When I was still rather fresh in my career, someone asked me: So when is your salary going to exceed your wife’s? In a moment of pride, I said 5 years. And this has been on my mind ever since. Today, I am no longer bothered as much by it, even as I still feel that it is a degrading and cruel statement to ask someone who is trying to gain a footing.
Singapore, despite being a highly progressive society in various aspects, there are still citizens who lie beneath a cloak of narrowmindedness and outdated thinking, unable to break through from it. Just take the recent example of the outrageous remark made by a Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer towards an interracial couple. Many older generations still feel that males are supposed to be the ones earning more in the family, while females are expected to take care of the family and children. This puts undue pressure on young families, since they may have their own ways of splitting the responsibilities and happy with the way they are.
Lee Kuan Yew, in his early days, relied on his wife for financial support as he embarks on his political career. As brilliant as he is, an early political career doesn’t pay well, and if he is so bothered by the fact that he is relying on his wife, perhaps we would have lost a world-class statesman.
Furthermore, there is so much that goes into a remuneration package. Is the job meaningful? Stable? How about non-monetary benefits? I used to have a friend who boasted that he earns 5 digits every month as a private hire car driver. I did some calculations, and turns out that for a salaried employee earning about $4000, it would take $6000 to $8000 to match all the benefits if we were to convert everything to dollars and cents – CPF contribution, medical leave, annual leave, upgrading allowance, public holiday? How about a banker who, say, takes home $20,000 a month? While the salary is substantial, perhaps it has to be supported by a level of expenditure as well, such as having to entertain clients at the expense of the liver, or a certain lifestyle involving expensive cars, watches, and apartments so as to look established.
Salary seems to help protect our esteem. When you are earning a high paycheck, it seems to justify everything. It seemingly puts a number on your worth and makes you appear more valuable than someone else who earns lesser. But is a successful footballer really so many times more important than an ordinary doctor working at the hospital? If one is to be driven solely by the figure that you take home every month, perhaps ethical lines would be blurred. The short-term gain would be overemphasized as compared to long-term gains. Then when it all crumbles down, we blame our younger generation for being short-sighted, not knowing that it may be because of the undue pressure we put on them with some of our words.
During my time at the hospital with my child, some reflections were triggered as we accompanied her through her journey to recovery. It was during the time when COVID was full-blown in Singapore and many went back to their own country. I thought to myself if today we are an oil-rich nation, and we only encourage our citizens to do oil trading since it is the most lucrative business for the country. Where do I find the doctor I need for my child now?
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