April 19, 2009
Settled in Singapore
At last week's launch of Lianhe Zaobao's new feature section, Crossroads, some immigrants thanked Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for his governance of Singapore. LifeStyle asks three of them why they chose Singapore as their home
By Frankie Chee
Cleaner air, big bucks
In 1991, Shanghai resident Zhang Run Zi, who was married to a Singaporean, received her Singapore permanent resident status. But she did not settle here until 1996.
And when she finally relocated here, she decided to sell expensive vacuum cleaners for a living.
Her friends here questioned her bold move.
'People would laugh at me, saying, 'Each vacuum cleaner costs almost $3,000. You don't know anyone in Singapore, how to sell them?' So I just went to sell them from door to door,' she recalls.
The gutsy woman, now 41, had the last laugh. In her first month, she sold 11 sets, and the following month, 19 sets, which earned her commissions of about $6,000 monthly. Within two years, she got an agency from her company, hired a driver and set up her own sales team.
What forced her to move to Singapore for good was her second child Gary's asthma, which was worsened by the harsh Shanghai winter. Then two years old, he became so ill that he was hospitalised when he got here.
It was at that time that the despondent Madam Zhang responded to an advertisement looking for vacuum cleaner sales representatives. The advertised pay was $20 for each presentation.
While on the job, she learnt that dirty bedlinen could be a main factor in aggravating her son's asthma.
'The big reason for my success in selling vacuum cleaners was because my son is asthmatic,' she says in a mixture of Mandarin and English. 'I was tortured by it. After having gone through it, I felt spending a few thousand dollars on a vacuum cleaner is worth it to prevent the illness. Why give your money to the hospital instead?'
She did so well that in 2001, she managed to pinch another vacuum cleaner distributorship that was about to go to her former boss at the vacuum cleaner company, and now runs a joint venture with the German manufacturer. The company, which also sells other products, hit a turnover of $1 million last month, double that for the same period last year.
Recounting what she has gone through and achieved here, the graduate from a dentistry school in Shanghai says: 'I've learnt that Singapore is a good environment for hardworking people to succeed. It's easy to do business here because the Government is supportive.
'I might still have been a housewife, or a dentist like my schoolmates, if I had stayed on in China,' she adds.
He immigrated at 88
When retiree Teh Wan Boon applied to become a Singapore permanent resident four years ago at the age of 88, he was possibly the oldest person to ever do so.
'Singapore is safe,' says the grandfather of nine, who lived in Kluang, Johor, before he immigrated here. He also liked the 'environment and good sanitation' here.
'I know that I cannot adapt to the climate in other countries. I will have no trouble integrating in Singapore,' he adds.
Born in Kuala Lumpur, the former English teacher and owner of rubber and oil palm plantations moved to Singapore six years ago with his wife, Madam Gan Geok Mui, 86. She is also a permanent resident.
The couple, who have been married for 68 years, live in a 3 1/2-storey bungalow off Holland Road with their eldest son, a civil servant, and his family.
They have five children - two living in Singapore, three in Canada, Australia and the United States.
In his younger years, Mr Teh often travelled to Singapore for work. But it has taken him this long to apply for permanent residence.
'I was over 80 years old when I moved here, and I didn't know I could apply to be a PR as I was not contributing to the economy,' he says.
Each day, he keeps himself busy by exercising for 30 minutes, going on the Internet to check on his stocks and investments and e-mailing his children overseas.
He also does not think twice about taking the bus or MRT on his own to travel around Singapore.
'I don't smoke, don't drink. It's early to bed and early to rise,' he says of his lifestyle.
He is thinking of applying for Singapore citizenship at the end of the year. 'I don't know if I'll be accepted,' he says.
He has since sold his home in Kluang, and says that most of his assets, such as blue chips and shares, have already been liquidated.
'My money is remitted here, I won't be a liability to the country,' he says. 'When I die, I'm thinking of being cremated and having my ashes thrown into the sea.'
Place to build his career
Twenty-two years ago, farmer and odd-job labourer Yu Ping left his family in China's Fujian province for Singapore and earned a few hundred dollars a month as a carpenter in a furniture company in Kranji.
Today, the 44-year-old runs his own precision engineering company in Bukit Batok. He is also happily reunited with his family, who have mostly become citizens or permanent residents here.
'I have heard about Singapore since young and even now, I have friends in China asking me about coming over here. It's safe and secure and, as long as you work hard, you can do well,' he tells LifeStyle in Mandarin.
The first few years here were not easy for the young Yu, who could not speak English and was separated from his wife and three young children.
'It was worth leaving the family. A man must build his career for his family, it's his responsibility. Only then can we face our family,' he declares.
He was among a group of hundreds who applied to Singaporean employers to work here, but only 60 were chosen - something he is thankful for and proud of.
'Being able to come here was an honourable and grand thing at that time. When I went back during the first few years, people looked at me differently and I was very proud of it,' he recalls.
In his seventh year here, Mr Yu graduated from the Institute of Technical Education with a certificate in carpentry, obtained permanent residency shortly after and fulfilled his dream of bringing his family over.
He, his wife and two sons - their youngest daughter stayed back in China - crammed into a one-room apartment in Marsiling. They survived on his salary, which went up to $1,300 after graduation, and that of his wife Liu Meizhen, 46, who worked as a stall assistant.
But his pay dropped to around $800 when the furniture company moved its operations to Indonesia and he had to start all over again as a machinery apprentice.
In 2004, he thought of starting his own business as he had built up enough experience and a network of contacts. That became a reality two years later when he set up a small Bukit Batok office, which currently employs two workers.
Also, instead of the claustrophobic one-room apartment, the family now lives in a spacious four-room flat in Woodlands.
His two undergraduate sons, Jianbin, 24, and Jianhong, 22, are both Singapore citizens and have served national service, while daughter Xiaoyan, 21, came here five years ago and is on a student pass.
'In China, you can't live like this with just the skills I have. There is no such opportunity for people like us,' he says gratefully.