Our Prime Minister’s National Day Rally speech over the weekend, had provided much fodder for reflection. He had appealed to Singaporeans to write the next chapter of the Singapore story with him, through the ideals of looking forward to brighter hopes, having a bigger heart, and building a better home.
Hope, Heart and Home
Having lived through a very different Singapore years ago when Dad was incarcerated for having a different perspective, this theme of “Hope, Heart, and Home” reminded me to leave the past with its bitter-sweet memories behind and look forward to a future that will belong to Joel and his generation. When Joel go out into the world as an adult, I want him to govern his life with an aim to always have brighter hopes, and govern his actions with a bigger heart, so that he can do his part to build a better home, a better Singapore. That’s the only way I can attempt to explain the crux of that speech to Joel.
I told Joel that Singaporeans do have a bigger heart. We have seen so many caring Singaporeans putting in their efforts to save stray dogs and volunteer their time at charity homes. I just can’t explain the time when our bigger heart failed us as David had occasionally become a victim of verbal racial abuse or subjected to xenophobic neighbors living in the same block of flats who would push a lift button feverishly to close the elevator doors on him. I think Joel is mature enough to realize that while he governed his life with an aspiration, he had to acknowledge that there were those who wouldn’t. That, I guess, made my country an even more interesting place to live in, because of the different stories we could tell with our experiences. Today, David, Joel and I can laugh at these antics. They added color to our lives.
I also told Joel that we must always be loyal to our home, Singapore, and do everything we could to make it a better home. When David had decided to get his permanent residency status here and is looking forward to someday obtaining his citizenship in Singapore whilst giving up his British passport, we realized that home wasn’t about a tiny red dot on the map. Home was instead where our family and our happiness were. That in itself was worth protecting and investing in.
Singapore has built itself into a city promising brighter hopes. How many countries can boast of abundant opportunities nurtured by a society of ambitious and educated people who worked very hard to live their fullest potential?
As a mother, I had spent angst-filled years with Joel helping him through his school work, watching him juggle his time between school, tuition classes and sports, grieving with the boy when he failed his examinations and was forced to stay back at the same level in one of his secondary years and comforting him through the time he thought he was not normal when he was allocated into a 5-year normal stream in secondary school. I held his hand through those angst-filled years in the hope that he would have a brighter future some day. My goal for Joel was very simple. I just wanted him to be happy and to work towards a career path that would enable him to capitalize on his great communication and interpersonal skills to add value to the people he will touch along the way and provide him with a lot of fulfillment.
When his GCE O’ Level results dictated that he had to take up nursing at the polytechnic instead of mass communications which he was more enthusiastic about, his world shattered before him because he was determined not to be termed “Gaylord Focker” by friends and spend the rest of his life staring into a patient’s bed pan each day. However my advice to Joel at that time was to embrace the challenge wholeheartedly because with his great communication and interpersonal skills most needed in nursing, perhaps he might find that the universe was guiding him towards that path. If he didn’t try it out, he would never know. Joel took that advice and he had been putting his heart and soul into learning as much as he could in the nursing faculty.
Last night, we met a bunch of Singaporean students who were either members of the alumni of Scottish universities or are heading to these universities for their undergraduate studies in the coming months. Joel whispered to me “I feel so ashamed that I can’t be as good as they are to be at these universities.” I assured Joel that each of us was meant to carve our different paths according to our different strengths and none of these paths make any of us lesser than the other.
Brighter Hopes Can Only Be Determined By You
However, I couldn’t help but feel the negative impact of societal norms and pressures that held people to the belief that the right and best path is to follow the clinical route. This is the expected route of getting from a reputable primary school to an express stream in a reputable secondary school, to a reputable junior college and then to a top university, followed by getting a fantastic high-paying job, and then get married as early as possible so that you can get a government-subsidized flat at a reputable estate, and have at least 2 kids who will start the cycle of going to a reputable primary school.
Joel felt left out of that cycle and I wished he didn’t feel that way because I was almost in the throes of that cycle until I forced myself out of it after obtaining a divorce, and started carving my own path through the unbeaten track. And frankly, I am still doing it because I believe my true education is gained from the experiences learnt in the University of Life. I wanted Joel to not be a follower, but be a leader. Being one of the few blokes in a nursing faculty, I wanted him to feel proud that he was breaking through the barriers of prejudice to stand out from the sea of nursing students. Given that Singapore has an ageing population with growing healthcare talent shortage, his skills were going to be useful in filling the gap. And frankly, if you know Joel for his “can-do” attitude, his courage, his infectious enthusiasm, his great communication and interpersonal skills, I would say that, true to our Prime Minister’s expectations, Joel is already heading towards building a brighter future for himself and for the industry.
Our Prime Minster has requested that we write the next chapter of the Singapore story with him. That next chapter belongs to Joel. I hope that the continuous learning he had gleaned from David and me and the experiences that he will be garnering along the way, helps him write an even more colorful chapter of the Singapore story, without fear of being different and without the pressure and expectations of being “boxed” into preconceived notions of success.