I think we leave a little bit of ourselves behind, wherever we’ve made a home.
I didn’t love living in Singapore, yet when I think about the city-state, many memories and distinctive places come flooding back. I can paint such vivid images in my head that I feel as though I must be walking through as a ghost, right there this minute.
I think about that little curve up Craig Road, and the first cafe I set foot in by myself on an early weekend morning in search of some familiarity, some sustenance, and some company. It’s now closed, but at that time, I learned it was one of the first cafes offering some of the fares I craved (avocado toast, maybe?). Next to it, the junk/treasure antique shop owned by the cantankerous old man who took a liking to me and saved me the pair of chairs I bought, even though another person had ‘reserved’ them.
Mostly, these images I conjure up have a feeling of loneliness attached to them. It was a time in my life where I didn’t have anyone close to me in the same city, let alone time zone, and I was struggling to figure out who I was going to be and what I was going to accomplish, while waking up every morning alone in a strange land without having anyone to say anything to, for hours, until maybe at some point in my co-working space, a polite “good morning” or “excuse me.”
And I think about the many footprints I’ve left behind in Thomson Medical Centre. How I came across my obstetrician in December 2016 in the middle of a miscarriage, and subsequently became so intimately familiar with the routine of visiting the corner office on the third floor. The images that I can immediately think of are the awkward lock on the bathroom doors, the strangely low row of sofas that are soft and worn, the loop of news on ChannelNews Asia in the waiting area, the framed newspaper clipping next to the examination chair/table that I would rest my eyes on every time, and the familiar nurses’ faces . Even though I’m horrible with recognising faces, I bet I’d be able to pick out the ones who were so good with blood work no matter where I see them next.
Those images are tinged with a period of uncertainty, transition, tiredness, and hope. It was this very pink hospital (pink gowns, pink sheets maybe?, warm lighting everywhere…it just feels pink?) that gave me the very first ultrasounds and dopplers showing and hearing a heartbeat growing inside me, saw me through a very long and a very short labour, put me in charge of two humans I now worry about constantly, and in a way, rebuilt me as a person. I arrived in Singapore pumped with adrenaline about work and what I was going to make of a business with my bare hands. I departed full of breastmilk, knowledgeable about Calpol dosages and the effects of amoxicillin and growth charts and percentiles, very early in my journey of reconciling what it means to have a career and be a mom.
I think about the countless taxi and Uber rides we took in Singapore (blue and yellow taxis were the favourite, red ones not so much. Other colours generally only used when desperate). How it felt like a luxury at first – like sneaking a bite of chocolate when nobody’s looking, because how did we get so lucky to have such affordable cab fares to ferry us around? It was an indulgence, and it only took us on important missions like midnight airport trips for flights back to London, business meetings in new and unexplored areas of Singapore. Gradually, they became the norm and I remember piling into taxis with our visiting friends, proclaiming “it’s too hot” for any other mode of transportation. Then, as I descended into pregnancy vomit-phase, a lifeline where I would sit limply in the seat, sucking on a hard candy or a dried sour plum, silently and mentally preparing for my next client meeting without being able to make conversation en route. Once Ellie arrived, taxis were leveraged for convenience. She started off in our arms, then in carriers strapped to us, then restrained in our laps clambering to look curiously out the window. But I remember the most those trips to the doctor’s office when she was ill, and would slump listlessly against my body during the ride, how different it felt from those times when she wouldn’t sit still. At work, taxis also became more frequent as I found myself meeting more clients and pitching more new business. At that time, it was just something I did. Now, I think about the significance of that subtle transition in my role and how I achieved my goals.
If there was one taxi uncle who drove me around throughout my time in Singapore, he’d probably be able to tell me the changes he saw in me in my four years. As it were, taxis showed how much my life transformed, and how my priorities shifted, and how I matured as a person – all in Singapore, all in four years.
The next time I set foot in Changi Airport, I look forward to stepping from the air-conditioned arrival hall into the humid air, to be assigned to a taxi from the incredibly efficient taxi rank. I wonder which corners of the city will stir up memories as I travel the island, that I’ll be able to share with whoever I’m with at that time, and if they’ll even care or know what I’m talking about. Like it or not, I’ve left a piece of me in Singapore.