What Is Sorry For

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The Aboriginal flag painted on a brick wall.
©bigstockphoto.com/ budastock

National Sorry Day in Australia brings people together in unity towards the healing of the Stolen Generations, their families and communities. From 1788, British colonial powers arrived by boat to the shores of Australia in search for land and resources – this was the beginning of a nightmare for Indigenous Australians as countless were forcibly removed from their families and communities. Numerous massacres were committed in this time; the unimaginable atrocities became a blemished chapter in the history of the world’s longest-standing traditional cultures. The trauma, injustices and grief persist today in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who experience inequality in economic, social and health spheres amongst others.

The first National Sorry Day was in 1998; the first public and formal apology made belatedly. Everything that follows (the reports written, research done, compromises made) are attempts at turning ‘sorry’ into action and transforming reconciliation from just lip-service. As a history student since high school, I have always been appalled at the wrong-doings that we can commit against each other as human brothers and sisters over and over, as if we never learn. Time and again, we let the distracting veils of self-interest make paper-thin excuses for cruel acts against one another – we let the politics have full reign, let the media deceive. Our democracies are lies we tell ourselves, for our votes choose us (not the other way round).

We are on a broken treadmill that never stops, running away from shame and guilt. We play broken recorders that repeat ‘sorry’s in different languages. Calluses grow on our palms as we try relentlessly, to wash away stains of our past. We try to forget – there are countries that choose amnesia by erasing the stories, literally, from textbooks; we try to repent – there are others that build endless memorials for those who once lived. Patience will run out, and so will space. The most important lesson of history is to reflect on our present and consider the ongoing acts that will soon become history.  

Today, suffering of all sorts permeate society even on an individual level. A beautiful paragraph encapsulates it,

“Today we have higher buildings and wider highways but shorter temperaments and narrower points of view. We spend more but enjoy less. We have bigger houses but smaller families. We have more compromises but less time. More knowledge, but less judgment. We have more medicines, but less health. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk much, love only a little and hate too much. These are the times with more liberty but less joy; more food but less nutrition. These are the days in which two salaries come home but divorces increase. We have finer houses, but broken homes.”

This is the paradox of our time. All over, humankind is facing brokenness in more ways than one. On a day dedicated to reflection of the world we live in from history to today, this is my invitation to step out of the ‘state of transparency’, where human suffering remains transparent and where crises remain ignored just because we think they do not directly affect us. For the ‘state of transparency’ to even have been a choice is a privilege that we earned no entitlement to and in this state, we fall prey to apathy, to live lives of ignorance and to run on treadmills we can never step off.

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Asylum seekers signal for help while making their way across the Indian Ocean towards Australia in 2013. © Joel van Houdt / Hollandse Hoogte

Here’s my call to action. The first Indigenous Australians arrived on boats; then, in 1788, colonial masters from Britain arrived in boats. Today, ‘the boat people’ is part of everyday language to refer to refugees seeking asylum in other countries after fleeing their own. The tragedy of 59.5 million refugees in the world together struggling in-between, paying the human cost for our apathy and self-interest is a reality we can’t ignore – it is the ongoing act that will become history. There is always something you can do; start where you are and do what you can.

From today, I will be embarking on a month-long journey to lend my voice to those who go unheard, forgotten. In the lead-up to Refugee Awareness Week (18-25 June 2017), I will be raising funds for the refugee support efforts in Jordan. Syria refugees will be provided with education, medical services and ration packs amongst other necessities with funds raised at bit.ly/sherms4refugees.

Hopefully, then as we each make our little efforts count, National Sorry Day wouldn’t just be a ritual where we strive towards saying “enough” ‘sorry’s. Can any number of apologies ever be enough for the lives that stop living the day the boats arrived?

I welcome thoughts, ideas and emotions at shng4630@uni.sydney.edu.au

 

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Celebrate 2016

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Culture Espresso sits at the junction of 38th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, New York City. Seated at a high stool before a marble table facing the full-length glass panels that surround this café, I’d like to think I’ve found the New York equivalent to the Delfi Orchard Starbucks where I have incredible memories I hold dear – the pace of footsteps has significantly decreased at this junction, population density even more so. The fireplace exits of the residential bricked-buildings create uncanny symmetry across the street and most of the remaining stores remain closed. This is the street that awakens naturally; as opposed to the ever-awake Broadway Avenue where lights and sounds are no less than a sensory overload. This is the morning of the last day of 2016 for me, there is a playful sense of victory as if I’ve ‘bought an extra day’ by spending countdown in America. That aside, this piece is in reflection and celebration of the year that has come and gone.

