Posted by: incywincy | November 13, 2006

Life’s Experiences

Last weekend I was worrying about having no money, about having no career prospects in my current job, about school, about not having enough time to do the things I want to do.

This morning I was lamenting about how so much of my money has gone to rent, bills, things that I have to buy for my trip to Beijing, and all the silly little things that I shouldn’t worry about.

This afternoon, I received a call about my new tuition student, asking that I start the first lesson today. The mother had offered $150 for 8 lessons.

“A little low, isn’t it?” I asked the agent.

I asked for $170, and got what I want.

This evening, I walked to the student’s place, which is just a stone’s throw from my own place in Chinatown. I was thinking about what I could do with the money that I will be earning.

When I arrived at the block, all seemed alright. I took the lift upstairs to the 30th storey, then walked up one storey to the 31st. I was appalled at the condition of that corridor. It was dirty, smelly, and narrow. I walked past a dozen doors before I arrived at my student’s place.

My new student is from China.

I knocked on the door, and a lady came out of the room that was just by the main door. It was a flat, apparently, with various small compartments rooms that were let out to various tenants. It was dark and dank in the flat, yet the lady smiled brightly at me. She invited me into the room. I took a step into the flat, and entered the room.

It was a room that was at most, shabbily furnished. There was one single bed, some shelves, a sink and a stove. A table had been folded away, and the student immediately opened it and placed it next to the bed. The mother invited me to have a seat next to the student, on the bed, because they only had one chair. She sat on the chair and watched us while reading the newspaper.

There was a fan, which she placed next to me. She fussed over whether I felt warm or not, then poured me a glass of water. Clothes were neatly stacked on a small shelf. A shelf above the cooking stove held some pots and pans, some condiments and groceries. A narrow window at the top of the wall, on the other side of which was the corridor, provided little ventilation to the room.

It seemed like they were living in the kitchen of the flat! Several glances around the room told me that my hunch was right. But how could that be? How could anyone live in the kitchen? I pushed the thought to the back of my mind.

We began our lesson. The student was a very sweet boy, who grinned and smiled happily, learnt eagerly, and asked questions whenever he did not understand. He is 13, but will be going to Primary 4 next year, because his English is not up to standard. Well, his English is about the level of a child starting Primary 1.

He took out some secondhand, maybe third, books. We began to read from them, write small essays, and learn new words.

I feel inadequate. I was unable to explain to him many words, because he knew so little English. We conversed in broken English and Mandarin, and tried to help him make sense of the words he read in the book. His reading was quite good. But he could not understand many of the words that he had read.

Yet, he smiled, and eagerly copied English words he read from the textbook into a small cherished notebook, and wrote down the meaning in Chinese words next to them. Before I gave him a small test, he pored over the words carefully and intently, and got an almost perfect score for the spelling test.

After we wrapped up the lesson, I spoke to his mother, and she seemed really grateful that I was willing to teach the child. It seems that they have looked for a tutor for a long time, to no avail.

I left the place, with a heavy heart.

I felt as if I could not teach the student well enough. I’m an experienced tutor, and half-trained in NIE. I have had many students. Yet, this student made me feel inadequate. I was worried that I would ruin his chances of getting into a school in Singapore. His English exam is in December. I am going away for 2 weeks in December. I’m not sure if I should hope that the exam is in the first week of December, or in the last week. If it is in the last week, he would have virtually no help at all, because I would be away till mid December. If it is to be in the first week, he would not have enough time to study.

I also felt that I was so shallow and superficial. I worried about all the material things, and here was a family, that could not afford many of the luxuries I had – a comfortable flat, with aircondition in my room. Sufficient furniture, bright lights, good sanitation, a bathroom that is shared only among the 3 of us in this house, a kitchen that seems luxurious now, and we even have a fridge! They live in a room that was maybe, half the size of my room.

After lessons, I spent $10 and bought 4 new nice fluffy towels. I wondered if they even had 4 new nice fluffy towels. I looked down at my own outfit while I was waiting for the lift at my block, and I remembered what the mother had said to me. She said she feels very comfortable with me because I look very friendly and professional. At that moment I felt so lucky that I have so many pretty clothes. I felt fortunate for everything that I had, which they didn’t.

I don’t think they are very poor – in China, that is. The mother seems quite well-educated; perhaps not very highly-educated, but she definitely is educated. But my point is, they saved up so much to come to Singapore, so that he could study here, have a better education here, and hopefully, a better future. They have to live in such squalid conditions because they definitely don’t want to run out of money before she gets a job to support them. They’ve been here for 2 months, and trying to settle down.

