A reader asks, I answer (part 2)

To resume from yesterday's entry:

3. Do you still dream of becoming a publisher in New York?

No. It pays too little (it always did, but at this point in my professional life it's really way too little) and to have to start from scratch in that publishing world at a time when online media and other infrastructural factors are shaking up the industry, is just more risk and jumpstarting than I'm prepared to do right now. I'm happy as a writer and I'd rather channel those energies more into developing that career, then hopping over to something else (though it's a related field).

4. If you could turn back time to when you were 19, what would you change?

Tough question. I want to say I would tell my 19-year-old self to believe in herself more, rather than to presume there is a cut-and-dried formula for making career choices in Singapore. But I'm not sure that she had the chutzpah at that age to find ways to go on and do interesting things anyway.

I suppose the overseas education was critical in influencing a large part of who I am today and that is the one decision I wouldn't change. Whether I got there by dint of a government scholarship, parental financing or some other funding source was important too, but it's hard to say definitely right now that I would go back and tell my 19-year-old self to say no to the scholarship offer.

I don't think we get do-overs and I don't think we should dwell on them, either.

5. What do you think of Singaporeans who leave behind friends and family for overseas studies and decide to settle there permanently?

No differently than I think of people who choose to live here, be they Singaporean or not. People from many countries choose to go overseas for many different reasons; I think it's safe to say that more people today will live and die in a different place from where they were born. There's no need to pronounce judgement on that.

Someone I interviewed today mentioned the importance of being comfortable in your own skin. I don't think I've ever articulated it that way myself, but that's it, really. Be comfortable in your own skin, and leave other people to be that way too, as long as they're not threatening to hurt you or anything.

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So those are the five questions I was asked. Hm ... that didn't take as long as I thought it might.

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A reader asks, I answer (part 1)

Recently I got an email from a reader responding to my essay, "Once Bonded", which was published last July but apparently continues to make the online rounds. The reader posed several questions which I thought would make good fodder for blogging and offer a break from all the other pay copy jobs I'm working on, so let's have a go at them:

1. Have the eight years of the scholarship bond changed your initial intensely negative perspectives and desire to leave Singapore in any way (i.e. tapered/balanced your opinions)?

Let's be clear about one thing: I did the eight years, then at the end of 2005 I quit being a government civil servant and I've been a full-time professional writer since. So how and what I feel about Singapore right now is tempered by a host of experiences, not the scholarship bond period alone.

Do I feel less "intensely negative" about Singapore? Absolutely. To quote what I wrote in a prior blog entry:
[...] grumpy and filled with a general animus towards towards everyone and everything Singaporean, I spent most of the first six months [after my return to Singapore] frantically calculating how much I could save of each month's salary towards paying off the scholarship bond. [...]

My mother always says that it wasn't till after I took a trip to the US at the end of that first six months, to see the then-boyfriend and college friends, that I settled down. [...] maybe what I needed was to see that the people I'd known and loved in college were moving on with their lives, for me to realise that I should do the same. Quit whining, accept the period of indenture, and get on with it. Besides, eight years is a bloody long time to be grumpy.
As for how the subsequent eight years had an impact on my attitude to Singapore and being stuck in Singapore, let me be lazy and crib from that same blog post. In a nutshell:
I made friends, settled down, got married, bought a place to live and a car, worked reasonably hard at my job, got over all the things Singapore doesn't have, appreciated anew the things it does (chief among them: being able to get good food at all hours, especially Teochew moi (porridge) with pigs' intestines and salted eggs), let my accent go and gave up on the government.
I still enjoy being away from Singapore because I think it brings some much-needed perspective. Singapore is not only a tiny country, but effectively only a city --- there's nowhere else in this country to escape to, just to catch your breath or be somewhere that feels significantly different in vibe or form. I always say I would still be grumpy today if I didn't have the opportunity to get out of Singapore for a couple of months of the year.

Would I migrate permanently? I don't know. I thought about it when I was married, but then you get older, and your parents get older, and Singapore is a lot more interesting of a place right now (despite its flaws) than I ever would've dreamed when I was a child. I think it would be nice to have a second home somewhere else, just to get that regular change-of-scenery (Hoi An is rapidly becoming a prime candidate, in that respect) without having to uproot or disconnect entirely from Singapore. But I don't feel any sense of ironic wistfulness when I say this is home.

Still, I worry about getting too comfortable in Singapore, and forgetting that the rest of the world does not (and should not) live by the same rules, and losing that desire to always want something more, for Singapore to be more, than what it is today.

2. Did government service benefit you in any way, career-wise or 'spiritually' as a human being?

Career-wise, absolutely. I picked up a lot of skills from my teaching and communications work that are still relevant to my work today. Some are specific to writing --- how to communicate clearly, how to gear up publicity or make something newsworthy --- while others are just good-to-have, like public speaking or working with people you don't necessarily have much in common with. I'm still friends (and I don't just mean Facebook-friends) with a number of former colleagues, and because almost everyone eventually moves on to other jobs or life choices, there are a surprising number of ways in which we've been able to help each other, work-wise and on a personal level, even though we're not fellow civil servants anymore.

Spiritually, well, I would say my personal experience in the civil service didn't exactly enrich my soul (perhaps several interactions with students and teaching colleagues notwithstanding). But no one says you have to be defined by your job and there are also plenty of civil servants having wonderful job experiences out there.

I often opine that working in the government carries the same risks and perils as any other job. If for some reason you're stuck in it --- and there are plenty of people who are stuck in their private sector jobs for very practical and/or serious reasons --- then you can choose to drag your feet to work everyday or you can choose to make lemonade with them lemons. My lemonade didn't turn out too badly.

