Sunday, October 04, 2020

10 years in Canada - New Norm

Today marks my 10th year in Canada. Not much to add since my previous milestone post 5 years ago

In this year (2020) of the pandemic, people keep talking about adjusting to a "new norm". Migration is pretty much the same, moving from an old-norm to a new-norm. It does not mean that life will suddenly become a bed of roses after migration. In fact, over time immigrants will settle into a new norm -- a life that incorporates elements of their new country and some cultural influences from their previous country.

Sometimes people ask me if I miss Singapore. There are elements that I think about when prompted. E.g. when I see lots of yummy hawker food OR listen to Xin Yao (Singapore songs) shared by friends on Facebook. However, I would hesitate to use the word "miss".

  1. In this globally connected world, there are ways to connect if a friendship is meaning enough to continue on.
  2. Some emigrants have deep family ties which make them miss Singapore. This is not my situation. My ties to my somewhat dysfunctional family is loose and is kept intentionally so (by me) for protective reasons. There are close siblings who stay in-touch, but for most part it is better and safer for all parties to live their own lives.
  3. Food is not a "raison d'etre" for me.
  4. I recognize the neurological advantages of growing up in a multilingual society, but I do not wish for my child to absorb the "meritocracy" and competitive norms of Singapore.
  5. I am not too much into "things". In any case, in this global economy, often things that one can get in Singapore, are also available in Canada. Note: The reverse is even more evident since Singapore is a well-known international trading hub.
Thus when people ask me now if I had "gone back" to Singapore since my arrival; I would invariably answer honestly that, "No, I have not VISITED Singapore since coming to Canada". Keyword here being "visited", since Singapore is no longer "home" and the Singapore that I used to call home only exists as a figment of my memory.

Invariably, the next question would be along the lines of "When do you plan to return? Soon?" And my honest answer as always, "No, I do not have any plans to visit." 
 
This is my new norm.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

PPE for COVID-19

Challenging times call for action.

I am posting this in face of the potential (read "likely") shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) that my healthcare organization will face given that we are only at the beginnings of the COVID-19 curve here in Metro Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

In our clinical managers meeting today (March 24th 2020), the company's COVID-19 response team has told participants that if we are able to source for PPE supplies, to buy them (if the amount is small) or place a hold on the supply (and inform Directors/COVID-team to complete the bulk purchase). This includes overseas suppliers!

And thus today, I sent out an email to a supplier of the ST Engineering designed NIOSH standard N95 masks. In the current situation where there is a global shortage, I am not holding high hopes; but still "if we don't ask, we won't get", right? *fingers crossed*

Some side notes:

1. Singapore's response to the COVID-19 challenge has been impressive when seen from Canada where I am. The only areas of improvement I can think of are:
  • COVID-19 testing booths akin to the South Korean approach to increase public assess to testing.
  • Encourage the population to use washable/reusable fabric face masks when in public spaces, e.g. those commonly seen being worn in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. This may help to reduce the risk of asymptomatic spread in the community and also build the mindset to reserve the disposable surgical masks for healthcare workers.
  • Possibly close schools and/or non-essential services for a period of 14 days to support social distancing and reduce risk of community spread. After all, the June school holiday period can be shortened to cover the short-term loss of school days.
2. Canada is a big country with multiple levels of governance and a strong emphasis on human rights/freedoms (including rights to personal privacy). Canadians have not seen the worst of SARS, and some may have prejudicial/out-dated views about Asia. Occasionally, I want to *facepalm* the official message(s) sent to the public, not to mention some chaos I hear about the behind-the-scenes situations. Pros-and-cons, we can't win it all, eh?

And so, back to PPE for the current COVID-19 situation in Canada. Here's hoping someone, somewhere, with the right connections to some higher authority, sees this message and is able to (re-)direct some supplies our way.

Meanwhile, take care and stay safe, everyone!

