The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: culture

Unrealistic expectations or unprepared for reality?

Let’s talk about expectations.

Recently, it was reported in Singapore that a majority of students from Singapore National Technological University received job offers  even before they graduated. How realistic is that, where companies are clambering to give graduates jobs even before they finish their undergraduate studies? Hardly at all.

But that is the sort of expectations I grew up with, and in a way what I expected myself to fulfil in some way. Growing up, I thought that if I put in the requisite effort in school, and graduated basically a brilliant person, the transition into adult working life would come naturally.

It’s been two months since I graduated and not only have no companies come to headhunt me, all of my applications have gone on unnoticed.

It has been a trying two months, and I fear that this is not the end of that.

I did my internships, my GPA is not abysmal. Having worked hard and knowing people in the industry have not yielded me any offers. My friends in business school have mostly gotten jobs and moved on with their lives, while I languish in unemployment and write this blog in a vain attempt to ‘increase my online profile,’ when in reality this is mostly a helpful distraction to keep me otherwise occupied. While I have cone to reject the idea of pre-graduation job-attainments as impractical, a part of me is still disappointed with myself for having not fulfilled that expectation that people back home would have of me. One of which certainly includes not being unemployed for two months and counting.

My cousin who went to Brown University here in the States went back to Singapore to work after college, and from what I’ve heard, she had to learn to readjust to the heavily-structured expectation-system that Singaporeans have and impose on one another. For example, people are expected to be at a certain level in their workplace and be earning a certain income at certain ages, or else they’d be considered to be ‘losing out’ or falling behind. A 30-year old in Singapore is most certainly expected to be earning more than $3,000 a month, and to have attained their first promotion already, regardless of the sector. By their mid-30’s, one who is not in some form of management must have some sort of ‘flaw’ in their character, or why else would they not have moved upwards already?

All these do not even permit for questions such as “What if I don’t want to move up?” or “What if I don’t want to be a field that has such structures?”

My cousin had a hard time assimilating back into such a demanding culture, after having spent a considerable amount of time in places that allowed her freedom to decide her academic path without expectations for what she should be achieving. I have no doubt that were I to go back, my self would grind itself raw at the prospect of having to live a life laid out for you by proxy of other peoples’ expectations.

And yet, as I eschew those expectations, in my current joblessness, they never fail to remind me how much of a mire I am in in comparison to those who are already drawing paychecks and have moved on.

Love without persecution

I was thinking about how recently in the United States, the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 (Prop 8) were both declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. What this means is that same-sex married couples can officially be recognised as ‘spouses’ in the eyes of the law and be eligible for federal marriage benefits, and that people in California can now legally marry.

There is a very distinct separation of between the government and the courts in the United States. This allows the courts to strike down laws set up by governments that apparently do not reflect the will of its people (the Constitution). Unfortunately that is not quite the case in Singapore.

Even though Singapore has a constitution, the Constitution does not seem to be supreme. It is of popular opinion that the government and the courts are one and the same. Even Wikipedia has noted that parliamentary sovereignty is the de facto characterisation of the legal system in the country. As such, the will of the parliament is often the will of the law, it seems.

In Singapore, under its penal code, there is a statute, Section 377, that criminalises sex “against the order of nature.” Its subsection 377A states that any male person who, in public or private, commits against any male person any act of gross indecency shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years. This effectively makes homosexual sex illegal.

Section 377 was repealed on October 2007, but its subsection 377A was retained. On the decision, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “Singapore is basically a conservative society…The family is the basic building block of this society. And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit.”

Decriminalising homosexual sex is not going to break up families. Not that we’re even debating on the same stage of same-sex marriage as in the United States, but cracked.com has helpfully outlined how legalising gay marriage affects society (hint: it does not affect you in any way). Decriminalising homosexual sex is not going to cause heterosexual or homosexual couples to suddenly want to commit bestiality, or any of the slippery-slope arguments pitched by proponents of the legislation.

If the government wishes to focus on the family as it claims, why can’t having two mothers or two fathers make a good family? Surely they are just as good as any mother-father pair family, or single-parent family? There are tons of research that show that same-sex parents families do just as well, if not better, than different-sex parents. I would think that having two parents would provide for the children better than a family on just one income. If the government is so concerned about “family units,” then perhaps they should consider making adoption legal for homosexual couples, and allow them tax and national benefits as well.

