Knowing, and doing, what you want

In our world (the Malaysian woman’s world, that is), it’s rare that you hear of a girl who voluntarily gets married when she’s in her teens.

Oftentimes, it’s because she had an ‘accident’ and had to get herself hitched for religious or social reasons, or that she comes from a conservative country like Indonesia, where both my ex-maids are from, who got married at the tender ages of 13 and 14. Today, they are grandmothers. My last maid, Yati, has gone home to plan the wedding of her daughter, who’s 16. The latter isn’t pregnant nor is she unemployed.

“It’s better to get her married before she gets pregnant, you know,” Yati said to me when I asked her why the women in Java get married so young.

Yesterday, I met an American mommy who told me she’d gotten married at 17. Needless to say, I was surprised. She said she’d always wanted to marry young and start a family. Now, this lady has two kids and living the life she’d always wanted (plus she looks gorgeous doing it!).

On my way home, I started wondering about what I’d wanted to do with my life at 17. In Malaysia, we are also fortunate to have education pressed on us before anything else at that age. Sure, some of us – in fact, a LOT of us – make mistakes when we were 17. You know how it is. Hormones rage. World at our feet. We feel, in many unexplainable ways, invincible and untouchable at that age.

At 17, I knew the only thing I wanted to do was to get away from home. I was to go to fashion college (yes, can you imagine?) in Ipoh and then do the last year in London where my aunt and uncle could keep an eye on me, and that prospect just made me want to escape. I wanted to study civil engineering because I was quite the whiz at math and physics then but my parents told me I’d never find a job as a woman. In a fit of anger and frustration, I told them okay, I’ll read law. I’d found a college that offered the External LLB degree where I could finish the degree here in Malaysia – but in KL.

And I never ever wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.

Instead, I became a writer. I dropped out of college during my last year and became a junior reporter for a small trade magazine. I’d somehow found my calling. Today, I can’t even remember why I’d wanted to be a civil engineer.

We do crazy things at 17. We think we know everything and nothing can touch us. And the truth is, we often get our way. Our parents can only watch helplessly as we begin our lives as the adults that we desperately want to be.

The sad truth is that we inevitably succeed more quickly than we expect.


1 Comment »

  1. Eric said

    At age 17, I already get out of home. I first went to work in fruit farm in the central mountains of Taiwan, that is the happiest time ever in my life, me and a bunch of buddies, we collect fruits from the trees, wash them, pack them nicely, and yeah, we always have free fruit, apples, plums, and peaches.

    I think I had never worry about my future at then, every morning we wake up and pray for drizzling rain, because then that will be the day we got paid but no need to work, hehe, we will go fishing in the water dam, cook food and set camp fire, drink rice wine till everybody drunk.. haha.

    Like you, Jen, my mum and dad “set the road” for me and want me to become a teacher, but only god knows I hate teachers, not even to mention to become one.

    We all have our path, my past 20 years was’nt a smooth one, but hopefully the coming 20 years I can live happily with my wife, your Pui Jeh.

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