The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Great Singaporean Expat Exodus

If you know a lot of expats based in Singapore, you would also have noted something else: a lot of them are leaving.

Over the years, my wife and I have come to know many people in Singapore's expat community. We are fortunate to have built up friendships with people from all over the world. However, my wife now seems to have a most regular and discomfiting duty to pay attention to: saying goodbye to our friends - for many of them are leaving.

There was always a low level of turnover among the expats, in that some would come to the end of their terms here, and move on. In recent months, however, there seems to be a great upsurge in departures. Companies are simply deciding that they no longer need, or can no longer afford operations in Singapore and are relocating - or firing - their staff. Hence, the expat exodus, with so many leaving the country, often unwillingly (since they have come to like it, for various reasons.)

Another common situation, these days is the company expense cutting ultimatum. It goes a little bit like this: either you accept a local salary package (in contrast to the expat package they are presently on), or you have to go somewhere else (relocate to a different country of operation), or leave the company. The problem with this kind of ultimatum is that they can't afford the international schools for their children and the rent on their homes, on a local package. It is equivalent to telling them, directly, that they must leave Singapore - because the alternative is not workable, for them. Thus, they generally up and leave.

What is usual with these departing expats is that they are highly skilled. Companies are getting rid of good people, because these good people are well paid, to cut their operating costs in difficult times. It seems to me, however, that they are weakening themselves in so doing. The skills of these staff are not being replaced.

Singapore is now the tenth most expensive city on Earth to live in. This information, combined with the upsurge in expat departures amongst our social circle, makes me wonder if Singapore is making itself too expensive to be internationally competitive. If companies can do business just as readily, elsewhere, for less, then they will relocate operations. Singapore will lose jobs and revenues if this happens. It seems on the evidence of what we see among those we know, that this is already happening. Even if companies don't completely pull out of Singapore, they do seem to be downsizing operations. That is, of course, just a first step to giving up operations altogether.

Were Singapore not the tenth most expensive place to live in the world - were it, for instance, the fiftieth or one hundredth most expensive place to live - then I don't think any of this downsizing and relocation would be occurring. (For comparison's sake, London is presently the 27th most expensive city in the world to live in. Singapore is considerably more expensive, now, than London.)

Personally, I don't think becoming one of the most expensive places to live in the world, is a sign of success. To me, it is a sign that something is going wrong. Many companies seem to think so, they are relocating their staff.

As long as Singapore remains expensive to live in and expensive to do business, this expat exodus will continue. I wonder how long it will be, before the powers-that-be, notice that their economy is weakening, as a result of this talent flight? The big question, for me, is whether they will do anything about it. Or even, whether there is anything they can do about it. We will see. In the meantime, my wife and I have more goodbyes to attend to.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:12 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Singapore more expensive than London?
Are you really Irish?


10:39 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, No Name, Singapore is now officially more expensive to live in, than London. You really haven't been following the news have you? There was a report a month or two back on the annual international cost of living survey for the economist, which placed London at 27th position - and Singapore at 10th position. The reason for this is partly the decline of the pound...but also the sheer rise of the cost of living in Singapore.

Perhaps you should check things out first, before concluding that I have got my facts wrong.

Yes, I am Irish. I don't know what you mean to suggest by asking the question, in the way that you do. Perhaps you could explain?

11:40 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

For those who doubt, like No Name, the link above is to a chart showing Singapore in 10th place. London is not listed. It, however, placed at 27th on the more complete chart I saw elsewhere.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much is a big mac in London Vs Singapore?

The average rental of a i.e. 1000 sq ft apartment?

A pint of beer?

a plate of fried rice?

cab fare?

Even with the collapse in the british pound ...

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Localboy said...

Possibly the reason why we are so expensive is simply because SO MANY expats on their fat salaries have been coming here that THEY themselves have driven up the cost of living to ridiculous levels (I consider being more expensive than London a ridiculous level). Businesses have started chasing the expat dollar in all areas, from rentals to dining.

While I am sorry that you have lost friends, perhaps with them leaving, the cost of living will actually come down making life more bearable for the locals, somewhat of a reestablishment of the equilibrium.

As for the point that "precious talent" is being lost, I doubt that argument really holds any water. Talent has a tendency to float where the best opportunities are (in terms of work and pay). It's been my experience that a fair number of expats here are are not anymore competent than their local counterparts and perhaps that realization is taking hold too.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Localboy said...

Also, NoName did not conclude that you had gotten your facts wrong. He merely posed 2 questions, and the last time I checked, questions hardly count as conclusions. So...perhaps "you should check things out first before concluding that [NoName] got" anything wrong.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Localboy said...

Sorry, another comment from me again. I notice that you have a "Donate" button on your blog. Who or what are you soliciting donations for?

The education of your "prodigy" children? To upkeep the "expat" lifestyle that you have grown accustomed to and perhaps see slipping away in the present economic downturn?

For all that you have said on your blog thus far, I find it rather dodgy that you are appealing for donations without so much as telling the public what such funds will be used for.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am sure that the Economist magazine has done a fair and wide ranging comparison of costs of living: they do this survey every year. It is their research which shows Singapore to be more expensive to live in, than London. Ask the Economist.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. competence of seems that you know the wrong expats. Some of the expats I know are among the brightest people I have ever met.

The cost of living in Singapore is being driven up by many causes. I doubt that the expats are doing the driving, though they might be contributing at the upper end for property rentals etc.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You clearly have not understood what No Name was implying by his question. To ask what he did in the way that he did is also highly rude. He is suggesting that because I am Irish, I am also seriously wrong. (It was an old form of RACISM to call the Irish names with regards to their thinking style). Thus, No Name is actually being racist, in the way he has expressed himself. He is playing an old game.

Furthermore, it is clear that he doubts that Singapore is more expensive than he IS wrong. Perhaps you should consider the meaning of the words, first...

7:33 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Localboy, you are coming across as rather paranoid. Now, either that is a failure of communication style, or you are in fact paranoid.

The donate button is on my blog precisely because when I started this blog, I noticed, on the internet, that MANY other blogs had donate buttons. I thought it was the thing to do.

You are wrong to use inverted commas around the word prodigy...with all its implications. My son is what he is, your views not withstanding.

That donate button by the way, has been there since the first week of this blog. It is not a response to the economic downturn.

There is nothing "dodgy" about it. However, your paranoia about it sounds pretty dodgy to me. Why should you think there are dark motives to simple things that many bloggers and site owners do? Note that the donate button is supplied by Pay Pal one of the biggest financial organizations on the net. There are tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of these buttons ALL OVER the internet...are they all dodgy too?

I find myself quietly amazed.

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good "talented" people leaving? I say good riddance! If you are indeed talented you can make it anywhere.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Good riddance

It is well known that many people in Singapore resent the foreigners you would seem to typify.

However, if all the foreigners disappeared overnight, Singapore would fall crashing to the ground. I have seen the kinds of jobs these people are doing...they are doing jobs which Singaporeans are not well suited to (by education). The system would not survive without the foreigners...resented or not.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Valentine,

"I have seen the kinds of jobs these people are doing...they are doing jobs which Singaporeans are not well suited to (by education). The system would not survive without the foreigners...resented or not."

I would be interested to hear what jobs these exactly are which you think Singaporeans are incapable of doing.


11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Despite all this, I am still searching for Jobs in SG. I have signed up to a jobs website and hope for the best.

I don't have high educational degrees, but learn quickly in an expanding IT market. My ability to learn hopefully will encourage an employer to take me on.

I will of course need a Work Permit, accomodation, so will see what happens.

I am doing IT Microsoft Office course and have one Basic Microsoft IT course under my belt too :)

If you want I can send you my CV :)

12:09 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I do not wish to offend, so I am not going to discuss the issue at length. This general observation has been relayed to me by many CEOs and other senior staff of foreign companies here. The general idea is that most Singaporeans do not do well when the jobs require creative autonomy... The general finding is that these jobs are best given to people who were brought up in a different way.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


IT is good...there is quite a lot of demand for that kind of skill, in Singapore. However, you should note that they REALLY love their qualifications here. So, I would pick up as many good pieces of IT related qualifications as you can get.

I have posted your comment in case anyone who reads it has any helpful advice to you on relocating to Singapore (which Riverman wants to do).

Best wishes

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Onlooker said...

Actually I'm quite aware of this Exodus.
Singapore is now officially more expensive than London with regard to the Accommodation and Basic Necessity.

This exodus is coming when we need actual people who can provide actual value and investment opportunity to our economy.

The more capable Chinese,Indian and Foreign Talents(those that reall count) are leaving and we are getting more cheap labour who have dubious qualifications coming in.

This is a worrying trend.

But There is nothing the people on the ground can do because this is cause by ill conceived Policies that are not challenged.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Onlooker, I am glad someone understands the situation. Indeed, it is not good for Singapore...Singapore's strength is built on the diversity of talents of different nations and backgrounds resident here. Once that diversity begins to shrink, so does Singapore diminish...

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Jan said...

My family has been in Singapore for upwards 12 years now, I'm 19 which means I've been here since I was 7, a good majority of it as an expat's son(I've only recently got a PR status).

I've seen how Singapore has gone from welcoming and accomodating to to an unfriendly, sometimes hostile attitude towards expats; and I wonder why.

I feel that they are putting the blame for the increasing rising cost of living and competitiveness on us most of the time, without realising that this implication are upon us as well and aren't exclusive for them.

Pay is on the decline(granted, not just for us), rent is on the rise(gone are the days when we could rent condos or excecutive flats for less than 2k), and even the education system has been unkind to non-Singaporean kids(I studied here in the past at a rate only slightly higher than what a Singaporean child pays, my brother now studies at rates that could send him to top-tier schools in most neighbouring countries, on top of a compulsory government "donation" that needs to be made that amounts to no less than 1k).

Yes, circumstances are driving us away. The question is, how much are locally-fuelled circumstances that have risen from contempt on the local's side? Has it gone to the point where the government is adopting policies that would chase foreign talent away? It sure seems like it.

Locals should realise that Singapore is and has been positioning itself to be a global city, and every global city needs the expertise of foreign talent to survive, especially in the higher-ended jobs. I agree with the writer when he says that Singaporeans aren't being educated in the way that would enable them to think the way a foreigner would; with the constraints of a 'colour within the lines' mindset. Of course my statement sweeps, yes there are exceptions, but that is generally the case (I've been a student here for almost all my life -I should know).

What locals fail to understand is that we expats choose to stay here more than just the money, but because it's what we've grown to know as home. There are so many cheaper living alternatives out there that potentially pay more, but we choose to stay here simply because we have, against all its shortcomings and hostility, grown to love it (locals who resent us included).

1:24 PM  

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