Apart from death (or who knows), everything that comes to an end brings about the start of another journey. As I concluded my one year in Stockholm being under NUS Overseas Colleges programme learning about entrepreneurship and relationships, I was preparing to meet my family after 1 year of not seeing them. Bringing my Asian family whom I haven’t seen for a year, who has never been to another continent (Europe) in their most dreadful season – winter where sunlight lasts for 6 hours, doesn’t it sound like the best adventure already?
In October, I booked the flights and planned out the whole trip’s accommodation and transport. Planning is to be the most dreadful part of travelling! We were going to be roaming Italy, London and Stockholm for 2 weeks, and once again like in 2017, we are going to be spending New Year’s in a foreign country. The thought of travelling with my family and the luggage they carry over from Singapore across 3 flights and 3 trains was one that needed THOROUGH planning. It was unlike the Europe trips that I’ve taken in the past year where I could free and easy as I wished.
I arrived in Rome a day earlier than my family in Italy as the timings and the flights were of the best arrangement I could find. Roaming around the streets of Rome by myself, I was taking in the last moment of the liberty of having myself as the sole responsibility I have to carry. The blissful thing about travelling by yourself is that you take on your growth, your own guilt, your poor decision making and the embarrassing tales that no one will live to share. The less blissful part is also that no one gets to share your tales. Memories tend to be more significant and amplify with company.
Enough of aimlessly roaming around, time to check-in and wait for their arrival. On the bus towards our hotel, I was counting down to their arrival. They would be 85% done with their 14 hours of Qatar flight, and I am 5 hours away from seeing my family. Carrying my 13 kg worth of one-man luggage, I tirelessly headed towards our 2-stars hotel near Vatican City.
Before the Arrival
“brrr brrr” FINALLY, the family chat became active. They managed to connect to the shitty airport wifi and are ALIVE, thank God.
“We have just reached the airport. We are going to buy the SIM card now and take the bus. Which stop do we alight at?”
“Vaticano. I am going to buy dinner now, want any Italian pizza or pasta?”
After typing in “Cheap food near me” on Google Map and exploring the vicinity, I settled with a small box of risotto which was 8 euros and sadly not to my liking.
“Ciao”, exiting from the bright shop before returning solo in the dark and empty streets of Italy. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have some company now.
“Hello Miss, your family has arrived, you can come down.”
They are here. I am going to meet them. It is going to be alright, I am still me, they are still them. It’s just one year, what’s going to be so different. We still Whatsapp called at least twice a month together, we’ve talked, and we are a family, of course, it wouldn’t be weird.
In my heart, I felt two strings of emotions tugging. What is this feeling –
on one hand, MEETING THE PEOPLE WHO TRAVELLED HALF THE GLOBE FOR ME,
on another hand, IT HAS BEEN ONE YEAR FULL OF CHANGES.
Putting on my thick coat, I wore my fluffy shoes and headed down to the reception, and I hear these familiar voices before I saw their face. Sounds the same.
My mum came over and her face lit up as brightly as I remembered. The kind that as I think about it now, the corners of my lips lift up. She came over and gave me a GOOOOOOD BIG HUG! It was unusual for us to show our affection by hugging each other, but that hug felt super correct and appropriate. As someone attuned to the hugging culture, I proceeded to give my dad and brother a hug too, but that, that was a bit weird.
We did the passport work and brought their massive luggage up. That big ass luggage that I told them not to bring over even though we have 30kg of baggage because we would be flying around Europe, but Asian parents, what can I say? And not even fascinating anymore was when I opened and guess what, that’s right, this:
When I clearly reminded them that there is acceptable (Asian) food here and there are Asian marts around too. Sometimes parents work in a ‘can advice but cannot take suggestion’ manner all because of the 不吃老人言，吃亏在眼前 saying.
We sort of fell back into our old regime pretty quickly as foreign as it may have been to me. The old ones were unpacking the luggage and washing up, my brother was exploring the hotel room all while conversations about their flight fly around the room. I think the awkward thing about the meeting was that nobody really acknowledged the 1-year gap. They didn’t ask about how my one year has been, and even if they did, how do I fill up my year full of CHANGE to them? Thus, it remained unaddressed, and we talked about our future itinerary instead.
How did it feel seeing them after a year?
I would describe this feeling as a strange familiarity. A few questions hit me in the face:
- Was mummy always so short? Could she have been more talkative to cover up this weird feeling of reunion?
- Did baba’s receding hairline grow even further, or has it always been here? Was I too used to their change in the past that I failed to notice that my parents are indeed getting older?
