Out of the Shithole

Was it a few years ago that email conversation took place? Which movie did he mention? My memory is failing me as I age. All the more it pushes me on to blog, lest one day my memory is no more and this leaves a trail behind for anyone who cares.

It was CK. It has to be because there is no one I know who hated life in Singapore... or perhaps... Singapore itself. I never figure out which exactly and I never figure out why. He described how he felt when he received news of the successful application of his NZ PR - like how the protagonist in the movie crawled through a long tunnel of shit to escape the walls that held him for nearly 20 years. Out of curiosity, I watched that movie, Shawshank Redemption, on a late Saturday night recently and was surprised how engaged I was throughout the movie. (I'm not the movie type of person)

I don't critic movies. It was a great one I'll recommend to anyone who hasn't watched it. The shit crawling scene CK likened himself to was definitely the peak of the movie. However, there was something else I picked up from the movie which resonated a lot with me. It was a quote Red, the narrator and the best friend of the protagonist in the movie. This was what he said of their prison, "

“Believe what you want. These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. After long enough, you get so you depend on 'em. That's 'institutionalized.'”

That was being quoted when a fellow prisoner was granted parole after spending 5 decades of his life in prison and could not adjust to his new life. Eventually, he took his life in the half-way house. It was noteworthy that when the old fellow received news of his parole, he actually seized another prisoner at knifepoint to get him imprisonment extended so that he could remain in his comfort zone. Later on Red experienced the same glaring discomforts of 'institutionalization' when he was granted his parole.

The idea of being 'institutionalize' is all too familiar for me. I wanted to get out of Singapore in my late 20s. There were Singaporeans who wrote to me and told me they wanted out since their early youth. No matter, even if you want to get out of Singapore right from the day you were born, you probably can't. Unless you are born with a silver spoon, you will need get yourself academically qualified in the eyes of the adopted country of your choice, get enough working experience in your nominated profession and most importantly of all, save enough to fill your war chest. Through these processes, you get institutionalized. 

I hated those walls. I got used to them and I did feel I depended on them. I nearly vanquished the thoughts of leaving altogether at one stage. It was frightening for me to even think about. Am I not surprised to hear how many Singaporeans will not leave Singapore even if they are granted PRs elsewhere? Many will swear they will get out in a heartbeat but trust me, most of them will freeze in their tracks when the opportunity becomes a reality. On day of departure, I had to conceal my tears from my wife. I was scared stiff about life outside my prison. I didn't scream in ecstasy like CK after making out of the shithole. In fact, I wanted to crawl back to the walls that both imprisoned and protected me.

Institutionalization. It nearly got me.


  1. hi, mate, i too from s'pore and i also like this movie a lot! ironically, my story and his also true events. haha...lol but his more serious, he landed up in a real prison. as for me, i landed in a pigeon hole under watch. i have been put thru psychological abuse, intimidation and manipulation. wow! you must be thinking. keep writing... i enjoy reading your blog and have a good evening. cheerios!

  2. Keep writing Nik. Really keep writing. I am an avid reader of your blog and on this easy going saturday morning in Melbourne, I thought, "hey, let's read his blog again and see if he has any updates.

    Believe me mate, I was insitutionalised and sometimes I think I still am. Long story short, my life as a "quitter" has taken many years, various try outs living in Oz and before I made this latest move of mine, I read your blog posts like an addict to find resonance, or in some ways, redemption.

    Keep on writing bro. There are not many left who could actively write pieces that strikes a chord to action for the many who are back "home" wailing to leave the Walled system.