It’s Not You – It’s Me
The time has come to talk about leaving. After nearly two years, my sojourn in Singapore is coming to a close. But, before I talk about where I’m going, I want to say a few things about this city I still call home.
The place of expats and foreigners in Singapore society is the subject of much debate. Some will want me to say this is the reason I’m leaving Singapore, but it isn’t. Yes, Singapore is going through a period of change, which is uncomfortable at times for those of us not born here. I’ve had my share of unpleasant moments. But, that’s not why I’m leaving.
Others might want me to say I’m going because of the lack of freedoms in this nation; the restrictions on artists, or the all pervasive role of government in the creative industries. I have strong opinions about this. But, again, this is not why I’m leaving.
And, I’m not leaving because of the climate, as much as I’m prone to complain about the relentless heat and drenching rain. I adapted to far harsher weather in Delhi and I’m fortunate to enjoy regular visits to Adelaide, where I get to revel in some decent winter weather (and occasionally a little spring and autumn air as well).
I’m leaving because my spouse has been offered an amazing chance to work in a great city, a city I have often dreamed of living in. When I look at her, when I look my daughter, when I look at us as a family and when I think about my artistic journey this far, I simply cannot say no.
I feel very different to the way I felt leaving Hong Kong. After five years in that city I was exhausted. The pollution, the cramped living conditions and the ever increasing influence of China had rubbed the charm off living in Hong Kong. And, I had come to believe, however good the economic opportunites were in Hong Kong, I was always going to struggle to grow creatively.
Singapore has been a very different experience. I’ve had space here to sort out my life and to move in new artistic directions. Regardless of the social and political issues in Singapore, when I’m in my studio (and offline) I feel freer and more able to work than I did in Hong Kong. And, I’ve had a physical environment, including clean air and pleasant urban trails near home, that has given me time to think and space to become physically healthier.
I’m a better person for having had these two years in Singapore.
And, that’s why, despite the hassles, problems and issues, I could imagine living here again in the future. I don’t want to downplay how challenging the next few years will be for everyone in Singapore. But, the hysteria in the mainstream and online media all too often overlooks how peaceful and conducive to creative work this place can be.
On many of my lunch breaks I’ve walked down a clean, tree-lined path to my local hawker centre, where I’ve eaten tasty food in a casual environment. Often, I would marvel at the diversity of this place, representing not just all the ethnic groups that make up Singapore, but also the social groups as well; retirees, young families, construction workers, school and university students. I would then walk home, listening to the wind and the birds while watching the sun flicker through the branches above. I would often use this time to let my imagination run wild, before returning to work the hours I had left till my daughter came home from school.
This space, to think, to dream, to mingle and relax before returning to my tasks will be part of my enduring memory of Singapore. I will cherish it for the weeks I have left here and miss it when I go.