Saturday, March 10, 2012

Doing something local 'Little by Little'

What better way to get back on the horse, than by talking about something uplifting and positive.

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of joining The American Association of Singapore and LJE Sports in some local charity work. We were invited by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) to come and share something about American Culture with local disadvantaged children.

Some background:

SIF run a program here that provides opportunities for the international community to share tales, songs and dances from their culture with disadvantaged youths and children in Singapore, to enrich their lives by encouraging the discovery of their talents in the arts through cross-cultural exchanges. The program is called the Arts Connection: Little by Little.

Now given the timing, there were no significant holidays or festivals on the horizon for us to focus on (in terms of breaking out the arts and crafts!) and theatrically we are each a little challenged... so we decided to teach these kids about 2 things every American grows up with; Basketball & chocolate chip cookies!

The kids were given an intro into the sport, then the guys from LJE Sports showed off a few tricks and taught them some key moves. Then came the baking! Can you believe these kids had never eaten cookie dough before!?

What an eye opening experience.

To think before meeting us, these children were AFRAID of sport, many had NEVER played a sport before! They left with smiles from ear to ear, talking about how much fun they had! How amazing to have brought something new into their lives, something positive that encourages hard work, training, team work, health and fitness and above all FUN!

In the kitchen, the children were shocked to discover that we would eat the mixture before cooking it! BUT kept their minds open and... one by one, gave it a go. Everyone took baked cookies home to share with their family :)

  The faces say it all! :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

'Writer's block'... really?

So it has been months since my last post. Tragic.

I guess I have less to say now, given I have been living in Singapore for 1 year (wow time flys!)

Funny though, Singapore is so small... yet I am constantly exploring or experiencing new things. Every corner, every 'suburb', every person has something different and exciting to offer. Singapore really is a beautiful and amazing place.

I take my camera EVERYWHERE I go. Yet I am not sharing my adventures? Apologies!

Truth be told I have just been slack. It is only that fact that friends experiencing the same 'writer's block' have just started back up, so that seems to be the swift kick I needed!

Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Modern day slaves?

So my husband and I have been watching a TV show called Spartacus. The show is rather 'intense', particularly with regard to slavery in all forms - Maids, Prostitutes, Fighters and Gladiators. Sadly, it got me thinking about foreign workers in Singapore...

Singapore is a growing city/country.... whatever it is! There is construction on almost every corner... we are quite literally surrounded by construction! With this endless construction comes a zillion foreign workers - they come from Malaysia, The Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh... they live on site, in poor conditions, they spend months, some years, away from their family and loved ones... the only difference is it is what they choose to do... Reality is they can come here and make more money then they could at home. They do it to support their families. 

Same goes for maids here. It's not like back home where families may have a 'live-in maid' or nanny, who eats what you eat, dresses like you dress, has their own room and most likely a stack of possessions, is 'part of the family'... Oh no...

Here, most maids live in 'quarters' so small that you can't fit a single bed inside... or worse, many are given the apartments bomb shelter! (not kidding, most units have an individual bomb shelter, it was a government initiative post Sept 11). How relaxing it must be to go to sleep every night inside a metal box...

The 'quarters' or bomb shelter, usually have no aircon and no windows... but there is an 'ensuite' with a small basin and a shower over the toilet! Oh, and with no hot water... (I guess if you live without aircon in 30+ degree heat in what could be a steal box, a cold shower is all you need right?... )

Call me crazy, but I still can't get comfortable with this...

I can rationalise and say that I know that these conditions are in fact (in most cases) better than what these ladies would have had back home. Where I come unstuck is, it is not acceptable where I come from AND where most of the expats who have full time maids have come from. So why when people move to where it is not just acceptable but 'normal', do they change their views?

Now, please don't get me wrong. I have No issue with expats having hired help. If you moved to a foreign country and had the opportunity, for a small price, to have someone with you day and night to help with your children, house work, shopping etc, wouldn't you take it too? It's just the quality of living and the treatment of the helpers that disturbs me.

We, like many younger couples (without children) have a lovely Filipino lady (Vicky) who comes to clean our house once a week. Vicky is in her mid 30's and is here with her husband (he works in construction), they live in a HDB (government housing) and share a flat with another couple. Her 2 children, both under the age of 11 are still in the Philippines, they live with her mother and her 10 brother's and sisters AND their children! 31 people in ONE house! She stays here and works hard to send money home, to support her ENTIRE family. She talks to her children most days over the phone, but only gets to go home ONCE a year to visit them. She has been working in Singapore for 7 years...

Reality again is that she is making the equivalent of a mountain of money for her family, something she certainly couldn't do working the rice fields back home (yes, that is what she used to do and what her brother's and sisters still do...). A big sacrifice to be away from everyone, but a huge benefit for her family. Selfless. 

