Go with a smile!

Monday, September 03, 2012


There is something very eerie. I noticed that all the years that ended in 2 were fairly significant for me. In one of them, I learnt to read and write, and that was also the year that I started remembering things. In another, I decided that my talents were going to be in writing, in mathematics and in music – that’s an assessment that hasn’t changed much. In another one, I had just started work, and would struggle for a few years before I found my footing. Now, I’m out of work, pursuing a degree and deciding on my next step in life.

There was a time in Snowy Hill when I felt that my life had changed. It took place in my 2nd semester. That was a very strange semester. I had very bad grades for that semester, and it probably closed the door to a lot of opportunities for me. However I did tell myself that those grades ceased to matter after, say 3 years into the job. And I was probably right. Paradoxically, my greatest achievement in Snowy Hill took place in that semester – learning to write well. You’d be surprised but for my “A” levels, the only subject that I didn’t get an A or a distinction was my general paper.

I did push myself a little too hard. I signed up for an honours course in physics, computer science and mathematics, as well as my first serious writing class. I was asking to get fucked and I did. I have no doubt that if I were to take those courses again, it would be plain sailing for me, but back then, I was unprepared.

The funny thing was: I took those 3 courses because I was deciding between a physics, computer science and mathematics major. I got the highest grade for the physics class, and enjoyed the computer science course the most, but still stuck to mathematics because I was stubborn. Or maybe at that time I was in love with the idea that mathematics was the most philosophical of the 3 subjects. For that reason alone I did not regret taking that choice, but what a pain in the ass that semester was.

That was also the semester that gave me the most white hairs, the one where I pulled the most all nighters – and a lot of the time I found myself doing stuff that was not relevant – downloading music or playing computer games. It was hellish in its own way. But through all that struggling, something changed in me – from somebody who had just finished his army and felt rather washed up for it, I turned into somebody who embraced learning – if not the pursuit of good grades – wholeheartedly. I think it had a transforming impact on me, because it gave my life something new to focus on.

No, that particular year did not end with a 2. But it did change me. My life certainly had a little more direction from that semester onwards, although that one semester of bad grades was a millstone around my neck that I would much rather not have had for a long time.

Now I’m into my 2nd year of my master’s degree. I don’t know if this will change me. I’ve gotten a little more focus this quarter. I’ve decided what my goals for my master’s degree are. Whether they will be fulfilled is another matter entirely. I have less leeway and freedom now than I did before: back then, I could just say that anything under the sun counted as “general learning”. Now I have to pick up a real trade, without which I could be in real trouble. I think I don’t even really have the freedom to take courses about academic subjects which interest me and are related to computer science but could be too theoretical.

How will this change me as a person, I haven’t much of a clue. Somebody once commented that I’m more a mathematician than a real engineer. I could be transformed into a real engineer after this. But I’m not counting on it.

When I think about 20 years ago, that was the year that I quit doing two things that I wasn't good at and were probably making my life unhappy: learning Japanese (I had no business learning a 3rd language when I sucked at my second) and the piano. I learnt new things instead: creative writing, which was successful, and pop music, which was also successful. Is it time for me to throw something away that I shouldn't be doing? I've cut down my blogging a lot. I no longer read for leisure, which was the pasttime that I had after graduating from Snowy Hill. I had kept my identity hidden in the past because it was a time when Singapore was less politically open than it is now. It was the other side of the watershed 2011 election. And judging by the things that I wrote in those days, I would probably say that keeping my identity hidden was probably a very good idea. I did not grow up with the internet, but I would recommend anybody who is under the age of 30 to blog anonymously, because you never know - you'd say something you thought was alright, but actually isn't.

My first degree and my second degree appear to be very different. My first semester at Snowy Hill just felt like a continuation of my "A" levels, and the real Bachelor's degree started in my second semester. Similarly, I felt that the real master's degree started on the second quarter. A lot of things are different now. University of Mexico is less prestigious than Snowy Hill, even though it's still pretty good. It's quite similar to NUS: up and coming, science oriented, and more application oriented than Snowy Hill, and good thing - less ulu, better weather. But there were a lot of things I liked about Snowy Hill that I didn't like about University of Mexico. Snowy Hill is also a good arts school. I missed taking the arts classes, although I wonder whether it was wise for me to take so many arts classes. Arts classes are more relaxing: you don't do projects, you just sit back and read (although since I'm such a lousy reader, reading is a very heavy workload for me). Science is tougher: not necessarily more intellectually demanding, but more work. Unlike Snowy Hill, I wasn't seeing all these things for the first time, so the "first love" enthusiasm is gone. My enthusiasm for learning is still there, but it's half gone. It's not longer a matter of grabbing everything you can: it's like consolidating and making all your knowledge gel into hopefully something that's useful. I didn't fall in love with somebody this time. The job market was so much better then. It's a much more uneasy situation now.

I've thought of going into politics. I've probably mentioned on this blog before, that I miss reading about politics. I've blogged a bit about politics before. I won't run for elections, of course, but I'll do some back end work. Get involved in some way. NGO? Party? I don't know. But that will not be my main focus.

I've thought about going into music. If I hadn't gone into postgraduate studies, I might have produced some music by now. My family won't like it, I think, but I've got to do what I've got to do. I was involved briefly a while ago. But I had to pull out in order to get my ass into graduate school.

I've thought about going back to my old job. I know, I've discussed it with Honest Face. He doesn't like the idea. He said I should do a startup. Nat doesn't like it. He just left his job. He started reminding me about why I left that job in the first place. Well the number one reason I left my job was to do graduate studies. I wasn't that keen on leaving my old job because my old job would allow me to have ECAs. But I get his point. The old job is a hentak kaki job. Irony is that I probably played a small factor in inspiring him to leave.  I will probably have 2 or 3 useful years in my old job at the most, and then it will be treacherous waters: a PMET at 40. The thing is, that old job is probably an ace up the sleeve that you don't really want to play unless you have to.

I had a dream a few nights ago: I dreamt that I was a father. I don't dream of girls anymore. I don't know if I'll end up as the kind of guy who would care more about his kids than about his wife. Possible.

I had a talk with a professor, and he asked me if I wanted to do a PhD. I said I'm really too old. He asked me, how old are you going to be in 5 years? I said X+5. Then he asked me, how old are you going to be in 5 years if you don't do your PhD? I said X+5. Then he said, "it doesn't really matter, does it?" But I knew that he had finished his PhD relatively late. I asked him, "how old were you when you finished your PhD?" And he said, X-1. Well I'm still too old to be doing a PhD. Except I don't really see how I'm going to learn my current chosen discipline properly if I don't do a PhD - I feel like I'm going to be a test tube washer! And then he said something that I actually agreed with: "you do a PhD because you want to do a PhD. Similarly you have kids because you want to have kids. That's what it is." So how will I know that I wanna do this certain thing?

Anyway: we all know what the midlife crisis is. In a way my midlife crisis will not be very tough. I still have things to look forward to, unlike some other people I know. But the reason why people have midlife crises is that middle age is the toughest part of your life - unless you're one of those 60 year old janitors out on the streets. No, actually after you turn 75, that is the toughest part. But it wouldn't really matter, would it?


Post a Comment