Thursday, October 04, 2012

2 years in Canada - Exhaustipated

Today is my 2nd anniversary of landing in Canada.

Today marks a decision point -- for today, I meet the requirements to renew my Canada PR (i.e. reside in Canada 2 years out of every 5 consecutive years). From the looks of it, I am staying. 

Within the timeframe of 2 years, I have "Canadianized" in some ways. E.g. I check the weather before going out. E.g. I learned how to queue at the bus-stops. E.g. From defining travel time beyond 30mins as far, to accepting travel time of under 1 hour as reasonable.  E.g. From finding the "harm reduction" philosophy of public health spending a waste of money to accepting that the empirical outcomes prove otherwise. E.g. From not knowing what to make of acquaintances'/friends' offer to try their "pot", to understanding it as their gesture of trust and goodwill. E.g. From finding it weird to meet people with mental health issues in public, to considering it their right to co-exist so long as they are not a threat to themselves or others. E.g. From finding the relatively empty sidewalks of Richmond strange (i.e. no one walking in-front-of or behind me) to finding the busy sidewalks of Seattle* strange. [*Note: I visited Seattle last weekend and I was suddenly reminded of Singapore. It struck me that I do not miss the hustle and bustle of a big city.]

I have changed, but IMHO Singapore's socioeconomic and political scene has remained pretty much the same during these past 2 years. A case of 换汤不换药 ["changing the soup, but not the drugs in the decoction", i.e. "making at superficial changes only".] When I read online of Singapore's recent political "dances" and wayang, e.g. the National CONversation, I can only shake my head and tell myself that I am lucky -- I have a choice to remain here in Canada.

Going forward, I will probably not write much about the things happening back in Singapore. Many other online sources and bloggers have written eloquently on such matters. For example:
2 years. A lot can change within 2 years if the person involved chooses to open his/her eyes. E.g. Watch Tin Pei Ling at 0:55 and 2:30 in the video clip below dated Apr-2011. Back then she was also quoted as saying, “Many people are complaining and blaming the government for this problem. But is this really the responsibility of the government? I don’t think so.”

Check out Tin Pei Ling's Facebook. It seems that she realizes now that there are many people struggling to make ends meet, and the government is responsible after all. She even wrote in June-2012, 

One cannot help but wonder what did TPL see, hear and experience to induce her change of heart? Perhaps the same transformational experience can be repeated for her colleagues, especially her boss.

A matter of will --
highway cutting through mountain from BC to Alberta

To quote Lucky Tan, "All ideas are there - it is a question of political will!"

Oh! As for the title of this post, I saw it from an acquaintance's Facebook posting. "Exhaustipated" means "too tired to give a shit!"

For me, the train has already left the station.


[Addendum on 07-Oct-2012]


  1. Congratulations for the 2 years anniversary. Yes. I have no doubt you will extend your stay in Canada. If not go where? Come Perth join me? Nah. I don't think you will.

    I read Tin Tin's notes of her conversation with employers with interests. Unfortunately, I don't think many of our local SME employers know what they are talking about. Yes, they are successful in the Singapore definition. They earn big bucks, more than any common Singaporeans will ever dream of. That doesn't make them good employers and they are part of the problem of our reliance on cheap labour.

    I've seen so many instance in the construction industry where bosses simply 'pump' manpower to solve problems. Tight deadlines? No problem. Put 50 men on the roof to erect structures overnight. No skill? No problem. Even get them to carry steel I-beams also better than nothing.

    Bosses in the industry know their stuff well. They talk really well too. Ask them to demonstrate how to put in a single piece of screw through a piece of wood, they'll soak their nearly pressed shirt and spin the screw into the nearby scupper drain. Yet, when they tell their men to screw 3 more, no 5 more screws into the steel bar, the more the merrier, they do it without flinching.

    I've worked in both countries. My company currently ran on 2 workers and myself in the production line. The boss know the ground enough to demonstrate how to use every single equipment in the company, including computer software. He designed and developed some computer macros himself as well. If he had to, he'd would up his sleeves and construct steel racks with me or repair damage racks.

