The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: joblessness

All’s well that ends well

It is 5.45am.

Waking up was a non-traumatic affair; I slid out of bed easily, groggily perhaps, but without a fuss. Stumbling a little, I made my way to the kitchen and flooded the room with light. A pot on the stove, a hiss, three clicks and the roar of gas ignited as it rushes past the pilot flame and through the burner. Breakfast is being made.

I am preparing to go to work — today is the first day of my internship, and I am fairly excited. Fairly excited at having to wake up so early in the morning every day and perform the Rituals of the Working Man. Fairly excited at having found my way back to Path of Routine and Normalcy, as you did in the past with school and your previous internships.

After all, this internship validates my ability to stay in this country.

But I know that this isn’t normalcy, only the verisimilitude of it. This false routine does not change the fact that I am still without a job, and that I have not achieved what I came to this country for. Right now, I am merely pretending.

The inky blackness of night yields to a farmer’s blue of dawn.

What comes next? Oh yes, coffee, shower, change of clothes, go to work. The normal progression of things. Oh, and don’t get deported on the way out.

Steel me to strength, steal my fears away.

Journalism is killing journalism

I am out of college, trying to enter the field of journalism. “Are you crazy?” my friends and peers tell me, “Journalism is dead!”

But who are the ones killing journalism?

Journalism isn’t solely dead because people are reading physical newspapers less and less — people go online for their sources of news. People still need the news, and all that is happening is that newspaper journalism is simply undergoing a transformation, not death.

It is the journalism industry itself that is killing itself by being unable to change simply because they’re not letting anyone new in.

Having spent nearly three months job-hunting for journalism jobs, all entry-level positions have a minimum requirement of three years of experience, and that they’re only looking to do experienced hires only. This locks out an entire generation of people with fresh ideas and enthusiasm who have not yet been tainted by the whole “journalism is dead” creed yet, but rather cycles around existing journalists who are even deadbeat about their own prospects.

Other industries in IT and finance constantly take in fresh hires and in its young blood, is able to reinvent itself and stay on top of changes.

Journalism tries to protect itself by holding on to its existing assets and shuns acquiring new people, landing itself slowly into attrition and becoming irrelevant.

How can we make news accessible to the future generation? The easiest way to that answer would be to ask people in that generation, wouldn’t it?

Of course, it is easy to say that as much as papers want to hire, they are unable to because of finances. Well if they keep up in this way, eventually they will go the way of the Boston Globe, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune; sold off to people who are less interested in producing journalism than in serving their own financial interests.

So for the sake of the future of journalism, start hiring already.

Chasing the sun, away from the rain

Will you stay, or will you go?
When your fear turns to determination
to beat the hourglass from running out,
to send out missives,
so as to stay the night.
But how many nights do we have left?
— I dare not count the days
I’d rather keep chasing the sun,
burning legs be damned
fainting hearts be damned,
chasing the sun pursued by rain clouds;
and I really hate the rain.

But this time, I don’t know if I’d merely become
grumpy
or something more
dire.
That’s why I keep pedalling
away from the rain
into the sun.

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.

My Milo is ‘kosong’ out of necessity

miloI am a huge fan of Milo, this chocolate malt drink that I have been drinking since I was a kid. Back home, the way it is usually made is to put heaping spoonfuls of the chocolate powder, add hot water and then a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Not with regular milk, not with creamer, just condensed milk.

These days, I’ve been having to drink my Milo ‘kosong’, or ’empty’ in Malay. What that means is simply a cup of Milo without any condensed milk; just Milo powder and hot water. This variant is preferred by those who like their Milo less sweet, since there is a measure of sugar in the Milo chocolate powder mix already.

Milo has been my regular substitute for slabs of chocolate, since it is rather chocolate-tasting and we all know chocolate makes people feel better about themselves. Heaven knows I need plenty of feel-goodness, to help the days pass by.

condm

I had a can of condensed milk at the start, and every cup of Milo made a spoonful of this sticky, sweet goodness would always go with it. Sometimes even two, if I felt like it. At times, I would even lick the spoon for the remnants after I put it into the drink. I have on occasion, simply taken a teaspoon of the stuff because it tastes really good (don’t judge).

But as the condensed milk fell from brim to bottom, and the spoon made a cloying scrape that signified the pending depletion of the condiment, I started to ration it. A full teaspoonful of condensed milk per cup of Milo became half a spoonful. Eventually the condensed milk ran out.

I then started using the milk for my cereal into my Milo, which is not as good, but a fair replacement. After all, I had run of cereal and was not planning on buying any cereal for a while, and I had been using whatever milk was left in cooking anyway. Making Milo is sort of cooking. It is a preparation of a beverage — the use of milk in Milo is certainly justified.

It would not even be a week before even the milk disappeared. And thus for the two weeks, my Milo has been unsweetened, unmilked, unembellished by anything. But I persist in imbibing this concoction, because even without the sweetness of excess, life and cups of Milo go on.

