Thursday, June 12, 2008

I cooked pasta tonight. Awesomeness. I took some stuff, so I'm really calm right now.

A few days ago, my father sms-ed to tell me that my mother may be switching jobs. She had just gone for a job interview, and may go back to working a five-day week - a vast improvement from the current six-day arrangement, which would basically give her better working hours and more time to relax and do a bit more running.

She had almost collapsed at the Sundown run, making it the first marathon that she could not complete.

That news about the job interview is in itself already a fucked thing for me to hear, because my mother is 52 years old. She's the smiling one in the photo in one of the posts below. She doesn't look 52, does she? In my mind she's 40.

Why is my mother attending job interviews at the age of 52?

When my mother was pregnant with me, she worked in a sorta-chemicals-lab as a technician messing around with sand and other stuff - I'd forgotten the details over the years. I know she did sales at a departmental store when she was 18 or so, before she had met my father.

She continued working as a lab technician for a while even after I was born, until my parents realised the situation required someone to stay home to look after me.

So my mom quit her job. She has been mostly a housewife ever since. When I was in primary school, she sold World Book encyclopedias, going house-to-house and doing fairly well. She had booths at the book fairs they used to have at the old World Trade Center exhibition halls. She then went on to dabble in flea markets, buying wholesale gift items and booking stalls at various locations that hosted such temporary events. We went everywhere - Century Mall, Tanglin Mall, Tiong Bahru Plaza.

She upgraded, somewhat, to a permanent stall at the World Trade Center before the place was torn down. Do you remember that Guinness Book of Records exhibition they had there? I do. She had a pushcart outside of where McDonalds used to be. I would visit in the weekends.

She was an excellent saleswoman. She has a way with people, friendly but never too familiar. Persuasive, but professional and never pushy. I faked most of my enthusiasm about the stuff she sold - soft toys, knick knacks - but I didn't mind because she sincerely loved everything she had at the stall. Even today, she talks fondly of some of her favourite items. There was that Mr. Bean bear, and the assortment of Totoro memorabilia.

After the pushcart venture ended, she worked at the Prudential offices at the SingPost building in Paya Lebar, manning the gift shop they had. The shop sold stuff with the Prudential logo on it, which agents would buy as gifts for their clients.

And then after that, there was an attempt at a business with relatives. A wholesale shop in Bedok. She's been engaged in that business ever since, although her own shop failed and she was relocated right back where she used to work - except that now they call the place Harbourfront.

And now, she just went for a job interview at the first company she worked for as an adult, applying for the same job she had given up 25 years ago.

My father, in his sms, said he "couldn't believe it". And I couldn't really either. My first instinct was to be happy - just because it meant a five-day week for her and an overall better working environment.

But there is an implication to this story, one which I lack the courage to articulate and I find very hard to pen down.

I told Rajiv this last night - slightly drunk but still upset enough so that he could tell it was not a moment for one of his famously callous remarks.

I told him that I had spent some time wondering about what she was thinking as she sat in her swirling chair in that laboratory at the age of 24, newly married and working as a technician in an excellent company. I wonder if she had made plans then, if she thought about how long it would take for her to be promoted, if she may make a jump to another company in the same line. I wonder if she had a vision about where her career would take her.

After all, she was at the start of everything. A great husband, a good job - considering she didn't do too well in school - a new flat.

And then, I suppose, life simply came in and played itself out on her behalf. Here she is again, right back where she started.

And I really want to ask her how she feels about this new/old job that she's about to embark upon. Is this a pleasant trip down memory lane, or a painful reminder of sacrifices and regrets? I want to ask her, but I'm so afraid of what the answer will be.


notle said...

Mom had work to do and a family to support, and quit her job when she had to. She didn't agonize about what she coulda-shoulda done with her life, imo tt makes her one of the toughest persons in my book.

Kwang Peng said...


Your mum is a brave woman. How many times have we told friends that our previous job sucks and vow never to go back to it? I did that quite often. She may be willling to go back to her job because it was a right decision for her to make when she have her girl, and its still the right decision which she is proud of.

Kwang Peng