Friday, 30 August 2013

Hyperthyroidism

Dear readers,

I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism earlier this year, and thought my experience with this condition might be relevant to you guys or your friends and family. 



Do note however, that nothing in this blog post constitutes medical advice, even if I have extensively-researched my condition and spoken to a number of my doctor friends about it. So if you think you have a medical condition, don't come to me, go to a doctor, and seek multiple professional opinions if necessary.

 

Early Signs

Some time last year, I decided that it was time to lose weight in order to pass my IPPT. I used to run on some weekday mornings when my ship was in base, because it was just so convenient to take a shower and do my laundry on board after my run. All this came to halt when my ship went to yard for regular maintenance.

I was subsequently arrowed to be a marching contingent commander for SAF Day Parade. It is a pointless, meaningless, and thankless task, though not any more so for me than the other participants. I hated parades, as I hated standing under the hot sun in our 90% humidity weather. I hated them as they were a complete waste of my time, and didn't appear to benefit anyone in a meaningful way.

I was the reserve for this handsome guy in front. Actually he started off as the reserve, but I soon proved to be so unfit for the job that everyone agreed that I should be on the bench. Suited me fine.


It didn't help that I tended to sweat profusely when shown temperatures above 28 degrees C. Much more so than the average person for the same amount of physical activity. This made stuff like parades supremely uncomfortable.

Another aspect was that I simply wasn't parade-fit. I was chosen for no other reason than my ship being in yard, and I was relatively free-er than my compatriots as a result. I also was appropriately-tall at 1.7-ish meters.

My first few parade trainings were a disaster. I would fall out after something like 15 minutes under the sun, much to my embarrassment. The Navy trainees fresh from BMT were much tougher - understandably. But it is simply humiliating for an officer to fare this poorly.

In hindsight, I was likely hyperthyroid back then, just that I didn't know it. The signs were all clear to see. This was sometime in June-July 2012, (SAF Day is on 5th July, can't be bothered to verify).

Later on in the year, I resumed my physical training regime and found satisfaction in my weight loss and running improvement. Weight loss was occurring surprisingly quickly for me. After one particularly tough sailing aboard another ship, I had lost five kg in as many days. I started at about 73kg, and went down to about 68.

I managed to get a Silver award for IPPT, albeit on my fourth attempt. I'd attribute my performance mostly to the weight loss. In all likelihood I wasn't any fitter, but with five kg less to lug around, I sure could run faster.

My hands had also started to tremor gradually. It had reached a point where without coffee (I drank on average two cups a day on weekdays. Our ship had a very nice coffee machine!), my hands were trembling very noticeably. People noticed and commented, but nobody thought anything of it. I loved my new lean look and I guess a six-pack wasn't too far off if I had trained a bit harder.

This is the exact model we had on board. Couldn't say no to my daily cuppa...

My weight loss continued to about 64kg, and I had trouble with all my pants because they were getting rather loose. This occurred despite a marked increase in my appetite. I really didn't mind, as I love food and wanted to lose weight. I bet most gals and some guys would love to have this disorder indeed!

 

Shit hit the fan?

Hyperthyroidism is a pretty manageable condition, but untreated as I was, it could lead to long-term heart problems, among other issues. It can also give rise to acute conditions such as thyrotoxicosis, also known as "thyroid storm".

Late last year, A landed in hospital, shortly after our 2012 year-end Bali dive trip. She had viral meningitis, which manifested itself by an excruciating headache. To summarise, meningitis is inflammation of the brain lining, and can be a life-threatening condition, especially if it's of bacterial origin. Thankfully, tests showed that it was viral.

Our doctor friend (B) who worked at NUH paid A a visit when I was also visiting, and after a few months of not having met her, she noticed me sweating slightly even in the air-conditioned isolation ward, and that my hands were trembling constantly. Of course, my new lean look didn't go unnoticed, though it wasn't a compliment that she had in store for me.

"I think you have hyperthyroidism," she said, rattling off a list of symptoms of which I probably had 90%. So I resolved to get myself tested at the Changi Naval Base Medical Centre asap. I assumed that if I had lived a few months with it, there wouldn't be any immediate need to get tested on the spot.

