A Changi Recommends Story

Earlier today, in my haste to catch my flight today, I forgot to pick up a couple of items that I had purchased from Changi Recommends, I  only realised after I’d cleared departure immigration.

Now,  Singapore does not mess around when it comes to rules. (This is one of the things that appeals to me so much about Singapore). They’re also very helpful when you own up to an honest mistake.

Incidents where passengers clear immigration and come out only to clear it again will draw the wrong kind of attention, unless you have a very valid reason to do so. (Not too long ago, a couple of folks made the news for trying to circumvent the system to buy duty-free iPhones from the airport).

I approached the immigration duty officer who directed me to the information staff opposite the immigration gates, who were very helpful and got these items delivered to me in person while I waited. It helped that I had a few hours in hand before the departure of my flight.

This is yet another example of why this is hands down, the best airport in the world. Also a big thank you to Eric and his team at the information desk for helping me get these delivered, so that I can focus on enjoying my trip.

A great deal on a cuppa

As a Melburnian, I have been somewhat spoilt when it comes to choices for coffee. You can get amazing coffee in a range of different mom-and-pop operated cafes in Melbourne for about AUD4. This is not the case elsewhere in the world. I have heard that coffee in Europe can run about $12 for a cup. Singapore is not particularly expensive for coffee in the scheme of things, but it’s not cheap either. A regular skinny flat white will run you about SGD6 (or AUD6).

Recently, I signed up for a DBS Credit Card that I’ve tied up to my Apple Pay account. It turns out that Starbucks is running a promotion where they’ll take $2 off every order that is paid for via Apple Pay on a DBS Visa or Mastercard. So a venti skinny flat white is now effectively SGD5.90 for me every morning. As a result of this, I have become the most popular person in the office for morning coffee runs. (If you’re smart, you and your friends can just place separate orders and pay with a single individual’s credit card that qualifies for the promotion). I’m told that the promotion lasts for 150,000 instances for each outlet. Earlier today, when I picked up a coffee from Starbucks at Ion in Orchard (one of the busiest Starbucks in the city), they told me that they no were no longer offering the promotion there, and what the limit per outlet was.

So, if you’re a coffee drinker, and use a DBS Credit Card via Apple Pay in Singapore, you can pick up a cheap coffee while the going is still good!

Arriving in Singapore: First impressions

I’m here! Courtesy of an 8-hour flight on Qantas Airlines QF35, I have touched down in my new home (at least for the next couple of years).

It’s different from being a tourist. I now have to familiarise myself with things like medical clinics, post offices, banks, and grocery stores. I also have to set myself to a routine which will become part of my life for the next couple of years. So here are a few observations that I have made of Singapore so far.

  1. The train system is supremely efficient. There’s usually a train every two to three minutes. The stations are clean and well organised which is great since it is such a core part of everyday life for the general population.
  2. Shops open late and are open till late. This was one of my pet peeves in Australia of everything closing down at 6pm. No such issues here, where it is common to find shops open till 10pm.
  3. The days can be oppressively hot and humid, but the evenings are balmy and offer cool relief. The best time go out in Singapore is after the sun goes down and the lights come on. The city takes on a different feeling after dark.
  4. It’s safe. There is very little petty crime, and local laws crack down hard on misdemeanours making it very unattractive for one to even consider breaking the law.
  5. Locals are warm and polite, especially for foreigners. In a nation which has no natural resources, Singapore’s economy is based on being a business hub and tourist destination. I get the sense that locals have been ingrained to make foreigners feel welcome here, both for short visits, and to do business and invest.
  6. The food is awesome! The best food is found at hawkers markets, and it’s cheap! Lunch typically costs me about $5 to $8 with more food than I can eat.

Beyond the American Dream

It was the Autumn of 2005. I was recovering from an ankle injury that I sustained at my martial arts school. During my recovery, I began to think about my future. I’d been living in The United States for 5 years. I’d graduated with a Masters degree, and had a decent job at a Fortune 50 company. I drove a nice vehicle that was paid off. I had savings and no debt. I lived in a nice neighbourhood that was safe.

