Saturday, April 21, 2007

Your house is not your home

In Singapore, you still hear of people being thrown of our their homes. No, we are not talking about destitute families where members cannot earn their keep and pay their rents. In Singapore, we have a situation where the relatively well-off (meaning the lower to middle middle-class folks) are being thrown out of their houses and homes because they do not agree with 80% of their neighbours in their Condominiums which have been sold en-bloc for re-development. According to the law, when 80% says "sell!", then you, who are in the minority 20% will also have to parrot "sell". There is, at this moment, absolutely no recourse to reverse this. The best you can get is a bit more money from the sale than if you were to sell on the open market as a single unit. But some may have become attached to that house and home, one which they had always thought would be where they would live and spend the last days of their lives.

So isn't it an irony that the better the apartment you own and live in, the more insecure you potentially are. If you lived in public housing - the HDB apartments that are so ubiquitous on this island - then you have peace of mind because there is no one who can touch your house, no 80% majority rule, not even debt collectors can force-sell your house. The law is 100% behind you as far as your HDB apartment is concerned.

So the lesson to learn is if you prefer cradle to grave houses, stay in public housing (or, for those of us fortunate and rich enough to do so - buy your own land and build your own house). Upgrading to a condo might spell heartache some time in the future.

From a wider perspective, it is sad that Singaporeans are getting more materialistic, preferring to go after the money than to retain and nurture relationships, neighbourliness and heritage. The rush into the casino business, not only in Singapore but regionally, spells a preference for life oriented towards material rewards. As more and more Singaporeans are brought up in an environment where gambling is seen as the way to make money and earn a living, the work ethic that was integral to the early successes of Singapore will eventually be eroded. Therein lies the truth of the prophet Micah's words:

"And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage". Micah 2:2 (Old Testament Bible)

Image Source:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Women at work

According to the UN's Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2007, Singapore's GDP would have increased by about US$0.7 billion (or S$1.06 billion) a year if Singapore had increased its female workforce by 10% between 2000 and 2004. Somebody has now placed a $ value on the females on this island Republic. 10% of them is worth S$1.06 billion over 5 years, or S$212 million per year. You average out the total female population over these 5 years who worked and you will easily arrive at the worth of 1 female on this island. Since I do not have the numbers (maybe someone would want to do the research?), I cannot be more specific here.

Suffice to say that a working female has a finite worth expressed in monetary terms. Of course human beings, and especially women, cannot just be measured in $ and cents. That would be demeaning at the very least. Yet the globalized world today is measured in monetary terms, the ultimate digitization of man (and women).

On the other hand, I am amused. If we threw all of our females to work to make up those numbers, then who would bear our children, who will nurture them, who will be with them? Not the maid, surely, though I can imagine that we could easily afford one? Do we want to grow an extra 0.34% of GDP at the expense of lowering even further the birth rate? What would it benefit us if we gained the whole world but lose our future sons and daughters (to borrow a wise saying from the good book)? Lest the fairer among you accuse me of being sexist, I agree with what my mother always said: "Let the female obtain as high an education as possible so that she can teach the generations that come after". You see, she never had the opportunity to study beyond Primary 3 because of World War II and the then prevailing attitude in Chinese society that women do not need too much education. She found her limitations when she eventually had 5 sons whom she wanted very much to help in their studies, but could not. So I couldn't agree more with the observation in this same study that

"the potential gains from educating women are high...because women invest more in children's health and education, the returns from educating women could exceed those for men and create and inter-generational spill-over...The key role of the mother in household affairs....means that her education and aspirations can shape a stimulating home".

My mother's sentiments exactly.

But aren't the aims of getting more women to work and reproducing future generations often not in conflict? I think it is and you don't have to look further than Singapore for proof of this. However, maximizing education for women and benefiting future generations are twin aims that harmonizes with one another. I submit that we need to cut our GDP growth but maximize women's education in order to obtain a continued future for ourselves on this tiny island of ours.

Image Source:

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A workman is deserving of his pay

I doubt I can add anything new to the debate currently raging in the press over the issue of the government raising its own pay, and in particular, the huge pay increases that senior government officials such as ministers, are going to get. I agree that this process is open and has had its day in Parliament, with opposition, NMP's and even PAP MPs weighing in against, or at least questioning the timing of the increases.

