Holland Village? No, the kitchen is too cramped and there are no balconies. Farrer Road? No, the rooms are too small and there’s no view. River Valley? No, it’s too far from the MRT station. Buona Vista? No, there’s no helper’s room.
My mother’s ability to find fault is incredible, and it’s not just with me! Every time our rental contract is about to expire, she descends into a frenzy of viewing scores of new condos all over the island. The first year it was 60 apartments, hopping from house to house with an agent. By the end of it, my mom was tired of the agent and her failure to understand what my mom wanted. So we renewed the contract. The next year, she looked at 40 apartments. This time, it was the agent who was tired of her demands. So we renewed the contract again!
Why do my parents go to all this trouble if they are just going to stick with our existing house? They seem to want a change of scenery but can’t bring themselves to make it happen. I have been pushing for them to move closer to the city so that commute times reduce for all of us at home. Every time the debate ensues, more often than not in front of guests, some joke is made about kicking me out of the house. The argument usually ends with all the aunties and uncles laughing at my sullen face.
Despite all the jokes, both my parents and I know that I won’t be leaving home anytime soon, at least not until I graduate from SMU. It just doesn’t make practical sense to pay extra rent to voluntarily give up the comforts of home in favour of the poor student life! This is not to say that I wouldn’t love to live outside of home during university. I have spent my semesters at SMU lamenting that I am missing out on a huge part of college life. I want the freedom to go out and get sloshed whenever I want, drop into friends’ rooms at odd hours of the night, and walk to class instead of spending an hour travelling on public transporteach way! Instead, I answer my mom’s call each evening with ‘Yes, I will be home by dinnertime’, and decline weekend plans because ‘my grandparents are in town so I can’t go out.’
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. But I also crave the struggle of living on my own, of figuring out the adult world on my own. There are some things that I am willing to learn the hard way; things like wearing underwear inside out because I haven’t had time to do laundry, foraging for instant noodles after failed attempts to cook rice, and getting locked out of the house because my roommate fell asleep. It may not be the easiest way, but I could certainly use the reality check that comes with being entirely responsible for myself.
After four semesters of feeling trapped in this city, my shot at liberation has finally arrived! For the upcoming fall semester, I will be on exchange in the Netherlands! Living in a university town, cycling everywhere, befriending extremely tall and attractive Dutch people, taking the Eurail every weekend... I cannot contain my excitement! August could not come any sooner.
While planning my travels, I need to decide if I want to stay in Singapore for my 21st birthday, or be gallivanting around Europe. It’s an important birthday, and although I would want to spend it with my family, scuba diving in Spain sounds awesome too.
All I have ever wished for is freedom. Why, then, do I find myself sentimental about leaving Singapore behind? Why do I find myself cherishing the laughs I share with my family, or appreciating the bus route I take every single morning?
As humans, we are in a constant state of flux, always looking for something more, craving change. The grass always seems greener on the other side. But when it comes down to it, change is complex. Leaving behind the known, the familiar, the comfortable, can be fresh and exciting, but it’s also terrifying. Disentangling emotions, memories and responsibilities we attach to things in our lives is not easy. And the worst part is, you don’t know the value of what you have until you don’t have it anymore.
Maybe that’s why my family finds it so difficult to leave this house. Maybe that’s why the thought of my semester abroad gives me a tingling feeling of both exhilaration and distress. There is no doubt I will be calling my mom every week to ask her for the recipes she has been trying to teach me for months, or feel homesick during festivals, or miss playing card games after dinner. Leaving home is bound to be hard, but I’ll only know once I do it.
Moving on, moving away, moving out — they all involve motion. And all motion involves overcoming inertia (courtesy of wise old Newton). Some types of change could be exciting, others could be dreadful; some may be voluntary, while others may be inevitable. No matter how change makes you feel, it is sure to make you grow. Even if you hate it, at least you get a story out of it. After all, no one made a story out of standing still.