Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cheap cheap

Everyone, I suppose, in Singapore knows that medicine across the Causeway is cheaper, just like food and petrol. So it is natural that Singaporeans exit Singapore in droves during weekends to stretch their feet and their Singapore Dollar. Over the years, however, Johor has become less of a shopper's paradise for Singaporeans. For some time now, the prices in their shopping malls aren't too different from what you can get back in Singapore.

Petrol is still a bargain, but the Singapore government does its best to 'pursuade' Singaporeans to 'buy Singapore'. The 3 Qtr tank rule is still there. However, of late, the powers that be appears to have changed their minds. For example, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan has famously said (in February 2009) that Singaporeans can consider putting their elderly parents in Nursing Homes in Johore. Now, Salma Khalik, ST's Health Correspondent (who reported on the Johore Nursing Home story earlier this year for the same paper) is suggesting that Singaporeans stretch their dollar by getting vaccination jabs (against streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria) in Malaysia simply because it costs much less there than in Singapore. Although Mr Khaw's name is missing in this opinion piece, it is pretty much the same point that Mr Khaw was making - there are choices for cheaper medicine, and Singaporean's should avail themselves of it, never mind that you can't avail yourself of more than a quarter tank of cheaper petrol over there. I suppose the petrol is not Mr Khaw's department. The Transport Minister, Mr Raymond Lim doesn't seem to have heard, nor is willing to hear, or if heard, is not willing to have a change of heart about Singaporeans having the choice of spending less on petrol.

By now, everybody knows that medicine in Singapore isn't cheap. That is common knowledge, really. There is a perception that, on the whole, medicine is good in Singapore. That's the premium you have to pay. But now Ms Khalik is suggesting (see Straits Time, 23 October 2009, page A2) that medicine in Malaysia, as far as vaccinations go, is just as good, you wonder why you have to continue to pay a premium in Singapore? It would appear that not only do our businesses price themselves out of the market that lead to the inevitable recessionary cycle, we, the citizens of Singapore, also get priced out of our products like medicine, which isn't exactly optional in our lives. And who are setting the prices in the medical sector in Singapore? Go figure.

I suppose we have to thank Ms Khalik for her money-saving tip, but we would also be grateful if somebody were to talk to Minister Raymond Lim about that petrol thingy.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Heavenly house

Housing people in Singapore has been a challenge. It always has been, and probably will continue to be. Back in the early days - the 1960s/70s, it was building enough public housing apartments fast enough. Today, it is trying to put people into their preferred houses fast enough - high floors, not situated in some remote and god-forsaken corner of the island, near where their parents live, has a full suite of amenities - wet markets, supermarkets, shopping mall, adequate parking, schools (the more well-known ones the better), convenient public transport (bus, MRT, LRT), has a view, preferably of the sea, or at least some greenery, etc. etc.

You can never satisfy all of them, but can you blame people with this laundry list of demands when the price of a public housing apartment these days is upwards of S$200,000? In some countries, you can get a bungalow for that kind of money. The government does not seem to get it. I think anybody will be happy with any public apartment if the prices weren't so stratospheric. But when you are potentially tied down for the rest of your life servicing the mortgage, you'd naturally want something better. Frankly, whatever subsidy that the government provides for nowadays is "peanuts", to quote a distinguished citizen. No, it wouldn't be practical to have all the items on the laundry list checked off, but you try to get the best. And this is why, I suppose, some people reject apartments offered to them time and again.

Having said that, however, people should look at the practical side of things. When it is your first apartment with your fiance/wife, take any flat that is offered, even if it is in the most remote corner of the island. Someone said that Punggol is in one corner of the island (read "remote"). Singapore is a small island, and no part of the island that is remote today will remain so tomorrow. The reason why our parents made so much money from their public apartment over the years is because of this belief. They didn't mind Toa Payoh when it was a swamp-land, ditto Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, etc. With the redevelopment of the surrounding land courtesy of the government, the value of the real estate naturally soared. Many cashed out and moved to more virgin parts of the island to repeat their conquests of new land and more value. Sure, you need to put up with the inconvenience at first, and probably the sneers and jokes from relatives and friends about your living in an ulu place, but you probably will have the last laugh when you cash out again and buy that dream condo, and then have something left over for a good meal of curry fish-head.

