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Monday, 9 August 2010

Personal dreams shaped by 45 years of Singapore nationhood

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In half an hour, the National Day Parade will begin with great pomp and circumstance at the Padang. For the next two-and-a-half hours, the nation will be treated to the annual celebration of Singapore's independence. This year is our 45th National Day (i.e. Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965) and the theme is for all Singaporeans to live their dreams.

What were my dreams?

When I was a young boy, my dreams were really quite materialistic. Be rich. Own a thriving business. Be famous. Or, you know, be a politician (which is akin to being a celebrity in Singapore). Looking back, I had perhaps been subconsciously indoctrinated into the whole "5Cs" dream, i.e. to have Cash, Condominium apartment, Credit cards, Car and Country club membership.

What wasn't subconscious was that to attain that dream, I would need to study hard, earn straight A's in my exams and get a degree from a reputable university.

The thing is, by the time I entered university, I had more-or-less realized that being rich and famous wasn't really all it was cracked up to be. Perhaps it was because of where I studied, but I became more idealistic. My dreams were now of intangibles like freedom and personal happiness and gaining knowledge outside of books.

But reality set in and those dreams were brushed aside for more pragmatic demands, like earning a steady income, rising up the corporate ladder, and -- ultimately -- marrying and having children.

The funny thing is that those are exactly what any work-a-day person can hope to achieve if he follows the "study hard, get straight A's" route. Everyday, there are stories of people who've achieved the 5Cs by not following that straight and broad path. Everyone else with a university degree has become an "office monkey".

What's my dream now?

Today, my dreams are more down-to-earth. Save enough to own an apartment and hopefully not a hole in the wall. Grow my nest egg that I'm not a beggar when I'm old and incapable of being productive. And yes, I still want to have my own family with the girl of my dreams.

What other dreams are there?

There is that dream of being my own boss. Which feeds back to my youthful dream of being rich and famous, though I think at the back of my mind, as long as I don't go into bankruptcy, then that should be fine for me.

Or the other dream of being a filmmaker. Yes, I know, that's the path to poverty in Singapore unless you are blessed with a sizable inheritance. I figure that all I really need is to make one film to satiate myself.

One other dream is not really a dream, but a passion to inculcate environmental responsibility in everyone. (This coming from a person who still takes long baths.) Which hopefully leads to the path of becoming a politician, because nothing happens in Singapore unless a person in Government says so.

If I don't achieve my dreams, can I still be happy?

Someone asked me the other day, "Are you happy?" My immediate answer was "yes".

Though my first instinct was to say "No," though not because I am unhappy. I am always reminded of this story that I studied in university. I can't remember the title or the author or the characters, but I know that it's a Greek tale. There was this wise man who was quite rich and famous. So the king asked him if he was happy. He said "no". Later on, at two other different times in the wise man's life, even as life got better for him, he would still say "no" when the king asked him if he was happy.

Exasperated, the king asked him why he was unhappy if he had everything that the gods had granted. To which the wise man said, "I can only know whether I am happy or not after I've completed living my life." By this, he meant that you could not know when is your happiest moment till after you've lived every moment, and then you can look back and identify the happiest one.

My personal reading is that, while happiness is important, it is far better to be content with what life has given me. So my real answer to that person should be "I am content." I can't really complain about my life. As long as there are people worse off than me, even in prosperous Singapore, I feel that I don't have a right to complain.

Dreams are lofty. I am content.

Happy 45th Birthday, Singapore!

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