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.


  1. hmmm. is this how I will feel as I remain in Oz longer? That Melbourne will be home and SG is just my motherland?
    I guess it is becoming true. After a visit back home, I always come back here feeling 'At Home' but that makes me feel guilty as my parents are still in SG.

  2. Hi Penny,
    Gee, most of us will go through that dilemma at certain stage of our lives. But I am pretty sure, Singapore still remains special in our hearts.

  3. Mi no gat experience long stap narapera ples(kantri) plenti yia.
    Tasol, mi save tinktink bilong yu.
    Japanese proverb tokim, "Ples bilong yu live, hem i bambai home bilong yu",
    Hemi i meanim "Anywhere can be home once you get used to it."
    Olsem ruts blong yu na mi i stap ples blong pikinini yet.

  4. Hi Yama chan,
    Hem nau. English tu gat wanpela tok olsem "home is where your heart is" Tasol Chinese igat dispela tok "落葉歸根" Oslem bai mi stap long wanem ples. Haha.

  5. phil, happy australia day! i will be in melbourne at the end of february.

  6. Hi YG,
    Sama sama. Nice to know that you are spending your CNY in Melbourne with your loved ones. Any plan to visit Sydney?

  7. As to what YK said... I'm TOTALLY blur!!!
    guess i need to google it!

  8. Hi Zan,
    Sorry, kami berbicara di Pidgin - lingua franca dari Papua New Guinea.
    YK is Japanese and I am Singaporean,but we speak Pidgin. We both worked in Papua New Guinea before. Japanese saya pun boleh tahan. Hehe.

  9. time to get that black passport!

  10. Uncle Phil, I can relate to yr balek kampung post 100%. I didn't feel safe until I touched Auckland and saw the green hills beneath the clouds!

  11. Hi lady lavender,
    Green, green grass of home... :)

  12. Uncle Phil, I have just arrived in Campsie 2 months ago. Your story strikes the same key and same note in my heart.

    Your blog surely benefits people like me, a new comer from Singapore. Thank you.

    1. Hi Simon,
      Thanks for your visit to my blog, which was originally set up to provide a social platform for Overseas Singaporeans especially in Australia to share their experiences as well as to meet up with other migrants. New friendship can be built, information can be exchanged and perhaps survival tips for new arrivals and some oldtimer tales. But is has became a makan blog :) If you like to join us for a makan session for the CNY's Eve reunion dinner party this Sunday, please email me for details.