28 Questions You Might Want to Ask Before Migrating to Australia

Despite the pro or anti migration factions waging war around you, the truth is simply this: you ONLY need concern yourself with migrating to Australia if you have an “in-demand skill” recognised by an Australian professional body or have AUD2m or thereabout to invest in Australian government bonds or have proven business acumen and are able to replicate that success in Australia or the majority of your immediate family is domiciled in this country. Otherwise there is no point even agonising your poor brain cells over the matter because Australia just will not have you.

A friend of mine, who met none of these criteria but wanted to move here so badly asked what could he do. I told him to find himself a local wife. I wish I was kidding but I wasn’t. You might have heard of people being offered permanent residence visas at customs, but those days haven’t existed since the 70s. Since then, Australia has had to turn away thousands from her beleaguered gates. Moving on to those 28 questions  in the order in which they appear in my head. Thank me later. A pair of brothers want to charge RM25 for what I’m about to tell you for free.

Permanent Residence Visas

1) Must I have studied in Australia?

No, but your qualifications have to be recognised by a professional body in Australia.

2) What is on that so-called “in-demand list”?

People Australia wants delineated by profession. Click here to take a look for yourself. Generally you have to be no older than 45 at the time your application is processed.

3) Should I get myself a migration agent then, since this seems all so complicated?

You may if you’d like but I’d advice against it. All info you need to fill in the forms yourself are available in booklets; PDF copies are available online.

4) How much would it cost me to hire a migration agent though?

Excluding disbursements, which can easily add another AUD4k, expect to pay around AUD8k for representation.

5) What is the time-frame for processing my permanent residence visa?

It depends on the category. For skilled migration it generally takes 6 to 9 months, family migration (meaning sponsored by a family member) between 3 and 4 years. As always, there are exceptions to this: those sponsored by an employer generally only wait around 4 to 5 months, by a husband or wife, roughly 2 years (although a bridging visa allows them to remain in the country), by children, 3 or 4 years – however with a payment of nearly $43k for each parent this wait can be shortened to a matter of months.

6) What does a permanent residence visa entitle me to?

An indefinite stay in Australia, although you need to chock up a minimum of 3 years in every 5 for the powers that be to grant you a residence return visa (RRV) at the end of each 5 year block. Fail to do this and they might not be so forthcoming with the RRV. You’re also entitled to Medicare, delivered through the public healthcare system. Medicines are not included.

7) Do I get free education?

Yes, but only in public primary and secondary schools. PR visa holders are not entitled to government-funded study loans. These are only available to Australian citizens. As a PR visa holder, you are still a citizen of your country of origin.

8) How about welfare payments?

Apart from Family Tax Benefit, which is paid to families, none is available for new PR visa holders. Since you’ve been welcomed into the country, you’re supposed to contributing to Australia, instead of Australia contributing to you.

Finding a Job

9) How hard is it to find a job?

It depends on your area of specialty and where you are willing to relocate to in order to secure work. Junior doctors can find work instantly, as can accountants and engineers.

10) Where do most Asians find work?

Apart from nail bars and restaurants, as suggested jokingly by a lady I met this morning, we’re most often seen in square, sterile settings as doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, various allied health professionals…outside of the health sciences in engineering, accounting, cleaning companies, milk bars, Asian grocery stores.

11) Where is it hardest for Asians to find work?

Law – but as I mentioned in a previous post, this affects white Australians too. Finance, marketing, public speaking, event management, media, arts, coaching sport…

12) But shouldn’t they give us jobs if we studied here?

Show me 1 country that guarantees graduates jobs and I will show you 10 that don’t.

13) Is it true that Asian job seekers are discriminated against?

A Sydney study suggests there is discrimination and there have been reported instances where employers refuse to hire a certain type of jobseeker but I don’t see that to be true on the whole. My brother for instance, was head-hunted by several firms upon graduation; but I should warn you that metaphorically-speaking, his CV sold itself.

14) What if I come with work experience?

It would count for something if this work experience is from Australia or some mecca of civilisation like London or New York. Otherwise, expect to lose a couple of years “seniority” from your carefully tended resume.

15) Why do Australian employers not recognise my qualifications or work experience?

It’s not that they don’t; it depends on what area you work in. HRH’s cousin easily found one professorship, then another, at 2 of Australia’s top universities, even without Australian qualifications because the area he specialises in has nothing to do with Australia. Everyone else has to prove qualifications and prior experience are equivalent to that of locally-trained professionals in a similar capacity.

16) What if I want to add to my training?

You can get your new employer to sponsor you or you can fund your own continued education. The latter is tax deductible.

Making friends

17) Will I be wandering the streets friendless for 5 years?

