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Lena with her son and daughter

In the words of my father's favorite singer, BobMarley: Life is one big road with lots of signs.

I was born in Singapore in 1982 at Gleneagles Hospital, at the wee hours of January 4th. Gleneagles Hospital, for those that may not be familiar with Singapore, is located right next door to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a haven of fl ora and heritage. Till the age of three, my family and I spent countless hours walking around the park every time we visited the hospital for check-ups or for vaccinations, eager to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. My favorite tree, according to Mom, was the kapok tree, a heritage tree that was planted in 1933. Mom used to tell me that I loved looking at the huge buttress roots and picking up the soft, fluffy cotton at the foot of the tree. Even though I was very young, I vaguely remember sitting by the tree and looking up in awe of its size and beauty. I've always been fascinated by the kapok tree and I never knew why… until the year 2002.

My father says it was a sign. I just think it was meant to be. It was early 2002 when my family decided to leave Australia and move to greener shores. Our family business was in major need of a revamp and to cut costs, we decided that China was our future. We packed our belongings, said a tearful goodbye to our home of several years and headed off to Singapore for a short holiday before the big move to China. As always, for old times sake, I made my way to the Botanic Gardens. I sat at the familiar foot of the kapok tree and looked up, wondering what the future would hold. To my amazement, a gorgeous scarlet red flower fell at my foot. It was a kapok flower. I picked it up and I recalled smiling, thinking that it must have been my lucky day. Soon it was time to head home… and head to China.We had chosen Guangzhou as our city of residence, due to its close proximity to Hong Kong, good weather and of course, delicious food.

It was a clear day on August 5th when we landed in Baiyun Airport. The sky was blue and my first impression was that it was so green! Flowers, trees and greenery surrounded me on the ride to the hotel. It was surreal. Our first month in Guangzhou was a whirlwind. So much to do, so much to see… and so much to eat! I loved every moment of it.

We had already been in Guangzhou for a few months when my dad suggested that we do a bit of sightseeing to truly understand the city. It was a great suggestion and we jumped at the chance to visit a few historical sites. Our first stop was the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. It was a sight to behold. As we were posing for pictures, a lovely young man came up to us and started asking us a few questions about where we were from and if we were enjoying our time in Guangzhou. As it turns out, he happened to be a tour guide. We were ecstatic! He rambled on and on about
what to do and see in Guangzhou. Suddenly I heard the word "kapok." I was stunned. Was this the same species like the one in Singapore? Indeed, he said with a laugh. The kapok, as it turns out, is Guangzhou's official flower.It was chosen to become the city's flower emblem in
1982, the year I was born. I could not believe my ears. This was a sign, I thought, a sign that I was meant to come to this wonderful city. He then offered to take us around the corner to see the oldest kapok tree in the city. It was more than 300 years old. Its majestic crown, beautiful flowers and strong trunk were a welcome sight. I looked up, as always, to admire its beauty and to my utter surprise, a kapok flower fell and landed at my feet. It was a sign. There was just no other explanation for it. It was then that I made a promise to myself that as long as Guangzhou would have me, I would stay here and make it my home.

Kapoks in Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

That was 2002. It's been 12 years since that fateful day. Since then, I've seen kapok flowers bloom across the city; some falling at my feet, some smiling at me from high above and some lovingly cared for at one of my favorite spots in the city, the Lingnan Flower Market in Liwan district. It's a place that I've visited several times and it never fails to impress me.

Guangzhou has been extremely auspicious and lucky for me. In 2005, I started working at the Guangzhou English Channel as a Television Anchor and received multiple opportunities to see this city in all its facets. I've also been lucky to find love in this city. My husband and I met in 2004 and we now have two beautiful children, all made in China!

When I want to look back and reminisce, all I have to do is close my eyes. I'm taken back in time to my childhood, sitting under the kapok tree. I'm taken back in time to a gorgeous red kapok flower falling at my feet. I'm taken back in time to 2002, when I first landed in Guangzhou.

They were all signs, and they still are. Guangzhou is where my heart is and where it will always be. And I have the kapok tree, Guangzhou's official flower and my favorite flower, to thank for it.

Kapok tree in Singapore Botanic Gardens

Plaque of the kapok tree in
Singapore Botanic Gardens

(By Lena Gidwani)
Editor:Lynus Tan
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