In Two Worlds


Chapter 1

Today is Thingyan in Myanmar. Phyu Phyu wanted her mother to tell her about all the festivities she had seen on Facebook. Water puddles littering streets and pavements, people of all backgrounds drenched in not just water, but the hope of a blessed new year for their country, for their home. 

Phyu Phyu came home from school. Her mother didn’t say anything, so she beelined for her room. She peered outside her second storey window. 

Two little boys pranced around at the neighbourhood playground. Their parents watched, and they seemed to be cousins, from the occasional “biao ge! she heard amidst their lighthearted insults and yelling.

“Tomorrow got school, ah?” one of them asked.

“Obviously lah. You stupid or what?” the other mocked, chasing each other in circles around the playground.

In Myanmar, there wouldn’t be school the next day. She remembered Thingyan the previous year. She remembered bickering with her cousins, her subpar Burmese the target of their jokes. She remembered the disruptive laughter they shared in public as their parents glared disapprovingly.

But this year was different. She was in Primary 6 this year, and the upcoming PSLE only inched closer and closer. So her family had decided in December that they wouldn’t go back for Thingyan. And even if they went back, there would be nowhere to rest. Water was still splashed on the streets, but it was to disperse knees buried into the ground, kneeling into the sunburnt ground. To silence strained arms that bore the weight of not just signs, but pleas of desperation. The opposite of what Thingyan ever stood for. 

It wasn’t Thingyan in Singapore. But it wasn’t Thingyan in Myanmar either.


Tat tar, thamee!” Phyu Phyu’s mother waved to Phyu Phyu.

200 days until PSLE.

Phyu Phyu missed Myanmar. It had been almost five months since she visited, since the December holidays. It was her yearly trip. She missed the winter there. There wasn’t any snow, but it was cold enough to be felt. Cold enough to feel different from Singapore. Sometimes, she would feel her fingers numb as her Singaporean skin refused to adapt to the new climate. It was a gradual numbness that encapsulated her whole body till any feeling was gone.

But in Singapore, she felt everything. 

As she left for school, she felt her backpack’s weight shrink her shoulders, softening her posture. She felt her feet gasping for air in the shoes she had grown out of. She felt the weight of her thick bobbed hair on her neck. Every morning was heavy. Especially that morning.

Her mind trailed back to the mathematics test she had taken the previous day. She couldn’t answer one of the questions. She remembered the glaring white blankness of the page that pierced through her, like an icicle from the depths of winter. She remembered the tears welling in her eyes, a stinging warmth settling into droplets. Beyond the threat of the blank page lay that of the red pen. How in the crimson ink and the sharp, sword-like tip, the joy of her day was decided.

When she reached school exactly 15 minutes early, she set her bag down with a thump. She flipped open her mathematics assessment book. Her mother had bought it for her from Popular at a discount. She dog-eared the pages meant for Phyu Phyu to do. The brick-like book was bought a few weeks ago and already half done. 

“I never do the homework, sia,” Phyu Phyu heard someone moping as her classmates streamed in.

Phyu Phyu enjoyed the cacophony of her class. There was not a single second empty as their conversations floated in the air. But that day, all she wanted was the scores for the test, and it could be seen through the trembling of her hands, like a leaf in whirling wind.

“Alright, class, as you know, you had a graded mathematics test yesterday. The class did below what my expectations were. I hope we can take this test as a learning experience and use it to better ourselves in future assessments, okay?” said her teacher, Miss Tan. The weight of her words hung in the air, the atmosphere thick and unmoving.

“But, as always, we have a consistent top scorer. Phyu Phyu!” Miss Tan announced, clapping and signalling for the class to do so as well. The claps were dispersed and almost soft, like all of them were clapping at the same, slightly slowed tempo; a dreary unison.

As Miss Tan walked to her desk and placed her paper, all the sound around Phyu Phyu began to drown out. Like a scratched vinyl record, spinning and spinning and spinning but muffled and warped. All the talking around her went soft gradually, the constant throbbing of her heart echoing in her own ears. The redness of the ink was like blood of her own splattered across the page, the singular cross blinding her vision. This was an easy paper and yet, she still got a question wrong.

Erica walked towards Phyu Phyu’s seat, a spring in her step.