I guess you can say this was my gap year. If you’ve heard this story before, please skip this paragraph completely and go to the compartmentalized lessons I have attempted to draw from the countless, precious experiences and people from the year. Awaiting to read Occupational Therapy in the University Sydney, I only commence studies in March 2017 (departing for Australia in February). A vastly different new normal from the one I have imagined while I was studying for ‘A’ Levels, I never expected to take anything more than an 8-month break nor leave this country that I feel deeply connected with. In my family, we don’t call this a gap year, the word is almost taboo – it comes with connotation of too much uncertainty, even a ‘waste of time’. There is a slippery slope projection into the future that comes with the idea of a gap year that ends with my retirement alone and failing in my career. Of course, I respond to the ridiculous ‘timeline of life’ that we too often subject ourselves to with more laughter than pressure. (For now, at least.)

There is immense importance in the stories we tell ourselves: they reflect certain principles and beliefs we hold dear and sometimes act as reinforcements to our character; other times they can mislead us or contribute to a narrow-minded conviction that it’s ‘our way or the highway’. The only antidote is non-stop learning. My WordPress pieces have often attempted to achieve that balance in separate pieces, but for my series of ‘Celebrate (insert year)’ pieces (see Celebrate 2013Celebrate 2014 and Celebrate 2015), they have more often been about the former.

Uncertainty and Learning

slide01slide02slide03The ‘A’ Levels, in theory, is a series of exams that lasts no more than a month and a half. It is widely accepted that the implications are felt even before the month of exams commences – they say ‘It is not about the outcome, it’s the process.’ Now though, I can vouch for the anxiety that persists even after the series of examinations. Like a knot in our hearts, the tendency to place the worth of the years of hard work in a single result transcript is tempting; the social construct has it so. The first important lesson from the beginning of the year, then, was to forgive ourselves and unlearn what we have learnt about self-worth growing up in education characterized by paper chase and portfolio-driven assessments.

More than ever, I miss dearly the structured environment for learning that I have been blessed with. The unchartered terrains of internships in Raffles Hospital then in Early Childhood Development Authority have been space for self-discovery and continued learning, a legacy left behind by being in the Raffles Programme for 6 years. Persisting from July, is the space of Healthcare Scholarship and a Giving Week Stint raising funds for the Room to Read Global Organisation at the end of this year was very much dedicated to the appreciation for quality education that was an immense privilege. As I exit through the Rafflesian gates, I find myself in spaces where learning opportunities are abundant but must be actively sought after. I continue to craft the questions and revisit them out of habit but answers are no longer found in a single conversation with an inspired educator and knowledge-hungry peers, they are found in the processing of numerous sources and days of research. A newfound appreciation for the community of learning and excellence has found me visiting my alma mater and Junior College countless times across the year, each time rejuvenated by the unconditional love and desire to inspire of the teaching and non-teaching staff.

In face of the uncertainty post-Junior College that people don’t talk about enough, there has been necessary reading and reflection on solitude and being my own person, an idea not unfamiliar but necessitated only in this year.

Gratitude and Giving Back

slide10slide11In Junior College, I was always reminded that grades matter, but who you are matters more. The privilege of crossing paths with Halogen Foundation Singapore and Youth Corps Singapore was the constant source of this important reminder. Built on a foundation of educators and of family, who believed that I was worth a whole lot more than my achievements and that my achievements were simply reflections of more important values that I possessed, I owe my resilience today to these people. I used to negotiate for a gap year to devote time to not only the abovementioned learning, but also to the service I hoped to give back to these people and communities.

I am incredibly thankful for these spaces that have continued to embrace me in spite of my formal departure and regardless of my absence while I was a full-time student. The opportunities I’ve had to represent teams or causes larger than myself have continued to reaffirm my belief that nothing important gets done alone, and together, we can do great things.

