Sunday, June 30, 2019

11 Oz years (part 4) / Musical journey (106)

My past 11 years in Australia have shaped my views on investment and work, had influence on my health, seen me being same-sex married while copping same-sex racism at the same time, and made me miss home so much more. The last bit about missing home when it was still raw and fresh culminated in a song posted here where I wrote:


On the night of my departure as I went past the customs gate with the image of my family and friends starting to get smaller and smaller behind me, I was overwhelmed by a deluge of emotions. I continued to push on despite these hurdles in my heart clouding my sense of direction…


I can still remember those emotions as if that night at the airport occurred yesterday even though much has happened since then, which also explains why there hasn't been a tune to those lyrics until recently (slight modifications were made to make it flow better). In this last post of my "11 Oz years" series (the entire series is here: 1 2 3 4), the complete song can finally be unveiled. The clip shows what I would have seen through the plane's window as it took off with that tiny red dot I called home for 30 years gradually becoming even tinier.

11 years are a significant milestone but I'm here for the long haul (especially since Singapore is not going to make any progress on gay rights anytime soon which was made painfully obvious recently in this article). Hence I have a few more 11 years to make the best of, and I hope they will all be healthy and happy.




[不得已]

词  /  曲 : 锦泉

眼眶热了, 红了, 湿了
想不到泪水真的流出了
双手刚握住的拥抱不在了
你的爱我心保存了

走着走着,双脚怎么沉重了
但目光还是锁在前方的
这是我自己做的选择
想不到愿望真的实现了

一页页的回忆, 翻阅我脑海里
一年年的成长, 有你的呵护维系

没你的日子里, 我会照顾我自己
没我的日子里, 请不要垂头丧气
在遥远的土地, 我会珍藏那快乐回忆

一页页的回忆, 翻阅我脑海里
一年年的成长, 有你的呵护维系

虽然是不忍心, 却是不得已
我要让你知道, 我真的很爱你



[No Choice]

My eyes are getting warm, getting red and getting wet
I cannot believe tears actually fell
Where is the embrace I just held in my arms?
My heart is where I preserve your love

Why are my legs getting heavier as I walk?
As I continue to look forward
This is the choice that I have made by myself
I just cannot believe my wish actually came true

Pages after pages of memories flipping in my head
Year after year growing up in your tender care

I will take good care of myself when you are not with me
Please do not be dejected when I am not with you
On faraway soil I will cherish those happy memories

Although I cannot bear to do this, I have no other choice
I really want you to know that I love you very much


Sunday, June 23, 2019

11 Oz years (part 3)

Yesterday I would have lived in Australia for exactly 11 years and now it's time for the next post in this series celebrating this anniversary (the entire series is here: 1 2 3 4).


Hard-work

I moved to Australia after having only been in my first real post-graduation job for a few years (the one-and-a-half-year American training stint before that didn't count). This means that much of my work skills, both hard and soft, were learnt in Australia. Perhaps the biggest thing I've "mastered" after these 11 years is the knowledge that hard work doesn't translate to success in the workplace and sometimes it's not even required. What you need to do is to work smart and not hard.

Work is a never-ending process and so there's always more work to be done but a smart worker knows the exact things to tick off in the work list to get ahead and wastes no time by doing the bare minimum in each area in order to rise up. These people tend to be climbing the so-called "management ladder" and leaves the people on the "technical ladder" to do the real work. They then use the output of the workers below them to make all the major decisions. In return, they get paid more and are in a position to access even higher positions, all while standing on a not-so-strong base.

A clever worker also knows that it's who you know rather than what you know that matters. Once these "geniuses" identify their targets, they hone in and walk in their circles, both in and out of the office. Opportunities get given over lunch room conversations and social gatherings and a lot of times, these people move into roles that you don't even know existed. It's especially helpful knowing the right people in the management ranks so that you can help them progress their initiatives and in the process allow them to know your abilities and become "indebted" to you. In that way, they're more likely to offer you the next juicy promotion because you've robbed everyone else of valuable face time with the managers.

