Written byCharmaine Lee
Photography byCharmaine Lee
“I’m a lawyer working to eradicate violence against women and a confessional poet over my lunch breaks. Writing is my way of making sense of the world and of interrogating my emotions. I seek to observe the beauty and incongruities in human relationships and to draw truths that connect people from a diversity of experiences. I believe that good writing lifts us out of our insular selves, and builds bridges to our common humanity. Besides poetry, I write essays and speeches that advocate causes close to my heart, such as social justice and the arts.
I also serve as web editor for poetry.sg, the first online database of Singapore poetry, complete with critical analyses and a multimedia archive. The goal is to create a home for Singapore poetry online, for the curious reader, as well as an educational resource for teachers to use in their classrooms.
On weekends, I teach underprivileged kids to read with the hope that it will open their doors to the world. I grew up loving books and I knew its power to unlock possibilities so I was moved to teach children to read. ReadAble was set up with two of my friends Michelle Yeo and Jonathan Muk in January 2014. We were moved to act when we saw many children in a low-income neighbourhood near our office who were not able to read due to a lack of resources in their families. We were troubled by how this literacy gap would lead to an opportunity gap in the future and serve to reassert income disparity.
Literacy is so vital to achieving social justice. We started out teaching out of the homes of children, but we grew too big and had to borrow the Residents’ Committee premises in the Jalan Kukoh neighbourhood. We’ve also built a community library for the children with books tiered to different reading levels. Along the way, we also started teaching their moms how to read as well! It is very important to us to partner with the parents in our efforts.
The greatest reward is in seeing a child who could barely recognize the different letters of the alphabet, read a full book without assistance. I have been incredibly privileged and had access to many wonderful opportunities in my life, I feel a strong moral responsibility to use the resources at my disposal to empower others who may not be as fortunate.
I think Singaporeans can take a greater interest in consuming the work of our artists, whether by watching local plays, listening to local music, or reading Singapore literature. We should all be interested in the cultural products created in Singapore because they are very revealing of the ways we image and imagine ourselves.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to work in so many areas I find great meaning in even if it means being somewhat of a multi-hyphenate. I hope to be a woman who not only professes her principles but truly acts on them and builds her life around advancing them, whether it is supporting gender equality or social justice.
I am happy to have found a wonderful community in each of the areas I work in, from colleagues in my sex crimes prosecution team who inspire me with their dedication, to writers who have mentored me and critiqued my work, and volunteers who regularly give their time to teach children how to read. I am energized by people who share my vision and are generous enough to collaborate.
I pamper myself mainly by buying books, I am a consummate book hoarder. As a true office lady, I also love buying work dresses and have far too many of them. I spend quite a lot of time in the office so I I want to ensure most things in my wardrobe are work-appropriate, but also look good enough to wear out to dinner or an event. My favourite labels are Reiss and Karen Millen because their cut and silhouette fit my body type well. The more expensive items in my wardroom from Diane von Furstenberg or 3.1 Phillip Lim are courtesy of my mom who generously gives me some of her clothes.
Frankly, I am quite exhausted a lot of the time as I tend to always be busy on several projects at once and I also have a demanding job as a sex crimes prosecutor. I am the sort of person who is pathologically incapable of doing things by halves. I have exacting standards for myself and can be disappointed when I fall short of them. As a Christian, spending time with God through prayer helps me to remember my place and purpose in this world, in the context of eternity.
I take probiotics, French Pine Bark Extract, and Vitamin C daily. I have never been on a diet. I tried a juice cleanse once, and gave up because it felt like I was ingesting a swamp. I love food too much, so I tend to eat whatever I like.
For the past decade, I lived a sedentary lifestyle and had the muscle tone of a block of tofu. This year, I decided to change that. I go for HIIT sessions at Ritual about four times a week. I started out not even knowing how to do a squat. I can now knock down proper push-ups, and 20 kg deadlifts. I supplement regular HIIT sessions with hot yoga sessions at Yoga Movement. On days I don’t make it to the gym, I try to do a blogilates workout focusing on building my core. Regular exercise has made such a difference to my life – improved skin, digestive tract, and menstrual cycles.
I had acne as a teenager. Thankfully not the scar-leaving variety, but it was persistent enough for me to get teased about it by boys in Junior College. I had to go on Roaccutane to manage it. These days my skin is pretty sensitive and oily. I do not go for facials, I see a dermatologist Dr Cheong Lai Leng from (LL Cheong Skin & Laser Clinic at Mount Elizabeth) for all my skin care needs. I’ve been seeing her over 12 years.
Skincare is a new thing for me that I just started paying more attention to several months ago. I used to just cleanse and occasionally moisturize. I found that just having a slightly more elaborate routine really does wonders for your skin. My pores are a lot finer, breakouts are few and far between, and my skin is smoother than it has ever been.
In the morning, I cleanse with Cetaphil Facewash, then apply Skinceuticals Serum 10 which delivers L-ascorbic acid with Ferulic Acid to provide antioxidant benefits to the skin. I then apply Elo Gel, which is an oxygen-rich booster and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream as a moisturizer. Finally, I put on sunscreen formulated by my dermatologist LL Cheong Skin & Laser Clinic.
At night, I use Shu Uemura Ultime8 Sublime Beauty Cleansing Oil to remove my makeup and then double cleanse with Cetaphil Facewash. I apply Elo Gel again. I try to mask every night either with any drugstore sheet masks (although my favourite ones are from Mediheal available at Duty-Free) or Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. I also use Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair as a serum. I find it quite relaxing to lie in bed with a face mask while reading a book, which is my nightly routine.
One thing that my Cambridge education gave me is the ability to put on a full face of black-tie dinner make up in five minutes flat. Cambridge tends to keep a lot of anachronistic traditions; dinner was often a black-tie affair, and we had to be in a formal hall in dresses, suits, or academic gowns. As I was very involved in extracurriculars, I often had to rush back and change from street clothes to black-tie in five minutes and get to hall before the bell rang. Or else I’d get locked out from dinner!
I don’t always wear makeup to work, as it depends on how busy I am. When I do, I use Shu Uemura The Light Bulb UV Compact (which makes your skin look flawless very quickly), MAC Paint Pot LongWear Eyeshadow in Groundwork, a slick of Chanel Liquid Eyeliner, and Chanel Rouge Coco Shine Hydrating Sheer Lip Shine in Desinvolte. I fill in my brows with Benefit Goof Proof Eyebrow Pencil. This work makeup routine takes only two minutes and requires no finicky brushes. I can easily do it in a moving vehicle.
For days when I feel like putting more of an effort, I use NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer (which makes your skin lit from within), and do a smoky eye with the Urban Decay Naked Eyeshadow Palette. I have only been using the Naked Eyeshadow Palettes since the very first edition came out, I love that each edition of the Palette has enough shades for both day and night smoky eye looks. If I’m going out for the evening, my favourite night lipstick is Charlotte Tilbury’s Walk of Shame. I also like MAC’s House Wine.
I hardly use perfume. I actually prefer the smell of men’s cologne to women’s fragrances, which I find saccharine. Rexona is the only thing I need to prevent nervous sweats on court days. Having dry armpits makes me feel invincible.”
— as told to Charmaine Lee at Amanda’s home in Singapore on 17 Sep 2017