Wednesday, July 21

Emerging from the Straits

So, my sister Cinnamon complained on Facebook the other day that she’s been waiting to hear about my recent trip to Singapore and all the food experiences I had there. Rewind a few weeks, and a telephone conversation between us had me telling her about my latest idea for the blog and her saying she wanted to hear all about Singaporean food instead. I mulled over this, but nothing came, and I didn’t write.

I was thinking the other morning (after seeing her Facebook post) about why it is that I don’t feel drawn to writing about my Singapore food experiences. It’s unusual for me to feel that way, because I usually see Singapore as a, to use my sister’s words, Food Mecca. Hey, I usually see it as a Mecca for almost everything. Every time I fly to Singapore on the world’s best airline, it’s as if I’m going on a pilgrimage - I go to pay respects to the origin of me, my home, my family, the food I love, the warmth... all the things that England doesn’t have and can’t give me. Rewind a little more (okay, a lot more), and we have me first coming to the UK to go to boarding school (not because my parents didn’t love me – it was my crazy idea!). I remember after one of my trips home for the Christmas break, I brought back in my schoolgirl suitcase a box of Singaporean Kleenex and I cried into it for two weeks. Yes, I really missed home.

Forward back to the present day. Things seem to have changed, and I noticed it more than ever this time around. I am one of these people who feel a permanent sense of displacement. I’ve lived my entire adult life in a country that I can’t fully call my own (much as I have wanted to, the tabloid-induced xenophobia makes it very difficult for me to feel accepted…). But when I’m in Singapore, I’m definitely not a ‘local’. My messed up accent betrays other influences and my approach to life isn’t safe enough. The country where our parents were born isn’t a candidate for a real ‘home’ either, as I’ve never lived there. Don’t get me wrong – I completely appreciate how flexible I am and how global an outlook I have thanks to my own and my family's varied experiences. But when it comes to the question of where I feel at home, I can’t put a pin on a map. Even if you gave me more than one pin, I couldn’t put two of them close enough to each other to feel good about it.

And so, in Singapore, which I used to look at as a beautiful paradise full of all things wonderful that cheered my heart, I didn’t feel the same this time. And that’s why I haven’t been able to write about the food – no longer did I feel that Singapore had the best food to offer me, or even the comfort food I wanted. Over the past year, I’ve built a system here in London that’s custom-tailored to my health needs, and I missed it. So much of the food I ate in Singapore (outside home) didn’t make me feel good anymore. It made me feel heavy, sluggish and over-stimulated. So often I had the feeling that it was oily, packed with white carbs, made from ingredients that weren’t of the best quality and thrown together really quickly. I knew then that it was over. The connection I’d clung onto since my school days had been severed. And I realized that, even if the broader British Isles don’t yet qualify for the title, this little flat here in London was maybe, just maybe, becoming home. Somewhere in the aftermath of the avalanche, a small blossom peeks out of the snow...


Anonymous said...

Your edelweiss (from seed to blossom) is almost exactly how I feel! Thank you for articulating that. It is a great comfort even just to know that someone else feels the same way.



Anandam said...

I have been in the US now for almost 9 years with breaks in Singapore/India/Libya/UAE/Malaysia and I feel the same way. I seem to find it difficult to comprehend Singlish, and the abruptness of people in general. I feel very comfortable with my circle of good friends and relatives in Singapore but that's all; do not crave for food there or for any of the shopping malls.

Anonymous said...

My ties are to another island, and while I would never claim it to be a food Mecca, I think I have over the years, turned into a place that I feel should be home. But with all the time I have spent abroad, with all the friends I've "gathered" up and all the outside influences, would it ever be possible for me to return to the place I think of as "home"?
Despite the different locations, I can empathise with the emotions and hope that one day I too will be able to work out where "home" truly is for me.

Sparkly Date Palm

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Very surprised but proud of you, kid! It takes courage and awareness to come to that conclusion.


Anonymous said...

During my twenties I had a wise mentor in Chicago who I suspect tired of hearing me proclaim my Southern heritage. She once told me that my identity would eventually become based more on experience than geography. I love that my childhood roots stay with me now as my experience if not my idenity.
All the best!


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