Yesterday(31/7/12), was my good friend Encik DL’s 58th birthday. Only last Sunday, I met up with him between 4pm to 8pm happily drinking at Y2K coffee shop near to Kovan, opposite the small mosque. The two of us drank 5 bottles of beer and we had a good chat. We had not met for quite a while. On that hot afternoon, I took Bus Number 81 from my place at Pasir Ris Dr 1 to Kovan and walked over there.
Encik retired 2 years ago from the Republic of Singapore Air Force as Chief Warrant Officer, having served a total of 38 outstanding years. In his own words, he was one of the pillars of RSAF and helped to build up our formidable air force.
Encik was born in Penang. He came to Singapore from Penang at the age of 17 just after his secondary education; armed only with SPM certificate which is equivalent to our GCE ‘O’ levels.
In the year 1972, he got enlisted in the RSAF. The following year, he was given citizenship. He rose through the ranks and undergone innumerable training courses to earn his Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) rank with a $6,000 paycheck.
There were nearly one thousand recruits joining the RSAF in his 1972 batch comprising four main branches – Radar & Communications(R&C), Electrical Instruments(EI), Airframe & Engine(AE) and Armoury. Encik DL came from R&C. They just celebrated their 40th anniversary at Changi Golf club with only about 150 attendees out of the nearly 1,000 in that cohort. Many have passed away, some migrated or retired back to their hometowns in Malaysia and the rest uncontactable.
Encik says that Armoury is the least lucrative whilst A&E is the best. One could still get a job if he specializes in A&E cuz it’s basically the same after all these years whether it’s military or commercial aircraft. Whereas his R&C trade has seen much technological changes from the simple electronics of yester-years to present day much advanced and complicated circuitry systems. The parts are now all factory manufactured in sealed module form. Just need to replace the particular module unit in case of equipment failure. Encik pointed out the rapid rate of scientific progress in our personal computers and mobile phones to illustrate the nature of fast changing innovations and obsolescent technology.
I’ve known Encik for about 8 years. It’s through drinking sessions like last Sunday that I came to know him in bits and pieces. But last Sunday, he confided in me much more. 2 years of retirement from the RSAF with few jobs here and there at much reduced pay has made him more nostalgic and home sick. Maybe it’s due to the much lower cost of living in his hometown.
Encik told me that his two grown-up children are well educated. Both are on government scholarships. His daughter just graduated from a UK university. His son is pursuing his Masters degree. He got his first 4 room flat in AMK at only $24,000. Sold off that flat to ‘bite another cherry’ at this current Kovan HDB mansionate bought at $150,000 more than 20 years ago in late 80s.
Despite all these, he still yearns for Penang – his birthplace. He goes back to Penang at least once a year without fail. His own sister, nieces and nephews are still in constant touch with him. His many childhood friends and relatives are also in contact with him. In short, his network of relatives and friends in Penang is still intact.
For example, he related to me how his sister was too poor to pay utility charges. She stayed in a low cost govt flat bought at only RM25,000. The unpaid monthly RM30 utility bills at one period of time accumulated to about 5 yrs are paid for by Encik. Some of the poor in Penang even accumulated unpaid utility bills up till 10 yrs. I was shocked and asked him to repeat what he just said. If it’s in Singapore, she would either be summoned to court or cut off her utilities for prolong non-payment of bills. In Penang, it will never happen. The most they just cut off the electricity but never water supply.
Penang is now under DAP – opposition ward. It’s doing very well according to Encik. The flats in Penang are not as aesthetic as ours. No covered walkways or multi-storey carparks. But parking is free. When they come back late at night without any parking lot, they just leave their car without the handbrakes so that others would just push the car away if it causes obstruction. Try doing that here, the residents will call the police.
The best part is that in Penang and most parts of Malaysia, property developers must set aside part of the land to develop a row of low cost houses for the poor. Every condominium or private estate development, there will be some low cost housing at the fringe. Shouldn’t we learn from them?
Encik also describes to me the food in Penang is much cheaper and tastier than here. The mee rebus, nasi padang or banana leaf “pukul mati” etc are definitely better than ours. He says our mee rebus is only mee and a little colouring. Not much ingredients or taste. I should go to Penang to try their hawker food then I will appreciate how food should be prepared and consumed. He is willing to sponsor me a Penang trip.
What was his biggest regret in life?
“Oh I should have bought a freehold private landed property. The terrace house opposite my HDB mansionate cost only $300,000 then. I could easily afford it with my salary then but I didn’t think of it as an investment. If I had bought it, today it’s worth about $3 million.” Encik paid off his HDB mansionate within 5 yrs. He had lots of CPF then.
Encik regretted missing that goldmine. He missed the first goldmine when he bought his first 4 room flat in AMK at $24,000. A freehold small terrace house in the same area cost about $60,000 then. If only he had bought any of the two parcels of landed property during that window period, he would have been a millionaire by now. He need not work anymore. He could just collect rent from the second property while living in his current HDB mansionate. He was able to afford a second private home easily then.
