Notice: This is a non-food, non-travel related post. Just a self reflection on certain values learnt during the Korean trip. Do ignore if the content does not interest you.
The 10 days in Korea were fascinating. Besides the memorable camp activities, my most treasured takeaway were the whole bunch of new-found friends from ASEAN nations and South Korea. However, despite the strong bonds formed, I have to lament that the bonds would have been even tighter if not for what I call, the “Jet Lag Singaporean Syndrome”.
For the first half of the camp, although the five of us had been split into different teams, we were nonetheless very cliquish and chose to hang out among ourselves whenever possible. For every break time, meal time or just a couple of spare minutes, our radars will zoom in to locate the nearest Singaporean and voila, gather and wander off somewhere by ourselves. All while the rest were busy making friends with one another.
One of the contributing factors to our seclusion was our habit of complaining. Admittedly, the camp schedule and arrangement were not quite what we had expected and we would grumble about it. Why we didn’t have more time for shopping, why we couldn’t spend a day in Seoul, why was the camp jacket an ugly “corrective work order” orange, blah blah blah. That led to undesirable Groupthink and further prompted us to stay within the clique, as we presumed that only we could understand ourselves.
I realized that we were also, in a way, afraid of others. We didn’t know what kind of family backgrounds they came from, what kind of lifestyle they had and frankly, if they could understand our English in the first place. Instead, we took the easy way out by minimizing direct contact.
In other words, we didn’t easily open up to others and instead indulged in our own topics and talked in familiar lingos. On the surface we were very “PR-ish” and polite to our foreign friends, but yet still maintained a line between us and them.
The worst part? We consciously knew it, and they heartfelt it.
Thankfully, all was not lost. After more days into the camp (and more bottles of Soju, Hite Beer and boxes of Korean strawberries), the “Jet-Lag Singaporeans” finally woke up and truly mingled with the rest. On their part, they also realized that Singaporeans were not as aloof and unreachable as we seemed to be. Yes, they told us that in the face when we got closer.
On the last sleepless night, a Cambodian friend blatantly confessed in a open circle conversation that he felt that Singapore, being arguably the most developed country in ASEAN, had people that tend to act more like Caucasians and to think on a “different level” from the other ASEAN people, thus accounting for our distancing behavior. Although he meant no harm and didn’t blame us for behaving like-wise, I couldn’t find a positive connotation to his words nor defend ourselves, so much that I kept reflecting on my own attitude for the camp.
What he said was, perhaps unknowingly to us, largely true. Is this what years of solid education should do to us? Is this how the citizens of a developed young nation should behave? Something is very wrong here.
I think this was not just the problem of the 5 of us, but in general, of all Singaporeans. We would not and dare not venture into the unknown and take the first step in embracing others. Rather, we had the mentality to stay in our comfort zone and would require enormous effort to kickstart ourselves. During my reservist training, a friend who is a fast-food restaurant manager, concurred this as he had the same experience during a training trip to Thailand with other Singapore managers; that Singaporeans are way too stubborn to take the leap of faith.
With all the talks about Global-mindedness and “The World is Flat”, I think Singaporeans have a lot more to learn and do to reach that stage; To be more mindful of our own actions, to be more receptive to others and to be more adaptive to different situations. I wouldn’t go as far as to exaggerate that I have emerged as a better person, but I thought it was a valuable moral lesson that I would keep in mind for years to mind.
What say you?
Taken with Nikon D70
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