Sunday, 28 September 2014

The real meaning of settling down...

It's been a tumultuous ten months or so since we have landed in Oz.

We've moved house thrice, I'm now well into my fourth job at a car workshop, we've made a heap of friends, and actually lost a few "friends" in recent times. I've been financially burned in a 'business deal' gone sour, to the tune of a couple of hundred bucks. I guess any form of entrepreneurial spirit shall take a backseat for the time being.

As some of you may have read or already know, we've 'owned' our own HDB in sg. We thought back then that we had "settled down". The phrase is usually thrown around with the various meanings such as marriage, having kids, having your own place to call home... and usually a combination of the above. But now that we finally own our home, the feeling is different. (Okay, technically the bank owns our home for now...)

Having recently come from a place where the average person struggles to pay for a public housing apartment on a 99-year lease, and people speak of "landed property" or condominiums with either great envy or great pride (depending on whether one aspires or actually owns), it's a strange feeling to have purchased a house with its own land. Strictly speaking, our home is a "unit", which shares certain components with the neighbouring house, such as a driveway, and  part of our carport uses the neighbour's home as structural support. But while there is common property that is shared, there is what is completely ours, all 325 square metres of it (land area being an approximation from Google Earth measurements). The house itself is completely separate from any neighbours'.

All these, from a humble beginning in sg. Zero financial contribution from either of our parents. No inheritance monies. No get-rich-quick or dodgy schemes. Just a bit of hard work, a bit of luck, a heap of blessings (for those who believe), and a few good decisions made at critical junctures. Ignoring the naysayers who have their noses in the air and their heads in the clouds, but are blind to reality (such as the fact that there are decent places among the western suburbs in Melbourne. 

Of course, it also took a strong push from our birth country, to rediscover the wandering tendencies of our forefathers, and to make a "leap of faith" as what others like to call it.

In hindsight, every trip I took out of sg, every place I've made an effort to visit, was in search of home. I remember discussing the feasibility of Thailand as an alternative to Sg, with A. An exercise in futility because Thailand doesn't really rock our boat any more than sg did. But every option that crossed our path had to be considered.

In recent months, the desire to wander has subsided somewhat. The first weekends after moving were spent doing all the little touch ups that the new house needed. There's still work to be done, but now we have time to relax and enjoy home as it is. There are still many places to visit in Australia, and even just within Victoria State, but those can wait. Maybe we won't visit most of these places after all, just like many of the locals we've met who never ventured much beyond the city and their home suburbs.

Finally, after ten months, we are home.

- S

Who needs movers or to hire a van/ute/trailer to move house? Not us for sure...

Covered lots for two average-sized cars. No "season parking" fees, ever.

Kitchen in its early days of our moving in. It's not huge, I've seen bigger HDB kitchens in the older flats. But open plan. More than enough for two :)

Hanging out with the neighbour, a cute little African boy. He has more vehicles than we do!

Clean simple design, courtesy of the previous owner-builder who renovated this place for re-sale.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

9 months in!

Since so many readers have been asking for updates, here's a quick update. In pictures! (because a picture speaks a thousand words and we have gotten lazy! ;P )


Say goodbye to MRT!



We have witnessed the change in seasons... 

 
gone skiing...


gone hiking...

played with snow...
(not our snowman, arms belong to S)

attended some festivals...

found the best coffee on the planet...

interacted with some native wildlife...

witnessed other non-natives in their element...

picked up a new hobby / toy / set of wheels...

visited a really crowded beach...
 
and set foot at some places that are best described without words...


such as this...

and this.


Yes, we have been living it up, just like we said we would. There have been ups and downs during our time here but we have never looked back. Our health has improved, there's so much to look forward to on weekends and there is work life balance - now we average 8 hours of sleep a night. There have been some small milestones achieved in our 9 months here and hopefully many more to come!

To all readers who are still in the process of migrating to Oz, don't lose hope! The destination is worth the wait. Genuine comments and valid queries will still be responded to when we have the time.

To those Singaporean readers who are looking for endless comparisons between Australia and Singapore, don't bother. You have already decided in your mind that Singapore is the best, why ask? We will be watching the drama of 2016 from here, thank you very much.

To all other readers who need constant updates, please visit asingaporeanson, the blog next door. He posts more frequently and writes in a more interesting manner, y'know?

Cheerios!
A

Friday, 23 May 2014

Breakneck Pace

Hi everyone,

Some of you may be wondering what has happened to us since the last few posts.

