Happy National Day to my Singaporean Friends :)

Yours truly,
Ong Jiin Joo.

* * *

This month of August would mark many things for my life, amidst the national and global events that I’m following closely (e.g. those happening in Permatang Pauh and Beijing) Turning 28 recently, I’ve embarked on a journey to start rediscovering the purpose for some of the things I’m doing (again haha) but this time to put it into context that a number of milestones will be happening this month: (i) 1 year of moving into the “heartlands” that is Ang Mo Kio, (ii) the halfway point of my “indentured servant”-ship and (iii) the big showcase of music arrangement that I’ve been doing on and off for 15 years now, as well as being away from home for 10 years.

So I’m in the airport now, about to send Aaron off to the la-la land which I went 8 years ago (well almost, the passport stamp I had was August 20). I recall that the decision was made too easily for me, not knowing what opportunity awaits and what dreams I would had left behind. Coming back from la-la land after 5 years, the attempt to “pick up where I left off” had proved just as heart breaking, lonely and futile as the attempt to break off to stay and work in the US.

Perhaps I’ve come to realize that the dimension, of geographical location, cultural monogamy, political propaganda, and even sense of time itself would not change this. Some has suggested, like Jane Austen, that “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, however little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood” (be it Seattle of Ang Mo Kio). Others have suggested, like Mark Twain’s depiction of Jim and Huckleberry Finn, that it is an uphill psychological battle freeing oneself from what seem an equitable trade of education opportunity and servitude – quote from Notebook #35:

In those old slave-holding days the whole community was agreed as to one thing — the awful sacredness of slave property. To help steal a horse or a cow was a low crime, but to help a hunted slave, or feed him or shelter him, or hide him, or comfort him, in his troubles, his terrors, his despair, or hesitate to promptly to betray him to the slave-catcher when opportunity offered was a much baser crime, and carried with it a stain, a moral smirch which nothing could wipe away. That this sentiment should exist among slave-owners is comprehensible — there were good commercial reasons for it — but that it should exist and did exist among the paupers, the loafers the tag-rag and bobtail of the community, and in a passionate and uncompromising form, is not in our remote day realizable. It seemed natural enough to me then; natural enough that Huck and his father the worthless loafer should feel it and approve it, though it seems now absurd. It shows that that strange thing, the conscience — the unerring monitor — can be trained to approve any wild thing you want it to approve if you begin its education early and stick to it.

Ah – conscience, the “unerring monitor” *eyebrows*. So in the celebratory mood in Marina Bay and Beijing, what is the conscience, individual or collective or otherwise, about the state of the world that we live in, that I should be grateful of being a 28-year old “man in possession of a good fortune”? That I drive in Singapore? That I continue to enjoy the freedom what many defenders of the System on ST/Today claims, that as long as you are not one of the small group of “dissidents” who articulate otherwise?

And how would an iconoclast’s conscience be trained? Or in other words, how did Eigenvector and Jolly Good Fellow’s conscience differ, to end up in the same company? I had a post-lunch chat with one of my big bosses recently on the NIS scheme. He’s of the opinion that someday somehow, we need to introduce a PhD scheme, and argue that the program can be done in 8 years. Sure, no doubt about it, since it’s the best and brightest that we’re sending anyway. But something isn’t right isn’t it? What in our collective conscience today, might make us frown upon sponsoring more PhD graduates turn managers in government sector / big companies? Some said it’s the nature of a system integrator land to look only for implementers with business sense. Some said it’s the impossibility and impracticality of sponsoring a PhD unless he or she is willing to come back and work here, meaning there must be a vibrant research sector, perhaps akin the life sciences sector.

Bah! I say. All these are again attempts to train the conscience to approve this wild concept, both ways. A true unerring monitor, whether or not it has a fair collective judgment or a selfish personal bias, does not take that kind of “education” lightly. Whether a scholarship program is “beneficial to the economy” (or insert whatever purpose of the program) is entirely its result, in the number of people who come back, like Aaron intend to, and not how we fix our conscience and comfort ourselves. Whether the economy is up or down, whether China is pro-human kind or anti-human rights, whether “indentured servant”-ship should be flexible to cater for scholars in all shapes and sizes, whether Jim’s escape is right or wrong, whether this 28 year old needs a wife, are all entangled in a conscience that has to be free of this “education”.

