Our family lived, worked and stayed in Singapore for a period of three years. I started schooling in Singapore as a kid and when I got back to the Philippines, I was in a shock of my life because the lessons that were taught in Singapore’s Grade 1 level were only being taught at Grade 2 and Grade 3 in the Philippines. This was back in the 1980s and the decision to return to the Philippines was brought about by the fact that my father resigned from his work as he saw that the company was about to close its doors. And close its doors it did.
Seven years ago, I went back to Singapore as a tourist. I was there with a good friend named Beth Reyes, who was a former officemate too. We took advantage of the craze back then when airfares started to drop like comets coming down like meteor showers. I remember being amazed and awestruck with the efficient system that Singapore has with its fast, clean and huge trains, well lighted buses and everything else just seems so nice. In fact, I even remember that I really wanted to go back to Singapore and work there again.
I even did my research on what’s the starting salary in Singapore, how do I get a work permit and what is the lead time for me to look for work. I’ve even asked a friend if I could stay at his apartment for a few weeks until I could look for work. Over time though, I began to sink into my routine in the Philippines again. I began to think really hard. Do I really want to go abroad? Will I find my purpose in life there? Or is it that the only reason why I wanted to go out of the country is that I was sick and tired of all the politics, the corruption in government that affects the entire nation?
So I challenged myself. I did some pencil pushing and some math and realized that the starting salary in Singapore in 2006 would be translated into P35,000 pesos. Don’t ask me the different factors that I considered to come up with this amount but it took awhile for a mathematically challenged individual like me who can mostly do basic arithmetic. I experienced one of the most painful losses in my life in my road for a better career at that time, but in 2007 I was finally able to get a new job, a new career and also the salary that I aimed for.
Two weeks ago, I returned to Singapore after seven years. This time around, I went there not as a tourist. I went there as a businessman. I was there for an event at the Singapore Expo. I accompanied my client to witness an event as we were planning to come up with something similar to it. The Philippines sent a team to join the said event which is more popularly known as the Singapore Rescue Challenge. And I am so happy to have witnessed that the Philippines won third place in the individual challenge and bagged the top place for the group category. In short, I was also there as a glorified cheerleader as there was only us who were cheering for the Philippine team sent by the Bureau of Fire Protection.
Much like my last trip to Singapore, I still felt awestruck by the changes of this city state. The new architectural structures of this place just amazes me to no end. But unlike the last trip where I had rose colored stained glass windows as my vision, this time I saw the challenges that Singapore has ahead. For instance, the last time I went to Singapore and visited my friend at his condo unit somewhere in Paya Lebar, he shared the apartment with two others. He still lives in the same area, but now there are seven of them Filipinos sharing under one roof! According to him, rent keeps going up. It’s another way of saying that life is really hard in Singapore these days. And the government is even making it exceedingly difficult for foreigners to make a living and thrive in Singapore as they want local Singaporeans to take the helm of their economy and nation.
Honestly? I felt sad for them. I remember more than 15 years ago when I visited my friend’s apartment in Makati. He shared an apartment with seven others too at that time. It made me think… what’s the difference of living and working in Singapore now as oppose to living and working in Manila? Is it really true that salaries are way better in Singapore? But do people factor in the cost of living? What about the quality of living? I can see from the eyes of my fellow Filipinos I meet there that the stress of life is getting to them. Is it any wonder then that its citizenry look to shopping as their national past time or save enough money just to get out of the city and tour the world?
The trip to Singapore made me thankful for what I have here in the Philippines. It’s true that I am having such a difficult time establishing my business. But I do get by. So far, not in the red yet. Yet I am beginning to see that many of our fellow “kababayans” out there who choose to live and work abroad are indeed making sacrifices that goes beyond missing family and loved ones. It’s not just about the money anymore.