“Perhaps home is not a place, but an irrevocable condition.” – James Baldwin.
This summer I returned to Singapore excited at the prospect of catching up with old friends, finally getting my fill of local delights, revisiting places I used to spend time at, and exploring new places that my friends had been raving about online. After three years of permanent residency in Canada, I was craving the sound, smells, tastes and sights I associated with my beloved home country, Singapore. Upon my arrival and breezing through customs because I still hold a Singapore passport, I had fishball noodles from my favourite hawker stall. I was happy to be back.
During the first week I was there, I got lost a number of times trying to get to different places. My solution to getting lost was to walk around (apparently not as common as it is in Toronto) – stories that garner incredulous looks from my friends who can only laugh and shake their heads. I was determined to prove that I could recognise things and places, and so refused any offers to pick me up and bring me to the doorstep of my next destination, insisting I could find my way via public transit on my own.
But in truth, I struggled to really come home.
Everything seemed so different from what it was before.
It was quickly apparent that I had somehow, over the years become unaccustomed to speaking and hearing the full and vibrant spectrum of Singlish (Colloquial Singapore-English). Friends pointed out that my speech had slowed remarkably, and I always hesitated when I was spoken to; one hawker even asked me in Mandarin if I was local or not.
Soon, I got weary from desperately trying to feel at home in Singapore. My friends had their own lives that could not always accommodate my requests to meet; I craved the food from Koreatown in Toronto; I longed for the company of my cats; I spent early mornings and late nights skyping my boyfriend in Canada; mostly, I grew tired repeating my post-graduation plans to different groups of people I met, and trying to validate my decisions.
Like a broken record I told people of my decision to move to the United Kingdom to pursue another bachelors degree in graphic communications, despite having recently graduated with one in English. Everyone eventually asked why I decided to switch from English Literature to Graphic Design as though it were a sudden realization or a change of heart.
Few people identify similarly, but I see it as a continuation and extension of my pursuit of literature, language, communication and creativity as a whole.
Two nights before my flight, my old Junior College (Grade 11-12) class had a dinner and dessert gathering. While walking to the bus stop, my friend quietly expressed surprise that some time during the conversation, I had said that I was on a ‘trip’ back to Singapore – a word used to talk about a temporary visit. He said with a smile, “You used to always talk about coming back eventually. I guess things have changed for you.”
Three days later I got on a plane back to Toronto, not knowing when I would next set foot on the little island where I was born and raised and unsure of whether I would want to return again. Upon arrival I hugged my parents, slept with my cats, shared Korean food with my boyfriend, graduated from UofT, and am now preparing to go to the UK. As always, I consistently Skype my friends in Singapore, write emails, use instant messaging and Facebook.
Once in awhile I catch myself feeling homesick for a place that isn’t actually home anymore, and tell myself to look ahead at what is to come.
– caro t.