A day or two after that, I found myself alone at home (A was still hospitalised) running a 40-degree fever and feeling really weak. I had tried to arrest the fever when it passed 38 but to no avail. So I called for an ambulance, and soon found myself on a drip at the NUH A&E. Happily, the fever abated and I was discharged the next morning, after a few bags of saline and some medicine was fed into my system.

In hindsight, my symptoms sounded suspiciously like thyroid storm, and I should have told them what Dr B had told me. By this time, I was a near-skeletal 59.5kg, and had an unprecedented view of my ribs. I received comments that would make any anorexic blush in delight - the most memorable being that my head "looked like a skull". Frankly, I'd take that any day over my late, great potbelly!

Subsequently before I got tested, there was one occasion after dinner and a few drinks with friends that I went home feeling really weird. While I lay on our bed, I counted my resting pulse at over 130 bpm. Not good.

Diagnosis, prescription, "recovery"...

After I "reported sick" at the medical centre the very next day, the MO concurred with Dr B's initial diagnosis and ordered a thyroid test for me. He also prescribed Propanolol to lower my heart rate, as well as Carbimazole to reduce my thyroid levels. The test results came back a week later as suspected - positive for hyperthyroidism. My dad would later inform me that his mum and sister had this condition as well...

The journey beyond that gets even more boring, if you are still reading by this point. I was referred to an Endocrinologist at NUH and the only thing he did further was to adjust my initial dose of 30mg Carbimazole downwards as my Free T4 levels decreased.


It's very much cheaper to buy from JB. RM 13 from My Pharmacy as of July 2013.
Don't bother finding out the local prices. Chances are if you need this medication, your pulse rate will shoot through the roof upon discovery!
It turned out that 30mg a day made my skin itch. So I was self-medicating on a variety of antihistamines - stuff I had readily available as I always save leftover medicines for future usage. Thankfully, I was gradually reduced to 5mg a day.

The other side effect was weight-gain, even as my previously-voracious appetite decreased. But that was also a function of my metabolism slowing down.

 

 Relapse!

 The only words to describe this are geh kiang (being a smart alec). I decided to take my lone 5mg pill every few days, then the interval got longer. I watched for symptoms of relapse and apparently there were none. I was considerably more tolerant of heat than before, and my weight had stabilised at 64kg, a figure I was happy to maintain. Maybe I could maintain a T4 reading within the higher reaches of the normal range?

Turns out that I couldn't. And the consequences were quite troublesome. None of the symptoms returned in earnest, but the Migration Medical demanded an updated reading, which I didn't have handy with me. So I got tested at the clinic, and lo and behold! "Super hyperthyroid".

I got a earful from my doctor friends and of course, from A. Stuff not quite suitable for publication here. But they were right, I had screwed up.

If not for this, we'd be sitting on an Australian PR now, having cleared all other hurdles. For now, the wait continues...
Meanwhile, after self-medicating to 20mg a day for a couple of weeks and tapering back to 10mg daily, my latest results are A-OK. Lesson learned, take your meds religiously.

Useful information for those in the SAF...
Active hyperthyroidism gets you an immediate downgrade to PES E9L9. Non-negotiable. Not even if you beg the MO. For Navy folks, it means no sailing or shipboard duties. It can be nice, or a buggeration depending on how you see it. I personally found it a buggeration. I loved driving my ship.

Even after your thyroid levels are normal, the highest PES you'd be eligible for is C9. Can sail, but no more IPPT! Now, that's probably a good thing unless you really need that extra $100 (Silver for regular) to $400 (Gold for NSman) every year.

Questions and comments? Shoot... And I will try my best to answer them in the capacity of a hyperthyroidism patient :)
- S

Thursday, 29 August 2013

2013 National Day Rally: Change in PSLE policy and its potential implications

There has been a lot of online chatter recently on the speech made by PM Lee during the recent National Day Rally. In particular, the proposed removal of the PSLE T-score and the use of 'wider bands' for PSLE grading has been especially forthcoming, given that PSLE has become such a tremendous source of stress for Singaporean parents and kids in the past decade.

