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.

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.

5 things you need to know about driving across Australia.

Okay, maybe you are very adventurous. Perchance you are just plain crazy like us and want to see how big, wide, and brown this continent called Australia really is. Here’s 5 things you should know before leaving the house:

1) Petrol stations aren’t everywhere.

In fact, as you go through the outback, you might only see what Aussies call a “servo”, as in service station, every 100 kilmetres or so. Therefore if your fuel light’s a-flashin’, I suggest you get a-pumpin’ at the nearest servo, regardless of the price. The difference in the price of petrol between capital cities and country towns can be as much as 15 cents a litre, but across the Nullabor – actually anywhere from after Port Augusta in South Australia, to 200 km outside of Norseman in Western Australia – petrol can be as dear as $1.97 a litre. That’s in AUD, folks.

2) Car service stations can be found in most small towns.

Still on the car: if you should say hit a kangaroo or get into any car trouble along the way, you can always find a workshop at the small town nearest to you. They typically have a towing facility, although I’d say that if you need towing, you’re probably in no shape to continue with the road trip as a drive like the one we’ve undertaken is arduous.

We drive a Toyota and through the many small towns we’ve been, we’ve always seen a Toyota service station. Places like Toowomba and Port Augusta, obviously the “bigger small towns” have workshops for other brands of vehicles too. Eucla had a mechanis who quite cleverly put a sign saying “NO RAC.” Meaning, your automotive club membership probably doesn’t cover these parts.

3) Food, glorious food.

Now please don’t expect chef-quality tucker while barreling across Australia’s dusty backyard. If you do, you’ll be in for the sort of surprise Weigh Watchers and Jenny Craig charge its members for: as in you’re gonna starve from all those skipped meals.

If you are health and weight conscious like me, and into rice like HRH, the best thing to do to appease your fastidious taste buds is to stock up on fruit at a supermarket before you set off and when passing through any town with a supermarket – some towns only have a petrol pump and a motel. Do please remember to throw away any fruit BEFORE entering South Australia or Western Australia as on-the-spot fines of $200 applies to anyone found transporting fruit into either states.

You may expect restaurant meals to cost between 15 and 50%  more than in Australia’s capital cities. The handful of groceries you can get at places like Eucla are twice what they are in a capital city. The typical truckstop along the way only serves fried food like fish and chips, chiko rolls, and bangers and mash. Once in a way, you will find one that makes salad sandwiches (not salad), but be prepared to pay in the vicinity of $6.90 for two slices of bread with two slices of tomato, some shredded lettuce and a slice of beetroot in the middle.

4) A clean bed is a good bed.

Again, it pays to have reasonable expectations when it comes to somewhere to rest your weary head for the night. Many places claim to be “hotels” but they aren’t hotels in the regular sense of the word. Some are highly liveable serviced apartments, many are clean, tidy motels, many still are just rooms with a bed and a TV.

We paid an average of $150 a night; in every instance we stayed at either the best or second best accomodation available. There were certainly many others on our route who decided that camping was more their style and they saved a tidy bundle in accommodation that way.

5) There is no network between Eucla and Norseman.  

Yup. You might as well forget about being contactable because Telstra doesn’t reach these parts. I dare say it doesn’t cover other parts of outback Australia either. While we were passing through the area, a couple of thousands of kilometres long, we had no signal on our phones; no signal also means no internet. It was good though; being uncontactable is rare in this modern world so we relished just having some time to ourselves.



5 things I love about Malaysia.

It’s only fitting I list what I love about Malaysia since I am about to return home for a holiday.   Malaysians and frequent visitors to Malaysia, see if your list matches mine. Yet to experience enchanting Malaysia? Why, here are some things you should not miss out on if you go there:

