Dispatches: Driving in America

The past week was filled with loads of time driving across states, evacuating from William & Mary because of Hurricane Florence. I hitchhiked from Williamsburg to Fairfax and on to Washington D.C before heading to Maryland, and finally getting a ride back due to the kindness of a stranger (now acquaintance) from Germantown to Williamsburg. This meant spending a good half of the time getting lost in my own thoughts, which brought life to this little dispatch.

Driving was always a matter of getting from point-to-point for me, the means to an end. A journey, then, would mean nothing more than a process from getting place to place.

Since arriving in the States, I’ve never given much thought to the idea of driving (although I was pretty certain that I wanted to drive someday, and hopefully learn it here). Something about driving seems different here – at least as compared to how I’ve conceived it in contrast to what driving is in Asia: full of jams, a tireless process and in Singapore, an unnecessarily expensive one. Driving seems almost different here; it is a way of life, something more than a means to an end, an enjoyable part of the journey.

This made me rethink many things that I’ve come to take for the norm in Asia. We have highly walkable and concentrated urban centers; this is contrasted by a few urban centers in the US (from the likes of Chicago and D.C) and little suburban towns like Chevy Chase, and Germantown. We have easily walkable fast food stores and convenient stores, but this is most prevalent in city centers, otherwise a short drive away for most.

There seems to be a differing idea of ‘distance’ and ‘convenience’ here – distance is cross-country; convenience is perhaps a matter of a short 20-30 minutes drive away – something a lot of us in the city take for granted when we’ve amenities located around the corner.

The idea of ‘journeying’ here takes on a different paradigm – the car rides and driving are ‘part of the journey’; something that can be enjoyable (whether rocking out to music while cruising down the highway, enjoying the conversations or snacks on road trips) and not the chore I’ve usually seen it to be.

There is something about the ethos of the people here that seem to espouse this spirit of ‘journeying’ – which makes it seems that they’re fearless almost. Moving across states are like moving across countries for us, but they take it with a spirit of adventure; nothing like what we take it to be.

Driving across different states morph into different landscapes, but the people remain the same: friendly, sometimes curious; unamazed at the sheer distance between cities and towns and sometimes countries. Traveling to different states feel different, but yet feel somewhat similar.

Journeying is something I’ve always seen as a ‘process’, nothing more than a passage to a destination. But it can be important too.

D-17

D-17. We make our home in all sorts of places – from the depravity of freedom that we’ve come to all know as the military, the everydays that pass too quickly from work, a favourite corner by a coffee shop or simply a place or the places we always come back to. Our homes are people too: we make spaces in our heart for the ones we care about, and they do the same for us.

I faintly remember the feeling when I returned to Singapore: the humidity rushing in and engulfing you with its presence as I stepped out of the aircraft; the tiresome burden of national service weighing on my shoulders with every check-up I went for, accompanied with the solace and comfort of coming back to the familiar and the slow relearning of what home meant for me.

Home was never a suitcase to begin with. It was a neighbourhood with the pedestrian auntie in the lift that never failed to ask about your day, the shopkeeper at 7-11 amused by the 11:30PM purchase of multiple ice-cream tubs, the pervading noise from the neverending construction of new condos or HDBs nearby, and the occasional smell of curry chicken in the evenings. My home was the delirious, almost hazy-like weekend evenings that almost seem like a reverie. Smelling my mum’s home-cooked food while playing on the piano, the usual nagging for dinner, before the usual Sheng Siong shows and Chinese drama was the dream.

Coming back for the past 3 years meant a slow relearning what home was for me. Home had a new Downtown line and makan places, new people that I’ve sought comfort and love in, and new understandings of my loved ones. Home has never been so dear, and I almost feel that I’m left grasping at the memories that I have, but they always seem to slip out of my grasp. Going to the U.S almost feels like a one-way ticket from home, and that I’ll never feel the same about home ever again.

Part of me feels like this is growing up, and relearning home is a constant flux that I have to learn to deal with. Another part of me struggles to keep my home close – the good morning towel, army singlets and letters from friends all packed into my suitcase.

I am not ready.

Home, my anchor.

dated: a draft since August 2014, published April 2015.

Drafts serve as a recollection for me. Many things have changed since then.

So I am home.

That day in January seems just moments ago, as I dig into my email archive, reading through old messages. The thoughts of uncertainty of a new place to study still linger in my mind, but now, London just seems like a fleeting glimpse into how my future will be like. Studying abroad is not like the glamour that it sounds; it comes with loneliness, well solitude, but also happiness, and an even greater fear for the unknown, but also an appreciation for it. London has exposed me, led me to places I’ve thought I’d never go; maybe I’ve matured up, or maybe sobered up to the harshness of reality, even limped into the oblivion of denial. We tell ourselves a story to live, and perhaps this is my perspective, but I guess the biggest takeaway is that I’ve learnt how not to take things for granted. I think the only qualm I have with myself is that it takes a conscious effort with reminders to remember that I’ve to appreciate the things I have. Maybe this is the process of growing old instead of up; you start to truly count your blessings before you run out of them (thanks Zen).

London has been one chapter altogether, and I can’t say that I’m not bittersweet about my memories there. As this chapter closes, transition has been good, and bad memories start to fade off – I am glad for that, while the good memories remain and stay, and I am too, happy about it. Time forgets, truly.

Now, I fluctuate between different levels of consciousness, from indifference to awareness. My fascination and obsession with anchors still remain. I still wonder about maybe this is really a metaphorical way that my brain is telling me to anchor myself, knowing that I’ll be overseas for the next few years. (if it is, then, I am conscious.)

Home has been a wakeup call, a relief. Wakeup call for me to mature up, sober up, for I’ve not many years left. I’ve too many things I want to accomplish, too little time, and I need to get my priorities right. Drive and dreams will only bring me so far – what I lack in discipline, I make up for in conviction in dreaming, and I guess that drives me. I am driven to go to places that will carry me far in the future, but driven by a positive fear. Receiving the NS medical checkup letter has perhaps heightened my need for self-discipline, as I hope I’ll recieve a good grading of my PES status. I want to look at NS positively, despite the fear of the unknown I have. I think going to London has quelled this fear quite a bit, and I need to get out desperately of my comfort zone to try new things. Coming home has been a relief, as there is no more emotional conflict at home. Conversations of my dad with my mum are common, but his presence seems almost forgotten for a moment. Perhaps our emotions really betray us, as our sadness and perhaps longing seep through our words of hurt and pain, but never stay long enough to drag us down anymore. Emotional baggage gets easier to let go, and we tread easier, and tread lighter. Maybe we’re relieving all the shared memories we had together with him, letting go of them, by moving out of the house. It makes breathing easier, as these recollections come less often. Our old house is not home anymore – there is no furniture, everything is clean and bare. What’s left is only the scratches on the tiles, marks on the walls, the smell of mothballs in the air, everything that used to remind us of home.

Hopefully the future will what we make it to be, with happy memories made in the new house. I’m glad I’ve found my sense of home again, and I understand how important it is to have pillars of strength. It makes me happy that I’ve someplace I can call home now.

As I’m left with two weeks here, I cannot imagine the loneliness that she faces without me. All those car rides, dinners would be cold. I’m grateful that she sent me overseas to study, but also sad that I’m leaving her behind.  Her white hairs are growing more apparent by the day, and they remind me that she is growing old. Her palms too, are rough with countless dishwashings and housework. I am grateful and thankful for her, and she’s my anchor, my source of emotional support and strength. Love really carries us places.