Oral Communications Camp 2016: Unleash the Speaker in You, ft. John Cena
Ever so grateful for this bunch of people! Happened to bump into a couple of them again this week. Interestingly, whenever I get reminded of my past during these random encounters with familiar faces, I always wondered, how have my life changed since then? Sadly, the answer is of a disappointing nature. But these people never fail to inspire me with their relentless pursuit in different areas of life — be it participating in some engineering UAV competition, signing up as part of the SAF Volunteer Corps, practicing till unearthly hours for their dance performances, or pursuing their Ph.Ds etc. Their commitment and passion is amazingly infectious.
TEAM JOHN CENA was amazingly, the most bonded group in the entire camp. Everyone was just so open and welcoming. The quirkiness, fluidity and brilliant interactions among these people of differing, yet in-sync personalities, magically gave rise to JOHN CENA (which all started with a innocuous sharing of John Cena prank calls to include in our skid). Special shoutout to Kelvin Kang, whose speech gave me the courage to present mine, when I was paralyzed with fear.
Thank you TEAM JOHN CENA, for giving me the opportunity to speak my heart. Hopefully many years down the road, I’ll still be updating this blog, reminiscing about life, and with a nice cup of tea in hand, enjoy this sweet stroll down memory lane 🙂 Thanks for keeping me company and walking with me in this journey called life! As we inevitably part our ways, we may forget each other’s names. But we will never forget the imprints we left on each other’s hearts.
Here it goes, my speech at Oral Comm Camp that won me $20 NUS Co-Op vouchers ^^
The Privilege of Being Underprivileged
How many of you watched the viral video of a guy eating corn using a drill? Ok, I see a couple of hands. Now, how many of you watched a similar video of a girl trying to imitate this? Because honestly if you haven’t, you are missing out on a big part of life, or in her case, a significantly big portion of her hair. I love corns. Really, I do. To the extent that I love corny jokes and of course, have complete adoration for the widely acclaimed Cornfucious. I hope this oral communication camp has been a fruitful one for all of you, albeit tiring and mentally exhausting. As Cornfucious once said, “Man who runs in front of car get tired. Man who runs behind car gets exhausted.”
Today, I want to talk about privilege. Privilege. Specifically, the privilege of being underprivileged. My family moved over to Malaysia when I was Primary 6 due to financial difficulties. Commuting to school every day was a nightmare and 3 to 4 hours jams were very real indeed. I had to wake up early in the wee hours and despite this, I rarely made it to school on time. I was constantly reprimanded by my teachers and judged by my peers. And this feeling sucks. The feeling of dread, when you are late and you have walk down the aisle to get to your seat. The feeling of shame, when uncountable pairs of eyes track your every single movement, and the whispers of “Wah this guy always late sia. Aiya what’s new?” And this, was indeed trying times for me.
Well, on a more positive note, I was famous in Raffles for this. I proclaim this with mixed feelings of pride, and a tinge of shame. Proud, because for the first time ever, I was consistently among the select top few in RI. Shame, because this 2nd position title that I hold in the entire school, is for the most number of demerit points. At this point, some of you must be thinking, wow, so who’s No. 1? This guy definitely must be some badass rabak pai kia. But nope. This person, is an aspiring doctor. Someone, who has a heart of gold (Note: die hard Rafflesians would now snigger here at this reference at gold). He is none other than my elder brother. Lionel Goh and Leonard Goh, the two brothers taking RI by storm. Well, needless to say, the throne was all mine when my brother graduated.
Being able to study in Raffles Institution was definitely a privilege. But it was a privilege that came at a cost. My peers were mostly from the upper class. Their parents were doctors, lawyers, corporate leaders, people with amazing careers and prestigious backgrounds. I just couldn’t afford to hang out with them when they have meals at restaurants followed by visits to ice cream parlors. Most of my peers were oblivious to my financial difficulties, but there were a handful who were. To them, I’m eternally grateful. A recent incident reminded me of how much we take money for granted. And this isn’t all that surprising, considering how Singapore has progressed economically with leaps and bounds. Most of us here are fortunate enough to be able to live our lives without worrying about money.
It was 3am. My dance group just finished practice and decided to go for supper. I was ravenous, but I was strapped for cash. I had a hard time deciding on what to order on the menu, because on one hand, it was rather pricey. But on the other hand, my stomach was demanding to be fed. And as you know, a hungry man is an angry man. So, I gave in to the demands of my stomach, but I wanted to buy something that was the most value-for-money, something that would be filling for a growing boy. However, my senior was getting impatient and commented, “Eh, no need think so long one. Just buy! So cheap over here! Hurry up leh!” My heart sank.
Now, I would like all of you to take a second, and ponder on what I’m about to say. The rich, worry about their choices of what to eat — “Hmm I can’t decide if I like the ribs better, or the chop“, while the poor, worry about their choice to eat — “Am I really that hungry today? How much can I spend this meal, so I won’t go hungry for the next?” The rich never have to worry about such seemingly trivial issues, while the poor, rack their heads over every single decision they make, because they are already starting from a disadvantaged position, and many doors of opportunities are closed to them. Because they do not have the social mobility money provides. When was the last time you were really thirsty, but you had to suppress any urge of purchasing a drink, because that would mean exceeding your budget? How about worrying about how you would contact your family and friends, because your mobile service has been cut due to outstanding fees? My financial situation required me to constantly draw upon my willpower to resist temptations and be financially prudent. It made me a rational person that had to make logical decisions rather than impulsive ones, and keep a tight rein on my finances. It developed my resilience towards hardship and also molded my character, as I was more better able to empathize with the less privileged. But, it also made me extremely afraid to fail.
