06 March 2006

The Pursuit of Dreams

Commenting on Mr Wang's preceding post, a reader said:
"... you say that people no longer aspire to those 5Cs listed, but I wonder what you think people now really aspire to? Very interested to hear what you have to say about this."
Well, actually, Mr Wang thinks that for many Singaporeans, this is exactly the crux of the problem. They simply don't have genuinely personal aspirations of their own. They haven't poked around in their own heads and hearts enough to discover themselves, and their own dreams.

What happens when you don't have any dreams of your own? Well, you end up adopting the dreams which society has chosen for you. You end up doing what you think society expects of you, pursuing the goals which society tells you are the "right" goals to pursue. In Singapore, that means you'll probably end up chasing the 5 C's.

If you really don't know what your own dreams are, then it is not necessarily a bad thing to pursue the goals that society has chosen for you. It may even be a very good thing. After all, what would you do otherwise?

Things start to break down only when the costs of the pursuit get too high. For example, you may find yourself slaving away at a job you hate, so that you can attain the 5 C's. If the 5 C's are what you want, you wouldn't mind the slavery. But if the 5 C's are not what you really want, deep down inside, then you get the uneasy feeling that "your" dream of 5 C's has somehow gone wrong somewhere. Is this what you've been working so hard for?

A reverse kind of problem afflicts some other Singaporeans. Utterly lacking dreams of their own, their heads are completely overrun by society's programming. "We MUST have a car," they think to themselves. "We MUST have a condo." Must they? Of course not. But the idea is so deeply ingrained in them that they end up purchasing material things that they can't quite afford. Or sacrificing family/personal time for the corporate rat race. Consequences? Excessive debt, unhappy families and a lot of stress.

How do you know what your true dreams are? Well, that is a pretty tricky question. Still we must not over-exaggerate the problem. The dreamers and the poets, the soul-searchers and the visionaries, they are always a minority. Many other people can be quite content living like mindless ants scurrying about their busy little lives. They may not think of themselves as ants, but that's what they are. If by nature, you're a happy little mindless ant, then just be a happy little mindless ant. There are worse fates, Mr Wang assures you.

As for the minority dreamers and the poets, the soul-searchers and the visionaries, hey, you don't know it, but half the fun is in the struggle, in the process of working it all out. If you knew exactly how to make your dreams come true, they wouldn't be dreams - they would be more like household chores.

"Personally, I hope to save the whales,
end world poverty, and star in a Hollywood production."


Anonymous said...

so what is your dream, mr wang?

Anonymous said...

I was thinking along the same line from your last post on the 5Cs.

But would that mean that for those who decided to move away are doing so because they can't achieve their dream here?

Or because there are less pressure out there dictating what their dreams should be?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I would be careful not to oversimplify. I think that people move away for a variety of different reasons.

Curiously, some Singaporeans, I think, move away because they DO believe very strongly in the 5 C's. They go to another country because it would be easier to attain the 5 C's there (for example, where the costs of owning a nice car and a nice home is lower).

Others move away because they have a specific dream in mind and they know that Singapore is not the best place for that particular kind of dream to flourish. The pianist Melvyn Tan is probably a good example.

And there are others, and others, and others ...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

My crazy little dream is to become a meditation expert, and to conduct free meditation classes for prisoners in Singapore, thereby taking them on an inner journey of self-discovery and enabling them to find peace, love and courage within themselves.

In Phase II of my dream, I expand my meditation programme internationally and get invited to prisons in different countries, to help develop similar meditation programmes for the convicts. Remarkable results begin to show, as convicts, inspired by what they learn and gain from meditation, start rebuilding their broken lives step by step ... and rebound into society, often with amazing success, and they become inspiring role models in their own right.

For decades, the Mr Wang Meditation Programme continues to be taught in prisons around the world, inspiring convicts to turn over a new leaf, start afresh and rebuild their lives.

The Mr Wang Meditation Programme is later expanded, and extended to juvenile delinquents; drug addicts; alcoholics; CEOs; and PAP MPs.

Naaaaaaaah ....

Anonymous said...

lol. cool!

Dr Oz bloke said...

My dream is to be George Lucas.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Currently I'm exploring my right brain. It helps me get creative.

