How to Walk Through a Storm

Hi, 

   Thanks for putting your blog and contacts out for all of us who are still in Singapore and not out yet for good, to get your two cents worth. 

I was guessing, you will be the right person for me to tell this tale/ hope to. 

  I am only turning 24 this year, not a guy, so I wont know exactly how a 1.5 years to 2 years of guarding Singapore feels like to be honest. But I am no different than someone out there who has been eyeing Australia to migrate to since primary school days, (not helping when I have a dad that instill the idea that Singapore should not be a place to grow old in since young, probably given that he has a job offer in Australia almost 3 decades ago and he have to turn it down for my mom, she's a loyal Singaporean, who votes for neither party every time). 

  But, I am still here because I know it is quite impossible to migrate to Australia without a degree and I am staying put because I have to pay for my education loan, that seems impossible to finish when I am left with a final trimester in Curtin University (Singapore Campus). It's too difficult to get financial assistance when your university is not the main Singapore universities, honest. I don't think I can finish that final trimester even, with a $2k /mnth pay before CPF cut, after CPF, that leaves me with only $1.6k. $1.2k is all gone monthly to repay education loan, and what am I basically left with to save up to pay for my last trimester? Nothing. Well, of cause if I do not need to pay for my other basic necessity such as transport ($100), food ($5-$10/day) and left with only $50-$100, that is if there are no social work activities we have to attend! 

  I am at a lost. I will not get my degree finish any time soon. Meaning I can never send in my application to apply for Australia visa even (tried once, and got turn down because of it). I don't even know where to begin except to suck it up, pay for my tertiary education loan (without getting a degree, you know how depressing that is), and restart all over again to get a degree and THEN, apply for Australia visa. That sounds like a long way to go, but I will try to do it. To also keep both my parents out of my education loan poverty. 

  Thanks for taking your time to read this email, I think I've wasted a few minutes of that. But please go on and blog, as I will always google your blog for me to read so that it can ease me, every time. Your blog has been a place I come to read and get lost. 

Thank you once again!

Regards,
SK


******

Hi SK,


I would like to share with you what happened to my family during my third year of university.


I was already in my mid 20s, yet I was still an immature, inconsiderate bum who played computer games all day long. (My wife would probably secretly tell you I am still an immature, inconsiderate bum who still play computer games, though much lesser than those days but that is a story for another day.) To continue, I did nothing much to help my family all my life except for an odd handyman job around the house, the kind of things boys or men do. My family was not poor but we were far from being 'middle class'. We had enough to eat and live comfortably (my definition) but a rare luxury would wipe out the bank account of my parents. Being the youngest in the family, I was pampered and did not have to worry about money. So, I knew about financial planning very late in my life.


My dad was asked to leave the police force in his 50s. Being uneducated, unintelligent, unmotivated, he simply took on a job of a security guard but couldn't last long because he didn't like the job. My mother single handed-ly supported the family financially since then by working as a hawker in a primary school canteen. It was hard work but my mum managed to pull through and told us not to worry. I was already serving my NS then so I had no excuse not to lend her a hand be it physically or contributing ideas for my mother. But I didn't.


My mother wanted me to go to university even though I protested against it, opting to join the workforce after ORD instead. I knew I wasn't the academic material so it was a waste of money but she insisted on it and told me she was willing to slog it out just for it. I didn't want to disappoint her so I agreed. With the $4,000 I saved up from National Service (that's a story for another day as well, I guess), I dumped it reluctantly into the first semester of that Clementi University. That was where I got to know my wife, Jen. On hindsight, mother knows best so who am I to disagree with her?


