Friday, May 30, 2008

Easy come easy go

Singapore is a place of ironies. Or is it just being Singaporeans? We have been experiencing real inflation of late. Our money would have shrunk more if the government had not kept the value of the Singapore dollar high against other countries' currencies to stanch the further importation of inflation. And don't say that the Singapore government is all talk only. In response to the National Wages Council's recent recommendation to pay an inflation-fighting lump sum of money to all employees, the government civil service has taken the lead. It isn't all good news for me as this time, as always, I will get the least amount - $100 while the lower wage earners will get up to $300 - on top of the half year bonus. One cannot really argue against that. The poorer should be helped more - or should they?

A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) found that 8 out of 10 people who earn less than S$1000 per month spend up to S$100 gambling in the State-run lotteries - 4-D, Toto, etc. Now, with the extra $300, they can afford to spend more. The reasoning is statistically correct - the more you buy, the greater the chance of winning. And any gambler wants to win. So if there is extra money, what better way to spend it? The problem is if everyone else is doing the same, the odds of winning never improves. The irony is that the government collects back what they give out since they have a share in the lottery system.

So why give the money in the first place when we know that it really isn't necessary? Don't ask me, I don't have the answer. But one thing you can be assured - in Singapore, you may starve, but you certainly won't be of deprived of a chance to gamble on your empty stomach. And what is so good about the system is that the State will sponsor that gambling habit, no questions asked.


Image source: Author: Nicolas Raymond

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A nest of our own

The young'uns in Singapore, they are a spoilt lot, really. In the past, many have written to the press complaining about the sheer impossibility of securing a new public housing apartment (i.e. HDB built and subsidized apartment). And why are they complaining? Because they cannot see themselves getting married without first securing a personal love-nest of their own. Gone are the days when renting an apartment, or a room or living with mum and dad upon marriage is a consideration. In Singapore, marrying no longer means extending the family, but removing the family to some corner of your own, preferably a place that overlooks an idyllic lake or the sea, or at least overlooking some lush greenery, never mind if that that place will set you back by half a million dollars or more (public housing only, i.e.).

The fact of the matter, as the HDB has pointed out, is that people, the young'uns, are a choosy lot. They apply for a chance to purchase a public housing apartment but when one is offered, they reject it, and then write to the press complaining that it is impossible to get a public apartment in Singapore. What they mean, really, is that they don't want an apartment that is situated on the 2nd floor, or one that faces the West sun, or, worst, one that looks out into the multi-storey card park or is next to the centralised refuse collection dump. Well, I can understand the reluctance, but you have to start somewhere when you cannot afford to start with buying a re-sale apartment, or a private apartment, right? There is a Chinese saying, that these people are trying to reach heaven in a single bound (yi bu deng tian). Totally unrealistic, unless you have backers like rich parents who will think nothing of shelling out hundreds of thousand of dollars, millions even, to secure the dream home for you.

So what do the typical Singaporeans who cannot get what they want do? They write to the press admitting as much as what I have said here - that they cannot accept any public housing that is not close to heavenly proportions. And they reason that that is because, for the money they have to pay, they deserve something better than a 2nd story apartment. I can understand the thought process and the reluctance, but that is life in Singapore and the cost of living here. Is there no way forward other than getting the government to build that dream home for you (and by extension), everyone else? That is impossible. There are only so many directions where the sun does not rise and set. To get to the 12th heavenly floor, you need to start at the first. Given Singaporean's appetite and penchant for cars, a road must wind somewhere around some apartments. We have had to clear so much greenery to build the roads and apartments that HDB has compensated with building roof-top gardens on top of multi-storey car parks. What do these young PMEDs want for the money that they have (or more precisely, don't have)?

