Letter From a Singaporean Accountant

Bro,

I have been following your blog for a few months and i would like to thank you for being a source of inspiration and courage to me. I have no questions to ask, I only want to pen down my thoughts and share them with someone who has travelled the path and will know how I feel. 

I'm 30, chinese, and one of those dwindling true blue Singaporeans. Like every Singaporean son I served the army, attended tertiary, and began dutifully contributing to the Singapore economy. It's been 5 long years of 55-60 hour work weeks (I work in an accounting firm). I've experienced really harsh times - overnight assignments, 10 tasks to complete in a day, totally ungrateful superiors, etc. But in a society where being cheap, fast and good was the lauded mantra, who hasn't? I was even an avid pappy supporter, up until I entered the workforce. These five years have taxed me to my limit, and I feel totally exhausted. Personal family problems have also contributed significantly to my stress levels. The past 12 months were so harsh that it left a grown man like me sobbing secretly at times. I've also come to experience how cold, selfish and materialistic Singapore has become. As bad things were, I have never considered leaving Singapore, until recently, when i came across a few blogs of Singaporeans who have made the move to down under. It came as a passing thought, and eventually grew into an active plan. I went to a couple of migration seminars, attended a paid consultation, and eventually engaged the migration agent to help me with the procedures. 

At first, I was very hesitant. Like yourself, I am mildly introverted and have problems socialising in groups. I have spoken to less than 10 Caucasians in my life, and I always found it difficult to converse with them in English. I speak "Singlish", and I feel inferior communicating with the native speakers. I have very few real friends, and much of my social interaction takes place between myself and my vietnamese fiance. Above all, I had a very real fear of racism. My greater fear is the effects of racism on my fiance. She is a very small fragile woman who cannot protect herself in any circumstance.

Yet, despite all the above insecurities, life suddenly took on a real purpose. 

I've travelled fairly widely, and been to several countries like England, Belgium, Japan, Holland, China, etc. the list goes on. To be totally honest I have never stepped foot in Australia, but with 100,000 Singaporeans in Melbourne alone I figure I won't go very wrong. It was an extremely risky move on my part,  I admit, but Australia was the only plausible choice I had. The fact that my fiance has many Vietnamese cousins who have successfully settled in Australia buoyed my confidence. Besides, I thought, if i didn't like it I could always come back to Singapore, or move to another country like Taiwan. My fiance was very supportive, and she is the only joy in my life right now. She didn't mind when I told her I may have to take on blue collar jobs in Australia, be a supermarket assistant, barista, etc. In fact, i used to work in a fast food joint cooking noodles and those were some of the best days of my life. I yearn so much to move to a space where I can do a non-desk job and still earn a decent wage to feed my family. That clearly would not be possible in Singapore. A HDB costs upwards of $480,000 for a resale flat (I am not qualified to buy BTO). 

More importantly, i don't want to stay in a place where most people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. 

I will be going for a 190 visa but my nominated occupation is on the 2nd schedule and there currently are no spaces offered by any of the sponsoring states. I have not taken the IELTS and I am not entirely confident of scoring a 7 in every category. My hopes rest on the July 2014 SOL. The days ahead will be slow and tough, and I dread going back to work and having to face yet another grueling 60 hour week. Your blog posts have given me strength, and I secretly read and re-read them whenever I felt like I needed to burst out of the office and slam the good-bye letter on the partner's desk. However, I couldn't do that, as I will be needing his help in time to come to transfer me to the firm's Australian office. Hence, please do me a favour and keep your blog posts coming. I literally live on them.

Lastly, a very big Thank You.


******

Hi Ds,


Thank you for sending this on New Year's Day. I received your email at 4am in the morning, I hope you didn't stay up just to type this. I found many similarities about the way I felt at the stage you are in. I believe many Singaporeans who left recently can resonate with that too. I have mixed feelings about the effect the blog have on you. You would be too, if you are being told by a stranger every now and then that you played a part in the decision making process of one of bigger decisions in his life. I felt happy being able to make a (hopefully positive) difference in people's lives but the thought of encouraging people to walk the fearsome paths of unknown, causing Singapore to lose its able people in the process, always cast a shadow over the quiet satisfaction of feeling useful in me.