When you see Mr Wang consistently post very funny & creative pictures/captions for consecutive days, it means that he's been meditating regularly. It all dries up if he gets lazy and quits meditating for a while.

Anonymous said...

I think everybody has dreams but sometimes responsibilities and commitments supercede all that. What more in a harsh environment like Singapore. You don't work you die starving.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Sometimes that's true. Sometimes it's an excuse. And sometimes it's true only because you overcommitted to the dream of 5 C's.

Implicit in your comment is also the idea that work is an obstacle to your dream. This isn't necessarily so. For example, see Trisha's comment above. Her dream IS her work.

hugewhaleshark said...

My (ENTP) sentiments exactly.

Bernard Leong said...

Hi Mr Wang,

Here are my thoughts inspired by your article.

I believe that the ability to dream is important and my belief is that the pursuit of dreams are what the Singaporean society needs to deal with the status anxiety induced by the 5Cs.

Cobalt Paladin said...

I am following my dream. It is exactly because I'm in Singapore, that's why I've a chance to dream. Don't blame it on work. Don't blame it on the country. Don't blame it on anything else. If you want to dream, you have to dare to dream. Only you and you only, can take that step to dream.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Everyone, bl and cobalt paladin are two entrepreneurs in Singapore who are actively pursuing their dreams. Do link on the link/names about and visit their blogs.

Anonymous said...

the system makes the people; the people makes the system.

two entrepreneurs do not make singaporeans enterprising.

if its true that one can be enterprising anywhere, then explain the impoverished masses in China and India. likewise, not every American is a world beater even though they are at the forefront of technology, business practises and finance.

singaporean said...

The trouble with Singapore is that it has a narrow definition of success.

For the student, it favours the all-rounder: the one that aces in every subject. The best you can achieve, is limited by your worst subject scores.

As a student, I always loved biology, but I was denied the opportunity to study it, not because I failed to show an aptitude in maths and science, but because I was weak in history and literature.

The end result is that most students leave school either as a Jack of all trades, Master of none, or left nursing a severely bruised ego, confidence all shattered, and stops dreaming altogether.

For adults, success will mean either a lot a lot of money, ie 5Cs, or doing what the government is telling you to do. What is BL doing? Stem cell research. What is Cobalt Paladin doing? Web design. They are doing exactly what the government is promoting, so there is little doubt they are happy with Singapore as it.

But the government is a fickle creature, and when the flavour of the day changes, it is amazing how hard the government will try to destroy your dreams. If you try to start a farming or manufacturing business today, the government will rather grow grass than to lease the land out to you. Did you know that Singapore had a vibrant film making business or that we a car assembly plant, but both were systematically shut down because it didnt fit the government's plan? Or take a look at the empty plots of land that used to house Kallang Gasworks or the National Theatre. Did those national symbols need to be torn down? I dont think so. But the government will rather grow grass.

I know of someone who returned with a Agrobiology degree and was happily working in a research institute. It was the right stuff then. But within a year, Uncle Phil decided maybe growing plants bore him, cut all funding and merged the institute. What do you think that guy is doing now? He "retrained" himself to do web applications.

The government always hide behind the usual screen of "small country, limited resources" when it comes to promoting diversity in our education. But yet when it comes to attracting foreigners, suddenly the resources are unlimited as we build white elephants like the durian, air-conditioned gardens and helical bridges.

Ultimately, the government is just like the businessmen in Singapore who wouldnt take bets unless they can see the rewards. So either we have no bubble tea shop at all, or everybody is doing it. Either we have no wafer fab, or we are competitng with every other asian country to build one. Either we have zero life scientist, or we are competing with the whole world to be the life science hub.

Bernard Leong said...

Hi Singaporean,

I agree with you that Cobalt Paladin and myself are doing what the government is interested. But there are also things which I do that is not in the government's interest as well.

For me, I started off as a theoretical physicist and worse, I am in the area which will never be of interest to the government: cosmology and astrophysics. Well, I went for the dream without a single cent of funding from the government. I still manage to do that despite my dad is the only breadwinner and in the working class who earns less than 2.5K a month. Worst, I was even scorned by my peers that it was impossible for me to do it because I am not from the top 5 JCs, Gifted Education Programme and Science Research Program. In the end, I still manage to do it despite the odds and I went to where I wanted to go: Cambridge and studied under the best there.

