By Eve Wee-Ang | 19 July 2019
“Why is it so difficult to tell our loved ones that we love them, Eve?”
This was the question my 19-year-old client asked me, clearly frustrated with his parents. I’d been coaching him on tidying his belongings before he leaves for college in the summer.
“Well, because we are Asian. We express our love through actions, not words,” I smiled.
Like him, I too mulled over the same question in my youth, especially when the families in my favourite Hollywood movies would hug, kiss or say “I love you’ at every opportunity. Growing up, my mother and grandparents who raised me never told me they loved me either. As a result, expressing love in words doesn’t come easily to me. When asked to pen a love letter to Singapore for this year’s National Day, I thought to myself, “Love letter? So mushy!” My relationship with my home country isn’t exactly some Shakespearean play or Hollywood romance.
I will be the first to admit I once took Singapore for granted. Like many of us who have never lived anywhere else, Singapore was just a place I happened to be born and raised in. I never second guessed why things were done or not done a certain way.
Then I became a flight attendant with Singapore Airlines. My world opened, and, for the first time in my life, I felt Singapore paled in comparison to the countries where I stopped over. I found Singapore too hot, too strict, too small, too boring. It just wasn’t good enough for me any longer.
However, a wise friend once told me you can’t really love your country until you’ve lived somewhere else. 20 years have passed since I hung up my sarong kebaya. I’ve left home for 12 years now, lived in two countries, travelled to even more places and I am now a mother. My priorities have shifted, and the things that used to matter to me no longer grip me with the same intensity.
Now, when I return home, I see Singapore with a fresh pair of eyes.
From the moment I board a Singapore Airlines flight, the conspicuous Singaporean accent of the crew fills me with a sense of warmth and familiarity. I know my family and I are in safe hands with one of the top airlines in the world.
We land in Changi Airport, another world’s best for the seventh year running, clearing immigration with swift efficiency.
At the taxi stand, Singapore’s heat and humidity engulf us like a ball of fire but within moments, we are whisked into an air-conditioned cab. As the taxi driver journeys through the smooth highway, I admire the rows of trees that line the roadside.
Everywhere I turn, our city’s luscious greenery is a reminder of our government’s vision of a City in a Garden. There is no graffiti or trash in sight, only what is necessary is permitted on the streets. Singapore learnt the magic of KonMari way before Marie Kondo did.
Once home and nicely settled, my stomach growls. I change into a dress-and-Birkenstocks OOTD that will serve as my uniform during my entire stay here, regardless which month of the year I arrive. There is no need to pack seasonally for our year-long summer weather.
I troop down to the hawker centre stall that serves my favourite wonton mee I’ve been eating since I was a child. My Ah Ma used to take me there for breakfast before walking me to my primary school. This stall has been selling wonton mee for the last 35 years and it is still only $3 a plate.
The wonton mee auntie instantly recognises me and gives me her biggest smile.
“小妹回来啦！Wonton Mee 干的一盘辣椒 hor! Auntie 没有忘记！
Little girl, you are back! One plate of dry wonton mee with chilli, right? Auntie hasn’t forgotten!”
I am a 43-year-old mother of two and she still calls me little girl. I love it. I’m home.
Anyway, back to my teenage client. Before I left his home that day, I gave him a homework assignment that had nothing to do with tidying, yet everything to do with it. He was to tell his parents that he loves them when they send him off at the airport.
“Please don’t wait, cherish them now,” I advised. Tidying up also means having the courage to do something that you have always wanted to do.
And now, I take my own advice.
To my home country whom I once complained about. Thank you, Singapore, for making me swell with pride whenever I say your name. I may not express it, but I hope you know that you are much loved, even from afar.
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About Eve Wee-Ang
Eve Wee-Ang was a fashion publicist before she relocated to Shanghai as a trailing spouse. She started the TTT (Thursday Tai Tai) support group for Singaporean mothers which celebrates its 11th anniversary this year. As Singapore’s first certified KonMari organizing consultant, she is a writer and speaker whilst trying hard to be a cool mom to her tweens.