Singapore

if it’s only a cliché

I am currently listening to an upbeat mix. I am uncomfortably stuffed on lamb, and while lamb may be good, roasted lamb fat is hell to get off dishes, and my fingers still carrying the lingering stench. These few days have been dissatisfactorily listless, and I have a persistent low grade headache and I have been eating so much without enjoying it, and I feel like I need to do a good hard run to get my stomach out of its current state.

But that’s not interesting, so, here, have what I miss about Singapore:

I miss the furious grayness of the rain, total and loud and indiscriminate when it comes, how refreshingly cold it is after the sticky heat that usually precedes a storm (the smell of it, from my windows, and of course, the things I did in the rain, the people I did them with, how running around in it was exhilaratingly childish, and people on the streets with umbrellas sometimes stared). Here when it rains, it rains in a sort of dreary mist that hangs from the sky and never really seems to culminate or end. I miss the food, though not in a constant sort of way that sentence seems to imply: the craving comes intermittently but when it hits, it’s a moment of intense desire and I can almost – but not quite – taste it. In that way, I’ve missed Handburger (and the memories of the dinners I had there), sushi (I am determined to have it once before break ends, though my host parents brought some supermarket sushi back yesterday, which wasn’t too bad), roast duck, chicken wings the way my family cooks it, tom yam 手工板面, homemade soup, char kway teow, laksa – even canteen food! Orgasmic mee pok \o/ Seafood. It’s funny how much people associate stir-fry with Chinese food here, and how it’s only one method of cooking among others, whereas before, I just thought of it as how we cook, and there was never that consciousness of it being a specific style (also, their stir-frys are nothing like the kind we have.) I also miss cooked vegetables, imagine that. I haven’t had bok choy (and again, I’ve never called it that before) and spinach since I left. I miss taking public transport, kind of. I miss being in the same time zone, oh god, though I confess it does boost productivity significantly. I miss being (vaguely) excited about heading to school each morning, because it was a routine of leaving the house and seeing people, and to some extent, the pressure of classes and homework and assignments and being academically pushed (or dragged along, at times). I miss the oddly insular nature of RJ and Raffles, how we seek each other’s company and kind of exist almost codependently and how intimate and constant the relationships become, with the never-ceasing interactions (during class, during lectures, walking to and from classes, before and after school) that was the only way I really knew how to make friends, before coming here. I miss getting Newsweek and Time and (to a lesser extent), the Economist. I miss how subtle the differences between people were, how even though we probably look and sound so alike to foreigners, the nuances of our views are incredibly rich and varied, and the frequency of the incongrously profound conversations we’ll have in the middle of the canteen or in the classroom between tutorials or during free blocks. I miss how easily and cheaply you can get good food in the supermarkets (the admittedly shamelessly unsustainable import of unseasonal produce, or the availability of tropical fruits, at the very least) and the hawker centers (where before I had failed to see their brillance, now faced with only a choice between the scattering of little, expensive restaurants and the ubiquitous ‘food court’ of expensive fast food chains, I get it). I miss the ridic HK drama serials I used to watch. More than anything, as a sort of low ache or an indent pressed into my heart I miss the people with whom I’ve shared so many years and experiences and conversations, how they will never look at me quizzically when I’m talking and go sorry, what was that? could you repeat that? (well, not usually!) and how they’ve kept in touch with me through the departure and the bad months and the good moments and by their presence alone have reminded me that whatever it is will pass, and all will be better, if not good. I miss the tiny dramas, also, I just realized – how oddly enough (again, another sudden realization), considering the ultimate extent of intimacy, I felt closer and more like I was living with people back in RJ rather than here, despite actually, you know, living with people. I guess partly that’s the instinctive level of trust within my social circle, while on the other hand, at the level of general faith in the social intelligence and the commitment to the progress of humanity, it’s probably higher on the whole here than in RJ, if only because I still remember the various stupidities of the whole Raffles institution. I miss how unquestionably foundational our assumptions are, how safe and directed our thought processes are, and how there is that implicit path for us and how excellence is always, relentless expected. I miss how small Singapore is, how it feels – illusorily – to be at the top of the top, and how because it is taken for granted that there is not enough in the country we must always look outside, and the mobility that gives us and the accompanying metaphor of a back-up, an anchor in the middle of the sea, secure and insulated, to which to return home if foreign travel doesn’t fare well for us.

It’s always presumptuous to say Canada, though easiest – I have barely seen Canada itself as a country, and even Vancouver Island itself; all I really know to any extent at all is Greater Victoria, but there are things I like about being here: 

I like how postcard gorgeous the land is here, the wide spread of space and the easy availability of land obvious in the careless abandon with which massive parking lots and what we’ll call bungalows or mansions in Singapore but here simply called houses are built, and how unbelievably big the supermarkets are. I like that I can walk around for hours and hours and not break a sweat, and how easy it is to get around by walking or biking alone (and thus how easily it is to keep in shape). I like how I can stand and look around and still see sky almost close enough to touch, and how I can walk to the end of the main street my host parents live on and stop still and gasp at the way the island simply stops and dips down in the face of the sea, wide and unfathomable and endless, and the mountains behind that, peaking above the wisps of clouds hanging low. I like how almost everyone composts and recycles. I like how my host family, at least, and the college, gives us wholegrain bread. I like how (relatively) cheap meat is here, though it depends on what cuts and what kind you get, though not how tropical fruits and in general, vegetables, are almost prohibitively expensive. I like that Subway, not Macdonalds, seem to be the predominant (semi) fast food restaurant in Victoria. I like my campus, how we own our own land next to the bay and we have a floating building and whale skeletons defleshed by ex-students and how isolated we are and the fact that we have guardianship of our own island marine facility and the people, of course, that now I have a face for a lot of countries and it makes the countries themselves more important and relevant to me. I think it’s cute that even people on the streets of Victoria don’t use their handphones obsessively, and that a lot of shops usually close by 6 PM each day, and on weekends and public holidays, as inconvenient for me as it sometimes is. I like how my host parents’ house has stairs and is very conveniently located and that I can make my own food whenever I want. I like the general air of independence people in my school have, though in some ways, I feel that Singaporeans (within my narrow subsection of the general Singapore population, obviously) are more mature because they are more cynical about the common teenage vices through (over)exposure in the media. I like that people actually go out and play, especially sports, without having to be in a CCA, and that people know how to just have fun without going out shopping or playing procrastinating games online because they can’t have fun for the sake of having fun, they have to have fun to avoid work. I like that people aren’t as obsessive about weight as they are in RJ, and how there seems to be less talk about how superficially hot someone is here, and personality is actually found interesting, and that people go to the gym and swim semi-regularly, as a lifestyle choice.

I don’t know how to end this. I guess I will always find more things to add on to it, and eventually I will compile everything, but – really. I kind of feel like I should never stay too long in a place, because as a traveller, a visitor, I see more readily the beauty in a place than as a person who lives there, because I think the mundane humdrum of living and reality and paying bills and doing dishes and regularity whitewashes the community with a layer of unremarkable familiarity, and things you see all the time fail to impress you, because it’s comfort you want from the place, and not inspiration.

I confess I am in a hurry to end this post so I can post it and restart Firefox because it’s lagging (and I want to watch another episode of BBT while I eat a pear before I start mustering up the discipline to shut my laptop off and do some sorely needed reading). 2011 has been technically disagreeable so far; I suspect I’m on the verge of illness, partly brought on because I’ve not been drinking enough water lately, though I have been trying to remedy that today. In any case! 

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