“Eh, Bai Bai, my best friend! What’s your score?” Erica chirped, slapping Phyu Phyu playfully on the back. Phyu Phyu didn’t respond.

“Eh, please leh, won’t die if you say right?” Erica pried. Phyu Phyu felt the eyes scattered across the room gather onto her. She gave in.

“95,” she sighed.

“Wow! So smart, lah! Eh, but your country got that festival Yanthing or Thingyan right? How to revise if you’re celebrating sia,” Erica chuckled, her voice fading as she walked back to her seat.

Phyu Phyu sat in silence after Erica left, zoning out as Miss Tan went through questions for the rest of the lesson.


Phyu Phyu took the lift up to her home’s level. Behind her, a family entered, their only child around 10 years old. 

“School tiring, right?” the mother asked, trying to strike up a conversation. Phyu Phyu nodded in response.

“You P6 right? What school are you going to?” the father continued.

“I want to make it to Raffles,” Phyu Phyu replied.

They exchanged glances, looking Phyu Phyu up and down, eyes darting around every feature of hers and her name tag as if she was a creature they had never before seen. They muttered a small “Good luck,” unenthusiastically. Phyu Phyu thanked them, not holding the door when they exited.

Then, she arrived at her level and exited the lift. She walked to her door, taking off her shoes and dashing to her bedroom, plopping down into the comfort of her soft abode of a bed. 

Her rest was short as she got up immediately afterwards to complete her homework. Then, she heard the front door creak open. Phyu Phyu went to check on who it could be– her mother, of course. 

Haymar had just come back from work. There were burns on her hands from the fryers at the fast food restaurant.

“How school today?” her mother asked, entering the home.

“Not bad,” Phyu Phyu said.

“Your math score here yet?” Haymar asked.

“Uh, not yet,” Phyu Phyu hesitated.

Phyu Phyu looked at her mother. The dark, abyss-like bags that framed her half-open eyes, her paper-thin skin, her calloused burned hands; her mother that looked like this every night. She looked at the shell of a person that stood before her. She knew not saying anything would be better for the both of them.

Phyu Phyu returned to her room. She flipped open that same thick mathematics assessment book. She drilled each question into her mind; every format and number and calculation that could ever be. She wouldn’t, no, couldn’t forgive herself for any mistake she had made. For all she knew, those marks could be the distinction between her dream school and ending up in an undesirable environment. Her mother had ingrained it in her head for as long as she could remember; work twice as hard as everyone else. Because her effort would only be recognised when she was unbeatable, not when she was second, or third or just above average.

She heard the door open. It was her father, Thiha. He was always the one that came home the latest at around 9. Phyu Phyu realised how much time had elapsed already since she got home. Soon after the door creaked closed, she heard his footsteps closer towards her room.

“Thamee lay, working hard?” Thiha said, patting Phyu Phyu on the back. She flinched when he did so, his touch unintentionally mimicking that of Erica’s. Then she nodded, unresponsive and still focused on the work in front of her.

“You and your mother are the same, both really need to learn how to rest,” he joked, exiting Phyu Phyu’s room. 

Rest, her father said. As if it was as breezy and easy as it seemed. Of course she wanted to rest. But for the next 200 days, there would be not one thing on her mind other than her studies. She had promised herself that, especially after her mathematics results.

Phyu Phyu wanted to ask her parents if they had any drinks at home to accompany her while she studied through the night. When she was right outside the door, she heard their voices slightly trembling.

“This video from Yangon, right?” her mother asked.

“Thiha, you sure everything okay? Our family, everyone in Yangon,” her mother was muffled.

“I am sure it will be okay, it will be figured out soon. Just don’t think so much, okay?” Thiha reassured, wrapping his arms around her.

Phyu Phyu pressed her ears against the wood. She flinched hearing the video they were watching. She knew it was a video of the coup from the cries for help, the distinct pronunciation of her language in desperation. The cocking of a gun, the fleeting screech of the bullet as it fired from the hands of military men meant to protect. She felt it in her chest; the heavy nausea, her lungs swelling like a bee’s dying meal, like she was the civilian in the video, like she was back in Myanmar. Because she was, because her mind was transient, an oscillation of emotion from country to country.

