Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The roti prata man versus the chwee kuey seller

The quality of 'customer service' in Singapore, in general, is not very good, I must say....

Let me give an example. There's this little Chwee Kuey (soft rice cakes with lettuce toppings) stall near my place. On one (initially) fine morning I walked to the stall to buy Chwee Kueys and I got the rudest shock of my life. The 'minced pickled lettuce' (or 'chai por') that comes with the Chwee Kueys is what makes the Chwee Kueys nice and tasty, but this auntie gave me just one tiny teaspoon of it for five Chwee Kueys! She didn't even bother to spread the toppings around and just put one teaspoon in the centre piece - that was outrageous! I felt so insulted; I asked for more and she grudgingly gave me another half a teaspoon of the toppings. I was too disillusioned to say anything more, so I just took the plate and sat down, eating the tasteless chwee kueys quietly.....Can you imagine the shock that I felt?

Gosh, are those toppings really so expensive? Are they made of gold? This may strike one as a trivial issue, but I argue that this case is really an indication of 'customer service' in Singapore generally. I have a number of other anecdotes as well, such as a Western food stall owner who blatantly refused to give me the third packet of chilli sauce when I bought chicken chop from him, saying that two packets should be enough for me. ('Why do you have to eat so much chilli??' The joker asked me.) Also, have you ever noticed how you as the customer often ends up as the one saying "thank you" to the cashiers, wherever you shop in Singapore (e.g. NTUC)?

But I also do not wish to make sweeping statements without taking note of some exceptions. Indian roti prata sellers in Singapore, for example, exhibit very good customer service (and bookstores in Singapore too - they are the exceptions.) I'll focus on Indian food sellers here. They smile, they say thank you and are generally very courteous. If you ask for more curry, they give you more curry, with a smile. This should be the way - service with a smile, and generosity! In fact, on one occasion, I asked for more tomato ketchup for my mee goreng, and the man gave me so much extra ketchup that I'll not miss it for another fifty years....! And they're not aloof! Chinese food sellers, on the other hand, tend to be super-aloof - especially those who have been mentioned in some newspapers as being 'one of the best in Singapore' or those with long queues of customers waiting for them to slowly prepare their food (e.g. taking half a day to fry a simple plate of char kway teow). They seem to have been overwhelmed by the good business and national publicity, to the point that they now treat customers with a certain arrogance that needs to be criticized - at least by Me in my little blog!

I told myself - I'll never want to be served a plate of Chwee Kueys with just one teaspoon of minced lettuce again in my life. I'll never want to be treated rudely by Chinese food sellers (esp. those with their laminated newspaper cuttings) again in my life. I'll also never want to have to be the one to say "thank you" to a cashier first, only to get an "okay" rather than "welcome" or "thanks" as a response, ever again. But then again, I'm in Singapore - what can I do? Everywhere I go, it's like that!

Maybe I should order roti pratas for every meal....!

~ from a hungry swordsman

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Poorly designed playgrounds & the disappearing childhood

I have been paying attention to the design of playgrounds recently. My goodness, they are so poorly designed! Chia-lat, man! (Whichever agency is in charge of playgrounds, please don't sue me!)

In the past, the playgrounds are sites of great fun and adventure! Two of the key artefacts that contribute to such great fun and adventure are the see-saw and the swing. A third important thing to include in any decent playground would be sand. So, in short, what we need are the three S's - see-saw, swing, and sand. But what has happened to the three S's??

We can speculate on the reasons for this disappearance - policymakers' desire to have complete cleanliness (after all, sand can mess up the surrounding areas), the need to conserve land and hence the need for smaller playgrounds, and the wish to please those paranoid parents who cannot bear seeing their child fall down on the sand and scratch him/herself. It is possible that over time, parents have become more and more protective of their children, and this may have contributed to the disapperance of the third S - the sand (and possibly the first and second S's too, although one would have to adopt a very loose definition of 'danger' in order to consider the see-saw and the swing as 'dangerous').

