Jan 9, 2013

Feeling thankful

Today, all of a sudden, I felt really thankful. Not the usual thankful-that-I'm-living-in-Singapore or thankful-I'm-alive stuff, but something a little more tangible.

I'm thankful I've been so protected, always surrounded by nurturing and loving people, growing up in schools that taught me how to love and live. But I'm even more thankful that I'm not ignorant or oblivious to others who haven't been as fortunate to have grown up in such enriching, positive environments. I've got friends in schools / classes where bullying and wrist-slitting are common, fifteen-year-olds sell condoms or offer finger f**ks for $5, Sec 2s are in boys' homes... Even in my church, I've got as many friends from ITE as from JC (excluding those from NUS since I met the NUS CHC group recently), and I realise how blessed I am to never have had to worry about not making it into the Express stream or to JC or university. It's a reality, and I'm always humbled when I think I could have been born into a different family and have been less lucky in my exams, ended up in an environment that was less enriching. I would probably have turned into a very different person; I'm not that strong.

Thankful that I grew up in a little neighbourhood primary school with some great teachers and amazing friends. Mdm Beena and Mrs Foo are the two teachers who impacted me the most, treating us kids like young adults, giving us issues to ponder about. I remember how I was the only Chinese girl who spoke English at home, and all the Chinese girls in my P6 class sat together for recess, and when I went to the table they'd all immediately code-switch from Chinese to English. And I loved my P4-P5 clique, where I was, for a year, the only Chinese - the things I learnt and the festivals my friends invited me to were always eye-opening, and they always treated me with so much warmth.

Thankful that I spent my preteen years at Crescent. Secondary school is usually a time of rebellion, but in Crescent, that energy is usually translated into insane enthusiasm and the warmth of a family. We had our own share of fun, and I'm so glad for the experience of a girls' school. Thankful for the teachers who pushed us so hard, for really value-adding.

Very thankful that I somehow do well for the major exams, despite not having to slog it out. Maybe it's the whole work-hard-play-hard thing; I only thrive academically in panic, and when panic sets in, I really start working hard. But the rest of the time is spent on everything except studying, and I'm glad that I haven't needed to be a slave to Singapore's education system in order to score well.

So thankful that I never had to worry about not being able to make it into a university. The JC system isn't for everyone, and I've got friends who were really worrying about not being able to make it into a university at all. People with the money have the option of going overseas if they aren't able to make it to the course of their choice here, but most don't, and for them, it's local or nothing. I'm not too fond of the mugging culture in the universities here either, and wanted to go overseas to really enjoy my university life. (But Yale-NUS came about, and I'm not looking back!) But really, in Singapore, they push you into a mould that might not necessarily be right for you. I've got friends who really suffer as a result.

I detest the stigma that my friends feel they're branded with as a result of this. Just because they're in the Normal stream, or they didn't make it to JC, or they didn't do well in the really difficult Singapore-Cambridge GCE 'A' Levels, they feel like they're a shame, they feel dumb, they feel undeserving. Put them in just about any non-Asian country in the world, and they'll probably still come out above average.

Look at the Singapore Institute of Management, which hands out degrees from the University of Buffalo, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, U of Sydney, Warwick, and more, which definitely aren't bad globally. And yet, if you're in SIM, it usually means you scored too badly to make it into the other Singaporean universities. I hate the stigma. It's always about how many As you got, what course you're in, and all that, and the whole culture makes people feel like that's what their worth is based upon.

Oh, this turned into a rant. Anyhow, I'm so thankful to be given so many great opportunities to the extent that I take them for granted sometimes. I'm so thankful to be blessed academically - not doing unbelievably well, but well enough not to have had to worry about whether or not I can make it to the express stream or JC or university. And I'm thankful not to be ignorant to the circumstances of those who are not as blessed academically or financially, because I've got a lot of friends who don't even know anyone who come from a different socioeconomic background. People whose circle of friends are all from Medicine or Law, who aren't close to anyone who lives in a HDB flat, who think not owning a car in Singapore is unheard of. It's ridiculous.

Also thankful for my family and how I've been brought up. In a family of scientists, I'm thankful that my parents also constantly exposed my brother and me to the arts, taking us to all these plays and musicals. I'm thankful for the fascination for the sciences that my parents have given me, and yet how they've never pushed me to take a path I don't want. (In fact, maybe they should have pushed a little more.) I'm thankful that my mum kept telling me to take a course that I wanted - back then, I was bent on Literature - and that the jobs would follow somehow. I'm thankful that they never really pressured me to study hard. I'm thankful for their big hearts - my friends say my parents are really nice - and how they've passed a little bit of that compassion and kindness on to me. Thankful that Mum grew up in a very poor family, and Dad loves taking his schoolkids on overseas CIP trips, and that they both constantly remind my brother and me to have a spirit of generosity, love, and gratitude.

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