Sunday, October 12, 2014

Missing Seattle


I have officially been in Singapore for over a month.

Wow.

This is the longest I've ever been away from home. For the most part, I'm doing fine. Great, actually. I've become editor-in-chief of the school newsletter, I'm doing well in classes, I'm creating a running club, and I start my internship at Cohn & Wolfe XPR on Monday. I'm learning a lot, both about the business world and about myself. I love the freedom I have here, and the amount of opportunities being handed to me. I fall asleep exhausted every day, because there is so much to do and see and think about.

However. I've been a little homesick lately. As amazing as it is to be able to study in Singapore, a country located literally across the world from my hometown, I didn't realize a lot of the things I would be giving up to be here. I don't want to seem ungrateful for this opportunity, because that is absolutely not the case. Being here is challenging at times, but that's exactly why I chose this- because I wanted to challenge myself, see how much I could push myself out of my comfort zone and learn about myself in the process.

However, I believe it's important to acknowledge that, being the nostalgic, introspective person I am, it is not the easiest thing in the world for me to be here. It's amazing and fascinating and I feel like my mind is constantly engaged in something; but there are days when what I'm immersed in is a craving for something I can't get here, like the crunch of red-gold leaves under my running shoes or the scent of fresh pumpkins at the supermarket. Some days I feel like I'm trapped here searching for a feeling, a scent, a taste, a something that doesn't exist on this island, and that's hard. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. But at the same time, it's good for me. It's good to learn that the whole world is not always going to feel as I want it to or expect it to. It's good to realize that different cultures focus on different values, and it's good for me to learn that living well does not have to mean living the way I always have. Basically, if I was having the easiest time of my life and I didn't feel like anything in my life was changing... well, I'd be doing this wrong.

I could talk for far longer about eye-opening cultural differences and my opinions about various aspects of Singapore, but that's not what I'm going to do just yet. Right now I want to remember the city I come from. As much as I am glad I chose to come to Singapore, spending such a long time away from the city I grew up in has caused me to consider Seattle with a particular fondness I didn't realize I held within me. One of my high school literature teachers, Mr. Katz, once said that the reason Scott Fitzgerald was so famous for 'The Great Gatsby' was because he had managed to write about the time period he was living in as though he was viewing it externally, from a different time or place altogether. I feel the same way about Seattle; now that I've been away for so long, I can see the whole city from a more distant perspective, while at the same time I am aware of all its nuances and details.

Does that make sense? I hope so! Without further ado, then, here are the things I am missing from home...

1. Autumn. I knew Singapore was going to be hot, and I knew the winter wouldn't be cold. But I really didn't realize how much autumn meant to me, or how weird I would feel without it. It's always been my favorite season, but I've never had such a deep craving for it. So many of my memories are wrapped up in autumn and associated with the season that I kind of feel like missing fall means I'm missing out on all those things as well. I want to be able to wear long sleeved dresses and nylon tights, leather jackets and my NYC beanie, and those gorgeous caramel-colored knee high boots I talked dad into buying for me last winter. I want to feel leaves crunching under my feet on long runs, during which I can smell the scent of competition in the air; this is the first time in four years that October has come and I'm not training for cross country. I want to listen to Florence & the Machine on my iPod on my way to Chaco Canyon after school, to grab a latte and study indoors while the rain provides a pleasant Seattle soundtrack as it bounces off the roof of the cafe. This brings me to my next point...

2. I miss real coffee, local coffee, and independent cafes. Some things in Singapore are amazing. The coffee is not one of those things. Of course, I'm one of the most biased coffee people on the planet and have been totally spoiled by living in Seattle and having what is, in my opinion, some of the best coffee in the world available at my fingertips. I am the girl who, the day I returned from an almost-three-week trip to China, begged my mom to stop at Chaco Canyon on the way home from the airport, regardless of the fact that I'd been awake for over 25 hours and really could have had coffee at home. Independent cafes are my thing. Especially when their coffee is purchased and produced in a manner that benefits society and the environment. Here, I don't know where many of the cafes I've been to get their coffee... But most of it tastes like airplane coffee. There are a few exceptions I've read about and plan on visiting, but for now I am putting the Stumptown coffee grounds my parents mailed to me (THANK YOU TIMES A MILLION) into teabags and letting those masquerade as cups of coffee.