In short, things have progressed at a breakneck pace. We are not prepared to update everything here just yet. And in fact we have discussed and realised that as we want to put everything about sg behind us, this blog will probably be one of the things we let go of. That time will come, and we will make it very clear when we do pen our final post.

In the meantime, expect nothing from us about events in sg. We generally avoid following all sg-related news, except anything that concerns us, which is two things: NS and CPF. We won't comment on either on this blog, because we have no interest in that anymore.

A quick summary of updates, some of which we may have blogged about before but I can't be stuffed to check back on our previous posts though I do still publish and reply to comments when I feel like it:

- House hunting
- Swam with seals and dolphins
- Got a forklift license
- Completed my Certificate 3 in Warehousing Operations
- Motorbike license
- Had two delivery jobs, quit one soon after, now quitting the second
- Starting my apprenticeship at a new workshop
- Bought a 2013 Honda CB400 aka Super Four Revo (yes, as a fresh bikie I'm allowed to ride one here, some of you are probably jealous though that's not my intention). I'm really into bikes now, after years of being conditioned not to want one, mostly by my parents.
- Done a real 4WD trip in our Subaru Forester with a local 4WD club
- Did free labour car servicing for a few members of Melbourne SG Kampung (thanks for your support, guys! To the small handful who supported me anyway)
- Thyroid levels stabilising. Antibodies still very high, which means I may need to irradiate or remove the damn thing, but all hormone levels are good and getting better. Free healthcare for now does give me the latitude to get checked more often and adjust my dose accordingly.
- A is cycling to work almost every day, in temperatures of as low as 6 degrees. No sweat (ok lame, but of course)
- I've been motorbiking in weather that has local Aussies labelling me as crazy. Below 5 degrees, using the very same armoured kit which I wear in summer. Again, no sweat. (ha ha).
- I've gone riding in the hills carving corners following my friend in his sports car. Again, not trying to make anyone jealous, just saying. Probably not the wisest thing to do as a 2 month-old rider, but I've got a good bike and I think I'm relatively cautious and competent and ride within my limits.

It's been over six months since we've landed here, and there have been ups and downs as expected. Life here can be as much of a struggle in sg, in our case probably much more so, to be honest. But every step has meant something, and we remain as sure as ever that we are home.

In the meantime, what do you want to read about, or hear more of? Do let us know and we'll try to oblige. Except for commentary on sg, as mentioned earlier. Ask freely, but that won't be given!

-S

Sunday, 30 March 2014

How does one choose their first car in Oz?

Hi S,


Need to seek your advice again. We are currently looking for a 2nd hand car and we have no idea how to begin. We've never owned a car (Can't afford one in SG). Can you give us some tips on which brand is reliable, not too pricey and fuel efficient? We'll probably need a hatchback because we need the space. We would appreciate some advice on what to look out for when looking for our first 2nd hand car as well. Thanks in advance!

Snowflake

-----------------------------------------

Hi Snowflake,

Firstly, do have a look at this post. Of course, it's not entirely relevant for you. I have been a car enthusiast for years, and have had four vehicles in SG.

I think I will focus on trying to help you decide what you want out of your car. In my comment reply to your post, I asked you to identify what you will be doing with your car. I hope you have thought about that. Once that's in place, you can re-visit my post again and see the other points.

I don't know you as a friend, be it in person or even online. I don't know your character, What turns you on/off (in terms of motoring, or in life. Not talking about the bedroom)? Are you the purely practical sort? Are you the kind who wants to keep up with the Joneses? Are you the kind who goes for quality? Or do you just want bargain basement?

Essential features for:

Touring - Cruise control, big boot, preferably 2 liters and above in engine capacity, car interior must smell ok (over long distances you will know what I mean. Smell also tells you about the previous owner - did he care for the car properly?). Spare tyre - yes some cars come without one. Like the Swift Sport.

Some suggestions: Camry, Toyota Kluger, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback, Subaru Liberty Wagon (this is my huge fav), Mazda 6 wagon, Honda Accord Euro, Honda CRV, Nissan X-Trail. Mitsubishi Magna

Kids - big boot, leather seats, child restraint anchor points (I think most cars come with that in Oz).

See touring suggestions.

City commute - Automatic transmission

Any car you wish, except for Honda City/Jazz/Fit with CVT. The conventional auto transmission on the newer City/Jazz/Fit should be ok. The CVTs on the aforementioned models are said to be finicky if not taken care of immaculately. $$$$$$.

Avoid big cc cars of 3.0 liter and above for city. They will have shit fuel consumption in urban conditions. But for touring, they may give you similar figures to smaller cc engines while providing a more refined and relaxed driving experience, with plenty of reserve power for mountains and overtaking.

