This post is for the Singaporean university student who is currently studying overseas, and those who are currently wondering, “to go, or not to go.”
“Ling, are you planning on coming back after university, or are you staying there?”
“I’m coming back.”
“Sure anot? What if you break up with K and find an angmoh boyfriend instead?”
“If he’s serious about marrying me, he has to come back with me lor.”
I’m not getting married in three years’ time, but you get my point. I prefer Asian men.
In other news, I’m coming back. It’s not about filial piety or the fact that I don’t go to sleep before thinking about the millions of things that could go wrong to the house or my parents in my absence, but let me say this: There’s no other place like home. Or more specifically, Singapore.
Coming to university here in the UK lifted a bulk of stress off me. This was partly because my parents were getting more controlling towards the month of my departure, but I realised it was just their way of coping with Empty Nest syndrome. The week before I flew, they’d demand for me to be home by 10 PM even though I was scuttling to and fro, trying to make time to meet up with all my friends. Still, I wasn’t too surprised at the sudden change in parental discipline. After all, I’m the happy-go-lucky one in the family who comes home with all kinds of news (they have to listen to it whether they like it or not), so it’s not hard to miss me. Haha. Narcissism aside, what I’m really trying to say is that leaving was never a means to escape. It was simply because I believed in the quality of the degree I would leave RHUL with and still do. I also realised that at the time, I was already mentally and emotionally prepared to live somewhere else on my own without my parents; I harboured a craving for adventure long before I ended work and before my air tickets were booked.
But besides the fact that I really love my country (how noble), I started to wonder if I was ‘heartless’ for not having sobbed my eyes out for leaving. I know, it’s such a trivial matter, but someone said something to me that made me think:
“You could have saved your parents a whole lot of money.”
A green-faced monster once said that to me, which led me to think about the same blinking idiots who have tried to guilt trip/accuse me for being too ‘high maintainence’ and a sucker for ‘branded education’ by relying on my parents’ money without even trying hard enough. (I read that off someone else’s blog, by the way. Thank you for your kind words.) I have never been flattered by envy, and I grow especially hostile towards those who get on my case so much that they start peppering their words with malice.
But I thought about it. My father is happily retired and my mother is a tai tai, and unlike many families in Britain, we have a maid. We are considered the upper-middle class in terms of financial background in Singapore. My mother got me into Nanyang Primary School through her volunteering at the school library AND got me to attend both the Morris Allen English Study Centre and the Julia Gabriel Speech and Drama Centre on the side. My accent was so Americanised that I got bullied by ah-bengs for speaking good English in school. Heck, I get teased about my pronunciation at work! And after all that effort my parents put in, I’ll admit – I hadn’t worked the hardest before I entered both secondary school and Singapore Polytechnic. I relied on my language skills and was still squealing with joy when I got a C6 for ‘O’ Level Math, even after having spent so much money on tuition teachers. I suffered from a lack of ill discipline and self-esteem when it came to subjects that needed practice. I questioned Madam Yani why Principles of Accounting was relevant in front of a class of forty and the school’s discipline master why we needed to attend ‘assembly’ in school after the few of us were caught for sneaking off. I could probably have won an annual ‘Most Punishments In A Year: Female Category’ award for the number of times I was made to stand outside the classroom.
Earlier this year, my Facebook status was about my experience of going to The Learning Lab as a kid. I wrote: “My mother was not steeped in the uses of technology and the Internet then, but she put me in The Learning Lab out of love – ‘whatever is best for my child, I’ll go for it.'” It generated likes from friends who share the same educational and financial background as I do. My experience of going to this enrichment centre (pay attention to the word ‘enrichment’, not ‘tuition’) is similar to me going to university and spending an atrocious amount of money on what is still seen as ‘high-class’ education to many Singaporeans. (My friend once told me that his brother was known as the ‘JC kid’ of their block of flats because he was the only one among the community of teenagers to make it to Junior College.) But the stark difference is this: I made the choice to come to this university on my own, knowing full well that the money I would pay for education in the UK did not come cheap. I take ownership and responsibility for the choice I made, keeping in mind the fact that this choice has rocketed me faraway from home, friends, and my favourite food. Yes, food. Anyway.