I suppose those who made decisions about playgrounds did not consider the views of two groups of stakeholders - parents who are not so paranoid, and the children themselves. If they did, and if they had bothered to do some field research (e.g. an anthropological study of how the children are enjoying themselves on the playground), they will realize that the children of today, in Singapore, are a bit bored with the tiny, adventure-less, and abstract-looking playgrounds! In fact, there's a fourth S that we can criticize - the pathetic slides ('hua-ti') which take just one second to slide down! How can this possibly be fun?? Even if it is mildly fun, how can it be exhilarating?!) For me, thankfully, I had the pleasure of enjoying a majestic, exciting, and awesome Dragon Head playground when I was a kid - hence I am happy now! Hahaha! :)

In conclusion, I am nostalgic and I yearn for the day when awesome playgrounds can return. The tiny, artificial-looking playgrounds are boring and uninspiring, for on top of the lack of the three or four S's, they lack themes. So they are not awesome, but awful. How can Singapore become a world-class city if we do not have world-class playgrounds?! I am going to find out which agency is responsible for playgrounds and 'grumble' or 'complain' to them, despite what ST journalist Chua Mui Hoong said. And following PM Lee's advice, I'm going to come out and change things if all my feedback fall on deaf ears. I'll buy an axe (to chop down some trees for the wood), a shovel, and other essential tools (a drill, maybe?) and build my own preferred playground downstairs if necessary. After all, as the official rhetoric says, 'Change it, do something, don't just whine!!!!'

The commodification of smart people?

This post has been revised and re-posted as 'Singapore's system of talent production: the paradox of success'. (July 2005)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

On the beauty of complaining

I continue from my previous post using a different heading...

I flipped through the newspapers yesterday and saw an article on grumbling and societal change. What a coincidence, since I have just blogged about this in my preceding entry! The ST article is indeed not very flattering to the social analysts! It seems to me that in the journalist's view, one needs to be a journalist like her in order to have a moral and professional 'licence' to comment and stop at that. So if one is too busy and cannot find the time to contribute other than commenting, should one just keep quiet? After all, who likes to be labelled as a 'grumbler'?

So while I have some 20 mins to spare now, let me extend my theory of the 'beauty of societal grumbling'. Earlier, I said that some things get done only after people complain. The complaints can be delivered in a normal super-courteous and super-tentative way (like a little mouse approaching a cat) or in an extraordinarily forceful way. The 'force' of the complaints can come from quantity (i.e. many people have complained about similar issues/phenomena) or quality (i.e. extremely good writing).

'Complaining' is about analyzing society with the aim of improving it. A mature reader assumes that the intentions are good rather than malicious, and instead of dismissing the critical analyses as trivial (e.g. a grumble), treats the analyses as offering some useful insights. Further, the activity of complaining, when done on a societal scale, makes the country a nation of concerned and idealistic citizens rather than a nation of apathetic and economistic workers. It sets in motion a powerful machine that can continuously improve itself, since flaws of the system are constantly pointed by people situated at various levels and social locations, anonymous bloggers or otherwise. The pattern of complaints lets the elites know about the 'pulse' of society, and more specifically, how many people feel about particular issues. The individual complainers will also know whether their concerns are anomalous or typical ones: are they the only ones with certain problems, or do many other Singaporeans also face similar problems. Thus, complaints have real value, both at the individual level and the societal level.

Next, I feel that the 'complaining stage' can be a useful phase of thinking, sorting out one's thoughts, doing one's 'homework', and generally gaining the personal emotional momentum before one takes the final step of actually doing something. I was playing with my son's toy car: the car travels a longer distance the more times I turn the screw at the side. So, complaining is like turning that screw, so that when one actually does the work necessary for changing the unsatisfactory situation, one has the motivation to see it through to completion, since all the self-doubt, mental obstacles, and justifications would already have been thought through before the action. The ST journalist who wrote that piece about grumbling may say that complaining/grumbling should be done in private rather than in public, in one's little bedroom in the little HDB flat when one is lying next to his wife who doesn't really care about politics and instead watches Wu Zong Xian's entertainment programmes. But this ignores the benefits that complaining in a public or semi-public domain (e.g. a blog) brings - the new perspectives from other people whom one may never encounter in one's 'real' life, or the new thoughts that emerge from the debates with dissenters...

Thus, I present my tentative theory of the 'beauty of complaining'. My wife says that I am a 'complain king'. But I am proud to say that because of my complaints to various agencies (e.g. town council), my neighbourhood has improved significantly, with various changes benefitting many uncles and aunties, ah peks and ah mm's...All these despite the fact that I wasn't the one doing the legwork - I have neither the time nor the energy. I merely 'grumbled' about the problems from my laptop and alerted the relevant authorities on the unsatisfactory things/uncivil acts I have noticed in my neighbourhood. In fact, if one has enough of a helicopter view, one will know how the culture of 'NATO' ('no action, talk only') came about - namely, due to the interactions between a harrowing work culture that sucks the life force out of people and the work required to maintain a family with kids - together, these two things leave one no time and energy for anything else. If citizens still has the inclination to complain despite the fact that they actually have better things to do, the government leaders should be very happy because it means that the citizens still have souls and still care. Seriously.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Change it

One of the exhortations that we commonly hear in Singapore is this - if you don't like something about the country, come forward and change it.