Recently I had a group chat with some seniors. One of them kept repeating the same tune, about how pampered Singaporeans are these days. Accordingly to source, this gentleman was in his early 60s and was a self made multi-millionaire. The retiree claimed that Singaporeans deserve losing their places to foreigners simply because they couldn't compete and all they did was complaining about the government instead of doing something to help themselves climb higher. The survival of the fittest. I knew it was painful for a Singaporean working 60-72 hours a week yet "going nowhere in life" to hear these remarks. I didn't dispute that because it was a fact that Singaporeans are unable to compete with foreigners who are willing to work, in his words "24/7 round the clock without complains." My questions were, "Why must we go that way?", "Why can't we just accept being ordinary rather than outstanding?" But neither did I engage him in that conversation nor asked my questions until he started spouted nonsensical untruths in another topic where I used facts and figures to give him a deep throat and even laid down a $1 million wager to prove him wrong if he dare to take it up. He chickened out and diverted the topic in a fashion the PAP would be proud of.


Unfortunately people like him wasn't a minority in Singapore. Most of us still believed it was an absolute necessity to excel and deliver an extraordinary GDP at all cost, year on year. So that we could bring forth progress. I grew up in the generation when the first East-West MRT line wasn't built yet. My commute to school was on loud non-air conditioned buses that produce a thunderclap beneath whenever the bus driver changed gears. When it rained, adults would quickly shut the windows and the air vents on top. It wasn't unusual to experience water splashing in because of a faulty window or a lazy bugger didn't bother to help close the window nearest to him. Still that was supposed to be "good times", according to parents and teachers who told us how "bad" it was even before that. I do not dispute that even till today.


Fast forward to today, the "good times" I grown up had became the "bad times" of today. Today, young adults changes their mobile phone once in 2 years, a year or even in just a few months. My ex classmate told me curtly that installing an air conditioner unit in our HDB flat was "an absolute need." That, I suppose, is progress. Little did we realise, progress doesn't come free. In fact, we need to pay heavily for it. Though times were "bad" in those dark days of Singapore, many of our fathers managed to support our families single handed, though some mothers would do a bit of part time jobs to chip in a little. Many of these single income families paid up their HDB flats before retirement. Yes, times were bad. There wasn't enough money to buy walkman (probably the equivalent of our mobile phone cravings back then) for each and every teenager and we made do with simple food or even canned food instead of eating out in nice restaurants to post our meals via instagram today. Yet, those days were the happiest memories of my life. And the "dire" kampong days were the happiest memories of my parents' lives. I often wonder how unhappy will Singaporeans be if we have to take cranky buses today but our non air conditioned HDB flats can be fully paid before 50 years old. I really wonder how many of you will be less happy than today. So much for progress.


Like you, I am an introvert. Introverts are a minority community. The others would not understand the world inside an introvert's mind. But don't let that deter you in anything. There is a place for introverts anywhere in the world as there is a place for left handers. You'll get by and will pick up as you go along. Likewise, your wife may even learn to be more than what you bargain for, if she hang out with too many localised women here. heh. I suppose I never told anyone I did not understand a single word the DJs on radio were saying when I switch on the car radio in my early days. (I probably still don't) But I'm surviving.


One of my close buddies married a Vietnamese woman and had a baby boy. To date, he have not managed to successfully obtain a PR status for his wife. Without that, buying a HDB flat seems impossible, especially he is the sole breadwinner. Apparently in Singapore, men have to select certain women to love. I suppose that is progress too.


Thank you for writing to me. I wish you all the best in your goals. A year of our life is merely a page in a book. May you write a stunning adventure in every page from now on. Just remember to send me a copy of your book.

19 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Hi Ds,

    I can fully understand your current situation & emotions. I'm a fellow Singaporean son who served my time in the army for 2.5 years, not to mention the numerous ICTs.

    I'm also an accountant (married with a 2 year old boy) who is seeking to move to Australia in near future (i'm taking my IELTS on 2nd day of CNY, hence embarking on my 'journey' which hopefully will lead me to a SubClass 189 visa ) .what's your nominated occupation as I see External Auditor in the SOL ?


    Regards,
    WP

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  3. Thank you bro, for your very sincere reply. I read it twice, and my thoughts deeply resonate with yours. I will be updating you on my journey in time to come.

