Honestly, there are other places higher on my wish list. But logistically, Taiwan made the most sense for the winter holidays. It’s close by, the weather’s moderate and I’ve heard good things about the food. In truth, I just desperately needed a change of scenery.
Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers. The other three are: South Korea, Hong Kong and of course, my homeland Singapore. There are some places we visit and don’t care for. And other places that leave an unforgettable footprint in our hearts. In 2016 – I had Cambodia in August and Taiwan in December.
On the Narita Express train en route to catch my Delta Airlines flight to Taipei, my iTunes randomly started playing Michael Buble’s Home. I enjoyed the song, much to my confusion. Going home was the last thing on my mind.
What I wanted was to expand my mind and have a new experience. Little did I know that Taiwan was going to give me that and so much more. Visiting Taiwan was a trip back to the Singapore of my childhood. I say this in the most flattering way possible. It inspired a feeling in my heart that I haven’t felt in a long long long time.
Memories that lay dormant inside my subconscious came alive. I remembered running out of my house every time I heard the music of the Lion Dance. I’d follow the troupe as they went into all the shops that would let them in. There were few things that tickled me more than seeing the lions blink and shake their shiny bottoms.
Hearing Mandarin and speaking it in a place other than my native Singapore was an experience I deeply deeply enjoyed. With over a billion speakers, Mandarin (not English!) is the most widely spoken language in the world. It’s also a language that I’m very adept at yelling at people in – for reasons that I won’t go into. But in Taiwan, I didn’t have to. People were honest, friendly, polite, warm and hospitable.
Until visiting Taiwan, I didn’t fully realise or appreciate the impact that Chinese culture has had on shaping my life and my worldview. Whilst it is not in my genetic lineage, Chinese culture is a HUGE and I do mean HUGE part of who I am today. Being in Taiwan – as opposed to Singapore – gave me that distance with which to view something so close to my heart with new eyes.
The stories. The values. The myths. The legends. The customs. The superstitions. The practises. The medicine. The food. The FOOD. THE FOOD!
It wasn’t easy growing up in Singapore. I was often the only non-Chinese person in my class. You stick out without even trying. People were also largely unaware that I can understand Mandarin. In a way, it was a blessing. People show who they truly are very quickly when they assume you can’t understand what they’re saying.
Sometimes people said things that hurt. These days, as a matter of personal policy – I never never NEVER translate insults. If you don’t have the courage to criticise someone to their face – you have no right to have your opinion heard.
For a long time, I struggled to bridge the gap. Especially as an adolescent. I didn’t feel Indian. I didn’t feel Chinese. I didn’t feel Singaporean. But now as an adult, I feel like I am all three and so much more. I realise that those experiences have made me adaptable, given me perspective and taught me to always see beyond the superficial.
In 2017, it’ll be 10 years since I left Singapore. I’ve lived on three continents and visited six. As for Antarctica, I have no intention of going there, but my friend Rebekah lived there and told me all about it. Kudos to that.
Whilst I have no intention of returning to Singapore anytime soon, my mind keeps coming back to a thought. I am grateful to the two ancient civilisations that moulded me into who I am today. I will always carry in my heart the two old worlds I grew up in. My roots are strong, old and resilient. But it was growing up in the new island nation of Singapore that gave me my wings.
Without our roots, we are lost. Without our wings, we are stuck. I thank God for giving me both.