Apr 6, 2007

The Stayers Keep Getting Raped

L is a headhunter with many years of experience. Until recently, she was an expat in Singapore. Now she has relocated. My wife and L are friends and so last week, L called Mrs Wang to talk about her new life in Hong Kong.

At some point in time, the conversation transformed into a discussion on future career options.

According to my wife, L was very interested to know about my new job. Furthermore L was quite excited when she found out which area of investment banking I'm now working in.

L declared that investment bankers in this particular area are in very high demand in Hong Kong. Furthermore, she said, they would command significantly higher salaries there. (This is no doubt true - in general, bankers, lawyers, doctors, accountants and many other categories of professionals earn more in Hong Kong than in Singapore).

"But he can't possibly move yet," said Mrs Wang mildly. "He just started in his new job."

"Sure, sure. Maybe not now." said L. "Move in 2008 then, or by 2009. But better move quick, while the market is hot."

"Well, what about ME and my job?" asked Mrs Wang.

"Oh, I'll find a new one for you in Hong Kong, if you like. ," said L breeezily. "That will be quite easy. You'll also earn more. Or if you prefer, you could be a tai tai, at least until your kids are settled in. Now, let me tell you about the education options ...."

The conversation went on and on, and Mrs Wang became more and more excited. Now she has it in her head that Mr & Mrs Wang and the little kids should all pack their bags and boxes and head off to Hong Kong. Where L will no doubt visit us on the weekends to tell us more about schools, restaurants, supermarkets, banks, clinics and other need-to-know places in Hong Kong.

"But I don't want to go to Hong Kong," I said. "I just started in my new job."

"Sure, sure. Maybe not now." said Mrs Wang breezily. "Move in 2008 then, or by 2009. But better move quick, while the market is hot. Now, let me tell you about the education options ..."

* * * * * * * *

I still don't like the idea of moving to Hong Kong. Firstly, I don't want to be too far from my parents. Secondly, the air pollution in Hong Kong is quite bad. Thirdly, I don't speak Cantonese very well. Fourth, the whole idea of relocating my family, the sheer hassle of moving and uprooting everything ..... is daunting.

But from the strategic big picture, as China steadily continues to transform into a global economic powerhouse, it could be better in the long run, for my kids to grow up closer to where the action really is. To me, this idea does have strong appeal.

And I know that in my own head, I am probably exaggerating the adjustment issues. Seriously, every day at work, I meet foreigners who have come from all over the world to Singapore. Many of them come with spouse, kids and/or pet dog in tow. They all seem to have adapted just fine. It is NOT, after all, such a big deal to relocate/emigrate and adjust to a new life.

Mrs Wang happened to have raised the topic at the time when the PAP ministers had just announced their
latest plans to rape taxpayers. This does make me just a little more inclined to consider the possibility of moving to Hong Kong.

It really shouldn't be that relevant. But with each passing year, the Singapore government just keeps finding new ways to undermine my sense of rootedness to this country. Why stay? - if indeed one day I will end up feeling like a stranger in my own home.


Anonymous said...

I think you might want to wait for your kids to be a little older first before exposing them to the Hong Kong air, unless you can keep them indoors all the time. That said, I think everything else is pretty much in the air for now, Hong Kong and certainly anywhere else in the world should be an option for you and your wife.

Anonymous said...

What are you waiting for? The kids will just love Disneyland. And they get to live in a democratic country.

Anonymous said...

First, yr grammar sucks: This idea does have strong appeal to me. It shld b This idea does have strong appeal FOR me. Or better still, say: This idea appeals to me strongly.
Also,aren't u a real hypocrite? U're going to HK becos of money, right and becos u hav talent? Ditto our Govt ministers whom u continue to condemn over money.. just becos they say talent has a price...
Let him without sin cast the 1st stone!

Anonymous said...

Catherine Lim, For The Straits Times, 5 April 2007

I HAVE followed with intense interest the current debate on increasing ministerial salaries to match those of the highest earners in the private sector. And I have noted the impassioned arguments from both sides: the Government insisting on its necessity if top talent is to be recruited to ensure good leadership, and the public expressing its reservations, doubts and unhappiness.

I would like to go beyond the emotion and the rhetoric, and see the issue in the larger context of the PAP model of governance, in particular its special brand of pragmatism in solving problems. It is a hard-boiled pragmatism which even the severest critic will concede has contributed greatly to the Singapore success story. And one which, paradoxically, even the strongest supporter will concede is liable to harden into inflexibility.

In the case of ministerial salaries, the PAP leaders' thinking seems to have gone along these lines: Singapore needs a good, strong government if it is to prosper or even survive. Hence, it needs to recruit top talent. Since there is competition for this from the private sector, it has to offer equally attractive salaries. It has to act quickly and decisively, otherwise the country will face a serious crisis of leadership, which can occur in three increasingly dangerous stages:

Talented people will not be attracted to government service.

Even if they are, they will soon be enticed away by the private sector.

But even if they are not enticed away, they will resort to corruption as compensation for their inadequate salaries, and thus bring ruin to society.

Rounding up the austere dialectic is the urgent plea to doubting Singaporeans: Do you want Singapore to go the way of corrupt societies?

I would like to point out, respectfully, a basic flaw in this rationale. In keeping with the overall, hard-nosed realpolitik that has characterized PAP rule, it fails to take into account the affective factor that is present in any relationship, whether between individuals or ruler and ruled.

This factor comprises that special constellation of emotions, moods, attitudes and ideals which somehow elude being quantified and reduced to monetary terms. I first analyzed its role in the relationship between the PAP Government and the people over a decade ago in a political commentary titled The Great Affective Divide, noting the emergence of a serious emotional estrangement despite the country's stability and prosperity.

Subsequently, I variously described the conflict in terms of the people's wish to see a greater role for Heart as opposed to Head, EQ as opposed to IQ, Heartware as opposed to Hardware, etc.

The policy regarding ministerial salaries illustrates this conflict. Its definition of the talent that is eagerly sought as ministerial material does not appear to take into account attributes beyond those of intellect. It assumes that what is good for the corporate world must be good for government, and that therefore there is a common target of talent out there, which both will compete fiercely for.

