Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thanksgiving, DTES & the future

Yesterday DD & I hosted Thanksgiving at his place. Coincidentally, DD's friends to our party (like DD) were all Canadian-born whereas my friends (like myself) were all immigrants. There was a period when the Canadians hung out with themselves at the couch, while the immigrants gathered around the dining table. Thankfully, with good food and alcohol, and some not-so-shy folks, the groups of friends mingled.

I was really tired out (and a little stressed by the large group of a dozen) at the end of the day. A little disappointed that I was too tired to enjoy couple-time with DD after the guests left. Still, I'm glad to have friends, some of whom I can count on in good times and bad.


Today while on a bus travelling along DTES (Vancouver Downtown East Side), I overheard this Cantonese conversation between 2 elderly folks who were at the bus-stop.

[Man having checked out the bus-schedule on the bus-stop/pole, walked over to join the woman sitting at the bus-stop.]

Woman [Squinting her eyes]: What's the next bus coming?

Man: [Bus-number]

Woman: Oh, maybe we should take this bus instead.

Man: [Indiscernible reply]

Both man and woman quickly joined the queue and boarded the bus that I was on.


Suddenly the above scene made me wonder about the numerous elderly Chinese who live alone in DTES (i.e. a poor-folks residential area). [Note: The Cantonese-speaking couple above may or may not be immigrants, given that Chinese do have a long history in Canada.] I wonder how many chose to immigrate to Canada of their own volition, and how many had expected that they would be aging alone in a foreign land. [Note: Being surrounded by one's family and close friends in one's golden years is a treasured ideal for the typical ethnic Chinese].

I reckoned that between me and the elderly couple is only a chronological difference of a few decades. Given how drastically my life had changed within a decade, I wonder what life will hold for me in my "golden" years. 10 years ago, if you had asked me to imagine living life in Canada and making a living as a nurse, I would have laughed my head off. Impossible! Yet, here I am. Throw in a few more decades, I believe my life can turn either way, or even go on a roundabout.

I guess, I can only wonder. After all, as the Chinese saying goes, “谋事在人,成事在天” [Literary "Planning lies with Mankind, but success depends on the Heavens", a.k.a. "Man proposes, God disposes"].


  1. "and how many had expected that they would be aging alone in a foreign land"

    This thought of aging alone in a foreign land actually creeps into my mind especially in my darkest moment.

    Here I am so alone and lonely but have been trying to extend network. I know I might age alone here without my friends and close family. This adds on to the idea of going back.

    It takes time to build network of friends but no close family or relative really make a difference.

    If I am selfish, I would return to singapore

  2. To add, I have discard the idea of migration 5 years back due to fear of cultural difference at work and no support. For the sake of my kids, I came and faced the job insecurity, restarting, and no support. Till now, I am uncertain of my choice and whether it will be best for my kids and myself.

    Who knows 5 years down the road, what will happen?

    1. Hi Space,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your heart-felt experience.

      > It takes time to build network of friends but no close family or relative really make a difference.

      Yes, I too have been blessed in life to be able to build a network of friends wherever I go. But "no close family or relative" rings true for me here in Canada too. I suspect that's why I sometimes hope I'll have children in Canada eventually, who will "ground" me here.

      One can never be certain of one's choices. So much of one's story -- how we interpret/evaluate our lives -- is what one picks and chooses to remember. As the song "The way we were" goes, "Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time re-written every single line?"

      I had more thoughts on this today, inspired by the falling autumn leaves. I shall blog about this soon.

      Cheers, WD.

    2. Here's my thoughts on migration/return today.

    3. I will return in December and this trip might reaffirm my decision. Dream breaker? I dunno. You are right. We are never too certain about our decisions. The stakes too high for this life experience.

    4. Hi Space,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and plans. I look forward to reading your thoughts/feelings on/about your return trip.

      Cheers, WD.

  3. Hi Space and Doll

    Well, thanks to the brave folks like yourselves giving the "Stranded Bird Caged" folks some insight into "life in the Unknown".

    The Push factor as we know it in Singapore is getting immense and yet very little or rather lip services have been done to address the issues.

    There are some Kiwis working in my office, and they told me this which is very startling

    "I am a citizen of both Aussie and Kiwi and yet all I wanted is a job which none of my countries could offer me"

    That's quite a hard truth coming from a learned Ang Mo.

    Ultimately, it bores down to the "hard truth" - Play with the system, or escape from the system to the unknown.

    Basically whilst we are still here in the "Bird Cage" we can only grumble on the crappy stuff we are "struggling" on.

    As a Parent of a young boy, I can only see him as a "slave" to the system, and subjected to many risks and potential life changing experience in about 10 years' time.

    Even with such risks being put through, there is utterly zero returns from it. Not to mention opportunity and time costs being siphoned by external vultures who scoop the good stuff, return back and come back for all greatness.

    With the recent so called getting young qualified people to work as hawkers and other so called jobs which do not require high qualifications, the System is giving itself a slap by still going with its stubborn ways of pushing young children to the brink.

    Whenever I see my boy's P1 school work, I also find it challenging. Not to mention a 7 year old kid.

    I have also personally heard of real hard truth stories about children breaking down whilst going through the regime. One is just glad that those children still live, but their confidence in life, and the damage is irreversible, be glad that the once high achiever is scoring a 10 /100 after being slapped with a 70k hospital bill.

    So we the "Bird Cage" people still live in an "illogical" dimension.

