Saturday, June 30, 2007

Grab those goods

Today, retailers must have laughed all the way to the bank. Never mind that the banks are opened only for half the day. Retailers can still swim in the cash that keeps pouring through their tills. What is happening here?

Well, today is the last day that retailers will charge 5% GST. From tomorrow onwards, this rate will be increased to 7%. So the penny-counting public just went out to town to soak up as many of the big ticket items as possible in order not to have to pay 2% more from tomorrow. Those who couldn't think of any big items to buy bought anyway - and made up with it by buying huge quantities of small ticket items. A cabby told me today that he had picked up a women in Bedok who purchased 15 cartons - yes that's cartons, not reams - of paper (probably A4 sized paper). The cabby said he told the woman she should have commandeered a truck instead of taxing his taxi.

Was all this rush really necessary? I am sure it is not. Some shops have already increased their prices ahead of the GST increase. For example, a double-bottle of Glucosame+Chondroitin was priced at S$138 several weeks ago at Watsons. Today, when I checked, that same package is priced at S$140. That's slightly under a 2% increase, but the price has already gone up, before 1 July 2007. Moreover, some retailers have made it known that they will absorb the 2% GST for periods varying from 1 month to 6 months. So there is really no need for this stampede.

But you know, Singaporeans are a kiasu lot - afraid to lose out on a bargain, unwilling to have to pay more. So I saw many people carting away boxes of printers, microwave ovens, toaster ovens and witnessed shopping carts filled to the brim at supermarkets. The taxi stands were longer than usual, so taxi drivers also cashed in on this spending spree as more people needed their services to get their purchases home. Retailers probably never had it this good, though tomorrow is another matter.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Don't touch that potato

According to an Institute of Policy Studies' (IPS) 'yet-to-be-completed' study, there are not many blogs in Singapore that are 'really politically engaged'. This is in spite the fact that Singapore is probably one of the most wired-up country or metropolis in this world, the study continues. Of those that are, yawningbread and mrbrown were cited as a few of those that are seriously political engaged (what a mouthful!).

Without taking away credit for much of the 'liberalisation' that has taken place at the highest levels in the Singapore government in recent years (e.g. greater tolerance of 'gay' themes), the political environment in Singapore, as far a writing goes, remains dicey. Not too long ago, Mr Brown's Today column was pulled because he wrote a piece that was critical of some government action. Some in Singapore thought that writing that column was his bread and butter and his being 'sacked' from Today would lead to hardship for him. So there are perceived serious consequences when one writes something that the government does not agree with. Well, yes, the government doesn't actually run Today, but the pressure on the paper's editors must have been that the 'sacking' action by the paper was inevitable.

So, really, it is no great mystery why bloggers do not want to be engaged in the political discussion in Singapore 'seriously'. If nothing, they fear for their rice bowls and careers, and consequently their families. This one incident involving mrbrown's Today column set back the budding political discussion on the Singapore blogosphere, which is such as pity.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Resuscitating life

It is said that a promising young man died doing what he liked - the triathlon. The 17 year old youth collapsed at the end of his trials, which he had come in second place. He died of heart failure at a hospital less than 2 hours later. Many people have weighed in on what could have been done to have given him at a better chance at life, including the administration of CPR and the use of a defibrillator. More people questioned why a defibrillator - an expensive equipment costing $3000 - $4000 - was not available, as if it is THE equipment that could have made the difference.

As a Certified First Aider, I think that the 3 persons on the scene who claimed that they knew CPR should have done what they had been trained to do. Performing CPR has the same effect as a defibrillator - only it takes much more effort, but, when done properly, is just as effective. If the 3 decided that CPR was not necessary because the victim had a pulse, then even if a defib is available, do you think they will use it? I suspect not, but we will never know now. So the availability of a defib is an albatross.

Let's not blame the equipment. It is the process that is wrong. And a young person paid the price for it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Clobber 'em

I didn't know, until it was reported in Today, that SBSTransit Bus drivers gets "slapped, punched and even kicked". What is society coming to nowadays? Sure there may be occasion when you'd feel like figuratively 'clobbering' one or two of them, but to actually physically abuse them? That's going too far and is inexcusable.

