A Familiar Wilderness

Immigration is the hot word nowadays and this personal project was my way of tracing back my own roots and identity.

My maternal great-grandfather was a riskshaw puller that came to Singapore all the way from China in the 1900s. When the Japanese came and started targeting the Chinese community, he gave away his daughter, who was my grandmother, to be raised by a Malay family for her own safety. 24 years ago, my mother lost her birth certificate when we were moving houses. Together with the document, her real Chinese name was also lost forever. So for as long as I could remember, we only called her by the Malay name that was given to her by the family who adopted her. It felt like a part of our history, a part of my identity, was lost together with the birth certificate. So much was embedded into those letters that made up into her name.


My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, fled to Singapore from Malaysia after divorcing her husband in the 1930s and also to seek refuge from the oncoming Japanese troops during the war. She raised her four children all on her own during and after the difficult Japanese occupation.
It wasn't easy to get any information about our family history out of her though. For her, the past is often associated with the pain that she had to endure as a result of the divorce in a challenging period for the country. Very rarely would she speak about our home or the estranged family ties in Malaysia. And today, my father, the eldest of the four children and the only one with living memory of life across the border, is the sole gatekeeper of all those stories. But just like his mother, he, too, would like to bury away the pain right where it belongs - in the past.


So whenever I return to Malaysia, I always felt a strange connection to the land. Half of it was filled with thoughts that I could have been raised here if it wasn't for a single twist in fate. But even if there is a small part of home that still lingers here, it only existed a long time back, too far away in the past for me to rekindle any sense of belonging to it. So despite still having some familiarity left in me towards this land, it all feels like a complete wilderness at the end of the day.
And the photographs from this series aim to show just that. The longing for what had been lost. The emptiness from what could never be returned again. Hopefully it could also serve as a closure for the long search of my own distant past.