Sunday, December 31, 2006

awld lang zeyen

The title is the phonetic rendering of the traditional Scottish song, Auld Lang Syne, which means “Time Long Past”. Well, 2006 is not yet time long past - not until about 2 and a half hours later in Singapore, that is. Some parts of the world, though, have already crossed the midnight hour into 2007.

On the penultimate days of 2006, the news have been filled with the deaths of two former Presidents. The first is the of the 38th President of the US, Mr Gerald Ford, and the second, the death of Saddam Hussein, former President of Iraq. The first will be honoured with a state burial, the second has been convicted for crimes against humanity and has duly been executed by hanging.

If you asked everyone on earth, as CNN and the BBC did, what they felt about the execution of Saddam, you are bound to get many different and diverse views and emotions - from those who celebrate the event to those who condemn the execution.

For a Singaporean Chinese who has lived all his life in South-east Asia, Saddam's death does not, and cannot, evoke the strong feelings that was witnessed amongs the Iraqis. However, when I watched scenes of his hanging on TV, I cannot feel a bit sad that a life will soon end, as it surely did. Many question whether that occasion should be taped and televised at all. Unfortunate as it is, I can understand why it has to be. Iraq must demonstrate, without any shadow of a doubt, that Saddam was indeed executed. Leaving scenes of the execution to the imagination will, in time, just throw up conspiracy theories about how he is still alive and directing the struggle against the American invaders - just like in the case of Osama Bin Laden.

Osama Bin Laden's body has never been found. He has not appeared in person in public for 5 years now, so the world cannot but assume that he is still alive. There is just no conclusive proof that he is dead.

I personally think that he has met his maker and is keeping company with the devil in hell - for a very very very long time - like the words from Auld Lang Syne. I cannot imagine what his fellow terrorists who are sharing his hell hole are doing to him for misleading them. One thing is certain though. They are all burning in hell. Amen.

Goodbye 2006.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A dismal December

December is turning out to be a month of disasters in Southeast Asia. Two years ago today, the Asian Tsunami claimed the lives of 130,000 people across a huge swat of Asia, stretching from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka beside the Indian Continent right up to Penang Island on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula. The hardest hit was Aceh in Indonesia, which was nearest the epicentre of the undersea earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter Scale.

Two years hence, CNA reported on 24th December 2006 that at least 60 lives were lost due to the devastating floods caused by heavy rainfall in the Aceh Tamiyang district in Indonesia. Will there be no respite for this ravaged land?

On a smaller scale this December, Malaysia again suffered, though this time farther south of Penang. Flood waters caused by the heaviest rainfall in a century took the lives of at least 4 people in Peninsula Malaysia. Almost 90,000 people lost their homes mainly in the southern parts of the country.

Earlier in the month, Typhoon Durian wreaked havoc in the Philippines, killing at least 400 people with almost the same number reportedly missing. About 66,000 people became homeless due to the destruction caused by this typhoon.

Though no one lost their lives in Singapore, the flood waters caused by incessant rainfall over several days led to significant damage to property and businesses primarily located in the centre of the island. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was away from Singapore most of this time and never experienced any of the inconveniences that it reportedly caused had I been commuting to work. You see, one of the places I pass through to work is Lornie Road beside MacRitchie Reservoir. It seems that my holiday and travelling plans of the past week or more have unwittingly saved me all the inconvenience.

Nevertheless, at this moment, beside remembering those that lost their lives in the tsunami 2 years ago, it is also opportune to remember those who lost lives and homes in the Philippines, West Malaysia and again in Indonesia this December.

Somehow, remembering the loss that businesses sustained in Singapore seem not to be in the same 'league' as lost lives, but as someone has pointed out, this is Singapore's mini-tsunami of sorts.

While we hope that it never happens again, who can stop the forces of nature?

Monday, December 25, 2006

The true meaning of Christmas

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
the Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Isaiah Chapter 9 Verses 6 & 7

Thursday, December 21, 2006


It is here again. As I look out at the forested hills in front of my hotel room at 6 in the morning, a white cloud-like mist has descended and formed a thick blanket over the hills. It feels cold and yet when I open the balcony doors and step out, it is warm and humid. It feels strange. The floor is wet. It must have rained last night. But the sky has exhausted its vapours, at least for now.

Yesterday was bright and sunny. Today promises more of the gloom of the week past. It will be wet day again. Hopefully, it will not bring back the floods. Only mother nature decides.

Today, I sail. It has been a week since I’ve been home. Not a long time, but the heart grows fonder each passing day. Strange, the ordinariness of home can attract such yearning. But back at my desk I am less anxious.

There will be more gatherings before the year is out. The eves of a birth and another milestone. More holiday than work.

Yet ten days and everything begins anew.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Opened skies

I am blogging this as I sit in my Hotel in Batam Island, on a short vacation. I haven't been home for close to a week now though I have rejoined my family. I learnt over TV that it has been pouring non-stop in Singapore over the last few of days, resulting in floods.

TV showed Christmas trees being pulled out of the flood waters and a taxi had become partially submerged in the brown-coloured water.

This is unusual for Singapore and a grief for retailers as shoppers stay away from their favourite activity during this last week of the Christmas shopping week. It is no different in Batam. For the last two days, it has been pouring here in Batam and any outdoor activity has all been cancelled. The only thing we could do outside is to take the car to a nearby shopping mall to continue any indoor activity. I wonder if that is what Singaporeans are also doing in Singapore. If so, it shows the resilience of Singaporeans when it comes to spending and spending.

Today, the sky is clear in Batam. It looks good enough now for a dive in the pool. For once, I can see clearly the forested hills in the distance where once there was only mist, which I thought I had left behind in Shanghai when I was there last week. At last, the children will not feel cooped up all day with the ever wet and gloomy sky for company.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Have a jolly holly communist Christmas

After talking to some friends in Shanghai, I learnt that there is no Christmas holiday here. They'd still have to go to work come 25th December. This made sense, because China is by no means Christian at all. But as many people are pointing out, many people who are not Christians seem to celebrate the occasion with greater gusto than Christians themselves.

Witness the Christmas trees and buntings that deck the front of malls and inside the malls. Some are techno-trees decked with glass mirrors, others are flushed pink in colour and all of them are at least 3 metres tall. And I am not talking about Singapore's Orchard Road. It's all right here in (communist) Shanghai.

Yes, you don't have to celebrate Christmas to be Christmasy. Somehow, the end of a year demands some symbol of the culmination of one year's effort and Christmas seems to be the universal choice of many, whether you celebrate it or not, or whether you are communist or a democracy, or whether you live in the hot tropics or in temperate Shanghai.

Yes, I am still blogging this as I sit in my Hotel room in Shanghai. Pity that I didn't bring enough electronics to transfer some pictures that I took over here with my handphone and digital camera into this blog. I'll do that when I get home.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Bund

I am writing this as I sit in my Hotel room in Shanghai. I had to take an urgent company business trip up here and will only fly home to Singapore tomorrow afternoon. When I came, the temperature was 8 degrees celsius. I heard that it will drop to 0 degrees today.

This is my first trip to Shanghai. It is certainly a busy city with a very vibrant night life. A friend of mine who has been living here for 3 months told me that he hasn't gotten tired of the city, that there is something new to see and experience. As every visitor does, I went down to the Bund (Wai-tan) yesterday evening. The Bund was made famous by a Cantonese serial way back in the 1980s starring Chow Yun Fatt (the guy who played the King of Thailand with Jodie Foster as his home tutor). His alter ego, Ding Lek (a character in the movie), became such a favourite with a friend of mine back then that he would mention the name every time we talked. It was certainly a seminal movie that brought Shanghai back to life - at least in minds of many.

Youths are too young to remember that the Cantonese song "Shanghai-tan" was introduced through this serial. This just goes to show that audio still surpasses video in longevity in capturing and sustaining history - or is it because of the Speak Mandarin campaign in Singapore that killed this part of our youth's exposure and consciousness to history in the making?

Shanghai has since roared back life. It is a relatively safe place although one must get used to the Shanghainese's loud banter. I'll come back again, the next time for a vacation. I heard the shopping can rival Bangkok's. Well, I'll come more for the history, although, from I have have seen so far, a lot of it has been commercialised.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

mymall is no mall - blared Mediacorp over TV in the last week or so. It tells you to login (and shop?). Well, I logged in, and it asks me for a keyword as seen on TV.

