This is my first morning back home, but I’m suffused with sadness. I miss Singapore! How did that happen? How did that singular, goofy, earnest place get into my bones? These questions aren’t just rhetorical, because I really can’t pinpoint the exact moment when Singapore began to feel like home.
Part of my emotional confusion now is down to jetlag, of course. There’s also the whiplash effect of passing through so many cities and countries during the last weeks: Phuket, Saigon, Hanoi, Singapore, London (yes, yesterday morning we walked along the Thames and took pictures of Cleopatra’s Needle and Big Ben), now Cambridge, Mass.
It’s all good. It’s all—what? Too ephemeral? No, but it’s not quite the material of a public travelogue. As always, Vietnam was wonderful and challenging. We visited Nick’s orphanage, a truly moving return for us all, but not part of this Singapore story.
And so I’m back to whiplash, of the cultural and emotional kind. We returned to S’pore for a few days before our flight back to Boston (with that 20-hour layover in London), staying in the same hotel off Orchard Road as when we first arrived. We relived as much as we could—going to our favorite bookstore, eating at outdoor cafes on the river or Sentosa boardwalk, cruising through Chinatown and the Singapore Art Museum.
But inevitably, we were grabbing at the small things, because that’s where Singapore excels. Its urban excesses and delights felt precious to me in the most unlikely ways:
- selling our used books at the Bras Basah Complex;
- buying variations of “Singapore Is a Fine City” T-shirts;
- eating Thunder Tea rice at Lau Pa Sat;
- listening to the mynahs chatter on Orchard just above the glittering crowds;
- visiting the URA Centre—finally!—and snapping pictures of multimedia displays about city planning and scale models of architectural developments.
All this felt right and fitting and personally satisfying, even if we didn’t get a chance to go back to the zoo—or MacRitchie Reservoir to face down more monkeys—or to Little India and Arab Street—or to other tourist haunts, although Rob and Nick did return to Sentosa Island one more time.
I’ve long thought that I was a cat in a past life, because changing homes and physical spaces is so hard for me. I become attached to that beat-up chair that gets afternoon sunlight; to the sound of the subway whooshing, to our hot and humid outdoor kitchen in Simei. I get attached to places as well as people, to walls that may seem like the most ordinary things in the world, but they carry all the shadow plays and feelings I cast on them.
I’ll get reattached to Cambridge, too. I never used to think of our condo as especially quiet, not with our neighbors below and on both sides, not with Fresh Pond Parkway rumbling just blocks away. But I was shocked to wake up to a dawn chorus of birds this morning—real birds. I was shocked by the lack of street noise. No subway nearby or buses or constant flow of cars and motor bikes.
I grew used to the urban density of Singapore, even out in the burbs of Simei. Maybe that’s one answer to how a place gets into your bones; you recalibrate if it feels like home.
Now I expect to smell durian when I cross the street. And why isn’t there a reflexology path on the sidewalk outside our door? Why can’t we walk to the nearest food court to grab kopi, some prata or congee or chicken rice?
Well, I know why. I’m home again in another home. Soon I’ll be dreaming of Burdicks hot chocolate. Nick and Rob are downstairs making popovers as I type. We are home.