Nice to have:

Touring - Moon/Sunroof, all-wheel drive for the added reassurance in the wet or frost, front passenger arm rests, nice sound system, built-in Sat Nav. Diesel engine for long-distance economy. Four wheel drive with ground clearance to really get you places. Tow bar to fit bike rack, or tow trailer IF extra luggage is required

Kids - In-car entertainment system with DVD/media player for rear passengers. MPV

City commute - Electrical power steering for that extra light, lifeless feel which makes the car so easy to park. Good fuel consumption. Hybrid technology or LPG dual fueled.

To haul goods: Knock down rear seats. Almost all hatches have this, but so do some saloons. Tow bar, for moving house yourself.

Specific car models to recommend, and why:

Based on my limited experience...

For touring:

- Subaru Forester XT. This is the car we have. 2.5 liter turbo, decent low to mid-range torque for overtaking and hauling full loads up the mountain without having to keep working the gear box. Available in Automatic as well. Cruise control, moon roof, good sound system, arm rests, leather seats (in "luxury trim" version). Good economy out of town, for something this capable. Permanent AWD which is really neat in the wet on tram lines and even for light off-roading.

Also available with a Diesel engine, albeit manual only, and more expensive. My mind favours the diesel but my heart favours the petrol version which is more engaging to drive.

- Subaru Liberty (called "Legacy" in SG). Had a few rides in one. This car handles BRILLIANTLY. Excellent seats, very planted ride. I couldn't feel the body roll in this thing. Yet the ride is not harsh.

- Subaru Outback. This is basically a Liberty which is taller and thus more off-road capable. Inferior to Forester off road. Will be better everywhere else. Will have more body roll than Liberty, less than Forester.

- Toyota Camry. You will see it everywhere. I found my dad's to be an utterly characterless car, but it worked. Pretty good pick-up for something of its size, but fuel consumption was disappointing. Figures I get from a friend here are similar, so I would just go with a Subaru instead. But this is not a bad choice.

There is a hybrid version of the Camry which should return excellent figures for city driving but not be much different from a petrol on the open road...

Parts for all the above cars will be easily available for a reasonable price, and they have decent reputations as far as reliability goes.

For lugging many kids around:

- Subaru Tribeca. Because it's huge and safe and AWD. I wouldn't want this for touring for up to four people, because I think it's thirsty and overkill.

- Toyota Tarago MPV. Same as the above, sans AWD.

- Any other Japanese-branded MPV.

Especially for city driving and nothing else. Some were the cars I was considering at first:

- Hyundai i20 auto or manual. No cruise control option though, which makes it a huge pain.

- Hyundai i30. This should have the option of cruise control. If you are buying used like you should, please take note of it.

- Volkswagen Up! The highest trim level has cruise control. However, requires RON 95 petrol. It's a very cute car.

- Nissan Micra. Otherwise known as the Nissan March in SG. Cheap and cheerful, with very light steering. Ladies will love it.

- Toyota Corolla, Yaris, Echo. In descending order of size. My friend has the Echo, without power steering. I find that a very useful omission, having experienced power steering pump failure at speed while approaching a corner in my Subaru WRX STi. One less part to worry about.

- Honda Jazz manual. This is supposedly a very frugal car. It has very clever fold down seats which give it the best interior room in its class. My only caution is against the CVT auto version as mentioned earlier.

- Mazda Metro, Mazda 121, Mazda 2, Mazda 323. Mazdas make nice handling cars. The newer Mazda 3 is a good all-rounder but wouldn't be my pick for mainly city usage.

- Suzuki Alto, Mitsubishi Mirage. If you want to scrape the bottom of the barrel without being foolish and getting something which is absolute shit. I wouldn't go there myself, but I think these choices could make sense if you have a very limited budget.

If I were you, I would avoid:

Anything Holden. Unless you are a petrolhead and tell me you want a HSV. I wouldn't say no to that... Dual-fuel LPG Holdens might make sense though...

Anything BMW. I really admire their engineering. If I could magically have free servicing for life, I would be a BMW fan for life and agree to only drive those (335i, M3). But servicing is a killer, and BMW's aren't famous for reliability

Anything with a dual clutch gearbox (e.g. Auto VWs), automated manual gearbox (auto Alfa Romeos), and most CVTs. Actually I would avoid auto totally but I know that most will insist on auto.

Diesel for city usage. Modern diesels don't fare well with mainly short trips. The exhaust filter (DPF aka diesel particulate filter to be exact) tends to clog without highway usage. This could result in expensive repairs or replacements.

