Humour, Writing

Taking the plunge, without a condom


June 9 was my second anniversary in Shanghai.

I first came here with the mindset that I would definitely return to Singapore after three years. After all, Singapore was home. Singapore was where I wanted to raise my kid (nope, no bun in the oven yet). Singapore was where I want to climb the career ladder.

I started my career in the media industry as a photo sub-editor. I then became an assistant section editor with a newspaper. I had my own photo byline. I was winning newsroom awards. I got to appear on television. Hell, it sure looked as if I was getting somewhere.

Another company then came knocking with a job that I wasn’t too keen on, so I just threw a figure at the HR woman. As it turned out, they were willing to offer me just that. My head was turned. I told myself that I would move. For the money.

A few months later I was running a couple of publications. It felt good. My blueprint to life looked as if it was coming together very nicely. Next? Climb the ladder, get more pay, be someone of influence, drive an Audi.

Audi cars are nice. BMWs are nice too. But they’re meant for assholes.

One random day, while driving my second-hand, 8-year-old Mazda 3, the wife and I spoke about working overseas for a couple of years. It sounded like a good idea. It reminded me of the fun times I had when I was studying in Sydney. Some time later, she told me she received a substantial offer from a company in Shanghai.

I said let’s move. Again, for the money.

Fuck this Mazda 3. I want an Audi. Or one of those sports cars that go Pssssssssst.

Ironically, my first job in Shanghai paid me just 50% of what I was earning in Singapore. I convinced myself that I would do this solely for the experience. Treat it like an investment. Learn the local culture. Immerse myself in a different working environment.

Many things about China irritated me when I first arrived. People rushing into lifts before I could get out. People rushing into trains before I could get out. People rushing to cut your queue before you even enter the queue. People spitting on the streets. People peeing on the streets. People shitting on the streets.

Having a horrid first job here certainly helped fuel the contempt I had for this place. It also convinced me that Shanghai was nothing more than a short stop.

But it wasn’t just the perils of the new job that bothered me – what made it worse was the realisation that I had given up a good job and great colleagues in Singapore to end up in a mess like this. I knew I had wasted months of my life that I would never get back on this failed project.

I had never failed in life before. 

Well, except for that one essay assignment in university. It was worth 50%. I had gone off-point. The lecturer told me that I had flunked the assignment so bad that I needed to ace the end-of-semester exam (worth the other 50%) to pass the module.

And I did just that. I did mind maps. I memorised chunks of text. I had never put in so much effort in studying for an exam in my life.

Why was I afraid to fail? Maybe it was due to the environment in which I was raised. In Singapore, failure is not an option. It was always the carrot and stick approach. Do well, earn this. My parents always dangled new toys in exchange for good grades  in primary school. I had ALOT of toys. Transformers. MASK. Ninja Turtles. Batman. Name it, I probably owned it.

Things went downhill in secondary school. No more carrot and stick. After all, they couldn’t give me girlfriends.

Also, failing this university module meant that I would have to re-take the damn subject, possible resulting in a longer-than-expected stay in Australia, which in turn meant spending more money.

Money. Money. Money.

But now, my first failure in life seemed imminent. It had only been three months into this Shanghai job but I knew I would not last the minimum 2-year occupancy period I had set for myself.

It’s okay, I told myself. I would settle for just a year.

Four months into the job. I started having anxiety attacks. Not because I did not know how to do my job, but because everything about it was wrong, to me at least. I could not understand why people would work in that particular manner. I could not understand how a human being could be so disorganised.

I became so depressed that I lost five kilos over the next two months, quite an achievement considering how I didn’t manage to shed any weight for years despite a semi-active lifestyle back in Singapore.

I would break out in cold sweat. I would resort to drowning my sorrows.

I knew I wasn’t going to make the 1-year mark.

And then something snapped. Thankfully it wasn’t my sanity.

I looked into the mirror and went, “What the fuck are you doing? It’s just a fucking job. Fuck it. For once in your fucking life, go LOCO. Go YOLO.”

Just six months into the job, I quit. For the first time in my life, I did so without having another job lined up.

I had failed. Terribly.

But strangely enough, I was happy to just let the winds carry me away in this hot air balloon that I have built for myself.

