Updated: Oct 30, 2019
My wife and I are just about to move into our new home. It’s been a long wait. We didn’t want to get a new flat that takes 5 years to build. Neither did we want an old flat that required a lot of work. Thankfully at our last ballot, we finally found a balance flat that was built 2 years ago but had never been occupied.
I remember feeling disappointed when I first stepped through the front door. It felt smaller than I expected. I guess I wasn’t mentally prepared for the realities of modern housing. But as the renovations kicked in and new paint went on the walls, my perceptions changed. It’s still small but it’s our kind of small.
In contrast, the impending move will be a big adjustment. I’ve lived my entire life in my old neighbourhood and know every part of it like the back of my hand: which stall sells the most bountiful ice kachang, which turf belongs to which neighbourhood cat, and where the most spacious void decks are for football. Most people would say that it’s too quiet and out of the way here, but that’s precisely what I like about it. Forests and farms lie within jogging distance. The fiery sunsets fade in the evenings, unblocked from my vantage point.
My mum grew up in this neighbourhood too. Her family lived in the kampong opposite where the first HDB flats were built in this corner of Singapore. When the first 25-storey behemoths were finished, they moved in. Giving up their fruit trees and spacious rooms, all 11 of them squeezed into a five room flat. I don’t know how they managed with just two toilets.
When my mum got married, she and my dad conveniently moved into a three room flat directly opposite my grandparents. That space was a luxury even when me and my brother came along. As we grew up, we moved twice more, but always within the same estate, which was slowly expanding into the surrounding forests. Every 7 years or so, the sound of construction would mark the hours of the day: wide swathes of trees would mysteriously disappear, truckloads of orange clay carted to other parts of Singapore, and concrete shells rise from the dirt.
I never thought much about it before, but I realise now, with gratitude, that every new generation of flats has found a way to fuse into the life of the older estate instead of overshadowing or overtaking it. It doesn’t always happen this way. Which explains why, regardless of where in the estate I moved to, it still feels like home.
It’s timely that this move is helping me reflect on my experience of home, especially with National Day right around the corner. This old neighbourhood has always felt like home even as other parts of Singapore morph beyond recognition.
This is not an argument for or against change. Instead, what I’ve realised is that home, for me, has always been a very local and palpable sentiment - it is this physical space, bounded by those roads that were once trees, and made up of those familiar faces who’ve lived here for as long as I have. What I’m realising now on the threshold of change is that growth entails expanding the physical space that is home, extending those boundaries further afield, and seeing the familiar in every face.
And so, in the spirit of celebrating Singapore’s diversity and destiny:
Where is home to you?
What gives it that quality of ‘home’?
What will it take for Singapore to become a home to you, warts and all?