Overcoming Yourself: Review of my Overseas Work Trip

I had the opportunity to be nominated for a working trip to Indonesia which happened over the past week. The trip was an exchange program for Junior Officers and as part of this trip, I had to help host the Indonesian Officers when they come to Singapore. I was proud that my boss thought about me for this trip, but I was also rather apprehensive because mingling and meeting new people was never my cup of tea.

What I did was to tell myself to “Just Do It”. Actually, after the nomination, I had not received any confirmation for weeks and I thought I was not selected eventually. After some time, an email came to check if I was still available. I had an option: (1) lie and say that I had arranged for something else given that there was no confirmation or (2) tell the truth and accept what comes. I went with option 2. Lying didn’t feel right especially since my boss favoured me sufficiently to nominate me. So I saw it as a challenge to do something that I normally won’t do, as a means to grow up and get used to the fact that mingling and small talk are skills that I need to build up.

The apprehensiveness grew when I realised that the first meeting between the Singapore team clashed with my course. I would not have met them all before the official program and wouldn’t that be awkward if they already knew each other? Eventually the team lead called for a separate meeting and I went ahead telling myself to make new friends. So when the first person sat beside me, I initiated a conversation by introducing myself. And I don’t think I have ever done that. Usually others initiate the contact. I felt good as though I achieved something that I set out to do, and I made a new friend. That gave me confidence. Slowly I memorised everyone’s names as the time goes by, and it felt better, like more personal.

During the Singapore leg of the program, we had to engage our Indonesian counterparts during meals and bring them around. I did not manage to become extremely talkative and engaging, but slowly I managed to break out of the shell and talk to them. I suppose that is a good step forward to change myself and it felt extremely rewarding and satisfactory.

In the Indonesia phase of the programme, we were told to prepare songs as their dinner culture involves getting both sides to contribute singers. I hated that extremely because I was very self-conscious and I disliked putting myself in the limelight for something I absolutely sucked at. At the official dinner, I was quite pleased that it seemed that I would be getting away with it after all, until the Indonesian Colonel spoke to my team lead and pointed over. My team lead walked to me and said “They want you to sing”. And I surprised myself. I stood up and walked to the microphone, and I could feel absolutely nothing. I didn’t think about how weird it would be or whether my voice sucked. I went with it. Luckily they asked another friend to sing with me, and we had a great time. The heads from both Singapore and Indonesia came and sing along like one happy family and I felt very happy.

Life has her way of making you do things and getting you to experience the different side of things. The things which I was apprehensive of, Life made me do it and she made me realise that it is not that bad after all. I am very happy that I chose to go ahead with this program because I grew up a lot and learned many new things. If I were to choose again, I would still choose to attend.

Singapore not needing “guan xi”

I read with amusement with respect to what our leaders say about why foreigners like to take up citizenship here in Singapore. Apparently, here in Singapore, you do not need “guan xi” or connections to do well. Here in Singapore we go by a system of meritocracy, something ingrained in us since we had the required brain level to process Social Studies. I agree that the idea of meritocracy is an extremely important concept, and must be carried out to ensure a fair and just society. But then again, are we really sure that we do not need connections?

I have always felt a tiny sense of disgust when people talk about meritocracy. Yes, meritocracy is important. It is important to let peasants think that meritocracy is a pillar of our society. It is damaging if one day we all felt that our society is not based on meritocracy. Yet, are we practising what we preach?

We say Singapore is a meritocratic society. If you work hard, you will get what you deserve. You’ll get promoted based on your capabilities, not on connections. Yet time and time again I have been proven wrong. Connections do get you somewhere, and meritocracy is only a front.

Why do I say that? Just take a look at the top schools of today. Can we find any white horses? We don’t even need white horses. Can we find anyone who’s in the school today that got in not because of stellar academic results, or excellence in other fields? I bet we can. Where is the meritocracy then? When you could get into a top school by connections, even when you fail to make the grade, when other Singaporeans are denied a place just because they cannot get the required aggregate or L1R5?

I read further into the article, where we say the scholarships are given to those that deserve it. Yet how many scholars do deserve it? Is it that white horses are all of excellent gene material, that by nature of them being offsprings of our leaders, that they have the natural ability to pass all scholarship interviews smoothly? I do not know, and I can’t argue. But what about those few who are in our local schools? Those scholars from overseas who come to Singapore to study, most seeing Singapore as a stepping stone to another country like the US? Those scholars who cannot even raise our academic level, and fail to even keep up to peasants like me in University?

Or like the one sitting beside me today who continued writing when the professor declared that the time is up? And even discussed with his friend and wrote down what his friend told him, just because the situation was so out of control since the professor didn’t have the brains and asked all of us to hand the script on our own to the front? There’s no need to point fingers. Yes the indian “scholar” over there. Yes, the china “scholar”. And we think they deserve it. They can’t even introduce proper competition in our academic environment without cheating.

So don’t talk about meritocracy like it is for everyone. Yes meritocracy is here in Singapore, but it’s only for peasants. Within peasants versus peasants, meritocracy prevails. For the elite, their very nature would enable them to win. Meritocracy? White horsepocricy.