Are you a mangey stray dog? If the answer is no, I think you’ll make friends pretty soon, provided you put yourself out there. Australians are generally curious about people of other lands; titillate them with tales of mind-boggling, yet-unseen sights and you’ll have yourself very captive listeners, if not friends.

18) What do Australians like to talk about most?

Australian Rules Football, fondly referred to as “Footy” in winter and the Australian Open in summer. At other times, the weather is a safe bet, as is weekend getaway plans, shopping or if a parent like me, your kids.

19) Are all Aussies lazy?

Aussies are laid back, however I’ve known a fair few to put Asian workhorses to shame. My friend who owns a laundromat in Townsville, to cite but one, worked right up until she went into labour. 3 days after the delivery of her 4th child, she was at work once more; putting in 12-hour-days at her business and going home to cater to her family after that. And the woman had neither family nor maids to help her at either.

20) Sum up the typical Aussie in 5 words.

Fun-loving, jocular, adventuress, inquisitive, fair-minded.

21) What are Aussie get-togethers like?

When eating out, unless stated otherwise beforehand, it is presumed that each person will pay for his or her own self. If dining in a nice restaurant, each person will chip in a couple of dollars extra towards a tip for the waiter or waitress. If you get invited to tea, feel free to bring along a small gift for your host. However, do not expect there to be anything more than tea, coffee and biscuits. Adult-only events precludes the provision of food or entertainment for children, just as children-only events, like birthday parties, precludes the provision of food or entertainment for adults.

22) What do most Aussies do on the weekends in place of family dinners and extended gossip sessions?

They play or watch sport, have BBQ lunches and picnics with friends in the park, trawl shopping malls just like most Asians in Asia do. The only difference is that activities 1 and 2 are generally preferred as most enjoy the outdoors. Many reserve family shindigs for that long stretch between Christmas Eve and a couple of days after the New Year.

23) Is that why I can’t go back during Chinese New Year or Ramadhan or Deepavali?

Businesses here don’t close during any of those holidays – Chinese, Malay or Indian restaurants included – but that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate our ethnic holidays. Some of us save our leave to go back during this time, to our countries of origin to be with family. Others celebrate in Australia with friends in place of family.

Comforts of home

24) Do I have to be a master chef to satisfy my own taste buds?

It would help but if you don’t know a chopstick from a cleaver, then you can always get yourself a good feed in either Sydney or Melbourne. To a lesser extent, Brisbane, Darwin and Adelaide have good Asian cuisine too.

25) What can I get  over there?

What can you not get? With enough dollar bills, you can get anything your stomach desires in Sydney or Melbourne. I’ve bought all manner of exotic fruit in Melbourne – rambutans, mangosteens, dragon fruit, longans, lychees… and countless servings of well-made, delectable kueh. If you visit one of the Asian enclaves, you can lay your hands on just about any spice, any pre-packaged food, any ready-made food, you can get back home.

26) Can I get Asian movies or newspapers?

Yes and yes.

27) How about Chinese herbs and our many esoteric health treatments?

We have Chinese “medicine halls” where you can have your pulse read and herbs prescribed. We have Chinese massage centres, Indian massage centres, Thai massage centres. You name it, we have it.

28) How about Chinese language schools?

Again, yes. In Melbourne we have a school with thousands of students. Where I live in Perth, Chinese language instruction is carried out through smaller institutions. You didn’t ask, but we also have Greek language schools, French language schools, Thai language schools etc etc…

Okay, last questions. They are not part of the other 28 but I think it summarises my opinion on migration. Would I recommend Australia as a place to migrate to? Yes. Compared to many other places? Bloody yes.

To jump ship or not to jump ship? The Migrant Experience

I’ll be the first to admit that the migrant experience varies considerably: if you arrive on these shores, indeed any shores, with enough gold bars to interest the US treasury, chances are you’ll have a swimmingly good time. Ploughing in feet first, you’ll find all the doors opened to you previously, still open, now wider, and then some. On the other hand, should you arrive with little more than a suitcase and appropriate working papers, then life will be as if once was, after the veneer of newness has worn off, complete with the same ol’ frustrations of being at the bottom of the pond, except if you’re eligible, they’ll be some tax-payer recompense, paid through Centrelink, to soften the blow. That, in a nutshell, is what most migrants encounter. Now for the burning questions, some of them thinly veiled protestations, I hear most often:

But isn’t Australia an egalitarian society?

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? The truth is, we are a flattish society, in that I’d talk to the person beside me in the queue at Australia Post, perhaps even share a laugh with him or her about some trivial matter, but wouldn’t go so far as to invite the person over for tea, unless we belong to the same social strata; and yes, there is such a thing as social strata.

