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Sunday August 31st 2014

Local English professor at overseas university upsets over foreign influx

Dear Gilbert,

I write to you here with the intent of talking about an incident, which while seemingly a day-to-day episode, yet raises many questions about the social fabric of our society, and what have basically gone wrong  over these last few years owing to our lax immigration policies.

I am currently employed as a professor at an overseas university, although I am Singaporean, and during these last few days, in between preparing to fly to the destination country by packing my luggage, I was sorting out my immigration stuff including photos which I might need to obtain to apply for visa and permanent residency elsewhere, should the need come up. While at the photo lab, or photo developing studio, asking the boss about the charges and package for such photos, two Malaysian women who were dressed rather simply and were crippled in English noted my request to the boss, and asked me whether I was a PR or a Singaporean citizen. Notably, they admitted that they were Singaporean PRs and were in need of photos to develop, so that they can get the stamp of approval on their Malaysian passports at the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority for maintaining PR status.

The moment that they heard that I was going overseas to work and am obtaining residency elsewhere, they blurted out rudely in Chinese, “Aren’t you betraying your country by migrating to another country? Isn’t Singapore a good country? (“你这样移民不是背叛你的国家吗? 新加坡哪里不好?”) There was a note of contempt in the way they spoke to me, which gave it away that they obviously were not planning to give up their citizenships as Malaysians anytime, and were just here as cheap unskilled workers. I retorted at them saying, “If you want to talk about betrayal, then maybe you want to look at yourself first because you migrated to Singapore and got permanent residency as Malaysians here. There is no such thing called betrayal when the government has betrayed us, and given our jobs away to cheaper workers like you.” The moment that I said that, she kept quiet and looked away, still contemptuous.

This episode was thankfully a really short and recent episode which I hope will not recur in my life ever again, even as someone who has seen my fair share of nasty and good-willed foreigners working here. I believe that there is an inherent scorn and contempt that foreigners have for Singaporeans here, regardless of the economic and social status of Singaporeans and their station in life. What caused this kind of divide and this kind of attitude to start looming large amongst foreigners and the way they look at Singaporeans derogatorily?

There was a recent case of a few mainlander Chinese men, who made fun of Singaporeans online on youtube, with one of them subsequently being fired and suspended from enrolment in the private school he enrolled in here. There has also been another recent case of a Filipina nurse and worker in the Ministry of Health who posted derogatory remarks about Singaporeans being the first to leave in times of war and being useless cowardly men, when the truth was unearthed by bloggers (as well as the alleged “confession” of the “culprit”) that it was actually her Singaporean Chinese husband—a MOE teacher—who posted these derogatory and insulting statements about Singaporeans under her name and facebook account. These foreigners are often treated much better in comparison with Singaporeans at the workplace, and if not, their pay packages, no matter how low, are something that does not involve CPF deduction. Without CPF included, and the relatively high exchange rate of the Singaporean dollar to their country’s currencies(such as the Malaysian Ringgit, the Chinese Renminbi, the Filipino peso etcetera), they save up what they can and then direct their money outside of Singapore towards their own country. To them, Singapore is of course a golden goose which they can fleece the eggs off while they are around, before they leave. They often also do not understand the sentiments underlying Singaporeans’ sense of disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction, owing to issues like housing loans to pay off, a CPF account which they cannot obtain the access of money to till they are older than 62, the instability of maintaining any job past one’s late 30’s etcetera, especially for the educated lot of Singaporeans who need to have better-paying jobs to be able to pay off these loans.

Furthermore, these foreigners inherently have no loyalty to Singapore at all, and are the first to leave in times of war and economic collapse, since Singapore is not their home, and their loyalties lie elsewhere. The rudeness with which the Malaysian woman called my foreign work stint a betrayal of my country as a Singaporean however raised these few questions in me.

Over the last few years, the Singaporean government has been desperate to add numbers to our already large population in the name of maintaining GDP growth, quoting fears and anxieties that if we do not do so, then nobody will do the jobs that are lying around, and that Singapore’s economy will NOT DO WELL, so to say. These constant hammering of these ideas into our heads via mainstream media have also been reinforced by the large influx of real immigrants in terms of both new permanent residents and new citizens. I do not want to speculate on the political justifications of such lax immigration policies, but while they constantly continue to do so (at least until the recent GE which had sent obvious signals that the people of Singapore were not happy with them over their style of governance), it does appear at times that the government seems bent on importing a large group of unskilled workers who would not question their system and the status quo, and who would just support the establishment. Needless to say, even as a working professional myself, while back here from overseas, I have not seen that many cases of professionals being hired in places like the coffee shop and restaurants and so on, to prove that these workers are really as gifted as the media makes them out to be. Is the government seriously just bent on importing numbers into our shores so as to maintain a status quo of rich versus poor, of the elite versus the people?

