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.