My Singapore Journey

Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Today Singapore celebrates its 52nd birthday and it’s the first one I celebrate as a Singaporean! It’s quite a surreal feeling when tonight I can recite the pledge and national anthem feeling I belong and not as an outsider looking in as it had been all these years. I’ve been a Singaporean for almost a year now, so this is not new news, but when I started writing this post, it seemed a good time to share this news.

My journey to becoming a Singaporean was a long time in coming. S, as you probably know is a native Singaporean and in the past few years, I had become increasingly aware that Singapore was home and not India. I became a stranger in my land of birth and when I land in Mumbai, the feeling was more of an anticipation of meeting my parents rather than a feeling of coming home. This feeling, however, I started to feel whenever I landed in Changi Airport and seeing the iconic airport control tower would make me feel as if I am now home. That’s when I realised that unconsciously over the years, Singapore had become home! So then I started the process to become a Singaporean not just in the heart, but also legally.

My position as the wife of a Singaporean meant I could have become one more than a decade back, but because I wanted to b sure I decided to wait so long. In the meantime, as they are wont to do, processes changed and the criteria became slightly more stringent.

You apply for citizenship online on the ICA website based on the category you fall under and at the same time book a slot to meet an officer who verifies your documents and also pay the fee. If I remember correctly (since this was a while back), I paid S$100 for this process. There are many people applying for this citizenship at the same time as you and so based on the queue, you get a slot to meet the office anytime from two months to even a year later. I got my slot around six months later and try as much as I could, I could not find an earlier slot.

During the verification process, which was quite fast (less than 30 minutes in my case), they check all documents depending on the category you are applying in. In my case, they not only wanted S’ documentation (including salary slips and a letter from his company confirming he was working there as of a date closest to the appointment date and all his educational transcripts and tax records), they also wanted copies of BB & GG’s birth certificates and passports. We didn’t have copies of the children’s passports, but since this was the same agency which issued them, the officer said they will just look up the records since they should have them. In my case, along with all relevant educational transcripts, they asked for salary and work information and tax statements. They only take photocopies of the documents after verifying the original. Once the officer was satisfied with the documents, he handed us a letter with a case number and told us that it will take around six months for ICA to send us an answer. We could use the case number to see the status of our application in the meantime (which is frankly speaking a waste since it always shows ‘under process’ and until you get the accept/reject letter, it is not changed).

Five months after this appointment, I got the acceptance letter from ICA. To complete all formalities before you renounce your existing citizens, you need to do three things – complete an online course about Singapore’s history. This is a simple course, followed by a short quiz, which can be completed in around 30 minutes. Then you need to go on a Singapore Journey. This Singapore Journey consists of going to multiple places (according to your schedule and what is available then). I chose the National Museum and the Newater Plant. It was a half day tour and educational, but I felt most participants were there because it was simply a requirement they had to tick to complete the process. At the museum, we were divided into groups, by age and in my group were 3-4 gentlemen who, from their accents, seemed to be from a single particular country. After the guide took us through the museum, we had to answer some questions in our groups. The gentlemen in my group I discovered could not speak English and were the least interested in answering the questions which were based on Singapore’s history and extremely easy if you paid slight attention to the guide. I kept wondering why they were not interested in their new country’s history and also how they will survive if they can’t understand or speak English, which is the official language here.

The last part is going to a group discussion meeting at a Community Club in the constituency that you stay in. This was facilitated by an external vendor and also had former new citizens assigned to each group (which was made up of people living near each other). Again interesting discussions, but most people were disinterested and there was a lady in my group (again from the same country mentioned above) who could not speak or understand English and had to have another person translate for her.

After you finish all these items, your attendance is marked in each activity and is passed to ICA. Then a few weeks after all items are checked off, you finally get the coveted letter that you, at this point, have been waiting for from anything between 18 to 24 months telling you that you are a Singapore citizen. They also give you an appointment to go down to ICA to finish the process of your citizenship.

The last thing to do is renounce your original citizenship before your appointment at ICA and for an Indian passport, this means filling up a form, found online and going down to the Indian High Commission’s agent BLS International along with the letter from ICA and after a week or so, going down to the High Commission to get the letter of renunciation.

Next, at your appointment with ICA, you need to scan the application form barcode and you get a queue number. At the first counter, they check documents. Since my application was under spouse of a Singaporean, S had to sign a paper that he is doing this of free will and also pay $80 for the registration and Identity Card (IC) fees.