I believe that those reading this blog will remember that in the early part of this century, starting since the late 1990’s, a former Senior Minister called the Singaporeans who left to study and work overseas when offered better chances abroad “quitters”. That comment unleashed a whole can of worms when the online media discovered that he himself had 2 daughters who are citizens or permanent residents somewhere else, one in the UK and another in the USA. With the Wikileaks comment on another Minister’s sons having dual citizenships (US American and Singaporean) up till the age of 18, this question of allegiance is being brought up. It is unfair to label Singaporeans who leave for overseas to study, work and live as “quitters”, simply because in all fairness of the word, we would not have “quitted” this country if this country’s government had not in itself chosen to sacrifice us in the name of GDP numbers to other foreigners and depreciated our own worth constantly by saying we are “not good enough”.

Sincerely,

Kevin

Reader Feedback

12 Responses to “Local English professor at overseas university upsets over foreign influx”

  1. Zayden says:

    “That comment unleashed a whole can of worms …”

    I have never heard of worms unleashed.

    Based on the english standard, deficient logic and shallow examples, I highly doubt that this was written by a professor.

  2. Hum yee says:

    Singaporeans habitually makes degoratory remarks about Malaysians. They call us Mudlanders. My dear Kevin should realised that his sensitivity is so fragile, he should stay in Singapore so that if he is look down upon by his richer Sinkies, he would rejoice, or would he?

    There are closed to 400,000 Malaysians or former Malysians in Singapore, including one or two cabinet ministers. Kevin’s and his fellow Singaporeans’ high standard of living is owed in no small part to the hard work of Malaysians.

    So don’t be ungrateful. It’s unbecoming. But then, that is typical of a Singaporean mindset, isn’t it.

    An yes, I’m a Malaysian FT! And I’m proud lf being a Malaysian, damn it.

    • admin says:

      Hi Hum Yee,

      Actually that’s quite a strange comment as I thought Singaporeans take to having Malaysian workers in our midst more readily than other nationalities.

      I have many Malaysian friends and never think of them as foreigners.

      Maybe it’s because of our close proximity with one another and we don’t have many differences culturally or language wise.

      I am also glad that all the comments generated are both civil and well-mannered here.

      Gilbert Goh

  3. Hum yee says:

    Lots of typos in my previous post because I was angry at reading such garbage.

    My apologies.

  4. Andrew says:

    Hi Kevin and Hum Yee, having worked and play alongside with many foreign workers and locals, believe I’m in a good position to offer my insights. Frankly, both of you are not wrong cause the things that both of you pointed out are quite true and very humanistics. If according to Maslow’s hierachy of needs, most of these FTs or foreign workers are here for one sole purpose is to earn for money for a better live back home to satisfy their basic needs. The more our economic growth becomes stronger, the more attractive our country will be to them. But humans are complex regardless of nationalities. As S’porean, we are view as kiasu while these foreigners are seen as materialistics but if we see their home environment then perhaps we can understand why so. The fact remains that we need foreign workers as much as they need us as S’poreans provide them with employment while these FTs do all the “dirty’ jobs that we Singaporeans don’t want to do. Imagine if you have the same credentials as these people and you go to US or Australia, won’t you whether you are a S’porean or not also suffer the same fate as them coming to Sg?
    I guess a little understanding and empathy to the human life goes a long way in our everyday life. Look around you dear S’poreans, there are many of our fellow countrymen suffering but how many are stepping forward to help or are many just having the first thought why isn’t the government doing anything. It seems to me that we don’t take ownership of our own problems. Politically, did we have the balls to voice out a decade ago to prevent the current employment scene from happening or raise concern for a protectionism policy for our workers? Economically were our workers, be it blue collars or PMET – too complacent? Why didn’t S’porean want to work manual labours? So are we saying that we want all cushy jobs to be kept for the S’poreans while foreigners can take all the manual and dirty jobs for all I care?
    I’m not siding the foreigners cause many of them are very simple, they just want a better life back home just like our forefathers but why didn’t we blame some of our forefathers that came from China and had no sense of belonging to S’pore back in the early days. Just because we are born and breed here thus we are more demanding if so then do something about it. Are we S’poreans uniting to hire S’porean first, outperform our foreign counterparts in the workplace just like our kids in foreign universities overseas? The Malaysians had been our close neighbours and they are the first groups of foreigners that settled here and changed their nationalities to S’porean. Many of us still have relatives in Malaysia and a closest tourist destination for many of us. Some of our friends married a malaysian spouses or studied alongside with them in the early days till now. Every human beings needs to know their roots and generalisation doesn’t help. Kevin, I believe in your lifetime, you have visited numerous eateries or Tze Char stalls right, do you know that many of the best cooks at these places are Malaysians. Many carpenters in S’pore are Malaysians too. So are those that renovated your house eventhough you may have engaged a reputable ID. For Hum Yee, as much as you are proud to be a Malaysian so is Kevin in being a S’porean. It’s just that both of you have different perspective and some things may be said in a fit of anger or despair.
    Folks, do remember S’pore is a melting pot of cultures and people so be tolerant and cool down before making your judgement.

