Last evening, I was talking with a good friend at Curry Favor*. We talked about how the last few months of our university days – spent in the ulu** reaches of NTU, completing our final year project (which took the form of an interesting experiment comparing personal relationships formed in face-to-face communication with those formed in ICQ-type instant messaging communication), writing lyrics that used to be familiar and challenging one another to remember the name of the song or the singer – were some of the best of our lives. As we talked, I realised that, to us, this FYP – to be completed so we could graduate – was one of the most important things in the world. We argued over whether the word “dovetail” belonged in an academic article. We made sure that each time the experiment ran, the two chairs our experimental subjects sat on to talk face-to-face were the same distance apart, because we did not want “distance between chairs” to be a variable. We approached a government organisation for grant money so we could provide some incentive for folks to participate in our experiment. We stayed till late to run the experiments; late was when students were not in class and therefore available to participate in them.
And then I realised that two rather contradictory things almost at once: One, that, while it turned out to be a widely cited paper, the FYP was inconsequential for me – I firmly believe I could have gotten to where I am without it. Two, that I don’t feel for my work a fraction of what I did for that thesis, in terms of sheer doggedness to getting it done and doing it right, and willingness to learn stuff and accept alternative views.
And my conclusion then was that what we do probably fades in significance to us as we age, due to a combination of increasing jadedness and growing recognition of the fact that what we do will not change the world. I thought it a natural thing, this paling of the world as we age.
I told my sister this, and I was feeling a little proud of myself for coming to that conclusion – I thought I had come across a truth. When I finished talking, she looked puzzled for the tiniest moment, then said, “But that’s because you’re not as passionate as you were…”
I realised my sister (she’s 11 years younger) was right. I realised I can re-capture that sense of dedication to excellence, that sense of crafting something that matters. I just need to find out what I’m passionate about.
P/S. My sis is a sage in disguise, I tell you.
PP/S. Our theme song for this half-year of late nights was an oldie by 邓妙华.
让我看清你 让我看清你 怕过了明天你不是做梦的年龄
让你感觉我 让你感觉我 思念的湖水里浮动你的倒影
让我看清你 让我看清你 怕过了明天你不是做梦的年龄…
*Tried their beef and mushroom curry udon. Thought the curry was bland, the mushrooms okay, the beef cubes excellent. Also tried an appetiser of mushrooms coated in batter, deep-fried. I liked the fact that the mushrooms retained their winey juiciness.
**”Ulu” means out-of-the-way.
***Really enjoyed being taught Chinese by 木子 in secondary school.