I’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

Posted on December 18, 2008


I couldn’t have thought of a better heading to this post. If you, a passionate dance music afficionado, are thinking Fatboy Slim’s You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (personally, one of two albums, the other being The Prodigy’s Fat Of The Land that broke the shackles of what people normally thought of dance and made it more viable to previous non-dance critics, both commercially and visibility) upon seeing the title post then you’re not wrong at all. But this post isn’t about what I listen to (more on that in the future?), it’s about I, Me and Myself.

Crystal graduates today from university. Her family/my in-laws (who arrived yesterday morning and is putting up at my house) are obviously elated. I know it’s got nothing to do with the first in the family to graduate with a Bachelor or the fact that the family had worked, saved and sacrificed a fair bit in the previous years to see her though university. Rather, it’s just knowing that Crystal has made a mark on her life, a small achievement that will be eclipsed by future successes. But right now, at this very moment, this very day, nothing matters more than seeing your name being flashed on the screen (I just hope they don’t spell it wrongly!), walking up the podium while flashing your biggest toothy grin and enjoying every moment of it.

Clowning around with Michele. What a difference a year makes since graduation in 2007.

Clowning around with Michele. What a difference a year makes since graduation in 2007.

You can graduate with as many Bachelors as you might see fit, but the first one is always special. Nothing tops the crowning glory in one’s short, youthful life. Of course, if you’re like Crystal or myself, who are mature aged students who went back to university after working for many years, it’s a different path we took. Nonetheless, it’s a path that mirrors students who went straight into university after Year 12. We all want to make a mark in our lives. We like to know that we are something and we can achieve it if we put our hearts into it. It does not matter how old you are. I know of several university mates who’ve got a couple of kids, in the mid-30s and are still as ‘youthful’ as fellow students two decades their junior.

I was 28 when I finally had my name emblazoned on a piece of paper that said ‘admitted to the Degree of’. Not that it meant anything to me back then. In fact, it still doesn’t. In hindsight, it’s just a piece of paper. I don’t really think a Degree matters as much as being true to yourself, knowing what you want and moving on without regrets.

But if someone had told me five years ago that I’d have given up a comfortable Advertising job to be closer to my now fiancee, pursued a Degree, purchased a property, granted an Australian work/de facto visa, get married in 2009 and settle down in Melbourne, Australia I’d have called your bluff and thought you’re batty. Nobody would have thought it possible. If someone was writing a script, wanted something almost bordering on unbelievable and thought of the most amazing success story, it would look something like my life.

I have incredibly humble beginnings and was born into relative poverty. My parents are second generation Malaysians who moved to Singapore (making them first generation Singaporeans) for a better life. It was hard for them, making ends meet on a meagre wage because they weren’t Singaporeans and had no access to benefits citizens had. They rented for many years; dead money that could have been put into a house if they were Singaporeans. In fact, it wasn’t till I was around 12 my parents had finally saved enough money to buy their first apartment.

Yes it was quite tough. But I never felt like my childhood was any less privileged than any others. This was the era before the Internet, where Sega 8 bit and Atari were king, mobile phones were several kilogrammes light and policemen still wore shorts. I remember playing tag with neighbours, catching wild animals and putting them into jars, assembling imaginery superheroes with my Lego collection and going to a very elite and snobbish all-boys English school. My parents had the (rather peculiar to be honest, for it wasn’t the norm for the Chinese-educated) foresight to send me there and granted, the six years I spent there aren’t in the Top 100 Favourite Moments in my life but I took so much out of it.

I remember visiting classmates who are sons of prominent Ministers, millionaire businessmen and expats in their massive villas or four-storey apartments that houses two kitchens, and sitting in chauffeured cars. The friendship I once had with them disappeared as soon as they visited my house. Tiny and spartan. I was only nine years old, but it hit me hard. I remember the look on one of their faces – utter disbelief. Followed by contempt.

Being subjected to ridicule and alienation due to my family’s poverty and nationality (think about it as how Americans view Canadians/Mexicans, or how highly the Norwegians/Dutch/Finnish rate the Swedes) wasn’t fun, but if there’s one thing it taught me, it was seizing the opportunity and knowing who your allies are. I didn’t have to like it, but because I’m always considered somewhat of an outcast growing up (English-educated and poor? Impossible!) I knew never to rely on anyone but myself. As I grew older, I surrounded myself with friends who liked me for who I am, not what I represent.

Looking back at my younger days, I can’t help but think what I would have become had I not been privy to the other side of the fence. I really doubt I’d be where I am today had it not been a rather tasty concoction of my parents’ intervention and influence, bad primary school days and just a dogged determination to achieve something, no matter how long it took me.