For overseas readers who may not be in the know, PSLE represents Primary School Leaving Examination and it is basically a national examination taken by every 12-year-old in Singapore for 4 basic subjects - English, Science, Mathematics and Mother Tongue. Those who do well in Mother Tongue can also opt to take Higher Mother Tongue. This national exam represents a much dreaded rite-of-passage that determines which Secondary institution the child attends for the subsequent 4-6 years after leaving Primary School. Socially, it has led to an increase in suicide rates among 12-year-olds and contributed to the kiasu Singaporean mentality. PSLE has also boosted the local economy as there are many local businesses thriving on the demand, including specialized PSLE tuition agencies and PSLE textbook/guidebook/assessment book publishers etc.

You can find an enormous variety of assessment books in Singapore. No kidding.

So yeah, PSLE is a VERY big deal in Singapore. It would seem the entire Primary School System revolves around it.

Since the National Day Rally, I've had the opportunity to speak to a number of parents and current teachers about their take on the perceived impact of the PSLE policy change. Some readers and acquaintances have also written to me to ask for my 2 cents worth (as an ex-teacher) on the change. Since there are no details released by the Ministry at the time that this post is published, most of what you are about to read below is based entirely on the intelligent speculation of a random group of educators - so do read with discretion.

Will the policy change affect my child's chances to enter his/her dream secondary school?

I guess this is the million dollar question. Since the policy changes will not affect this year's P6 cohort, I expect it is the parents of the P5 children who are most concerned and eagerly awaiting the details of how the banding of PSLE will shift or be redefined. Without the T-score as a numerical benchmark, everyone is probably wondering how this will affect the Secondary School 'cut-off' and intake criteria.

What is your mindset towards PSLE and your definition of success? If you are a relatively well-balanced parent/student, you are likely to accept and adapt to any policy changes that come your way. You probably set realistic expectations and are able to manage stress relatively well. In the big scheme of things, any changes in education policies should not adversely affect the outcomes or entry into a school of your choice. 


How do you define success?

However, if your mindset is one which is  blindly kiasu, then frankly any policy change will make NO significant impact or improvement when it comes to high stress level, high expectations, taking leave to help your child or other exam preparations. Some specific kiasu examples include:
  • students who blindly pursue leadership positions in school / community service programmes / external competitions etc not because they are passionate about the opportunity / programme/ role /community but because it looks good on their portfolio / testimonial
  • parents who send their straight 'A' child(ren) for additional tuition and enrichment classes or parents who hire tutors to help their kids with tuition homework
  • parents who flood their kids with excessive assessment books / ten-year-series / revision guidebooks even when the child's school does provide sufficient resources
  • parents who hound their child's teachers through phone calls/emails/SMS on a regular basis to track their child's progress in school
True Story...

I wish I could say the above examples are exaggerations but the truth is, they are based on real people I have encountered in my years as a teacher. Parents/students who fall under this category tend to be insecure because they view academic success as a direct measure of their worth/parental success. Regardless of any education policy changes, very kiasu Singaporeans will complain for a while then proceed to strategize in order to engineer the best possible outcome for their kids/themselves - at all cost, it would seem. Unfortunately, such parents/students also tend to be defensive, so let's move on.

Possible Implications

Most stakeholders agree that removing the PSLE T-score is a good move (probably way overdue anyway). It will certainly help to reduce the fixation on a numerical score which has always been computed in an opaque manner, since it depends on variables unique to each cohort. Instead of a single PSLE top scorer, we will likely end up with a group of top scorers (with 4 A*s) each year. This is good for morale of high achievers and will possibly reinforce the notion of 'every school a good school', especially if the spread of top scorers span a few different schools each year. Furthermore, there will no longer be an indication of a bottom score, which will likely help to cushion the blow for those who have failed the exam.

If a child is headed for 'O' and/or 'A' level, introducing a wider band of grading at PSLE level may be beneficial to some extent because of the greater consistency in the grading of the national exams. This is also consistent with the grading at University level of individual modules.
On the other hand, if the wider band for grading is going to be more 'forgiving' by blurring the distinction of grades, then we will see an increase in the number of primary school students pursuing leadership positions and other co-curricular pursuits in order to distinguish himself/herself from the pack. As an example, we can simply look at the 'O' Level students competing to enter Junior Colleges every year - what happens if a JC's cut-off is 7 points (for L1R5) but there are also limited spaces for 8 pointers? How will the school determine which 8-point applicant to accept into these limited spaces? I'm guessing it'll depend on the child's co-curricular portfolio, performance at a face-to-face interview as well as a good dose of luck. Such is the nature of meritocracy. Of course, connections and/or affiliation to the school may help as well.

