When one of your favourite people in the world tells you that she’s decided on a whim to fly halfway around the world to stay for two weeks with a guy she’d met in person like three times since they got to know each other on Tinder the month before and that she’s leaving in a week, the natural response is “GIRL R U 4 REAL”.
She said she’d crash at his place and he’d bring her around and take care of her while she was there, and that was that. To be frank, it’s really hard for me to understand how anyone can so easily leave the safety of their own country and enter into foreign territory and put their fate in the hands of someone they barely know with no back-up plan. But when the person making that choice is someone you’ve grown to know and love, you have to trust that they know what they’re doing and that if they fuck up, you just have to have their backs.
Over drinks with Jon last night, I complained that everyone I cared about was leaving me behind. For starters, Leryee and Josh are set to move to somewhere with greener pastures (quite literally, since Josh is a conservationist), Ben’s leaving for Manhattan for at least a year, if not longer, Mel’s going to teach in Japan and a ton of my friends currently studying abroad (Jon included) have no intention of coming home.
And I thought about how this person who could so readily drop everything and buy a plane ticket to a city some 15,000km away from Singapore where she hardly knows anybody, and I felt envious of her. One of the reasons why I love her is because she’s so unburdened by our national fixation on the certainty of outcomes. She loves being overseas and I can see why: the world beyond Singapore provides the perfect playground for those who have an appetite for adventure. While I tend towards risk aversion, she is hungry for the unknown. Where I see great risk and potential losses, she sees endless possibility.
“I’m ready to go back to Chicago,” says Jon, as he does every Summer he’s back in the +65. Like my close girl friend, Jon has a strong desire to leave this place, not because he dislikes our homeland but because he wants to be able to experience life at a different pace and interact with different cultures, people and ideas, unconfined by our national borders.
I find myself questioning him, trying to rationalise my own fear of leaving Singapore by listing reasons we ought to stay: don’t you feel like you should be here for your parents, your friends? don’t you feel like your roots are here? isn’t this home?
But when I ask Leryee and Ben and the person who took that impulsive plane ride these questions, they tell me the same thing: if we don’t go and explore the world now, then when?
I hate to admit that I am afraid of being alone in a strange land, but that is essentially what it is. I appreciate the familiarity I have with Singapore. I understand its people and its idiosyncrasies and that allows me to operate within the system with some proficiency. Throw me elsewhere, Brussels or London or New Orleans, and I have to start from scratch to gather the local social scripts and learn the codes of conduct. What if I can’t? My greatest fear is not that I will not succeed in a material sense, or achieve a basic level of physical comfort and safety, it is that I will always be an outsider looking in.
The biggest risk to me of moving abroad is not belonging where you’ve chosen to call home, and to be rejected by its inhabitants. I guess for people like Jon and the BFF who’ve found community in the form of fellow frat boys, it’s not something they have to worry about. For people like Josh, making friends comes so easily to them that they’ll always be surrounded by loved ones no matter how far away from their blood families they choose to roam. For someone like me, well I guess I’ve always struggled with finding my place within a group of people and it scares me to think I might not be able to do that when I’m all on my own some place far from home.
I want to be brave and trust that I will be loved wherever I end up, but that’s a gamble I’m not ready to take just yet. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t admire all my friends for having the courage to do so.