3. Food I'm not allergic to and health food stores. These things are not in abundance here. There are a few places like Supernature at Forum the Shopping Mall that I have been lucky enough to find, that sell gluten free foods and the like, but they're reaaaallllyyy expensive (I am guilty of spending S$15 on a loaf of bread and S$10 on a box of cookies), and nowhere near as commonplace as they are back home. Luckily, dairy-free milk is easy to find at grocery stores like Fairprice, as is corn pasta, but non-cow cheese takes more searching. There is a cheese stall at Pasarbella, one of my new favorite places in Singapore, that had two or three non-cow cheese options last time I checked. And there is also one place in the country that sells vegan ice cream (it's called Brownice, and I hope to check it out soon!). Though I'm grateful for all these locations, I can't help but wish it was easier to buy allergen friendly food.

4. The focus on outdoor activities (and fitness in general) the Pacific Northwest is famous for. I never really realized this was something unique to the area until I left. I used to be able to take yoga or dance whenever I wanted, or go figure skating. I could run and bike and roller blade and hike, or really do anything outdoorsy and exercise-y that interested me. Here, I can do all of those things but it is far less convenient. I think it's just that Asian countries have a different attitude towards this kind of exercise. I'm used to a "rugged exploration" sort of mentality (thank you, mom and dad, for the hundreds of camping trips of my youth) whereas here the focus seems to be more on overall well-being.

5. Running in the cold. Along Alki. With my mom. This is a particular variation of the above activities that I miss. What's funny is that I started writing this post and then she emailed me and mentioned she was missing me on her runs too, so it's a mutual thing. :P But really, I have so many memories of talking to my mom while we run through the city... there was that time it took us 3 hours to finish a 10 mile run because there wasn't a bathroom nearby, and the day we were running in the dark on an October morning and nearly died of fright when our heads collided with someone's spidery Halloween decor. There was a day when somehow I'd gotten out of school so we ran on Alki in the middle of the morning, then sat down on the cold stone sidewalk stairs with hot coffee and chocolate croissants to people-watch. I am so excited to go home for Christmas because I'm hoping I can convince her to run with me every day, even though she'll have completed the New York marathon a month earlier and will likely be taking time off...

6. Dinner parties with my friends. Yes, I am making friends here. Yes, we have loads of fun and we're making all sorts of crazy memories together and I love it. But I miss getting together with the girls that know me inside and out, cooking up crazy concoctions (watermelon... spritzers? well, it sounded like a good idea) and laughing ourselves to sleep at 3 in the morning, bellies full of gluten free goat cheese brownies.

7. My family. Okay, not to pick favorites or anything, but I miss my little brother so much. He was my 'little buddy' all summer, especially in the last few weeks before I left, and he's so young that I have to wonder how much he'll have changed by the time I get back. And how much he'll remember of me when he grows up. I can't imagine having a sibling twelve years older than me... Anyways, I miss having someone so young and innocent around. Unlike my brother, most college students do not want to spend an afternoon with me drinking tea, making cupcakes and drawing pictures.

8. The ability to bake. I know I would have had this issue at any college, so this is not a uniquely Singaporean issue. BUT I WOULD SO LOVE TO HAVE AN OVEN RIGHT NOW. I could make pumpkin muffins and lasagna and shepherd's pie, and I could bake chocolate cakes and craft apple pies... My mouth is watering. I wonder if I could bake a pie in a microwave...?

9. The way streets and buses are quick, efficient and make sense. There is no way I could get lost in Seattle. It's not that I've lived there so long, just that the streets are logically arranged. I didn't even get lost when I was wandering around New York, where I'd never been before, on foot for 6 hours with no map. I love the MRT (subway) system here because it's easy to use and gets you places super fast, but when I take the bus I literally have to map out every corner of my trip, because the streets wind around each other so much that I will get entirely lost otherwise. This has happened more than once. I have stopped expecting that a looping street will lead back to the place it began... it usually doesn't!

10. Library access. It costs $50 for a foreigner to get a library card here. I have resorted to Googling various book titles online and reading strangely formatted copies of questionable validity. Needless to say, I have developed a new appreciation for the Seattle Public Library system.

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I miss Seattle. I really do. And I have moments where all I want to do is wake up back home and have a day to wander around my hometown with a cup of coffee in hand, wearing tights, Doc Martens and a thick, cozy scarf and appreciating the way the fall colors have hit the city.

But.

But. I am not in Seattle right now, and I will not return to that beautiful city until the end of December. I am not going to spend the next three months mourning something that I haven't even lost- only temporarily given up. Instead, I plan to appreciate the place I am living here and now. It's not every day one gets the opportunity to fly to Singapore and live there for a year. It's not every school that tells its students during orientation that they are to focus less on school and more on experiencing life in a foreign country.