Heck, I didn't see any keyword on the advertisements on TV, so I tried 'ipod'. No, says they that is not the right keyword. I tried other common words - the same problem. For the life of me I cannot remember that there was any keyword on those TV commercials. And there is simply nothing else you can do on, unless you know the keyword.

Give this 'mall' a miss. Your neighbourhood mamak stall will be more interesting.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What a genting bore

The most anticipated secret in the second half of 2006 is out - Genting International has won the race to build the Sentosa Integrated Resort (IR). There is no surprise in this for after all, it is a safe choice. In retrospect, the writing was already being sketched on the wall with the quick succession of pronoucements and announcements in the press regarding Singapore-Malaysia affairs. First, DPM Najib Tun Razak virtually laid out the red carpet for Singapore when it encouraged greater economic cooperation between the two countries. This after a lot of Singapore bashing all of this year. Then there was the 'inadvertent' announcement that Singapore's SMRT could be linking up with Johore to build a commuter rail system linking Woodlands to Johore. Phew! aren't we glad that the Causeway is still intact.

Coming back to the choice of Genting and its plans for the IR. In my opinion, it is more of the same thing actually. Which makes the pending development rather a bore.

Singapore has now chosen NOT to be different from others. It has thrown its hat into the mega amusement park model to attract tourists, with Universal Studios helming this part of the IR. It is boring because there is already a Universal Studio theme park in Australia (Queensland), besides those in the US, and Hong Kong has its Disneyland. Isn't this space getting a bit crowded? Travellers will be spoilt for choice and Singapore's Sentosa IR will, at the end of the day, just be another so-so destination. And to think that there was so much hype over the whole thing. This must be an anti-climax of sorts.

I would have been excited if the Kerzner bid won. It is so 'ugly' that it will become iconic, thereby injecting a lot more interest and excitement in the long run. But safe decisions are always, well, safer.

That's Singapore for you.

Image source:

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reconstructing the tower of Babel

Some people are now suggesting that Singapore should relax its rules on the use of Chinese dialects in the officially support and sanctioned broadcast media - specifically television programmes produced or carried by Mediacorp. There is a sense of loss of heritage and language when our children do not know how to speak Cantonese or Teochew or some other Chinese dialects. When our children's generation replaces us, dialects will all be forgotten as everyone will only know how to speak Mandarin only, the dialect of the nobility in the north of China.

I agree. My son cannot speak Cantonese although both my wife and I are Cantonese and we converse both in Cantonese and English (though strangely, never in Mandarin, although we are just as competent, if not more so, in this dialect). Whenever we converse in Cantonese within earshot of our son, he would insist that we NOT speak to each other except in either Mandarin or English - the only languages he knows. His concern is that he cannot follow what we were saying to each other. I always point out to him that he is born Cantonese and he should, at the very least, understand spoken Cantonese, if not speak it as well.

Therein lies the irony of a successful Speak Mandarin campaign, as some have pointed out. Our children will soon lose their dialectal heritage by their inability to converse in the language of their fathers - people who may have migrated to Singapore from all parts of China, but predominantly from the south of China. What's so important about China you ask? Well, many Singaporeans have moved there to take up jobs in recent years. I have a friend who now works in Shenzhen. He has a son who is schooling in Singapore, learning Mandarin. But of course, not everyone in Shenzhen, or even Hong Kong for that matter, speak Cantonese. In fact, I have noticed that many Hong Kongers are taking the effort to learn Mandarin. However, Cantonese still predominates.

The point is, it is easier to live and work in these places if one knows the local dialect. As China grows in importance as an economic force, it will only make sense that Singaporeans learn Cantonese as much as Hong Kongers are learning Mandarin. Who do you think will be in an advantageous position ultimately? The one who know a single dialect or the one who knows two?

So what we should do is a no brainer, actually. I have decided to speak more Cantonese when my son is around us because I really want him to acquire the language. I only wish that Mediacorp/MDA will stop wasting money dubbing those programmes from Cantonese into Mandarin for our consumption. They can export the dubbed version to China or other lands. As for reversing the policy on speaking Mandarin, well, we have already slain one sacred cow, slaying another wouldn't be that hard now, would it?

Image source:

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sliding down or moving sideways

This entry is in response to a reader's thoughtful comment on my previous blog entry "Declining language".

I often wonder if the English language as used in Singapore is sliding down or merely moving sideways. For example, I was taught a long long time ago that one doesn't 'eat dinner' as much as one 'takes dinner'. This applies to breakfast and lunch as well. However, the usage today is to say one 'eats dinner'. I have noticed this both in speech and print. When you consider that one does 'drink tea' (or coffee as the case may be), you understand why the phrase became 'eat' rather than 'take'.

Take another example. People cannot distinguish (or don't do so anymore) the difference between countable and uncountable nouns. As a rule, we do not append an 's' at the end of an uncountable abstract noun (is there such as thing as countable abstract nouns?), such as experience(s), effort(s), etc. But you find that done quite often in writing today. I sometimes wonder if it is not better to simplify the language and accept that a rule which has stood for so long should take a rest in the name of consistency and, yes, less rules.

Is the language sliding? Taking the long term view, linguists would say it is evolving, or moving sideways. Teachers, who are tasked with preserving a standard, would view it as a decline of the language. Each is right, depending on how much and how long society can bear with it. This is the only politically right answer.

Image source:

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Declining language

Some have bemoaned the decline of English language competency and an interest in speaking well in the same language in Singapore. I am not. Let me explain why.

Throughout my school years, I have been taught by one expatriate teacher or another (mostly hailing from Great Britain). Equally, if not more so, I have been schooled by locals whose mother tongue was probably either Chinese, Malay or Tamil, but who were just as competent in written and spoken English. For whatever reason, but certainly not smugness nor arrogance, I developed the habit to speak in complete English sentences, so much so that some people who did not know me better tended to think that I had been schooled in Britain or some ang moh country. That's because they taught I spoke like them, intonation, language construction and all.

The fact is, I wasn't them, and didn't want to appear to be them. So whenever I was interacted with Singaporeans, I tended to 'step-down' my language and learnt to speak Singlish all over again. Will this destroy the standard of the language I had spent many years to learn and attain? I do not think so. I found that conversation among fellow Singaporeans just felt more natural the Singlish way. People could understand me better and faster without my speaking in complete sentences. To a certain extent, that was a revelation to me. I had re-discovered my childhood 'tongue'.

Does that mean my schooling in the English language all those many years (right up to University) was all wasted? No, I don't think so either. I still speak in complete sentences when the occasion calls for it, and of course, I write in complete sentences too, when it is appropriate. I think people tend to adopt the correct register for the appropriate occasion. To say that a person's English competency is necessarily sloppy just because he doesn't speak in complete sentences, or speaks Singlish, is plain rubbish. This is not to encourage students to speak pasar English in class. There is a difference between the formal and informal use of the language. Both are important. Both are necessary.

So one should never jump to conclusions about any perceived decline in the English language in Singapore. As in all longitudinal changes, it will take a while before a pattern becomes consistently clear. Then, when the evidence suggests so, can a clearer statement be made.

Image source:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Roundabout streets

I cannot help but feel a sense of Virtual Map getting a taste of its own medicine. It is now being sued by the Singapore Land Authority for alleged copyright infringement on the use of the land maps that it once licensed from SLA. Why do I feel this? Because for too often in the past, Virtual Map has sued companies left right and centre over their alleged infringement of VM's 'copyrighted' maps.

Well, what's wrong about that, as VM is protecting its licensing rights? What's wrong is that they went after anybody who so much as put up a single map taken from their free service on their websites or printed materials, no matter if they are for profit or for social purposes. And they seem to be doing it with relish without giving so much as a warning letter first. It became so common that one gets the feeling that suing companies for copyright infringement was their main business activity. The only other party that was happy were probably the lawyers.

I had a young friend, hardly out of school, who did a website for a company (not paid a lot actually, he wasn't a professional) who, like many then, didn't realise that putting a map taken off could attract a law suit. The company got sued and this friend of mine felt so bad about the whole thing. Sure, VM has right on its side to sue, but in the process, it lost a lot of goodwill from the rest of the business community as well as from people who learnt about this almost gangster-like behaviour. And it isn't only my experience alone. I have friends and colleagues who know of similar cases and all of them are agreed that VM is a big bad bully.

