In my second year on this island, while studying on a museum guiding course, a fellow student took umbrage at something I had written on an online profile – ‘Head in Singapore, heart in London’. A short and simple sentence but it really riled her. Maybe she thought it meant I didn’t like Singapore (her home town), that London was better? Maybe I did mean that at the time? I had found things tricky at first and at that stage I definitely hadn’t entirely ‘settled’, whatever that means. Anyway, ever since she took me to task I’ve been careful with the things I write on this blog, sometimes to the detriment of the tone; I’m aware that my posts often sound diluted, saccharin – I guess since our conversation I’ve not wanted to offend.
I thought then – and still think now – that my colleague’s comments were unfair. Not everyone adopts a new country so completely that they give up their old life, at least not that fast. And hark at her, so hugely patriotic that she would definitely have been unable to give her heart to a brand new country should she ever have been tasked with moving to a new city thousands of miles from home.
Life’s funny, because if she knew how I felt now she might be a little less brusque. Where do I hang my hat? The loyalty card has become blurred. Anyone who knows the old me knows how impossible it would be to surgically remove London from my system, but – amazingly for my old homesick self – I do now seem to have given a bit of my heart to this tropical life. The signposts are not pointing the same way as before.
Summer is coming, time for the annual whistestop tour of family and friends, and the fielding off of the ever-bigger question: when are you coming home? This summer, actually, is the answer to that. We’ve finally stopped dithering and got a pumpkin on order to take us all back from the ball – no doubt turning up late, or ‘dropping someone off first’, or going infuriatingly down the wrong bloody bit of Orchard Road until one of us texts to redirect the driver to here (whose clever idea was it to move into a road with a similar sounding one nearby?) I hope it goes to the basement as instructed and not the turning circle, because we’re going to have a load of bags full of, well, not glass slippers but plastic flip-flops by the tonne – tropical tat picked up over time that’s looking like a 20-foot container full. It’s finally happening.
I have heard myself voicing the reasons for our repatriation countless times, and those reasons all boil down to one thing – we had to make a choice, and the bigger bit of the heart won out, but it wasn’t a cut-and-dried decision at all. I can’t think about leaving Singapore without feeling a physical sinking somewhere deep within. I’m comforted by the fact that we’ll soon be up or down the road/motorway/trainline from the family and friends who we’ve missed so much, that we’ll be able to visit the dads, aunties, uncles and cousins in a short hop, even just chat on the phone in the same timezone. Also that we can finally settle into the pretty apartment on the pretty road that we’d only lived in for two short years before leaving to come here. But as for giving up my tropical lifestyle – my favourite friends and families, all the roads and parks and bus routes and office lunches and favourite coffee shops and warm nights out and beach trips and condo barbies and so much more – it doesn’t really bear thinking about.
A friend who’s good at summing things up recently summed it up. She wrote: ‘I’m glad you’re sure about coming home, and I think that it’s a positive thing that you’re devastated too. It means you’ve had a wonderful experience and that you’re so sure about where you belong that you’re still willing to walk away from what you’ve grown to love.’ I can’t read this back to myself without a dab around the eyes but I do feel it’s time to take that walk.
I will be very glad to be heading back to people like her, because not only does she speak a lot of sense, she’s great at drinking wine, and there’ll need to be a lot of that this summer. But before then there are lists to make, things to sell, farewells to plan, a spot more travel and a general closing down of the last five years. The fat lady is making a start on her scales and I’m hanging out backstage with Denial, who is fast turning out to be one of my best mates, and will hopefully be persuaded to travel back with us.
Book bag: Daunt Books, north London.
View: Duxton Pinnacles, Singapore