philosophy, Singapore, Writing

Be Selfish, Be Happy, Eat Your Bacon

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Sometimes in life you just gotta escape

 

I honestly didn’t expect the blog post Siao ah, go back to Singapore for what? to attract so much attention but I can’t say I was surprised with the vitriol that followed.

Opps. I guess I had hit a raw nerve?

I read each and every comment made. Some could utterly relate to what I was saying. Some understood where I was coming from but disagreed. Some had emphatically proved my point about myopia. Others were quick to blindly dish out patriotic statements. A few had evidently mistook what was nothing more than a blog post about personal thoughts for a qualitative research paper.

At the end of the day, such discussions are good. We need discourse if society is to progress.

Such discussions are also useful  because they help weed out the empty vessels that serve no purpose in society.

Anyway, this post is not about justifying my thoughts. It is about something that was raised in the comments which I had found particularly intriguing – self-entitlement.

I don’t think I am self-entitled, but I do think I am selfish.

Is there a difference? Of course there is.

You see, while both terms do share similarities in the sense that they both pertain to the “self”, there is nevertheless a clear distinction.

I see selfishness as the act of looking out for oneself.

Self-entitlement, on the other hand, is when you expect the world to look out for you.

If I were self-entitled, I would still be in Singapore right now, whining about all those things I had whined about, and continuing to hope that one day the stars will align perfectly and everything will fall in place as I want them to.

But I wasn’t just going to sit around and waste my time complaining. I took action. In this case, it was getting out of the country.

I recently wrote an essay on the migration phenomenon and I’ve come to conclude that uprooting ourselves to move to the so-called greener pastures is ultimately about survival, though the definition of “survival” is not strictly restricted to the preservation of one’s existence. After all, I didn’t move to Shanghai because my life was in danger the same way Syrian refugees’ lives are. I moved because I knew a change of environment would help evoke an experiential awakening that I so desperately needed.

So this is my definition of survival, of evolving.

So how was I “dying”? I felt like that proverbial hamster that did nothing everyday but run on that treadmill in its cage. Not because it needed to prepare for a 50km race. Not because it needed to lose weight. Not because it wanted to impress Miss Hamster from the other cage in the pet shop.

But because running was the only thing to do in its world.

So while I wasn’t necessarily unhappy in Singapore before I left, I felt I was like trudging along with no inherent purpose to life. Back home people like to call this “wayang”or “go through the motion”. Of course, this isn’t unique to Singapore. People everywhere in the world do this. It’s a human condition that we need to fix.

When we’re young, we simply do as we’re told. When everyone in school stands up to recite the pledge, you jolly well do so as well. But did we ever question why we did what we did? Was it because we truly loved the country? Was it because we truly believed in each and every word we said? Or was it simply because we were told to do so, and since everyone was doing so, it would be rather faux pas not to follow suit?

In the army, when the platoon sergeant tells you to “knock it down”, you simply do it, even if you know you hadn’t done anything wrong. We learn not to question the system, because there’s apparently no point to it. We learn to just suck it up and move along with life, because that’s just the way it is.

These days, I feel we are so hooked on following the trends that we don’t think about what is it we truly want or love. Are you seriously going to wear a plant on your head because it’s the in thing? Are you seriously going to buy that $10,000 designer bag because it’s supposedly the symbol of success? Are you seriously going to give up eating bacon because some report says it causes cancer?

For crying out loud, it’s bacon!

As a media professional, I have learned that not everything you read online (oh yes, even the news) is true. It pays to exercise some discretion and be a skeptic but before you can do so you’ll need to think and question.

Today, I suddenly remembered this very unique project I had to do back during my poly days. In a nutshell, you could pass the assignment for not doing the assignment. Kudos to our lecturer Desmond Kon for coming up with something like that, though I have to admit I had no idea what I was doing back then.

