Being a single mother, my mom relied a lot on the advise of her family to make decisions on my behalf. At one point in my life, she turned to them yet again when she had to make a difficult decision concerning my college education - a decision that would determine what I would do for the rest of my life. Here’s what happened.
My mum had a marketing degree with lots of experience behind her. She worked in the supermarket’s cold storage department. In the earlier days, when I was younger, mum worked as an executive in a retail shop. However, most of her savings that were used to fund my education, was accumulated throughout the mid-90s when she was a manager.
After finishing my high school education, I was considering taking up STPM (Malaysian equivalent to A-levels). At that time, I just loved Maths and Physics very much. To me, Mathematics is an art that mirrors the multi facets of the physical universe. I felt that pursuing my dreams at Universiti Malaya eventually was probably much cheaper than going overseas. Moreover, I would attend Form 6 classes at a nearby high school. For once in my life, I was prepared to work hard for what I liked.
Too bad, my high school results had the effect of Mike Tyson’s knockout. I got about 4 A2’s but I got a P7 for Bahasa Melayu. To get into Form Six, I would have had to score at least a credit for Bahasa Melayu. The one solution was to resit the examination. No problem, I told myself, I could afford to do that.
In the mean time, a local private college was having its Open Day so I decided to make my first move. I was eager to enrol for a Physics course or any other pure science subject. Upon asking, I realized the cost was beyond what my mum could afford. Gosh! Excluding lodging and food it would cost RM 80,000!
Dissatisfied, we went to another booth that featured Computer Science subjects. A smartly dressed man, probably a lecturer, explained that a computer science course could be done entirely at the college. The cost would be a fraction of the other pure science subjects. I noticed my mum was agreeing very often with what the gentleman had to say while I kept mostly quiet because this was not at all what I wanted.
My mum had already made up her mind when we reached home. “You only need 3 years to do a computer science course,” she said trying to convince me. But I retorted, “I like Physics and Maths more than some other silly science course.” She mentioned wasting precious time while I could get ‘seniority’ graduating and joining the workforce sooner. She refused to accept the fact that I didn’t mind taking extra years to do what I liked. “I am re-sitting my SPM (High School) exam”, was the ultimatum. The result was an intense quarrel, which was blanketed by silent treatment for the next few days. It has always been like that; it’s her way or none at all.
Every Aunty and Uncle soon knew about this. They advised me, strangely echoing my mum’s exact words. I knew that my mum had thrown in some salt and spice in a bid to get everyone to change my mind.
My good mother had various arguments on her side and her opinions were sometimes treated like a mandate from heaven. “You are going into Form 6 just because your friend is there” “I am more experienced than you are. Trust me.” “Why take inferior courses while I have the money to support your college education.” “You are walking to the tip of the bull’s horn.” “Stubborn kid.” “Can you guarantee you will get a place in the university?” All these statements seemed to sap my enthusiasm away.
Thinking about it, I realized she was not exactly forcing me. It’s true I wasn’t interested in the arts or marketing, sales, advertising and such. Engineering courses were expensive. Computer science, I had to admit, was the light at the end of my narrow tunnel; unless I gambled uncertainly with STPM. She was just trying to make the best decision for me. Unfortunately, the decision wasn’t mine.
Nonetheless, I took my SPM Bahasa Melayu re-sit but before the results were out, I enrolled for the computer science courses. Doing so, I thought a lot about my high school friends. Their results were excellent and some of them got to do what they wanted. One guy went on to pursue a degree in medicine in Australia. Another went to the UK for his A-levels. How I wished this money problem would just solve itself!
Computer Science wasn’t my cup of coffee. The diploma subjects were easy, so I passed my course easily. But I didn’t exactly enjoy it, feeling I wasn’t learning anything much, so I decided to switch colleges. They wanted me to do a Bridging Course. That cost my mum some extra money and 4 months of my time.
Sometime during my Higher Diploma, I was experiencing a burn out. I didn’t enjoy my course and they kept throwing several ‘do-or-die’ assignments every semester. Fortunately I survived again, with the help of teamwork.
After the Higher Diploma, I felt discouraged to continue with the coming degree level course. Another round of tedious assignments and one crucial project to determine whether I passed or failed awaited me there. I wanted to work. My mum complained as usual but in my heart I already had got fed up of studying. Really fed up!
Again my mum summoned aunties, uncles, and even some of my friends. They made a beeline to convince me to change my decision. Well, in the end I did. A degree was just nine more months, they said. What the heck! Maybe they were right, so I just signed on the dotted line.
Since graduating with a degree in Computer Studies one year ago, I have worked as a computer programmer. Thinking back, I had to admit my mum was just strategizing the best for me. But I will never agree on how she forced it down my throat. I earn a good salary now, about RM2000 with one year of experience. The huge salary fascinated me at first. But the legacy of fatigue continues, I don’t like what I am doing and I increasingly suffer.
I feel more miserable everyday whenever I am at work. I hate computer codes. It’s not all glamour being a programmer. We adhere strictly to the requirements and a programmer is not the decision maker. But I compare a state of nothing-to-do with busy-lots-of-work and I feel better in the latter situation. Among my colleagues, I have to maintain high standards because my reputation as a professional is at stake, so I faithfully drag myself through the nine-to-five marathon workday. 365 days. If only you could feel how painful it is.
In the end, I have to accept the path that I walk on. There is no point trying to change the past. However, I am never going to further my studies; I have already got sick of that. With the money I earn, possibly I will attend some new courses. It seems I have a growing interest in music.
Like the lotus growing out of the muddy waters, maybe one day, I too will reach full bloom.