How We Chose Our Daughter’s Pre-School

In Singapore, there are countless pre-schools the search for “the one” is daunting. I  visited over 20 before deciding. So I thought I’d write it to help  parents make this journey easier  🙂

Determine the kind of education you want for your kids

Our criteria:

  1. Play-based / inquiry-based curriculum
  2. Bilingual immersion in English and Chinese
  3. Daily physical (preferably outdoor) activity
  4. A music/movement program that is taken seriously
  5. No homework

With just five criteria, we managed to disqualify MOST schools within 5 kilometers from home. Many schools don’t offer daily physical activity and don’t have a qualified music teacher. There was one school where the teacher was singing off key and, in another, they had musical toys that were not chromatic. Many do not have bilingual immersion. We also disqualified every school in a shopping mall.

Determine how much you’re willing to spend

There was one school I was interested in but costs over $2,000 a month. We skipped it even though we heard many good things about it.

Check school reviews

Check online reviews, but be discerning. My daughter’s school gets consistently poor review by parents who think the school is not “academic” enough and wastes too much time on physical activities and music/movement. The poor reviews are actually my reasons for wanting to check it out!

But there are poor reviews that are off-putting. I crossed out a school for consistent review of “no clear curriculum, teachers not communicating with the parents, lack of discipline”. These are general bad things you want to stay away from.

Then it’s down to the visit

Once you have budget + criteria, your final choice would be dependent on what you see during the visit. Some important notes:

1. Bring your child. There was one school I had high hopes for – the curriculum was play-based, lots of physical activities, teachers very animated … but my child hated the classrooms. They  were tiny with full floor-to-ceiling walls and no natural light … even I felt claustrophobic.

In another, the school was located on such uneven terrain there were so many outdoor stairs to get in and out of the school. I just thought it was safety hazard.

2. Ask what sets them apart from other schools. Some school administrators / teachers have absolutely no idea what makes their school distinct. I cross these schools out immediately for lack of direction / focus.

There was one school that I loved (but beyond our budget) where they have a “library cart” that visits each classroom and every child gets to bring home 1 fiction + 1 non fiction book every week for their parents to read. I like their focus on literature 🙂

There was another school I really like that looks like Little House on The Prairie: huge playground on grass field, fishing pond, tree house, rabbits and chickens, big breezy classrooms that don’t require aircon. If this school is within 5kms from home, I probably would have sent my daughter there.

3. Ask them what they do to prepare kids for P1. This question doesn’t quite apply to me because I just want my child to love learning and develop confidence. But to many of you, the answer to this question could be important.

There was one school that prepares the kids for P1 by introducing a classroom concept (desk + chair for each child) at K1 and K2. There was another that starts introducing worksheet at K1/K2.

I intentionally don’t name these schools because what I find “unfit” for us doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. You can comment if you want to know which schools these are 😀 but hopefully the steps help you out!

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My Take on Raising Multilingual Kids

I grew up trilingual: Indonesian, English and the Javanese dialect. I later spent two years learning Japanese at school (and forgot them all), two years of Mandarin (and forgot most of it other than very basic conversation), and two years of Spanish (which I still speak today).

Now I have a two year-old daughter exposed to three languages at home. So I get a lot of questions on how to raise a multilingual kid. Here’s a list of things that work in my situation:

1. Immersion

The four languages I still use are the products of immersion, not in-class learning. My parents never missed an opportunity to host an exchange student from overseas or entertain a foreign guest. Then they would occasionally leave me to entertain the guest. Ha! ☺

The result: I was already holding up hour-long conversations with English native speakers when my friends were learning “How are you?” in Grade 4.

And while I learned Spanish in a classroom as an adult, I spent a month living in Paraguay after one year of learning and I have friends in Latin America whom I continue to stay in touch with. They use me to learn English, I use them to practice Spanish.

2. Songs

Most people are not lyrical listener of songs, meaning they don’t pay much attention to the full lyrics. I do. Growing up in the 90s, I listened to songs while reading the lyrics until I could sing them by memory. I memorized all NKOTB’s songs to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. Yes, including the rap bit.

