Saturday, November 29, 2008

£1500, the Price of Freedom

Remember the Panini stickers we used to have?

Do you remember how much you have paid for these? I remember it was 50 cents for a packet of three stickers.

Today I have paid £1500 for a sticker.

It's the sticker in my passport. The sticker that allows me stay in this country for another 3 years.

Yes, I have finally gotten my visa approved after two stressful months.

I apologise for keeping mum on this to many of you because I too did not have the visibility of what to expect next.

So what actually happened?

My previous visa allowed me to be in this country for a year. I was due to renew my visa in October, a month before it expired.

I applied for the Tier 1 General visa which was introduced this year. Previously it was called the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. It is similar to the Australian points based immigration system. To be considered for the Tier 1, three criteria have to be met:

1. Personal attributes (age, qualifications, previous earnings, and experience in the United Kingdom)
2. English proficiency
3. Proof of maintenance fund of at least £800 for 3 months.

A month after submitting the application, I received the outcome of the application. Application rejected.

Apparently I didn't meet one of the three requirements. Which one would you have expected?

Number 3.

So you can effectively say that my application was rejected because they thought I was too poor to live in the UK. I felt a little insulted. My ego has never taken such a hard whacking until this happened.

I was required to submit proof of maintenance fund for 3 months which I did.

Let me give an example of what happened. What do you think of this statement?

Date - Balance
1 Sept - £ 1000
3 Sept - £ 900
15 Sept - £650
1 Oct - £1000
15Oct - £810
22 Oct - £ 950
11Nov - £850
15 Nov - £1500

Should be able to meet the requirement, right? I thought so. But it didn't.

Why? Apparently every line in the balance column must be £800 or above. So, 15 Sept showing less than £800 meant that I didn't demonstrate I have £800 consistently for 3 months even though the average would appear to my favour. OMG, talking about being rule-obsessed in my earlier entry, what more can I say about this!

I am a fighter, not a thief. I have pride too. I decide when I want to leave and how. Being told to leave through the visa was a different kind of leaving. I challenged the decision.

This resulted in me sending a second application. This means paying another £750.

This time I threw in the online savings account which most of the savings went to. I was certain it was going to make them happy this time.

Three weeks into the second application I finally got the visa today. It was approved for three years.

The waiting period has been extremely stressful to me. But during these trying times I have also found God. I found meaning in prayers. And I also found meaning in trusting and having faith in God.

Also in these trying times I have learnt that without a passport in a foreign land, you do not have an identity! That's the only thing to legally proof a Malaysian, a Malaysian. What else?

I have also learnt the stress and paranoia illegal immigrants must have felt in a foreign land. The waiting period without an identity made me feel I was one. I couldn't get out of the country in case of an emergency. I couldn't claim I was Malaysian. I couldn't sleep soundly at night!

I dreaded going home after work. I feared I would see the envelope and a rejection letter again. I feared being insulted again. I feared going through the cycle of worrying again.

As much as I have occupied myself with other things, like going out with friends, taking more time to cook, read and analyse what I read, replying longer emails, I couldn't lie to myself that I was still worried about the visa application.

I had bad dreams. Two bad dreams. This clearly indicated I was subconciously worried about it no matter how much I tried to ignore it.

In the first dream, I received my passport with the visa approved. But the rest of the document didn't come back - my Masters degree and other documents. Without them, I couldn't apply for the next visa extension had I planned to stay on.

The second dream was weirder. The visa got rejected again. The reason given was because I hadn't proven that I have spent enough in this country. Apparently, there was a "hidden clause" to approve applications based on the spending sum in this country. How ridiculous!

So as you can see, my stress level was pretty high. I even wished for an approved visa as the best birthday gift for me. That was how low I have stooped!

You ask, "why go through all these troubles when you could easily get a work permit for 5 years? No stress, no worries and above all, you don't have to pay for it!"

With the work permit, I am tied to the employer. This means freedom to move on would be restricted. Furthermore in this economic situation, you can never be too sure of a job here. Should I be retrenched, my work permit would be terminated along with the employment. This would leave me no choice but to either return to Malaysia or apply for the Tier 1.

So, do I now see £1500 for a sticker or for freedom? Or stupidity? I have already made my point in the title. Now you tell me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


That's what I am today.

It's a working day as usual. I went to the office with two bags of cakes and shared them in the office. It's a tradition here to buy cakes if it's your birthday. It's the other way round in Malaysia.

