Rose-Tinted Goggles (Final Thoughts)

Final Thoughts

What is home? What does it mean to be home? I’ve always considered Singapore to somewhat be my home (and side-eyed Edmonton as a place I didn’t really belong in), because that’s where I was born and grew up, and why I’ve put all this effort into being able to return there for the first time in decades. Your hometown is where the heart is, and all that.

But boy, Singapore was a fun trip, but it was also very mentally and physically tiring. I didn’t actually find the heat or humidity unbearable, although Singapore was apparently in record-setting heat mode this month, but I was in vacation mode, looking to more or less maximize my time, so I was outdoors and actively moving around all the time, and sitting at home in my rented bedroom felt like a waste of time and money.

That explains the physical tiredness factor, but there was also a mental aspect to it — so much had changed, and there was so much unfamiliarity with my surroundings, despite a nagging feeling that I should be familiar with it. And it was different than the exhaustion that comes from just “being inundated with new things” — yes, there was that sort of mental exhaustion, but I couldn’t ever shake the sense of unease that this wasn’t really my home any more, and I also felt a pressure to fit in since I looked like, and could communicate more or less as, a local.

The best way I could probably describe it is that I sort of felt like a fake local or a traitor, like I was more or less wearing a mask a lot of the time. And I’m not sure which mask this was, the one of the local or the one of the tourist/expat. I could more or less blend in if I wanted, as I still understood and could use the Singlish language and perform a transaction in either English or Chinese just fine, and being able to do either on a whim did unlock doors for me that wouldn’t have been available to a foreigner who just spoke English, but due to that there were also times when I was conversely *expected* to know something and just didn’t, the most notable one being how to use scan-to-pay apps like PayNow, which was everywhere — but as far as I knew, and was told by someone helpful, seemed to require a Singapore bank account and credit card linked to it to use.

(And it wasn’t just PayNow, stores and even hawker centre stalls often had several touchless phone app payment apps that they accepted. Not to mention the dizzying array of individual store promotion apps and government/society-related apps and advertising agency promotion apps and I swear I could have filled up five pages on my phone if I had downloaded every app I saw a reference to or QR code to scan for while walking around.)

Edmonton has nothing like this, and it felt like I was walking into a very different world which not only had challenged and threw out all my childhood memories, but also had layers upon layers of nuance and hidden knowledge that only a local would know and that would take me forever to understand and figure out. It confused a few vendors why I only had cash to pay for items, though by and large people still accepted cash (but did not always have change for it). In those times though, going to the “I’m a tourist” well was usually enough to get through it and gain understanding on their part, but that somehow felt dishonest to use even though I actually was one.

It definitely felt like the stories of people walking out of jail after 20 years behind bars or something, to find out that society had massively changed in the time that they were incarcerated.

At any rate, I got most of my nostalgia out of my system, and answered several burning questions that I had, as well as finished laying the groundwork that would allow me to clear my record and return to the country anytime that I please, so it’s less critical that I go back to study abroad there now. Not that I don’t want to, but what fell out from the trip is that since I have to wait for the renunciation to complete before I can apply for my Student’s Pass to study as a foreigner there, my Study Abroad there might be delayed or shortened by a semester. And that’s.. alright. I can do both, but it feels like Japan has leapfrogged over Singapore again since I’ve never been there outside of Narita Airport transits.

Not that I don’t want to go back to Singapore in general, there’s a lot to like about the place! The food, the friends.. I loved both of them, and it was extremely precious for me to be able to see some of my old friends again, all grown up and off pursuing vastly different lives. I still have extremely, extremely vivid memories of how they looked like when I was in Secondary 2 with them, and they still appear in my dreams all the time — I’m curious how seeing some of them in their current state will affect this and if their grown-up selves and activities will eventually start to seep into my dreams as well. I’m surprised how well I think I was able to fit in with them too considering that I didn’t have that much in common with most of them besides being in the same Grade 8 class 25 years ago. They truly are good people, though.

All of my meetings with them were top highlights of my trip, and there were many more positive highlights than negative ones of my time there. I’d go so far as to say that I would have felt really lonely there by myself if I didn’t have them to meet up with. Or not so much lonely, as isolated. Hopefully I didn’t spread them any nasty viruses since I was out and about so much, though!

