Monday, April 22, 2013

A New Singapore?

It is my free day today, and instead of preparing more work, I decided to take a short break and read the online news. One article caught my eye - "Spell Singapore without LKY" - to the uninitiated, LKY is the initials of Singapore's first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of the tiny island. In his three decades at the helm, Singapore has transformed into a renowned global financial and education hub.
However, things are changing fast here. Core Singaporeans are disgruntled with new policies that they claim do not benefit them, but only the Members of Parliament. There are cries that the PAP party that has ruled for over 50 years are destroying their rice bowl by employing more foreigners and granting permanent residence to them.
A change is inevitable. Eventually another political party rival will rule Singapore but what sort of change that would take place is unseen. I shouldn't be too concerned - but I am - for LKY and his team of nation builders had worked hard for decades to take Singapore to great heights, and it would be a total waste if change brings the worst. Locals, foreigners and tourists have had nothing but praises for the government's efficiency, but I could see that the praise is slowly but surely fading. I myself have witnessed acts that I believe show a change - the opposite way. I see smokers though there are signage to prohibit smoking, I see people spitting on the pavement, I see jaywalkers and I see litters. Bus services are less punctual, buses are so crammed at peak hour, the traffic is heavily congested. Indeed, I understand why Singaporeans are lamenting and yelling at their deaf government, some cursing at the PAP for not doing anything to ease the problem. They blame corruption, greed, lack of interest in public matters. They blame foreigners who are here to earn a living. They blame everyone but themselves - not that they have to be blamed for everything.
To be honest and fair, Singapore is still a great place to work and to live in compared to some other Asian countries if you can tolerate the heavy traffic at peak hour, crowded buses as well as hectic face-paced lifestyle. I won't blame the PAP, the authorities or the influx of foreigners. The key issue now is, how the younger generation of politicians are going to handle these issues. Calling these as "problems" is tantamount to blaming someone, yet we know if LKY had not done what he had done, Singapore wouldn't be where it is now. No doubt he has made mistakes. Who doesn't? How will this matter be solved, now that LKY's health is declining as he's already an octogenarian, close to 90 years of age already. He cannot be the Mentor Minister any longer, can he? He is well aware that there must be new blood, and he has explicitly said so, for his era is gone. We're now in the "don't use the rod, it doesn't work anymore" era.
I fear for Singapore. When I see my students' attitudes - their arrogance, their crudeness, their lack of knowledge and respect; when I hear their ubiquitous "I don't care", or "Simply do, la" remarks, and their liberal use of the word "fuck" every other minute, I pray that they do not be politicians unless they miraculously transform from a worm into a butterfly by the time they reach 18. Asians have their own conservative values that need to be preserved. While we could allow some Western influence assimilate into our lives, we cannot let that influence fester and cause our unique culture to disappear altogether.
Indeed, fresh blood is needed to spur this country forward - or will these newbies suck more blood and put this once-flourishing nation into the doldrums? There will never be another LKY; he has set the foundation. Who will keep the flame burning for Singapore?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Teaching is Tough

The sky looks threatening, though not grey enough to warrant a great thunderstorm. It is my off day, as usual - the only day I don't go to work, yet I don't feel at ease.

I have been spending most of my free days preparing more work for my students. Well, don't blame me, for I have 20 classes to teach per week ranging from Primary 3 to Secondary 4 - the O Levels kids. That's a total of six different groups of students from ages 9 to 18. I have to teach 30+ hours per 6-day week. Oh yeah, I work on Sabbath Days too for a full eight hours from 9:30 till 5:00PM, inclusive of travel time. On weekdays, classes begin at 4:30PM, but wait, you'll then question me: "Then why are you complaining?" The fact is, unlike other professions, a teacher needs to do preparations - review what has been taught, and plan what to teach for the day in addition to preparing additional worksheets for the smarter kids. THIS is time-consuming. Unless you have been teaching for ages where you could then recycle materials, and unless you're the kind who just copy and paste lock, stock and barrel from the Internet, you will eventually end up working yourself out to the maximum - in the name of educating the students. I started with almost zero since joining last year. Would my agony then be reduced next year? Quite unlikely as I don't recycle too much - unless I'm darn lazy or ill.

