|Sunday, October 3,1999
Friday Life section: Page 6
Goodness, it's been 25 years now
Journalists are the despair of my Human Resources colleagues, and I'm afraid I'm not going to help correct our poor image here
NEXT month, I collect my 25 Years Long Service Award from the company.
I was supposed to have picked up a memento that I like that is worth $600 at The Seiko Showroom or The Hour Glass Showroom or Pertama Funan Centre Showroom, and sent a duly filled-in option form to the Human Resources Department by Sept 17.
Of course, I haven't done so. I had actually gone down to Pertama last month, when I was on medical leave for a couple of days with the flu, but there wasn't anything I fancied in the $600 range.
Journalists are often the despair of my HR colleagues, and I'm not helping to correct our poor image here. But, after almost a lifetime in the trade, I guess I'm entitled to be "difficult", just this one last time. I promise I'll be good and forebearing, dutifully filling in all my forms, from next year.
Journalism has always been a romantic trade, and up to today, despite it having become a serious business, it still draws some people who have a natural aversion to forms, clock-watching and bean-counting. They can't even count their own money, which explains why it slips out of their hands so swiftly and mysteriously each month after pay day.
I know our colleagues in the other departments indulge us, have always done so, and I wish to thank them here on behalf of all the recalcitrant scribes who would not have lasted a year, if not a month, in some other job elsewhere. In the '80s, I shared a rented house with a general practitioner who, when he was working with a medical group, used to come in every morning to Times House to see patients.
He was fairly young then, had good bedside manners, and was well-liked by many of us, especially the women journalists. Some of them still go to see him at his Katong clinic, when they need to be soothed.
Once in an unguarded moment in our house, he said to me: "You journalists are all so neurotic. I don't know whether the job attracts neurotic types, or it encourages otherwise sane people to express all their latent neurotic tendencies."
Because he said these words with some affection, and not dismay, I took it as a compliment. WHEN I applied to join the now defunct New Nation as a cadet reporter in early 1974, I must have seemed like a neurotic to the personnel manager then (human resources as a term came much later).
He was a neatly-dressed, soft-spoken man, always smiling, obviously kind. He asked me seriously when he offered me the job: "Are you really sure you want to give up your $650 job? This one pays you $273 only, plus a $190 transport allowance."
I was a line supervisor in an American electronics assembly plant, with 80 girls under my charge. I was driving a brand new Ford Escort which I would have to give up. But I said yes to the personnel manager, I was sure.
In my application letter, I had included a quote from Hermann Hesse's Narcissus And Goldmund: "My goal is this: always to put myself in the place in which I am best able to serve, wherever my gifts and qualities find the best soil, the widest field of action." It was presumptuous, but I was 25 years old, and if not neurotic, then under undue influence.
For if ever there was a king of neurosis, a writer who celebrates the condition, then the German author was the one. I read his books to keep awake during my graveyard shift at the factory.
Sample another hoary Hesse chestnut, from the book that clinched him the Nobel Prize, Glass Bead Game: "There are many kinds of vocation, but the core of the experience is always the same: the soul is awakened by it, transformed or exalted, so that instead of dreams and presentiments from within, a summons comes from without. A portion of reality presents itself and makes its claim."
When I applied to be a journalist, I wanted no less than an awakening of my soul. Of course, I was in for a rude awakening instead, when I found out soon enough that journalism was much more than just dreaming and stringing together poetic-sounding sentences.
Still, it has been for me both avocation and vocation, even if it isn't exactly a noble one. I remember the American writer John Gregory Dunne, husband of the better known Joan Didion, once saying: "What is a reporter except a kind of house detective, scavenging through the bureau drawers of men's lives, searching for the minor vice, the half-forgotten lapse that is stored away like a dirty pair of drawers."
Such a reporter has his place but I hope I have been more than just a soul scavenger. THE demands of the trade have changed immensely over the last 25 years, as the society changes and the world turns. But the changes will be as nothing compared to those that are to come in the next 25 years, as the world spins faster and faster in a technological web.
It may be an age of disintermediation, as everyone gets online, but the need for journalists or information brokers will be more acute, not less. Because there will be more information than any individual or company can handle on a daily basis, there will always be work -- and reward -- for professionals who can best package and customise information for specific needs.
These are the storytellers, and I suppose if they are good, they can afford to cultivate their neuroses, and be indulged by those around them. Because, if they are exasperating, they can also be entertaining, for what are their silly antics but some of our collective, buried yearnings being acted out?
To come back to my Long Service Award. I suppose if I promise Leong How, my Human Resources manager, that I'll buy him a drink, he will make an exception for me. I will go pick up something at The Hour Glass next week and deliver the option form to his office myself.
Which exit, by the way, do I take on the PIE to get to the News Centre in Genting Lane?
03/10/99 Goodness, its been 25 years now