On saving the middle class

February 18, 2015

I no longer believe the middle class can be saved in Singapore. I believe it is broken. Droves of kids have grown up watching daddy and mummy struggle in ever diminishing circles to improve their lot. Meanwhile the aperture for upward mobility becomes narrower with each passing year due to a multitude of factors ranging from salary repression to the having to make ends met in the worlds most expensive city.

One day when it is time for these mentally scared kids to step up to the plate of fatherhood – many will have to deal with so many demons of their childhood. Having witnessed first hand endless squabbles over money…divorces…and the grief associated with raising a family.

Many of them will likely say Dowan lah to raising a family – no….I don’t blame them at all.

I don’t feel sad or angry when I say all this. Not any more. I used to. I don’t say this out of spite either…it’s simply a case of….it is, what it is and no amount of hype and spin is ever going to make right something that is so broken. It’s best to just throw it away and start all over again.

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‘If you ask me why I wake before dawn everyday. Work seven days. Put in twelve hours a day. It’s because I see myself as a sort of Robert Neville. I know that may come across as slightly peculiar and odd to you…but that is really how I see myself.

I did not choose this role. No….I never harbored such grand aspirations. And even if I did, it’s doubtful that I ever had the foresight to believe that I could possibly find my métier in farming. The corporate world perhaps. Or maybe some other vocation that requires me to wear a tie, drink a lot of coffee, use fuzzy words like ‘rightsizing’ instead of downsizing where I spent the better part of twelve hours sitting in a cubicle surrounded by sticky yellow reminder notes.

No! You could say my role choose me. Fingered me out from the blue amid the faceless sea of humanity. Like a lightning bolt scarring the desolate plains momentarily. We plan our lives only to be ruled by accidents.

It all began one day when I came across a listless man wandering my land. He looked lost. Not spatially lost. But lost in the way he sank his hands deep into his pockets kicking the gravel indolently in the way people do when they’re there but really some where else. Lost like one doesn’t really know whether it would get worse or better. Lost like how every passing moment cuts like a knife – that sort of lost.

I continued spying on the stranger from afar with what I can only describe as a curious air of detachment…then when he knelt down picked up a clod of earth and broke it watching the dark grains crumble and flow through his fingers like dust. Suddenly a softness prevaded him. As if for the very first time in this man’s life he had been struck by the thumping force of some awful reality….it all came upon him with a sudden force and I saw it all…..I understood.

I don’t want to explain – let us just say I understand and that is really all that matters.

You see I am not like you or for that matter them – those men who go about their daily lives with their name tags flapping over their bellies, carrying their cups of coffee as they trudge along to work every morning. I know every continent…peninsular and cove of that cold and desolate country called LOST. Know it so very well that I can even lay claim to calling myself a honorary citizen of this domain.

Like I said, I prefer to keep it all to myself.

Eventually we started talking and I found out he used to be in my bicycle team in Siglap. Just when he was about the leave, the man asked me whether it’s really possible for him to make a living from the land – I said yes.

I don’t really know why I made such a bold commitment – you see I am hardly the sort who sticks his neck out for another. That isn’t really like me at all. I am not proud of who I am…but that’s really how it is with me.

Nonetheless that day when the light died ever slowly as it arched over the brow of the mountains….I found myself crossing a line into that country that I once knew called LOST. No….I don’t believe you’ve ever been impelled to reach out to another stranger before with that sort of attitude.

I wish I could tell you it was goodness that accounted for my benevolent spirit that evening. Or that there is a part of me that still has faith in humanity to believe wholeheartedly in the idea of helping a fellow man – truth is I felt an almost casual indifference as I looked on at this pathetic figure and even murmured something to the effect, ‘how lucky I am not to be that sod!’ Truth is if this man had asked me to put a bullet in his head to put him out of misery. I would probably have done it.

But that evening the light was so very different – I remember it as a wooly and suffused light. The sort of light that I once bathed in, in that country called LOST.

You see I am a fugitive from that God forsaken country called LOST – I betrayed everyone, even myself, suspended all my beliefs for that one moment to break out….I saw an opening and ran as fast as I could thru it….I didn’t look back….I never looked back. Worst of all I let down so many other men who once looked up to me to cut a path.

But I was simply too self centered to care…I cared only for my own cause and in the course of accumulating my largesse…I had betrayed them all thru the act of forgetting. Left them.

So now you know why I had to reach out to this one lost soul. I didn’t do it out of kindness. I did to placate the many demons that I have always had to struggle with since discovering my fortune in distant lands. I did it in a pathetic attempt to seek forgivenesses…..redemption….for all those who I had callously left behind.

To cut a long story short. I shepherded this man successfully thru two harvest. I kept him tucked tightly under my wing as a master farmer whilst he was content to play the role of the apprentice. Taught him not only how to farm. But also worked on him in the way one twiddles with a piece of driftwood to fashion a shape and form – softened his edges, strengthen his core to finally make him a planter in my own image. And when the work was finally done…..I waited for the cool balming breeze of forgiveness to swept over my troubled soul of infinite contradictions….but it never came.

That was when another man came. And another…yet another.

Someday more will come I reckon from that god forsaken country called LOST ….and when they do…there will always need someone to show them how to plant. You will see….as for the lingering feeling of guilt for all those who I had forsaken to amass my freedom and wealth. Not a day goes by when I am not haunted by them…life is cruel….is it not.’

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