My extended family established itself in different locales five times. My father’s ancestors migrated from Canton, China and settled in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaya. Later on, my paternal grandfather moved his family from KL to Houston, Texas. My mother’s ancestors were firmly established in Seoul, South Korea. But my maternal grandfather would eventually shift his family to Hong Kong. Years after, my parents met when they were working in New York, got married, and had me. When I was a year old, we moved to Singapore. My parents had two more sons and we have lived with the weight of all these migrations as a family, ever since.- Jonathan Chan

The following poem was first published in the poetry collection going home. (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2022)

“He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed
for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.”  - Psalm 126:6 (ESV)

Seoul, 1418

there are quiet miracles
along this river. words
are beginning to take shape,
the stars are beginning to
realign, letters will nourish
the soil. but these circular walls
will not always hold, roaring
currents will stir under
silk folds and the roots
of this tree will dig
not only deep,
but wide.

Canton | Kuala Lumpur, 1900

these junks come
bearing open hands
and barren tongues,
taking to textures of
pencilled reports
and dusted tracks.
home takes the
shape of new mouthfuls
and the tingle of belacan,
the cool of oil palms
and humid gospel halls.
but unspoken murmurs
cannot stay ignored
for long. over waters
they came and over
waters they will go.

Seoul | Hong Kong, 1969

there is refuge amidst
towering green hills. the
trails cross from peninsula
to port, bereft of visions
of squalid cells. there are
echoes in local print and
communal lyrics; the
cacophony of this home
has a neon gleam. for
theirs is a world of disco
lights and wantan min,
bayside walks and the
foamy sea, heels clutched
from anxious feet.

Kuala Lumpur | Houston, 1981

they say these streets
were paved with aspiration.
the ranches are far from
our cul-de-sac. at church
the peace shows who
arrived first. dusty staircases
nestle an ornamental clock.
the angklung rests beside the
piano and the swords above
the organ. turkey bones salt
the jook and the stuffing is
full of lapchung. these are
burritos not popiah, skewers
not satay, but at least our
names can remain
the same.

New York | Singapore, 1997

marriage was an episcopal
church in a concrete borough,
imagined in faded photos
on a living room cupboard. in
traded cityscapes emerge
questions of what it means
to taste perennial unease. for
there is no continuity in
sweat-stained uniforms, in
red-scratched booklets and
stripe-smeared faces.
automated welcomes ring
hollow, but the newscasters
who bow and the billowing
smoke and the whispers
good night let me know
that i’m home.

Jonathan Chan is a writer and editor of poems and essays. He received a BA in English from Cambridge and an MA in East Asian Studies from Yale. More of his writing can be found at

Read Jonathan's first essay for Jom, A brief history of Koreans in Singapore”.

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