Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Silly comparison

I have a colleague/friend, AH, who originates from Northwest China. She grew up experiencing harsh sub-zero winters and dessert-like hot summers. I have known her for a year, having been introduced by a mutual acquaintance at the acquaintance's home in December 2010.

During spring this year, we were both involved in a theatre project. On the days when her then-boyfriend was not available to drive her home, we often waited together for the bus to the train station after rehearsals. That was when AH started teasing me about my layers of clothes to keep me warm whereas she survived with just a T-shirt, a light hoodie, a mini-skirt and leggings. Initially, I guessed, it was pretty much to break the silence and to keep the conversation going, sometimes between just the 2 of us, sometimes with another friend present. She would repeat the joke almost every time we waited for the bus together. This continued throughout spring into summer when she joined my workplace, repeating the same teasing at our workplace's break-room. By then, the joke was beginning to wear thin and (IMHO) her tone grew less jovial and edged slightly towards denigrating. I got a reprieve from the stale joke when AH returned to China for a few months' break from summer to autumn.

When winter came round, AH re-started her teasing about my layers of clothes. This time round, she almost always ended with a smirk. E.g. One day last week, AH wore culottes, leggings and a long-sleeved sweater at work. [Outside the store, the temperature ranged from 0 to 7 degree Celsius. At that time, my young colleagues were typically wearing sweatshirts, light hoodies and jeans while working in the store. AH had the privilege of being chauffeured door-to-door by her boyfriend, and thus did not have to wait in the cold for public transport unlike many of our colleagues.] By chance, we were both in the breakroom together with a managerial colleague (who is a Vancouverite).
AH having noticed my layers of clothing, asked, "How many layers of clothes are you wearing?"

I replied matter-of-factly, "3 on top and 3 at the bottom."

AH smirked. The managerial colleague followed suit and gave a "this-is-silly" smirk.
Our managerial colleague is in her 20's and this is not an often repeated joke for her, so her response did not surprise me. However, I feel sorry for AH. For someone her age (AH is in her 30's), I had expected more maturity. [Especially after she had shared with me about the challenges she faced as a China Chinese immigrant.] IMHO, there is probably something missing from her life/self-esteem for her be compelled to engage in such a silly comparison repeatedly. Why do I call the repeated comparison silly? Let's look at it from 2 perspective.
Impact on me: Has my many layers of clothing affected my ability to integrate into the Canadian society? Nope. Has it stopped me from making friends? Nope. Has it affected my workplace relations? Nope, going by my rapport with my colleagues (including the teens and the tweens). Will the teasing change me in any way? Nope, I am still going to wear whatever it takes to help me stay warm and healthy.*

Impact on AH: Does the teasing help AH integrate into the Canadian society? I doubt so. The typical Canadian humour is often self-effacing (click here for an example). Has the teasing affected AH's relationship with me? At the moment not significantly, although I will observe a couple of years more to see if she will move on from such silly comparisons after she is more settled down into the Canadian life. Has the teasing affected others' impression of AH? I don't know but it is possible if she keeps repeating the same stale joke in front of the same people (colleagues). [I am sure of this because my young colleagues ever shared with me their observations of other colleagues and what they find irritating/disgusting about them.]
So there. What's with this silly one-sided comparison?

[*Addendum on 03-Feb-2012: Besides, I like co-ordinating the colour and style of my layers of clothes. It is something one cannot do much of in Singapore.]


That said, I am not adverse to being the butt of jokes. I know a French immigrant couple (i.e. from France, not Quebec. Have to state this because in Canada, "French" = "Quebecois"). The guy is my ex-colleague, and the 3 of us would hang out together at their home every now and then. When I arrive or leave their home, taking-off or putting-on my warm clothing respectively, we often joke about the layers of clothes that I wear. The tone was always jovial, with his girlfriend (if present) piping in about her dislike of the cold too (just like me) and her habits of turning up the heater at home and dressing rather warmly compared to the guy. They would wrap-up their welcome/send-off joke with hugs and well-wishes to keep warm and safe.


From 2 examples above, one can see that although both sides joked about my layers of clothes, my French friends' responses stand in stark contrast with AH's.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Amongst white clouds

I watched the movie "Amongst white clouds" on a DVD borrowed from the library recently.

I do not think I am cut out for the hardship that such eremitic lifestyle requires. Coming to Canada is my distant approximation of the hermits' move. In coming to Canada, I left behind many close kin and kith, but I also left behind much of my "burdens".

There are many days when I wake up in Canada feeling contented. It is a basic contentment that has no reason other than I have my health, a warm bed, a peaceful environment to live in, my soft-toys, food in the "larder", some regular income, the Canadian social security safety net and time to relax/reflect.

Often that contentment is followed by a recognition of the baggages left behind in Singapore: the difficulty of planning for retirement given the ever changing CPF (Central Provident Fund) and labour policies, worries over how rising healthcare costs would impact my retirement, sadness over the increasing number of poor that I observed struggling in Singapore, disgust at the social attitudes encouraged by the increasing class stratification and of course not forgetting some family issues (click herehere and my comments here). I also realize that my "lack of ambition" (for want of a better description) makes me a poor fit in the Singapore's social norm, but a great fit for the Metro Vancouver's way of life.

I have observed a trend to my contentment. If I get enough sleep (7-9 hours/day) over a few days or a week, I would generally wake up feeling contented. Yes, I am a simple person at heart.

Ahhhhhh, contentment once again. [Click here for part 1].

An old friend is as good as gold

A week ago on Saturday, I met up with an old friend who was visiting Canada with her husband. This friend knew me from my late teenage years. We met at our JC school activity and acted together on stage for the Singapore Youth Festival years ago. After JC, we went on our separate ways. In our early 20's, we met once to watch the Cats musical when it was staged in Singapore. Then we went our separate ways again. At our 30's, we met up when she invited me for her wedding and then at her wedding. Thereafter, we parted ways once again. Through the years, we kept in contact via the once-in-a-blue-moon email until I created a Facebook account to keep in contact with my friends.

It's the first time that we have met up again in-person since her wedding years ago. Yet it is almost as if nothing has changed. Over lunch and coffee, we caught up with each other's life and covered migration, family, career, retirement planning, recent events in Singapore (click here and here, and see also here), social norms and people's behaviour in Singapore and Canada, etc. To borrow the Chinglish description from an acquaintance in Canada, "The feeling is very warm". [感觉很暖]

There is something about old friends. One does not need to explain too much before they catch onto the deeper points and subtexts of one's words.
E.g. I shared with my old friend about my faux pas on my first day of nursing school in Singapore.

During the self-introduction on the very first lesson, I introduced myself as previously from "IT in the banking and financial services sector" and that I decided to join nursing because I wanted to do something that serves humanity directly. There was an audible hissing* noise in response, amidst the relative silence of the classroom. [*Note: The kind of sound that is made when one sucks air inwards between one's teeth with slightly parted lips.] I realized instinctively then that I had probably said something wrong, and that my assumption that "those who chose to switch careers into nursing would understand my wish to serve humanity" may be rather naive.

Over the next few days or weeks (I cannot remember exactly), I was repeatedly bugged by some classmates about my educational qualifications. By then, I knew better to just mention honestly that I did a bachelor's degree in NUS (as it is a pre-requisite for the career-conversion course to have either a diploma or a degree) and discreetly omitted that I actually did a master's degree after some years of working. Thereafter, they would repeatedly and relentlessly questioned, "Then why are you here in nursing?"1 despite my initial self-introduction. [Note: It was annoying enough that I avoided them for a while.]

When I shared the above with my old friend, she immediately remarked, "They are not happy that you're in the course. That you have 'taken' the chance from 'some other person' [whom they feel did not get in because of you]. And they have to compete with you [for school grades]."

I was pleasantly surprised by how fast my old friend caught the subtext of my story. I smiled, "Yes, that's what I don't like about the typical Singaporean mindset. Too competitive. And always thinking that everything is limited."