The privilege of being underprivileged. I saw how much sacrifices my parents made in order to give my brother and I a better education. I still remember when I was just a kid in Primary 1, how my father would travel to Malaysia after work just to buy milk powder and our weekly groceries because it’s cheaper over there. And mind you, we didn’t have a car back then and I was staying in Tampines, the other end of Singapore from the Woodlands Immigration Checkpoint. As a kid, I would see him coming home past midnight and making multiple trips up the elevator, lugging bulging bags of milk powder and groceries. And that was when I took my first baby step into the complexity of this concept called maturity. I respected my father tremendously for all that he has done for our family, and I know it has not been easy on him.
Being poor also allows you to understand love on a more intimate level. It is when there is only one piece of meat on the table of four, and your parents insist that you and your brother share it, that you realize how much your parents love you. They will find excuses like “Oh, I’ve already ate” or “I’m not hungry” so that you could eat it with a slightly better peace of mind. But deep down inside, you know they are lying. The same piece of meat however, does not bear the same weight in terms of perceived love should there be an abundance of it.
My mother told me a story that I’ll never forget. And it is a story of a mother’s unconditional love. There was once a mother and a son who were very poor. The mother took up multiple jobs and worked extremely hard to ensure that her son not only had enough to eat, but also enough to go through proper education. As the Imperial Entrance Exams were approaching, she worked doubly hard day and night, scrimped and saved every penny she could to buy fish for her son, as she heard that it was nourishing for the brain. She wanted to give the best she could offer for her son, so that he could excel in the exam, be appointed as an official, and have a better life. During meal times, she would only eat the fish eyes and let her son have the rest of the fish, under the pretext that she only loved eating the eyes. Thankfully, her son passed with flying colours and was appointed as a scholar with a high paying government position. The first thing her son bought with his first payslip was a bag full of fish eyes to express his gratitude to his mother for all she had done for him. When his mother saw the bag of fish eyes, she broke into tears, because she understood her son’s kind intentions, but yet, despite his education and all these while, he didn’t understand her at all. He didn’t understand that she hated fish eyes. It was truly a bittersweet story on the complexity of love and life.
This reinforced my belief that maturity does not come with age. Maturity in my opinion, comes with the multitude of experience one encounters over the years in his life and it is the reflection upon these experiences, that brings about maturity. While the number of experience we encounter typically increases as we age, not everyone reflects and truly internalize the lessons these experiences bring about.
I set my mind on being financially independent when I entered the National Service and was determined to continue doing so when I entered university. Working as a tuition teacher to pay for my hostel fees and university education, I can finally understand the trite saying of “It is definitely not easy being a teacher.” During my students’ exam periods, I had to rush down to the East 3 times a week after my lectures without having dinner, only to reach back in my hostel well past midnight, all exhausted and drained. Fortunately, teaching is one of my passions and the sense of satisfaction you get upon seeing your student top his class, or just the mere fact that you made a positive impact in your student’s life, are indescribable feelings of joy and accomplishment, that any attempt to put them into words just don’t do them justice.
Life isn’t a bed of roses. If you think about it, this saying is actually rather hilarious, considering the fact that roses are not only known for their beauty, but also for their thorns. I knew that life would be one full of ups and downs. But somehow, mine seemed to have more downs than ups, and the downs were deeper than the ups. Basically, if you would plot this on a stocks market graph, whew, people would be cashing out faster than that of Lehman Brothers. I could even make a paraplegic go on a bank run!
I can’t even remember how many times I’ve cussed and swore, wondering, why God, if he even existed at all, made my life such a miserable one. These numerous hardships and setbacks that kept sprouting around me every single step I took were so discouraging. The daily accumulation of minuscule frustrations dealt a really huge blow to me. It was as if everything out there existed solely to prove my maxim wrong —when you are at rock bottom, the only way is up. I was so envious of the lives my wealthier friends were living.
It is only through retrospection that I realized what I have gained out of this. It opened my eyes and enabled me to see from a wider, a more macro perspective. It enabled me to relate to the daily struggles of the man on the street, to have compassion for the many more who were worse off than me, to be resilient, and understand that the struggles that I am facing today are developing the strengths I need for tomorrow. It taught me to be grateful for what I have, and to treat everything as a privilege, rather than an entitlement. All these seemingly unpleasant experiences can in fact be seen as a form of education. As Arthur Schopenhauer once said,
“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”
For the more Mandrin inclined, this is something my professor, Prof Wang Chien Ming, whom some of you may know as the Director for Engineering Science Programme and Global Engineering Programme, shared with my coursemates. I believe it was a series of interviews of successful NUS graduates conducted by the Centre for Future-ready Graduates. The main message I took home was this beautifully crafted quote.
学历是铜牌，your ability to learn is your bronze medal
能力是银牌，your skill sets are your silver medal
人臃是金牌，your interpersonal skills are your gold medals
思维是王牌。But your vision and ideology, that is your trump card.
My struggles have shaped my character and my vision for the world today. I am extremely thankful and humbled to have this privilege of being underprivileged. Thank you.