Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Thursday March 1st 2018

Singaporean migrant lives in a car while working in Sydney

Describe a little about yourself e.g. name, citizenship history (if any), educational background, work experiences.

Saying my name Kang Kong Wong alone will be sufficient for those who know who I am.Well, I am a born and bred Singaporean. I lived through the same number of years of indoctrinated education designed to create one type of citizen like everyone else.

I served through national service and many years of reservist duties afterwards with several mobilisation recalls  while sacrificing my career opportunities to the non-local bosses who will never understand nor appreciate what our privileged NS is about. Not to mentioned that I suffered a service injury which will stay with me until I die without any compensation while each time my injury haunts me. I paid from my own pocket for all medical treatment and I know that I am not alone in that experience.

As for work, I have been in the Singapore workforce long enough since 14. Burger King, NOL, KTV Lounge, Compaq, HP, Microsoft … and a couple more. I experienced it all. Work force reductions, Stagnant salary year upon year, Retrenchments, Unfair dismissals. Used to shake my world each time it happens yet, here I am. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been shaken so much from it after all.

Where are you living now and why do you choose that location?

Sydney. Where exactly? In a car. Exactly Homeless. How long? 2 years to date. It is long. Actually, I cannot believe that it’s been 2 years.

Yes, I live in a car. In the beginning, there were only a handful who believed that I live in a car including friends and family members. Over time, many people believed. I have no use for people believing that because I am homeless by choice.

Never in my wildest imagination would I have ever thought that migrating to Australia would mean that I will be living on the streets, in a car, at the mercy of the natural elements, avoiding park rangers, police, nosy joggers and perhaps walking away from some occasional drug peddler.

But living in a car means I have no rental bills, no utility bills, no internet bills. However it does have it’s set of inconveniences like where do I park tonight to sleep? At some park? At the train station carpark? Next to the cemetery? I find that cemeteries are nice and quiet to sleep over. Other inconveniences are like I have to shower in the office or in the gym everyday, use public toilets mostly in MacDonalds, washing of clothes at the coin-operated laundromat and of course the weather. Saving all that money from bills also means that I can afford to eat anything I want every single day, which is a plus point. I always tell people that money is a finite resource, either you earn more or you spend less.

During winter, it gets to be as cold as -4 degree. Even wearing 2 sets of clothes and covered with a fleece jacket plus hiding under my blanket, it is damn cold and there is no where to hide. Fortunately, as a Singaporean, I like cold and if it gets too cold, I would just start up the engine and turn up the heat for 10 minutes and all will be tolerable again.

Summer is a different story. Basically, I don’t sleep. It’s impossible to sleep. Sometimes for 2-3 days. I just doze off and wake up sweaty and stay awake, watch a movie or 2 on my phone. The good thing is that summer nights are mostly 22 degrees and below which is still tolerable in a car. It’s the occasional 23 and above up to 28 degrees that I fear.

What are the general challenges faced in living overseas? (Housing, Food, Languages, Culture, Weather, Discrimination, Transportation, Schools, Community, etc…)

The short answer is everything. Everything is different. In Singapore, I never have to find rental and in Australia, you need to have sufficient identification points to apply for a rental plus you need to have a good track record after since you will likely be moving from rental to rental upon expiration of the contract. The landlords like to increase their rent thinking you will stay and pay more.

Languages, mostly English. There are more languages from different races in Australia, Sydney than in Singapore for sure.

Culture. Well, Aussies tend to look after their own unlike Singaporeans in Singapore. So to breach into their inner circle requires some effort such as participating in off-hours drinking with them and it probably helps to have a handful of interesting stories to share and stuff.

Weather. My advise is “Respect the cold.” Singaporeans love cold but if you dun respect the cold and wear sufficient to keep yourself warm then sick, you will fall.

Discrimination. <sigh>. To be honest, you don’t have to be in Australia to be discriminated. Language, race, religion, beliefs, skin color, smell, sex, pregnant, single parent, age, everything as long as it is a little different will always have the possibility of discrimination. It’s not more discrimination in Australia and less in Singapore or vice versa. Personally, I find that you don’t have to look too far to find it. Look over your shoulders and you will see it, smell it, taste it, hear it, feel it.

Transportation. No COE, do I need to say more? I used to think this way, e.g. The car is $30K, the COE is $70K. I need to borrow up to 7 – 10 years to pay who? Maybe I spend 3-5 years, I can clear the cost of car, the another 5-10 years, pay who? And after 10 years, repeat the cycle? Why arh? Over here, I own 2 cars so far and both of them are about $6-7k each, fully paid and I can use it until it refuses to move which I estimate is about 250-300K clicks, 25 years or so. No EPS so Parking is generally free less cities of course. Did you know that in Singapore, the HDB season parking can buy me well over 400 eggs each month? Over here, I eat those eggs happily. Depending on which city, there may be tolls similar to ERP but you can generally avoid them. I haven’t passed a single toll booth for the past 2 years.

