“That’s what happens when you don’t work hard!,” a silent but firm message, often in no unforgiving tones is regularly sent to young Chinese children.
In most cases, the parent quite openly and unashamedly points out to the garbage collector or the person sweeping the street or even the maid.
Whether or not the message is true is of little of often no consequence, the core of the lesson is to instil the ethic of work, and perhaps more importantly, the idea that dreams come true when you work for it.
Having lived in the UK for quite a while now, I had gotten used to the complete political-correctness of never talking down your fellow human. I had unknowingly accepted the Western notion that when someone is in a fairly low-level job, it may be because, a) he enjoys doing it (and that’s what matters) or b) he’s in a rough patch. Come to think of it, there’s even a song about “The Dump Truck”
Never in all my years here had this been a subject of conversation with any of my peers, who incidentally come from a wide range of professions, from Professors to cooks in a Chinese take-away.
So naturally when Georgia starts negotiating to ‘practise her cello tomorrow’ and ‘do five sums’ instead of ten, I turn to my mum and bemoan the fact that, she’s becoming lazy.
“Wait till you come back here (to Malaysia) for a holiday, then you can point out the cleaners in my building,” she mentions reassuringly.
And so the time comes, we pack our bags, lock up our house and fly half-way across the world, to see what lessons we can impart to our nearly 6-year-old.
In the whirlwind of meeting up with relatives and friends, we take occasional refuge relaxing in the swimming pool when we happen to chance upon a couple of cleaners, walking round with mops and brooms.
“Great! Time for a lesson,” I think to myself.
“Hey G, you see those cleaners over there? Do you know why they have to clean other people’s houses?”
“Dunno…” she nonchalantly shrugs of the questions and goes back to her game of shooting her water gun at various toys she’d arranged around the pool.
“Well you know how we always tell you, you have to work hard at school?”
“Uh-huh,” she becomes a little bit more interested now and turns to look straight at me, wide-eyed.
And the lesson hits, “Well, if you don’t work hard and do your best, well then you won’t be able to find a good job and buy all the things you like….and you’ll have to end up cleaning,” I try to say this with as much seriousness and conviction as possible, trying to sell the idea that being a cleaner is just not good enough.
And just as serious and with as much conviction comes her reply “But Mummy! I like cleaning!”
And there it is! Does it matter that our society defines the worth and value of an individual by their occupation or that, it is in Asian terms ‘losing face’ when one’s child does not succeed?
Wrapped up in G’s immediate responses, was my lesson “Love what you do”.