How do you stand out in a competitive society?
In fact, we see the same trend happening for admissions into the most desired/competitive University faculties as well. Achieving at least 4 straight 'A's at 'A' level will merely get an applicant shortlisted for admission into NUS Medicine or Law. An actual admission offer from the Faculty will depend on the outcomes of several other means of testing in order to differentiate each applicant, which include interviews, writing of statements and essays, specialized tests and the compilation of a co-curricular portfolio etc. Therefore, the removal of the absolute T-score implies that each Secondary School will most likely have to come up with a specific set of criteria (on top of the minimum grade criteria) used to grant entry into the school, especially for the borderline cases. What used to be a simpler 'posting exercise' for admission into Secondary School will become much more complex.

Our PM has made it quite clear that where education is concerned, any policies made will NOT change the inherently meritocratic nature of the Singapore Education System. Since a meritocratic system inherently encourages division, ranking and differentiation based on ability, our societal focus on academic achievement is here to stay. Making technical changes (such as removing PSLE T-score) will not alter reality. We can only console ourselves with the knowledge that Singapore is not really unique in this aspect - we see similar trends in other meritocratic societies such as China, Japan and UK

Anyway, feel free to leave a comment below. I'll probably do a follow up post in time to come, after the policy details are released. Stay tuned!

- A

Monday, 19 August 2013

Migration Chapter 8: Application of a Certificate of Clearance (CoC) from Singapore Police Force

Hello folks, it's time for yet another chapter on migration

Application for a Certificate of Clearance (CoC) is one of the final components required for migration. In a nutshell, Australia requires all migrants to pass the Character Requirement and prove that they are law-abiding citizens of good character. If you are a Singapore citizen migrating under Subclass 189 or 190, this character clearance comes in the form of an official document from the Singapore Police Force which states that you have not committed any crime / not been charged with any criminal offence in Singapore. 


How do I apply?
All the detailed information you require can be found here. The application process is pretty straightforward. You and each of your dependents above 16 years of age will need to show up in person at the COC office at the Police Cantonment Complex, as each of you will be fingerprinted during the application. Take note that the opening hours for application of COC is exclusively from 8.30am to 12 noon on Mondays to Fridays only. This (of course) excludes public holidays. Yes, this means you probably need to take leave just to apply for the COC.


COC Office located here!

Remember to bring along the following documents (for each applicant):
  • Photocopy of Bio-page on passport
  • COC Application form downloadable from here
  • 2 passport sized photographs
  • The letter from your Case Officer (from Australia side) requesting for the COC
Each application costs S$45.

When can I apply?
Although not stated explicitly, we have learned from personal experience that the application for the COC can only be done after you have been contacted by your case officer from Australia side. At present, the wait for the assignment of a case officer is approximately 8-10 weeks for subclass 189 and about 3-5 weeks for subclass 190. When contacted, your case officer will send you an email specifically requesting for "Police Clearance" for the primary applicant and each secondary dependent above 16 years of age. You will need to print and bring along a hardcopy of this particular email from you case officer before SPF will entertain your application.


Good things come to those who wait...
If you are a follower of any Australian migration forums, you will notice that many 189/190 applicants from several other countries (UK, India etc) will mention uploading their PCC before their case officer is assigned. This is known as front-loading and it cannot be done if you are migrating as a Singapore citizen (unless you have a back-door method?). In Singapore, you can only front-load your medicals.

How long does it take?
Exactly 2 weeks from application date. On the application day, the clerk will issue you a receipt with your application number(s) and date of collection. Collection must be (again) done in person and from 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays only. You can do the collection by proxy but you will need to issue your representative some form of authorization letter. If you have an agent, I suppose you could get him/her to do the collection for you.