You see, I was the typical product of the rote learning system. I had memorised dozens of pages of Chinese characters simply because the first section of the exam paper required us to fill in the blanks. I nearly flunked Chemistry and Physics because I never did understand how the damn chemical equations worked. When I asked my teachers why, they simply told me: “Don’t ask. That’s just how it works.”

I managed to score an A1 for my E-Maths paper only because I spent countless weekends at my aunt’s place languishing over 10-year-series books. My learning process was largely devoid of critical thinking and understanding how things worked. I knew what I knew simply because it was drilled into my head via monotonous repetitions. I’m glad pedagogy has progressed rather significantly since those days.

So, back to that very – in retrospect – interesting assignment about conformity and self. I still remember my friend telling me that the way to pass one of the initial assignments was not to do the assignment, and I blindly followed. I vaguely remember having to do some massive essay with a bunch of other friends as the final assignment, and I blindly followed again. At no point in time did I question the premise. The word “why” was not in my dictionary.

I was nothing more than a mindless shell.

Earlier today, I asked another course mate if people actually didn’t bother doing the assignment. Because if they did produce nothing and still managed to pass the module, it would’ve been quite a travesty – since they had in no way demonstrated that they understood the concept of the assignment. My friend told me that yes, there were people who didn’t do the assignment, but they had to explain their reasons for doing so.

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Which side of the bar are you at?

Looking back, I must concede I was grossly myopic. Admittedly, I was more concerned about hooking up with girls and playing football come the weekends. Education, to me at least, was merely a way of getting along in life.

And that’s what I have learned to abhor – just getting along; performing actions because of the perceived need to do so as part of efforts to perpetuate our existence; doing things you hate for the sake of earning money because apparently that’s the key to survival.

I’m sure many of us have experienced that moment when we pause what we’re doing and go, “Why the fuck am I still doing this??” before promptly resuming the very same activity.

“Oh! There you are!” we would tell Happiness. “Please come in!”

And just as Happiness is about to cross the threshold, we panic and quickly shut the door in its face. Because for some reason or another we think that being miserable is a lot easier. And safer.

Life’s ironic that way, I guess.

I reckon that things started to change when I went to Sydney to get my degree. There, I learned about various philosophers and their theories. There, I learned that my opinions matter. There, I learned that everything in life is subjective, and that objectivity might be achieved via democracy where subjective thoughts are amalgamated and analysed to find the common threads.

I was fascinated. Descartes was cool. Nietzsche was intriguing. Baudrillard was my hero. And I guess their philosophies were the seeds in my head that finally decided to sprout a couple of years back, the time I decided to leave Singapore.

Indeed, I could’ve, as one person commented, stayed in Singapore and fought to make a difference. But no, I wasn’t going to. I needed to be selfish. I needed new experiences.

I needed to find my self.

Why go in search of this elusive thing called self? Because I believe that life is inherently meaningless, and to make the most out of it you’ve got to give it meaning.

“One must learn to know oneself before knowing anything else. Not until a person has inwardly understood himself and then sees the course he is to take does his life gain peace and meaning,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard.

I can’t agree more.

What is it you really want out of life? What is it you wholeheartedly believe in? When you’re done answering these questions, ask yourself if you have achieved them. If you have not, why not?

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There’s only so much soft drinks can do to make one happy

Me? I want to be happy. I want to be doing things for a living that make me happy. I need to find what makes me happy; what does it take for the merry quartet of oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins to throw a rave party inside my head.

“Siao boh? Find simi self? Just earn lots of money money, then marry, then have family and die happy lah!”

This was, to me, the rhetoric on the ground back home.

Making lots of money and being able to afford many nice, shiny things in life and go on nice long trips to Europe to pose for Instagram photos in front of famous landmarks doesn’t make me happy.

Rather, it begs the question, “Surely there is a deeper, more poignant meaning to life than this?”

For the record, I have no qualms with people who think this is the way to living life. Hey, as long as they’re happy, I’m no one to judge. Good on them, they found their meaning to life.

