Friday, October 12, 2007

What the Modern Woman Wants

Another story from email..

It's worthwhile taking 5 mins to read this essay.

Singapore girl wins Commonwealth essay prize!

A 15-YEAR-OLD Singaporean, competing against 16- to 18-year-olds, has
won the top prize in a writing contest that drew 5,300 entries from 52 countries.

In the annual Commonwealth Essay Competition, Amanda Chong of Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) chose to compete in the older category and won with a piece on the restlessness of modern life.

Her short story, titled What The Modern Woman Wants, focused on the conflict in values between an old lady and her independent-minded daughter.

'Through my story, I attempted to convey the unique East-versus-West struggles and generation gaps that I felt were characteristic of young people in my country,' said Amanda, who likes drama, history and literature and wants to become a lawyer and a politician.

Chief examiner Charles Kemp called her piece a 'powerfully moving and ironical critique of modern
restlessness and its potentially cruel consequences'. The writing is fluent and assured, with excellent use of dialogue.

Amanda gets (S$1,590). A Singaporean last won the top prize in 2000, said Britain 's Royal Commonwealth
Society, which has been organising the competition since 1883. Singaporeans also came in second in the
14- to 15-year-old category, and fourth in the under-12s. Other winners included students from
Australia, Canada and South Africa .
What the Modern Woman Wants
By Amanda Chong Wei-Zhen

The old woman sat in the backseat of the magenta convertible as it careened down the highway, clutching
tightly to the plastic bag on her lap, afraid it may be kidnapped by the wind. She was not used to such
speed, with trembling hands she pulled the seatbelt tighter but was careful not to touch the patent
leather seats with her callused fingers, her daughter had warned her not to dirty it, 'Fingerprints show
very clearly on white, Ma.'

Her daughter, Bee Choo, was driving and talking on her sleek silver mobile phone using big words the old
woman could barely understand. 'Finance' 'Liquidation' 'Assets' 'Investments'... Her voice was crisp and
important and had an unfamiliar lilt to it. Her Bee Choo sounded like one of those foreign girls on
television. She was speaking in an American accent. The old lady clucked her tongue in disapproval.

'I absolutely cannot have this. We have to sell!' Her daughter exclaimed agitatedly as she stepped on the
accelerator; her perfectly manicured fingernails gripping onto the steering wheel in irritation.

'I can't DEAL with this anymore!' she yelled as she clicked the phone shut and hurled it angrily toward
the backseat. The mobile phone hit the old woman on the forehead and nestled soundlessly into her lap.
She calmly picked it up and handed it to her daughter.

'Sorry, Ma,' she said, losing the American pretence and switching to Mandarin. 'I have a big client in
America. There have been a lot of problems.'

The old lady nodded knowingly. Her daughter was big and important.

Bee Choo stared at her mother from the rear view window, wondering what she was thinking.
Her mother's wrinkled countenance always carried the same cryptic look.

The phone began to ring again, an artificially cheerful digital tune, which broke the awkward

'Hello, Beatrice! Yes, this is Elaine.' Elaine. The old woman cringed. I didn't name her Elaine.
She remembered her daughter telling her, how an English name was very important for 'networking',
Chinese ones being easily forgotten.

'Oh no, I can't see you for lunch today. I have to take the ancient relic to the temple for her weird
daily prayer ritual.'

Ancient Relic. The old woman understood perfectly it was referring to her. Her daughter always assumed
That her mother's silence meant she did not comprehend.

'Yes, I know! My car seats will be reeking of joss sticks!'
The old woman pursed her lips tightly, her hands gripping her plastic bag in defence.
The car curved smoothly into the temple courtyard. It looked almost garish next to the dull sheen of the
ageing temple's roof. The old woman got out of the back seat, and made her unhurried way to the main
hall. Her daughter stepped out of the car in her business suit and stilettos and reapplied her lipstick as she
made her brisk way to her mother's side.
'Ma, I'll wait outside. I have an important phone call to make,' she said, not bothering to hide her disgust
at the pungent fumes of incense.

The old lady hobbled into the temple hall and lit a joss stick, she knelt down solemnly and whispered her
now familiar daily prayer to the Gods.

Thank you God of the Sky, you have given my daughter luck all these years. Everything I prayed for, you
have given her. She has everything a young woman in this world could possibly want. She has a big house
with a swimming pool, a maid to help her, as she is too clumsy to sew or cook. Her love life has been blessed; she is engaged to a rich and handsome angmoh man. Her company is now the top financial firm and even men listen to what she says. She lives the perfect life. You have given her everything except happiness. I ask that the gods be merciful to her even if she has lost her roots while reaping the harvest of success.

