anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,
anotherlongshot
anotherlongshot

The place where I belong.

I watched Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations this afternoon. It was one of his episodes on Singapore which intrigued me enough to sit through cringe-worthy and puke-inducing segments like fishing and watching the fish suffocate to death, a shark's head being cooked, Sri Lanka crabs picked out of a bucket and subsequently fried, chilli-style. (While the third item isn't a new concept to me, it doesn't mean that I particularly like it, endorse it, or am receptive to it. I am not. I think live seafood is...to put it simply, damn gross. Putting it more seriously will involve me going into a whole spiel about how I don't understand how anyone is capable of eating a fish that's been cooked with soya sauce and whatever laid on your table when 15 minutes ago it was swimming in a tank.) There was also a ten-minute segment dedicated to an Indian dish whose name I don't remember that I hadn't even heard of before - sheep (I think) bone marrow cooked in some freakishly red sauce.

While it was interesting to see how a foreigner presented Singapore to his non-Singaporean audiences, it also brought back feelings that I've always had about the degree of connection I feel to the country. Anthony repeatedly talked about Singaporeans' obsession with food and how we're all food-loving and have great food yadayadayada, which I won't deny is true. There is a general obsession with food amongst Singaporeans which I would have to be seriously retarded to have missed.

The thing is, I'm not one of those people. I am very picky about food, due in large parts to my dietary choice, and what the average Singaporean considers a delicacy or good food, I probably won't eat. But more importantly, even if I didn't subscribe to my pseudo-vegetarianism, it won't make much of a difference. I don't care about food - period. I care about it to the extent that I have to care about it to stay alive, and it's only when I'm really hungry that I look forward to eating. Food, to me, is a necessity, not a hobby, and definitely not a passion.

Maybe it isn't a really big thing, but watching the episode reminded me of how disconnected I feel towards Singapore, Singaporeans, and the predominant culture here. To put it negatively, there seems to be a general air of complacency here, a reluctance to grow and move towards change. People are contented with what they've got and they don't seem to want to push the boundaries and see what else they can achieve. I mean this both politically and socially. Politically because the pervasive sentiment about the government and our pseudo-democracy is that "it can be much worse elsewhere" and "what we have is already quite good", but I've never understood why we compare ourselves to less-developed countries when we always pride ourselves on being a developed country. Is it a clumsy attempt at self-consolation, telling ourselves that our neighbouring countries are more fucked up than us so we're pretty well off? Is it really just an Asian thing? Either way, I can't identify. I don't think democracy should be a Western concept, I don't think we should be precluded from recognising and having fundamental human rights just because we're not Western, and I definitely don't think it's at all right to compare our government with other Southeast Asian governments when there is so much more to aspire to.

Socially, I have, quite honestly, never understood the way many people can be contented to stay in Singapore forever. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, or that it's wrong; all I'm saying is that I cannot understand at all how the four walls of this tiny box can be enough to satisfy the majority of the population, and the majority of the people that I know. People always tell me that when I've lived abroad by myself for an extended period of time, I'd grow to appreciate Singapore for what it is and whatever. Granted, I've never done that, and granted, the 19 days I spent in Europe doesn't really measure up, but since that's all I have to draw from: I was homesick, but it wasn't the country that I missed. It was my family. I missed home, but home isn't something that is politically-defined; it is a fluid concept, and to put it in a very cliched manner, it is where the heart is. And my heart is wherever my family is, and it just so happens that they are in Singapore.

I can imagine that I'd miss things about Singapore if/when I move abroad. I can imagine missing the food even though I'm not a food person, I can imagine missing the places, I can imagine missing my friends. But the same can be said for all the places that I've gone to and fallen in love with. I miss a lot of things about London - the awesome soy latte, the amazing sandwiches from Pret, walking down Westminster bridge, even the weather. I also miss a hell lot of things about Taipei that I can't even begin to name because it'd just take way too long. What makes Singapore different then? What I imagine I'd miss about Singapore isn't that different from what I do miss about London and Taipei, but I know I can get the things that I want from these cities and the like that I won't get in Singapore - namely, freedom, opportunities that I'd never have in Singapore, a more aware world-view that I'd never develop if I stayed in Singapore for good.

It wasn't Singapore that I missed in Europe, really; it was my mom, my dad, and my brother, and - I hate to say this, but - to a lesser extent, my friends. I tend to write off missing Singapore as sentimentality, and it's a very instinctive, knee-jerk reaction - and I really don't know why. I don't think of missing Taipei as sentimentality at all when it really should be, because I'm missing something that I only fully experienced for a few years, and as a very small child at that. How much more sentimental can you get than that? My memories aren't even reliable anymore, and the places that I frequented back then are no longer the same. Doesn't that scream 'sentimentality'?

And yet, I embrace clinging on in futility to whatever frazzled connection I still feel to Taipei, and don't feel the same for the taut connection that I have to Singapore. I may be Singaporean, but I don't think I've ever truly felt like I really, really belong here; there are always opportunities to pursue elsewhere, chances to be had in other places. Is the grass greener on the other side, then? Maybe it is. But is that really so wrong?

