Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Returning Citizen

I have to admit, I was anxious about moving back to my homeland after residing abroad for more than half my lifetime. There were uncertainties lingering in my mind, particularly with employment and work-life balance. Singapore is among those countries that is rated with the longest working hours in the world. Due to this it is a high possibility that working professionals have less quality time to spend with family, friends and on other pursuits. Of course this depends on the occupation, the company rules, the boss and one's effective time management skills.

As soon as I touch down I was eager to assimilate rather than alienate myself. Twenty minutes after landing my eagerness met with reverse culture shock (RCS). I casually walked into the airport's toilet cubicle the way I do in Oman, but displeasure sank in seeing no water hoses, only toilet paper. You must understand that this equipment has been a part of my cleaning ritual ever since I can remember. It feels so much better than using only toilet paper or wet wipes when one has the choice. (If you don't use water and think EWW WEIRD then stop there. We don't do it the way you think and cleaning our nether bits doesn't sound as dirty as you think. I can go into this debate and I assure you that I'll come out victorious but I'll only stray from the subject of this blog hahaha!)
The RCS hit me like a ton of bricks, as if also declaring that I'm no longer in the Middle East. I shrugged it off quickly and kept a mental note to bring an empty water bottle whenever I go out.

I know many who upon leaving their hometowns to migrate have embraced the other culture so much that they have forgotten the basics of their own. Years away didn't do that to me though, or at least I'd like to think so. I did wonder if I had changed greatly that a local would think I'm a foreigner. I mean, I have retained knowledge of the whereabouts here so I don't ask for directions (also thanks to Google Maps). I'm not hao lian (arrogant) enough to forget the Colloquial Singaporean English, famously known as Singlish. It may sound odd to a foreigner, but it can be useful when conversing with locals particularly with elderly shop keepers.

So here I am happily acquainting with my people as familiarity sank in. Then I met a fellow Malay girl who thought I was Pinoy i.e. Filipino. Great, not again. I thought this would be left in Oman? I have had enough of people assuming I'm Filipino. I have nothing against Filipinos and those who know me well know that I like making friends from all over the globe. It's just that the world is BIGGER than you think. Apparently it wasn't my looks exactly that caused her to think so, but my accent that wasn't very Singaporean. So my face plus foreign-ish accent equals Filipino.
The incident that truly surprised me was with a shopkeeper at the printing store. She attempted to read my full name and said, "You look like a Filipino. Are you a Filipino?" Darn it, lady, you just read my full name with "Binte" in it. You're supposed to be Singaporean and know Malay people! (Side note - 'Binte' means 'Daughter Of' used by Malay Muslims here. It is derived from the Arabic word 'Bint' for 'Daughter)
Mustering dignity I firmly replied, "No. I'm from here. I'm Malay."
She didn't look apologetic and went on. "You look like Filipino."
Okay, I'm not sure what her point is, but I was going to make a point, and one that will be an eye-opener to her.
"Yes, I do. Malay people look like Filipino, but do YOU know that there ARE Filipinos who have Chinese features and look Chinese? You could look Filipino too, with Chinese background."
She looked at me and "Hahaha".
"No, seriously," I said.
Perhaps the influx of foreigners here in the last few years, whereby Filipinos make up a large percentage, has changed the sentiments of locals here. If she did not recognize my obvious Malay name, then maybe she is a foreigner herself. If she is local then she's ignorant of people in her own country. Pity. Whatever it is, I am proud to be a citizen of our multicultural Lion City and am looking forward to a new beginning with my Kenyan-Arab husband.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Hopes and Dreams

I still recall vividly the first time a composition I had written in Malay was published in a daily Singaporean Malay newspaper 'Berita Harian' when I was in Primary 6 (Grade/Year 6). The piece was inspired by the events of an unexpected flood that occurred in the area I was living in then. It earned me SGD $20, and back then that amount was enough to make me feel like a millionaire author.

When I was in Primary 3 I discovered that I had a penchant for reading and writing. During oral reading tests I would score full marks for good pronunciation and intonation. My writing compositions attained A or B scores. These traits probably lead to continuation of good writing composition admired by teachers in secondary school, as well as future participation in performing arts, public speaking and leadership roles. By Grade 9 I dreamed of becoming a journalist. My mother supported this dream wholeheartedly by purchasing learning materials for aspiring writers. After sitting for 'O' level exams I went back to Singapore with a solid plan to matriculate at one of the local Polytechnic schools, intending to undertake a Diploma of Mass Communication.

Alas, this would be how I learnt my first important young adult lesson that plans fall through. Despite my good results my prerequisites were insufficient as I was told I did not do my Mother Tongue 'O' Level exam. At that time it is compulsory for Singaporean students to be bilingual and learn a Mother Tongue in school. When my mother decided to take me to Oman to reside with her permanently I guess neither of us had considered that this could have been an issue if I attained an international 'O' level qualification. With a heavy, disappointed heart I left Singapore to Oman again to continue post-secondary education, which I felt was not to my advantage as my request to undertake the 'A' level English subject as a private candidate at the British Council was rejected by the school principal who said I was not allowed to do so. It was even more disheartening to discover that a year later the Mother Tongue prerequisite was removed for certain Polytechnic courses where Mother Tongue languages have no relevance. 

I changed my career aspirations, focusing on something scientific to undertake at university level. I don't really regret it since I do love Science too. I also continued to participate in performances that I am suited for, and occasionally write opinions online for friends to read. I believe that the choices and back up plans I made in the past has led me to where and who I am today.

A few years ago I met a Kenyan gentleman, who later became my husband. Dreams can become a reality when you are determined and believe in yourself. He is my dream come true. This year we made a big life decision to move to Singapore to create more dreams together to come true. He inspired me to write a blog, reminding me of my strengths and attributes which shouldn't be idle. I love that he sees the best in me and is very supportive of my dreams, as I do his. 
I dedicate this first blog to my darling husband, my Caramello Hubby Boo, Nahil Faraj.