14 August 2012

为什么 / Why

I've had to ask myself lately why I've been studying Mandarin.

While I do hope it'll come in handy when my friends and I hit Beijing in October, there remains the question of what I'm going to do with Mandarin after that, and maybe also the question of whether I should continue studying at all.

I've entertained daydreams of returning to Singapore for more than just a visit, and that daydream now includes other Mandarin-speaking countries like Taiwan and, well, China. It seems to be the country to follow, the superpower to understand.

But yesterday, Cris (@crisgee) sent me "You'll Never Be Chinese", an essay by an expat who has decided, after nearly 20 years, to leave the great country he loved. It's not merely a laundry list of grievances experienced by a foreigner but a thoughtful look at how China will likely change, given current political and economic conditions.

I recommend reading the article, but if you're just going to stay here, I'll tell you that the writer decided that China wasn't the best place for him or his young family to live anymore. And if things play out the way he predicts, it doesn't seem like the right place for me, either.

What about Singapore, then? Well, today, Dom Cimafranca (@dcimafranca) shared this article about former PM Lee Kuan Yew urging Singaporeans to reproduce, and this one quote from Mr. Lee was especially intriguing:

"Do we want to replace ourselves or do we want to shrink and get older and be replaced by migrants and work permit holders?"

The comment thread below the article was also interesting. Amid complaints about high cost of living, suppression of free speech, and brain drain, commentators commonly ranted about the influx of so-called FT (foreign talent). So, it seems "You'll Never Be Singaporean", either.

Am I actually planning to leave the country? There's another big, important question.

Judging by the headlines in the paper I work for, people (government, private sector, and investors) are generally optimistic about the country's future. I share a bit of this optimism. I'm actually giddy at the thought of the good some practical urban planning and public-transport-related PPPs will do within the next decade or so.

But, I have this fear that after the next election, everything will be for naught.

Potentially horrible government notwithstanding, though, the Philippines actually looks like a good place to stay for now. I guess it depends on where I'll want to be in the next few years.

Yesterday, I also read "Thirty Is Not the New Twenty: Why your 20s Matter", shared by my cousin Didang (@manangdidang). Psychologist Meg Jay's points aren't actually anything I haven't read before, but they were a great reminder to check if I'm on track toward what I want in life. I particularly liked these quotes:

"Too many 20somethings have been led to believe that their 20s are for thinking about what they want to do and their 30s are for getting going on real life. But there is a big difference between having a life in your 30s and starting a life in your 30s. Even Erik Erikson, the father of the identity crisis, warned that young adults who spent too much time in 'disengaged confusion' were 'in danger of becoming irrelevant.'"

"One way to keep yourself honest about the future is by making a timeline. ... It may not be cool to have a timeline, or to admit to having a timeline, but you don't have to etch it in stone. It's just a way of thinking about how your life might, or might not, be adding up."

"Most 20somethings are terrified of being pinned down. They're afraid that if they choose a career or a job, they are closing off their other options and somehow their freedom will be gone and their lives will be over. In fact, getting a good job is the beginning."

"What you do everyday is wiring you to be the adult you will be."

I will acknowledge* here and now that I have a timeline. It isn't etched in stone, but it's there, keeping me in a holding pattern for the next couple of years while I accumulate necessary experience both professional and personal. After that, I don't know what comes next, but it will depend on what I achieve by then.

Maybe that sounds like the same kind of excuse Dr. Jay hears from late bloomers**. But I'm confident that I'm saying, "This is what I'm doing with my life," not, "I don't know what to do with my life."

I'm trying to be smarter as well as wiser for when I get older and, I hope, happier. I'm trying to be more open with my own loved ones and be more emotionally healthy. I'm trying to break bad habits, build life skills, regain the nerdy do-your-homework-as-soon-as-you-get-home attitude I had in high school, and learn to cook and clean properly.

That way, whatever happens in the next few years, I'll be in good shape to deal with it.

I suppose I can only hope that Mandarin will somehow still be useful at that point.

* One favorite lesson from my Intro to Journ teacher was that "admit" should be used for things that are actually wrong or bad, like errors or crimes.
** I do worry about the message Dr. Jay's interview might send to the people who do "start a life" in their 30s or even later. While some things, like viable egg cells, have an expiration date, I don't want to write over-20s off. Despite lot of setbacks could happen to me in the next five years, I want to believe that it will never be too late for me to have a decent life.