My friend replied, "You don't have to worry about them. You have every right to attend the course since you passed through the selection process."

I agreed with her whole-heartedly.
I really enjoyed the afternoon with my old friend. Then we parted ways once again.


1Note: Come to think of it, I suppose my nursing classmates and possibly many others thought that I chose nursing so that I could migrate abroad. I know many of my nursing ex-colleagues were surprised that I got my Canadian PR so quickly, only less than 1 year into nursing. What they did not know was that my Federal Skilled Worker permanent residency visa was not based on my nursing qualifications and experience but those of my first career.
[Note: The Canadian federal skilled worker immigration policy has changed significantly since my initial application 5 years ago, back in end-2006.]
Since some of those who were curious weren't really nice to me in the first place, I did not bother to clarify that minor detail with them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Green Vancouver Christmas

Environment Canada released its analysis of the likelihood of a white Christmas this year in the various Canadian cities. The chance of Vancouver having a white Christmas is only 21%. As of now, Metro Vancouver still looks grassy green. Since November, we only had a couple of days of minimal snowfall that melted within a few hours, so it does look like we are going to get a grassy green Christmas this year. Fortunately for the ski lovers, the mountains are still topped with snow.

I am glad that my fear of the cold did not prevent me from migrating here. I have acclimatized better to the cold now. I only need 4 layers on top (thermal top, long-sleeve turtlenecks, cashmere sweater, mid-thigh length down-padded coat) and 3 layers at the bottom (thermal bottom, leggings, jeans) to be toasty warm for temperatures around zero degree Centigrade. From my observation, I am wearing 1 layer more both on top and bottom compared to the typical local here.


[Extract of the report from The Weather Network]


Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

December 13, 2011 — Environment Canada has analyzed 55 years of weather records and calculated the probability that cities will see a “white Christmas”.

There's a good chance that Goose Bay and Quebec City will wake up to a winter wonderland on Christmas Day - but that might not be the case for other parts of the country.

Environment Canada has analyzed more than five decades' worth of weather data from major centres and calculated the average chance that snow will be present on Christmas Day.

A white Christmas is defined as a snow cover of 2 cm or more on Christmas morning.
The odds have changed over the years; children growing up between 1964 and 1982 were more likely to see white Christmases than their own children are now.

According to EC's predictions, Regina and Winnipeg are in a strong position to have a white Christmas - judging by their probability scores of 89 and 95 per cent, respectively.

There's only a 37 per cent chance that downtown Toronto will have snow, and the ground is almost certain to be green in Vancouver (21 per cent) and Victoria (16 per cent).

Meteorologists at The Weather Network say Canadians could face a similar winter to last year - with the potential for extreme weather resulting from La Niña.

Will your community have a white Christmas?

City - Average chance* of a White Christmas
Yellowknife 100 %
Whitehorse 100 %
Iqaluit 100 %
Kenora 100 %
Goose Bay 100 %
Quebec City 95 %
Winnipeg 95 %
Saskatoon 89 %
Thunder Bay 89 %
Regina 89 %
Edmonton 79 %
Ottawa 79 %
Charlottetown 63 %
Fredericton 58 %
Montreal 68 %
Moncton 63 %
London 63 %
St. John's 63 %
Sarnia 32 %
Sydney 47 %
Saint John 41 %
Kelowna 42 %
Halifax 47 %
Calgary 47 %
Toronto 37 %
Vancouver 21 %
Victoria 16 %

*Average chance: probability of a white Christmas based on past 10 years of data.

Friday, December 09, 2011

How not to be an economic migrant

I came across this hilarious interview of a foreign worker on Lucky Tan's blog. 34 year-old Norman Lu is an economic migrant, a foreign worker who is not even a permanent resident of his host country. IMHO, Norman can be used as a textbook example of "how not to be an economic migrant".

I commented my 2 cents on Norman's attitude on Lucky Tan's blog on 9/12/11 at 18:34.


[Addendum on 02-Feb-2012: My comment on Lucky Tan's blog on 9/12/11 at 18:34.]

At 0:48, Norman Lu said, “Another like 10% I will leave this country because I can EASILY find another job opportunity in another country.”

[Caps above added by me for emphasis.] Sorry to break your dream Norman. If your "another country" refers to China or Taiwan, then maybe you'll be able to find another job easily.

But if you are like many other China Chinese who are here in Singapore only to use it as a springboard to other English-speaking 1st world countries, then please listen up. With your barely passable English, you are unlikely to land an equivalent professional job as a health-care consultant in such countries. Most of these countries have labour laws to protect its existing workforce and systems in-place to ensure conversational and written English competency, equivalent job skills competency and recognition of professional/education qualifications before a foreign-trained worker is able to apply for professional jobs. Only Singapore is so cheap as to welcome any Tom, Dick or Harry into its professional workforce.

In fact, you may find yourself struggling to fit even in a minimum wage job if you venture to such countries. I am speaking from my observation of numerous China Chinese professionals who migrated to Canada. They had held professional job titles such as HR manager, IT manager, marketing consultant, accountant, financial specialist, statistician, PhD researcher, etc, before landing in Canada. Some think highly of themselves, self-appraised that their English is excellent and that they have experience in running businesses and corporations... only to fall flat on their faces and/or face repeated challenges at work because their English really suck (especially their inability to understand Canadian-accented English) and they don't understand that the western work culture don't run on "guan xi" alone (that there are rules to be followed).

So yes, I understand that the change in rules does not work in your favour and that you're disappointed. But you have a choice. You are welcomed leave Singapore if you don't like its new rules. There are many other equally talented (and possibly more humble) foreigners waiting to take over your spot in Singapore, given its open door policy to foreigners.

p.s. Learn some social grace before you decide move on to another country. Singaporeans are rather tolerant of arrogant foreigners (no thanks to the Singapore government's propaganda and the government-controlled media). In other countries, you are likely to be rebutted in-your-face (possibly even by the interviewer) for your assumption that "since I contribute some years to your country's economy, I should deserve the same rights a citizen".

Just to share, another socially-ugly PRC couple.


Just one more point to add. To be interviewed by the mainstream media (MSM) in Singapore is no big deal. Even a cannon fodder like me has had 2 in-depth interview requests from representatives of the Singapore MSM. These include a request which ding-donged several times through an intermediary organization because the MSM reporter/editor was trying to persuade me to agree to an interview (known or anonymous, up to me).
To put it simply, I turned down both requests. I did not want to be a propaganda tool of the indirect tool of the PAP government.
In conclusion, IMHO, being interviewed by the Singapore MSM is really NO. BIG. DEAL.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Friends with money

I stumbled upon "Being a lower income student in an "elite" institution" and "Elites aren't really nasty people; they're just clueless" blog entries by flâneurose. I am impressed! What he/she has written so very accurately reflected my experience in life, especially my time at a "branded" secondary school (middle school in Canadian terms) and my hostel life at a local Singapore university.


One day at my "branded" secondary school (middle school), after observing my classmate practising her tap-dance on the stage in the school hall, I expressed my admiration for my classmate's ability to tap-dance.

Classmate replies: You can do it too. You just have to sign-up for tap dancing classes.

Me: Erh, you need those special (tap dancing) shoes to learn, don't you?

Classmate: Yes. They only cost $x.

Me: [Silence]

This classmate lived in a District 10 bungalow (i.e. equivalent of a Vancouver, west of Main St, single family house with a large yard in Metro Vancouver, B.C.). $x is "ONLY" from my rich classmate's perspective. At that instance, my mathematical mind couldn't get beyond the fact that $x represented 1/2 (half) the cost that I paid for textbooks at the beginning of the school year. If the shoes alone already cost $x, I saw no point in asking further how much each dance lesson cost. I did not think that I want to further exacerbate how "poor" I felt.

