5 "C"s. The elusive elements of a Singapore Dream. They're the expressions of wealth, physical manifestations of status, of class. They're the ends that many people aim to reach - distant, lofty goals that sustain the daily grind.
But they aren't for all Singaporeans. Nope, they aren't for everyone.
Recently, I went for a talk on multi-level marketing, sometimes known by its acronym, MLM. Why not? A friend invited me along. I've nothing else planned. Perhaps I may learn something new - and potentially useful.
The room was packed. 20 odd people were milling in a small space and products - ranging from mouth wash and toothbrush to mooncakes and chlorine-free bleach - laid on every available horizontal space. Many of the participants already know each other and most of them are pursuing their tertiary education with NUS/SMU/NTU. There was a dynamic energy fluxing within the room.
The seminar began with a general observation on business and a few people - some of them, my secondary school friends - shared their reasons for joining the network. They wanted to earn more money to provide for their families or pursue their dreams.
After a hour long sharing, one lady approached me and asked, "do you have anything you want a lot in life?"
"Not really, I've pretty much what I want." A slight pause. It was obvious that I wasn't conforming to the script. If I wanted more time/satisfaction/money, she'd be able to launch into a well rehearsed monologue encouraging me to join the MLM network.
"Oh, what are you planning to do with your future?" A safe question.
"To teach, I think it's really enjoyable. You know, I give tuition on weekends. It's tiring but satisfying. I like such a lifestyle." A safe answer.
"Wouldn't you like to teach for free?" I could tell that she's trying to gauge my interest in MLM.
"Hmm, I used to charge very little at first, sometimes even giving free lessons. Then, I realised that the more I charge, the higher the level of respect some students show. So I've got to take some money. Tutor freely and some people may treat one with disregard." I knew she has no way of responding to such a reply but said it anyway. I wasn't trying to make things difficult for her but I had no other reply.
We continued our conversation for a while and I could feel her subtle attempts to gauge my interest. I tried - halfheartedly and therefore, without much success - to provide answers that she would want to hear.
"Are you just curious and will you be committed? I can lend you a loan package but we must meet within the next two days for you to return me it."
I dithered. "I've got lots of reports and essays to write. Maybe some time in December?"
"How about Monday night?"
"So sorry, but I really have to write this long essay on the environment..."
She tried for a while more before saying, "if you're just curious, I'd rather not waste my time. I hope you understand."
Ouch. That was a very polite rebuke.
After that, we kept to very safe topics - university education and the nobility of a teacher.
This isn't my first experience with MLM.
I know there are many people who want to be rich. I understand their choices and circumstances. There may be defining experiences that I simply can't relate to. But I can't help feeling out of place when surrounded with people who blatantly want more money.
With my nature, business really isn't for me. I've tried but assigning economic value to time, energy and commodities just doesn't feel like a natural fit.
Many friends are majoring in disciplines that may prove to be lucrative. When we meet up, there'll always be the inevitable posturing - pretending to be intelligent by discussing politics, analysing global financial woes, having meals at expensive restaurants etc
All striving for the very Westernised idea of happiness - wealth and all its trappings.
But these ideals - we lump them together and call it the Singapore Dream - aren't for everyone. Not everyone wants to be a millionaire. Enough money is really enough.
One doesn't need to buy into the stories that advertisers perpetuate. Not everyone needs LV bags, luxurious penthouses and expensive holidays in the Bahamas. Not everyone wants it.
This Singapore Dream? It isn't for everyone.