With the nearing of the end of my military service term, I will now have to think about my future. For almost two years, I have lived with the sole purpose of wasting time, as like many of my peers. Luckily, I did not have to do the "soldier" things and had the chance to work in a magazine publishing department, albeit a really shitty one.
Let me just start with an introduction on National Service. Singapore, being a tiny city state, has no professional army. Thus, it relies on the "citizen" army model of defence, where every single male has to enlist into the army for two years of training when he reaches the age of 18 or completes his junior college (we don’t have high schools here) or diploma education. While this rule is pretty much essential for the nation’s defence, it also wastes a lot of time away. In fact, many flee the country for fear of having two years of their life taken away. It isn’t that bad as compared to say Korea or Taiwan, where since the threat of invasion is real, they serve a lot tougher training and are in the army far longer.
In these two years, there are only three ways you can behave.
The most common is the "I wait for my date of release and try to slack as much as possible". This means two years in a guy’s development is complete wasted. In fact, it’s more than two years as he then has to catch up with the females and foreign guys, having forgotten most of his previous education due to this two year slumber.
There’s also the "Since I have to do it, might as well learn from it" approach. Most people learn things like how to survive in a jungle, how to fire firearms, combat tactics etc. Those that are commissioned officers get to learn stuff like man management (which they inevitably suck at), leadership etc. The thing is, most of the stuff learnt from these two years do not really apply to your desired future. And most of the guys do not have the luxury of time, since they get to leave camp only on weekends, which they surely want to spend with their family and friends. So they don’t get to learn stuff outside.
The third type, is the rarest. They love the military lifestyle, strive hard for a high-flying job as a soldier and treat the two years as a stepping stone to their future careers.
I belong to the second type, although I do wish I can be released straightaway. As I said many times before, I’m lucky enough to not have to do the crappy mind-numbing military training. Instead, I work 8 to 5.30 in a regular office, just writing military news. In an office filled with like-minded conscripts of various talents, I have learnt quite a lot.
I’ve always felt that the life of a regular Singapore student, especially those that are gunning for good paper grades, is very limited in scope. Many of my peers, including me, despite hailing from fancy schools claiming to produce the cream of the country’s crop, have very poor skills beyond studying. In spite of my hatred for the two years in NS, I have surely learnt a lot more than the two years I spent in junior college. Through diffusion and also acive learning, I have started on the basics of web design (still improving, thanks to the webmaster here at my office), basic photography (which I still suck at) from the camera crew, basics of writing (how to write crappy news releases at least) etc. Beyond these relevant skills, the starting of this blog has also proved to be a stimulus for learning. Photoshop, wordpress, FTP clients, php, databases, css, html, all these were alien to me previously.
All this is just the beginning. I feel to be a successful (meaning you enjoy your job and are paid handsomely) person, you do need a lot of skills and attributes.
A lot of my peers just don’t get it. The moment something is "out of the syllabus", they switch off and are not in the least interested. In their spare time, they hang around shopping malls, chat on msn and basically just while their time away. I admire those put full effort into their hobbies, be it reading, biking, sports, design etc. But towards the wasters of the most precious commodity – time, I have nothing but disdain. We have already lost two years. People from say the US or Japan, at the age of 20 will already be in their 2nd year of university. Many of them also have put a lot of effort into their hobbies, gaining many skills in the process. And yet, at the age of 21, we will just have restarted school and most probably with nothing but irrelevant military bureauracy in our minds.
The Real Issue
Ok I have sidetracked. But what weighs heavily most on my mind now is the choice of university course and subsequently the choice of career. I do not want to be stuck in a situation where I am unable to pick my job and have to accept whatever comes. I do not want to dread Mondays,waking up in the morning just because I have to go to work. Unenjoyable work can be compensated for with good pay, this I am very aware of. But if possible, it would be best to go for something you enjoy. To do that, you need strong interest and passion. But you also need the ability to excel in your field.
Passion and ability. These are areas of concern for me right now. I know myself and the fact that I change hobbies ever so often pretty well. Let’s see what I have interests in. Note these are cyclic in nature. I’ll just list all the rotations and the age I was into them.
- Animals and Nature (0-7, 16 to 19)
- War and History (7-9)
- Gaming (7 to 17)
- Manga (9 to now)
- Anime (10 to 15, 19 onwards)
- Japanese (13 to 16, 19 onwards)
- Trading Cards like Yuugioh and Pokemon (13 to 15)
- Guitar (15-19)
- Biology (14-19)
- Blogging (20 onwards)
- Figurines and Toys (19 onwards)
This is pretty normal for any kid. But I like to think that I put in a lot of effort for each one while it lasts. It’s pretty obvious that the long lasting ones are manga, anime and Japanese but even so there were periods of time I completely lost interest in them. My room is quite the museum of my evolution, showcasing all the effort I put in for each hobby. My six guitars, bass and two amplifiers now sit, barely used in a corner. I have three thousand dollars worth (now worthless) of Yuugioh cards in a chest in the closet. My 1100+ manga sit proudly on shelves and in the closet. The 40+ 1/8 figurines and barely countable trading sets are scattered around the shelves and on my workdesk. All the old Japanese textbooks, school books are also hidden somewhere I’ve forgotten. The point is? While I am proud of my tendency to put in 100% effort, I’m also very worried that the frequency of change is too great.