I might be unable to afford the sweetness that makes our life pleasurable, but that does not mean I should simply throw out my brew or stop drinking Milo altogether. We have become a culture so addicted to the sweet things in life that we forget what it feels like to live humbly. Maybe I grow to like the taste of ‘kosong’, maybe I will pull through and find a job and one day be able to afford condensed milk again. But in the meantime, let the hot chocolate warm my heart and relish in the joy of knowing at least you still have Milo to hold in your hands.

(If anyone is wondering why I can afford Milo but not condensed milk, when Milo in New York costs like $14 or something ridiculous for a 1kg can, I can’t. These cans of Milo are gifts. I will lament the day I run out of even Milo powder.)

To be driven to despair

Job seeker, 21, with 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs, kills herself after she was rejected for 200 jobs

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1267953/Job-seeker-Vicky-Harrison-commits-suicide-rejected-200-jobs.html#ixzz2bABkpoVL

After being unemployed for two years, and after over unsuccessful job application, 21-year-old Vicki Harrison kills herself. I read this today and I felt immeasurable sadness for her family, and empathy for her situation. While I have not been unemployed for two years, there are times when my mind have wandered into the similar regions of despair, self-loathing and frustration.

Every day gained is an extra day lost.

Time is ticking out for me; I’m currently on a visa that gives me a year’s grace to be employed in my field of study. A sixth of it has gone. Unlike Harrison, I don’t have two years.

Today, I bumped into the unemployed friend of mine on my way to circus. He told me that in the two years since he graduated from college, he has been unemployed for a total of 15 months when all his unemployment periods are added up. That’s more than a year, more than half of how long he has since graduated. It did not hearten me to hear that he could have been unemployed for that amount of time.

What if it happens to me? What if my year runs out and I still have yet to find a job?

The problem with being college-educated and being told that you’re good at what you do only sets you up higher for a bigger fall. Harrison has 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs. I have 3 A-levels and 9 or 10 GCSEs, and a college degree. But these alone do not get you a job. Jobs these days want a minimum of “3-4 years work experience” for junior, associate or entry-level positions. Well, what are fresh-graduates supposed to do to get this magical work experience for entry-level jobs that are supposed to help them get experience? What’s the level below entry-level where graduates can glean experience from then? Friends have told me that internship experience counts, but I can scarcely imagine a hirer choosing a fresh-graduate with only internship experience over someone who has actual work experience from a time when entry-level was really meant for people to enter into the industry.

I wonder how long I can hold out before my font of optimism snuffs out?

Can I have some more gruel, please?

You know you’re falling on hard times when you start rationing even cabbage, and cutting out a 1/16 part of it for lunch.

Grocery shopping has become challenge as I start to cut out on things that were once deemed nice to have, but are now crossed out out of necessity. I have always been a frugal shopper, but lately I have had to extend how long groceries last in my fridge, thereby reducing the frequency with which I have to go grocery shopping. I now have to try to make two weeks’ worth of groceries last three.

I have resisted the temptation to live on a diet of processed food, even though they are probably cheaper. It’s depressing enough that I don’t have a lot of money, I shouldn’t have to suffer the idea of eating sub-par frozen dinners and the such. Besides, eating unhealthily might eventually lead to health complications that might end up costing me more. A friend who is similarly unemployed tells me that on certain sale days, frozen dinners can cost as little as $1 each, but having never grown up in a culture of microwaving meals as a norm, that idea did not sit well with me.

On average, I manage to rack up about $25 on Asian groceries and about $35 for Western groceries each trip. This $60 usually sufficiently provides me two meals every day, for about two weeks, making it a cost of $4.30 a meal a day, which isn’t bad at all. This $60 now has to last me three weeks.

The following chronicles how my diet has changed in this time of rationing.

Carbohydrates

noodles

The above are two of the cheapest noodles available in the Asian and Western supermarkets I go to.  The Chinese egg noodles on the left cost about 80 cents (the supermarket doesn’t tax!) and the capellini pasta costs about 88 cents before tax. While it seems like the pasta costs only a paltry eight cents more, too little to make a difference, the number of servings I can prepare before I finish each box is hugely different. These noodles are all the carbs that I buy.

I wonder why I always end up using finishing the box of pasta faster than the Asian noodles. I usually finish using the box of pasta after 4-5 meals, whereas the Asian noodles lasts me about 5-6 meals. This is odd because by weight, the pasta is a full pound while the Asian noodles are about 14 ounces. Maybe because the Asian noodles are in cakes and makes it easier to divvy up (one is usually enough, two if you’re really hungry) whereas I usually just eyeball how much pasta to use.

I have also stopped buying bread or pitas or tortillas.

