Monday, December 13, 2010

Leaky Hypocrites

And I thought that wikileaks was an American problem. Apparently not. Since the leak about Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew's view of North Korea's Dear Leader, there have been further juicy leaks of Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affair's officers view of India, Malaysia and Japan, You can't deny that these news sell, and embarrass at the same time. In a sense, it titillates our baser instincts to uncover the way top leaders describe each other. It certainly is not gentlemanly talk, but that's the point. These conversations are not meant to be available to the public, so our protagonists let fly with colourful phrases about each other. I am sure that for every colour adverb used by person on another, at least another in like is made in return. You let loose under cover of confidence. Its fair game.

And aren't we all like this anyway? We say the damnest things about somebody behind their backs but are very civil in front of him/her. And we do so not merely out of spite, but to express our most honest views to the people closest to us because they know where we are comng from and the circumstances leading to those views (the context). And, truth be told, it is very useful communication. I am not trying to apologise for anyone, just that I agree that certain things are best left unsaid in public.

Which is why I don't support the growing chorus of voices in support of wikileaks. If you do, then can you also say what you say in private in public the next tine, and every other time? If not, then don't be hypocrites.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Unkindest Cut

When all is said and done, nobody, except perhaps the radicals (and I don't mean the Muslims), would disagree that Mas Selamat Kastari's (MSK) relative - his brother, sis-in-law and niece, deserve to go to jail.

Whatever is said, that perhaps sympathy and blood ties are too strong for the niece not be have done anything to help MS, she is guilty as charged. Certainly she wouldn't have wanted to turn MSK in, but to disguise a known fugitive for his escape? There is certainly more than it being a lapse of judgement. There is deliberate will and action to condone the actions of MSK (he escaped from a state prison) and sympathise with his cause. What does that make her if not a closet terrorists cut from the same clothe as MSK?

I wonder how many are still out there in Singapore, going around like normal people, perhaps even teaching in some government school in Singapore, but deep down, are just waiting for the opportunity to disrupt innocent people's lives, all in the name of religion.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Riddle me, Batman

Revelation of how close relatives of Mas Selamat Kastari (MSK) helped him eventually to escape to Malaysia 2 years ago certainly raised more questions that it answered. The authorities are not willing to reveal more at this moment as to how MSK walked all the way, in bright orange prison garb, from Whitely Road to Tampines Housing Estate in the eastern end of the island, amidst the island-wide alert of his escape. It's surreal. Certainly great material for several Prison Break episodes.

What is on everyone's mine is: why our normally efficient and effective police never thought to search and monitor MSK's close relatives? Given MSK's apparent familiarity with where exactly his brother stays, one cannot but speculate that he has been in contact with these relatives until recently (i.e. during prison visits perhaps) before his escape. How else do you explain the quickness and purpose that MSK headed for this relative's house half way across Singapore island? How would he know who would be home and who would be away, as news reports, citing the account given by the authorities, would have us believe? I hardly visit some of my relatives, perhaps once a year, and then only during Chinese New Year. Truth be told, I don't exactly know where they live, and when they will be at home. It's normal practice to call ahead so we don't end up facing an empty house. MS must have powers of telepathy beyond us mortals, if we are to believe what we have read so far.

I am not calling anyone a liar. I am sure that some things need to be kept confidential, but so far, what has been revealed has tended to insult my intelligence. Or maybe I am not that intelligent. But I leave that to the more intelligent people (authorities?) among us.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Come and Gone

Too many well-known and well-loved Singaporeans have died this year, and the year is not yet over. First it was Mr Goh Keng Swee, then it was Mrs Lee Kuan Yew (Mdm Kwa Geok Choo), and now, even before our tears are dried, our favourite footballer, Encik Dollah Kassim has passed away. Sure he was in a coma since last year, but he was still with us.

2010 is turning out to be a very bad year, mortality-wise, for our best and brightest, whichever field they graced. One hopes that before the year comes to a conclusion, we will not have any more of these sad occasions.

