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September 2011 Archives

Universal

Despite being a father of two and spending most of my nights parenting them, I sometimes find myself guilty of the trait that irks parents all over the world:

Petulance.

Some weeks ago I headed down to the basketball courts for a decent evening’s workout, but found the community centre transformed beyond recognition. Though these two basketball courts were well frequented by teenagers who lived in the east, I wasn’t prepared to see a whole carnival of around 50 Filipino men playing full-court basketball on both courts.

A wave of heated emotion ran over me, and I let my temper simmer within me.

“Our community centre got overrun”, I thought to myself. Many other ugly thoughts clouded my mind, most of them revolving around having a country which I paid for in time (national service) and taxes forcibly taken away from me by a swarm of locusts who were using my home as a stepping stone to a better life…yadda yadda yadda.

I felt like gatecrashing - just standing at the rim and shooting my basketball without caring about whether these Filipinos were in the middle of their game. Heck, I’m a true-blooded Singaporean; surely I deserved that right.

I sulked for quite a while, before a few of the Filipino men called out to me and asked me to play with them on the next team. I accepted the invitation, bitter taste still lingering in my mouth.

It only took a few minutes before we were passing the ball around, engaged in the pretty universal dance that basketball is. We were laughing at each other’s misses and high-fiving when a good play was executed well. And I began to remember how different we are, compared to them.

It’s an odd thing, because you’d assume that when I was done sulking, I’d have this whole revelation about how we’re all one, kumbayah sorta thing. But when you’re really in the zone, you realise that harmony is not achieved through enforcing uniformity, but through the celebration of diversity. Through the course of our game, I learned how warm the Filipinos are as a people; how seriously they take their basketball, but also how they prize the playing of the game over its outcome.

I learned that I have much to learn from them.

It would be a mistake to expect the different cultures within Singapore to assimilate into one singular identity and erase the diversity that has made us strong. We ought to forge a home where we can accept others for who they are, and expect the same kindness and freedom to be reciprocated unto us.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I am a writer.

This is the story of my life.

For the longest time, as far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. For much of my childhood there always existed a manuscript of some sort, stashed away in a drawer or in the deepest compartments of my schoolbag. The physical embodiment of unfinished dreams. The great novel waiting to be written, now a memory strewn by the traffic of life.

Over the course of many years my dreams of being a writer reshaped and reformed itself, the winds of pragmatism slowly carving its canyon walls. At 12 years of age, fearing the high failure rate that accompanied writing for a living, I compromised and laid my aspirations to teach English literature instead.

Sort of like in the movie Mr Holland’s Opus. If you haven’t watched it, you should. Story of my life.

Till I was 16 anyway.

Long story short, my results from the major examinations weren’t what I thought they were supposed to be, and I found myself having to compromise on my life goals yet again. For lack of a better alternative I chose to study business. Those years were spent learning to apply empathy on a different plane, and helped lay a foundation I didn’t know then I’d need for pretty much every job I’ve worked at since.

A failed attempt at entrepreneurship early on taught some really tough lessons: the metallic taste of fear when the balance in your bank account was so low you’d buy a loaf of bread because you couldn’t afford a hot meal at the hawker centre. How you’d cover the screen at the ATM not for want of privacy but out of embarrassment.

The next chapter in my life revolves around working in the public sector, a path I had chosen to fulfill a debt of gratitude.

It’s been a few years in the public service, and it is an appropriate juncture in my life to remind myself not to be defined by the roles I take on, and to find the common thread that enables work to be a rewarding part of life; to remember the person I am.

It might have taken a great many different forms, but it is suffice to say that I have lived out my childhood aspirations of being a writer. Whether photograph or paragraph, UI or UX, I’ve always found the most joy in creating something elegant that elicits an emotional response. I am extremely heartened when people tell me that the sharing of my personal experiences on this blog helps them through their own tough patches. It’s been a few years removed, but I still swell with pride when someone tells me they appreciate the thought I put into designing and building the Ministry of Education website.

To share a smile, or move us both to tears; there is a great need to refocus our efforts on things that really, really matter, and be true to the person we were created to be.

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