Every summer since I was ten, the family pilgrimage from Perth back to Singapore begins. These trips used to excite me. I packed my bag months in advance, stowing away my favourite candies to enjoy on the five-hour flight. But as I grow older, the pilgrimage has grown in length and complexity. More coordination is needed for our family of travellers, who are spread out across the globe – in Shanghai, Singapore, Taiwan, Melbourne. We enter and leave Perth like easy waves that press away from the shore.
I think of the beginnings of this pilgrimage, one that goes beyond me and my mother’s own lifetimes, back to the era where junk ships docked in the Singapore River and my grandfather carted away its contents.
These trade routes carried rice and flour and tea and people. The junks would depart with the turn of the tide, leaving my grandfather at the dock. He carries away bags of rice, one over each shoulder. He doesn’t look back.
My mother carefully packs a suitcase for my sister – this year, she is the first of us to head to Singapore. The luggage is laden with gifts for our family back home - fruit mince pies, pharmaceuticals, chocolates, thickly cut slices of Christmas ham. We rearrange the luggage at check-in – the ham doesn’t make the cut - and my mum gently reprimands my sister about the weight requirements. We wave goodbye at the departure gate.
“Have a safe flight,” I tell her.
“Okay,” she replies. “See you in two days.”