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Based on this prompt: what lies for young people in the future.

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In Future

February 27, 2017


A young woman gazed blankly, more so than usual, at the powered-down screen of her mobile phone, as she swayed slightly to the magnetic train gliding across tracks. She didn’t turn off her phone that often—for the same reason you might never do so. Today, she needed to breathe, even if it was only seven a.m.


I’m home. I feel as though I’m breathing again.

Four months after backpacking in Europe, I’ve seen all sorts of strange technological gizmos. Still, seeing Singaporeans with the trending virtual reality headsets still unsettles me, especially in the MRT. Those protruding black, empty visors staring back are enough to put you on edge.

I look to my right, where a young woman is looking down at her mobile phone in the midst of shutting off. My heart goes out to her. Remembering the hospitality I encountered in several states, I proffer my battered but reliable portable charger.

“Man, that’s unlucky. Do you need one?”


With his wide-brimmed hat (Singapore was hotter these days, but it didn’t warrant this hat, surely) and growing stubble, he didn’t strike her as a local. Yet, the way he said it struck her to be a mix of accent and local twang. She managed a weak smile, “Ah, it’s turned off. Not flat.” Worried it might be too curt, she quickly added, “Yet.”

He broke into an easy grin. “I get what you mean, batteries these days don’t seem to last long.” She smiled, half-wondering if her stop was coming soon. Maybe he isn’t local after all.


Darn, she looks weirded out.

“Uh, I didn’t mean to make it weird. I’m not hitting on you or anything,” I glare at a sniggering teenager not too far behind her. “I was just back from abroad, so…yeah, backpacking in Europe. People are friendlier there.” I stuff the portable charger back into my pocket. She is a university student, displaying her school on her shirt for all to see.

“Oh, it’s okay. I was just tired. That’s exciting, though—backpacking.”


“It is! It’s great. I didn’t traverse the entire Europe, of course…” He babbled on and on excitedly while she tried to stifle a yawn.

She loved travelling. Only, it got even more unaffordable with the slowing economy. If not for her mother being so paranoid about terrorists, she would’ve gone after her A Levels. She envied all her friends who flooded her Instagram feed with an aesthetic scenery.

Alas, she was not that lucky.


“…but I don’t regret doing it. How about you? What’s on your bucket list?”

I count four heartbeats before her face flicks sharply to face me, clearly having spaced out. “I’m sorry, can you repeat that again?”

I read that the attention span of today’s youths has shortened once again. It was believable then; it is grating now. I smile thinly, “Never mind.”


She wanted to end the conversation.

She sighed internally. It would have been rude. “I was just thinking about travelling. It used to be one of the things I wanted to do before university.”

“Did you travel?” he prompted. 

“No,” she replied shortly. Why was he so persistent?

 “Are you in university then? Maybe you can offer some advice about which courses to apply for.”

“If you want to make money, go for the sciences or computing. Otherwise, good luck.”

“What about choosing law? It was in demand a few years back.”

She cast a critical eye over his expectant expression. “So was accountancy. Then the computer took over. The law market is oversaturated, now that algorithms have the capability to decide your fate.”

She should’ve pegged him as the dreamer: backpacking, not having his future planned out. Was he even planning to live in Singapore?


“You’re brutally honest.” I decide to cut straight to the point. “Practical Singaporean, I see.”

“There’s nothing wrong with analysing the future.”

“I hear what you say. There’s nothing wrong with securing your future."

She furrows her eyebrows. “I sense a ‘but’ coming along.”

I allow myself a self-satisfied smile (this is familiar territory to me because strangers often ask about my backpacking). “You’re right. There is nothing wrong, but then there will be no fun in life! Life is about surprises, boxes of chocolate! What if you accidentally discover something you’re really good at? Or meet people you wouldn’t befriend otherwise?” I waggle my eyebrows, expecting a laugh.

She rolls her eyes.


He clearly came from a well-to-do family; so hopeful, so optimistic.

“I live my dreams in my sleep,” she informed him. “And here’s my stop. Good day.”

Good riddance too, she thought. 

Flashing him a tight smile, she marched towards the train doors, but he wasn’t done.
“For the record, I earned the scholarship for my Arts degree. This is my gap year. I spent good months working my butt off to fulfil my dream. Don’t be young and bitter!”


She lied, by the way. She got off four stops early.

She doesn’t look back, but she hears me. Her hand twitched at my last comment.

In a way, I ache for these young people who give up on their dreams so quickly. I look at her receding figure, and this is what I see: a young woman who believes in her dreams, who believes in its possibility. Today is a millimetre closer to the goal, but it is still so far away.

So they close their eyes, dreaming of the future they grasp at when they breathe in its reach.


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