1) Food

Yes, yes, you knew it’d be number 1, because what Malaysian doesn’t like food? Being multiracial and multicultural, we have so many different kinds of food, I could spend all day waxing lyrically about it. In nutshell we have street food, hawker food (not the same as street food), restaurant food, hotel food, Chinese, Malay, North and South Indian food, Indian Muslim food (aka Mamak food), Peranakan food. Due to new migrants from around the world, we also have Thai food, Indo food, Korean food, Japanese food, the usual steak and fries, pasta, pizza…Every ethnic group has food only found and eaten during certain celebrations, at particular times of the year. For instance, during Ramadan, we have the most mouth-watering array of curries, sambals, pickles, cookies, cakes you can imagine lining entire streets of night markets.  Every region is famous for something: Klang is famous for Bah Kut Teh, or porky herbal soup, cheap seafood dinners, Ipoh for salt-baked chicken, chicken shreds with rice noodle soup, Taiping for popiah, His Royal Highness claims Tofu pudding with syrup too, much of the East Coast of West Malaysia with Keropok, especially the thick chewy variety called Lekor, which I love so much, Kajang for Satay, Ampang for stuffed vegetables known as Yong Tau Fu. Penang is famous for Lobak, meat filled into tofu sheets, Assam Laksa, a very, very distant relative of Curry Laksa, popular in Australia… Describing just doesn’t do justice to the food of Malaysia, so  here’s a video to show you some of the culinary delights found in Penang alone:


2) Markets

We have morning markets, night markets, weekend markets, farmer’s markets, where you will find everything from food to apparel to traditional remedies for zits, aches and pains, household goods, to school bags, sometimes uniforms and accessories… You could do your entire week’s shopping without going to the supermarket and the best part is you can haggle until your heart’s content. Which brings me to…

3) Bargaining

When I first arrived in Australia, the rule was no bargaining. Now it is ask for the best price. In Malaysia, it is expected that you bargain. Traders in Malaysia’s famed home of fake goods, Petaling Street, LOVE it if you bargain. They expect you to bargain. You must bargain if you are to secure even a half decent deal. It’s like dancing the tango with them.

Competing stall holders will shout for your attention, saying, “Boo – tee – ful (they mean “beautiful”, you come here. I give you good deal. Good deal.”

As soon as you walk away, feigning disinterest, they will shout even louder. “Hey you boo -tee – ful, leng lui (meaning beautiful girl in Cantonese), come, come don’t be like that. Come, I’ll give you best price.” He’ll dig out his calculator and pretend to slice chunks off his profits, especially for you, boo – ti – ful.  To be sure, he wants your business.


4) Friendly people

Malaysians are so friendly, you can make new acquaintances just about anywhere. Many are willing to go out on a limb to show visitors around, often inviting them home for dinner or at the very least, point you in the right direction should you get lost. Just beware of people who tell you some sob story in order to get your money. My mother once lost RM100 to a man claiming to have lost his wallet outside the airport. He thanked her profusely and gave her a number no one has ever answered.

5) Cheap goods

With the exchange rate, most things are a third of what they are in Australia. I regularly stock up on Loreal sunscreen, Sensodyne toothpaste, toothbrushes, instant cooking paste sachets, clothes  and shoes whenever I go back to Malaysia. Electronics are roughly 30% less than what they are in Australia too, as is jewellery and branded goods. What I’d like to buy this trip back is several kebaya tops to wear with my jeans, or to shade my arms from the harsh Australian sun, sunscreen and a couple of items from Bobbi Brown, saving me a small fortune.

What I know about love and relationships.

I have a friend who once told me, “Relationships should be easy, Estella. Not like work. If my relationships were like work, I wouldn’t be in them.”

This person has never been in a lasting relationship.

Another friend said to me, “What’s so good about being in a Chinese relationship? Chinese relationships are…” the comments were mostly derogatory.

This person too has never been in a lasting relationship. By lasting, I mean something that goes on for a couple of years, preferably half a decade or more, where both sets of parents know of the existence of the relationship, as do friends, even mere acquaintances.

I had to add the half decade clause because there are some people, in their eagerness to have their relationship validated by the world, show off just about every partner, regardless of how long they’ve been together or how much further they intend to take the relationship.

For example, one of my friends goes around parading a succession of women, even as he drops elephant-dung-sized hints about wanting to be in a significant relationship with one particular woman. By significant, I mean he wants to have kids with her. But he thinks he’ll impress her by taking his current girlfriends to meet his family and friends first.