Having been a doctor’s wife for a good 12 years, I can tell you that I never socialised with the wives of HRH’s consultants while he was a resident or junior registrar. It’s not that they weren’t friendly or I wasn’t open to having new friends, but even within the same professional pool, there is a great disparity in incomes, and hence lifestyles, between those starting out and those already established.

While HRH was in training, my friends tended to be the spouses of other trainees. We all suffered the same neglect, enjoyed the same occasional perk of being tagged along to work conferences, all looked forward to the same green pasture we’d glimpsed when attending rare Consultant-hosted events.

So you see, Australian society, while not as egalitarian as one might think, is not intentionally discriminatory, unlike Asian society. In Asian society, it is an understood fact that those at the bottom and those at the top of the food chain, do not co-mingle, unless related by blood or marriage. Even then, co-mingling is ruled by one’s social status relative to the other. But this, my dear readers, is what has migrants – especially less educated ones – lured here by the promise of absolute social equality, disillusioned. They come here to get ahead only to find the same social obstacles to their progress.

But isn’t Australia about giving people a fair go (as in equal opportunity)?

Recently I received a comment from a new reader with regards to my post on the outcome to Australia’s Federal Election, bemoaning the discrimination one supposedly faces as an Australian-educated, Asian jobseeker. While discrimination does exist, it isn’t in all sectors of the job market and certainly not to the extent that one might presume from reading random stories in the news. Australians are generally fair-minded and if you have the goods, they’ll usually give you a go. However, as I pointed out to my new reader, even whiteys (as in white Australians), encounter great difficulty trying to land jobs in law and finance. This loops back to my earlier comment about “social obstacles.” For you to understand what they are, please read my post on the value of a private education.

The thing is, Asians think that the saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” only applies in Asia when it clearly applies here as well. Moving with the times, I’ll add to that cleverly phrased sentiment by saying, “It’s not just what you know or who you know but who KNOWS YOU that matters.”

Of course, who knows you is hardly important if your skills are such that society can’t function without you. Except for the unicorn wunderkinds in each profession, we can’t all claim to be so indispensable, can we?

Why would I want to leave behind my family and friends then?

No one is holding a gun to your head saying that you have to but for my money, I think some people rather enjoy being as far away from family as they can – especially if family is controlling and meddlesome. I’m not referring myself, thank you very much, but inferring from the countless conversations I’ve had with other migrants. I live here because I enjoy the simple things one takes for granted growing up in a country like Australia, like safe streets, crisp, unpolluted, lung-fuls of air, clean water straight out of the taps, an uninterrupted supply of electricity, a dependable supply of untainted fruit and veg.

As I often tell anyone who will listen, public schools here are like private schools where I come from; the class sizes are half what they are in Malaysia, the number of classes for each year not even a third. In the schools my daughter has attended (okay, so we sent her to a private school for kinder), each class has a teacher and a teacher aid, proper-lighting, air-conditioning, computers, some have overhead-projectors and sound systems, parent volunteers to help with reading, trainee teachers to lighten the workload further. We have educational outings, school discos, a constantly replenished library, a multitude of “themed days” to encourage learning. When I was growing up in Malaysia there were close to 50 to a class, at least 8 or 9 other classes like mine, 1 teacher to each, and only chalk and talk. “Crowd control” was often unstinting use of physical punishment, from which none of us emerged into adulthood bruised or scarred or requiring counselling.

So how do I know if I’m suited to migration?

First things first: what do you want from it? If you come here expecting a Cinderella-transformation in lifestyle, you’re going to be left gnawing away on a rotten pumpkin. As you may have heard from family or friends who’ve already made the treacherous swim across from wherever they were originally, this is the land of Do-It-Yourself. Come prepared to take care of your day-to-day needs and you’ll be delighted by all the opportunities to show off and expand on your self-sufficiency. Come here expecting to be waited on by Yati and Maria (my mother’s favourite names for maids), and you’ll be humbled by what your income, hitherto perhaps large, can afford.

Most migrants I know live simply. Even those in pole position on the income charts don’t live as large as they would back in Asia. They might have cleaners visit their homes, but this is seldom more than once a week. Even if they eat out often, they rarely entertain in restaurants; something to note if you come visiting. For that reason, potlucks are very popular in migrant communities as almost everyone has something they are particularly good at making to contribute. Perhaps, when you are a migrant, what you miss most is not ostentatious restaurant fare – that’s widely available over here – but humble home cooking and the variety of delectable morsels from hawker stalls, which no one sells for lack of demand.

Yellow-facing in Cloud Atlas: is it offensive or simply art?

