A Tale of 2 Cities – Melbourne and Singapore

Confesssion. I am doing the deluxe Melbourne holiday. Flew business, staying in the most expensive boutique hotel I could find in South Yarra, where I am thinking of buying a little house. Not too many touristy things although I did bring my son to the aquarium and the skyline observation deck, visited a wildlife park in Ballarat that belongs to a friend of a friend and also the military museum.

Ok. The aquarium does not compare to Singapore’s fine one, nor does the wildlife park and the sky deck. Singapore’s are by far, better stocked, better designed, and better serviced.

The difference. In Melbourne, everything is alive. Imagine, a little wildlife park spanning just a few acres, with animals and beautiful reptiles, all housed in worse for the wear enclosures. The Tasmanian devils were happily prancing about (they are nocturnal by the way) and even the koalas were moving in the heat. The snakes gliding in their majesty in their thin glass displays with just scotch tape to patch a little hole in the glass of the most deadly snake in the world, the inland taipan. I swear the snake was smiling at me (not Harry Potter style).

The tiger sharks in the aquarium, with much less swimming space than Singapore’s, were looking relaxed and although the variety of fishes cannot match Singapore, they are not jammed chock a block full that they couldn’t move. It does strike me when I go to Singapore’s underwater world if fishes could commit suicide. And for the record, Osaka has the best aquarium to me (they have a whale shark !) because I have not seen the rest except for Barcelona which was my top spot till I saw Osaka.

The museum was staffed entirely by volunteers, including the airshow pilots. How cool is that ? What is their motivation ? Need to think a bit into that one.

Back to the rest of the holiday so far.

I am a terrible traveller and hate crowds which is why I never went to the Lourve in Paris. As an occupational hazard, I unconsciously do the economic comparisons thing, prices, inflation, labour situation, migration, housing markets etc.

Thus when I called in on an old friend who had just opened up a chain of cafes in the outer suburbs serving dim sum and laksa, the analytical brain got ticking again.

My dear friend has been here for just under 3 years. She gave up her high flying banking job heading a team of financial advisory sales people in a major house in Singapore to come over with her family. By all standards, she looks happier and more at ease these days while dishing out wanton mee with cafe lattes.

We chatted over her home made curry puff, now massed produced for 4 outlets. In Australia, she says, it is easy to make money. But it is hard to make a lot of money. Money goes quickly. Services cost 4-5 times as much as Singapore. Plumbing, construction, repairs etc. Labour minimum wage is about 16 dollars an hour and most places, even Mcdonalds is paying over 30 bucks an hour for staff.

Taxes are high for high earners. I know because my uncle makes the same as about a plumber even though he lectures at a reputable university in Perth. And then we have the mining boom which divides the haves and the have nots. A truck driver in a mine makes 250k a year before tax while a nurse makes 70k in the city.

It is not perfect.

The entire hotel is staffed by naturalized Australians. We have Sri Lankans, South americans, Chinese, French, Italians and Greeks.

The average wage is about 40-50k a year, cleaners and workmen included. Plumbers make anywhere between 100k to 150k, if you have your own business. That is the same for accountants. Bankers, lawyers and doctors in their own practice make above 250k.

Housing is affordable depending on where you choose to live. Inner city apartments are costly about 500k to 4 million. Houses in the prime districts are now more expensive than Singapore because of foreign influx. I would have to pay more for a property here the equivalent of mine in Singapore. Yet, I can choose to live in a smaller townhouse in the same district for less.

It is not a land for tall poppies. But it is indeed a land for the people. I would be proud to pay taxes in this country because you do not have to top your class to be a plumber but it is still regarded as a skill that is vital to society.

I look at my dear old friend, sitting comfortably in her own cafe smack right in the middle of an industrial heartland. She looks the same as she was, wearing her power suit when we were having her farewell lunch at Indochine by the Asia Civilisation Museum before she left.

I look all around me here and I feel alive and see opportunity beckoning for a new life. A life without Hermes, LV (maybe 1). A full life and not half a life that I have been living all these years, chasing that infernal ticket for the ride to nowhere.