We are in the park. It is busy, and as always our blond, blue-eyed kids gather attention. A friendly, older gentleman asks Tijm and Linde where they are from. I look up, curious for the answer, more curious than the asker. I see my kids hesitate. I see them look at each other, and, without words, weigh the options between them. Uncertainly, Tijm answers. England, he mumbles. He looks at me for reassurance, and I nod. It is not wrong. It is a right answer. One of them.
They have been asked this question before, and each time they give a different answer. For them, it is a difficult question. Born in England, living in Singapore, and holding a Dutch passport. My own situation is the same, if anything more complex, as the list of countries I have lived in is longer. And, the more places you live in, the less you will become ‘from’ any one of them.
When we moved to Singapore I felt at home really quickly. Was it because it reminds me of Malaysia, one of the countries of my childhood? Maybe, that as well, but I don’t think it is the only reason. I think an important reason is that Singapore is, above all, an immigrant city. Any Singaporean can be asked how long they, or at least their ancestors, have been here. Off course there is a difference between the different groups. There are the ‘Singaporeans’, holders of official citizenship. They are from a predominantly Chinese background, followed by significant groups of Malay and Indian descent. Then there are the expatriates. The richer ‘expats’, from Europe, the US, Australia or Asian countries like Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam. There are the ‘foreign workers’, less affluent, maybe from Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines. Expatriates are either visitors, who stay for a brief posting, or more grounded ‘permanent residents’ that plan to stay. And then there are Eurasians, and many others of mixed descent.
Compared to other countries, I have encountered not too many people in Singapore that feel that they have been here longer than others, and therefore have more rights. More often, Singaporeans will judge you not by how long you have been here, but on how long you plan to stay. Just visiting to have a few comfortable expat years? Just a foreign worker? Then keep your opinions to yourself. But if you are here to stay, and are willing and able to contribute, you will eventually become part of the melting pot that is Singapore.
For me, the wandering nomad, only time can tell how long I can and will stay. No job means no pass, unless we get the coveted permanent residency. Or in a few years I might, again, develop an itch. Singapore has a niche for people like me: a thriving expat scene. Maybe that should be my answer if the dreaded question pops up again. Me? I am an expat. A constant expat. Happy to live in a city where I am not the only one.
It is a stupid question, really. I live here. I am a snail, carrying my home on my back, happy with my nomadic live. Looking at my kids, struggling with the same questions I do, makes me realise something very clearly. It does not matter where I am from. I know exactly where my home is. Home is where my family is.