"If you've been following so far, you would probably start wondering why any kid would voluntarily hang out with richer folk after they've grown up when the risk of feeling inferior is so great. ... This is just a very convoluted way of telling those lower income kids who attend top schools that they might find that they don't feel like they truly belong anywhere. Now, and in the future." - flâneurose
Well, I am one of those lucky/unlucky kids born into lower-middle class, but almost always in my life having one or more acquaintances/friends with money.

Early on in life, it was by chance. E.g. A kindergarten classmate invited me to play at her home. At age 6, she was already a latchkey child [i.e. one given the house-keys to return home alone, without any adult waiting at home to care for him/her]. She had so many toys, boxes and boxes of them (more than all my family's and my cousins' toys added together). But, she had no one to talk to or to play with. She was an acutely lonely child. At that point, I felt sorry for her.

After the PSLE (primary school leaving examinations) results were released, my mother insisted that I attend a "branded" secondary school. While I reckoned that there was a significant proportion of neighbourhood kids (read relatively poor) like myself, there was also a disproportionate number of students from upper-middle and rich family backgrounds. I remember my 1st time at my secondary school, when we were all still wearing our primary school uniforms. In a sea of dark blue pinafores (many of my school mates came from the fraternity feeder primary school), I stuck out like a sore thumb. As illustrated by the incident above, one just cannot miss the socio-economic divide. When the school had fundraising events (e.g. donation cards given to each student to collect monetary pledges), some form teachers would praise the amounts raised by the rich kids (amounts equivalent to several months of my family's expenses) and beseeched us regular kids to "try harder" in our fund raising. While my peers shopped along Orchard Road (Singapore's equivalent of New York's Fifth Ave or Beverly Hill's Rodeo Drive), became buddies over meals at fast food joints and restaurants, scored turkeys at bowling alleys, watched the latest movies, bought and listened to tapes of the latest pop-hits, learned the latest dance moves, etc, I was hanging out at the FREE public library near my home*. Being socially "in" was beyond my affordability.
*Looking back, I think it was a blessing in disguise. I read voraciously books on religion(s), philosophy, and various personal, inter-personal and world issues, looking for an answer to why my life "sucked" (beyond being relatively poor with respect to my peers, I struggled through my teenage years while my parents were in their own war zone of middle-age crisis). It became the backdrop upon which my values were formed.
Even in a neighbourhood JC (junior college, i.e. GCE A levels schooling prior to university), I had classmates who lived in bungalows, even one whose home was just behind Orchard Road. [Maybe it was a good sign? I.e. Social stratification wasn't that bad in Singapore during the late 80's that a neighbourhood kid like me could have rich classmate(s)?] For some unknown reason(s), wealth was never quite so ostentatious in my neighbourhood JC. Maybe the fact that my JC was partially funded and heavily culturally influenced by some Chinese associations helped? I did not feel the chasm of the social divide as intensely as during my secondary school days. That is, until our JC prom night. After persuading my mother relentlessly for some money to attend the prom, I ended up spending my remaining limited budget on a shared hotel room with around 20 friends (having calculated that it cost more to take a taxi home after the event) and a very practical skirt (which I felt I could wear for future temporary office jobs). As odd as life's little coincidences go, I was dressed in a long-sleeved white blouse and an orangey-red knee-length skirt which were stylistically similar to and precisely the colours of the dress-code for the waitresses that night. Thanks to my great JC buddies, I still had a fun time, despite being mistaken for a waitress several times during the night.

On to university hostel. Yes, I too observed the flashy cars, restaurant dining, exotic vacations, professional make-overs for "Dinner & Dance", etc of the rich kids. But enough of that rant about being too poor to afford to be socially "in".

Then I entered the work world. I felt a little envious of friends who could hold out (for what seemed like "an eternity" to me) for that ideal job with a prestigious company and a "suitably large" pay-check. Whereas I grabbed the 1st job offer that I received and hunched down to work on repaying my university study loan.
Fortunately, the first company that I worked for was quite well-known worldwide, paid pretty well, and had good training and benefits.
So there I was, finally making some money of my own. What's next? Well, I was in (a support role in) the banking and financial services sector -- apparently a "reputable enough sector" for children of the rich to be gainfully employed. As a colleague from a wealthy family background put it,
"When you come from a rich and reputable family such as mine, your career choices are limited. Should you choose not to work for the family business, you cannot work for just any company. It must be a big name bank or law firm because only then can your family justify to others why you're not working in the family business. Anything else would mean a loss of face for the entire family and fodder for the tai-tais' (i.e. rich housewives') rumour mills."
In addition, various wealthy friends shared with me confidentially about how their families were torn apart by struggles over control/inheritance of the family business, infidelities that came with business entertainment, 酒肉朋友 ["friends in good times only", i.e. friends who are only there to enjoy what associating with the rich person's wealth/connections can offer him/her]. Thus, I no longer envy their lives. I only held a phlegmatic acknowledgement of the experiences and opportunities that their wealth+connections bought them, stuff that regular folks like me cannot even dream of.

Then, in migrating to Canada, I thought I have left all this behind. I am starting from scratch, and thus IMHO logically the folks that I meet would likely be from the same lower-middle class finding their foothold. Well, one of my first new friends in Canada, SL, grew up in a single family compound in Singapore that had its own tennis court and various sports and other facilities. Although her family had since lost their wealth, her privileged upbringing shows through from our interactions*. As it turns out, she is not the only Singaporean that I've met in Canada who came from a previously wealthy family background.
*Note: In general, I do not ask people about their socio-economic class or family background in my interactions. Perhaps it is precisely because of this lack of interest/curiosity on my part that the rich lurking amongst my workplaces and/or social network felt comfortable enough to share with me about their wealth and/or family background? In addition, I think it helps that I have never asked these people-of-privilege for money or favours on the basis of "pity me, you're better-off than me" or "you can surely afford it".
Finally, of all places, even in my current part-time temporary sales job (that pays just above minimum wages), there is/was hidden millionaire co-worker(s) lurking around. What can I say? I just have the "friends with money" luck?


Recently, CK who is a reader of my blog commented,
"You're an atypical Singaporean and I celebrate atypical-ness."
Yes, indeed. I had the atypical "privilege" of jumping
from a PAP kindergarten in a poor neighbourhood
to the top-class in a popular historic primary school in a poor folks' district (small fish in big pond),
to a neighbourhood primary school (big fish in small pond),
to a "branded" secondary school (small fish in big pond),
to a neighbourhood JC (medium fish in medium pond),
to a local university (small fish in big pond), and then years later
to a local Polytechnic (small fish in medium pond).

This relentless jumping back and forth on the educational social strata (which somewhat correlates to the economic social strata) of the Singapore's class system resulted in me developing a phlegmatic-to-melancholic perspective of "what it means to be rich/poor, elite/plebeian". In addition, socializing across various strata also made me keenly aware of the typical prejudices that each socio-economic stratum has against the other strata. Thus I usually have an "answer honestly only when asked directly, otherwise don't ask and don't tell" policy regarding my background.


[Addendum on 03-Dec-2011]

IMHO, in Singapore, people are generally obsessed with figuring out where one fits in the socio-economic pecking order. Personal questions eliciting answers to establish the social pecking order are deemed as "normal and acceptable" in casual conversations.
When my friend LC first relocated his family from London to Singapore for work, I invited his family to my sister's home to join my family gathering. After the brief introductions, my mother started asking LC about his job, employment benefits as an expatriate, pay and residence in Singapore. LC politely gave partial answers and ignored the rest of the questions. Then my mother kept on persisting and repeating her questions (especially about his pay) when he "didn't hear" her questions initially. I told my mother straight in the face that it was not ok to ask a new acquaintance such private questions, but my mother insisted that it is ok and the social norm to "learn about the employment/pay-scale trends". Imagine my acute embarrassment throughout. I quickly apologized to LC for the social faux pas. Fortunately, LC is of East Asian descent and has some understanding of this obsession with wealth, although he is very much westernized having lived in Europe since his teens. Thus LC kindly reassured me that it is ok (i.e. he understood the cultural quirks). My mother, totally clueless, took his reassurance as, "There, even he said it is ok to ask" and continued her ceaseless questions. *Face-palm* 
[See what LC commented about life for "a nobody in Singapore". And yes, I am a nobody.] 
In contrast, the general topic of discussion in my usual interactions in Canada involves one's hobbies, interests and non-work day plans (i.e. what one does outside of work).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Comments on Limpeh Is Foreign Talent's blog

I made a few long comments on Limpeh Is Foreign Talent's blog recently. Just an entry to gather the links to the long-winded comments, mostly about Singapore, its policies and social norms.

