Good evening Toastmaster of the day, fellow toastmasters, guests, ladies and gentlemen. We always have a single event in life that changes us. 14 Feb 1998, I remember this date not because what 14th Feb represents I was in love, but I had to leave the familiarity of the place I called home and relocate overseas. How many people here have moved houses? How many have moved countries? And how many have moved countries when you are a young teenager in your formative years?
As a teenager, there very few things that you have to deal with – which when taken away from you, you can’t deal with it. The most important among them are friends and how I fit in with them. Soon I realised, unlike moving houses, at least I had friends in school who I will meet. This was vastly different from moving houses, it was moving out of the country. And at that time, the most popular mode to keep touch was hand written letters.
So over a period of one evening, I had scores of calls to make to friends and spend no more than a minute with them to say good-bye and the hardest part was to not being able to tell them when I will be seeing them next. All I had was one evening to do all this as the flight was leaving at 10am the next morning. And when someone didn’t pick up the phone, I know that it’s going to be a good bye in spirit through a common friend. How I wish we would have Facebook and mobile phones then but well, I made the best of the time I had and that was all I could hope for.
Comes 1st March 1998, it was my first day in school, mid-semester. Now you have this fat little boy wearing custom made waist pants, joining school in the middle of the semester, which has afro hair, huge glasses, a pink coloured hard pencil case which has the entire tech popping out when you press buttons on them with the end result looking like a missile launcher, and to top it all off, a Mickey Mouse trolley bag. I have no idea what I was thinking but it screams, please come and bully me. It made such a good impact to my reputation that my then classmates remember this stuff even after 16 years.
I was made to sit between 2 skinny guys, maybe just to make me feel I was one of them. Kim Ken and Howard, the first 2 friends I had in class. I’m so glad they taught me how to fit in, basically starting with the glasses, the bag and pencil case. They introduced me to the flowery language that was used by the ah-bengs in school so that I can enjoy their conversations from a safe distance. Taught me who was who in the local media, starting with PCK and the characters from ‘Under One Roof’, brought me to the local malls to eye and sometimes buy the pirated CDs (which is not a thing to be proud of but made me one of the cool kids), who were the younger and hotter teachers in school, where the errant boys go for a smoke, which kids and teachers to stay away from and the ‘haunted corners in school’, what is good to eat where, getting which flavour of slurpee made you hip, getting which toy pro-yo or digimon made you the envy of your friends, having a Pentium 1 120MHz processor with Windows 95 made you the top geek in school. Basically, how to be a typical Sec 2 Singaporean teenager boy in the 1990s.
The experience of schooling in a local school here changed who I was, what I liked, what I did for a past-time and basically set the stone to be a young Singaporean – something when I went back to India to meet my friends a year later, I realised that most of the link was gone. I was a changed person, with different hobbies and pastimes, different set of vocabulary, a different accent and most of all, different expectations in life. That is when I realised that I am now a Singaporean kid which sometimes made me feel guilty as I was expected to feel that I would come back to India and settle down which although what I expected from myself initially, I realised that it’s not going to happen.
Sometimes I do feel a little guilty that I am not as Indian as I was but after a decade and a half here, I feel stronger to be a Singaporean, which I feel proud to be.