Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Something’s Got To Give

Another impressive panel of “experts” was formed to help boost the economy. More enlightening advice to increase productivity. More “new” policies in the pipeline to control the flow of foreign workers. They decided that wine is good. Too much wine is bad. So what’s the plan? Increase foreign worker’s levy and keep the workers; the longer the better. Now why didn’t I think of that?

Strange world. Strange people. When billions are lost, people keep quiet. When there’s not going to be any football (don’t ask me which league, which match. I don’t watch football at all), you get angry protests from the public. This is my Singapore. The big and serious issues are discussed in hushed tones at the local coffeeshops. The petty ones get good and loud airing everywhere. Why? Because politically sensitive issues are downplayed by the media? Because football is a “safe topic” to complain about? But seriously, recreation is important.

You must either be very weird or very lucky to love your work. Even if you enjoy your work, you don’t want to be struggling to make ends meet when you’re in your 50s or 60s. But that is what’s happening in our society. Apart from a certain group of highly privileged people, we are all stressed out and struggling with all the hungry foreigners ready to take our jobs (even dentists are not safe).

At a dinner, a colleague of mine (Chinese man) joked that he wanted to send his children to India to study dentistry and then let them come back as “Indian dentists” since the chances of them getting into NUS are virtually NIL. We were put through a difficult and expensive course of study only to have foreigners coming in the “easy way”. We might as well raise our kids cheaply in a foreign country and then bring them back through the wide open doors on our shores if graduates who had gone through a much easier path (more holidays, less homework, lower school fees) are acccepted here.

Pass me another glass of wine. We might as well talk about football. Something’s got to give and drinking won’t always work. For me, it’s travel. It’s as important to me as football is to some guys. My Australian friend Lindsey who was beer-starved on an oil rig in Brunei once said that he needs beer more than he needs his wife.

Of course I wouldn’t risk the integrity of my skull by saying that, but people like my father simply cannot do without his daily yam cha sessions with his pals. Approaching 80 and after winning a battle against lymphoma 5 years ago, he is no longer worried about the big and small issues in life. He still does a bt of accounting every now and then, but sitting down with friends over a cup of tea and some tim sum is probably the most enjoyable thing for him. He doesn’t worry about whether his tim sum sessions earn him anything. He has a life.

In contrast, there are many young and stingy workholics who panic at the loss of $2 and they want to make every gathering with friends count. How many insurance policies can I sell? How many MLM downlines can I get from this outing? Which is why some people ask me what I stand to gain from my travels. How irritating. Of course I gain tremendously from these trips, but not in monetary terms. How do I explain that? Even Confucius can’t explain the four seasons to a grasshopper. Very often, I have to find excuses or highlight possibilities of finding treasures to justify a trip.

For many educated Singaporeans, a holiday means more than shopping, sleeping, watching trees grow, paint dry and catching up with the in-laws. For me, a trip without challenges and discoveries is a wasted trip. Not a real holiday.

I’m not a lazy person by any definition. In fact, I think I’m certifiably overworked and deserving of some reward. People who think I’m not working hard enough are just self-centered, inconsiderate and ignorant bozos. With so many tight and sometimes humanly impossible schedules, something’s got to give. I need to pick up my backpack and hit the dusty trails, write a story, take some nice pictures as much as football fans need to watch the World Cup, Father needs his tim sum and Lindsey needs his beer.

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