Singapore, the "Garden City," is the one of the biggest trade centers in the world. This island country is a unique melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian and a large group of expats, and the people, food and culture reflect this diverse dynamic. Due to its position in Southeast Asia and favorable business climate, many global companies have regional offices in this country.
It's surprising how little I spent time in this country despite its growing significance in the global economy. I was last in Singapore for the first time nearly 10 years ago. At the time, I was in a serious relationship with my college sweetheart. The trip's purpose was to meet my then-significant other's parents who were living in the country. This relationship lasted for six years, but many signs showed that we were never really meant to be. When I moved to San Francisco in 2010, long phone calls turned into short, apathetic check-ins. Long distance meant less time spent together. I started to imagine life without him. Ironically, my return trip to Singapore officially marked that I have been single longer than my one and only serious relationship.
I don't know why it took me so long to return. I've been back to this side of the world a few times, but I couldn't bring myself to go to a place so closely associated to my personal weaknesses. I met Wayne during my freshman year at the University of Chicago. The transition to college has been particularly rough for me. I was away from my family. My knee rehabilitation limited my physical movement and led to the infamous "college Fifteen." The academics weren't a joke either, and I lost count of the sleepless nights trying to keep up with classes. By the time Chicago's brutal winter set in, I was depressed, overweight and lonely.
It was at this moment that I met Wayne. He was a third year student who recently returned from a study abroad program in Europe. He is ethnically Taiwanese, but he grew up in the US, Canada and Hong Kong. I was drawn to his international upbringing and experience, and he appeared at the right place at the right time. Feeling wanted and loved is something every individual seeks, and we started dating before the summer.
The first few years could be written straight out of any Korean drama series. We held hands, sneaked in kisses, and fell asleep in each other’s arms. We talked about our hopes and dreams and eventually a potential life together. Honeymoons do come to an end. After we both graduated from college and entered the real world, long work hours and unfulfilling careers started to strain our relationship. Passionate sex devolved into mindless f*cking. He began to dismiss my opinions claiming that he knew what’s best for the both of us. He ridiculed and treated my best friends disrespectfully (and sometimes in front of me). Talking about the future led to anxiety whenever he talked about our “five-year plan” without any input from me.
Despite all of this, I still chose to stay with him. I kept saying to myself that compromise and struggle were part of any relationship, and I convinced myself that I could only be happy if he was happy. Looking back, I was just afraid of leaving what I’ve known for six years. I forgot about my own well-being and let others make decisions for me. When I received the job offer from Google, I almost didn’t accept it. Luckily, his business school friends (who I am eternally grateful to and still keep in touch with) urged me to take the offer and move to the Bay Area. Wayne wasn’t happy with the decision, and we nearly broke up the day before the movers came. I convinced him to give long distance a chance even though I knew - deep in my heart - that it was better to let go.
Moving to San Francisco marked the first decision I’ve made for myself since college, and the city welcomed me with open arms. My best friend, Jen, visited San Francisco and connected me to a new circle of friends. I reunited with a high school friend I haven’t seen in ten years. Work was fast-paced and exciting. My social calendar became packed as I met more creative, intelligent, humble and ambitious people in the area. For the first time in awhile, I started to feel comfortable in my own skin.
Wayne and I talked on the phone every day, but I could sense the growing disconnection between us. When he visited me in San Francisco, he didn’t want to spend time with any of my friends and made rude comments about them. We were at a friend’s birthday party, and he sat in the corner alone and refused to socialize with my friends. Embarrassed, I apologized to the birthday girl, and we left the party early. The seed of doubt continued to grow inside of me. He interned at a company in Minneapolis that summer, and I visited him one weekend. We got into a major argument after I refused to attend a networking event for significant others to find jobs in the area. After spending Labor Day weekend together in Seattle, he broke up with me upon our return to San Francisco. I told him to leave the next day.
Since the breakup, I consciously decided to be selfish. I wanted to love myself because I didn’t want to depend on anyone else again. I focused on building my career and network. I spent more time with family and friends. Six years later, here I am in Singapore. I am financially independent and well-respected among industry peers. I am surrounded by amazing and successful friends. I’m in better shape now than I was during my twenties. With recruiters (and men) reaching out everyday, the world is literally my oyster.
Singapore felt strange yet familiar. I walked through the same avenues filled with shopping centers and hawker centers. My return trip to Singapore made me face and accept my insecurities and fears. In turn, I was able to be open to new possibilities. Coincidentally, the Formula 1 was happening on the same weekend, and I was able to attend the championship race day in person. I reconnected with old friends during an afternoon yacht outing. I met new friends while enjoying drinks from the top of Marina Bay Sands. Although I can be very forgiving to others, I realized that I tend to be very self-critical and unforgiving of my weaknesses. I needed to forgive myself because those flaws are just as important as my strengths. Only after forgiving myself, I was able to move on, open up to new opportunities, meet new people and create new memories.
Here’s to many more second chances in life.