Then it actually happens and you realise, with some degree of disappointment that never ever truly or fully dissipates no matter how old you are, there is so much that the adults you admired as a child conveniently failed to tell you. You reach the same point as them and instead of freedom and independence, you find yourself slapped with responsibilities and restrains on your movements that still don't go away. It's not about yourself and what you want; it's also about the two people that brought you here, your obligations towards them as a daughter, and how to balance what you want with what you have to do. It gets even trickier when it turns out that, unfortunately for you, the two are mutually exclusive.
As for dating and kissing boys, you realise after some failed tries that they, too, are sadly and sorely overrated. You don't remember what it was that you so wanted as a kid, why the books that you read fed you with such horrible, arduous lies, and you don't know anymore what it would take for you to return to a state that vaguely resembles that clean slate that you once had. You don't know if it would ever happen. You don't really care if it would ever happen.
There is no such thing as independence, not really, not when parenthood is irrational, as is love. Human emotions don't have a logical basis, nor do they need a logical basis. Your parents love you just because, you are forever the little toddler with pigtails and skin white as snow, holding a drumstick to her mouth and staring stupidly at the camera, in their eyes. That doesn't change - ever. It doesn't change when you first enter secondary school, you are still that kid when you first experience heartbreak, you will still be that kid when you graduate from university, get a job, are inducted into the legal profession, and possibly start contributing to the international community. The Secretary-General of the United Nations doesn't stop being his parents' son just because he's the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
And then there is the part where you enter the workforce. You amassed all these friends from your schooling days, from primary school all the way to university, and when you start working you'll be lucky if one of those friends end up working with you. All of a sudden the friends that you love, the friends who are always around, can no longer be pencilled into your schedule, not because you don't want to try, but because you can't fit in a two-hour dinner in between court hearings and the many, many gruelling nights of sleepless preparations leading up to those hearings. It's just the way it is, and you pay lip service to the idea of keeping in touch, but when the work starts to pile up and you find yourself with no time to spare because there are deadlines to meet, you don't even think about your friends anymore.
What's so great about growing up? One day you find yourself sitting on the floor in Terminal 4 of Heathrow Airport, rearranging the items in your luggages to meet the airlines' baggage policy, and you're struck by the fact that you are all by yourself. Sure, an American NGO worker next to you who is camping overnight at Heathrow (poor thing; Heathrow has no lounges, no sofas, just horrible hard chairs) strikes up a conversation with you, and you manage to have an interesting-enough conversation with him; the Indian guy fiddling with his laptop in front of you also takes an interest in your peculiar actions, and goes on to tell you that he missed his flight. But these brief connections do not hold up under pressure; they do not stand the test of time. They crumble and dissipate into nothingness the moment the tide of time sweeps you towards the departure gate, and you get up and tell American NGO Worker that it's been great talking to him, but you've got a flight to catch. The two of you don't suggest keeping in touch.
There is a sad cynical realism inherent in the way you don't bother getting his contact. As wonderful as it would be to form connections with as many people as possible in the world, it's also awfully unrealistic, especially when the connections that you have already formed at home are constantly on the defensive. You're in London, without your family, without your friends, and you can picture a day when you're back in London without your family and without your friends and then it will be for the long-term, and you picture that day without any remorse or the vaguest hint of sorrow of leaving all these people behind. Is it because you're practical and you know that there's email, there's Facebook, and in the event of a total failure of technology the whole world over, there's always snail mail? Is it a more insidious, deep-seated sense of misanthropy, a conviction, baseless or not, that at the end of the day, you don't really need people after all? Or is it a defence mechanism, telling yourself that you're not sentimental enough to let your love for these people hold you back in what you want to do, where you want to go, the things you want to achieve in your lifetime?
Kids say 'friends forever' as if it cost them nothing. It probably cost them nothing. But the day will come when they realise how utterly useless that phrase is, because people drift apart, and the connections you make in childhood are some of the weakest, ever. People grow up. People change. You're in London without your friends and family and the Indian guy just missed his connecting flight, and he sure as hell didn't mean to.
Growing up is inevitable, but the desire to grow up is a disease. Have you achieved what you want to achieve? Have you succeeded in being who you want to be? Questions that you have as a teenager about your destiny and ambition and aim in life don't get answered just because you wake up one day and find that you're suddenly pushing 40; if anything, these questions become more complex, and the answers don't come easy anymore when you no longer have the luxury of "waiting until I'm 30". You can't even have the luxury of escaping from these questions, procrastinating the task of thinking about them, and finding out, once and for all, what it is that you want from life. Who will still be here at the end of everything? Who will ultimately attend your funeral? Who's gonna care when one day you drown in your sea of cash with no one around to save you?
You start out your life with all these great expectations, an elaborate plan of what you want to achieve and accomplish within certain stages of your life. Then reality hits and you're left struggling to hold on to just one thing that you know for certain is true. You walk down Oxford Street in June at 4 in the afternoon and you're surrounded by tourists, families, Londoners going home from work, Londoners going shopping with their friends, and the loneliness that hits you when you're reminded of the fact that you're all by yourself is first surprising, then crippling. London is an amazing city but you can't enjoy it by yourself, not when you're a tourist. Is this independence? Is this growing up? Are you less of an adult because you feel lonely by yourself in a foreign city? You thought you could do this, be without people and merely have yourself as company in a foreign city.
No man is an island. You still will not let sentimentality get in the way of getting what you want, but as your plane touches down at Singapore Changi Airport, the first thing you think of isn't how you wished to get on another plane and fly to another destination; the first thing you think of is, "Fuck, I'm so glad to be home." It's not the country, it's not the state, it's not the territorial integrity and political boundaries of Singapore as a political entity. It's not even about the places, the food, the weather, the people, the efficiency, the convenience, how it's suddenly comforting to hear Singlish after days of feeling inadequate (however vaguely) speaking English when surrounded by perfect, British-accented English.
You wonder if it will still be like this a few years down the road: Going abroad, this time for a much, much longer duration, and coming home again to find that the connections you've made were never really broken after all.Will you then lose your ability to be a child? As your brother pushes the trolley on which your two bags are loaded, as you get into the car that your mom is driving you home in, after lugging your two bags all by yourself from Great Portland Street tube station all the way to Heathrow Terminal 4, independence suddenly seems vastly overrated.