As part of our weekly husband-and-wife date, HRH and I decided to watch Cloud Atlas, which we’d borrowed from our local Video Ezy on the weekend. Since most movies run for an hour and a half to two hours, we thought we’d have plenty of time after Cloud Atlas to grab some lunch but little did we know, it’s one of those sci-fi epics that go for a full 3 hours!

Not that we complained. With 6 parallel story lines converging towards the end into one, arguing for the twin New Age beliefs of reincarnation and karmic resolution through rebirth, HRH and I were just too engrossed in the movie to notice the time. For a full synopsis of Cloud Atlas, please click on this link.

Being a wordy-person what I marvelled at most was of course the script, followed a close second by the boundless talents of the make-up artist to transform protagonists into people of different ethnicities, from various time periods. For instance, Halle Berry who appears in all 6 story lines plays a Native Woman, a Jewess, a Black woman (which she naturally is), an Indian party guest, a man and a coloured woman of undefined ancestry.

The make-up artist for Cloud Atlas did such a stand up job of  transforming the actors that we couldn’t identify most without looking on the internet for a breakdown of their roles in the movie. This inevitably raises the prickly issue of yellow-facing, which is the use of white actors to portray East Asians, a practise which has been in existence for as long as Hollywood has made movies. It would seem that without names known to the Western movie goer, none would see it, hence the need to yellow-face white actors.

As an East Asian movie-goer I’d usually be offended (hey, you think I don’t know what I look like!) by yellow-facing except that East Asian actors in Cloud Atlas also get the same transformative treatment as white actors, turning one Doona Bae, who’s ethnically Korean, white, then Mexican, then into a machine-birthed human slave. Now there’s a mouthful.

When I think about it, apart from misrepresenting East Asians in cinema or depriving East Asian actors of roles in Hollywood, the practise of yellow-facing itself is harmless. After all, if East Asians can take over-exposed pictures to wash out the colour in their skin, tape their eye-lids open and contour their faces with powdered bronzer and highlighters – so as to look white – what’s wrong with white people doing the reverse in order to look yellow?

With the number of cam-whoring East Asian 20 something females I see on facebook daily, all attempting to look some version of white, perhaps there will come a day when even we, East Asians, no longer know what we really look like. Perhaps then yellow-facing will exist not because Western cinema-goers refuse to be lured into the cinemas with foreign, unpronounceable names, but rather because there are no authentic-looking East Asians left. If you think that’s far-fetched, consider that a Korean director (I think he made the hugely popular “My Sassy Girl”) worried about being able to find an authentic-looking Korean girl to play the lead in his movie since the prevailing trend is for East Asians to try to “white-face” themselves.

Ethnic-bending aside, if ever there was a movie that could convince the audience of the existence of previous lives, this is it. Cloud Atlas is intelligent, well thought out, daring and bold. It’s singularly visionary. I haven’t read the novel by David Mitchell which the movie is based on, but now I’m raring to give it a go. If these borrowed lines from the movie are anything to go by, I reckon it’d be a damn good read:

“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” 

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

“I believe there is another world waiting for us. A better world. And I’ll be waiting for you there.” 

Fantasy. Lunacy. All revolutions are, until they happen, then they are historical inevitabilities.” 

“You say you’re ‘depressed’ – all i see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human.” 

“. . .my dreams are the single unpredictable factor in my zoned days and nights. Nobody allots them, or censors them. Dreams are all I have ever truly owned.” 

20 Golden Rules I Live By (Well, they work for me).

You probably already cottoned on that I’m a pretty opinionated old bird. And while I’m no repository of worldly wisdom, here are a couple of rules that I live by that seem to make living easier:

1) Life is fair. I know many people who’d contend otherwise, but from my observation, no one really has everything. It might seem like they do, but you don’t know their story.

2) Nothing is ever completely black or white. Except for premeditated, cold-blooded murder, which is definitely wrong, almost everything is else is situation-dependent. Always ask yourself, “What is the situation here? What am I missing?”

3) Don’t fight with idiots. Firstly, they’re too dumb to see reason and even if you do win, they’d be no thrill in having bested them.

4) You need to quell the urge to think up a suitable reply to hear what the other person is saying. Make allowances for the fact that they may not be as articulate as you.

5) Notwithstanding number 4, don’t agree just to be agreeable. Have an opinion, take a stand, state your convictions in the clearest, least offensive possible manner.

6) Know when to walk away. This relates to number 3.

7) But if you must fight, argue or brawl, make sure you can win. If not, why bother?

8) Every encounter, good or bad, presents an opportunity to improve your knowledge of the world and the people in it. It’s up to you to seize that opportunity and grow from it.

9) Have a reasonable, though not overly high opinion of your own intelligence, experience and abilities. What blinds most people is usually not the tricks played by others, but their own egos. Keep a good distance away from yours.

