A Singapore Story

I have been away from ‘home’ full time for almost five years now. Even though I’ve lived in other countries in the past, I never stopped seeing Singapore as ‘home’. ‘Home’ was where my family, childhood home, friends, food, favorite places, and memories were. I was afloat, in that I was quite literally all over the world, but I was rooted. Every once in a while I floated my way ‘home’.

This time it’s different. I’ve built a home elsewhere, in San Francisco, with my wife. We have a life here. We have two senior pets, who we love very much. Our home, in the literal sense, is a comfortable apartment in the center of San Francisco. It is perhaps one of the first ‘homes’ my wife has had, but I am feeling.. no, struggling, with the idea that I never quite got to say goodbye to my ‘home’.

For Singaporeans abroad, it usually means home in a literal sense shifts from under your feet. Our little island city state country where the capital of Singapore is Singapore moves on and on without you. Buildings change. Entire neighborhoods emerge. Two new train lines appear, like mushrooms after the rains. You needn’t even have been gone for very long. It just happens. That’s how it is. (I’ve examined this many, many times in the past, with no conclusion.)

The neighborhood I ran around in as a child, after Sunday school, and as an adult, as I lived there, is now gone. Most of it, anyway. They moved most people out of Tanglin Halt, the neighborhood that was home to Singapore’s first high rise public housing apartments, to build even taller ones. Even today, you can get into a cab and tell the driver (of any ethnicity) that you want to go to zap lau (ten floors, in Hokkien) and they know exactly where to take you. To Tanglin Halt, the site of Singapore’s very first ten story tall public housing buildings.

a color photograph of an old neighborhood in Singapore with people walking past food sellers in a low rise building

Tanglin Halt food stalls I have been eating at since I was a child.

a color photograph of shuttered shops on the ground floor of a deserted building

My favorite old school Chinese bakery with the best donuts and Hai Lam bread is gone.

a color photograph of a Singapore subway train station above ground, with tropical plants in the foreground

A friend of mine lived in a newer building in Tanglin Halt. On the 25th floor. We went to that house in May. When we visited again in October, he had moved down the street to another neighborhood with even taller buildings. He now lives on the 40th floor.

This is the neighborhood I lived in since I was born. While I was away, my parents moved to the 25th floor of brand new public housing apartments 7 minutes away, right next to the train station. It was their wish to be close to a mall and a train station in their old age so they don’t feel too isolated as they get older. In October, I said bye to the home and the neighborhood knowing I will probably rarely go there again. Which is a weird thought, since it was all I’d known as ‘home’.

a color photograph of some tropical plants in the foreground and red and white colored apartments in the background

I noticed things I never did when I actually lived there. Like all of the plants in front of my ‘block’.

a color photograph of a view from a window that looks into tall buildings. a metal piece that looks strange is attached to a window.

The view from my mum’s old kitchen. The metal stuff sticking out of the kitchen window is a laundry pole holder. We put our clothes on bamboo sticks, then stick the stick into the laundry pole holder, and air dry clothes that way. The traditional way. Nicer than a dryer.

My apartment overlooked a bad mall. But it was where I went to spend all my money at the arcade (Time Crisis 2, I still resent you); meet dates, grab food, shop for groceries. It was my bad mall. I don’t think I will miss it. But it will be weird to not longer have it in my life.

a color photograph of a view of a Singapore mall next to a canal and tall buildings around it

Farewell, West Coast Plaza.

I am frequently traipsing around in the green bits of Singapore. There’s quite a lot of it, actually. Many of the ‘wilder’ bits I used to walk around in for fun, now have names and signs and sometimes, buildings. Like the Green Corridor. I liked the tropical forest. I even lived in one for a while.

a color photograph of some green trees and blue skies in Singapore

Some trees near Queensway. View from the road. I lived in an old house deep inside, which could be accessed via a shortcut through this bit of green. They’re building on it now.

a color photograph of a queer couple in wedding clothes walking along a bridge that is in a forest in Singapore

I like the trees so much, I even had my wedding photos taken there. These were the former railway tracks to Malaysia.

In the end, I’m just but a small cog in the wheel that is Singapore, that keeps turning. My memories and my life there fade every year. It’s the same, but different (for me). When we took that photo in our wedding whites at the train tracks in Bukit Timah, we were about to move to the United States. I guess intellectually I knew what was going to happen. But emotionally? I was never ready. Maybe I still am not.

All photos taken on Ricoh GR III

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Adrianna Tan @skinnylatte
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