I first met Amy Chua around 2005 when I was a news anchor with Channel News Asia. She was 27 or 28 years old then. She had asked for my autograph one day at the taxi stand outside the Mediacorp building on Caldecott Hill. We barely spoke, but I later realised she was the same person who had sent me a fan letter not long before. I didn’t think much of the letter as it was all innocuous stuff like her saying she was a fan of my news programme.
Soon after, I left Mediacorp to do my MBA and work in private equity. In 2008, I joined The Straits Times as a senior correspondent. After my first article was published, I received another fan letter from her in which she rambled on about how much she loved me. I laughed it off – but instinct told me to file the letter.
She then started sending me emails almost every day. One even had a photo of herself attached. It showed a burly woman with short hair. From the e-mails, I gleaned that she thought that we were married (she was my “husband”) and had a baby. She either professed her love for me or accused me of cheating on her – sometimes threatening to divorce me.
She also told me where she lived, her phone numbers, that she saw a doctor for “medication” and that God had told her I loved her. I was feeling increasingly uneasy so I showed her e-mails to a psychiatrist I knew. He said she was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and erotomania
(the delusional belief that someone is in love with you). I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to protect myself legally, yet I sympathised with her mother whom she said she lived with because it couldn’t have been easy looking after someone who was mentally ill. It reached a point when she was sending me eight emails a day.
The biggest challenge was concentrating at work. I had to work doubly hard to stay productive. I’d go for two or three days without sleep because I dreaded going to work and finding goodness knows what else in my inbox. I soon developed migraines, and incurred hefty medical bills to treat them and my insomnia. I used to love hanging out at the former Borders bookstore at Wheelock Place on weekends and had mentioned it in a newspaper column that appeared on a Saturday.
On Monday, she emailed me saying that she’d waited for me at Borders all weekend because we’d had a “date”. I freaked out and stopped going to Orchard Road alone. Still, I was hesitant about making a police report. I found out that schizophrenics could be very impulsive. I was worried she would hurt herself or those around her – or that her “love” for me might turn into “hate”. In June 2009, she e-mailed me that she wanted to withdraw her savings and hire a private investigator to find out where I lived so she could hang around my home and get to see me. She even said she wanted to whisk me away on holiday. Maybe I was being paranoid, but it sounded like abduction to me.
I printed out a selection of the hundreds of emails she had sent me and filed my first police report. The police counselled her and told her to leave me alone. It was all they could do as she had not physically confronted me. After that, she stopped sending emails but started leaving voicemail on my work line. I eventually stopped answering my phone and my colleagues would screen my calls. By this time, I was the online editor for the newspaper. She would call The Straits Times Online hotline to badger my co-workers for information on my schedule.
The messages, like her emails, were rambling and incoherent. Some were disturbing. She’d say things like: “Did you have sex with this woman? You wanted her, didn’t you?” I got chills down my spine listening to them. I filed a second report. As a result, the police sent her to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for a psychiatric evaluation that lasted three weeks. I was terrified when she was released.
At work, every time the phone rang, I’d jump. In one message, she said she had waited for me one day in the lobby of the Singapore Press Holdings building. Thank heavens I had been on leave at the time. My company’s human resources and legal departments sent Chua a letter warning her to stay off the premises. The security team also had her photo, name and identity card number.
I got really paranoid. When I got to work, I would double-check the lobby area before walking through it. I would skip lunch because I didn’t want to go through the lobby or be in our relatively public office canteen. After work, I would wait for the lobby to be closed to the public before calling for a cab. My family made sure the security where we lived was tightened. I showed my maid Chua’s photo so she could recognise her on sight. My cousin who practised martial arts taught me some basic moves. He also advised me to wear fl at shoes so I could run easily and to stop listening to my iPod on the go so I would be more aware of what was going on around me.
I tried talking things out with my family, friends and boyfriend, but I don’t think anyone really understood what I was going through. They thought I should relax since I’d made police reports. I thought they were being dismissive and slowly withdrew from them, preferring to stay in my room on weekends. I had always been outgoing and gregarious but at family dinners, I wouldn’t talk much. I didn’t like being alone in public places. If I was meeting friends, I’d make sure I wasn’t the first to arrive. By then, I was only hanging out with them once every three weeks.
After Chua’s stay in the IMH, she sent me flowers and love letters on my birthday in August and warned me not to inform the police of her actions. Of course, I went straight to the police. In September 2010, I filed a third report. I don’t know what they did, but her voicemail messages stopped. That was worse because I didn’t know her mental state; nor could I know what her next move might be.
I was worried all the time and I remember one particularly bad Sunday. The Wall Street Journal had published an excerpt from the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and it was being tweeted and Facebooked by many of my friends. When I got home from a family dinner, I went online and the book author’s name hit me – Amy Chua, the same name as my stalker!
I felt violated, that my stalker had somehow invaded my private world. I hyperventilated and broke down in tears. It took half an hour on the phone, listening to my sister’s reassurances, and a long, hot shower to calm me down. It struck me then that the whole situation with Chua was ridiculous. She was the mentally ill one and she was turning me into a mentally unstable person. I had been reading about stalkers and realised that I was behaving like a victim. I had to do something.
I asked people around me how to deal with the situation. One friend suggested I carry a small bottle of perfume in my bag, as pepper spray isn’t available in Singapore. The police told me to vary my daily routes and head to the nearest police post if I felt I was being followed. Finally, in December 2010, the police told me the Attorney-General’s Chambers – the main public prosecutor – had gone through the evidence I had submitted with my reports and decided there was enough to charge Chua with eight counts of harassment. But in court in March 2011, Chua’s charges were halved to four counts.
And though she pleaded guilty, she was fined the minimum of $1,000 per charge. (Harassment laws in Singapore fall under the Miscellaneous Offences Act. The maximum penalty for one charge of harassment is a $5,000 fine.) She had caused me four years of mental anguish and all she got was a $4,000 fine and a court order to stay away from me? The judge even let her decide if she wanted to be put on parole. Naturally she said no! (I know all this because my father attended every court session.)
I plan to write a book on the harassment laws in Singapore and about being stalked. There needs to be greater public awareness about stalking and it shouldn’t be treated so lightly. I haven’t heard from Chua since the court case, but both the police and my psychiatrist acquaintance have warned me: Stalkers never disappear. I have to always be on my guard.
I resigned from The Straits Times last September. I loved being a journalist, but I desperately needed to be a private person for a while. I’ve been working on getting my health back and am happy to say that my insomnia, migraines and anxiety have mostly disappeared. I’ve returned to ballet – my childhood love – and am making up for lost time with my loved ones. I can walk around town alone and have started to dress well and groom myself again, instead of trying to blend in with the crowd by wearing dowdy clothes and no makeup.
I’m much stronger now, too. The last four years have made me realise that one’s life should not be controlled by the actions of another person. You just have to know how to protect yourself and not be afraid to say enough is enough.
This story was first published in Her World magazine, February 2012 issue.
- AWARE Singapore
- how to get help mental illness
- Institute of Mental Health
- Institute of Mental Health Singapore
- lesbian crush
- mental illness
- singapore press holdings
- Singapore Press Holdings building
- Singapore Stalkers
- the Wall Street Journal
- what to do if I am being stalked