    We learnt and replicated him as problem solvers so that the company runs well when he isn't around, which is a regularity. Basically, we were trained to be experts to run our operations and creative with limited resources. In time, our value as a worker increases exponentially.

    I've been observing a construction process of a petrol kiosk which I drive pass at least thrice everyday. My first thoughts are their onsite workers are so few and their office hours are so short. They often knock off 1-2 hours before I do. But work progress has been surprisingly good. That is because somehow they managed to "do it right the first time". In my years of working in the construction industry in Singapore. This phrase is legendary - because you only hear that in story books and no one has ever experienced that before. I had been put in charged of the 'defects team' for countless times through the projects that my company did. The best part is that, I would be meeting the 'defects leaders' of other companies participating in the same project as well.

    Instead of training up a competitive workforce of experts, these employers are whining about the government taking away their rights to hire cheaper and cheaper labour. The government has been wrapping employers in cotton wool for too long. If you ask me the standards of our employers are hideously low. Yes - a country needs quality employers as well. Who ever thought of that?

    1. WD,

      Apologies for using your blog to correct certain perceptions of asingaporeanson and he should know who I am.

      Are there bad employees? Of course. Are there bad employers? Without a doubt. I make no apologies for those that asingporeanson has come across. But who can change these practices? Who ultimately can be the game changer?

      Contractors bid for MRT projects that takes years to complete, between 3 to 5 years. Levies for foreign workers increases after they secure the projects. Hostel cost for the workers increase as well not to mention a whole lot of other new expenses, previously not required. You absorb those cost yourself because there is no adjustment of cost after you sign the contract.

      You try to bid for projects at a price you think is reasonable but as is usually the case, there are many others who are cheaper than you. You go through the same process another 2 to 3 times and don't secure any project. What do you do ? You begin to question your own self--worth, competency and ability to survive if you cannot secure any project. Then you start thinking what you would need to do to secure projects and to survive. Play by the rules of the game. Quote cheaper than your competitors to secure any project to be in the game. It is a catch-22 situation.

      Not happy with the rules? Get out of the business. This is the dilemma of many of us in the business.

      Can we change the rules of the game? That is up to the one setting the rules whom 60.1% believes is doing a good job. But one consequence would be that contractors prices has to go up and somebody else profits will be squeezed. It would be wishful thinking to assume that this will not be passed on to the consumer.

      An interesting discussion I had with my friends came about when someone suggested that they are beginning to listen to the ground. Someone said yes they may listen and empathise and may even surprise us by changing the rules. But there is still the tiers below who implement the rules. Will they, the civil service, be willing to adapt to the new rules ?

    2. SME owner:

      There are always 3 sides of a coin. I cannot disagree that tendering and securing projects are very difficult in Singapore. Let's not even go into the dark side of this area. I'll like to point out that despite the difficulties of securing tenders, there is a very unhealthy culture of sub-contracting parts of the projects.

      I am not talking to sub contracting as a problem. I think it is necessary and absolutely fine. But we are talking about sub-contracting down to 3 or even 4 tiers or more. I'm sure it isn't new to you to see workers of the sub-sub-sub-sub contractor doing the actual work on site.

      Why is this happening and what is it telling us?

      1) There are enough profit margin for each tender to allow this to happen.

      2) There are too many unqualified companies hogging contracts. They ended up being administrators of the project.

      3) That is unproductive and there are so much wastage in between tiers that yes, has been passed on to the consumers in the end.

      This could happen because of the cheap labour market. Some SME bosses could be handed projects on good terms. Exactly what I described. No technical knowledge. Just a 'pump men-collect money' approach. Even the supervisor is a foreigner, probably on S-pass and a much lower wage earner than the locals. Meanwhile the bosses between these tiers drink coffee with each other to settle disputes (usually happen because of the low quality defective works) and collect money. Not really a model I can agree is good for Singapore in the long run.