    I hope that I have given you guys enough motivation to continue your walk the tough there.

    It is not easy there, but we are "living in denial" here...

    1. Hi Anonymous on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 6:39:00 PM,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

      The push factors that you mention certainly ring a bell. E.g. While I was a student nurse on attachment at Institute of Mental Health (a.k.a. Woodbridge), I met an adult client who said that he was from an "elite" JC (a former academic high achiever) -- what a waste for I recognized from playing chess and chatting about A-levels subjects with him that he has a brilliant brain. E.g. I heard that even my nephew was stressed by the education system -- he is highly intelligent but is mildly dyslexic, evaluated by psychologist to have he logic/analytical development of a 12 year-old at age 7! I shudder to think of what the average kids experience, which is part of the reason why some years ago I intervened when a good friend got very stressed over her son's PSLE year.

      IMHO, there is one major contributing factor to the societal stress in Singapore, from which many other stress factors are derived. I commented about it on ASingaporeanSon's blog.

      To quote Aung San Suu Kyi about Singapore:
      “I want to learn a lot from the standards that Singapore has been able to achieve, but I wonder whether we don’t—I don’t—want something more for our country,” she said. “What is the purpose of the workforce? What is the purpose of work? What is the purpose of material wealth? Is that the ultimate aim of human beings? Is that what we all want?” She continued, “I want to probe more into the successes of Singapore and to find out what we can achieve beyond that.” from The New Yorker, 08-Oct-2013.

      As for the citizen of both Aussie and Kiwi, there are the unemployed/underemployed even in the developed countries that Singaporeans emigrate to. The question is, -- what's the attitude behind the government policies and societal norms with regards to folks in such predicament?

      Cheers, WD.

    2. Hi Doll

      Indeed, ultimately it is Maslow's hierarchy of needs which apply to all human beings.

      Sad to say many western countries are looking up to Singapore as the model which they want to adopt.

      I am sure that a lot of Canadians are not happy about the Govt policies there in recent years... one might be finding "things" are being changed to mimick the "economic miracle" of Singapore.

      There's nothing much we can do as whoever who does "Cheaper, Faster, Better" is the new motto for the "New World" - after all we are a global village nowadays.

      Sad to say, now more than ever, the common motivation and language is $.

      Just make sure that the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are taken care of.

      The problem is, Singapore's model for that model is eroding fast......

    3. Hi Anonymous on Thursday, October 24, 2013 6:07:00 PM,

      Thanks for your follow-up reply.

      > I am sure that a lot of Canadians are not happy about the Govt policies there in recent years...

      I live in Metro Vancouver, B.C. It is known to be the liberal shade of Canada. The current PM of Canada Stephen Harper was from Alberta (i.e. the pseudo-USA cowboy pro-right province). So yes, in Metro Vancouver, I met a lot of people unhappy with Harper's pro-biz, pro-right policy directions. That said, the balance of power -- press freedom, independent media, independent judiciary, strong labour unions, consumer rights groups, strong civic movement, freedom of information act, etc -- makes it difficult for Harper to move too much away from Canada's historic centralist position.

      E.g. As it is, Harper's government was investigated/attacked on various fronts for misuse/abuse of government officials' claims/allowances and various pet projects (including a very expensive military jets purchase from USA that was cancelled).

      E.g. When RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) was exposed to replace older experienced Canadian call-centre staff by making them (Canadians) train foreign workers (from India) to replace them, the immigration ministry was forced to review and tighten laws regarding work visas.

      E.g. In response to the changing global and Canadian economy, in July-2012, the Canadian government closed 2 popular immigration visas (Skilled Workers and Investment class) and upset many previous applicants by cancelling their existing applications that took too long to complete the process.

      E.g. Mid-2012, Canada replaced the previous PR sponsorship for elderly parents with "Super Visa" instead (i.e. not PR and therefore does not enjoy resident benefits), leading to accusations of racism (notably by some members of the PRC community).

      Guess what? The then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney (part of Harper's Conservative political party), bit the bullet and took the heat for the numerous overseas applicants' complaints but stood by the need to control immigration for Canada's sustainability.

      So on the surface, yeah, both Singapore and Canada are subject to pressures from the changing global economy. How each country deals with it, on the other hand, differs. E.g. Does 6.9 million sound familiar to you?

      More importantly, how the supposed "educated elites" deal with differences in political opinions in Singapore is really shameful in contrast to the robust political discussions even amongst strangers in a bus here in Vancouver.

      > Just make sure that the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are taken care of.

      I'm glad there are global leaders from other countries who do not agree with that alone. E.g. Aung San Suu Kyi. And clearly there are other Asian countries with leaders who believed in more holistic development of their countries. E.g. South Korea, Taiwan. E.g. Even Hong Kong (while under China) has moved to protect its workforce with minimum wage declaration and its residents with an official poverty line declaration.

      Cheers, WD.

  4. Wow!!! Thanks for the refreshing perspective! It's such an eye opener for the birds in the Cages here.... :D

    1. Hi Anonymous on Sunday, October 27, 2013 5:49:00 PM:

      You're welcome. I hope more "birds in cages" will check out alternative sources of information to discern the global reality for themselves. However, I am pessimistic in that (IMHO) too many will just rely on the fallacy that "if a minister says so and it is published in the news, then it must be true". Birds (sheep) like that will not believe that the are alternate realities.

      Cheers, WD.