home (i)

by mandaceehb

i’ve been wanting to write a piece about singapore for a long time, but i’ve never quite been able to express myself. i hope too often for my words to be poetic, or striking, or sound beautiful, but that sort of prose has found no way out of me. perhaps it’s a message to keep things simple as they are, and my feelings about singapore have never been too complex.

how do you define a home? we hear many speeches; we’ve read many textbooks about how ‘singapore is our home’ and ‘this is where we belong’. i’ve never disputed that. i know that singapore is my home; i’ve lived here my whole life. but it only struck me recently that home cannot be something simply made by habit, or an idea ingrained in you over years of national education and national day speeches- there must be something more than that. yet when i probed myself to identify exactly what made singapore home to me, all i got was a blur of ideas and emotions.

i woke up yesterday morning and over a lazy breakfast, scrolled through my facebook feed. i chanced upon the same video being shared by various people- one of mrt commuters heartily singing along to one of our most iconic national day songs: ‘home’. singaporeans aren’t known to be particularly spontaneous or enthusiastic and well, something about the video really got to me. maybe the very notion was heartwarming, perhaps it was the fact that people were being so uncharacteristically uninhibited, so willing to unite their voices to express love for our nation in a random, unexpected location. many people actually knew the song lyrics by heart, and those who didn’t whipped out their phones so that they could join in the song. at the end, everyone erupted into cheer. i remember having a dream just the previous night about bursting into a national day song in the middle of a supermarket, so that was pretty coincidental.

i think the video triggered something off for me. home is singapore, but it is not just this land we live and build on. there is nothing about physical land or geographical location that makes singapore home. rather, home is everything i’ve come to take for granted; a multi-racial, multi-religious society which has been the garden for incredibly diverse friendships to take root and flower beautifully. i’ve had the best time visiting some of my friends for hari raya and deepavali, for warm generous smiles and home-cooked food. with globalisation, i guess you can find different cuisines in many places around the world, but i wouldn’t trade the place that i have for its closeness and authenticity, for the genuine want to immerse in a culture other than our own, to experience and understand each others’ lives, for their mother’s smiles when you tell them that the food they took hours to prepare tastes wonderful. it is this sort of close interaction that i appreciate, this openness to people who believe in something different than what you believe in, yet you welcome to your house with open arms. and the languages we speak- all different, yet entwined into this mess of dialects and languages called singlish. but i wouldn’t change it for anything else; for the ease with which we speak it, for this exclusive common understanding whose boundaries only enclose singapore. you can hear a singaporean and recognise a singaporean, and in a foreign land, the sense of familiarity is indescribable. we may not like everything about our country, but for this much i am thankful.

home is what we’ve come to treat as our most basic rights: the right to education, the right to dress freely and have the autonomy to decide, the right to justice. i’m not sure how many people have hung up their flags today, but it doesn’t matter to me. we are home with the gratitude in our hearts.

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