At the second, your thumbprint from both hands is taken for for the IC. Also, retina scans which were just introduced. Then you sign the form and wait for your number to be called to take the oath of allegiance in front of a Justice of Peace (JP). You fill up your name a page in the application form and then take the oath standing up with your right hand raised and the palm facing outward. To paraphrase the oath, you swear to renounce all rights and privileges from any foreign country and also forsake any loyalty to any foreign country and will be faithful and bear allegiance to the Republic of Singapore and will be a faithful citizen. The JP then gave me a piece of paper which is was temporary IC and told me about the citizenship ceremony which will happen later. As I was leaving her office, the JP welcomed me to Singapore!

Next is to apply for a passport which you can do on level one of the same building. You get a card from them in around a week and have to go down to collect it.

The last step is the Citizenship ceremony which for me took a couple of months more. Here the local MP (it was not in my constituency, but another one in the same Group Representative Constituency (GRC)) will give each new citizen their new pink IC (Singaporeans get a pink identity card and permanent residents (equivalent to green card holders in the US) get a blue identity card) along with their citizenship certificate. Each GRC holds this ceremony every quarter and if you are lucky, you get yours almost immediately and if unlucky, have to wait for a few months to get the IC. Till then you just explain to everyone that you are a new citizen and are waiting for your pink IC!

So that was my Singapore journey. If this has helped anyone who is thinking of becoming a Singaporean or even is in the process, I hope this is something you find useful!

The Greatest Single Bane of Today’s Society – Corruption

CorrSingapore has been named the 8th least corrupt country in the world and tops the Asian rankings. It received a score of 85 out of 100 in the Corruption Perception Index which is issued by Transparency International which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide.

CPI2015_global_ENWorldwide two-thirds of the 168 countries which were tracked actually scored below 50 on a scale from 0 (perceived to be very corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean)
The top spot went to Denmark for the second time in a row with a score of 91. The top ten countries are in the order of rank – Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway (joint 5th with Netherlands), Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Germany

So what made Denmark score so well? According to Transperancy International, top performers share key characteristics: high levels of press freedom; access to budget information so the public knows where money comes from and how it is spent; high levels of integrity among people in power; and judiciaries that don’t differentiate between rich and poor, and that are truly independent from other parts of government.

Somalia and North Korea ended the list at the bottom with a score of only 8. The other countries in the bottom ten were Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola, Libya, Iraq, Venezuela and Guinea-Bissau. Conflict and war, poor governance, weak public institutions like police and the judiciary, and a lack of independence in the media characterise the lowest ranked countries.

CPI_2015_AsiaPacific_ENSo how do countries closer to home stack up? Hong Kong which is seen as a competitor to Singapore in many aspects was at 18 as was Japan. Singapore’s nearest neighbor and the closest ASEAN country is at 54 with the other ASEAN countries much below Malaysia. Thailand is next at 76, followed by Indonesia at 88, Philippines at 95, Vietnam at 112, Laos at 139, Myanmar at 147 and Cambodia bringing up the rear at 150.

India’s score of 38 made it at number 176 along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bukina Faso, Thailand, Tunisia and Zambia. India’s closest neighbours fare as follows: Sri Lanka and China at 83, Pakistan at 117, Nepal at 130 and Bangladesh at 139.

The results are not that surprising given Singapore’s strong stance on corruption. The country publically names and shames those, especially civil servants and those in high office who are accused of corruption. They also employ legal proceedings against them and sentence them. Hence the high score, which, given how corruption is dealt in the country, could also be higher!

Now, in the other countries in South and Southeast Asia, corruption is a way of life. Corrupt economies do not function as well as non-corrupt ones as the very fact of corruption prevents the natural law of economy from functioning well and freely.
Many people just automatically add the cost of corruption to whatever they need to pay for, especially when dealing with government officials. It is due to this that most people do not have any faith in their public servants, elected or otherwise. Implementation of public services suffers as those need to be paid for, even if they are the basic essentials which every citizen is entitled to. Another casualty is justice as more often than not, justice is either delayed or denied as some of the judiciary may be in the pay of the offenders and let them go scot-free.

Corruption also leads to a loss of growth in that country’s economy as many investors would be reluctant, rightly so, to invest in the country, leading to unemployment or underemployment, lack of infrastructure and development of regions which need them the most. This in turn leads to regression of female empowerment, gender imbalance and female infanticide.

Reading the last two paragraphs make me realise all these are hallmarks of countries which have low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is the most commonly referenced figure which covers the national economy of any country and which is used to determined to estimate how wealthy or poor a country and it’s people. Click here and here to understand GDP and GDP with Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which explains the concepts so much better than I can hope to…

CPI2015_map and country results

CPI2015_map
So where does your country stack up?

Happy Birthday Singapore

Today Singapore celebrates 50 years of being independent. The festivities are all over the country and the Straits Times headlines yesterday was “The Celebrations Begin”!

In 1965, when Singapore was kicked out of the Federation of Malaya, mostly over political and economic differences, many wondered how Singapore would make it alone – a land with almost no natural resources, facing problems of severe unemployment, sanitation and housing, among others.

But Singapore has overcome all this and achieved so much in the last 50 years, it’s zoomed from first world to third world. We in Singapore, take this affluence for granted, sometimes being accused of being arrogant by our neighbours!

Singapore wanted to avoid the racial tensions of it’s neighbours and so racial harmony is something that’s pretty much enshrined in the way of life – so much that we take racial harmony for granted. Everything in Singapore is done in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The national anthem is in Malay though as the Malays were the original inhabitants of the land.

To a lot of people, Singapore is seen as a part of China, and while3 it irritates residents, you can’t blame them, as the government policies seem to me to be a tad pro-China!

Also the Michael Fay caning incident makes a lot of Westerners think Singapore’s laws are draconian, but as a parent with young children, I guess I am happy to live in such a country where I don’t have to worry that my children will return home safe from school. Crime rates are low here and I can walk home late at night, using public transport, which is kind of impossible in many countries, both in the region and beyond!

Ok, enough of talking, I am going to spam some more pictures which I took last week when we saw the National Day Preview.

DSCN3300 DSCN3314 DSCN3341 DSCN3378 DSCN3389

Leaving you with the national anthem of Singapore called Majulah Singapura or Onward Singapore. Singing it with everyone was electrifying!!

Happy Birthday Singapore! May you have many more like this….

Majulah Singapura…..

The Jubilee Weekend started today! To commemorate Singapore’s 50th year of independence which falls on Sunday, we got an extra SG50 holiday today! So today’s post is picture post, dedicated to Singapore – Happy Birthday Singapore…..

The Singapore Flag flypast

The Singapore Flag flypast

RSAF jets making their presence felt

RSAF jets making their presence felt

Arty shot of the RSAF flypast

Arty shot of the RSAF flypast

What's a party without fireworks!

What’s a party without fireworks!

A part of the Singapore skyline

A part of the Singapore skyline

The gun salute tonners making their way to the Merlion before their salute to the nation

The gun salute tonners making their way to the Merlion before their salute to the nation

Fireworks which were the best...

Fireworks which were the best…

Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore) and may you have many more such years!!

Dreams – A foretelling of Reality?

This post has been lying in my drafts for a while now. I actually had this dream a few weeks backs and it was so vivid that I actually woke up disoriented. I normally don’t have dreams – or I am one of those who don’t remember their dreams at all or if I remember, it will be extremely fuzzy!

I started using lavender aroma oil around a month back to see if it helps us sleep well – now I am not 100% sure if this dream was a result of the oil being diffused in the room or was it something deep from my subconscious or is it really a foretelling of the future! The dream was so compelling and vivid, that it made me pen it down as soon as I woke up. Below is exactly what I remembered around 5 am the morning after the dream.

In the first part, I dreamt that I was going to the mall to colour my hair around 11 pm. I remember calling my husband to check if he had come back home so he can open the door for me and I don’t have to disturb my helper.

The next thing I remember I am at a Feng Shui practitioner’s office. It’s funny that I even remember the people in the office – the head was a Caucasian with a red face and a white beard.

And then there was this pretty Chinese lady with heavy makeup, especially around the eyes who came to talk to me. I was with a bunch of people and we came to discuss some fengshui for a business of ours. But this lady started talking about me. The discussion was about how much potential I have to become very successful in life and then she asked me my age. When I told her, she said something I could not catch.

Something about the next few years being very good for my career and how I was going to be very successful. She then spoke of some package I should take to ensure this. And even in a dream, I am ever so practical…I said I need to consult my husband and that was the end of that discussion.

Next me plus that bunch of people are in a car somewhere in Sentosa (don’t ask how I know I was in Sentosa which is an island off the coast of Singapore and is used as a large theme park). We are driving to meet another Fengshui consultant – a person related to the one we just saw. Something to do about picking up something.

I still haven’t gone home and have this feeling I should call my husband. Then I see this really gorgeous sunrise – streaks of pinks, golds and lavenders with black birds against it in stark contrast.

I tell the others in the car to see it and start to take a picture saying “My crappy phone will never do justice to this sunrise”. The driver stops the car for a picture and at this point my alarm rang and I woke up. Actually I shut off the alarm to try and sleep more so I could end the dream, but could not do that.

Wonder what this dream meant? Indians believe that morning dreams are a forecast of what will happen and that they come true. I wonder what is my subconscious trying to tell me? I tried analysing this dream using the online dream interpretation sites, but nothing really tells me what the entire dream means. I could only find out what sunrise (new beginnings, fulfillment of goals, new adventure in personal life) and fengshui (search for spiritual balance, positivity) means, but together what do they mean? Any ideas?