Mum paid for my second semester. Again on hindsight, I was such a brat and didn't work hard enough. I wished I was mature enough to put myself through hard work and earn my own keep - and my fees for the next semester in my first year by taking up a job that earned me, say $1,500 a month. With my Saving Extreme Masochism trait, I would do wonders and definitely be able to sustain myself through university. To make it worse, I almost wanted to drop out of university because I skipped most of my lessons on the 2nd year and found myself knowing nothing two weeks before my exams. I owed my buddy that I regarded as my own brother, William, a lifetime of debt because he spent his time drilling key topics I had to digest in my sleepy stupors in fast-food restaurants. Somehow, I managed to clear all my exams while some of my classmates who had been diligently attending class all year didn't, much to their annoyance. They began to call me a 'distance learner' sarcastically and probably thought I was smart. I wasn't. I had a brother.


Third year was a disaster when mother announced she no longer have her small business to run after the school decided to award the contract to a couple who won the tender bid by a country mile. They promised the school they would sponsor the school in renovations which my mother could not compete. Again, I could help out in the tender but the spoilt brat didn't. Not that I could really change the outcome, really. Anyway, we lost our livelihood and the winning company went on to fulfill their promises but increased the rental of their vendors so much that most of them dropped like flies within the first half year of operation. Before long, the school also found their service standard far from satisfactory. By the end of their 2-year contract, the school principal called my mother up multiple times to ask her to return and manage her canteen. By then, I was already 'in-charge' and told my mother to show our fingers to her.


What happened during the two years was a live changing period for me. When mum lost her job, only then I realised they had almost no savings left in their bank account. In her 6 years of working in the canteen, our quality of life improved dramatically. She had invested all the money in making our lives better. (probably unwise but it was the love for her family). We ended up in a situation where we had to pay our utilities bills partially because there was simply no money left. It was then I realised the ball was in my court.


With a stroke of luck, my mother told me her previous boss in a prominent secondary school told her there was a single stall in his canteen that required a vendor. My eyes lit up and mimed, "GRAB IT" while she was still on the phone. She did. After the phone call, my mother was a bundle of nerves. "It is a western food stall. I don't know how to run this."


Me neither. But we were left with no choice.


I had to borrow money for the first time in my life. It was the most uncomfortable feeling I ever went through and I told myself I would NEVER land myself or my family in such a situation forever. My creditor was Jenny, who was just a classmate back then. She gave me $3,000 without question and I took it without saying a word, weeping silently in the heart. With that, we took over the stall from the departing vendor. 


In the following months, I worked tirelessly for the first time in my life. I designed the work process with my imagination, tried recipes relentlessly and refused to buy any finished products from the market because I knew that would erode our margins. So I made my own sauces and tasted them until my tongue was numb and temporary lost my sense of taste. We learnt how to cook our meats and fish and tore our hair out because we didn't seem to be able to cook our fat fries to expectations in bulk. I sourced aggressively for suppliers and went for the cheapest ones. Jen and William helped me tremendously during that trying period. On the actual day of operation, I was pissing nerves. I kept watching the plates on the shelves and wonder how the fuck we would be able to serve 500 portions, which I calculated as a minimum to break even with a modest profit. We went through the chaos clumsily but fortunately William and Jen were there to lend us extra hands. We ended the day clearing 700 plates and there wasn't a time in my life I was so happy washing hundreds of dirty plates. We managed to return Jen her $3,000 by the second month but I owed her beyond money.


I returned to school to complete my third semester (which I never attend a single lesson due to the stall) with graduated with 2nd class honours.


In later years, we went through countless trials and problems running that stall. I constantly improve the menu and kept it dynamic to rouse the curiosity of the students. In the second year of operation, we had a breakthrough and business improved dramatically. By then I already started to work but I spent every single weekend (social life? ha!) helping out at the canteen to prepare for the ingredients, such as sauces and supplies for the entire week. Jen turned up often to help. (so if anyone wonders why I married her later? I might be a brat but I wasn't blind) We went on to run the stall for eight years in total. This time, I took charge of the financials of my mother and manage to get her to save a sizable amount of money for her retirement.