If the focus is that it is the will of the people not to accept homosexuality because they are conservative, even if the government were to decriminalise homosexual acts of sex, it is not going to stop the homophobia that permeates the country. Repealing 377a is not going to stop the cries of “bapok” and “ah gua” on the streets, just as outlawing racism in Singapore is not going to stop the mutual jeerings of “ah pu neh neh” and “munjen” in the neighbourhood.

But at least we can offer equal protection to everyone, regardless of sexuality, from persecution from the law.

Never mind that the community is conservative, never mind that the majority have yet to accept homosexuals as social equals, but at least decriminalising homosexual acts of sex would be one less guillotine hanging over their heads.

What is the purpose of the government? If the government says it is there to reflect the views of the people it serves, then, well, the seething dissent from the masses these days from unpopular bills such as the move to regulate internet news is the exact opposite of representing its population.

If the government is there to lead by example, why couldn’t the government lead by example on this front, and set a precedent for reducing victimisation of its own people?

There is a disconnect between some laws of the land and its people; just because things are law doesn’t necessarily mean that the mindsets of people will automatically change. The outlawing of secret societies did not magically make people stop subscribing to the ideas that gangs offer protection and fear; it merely drove them underground. It was the eventual modernisation and improvements to policing that left all but a handful still loyal to the idea of organised brotherhood. Singaporeans are slowly accepting homosexuality more are more, regardless of whether the law decrees it or not.

So the courts might as well do the right thing, and the set the go-ahead for love without fear of persecution.

Graduation: We did it! What is ‘it’?

About a month and a half ago, I graduated with my bachelors from New York University. It was a pretty grand affair. The Yankee Stadium was awash with a sea of purple and camera flashes, and while a sizeable portion of the student body was not impressed that their commencement speaker was David Boies, the lawyer who got Prop 8 overturned, I thought it was pretty rad.

However, I just could not muster up the enthusiasm to enjoy the ceremony. Around me, friends were congratulating each other, high-fiving, taking pictures of themselves in graduation regalia.

diditI just didn’t feel it. People were telling each other, “We did it!” But, what is it about “it” that we did that is so worth congratulating?

Perhaps I was reluctant to be ending a period in my life where I didn’t have to worry about finding jobs and entering the “real world?” Perhaps I was unhappy to be leaving friends I’ve made in my four years?

No, not really. University for me has always been a gateway for me to enter the world of journalism. I practically entered college with my major declared. No fudging around classes, wondering what life was going to be for me when I left college — no, I did college for what lies after. I was eager to start my foray into professional journalism. And no, while I had a handful of friends at college, my closest friends in the city were mostly outside of college (circus, online communities, etc), and the close friends I made in college are still in the city anyway. Also, it is not as if I am one to bemoan having to leave people behind; after all I am not stranger to uprooting myself. I left a lifetime of friends and family 9000 miles behind to be here.

What I was not enthused about was of the zeitgeist of “We did it!” What was particularly hard about college that surviving it made it an ordeal worth congratulating? A student who puts in conscientious and regular effort into his or her school work will find that making it to graduation is not that big a deal. Perhaps we now live in a culture where “keeping up the good work” has become a rarity and that one who displays it should be congratulated.

Or perhaps I grew up in a culture where such things are expected of you. Insert Asian stereotypes here, but verily making it to the finishing line doesn’t turn heads, doesn’t make eyelids bat. Distinctions do. I was not a spectacular student, and I even lapsed at school work at times, but I can say that I consistently put in effort in college, and I came out okay. I didn’t graduate with Latin honours, but my grades were not abysmal (3.5 out of a 4? I’ll take it.). I am sure if I put in more effort, I’d have gotten better grades and all that but that is no more than a numbers’ chase.

One’s path in college, no matter the classes taken, is predictable. One is expected to put in a certain amount of work into it, and at the end of the day, you come out unscathed and meeting expectations. Do we congratulate people for meeting expectations? Maybe we do, but people at graduation make it out to be such a big deal it is as if people enter college with the expectations that they are all going to flunk out, and that having made it to graduation actually is exceeding expectations.