You know, each time I have breakfast on weekends at the tuition centres, I am envious of residents lazing around on the bench, cycling with their children, taking a sip of their favourite local coffee while enjoying a good meal of roti canai or ban mian as they read their papers. Life seems to come to a standstill, yet they appear to enjoy every moment of their two off days with their loved ones. Those who are retired enjoy whatever that's left of their lives, collecting pensions and their CPF savings.

How long can I last? I have no clue. I'm just hanging in there while looking into my soul for something that interests me so that I don't have to keep job-hopping. Someone once said to me, "You won't make it" - well, she can say all she wants as she's having a great life now, but I intend to stay and prove that I can stay on.
A prayer helps too.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Unwell Once More

I'm not well - again.

It seems that every month, I will somehow fall ill. I do not recover as quickly as before, and my immunity is lower as time goes on. Prior to coming to Singapore, I had hardly taken any paracetamols when I got ill, but in the past few months, I've taken more Panadols than I've ever done in the past 10 years, and I'm not exaggerating! I remember, once I was ill for a week, and I was so afraid that I would not be able to go to work that I popped in not one, but TWO pills every alternate days for about a week, yet my sore throat and cough didn't go away. I went to see the doctor; his medication worked for a while, but I got the same problem again.

I wonder, is it the food, the weather or what?


It has been two days, and I had taken one Panadol per day. Well, that didn't work; in fact the pill has hardly any effect on me anymore other than reducing my temperature a bit. The sore throat, the cough are still persistent. So, I had to go to the doctor. People say: "must spend money, then only can be better". True to the hilt.

Roughing in Out

I'm supposed to get some work done. Well, I did actually for a while, but once that's done, I decided to stop completely for the day before I go to work.

I have been lamenting about my job in recent months, more so after getting my second job when the first one made me feel so destitute of a proper life. After much thought, I did something which I believed would be better - I left that job and hopped into something more "adventurous" by being a full time tuition teacher. I thought, "What the heck. I don't have to go back to my hometown so often, so working on Sat and Sun are fine with me." I'm into my fourth month of the new job, and I find that it's not a wise decision after all because when I do need to return for even one day, it's a hassle. I need to make a call, get the admin guy to find a substitute for me, apply for a no-pay leave (because I'm not confirmed yet). Frankly, the 6-months' probation for a tuition teacher is just too much, but then they have a reason for that. In addition to that, I also face the possibility of having my $200 allowance revoked for the month for not fulfilling my obligation of teaching without taking non-gazetted leave.

Yes, it's a classic example of the idiom: "jumping from the frying pan into the fire"

My only consolation is that I have better bosses (yes, that's plural) who won't barge into anyone's class to see how we teach, for they trust us. That doesn't mean we can sit down and rest on our laurels, as two staff had been sacked for breaching contract, for taking too many days off. Just make sure the bosses don't leave a message on your mobile, or that spells trouble. Beside having kind bosses, I have a couple of great colleagues who are in the dark about where I come from. No, I don't practice black magic in class, and I've not turned to the Dark Side (yet), but it's best I remain silent about my personal stuff.

You know, students have asked me if I had injured myself doing National Service, what it was like, and if I were still serving the army. In class, I talked like I was one of their kind - well, I'm not too far from that, anyway - so that they'd not feel distant. I've learnt lots of acronyms like CCA, SA, SS, OE, ORD, BMT which all pure Singaporean teachers and students are familiar with. Their favourite movie: "Ah Boys to Men" (Parts 1 & 2). As a foreigner, I have to assimilate, though where I come from, the culture is very similar.

Jokes aside, it is indeed an excruciatingly tough WORK life here, especially in this second job. I had been warned before jumping ship.  I had been working like an ox since January when enrolment started to grow. How hard? How does teaching 20 classes, 30+ hours and 6 days per week sound to you? I'd spare you the more horrendous details, or you'd just end up dozing off - which you probably are right now. Come to think of it, even oxen are having better days now with new farming machines. I can imagine seeing them basking in the sun wearing shades while watching me work my ass off in the field.

