Speaking Out

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I work in the public service and I have a fairly awesome job.

I’ve been at it in some form or other for almost ten years now. Many days during these ten years were spent focused on a vision in my head of the person I’m making a difference to: whether the father of a newborn who’s thankful that he now has one week of paternity leave to spend with his family in this very crucial time; or the student who doesn’t quite fit into the traditional academic mould, and now has a number of options because different pathways such as sports and the arts have been set up for our young ones to pursue.

My role in all of these might be extremely minor, but the knowledge that the hours I put in contributed a little towards making lives better for someone else out there is what has kept me going all these years.

I’ll be honest — recently it has grown harder and harder to hang on.

It is difficult to ignore the unkind words that are hurled at my colleagues and me on a daily basis. You need not go very far into the online space to read what people say about us public servants. We are depicted as thieves who steal money from our fellow citizens in order to enrich ourselves; or as weaklings incapable of independent thought, waiting every moment to pander to the wishes of superiors in the hope of promotion and pay. In forums you will read about how the government is heartless and blatantly ignores the plight of the poor, despite the fact so many public servants work tirelessly to take care of the disadvantaged among us.

These negative words affect us profoundly, and I’m asking that we stop this. The only way public servants can continue to serve in an environment that exposes them to constant abuse is to care less. I have seen so many wonderful people who have a heart for service leave because they no longer saw the good their work produced in the lives of citizens. It had been drowned out by hurled insults and sarcastic snide remarks. It is true that public service is a calling and requires some level of sacrifice, but the costs to personal health and well-being have become unnecessarily insurmountable.

I am not saying things are perfect in our country and nothing needs to be changed. On the contrary, we live in a world that is experiencing a tremendous rate of change in so many facets, bringing challenges at many junctures. A close partnership between the public service and the citizens it serves is our best chance at navigating the future that lies ahead and creating the Singapore we want for our loved ones.

We need to find a way to talk to each other, and discover that we have much to learn from each others’ perspectives, however different from our own. Only then can we grow together as a nation — a people equipped to comprehend the complexity of our unique position in our collective history, making decisions together that will translate into better lives for every citizen.

The Better Part of Me

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It is one of those seasons — where there is so much to do my head is spinning and the daily grind threatens, at any moment, to pull me under a current filled with fear, self-doubt and flat-out exhaustion. Yet here I am, 4 in the morning, unable to sleep as a thousand thoughts run like a sped-up loop in my head.

I get out of my futile attempt to sleep, because there is something deep inside that needs to be written; a thanksgiving that needs to be shared.

My workday — and I suspect many of yours out there — goes something like this: the first part of the day is spent laying tasks out, and then you get about your work, crushing the to-do list. You start to feel the immense weight of your in-tray at around 4pm, where your plan to “go home on time” faces inevitable vapourisation when pressed against the reality of deadlines. It is that moment where you take a deep breath and dig in, and if the road has been inordinately long, you find nothing. You’ve been running on fumes so long that there’s really nothing left but a dark and empty void at the pit of your stomach.

But this isn’t what I want to share. It is about the measure of grace — the light that Tolkien wrote about.

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

My wife has been the bringer of God’s grace for me during this time. Just when things threaten to overwhelm me, my phone buzzes with a message from her. A short video of Joshi trying to haul his humongous behind in an attempt to stand; Caleb doing a hilarious interpretation of his sister’s Chinese Wushu sequence; Anne’s voice in the background, excited at whatever activity they were embarking on.

Faith, like many other homemakers, sometimes feels that she isn’t contributing as much as she could because she isn’t out there “earning money”. Those are such foolish thoughts, implanted into minds by an irrational and (dare I say it) demonic drive towards materialism. We have devalued the invaluable and traded in the priceless for the worthless. The little moments that Faith sends me — these moments of my children’s lives, can never be bought, redeemed or clawed back once they are gone.

I am so blessed that she is there for these moments, and that my children have their mother with them. She is the better extension of myself, the best part of me, and there is nothing greater I can provide for my children whom I love more than life itself.

Not On Our Watch

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72 years ago to the day, Singapore was ceded to the Japanese. The unconditional surrender came after a week of battle. It was the start of a horrific chapter in our nation’s history.

Our eyes are so affixed on the here and now these days, with our online newsfeeds on our mobile devices constantly buzzing with who’s done what right this moment, that we have become such self-absorbed individuals. So much of our online utterances are filled with outrage at how screwed up other people are, how governments are failing us or why we’re not getting the life we deserve.

As I stood at the Civilian War Memorial in the heart of the city waiting for the military parade to begin, I took some time to recall all the stories I heard about Singapore during World War 2: how my teacher’s dad was rounded up along with hundreds and hundreds of men who were brought to the beaches where they dug their own graves before being shot in the back, and bayonetted as they lay on the sand. Her father escaped by feigning death. 25,000 to 50,000 people were killed in Singapore and Malaya during the three years of the Japanese Occupation. Fathers, brothers, sons.

