2 Jun 2013

From Ah Boy...

Ten years since SARS struck... that's really something to think about.

When SARS hit, I was still a mostly blissfully ignorant Primary 3 boy who was mostly glad that I didn't have to go to school. What I generally remember was having to stay at home, with no homework other than some weekly/daily(I can't really remember) journal exercise to practise our writing skills... probably. I was just happy I could relax at home, unaware of the emergency situation going on around me. Medical staff frantically tending to the infected while assisting in the screening of other patients... victims dealing with the agony of the symptoms... relatives and friends worried about the possibility of losing their loved ones... We were hit hard, but we bounced back.

So much has occurred over the ten years. After the recovery, Singapore advanced in various areas, boosting our odds of survival in this ever-changing hectic world we live in. Mindsets also changed, and we had to become open to new possibilities. Healthcare and medicine are still constantly improving, among other fields of expertise. Of course, we're still fighting against obstacles, some returning with a vengeance. But we've become much stronger, much more capable.

Am I still the same blissfully ignorant boy from 10 years ago though?

I wish I could really confidently answer that I'm definitely not the same as my Primary 3 self. Physically I feel different, that's for sure. If I didn't then there's a problem right there. And of course I've learnt a freaking load of information since then, so I'm more intelligent. My old self would know nuts about quantum physics and calculus and organic chemistry.

Psychologically? Surprisingly that's a bit harder to say. I wish I could say I'm no longer the kid I was in my head, but there are lots of lingering remnants that remain. What I mean is I still can't properly put myself in the position of a responsible mature man. Not even demanding to be a proper respectable gentleman, just an "ordinary" man who's supposed to act my age.

A whole country has managed to adjust with the times and make herself more resilient against daily challenges she faces. I don't think I managed to do the same. I'm nearly out of my teens and I feel nowhere near mental adulthood. I admired schoolmates who acted more maturely than their physical age, being able to keep a level head and steady moral compass when juggling their commitments both within and outside of school. I admired friends who dared to take on, and successfully handled big responsibilities and roles that I wouldn't see myself in for another few years, even if I possessed the relevant passion and technical skill.

Some, perhaps many, insecurities and flaws still haven't gone away yet. For one, I still find myself incredibly sensitive to others' emotions and actions. It has helped when I'm near positive people, but it absolutely sucks near negative people. Not that I'm saying it's abnormal for humans to be influenced by others' emotions, in fact it's good when empathising with them. My problem is that it's so hard to turn it down to a manageable level. Even seeing a negative comment on the Internet that isn't directed at me gets me worked up, let alone physical interactions and experiences that may not even involve me, like arguments or gossiping.

You might be able to imagine how incredibly frustrating it is for me to be doing what I do in NS now. It's very risky for me to talk about my NS stuff, but I'll try to get it out of my system without stepping on too many toes. Every weekday I'm surrounded by NSFs who complain about their superiors, who in turn get so fiercely involved in office politics. And I can't tune out enough of all this freaking negativity without being completely out of the building. Even having my workload reduced isn't helping much. Being posted somewhere else isn't a solution either, judging from the popular opinion that other places would very likely be way worse. And getting involved to eradicate the sources of my colleagues' frustrations is either impossible, or easy to screw up. So what am I left with? Stick around and hope my body and mind don't give in before ORD, or go for the early exit. Knowing that I just want to emerge out of this in mostly one piece, you can figure out what I prefer.

The problem is the early exit is very frowned upon, and only recommended for those who're "truly in need" of it. Even then you're still penalised for doing so. Technically the system rewards you for sticking through to the end with a document listing your accomplishments during your service, but indirectly it punishes you by not giving you that document. And not having that document, according to many, hurts your chances of employment or admission into academic institutions.

Or does it? To me this only seems similar to the Raffles Diploma certificate. All Year 5 and 6 students are very strongly encouraged to at least achieve the minimum requirements for this, as attaining the RD supposedly increases your chances of employment and admission too. That doesn't mean students from other big local schools like Hwa Chong Institution are at a complete disadvantage because they don't have the RD, right? In my blunt and possibly unpopular opinion, the lack of certificates and "official documents" can still be made up for by building up repertoire and reputation on our own. I'm not completely disagreeing by saying that things like grades and formalised accomplishments are entirely useless. I'm also not bold enough to take my final year academic reports and burn them up as a protest against society's overemphasis over such things, similar to some kid whom I can't really remember the name of. Basically, I know that trying to sticking through just to prevent myself from being avoided and stigmatised isn't worth it, if it's highly unlikely that I wouldn't greatly suffer and inconvenience others. I don't like to go for deals that are high risk with slightly decent rewards.

Another problem that's related is that I keep worrying about the opinions people have on me. The logical part of me always insists that opinions won't kill me or maim me in any way, because they're just words. The emotional side of me, however, puts a lot of worry over these opinions. It's not just that I worry about what those opinions might be, but when these opinions are openly declared it's very hard for me to not feel affected. I always avoid gossip because I know how it would feel like to be at the mercy of a false rumour, so I don't want others to feel the same. This obsession over others' opinions hasn't changed much over the years, just that I've tried harder to hide my reactions.

A third quirk (I don't really want to say "problem" any more) that has stuck around is that a lot of things I do can only be done strictly at my own pace. Again, results vary depending on what pace I'm able to cope at for what I'm doing. If it's an activity I'm extremely seasoned at or I absolutely like doing, then I get by really quickly. Anything else and I must take it slower. Much slower. I know that this sounds pretty common: of course you'll do things much better if you like doing them, most people say. But the difference in pace between doing what I like and doing what I don't like(not necessarily hate) is quite vast. I like to think that the reason I managed to do reasonably well for my 'A's was that I already had partial interest in the subjects I took, so concepts clicked a bit more easily.

This is incredibly frustrating when I HAVE to learn something within a certain time, even if I wouldn't do it voluntarily without a time limit. Especially when I'm stuck trying to pick up the pieces in order to fill a job for someone about to leave, even when I have no interest in the job. Then I get chased by others to learn faster and master my stuff quickly before time's up, but I'm already at the limit doing the best I can. You can see where this will lead to, so I won't mention it again.

Honestly there are quite a few more quirks, but I guess these are the ones that are having a cold grip over my life. Some scars take lots of time to heal, some may never even go away at all. The relatives of some victims who died during the SARS outbreak may still be grieving even after ten years. My flaws may take just as long, or even longer, to be fixed. To be honest I'm not even sure they are even fixable, or meant to be fixed. And these flaws are eating at me even more when I'm in the office. I'm barely keeping up with the expectations of the people there, and I've already been around for nearly four months. How can I handle another 19 months?

I'm actually quite frightened. More and more I'm realising that the likelihood of me breaking under pressure is very high. I don't want that to happen, bringing unnecessary harm to myself and those around me. As much as I want to do my best to serve the country, I seriously think I'm completely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yes, I admit I'm much weaker than most of the other guys, not just physically but mentally too. And I suppose you could say I may be less of a "man" than them. Maybe not a "man" at all. Because "it's the rite of passage that every male citizen goes through to change from a boy to a man". So maybe I'm only fit to become a "boy" for the rest of my life, not totally unlike the boy that I was 10 years back.

But if it means I spare myself and a lot of other people a whole lot of inconvenience and agony, and I can still contribute significantly and meaningfully the next time through my possible careers or other pursuits, then I'll still take it. I'd rather be a boy who's intact and still has a lot to give, than a man who's broken.