The collective psyche of Singaporeans probably cannot take another...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A death observed

Perhaps Singapore has already been expecting this for some time now, but the news nevertheless shocked and saddened many of us, going by news and views on the internet. I first read the announcement over Yahoo's Fit to Post, and the way the headline was phrased stunned me for a moment: "Mrs Lee Kuan Yew dead at 89". I looked closer and somewhat relieved to note that it was MM Lee's wife, not MM. Why relieved? Dead is never a happy thing. It means you will never see this person in the flesh anymore, never feel the strange comfort, familiarity and assurance when that someone is around. And if that person has been your constant companion throughout your life, it is that much more difficult to bear. If that is your mother, your grief will be doubly great - the loss of the person who gave birth to you, and who raised you, and the same grief you must feel for her companion who is left to carry on life's journey.

Coincidentally, this 2nd October is also my 17th wedding anniversary, which, of course, is far from the 61 years that Mr and Mrs Lee spent together.

Yet in this case, there is relief because it also marked the end of whatever suffering Mrs Lee would have endured for the last 2 years. I do not know her personally, and have never met her, yet we, Singaporeans, seem to know her from the many pictures of her in the press over her long life as the person always beside MM Lee. Yet for all the exposure, she always kept her life private, unlike wives of some national leaders who just cannot keep themselves out of the news, and in the process, attracting gossip of one sort or another. Maybe the press in Singapore is strict and the government frowns on gossipy news, especially when it comes to MM Lee, but that does no detract from the fact that we hear so little about Mdm Lee's life in spite of her visibility.

As a Singaporean, and one who grew up on the island during much of the time that MM Lee was the Prime Minister, let me convey my condolences to MM Lee and his family on this sad occasion. And may I wish MM the strength to bear in this difficult period.

God bless.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Education Freedoms

The Singapore education system has been a subject of discussion lately. And no, I am not referring to the initiatives proposed by the Government through PM Lee's National Day Rally speech. Rather it has more to do with the cost of education. For some time now, parents have been engaging private tutors for their children. I don't know how many subjects, on average, that their children gets help from private tutors. If my experience is anything to go by, its probably between 2 and 5 subjects. The tuition industry, if one can call it that, is reportedly worth about $182 million per annum, not exactly small potatoes for a service that once used to be on the peripherally - for the really desperate, and for those whose parents have the aspirations for their children to gain admission to the top-top schools in Singapore.

Compared to private schools, such as those run by and for expatriates, the cost to Singapore citizens being schooled is really low. There are no school fees for the first 6 years of primary education - public education is free for citizens of Singapore. Students only have to pay a monthly supplementary fee of S$5.50, plus an additional S$5.50 discretionary fees. In the 4-5 years of Secondary School, fees are subsidized so much so that a student only pays S$5.00 a month - less than the price of a McDonald's meal, plus $8.00 supplementary fees and another S$8.00 discretionary fees. Yet when you add in the additional costs of private tuition, I daresay that education in Singapore is not all that free. In fact, the cost approaches half, if not more, of the monthly school fees that the expatriates among us pay for their children's education (about S$2,000 a month).

As so many who have written in to the newspapers recently on the issue of private tuition, this cost is not really discretionary. Yes, you can choose not to spend the money and see your otherwise brilliant child suffer the ignominy of being placed perennially in the bottom half of the class, or you can bite the bullet the spend the money in order to rescue your young child's morale and self-esteem. Is there any question what most parents must do? It is sad, no, it is a tragedy. Our schools are no longer the great leveler it used to be. Now those who have the means can ensure that their children move ahead, over and above others, educationally, at the expense of those less well-off. It is no longer a matter of whether one has the grey matter that matters. It is now loaded against those who cannot afford private tuition, or those who stubbornly DO NOT believe in private tuition for the reason that they believe the schools should have covered the bases. Education is free, isn't it? The schools provide equal education and instruction for every child, don't they? Private tuition is meant for the weaker students, right? Well, as many parents in Singapore now realize, this is a fallacy only the people in the Ministry of Education believe in.

