Monday, May 29, 2006

Cost of Leaving in Singapore

The cost of leaving in Singapore must be getting lower. In the past two years alone, at least 8 of my friends and about 11 acquaintances have initiated some form of leaving. In the past, it began with the acquisition of PR papers. Nowadays, young couples give birth abroad usually when on student pass or employment permit, wait 12 years and they're ready. Others rely on work and the employment permit to take the next big step.

I believe that in the 80s, the dominant demographic that left Singapore were the retirees or the well established in career types. Those who took their CPF, sold their HDB flats and moved mostly to Australia. When they left, they usually took their families, which means their children, with them. Then, the cost of leaving was probably higher, the family unit had to move together. Then, physical distance was a reality, the costs of communication was high, to leave meant an actual leaving. A severance.

Nowadays, the demographic is slowly but surely changing. Increasingly, people leave at the prime of their lives or when they are at the cusp of their prime. when this demographic leaves, the profile is different. They usually do not move their entire family, in this case, their parents, or loved ones, at least in the initial phases. When this younger demographic leave, the context, in all senses of the word, is more dynamic. There is an underlying uncertainty, no doubt sparked by the dominant association in Singapore that leaving is bad. Why do you want to leave Heaven? But even as this younger demographic leaves, they leave with greater connections back with Singapore. Communication across distance is cheap and instantaneous, getting news is a breeze, air travel is relatively much cheaper.

In a strictly practical sense then, the cost of leaving in Singapore is lower.

"For the Singapore youth, from school to professional, there is a rite of passage. First Zouk, than Velvet. Its fairly routine lor. But I was in NYC once. I stopped at 14th St Union Square station and saw this two guys setting up a DJ deck right in the station walkway. Then they started to spin and sell their CDs. The music booming in underground, youngsters starting to groove spontaneously. It was awesome. When I came back, Velvet not so shiok anymore. Dunno why leh. Just drink."

There has to be a pre-step. A cognitive step. An emotional taking of leave before someone leaves physically; like tired love-making before the break-up. How this mental state is triggered is manifold. It could be worry for a child's future. It could be a quest for a more peaceful existence. It could be a desire for space in all the layers of the word. It could be an experiential epiphany in another country or your own country. It could be a found love. Whatever the reason, it is because there is something unfulfilled, something that Singapore cannot offer somehow.

And when the cost of leaving is low, the younger set will choose to leave. Perhaps more and more so. That is a fact and it cannot be altered in today's world. And so, what is the worry then? What is the point in this entry?

What about those who have left in their minds in some way or another, but are physically still rooted in Singapore, to Singapore? Existing in uneasy comfort with reality. Uneasy comfort with realities.

I will let you down
I will make you hurt
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

While the world is getting warmer, Singapore gets cooler. Infrastructurally, more cool, more hip. More air-conditioned places, an air-conditioned bus interchange in my housing estate, gigantic fans with mists spewing in coffee-shops, hawker centers. A soon-to-be Vegas proxy.

But still, this does not make the cost of leaving in Singapore higher.

There is an old song, in an old album by an old band. Wish You Were Here. It has an interesting history. With the type of lyrics which transcends time and experience.

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

But where is here?


Anonymous Molly said...

My mind, my heart, my soul - or whatever is left of them after the ravages of Singapore - have all left, leaving an empty shell of a corporeal body. The corporeal that taunts the non-corporeal. And that's pain.

I am but rubber doll violated daily, simulating orgasm, simulating pain.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous imp said...

ironically, i feel that it is the younger set's their education (which was thought to root them here) allows them the freedom to leave. an all-access pass.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Parkaboy said...

What happens to those who have left mentally, but are still physically in Singapore? Disconnect. And I think it starts for most people at a very young age, and I think it's the rule rather than the exception.

11:03 AM  
Blogger visceral said...

I think its great. you dont need to be in singapore to be singaporean, nor do you need to keep your singaporean passport to uphold the ideals of a democratic society based on justice and equality

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Zyl said...

Iain M. Banks wrote that the universal human desire is not to feel useless. Laying that out in parallel with JFK's line that ends with what can one do for one's country, perhaps then fulfillment lies outside the borders of our republic because of the sense that I, as an individual, have nothing to offer my country. Especially when its rulers seem to want nothing more from me than to be an anonymous statistic.

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Its good to go out for some experience but to change your passport is another thing.

We may have our problems in the tiny red dot, but one would be in a rude shock to think migration is the final solution.

Before we get too caught up with our priviledged and angst-ridden naval gazing, count ourselves very very fortunate to be Singaporeans.

Majullah singapura

9:25 AM  
Blogger singaporeheart said...

I am living in Australia now as my husband works here temporarily.

My son enrolled in one of the many neighbourhood schools, like any other australian kid.

Interestingly, after a year, he actually told me he prefers to remain in Australia. He is ten.

He has taken a lot more interest in his learning and in fact, has improved. He has gone up a standard which is equivalent to skipping a year in Singapore.

The grass is always greener else where?

For some aspects, it really may be true. Singapore is just a tiny red dot, what can it offer us? My son wants to be a nuclear scientist after a lesson on Energy. And I believe Australia gives him that space.

Sadly, Singapore does seem pathetic to me now, more so, with its recent showing at the GE.

