Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kopi same

Kopitiam, the operator of cooked food establishments under the Kopitiam label opened its latest food establishment - the Sengkang Market and Food Centre (this is HDB's original label for the place) situated at a corner of Sengkang Square in the northeast corner of the island. It is a much anticipated opening because it promised the availability of a wet market - something that, if we believe what we read in the press, people are clamouring for. And, in spite of running the largest cooked food centre among tenants on the 4th level of Compass Point, it went ahead and bid $500,100 a month for the new Sengkang Market and Food Centre. Its closest rival bid, from Sembawang New Market, was $256,788, almost a quarter of a million less, making Kopitiam look like either like a fool, or desperate, or greedy, or all of them, i.e. desperate greedy fool.

Of course, to recoup that investment, the majority of the floor area is devoted to cooked food stalls. The much anticipated wet market takes up only about a fifth of the total floor area in this food establishment - something quite different from what the tender document called for. Clearly the wet market is a sideshow, probably not able to financially sustain the sky-high rental Kopitiam has to pay the government each month. I suppose the cook food stall business is a very profitable one. The prices of the food items are slightly lower than equivalent food stalls situated just across the road in Compass Point. But when we compensate for the lack of air-condition, this newest food centre's prices comes up to roughly the same as the air-conditioned one. The food assortment is more or less the same. There are many more cooked food stalls (for example, there are 3 stalls selling chicken rice). The convenience factor cannot be matched both for customers and for Kopitiam though. This is because it can operate for longer hours compared to the one in the shopping mall, and it can collect parking fees too. So I suppose it'll be profitable for Kopitiam though some cooked food stall operators in Kopitiam's Compass Point location have expressed the concern of cannibalisation of their businesses. But this is of no concern to Kopitiam because they will collect the same rents at both places anyway.

What is my feeling about this food centre? For one, I am underwhelmed. Really, for the real estate it occupies, it is more of the same thing,which makes Sengkang Square that much less attractive. Its single floor design is really a waste of land. And for the excitement it evoked when a wet market was first announced, the actual space devoted to it is really insignificant and a let down of sorts. I get the feeling that wet markets are not in fact all that popular, not what a small but vocal minority makes them out to be. Kopitiam realises this and probably did the right thing by relegating it to a sideshow.

I also don't like the fact that Kopitiam is operating major food establishments on both sides of the road. What benefit can consumers look forward to in terms of lower food prices, better customer service and more responsive operators? Zilch, numero zero, ling dan. Nope, life has not improved with this latest of commercial ventures blessed by no less than the government. One is left to rue what could have been if the operator with the second best bid had secured the contract to operate this business. The government should reflect on its 'it is a commercial decision' mentality. The government's business is to help the people lower cost of living, and not to improve the bottom line of businesses, particularly when it concerns what should have been a lower cost of eating and going to the market, given its budget/no-frills design.
Kopitiam Sengkang

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The voices of the few

If there is one thing about Singapore above all else, it must be the raw efficiency of the place, and I don't mean that in a positive manner. Take for example the night market in Changi Village. It has reportedly ceased operations from 19th December 2009, after being there for well over a year. And the reasons given for the forced closure?

1. Visitors' vehicles are parked indiscriminately along the short and narrow roads, thus contributing to congestion. The question is, how come it took all of 18 months to effect the solution (i.e. close the night market). Was the problem that serious? And I thought the obvious solution rather is to issue parking tickets, not close the market? You'd apply ointment to a wounded finger, not chop it off? But the local Singapore authorities can be ruthless and efficient, if a little late. Just chop off the damn thing!

2. Shopkeepers complain that businesses is being taken away from them. Question: ditto above. How come it took all of 18 months to bleed business before the solution (i.e. close the night market) was implemented? (NB: Shopkeepers that the press spoke to insist that the night market has actually been GOOD for their businesses, having driven human traffic to that sleepy corner of the island.) So who/which businesses complained? How many of them?

So the one big mystery that is begging an answer: Why was the night market shut down? What exactly was the complaint? What has been done in the last one year to address the complaints before it was decided that this drastic action was the only solution? 

Transparency on this island? Hardly.