I felt so bad that I asked for $170, instead of accepting the offer of $150. I bet they could buy groceries enough for 5 days with $20.

I don’t know what I feel anymore. I walked home in a daze, and SMSed BB to tell him abit about it. I felt so sad for them, so touched by their warmth, so inadequate for not being able to teach better, so lucky to have everything I have now.

Sometimes, we take all the things that we have for granted. When we have no money to go out for a movie or eat at an expensive restaurant, we feel so poor.

But what of these students who come here without a scholarship, and have to pay their way through their schooling life? What of the people who live like my student and his mother?

Think you’re poor? Think twice.


  1. nice reflection daph… life has sometimes sooo much to teach us… at every corner!

  2. heh as I told you, those problems you have been facing are not as bad as you thought.

    love you.

  3. Such a touching story…-takes out tissue paper to dry eyes-

  4. like i mentioned, those problem you have been facing are nothing much compare to some other people’s. but you need to experience to feel it, heh…

    love you.

  5. Thanks for sharing. It’s a really touching story, and very insightful.

  6. Gosh…
    Oh well, let’s not take what we have for granted.

  7. That you are able to be feel shallow and superficial means that you are not a heartless person after all. I wish you and the student well.

  8. Dear Daphne,
    I thought for some time before commenting. I know some of you would find me cold & heartless. Flame me if you will, I’m just speaking up for the ignorant Singaporeans.

    These people came to Singapore with a purpose. To look for employment. To look for a better life – yes. For the sake of their kid – sadly no.

    I was an agent for foreign students and after seeing so much crap, I don’t waste my sympathy on them. I see thousands of them in the past 10 years. Still seeing some and the quality is worse.

    They came with their eyes wide open. What scam, what kena cheat by agents – excuses. Even with so much publicity on the plight of study mamas and their kids in Singapore, they still come in droves. Why? They say Singaporean men no brains (没脑袋), easy to con (骗 / 哄).

    Not all are like that but majority are like that! As you may have heard, some fake mamas rent kids or adopt them just to come here to do gold-digging (捞金). It’s true. I have even complained to ICA but they want proof. In China, pay money, anything can. Birth certificates can be faked, result slips can be faked, identity can be faked – Huang Na’s mother is one example.

    I sincerely believe that every Singaporean should go down to ICA, Student Pass section and see for yourselves. You might see your father, brother, uncle, male teacher or even grandfather there, sponsor for the China mamas or girls. Look around you at hawker centres too and now even high class restaurants.

    Easy money for these women. Leech onto the local tee ko men, one is not enough, must get a few. Each one gives S$50 or S$100 every few days, their daily living would be taken care of.

    There are many, many more facts that I would like to write, maybe in my blog one day. But believe me, these people don’t deserve our sympathy. Let’s show our sympathy for the more deserving fellow Singaporeans.

    Besides, these people are heavily subsidised by us, the taxpayers of Singapore. Do you know that the Government spends more than S$23,000 a year on one student. A school building costs S$40 million, teachers and staff salaries ayear how much? Equipment, furnishing, educational trips, free medical check-ups….etc. Our money.

    They pay how much school fees? Primary school S$90.50 a month, secondary school S$144 a month. How much do they pay in a year? You do the calculation.

    And don’t feel bad about charging them fees, you deserve it. They can always go find another tutor who is willing to charge lower.

    I must apologise for being such a ‘wet blanket’. You are young and have not seen enough. Actually, many people older than me also cannot see through them, including our Ministers and MP. Ya, get some more foreigners in la.

  9. I think eastcoastlife made a point there. Thanks for sharing your side of experience. However, it does not reflect well on you if you make sweeping statements like these. Please support what you have said with proper research and relevant statistics. This will make what you say credible.

    Who’s not looking out for opportunities for themselves? Aren’t you looking for opportunities in those people who come here to look for opportunities? Now who was the opportunist again?

  10. I do have reservations on the influx of foreigners to the country but i’m not so sure if somebody who is out to leech will spend money to get the kid tuition…

  11. Well, there is two sides of a coin. So what Daphne and eastcoastlife are saying are what they have come into contact.

    With so many people coming from China you can’t expect all of them to be the same. So there is good and bad, just like us Singaporeans. You can’t say there are no Singaporean hookers or there are no Singaporean bastards right?

    However, Gerald, asking for statistics is a bit overboard isn’t it. Such statistics are not something you can do a web search on so why expect somebody to have it to back up what they say. If making comments also needed statistics and research results, I probably shouldn’t say anything at all.