The solution is rather simple - be patient and build up your love nest gradually. I have a relative who rented a room after marrying, then bought a HDB apartment that looked out into a small patch of grassland, sold it at a decent profit, bought a private property and rebuilt it into a three storey semi-D. My first public apartment upon marriage was situated along a public corridor, and what's worst, faces an expressway directly. That was in the early 1990s. The only saving grace was that it was on the 7th floor., not the ground floor. Much as I disliked it (I was eyeing an apartment on offer that was situated along a river), I took it and made the best of it. I sold it 8 years later at a tidy profit (didn't know that it appealed to some people) which enabled me to buy an apartment that is the envy of many. So young man and young women, practice patience and search around while your apartment appreciates in value. Property prices rise and fall - you don't have to take my word for it. See what happened last year! You will reach your heavenly nest some day, but not immediately, not tomorrow. Just be patient. Investing in a house is for the long term.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Great Singapore Squeeze

Well, I HEARD that SMRT finally put a couple of hundred more trains on their rails this week. But yesterday, the East-West train that I took at 7.30am and 6pm was more packed than usual. I don't know why. And I don't know why SMRT decided that this isn't the real times to increase its trains. It decided instead to up train numbers from 12-2pm so that people had an easier ride to go for lunch! And it decided that 7.45pm onwards was where the evening crowd was. I suppose it pays to work late in Singapore - work-life balance notwithstanding, and I suppose lunch is too important a ritual to hold anyone back. Going by its warped logic, and frankly, waste of resource from 12-2pm, many of us who go home on time to join the family for dinner cannot get relief any time soon. And I thought that the 700 extra trains would relief the kind of crush we are experiencing at our more family-friendly hours. Sigh....It really depends on who runs the schedule at the train company, and right now, that person is a sadist. He/she must never have taken the train during the REAL hours - probably to save himself from the other GSS - Great Singapore Squeeze.

Well, what to do? They are the only provider of train services on that stretch of road. I can only complain on this blog (and perhaps write to the press), but I suspect that many others will do that also. Now, I just hope that SMRT won't raise fares on their 'improved' services - improvements that many of us are not experiencing at all. Does any of the members on the PTC take the train during these hours, I wonder? I hope they won't go by mere numbers when they are called upon to make the decision whether SMRT (or for that matter, SBSTransit) should up fares based on the increased number of trains on the tracks. They should hop on a train during MY rush hours to experience the kind of Singapore Squeeze that many of us are STILL experiencing now. Well, probably good for bonding and getting up close and personal, but I detect a certain reluctance on everyone's part to bond and be personal on a crowded train.

Sigh, sigh and sigh...


Monday, May 19, 2008

Gone with the sex

There are 3 things that sells anywhere. And I am not referring to the Internet media only. Traditional print media have become print empires because of it. VCD/DVD (and I suppose, now, High-Definition Discs (HDD) such as Blue Ray) are full of them. And of course, there are the 'live' acts in places that permit them. What am I referring to? Its sex, sex and sex, yep, triple-x, xxx.

Now, don't change URL just yet. This blog is not going down that road (although it could possibly 'earn more' in terms of unique visitors and hit rates). There are some blogs which support their authors precisely because of such content, or something that comes close. No no, this is a prim and proper place for adults and kids. But on to the story.

I read yesterday that the Miss Singapore/Universe event no longer interests TV viewers and therefore sponsorship has shrunk. So much so that Mediacorp, the only broadcast media in Singapore, is not willing to have a 'live' broadcast' of the event this year. I am sure many are disappointed, for what is more entertaining that looking at beautiful women in all their glory on TV. And we are not talking about 1 or 2 of them, but a bevy of beauties arrayed on TV (if it is broadcast) for one to ogle at or to judge or to simply enjoy. There is certainly no shortage of contestants, women who aspire to the title of the 'Most Beautiful Woman' in Singapore, and possibly the world, when they move on to Vietnam later in the year for the World Beauty title.