      If business owners do not innovate and continue to rely on cheap labour, where will Singapore end up? What happens when PRCs and Bangadeshis are too expensive to hire? I already hear so many PRCs telling me they are wondering if it is worth coming to Singapore because wages in China has been increasing over the years. That's from the ground. Do we hire Somalians when they refuse to work for Singapore anymore?

      I'm not boss material. So I have to admit I do not have any good suggestion to break this deadlock. But someone has to do it. I am talking about doing business in a way no one has been doing in the market so far. For instance, Dell computers 'took away the middle men' and became big from nothingness because they try doing it a way no one else has done it before.

    3. Hi ASingaporeanSon and SME Owner,

      You are both right. The issue of dependence on foreign labour in Singapore is complex as a result of protracted inaction from the PAP government.

      There are bad employees as well as bad employers. There are also good employees and good employers. The main issue for business survival in Singapore is that of land cost which drives up rental costs. Thus the business owner has to cut costs from somewhere else to make the profit. Without effective unions, labour is the most vulnerable resource to slash. As a result, the real cost of doing business is externalized to the employees and the community. This happens, not only in Singapore, but also in China and USA.

      "Doing business in a way no one has been doing in the market so far" is easier said than done in Singapore. Remember the fellow who sold take-away breakfast from his van legally parked at Somerset years ago. The moment his business strategy was made known to the authorities, they swooped down with newly generated rules making his business model unviable. This is the other aspect that makes entrepreneurship a nightmare in Singapore.

      IMHO, the PAP government is regulating where their interference is unwanted, and not taking required actions ("supposedly regulating", but de-facto still keeping the foreign floodgates wide-open) where their swift decisive action is required. Frankly, I don't know how long this "business as usual" model can last in Singapore. Even chickens cooped in crowded, stacked cages develop depression and various illnesses. What more humans -- 6millions projected -- squeezed onto a small 700 sq km island.

    4. I agree totally with your final 2 paragraphs. But do note that everything is easier said than done, that includes eating.

      Having said that, you were right to state that the government is not helping to make entrepreneurship any easier. But I expect more from our resourceful businessmen to simply yield to government measures.

    5. WD,

      Apologies for taking up more bandwidth.

      Asingporeanson, some points for thought :

      The fundamental problem as I see it, is the criteria of low cost alone in the awarding the contracts even if they deny it vehemently. The trouble is that the people in charge do not want to bother justifying why the lowest bid was not selected in the first place and I have first hand information from friends.

      Guanxi exist in all sectors and let’s face it, it is even more common among Chinese. So good luck trying to change an ingrained practice. Who knows better than us Chinese.

      For your suggestion to work, you would need more qualified people to go into the industry to challenge the unqualified ones. Old ones like us are surviving and are frankly, jaded with the industry. We are the minority and are overwhelmed by the sheer number of unqualified ones, who have less to lose compared to us qualified ones. If we make a mistake, we have no excuse for we are qualified. They make mistakes, people will just say they are not qualified and will be more forgiving.

      The 3 to 4 tier sub-contracting is spreading risk and financing. In my line, for a $2mil project, we typically need up to 100 workers due to the fast nature of the project, which may take just 10 weeks to complete. Most sub-contractors have up to about 50 workers in our line but they cannot commit all their workers for our project. So they leverage on their sub-sub-contractors for workers.

      On securing the contract, before even doing anything, we have to put up 10% Performance Bond by way of a Bank Guarantee. Spend money on preliminaries, which can also run up between 5 to 10% of contract value. Order material, which can be another 40 to 50% of contract value and some will have to be COD and others, strictly 30 days terms. Finish 50% of the project within 4 weeks but need certification by QS before we can make any claims, which would typically be another at least 60 days, if we are lucky. QS will normally certify 40% even though 50% is completed. When we make the first claim, we have to deduct 10% of the value claimed for retention. By the time we finished the project 10 weeks, we have still to collect a single cent for the project and out of pocket about 70% of the project cost. We can hold some payment from the sub-contractors but will still have to pay up to 50% of the labour cost. If you don’t have cash reserves, forget about being a contractor.
      This is the actual sequence of a project I did 2 years ago. Thankfully, I don’t have to go through it anymore next year.

