There is a sterility in the air in Singapore that suffocates me. It’s not something I can smell, nor something I can see, but it’s just there, like a vile blob of phlegm in your throat. You keep hacking, hoping to dislodge the godforsaken piece of irritant, but just when you thought you had swallowed or spat it out, it comes right back at ya.
That’s the sort of air in Singapore. And no, I’m not talking about the annual onset of haze that gets everyone all excited because they might not have to go to work when it hits 300 PSI.
I left because I was stifled. Perhaps it’s because Singapore is such a tiny country that life inherently becomes monotonous when you’ve resided in the place long enough. Admittedly there is little to do on this island, except maybe check out the new hipster cafe that serves artisanal coffee, or dine at the new hipster bistro that has artisanal brunch, or workout at the new hipster gym that has artisanal porcelain dumbbells.
Or perhaps it’s the self-entitled mentality that an increasing number of Singaporeans are plagued with these days. I remember fondly a friend’s tweet about a magazine intern who refused to assemble a bicycle because he or she thought she was above that. Or the story of another intern who refused to steam the clothes at a fashion show because he wanted to interact with the models instead.
Or perhaps it is because the creative scene is languishing. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of friends who are brilliantly creative. I have numerous good mates who play in bands, some who are in a contemporary acapella group, some who take kickass photos, one who specialises in the lost art of book binding, one who has devoted his life to carpentry, a couple who holds annual art exhibitions for their kids (whaaaaat?) and many others who are as passionate about creating art as Lui Tuck Yew is about raising transport fares.
It wasn’t the lack of talent that bothered me. It was the lack of support or appreciation. I felt most people couldn’t give two fucks about critical thinking and the beauty of creativity, and they just wanted to make good money and live a good life, regardless of whether they actually enjoy their careers. I couldn’t stand for that. Hell, life’s too short for that. My late puppy Maya, who left when she was just 11 months old, taught me that.
I needed to feel alive, to be doing what I loved for a living, to see the world and break out of this monotony before I was too indoctrinated to do so.
I had a great job back home in Singapore which came with awesome colleagues and a boss who baked the most incredible sea salt cookies. She also allowed me to have a good deal of autonomy which I really appreciated. I really enjoyed handling the three magazines under my charge, though they might not necessarily have been what I was thoroughly passionate in. I was getting a good pay that allowed me to indulge in the finer things in life (though admittedly that sometimes comes as part of the job perks) and one that I could afford a humble car with.
But as content as I was with the situation, it all felt part of ‘master plan’, a treacherous societal blueprint that we think we have to follow: get married between ages 27-32, have a kid within three years after marriage, post photos of your fugly kid on Facebook everyday, draw a monthly salary of at least $10K by age 30, become financially self sufficient by age 35, have an affair with someone 15 years your junior because you know not what to do with all that fucking money in your bank account, and so on.
And so I took the leap the faith, quit a job I so loved to join my wife in Shanghai, a seemingly more creative and vibrant city where I could perhaps make a name for myself.
Ha, famous last words.
You see, Shanghai is very much like Singapore. There aren’t all that many cultural attractions you can go to and there’s essentially nothing much to do except eat and drink. Sure, there are definitely more art exhibitions and creative people around, but there are also more money-obsessed individuals and mindblowingly incompetent morons. The ratio’s nearly the same. This place is probably just as bad. Look, you have people openly shitting on the streets. I’m still waiting for the day someone climbs onto the ceiling to shit on the fan.
The good thing about Shanghai, however, is the bad water. It’s full of chlorine and metal sediments. You cannot drink from the tap. Your skin gets all dry and flaky. But it’s awesome for my hair – it’s so rigid now that I only need to style it once and it’ll maintain the shape for the whole day.
To be honest, sometimes it feels as if I have wasted the past seven months of my life. The job I found at a magazine here was a joke, to say the least. While there were often too many protocols at the companies I worked at in Singapore, there were close to none here. I resigned after just six months, my shortest career stint ever. I probably could’ve dug deep and held on, and continue to amuse my friends with angsty Facebook rants, but the combination of factors like pride, principles, the inability to deal with incompetence, made me unhappy enough to call it quits.
So was it a mistake to have left everything behind for a similar wasteland? No. Experience is priceless, and as with all experiences, you level up in life, just without all that fanfare and special effects in an RPG.
Even though I did not pick up new professional skills during my regrettable stint, I discovered some things that I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t left Singapore: 1) How not to run a magazine. 2) How different cultures work. 3) How any organisation will fail if there’s no balance struck between anarchy and hierarchy.
I’m jobless now and sometimes it scares me. But with all this free time on my hands, I finally get what I never could in Singapore – pursue my personal projects and perhaps write a book. So no, I don’t regretting leaving Singapore.
But ask me again after I have stepped on human waste on the sidewalk, or when I become bald from a chlorine overdose.