As for Train services, it seems similar in terms of waiting but even in the overcrowded Sydney alone where there are more people than Singapore, you have a high chance of finding a seat. Distances are way longer than Singapore. From the heart of the city to reach to the each end of Sydney is more than the length of Singapore alone so travelling east-west is like crossing 2 Singapore. North South is like 3-4 times the length of Singapore.

Schools. Remember how for each year of primary school in Singapore you need to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars just to buy a so many textbooks and so many workbooks including so many assessment books? Well, over here, I spend nothing on textbooks, workbooks and assessment books. Is it free? No no, the answer is, it is not required. There are zero such books imposed by the schools.

Perhaps a typical Singaporean helicopter mum will invest heavily on assessment books and force it upon their children but in the primary school here. I haven’t spend a cent on books. Do the children learn enough academically? Of course not. No books, study what? Then what do the children learn? It seems that the children are learning at a very slow pace academically in primary school. They learn more about character building, social skills, independence and confidence building. Well, every human is alike in this aspect. In the absence of one stress, you are introduced another stress. So IMO, academics is out, EQ is in. On hindsight, I grew up pretty much not studying a lot even though I was supposed to and I turned up fine. I don’t remember having to show my PSLE results or O Level results when I find a job and I turned up fine. So, really must study so hard meh? I believe that you will learn better when you want to learn and not because you need to learn and when you want to learn, no one and no thing can stop you from learning.

My kids are still in primary but so I hear so that in high school (Secondary School), the bills will come and academics will be super imposed on them but then again, the early days of character building will kick in and the teens (by then) will be self-reliant and self-sufficient to have the discipline to study autonomously. Fingers crossed.

Community. You’ll be surprised that Singaporeans seems like an endangered species. It is actually quite hard to find another Singaporean if you are not looking for them. There are more Malaysians for example than Singaporeans in Australia. China Chinese, India Indians, Pinoys, Middle Eastern and the European Ang Mos whose first language is NOT English seems abundance as well.

Good lobang for Singaporeans living in Australia to join the Facebook Group SG Kongsi, Sydney SG Kampung, Canberra SG Kampung, Tasmania SG Kampung, Singaperth, Singaporeans in Adelaide. There’s a lot of community events, discussions, familiar Singlish, discussion on places, food and many more. To be honest, Singaporeans living outside of Singapore seems a lot more receptive, compassionate, helpful, sincere and genuine to build a Singapore Kampung Spirit than Singaporeans living in Singapore. In a foreign land and where there are just the few of us, bonding seems so much more possible without the stress of Singapore lifestyle.

Did your family moved with you and if so, how is your family coping? Are they happy or do they want to move back to Singapore?

Yes they did including my mother-in-law. It is a strange answer considering I am living in a car on the streets. The explanation – we are living apart.

My family and MIL are living in Adelaide while I am living and working in Sydney. I return every month for a week and work from home. At least that is my arrangement with my employer. So basically, I earn Sydney money and I can afford to buy a house in Adelaide. Smart right? The prices of houses in Sydney can be over 4 times the price of the same size house in Adelaide so why not? Singaporeans are smart in this aspect, we always look for the path of least resistance.

The basics of growing roots in a new land, in a new place really begins with owning your own house. It is a basic requirement regardless where you live in the world. Plus I have young and old in my family so the onus is upon me to deliver. Knowing this, I literally flew all over the place, inside and outside the country just to work, to earn, to save enough money to pay a deposit for the house. Seeing the beaming faces of knowing they are living their own house compared to a rental is worth every sacrifices I have to make. Houses are generally huge with lands up to 800m2 in Adelaide. You can shout from one end of the house and the person on the other end cannot hear you at all. Mine comes with a swimming pool and the children literally swim everyday other than winter time for obvious reasons. Technically, it’s still the bank’s house until the mortgage is paid but we will leave out the technicalities to make my point.

The price of living apart from your love ones, your family in a migration’s endeavour is not uncommon. Too many times, I have encountered Singaporeans here with similar stories where someone has to be left behind to earn and have a stable income while the other half of the family migrates and tries to adapt to the new place. Each time, as a Singaporean Kampung, we try to recommend jobs and even at times offer help however we can. Some of these jobs are not glam at all, postman jobs, hard labor jobs, subway, waiters etc … Even with simple jobs, you can generally bring home nearly $3K each month so I say this is way better than working the same in Singapore. Shame on you Singapore with no minimal wage system…

End of Part One Interview

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