How did we ever get to here, anyhow?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Youth on the Balance

I was reminded today that if you do not want your personal details to be known, then don't put any of it online, on the internet, to be specific. The internet media has a long long memory. You can delete the pages where you posted these info, you can delete your account, but whatever you do, those pages, if they were once openly available on the internet, will always remain there in some cached pages (such as those that Google maintains) - perhaps till kingdom come or the internet is destroyed, whichever happens first. Even Google's demise, should it happen, would not erase those information. So also if you want to post a comment that can be viewed as a threat, especially one of bodily harm to someone living no more than 41 km away (that's the diagonal size of Singapore island). Then you had better be ready to defend yourself. In particular, I am referring to a Singaporean who did just that on his Facebook page - threaten to kill the Sports Minister of Singapore.

He was arrested and questioned, as anyone who has threatened murder should be, and subsequently released on bail. I agree with many who wrote on the incident, that if he hasn't done anything wrong, he should not be afraid. And he displayed this fearlessness by subsequently claiming, on the internet again, that whatever he said wasn't literal. One can argue till the cows come home if his tirade on his Facebook page is a piece of literary art form or a bald threat by a would-be terrorist. That he goes by a Malay name doesn't help. He should have known better, or is he fronting for someone in the shadows? For all that we say about freedom of speech, if this person boarded a subway train, I will not follow him into that same train. Call me a coward, or accuse me of being paranoid, but you can never know, until it is too late. I am not going to put my life on the line for some vague freedom of speech thing, which some claim they will die defending even if they don't agree with what was said. Hogwash. That is the idealism of youth and the folly of the aged - probably a fallacious belief if ever there was one.

It is so easy to criticize someone or something. Sure mistakes were made in the YOG. Everyone could see it, and not a few poured scorn on the organisers. It was very publicly visible, and embarrassing for a Singapore that prides itself on being efficient, and always planning to the last detail. Perhaps our Kiasu spirit showed up and the MOE soaked up as many tickets as it could so that it could send in the 'army' if and when necessary, to fill the stands.- so some tell me. But what is important is that corrective action was taken, it was effective, just like what our young footballing cubs did to secure the bronze medal after a disastrous outing with the Haiti Football Team.  

So was it worth it? Only time will tell. I asked a youth today if he had volunteered to help out in the YOG. He said 'Yes', and I asked what he got out of it all. He was positive about the experience, especially with the opportunity to mix around and converse with so many different peoples of the world. Somehow I was happy for him but felt a tinge of sadness that I could not go back in time to experience what he has for the past week or so. For our young, who are our future and to learn to co-exist with others - this alone makes it worth it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cubs to Kings

Ever since the heady days of Choo Seng Quee and his band of merry footballers, the country hasn’t had much occasion to celebrate its football prowess at this level. Even Fandi Ahmad has turned his back on the country, together with his sons. I don’t blame him. That’s reality. Nothing wrong with a father wanting the very best for his children.

But the show that our young footballing cubs have put up at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) so far is nothing short of amazing. I didn’t give them half a chance of advancing to the second round, and now they are in the semi-finals.

Good for them, and great for Singapore. This shows that, under the right training and guidance, and with the right stage and heart, Singapore can yet produce quality football on the international stage. And to think, these young ones were virtually unknown a fortnight ago. Maybe it is too early to celebrate. But for them to have advanced to the semi-finals isn't a small feat. And tickets for this match has really been sold out. If we had used the 55,000-capacity National Stadium (which was recently demolished) instead, I believe the tickets would also have sold out.

Go cubs, go! Show the world that Singapore has a young football team that is not only the best in Singapore, JB, Batam, and some are going to say, in the world!
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Youth Energy

The world's first Youth Olympic Games (YOG) is well under way in Singapore. No, there aren't any star athlete on display, unlike the Olympic games when many competitors would already have gained fame competing in international meets prior to the Olympic games proper. This is an inherent weakness, if one can call it that, in the Youth Olympic games. Many, if not all of its athletes, are starting out their young lives chasing their dreams. The world's press cannot see themselves selling enough papers and air-time when there are no celebrities on parade. So there is a corresponding lack of buzz and excitement in the YOG
It would appear that Singapore's hosting of the inaugural YOG is both a boon and a bane. Its great because Singapore gets to show off its capabilities in organising a world class event. This it has done in the midst of putting on a fantastic National Day Paraded just a week ago. This 'can-do-ness' has become a hallmark of sorts for this tiny island nation. The world now knows that if it wants something done, it can turn to Singapore. Its a bane because it is easy to pick on Singapore for coming short on not presenting 'star athletes', inability to sell all the event tickets, lack of press interest, the hot weather, and what have you, as if Singapore can work miracles.