Kenapa Singapura? (Why Singapore?) - Nov 15, 2011 03:46 PM

The Singapore Education System vs Singaporean parents - Nov 18, 2011 02:45 PM

The very British Elephant in the room - Nov 20, 2011 06:20 AM

23:明天的記憶 An excellent reply to Limpeh's piece of education - Nov 20, 2011 05:19 PM

Finding that ideal job - Nov 23, 2011 04:20 AM

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Financially poor but academically above average Singapore students

Below is my rather long reply to Limpeh Is Foreign Talent's blog post, which in-turn was a reply to 23:明天的記憶, which was in-turn a response to LIFT's earlier blog post.


23:明天的記憶 wrote : what I want to know is what happens then if you have a kid that is above-average but nowhere near scholarship material? Than what do we make of education, access to opportunities & social class in general?

Yes, being poor in Singapore sucks. It wasn't so bad years ago, but it is getting worse.

Years ago in the late 80's, I was one of many who took a Study Loan from the Singapore Public Service Commission for our university fees. To apply, all one needed was an offer from a local university (only NUS and NTU back then), financial records showing that our family could not fund our university education, and go through a harrowing interview with a panel (I think it was 4 or 5 persons) which vets through all your financial declarations looking for any loophole that you do not need the money. At 19, it was my first ever panel interview and the panel members started off asking why I did not apply for any of the PSC bursaries which carried a bond. I replied honestly that I did not think that my results were good enough to get a bursary. Then they kept questioning about my grandfather's money which was in a joint account with my dad which we couldn't touch/use. Finally they asked, "What would happen if you do not get a loan?" I burst into tears and told them, "That means I cannot go to university and have to work instead." At that point in time, my thought was "no money = no education = trapped in poverty". Luckily for me, I was granted a loan that covered the university fees.

A friend of mine wasn't so lucky. Her application for a PSC loan was rejected on the basis that she had 4 older siblings who worked -- but in blue-collar or clerical jobs with salary that could only support themselves and/or their own families. That was a period of high stress for her. Her parents worked lowly-paid odd-jobs and had little/no money in CPF, so a CPF loan was out of the question. She did not have any relatives able and willing to be her guarantors for the bank loans. I don't know how she managed to get a bank loan in the end.

Another friend of mine applied for a bond-free overseas scholarship and got it. That was back in those days in the 80's when Singapore was still considered a developing nation in the Commonwealth and special bond-free scholarships were available to its citizens from some UK universities. Years later, that friend asked me why didn't I apply for overseas scholarships like her. I smiled and told her that I didn't think of it. Actually, in those pre-internet days, applying for an overseas scholarship is a lengthy and costly process in itself. The costs of photocopying all your certificates, the application fees, the postage fees, etc, all adds up. For a poor family living almost from hand-to-mouth, it was beyond our means.

I have yet another friend who took the Polytechnic route.
Note: Polytechnic education costs less than university education in Singapore. In addition, one can enter the workforce earlier through the Polytechnic route because one skips the 2-3 years of JC/pre-University education.
Then she worked and saved for almost 10 years, just to have enough money to upgrade to a degree from an overseas university. In the meantime, she was paid "Poly-grad" pay despite the job she does. As a Poly-grad ex-colleague puts in, "We do the same job, hold the same responsibilities, but because we are short of the degree paper, we are denied the Officer job title, pay and benefits." (even in the private sector). Yes, being born-poor means one may have to accept a 10-year delay to finally reaching one's career target. Even then, classism in Singapore was such that those who went through the "Poly-then-upgrade" route was seen as inferior to those who went to university directly.

Finally, I had a JC classmate who was an ace student. Her family was patriarchal in nature and she had to work part-time to support herself and her studies since age 15 (i.e. the legal age to work in Singapore). When we were revising for our GCE A-level exams, I casually asked her what course she planned to pursue in university. She gave me a slightly sad resigned look and said, "I don't plan to go to university." I asked her why, since her results were consistently good. She told me that supporting herself through A-levels was already a huge struggle, she didn't think that she would be able to do so for university studies. Thus, she preemptively gave up that option.

That is what being financially poor and academically above average in Singapore is was like (and possibly is still) with respect to access to university education. You learn very quickly that there are opportunities but you just can't touch them if you don't have money and/or the connections (e.g. guarantors are needed for bonds/loans). It gets worse for the youths from poor families now. Singapore is no longer a "developing nation" and thus those Commonwealth scholarships are no longer available to them. The last I checked, the Public Service Commission of Singapore no longer offers Study Loans which I received for my local university education.* The only improvements are that there are more "accredited" overseas universities in Singapore now offering distance learning "upgrades" to those who choose the "Poly-then-upgrade" route; and NUS/NTU now open their doors to a small percentage of these Poly-upgraders.


[Addendum on 22-Nov-2011. Correction of the above.]

* Note: Correction on 22-Nov-2011. I just found out that both NUS and NTU offer up to 90% in Tuition Fee loan to its students. Therefore, it seems, the function previously served by PSC Study Loan is now moved to NUS Tuition Fee loan and NTU Tuition Fee loan, albeit with a 90% cap. So life is not so bleak for the financially poor but academically above average youths in Singapore afterall.


[Addendum on 04-Mar-2012.]

One of Mr Brown's readers shared about his life as a university undergraduate from a poor family.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Illusion of Anonymity

I read with interest the tongue-in-cheek statement by blogger Limpeh Is Foreign Talent, "Perhaps the fact that I am somewhat nervous about saying anything bad about LKY here is a sign that you can take the boy out of Singapore, but you can't take Singapore out of the boy."

IMHO, it shows someone who thinks carefully about his public presence, even if it is only an online one using a pseudonym.

Unlike Lucky Tan and Molly Meek who stick mostly to the non-personal information/commentary, bloggers such as Limpeh reveal enough personal information online such that those with vested interests (and maybe a bit of authority or money or both) can easily track them down. Thus, online anonymity is an illusion, especially in Singapore. Even "anonymous" bloggers such as Lucky or Molly can be traced down if the right person with enough authority and/or money wants it done.

I am well aware of this illusion of anonymity. E.g. Anyone who was my nursing colleague, previously my nursing classmate/teacher, or anyone who processed the exit of my nursing bond, etc, can quite easily deduce who I am from some of my blog entries. And thus, I am careful about what I write online too. Thankfully, I am just a small fry with very few hits [around 200 a month as of November 2011] and therefore I'm unlikely to be under anyone's radar anytime soon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Paper roses

Today, I found myself having to shoot off a nasty email to an ex-boyfriend. The same one mentioned in "10 ground rules for love". He had been emailing me every now and then. Since August this year, his emails were more regular about twice or thrice a month. Each email is full of sweet nothings and about how much he misses me, and occasionally also about the progress of his business plan or his son's education. I usually ignore his emails, except for those where it sounded like he needed a kind word of emotional support. His most recent email however made me decide that it is time to be frank to the point of being blunt if we ever have any hope of remaining as friends.


[Firstly, his email to me a year ago, on Sunday, October 17, 2010, in response to my "10 ground rules for love".]

Subject: RE: Wish you well RE: Hi

Hi again [my name],
You have pointed it out in 10 points!

Yes, I will always love you as you are, and you are more than just a friend.

Take care, maybe one day we will live in the same city :-)?