I learned a number of bad words along the way, but most importantly I learned how to use words in various context, how words become sentences, sentences become stanzas, and how beautiful it is when sentences rhyme. Through songs, I also learned that Roxette’s lyrics are really poor English.

3. Bed-Time Stories

My mom read me stories since I was little. When she got bored reading the same books over and over, she made up her own stories or told me something about the family. My mom, an English lecturer, passed on her passion for language and literature to me. She never “taught” me to read, but nevertheless I could read at age 5, even before my friends started learning “ini ibu budi”.

4. Story-Telling

My mom and dad were really good about giving me opportunities to tell a story. Their questions were mostly open ended, like, “Why do you think that’s an elephant and not a tiger?” And I would blurt out sentences like because the “nose” is long, it’s grey, it’s huge, and the ears are floppy.

As I grew older, their questions would be more like, “What do you think?”

To them, language skills are never just about vocabs and memorization of greetings. It’s about being able to use it to communicate.

In addition, I should say that my dad only learned English in his late forties and he had no chance of passing an English exam. But he could deliver formal presentations and engage in day-long discussions on serious matters in English. If I’m an employer, I’d hire my dad over someone who gets A in English exams but is a terrible communicator.

5. Less is More

When I was a child, there was only one TV channel. So my dad recorded, like, 10 half-hour cartoons and I watched them over and over and over again. Eventually I remembered the dialogue line by line, and unconsciously learned sentence structures as well as proper (and improper) responses to questions.

There are so many content and materials these days, it’s really tempting NOT to stick to one set of materials or methodology. My advice: continue to use one set of materials that appeals to your child until he/she masters them before moving on.

6. Internal Motivation

I flunked Japanese real bad and managed to learn nothing in two years simply because I HAD to learn it as part of high school graduation requirement. I had no desire of learning it.

On the other hand, I really wanted to speak Spanish and I was conversational within a year even though I only spent two hours a week in a classroom. The rest was me happily and willingly doing my own practice, from listening to Gloria Estefan to chatting to Spanish-speaking friends.

In summary, what I could say to other parents is that my parents never forced language on me. They simply made sure we grew up in a home where good books are aplenty and the use of multiple languages is the norm. The love of linguistics and literature came later, unforced. And they never used flash cards!!!

This is how I plan to use my one vote for Pemilu Legislatif 2014 :-)

Lima tahun lalu saya golput karena malas daftar Pemilu di kedutaan Indonesia. Tapi tahun 2014 berbeda – KBRI Singapura secara otomatis mendaftarkan tiap orang di database mereka untuk ikut Pemilu. Saya juga bisa memilih via pos. Jadi saya nggak ada alasan untuk nggak milih lagi 🙂

ImageSo I plan to use my voting right. But I only have one vote, and this is how I plan to use it:

  1. Background check para calon (legislatif maupun eksekutif) di daerah pemilihan (Dapil) saya. Dari kedua belas partai. Yep!
  2. Saya tidak mau nyoblos partai. Saya tidak percaya satupun dari kedua belas partai di tingkat nasional. Di tiap partai, so far, saya lihat ada caleg yang crooked dan credible. Hanya menyoblos gambar partai berarti menyerahkan hak suara anda kepada partai tersebut untuk menempatkan “anak emas partai” di kursi DPR / DPRD.
  3. Saya akan menyoblos individu yang loyal pada prinsip dan misinya, bukan yang loyal pada partainya. Darimana kita bisa tahu hal ini? Tidak terlalu sulit. Orang yang setia pada “panggilannya” biasanya punya track record yang konsisten dalam memerjuangkan hal tertentu, tidak peduli jabatan atau partainya.  Dalam beberapa kasus, orang-orang seperti ini mungkin pernah berpindah-pindah partai, atau lebih dikenal sebagai non partisan, karena mereka ingin bernaung di partai yang mengakomodasi misi mereka. Kalau partainya tidak lagi mendukung misi dan prinsipnya, mereka bisa saja cabut.
  4. Saya akan nyoblos nama yang menurut saya punya kans untuk menang. Walaupun saya tergoda untuk coba-coba gambling dengan nyoblos kandidat yang fresh, muda dan belum diracuni sistem politik kita yang acakadut ini, saya realis – kalau mereka tidak dapat kursi, vote saya “terbuang” percuma atau dialihkan oleh petinggi-petinggi partai untuk memasukkan jagoan mereka, yang hampir pasti adalah “loyalis partai” (see point #2 dan #3).
  5. Tentunya saya ingin kandidat yang bersih dari KKN, berpendidikan, punya visi yang jelas, komunikator yang handal, bisa dibanggakan di level nasional/internasional, tapi tetap hands-on dan merakyat. I know, I know … needle in a haystack, dan sangat susah cari tahunya 🙂 but that’s why I start researching now!

