A Sense Of Home

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Last week, I pondered over something close to home. The concept of home. A friend based in Los Angeles was back in Singapore for his son’s National Service enlistment. His wife is Taiwanese, his son was born in America. I got to know him last year when I was giving a talk to Singaporeans living and working abroad. Last Friday, I gave the same talk to some members of the Singapore Global Network, the good people who are reaching out to Singaporeans and friends of Singapore outside of Singapore.

I used to take home for granted. When my family members were still together. When nothing shook the foundation. Then circumstances pulled the rug from under me and suddenly there was little or no semblance of the home I knew, the home I grew up with. When some of us are uprooted, we may feel emancipated, freed. We may get married, have children while living and working overseas. We may make new friends, become a part of a community in a foreign land. But after a while, we all long for home.

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We may build a whole life in another country, but many will find out that it will not obliterate where home is. The common opening question in society is, ‘Where are you from?’ Where we are from somehow defines us to some extent. This next question, which may or may not be asked is, ‘Where is home for you?’ When talking about home, many Singaporeans I met on the talk tour have a faraway look. They can be contented, even happy with their lives, but they miss being home, the food, friends, relatives, family…

Many of them listen to Singapore radio stations, buy the exact ingredients to cook Singapore dishes, and ironically, know more about Singapore when abroad. Some want to be knowledgeable when their foreign friends ask about Singapore. But mostly, they want to stay connected. This connection, this lineage, gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of where we come from, a sense of continuity. Which is why Singaporean citizenships granted to children born overseas are on the rise.

This, on many levels, has nothing to do with whether we are happy with the government, the system, the culture, the environment. It simply is home. I asked a Japanese whose home is prone to earthquakes, and was also affected by radiation, why he would want to move back to his hometown. There were so many options and reasons to stay away, but his answer to me was simply, it is home.

It is heartwarming that Singaporeans have raised over $360,000 for the victims of the Lucky Plaza accident. For migrant workers, home away from home should, above all, be a safe space. We urge Singaporeans to be more accepting, to be more inclusive, to foreigners working here. In an increasingly borderless world, we need to be more humane to those who are not home, because we hope others will be more humane when we or our loved ones are not home.

‘The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and it feels even better to come back.’

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