People worry for me because I’m doing a drama degree. When relatives ask what I’m studying at university, to which I reply “drama”, they laugh about it affectionately or reply with a soft “Oh”, then insert a rhetorical comment to try to make me prove them wrong. What makes you think I’d bother winning you over? People think that I’m only good at being emotional, blind as a bat when it comes to planning for the future, and that I can afford to be ‘siao siao’ because I have financially solid pillars of support.
But what made me click the UCAS selection for “BA in Drama and Creative Writing” was the fact that I already knew what I wanted to do long before I sat for that GCE Math paper in the school hall. (I won’t say that I’m lousy at Math, I’m actually pretty good at it with some practice but unfortunately, it didn’t happen.) FUN FACT: I chose to go to my secondary school because 1) having come from a co-ed school, I preferred it to St. Margaret’s and 2) most importantly and naively, because it had a Drama Club – even if it was a neighbourhood school. I still remember how my teacher-in-charge of the Drama Club lit up when she asked, “You picked Drama as your first choice, right? *insert Megawatt smile*” And after attaining a Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media, I could have steered myself towards journalism or remain doing film at Sitting In Pictures as a full-time employee if I wanted to, but I chose to send three poems to the RHUL English department instead and thankfully, got in.
“Huh, you got in by just sending in your personal statement and THREE POEMS? Why so easy one?!?!”
You know, I even used to think that getting into my course at polytechnic via JPSAE was a cheat. “Interview nia. Not legit. Others worked their asses off, so shame on you Lingy.” But my lecturers still looked at my grades even though it was largely based on a portfolio and how I presented myself at an interview. Perhaps those who entered via JAE would rather hide under a longkang than attend an interview and let strangers read their embarrassing works of fiction and poetry right in front of them – who knows?
Everything is subjective. This post is subjective as well. This post does not aim and will not bother with trying to provide you with statistics or evidence that may lead to some political view of the Singaporean mindset. I’m not very good at writing articles like that (though I’m learning to like them and might finally succeed in writing a balanced one), but this is not one of them.
Sometimes, when I’m sitting next to him and bawling my eyes out over a personal injustice, my Pa says to me, “Ling, you can’t change the world.”
But I can. There is a slight glimmer of hope that I can – not because I’m a Christian, a known optimist among my friends or a Sagittarius – it’s because I can write. Because I have the ability to tell you in your face that if you’ve experienced the same circumstances and comments that I have – good. It’s going to help you help others. Most of all, it’s going to make you live a better, more fulfilling life by proving the naysayers wrong. And you’re not proving them wrong because it’s all about them – it’s about you; the effort comes from you, NATURALLY and EFFORTLESSLY. It’s your own PASSION that will drive you and get you going when you’re stuck on an essay that is due in five hours even though you desperately want to sleep but that bloody sun is slowly creeping up the horizon. And it’s not just about passion, it’s also about hard work and PERSEVERANCE. You believe that there’s a better reward than sleep – you deserve it, yes, but you won’t go down without a fight. I first saw that in my secondary school mates and I see that in every passionate person I know. I see that in my boyfriend every single day. I’m presently at university and slightly late, but I’ve adopted the same attitude and have applied it throughout this entire term here, catching myself whenever I feel the temptation to slack. I have done a month of good work and am ready to enjoy my holidays, but I’m also coming back to RHUL with a good amount of completed work. Yes, I’ll say it! I’ll say it because I believe in myself. I haven’t gotten everything in life sorted out, but this is the first step. So why do you let the fear of failing to live up to what you’re set out to achieve be motivated by what others say about you? Oh, and if you’re at university and into the last week of the term now, it’s too late. Move on.
At the end of the day, I don’t regret coming to university. I might change my mind about going back to Singapore before I even graduate. I could possibly migrate here and settle down with a British man. But no matter what happens, I don’t regret it. Don’t let leaving your home, friends and family stop you from doing what you’re meant to do, what you want to do and what your finances ALLOW you do to do. There is no comment or guilt on this earth that can cripple you if your parents and the people who love you have given you the green light, and have sent you their best wishes in the form of cards, texts, Whatsapp messages and Skype conversations from the other side of the world. I want to reassure you that we are lucky people who have all the love, affirmation and emotional freedom we need.
Singapore is the land of perpetual summer, manmade greenery, subdued political tension and currently, where the monsoon season strikes, which brings throngs of torrential rains that flood our high street. Young adults my age fantasize a lot about moving to the Big Apple, London or Paris, but I can safely say that Singapore is the most beautiful in the rain.
I just thought I’d let you know.