10) Because of number 9, you should steer clear of sycophants. We all want to buy into the legend of our own greatness. With them around, it’d be just too easy to do that.

11) Cultivate real friendships with real people. Know the difference between being friends and being friendly then you won’t over-invest in relationships that go no where.

12) That’s because your time is limited and no one person will meet all your needs.

13) Accept others for who they are. Don’t waste time expecting them to turn into what you’d like them to be. If you can’t do that then just stay away from them.

14) Notwithstanding number 13, don’t make excuses for people. People make enough excuses for themselves.

15) Regardless of your religious beliefs, there is such a thing called Karma. Like a savings account, deposits and redrawals do add up over time. Unlike a real savings account though, you won’t know your actual balance until you try to call in a couple of “special favours.”

16) Having potential is not the same as realising it. The best way to realise yours is to forget everything you’ve ever heard about what you have.

17) You don’t have to know everything. It’d be nice if you did, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t because nobody does.

18) See the funny in every bad situation. If you’re going to go through shit, then you might as well get a couple of laughs out of it.

19) Remember that life goes in cycles. When you are down, live for the up. When you are up, prepare for the down. The first makes hardship more tolerable, the second helps you to stay humble. The key to happiness is to find equilibrium in perpetual motion.

20) Feel free to add to this list.

Who’s a “little guy”? May the REAL little guy please stand up.

Where I come from, a “little guy” is – aside from being the owner of a diminutive physique – a person seriously short on moolah. What’s that? Cash. Money. Devil’s notes. Call it what you will but if you are putting up in a wooden shack with another 10 to 20 of your nearest and dearest, tapping electricity off lines that run the front of your charming “neighbourhood” and getting water out of a well or the nearest stream, then you are officially a “little guy.” The odd non-governmental-agency (NGO) might give you a hamper or a small hand out from time to time, but mostly you’re on your own in this big, bad, world. This my dear reader, is what poverty looks like up close. Stinking, limiting, potentially soul-destroying poverty. Such people are amply deserving of whatever help the taxpayer can and will give them. Where I come from, that amounts to almost nothing.

See what I mean? Where is the plasma TV or the Sony X Box?

See what I mean? Where is the plasma TV or the Sony X Box?

Can you imagine bathing in that water or washing clothes in it?

Can you imagine bathing in that water or washing clothes in it? Raw sewage goes from those shanty huts straight into the river.

So when a friend of mine argued, a day after the Aussie Federal Election 2013 that he, being a Labour supporter, was standing up for the “little guy”, I was totally mystified. After all, where in Australia do we have such infernal visions of materialistic deprivation? Do our supposed “little guys” live in slums or bathe in rivers strewn with faeces and garbage?

Let me make a few things clear: I’m NOT saying poverty doesn’t exist in Australia or that genuine poverty is not a cause for concern. It is. But is the “little guy” in Australia a REAL little guy or simply a guy who wants to eat off my table for FREE? In other words, a freeloader?

In response to the Coalition taking office, I told my friend, quite frankly, “I don’t get Family Tax Benefit (FTB) parts A and B, maternity payments or the school kids bonus. I plan to send both my children to private schools so GONSKI (the school reform proposed under Labour) holds no appeal either. So what difference does a change of government mean to me? Under Abbott, I will continue to get my Medibank rebate and HRH can get Fringe Benefits if he decides to buy a Lexus with his hard earned post 45% tax money.”

Note, it’s my money. And yes, I’ve already paid tax on every single dollar.

My friend said, “You’re right Estella. Screw the disadvantaged, screw the kids with poor parents and screw everyone who is poor because they choose to be poor so they can get $424.80 from centre-link every fortnight.”

Let’s examine that sentence, shall we? $424.80 a fortnight amounts to $11044.80 per annum. That’s just for FTB parts A and B. This excludes the yet un-axed school kids bonus or the rent assistance or the discounts on public transport, electricity and medicine that the   supposed-poor (I say supposed because I dispute that everyone is genuinely poor. More on that later).

I said, “Whatcha talking about? Have you forgotten that HRH and I are from regular, middle-income backgrounds? Tell me how many of the poor folks you know have moved as many times as we have or made half the sacrifices to improve their lot? We could have just sat back to suckle off the teats of society but we didn’t. Why punish people who want to get ahead by making them responsible for freeloaders who don’t?

Yes, that’s right. HRH and I  are from very ordinary families. There’s nothing remotely special about us, except that our parents valued education and made the necessary sacrifices to put us through school. HRH’s father – who yes, is a gambler – sold off ALL his worldly possessions to fund HRH’s medical degree in Australia. How many of you who supposedly (there’s that word again) love your children, want to do that?