Real 4x4s, unless you have an interest in going off-road. Fuel consumption and cost of maintenance are going to be a pain. These cars are overkill for any situation other than off-road. But I personally wish to own one some day.

City cars, period. Parking is expensive, jams affect little cars pretty much the same, and public transport will be getting more affordable, plus it's less crowded than in SG. You will suffer when in most city cars. Most cars in the touring category will do perfectly fine in the city apart from being slightly harder to park and having worse consumption.

If you are coming to Melbourne, I would be happy to help inspect the car for you if you are getting a used one :)

I know this post has probably been too exhaustive for you. You can always buzz me again when the time comes and you have shortlisted a few models which catch your fancy.

At the end of the day, you should test drive it yourself and with your other half because it is the two of you who will be living with the car on a day to day basis.

-S

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

After 4 months, some comparisons between Australia and sg.

Time for a genuinely neurotic rambling post here: some updates, and some musings about life in Oz vs life in SG.

Transport Options

I heard a recent outcry over motorcycle COE prices in SG. Apparently the latest COE is now $4000. Ouch. I once did some rough calculations and concluded that a small, cheap motorbike in SG would be cheaper than public transport, assuming no accidents, and no medical fees involved. Of course with the ever-increasing public transport fares in SG, this may continue to hold true. In fact if one needs to travel a lot on a budget, the motorcycle remains the only viable option. Public transport at any price does not move at a speed which enables one to get around efficiently. You could survive multiple short hops, or a long commute to and from work. That's about it.

Possibly a good transport option for you poor sods in SG is cycling. Hear me out, bear with me.

You guys now have a very decent park connector network (PCN). You can't get everywhere with the PCN, but at least the places it serves have wide, smooth pavements. They are well-lit at night. I really do appreciate that bit about SG now, after a harrowing ride along the Merri Creek Trail which is just one of Melbourne's equivalent of Sg's PCN. It has been here for much longer, and is much more scenic. Take a look:



Looks nice eh?

I tried it last night, with two cheap little LEDs from K-mart for illumination. I did not enjoy that bit at all. The relative desolation which I enjoyed in the day turned out to be a spooky and discomfiting experience at 10pm, where the occasional stray lights from the factories or suburbs cast dancing shadows which made me start on occasion. Not to mention that some of these suburbs I've passed are allegedly unsavoury and there was a genuine fear of bumping into some miscreants or druggies along the way. With the less well-maintained pavement, I was glad I was on my mountain bike with off-road tyres and front suspension because there was no way of seeing the potholes or bumps and avoiding them without good lights. On my other bike, it would have meant either I travelled at an agonisingly slow speed, potentially sustained punctures at normal speeds, or worse, fell off the bike. Maybe into the Merri Creek itself.

As it turned out, I didn't notice any sign of human activity last night. But it's a ride I will be unlikely to attempt again anytime soon.

Did save about $7 in petrol though, by riding instead of driving to school.

Back to cycling in SG. Nice PCN, relatively safe weather, apart from haze. The bit of heat and extreme humidity sucks, but drink plenty of water and dress sensibly and you won't have any dramas. No extremes in temperature, and usually no hail. You are unlikely to catch anything more than a cold  (if it rains) if you commute by bicycle without rain gear. Here in Melbourne, it is a must, where the temperature can drop 15 degrees in mere minutes.

Bicycles are affordable compared to any other form of transport, keep you fit, and you won't get lost with Google Maps. If Google Maps can function well for bike navigation Down Under, it will work in tiny Singapore. Stop giving excuses, or complaining about public transport!

I wouldn't want to commute on the roads in SG though, while in Melbourne, it is a lot less of a hassle with a very extensive bike trail network, as well as dedicated cycle lanes on most roads. However, not all roads have bike lanes, and traffic here can be quite a pain as well. The good thing is that most drivers in Melbourne are far more patient and courteous than in Sg, especially towards bikers. This may explain the behaviour of that infamous Aussie cyclist who made headlines in SG, not that I think he should get away with the behaviour. Wouldn't be surprised if he did, though.

