Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Farewell Singapore

To  bid farewell is always never easy.  This is especially so when it is bidding farewell to your home country Singapore.  Love her or hate her, the fact remains that Singapore has been my home for so many years and she has given me the opportunities to become who I am today.

Life is never static.  No matter how good or how bad yesterdays were, we still need to make choices today for a better tomorrow.   My family has decided that we have enough of the rat race in Singapore and so we are moving to a new land where we believe it will be better for our family life .and our children's future.      And so, it's time for me to say goodbye to Singapore and the friends & relatives that I am leaving behind.

To all my friends who have in one way or another influenced my life, inspired my thoughts, shared my joys & sorrows....I thank you for being part of my life experiences.   While many friendships were lost along the life journey as we seek different routes in life moving from primary to secondary school, college, army, university & working life, the precious memories will always be in my mind.  For those who remain in contact & have given me farewell lunches & dinners, thank you for your the kind thoughts & well wishes.  Hopefully we can remain connected via technology and meet up again some day.

To my siblings and in-laws who have been a pillar of support and a fountain of overflowing joy & love, I thank God for putting you all in my life.  Unlike friendship where we can have a choice to make, we cannot choose who we want to be our brother or sister or for that matter, our in-laws as they come in a package!  Yet God has given me amazing sisters & in-laws who have shown much love & concerns for me & my family.  I cannot ask for more.  The beautiful & precious memories of family gatherings, Christmas celebrations, Chinese New Year celebrations....etc will always ingrain deep in my mind.  I look forward to be able to host you all in my new home in beautiful Canada and re-visit those special moments of family gatherings & celebrations.

To my late parents who are in the best place in heaven, I thank God for the life & memories that you had given me.  Some experiences were painful and difficult, but I do not doubt now that they happened only because you were also struggling to grapple with your own difficulties.  As a father myself now, I begin to understand how much you loved the family.  My only regret is that both of you are not around to share and experience with me this new chapter of my life.  As I stood in front of your niche with your grand daughter recently to bid farewell, I know you are both at peace.  We will always missed you both where ever we are.

To my country Singapore, I am grateful for the many opportunities to learn, grow and build my career.  I have achieved much and experienced the high life that many would envy.  But my perspective in life has changed.  While you continue to re-invent yourself to be the best in the world, I have found this pursuit quite meaningless.  Now, I do not measure my success in term of economic value and achievements.  I am contented to live a simple life and my priority is having quality time with my family and giving my children a better future.  I wish you will continue to grow & prosper and benefit every Singaporean.  I look forward to visit you one day.

So, quietly I left my country of birth with a few close family members sending me off at the airport.  While it was sad to end this chapter of my life with the departure from my beloved country, it also signaled the beginning of an exciting new chapter of my life in beautiful Canada.

So farewell Singapore....till we meet again!



Thursday, 10 November 2011

Stranger in your own country

I have been warned by well wishers & net-citizens that the Singapore government does not take kindly to its people migrating.  My family and I may be ostracized and may even not be allowed to return to Singapore if we decide to migrate.  People who have migrated are sometime called "traitor", "quitter" etc.

I find this view difficult to believe or accept.  While the government is not known for its compassion and sacrificial love for its people, it has certainly not gone to the extend of victimizing its people.  While the government may be overly pragmatic, it is certainly not malicious in its dealing with the people.

To me, the decision to migrate is like a son having grown up, decided to move out of the family to explore his own dream and a lifestyle that best suit him.  It is not an issue of who is right or who is wrong.  The child is not a traitor nor a quitter in the family.   Perhaps, he may return someday and decide that this is home. He may also not return as he has found a new place call home.  But I am sure he will not forget his roots.  He will still want to reconnect, to relive the memories, to treasure his roots.... because he is never a stranger in the family.....

I have been a good citizen of Singapore.  I paid all my taxes for more than 2 decades of my working life.  I faithfully served the army (National Service) full time for two & a half years and continued as a reservist over a 13-years cycle.  I did not find excuses to avoid in-camp trainings, even to the extend of affecting my work prospects.   Unlike some people who were contented to "go through the motion" in the army just to fulfill their national service liability, I trained hard to become an officer and maximized my contributions to the security and defence of the country.

Even as I prepare to relocate, I make sure that I can be contacted by Inland Revenue in order to pay my tax promptly.  I have obtained an exit permit for my son.  I am also making arrangement with the Ministry of Defence to put up a bond for my son's exit permit.  I have kept my obligations to my country.