Travel in general also has a lot of positive effects that I would never trade. The new and interesting experiences, the widening of horizons, the immersion in a different culture, the memory blocks (built on childhood lies) that I now have to make comparisons with in the future, the added mindfulness that comes from being more able to appreciate the little things in life, all those things and more are precious and incredibly important to my own growth and life. This is now the second extended trip out of Canada I’ve made during the pandemic, and despite the hassle of it, those are still unique experiences that help me appreciate normal life and future travel when it returns to normal again.

Even my nightmare 24-hour plane itinerary that turned into a 50 hour one and a run-in with border guards was, in hindsight, really, really interesting and gave me unique insights that most people never will have, and make my life here and now, seated at my computer with a large screen and large keyboard in Edmonton typing all this out, feel much more satisfying.

And that last point is an interesting thing that’s stuck out to me from both my USA trip in Oct-Nov 2021 and this Singapore one in May-Jun 2022 — although there was much to like about those places, the discomfort and unease from going to those places was alleviated only when I arrived home, and both trips made me appreciate the little things in Edmonton all that more. Our transit, our weather, our pace of life, my house with all its quirks, they’re all terrible but they’re a known and familiar sort of terrible, so I guess Edmonton is more home than Singapore is now and I’m glad to be home.

Before I forget them, I also wanted to jot down some things that stuck out to me as being very different between Singapore and Edmonton. This is as much for my future memories as anything.

