Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sands of Time

The Neptune Theatre Restaurant was closed last December. Now it is being demolished. A multi-storey building will probably take its place. In time, this new building will take away the breath-taking view from the building that these pictures were taken from.

Clifford Pier remains untouched. It is considered historical and will therefore be preserved. Thankfully, some people on this island do value our past, if only to milk money from it eventually as a tourist showpiece.

Don't blame my cynicism. A long time ago, many bemoaned the demolition of the iconic National Theatre. Some are still smarting from the demolition of the National Library, making the point recently that the tunnel that was the reason for it demise just isn't worth it. The building is gone and the tunnel is already in operation. In retrospect, many are (still) saying that exchanging a building where people applied their minds and hearts just couldn't compare to a hole in the hills where people applied their accelerators.

Hopefully this mass of concrete will yield something more useful.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Free to mooch

Yesterday, I switched on my Office Notebook at home to do, what else, some work. This involved my signing into my office's e-mail system, so internet access was required. No problem, I have had a wireless network running in my home for ages. But I was shocked to note that my wireless connection was hooking up automatically with one named 'linksys' instead of my wireless router, which of course, has a more meaningful name.

Curious, and alarmed, I called up the wireless networks list and sure enough, I was riding on an unsecured access point. In fact, there were more than 10 wireless access points listed, some of which were unsecured. I am a bit disturbed that wireless users still keep their access points totally unsecured even after the high profile court case of a 17 year-old moocher in Singapore, who was convicted of using his neighbour's unsecured wireless internet connection. Do these people with unsecured wireless APs expect to make use of the publicly-funded DPP's time to prosecute violaters?

There was an ensuing debate about whether, essentially, the law was an ass. Shouldn't the person with the wireless access point secure it in the first place, failing which his connection should be considered free for all? Indeed, I find it increasingly harder to justify the law that says riding on an unsecured wireless access point is a crime. Often, it is more a life-saver and a great convenience because it allows us to stay connected via e-mail and other wireless devices, albeit without paying a single cent. Tell, me, Mr Judge and Mr Public Prosecutor, when you are in a remote location with your Notebook and you find a 'free' wireless internet connection, would you refuse to use it? Really? Honestly?

I believe that it is up to the owner to secure his/her access point failing which that access point should be considered free to use. As the law says, ignorance is no excuse.

Sue me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lip Service

Lip Service of the Month:
Housewives are worth billions
$10.2b to be exact, according to a University Don who made a considered calculation of the worth of housewives, or stay-at-home-mums, or whatever label you want to tag on them. Funny, I spend thousands a month supporting one. Where's the money?

Even government MPs spoke up for this silent group about how they have been left out of the budget goodies announced recently. Well, you and I know that if the government were to keep dishing out goodies to all and sundry, I, the taxpayer, end up paying more, right?

So I would please ask the well-meaning MPs and U Dons (sounds like Japanese noodles) to hold their horses lest they cause a stampede that will flatten us taxpayers. Of course, our PAP MPs aren't necessarily thinking about increasing the personal tax rate (never mind that it wasn't lowered a single hundredth of a percentage point), but probably milking the surpluses the government tends to run from its many creative taxes and surcharge schemes, from Cars to Roads to Death (aka Estate Duty).

Let's see if all this is idle talk. I, for one, think that it is just political lip service that has to be paid. Nothing will come of it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Need for a feed

A recent survey revealed that it is the relatively young among Singaporeans (20 - 35, I think) who are least conscious about littering. Well, my experience suggests that the younger ones are also either unaware about the reasons behind our 'fine' city's reputation, or they cannot be bothered. This picture of a young man eating away in our subway train oblivious to the 'no eating' sign just across from him, if he had bothered to lift up his head and read, is evidence of this.

This is not an isolated case. I have seen many young chaps and chapees like him eating away on buses and trains like it is nobody's business. What's more, nobody bothers to remind them, including myself. Why risk a scolding for helping the transport company keep their rules when they aren't too concern about how much they charge you for a ride, or how often they turn up to pick you up at their stops?

