When I was an undergraduate at Snowy Hill, there was a sizable Singaporean community. I think we didn’t really have to look too far beyond it. I’m still meeting people from that bunch every now and then. I suppose, if you have people in that situation, you become closer. I think that those of you who are foreigners, you will know that you will hook up with ppl from your own country, and that will be the source of a lot of your friends.
I wish that I had hung out more with the natives. But I don’t really regret it that much. That crowd of people was like a family to me. As you ppl know, the most important thing about a family is to have one, and not whether you are very close to each other. I suppose I’m very paradoxical – I’m not the kind of person who gets terribly close to people, but I enjoy being part of a tribe. I suppose – OK, I know this for a fact, people are programmed to want to be part of a tribe. That is the first thing they teach you in social psychology. If you want to know about these things, there are books that you can read (I read “Imagined Communities” by Benedict Anderson and “Us and Them” by David Berreby). It does make a lot of sense, although since I’m more of a loner than average, I don’t feel these things as keenly as many other people might.
I met up with a few old friends in the States. They seemed happy to see me. We talked for a bit. My sister was there too, since she was doing research in the same university as them. And the funny thing is, we had so much to talk about, after lunch was over, we thought about meeting up for dinner. (It was my last day in that town). So we did that too. And after that was over, my sister said, “that was funny. It was just like I had talked to people and I could operate entirely on instinct. I didn’t have to guess what the American way of thinking, and the culture was. I could just operate on auto-pilot.” She didn’t exactly say that she misses that. And she’s also 10 times better than me at dealing with Americans. But there was that great big sense of relief.
I’m back in university, and by coincidence there are 2 people here from the same year in my school, and they’re both PhD holders. (wtf have I been doing with my own life anyway?) One of them I probably won’t get to meet him. I looked up the other one on Friday afternoon. And I had an astonishing conversation with him. Well he did keep on coming up with stuff to talk about. I said, it’s getting late, why dun we grab dinner? And we went, and then we talked until it was almost closing time. We had old friends that we could exchange stories about. I suppose it was a lot about not meeting these people since JC. And there’s a lot that I saw but I didn’t understand when I was a kid, and a lot that your old schoolmates did as well. Then now you revisit these things through the eyes of an adult, and it’s – to say the least, quite interesting. That was the first time I had an 8 hour long conversation in a long long time. No disrespect to people with whom I’ve recently had 4 hour long conversations with. Anyway I think it did go on for too long but I didn’t really want to stop him. I’m just wondering if, I didn't hang out enough with people, I would end up in that condition, where every old Singaporean friend is a sight for sore eyes.
After a while, I thought about it. I think that Singaporeans were brought up to be tightly coupled. I don’t mean that in the sense of having emotionally intimate relationships. But too many of us will live in only one city, ever, because of the strange existential condition of being in a one-city country. And it will be incestuous. We’ll see the same people in elite schools, and then we’ll grow up, having our own secret code, our way of doing things.
And it’s funny – we would probably understand certain things about each other that other people might not get. We don’t really operate on the emotional level. If I were to talk to an American with that kind of emotionless demeanour that I have, they would probably suspect that I wasn’t really human. But that’s not true, of course. We’ll just do it to each other, and in the end, we all understand that that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Anyway the meaning of tightly coupled would be in the software engineering sense in which different parts of the system have dense and rich interactions. It’s not supposed to be a good thing, because when one part of the system changes, it will have nightmarishly disruptive impact on the rest of the system.
Maybe, I thought, we should be more like Americans – loosely coupled. We have a lot of people, and we can potentially interact with a very large group of people from all walks of life. It’s very unlikely that we will have an extremely huge clique, which is something I think that our schooling was about. But the potential for plucking any old guy out from the crowd, and saying whats up dude to him is there.
I’m just thinking I should really learn to be a little more American in this regard. And as for whether or not that makes me less Singaporean – truthfully I don’t see that happening. I’m a pretty constant person, and it’s a little hard for me to change that much anyway.
Labels: the system