You can see the ridiculousness of all this, can’t you?

I may not be the world’s foremost authority on love and relationships but this much I know:

1) Everyone is an expert. Regardless of whether they’ve had a lasting relationship or not, everyone has an opinion on love. Don’t be afraid/perturbed/offended if their opinions are ill-matched to your reality because that’s just what they are: opinions. Everyone can have one; although for your own good, it might be best if you discounted most of them.

2) No 2 relationships are the same. Yes, there are similarities between relationships that endure and relationships that don’t. But what works well for one couple, might not work so well for another. Take for instance, religion. God-fearing people advocate that both man and wife centre their relationship on faith. If I did that, my husband and I would have rows until the end of the earth, because he has absolutely no interest in religion. Zilch. Fortunately for us, I believe faith to be a personal issue, best pursued alone.

3) Arguments are NOT the end of everything. A friend of mine locked her husband out of the house and burned all his clothes because he vexed her. Even though he’s no pushover, he sat outside patiently while this happened. I’m pleased to tell you that they  are still married, their relationship spanning close to 3 decades.

By contrast, there’s this other couple that had no arguments. One day the husband decided to visit his mistress in the next state instead of attending his wife’s niece’s wedding. The wife just calmly turned to him and told him their marriage was over.

She didn’t want counselling, she didn’t want a second honeymoon, she just wanted to move on with her life.

4) We all have issues with the in-laws. People who say otherwise are telling BS. That’s because all families are different. Caucasians  are more respectful of these differences whereas Asian mothers of boys tend expect their daughters-in-law to conform to their values, standards and mores because they did too upon marriage. Then there are some for whom, no girl is ever going to be good enough for their sons. Consciously or subconsciously, these mothers view the wives as usurpers of their place in their sons’ hearts.

Even though I have no mother-in-law, I still have problems with my in-laws because I constantly find myself subject to their Pygmalion Project. As anyone who’s had some sort of contact with me will know, the quickest way to get on my wrong side is to insist I obey.

5) You MUST talk to your partner. It’s not just about the big things, but the little things too. Share your day-to-day experiences, the many hours when you are away from each other. What I’m saying is include him or her in your life, otherwise, he or she will have more of a connection with colleagues, friends, even random strangers, than with you.

6) Have reasonable expectations. Just what is reasonable? Only you know the answer to this. Suffice to say, if you hanker after the life of a tai tai (known in the West as “ladies who lunch”) but are married to a regular Joe, then obviously it’s not gonna happen!

Take me as a case study: since my husband is a surgeon, I can’t expect to have as much “couple time” (actually any time for that matter) with him as someone whose spouse has a desk job. That’s what I tell the wives of newly married surgeons or those whose spouses aspire towards equally demanding careers. As my mother says, “You can either have the man, or you can have money. You can’t have both.” Few have both. Some have neither.

7) Know the things you should keep secret. Most of you, idealists, will probably protest against this. After all, doesn’t keeping secrets undo all your effort to build closeness through continued sharing?

Let’s put it this way. Would you really like to know what your husband thinks of you mothering, wifing etc? It’s all well and good if he thinks Mother Theresa couldn’t do a better job than you. Or that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But what if he looks at your now grown kids and thinks they are all failures because you were a pushover with them? Would you like to know that? Or how he compares you physically to other women?

What I’m saying is share. But don’t feel like you have to share everything.

8) Couples that laugh together, stay together. Back to my friend who burned her husband’s clothes while he sat patiently outside. She also told him that her ancestors, cannibals, had eaten his. Upstanding guy that he is, he laughed her comments off.

Looking at them and my own relationship, I can tell that humour is all the more important as the years pass. If you can see the funny side of things together, then you can work through whatever rough patch you encounter. It’s when the laughter dies that you know the relationship is deteriorating swiftly, for sure.

9) Staying committed is a daily exercise. I borrow this from a friend who once told me, “Love may began as a feeling, but it is the decision to stay committed that keeps it going.”