Hugging you to a safe waking up.
[Name edited]


[Then today's Sunday, November 13, 2011 email from him.]

Subject: Great!

Hi [my name],

I hope this mail will find you well.

Great that you have "comitted" for the " Graduate Nurse Internationally Educated course ", I think that is a really great idea. You will then be able to work as a nurse world wide? In France the hospitals need more nurses but from what I hear, nurses works a lot but the pay is not very good.

Here there is still a lot of work. The different activities takes longer to concretize as thaugt (sic) but the light at the end of the tunnel seems to come nearer. Keeping you updated :-)

Take care my dear and hoping to hear from you soon.

[Name edited]


[My nasty reply to him dated Sunday, November 13, 2011.]

Subject: Re: NOT SO Great!

Hi [Name edited],

You may not have changed over the years, but I am no longer that gullible madly in love 31 year-old fool of a decade ago. It was silly of me to pretend that you would one day be sincere enough in your feelings for me to want to marry me. I am wiser now, thanks to you. Once bitten twice shy.

>Quote from your email a year ago: Take care, maybe one day we will live in the same city :-)?

If you thought that I was once again duped by your "loving" email last year which conveniently dropped the marriage criterion of the 2 remaining criteria that you do not fit, then you're wrong. I just didn't want to waste time with you on it. I was thinking that given time, you may someday accept that we can only be friends. But apparently not. Apparently you're still taking me for a fool even now, a year later. Frankly, even if you were to come to Canada right now to propose marriage, my answer would be a clear, resounding "NO". No point wasting time on a faded and jaded relationship. You've had your chance, around 8 years of it. It's gone. Over. Finito. THE END. Get it?

Good luck to your business plans. I don't care if I hear from you or otherwise. And frankly, if you're still seeking for easy love, I would rather not hear from you at all. If you want to know how to be a decent friend, take a look at all my friends' open responses to me on FB. Not one of them hides behind private messages just to massage their own ego with pretend love.

I dedicate this song to you. One day, when you're man enough to handle the real demands of a real relationship, maybe you will find true love. Meanwhile, play your games -- with other victims.
[Edit: Link to Marie Osmond's Paper Roses on YouTube, see embedded YouTube video below.]

Best Regards,
[My name]


[Addendum on November 15, 2011. His reply on Monday, November 14, 2011]

Subject: Re: NOT SO Great!

Hi [my name],

Thank you for a honest eMail. I really hope this one will find you well.
About facebook, in fact I do not know how it work and I do not want to know it either. It has nothing to do with not beeing open to you or to friends.

The rights for the utube music is not allowed in Europs so I was not able to play it.

Just so that you know it, I have never pretended that you were an easy love and I will never do. Sincerely I like you very musch and I am sure that if we lived in the same city or at least in the same country things would have worked out differently.

In any case, supposed we should live in the same city in the future, I would not pretend that I would ask you for marriage but you beeing (sic) my friend is an honor to me and I hope you will continue being my friend.

Take care and hope to hear from you soon.
[His name]


[Addendum on November 15, 2011. My 2 cents.]

Years ago, when I asked him to Skype me, he insisted that he did not know how to use Skype and that I joined MSN instead so that we could keep in contact online. Then a couple of years later, he joined Skype and "invited" me to join it -- after his siblings and extended family were on Skype. I know clearly where his "love" for me goes in the hierarchy of things. He joined Facebook before I did. For someone who was supposedly in information technology management, to be unable and unwilling to learn how to post responses on a Facebook wall says a lot about how "important" keeping in contact with that "special" person is to him.

Finally the crux of the point. You "are more than just a friend" but "I would not pretend that I would ask you for marriage", yet "I hope you will continue being my friend". Yeah, right -- "friends with benefits", I suppose. The Chinese has a saying, “换汤不换药” ["changing the soup without changing its the medicinal contents"]. Or as the Canadian TV Ad for Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) slogan goes, "Dressing it up doesn't make it true".

It is true what people say about "love is blind". The converse is also true, falling out of love makes one able to see the inconsistencies clearly. I have blocked him from emailing. If he has honourable intentions and is truly sincere, he will know what he has to do about Facebook communications. Otherwise, he is on my "KIV Culling List" of friends/acquaintances.


[Addendum on 18-Jul-2012]

I had just unblocked his email at the beginning of July thinking that it has been more than 1/2 year now, so it is likely that he had moved on and unlikely to email me. Guess what? I just received an email from him on Monday 16-Jul-2012. As I have commented on LIFT's "Adult Season Part 5: Jessica's story", I will not accept the bait for now.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

12th month's expense

My total expense for the 12th month (1st to 30th September) is around CAD1,171, broken down as follow.

Amount (CAD) : Category

Once-off expenses

* 150 : Write-off rental deposit for a room in Surrey

Yearly expenses


Monthly expenses

* 500 : Room rental
*  40 : Mobile phone bill
*  61 : Medical Services Plan
* 110 : Transport - Monthly 2-Zone Farecard
* NIL : Transport - Others
* 102 : Food/groceries1
*   35 : Clothings
*   84 : Household Items (including toiletries)2
*   30 : Recreation/Entertainment/Restaurant
*   18 : Meals/Drinks
*    8 : Personal Grooming & Make-up
*    9 : Stationery/Postage
*   24 : Others (Lottery, Souvenirs, etc)

Note 1: The amount spent on food/groceries is less than usual because I eat more from my huge stockpile of food bought during the previous months of promotions.

Note 2: Bought some under-bed storage to pack my documents and photo albums.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Much ado about nothing

Over the last week, I spent much time scouring the online rental ads to find a place near the nursing school as previously planned. After shifting through various phone and email responses from potential landlords/landladies, I finally had my 1st on-site visit today. From the visit, I am reminded of how out of the way Surrey is and how vexing (knowing me) it may be to rely on the Surrey public transport to get around.

After work today, I checked to find alternative routes to go to school from my current address. One promising alternative route takes around 1 hour, inclusive of wait time. Then I sat down to crunch the critical financial numbers -- my expected cash-flow status from now until end of 2012, assuming that I remain in my current address. It turns out that if things go as per current situation, I would have just enough cash-flow to cover the 1 year full-time studies. Thus I don't really have to worry whether the B.C. government or my bank would approve a loan or line-of-credit.
Note: A line of credit usually has a lower interest rate and better payment terms than a loan, thus it should be prioritized above a loan, unless it is a low-interest government loan with better terms. Here are the links to getting a Student Line of Credit from
TD Canada and
Vancity. The Vancity link includes additional information about getting educational funding.
Of course, I would still go ahead to apply for funding, in case of unforeseen circumstances.

The other point that kicked me into reconsidering my basic assumption about having to move near the nursing school came ironically from the person who would otherwise become my future housemate. As he drove me to the bus exchange with his landlord in the backseat, he discussed my transport options with me. Then he strongly suggested that I get a car. I told him honestly that I am afraid of driving despite having a valid driving license from my country of origin. He then cited the need to travel around for work as a nurse at various hospital locations and repeated his suggestion. I thought about the nursing course's clinical attachment requirement. Student nurses may be deployed to various locations regardless of their residential address. Thanks to my current residential address' proximity to the public rail, the major hospitals in Metro Vancouver are relatively more accessible from here than a similarly affordable rental location in Surrey. Plus, the public transport pass for travel in All-Zones costs only CAD 30 per month for a full-time student. In addition, I don't think I would want to constantly worry about the cost of gasoline while living on a student budget.

Of course, the crucial underlying factor to my reluctance to move is really my caring and easy-going landlord, my landlord's family and my other long-term rental housemates who are generally nice, including Mr Small Potato. I have to admit, I put down CAD 150 deposit on impulse to quickly get a rental location settled this morning. Thus, it seems like that would be money down the drain.


