When I came to the United States from Singapore for the first time in kindergarten, I learnt about castles. I thought they were really cool. I wanted a castle, and it became this deep-seated desire, except as I grew into first and second grades and picked up books on electricity, AC generators, chemistry and robots, my conception transformed it into this high-tech castle, with tons of robots.
This castle would always have secret passages. I was fascinated with secret passages. Trap doors. I instinctively hated being imprisoned in any kind of simple room with four walls and any time I saw a secret passage or a secret door I thought it was really cool. More than cool. I was deeply fascinated.
My father was a software engineer and at the age of 12 he managed to assemble UNIX machines from spare parts on a rural duck farm north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “Your father is very smart,” my mom said, but my father was always making fun of my ideas and calling them stupid.
From an old discarded book at a clearance sale, I learnt a simple idea: robots can make more robots, which in turn can produce more robots of their own. And so at the age of 7, I had a dream: one day, I would design a single robot, that would be the predecessor to an entire army of all these other robots. These robots would build my electrically-powered, futuristic castle, and there my family would live forever happily ever after. The end.
To do so, I had to study physics. Chemistry. Biology: because the core principle of robots making robots is embodied in the idea of cells making more cells, and in ninth grade I became fascinated with the complex machinery underlying all living things, and a core motif became apparent to me. It was like all living things had sprung up from this one ancestral robot but had bloomed into a huge castle of life!
In senior year, I never studied for AP Biology because I hated review sheets (they never framed the core ideas in a compelling manner) and I was struggling with so many other issues at home. Nevertheless I was unpopular and didn’t have many friends in that class because I always got the top score and “broke the curve”. Dorothea Crowley, the valedictorian of my class, once remarked — “how do you do it? it must be because you’re Asian.”
You probably don’t even remember this comment at all Dorothea Crowley. it fucking hurt. it made me want to cry.
My mom at one point some years back, asked me, “what happened to the castle you wanted to build for your sister and me?” as though I had forgotten. In a way, I had forgotten. My mom, you see, is an architect: she designs houses, buildings, ships, things with walls, and it is a cruel irony that her very own house that she designed and poured love into should have been taken away by a man she thought loved her, all out of pure spite and malice.
But the castle I want to build now mom, won’t be defined by the constraints of physical walls. it will be all-encompassing and I want its domain to be far and wide. for secret passages, I want to build interdisciplinary, intercultural, intersectional connections where I can find other children trapped and imprisoned in horrible rooms and perhaps one day solve the problem of #trauma.