I’m different this year. A different cake (not the round cake I used to have at home on my round wooden table), a different hair colour, different styles of clothing, different wishes and definitely different feelings scurrying about in my heart.
A familiar post title- key “Christmas” into the search bar and you would find a post about it, every year without fail. Each year I blog about how grateful I am for my family and friends, who go to great lengths to carry out “birthday surprises” or even sharing the purchase of extremely expensive presents. Polaroids, watches, tablets, no matter how affluent and equipped I seem to be, my family would find something I lack and readily grant it to me without request. I am too lucky for my own good.
This year has been significantly different. I could not enjoy the company of my family or the friends who watched me grow through my teenage years. At best, I could only see them through a FaceTime screen, or through the tiny circle icons popping up on WhatsApp with long messages of how they missed the little bitch in me and how they would allow me to touch their boobs when I get back. They were no longer screaming my name at shopping malls shamelessly telling everyone that it was my birthday, or forcing me to do embarrassing things justified by the fact that it was my birthday as they did in the past few years. My family was no longer there to carry out the customary cake cutting every single birthday of any family member, no matter how busy we got or how ugly we looked that day. A cake, a birthday song, a simple celebration that in retrospect, I took for granted.
The irony is that I hoped for a celebration abroad so terribly much one year ago, when I sat down on a tree branch in Pangkor crafting my new year resolutions. I wanted to have a “white Christmas”, probably “white” with reference to the cold and Chrismassy idea. It was like a dream: who has never dreamt of themselves playing with snow and building a snowman, who has never envisioned themselves enjoying Turkey over a candle light dinner with Christmas wreaths all around the house? I often thought to myself how unlucky we were to be in a country which is hot as heck on Christmas, with barely a Christmassy atmosphere to talk of. It was even worse in my house when we gave up putting up Christmas decorations or playing Christmas music as we snapped out of the excitement of decorating the house. The significance of Christmas does not really matter to many, but it did to me for the sole fact that it coincided with my birthday. It would be so much cooler to be spending Christmas and birthdays in countries with seasonality. I mean, everyone who wished me happy birthday this year often dropped comments like “FML I want your life” “I also want to go” “Omg so cool I want to tour Europe too” “SO GOOD!!”. I would say the exact same thing too, to someone leading my life one year ago.
But I turned so terribly homesick midway through this trip, especially as it inched nearer towards my birthday.
I was literally shattered when I realised that I could not join Christmas outings with the 3 groups of people I was closest to: 4G ’12, Delta ’12 and 6/6 ’08. WhatsApped buzzed continuously, with how some guys were fortunately granted leave and hence could join for the outings, with my division literally yelling at one another through the division chat about their respective book-out timings for a Christmas eve lunch, with other friends texting that they have reached the meeting point, or that they will be running slightly late. My sister killed me further, when she listed out on a letter how I led my past birthdays: Christmas parties when I was younger, progressing to buffets at hotels and restaurants with my family, and then going out with my siblings to celebrate Christmas in recent years. She tagged these memories along with the fact that I would probably have a 2nd, 3rd and 4th birthday away from home too. My heart honestly aches pretty badly at that fact, and I am almost determined to return home for Christmas next year.
It took me studying alone abroad to realise that Christmas (or my birthday) was never about the venue, atmosphere, nice meals or jingles. On Christmas Eve as I walked through empty and deserted Berlin (literally nothing was open and I should be glad that the train actually still operated), I wished I could go home and blow out candles in the company of my family, before going for supper at night because you could almost be sure that most eateries back home would remain open anyway. I wished I could spend Christmas day with any group of my friends eating at cheap cafes or restaurants, or eating dim sum that I haven’t had in ages. Homesickness got so ridiculous that I even missed the crazily hot temperatures and how we could wear revealing dresses onto the streets instead of packing ourselves in layers of clothes, at best wearing a Christmas sweater on the outside to celebrate the festive occasion.
In a beautiful city like Prague, with Christmas markets (still) littered across and along the streets, I keep picking up signs of home. How Singapore has Madame Tussauds too, how the items on the McDonalds menu here are priced similarly to Singapore, how I heard someone saying “whatever shit” and “sibeh crowded” in the crowds of Prague and knowing they belong to where I do right away. An overseas education truly pushes you to appreciate home more and more. Home is where the heart is- and my heart has evidently never left home. I miss Singapore and many things that once used to make me frustrated (eg. hot weather which never allowed long sleeve clothing, perspiring in the crowds of Orchard Road, lack of seasonality). Most importantly I miss spending time with everyone I dearly love.
No wonder he returned last Easter, no wonder she could not wait to return during Christmas, no wonder, no wonder, no wonder. Everything I ever asked last year about seniors who were studying abroad are now answered by my own experiences, because I can’t wait to return home, too.