I did freelance work during those months of unemployment and rediscovered my love for writing. I had no official working hours to abide to. I had no direct boss to report to. Life slowed down to the point where I could better savour the little things that matter.

More importantly, I became detached from the norm; the system; the matrix. From this hot air balloon of mine I see things from above, from a macro perspective never once available to me.

And this deliberate isolation has turned out to be an empowerment. Because it was only when I wasn’t bogged down by all that stress and the usual humdrum of working life that I managed to see the world differently.

I was able to effectively compare and contrast life here and life back in Singapore. When this happened, a lot of the preconceived notions about China disintegrated. A lot of the beliefs I once held when living in Singapore came under scrutiny.

I came to realise that life in Shanghai is in many aspects (not all) actually more affordable and convenient. Not everyone here is a crook. Not everyone here is uncouth. Yes, it can at times be a crazy cowboy town but that’s the beauty of it. The intermittent blurring of lines in this society – between sterility and creativity, chaos and order – is utterly fascinating. It makes the city a multi-dimensional entity.

Singapore, in contrast, appears like a one-dimensional stick figure, defined by its clean, rigid strokes. Sure, stick figures are easy to understand. But they’re also lifeless.

I’ve recently signed a contract extension with the company I’m working for. I won’t return to Singapore till at least after July 2017. Actually, I’m not even sure if I would return next year. Maybe 2018? 2019? I’ll see where the wind blows. It’s no longer imperative that I have to return.

Besides, there’s little reason to go home. Even my parents are in the midst of moving away from Singapore. They say it’s too expensive.

I say it’s too oppressive, too.

The recent Cooling-Off Day arrests made me sad and angry. To be honest, if I were still in Singapore, I would’ve probably just shrugged the whole thing off and said,”Aiyah, just another bunch of jokers trying to mess with the government. Serves them right.”

I know it’s a little ironic I’m saying this considering how I’m currently residing in China where human rights aren’t all that better. But as a Singaporean, there’s a natural affinity to love and hate your own country.

I suppose it’s a little similar to parenting. Most of us would never attempt to cane someone else’s kid but we would have no qualms disciplining ours.

I’ve read a blog post written in response to one of my earlier posts that said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

While citizens have a part to play in not being jackasses and creating chaos, a government is ultimately supposed to be serving its people. No?

It’s funny how many of us only get to see our ministers in the lead-up to the general elections when they suddenly appear at our doorsteps and speak of this desire to serve our needs. Some of them then seemingly disappear for three years and a few months before reappearing to make the same statements.

Another thing that we hear every general election is the need for us to play it safe and vote the ruling party back in.

Because they’re seasoned. Because they’re the safest bet. Because the opposition are filled with noobs who have zero experience in running a town council.

I’m guessing a good number of people within that 70% majority thought this way during the last GE. I can’t say I blame them. I might’ve done the same (alas, I missed the overseas registration deadline and didn’t get to vote). I mean, why gamble on the future of the country with a largely uncredible opposition?

And so we Singaporeans decide to play it safe. We like to wear condoms over our personalities, our identities. Some call it being kiasee. Some call it apathy.

We think that by keeping our mouths shut, nothing bad will happen. We are taught to always stand behind the yellow line, because you might just fall onto the train tracks. We are taught not to be “itchy-backside” and burst this safety bubble. Everything will be fine and dandy if you just move along with life.

Pay your taxes, your ERP charges, your conservancy charges and what have you. Don’t think. Just do it. Else the rubber might tear. Bad things lurk outside the rubber.

Play it safe.

Some have said that you can take a Singaporean out of Singapore, but you can’t take Singapore out of the Singaporean. It’s very true.

Even here in China, my Singaporean friends would scowl at me for buying or eating “too local”. They say it’s not safe, it’s not worth the risk. When I first arrived, a friend told me never to eat anything that costs less than 40RMB ($8). Just recently, she scolded me for buying my contact lens from China. She said it’s safer to buy from Singapore because there’s “more quality control”.

I told her to YOLO a little. But this is me, now.

I would’ve probably agreed with her two years ago.

Admittedly, I erected many walls when I first came to Shanghai, desperate to maintain my own standards and avoid getting too sinified. Now, I’ve taken off that condom to explore this cavernous place. And it has injected in me new experiences in life that has given birth to fresh perspectives.