Kalau ada yang mau ngasi bocoran tentang sepak terjang Caleg u/ Dapil Luar Negeri (DKI Jakarta II / Jakarta Pusat dan Selatan), monggo komen di sini! 🙂

Terapi Kehamilan dan Fertilitas di Singapura

Karena banyak yang nanya soal dokter kandungan dan assisted fertility di Singapur, akhirnya saya memutuskan u/ share pengalaman saya inseminasi supaya semua komen tentang fertility difokuskan di sini aja, jangan dijadikan satu dengan komen2 tentang Mt. E 🙂

Saya skrg hamil 6 bulan setelah 4 tahun lebih menikah. Saya dan suami mulai cek ke dokter setelah 3 tahun mencoba hamil normal. Berikut tes-tes yang dokter kandungan (dokter pertama kami: Prof. Yong Eu Leong, NUH, ahli bayi tabung) berikan pada kami:

1. Tes darah dan hormon suami / istri. Dari tes ini, ketauan kalau progesteron saya rendah, jadi badan saya tidak merespon ovulasi dengan baik.

2. Tes andrologi / kondisi sperma suami.

3. USG u/ istri – untuk melihat apakah ada massa atau kista di dalam rahim yang bisa menyebabkan embrio sulit bertumbuh.

4. Pap smear dan swab test – sebenernya cek rutin aja, tapi sekalian dilihat apakah ada infeksi di vagina yang bisa mematikan sperma, dan apakah ada tanda2 abnormalitas di cervix.

5. HSG – tes ini u/ melihat kondisi falopian tube atau saluran indung telur. Cairan berwarna dimasukkan ke dalam rahim, lalu kita disuruh gerak2 supaya cairannya menyebar, lalu dilihat apakah cairan itu nembus sampai ke indung telur kiri-kanan. Bila saluran indung telur tersumbat, akan diusulkan untuk laparaskopi untuk membuka sumbatannya, atau langsung menjalankan proses IVF. HSG saya normal.

Semua tes di atas seingat saya biayanya nggak lebih dari S$1000 di NUH.

Tahap pertama: Pil hormon

Dari semua tes itu, kondisi kami berdua dianggap sehat dan karenanya saya hanya perlu menormalkan level progesteron. Saya disuruh minum Serophene / Clomid selama 5 hari setiap bulannya, lalu disuruh nyatet BBT (suhu badan basal, yaitu suhu badan ketika pertama kali melek pagi hari, sebelum bangun dari tempat tidur. Harus menggunakan termometer BBT khusus) tiap hari, dan ngecek ovulasi via urine test di rumah mulai hari ke-11.

Pil hormon berhasil membuat saya ovulasi normal, tapi jadwal business trip suami saya membuat kami sulit ngepasin jadwal, karenanya setelah 8 bulan mencoba pil hormon dan nggak hamil, kami mulai berpikir u/ inseminasi saja. Kami di-refer ke dr. Stephen Chew, spesialis IUI di NUH.

Tahap Kedua: Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI)

IUI adalah prosedur inseminasi paling sederhana yang hanya bisa dilakukan bila saluran indung telur tidak tersumbat, produksi sel telur dan sperma normal, dsb. Biasanya IUI dilakukan bagi mereka yang mengalami “unexplained infertility” – tidak ada masalah medis tapi nggak hamil-hamil, seperti saya. Prosesnya demikian:

– Saya melanjutkan minum Serophene (bisa juga diresepkan Femara) 5 hari per bulan

– Di hari ke-11 kalender mens saya, saya datang ke dokter u/ USG, dilihat apakah ukuran follicle dalam rahim saya sudah “mencapai target”. Kalau belum, saya disuruh datang besoknya (karena IUI bergantung pada jadwal ovulasi normal) sampai ukuran follicle mencapai target di USG. Setelah mencapai target, saya akan disuntik egg-releasing hormone 1x, lalu harus kembali u/ prosedur IUI dalam waktu antara (CMIIW) 18-24 jam setelah disuntik.