[Update on 24-Mar-2020]

If anyone has PPE to donate, please contact SafeCare BC - "Operation Protect". Quote from their website: "SafeCare BC is an industry funded, non-profit association working to ensure injury free, safe working conditions for continuing care workers in BC". Operation Protect is a donation drive to raise PPE given the current COVID-19 challenge, and SafeCare BC will work with BC's Ministry of Health to distribute these supplies to various healthcare sites.

http://www.safecarebc.ca/operationprotect/

Sunday, October 04, 2015

5 years in Canada

Today marks my 5th anniversary in Canada. Almost a decade ago, when I told a close friend that I planned to emigrate, she gave me the T-shirt below.

[Slogan from a T-shirt from the mid-2000's]

Back then, I could not truly appreciate the truth in the T-shirt's slogan, "The brave finds a home in every land". Perhaps I was just foolish, thinking that migration is merely a matter of "filling in the forms, providing the required documents, taking a plane, landing, finding a place to stay and a job, done!"

I remember landing in YVR airport (Vancouver) back in October-2010, going to the immigration officer's counter to present my COPR (Confirmation of Permanent Residence). The officer, let's call him X, typed in something into his computer, gave a puzzled look, and then called his colleague Y over. I began to worry if there was something amiss in my papers as a result of my DIY approach to the immigration process. Together X and Y had some questions for me.

X asked, "Have you been to Canada before?"

I replied, "No."

X asked, "Have you been to the USA or any part of North America before?"

I replied, "No."

X asked, "So you have NEVER been to North America before?" 

By then, both X and Y wore the same astonished look on their faces.

I replied, "Nooooo?" [By then, I was pretty sure that I had probably "screwed-up" in my DIY process.]

X and Y looked at each other, a little stunned. Then they smiled, instructed "make sure you sign WITHIN the box", processed my application, and waved me on. I gathered then that most immigrants under the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) would have had prior experience (work or visit)  in Canada and/or USA before landing for permanent residency. Thus, it was a surprise for them to find one doing her PR landing for the first time without any record of prior trips in the immigration clearance system.

That was probably my first Canadian hint that migration would be more than just "filling in the forms, providing the required documents, taking a plane, landing, finding a place to stay and a job, done!"

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Looking back, 5 years seem to have passed rather quickly (my adventures as a new migrant are shared in this blog). I have grown a lot in these past 5 years.

Living in Canada has given me experiences that would otherwise be unlikely if I have stayed on in Singapore. For example...
I have also found it easier to "live and let live" “与世无争”。 I do not know the exact causes for this. It could simply be mellowing with age, a slower pace of life, or perhaps Metro Vancouver being less crowded than Singapore in general.

In all, I think ASingaporeanSon summed migration up succinctly with his diagram "Attitude towards migration", so I am going to unabashedly reference his diagram below.


From the above, migration isn't for everyone. I know now how foolish I was (from the mid-2000's to my early years as a new immigrant) to suggest to friends who had complaints about their life in Singapore to consider emigrating. The time, effort and other resources needed to re-build one's comfort zone in a new country is costly indeed.

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But if you do take that leap of faith, don't be surprised to meet other Singaporeans along the way.

[Don't be surprised to meet other Singaporeans. 
Ask for the owner* of the above Vancouver cafe]

*Note: I am NOT the owner of the above cafe, I just like the food there, and I happen to have met the owner.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

With Gotong Royong, from CA

Someone recently remarked to me, "You haven't written on your blog for a long time."

To which I replied, "Whatever I want to say, has already been written (either by myself or others)."

I have been here in Canada for almost 5 years now. Given the pace at which Singapore changes, it would be fair to say that the Singapore that I've left isn't the same one today -- for better or for worse. 

[25-Aug-2015 My life is now in Canada;
 e.g. Dinner En Blanc Vancouver]

In any case, (as I have mentioned before) my life is now in Canada -- revolving around my own little family, and for now mainly centred around my baby while I am on Parental Leave. As anyone who has been the primary caregiver of an infant will know, how much time/energy that takes, and how little of those are left for anything else.

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Last weekend, I attended a party of mainly (ex-)Singaporeans hosted by a wonderful couple. It was an awesome afternoon of good food (mostly home-cooked authentic Singaporean dishes) and even "gooder" (better) company. The host even put up a Singapore flag for the occasion -- a nice touch to commemorate SG50 while overseas.

