Little boxes made of ticky tacky
I live in a city state I have loved all my life, but now I am not sure if I like it any more.
For 23 years this city has been a home in all senses of the word - where I grew up in the safety net of an education system that caters to all (if embracing only a select few); where I learnt childhood games recited in dialect I can still recall today; where I cut my teeth and learnt to fall and later learnt to fly. Home meant I would look to a red and white flag every day, sing an anthem I still know by heart, clench a fist across my chest during the national pledge as though it meant something - as though by clutching stubby fingers to my heart I could possibly reach in and grasp hold of the pride I felt for this country, as though if I could hold patriotism in my fingers it would become something tangible.
I loved - love - it for all it has given me, things I am grateful for, things that still matter. The way it has given me roots and wings, taught me how to use them and known both when to hold on and let go (now I look for the exact same combination in a partner). Security in all senses of the word. The pride I have in calling this country my own.
But I look around now at streets I have known intimately all my life and suddenly they seem foreign, the lit windows of little boxes stacked atop one another housing lives, stories I should be able to relate to better than this. Now the city pulses around me with a heartbeat out of sync with my own. Every morning on my way to work the clicking of kitten heels and dress shoes washes over my head in a discordant frenzy; disjointed voices packed too tightly into aged trains curse everything from their jobs to their paychecks. It is like gnarled fingers have reached into my soul, clawed out my worst thoughts, and are speaking them aloud to make them real.
Now this city’s dreams are no longer my own. The chorus of nation building sentiment splashed across our nation’s daily paper has slowly ceased to make sense. The flats we are meant to buy, cars we are supposed to drive, economic progress we laud, suddenly rings hollow. The material goods we are supposed to aspire to, lit up and held aloft on billboards and instagram news feeds, have never felt more irrelevant. I’m not sure if she’s changed, or if I have. I’m not sure when all this stopped being enough.
They look at me and all they see is youth in this freshly-minted graduate. Some days I wish I could buy contentment as easily as them, packaged in a tidy shift dress and a black leather bag toted on a proud forearm. Some days I am jealous they find it so easily. But most days I am scared to death of growing up, if growing up means wanting the same things as them.
They tell us we have it good, and I cannot disagree - but when did having it good become synonymous with being happy?
When you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born, it’s time to go. I still love you, Singapore, but I need to leave, so I can learn to like you again.