Ageing excuses none from seeking out answers, asking questions and probing the issues that are peculiar to our times.
CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER
I have always been a voracious reader. From classic coming-of-age novels like Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, to works of whimsy and imagination such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, my tastes were wideranging and my appetite for reading inexhaustible.
Growing up, I became curiouser and curiouser. I devoured self-improvement and leadership books by the likes of Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. I moved on to everything from historical fiction to autobiographies and travelogues. My every request was delivered to my office by an obliging Indian vendor who would source for any book I asked, and even allowed me to pay him by instalments.
One derives tremendous benefits from reading about current affairs – political, economic, financial and social factors and events that directly affect our daily lives. Lighter reads on issues such as food, health, gossip and movies, in magazines and periodicals, help to break the monotony of living. I like to visit the magazine stands, and browse through anything I can find in the larger bookshops.
I live by the saying that age is just a number. (Incidentally, I am 80 years old and counting.) Every morning, I take an hour-long morning walk and tone my under-used muscles on the exercise equipment in a nearby heartland. By 8.30am, I make my way to my usual coffee shop for a cup of tea with a copy of The Straits Times.
At intervals, I pause from my reading and survey the scenery outside, where I often see a hummingbird benefiting from the heliconia by sucking its nectar. It strikes me as a fitting metaphor for how my natural curiosity compels me to draw on current affairs to sustain me with knowledge and, hopefully, enrich me with wisdom. My life is certainly more fulfilling for it.
I still contribute my views and opinions on the latest happenings to The Straits Times Forum to share with fellow Singaporeans. The regular publication of my letters validates my efforts and tells me that I still have something worth saying – and an appreciative audience willing and perhaps even waiting to hear it.
A CALL FOR ACTION NOT APATHY
I would dearly love to see our children and grandchildren channel the curiosity that is inherent within them and direct it to the issues that are shaping their lives and futures.
I urge everyone to examine the evidence and sift out ‘fake news’ from authentic reportage. Challenge the status quo and push for answers – for it is only from an informed perspective that we can make decisions that will lead to actions that will in turn bring about positive change.
Curiosity has led me to study the impact of diet and fitness on health, and I like to think that I practise what I preach. I hope that with improvements in infrastructure for senior living, Singapore can someday boast one of the longest life expectancies for men and women among the developed nations.
Curiosity has led me to examine the meaning of happiness, and ask the question – why are we not a nation of happier people? The World Database of Happiness (developed by the Erasmus University in Rotterdam) ranked 15 top countries on a scale of 7.6 to 10 and Singapore is not among them. With so much to be happy about, we should be on that list!
WHEN CURIOSITY DESERTED ME
Curiosity and happiness go hand in hand. My own life attests it. When troubles engulf you, curiosity can desert you. But in your darkest hours, it will be curiosity that saves you.
Let me tell you about the time when curiosity deserted me. From 1963 to 1972, I was preoccupied with my work at Jurong Shipyard and my happy married life at home. I had two young children, aged six and eight years old, and Jurong Shipyard held promising career prospects for me.
Then the bad news came. My wife was diagnosed with kidney failure and needed haemodialysis. She was devastated. More bad news followed. My father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and needed immediate surgery.
This double whammy was enough to kill my curiosity. I became apathetic, but gathered enough energy to consult my dad and seek his advice on what I should be doing to resolve this crisis. He told me to get ready to take over the running of his small hardware company. In the meantime, he would use company funds to pay for his hospital treatment. I told Dad I had to settle my wife’s depression first, and talk to him about succession later.
My wife’s depression worsened. She refused to undergo dialysis and became severely depressed. For her sake and the sake of my children, I resolved to stay strong. I put everything else aside and help my wife out of her depression. Eventually, she consented to go for dialysis.
Following my Dad’s advice, I took the bull by the horns and resigned from Jurong Shipyard to take over the running of my father’s company.
My training in the Japanese shipyard had taught me to be always curious and take tough actions to meet deadlines. The Chinese character for ‘CRISIS’ consists of two parts – One part means ‘danger’ and the other means ‘opportunity’. I chose not to dwell on the danger and seize the opportunity to become a risk-taking entrepreneur.
Optimism was a decision. I channelled it into my work. Enquiries came pouring in and sales improved. I overcame my apathy, turned it into action, and welcomed curiosity back into my life.
WHAT EXCITES ME MOST
The timing of my birth in 1938 and the march of Singapore up to independence on 9 August 1965 – everything that happened in between these two dates continues to enthral and excite me. Perhaps this ‘accident of timing’ largely explains my lifelong passion for politics and my unflagging pride in our nation’s progress.
There was war. There were racial riots. There were diseases and pestilence. And there was an epidemic of human suffering. I lost five siblings born after me from 1939 to 1945.
The fateful day of 9 August 1965 was the proudest day of my life. For the very first time, at the age of 27, I was a free man singing my very own national anthem with a pledge of loyalty to my own motherland. ‘I will walk the walk with my Prime Minister and his cabinet. I will honour the flag and I will fight to defend my homeland. Never will I serve under any foreign powers.’ This was my vow.
What really excited my curiosity was the brand new politics espoused by our government as a non-aligned nation built on democracy and meritocracy.
We were multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual, with English as the lingua franca common to all races.
With immense pride, I continue to follow the progress of our country from third-world to first, together with all her impressive achievements across a broad spectrum of human endeavour. We belong to a nation that, though small in size, stands tall among the global community.
I hope that all Singaporeans will stay curious and keep striving for self-improvement, as our nation’s founding fathers did before us. Then we will surely prosper as individuals and succeed as a nation.
*Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.