Defining My Sense of Home

I tend to use Facebook statuses to dump little bits of thought here and there with an article. A couple of lines here and there selected from an essay or an article I’ve read that I think is worth sharing, a couple of lines (okay, I write more than that often). But sometimes the ideas that I have floating around won’t just be dealt with scribbling into a small Facebook textbox (“What’s on your mind?”) and that’s when I come back to here for a long attempt to deal with it.

You might have seen whatever I write about here on Facebook in various posts, piecemeal and all. This is an attempt to synthesize them and make a bit more sense about them together.

I’ve had about 3 weeks back home since I landed at Changi fresh from 3 months in the US. And the last 21 days have been a busy whirlwind time spent catching up with friends, getting into the thick of my future profession and just soaking up as much of Singapore that I can before I go off again to Japan for a year (knowing how I feel, I will probably come back every few months, just because the cost of tickets back are cheaper than the heartache I’ll feel abroad).

In these 21 days though, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what home means to me.

Emily Esfahani Smith writes in The Atlantic about relationships and ambition (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/relationships-are-more-important-than-ambition/275025/). It’s a nice article to read, though there are several assumptions there that need some unpacking and examination. The key bit that I took away though, was the quote at the very end of it after the protagonist in the article decided to return home to small town Louisiana after his sister’s death and in the process gave up his high-flying jetsetting career.

“Community means more than many of us realize,” he says. “It certainly means more than your job.”

My sense of home is defined by three things: the community I know, the sense of familiarity and my instinctive pride of being a Singaporean. So yes, the first part on community definitely does matter to me. The friends I’ve made here, the people I know. For me, this comes in bite-sized chunks experiences in each of the different communities that I’ve been involved in. I tell the freshmen in USP this whenever I can: “you get as much as you give, sometimes more”. That’s been my experience so far, the effort I’ve invested to get to know people and to contribute to this community has been returned in so much love and satisfaction. To have friends who I know will welcome me to crash on their couches at odd hours of the night if I need space, or others who I can always open up to and talk about anything, is a great comfort.

This applies in so many different contexts: school, church, fencing, etc. Everywhere I have invested, I have received and it’s these communities that root me here. In sum: this is home because I belong here to all the communities I have rooted myself in. This naturally leads on to the next point: sense of familiarity.

It’s a bit trickier to define though. What’s familiar, for one? Kit Chan wrote a column published on TODAY Online entitled “Home, surely, starts with what is made in Singapore” (http://www.todayonline.com/commentary/home-surely-starts-what-made-singapore). She talks about her decision to come home from working overseas as an artiste:

“I chose to move back home in 1998 — yes, coinciding with my debut performance of the song Home as providence would have it — because I knew that if I lived overseas for too long, I would sooner or later lose the connection I have with this place I have always called home, and along with it, all the relationships I have cultivated in my life.”

In that sense, she sums it up pretty nicely: the sense of familiarity for me is linked to the people and places I grew up and lived in. Spend too much time abroad, and you lose all that: people move on, places change. So you end up a tourist in your intended home after too long, realising that you’ve also shifted your sense of home to somewhere else you never thought you would shift it to. That’s also why I’ve been steadfastly refusing all these suggestions and hints from friends to look for love in Japan (“Japanese girls are so pretty leh!” or some variant of that line).

See the world, come home for love

I saw this line online on a Facebook Cover photo someone had. And it struck me pretty much immediately. It means two things to me: that if I do find a partner, it’ll have to be someone who is willing to build their life in Singapore with me, because that’s one thing I don’t want to compromise upon. So it’s not fair to expect a non-Singaporean to want to do that either. And the second bit that’s important though (and probably what the original writer intended) was the idea that home is where love is. That’s how I feel about Singapore, that’s where the people who love me are (not that my friends overseas suck or what, but there’s nothing like Singapore to me).

I watched this video (“Come Home” by SteadiProductions) while in Chapel Hill, yearning for home. The video is lovely, the lyrics beautiful (“when you hurt/when you burn/come back home”) and the images of the Singapore I know stirring. Heck, doesn’t hurt either the lead actress sure is pretty! But it was the sense of familiarity that did it for me: watching scenes of life that I was familiar with and hearing the song remind me that I had a Home to go back to, that there was somewhere I could always fall back on. It’s this sense of familiarity that keeps me back here. I could lose it, and go somewhere else. But it’s like when you’re in a romantic relationship: someone could objectively point out that you should break-up and find someone better, and that when you’re done, you probably will be happier and you will look back to realise that it would have been the logical choice. But while you’re in it, you don’t want to throw it away. I could go to somewhere else in the world and develop that sense of familiarity, it’s a function of time spent in a place. But I am also aware that my desire is to not lose that sense of familiarity in Singapore and get it somewhere else. So beyond just the idea that I am Singaporean and love Singapore because it’s an accidental product of birth here, I also actively desire to maintain this love, accident or not.

So we come to the last one: the sense of pride in being Singaporean. Unlike the first two though, the last one cannot really be explained. It just is: from the flushing of my cheeks as I hear Majulah Singapura played each morning at flag raising, the swelling of my chest at the National Day Parade when the Chinooks fly past with the giant Singapore flag, the excitement I feel when we win something (however small) in the sporting arena, or even when people tell me “Oh Singapore, I’ve been there! It’s a nice place.”

It can only be summed up by the quote I discovered in this video I watched while in transit at Narita Airport:

Men love their country, not because it is great, but because it is their own.
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca

There might not be anything to shout about for Singapore on a world scale. We might be second-best, or even last in anything we compete in; our city ugly and dirty perhaps in fifty years time. But I will still love my country and be proud of it, because it is mine. Not because it is great, but it is mine, and it is all I have to love.

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