She wanted to open the door. She wanted to sit down with her parents and talk to them about how much she missed her country. How she hadn’t visited in months. She missed the life there she hadn’t seen since 2019. While her life was contained in a tiny flat and cramped subways, her heart was stuck with the straw huts back and rickshaws back home. She hadn’t gotten a break from the constant noise of the city, silence a privilege she never cherished enough. But she knew reminiscence was the last thing her mind needed. Her life wouldn’t– couldn’t continue in Myanmar, not when her parents had left behind the comfort of familiarity and all of their family all for her. Myanmar was temporary, and Singapore would be here forever. She had to excel for everyone back home.

Phyu Phyu walked back into her room, sitting down and picking up her pen once more. Right as she did so, Haymar walked into her room. It was a hard, rigid kind of walk. There was still a glistening in her eyes, the scratchiness in her voice almost semblent of the weeping Phyu Phyu had heard earlier.

“I know your math result. I saw on parents’ portal,” Haymar blurted.

Phyu Phyu felt her hand freeze, movement now a forgotten skill. 

“95. Not bad, but not full marks. Why?” Haymar asked, her voice monotone.

“Careless,”  Phyu Phyu muttered, fidgeting wildly with her fingers.

“Why careless?” Haymar continued, her tone now raised to be interrogation-like.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,” Phyu Phyu apologised, her voice solemn.

“I only one job. One duty. To support you. And you only one duty, study hard. Do it properly. I don’t want sign the paper. Ask father. You tell me. You want live Singapore or Myanmar?” ” Haymar said, almost huffing.

“Singapore,” Phyu Phyu muttered.

“So focus on everything here. Everything in Myanmar you don’t think, okay? Most important is Singapore,” Haymar advised as she closed her room door.

But regardless, she still had to get her paper signed. She didn’t want to lie that her parents were busy that night, that they were so occupied with their jobs that they forgot to even scribble on a paper. She knew they cared for her more than that, more than anything else in the world. 

She trudged to the living room where her father was sitting watching the news.

“Hey, thamee, what do you need?” her father asked, a smile on his face.

“Can you sign my paper?” Phyu Phyu asked, handing the paper to her father.

“Usually you ask Mae Mae to sign. Why me today?” he responded, his tone slightly joking.

“My marks weren’t good enough,” Phyu Phyu said.

“Phyu Phyu. I promise everything will work out in the end. 95 will still get you the same PSLE score as 100,” Her father reassured, looking at her paper in his hands. 

Sure, it did give her the same score. But her mother just wanted her to always be the best. It didn’t matter if everyone else failed, or everyone else scored full marks, she just wanted her to score the highest she could, to be the most flawless version of herself possible.

“Thiha, don’t lie,”  Haymar creaked the door open slightly, having heard the conversation through their thinning walls.

“Achit, ma nya nay bu. You don’t always have to be first. I have plenty of friends who scored just above average but still received scholarships,” her father reassured.  

“You’re only here now because you were the best,” Phyu Phyu said. 

“But you are here too,” her father said.

“If she not the best here, she already the worst,” Haymar said, slamming the door shut behind her. 

The slam echoed through the home; a lingering reminder.

“Thamee, are you okay?” Thiha asked.

“Yes. I am,” Phyu Phyu responded, a stiffness in her voice, her vision a mosaic of tears.

“She didn’t mean it, thamee–”
“She did. And she was right,” Phyu Phyu interrupted. Her father sighed and almost called her back to say something. But by then, she had made her way back into the room already, and that same slam reverberated once again. His eyes trailed on the ground.

“She’s just like her mother,” Thiha muttered. 

             Phyu Phyu heard him. She didn’t respond, it wasn’t necessary to. She wiped the tears that stained her face, streaks of water like tiger stripes. She turned to her phone. She wanted to text her younger cousins back in Myanmar, wishing her world in Singapore to fade.

Her texts wouldn’t deliver, though.

“Internet Disruption in Myanmar due to Military Coup; Communication completely cut off,” read the news article. 

And just like that, the tightrope of connection she had with her home snapped.

Nyein Su Thar (Class of 2025) writes mostly poetry in her free time. She writes about different social issues she finds important, and is inspired by work from authors like Ocean Vuong, Mieko Kawakami and Elizabeth Acevedo.