Posted by: yannaungoak | August 30, 2009

Gathering my thoughts

It’s Sunday, and I’m still in Singapore. I’ll actually be leaving for Myanmar tomorrow. Had a mix up with the dates for the air ticket. I’ll be back in the motherland for a little more than a week and I’ll be back here to Singapore for some real actual work in September. My bosscousin will also be coming, and we have plans to really get the ball rolling with the company’s Singaporean operations.

The past two weeks have been a drag. Each day, I’d go to the shop/office, sit at the desk and learn GRE words. We haven’t actually started selling anything at the shop, and its located way up on the fifth floor of Peninsula, where’s there’s not many mall-goers frolicking about. So for now, its just served as more of an office to meet our more established clients and suppliers and the like.

Ok, this post is going to be somewhat of an incoherent mess…

Going back home is going to be awesome. I have some of my closest friends who have been dying to meet me and update me on what’s been going on in their lives. One is Nyantha, who just started working a few months ago at this really cool NGO, who I’ve known since I was about 11 or so. Then there’s Myint Kyaw Thu, a friend from high school, who’s THE premier game developer in Myanmar. He also just got married a few months ago. And then there’s Gabar, I knew that guy since kindergarten. He runs a cyber cafe now, and I haven’t seen him in years.

Family wise, I haven’t seen my dad in one and a half years. And September 1st is the tenth anniversary of my mom’s passing. I’ll write more on that in a later post. And then there’s my little niece Ku Kuu, bosscousin’s two year old daughter. I saw her last January when I last went back to Myanmar, but I’ve heard she’s grown a lot chubbier and likes to run around and talk a lot.

I’m sure I’ll really settle into Singapore in September, when I’ll actually have real work to do, and feel like I’m actually making progress. Right now, it feels vaguely like some kind of purgatory, like there’s some odd discomforting familiarity with everything. It’s like when you’re reminded of exactly the kinds of things from the past that you want to get away from. I guess it’s kind of weird that I’ve chosen to come back to my childhood “home” to start off my adult life, which means that I’m forced into reliving some aspects of your childhood precisely at the time when I’m trying to strike out on my own. Working in the family business and sharing a house with family members exacerbates that kind of feeling I guess.

And its not just relationships with my family members. The environment also seems purgatory like, in the sense that I’m at this halfway point in a journey. I’m juggling three languages right now: Burmese, English and Singlish, depending on who I’m talking to, and its weird. I’ll explain…

When I’m with Burmese people, I speak Burmese but I have to put on an air of relative ignorance concerning the other two languages to maintain a sense that I’m a “newcomer” to Singapore. Otherwise, they don’t seem to know how to deal with me. It’s like every time someone from Myanmar comes to Singapore, his Burmese friends who are already settled into Singaporean life have to take him through an “orientation” period, taking him through the ins and outs of life on this island. So right now, I’m kind of playing along. This of course doesn’t happen with my close friends who I’ve known for years, but only with colleagues at work and friends of my cousin and her husband. Man, Asian culture has too many rituals and social rules, seriously.

Then with Singaporeans, I’ll have to pick between English and Singlish in the first 10 seconds or so of a conversation. Since I don’t speak “proper Singlish”, and there’s a significant portion of Singaporeans who don’t understand proper English, it’s always awkward as the first 30 seconds of the conversation proceeds and I calibrate my language to an odd compromise between my bad Singlish and my Burmese/American accented English. I also have to be careful not to let myself speak too much Singlish or my actual English will get rotten very quickly.

So that’s just the language aspect of it. There’s a whole bunch of stuff I want to write about the huge Burmese immigrant community here, and how that’s transformed my image of Singapore. To me. this place used to be “another country”, filled with foreigners. Now, every time I walk down the street, I overhear someone speaking in Burmese. And we eat Burmese food at home every day, and interact with Burmese colleagues at work and meet Burmese customers every day. Talk about being confused where your home actually is.

Singapore was my childhood home, but then I spent my teenage years back in Myanmar, now the two of them seem to be fused together, and I’ve been away from both places for so long, I hardly recognize them, yet, they’re all so familiar.

When I talk to people who spent something like the first 18 years of their lives growing up in the same town, going to the same school, and hanging out with the same bunch of kids since grade school, I find it really hard to relate. I can’t imagine not feeling perpetually alienated. For those who don’t know, the sociological term for people like me is a third culture kid, read it up on wiki. It’s a really interesting life.


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