Being in Singapore

Yes, yes, not long ago, I promised to write more often. I haven't forgotten. I just haven't been keeping my promises, as usual. But here I am, trying again.

So Christmas this year was spent in Singapore. I've never been a big fan of this holiday--too much noise, too much frantic energy, just too much everything. Thank goodness my family was unanimous in the agreement to forgo the exchanging of gifts from this year forth. Thus, apart from the obligatory roast turkey and chicken buah keluak (I have no idea who is responsible for this cross-cultural meal that presents itself each year. One of my aunts either isn't crazy about turkey or has a skewed sense of humor that the rest of us are not appreciating.) dinner at my grandmother's, this Christmas passed by peaceably enough... were it not for the fact that as a dutiful daughter, while I am in Singapore, I am expected to attend church service with my parents every Sunday at a house of god that obviously is experiencing religious warfare within its sound system, since every squeal of electric guitar, clash of cymbal, and fervently roared "Jee-zus" that is blasted into our eardrums is a painful physical assault.

Why must I go to church and suffer this weekly ordeal, you ask? Can't I just say, "Nah, you two go on without me."? No. Because I may be 28 years old, but when I return to Singapore, I seem to leave my adult status behind at the airport baggage claim area. In Singapore, my identify is solely defined by my relation to my parents. I'm A and B's daughter. I'm expected to address all my parents' friends as "Auntie" and "Uncle," and they in turn refer to my parents as "Your mummy and daddy" when I haven't used anything but "mom" and "dad" since I was old enough to speak. Because no matter how many times I've flown in for short visits throughout my life, and no matter how much my father wishes it were otherwise, Singapore is my parents' home, their territory, not mine. I'm just the youngest girl who never accomplished anything more impressive than to live in Japan. For that, for not making gobs of money, for not starting my own business at the very least, in Singapore, in my parents' world, I'm still a child.

And it's funny how easily I slip into the role of the child, at random moments. When my mom nags at me from the passenger seat about something for the hundredth time (no hyperbole; my mother is a maddeningly repetitive woman), I all but slouch down in the driver's seat, roll my eyes into the rearview mirror, and I'd pop my gum too, if they actually sold gum in Singapore. "Oka-ay, Ma!" I say through my teeth, in a voice I haven't used since I was about 14 and pissed off about everything in life, especially anything to do with my mother. Then my dad, ever mom's champion, will speak up from the back seat with a smile but a firm, "Alright, enough." It's pretty humiliating when I can actually look at myself objectively in this reduced state.

When I'm in Singapore, eating is always the main agenda. This time, the most enjoyable meals for me were home-cooked chicken curry and dim sum at the Lei Garden (Orchard Road), where one of the steamed dumplings we were served were these little square parcels with skin so smooth and delicate that I could clearly see right through to the finely cubed vegetable filling within--oh my god, it was so good, it scrambled my brain waves, and I didn't even think to ask the name. In my defense, I tried to take a photo, but just as I pressed down, the screen turned blue and I was told I needed to recharge the battery. Damn it!

Within my family, there are always multiple dramas unfolding, and this continued to be the case during my two-week stay. So after all the bickering and eating, screaming and nagging, visiting and passing many, many hours with people I scarcely know (blood relatives included), there came much furious discussion, analysis, and judgment of each family member and his or her situation. All in all, it was an often exhausting trip for someone like me, who cherishes her quiet life. But it can be considered a nice change of pace, when one knows that such a pace will not continue indefinitely.

And it's always good to be with people who--no matter how much they shout at you--you know unequivocally are happy to be with you.

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That is exactly why I decided against a family Christmas this year. And exacty why I felt a twinge of regret when I called home just as everyone was sitting down for Christas dinner.

1/11/2006 12:31:00 AM  

You summed my thoughts up PRECISELY in your last paragraph! Singapore and India arent that different when it comes to noisy, nosy, bickering, annoying families :) I went home to India for Christmas (with husb & stepdaughter) and it was great fun - but I was glad to come back to peace and quiet, too.

1/11/2006 09:15:00 PM  

Rachel... I can relate to the regression back to the childhood me upon crossign the threshold of mom's and dad's house(s). For me it's about age 16, which wasn't a particularly enjoyable year, so I keep wondering just why my subconscious stops there on its regressive 17 and 18 were much preferable.

Also, we eat a lot. :-)

1/16/2006 03:42:00 AM  

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