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Searching for a Place called Home – The Return

Posted by intellisg on June 19, 2007

home.jpgHAVE you ever asked where home is? No. I am not asking geographically. I know precisely where Singapore is: 01º 22′ N, 103º 48′ E. A tiny sliver of land immediately north of the equator positioned just off the southern edge of the Malay Peninsula between Malaysia and Indonesia.

I am asking in a philosophical sense,

“Where really is home in your heart?”

Against the backdrop of a globalization, more and more Singaporeans are finding themselves working abroad these days. This brings into sharp focus, the need to look deeper into what really constitutes loyalty and citizenry in the context of the question –where is home? Along side this goal there is also a plan to increase the population of Singapore to 6.5 million – how does this sit with the whole notion of nationhood? What notions would be conflated by the need to forge a national identity and shared destiny? Can this be reasonably accomplished? And more importantly how does this all add up to call our tiny dot – home?

I first started questioning the whole business of “home” two years and a bit ago during my brief working experience in America. When a research colleague of mine, Yakov who hailed from Brooklyn, New York once intimated to me during lunch, it was time for him to return “home.”

The statement took me by surprise.

“What you talking about Yakov? Aren’t you home now! In the US, in New York, in Brooklyn, in 5th Avenue?”

A pause ensued,

“No, this may sound weird to you. But this isn’t home, this is just a place where I put food on the table, the motherland is in Israel.” For a moment, the conversation hung as my mind raced to search my memory banks. In the period I had known Yakov, he always referred to himself as an American. I knew he visited his relatives in Tel Aviv last summer, but I knew for a fact, he never ever lived in Israel before!

In truth, I never really bothered to ask about his religious orientation, looking back there were plenty of clues of course, the menorah in his cubicle and when I once dropped a saucer in the cafeteria, he did say, “mazzatov”, but none of these registered beyond the ordinary, till he said,

“The motherland -Israel.”

So one day I asked him straight off the hip, whether perhaps he was a trifle rash by deciding to settle in Israel. After all he had only visited the country four times and each visit rarely lasted beyond a month.

Besides he was hardly the ultra orthodox Hasidic Jew who one can spot ten miles away with their furry wide brimmed hats. This was an ordinary Joe who wore jeans, sneakers, subscribed to the National Geographic and supported the Lakers – you cant get more soaked in Americana syrup than Yakov!

When I pressed further by asking Yakov why, he didn’t feel the need to put America before Israel?

He qualified himself by saying,

“I am not saying, I not proud to be an American, only I am first and foremost a Jew.”

I couldn’t figure it out, it was akin to a man being in love with two women at the same time, or was it?

I pressed further,

“Judaism is simply a religion and it had nothing to do with nationality.”

Yakov replied,

“No Judaism isn’t just a religion, it’s a way of life for me and my people, I may have grown up in America, but I went to a Jewish school where the head master was a Rabbi. Sure I grew up in Brooklyn, but we live in the Jewish quarter. I may eat fast food like most people from time to time, but I prefer Matzoh ball’s cooked the slow way Jewish style. I am Jew true and true – as for being an American, I am that too but that’s the big picture stuff. I am not saying I will not fight for America only I ain’t going to die for some man I don’t care to know living in a white house or a $5 flag – sure he can find plenty of hill billies to go fight his war, only if I fight for America, it will be for my piece of Brooklyn, my Jewish school, that corner shop that sells imported olives from Israel, that Jewish girl that I had a crush on in the third grade – get it – the everyday stuff.”

It didn’t take me long to draw the connection between pride and loyalty. I realized what constitutes real citizenry isn’t necessarily about the big picture i.e nationalism. Yes, I am sure there will always be soldiers in every generation who will rush off to battle in the name of King and country, but I am also realistic enough, these are hardly resilient beliefs to withstand the first report of enemy gun fire.

There must be something deeper to this whole idea of fighting and defending one’s home – or should I say, to preserve one’s way of life.

To me what really endures is the opposite of national pride, what my friend Yakov referred endearing too as “local or neighborhood” pride – it’s the small diorama of everyday life which all of us are so familiar with. The little people who we come across day in and day out – the prata man who just knows I just like it crispy & crusty. The tea aunty who always makes it a point to ladle an extra scoop of sugar because she knows I have a sweet tooth. The girl next door who always manages a friendly smile because she knows that will make my day. The distant memory of my youth during NS, when I looked into the face of a boy officer who I just knew was as scared as me. We were lost and flailing yet, we were in it together, through thick and thin – and that was all that really mattered – it’s the small stuff that always sticks to me whenever I conjure the word “home”: what I call the “neighborhood pride” stuff where one person just rubs against another and it leaves enough residue to say, I am as much a part of you are a part of me and all that just adds up to make up a place where a man nurtures his sense of place and belonging to a community –that I guess is home, for me at least.

I am a Asian, Catholic, Chinese, a Singaporean, ACS boy who hails for the South and I live in a street where old people still call me “Ah Tee” and still expect me paint their rusty gates for $1 and a glass of Ribena, while they spend the evenings reminiscing about the past – and I am proud to belong to all these small little fragments of memories which really don’t add up too much – only they are very much part my identity as they are part of who I am before, now and probably tomorrow.