  • The sun. It’s crazy that you have to make decisions in Singapore as to where to walk or go based on whether there’s shadows sometimes. People shadow-hop and embrace the shade from the burning sun, and you can feeeeeel the sun buuuuurn down on you if you stand in the light. And people walk around with parasols. In Edmonton, that’s not true at all, it’s generally just a gentle caress of skin cancer-inducing rays of light, whereas there on the equator it presses down on you. It’s so nice to walk about here in Edmonton without having to scan the ground for the nearest shade.
  • The sunset. It’s amazing comparing how quickly the sun sets there (sunset is always around the same time every day and is over and done with, from bright to dusk to darkness, in 20 minutes or so, whereas in Edmonton sunset varies from 4pm in the winter to 10pm in the summer and the colour transition from sunset through twilight blue to darkness takes a lot longer.)
  • The clouds, the wind, the weather. Singapore clouds are very samey (and during the night, they’re very “bright” as there’s a lot of light pollution). I love the myriad patterns and shapes of clouds we get in Edmonton, and how sometimes you can even get a blue sky with no clouds as far as the eye can see. You cannot see that in Singapore. The wind is much better in Edmonton as well, perhaps because we’re flatter and have less urban apartment towers blocking the wind. The rain storms in Singapore, especially when they come and go unexpectedly within an hour, are amazing though.
  • The trees and flowers. It’s obvious, but they’re very different, due to tropical vs prairie/continental climate, and due to how urban and built up much of Singapore is. Edmonton and Canada in general has a lot more space, and being able to see things like a treeline of pine trees in the distance or along a hill is gorgeous. Singapore has a lot of greenery even in the cities, both publicly (on roadsides/buildings) as well as privately (flowerpots, etc), but they’re very.. curated. And in your face. And forced.
  • Stray cats. Singapore has so many! Edmonton has practically none. A large part of that because we have this minor thing called a long, harsh winter.
  • Bugs. Singapore has so many bugs! Edmonton, or at least I guess my house, is nearly completely bug free most of the time and I tend to overlook or not appreciate this as much as I should.
  • Food. An acquaintance said something once about Asians having an Asian stomach and craving good Asian good… Edmonton’s food is terrible and the food in Singapore was so good and so cheap, about 1/3 the price of eating in Canada. The habit of tipping in restaurants here in North America contributes to this culture of grossly overpriced food.
  • Right hand drive. This meant that roads go the other way, and I had to keep alert for this when Google Map tells me I need to take a bus going east. Is the near side of the road or the far side of the road eastbound?? Also, this contributes to how people stand left and walk right on Singapore escalators, which is opposite to how people stand and walk on Edmonton escalators. And in mall corridors and such by default.
  • Road crossings. Singapore has so many unofficial road crossings and everyone just crosses the road when no cars are there as long as its not near a traffic light. Is it even jaywalking if the government leaves gaps in the railings and paved paths in the islands in the centre of the road for people to cross at?
  • Public transportation, buses, trains. I don’t think you have to wait more than 20 minutes for any bus in Singapore, and often its less than 10 minutes. So many people moving around, so many buses and trains needed. And it’s all on time too. Edmonton coverage and frequency sucks… but I did start to appreciate it a lot more after going down to the USA and seeing the garbage that is Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New Orleans public transportation. And SF and NY weren’t that good either.
  • The sheer number of people around everywhere in Singapore. Edmonton has such a nice, relaxing pace of life in comparison. Edmonton and Singapore are actually kind of about the same overall size, but Singapore has 6 times the population.
  • And many of them are tourists and foreigners! There’s so many thing catered to the tourist crowd, like many competing stores selling cheap SIM cards and such. Still though, while Edmonton has a lot of Chinese, it was nice to be back somewhere where I was the racial majority for a change.
  • Apps apps apps. Phone apps. Interconnectivity. Everything has an app, sometimes several. Your phone is your life in Singapore, far more so than here in Edmonton, where many places don’t even support basic Google Pay yet. Which also means lots of passive tracking in Singapore.
  • Singapore is more or less a police state. Benign for sure, they’re strict on themselves and aren’t nearly as corrupt as North American (especially USA) police, but they’re everywhere and have tons of power and surveillance tools. Part of the price one pays for keeping the place free of crime, I suppose.
  • Trash on the streets and grass. There’s so little of it in Singapore, and so much of it in Edmonton. Aren’t we ashamed over here?
  • Solicitors, or touters, I guess one might call them. So many solicitors in Singapore. I’m not used to them. There were lots in the USA too. But here in Edmonton? I guess it comes back to the slower way of life again, and the lack of tourists here. I mean what would people come here to do? Visit a giant mall? See a giant shoe?
  • Malls. There’re two big types in Singapore as I mentioned in a blog post — the regular REIT ones with your higher class shops and small, indie ones with your more eclectic shops. Both serve a different role, though there were so many malls and they were all so samey (the REIT ones surrounding MRT Stations anyway) that I kind of got mall fatigue after a bit. They all looked the same even while all being architecturally different. Still, I don’t think people are supposed to go there to mall-hop or anything, they’re supposed to be just an incidental bonus or gathering spot while visiting a particular locale, or for the people living in that neighbourhood to get their necessities from. In comparison, Edmonton has barely any malls at all.
  • Japanese stores. There are so many Japanese stores in Singapore, it’s like Japan never lost World War II, but merely retreated and replaced their military might with economic might, and then staged a takeover of the country anyway. And everyone’s infatuated with them. To a certain extent that probably includes me too! It’s interesting to see though, considered that Singapore suffered under the Japanese just 80 years ago, and some people from that generation are still around. I wonder what they think?
  • Minimarts! Little mom-and-pop stores are everywhere in Singapore. I guess it’s easy and cheap to open a small business there or something, though you have to keep long hours and I’m not certain how much profit small shops can even make (whether by themselves on the ground level of HDB flats or tucked away in a corner of an independent mall). I wish Edmonton has more of these, but even the one I know closest to my house is grossly, grossly overpriced, whereas those in Singapore tend to sell stuff for the exact same cost as you can find that stuff for in larger departmental or grocery stores.

Anyway, this little blogging project was quite a bit of fun, although uploading pictures on a bad Internet connection was the worst thing. I eventually just used my SIM card’s data connection, since I only had a certain deadline to use up most of my quota before it would expire, and most of it was going to end up going to waste. The laptop dying before I even started my first blog post made it challenging too, and blogging on the Steam Link was quite painful.

It took a couple of hours to do each day, but I already track my food and expenditures while on vacation so that alone helped me build the framework of what I did each day, and putting together the better pictures and notes and memories and everything down at the end of every day (or well, within 3 days, since that was how far behind I was once I finally got my setup up and running) meant that I ended up with a blog series that I will definitely treasure in the long run. This daily format also made it a lot more palatable for me as compared to, say, the “A Grand Tour of the States” series, the USA trip posts, which I did by city. They were horribly long even before pictures, and I still haven’t finished the last post more than 6 months after I returned because they are so blah to do. I’ll be finishing that last one hopefully in the next week or two though.

But first, back to my regularly scheduled weekly blog entries, I need to get back into that habit and get that going again as it’s all too easy to permanently stop doing things out of entropy after taking a break from it!

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