I am also taking the opportunity to thank almost 18 million of you who have text, sent a card, a present, emailed or left birthday greetings in my Facebook today. Special thanks to my parents, brother, Ann Jet, Irene and Raymond who called or tried calling all the way from Malaysia. It was very nice of you!

In the evening I went to a talk by Priti. She was giving a presentation of her PhD research on slum networking to an audience from the International Development Network. It was an interesting topic. Oh what nerd I am, you must be thinking! Going for a talk on my birthday???

Priti doing her presentation

No, but we went out for dinner afterwards. Joan, Owen, Winson, Priti and I had Chinese in one of the nearby restaurants. We also took the opportunity to celebrate Owen's farewell before he leaves for Sudan on an international mission next week.
Owen demonstrating the right way to use chopsticks in Sudan

Saturday was the greater deal.

That was when I actually celebrated my birthday. There was a twist. I jointly celebrated my birthday with Amy. Amy is another Malaysian whom I met here.

Her birthday passed recently and she was supposed to celebrate her birthday with her friends on the same day. I thought it would be nice to have a joint celebration. Doing this jointly not only eliminated the guilt of not attending her event or her attending mine, but also created a great opportunity for both our friends to know each other.

Have you not heard the song "The more we get together"?

"...cause your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends
The more we get together the happier we'll be."

My friends are your friends

and your friends are my friends

There were 11 of us. We celebrated our birthdays in New Tayyabs which was a cross between a Pakistan and Punjab restaurant. The place was in Whitechapel, East London.

Whitechapel is well known for the murders of Jack the Ripper at the end of the 19th century. What else? Seedy activities like illegal trading and prostitution. It's probably like Chow Kit serving good nasi padang or Pudu, lovely curry fish head but let's not get into that now. The food in New Tayyabs was excellent. It was also highly rated in the reviews.

Since it was lunch, we proceeded to Priti's after Whitechapel. We had a relaxing time there. Not only was she kind enough to lend her place but also served us tea, coffee and snacks. Gina joined us in between.

We hanged out for a couple of hours before we left.

That's my 30th birthday report.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Arctic Blast

We have been experiencing squally weather conditions for the past two days. Winds were blowing from the Arctic into the country bringing lots of snow and down temperatures to below freezing.

I had been curling into foetal position to sleep for the past two nights. The chill penetrated the duvet and I had to wear the thickest wool to sleep. I felt heavy on the bed! It's one of those nights I had to sleep with my socks worn too.

The weather has proven too much for the heater to cope. My room has surrendered to the cold. It used to keep at 23 deg C but fell to 11 when the temperature outside plummeted to -3. Well, I'm sure the heater could have coped hadn't the wind blown the whole night!

I almost dismantled the oven from the kitchen to put in my room!

The three pieces of cotton t-shirts I hung up to dry was freeze-dried the next morning. The frozen air has also cracked my lips. It was bleeding when I checked at the mirror.

The gusty winds have blown away whatever leaves that were struggling to keep hold on the branches. They are now stripped bare and I could even look pass to River Thames.

My appetite has also spiked these two days. The final bastion of hunger was broken down. The last packet of Mi Sedaap that I inherited in May from my parents was finally consumed. I could now imagine how a hedgehog would fatten itself for hibernation.


The Arctic finally decided to lock the country up with snow this morning. The worst hit areas were Scotland and the north of England. London was not spared. We had snow too albeit milder.


Just out of where I live

I was pelted with hail and rain this morning. It was agonising but as soon as this was over, everyone was back out with activities. Just like the rain, nothing can keep London strapped to a chair. Not even an Arctic blast.

London Southbank and the German theme Christmas fair

In TV for 1/10000 of a second

So it's true.

Gina told me yesterday evening that she saw me in the recent 2012 open house video. Well, it was only for 1/10000 of a second!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Alcohol and the Asian Face

The thing about the Asian face is that you can never hide from drinking alcohol.

We do lunch in a group on Fridays. Today we went to a Belgian restaurant to feast on mussels and other seafood. Most of us including me went for the express lunch deal which came with a drink. The choice of drink in the deal was Belgian lager, house wine or soft drinks.

Not a fan of soft drinks, my choice was down to two. I picked the Belgian lager.

You'd have thought if you've lived and intoxicated yourself long enough in a place where alcohol is part of the ubiquitous meal deals and to a level where your body wouldn't respond anymore, just as the colouring of "teh tarik" wouldn't to Malaysians, you couldn't be more wrong and betrayed.

After lunch my red was face.

Colleagues who passed me asked if I'm drunk and that I could still work. I told them I am fine.