The reason people change relationships the way they change their undies is because they are not cognisant of this fact. Back to my friend at the start of this post. He expects love to be easy (there’s already an unreasonable expectation right there), he expects there to be no work; meanwhile, anyone remotely observant, who’s ever witnessed a long marriage within their family, will be aware of how much work is involved with staying connected to another human being.

That’s all I have to say about love and relationships. Have you anything to add to this list?




Words of wisdom from a dying man.

The dying often strike me as having the most profound insights into life. Perhaps because their time left is finite – actually everyone’s is, except we don’t know when, where, or how we’ll leave this physical plane – they make the most  of everyday, almost all reflecting on the life they’ve led, quite often regretful for the choices they have made.

I was in bed last night, about to shove off to see Confucius, who I have nightly dates with, when His Royal Highness started reading the speech given by one Dr. Richard Teo, at the Dental Christian Fellowship. Usually, His Royal Highness has no interest in anything with the word Christian in it, or any other religion for that matter, and frankly, neither have I, except that this Dr. Richard Teo was a 40 year old millionaire cosmetic surgeon with stage 4 lung cancer. In other words, this man was the same age as His Royal Highness and terminally ill. Now he’s dead.

We’re often thrown by the passing of another person our age because, rather narcissistically, and there’s no shame in this, we wonder how much time we have left. I read his voluminous address until the end because I was curious to know why this man chose God after a lifetime of chasing money. Although it is a speech with a pronounced Christian-slant, these are the insights into society and the human condition that I gleaned from reading it:

1) Man as God. He said, “I’m a typical product of today’s society. Before this, I was talking about how the media influences us etc. So I’m a typical product of what the media portrays. From young, I’ve always been under the influence and impression that to be happy, is to be successful. And to be successful, is to be wealthy. So I led my life according to this motto.”

2) Wrong heroes, flawed ideals. “The truth is, nobody makes heroes out of the average GP in the neighbourhood. They don’t. They make heroes out of rich celebrities, politicians, rich and famous people. So I wanted to be one of these. I dived straight into aesthetic medicine. People were not willing to pay when I was doing locum back in those days. Anything more than $30, they would complain that “Wah, this lo kun (doctor) jing qwee (very expensive)”. They made noise and they were not happy. But the same people were willing to pay $10 000 for a liposuction. So I said, ‘Well, let’s stop healing the sick, I’m gonna become a beautician; a medically-trained beautician.’

3) Everyone wants to pay. I learnt this when I tried to give away some of my old clothes. Even though they were mostly new, no one wanted them. People want to pay for things. He said, “There was so much demand that people were literally queuing up to have aesthetic work done on them. Vain women – easy life!”

4) We are arrogant, know-it-alls. “I had a lot more things to pursue in NUS  – girls, studies, sports etc. After all, I had achieved all these things without God, so who needs God? I, myself, can achieve anything I want.”

5) When God gives you a sign, it may not be what you want.  “I told Danny and my friends, “If God really wants me to come back to church, He will give me a sign.” Lo and behold, 3 weeks later, I was back at church.” He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

6) Obviously fit people can be seriously ill. “I was still running around, ‘cause I’m a gym freak and I always go to the gym training, running, swimming 6 days a week. I had some backache, and that’s all I had, but it was persistent. And so I went for an MRI to exclude prolapsed disc. And the day before I had my scan, I was still in the gym, lifting heavy weights, doing my squats. And the next day, they found that half my spine had bone marrow replacement. I said, “Woah, sorry, what’s that?”

7) Life can change in an instant. Dr. Richard Teo had bought a Ferrari, was about to buy a piece of land to build a house in Singapore. Anyone who knows anything about Singapore knows how much it costs to own landed property. He was going to buy land.

He said, “Can’t be, I was just at the gym last night, what’s going on?” I’m sure you know how it feels – though I’m not sure if you know how it feels. One moment I was there at the peak, the next day, this news came and I was totally devastated. My whole world just turned upside down.”

8) We all hear voices. This disembodied voice said to Dr. Richard Teo, “’This has to happen to YOU, at YOUR prime, because this is the only way YOU can understand.’ At that time, my emotions just overflowed and I broke down and cried, alone there. And I knew then, subsequently, what it means to understand that why this is the only way.”

