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truly almost where it all begins September 25, 2006

Posted by eatnorthamerica in things that are not quite things we know.
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A little green gem of an island, less than half the size of Greater London and twice as wired. Caned an American. A man brought one of the oldest institutions of England’s financial sector to its knees there. He got a little more than fired.

There’s only one season in Singapore, a season of undying heat and humidity. It doesn’t tend to change much. That’s how it was when I was a sunbaked child, dreaming of plump lilos tainted a chlorine blue.

I’d have sold half your family for a swimming pool.

I was there just last September. My friends and my mother have been telling me that nothing’s changed, so it was with great surprise that I told my cousin I was shocked by the populace; transformed by endless courtesy campaigns into a semblance of being polite and friendly.

“Ah, because you’re a foreigner!” she said. She laughed. I didn’t.

It’s weird, it’s unsettling, that moment when you realise you’re strange, in a familiar land.

I was born in Dublin when my father was studying in Ireland. One small fact of coincidence, that’s all you needed to contract all the conveniences of EU citizenry. We lived in Ireland, then England, then New Zealand, and finally my parents returned to Singapore when I was little more than a toddler. I grew up Singaporean, I guess. More or less. Probably less than more. I made friends there, some of whom chose to keep me. Then I moved with my mother and brother to London, at thirteen.

Two years later, I went back, just to see old faces for a while. I didn’t know how it’d make me feel. Now I do: utterly alienated.

Yeah well, you know. When you’re young, it’s easy to dismiss that kind of thing, which is exactly what I did over the next eleven years. Until this year, when I returned for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. I suppose some optimistic part of me must have expected to drop right back into place, because for two days I couldn’t get my cousin’s words out of my mind.

A kind of funk settled over me; I didn’t quite understand it at first. Almost a feeling of homesickness, but not for my home in England, and certainly not for a country I’d given up on thirteen years ago. It took a while before I realised it was a desire for any type of home at all.

Still a foreigner in England despite years of wholehearted integration, finally realising I had become a foreigner in the country where I’d spent the greater part of my childhood — to where I once pointed and said home — these things were more than unsettling. What I got was the culmination of every sense of displacement I’d ever experienced, pointing back at me and saying outside. Other.

My father sold our old house earlier this year. I hired a taxi and rode out to the place in which I’d spent most of my childhood. All the schools and buildings in my old neighbourhood were bigger, larger, newer, brighter, beaming down the streets all the way to our bungalow.

There she lay, in decay, through the shivering palm fronds no longer, ripped-down walls ruining into a multi-storeyed mansion. Past the draped scaffolding, I saw the balding grille of our old front door, flaked with distressed paint, hanging limply off a lonely hinge. I craned my neck over the dark wood fence. Something caught my eye; the beginnings of an oblong of water, blue-bordered by tiles.

Sometimes change comes with a sting. It was the final note, a word to say that if I have a home, it’s not in that place, nor in that country. It could be England, but I don’t think I could tell you that yet, not until I’ve told myself.

So I returned to London.

Next week I begin to go for interviews, to move jobs, change places, be new faces.

Life is change, change is upheaval. We can choose to change, or we can choose to hope to be changed. I belong nowhere. I can belong everywhere.

Time to change.