Having said that, I must admit that I once got so angry with a bus that came so late that I shouted at the driver for being late. And it seems like a problem that SBSTransit can never solve in spite of the countless public feedback in addition to it being aired in Parliament. Often two of the same SMRT bus service would have passed before a single SBSTransit bus service would come by. This was what happened yesterday along Clementi Road. I had stepped up to the bus stop to wait for an SBSTransit bus service no. 151. That was about 6pm. The next 151 that came by (not the useless Express 151e ones) was 6.25pm - a full 25 minutes for a bus during rush hour. And that is assuming that a 151 just left when I reached the bus stop. In any case, I gave up and took the SMRT train - that's money into SMRT's pocket and money out of SBSTransit's. That is why, whenever SBSTransit wants to increase bus fares citing higher operating cost, I sniff at it. What they neglect to tell us is that they are losing ridership to SMRT because of their lousy service level.

But it appears that SBSTransit will NEVER improve the timeliness of its service unless one or more parties comes by, without government restriction, to compete with it head-on. It is not obvious that fares will increase. Competition tends to improve service while bringing the price down. And I don't believe for a moment that buses are late because of the traffic situation. Look, the bus is either late consistently, because jams happen consistently at the same time unless it is due to traffic accidents or unusual days, such as holidays, or they must be more or less on time, whether punctually or late. While bus lanes help, the primary problem with inconsistent service is because SBSTransit drivers are not trained enough to be punctual in setting off on time. Those who do so are the exceptions.

This is not surprising. Generally more people show up late than are either early or punctual. This applies whether we are talking about meetings, gatherings or wedding dinners. Why shouldn't it NOT happen with bus drivers? It would be a miracle if every SBSTransit bus driver can set off punctually, but then, that is where we need to resolve the problem. My sense is that, having lived and worked among them for well over 40 years, Singaporeans tend to have a very poor sense of timing. Before SBSTransit refutes me, I challenge it to conduct a 'mystery' audit at its bus interchanges on the frequency of bus drivers leaving late. They might learn a thing or two about improving its service level.

On the other hand, I have very little to complain about punctuality and availability of buses that are run by SMRT and, previously, by Trans Island Bus Service - TIBS. It would appear that SMRT bus drivers are exceptional. I wouldn't mind paying more for service that is more predictable.

Is it any coincidence that the Today report never mentioned SMRT bus drivers being wacked? Food for thought indeed.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Your choice

Someone has observed that many people in Singapore work long hours - often only having dinner at 10pm, sleeping those few hours (with hardly any interaction with the family) before they start the grind again the next day. In some societies, this is a good thing because it means that there is work to be done and overtime pay to be earned. But in Singapore, people who are under such regimes are probably executive types who are not entitled to overtime pay.

So why do people stay at work until well over the end of the official hour of 5.30pm or 6pm? Regrettably, many do so because of the boss. When I was working in the Raffles Place area more than 4 years ago, I was one of the few who knocked off work on the hour - 6pm. Even if some work remained for me to complete, I always felt that it was another day's work. My family mattered just as much, if not more, than my office. But I did notice that many of my colleagues DID NOT DARE to go off on the hour because they are afraid that their bosses would see them in the lift lobby and think that they are not as dedicated to the company - unlike those who stay until 7pm - well past the official working hour. So Singaporeans stay in the office because they are afraid that their punctuality at leaving the office will be perceived as a liability when time comes for promotions and bonuses.

In other words, if one only gets to have dinner at 10pm, I'd say they have only themselves to blame - not the company - not even their hardworking colleagues who have no life outside of the office. If staying late everyday is a demonstration of devotion and dedication to the job, then it is not sustainable. Something will give - the family, your health and your own sense of meaning in life, a better salary package at another firm, etc. Indeed, I agree with the parting shot - "I want no part in it". But, truly, it is really a choice only we can make. We need to overcome that peer pressure, and weigh the benefits of getting promoted and saddled with more responsibilities that in turn requires longer hours, or be satisfied with a certain standard of living and live a fuller and more happy life.