And of course, there's that usual "are you Singaporean?" question that I get for reasons like I don't look Singaporean and I don't sound Singaporean when I speak Mandarin. When I'm asked whether I'm Taiwanese, my answer is, "Yes and no." I can't be unabashed about it and say "yes" because I'm not a Taiwanese citizen, and yet I can't honestly say "no" because I do feel like I'm some whacked sort of honorary citizen of Taiwan because...I don't know, it's a great place and I grew up in Taipei and I love Taipei and therefore I have the right to assert my sentimentality for the country? Does that even make any sense? But then again, when were feelings for a country supposed to make sense at all?

We talked about self-determination in State Building class today, and whenever words and phrases like "self-determination" and "secession" pop up, I immediately think of Taiwan. I wanted to make some point about how self-determination, at least as a live concept, is important to people who genuinely feel that they have the right to independence, but when I got to the "because" part, my mind drew a blank. I didn't know why, and I still don't know why, and I wouldn't know how to explain why I feel so strongly about it in the case of Taiwan without fully explaining my ties to the country. In the end I just thought it was too much of a hassle and didn't bother.

So I guess this whole discourse can be boiled down to one simple sentence: I still don't know where I belong. But increasingly I don't think it matters, because home is a fluid concept, and it is wherever I want it to be. That is why I currently have no intention of staying here for the long term, but I guess we'll only know for sure when we get to that bridge.

***

I was also really sad in State Building class today. I don't think anyone in the room belonged to a separatist region or a place that the international community has deemed a 'separatist movement'. There were people saying we shouldn't recognise independence to small territories that self-declare it, etc, because it'd create a lot of problems or whatever.

I guess the reason why I've always sympathised with separatist groups and am in favour of independence of places like Tibet, southern Thailand, Chechnya to a lesser extent (but only because I don't know the situation as well as the other two) is because of Taiwan. It's a de facto country with no formal recognition of its de facto independence. Taiwanese athletes competing in the Olympics represented a non-existent place called "Chinese Taipei" and weren't allowed to drape the country's flag over their backs the way other athletes could when they won bronze medals. What the hell is "Chinese Taipei"? The flag that was paraded for the world to see when the Taiwanese contingent did its round during the opening ceremony wasn't the flag that I grew up with.

Someone in class - a Canadian - talked about reaching a "mature compromise" between the separatist territory and the country from which it's trying to secede. Can I really see a situation where Taiwan "goes back" to China but it still governs itself? I can't. And it's not because I'm not mature about it. Taiwan has nothing in common with China beyond ethnicity, and that alone is not a good enough reason to "reunify". There are just these subtle differences that the people of a separatist territory feel that an outsider can never understand. And to be honest, I can't rationally explain why I'm utterly repulsed by the idea of Taiwan being a part of China; it's just an idea that is wrong on so many levels and for so many reasons, but more importantly, I reject it on an instinctive level. Taiwan won't be Taiwan if it's a part of China, what about Taiwan's democracy, everything that it's achieved since 1949 will be undermined if it's a part of China. I can go on, but the very idea of China taking over Taiwan? It breaks my heart.

Nobody wants to be governed by a foreign country. Would any Singaporeans be in favour of Singapore joining Malaysia or China? It's not the best analogy ever, but then again, the Taiwanese people think of themselves as as country. They ARE a country in fact, just not in law. And I don't think a technical difference between that and Singapore is much of a difference at all.

So yeah, forgive me for not liking China and I probably never will like China, but I don't like China. And I don't see how any Taiwanese would ever want to be a part of a country like China when it can be Taiwan.

But of course, don't mind me; I'm just extremely biased.

***

On a much lighter note, I was damn pissed with my mom this afternoon before I left for school because I asked her to buy me Uncle Toby's when she went to Cold Storage at 12 so that I can have something to eat for dinner. (I had a mere 15-minute break between my classes today.) When I left, it was 3.10 - way too late to stop by Cold Storage to get my dinner, just in time for class if I headed straight for school.

But I needed dinner so I went to Cold Storage. Thankfully it was relatively empty so I zipped out of there really quickly. When I got into my car and drove off to school, it was 3.22 p.m. and my class was at 3.30 p.m.

Obviously I was in a hurry, and I drove even faster than usual. What I didn't know, though, was that I actually hit 100km/h along Bukit Timah Road until I glanced at the speedometer and saw it for myself. Needless to say I was stunned enough to brake a bit to slow the car down.

In the end I was 15 minutes late for class. I hate being late for class.

Also? I really, really hate drivers that don't freaking signal when they barge into my lane. I think it's freaking inconsiderate to the car behind you when you filter into his lane without signalling to show your intention because it forces me to slow down when I wasn't even aware that I should slow down, until your car's fat ass cuts into my lane. What if I was driving damn fast and didn't see you until the last minute?

Slow drivers should never drive on the right lane. There was this freaking P-plate car on the freaking right lane and it was going so damn slowly that I switched to the left lane to overtake him, but because I was in a bad mood, I gunned the accelerator even more and overtook two cars instead. That made me feel better.

I hope my description of my horrendous driving has put off people from wanting a ride in my car, like, forever. Trust me - I'm not a safe driver. At all.

Tags: china, current affairs, driving, europe trip, personal, singapore, taipei
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