[Addendum on 26-Sep-2011]

I met with my banker this morning. She explained to me that the Student Line of Credit is usually only offered to students of highly paid professional jobs such as lawyers, doctors, and dentists. Instead we strategized a way to get me a Personal Line of Credit.
Here are the links to Personal Line of Credit from
TD Canada and
That's just what I needed. That's why I stick to this banker even though this bank's fees are not as competitive as the other major banks -- she provides good service.


[Addendum on 09-Oct-2011]

A Canadian friend of mine asked me why I did not return to Surrey to ask the potential landlord for my deposit back. The B.C. tenancy laws are such that it is illegal for a landlord to demand for a deposit and not refund it (with interest) at the end of tenancy if there was no damage to the property. A few reasons combined.
  1. In my rush to get to work after viewing the property, I forgot to ask for a receipt of the deposit placed. Thus, it was a cash transaction for which there was no record. Besides myself, the only witnesses are the potential landlord, landlady and housemate. I had expected to return to sign a rental contract another day. [This is not one of my finer moments of financial prudence.]
  2. Throughout the early morning viewing, my elderly potential landlord kept on repeating how they (the elderly couple) don't need the money, their adult offspring is a professional who has recently bought her own million dollar home, how rich and successful their relatives are, blah, blah, blah. Yet, they were not keen to "complete" the transaction until I gave them the deposit. [Compare that to my current landlord who had said before tenanting to me, "No need deposit (in advance). No need to sign contract (in advance). You just come, I will have the room ready for you." and he did just that.] I am a firm believer of "action speaks louder than words" -- i.e. despite their proclamations otherwise, that elderly couple wanted the money. My potential housemate even woke up his family that was visiting and staying at the to-be-shared apartment, just so that I could view the room.
  3. I am a petite East Asian female. The place I viewed was in a quiet, somewhat out-of-the-way location in Surrey. [That said, much of Surrey is rather out-of-the-way.] From the few houses that I mistakenly rang the doorbell, in search of the right address, it seems that the small cluster of houses that formed the neighbourhood was dominated by South Asians. The elderly couple did not offer to refund my deposit when I informed them that I would not proceed with the rental. I am aware that despite what the B.C. law says, some still live by the Asian tenancy norms that the deposit is forfeited when cancelling a reservation. Call it racism or cultural awareness, my gut sense is that if I return to demand my deposit back, chances are a disagreement would arise; and a lone, petite lady is unlikely to win her case in a neighbourhood of people known stereotyped to stand by their own ethnic group and cultural norms over the law. Why court trouble when one can avoid it?
  4. Lastly, will I starve because of the $150 loss? Nope. For sure, I may have to cut back on some optional items, but life goes on.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Facebook exchange: Right-wing Christians in Singapore

Had another of those interesting Facebook exchange where I accidentally scratched beyond the gentlemanly surface of an acquaintance to discover the unexpected.
[Note to self: Why do I keep getting surprised that I count amongst my acquaintances/friends both right-wing and left-wing religious and non-religious folks? I like diversity in my friends, but I have to consciously remind myself to be tolerant and accepting of that diversity, especially when a shocker turns up.]
Anyway, below is the exchange on my FB wall for the record. And perhaps for further thoughts in future.


WD: Sigh, another right-wing religious Christian in Singapore who does not separate her work-role in multi-cultural Singapore from her personal religious practice.

WD: I find it strange that in Singapore, the descriptive phrase "right-wing religious" is almost always followed by the word "Christian"; much like in USA where the word "terrorists" is almost always preceded by the word "Muslim". 2 sides of the same coin.

LKM [Singapore-based acquaintance whom I know personally and had volunteered together with previously]: Not sure what right-wing or left-wing means, but I do not see why Christianity has to be dragged into a decision to cancel an event last minute ? It's a person's individual decision on a matter, isn't it ?

WD: @ LKM : I believe it is within your ability to Google for the meaning of "left-wing" and "right-wing".
Christianity in Singapore is highlighted above for a few simple reasons.

1. It is mentioned in Mr Brown's post that the individual involved based her decision on her interpretation of her Christian faith. From her decision, one would conclude that she decided that her faith is above the fact that it is an event held for the public (including non-Christians) and it was done using public funds (not her church's funds). Mr Brown pointed out this individual's trespassing of personal religion into a public matter.

2. In recent years in Singapore, there is a growing voice of such Christians who lobby policies based on their faith -- policies that will be applied to non-Christians alike. E.g. 377A. E.g. Sex education in schools should not teach about gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transexuals. E.g. Abstinence to be the only method taught for preventing unwanted pregnancy in sex education in schools. In that sense, I respect the Muslims in Singapore more. At least the Syariah Court laws are applied only to Muslims, and they do not lobby for such laws to be applied to the non-Muslims.

3. I am pointing out the double-standard in Singapore media and social norms. When an individual or a group do or advocate something (that non-believers would not agree to) using Islam as a cover, they are often labeled in the press as "Muslim terrorists" or "Muslim extremists". When an individual or a group do or advocate something (that non-believers would not agree to) using Christianity as a cover, we have people like yourself (and sometimes even the press) brushing the matter off and claiming that it's "a person's individual (or a specific group's) decision on a matter" -- a matter that would affect those not of their religion. This double-standard is a form of discrimination. I say, either consistently associate both groups as extremists of their respective religions or drop the religious label from both groups.
WD: p.s. "people like yourself (and sometimes even the press) brushing the matter off". Some of these people who brush the matter of may be doing so because of their personal discomfort with their shared religion being used/abused by the individual/group as his/her/their "reason" for their decision.

LKM: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NKJV)

LKM: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. (Romans 1:16, 18-27 NKJV)

RW [another Singaporean acquaintance now based in Canada. RW probably does not know LKM personally.]: I think this is a sensitive topic. For some Christians they have to live their lives according to Christ regardless of the situation, which includes making tough decisions they think is for the better good. I think there are far more important things to correct in the world than this sort of issues.

WD: @ LKM : Your entire reply holds no meaning to me for I am not of your faith. Go preach elsewhere.
@ RW : Yes, it is true for some their lives have to be according to Christ regardless of the situation. In which case, they should refrain from putting themselves in public service positions in *secular* governments making decisions based on their personal faith and demanding that those not of their faith obey rules specific to their faith -- that is not respecting the multicultural and multi-religious reality of Singapore. They have failed epically to apply what they learnt from the Civics and Moral Education in school and they are disrespecting the Singapore pledge "regardless of race, language or religion". That is the crux of my point. There are more and more such Christians in Singapore.

@ RW : " there are far more important things to correct in the world than this sort of issues."

Not so if you're a non-Christian and having this "I am right because my God is right and you're wrong because you non-believers worship the Devil or are led by the Devil" rubbed in your face every now and then. Just look at LKM's reply to my point. Nothing based on humanity. Nothing logical. Nothing about justice. Nothing about equality. Zilch. Pure religious bigotry.
LKM [whose comment I subsequently deleted because it does not further understanding in the issues discussed]: That's why things are so simple, just trust God and obey, and leave everything else to God's sovereignty, it really is that simple.
[Note: Another of those, if you cannot win an argument logically, just quote god.]

WD: ‎@ LKM : Please do not preach here. Your god is yours and yours alone. Nothing to do with me. I have deleted your last comment and will not hesitate to delete further comments that is not constructive to deepen understanding of the issues discussed.

LKM on his own FB wall: A Psalm of David. The fool has said in his heart,“ There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1 NKJV)
[Note: I won't respond to LKM's FB wall post. I respect his freedom to his express his opinions on his tuft.]

WD: Religious bigotry is bigotry, regardless of which religion it comes from. Such people will cry foul and religious persecution if they experience the similar discrimination from others who are [Edit: non-believers or] believers of another religion.
In the case of right-wing Christians in Singapore, it is ironic that they do not recognize that they have broken their own biblical rules through their words and actions.
WD: Jesus of Nazareth: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12, see also Luke 6:31).
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." — Talmud, Shabbat 31a
WD: Every day, I am thankful that I am here in Canada. Religious bigotry is unlikely to be tolerated here.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

11th month's expenses

My total expense for the 11th month (1st to 31th August) is around CAD2,138, broken down as follow.

