I have a pet peeve: I hate phone calls that come at weird times.
In the past, such funny hours only referred to anytime past midnight. Now, I have extended it to any call I believe that should not have been made in the first place.
I took one such call recently. The fact that I was overseas, and had to pay for exorbitant roaming charges, was only a minor concern. The task that I was asked to perform, however was not.
The caller, who I knew was just performing her duty as a good employee, wanted me to peg a value to a few projects I was working on with her organization.
Just to be doubly sure that I got her message right, I asked her to repeat her request. Yes, she was not talking about the cost of putting the shows together. She needed to know, or rather, the powers-to-be (yes, her paymaster needed to know), the value of each show I was involved in.
On the pretext of saving money, I told her I would get back to her when I returned to Singapore the next day. But the damage has already been done, my brain was sent to work overtime.
How was I supposed to peg a value to photographs? And more pompously, how was I supposed to place a monetary value to art and history?
Well, the images I was working with are, to some extent, rare and exclusive. If by some good fortune Bill Gates, Mark Getty or their respective cronies chanced upon them, they might just start a bidding war for those pictures. Let’s see, we could be talking about US$50 million.
Or what if, upon seeing the images, businessmen are so impressed with the way things are managed in Singapore, that they decide to invest more money in this little island-state. Then, we might be looking at US$5 billion.
Add S$189.99 for a medal I should be receiving for helping to boost the economy, and the few thousands of dollars that well-wishers will have to fork out to buy congratulatory advertisements in newspapers. And let’s not forget the copywriters, the production houses and the advertising agencies that could benefit along the way.
With my newfound fame, I will also definitely need new wardrobe, new car and a new image.
Wow, this is big business. (If Bush can do it, so can I.)
Now we all know, long car rides, if one doesn’t have to drive, are great for dreaming up global policies that can have permanent impact on peoples’ lives.
The next morning, after failing to shirk my responsibility, I sent my associate, a tongue-in-cheek short message: S$5 million for each show I was working on.
Before I could change it to S$50 million each, she replied that I had been excused my valuation was no longer needed. We both had known all along that this was a stupid exercise, but it took her a much longer time to convince the people from her HQ.
Laugh not, for such things happen everyday in the real world.
Some years ago, I threw my support behind a proposal to digitize all the images in the news organization I was working for.
The whole exercise would have taken two years and more than 10 fulltime staff, including art historians and imaging experts.
The results, I estimated, would have been significant. At the very least, a huge proportion of our nation’s history would have been systematically restored, conserved and catalogued.
The only problem was that I could not accurately predict a commercial value to the historical and cultural goldmine. The project was thus shelved and then forgotten.
In hindsight, I probably should have written another proposal to fly in Gates and Getty. That no doubt would have incurred some operational costs but just think about the possible jump in valuation.
Sometimes, I wish I were Spiderman.
Then, I can at least say this over and over again: “Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words, ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m Spiderman.”
The precisely, is my problem. I dream too much.
So much so that I fumbled on simple tasks.
At the end of January, with a few strokes of genius, I completely wiped out a long-term project I was working on.
Right after I had written my last column on technology update, I accidentally trashed a whole folder containing all digitized images on my project in Filipino domestic workers.
My methodology (of getting rid of 10 gigabytes of images) was so simple that I would not bother sharing.
None of the digital files were recoverable since I had reformatted my harddisk.
It is hard to say it out loud but for therapeutic purpose, I just have to say it, “Dude, they are gone forever.”
The trashed images were accumulated from more than 12 trips, over more than six months. I had spent even more hours editing, scanning and toning them.
Someone please me here, “What do you think is the value of my loss?”
column first appeared in Grain Magazine.