The value of your apartment may not appreciate as much today compared to 15-25 years ago, but property will always be valuable in land-scarce Singapore. If the government wants to build apartments in a particular part of the island, you can be sure that they already have big plans for redeveloping that piece of land and its surroundings. Don't be short-sighted and go for instant gratification. Every good investor will tell you the same. Isn't a house an investment rather than an expense?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

EPL ransom

It is news that didn't bother me at all, but it has got quite a number of people in Singapore upset yet resigned over it. No, it isn't about the local S-League that has come up for criticism from one of its own. It definitely is not about Ris Low, nor the revivied mini-bonds saga. It wasn't the earthquake in Sumatra, which shook many Singaporean's out of their highrises. No, its is about the most important thing in many people's lives in Singapore today - watching the English Premier League (EPL) games 'live' on TV.

Many were upset to learn that their erstwhile provider for EPL broadcasts, Starhub, has lost its broadcasting rights to rival Singtel. Just when they were settling down on the skyhigh prices that Starhub currently charges, they are faced with the propect of paying more in a year's time. As both operate the transmission of their programmes using different platforms, die-hard fans will have to invest on both platforms - cable and mio, or give up their cable (Starhub) equipment in exchange for Singtel's mio. Such is the grief that honest but desperate consumers have to suffer from big businesses trying to hook them in. But why are these broadcast rights so expensive?

It is business. If Singtel thinks that it can 'extort' the kind of money it will probably charge viewers of these programmes, and these die-hard fans are willing to shell out that kind of money, then its a willing buyer willing seller situation. Well, Singtel did say that it will not charge more than what Starhub charges now, even though the amount of Singtel's bid is reportedly twice what Starhub paid (i.e. US$160m) when it secured the rights in 2007.

Whatever Singtel will charge is not important to me. What is important is that they don't go off and start cross-subsidizing their services, and recover the costs of the EPL license from non-viewers like me. Charge whatever you need to charge soccer-mad fans for their fix, but don't increase the prices of other services, such as mobile and fixed-line services. I am not a soccer fan and I do not want to pay for Singtel's madness, and those EPL soccer fans as well. If they find joy in contributing to the overpaid soccer players in the EPL, that's their pleasure and their right. I do not want to be a part of it.

Otherwise, I am sure MDA, or someone with a big stick, will look into it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Abused Beauty

After all is said and done, I think Singaporeans have been a bit mean (well, ok, very mean) to Ms Ris Low. Much has been said and written about her less than perfect English diction and videos have made her the laughing stock of the whole country. Why are we so mean? It is not as if she is totally unintelligble when she speaks. I can think of and heard other Singaporeans pronounce English words the way she does. Just today I was at a seminar presented by a major public-listed company, in a room full of professionals, and its speakers were pronouncing 'badder' for 'better'. There were a couple of other words that were similarly abused. This isn't all that different from Ms Low's diction. In this respect, I think some of the Youtube videos about her less than perfect diction have been made in bad taste. Yes, they are funny, but they are also very cruel. In fact, unless Mediacorp (or whoever the original video belongs to) is in on it, some IP rights may have been violated and the perpetrators could be charged in Court. What's the difference then between Ms Low's trouble with the law with this sort of 'stealing'? So whoever put them up should take them down.

And what's wrong with Boomz? At least now English has a new word, and words are created all the time. Singlish has produced not a few of them, which we have come to love. We don't understand what Boomz is? Well, neither do I understand what the 'lah' that ends Singlish phrases mean. But don't we use it with relish because that is so Singaporean? That's one thing you look out for when you are overseas, when in a sea of people, it brings a smile to your face the moment you hear it. You know for sure that a countryman is in the midst. Lewis Carroll himself was probably 'guilty' of spouting nonsense, with his invention of the nonsensical words 'jabberwocky', 'chortled and 'galumping' in his poems. But these words have since entered the English language. OK, ok, Ms Low was not being particularly poetic when she blurted out the Boomz word. But inventions are often made at the spur of the moment, no?

But isn't the whole of Singapore, in ridiculing it, now trying to give meaning to the word? In time, who knows, it may become a peculiar Singlish word that our children will use without the ridicule that accompanies it today.

I think the real 'problem' is not her language, nor particularly her diction. If it were, many Singaporean's will be just as guilty as her. Her diction could have been 'badder', as befits the representative of Singapore women, but I think the real issue about her representing Singapore is her conviction for credit card fraud. She should have come clean about it from the start. Unfortunately, she did not. Maybe she was immature, maybe she thought that her achievements in the beauty pageant will erase her 'moment' of weakness (well, that moment did last quite a while, I admit). But I think enough is enough. Let the poor girl alone. Hopefully she has learnt the right lessons from the whole affair and we will hear better things of her in the future.

Boomz! RIP.