Public transport in Melbourne may now be much more reliable than in SG. Trams breakdown now and then, but the breakdowns never lead to a systemic failure like breakdowns would on SG's MRT system. I asked my friend who has been here for about 20 years how often the transport breaks down in Melbourne, and he replied: hardly, except on hot days. Note that Melbourne's trains and trams are generally ancient compared to SG's, and that if the metro ("MRT") breaks down here, likely you are just a short walk away from a bus stop or even a tram station. Or a cafe/pub. No need to fuss over fare refunds as well. We pay one fare for 2 hours unlimited travel. Or if you overshoot the two hours, you are good for the whole day for an additional charge. Yes, it costs more. More than I am willing to pay, especially that I have two functioning legs and a bicycle. But my point is that I will choose the public transport in Melbourne ANYTIME over SG's. I like breathing room, you see. I also like to get a seat, and I've had to stand for at most 15 minutes on an evening peak hour trip to the western suburbs. Even that was much more pleasurable than on the MRT as I had personal space around me. To put things in perspective, almost everyone can board the first train they desire, and nobody bats an eyelid at full size bikes on the metro during peak hour. No need for that overpriced fancy foldable Brompton then...

I used to drive quite a bit in SG, when I had a car. Which was most of my adult life until a few months before we quit that place. Pay for COE, road tax, astronomical insurance, additional fees and taxes, must use the car, right? So I did. 

Here, my Subaru Forester XT 2.5 liter turbo is almost like an OPC aka weekend car. It is of course much thirstier than say a Honda Jazz (which is a pretty sensible option, albeit a completely joyless drive). But my philosophy is that short trips kill a car faster, and that the best fuel consumption a car can achieve is when it is parked. In Oz we get the manual Forry as well, so I average about 8.5km/l in the city, driving it as I please, which includes full throttle takeoffs in first gear to the redline, then full throttle in second to the speed limit (that's how I got one speeding ticket, but I still do that). I get 10km/l with a good mix, and can better 11km/l on road trips, including jaunts up the mountains. That, with All-Wheel Drive, a lead foot, and full load, on road trips. In Sg, Subarus are notorious for poor consumption, especially the Auto version of the Forester Turbo. Maybe Subarus are like me, and fare better in Oz. Insurance here is also way cheaper for my Forester. Then again it's considered an ah pek car here and I'm happy with it this way.

Parking in the city is ridiculously expensive in Oz, and Citylink (the Melbourne equivalent of ERP) fees are much higher too. Near my school if I'm unlucky, I end up paying $13 for the day. If I get a cheaper spot, it's about $8. Thus, I avoid driving to town like the plague. My $220 single speed bicycle gets me there and back just as quickly and helps me to keep fit as well. Rain or shine, I will ride. Even survived a ride in T-shirt and shorts on a 10-degree morning.

Motorbikes here are expensive compared to cars. The cheapest Honda CB400 ABS I've seen was  advertised at $5,500, about the same price as my friend's Honda Jazz 1.5. But motorbikes enjoy free parking on pavements almost anywhere (parking on pavements is allowed by default) and have much better jam-beating abilities than cars do. But that price gets a relatively new bike in terms of kms, as compared to in SG. Bikes in Oz are still cheaper, not to mention there's no COE. Bikes also tend to be better cared-for, as most of them are garaged and little-used.

Having just started riding and working as a despatch rider, I must say that the same courtesy shown to bicycles is also extended to motorcycles. I've been tailgated once or twice, and that is to say, the car was probably 3 bike lengths behind me. In SG, due to the cavalier attitude of both riders and drivers, it was common for me to see bikes and cars traveling at highway speeds with less than 1 car length separating them. The weather in Melbourne also allows one to wear armour more comfortably. It is common to see people on scooters with full-face helmets, gloves, and armoured jackets and pants. I'm still trying to sort out my choice of gear for warmer days, but with Autumn now afoot, I'm usually able to manage with my armoured rain jacket, gloves and at least jeans.

Ex Australian Post bike, also affectionately called a "postie". My bike of choice on my despatch job :)
I do get curious looks, but only from the huge racket the bike makes when signalling. Beep beep beep!

Food

As expected, the main thing I missed was the convenience of readily available mixed vegetable rice. But after reading this article, I am glad that we have completely foregone that. No more late night hawker centre suppers. No more oily, salty, MSG-laden food. Home cooking is now de rigeur, and we try to make plenty of it for the subsequent days' meals. From making a huge mess preparing pasta for two, I have improved my cooking to generating 9 portions to fill the freezer with meals for the next few weeks, without major dramas, and in the same time I used to cook for two. A is no fan of pasta, but it saves time and money. We don't have that every day anyway, as we cook "proper" meals every two to three days, with leftovers filling the days in between. The frozen pasta is our "instant noodles", if you will. Just defrost and pop it into the microwave for a few minutes. I wouldn't choose any pasta I've tried in SG over my leftovers.

