Table 4

I recently had a joy and privilege to sit next to someone who is incredibly bright. 30, at most, by my estimate, studied business administration back in his days, pursuing a career in software engineering but with a wealth of knowledge about history and culture. I don’t generally relate history and culture to software engineers nor would I to a student of business. This man, however, broke that stereotype for me.

It is not just an understanding of politics — that is too common — but also a deep appreciation of what is contained in the practices of different communities. Our conversations took us to talking about Chinese language and culture, along with the rise of the English language, which is highly unusual for someone who is not a student of linguistics nor anthropology. He knew that language and ideology were firmly linked and that, one supports the other, albeit not a perfect grasp of it.

Clearly impressed by his wealth of knowledge, I proceeded to ask him what motivated him to read so widely, after all, most of my peers are not propelled into these forms of “impractical” knowledge in their spare time. Sure, they do have their respective interests that do not help them in their career at all but I don’t recall many that can hold a conversation about cultures. He told me that it was just an interest, nothing more. While that answer disappointed me, it reflected how our interests can project a different persona.

On the other side of the table, it’s another brilliant man. Having done his undergraduate and graduate studies in the states, in public policy, no less, he returned to Singapore to work with a start-up. His belief is this: if we want the underprivileged to progress, we have to start giving the upper echelons of society an incentive to let them proceed. Morality has, perhaps, and even sadly, outlived its use in this regard.

He said that we got to start giving private sectors reasons to start forming more inclusive societies. When the private sector has a practical reason to include the lesser privileged, they will invest in their causes. It seems a pretty elegant solution at first sight, until I realized that’s what MNCs has been doing for awhile now.

This solution perpetuates the poverty cycle, and the poor will remain poor. It is just another form of exploitative measures that the privileged are taking to advance their profits. Marx may roll over in his grave just to give them a piece of his mind. I don’t disagree with his solution, neither do I agree, my simple understanding of his work and its greater repercussions cannot critique his work comprehensively; but I digressed.

On a brighter note, he presents an alternative path to Singaporean narrative. With a masters in public policy, one may expect him to go into the public sector and show off his mastery in policy planning. Instead, he convinced his bosses to create a role that is unheard of in start-up, and started a career in helping it to help the underprivileged to help itself. Without naming the company, I would love to see his efforts come into fruition and see what it eventually becomes.

I’m just saddened that I had too much to drink last night, which hampered my ability to think critically. Conversations with those two were revelling, especially because I felt that they broke societal moulds. They challenged social conventions because they believed, almost intuitively, that what they were doing was incredibly fulfilling. Had I been sober to engage them in a more intellectual conversation, instead of just the questions for casual conversation, perhaps I would have dug deeper and learned even more.

But, hey. I was at table 4, the table, which saw the extras of each tables coming together; these little conversations, while challenging to keep up wth, were unexpected, let alone intriguing.

We joked that we would punish the groom by making him sit in such a table in the future. And we joked that we wouldn’t take a picture together, after all, we didn’t know each other. We desperately tried to establish a common link just to perhaps justify having to sit together. We thought we were living out a movie (which interestingly is already in production) and we thought that the script could not have been any better.

I highly doubt that I will meet these people again but I am so deeply impressed that if I ever do, we will engage in a more intellectual discussion this time — I promise.

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