I was born and raised in Singapore. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to travel to various countries and live in different cities, such as Dubai, Delhi and Bombay. The experiences gained from living in such diverse places has been invaluable. I was a young child when we moved to Dubai, so I have little recollection of it. But as I grew up, I learned about the uniqueness of each place we lived in, and of course, the nuances of packing – always put your shampoo in little plastic bags. Always.
My brother had just been born when we moved to Delhi. Watching my mum juggle housework, me and my schoolwork, the little cry-baby, as well as getting settled in an entirely new location was an experience by itself. When we relocated to Bombay almost seven years later, I experienced the same feeling, except my mom now had two little house-elves who could help her. Jokes aside, I learned just how similar these two major metropolitan cities in India are to my own little metropolitan city, Singapore. School admissions are just as hard there as they are here, with parents being grilled just as much as their children. There is a large influx of foreigners, giving rise to an eclectic mix of cultures. The whole vibe of being in a thriving city was familiar. While there are many similarities, India is still bounds apart from Singapore.
It was a bit of a shock when I first stepped into our house in Bombay and felt so alone. I went to switch on the lights and was startled when I saw that they were in a different place. It took me a while to regain my senses, and just get used to my new surroundings. Once that wore off, the excitement to get to know my new home kicked in. I was begging my parents to take me out every night so I could experience this new city. One thing that struck me then and still amazes me now is the sheer vastness of Bombay – I could have lived there for a hundred years and still had found a hundred new things every day. The intermingling of the old and the new, the rich and the poor, is something which can only be seen in a country the size of India. I could feel Bombay – every day it seemed as if I belonged a bit more – and that made me fall in love with the city.
Initially, I was angry at my parents for making the decision to move, but it opened up many opportunities for me to experience new things. I flew all by myself for the very first time to write my entrance test for a school. I experienced the best monsoon season in the world, where the rain moved across the sky like a shimmering curtain and the thunderstorms every night made it seem like god was taking photographs of the earth. I lived on the 30th floor of a building, the highest floor I’d ever lived on, and could see the tops of the buildings in the distance rising above the clouds through the morning mist. I learned the exact time to jump off a slow-moving train onto the platform without falling (although I only went by that local train once). I found out that you could get anything home-delivered from the market, from a packet of salt to an entire refrigerator.
I realized that the best food comes not from upmarket restaurants, but the little ones tucked into corners where you can barely see them. I saw dogs which were as tall as me. I learned that all new students at any school around the world are the same – scared, alone, and just longing to make friends. I realized just how friendly and helpful people are in a large city, and how full of joy and life and happiness they are, how willing they are to share whatever they have with anyone who needs it. There were so many things I learned living away from my home, albeit with my family. I loved my parents for exposing me to all these things so early on in life.
However, there was always a feeling nagging me. No matter how much I loved Bombay, it wasn’t home. Singapore was. After a while I began to miss the place I grew up in. The speed and efficiency with which everything worked. The chicken rice and roti prata with fish curry. The clean air. I began to long for Singapore.
This made me realize something very important – nothing can ever replace home. No matter how many cultures you explore and all the experiences you have, home always means so much more. Sure, you can stay away from it for ages and ages, but something always brings you back to the place where you made your earliest and best memories. Nothing will ever measure up to the place you spent your childhood in. Being an Indian living in Singapore made me realize the differences and similarities of both my cultures, and how well they actually integrate. Visiting India showed me a whole other side of Indians, and that we are not a monolith, something I am very glad I got to experience. But for me, Singapore is home. Living abroad taught me invaluable lessons and allowed me to meet so many different kinds of people. Though my cross-cultural experiences have allowed to explore so many different parts of the world, it has enabled me to value my own country so much more, something I will always be grateful for.
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