Monday, December 26, 2011

An old friend is as good as gold

A week ago on Saturday, I met up with an old friend who was visiting Canada with her husband. This friend knew me from my late teenage years. We met at our JC school activity and acted together on stage for the Singapore Youth Festival years ago. After JC, we went on our separate ways. In our early 20's, we met once to watch the Cats musical when it was staged in Singapore. Then we went our separate ways again. At our 30's, we met up when she invited me for her wedding and then at her wedding. Thereafter, we parted ways once again. Through the years, we kept in contact via the once-in-a-blue-moon email until I created a Facebook account to keep in contact with my friends.

It's the first time that we have met up again in-person since her wedding years ago. Yet it is almost as if nothing has changed. Over lunch and coffee, we caught up with each other's life and covered migration, family, career, retirement planning, recent events in Singapore (click here and here, and see also here), social norms and people's behaviour in Singapore and Canada, etc. To borrow the Chinglish description from an acquaintance in Canada, "The feeling is very warm". [ζ„Ÿθ§‰εΎˆζš–]

There is something about old friends. One does not need to explain too much before they catch onto the deeper points and subtexts of one's words.
E.g. I shared with my old friend about my faux pas on my first day of nursing school in Singapore.

During the self-introduction on the very first lesson, I introduced myself as previously from "IT in the banking and financial services sector" and that I decided to join nursing because I wanted to do something that serves humanity directly. There was an audible hissing* noise in response, amidst the relative silence of the classroom. [*Note: The kind of sound that is made when one sucks air inwards between one's teeth with slightly parted lips.] I realized instinctively then that I had probably said something wrong, and that my assumption that "those who chose to switch careers into nursing would understand my wish to serve humanity" may be rather naive.

Over the next few days or weeks (I cannot remember exactly), I was repeatedly bugged by some classmates about my educational qualifications. By then, I knew better to just mention honestly that I did a bachelor's degree in NUS (as it is a pre-requisite for the career-conversion course to have either a diploma or a degree) and discreetly omitted that I actually did a master's degree after some years of working. Thereafter, they would repeatedly and relentlessly questioned, "Then why are you here in nursing?"1 despite my initial self-introduction. [Note: It was annoying enough that I avoided them for a while.]

When I shared the above with my old friend, she immediately remarked, "They are not happy that you're in the course. That you have 'taken' the chance from 'some other person' [whom they feel did not get in because of you]. And they have to compete with you [for school grades]."

I was pleasantly surprised by how fast my old friend caught the subtext of my story. I smiled, "Yes, that's what I don't like about the typical Singaporean mindset. Too competitive. And always thinking that everything is limited."

My friend replied, "You don't have to worry about them. You have every right to attend the course since you passed through the selection process."

I agreed with her whole-heartedly.
I really enjoyed the afternoon with my old friend. Then we parted ways once again.


1Note: Come to think of it, I suppose my nursing classmates and possibly many others thought that I chose nursing so that I could migrate abroad. I know many of my nursing ex-colleagues were surprised that I got my Canadian PR so quickly, only less than 1 year into nursing. What they did not know was that my Federal Skilled Worker permanent residency visa was not based on my nursing qualifications and experience but those of my first career.
[Note: The Canadian federal skilled worker immigration policy has changed significantly since my initial application 5 years ago, back in end-2006.]
Since some of those who were curious weren't really nice to me in the first place, I did not bother to clarify that minor detail with them.


  1. Although naive at a young age, i already sense something not right during sec 3. As is on to Sec 4 'o' level, classmates started treating each other as competitors compared to the cooperative comaradeship enjoyed in Sec 1 & 2. Since then everything is shrouded in limited spaces for:
    - poly course
    - uni course
    - job vacanies
    - job promotion
    - bus seats
    - mrt seats
    - COEs etc etc.

    This scarcity mindset unconsciously seeped into sinkies mind like an undetected poison. Many are brainwashed into tying their job title with their self-esteem. You can't imagine the number of sinkies equating their self-esteem with the title of 'mgr'. They might have different reaction if is 'nursing mgr' instead of nurse. That said is good to weed out these brainwashed folks from your life.

    Sinkies like face value a lot.
    As a cyclist myself people view me like a poor peasant. Look at that ang mo carrying his CPU case. I salute him! He does not equate self-esteem with owning a car compared to the 2 mercs ganna accident.

    No need to envy them. They are trapped in jobs they don't like for the job title to impress people.

    The sooner you unhook yourself from job title=self=esteem the better cause many retirees discovered they are 'nothing' upon leaving their mgr post which supply their self-esteem.

  2. Hi Xianlong,

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog.

    I totally agree with your observations about the typical Singaporean's concept of "face" and how competition came about.

    > many retirees discovered they are 'nothing' upon leaving their mgr post which supply their self-esteem.

    To me, that is the saddest side effect of Singapore's competitive culture. To spend one's whole life chasing after something only to regret in one's twilight years that all that glitters is not gold. Sad indeed.

    I had the chance to serve some elderly patients as a nurse. Honestly, how they lived their lives and the mindset they had developed over the years is often reflected on the elderly's faces. Generalizing here... one can often tell quickly who are the bitter-to-the-end type and who are the at-ease-and-ready-to-adapt type even before the elderly patient starts to share about his/her life. Hearing their stories often confirms one's hunches. As a result, I often remind myself that, rich or poor, I want to grow old graciously and happily -- it is all in the mind.