Jump-Start in Reunion

As cliché as it sounds, I will  say, my, oh my, how time flies! I can’t believe that a year has gone by since we first arrived here. How did this happen? How did I also hit the big 30, all at once? I still have a vivid memory of our first arrival at the Roland Garros Airport, the initial impressions of the island and our first Car Jaune ride to Saint Louis along the sinuous mountain roads.

In the past year, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many colourful personalities with gripping life stories from Reunion, France, England, Canada etc. It was a journey of self-discovery, with lots of introspection as I sought to find my way around socially, culturally and professionally. Like every other person who has relocated from one country to another, you will know that it’s no walk in the park, with plenty of high and low moments. However, it was really through meeting these people and listening to their life passions, decisions and interests that I was able to reaffirm my own; and inadvertently rewire my thoughts and expectations of myself.

It was only here that I took the time to pursue other interests. Not that anything was stopping me back home (apart from the lack of time), but it is most certainly the natural energy in Reunion that gets people upbeat about getting their feet wet in everything and carve out new life paths if they want to. The fact that people ‘take the time’ to ‘make the time’ (if this makes sense) (a) to think of other things outside of their careers and (b) prioritise quality of life over money and societal expectations. Funnily enough, it was only here that I tried  paragliding, meditating, diving, hiking, pottery and the list goes on. Suffice to say, I can proclaim that I recently jump-started my life, from simply being a cog in the wheel in the corporate world to becoming a trier of new experiences far away from home.

When you are jump-starting, you are basically starting a new life chapter in an active way while being open to different experiences. If you take a closer look at the people around you, don’t be surprised to see other fellow life jump-starters randomly learning sign language just because they want to, slack lining in the forests because they can and doing yoga on paddle boards in the lagoon simply because they feel like it’s the way to ‘be’ (mentally, physically, spiritually). There are no lack of options here for a tiny faraway island.

So, before you think of booking your next flight to go across the ocean for a new experience, ask yourself the following: when was the last time you did something different here? When was your last jump-start in Reunion?

Vocabulary

How time flies – le temps passe vite
gripping – passionnant
it’s no walk in the park – Ce n’est pas du gateau
plenty – assez
rewire – refaire

lack – manque
upbeat – optimiste
getting ones feet wet – essayer de nouvelles choses
carve out – créer

cog – dent
wheel – roues

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Freedom in Diversity

When people ask me where I come from, I almost respond with a cheer and say, “Singapore!”, which often is met with an even more enthusiastic response, like “wow cool!” or “I would absolutely love to go there”. 

Often, this follows with, “But what exactly is your origin, because you don’t look Singaporean, you know, you’re not Asian-looking” or even “Are you sure you’re Singaporean?” 

With a considerable dose of patience, I then launch into a full-length explanation of Singapore’s history, its demographics and the fact that I am a third generation South Asian Singaporean. Of course, my South Asian language-speaking capacity comes into question, to which I shamefully say no and quickly redeem myself by highlighting my proficiency in Mandarin and Malay. Luckily, most Réunionnais whom I’ve shared this with have been empathetic – even admitting regretfully that they can only speak Creole and French, but not their mother tongues, like Tamoul or Mandarin. This follows with a slow understanding glance and smile, and to change the subject, a self-comforting round of drinks for good measure.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Singapore, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Formerly a British colony, Singapore is a sovereign city-state/island country located in Southeast Asia 
  • It is three times smaller than Reunion island and has a population of approximately 5.5 million
  • Singapore is a multiracial country with a majority population of Chinese (about 75% of the resident population), with Malays comprising of 13% and Indians making up 9%. A smaller percentage of minority groups include Eurasians (people of mixed European and Asian descent) 

When my husband first brought up the idea of moving to Reunion Island, I did a quick google search and was thrilled to find some similarities between this tropical paradise and my tiny sunny homeland. Besides having similar climates, both are island states, have a history of European colonisation and most importantly, are distinctively multicultural with firm long-standing traditions.

One of my favourite traditions here is the Festival Liberté Métisse, which not only celebrates freedom and abolishment of slavery but also the harmonious living of diverse cultures which has helped shaped the island’s identity. Never will I forget the powerfully moving arts exhibits and the trance-like drum rhythms which got people from every corner swaying and tapping to the same beat for a good hour or so.

The closest event to the Festival Liberté Métisse is probably the Chingay Parade in Singapore which showcases a marvel of dazzling floats, dancing dragons and stilt walkers, celebrated by Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians alike. It is renowned for being the largest street performance and float parade in Asia; certainly impressive and wondrous in its own right but it doesn’t quite deliver the same impact (not on me at least).  To me, the Festival Liberté Métisse had a raw sense of energy and I felt this directly as I had meaningful exchanges with the participating artists, musicians and craft makers. A resounding quality that was common among all these wonderful individuals was a strong sense of passionate authenticity – needless to say, they all felt free to be this way. 

I’ve seen more diversity here than I have elsewhere, and it’s almost integrated in daily life – from passing through small towns with colonial vernacular style buildings and vast sugar cane fields to witnessing resplendent waterfalls, lush primary forests and undulating mountains. For this, I stand proud and tall of my Reunion, which occasionally evokes nostalgic thoughts of my past in Singapore, but more importantly has enriched and made me feel free in accepting my ‘assorted’ self along with the diversely rich cultures and surroundings here through respect, patience and tolerance.

Embracing these values is true freedom, to say the least, and I’ve never felt more at home!

Vocabulary

cheer – acclamation
full length – longue
shamefully – honteusement
a round – tournée
redeem – sauver

breakdown – détail
to bring up – raconter
besides – en plus de
to shape – former
moving – émouvant

to sway – se balancer
to show-case – exposer
raw – brut
needless to say – inutile de dire

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