    Sincerely,
    DS

    @A Blessed Singaporean. Thank you for your advice! It truly is a difficult process and which is why I've hired a migration agent to guide me through the paperwork. I'm not a detailed person and certainly not one who would lay down a $5,000 application fee (myself and my fiance) without a reasonable shot at success. Hiring a migration more than doubles the application fee, but I know I can't afford to take chances. As for IELTS, I don't think anyone can be 100% confident. I have a friend from the Philippines who persistently couldn't hit her 7.0, despite speaking excellent English (her writing let her down). As for myself, I borrowed some IELTS practice materials and will be getting round to practising them soon. I did a first time trial test for reading, spent 40 minutes and scored 39/40, so I figure i'm safe for reading. I did another first time trial for listening and managed a 7.5 - somewhat disappointing but gets the job done. Have not cleared writing and i'm nervous about it, but I figure i won't do too badly, it's somewhat like a stripped down version of an O level GP essay. Thanks for the IELTS tips. What I truly am nervous about is the element of luck (I have never been a lucky person), and the speaking component. I've heard of native speakers not making the 7.0 band (can you believe that???).

    I really appreciate your taking the effort to type out all that (thanks). I will likely be taking my IELTS in January / February. Wish me luck! Happy New Year!

    @WP. It's a complicated thing for me, and something i'll rather leave out to preserve my privacy. The Big 4 is a very small world and people know each other. I won't be going for the nominated occupation of External Auditor, unfortunately. My hopes rest on something else - I leave it to the immigration agent and trust in his experience. Wish you good luck too.

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  4. You can always try NZ instead of OZ.

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  6. @ Ds,
    Understand on your need for privacy.
    Whatever the obstacles ahead, don't give up & all the best !

    @ A Blessed Singaporean,
    Thanks a lot for your IELTS tips !
    I hope I can do well for my coming test !




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  7. To enter Oz as accountant, one has to do the IELTS academic test and get at least 7 in each band in one sitting.

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  8. Hi Ds

    While not trying to be discouraging, I feel that some things need to be said. If you feeling a bit fragile now I strongly recommend you stop reading this right now.







    OK. Don't say I didn't warn you.

    1. Surely your English can be good enough for IELTS level 7 and beyond if you are educated totally in Singapore (as you appear to be). And similarly I do not believe there should be a problem for Academic level level 7 or better. Your worries appear to be conversational English which may tend to slip into Singlish but if you speak slowly as you write (nobody writes English like Singlish) and do not worry about your accent per se, then that is half the work done. Most of the time I believe that the IELTS examiners speak worse English than the candidates, unless the latter comes from Hong Kong, or some ASEAN countries. When I did my academic test I got 8.5 average (not showing off but just show how much a little bit of confidence can do wonders), not bad for someone who got B3 for AO level General paper.

    2. What worries me is how you interact. You appears to be socially isolated and does not reach out much in life. Going to so many overseas countries (more than me) and yet you write that you interact with less than 10 Ang Mohs? Is that an exaggeration or what? Furthermore you implied that you have little real friends in SG as well. Even when you did everything right and come to Australia, I doubt that your social situation will change dramatically and you may end up focused on your fiancée/ wife's existing social contact in Australia. You worry about racism in Australia and fear for your fiancee's fragile soul but I suspect yourself to be little better.

    So what you travelled around a lot but doesn't sound like you interact with locals any more than just superficially. It is very easy to be socially isolated in Australia as well and while you can join some Singaporean social club or something similar, the experience you will get in Australia is going to be just as shallow as travelling around the world. The attitude you will have is someone who is just passing through, albeit staying in one place for a considerable period of time but never treating the place as your own (not dissimilar to the Chinese forefathers of Singapore who come to SG with the sole goal of going back home at some point in time until war and politics put a stop to that plan)

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  9. 3. You appeared to have some plan to get an accounting position at your company's Australian office, though I will be surprised how much bargaining power you will have as an employee of 5 years in a multinational. I sense a bit of confidence you have of how this plan can work out, but you are understandably coy about your private arrangement in Nix blog. You are right: accounting world can be small when you least expect it. Perhaps you have more connection than you let on.

    But are you just as prepared to work in other jobs, including blue-collar occupation? I know you said you were, and gave a few examples of non-professional jobs you had; frankly they sound like temporary or part time work you had as a student for extra money rather than full-fledged position you held on with no definite end in order to actually make a living on your own with no safety net like a loan or parents support. Or perhaps you did work as a barista for a few years. If so, I apologise for the audacity of the assumptions I made.

    What is the point I am making? Australia is a second-chance country, many people locally born or immigrants had ample opportunities to make an alternate life for themselves, it is just not necessarily when they want it ( ie immediately). In the case you don't get the accounting job you planned for, are you prepared to leave SG and take up a lower paying job, keeping in mind Australia has enough unemployed accounting graduates on the job hunt? Certainly the window of opportunity can be relatively small, in term of a few years before the slowing down of the mining boom bites into the economy and invester confidence. Don't wait for things to be perfect (to paraphase someone: swee swee) before making that leap, since it will rarely happen for most of us.

