Self Caricature


For the benefit of all, most of all myself, I’ve framed this introductory narrative in an ingenious interview style. Enjoy.

So where is home for you?

All of us have a question that we hate being asked, an interrogative bête noire – this one’s mine. The short answer? I was born and grew up in Britain to Malaysian parents. But if you took a blood sample from me, you’d find sizable chunks of Singapore, Hong Kong and southern China, and the Austro-Indonesian archipelagos co-mixed like a bad sangria. I pay intellectual homage to that sociological school of thought that holds identities as malleable, play-doh-like constructs, but this obviously doesn’t suffice as an answer when crossing national frontiers or applying for public services. So legally, Britain and Malaysia would satisfy most “home” criteria, though idiosyncratically, I’m probably way more Uruguayan or Tahitian – take your pick.

That was hard. Where have you lived then?

Ah, now a question that I love! I’ve itinerated between Britain, Malaysia, Australia and the United States. In Britain, I’ve lived in Manchester, London, Milton Keynes and Nottingham. In Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. In Australia, Perth, and in the United States, New York. Between them, I’ve also spent time in Geneva (Switzerland) and Washington, D.C.. New York remains the one place that I can keep returning to seek both solace and mad action – in an ironic, postmodern sort of way.

And now you live in…?

New York. I’m a Master of International Affairs candidate at Columbia University, trying to get a fancy scroll written in Latin that will, so I’ve been told, cannonball me into a snazzy career in post-conflict development.

Ah, a student.

Yes, when I’m not working. I’m currently also an intern at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). From 2014, I will be interning in the section of the UN’s Department of Political Affairs that deals with genocide.

And what did you do before all of this?

Before coming to Columbia I had been a political and economic analyst at the Australian foreign ministry, a political affairs trainee at the European Commission’s External Action Service and a consular officer at the British foreign ministry. In addition to getting a regular wage which I no longer do as a crummy student, I visited a Southeast Asian prison, sat in a free trade agreement negotiation round, went into the belly of the Pentagon complex in Arlington, wrote for an Israeli newspaper and met the President of the International Criminal Court. On the academic front, I got a law degree at Nottingham University in Britain, and did shorter programs at the George Washington University in D.C., Columbia in New York, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Affairs in Geneva.

You sound like a spy. Are you a spy?

That’s too grandiose and anachronistic an inference (not to mention way above my past pay scales), but sure, why not.

You used a French word up there. Presumably, you know some French.

Oui, je l’ai appris depuis le lycée, et tandis que je peut lire bien, ma capacité pour conversation est encore moins que parfait. Je le vise de fixer pendant que je suis à Columbia.

Anything else that you speak?

Я тоже говорю немного по-русский. Смотрите на выше части “The student of Russian”.

You’re coming across as a cosmopolitan yuppie. Are you gearing for a career at the UN or something?

There are many pathways into conflict-related development, the UN being just one of them. I had a (premature, admittedly) shot last year of becoming a staffer when I was called up to take the UN’s entrance exam, the YPP. But with a 0.9% passing rate and a bell curve that would make a statistician hurl, that route was never a realistic one from the get-go. At the moment, I’m actively exploring several options.

What issues oil your gears?

Economic and political development in dormant conflict, and post-conflict, contexts. Unlike traditional development theory, I’m interested in the way identity (in other words, ethnicities, religious factionalism and nationalities) acts as an inhibitor or facilitator to growth, and how development can be tailored to the specific needs and realities of different regions. An important part of this is conflict prevention: identifying the factors that shape inter-group animosities, the factors that trigger actual violent conflict, and the socio-economic policies that can be quickly installed to provide short-term blocks against open conflict.

Xie xie ni for your time.

Wait, who are you anyway…?