Sunday, January 03, 2010

Winds and clouds 风云

I was clearing my old emails. Some emails since year 2005 that made think of the chinese phrase “天有不測風雲,人有旦夕禍福。” ["The skies have unpredictable storms, humans have sudden changes in fortune."]

Financial markets

Back in 2005 credit default swaps was the next big thing in the financial markets. In 2005Q3, recruiters were out in full force looking for any person who had related experience. With around 10 years of IT experience in banking and financial services, it was a time of interview offers for me. The supply just couldn't feed the demand as almost every company out there was jumping into the bandwagon. Unfortunately, that included my company's GLC client. It was an eye-opening experience of what "financial talent/expert" could mean and what outsourcing entails.

Fast forward 3 years later to 2008Q3, the first innocuous signs of problems appeared on the USA subprime housing markets. Of course, we the plebeian citizens of Singapore first heard of Singapore's massive losses online. [Click here and here.]

London trip

I went to London in 2005Q3 with 2 purposes on mind. Firstly, to salvage a romantic relationship that had been badly worn down after 1+ year of long overtime and burnt weekends [without overtime pay, just a token bonus of several hundred dollars each year, see below]. Secondly, to consider relocating to London for composite reasons of joining my sibling who was based there, more interesting job opportunities, and closer to my romantic interest then.

I left London heartbroken. Unwilling to give up totally on the romantic relationship at that time, my hopes for recovering the relationship roller-coastered up-and-down for several years more. Workwise, London seemed interesting, but the more urgent issue was to reclaim my life from my job at that time. I decided to leave the company after I had settled my home purchase and renovations. Coincidentally that happened, although not in the way that I had intended (see below).

Ugly Singaporean bosses

At my last IT job, I had 3 inexperienced Singaporean (i.e. citizens) managers in a span of less than 2 years.

The first called in sick 2 or more days in a week and delegated her work to me (on-top of my own role) but reported to management that she had done her work. After much complaints from the client about the MIA (missing-in-action) manager, the 2nd manager was installed.

The 2nd manager was the worst of the lot. From incompetence to blatant racism. Under her, staff were made a scapegoat for her incompetence, one was redeployed to other client sites and another was fired (aside from those fortunate enough to job-hop before they were hit). On top of that, she expected and demanded that her staff arrive at 8:30am and not leave work until after 11pm (way past the 6pm official knock-off time, and would disapprove most of the taxi claims). She does not lead by example, arriving late for work, going missing during office hours, and leaving work early, all with "valid" excuses. Instead she would call the worksite from her home/mobile demanding that her staff are productively at work at 8:30am and around 9 to 11pm. [Note: She would call the department's landline phone and demand to speak to each staff at a time, while she was elsewhere.] Example of her blatant racism: One morning after an India Indian colleague called in sick due to chest pains, this self-declared "good Christian" boss cursed upon hanging up the phone, "Best if he has a heart attack and then don't need to come to work forever!" because as she had previously expressed, she felt that the Indians are a bunch of NATO (No Action Talk Only) backstabbers and sly credit/limelight thieves. After months of inaction from upper management despite the client's complaints, the client gave an ultimatum of firing the entire team if that manager was not changed by x timeframe. The 3rd manager was quickly installed. By then, the team was burnt out after 1 year with the 2nd manager.

The 3rd manager was competent but spent her time backstabbing about each colleague to the other colleagues. She didn't realize that after what we had gone through, the staff were united enough to share with each other about her backstabbing antics. The highlight of her and her boss (also a Singapore citizen) antics was their attempt to fire me for AWOL (absence without leave) 3 days after they had personally confiscated all my access to the work-site. Human Resources, which was based at another location, was not aware of their underhanded tactics until I called them. After negotiations with HR, I agreed to submit my resignation with wordings as per the company's request in exchange for a goodwill compensation of 1 month's pay and accrued leave not taken. The HR manager was coincidentally on-leave on the "exchange resignation-letter for payout" day, leaving her staff to handle the wrap-up.

When I left, I was seriously burnt out and angry. Angry with the ugliness of my fellow Singapore citizens (compared to my "foreign talent" colleagues), the inhumane treatment, my inability to stand up for myself, and my life choices that caused me to suffer the plight. In addition, I seriously questioned the minimal employees' protection in Singapore (unfair employment practices were increasingly common) and the typical Singaporean values and lifestyle.

