Saturday, October 19, 2013

落叶归根 - Falling leaves return to the roots

Lovely beautiful coloured leaves line the autumn streets here.

[19-Oct-2013 Autumn leaves along W Broadway, Vancouver]

It brings to mind an old Chinese saying, “落叶归根” [literary: "falling leaves return to the roots"]. My late-paternal grandfather who left China in his early-teens (at age 13, if I recall correctly) believed in it. As a child, I recognized that deep-felt longing in his eyes whenever he talked about his growing years (albeit the harsh life of a farmer-boy). When I was young, I never understood how/why an old man would long to return to (or at least be finally buried at) a place that he had left decades ago -- a society that in all probability has changed beyond recognition. After all, grandpa was born during the final years of the Qing Dynasty. By the time a visit back to his hometown was feasible both financially and politically, China had undergone tremendous upheaval and became a totally different society under Deng Xiaoping.

Thus, some years before his death, grandpa finally made that longed-for trip back to his hometown (I think this is the place). As far as I gathered from my parents who went with him, grandpa did not make much comments during the trip. But I saw a change in his eyes when he returned -- he no longer had that longing in his eyes, he no longer question about the possibility of returning his ashes to China. My only guess is that the trip broke any romantic memories/notions he had of the place he'd left decades ago. Grandpa passed away in Singapore and his ashes remain in Singapore, together with many of his descendants.


I have not returned to Singapore since leaving 3 years ago. Initially, it just didn't seem practical to spend money on a trip back when cash-flow was (and still is) tight while I try to settle into my host country.

Now I wonder about it. There is still a part of me that wants to return to "Singapore" (i.e. the one made from figments of my memories), but I know full well that "that Singapore" may not be today's Singapore. I wonder if a trip back would be the "dream-breaker" that my grandfather had experienced. After all, Singapore is known to be ever-changing, ever developing at a relentlessly rapid pace.


  1. Yes it will be a dream-breaker.

    Save your money for Alaska or South America.

    1. Hi CK,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your comments.

      One item on my "bucket list" is to see the "Northern Lights", a.k.a. "aurora borealis" (it can be seen in northern region of BC, Canada); and I would certainly like to visit the other continents that I have not set foot on.

      Hahaha, CK, you went back during the high excitement of the previous election. Yet it is not exciting enough (worth it) for you?

      Cheers, WD.

    2. Election periods are fun and exciting times, but the more things change the more they stay the same. Revisiting Singapore in our memories of the place is probably more satisfying and fulfilling then re-visiting it physically.

      Yes I would like to see the aurora borealis too, but would probably want to see it in Finland and such like. You are lucky enough to be somewhere where you can see it without too much effort, so go do it now - why not go with your partner for a romantic getaway?

      Do it now, don't wait for tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come.

    3. Hi WD,

      I'm pretty sure that it's going to be a "dream-breaker" too.

      Sometimes, we wish to go back in time to re-live the happy memories, but it is impossible. All the factors that created that happy moment cannot be recreated.

      Time would be better spent living in the present and savouring the past happy moments in memories. :)

    4. Hi Oblivious,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your view. It's so true, "All the factors that created that happy moment cannot be recreated."

      Cheers, WD.

  2. Hi WD,

    Before coming to Canada, I had the opportunity to study in Australia for awhile. I went back for CNY each year and then after I graduated, I stayed for about a year in Singapore before coming to Vancouver. Each time I went back to Singapore.. it seemed like the place was becoming more and more distant, more foreign.. and my home in Melbourne was becoming.. more home. In fact, I had "home sick" after returning from Melbourne. It wasn't the influx of people from other countries, I didn't mind and I honestly barely noticed them during my few months back.. it was just.. the society and pace is so fast that people in Singapore don't notice it but we do.

    The Singapore we knew growing up is different from the Singapore I served to protect when I was in NS and is very different from the Singapore today. So many places that I spent during my years growing up is either gone or changed.. it's kinda sad really.. (A side note, I think growing up in the 70s and 80s were the golden years for us haha.. no silly tablets or internet to distract our childhood!).

    I think if you do go back, you should go back for the people and family, not for the beautiful memories of Singapore. Memories are often rose-tinted images of the past and I prefer them that way.

    Anyhow, to answer your question from an earlier post: I did consider blogging, but I prefer to not open myself to the world. I do not have the courage like you to do so haha.

    1. Hi Ban,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts and advice.

      Cheers, WD.