A Love Letter to Singapore6 min read

First and foremost, I am sorry for taking you for granted.

I should have told you this long ago, but it’s only when I am miles away that I start missing you. This always happens. We miss and long for the things when they are gone or are slowly disappearing from our lives.

Deep down, I know that this feeling is temporary because I will return to you for good.

Caught with wanderlust, faraway places pulled me away from you. Things looked rosy and more pleasant, constantly spurring me to leave, to go out and explore. The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? But now that I am on the other side, it feels different.

Or is it because homesickness has finally wormed its way into my heart?

A Rollercoaster Ride of Emotions

I am currently in Japan, pursuing my dreams of living and working abroad. I have experienced a rollercoaster ride of emotions since I began settling down here. However, isn’t that part and parcel of navigating through life’s ups and downs?

Of course there are times when I feel like giving up, questioning my own choices and my plans for the future. But I am also stuck on the belief that I can do it if I give myself more time. It feels as though there is this divine discontent that keeps surfacing. It constantly urges me to continue embracing discomfort, pushes me to grow, to face challenges and deal with them.

Faraway places pulled me away from you. The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? But now that I am on the other side, it feels different.

I hate to admit this, but the language barrier is a huge obstacle for me to overcome. I felt like a complete illiterate in the beginning. But after all the pockets of time spent trying to make sense of the vocabulary commonly used in conversations and writing, I have come to a realisation that you have given me a brilliant head start in Chinese language learning right from kindergarten.

Best of Both Worlds

I have to confess that learning Chinese language in school felt like a chore. Bilingual education gained ground because of its significance in an increasingly globalised world. What motivated me to keep going at it was the spelling tests that I could receive golden stars and stickers for. Soon after my junior college days, I withdrew from speaking and writing Chinese completely after passing the GCE A’ level examinations. Now, whenever I do get to speak it, they come out in broken fragments, which makes me so embarrassed. I wish I could do better. I will do better. That’s a promise to you.

Thank you for gifting me two languages that I grew up with. I know very well how valuable language learning is, especially now that I am learning Japanese. I am getting better. I am nowhere near mediocre yet, but I will keep working on it.

Thank you for gifting me two languages to grow up with. Speaking multiple languages has given me access to people from different countries and belief systems. They allow me to be more open-minded.

Being able to speak multiple languages has given me access to people from different countries and belief systems. They allow me to be more open-minded, topped with a wealth of vocabulary that I can express myself with. Thank you for giving me the best of both language worlds – English and Chinese.

Flags fly high at the National Day celebrations

Speaking Singlish

I love how casual and unique we are with our Singlish, our pride, joy and identity, though some people find it difficult to understand us with all the lah’s, lor’s and leh’s. I am not even sure why we use them, or how we started using them. But I still love how we punctuate our conversations with Singlish references.

I appreciate how conveniently we can switch to another language whenever we want, especially when there are some things and situations that are better and more accurately expressed with Singlish.

But I must say this. Your education system is undoubtedly stressful. Competition is intense. Meritocracy is like an engine that keeps running, rewarding people based on academic merit. As a result, you inevitably leave some people behind. Some fall through the cracks of the system.  

I wish you knew that support systems are crucial and I am glad to see that some are already in place. Moving forward, I hope that we can devote more time to the welfare of people instead of encouraging people to chase relentlessly after paper qualifications.

Keyboard Warriors and Complain Kings

As a small country, our resource is our people. Our lives and our laughter are what’s truly precious. At the end of the day, we want to be heard, to be understood, to want to have someone we can trust and believe in us.

We Singaporeans question the existing systems, the frustratingly, rigid hierarchies in bureaucracies. We complain in the hopes of trying to improve things for a better and livable society. As a result, we have perhaps earned the titles of Complain Kings and Queens whenever we voice our opinions and grievances. Maybe we are “too vocal” but all we want is for our ideas and views to be acknowledged, whether or not they are accepted. If only people could take time to listen carefully and not just to respond.

We Singaporeans question the existing systems, the frustratingly, rigid hierarchies in bureaucracies. We complain to improve our society.

There are the keyboard warriors on social media, the vocal youth, the minority, and the grassroots community activists. Let’s also not forget the volunteer corps who have extended their helping hands in every way possible. Thank you for taking the time to contribute to our society. Thank you for giving the disadvantaged their voices in our community. You have no idea how heartwarming it is to see the social service sector slowly gaining ground.

Homesickness in Hindsight

On hindsight, I wish I had set aside time to do volunteer work in Singapore, but the mountains of paperwork and homework assignments to check, test papers to grade and lesson planning to do every weekend took time away. Excuses, I know. I should have managed my time better.

But you know something, I was completely and irrevocably stretched beyond limits. I just did not have time. So, I threw in the towel. I resigned even when I really enjoyed being in the company of my students and watching them grow. They taught me what it really meant to be a teacher. I fondly remember their never-ending quests to make school life more interesting by resorting to mischievous tricks and in turn, infuriating their teachers. It’s funny now when we all look back and laugh at those silly incidents.

Resignation. It was perhaps a self-centred act on my part, an act of subtle defiance and resistance to a system that I gradually lost faith in.

But I still love you. And because I love you, I want you to mend your ways and change for the better. I hope to be able to help you do that in the future.

The Singaporean Melting Pot

I am so proud of you for being a melting hotpot of cultures and I will never get tired of the plethora of food choices. Recently, I was reminded of how fortunate I am in this aspect, to be born and bred in Singapore. It happened through an email exchange with an acquaintance from America who has made plans to visit you this summer.

Just the mention of food has created an endless list of recommendations coupled with a severe longing for Gram’s home-cooked food and the kopitiams (coffee shops) with their array of food stalls. A German lady who I met while travelling in Vietnam referred to these stalls as ‘garage kitchens’ when she came over for a visit, when I brought her to Chinatown Complex Food Centre. That phrase stuck with me ever since – how creative!

My dear Gram’s home-cooked food for reunion dinner every Lunar New Year 

Recently, I met an exchange student from Hainan, China at the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum in Osaka, who asked about Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore. It struck a familiar chord for it is my favourite local delight. The thought made my stomach and salivary glands stir. Whenever my students in Japan ask about my top local food recommendations, I bring some up and later, have to endure severe cravings.

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

It has begun to dawn on me that as I move away from you, I also start growing my appreciation towards you. I recall all that I have left behind – that I have taken for granted and that I have loved and missed dearly.

I hope I am not too late in saying this, but I now cherish the importance of the people who have been my side thus far and gave me all the support and care that have enabled me to go so far. They are at home with you.

Our first homes, like our first loves and experiences are always the most memorable and the ones that tug hardest at our heartstrings.

It’s not that Japan is not home, but I feel that our first homes, like our first loves and experiences are always the most memorable and the ones that tug hardest at our heartstrings.

Thank you, Singapore for opening up the world to me as I was growing up. However, it has also come to a point when I need to continue exploring, to see more of the world for myself and broaden my horizons to embrace growth. There are so many more experiences to gather, encounters to make sense of as I navigate across places and meet people who teach me slices of life and its lessons.

So, wait for my return, ok?

I miss you.

I love you.

I love you very much.

From Japan With Love

The Love Letter Project

Love Letter Project

The Globonaut Love Letter Project is a team effort by international travel enthusiasts that examines the fascinating relationship between cities and people. It is an exploration of how people make a city come alive, but also how a city becomes part of who you are. Most of all, the Love Letter Project is a celebration of strong local bonds in an age of rapid globalisation, showing how local and global aren’t necessarily opposite terms.

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