Home @ 35

AirstreamThis post is inspired by reading many accounts of Home (A Sense of Place) on the current issue of Stanford’s Alumni Magazine (if you’re interested).

Yes. Turned 35. Started a family, started a company. Own a home, drive a car. Materially, other than the fact that I’m still gambling a little by surviving on a pittance from weekend music arrangement work and some morning assembly shows, throwing everything else into growing the next unicorn, I have little doubt that I live an enviable quality of living. It affords me a psychological stability to take on risk that involves quantum leaps for the next phase of my life. And today (yesterday) would be a good checkpoint.

And that stability is crucial in playing the role of a dad, co-founder, husband, service provider etc. An article passed around in social media alleged that only the rich can take high risk for being an entrepreneur. Perhaps they are right – even if I don’t see that kind of money in my pocket, I must be at peace with what I already have in order to take longer term bets.

What I’m not fully at peace, at 35, is indeed this sense of place. Being very comfortable in Ang Mo Kio for the past decade, I’m firstly facing the challenge of having to uproot and move to the condo over in Hougang, which we got our keys a few weeks ago, once the renovation is done later this year. Settling in, including settling the 1-year-old in, will not only sap up time, money and energy, but also rock the very sense of place (basically this central region of AMK, Bishan, TPY) that has become so familiar to me.

Moreover, what one considers Home varies. One Portuguese novelist in the alumni mag explored the possibility that some feel at home when they are speaking a particular language. Or when they are in a constructed sense of place (e.g. in a novel). Or simply a loving friendship. Some I spoke to about this move countered that I should take solace in that I’m moving with my wife and daughter. Apart from the obvious physical relocation, I started wandering whether our family in AMK would be the same as our family in Hougang?

But it doesn’t end there. I want to have a clear sense of place, for myself, that can be logically projected into every facade of my life. For example, in the music world, it’s clear as day to me that my Home is with the wind band scene. I perform in orchestras since 13, I love taking up gigs with the brass quintet, but they are often me projecting out from a core sense of place – a tenor trombonist in approx 60 person wind group, playing every possible genre of music. Wind band is home.

In another example in the technology world, most people would know me as a connector stemming from many years of startup relations, business development and civil servant roles. But each of them are also projected out from a common base, which is one widely exposed generalist software developer wearing a computer science degree on one sleeve, and a fierce hustler attitude on the other. This sense of place translated well when I reprojected myself back into robotics. Comp Science is home.

All seemed clear except one small corner, when I hold my passport in my hands. In the past months, various events has brought me to rethink this concept of Home in the dimension of national identity. Here’re a few short stories:

1. Thanks and no thanks to SG50, I’ve arranged Home (Kit Chan) 4 times this year alone, and rejected 2 other request for arranging Home, and we’re still 2 weeks to NDP. Also, one of the projects that I ran for SG50 for the past year didn’t take off, but I was happy even though I spent countless hours interacting with arrangers on writing national songs, managing stakeholders and rights owners. People still download and perform the music – that’s most important to me.

2. In my constant interaction with Singaporeans about SAF (and this is with reference to the officer type, coz the band type I don’t get much of it), I always feel like people have to actively censor information, only for the reason that I haven’t served in the army, despite being a permanent resident here for the past decade. I am still considering whether they would stop doing that if I take another few weeks of my life before 37 to serve in the volunteer corp.

3. Between me and my wife, we have often talked about at least one of us becoming a citizen, primarily for the kid. It would be an unnecessary financial strain otherwise, contingent on the extended stay here. Who should relinquish the citizenship of their birth since there’s no way to hold both? The indirect question here is, what are the chances we would be forced to relocate again, such as overseas career move?

4. Professionally, as we’re aiming to build a regional business, we often need to rethink out branding and outlook. Do we introduce ourselves as a Singapore-based startup when pitching to Indonesians clients? Many Malaysian clients we pitch to dig through my personal background to verify my citizenship, despite me telling them I only come home for parents or for work – is my national identity critical to you hiring my company, or my locale?

Here are the hard questions put together in 1 breath: Does giving back to a Singaporean society make me less at home as a Malaysian? Would I ever consider Singapore home when Singaporeans build a wall around my inquisitive learning? Does changing the passport make any difference psychologically in recognising your home nationality? Does your nationality have to be public for the sake of work or simply feeling more at home?

For my birthday this year, I dropped out of attending some tech gatherings to spend the entire day with my family and in the evening 2 friends. We staked out at Satay by the Bay so that we can catch the aerial fly by and the fireworks for the NDP preview show. I ate so much siham and drank so much beer I became worried that this isn’t the cheapest place to binge. When the planes flew past our heads, I was thinking of the 4 summers I spent in Seattle, never missing a single show by the Blue Angels when they toured to Lake Washington.

It almost felt like Home could be in the skies…

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