Now, this kind of exhortation is usually supported by a number of sister arguments or claims, which some Singaporeans like to make. First, there is the criticism of 'NATO' ('no action, talk only') - directed at people who only point out the flaws, blindspots, and paradoxes of the system but do not actually come out and do something. Second, there is the implicit suggestion that social critics or observers are in fact rather immature people who only know how to 'grumble', 'whine', or complain in a somewhat childish way. In this post, I wish to present a counter-critique of the 'NATO' criticism which I consider to be a real conversation-stopper.

The 'NATO' criticism wrongly accords a certain moral superiority to actions and activities rather than discourses and mental processes. What is implicitly suggested is a scenario of busy bees flying around doing 'real' work, while the idle critics merely watch, observe, give suggestions, and basically indulge in arm-chair theorizing. The metaphors of 'grumbling' and 'whining' are truly unflattering, and serves to make the social analysts/observers/critics look silly and immature. It is as though one cannot talk if one is unable to find the time, the energy, nor the inclination to commit to the logistics of social improvement or political activity. But I think people should be allowed to contribute in ways that fit with their capabilities. If people are good at analyzing issues, let them analyze issues; carrying chairs, pinning up posters, and shaking hands with uncles and aunties are not the only ways to contribute to society.

My next target is the sister argument which I mentioned above - that one should not complain but should instead change whatever one is not happy with. I do have friends who have said that they are contemptuous of people who complain instead of changing what they are not happy with. But this view is very flawed. Firstly, it assumes that what one is unhappy with can be changed! Secondly, it assumes that the change can come about without people complaining! In my experience with various events, if you don't complain with enough force, nothing gets done. Complaints that have the support of the masses and/or the force of the argument/rhetoric are good for the betterment of society!

*To be continued....
(I need to recuperate from my severe internal injuries incurred during IPPT...) :-(

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Tried and tested routes

To become a creative and entrepreneurial economy, Singapore needs to have more people who are willing to take risks. This is the commonly heard rhetoric that I am increasingly tired of hearing. This is not because I do not believe that cultivating a risk-taking culture is the way to go, but rather because there are some serious problems in Singapore, as I see it.

Firstly, it is true that people must change, but there is a specific group of people who needs to change, most of all - the employers and the associated staff (e.g. human resource professionals) who play a part in recruitment of new employees. In Singapore, the mindset of employers is so narrow that in hiring for a particular position, they will usually only consider people with the specific degrees. An extreme example is this: if you are applying for a marketing job, then you had better have a marketing degree; even a business administration degree may be regarded as 'not specialized enough'. This means that people without the specific (or so called 'relevant') degree can forget about 'converting' and entering an industry for which they were not specifically trained.

This problem is related to the second one, which is that many organizations here are reluctant to invest the time and energies required to train newcomers, however talented and intelligent the potential newcomers may be. Organizations often prefer applicants to be 'pre-trained', ready to 'hit the ground running' from Day One. This explains why in the newspapers' Recruitment Section, most of the advertisements state that they want people with 'at least 3-5 years' relevant work experience. But the sad thing is that 'relevance' is too narrowly defined.

The above two problems thus contribute to the third problem, which is the extreme difficulty of changing career paths in Singapore. If you want to be in Industry X, you had better obtain a directly relevant degree and work a number of years without interruption in Industry X (not Industry Y, no matter how synergistic the two may be). The extreme difficulty of changing career paths thus make Singaporeans risk-averse, preferring to always stick with the 'tried and tested routes', as mentioned in the Channel 8 programme on 12th May featuring PM Lee. After all, all diversions will be viewed negatively by employers and so are likely to be fatal for one's career. An interviewer can always ask you sarcastically, 'You don't seem to be very committed to this industry?', or 'What if we hire you and you decide to try out another industry again?', or 'You studied for degree A at university, why are you applying for this job since it is not directly relevant to what you studied?'