Jadi, misalnya, katakanlah saya disuntik jam 4 sore hari Kamis, saya sudah harus di-IUI  antara jam 10 pagi sampai 4 sore hari Jumat karena suntikan itu akan membuat saya ovulasi dalam 18-24 jam, timing nggak boleh meleset 🙂

Kembali ke contoh diatas, anggaplah kemudian saya dijadwal u/ IUI jam 12 siang di hari Jumat (20 jam sesudah disuntik). Suami saya akan dijadwalkan datang 2 jam sebelumnya (jam 10 pagi) u/ nyumbang sperma, lalu spermanya langsung di-wash, dan ketika saya datang jam 12 siang, sperma itu langsung dimasukkan ke rahim saya via kateter. Prosedur ini makan waktu hanya 5 menit, tidak sakit dan tidak pakai anestesi. Setelah itu saya pulang terserah mau ngapain – nggak perlu bed rest, nggak perlu diet, nggak perlu tiduran karena takut spermanya keluar lagi 🙂

Kalau, misalnya, suami nggak bisa nyumbang sperma yang fresh karena di luar kota atau sperm count-nya rendah, suami bisa “nyumbang” beberapa hari sebelumnya lalu di-freeze. Kalau sperm count rendah, mereka bisa “nyumbang” beberapa kali (jangan nyumbang lebih dari 1x per 3-4 hari u/ memastikan sperm count tiap kali nyumbang maksimal) lalu beberapa sampel sperma itu dijadikan satu pas proses inseminasinya.

KANS SUKSES IUI

Ketika pasangan tidak memiliki masalah medis apapun (seperti saya dan suami), chance IUI cukup tinggi – sekitar 30%. Selama pil hormon (Clomid/Serophene/Femara) yang diresepkan dosisnya pas (tidak terlalu tinggi), kemungkinan u/ dapat bayi multiples juga hanya 1% lebih besar dari kehamilan normal. Saya punya saudara yang dapat anak kembar 3 dari IUI, tapi itu kemungkinan besar karena dia minum pil progesteron dengan dosis terlalu tinggi (sebenernya ini bisa dihindari kalau rahim di-USG setelah obat diresepkan, u/ melihat reaksinya), atau dia disuntik egg-releasing hormone lebih dari 1x padahal sebetulnya nggak perlu.

IUI pertama saya gagal karena kombinasi sperm count yang termasuk normal tapi rendah (cuma 4 juta kalo ga salah, karena kita nggak “puasa” dulu sebelum suami nyumbang he he he …) plus timing inseminasi-nya agak meleset karena saya ovulasi di hari Minggu, ketika kliniknya tutup 😦

IUI kedua sukses karena kali ini kami puasa 2 minggu, jadi sekali nyumbang suami saya bisa setor 30 juta sperma 🙂 dan timing inseminasi-nya juga pas.

Kalau IUI sudah dilakukan selama 3-4 cycle dan belum hamil juga, pasangan akan dianjurkan u/ consider opsi lain seperti IVF.

COST / BENEFIT IUI

Banyak orang lebih aware tentang IVF daripada IUI, padahal kami melihat IUI jauh lebih menguntungkan daripada IVF:

– Cost lebih rendah. Satu cycle IUI kami harganya sekitar S$550 di NUH, sementara IVF bisa sekitar S$7000-10,000 per cycle di RS pemerintah, bisa sampai 2-3 kalinya di RS swasta.