But why is it so hard for me to think from my own perspective?

* * *

Aaron flew off. Good riddance, no I mean good luck in your studies!! 😀 It wasn’t so much touching for me as it was relief, that a young man like him deserve a good education in a university like CMU, and that even as he’s leaving only for 2 years, he kept reminding me to hang around until he’s back. Of course, I’m not so sure whether he’ll be of the same opinion after his conscience is “educated” by both an American culture and a CMU tradition of iconoclastic legacy. In hindsight debates about Acidflasks and Eigenvectors, such a promise, that he’s really interested to bring back something he believes in, is worth gold.

Looking north, soon it will be Malaysia’s turn to celebrate its 51st birthday. Last year when M’sia reached 50 years of independence, the nation suddenly woke up. Something happened to the entire nation’s conscience, politically, economically, and socially. Someone realized finally that the oil subsidy didn’t work. Someone realized finally that the S.O.P. for BN was being torn apart. Someone realized that mass protests on the streets was halal. Suddenly, when I turn on the TV, I see my ex-high school classmates proclaiming and debating out loud; when I turn on the PC, I see my buddies in US turn into YBs, giving speeches in DUNs. Often, I study their conscience carefully, and conclude that although on the surface, most made decisions like me: opportunistic, selfish and conforming (pick your battles right), most of them continue to flame an internal fire that almost contradict their duties.

When the contradiction arises, sometimes, they look outside for help, but many a times, they simply bite the bullet. Is it “wrong” for them to take the path less beaten? Is it “wrong” to challenge status quo, to fight the incumbent, to have a two-party system, to have a more liberal outlook in an already culturally-melted pot? Not that I buy the many things that’s happening, but when I see such conviction in email after email on various grassroots mailing lists, I’m humbled once again.

* * *

I can almost smell the burnt skies after watching the awesome fireworks on TV, you know especially that last putputputputputputput…!! Although I’m quite touched by the Olympics theme song Me and You, I don’t think I can say the same for Shine Singapore… paiseh, theme song cannot be like a fake construction imho, don’t try to squeeze in the lyrics if it doesn’t fit. As the beautiful performance turned into the sequence of patriotic expression, I turned back to this blog entry, noting though how well S’pore’s national anthem was written when compared to the other songs performed throughout the night.

Ok, let’s make it easy – we’re intelligent beings, and no man is an island, therefore we should groupthink, Q.E.D. At least I hope that Orwell would snigger at this simple idea. So, regardless of where you’re from, if you’re in Rome, think as the Romans think yes no? I mean we all agree on the do as the Romans do part, I’m explicitly refering to thinking, for even as an environmentalist is driving his fuel burning vehicle, he was “thinking” otherwise.

Personally, I’m thinking the world would be a better place for me if I leave now. Now. Join Aaron back in Pittsburgh maybe. Or join Mark in UMich. Or join Rhys/Matthew in Bermudas. Or join Stanley in DC. Or join Mean back in KL! Yup – I’m thinking that’s better. What am I doing? Writing now observations like SPH’s launch of RazorTV, researching MDA’s regulations, drawing up plans for the dawn of the IPTV era, writing music for Philwinds, and picking up various odd jobs with a number of customers. I can’t even tell my financial adviser where I’m going next month for him to help me plan my finances. Try getting me out for supper, and you’ll realize that I’ll give you the groupthink answer, that a promise is a promise, that there’s no better time to be in this cursed nanny state, that I’m still but a lost sheep (let’s put the religious side of things aside for the moment) in search of a bellwether.

Deep inside, my conscience tears. Even if the survival factors here are good, forget that I can’t use CTE ever again in the morning rush hour, my conscience tells a different story. When I’m alone (which is very often), I think there’s a part of me who long the world – the need to be rootless and touch every living being, then there’s another part of me who long home – either the one I came from or one that I can construct. For the lack of a wife, and for the lack of balls to pay back, the very conscience that guides me hides. Life continues like clockwork, like the motorbikes that passed the causeway every morning, like the container ships that stop by PSA every day, like the parking warden who gives saman.

How else can I face my conscience?

* * *

(to be continued… supper awaits)

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