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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Chin

I am my own homeland

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

I went out for lunch with two old  colleagues –  one I’d kept in touch with recently, the other I hadn’t met for years. They were retired fund managers like me, people who had reckoned economic policies and scenarios in upsides and downsides, dollars and sense.

It surprised me when, on the way back to the city, the two guys became quite excited about the possibility of a regime shift. Not soon, but inevitably.

I felt curiously distant from the conversation.  Sitting quietly in the backseat of the Toyota, what I saw were two middle-aged Don Quixote’s tilting their long thin selves into windmills.

“I don’t know if they’ve gotten more foolish or I’ve gotten more realistic,” I told my husband later, on our evening walk. “Or perhaps it’s both.”

Ever tactful, my husband said nothing. I saw his teeth flash as we walked under a street light. But I didn’t know if he was smiling in sympathy or with cynicism.

It’s not that I don’t care what happens to this place where I was born, where I spent the first sixteen years of my life and my most recent twenty-three. It’s just that these big issues don’t feel personal to me.

When I think about Singapore in the large, I think about Lee Tzu Pheng’s old chestnut, “My Country and My People” –

My country and my people are neither here nor there, nor in the comfort of my preferences, if I could even choose.

Multi-racial, multi-cultural, migrant, first world from third world Singapore; it’s an intellectual construct I can’t grasp.

Yes, I get annoyed at the over-crowded trains and buses that never run on time. Yes, I feel guilty about the old men and women collecting boxes in the alley, their feet swollen because there’s too much salt in the instant noodles they eat, the only food they can afford. Yes, I worry about that child who appears in the HDB garbage dump every school holiday because there’s no child care for him except what’s provided by his long-haired probably ex-druggie father.

But ask me to go to a feedback session, to write a piece in the newspaper full of data, to formulate cost-effective optimal social policies. I’m paralyzed. These are NATIONAL issues! I’m not national.

The personal is political – our realization of what we allow to happen in our hearts and to our bodies is as important as any feedback session, letter to the press, attendance at a rally, volunteering at a grass-roots session, voting for the opposition.

I am my own homeland, the memories I carry in my head, the smell and sights and sounds I’ve felt on the body. If one day the country should happen to fall, perhaps in part because I could not think bigger about it, still my homeland will be with me.  Still I will inhabit the Sunday mornings at Ghim Moh market with my husband – TehCKosong for me, the essential tea fattened by the essential milk, sharp and unsugared; KopiO for my husband, melted sweetness permeating plain and dark.  A middle-aged woman loaded with marketing, screaming at her husband in a wheel chair, all human sweetness evaporated between the two of them; the Indian curry vendor hurrying to open up for business, her child’s hand in hers, a stick of candy in his mouth, his lips a sugary black.

But the political is also personal. As Bridget Lew from the HOME NGO says, we are all human. If I do nothing about laws that see my domestic helper as little more than a serf, if I eat quick frozen seafood caught by Indonesians living almost enslaved in  Korean fishing boats outside New Zealand waters, than can I sleep with myself. Can I be at ease in my homeland? My body? My mind?

We can be citizens of no place, notwithstanding the colours on our passports and our ID cards. Where we were born, where we were raised, who are parents are, our inheritance of mixed up cultures and hybrid gene pools may provide an excuse for not aligning with one side, not throwing our lot in with another.  But even in this open bordered, impersonal, globalized world, still we are human beings.  I am my own homeland. I am part of the human condition.

It behoves me to do something, to commit to humanness. And if the concept of humanness is to big, to begin with a commitment to one person. To begin with just me – to realize what needs doing for me, to be able to live with myself, to respect myself, what needs doing so I am fully human.

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