You might be wondering since I know all this, why am I still stuck as a worker bee in the lower rungs of the company? This is all because I'm an introvert and society unfairly favours extroverts and conveniently ignores qualities introverts bring to the table. In an ideal world, both personalities should be treated equally but the real world is far from ideal. This results in the two "management/extrovert" and "technical/introvert" silos we see in almost all workplaces. This is made worse when extrovert bosses selectively groom their fellow kind as they're deemed better management material and it becomes a vicious cycle. It's impossible for an introvert to fake being the opposite just to compete because it's extremely taxing to keep up a false persona, believe me I've tried. There's only one thing you can do and that's to accept that life is unfair and resign to the fact that you're destined to be a drone ripe for exploitation by other people eager to climb above you. I have to emphasise though that I don't think I'm any less capable or valuable as an introvert which is another thing these 11 years have taught me.

11 years working in a hydrocarbon projects-based consultancy firm has planted me in permanent crisis mode as work is always stuck in an unstable situation, sensitively subjected to oil prices and world events. My recent attempts at trying to entrench myself deeper into where I'm currently working at by doing my job really well haven't been successful. This is especially demoralising when I've been told I'm doing a good job by the person whose role I'm trying to get which he's more than glad to offload as he's having too much on his plate. I still have some time under my existing contract to continue pursuing this endeavour but I'm beginning to chase diminishing returns so my internal "give-up" mechanism is slowly kicking in.

If I knew 11 years ago how unstable it would be to stay in a consultancy firm post-Australian mining boom, I'd have chosen the other more stable job I was given at an operator company then (i.e. not a consultancy-type organisation), a job that I rejected as it didn't pay as well. Silly stupid me! I absolutely hate regrets and sadly I'd have to live with that big one. Fortunately I have plans in place to get out of this depressing rat race before I lose all energy required to do the things I like (refer to the first post in this series under "House-hunting"). I'll not be in the same situation at the end of the next 11 years, that much I know for sure.


Health

My last full-body health check was done before I moved to Australia which means I'm in the dark with regards to my health condition for at least 11 years now! It was a blood test at that time which picked up the issue of high cholesterol which was later reversed with a drastic change in diet over half a year. That was also the time when I had my last and only colonoscopy which turned up zilch. I really need to get my next one done especially when the cancer gene is in my family (my father died of bowel cancer). I should also start getting annual health checks. When you feel healthy and nothing's wrong on the surface, you get lulled into a sense of security which might even equip you with a sense of invulnerability. That is till you get a health scare which is exactly what happened recently.

As you know I'm on PrEP and one of the possible side effects is a loss in kidney function. In my last three-monthly checkup as part of my PrEP prescription requirement, my kidney function eGFR test came back with a result of 53mL/min/1.73m² which was below the minimum of 60 for the doctor to be able to continue prescribing PrEP to me. Although I was told this was only an approximation calculated based on some formula and not a definitive indication of kidney health plus the fact that I was likely dehydrated on that day, I was still on edge over the period of time waiting for the results of a retest. For this second test, I made sure I wasn't dehydrated and sure enough it went back above that minimum number, to 63.

Like what many would do in my situation, I went online and Doctor Google revealed that "53" fell within "stage 3a" which is mild to moderate kidney failure! That gave me quite a scare initially but since my index was 69 when I started taking PrEP and it has fluctuated in the 60 to 70 range since April 2017, I really shouldn't be that worried and this was what my doctor (the real one) said too. Moreover eGFR is based on how much creatinine is in your system with creatinine being mainly produced by muscles and I have a much higher muscular mass than average people. My doctor told me that eGFR tests for people with little muscles sometimes can give a false indication that their kidneys are healthy. Still, years of snacking on high-sodium tidbits, lazing out on processed food and not drinking enough water must have had some adverse effects on my kidneys. I know I should cut down on snacking but bad habits die really hard and it should be fine if I do everything in moderation right?

