Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Stop Complaining...the Grass is not Always Greener Elsewhere

I love interacting with my classmates and teachers at Italian class, and other ‘’foreign friends’’. They put things in the right perspective and remind me to stop gripping and be less inward looking.

Last week we had another of our usual debates – in hesitant Italian and English. My Italian teacher, Giuseppina, was telling us how fortunate Singaporeans are. We have the luxury of domestic help (maids are inexpensive and aplenty), decent salary, safe political and social environment, sound government policies and economy. We work too hard, our children study and suffer too much – those are the only two laments of hers, but we are prosperous.

Contrast that to Italians. Their average salary is no more than 1,700 euros; a teacher earns 1000 euros. But the cost of living there is much higher. Anyone who has gone there for vacations know how expensive things are in Italy. The daughter of another of our teacher who works in Milan has a Masters, speaks several languages, and earns less than 1,000 euro a month.

My Spanish tutor Espe, who was planning on moving back to Spain one day after her marriage to a Singaporean guy, has now changed her mind. Same issues – Singaporean women - career-women as well as tai-tais, are truly spoilt by maids, ample employment opportunities, relatively good salary and extensive travels/ vacations.

Of course the Singaporean classmates protested and started criticising the stifling government policies, the ‘’dictatorship’’ to get us to marry, produce babies… the mucking up of education policies, the poor kid’s heavy text books and syllabus etc. What is interesting though, is that even my Japanese, Chinese and Indonesian classmates defended Singapore. Their common message: stop complaining. Would you rather lousy transport infrastructure, high inflation, unsafe environment, corruption and bribery?

Giuseppina agreed. She felt that Singaporeans are too spoilt and blame the kid’s education on teachers and external factors. If there is something we can learn from the Italians, is not their fashion-sense or cuisine but their emphasis on family. For Italians, there is no luxury of dining out – they have no hawker centres and restaurants are not cheap. They do not have maids to wait on them. The women – whether they work or not, whether they have PhD or not – all can cook well; and dinner with family is important – for communications and for them to bond with their children. She added, do not blame your own kid’s education and upbringing on others – parents should bear more responsibility, do the teaching, and stop signing them up for more weekend classes and harassing tutors to give more homework…

As for me, I would add: stop complaining of being bored or it’s boring here. Look internally. Did you bother to cultivate interests in other fields, other than interest in monitoring share prices, car models and visiting show flats at the latest condo development? Are your weekend ‘’activities’’ confined to idle TV watching, mindless walks around shopping malls, mimicking and screeching in front of TV screens (karaoke) and driving miles and miles in search of food places to stuff your face?

Have you tried something else such as cycling, running, painting, language studies, hiking, drama, exhibitions, pottery, dance classes, writing, camping, canoeing? Yes – don’t be surprised, all these are available in ‘’boring tiny Singapore’’.

Try something else – make friends. Don’t be complacent. Having a family and finally getting married and being able to afford a maid does not mean you can stop cultivating friendship or you lose touch with them.

One day you will need them. One day your spouse may suddenly die, you may not be able to afford a maid, your parents and in laws may not be alive, and you suddenly realise you need friends to help.

Last year I visited my friends in Toronto and for them, just going out in the evening for a movie with me was a challenge. They had to find a baby sitter and asked around for friends who would help look after. She was lucky she made the effort to make friends in her new neighbourhood. Her Philippina maid works from 9am - 5pm and has the choice of declining to work extra hours (despite extra pay offered) to look after my friend’s son!

Don’t be complacent that Singapore is small and grumble that more than an hour’s travel to work is “too much” . My friends in Jakarta, London and France take more than an hour and a half each day to commute to work early in the morning. One of them is a senior VP – but he takes the tube….no luxury of taxis.

Don’t take friendship and loneliness for granted just because Singapore is small and you can reach your friends easily. My French colleague was telling me how she had to go to the internet to make friends, after she relocated from one part of France to where she is living and working now. Because, it is more than six hours’ drive, if she were to insist on hanging out with her old friends from her hometown every weekend!

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