In one of my favourite reads in the world, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, I have learned of the ‘culture of scarcity’ that has plagued us. We never find anything or anyone enough, including ourselves. The time never enough to accomplish our tasks, the resources never enough to go around (so we ‘must compete’), the recognition never enough to feel worthy. In the past, shame was a two-person affair, at least. Today, we learn to do it all by ourselves – we convince ourselves we are not enough (not skinny enough, not smart enough, not capable enough). In a lifestyle of service, I have learned to be more empathetic, mindful and compassionate – these practices central to the person I want to be. This keeps me focused on personal development and being thankful. This is the antidote I have found for scarcity. Remember this: the opposite of ‘scarcity’ is not abundance (because abundance suggests excess); the opposite of ‘scarcity’ is enough.

Still learning from each volunteer I work with and still immersing with every partner in service, my perspective of the world is constantly recalibrated in a way that reminds me that we are all global citizens in a place so much larger (both physically and metaphorically) than ourselves. Only when we engage with the world around us from a place where we believe in enough, will we find joy.

Wholeheartedness

slide04slide05slide06slide07slide08slide09I mention in my earlier piece on Wholehearted Living about the concept’s principles. The idea, in a nutshell, has it that we find peace with the earlier mentioned culture of scarcity so that we can meaningfully engage with those around us. This has been a struggle that surfaced in this year relatively distant from the tight-knit communities I have found strength from. In having to actively reach out and be a part, there has been self-doubt and no short of self-assessment about the person that I am.

The challenge to living with wholeheartedness is that we often lack courage to be who we are bravely. It makes us vulnerable to a point of discomfort. In the month where I investigated the issue of suicide prevalence and the roots of depression, it was painful to find that we have created a society where so many cannot feel okay being the person that they are and even more so to have these thoughts of self-doubt find resonance within me. I am still practicing. On this road of self-compassion and mastering vulnerability, I owe thanks to the closest of friends who truly, truly love me not regardless of my flaws but because of them. It is because of the genuine company of people like you that I am slowly learning to believe that people, in general, are always trying their best (and so am I).

Daring Greatly

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If you’ve heard my quote the Man in the Arena Speech by Theodore Roosevelt before, you’re welcome to skip this paragraph. Here goes – it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Ever since I’ve fallen in love with this quote so telling of true bravery, I have newfound courage to pursue feats, tread untrodden paths and take calculated risks. If I played word association with the phrase ‘Daring Greatly’, the outcome would be: Strong Mind Fit Body, Empathy Taskforce, Dreamcatcher and newspapers.

  • Born from a dream to bring neighbours together for functional fitness, Strong Mind Fit Body is today, a budding social enterprise that works extremely hard to create meaningful experiences to impart strength training awareness and promote inter-generational bonding. We believe that together, we can build a nation that is unafraid to age. With Champions and Fit Elves, like those who helped us pull off the biggest event of the year hitting at headcount of more than 200 at SMFB Christmas Special, we believe so more than ever. If you’d like in on our better tomorrow that we commit time and energy to work towards, please let us know at SMFBgeneral@gmail.com or apply to be a Champion (regular volunteer) at bit.ly/SMFBchampapply
  • Before Youth Corps Singapore’s first Empathy Taskforce was formed, we pulled off a Human Library surrounding the theme of service and giving. Today, we explore various issues of concern by curating programmes that bring life to the Red Box and inculcate empathy in our fellow peers and Youth Corps members. There are immense opportunities that lie ahead in what we can do. This year, peppered with uncertainty and surprises for us, I am thankful for how whenever I look at these teammates that I’ve only gotten to know for less than a year, I always always know that we can do it.
  • Dreamcatcher, a camp for a Primary 6 cohort on imagination, creativity and problem-finding/solving was an opportunity that I stumbled upon. Setting the record for one of the most enjoyable camps I’ve experienced (along with the Youth Corps Induction Camp), being Camp Captain was no less than a privilege. Reflecting upon this experience, I owe immense thanks to the 56 strangers-turned-friends who earned my trust from giving their best to create an experience that we can today, call our collective masterpiece. Thank you for reigniting hope for me in a time that was trying. They say house is a building and home is a feeling; the way we lead the camp shoulder-to-shoulder felt like home.
  • Finally, newspapers. I started a record of social and traditional features of my face, story or reflection pieces I have once written – when you have your opinions and thoughts rewritten that many times or quoted (sometimes out of context), you start to learn the diverse standpoints that each site has and these features are about anything but you. As an individual, I have found to represent something other than myself in these media features. Still undecided about some of these articles, I am certain of the gratitude I have towards those who have stood by me and kept me grounded to the person that I am amidst razzle dazzle. Thank you, also, for appreciating my WordPress pieces as I articulate my thoughts and self in pursuit of clarity and authenticity.

