In Hinduism, the fortnight of Shradh is the time during which one pays homage to one’s ancestors. We have a responsibility to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents as they brought us into this world. Their genes are part of our body system and their mental traits influence our thinking.
When I decided to become an author some 12 years ago, I didn’t think I’d end up starting my own publishing house to publish my books. So in addition to the artistic process, I find myself dealing with the business of selling and promoting my debut novel The Little Light.
I’ve been a traveller on the road for the past 12 years so it’s strange to suddenly find myself back home and playing tour guide to visitors from abroad. I used to do it a lot growing up. I come from a family of merchants – and hosting our international suppliers was part of my job description. But 12 years can change a lot – especially in fast-paced Singapore.
I return to the old alleys of my childhood. The meandering lanes of shophouses, eateries and hidden treasures bring back the old stories – the ones my elders told me as I sat on their knee. Growing up, I had no idea that one day Arab Street would be part of Singapore’s heritage trail. To me, it was just home.
Dick Lee is best known for his musicals that encapsulate that uniquely Singaporean soul by telling stories through music. So when I found out that Dick Lee’s Singapopera was playing at the The Esplanade (our very own local durian-looking theatres on the bay), I knew I had to go. Mr. Lee has been around for so long that I’m surprised he isn’t telling dad jokes. To think he’s only four years younger than my old man. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. He still wears his signature suits, looking as dashing as always with his silver hair and infectious smile.
“In 1991,” I tell my best friend imitating my dad’s best nostalgic old man voice, “when I was a kindergarten, I used to take a trishaw to go to school.”
How much Singapore has changed. You know you’re getting old when you start stories with the year and constantly reference back to “my time”. It didn’t help that the trishaw uncle was doing the same.
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’m old enough to say that I’ve been watching The Kumar Show for 16 years. Yep. That’s how long I’ve been a fan. He’s the most hilarious Singaporean I know. I first started watching Kumar when he used to perform at the Hard Rock Cafe on Monday nights. The show consisted of some singing and dancing, his standup comedy routine – and of course, that segment where he calls on the audience and makes fun of them. That segment we both dread and love.
I’m back home for a week. I can’t say I was particularly excited by the thought of coming home. My heart was filled with a mixture of dread and a wee bit of excitement. The latter mainly due to all the yummy food I’m going to eat. And man do we Singaporeans know how to eat.
In my heart of hearts, I believe that our Singaporean national identity is one of multiculturalism – one that is embracive and strengthened by its ability to adapt. As a culture, we cannot afford to build great walls because our economy is intertwined with the world economy. Singapore was founded on the premise of international trade. Even till today, we have one of the busiest ports in the world.