The Australian diet consists of more meat so that mustn't be helping either ever since I've moved here. That being said, I eat mainly chicken (white meat) instead of beef or lamb (red meat) although pork is my favourite which I believe is red. Luckily I don't smoke and don't indulge in alcohol like many Aussies and I also cut down on carbs and sugar (thank goodness I don't have a sweet tooth). As a Chinese person, it's excruciating to remove white rice from your daily diet but I've learnt to live without it over the past many years. I'm currently trying to reduce my intake of artificial sweeteners too as a safeguard even though the jury is theoretically still out on the harmful effects of aspartame. Finally, I not only disallow work stress to get to me as I'm not those ambitious kind wanting to rise up fast (as I've painfully written above), I do keep to a strict exercise regimen which is maintained even when I'm not feeling well. All this combined must at least count towards something right?

Even if these 11 years of hard labour in the gym don't amount to a clean bill of health, at least I feel happy when I look at myself in the mirror (which partly explains the countless naked selfies). At the end of the day, I think it's this positive state of mind that's crucial for one to stay healthy. Tell me honestly, won't you feel good too if you see this in the mirror? 😉



And this concludes the third installment of this series. I'll see you soon for the last one.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

11 Oz years (part 2)

This is the second part of the series highlighting how my last 11 years living in Australia went and how they have impacted me (it will officially be 11 years in 6 days). The entire series is here: 1 2 3 4.


Husband & Husband

Ision and I met online on a dating site called Fridae back in 2007 when I was still living in Singapore. The relationship underwent a long-distance phase for a year before I decided to move to Australia. On the eve of our 3rd anniversary, we made the relationship open which was really the only sensible thing to do. Looking back, I'm very glad we could progress our relationship in that logical and mature way i.e. what we think is the only way to ensure its longevity.

In 2013, we got into a civil union under UK law in the consulate (Ision has a UK passport) and you can read more about that here. Although we've been in an Australian defacto relationship a few years before that, the civil union took it a step further albeit being more of a symbolic thing back then. When UK allowed consulates to convert civil unions to full marriages when they legalised same-sex marriages in 2014, on our 8th anniversary, we did just that which involved nothing more than signing on a piece of paper and paying a fee. The marriage was sadly still not legal once we stepped out of the consulate.

A year later in 2016, we held our wedding reception in Singapore where we only invited family and a small group of close friends. It was unfortunate that my in-laws couldn't make it but at least they came for the civil union ceremony. I also wrote a song for Ision and sang it during our wedding. I posted a 7-part series documenting that special day and you can find it here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. The push for same-sex marriage in Australia started to grow stronger and two years ago, it was finally made legal and that significant event was posted here. There was nothing we needed to do as our UK marriage was automatically recognised in Australia. And last month Ision and I celebrated our 12th anniversary and now we're all caught up.

That's our relationship in a nutshell which changed quite a bit over the last 11 years. Like all married couples past a certain number of years, we've become more like family and it's that familiarity and unwavering companionship that we find really comforting and crucial to sustain. We can always find someone else better in some departments but you can't easily replicate that warm quality of having someone you've loved for more than a decade who will accept you for all your flaws and idiosyncrasies. So why risk what you have now and step into the risky unknown unless of course you're really unhappy in your relationship which is definitely not the case here.


Since our marriage under UK law, I've started using the word "husband" in daily conversations even at work. It was awkward at the start and I always had to change to "partner" when I began to feel uneasy. Like all things, practice makes perfect and I can say I'm now 95% comfortable using this term. I know I'll get to 100% eventually but it's becoming more of a non-issue nowadays anyway. I'm Ision's husband and Ision is my husband and we'll sail through life that way for the next 11 years and beyond.