No, I definitely do NOT like what I'm doing now. It's not a bad profession actually, but it's eating me up. Someone once said: "This is slowly killing you inside" - I won't doubt that. Twenty years of being in the same field is a long time. People have asked me to return home to work (and I've completed only a year here), friends have advised me to look for my niche so that I could get out and start new. So, what's my niche? It's for me to find out. Because I'm seriously old (still not wearing dentures, and hair has turned more grey in just 6 months), I can't afford to just take a dive and see where it takes me, can I? That's suicidal.

Just BULLDOZE through it, and have a word of prayer each day and maybe - just maybe my luck will change.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Today in History

It's been 12 months since coming to this Tiny Red Dot as a foreigner. It was just a few years back when I had been cursing at any SG-registered car drivers for flouting traffic rules in Malaysia, particularly in Malacca, where they clog up the narrow streets to purchase tonnes of groceries to be brought back to the island. "It's very cheap", they claimed, which is true, no thanks... to the dwindling currency of my beloved country. I hated them each time I saw their cars. Little did I know that years down the road, I would be part of the labour force in THEIR country, serving as a foreigner.

It is like being in Malaysia because it's a melting pot. But that's where the similarity ends. I have not had any horrifying incident worth writing about, but I could fill up a hard disk if I could tell you the good things about this place. Like any other country, this country is NOT flawless - nowhere on this planet is. After a year residing here, I have praises for the way things are run. It's just amazing at the progress rate despite gaining independence a decade later than Malaysia (at what stage are we now, anyway). Their transportation system, though not as good as it used to be 10 years ago, is still efficient enough to put my motherland's MRT and stage bus service to shame. Their education system is internationally renown. The people here are surprisingly friendly and courteous. Of course there are occasional bloody rude drivers as well, but that has not affected me.

Is there racism? Yes, but it is well-contained. Racists have been sacked from their jobs within 24 hours. Is there crime? Yes, definitely. I have seen crime scene notices on pathways but no one has died of a C4 - yet. I have seen for myself kopitiam patrons leaving their bag in front of me at peak hour, and walking away for a while to get their food. I have also seen pedestrians clutching their wallets to flag a taxi or a bus. Things that I dare not do back home. Yes, this place is perhaps one of the safest around with CCTVs along corridors and on the streets. Read this with a pinch of salt though, for a I know there are many theft victims here too, perhaps isolated to certain areas.

Are things here expensive? As long as you don't convert every damn thing into MYR, some things are pretty affordable (or cheaper). I could get a plate of "char kuih tiau" for $1.50, and plain "roti canai" for 80-90 cents. A McDonald's breakfast meal costs $4.50 (McChicken)- and you could customise your order. It comes with an up-size option (never heard of it till I came here). So why convert when you're earning in dollars? Having said that, it doesn't mean that I'm a wealthy bloke now, for I have to transfer a huge bulk of what I earn to my Malaysian bank account to pay my loans and utility bills. That's the reason I came here... I just could not save in Malaysia. It's more breathable since working here.

Anyway who has worked here will tell you that work life sucks, and I TOTALLY agree. It's a routine - wake up early, come home late. In my case it's worse as I do not have a weekend at all. My only off day is spend preparing for classes. Yes, there's absolutely no life. That's the price to pay for moving here - an opportunity cost. I left a cosy office where I had a room to myself (and a roommate), complete with stationery, phone, computer and printer tagged to my name. Over here though, it's sharing everything - furniture, stationery, books but I have no complains for I have been blessed with great colleagues and good bosses. I have sacrificed comfort to be here. I'm not young, mind you. Friends my age are already at the peak of their career, and I'm starting all over. God has been kind to me, so far - seriously. Health wise, I've been fine.

Locals are complaining of too many foreigners so much so that they have become xenophobic! Sorry, people but I need to earn a living too. Certain foreigners are slowly but surely tainting the good image of this nation. I'm not sure how long I'd be on this island. People back home have asked me to return, but I shall wait and see. There will be no hasty decisions anymore. I'm too old to start all over AGAIN.