This week, I got the chance to speak to Mr Kam who was very open and willing to share with me. While some of our seniors have already retired and enjoying their Golden Years, Mr Kam animatedly shared with me about his current dabble into direct sales industry selling Terahertz water device as well as his past trades in oil, gas, steel scrap. I learned that he is currently still freelancing in the trading business with his friends and he explained that the trading business changes very fast.
Prompting and enquiring more about his past career, he shared with me that he graduated from a traditional Chinese-medium school in the 1970s and went to University to study English literature. I learned from Mr Kam that it was harder for “Chinese-educated” back then to find a job, especially in the public service sector. “If you are lucky, you may get into the police academy,” quipped Mr Kam.
This perhaps eventually led to the closure of Chinese-medium schools in the mid-1980s with the Singapore government instead pursuing a bilingual (two-tongued) education policy. Back then, members of the Chinese-educated community had their share of struggles in having to improve their English.
According to Mr Kam, the Chinese-educated students had 2 routes for further studies post-high school. There were those who went to Nanyang University in Singapore and many others who took a scholarship to study abroad in Taiwan. As I googled online, I found out that Nanyang University had merged with the University of Singapore in 1980 to form the present-day National University of Singapore (NUS). The predecessor institution of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI), was then set up in 1981 on the premises of the former Nanyang University.
I was impressed by how multi-lingual Mr Kam was as he further shared with me that he could speak Malay, English, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and even rudimentary French and Tamil. Living in a multi-racial society that Singaporeans often take pride in, there is a part of me that often yearned to be multilingual as well and it made me even more impressed by how Mr Kam embraced his multi-racial background living in Singapore to master different languages.
Through my various Chit Chat sessions with the seniors, it also made me appreciate our colloquial lingo, Singlish more, and seek to pick up Chinese dialects that my grandparents’ generation used to converse in and found a sense of identity and connection to. In addition, a few of the seniors revealed that they enjoyed XIOHOO classes as the occasional use of Singlish phrases made the classes and learning more congenial and enjoyable.
I found out that Mr Kam had taught for a while and proceeded to work in a bank for 2 years. He was subsequently sent overseas to work in Indonesia for 2 years and ventured into other companies in Indonesia for another 3 years. Apart from his full-time jobs, he also disclosed that he had also worked part-time in a café and hotel, even went to Hong Kong to attend filming courses. In the words of Mr Kam, he was still young and “[you] were searching” for perhaps a purpose in life at that life phase. However, he soon settled down and became very serious about his business after getting married and having children at the age of 29. Hearing about Mr Kam’s “search”, I can’t help but feel relieved that the uncertainty in one’s youth phase is not just a younger generation’s concern and rather something that is relatable to the youth across all generations.
When asked what important lessons he has learned growing up and old, he shared that it’s important to be responsible towards whatever we do; towards ourselves, family, friends and the society. Also, we need to learn to take things more easily and not bear grudges and he emphasised on the importance of maintaining a supportive relationships with family and friends. I guess your network of family and friends and the relationship bring you through the ups and downs of life.
As the Chit Chat session ended, I left feeling honored to be given a chance to hear the stories of seniors such as Mr Kam and am glad to learn a little more about the life of the older generation. I also hope to eventually age and grow old gracefully and grow wiser psychologically.