Our nice new LG refrigerator was rather under-utilised in SG. But our $140 second-hand Kelvinator is packed to the gills at least weekly with fresh produce, and the freezer with frozen meals. One day when we move to our own place, we will get a good sized chest freezer, and prepare our own mixed vegetable rice dishes to freeze, then cook rice every other day or so. Cooking is enjoyable, but a bit too tiresome and time-consuming if done daily. 

The end result now is that we actually spend far less on food in Oz and eat much more healthily. I have Indomie in the larder and seldom touch it. I prefer to microwave my frozen pasta which is tastier and healthier (to me anyway). Fruits are fresher here, and those harvested in Oz are way cheaper. Large black grapes for $3 per kg, ultra-sweet rockmelons for $1.50 each, anyone? I've discovered A2 milk, which doesn't upset my stomach at all, where milk in SG gives me diarrhoea almost without fail. Even the normal Coles $1 per liter milk tastes better and gives me less problem than supposedly the same "Australian fresh milk" in SG, but I think A2 is worth the extra cost given my weak stomach and probably lactose-intolerance.

Meanwhile, with friends who invite us to eat at Singapore/Malaysian restaurants every now and then, we've never actually missed that kind of cuisine, though we do enjoy it when we go there. Recently a restaurant called Newton Circus has opened in Melbourne and I'm hearing rave reviews about it. I'm sure it will pale in comparison to the very best that SG has to offer, but the Singaporeans/ex-Singaporeans say it's not far off. But on a regular basis, A has no difficulty whipping up rendang, bak kut teh, curries, and I can easily do a decent chicken rice which I prefer to the average hawker centre chicken rice in SG. We can fry rice, bee hoon, and noodles as well. It's not rocket science.

Air Quality

I hate to rub it in, but to those in SG who commented about the bushfire-related haze in Oz, the irony is sweet indeed.

Yes, we get haze here. Yes, it was bad. The AQI went up to 400+ in some areas. We have a Honeywell, and those days weren't nice. Aircon and air purifiers on, and all windows closed.

Funny thing is, an AQI of 300 smells like a PSI of about 150 in SG. Visibility reduction is similar as well. An AQI of 150 gives us visibility of about 6-8km, and smells like a "moderate PSI" in SG. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Besides, the same conditions which cause bushfire spreads (dry, and in particular, windy) also assist in dispersion of the smoke. During some days with bad bushfires, many areas are spared from haze completely. The haze only arose for about a week (and that's about all there is likely to be for the year) because of an unusual spate of windlessness. I suspect that the dryness of the wood relative to that in Indonesia also makes for relatively cleaner-burning bushfires.

On average, air quality in Melbourne is much better than SG, even without haze. I must say that apart from the haze in SG, the air there is probably as good as it can get for a city in Southeast Asia. But it's far from what you can get in metro Melbourne, and the comparison is even bleaker if you consider that we get to venture to unspoilt countryside here.

Weather

Again, the irony. I must have friends who have very suay mouths. Because after the comments on the heat wave here (which was bad but even I survived), SG had a drought. But well, it is worse in Melbourne for maybe a total of three weeks during a bad year. The rest of the year is heaps better, if you can endure cold. With modern clothing technology, I don't see how anyone can have issues with cold. Winter wear is actually pretty affordable. Buy it. Wear it.

Unfortunately there's a limit to how far clothing can make one comfortable in hot and humid weather. Even if I could go stark naked in SG, it would still be too hot and humid for me. I'm cool with the climate on the 20th storey with an unblocked view and good breeze in SG, but can't afford that luxury. Here, all is good most days, even without wind, fan or air con. We did cheat and use the heater occasionally during our first weeks here, but I don't think we'll be using much in future, except perhaps during the coldest winter days.

When we first arrived, I had to wear a jacket to cycle in 16 degree weather, and still felt cold. As mentioned earlier, I managed a 10 degree morning with T-shirt and shorts, like some Aussies can. I think there will be some crazy buggers who do that in winter as well but I won't try that.

That crazy "four seasons in a day" weather is very real, but very infrequent. It's only going to be an issue for people who are not acclimatised and ill-prepared.

People, and racism

This is going to be very subjective, but let me attempt to do this comparison fairly. The quick summary is that people in Oz are much nicer as a whole, but probably more polarised. By "polarised" I mean that one may get to meet much worse people than in SG.

I might have been shouted at once on the road by a truck driver who was frustrated trying to overtake me while I was on my bicycle. I can't be sure. There's obviously a chance that it may have been race-related, but I couldn't make out what he said. I was in the right (as I was using the bike lane), and he didn't horn or try to run me off the road. I shrugged it off. No harm done. Had he horned, it would have been quite startling to me and probably more unsafe. I got horned at a lot more in SG and I'm a reasonably safe and experienced cyclist.