    3. Somehow despite your disillusion with SG, you still consider SG to be a fallback position.

    This is not a healthy sign.

    It is only with the mentality that you are not going back to SG no matter what, that you will strive to do more in OZ than you will expect in a similar situation in SG. Otherwise the experience and the move you plan to make is no better than a sabbatical from your SG life, with a disadvantage of new young (and possibly foreign) graduates willing to work in your SG position at a lower salary than you ask for when you come back. Or perhaps you are hoping that transfer to Australian office as an expat will entitle you to keep your job back in SG if things don't work out in OZ? In that case your experience in Australia will be a biased one since the Australian supervisor will not take time to teach you or give you big long term projects to work on since you are liable to go back to SG at a foreseeable future ( you have a different plan but how would they suppose to know?).

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  10. 4. You worry about racism in Australia. Then my friend you should worry about it happening in SG as much as it is in OZ, for it is just as pervasive in SG even within the ' Chinese' group where 'true blue' local people treat those from malaysia , the mainland, Vietnam and Hong Kong differently. Perhaps then you should understand as majority ethnic group, how people can before so opinionated about the behaviour of the minority, thus how Caucasian Aussie view the minority group who cannot speak English well and does not behave properly as a local....... Except these Aussies are not so inhibited to voice their view openly in a public place (unlike many Singaporeans who chose the relative anonymity of the social media to do their trolling)

    Regardless of how you define racism, there will be some form of discrimination of sort. Affirmative action is discriminatory. The glass ceiling is discriminatory. The employment laws involving foreign employees are discriminatory. Even subtle but understandable discrimnation when someone have to choose between a local graduate and foreign graduate of similar skills and experience for a vacancy; obviously it is natural to choose a local for the job, and who can blame them?

    They will rather hire a local accounting graduate of slightly less experience but can work well in a team environment, rather than a foreign graduate with more experience, works very hard but a bit of a loner, and doesn't socialise much outside work, an achilles heel particularly in a close team work environment.

    Thus this should be ultimately your goal when you come to Australia, to try to turn your introverted self to be more extroverted. Australian do respect privacy, but knows when someone is practically shunting team bonding events and not a team player.

    Sorry, I know I offer a dramatically different view of things but you can take it or leave it for this advice I have.

    Nevertheless I will applaud your final decision to make that leap to Australia, since it is never easy to anyone to do that in a country they have never been before. I wrote this not to discourage you but to frame your mindset for a better life in Oz

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  12. @xyz,

    Thank you for writing at length to me. Really appreciate it. Do you have a private mail through which we can talk further?

    @A blessed Singaporean

    Thank you too for your advice. I am glad to know you guys.

    Regards,
    Ds

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  13. Looking at how well you can write(definitely better than me), I don't think you will have any problems with IELTS. I agree with the others that IELTS is not difficult. I find it helps if you treat the conversational portion like having a chat with a friend. Don't think of it as a test. Relax and talk to them like talking to your friend. Try and direct the conversation to things you are familiar with. Speak simply, clearly and confidently. You should be alright. All the best!

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  14. Spiders are nasty here in Australia. Help or services are expensive and you have to pay the labourers like a Master Degree grad. U turn for me...going home but sadly due to commitment I have to wait, for at least another 2years...did I mentioned about the spiders? ;((

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  15. Nix u shud encourage Ds to read our stories in the part 1 of the forum.

    that should give me enough encouragement :D

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  16. Hi DS,
    Thank you very much for your sharing. I am in the accounting field for a very long time...(20yrs+, in commercial) but had only gotten my accounting degree last year. My ang mo is definitely not any better than yours..in fact, your English is considered very good to me. I came from a humble mandarin/Cantonese speaking background, begin my career at the age of 17. Blur like a sotong.. working very hard towards making ends meet started at a young age.

    Long story.. cut short. While I am no longer young...at 39 yo, turning 40 very soon. I am very worry of not meeting the minimum 60pts. I hope you can share with me your experience about the employment assessment by CPA Australia. My concern is that if I can claim 15pts under subclass 190 visa for overseas employment, given that I have the relevant working experience for more than 8yrs but prior to completing my accounting degree.

    Hope to hear from you... thanks in advance.

    Rgds,
    SingaporeanMum.

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