Home Is Where the Heart Is

My high school best friend turned college roommate for 3 years visited the West Coast recently. As we were ambling around Sausalito, she suddenly asked me which country, of all places that I’d been to, I would want to retire in if I could choose. I gave it some thought and I was actually surprised by my own answer. Of all the beautiful and remarkable places that I’ve seen all over the world, I still end up choosing Singapore as the place to retire. Not Indonesia, not Bali, not New Zealand, and not even France. It’s really strange considering how quickly I moved out at the first chance of living abroad, and it’s even stranger considering how frequently I’ve visited France and professed my love for all things Francophone.

The title of this blog post is already cliché enough, so I’m not going to add to it by saying that I have a love-hate relationship with Singapore. Nothing is perfect, let’s leave it at that. On one hand, everything seems to work in Singapore. There are always a set of clear, written rules in all circumstances and they are almost always followed. It’s actually better than any textbook I’ve ever read. The roads are clean, grounds pristine, neighbourhoods safe, even the trees are lined up on a fixed distance from one another as if they were planted by people with OCD. On the other hand, the society thrives on subservience, uniformity, and conformity; it lacks diversity and creativity. I find Singaporeans so conforming that I once joked with a friend that they reminded me of the citizens in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. There is a reason why Glee is the only show that never fails make me cry, and that it remains my favorite after all these years despite the ridiculous plot holes, the lip sync-y singing, and voices too thin attempting to tackle Broadway songs. Glee actually teaches us that it’s okay to be different, that you have the right to define yourself regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, that arts is as important as (if not more than) science. These are values that neither Game of Thrones nor House of Cards could ever teach.

I have always simplistically and naively believed that conformity is the price to pay for orderliness. Various people have told me that it’s not true. But for argument’s sake, let’s indulge me here for once. If in order to create a “perfect” nation like Singapore, the citizens must always conform and behave in such an obedient manner, then I would choose conformity any day. It is still more palatable than living among people who litter and spit on the streets, not being able to walk home at night without looking over your shoulder all the time, and having to deal with inefficient bureaucracy, government policies, and procedures.

Labelling someone “a great man” is always a subjective matter. As I read the pouring tributes for the late Lee Kuan Yew on my Twitter feed, one thing that kept being mentioned by everyone from nation leaders to commoners was what a great man he was. I can’t say if he was a great man or not as I don’t know him personally. But one thing I know, Singapore wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for him. Many have pointed out that we would still have Singapore today even if he were not around, just a different one. You see, that’s precisely the problem. Because the kind of Singapore that it is today, the one that he built, is the one that I’ve actually come to love.

I’m a bit of a psychopath and therefore empathy is not my strongest point. I’ve always struggled to sympathise with people, I’m bad at consoling or comforting others, and don’t even talk about me feeling guilt or remorse. So I didn’t feel sad at all at the news of his passing. I thought it was the natural thing to happen given his age. But one thing that I can still feel is gratitude. Gratitude for him choosing to dedicate his life to building Singapore regardless of his personal motivations, for turning the nation into a place that I, along with millions of other people, are proud to call home, and for making me see that at the end of the day, I still love Singapore despite all its flaws. This is the place where I’ve felt like I could dream and achieve it, it’s where I spent my cherished adolescent years (I was a late-bloomer), where I discovered my identity, and where I learnt to feel sure of myself.

I was scrolling through my Facebook looking for a suitable picture that represents the country to accompany this post when it dawned on me that Singapore was never about the Marina Bay Sands or the Gardens by the Bay. The chorus from Tanya Chua’s 2001 NDP song suddenly rang in my ears. She sang, “where I belong, where I keep my heart and soul, where we are one big family”. It’s the people, the people that are dear to me. That’s what Singapore has always been about.

SG1

Precious Memories

In my restless sleep
I have dreamt of you
Of your curly hair
And piercing grey eyes

In my restless sleep
I have seen you ride off into the sunset
Your blue shirt billowing in the wind
Without a single care in the world

In my restless sleep
I have dreamt of you
Of your gentle smile
And how you like to say “Oh really?”

In my bout of melancholy
I thought fondly of you
So I set out to do
The one thing you taught me to

Coming Out of the Closet

This is probably the first post that I’ve ever written that is neither related to travel nor to food. All credits go to my favorite writer, Donttakeitliterally, for once again nudging me to write something.

Life is about making choices and for that reason alone, I have recently made a decision that has caused most people to frown in confusion or worse, disgust. I have chosen to become a NEET. Now, those of you who know what a NEET is without having to google or wiki it, you’re officially an otaku *nod nod* 😛

I only know a handful of people who neither frown nor blink in disbelief when I told them of my choice of lifestyle. On the other hand, I constantly come across friends, ex-colleagues, relatives, acquaintances, salesmen, insurance agents who have trouble accepting this. How can I blame them? After all, I don’t have any children of my own or an ailing parent to take care of at home (thank God for that). My reason for doing this is simply because I don’t see a point in sitting in an office taking instructions from other people for at least 10 hours a day when I could have spent those 10 hours doing other things that please me more.