* * *

Okay, so there are three more questions the reader had, but I need to get some shut-eye for tonight. Come back for part 2 later this week.

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Busy busy busy

Might be going away for work next month.

Definitely have bucketloads of work to complete before then.

Should be spending more time meditating on the meaning of life and such, but in what little non-work downtime I have, I just wanna have fun.

Having said all that, a reader of my work happened to email me some interesting questions today, so I might use those as a jumping-off point for writing some blog posts this coming week (time and energy permitting). Stay tuned.




So here's the thing about being busy with something you can't tell people about. I mean, not can't but don't want to, because it might jinx it, or prompt too many questions, and you just want to be left alone with it till the time is right, when all the pieces are in place and you can say, voilà, this is it!

But it's not that time yet, so I'm sitting on it. Very firmly. A little's slipped out and there are some promising signs on the horizon ... but I'm getting ahead of myself again. Focus on the now. One step at a time.

But oh so tingly inside.


Credit where it's due

Today's not a work day for me, but as I was catching up on my RSS feeds, I came across Kate Harding's "A Happy Guide to Not Plagiarizing", which really says all you need to know about writing and giving attribution in the Internet age.

It reminded me of Mridu Khullar's "The Way We Outline", in which she mentions how she applies different colours to quotes from different people, to help with attribution after she's finished writing. And I thought I was being particularly anal retentive when I did that. (Sometimes I use more colours than Microsoft Word can provide in readable hues.)

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Women now

International Women's Day was yesterday (according to Singapore time, anyway), which over here drew a lot of chatter about Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director win at the Oscars and local film director Jack Neo's just-revealed affair with a model less than half his age. Make of that what you will.

My own thoughts on the matter are more sobering. Blame it on the Economist's report, "The worldwide war on baby girls" (via Heather Chi), which left me feeling rather goosebumpy about artificially skewed sex ratios in the birth rates of countries like India and China (123 boys per 100 girls, for goodness' sake).

And the always thoughtful Jessica Lim reminded me about the view from the other side and that it's good to stop and listen to Joss Whedon's speech at an Equality Now benefit in 2006.



Oscar material

Friends have been asking if I'm still brooding over the incident described in the previous post (I'm not, well, not really, unless I stop and look at a certain view out my window). So to completely change the subject to something much less brood-able:

John Scalzi has reposted a delightful article he wrote for the Washington Post about ten years ago, "Oscar and me". In a nutshell:
... having an Oscar, even for just three days, is an educational experience. Here’s what I learned.
I don't think the article's really dated one bit. Enjoy!



In the quiet of the night

I got up around 4:15 a.m. I'm not sure why I did. I mean, I do, I went to the bathroom, but I don't usually do that in the middle of the night. Were the cats restless, was that what stirred me? That was what I thought after, after it became apparent from the hushed voices in the corridor that there were people hanging about outside my flat.

One downside to living alone is that it makes me uneasy to have even one person loiter outside my flat for more than a couple of minutes. There were a couple of voices now, male for sure, but I couldn't make out what they were saying, even though I did what the cats were doing and stood alert by the front door to listen.

I decided I didn't need to call the police or anything. Not just yet anyway. Then I went to the bathroom.

Then the pounding on my door and front window began --- not loud enough to make me jump out of my skin, but enough to figure something serious must be going on.

When I opened the front door --- and the reason I dared to do this was because there is a reasonably stout and padlocked grilled gate that stands between the door and the outside world --- a man identified himself as a police officer and showed me his credentials. To be honest I was still too bleary-eyed to focus clearly on what was printed on them, so you could say I took a leap of faith when I unlocked the gate and stepped outside.

And then I saw the chair, standing beside the parapet, and I knew immediately what must have happened.

(I live on the top floor of a pretty high apartment building.)

There were four police types out there, two in uniform, two in plain clothes. They asked the usual questions, about the chair and if I'd heard anything. I closed my eyes when I answered some of the questions because my sleep-hazed mind was still trying to construct the sentences properly, trying to be helpful, even though I didn't really have much to offer. They took notes and thanked me for my time.

After I went back inside the flat and closed the door, I called a friend whom I knew would be up and we talked for a while, while the cats paced curiously about because they could still hear voices outside. It took a while before I felt more settled, sleepy once more, and we hung up.

But then there was knocking on the door again. One of the police types from before, requesting that I make a formal statement about what I'd told them. Which was fine, except that in the middle of it, he asked if I would be okay to look at an image of the deceased.

I flinched. "How bad is it?"

"Just try, okay?" he said nicely. "We're trying to identify him." When he showed me the image on his mobile phone, he reiterated, "It's okay. Just like in a movie."

And it was. Because in the movies, we've so often seen people with that wide-eyed stare and some sort of anonymous bloody wound. They're anonymous too, most of the dead we see in movies, as was this man.

As I was reviewing the statement before signing it, the police investigator asked me what kind of stuff I write. I picked up a copy of Singapore: A Biography and handed it to him. He did a double take --- I think he was pretty much in autopilot making-conversation mode by then, and didn't expect to be handed a big, heavy book. Then he asked me what book I was writing next.

It was close to 6 a.m. by the time the investigator left. My brain was spinning again, wondering if I was imagining the distant sound of running water --- were they cleaning the area before anyone turned up at the nearby school? Would they check the deceased's prints to figure out who he was, like they do on CSI? What must it have felt like, to look upon the same view I see everyday, and then to let go?

Everything looks normal this morning.

I wonder if the cats heard anything.

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