Since becoming a mother four years ago, Chong has struggled between spending more time with her son and writing, and with her multiple identities as a mother, a wife and a daughter-in-law.
When Varsity visits Chong’s home, her son’s toys and paintings are everywhere – on her bookshelves, on top of her work desk. Although everything is organised tidily, it is a clear indication to her that family life has encroached on her long-held private space and freedom. “A lot of things are not as free as before,” she says.
For the past few years, she has been navigating the spaces and compromises needed to find the space to write in within this new order. She wondered whether she should be writing overnight or while her son is at school. Soon she discovered she was too old or too tired to write during the early hours, once her favourite period for writing. Now, she has to wake early to send her son to school.
Chong often finds herself criticising her son when is busy and frustrated: “Why can’t you eat faster? How could you eat like a mess? Why do you throw up when eating?” Then she feels bad about her impatience, thinking she has set a bad example for her son.
The daily demands go beyond being a mother. “Handing in the bills, taking care of the family. . . When my mum’s computer is broken, I have to fix it, when my mother-in-law wants me to visit her I have to squeeze out a time slot and think about how to make arrangements for my son.
“I don’t actually like doing these things, I could easily feel annoyed. I dislike being troubled by trivial matters. I merely want to sit down and think.”
It seems a woman’s work is never done, but Chong is stoical about her chores. “It all comes as a package. There are both pains and pleasures.”
One morning, after she had been working through the night, Chong’s son left a picture on her desk – a drawing he had made of his mother working. The drawing is now stuck above her desk to constantly remind her of her son’s tender encouragement.
Apart from family support, the theatre and drama itself are the incentives for her work. Chong says art is forceful in many ways. “It has the power to motivate you, share with you, comfort you and give you wisdom,” she says.
Chong wants to share this power with others. Watching her dramas, the audience may not feel instant happiness. Instead, they are often depressed by the serious elements in the dramas – plays like The French Kiss provoke the audience to examine their souls. This is painful.
Yet, Chong believes people will finally find more long-lasting satisfaction as long as they are honest with themselves. “We want to create happiness that is deep and far-reaching,” she says.
Edited by Thee Lui