I am allowed to be homesick. It's only natural. But I am not allowed to let it take over my life. There's this quote I love that says, "Don't let your emotions make you their bitch." I am not going to let the desire for comfort and familiarity get in the way of a truly amazing, once-in-a-lifetime journey. I will let it exist, instead, as a separate entity; this post. This post is my homesickness, the things that bring me comfort and that I wish I could have brought here with me. But now they are stuck here on virtual paper. I refuse to carry them along with me; I need to keep moving and they are weighing me down. Instead of dragging along these heavy pieces of my past, I will lighten my load, dropping the futile wishes for normalcy and bringing only happy memories of the past. In this way I can make room for other things I love, other things that bring me happiness. Because Singapore does bring me happiness, just in a different way than I'm used to. So without getting any more philosophical... here are some things I love about Singapore.

1. I don't get carded. I have been offered complimentary wine, ordered a margarita at Clarke Quay, and bought a can of beer for a friend and I have never once been asked for my ID. The drinking age here is 18, so it's not like I'm doing anything illegal, but I still cannot describe how bizarre it is to just... buy alcohol.

2. I can sleep on the beach. I've never tried to spend the night on Alki back home, but I assume that if I had I would have been kicked off the beach somewhere around 3am by the night patrol or something. Here, my friends and I can go to Sentosa and literally just chill on the edge of the water all night. At 5am when we decide to find a cab back to campus, we can do so easily.

3. Actually, I could probably sleep anywhere. This city is more deserving of the title "the city that never sleeps" than NYC. When I was in New York, it seemed like everything closed around 10 or 11 at the latest. In Singapore, everything is usually open until 10, 7 days a week, and there are so many clubs and 24 hour food joints when you get deeper into the city that it never, ever feels like the dead of night. I can say this because I've been wandering around Marina Bay between 3:30 and 4 in the morning and I was able to find food and a cab, and watched many other people out and about doing the same.

4. It seems people never here sleep anyway, which at first annoyed me but now I find awesome. My first week here I kept trying to go to bed by midnight, because back home this was a way to prevent complete grogginess the following day. But when everyone else on my campus was routinely up until 3 or 4am, this was quite a challenge. Eventually I gave in and started following the trend... now I'm never tired enough to be asleep before 1:30am. I don't even know how this happened, but I feel like I have so much more time in every day. And if I'm tired one day and sleep from 4pm to 6pm, no big deal. I sleep at the weirdest times. It's 2am as I type this, yet there is a group of people talking and eating in the dorm kitchen on the other side of my door and I can hear water in the pipes so someone is taking a shower. This is still bizarre to me, but I love it.

5. There is always a place where you can find music. Starting on campus, with people that bring portable music players everywhere; from the bridge where we hang out at night to the gym and even the shower. On a larger scale, there's music on the beach at Sentosa, in the park at Marina Bay, near every shopping center and every club. Wherever you go, you will find some kind of music emanating from someplace nearby.

6. And alternately, there's always a place where you can find nature. Or at least greenery, whether it be a tiny park in a corner where you wouldn't expect it, or large tropical plants dangling off buildings or out of the middle of someone's window. 


7. No one wears sweats and plastic flip flops in public. This is one of my pet peeves in the US- when people dress like they don't realize what they've put on, just made sure it covered their backsides. Here, for the most part, people care about their appearances. I respect that.

8. I am surrounded by a million languages. This is because I attend an international school, obviously, but Singapore is also such an international place that whether you're at a restaurant or on the bus, you're bound to hear at least three different languages at any given time. It's music to my ears!

9. Opportunities are everywhere. I am given so much free time and so many choices about what to do with it, it's almost overwhelming. I can do work on the school's newsletter, apply for internships, create clubs, help organize events for holidays like Thanksgiving that are unique to my culture, attend art exhibits, explore the city, go running and more. I could go on forever, but you get the idea!

10. I am learning how to be a more independent, resourceful, and intelligent person... and I'm learning how to live in Singapore. Every weekend I experience something new. I am writing more than I ever have in my life because I am always, ALWAYS thinking about something else. This constant engagement in life is the most thrilling thing to me. It is why I love travel, why I write, why sometimes I can't speak clearly because my head is so muddled in thought. And at the end of the day, it is why I am here. Because I am willing to live, to learn, to explore, and discover.

Thanks for reading. :)

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