My cup of latte is three-quarter full and the latte art on the surface is long gone, whatever remains is bittersweet. The espresso stronger than the milk, the aftertaste of caffeine lingers. Here’s to a beautiful last day of 2016; where we aren’t closing a chapter, and the adventures are truly only just beginning. Happy New Year, may this (actually arbitrary) time for celebration and rejuvenation also be one of reflection for us all; where we ask important questions like What have I learned about myself and the world around me in this year? How does that change who I want to be in 2017? and How do I get there, what kind of choices can I make? It is a pity if we live in constant inconsistency with who we hope to be and what we hope to be doing, where we “claim to believe in something but constantly act otherwise” – let’s live in a mindful way so we can never say this about ourselves. Carpe diem.

Stand Still

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There is something incredible about the public transport. It creates an illusion. As if time comes to a standstill, we are seated or leaning, resting or thinking; for once, we are moving in sync. No more shuffling past at different paces, for once, we are in agreement about speed. No one too fast nor too slow. Everyone, just right. Rid of the frustration from slow-paced sauntering strangers, gone are the days of shoulder brushing that cause discomfort. We slow down, others speed up so that now we move as one. There is a tinge of comfort from the knowledge that we can arrive at this consensus, albeit the compulsion by machinery (similar to the elevators we are familiar with). Stand still, I tell myself, and enjoy the standstill. 

October has been no less than hectic, in managing the hustle that persists with Strong Mind Fit Body and embracing the responsibilities in creating the Dreamcatcher experience. Exactly one year from the time ‘A’ Levels was the only reality I had and anxiety peppered my everyday, it is in the hopes of documenting the learning and reflection from recent weeks that this piece is written:

To Those Who Are Not Me

Compassion and empathy are values I deeply hope to practice and hone continuously, for the simple reason that it is with these conditions that genuine human connection thrives. The adventures of this break has seen me return to learning spaces – at the India’s Daughter Film Screening by Rebelhouse Asia, we revisited the violence against women that we are familiar with. The atrocity of the act that one human being can commit unto another was the reason for frustration, anger and almost contempt that surfaced in the theatre. Then, in Dukale’s Dream Film Screening by World Vision couple of months back, the crowd basked in overwhelming inspiration at the big heart that one man has for those around him.

The stark contrast amplifies the spectrum of the humankind. It reaffirms the necessity for learning and immersion that cultivate compassion and empathy in ourselves. Today, it reminds me of my earlier efforts in Room to Read Global Organisation – with every dollar I raised, I had hoped for it to be a reminder of our privilege and then the realization that our normal is barely the only one there is. Everyone is fighting their own battle.

For the Places I Call Home

I learned, recently, that there is a difference between a ‘space’ and a ‘place’. The former, just a blank canvas of land with little meaning and memory; the latter, an amalgamation of purpose and interaction. At Strong Mind Fit Body, we turn spaces into places. The constant transformation we do in our work finds me acutely aware of the other ‘spaces-turned-places’ I hold dear to me in Singapore. These places I know I will miss dearly in my departure to Australia – the Delfi Orchard Starbucks that holds memories of reflection and hard work, my alma mater that holds lessons of being, the Junior College that holds stories of infatuation, discipline and friendship. Every place with a story.

Immersing in local publication Mynah (my most recent read), though, I am reminded to be careful with the stories we tell ourselves. In the publication, readers are warned against “prescriptive storytelling” – the type of narrative to assure oneself of the perfection of our state, the kind that presents ourselves as “completed products” rid of fractures and flaws. With this timely reminder, an oscillating narrative emerges about how this one year has been for me since the graduation from Junior College. The story that mentions the hustle – the part where we are face down in the arena, marred in blood, sweat and tears.