A pat on the back by the government commending one for the risk-taking behaviour only serves to console the poor person who is now cast as a reject of the job market, thanks to his risk-taking behaviour. All the talk about studying what you love, being entrepreneurial, and so on will be cast out of the window in the interviewing room. So as I see it, the rhetoric promotes something good ('study what you love', or 'try starting your own business'), but employers need to change and be more willing to accept people with unconventional backgrounds or those who took some time out to do other things. They also need to have more flexible hiring criteria together with a structured training programme that will help smart people from any disciplinary background get acquainted with the industry, as long as they have an interest in it.

The UK chartered accountancy profession does this: they take in and train anybody whom they think is smart and capable, as long as they have a 2nd class (upper) honours degree, regardless of discipline. So even philosophy majors can convert and become chartered accountants (ACAs). The accounting profession thus has a more varied composition, comprising people from diverse backgrounds, which is conducive for creative problem-solving and a more interesting social life within the profession.

So, I see three major problems in Singapore, as far as evolving into the knowledge-based economy is concerned. There are other problems, of course, but the other problems are not the subject of this blog entry.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Happy faces & the appearance of (im)maturity

Smile or laugh too much, and immediately people in Singapore will assume that you are not very mature. After all, this country is famous for having a tough work culture, along with a stressful, uptight, and hyper-competitive climate. Life in Singapore is meant to be harrowing.

So how can one still have the inclination to smile?

Since young, I've been the recipient of countless sarcastic remarks and questions about why I always look so happy. In my army days, I was scolded and sometimes punished for always looking happy. My officers and sergeants believed that I was out to be cheeky - in their view, since training is so tough, I cannot possibly be enjoying it, and no one in his right mind should be smiling.

Now, more generally, even when I go downstairs to buy take-aways, the stallkeeper will ask in the most puzzled and somewhat frustrated manner, 'Why are you always so happy huh?'

But I have never consciously tried to appear happy. In fact, if people had not pointed it out to me, I wouldn't have noticed. I guess it is a default expression for me. I mean, if there isn't any serious disaster to upset me, why show a black face to people? Usually, I try to be friendly to my familiar neighbours. However, this gesture is sometimes met with either a 'what's your problem' gaze, or a blank, lifeless stare.....The expression on the faces of people whom I know for sure lives in my block says, 'Do I know you?? Have I even met you before?' But I'm pretty sure that whenever I see these familiar faces, I am not in dreaming mode....The lack of life in the eyes of many people is not a good sign of the times. What has sucked the life force out of them?

So it seems that Singapore's culture does not appreciate or even tolerate friendliness and/or happiness as expressed on the human face. 'Thou shalt not smile' - this is the order of the day. In fact, I have noticed that people far younger than me may well look a lot more serious, and therefore older, than I do. This is fine, but when carried to the extreme, the 'black face syndrome' results and it can sometimes have a contagious effect in terms of spoiling my day as well. Some people have told me that in order to be regarded highly in society, you have to pull a long face - the longer the better, the blacker the better. I believe the underlying presumption is that a long/black face signifies seriousness, while a smiley/cheerful face signifies frivolity. A happy person has to be a joker, who is not serious about his work, definitely not very capable, and certainly not very smart to begin with.

In any case, I have come to realize that to be happy requires wisdom. If I'm happy but I care about the negative responses of people who hate happy-looking people, then I will become upset again easily. One should be wise enough to ignore these black-faced people, for despite their look of maturity, they have failed to realize that exuberance and happy interactions make this a better world. At the very least, it is courteous to reciprocate when people greet you, press the 'door-open' button for you in the lift, or say 'hi' to you. The price they pay for succeeding in their careers is a long, stiff face incapable of courteous responsiveness and rich expressions of emotions. So in conclusion, happiness is the outward expression of a certain kind of wisdom, and wisdom is the internal resource granting stability to a happy character.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Of eagles and chickens

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The above is a poem - a cool poem.

Let me give it an extension....

Life is more about being bold
Rather than regretting when one is old
An eagle knows this principle will hold

And thus he soars through the sky
While the chickens watch with envious eyes
The price of flying high is a lonely life

Thus mix with the chickens he will not
For by doing so his soul will rot
Soaring is risky but he'd give it a shot
So, people, grab opportunities as they come...
And strike the iron while it's hot!


Saturday, May 07, 2005

The performance of grief

Whenever someone dies, people will mourn for him or her. This is a way of showing respect for the person who has passed away.

But the over-dramatic performance of grief (sometimes amplified by the mass media if a celebrity is involved) arouses cynical feelings in me.