When Vicky arrives each week I always give her a warm greeting, I chat to her as we both poke about doing whatever chores we are doing (I try and keep myself busy with washing, putting clothes away, cooking etc while she is here - I can't sit on my butt whilst someone else does my cleaning....), I ask about her week, her family and her favourite TV shows. I do it because she is a lovely person and I care. Regardless of the fact that we are paying her, I am so grateful for the work she does and I respect and admire her for what she is doing for her family.

Bottom line; regardless of how 'bad' the standard of living might be 'back home'... if Vicky was to live with us I couldn't shove her in our storage room...

S x

Sunday, May 15, 2011

White elegance

Mention tanning products or the fact that you enjoy laying in the sun to Singaporean's and don't be surprised by the strange look people will give you.

I can't tell you how many conversations I have had with taxi drivers over hot sunny weather...

Taxi driver - very hot today isn't it? 
Me - Yes isn't it lovely! :) 
Taxi driver - too hot...
Me - I love the sun and the heat, I would rather be hot than cold any day! 
Taxi driver - really? Where you from?  (ah he's onto me, he knows I'm not a local! :p)
Me - Australia
Taxi driver -  ah... (click... It all makes sense now!)

Or over miserable raining weather.... Like earlier this week...

Me - Heavy rain... :(
Taxi driver - yes, jam very bad (like in Aus, when it rains everyone drives like a granny)... Good though, it has been very hot the past few days. Cooler....
Me - I prefer the sun...
Taxi driver - really? Where you from?  (ah he's onto me, he knows I'm not a local! :p)
Me - Australia
Taxi driver -  ah... (click... It all makes sense now!)

Bless them. 

Meanwhile, a 'cool' day is still upward of 28 degrees so...? :p

Here it isn't uncommon to see most people (women in particular) walking around with umbrellas shading themselves on a hot day. A strange thing for an Aussie like me to comprehend... 

I have grown up spending hours out in the sun, whether it be playing sport, walking, shopping, sun-baking at the beach, picnicing... god, any opportunity we get to be outdoors catching a few rays and getting a tan, we're there in a heart beat! From when we were kids, we were pushed to play outside from the second the sun came up, returning home only when the sun was setting and dinner would be on the table! (Yes, this was prior to Playstation, Wii and the Internet BUT in saying that, even now, back home in country towns (and no doubt some cities), kids are still pushed to be outdoors when the weather is 'nice')...

The umbrella thing to me is just odd... I confess I, like most Singaporeans, carry an umbrella on me at all times, but in case of rain! not to shield me from the beautiful sun! Doesn't it make you hotter for starters? That and a little sun is good for you right? Vitamin D baby! :)

The crazy thing to me is it's not really that people are concerned about getting skin cancer (something that is widely acknowledged and a big concern in Australia). It is the fact that they believe white skin to be more attractive! This is reinforced by the rows and rows of whitening products readily available at all supermarkets, hell even convenience stores and markets! Not like the sunscreen and tanning products in our aisles back home! 

Now, each to there own... But really? 

It's not just the Singaporeans though, this seems to be a common Asian mentality - my hubby's parents think along the same lines. Being of South Indian decent, they have (what I consider) BEAUTIFUL dark skin... They don't agree and avoid the sun as much as they can, so as not to get any 'darker'. 

Malaysian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean friends I have here and now i think of it, even back home, are always making comments about how lovely white skin is - they too avoid the sun when they can. 

I remember being in Cambodia last year and Thailand the year before and seeing most people in 40 degree heat in longs sleeves. Our guide in Thailand wore a long sleeve top AND a fleece hoodie over the top! When we asked her 'aren't you hot?! Why are you wearing that? she replied. 'Not really. It is important I keep my skin white, here we believe the whiter the skin, the more beautiful. I am not married yet, so I especially need to take care.'.. WOW! That's if you don't pass out from heat exhaustion first! Talk about taking measures to the extreme!

It makes me sad that these women need to be uncomfortable, in order to make society happy... BUT actually, the fact is they are also making themselves happy... They have the same beliefs. They are doing what they need to do to feel beautiful - like we all do! 

I am sure it is no surprise and you have picked up on the fact that I love a tan. I think everyone looks better with a bit of colour :) I look ill if I don't have colour! (really I do). In winter in Aus, I will get spray tans just to 'feel' good about myself... Before my wedding I even went to the extreme of going to the solarium... (def not something I endorse... But I felt it was necessary, my husband is so dark, I already look like a snowflake next to him!) 

It is so fascinating how different cultures find different things attractive, acceptable, 'normal' and how no matter how many people you talk too, no matter how many opinions you hear, how many 'reasons' you are given as to why they believe as they do, you just can't shake your own beliefs - what you grew up with, what is normal to you and your 'home'. 

Bottom line, I will still chuckle when I pass the whitening products in the supermarket or when I see women out with umbrellas on a sunny day BUT if we were all the same, liked the same things, found the same things attractive, wow... The world would be a pretty boring place! 

