Still counting up: 14 days back in Singapore, and counting. This morning (going on afternoon), I am on a routine bus ride of 19 stops from Bukit Batok Driving Centre after a theory lesson to begin a day of exercise, family time and self-care. Today the sky is clear, an incredible shade of blue and Bukit Batok has beauty in its sporadic clutters of trees along the roads and a familiar quiet in the industrial parks. This weekend is the first book out weekend for many friends dear to me, who recently became fresh NS recruits – characteristic of them are their tan and bald heads (reminding me so much of my bald episode). Along with sharing their milestone and conscious comparisons to my earlier month away, I am learning to appreciate Singapore’s pretty ugly.
Last night, I enjoyed the production put together by the talented crew of NUS USP’s Drama team titled “404 Not Found”. Interestingly, the exploration of the distinction between ‘unreal’ virtual relationships and ‘real’ familial relationships left the audience in tears by half time: you could hear distinct weeping from different directions, some softer than others. I thought the beauty lie in the intensity of emotions that could be evoked from an ‘Internet friend’ – the first play saw a man and woman devastated by emptiness in the ‘loss’ of each other as ‘Internet friends’ and the second play tested the friendship of a group of ‘Internet friends’ who searched high and low for one who went missing. So often, we underestimate how attached we can be to ideas. From the play in its entirety, there was careful thought put into the depiction of what idea every ‘Internet relationship’ represented – an escape, a safe haven or somewhere to be someone we wish we were. Similarly, our comfort in Singapore itself is an idea.
It is the idea of home – the comfortable space we can lead our lives the way we hope, admittedly with exceptions. Listening to the stories of 5-storey bunks and assigned toilets, or the mandatory marches that replace walking, I can only imagine how much we take for granted in Singapore – the “having someone else clean up after us”, the “Sun that doesn’t kill you with its blazing heat”, the “easily accessible toilets”. In short, we are unknowingly attached to this freedom that we almost always fail to be content with.
Back in the month-long retreat, I found myself singing praises quickly about the countries/ states I had visited – for the beautiful scenery, friendly culture, all the pretty hiding the ugly I couldn’t see. Back at home, I am many more times critical. If there were a point system where we rate our own home country, there is a tendency to deduct 10 points for every demerit that are present inevitably and to add only a fraction of a point for every blessing that comes (too) easily – we label ‘ugly’ and fail to appreciate the ‘pretty ugly’.