– Prosedur jauh lebih sederhana. Nggak pake inseminasi di cawan petri lalu dimasukkan lewat laparaskopi ke rahim. Nggak bed rest, nggak diet, nggak bius. Nggak pake nyuntik hormon tiap hari di rumah. Nggak pake mood swings. Dan proses ini menggunakan cycle mens / ovulasi normal kita. Paling ya puasa seks seminggu gitu supaya sperm count suami tinggi pas nyumbang he he he 😀

– Proses ini lebih natural. Keraguan kami yang terbesar terhadap IVF adalah karena kami akan “membuang” sel telur (mis: yang di-extract 8 sel telur, tapi yang dibuahi cuma 5, lalu yang dimasukkan ke rahim cuma 3). Secara agama dan psikologis, kami nggak mau dihadapkan pada pilihan ini. Lalu kalau misalnya bayinya ternyata jadi semua (mis: jadi kembar 4), kami sekali lagi akan dihadapkan pada pilihan u/ selective abortion u/ mengurangi resiko kehamilan terhadap Ibu dan meningkatkan harapan hidup bayi yang lain. Kalau sampai hal ini kejadian, kami nggak siap u/ “memilih” bayi mana yang “dimatikan”, tapi kami juga nggak mau dihadapkan pada resiko medis dari membesarkan 3-4 janin dengan kondisi badan saya yang kecil ini (saya sebelum hamil 155cm/46kg).

Semoga membantu, info lebih lengkap mengenai terapi hormon dan IUI bisa didapat di sini.

Kapan Anda Sebaiknya Menggunakan Jasa RS Swasta Singapur

Salah satu artikel paling populer di blog ini adalah komen saya tentang RS Mount Elizabeth Singapur, yg sampe sekarang masih dibanjiri komen. Artikel ini bisa dibilang lanjutan dari artikel tersebut walaupun nggak spesifik tentang Mount Elizabeth.

Anyhow, ceritanya begini. Kemarin saya operasi u/ angkat benjolan di leher. Operasi ini sederhana, cuma 30-40 menit, tapi saya mau benjolan ini diangkat secepatnya karena saya mulai bulan depan akan sering travel. Saya telpon Alexandra Hospital dan NUH – dua RS pemerintah yang biasanya saya satroni, dan saya baru bisa konsultasi dokter bedah umum 2 minggu, lalu u/ jadwal operasinya sendiri harus nunggu 2-3 minggu lagi. Saya nggak punya waktu segitu lamanya …

Well, anyhow, saya memutuskan u/ telpon Novena Surgery.  Saya bisa ketemu dokternya hari itu, mau dioperasi hari itu pun sebenernya bisa, kalo mau.

Di klinik ini layanannya bintang lima: staf-nya sangat helpful dan ramah, dokternya friendly, dan kamarnya sangat bersih dan mewah. Saya masuk kamar istirahat jam 12 siang, lalu dioperasi jam 12:30, jam 2 saya sadar dan sudah ada di kamar istirahat, lalu saya makan dan jam 4 saya pulang. Tagihan yang harus saya bayar u/ layanan selama 4 jam ini? S$4,200! Ini belum termasuk konsultasi follow up, buka jahitan, painkiller, dan biopsi.

Bandingkan ini dengan anak saya yang tahun lalu lengannya patah lalu saya bawa ke RS pemerintah (ke NUH). Dia di-xray sampai 4x, rawat inap semalam, diinfus, konsultasi dokter ortopedis 3x dalam 1 malam, dioperasi, digips, dikasi obat anti muntah dan painkiller. Biayanya? S$1200 saja, u/ prosedur yang jauh lebih rumit.

Dari kisah saya ini, saya menyimpulkan bahwa Anda sebaiknya menggunakan jasa RS Swasta Singapur HANYA BILA:

– Anda kelebihan duit 🙂

– Anda tidak punya waktu u/ menunggu beberapa hari/minggu untuk bisa konsultasi dokter di RS pemerintah

– Anda hanya ingin konsultasi dokter, tapi tindakannya tidak di Singapura (jadi cuma minta second opinion doang). Biaya konsultasi dokter swasta dan pemerintah tidak jauh berbeda. Misalnya: dokter kandungan saya di NUH biayanya $60-96, sementara di di RS swasta sekitar $70-110. Harga obat juga nggak beda jauh. Yang membuat biaya di RS swasta jauh lebih mahal adalah rawat inap dan tindakan medis seperti operasi, tes2 seperti x-ray atau biopsi, chemotherapy, dll.

