairs in this house, I'd forgotten about the presence of this little assembly of memories. It wasn't till I moved back in with my parents last year, that I noticed it again.
This Lunar New Year is particularly significant for me, because it will be the first Lunar New Year in ten years that I'm spending it in my childhood home. I recently ended a decade-long relationship and had to move out of the apartment I'd called home for three years.
At the age of thirty, I found myself back in my old home, in my old room.
It's a strange thing, returning to your childhood room. (Well, I say childhood, but it's basically the room I lived in from when I was thirteen to twenty. Pretty seminal years.)
A strange time warp. The white-and-gold four poster bed you begged your parents for, because you'd always wanted to sleep under a canopy. The Tweety sign you got on a trip to Universal Studios Australia that proudly informs all who want to know - yes, this is "Zhirong's room".
So much has since changed within and around you, but your room stubbornly stays the same.
That first week, my mum went about organising storage for my room. A sturdy new wardrobe and a study desk materialised. My dad always made sure there was a fresh bottle of water on my desk, and a bowl of fresh cut fruit in the evenings. My sister was my pillar of support, listening and offering advice during those hard nights.
They wanted me to be comfortable. To feel at home. But it was so, so hard not to miss my old home, its comforts and routines and privacy. Hard not to see that as my rightful home. Hard not to resent the situation.
But I distinctly remember the moment I felt "home" start to shift for me. One night, I came home to find this -
I had bought this print at Ikea many years ago when we'd first moved into this home, but never got round to hanging it up. That day, my dad decided to hang the print up, to cover an old exposed electrical point where a wall sconce used to be.
And now, those cats smile on my wall, reminding me that I am, indeed, home. There's just something about these little touches that make a home feel like yours. How you'd recognize the shade of daffodil yellow of your walls on any colour chart. How you relish the tread of wooden parquet under your bare feet, and the smooth cool curve of the staircase rails in your palm. And that silly little cat print you bought years ago, that somehow found its way on to your wall ten years later, exactly when it was meant to.
This Lunar New Year will be different than others, because I am beginning again, in the place I began before. I am re-establishing where home is for me, and what home is.
I used to think home was mostly defined by place and space. This past year has shown me that home may start with that, but is only truly made full and in flesh by family. Which should really be defined as - Those, blood related or otherwise, who love you so quietly and so fiercely in their own ways when you most need it, and least deserve it.
Wherever they are, you are home. And with them at your side, it is always okay to begin again.
- Zee Wong
Photos by Yirong Li