We have to ask ourselves honestly if we really need to live in a condo, or drive that car, or hob-nob with the trendy in that club house. Why isn't the beach near that much larger HDB apartment (compared to any comparable condo) with easy access to the MRT station not good enough?

The choice is really yours to make.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blogger sites hanky-panky?

I am up in Beijing, China now. For some reason that I am obviously not aware of, I cannot access any blogger blog sites at all. Any site just times out because it 'took too long' to load.

I can go to yahoo, google, and most other sites - no problem. I wonder if the Chinese Authorities have filtered out all Blogger blogs, and if so, why? I can still access Blogger per se and blog - just that I cannot view the blog I just created.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Educating educators

Singapore's effort to become an educational hub took another big knock with the troubles at the Froebel Academy - a privately run school that provides mainly Early Childhood programmes as well as its flagship Chinese Diploma in Pre-School Education.

Following so closely on the heels of UNSW (Asia)'s closure, it is no wonder that students at this academy are alarmed at any sign of irregularity at the school, such as unpaid salaries, delayed certificates, etc. The breaking point came when students found the school closed for unknown reasons, although the operators seem very much to be alive and kicking, though invisible for now. It is probably better that they do not make public appearances lest they get pelted with eggs and cause a riot in the process.

Privates businesses, even in education, can fail or close or both, just like in any commercial enterprise. But if the government is serious about making Singapore an education hub by riding on the good track record of its education system that has been established for more than 30 years, then it must exert greater supervision over any and all private educational institutions or academies sprouting up all over the island nowadays. At this point in time, the government is taking a hands-off approach, preferring to let bodies such as CASE validate the trustworthiness of these 'schools'. Beyond registering these schools, the MOE does not seem to be monitoring them as closely as it would seem necessary.

Look, Singapore's reputation for the quality of its education sector is well-deserved. But I would hate to see a few high profile failures bring down this reputation overnight. The powers that be needs to do something, and do it fast, though not in the manner in which UNSW was coaxed into setting up a full-service campus on the Island just to be closed in one semester. This must be a world record of sorts, though one that Singapore certainly does not want to be known for in the long run.

Meanwhile, the Froebel Academy saga continues...

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Pissed by the law

Its the law again, and sadly, it is rearing its ugly head in, of all places, Singapore. And we thought that lawyerly shenanigans can only happen in Malaysia and Thailand, where it has taken place right up to the top of the legal hierarchy. Not that the law firm that issued the demand letter to was behaving improperly, that is. It is merely acting on the instructions of its client, one rather pompously identified as the "Grand Seasons International". For a moment there, I wondered why the 6-star Hotel chain that goes by that name was involved with a Time-share company. Well, my mistake, its the "Great" one and not the 6-star "4" one.

First off, let me say that it is bad to libel anyone. No, it is wrong. By that I mean to say or write about things that are unsubstantiated, or at least, that will likely not hold up in a 'legal' court of law. That's why professionals, like SPH, have an army of people to make sure that it keeps out of harm's way as it spews out tonnes of news and opinion. But even so, they got sued by the NKF, though they were vindicated in the end.

What about citizen journalists, or bloggers, as they are more commonly known as? Well, we are not so legally-savvy, and we tend to speak our minds most of the time. It doesn't really cross our minds that we need to have all the facts straight and that we have corroborated every piece of information before we form a conclusion and blog it for the world to read. So bloggers live dangerously, which is why anonymity is such a necessity. When the lawyers couldn't quite figure out who Gecko was, they turned to a source which likely had this information - Some feel that is a victim here, but since it allowed its members to put up posts that originates from elsewhere, it is a publisher and therefore probably equally liable to the act of defamation - not that I am suggesting that it is guilty as charged - or that I am a lawyer.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Its just that sometimes, the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and some people do not take kindly when that pen goes through their heart.

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