Let’s be honest and open and it — no matter how thin a condom is, it always feels better not to have it on.

Of course, exercise common sense. Don’t fuck everything.

Come think of it, two years is a pretty short time. But so much has changed.

I first came to Shanghai determined to harness professional experience that would pave the way to success. I guess I ended up with something much more poignant than that.

I’m now paid more than that first job but still lesser than what I got in Singapore. I can’t be too extravagant in my life. But that’s fine with me.

I guess I don’t really covet money that much anymore.

I no longer harbour ambitions of scaling the career ladder like before. Instead, the focus is on honing my craft. I want to write a book some day. I’m currently 4670 words into a novella but I don’t think it’s all that interesting.

You know what? I think I’ll start all over and explore another topic and genre.

I guess I’m not that afraid to fail anymore.

I’ve said this several times before and I’ll say it again — it pays to eject ourselves from the confines of comfort and see the world for a bit.

Take off that condom. Turn it into a hot air balloon.



















21 thoughts on “Taking the plunge, without a condom

  1. Andrea Torti says:

    A great – and edgy – analogy 😉

    In my opinion, failing (and bouncing back) is a normal step of life: I’ve had my own share of trouble while attending college, too!

    The more a society tries to deny failure, the more people will feel forced do everything to avoid it – no matter what.

    Best wishes for your new endeavours – btw, should you become a father, I’m sure you will be able to raise your kids without resorting to caning – but that’s just my “lax and Western” point of view 😛


  2. We have close friends who have lived in Shanghai for a long time, and given its long history, I think Shanghai is a lot more civilised than some other (or maybe ALL??) parts of China. It’s a great city!

    Anyway, the MPs are there if you are in their scope of work. They’re at the HDB block parties, block visits, kindergarten graduations, cultural events, Community Centre activities like family talks, school sports days, etc. Not to mention Meet the People Sessions. Almost every other hawker stall has a photo of them with the MP; sometimes a few photos taken over the years. Over the years I have seen my MP quite a few times I even know which is the MP’s car. I have seen the hard work and I would vote for this individual. But of course, with a young family, I’m in my neighbourhood and at these events a lot 🙂


    • Delighted Ex Singaporean says:

      I find your choice of word “civilized” ironic and funny here because China is the world’s oldest continuous civilization. It has a massive population, so not everyone is rich. Chinese culture and history itself are very rich and immense, very vast with a lot going on from TCM to opera to languages to tea. It is Singapore that does not have a civilization yet its people (mainly the younger people below 35 and the singlish speaking crowd, not the Chinese speaking ones) now pretend to be civilized and holier than thou it is absolutely hilarious. They are the ones who are devoid of culture, history, civilization and a soul. It is sad really. State enforced sterility where people had to be threatened with fines so they wouldn’t spit or pee in elevators (don’t even deny it, pang jio in HDB elevators were still very common up until the late 90s I distinctly remember signs were placed in HDB elevators and when the CCTV was invented by the west, HDB installed it in the elevators in the news it came out as to catch the gross Singaporeans who pang jio in the HDB elevator) is hardly civilization or the state of being civilized. And this was common all through the 80s and 90s, and had nothing to do with foreigners.

      By the way I am using American English (the word elevator is American, we do not use ‘lift’) because I am so happy I got the fuck out of Singapore.


      • Delighted Singaporean says:

        Ever heard of the Cultural Revolution by the Communist Party in the 60s? The CPC has killed off the ancient Chinese virtues among its citizens and has instead introduced its crooked communist values into the society. Their culture, history, and teachings from the past Chinese civilizations are already long gone and forgotten. So yes, Singaporeans are much more civilized and socially advanced than the PRCS,and I am also very happy that you have gotten the fuck out of Singapore.



        well done on your etymologically selective usage of English and your need to point it out – there’s nothing much significant, in Singapore we use the Queen’s English anyway.


      • Delighted Ex Singaporean says:

        I posted a reply a few days ago and it didn’t appear. Is the blogger practicing censorship? No amount of censorship is gonna change the fact that Singapore has nothing so I sincerely advise the blogger not to bother practicing it in vain.


