Call it karma or fate, granted that you do not have a choice as to the family that you are born into or tied to, you can make certain choices about how you want to live your life in the circumstances where you are. It may seem like everything that happens in our lifetime is predestined, I would like to believe that we can still make things happen in the way we want it if we want it bad enough. Looking back, although I do not have tiger parents, I feel that I have taken the easy way out by doing what is expected of me rather than having enough confidence and self-worth in pursuing anything else. My mother did not tell me what I should study unlike what one of my cousins did to her children. She gave them two options when they entered the university. They either studied medicine or law. So my cousin has two children who are doctors and also a daughter who is a corporate lawyer.
My daughters were clueless about what their parents did at work. We are lawyers but we never talked about our work with them. Somehow they never aspired to be lawyers and we would leave them to decide what course they want to pursue. Of course if they do ever choose law, I am fine with that too. Growing up, their memory of their mother as a lawyer was that their mother watched Ally McBeal. I remind my daughters of Ally McBeal because I used to watch the television series to de-stress. If only life as a lawyer were like what is portrayed on television.
In Last Tang Standing a debut novel by Lauren Ho, Andrea Tang is a thirty-three-year old M & A lawyer in Singapore. She appears to be winning at life. She has been ticking her tiger mother’s checklist for her, including but not limited to, coming up top in law school, presently vying for a partnership in the law firm and she is owning a property ( well, almost : only twenty-eight more years of mortgage payments to go!)plus she has been included in the list of 40 Most Influential Lawyers Under 40 in Singapore Business Review. Andrea is a nerdy and funny woman who drinks and plays Candy Crush to relax. She writes in her journal about all the happenings in her life.
In her diary, she voices her inner thoughts so we know she is trying to figure things out. Since she spends most of her waking hours working, the primary question will be : Is she practising law the way she loves the law? She is good at her work but she calls it ‘indentured labour‘. In the story, Andrea is the lead associate on the VizWare acquisition project and the coininvestor, Chapel Town is pulling out of the deal and she knows that her client , Sungguh Capital is going to blame her. She writes,
‘ It’s just ….the idea of working so hard for clients like WizWare, for guys who’d rip into me like I was beneath them,just made me, well, less than enthused.
I tried to psych myself up about putting in the hours by thinking about the financial freedom I would have once I was top of the pyramid of rats. It helped, somewhat. I needed to gain my Winner Mentality.’
She meets up with her mentor cum partner, Sim Mong and is told that she is now taken off the file completely even though he knows that it is probably not even her fault. They don’t know why Chapel Town has decided to pull out of the deal. That is the reality of legal practice.
From her diary, you also read about her emotional life that is going through a roller coaster ride. She muses,
‘Chinese New Year is the worst time to be unattached’, writes Andrea in her diary. As a singleton, Andrea dreads the Chinese New Year annual get together meal with her aunts and relatives when she will have to face the: ‘Why Are You Still Single in Your Thirties, You Disappointment to Your Ancestors’ inquisition.
A cousin of hers, Linda Mei Reyes is a lawyer and her ally. As they both brace themselves to attend the lavish Chinese New Year luncheon hosted by Aunt Wei Wei for all the Singapore-based Tangs, they need to back up each other’s make up stories about the ‘imaginary’ guys they are dating. Andrea’s dad was Aunt Wei Wei’s favourite sibling and the aunt had paid off a lot of his debts when he passed thus Andrea has written in her diary, ‘ ….now she basically owns us, emotionally, which is how real power works.’
Andrea has just broken up with Ivan of five years. Ivan is the kind of guy any Chinese parent would approve of , ‘with his clean-cut looks, impeccable manners, solid career prospects, good family, and legit Chinese ancestry.’
Her mother wants grandchildren.
‘Time is running out , not just for you. I’m in my sixties, as you know. I’m not getting younger.’
Then whenever her mother telephones her from Kuala Lumpur, she will throw in more emotional blackmail such as these lines:
‘ Sometimes I wake up, my heart and bones aching, and I wonder –is this how the end looks like? Dying alone, in Kuala Lumpur —without a maid? And no grandchildren?’
‘I’m a simple woman, with simple needs. All I ever wanted in return for the sacrifices I made for my children is their love, and grandchildren.’
Andrea was given only two choices by her mother: law or medicine.She has fulfilled all the life goals on her mother’s check list for her except for getting married at the age of thirty. She is now thirty- three years old. Linda has created a profile for her and signed her up on Tinder. Valerie , another friend of hers takes her to a swanky book club party where she meets Eric Deng who looks like the perfect guy to settle down with. But she wants to stay true to herself.
It may seem such a cliché that professionals like Andrea and Suresh, her competitor for the partnership track are re-evaluating their options before them. The thing is you do not want to be trapped in some choices that you have made and live in regrets. But do you really know what you want from life? You must not settle for less but should you settle for more than what you actually want? Perhaps it is time that Andrea needs to be honest with herself. Coming of age can happen at any age.
Last Tang Standing is an enjoyable read. Its protagonist, Andrea Tang is bold, endearing, funny and a relatable character with her flaws and insecurities when you read the day to day account of her thoughts and life.
This week, the topic for our French conversation class was L’argent et le bonheur. Prior to our class, our French teacher had compiled a list of proverbs in French, some of which are translated from other languages. One of these proverbs is purportedly a Chinese proverb. ‘L’argent ne rachète pas la jeunesse.’ Money does not buy youth. I do not know its original version and can only think of one Chinese proverb that is closest to it.
At a class gathering four years ago, a classmate from primary school brought out the autograph book that she still treasures since leaving primary school. She showed me the Chinese proverb that I had written and part of the writing is covered by my childish drawing in that well preserved autograph book of hers.
一寸光阴一寸金，寸金难买寸光阴 An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold.
I was eleven years old. That was one of the Chinese proverbs we learnt in school.