My life was not too dissimilar from migrant professionals in the US who come in as international students and transition into the US workforce. I was a law abiding, respectful member of society, and an exemplary and high performing employee.

Life in America is a lot better than most other places in the world. Overland Park, KS where I lived is consistently ranked the best place in the United States for the quality of life. This is a part of America where the roads are wide, the neighbourhoods are generally safe, land is reasonably cheap, the cost of living is low compare to the rest of the country, and all things considered, life is relatively stress free. There is access to good education, and people are generally nice. If you’re professionally employed, well educated, and in good health, life is pretty good here. This is especially true if you are a US permanent resident, or better yet, a US citizen.


I had little to complain about. I had a decent job, a relatively stress-free life, and a good social circle. I was fundamentally comfortable with my life in the present. It was my future that was calling out to me to consider what I wanted to do next.

It is a human trait that one doesn’t really appreciate what’s out there until one steps out of their comfort zone.

When I moved to the US from India, I gained an appreciation for everything in the US. I just hadn’t stepped out of the US during my time there to gain an appreciation for what may lie beyond.

I had been living in the US for 5 years, and was still considered an “alien” (that is the official term).  I was on an H1B Visa. When you’re employed by an American company on an H1B Visa, you can only work for that employer, in the specific role that you were hired for.

The terms of your work visa restrict you from applying for roles other than what align with the skills that it defines, even within your own employer (if you’re an engineer, you can work as a software developer, but you won’t really qualify for a role in marketing).

Changing employers is somewhat complicated; the fact that you’re on a working visa is sometimes enough to put off another employer from hiring you so that you can take your career forward.

I was fortunate that I had a good employer, and good managers who were supportive. I also realised that it was my responsibility to plan my own future, and that I’d have no one else to blame if my life didn’t turn out the way that I wanted it.

I hadn’t become a permanent resident at that stage, being aware that to become one required a considerable investment – either in time, or in money, or both.

There are a few ways that one can become a United States permanent resident.

  • Most migrant students who begin working for a US employer go through labour certification – a process that requires them to be sponsored by their employer. This can be a long process that, depending on one’s country of origin, can take several years. (I have friends who were on their 7th year of waiting on approval since their applications had been filed). While your application is under process, you cannot change roles or jobs. Doing so will require one to restart the application process from scratch. This was too restrictive and was going to take too long for my own aspirations in life.
  • If you have an advanced academic degree, as I did, one has the option of applying for what is known as a national interest waiver. The process is quick, but expensive. A friend of mine acquired his green card in this manner, and has happily settled down in Kansas. The amount that it would cost made this somewhat unattractive for me to pursue.

With my swollen ankle compressed, iced, elevated, and rested, I’d assessed the opportunity cost of securing a United States Green Card was too high for me to put all my eggs in a single basket. I proceeded to do some research on immigration programs around the world.

My choice of destination was based upon the values of the nation, career opportunity, climate, quality of life, political and legal stability, and good social infrastructure that looked after its citizens.

I came up with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Singapore as my potential destinations. All of these nations offer a form of skilled migration.

I ended up applying for residency in both Australia, and Canada. My application for Australia was accepted first.

The entire process took 18 months from the day that I started considering the move, to the day that I was granted my residency. This was less than the time it took me to graduate from university in the United States. I had become an Australian permanent resident without even stepping foot on Australian soil. Six months later, I boarded a plane to Melbourne to move there permanently.

So why did I choose Australia at the end?

Well, I would have probably chosen Canada if their paperwork would have come through earlier, but at the end, both Australia and Canada offered much of the same that I was looking for in nations that offered what I was looking for in a place that I’d be happy to make my home.

Both nations offer:

  • A set of western values.
  • An English speaking society (this was important for me to fit in).
  • A clean environment.
  • A great quality of life.
  • Law and order in stable societies
  • Civil liberties and freedom.
  • Career opportunities.
  • Good social services that looked after its citizens.
  • Economic stability.
  • Good healthcare.
  • Good higher education.
  • Accessibility.
  • Good immigration laws for family.

Australia has a warmer climate which appealed to me more than the cold Canadian winters.