For years, Singapore has welcomed strangers to our land with open arms.  Many of these highly qualified immigrants have excelled in our schools and work places.  While they have contributed to our economic growth, they have also displaced and replaced many of our less talented Singaporeans.  As seen from the last general election, they have caused some disquiet among the locals due to differences in culture, lifestyle, habits ...etc

If Singapore is willing to welcome these strangers with open arms, why would she treat her sons & daughters as strangers, even though they may have taken the step to relocate overseas?  Will we treat our own children as strangers when they grow up and decide to leave the family to start their own in a new place?  Will we not welcome our prodigal son with open arms when he decides to return one day?

Singapore is my birth place.  She will always have a special place in my heart no matter how much it has transformed over the last 4 decades.  I may not like her present form and the pressure & demands that she has of her people, she is still my country of birth.  She has nurtured me, given me many opportunities and provided me with all the material gains that I have achieved over the years.  I have wonderful memories of this country.  I will always be proud of her no matter what her destiny will be in future.  I may not know if she will still be my home or my children's home in future, I know I will speak of her with pride. 

The decision to leave this country is a difficult one.  But I have already decided on this major crossroad of my life.  I am assured that this is right for me and my family.  I have no plan to return, whether I will be welcomed back or not.  But if I do return one day, I wish I will not be a stranger in my own country......

Friday, 4 November 2011

Will I miss Singapore?

As I make my final countdown to D-day when I will leave Singapore for good, the nostalgic feeling started to creep in.  After all, Singapore is my birth place and I have lived here for almost 5 decades.  I have explored almost every corner of this small island.  I was a scout during my school days and had hiked and camped  around the country.  During my army days, I had trained in remote parts of Singapore, some of which were not open to public. After I came out to work, I was in marketing jobs and had visited clients in industrial estates and posh offices all over Singapore.

I have witnessed the miraculous transformation of Singapore from a messy dirty backward country to a beautiful cosmopolitan garden city.

I grew up in the countryside where our toilet was only a shed with a hole & 2 wooden planks for squatting.  There was no flushing system and the shits just piled up.  We could literally see germs crawling all over the shits and there was certainly no way to avoid the stench unless we were prepared to be suffocated.   My family reared chickens & pigs for living.  Even as young kids, we had to help our parents to feed the chickens, collect the eggs, dispose chicken drops.   We did not have air-condition but were fortunate to have a black & white TV.  Telephone was a luxury.  I could still remember vividly the first time I used a the phone when I was a young boy.  I was so excited and when the line got through, I asked proudly to speak to "Ah Chay (meaning father in hokkien).  My cousin laughed & made fun of me for expecting the person on the other line to know who my Ah Chay was.  I was basically a country bumpkin.

While I did not have the luxury of modern day technologies, I led a spartan but carefree life.   I did not have to worry too much about school works except during exams.  I had so much fun climbing trees, plucking rambutans, picking durians, catching fishes and spiders, kicking football, playing in the rain with paper boats.....etc.  My toys were things like marbles, discarded boxes, matchboxes...etc

Over the last 3-4 decades, Singapore has completely transformed. My children now do not even have the opportunity to see a rambutan tree, a durian tree or even a rubber tree, not to mention to climb a tree.  They would probably not even dare to touch a chicken, not to mention slaughtering one which I am proud to have done as a child.   Their toys are computers and their hobbies are computer games.  They are under tremendous pressure to perform academically.  While they have excelled academically having obtained excellent national examination results and successfully entered one of the top secondary schools in Singapore, I am not sure if that is all that matters in their growing up years.  Somehow I feel that they may have missed a part of their precious childhood life that I had the privilege to go through.

While Singapore is now transformed into a beautiful island state, somehow the feeling is that these are all so artificial.  It is like a facade.   Life seems to revolve round physical and material things.  Perhaps the small island and a growing immigrant population make the place even more congested and stiffing.   The work demand, in the name of excellence and world class standard, is like a pressure cooker without an outlet.  Nobody knows when it will explode.  There is really no time to care, to love or to smell the roses.  Although there is time for coffee, but it is only to help to stimulate the weary mind and get it to over work again.  This is perhaps what progress is all about.

So, I do not think I will miss Singapore, at least not in the short term.  I am escaping and taking a long deserved break with my spouse.  We are looking forward to walk hand-in-hand and enjoy our first autumn in the midst of beautiful falling golden autumn leaves. I hope my children will rediscover a part of their missed childhood.

But I am mindful that one day, we may just want to go back to our roots.........I am certainly not cutting it off.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Migration : Is the grass greener at the other side of the fence?