[22-Aug-2015 Singapore flag flying high in Metro Vancouver]

Of course, there followed a flood of "thank you" emails to the host for a wonderful gathering. What makes this gathering special/memorable? To borrow the words from the host's reply (to the thank-you emails), it is a sense of "Gotong Royong at its best."

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"Gotong Royong" or "kampung spirit" is a priceless find indeed.

I have just met a fellow Singaporean (NG from this other blog post's comments) who is an experienced migrant -- having lived more years overseas than me (as an adult) and in more than one of Singaporeans' preferred migration-destination countries. Yet, NG (not currently based in Metro Vancouver) is contemplating relocating again, in search of that elusive gotong royong. 

As per my comments to NG, 
  1. My 2-cents theory is that the more crowded a city, the harder it is for each individual to have his/her own personal space. As such, it is rarer for individuals (in general) to reach out to strangers in crowded/buzzling cities like Singapore. 
  2. In any case, IMHO, the odds of finding close friends in any location (from Singapore to the Canada in the north and NZ in the south), is a case of "heng-sway" [literary "lucky-unlucky", i.e. dependent on luck]. All that one can do is to send out one's feelers and offer of friendship, and then see/filter what comes back. I have been lucky in that aspect -- as I recounted to NG how I encountered my core group of close friends in Canada.
As for a community of “自己人” [literary, "our own people"], I did not make a serious effort to specifically seek out fellow (ex-)Singaporeans in Metro Vancouver. As luck would have it, other than a brief brush with a group (ex-)Singaporeans/Malaysians who were then church-going friends with (my friend) PN, I did not join any (ex-)Singaporean community for the first couple of years in Metro Vancouver. It was only in early-2013 that I was introduced to the above community of (ex-)Singaporeans via the late uncle Weng, whom in-turn I met indirectly via an introduction from an online (ex?-)Singaporean contact with whom I have yet to meet face-to-face.

And so to put a long story short, IMHO a lot depends on Fate, 随缘.  Or to borrow an ancient Chinese military reference, “万事俱备,只欠东风” -- i.e. one can do all the preparations needed, but in the end success or failure lies in the whim of luck.

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One can see the effect of the whim of Lady Luck in the life stories of another category of Singaporean emigrants -- the Singaporean political exiles. Many of whom felt threatened by and/or underwent detention without trial based on the Internal Security Act (Singapore). [Note: Unfortunately, Canada under PM Harper also introduced similar laws recently.] 

I received and watched Tan Pin Pin's "To Singapore, With Love" DVD. Other than the (obviously) alternative narratives of Singapore's political history, what I gathered from the stories of the interviewees are their different approaches to adapting to an adopted country. And also their different philosophies/perspective of what it means to be a Singaporean.

[22-Aug-2015 "To Singapore, With Love" DVD]

Fortunately for most modern day Singapore emigrants, return to Singapore is an option. In fact, ASingaporeanSon who openly blogs his opinions of Singapore policies has made several trips between Singapore and Australia. [Note: IMHO, I guess it boils down to who some folks think/feel might be enough of a threat to Singapore's security that the ISA needs to be applied.]

As such, I agree with NG that for many (recent) Singaporean emigrants, the decision to leave/stay/return is a calculated balance of what one seeks. IMHO, there is no correct answer, afterall “一种米养百种人” [literary "a single strain of rice feeds hundreds of different kinds of people; i.e. each individual has his/her own values, personality, and perspectives]. Thus, there isn't a single answer to the question of "Should I emigrate?" because the reality is the migration experience is as individual as the emigrants themselves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Decline of secure jobs in CA - FYI for Gobbledegook

Saw the below CBC news article on Yahoo! IMHO, it is a global trend since Capital gained power/influence for the recent decades and Labour has lost its unity/power. Nevertheless, it is worthy to note for those planning to migrate to Canada. Always remember that "Change is the only constant", so do not rely on hearsay from others who may have immigrated years/decades ago -- the world's financial and job markets have changed drastically since the millennium.

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CBC – April 29th 2015, around 06:40hr

At 40, the self-employed worker we'll call Natalie is one of a growing number of Canadians shut out of the world of stable, full-time work.