Firstly, why is it that many of the closer ones who appear to be so upset over the death of the person could have missed seeing the person for the last time (unless they are working overseas and could not rush back in time, which is a legitimate reason)? Was the death too sudden, or was it simply because these people had not bothered to stay in touch frequently enough to expect the impending death? If I were the one who had just passed away after a period of poor health, I would certainly have preferred to see my 'good friends' and some of the closer relatives before I die, not right after. That's why I cannot stand the statement, 'I came to see him for the last time' (yes, after he is dead), for this act seems to be more for relieving the guilt of the visiting persons, rather than performed out of a geniune desire to 'see the person one last time', since I define 'a last meeting' as one involving mutual interaction between mortals.

Secondly, many people shed tears for people they do not know, which is fine, except that I would ask the question of whether they had been kind to people whom they do know. What I'm saying is that one should be kind, nice, filial, or respectful to the people closest to one first of all, before one can show melodramatic concern for more distant associates without hypocrisy. For example, one should not think about doing charity work for distant others unless one has already discharged the necessary duties towards his/her closer ones. Would it not be strange and too long-sighted if, instead of visiting one's own lonely grandma during weekends, one spends all his or her time doing charity work at old folks home?

Thirdly, if the death was due to the natural process of ageing, and the process was not too painful, one should not feel so sad. Life and death are just part of heaven and earth and the universe.

Thus, I am cynical, but I'm not saying that mourning and paying one's last respects is bad. It's just that I think more can and should be done, firstly when the person was alive (at least a visit before he dies), secondly for one's closer kins, and thirdly in terms of cultivating one's personal acceptance of the naturalness and inevitability of death.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Conceptions of children

I realized that people's conceptions of children may be very different from mine.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my old friend who is a top real estate agent and a millionaire at age 29! Incidentally, she is quite stunning and looks like Zhao Wei. It was because of the distraction caused by her that I did so badly for A-levels! And because of that I became a casualty of the system and couldn't become part of the 'elite'.....(excuses, excuses...) :)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, the conceptions of children thing...Yes, we were talking about having children. Not with each other, obviously, because she's married :), but just the idea of having children. She thinks that a child is a huge burden, and that bringing up a child brings only marginal happiness with very little benefits.

I tried to convince her that having a child is great. 'Don't you think it's magical seeing a cute little version of yourself?' It's like extending your life in both space and time - that is, you have someone who is in fact part of you, and s/he can carry on when you are gone...' She said no, because if the child doesn't turn out well (e.g. unfilial, incapable, unhealthy, etc), then she might as well not have him in the first place. But if the child turns out better than her (e.g. better-looking, more successful in career, etc), she will feel jealous. So for her, either way, she will lose out or in Singlish, 'loo-gi'....

'Why should you feel jealous of your own child???' I asked...

For me, I'd do everything to make sure that my child surpasses me in every way. I do not think (as my friend does) that spending money on a child is a waste of money. She thinks that money can be more wisely invested or used to earn more money, go for travelling, etc. But the point is that even if one has a child, one can still do all these things! And in the first place, what's so great about travelling? It's a fine experience but there are many things finer than that - and watching a little boy/girl grow up and grooming him/her into a 'you1 xiu' (outstanding) individual is one of them! My friend feels that since she went through hell in order to achieve success, 'why should my child have such an easy time?' She would force the kid to go out and work at age 16, and tell him, 'if you want money, earn your own money'.

In my opinion, supporting your child until s/he attains success is a wise thing. Take a business venture as an example. If I have a successful company, and I want to create new outlets, it is in my interest to give all I can to make sure the new outlets succeed. Each new outlet carries my name, so the failure or mediocrity of it does no good to me. Even without such practical, rational-economic thinking, supporting your child until s/he succeeds is intrinsically satisfying. The child is like 'me-plus', a better Version 2.0 - who doesn't want Version 2.0 to be better?

I realize, at this point, that at the end of the day, our disagreement about the way a child should be conceptualized boils down to our view of money. Money is obviously the price that one must pay in order to have a child. And money can purchase a range of second- and third-order goods such as a nice house, a nice car, and a 'feel-good factor' (nice!). Who doesn't want all these things to make oneself feel better?! I would! But it doesn't follow that without these, I will feel bad. Instead of looking at a Jaguar (i'm referring to the car, not the animal) with envious eyes, why not just see it as what it is - a technological artefact with 4 wheels and an invitation to aspiring robbers (please rob me! I'm rich!)? So money and its second/third-order goods are viewed as supremely important to the quality of one's life. I beg to differ. I think that money and its second/third order goods are but illusions...(ah mi...tuo fo...tok tok tok) I can't possibly carry them into my grave (unless I have a very big coffin - but I'd rather not as I'm environmentally friendly)...

