It’s been a while since I’ve read something that really made me think about my own life, until I read this article by my JC teacher a few days ago. In it, she speaks about her own experiences as a government scholar and compares it with the kind of life she lives now.
These were the paragraphs that really made me pause and think. It’s a rather long passage that I’ve quoted, but I would encourage all my readers to read it, because it speaks with our (or at least, strongly to my) obsession with certainty, tidiness and order in Singapore:
Students in Singapore spend a lot of time knowing. They know that after six years of primary school comes four years of secondary school, followed by two years of junior college. They know the national examinations that act as wayposts along that path. They know that university is something of a jumbled mess but still, it’s a predictable three- or four-year programme, at the end of which they get a shiny sheet of paper certifying their successful completion of that stage of life.
After that, they don’t know. Will they get a job? Will it be a good job? What is a ‘good’ job? Will they earn enough money for the rest of their lives, to marry and own a flat, a house or a car? Will there be enough for everything? […]
Anecdotally, scholarship-holders seem much more confident that there is a career plan for them, that the government wouldn’t let the half-a-million dollar investment per person go to waste. I don’t get the impression that scholarship-holders have very much say in that plan, however.
Meanwhile, the world lurches from one eventuality to another, sending the best-laid plans along into a rough-and-tumble spin. In such times, I think it’s common to have one of two reactions: flee headlong into cocooned safety, or hurtle forward into the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. (A psychologist might put it more pithily, in reverse order: ‘fight or flight’.)
Fleeing is understandable. In Singapore we like things to be neat and tidy: our roads and our trees, our careers and our choices. Families are nuclear, salaries come with CPF (which we can cash out at the appointed retirement age) and the government always, always has a plan.
Hurtling is un-Singaporean. Hurtling implies a loss of control. Who knows where you might end up?
When my scholarship bond ended and after I’d completed the work I felt responsible for, I fled, hurtled, hurled myself out of there. I didn’t have a job or a plan. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I had only myself to go on.
It was a precious, precious feeling.
My experience with the scholarship thus far has been different from what my teacher describes. However, what she says about an obsession with things being ‘neat and tidy’ and how hurtling is un-Singaporean really rings true to me.
How many times in my life have I really made a decision where ‘I had only myself to go on’?
To date, I can only recall one – going to Romania during the Summer Break of my 2nd year. That was almost an impulsive idea, venturing into a place where I had nobody’s good testimonies to fall back on, going with no-one that I knew, to a place which was completely foreign. Yet I would not have given up that experience, because that feeling of groping around, of being utterly lost and uncertain, and slowly finding your ground again was something which I believe, brought me to where I am today.
I know that I have the next 6 years well-planned out for me, yet I know that my dreams and ambitions too lie within the field that I’ve chosen right now.
While reading this, what came to my mind was not how I could ‘free’ myself from the scholarship, but whether it was possible too to experience that hurtling sensation, that sense of only having yourself to rely on without anything to fall back on, while still pursuing your dreams in a route that is considered ‘safe’ and ‘promised’ and perhaps even, so called ‘conventional’. And for now, the question shall remain unanswered, until I see where life takes me, or where I ‘take’ life in the next 6 years of my life.