“If I were diagnosed with stage 1 or 2, I would have been looking around busily for the best cardiothoracic surgeon, remove a section of the lobe (do a lobectomy), do preventive chemotherapy…The chances of it being cured is extremely high. Who needs God? But I had stage 4B. No man can help, only God can.”

9) We are stubborn. “I wasn’t sold after that, because of the inner voice, I became believing, prayers, all that. No I wasn’t. To me, it was just ‘maybe there was a voice; or maybe that was just me talking to myself.’ I didn’t buy the story.”

10) Knowledge can be a torture. “You know, once you have the clinical knowledge, you know the statistics. One year survival, two year survival; having all this knowledge is not a good thing. Cos you live with the knowledge that even with all this, the cancer cells are so unstable, they keep mutating. They will overcome and become resistant to the drugs, and eventually you’re gonna run out of medication.”

11) Material objects don’t give true joy. “I thought true joy is about pursuing wealth. Why? Cos let me put it to you this way, in my death bed, I found no joy whatsoever in whatever objects I had – my Ferrari, thinking of the land I was going to buy to build my bungalow etc, having a successful business.”

“It brought me ZERO comfort, ZERO joy, nothing at all. Do you think I can hold onto this piece of metal and it’s going to give true joy? Nah, it’s not going to happen.”

12) True joy comes from interacting with other people. “When you pursue your wealth, Chinese New Year is the best time to do it. Drive my Ferrari, show off to my relatives, show off to my friends, do my rounds, and then you thought that was true joy? You really think that those guys who sold you your Ferrari, they share their joy with you? And your relatives, wow, they share this joy with you? In truth, what you have done is just illicit envy, jealousy, and even hatred. They are not sharing the joy with you, and what I have is that short-term pride that wow, I have something you don’t have! And I thought that was joy!”

13) We need to sort out our priorities. “Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I’ve had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn’t have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptised it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.”

14) The more we have, the more we want. “There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely all right, because God has blessed (us). So many people are blessed with good wealth, but the trouble is I think a lot of us can’t handle it.”

15) None of it belongs to us. “When you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom than to further ourselves.”

So that’s my summation of the key points from Dr. Richard’s Teo’s speech. Do read it for yourself. It certainly prompted His Royal Highness, a borderline atheist, to bring it to my attention, and made an agnostic like myself sit up and take notice.

9 parental milestones.

Everyone speaks of childhood milestones without realising that for parents, these too are monumental events in their journey down that road called parenthood. From first words to first dates, every stage calls for adaptation as parents guide their offspring through childhood and beyond. Here is a compilation of them:

1) You discover you’re pregnant. You house within you another life whose development depends largely upon you. As such, you can’t just guzzle down wine and puff away like a chimney like you used to. Most experts suggest you cut down on coffee. While one large cup is unlikely to harm your baby, over-indulging might put you at risk of miscarriage or premature labour. Understandably, many first-time parents discover a hitherto unknown interest in health, fitness and nutrition.

2) Your baby is born. This is probably the most sleep-deprived and confused you’ll ever be in your life with a hundred and one experts giving conflicting advice on everything from starting on solids to co-sleeping. Total strangers will come up to you to comment on how well you’re doing as a parent or to offer what feels like unwanted advice.

3) Your baby starts to speak. This means you have to watch what you say as the little tykes  can and do soak up anything that comes out of your mouth. The next thing you know, you’ll have other parents coming up to you to report that your child taught their child “the f word.”

4) You baby goes off to school. Parents either rejoice or mourn the loss of their babies for 6 hours of the day, as the little ones first go off to kindy, then “big kids school.” For many, this is an opportunity to go back to work or if they are already working, to feel less badly about being away from their children.

5) Your baby goes off to high school. For the first time since he or she was born, you have sleepless nights as the baby discovers disco, mini-skirts and the opposite sex. Actually, it is the last more than the first two that keeps you up, as rampaging hormones, peer pressure and media influence causes your baby to go from sweet child to under-dressed, sulky, petulant teenager.

