Sunday, October 21, 2007

Now Where?

It's almost four years since we first left the UK for Bangkok, at the time we never regarded the move as permanent.
For the survival of the company we had to move the manufacture out of England and the only way to ensure high quality and ethical working conditions was for us to be on site.
In the end Thailand proved to be a difficult country to work in, the people were wonderful but the government was not entirely helpful to foreigners and the infrastructure also made working impossible at times.
After only a year there we moved everything over to Singapore.

Singapore has been a breeze, our business visas were issued very quickly and we have had no problems getting them renewed. Should we wish to apply for permanent residence here, it would almost certainly be granted.
Singapore is a modern, gleaming city where everything is spotless and runs like clockwork. It is a very safe and extremely easy place to live. On the surface it is hard to see why anyone would want to leave!
I guess it depends on the type of person you are though, for us it has some major downsides. It is very over crowded and quite impossible to find anywhere to escape from people. Property and cars are simply unaffordable and the censorship of everything from Internet to TV is extremely irritating, the entire 'arts scene' is government controlled and there is very little room for genuine artistic freedom in the country.
Our major problem though, comes with the education system. In Singapore education is everything, all of the schools here are just huge conveyor belts churning out endless streams of obedient cloned genius's.
There is no disputing that the standard of education here is second to none, but the regime is worlds away from schools in the West, and consequently it is rare to find expat kids successfully integrated into local schools.
International schools are in abundance, with every country and curriculum well represented, but the fees are extortionate and very often the standard of education is well below par (It is also interesting to note that the government does not allow Singaporeans to attend international schools!)

Throughout their six years of primary education Poppy & Lucinda have attended four different schools! Two in the UK, one in Thailand and one in Singapore. We did worry initially about what effect this would have on their education, but they don't seem to have been unduly affected and I believe that what they have gained in experience, far outweighs the little they may have missed in the classroom.
However, primary school is now coming to an end, next year they will be in year seven and starting their secondary education. It is essential that we settle now for a few years so that they can get through high school with little interruption.


For the past year or so the main topic of conversation in this house has been 'Where do we go from here?' Do we stay in Singapore, go back to the UK, or Europe, America, Australia????
We have now established working relationships with companies in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Nepal, so we are really free to move on and run things long distance.

When we first left England our mantra at the time was 'If things don't work out, we can always go back' We have since come to realise that going back is the hardest thing to do!
Returning to the UK for us would be the logical move, we have an extremely successful company there and we would be earning a lot more money if we were there running it ourselves rather than paying other people! It would also be wonderful to be close to friends and family again.
But there are things about England that I just find unacceptable, amongst them: violence, crime, the racial and religious intolerance etc.
When you live with these things everyday you come to accept them as normal, you think that it is just life and something that you have to put up with. It is only when you move away that you realize that it is not normal and other places are very different.
Returning to England would mean going back to a life of fear, always having to look over your shoulder and then there is the weather!!!

Europe was an option, we have a very strong customer data base in Europe and we all love Italy. The problem with Italy though is a lack of international schools in the areas that we would like to settle, that means that the kids would have to go to a local school and study in Italian. As their knowledge of Italian goes no further than 'Margareta pizza' that is also out!

Then there is America - again we have a massive customer data base there and it would be an extremely good business move for us. Problem with America is - well it's America!

Australia - We're too old!

Canada - Too cold.

India - This would be my personal choice, I would dearly like to spend some time in India, but with the children about to embark on high school it would really not be fair to them.

Which leaves us with New Zealand - Where we have very few customers no chance of manufacturing locally and we are an international flight away from anywhere else in the world. The most unlikely place of all but the one we have our hearts set on!
We have been to New Zealand a few times now and we all love the country dearly. The landscape is just exquisite and the people are so friendly and down to earth. It would be a wonderful place for the girls to grow up and for us to eventually retire!
Although we don't currently sell a lot to New Zealand, there is a lot of interest in what we do and it is possible that if we were based there then we could create a niche for ourselves. We can certainly move the design studio and the American export over there.

Before we can go to NZ and start working though we need a business visa. Problem is the school year in NZ starts in February and it is impossible for us to put together a business plan and have the visa approved before then. We really don't want the kids to have to start a new school halfway through term so if we are going to go we have to go now.
We are able to get permits that will allow us into the country in order to research the business opportunities there, but as we would not be residents the only way that we can get the girls into school is to enroll them as international students and pay the fees.

So what we need to do now is find a school that will initially accept them as international pupils and keep them on as locals should we be granted residency.
We can't apply for student visa for the children until we have a guaranteed school place. Once we have that, we then all need to have official medicals and x-rays to ensure that we do not have any contagious diseases or illnesses that would be a burden to the health service. Only then can we actually apply for the visa. I also need a new passport as mine runs out in June and your passport has to be valid six months past your permit expiry date, so I need to apply for a passport before I can apply for a visa.

At the moment we really don't know if we are coming or going. If everything goes to plan then we need to have all of our personal belongings on a container ship that is leaving on the 18th of November, that is the last one that would get our stuff there in time for Christmas, giving us time to find somewhere to live before school starts.
The shipping company are putting pressure on us to book the container space on the ship as it is filling up fast, but we can't do that until we have the permit and we can't apply for the permit until we have the medical and we can't have the medical until we get the school place!!!! You start to get the picture? It's chaos!

And if it doesn't come off? well it's plan B - only right now we don't have a plan B!!!!

Will keep you updated - Carri x

As I put a picture of Poppy on the last post here is one of Lu that I have just reworked. Taken a few years ago at a Tiger sanctuary in Thailand.

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