But in reality, the commonality of talent is only in those attributes of mind and personality such as great intelligence, far-sightedness, boldness of vision, creativity, determination of purpose, etc, that are the hallmarks of today's high achiever. Beyond this overlap, the emotional aspect comes into play.

And here, there is a dramatic parting of ways. For while the ideal political leader is imbued with nobility of purpose and altruistic instincts, the ideal CEO is impelled by the very opposite - raw ambition and ruthless drive. The first set of qualities is desirable for a life of public service; the second would be disastrous.

Indeed, a brilliant achiever without the high purpose of service to others would be the worst possible ministerial material. To see a potential prime minister as no different from a potential top lawyer, and likely to be enticed by the same stupendous salary, would be to blur the lines between two very different domains.

Next, the rationale goes against the very spirit of the social contract that it is supposed to protect. There is a compact, largely implicit, that governs the government-people relationship in every mature society in the free world, and it has as much to do with what is felt deeply in the heart as with what is worked out logically in the head.

By this compact, political leadership is less a salaried job and more a vocation, with all that this implies of selflessness and sacrifice on the part of the leaders, and trust, respect and regard on the part of the people. It is this reciprocity that defines a social compact and confers upon it a sort of sacrosanct quality. The ultimate reward for the leaders, whether or not they consciously seek it, is a revered place in the nation's history, in the hearts and minds of future generations. Hence, material reward is only secondary.

Nevertheless, no Singaporean with any practical sense of the real world would want to see a minister denied a salary commensurate with his status and dignity, or living less well than any prosperous Singaporean. If the average Singaporean still aspires to the famous '5Cs' representing the good life, he is only too happy to see a minister already well in possession of these.

But, at the same time, no Singaporean would expect a minister to feel disgruntled if he is paid less than the top CEO. If the disgruntlement actually causes him to leave his job, then he was not cut out for public office in the first place. Thus, to offer him a matching salary to enable him to stay would be to demean that office.

There is clearly a need to balance material needs and public service. The balance, in the view of many Singaporeans, has already been achieved with the existing ministerial salaries, if benchmarked against those of high-earners across a broad range of professions, and also against the salaries of ministers in countries such as Sweden and New Zealand, consistently ranked among the foremost, corruption-free democracies in the world.

The policy of increasing ministerial salaries may have the effect of upsetting this balance and, more seriously, doing away altogether with the compact of trust and respect. It will create a new affective divide, or reinforce any existing one, between the government and the people, and reduce their relationship to a purely impersonal business contract.

Even in a society often described as aggressively materialistic and coldly efficient, there are, fortunately, Singaporeans who believe idealism has a place, and that the fire, passion and commitment of the Old Guard, who saw Singapore through the difficult early years with little hope of financial reward, are still alive in some young Singaporeans.

The policy on ministerial salaries will, at the least, breed weary resignation in Singaporeans: What's the use of giving one's views at all? And, at the worst, give rise to toxic cynicism: What's the use of teaching our young such values as caring and selflessness and sacrifice if each carries a price tag?

Catherine Lim is a freelance writer.

Rush said...

I agree that moving is not a hassle. As a student I have lived in Singapore Vancouver and New York. Moving is easy, it just seems difficult. It is even easier if you do not have the conventional closed Singaporean mindset.

I can also understand what you mean by not feeling home at home. As a Singaporean, I do not feel as if I have any advantages as a citizen - in fact, I feel disadvantaged.

You can call me a quitter and whatever you want. The fact remains, as the government ministers proclaim that they would leave the moment they are not paid "market" salaries - so will I.

As an SMU accounting undergrad, my roommate in New York earned more during his summer holidays (after tax) then what I would earn in a year after I graduate.

Politicians who label citizens as quitters while paying themselves astronomical salaries only compound the notion that the average Singaporean is to be seen, not heard, and merely a digit to be exploited for economic gain.

This quitter digit has his sights elsewhere. Good luck.

W_Chow said...

Mr Wang:

If you consider the long-term option, then it is a no-brainer. Give yourself 12-18 months to plan the logistics and make the move to HK.

As for the 3rd poster - if Mr Wang's grammar sucks, your attempts at spelling and word spacing are downright abhorrent. Thanks for making me appreciate irony a little bit better :)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget, though: L is a headhunter, and may have vested interests. You may not necessarily be getting the full picture. Best to find out more first and then make a well-informed decision.

Also, Hong Kong isn't exactly that democratic, but hey, it's not like Singapore is the land of the free.

aliendoc said...

I agree with roger that moving is easier if you have an open mind about living in a foreign country. Not everyone has that mindset. Speaking as someone who has lived in 3 countries, & moved umpteen times (intra- and inter-nationally)WITH 2 children, it ain't easy...but it's a great, life-changing, enriching experience. If you get the chance, go for it! Especially if your wife is supportive (latter is very important!!!).

Anonymous said...

oh,i think they will be secretly shedding tears of your annoumcement. make it crocadile tears for just another number game..;)

Anonymous said...

I'm a Singaporean who moved with family that includes hubby, young kid and 2 dogs to a non-English-speaking country. If you are ready and willing, it won't be as difficult as you think. You'll be amazed at how things just fall into place when you follow your heart.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang

From someone who has worked in Asia and Europe, I'd say give working and living outside Singapore serious thought. For those who have skills in demand (like you) and are culturally adaptable, the world is your oyster.

Also, I could never understand why many Singaporeans get so strung up about leaving Singapore for another place. It doesn't necessarily mean you're leaving or quitting Singapore forever, you may yet return if certain things in your perspective turn out for the better in Singapore in the future (don't bet on it though).

To be honest, in the world of the future, a citizenship is just a piece of paper allowing one passage through immigration and perhaps determining what taxes you pay (and then maybe even not).

That's why I like the concept of the European Union. Yes, there are UK, Italian and Swedish passports but they are all EU citizens, allowing them to work and live in any one of the EU member countries. The only difference is the language spoken, taxes to be paid and entitlement to social security since this varies from one EU member to another.

Anonymous said...

moving there aint that difficult. i agree fully with your sentiments about singapore and all that political shit.
i would get my hk pr in about 2 years' time. hong kong is definitely more exciting, cosmopolitan and democratic. they would appreciate the hills, mountains and many outdoor activities, besides of cos disneyland. there is a distinct difference between hk and singapore kids. go figure. dont let them grow up with casinos.

