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It’s good to have friends, especially if your family is not with you for whatever reasons. I used to have this Vietnamese classmate whose parents had already passed away, and she was all alone in Singapore to fend for herself. Hien-san, if you remember me, I would like to say that I’m really happy that we were assigned to be partners for our Japanese oral test that time. Frankly speaking, I was worried when it was announced that we would be partnering each other because I had some trouble understanding your accent sometimes. However, as we practised with one another, I found that it was ok after all, and that you’re not as nice as you seem…which makes you nicer, if that makes sense!

I used to think that it’s as easy to make ties as well as to break them. With the exception of perhaps family members, I did not hope for permanence in my relationship with others. I’m not sure why; I had a generally happy childhood (well, no lasting trauma anyway), but I’ve always had this sense of detachment even, I admit, towards family. It’s not that I don’t love, or that I don’t need love, but I always feel that I have this unfulfilled need in me, this hole that nobody seems to be able to fill. And I think deep inside me, as much as I yearn for a harmonious & nurturing relationship with my family, a fulfilling career, a healthy and sustainable partnership with a man, and friends who are really friends and not frenemies (friends who are really enemies), there is something more that I crave.

I’m now watching the latest season of 鋼の錬金術師, and there is this scene in which there is a flashback to the past. Edward tried to bring his dead mother back to life, failed and nearly died in the process. Somewhere in that ‘process’, he felt as if all the information in the world was rushing into his head, and he saw, what he termed, ‘truth’.

「真理」

People intrigue me, and that includes myself. Our motives, our attitudes, our behaviours…everything. Looking at our weaknesses, our foibles, our ugliness is not scary to me (some may say I haven’t really seen the worst though). Maybe it is the way the human brain is wired; that we need to categorise things (necessary because the brain would probably suffer a haemorrhage from information overload otherwise) and hence leading to us having a basis for comparison, but it is in all the darkness that, when something good happens, when a good deed is done, you feel like standing up to applaud and say, ‘Jolly well done!’ Our ugliness is precisely what makes us so beautiful.

And to experience them all, I would probably feast with thieves and murderers as much as with beggars. Well, metaphorically speaking. It is also from learning about others that we learn about ourselves. There is a Chinese saying, ‘知之难,不在见人,在自见’. It means, ‘Knowing is difficult, not because knowledge of others is difficult to obtain, but because knowledge of the self is difficult to master.’ Self-awareness is really important. Knowing what you want, AND what you don’t. Knowing your real limitations. Knowing your self-imposed limitations. Knowing your innate ability. Knowing that you have possible hidden depths that are waiting to be discovered. Keeping an open mind. Maintaining humility so that you are open to questions…

Now on the last point above, let me elaborate. Not sure about friends who have worked with people from other cultures, but I’ve been through phases ranging from disbelief, incredulity, anger, and finally to acceptance. Actually, it’s mainly vacillating between anger and attempts to achieve acceptance now. By accepting, I do not mean giving up though. It means bracing yourself for a fiercer battle ahead, and sometimes, losing a pawn in order to secure the king later.

It also means deconstructing everything that you were taught and have known all your life, and trying to understand the other party’s point of view, motives, and so on.

It’s not easy, questioning…doubting all you’ve known all your life. But you really grow as a person.

In that process, I grew to understand my own culture better. I grew to appreciate our government more. I grew to understand our history better, and how the present is truly an accumulation of our past. Our present (actions) will similarly affect our future generations. I got to understand how other cultures (ok, namely the Japanese culture) came to be doing what they do today. And I feel thankful that I was born a Singaporean. Well, if I were born in other countries, I probably would not think that…

With the risk of appearing condescending, I can’t help but think, ‘Compare Singapore today and Singapore 10 years ago, and look at her progress.’ I really admire Mr. Lee Kuan Yew for his farsightedness. He is but one man, and I’m sure, not the only one who thinks Singapore should proceed the way we went, but he was, and still is, and will remain, Singapore’s icon…his is a name that will be down in history books.

Granted, the way we were educated, or should I say, molded…it is partly because of that our society is facing problems such as stress due to extreme competitiveness, and lack of civic-mindedness perhaps, etc. That’s another story…but you know what I found? Perhaps due to our multi-racial, multi-religious society, it seems that Singaporeans on the whole, adapt relatively better when they get posted overseas.

In case you, my dear friends, misunderstand the point I was trying to make above, let me declare that I am all for peace and harmony, be it among the various races, religions, or cultures, etc. I wasn’t trying to put down any culture in preceding paragraphs. I was just stating that it is through understanding of other cultures that we learn about our own heritage, and ultimately build up self-awareness as an individual.

The reason why I said I was vacillating between anger and half-baked acceptance is because I could not see any great effort on the part of the other party trying to assimilate into our culture. Any relationship, in order for it to be healthy and sustainable, should be built on the simple principle of reciprocity.

Anyway, on how our future will be built upon history…simply put, we are all connected. This is beyond our immediate social circles, beyond nationalities, beyond cultures, beyond any kinds of boundaries known to us. Wonder whether anybody has noticed before, but if you take the ‘y’ away from ‘your’, you get ‘our’. And you realise ‘I’ is not included explicitly, but embedded in the meaning of ‘our’? It’s not ‘Me versus You’, or ‘Us versus Them’. It’s ‘One for All, and All for One’. It’s not just merely seeing the differences. It’s knowing what the differences are, but not neglecting the basic similarities, and finding wonder in the latter, leading to the embracing of the former.

This, my friends, is the true meaning of ‘Brotherhood’ as Aquarius sees it to be, and it is a wonderful thing for humanity, but a terrible thing for a partner (my term for boyfriend/lover/husband) perhaps.