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A note from Val:
I had a major writer’s block when trying to pen this entry, because it involves me making a confession – one that I’d hate to admit; and one that you’d not like to hear.
Yes, even at this point in my life, even after having passed one year on the road, I still succumb to the temptations of being “politically correct”.
In our previous entry about Helen and Talk Show, we asked, “What is it that keeps you going?” My original entry read:
For Helen, there is nothing she would trade for the smiles on her students’ faces. And for that reason, for that one more smile, one more happy kid, she kept going.
Some of us
Kept toiling away at jobs we “had to do”
That one more paycheck?
That one more promotion?
Do your eyes twinkle like Helen’s when she talks about her students?
Do you bubble with joy like Helen in every single moment of her dream?
Wake up for the next day of work
Attend the next meeting
Prepare the next presentation
Write the next proposal
And as I re-read the entry before posting
I decided to self-censor (yes I know, very Singaporean)
Because I couldn’t bear the judgmental and angry tone of the post
There are people who enjoy working hard for that paycheck you know? There are people who use that paycheck for a 5* vacation at the end of the year…look back at their hard work and say, “Yah, I deserve this!” and still obtain a huge sense of self-fulfillment…
Who am I to judge that these people are unhappy at work and selling their souls for that one fat bonus to splurge on superficial pampers like a branded handbag, a bigger car, a nicer house?
What if the branded handbag was for the mother who never spent more than $20 on a handbag, so that she could afford university education for the child; and if not for that university education, the child would have never gotten this high-flyer job and this paycheck?
What if the bigger car was so that the entire family of grandparents, parents, and children could go for an outing and spend some quality time together, because for the last 5 years everyone had been working to build their careers…and now it’s finally time to build a family?
What if the nicer house was to provide a nourishing space for the closet artist to come out – enjoy a nice cup of tea, play nice music…and then paint her thoughts, her feelings, her desires?
And then I realised
The one person I was judging
The one person I was really angry with
Because Helen and her students
Are like a set of mirrors
That force me to truly see
Who it is that I want to be
Shot on Canon by Koh
How many of us know that?
How many of us can answer this truthfully?
The children’s authenticity shamed me
Because even as a kid, I could never truly be honest about my dreams. Whenever it was time to write the annual “What do you want to be when you grow up?” essay; I’d write wonderful A+ essays on being a teacher, a doctor… because those were things adults (my teachers grading the essay, my parents reading the essay) would want to hear.
At the age of 5, when I won my first art competition and declared that I wanted to be a painter; I was already taught to be “politically correct”. “Nobody makes a successful living out of painting. Painters only become famous after they die. There has not been a single Singaporean painter who has had paintings sold all over the world.” Therefore, “You are better off being a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, a manager… And when you have earned enough money, then you can do the things you really like.”
So I learnt. It didn’t matter if I like going for art classes, ballet classes, speech and drama classes better than going to school. It didn’t matter if I’d rather be singing and dancing to my Dad’s cassettes than memorizing my 6 times table. Because I am only allowed to do the things I really like, after I’ve earned enough money. And to earn enough money, I have to work hard and do the things I don’t like so much.
So when it came to choosing subjects for school, I chose triple science over art, because it was the “hardest” and it was “the path” to medicine. By then, I’ve become so good at lying about who I’d wanted to be and what I’d wanted to do, that even I believed that I was going to be some white-collared professional earning big fat paychecks when I grow up.
And then “I Believe That Dreams Can Come True” happened
And then we got sent to an English learning center in Taiwan
And then we found ourselves surrounded by kids who have no fears
No concepts of failure, of impossibilities, of “political correctness”
Kids who’d openly, truthfully, authentically share their dreams
In a room full of adults (their teachers and their parents)
In front of 2 strangers they’ve just met
In front of the camera
Forget about the all-inspiring
“What if you could let yourself dream like a kid?”
Like a kid who truly believed that
We can do anything
We can be anyone
What do you want to be when you grow up?