Meats/Proteins

prot

I used to have protein from meat at least one meal a day, or once every two days if I felt like having less meat in my diet. Now, my source of protein comes primarily from eggs, and occasionally I’d be able to have some pork, perhaps twice a week. The one-pound round of pork butt which I made char siew out of in a previous post has been made to last me two to three weeks, by strategically cutting off what I need and freezing the rest.

I have also been substituting meat with tofu, because a pound of it is about a dollar.

Vegetables

veg

This is the above-mentioned 1/16 of a head of cabbage, which I have been painstakingly rationing, since they’re one of the hardiest vegetables to keep in the fridge. Even though a pound of carrots is $1 each, I also have a bag of frozen carrots and peas. However, I reserve the fresh carrots for making stew, and use the frozen ones in pasta and rice dishes. I have stopped buying bell peppers and fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary and thyme.

I love mushrooms, but they’re impossible to keep for extended periods without turning mushy.

Luxuries

snack

Chocolate has been struck off of the list. Today, my friend was kind enough to give me a slab because it was too bitter for her. Thanks goodness I love bitter chocolate.

However, I have been snacking on spoonfuls of peanut butter instead; peanut butter that I bought a long time ago but ran out of bread on which to spread.

I have also been drinking copious amounts of Milo because it tastes so chocolatey.

Flavorants

flav

I used to have flavour bouillons and stock pastes, but ever since I ran out, I’ve been relying on using shallots, onions, garlic and scallions as a replacement. These vegetables are rich in umami, and when burnt in a pot or pan, release a lot of flavour. Buying scallions from Chinatown has been a steal for me, since in Chinatown they’re usually two or three bunches for $1 (approximately 5-6 stalks per bunch!) whereas it might be as expensive as $1 a bunch in Western supermarkets. It’s also $1 for a rope of garlic and a dollar-something for a bag of shallots. Scallions last only about three weeks before they yellow, but onions, shallots and garlic stay good for a really long time, about a month or so.

Blame it on the Aracuan

Sometimes, I make myself so busy with my own projects during this period of unemployment that I wonder what it is all for.

busy (1)I’m just trying to get to the end where I hope there is no Aracuan bird to derail my efforts to delude myself that this is all worth it.

train

Keep your chin up, little bird. There will be more nests to build.

dest2

[edit] I decided to turn the above gif into a “Thanks, Obama!” gif, because it seems like the right thing to do.

tksobm

Le regard neuf de l’enfant sauve même les trottoirs de l’usure

enfantThe fresh perspectives of a child will save even the sidewalk from attrition — Romain Gary

I learnt this phrase from a friend from France who turned up at my weekly circus. We talked about haiku and I mentioned about the naive perspectives of children being one of the most beautiful things about it, and he told me about this quote. I found it poignant and decide to illustrate it.

Every day I wake up less and less sure of myself — I open my email inbox with my breath held, expecting to be disappointed. Expectations were met. No response from any of the jobs I have applied at.

Every time I write I become less and less sure of my ability — I used to think that being capable got you places, and I was sure that I was pretty capable. Now am I less confident that that is the case, or that maybe I’m not that capable after all.

And then I realise that perhaps what I need is a fresh perspective to stop this attrition of the self and of the mind. I left college with a font of hope and optimism, and thought that sufficient to last me till I transition into the next phase of my life; where I start working. I guess I did not consider that this transition might take longer than I expected, and hoping to merely brave this foray with what I had would not be sufficient.

I will need to renew my view on how I take each day that does not bring me the news I so fervently wish.

Waking dreams

It is often said that dreams are manifestations of the subconscious; I find that very plausible. As if spending every waking moment being reminded that I have yet to find a job is not enough, I am dreaming about them in my sleep too.

I have always had the ability to remember my dreams pretty well, though I am not sure that’s a gift.

I am back in Singapore, but instead of returning to my parents’ home, I go to my grandmother’s. “You’re back,” she says, happy to see me return, and I said, “Yea, but I will have to go back soon.”

“You should call your parents and let them know,” she says.

“Ok, I will do that later.”

And then I procrastinated by going grocery shopping. Being back home, I need not scrimp and save when it came to shopping to feed myself. I did not have to forgo buying meat because it was a tad expensive, I did not have to buy the hardiest vegetables and produce so that they last in the fridge the longest. I could sense the temptation to just embrace this purchasing-power-freedom.

I made it home, and then I called my mother’s mobile phone, instead of my father’s, but a bad connection forced me to call the house’s landline instead.

“Mom, I’m back.”

“That’s great. When did you return?”

“Earlier this morning,” I lied; in the dream I returned last night. “I’m at grandma’s now.”

“Ok, will you come over for dinner later tonight?”

“Yea, sure.”

“How were things in the States? How was the flight?”

“Er, we’ll talk more when I go over. See ya later.”

“Alright.”

I could sense that my father was there in that room when I was talking, and it was an uneasy feeling.

The dream ended, I never got to go over to meet my parents for dinner. Maybe I didn’t want to.