      • Delighted Ex Singaporean says:

        Delighted Singaporean:
        You should try to rise above the inferior education that you received in Singapore by referring to the dictionary and checking what the word ‘civilization’ means. Civilizations are generally at least a thousand years old and have produced many original cultural developments and inventions. Your poor English has caused you to react to my exposé in a most embarrassing way. The word ‘civilization’ in what I was saying had nothing to do how high you think your level of decorum is.

        I note that you went guiltily silent on my exposé on how you Sinkaporeans pang jio in the HDB elevators all the time as a matter of habit less than 10 years ago lol so even on that count that you were striving (even though you went out of point) you failed miserably. Your guilty admission is duly noted.

        Your line of defense is cliché, something I totally expected of an island frog. Island frogs had never left an island measuring 700km sq for very long so island frogs’ perspective of the world is…the well! It thinks that the world is the size of the well it is in. You’re projecting your microstate perspectives from your well onto real countries and big countries and it is embarrassing to watch. Did you think you were the first fool on the internet to cite the Culture Revolution? Cliche boring sai. What do you think China has the same number of people as Sinkapore is it? Lost culture…what an idiot. You have clearly never left SG. Why don’t you ask your blogger friend if the various arts and culture of China is gone in China or strongest in China (as compared to anywhere else)? He still has a long way to go and lots more to learn, he’s only lived in China for such a short time, why don’t you ask him if there is any place on the planet more Chinese than China..I never met anybody as dumb as you but seeing you’re from SG and are one of the frogs who never left, I’m not the least surprised.

        All in all I can tell that you are an idiot frog like the others on your tiny island.

        Now let’s get to the fun part where you are really exposed!
        Lets see what Singapore has. How about a big fat nothing? I never met anybody from a country less than 200 years old who dares to compare culture with China you must be a real life idiot who fails in every area of your life, even in Singapore where the “pool” is a pond and not an ocean which says a lot. There isn’t anything that originated from Singapore. Even food, a common cultural marker worldwide, I can’t think of any dish that came from here except laksa. Stroll through any food center and kopitiam, 90% of the dishes for sale in any kopitiam and food center are Southern Chinese in origin (with one stall for the muslims either a malay stall or an Indian muslim one). Singapore did invent the COE but it isn’t considered culture. Another thing that Singapore invented and not replicated elsewhere like the COE is super wide scale, Communist/Marxist public housing system where the housing is built, sold and controlled by the state to over 90% of the people.. that is invented in Singapore, it carried out Marxism to the full scale not found anywhere else, not in China, Russia..but I don’t think HDB counts as “culture”. There, go and shout to the world about how you have COE and HDB as your culture. What a big fat loser.


    • Delighted Ex Singaporean says:

      Singapore has nothing really. Really nothing. No history, no culture and no land. I really wonder where the singlish speaking young people there find the wherewithal to feel all that nationalism and feel so proud to turn their backs from their ethnic heritage, propaganda really works wonder, coupled with ignorance it is a potent combination.


  3. wiiiii says:

    Shanghai is AWESOME dude, you have to explore more!! In my opinion its a huge version of Singapore, without big brother always watching you.. As a Singaporean in Shanghai, you are so much more appreciated and well respected in EVERY way.(thanks to the education system which forced us to learn English and Mandarin so well) I too took the plunged and first stepped into Shanghai on an internship stint for 6 months and LOVED it so much i extended my stay to a year. I have got so much more good things to say about it but I totally agree with everything you mentioned especially the one about being YOLO.. HAHA, the world is your oyster, even if i wasn’t born in Singapore, i would still find a reason to get out and experience other country and their cultures because that’s just how you should live your life.. I am glad that I have had the chance to work in countries like Australia and China but I would say anything less than 5 years is not enough to truly experience the whole lot.. I am now working towards my goal of working in Japan… Because once you tasted “independence out of Singapore”, you will always look forward to getting out of SG.. ALL THE TIME… So my friend, life is short, enjoi it while you can 🙂


  4. excellent writing and a good reminder to Singaporeans that there is so much more to life than school results and BWMs. I can see that your life will only get more interesting! Thanks for sharing.


