Tinoq Russell Goh

I was mocked for being different.

Growing up in adverse conditions has taught me to be a resilient person and I have learnt how to view the world differently. I have chosen to be positive and count my blessings in life.

Being a mixed race child in the 60s was tough – my mum is Chinese and my dad Indian. It also didn’t help that I would rather play with dolls than guns. I didn’t play soccer with the boys in the kampong either.

I was mocked for being different. In school, I was made fun of and bullied by my peers and teachers. I think I’m dyslexic, and for me to learn something then, I had to learn it 30 to 40 times. They were neither kind nor patient with me. I had other siblings who always got into trouble and I was the one who bailed them out.

Being the youngest in a family of eight children I felt that my mother never had time for me and I was left to be looked after by other people. My sister who is the seventh in the family would call me names whenever she saw me playing with my dolls and it didn’t help that she was the darling of the family.

The bullying did not stop there it even spilled out onto the playground in the kampong I lived in. One day a group of kids got a string of firecrackers and they wrapped it around me and decided it was okay to light it up.

That was just plain cruel.

Nobody stood up for me and no one defended me.

I used to be very afraid all the time. They called me hurtful names such as pondan or ah gua. I spent many nights crying and wishing that I would not wake up the next day. My initial thought was to run away.

I became very rebellious when I was 18. Before I went to National Service, I decided to change and stand up for myself. When I was younger, I had to do the laundry and prepare dinner straight after school. But I grew so tired of being whacked, slapped, made fun of, and not having anyone fend for me. So at 18, I finally decided that enough was enough – it was an epiphany moment.

It was then that I decided to look out for myself -- I’m entitled to smile when I want to; I’m entitled to laugh when I want to; I’m entitled to cry when I want to.

The bright spark that saved me was the love showered on me by my paternal grandparents. It was because of them that I later learned to love again and became close to my mother as she accepted my alternative lifestyle.

I am an adult now and have learned to distance myself from all the bullies of this world. I HATE bullies and I will always stand up for anyone whom I see being bullied, whether it’s at the workplace or anywhere.

I choose not to allow these incidents from my past taint my perception of the world and its people. I chose to become a makeup artist to help others become even more beautiful than they are. I love that I can amplify everyone’s inner beauty with simple strokes of the makeup brush. I love that with the application of some colour to the cheek, a rosy liveliness can be brought back to a person’s face.

I also love to cook for my loved ones to show my appreciation to them, for their support. Cooking has helped me get through tough times. It is through such meals that I am able to show my appreciation for them and let them know that they keep me grounded and help me stay humble. I genuinely feel such a keen sense of joy when the people around me break out into wide smiles from enjoying my lovingly prepared food.

I still struggle from time to time to get through the painful experiences I’d been through, and sometimes at the oddest moments – those incidents suddenly pop up in my mind and affect me in ways that I would never imagine could happen. In those times, I try my best to deal with it by taking some time to myself. I take a taxi to the busy bustling streets of Chinatown and walk, taking in the liveliness and the cheer of others walking along the street with me – living their lives.

I don’t believe that blood is thicker than water. My friends have been my family; my partners, my good friends have been there for me, not my kin, but the friends around me who have been my pillars. They are the ones who cheer me up when I am down. They are the ones who bring out the positivity in me. It is difficult at times, but I still choose to focus on the positivity in my life and be the best I can be through spreading beauty and happiness to the people around me.

Photo by Jasper Yu
Tinoq Russell Goh