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Life in Singapore

How to extend your Employment Pass in Singapore

Previously, up until about a year ago, extending your EP used to entail various trying trips to the Ministry of Manpower building on Havelock. The one overwhelming memory I have of this exercise is the busy cacophony of the place and the mind-numbingly long waiting times. From the queue at reception and the queue number dispensers to the seemingly endless waiting before your number is flashed to submit your documents.

All paperwork submitted, the card was then produced, which in most cases would take about a few hours. This was the good news, i.e. generally, you were able to drop by the MOM building again that same day in order to pick up and pay for your new EP card. The bad news was that this would mean queuing up all over again.

Then the MOM went high-tech.

Nowadays, extending your EP is a much less painful process. Of course you still need to await your extension application letter that MOM sends you. This, amongst other things, determines which medical test - if any - you need to undergo. Once the medical procedures are done, you log onto the MOM website on www.mom.gov.sg and register for an EP Online Account. This account is usually processed within a single day.

Using this account, you can apply online for an e-Appointment at the Employment Pass Services Centre with the MOM EP Registration Department, located at The Riverwalk.

At the Employment Pass Services Centre, you'll get your thumb and passport picture scanned so both can be incorporated onto your new EP card. By the way, at this point you'll be amazed at the low-volume buzz of the goings-on and the lack of the droves of people waiting for their turn, as was the case at the MOM building previously. In addition, there are assistants available at every turn, who will swoop in and offer assistance the moment you look like you're not sure where to go next - excellent. (By the way, if you didn't bring your passport pictures, you can have them taken in the next room. Cost: S$6,- Your passport and filled out EP extension letter obviously are required to complete the in-take.)

Once all the in-take proceedings have been followed through, you're directed to the payment counter, where you can pay cash or by NETS.

Generally, your new EP will be ready for collection a week later. However, this time you won't need to wait longer than several minutes for your turn. Note: Make sure you bring your EP form, your passport and your old EP card.

Kudos to the Singapore MOM for streamlining the entire EP renewal process whilst keeping cost to a mere S$35,-

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One expat's experience with Singapore's Healthcare

During my stay in Singapore, the subject of healthcare comes up quite frequently. That's not a big surprise; having little or no experience as a patient abroad, most expats have a certain amount of apprehension regarding admission to and treatment in a hospital that's not in the country in which they were born or spent most of their lives.

It seems there are two camps when it comes to healthcare in Singapore. Some people claim that private healthcare is the way to go. Others say there's no real difference in actual care received in private hospitals as compared to public hospitals. They believe that healthcare in Singapore is at a very high level regardless of whether you're a private or a public hospital patient.

I haven't got enough experience with the medical care profession in Singapore to claim either of these two options is the better one. But I do know that the generally higher cost of private care does not necessarily equate to shorter waiting times.

Apart from this, I have one personal experience as a recipient of medical care that may be particularly worthwhile to note. Two years ago, I'd caught a flu that didn't go through its usual phases, i.e. where the symptoms peak after a day or so and then abate over the period of another few days. Instead, my sore throat, headache and fever never reached any sort of intensity. Rather, I just felt generally malaised, and this didn't really improve over a 7 day period. I decided that this flu bug was particularly persistent, and that I needed some medication to jump-start my immune system.

Within minutes of my doctor's appointment, however, I'd been diagnosed with suspected pneumonia. Naturally I was shocked beyond belief; I'd never had pneumonia before and like most people, was under the impression that it occurs primarily amongst the poverty-stricken, the very young or the elderly. That's not the case, apparently anyone can get pneumonia. The objective however, is to get rid of the pathogen as soon as possible because it can do irreparable damage to the affected lung if left unchecked.

My doctor informed me not to worry too much though, that pneumonia is easily cured with antibiotics. And with that, he put me on a cab to the nearest hospital. He did ask me beforehand if I objected that it happened to be a public hospital, but suffice to say that at this point I wasn't going to object to any of his suggestions, let alone one I didn't fully grasp.

At the entrance of the hospital I was greeted by two nurses. One took my temperature (by ear) and ascertained that I had a fever. Literally simultaneously, the other nurse took down my personal details and handed me a face mask to wear. Barely a few minutes later, I was in the waiting room, the quarantine section, awaiting my call to see a specialist.

That call came within 20 minutes. I was examined and sent to the X-ray department, where I waited for about 10 minutes before my X-ray was taken. Within half an hour, my doctor's diagnosis had been proved correct.

Fortunately, the infection wasn't severe enough to warrant a stay in the hospital, but I did need to take a week's worth of antibiotics. For good measure, the specialist included some panadol, cough syrup and sore throat lozenges.

Total cost of this exercise, including the medication, was S$75,- A week later I was fine.

My experience may not be proof of anything perse. And I'm not sure how this system works, apart from the fact that the entire procedure was obviously subsidized. But I do know that I was (and still am) quite impressed by the short waiting times and the efficiency and professionalism of both the medical and administration staff of this public hospital.

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Tanjung Resang

Tanjung Resang on CNN

I visited an area in Malaysia recently called Tanjung Resang. I was so impressed by the sheer beauty and awe-inspiring tranquillity of the place that I wrote an article on it. Apparently, CNN liked the article, because they published it in their iReports section. You can read the article here.

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Escaping the Singapore Squeeze

One of the most oft-heard gripes by expats in Singapore, especially amongst those who recently returned after a few years' stint elsewhere, is about how quickly the country appears to have become over-crowded. While it's certainly true that the sheer number of people has increased to quite a considerable degree, the process has been quite gradual to us who lived here the past few years.

Still, that said, you do notice the squeeze when you take a moment to reflect. For instance, simple day-to-day acts like crossing the road, even certain roads in the heartlands, can take quite a bit of patience, because the flow of cars can at times seem endless. Elevators seem fuller than they used to be. And the same applies to buses and MRT trains. Even taxis are harder to find nowadays.

Renting in Singapore Is there a way to escape the crowds? Is there any real nature left in Singapore? Fortunately, there is. Believe it or not, there still are plenty of areas within Singapore that are sparsely populated and quiet, even tranquil.

It may take you a while to get there, but if you're yearning to recharge your peace and quiet batteries, then try the Bedok Reservoir or the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The silence will be deafening, just the way you like it.

If you're keen on the sea, spend a few hours at Mana Mana. Mana Mana is a great way to leave the noise and buzz of the city behind to catch up on fresh sea air and perhaps get a bit of exercise on the stand up paddleboards or in the sailing vessels or windsurf boards that the club has for rent. And what better way to relax from a few hours of fun in the sun than by knocking back a few cold ones in the ManaMana lounge while watching the sun set?

Alternatively, take a stroll along Changi's Boardwalk. You'll be ready to take on Singapore's hustle and bustle again before you know it.

You can also join the Mega Marine Survey Group, a collection of volunteers that organize field surveys in areas in Singapore that are well off the beaten track. They'll take you to mudflats and mangroves that you never knew even existed anymore in Singapore. Quite an eye-opener and good for an interesting afternoon.

If you have a few days to spare and you feel a craving coming up for a hefty dose of nature's serenity, or just need some serious time away from the ever-present throngs in Singapore, then let's not forget that Malaysia's many attractions are only a short hop across Woodlands away.

Malaysia's most southern state, Johor, boasts seemingly endless landscapes and seascapes that will simply take your breath away. Best of all, there are plenty of locations to take your kids to enjoy your favorite beach activity or some outdoors fun.

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Try visiting Johor Bahru's East Coast for example. The areas north and south of Mersing will definitely have you coming back for more. Desaru, Air Papan, Tanjung Resang are all stunning capes with lots of wilderness and plenty of opportunities for good old-fashioned fun in the sun.

Of these three capes, Tanjung Resang deserves a special mention. We recently stumbled upon this area and it has really got us hooked. Although it's just a few hours' drive out of Singapore, its fairly out the way and mostly under-reported in the media, so the majority of the people, even Malaysians, haven't even heard of it. Those that have, invariably are repeat-visitors.

One aspect of Tanjung Resang that you'll simply love, is the various types of terrain, from dense, virtually untouched jungle, to pristine wide open beaches and rugged rocky patches. There are even a few rolling hills, Gunung Arong being one of them, which at almost 300 meters is a rigorous but enjoyable hike.

Nature lovers will enjoy Tanjung Resang for its many off-road opportunities, its exotic flora and fauna. In fact, snakes, otters, monkeys, wild boars, flying foxes, monitor lizards, eagles and even porcupine, all are regulars in this neck of the woods.

In spite of its remoteness, Tanjung Resang boasts a few rather quaint chalet resorts, most of them facing the sea, that are doing quite well. Rates vary from 100 RM to 200 RM (about S$40 to S$85). All rooms here are air-conditioned. Try the food too, because dishes here are divine.

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If you're into beach, sea or outdoors activities, there's an outfit called Malaysia Sea Sports that offers a whole range of fun things to do. Whether it's sailing, kite-surfing, windsurfing, stand up paddling, or just fishing, snorkeling or jungle-trekking, they can set you up. In fact, they don't only provide the gear but organize lessons too.

Alternatively, you can take a ferry ride to sunny Tioman, a breathtaking emerald little isle just off the east Coast of Malaysia, that's renown amongst Singaporeans, and expats alike, as the de facto bounty beach paradise to simply get away from it all for a weekend. Possible activities here range from lounging on one of the countless powdered sugar beaches to scuba diving or snorkeling in Tioman's turquoise, coral-peppered waters, to hiking and even jungle-trekking.

So, if one day if the crowds in Singapore all seem a little bit too much to bear and you're just aching to smell some fresh air, see the horizon, ply the friendly waters in a sailboat, or just want to soak up the true outdoors atmosphere from your hammock, rest assured that there are plenty of choices on both sides of Singapore's borders that will have you fresh as a daisy again before you know it.

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