Sure, I am not personally tuned into the games even though I live in Singapore. Heck, I don't even have a ticket to any of its games. But that doesn't mean I do not feel a sense of pride for what my country is doing for world sports. Sure, there aren't any star athletes, but in time to come, they will hear of them who once competed in the world's first YOG in Singapore. In Singapore, you have no choice when it comes to work and career. We cannot put down our tools for 10 days. Well, maybe some can, but most of us can't. But we can support the effort by NOT pouring cold water on it. Starhub has devoted 4 free channels broadcasting various games throughout the day. I caught a badminton game, and I must say it's absorbing. These athletes may be amateurs, but that is what the Olympics is about in the first place.

Must we have the Press trumpeting an event to make it significant? I don't think so. In fact, I am seeing may young people dressed in the official YOG T-shirts running around the island these days. And no, they are not athletes, they are volunteers. I think in time to come, they will look back and be proud of the fact that they were part of the inaugural YOG.

Oh, to be young again!
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Closer to you

I think the idea to have mini-celebrations of the National Day in the heartlands was an inspired one. This year's celebrations, for the first time ever, was celebrated simultaneously at Sengkang, Woodlands, Bishan, Eunos and Choa Chu Kang. People disappointed in not securing tickets to main event at the Padang, and don't want to just sit in front of the telly all evening, could head down to any of these places to join in the celebration.

I live in Sengkang, just a stone's throw from where the events venue. People came out in droves to at least have a look-see. One has to have tickets for a 'front row' seats (in fact, it entitled one to be seated). There were only 300 on offer at Sengkang. I wasn't aware and was told that they were snapped up almost immediately. Who doesn't like freebies? The ticket entitled you to watch the main NDP event via a gigantic screen, and watch live performances. Of course you could stand around without the tickets and watch too. I comforted myself that I had a 'walk-about ticket' as a resident. I walk around snapping pictures of this historic occasion, and what's more, positioned myself in first class stands to witness the drive-by of Singapore's latest armour that had come all the way from the Padang. It was 8'tish when it appeared, but the wait was worth it.  Singapore probably paid millions to acquire and maintain these hardware. At least you get to see where the money has gone to.

The surprise for the night were the fireworks. I had thought that they wouldn't do this because of the high-rise apartments around. But I had forgotten that next to Compass Point, there are a few large but empty pieces of land. So the fireworks went up and everyone, especially the kids wowed and wee'd. As cheezy as this may sound, it was a night to remember, and I had the photos and videos to prove it. Later.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The big i

What's it with people nowadays anyway? They hear that Apple is going to release the iPad this Friday (tomorrow) and the iPhone 4 a week later and they go into a frenzy. People have been reported to have made plans to queue for these coveted products. Queue! Like they have got all the time in the world. If they are really mad about these devices, they would already have paid the premium to secure one already. Why wait till tomorrow?

So I would say that these people who plan to camp outside an Apple store tonight are just imitators, pure and simple. They do not want to vote with their wallets (or purse) as the case may be, and instead look for the moment of fame for queuing up for a device which is no more than an enlarged iPhone. Well, maybe that's it. An enlarge brain with nothing much in between but pockets flowing over with cash.

But who am I to say anything? It is their money and they can spend it any way they want. I am sure Steve Jobs approves of such enthusiasm.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Broken Words

It has been roughly a week since one of the Singapore Government's Ministers made his un-English speech. For those who missed it (though, by now, nobody in Singapore would have missed it), here is Channel News Asia's report of what he said:

"If you're the best today, strive to be better. If you're better today, strive to be betterer and if you're betterer today, strive to be betterest so that overtime, Singapore's service standards can just keep getting better, betterer and betterest."

- Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office &
Secretary-General (NTUC) (2nd July 10)

Yes, the language is pretty mangled, and for many, this is a gaffe of the highest order, certainly something unbecoming of a highly educated Singapore Government Minister. The people in the Speak Good English movement must be groaning how a Minister just destroyed all the effort they had undertaken or plan to undertake to get Singaporeans to speak good English

But wait, did he do this on purpose, or at least made use of his inimitable style to get the message across? If he did (and even if he hadn't), he has succeeded marvelously. There was no stopping the ridiculing of how a $4 million dollar man could be so broken in his English. Yet in doing so, attention was brought to his message. That was how I heard about it. And I told other people who otherwise did not know about the latest joke on the island.

Let's be honest, no matter how broken the language is, all of us understood what he said and what he meant. There wasn't any ambiguity. He didn't use any word which will cause us to run to our Cobuild or Oxford Dictionaries. And better yet, the man in the street, who may not have had a lot of education, could understand what he said. They may even speak like him, So what if he gets an "F" for English Language? He gets a thumb-up for communication. In this sense, he is in the haloed company of Lewis Carroll, who created nonsense words that have entered the English dictionary. Perhaps the editors of the major Dictionaries should take another look at words such as betterer, betterest and rethink whether better must necessarily come before best.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Football 2010

The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa kicks off today. Broadcast rights to this series of games for Singapore has proven to be very challenging this year, and the Telcos Singtel and Starhub may not be able to recoup their investment. From what I heard, people are happy enough to catch the shows at many 'eating' and 'drinking' places free of charge. Of course you would be encouraged to pay for drinks and snacks, but the atmosphere may be better. Anyway, here is a list of Kopitiam locations around Singapore where you can get the show 'live' and for free, on large screens.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Swift Vandal

Shame on SMRT, people say. But this is judgment after the fact. It is always easy to pass judgment in hindsight. But when SMRT was caught with its pants down, you can't stop people from commenting and generally giving their 2 cents' worth. Neither can I, as this blog post shows. But then, we are not alone. Government MPs have sounded their displeasure and unease over the fact that a vital and critical  installation (the train system) has been compromised in broad daylight, though in this instance, no harm has befallen anyone. Now the SMRT is also being lambasted for not alerting the authorities of the act of vandalism until 2 days later. I suppose SMRT wanted to cover its behind and pull up its pants without anyone noticing so that they can quietly resolve the matter themselves. But alas for SMRT, it is not to be, no thanks to an observant boy whose curiously got the better of him by taking a video of the train in all its vandalized glory and putting it up on Youtube to boot.

But true to its reputation, the police has been swift in its action and has apprehended the alleged vandal, one Oliver Fricker, though through no fault of theirs, his alleged collaborator, Mr Lloyd Dane Alexander, has flown the coop, apparently to Hong Kong. I think both of these alleged perpetrators must be well aware of the consequences of their actions if they are caught, as the Michael Fay incident many years ago has shown. Now Mr Fricker will get a taste of the rotan - caning on the behind. Once canned, the person would not be able to sit down for a time, so painful is the punishment, so I have been told. But them Michael Fay survived it and went on to commit crime again. Mr Fricker will perhaps be comforted by this fact should he face the executioner who will administer three of the best (or however many the judge decides is fair punishment).

More importantly, as many have pointed out, is the ease with which a vital installation has been compromised. How did this happen since Singapore has heightened its security around the island after 911? Well, the answer probably can lie with the person(s) who is now in the middle of the whole thing - Mr Fricker himself. The authorities might want to tap on his expertise to review the security set up of all vital installations around the island. They say that a hacker knows best how to prevent the act of hacking, so Mr Fricker should be engaged as a security consultant in order to effectively tighten points of weakness.  Given that he didn't cause significant damage - he was probably practicing his art, canning should be just about enough punishment. He can then be sentenced additionally to be a consultant on Corrective Work Order. This will be a win-win for everyone. We give him 3 of the best, and he advise us on never having to give another 3 to some copycat later.