Homecoming

Throughout my 11 years, the biggest things I have missed are the 3 F's - food, family and friends. Fortunately my two-year work stint in Papua New Guinea meant the fly-in/fly-out arrangement gave me four-week breaks every two months and hence the chance to go back home more often. When that was over and work became less secure, I no longer had the chance to visit home as and when I wanted. Fast forward three years and my missing of those 3 F's is becoming increasingly hard to bear.

Just when I thought work was becoming more stable which was also the time when my 10-year long service leave became available for use, I booked my tickets for a long homecoming trip and made lots of plans in anticipation. Sadly I had to cancel the trip because of a new work position that I've taken up which you can read more about here. I was entitled to a limited refund and it was all thanks to my perseverance in following up with Jetstar that I got it back and then some. You see, they made a mistake and gave me a full refund which is all the sweeter as my company has already reimbursed me in full for the cancellation!

I was determined to realise those thwarted plans and the only way I could do it whilst on secondment is to do it when my recently-extended work contract ends in December this year. Although there's still a chance that they'll take me on further, I'll only know more towards the end of the year. As I couldn't wait that long, I had to draw a line in the sand and prioritise my homecoming over work for it to really happen. With that determination, I've bought my tickets to have that holiday I was deprived of earlier this year, albeit a slightly shorter one (still quite significant at almost 7 weeks though). This will be my first time flying with Scoot and here's my itinerary:


So mark your calendars and be prepared for I'll be in Singapore on Christmas Day till the last day of the 15-day Lunar New Year period which means I'll definitely have enough time to do what I originally set out to do plus squeeze in a few more items that I've just added to the list, as follows:

  • Nocturnal food activities e.g. going for supper with friends in an attempt to cross off all the eating places listed here, visiting as many night markets as possible, an outdoor durian-gorging fest, etc. Mmmm... durian...
  • Video shoot with a photographer friend for one or more of my compositions. We've talked about it only briefly but we'll now need to seriously plan for it. This is very exciting as I've ALWAYS wanted my own music videos.
  • Visiting Jewel at Changi Airport. I've seen so many friends posting on Facebook about their experience there and I need to see it for myself. I plan to go there with my mum i.e. my partner-in-crime of choice.
  • Explore the numerous farmer's markets that have sprouted over the years using this as my reference.
  • Do my next series of topless karaoke (the previous series can be found here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8).
  • Going through the places featured on this mouth-watering site and pick at random a few places to try out every day.

As you can see, a lot of activities centre around food and so I need to stick to my gym routine ever-so-strictly. To be honest, I don't even mind getting a little fat from this trip as my cravings for real Singapore food (and kopi-c!) is at the point of tearing me apart.

I'm glad Singapore has become more interesting over these 11 years living away from home which gives me even less excuse to not visit more frequently. The most important reason however is still to see my mum as she's getting older and frailer. Us overseas children need to grab every opportunity to visit our parents while we still can and nothing else should really matter, and I can finally do that in 6 months' time.


So what are the other themes I'll be covering in the third post of my "11 Oz years" series? You'd have to wait for a week more to find out.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

11 Oz years (part 1)

In 13 days, I would have survived 11 full years Down Under. A lot has happened in these life-changing years and I must have known that would be the case back in 2008 and that must have been why I started this blog to document this new life. Now that so many years have passed, I'm not sure if I can still call this "The Next Phase" but I guess since I'll always remain an outsider to some degree and not feel 100% home regardless of how long I've been here, that name will stay that way. The next few posts (the entire series is here: 1 2 3 4) are not meant to be a detailed summary but a means to convey my current state of mind, which is a direct result of these 11 Oz years. Coincidentally, the themes all begin with the letter "H".


Hate

Even after being in Australia for more than a decade, I still don't identify with a lot of Australian practices e.g. sports obsession and beer-drinking, just to name a few. Moving from a country where your race forms the majority coupled with government policies favouring your race to one totally opposite did take some getting used to. One major thing I needed to get used to is racism, which is simply hate borne out of irrational ignorance.