Why would anyone want to enter college expecting to fail anyway?

What I would say “We did it!” to would be more of the unexpected things one does in college; things that a student endeavours at his or her own risk with no idea what the outcome would be. Things I would celebrate are:

  • Having started a community of my own, the NYU Violet Circus Arts
  • Making the effort to immerse myself in the local cultures, such as having performed at the Howl! Festival
  • Learning to extend myself in ways I’d never have done back home, such as forming friendships online, etc

The common denominator of the above seem to be about forging and integrating into communities, and they don’t seem like much, but these are things that were quite unknown to me back home. Going to gaming meetups from Reddit groups? Would never even have touched Reddit back home. Talking to random poi spinners in the park and subsequently being introduced to the local scene of fire spinning and circus arts? People scarcely even publicly practice circus arts, and that’s not to say that there are very many.

In comparison, having done these as a student was above and beyond what I felt was expected of me as a student. The true growth came not understanding of linguistics and journalism in the classrooms, but from what I made myself do outside of them.

Orientalism vs Occidentalism: Circus Edition

I’ve been unicycling and spinning various stuff for about 10 years now, probably. I’ve spun in Singapore, and I’ve spun around the United States. I’ve seen buskers in the Czech Republic and in Germany as wells. One thing that always struck out to me was how similar Asian performers are with one another, but markedly different from Western performers, who are similar amongst themselves.

Let me show you two videos from the Olympics of unicycling, UNICON.

The above two videos show the winners of UNICON 16, Kazuhiro Shimoyama (Japan) and Janna Wohlfarth (Germany), of the Freestyle Expert category, Male and Female respectively. Notice the vast difference? Shimoyama does a lot of pirouettes, and is generally a lot more dance-attuned and rhythm-attuned to the music that’s playing. Wohlfarth, aside from the Marge outfit and the Simpsons soundtrack, looks more like a showcase of all the nifty skills she’s learnt.

And that actually quite sums up the difference between Western and Eastern performing. If you think I’m generalising, here‘s a link to the performance of Haruka Sato and Ryohei Matsuda (Japan), Pairs Expert, where Sato also came in second for Freestyle Expert, Female. And to compare, here‘s Philipp Henstrosa (Switzerland), who came in fourth in the Expert, Male category in UNICON 16, but this video is from UNICON 15. You’d see that the generalisations I made still pertain.

Such similarities transcend unicycles. Having been in New York for a while, other (Western) spinners never fail to be amazed by my movements, even though the tricks I’m doing are relatively simple. I can’t do a stand-up wheel walk or do a unispin or a flip; I can’t even do a hyperloop on a poi, but I do move my body a lot, and always in reaction to the music that’s playing. To me, music sense is very important to me, because it shows the audience how your mind and body interprets its surrounding and the music to the best of the limitations imposed by the props one is using and of one’s body.

In the spinning world, such a dichotomy is one of ‘Tech’ and ‘Flow’. ‘Tech’ is the pursuit of technical skills, the equivalent of stunts or tricks. They usually have a name, like “Rubenstein’s Revenge” or “Reverse Wheelwalk” or the ilk. Tech spinners tend be grounded on the spot and they let their skills speak for themselves. ‘Flow’ is simply movement. They don’t even have to be graceful and fluid; popping and locking while performing is a form of flow. It is the natural progression of the body as applied to the prop that gives flow its meaning. You can’t name ‘flow moves’, else it would be named something like “Hip-wiggly-thing-as-I-round-my-shoulders”. Less cool-sounding than tech moves.

Also fundamental difference, you can teach tech, but you can’t really teach flow.

I mean I do wish I were actually more skilled in tech. I always tell people “Nah, I just go flow simply because I’m bad at tech.” Which is not completely incorrect; my tech skills are very limited. But I do wonder why it seems almost racial that Eastern spinners tend towards flow (even if it’s crazy, mind-blowingly hard Japanese flow) whereas Westerners tend towards hard skills. I’m sure there are tons of tech-versed people who are trying to marry tech and flow, but the number who succeed, well. I’m not so sure.