I added, “No one is “entitled” to welfare. Society needs to rid itself of that mentality if it is to survive the 21st century.”

Whether you accept it or not, this is a very competitive century. For Australia to thrive and prosper in an increasingly borderless world, the country has to have a more skilled, more driven, workforce. We can’t afford to drag along people who don’t want to pull their own weight.

My friend’s reply was, “I do my bit to contribute to those teats. No complaints but let me tell you this no one with their right mind chooses to be on welfare. The fact is those who are on welfare are society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable. The word freeloader is right wing nonsense.”

No one chooses, eh? Let’s dissect that for a minute. While I wholly support the provision of welfare to the needy, the question I have is, who exactly are they? Society provides a safety net for single mothers. That is very good, but how long should this net extend for?

I’ve met this gay (I love gays by the way, so this has nothing to do with that) single mother (many of my friends are single mothers) who has an 8 going on 9 year old boy, who she refuses to vaccinate or send to school. Aside from being the recipient of welfare, she’s currently doing a tax-payer funded law degree, which she plans to complete when her boy turns 16, just so that she can spend more time with him. Okay, I’ll put it to you: wouldn’t you say this person has CHOSEN to be on welfare? 

At this point, our mutual friend, on whose wall we were sparring, asked us to take our debate inside, as in to a private message.

My friend then said, “Well someone needs to stand up for the little guys.”

So back to the topic of “little guys.” Who exactly are they in Australia?

I said, “Little guys my ass la friend. So many who get FTB have their own homes, complete with plasma tvs and at least 1 car (this is called “middle class welfare” or the government trying to buy your votes). My car is 8 years old and only a regular Toyota. My kid wears hand me downs for the most part and the occasional new shirt. When she was a baby, all her toys were gifts. Is this how the rich really live? People sleep better when they believe Labour propaganda that the so-called rich are out to screw them.

At this, my friend, who runs his own business, and whose household gets the maximum FTB, even though they all live in a brand-spanking new home, complete with plasma TV and new car, said, “Oh, all those messages were not from me. They were from my brother.”

Sure. So do you see what I’m talking about? Who exactly is a “little guy” when no one is living from hand to mouth in slum-like conditions?

For the purpose of this post, let me clarify a few more things: it doesn’t matter whether you are on welfare or not. My question is, WHEN do you want to get off it? Do you believe that you should be supported in perpetuity?

What appalled me were the names Labour supporters had for those who support the in-coming Coalition government. Among them: stupid, cunts, shit heads…the rest do not bear repeating. Where I come from, stupid is what a teacher calls a 6 year old who cannot read. It’s what you call your fellow citizen who expects you to haul his ass to wherever you’re going.

If one truly believes in this great good called democracy that the West is so intent on spreading to every corner of the world, then one should also believe that last Saturday’s federal election outcome is the voice of society, as a whole, fed-up with being legally robbed blind and vilified, being heard. Under Labour, you’d think that the enemy is someone born into wealth, who sits on his ass, who refuses to share the bounty of God’s great earth. Under the Coalition, you will see that the enemy is one who propagates these lies.

The beauty of living in Australia is that everyone who puts in the time and effort to improve themselves can get ahead. It’s all about the choices and sacrifices one is willing to make. To this end, I’ll tell you what I have to say to the left-wing statements I hear most often:

But only the rich can afford to give their children a good education.

Nonsense. A good education is available to all who send their children to school. Teachers can’t possibly teach your child if you don’t send him or her to school. If you think the rich have better public schools, move to their area. There’s nothing stopping you from doing that, except for an attachment to the 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, rumpus and parent’s retreat you have going in the Nappy Valley.

But it isn’t the same as a private education.

Hey, I don’t expect a stretch limo to pick me up for bus fare so why do you expect something for nothing? If you want to give your child a private education, save for it.

But I’m raising a future tax payer.

So am I. Mine doesn’t cost current tax payers anything to keep.

But you are rich.

You obviously haven’t read my posts carefully enough. I shop at Salvos and Lifeline stores. I frequent farmer’s markets. I don’t own X box or Playstation. I only recently bought a small TV, just so I could watch the outcome of the Australian Federal Election. It’s all about how you spend, not how much you earn.

I’ll leave you with one final thought: imagine for a moment that you are a farmer who puts in 80 or more hours a week doing back-breaking toil. With your proceeds, you decide to buy some land to raise cows and sheep. From that, you have money to install a grey water system to water your garden, a couple of tractors, hire a couple of farm hands to help you out around the farm, buy even more land to grow more crops. You prosper as a result of taking risk, foresight and hard work.  Do you think it is FAIR then if I just come over to your property weekly to help myself to your fruits or sheep or cows? Swap the word farmer with doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant etc…Do you see the picture?


