Or, a short biography of my academic career and how it landed me on WordPress.
The first task for Blogging 101, by WordPress.
Assuming that most people who will come across this entry come from the United States of America, let me begin by introducing to you my country, one of which you may or may not have heard of – Singapore. We are a small, tiny island in South-East Asia, and yet we boast to be one of the top economies in the entire continent. We have primarily two seasons: hot, humid and sunny; or hot, humid and rainy. Our population is roughly 75% ethnic Chinese (myself counting as one within the number), followed by Malays and Indians, significant minorities in our demographics. For most of us, our grandparents migrated to Singapore from a different country around the first quarter of the 20th century.
My family is somewhat traditionally Chinese, and therefore the prevailing mindset I was brought up with was: how to land the most prestigious job, or how to earn the most money when I grew up. Money-making was seen as something to be proud of, and wealth earned you power and respect. I have been brought up in a sheltered and extremely cosy environment since my parents were well-to-do, but they always reminded me that if I wanted to continue living in such a lifestyle in the future, I had to land a well paying job. Future careers were weighed almost equally by its prestige and money-making prowess.
I did not reject such a mindset, though part of me was both indolent and hedonistic in equal measures, enough to feel repulsion at pursuing a path that I did not feel happy in, simply for the cash returns. As such, I sought to find a happy balance between these two important motivations, and found myself doing a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Pharmacy, in university. To give readers a sense of how strongly my parental mindset ruled my decisions, I will lay it out here that Chemistry has always been the worst and most disliked subject in school, and had always been the cause of my undoing. I would fail Chemistry the most spectacularly of all my subjects, so it was certainly very bewildering to some (and to myself as well) why I chose to go into Pharmacy.
By miracles, I managed to get through my 4 years of Pharmacy and graduate with honours (the honours didn’t prove that I was harbouring an underrated talent for Pharmacy; rather, it proved contrariwise, which I shall explain later). I signed a contract and bond with a chain of drugstores in the country, and launched myself into the working world. Fast forward 3 years later. My time as a practising pharmacist has taught me one big lesson: that I was meant for other things. It does not follow that I would reject being a practising pharmacist in the future, but I was sure that I wanted to pursue a different line, a line that I had always loved but had never had the courage to veer off the beaten path to chase.
The memory is still fresh in my head. I must have been about 6 or 7 years old, perhaps older. As was my ritual, I was wandering around my brother’s room while he was still out at school, looking for something to amuse myself with. I caught sight of a The Complete Grimm Fairytales. The last word caught my attention immediately, but the book was thick and seemed arduous, completely unlike any of the thin, abridged books that I had hitherto been in the habit of reading. I recalled to mind how my parents constantly gave my brother grief for not being a great reader, and my mind was set. I was to prove myself better and smarter than my brother by reading this book, which I remembered to be a present from my aunt. I took the book out and began reading. I didn’t understand half of what I was reading, but the spell of tiny printed words on paper had been cast. Thus began my lifelong passion and love.
I read, and read, and read. Discovering Pride and Prejudice when I was 12 was akin to throwing fuel into the fire. It sucked me into the whirlpool of classic literature that threatened to drown me. I continued reading, and reading. So it was to everybody’s surprise that, when I was 13 and 14 and literature was first introduced to me as an academic subject, I did poorly in it. I sucked. I consistently failed literature. I couldn’t see what was wrong, and I began to feel lousy about myself. I told myself that reading for the pleasure of it, rather than analysing it and studying it as a subject, also had its own merits. At 14, I applied to do a Full Literature subject for the upcoming GCE ‘O’ Levels examination (which we would take at 16), but my application was rejected. My teacher told me that though my Geography and Literature grades were similar (I take to mean, similarly bad), they felt that I would be a better fit in Geography (or rather, my Literature was the suckier of the two). I was devastated. Something in me felt that I was missing out, and it didn’t help that most of my good friends had been streamed into Literature.
