Years ago, before my mother’s maiden flight to London as a Singapore Girl, my father went to his tailor to custom-make a winter coat for her. It was made of sheepskin, knee-length and nipped in at the waist, and cost half of my father’s salary as a young officer in the SAF. My mother wore it for the next decade-and-a-half, the entire duration of her stewardessing career.
They married in 1974, at 23, flying to a new destination each year on my mother’s crew benefits in a time when air travel was a luxury. This was the 1970s, when Singaporeans still needed visas for Australia, and my father once had to sweet talk an embassy officer into fast-tracking his visa application so he could fly to Melbourne that same evening to meet my mother.
Together my parents went to London, Paris, Venice; visited a host of cities I am only now checking off my bucket list. They flew many times to the US, slurping oysters in Alabama, strolling down Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, spending countless languid afternoons in Honolulu on layovers.
They were in their twenties then, and hardy. Once, they took a 16-hour Greyhound bus from New York to Washington – what should have been a four-hour ride quadrupled because the bus took a detour via Pittsburg. My father likes to tell the story of how, ill-prepared for single-digit cold, he ran up a steep hill carrying his and my mother’s suitcases in Buffalo. Travel, too, showed them that this would not last. On a multi-city package tour across Europe, an elderly couple from their group dropped out halfway because of health issues. It cemented their belief that youth was the best time to see the world.
I arrived a decade later, a squalling bundle of disruption to their mid-thirties. They stretched their finances to accommodate me. Long flights across the Atlantic became long drives to Malacca, KL or Genting Highlands. My first time on a plane, at about five or six, is still documented proudly in one of our family albums.
I didn’t leave the continent till I was 18. In university, when I announced my desire to go on exchange in Taiwan, it was my first time going abroad without them. Yet I remember their fearlessness in letting me go, my father’s confidence that going abroad meant growing up, a coming of age for me as it was for them. Goodbye came with the requisite parental cautions about staying safe and drinking responsibly, but it was underscored by a certain bittersweet confidence on their part. You are going to have such an adventure.
Now, in their sixties and relieved of the financial burden of parenting, my parents are still on the move. They travel more slowly these days, taking longer to navigate a new city, or arriving at the airport three hours before a flight to make sure they have enough time to clear immigration. They’ve swapped package tours for cruise vacations, so they don’t have to wrangle hefty suitcases off the baggage carousel. Japan has replaced Hawaii as their new favourite destination. But most importantly, they are still travelling, still looking out for each other, still companions, best friends, lovers.
Happy 45th anniversary ❤
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When I was a kid we took annual family vacations to Genting Highlands. My folks would pack everything but the kitchen sink into the trunk of my father's old Honda Accord, including my very own potty before I was toilet trained. I'd curl up in the backseat for the duration of the six hour drive, waking up bleary-eyed and excited when we got there, not understanding why my mother would take extra care of my father that evening, or how exhausting it was to spend six hours at the wheel. Most importantly, I didn't yet understand all the effort they put into making sure I had a good time. Family trips are the reverse now. The parents decide where they want to go and it's my job to plan our itinerary, book our accommodation and navigate Japan's public transport system to get us there. In the day we explore manicured gardens and Shinto shrines and at night we eat supermarket sashimi and pop salmon eggs in our Airbnb apartment. It's cold outside but the sake shots warm us, each toast both transient and precious 🍶