According to Google Maps, it’d take us 12 hours to get from Canberra International Airport to within whiffing distance of the hawker centre that nourished me through my growing years and beyond. It remains the nearest hawker centre to my childhood home. In its bosom, I learnt how to cross a street all on my own and order takeaway for my mum and I. I learnt how to use my manners and pluck up the courage to ask for extra chilli — nevermind my crap Chinese intonation. I observed unwritten boundaries regarding drink stall territory, heard the neighbourhood gossip, and was in turn gossiped about now and then. I know about the last thanks to Teresa from Teresa’s Hairdressing because she gossips about everybody and reveals all her sources. She’d make both a formidable and terrible journo.
Diane Mc had started a little fun at church on Sunday by displaying some of our baby photos in black and white so we got to guess who’s who.
This was my submission:
Until I found this photo, I hadn’t realised how much my children look like me. Their mouth is all Tony, and that’s the first thing about Atticus, especially, that those who know all of us notice straightaway. But yes… there’s no questioning who their mama is.
Looking at my baby photo brings out the goosebumps as I contemplate God’s twists and curls. I don’t know what my mother envisioned of my life when she took that photo of me. I doubt it included emigration to Australia and a planned retirement in Canberra. I doubt it included not being part of my children’s lives, or growing old together with me. We always imagine the very best outcomes – a long life, a happy home, an almost utopian version of life as we currently know it to be.
When I was 15, I always thought I’d meet a nice Chinese Singaporean man not so very different from me, and we would settle down, after a respectable time of courtship, somewhere in the southwest of Singapore, not too far from my birth home and Orchard Road. And that was as far as my dreams went. I couldn’t imagine being a mother, although I had a vague conviction of never wanting a live-in maid/nanny. I couldn’t imagine leaving the church I grew up in, the friends I know and love, the food, the shopping, the safety, the predictability.
But exactly 12 years ago today, I stood in Changi Airport surrounded by friends and family who came bearing goodbye gifts and prayers. And then I did the unthinkable – I walked away. I was 24 years old, searching for answers and yearning for new beginnings. I was in a spiritual abyss, cynical and numb, furious with myself, stuck in bad habits, and feeling the walls closing in on me in this claustrophobic, gorgeous, sweaty, crowded, man-made, materialistic, idealistic, pragmatic, predictable hamster wheel that was home. Singapore.
It remains the most selfish decision I’ve ever made, although I didn’t understand it at the time. It broke many hearts including my own. But it brought me to Tony, and gave me my children. And now I have two homes that I will never completely feel I belong to. Which is more than what most people in this world can ever hope to have, so I’m not complaining.
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