- Is Frankel feeling awkward, or like me, a strange familiarity? Is he relieved that he no longer has to bear baba and mummy’s arguments by himself now?
Hear lots of self-doubts above?
I unknowingly started to fear that my family may feel awkward, and I didn’t want to have to acknowledge that. It’s interesting how these different thoughts transpire because it was just ONE year out of the 21 other years that we have been together. I tried to think about different topics to talk about that doesn’t involve acknowledging that blank space of a time gap from each other. I did this by filling them on my new found friends, my internship, the new skills that I have acquired; which ironically was what I’ve been trying to navigate around.
It takes distance to start processing change better. The thing that really hit me was how time has caught up with all of them now. My parents are no longer young, and they are not the same motor filled with the drive of reaching the destination called: providing the best futures for their children. My parents have managed to build our family empire from our small down to earth backgrounds to one that could afford to fly over the earth once in a while. Sounds like it’s about time we let them slow their motors and focus on re-oiling while we take the wheel.
On our first night, mummy and I had a HTHT session while the men were in deep sleep from the long flight over. It was the same topic again about baba not having any sense of financial planning and living his life day-by-day financially. Being able to speak with me allowed her to relieve the burden of worrying for him on her own, it becomes a shared responsibility that no one could understand previously. I imparted her my one year of wisdom from living along and thinking about self-leadership about my 3A’s on how she can let go of her undying one-sided concern. She broke down, and I understood how she’s been holding it in, and I felt quite selfish to have been carelessly living my life as though I have no responsibilities in the house. My mum’s a tough love person while my dad is a soft love man. She restricts him and he disobeys from not understanding “why”.
I’m glad that I was able to speak to her from a perspective of someone eager to understand because I wasn’t involved through their regular arguments. The existing problem felt fresh to me rather than a, “it’s like this, he’s like that” take-and-go matter. Being able to step out of my shoes as a daughter to look at all these as an outsider, it allowed me to see what both their viewpoints were. And also reminds me of how important it is to have aligned values and goals with my future partner.
“Feels like without you, I cannot manage baba and mummy who quarrels all the time. Jie, need you here.”
When I received this message, it was made known to me how blessed I was to be away from any responsibilities but myself. It’s an unseen privilege and one that you don’t process until you are reminded. “Knock knock, you can’t just think about yourself.” My brother is a kind boy that can’t detach himself from problems around him. As a result, he cares too much and it takes a toll on him. This boy can only feel better when someone is there to share the load and carry this emotion he puts himself through, which as an elder sister, I’m trained for it. It’s sad that he has to face this while going through his A-Levels, but he has emerged from this a stronger man. :”)
Throughout our travelling, it felt good to catch up with what I missed out in one year. Baba and Mummy really didn’t do anything different in one year, they are simple people which I really appreciate. My brother though seems to have grown and matured in this year. He was not fully dependent on the family like he used to. He initiated to map out directions, talked with more authority (slightly) and he became even more well-read. I’m proud of him, and I will always be regardless, but seeing his growth makes me fulfilled. Hanging out with your sibling is very different from being with your friends, it’s a different level of intimacy in teasing, fooling around and being yourself. I feel very safe and happy around my family, and I’m glad I realised that this special feeling exists.
Ironically, he was also sharing about how he started playing Pokemon Go and there were instances when we had to walk with him to a weird spot for a tournament that not many turned up. It was Europe and holiday seasons, so it wasn’t hard to guess that.
Other than that, there was some time spent in the first few days getting used to each other’s habits. It was nice to no longer have to be fully responsible for my belongings as my family is here to share the load. My father would keep our transport passes, while my mum keeps the hotel keys. My brother is in charge of electronics and I carry the bag. It was free and easy which was nice because we could take our time and roam Rome.
All in all, seeing my family after a reunion of one year sparked multiple feelings. From doubt to fear to relive and contentment. I am glad this trip happened because we lived together in Stockholm in my student dorm and they got to live my life and see how I’ve built my humble abode. “This was the road I take when I video call you. Remember this carpark you see, this metro station where I end the calls at?” We cooked and cleaned meals together with shared responsibility too. I never noticed how quickly baba cleaned the dishes every meal time cause I took it for granted last time in Singapore. Here, my friends and I always chat for a long time before we dreadfully clear the dirty dishes.
As I recall about my experience back then, I could easily explain how I stayed over at my friend’s place one night when I left my keys at my workplace and couldn’t enter the building. (cause we all know how the bip and keys to my room work)
I’m glad this reunion became the link between both our lives and to have been the trip that allowed time for us to fill our gaps concurrently.
Thank you for reading through this, and I hope that you find your journey to reconcile with who you think may be worthy for.