Of Ghosts and Home

A mon gate entrance to Singapore's Haw Par Villa park


I’m Wen-yi, the new marketing assistant intern here at Ethos!

The past few months have been an experience in coming home. I returned to Singapore after three years studying overseas—a fresh pandemic graduate with no idea what I’m really supposed to be doing now.

There’s something a bit surreal about settling back into a childhood home after a long time away. A strange recalibration where everything sort of feels too familiar and utterly distant all at once, and the interceding years I spent growing outside this house—and this city—hanging awkwardly like leftover souvenirs, brought home on impulse only to realise you’re not quite sure where in your room to put it.

Home shifts and changes. But I think you tend to particularly grasp onto it when you’re away from it for some time, looking for a concrete vision to hold on to. Distance makes the heart, et cetera. But also: distance is a new perspective, looks at something old from an entirely new angle. While I was away, I became incredibly interested in local folklore. I had a very un-superstitious upbringing, but overnight ghosts became my brand and I became fascinated with Haw Par Villa. I became much more curious about pockets of Singapore’s history—particularly the iconoclastic and the slightly fantastical—and the composition of its landscape—the sites that once lurked where the city now rises, the swathes of jungle that could still hold the unknown. Admittedly, I tend to romanticise settings by projecting secrets into them.

At the same time, I started looking for more literature that fell into this intersection of familiar but speculative. I was always a mythology kid (I was a diehard Percy Jackson fan), but my tastes started trending less Athena and more Pontianak. One of my new loves became Zen Cho’s Spirits Abroad, a spooky love letter to Chinese ghosts and hantu from a Malaysian based in London, which I read sitting in a beanbag in my bedroom just off Covent Garden.

I came home a few months ago to find a city getting better and then—rapidly—becoming uncertain all over again, and in these times it does feel like it’s hard to find sure footing in reality. But small certainties: I’m now here at Ethos, surrounded by books grounded in the local and delving more into the stories that make Singapore Singapore. I’m so excited to be with everyone for the next few months; for now, I guess this is home. I hope you always have yours!

With love,

(From September 25, 2021)

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