Changing Perceptions

Jeremy Clarkson, the British journalist famous for being one of Top Gear’s four presenters (fourth is The Stig, but you should know this already), recently posted an entry in his column at TopGear.com about modern cars having too much horsepower, to the point where it becomes a real danger to the driver. This, coming from an Englishman who spent at least the past eight years on Television screaming “POWERRRRR!!!” a lot and openly showing preference towards cars that emphasised on engine size, acceleration, torque and, most importantly, speed. Any one who does as little as follow Top Gear from a discreet distance, however, will notice that, in the past few years, Clarkson’s affection for this has toned down quite a bit, such as during his review of the Mercedes Brabus SL.

What Clarkson actually and honestly thinks about the idea of the speed and power of a car’s engine affecting the car’s fun and relative safety, I do not know. What he did make me think about with this recent column entry of his, however, is my own changing perceptions of the world.

Back in 2007/2008, when I was leaving secondary school and entering tertiary education (or college, if that term is more familiar to you), I thought that I was close to reaching the absolute peak of what I could ever know, and that somehow, some way, world peace was possible within the next half-century. I had spent ten years in the safe environs of government-funded education. In the final two years, I discovered that I could write argumentative essays with relative ease. This was the catalyst that made me take the plunge into improving my proficiency of the English language and adopting a more minimalistic approach to writing, using simple words for most of my essays to improve reader comprehension. It also resulted in me topping the entire graduating cohort of my school in the English Language paper of the GCE “O” Level Examinations that year, an achievement that I am still very proud of to this day.

Perhaps against the expectations of many people I know, especially my sister, I chose to take up a Diploma in Digital Visual Effects at Ngee Ann Polytechnic instead of entering a junior college and progressing into University after that. The reason I did so was because I was interested in knowing how the special effects in films such as Star Wars or Avatar worked. I did not fancy spending two years of my life memorising textbooks and staying up late to do revision, which my sister did at great cost. I knew back then I was probably shooting myself in the foot consciously, but I told myself that I would take whatever consequences there would be when they show up. It’s funny, in hindsight, how this mentality apparently got me through my tertiary education years and conscription period. I never complained. I just did my work. If I made a severe enough mistake, I apologised, performed damage control and moved on. I found complaining about things to be too much effort and pointless. For there to be a problem, there must also be a solution. If there is no solution, there is no problem. By extension, if I can fix it, I will. If I cannot, there is nothing else I can do. What do you expect me to do for a dead person?

At one point when I was nearing the end of my conscription period, my sister asked me if I really wanted to become a teacher, and I gave it more thought than I’ve ever done. I ultimately decided that being a teacher was not what I wanted to be. A teacher must juggle dealing with a room of hormone-induced youngsters, correspondence from parents who need a textbook on parental guidance and assessing a stack of sheets two feet high. Of these three, two of them require good communication skills, and I’ve performed more communication kills in my own family than I ought to have done. From the sidelines, I’ve learnt that what a teacher says within earshot of the students they are in charge of has a massive impact on their performance in their later years. I do not wish to be a custodian of their future. The thought of a single sentence I utter ruining the future of a potentially brilliant young mind is more terrifying than anything else.

A few days ago, I installed Vue 11 Pioneer. This is a software I was familiar with back in my tertiary education days. Apart from the headache of node-based terraforming, which I never really grasped, I was incredibly familiar with the tools at my disposal. In 2011, I performed an improvised presentation of Vue’s capabilities to a group of secondary school students who were visiting Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Within a single minute, I could generate a landscape that was realistic enough for the crowd (and their guide) to ooh and ahh over it for a few seconds (they didn’t stare at it for too long because Vue is not something you learn in any other course at the School of Film and Media Studies back then).

A few minutes into Vue 11 a few days ago showed me just how much I’ve forgotten over two years of not using the software. The reality has always been there, and it exists in various forms in many places, but experiencing this, the deterioration of knowledge, first-hand and realising that even the knowledge I gained only two years ago fades so quickly makes me more unnerved than any form of prose could ever hope to do. If my skills fade this quickly, don’t even get me started on how quickly my social bridges will collapse…

When I entered primary school, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. When I entered secondary school, the thought of becoming the President of Singapore didn’t seem too far off. When I left secondary school, I wanted to be a teacher. When I left college, the thought of being a visual effects artist occasionally strayed into my ambition of being a teacher. Now, with conscription out of the way and more doors to the world open than I could ever dream of when I was a kid, I find myself lost. All my past ambitions specialised in something, but I now know that to specialise in something would require me to sacrifice the possibility of learning everything else. Is this what I want?

The joy of learning is itself, but it is an eternal process. People learn things all the time. Even after the death of an individual close to them, for instance, they still learn new things about that person. This is something I’m not ready to give up over the prospect of reaching the top of a specific field and staying there. Yes, you still learn things when you’re at the top, but you learn less about it than you would if you’re in the middle. This means you get less joy from learning, and less desire to learn anything new about it.

What good are dreams of world peace if I don’t have the necessary skills to make that possible? There’s no point dreaming about it if it takes longer than my lifespan. The world has been at it since the League of Nations, which was a century ago, and they are still going at it right now, with no end in sight. The only thing I can do is ensure that the process sustains momentum, as it has since the end of the Second World War. But first, I must know how…and maybe that is where I will eventually be heading.

Until today, I still do not fully understand or appreciate the magnitude of government-funded education in Singapore, as well as its positive and negative effects, but I hope to do so someday.

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