Editor's Note February 2017

True North

Mic Tay

Early this year, I spent some time in Taipei with a friend who had just moved there for work. He had reached a timely juncture in his career when the organisation entrusted him with leading the overseas office. The overseas stint was a new challenge and the next step in his professional development. So I went along to explore the city and the wonderful view that his apartment afforded of Taipei 101.

Besides the gorgeous fireworks on New Year’s Eve, I saw how setting up shop in a foreign land was not easy. Even though Taipei is a cosmopolitan city much like Singapore, it’s not as simple as finding a place to live and shipping your belongings over, though that in itself can be a Herculean task. There’s the basic admin like setting up a bank account, figuring out bank transfers and settling the immigration status. Then there’s work – setting up in a new space, with new colleagues and new processes. New relationships and networks have to be established so that what could be done so much faster in Singapore, gets done at some point.

As a bystander, the one thing which caught me off guard was the toilet system. Apparently the commonly sold toilet paper in Taiwan does not dissolve and cannot be flushed! That’s a huge change in a daily habit. Equally shocking was the $12 which he willingly forked out for sub-par Mee Siam. It makes me want to hug my hawker centre makcik.

But isn’t that the case, that you never really leave home? Having spent most of our lives here, we count how much things cost in SGD, how things are done at home, how people should talk or how they should react to us. Like homing pigeons, true north is a little island in the sun.

Another friend of mine related how she excitedly furnished her new apartment in San Francisco with carefully curated pieces, paired with small reminders of home. When everything was completed, she sat in her living room and broke down. You just cannot furnish a house to become a home.

So we end up in long distance relationships with our partners, friends and family, trying our best to stay updated and build in a routine to talk. Perhaps even more so than when we were living in the same country. But it’s always the same interminable silence when the video call ends.

Tapping on that deep homesickness, several companies in Singapore have put out really powerful commercials. Tiger Beer launched their Home video series last Christmas, telling the stories of four overseas Singaporeans in far flung corners of the world.

One month on, they released the sequel, retelling how these four Singaporeans have found their way home, to reunite with family during Lunar New Year.

Riding on the popularity of Nathan Hartono, DBS bank also put out a Lunar New Year video with the singer comparing steamboats to family reunions. It’s got that “awwww…” factor though I would like to know how pesky relatives and their relentless questioning fit into the steamboat metaphor.

Equally heart-warming, Jetstar offered free tickets to a group of Singaporeans, the only catch was it was during Lunar New Year. Knowing how much family reunions meant to their loved ones, everyone turned down the offer.

Changi Airport shared a video which epitomises this long distance relationship that we have with our loved ones abroad. It features The Freshman, a local duo making their mark in the Chinese music industry. What I really like about the video is the last line which describes home as a ‘safe haven’ that you can always return to. I might even translate it literally as ‘safe harbour’, sheltering us from the storms of the world outside.

These stories are powerful and deeply familiar, made more intense with the festive season. If you are back home this February, cherish the company of your family. Yes even the pesky relatives who cannot wait for you to be dating/married/setting up a family. Because you only miss the things that you don’t have.

Happy Lunar New Year.


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.