Now, let me be selfish and find mine.

Let me eat my bacon and die without regrets.

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6 thoughts on “Be Selfish, Be Happy, Eat Your Bacon

  1. Good luck. Hope you find yours like I found mine. For those who choose to comment & tekan you, “come on la, live your life your way, we can all agree to disagree in a friendly way, right?”

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    • Enlightened says:

      What the fuck is ‘tekan’?
      Regarding the reactions he got, those sinkies were just sore and slighted. They felt slighted lah. LOL. Because he said that the existence in Singapore wasn’t (good) enough for him, and for those people, since they’re still there, it clearly is for them. Slighted lah, ego hurt.

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      • “Tekan” is a very Singaporean word for: berate, attack, vilify… it is as Singaporean as the word you’ve used ~ “lah”. Are you a little more enlightened? 😀

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    • ENLIGHTENED says:

      FYI I was born in Singapore (of course, I have left for greener pastures) and my family moved to Singapore between four generations ago (tracing all four grandparents back to Fujian and Guangdong). My family all speak either Teochew, Hokkien (mom’s side) or Mandarin only and my parents are Hua Xiao Shen. That is why we do not use malay words and I do not know any either. You think that something is Singaporean thats just from your limited perspective, even though Singapore is tiny as hell, it still has more layers and sectors than so many people have thought, you mix with people like you or whatever, and you think everyone in SG is like you but it isn’t the case and it may not even the case for most of the entire sample size.

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  2. hello,

    few weeks ago i chanced upon the post of yours that garnered quite a bit of attention; i read most of the comments just like you did and would just like to leave a few comments. just for the record — i am a singaporean given the privilege of an overseas education (from the very ‘financial powerhouse’ that you speak about), and i’m currently into my first year in london.

    i pride myself on being a humanities student who never subscribed to the mainstream combinations that headed me towards a STEM degree. i hate to admit that i cannot discount some of your points about mindless repetition, drilling and the absence of creative thinking in much of what we were doing. however, i’d disagree with some of what you said: you expressed that your learning process in math was largely devoid of critical thinking, ploughing through endless past year examination papers just to attain your desired grade. i argue that this ‘creative thinking’ process has to be omitted in the initial pursuit of greater academic goals/excellence (i.e. is there really a need to know the “philosophy of one” behind 1+1=2, when you are starting off learning to do simple sums?)

    there are some things that we realise only as we get older, eg. the importance of multiple frameworks to critically examine world/regional issues that honestly, cannot be taught in the classroom; not least when we are struggling with the basics of writing an argumentative essay. here, i urge you not to use your, arguably, “broadened” perspectives to impose ideals on what singapore should be treading on. as a 17-year-old in the classroom, the fact is you probably would be (and were) more likely to worry about your academic outcomes (final examination grade) than the skills you picked up along the way (eg. in writing and thinking).

    on this note, i’d like to give some credit to the singaporean education system for a pretty holistic education. i participated actively in notions of “creative thinking” since primary school: countless “creative writing competition”s (which may sound ludicrous to you), forced to participate in a “tan kah kee young inventor’s competition”, taking on core subjects like project work and general paper at JC level which seemed pointless and a total waste of curriculum time. but they taught me perspective. they taught me “thinking outside the box”. they taught me that our work quality and personal ideas mattered more than how much we actually knew (and aimlessly memorised).

    my tutor (in a tutorial group of 5) once casually commented that out of the 5 of us, only 2 of us looked like we knew what was going on (in our degree), and an inkling of what we were expecting in our lessons. it happened that 2 of us were international students — one from an international school in czech republic, and the other being myself. and i was gleeful to speak about the rigour of our education, that taught me widely with regard to both content and work ethics. to add on to this, now that you are arguably pretty successful in your profession to draw singapore wage equivalents, wouldn’t that make you a successful outcome of our (monotonous repetition/drilling) education system after all?

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