Big dreams? Working towards what makes me happy is enough

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

Maybe I could have vaulted higher if I had big dreams but working towards what makes me happy is enough

It was a cold November evening in Brooklyn. My friend and I had spent the day wandering around Williamsburg and having a go on the beautifully restored, 122-year-old Jane's Carousel when he suggested walking across the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan.

I baulked. It was minus 4 deg C. I had my beanie and four layers of clothing on but the walk would take at least 45 minutes and I was not too enamoured of feeling like a human popsicle.

Come on, it'd be fun, he said. I capitulated. From where we stood on the edge of the Hudson in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Manhattan did look stunning, its glamo- rous reflection glittering in the icy river.

I'm glad I did. The water below us, the glare of headlights and the roar of traffic next to us, and the bright lights of the big city ahead of us as we made our way along the pedestrian track conspired to floor me with a sense of wonder and awe quite indescribable.

Halfway through our walk, we stopped and sat on a bench. We talked about songs that reminded us of New York City.

Maureen McGovern's Can You Read My Mind from 1978's Superman when the late Christopher Reeve as the superhero swept his lady love Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in his arms and flew her above the Big Apple. The theme song from Arthur (1981) where Christopher Cross crooned about being "lost between the moon and New York City".

I mentioned Alicia Keys' Empire State Of Mind. A minute later, he passed me his headphones. I put them on and found myself drowning in her evocative voice waxing soulful about the "concrete jungle where dreams are made of".

I played the song twice walking over that bridge that night. One verse stayed with me long after we made it back to Manhattan, and to Harlem where we were staying with a friend.

"Someone sleeps tonight with a hunger far more than from an empty fridge,

"I'm going to make it by any means, I got a pocketful of dreams ..."

I am not sure if it is the same for you but self-reflection is an exercise I do more often when I'm travelling, lying in a strange bed, surrounded by things and experiences new and unfamiliar.

Did I, like Keys or the persona in her song, have a pocketful of dreams? And have I been single-minded and focused in chasing and realising them?

The day after I came back from New York, I left for Kuala Lumpur to attend a cousin's wedding.

After the wedding dinner, I went over to visit JD, an old friend at his new cafe Midsummer Night.

It was a simple set-up but JD has obviously invested not just a big portion of his savings but also all his heart into the joint. He built the chairs and tables himself and has decked out the place with his treasured collection of movie posters and memorabilia.

In the still of the night as he walked me to my car, he said the cafe was a dream which he took 20 years to realise.

I know many people like JD. My colleague Radha Basu has known she wanted to be a journalist since she was 14.

She was, she tells me, influenced by the gripping stories about social inequality she read in the newspapers as a teen and was determined she would one day shine the light on such issues too. Probably the best journalist covering social issues in Singapore today, she is living her dream.

And over the years, I have interviewed countless folks who have fought tooth and nail, gone through trials and tribulations to pursue what they want.

I am not sure I can say the same for myself.

Dreams I did have, and still do. But I dare say they have never been big ones. Sure, I have fantasies of having millions in my bank account but never in a million years would I do a Yang Yin and get there by conning an old woman.

I have never been gnawed by a desire so deep that I have felt the need to brave hell and high water to fulfil it.

In fact, I have been more than happy at letting Serendipity take over the steering wheel while I amble through life.

That is not to say I have never charted the course of my life and left everything to will.

There have been things that I wanted and I have put in a fair amount of effort to get them: a better life than, and for, my parents; the ability to travel and see the world, a home and a career I enjoy.

For example, I knew from a very young age that I would probably end up in the writing profession.

Not because I fancied myself a talented wordsmith but because I love the English language and am fairly decent at it. I sucked at Maths, am hopeless at all things technical and hate selling, so the options are pretty limited.

Journalism has worked out nicely for me. I am not at the top of my game (then again, I have never set my sights there) but I am happy. And although I never set out to do so, I have, along the way, published a couple of books and written a couple of movie scripts.

Some people will probably say I have sold myself short, lack ambition and am too lazy to maximise my potential. Maybe I could have vaulted a lot higher and become a somebody if I had dreamt bigger and worked harder.

Maybe they are right.

But it is okay. I will just work towards realising what I know will make me happy instead of what I think may make me so.

Happy dreaming and happy holidays.

kimhoh@sph.com.sg