Well, now, the bully is facing a 100lb gorrilla. I'd like to see how this pans out. No prize for guessing where my sympathies lie.

Image source:

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Money clobbers privacy

Some people have the gall to ask, "Is selling personal data legal". Well, of course it is. It's been going on for as long as God invented the binary thingy - the computer. Have you heard of any bank being sued in Singapore before over this issue? Have you heard of the local telcos being sued for the same thing? Have you heard of Shopping Centres, Department stores and Hypermarkets being sued also?

No? That's strange because these organisations collect information from people ALL the time. When was the last time you handed over your particulars to participate in a lucky draw (which nobody ever wins)? Just yesterday or a week ago?

The problem with the way people treat privacy in Singapore is horrendous. Just because someone gave you their particulars such as NRIC number, address, telephone number, etc., does not mean that you are free to share or sell that information with other people or parties. If there is no explicit statement to the contrary, then there is an implicit trust that that information will only be used by the organisation collecting the information and no one else. But that's not what many commercial firms think. They believe that whatever information that is collected belongs to them to do whatever they want with with it, to damn with those people who surrendered those information.

Take for example, a listed local telco. We give our particulars to that telco so that we can get listed on its phone directory. They even give away an electronic image of the phone book. This is all well and good. But I know that this information ends up in OTHER commercial firms' products, without the telco asking your permission to release that information. Now, that's unethical. Imagine my shock when I saw my details on this OTHER company's products the other day. I've never had any dealings with this company and don't use their products because I have no need to. Well, that data could have been sold by those banks or department stores too, though that is not likely because the information covers virtually the entire island's residents. Now, ask yourself which organisation has that extensive information on its customers in Singapore (and we are not talking about the government)?

So, if the big boys do not respect the privacy of its customers' information, what do you think the small flies will do? Uphold ethics and be laughed out of business?

There should be a way in which people can come together to sue the offending organsations. Right now, there isn't.

After all, money speaks.

p.s. Interestingly, I signed up for a Carrefour Lucky Charm card the other day, giving them a lot of info about myself. But I am gratified to read in their terms and conditions of usage, under Data Protection Policy that my personal data "will be kept confidential by Carrefour Singapore Pte Ltd and not released to parties outside the Carrefour Group". That's doing the right thing, unlike some telco company.

Image source:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pity the worker ants

I used to work in the old Pidemco Centre, just beside OCBC Building. It has since been demolished. Every day, I would get off the train at Raffles Place MRT and walk the rest of the way. That must be 5 years ago.

Last Friday, I had some business in Shenton Way in the morning, so I made my way to Raffles Place MRT again before I disembarked for my destination. I was shocked. So many people were just pushing past me as I walked out of the MRT station. What was the hurry, the seeming eagerness to get to that desk in the office? They've got all day in the office ahead of them, up to 7 or 8pm for many. There's enough time yet to take a more leisurely walk to the office, surely?

I am glad I am not one of these worker ants anymore. No wonder people speak of stress and the hectic way of life in Singapore. But I believe that all of these are due to our own making. For that, we cannot blame anyone nor wallow in self-pity. The choice actually is ours to make. If we let others make it for us, then we are of all people not to be pitied. You can be pitied only when the choice is not yours to make.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

The truth is out there - in the pasar

Actually, the value of the S$ has gone done - domestically, that is. According to my wife's pasar economics, in the 4 years that we have lived in Sengkang, which is a suburban satellite town in the north-east of Singapore, the things that the S$ can buy has been reduced. This is what economists (I mean real economists) call 'purchasing power'.

  1. It used to be that one could buy 5 rolls of chee cheong fun for S$1. Now, you only get 4 rolls for a S$1. That is an increase of 20% in cost to the consumer. With the impending rise of the GST, I don't expect to get more than 3 rolls for the dollar.

  2. It used to be that one could get 12 fishballs for S$1.30. Now the stallholder will only give you 10 fishballs for the same S$1.30. That's an increase in cost to the consumer of about 16%. Who knows, with the latest proposed increase in GST, we may end up with just 8 fishballs for the same price.

Well, people do raise prices but do not follow GST quantums:
  1. An average meal (not including drinks) at our ubiquitous foodcourts used to cost S$3. Now it is S$3.50. That's an increase about 17%.

  2. It used to cost S$1 for a packet of fried rice noodles (chow mee fen). Now, for the same quantity, that's S$1.20 - an increase of 20%.

My point, really, is that besides looking at the numbers crunched by the government statisticians, the government should also consult our pasar economists to find out the true impact of any increase in indirect taxes. A 2% increase in taxes does not necessarily translate to a 2% increase in prices or a 2% reduction in purchasing power. Inflation numbers from the DOS fails to consideer certain dynamics at play on the ground. Ceteris paribus doesn't work when you deal with the pasar, does it?

Image source:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Flogging the wrong horse

First, it was 3%, then it became 5%. Now it is going to be 7%. What are these percentages? Many Singaporeans would have known by now that the Goods and Services Tax (GST or otherwise known as the VAT in other lands) is going up again from 5 to 7%. The amazing thing is that no one, short of those in the know, were prepared for this. Not the rumour mill, which often are not too far from the truth, not from more reputable sources, where one can put greater credibility to the rumours. Well, most only knew when PM Lee made the announcement in Parliament last evening.

It is unpleasant news, especially when Parliament has been spending the last few days on the plight of the low-income people amongst us. This impending increase in GST will make it even more difficult for them as the GST applies to all goods and service, irrespective of whether you are from the low income segment, the middle or high income. It applies equally across the board. But of course, the government has thought about the effect on the low-income segment and PM Lee took pains to explain to Parliament that the government will come up with a package of mesures that will help this segment of the population overcome the increased financial burden. This was expected.

What caught my attention was how PM Lee hesitated when he mentioned the effect of the GST on the middle income people. He said, with seemingly much reservation, that this segment of the population will do OK. Now what does that mean? Does it mean that he acknowledges the raw deal that this segment of people have been dealt, but that they can work a bit harder on their own to overcome the inevitable rise in prices of goods and services across the board? Does that mean that the government has nothing in mind to help this segment of people, that they will have to swim on their own? His hesitant demeanor speaks volumes about the adverse effect the 2% increase will bring. Almost certainly, a rise in prices of goods and services beyond 2% is to be expected when we factor in the significant rise in oil prices recently. Retail establishments, and all business down the line, have held back so far, but the floodgates will now be opened, thank you very much, Mr Government.

The low-income people - the government will look after and the high-income people can look after themselves comfortably. The middle-income will be squeezed in-between and are expected to bear with it. How I wish more opposition politicians were in Parliament now to speak on behalf of the oppressed middle-class. In this context, Parliament has been flogging the wrong horse all this while. Why speak up for people which the government will help anyway? Why not speak up for the people the government does not seem to have any plans to help?

Image source: Don Monet's Studio

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Surf's up, pants down

Wireless is becoming so pervasive in Singapore that people expect to be able to connect to the internet from their PC Notebooks anywhere they are in a building full of people. That includes high-rise apartments and shopping malls. Starbucks offers it for free when you dine at their cafe, and increasingly, many shopping malls too are offering free internet access bandwidth within their premises. Even the government in Singapore has jumped onto the bandwagon by offering free wireless connection everywhere on the island in 2007, albeit for a limited period of two years.

But anecdotal evidence and personal experience suggests that many people already tap into anybody's unsecured wireless internet access point to surf the net. Many people do it out of curiosity but never rely on it in the long run because the connection is generally weak and unstable. That limits the speed and adversely affects the surfing experience. Nevertheless, there are people who rely on it for all of their internet surfing needs, particularly from a fixed place, like the home. All they need to do is look for an unsecured wireless access point, select the one with the best signal strength, connect to it and surf away.

This is where knowing a bit of something can work against you. People are so taken with the ease of mobile surfing within the house through a wireless router they have installed that they do not bother or do not know to 'lock down' their access point to prevent access from unwelcomed intruders. It is tantamount to keeping the door to their house unlocked, nay, opened, allowing strangers to come and go as they please.

