CONVERSATION WITH A SINGAPORE SON, LOST AND FOUND

Contribution by reader Mag

 

Patrick is a long-time friend.  Although he has always been interested in photography, it is only of late that he has been snapping photos of Singapore and sharing on Facebook. Some of his photos even made it to the Best National Day photos in a recent competition.

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An entrepreneur in his forties, Patrick is highly adaptable and enterprising. Put him anywhere, he’ll soon be starting a business (or even two!) and be making friends with everyone.  In fact, he has done just that, started successful businesses and made lots of friends both here and aboard.  So now, what is someone, who could live practically everywhere in the world, doing in our little red dot? Ain’t the shores faraway more exciting?

An avid traveler, Patrick has globetrotted to many parts of the world. He has also spent close to a decade in Australia before returning home to Singapore a few years ago.  I have been wondering about his strong show of patriotism through the photos, so I caught up with him and made him spill beans and mashed potatoes about his life down under and why he had come home to the arms of Singapore.

Mag:    How long were you away from Singapore?

Pat:      I was living in Melbourne from 1999 to 2000, and came back to Singapore in 2001. I left for Australia again in 2004, spending about four years each in Perth and then Melbourne.  I returned to Singapore a few years ago, so I’ll say I was away for a good decade or so.

Mag:     Care to share and compare your experience running businesses and managing people both in Australia and here in Singapore? Were there key differences in terms of worklife and workers in general?

Pat:      Haha, how much time do you have? The list of differences is very long!

Firstly, Australia has a comparatively more matured FRAMEWORK AND SYSTEM to ensure that Australians have the first shot at jobs. It is not easy as there’re quite many hula hoops to jump through before you can hire temporary foreign workers. There’s a system in place to make sure employers exhaust all options in filling the positions locally before looking offshore.

Mag:    Wait, have you heard of the FAIR CONSIDERATION FRAMEWORK (FCF)? Singapore is also trying to do something about putting Singaporeans first for jobs.

The FCF is part of the Singapore Government’s effort to strengthen the Singapore Core in the workforce. In support of the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), firms submitting Employment Pass (EP) applications are required to advertise their job vacancies on the NATIONAL JOBS BANK. The job ads are to run for a minimum of 14 days before employers can submit the EP applications. This is to ensure that Singaporeans have a fair chance to apply for these jobs.

NTUC, the labour movement in Singapore, has been LOBBYING FOR THE JOBS BANK SINCE 2011! The idea is to ensure there’s transparency, openness and equal employment opportunities, and of course, to place Singaporeans first.

Pat:      Yes, I’ve heard. It’s a good start, but still early days.  Other than ensuring that the Australians get a first shot at jobs, they also have all sorts of anti-discrimination laws in place to protect workers. The whole idea is to ensure equal employment opportunity, regardless of age, disability, race, gender, etc.  They even have specific laws covering stuff like harassment and bullying at the workplace.

What I particularly like about Australia is how businesses and people value experience and vocational training. People there don’t just like to hire younger workers with good academic qualifications. Professionals and PMEs are as respected as skilled technicians, craftsmen, or anyone who is darned good at what they do.

Here in Singapore, there seems to be a preference for younger workers. There’s also an over-emphasis on academic excellence.  We really need to work on embracing diversity in every sense, including respecting all jobs, including PME-types of jobs as well as technical and vocational types of jobs.

Mag:    Any other differences?

Pat:      Well, there seems to be a lot more work pressure here in Singapore, so much so that work-life balance is almost impossible to achieve. People work much longer hours here in Singapore.

In Australia, rarely do people work late. Shops close early on most days as you know, and they will really pull the shutters on you when it’s time to close. Rarely do you see people working beyond 6ish in offices too. So across the board, most people leave their work on time to spend time with their loved ones, or do stuff that they like. Things like work-life balance and quality of life are very important to the Australians.

Mag:    In Singapore, many of us trade our time for money in order to pursue a certain lifestyle, or to keep up with the Joneses. Don’t the Australians spend money on big ticket items, luxury goods and branded stuff too?

Pat:      Of course, some Australians do. But I’d say it’s just one segment who pursues the material part of life. The majority still go for quality of life, choosing to spend their time and money on people and things that make them happy. I’m generalising here, but the average man on the street wants to be happy, rather than to be chained to a job to earn money to buy a big townhouse or an expensive car.  Money is not everything and therefore, their jobs is not the only mean to the happy end.

Mag:    Don’t Australians buy their own homes?

Pat:      Given a chance, who wouldn’t want to own their own homes? I know many Singaporeans like to talk about how we can buy landed properties down under and how cheap they are, blah blah blah. But if we’re looking at buying a property in the city, it is still a very expensive affair. Especially if it’s a house, instead of a flat. The truth is Australia has now become one of the most expensive property markets in the world. THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN DREAM OF HOME OWNERSHIP  is fast becoming a nightmare.

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Home ownership has dipped over the past twenty years. The number of first-time homeowners has also dropped. All these are signs that affordability is a huge problem.  So, even if everyone has the Great Australian Dream, more and more people have come to accept RENTAL AS A WAY OF LIFE.

Anyway, what I really want to say is that through my interactions with both Australians and Singaporeans, my take is that most Australians seem to be happier with where they are now, and they’re a lot more relaxed about things. Their lives don’t just focus on their work or their personal achievements. They spend time exploring other interests, they discuss life issues and have less of talk-shop when they meet up. Overall, less uptight. I guess they live life, instead of having life lead them through hoola hoops.

Mag:    Why, then, did you come back?

Pat:      Singapore’s not all bad, you know. I am, after all, a Singaporean and home is where the heart is. My family is here, and most of whom and what I’ve grown up with are all here. So at the end of the day, this is still home for me.

Things that many Singaporeans take for granted, like safety on the streets, the cleanliness, the many many types of yummylicious food to suit all sorts of budget, the fact that shops operate till late every single day, the transport system… these are pretty fabulous here, you know.

And while I’m at it, Happy 49th Birthday, Singapore!

You can check out more of Patrick’s photos MY SINGAPORE, MY HOME and SIX SEASONS OF SINGAPORE.

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