Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Singapore Condition

I am leaving in a few months time to relocate to San Francisco for 5 years. Not one person has told me it's a bad idea. Not one. What is it about Singapore that Singaporeans detest so much?

I had a conversation with Slinky over MSN today. For those who don't know, Slinky and I go waaaay back, and we both ended up in Law School. I am her senior by a year or three, depending on how far back you go. Slinky and I discussed how it never seemed like a bad idea to leave the legal profession in Singapore. We did not discuss why. It was one of those things that was -so- obvious that we did not need to talk about. Throughout the conversation, we talked about peers who've left the industry altogether, and how happy we were for them.

What is it about Singapore that drives so many young bright graduates to do things they don't want to do? Colin Goh - the Maestro himself - had written eloquently about this many years before about the Singapore Plan. In summary, the way Singapore functions is that they take success stories, break them apart and study them to formulate a Plan. This Plan then gets implemented across the board.

The reality of Singapore is that we're a dot on the world too big for it's own ego. We're so bent on chasing Number 1 that we forget the cost to our most valueable resource - our people. In implementing the Singapore Plan, we forget to Dream, and people can only live so long without a Dream.

Let's take the study of law. 20 years ago you couldn't find a more stable profession. Everyone wants their child to be a lawyer. It became the default choice for people with good literary skills, because being a writer, artist, actor or singer was considered too "risky". Too many people wanted to be lawyers, so the government stepped in, restricted intake and everything's hunky-dory right?

Nope, now Singapore's short of lawyers, and the establishment doesn't have a clue where to begin grooming new blood without a major loss of face. Sadly enough, the limited measures taken, like allowing more foreign grads to practice in Singapore, isn't enough. People are still leaving the profession in droves. It's become almost fashionable to abandon practice, then law altogether. The reason? Not enough people wanted to do law in the first place. They've always treated it as just an easy way out. They substituted their Dream for the Plan. It can only last for so long before something starts to give.

Slinky told me about her dream. I can't repeat it here, but it's a good one. I said to her to go for it. I told her mine. I'd love to design, develop, market and eventually sell my own home-brew computer game involving martial arts. I've done a bit of work between my friends developing home-brew systems already. As of now it's still a home-brew system for table-top role playing. But one can dream right?

Wu the Lotus Blossom, from Bioware's game Jade Empire

I know I cannot Dream here. Like many others before me, I realise that Creativity cannot be found in a Plan. So I have to leave. The call of Creativity waits for no one. Being a creator means that no one is ahead in your chosen area - which means that there is no standard to measure you by. That makes you an abomination in the eyes of Singapore. It's not intentional. It's just part of the Plan. Being part of the Plan means following. The two are mutually exclusive.

I need to leave the familiar comfort of home behind. I can live knowing that I tried and failed. I cannot live knowing that I never tried because I was too comfortable.

Like many others before me, I appreciate the irony of assimilation - that if I forge my own path and return, Singapore cannot wait to turn my success into part of the Singapore Plan. I understand why Singaporeans would be so resentful. Why wouldn't they? The Plan has already made them sacrifice so much to pursue their Dreams. Why shouldn't they feel resentful when the Plan then suddenly lauds them and pays homage to them? Where was the Plan when they struggled?

What is it about Singapore that forces a person to choose between his Dreams and his home?

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Mythical said...

Then again, you could stay and help other people dream dreams... *grin*

I think you are quite right to contrast Dream and Plan. You can choose to leave Plan to dream, or leave Dream to plan, but you can also choose to be a subversive and take your lumps.

It has been great to have friends like you. It continues to be great. It will forever be great.

Anthony said...

Thanks man.

I know the subversive path is available. It's not for me. I don't feel up to it. I'm not prepared.

I need the time away. But I will miss having friends like you around as well. -sigh-

Slinky said...

Very well said. You're right, the benefits of leaving Singapore is so obvious that it doesn't need to be explained. The Dream, it seems, occupies a space incompatible with Singapore. So even if we don't want to, we have to go. No choice.

Good luck.

The Legal Janitor said...

good luck and all the best, I hope you find what you need!

Heavenly Sword said...

This is a great post. Singaporeans should pursue their dreams. Unfortunately there are certain aspects of the local environment that make the pursuit of dreams really tough. It takes a person with the necessary financial support, the ability to endure fatigue, and the psychological strength to pursue dreams in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

But is it possible to achieve your dream without having a plan?

To me pursuing your dream you needs a plan and the plan will help you to achieve your dream.

Heavenly Sword said...

The plan will indeed help in your dreams if they coincide (i.e. they fall in the same field). For example, if your dream is to become a Life Sciences expert, I'm sure you will be very happy with the Plan.