by mandaceehb

I am my mother’s daughter; I am my father’s child. It is the first thing I am, long before they gave me a name and gave the world something to recall me by; it is a part of my identity that will never change. I see their reflections in the mirror and their flaws in every glass pane: eyebrows, eyes, nose, ears and lips that are my doors to the world but were the doors to theirs before me. Narrow shoulders, legs inclined inwards below the knees, large long nails. The comments every chinese new year are almost invariably: ‘you look just like your mum; your sis looks like your dad.’

I see haphazard snippets of them in what I do: mum in the strange way I twist my noodles with chopsticks into neat bundles, dad in the cups of 3-in-1 white coffee that I predict will one day become part of my daily routine. I guess we grow up with their habits which mould us one day into people like who they are. If someone who knows my parents catches me eating one day, would he or she say: ‘your mum eats her noodles in exactly the same way’?

My second identity is the one the world impresses upon me, something as fluid as runny glue and rigid as it is when it fixes objects in place. It is part of me that is already formed yet still growing and ever-changing. I am the collection of how I sense the world: attraction to prints and tender melodies tripping over poetry-lyrics, warm breath of bakeries and the indescribable smell of old books, aversion to vegetables and vaguely familiar faces in crowds, the occasional adventurous streak in food choices, the desire to lose myself in something as small as beautifully-placed words and large as the majesty of nature. I am clay which everyone who has entered, left or stayed made their mark upon. Every compliment and insult and affectionate gesture, every conversation and experience and moment, every dream broken and given a chance, every shove towards a goal, for better or for worse, has formed me. And still, I am always in a chrysalis.

I guess the last part of my identity is something I don’t know. How do you differentiate between what you are and what you perceive yourself as? Maybe a different me lies underneath all the social concealments that I haven’t yet probed, deep feelings that haven’t yet arisen. Maybe the need has never surfaced for us to come to a conclusion about who we really are, because society accepts our identity as our friends, grades, wealth, health, mistakes, achievements. All these are ‘what’ we are, not ‘who’. I don’t understand myself fully either.