As a third culture kid, home is everywhere and nowhere in particular. For a long time now, I’ve felt like the tortoise that carries its home on its back. Home is a feeling – a place in my heart, not a physical location.
And yet every time I come back to Singapore, I remember that this is where I was born. I grew up in this city. It is familiar to me. Always will be. But I’ve lived so many lifetimes in the 11 years since leaving Singapore that I feel I’ve outgrown the streets and alleys of my childhood.
I sometimes meet old friends and feel like they’re strangers. Friendships that I thought would last a lifetime have faded; whilst other friendships unexpectedly deepen with life’s hard tests of time and distance.
Would I have become the person I was meant to be if I had stayed home and forefeited the journey that made me the woman I am today?
Sometimes I look at the people who did what was expected of them and think they have it easier. Their lives on a linear track of what success is supposed to look like. They don’t try. They don’t fail. My life hasn’t been that way. I’ve had to contend with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – and I’ve had to figure it out on my own. Far far away from home.
But I can’t complain. Life has been generous with me. I’ve had experiences that I wouldn’t erase. Met people from all walks of life and lived to tell the tale.
But expats live differently to born-and-bred locals. Once you’ve been an expat long enough, you’re an expat everywhere. In Singapore, people like me are known as ‘Overseas Singaporeans’. But when I come home, I know I’m Singaporean.
Singlish smoothly slides off my tongue the moment I arrive at the airport. I greet the taxi uncle like I never left. Eh uncle… You take me go… The first meal I schedule with my friends is Hainanese Chicken Rice at Boon Tong Kee. Although I must admit, my friends prefer other chicken rice establishments. We all have our personal favourite. They indulge me because they know how a homesick Singaporean feels.
Despite the number of Michelin Star restaurants in my home city, I always insist on hawker fare. None of this fancy overrated stuff. The heartlands is where it’s at. The soul food. The stuff we share with our friends till we’re so stuffed we can’t eat anymore. Good memories. Good times.
And even when we’re not in the heartlands, we take our food with us wherever we go. Tonight I greedily feasted on otak otak and rojak – two favourite childhood snacks that I used to wolf down whenever I had the chance.
Many people say that Singapore has changed. And yes, the landscape has. The triple towers of Marina Bay Sands stand tall in the distance. Every big city needs a great icon and Marina Bay Sands is the iconic hotel that has come to define our skyline. Visitors to Singapore marvel at the spectacular Gardens by the Bay.
My home city is a masterpiece. It really is.
But to me, Singapore is still the same. It is still the same Singapore I held close to my heart wherever I went. It is the shell I carried on my back through every continent, country and city I visited.
“Singapore is so beautiful,” I told my best friend as we stared out at the city lights from the Esplanade.
The annual National Day Parade (NDP) takes place on 9th August. This is the first NDP I’ll get to watch in over a decade. The red and white Singapore flag flies high everywhere I go. We are a young nation. We turn 53 this year. But my family’s been here for five generations now – well before there was a nation called Singapore.
I love my roots. I love my wings. But no matter where I go or where I wind up – I’ll always call Singapore home.