But of course I am not the judge, so don't take my word for it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Not Playing Ball

I thought I'd never say this, but pity Singtel and Starhub. Why? Because it appears that not enough people want to play ball. Many people have expressed unhappiness over the high subscription price that both Telcos are charging for watching the Football World Cup 2010 in the comfort of their homes, never mind that some of these games are played in the dead of night or early morning in this part of the world. I don't know if it is bravado and then silently, people are subscribing, or if people are following through with not subscribing but will be watching the games free at public eateries like coffeeshops and 24-hour restaurants such as McDonalds.

Actually Singtel and Starhub don't deserve this desertion by its customers. We all know that the real culprit behind this price inflation is not them. I think they have tried their hardest to secure the rights after much pressure from the public, and even the government, may I add. Rather it is Fifa and their appointed agents who are to be blamed. So if you want to set up a Facebook page, don't set up one, or two, against our Telcos. Blast the real bl**dsuckers - Fifa and its Agents.If you don't want Fifa repeating this rip-off 4 years hence, then boycott Fifa, and make this loud and clear. We should never have pressured our Telcos to close a deal, and then left the ball in their hands. If things go on like this, they will likely make a loss from the Football World Cup 2010. In which case, don't blame them if next time, they don't want to play ball either.

p.s. Well, ok, Singtel probably brought this on all of us after it showed how much money it had by paying and arm and a leg for the BPL broadcast rights.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tank the Tanker

An oil tanker and a bulk carrier collided with another ship on 25 May 2010. As a results, thousands of tonnes of crude oil was dumped and now threatens the sea and shores of Singapore. The latest report has the oil slick affecting Malaysian waters too.

I don't have much of an opinion about this disaster, except to ask - what were the people manning the sea traffic doing, or more more pertinently, NOT doing to prevent this collision? Like the people manning the Control Tower in an airport, the people manning the seaport have just as heavy a responsibility to make sure things like this do not happen. The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) has sophisticated radar control systems that monitor the passage of sea craft in its waters. Ships are mapped on giant radar screens, and the people manning these radar systems  are supposed to look out for any potential problems or collisions. Yes, in spite of these, a large bulk carrier can collide with tanker so near to Singapore's shores. Maybe the warning was issued to the ships but the captain ignored them. Maybe there was a failure in the communications hardware. Nothing has been said so far on where the fault lies. Whoever or whatever to blame, it just shows that the systems in place are not perfect, and the MPA will have to rectify any weakness. Singapore is, after all, the world's most busy port. An lapse in its systems and processes must surely reflect badly on its ability to host sea craft in our waters.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A time and a season

Eat with Your Family Day. I hadn't notice there there is such as day, even though, from what I read, this started out in 2003. And it isn't because I wasn't a father 7 years ago. I was one and still am. But perhaps it hadn't been publicized enough to catch my attention all these years. But now that it has, I am disturbed.

What does the existence of such as day tell us about life in Singapore? Isn't having at least one meal everyday together with the family a given? You mean to tell me that having dinner with the family during the weekdays has become a rare occasion, so rare that it has to be celebrated once a year? What are we all doing during the weekdays that a family cannot sit together, particularly in the evenings, to enjoy a meal as a family? It should be a routine, so much so that it isn't anything to remark about, and certainly not something that you would think of designating a day in the year to celebrate. Yes, you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, etc., but celebrating when a family has a meal together? Its unbelievable, and this probably can only be found in Singapore. A Google search of the term "Eat with your family day" returns only Singapore related websites! (But of course, Singapore probably wasn't where it originated).

It appears that in Singapore, this is the price we pay for our unrelenting search for progress and creature comforts. In the process, we seem to have put our families on the back burner (that's where the number of kids issue comes in - see my last post). So OK, some say that's a fact of life, but can't we even spend one weekday having a meal together as a family? If the answer is yes, then this "Eat with Your Family Day" (EWYFD) is superfluous. Probably good for the restaurant business, but superfluous. If not, we have lost the meaning of life and love. Some would say, we have lost our souls. We have become nothing more than a production line worker churning out the next productivity statistic.

People talk about Work-Life balance. Going by the mere existence of EWYFD, we know that its basically all talk. Surely the proponents of Work-Life balance did not have EWYFD in mine as an objective?

