Nicole Law hears the heart of her country.
Home has held different meanings for me as I’ve grown older. When I was young, I could list a host of reasons why I wanted to move out.
Perhaps that was because we tend to be more critical towards the things we are familiar with, including the places we call home. Particularly as adolescents, we are hyper aware of the cracks and flaws of others, especially – even if this could seem paradoxical – of those whom we most love. We rage against our parents but miss them terribly when we are far from them.
We even tend to complain about the familiar little things of our daily lives, like delayed trains or, as we grow older, stressful work weeks and the rising cost of living. If we haven’t experienced the hardships of poverty or unemployment, we don’t appreciate how blessed we are to have a job at all. Our familiarity with these roads, these systems, these ways of thinking frequently leads to contempt – the saying is spot on! – as we envision how the home we live in could look just a little different.
As I reflected on what home looked like to me now, I browsed the photos on my phone and came upon the image of a living room characteristic of those found in public housing in Singapore.
The metal gate and small but cosy living space reminded me of my own home. Beyond the physical space, it stood out as a shared environment which we return to when we get back from work or school.
Home is sometimes a noisy place, full of opinions and colour. We hear this din in the streets when elderly uncles exchange views on the latest enhancements to health care financing schemes. We read about it online in the impassioned debates over the rights of migrant workers. We see it in altercations over whether we should give priority to the elderly in the public bus queue.
Sometimes the noise gets too loud, and opinions start to clash and grate with each other. These can open to divisiveness, especially in a multi-racial country such as Singapore. Sometimes the conversations we overhear betray prejudice related to race or religion and we sense a gradual rip in the social fabric.
At times like this, we may be predisposed to despair. Misinterpretation and falsehoods can spread like wildfire and undo years of cohesion in an instant. Yet I find that the anger and arguments are emblematic of something deeper …
We only argue about things we care about. If we felt no stake in what the future looks like, we would choose the path of apathy.
I welcome healthy discourse on the issues that affect us all. It means we want to do better and to help each other to succeed.
The single thing that most reminds me of home, then, is not the skyscrapers, nor the transport system. It is the people. Earlier this year, when I had a fall near my workplace, strangers rushed to my aid, a group of women whom I did not know.
Regularly I watch young men give up their seats to pregnant and elderly passengers on public transport. I watch as my neighbour’s lights turn on at 5am in preparation for his next shift at the other end of the island. I watch as donations pour in to the food bank below my flat. I see a medical worker don PPE before her shift in the isolation ward. I hear the train announcements recited in four languages. I listen to the mixture of languages on the bus. I overhear the office worker in front of me ordering his preferred style of tea in a Chinese dialect. I listen intently to the heart of this island, in much the same way as Orhan Veli listened to the heart of his beloved Istanbul.
I know what home sounds like. I am still listening, my eyes closed.
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