I've also been shouted at once while stopped by the road where I shouldn't have. I thought it was uncalled for, but ah well. Again, no harm done. This time it was certainly not race-related as there was no way of knowing our skin colour as it was at night.

Almost everyone here is more considerate, courteous and friendly. The least friendly people I meet here are those of a similar race to mine.

The most racist people I know are Singaporeans. The 'natives' here may be culturally-ignorant at times, but any basis of racial discrimination is strongly frowned-upon, and I had an experience at work to illustrate this:

Where I work, there's a chef from somewhere in Asia (let's call him Matt), and another local white chef (let's call him Andrew).

Andrew was showing me how to make white sauce, because I was interested. I then gave him a hand, and all you gutterbrains, I know what you are thinking.. But anyway....

I was straining out the sauce to remove lumps as shown by Andrew. Andrew then took out some older stock of the same sauce made by Matt. It was lumpy and due to be thrown out. My boss took a look at it and commented (or so I thought):

"That's un-Australian"

I was somewhat amused actually, and asked:

"Un-Australian?"

But of course, Matt was Asian. He was still on a work visa. He wasn't Australian.

My boss retorted:

"No. Unstrained! That ('un-Australian') would be racist!"

And the conversation went on to other things, without missing a beat.

My boss and "Andrew" are typical "white Aussies". This is the general behaviour one will observe in Melbourne. Yes, in the past, racism was more prevalent. Yes, one can encounter racism in some less-developed parts of Oz. But this is not exclusive to people of Asian descent. Even people whose origins hail from some parts of Europe, those commonly regarded as ang moh  by Singaporeans, may encounter discrimination. My teacher is Italian, and faced discrimination in his youth. But he tells us that those days are past.

Most Singaporean Chinese may not realise, but ask any non-Chinese Singaporean if there is discrimination in SG. The answers may shock you. I shan't delve into this while I am still a Singaporean.

Conclusion?

I think A Singaporean Son has put it very well in this post. At the end of the day, migration, heck, even life as a whole is a very personal journey. But for readers who have certain misconceptions of Australia, I just want to share the truth on the ground. Not that I care whether it hits home or not. At the end of the day, you can choose to stick your head in the sand and believe that SG is the best place in the world. To be honest, it may well be, for many people.

But for anyone with dreams of life beyond SG, fear not. Fortune favours the brave, and the worst thing about Melbourne (or anywhere else you may wish to migrate to) is really The Big Unknown. For us, we ended up pleasantly surprised, and while life here is NOT a complete bed of roses, it has been beautiful thus far.

One can be unhappy anywhere in the world. One can be happy in SG. For us, moving here was our key to happiness. Will it be the same for you?

Only you can find out.

Alpine adventures on my bike

Saturday, 22 March 2014

A Letter from an ex-editor


Dear S and A, 

Hope this letter finds you well. I read your blog entries when I needed to do my IELTS, gain clarity into the application process etcetera, so, thank you for being so generous and open in sharing your experiences, which no doubt have benefited many others besides me. I find it hard to be so forthcoming with my own history (even my FB name is an alias), so, would you be able to remove my name, initials and parts of my bio if you so happen to wish to reply and/or publish on your blog? 

I am writing to you because I had started applying a year ago, but just three weeks back, Canberra removed my nominated occupation (editor) from the SOL. Due to my complicated employment history, I had hired an agent to help me, so it was a shock mentally and financially when the occupation was removed after I had paid about $2,000 for the agent, application and IELTS. Another reason I would like to seek your advice is, I think S’s experience was in communications like me, while A was a teacher—and I am considering to retrain in that field. 

I’m 32 yrs old and have been taking on various comms-related roles, and have been considering a switch in career, so my desire to venture into early childhood/ primary teaching stems from a solid interest, though my decision to go into these was also heavily influenced by the emigration pathway. I have been talking to a number of friends who have studied in Australia before or are in Australia, and I have been reading many forums, and it makes most sense to just approach you two who had face the same immigration rules and perhaps similar perspectives, since we are from Singapore/ Asia. I’m considering a Masters of Teaching, especially early childhood since that is on the SOL and according to the media at least, there is a demand for such teachers. (I don’t have the aptitude or an equally strong interest in secondary level). This would most likely cost me $100k—a huge sum of money that neither I nor my family can afford. I have some savings, and am prepared to use up all, but I would still need a sizeable amount which I think can be done through part-time work. The stakes are very high for me, so I just want to ensure that I make the most suitable decision. 