If I were to have moved to Canada, I would have moved to Vancouver. As it happened, I moved to Melbourne (which happens to be the coldest city on mainland Australia). Both cities are consistently ranked in the top 5 best cities in the world to live in.

Canada is easier to get to from the Northern Hemisphere, and has easier access to the United States of America.

Both countries have economic treaties with the United States, which makes it relatively easy for their citizens to secure working rights in the United States.

Australia has a great sporting culture and shares a love of cricket (which is a religion in India). Both nations have an outdoorsy culture – though Canada probably pips Australia in this department… though only just.

Canada is a more attractive destination for musicians on tour.

In closing…

At the end of the day, the one thing that I have to say is that there is life beyond the United States… and good ones at that.

The United States of America will always have a special place in my heart and in my memories.

It is where I earned my advanced degree, and where I learnt how to step out of my comfort zone and gather the courage to step out into the unknown. I made a lot of friends there, and I still enjoy going back… though this time, I know that it is purely as a visitor.

This is not to say that the US should not be your destination of choice.

It finally comes down to the individual to decide where the best place is for them to settle down. Its important to be honest to yourself when making this decision.

Sometimes, not getting what you want when you want it can be a blessing in disguise. Just because the American Dream doesn’t work out (or takes too long to become a reality), doesn’t mean that you can’t get another dream to make a reality.

Big Fish at Tanglin Village

As part of my relocation package with my employer, the relocation company assigned an agent to show me around Singapore for a few places that may be of interest.

One of the places that really stood out to me was Tanglin Village. I’ll write a more thorough write-up about the location in general in a future post. We had to pass by a pool which was home to a few fish, including two very large fish that are native to the Amazon. Continue reading “Big Fish at Tanglin Village”

Bike sharing in Singapore

This has recently appeared here in Singapore. It’s a black sharing program run by a couple of private enterprises. The two bicycles that you see here are run by an organisation called O-bike. It’s Singapore’s first station less bike sharing program. They have their own app I have which uses can locate a nearby bike, and then check one out for their own use that they pay by the hour.

The bicycles are available around most MRT stations, HDTVs, and shopping centres. Riders can locate one using an app, and drop them off at any designated area.

I haven’t tried using one yet, but having considered getting a bicycle, and then questioning how often I would use one, this appears to be the perfect solution.

I will have more to share after I take one for a test drive (no pun intended)!

Bookworm’s Delight

A few days ago, as I made my way through the MRT, I came across this set of advertisements on the safety screens. The Singapore National Library Board has launched an app where you can digitally borrow your selection of reading material online.

If you’re a Singapore Permanent Resident or Citizen, you can sign up online via their official website. For foreigners on an employment pass, you need to show up at a library with your EP, and pay the SG$53 annual fee (which includes a SG$10) one-time registration fee, to be issued with your myLibrary ID. (They only accept payment via card – NETS or FlashPay). The NLB website lists all locations of the libraries which are open on the weekends, and are open late.

Once you’re signed up, you have access to a very large selection (over 3,000) periodicals and electronic newspapers.

This is in addition to a very large selection of best sellers and books that are on offer. Even for the $53 fee (which is $1 per week), it is excellent value if you read, and would rather borrow a book than buy it, and are concerned about minimising your carbon footprint!

This is yet another example on how Singapore embraces technology for some of the simple things in life!

Cab rides in Singapore

I made a pleasant discovery during my first two weeks here in Singapore about cab rides. You can actually ride cabs for free every now and then!

Singapore has several major taxi companies. Their vehicles can be identified by the colour of their livery. The major ones are Comfort Taxi (Blue), CityCab (Yellow), SMRT Taxis (Brown), TransCab (Red), and Premier Taxis (Silver). I’ve had a good experience with all of them. Premier remains my favourite – they’re a bit more expensive than the rest, and tend to have nicer and better maintained cars. Cabs here are so well run, that Uber has almost no impact here.

Enter the disruptor… Grab Taxi, or Grab as it is now known.

They’ve got a similar concept to Uber where private vehicles driven by their owners can be hailed using a taxi hailing app, and will take you from one part of town to the other.

