Turkey, ham and egg white sandwiched between wheat bread accompanied by a tumbler of white chocolate mocha; starting the day with breakfast in the comfort of Delfi Orchard Starbucks. Incessant traffic of vehicles, an abundance of sunshine through the full-length glass and background chattering in French, hello again. A little less than two weeks back in Singapore (after a month in America), the characteristics of this place I call home are more stark than ever. The pace of our footsteps, the daily choices that have become routine and the majority who look like me – these sights and sounds have become more pronounced given the wealth of time I have to slow down and immerse in the familiarity. This piece, written as I commence the one-month countdown in Singapore, hopes to capture the fleeting picture memories that would count more than I can imagine when I am living in Sydney. It is in my deepest hopes, that it inspires you to appreciate the subtle parts of our being we are not so mindful of.
First, on architecture. Remember the width of the roads – just enough for the cars to drive parallel to one another, with almost no room for careless shifting of the steering wheel. Remember the buildings: rectangles are popular because it is space efficient but they also make odd-shaped buildings representing an architect’s statement stand out. Remember the curves of Star Vista and the sculpted works of art in Raffles Place, the indentations of the walls in Outram Park MRT Station and the way the natural lighting brings life to Bras Basah MRT Station. I learned from a conversation with a friend doing architecture in university that the proximity of amenities in Singapore contributes to the livability of our community spaces. There is convenience and joy in everything you need in your living space being within walking distance along with an important by-product, the interactions with neighbours whom we live amongst.
Second, on nature. The fraction of our views that is the sky is usually no more than one-fifth, unless you stay in the East or go by the sea. Then, the days where you chance upon the view of the sky being anything besides one shade of blue dotted with white, remember the joy of basking in nature’s beauty and inadvertently, smiling. Remember the assortment of trees and bushes that line our streets, representative of our pioneers’ dreams of making Singapore a beautiful green space all over. Of which, approximately 95% of the greenery is imported from elsewhere, symbolic of the efforts we have made to be a hub of synergy and diversity. Remember the park connectors and the good memories associated with cycling adventures made on these trails. Some say Singaporeans too often, forget to slow down to ‘smell the roses’ and embrace nature. What little know is that our furrowing of eyebrows while we are heading to work or heading out for lunch, is not an indication of our unhappy selves but merely a response to nature shining brightly in our faces (literally). We are constantly in touch with nature, alright.
Third, on people. Remember the chapalang of languages and expressions that have become so uniquely Singaporean: our own version of English. An exquisite beauty, we rarely realise the poetic device applied when rojak is both edible and an adjective. Singaporeans are poets. There is, too, an adaptability we give ourselves little credit for, that shows in our code-switching based on fellow Singaporeans’ age and race. We know the lehs and lahs that help us connect in an instant and the jiak ba bui (‘Have you eaten?’ in Hokkien, a dialect), characteristic of a nation that appreciates food as an experience and privilege. When all else fails, we point at pictures and get creative (or impatient). Remember the conversations and what was often talked about – amongst peers, school and grades; amongst youths, the change we wanted to see and be; amongst working adults, various indications of purpose. The most precious, though, the conversations over the dining table where family is present. Remember that home is a feeling.
Days ago, on an UberPOOL towards the airport to meet a friend stopping over in Singapore, the vehicle passed by the Bugis area and then Orchard in the wee hours of the morning. Slightly before daylight and while the fluorescent street lamps accentuated the sky line, I noticed numerous new buildings that had still been surrounded by white hoardings (as they were under construction) before I had left for America. These changes taking place gradually every day, put together in a short span of a month, can be testament of our astounding pace of development and evolving landscapes. This leaves the possibilities of this space in the time from my departure almost unimaginable.
Remember the way you know how to get around and where to get the best foods; the perfect conversation starters and the deep connection with Singaporeans that you have practiced in all the years of your life. These are the days you walk a little slower, breathe more deeply and enjoy coffee at coffeehouses that give your panoramic views; here are the moments you close your eyes and take picture memories you can refer back to once more and the times you accommodate the schedules of all whom you love, to hold comfortable space with them. Remember these, and come what may.