Sunday, 7 February 2010

Aiya One Year To Go Only!

My family had our Chinese New Year reunion dinner a whole week earlier because of crowd aversion. Also, we are well aware of the skyrocketed prices and potentially poor service during the maddening frenzy of CNY's eve, so everyone was in agreement to celebrate in advance.

One of the lingering conversation topics circled around university graduation. Whenever I reply to some aunt or uncle that I have a year left to go when asked of my graduation, I'm 'consoled' with something along the lines of "oh, aiya one year to go only, just hang in there lah, soon you'll finally be done with studying and then you'll be able to find a job and start work. Besides, the economy is picking up so it's good."

I am grateful for their good intentions because I believe that they truly mean well for me. But it is interesting how reflective this is of my family's socioeconomic background and class, and even further, how our particular socioeconomic background and class is especially embedded in very Singaporean attitudes.

For one, to my largely middle class family, education is a good to have, but work and money still walks the talk at the end of the day. The fees of tertiary education is something to be grappled with, sometimes even toeing the limits of tolerance. Now that I've even had a university education, it's time to cash in on the 'luck' of being endowed with some-whatever degree. Even more implicit is the idea that tertiary education is a bonus, because I'm not expected to enjoy my time studying. The common consensus is - who on earth likes to study this stuff anyway? The four years in university is most importantly a means to another end, not an end in itself.

This is corroborated by my other same-age cousins who talk about university in modest (or even deprecative) fashion, and can't wait to get it done with to embark on the real world out there, with the very honest intention of finally being able to prove one's worth (which has nothing to do with being academically inclined), support the family and repay what one has owed to the folks for so long.

In particular, I can sense the pride one of my uncles has, because his son and daughter have both finally graduated and are earning their own keep, even if their jobs aren't particularly very high-flying or promising in terms of wages or advancement.

I think this is a strongly Singaporean attitude because most of it can be found in our booming middle class. This seems like a circular argument where the issue often ends up being chicken-egg - did the booming middle class lead to Singaporean attitudes or vice versa - but whatever it is, education in our meritocratic society is regarded largely in very pragmatic terms by most of us. The middle class/the most Singaporean of the lot doesn't study to further causes, knowledge or ideas, he does so to ensure a 'decent' job, to keep himself safely away from the bottom of the competitve heap, and to avoid unnecessary troubles in life. This is, of course, a generalization. People do care sometimes if their jobs are prestigious, especially as one rises in social class. But once more, what the education was isn't quite the real deal ultimately.

With this in mind, I never let them in on my desire to further my education, because I can imagine the gasps of horror when this fella here states his psychotic intention of adding four more years of studying after finally graduating. What on earth could I possibly be thinking? Who in his right mind would want to repeat that school nonsense all over again? Explanation would be futile because no one would understand, and they'd gleefully team up to beat me into pulp and wake me up to my senses.

Hopefully the reality of the path I've chosen can speak for itself in a year's time. It does make me feel sheepish or guilty somewhat at times when I look at my aspirations in relation to others. But in the end, I do know what I really want at the end of the tunnel.

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