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Different Perspective during Different Life Stages

February 7, 2014

Born in a conservative Singaporean Chinese family, when I was a child, I was taught (and nagged at) the value of frugality and the virtue of giving.  And I interpret it in my own childish way.  On frugality, I was given recess money during Primary school so I can have something to eat during RECESS.  But instead of that, I decided not to eat and save every dime and nickel “for a rainy day”.  That day never come, and by the time I was in Primary 6, relatives laughed at how little that amount was after almost 6 years.  I won’t say I was angry, but I silently admitted that it was really just a small amount of money and wanted to throw a party for my Primary School classmates on the last week of class.  The only thing I learnt was that my “pocket money” is barely half of what most of my other classmates have.  It was not meant to be much, it was meant to buy the cheapest dish in the canteen, so during recess, I will not look like a “deprived child”.

In retrospect, I think that was a very good training for me.  And I took “no canteen food during recess” in my stride.  But later on in life, there were near relatives who perpetuated the philosophy that, “if one has the money, and one did not spend it, one not really rich”.  I took this philosophy was not good for my ego. In the first place, I never spend those canteen money, in the second place, the amount was not even BIG when comparing with other kids (these kids don’t have to starve a single time during RECESS) who had more savings than I do  .  Fortunately, I took all these in my stride.

Today, when I am old enough, I realize being able to “看财富如过眼的云烟“ (see wealth as merely clouds in the sky) is the RIGHT thoughts that all of us must have (and the real training that most people would find it impossible to do).  That happiness should not be so dependent on the material wealth.  Seek for happiness outside of all these pragmatism and material, and you will really find it.

When I was in PAP kindergarten, something my granny said really make me change many other perspectives.  On the day of graduation, we were all allowed to wear the square mortar board hat and a gown similar to those of real university graduates!  How can a child not be proud?  How can any parent of guardian not be proud, albeit, it was only PAP (free) kindergarten?  I was wearing a “fake” necktie the other day and I notice some other students do not have that.  I said that to my granny,

“Ah Ma, ii lang BO lek tai!”  (granny, he does not have a necktie!)

In reply, my granny said, “Yes, they don’t, and you know what, you should give yours to him!”  At that moment, I did not know what to say or even how I should feel.  I was a little unwilling, but a part of me said, I should approach that poorer kid and offer him my necktie.  Years later in my life, I have many graduations to attend but I did not attend any of them.  And I must say the event that happened to me during kindergarten emerged almost every time I see a graduation gown (and that happens a few times a year to me every  year).  That refusal to attend my own graduation was not really a protest of anything.  It’s something I wanted to do.  And ironically, the same granny who asked me to willingly give up my necktie during “kindergarten convocation” got very angry at me for not going for my other convocations.  But with this, I learned that I should honour and be happy with other person’s graduation, but I should never, ever think of myself as an aloof graduate in front of anyone.  I should treat anyone as my intellectual equal and treat them with the same respect as my PhD advisor.  This is a true lesson in humility albeit unexpectedly.

So, while my granny is illiterate and uncouth, she taught me many lessons, unknowingly.


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