The present and the future

Fast foward to year 2010. It's amazing how time heals, all the stuff that hurt pretty bad at that time, now seems like a distant memory and amusing at times too. I believe that these past events are a learning experience for me, to guide me in making choices for my long-term benefit and happiness.

I am now more relaxed about life. My nursing training and exposure has played a big part in this change process. As my nursing teachers joked, "Is anyone dead? If not, is anyone dying? If not, what's the panic [for]?"


  1. so, much for being a singaporean huh?? where's the compassion and empathy nowadays??

    well, l guess 2010 will be a very exciting time for u!! guess how u will feel if u were to resign from GH?? hmmm.....can't wait??

    well, for me i think it is high time for me to go (retire)...l believe that the longer in stay in it, the less compassion l will have and the more skeptical i will be...yes..l don't wanna to end up like that and it will be really great to end it all on a high note when everybody loves you!

  2. Hi Bone Collector,

    As the saying goes, "There are always 2 sides to a coin". My unfortunate experience also showed up how much support I had from my kin and kith [including my clients and colleagues from that last job]. I am very thankful to them for their encouragement [TGC, if you're reading this, you are a star!] and the opportunities that they opened up.

    Interesting that you mentioned about skepticism. I think it comes from having sufficient experience in a field that one know the flaws of the system. I was also becoming skeptical about my previous line of work. I suspect changing my line is partially an attempt to break that cynicism/skepticism. Coincidentally, I came across this song from someone's blog entry.

    Anyway, life has it's own pace. You will know when it's time to move onto the next life lesson. Even for me, I suspect nursing is not going to be my last career. I believe I am here to learn some life lessons and I will move on when done.

    Btw, congradulations on your promotion.

  3. This reminds me of the reason why I left Singapore. To start with a clean sheet again. I can't explain the notion but I think you can understand

    1. Hi asingaporeanson,

      Thanks for your comment. I think I understand your notion of "rebooting" one's life through migration.

      Back in the mid-2000's, I really disliked what a typical work environment in Singapore had become -- pure slavery. Yeah, like you, I decided that I did not want to "sell my life" 卖命。

      Cheers, WD.

  4. Hi WD,
    Yes i also dislike work culture here. I have written blogposts on the bochup, demoralised, no work-life balance that the govt got the cheek to boast as 'worldclass workforce'.

    It is working with people that mostly make work difficult.

    By the way MOM now talk about getting mid mgrs overtime pay. Working till 11pm with no overtime pay. Divided by total hrs, the hourly rate is pathetic.

    MOM is also running the employee rights ad on tv (overheard from my bedroom). Unforunately nobody uploaded on youtube. When such thing goes on tv- it just shows how bad bad bad it has become.

    1. Hi Xianlong,

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

      Yes, I've read your posts about the price of long work hours. I agree with you that the sacrifice is not worth it. Seeing that such Singapore workplace norm is unlikely to improve anytime soon, it was final straw that broke the camel's back and pushed me to choose emigration as a solution.

      Yes, working with people can make or break the joy of work-life. I had been mostly lucky in my IT life where I had many fabulous colleagues (some of whom became lifelong friends). Unfortunately, I wasn't so lucky in nursing in Singapore where I had a sizeable number of bitchy schoolmates and also bullying colleagues. Guess I wasn't (and probably still isn't) used to working mostly with women -- research shows that women tend to bully mainly other women, men bully women and other men equally.

      In B.C. Canada, I have workplace regulations and laws on my side to fight the bullies. E.g. I once stood up to a bullying care aide, and she didn't dare to come near me thereafter because the bully knows that she may loose her job if an official complaint is filed. In fact, that (lost of job) happened to another person who bullied a friend of mine at another workplace.

      In comparison, placing advertisements but not giving MOM teeth to enforce workplace safety laws (including extending the laws to include mental health safety, putting in enough staff to investigate unfair workplace practices) means nothing will change in Singapore. NATO (no action, talk only) wayang again.

      Btw, I really like the S&P500 chart that you showed in your blog post. I felt instinctively that the "Golden Years" ended in the early/mid-1990's. I remember then the Asian Financial Crisis came in 1997 and the PAP-dominated government took short-cuts to restore the economy instead of making real structural changes. Thereafter, PAP government was hooked on the massive import of cheap labour, continuous (and IMHO unnecessary) estate "upgrading" and CPF cuts that lasted to this day.

      Thanks again for visiting and sharing your views.

      Cheers, WD.