Amount (CAD) : Category

Once-off expenses

*      67 : Portable hard-disk1
* 1,062 : Laptop with 2 year warranty, MS-Office, printer2

Yearly expenses


Monthly expenses

* 500 : Room rental
*  40 : Mobile phone bill
*  61 : Medical Services Plan
* 110 : Transport - Monthly 2-Zone Farecard
* NIL : Transport - Others
* 171 : Food/groceries3
*    5 : Clothings
*  39 : Household Items (including toiletries)4
*  22 : Recreation/Entertainment/Restaurant
*  26 : Meals/Drinks
* NIL : Personal Grooming & Make-up
*    6 : Stationery/Postage
*  29 : Others (Lottery, Souvenirs, etc)

Note 1: I have been taking so many photos of my life in Canada that my 6 years old laptop ran down to only 10GB of hard-disk space left. I decided to buy a portable hard-disk for data storage instead.

Note 2: As mentioned above, my current laptop is 6 years old. It cannot function properly for some websites, nor open some new MS-Office documents -- those with .docx extension. For simple needs, I would have continued with my current laptop. However, I wanted to sign-up for a Canadian online trading account and the versions of web-browsers supported cannot run on my current laptop. In addition, I will be starting school soon and I know from previous communications that the school administration uses .docx documents. I decided to buy a new laptop and scanner/printer with my friend's help to get a good deal from the "Back To School" promotions. [Addendum on 09-Oct-2011: In case readers wonder why my new laptop is so expensive, it is because it is an Apple, just like my old laptop.]

Note 3: The amount spent on food/groceries is less than usual because I eat more from my huge stockpile of food bought during the previous months of promotions.

Note 4: I bought some storage items to help re-organize my room.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Singapore Presidential Election 2011

The results of the Singapore Presidential Election 2011 is out.

Tony Tan – 744,397 votes [35.91% of valid votes]
Tan Cheng Bock – 737,128 votes [34.85% of valid votes]
Tan Jee Say – 529,732 votes [25.04% of valid votes]
Tan Kin Lin – 103,931 votes [4.91% of valid votes]

Rejected votes – 37,826
Total votes cast – 2,153,014 votes

Note: The above does not include the overseas votes. Overseas voters are numbered around 5,504. [Note: It does not include mine because there is no polling station in B.C.]

Tony Tan, the PAP indirectly endorsed candidate, won by a whisker of 7,269 votes [0.34% of valid votes].


Someone with the moniker of "iworkhardsometimes" posted a succinct comment [the 5th comment] on 28 August 2011 to The Online Citizen "Presidential Election Polling Day" article.
TT% – reflects how much hardcore PAP voters+ppl with vested interest in the status quo we really have.

[My 2 cents note: Plus those who are politically apathetic. See the last few lines on Yawning Bread's blog entry. Afterall, TT had the most scandals dug out about him during the campaign period.]

TCB% – the number of moderates comprising of both PAP and opposition voter we have

[My 2 cents note: this group want change but are not comfortable with argumentative challenges. Also in this group are those that want a mostly ceremonial president but not the PAP-endorsed one.]

TJS% – reflects how much hardcore opposition voters we really have.

[My 2 cents note: And those who want to challenge status quo, or they are concerned about freedom, equality/discrimination, justice and transparency e.g. ISA, and they don't care if it takes confrontation to get it.]

TKL% – a bit difficult to classify, most likely making up mostly of non-pap voters & some moderates.

[My 2 cents: Moderate supporters concerned about personal finances, investment and retirement. And those who want transparency e.g. CPF vis-a-vis GIC/TH investments and Singapore's sovereign wealth fund.]

as we can see each have their own niche appeal (with overlaps of cos), no need to speculate on what-ifs.

I like the Singapore Presidential Elections 2011 better than the Singapore General Elections 2011. With 4 candidates to choose from, each with his own niche, the result reflects better the true socio-political sentiments of Singapore citizens. In addition, perhaps awakened by the GE2011, [IMHO] more Singaporeans are taking an interest in politics. For example, there is a significant increase in number of Facebook comments on the PE2011 (compared with the GE2011) amongst the Facebook people that I'm linked to. Perhaps there is hope for Singapore to move towards a more democratic society, maybe in 1 or 2 generations.

Well, the Singapore citizens have spoken. It's time to move on.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Opportunity knocks

It is coming to the end of my 2 weeks vacation. I have to admit that despite my earlier blog entry, I had spent a significant amount of my vacation time surfing online for news, videos, and commentary about the Singapore Presidential Elections 2011. And of course, commenting on my friends' comments on Facebook too.

Aside from the above, I have been running errands, doing some reading, interacting online, sending in my application for another theatre project, volunteering for a day with an ethnic/cultural group, checking out the "Back to School" deals, re-organizing my room and attending some social gatherings. Not forgetting, of course, I cooked some curry for the "Cook and Share a Pot of Curry!" event.

Yesterday, Wednesday 24-Aug-2011, the person that I (surprisingly) have a crush on suddenly replied my emails. He was caught up with the hectic pace of life once he returned to Singapore. From the tone of his email, it seems like he still cares. I was so excited reading his email that I was crying tears of happiness. I know, I know, silly girl! Right?
But consider that the last time he visited, I turned away from his attempt to kiss me after our dinner date. And on our final brief meet-up here in B.C., I pulled my hands away when he held them after our friendly hug. It is a miracle and a relief that he still cares. I only realized that I have a crush on him after his departure. Especially when I still think about him daily -- 2 months after he had left. Yes, I'm one of those blur-sotong. That "don't realize I am in love" type. Thus I am glad that it is not too late. Fingers crossed!
Today, Thursday 25-Aug-2011, I received another piece of good news. The nursing school decided to introduce an additional intake of students in January 2012. Thus they offered me the option to join the January or May intake. That means I can start 4 months earlier than previously expected. I would call this a miracle, because it seems that an additional intake like this has not happened for several years is unprecedented. [Addendum 26-Mar-2012: Apparently, the Minstry of Advanced Education gave Kwantlen Polytechnic University a once-off funding of $425,000 (click here for an online news article) to run an additional intake of GNIE classes.] After I read the letter, I skipped and hopped around for joy.

I'm glad that Opportunity comes knocking! And not just once, but on 2 consecutive days! ...Albeit in different aspects of life. I hope that all goes well. Fingers crossed.

Monday, August 15, 2011

No curry, no kampung spirit

The following is extracted from TODAYonline news. Click here to skip to my commentary.
Number of neighbour disputes hit high
Neighbours lack communication and increasingly intolerant: CMC
By Quek Sue Wen Carolyn, 04:45 AM Aug 08, 2011


Out of the 498 cases seen by the CMC [Edit: Community Mediation Centre] last year, 67 per cent were neighbour disputes, an increase from the 2007 where such disputes only made up 50 per cent of the centre's caseload.


Madam Marcellina Giam, 54, a CMC master mediator, told Today: "I feel (neighbours) are less tolerant these days and they are bringing very small neighbourhood disputes to the CMC like disputes over a few pots of flowers or washing the corridor, which never used to happen."

Fellow master mediator Thirunal Karasu Palaniappan, 49, added that unlike in the past, when the "kampung spirit" was strong and neighbours ventured into each other's homes freely, many neighbours now do not know each other.


Most of the cases the mediators have seen are between neighbours living in public housing, though they have handled some cases involving residents of private estates. About 80 cases the CMC saw in the past two years were also referred to it by the HDB. This is out of the 1,700 complaints on inconsiderate neighbour behaviour the HDB receives on average in a year.

Mediators are also seeing more disputes involving new immigrants. Both mediators felt that most of the cases they see could be easily solved by the neighbours themselves but the latter choose not to.


When neighbours disagree ...

