Latest TODAY column: Ah Boy fix computer, lah
Never mind if you held on to a job for five years in a highly volatile industry. Change jobs and you will get the "why you young people nowsadays so job-hopper one?"
Chinese New Year will be one of those periods when relatives still remember the McDonald's part-time job you had 12 years ago. Or "you still a bookseller at a bookstore, ah?"
"No, Uncle, that was long time ago, before NS. Now I am a consultant."
"Consultant bookseller ah?"
Ah Boy fix computer, lah
After working as an internet project manager for more than five years, my friend still has problems describing what he does for a living to his parents.
His mom once asked him, and after his laudable efforts, the only thing his mom picked up from his description was the word “computer”.
“So you fix computer, ah?” said his mom.
“Er, yes lah, ma. Fix computer, “ said my exasperated friend, who gave up trying to explain the unexplainable.
The side effect of his mother’s somewhat inaccurate understanding of my friend’s career choice was that he started to get phone calls from relatives.
This is because every time a relative told his mother he or his children were having computer problems (be it a virus, or losing all the porn in a crashed hard drive, or the Zion mainframe in The Matrix needing to be rebooted), his mom would proudly tell the relative that Ah Boy fixes computers for a living, and promptly give out his handphone number.
So Ah Boy is now the resident Bill Gates (he is thinking of changing his Chinese name to Sim Lim) of the family, even though his knowledge of PC troubleshooting does not go beyond syncing his U2 iPod with his computer.
This generation has seen so many new jobs created (and also old jobs lost) that my parents’ generation probably has problems understanding what many of us do. In the old days, you probably had five job descriptions: Lawyer, Banker, Gahmen job, Teacher and Businessman.
These days, the internet has created jobs that are still being defined. So it is understandable that so much confusion reigns. Another friend who is also an internet project manager, his mother thinks he is a programmer. And his manager’s mother thinks her son is in an advertising agency.
Try telling your parents that are an Account Director in an agency, mom probably thinks you are a Salesman.
Or if you deal in film distribution, you sell pirated VCDs.
Or if you are a Civil Engineer specializing in complex tunnel works, you build roads, one.
Or if you are a famous interior designer, oh, like Phua Chu Kang like that, renovation contractor.
I think part of the problem lies in the fact that there is really no non-English equivalent of modern day business jargon goobledygook. Try telling your parents in your Hokkien or Cantonese dialect that you “integrate back-end supply-chains” and “orchestrate front-end networks”. And then see their eyes glaze over.
Then say, I work in computers. And see their eyes light up in recognition.
It is even worse if you had several role changes in one organization. Like moving from Sales to Marketing (go market buy fish one ah?). Then you will have to explain the concept of lateral moves . “You promoted ah?”
“No, ma, it was a lateral career move.”
“Then you demoted ah.”
“No, ma, it was a sideways move.”
“That means promoted, lah?”
Or if you had a few job changes. Now this one is interesting, because in our parents’ time, jobs were forever. My father worked for an airline for more than 40 years. My mother was a teacher for just as long.
Never mind if you held on to a job for five years in a highly volatile industry. Change jobs and you will get the “why you young people nowsadays so job-hopper one?”
Chinese New Year will be one of those periods when relatives still remember the MacDonald’s part-time job you had 12 years ago. Or “you still a bookseller at a bookstore, ah?”
“No, uncle, that was long time ago, before NS. Now I am a consultant.”
“Consultant bookseller ah?”
I wonder if I will have problems understanding what my children will do in the future.
My son will probably be doing some complex teleportation and hyperspace research that will enable warp drives to move people from one galaxy to another by dissembling the human DNA and recombining them in another location.
And I will probably be telling relatives he fixes computers.
Here, this is his handphone number, call his brain now, he sure answer one.
mr brown is the accidental author of a popular website that has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997. He makes websites one.