  5. Szilard says:

    A brilliant article, substitute the countries’ names with some others and it could almost be my story too. But I think the author’s life turned out this fortunate because he was willing to take the plunge in the first place without anyone instructing him to do so. Sad fact, but the majority of people will not, no matter what opportunities open up for them. And they are the MAJORITY; they make up most societies of this planet, so from the system’s point of view, it’s enough to keep windows of opportunity constantly open for the few willing to take them and shape the system to suit the majority. If you enforce this lifestyle on people who generally choose to whine and blame instead of thinking ahead and taking action, and who go orgasmic over driving a large corporate Mercedes for being some corporation’s galley slave in return, you’ll have disastrous results as a society. Also, this kind of lifestyle suits the mindset of the “If you earn 200, make sure you don’t spend more than 100.” kind of people, while the masses think “If you earn 100, borrow another 100 and spend 200.” As an outsider, I find it strange this article generates so much criticism and dispute about Singapore, an economic success story of the 20th century, after all. Which means the system – whatever system it was – must have suited the mindset of the majority of the population, otherwise there would have been no kind of success story at all. I naturally say all this with due respect to the opinions of all Singaporeans commenting here, I didn’t live your lives there, after all. You are the ones to tell if there were attempts by the system to brainwash people into being obedient employees with no desire for freedom or not – I can’t. But if there were any, the author sure proved immune to them! I’m from a small country in Eastern Europe that had a much rougher 20th century than Singapore did, during which it never had the luck to shape and set its own system independently to the mindset of the majority of its population for maximum efficiency – we had and constantly have alien systems enforced on us, in which one can’t take a breath of fresh air. Nazi rule first, followed nearly half a century of communism, and now the EU’s stifling “reign of terror” of liberal political correctness aka plain insanity in more sober corners of the world, destroying Europe before our very eyes (Think of Brexit). At least one is able to resist this last one to some degree without getting the tanks sent in – so far so good. And yet everything the author mentions in his article was possible to implement on an individual scale in this environment – I’m one example. So maybe many of you should read his article again and complain less about your own country. Or, if you want change, begin with yourself.


  6. Andtoh says:

    Although I may not be in the exact situation like you, but your article did resonate and struck a cord with me.
    Like the old saying ‘what is success without failure?’ – we have been too overly obsessed about and blinded by the material needs back in Singapore. But that is precisely the kind of citizens the government needed (and we felt we couldn’t fit in the bill anymore after being away).
    There are so many more things that makes us happy and feel accomplished, not just $$$. Once we start moving away, we reflected the kind of lifestyle and behaviors we had, realizing that happiness is beyond all the material needs but a fulfillment of your achievements and spending quality time with your loved ones.
    Having read the comments left on your article, it’s not difficult to spot the difference in opinions between those who are still ‘trapped’ and enjoying life with the condom on. Nevertheless, it’s all about opinions and decisions, there’s no right or wrong in ones own perspective. Live life the way you want, and enjoy every day to its fullest cos you’d never know when it’s gonna end.
    Great piece of article!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeff Chin says:

    Lovely insights! And I’m happy for you to have burst through the “shield” and experience life in all its wholesomeness. Your story resonates with mine, and would love to continue to hear your perspectives and experiences moving forward. Cheers!


  8. Anonymous says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH !! THIS IS LITERALLY THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER READ, top 5 for sure. I am a singaporean in Yangon, Myanmar so probably, sadly and worst in all aspect of life than shanghai.

    moved here because of the money and because how else to climb the corporate ladder without the international exposure man! stay in singapore and fight and suck up just to get a promotion? Im better than that, I need to make a name for myself here. Met some ministers (not PM) when PM Lee came to yangon to meet the Singaporeans, they said my experience IS SI BEI GOOD and that employers lining up to hire me. I literally replied HUH (i shouted) , I did not believe it because If i dont score that 100/100 on that assessment test, who’s gonna hire me !

    a good friend in yangon sent me this link on messenger and it made my morning. next time when i see that 30 cents noodle being mixed with fingers (no gloves) on the side of the street, next to rotting plastic and dog poo, and also 5 stray dogs near by, spitting betel nut Burmese walking past, im gonna remember that im pretty cool like you.


  9. Been a silent reader of your blog for awhile, as a fellow Singaporean who also lives in Shangers, i could not have put it better!

    Life is much better when you aren’t living in a sterile environment. That’s why dirty playground holds so much more entertainment than those shitty safe ones.


  10. Pingback: Simi sai ma bo hiew liao (什么大便都不管了) | the phylactery

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