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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