The difference is that the Grab App can be used to hail both Grab cars (which are driven by owners of private vehicles), and standard taxis as well as a range of different premium options from Grab.

Get $8 off your first ride

Sign up for the Grab App now!

This is where it gets better. Occasionally, Grab runs promotions where they give away rides that start and end within the Central Business District between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for free! (The caveat is that you need to use Grab pay where you provide the app with your credit card details).

This was a handy bonus for me during my first two weeks in Singapore. They ran the promotion for the first two weeks of April. Every morning, I would hail a Grab car at around 6:45 a.m. and would be at work by 7:00 a.m. in the air-conditioned comfort of a vehicle ride that was free! Come 5:00 p.m. in the evening at the end of the day, I would do it all over again. I went for a full two weeks without any commuting costs!

If that wasn’t good enough, among some of the vehicles that I got driven in were an Audi A4, a Volvo S70, and a Jaguar XJ6. Not too shabby for a ride sharing service.

Even if you’re visiting Singapore, I highly recommend that you use the Grab app to catch your rides around town. Click the link above to get $8 off your first ride, or use the referral code debashis75188 when signing up via the Android or iOS app which you can download via the respective App Stores.

Grocery shopping made easy

Grocery shopping is one of those things that must be done in life, but is not the most enjoyable of chores. . When I discovered the ultimate online grocery store for Singaporean residents, I was all over it.

RedMart is an online grocery store that will deliver groceries to your doorstep for you. If you exceed $50 on your purchase, the delivery charge is waived. They even allow you choose a two-hour window between 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m during which your groceries will be delivered.
Continue reading “Grocery shopping made easy”

How I found a job and moved to Australia

It was 8 a.m. on the 1st of July 2007. I had landed in Melbourne after catching a flight from Los Angeles. I had booked myself on a week long trip with the sole intention of finding a job in Australia. I didn’t know anyone here. All I had were my credentials, a few contacts that I had made over the phone, and a series of 10 interviews that I had lined up over the next few days. Over the next few days, I would spend a lot of time taking a tram among several buildings on Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD, talking to recruiters and employers alike. I had a vague idea of what my week was going to be like. The reality was not too far off.

But before I step into this, let me take a step back. A few months earlier – February 12th to be precise – I had been granted a skilled independent migrant visa (Class BN Subclass 136) which allowed me to move as a permanent resident to Australia, and find a job in my area of expertise. I had begun to yearn a change from my life in the United States. This was the next phase of my life.

Without any contacts in Australia, I spent the next few weeks referring to Google on where prospective Australian employers advertised their job openings. Over the next few weeks, I scoured job postings on seek.com.au and reached out to recruiters who were recruiting for roles. My situation was helped by the fact that in 2007, the Australian economy was riding the wave of the commodities boom driven by the Chinese appetite for Australia’s natural resources. Companies were hiring aggressively and expanding rapidly.

My professional background fit the bill in the IT space. As I spoke to recruiters, I discovered that there was a common theme where they all stated that while I had relevant skills, the fact that I didn’t have any Australian experience was something that they would find hard to sell to potential employers. Being young and brash at the time, I responded to a few stating that if they were not able to place a skilled, technical individual in a growing economy, that was probably a reflection of their skills rather than mine.

I digress… in the midst of several recruiters who expressed their reservations, I also encountered a few who were keen to hear my case, and meet me – especially when I mentioned that I was flying out to Australia on my own expense with the specific intent of find a role.

Prior to my departure, I had lined up 10 interviews over 5 days. I thought to myself that doing an interview in the morning and one in the evening would be reasonable.

As I arrived in Melbourne in July, I attended my first appointment with a recruiter named Claire. She was bright eyed, and warm, and someone whom I connected well with and felt comfortable representing me.  We spoke over a cup of coffee, and she agreed to put me forward for a few roles with a local Telecommunications operator. She also encouraged me to continue looking at more current roles, and that if there was something specific that caught my attention, to reach out to her.