      Fundamentally, qualified people are more risk averse. They calculate every risk they can think of. Unqualified people have less to lose if they fail and it may be their only way to do better than the qualified people if they succeed. So for qualified people to be successful and innovative, they first have to overcome this risk aversion and take the first step into business.

      WD, thank you for your indulgence.

      SME Owner (not for long)

    6. Hi soon to be ex-SME-Owner,

      Congrads on getting out of that grind soon.

      > The trouble is that the people in charge do not want to bother justifying why the lowest bid was not selected in the first place and I have first hand information from friends.

      I agree with your perception. I was in government service for a very short period many years ago. Part of the problem that I saw then was that the people evaluating projects did not have adequate skills, knowledge or industrial experience to put up a convincing argument why they would pick the not-so-cheap vendor over the cheapest. "Why rock the boat and make life difficult for oneself?" seems to be the implicit attitude prevalent amongst the civil service. Do you know how many layers of approval is needed for a tiny little expense? Good grief! I shudder to think that my HOD actually thought that we could move at private sector speed (where I came from) with all that bureaucracy bogging us down. I left ASAP.

      > If you don’t have cash reserves, forget about being a contractor.

      That is true, especially of the government sector where their only sense of control over a project is "don't pay!" I am sorry, I speak from experience -- and I am not saying that it is right, just saying that it is how things work in the public sector. Public sector is different from private sector.

      In PRIVATE sector, you can openly say, "ok, if you do a good job for this project and make sure you service it well, I will put in a good word for your company's reputation in the next project evaluation." We can even bargain with the preferred vendors for lower cost AFTER reviewing all the bids. It is called getting the best deal for your company, nothing illegal. But in the public sector, those actions are a big NO-NO!

      That said, you cannot be a contractor to the private sector either if one does not have cash flow. I think this applies across all industries, i.e. not just the construction industry specifically. The difference is perhaps the size of the initial investment needed and the ability of the customer to withhold payment legally. Once again, I am speaking from experience (in software consultancy) of chasing my private sector clients for payment, even after I have already paid my sub-contractors.

      Once again congrads on getting out of the grind. After observing how some relatives worked in the construction industry in Singapore, I often wondered why anyone would want to embark on taking government construction projects given the risks and costs involved. Is it because the Singapore government has (inadvertently) crowded out private construction developments on the island?

      Cheers, WD.

    7. Sorry to be late to this exchange of views. But I feel a need to correct some mis-impressions of the civil service.

      I was in the civil service for about 14 years. I've seen the successive 'waves' of new thinking and exercises.

      First, to SME Owner, it's not true that the lowest quote always gets the job. Those that told you that are both lazy and unthinking. Even without contravening the rules/regulations, I have on lots of occasions award tenders/quotations to the second/third lowest. Provided they meet the requirements and offer a reasonable (although not low) prices.

      2nd, there is actually no stopping any govt officer from calling the contractor for a meeting or evaluating the contractor's premises themselves. Most are simply not bothered.

      3rd, if you are not getting paid on-time, the civil service person in-charge is just lazy/can't be bothered to chase up the payment for you.
      Also, it's possible to negotiate for progress payments according to milestones completed. I did it all the time.

      The biggest problems the current govt procurement process is this:

      There is no way to capture quality/reputation of the contractor doing the job. When a job is completed, there isn't even a performance evaluation form to grade the contractor.
      The procurement process treats every single contract as a fresh new relationship to be entered into. That means, like WD said, a lot depends on the person doing the evaluation. They have to somehow pick out the fly-by-night contractors.
      So, the last 'wave' when I was in the service was the 'cut-waste from govt' exercise. So govt officers down the line unthinkingly just chose the lowest quote. Like George Yeo said: "Just go with the flow."
      Translated into contractor work, that means almost all contractors were one-man ($2) company incorporated in Singapore with the owner living in Malaysia. Just bid for one job cheaply, get the $$. Go back to Malaysia and double the reward. Since the govt doesn't check quality, there's no risk if they do a bad job.

