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UNSAID | Esther Chnioh
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Esther Chnioh

02 Apr Esther Chnioh

As part of her job, she used to lug heavy parcels for delivery around the island. Sometimes, she has to deal with rowdy people along the way. But ask Esther Chnioh about the difficulties of being a courier, and she reassures you that it’s really “all okay lah”.

Esther shared with UNSAID, that this tenacity traces all the way back to her childhood, when she helped to provide for her three younger siblings – two brothers and a sister, after her father passed away in a freak accident. Now with two sons and approaching 50, Esther tells us about her formative years as a young girl growing up in Singapore.

Esther

ONE STORY ABOUT GROWING UP IN SINGAPORE

One of the boys

My father always believed that the eldest child in the family should be a male. I played a lot with “boyish” toys. When I was really young, I would cycle from Jalan Besar to Changi. You don’t see girls cycling a lot in the late 70s., but I feel like I can do whatever the boys can do too!

esther2

THREE CHALLENGES ESTHER FACED…
...AND THREE REFLECTIONS, LOOKING BACK

1. A sense of solitude

With my dad around, I must say that we felt very secure. But for me, it was kind of lonely. We couldn’t narrate a lot of our feelings to our parents, and mostly kept to ourselves — our generation was like that.

1. Times have really changed for young women

How women open themselves up to the world is very different already. Sometimes, young women, their openness leaves me in awe. They are more daring to pursue what they like, which in my time, I couldn’t. I did not dare.

2. Stepping up after Dad’s passing

When my dad passed away, I was only 18. It was really tough. I had to help bring in money and put food on the table. At that time my younger brother was still serving National Service, so I had to run my late father’s male-dominated car accessory workshop. It had to be me, because I was available and the eldest in the family. The rest were really very young, still in primary school, so I had to take on the responsibility of handling most things.

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Esther, second from the left in the first row, celebrating a birthday in the big family.

2. But traditional advice still holds water

M​y old 校 (school principal) used to say, “女人一定要出得了厅堂,的了厨房”’, which means that a woman must be able to present herself nicely outside the dining area, while still performing well in the kitchen. In Chinese culture, you don’t just marry a loved one, you marry into the family. So to me, to meet everyone’s needs, you need to expand your horizons, so that you can communicate well and understand others.

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A treasured portrait of Esther as a young girl.

3. Personal safety limits me as a female

As a woman, I couldn’t travel to many places. I could only go somewhere that is “safe” and that gave me a sense of security. Other than that, I wouldn’t go, no matter how much I wanted to.

3. Ultimately, there is no single definition of womanhood

There were a few stages in life which I felt defined me as a woman. When I was a teen and my menses came, I felt that I was a woman. After that, it came with the feeling of being in love and getting married. And then of course, being a mother made me feel like a woman as well.      

WHAT BEING HAPPY MEANS TO ESTHER

Hindsight is 20/20 but embrace your past nonetheless

There were many choices I made in my past. There’s no specific one that made who I am but I must say that all my decisions add up to what I am now. I have no regrets. In fact, I utterly enjoy my life now.

Post by Sharanya Pillai

 

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