Teaching Chores When You Have A Maid

In Singapore, a common comment from parents of school-age kids (especially expats) is that they want to teach their children to do chores, but it’s really hard when there is a live-in maid at home taking over all the chores.

1. If it is still possible, make do without maids

We now don’t have a maid firstly because we want to use our store room as a store room instead of a maid’s room, and we really think that a house with a 13-year old child shouldn’t really need a full-time help to keep. This way, it is easy to teach children why he/she needs to clean up after his/her own space and also chip in to do family chores like washing dishes, grocery shopping, or putting his dirty clothes in hampers. At 13, my son is already able to do grocery shopping on his own (even though he still calls me every 2 minutes to make sure he’s got the right stuff), do dishes, wash bicycle, vacuum, put laundry in hamper, and prepare the extra mattress whenever his friend sleeps over. He would clean up after their mess too – candy wrappers, tissue papers, plates that were not rinsed and stuff. I don’t think this would be possible if a full time maid is in the house.

For certain things that we cannot cope on our own, like washing the car and ironing, we go out for help – my husband’s shirts get pressed across the street and the car gets washed in an SPC car wash. But we have total privacy at home and full family involvement in chores.

2. Hire a part-time maid

There are cleaning companies in Singapore that can give you part-time maids, usually covering laundry and ironing, vacuuming, mopping, and countertop cleaning. Or I think you can directly hire a Singapore “amah” to do it. They cost somewhere between s$12-16 an hour and is a viable substitute to a full-time maid – although some times these Singaporean amahs bitch and moan while they work … just crank up your stereo when they are at work so you don’t have to listen to them whining 🙂

If one of the parents is not working, this is probably a better option than having a full-time maid. You don’t have to worry about insurance and bonds, or about your maid wandering off making friends with people, and on the other hand there would be some chores left – like cooking, dishes, putting laundry in a hamper, cleaning the car and bicycles, grocery shopping, for you to share with your kids.

3. Give your maid a break!

Another arrangement, if you cannot live without a live-in maid, is to give her a day off each week (note: Singapore only RECOMMENDS one day off PER MONTH, but I urge employers to give one day off a week … just like you guys demand your work-free weekends!).

During that one day, make time to do one or two family chores together each week such as cleaning up bicycles, shining shoes, revarnishing your wooden furniture, grocery shopping, or putting paintings on the wall. When you do them together as a family, truly, sometimes they don’t feel like chores because you spend quality time together as you do it.

My mom even took that to the next level. Not only that our maid in Jakarta gets one day off a week. She gets afternoons off (from 1 to 4pm) and doesn’t work 9pm onwards. Every year, she gets a full month of paid leave because her mother is aging and quite sickly, living some 15 hours bus ride away from Jakarta. So there will be pockets of time when not only we have to do extraordinary chores, but also regular back-breaking chores like vacuuming, mopping, cooking, dishes and doing laundry.

4. Tell your maid not to touch several areas

Another way to teach chores is to tell your maid specifically not to do certain tasks. When we had a maid, I told her not to wash any clothes that were not in the hampers – this way, my son learned that unless he stopped throwing his dirty clothes on the floor, he would have to wash the clothes himself when he ran out of clean uniforms. Or worse, he had to go to school with yesterday’s crumpled sweaty uniform. We forced ourselves, and our maid, not to wake up earlier in the morning to wash just that one set of uniform, because he will not learn his responsibilities that way. If two or three days of wearing smelly uniforms and getting detention for lack of hygiene (plus going home to then wash the clothes that are not in the hamper) was what it took to teach him the lesson, then be it.

Note that many kids don’t listen to their parents until they have to pay the consequences of their own ignorance. So whenever the consequences are not really severe or permanent, we usually let him learn from mistakes.

We also told her never to clean up his study desk. If the desk or the floor was full of clutter she couldn’t clean the counter and the floor, then she should just leave them until he started digging through clutter to find his one handout for tomorrow’s major test. Plus, he had to clean up his room on his own.

We also told her not to clear the table when we eat. This way, not only that my son couldn’t get away from not eating vegetables, he also had to put away and rinse his dinnerware.