So I don't know who to blame when a local boy got charged in court recently for doing exactly this - the boy had made use of a neighbour's unsecured wireless point(something which would become common place with free internet access points) without permission, or the victim (if one can call him/her that) for not securing his/her access point. Truth be told, what the boy did is VERY common. It does not require sophisticated technical skills such as what crackers may need to have, so I wonder if this court case is meant to serve as a warning to internet users at large to lay their hands off this practice. Make no mistake, stealing bandwidth is wrong but exposing your access point would seem like an open invitation to use, at least implicitly.

We must certainly regret that a 17 year-old boy is now a 'scapegoat' of sorts. I personally think that the 'victim' could have resolved his quarrel man-to-man instead of involving the police and the courts. But I suppose the 'victim' didn't like the fact that he was caught with his pants down. Even if the boy is not convicted (not likely), the relationship between neighbours is now all but shattered. Ultimately, somebody will have to move.

Therein lies the lesson for today - secure your wireless access point if you want to keep your pants up.

Image source:

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Transport my foot

Well, if this picture is anything to go by, SBS Transit has still got a long way to go before it can call itself world class. Yesterday, I boarded a bus service 151 and was shocked that one of its seat was sitting on another and strapped to the window bars for stability. Many other passengers who boarded the bus were also visibly shocked. Some, though, were amused. But none were happy as nobody took the seat, even when all other seats were occupied. Does SBS Transit expect its fare-paying commuters to sit on this?

If something untoward happens - the seat is dislodged and the commuter ends up hurt (whether the commuter was sitting on the seat or standing beside it or seated across from it at that time - I wonder what type of compensation SBS Transit will pay the affected commuters.

Come on, SBS Transit. With the millions you make every year, surely you can afford to fix this seat before you allow the bus to operate again. There seems to be a disconnect between what is said and what is done. A world class transport my foot. SBS Transit should be ashamed of its product quality.

I don't wonder that the car is still the best...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

To sit on a potatoe is bliss

Public transport in Singapore is a political hot potatoe. Was in the past, still is today, and still waiting for a satisfactory resolution of the issues. How do we improve bus services? The waiting times and long journeys are oft cited ways of improving the situation. There is another, related, target that I think all public transport companies should strive for - no standing in buses.

Why should anyone have to stand in buses when the fare paid by everyone, seated or standing, is the same? It is not just a matter of posture, really. In a bus, when you stand, you need tremendous physical strength to stay standing. You need strength in your hands to hold the handle-bars (and reach too, to reach those bars), strength in your arms and legs to ensure that you keep steady as the bus turns left and right, and an even greater strength on the feet to avoid ending up floating in the air. Standing in a moving bus can indeed be a physically, if not mentally, challenging ordeal.

I suspect that if this mentality of having to make full use of all standing space in the bus persists, bus services will never improve and may be the root of many of the complaints about bus services. Buses will come at long and unpredictable intervals because the bus company supremos will view a half empty bus (i.e. all passengers seated, non standing) as sub-optimal. Do these supremos know how long it takes people to board a crowded bus and just as long to disembark? Those who take public buses day in day out, like me, will know. Those who don't can only live in their spreadsheet bliss of ignorance.

It will certainly cost more, but I think people won't mind paying more if the service is excellent. Current transport executives just cannot and would not understand this.

So if you want people to start taking the bus, give them a seat first. Its as simple as that.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Between a rock and a hard place

Rock and a hard place -, who wants to take the bus in Singapore if they had a choice not to? In status conscious Singapore, everyone will prefer to be driving and seen to be driving a car - the latest model if possible, just like their handphones. The only way you can do that is to make the cost of owning your own set of wheels so prohibitively expensive that you have no choice but to take the bus and/or the train to get around.

Which is what the Singapore government is doing with its slew of costly car taxes, petrol taxes, road taxes, electronic road pricing (ERP) fees and life-span taxes (I mean the car, not the driver's, though it can come to that). Still people continue to buy and drive cars in Singapore. And what do they do in order to cough up all those money to pay for all those taxes? For the marginal bunch (and I believe they form the majority), both couples have to work to pay off the car loans besides the various taxes incurred everyday they use the car. This results in substantially less savings which could have been put into long term investments. For couples, the trade-off is to keep the kid in the childcare. Parents rationalise, ironically with the help of the government, that the car is more important. The government encourages every adult, male and female, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, to work so that next year's economic growth will be a record breaking one.

But I digress. One of the ways to resolve this perennial transport problem in Singapore  is to make owning and driving a car even more expensive than it is today. This will be akin to political suicide. So the only real solution lies in making public transport more convenient and comfortable than it is today. The problem is, doing this will make Singapore's public transport the most expensive in the world. This is inevitable. Private transport companies will want to maximise on profit, so for any public transport that is made any more convenient than it is today means raising cost substantially. Coupled with the  Singapore government's reluctance to distort the market through subsidies and you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.

Since I don't drive, let me list the reasons why I would want to own a car:
1. Unpredictable arrival times of buses ** number one grouse **.
2. Long waiting times for buses and sometimes taxis too.
3. Unpredictable waiting times for taxis.
4. Unavailable buses, taxis and trains.
5. Disappearing taxis
6. Uncomfortable buses (particularly non-air-con ones).
7. Uncomfortable, broken and dirty seats.
8. Selfish commuters (who do not make room for people to enter the bus, people who sit on the aisle of seats - as if to say, "sqeeze in if you want the seat, otherwise, stand").
9. Bus stops that are far away (walking in the blazing sun spoils the make-up).
10. Bus stops that are too near (results in a noisy and filthly house).
11. Buses that take a roundabout way to reach your destination.
12. Boarding and alighting buses can be physically and mentally challenging.
13. Missing the bus/train.
14. Cross-border restrictions on travel (for that drive to JB)

But I suppose owning a car has its top ten list too. Since I don't own a car, I can only surmise the cost involved. A rock and a hard place indeed. Which is why the government is proposing that you have the cake and eat it too. I am not sure this will not be even more expensive.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

That pound of flesh

Shylock - would appear that Singapore bankers are a bunch of Unsurprisingly, even the Association of Banks of Singapore are backing them up over the issue of multiple Floating Board Rates (FBR) that banks maintain to compute interest on loans. And many who have borrowed from these banks to fund their property purchases must be biting their nails now that they know their interest is pegged to whatever rates the banks decide to charge. What's the difference compared to if they went to a casino to bet their life savings? The first one squeezes you dry without your knowing about it, the other is more open about it. Somehow, the image of Shylock comes to mind.

'Trust us' - the banks say, but the banks are hardly those who trust anybody. They send their debt collectors to foreclose on your house and business loans the moment they smell something ratty - and they have first charge on the moneys to boot.

But of course I may be wrong about all this. However, so far, replies in the press from banks over the issue of multiple FBRs have been far from convincing. That pound of flesh is difficult for its customers to swallow.

On the other hand, NTUC seems more reasonable. They only have one FBR, so I understand, making loan computations more predictable and comprehensible, not to say fair. I am glad that I borrowed that huge gob of money from NTUC. Perhaps re-financing with NTUC may be a good idea for the rest?

Disclaimer: I do not work for NTUC nor its affiliate organisations. Heck, I am not even a Union member. I am just a satisfied customer who does not have to toss and turn in bed worrying about banks' arbitrary FBRs.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

The race in life

Multi-racialism by food - I was young and lived in the Naval Base, played with people of diverse races. I am a Chinese and there were Indians, Sikhs, Malays and smaller number of Eurasians in that community. We played Rounders and went fishing together. They celebrated Hari Raya and Deepavali, and I, Chinese New Year. Some Indians have even invited me for lunch and that's where I learned to use more of my hands.

We never thought that doing all of these violated any of our religions, which we maintained in our own way. So I am sad when some extreme Muslims begin to preach 'separateness' at the social and community level. Certainly, religious beliefs separate us at a fundamental level, but that does not mean that we cannot enjoy the customs and cultures of a different race. My life would have been poorer if I had not had the chance to interact with people of other races. In fact, today, I still maintain links with these people, many of whom I went to school with, and who I will ever regard as my friends.

It is sad that such multi-racial hodgepodge communities as the one that existed in the Singapore Naval Base, and I believe many other places in Singapore as well, has become almost extinct, what with everyone living in their pigeon-coop fashioned government housing (HDB) and private apartments. For all the government's quota policy and sustained effort at ensuring that each HDB block has a mix of Chinese, Indians and Malays, I must say I have never interacted with any other race in my many years living in one.