Anonymous said...

Look at it this way - would you like to continue funding the MIWs' multi-million salaries for the rest of your working life? Or would you prefer to build a nest egg for your own children? Your kids are still young, now is the better time than ever to make the move. Once they are sucked into the MOE's scheme of things, with or without streaming, it will be more difficult to adjust to the education system. Why waste another pile of cash for the NS bond thingy?

Anonymous said...

The first sentence says it all, 'L is a headhunter'..... consider the source.

Anonymous said...

"I could never understand why many Singaporeans get so strung up about leaving Singapore for another place."

This is what years of brainwashing, via MSM + NS + MOE curriculum, will do to most people.

Anonymous said...


the toughest part is making the decision. once it's decided, the actual move is not that difficult. as jun yan said, go before your kids are sucked into the MOE style of streaming/labelling.

have a brother-in-law who left 14 yrs ago with 3 pre-schoolers in tow. he felt that families here do not have enough opportunities and time to bond together meaningfully as both husband and wife work (due mainly to high costs of living).

also, hk is considered in the vicinty as it's only 3 flight-hours away.

Anonymous said...

First of all, when you move overseas and work for foreign companies,you don't pay singapore tax. So for a start, you don't need to feel so sore that Gahmen take your hard earned salary to bump up some ministers' salary. Secondly, your pay goes up, especially in HK and lifestyle here is fantastic. . Much more dynamic. Thirdly, it helps your career. I have more job offers now compared to when I was back in Singapore. Finally, since our vote in Singapore doesn't count a lot, get another PR in another country. For me personally, I reach a point of my life where I felt our leaders are capable but along the way, I think their hearts are not in the right places. Too much focus on self interest and their own careers rather than stepping up to do something for the people and country. Since I are not suppose to whine too much, i might as well pack up my bags and leave. No more reservist, no more taxes, no more stupid policies.

Anonymous said...

Yea...sometimes, I can't help but feel alienated in my own country.

I can't help but feel this country is now full of mercenaries. Even our ministers are mercenerial. What why shouldn't out people?

From an SMU undergrad.

Anonymous said...

i mean 'our' not 'out'.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous - April 6, 2007 2:02 PM
Can u elaborate to share? Many thanks.

yh said...

The rich and capable want to leave.
The poor are disgruntled.
They really deserve their millions for building this wonderful country we leave in!

Anonymous said...

Catherine Lim expresses the current state of affairs clearly and admirably, ending on a slightly despairing note - couldn't agree with her analysis more.

Grab the opportunity to move abroad if it arises, Mr. Wang. Only the first couple of months are a hassle as you feel the ground and then you'll settle into the groove. As a long-term resident abroad, I can tell you there is no more eye-opening, mind-enhancing experience than actually living and working in a foreign country full-time. Provided you are willing to integrate and do as the Romans do, you'll never be a stranger in a strange land. Get your kids out before they are assimilated into that blinkered, sterile, elitist Borg mindscape that is uniquely Singapore.

And to the would-be grammarian 3rd poster:

1. Get a new keyboard - your vowel keys are obviously sticking intermittently.

2. U're going to HK becos of money, right and becos u hav talent? Ditto our Govt ministers..
Unfortunate sentence construction, though it's a pleasure to hear our Govt ministers are moving to HK.

3. Let him without sin cast the 1st stone!
Try "Let he that is without sin (among you) cast the first stone...", it scans better.

Anonymous said...

Have been a PR in NZ for the past 5 yrs. Kids love it ! No rote learning ! more investigative n that's how the 14 yr olds found out that Ribena has no Vit C. Civil servants are just that - servants. And the fresh air , space and views are just great. I had the same angst and hesitation b4 leaving a well paid job in SG.But was working to 10pm every night...Looking back , I'm glad I made the move. And the kids never want to go back ....except my teenage girl for shopping ; lol ! Work part time now and the move was well worth it!

Anonymous said...

As someone who is currently based in London, working as a trader, of let's say "financial instruments", a word fo caution when you do decide to relocate to further your career field: Unlike Singapore, investment or financial careers in well known places like London, and possibly Hong Kong may be much tougher.

I have never been to Hong Kong but if my experience is anything to go by in London, and my short career in Singapore, you will find that you will need to be extremely creative. Over here, your academic creditials is worth as much as the paper that make up your certificate.

In Singapore, the range of financial products (and investment instruments) you have to deal in is so small, that it makes life in Singapore so easy. Granted you don't make big bucks but if you are with the in-crowd, you'll be OK.

Oh, this has nothing to do with the usual comment that the Singapore market is so small. In fact, just the CPF money alone, is enough to support a vibrant financial market. the problem is the gahmen wants to keep the ball to itself and play with itself.

In London, life can be unforgiving if you make a mistake, but as in an investment, you don't make if you don't take risk. I suspect that would be the case in Hong Kong.

So piece of advice, discard the Singaporean mindset if you do decide to relocate to Hong Kong. By Singaporean mindset, I mean:

(a) Wait for opportunity to turn up.

(b) Expect people to respect you because you are a degree holder or the position you hold.

(c) When confronted with a problem, come up with a "template" solution or spend you time wondering why a potential solution won't work.

(d) Mistaking assertiveness for confrontational.

(e) Expect to be led.

In short Mr Wang, carpe diem.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, i will say "the heck you waiting for?" Of course not saying you should uproot right away. But certainly for the kids, for yourself (be a global citizen) and the wife, you should start planning for it. Do you want your children to do NS and reservist? They will thank you for it! Who knows after working and living overseas for some years you may even have a change of heart and return as a born-again Singaporean! Ok that last bit is a bad joke. Heh.

Yau said...

Its always a good idea to live in another country for awhile. Give it a try - for 5 years - and see. My family has lived in Kuwait and Australia for many years; nothing wrong with traveling and it will give you a better perspective.

Anonymous said...

dun mean to put a comment in chinese but yeah taken from zaobao 31/3/07

李资政:虽然一些人才流失到美澳等地 新加坡从中印吸引到人才


i'm a law student in one of the top law schools in australia n i can't practise in sg after i graduate (or hafta wait at least a couple of years)cos my results are not fantastic. so what do i do? stay in aus or move elsewhere eg like hk of cos! n he came up with this so wad the??

btw they have now recognised flinders uni's law degree. so wad the??? i would think it'll be much easier scoring well there than at where i am =_+

Anonymous said...

to the pappy spy anon 11.49am

firstly, Catherine Lim says it all: the "ideal political leader is imbued with nobility of purpose and altruistic instincts", Mr Wang is not a political leader. We don't know for sure if Mr Wang will be as $$$-faced as pappies if he is a ministar.

secondly, pappy ministars are oredi very very well paid, the highest in the world by a wide margin. (what more can you ask for???)

thirdly, Mr Wang has talent in his field. i do not think the same can be said of the pappy ministars in their respective ministry fiedom.

i say, Mr Wang, go for it. it will be a miserable thing to live out your life in this stinkapore well...

Anonymous said...

want to go overseas...

well, the good thing is that you cannot complain because you are not from this country.

a story from china

I have been in Suzhou and Shanghai for more than 10 days now. There are always new things to learn when you are overseas. Two days ago, I was shopping in Suzhou's Guan Qian Street - on my own. It was my first time there, although this wasn't my first time in China. When I thought I had had enough. Anyway, I had an appointment with some friends that evening so I tried to hail a cab to take me to my destination. I wasn't successful, or quick enough. A couple beat me to a cab which had stopped about 25 metres away. What to do? Well, I walked to the main road but empty cabs was as rare as a red moon.

Then a trishaw rider came up to me to offer his services. I was hesitant. My place must be quite far away, although I didn't really know where it was. I didn't think his old legs could last that long. He persisted. I stated my destination, he didn't understand at first. I thought maybe it was my Mandarin or his Mandarin. He kept persisting, I kept rejecting, asking him if he really knew my destination. He said yes, everyone is out to have fun with friends, he said. Anyway, he said the ride would be for 5 Yuan. So on a whim, I boarded his trishaw. You could see that he was exerting all his energy. I am a heavy man. About 100 metres into the journey, he turned left and headed right for a bar! A sexily clad lady in Cheongsam was ready to receive me! I knew that this definitely was not my destination, so I quickly got off the trishaw and headed for the main road again. I never looked back, nor paid that man the 5 yuan.

But he did do me a favour though. There were two empty cabs when I reached the main road. I quickly boarded the first and was on my way, out of temptation island. When you are alone in a foreign land, temptations abound, uninvited and facilitated by a 3-wheel man.

Anonymous said...

Leave for your kids, wife and your own sake. Singapore is a fast sinking ship. The kinds of incompetent leaders that are appearing now make the future extremely bleak. You never know what will be left of singapore in the next 10 years.

Anonymous said...

The old man is really crazy nowadays. He says our ministars will scamper off to Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs if we don't pay them top dollar. He says their children are making all sorts of huge sacrifices because their fathers become ministars. Wow, lemme see, if my father were a ministar and earned 1.2m, I would be sacrificing what might I ask? Instead of a Ferrari, I just get to drive BMW izzit? Instead of paying my way to get into a pub, I just get my security guards to flash their 'Ministar Kids' pass izzit? I say if this is the kind of ministars we have today, please for goodness sake get some FTs to be our ministars, like somebody from Finland, Sweden, Australia. They cheaper and just as good.

Anonymous said...

You're quite welcome. May I recommend Steve Bracks or Beattie or any of the Labor leaders. Please take them! Even Helen Clark from New Zealand- for the love of all that is holy- please take her off us aussies and kiwis!!!!

Anonymous said...

Clearly, for these Ministers, it's just a job to them. If you're already paid 1.2m, and a MINISTER, why would you be whining about another million bucks? Your kids are set for life, having a father who is a MINISTER. Your wife gets to go around being called Her Highness or something similar. You will get at least 200 listed companies happy to engage you as a director for your 'lobang'. You will have security personnel guarding you for the rest of your life discreetly. Look at ex Ministers like Lim Kim San, S Rajaratnam, Goh Keng Swee, etc. they go down in the history books and all their children and grandchildren can go around with that ever so slightly superior air. All that is worth nothing? And that bit about writing memoirs: Who was it who had so much memoiring to do he had TWO volumes of the stuff? And the White House: Didn't he used to stay at the Istana? Air Force One: I wonder who gets to go around on SIA first class, his own government-owned airline? And that 46m, 36m, 26m, 0.00xxxx% of whatever, any figure will do rubbish!! Instead of comparing like with like, and compensating a person fairly for a job which is quite unlike buying and selling stocks and derivatives, he goes on this 'it's a tiny percentage of government expenditure' hogwash. Huh? It's a small percentage so we can pay them some ridiculous multiple of the common man's salary? The average household income is like what, 36K? So per adult it's something like 20K? So a MINISTER who is already earning 60x as much as most of the average person they are responsible for want to earn 110x otherwise they'd go to LB or MS or GS or become corrupt? Even using his ridiculous argument that we have to pay ministers huge salaries so they don't lose our hard-earned money safe, whatever happened with Shin Corp, Micropolis, Suzhou, etc. For most of those top lawyers they are partners in their firms and if they lose this kind of money they will have to foot the bill and leave the firm and have their name dragged through the mud and never make that kind of money again. The iron rice bowl is definitely the best business to be in.

Anonymous said...

Quite clearly it is the PAP govt that needs to have a sense of proportion.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, I'm going to be blunt. If you feel offended.....well you can delete this comment anyway.

I have been following your blog and I must say, from what I can tell, which may be wrong, I don't think you'll want to heck in the "real" world of investment banking in Hong Kong. In Singapore, I think you will be able to make it because, frankly, the kind of work being done is not the cut-throat kind.

I noted that in your last posting http://mrwangsaysso.blogspot.com/2007/03/on-life-work-study.html
that you said you have cross over from "From investment banking lawyer, to investment banker". Assuming that your description of being a banker (that usually refer to someone who owns a bank or have lots of money to be a bank), is a slip of the "keyboard", I am assuming that you are into investment banking of sort.

Just like the term "IT industry", a person working in it can be involved in lots of ways from the person taking care of CDs to a hot-shot system architect.

Investment banking is involved in helping a client raise capital and even M&A. So by being in investment banking that could mean, you are in essence a clerk executing the purchase of an investment instrument to someone leading a team helping a client in an M&A.

Given the M&A activities in Singapore are far a few, and that are likely to be handled by corporate HQ, I am guessing that you are not in that area.

Given that the instruments for raising capitals in Singapore is somewhat limited, I am guessing that you will most likely to working with things that you already are familiar based on you previous legal work.

So all in all, I am guessing that what you have to offer to a more dynamic market like Hong Kong would be somewhat limited. I am not saying that you will not be able to make a success if you went to Hong Kong, the question is are your prepared to meet the challenge of what would be an unfamiliar locale, quite likely one that is more dynamic?

At least that is what I would have asked I was comptemplating moving to HK as a career move. However, judging from the respond that you gave -- "I just started in my new job." -- it kind of betray your lack of ambition and a lack of confidence.

Hey even if I were not seriously comtempling moving, I would have throw the challenge to the headhunter to find you one in HK. Firstly, it will really show if what the headhunter says really mean anything or just "hot air". Secondly, it will really indicated to you clearly whether you are indeed a talent worthy of attention.

For give me for saying this but the kind of sentiment express kind of suggest a mentality of the Singapore stayers -- when confronted with a challenge, instead to working out how to overcome the challenge, they moan about how impractical it is to overcome the challenge.

No wonder, the PAP can get away with it.

Anonymous said...

"I have been following your blog and I must say, from what I can tell, which may be wrong, I don't think you'll want to heck in the "real" world of investment banking in Hong Kong. In Singapore, I think you will be able to make it because, frankly, the kind of work being done is not the cut-throat kind."

Fully agree with that comment. A lot of stayers(not all of course) lack the balls or drive to succeed elsewhere. That's why they are stuck in Singapore. In a way, they and the PAP government deserve each other.

Anonymous said...

"the Singapore government just keeps finding new ways to undermine my sense of rootedness to this country"

Thanks for putting it so aptly.

Anonymous said...

Take heed, see the writing on the wall, be smart, get out before they get you!!!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Anon April 7, 2007 1:33 AM:

Hi, no I'm not offended, why should I be.

I don't wish to divulge too much about my new job, but basically I am with the front office. I sit on the trading floor. I'm with the credit derivatives desk, so I'm supposed to be structuring CLNs, CDOs, and various credit derivatives in OTC format.

I don't really have any particular need of L to find me a job in HK (if I really did decide to go). Many headhunters call me all the time, asking me if I would consider joining this bank or that bank; I don't even know how they got my handphone number. From Jan 2006 to February 2007 alone, these are some of the banks that have expressed interest (either directly or through their headhunters) in interviewing me -

Credit Suisse;
Lehman Brothers;
Merrill Lynch (twice - two different roles);
Standard Chartered Bank (twice - two different roles);
Royal Bank of Scotland;
JP Morgan ((twice - two different roles);

Yes, some of these roles were for HK; two of them indicated that the person could be located in Singapore or Hong Kong (up to me). Note: I didn't even apply for any of these jobs; the opportunities came looking for me by themselves.

There are others - I don't even bother to find out the names, I just tell the headhunter, "Sorry, I'm at a meeting, I'll call you back" and I never do; or I just say flat-out: "Sorry, not interested."

I think of headhunters' cold calls as a nuisance, most of the time. Sometimes I get two or three headhunters calling me about the same position (the bank is using different headhunters without letting them know).

Since you are (presumably) in this industry, you would know that I'm not boasting. It's just a combination of different factors - market demand being a very key one --> there is just a very severe shortage in the banking industry of people with the right skills and knowledge.

Also, HK and S'pore are always competing for talent; for many kinds of positions, if the bank needs someone, it is likely to be simultaneously hunting in BOTH Hong Kong & S'pore, for the right candidate. In this kind of situation, I have the competitive advantage of being cheap; did you know that HK lawyers are the most expensive in the world?

Me getting lots and lots of calls and opportunities is hardly unique; I know that it happpens to many of my colleagues too. (You kinda know it's happening when their handphone rings; they scamper out of the office and stand in the corridor outside speaking in hushed whispers; when you walk past them on the way to the gents, you catch little phrases like "Sorry, which bank did you say?" or "How many years of experience do they want?" or "No, I do not want to work in London" etc).

You want to know how desperate financial institutions are to hire people -

read this old blog post of mine about my interview with GIC;

and you'll understand how financial institutions nowadays are so hungry that they can end up paying a premium even for people who don't really have relevant experience. And no, I still do NOT know much about tax-driven asset securitisations.

You probably also understand what I mean when I say that for my kind of job, in terms of the actual work, it doesn't really matter whether I am located in Singapore or Hong Kong. The work isn't particularly "Singapore" or "Hong Kong"; the work is instead extremely cross-border and international. Whether I sit in S'pore or HK really depends, most of all, on which part of which bank I've joined, and whether the bank has decided to locate that particular part in HK or S'pore.

Either way, the work is not going to be exclusively, or even primarily, Singapore or Hong Kong. As mentioned before, it doesn't really matter where I'm physically located - see my old post entitled On Being Here, and Not Being Here.

Two weeks into my new job now, and I haven't seen a single "Singaporean", or for that matter, "Hong Kong", deal. Instead, I've been looking at transactions in India, China, Indonesia, Cayman Islands, Mauritius .... And the potential investors are hedge funds in New York working NY time .... That's what I mean, when I say that in terms of the actual work, it doesn't really matter where I'm sitting. The work is global; everywhere and nowhere.

Anonymous said...

ur lucky...having the talent and ability to move away from sg, something which i think some of the readers here possess too as well. what about the rest who cant live? im talking about the hokkien pengs, the not so highly educated, etc etc. there is always this joke circulating among my peers that if war really comes to sg, the only pple left fighting will be those hokkien peng. why? they have nowhere else to run to. while i accept the reason that many pple are leaving sg due to the PAP govt, i still would like to see a change before just running off to another place. call me an idealist, my hokkien pengs need me and i want the system to treat them better.

hugewhaleshark said...

gBut, at the same time, no Singaporean would expect a minister to feel disgruntled if he is paid less than the top CEO. If the disgruntlement actually causes him to leave his job, then he was not cut out for public office in the first place. Thus, to offer him a matching salary to enable him to stay would be to demean that office.

Man, that's great commentary. I'll never forget an interview I watched on TV with a certain minister who used to be a top-earning professional. He said something like "I'll tell you with a straight face - Singaporeans are getting a BARGAIN for their ministers".

Which saddens me. If a top professional feels such sacrifice to move to public service then perhaps... he just shouldn't. Stay in the private sector, by all means. We'll find someone who wants the job more. He may not be most capable candidate, but heart drives performance too.

Though I must say, Mr Wang, that I'll never pick HK as a political alternative to Singapore (not saying that you are). This is a country which is so democratic that it has not been able to make simple decisions like building a much-needed road, and a world-class performance venue.

Radikaz said...

i'm Cantonese, if given me the opportunity, i will take the 1st flight to HK and work, since i not married, there's nothing to lose.

I would like to feel HK dynamicism and openism since its closer to Mainland China and Vietnam.

To me...SG is sick and rotting with each growing days. Many years before i came out of the army, i used to predict that SG is going to be a hotel cum playground, where's one would come and enjoy themselves and leave when there's no more fun. There's nothing to gel people to this place, serve your time and get out when one has the people.

I also predicted that within 1-3 yrs time, dual citizenship will be implemented to prevent brain drain and convert PRs to citizenship. But with the recent salary fiasco, i bet the thoughts of immigration is once again circling the minds of the able middle class to accelerate their plan.

simplesandra said...

anon wrote: "Fully agree with that comment. A lot of stayers(not all of course) lack the balls or drive to succeed elsewhere. That's why they are stuck in Singapore. In a way, they and the PAP government deserve each other."

Well, you've to admit that a lot of stayers would love to quit and try their luck elsewhere, but let's get real--you can't just walk into greener pastures overseas as easily as you'd job-hop. For those who want to have a shot overseas, many will never get their break for various reasons: lack of qualification/talent, connections, money, or just no luck.

The next best thing for these people is to do something about their lives in their own country. But with the government having a hand in just about every facet of your life--from what you read in the media, to developing and running key business and industries, to deciding (and actively reinforcing) what your self-worth is--one has only so much room to manoeuver. :-)

So to those who have the chance to venture overseas, go for it. But try not to slag off others who are equally eager to do something with their lives but just aren't that lucky.

Radikaz said...


Yes,true. Immigration is for those who willing to take the hardship, work their values and work toward they objectives. Get out Singapore.

I bet you top dollar that our ministars knew exactly how many Singaporean are quitting this island and how much challenges for Singapore to retain its status quo as "little red dot" therefore let's rake top $$ before the good times gone.

Speaking about corporate pillaging,
I once worked in an US's MNC, i'd lost count how many times the top executives rewarding themselves with bonuses...until the plant closed down later 5-6yrs later. Along with their "long term planning and vision" they took absolute advantage. So what separate them from corporate plunderer?

Anonymous said...

hugewhaleshark said
"Which saddens me. If a top professional feels such sacrifice to move to public service then perhaps... he just shouldn't. Stay in the private sector, by all means. We'll find someone who wants the job more. He may not be most capable candidate, but heart drives performance too."

are you sure you can find someone who wants the job? Given that the pay is poor (relatively), every decision is under tremendous scrutiny, the fact that everything you do will definitely be criticised by some person somewhere, who would want this kind of job? Also, are you sure that you want to hand over the future of the country(or maybe yours and your countrymen) to somebody that you know is less capable but show more heart? Sometimes showing more heart is not enough to succeed. Are you willing to bite the bullet if your chosen candidate fails due to lack of capability despite trying as hard as he can? Tough choice.

Simplesandra said
"But with the government having a hand in just about every facet of your life--from what you read in the media, to developing and running key business and industries, to deciding (and actively reinforcing) what your self-worth is--one has only so much room to manoeuver. :-)"

I don't really know about this. Conspiracy theory anyone? I know that the government has not tampered with my selfworth (probably not Mr Wang's too).

Anonymous said...

Don't be fooled, guys. Mr Wang is too humble. :)

He was my classmate in law school. And he was very, very bright. He was always on the Dean's List even though he skipped lectures & tutorials all the time. Too busy doing ECAs and winning ECA awards from NUS every year.

One year, he was the national chess champion too, or something like that.

He is a very high achiever and I'm not at all surprised to hear that now he is in high demand. I believe that he would do well whether he was in S'pore, or HK, or anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

kj says the hokkien pengs will be the people left to defend this country in time of war> Allow me to add that it is not just the hokkien pengs but all non english speaking pengs> I salute your decision to stay to be with the immobiles> But to it is hard for me to believe that anyone will want a military war with sg< maybe terorrism is more likely> I think many wars were fought and are ongoing< political< psychological and economic wars have never ceased between sg and its neighbours eversince the british left> However no one will choose a military war with sg< there is nothing to gain but only liabilities> What sg have is wealth and its industrious workers and these are the prized items foreigners are interested> Our forefathers were here and elsewhere to seek fortunes> Today their successful offsprings should do better than them by looking for more meaningful existence> Go look for something to feed your spirits< emotions and feel good!

Anonymous said...

"I felt our leaders are capable" Yes, there was a time Singapore had capable political leaders who understood the citizens' lot. Not the types who spend $400,000 on renaming Marina Bay and is getting a potential $1,000,000 increment. As for "talents", just take a look at Lim Swee Say and admit it you will wanna puke.

Rush said...

@ Anon 12:35pm

Seriously, where are you from? Every society has an effect on how an individual perceives his or her own self worth. But in our uniquely Singaporean society, your self worth is most certainly defined for you when you go through streaming at Primary 4, like it or not. Today, they may or may not be streamed so early -- I don't know how it is done now -- but the central idea behind it has not changed - that we need to segregate our children into smart, smarter and smartest.

Are you a lone hermit on this sunny little island? Probably not.

Look at the papers! Just recently they ran an article comparing students from mainland China with native Singaporeans. You cannot claim that this has no effect on the average Singaporean student.

Having recently returned from an extended stint overseas, I can tell you in all honesty that our educational system here is one which mindlessly worships grades and does nothing for the proper development of a person. This mindless pursuit of perfect 'A's is dangerously pervasive... to the point I have had professors telling me that I should have simply memorized the textbook to have scored well on the quiz. How's that for nurturing a thinking society?