When I was living in Sydney, I'd get screamed at on the streets and on public transport. Although that hasn't happened to me (yet) in Melbourne (though I've seen it happen to others), in both cities, I experienced inferior service standard because of my race from some people who make it really obvious to treat white folks better right in my face. Over these 11 years living in Australia, I also sometimes felt slightly "off" at work where you kind of knew you didn't get that job or promotion  you wanted because of your race but could never ever prove it.

Perhaps the bulk of racist episodes nowadays come from the online world which is a realm where hate-filled people who can't bring their ideas to the mainstream find it so easy to broadcast their venomous words. Personally, one of the best things that came from online racism is my feature on DNA magazine (you can find out more about that experience here and read the DNA feature here). Racism targetted at me is like a workout for my skin for it trains it to be thicker and now I can say I'm bullet-proof to racism, online or otherwise. For new migrants though, it's a seriously difficult thing to grapple with and might even break or worse still turn them violent. Imagine you've just arrived and trying hard to assimilate by getting online and encounter this:


By the way, the above are but a handful of online hate I've received (on "Grindr", "Gaydar" and "Scruff" from top to bottom). Nowadays I always report profiles that say "no Asians" just to make myself feel better even though I know this achieves nothing. I guess this is my feeble attempt to "fight back" knowing that you can't really fight effectively from a minority position. You know, I really should write a song with all that I've copped these 11 years and turn all this negativity into something positive. So watch this space, a new composition will be penned I promise you!

In this increasingly polarised world where immigration policies get corrupted by racism, laws of the land get applied unfairly along racial lines, and opportunities are not given equally to all, we should at least do what we can within our power to stop race-based hate. If you have these thoughts, just keep them to yourself and not be overt about it. Tell people what you like instead of what you hate. Live and let live and the anger you could potentially avoid is going to do wonders on your life expectancy.


House-Hunting

As you know I'm very frugal in my ways and many people have wondered why I've not bought any properties if money matters that much to me as they are a shoo-in in the investment world. My friends feel even stranger seeing I could easily afford the purchase. To be honest, I think it's fear and being too comfortable where I'm currently at. I'm also a very risk-averse person and someone who hates regretting so I don't like to make big decisions. The last one I did was to move to Australia but that didn't cause any regret (so far). Even though housing prices have dropped recently, they are still way overpriced because the housing boom before the drop have pushed prices to sky-high levels. This just means there should always be an ever-growing urgency pressing me to buy right? Surely there's no more reason for any further inaction after having delayed this for much of these 11 years right?

I currently have the majority of my cash stashed in a 5-year term deposit which was something I did to delay the eventuality of buying. I know I know, you must all be thinking what a fool I am but I shall remain foolish not much longer because I've made up my mind that 6 months before the term deposit matures in September 2022, I'd start my property research. Knowing me, I'll go super in-depth to make sure I minimise the chances of any regret. The resistance to buy all these years is also largely due to the inevitable need for this arduous research.

I've been told the best property-type to buy would be houses as they come with land and they must have at least three bedrooms to make rental income substantial. Another major factor in the research would be location and so "growth areas" need to be picked. As I don't drive, the location needs to not be too far from the metro area and accessible by public transport so that I can go and inspect it now and again. This imposes a size limit on the houses I can buy. I know I'd be like a helicopter parent always hovering above my babies. I know I wouldn't be able to help it! I'm not sure if my OCD character is conducive for any form of investment but it's sure not helping.

My plan is to buy two houses outright and rent them out. With the no-mortgage passive income, I'll then transition into part-time engineering work by age 45 and then fully retire by 50. From my friend's experience, although rental income from his two houses after all costs are deducted is much lower than what I expected, it's still enough for me not to work because I'm such a spendthrift. I just hope the recent interest rate cut and the future planned cuts all fail to stem property prices from continuing to drop. With any luck, the market would have cooled to absolute zero by the time I swoop in for the kill. We can always hope.


I'll be talking about two other topics in the second post of this series which will shed more light on how these 11 Oz years have shaped my life, so watch out for it.