If one were to look at my “colourful” work history, I guess you could say that the only clear theme is that I’ve met more than my fair share of interesting characters. For a person with no “real” work experience (In the PR industry, that means employed by a multinational agency led by New York or London), I’ve managed to do government-to-government work, handle listed companies during results announcement time and arrange cross-border interviews.
In the course of my work, I’ve worked for the ambassador of a prominent country from a geopolitically visible part of the world and arranged interviews for a man who would become the rock-star head of one of the largest economies in the world. I’ve been in the proximity of people who have been bought out by larger companies, and I’ve even had the privilege of having a former President of Singapore come to speak to me.
For all my lack of “achievement,” I am very blessed to have been around many successful people in my work life. I’m lucky to have kept in touch with many of them and remain on their radar, no matter how distant my presence is.
Yet, despite all of the great and good who have touched my life, I believe that the most important person for me to celebrate is my friend Porna who now works as a junior sous chef in the Shangri-La Hotel.
If I look around me, the only conclusion that I can make is that the human race is setting itself up for a nervous breakdown. Things which were once considered an aspiration are now necessities.
Back then, a basic degree was an achievement; today, it’s the basic to get into most corporate jobs. Back then, a million dollars put you in a special wealth class. Today, a million covers the mortgage of your “government-subsidised” house, and unless you have more than a million, you better be healthy enough in your old age to work at McDonald’s.
This situation has made people ridiculously competitive, and everyone is trying to show that they are smarter, better qualified and, dare say, better looking than the next guy. With women, it can get ridiculous. Once, I went out with an older woman who wanted me to show the world. I was willing to sell my soul to keep her in style, and she wanted me to know that I was lucky to do so because every Sultan on the Malayan Peninsula (including Brunei’s) was trying to get into her pants.
Porna stands out in this hyper-competitive world where people try to show that their pet rats are better than others. He has found a simple formula for success. He goes to work every day. He does his job and is nice to everyone he meets.
I met Porna nearly 15 years ago. He was working at a roadside restaurant on the junction of Serangoon and Deskar (Cripples Red Light District), cooking dishes. We managed to click and became close. Thanks to him, I celebrated Dussehra at the Gurkha camp in Mount Vernon and found an extended family. Leaving the camp and the Nepali community there always felt like the tearful goodbyes of leaving family and friends in Darjeeling in my school days.
His first marriage broke down, and for a time, he was pushed into having to rent a room where he slept on the floor. Yet, he continued to find work, worked diligently and shortly after he got married for the second time, he found a job in the Orchard Hotel, where he stayed for six years. Worked diligently, was good with customers, and got the “best employee” award twice.
He had a failed stint trying to start a restaurant for some friends in Guatemala but managed to return to Singapore, and within a year or two of his return, he found himself in the Shangri La. In the two years he has been with the Shangri-la, he’s been sent to the Shangri-La-Fort and the Shangri-La Mactan in the Philippines as part of a task force.
If you look at the fact that he’s jumped from cooking at a roadside restaurant in one of the less pretty parts of town to being someone one of the most prominent hotel chains sends overseas and how he’s gone from sleeping on someone else’s floor to owning his own flat, you could say that he’s living the Singapore success story.
His formula has been simple. He goes to work and treats everyone he meets with courtesy. He is generous with his friends and tries to help people. His people skills have meant that whenever he’s been down, there’s always been someone willing to hire him. Because he’s willing to work, he consistently works.
In his stints at the hotel, he has always been good with customers, so he gives his employers more reason to keep him around.
It’s a deceptively simple formula for success. Not many people can do this simple task of going to work and being nice to everyone. I’ve known people with more qualifications who were good at the pushing paper part of their job but couldn’t help but insult colleagues and customers. I know highly intelligent people with enough qualifications to fill a library and have a genius for creating complications to the extent that very little gets done.
My friend is what you call a living example of how you can come up in life by being a decent enough person. For this reason, I believe he deserves to do well in life. In a world of increasingly complicated bitchiness, we must celebrate the nice guys who simplify life.
A version of this article first appeared at beautifullyincoherent.blogspot.com