Before I dive into my story, here’s a little background- I have a Singapore passport but my parents are based in Shanghai (we’ve been living here since 2001). So whenever I go “home” it’s in Shanghai. But Singaporeans are only allowed to stay in Shanghai for two weeks without a visa, so I either leave within two weeks or spend money to apply for a visa. We don’t have a house in Singapore so we stay with my grandma and aunt whenever we visit.
It’s been 9 months since I’ve seen my mum and 10 months since I’ve seen my dad. This trip back home has been different. I can joke around with my parents more and it feels so natural. I’m not trying to impress anybody or live up to anybody’s expectations. We watch our daily Chinese programs together (and even though I don’t understand what’s going on half the time, my dad will always explain it to me- I have never seen him so into something before! I also find it endearing when he gets emotional with what’s going on in the show teehee). I can talk freely about my job applications. Talking about job-hunting, they have, not once, pressured me into finding a job as soon as possible. This is something that I really appreciate; they know how hard it is for me to figure out what I want to do, but all I hear from them are words of encouragements.
Whenever dad and I go out to lunch, which isn’t often, I reach for my wallet to pay (even though it is all his money in the end), he goes “eeeyyyy no no I got it!” Today when he was on the phone and we walked past a bubble tea shop. I pointed it out to dad and he automatically reached into his back pocket, took out his wallet, and gestured for me to take it. I declined. When my dad was getting a haircut, I wanted to wait for him on the sofa and he said “no no, go and get a massage.” I checked the prices and they were outrageously high. When I told dad this, he said “没关系, ich schenke dir!” (it’s okay, it’s on me!). But of course, I declined. Watching him fall asleep while someone was snipping away at his gray hair was much more entertaining. What’s even cooler is, the other night, I’m in the study and he’s in the living room when he calls out to me and says “should we have a bottle of red wine?” I jumped and yelled “YES!” I mean what??? He doesn’t know that I’m an alcoholic, does he? (Just kidding, I’m not). Maybe drinking with your dad has been a thing you’ve done since you were 18 or 21, but we don’t drink much for fun (usually it’s always on special occasions or when we are having dinner with friends) and he certainly has never initiated the drinking before.
At home, there’s a couch that I camp out on (and the mosquitoes have a feast whenever I do). It’s right outside dad’s study room, so he can just call out to me and tell me random facts or educate me on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). One of the first days that I got back, dad immediately brought me to one of his friends who is a TCM doctor and asked him to perform acupuncture on my ankle. It definitely helped.
I know he’ll always be a phone call away, but it’ll be completely different. Having my dad in your presence is like having the smartest man in the world at your fingertips. These two weeks was the first time that I really felt like dad and I were able to connect on a different level. Dad and I go out for a 40-50 minute walk every evening around our compound to exercise. This is when we talk about jobs, my sister, my mother, his past, their past. I am so thankful and so happy that we were finally able to speak like this. I’m still having some trouble opening up to him about my life because I do have a lot of questions to ask him, but I hope I will be comfortable to do so sooner than later.
Mum on the other hand. Oh she likes to spoil me with fruits, good food and some pampering. She’ll constantly ask “what would you like to eat? We can go and buy it at the market tomorrow.” Nowadays though, my appetite has decreased since I ate way too much crap in Europe and I’m happy with the boiled vegetables that my dad makes. Even then, mum takes every opportunity to make something yummy. From herbal chicken soup to frog legs to the overwhelming fruits that I have oh-so-missed; the dragon fruits and honeydew, Chinese pears and peaches, papayas and mangoes. She took me to a two-hour facial last week and homg it was the most relaxing thing I’ve ever experienced. I haven’t been sleeping well at all since I got back, but that night, I slept like a baby. Mum loves to bring me around the city whenever she’s free (dad doesn’t like to go to touristy places because he hates crowds) and loves taking pictures of me, which I find adorable. She loves taking pictures of me with scenery, of me eating, and reluctantly takes selfies with me.
Mum also teaches me how to drive. On a couple occasions, she’s let me drive our car into the compound from outside and I was pretty darn nervous. She also helped me with front, reverse, and parallel parking. I’ve always dreamed of having a parent teach me how to drive. Now if only she can teach me how to drive automatic in Singapore…
Mosquitoes in our house is a problem and I absolutely cannot sleep when they’re in my room. I haven’t been sleeping well at all since I’ve been back because of the change of environment. I’m very sensitive to mosquito bites so when I do get bitten in the middle of the night, I wake up instantly and itch until the sky becomes bright. When I complained to mum about this one night, she gave me this oil-burner to suffocate the mosquitoes. It worked! There were no more nuisances at night. The next night, I gave her the empty bottle and she had another half-filled bottle waiting for me. I thought “well, maybe mum filled two bottles yesterday so there was one for today.” The next night, the same thing happened again. It became a ritual- I will bring the empty bottle to mum’s bathroom before I sleep, and a half-filled bottle was already waiting to save me.
I love them. I love how we live such a simple life. We don’t go shopping, we don’t go out to eat, we don’t go to parties. We take the metro together and drive when the distances are short. We just live life day by day, happy in our little house. I also love the fact that my dad has become so environmentally conscious over the years- he hates it when he sees so many cars on the highway with only one person in it (hello, carpool!). He feels very uncomfortable throwing away anything that is plastic or paper (like when we get bubble tea. So I asked him, well what are you gonna do about that? And he says “I just won’t buy anything!” and I believe him). He doesn’t like using the AC during the summer and just wears more clothes during the winter. He even started his own compost, where he would put all our fruit peelings into a plastic container, mix it with red sugar and water, and leave it there. In about 20 days, it will turn into compost and he can use that to clean things around the house or wash dishes. My dad will be a great influence with anyone he comes into contact with.
But in two days, it is time for me to leave them. When mum finally bought my one-way ticket back to Singapore (I could tell she was postponing it because she loved having me home as well), I became quite sad. I realized that being in Shanghai and specifically with my parents in their house has become my comfort zone. In Singapore, I’ll be staying with my grandma and aunt until I land a job and have a steady income. It’s great there, really. We stay there whenever we go back to Singapore. It’s great, but it’s not home. My entire childhood is here. When I’m back here, I’m under my parent’s wings. And I love it. It’s so comfortable, all snuggled up, drama-free and protected from the outside world. I don’t feel lonely, I don’t really miss anything because I have everything I ever wanted here, under this roof- unconditional love and trust.
There comes a time in everyone’s lives where they have to leave their comfort zone (look at me all philosophical (and cliche..)). Hell I’ve had to do it several times, but it never gets easier. Having to leave my parents is pretty hard. I know I have it good. Others in the US or Europe leave home at 16 or 18 or 20 to provide for themselves and only come home on weekends; sometimes they can’t even find time to visit their parents when they really want to. Here I am, having just had two whole weeks with my parents and I’m complaining. Either way, it sucks and I don’t want to do it. But alas, growing up means taking one step further into this realm of life. My life, specifically. This barrier, or more like canyon, is something I never thought I had to cross because I never got this close with my family. I’m forever grateful for these two weeks and I hope we have many more weeks, days and years to come.
What was your experience like when you knew you had to leave home for good and start living life? Was it hard? Easy? How often do you go home and visit your folks?