My life, and probably my children's life, are the poorer for it.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The heart of dining

Japanese grilled - rarely write about dining experiences. No, let me correct that. I have never written about my dining experiences, because eating is not a hobby for me, unlike many others in Singapore. Until now.

Vivo City is the hottest place in Singapore right now. Even on a 'working' day, you can meet throngs of people at this new spanking mega shopping mall, as I did yesterday afternoon. This wasn't my first time there and I amused myself identifying the new shops that were opened since my last visit a week ago. I decided to have dinner there. My companion seemed very interested in a Japanese Restaurant called Shin Kushiya which is billed as a Japanese Charcoal Grill restaurant. A look at the prices on its menu suggested that it was a mid-priced restaurant. I could afford that. The only problem was it opened only at 6pm for dinner. Well that gave us time to wander around a bit more - something not difficult to do in this vast mega-complex. We joined the queue at 5.50pm as the queue had already formed - by two young couples.

That's when everything went wrong. We could see many restaurant staff going about their preparatory work in the restaurant and were expectant of a good dining experience. The hour came and passed, and nobody came to welcome us into the restaurant. Well, time is relative, so we waited. Another 5 minutes and we could see the staff still busying themselves in the restaurant except welcoming guests - and I thought that the customer is king. In this case, the customer seemed to be a peripheral concern. My companion said that we would wait another 5 minutes, after which we would take our business elsewhere if we continued to be ignored. Before the next 5 minute mark was breached, others in the queue were also vocally frustrated. I was thinking of an alternative restaurant already. At the eleventh minute mark, a waiter finally deigned it appropriate to lead the first couple in, after which he disappeared elsewhere, seemingly ignoring the second couple at the door. I wondered, "Did the first couple have a reservation?" We could see a number of other waiters and waitresses inside the restaurant, but I suppose in a Japanese organisation, each one has his/her appointed position, and they do not cross each other's assigned responsibilities. We had to wait another 2 minutes before the second and third couple (us) were ushered in. At last to dine in a restaurant with a tinge of exclusivity. But that was not the end.

Many restaurants in Vivo City have marvellous sea-view frontage. We were the third couple in, so we expected that we could sit where that sea-view would be ours for the evening. But no, the restaurant has blocked off the section of tables nearest the sea-frontage and what's more, it had a black, albeit see-through, curtain separating the sea-view from the diners. What a royal waste of view. But customers cannot be choosers, can they (?)

Well, at least we were seated. As the restaurant did not have set menus for dinner - it is all ala carte, we took a while placing our orders, though not much longer than the other diners. Then we waited and waited and waited for our food. For the first half-an-hour, the only thing available to our famished tummies was a small cup of salad and a cup of green tea each. That salad consisted of two bite-sized wedges of carrots and cucumbers and several small pieces of chopped cabbage, all contained in a typical Japanese-sized cup - small and dainty, that is. It was already close to 7pm and other diners where already well into their meal. Many of them had come in later than us. In fact, the first couple had already left the restaurant after their meal. We felt like the invisible couple but more so that the waiters needed some prompting. Sure enough, the reminders seemed to work as our dishes were served up to us in quick succession. What if we had not asked?

Only, my companion noticed that some grilled items in a dish she remembered she had ordered did not appear on the dish. So it was clarification time. Then only did the restaurant realise that they had missed out those items. Then only were we also informed that one of the missing items was no longer in stock, so they cancelled this off the bill. The restaurant was busy, but not serving up the customers' orders promptly and correctly is a sin where restaurants are concerned. There is just no excuse, especially when something has run out of stock and you are not told. If we had not noticed the discrepancy and settled the bill, we would have paid for some things that were never offered. Tsk tsk, this is no way to run a restaurant. We reminded each other the last time we dined at a fine-dining Japanese restaurant and encountered similar delays. That restaurant has since closed.

Well, what about the food? you may ask. I am no connoisseur, but I would say that the food is good though not something to shout about. Its Saba couldn't compare to the one that I ate in a neighbourhood restaurant in Korea some one and a half years ago. The portion was what you'd expect, not overly generous, but enough to fill the tummy, though my companion, a women, may not agree. The ambience is good and could have been better if they had offered the sea-view. Surprisingly, their waitresses, all of whom do not appear to be more than 20 years old, are very polite and helpful

So the next time your are at Vivo City and you are thinking of dining here, note the time. The accuracy of their Japanese watch remains much to be desired. And watch that you do not get overcharged for food that was never served. If you want sea-view frontage, you'd probably have more luck with the other restaurants.

This restaurant has the Chinese/Japanese 'heart' word displayed prominently at its entrance. I suppose it sits there proudly too. However, if our dining experience is anything to go by, it has already lost its 'heart' in putting the customer first.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Credit Boon and Bane

Credit Boon and Bane - cards are the bane of modern living, that is unless you can or have tamed this animal. Then it becomes a boon. Many people either realize it or pretend not to that it is a very very costly way of obtaining money to spend for the here and now.

When I first got my credit card bill, I paid only the minimum sum required. This is not because I had no money to settle the bill in full, just that it felt nice that I had the power of credit in my hands. And I think that is why people rack up huge credit card bills over time by just paying the minimum sum - a misplaced sense of pride and power. I often wonder, when I see a person whip out a wallet full of credit cards, if it shows the person is wealthy beyond imagination or if the person is not knee-deep in debt. If not in debt, that person is wasting money paying the bank card membership fees, which always works out to a net loss - to the card holder. Surely you don't think that banks are in the charity business?

The parties who has this real power are actually the banks who issued the card. They are the ones that make the money - a lot of it - out of our folly. That is why banks are falling over each other to give 2-year-free credit cards away. I've often said that the interest charge on the credit is just not worth the false sense of financial power that one pretends to possess.

So after I received my second bill, I sheepishly paid up the entire bill, including interest charges. I have never lived on credit card debt ever since, except the portion that the bank advances for the first 55 days, interest-free. By settling my credit card fully every month, I ensure that the debt demon will never come near me. That's how you make the credit card work for you and not against you.

Read: Credit card payments: Can consumers handle the minimum?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Thumbs-up for SMRT

Thumbs-up - should give SMRT a good pat on the back to say, 'Well Done!' In a coup of sorts, it has indirectly contributed to bringing back together again a mother and her missing son through allowing Crime Library to put up its posters of missing persons at its business premises - it wide network of MRT stations. That's an excellent exercise in good corporate citizenship. They have certainly scored a charity dividend here.

One the other hand, TransitLink and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) should be roundly booed for refusing Crime Library's request to make use of bus stops and train stations for the same purpose. I cannot accept excuses that say the posters will make a mess of these places. Surely, if we are intelligent enough to build a bus stop, we should be intelligent enough to put up notices that contribute to the greater good. I think its just plain laziness or carelessness (or both) on the part of these huge organisations to do anything else except make money. Ironically, Transitlink is part-owned by SMRT. A case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?

LTA is a bureaucracy, 'nuf said.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Beware of self-serving advice

Divorce -'s 8th Oct 2006 issue of its Sunday Times carried a story about how divorced couples find it necessary to continue living together in their public housing apartments in spite of their legal separation because selling out these days will incur negative equity.

I sympathise with them and if they can still live under the same roof, though not under the same arrangements as husband and wife, why not? This is not very uncommon if you have ever been overseas to study. Very often, you might end up sharing an apartment with the opposite sex, though of course, all of you have separate rooms. It is also not uncommon for some in the apartment, especially the ladies (and I am not type-casting anyone here) to cook for the guys and increasingly vice versa too. Coming back, this arrangement is doubly important if there are kids involved. Tearing a child's heart apart is the last thing anyone would want to do in spite of the hurt that others have caused.

So I bristled when the Propnex Realty's CEO Mohamed Ismail advised couples in such situation to cut their losses and move on. If the couples moved out, they will incur greater losses, not only financially, but get their kids involved emotionally too. I have come across many students who don't do well in school precisely because they are affected by broken homes. The sad thing is some of these students are quite bright but the emotional trauma and sense of confusion and loss over-rules it.

