Thursday, February 21, 2019

"The scariest thing is seeing your parents grow old": Interview with Tay Yi Ling

Interview: Tay Yi Ling

Every week, SG Assist interviews everyday Singaporeans to ask them about their relationship with their family, and how it affects their work and personal life. This week, we interviewed Tay Yi Ling, a nineteen-year-old junior college graduate.

One of the most important dilemmas that teenagers and working adults grapple with today is that of the family vs. career. For Tay Yi Ling, this dilemma is especially pertinent. As a 19-year-old aspiring artist, she is adamant about staying in Singapore with her family, but yearns to pursue an arts education and career overseas, where opportunities and connections are aplenty. The choice is not easy: beneath lies a tangled web of filial piety, financial insecurity, and dreams of independence.

A former student of Anglo-Chinese Junior College, Yi Ling’s dream is to become an artist, though she is not sure yet of what exactly would suit her in the creative industry. She spent the last two years refining her craft by studying H2 Art at the A Levels. Over the past few months, Yi Ling has applied to various art colleges both in Singapore and overseas; she even had an interview with the University of Arts London last December. She shows me the A3-sized folder containing her portfolio during this interview.

Her artworks—mostly portraits of people—are marked with stunning, vivid splotches of bright colour that evoke layers of personality beneath the faces of the people she paints. As she rifles through them, one of the pieces catches my eye. It is a portrait of an old man, with thick daubs of acrylic paint defining his nose and the hollow space beneath his cheekbones. The face of the man stands out, melancholy, and stares back at the viewer. “Who is that?” I ask.

"That's my grandfather," she says.

In 2016, Yi Ling’s maternal grandfather passed away after months of rapidly deteriorating health. After having a non-fatal stroke at around seventy years old, he was in and out of the hospital for frequent check-ups then was eventually home-bound until his passing.

In his eighties, his memory and health grew steadily worse. Yi Ling's mother, a head lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic, was forced to take time off work to care for him. The family even hired an extra helper for round-the-clock supervision, and to take him to the polyclinic for his regular visits. He finally passed at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Yi Ling's final year of secondary school, before her O Level examinations. When asked for a lasting memory she has with her grandfather, she smiles and remembers fondly, “He used to give me bike rides home from school.”

With the passing of her grandfather, the size of her home seems to be dwindling even more quickly and dramatically. Her sister, who studies film criticism and music at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, returns to Singapore only occasionally. “Two empty rooms in the house,” says Yi Ling. “First my sister, then me. I don’t want my parents to be lonely.” Her reluctance to leave home almost takes on a premature guilt, as she worries about her parents being able to take care of themselves as they age.

Regarding her arts education, she says she would rather go overseas, but she worries about the “three years of death.” When asked to clarify, she means “financial death”, another worry that plagues young Singaporeans today. “I asked my parents about going overseas, and they didn’t say outright to stay local,” she says, “but you can kind of tell.”

SG Assist’s main question is if our mobile app, or similar efforts, can address the concerns of this generation regarding their families and sense of independence. To Yi Ling, preventing her parents from feeling heartache at the thought of their children leaving their nest is of a high priority. Her late grandfather also evokes a sense of worry in her about her own parents, and whether they are able to care for themselves as they grow older. Later, in the middle of the interview, she says, almost apropos of nothing, "There is a quote by someone I don't remember, but he said, 'The scariest thing is seeing your parents grow old.'"

Yi Ling’s worries for her parents and family are not singular; they represent the concerns of a generation that is forced to choose where its priorities lie. SG Assist attempts to bridge the gap between these priorities, allowing working adults to be present in both their lives and their families’ lives. With the help of others in the community, the dichotomy between family and career need not dictate our lives, but transform it, for each of us.

Written by Liyana Adnan

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