I am glad there was a Chinese colleague who had similar facial colour as I. So we pointed out this Asian gene thing and vindicated ourselves from being labeled as alcohol intolerant.

I noticed most of the Asian faces turn red no matter how little alcohol we have!

And had I not spotted a mistake earlier, you'd probably think I am really drunk. Read again the line "After lunch my…."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Doing onto others what we don't want others to do onto us

Right, so Malaysia is thinking of pulling out from issuing the Visa on Arrival (VOA) to some of the nationalities because we feel there is a problem with overstayers.

Recently Malaysia has appealed to the British government to reconsider its decision to impose visa restrictions on us. We think we do not deserve to be treated this way.

So, when we have become a bane to another country, we say, "Hold on, give us some time to sort things out. Everyone deserves a second chance."

Britain was kind enough to give us yet another of the many chances that we have deserved.

When other nationals have become a bane to us, we say, "That's it, we're not letting you in."

I don't know but I feel we're a little two-face. Aren't we doing onto others what we don't want others to do onto us?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Days numbered

So the beast has arrived.

It's staring right in the eyes of an average man on the street. It has taken lives and is hunting for more blood and lives.

Recession has never become more real and nearer than now.

Early 2008 - £1 = RM7
Now - £1= RM 5.36

But that's not what I mean. People I know and friends are now being retrenched and made redundant, construction is shedding 7,000 jobs and more coming under the axe and the government is determined to cut down on infrastructure works that the R-word has now become so real and near.

Friends whom I used to think would never face retrenchment because of their credentials and reputation in the industry have now been made redundant.

Nothing seems to be secured anymore. Everything is so fluid now. There are so much uncertainties.

Like in a horror movie, you can't help but think if your days are numbered too.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pub and a Pint

When I was in Japan, I was told that the office is where most decisions are implemented and the onsen is where they were made.

When skinny dipping with your colleagues would be strangest thing to happen in a country like this, the pub to the British is what the onsen is to the Japanese.

It's a pub culture here and a lot of things can happen in the pub.

One of the pub moments captured by my colleague

I had been with immense pressure to resolve certain work related issues recently. There were many discussions and email exchanges in the past few days.

TGI Friday so we went to the pub for a drink. I brought up some of the unresolved issues with my colleagues. After a pint of lager, I've made progress.

Issues sorted.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Losing my speed

Today marks the beginning when I start training indoors.

The weather has become too cold even at day temperatures and gets dark very early to do my trainings outdoor. I went to the gym this evening and started by going on the treadmill. Then I did weights before swimming 1500m in the heated outdoor pool.

My hands were a little stiff. This is the result of a break from the pool for too long. I hadn't swam since September when the weather got cold.

I felt like I was struggling with the front crawl. It was like Frankenstein trying to do acrobatics!

The time for 1500m used to be circa 29mins. Today it was 30mins 31 secs. A minute doesn't seem a lot, but in a race it could mean dropping behind 20 spots.

Oh no! I'm losing my speed! Do you remember the mushroom Mario Bro eats to get himself running at break-neck speed and bumping those giant mushrooms? I need that.

I think this is the part when Mario Bros eat the funny mushroom to get the hi-speed run.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


I went to Westfield yesterday with Joan, Bettina and Owen.

Westfield is London's answer to Malaysia's Mid Valley MegaMall and Singapore's Suntec City.

But how does Westfield compare with Mid-Valley and Suntec? Here are the statistics:

Floor space:
Mid Valley( including The Gardens) - 8.8mil sq.ft
Suntec City - 0.88mil sq.ft
Wesftfield - 1.6mil sq.ft

So clearly our Mid-Valley can devour the entire Westfield and still feel hungry afterwards because there's space for four more!

But I'm not surprised. Mid-Valley is like the biggest shopping mall beast I've ever come across. There're two hotels, banks, gyms, clinics, a cinema, bowling alley and lots of restaurants housed under one roof!

Westfield is just a shopping mall without these frills.

Even that, Westfield is the largest shopping mall in Europe!

However I can't compare like that because we do not have the equivalent to London's Oxford Street.

If you take Harrods and Selfridges out, the shopping experience in London has always been associated with walking in the high streets rather than in a shopping complex.

Westfield gives me a weird feeling. I feel like I'm walking in a giant's land. The size of the shops' names were extremely oversized!

The size of the shop's name was so huge you can even read this from KL!

Then again when I stepped into Westfield, I was very impressed with the interior. You can see this is the result of architects being able to work with engineers and engineers being able to tolerate architects!