Looking Forward, Always

Returning to the National Young Leaders’ Day event by Halogen Foundation Singapore is now an annual affair that keeps me grounded. The return is one that feels like home, bringing back memories of where the lessons of influence crystallized. This year, the 10,000 Ideas Campaign was shared: youths from Australia present their ideas in the form of completing 3 incomplete sentences: “I have always wondered why…”, “Then I realised…” and “So one little thing I’ll do is…” The thoughts relateable, issues prevalent and ideas insightful; I am once more assured that our future is in good hands.

The Singapore edition presents itself in the form of: “I have always wondered why…”, “Imagine if…” and “So one little thing I’ll do is…” As for me, I have always wondered why we talk about emotions so rarely when they are so important to us. Imagine if we all chose vulnerability together, so one little thing I’ll do is to be authentic in my everyday life. Looking forward, always.

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Home, Truly

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This morning, donned in our Lift Stronger, Live Longer T-shirts, my siblings and I represented Strong Mind Fit Body at the Jurong Spring CC National Day Celebrations. To see throngs of people dressed in red and many others waving their Singapore flags in one hand, holding onto their children in the other, I was reminded of why I love this country. Timely, given the National Day Celebrations, this piece is in memory of Singapore’s 51st birthday:

Most thankful: For safety and security

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I strongly believe that we find value in the present not only with our memory of the past but also because of the potential that the present holds for the future. We treasure today not only for its connection with yesterday, but even more for the tomorrow that it makes possible. We are in an age of even more opportunities than ever before, even more possibilities – the trend of start-ups and of social enterprises, the increasing interest in volunteerism and the message we sell of “pursuing passion”; all of which, are about dreams becoming reality.

This deeply empowering possibility for many of us come as a privilege thanks to the backdrop of security. Granted, there is an overwhelming invasion of new threats that know little boundaries (think computer science developments allowing hacking or the latent weapon in ideology). Let’s be careful, though, not to crowd out appreciation for the safety that we otherwise enjoy from our day-to-day lives regardless of socio-economic backgrounds (which is rare elsewhere in the world).

Personal freedom, thanks to some extent of assured security and safety, frees us from the less important decisions like what you can wear, what time you can stay out till on the streets, how to get home late in the night and which parts of Singapore you’d feel comfortable in. The time we save from making these menial decisions, then, can be spent on these more empowering considerations like “what kind of difference do I want to make?” and “where do I see myself in ten years?”

Most concerned: For harmonious diversity

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Visits to the National Museum of Singapore have etched our illustrious history (in spite of being a young nation) dating back to the 18th century, in my mind. With the power of context, I am even more appreciative of the diversity and identity that we build on in present day. Consider the friction that comes in everyday interaction with people we consider ‘different’ and multiply that many times as you play out Singapore’s stories of natives coming together to build the Majulah Singpura mantra that we believe in today.

This afternoon, I watched the film The Provision Shop by Royston Tan. Set against the backdrop of an old provision shop, the show explores social interactions and relationships in our local community through a microcosm. It unpacks the tensions that are arising in Singapore as a result of increasing diversity – with the influx of foreign workers and international students. It reminds me of my understanding earlier that our choice to anger against these people, who ultimately came to Singapore for purposes in their lives not so different from our own, is because it is always easier to vent frustration to a human face (the tangible results) rather than an intangible policy. It is simpler to cumulate group-hate for a character that is symbolic of a threat rather than critically analyse the words in the policy paper that has opened up these possibilities.

I had earlier written about race in Singapore and our pioneer’s hopes for the crux of the Singapore spirit to lie in maintaining harmony regardless of differences. These principles of harmonious diversity and embracing differences can be applied to all if we learn to see one another simply, as human beings. It is silly to make individuals’ lives worse off when they are but innocent responders to opportunity. The domestic workers who are increasingly the guardians of our old or the labourers who work under the Singapore heat for the buildings that become our offices; the expatriates developing companies that bring in incredible revenue for our economic development and the international students bringing diversity to the classroom that we so often complain about the lack of (diversity)– are they not as much a part of the Singapore Story as we are?

We say it in the pledge (“Regardless of race, religion and language”) and we sing it in our favourite National Day songs (“There is comfort in the knowledge, that home about its people too.”); but where is the consistency if we have yet to learn to regard all who are found on this land family and to make them feel as at home as possible.

Amidst the celebrations in this time, perhaps it’s time we ask – “What kind of Singapore might we want to be?”