Case 1: A family, who had just moved here from China, had resorted to mediation because they could not stand the smell of curry that their Singaporean Indian neighbours would often cook. The Indian family, who were mindful of their neighbour's aversion, had already taken to closing their doors and windows whenever they cooked the dish, but this was not enough.

"They said: 'Can you please do something? Can you don't cook curry? Can you don't eat curry?'," said Madam Marcellina Giam, a Community Mediation Centre mediator. But the Indian family stood firm. In the end, Mdm Giam got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home. In return, they wanted their Chinese neighbours to at least give their dish a try.

Case 2: A 40-year-old sales manager was shocked to find a note posted in one of the lifts of his Telok Blangah block. The anonymous writer had complained that his children were making "ear-piercing screams everyday and making the environment very unconducive for resting". The writer said the screams were "hurting the ears" of the residents and called on the children's parents to be "socially responsible".

The sales manager, who wanted only to be known as Mr Su, said he thought of responding and finding out who the letter writer was. He decided against it eventually. "I don't know why the writer had to do that, he could have approached me directly," Mr Su told Today.

He has also told his two sons aged three and five not to make too much noise when they play. Mr Su also said he will let the matter rest - provided it does not happen again.

My 2 cents...

Case 1 cited "a family, who had just moved here from China" asking an Indian family not to cook curry -- an Indian staple food. Perhaps the recently-arrived China Chinese family does not understand that their request is akin to asking the Eskimos not to eat fish?

Case 2 did not mention the nationality of the writer of a complaint note since he/she is anonymous. Nevertheless "ear-piercing" [“刺耳”] is a typical PRC Chinese Mandarin description of loud noises. Localized Singaporean Chinese tends to use the descriptions "noisy" [“吵”] or "sharp screams" [“尖叫”]. It is such minor linguistic differences that were parodied by yet another PRC Chinese in Singapore. IMHO, the reason for complaint may be valid, but the delivery could have been improved for better neighbourliness as remarked by Mr Su in the article.

Someone commented online that Singaporean (i.e. local born) Chinese are different from the recent flood of Chinese immigrants from PRC. I guess it boils down to the question: Where is the kampung spirit?


Massive immigration in Singapore has caused much strain in the social fabric. According to Department of Statistics population estimate in mid-2010,
  • Singapore population is 5,076,700 (100%)
  • Singapore citizens 3,771,700 (74%)
    [Includes 90,000 (2%) newly minted citizens between 2006 and 2010.]
  • Singapore Permanent Residents 541,000 (11%)
  • Other foreigners (workers or temporary visas holders, excluding tourists) 754,524 (15%) [2000 data estimate].
According to the United Nations report World Population Policies 2005, 42.6% of Singapore's population are foreigners.

Occasionally, I read/hear of people in Metro Vancouver complaining of massive immigration too. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada data for Vacouver urban area during 2006-2010, there were
  • 37,336 permanent residents,
  • 25,520 foreign workers [that is, temporary visas] and
  • 20,488 foreign students.
This makes a total of 83,344 (4%) foreigners out of a population (2006 data) of 2,116,581 for Metro Vancouver. Perhaps I am missing some numbers somewhere. According to the United Nations report World Population Policies 2005, 18.76% of Canada's population are foreigners.

On the other side of the same coin, I sometimes hear of fellow immigrants complaining of the increasing difficulty of immigrating to Canada, or the challenges faced when attempting to return to the equivalent of their previous professional levels in Canada. For sure, the challenges faced are not trivial. Nevertheless coming from Singapore where the impact of open-door immigration policy is felt, I do not share their wish for more open Canadian policies. I prefer a controlled immigration pace that pushes new immigrants to adapt to their adopted land and gives the locals time to embrace the trickle of diversity into their lives.


[Addendum on 16th Aug 2011]

The news of case 1 above has inspired a Facebook movement "Cook and Share a Pot of Curry!". Details of the event below is copied from the FB page.
  • Time: Sunday, August 21 · 11:00am - 11:30pm
  • Location: Everywhere in Singapore and in the World!
  • Information: "COOK and SHARE a Pot of Curry" - to celebrate Curries as part of our way of life - and to share this celebration with those who are new to our shores!
  • Currently: 63,214 52,867 49,443 Attending (including Singaporeans overseas), 8,394 6,606 6,052 Maybe Attending
Woah! I love this social network movement.

It even inspired "The Curry Song". Haha!

And Mr Brown Show's "Curry Curry Night". [Note: "Chou toufu" is "smelly bean curd".]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This is home, truly!

9th August 2011 is the first time that I spent Singapore National Day overseas. Near the date, I surfed the internet to catch up with news and updates from Singapore. [Aside: I would venture to guess that many overseas Singaporeans do the same too.]

A brief history of my migration process for those new to my blog: I first applied for migration back in Nov-2006. 2 years ago on Singapore National Day, I completed the forms for migration. 1 year ago on Singapore National Day, I counted down my final days at work at my previous unhealthy work environment. [Click here and here for more on my nursing experience in Singapore.]

While surfing the net for Singapore updates, I came across the following.

"RunThruSingapore" captures so many familiar sights all over Singapore that bring back fond memories of time spent with friends.

And then there is "Home", which, IMHO, is one of the best Singapore National Day songs written.

So there I was, humming and singing along with Kit Chan on Youtube, when suddenly it hit me... hard! The "this is home, truly" chorus while moving, rang hollow for me if "home" referred to Singapore. Perhaps I am still enjoying the "honeymoon" phase of adjusting to my adopted country. Or perhaps the loner1 in me is having a blast of a time. Perhaps, perhaps...

It came as a surprise to me. Just 2 months ago, I changed my lines while acting in a theatrical play because I kept saying "my home country" instead of "my country of origin" as per the original script, which is the Canadian norm. I thought then that it was a Freudian slip, and that Singapore was still "home" in my heart and mind.

What changed? Not much, and that is precisely the point. IMHO, Singapore remains rather stagnant where it matters, e.g. social justice. Despite the much touted watershed General Election on 7th May 2011, the dominant political party is still calling the shorts and trying to control every power base in Singapore. In fact, the 12th Parliament of Singapore has not held its first session since the May-2011 elections. Yet the dominant political party can still significantly impact the average Singaporean's life through its proxies, e.g. the Public Transport Council. [Addendum on 01-Sep-2011: Or through the People's Association admission that it is not a non-partisan organization despite being run on public funds.]

Recently, I have a middle/high school acquaintance (i.e. secondary school in Singapore terminology) who once again renewed her Green Card although she is already very much integrated into the USA society. When asked why she does not apply for USA citizenship, she cites the difficulty of letting go of the place one grew up in. I understand where she is coming from. Singapore still forms the bulk of my memories. In addition, I have to acknowledge that being born a Singapore citizen and growing up in Singapore has brought me many opportunities and advantages. Nevertheless, my pragmatic side -- groomed by years of Singapore culture -- is also showing me the (likely) potential problems ahead should I choose to return to Singapore. The same issues that set my resolve to emigrate.

Compare this with my Canadian life. With laws, policies and social norms that ensure liberty, good work conditions, affordable public transport, housing, health care, recreation and retirement. The pragmatic in me knows which side of my bread is buttered2.

So speaking as a Canadian Permanent Resident -- this is home, truly!


Note 1: To potentially worried friends reading this blog. Ok, ok, I still organize and/or attend social events from time to time.

Note 2: Btw, I am writing this on my 2 weeks of paid vacation. Yes, I get paid vacation despite being an adhoc, part-time employee in Canada. When will this ever happen for the Singapore labourers?

p.s. All this from me -- someone who used to share "my Singapore" with pride to my foreign colleagues and friends. Someone who, back in the early 1990's, defended the option for LHL to be promoted to PM based on meritocracy when my foreign colleagues ridiculed GCT's promotion to PM as a seat-warmer move. I guess a lot can change in one's thinking, even in adulthood.