And if you feel just like a tourist
In the city you were born
Then, it’s time to go;
And you find your destination
With so many different places
To call home.
Four years is but a flash in a lifetime.
Four years may change everything.
Johor Bahru has developed rapidly in the years since I was last here. City Square, Komtar, Kotaraya, Danga Bay, Tebrau City, Bukit Indah, Perling, Skudai, Pelangi, Puteri Harbor, Mount Austin… All places that are unrecognizable to my eyes.
Businesses and shops have changed around as well. Cafes are a dime a dozen now, ten on every block (and another ten on the second floor, added Nicole). Hipster joints and ‘concept’ restaurants have sprung up, a sign of the increasing affluence of the city (or perhaps more accurately, of the influence of a burgeoning Singapore-based working population). Meanwhile, some old haunts have vanished or are shadows of their former selves.
The salt in the wound is the fact that I have to use Google Maps to go anywhere. I don’t remember the roads and shortcuts anymore. The traffic hasn’t changed, though.
All in all, I was, indeed, a tourist in my own city.
Reuniting with people dear to me – that was the main purpose and highlight of the trip. My favorite aunt in Kelantan teared up. My grandmother, scarcely remembering who I was, was still perfectly capable of noting that I’m old enough to marry. My little cousins have grown up, and in their place are new ones who have not known me and will not know me. Meeting my INTI lecturers and the Lim sisters was heartwarming – apparently, the university put me in one of their old brochures for the American Program. Miss Shyamala commented that I “don’t look like a nerd anymore”. Thanks, I guess…? It was sobering to hear her thoughts on the present state of English College, my high school.
Pira, Nelson, Ram, Alvin – they all seem to be doing better than a few years ago, which is awesome. Pira has a girlfriend, Nelson is on track for graduation, Ram experienced the equivalent of a Korean drama, and I surprised Alvin when we went to pick him up. Alex’s infectious giggles haven’t changed – I only forgot about it. Nigel’s slightly less horrible with technology than before. Hanging out with Mubin and Meng Yee was like good ol’ times at Purdue, and meeting the elders from Purdue was similarly nostalgic. I made a trip to Singapore exclusively for Edward. The evening with Nicole was wonderful. And finally, seeing mom.. Yeah, a trip well worth the trouble (see Pt 1).