Nevertheless, it was not part of my personality to continue dwelling on unchangeable facts. I did Full Geography, but was allowed to do Half Literature, a lessened and lighter version of the Full Literature subject, at GCE ‘O’ Levels. My class comprised of Full Geography, Half Literature students, so I felt like my Literature teacher had an uphill task ahead of her. Surprisingly, she excelled at her job. By bringing in modern pop culture (I remember her asking us to analyse pop song lyrics at one point), she created an interest in Literature amongst us, rather than thinking it a dry and boring subject. I, for one, was hooked. I began to understand how I should be analysing poetry. I began to appreciate the tactics of writing an essay in order to home in on a point that I had elucidated from the source material, and bang it home. In short, I began to improve in Literature. I improved so much, in fact, that I got an A1 for Half Literature at my GCE ‘O’ Levels. The next stage of my life would be on to Junior College, for 2 years of preparation for the GCE ‘A’ Levels.
I did well at my GCE ‘O’ Levels, and was accepted without hesitation to study what is known as H2 Literature, which can be understood as Full Literature at the GCE Advanced Levels. Score one for me! I insisted upon it, despite having chosen to be enrolled in the Science stream as always. We were encouraged to take ‘contrasting’ subjects (Arts subjects for Science stream students). Most Science stream students, being apparently more gifted in Science, would take a H1 Arts subject (roughly equivalent to half a subject) in order to minimise the damage (assuming that they’re worse at Arts subjects than in Science). My decision to take a H2 Literature along with my H2 Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics was highly unusual. I was also lucky that my junior college in question was one of the 3 schools in the entire country which allowed free-style subject combinations such as this. If not, I may never have been able to push forward with my little passion.
I did relatively well at GCE ‘A’ Levels. Again, I got an A for H2 Literature, an A for Mathematics, but B’s for my Chemistry and Biology. Because the requirement for Pharmacy only stated loosely ‘AABB’, I qualified despite the two Pharmacy-relevant subjects being my worser ones. It had been clear from the very first semester that Pharmacy was not at all my cup of tea and I had my work cut out for me if I was to graduate and graduate well. My first semester results were splendidly bad. I worried about being expelled from the course all together. In the second semester, I decided to try a different tactic. Because my university made “non-major modules” compulsory, with a whole string of rules surrounding what modules we were allowed to take, I was given the leeway to pursue Literature modules as my electives. In the second semester, I enrolled myself for EL1101E: Introduction to Literary Studies.
My gamble paid off. I got an A or A- for EL1101E. Considering that my pharmacy modules were, on average, a C+, and that I didn’t have time to fully concentrate on and study very hard for EL1101E, my time and energy being rightly expended on my core pharmacy modules – it was a pretty rum grade. My grade point average shot up significantly, in part due to my gamble and in part due to the pharmacy modules that term being more humane and comprehensible. I continued to take Literature modules as my electives, and worked my way up to a Level 3000 Literature module (this is equivalent to what final year Literature students would be studying). My Literature (and other arts-related) modules quite literally saved my grade point average from extinction, and enabled me to graduate with honours.
If you haven’t read anything about my entire academic career so far, the summary is this: Literature has been a major positive contributing force towards all my better-than-average national and important exam results, and is the only reason why I am even here as a practising pharmacist.
After 2 years of working, I have come down to that fateful decision: I’m getting out of here. For all these years, Literature has always been a side choice, something fun for me to do, despite the fact that I’m doing tons better at it than any of my main choices. So I’ve now decided that this is something I need to give a go at least once in my life. I needed to pursue this and see what I can make of it at the end. I chose Literature, and was thankfully accepted to do a Master’s of Arts, majoring in Literary Studies.
As it happens, when a long period of time elapses when I have not been reading or writing consistently (most prominently during my university era), my creative juices become akin to a permanently plugged pipe, where nothing can flow out that doesn’t sound like it’s written by a primary school student. I hate this. Both reading and writing are important skills to me, and are the ones I really take a lot of pride in. For me not to be able to write makes me feel like I’ve lost a creative outlet. In an effort to circumvent this, I started this blog a few years ago. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, I am of an indolent nature, where I have no stamina to keep up on things that I’ve started. Writing takes effort, and I procrastinated upon using this effort when I couldn’t see where it was going besides just being a sideline hobby of mine while practising pharmacy.
Thankfully, things are different now. I have tendered and am waiting for the end of my notice before I will be starting my studies all over again. I needed to get back into my writing groove – so here I am!