What you see is not true - she is a filial daughter to me. She gives me a room in her big house and provides
well for me. She is rude to me only because I affect her happiness. A young woman does not want to be
hindered by her old mother. It is my fault.

The old lady prayed so hard that tears welled up in her eyes. Finally, with her head bowed in reverence
she planted the half-burnt joss stick into an urn of smouldering ashes. She bowed once more.

The old woman had been praying for her daughter for thirty-two years. When her stomach was round like a
melon, she came to the temple and prayed that it was a son. Then the time was ripe and the baby slipped out of her womb, bawling and adorable with fat thighs and pink cheeks, but unmistakably, a girl. Her husband had kicked and punched her for producing a useless baby who could not work or carry the family name.

Still, the woman returned to the temple with her new-born girl tied to her waist in a sarong and prayed
that her daughter would grow up and have everything she ever wanted. Her husband left her and she prayed
that her daughter would never have to depend on a man. She prayed every day that her daughter would be a great woman, the woman that she, meek and uneducated, could never become. A woman with nengkan; the ability to do anything she set her mind to. A woman who commanded respect in the hearts of men. When she opened her mouth to speak, precious pearls would fall out and men would listen.

She will not be like me, the woman prayed as she watched her daughter grow up and drift away from her,
speaking a language she scarcely understood. She watched her daughter transform from a quiet girl, to
one who openly defied her, calling her laotu; old-fashioned. She wanted her mother to be 'modern', a
word so new there was no Chinese word for it.

Now her daughter was too clever for her and the old woman wondered why she had prayed like that.
The gods had been faithful to her persistent prayer, but the wealth and success that poured forth so richly had
buried the girl's roots and now she stood, faceless, with no identity, bound to the soil of her ancestors
by only a string of origami banknotes.

Her daughter had forgotten her mother's values. Her wants were so ephemeral; that of a modern woman.
Power, wealth, access to the best fashion boutiques, and yet her daughter had not found true happiness.
The old woman knew that you could find happiness with much less. When her daughter left the earth everything
she had would count for nothing. People would look to her legacy and say that she was a great woman, but she
would be forgotten once the wind blows over, like the ashes of burnt paper convertibles and mansions. The old woman wished she could go back and erase all her big hopes and prayers for her daughter; now she had only one want: That her daughter be happy. She looked out of the temple gate. She saw her daughter speaking on the phone, her brow furrowed with anger and worry. Being at the top is not good, the woman thought, there is only one way to go from there - down.

The old woman carefully unfolded the plastic bag and spread out a packet of beehoon in front of the altar.
Her daughter often mocked her for worshipping porcelain Gods. How could she pray to them so
faithfully and expect pieces of ceramic to fly to her aid? But her daughter had her own gods too, idols of
wealth, success and power that she was enslaved to and worshipped every day of her life. Every day was a quest for the idols, and the idols she worshipped counted for nothing in eternity. All the wants her daughter had would slowly suck the life out of her and leave her, an empty soulless shell at the altar.

The old lady watched her joss tick. The dull heat had left a teetering grey stem that was on the danger of collapsing. Modern woman nowadays, the old lady sighed in resignation, as she bowed to the east one final time to end her ritual. Modern woman nowadays want so much that they lose their souls and wonder why they cannot find it.

Her joss stick disintegrated into a soft grey powder. She met her daughter outside the temple, the same look
of worry and frustration was etched on her daughter's face. An empty expression, as if she was ploughing
through the soil of her wants looking for the one thing that would sow the seeds of happiness. They climbed into the convertible in silence and her daughter drove along the highway, this time not as fast as she had done before.

'Ma,' Bee Choo finally said. 'I don't know how to put this. Mark and I have been talking about it and we
plan to move out of the big house. The property market is good now, and we managed to get a buyer willing to
pay seven million for it. We decided we'd prefer a cosier penthouse apartment instead. We found a perfect
one in Orchard Road . Once we move in to our apartment we plan to get rid of the maid, so we can have more
space to ourselves...'

The old woman nodded knowingly.

Bee Choo swallowed hard. 'We'd get someone to come in to do the housework and we can eat out-but once the maid is gone, there won't be anyone to look after you. You will be awfully lonely at home and, besides that,

the apartment is rather small. There won't be space. We thought about it for a long time, and we decided
the best thing for you is if you moved to a Home. There's one near Hougang-it's a Christian home, a very
nice one.'

The old woman did not raise an eyebrow.