So, in conclusion, I disagree with my friend that having a child is a waste of money. Having a child is fun. And fun is certainly worth paying for! After all, are the second/third-order goods that money is supposed to purchase not all about fun, fundamentally?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Want to build, just build

There has been far too much discussion about the 'casino issue'.

A casino is a good idea - I think the government is doing the right thing. Critics' arguments have been very weak so far, as you can see below.

1) 'Social problems' argument
- come on, which country doesn't have social problems? The 'families will break up, people will die etc' argument is simply ridiculous - it's a slippery slope argument. And have these critics ever met a gambling addict in real life? I suspect that they are drawing on stereotypes of a 'typical gambling addict' (for example, as portrayed by the media) to make their arguments.

2) 'We shouldn't copy others' argument
- Why should we not copy other countries? After all, the 'copying' need not be wholesale copying. These critics treat 'the casino' as a black box, an object with universal characteristics. They are unable to visualize how the casino can deviate from a standard (global) template to exude local flavour.

3) 'Not sure whether it will definitely make money' argument
- This is a business venture, and like all business ventures, there are risks involved. These critics are, simply put, too risk-averse. It's time to be more risk-loving, especially in the New Economy. Also, how do they know it won't make money?

A casino adds diversity to the leisure scene in Singapore. This is the single most important benefit. This is my summative analysis of what I see as a rather straightforward issue; it's not as complex as the numerous newspaper articles suggest.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Human value just like shares....

The power of positive thinking. Yes, this is the topic of this post.

I've been drawing my energies from negative thinking for too long. Sure, telling myself that I must push myself harder just 'so that I can say something proud/emerge victorious/be rightfully arrogant in a revengeful way right in the face of my critics' may be highly motivational. But it's motivation by dissonance; it's a negative kind of motivation that is not good for the soul, and not good for one's health.

Now, I've mastered a Taoism-inspired kind of self-motivating approach: one that stresses harmony within oneself and with nature. There will always be people who cannot stand the fact that you have a 'good life', and my recommended response will be this: 'Yes, I am lucky and I have a good life. Any problem with that?' Should one be made to feel guilty somehow just because he has a good life? What is a good life anyway? The suffering that one has to endure is often known only by himself and people close to him....

One thing that a person must learn to get used to in this practical world is that your bank account and your source of income very much determine the kind of treatment and verbal remarks that you receive from people whom you interact with. In other words, cash - its presence or absence, amount, and the rate of inflow - affects the quality of your social experiences.

Thus, a person's value can be analogized to the value of a portfolio of shares. Our value as human beings fluctuate like the value of particular shares in the stock market. When things are going well for you and people can see that that is the case, they will not be nasty to you; in fact, they will be pretty nice and especially polite to you. When you appear to be struggling, some people will take this as an indication that your 'value' is going downhill, and so they become careless when they interact with you. I am not saying that people will intentionally try to put you down. Instead, my point is that they may carelessly say things which put you down, since you are (at least at that point in time) not someone who could help them very much, or someone whose affiliation will benefit them very much. This implies that people operate very much in the present, rather than the past or the future.

I have personally encountered such treatment before. When I did well for O-levels and entered 'triple science' stream of a good junior college, everybody was nice. When I did badly for A-levels, they became nasty overnight.... And when I did well at university, they were nice again. When I was struggling with my masters (due to some personal problems), they thought that I would most probably fail and were nasty again. Thank goodness I got 'distinction' for my Masters, despite struggling along the way! In retrospect, I'm puzzled why people think that an excellent outcome cannot be the result of intense struggle.

In any case, I've learnt the hard way, that life is not all that rosy. A person who is idealistic because he hasn't been through hell exhibits what I call untested idealism. And the world therefore appears very rosy, with nothing to lament about. A person who has his idealism destroyed, later revived, and finally tempered with realism exhibits what I call tempered idealism. And the world therefore appears as it is - with all its 'sham, drudgery, and broken dreams' - but nonetheless 'still a beautiful world'. At least this is what I hope would be the case.

Lastly, forget about pleasing people, because the goalposts will shift once every few years....from the grades you get and the schools you go to, to the name cards you hold and the number of grands you earn. Why tire yourself with such petty comparisons?

Monday, May 02, 2005