During a recent forum, Singapore's founding father & ex-PM Lee Kuan Yew shared that Singapore required 60,000 immigrants to replace our aging population.  Our little red dot Singapore can probably absorb only 20,000 to 25,000.  What was not said is that many thousands more PR applicants were unsuccessful.

Why are there such overwhelming number of people interested to migrate to Singapore? As a cosmopolitan city state with world class infrastructures, strong economy, healthy employment rate, low crime rate, top education system...etc, many will probably consider this is the land of milk & honey.

Yet, each year, thousands of Singaporeans choose to walk away from the land milk & honey.  By year end, I will be added to this seldom reported statistic.

So, is this a case of grass is always greener at the other side of the fence?

I am fully aware of the challenges that I will have to grapple with in the new land.  I will need to start all over again in re-establishing a new social network, rebuilding my career, adjusting to varied & extreme weather...etc.

Perhaps this is the price I am willing to pay to achieve the freedom to experience life in a different way, to achieve self actualization, to grow & bond with my family in more wholesome environment ...etc.

Singapore has given me a solid foundation and provided me the opportunity to achieve all the physical and material well being.  In many ways, I have almost reached the peak of my corporate ladder.  I have experienced the high life, eaten the best foods in top restaurants, flown in the 1st class airline, traveled across the Asian regions & been to places where normal tourist will have no access, stayed in the 6 stars hotels, rubbed shoulder with high-profile executives, CFOs & CEOs...etc

But Singapore cannot give me the space to have quiet enjoyment,  the freedom to express and make mistakes, the time to grow spiritually, mentally, socially...etc..  The feeling is almost stifling as each day is slotted away chasing  after the never ending deadlines.  The strive for excellence is always never enough.   There is constantly a need to put up different masks because the system and environment are unforgiving.    We are perpetually on our toes and somehow we seem to lose our humanity......

Will my new home give me what I cannot find in Singapore?  I am mindful of the horror stories of immigrants that did not make it in their new country.  Even for the many immigrants that made it to the land of milk & honey, many are still struggling to be accepted, to make a decent living, to keep pace with excellence....

The important point is not whether the grass is greener at the other side of the fence, but whether we are prepared to water our grass at whichever side of the fence we are standing.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Staring at the biggest crossroad of my life

As I stare at the biggest crossroad of my life, I know the time has come for me to make my move.

After building my banking career for over 20 years and moving up the corporate ladder to be part of the senior management team, I will be calling quits and moving to a new country with my family.

Family members and close friends were shocked at my decision.  I have a successful, well paying and stable banking career in cosmopolitan and safe Singapore.  I live in a comfortable private apartment located in a sought-after neighborhood.  My wife can easily get a comfortable job and both my children are studying in top schools in Singapore.

I am fully aware that life will not be easy in the new environment.  Overnight I will probably become a 2nd class citizen.  I will miss my support network.  I will have to make new friends. I will never be able to get a job that is anywhere close in term of my current seniority or salary.  I may even end up jobless or doing menial job.  Basically I will have to start all over again.

So what had happened that has caused me to be at this crossroad? Am I being naive to embark on this route?

Logically, I do not have an answer.  I know it does not make sense, especially if I look in terms of dollars & cents or the physical & material well-being that I have now and may have to forgo.  The opportunity cost is really high.

Could it be mid-life crisis?  Perhaps I am getting tired of my work-centric life, leaving home at 7am & returning after 8pm?  Maybe, after more than 2 decades of working in a fast pace environment, I just need to slow down & take time to smell the rose?

One thing I am sure is that I need a change.  Perhaps a new challenge in life.  Doing something that I will find meaning and fulfillment.  After all, I have just one life.  How much more time do I have in this life journey, I will never know.  I must therefore make the best of the time that I have now in appreciating life and living life to the fullest.

What does all these entails in concrete terms, I also do not know.   What I know is that I will enjoy spending time with my wife and two children.  I know I will enjoy drinking a cup of coffee whether in the heat of summer, the bloom of spring, the breeze of autumn or the freezing cold of winter.  I know I will find peace in doing my own things or even doing nothing.

Will this move turn into an illusive dream?  or a nightmare?  I am confident that it will be a dream come true because it is a change that I am looking forward to.  I am not dreaming of a successful new career.  Neither am I dreaming of walking on streets of gold.  I am just dreaming of a simple life with my family.

There will always be many questions about the unknown future.  But I take great comfort in one of my favorite Christian songs .."I don't know about tomorrow......but I know who holds the future and I know who holds my hand".

If things just don't work out, I will still be proud that I have done it.  I will then be staring at another biggest crossroad of life!

This is life.....