She has three bookkeeping jobs, she's watching every penny and still she makes just half of Canada's average industrial wage of $49,500. She's had to move back home with her 10-year-old daughter because she can't find full-time work.

"The way I'm going, I'm never going to get my own place for my daughter and I won't be able to afford a car; I won't be able to afford a dentist appointment for my daughter, or something she may need, braces," she told CBC News.

Like an increasing number of Canadians, she's in precarious work, without security, benefits, vacation pay or the prospect of a pension.

People in temp positions, part-time workers and contract workers all fall into the insecure employment category. And the number is growing.

Secure jobs a vanishing breed

A study by the United Way and McMaster University in 2013 found 18.3 per cent of the workforce in the Hamilton-Toronto area had insecure employment. And only a little over half — 50.3 per cent — had standard, full-time jobs.

Across Canada, the category of self-employed workers increased almost 45 per cent between 1989 and 2007, according to the Statistics Canada labour survey.

Precarious workers aren't just minimum-wage employees with irregular hours, says Wayne Lewchuk, a professor at the school of labour studies at McMaster University. They're also high-tech workers hired for projects, accountants who must seek one job after another, social-service sector workers employed by temp agencies and university lecturers hired on contract.

A lot of these jobs used to be secure, Lewchuk points out, but not anymore.

"It became a way of keeping down wages and companies became addicted to it," says Lewchuk, who has been studying precarious employment for seven years.

There's no career path for temp or flex workers — they lurch from one job to the next, get neither training nor benefits nor paid leave and are expected to save for their own pension.

Sitting by the phone

"Often they don't know their schedule until the day before or their schedule changes at the last minute  They don't know where they have to be until just before their shift," Lewchuk says.

Over a working life, the penalty for precarious work is financial — those in insecure employment earned about 46 per cent less than workers in the same field who had standard jobs.

But on a day-to-day basis, the toll is often personal.

"All of this makes sustaining a household and a family difficult," Lewchuk says.

If they think they're going to be sitting by the phone waiting for a call to work, they often can't enrol their children in extracurricular activities or make it to the parent-teacher conference, Lewchuk says. There's no option to coach Little League or volunteer at the local seniors' home.

"People that are in precarious work delay making significant life plans," says Micheline Laflèche, with the United Way, who is part of a group of researchers updating the 2013 report.

"They don't feel confident enough to establish an ongoing relationship or have children." 

Socially isolated

Men in particular may feel socially isolated, she says.

"Men were the ones who were much more likely to be in standard employment relationships [permanent full-time work], and they built their social relationships through their work," she says.

"They're no longer in those kinds of jobs; men are more likely to have no one to talk to."
Laflèche says people in insecure employment tend to be less engaged with their community, a trend that could weaken the fabric of Canadian life.

"It hurts our democratic commonality and our democratic values because people don't feel like they belong. We don't have a healthy society," she says.

In the face of the rise of precarious work and the expansion of low-paid work, the Ontario government has said it will review employment standards and the labour code. 

Laflèche and the United Way will be among the parties trying to suggest innovative ways to address precarious work.

She argues Canada's employment insurance system, which is a federal responsibility, is geared to a world where people had an industrial job for years, and if that was eliminated, they got another permanent job, a scenario that now rarely happens. She recommends a more realistic approach to employment insurance for part-time or contract workers.

Changing labour laws

She points to some of the ways other countries are addressing precarious work:

- A minimum wage "premium": an extra payment from employers for low-wage workers who don't have benefits or secure work.

- "Flexicurity": Denmark has a social contract between employers, the government and individuals that helps people who don't have secure work. Opportunities for training are provided when they can't find work and there is support, similar to employment insurance, but which kicks in even if people haven't worked for the required minimum time.

- Parity legislation: There are variations on this throughout the European Union with laws that ask employers to give temporary or contract workers the same pay, vacation and benefits as permanent employees doing the same jobs.

- Creating better training opportunities for those in marginal employment.

- Providing more flexible child-care solutions (instead of always full-time, five days a week, allowing part-time child care).

Businesses have also put forward voluntary solutions, among them temp agencies or groups of employers combining forces to provide full-time hours to part-time workers and better social inclusion in work events for temp and part-time workers.