Soon, you'll be seeing orchids everywhere

Painting of people on a pavilion being flooded by roses
The Roses of Heliogabalus, Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1888)


Dear Reader,

Since reading the first draft of Zining’s kaleidoscopic book on the Vanda Miss Joaquim, I’ve been seeing orchids everywhere.

In her patio, my grandmother tends to her potted phalaenopsis, gifts delivered to her by my aunt to make her feel less lonely during the circuit breaker. At my best friend’s house, where I’ve cat-sat multiple times, I see the wiry roots of her dormant dendrobium sitting on a shelf.

“I didn’t know you grew orchids!” I say. “I’ve had this for over a year,” she replies.

I find a bottle of sweet orchid body lotion on my dresser, a gift I've never opened. At the supermarket, I walk past a rack stocked with cans of limited edition orchid-infused beer. In a café where Zining and I are having coffee, we notice on the shelf next to us, a tin of whole-leaf tea: a special Singapore blend called Orchid Fruity.

While coming up an escalator at Bugis Junction, an ahma in a purple pantsuit pulls a red marketing trolley behind her. In the trolley sits a pot of orchids, inflorescence tall, sepals and lips swaying as its caretaker drags it away. As I’m stepping off the escalator, the orchids glide across my path like a haunting. I feel the gaze of its many eyes transfixed on me.

To read and to grow The Orchid Folios with Zining, and with dear friend and mentor Divya Victor, has been an exercise in seeing. Seeing beneath the veneer of beauty, exoticism, commodification, beneath the embellishments of the “City in the Garden”. Realising how the narratives of success, progress—“Singapore exceptionalism”—we’ve been fed in school has prevented us from cultivating different ways of being and moving in the world.

I hope that once you see what’s been hidden, you’ll start looking for it everywhere too.


(From October 10, 2020)