The Tembusu is A Native Tree

As Open Day approaches, the college (along with the rest of the university) is preparing its best in order to impress and excite prospective students on what might be the most important day in its calendar. For on this one day, all that once nurtured an individual or which an individual once carefully built in this college, is proudly exhibited. We busy ourselves with making presentable, ourselves. Yet, to elucidate an existence is more than exhibiting its constituents. For, we are more than our parts. Maybe, amidst the flurry, a(nother) means of preparing ourselves is to pause and ponder what it means to be us – deeply, sincerely.

Sometimes, we forget that the Tembusu is a native tree.

To be native is more than just belonging; it involves being cultivated to embody and eventually grow into the values, beliefs, and spirit of the community.

Perhaps, our existence could be understood as treading the continuum between motion and stasis. We aren’t just are, we are being. To be in the in-between, is to be thinking, doing, making (motion) but at the same time, lingering in moments of stillness when we reflect and consider (stasis). We are neither overwhelmed by activity such that we lose our direction, nor stagnant such that we are nothing but dull.

The Tembusu tree is first and foremost a native tree, in an abundant landscape. Despite its sheer size, its full grandeur is always appreciated among the vastness of the field beyond, and in the accompaniment of local blooms and foreign buds. We, as a college, thrive on differences. Diversity is the reason rhythm and texture develop in our community, it is that which excites and stimulates.

Then, just as natives are molded by their habitat, the Tembusu tree grows according to the giving of its environment. Like the boundlessness of the sky above in which the branches of the Tembusu tree spread, and the gravity from below that gives the tree strength to not falter – the college is both infinity and gravity. Gravity does not pull us down, instead it gives us a firm footing to reach further. This groundedness, in the form of support and guidance, is the giving of the college. Empowered, and determined, we become agents of our learning and our selves. We aren’t just are. We are thinkers, doers and makers.

Sometimes, though, being in this curious in-between, or being neither here nor there, leads to uncertainty. Almost in confusion, the branches of the Tembusu tree bend and twist, sometimes looping unto themselves, sometimes reeling around each other. Yet, it is precisely this irregularity in its branches that distinguishes the Tembusu tree. And, in spite of their bending and twisting, the branches are always reaching outwards and upwards. It is in these phases of confusion that the community provides us with comfort and advice. Such periods of reflection not only bring lucidity and calmness to what might have been an overwhelmed soul, but also consolation and encouragement that drives us further, lifts us up.

It is in this tugging and thrusting, that we challenge and discover ourselves. Perhaps, we are more than being, we are becoming – maybe even becoming someone we did not think ourselves to be.


Our being or becoming, our existence between motion and stasis, is more than a sheer fact. Our displaying, our presenting, our showing of our constituents is only one dimension of our existence. We, in our totality, are an experience to be felt.

As the Tembusu tree grows, its stem thickens and growth rings are formed – we are like every new layer of wood that grows each growing season. These growth rings are an indication of the history and identity of the tree, and every one of us grows the college as much as it grows us. The imprints that we leave in these rings remain testimony to this mutual commitment.

So, as we pause and ponder what it means to be us, remember that the Tembusu is a native tree. This is where we are being, and becoming.

Illustration by Pang Guet Ghee

About the author:
Mad for adventure and stories, Jesslene often walks down unmarked streets and talks up wild strangers. Leading quite a monochromatic, unplugged life, she also loves wandering about.