Craving out a place one called “home” is a way of making sense of where we are in relation to the broader community: a means of even validating the condition of what it means to be human: to the people we have known, to the events which have shaped our lives, and to shared memory. I am reminded when a sense of belonging is absent, our humanity diminishes and this is often followed by a sense of estrangement.

I realize like my Jewish friend, the return to Israel is concerned about reclaiming those aspects of identity, history and ties which may not even sit too well with the whole idea of the picture stuff like nationalism, loyalty and citizenship. Above all it’s self selecting and has very little to do with the big picture the government or any government dishes out – they may try to tell me what I should or should not be proud of – or what is or is not worth marching off to battle for – but ultimately, the decision is wholly selfish and personal – and if I fight, it will never be about the big picture stuff, but rather the thousands of small stuff that I just call lost narrative of home – small it is – read and valued by only a few – can’t even be taken more seriously than a visit to a museum – but enough to call my own chapter in the broader story of nationhood – that I guess is something Yakov, my friend probably referred to as “neighborhood pride.”

I never ever finished my conversation with Yakov and till today, I don’t claim to understand his motivations completely. Though, whenever I come across a post which presents the question. I still can’t help mulling over it as it continues to rub me no end.

Eventually Yakov moved to Tel Aviv and settled there while I returned back to Singapore.

Last year in July 2006, when fighting erupted along the Israeli –Lebanese border, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was mobilized for the very first time in years. I heard from Yakov’s sister, her brother was called up. In the weeks that followed, I found myself turning to CNN and every time when the camera panned to a knot of Israeli soldiers. I found myself searching for Yakov’s all too familiar lanky form – amongst the tired and weather beaten faces of those soldiers.

I wondered to myself whether Yakov was finally home.

(By Harphoon – Philosophy / Ethics / Sociology – EP 992882-2007 (Revised Version 2006) – The Brotherhood Press 2007)


10 Responses to “Searching for a Place called Home – The Return”

  1. curios said

    Home is where you’re humbled. Which is why home for others is not home for me.

  2. eve said

    thank u for the post. it made me think.

  3. sghome said

    To me, home is relative and subjective. To what? To your mind and heart’s desire for home in terms of time and space.

    Sg is my home. Bedok is my home now used to be in Jurong. My home is in blk X #xx-xxx. Or if I m overseas, I would reply that my home is x in that country.

    However, its your heartfelt peace or whatever you feel most about home in the X place is your desired home.

    Yes, earth, asia, south-east asia, singapore, bedok, blk x, #nn-nnn is my home. It’s my litte cocoon where I really feel the most at peace. Extending outwards I feel at home with my family within the space of Singapore, with my love for Singapore within the space of South-east asia and so forth.

    I will vote for the right to feel Singapore as home and not hotel or just a company/corporate.

  4. homeless said

    I am homeless. The place in Singapore I was born in has been redeveloped. My primary school has closed down. My secondary school and JC have moved. My university faculty has moved. My previous workplace is in a restricted zone that I can never revisit. I don’t even feel secure in my present home because I may be forced to move out, and there’s no job security in my current workplace. I have no place to ‘return’ to. Home in Singapore is only for the rich and connected.

  5. scb said

    I have been living in sg for fifty six years and still looking for a home!

  6. As It Is said

    To some, the home is the physical location that they return to after a hard day’s work, to the comfort of the environment, to the comfort of the arms of their loved ones, to the comfort of their beds where they can dream a good night’s dream.

    To some, the home is in the mind, the philosophical sense of the word. But the problem with the mind is that it keeps changing or it can also become absent-minded. Now, it can be a sense of identity or belonging to a broader community of people with all its qualities and idiosyncrasies. Later, it can be the motherland or fatherland. But was there a mother or father land in the first place many thousands of years ago?

    To some, the home is in the heart, the natural instinct to keep going back to the same old place that arouse their inner feelings, unexplainable in words or deeds.

    Whatever, irrespective of any of the above, the truth is every one of us already has a home, the real home, the same home. Search inside yourself, not anywhere else. Yes, deep inside yourself, search. It is there. Your home. Our home. The original home.

    If you can find it, simply remain:

    AS IT IS!

  7. curios said

    “One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect the whole world looks like home for a time.”
    —Hermann Hesse

  8. blueadamsingapore said

    It is good to read this. Thanks. I spent the first few years of my life in KL, then Singapore, then USA, back here, then HK, Beijing and Shanghai, PRC and now back here. I can’t call any of this home, I spent too much time everywhere but not long enough in one place. Shanghai came very close, more than Singapore ever could. I was freer than I ever was.

    But for now, there is a blue chinese mansion in Penang that my friend runs, which I always call home, where I can relax and not be bothered. That is as near to home as I call it.

    When I was in the USA, my Jewish friend Dov Cohen also said the same thing about Israel, but in the end he decided not to stay on in Israel and left. It’s different, this fired up ideology and the reality when you live there facing the grit and insanity day after day, Dov returned to New York finally.

  9. […] been asking ourselves since the start of the project. I found one person’s perspective here. Well written. Can’t seem to figure out who the author is though. Here’s an excerpt of […]

  10. […] Where Is Your Home? As It Is Says: June 22nd, 2007 at 7:28 am […]

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