It was a warm, balmy night (as most Singapore nights go). The humidity hit me as the car rolled out of Changi Airport, and it didn’t really register then that I was home.
Home, then, was a person. It was a land 6,000km away. It wasn’t this island-nation, it wasn’t anything I wanted.
But there I was, the sights of MBS and the Flyer whizzing by on my left.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if one day, I could wholeheartedly call this place home and mean it.
Singapore turns 51 today and I’m calmly excited. Last year, we had plenty to celebrate and reflect on – making it to 50 years of independence, the first time Mr Lee Kuan Yew wasn’t with us, a grand party to commemorate it all.
At the back of my mind then was criticisms of this country I love-hate so much – its inane use of acronyms, a love for red-tape and rules, a system known for its rigidity. I clung onto a place that was no longer home, while still waving a little red and white flag with five stars and a moon.
It’s a strange thing, to be split right down the middle. It’s almost no-man’s land. A self-declared prison, if you will.
A year later, I’ve volunteered to work on National Day once again. There’s a certain calmness in the chaos I revel in. I almost know what to expect – parade commanders, flying unicorns, fireworks that go boom. Write, blurb, post on social media, repeat. It’s what I’m used to, and in a way, it’s what keeps me alive.
In a year, I look around and somehow that resentment has dissipated. I love that a mosque and a church can co-exist, side-by-side, without conflict. I so appreciate that I can buy a meal (and a drink) at S$5 or less.
But it’s a lot more than that, I think.
My unwillingness to embrace Singapore as home came down to a stubborn belief that I couldn’t be at home here. There was an inner storm that’d been brewing for a long time – bitterness that I couldn’t stay in Australia, frustration because I didn’t necessarily fit into the Singapore mould, apathy that I couldn’t change any of those things.
The facts were laid out for me: I was born and raised in this little red dot. I hold onto a red passport that bears the Singapore emblem. Ask me what I miss most when I’m away and it’s fish soup, fried carrot cake (white, extra crispy, extra chilli), and chicken rice. Wherever good food is, I’m there.There’s no denying it – I’m a Singapore girl.
Maybe my unwillingness to embrace Singapore’s imperfections was a reflection of who I believe myself to be: Self-critical, reluctant to forgive (oneself), with no space left to dream. Maybe I’d forgotten than our struggle now is not for survival, but for relevance – which is so much more important than before.
Maybe I forgot that the struggle is part of the story.
And that it is made easier when we struggle together.
I look around now and embrace the parts of me I don’t like so much – the workaholism, the tendency to look to the past and not the future, the blobs of fat that stick out (and make me feel larger than life).
And in the process I realise there’s so much more to us than what we see. The skyscrapers, the sculpted gardens, they all reflect a bigger dream.
That one day, sometime in the future, hopefully soon, we find our place in the world and shine.
The best is yet to come.
Happy 51st, Singapore. Thank you for welcoming me home.