Can non-Singapore Citizens apply for the CoC?
You can refer to this link. Officially, it seems that SPF does not issue COC to non-citizens. If you have resided in Singapore for more than 12 months and Australia requires a COC for this, I suppose you could try:
  • calling SPF at 1800-255-0000
  • show up at the COC office with your query
  • send your email appeal to spf_cid_coc@spf.gov.sg

What if I am a Singapore citizen currently overseas and I need the COC? 
This earlier link will provide the answer to your query. Although you do not have to return to Singapore specially to apply for your COC in person, you will need to look for an authorized fingerprint police officer to fingerprint you in the country that you are currently residing in. SPF will only charge each applicant S$5 more for postage.

Yes it's cheaper to pay for postage than fly back!

All the best! If you are at this stage of your application (like we are at the moment), the end is in sight!

- A

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

ORD lo!!!!

Just a quick update from me...

ORD lo!!!!!

I'm now out of everyone's hair, and escaped service with my Certificate of Service and Testimonial intact.. On account of my previous blog post about workplace bullying in the RSN, I was slapped with a Record of Verbal Warning, some inconsequential punishment (completely harmless given that I was to be leaving - not all the possible outcomes are this favourable...)

The responses from friends and colleagues to my ROVW tended to incredulity, some to outrage. I was surprised. I thought it was quite clear that the SAF opposes any sort of feedback not passed through the chain-of-command or Organisational Climate Surveys. The interesting thing is that NOBODY asked me to take down my blog post, even my ex-boss who issued me the ROVW. I guess they took it seriously after all (that I would not take it down, regardless of the consequences).

One of my former COs - Q has been asking me to "forgive and forget" and to let go. Honestly, it's hard. Reading last night's exchange on FB from the former CO at my place of abuse didn't make things easier either. He had basically learned nothing from the episode, and thought it was completely my fault, never mind that I managed to serve my two subsequent ships as well as a person who wanted to leave the Navy could ever be expected to. Never mind that true leadership is building people up, and not tearing people apart. But the sad truth is that many "leaders" in the Navy (to be fair, also other parts of the SAF, Gahmen, even the world) have their heads stuck so far up their ass, that all they know is their own bullshit. I saw that true leaders are few and far between. Even though I managed to meet great leaders and great crew mates along the way, I recognise that I was either terrifically blessed, or being given a break by being posted to decent ships for a change.

 
RSS Tenacious - Yield to None!

I told Q that I prefer to "avoid and write off". Works almost as well for me. Because forgiveness does not come easily. I guess from three years ago, this has been a defining moment of my career. Something two wonderful tours aboard RSS Justice and RSS Tenacious couldn't completely erase.

RSS Justice - We Will Triumph!
That's us, by the way. The white "Eii" denotes that RSS Justice had won the Squadron Best Ship Competition for two years in a row. And I am proud to have served with the team that won it (subsequently they went on to win the BSC for the THIRD consecutive year, I think it's unprecedented!)

On the bright side, I spent my last day at work with those colleagues from my last shore unit who mattered to me, diligently avoiding those I had written off completely. I did not manage to bid farewell to the vast majority of those from the ships, whom I fondly remember serving with, but really, this is not goodbye.

This is the beginning of my new life, and I invite all of you to join me in this journey. You must drop by if you ever make a trip to Melbourne!

-S

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Migrating to Oz: Do you need a migration agent?

For the past year, S and I have had many, many discussions on migration with our family and circle of friends. Besides the usual misconceptions that Singaporeans have, one of the more interesting assumptions I noted among our migration-related conversations was this: most people assumed that a migration agent is absolutely necessary and that it was very expensive to engage one. Let me attempt to address the issues pertaining to the use of an agent raised here, in the context of migrating to Australia (only). 



Is engaging a migration agent absolutely necessary?

The short and simple answer is this: No. You can do it 100% on your own. I know this because I have done so, and there are many others out there who completed the process without an agent as well.