Can you imagine how many families were broken apart, and how many promising lives were cut short? My heart grows so heavy at the thought and rage slowly starts to fill it. I try to contain myself.

A minute’s silence was observed.

As the monument grounds fill with soldiers and their families, there is a sense of renewed, steely resolve not to ever let this happen to us again. A pair of grandparents I spoke to told me how proud they were of their grandson. Along with the rest of his fellow recruits, he would be receiving his rifle at the parade today. They smiled as they said that the little boy they knew had now grown up to take his place as a man.

It has been more than a decade since I was their age, and it felt surreal to watch these young men forcefully claim their rifles out of their commanders’ grasp; that defending our way of life would fall also on the strength of these youths. My mind instinctively thinks “they’re so young”, but the ache in my knees reminds me of how time has flown by. In the course of the next 2 years, these young men will be made ready.

We all hope that our children may know only days of peace, prosperity and happiness. But our hope is tempered with the reality that hard-nosed vigilance is our defence. We resolve not to let history repeat itself on our watch.

Recollection

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Dearest Faith,

It’s Valentine’s Day, and it has been our yearly tradition to ignore it. Flowers are waaaay overpriced, eating places are packed to the max and there’s this tinge of capitalism in every street corner. There are two things that we always have at home: love and chocolate. And both don’t need a special day on the calendar to be shared and enjoyed.

But I promised the bunch of Dads that I’d contribute to this synchronised expression of appreciation to our wives.

We have spent almost two thirds of our lives together. I need only close my eyes and remember the things God has brought us through, and I’m thankful that you have been a constant encouragement all these years.

You were there when I:

  • sat for my ‘O’ Levels with trepidation because I wasn’t a very good all-round student. You believed in me and told me I was smart no matter what the report card said.
  • saw my universe shatter because I didn’t do well enough to go to a junior college - any junior college. All I wanted to do was to teach English literature. It was my life’s goal till then, and I didn’t have a plan B. You prayed with me.
  • found education at a polytechnic practical and applicable. You rejoiced with me.
  • went through the two and a half year rite of passage that is National Service, where I learned to proudly fulfill my duty to God, family and country. You were so proud of me. When I put on the uniform for my annual in-camp training, you still smile that same smile: half sad that we have to be apart, but so quietly beaming with pride.
  • had to choose an overseas university to attend because I didn’t think I could make the local universities. You went to Bestway building with me to help chart my next few years which I would spend away from you. You hoped with me even at great cost to yourself.
  • saw everything from so many different perspectives, in a university halfway round the globe. You listened as I waxed lyrical about astronomy, philosophy, science, mathematics, medieval literature and modern poetry. You stood in awe with me, as effusive as I was at how amazing God must be to have put all this in place.
  • came home, intent on marrying the girl who had patiently waited for me. You married me; became my bride, an inseparable part of who I was - no - who we are. That we might pursue the Lord together.
  • went broke trying to start my own business. You comforted me, lifting my spirits up by reminding me that I was working hard despite not having much, or anything, to show for it.
  • thought I had totally lost my sanity because of my battle with hyperthroidism. You prayed for me and strengthened me.
  • became a first-time father. You sat beside me in the dark of night, trying to figure out this parenting thing.
  • chose to make Singapore better by working inside the bureaucracy of bureaucracies. You were - and still are - my constant companion down this sometimes lonely road and helped lighten the enormous weight of public service that sometimes gets me down.

I thank God for you, my sweetest companion as we continually learn how to place Christ at the centre of all of life’s seasons and events. These days we remind each other that even if all this ended here and now, we have been recipients of a gift so infinitely more than we deserved.

My prayer for us both is that we be faithful to that which has been entrusted to us. For everyone who has been given much, much will be required. We have been given plenty, that we might serve all the more joyfully. I am truly blessed to have you by my side.

Bearing Fruit

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“I want to do work!”

It was Caleb’s bedtime and I was pooped after a day’s work. Trying to get him to bed, but failing miserably. Anne was still up finishing her homework, and Caleb insisted on doing work as well.

Half suspecting that it was a ploy of his to get out of his room to play but too tired to outlast his persistence (he rolled around in bed three times before sitting up and protesting that he wanted to be doing work as well), I let the little boy out of bed.

I pulled myself up, went out and saw the two older kids sitting at the dining table beside Faith, both hard at work; Anne finishing her Chinese and Caleb starting on maths. Having shied away from homework pretty much all my life, this scene was mind-boggling.

I stood there amazed at the work of my amazing wife who put aside her career because we thought it was more important to properly invest in the intangibles of our children. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful partner in parenting: someone to pray with and depend on.

There is so much to thank God for.

About

The weblog of Lucian Teo who resides in Singapore. He is husband to the most beautiful wife, father to the most amazing kids. Photographer, storyteller, all-round nice guy [citation needed].

He also blogs about Gov2.0, Storytelling, User Experience Design and Social Media at blog.lucianteo.com.

He can be contacted at lucian@tribolum.com.

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