I touched down Sydney on a cold breezy evening two Fridays ago and was glad that I took along a light jacket.
I nearly forsake the woolen attire as my daughter had told me that it was spring and the temperature was between 25 – 29 deg C.
However, the weather during the past week was anything but sunny and rain fell on most parts of Sydney bringing the temperature down to around 15 deg C. At night, it went down further to around 12 deg C and the wind can bring it a few degrees lower.
It was almost seven months ago that I left Sydney and stood for the 2011 GE. How time flown by and now I am back in Sydneyagain.
Due to its’ past aggressive migration programme, Sydney now is half filled with Asians and many whites have moved on to Brisbane or Adelaide – more in search of cheaper residences as the property market was chased up by cash-rich Asians.
Surprising, I hardly met any Singaporeans while residing in Sydney. There are the odd few that I spoke to but hardly enough to make a presence here.
I have met a lot of Malaysians, Indians, mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers, Eqyptians, Iraqis, Thais and Vietnamese but not many Singaporeans. Perhaps, Singaporeans preferred Melbourne or Perth and hopefully they are well represented there.
Nevertheless, most Asians work in the low-waged service sector and I see that not many belonged to the professional work category. Of course, there are the odd few that work in the banks, medical and manufacturing field but they are largely represented in the service area.
Love-hate Relationship With Sydney
I have a love-hate relationship with Sydney as though I like the down-under beautiful water front city because of its cosmopolitan culture and care-free liberalism, my heart really belongs in Singapore.
Moreover, there is the latent racism that sometimes reigns its’ ugly head if you are the unfortunate recipient. I heard that it is more apparent in the work places whereby preferential treatment is given to it’s own people and most foreign workers receive crappy work conditions.
You hardly heard of a foreigner heading a department even though he is a converted citizen and he has proved to be both capable and well qualified.
Many people have also mocked at my silly patriotism, often questioning why I still care for a country that worships money and have no patience for a dissident like me. Moreover, people like me are to be avoided as we don’t belong to the mainstream and it could spell trouble for those who want to maintain ties with us.
During the past decade, many friends who have left earlier for Australia when their borders are wide open are now citizens and most of them never contemplate returning home.
“There is nothing for us anymore in Singapore, Gilbert,” a friend who is now a Aussie citizen told me just early this year. He has migrated to Melbourne three years ago with his family of five.
“I have already withdrawn my CPF money, got a great job that pays me A$100, 000 a year and at my age (he is 47 years old), what good am I to my own country?”
Most abled Singaporeans I realized moved abroad in search of greener pasture as they could not survive in their own country. This stance is made more acute recently as our government opens the floodgates for foreign professionals to work in our country immediately after the 2008 global financial crisis.
This is ironical as Singapore remains one of the few countries in the world that boasts of high economic growth. If such a country could not provide ready employment for its’ own citizens and they have to scout around overseas for work, something must be very wrong about the fiscal policies here.
Sydney vz Singapore
I journey between Sydney and Singapore regularly during the past few years as my family is based there.
Many friends and readers marveled at my regular overseas experience as many people staying in Singapore felt that the lion city can get rather boring and stressful after a while. Even getting away from the country for a month or two is considered a very good break!
There is nothing much you can do for recreation and going away probably means that you just cross into JB or Bintan for a quick breakaway.
Singapore works in a clock-like efficient manner and after a while, you behave almost like a robot – devoid of any feelings and our whole being is focused on just making enough money to pay the mortgage and bills.
There is nothing to look forward to in life besides work and we have no choice but to face up to a inhumane materialistic society. After a while, you get tired of the rat race and begin to wonder if staying on is the lesser evil.
More worryingly, you wonder i f your employer will still hire you when you hit the big “4” when he can exchange you for a cheaper younger foreign professional – at half the price.
I must admit that I enjoyed staying in Sydney all this while, as even though it is the busiest city inAustralia, you get to relax and enjoy the huge space available. You also get to see the big blue sky above and count th e thousands of stars at night.
The air is fresh and my constant sore throat goes off whenever I am inSydney. You also feel fresher and less tired due to the low humidity here.
The train is seldom packed and sometimes you wonder where the people go to especially during weekend. However, the fare is extremely expensive and a return trip on the same line can set you back by almost A$5.00. During weekend, you also have to wait at least 15 minutes for the train.
I guess most Sydneysiders drive if they could and those working in the city will have no choice but to take the train due to the high parking cost there.
The transport network is similar as the one a decade ago and due to budgeting reason, the proposed link to the western part ofSydneyis never done up at all. Compared to Sydney, we probably have one of the best world-classed mass rapid transport system in the world.
I enjoyed jogging along the parks in Sydneyand sometimes you don’t get to see a soul during your run. This is so unlike Singapore whereby you can hardly avoid meeting someone at anywhere and anytime.
Many readers have emailed me recently checking how they can get hold of a work visa here. I must apologise that I am a novice when it comes to such matters.
Nevertheless, I am toying with the idea of starting a migrant agency here serving primarily the work and migration needs of fellow Singaporeans charging a nominal fee for the processing.