To be fair, I completely understand why some of my friends believed engaging a migration agent was compulsory. Prior to 1 July 2012, migrating to Australia as a Skilled migrant (then known as subclass 175 / 176) was an arduous process. I've corresponded with some of my relatives' friends who lamented that it took them a few years to complete the paperwork and procedures back then. The role of an agent was more crucial in the past when applications needed to be mailed in hardcopy with tons of evidence. However, the situation has improved greatly since July last year. DIAC introduced Skillselect (their online system for handling visas) and the entire process has shortened considerably. At the present moment, prospective migrants can complete their application online and simply attach all the necessary documents using the system - in fact, DIAC discourages paper applications by charging an additional fee for them!

Save the trees and apply for your visa online!

On the other hand, there are circumstances where one might be better off hiring an agent than trying to complete the paperwork on your own.  On top of my head, these circumstances might include:
  • If you have slightly more 'complicated' relationships with your secondary applicants. These may include a de-facto partner, a divorced partner or adopted children etc. The onus of proof of your on-going relationship with them is on you - so aside from evidences documenting your relationship, you may benefit from an agent with experience in such aspects
  • If you are someone with no eye for detail (like S). Carelessness in your application will cost you time and may cost you more money, or may even result in a rejection
  • If you are somewhat lazy/very busy and would prefer to pay someone to do it for you
  • If your employment history is complex 
  • If you have several secondary applicants migrating along with you (father, mother, sister, brother, kids....)

For such cases, I believe the potential benefits of having a good agent may outweigh the costs of hiring one. From what I have read, most agencies do not charge for the very first 'consultation', as most licensed agents will consider your background and skills first. They need to determine that you have a decent chance of success before they agree to represent you, since it will reflect on their reputation as well.


What are the downsides of hiring an agent?

Based on the 'horror stories' online and from speaking with Singapore emigrants, the possible downsides include:
  • Longer waiting time. Having a middleman (presumably who handles several cases at a time) means the information needs to go through him before it comes to you. Do note that once you appoint an agent, DIAC will only correspond with your agent
  • Higher cost than DIY, obviously
  • Possibility of hiring a slow/incompetent/irresponsible agent 
  • If you decide to terminate an agent halfway through your application, it's going to cause you more trouble, time and money than not getting one in the first place



What is the actual cost of hiring an agent?

I've no idea at all what the market rate is. You can refer to the MARA Fees list here as a reference. Perhaps a reader with experience could comment on this? Based on my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances (with prior experience dealing with migration agents), it seems to range between S$1000 to S$5000, depending on various factors pertaining to the individual case. Some agents charge significantly more for complex cases, similar to how surgeons charge more for complex surgeries. Several years ago, my aunt paid a lawyer more than $5k to handle everything but she got her PR in less than a year. You get what you pay for, I guess. 

And yes, the agent fees are on top of the other compulsory fees that you will need to pay, such as the lodgement fees, cost of skills assessment and so on.


Is it very tedious to handle the process without an agent?

Yes and no. It depends on what your threshold for 'tedious' and 'troublesome' matters are. As someone who is self-admittedly more meticulous than the average person, I only found 3 aspects of the whole process genuinely tedious : (1) Filling in Form 80 which is compulsory for each applicant; (2) Gathering and certifying all the 30++ documents needed to lodge the application for both of us; (3) Writing to various institutions (NIE, MOE and NTU) requesting for specific letters/statements from them as evidence. In hindsight, I do not think that having an agent would reduce my work by a significant amount, since I would have needed to hunt down all the evidence on my own in the first place.

Do note that having an agent will not likely reduce your wait time, because your agent has little control over an external party or DIAC's processing time. In fact (as mentioned earlier) having an agent may potentially increase your waiting time, especially if he/she is handling several cases at once.

With or without an agent, you cannot avoid the paperwork completely.

If I decide to proceed without an agent, where can I find help if I'm stuck?

With Australia issuing more than 2000 PR invites a month, you are definitely not alone in your journey. Aren't you glad you live in the age of the internet? :)

All the best!
- A

After 48 years, what is the Meaning of Singapore's National Day?

"How will you be celebrating National Day?"


“Singapore celebrates its 48th birthday with a nine-part extravaganza, dazzling fireworks, and a singing competition where dreams will come true.” Caption and picture taken from here.