As Madam Sng (another blogger) pointed out that it's important to know what you want to achieve and how you achieve it. For me, I have always been interested in how theoretical physics can move into problems like economics and biology. So, I just opened my field of study in a way that I can publish in other fields. I have seen a lot of brilliant Singaporean theoretical physicists who are now obscure, not because they are brilliant, but they are too myopic in the scope they apply their study to.

My dream is to build a institute of theoretical sciences in Singapore, and I know that the funds will never come from the government. I don't moan and groan about that. Instead, I learned the art of entrepreneurship to generate the funds from my current research (to build into a biotech company) and hopefully, I will get the million that I need to build non-government funded institute. If Henry Wellcome can do it for the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in UK which they are funding pure genome research, so can anyone in the world.

There is no point putting your objectives aligned with the government. Their interests are economically motivated. The art of life is to know how to bootstrap and make the best use of the resources around you to achieve your dreams. It's a free market and if you can't do it here, go out there and venture.

Yes, I am studying stem cell regulation with my computer now, but interestingly, I still find the time to work on the Universe because a theoretical physicist can work anyway as long as there is a pen, a piece of paper or a computer. Btw, my work in economics are of no interest to the government as well.

Bernard Leong said...

Sorry, I need to paraphrase this one (the problem of quick typing): If the Henry Wellcome (Trust) can do it for the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in UK which they are funding pure genome research, so can anyone in the world. Btw, for every pound that the Wellcome Trust give to research, the UK government will match it at 1.5 pound.

singaporean said...


I admire you. I wanted to do astrophysics as well. I even applied and was accepted by NUS Science. But NS gave me way too much time to worry (not to mention most of those days I was living in fear), and after getting mocked left right at a PSC scholarship panel (it's their charming way of pursuading me to take up a teaching scholarship, since my grades were neither here nor there), I switched to Engineering instead. Of course, had I been offered an "Open" scholarship, I would probably ended up teaching or breaking bond anyway, but I was that naive then. And unlike you, my parents were barely working and quite sickly then. I wasnt even sure I could afford to study in NUS at all.

Anyway, part of the finacial problem solved itself when my sickly mother died, but after getting mentally massacred by Engineering for 4 years, I have given up hopes of doing a Paul Dirac (electrical engineer turned outstanding physicist).

And I dont know how you can be so optimistic about entrepreneurship: two of the small companies I worked for had gone belly up, burning up a lot of money in the process. Even for you, I bet bulk of your businesses come from entities that are either directly government funded, or wouldnt be in Singapore if it werent for generous tax breaks the government is offering. But I wish you success, nevertheless.

To the young people reading this, I hope you never turn your back on your dreams. The government doesnt care about your happiness. To them, you are just a unit of labour, expendable, replaceable. And even if you try your best to sing in harmony with the government, you never know when they will change their tune.

Anonymous said...

Hey prodigal, funkygrad forum is back up, paid a visit yet?

Anonymous said...

i dream of travelling

Anonymous said...

Apparently, it seem like dreams are mainly to study this or that, what about understanding yourself/self-actualization, understanding the world and the people around you? Just wondering, which is more impt: interest or individual/self-actualization?

bez said...

Pursuance of Dreams, in a country where the people have been brought up to believe that the country's Dream is theirs as well...

I think Singaporeans resemble ants (no negative connotations in this comparison). Working together, hard and unquestioning, for the good of the colony, and serving the Queen ant's policies faithfully. Trying to achieve what is expected of them. Never thinking otherwise, of a different way of living.

Married couples in Singapore face this problem of family and kids. There's the societal pressure to have kids, because that's just What you do After you Get Married. But is it really what you have to do? Must you really have kids?

The standard Singaporean student aims to go University, hoping it is through a JC, before which was a 'good' secondary school, preceded with a SAP primary school, and beginning with a PAP kindergarten. How straight-forward the route is for the student in Singapore. Deviate and Life gets a tad harder.

Rheatorical questions and observations from yours truly.

(Just found out I'm INFJ by the way.)

Cobalt Paladin said...

Hi Singaporean,

Just a correction. I'm not a web designer but due to the nature of my business, I need to be able to do web design. Especially, in the beginning when I don't have resources nor funds, I've learnt to do my own website in order to promote my product.

