December 2015. I land in Singapore a little past midnight and recognize nothing. The last time I was here was also the first time I was here. That was twenty years ago. Of course, everything had changed. I don’t think I’d recognize the person I was back then anymore either. He was flying out of the country for the first time, a poor boy doing rich boy things. He gaped a lot, if I remember right, mostly at his luck. But then I’ve been gaping a lot lately. Last year was the year Violator underwrote a wanderlust i never thought I had. I flew everywhere with it. Thinking about those seven cities now, I feel a specific permutation of pure, unfettered joy for each. But coming as I do from a middle-class third world household that toes the poverty line on a daily basis, the inept prisms through which I processed them were primarily cultural but also mostly economic. I was still, in many ways, that poor boy. I felt like a country hick bombarded with city awe every single time.

This was different. I flinch a little as the cab leaves the airport and enters the city on the way to Jalan Besar, where my hostel was. The reflux of what felt like nostalgia was so immediate, and so glancing. I wasn’t quite sure why. Not at that moment, at least. This is my second time here but it’s changed so much it might as well be the first. It was like having memories of a place I’ve never been. It only got more severe over the next few days.

The sentient city is a useful myth I milk when I travel. The only foreign city I’ve been to more than twice is Hong Kong.  Hong Kong feels like a favorite chair. The city-tourist give and take is hinged on a warm, worn familiarity. New places feel different, and each new place feels different from the others. No patterns of habit have calcified yet. But the give and take is there. Every bit as intoxicating. As it was now. Only odder.

Oh, nothing extraordinary happened during my five days in Singapore. Yet here I am, looking back and swooning a little. I was determined to make it my eighth and last stop before the holidays. I had my reasons. It was my first foreign city, after all. I have friends coming here with me, too. I  have friends who live here and promised to come and watch then later ply me with drinks, which they did. Then there was the matter of promises I never made but squandered anyway.

People who mean a lot to me had come here in the middle of the noughties, to seek their fortunes, to run away, all that. I almost lived here myself. I always hoped to come around and pay them visits. It was so close. But I did none of that. Now I can’t. And here I am anyway. Wandering around between duties, soaking up the city like I would any other city, only this one seemed more haunted than the others, tinged with a luscious, unforgettable bittersweetness. Nothing was familiar yet somehow everything was. The hawkers, the museums, the galleries, the vinyl shops, the bookstores, the hipster cinema, the vine-encrusted university, the ornate restaurant, the colossal hotel, the posh shoe stores, the posher after-party, the videoke lounge, the old buildings, the prickly heat. I realize it's the itinerary of the visit that never was but should have been. Turns out it wasn’t nostalgia after all. Singapore used to embody the first time I rose above my station. Years later, it embodies instead the time of my life that got away.