Before I entered this current manga and anime craze, aka Second Summer of Jap Love (refer to Eureka seveN’s version please), I was aspiring to be a vet or a food/biology researcher. The passion I have for science is a 7 compared to the 10 I have for Jap stuff though. But I do know where my abilities lie. I’m not good with languages, humanities, maths and the arts. In school, I did terribly in humanities and maths subjects but I was the bio teacher’s pet. Oh yeah the bio teacher was a hot milf too but that’s another story.
Now I get to the point of this whole post. The dilemma I face is actually, "Should I pick a course I know I will do well at, or should I take a risk and try for what I like more?"
It’s such a simple question and it’s also one that most people have to face. Some are lucky since they like what their talents lie in. Unfortunately for me, they are at different ends of the spectrum.
I am not naive enough to say, "I want to be a mangaka!" or "I want to work in the anime industry". When I was still much much younger, I did that. It’s now a choice between being practical or taking a risk to follow a passion. In any anime series, the conclusion would be a foregone one. The protagonist would surely shout "To live is to dream!" and the cowering adults who have given up theirs for practical reasons would be enlightened and weep at their lost youth. Of course, real life is a bit different.
I’m not sure how important a degree is, at this point of time, in this ever-changing global economic landscape. It’s probably less important than what most undergrads would think it is, but I can’t help but feel very undecided. Every little decision in life matters.
Take for example, if I didn’t break up with my ex, I wouldn’t have found the time to re-pick up watching anime. And that has escalated into me starting a blog, and learning the relevant skills. I wouldn’t be collecting figurines now, nor will I have renewed interest in the Japanese language. I might just have done something different, perhaps surf pornography for two years.
I cannot understand it when people I know just hop onto bandwagons to pick their courses of study. My own JC class, more than half have no clear aim. So they just pick business or something at the new trendy city university. Some have reasons like, "It’s near the city and convenient." Others want to be together with their friends. Some go overseas because it sounds like there’s more prestige.
One of my classmates, is as into French stuff as I’m into Jap stuff. She actually made her way to France and got a place in an arts university there. France is a very uncommon place for Singaporeans to go to, due to the language barrier. Would I have the same level of passion and desire, to go to a new strange and unfamiliar land of complete strangers, crippling myself with study debt and mountains of administrative paperwork? It’s easy to say, "I want to go to Japan to study." But considering all factors, it’s a terribly difficult decision.
The cost is enormous. The language is alien. The culture is alien. No matter how you think you know the place from anime, the truth always shocks. Most of the stuff I can study there, I can probably study locally too. I can even major in Japanese Studies locally. But from a realistic point of view, I’m not too sure if a degree in Japanese Studies is better than a degree in say Food Technology because I’ll probably do badly at it.
It’s true that with mastery of Japanese, you can work at the Japanese MNCs. Especially since Singaporeans already are bilingual since birth. That can also lead to working overseas, in Japan, like a Shingo or a Dannychoo. Would I be able to leave all my friends and comfort zone here in my home country behind? I think I would.
So this period of time is possibly the most important ever so far, with plenty of big decisions to make which can all massively change how our futures will turn out.
To conclude this rant, I present myself the following questions.
What do I really want in life?
To enjoy every minute of it, without having to worry about finances, being able to spend freely both money and time on my hobbies and to not hate my job too much.
Am I willing to put in effort and sacrifice to achieve that?
It is tempting to just WoW, watch anime all day, but I think I’m pretty self-motivated.
Am I willing to take the risk of studying an expensive obscure degree in a faraway unknown land?
Argh, I can’t decide.
Am I satisfied with a safe local environment, with little room for development but total stability?
Probably. But then I would look back forever and wonder if I could’ve done better.
Will I be changing my primary interest in the future?
I fear that I would. I would try not to, but some things are inevitable.
Since studying overseas can cost up to a few hundred thousand Singapore Dollars, a normal household will not be able to afford it and so everyone guns for scholarships which are handed out by the government or private organisations to a lesser extent. These pay for everything but you are bonded to the government, meaning you have to do compulsory work for them for a few years which is very frustrating because of the lack of freedom. But the prestige and allure of having a foreign degree beats the six to eight years of bondage for most people so everyone’s competing for the scholarships.
For your information only, my school is actually ranked the top in the world for providing the most number of candidates yearly to elite universities worldwide, and was mentioned in Time magazine quite a bit. Scary but true. The bulk of those who go to the super universities are really amazing people who will go on in life to become the rulers of this country.
I decided from the start I did not fancy a life chained up, so I did not go the conventional course of setting myself up with the paper credentials, but rather went for a more intangible education path. Meaning my grades suck but I know more, since I actually bother reading up and learning about stuff even if they aren’t tested in examinations. But with this choice also comes having to pay through the roof for an overseas education since I will surely not qualify for scholarships as they view academic qualifications as first criteria and not the number of anime series watched (a couple of hundred haha).
What do I hope to achieve from posting this on Riuva? Comments from those who have walked a similar path, facing the same predicament etc. I am so unable to decide right now.