Why? When I looked at the structure, I thought that this is more of an engineering rather than an architectural feat! Curves are difficult to build in engineering. Furthermore, the use of ridiculous amount of glass on the wavy roof makes it unimaginable if the engineer didn't swear while designing it.

The wavy roofs

To be fair, it's quite an environmentally friendly building if this was based entirely on the generous use of glass because this will lead to lower energy consumption than if it was covered up like the Mid Valley.

We've also found some interesting things while walking around. We saw the new Google phone, called as the Android.

Am not sure if this is already in other parts of the world but this could possibly be the new fad drink that will hit the market soon - milkshake with snack bars!

It's really nothing clever in this beverage. Just blend milk, icecream and the snack bar of your choice e.g Mars, Snickers, Kit Kat, Kinder Bueno name it.

Another thing I like about this place is there are plenty of places to sit and relax when you're tired.

Maybe I'll go there again next week.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Bad news come in pairs

As if the recent wound from investment wasn't bad enough, today I received the outcome of my visa application to remain in this country.

Application rejected.

This means I can no longer stay in the UK after the middle of this month. To put it simply, I have to leave this country.

Very well then.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

When UK picks up the M

I feel it is incumbent upon me to finish the story of "When UKM drops its M".

It will only do injustice to the Malaysian education system if I hadn't. Well, not that it will help much at this stage.

I have sent in an academic assessment to the Institution of Civil Engineers UK in July to ascertain if my engineering qualification would meet the education base to be a Chartered Engineer.

I received the following reply two months ago:

"The Panel has confirmed that you have the educational base for the grade of Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and also for registration with the Engineering Council (ECUK ) as a Chartered Engineer...."

When I received this message, I was very happy that I've crossed a hurdle and am not required to do any top up courses. If not this would have meant more time and money.

Well I am still not Chartered yet but at least I'm nearer to becoming one than before.

So, yes, I guess this is as good as saying UK is putting back the M to its place.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Eve of Hallows' Day= Halloween

Halloween in Disneyland (from StartedbyAMouse)

Two questions:
1. What is a Hallows' Day?
2. And why is a Hallows' Day associated with witchcraft and the devil?

First, a Hallows' Day is what modern Christians, especially Roman Catholics call as the All Saints' Day. Today is All Saints' Day and is on the same date every year.

Now if this is a Christian's observance, then why is the eve of All Saints' Day associated with witchcraft and the devil?

I've heard of many explanations. Even though they are mostly incoherent to each other, they are still convincing in their own ways. Here are some of the explanations that I summarised:

1. Halloween is a hijack of the holy Christian celebration. This is obvious enough because it is just one day before the holy day. Today most people know about Halloween and not All Saints' Day even though Halloween was the concomitant of the All Saints' Day.

2. Halloween is a day when the dead revisits the mortal world. People dress up in their scariest form to ward off the evil spirits.

3. Similar to point 2, this is what's been explained in Wikipedia: "Halloween was perceived as the night during which the division between the world of the living and the otherworld was blurred so that spirits of the dead and inhabitants from the underworld were able to walk free on the earth. It was believed necessary to dress as a spirit or otherworldly creature when venturing outdoors to blend in, and this is where dressing in such a manner for Halloween comes from."

This brings me to my next question. Whose belief is it anyway about the "dead revisiting the mortal world" and how did it come about?

I remember this is pretty similar to the 7th month in the lunar calendar called as the Ghost Month, where spirits from the underworld gain access to our world for a month- roaming our streets, taking lives and the "offerings" that we burn for them.

I remember as a kid, I was always reminded by my grandmother not to wander or drive on the streets in this spooky period.

My grandma still does that even though she knows I am Christian.

That said, if Halloween is neither Christian nor Chinese, then what belief does it thrive on?

Some say it's a Scottish folklore, some Irish, some are unsure if this is a traditional celebration or a religious celebration but the truth of the matter is that no one knows.

I can draw parallels of this with Christmas and the Santa Claus. Nowadays, people associate Christmas with Santa Claus rather than the birth of Christ, whose name makes up nearly 70% of the word "Christmas".

At least the Santa Claus story has an underlying positive message that encourages children to be good or they do not get their presents! But I can't say the same for Halloween.

I don't think there is a problem with dressing up costumes of scary characters. It can be fun and entertaining. Some people earn a living doing that too.

Queue in Covent Garden to get a costume

I do think there is a problem when we are dealing with witchcraft and sorcery clearly in the name of preserving a tradition which we have no knowledge of and what all these would lead to.

This is not only a problem. This is dangerous.