The reasons why I shared this somewhat irrelevant story with you is to persuade you to be unforgiving to yourself and to be mercilessly relentless in your goals. The lesson I learnt was human beings excel when they are forced to a corner, forced to react and fight. While I was running the stall in the second year, Jen left me to further study in Perth and I had to fight a personal battle with myself which was similar to your odds [Please read this] Your odds are good. You have an income of $2,000 and it is in your hands to create miracles from that. Forget about social gatherings. You have a mission. The sufferings are only temporary. You don't have to do this all your life. 


One day, the storm will pass.

26 comments:

  1. I'll second that. SK's odds are good indeed.

    Everybody wants immediate gratification nowadays, which is frankly impossible. We have to play the cards with which we are dealt with. Life is not fair. How badly you want to achieve your dream will determine whether you achieve it or not.

    It took me almost 11 years, from the day I wanted to migrate, to the day I actually landed in my desired country.

    And asingaporeanson, if Jen has a sister or cousin like herself with the same character, I want to know her please.

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    1. > It took me almost 11 years, from the day I wanted to migrate, to the day I actually landed in my desired country.

      Wow! And I thought I was a slow-coach with 4 years. Time to count my blessings (p)

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    2. It took me 4 years like WD. We will be happy to hear your 11-year chronicles anytime. So write it and publish it please.

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  2. Nix. Interested in setting up a Asian cafe in Perth? I think with your experience and my wifey's cooking, we could run a pretty good business with a wide ranging cuisine. I also make pretty good pizzas. (o)

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    1. bro, most of the hard work (running) were done by my mother. I was only the 'management' who provided the directions (though I can do everything hands on as well, including the cooking). I don't even know where to begin in an entirely new environment. What bothers me is marketing etc. to get business. Previously in the school, we only needed to concentrate on getting our food well prepared. In a business environment, there are so much more to handle, such as location, marketing and promotions. On top of that, setting up businesses here seems daunting and costly. (eg. insurances and whatever I don't know about) I don't even know where to begin. Having said that, with so many good cooks we know around us, it's such a pity none of us started a food business.

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  3. Let me share my story with you. I started working immediately upon graduating from NYP with a Diploma in Nursing at the age of 20. I paid for school fees by taking up a bond with NUH as my parents didn't have money. It was at NUH that I met my 1st husband.

    It didn't help that my dad had a mistress in Indonesia & would give her almost his entire salary every month. My mom wasn't working due to a heart condition. With a pay of $1.5k (before CPF), I had to support the family & myself. I married my ex when we were 23 & he stayed with us. My dad hit 55 & he withdrew a lump sum from his CPF. Before long, he squandered it all away. All $100k of it. We were asked to evict as my parents had been defaulting the monthly instalment payment since there was no money left in their CPF, neither did they have cash. (My dad quitted his job & remained unemployed for 2 years by choice.)

    The only choice we had was to sell their flat, buy 1 under our name so we could make use of our CPF. Life was good for a short while. We had plans to take up a nursing degree as diploma is so common place these days. Having a degree will greatly increase our odds of promotion. By 25, I had $20k saved up which was only enough for 1 of us to do the degree. I felt it was more important for my ex to do the degree 1st as man need to have a career & besides he lost 2.5 years doing NS. So I gave him the $20k to pay for his degree with Curtin. A few months into his course, he simultaneously started on his Advance Diploma in Mental Health. That was the beginning of the end.

    4 months into his Advance Dip, I noticed changes in his behaviour. Wanting to swap our commercial vehicle for a car (I paid for the 1st instalment & insurance), suddenly very conscious of his appearance, starting to wear perfume, being very secretive about his hp, bringing it with him into the bathroom when he showers. So you can guess what happened. Once I saw discriminating sms from the girl when he forgot to bring his phone into the bathroom. Confronted, quarrelled & he stopped coming home. When he finally did, he said he wanted a divorce.

    Splitting the flat was a problem. You need 2 persons to be the owner. My parents are not eligible, unless we agree to buy back at the current market rate which was $100k more than what we bought it for. I was already paying $700 a month, I couldn't imagine how much I would have to pay if I add $100k to the loan. Long story short, I appealed with HDB, went to see MP for 2 years before I was allowed to keep the flat under solely my name at the original price.

