What is this “Entrepreneur” business?
When I was 12 years old, the word “entrepreneur” wasn’t even a buzz word yet.
Nobody in my family was an entrepreneur. My parents were working for an insurance company, my uncle and aunts were civil servants, mechanics and I had an uncle that was a broker. My close family friend was a teacher. No one started his or her own business.
Except my grandpa, yeye. He passed on when I was really young and my father told me what kind of businessman my grandpa was- yeye’s business was to sell Yong Tau Foo (it is a Hakka Chinese food consisting primarily of tofu that has been filled with either a ground meat mixture or fish paste) in Chinatown (wholesaler). Yeye’s primary motivation was more to look busy than to make money. The business boomed because yeye was very generous and gave out all the condiments, sauces and even the charcoal fuel for free!
Yeye was also overly trusting of people and started many businesses (he ventured overseas to Malaysia) and ended up in debt because of trusting the wrong people. The result was strained family relations as the family was not only in debt, his wife, my grandma (mama) and her children spent many of their waking hours diligently filling fish paste into tofu and knowing that all their hard work had gone to waste.
Growing up, my father always said that doing business was “dangerous” and “dog-eat-dog”. He was self-employed, working as a manager at an insurance company- he did appreciate the freedom and tax-advantages that being self-employed brought. But he did not fancy the idea of “start-ups” – where the risk was much too high.
My mother was a conservative woman who, when she was a younger woman, thought that being a secretary in an air-conditioned office was a very admirable profession. My mother never thought she would be self-employed. Until she met my father, fell in love, got married and started to work for my father as a financial consultant.
My parents had amazing work ethic- they worked long hours to build up their client base. Both of them had an inclination for the known and stable more than the unknown.
I grew up like that. My parents never allowed us to play video games, always encouraged us to work hard for our money (we were never given money for no good reason), always taught us to “do unto others what you would want them to do unto you”. Our parents raised the 4 of us this way (me, my sister and 2 younger brothers)- to be hardworking children who did well in school and are morally upright.
When times were well, we still continued to eat at hawker centers and lived within our means. When things were rougher, we ate simple home-cooked meals of ikan bilis (tiny fish) porridge and watched television at home for entertainment, instead of going out.
Regardless of the financial circumstances at home, my parents always made it a point to make us feel like we always had more than enough. This way of living made the 4 of us very grounded and emotionally secure- something that I am so grateful for. My parents aimed to provide for us this environment that neither of them had growing up, and they are good parents.
I was blessed to grow up in a good household, a great set of parents and a lot of siblings for companionship. My childhood was happy and I did really well in school.
When I was in primary school, I contracted secondary dengue fever and I was in hospital for quite a few weeks. I saw this flash of black figure one night, when I was having a high fever and that figure both terrified me and calmed me.
My life goals at that point of time: I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, something I considered was so “professional” and meaningful- and would give me the kind of comfortable life I knew.
I used to volunteer every Sunday afternoon at an elderly hospital (Tan Tock Seng) and I saw how the doctors were so suave just doing their rounds and they had so much power to improve the lives of the patients. I was pretty sure I wanted to be a doctor.
The doctors wore the white coats and just moved around with an air around them. The didn’t walk- they swished.
I got good grades, took piano lessons, joined the Symphonic band, was a school Prefect Counselor, was the section leader at school. I was well-liked by both my teachers and my peers and I enjoyed my life.
When I graduated from secondary school with a government scholarship to read at the most prestigious Junior College in Singapore (Raffles Institution), life seemed set towards a path of success. I earnestly thought that life was going the way I always wanted.
But, life works in funny ways. The second part of my life went massively haywire- not perfect, not pretty.
I’ll tell you more tomorrow about the shit that happened. A snowball going downhill.