Have you seen the video “Singapore: _________ nation”? In the mini-documentry, interviewees talk about how they feel about life in Singapore. Does we really suck? Did we go too hard on ourselves? (If you’ve not, the video is at the foot of this article)
I caught up with the trio at AMOK – Caleb Quek, Sean Ng and Nick Guan – together, they make up the production house that put together the video in partnership with OBEY (a street wear brand who dares to challenge mainstream socio-political perspectives).
“The idea for the video started off at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles, at the coffee shop at Crawford Lane (yes, we’re that specific)”, said Nick. The video had been in production for more than 2 months, at around April. “We thought – I think we have enough of fluffy videos so why not go for the hard stuff?”
So here’s the thing: Singaporeans complained a lot. But are we really that bad as a nation? Is it really that bitter? AMOK started to play around with rhetorical questions such as “Do Singaporeans merely exist?”
“We initially wanted to tackle the workforce situation in Singapore”, explained Nick. “Looking at job surveys, we know that few people are happy with their jobs.” Then the project evolved into something bigger, which was this mini-documentary.
Based on the Ranstead Workmonitor survey, 45% of employees in Singapore do not think they have the perfect job. A further 75% of them think it is a means of putting food on the table and nothing more.
Now this is a gloomy picture and probably explains the health of our society today. We’ve been criticised many things: The “least positive” country in the world, Most emotionless country…oh yeah and we rank high on the unhappy index.
The team at AMOK found it odd. We’ve got all the elements of a successful, safe and stable country, so what’s wrong? Have we flown so close to success that our economic wings are melting from the heat of prosperity?
“The doctrine of ‘doing what you really like’ is lacking in Singapore, many of us are stuck in our ‘safe’ ways”, said Sean. And I agreed with him. Whatever happened to the hunter in us? The one who is sick of merely bringing bread home, and went all out to get dessert also?
“We are results oriented and our KPI is measured by money”, he balked and gave a curious look.
From hantam bola age, we’ve been reminded that without education, we’re going to be roadsweepers. That we need to constantly benchmark and one-up ourselves with all the thousands of students in Singapore in a zero sum race to the top.
We’ve managed to put ourselves in a constant state of benchmarking – to have the more sexy job, to have the higher pay, to look like you have more disposable income. And when you have all these things to look after, it disables the hunter in you. You can’t let go little bit and go after what you love.
“I should know this”, admitted Nick. “I was brought up in a family where both my parents are insurance agents. All day long, the conversation was about – is it safe, do you have a safety net, better just get a job more stable”. His parents wanted stability, but the man went ahead to build a video production company instead.
It was clear that AMOK wanted Singaporeans to go get their feet wet with passion.
“You see, you won’t starve in Singapore”, assured Sean. “Whatever the state of your endeavour, even if push comes to shove, you’ll still find support in the form of a job”. And he is correct to say that. With an unemployment rate of about 2%, the country is at maximum employment. In fact, employers are hard pressed looking for qualified people to do work.
I thought we should push this further – Singapore is now experiencing a wide income divide. The stable of rich and ultra rich is growing. What if you start to meet girls who tell you they won’t date you if you don’t have a Ferrari?
“Well then I don’t want such a girl in the first place,” confessed Caleb.
“I’d prefer to have a girl I can take a bus with,” smirked Nick.
“Same for me – I’d rather not have such a girl. There must be deeper satisfaction… satisfaction that lasts longer than beauty or your bank accounts”, said Sean.
“That said, we are already deep in a world where consumerism is the norm. We cannot siam this. Not unless you live in the jungle”.
This is not the 60s, 70s or even 80s Singapore. This is the 21st century Singapore where it is more of a middle class landscape. Those who grew up in a Lee Kuan Yew or even a Goh Chock Tong era have the mindset that we’re poor, where we should be contented with a roof over our heads and food on the table.
Ours is a world where we seek exponential growth. Where we build an app and target to become billionaires. The social pressure is real and very high.
But whilst this is a norm of society, we have to strike that balance. We shouldn’t hammer ourselves if we’re not millionaires by age 30.
Bottom line is: Singaporeans, please take it easy. There is ample support in society that helps you pursue your dreams. A job is always there as a safety net – and employers are more excited to hire ex-entrepreuners for their business value. People who understand the value of productivity and have deep business acumen. With these values you won’t starve – there will always be opportunities everywhere.
But here’s the paradox – in order for us to take it easy and pursue our ambitions, the country (the whole economic entity) cannot take it easy. It has to continue to attract investors, to attract money, to attract businesses whom will buy from local businesses. To build this economic eco-system so that all who live in it can prosper. It is not chasing prosperity at all cost. As a matter of fact, without prosperity we’ll have limited choices to do what we want.
Maybe before we even seek out happiness, we need to understand firstly what makes us happy.
I like this quote from “Sharon Cher, Retail Entrepreneur” in the video. She says “You have a choice to make a living. The fact you have a choice puts us in a very enviable position. But if you take this for granted, then we are tagging happiness to something else you’d never attain, right?”
Watch the mini-documentary by AMOK here:
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