Please do not discourage the young from their ideals, however, idealistic we may brand them. I am not saying Australia rules but the young nowadays, are more enlightened than what we thought them to be. PAP had been misled about their apathy. Apathy, in its own form, is a protest.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know living in Singapore (especially growing up in Singapore) is bad. But once u reach working age, like in most other developed countries, u still have to take stressful, insecure, possibly alienating jobs in an essentially capitalist world, albeit with less political and social freedom. In a capitalist economy this basically means many pro-business policies and in our case, fairly strict laws. Pro-business policies are especially disadvantageous to the more unskilled workers; most of us here are I think from a more educated class, and many of us may even benefit from pro-business policies. Most of us here are probably also never going to be in serious trouble with the law, however severe it may be.

So yes, there are things we cannot do in a semi-authoritarian state. Are education system is terrible and so is life in NS. But once all of u, most of whom are likely to be white-collared people, reach the working world, what really is the big difference between Singapore and other developed countries? In most developed democracies, there's still going to be a lot of stress, backstabbing, hierarchy in the office, sucking up to bosses, competition, politics. They're not substantially different from Singapore. How much will having social and political freedom change your everyday life in the office in essence? U may get a few benefits here and there but for the most part, I dont think our everyday lives will change significantly.

WHich is why I don't understand how people like Molly (My mind, my heart, my soul - or whatever is left of them after the ravages of Singapore - have all left, leaving an empty shell of a corporeal body)and Parkaboy (What happens to those who have left mentally, but are still physically in Singapore? Disconnect. And I think it starts for most people at a very young age, and I think it's the rule rather than the exception) can attribute all their sense of dramatic alienation, disconnection and despair to Singapore's political situation. Maybe it's more to do with life in general in the modern world. Maybe it's to do with the nature of a capitalist world. Maybe it's mass society. Maybe it's the same phenomena that has been causing ever increasing depression and suicide rates around the world. But Singapore alone? Yes developed democracies are different from Singapore but not THAT different.

5:41 PM  
Blogger singaporeheart said...

To anony ..

You poor chap, probably had a very tough life.

I am not suggesting that life would be wonderful outside of Singapore. Your cynism is not helping the young to achieve anything either. You may wish to live the life you have now - office politics, stress etc which is brought about, I dare presume your own apathy to change.

My son was, before he left Singapore, the black sheep of the school. The principal's office is like second home to me. Not that he is not doing well in studies. His teachers thought he was bright. But, it is a system that he does not flourish in. He complained he could not express his views but was asked to shut up everyday. Unlike the majority of singapore students, the singapore system is not ideal for him to maximise his potential. The same goes for the young generation in Singapore. If they want to stay, don't be afraid to change a system to maximise the nation's potential. When we welcomed the walkman, who would thought there would be a MP3? Maybe, Singapore is lucky second time round, to have a great leader, even greater than MM Lee? He is good but he is dying too. I am afraid I don't think LHL is any great.But, that's not the issue.

6:01 PM  
Blogger visceral said...

different strokes for different folks. I dont think theres a country thats able to accomodate everyones expectations. but in the same vein, there are probably some who are meant to leave. I'd gladly leave when my time is up, but I pray that those who stay will also prosper where they are planted

8:58 PM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

it may not be about comparing which side the grass is greener indeed ... it is to see the reality first : then you decide. do you wish t accept it, or you wish not to accept the reality offered.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous parkaboy said...


I understand your point. I have often found it strange that I, despite all my seeming advantages, feel so alienated in Singapore.

I do think it's true that educated people are likely to get a better deal out of Singapore than are uneducated people, but that doesn't mean there isn't the alienation of stagnation even if there isn't the alienation of oppression. And I don't think it's true that things are all the same, in all the same ways, elsewhere. There're richer cultural opportunities elsewhere - there really, really are. There's more flexible views on gender elsewhere (and this matters fiercely to some). There is more room to be yourself elsewhere.

The fact is, because I wasn't content with what the world called success (doing well in school, likelihood of flashy yuppie job), because I wanted connection, space, difference, I spent most of my childhood being miserable. And the fact is also that since having left I am startingly, indescribably happy. It's not just frustration at Singapore's political situation that turns the trick: it's everything that follows on from the deeply straitjacketed politics. The social narrowness, the cultural bogwater, the tepid lifestyle.

I agree that there's a kind of pro-business capitalist stupor that infects almost all developed countries. But democracy - not just the party political structures, but the greater sense of equality you get in all interactions with people - is a powerful antidote to that. I think there is a place for my dreams here, outside of Singapore, eventually. I think I have a shot at making it work, at calling any failure mine. Whereas I think I am doomed to isolation in Singapore, in perpetuity. I think that counts for something.

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Rowen said...

The cost of leaving is lowered.

With our young being better educated, and better opportunities being offered globally. Leaving may be better for those with education.

The cost of migrating and becoming a singaporean is also lowered.

Have you noticed the number of foreign nationals becoming singaporean?

The grass on the other side seems greener?

10:36 PM  
Anonymous amran said...

me and my wife already making the first step moving to Melbourne...

and we are really happy about it and now we can start shaping our future....

people might say i am a quitter but that dosent stop me from leaving heheheheee...

the only disadvatage is we have to start everything all over again like my new friends buy new house and so on... but we still happy about it.

those who have the heart to migrate to other country must always remember this always choose a better country ok.

i will come back to singapore in four years time to cut my pink ic.

thats my dream.

7:43 PM  

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