Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Singapore, home, and the unburdening of promises that have outlived their relevance

I'm in Singapore right now. I came here last week to attend my younger brother's wedding, and will be here for another couple of weeks before I head back to the U.S.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that for the longest time, I have been experiencing a lot of fear about coming back to Singapore, or even thinking about the place itself (for more details, see this post). So why have I decided to come back this time? Ostensibly, it was because of my brother's wedding. He sent me an invite a few months ago, and even somebody as hard-headed and hard-hearted as yours truly cannot resist the pull of some basic familial obligations (along with some guilt-tripping on the part of my parents).

But on another, deeper level, there is a more powerful reason for my being back this time. On some level, I have decided that it is time for me to really come to terms with certain things from the past, that if I am to move forward confidently with my life in a way that is free and unencumbered, I need to come back here and squarely face up to the baggage that I have been carrying with me from the past. I'm not going to bore you with the details of what exactly this baggage consists in: That would take another long post or two, and I'm not in the mood to write that much at the moment, anyway. Suffice to say that there were some promises that I made to certain people many many years ago, and I have been burdened with guilt over the fact that I have not fulfilled those promises and have therefore betrayed these people. Anyway, I met up with these people over the last week. All of them understand that my life is now in a very different place from where it was years ago, and that it would be unreasonable to hold me up to those promises. Actually, a few of these people were surprised that I even felt guilty about the whole thing, as they themselves could barely even remember me making that promise to them!

I understand that all of this is probably very vague and probably very unsatisfying, from a story-telling point of view. But as I said, I don't feel like writing a whole other post explaining the content and background story of these promises. And in any case, I feel that the explicit content of the promises do not matter so much as the emotional and spiritual anguish involved in holding on to something that has outlived its relevance, and the liberation that comes from finally letting go of these things.

Right now, I feel a lot more free and confident about moving on with my life. One thing that has really bothered me a lot in the past few years is the question of where home is. On the one hand, nothing can change the fact that I was born in Singapore and have gone through many irreplaceable formative experiences and encountered so many wonderful people here. But ever since coming to the U.S., I have also had many other experiences and met so many people that are just as irreplaceable. I have always been uncomfortable with the notion, held by many people, that home is only the place where you were born and where most of your family is. I think that there is something to this notion, but this cannot be the whole truth, because I also believe that as a person evolves and grows, what kind of place he comes to call home must also evolve and change. This is especially true if he has moved to a place that is different from his birthplace, and has allowed that place to irrevocably shape who he is as a person.

Because of these considerations, I have, after much reflection and soul-searching, come to the conclusion that I am a person with two homes: Singapore will always be my home, but the United States is also equally my home. For me, there is no other way, because I simply cannot bring myself to put down one place in order to elevate the other. I have tried to do this in the past, and the result has always been a lot of unnecessary emotional anguish and suffering. What all this means is that I have to grow to become somebody whose life and heart is big enough to encompass both these places, whose life is big enough to enable him to truly become a man of the world. 


I could probably say more about this whole emotional and spiritual journey here, but I guess I'll stop here for now. Maybe I'll share my thoughts about being back in the place where I was born after 13 years (yes, I've been away for 13 years...).

One of the first things that hit me during my first few days in Singapore was: The whole island is one big freaking shopping mall! Everywhere you turn, there is some kind of shopping mall or other. So much so, that one can't help but wonder if the people in charge built the subway system (the MRT) simply in order to make it easier for people to go all over the island to shop at the different shopping malls! As you can well imagine, this, combined with the very high population density--there are more than 5 million people packed into 276 square miles--makes the entire place a very crowded and tightly packed concrete jungle. One of the first things I noticed upon arriving here was that many of the open spaces that I used to know as a young person growing up here have since been filled up: It seems that every square inch of open land here has been developed or is been developed into some kind of shopping mall, office building or condo. I'm not even going to tell you what I feel about all this, because, well, who wants to go there?

But thankfully, some places and people have stayed the same. Yesterday, I had lunch and tea at Holland Village with a good friend I haven't seen for a very long time. It was I who suggested meeting there, and the moment I got there, I remembered why I missed that place so much. The whole place has this laid-back, bohemian feel to it, and it has preserved this feel after all these years. To be sure, there are a whole bunch of new shops and restaurants that I don't recognize, but there is something about the way the streets are generously laid-out and the relaxed attitude of the locals that cue you in to the fact that the character of the place is very much alive and well after all these years. We went to this restaurant, ate lots of Indian food and shared a bottle of white wine, and talked the entire afternoon about our remembrances of things past and plans and hopes for the future. My friend, who was a young lady the last time I saw her, is still a young lady, plus a husband whom she is happily married to and a very adorable young daughter, both of whom I have yet to meet. It is great to finally see somebody who has constantly been in my thoughts all these years, and to see her so happy and fulfilled in life.


I've also had the opportunity to share my Ashtanga practice with a few friends. One of my friends saw that Youtube video of me doing primary series (if you haven't seen it, check out this post), and remarked that what I am doing is a good set of physiological movements that activates all aspects of the system. However, he continued, it is too tough for common folk in the street, and it probably doesn't help that many Singaporeans (yes, that's what you call people from Singapore) are overweight because Singapore is blessed with too much food (most of which is very delicious, but also very bad for you). I can't help feeling that what he says here is also a good description of Americans. Hmm... and I call both places home? Wonder what that says about me? :-)