Amongst the group of random friends I polled online and offline, almost half are taking the 4-day 'holiday' to go overseas. Some say that will be catching up on their sleep. Some have plans to make use of the NDP discounts at local attractions or eateries. A few mentioned family gatherings or spending time with their kids. A couple of friends (workaholics, admittedly) sheepishly admitted that they haven't thought about it yet because they have been so overwhelmed by work lately, and will probably be working from home over the long weekend. Most of my ex-students will be using the time to catch up on their schoolwork with a few sullenly complaining that their parents have scheduled extra tuition lessons in that period.

Actually, none of them answered my question, if you think about it. Based on the responses gathered, no one I polled is actually celebrating National Day - people were simply using the public holiday for their recreation or other personal agendas. 

No, there is definitely nothing wrong with pursuing personal recreation on 9 August!

Personally, I see a great contrast between the celebration of National Day compared to the celebration of the other festive public holidays in Singapore. Take Chinese New Year (CNY), for example. Months leading up to the actual day, locals will be preparing for the festivities by buying new clothes, stocking up on CNY goodies and preparing for annual spring cleaning. Everywhere we go, malls and restaurants will be piping CNY music in the background. During the actual 除夕,初一 and 初二 , a majority of the ethnic Chinese Singaporeans will be busy with reunion dinners, visitations, collection of Ang Pows and wishing one another 恭喜发财 (a prosperous year ahead with a pair of Mandarin oranges. Yet another example:  during the celebration of Hari Raya, we often see our Malay neighbours and their families brighten our HDB heartlands with their colourful new (and matching!) clothes. During that festive season, our malls are decorated in green, Kampong Glam comes alive and our local supermarkets are filled with wonderful kueh-kueh and Halal tidbits.

In short, during these festive public holidays, most of the locals involved are actually celebrating the holiday.

What about National Day? How do Singaporeans celebrate our Nation's Independence?

A quick stroll in the HDB heartlands affirms my suspicions on how the significance of National Day has eroded greatly over the years. These days, we have to resort to our grassroots and Residents' Committee to coordinate the hanging of the National Flag in the HDB heartlands. To add to the irony, the people actually hanging the celebratory flags and banners in the HDB estates are mostly foreign workers paid to do the job. As far as I'm concerned, the only ones still playing past National Day songs are the local schools. The National Anthem and Pledge have lost its meaning amongst our youth, being little more than a part of the daily morning routine. Our youth have lost interest in National Education. Those participating in corporate celebrations are from the civil service (no surprises there). The NDP songs are purportedly getting worse from year to year. Many who attend the official NDP celebrations do so to watch fireworks or because of the freebies.

Reason why (kiasu) Singaporeans attend NDP? That's sad...

Gone are the days I remembered as a child, where most Singaporean families hung the National flag on our balconies on our own will. The days where the people worked hand-in-hand in nation building. The days when the government genuinely cared. The days where the people had pride in the country and a sense of belonging. The days before we were labeled as 'pessimistic' and 'emotionless'. The days when Singapore belonged to Singaporeans. Deep down, I feel a profound sense of loss. 

What is happening to us, Singapore? Has National Day lost its meaning? Does being Singaporean still bear any significance? Considering that the nation is less than 50 years old, this rate of decline is alarming indeed!

I share the sentiments of local blogger Andrew Loh (you can read his excellent post here) and concur that at this point in our nationhood, the meaning and purpose of National Day is to reflect on our past, consider the present circumstances and seriously start thinking of the future of the country. Or if you want to be pragmatic, what future do you see for yourself (and your kids) in this country? Will our future generations survive in the Little Red Dot? What can be done if migration is not an optionSomething for 'stayers' to think about, perhaps?

I understand that this post must appear genuinely ironic to readers who are aware of our migration plans. Some of you have labelled me as a 'quitter' or 'all-talk-no-action' based on my earlier viral post on the haze. Guess what? I did not choose to be born here but I was once proud to be Singaporean. I was once the PAP kindergarten child waving the Singapore flag singing Count on Me, Singapore from the bottom of my heart. I was once the school-going kid who performed in the NDP celebrations and danced my heart out on 9 August. I was once the passionate teenager who aspired to become a teacher, so as to make a personal contribution to nation-building (in a small way). 