Mr Ismail's interest and advice are hardly difficult to fathom. However, if he wants to give such advice, he may as well jump into the Singapore River first before one or the other of his advisees do so as a result of increased financial trauma. Come on, Mr Ismail, I know you want to buy and sell houses, but surely not at the expense of others?

Besides, time is a great healer. If there is no 3rd party pushing for separate living arrangements, then over time, the relationship might just heal - so long as both couples keep in touch and Mr Ismail keeps away.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The cable guy needs checking

The Cable Guy - several people have written to the press claiming that whatever real effort they have put in to reduce their consumption of electricity, such as reduced air-con usage, moving to a small house, making sure the TV is switched off when no one is watching, etc., etc., they do nothing to the size of the electricity bill at the end of the month.

We all know that the electricity metres are not read at the end of every month. It is common for the electricity company to estimate usage based on past patterns and only adjust the charges when the metres are actually read. But hands up anyone who monitors and makes sure that estimates are corrected at some point in time and you would probably be hard put to get a roomful, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of households consuming electricity.

I am beginning to wonder if the electricity company is having us on, taking advantage of consumers' trust or ignorance or both. Are they neglecting to do their job in ensuring that the numbers are correct at the end of the month? Yes, electricty tariffs change quarter to quarter, but even accounting for such fluctuations, it cannot be that the bill size is the same every month? My bills seem to be climbing every month, but of course that's because of the price of oil. But I have noticed that even on months when I am away on vacation for a week, the bill size never fell significantly. I always rationalise this anomaly by assuming that my bill for that month is an estimated one based on prior months' average usage. Now I am not too sure that I should be doing the rationalizing on behalf of the electricity company.

I think it is high time some audit is done on the electricity companies instead of dissipating resources on the witch hunt that is going on in the charities sector.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Sacred Cow is slayed at last

Sacred cow killed? -'s discretionary policy of putting its students along different educational paths according to ability has been slayed. Many would say that this has been long overdue. I am referring to the educational policy of streaming Primary school students from level 4 onwards (Primary 4) into EM 1, 2 and 3 where the poorest students are put into EM3 as a group to follow a specific (read dumbed-down) curriculum. The assumption that mediocre students, when put together and taught at their appropriate level, will learn better together and at the right pace has now been acknowledged officially as flawed. Of course, many who have been affected by the policy, such as students and their parents, have known it all along. Local film maker, Mr Jack Neo, has even made a movie, 'I not stupid', that addresses the practical problems and issues with the implementation of this educational policy. That it took so long to change this policy (Primary school streaming has been around for more than 10 years) is a marvel in country where change is a constant way of life.

The new received wisdom is called ability-driven education where there is more opportunity for students of different abilities studying differently to interact, thereby enriching the learning environment and experience. In this way, weaker students will no longer feel ostracized by being identified as belonging exclusively to a certain group. I think this new policy can only be a good thing but we need good people to implement not only the letter of the policy but, more importantly, the spirit of the policy. Let us not want to abolish anything 10 years hence because the implementation has not been well carried through.

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Outsourcing done wrong

Golden Handshake - has been a growing trend over the last few years. It has largely been a good thing. It is going back to the basics where people specialise in their areas of their greatest competency and trade these competencies with others for the greatest efficiencies which lead to lower costs and increased profits. However, as with all good things, it doesn't always pan out the way it is supposed to, for workers, at least.

Today columnist, Liang Dingzhi, has raised the issue about how outsourcing often hurts workers even if those workers do not lose their jobs. Sometimes, workers are merely 're-assigned' to a new 'outsourcing' company (the 'outsourcee') set up by the outsourcer to continue to do what they have been doing. The difference is it allows employment terms to be renegotiated between employee and the new outsourcing company. Unfortunately for the employees, these companies often do so from a position of strength because any failed negotiation essentially means retrenchment for the workers.

It was this 'take it' or 'leave it' terms that my friend faced two years ago when HDB corporatised its construction arm. He ended up with substantially reduced pay although the nature and scope of his job remained the same. A golden handshake was offered as an alternative. Having 2 young kids to support, being 50-ish and having no other skill, he had no choice but to accept terms that were worse than before. That Golden Handshake wouldn't go far given his circumstances and worse, the construction industry was in the doldrums then.

I wonder where the champions of labour were then? Perhaps they were around, I don't know. But if they were present, did they put up a fight on the workers' behalf for more equal terms or is this a case of hands-off because it concerns a government statutory board? To me, this remains one of the most serious blots on the much vaunted Labour movement in Singapore, which perhaps explains why I have not joined any Union although I have been invited to do so.

At the end of the day, it is better not to rely too much on others, not even the Unions.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Puberty's potent mixture

Parent and child - parent tend to have problems with their growing children, particularly when their children enter puberty. Not only do they change physically, but they also become independently minded, desiring their own personal private space.

Just the other day, my sister-in-law mentioned how her eldest daughter (about 15 years old) seemed not to want to listen to her anymore. Somehow, a communication gap has developed. Instead, the child would lock herself in her own room on end, and this has gotten the mother quite worried. Like Mr Felix Kumar's (a pseudonym used by a parent in his letter to Today) child, this niece has had the best upbringing any child would want - loving parents, good exam grades, a room of her own, being ferried to and from school by private car, two overseas holidays a year (the last was to Japan), and a family of Christians.

I will not attempt to psycho-analyse here. My profession lies elsewhere, so many people are much more qualified to comment. But I do want to take up the issue about girls, or even boys, getting to know people on the internet through chatlines, messaging, etc. and subsequently establishing some sort of liaison with them, whether virtual or physical.

First, the internet is real, it is here, and it cannot be ignored. So parents should introduce the internet to them, and perhaps teach them how to use it. More often than not, their children will learn more from their friends in school. But there is one thing that you must repeatedly tell them within the context of their experience, and that is that the internet is full of trickery, dishonesty and yes, malicious people. You must drum into your child the fact that you cannot trust what you see or read on the internet, especially in chats, messenger messages and e-mails. You can never know if the messenger who claims to be 20 is not actually a 50 year-old paedophile prowling the net. In this digital world of ours, photos and videos can be faked. I have told my son often not to trust anything or anybody they encounter on the internet. The rest must be a judgement call that he must make on further corroboration with fellow students, trusted adults and teachers (nah, they won't ask the parents) if a website and its contents are alright. In fact, I am not surprised that my son learnt about key-loggers from his friend, which I subsequently corroborated. So the first order of things is to inject a healthy dose of scepticism about the internet while introducing them to its wonders.

Second, if you need to give your child a handphone, get them a pre-paid card instead of a monthly plan. Yes, pre-paid card rates are generally higher per minute of talktime, and it doesn't come with 'free' talktimes. But honestly, tell me if it has been any easier on your pockets with those 'cheaper' subscription plans? Pre-paid cards come with a sufficient number of free SMS which the child can get by without engaging in frivolous messaging. So far, after 3 months, I have not had to top up on the initial $18 pre-paid card that I got for my son.

Well, maybe it is still early days for him, and for me. My son hasn't reach puberty, but I am mentally prepared for it. Whether this is enough remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

$econd $ingapore Idol

We have the $econd $ingapore idol and it$ a money game, 'nuf $aid.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Do what you do best

Focus on core activity- should just stick to its core competency, which is to provide transportation services to the island in whatever form, such as its subway trains, buses and taxis. Obviously it does not have the time nor the expertise to manage shopping malls within its premises in the subway stations, such as the Dhoby Xchange.

In spite of it being located in one of the busiest subway stations on the island (it houses both SMRT's and TransitLink's subway train stations), we are told that the Xchange is virutally a ghost town. And that's not because the goods and services on offer in these places are not interesting. Well, actually, I wouldn't know. People, including myself, do not know how to get there. Some do not even know it exists in the first place! If SMRT takes the stance that they will build the mall, collect the rent and leave the retailer to sink or swim, then in the long run, retailers will just pack up and leave. There are probably better places and better landlords that will work together with them to ensure that their businesses are successful.

The SMRT should get serious and employ people who are good and know this area of business so that some professionalism can be injected into an organisation that basically moves people and not entertain them. But this will depart from its core competency of transportation services. I don't see why SMRT should want to go into this area of business just because it owns potentially commercialisable retail space in its subway stations. SMRT has certainly already expanded into this area of business significantly, going by the growth of retail business locations in many above-ground MRT stations such as Pasir Ris and Sembawang.

Alternatively, the SMRT can outsource the management of these malls and retail spaces to a party that specialises in these things. These mall operators will probably have the networks, programmes and trade linkages that gives them the competitive and cost-advantage in operating these malls and places that will yield an even higher return on investment.

It is a fact that SMRT moves people very efficiently, but probably lacks the mindset and ability to attract and entertainment shoppers.

p.s. Just so that you do not mistaken this to be idle ranting, the writer has a Diploma in Retail Management from the University of Stirling.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Greed and doom are close cousins

Wolfowitz on Corruption and Aid - got it right from day one. Let's give credit where credit is due. Mr Lee Kuan Yew made anti-corruption a pillar of the Singapore government from day one. The World Bank's Mr Wolfowitz is seconding this wisdom today at the WB/IMF meetings when he made corruption a pre-condition for aid. Some may not agree with this but consider the experience of the very country that this decision is made in today.

In hindsight, Singapore's ability to forge ahead with its nation building efforts to reach 1st World status in less than 40 years is largely due to the policy of incorruptibility in government and society. Granted we had a lot of help along the way from the International community, but it was the uncompomising stance and astute policies that galvanised and provided the purpose for Singaporeans to work hard for their own futures.

Under Singapore government policies which stressed equitability and merit through hard work, Singaporeans understood that the future lies not with corrupt officials, nor government largesse, but with themselves through education and hard work. The future was theirs to build or to neglect, irrespective of how much money one started out with. Sure, there were miss-steps and mistakes, but the important thing was we learnt from failure to forge ahead. There may be things that we may not be happy with in Singapore society and politics today, but at least we are still here to debate and engage the powers that be to bring about change. Consider what the alternative would be.

I am unabashed when I write this because the evidence is for all to see, no matter what some small number of ignorant people imagine and say...

p.s. and no, I am not a PAP party member, nor PAP supporter - only a common citizen of Singapore.

Monday, September 18, 2006

State of Police Action

Symbol of Terrorism and Hate - Hat Yai burns, I cannot help but reflect on the strong and unwavering police in Singapore in ensuring the security and well-being of the delegates and their families in the IMF/World Bank Meeting now in session in Singapore. This has been done at the cost of rebuke from as high as the President of the World Bank, Mr Paul Wolfowitz, who was extremely displeased with Singapore's actions in banning 27 activists (now reduced to 5) from entering the country to participate in the IMF/WB meetings.

When the delegates pick up the newspapers today in their hotels, they will realize that terrorism is at Singapore's doorsteps, if not its backyard. Hopefully they will now understand and appreciate that living in an environment where the police is resolute, thorough and incorrupt goes a long way towards the uninterrupted proceedings of the WB/IMF as well as the peace and enjoyment of the meetings and the island by delegates' spouses. Not only the delegates and their spouses, but more so the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) should appreciate that their demonstrations and messages can be lost in the death and destruction that can be caused by terrorists' indiscriminate and wanton acts. Demonstrate if you must, disagree and demand change, but do not, in the process, compromise the safety of others and themselves. And who best understands the issues and the dangers than the Singapore police?

Many foreigners misunderstand that Singapore is a police state. Well, it is. It is a state that is policed by good, committed and incorrupt officers for the good of its people and its guests so that they can go about their business without too much disruption. But don't believe me. Ask the IMF/WB delegates when they get home what they actually found out in Singapore as opposed to news writers who have never visited Singapore putting up fantasy and fiction about the police and the state on this tiny island of ours.

I cannot help but think that the unfortunate events in Hat Yai yesterday is a vindication of the security blanket that has been thrown over Singapore, even at the risk of offending our learned and passionate guests.

Police search for bomb clues
Thai blast kills 4...
Security loophole admitted
The murderous cost of failure
Australian hurt in Thai bombings
Google sources

Re-inventing life in Singapore

Reinventing life in Singapore - economy couldn't be better today, so we are told. The oracle suggests that Singaporeans will have an average pay increase of 4%. The painful Singapore recession of 2004/05 is now fading into distant memory for many although I believe that those who were affected most by it - those aged 40 and above, will forever see that recession as an inflection point in their lives, to borrow a Maths concept. Nothing they have ever done for the last 10, 20 or even 30 years are going to return any time soon, the booming economy notwithstanding. Many lost their high-paying and high-flying jobs as companies downsized and some moved out of Singapore, perhaps never to return in any big way, if at all. Many are now on vastly reduced pay while others, not willing or not used to being told what to do in the office, have struck out on their own. Some may have succeeded, others may still be in limbo.

While the old has moved out, the new have arrived - in the form of biotechnology. Where Physics once ruled amongs the army of engineers in the factories in Singapore, Biology and Chemistry has taken over as the kings of the Sciences in the labs. Go to One-North, Singapore's newest mecca to high technology and feel the rarified atmosphere on top of the hill. Even if you are not into high technology, I hear that the food there is good.

All of this goes to show that not only must businesses re-invent themselves to stay relevant, survive and thrive in the long run, so must humans skills be upgraded or adapted to new environments. Staying in a lifelong trade is no longer possible nor desirable unless that trade is constantly being reinvented by the person to make it relevant and meaningful to the times.

Such is the bind that many Property Agents find themselves in, when in order to feed the family and stay in the trade, they resort not only to getting paid by Paul but robbing Peter also after sealing a property transaction over which they may have little contribution or value-add. This is my frank opinion over the recent debate over commissions paid to property agents. I say to them that nobody owes them a living, just like the rest of us who have, at one time or another, lost our jobs. Robbing via fiat is not only unethical, it is criminal. Some re-evaluation and reform is in order, though I suspect that it will not happen anytime soon, given the current booming economy and probable escalation of property prices because the Singapore government has openly invited foreigners to set up home on this tiny island. If anything, property agents are in for a booming time.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Customer must be majestic

Abuse - is the received wisdom of retailers, or anybody in the service industry. The customer must always be right even if he/she is wrong. So it was a shock to read (in the Straits Times) that the owners and chef of Le Petit Restaurant up in Thomson Road actually threw out one of its diners for causing a commotion in the restaurant.

I say, to **** with that received wisdom. Diners, indeed any customer, can be king or queen as the case may be, if their behaviour is kingly, which may include being very demanding. But once the king becomes abusive, then all courtesy can be thrown out of the window, together with the king/customer. The restaurant in questions has now gained a unwelcomed notoriety which inevitably will cost it in terms of patronage. But I suspect that many discerning diners may feel that the customer in question was in the wrong and the management of the restaurant did the right thing by ejecting the customer. If I were dining at that restaurant that day, and my dinner was being spoilt by the commotion that this woman was causing, I would be grateful if somebody took action to restore order and let me dine in peace and quiet.

3 cheers to the owners and chef of this restaurant who, no doubt, were thinking of the rest of its customers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

City of 4 million smiles

The World Bank/IMF Meetings taking place between 11/9 and 20/9 cannot go unmentioned in this blog. It has been touted as the most important event in the Singapore calendar in 2006, so much so that it has been given a name - S2006 and includes several websites, each for a different purpose:

Indeed, Singapore seems to have got itself into a disagreeable situation with its guests, the World Bank/IMF over its strict enforcement of Singapore's laws on open air demonstrations and the banning of certain civil organisation activists. I don't know if the WB/IMF does not see any irony in their stance of allowing these civil organisations to hold demonstrations in the streets in the name of democracy and open-ness virtually all over the world where it has had its annual meetings, but have yet to address these organisation's issues and complaints enough all these years to make these demonstrations unnecessary. Does the WB/IMF see these demonstrations as validating its meetings and lending a high profile and newsworthy angle to the whole event, gaining it a self-generated importance without which these meetings will be a bore?

Well, they don't need to worry about that. Singapore is sparing no expense (last reported to be S$100m) to make this event the most secure, the most conducive, the most comfortable, the most beautiful and the most convenient for all the expected 16,000 delegates who will descend on the island this week. It has even gone to the extent of engaging almost free labour in the form of students from the Polytechnics, whose mid-semester vacations are in full swing this September, to man various posts such as the kitchens, the e-kiosks and even the tour buses so that the delegates have the best meeting experience of their lives. Indeed, the WB/IMF delegates will be treated like kings and queens this week, going by the importance and attention to detail that the Singapore government has thrown into the meet.

But by far the greatest contribution that Singapore has made, beyond all the smiles and rooms and facilities must be the utter security that the government has blanketed the venue with. This is not coincidental as this week, the world remembers 9/11.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 five years on

Anthony 9/11 Memorial - - these numbers will be etched in people's minds for many years to come, especially those who have lost loved ones - friends, relatives, colleagues - and acquaintances in this heinous destruction of the World Trade Center Buildings in New York and the Pentagon. Today is the 5th anniversary of that day when Muslim Terrorists rammed their 747 jets into buildings that they considered icons of American capitalism and imperialism. More than 3,000 innocent lives were sacrificed for their beliefs, and many more have been psychologicallly scarred ever since.

On 9/11 five years ago, I had just woken in the morning to prepare for work. My mother, who was then living with me, was coming out of the kitchen. The TV was switched on to CNN, as it was every morning. It was (re)playing the scenes of a Boeing 747 ramming into one tower of the WTC, with another close behind and headed for the second tower. In a matter of minutes after the second jet crashed into the second tower, both buildings just collapsed downwards like a stack of cards - they just disappeared. Such were the scenes that CNN and many other TV stations played over and over again that entire day. I was astounded. Reporters near ground zero were in tears as they recounted the incidents of the day. I was close to tears myself as I watched, in spite of my being half a world away in the safety and comfort of my home.

Apparently, many still believe in the cause of 9/11 today. And it doesn't look like these people will soon fade away. The worst thing is that these people claim to stand up for one of the most influential religions in the world today - Islam. Fairly or unfairly, Islam itself is today tainted, perhaps forever linked to the innocent slaughter of thousands of people who were just going about life, earning a decent day's wages. This perception remains today, even in my mind, because Muslims have not all stood unequivocally to disassociate itself from these murderous acts. I am not sure even today if my Muslim colleague is not a closet terrorist sympathiser although I continue to work with them amicably and with due respect everyday.

Such is my pysche scarred and affected even till today.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Today is restricted

Restricted Newspaper? - years ago, when I was in school, I was encouraged to read the newspapers. I was told that not only is it a source of general knowledge that I should build up, but it was good for my learning of the English language too. Then, there was only one English paper - the Straits Times and it cost money. Nevertheless, I started to read the newspapers when I was in Secondary School.

Today, there are more newspapers on the streets and some are free of charge. For example, the print edition of Today, which is published by Mediacorp and The Epoch Times. Hopefully, this proliferation of papers will lead to a heightened general knowledge and improved English among its readers - the Singapore public.

I was quite disturbed yesterday when my 12 year old son was denied the Today newspaper. The auntie distributing the paper at Compass Point said that students in uniform are not entitled to a copy. I suppose the auntie is not making up this decision but that it must have come from higher ups, such as the distributor or even the publisher themselves. I was dismayed.

I understand that there may be commercial reasons in targetting the paper for certain sectors of the population. But I have seen advertisements in Today which is targetted at the young too. So I cannot understand why Mediacorp is denying its otherwise excellent paper to students in uniform. Now my son will start to think that the earliest he can read the Today newspaper is when he reaches at least 16 years old, and 18 years old if he manages to make JC. Somehow, this gives the impression that Today is a paper in the class of the R16/R18 Restricted Materials category prescribed by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

Surely our young students should start to know something of the world today by reading good balanced reporting through papers such as Today? But this is not what the distributor or publisher (Mediacorp Press) thinks. Apparently, profit is mightier than the pen.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Ambivalent community

I have a feeling of ambivalence over the government's very vocal advocacy of immigration these days. Even before the PM's National Day Rally speech where he announced the government's open-arms policy regarding immigration, I have already noticed more foreigners amongst our midst.

I take the bus and MRT (subway) to work every day. Nowadays, I hear people with strange tongues on these daily journeys. I noticed that a number of school students are from China. You can tell from their accented Chinese, which is noticeably different from the Singapore Chinese intonation. You also know they are students because they carry files and bags and get on and off the bus at educational institutions such as the SIM University. I have Indian friends but many Indians I bump into on the train nowadays aren't Indians that I am familiar with.

Ironically, I am not sure how they can integrate into our multi-racial society. Singapore's multi-racialism is grounded on government and education. Government is not a problem, so far, but many of these adult immigrants haven't gone through our school system. Coupled with the fact that they may not have deep community bonding outside of their own cliques, I am not sure that they can integrate into the Singapore society and embrace its multi-racial ethos quickly enough. Yet we wish foreigners like them to sink roots here. I have no issue with either objectives. My only concern is how they can effectively blend in. Singapore has always been against people clustering along racial lines, and I understand that community leaders may have a game plan in place to draw these immigrants into the community at large. Still, their backgrounds, education, assumptions and prejudices may be so different that integrating them into the local culture is not a trivial affair.

Can Singaporeans accept them? I mean communicate with them? Voluntarily get to know them in this dog eat dog society of ours? I just feel that there is some sort of barrier and alienation between myself and these people, something that I don't feel when I am with Singaporeans on the same train. Perhaps it is the language, the dialect, the intonation which is so different from mine, ours, when I communicate with fellow Singaporeans.

As more of these people join us, as they surely will, my ambivalence will increase.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The land where the sun would not set

Every time Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Koizumi, visits the Yasukuni Shrine, the rest of East and South-East Asia cringes and criticises these visits. The reason why these people do not view these visits by Mr Koizumi favourably is that there are Class A war criminals interred in this Shrine. War criminals such as Tojo, whose militaristic conquest of Korea, China right down to Singapore, still brings back very very horrible memories, some of which are still talked about today, more than 50 years after the first incidents.

There are some who question why Japan has still got to ask for forgiveness after so many years while the German Chancellor never need to do something similar. The Germans under Hitler probably caused a lot of suffering in Europe as well. The issue, really, is not Japan per se. I would say that much of the world has embraced Japan, its way of life and its technology over the last few decades. Non-Japanese have embraced the good cars that Japan have built and continue to export, Sony is a desired brand all over the world, including China and Taiwan right down to Singapore. Indeed, Singapore has embraced Japanese investments and welcome Japanese tourists and travellers. Closer to home, one of my son's favourite food is Sushi.

So in fact, the Japanese have been forgiven a long time ago. Why then do people feel so offended by Koizumi's shrine visits? The reason is because this shrine commemorates war criminals. Last year, Prince Harry of England wore a military uniform complete with a Swastika arm-band to a costume party. He was taken to task by the public. He had to apologise for his poor sense of judgement and insensitivities. So also, what Mr Koizumi continues to do shows a lack of judgement and is deeply insensitive to many in Asia. Many who lost kith and kin during that cruel period are still alive today. If those Class A war criminals were not commemorated at Yasukuni, then I think nobody will be bothered with anyone visiting that Japanese Shrine, or any Shrine for that matter.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Cat in the Bag

Cat out of the Bag - last, the cat is out of the bag. The true object of the ongoing feud between Dr Mahathir and the Abdullah Badawi (AB) government is in fact Singapore, or to be exact, the Singapore-Johor Causeway. Dr M now says that everything will be taken off the table if AB will restore the original plan to replace the current Causeway with the so-called 'Scenic Bridge' - which really looks quite crooked from artist impressions. All this while Dr M has been engaged in the Indonesian art of shadow boxing, and wasted a lot of time and newsprint.

He has finally revealed his true intentions. This man just wouldn't go to his grave without a monument to his name. And ironically, he wants that monument to be a crooked and incomplete structure that represents everything that is wrong between Malaysia and Singapore in the past! Incredible! I'd rather not be remembered by a half-completed bridge that points to my FAILURE to get a full bridge. I'd rather not be remembered by a structure that tells volumes of the enmity I had with someone or some party or some country. I'd rather not have a half-completed bridge that testifies to blatant violations of international law and treaty. I'd rather not have a half-completed bridge at all! It is ironic that he would be the second person to want to blow up the Causeway. The first to do it was the invading Imperial Japanese army some 54-odd years ago. Does Dr M share something in common with the Emperor's Army?

One cannot begin to fathom the mind of this megalomaniac, with the kind of company that he seems to want to keep. Its a great pity seeing him destroy his own legacy in government over a crooked bridge. AB doesn't have to do much. He can stand at the sidelines and see his predecessor self-destruct. Shedding a tear or two is optional.