6) Your baby goes off to uni or gets into an apprenticeship. While probably still living at home and off you, you’re child now has holiday and weekend plans that exclude you.

7) Your baby moves out. With the cost of housing escalating, many don’t leave the nest until they are in their mid to late twenties. Moving out heralds the beginning of weekly telephone dates to keep you updated on their lives.

8) Your baby gets married. It’s a cause for celebration, unless you are made to pay for the wedding, in which case you only have yourself to blame for not teaching the baby about money. At any rate, it means there’ll be someone to care for him or her and to share life’s burdens with when you finally shuffle off to heaven.

9) Your baby has a baby. Hooray! We’ve come full circle. But for the masochistic few who refuse retirement, this is a time to play consultant instead of unpaid nanny.


8 misconceptions about romantic relationships.

People go into relationships having all these expectations of the other. Many are erroneous and not helpful in sustaining the connection. Here are the most common misconceptions:

1) “You complete me.” Blame Jerry Maguire but there’s been a lot of looking to another for completion since that movie came out. The way I see it, you’ve either got your shit together or you haven’t. All this completing business says you want someone else to wipe your arse.

2) You’re no longer lonely. Two lonely people does not a party make. You can be in  relationships with ten other people simultaneously – assuming none find out – and still be the loneliest person ever.

3) You share everything. Again, no. This is because we are too complicated beings, however simple we’d like to think we are, to be totally identical to the people we choose. It’s likely we’d share some interests with our partners, but many more with family and friends.

4) You’re together all the time. At the beginning of the relationship and in your retirement years when you don’t have to rush off to work, yes. In between, you’ll spend more of your waking hours with colleagues and agreeable strangers than you do with your other half.

5) You know everything about the other. With time, you can know a lot. Certainly more than if you had never entered a relationship. But there will be instances in your relationship when you see gaps in your knowledge. It’s not necessarily a bad thing unless those gaps hide a different sexual orientation, a second family or participation in criminal activity.

6) You like everything about the other. I’m afraid the other is no different from the myriad of people that pop into our lives. There are aspects of them you like, aspects of them, you don’t. The only difference is you’ve made a commitment to work through your mismatched interests.

7) It’s how they make you feel. If this is the case, I hope you have a pre-nup agreement because he or she is not going to make you feel on top of the world, all the time. Obviously, if the other half made you feel terrible you wouldn’t want to be in the relationship, but expecting to be constantly in love is like expecting it to never rain in the tropics. Unrealistic.

8) It’s one big love fest between your partner and your family. FYI His Royal Highness’ family thinks I’m a rude, arrogant, snob (his words) because I want to keep our decision-making about finances, lifestyle and child-rearing to ourselves. I mean, what are we? Communists? If your family likes your partner, good. If they don’t, ask yourself why. Family is our first port of call in a storm but they don’t always know you as well as they’d like to think they do. What I told His Royal Highness in response is that, if I had been what his family would like, he’d have no house, no child and very likely, no money.







10 things my parents taught me about money

Being fortunate enough to be born when there is no war or famine, many of us have lost the money-habits that enabled our parents’ generation to thrive. Here are some of them:

1) Never tell anyone how much you are worth. I was seven and my father had managed to save X dollars towards my future. My mother said to me, “Don’t tell anyone because many people have much more than that. Those that have more will think it so little. Those that have less will want to borrow from you.”

2) Your siblings may be millionaires but that doesn’t make you one. My mothers sisters all married very well. While they’ve always been generous towards us, what my mother wanted me to learn was to live within my means.

3) Your clothes/shoes/household goods cannot be turned into money. Arguably with a huge garage sale and eBay they can, but you’d lose money on the lot unless you bought those items direct from the manufacturer especially for resale. In others words, you shouldn’t spend all your money on consumables. My parents were very against keeping up with the Jones.

4) Don’t borrow if you can’t afford. They meant for consumables like clothes, holidays, that new car. Refer to number 3. These are items that can’t be turned into cash without incurring significant loses. If you borrow to buy them, you’ll still be making monthly repayments long after the item has lost its value.