  12. True, I agree I might have gone overboard. = ) What I was expecting to see was responsible comments…If no statistics are available, then more probable comments and statements should be used. In this case, eastcoastlife’s statements are too strong worded for anyone to accept as just random comments.

  13. Yes, it’s bad that they live in pretty squalid conditions. But they’ll did choose to come here, and they’ll probably also work three times as hard as Singaporeans and leave their poverty behind. I wouldn’t dole out too much sympathy, personally. Better concentrate more on staying ahead of the immigrants 😉

  14. The same situations exist here in America. My girl friend’s family was rich (literally!) in their home country. They came to America because the knew that even rich where they were, that their children could have a much better quality of life in America instead.

    America is strange. We don’t pay much for many things, but English classes are free, strange thing! Of course here we teach languages so badly, people who pass our English as a Second Language (ESL) classes can barely speak English….

  15. Eastcoastlife my dear,

    Quote: “Besides, these people are heavily subsidised by us, the taxpayers of Singapore. Do you know that the Government spends more than S$23,000 a year on one student. A school building costs S$40 million, teachers and staff salaries ayear how much? Equipment, furnishing, educational trips, free medical check-ups….etc. Our money. They pay how much school fees? Primary school S$90.50 a month, secondary school S$144 a month. How much do they pay in a year? You do the calculation.”

    My thought:

    Please look at the picture carefully.

    May i emphasize that schools are not built especially for those students? the way you say it is as if everybody is taken for fools.

    And what will those international students do after their education? back to their country? or work in singapore and pay tax/bank loan interest to singapore economy?

    Did you have any satistic how much is spent on educating *international students* vs how much is gained from international student once they have finished their education? Many international students become permanent residents after their graduation and do their tax contribution as singaporeans do. You claimed it’s singaporean tax money but do you know how many *singaporean tax payers* were once foreigners?

    You feel threatened your rice bowl is competed by *foreign talents* but the countries where they walked away feel depressed because of the brain-drain.

    I dont know how much primary n secondary international student pay but I’m sure as hell international students in universities pay a lot more comparing to local students and this usually come with goverment bonds to serve the singapore economy after their graduation.

    I think you should not underestimate the intelligence and foresight of singapore goverment which according to most of my *foreign* friends be them from china/america/australia/whereever, our gov is famous for being smart.

    I might be *young* and not *seeing through things* as much as you claim to be able to, but your claim of *feeding the foreigners* lack the backup statistic to it. and the fact that you generalize and stereotyping have said a lot about your ability to see through things.

    And it is not just so, your comment to what was written in this entry lack the humanity side. I don’t the family in this entry belong to this group of *china mama/ girls* you are trying to generalize *foreigners* in.

    Leechers dont live in kitchens. they live in apartments and wear branding things.

  16. Dear Candyfeehily,
    You ARE young and naive. I wonder how many foreigners stayed after studying here, maybe you can give the statistic. although schools were not built for the foreigners, they do have it good here (cheap and good), if not there could have gone somewhere else. as for university education, its the same, cheap and good, and I wonder how many of them stay. You want to provide some statistics? Anyway, eastcoastlife have seen thousands of them in the 10 years, how many have you seen? Smart does not mean that they cannot make mistakes. Results are not so clear. maybe you want to provide the statistics to prove me wrong?

  17. If you want proof:

    Please read for yourself:

    Quote: “Tuition Grant

    The substantial tuition subsidy from the Government of Singapore comes in the form of a tuition grant which is administered by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and offered to all admitted students. The tuition grant is the difference between the full fees (i.e. cost of training at the University) and the tuition fees payable by the student. Students who accept the tuition grants need only pay subsidised fees (also referred to as the “Direct Payment” portion of fees). While the tuition grant is not repayable, and Singapore citizens in receipt of it will not be bonded, the following accountability measures have been imposed:

    All Singapore Permanent Residents and international students (except those already bonded by the PSC or the Ministry of Health) will be bonded under the terms of the tuition grant to work for a Singapore-registered company for three years upon completion of their degrees so as to discharge some of their obligations to the Singapore public for the high subsidy to their university education.”

    This is the price:

    In case you still don’t understand: It means Singaporean 6000$+ no obligation. International students 6000$ + three years working for a singapore company upon graduation (and pay tax during that 3 years) or pay a total 20 000$ instead of 6000$.

    Given the salary upon graduation for foreign university grad is 1800$ cause foreigners usually get a lower pay than locals, and the cpf rate is the same, you do the math for 3 years tax.