    Anyway, he refused to return me the $20k I gave him to do his degree, saying that he used it on the household. He actually benefited as I had to pay him back the $50k that he used to pay the flat since I'm taking over. I had nothing left. He even abandoned his dog, a pug, as the new girlfriend has a dog. I refused to have anything to do with this man again. That was when I decided to do my degree no matter what so I can get that $250 pay raise.

    I worked full time & studied 2 years part time with Griffith University (SG campus under Kaplan). All the while supporting the entire family with my $2.5k (before CPF) pay. When I wasn't studying, I took on additional calls, did OT so I could earn a bit more. Finally I completed my degree in 2012. Since there's nothing left to keep me here, I decided to go Australia. While I had remarried since, I will never be so stupid & so trusting ever again. I had a chance to add my new husband's name to the flat, thereby reducing my monthly instalment but I refused to, fearing that history will repeat itself.

    So SK, if you really want to get there, borrow the money & finish your last semester. Then work towards repaying your study loan. DO NOT give up your studies at this stage. It's not worth it. If I can do it despite the odds, I'm sure you can too. Good luck! & sorry for the cheong hei post.

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    1. RESPECT! Very kind of you to share your story. Excellent advice too. Thank you.

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  4. SK,

    I am not sure what I am missing here so perhaps maybe I am giving the wrong advice (as it is considerably different from the others here):

    Australian universities are usually flexible and allow you to take 6 -18 months off for various reasons without penalities.

    Why not just suspend the trimester and concentrate on sorting out your finances before picking up the studies again?

    It is better than trying to do too many things at the same time and end up not passing your finals and having to redo the year again.

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    1. Actually, I also see some sense it what XYZ says. And it is quite similar to what a few of the others actually experienced - having a break from completing the degree, whilst attending to other priorities, does not spell the end of the world.
      Even Nix and Missy Jo, who had their troubles and traumas, actually had to delay completing the degrees at the beginning, BUT, eventually they DID complete.
      Thus, the takeaway is - education is vital. Even if you have to take a break, don't despair, but don't give up entirely. Make sure you come back and complete it as soon as you can, as it DOES give that boost in confidence as well as a leg up into the industry.
      Be careful of over-committing on finances; as XYZ says, sort out your finances and then ensure you complete the degree. Actually, Oz, with its high salaries, is very conducive to work and study, and you can generally earn enough to get by paying for costs of living + degree (if you don't waste money on unnecessary things during this time).

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  5. Hi SK,

    For all of us who are not born with a silver spoon in our mouth, we had to work hard to earn a degree and be skilled enough to immigrate overseas. I started thinking about migration when I was 20. It took me more than 15 years, past my mid 30s to make it a reality. You are still young. If you plan well, stay focus, work toward your goal, you will be able to achieve your dream. Check the immigration websites of the countries that you want to go to see what the requirements are. Don't limit yourself to just one country.

    Overseas sinkie

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    1. Too true.
      I've got relatives who migrated to Canada instead of Oz. And they having a waaaay better quality of life than me at this time.
      But I am happy here, so to each his own.
      And Canada is so cold. So...very... cold...

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  6. sgtshirts,

    Canada is a beautiful country with warm, friendly people. Yes, it's much colder here. But there is so much to see and do. I would say that Canada, Australia and NZ are great countries. I have friends who are happy in these countries. I am fortunate to have access to all of them through my own hard work.

    OS

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  7. Thank you everyone for sharing their stories. I always wanted to migrate and I never though possible until I chance across this blog.

    Coincidentally tomorrow I will take the 1st step and tender my job and enroll in a culinary diploma in March. Hopefully when i graduate in 1.5 years time, chef / cook is still in the CSOL and I am able to get a sponsor.

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  9. Just marry an Oz or Nz. Problem solved.