  5. Kev J says:

    @Andrew, I think Hum Yee read it as something personal against Malaysians when the post was about the woman.I think Hum Yee read it as something personal against Malaysians when the post was about that woman and her opportunistic mindset. That has nothing to do per se with her Malaysian nationality. My Malaysian friend in fact thinks she was crazy to say such a thing, because our forefathers from China came decades back, but were they were not any more of traitors for simply leaving China.

  6. Kev J says:

    For the last sentence, sorry about the errors. I am typing at another computer that is not my own. I meant, “they were not any more of traitors for simply leaving China”. But well, Andrew, I think the real problem is the government’s own way of justifying its policies, regardless of critics. No one is asking for handouts but no one wants to be under-employed nor unemployed either as a local citizen. If the government is truly not hiding behind its obscurantist figures of “citizens and permanent residents” in terms of employment, as well as being clear about the rate of under-employment, it might simply be that there are way more Singaporeans who are under-employed or unemployed within the local context if we exclude the PRs from the picture. Obviously, for the PRs to keep their residency, or get approved in the first place, they need to have a job here. All in all, nobody really should trust what the media tells us about the state of employment here.

  7. Andrew says:

    Well kev, nowadays the media only reports all things nice with sugar and spice. Only ordinary folks and the man on the streets how bad the situations are on the ground. Good luck to all and best wishes.

  8. Mak says:

    If you pay peanuts, you get ‘monkeys’. Of course the work ‘monkey’ is metaphorically stated. Garbage collectors in the United States, are called sanitation workers. They get good pay, full benefits and pension plan. Because they get up early in the morning, rain and shine, hot and cold, to pick up household trash, never know they may contain hazardous waste, dangerous items and foul smelling bags and heavy stuff. Construction workers in the US are also paid very handsomely. If Singapore does likewise, I am pretty sure Singaporeans will pick up these jobs. Farms employ illegals with low pay too in the US. This is called, exploitation, whether by the Government or the private sector.

  9. L C says:

    Agree with Kevin as having lived and taught overseas for more than a decade, I did encounter several ex-Singapore PRs – Malaysians, PRCs, Indians, Filipinos etc. including NEW SINGAPOREANS who made disparaging remarks about Singapore, the Government and Singaporeans. Upon learning that I am a Singaporean, they took great pleasure in vilifying this ‘world class’ city? country?, her STUPID government and the even DUMBER SINGAPOREANS!!!

    While some appeared to ‘sincerely’ empathized with SINGAPOREANS, they too, thought that these POOR SINGAPOREANS have had a raw deal, hence, their removal from this great ‘world class’ city.

  10. Sg_oversas says:

    To ZaYden,

    So you hv not heard the quote “unleash can Of worms”
    May you prefer the word “open” , search de Net
    Asshxle! Plenty of de phrase! From many Prof.
    I highly believe u r good enough to comment
    On somebody who says he is a prof! So
    U r a snr prof or vice chancellor ! No logic n narrow
    Comments indeed! U must be othw u hv cant
    Be smart enough to draw such a conclusion!
    Oh am I a University Don or Chancellor of a Ivy League
    University ,
    Ha ha, must I be an educated “screwed” like u
    To judge On other people’s opiniOns,
    Since u r so bloody educated, u should be more
    Precise with your words of comments, shxt ,”english
    Standard”? Criticise with better words , shxt!

  11. Sg_oversas says:

    To hum yee,
    So u think Sgporeans r ungrateful, oh i see, we
    Must be gratefUl to malaysians becas without damn
    Sg will not exist!
    So we beg damn to come and work in sg
    And we must be grateful to malaysians n all
    Other foreigners who replaced Sgporeans in
    All kinds of work
    Shit, it seems that a lot Of sg r not able to do
    A lot Of jObs,
    In mOst countries i know, if not all, priority is given
    To de own citizens, stringent work permit or PR
    Issued to foreigners
    Dont worry, malaysians are being replaced by indians n
    Filipinos n chinese nationals in sg, dont forget to
    Say that to de sg employers why de r replacing u, malaysians,
    Well, u can always go back to malaysians n work or
    Set up a business, oh dont be ungrateful to employ sgporeans
    In malaysia, oh is not ur fault u cannot employ sg in malaysia
    That easily

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