I know what you’re thinking. Is it so difficult a question that I need a proverbial mirror on the wall to respond to that one? Allow me to explain. Having lived away for the last ten years, the meaning of the term "home" kind of evolves (for lack of a better word). You see, "home" stops being just a place, but more a concept of sorts. It is anyone you have a connection with, anything you think of as your own, and anywhere that gives you a sense of security.
These are matters of the heart, but what about the practicalities? What about the one place that you keep coming back to? What about the people you never lose your connection with? What about the actual "home" you want to grow old in and breathe your last at? Where is that?
Ten years is a long time and ideally enough to decide where "home" is. We often discuss when we would want to go back to Singapore, if ever that is. I mean, we know we have to – we have a male child and aware of his duties towards the country – but do we "want" to go back? There is a lot to consider when it comes to that question really. Because the real answer is often not what the coin says when you flip it, it's what your heart desires when the coin is up in the air. That is the moment when you know what you "want". What would we do if we were to take the compulsory National Service out of the picture and imagine for a minute that it isn't a factor?
Sure, it would be great to get back into living as a local instead of an expat, which comes with its own set of advantages. Our cost of living would be considerably lower when we save on huge international school bills and rental (the two most important cost considerations in any foreign land) and I think we would not struggle as much because we wouldn't exactly have to start from scratch. We do know people there, have family, some good friends. We do know our bearing; the place isn't entirely new to us.
I say entirely new because things have changed, just like we have. If we have to accept a place as our own, the country kind of needs to do the same. Would Singapore and her people accept the "new" us? I keep repeating that ten years is a long time, because it is. My son was just one when we left, he has never lived in Singapore, but merely visited it as a tourist. He does all things the holiday makers do, including buying souvenir t-shirts that say "Singapore is a FINE city".
Visiting a place and living in it are two very different concepts. Would he be able to adjust? Would he be able to make friends? Would Singapore be "home" to him the way she is to us?
We are acutely aware that we must return, but like I said, what if there was no compulsory reason – would we want to? That, my friend, is a million-dollar question.
Because in all honesty, I don't know. Sure, any place would require a certain amount of getting used to, and returning home to Singapore would require no less. But the way I see it is nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we do stand to gain a lot. The stability of finally being "at home", of having rights as citizens, of having people who care about you being a short distance away, as opposed to a seven-hour flight away. These are factors that warm the heart, assuring it that all is great, that it will be even if doesn't seem like it is.
It would of course be great coming to a country where the system works. We often get told off that we are the "outsiders" and the "runners" who left Singapore when we express an opinion on the laws and structure. Often, we find ourselves at loggerheads with a few who think not enough is being done for the citizens, while we believe that they are just not aware of how much is being done to take care for them. We realise it because we don't have that privilege as an expat. We try telling them that you only know the value of something after we have lost it. We have, hence we know.
It is not an easy decision honestly. Leaving Singapore was never much of a choice ten years ago. The decision was kind of made for us. So is returning actually. We know we will, but the question is really when and how.
I know it is a matter of time, but the circumstances under which is a mystery just like everything else in life. I often find myself wondering (especially so when writing such pieces) – what would I do when I return? Would I want to? Is Singapore still home? I wish the answer was that simple, but it isn't in all honesty. I think it is pretty much the same for every expat regardless of where they came from. Leaving home was a huge adjustment, and returning would require some effort too. We all do eventually pack up and leave, of course. Some for school, some for a more "real" life, some for the need of returning "home".
Home, the one word that instantly fills you up with great love, pride and security. Where is that? Which brings be back to the question I started this with. Talk about coming full circle eh?
My thoughts are interrupted when my husband walks in with some news. "I have to travel to Singapore in the middle of this month, want to come?” He asks. "When do we leave?" I reply without even looking up from the computer screen.
I guess I don't really need a mirror to respond to a question, the answer to which the heart already knows.