'I've been there, the matron is willing to take you in. It's beautiful with gardens and lots of old people to keep you company! I hardly have time for you, you'd be happier there.' 'You'd be happier there, really.' Her daughter repeated as if to affirm herself.

This time the old woman had no plastic bag of food offerings to cling tightly to; she bit her lip and
fastened her seat belt, as if it would protect her from a daughter who did not want her anymore. She sunk
deep into the leather seat, letting her shoulders sag, and her fingers trace the white seat.

'Ma?' her daughter asked, searching the rear view window for her mother. 'Is everything okay?'

What had to be done, had to be done. 'Yes,' she said firmly, louder than she intended, 'if it will make you
happy,' she added more quietly.

'It's for you, Ma! You'll be happier there. You can move there tomorrow, I already got the maid to pack
your things.' Elaine said triumphantly, mentally ticking yet another item off her agenda.

'I knew everything would be fine.' Elaine smiled widely; she felt liberated. Perhaps getting rid of her mother would make her happier. She had thought about it. It seemed the only hindrance in her pursuit of happiness. She was happy now. She had everything a modern woman ever wanted; Money, Status, Career, Love, Power and now, Freedom, without her mother and her old-fashioned ways to weigh her down... Yes, she was free. Her phone buzzed urgently, she picked it up and read the message, still beaming from ear to ear. 'Stocks 10% increase!'

Yes, things were definitely beginning to look up for her...

And while searching for the meaning of life in the luminance of her hand phone screen, the old woman in
the backseat became invisible, and she did not see the tears.


dougie said...

at 15 years is very beautifully written,
but leaves one thinking of the maxim: children can be so cruel

Stefi said...

Wow! Very well written.

Anonymous said...

wow!!! Powerful stuff. Amazing insights of a 15 year old.

I couldnt get pass half way of the other story of the married couple. Now that's powerfully boring!


Nightwing said...

Hello dougie, Welcome to my crib. Yes, agree some times children can be like that. Thanks for popping in.

Nightwing said...

Hi stefi,

Ya, well written indeed. Thanks for popping in. You have a good weekend ahead.

Puteri said...

Wow, a 15 year old wrote that?! I don't remember what I wrote when I was 15. Nothing quite like that that's for sure!

Nightwing said...

Hi there Puteri,

hehe...ya, don;t think i wrote like that too.

Michelle said...

Very interesting. How do you get the aricle?

winniethepooh said...

i throughly enjoyed the story, the details, the conversation, the tot is indeed a very well written piece of work by Amanda..
well done

Nightwing said...

Helo Michelle,

Got the article from a friend through email. Its a good article and the child was really smart to able to write like that.

Glad you like the article. Some times children when they get older, tend to forget the hardship parents went through in bringing them up.

This article is really a wake up call for children vs parents mentality. Must have a sense of give and take for both sides.

U.Lee said...

Hello Nightwing, read both your interesting, quite provocative articles to my mind.
I am impressed by 15 year old Amanda's essay. Yes, Singapore has certainly produced very talented youngsters...we have read about them here too.
Re your other article, re marraige or 'Dew'...I have seen that quite a few times in the past, some went thru, a few did a U turn last minute.
But sometimes we have to look at both sides of the story, only two hands can clap, so to speak.
Thru the years, even today, I have seen young couples, some friends marrying and within 8 months, one or the other forgot why they married.
I presently have a young friend, he married this Asian girl, I think any man in his right sense even be she the only girl left on this planet or on an Island will not go 50 feet of her. Well, inspite of all of us, his parents included tried to shake some senses into his thick and blurred head, he married her.
And today...he is paying for it. He is experiencing a curfew, must be home by 6.30pm, no going out alone, does all the laundry, housework, cooking, marketing, you name it. And she? Mahjong and mall outings with her friends in his car and spending his money like no tomorrow. His salary is under her control. she gives him an allowance.
Even the house he bought has been signed over 100% to her.
And on two occasions, I spotted her in the arms of another man at a mall...but being a believer in the 3 monkeys, I quickly disappeared before she could see me.
Love is blind they say...UL.

Nightwing said...

Helo Uncle Lee, thanks for popping in....hope the Jack Daniels were sufficient...:)

Ya, Amanda's story really amazing. Really a reminder of how we should treat our parents.

Wow...really pity your young friend. Can he do anything about it?

I mean for him is like Hell on earth. I hope he will do something before too late.

Ya, Love is blind, even reminders from u and parents, he still went for it...sigh..

Take care now Uncle Lee. Have a good week.