It seems fitting and ironic at the same time that I am electing to return to Singapore on her 50th year of independence. I didn’t foresee this decision at all, and in my head if I did return, I had thought it would be because of forcing circumstances instead of my own free will.
Apparently I was wrong, and I am consistently wrong about the trajectory of my future self. Lesson to learn: never plan my life as though I know who my future self would be. Perhaps I should learn not to plan my life at all. It would save me a lot of grief.
On hindsight, the passing of my grandmother kickstarted this entire process. I honestly thought I would be resentful, that my responsibilities and obligations would make it impossible for me to stay away. But it turned out love always wins. Instead of resentment, I am grateful to have this reminder early enough to change the course of my trajectory. I want to be a person who chooses to love.
There is something about being Asian, being Chinese, being Singaporean. I started to appreciate typing Singlish texts to people back in Singapore: “Why you like that one?” (Why are you behaving like this?) I started to understand why Adrianna Tan keeps posting about the pork noodles she couldn’t have when she travels, the design decisions my government have made for the country, even if I don’t agree with them.
In the last few years, each time I returned to Singapore, I seemed to have an allergic reaction to her. I developed migraines, or felt like my life had been sucked out of me. I still keenly remember the pain I had growing up in the system; to be consistently told that you are a disappointment to the system. I get outraged over the child suicides still taking place in the country, or all the limitations that still exist.
But the last trip back, it was the first time ever I didn’t feel allergic to her. The resentment stays, but love has started to seep into my soul. They tell you that love is the opposite of hate, happiness is the opposite of sadness – when in reality they belong to different spectrums. Love exists, even when there is resentment.
When I left a few years ago, creative spaces were few and far between. Even if there were, they seemed to always be on the verge of shutting down. Now, they are sprouting all over.
In between leaving and returning, I have actually gotten to know more people who didn’t fit in the system but found ways to thrive on the edge of it, than all of those years when I was living there. I am proud to call them my friends, they have chosen to trudge on spectacularly. I have deliberately used the word, “chosen”, because it is a difficult choice to make. Carrying on with a chosen direction that is against the Singaporean grain is really, really hard. It is going against everything you have been conditioned to believe in, surrounded by people who believe in a different reality than you, at least from my perspective.
Leaving Singapore was necessary in order to have the space to find the edges of myself, to discover who I could be without my perceived claustrophobia of the system. I feel like now I have a better sense of who I am at the core, that I may be still influenced by the environment I am in, but not oppressed by it.
I am now capable of seeing pockets of love within my own country, because I have finally learned to see pockets of love within myself, and for myself.
I am not sure what the future entails, but I know in order to become whole I need to integrate my past into my present, not disown it. I had felt like I was leading a separate identity and life in San Francisco, while shoving my past in Singapore into some deep dark corner, and now it is time to merge them both. That disconnect was subconsciously causing a lot of distress in me, manifesting in a relapse of my depression. More on that later.
I will attempt to return to the sources of my breakage, and find healing from within. I want to choose love, and by loving what had hurt me, I let go of the power they had over me.