Cobalt Paladin said...

Actually, I did what I wanted to do. I never thought about whether my dream is aligned with the Singapore dream. So what if it isn't? I still pursued my dream. I lead my life. I only need to answer for myself, of course, while taking care of my mum and family at the same time. :)

When I took that step to dream, I've definitely wondered about the possibility of failure. I thought to myself, "What the heck? Fail, fail lor. Just get a job after that. No biggie."

To me, my worse regret would be if I've never tried and I would never know. I would always think about the 'what ifs' and the 'what could have been'. If I tried and failed, at least I know and I would have no regrets.

I would be the first to admit that the journey has not been easy. In fact, it has been really tough. Was it worth it? Of course!

We have only one life. To dream or not to dream, your choice.

singaporean said...

Whether one pursue his dreams or not, one can still fail. The difference is that, if you are pursuing your dreams, you know what is success. If you are pursuing a path, a plan, what is success then?

If you own a big plasma tv and a big car and a big condo, but all you can think about quitting your job when you earn "enough", are you happy or successful? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are still working hard, so we know money is not what they are working for. How many of us can do that: enjoy working when our great grandkids can paris-hilton all their lives?

For some people, such advice looks obvious. I only hope to address the more naive young people, like I was when I was younger. I totally adored the government then, and if LKY said there is no god, I would have stopped attending church.

Perhaps I would have still failed, but at least I know where I stand. Instead, I found myself running blindfolded, and now, I have no idea how I got here and where to go next. I guess I just have to keep running then.

singaporean said...

It is said that if everyone knew exactly what parenthood is like before they take the plunge, mankind would have gone extinct long ago.

I think the same can be said about entrepreneurship. I know of a serial entrepreneur: he started a business, grew it big, and then it went bust. Then he started another and another, although they all went bust. For the cynical, he is probably a loser destined for failure. But I believe most entrepreneurs would agree that few succesful businessmen had it smoothsailing all the way.

As the government extols the virtues of entrepreneurship and plaster poster children like Ron Sim and Olivia Lum everywhere, do you know the face of an unsuccessful entrepreneur? He is in his 40s, still repaying debts from his previous failed ventures, not out of legal requirement, but of personal commitment. He is single and has gastric problems from years and years of skipped meals. He has friends all over the world, but they are more like business contacts than close buddies. What would he talk about with them anyway? Primary school enrolment? Reliability of Thai made Camrys? His mind is constantly revolving around business opportunities, he already forgotten how not to do so. He is an extremely valuable hardworking driven employee, but he is a royal PITA to work with. Afterall, he was once running a million dollar enterprise, what can he possibly learn from his young punk boss and colleagues(he will humbly listen and learn about new technologies though, because he wants to see new business opportunities there)? And dont try to disagree with him. He doesnt know how to give an inch of ground. (He wont argue with customers because he is one smooth salesman, but he WILL honestly let you know how stupid you are if you are his colleague) When he knows he is right, no force on earth can stop him. Which is why he will never stay an employee for long.

As far as HR is concerned, self-employed=unemployed. Similarly, working for small companies that gone bust is as good as not having worked at all. It is one thing to try keeping up with the Joneses, it is quite another thing to realise that the Joneses are so far ahead in their careers that you cant even smell their trail any more.

So as the government encourages everybody to take a plunge into entrepreneurship, the same way they were encouraging everyone to go into engineering some years back, are you sure this is what you really really want?

As for me and my wife, one baby is enough to drive us both crazy. We are stopping at one.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Oh dear. I am sorry to hear that you are not enjoying parenthood with the young kid.

If you need any babying tips from Mr Wang on how to handle fussy babies, feel free to drop Mr Wang an email.

singaporean said...

Did I sound like I hate parenting? No not that way at all! It's just that if we knew in advance what we were in for... well we might have chickened out... It is said that hormones are released after delivery to help mothers forget their labour pains, or they will never get pregnant again. I think the same can be said about fatherhood. Now that the baby is so much less fussy, I am beginning to forget there were nights I wanted to fling the crying baby out of the window! I think for now one baby is just challenging enough to be enjoyable...better dont tip the balance! :P

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Good to hear that. :)