Why are Singaporeans not interested in Miss Singapore/Universe anymore? I am no authority on this as I do not watch the show. Never have, never will. But, surely, I am not representative of the crowd. If scores of Singaporean's want to be tickled pink with the comedy that go on TV in the 8pm slot, or soapy tragedy, whichever their taste, I am sure they would want to be tickled red too watching bikini-clad women strut their stuff on TV. Well, OK, MSU is probably not family oriented entertainment and it would not be allowed to be shown on the 8pm slot, but people do stay up for American Idol at 10pm, don't they? (Which calls to mind that Singapore Idol has had a long hiatus). It would appear that the new generation of web-crazed Singaporeans are turned off by beautiful women on TV even as they turn on to the other Universe - the World-wide-web - to get their daily shot of whatever they do on the net. Maybe the solution for organisers of the Singapore MSU is to join the crowd on the Internet and give Mediacorp a miss. It is probably far cheaper to have the MSU hosted on the Internet than on Mediacorp, and a lot more in terms of audience participation can be achieved.

Right now, though, it is still looking at old world media, probably because the International Licensers still find traditional old world media the best in racking in the money. Only in Singapore, people have other priorities? Singaporean are amazing! Perhaps Rouge's host can come out to say something about this in her weekly programme?

Image source: Author: Michelle Kwajafa

Friday, May 16, 2008

Business of giving

Singaporeans have been called kiasu and kiasi, which roughly translated, means averse to losing out to any and everybody. Yet, when it comes to giving, Singaporeans really have a heart of gold. Just the other day, the hat was passed around in my workplace and everyone contributed cash in greater or lesser amounts towards the needs of the people affected by the Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (Burma). This in spite of reports that the generals and other government crooks are hoarding some of the donated stuff and passing the rotten leftovers to the people in need. Then came increasingly grim news of the Sichuan earthquake, now known as the 512 incident, with upwards of 20,000 lives and counting reportedly lost. Singaporeans opened their pockets again in spite of living on an island where the prices of some things have gone up by as much as 40%.

What can we make of this creature called the Singaporean? Before, we all thought that Singaporean's giving was not all out of altruistic motives. For example, there were lucky strings attached to the giving in the Singapore National Kidney Foundation's charity shows and the Ren Ci charity drives. People gave in copious amounts - millions of dollars when totaled up. The cynics among us sniggered and found the kiasu/kiasu pattern in all this. But what of the giving to Myanmar and China? Don't want to lose out there too, even when there is no obvious return on the donation, whether in cash or kind? Perhaps the feel good factor that one has helped an unfortunate human being is there. We just don't want others to feel better than ourselves - kiasuism in action again! How characteristic of the Singaporean! But of course I am being cynical again. It is probably nearer the truth to say that most, if not all, of the giving arises from a feeling of shared humanity in times of suffering. Truly our troubles become insignificant when we see others face tragedies far worse - like the lost of lives, houses and livelihoods.

I was told of how the parents of a student in Singapore, who hails from Sichuan, escaped just in time before their house collapse. This student spent sleepless nights worrying over her parents. We know of many Burmese in Singapore who may have lost friends and relatives in the Irrawaddy delta region, which is the worst affected by Cyclone Nargis. While we often talk about global businesses, it has become the business of nations to care for each other. Almost without fail, the US, Europe and Japan put themselves first in line to offer aid, wherever that need is, even in countries not on the most friendly terms with them. While the rest of the world may berate the US for throwing its weight around the world and engaging in unwelcome wars, it must acknowledge that the American people are generous to a fault. Some cynics would disagree and say that this is a proxy approach to 'buy people's hearts', as the Taiwanese seem to be doing by boasting that they can raise more money for the Sichuan disaster victims than even the mainland Chinese can, but I think that is being biased. At the end of the day, action speaks louder than words. Let those who often criticise others look at themselves first to see if they have done enough.