Why roll up your sleeves when you can always hire someone?

Despite growing up in a house filled with the smells of freshly baked goods, lunches that were never the same as dinners, no less than 3 dishes of meat and vegetables at every meal, accompanied by soup that takes donkey-years to boil, I had scant appreciation for home-cooking until I left home. In the ignorance of my youth, my most oft-spouted response to being asked to help out in the kitchen was, “I don’t want to spend all my time slaving over the hot stove.”

After all, apart from having the physical dexterity of a chicken with duck feet, I was going to become a career woman. What need did I have for cooking when all the working women I knew had catered food delivered to the home or bought family dinners from the economy rice stalls?

When my extremely hygienic mother (she’s a former nurse, if you must know) asked me to help her clean for the umpteenth time, I’d grumble, “Why do I need to know how to mop and clean when I can pay someone to do all that for me in the future?

Oooh…the things you say that come back to haunt you. Little did I know that my future involved living in a land where cleaners command upwards of $25 an hour (about the same as or more than entry-level professionals) and economy rice stalls do not exist. Ha! And guess who I had to crawl back to for easy recipes on not-so-humble home-cooking?

After living more than half of my life away from home, I’ve come to see the wisdom of what my mother said earlier, in response to my many protestations: “When you can cook, you can make food taste EXACTLY THE WAY YOU WANT, instead of the way someone else wants.

When you can clean, you won’t be held to ransom by maids and cleaners.

Back then I had no idea what my mother was on about. Who would quit on me if I pay them? Why wouldn’t the chef make food the way I want it to be made?

Obviously I had to learn the hard way. This morning for instance, I discovered that although big fry-ups are a staple at most breakfast cafes, not all know how to make a proper one. Sure, the eggs were poached as I requested and there was a sausage, which I was looking forward to, but the eggs tasted of the vinegar put into the water to poach the eggs.

Now, I’m no master chef, but I can tell you that if the eggs were very fresh, the vinegar would not have been necessary. At any rate, they should have been rinsed and drained well enough after the poaching so I wouldn’t taste the vinegar. Meanwhile, I swear that the sausage came straight out of a microwave: it was split right down the middle from over-cooking and the ends where it had been cut from the other links had oozed out to form crusty “muffin tops.” On top of which, the sausage was as dry and chewy as a piece of bark. The other elements of the fry-up were all right, but as I said, fry-ups form the bulk of business for most breakfast cafes so they should know how to serve up a decent one.

Having said that, my taste buds are simply spoilt from all those years of home-cooking. My mother wasn’t just one to cook and bake, she’d go over the one recipe until it was perfected, totally convinced that the author of the recipe had left ingredients out or given erroneous measurements on purpose. Until today, many of her cookies, cakes, tarts and whatnot are still the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve eaten heaps) but please don’t think of asking me to ask her what she puts in them because I haven’t the slightest interest in baking and the only people she’d tell are family.

Nowadays, the one who preaches the benefits of DIY is me. My mother practically rolled her eyes when a couple of years back I showed her Shannon Lush’s “Spotless.” That’s probably because, with few exceptions, I have someone clean my house for me. Nonetheless I do know how to roll up my metaphorical sleeves and dig in, should I need to. Since her accident, my mother has been having catered dinners. My father usually hops out at midday to buy lunch from the coffee shops near their house. Since we kids left home, she only makes the cakes, cookies, tarts and whatnot for church bake sales or when she comes to visit me, at Amanda’s request.

Amanda’s most recent request has been for her to make apple pie and apple crumble when she passes this way again in December. Last December when we went home, the two of them made 2 batches of walnut-topped, blueberry muffins together. I was chuffed to see grandmother and granddaughter working side by side, the two of them bonding over flour and butter, even as I sat there with my legs up, surfing the telly.

I suppose, regardless of where you live and what your means are, it all boils down to how badly you want something done. Because I had to have “keropok lekor” and no market stocks that over here, I scoured the internet for recipes, then using the amalgam of several, attempted to make my own. I’ve also made my own Chinese pasta from scratch, which I wouldn’t have thought to do if I could have just bought it ready-made, cooked and flavoured from a shop.

True, you can buy whatever it is I make in Malaysia or Singapore, but do you really know what goes into your food? Rumour has it that fried foods bought from the stalls stay crispy for hours because plastic is melted into the oil to form a coating on the food. I’ve also heard that tissue paper is routinely mixed in with flaked fish to bring down the cost of each bowl of Assam Laksa. And just yesterday, I read of the link between maternal nutrition and autism. While the author of the article didn’t say autism is caused by food per se, the only thing to have changed between 1990 and 2000, accounting for a 870% increase in the incidence autism, is our diet and the food chain. If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice, I don’t know what will. Perhaps it’s time to dust down that apron.

