Roots and Wings: My tug-of-war between Singapore and Los Angeles
Singer-songwriter Corrinne May talks about staying in Singapore and Los Angeles in her first article for Mothership.sg.
There is a song by Anne Murray that goes “Child of the earth and rider of the wind. A dreamer of dreams caught in between roots and wings. Now part of me wants to stay close to the ground and part of me wants to never come down.”
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One of my favourite storybooks is ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein.
The themes of love and sacrifice are intrinsically intertwined in our lives and it helps to always reflect on where we are, where we’ve come from and where we are going.
This column is my ‘journal’ of sorts, to explore the intersection between the roots and wings of this life.
I’ve been feeling this way for some time now…caught between my roots and my wings.
I grew up in the urban jungle of Singapore, a child of the 70’s and 80’s. My 5-roomed (3 bedrooms, 2 living rooms) home was nestled within the 24- storied, urban treehouse of a HDB flat, its concrete roots dug deep into the small enclave of Ghim Moh Estate. My flat was one of hundreds of HDB flats dotting the landscape. Like molars; practical, solid and unmoving.
On numerous occasions I would accompany my mother downstairs to the wet market, where I would tiptoe gingerly around the ever-present pools of slimey grey-tinged water from the run-off of vegetables, fish and meats displayed on slabs. Like bees buzzing in their hive, people were bargaining prices and shouting out their wares. Bits of Hokkien, Singlish, Mandarin, Tamil, Malay flying about my ears. It was a kaleidoscope of dizzying sounds and colours, a Singapore smorgasbord.
The extended family was always there, hovering somewhat in the fringes on the weekends. We would take turns spending the weekends at lunch with either my grandmother on my dad’s side, or my grandparents from my mother’s side. And during the Chinese New Year festivities, or Christmas, we would see the extended family and catch up with each other over cookies, gifts, longan tea, kueh lapis.
In many ways, I look upon my growing up years in Singapore as sweetly idyllic. My school friends and I had none of the computer games or technology to distract us. The games we played were games like five stones, zero-point, badminton…games that involved playing with people, and not with technology devoid of interaction with people.
And Singapore being Singapore, it was in many ways a sheltered life. No need to worry about civil unrest, or firearms being brought to schools, no need to worry about strip clubs in strip malls or easy access to recreational drugs.
One of the questions that I get asked most often from media interviewers in Singapore is the question of what I miss most about Singapore. “Friends and Family” comes up first. “Food”, a close second.
I find myself now, as a mother of my 4 year old daughter Claire, at a major crossroads in my life. We’ve had the luxury so far of see-sawing from one country to the other. But soon, we will have to decide on just one place. Claire will need the stability afforded to her of going to school in one country. Which country will it be?
On the one hand, I have this life that I’ve built up in Los Angeles, a life that has been enjoyed over the course of the past 14 years. This house in the San Fernando Valley has been our first marital home. This was the house that Claire was born into, this is the house that I’ve written most of my songs in, this is the house that Kavin and I have built up since 1999.
My wings are here. Here in Los Angeles where one can always see the sky, unencumbered by high-rise buildings, un-crouched upon by population growth. We have a nice garden for Claire to run about in, we have two cars to drive the tapestry of roads in…we live a comfortable life, perhaps one that most people living in land-scarce Singapore might envy.
This land has been the playground for my musical creativity, the varied landscapes of cultural diaspora knitting the world together in one jig-saw puzzle city, a rich source of constant inspiration for ideas, and for songs.
And yet, my heart feels a strange longing for the home I grew up in, for the land in which I was raised. I am discovering that my roots are still firmly planted in Singapore.
I wonder if it might be the same instinct that drives the salmon to forsake the open waters before it, and to forge upstream against all odds and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to return to the land in which it was spawned.
After all, the tree gives of its fruit to seed the ground for the new generation, and the salmon returns to the waters of its birth to spawn.
Perhaps Nature is pointing the way to where I must go and what I must do…
But until a decision is made, I know that this pendulum will continue, for there is meaning yet to be found in this tug-of-war, between the head and the heart, between roots and wings.
Read Corrinne’s 2nd column here:
Photo by Lightedpixels.