Manicurist earns accountant's wage thanks to ringgit plunge
While Singaporeans cheer the plummeting Malaysian ringgit, the slumping value is a double-edged sword for Malaysians living in Singapore.
There was no way she could have secured a job that would pay her RM5,000 ($1,681) if she had remained in Sarawak.
"Impossible," said manicurist Betty Sii, 25.
"My highest education is PMR (Malaysia's version of the GCE O Levels). Nobody will offer that kind of money there," she added.
The impossible, however, became possible when the exchange rate slumped to a low of RM3.03 to the Singapore dollar last Tuesday.
"I was definitely happy (about the exchange rate) when I saw the news," she said.
"It means that I am earning about RM6,000 now. That wouldn't have been possible at home."
According to the latest salary guide by recruitment company Kelly Services, RM6,000 is the monthly pay of an accountant with a degree and three years of work experience.
"If I were in Sarawak, I could only dream of a pay cheque like that," she added.
With her $2,000 salary, Miss Sii is able to pay her $600 room rent here and give her mother - who lives in her hometown of Miri in Sarawak - a monthly allowance of RM1,000.
Meanwhile, the attractive exchange rate has pushed Miss Sii to seriously consider a bigger financial commitment - buying a three-bedroom house back home.
She claims to have been contemplating the idea for quite some time.
"The property that I'm looking at would cost me about RM200,000 but I should be able to afford it with my current salary," she said.
"If I get a house for myself now, it would be good for me in the future.
"Anything can happen, so at least if I start now, then I'll have something waiting for me if I had to move back," she added.
Before she moved to Singapore in April 2013, Miss Sii tried working in Malaysia for about five months, taking up a job as a salesgirl in a retail store.
"My basic pay was RM800. There was commission too but the most I ever got for it was RM200," she said.
Earning a measly pay cheque made life feel completely different to what it is like now.
She said: "It was tough to live with that kind of pay.
"Even if things are cheaper there, it's really hard to live on RM1,000."
While the exchange rate makes it cheaper for Miss Sii to support her mother, she is worried about how the bad economy will affect prices back home.
She said: "It's a good thing for me but this also means that things over there could start getting more expensive and that's my only worry.
"If it does start getting expensive, then eventually, the increased exchange rate will not mean as much to Malaysians working here."
Miss Sii's 36-year-old sister is also based in Singapore. Her sister works as a facial therapist.
"My brother is working in a publishing house in Sarawak while my sister and I are living and working here in Singapore."
Being able to travel back home only twice a year is tough on Miss Sii but the bigger picture is more important to her than anything else.
"I get homesick and I miss my family but I always try my best to focus on why being here is good.
"Me being homesick is not as important as my mum being able to live comfortably back home.
"And that is reason enough for me to look past everything else."
Weak ringgit huge burden on his family
His aunt is the sole breadwinner making RM5,000 a month.
That, in Singapore dollars, is now a mere $1,680, but she is paying for his expenses while he studies in a university in Singapore.
Malaysian student Lee Song En comes from a single-parent household and his mother is a housewife.
The sinking ringgit, he said, has "dampened (his) spirits" in the weeks before he started his course at Singapore Management University.
"It made me panic a little," he said of the all-time-low exchange rate.
The straight-As student, who starts his third week of university today, said: "There's immediately a huge impact on my family's financial burden."
While the 19-year-old Business and Economics student is on the Lee Kong Chian scholarship, which covers his annual $11,300 school fees, his other expenses are an ongoing battle for his family.
"I'm now very conscious about my spending," he said.
"Besides cutting back on the daily things, I have to stay out of certain academic or enrichment opportunities like study trips and excursions."
His degree will take him four years to complete.
"It's quite insane. If I spend about $1,100 every month, it will cost me about $52,800 by the time I finish".
"And that is assuming there isn't anything extra I need to pay for. And if I wanted to get involved in anything else, that number would probably increase quite significantly."
Mr Lee first came to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur at the age of 13 on an Asean scholarship and attended Xinmin Secondary School before moving on to Anglo-Chinese Junior College.
That scholarship, which ceased after JC, covered school fees and provided an extra $5,800 annually for expenses.
Under the university scholarship, his spending is all on him.
He started working as a private tutor in April, teaching a JC student Economics and makes about $400 a month from that.
He hopes to partly fund his living expenses himself now.
"My total monthly expenditure, including my hostel rent, is about $1,100 a month,"
His rent alone is about $600.
"I'm looking for more students to tutor but even if I have just this one, it is a burden I can help relieve my family of, even if it is just a little bit.
"Every dollar that I can earn counts," he said.
"When I came back in March to prepare for university, my mum had to change RM13,500 to give me about $5,000 to start with so I can cover the cost of books, food and rent," he said.
It is time for him to get the next lump sum and Mr Lee is feeling helpless.
"While I need (the money), I don't want to ask (my family) for it now because the rate is ridiculously high.
"It's not easy to stomach the fact that another lump sum of $5,000 is almost my aunt's entire three months' salary.
"What's worse is this is just the beginning."
"It’s quite insane. If I spend about $1,100 every month, it will cost me about $52,800 by the time I finish."
— Malaysian student Lee Song En on the sum he will need for expenses during his four-year degree course. It was to come from his family, whose sole breadwinner earns in ringgit.