Smacking: effective discipline or child abuse?

I don’t think my own mother ever had this conversation with me. Certainly not while I was 8 going on 9 years old, just like Amanda. So to my utter surprise (and we parents get surprised often enough, thank you very much) this morning at breakfast, Amanda asked me, “Is it TRUE that parents are not allowed to smack their children?

I hhhmmm-ed and haww-ed a good couple of minutes, trying to recall the most current piece of information I’d read on the topic of smacking, then when it seemed I could put off answering her no longer, said, “You’re not allowed to hit your children in anger but parents definitely have the right to discipline their children.”

If not, how could we, as parents, be accountable to society for our children’s behaviour?

I know that didn’t answer her question because she then said, “My friends say that parents are NOT allowed to smack their children. So how did grandma belt your sisters?

This was a tough one. “How or why?” I asked.


“You have to understand a few things, Amanda. Smacking is perfectly acceptable in Asia. When I was growing up, it was normal for parents to slap, smack, whack, cane or even belt a child if he or she misbehaved. Grandma may have been heavy-handed with the belt, but she did so because she cared for my sisters.”

“What’s heavy-handed?”

“To use undue force.” And this, I suppose, goes to the heart of the push to make smacking illegal in Australia.

But what is the right amount of force to get your point across? Some, little, or none? This brings to mind the speech a total stranger gave during my baby shower, a few months before Amanda was born. Since I had very few friends in Melbourne at the time, my host, HRH’s childhood friend’s wife, invited a couple of ladies from her church’s “cell-group”.

I distinctly remember this stranger saying, “I’ve always believed that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. I had the one cane which I used to whack my daughter if she misbehaved. After a while, I only had to show her the cane for her to remedy her behaviour. I always told her after I’d whacked her, that it hurt me more to have to do it, then for her to have been whacked.”

Curious to know the long-term effects of this method of discipline, I also remember asking her what became of her daughter. Did the girl turn out well? Does she still listen to her mother now that she’s grown and there is no threat of a caning?

“My daughter’s a neurosurgeon,” said the stranger. “We’re still very close.”

“So did grandma ever hit you?” asked Amanda, returning me to the present.

“Grandma slapped me, once.” Using her knuckles, she rapped me on my forehead a couple of times.


“Because I’d forgotten to bring home my swimsuit after changing out of it.”

I was Amanda’s age. I’d taken it off, put on my dry clothes and just walked off. That swimsuit had red and white stripes with a blue flower on the front; it was from Marks and Spencer and had been passed down from my eldest sister to my second sister to me. I guess it counted as a family heirloom. I never had another as good as it again. For the most part of my childhood, that slap cured me of forgetfulness.

Research may say smacking can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression, antisocial behaviour and substance abuse, but I can tell you that I have experienced or engaged in none of the above. People who know me personally can vouch that it hasn’t lowered my self-esteem or IQ in any way. Neither has it turned my sisters into social or mental retards.

Even HRH received many a hiding from his grandma and as you will know from reading my countless posts on him, he’s turned out just fine. He’s never been depressed, aggressive, antisocial or abused substances. He doesn’t even smoke. As for IQ and self-esteem, you’ve got to be kidding if you have to ask the question. Mind you, our caregivers didn’t just whack us for the sake of whacking us. They whacked us only when we were in the wrong and they made sure we understood what we were being punished for.

When I was growing up, not only did parents physically discipline their children, other adults – grandparents, uncles, aunts – also felt obliged to if they had care of the children. At the very least, they told us off. After all, you’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Now we have to suffer the behaviour of little tyrants who run amok or twist our arms if they don’t get their ways. Today I read of a teenager who stabbed her mother 79 times because she didn’t get her way. Would she have turned out this way if her parents had given her a couple of smacks? One report says her mother spoilt her.

“But I’ve never whacked you, have I?” I asked Amanda.

I have smacked her bottom with my hand for repeatedly drifting off into fantasy land in the middle of class. She said the experience was “humiliating.” I told her the definition of humiliation is being bested by people whose abilities are much less than yours.

After that episode, I resorted to withdrawing privileges instead of using my hand: where before she had access to the computer all week long, she can now only use it for 2 hours on the weekends. Violation of this rule or failure to hand homework in on time to her teacher will result in further cuts, cancellation of play dates and – she’s most afraid of this – permanent relocation to Perth. For now we’ll be here for another year. Given a choice between this and a smack, Amanda would gladly take a smack.