Two weeks ago, Lee Wei Ling wrote in the Sunday Times about how she practices frugality and simplicity throughout her life even though she was born into a family of fame and class, in line with the education that she had at Nanyang, whose motto is 勤慎端朴 (Hardwork, Caution, Rightous, Simplicity). She laments about how having slept in hospital and hotel beds for the past 6 months had spoilt her such that now going back to sleep on her excercise mat felt a tad uncomfortable.
When I read that article, I agree fully with her that the motto of the school had also played an important role in my life, especially so if one had studied in the school for ten years. Of the four characters, 朴 is the most obvious trait that I see in many of my Nanyang friends. Yes, there are exceptional, most obvious in my Indonesian schoolmates, who are always prim and dressed to the nice, face fully made up, complete with accessories like daimonte Motorola phone and Rolex watches, even if it’s just for ice cream at Holland V.
Like me, my friends go out sans makeup. Like Lee Wei Ling, most of my friends still keep the same short hairstyles that they had since secondary school. The only time that their hairstyles changed was probably during the periods prior to their weddings. We don’t display any branded stuff like handbags or watches, or even shoes, and our dressing is often very low key, or even drappy.
However, unlike Lee, we splurged on other things. My Nanyang friends and I try to meet at least once every quarter for sumptous buffet meals at top hotel. I don’t mind spending money on travels or meals in restaurants(luckily I dislike expensive French food), or a good spa, but I balk at paying for other luxury items, although my one luxury is to splurge on a top class mattress which I have yet to buy. I would buy expensive lego toys for my kids, but would not consider buying a dress that cost that same amount. It’s a paradox I don’t understand myself.
Contrast this. My sixteen year old cousin has her hair cut at Shunji Matsuo while I cut mine for $10 at EC House. (Although I recently splurged at another saloon for my bro’s wedding). Another cousin just celebrated his twentith birthday at Morton’s, which the only time I’d been there was when my bro-in-law, Frank, gave Mike and I a discount coupon to dine there five years ago. At a spa, my mother owns a platinum membership, while mine is a miserable classic one. You are cheap, Bee told me once.
My older kids had 6 years of education at Nanyang, and 勤慎端朴 was drilled into them constantly, and even their school house colours goes by that. As the two older ones entered secondary school, I regularly remind them of their secondary school motto too. Aspire and Grow, I tell Andreas. Scholar, leader and Gentlemen, I remind Ivan constantly whenever his gangster like behaviour surfaces. (The other motto for Ivan is The Best is Yet to be, which I don’t quite understand. The best should be NOW, why yet to be?)
NYPS is having a musical on the four characters 勤慎端朴 next month, that’s how important the school placed on their motto. If only all schools do that too.