Yeah, great excuse.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Two's company

When I was in Primary school, I was taught that the maximum number of people that Singapore could accommodate was 2 million people. Today, I know that that number is wrong by 2.5 million, for the population of Singapore is 4.5m today

Now, we are told that that limit is set to increase to 6.5 million. Many Singaporeans are uneasy with that number. Singapore is already quite crowded. Look no further than the MRT stations and trains in operation during rush-hour on weekdays. Look at the gridlock on Orchard Road around the same time and you will see that the car problem contributed by too many people driving.

More people = more cars is obviously a truism in Singapore. "Are our planners out of their minds?" you ask. I speculate that they must have been to Shanghai recently. During rush hour, the subway trains in Shanghai are so packed that you just cannot move - and I thought Hong Kong was bad enough. I was placing a call to a friend the other day in Shanghai and I became anxious when she did not pick up the phone - twice. Later, she explain that she was on the crowded subway train when I called but she just could raise up her phone with her hand in the sea of people packed and surrounding her to talk to me. It was that crowded. And this hyper-crowding is a Mondays to Fridays rush-hour phenomenon.

Some officials in Singapore must have a warped sense of space and decided that sardine-packing people into the subway trains is 'world-class best practice' and optimum use of land. The train operators must have jumped for joy when they were consulted accordingly (well, we have had a consultative government since Goh Chok Tong). So the planners punched their Hewlett-Packard calculators (sorry Casio's are too cheap, though they should be accurate up to 6.5million, at least) and came up with 6.5m. What I am flabberghasted is that the government says that this number is for planning purposes only and does not represent the number of people that will dot the land one day. This is what is called official-speak, double-talk, hoodwinking, bluffing or just plain confusing. I cannot understand what they mean by what they said - and by a government Minister in the recent Parliament sitting to boot. We plan for 6.5m but will not have 6.5m? Hmmm, let me dig out my English language books to review that. I might have missed something in all my years of studying the English language.

But what we do know and have learnt over the last 40 years is that if the PAP government says so, they will do so. So if I had some spare cash, I'd buy up SMRT and SBS Transitlink stocks today. Their appreciation is a Singapore PAP government-back certainty. Hmmm...and while I am at it, let me look at some property investments too.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Holy cow! The ground is moving

Holy cow! The ground is moving. Well, not actually. Most people on ground level yesterday at around 12.15 pm or 1.50pm in Singapore would not have felt nor experienced the earthquake tremors that enveloped the island due to a 6.x earthquake on the Sumatran island. I know because I didn't feel the tremors when I was at the third level of one building and walking back to my office's building during the 11.50-12.10pm time window when tremors struck the island yesterday. I phoned home at about 1pm to check if the tremors were felt in my 7th floor apartment. It wasn't, though we learnt later on the news that Pasir Ris, which is near Sengkang, experienced the tremors. Apparently, some people in Potong Pasir felt the tremors at near ground level.

But when the tremors struck again at around 1.50-2pm (didn't read the exact time, except that I was preparing for a meeting at 2pm yesterday) I was at my desk on the seventh floor. I felt my chair moving back and forth on its own while I was working on my computer. It was surreal and yes, there was a sense of dizziness. I evacuated the building immediately, walking down all 7 floors. This wasn't that bad. Some people on other parts of the island reportedly walked down more than 30 floors, not daring to risk the lifts.

This is unusual, not that Singapore doesn't experience tremors that originate from afar, but that it is so widespread this time around. Well, as expected, it turned out to be from Indonesia where the epicentre was reportedly about 50 km from the city of Padang on the western coast of Sumatra. Unfortunately, 71 people reportedly lost their lives there.

Read more about the quake here:

Singapore shaken after quakes in Indonesia
Powerful Indonesian quake kills at least 71
BBC: Indonesian earthquake

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Maid in Singapore

I was waiting for the train at Potong Pasir last Friday evening - my daily routine - to get home after a hard day's work. Usually, the train going up north will have standing room only, but yesterday, an empty train came from the north, stopped at Potong Pasir station and headed north again. I guess something must have happened along the rail that day - another rail suicide, perhaps?

Whatever happened, I got a comfortable seat and noticed a couple and their maid with a pram in tow, containing a toddler of about 2-3 years just across from where I sat. This is not an uncommon sight in Singapore nowadays, but it is a disturbing one. Assuming that that couple has only that one son (I didn't see another), we are looking at 3 adults looking after one toddler - an overkill by any measure, don't you think? Just because one can afford a maid doesn't mean that one needs to engage one. Is it so very hard to look after ONE toddler nowadays? If that is not the maid's primary responsibility, what is she doing out with the couple then? They weren't ladden with bags of shopping either. Shouldn't the maid be at home cleaning the house and cooking dinner, or perhaps looking after the aged parents of this couple, if there is any?