Yet the cynic in me cannot help but ask the question: why does China need any money from the rest of the world when it has trillions in foreign reserves? Television footage showing Premier Wen Jiabao comforting a grieving child and promising government help should settle the matter. Premier Wen knows he can back up his promises with money and action. Having said that, Premier Wen is turning out to be a serial comforter, from the mining incident back in 2003 to the snowstorms this past Chinese New Year and now, the Sichuan disaster. In many countries, the top leadership remains largely aloof in times of tragedy and the comforting is left up to functionaries to perform. Here, however, is a display of leadership from the very top by example. More than mere money, Premier Wen is giving of his spirit and sharing the people's grief in a very visible and real way. No wonder China has fallen in love with "Wen Yeye". Let us applaud Premier Wen and let the Myanmar generals learn a thing or two from "Grandpa Wen".

Image source: Author: xpSquid

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Millions by the dozens

Bloomberg reported way back in 2005 that "the number of millionaires in Singapore rose at the fastest pace in the world in 2004, according to a report by Cap Gemini & Merrill Lynch & Co." Now, it is claimed that "A total of 40.7 per cent of all households (in Singapore), or 436,000, are forecast to boast new wealth in excess of 1 million US dollars by 2017". That is, 2 out of every 5 households in Singapore are expected to be millionaires by then.

This isn't hard to figure out, actually. A few years ago, when the matter of Wills was brought out in public discussion, I did a rough calculation of what I, or rather, my son, would have upon my, and my wife's, demise. A rough count suggested that he will be inheriting more than a million dollars in cash and assets at today's US exchange rate. How is that? Well, there is the matter of the apartment, which though mortgaged, is insurance protected. The apartment will be fully paid for by the insurance company in the event of death of both parties - my wife and myself. The apartment is worth at least S$800,000, not including removable household assets. Then there is the matter of insurance policies, which would pay in access of S$200,000, not counting other assets such as CPF monies, etc. And I am not unique in this. This is common among many property-owning Singaporeans, especially those owning private properties. That said, 2007 has already minted not a few millionaires by virtue of successful en-bloc sales of their apartments.

The only worry is that the child will fritter away the money. Easy come, easy go, as they say. But he will be a millionaire some time in his life, without lifting a finger, so to speak. I suppose that is why many Singaporeans prefer not to rock the boat, politics-wise. A totally understandable position.

Image source: Author: penywise

Friday, May 09, 2008

Cash in the card

NETS decision to charge a non-refundable $5 for its cashcard, which is the only card at the moment that can be used to pay for motorist's ERP charges, amongst other fee paying establishments in Singapore, has been decried as monopolistic and unfair by many. This is made worse by the refundable deposit of existing cards, but these cards have a life-span of 5 years. Some day, you have to give up the free cards for a paid one. So sooner or later, you just have to ante up if you want to live in Singapore. Sounds familiar. There is perhaps no better example of an oppressive instrument of trade today - the $5 cashcard.

And in true Singapore fashion, people have asked for justification for such a fee, given that NETS is monopolising this sector currently. Of course monopolists do not have to give a reason. As far as they are concerned, you just take it or leave it. And because public services have locked the consumer into the card, there really is no choice but to pay up, even if the card costs $50 a pop, really. That seems to be what the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) is implying when it has refused to act to stem this monopolistic action by NETS. It says that by the end of the year, LTA will provide alternative cards, which ostensibly, will charge less for its cards. In a truly competitive environment, this will happen, but in Singapore, what state initiated scheme has truly been competitive? Take for example bus and train services. Competitive? Surely not as the two transport providers have been given a neatly carved up portion of the transport landscape to operate in so that there will be minimal duplication - and thus competition. Good from the point of view of using scarce resources, but bad because it does not promote competition that benefits commuters. That's why the Public Transport Council (PTC) exists. And that's why the CCS also exists, to arbitrate and ensure that there is no profiteering. It says that competition will come, and therefore there is nothing for it to do now about the NETS $5 fee for its cashcards.

Well, when competition truly does comes, then the CCS ceases to be relevant. So why isn't it doing anything when it is relevant today? You have to ask the boss of CCS that. In the eyes of the public, it has copped out of its role as a watchdog. There will never ever be competition in the Singapore context where cashcards are concerned, not when the 'alternatives' are engineered by civil servants. You'd probably end up with a situation similar to the transport operators - enough players (2) to claim some sort of competition, but not enough to make CCS an irrelevant body.