Anonymous said...

Be VERY careful Wang. I note with alarm that you appear to be less circumspect in how you put things.

"Mr Lee et al. want more and more and more .." ( from a previous post )

"The stayers are getting raped."

All these can be construed as alluding to venality on the part of certain people and you know that it skates very close ( to say the least ) to defamation.

Be very careful even if there is supposed to be an unofficial 'hands off' policy over what appears on the NET. This advice is well intentioned.

Anonymous said...

To Roger:

Point taken. Lol.

Anonymous said...

Quoting Mr Ngiam Tong Dow:-
"..we should open up politically and allow talent to be spread throughout our society so that an alternative leadership can emerge. So far, the People's Action Party's tactic is to put all the scholars into the civil service because it believes the way to retain political power forever is to have a monopoly on talent. But in my view, that's a very short term view.
"It is the law of nature that all things must atrophy. Unless SM (Lee Kuan Yew) allows serious political challenges to emerge from the alternative elite out there, the incumbent elite will just coast along.
At the first sign of a grassroots revolt, they will probably collapse just like the incumbent Progressive Party to the left-wing PAP onslaught in the late 1950s. I think our leaders have to accept that Singapore is larger than the PAP."

We only have ourselves to blame i.e. the 66.6% n 33.4%.

Anonymous said...

whh said...

Be VERY careful Wang...etc

I'm sure you mean well but consider this: Mr Wang's blog might be hugely popular but it really counts for diddly-squat when measured against the noise of the great unwashed out there who remain blissfully ignorant of its existence. The reality is that it appeals to a small number of the chattering classes and malcontents who use it to let off steam. In other words, Mr Wang is not yet perceived to be a potential political threat, unlike Mr Brown whose droll satire attracts a much larger general audience and who DOES get wide publicity. In the unlikely event that this blog gains traction with a wider public, the knee-jerk reaction from certain quarters will be clear and unmistakeable. For now, it's merely an irritant like the rest.

I suspect your well-intentioned warning reflects 40 years of very successful conditioning - what Burroughs called "the policeman inside" and what Foucalt identified as "the Fascist within". That's reason enough to reside abroad for a time to innoculate your children's minds against this insidious disease.

Anonymous said...

To anony fella April 7, 2007 12:35 PM,

are you sure you can find someone who wants the job? Given that the pay is poor (relatively), every decision is under tremendous scrutiny, the fact that everything you do will definitely be criticised by some person somewhere, who would want this kind of job? Also, are you sure that you want to hand over the future of the country(or maybe yours and your countrymen) to somebody that you know is less capable but show more heart? Sometimes showing more heart is not enough to succeed. Are you willing to bite the bullet if your chosen candidate fails due to lack of capability despite trying as hard as he can? Tough choice.

Are you talking about TEACHERS? ;-)c

Anonymous said...

Who was the one who said those who leave are those who can't get top jobs?

Oh, perhaps MM was saying headhunters do not know how to spot talents.

But as far as I know, only top talents get headhunted.

Go for it Mr Wang, after you have done the "due diligence" on the offer!

le radical galoisien said...

"First, yr grammar sucks: This idea does have strong appeal to me. It shld b This idea does have strong appeal FOR me. Or better still, say: This idea appeals to me strongly."

What talking you. Please hor, get a sense of linguistics first before you go round with your superficial criticisms . Otherwise, don't run your trap.

Firstly, some prepositions are just plain interchangeable. Secondly, "to me" can mean "according to my opinion".

If English still had a dative case, "me" would be likely to be declined in that manner.

HK is not a country. It's going to be raped by the PRC after their agreement with the British expires when democratic government gets suspended and the Party machine moves in.

The true ramifications of your decision will be very much cultural, which far transcends any additional income or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Repeat posting for those who miss the URL earlier:

Anonymous said...

I am Anon April 7, 2007 1:33 AM, responding to Mr Wang.

With reference to your reply. I am not suggesting that YOU ARE INCAPABLE of taking up the challenge of a job in Hong Kong. What impression I got was that you
don't seemed to be the kind of guy that WANT TO take up such an offer. Hence to me TALENT is not really an issue.

In fact, the use of the word TALENT seemed to be so generous, that it can be meaningless. Granted, your posting is not about Talent nor did you chose to cast yourself as one. I only brought this up as an adjoint to other comments.

For instance, I am someone, whom I do NOT consider to be talented, was forces by circumstances to work in the finacial industry. I am forty-plus now and back in my days, I was and is still not endowed with academic creditials, I found my option in traditional "occupation", which was obsessed with academic qualifications, somewhat limiting.

Then the "financial" industry was, pun not intended, financially, more rewarding and not too demanding of academic qualification. So I grab the opportunity, starting out as an insurence salesmen, then stockbrokers, and later moved overseas then went on to futures trading and slowly inch my way into "investment banking".

In "investment banking", I started out small helping, the, what you might call, "Phua Chu Kang" types raised capitals using a variety of instruments, issuing bonds, shares, etc -- I suppose in Singapore this don't count as "investment banking" . I suppose it is considered too small to warrant such glamours title. After that I was part of a team to help a movie project raised capital and finally, a part of team working on a mid-size M&A.

Enough of my CV, the point is that quite often the issue isn't about talent. Basically with any job, even the PM of Singapore, the first think you need is wanting (if not, compelled) to do the job. Second, seizing the opportunity. Thirdly, lots of luck. When you do get the job, its a matter of keeping a cool head and, if possible, think through your action, and when not possible, go with the guts instinct and hope for the best. At times in my job, I feel I am out of my depth but I think it's my cool head and lots of luck that got me through. Not necessarily talent.

So to me I don't think you are incapable to doing the jobs offered to you and heck any job presented to you. In fact, I am sure any average Joe who wants to do whatever they want could possibly have a chance.

What impression I got is that you don't seem to be the kind that WANT TO necessarily take up the challenge of moving to HK for a career move. Not necessarily a bad thing. I am sure if you want to do so you can.

