As I sit comfortably on the Bus 105 seat taking the regular route toward RGS, the rain is pattering against the windows. I can’t hear it because I have my earpieces on, but I can see it; and it gives me a feeling I can’t find a better word to describe, but I suppose ‘carefree’ suffices. Long bus rides while it’s raining give me a very refreshing feeling—a kind of comfortable that has the protection of home despite encompassing the spirit of adventure as the bus travels down the road. It’s like going on an exciting journey (not necessarily knowing where you’re going to get off), but knowing you’re safe, and protected. I’d say this is the kind of freedom I’m used to, one that is very precious and I’d like to attempt to articulate why I find confusing treasure in this form of freedom.
I’ve been overseas a couple of times—once to Hong Kong for a family holiday, four times to the United States for Odyssey of the Mind/ Destination Imagination and once to Cambodia for our Interact International Understanding Trip. In the coming December, I’ll be making my way Vietnam for our Youth Corps Singapore Service Trip. And everytime I’m overseas, I get homesick at least once, I’m wary on the streets and I feel the unnecessary urge to be extra cautious in every step that I take. I suppose it’s the fact that I grew up in a little red dot like ours and the Singaporean blood in me that has shaped me from childhood to be used to the safety that our country offers relatively (exceedingly) well compared to others. I imagine if I were a parcel to be shipped over to another country at any point, I’d be covered in ‘Fragile’ stickers and ‘Handle With Care’ stamps all over—vulnerable to a single knock or hit along the way. So if we are talking about the freedom to explore physically, this amount that I get in Singapore would be a fine and delicate balance I would be uncomfortable to shift, even to the smallest extent.
Yesterday, a spontaneous visit to the Arts House with Rachel Chang found us in the screening room watching a film titled ‘3.50’ shown as part of the Freedom Film Festival 2014. The film was set in Cambodia, questioning the value of one’s life—as the story revolves around a foreign documentarian hoping to save a girl from the Virgin Trade/ Prostitute Industry in Cambodia and striving to be a freedom fighter amidst the danger posed to her safety. The plot gets further complicated when her son’s life is endangered, and in a whirl of events, she ends up shooting the man who truly brought freedom to the girl she was saving. The part of the film I’d like to bring attention to is the moment freedom was granted to the girls that had been saved from the brothel they were sold to. Upon being released to the streets of Cambodia and given a stash a cash each, there were varying responses from the girls that gave me insight to the dilemmas upon being granted relatively more freedom to explore than before. There were girls who immediately returned to their families, but more of them were left lost, completely clueless of what to do next. One of whom even returned to the brothel on her own as she felt she had nowhere to go and felt unsafe in the state of freedom. This reminds me of the book I’ve been reading titled ‘Dear Leader’ by Jang Jin Sung about his escape from North Korea—he had recounted that the first pang of feeling when he finally crossed the borders of North Korean into China, it was the feeling of abandonment. It wasn’t that he felt like he had abandoned his homeland but that his homeland had abandoned him, it was as if in the face of this newly granted freedom, he was thrown into a state of insignificance. I guess that’s what we refer to as a ‘lack of sense of belonging’.
And so today I’m left wondering if freedom is really something we’d like to pursue. We all have a range of freedom that we are comfortable with (consciously, or subconsciously). And it appears we seem to always want more freedom: but in face of it I wonder if I will be able to grow to fill the space of the given freedom or will I shrink desperately to return to my comfort zone.