Sunday, January 24, 2010
A Tale of Two Cities
About half a century ago, as a young child, I would listened to my maternal grandmother reminisced about her own journey back (balek kampung)to China. She talked about how she endured the month long journey on the Chinese junk boat that plied along the coast of Vietnam, the reassuring sight of the dense forest in the distant shoreline until seasickness overcame all on board when they sailed into the eye of the monsoonal storm that would whip waves "that rose hundred of feet" in the South China Sea.I do not know how many times she had made her journey home. But who would blame her, except her branch of relatives in her own village, for not making the obligatory journey home as a frequent happening during her lifetime.
Today,that same route would take you across to any part of Southern China from Singapore, on a regional airplane in a matter of hours.
It kept striking me since my last balek kampung that if I compared my feeling to those earlier immigrants in Singapore. I might not be surprised to find the same sentiment running in their hearts.
Homesickness is a part of it, but something more seems to resonate." Do you feel at home in Singapore or Sydney?" I was asked almost by everyone I met and I answered them in almost precisely the same way. I like to returning to my old country to search for my ancestral home, my old schools and places that still cradle my dreams, stroll along Geylang and Chinatown, reassured by the familiar sounding names of the streets and the facades of buildings, that Singapore was my island home after all.
But everything in the old country had changed. I felt crowded, disoriented even after the pain of assimilation and some reinforcement of my besieged identification in the first couple of days after arriving in Singapore. Even the food tasted wrong!
And it wasn't until the plane bringing me back to Sydney,and through the porthole windows, I glimpsed the orange terracotta roofs, the bridge and the opera house that I finally understood Sydney was after all, my one true home.