Thursday, Jun 02 2022 (Day 8)
Thursday was finally my Day of Reckoning with CMPB, the Central Manpower Board that governs National Service liability, and the reason I came back to Singapore in the first place, to gain or finalize my exemption from it due to my gender transition a few years ago. No photographs were allowed in the buildings where I spent a good chunk of the day sitting around waiting for my number to be called, paperwork to get paperworksized and for procedures to get procedurerated, so most of the available photos are just of in-between inconsequential things that caught my eye, or of food, rather than of the main event itself.
My morning meeting at CMPB was at 10 am or so, and it was about 45 minutes from my place, so I started off at about 8:30 am, planning to grab breakfast from the Eunos hawker centre along the way.
I ended up eating a couple of small snack-like items instead of one single dish — I picked up two Yam Cakes and two Chee Cheong Funs from a store named Huang Li Cooked Food for a total of $3.80 SGD.
This wasn’t too bad, although I’d have liked the sauce to be a little sweeter. Both the rice cakes and rice rolls were just the right amount of firm though. I considered a drink as well but I didn’t want to be late, so I headed off toward the train station right after.
It had been raining earlier that morning, so the weather was nice and cool (relatively speaking) and the ground still wet as I took a train, then bus, to my destination. I didn’t take any pictures along the way at all due to a desire to hurry, except when I was waiting at the bus stop for my desired bus and looked around at the shop area. It isn’t very common to see multi-level outdoor shop buildings like this in Singapore, though I think it is more common in certain other East Asian countries. Couldn’t say exactly which one though, but Singapore sure has a lot of different kinds of building architectures and layouts.
I then reached the CMPB headquarters, which turned out to be one building in a campus that contained several other Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) affiliated buildings. I checked in past a security checkpoint, picked up a visitor pass to enter the campus and then headed over to the building where my enlistment officer was in.
She eventually came down to the main lobby to usher me into a side interview room, and then told me that due to COVID-19, the medical staff had actually, over the past week or two, looked over my file and provided documentation again and had already decided that they didn’t actually require me to attend a checkup in person. But it was still good that I was there, as she could craft a statement for me (which was a two page thing she wrote up with me detailing my situation and history) and have me vet and sign it on the spot as well. She then also took copies of the supporting documentation based on what i had brought along.
I did almost run into a hitch because most of my main forms proving my transition (the affidavit from my surgeon and family doctor etc) did not list my full name, including my 3rd/4th name, on it, which was what my official name in Singapore still was. Thankfully though there were a couple letters that did mention my full name as well as my post-transition name, I think out of a stack of 30 or so sheets of medical record information that I brought, so they accepted that instead. In hindsight, I think there may actually have been an actual name change certificate at home in Edmonton that might have helped, though I’m not sure if that contains my full name either, depending on what was registered on my passport/ID/citizenship card.
Regarding my Study Abroad eligiblity, she did say that CMPB had no problem with it, but that I should also go with haste to the ICA (Immigration & Checkpoints Authority) office next to Lavender MRT Station to renounce my citizenship as well (and that was part of the written statement that I had to sign, that I would do that), and to give them her name, phone number, and email if they raised a flag due to the pending exemption which she said had been all but granted, to the point where she was able to tell me that it would be granted, but that would still take 2-3 months to be fully processed. She also mentioned that I might run into trouble there trying to prove a link between my old name and new name as well though. Either way, I was aware that the renunciation was needed so that I could apply for my Student Pass to study here, as only foreign nationals were allowed to apply for it, and Singaporeans (even those living abroad coming back to study as exchange students, which was a non-zero number — even my sister had gone through this before) were expected to come back on their own Singapore passport and would be denied for the Student Pass.
The statement took forever to type out, but it was fairly comprehensive, and she read it out to me and then printed off a copy for me to sign. Part of the process of building it also involved me being able to look at my existing file, and I saw odd things like how there was an executor or guarantor or something (perhaps an extended family member? I didn’t recognize the name as it lacked their first name) that was supposed to be the point of contact when we left the country and so was the one whom the authorities had contacted to try to find me, at which point they were told that we were overseas and unlikely to return. They actually did provide our forwarding address in Canada, but the file address was never updated and still had our old Tampines 294 address on it, Part of the reason why, perhaps, was that the letter stated that we were now living in EDMONTON, AMBATA, CANADA. Ambata? Really? Someone failed basic geography. I also noted interestingly enough that they had acquired one of my McNally High School report cards in the file. It wasn’t brought up at all but i wondered where they had gotten it.
Anyway, she then also took some of my documentation to photocopy, and told me to go wait outside in the lobby. I bought a drink while waiting, and since I’ve documented pretty much everything I’ve eaten or drank on this trip outside of water and the tea bags from my homestay house anyway, it was a can of Pokka Aloe Vera White Grape (Less Sugar), obtained for 80 cents from a vending machine in the front lobby of the Central Manpower Base building.
Hopefully that photo wasn’t too illegal. She then sent me on my way, telling me to drop her a line just before I left as well so she could ensure that I didn’t run into any issues leaving the country this time. I’m not sure if this implies she already told ICA‘s border guards and would just be re-confirming on my day of departure, or if she would be leaving things until the last minute again, as I’ve told her my leave date many times, but whatever works…
I also took a photograph outside the building, but still within the campus, of a poster on an external wall that I really liked:
I think the no photographs rule largely referred to inside the buildings so hopefully that one was fine too, because I really liked that quote and wanted to keep it with me. To some extent it’s a philosophy that I’ve followed on the past two trips I’ve taken, this one and the USA one in Nov 2021. That second part of the quote doesn’t really connect to the first part though huh? “The more you plan, the less likely you will experience chance, therefore live life to the fullest.” What? What sort of conclusion is that. I guess the quote wasn’t planned either.
