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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


‘’Teen makes $680,000’’ a year’’ – Straits Times headline, about ‘’successful youths’’

‘’18-year old Brit sells Chokolit chocolates at Sainsbury and Waitrose’’ – Straits Times sidebar story on ‘’success stories of ‘’young champions’’

“I only want all A’s for my son’s PSLE, no need to be A-star’’ - mother of a 10-year old boy.

‘’How can anyone live in an HDB? I must live in a condo, at least’’ – HongKonger, now citizen of Singapore, and having ‘’upgraded’’ to yet another condo.

Oh dear. Looking at the above, my family members and I must be miserable ‘’failures’’.

No, there is nothing wrong with getting rich, or living in luxury. Or being tops in school.

But the way these ‘’success stories’’ are celebrated, I just feel the world has warped values and sense of priority.

The sole measurement of a person’s ‘’success’’ is to be able to make lots of money, and be better than your neighbours and peers – in accommodation, and in grades.

What happens if you are not?

My niece certainly did not get A-stars in school. In fact, she didn’t obtain her university degree the traditional route. But she is a talented designer, and writer.

Her younger brother did not get A-stars either. In fact, he is in the normal stream (do I hear some people gasping?). But he is a passionate drummer and resourceful cook.

His younger brother, I am told, is not academically brilliant either. But his thoughts are deep and provocative, and he is an imaginative videographer and choreographer.

All three are creative in his or her own right. Isn’t creativity treasured and as respected as grades, and income? A creative person can live successfully and happily too.

On Sunday I visited a friend of mine at Commonwealth. She was formerly a journalist, and subsequently held various posts as editor of financial publications. Very well-spoken, refined and cultured, and always immaculately dressed – the right attire at the right occasion. Someone you would think could easily afford a posh condo in a posh district. Someone more than qualify for the typical blinkered definition of ‘’success’’.

But she lives in a one room 40-year old HDB flat in an old housing estate. The kind of estate where the lift is like a little closet. The kind where there is a common corridor and where you can hear neighbours shuffling up and down. The kind where there are still old shops selling biscuits by the kati, out of oblong tins. The kind where there are still old barber shops with the tri-colour lamps at their door.

She proudly hosted us to tea. Was she ‘’apologetic’’ (I know of some who had been under the same circumstances), making excuses for her ‘’small’’ space, or the ‘’old’’ place?

No. In fact, she managed to make her home so cozy and welcoming. Very simple décor, elegantly and tastefully done. You might even think it was a studio in district 10.

And we had a lovely chat, a healthy tea of fruits, beverages and stimulating intellectual exchange.

Another friend of mine, a communications manager in an MNC, married a rich expat private banker. They have two young children. But they go to work by bus or MRT. They do not have a maid; not even a part time one. And she is sick of hearing her curious colleagues questioning, ‘’why don’t you buy a car? You can afford two cars! Why don’t you have a maid?’’

I just realized I kept using the word ‘’but’’ – in my paragraphs on my niece, nephews and friends. Maybe I should not have. There is no need to be rueful for being creative, or for living and behaving in a most dignified way, despite not having straight A-s, not living in a condo, not driving cars or not having maids in tow.

And no, I am not writing this out of envy. I do live in a big HDB (too big that it allows me to accumulate too much material possessions), and I did get my degrees, the very Singapore way. I just wish that we measure and honour success in a more open minded way, that’s all.


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