The modern day skyscrapers were nowhere in sight. Instead, the streets are lined with old shophouses – some lay abandoned as they decay with the annals of time, whilst others have been preserved and readapted for modern use. The Baba and Nonya Heritage Museum is one of these places. As I walked through the old house that is now a museum, I was reminded of my childhood. I grew up in a shophouse. There is something of an older version of me that I see nestled in the history pages of modern Malacca.
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.
“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.