What's in a name?
The story behind Kingyo Kintsugi
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.”
- Ernest Hemingway
My name is Rie, and I am the co-founder of Kingyo Kintsugi. I started it as a broken medical registrar in March 2021, at one of the lowest points in my life.
I had spent years devoting myself to medicine in public hospital systems (in Singapore, Sydney, and Melbourne), with the past year having been especially difficult due to the impact of COVID-19. 2020 was a challenging year for everyone; for me, it involved working full-time in a public hospital during a global pandemic, whilst trying to study for my professional exams outside already long work hours, with a toddler at home, and lockdown taking away what used to keep me going (like traveling to see my family). I was perpetually anxious from the pressures of the job, weary from the rigors of physician training, and a little shell-shocked from the things I’d witnessed my patients and their families going through. I felt so much guilt at not being present for my husband and daughter – I missed so much, because every waking moment was spent at the hospital, or else studying, and physically isolating myself to keep them safe.
Joel, Milly, and I were very lucky to remain well and together under the same roof, but we were far away from any other family. I had not seen Mum and Dad in more than a year, and not been with the family since we lost a dearly loved one in April 2020. I never got to say goodbye to my Uncle Marc, or to attend his funeral. I was grieving, exhausted, and perhaps even mildly traumatized. I recognized burnout. I knew I needed to take time off clinical medicine.
Two weeks after my last shift at the hospital, I found out that I’d failed my written exam for the College of Physicians. I didn’t think that I could feel any worse than I was already feeling but, as it turned out, I could. Everything that had led to burning out – all that time and all those sacrifices made…and in the end, it felt like I didn’t even have anything to show for it. It was absolutely crushing.
When I eventually emerged, I decided that I wanted to create something. A space that both Joel and I would love felt right – a space for his art and creativity, and a space for things I enjoy, such as organizing, writing, connecting with people, and (hopefully) making a positive difference with my time.
I didn’t know the first thing about setting up a business, or how to translate Joel’s artistic ideas into reality. It was terrifying to think about leaving medicine, even if temporarily. It had been all I’d ever known as an adult…in fact, it had occupied more than a third of my whole life. But I told myself that with the amazing opportunities that I’ve had – if I could learn how to chart chemotherapy, bear witness to the end of a life, if I could learn how to do the myriad things that I’ve learned over the years in medicine, then I could learn this, too.
And so, Kingyo Kintsugi was born.
Kingyo is Japanese for goldfish. The goldfish is often a child’s first pet, and this reflects the first embroidered patch Joel ever designed, back in 2016. Joel loves goldfish, and likes to think of them as living, moving flowers in the water. It all started with a humble goldfish!
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold. The beautiful philosophy behind it is finding grace in brokenness, with the idea that brokenness is not something to be hidden; rather, as part of the history of the object, it makes the item even more valuable, and becomes something to be celebrated.
There’s been something so delightful in creating beautiful items to bring joy to people. It’s been a different kind of healing that I’ve learned to do. Kingyo Kintsugi is some of that gold that has resulted, the gold which honours my scars.
I wrote part of this post right at the beginning, when Kingyo Kintsugi was nothing more than a dream in my head. Since then, as I’ve worked and created, I’ve learned so much. I’ve spent much more time with my family. I’ve realised that failure is survivable. I’ve gone on to take the written exam again and passed. I’ve discovered that my identity is so much more than the work I do. I still have so much more to learn, and I am grateful for it all.
We are all kintsugi. Our broken parts and our healed scars are the story we tell. This is my story, and I hope it helps you to feel a little less alone.