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This month, I am counting my blessings in this very space – thankful for the people, the place and the spirit of this nation. I have so much optimism for what lies ahead and hope in the people of this place. This is home, truly.

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What’s in a ‘Home’?

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The morning smells of rain, like the aftertaste of what was torrential earlier. Walking home from the train station (a practice that has replaced the rushed bus rides since the intentions-based year began), the patches of soil bare from grass are moist and they line the familiar pavement that leads me to home. I grew up in the Clementi neighbourhood – learned how to walk and talk, attended kindergarten then primary school, made the closest friends, had the most childish fights; all in this vicinity. I recognize the faces, the buildings. The new Build-to-Order flats replacing what used to be big patches of green grass do not erase the memories once shared in the greenery. Easily, this is where I would relate to most closely as ‘home’.

From experience in Sunlove Home, conversations with the older generation never escape ideas of “what it used to be like” – with respect to neighbourhoods and ‘home’, then, it would be about the kampong spirit, the gotong-royong heart for one another. When we first embarked on Strong Mind Fit Body, hoping to ride on Housing Development Board’s Good Neighbours Project funding and foster neighbourliness, I was excited to actively uncover the kampong spirit that I believed to remain regardless of evolving infrastructure, of changing times. The excitement remains with every functional fitness session as we share stories and have conversations. I am reaffirmed that we still care for one another and that the gotong-royong spirit persists.

Days ago, I enjoyed an incredibly moving production by the local W!LD RICE Company titled “Geylang”. As part of the Singapore Theatre Festival celebrating the Singaporean flavor in more ways than one, this one was about the preservation of heritage and the comfort of the neighbourhoods that we call ‘home’. The key plot was centred around a modern-day ‘redevelopment project’ by an architecture firm hoping to uplift the entire old Geylang Serai and replace it with new infrastructure. A ministry, named “MYID” in the play, was supporting the project that was still in its planning stages and the architecture firm was struggling, trying to convince old tenants to move out from their stores.  Especially heartening was the scene where the residents of Geylang, spoke up for their memories in Geylang Serai in front of the MYID Permanent Secretary. They had stood in unity in spite of differing racial backgrounds, dialect groups, livelihoods and demographic altogether. With tears in their eyes and an indescribable passion in their pleas, they had found the basis for their sense of camaraderie in the common spaces they had shared within Geylang Serai and the gotong-royong spirit that they had lived out in the neighbourhood for decades.

At times, I find the distracting pace of our lives and the endless pursuit for financial security masks the still existing kampong spirit that we envy the older generation for. I believe where the situation calls for, we will stand together and fight for a place we consider ‘home’, alongside neighbours we consider family. It is the safety and comfort, the familiarity and the memories of these common spaces that create attachment. Yet, our attachment is silenced and we coax ourselves to be less attached so we can let go, giving way to ‘development’.

My latest read is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, a story of war-torn Afghanistan and the slow progress in women empowerment slowed down further by the domestic crisis. History lessons about how superpower intervention prolong existing conflicts and the numerous push-pull factors for religious ideologies to fuel armed conflict made the read ever engaging, a page-turner round every chapter. The tale ends with Laila’s visit back home to Kabul – she reminisces “what it used to be like” and the memories that made her ‘home’ have a special place in her heart. There is unspoken sadness at the changes made to her ‘home’ in the years that she has been gone, how the places she once knew like the back of her hand were no longer existent and how the memories seemingly faded along with the landmarks. The reality reflected that “war, hunger, anarchy and oppression (can) force millions of people to abandon their homes and flee” (in the words of Hosseini himself). They turn into refugees and remain helpless to their homes destroyed and to the changing landscapes of where they consider ‘home’.

Juxtaposing their harsh reality with ours, it dawned upon me that we were changing these landscapes by choice. In the play “Geylang”, the MYID (representing the government body responding to what society appeared to need) was pushing for the ‘redevelopment project’ to be realized. Eventually, the play ended with the residents’ collective pleas and the Permanent Secretary whispering his response to the architecture firm head. My take is that the play was left intentionally open-ended to provoke reflection from the audience about what our answer would be. To what extent would we allow our heritage and landscapes to be wiped clean in the name of ‘development’? And would we consider the possibility of having the ‘old’ and ‘new’ coexist? The choice is our privilege and the least we could do is to exercise it with care.

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