LifeStory: When “home” isn’t a place anymore…

Hwee Hwee Tan's Mammon Inc.
On Left: Singaporean author Hwee Hwee Tan // On Right: Her critically acclaimed book, Mammon Inc.

Where do you call home? Is it your place of birth? Where your family lives? Where your wife/husband goes? That was a question recently posed by a Singaporean blogger currently living abroad…

For me I don’t mind living anywhere in the world, so long as there’s an Internet connection (I’m serious!). I’ve two younger siblings so my parents encourage me to go as far as I can (career-wise, not proximically-speaking!). I must admit though that my decision to go anywhere would be limited to where my partner can go, which is something I fully respect. While I would miss Singaporean food as well as my friends and family (no particular order!), I can live with the idea of the Internet giving me a compressed experience of home. After all, I think it’s always good to experience new cultures and to learn a few things from them. Take note though my heart still belongs to Singapore; friends will attest that I still have a distinctly Singaporean accent while Penny and I always crave Singaporean delights, so she whips them up pretty often!

From what Peishan said, I think she is experiencing the loss of identity. When she wrote “Home is where the heart is?“, she couldn’t seem to call a distinct place as home, be it Singapore or Chicago. In the end, she proclaimed that perhaps one of those who considered themselves “citizens of the world”. By that she meant how mobile people like herself could move to any state, or any country for that matter and still be equally happy.

While readers left her their personal thoughts and decisions on that matter, her story was cited on Tomorrow.sg (the “BoingBoing” of Singapore) where it fell under the context of her being a Quitter, one who in Singaporean terms, leaves home (Singapore) for greener pastures. Witnessing the crime of over-generalization, I felt a need to address this and so I share the following:

“Quitter” is a harsh term designed for invoking shame, useful for keeping up the local economy (yup politics!). However, we now live in a globalized world, where the norm is for goods and services to cross international borders, just as well for people to make difficult cultural transitions. Whether someone decides to work in Singapore or work abroad, they shouldn’t be treated any differently… it’s seriously another day’s work. As Peishan said, this isn’t an issue for her. What she faces is more of a cultural issue which might be something straight out of the book, Mammon Inc. If you guys remember, it was written by Singaporean novelist, Hwee Hwee Tan. This was later commissioned by the National Arts Council to be a play at the 2002 Arts Festival. I totally recommend reading it, especially if you are in that transition phase, so here’s a book review.

That said, Mammon Inc is one of the best novels I’ve read. I couldn’t help but picture myself reaching such a level of economic success, only to realize that it could be all for nothing if we don’t have a greater overarching meaning for our lives. A pretty poignant tale for anyone living the globetrotting lifestyle and finding it hard to find a place called home.

Aside: If you’re interested in what life is like for Singaporeans living abroad, check out this simple blog aggregator I’ve put together at what.isthereason.com. This is where you’ll discover interesting stories like this, this and of course, that.

Update: Straydog believes that we must remove ourselves from the old notion that home is something physical. That is just an address of your current abode. By that definition, many people will be homeless. I wouldn’t mind one address though… a static IP address ­čśŤ

10 thoughts on “LifeStory: When “home” isn’t a place anymore…

  1. Well, home doesn’t necessarily mean where you’re from.

    I was born and raised in NYC, and went to university in Buffalo and proceeded to spend nearly a decade in Western New York afterwards. I currently reside in SF and I am proud to say that I consider San Francisco my new home.

    There is no question that the ‘Net has made this transition much easier – from finding a place to live, to directions for getting around, to recommendations on places to eat and things to see, to the all important communication link with family and friends. Me and my family’s relocation across the country would have been much more difficult.

    That being said, I believe that the concept of ‘home’ should be defined as the place that puts you most at ease.

  2. Hah, quitter. Yeah sometimes thats the attitude I get from alot of the pro-Buffalo people I talk to. Websites like Buffalorising certainly don’t help, with there constant banter about “ex-pats” but I honestly don’t feel like a quitter having left Buffalo. Personally I don’t really feel like I’ve left Buffalo. With the low-cost of flights back and the relative quickness of a flight I know I can come back and visit my family and friends anytime I want with ease.

    I think that notion of “quitter” that can be labeled against someone is BS. Its either someones jealousy that they themselves couldn’t “get out” or else it’s economically motivated, they’re angry you spending money to live somewhere else. Thats their hangup.

    But anyway back to the issue of Home and what it is. At this stage I feel as if my range of home has simply expanded. I don’t feel like I’ve gone somewhere else but merely expanded my comfort zone of where I can live. And I think that comfort zone has a lot to do with what you touched on- about as long as you have internet you’re ok. I think as long as we can surround ourselves with the familliar than you can call anyplace home. For me it was the environment. I couldn’t call a rural environment (Utica) home as I wasn’t use to it. However the more urban Chicago is an environment I am used to, thus its familliar to me which is the reason why I’ve been able to adjust quickly.

  3. It’s interesting how each of us have similar experiences on this matter. I’m glad to see that most of us feel that the Net creates a “ubiquitous home”. I’m even more intrigued by how Dan experienced the “Quitter” namesake even in Buffalo. Looks like it’s a universal thing, but ironically, it only goes to show that whoever said it, isn’t satisfied with where they are as well! ­čśŤ

  4. Strangely enough, there was a bookclub discussion recently on her book but not many people turned up. Informal feedback indicates that her book was not well received, but perhaps by that particular group… I’ve yet to read the book so I don’t know.

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