Our children are becoming mini-emperors, and by the same token, couples of these mini-emperors are the great pretenders - the budget version of emperors who have bought their statuses at $350 a month or thereabouts and like to parade around with them. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that all couples with maids are pretenders. But there are instances when the need for a maid is manifestly questionable. On the other hand, the mini-emperors phenomenon is much like what happened in China when the one-child policy was forcefully pushed down the Chinese' throat. Only, in Singapore, it is a matter of not willing to bear more children than not being allowed to do so. Everywhere a toddler goes in Singapore today, there is an entourage of mummy, daddy and maiddy accompanying, ensuring the comfort, safety, needs and wants of that ONE toddler by three grown-ups. Children have never had it so good, in fact, too good. Teenagers nowadays do not know how to sweep the floor (okay, vacuum the floor) and put their soiled clothes out to be washed.

So schools have found it necessary and perhaps therapeutic to organise outdoor camps and activities for these teenagers, only to have teachers complain about how 'spoilt' and molly-coddled their charges are. For example, a group of 21 students (about 17-19 years old) were told to plan their menus and BBQ for an outdoor camp. And what was the plan they submitted? Simple, have the food and the BBQ catered for - entirely outsourced! No need to go to the market, no need to cook, no need to do anything except wait for the food to be delivered . All they have to do, besides paying for it, is simply to eat it. This is probably an indication of what normally happens in their homes.

So while our students get sparkling results because of the many hours of extra lessons put in after school hours with tuition for every subject they take in school and then some others, they do not know anything else except to 'outsource'. Some call this smart and keeping up with the times, I call this shortsighted and regrettable. This dependency culture is going to boomerang on Singapore society in years to come, with detrimental effects.

What to do with our young ones who are fast growing up? I shudder to think about the day they 'outsource' us, the aging parents. Some say this is already happening.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Made in Singapore

When the issues of procreation comes up in Singapore, maids and work-life balance are often mentioned in the same breadth. Many see these two as prerequisites for bearing children, not love nor a desire to share with each other the joys of an offspring. Carrying on the family lineage must be the last thing on most young Singaporean couple's mind nowadays. It is common to see them getting a public-housing apartment and moving away from the parents. With the absence of parental nagging, the impetus to 'go multiply' for the sake of the family name will be absent.

Don't get me wrong. I am making no judgement either way about a couple setting up house without the parents, nor even about getting that public housing apartment on marriage. Most young couples do that. I was one of them in my time, and our parents do not stay with us although we have room. The story is a long but amicable one.

Often a couple thinks that if they are to bring anyone into the world, they must be ready to provide the best for that youngling. So many couples work and strive to climb that corporate ladder to this end, or so they pretend that that is why they are doing so. But they forget that biology is not on their side, at least not on the women's side. Many think that the women can still give birth way past thirty. Yes, you can, but many never factor in issues of post-natal problems after the first child, which may put a stop to the possibility of conceiving a second time, much less a third time. Furthermore, there are the issues of providing care for that first child that may wear out the couple, so much so that they will probably have second thoughts about a second child, which leads me on to the issue of maids and work-life balance.

Many women argue that the discrimination, real or imagined, that they face at work when they get pregnant (or hear about other women's experience) is a total put-off. The problem is real and often difficult to resolve. The government is willing to throw money at the problem, to make the financial loss more bearable for the employer. But lets be frank - pregnancy of a female staff is never a good thing for business. We are not talking about losing an employee's time, but also experience and expertise in her work. It is even more difficult to replace staff the higher up they are. If it were possible, what reason would the pregnant women keep her position, except the law and some dispute resolution parties? Really, we have dug ourselves into a hole by being so successful with our educational system and the largely equitable opportunities thereafter. I am not sure that aggressive economic growth is consistent with biological plenty.

Well, I have no solution to offer except that something has to give. That is the hard choice that we are faced with in Singapore today. We have seen that money, on its own, cannot solve this problem.

Now, about the maid...