S x

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Needle in a haystack?

Oh to be bilingual, Singaporean or a PR!... I wonder if even then, job hunting would be any easier? Finding a job here is like trying to find a needle in a haystack!

A giant, discriminatory haystack!

I NEVER thought I would be saying this, but apparently being an Australian seeking employment in Singapore isn't such a great thing....

We Aussie's are allegedly so 'chilled' and 'laid back' that employers here fear we will not be able to cope with the high demand work culture or working hours!

Coming from working in a high demand, high pressure and sometimes downright insane workplace - working anywhere from 9 - 14 hour days... forgive me if I find this a little offensive... not to mention disappointing. From both a personal and professional prospective!

Aside from the apparent work culture differences, 'lack of local experience' seems to be the next key issue. The thing is... if no one will give you a chance, how do you get the local experience?

Regardless, are the mechanics of the job not the same? Doesn't changing jobs in any country or industry involve a learning curve? New job = new company strategies and procedures, new markets, new customers, new products!?

If I am told one more time how 'amazing' my resume is and how 'my years of experience is terrific' but not local so 'don't expect an interview'... I might lose it...

Then we have the dollars... and this is where the real fun starts!

Good news for foreigners being offered a relocation package from home - 45% of expats in Singapore earn more than $200K per year. Considering Singapore has steadily been welcoming about 100,000 expats annually - That's a lot of highly paid professionals!

Sadly for locals the average annual salary is less than $29K! Unfortunately for expats who have relocated over without employment - many positions advertised fall into this category!

Salaries for marketing roles advertised during the past 6 months (all levels) appear to reflect (on average) less than half of what the someone would earn back home in a similar position. Not to mention a serious reduction in employment benefits.

It's strange. It's disappointing. Is it worth it?

Of course, this is why networking and keeping in touch with contacts back home is so important! It might just be one of those connections that lands you in your dream 'expat' position! (Here's hoping!)

I'm ever so lucky that we are currently in a position where I haven't had to 'settle' and can keep looking for a job that ticks most, if not all, the boxes.

Being from the country, I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty looking - so for now, the hunt continues!

A hard working Aussie! x

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On the deck of a ship, sipping some champas, 57 stories up...

Yes, I finally made it to the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark for a drink (or three)!

Marina Bay Sands or MBS as it is know to locals (such as myself :P) is one amazing structure.

The multi billion dollar resort features a 2,561-room hotel, a 120,000 sq.m. convention-exhibition centre, a mall (of course!), an Art & Science museum, two Sands Theatres, seven 'celebrity chef' restaurants, two floating pavilions, a casino and an indoor ice rink! The complex is topped by a 340m-long 'ship' which holds a 150m infinity swimming pool, a nightclub and couches for those who want to drink and chill with a serious view! 

Now those of you that know me are aware that I have a reasonably severe fear of heights.... you'll be happy to know that I was 'ok'.  I wasn't keen on venturing to the edge (glass barrier and all...) BUT I managed to 'brave it' and take a few pics :)

Surprisingly, it didn't take me long to relax,  even though you are 'outside' and at that height experiencing a fair breeze, I felt MUCH safer than I did on the likes of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Eiffle Tower! (the two places I was thinking of when we first arrived at the foot of the building!)

There is no cover charge if you plan to have a few drinks AND the drinks are around the same price as other popular bars I have been too, so really it's the perfect spot to start a night out or to take visitors for something a little spesh :)

So... who's coming over for a bevo?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lion or Dragon?

My Chinese NY extravaganza ended on a high with me FINALLY witnessing the lion dance!

I (sadly) had been referring to the dance as the dragon dance.. only to be corrected by locals and expats that knew better! My bad. After making the mistake twice, I did my research and discovered that I wasn't alone, it is a common misconception...

The traditional Chinese Lion dance, usually performed during festivals and most commonly during Chinese New Year celebrations, involves performers mimicking a lion's movements in a lion costume. However, there IS also a dragon dance! An easy way to tell the difference is that the lion is operated by only two people who are 'inside' the lion. A dragon needs many people, sometimes up to 50! In this dance, the performers can be seen since the dragon is held up on poles.

The Lion's movements go in time with loud drum and symbol beats which can be heard BLOCKS away. The moves resemble those I've seen in top Kung Fu movies, taking inspiration from traditional martial arts.

I loved the cheeky and playful nature of the Lion. Simply put, the dance 'made my NY'!

 Lion acrobatics in China town!

Lion Dance - Lion providing offerings to the gods and people

I also had the pleasure of seeing some of the top floats from the annual Changay Parade - AMAZING!!! Snaps below!

What a month! Love love love the vibe and (as mentioned before) BEAUTIFUL decorations all around the country.

Can't wait til next year! :)

S x