Encik, like many in his generation lived through that era of cheap housing only to find it years later, shooting past unbelievably through the roof top.
I then countered that Singapore has treated him well all these years. He’s sitting on a resale value of at least $700K HDB mansionate with two grown up children sponsored by the govt scholarships. What else he’s regretting?
Out came the revelation that he should not have taken citizenship. He should just remain as PR. He says that as a PR, he still could buy HDB flat in the open market. Who knows, he might even have bought a private freehold house.
Like all Singaporeans, his CPF is locked up till 65 yrs before he could collect his monthly allowance. In the meantime, he still has to look for jobs here and there to sustain his lifestyle based on his $6,000 last drawn pay. There is no way he could be earning that kind of money now after his retirement from the RSAF.
Just last month, Encik brought two of his hometown frens to the CPF board in Bishan to check their accounts. They had stopped working here in 1982 and never return back to work. To their amazement, their CPF monies have grown to more than $50,000! From a paltry sum, after about 30 years, it has grown to more than RM126,000! They were full of praise for our govt. Encik advised them to keep their CPF monies here since the interest rate is 4% better than the bank rate of 1%! One of them withdrew all the cash while another left it there since he didn’t need the money. Encik was of course envious of his counterparts’ windfall. Courtesy of our govt efficient financial management, the exchange rate is now S$1.00 to RM2.53!
Nevertheless, he was in UK last year to attend his daughter’s graduation ceremony. He’s been to Europe and many other countries. End of this year, he will be going to Canada and the US to visit old frens. The gods have shown favor on him yet like most locals, he is still not happy. One area of unhappiness is that he was not given $200 GST rebate (he got $110 U-save) even though he is not working now. His children both earning more than him got their GST rebates.
I told him it’s based on his home ownership. The govt wants him to downgrade to a smaller flat so he could enjoy all the rebates given only to poor households based on your flat sizes. He retorted (without details or proof) that his long time fren living in a one room rental flat in Toa Payoh collecting rents from few properties and driving a big car. There is a loophole in govt policy. When I probed further, he could not give me any more details except to say that those properties of his fren were under the father’s name.
Encik told me that if he were to retain his PR status, he could now easily “balik kampung.” He could just sell off his current mansionate and retire comfortably in Penang. After all his relatives and frens are still there. He knows his hometown like the back of his palm cuz he goes back every year.
In Penang, the govt is more humane. They accept there should be some messiness. Unlike Singapore, every little thing you will get a summons. Too strict here. If you just park your bike along the pedestrian pavement, the newly set up LTA enforcement squad will just issue you a summons in lightning speed even though it doesn’t cause any obstruction. Easy revenue for our cash strapped govt? If everything goes strictly by the book – I’m referring to common parking offences not criminal cases, then the rakyat will suffer. If you get two or three such summons esp those lowly paid despatch riders, finish lah!
Encik didn’t study Chinese (He insisted it’s Mandarin or “Shi Bu Shi”). He detests Mandarin esp now everywhere also got “Shi Bu Shi” he says. He only speaks English, Malay and Penang Hokkien. “Shi Bu Shi” is no go for him. When his children were born, he refused to put Chinese as race. He says Chinese are only found in China. There are no Chinese here. We only have Singaporeans. “I’m a Singaporean!” He relented when the authority told him his children would not be issued birthcert if he still refused to declare his children’s race.
Encik is now 58 yrs. He has spent 40 yrs living in Singapore when he came here from Penang at the age of 17. If he were to remain in Penang, I’m sure he would not have prospered. Singapore has treated him well by giving him two subsidized flats, an iron rice bowl (last drawn pay of $6,000), two children on govt scholarships etc.
Trust me, many of us would dream to be in his shoes. If many of us were to be in his shoes, this govt would have less worry. But then, he still has some issues here and there with our govt.
Question is if Encik still yearns for his birthplace and always talking about his hometown food, culture, politics, lifestyle etc like what he did when I met him last Sunday, do you think those new immigrants will “integrate” easily? Is it not a pipe dream to expect foreigners to embrace our culture and lifestyle if our own Encik is not able in a sense to fully integrate?
Encik served 38 yrs in the RSAF yet his feelings and bond with his network of relatives and frens in his Penang hometown remain firm and unshakable. There are 38% of foreigners amongst us in a similar situation like our Encik. I’m talking about our Chinese Malaysian here, what about those far away lands FTs? It will be even worst! Our own original flesh and blood is always better than those adopted step-children. What do you think?
PS: It’s matter of courtesy that I let my subject know if I blog about him. Encik DL has read thru this post about him. This is his response dated 3/8/12.
Datuk, I beg to differ on your ‘Our own original flesh and blood is always better than those adopted step-children’ You must think of those born in Malayan Peninsula as S’pore is part of Malaya leh! Although my root is in Penang but my heart felt feeling is the loyalty to My Country, i.e. S’pore not China but as original Malayan. You have to remember that S’pore was part of Malaysia cos of Malayan leh – we are brothers in hand!