Sunday, January 25, 2015

Haw Par Villa

When I was a small boy, Singapore to me was synonymous with my eldest brother Seng and Har Par Villa. Seng headed for Singapore after his junior high school. He was my hero then. There would always be goodies each time he returned home. Holidays meant spending a few days with him at his flat in Singapore.

Without fail he would take me to visit Har Par Villa each time I went to Singapore. It was in Har Par Villa that I learned the ‘ultimate price’ one had to pay if he did bad things in life. There was Heaven and there was Hell; we mortals were in between. Bad fellow would be sent to Hell for punishment and good fellows, a ride on the cloud to Heaven.

There were many levels of punishment in hell. If you told lies, your tongue would be cut off; if you did something evil, you got boiled in oil or your heart got dug off, so on and so forth. And of course, you could expect to be rewarded richly – the next life, of course – if you were filial, honest, charitable, righteous, etc.

I still remember I used to have nightmares each time I lied. I don’t believe in any of this stuff now, but the Dos and the Don’ts that I now practise actually began to take roots in me during these formative years of mine.

So when I saw the divine laws that were being zealously advocated by some quarters, I couldn’t help recalling the images I saw in Haw Par Villa. Transgressors of these laws would have to face the consequences in their next life, don’t they? So why are we bent on applying these laws to mortals now? Isn’t losing an arm or a hand or, for that matter, any body part in this life tantamount to – in my rudimentary understanding of fundamental justice and fairness – “double jeopardy”, since you have to be punished another time when you go to the next world? Shouldn’t we be judged by secular laws when we are alive and leave to the Higher Being up there to mete out divine punishments – if you have committed a divine sin?

But as AKK once said to me, “your brain is too small.”

Jumping Ship

Those who have visited Australia would know that the country is very sticky on “border protection” even if you are not coming in by people smugglers’ boats. There is a programme on one of the TV channels about people failing to declare food and trying to come in to work. And embarrassing really, most of those caught have been Asians, and of East and South-east Asian backgrounds. The excuses they gave were so pathetic; I suppose few would be inclined to sympathise these “victims”. Maybe that’s the intention?

So a couple of weeks ago when a mechanic acquaintance asked if some of his folk could come with me when I returned to Melbourne, my instinct was that they were going to ‘jump ships’. I cautioned him that it was illegal for one to use a tourist visa to enter Australia to seek work. He said his folk – a couple and a younger brother of one of them – were being sponsored, and the fee was something like MYR4K per person. He brought the three of them to see me a few days later. They were decent enough, but only the wife could speak some English. I knew what they were up to. I cautioned them of the price they might to pay if they were refused entry.

It is virtually impossible to obtain permanent resident status in Australia nowadays – unless you have skills that fall under the country’s desired category, or you have money to qualify as a business immigrant, even then, I understand you have to prove that they money you intend to bring in is “clean”. As for the others, Australia still welcomes you – but only as a tourist for three months. If you don’t have return tickets and demonstrate that you have sufficient money to spend, sorry folks, you might be refused entry and barred from entering Australia for many years!

I nevertheless gave them my contact number just in case they ran into difficulty.

I was having lunch at a restaurant in Box Hill when my telephone rang.

“Are you expecting visitors from Malaysia?” asked the lady who had identified herself as a border protection officer at Tullamarine.

True enough, they were unable to convince the officer of their bona fides. I did say they got acquainted with me recently and had expressed their desire to visit the vineyard that I am now involved in.

At about midnight that day, my mechanic acquaintance called all the way from Kuala Lumpur: “Alvin and his party had been detained and would be deported tomorrow. Can you help?” I was firm in saying no. They knew the score.

I later came to know that these three had actually overstayed for three solid years in Australia. They were trying to re-enter to join their employer!

It is not right for me to give my value judgement on their plights, suffice to say that everyone has his or her own reasons to take risks. In the Chinatowns and Asian-dominated suburbs of Australia, anyone can see that probably 90% of the people providing working in restaurants and service industries could not have entered Australia if they had not declared their intention under false pretext. But these people are not parasites of society. They earn their keep, as compared to many other immigrants who are there to enjoy the “dole”. Few businesses in Chinatowns and Asian-dominated suburbs can survive if they employers have to pay Aussie work place rates, which is about A$17 an hour, not to mention the double and triple rates during holidays and what-have-you. These people actually help make Australia affordable in many places.
But policy is policy!