With that session behind me, but another governmental visit still to come, I started to make my way through the surrounding neighbourhood to catch a bus back to the train station. A store caught my eye along the way, an entire coffee shop/kopitiam-sized space dedicated to just one stall, a Yong Tau Foo place called Fong Yong Tau Foo that looked really interesting.
There was a fairly long lineup, which usually meant the food was good, and I had to watch the queued patrons for a bit to figure out what was happening. Apparently it was a self-serve place of sorts, where there was a big table full of trays of ingredients laid out, and you picked whatever ingredients you wanted in your Yong Tau Foo, which is basically a form of hotpot or soup where a bunch of ingredients are cooked together (usually with noodles) in a (usually fish) broth. There are many variations on the theme, and this store let you pick out exactly what you wanted in your soup a la carte, and they’d then charge you for the ingredients based on how much you picked, and cook your custom combination for you in the kitchen. Yum!
I picked all my favourite dishes and opted for noodles and a laksa (spicy coconut curry-like soup) broth as well, so it ended up costing me $13.20, but it was well worth it, this ended up being one of my top 3 meals on the trip.
Some of the ingredients ended up fried and on the side in a separate bowl instead of boiled and inside the soup, which was surprising to me — I had never had fried enoki mushrooms before but that was sumptious. The entire meal was awesome though, especially since I could pick exactly what I wanted.
After the meal, I decided that I was going to walk off the calories instead of take the bus, so I sauntered on through a few residential neighbourhoods, passing by, among other things, a section of HDB blocks which had been abandoned (its residents “forcibly” relocated by the government) and cordoned off for destruction and rebuilding, and a temple that was also being remodeled and had its front entrance sealed off but had a sketchy back entrance still open for patrons.
The ICA building, when I finally reached it, was packed — but most of the people were there on citizenship related matters and so I got to skip the queue and take an elevator to the sixth floor to start the renunciation process. This actually went really smoothly. For the name change part, I was asked to write an official statement saying that my old name and my new name refer to the same person, and it was then notarized by the agent helping me, and that was that. The renunciation process involved a bunch of forms to fill out, including one asking for family details (I lacked a lot of that information but apparently that was fine), one declaring that I had lost my citizenship card (I had not seen it for years and don’t think I ever move out with it), and a questionnaire asking me why I wanted to renounce my citizenship (I said truthfully that I did not want to but that I had been living in Canada for more of my life that I had been living in Singapore at this point, and that I wanted to come back as a student to learn more about the country and culture, but had to give up the citizenship that I only recently learnt I still had, to do so).
I wasn’t issued any fine for this process like I had heard many other people going through this process normally were, but there was a processing fee of $35 and it would take 3 months or so to fully process as well. I also inquired as to how this would overlap with my impending Student Pass application, and the agent said that she wasn’t sure, but it was likely that those people would be aware of my impending renunciation and that it would most likely be OK. She said she would try to expedite it on her end though, especially since they wouldn’t be able to send me the official renunciation mail if/after I give up my current apartment to come back to Singapore to study. She also apparently didn’t need my CMPB contact’s details for this process, she said they’d just reach out to them if they decided that they required any clarification.
While this was a very sad and kind of gut-wrenching process for me, even though I had not considered myself a Singapore citizen for many years already, it also gave me a lot more hope that my study application (the Student Pass part at least, which is the last thing hanging in the balance) will work out. My sister noted that while it was sad, it also paved the way for me to return here and do what I wanted to do, and give me a much better chance if I wanted to apply for Singapore-focused work here or elsewhere in the future.
Since this was Singapore, an extremely food-centric country, I also proceeded to cheer myself up with some snacks from a store in the same general shopping area that the ICA building was located in:
This consisted of three things: Fish Ball on Stick, Sotong Ball on Stick, and some sort of Curry Puff, from a store named Old Chang Kee, which was part of a corridor of food stores located in the V Hotel area of Lavender. They’re a famous store with many branches through Singapore, and this cost me $5.10 but every part of it was delicious and savoury. Yummy.
I also did a walk through of a gallery of huge and expensive collectible figurines, mostly from Marvel and DC, belonging to a company named XM Studios that had commissioned the entire top level of an indie mall called Kitchener Complex nearby:
From Lavender, which was four MRT stops to the west of Eunos where my homestay house was closest to, I took the train to Simei, which was four MRT stations east of Eunos (and one west of Tampines, where I had been several times already). Simei largely featured one REIT mall next to the train station that I wanted to see, Eastpoint, as I had remembered it opening (and me visiting it a few times) not long before we left the country back in 1998, although I didn’t expect to remember anything from it as I had no strong memories linked to it outside of the name. I was right, but I still took some time to walk through the mall, and then the various shops that had sprung up in the surrounding area, before taking the train back home for the evening.
My dinner was from Eastpoint Mall in Simei as well, and was a dish called Ee Mian (Yi Mian, or 伊面) from a store called Nam Kee Pau. It was odd, because while the taste of the egg and veggie and noodles did go well together, there was also lots of ikan bilis, or dried anchovies, in the meal, and that salty taste completely overwhelmed an drowned out the taste of the noodles and broth. it was an odd choice. I ordered some ice tea for a dollar to go along with it, and it came in a large metal cup. It was surprisingly nice and refreshing and the cup was larger than one would usually get from most other places, so I appreciated that, and even with that it only cost $5.30 in total.