Another thing that we did when we had a maid in the house is that the maid is the parents’ helper, not the kid’s. The kid didn’t have the authority to give orders to the maid. He could not, for example, tell the maid to get him a glass of water or buy him chocolate from the grocery change. If there was anything that my son needs urgently that I couldn’t take care of because I happen not to be at home (e.g. there’s no food in the house during his meal time), he had to ask her nicely instead of telling her to do it.

This is the antithesis to the common Singaporean habit of getting the maid to do EVERYTHING to make it worthwhile to have them … from feeding your 12-year old son as he plays video games on the sofa, to wiping their butt after they do their business. On the contrary, I believe maids deserve a set work time and day offs, plus I am a firm believer that having maids do everything would only make your kids irresponsible, ungrateful, lazy, and even demeaning to certain ethnicities.

So try this at home, and let me know if it works out 🙂

Conversations with Singaporeans Part 3

I just experienced the worst customer service experience in Singapore yet, which put my previous articles “Conversations with Singaporeans” and “Conversations … Part 2” to shame …

Below is our five-week saga to get a new mobile phone subscription. Where I put quotation marks, the text are exactly as written in the original e-mail, or exactly as the way they said it on the phone.

12-13 October: My husband filled up an order for an iPhone with a two-year subscription plan, and submitted it via e-mail to the customer service (let’s call her Katie) that handled all accounts from his company.

16 October: Katie gave us five numbers to choose from, and on October 19 we confirmed the number that we wanted (let’s call this number 9833 xxxx).

There was no further communication from Katie since then, despite follow-up e-mails on October 23 and November 3.

4 November (more than three weeks after the initial e-mail): A different customer service (let’s call him Mo) e-mailed us, asking “What is the number you choose? I shall give you some new numbers for choosing and if you are getting an iphone, can you send me a form as well?”

[We were starting to wonder … “Don’t these people have one common database and talk to each other?”]

On that same day, my husband re-sent the order form, confirmed that we had asked for 9833 xxxx, but would go for 9644 xxx if the original number was no longer available.

November 5: By this date, we have started to lose our patience because the printing of my business cards, which had to be done by end of November, had to wait for the final mobile number.

So I called Mo to inquire the status of my husband’s application. His answer, “Oh, I’m not the contact person for your husband’s company. You should go to this other girl (let’s call her Jane)…. Her number is xxxx and e-mail xxx.”

[And we wondered even further … “If he’s not the contact person for us, then what was he doing sending us e-mails, and then throwing our case to a girl that had never made an attempt at contacting us????”]

Well, anyhow, so I rang Jane, inquired about the case, to hear, “Oh, this case ahh? I haven’t got to it…”

[WHAAATTT??? Don’t these people learn telephone manners????]

A few minutes after the call, Jane sent us an e-mail saying, “Apologise for the delay. The number 9833 xxxx which you had chosen earlier is not available anymore. I have 3 numbers on hand to offer you: A, B, C. Do advise asap.”

To which my husband and I replied to both Mo and Jane, “Hi Mo, thanks for your help. Jane just wrote to us offering yet different set of numbers to choose while yesterday we have confirmed to you that we wanted 9644 xxxx in the event the original request was no longer available. So could you please liaise with her to let her know that we wanted 9644 xxxx?”

So at 5:34 pm, Mo called my husband to FINALLY confirmed the order, then wrote a follow up e-mail (to my husband) saying, “As per our conversation, the delivery of your iPhone will be 6 Nov between 2:30 and 6pm. The sim card 52xxxxxx for number 9644 xxxx will be send in morning 10am-1pm. Thank you …”

And he also cared to write me a separate e-mail on 5:39 (I don’t know why he felt obliged to write two different e-mails instead of just cc-ing me on all e-mails …), saying, “I had follow up with her (Jane) and the iphone delivery was set for tomorrow afternoon 2:30-6pm. In fact, the follow up was plan to be around this time as there was 5 order in processing before you. Thank you for your understanding and miscommunication due to the processing team in your delivery. We also apologize that iphone was out of stock for a period of time and we were clearing the order according to the queue and it have reach your turn today even if you did not follow up with us. Cheer.”