The mining industry is enjoying a boom here as China continues to rely onAustraliafor the export of minerals to fuel its economy.
A general worker in the mines enjoy a daily wage of around A$300 and many people have flocked to such faraway places in search of ready work.
However, the work can be tough and slightly hazardous. You also need to stay in the mining quarters and there is little entertainment during weekend.
Many young people after their HSC also journey to work in the mines for a season so that they could save up for their tuition fees. With a monthly salary of around A$7000 – $8000, it is possible to pay up on the entire 3- year degree tuition fees if you are willing to work hard for a year or slightly more.
Is migration for you?
However, is emigration for you?
I have met up with a 52-year-old Singaporean, James, before leaving for Sydneyand his story reminded me how tough it is for someone to relocate especially if he is above a certain age.
Its tough to leave a place where we call home for many decades and suddenly unroot ourselves to resettle in a foreign land.
James followed his wife to Melbourne two years ago as she was posted there for work. It was either she followed the company and be employed or stay back in Singapore and joined the jobless queue. As James was jobless then, the decision to follow where there would be employment was easily made.
James recounted his story to me while we had dinner at Bugis foodcourt last month. He has also recently found work as an administrator after staying jobless for many years in Singapore before he left for Melbourne.
“I hate every day of the period that I spent in Melbourne– I literally slept through the days and only woke up to cook for my wife when she returned from work.”
“The fact that we went during the winter period only deepened the misery.”
He decided to return home three months ago as he was battling with suicidal thoughts and acute depression for a long while in Melbourne. James’ wife is still working in Melbourne by herself.
I asked if the distance will affect the marriage.
“There is no choice Gilbert,” He told me. “I was literally going mad and suicidal thoughts filled my mind daily.” His wife may return home soon.
Loneliness seems to be the number one barrier for anyone wanting to strike out on the popular migration route.
I remembered battling the same monster when I came over to Sydney three years ago. You missed everything back home from food to weather to our badly-associated Singlish.
You sourced out everything Singaporean and even a lousy Indonesian laksa replacement was a sought-after haven! I also subscribed to our online Straits Times paper just to be close to my home country.
Many Singaporeans missed out a lot on our multi-cultural food variety and thought we have all kinds of food inSydney, it is never the same.
I used to return home after six months or so and gouged on all the food I could eat at our local kopitiam or foodcourt.
I would be a glutton for the next few days till I am sick with the local food.
Most importantly, I missed my mum – who is ill and 78 years old now – whenever I am away.
She just had a stroke before I left and though I nursed her daily through the 2-month hospital rehab stay back home, I still left with a heavy heart when it was time to go.
I tried to call her regularly but it could never substitute the physical absence and sometimes I avoided calling her as it would stir up the guilt within me all over again.
Singaporeans living abroad will surely identify with me on this factor – that being away from your loved ones is the most terrible thing associated with emigration.
For practical reasons, we could not bring along our elderly parents when we emigrate and though we can bridge the yawning gap by returning home regularly, there will still be the long period of absence from our loved ones.
Technology can only bridge the gap to a certain extent but deep down you miss them badly when you long to have face to face chat with them.
I remembered missing my mum a lot when I am in Sydney and my family when I am back inSingapore.
Maybe I am the sentimental sort so I spent a lot on airfare and telephone charges. I must have also chalked up a total airfare bill of up to five figures during these few years!
I have no qualms about calling my daughter using my pre-paid card inSingaporewhenever I felt like speaking with her. The call could last fifteen to twenty minutes.
There is also the problem of getting ready employment when you are abroad.
When I tried to look for work inSydney, I realized how easy it is for foreigners to find work in Singapore.
I could only find part time work in a nursing home and helping out a gardener whenever he needed assistance.
Many migrants have also decided to return to their own country when they battled with long periods of unemployment.
You also question your professional expertise when you have to carry out mundane part time work in the food court or cleaning out the hospital floors especially if you have a good degree from a reputable university.
Most people gave up after sloughing aimlessly for a few years and asked if it is worth the effort.
However, Singaporean workers tend to be highly regarded due mainly to our English-speaking work environment and multi-faceted skills set.
Unless you are the shy introverted kind, the majority of Singaporeans who migrated tend to fare better than migrants of other nationalities.
The fact that we are labeled as law-abiding and responsible help a lot in our branding abroad.
When you say that you are from Singapore, most people tend to view you with respect if not reverence.
Someone has told me this and I wondered if it is a compliment to us Singaporeans or not:
“You will be deemed abnormal if you have never think of migrating abroad. Singapore is not for normal people to live in.”
Is our country so bad that each year, more than five thousands left overseas in search of greener pastures and many more give up their pink ICs in exchange for foreign citizenship?
If our country is that bad, why do foreigners still flock to our island state by the hundreds of thousands each year?
What are the compelling reasons that prompt Singaporeans to look abroad – forsaking a place they call home for many decades?
Are Singaporeans really that much happier when they move overseas?
What can be done to slow down the emigration of Singaporeans?
I believe that there will not be ready answers for all my questions and each of us has to answer them from the bottom of their heart when the itch to move overseas beckons.
Written by: Gilbert Goh