And yet, my generation (Gen Y) has witnessed how our rising nation has now fallen into severe materialism, elitist meritocracy and xenophobic racism. Housing prices and COE prices have skyrocketed at a phenomenal rate over the past decade. The existing transport infrastructure (which was never meant to support 6.9 million in the first place) is breaking down gradually. Outspoken, idealistic and/or patriotic Singaporeans are censored by the MDA, sued to bankruptcy or charged with contempt of court. Where is the justice? Where is the equality? Can you blame us for being disillusioned? Can you blame us for seeking alternatives?

Survival in Singapore: Live life by default and conform to the 60.14% majority.









May the citizens of Singapore find their courage to take a stand in 2016, so that they can rekindle the national pride that has been lost and celebrate more heartfelt and meaningful National Days in the future.


- A

P/S: Received some news today that the real National Day Celebration will in fact be held at Hong Lim Park this Friday from 4pm to 7pm. More details can be found here. Do check it out!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Migrating to Oz: How much $$ does it cost?

This is one of the most common questions I've been asked by family, friends, colleagues and even acquaintances, when they find out about my migration plans. It's a valid question, really, given that Singaporeans are generally pragmatic people. In this short post, I shall cover the details surrounding the monetary cost of migration for the 2 of us.


How much does it actually cost to migrate?

The table below covers the complete costs for our migration so far:



S/N
Component
Description/Remark
Actual Cost
(for both of us)
1
IELTS Test
Mainly for primary applicant only, unless you are claiming skills points for your partner
S$320
2
Skills Assessment
Depends on what your occupation is. Mine is relevant for all teaching professionals only.
A$550
or approx S$700
3
Submission of EOI
--
FOC
4
Application of State Nomination
For subclass 190 applicants only
FOC
5
Formal Lodgement of PR after invite
For both subclass 189 and 190, before 1 July 2013. After 1 July, please refer to here.
A$3060
or approx S$3600
6
Medical Clearance
For primary applicant and each dependent / secondary applicant. Cost reflected is accurate as of July 2013, but may change with inflation rates
S$131.61 x 2
7
Police Clearance
For primary applicant and each dependent/secondary applicant above 18 years of age.
S$45 x 2
8
Miscellanenous Fees
DHL courier express for Skills Assessment (of course, you can choose to send by post for about a third of the cost)
S$39
TOTAL
Approx
SGD$5012


The above table does not include other costs that we have yet to encounter, such as one way air tickets, movers, transport costs etc. But you get the general idea. Also note that the lodgement fee is non-refundable except under very special circumstances. Therefore, I say this again: Migration is not for the faint of heart - unless you have a lot of money! 

Your next question is probably this: Is the monetary cost worth it? For us, it's a resounding YES! Monetarily speaking, here's my top 3 reasons why:
  1. Housing Grant. First-time home buyers (for Australian Citizens and PR) are given a housing grant of between A$7,000 to A$15,000.
  2. Car. It is well-known that cars in Australia are much cheaper because there is no such thing as COE. Cars are a necessity in Australia but a luxury in Singapore. To compare apples with apples, a new Toyota Camry easily costs S$170,000 in Singapore (according to sgCarMart). The equivalent in Oz costs A$30,000 (according to carsales.com.au). Huge savings there!
  3. Furthering Studies i.e. Masters by Research/PHD. Pursuing a PhD or Masters (by Research) is free for citizens and PR. Given both S and I are already degree holders, this is a very attractive option indeed.

Some of you may comment at this point that the costing above for living in Australia is grossly incomplete. At the moment, of course it is. I haven't taken into consideration food, housing, welfare, healthcare and many other living expenses. However, my point is this: based on the 3 merits listed above, I personally deem that my $5k+ is already well-spent. (In fact, I'm guessing most of the time, costs are only a secondary factor as to why Singaporeans choose to migrate... No?)


Are you afraid to consider migration? So were we, at some point in time.
But if you never try, you never know.

There are, indeed, many other reasons (that has nothing to do with money) on why our answer is a resounding YES, which I shall leave to another post, another day. Stay tuned!

Update: In a semi-related post, S outlines the process of moving our money to Australia.

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