I have not been home for slightly under a year now but now it is time for me to pack my suitcase up again.
And I am afraid.
Not afraid because I do not want to see my family. Not afraid because I do not want to catch up with my friends. But afraid because the home I know will be different.
A Singaporean friend and mentor of mine in Manchester went back home for the first time after four years. She was surprised by the change. She did not recognise the unique MBS skyline that Singapore markets itself with nowadays. She got lost around Orchard Road because of its rapid change. She returned home to a different home.
Whilst my experiences have not been as drastic as hers, it is still as scary – if not more – for I witness the change. Change is a very funny thing. It creeps up upon us. We do not realise that it is happening when we are experiencing it, but when we step away for a while and return, we cannot deny the change that has occurred. I recognise home but I don’t know it. It is familiar yet unfamiliar. I land in the uncanny valley when I reach home.
But what is home?
I try to write one play a year. Till date, I have written three in Manchester, and am in the process of writing the fourth. And I realise that all three plays deal with the notion of home. It is as if there is something I want to express but can’t seem to articulate it properly. Stuart Spencer describes these stories as ur-plays, stories that are buried deep in one’s own subconscious that desperately needs to be told (Spencer 2002: 27). Further, David Mamet adds that these stories ‘aren’t clean, they aren’t neat, but there’s something in them that comes from the heart, and, so, goes to the heart’ (Mamet 2007: 18 – 19). My first play, Two Chairs, was about a brother who goes to the UK to study despite his family’s objection because he desperately wanted to get out of Singapore. My second play, To Be Frank, was about a mother who forgets how her family looks like. My third play, Purple Heart, deals with an overseas exchange student returning back to Singapore at the end of his overseas education stint, realising that he hates it back home.
Returning to the question posed above, I still do not quite know what is home. On the one hand, it is good to be afraid of going home – there is nothing wrong with it – the fear of not knowing how it will look like is a very real one. On the other, I think there is a need for me to re-evaluate what home means to me. When I am in Singapore, Singapore is my home. When I am in Manchester, Manchester’s mine. But what is going to happen when I move to another place? Thinking about the meaning of home may just be another exercise in empty nostalgia because it is always in such a constant flux: it means one thing yesterday, another today, and is most definitely going to be something else tomorrow.
Maybe, then, I should not be afraid of going home, or staying home for that matter. On the one hand, staying can be viewed as tragedy. On the other, stasis itself can be seen as defiance.
I am currently in the midst of writing the first draft of my upcoming play (to be staged in May by The 1121 Collective in Manchester), and for the first time – though the thematic concerns are still largely the same – I have adamantly and defiantly set my play somewhere other than Singapore. Wong Kar Wai, after making 2046, widely seen as the last of the Hong Kong “spiritual trilogy”, started making films that are quite different. Maybe, after this new play, I would have finally told the ur-play that is buried deep inside me.
But, for now, it’s Char Kuay Teow, Chicken Rice, Bah Kut Teh, Mee Pok, Pig’s Trotters, Steamboats, and Durians.
Mamet, David, 2007. Three Uses of the Knife, London: Methuen Drama.
Spencer, Stuart, 2002. The Playwright’s Guidebook, London: Faber and Faber.