    8. Hi Anonymous at Thursday, October 18, 2012 4:55:00 PM,

      Thanks for visiting and contributing your 2 cents from your experience. As the saying goes, "Better late than never!"

      Cheers, WD.

  2. Dear Winking Doll,

    Congrats on feeling really naturalised into Canada!

    In a change of situation for me here, taking about an hour to get to work, as well as back from work, has already and will become normal soon.
    This is via public bus and subway train (MRT), 4 weekdays and 1 weekend weekly, including public and school holidays.

    1. Hi Alan,

      Thanks for visiting and your comment.

      > Congrats on feeling really naturalised into Canada!

      Actually, I am still a work-in-progress. Someone once told me that it takes 5 years to become "naturalized".

      Sorry to hear about the state of public transport on the little red dot. I read from various online sources that it is mainly a capacity issue.

      Just to share that even in Metro Vancouver, the public transport during peak hours is so crowded that one may have to wait for the next train/bus to get on. This is true even of the newly constructed Canada Line, which was built to cater for the 2010 Winter Olympics crowd. That said, the next train/bus does arrive quickly during peak hours. Fortunately for me, I usually travel outside of peak hours and thus the experience of travel on public transport is different.

      Cheers, WD.

  3. Thks for the mention. Pls contd to read our local blogs even though you don't live in Sg anymore. According to another Sg Canadian uncle Wing, one day if Sg is in trouble, we may have to depend on ppl like who are despised by our rulers giving them the "quitters!" title. When I was a small boy, I remember those days when China was having disasters or social upheavels like the cultural revolution, all those China born loving in Sg rally around to collect donations of money and food to remit back to China! I don't expect those PRs or new citizens to help. They came for purely economic reason and they perish at first signs of trouble in Sg. Chinese saying " Don't remove the bridge after you cross the river!" Cuz we need each other. We will never know for sure.
    PS: My bro and his family went to Vancouver earlier. It's 3 yrs already.

    1. Hi Gintai,

      Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment.

      For sure I will continue to read about Singapore, especially from the abundant online sources. I don't know about coming to Singapore's rescue should it be in trouble -- afterall, I am just a nobody, a commoner, a heartlander compelled (by sociopolitical and economic circumstances) to leave Singapore to build a decent life and resilient retirement for myself on foreign land. In fact, some Singaporean friends holding opposing political view consider me a noise-maker at best, a traitor at worst.

      I have met uncle Wing. We keep in contact from time to time. He has fire in his belly, metaphorically speaking. I think both of you are closer in age and mindset. I belong to the Generation X, a.k.a. the individualistic generation that values work/life balance, works to live and displays a casual disdain for authority.

      Congrads to your bro and his family for hitting the 3 years milestone. That is when one can decide if one wishes to hold on to the Singapore passport or apply for a Canadian one.

      Cheers, WD.

  4. Do not be stupid Miss Nurse. You see it very simple, good advice is like medicine, it can nourish and heal. Bad advice however is like poison, it can only bring grief.

    Burn the bridge and never ever look back. Never. That way you know there is only one way left for you go. Forward. Believe that there is a bridge. Even a rickety one and you will never ever complete your journey. As you will always believe you can return.

    As for home, it is where your feet takes you. This is what I tell all my friends and business associates who are currently working abroad. And trust me I happen to know more of them then even Teo ser luck and Sim Ann combined together.

    Darkness 2012

  5. Do not be stupid Miss Nurse. Let me come to the point directly. Good advice is like medicine, it can nourish and heal. Bad advice however is like poison. It can only harm.

    If you want to do something do it properly. That simply means you have to be woman enough to burn the bloody fucking bridge. Yes walk through it. Burn it. And never ever look back.