What I would take from your blog as an illustration of wider social commentary of Singaporean, is this attitude of analysing false choices. Using you blog scenario as an typical example, I often find it strange with some of my fellow Singaporean that even before a job was offered (sometimes only advertised), they spend endless agonising hours analysing the pros and cons of whether to take up a job that I might add not yet being offered. And when a job is indeed offered they go through the trouble of agonising whether to take up or not. Worst of all, they can't make up their mind. Sometime, instinctive decision (or best decision at the time) has to be made, for example in buying or selling stocks. They freeze.

Translating that to the political arena, that's the case about the typical attitude towards say opposition parties, and in particular Chee Soon Chuan. Often, you will hear in-depth analysis of why and how, the opposition are "not credible", "not using the right tactics", "too radical", "too much concerntration on human rights", etc. The chattering class of Singaporean are the worst.

Now the situation is such that when it comes to choice in politics, there is a not too much luxury in the Singapore context. Yet, why spent all these time debating over points of false choices?

And when the opportunity came to thumbing the PAP without jeopardising the status quo too much (especially when the PAP are already in power), why not just vote for the opposition to act as a watch dog. Hey, Chee Soon Chuan with a strident attitude would have been the best candidate for such a situation.

When you have a luxury of choice than having a indepth analysis of different candidates would make sense. Maybe then Chee Soon Chuan may not be an obvious, if not good, choice.

Frankly, all of these don't need talent to work out!

Anonymous said...

I am not in the Finance or Banking related industry, so I am not sure if moving to Hong Kong to further your career in this industry is a wise choice.

But I do have a lot of friends and relatives who had made crucial career choice having their family moving to a foreign land (Aus, China, NZ, US, Canada etc) over the last decade. All I can say is that the first few months for them and their family would definitely be a hassle especially if their kids are already old enough to notice the different and changes. But it seem most of their spouses and kids would settle down in the new environment eventually after they started making new friends. And as someone had already mentioned, having a supportive wife definitely matter the most if you wish to move your whole family over, especially if she don’t mind being a ‘desperate’ housewife to stay at home to look after the family during that period of adjustment. :P

Or you can do what some of my friends\relatives did. Instead of moving your family there straight away you can go first and work there for a few months, settle down and have a taste of life in the new environment to judge for yourself (after all you yourself would understand your own family better than us the strangers) whether it would be suitable for your family. And in those few months you may have met quite a few friends or colleagues, and allowing your family to make friends and adjust with the new environment better through some social functions when you fetch them over.

Anyway, it seem to me that among my friends and relatives whom managed to make it in both their career and social life in the foreign land that are as developed or as close to the standard of living as in Sinkapore, almost none of them would actually look back at their decision or miss Sinkapore as their home and birth place. Or perhaps the only things they truly miss are the local food and their relatives\friends.

One of them who was back during the CNY period even commented that there are so much upgrading in his own neighborhood over the last decade that he can now no longer recognized the heartland that he used to grow up in, so what was there for him to miss.

Rush said...

I read with interest Anon 8 Apr 6:07pm's comments:

In addition to the points you enumerate, I think a great resource for readers of this discussion would be a book called "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz.

It inspects the need to resolve choices and how to stay sane in our day and age where there are billions of competing products on supermarket shelves and a myriad of possible choices that we think will have "profound life-changing effects"...

It basically asks readers to yank themselves from analysis paralysis and pursue concrete action while understanding the limitations of your circle of influence and the reality of your circumstances.

It's an interesting read. You can get it at Kino @ Taka.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

One book I kinda like is "Decide & Conquer" by Stephen Robbins. It is basically about the decision-making process (about anything & everything). It examines the common mistakes that people make, and offers some systematic, organised frameworks for making your own decisions.


I do not intend to move to HK anytime soon. It would be grossly unfair to my new employer, whom I've joined. (Of course, if my new employer wants to post me to HK, then that is a different story).

In terms of the kind of work that I want to do (at least for the next 2 or 3 years), I think that HK & Singapore are approximately on par, in terms of what they can offer.

If I were in the area of equity derivatives or IPOs, HK would probably offer more interesting work, because its equity markets have much more depth than Singapore's. However, I am not working in these areas.

Anyway, as I've said, I've just started in my new job and it would be unfair (as well as very illogical) for me to change jobs anytime soon. I joined for certain reasons, with certain objectives in mind, and those objectives, in my 1st month at work, have definitely not been fulfilled yet. Too soon .... Much too soon.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, you have a golden opportunity, don't lose it. Many of the bloggers have given you good encouragement, don't worry. As you you are open-minded, things will get fine.

As for myself, I lost that golden opportunity 14 years ago when I was in US. Thinking back, I regretted very much for not seizing the opportunity.

My hope for this country /governments had been diminished and lost overtime since 1997 when I begin to lost my jobs. I am 46 now, still jobless. If not for my old mother, I will have pack up bag and find my life/fortune outside Singapore.

The world have open up, every places/countries can be your home as long you love it.

Singapore was once my homeland, now......

Anonymous said...

Maybe Mr Wang can hint hint at New Employer, get them to relocate you to HK :D

Ngor Ngoi Hoi Hiong Kung!

Anonymous said...

Hi -
My wife and I are Singaporeans but move countries once every few years. We have worked, studied and/or travelled in USA, parts of Asia, China, Australia, Europe and Africa.

In the process, we have learnt a lot, gained plenty of exposure, met lots of people (nice and not nice), and matured as individuals. Living and working in different environments gives you a very different perspective about life, both in and out of Singapore.

Moving countries is not as hard as it seems -- it is only hard if you think too much about it. Expect to solve problems on your feet and as you encounter them. Don't overplan because many unexpected events will change those plans anyways, and many new opportunities will open up that you will not have even thought about before moving.

If you have an opportunity to work outside of Singapore (even if for awhile), do take it up. It isn't smooth sailing all the way, but you can be sure it will be an adventure and a great personal experience.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to move to Hong Kong if possible; the legal sector there is better than it is in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

My advise is to get some experience from ur new job as a trader (?). When the opportunity comes along, seized it or u will regret later in life. U will do well and the change in environment esp the weather is invigorating for the whole family. U, ur wife and ur kids will have a much wider and wiser outlook of life and the world. Go for it at the right time. My only concern is the air pollution in HK is really bad and u will end up being more materialistic.