I used to visit this part of the island. Sadly, there is one less reason to do so now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

That Lie

Marina Bay Sands Singapore is supposed to have opened its doors for business this month. That was the original plan, but we all know that plans can change, and in the case of the Marina Bay Sands Singapore (aka Hotel and Casino Resort), the revised opening date is some time in April 2010 though some say that June 2010 is a more realistic date.

April, when April Fools' day falls, is probably not an ideal month to open a Casino, from the gamblers' perspective. But it'll probably be roaring business of a casino though because gamblers are by nature risk takers, fools or not. These revision in schedules show up the lie in the whole Integrated Resort (IR) message. When Singapore went ahead with setting up not one but two casinos, the government insisted that it wasn't casinos per se, but an integration of various entertainment and convention businesses (MICE) that were on the cards, that Singapore isn't transforming itself into a Las Vegas of the East. Casinos were just to be a small part of the whole development. But the latest developments (or probably non-developments) has given the lie to this claim.

When push comes to shove, and it is time for payback. the only most immediately profitable business that must be opened first is the casino. So come April or June next year, or whatever month it eventually opens, the casino business must precede all others. The business / conventions / meeting / entertainment events? Well, they are not Marina Bay Sands' priority, really. From recouping the money point of view (more than S$5 Billion), the casino business is the one and only bet on the table, never mind what the government says about having 50% of the other businesses in place as a condition for the casinos to start operations. But then, starting the casino first makes sense. Nobody would want to have a major meeting event there, or go shopping, and least of all, go there for a stroll when half of the place is still under construction. The dust and dirt will be an instant turnoff. Orchard Road will still be a cooler place to go to, in more ways than one. But gambling? Hey the dirt doesn't matter. When gambling can take place in a back alley as much as it can in a swanky hotel, it is the only sensible thing to do - take the money and run.

So if we want to call a spade a spade, we should just admit that Singapore is close to becoming the betting capital of this part of the world. The rest are just sideshows. The problem is, with the government's liberal policies on immigration, will it attract the 'right' people to this island in the long run? It would appear that climate change is the least of our worries.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Here we go again. This time, the really big one, the mother of all ball games - the 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa next year, no less. (Sheesh, that phrase is trademarked). What event can be bigger than that for a world crazy about 11x2 (minus the occasional red carded) people kicking an inflated rubber ball around a rectangular field?

And to fit the size of the event, Fifa, the world football governing body, has seen fit to extract that pound of flesh from the very people that give life to this activity. In Singapore, the main broadcast providers, Singtel and Starhub, have very sensibly colluded to get the best deal they can from the licensing people in Fifa. Yet even this collusion might not guarantee a sensible price at which armchair footballers might be willing to cough up. I hear that Fifa is expecting everyone to serve up an arm and a leg for the rights to broadcast the World Cup matches. Talk about profiteering. The price for watching club football in Britain's EPL is bad enough. They routinely also extract that pound of flesh for broadcast rights, which football crazy fans so willingly offer on the altar of the mother of all balls. I suppose Fifa has wised up to the game and wants in too. The colour of money excites more than balls, stupid! What they will do with that money is beyond me. Maybe fly first class to any and all meetings around the world to start with. They say money corrupts. Are we witnessing the beginning of the fall of soccer once the greed sets into every part (read: people) of the game? Well, ok, they did SAY they will donate the proceeds, but when you cause pain to countless so that you can appear generous to some...I am not so sure where the charitable spirit lies...(Hmmm...I wonder if Fifa's accounts are audited, and if so, by whom?)

Many say soccer is the beautiful game. Well, I agree. Its a beautifully 'green' game, and I don't mean environmentally friendly. I can see where some people can spot the beauty in the game. Soon the officials will be so swamp with the cash that they wouldn't even care what a ball looks like, or care if it is made of bullshit, much less what to do with it (handle it? - yeah this is accepted in FOOTball nowadays - the rote has set in, led by some of the world's best footballers like Diego Maradona and Thierry Henri, who win matches with their hands, whether sanctioned by God or not).

So when this happens, people will be knocked to their senses to see how they have been fooled all these many years into coughing up blood money to people who just kick a ball (and handle it once a while) and people who just organise these kicking ballfests.

Have the rest of us humans become so dumb that we willlingly let others swindle us in broad daylight? Yeah, blame the balls.