If Singaporeans want more debate, they have got to vote more dissenting voices into Parliament. As it is, a steamroller just passed through town, and no one could so much as put a brake on it.

Don't get me wrong. I agree in principle that a good pay remuneration package is important in helping to keep a person on the job. Anybody who disagrees with this is a hypocrite. I remember the days when I first started working and progressively jumped from one job to another. While the environment, the nature of the job, the people, and the opportunities were major considerations in moving from one job to another, I have to admit that an increase in salary was a major pull factor.

So I can well understand the rationale behind the proposed increases. The only problem, as many people perceive it, is that serving in government cannot just be about money, it requires much more, and yes, including kissing babies every other weekend. In my opinion, any increase is ok if:

1. The workman does his job well,
2. The reward is commensurate with the good that that work has brought about (whether directly or indirectly)

Whether the heart of service is there is difficult to quantify and is best left to the electorate to decide every 5 years.


Of course, workman includes workwomen but to use workperson seem so clumsy on the language that I'll stick to workman, with the implied inclusion of anyone who works - man, woman or child.

Image source:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Beware the 3-wheel man

I have been in Suzhou and Shanghai for more than 10 days now. There are always new things to learn when you are overseas. Two days ago, I was shopping in Suzhou's Guan Qian Street - on my own. It was my first time there, although this wasn't my first time in China. I had an appointment with some friends that evening. I left early, about 5.30pm. I tried to hail a cab to take me to my destination. I wasn't successful, or quick enough. A couple beat me to a cab which had stopped about 25 metres away. What to do? Well, I walked to the main road but empty cabs was as rare as a red moon.

Then a trishaw rider came up to me to offer his services. I was hesitant. My destination must be quite far away, although I didn't really know where it was. I didn't think his old legs could last that long. He persisted. I stated my destination again, he didn't understand at first. I thought maybe it was my Mandarin or his Mandarin. He kept persisting, I kept rejecting, asking him if he really knew my destination. He said yes, everyone is out to have fun with friends, he said. Anyway, he said the ride would be for 5 Yuan. So on a whim and perhaps out of desparation, I boarded his trishaw. You could see that he was exerting all his energy. I am a heavy man. About 100 metres into the journey, he turned left and headed right for a bar! A sexily clad lady in Cheongsam but with some bare breasts on show, was ready to receive me! I knew that this definitely was not my destination, so I quickly got off the trishaw and headed for the main road again. I never looked back, nor paid that man the 5 yuan.

But he did do me a favour though. There were two empty cabs when I reached the main road. I quickly boarded the first and was on my way, out of temptation island. When you are alone in a foreign land, temptations abound, uninvited and facilitated by a 3-wheel man.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The short(wave) and long of it

It has been some time since my last blog entry. The reason is purely technical. You see, I am now in Suzhou, China, on a mission. I have been here since last Sunday, 25 March 07. Internet access where I am staying now is purely through mooching. Those wireless signals that are not protected are nevertheless so weak that I get intermittent connection. Most of the time that I do have a strong enough connection (usually only in the mornings), I use to check my office and personal e-mails.

Trying to get an acceptable wireless signal which allows me to surf unimpeded reminds me of my days tuning in to shortwave radio. Yep, in those far off days, where the PC and the Internet were still experimental or classified technology, shortwave radio was the best way to tune in to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA). I wasn’t rich enough to own a powerful shortwave radio receiver - I was a poor student then - but I did have a radio that could ‘catch’ the right airwaves when the radio was oriented in a certain position. Those positions usually were good for about 10 or 15, or even 20 minutes before the signal weakens and interference increases. But I did have a whale of a time listening to news broadcast from outside the country. In retrospect, mooching is not very different from my ‘shortwave radio’ days. I keep moving my Centrino Notebook around to a position that gives me a useable wireless internet signal. With the internet connection, I can surf on over to the BBC website, and indeed, even the Voice of America website to catch the latest international news.

The only difference is that some people view mooching as illegal. With Wireless@SG, I wonder whether it is not time to reassess that view. Looking at the ways things are going, mooching will eventually become irrelevant and should be decriminalized – at least I hope so.

Image source: