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Greener pastures

October 14, 2008

[Caution – Long post]

As things get rough, there seems to be an increased buzz around the “m” word. A desperate anywhere-but-here, anything-but-this feeling. A friend is eyeing the US. Another Australia.

Having gone thru the thick of things, there are a few notions I’d like to challenge about migration because its not always what you think it is.

If you’re looking for a cultural change, it’ll work. I didn’t say lifestyle change because the products that influence lifestyles aren’t unique to specific countries anymore. Everything’s made in China these days and what you can buy in Fulton St. New York you can probably get in Penang. McDonald’s is McDonald’s wherever you go. A movie that debuts in a Chicago cinema will likely debut in a Singapore cinema the same week.

Culture – what we believe in – is a different animal. We’ve got Thanksgiving, Haloween, Veterans Day, the last few shopping days of Christmas. left-hand drive and other quirks in the US. We’re cool with things you’d be put in jail for over here, like ‘alternative’ lifestyles and guns. Plenty of guns. Plus the Klu Klux Klan if you happen to stray too far off the beaten track.

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Despite its allure, culture is a double edged sword. Just before China took back Hong Kong, many Hong Kongers fled to Canada. A few years later, many of them ran back to Hong Kong. The older generation especially felt they didn’t want to raise their children in that kind of culture. Those that couldn’t go back huddled together in little Chinatowns, back to the sights and sounds of the country they left. Makes you wonder wtf, then why even come here in the first place.

I hear about “better economy” a lot. Things are better over there, many jobs, many opportunities. Really? You mean you haven’t heard about the massive layoffs and unemployment rate, the selloffs and offshore outsourcing? To tell you the truth, as a businessperson if I wanted better business opportunities, developed countries will be the last place I’d look at.

Simple reason. These are overserved markets. For whatever business you have in mind, there’s easily 3-4 times more competition there. Your chances of going bust is correspondingly 3-4 times higher too. If its truly opportunity that you want, wouldn’t you rather go to a place where the skill and infrastructure gaps are the largest? Indonesia or Vietnam perhaps, where the demand for your capital is greater than available supply?

Of course you don’t want to migrate there because deep down, you know the “better economy” line is just an excuse. Its something else. So maybe its time to be honest. When you were thinking of migrating, were you running towards something or were you running away from something?

See, some problems stay with us even if we migrate to the moon. Our inability to adapt for example, like many Hong Kong imigrants in Canada, or the problems we create with a stubborn attitude towards life, will make migrating seem like trying to run away from our own shadows. We’ll be unhappy anywhere we went.

But some problems can be solved. Like I said, if it was permanent culture change that you were after, a different way of doing things, then your dreams may come true. In fact with advanced globalization, that might be the only tangible change to reap after migrating.

As for economic betterment, yes you may get a job. Depending on what you do, what you can save might not be as big as you think because you earn in USD/AUD and you spend in USD/AUD. If you ate instant noodles every other day and shared a house with 12 people for the first couple of years, you might save enough to send money home. Unless of course you migrate with $5 million in your bag and start up something, that would be a different story.

This is not to say that migration is bad. I wish everybody’s dreams can come true. The truth is for many of us Asians, migration is like love. It need not be logical. Take away the fluff and bs and we’re left with one simple thing – hope, colored by the stories you hear and what Hollywood has presented to you. We rather have hope with uncertainty than no hope with certainty. Still, its good to balance hope with careful thought. Know exactly what you want and if that place can really give it to you, lest the new start turns into a broken dream.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2008 9:59 am

    My family matters more to me than money. Unless I can migrate my entire family over, else I wouldn’t go. :p

    You can go first, settle in, and then bring everyone over. That’s what many ppl do.

  2. LC Teh permalink
    October 14, 2008 10:35 am

    That’s why I think most people, instead of looking for greener pastures would rather just “jump the plane”, earn some money and come home to start a business with the nest-egg. But then, by now all over the 1st world the authorities are wised up to their antics. They simple throw them back on the plane and send them home… even those who are real tourists but look suspicious.

    Finally, I think people are becoming just like migratory birds. Go where the grass is greener and flock back home to nest as soon as conditions are good.

    Yeah. One Malaysian girl once said to me, “I like kangaroos so I want to migrate to Australia!” Really, some of the reasons they give you for migrating is just bizarre. And yes, immigration rules are much tighter now. No more automatic PRs for kangaroo lovers.

    Plane jumping is risky. Once you are on record, you’ll be barred from entering that country forever. I’ve met a few “ship jumpers” in SF, illegals shipped in containers from China. Without any papers, you make a simple mistake that attracts a cop and thats the end of you. So you live like ghosts, permanently in the shadows.

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