Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Ode to Singapore

Travel blogging is so clich├ęd, I heard a friend telling one of my European friends backpacking through the country recently.  I hope you aren’t one of those tourists that go on endlessly ranting about the sights and sounds of their travels in words, he said. I personally haven’t really been a big fan of documenting my travels either, but for reasons that strictly pertain to my laziness. Nevertheless, his comment thrust me into a trip down memory lane. If something that still feels unfinished, and yet something that drew to a close barely over a month ago qualifies as a memory, that is.

About a year ago, I temporarily moved to Singapore.  After nearly two decades in the same city, and two years in an all-girls setup, I couldn’t have been happier to seize the opportunity and escape the monotony. For the first time ever, I was going to get the taste of true independence.  I was finally going to get the classic college experience. I was going to be my own master and see the world. And Singapore was all that, and much, much more.

For an experience that left such an indelible impact on me, the least I can do is honor the memory, reflecting back on all the innumerable small and big lessons it taught me, and bask in the afterglow of all the moments that comprised it. Putting the mush aside, this post will serve as exactly that: my window to the most unforgettable year of my life.

As for my skeptic of a friend, this post cannot be considered a travel blog for a number of reasons. Fairly obviously, it’s being written not during or immediately after, but considerably past the end of my travels. Further, my expedition was not just limited to Singapore, but extended to a number of places in the region. And lastly, I did not merely move to Singapore, I lived it, breathed it, saw it and absorbed it for an entire year. An invigorating journey such as this one cannot be casually summed up in a travel blog.

What, I ask myself, was the highlight of this one year? My heart responds with a concoction of images swimming in it, something that my mind cannot quite fathom. Was it the liberating excitement that overtook me the first time I was out past 3 am? Or was it the relief I felt when I realized everyone was as clueless as I was in the first couple of weeks? Perhaps, it was contentment at having found the crowd I could rely on to give me company while struggling with schoolwork at Starbucks at odd hours? Or all those times I let my hair down at Attica without a worry in the world? The time when I was awarded a prestigious regional scholarship? Or the fulfillment of having made great friends when I left the NUS campus that one last time? I do not know.

What I do know is that my life as an exchange student was undoubtedly the rollercoaster that it was supposed to have been, replete with the crazy adventures and the comical mishaps. But just as it is hard to pinpoint the single most exhilarating second of a rollercoaster ride, it is impossible for me to identify and the single instance that comes to mind when the word ‘Singapore’ comes knocking. All these enriching experiences collectively spell out Singapore for me. It was all of them in conjunction that made life so very effortless: the work, the play and above all, the people.

And now that it’s over, and I’m back “home”, a host of distressing emotions often overcome me. At times, I feel like a good dream has been brutally cut short. At others, I feel like a bird that was freed, and has been caged again. Still at others, I feel as if I’ve outgrown a pair of comfortable shoes. And yet, I’m convinced that these are transient feelings. Because the biggest lesson I learned in this past one year was the value of change, and adapting to it. And this is the time to put to test all that this past one year has taught me.