5) Don’t ask anyone for money. Be it your parents or your siblings, don’t ever stretch out your hand and say, “Lend me a bob.” Your parents only owe you love and a good education. If you have both, you’re already very lucky. Your siblings only owe you love. “Forget about asking friends because that’s the easiest way to lose them,” my mother said.

6) There’s no shame in second-hand. Whether it’s clothes or a car, as long as it’s useable, it’s good. When I was growing up, second-hand was practically brand new as my  older cousins wore something before handing it to my sisters, who handed it down to me. Even underwear found a second life by being recycled into cloths to wipe the dining table.

7) Never underestimate the power of a single cent. My mother liked to say, “Even if you are one cent short, the baker won’t sell that loaf of bread to you.” In this new economy where they no longer make one cent coins, he might, but what she was trying to teach me was to care for my pennies. Many pennies make up a pound.

8) Learn to save. It won’t make you as rich as Croesus but without a good savings track record, the bank will be unwilling to lend you money. Or if they are already lending you money, unwilling to lend you more because you haven’t shown an ability to extend yourself. Of course there are many lenders out there, but those willing to lend when you have no demonstrable ability to repay are sharks out to gouge you with high lending rates.

9) Teach your child to save. There’s no point leaving your children money if all they know is how to spend. Unless you are Bill Gates, your money will run out before they get to the ends of their lives. Give them a piggybank and show them how it is done. Encourage them to have savings goals and allow them to use their own money for purchases so that they know the actual value of their savings.

10) Have goals worth saving for. My parents goals before they had me and my brother was for us to have a good education. They knew it would cost a lot so started saving well before I came into the world. My father didn’t want to be like his father who knew how to take his family for holidays, eat nice food and buy a car – then a luxury item – only to die destitute. He kept telling his wife they’d buy a house when they could afford a big one. They never even bought a small one as he died when my father was nineteen, leaving him as the eldest to support the entire family.

For 15 easy tips on how to slash the weekly family food budget, check out my article.


10 things to do with your kids during the school holidays.

By Estella

Here is Australia, the mid-year school holidays almost upon us. With that in mind, below is a list of cost-effective activities you can do with the kids to occupy their time:

1) Take them to the museum. Museums used to be all boring ol’ exhibits, but now most feature a section for children along with commentary for less-advanced readers.

2) Go swimming. With heated pools, swimming in winter can be as much fun as it is in summer. Just remember to bring and apply sunscreen so no one gets sunburnt.

3) Have a picnic or BBQ in the park. They can burn off excess energy on playground equipment or scoot along in their mini-scooters on paved walkways while the adults indulge in some non-child-related conversation with other parents.

4) Have a home bake-off. You can make cookies and tea cakes to share with neighbours, family and friends, while teaching your child simple measurements. Make sure they wash their hands properly before and after and remain supervised while handling sharp objects or the oven. To simplify proceedings, you can buy pre-mixes for them to make.

5) Have a night at the movies. Go to the video store together on cheap Tuesdays to borrow a whole heap of DVDs for a dollar each. Then go home and make pop-corn together to enjoy with your selection.

6) Organise a play-date. Most kids enjoy just hanging out with their friends. It’s a fuss-free option that can fit around most other holiday plans.

7) Go on a road trip. With younger children, the road trip has to be shorter otherwise there will be plenty of whining and “Are we there yet?” in the car. It pays to get them excited about where they are going by telling them what they are going to see beforehand.

8) Attend a sports clinic. Most sports clinics for children start from $50 a day, lunch excluded. You can either phone up community centres to ask about their school holiday programme or perhaps like me, your child has already come home from school with brochures to events.

9) Use your yearly pass. All the theme parks on the Gold Coast and places like the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary sell yearly passes. If your kids enjoy frequenting such places, it might make sense to get one. Get together with friends to save by bulk purchasing passes.

10) Explore interesting parts of the neighbourhood. What’s interesting? You’ve got to remember that children see the world with untainted eyes. We see flowers on bushes as flowers on bushes. They see flowers on bushes as pretend food for their dolls, hair accessories, home decorations, parts of a necklace…even taking them out for the fresh air is good.