So this is it then.
In two days time, I leave New York for good, and my nomadic life well and truly comes to an end. I mean I will still continue with my Grand Tour of Southeast Asia, and every month, I will still feature one street in Manhattan in 12 Streets… but at least where “HOME” – in terms of the actual, physical place I live – is, that’s going to be one city for now: Singapore.
It’s funny how I’ve come completely full circle. Almost three years ago, I left Singapore finally – with an emphasis on “finally” – thinking that my destiny would lie elsewhere – wherever that might be: London, New York, Paris, Berlin even. I had a severe case of “the grass is greener,” so to speak, that most young persons contract when they hit their ’30s – a sort of quarter-life crisis wherein one examines what one has done in life and inevitably concludes that “there must be more” or “I want more” elsewhere.
Having seen the proverbial grass everywhere else these past three years, I’ve concluded that there is indeed a tangible difference in shade – due, naturally, to differences in climate, terrain and soil – but as to whether a lighter or deeper green is better… ah, that remains inconclusive.
The fact is, no one place is better or worse than another. Everywhere you go, you make trade-offs.
In New York, you trade comfort and quality of life for passion and dreams: “we may have so much less right now, but at least we’re doing what we’ve always wanted to do. Right?” In Williamsburg, where I live, for example, there are thousands of young hipsters with a surfeit of dreams and ideas, but living in what, in Singapore, would be considered abject poverty. And that seems to be just fine by them.
In Singapore, you trade “dreams,” of the American variety, for stability and security: poverty of aspiration, in place of actual poverty. So we all live comfortably, with lives revolving around family and friends, and packaged group travel. And our conversations are wrapped around property, investments and food rather than philosophy, ideas and fashion. But that’s how it is. There’s no two-ways about it. AND I’m not saying that talk about fashion and ideas is necessarily more interesting than food and investments.
So just how does one come to terms with all of this? I have to take a step back to answer this question.
While hanging out with close friends in Singapore and New York a couple of weeks ago, it came to my/our attention that if there was one movie that defined all of us born in the late 70s and early 80s, it was The Little Mermaid (the Disney movie). In particular the one defining moment for all of us – and this is rather embarrassing to admit – was the little mermaid, Ariel’s song, “Part of Your World,” in which she sings about thingamabobs, legs and other things that are part of terrestrial world. It’s a classic “grass is greener” song and all of us, in our early to late teens, lapped it up.
Even today, when recollecting how she sang those fateful three words, “I want more!”, our collective hearts stir. We feel Ariel’s yearning. Nay, we ARE Ariel. We might as well be. We know how the rest of the song goes…
“I wanna be where the people are. / I wanna see, wanna see ’em dancing. / Walking around on those…what do you call them? Feet.”
We all want more, but we can’t quite specify what more is, or what exactly it is we want more of. Wanting more, is in fact, a symptom of not knowing what one wants.
The solution to this conundrum doesn’t come easy. It involves discovering what one wants – and that has little to do with what one has as much as what one does and who one is. And it has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with who one is with – there is no Prince or Princess Charming beyond the water, just a whole bunch of flawed but beautiful human beings.
And this is a journey of understanding and discovery that both New Yorkers and Singaporeans alike go through. There are just as many Ariels in New York – perhaps more! – than there are in Singapore. Though the New Yorkers have it (slightly) better because for them – they’re already here, in what they believe is the greatest city in the world. They believe that the system and culture is set up to facilitate their achieving that “more” they desire, once they’ve figured it out. The grass is not greener elsewhere, in other words. It’s already as green as it can possibly be – right here.
Singaporeans (and many denizens of other cities) are disadvantaged because for them, the grass is still greener somewhere else – and until they begin to see that shades really don’t matter; that the inadequacy is not outside, but within one’s self – they’re not gonna be able to find what it is that they seek.
Bottomline is: I know what I want (sorta kinda) – and luckily enough for me, it is perfectly possible to do that in Singapore. And so I’m just gonna do it. Because I’ve been around and I’ve decided that the grass really isn’t greener elsewhere. It’s green enough here, as in Singapore. I mean, I’m trading post-industrial desolation for tropical splendour. How much greener can it get?