    And think about what the economic benefit from this 3 years of working from a uni-grad degree foreigners who most likely are creme-of-the-top from their country. If you’re telling me this is not a smart strategy to attract talent, i dont know what is.

    Of if you dont want to calculate the uncalculable, given that foreigners dont stay after education, compare 20000$ vs 6000$ if you want to insist that singaporean are feeding foreigners.

    As for how many newly made singaporean per year i dont have the exact number… a big number at least. You can read this article for a view:

    30 000 foreigners taking up pr each year. 30% of them eventually become citizen. That’s pretty a good number. But whether these 30000 people are taking up citizen or not, as pr, they ARE already tax payers.

    Dont you think these 30 000 people need a fairer comment than a generalization: *a majority of them are like that* (china mama)?

    Im sure eascoastlife have seen a lot because bad people are everywhere and his line of business also mean he is exposed to a medium where such people are presented more often than elsewhere. But his side of experience do not represent the whole situation of the policy. So it’s not fair to comment about the policy impact.

    As for me, i am fine wif *young* and *naive* and i also strongly believe that experience and good judgement dont always come with age.

  18. Dear Candyfeehily,
    you are right in some points on the foreign students in university. anyway education in Singapore is getting to be like a business, so you sell something at a discount you would want some thing back as well. it looks like many of them stay after completing their bond and become PR or citizen. I have always wonder how many of these PR and citizens will remain when the going gets tough. I have a funny feeling that these will be the ones who will disappear at the first sign of problems (I really hope I am wrong on this). We will know this in due time . You will be here to see the outcome of the policy, good or bad. as for me I will probably not be around anymore. eastcoastlfe have seen all the bad part and you have seen all the good part, so how? i guess we will only see the outcome in 10 or 20 years time. All these are just my opinion and I do generalise a little.

  19. everyone should live within their means

    this family from china is not wrong to seek a better life/education by coming to Singapore but personally, i do not feel anything for them as they are in such a situation by choice.

    i had taught a number of china kids before and not all of them (and their families) were angels. there was this particular family – the Dad and Mum were both working in Singapore and they lived quite comfortably in a 3 room HDB flat. the living conditions so much better than some of that of our poor destitute old folks; with TV, decent furnishing and they had good food for dinner. i taught the little girl for 6 months but was only paid for the 1st three months because by the end of the 4th month, they told me sob stories of sick grandparents in China…and so tuition fees will be delayed since they need to send a lot of money back. of course i felt sorry for them and i didn’t really need the money urgently (i was still in uni then and paying the tuition fees on my own) and can still make do…however by the sixth month…and still the same thing, i realised that they were just out to cheat tuition teachers because 1) both parents were still working 2) little girl still got birthday presents 3) they bought a new TV!!! The new TV was the last straw.
    now, i said that i’ve taught quite a number of kids from china. this was the only bad incident but it opened my eyes that NOT everyone is an angel and that looks can be deceiving.

    it is good that you feel for people living in less fortunate conditions. however, do not upset yourself with the additional $20 that you are charging them. there is a price for everything and this is the price they need to pay for a chance for better education.

    though, i seriously question – Singaporean students are seeking education in China…so why are the china kids still coming to Singapore?
    now, if you go to china, take a look at the number of English tuition centres that is blooming up all over the place. talk to some of the chinese students in the varsities. you will realise that a lot of them speak excellent English without having ever stepped out China.
    think again.
    what is the real intention of most (i didn’t say all) those china-mama and their kids?

    honestly, our own ‘backyard’ is messy enough (to use the favourite phrase of a chinese minister). we have a lot of senior folks and needy families who require our immediate attention. before we go on to ‘take personal responsibility’ for the plight of foreigners, take responsibility for our own people who need our help most. only when our ‘backyard’ is clean and without fault, can we then meddle with other people’s business.

    if you really feel and want to do your part, volunteer your service at our local girls/boys homes…these are the kids who really need our help the most.

  20. erm, just for clarification purposes, the cy above is not the CY who used to leave comments here. @.@

    CY (me) had already changed his display name here.

  21. wow, you can write well..

  22. Hi,

    You look good and can write well.

    Don’t feel sorry for them. In the years to come with hordes of them here, you’re be unable to get a job and the tables will be turned.

    You will be living in a kitchen and they amongst the elites in up market bungalows.

  23. Hi ApocalypseSoon,

    I do believe the government knows how to control the rotio of foreigners in Singapore. They would strongly consider the benefits and number of job opportunities for the locals first before making decisions on whether to bring in more foreigners or not.

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