Later that day, I met a gentleman called Eddie. He worked for a firm that provided contractors to employers. He had a down-to-earth demeanor who had a realistic view of a new job seeker in Australia. He acknowledged how recruiters may tell new job seekers about their lack of Australian experience would make it difficult to find a role in Australia, and that sometimes, they could end up getting in your way. He encouraged me to go through their current open roles, and make him aware of any specific roles that he thought would be a good fit.

Later that evening, as I looked through their listings, I found a specific role with an Australian government department that I felt I fit perfectly. I dropped him a note, and he directed me to his colleague Eugene.

The next  morning, I was doing my rounds on Collins Street, meeting with other recruiters. In between interviews, I stepped into an office building and gave Eugene a call. Eugene was polite; however I sensed the hesitation in his voice when he heard that I was from the United States, and I heard him becoming increasingly resistant to wanting to speak to him. A fire engine howled past the building that I was in, sirens blaring and lights blazing, and echoed through the phone from Eugene’s end.

“Excuse me, are you in Melbourne?” he asked.

“Yes I am! I’m two blocks away from you.” I replied.

“I thought you were in the US! When can you come in and have a chat?” he asked.

“Give me 15 minutes, and I’ll be there!” I replied, as I made my way to their office building.

The meeting with Eugene went well. I also met Eddie while I was in the office. Eugene mentioned that he’d had reservations about representing me, thinking that I was overseas at the time, and was not a serious candidate. Meeting me in person, and knowing that I had the right to work in Australia had made the difference. He agreed to represent me to their client.

The week continued with more interviews. Some were promising, others made it clear that there wasn’t a mutual fit between the role and my own aspirations. At the end of the week, I had been through 25 interviews, including 9 on the Friday before I boarded my flight back to the US.

Eugene had attempted to set up a face-to-face interview with the hiring manager, who at the time, was travelling at the time. However, he did arrange a Skype interview the following week.

As I boarded my flight, I realised how exhauseted I was. My voice was hoarse. As the flight took off, I fell asleep, waking up only when the airline staff woke me up for my meals. 20 hours later, I was back in Kansas, and on my way to a movie with friends.

The following week, I had my first interview with the hiring manager that Eugene had organised. I dressed up in a suit while placing myself in front of my webcam and a plain background. The interview went well. The hiring manager asked me a series of relevant questions to the role, before ending the interview on a pleasant note.

In the meantime, Claire has been in touch. She’d organised a phone interview with a hiring manager from one of their clients. This interview went well too, and proceeded to the next stage.

The following week, Eugene called me. The hiring manager wanted to have another chat with me. We agreed to another Skype interview, which was pleasant. I got to understand more about the role, and more about the sensitivities of the role. This was going to be different from what I had been doing – and that is what had really appealed to me.

Shortly after, Claire called back. Her client was considering extending an offer. She wanted to know what my daily rate was. I had not clue on what a going rate for someone of my skill sets in a contractor role in Australia was going to be. She proposed a figure which sounded fair, and which I agreed.

The following Wednesday, I was having dinner with a friend on a Sunday evening in Kansas. It was Monday morning in Australia when Eugene called me. The hiring manager had made an offer, and had a contract for me to sign. I accepted on the spot verbally, while Eugene organised for a contract to be scanned and sent to me for signature.

“What just happened?” my friend asked me.

“I just accepted a new role, my friend. I’m moving to Australia in three weeks!” I replied.

Two hours later, just before I went to bed, I printed off the contract the Eugene had sent through, signed it, and sent it back. The next morning, I had a countersigned copy in my inbox.

I walked into work later that morning, and scheduled a meeting with my manager. I thanked her for the opportunity, and respectfully put in my two weeks notice. She congratulated me, and made my transition smooth. My colleagues stopped by to offer their congratulations, with some of them sharing that they wished that they could have made a similar move in their lives.

I called Claire later that day, and said thank you to her while stating that I’d accepted another offer. I could hear the disappointment in her voice, but she wished me well.

I spent the next three weeks listing my possessions for sale. Everything was gone within a week. My vehicle was sold in 10 days, as I spent my last week saying goodbye to friends. On the 9th of September 2007, I boarded a Qantas Airlines flight out of Los Angeles to start my new role and my new life in Australia.