I suppose everyone wants to keep his job, even if it is at the expense of another thousand.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Strap on for life

What is more important than saving a life, or better still, preventing a death? Yet this is the 'seat belt' that the LTA has been sitting on for several years. Like what many have already written, why must it take a boy's death to galvanise our law makers into action? That our Parliamentarians appear so determined this time around AFTER the fact smacks of hypocrisy. As people elected to make and pass laws, it would appear that our Parliamentarians, government or opposition, are remiss in one of their most important jobs - to protect their constituents, and by extension, their country.

Is it that the civil service, represented by the LTA, is so authoritative, and the mini-bus drivers' association so intransigent, that our law makers shy away from engaging them when it sees a danger that must be plugged? Truly, making money on this island is still of primary importance, even over life and safety. Well, not totally true. Safety at construction work site is policed regularly, though the last tragedy at a work site - the Nicoll Highway collapse, was supervised by LTA. Is it a coincidence that the LTA is involved in so much bad news over the last couple of years?

Are seat belts the solution to preventing deaths in our vehicles? Probably, but I would venture to guess that it hasn't been foolproof, nor can it be the last word on road safety. The other problem, really, is speeding and reckless driving on our roads. And it hasn't stopped. Just last evening, it was reported that an SMRT bus was involved in an accident with a private bus, resulting in 15 people getting injured. Fortunately for everyone, nobody died in spite of the absence on both vehicles of seat belts. The private bus was reportedly carrying more passengers in this accident. And it wasn't a minor one. The front of the SMRT bus was reportedly "badly mangled".

Perhaps our law makers should also re-look into issues over and above that of mandatory seat belts in mini-buses?

p.s. Going by the same logic, shouldn't there be seat belts in public buses and trains as well? Some 'experts' have claimed that the size and design of large vehicles allow them to better withstand shocks. Well, we are just waiting for the first fatal casualty, aren't we?

Image source: Author: Kahanaboy

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Wrong righted

Justice is served I agree with a letter writer's suggestion. If the evil collusion of kids could bring down a secondary school teacher through a false charge of molest, then an appeals court's subsequent finding of fact rejecting the original judgement should result in the kids' being placed, if nothing else, on notice. Falsehoods that lead to as serious consequences as the lost of job, reputation and emotional suffering, particularly those perpetrated by youth who know no better, are insidious and deserving of condemnation. But today, being young is no excuse. It would appear that even the young among us are becoming worldly wise, what with the increase in instances of HIV among those between the ages of 10 and 19 years of age. One can only imagine what young people of our day are engaging in in their spare time. I cannot help but feel that what these youth have done is no different from some women who falsely cry 'molest' against men to exact revenge or any other perverted reason. Unfortunately for the kids and the teachers, it doesn't pay to be a disciplinarian in a Singapore school anymore.

But the problem is, acquitting someone on the basis of reasonable doubt does not automatically result in the conviction of the accusers of a crime. Right now, the kids who perpetrated the falsehood are free. I doubt that Mr William Ding, the aggrieved party, would want to pursue the matter further, not after going through an ordeal lasting no less than 3 years. Those 3 years saw his teaching career come to a halt and his reputation sullied. The public's natural sympathies, including mine, would tend to rest on the oft-perceived innocence of youth. Fortunately for him, there are family and friends who believe in and know enough about him to keep faith. And I think that the Ministry of Education will do the right thing in expunging all records of the alleged wrong doing from Mr Ding's files notwithstanding the fact that he has moved on to a new career.

Whether Mr Ding wishes to pursue the matter or not, those kids who hatched the plot should face some punishment or other in order to serve as a deterrent to them and others from ever bearing false testimony against an innocent person, one as grievous as an accusation of sexual misconduct.

Image source: Author: Jim