[Yeah right]

You would think that after such agony, my husband and I would FINALLY get our 32Gb iPhone 3Gs with the number that we wanted, right?

WRONG.

On November 14, I arrived back in Singapore, excited about my new iPhone that had been loaded with my favorite apps and movis. I tested the SIM card, asked my husband and son to call 9644 xxxx only to find out that the number had not been activated!

I then called them from my new phone and SIM card. The caller ID which appeared on their screen is 9833 xxxx, the number that we dropped because Jane mentioned in Nov 4 that it was no longer available.

By this time, I had ordered 10 boxes of business cards and 5 rims of letterheads using the the 9644 xxxx number. Plus announced to some friends and families that my number would change to 9644 xxxx by Nov 15.

This time, furious that Singtel had yet again messed up, both my husband and I wrote Mo and Jane another e-mail asking the SIM card to be exchanged with the correct one ASAP.

The e-mail mentioned my home address, home phone number, and my Starhub mobile number. I also mentioned that I would only be in Singapore until Tuesday November 17 and expect this to be sorted out before I go.

November 16 – I called Mo and Jane several times only to get an answering machine that hung up the call after 30 seconds if the phone wasn’t picked up by a customer service. Great!

So at 11am I made my way to the Singtel headquarters to get this sorted out. A nice young lady listened to my case, checked my database, and then said, quite naively, “Oh, but this 9833 xxxx number is already activated and used.”

In my best attempt not to snap, I said, “Do I have any choice in this matter? I got a new SIM card, of course I wanted to test it out by making some calls.”

She then asked me to wait while she talked to some supervisor….. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes …. and finally, after half an hour of waiting, this young lady showed up … not with solutions. She said that Jane is taking an “urgent leave” and they needed to get her to clarify the matter with her boss, and then her boss would give me a call to sort things out later on today.

So I got home, trying to think positive that the manager would give me a call.

At around 3:00pm, my husband (who is in London) sent me a 10am e-mail from Mo, saying, “I would like to first apologize sincerely that the number 98644 xxxx was taken when we try to process it as another user had process that same number just before we could get it for you and thus had emailed you that we would revert to the older number which we had kept for you which is 9833 4022 on that same evening on 5/11/09, I had process for you for the delivery. I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you . Sorry about the incidence and thank you for your understanding.”

Mo, of course, did not cc me the e-mail. Instead he wrote to me separately (I simply don’t understand this redundant habit of his), saying, “We apologize that the number 9644 xxxx is not available at the time we try to process you application and that same day 5/11/09, we revert back the previous choice number  9833 xxxx which you had chosen instead. I had informed him on the same evening. Sorry for the inconvenience cause and some printing company should be able to make the amendment for you.

Great. Blame my husband for it, and speak on behalf of the printing company as if the company is his.

To which I replied, “Then please show me the November 5 e-mail which you said you had sent, and my husband’s approval to go ahead with the number 9833 xxxx.”

He almost immediately sent me the e-mail which did say that the number was no longer available when he processed the order. But my husband had never given him a go ahead to deliver a SIM card with a different number. Mo had made an independent decision, without the customer’s approval or a read-receipt, to change our mobile number order!

What kind of company would teach their customer services to confirm the goods and delivery time BEFORE processing the order and ensuring that the goods are still in place???

In fact, going back to November 5, then we had made up our mind that should there be another mess-up, we would cancel the order. My husband missed Mo’s last e-mail on November 5, which was why we were rather overjoyed to see a new iPhone and a SIM card arriving, to then be disappointed yet again.

All this could have been prevented had Mo cc-ed me on every e-mail, because my husband is away a lot on business and don’t have all the time in his life to check petty e-mails like this.

All this could have been prevented had Mo checked the availability of our preferred number before actually confirming it to us, only to have it changed some 15 minutes later, when my husband’s computer had been turned off and he’d gone home.

At around 4:30pm today, I made my way back to the Singtel headquarters, this time not to demand our preferred number, but to cancel the order altogether! Such a GREAT beginning for a new customer, there’s no way I would chain myself to another two years to some lousy service providers. Definitely not after I found out that Starhub will start offering iPhone at the end of this year!