An article by guest writer Philip Tong. Refer to “About the Writer” at the end of the post.
The Universe is about 13 billion years old according to astronomers and cosmologists. However one can say this reality was not mine until I became conscious of this piece of information. However, I believe that consciousness is not equal to reality. Thus for me, a sentient being, reality can only be ‘owned’, if one can remember the facts. So it all began with my earliest memory of a man who carried me on his shoulders, put a cap with goggles on my head and walked away from my parents’ house in Yio Chu Kang, a very rural place at that time in 1942 in Singapore. My parents filled in the details of this memory, when I was old enough to understand what it was all about. A Japanese pilot had come into our home when I was about a year and a half old, put his head-gear on my head, carried me on his shoulders and took me for a walk in the village for about half an hour. I was the fairest baby in the area according to my obviously biased parents and they were concerned that they may never see me again.
Fortunately, reality continued for me as my memory journeyed on with recollections of bombs falling in the vicinity of my home and of being herded into a very large, deep below-ground bomb shelter dug into the garden. It was closed from the top with wooden poles and branches of banana leaves.
Fast forward goes my reality about kindergarten, primary school and secondary school. My parents, siblings, kampong and school friends and teachers anchored my personality. I existed as a person. Knowledge of reality continued to accumulate in my head in those growing years of good living within Singapore’s excellent education system. The Civil War in China between the Chinese Communist army of Mao Tse Tung and the Koumintang army of Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek raging and reported daily on the Redifussion. The latter army inexorably being pushed from west to east and finally fleeing by an armada of transport ships and boats from the mainland to the island fortress of Taiwan. Next came the Korean War, the bloody and protracted see-saw battles between the unfortunate foot-soldiers of the North Korean and Chinese Red armies on one side and the United Nations (largely US) army on the other. It ended with a cease-fire treaty at the famous 38th parallel and the division of Korea ever since. It could have ended for me and a lot of people in the world then if President Truman had acceded to General MacArthur’s request to use the atomic bomb on China. Fortunately, Truman was wiser, knowing that the threat by the then USSR on China’s side, was not a ‘bluff’. Brinkmanship with the lives of mankind as casino chips. Somehow the fact of the two atomic bombs detonated earlier on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II seemed to have entered into my consciousness later after the time of the Korean War. It should have been the other way around. Strange, but that is how I perceive it. These catastrophic events jolted my adult mind into the realization that although life was seemingly fine for me Singapore, the greater reality was a world of pain and death suffered by my fellowmen because of war, poverty, exploitation, disposable drugs for disposable people (drug trials in 3rd world countries which kills thousands of women and children there so as to benefit people in first world countries in due course. The photographs taken by an award-winning photographer who committed suicide later (presumably because of mental anguish at what he saw and photographed) included one of a huge death-smelling vulture several meters behind an emaciated child crawling to a so near but yet so far Red Cross feeding station and one of another starving big-skull boy on twig-like legs eating the shit of a cow by putting his face in its anus. I saw these pictures on the internet and forever my reality is changed. ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’ knows no bounds. A conference on world hunger some years ago in a first world country was to reported in the press, to have started with a ‘banquet’ for participants!
Here in almost first world Singapore where there still no minimum wage even for the $600 per month Ah Peks and Ah Ums working as cleaners and crockery collectors at food-malls to eke out a living, is being justified by labor leaders trumpeting that instead of a minimum wage, we should aim for ‘minimum productivity’. Some middle and upper middle class Singaporeans agree with the latter ‘leaders’, echoing them and adding that its okay for the over 70s Singaporeans to work as cleaners and crockery collectors since its ‘honest’ work! But when posed with the question, ‘Will you let your old parents and grandparents do these types of work’, some said yes and some said no. ‘Really!’ the thought entered my head. ‘Wow!’ Next comes the hundreds of thousands of migrant male low & semi-skilled workers in Singapore. They come from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. From my calculation, for the first 2 years of their employment contract, at say $20 per day wages, one of these men send home about 20 cents a day to their families in those countries. This because they have to repay the thousands of dollars loan each which they took to pay the ‘job-finding’ fees to employment agents both in their home countries and here in Singapore. In addition, they pay about $100 per month for a double/treble sleeping bunk, medical treatment when needed and 3 meals a day. Ah! but some Singaporeans say, ‘In India etc., Singapore money is so big that with the money they send home, they can buy land and build good houses!’ I wonder how our Singaporeans will feel if they work in the US or Western Europe and they can send only 20 cents per day to their dependent parents, wives and children here in Singapore. But then, lament many Singaporeans, there is no other way our sovereign nation can progress ec economically!. So the Singapore ‘Spirit’ must endure if we are to survive! Dr. Ravi Batra in his most interesting #1 New York Times Best Seller, ‘The Great Depression of 1990’, said that the ‘Warrior Class’ of a nation would use the ‘Laborers Class’ to successfully run its economy. This has happened in history and will most likely continue to happen in the future.
Fortunately for me, I am an optimist and will not be utterly depressed and driven insane like the above-mentioned photographer. My reality also is filled with memories of beautiful events. My lovely wife and our 5 years of courtship in London and a year and a half in Singapore. Our two baby sons and our car travels through Malaysia with milk-bottles in tow. Finally for this article, my reality includes what I read and especially what I saw at the National Geographic shop at Vivo City mall. There was some months ago a picture of our Universe. It showed our Milky Way Galaxy as an almost invisible dot at the bottom right of the Universe picture, the size of a large oval dining table. Our invisible planet Earth revolves round a sun that is amongst the hundreds of billions of suns that exist in the disc-like rotating Milky Way. And remember the Milky Way is also one of the hundreds of billions of galaxies (some much larger than the Milky Way) in our Universe. It has no edge and what is beyond is even outside the imagination of sci-fi writers. But then I am not talking of sci-fi. This is part of the total reality although I own perhaps an infinitesimal part of it as one human being. So I am optimistic that mankind is destined for the stars. But will pain and suffering continue to be part of our future in the stars?. Will ‘Man’s inhumanity to man?’ be part of the continuing story of the human race? Will the ‘Warrior Class’ exploit the ‘Laborers Class’ to enjoy the good life? Finally, will there be retribution for those who cause pain and suffering to their fellowmen? Karma in Buddhism is one attempt to answer that eternal question. On the other hand, Christianity advocates redemption for the ‘wrongs’ mankind has done to each other through the ages in the excruciating torture and death of man’s very own Creator God who by giving man free will wrote His unconditional Love for his creature who could have been made a robot but was not. Tell others about your share of the total reality. Who is in possession of the latter?
About the Writer
The writer was for half his career a senior human resource executive in several public corporations. The latter half of his career was that of senior lecturer in human resource management at one of the five Singapore polytechnics.