What does ‘home’ mean?

What is home?

Habitus magazine invited me to contribute to an exhibition exploring the question: ‘What does home mean to you?’ I wrote a story. The exhibition will be displayed during Sydney Indesign, 15–17 August 2013, at the Galleria in Sydney.

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I didn’t sleep well the night before our appointment with the HDB. We, and the sellers of the 1979 ‘four-room’, were to sign the final round of paperwork. Fear struck my heart – not so much for the thought of the binding and inflated debt we were about to assume, but for the impending interrogation by an officer of a Singaporean government agency. Would our finances be deemed to stack up adequately? Did we properly follow all the e-filing rules for last year’s tax returns? Would the prescribed ‘ethnic quotas’ of the estate allow for a foreigner like me? Would there be any issues with my home-based business? Did we fill out the application forms correctly? Will we comply with all the regulations? Well, Mindy, our youthful HDB officer, wasn’t the stern, severe-haired toughie I’d expected. A mini dress, a mismatched oversized aircon-busting jacket, slippers, flowing locks, and a Hello Kitty pen. But her getup was not to say that she wasn’t by-the-books. In the span of around thirty minutes, she printed and waved what seemed like half a ream of paper past us. We signed about fifteen sheets. The speed of her meek voice suggested (yet somehow demanded) minimum time for detailed scrutiny of each sheet. We proceeded, as you tend to do in Singapore, rather like cogs in a machine, trusting our research and putting our faith in the idea that with 82 per cent of Singaporeans living in government flats, millions have done the same and survived. Surely the government wouldn’t shaft us! Anyway, it’s not like we could bend any rules. So, spat out from the HDB headquarters and a renovation later (and I won’t start on those rules), here we are at home, where I’m a ‘spouse’ by marital status (that is, female) and an ‘other’ by racial profile (that is, not Chinese, Malay, or Indian). The neighbours don’t seem to mind my colour (as far as I can tell), or my gender. The mortgage is cheaper than the rent was. The train station isn’t far away. We’ve made friends with the cleaning guy, the teh tarik uncle, and a lovely aunty down the corridor. It’s a great neighbourhood. By the time we finish paying off the mortgage, our flat’s value – according to the government-issued home insurance scheme – will be about 10 per cent of its purchase price. I doubt that we’ll be here by then.

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