According to people in Oz forums, even the locally qualified with extensive experience are finding it tough to find a permanent job. This implies that, by the time I can get to apply for PR in three years’ time (and that is, if the criteria hasn’t changed), I may not even land a job and fulfill that one year experience needed, or this position may be removed sooner or later. Would you be able to advise on job availability for early childhood educators? Are there sufficient jobs so I can go on SOL, or should I ensure I study and work in the same state? How difficult would it be to work part-time doing such a Master’s? Thanking you for everything you’ve shared, and for taking the time to read this. 

Warmest wishes, 
*Amy

_______________________ 

Hello *Amy,

Believe it or not, this is hardly the first time I have heard about prospective migrants whose lives have been (quite literally) put on hold after their nominated occupations have been removed from the SOL. I imagine it happens every time the authorities and/or each State update their SOL, more often removing occupations than putting in new ones. I have also encountered individuals working as retail pharmacists who are desperately applying for skills re-assessment as a 234211 Chemist after 5 pharmacy-related occupations were removed from the SOL in July 2013. So first off, let me say that I do sympathize as you have been unfortunate in circumstances not within your control. I can tell from your account that you have been positive and proactive in your migration plans and I'm glad that you are taking steps to find an alternative, which in your case is switching your career pathway. Good on you!

Pharmacists = Chemists??

As for your specific question on early childhood teaching as a career option in Oz, I would have to give you some disappointing news. Based on statistics from the Dept of Immigration, there is a much lower demand for early childhood teachers in Australia than say, Primary and Secondary School teachers. I'm not sure if you have visited Skillselect and glanced at the occupation reports so far. For 2013-2014, the occupation ceiling value for early childhood educators is 1500 while that for primary teachers and secondary teachers are close to 9000 and 8000 respectively. I'm not saying that early childhood teaching may be removed from the SOL in the next few years, but if it does, do you have yet another backup plan?

I can tell you have done your research and you are probably right that even qualified locals are finding it difficult to find a full time job in the current economy. This certainly appears to be the case based on my current observations. A colleague of mine who graduated with honours from Melbourne Uni worked as a Pizza delivery boy (for less than minimum wage) for more than a year before landing a full time job. Another colleague with a Bachelor in Animal Science mentioned that less than half of the graduates in that field end up working in animal related jobs, with most of them working in animal cleaning jobs in the meantime. Another has told me that the current unemployment rate in Oz is about 20%.

Regardless of what you read, don't lose hope. I always listen with discretion and take in all information with a pinch of salt, especially information from forums. Every individual's circumstances are different. If childhood teaching is your passion, you could excel in it and carve a future with that, despite the circumstances and hearsay.

You mentioned taking a Masters in Teaching that costs $100k. Based on the cost alone, I would suppose you are intending to pursue this Masters overseas, probably in Australia as an International student. You are right that the stakes for your case are high. As a start, I would advise you to go through the Australian Skills Assessment details to ensure that the Master course you are intending to pursue will indeed be recognized as equivalent to at least a teaching diploma. In Singapore, our equivalent is the one-year Post-Grad Dip in Education (PGDE) which includes a 10-week practicum in a school. As far as I know, the 10-week practicum aspect is a compulsory component for recognition. In short, do find out if teaching practice is a compulsory requirement for your occupation and whether your intended Masters programme offers that hands-on component. If teaching practice is required, find out the duration required for recognition.

Working part-time while studying is certainly the norm here unless one is terribly rich and/or lazy. It is a very common option for both locals and international students. However, I have a feeling it will be challenging to find a part-time job in childhood teaching if you aren't already qualified. It is much easier to find part-time jobs in F&B that don't require formal qualifications. Another point to note is that any job that involves children requires a working with children check so that may be something you want to apply for as soon as you reach the shores of Australia, assuming you do eventually decide to do the Masters in Oz.

I know that the information I have shared so far is not terribly uplifting for your circumstances. Here's where I go back to my general philosophy when it comes to the migrant's mentality : When there's a will, there's a way. How far are you willing to go? How much risk are you willing to take in order to pursue your passion and your dreams? Is migrating more important to you or is pursuing your new career in childhood teaching more important to you? Will you be happy to pursue this new path in Singapore should migration not be viable for you in the future? Is there more than one path to living meaningfully and without regrets?


How I imagine Amy must be feeling.

Stay strong, have faith, take care and do look us up for a cup of kopi if you happen to be in Melbourne in the future. Or you can also bother asingaporeanson if your destination is Perth, haha. Cheers.

- A