The first thing that comes to a lot of people’s mind is that I must be rich. How do you define rich? In Singapore, a family of 4 can survive with a combined income of S$2,000 a month. Yet, with a few million dollars in his bank account, a millionaire may not think that he’s rich enough. Rich or not, everyone decides for himself.

The second thing that I’m always mistaken as is a tai-tai. As far as I know, the definition of a tai-tai is a lady of leisure who is married to a wealthy man and who loves to shop and regularly goes to the spa. Ahem, you’re welcomed to look up more criteria of what a tai-tai is and I’m sure I won’t meet any of them.

I may not be rich and nor do I have a wealthy husband, but one thing I know is that I am lucky. I am lucky and grateful cos the person who is affected the most by my change of lifestyle has always been very supportive of my decision. He loves his job so much that the word NEET does not exist in his dictionary. But secretly, I think it’s because his non-existent waistline is benefiting from all the yummy goodies that I’ve been making ever since I have more time to spend in the kitchen 😉

So, here comes the fun part (and the part that most people are very curious about). How have I been spending my days in the past 2 months? Well, obviously by spending more time in the kitchen and by planning more trips. We are officially going campervanning in NZ for 2 weeks in July. I’ve recently discovered that SIA was offering return tickets to Nagoya for slightly more than S$600 per person and I seriously considered fulfilling my longtime dream of seeing the cherry blossom. I’ve even come up with a 10-day itinerary, but decided to shelve that plan at the last-minute for a possibly bigger plan next year. Besides that, of course I’ve also been reading much more than I used to. And now that I have more time, it’s only right that I exercise more frequently as well.

Now comes the not-so-obvious activities. Doing a refresher in French has always been one of my top plans. But I didn’t realize how good I used to be at it until I happened to dig up my old workbooks and find a mock travel journal written completely in French by me (albeit with plenty of grammatical errors). My goodness, where did all my French disappear to? I got so mad from seeing this that I set myself a target of 2 hours of French lesson a day, a target which I’m trying very hard not to fail.

Of course I wouldn’t dream of being able to play the piano as well as a certain someone who lives in the same house as me 😛 But hey, I wasn’t so bad myself, like 15 years ago. My fourth and fifth fingers definitely have a lot to catch up to, but I wouldn’t want to spend an hour or two everyday with boring old Hanon and Schmitt. So nowadays I interlace them with the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique (I am still so very obsessed with this, thanks to Nodame Cantabile) and with the 1st movement of Mozart’s Sonate no.15. I still need to figure out how to properly play those trills, but I think I’m ready for a new target soon. Perhaps something more contemporary?

Last but no less important is the time I’ve been spending staring at my recently acquired hydroponic potted herbs that are slowly dying without me knowing why. Do they need more sun or have I been giving them too much sun? Do they need more nutrients? More water? Or perhaps they just don’t like being stared at so much by me. I couldn’t stop sighing every time I look at them these days. I feel like shaking that little styrofoam box they are in and screaming “Why are you dying??”

This pretty much sums me up in the past 2 months

Recently, a good friend of mine asked what my ambition was. I was taken aback. I didn’t think I had ever set an ambition for myself and thus, I had trouble answering her.

Oscar Wilde once said that ambition was the last refuge of failure. For me, ambition has always been such a huge word. It connotes the desire to chase after something very high up, like the sky or the moon. Something that involves changing the world or saving the planet. Something that only a Steve Jobs can do. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the desire for any of those. Does it mean that I don’t have any ambition?

So I asked my friend what she meant by ambition and she told me her ambition was to set up her own business. Oh, that sounded more simplistic than I thought. Apparently ambition doesn’t always have to involve chasing after the sky or the moon. It could also be chasing after the Eiffel Tower, or perhaps the top of the tree in front of your house. It sounds more like something you dream of doing in your life, or something you wish to do with your life. Of course I have a few ambitions of my own, most of them involving travel to certain places at least 5 hours’ flight away from my current place 😉 But truthfully, all I have ever wanted for my life was to be able to live it by my own choices, to not be dictated by external influences such as culture and norms, and above all, to be happy.

Happiness is a choice. For as long as I can remember, my other half has always appended this quote at the bottom of his email signature. Yes, I agree that you can make a conscious choice to be happy in whatever circumstances the world has thrown you into. But wouldn’t it be better if instead of just making a choice, you could tailor your circumstances as much as possible so the path of choosing to be happy is of the least resistance? Regardless of how much money I have, when my life flashes before my eyes someday, I for one wouldn’t want to see myself spending most of my time sitting in an office cubicle till the last day. I guess that is my ambition in life; that when the Shinigami comes to greet me, I will be able to gladly say that everything that has taken place in my life is of my own choices.