    You see Miss Nurse, that is really the only way for you make progress. As if there is even 1% of a bridge left somewhere in your head. Then you will always believe you can return back. And that simply means you would not give your all.

    This is good advise. This is the same advice that I give to all my friends, colleagues and business colleagues that now turn the wheel of life outside Singapore.

    And trust me I happen to have alot of friends more than even Teo Ser Luck and Sim Ann combined together if they happen to have nine life times combined together.

    Burn the bridge!

    One day you will thank me by cooking me something nutritious and nice with your crock pot.

    Yes? Good

    Darkness 2012

    1. Hi Darkness,

      Thanks for visiting and your comment.

      Interesting that you should suggest burning the bridge. 2 years ago in Canada, I met a former businessman from Singapore who said the same thing. He was disappointed that I did not seem ready to "burn the bridge". Well, I guess it takes time to let go.

      Haha, let's see when you visit Metro Vancouver. I think food brings people together and it is a good way to make new friends. That's why I look forward to getting a "real" job, buying my own home and inviting friends over for good food and company. Guess that will be a few years' time.

      Thanks again for visiting and your comments.

      Cheers, WD.

    2. I think bridge burning is just one more-extreme option.
      I believe I do abandonment and obscurity.

      That's when you no longer use that back-bridge much, back to that tiny kampung, and eventually you stop returning there.
      After a while, the world beyond tiny-kampung is so much more diversely interesting, and the kampung fades into a cherished little corner of your past memories.

      Without you having to commit arson on it.

      In time the unmaintained little bridge will decay and collapse.
      A long time later, some obscure archaeologists might visit the abandoned ghost-kampung to do some research and publish some little-read academic paper.


    3. Hi Alan, Thanks for the nice analogy! :) WD.

  6. Hi WD, i lived in Canada for 3 years, n somehow for me growing older made me realise SG will always be home to me, Vancouver is beautiful, Victoria island is like going to UK but only in N.America. Portland is jus an hours drive south, Edmonton, 12 hours east. Enjoy it, soak in all the flavors, all but memories for me now.
    I dont know about burnings bridges, cause you never know if one day you may need to cross thm again, but to each his/her own.

    1. Hi Anonymous on Friday, October 19, 2012 10:48:00 AM,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your experience.

      I am currently taking each day as it comes and not worrying too much about what/where "home" is. I have been fortunate enough to meet wonderful people here who are now close, caring and reliable friends. However, I still don't have a "family" in the traditional sense of the word here in Canada. For now, my Canadian family consists of my close friends. :) In addition, for me, owning (i.e. fully paid-up) the roof over my head is an important component of "home". As it stand, it will take years before I achieve it (assuming that all goes well with my plans). So it is one step at a time for me.

      Btw, congradulations on your 3 year milestone here. I guess you have adjusted well into the Canadian society since you're still here and are able to appreciate the beauty of Canada. Thanks again for sharing your experience and opinion. I hope you will continue to visit and share your feedback.

      Cheers, WD.

  7. HI Winking Doll, thanks for all your references to my blog. And congrats on living the good life in Canada.So much to do and so much fresh air and nature there:) All the best with your new life there. cheers, JentrifiedC

  8. Hi Winking Doll, not sure what happened to my previous post on your blog. But here it is again. Thanks for all your kind references to my blog. And congrats on living the good life in Canada. It's a beautiful country. stay well and keep writing! cheers, JentrifiedC

  9. Hi Jentrified Citizen,

    You're welcome. I enjoy reading your posts. Sorry about your comment, I moderate comments to "old" posts so that it is flagged for me to respond to them.

    I am not sure if I am "living the good life" in Canada since I have not resumed my previous career here as yet. Nevertheless, it beats worrying about saving/making enough for the ever rising healthcare and retirement cost-of-living in Singapore.

    Thanks for your encouragement. Have been slacking recently because I am at the end of my nursing re-entry training here and busy with transitioning into "work mode". Will return to blogging once I jump the final "hoops" at school.

    Cheers, WD.