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  10. Thank you for your sharing, the two of you.

    Since young, I had also struggled with my family's financial difficulties. After A Levels, I started giving tuition to supplement my family's income. With that tuition money, I managed to get my driving license. (I was way determined to pass it the first time. No money for repeats!) There were times my family didn't have food on the table so we were thankful to our relatives who shared their excess food with us. When I graduated from NUS during the SARS crisis, I took on whatever job that was available (pay $1200) and took on 10 tuition jobs. Life was very tiring but as long as I could contribute to the household and pay off my tuition fee loan, I was thankful.

    It was through these trials at my early stage of my life that taught me the value of savings in cold hard cash. Despite the lure of quick money through stocks and shares, I always invested my belief in cash savings and insurance.

    Having set my sights on pursuing a Masters, I again began to save hard. If I had judiciously saved, I could have seen myself starting on my Masters degree right now, in Australia. But unfortunately, life has its twists and turns. I faced tremendous difficulties at the workplace as my superior kept abusing me verbally despite the fact that I was doing MOST of the work for her. Even though the higher-ups knew who was the real one at fault, they didn't have the moral courage to make a stand. As a result, for the sake of my own sanity, I plucked up my courage to leave. At that point in time, most of my peers, family and relatives felt I was crazy to leave this "iron rice bowl" job but for the sake of my health and family, it was not worth staying in the job. It was not worth clocking in more than 12 hours of work daily, sacrificing weekends and leisure time for an organisation who did not have the moral courage to make a stand. And so I left.

    7 months on, I am still alive and much happier. Even though the beginning was tough and harsh, I was driven to a point of survival mode that I had a complete paradigm shift in living and spending. But the survival instinct in me brought out many characteristics which enabled me to be more resourceful, adaptable and resilient. No doubt I took the road less travelled, but I am beginning to think that I know so much more about life than my other peers who are stuck in office and always trapped in this "there-is-only-one-way-out" mindset. The truth is, there isn't only one way. We put limits on ourselves. As a result, we sacrifice what we value most and lose ourselves. We get unhappy and those without a strong moral compass, they make wrong decisions which they justify as right.

    I concur that if you want it, go get it. I have been working tirelessly, clocking in 12 hours of work daily. I am on my way to meeting my savings goals and hope to see myself in Aussie in July for my Master's degree. That is one of my life's goals. Stand up for yourself. You live your life. Don't let circumstances control the outcome of your life. How your life turns out depends on how you respond to it.

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  11. Immigration is such a huge decision in our lives. I agree with you that while we want to move elsewhere and be happier, we also have to not be selfish and think of our family that we leave behind. This is the reason why it took me so long to move overseas.

    Firstly, I knew I had to save a substantial sum of money. I have to anticipate that I may not find work immediately. I may have to take some courses. Hence, some money to tide through the period before I start working full time is importantly. For many of us who are not wealthy, this comes from studying and working hard and saving the money.

    Secondly, like many of you here have mentioned, it is family. I had to make sure that my family is well settled about my move overseas before I could do that. For me, it's my parent who has a hard time with my decision. Though the situation is better now, there are still daily struggles on the side of my family that I am so far away.

    We all made sacrifices, stayed focused to achieve our dreams.

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  12. Yes exactly. And having support and contact overseas help a great deal. I would never have been able to settle well overseas if not for good friends that I can depend on and who gave me good advice. That is why it is heartening to see a good network of Singaporeans or ex Singaporeans who are living in Australia through website like yours. Perhaps, if I decide to move in Australia, I may come knocking for your advice :)

    O.S.

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  13. Yes, I agree with you on that as well. I have received help from many non Singaporeans too. But again, in my case, there are very few Singaporeans where I am.

    O.S.

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  14. > I know it is quite impossible to migrate to Australia without a degree

    As far as I know, not true.

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    1. It is mostly true because of the kind of work Singaporeans do in Singapore because qualifications go hand in hand with vocations and experience.

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