My call to all Singaporeans is this: when the clocks strikes 6pm (or whenever your stated end of the day working hour may be), leave the office promptly and head home immediately. If the boss casts a disapproving  eye at you, wave goodbye in return. And if your colleagues look perturbed, show them the clock and remind them that they have an equally, if not more, important obligation to the family. Better yet, time the air-conditioner to shut off  at the end of the workday hour. Any boss that penalizes sensible action should be hung out as bad examples. We shouldn't want to celebrate organisations that are family-friendly. It is more important to highlight those that are anti-social family-unfriendly, if only to show them the error of their ways. There is no end to making money. But, like wise King Solomon said, there is a time and season for everything.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Where are the young ones?

I know of many fathers who dote on their children. I for one, dote on mine, though unfortunately, to the extent of spoiling him. If you ask me, I have given my full support to bringing up my child even while my wife and I develop our careers in the formative years of our child's life.I cleaned the house, washed the dishes, fed the baby whenever my wife is indisposed, play with him, read to him and put him to sleep. All of which I enjoyed and look back with pleasant memories. Yet I have only one child.

I am sure many fathers in Singapore share in raising their children, and that includes helping out in the kitchen or the playground. All the fathers I know dote on their children. Some are even good cooks. Some have 3, 4 kids, and some have only one. So I find it mystifying that the Executive Director of AWARE, Ms Corinna Lim, asserts that Singaporeans do not have more kids because dads don't play enough of a role at home while women have routinely joined the workforce over the last 30 years. She writes that women are not inclined to have many, or any children because of the perception, and probably a fact, that holding down a job and raising children at the same time without equal commitment from the father is the main problem in Singapore with its declining national birth rate. I agree with her to a certain extent, but this proposition is neither new nor earth shattering in any way. In fact, it is rather obvious.Who would want to face a bevy of noisy and demanding children when one returns from a tiring day at the office? Certainly not the mother, not to mention the father.  But I do know of many families who have live-in maids who not only cook and clean, but also take care of the children. In fact this appears to be the norm rather that the exception, unlike more than 30 years ago. This helps to lift a big load off the parents' minds and their tired muscles, does it not?

So why not have more? They can have more, right? Sometimes, I wonder at the 4-party family I often see around Singapore. No, not the mother-father-2 kids type, but the mother-father-1 kid-1-maid type. I often think it is extravagant - 3 adults looking after 1 child. Think of that. That's why some people find the thesis advanced by Ms Lim so ludicrous. My mother had 5 children, 4 of whose ages do not differ by more that 4 years. She almost single-handedly raised us all without a maid nor a car. Yet today, women complain that the father is not playing an equal role in the family, never mind that they have a car and a maid in tow, wherever they go.

So I think the reason for the low fertility rate goes much deeper and wider. The problem with Ms Lim's thesis is not that she is wrong, but that she has not said enough. She appears to have given too much weight to the problem of absent-fathers, which is itself controversial. Does she have the statistics to back up her assertion about men not playing an equal role in the family in Singapore? I don't. What I know is anecdotal, so I dare not put a finger at this particular issue only. But then again, Professor Hans Rosling, which Ms Lim appears to rely on solely, may have done his study, so he may have his statistics, though I wonder if the study was done in the context of Singapore society today. Like I said, I don't disagree with Ms Lim, nor the good Professor, just that it is likely not the whole story, and in fact, it is not remarkable, come to think of it. It is only remarkable because a category of human beings are being 'hammered'. When you make it sound like it is the father's fault, you will be lambasted, for obvious reasons.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


There are many objects of desire nowadays. Witness the crowds at Electronics and Computer shows. It is common for these shows to take up 3 - 4 levels of a convention centre, specifically the Suntec City. Chief among these objects of desire is the cousin of the wildly successful Apple iPhone - the iPad. It is not available  yet, commercially, in Singapore but a friend of mine had brought it in and I had my first touch and feel of the device yesterday. My immediate impression was that, like all Apple products, it was beautiful. There is only one colour - white. Add in the gloss and the contours and you have a winner on your hands. No wonder Apple has sold a million of these devices within a month of its launch. It felt heavy at first lift and your arms will tire after some time. This is probably more pronounced for the fairer sex. 

There was free wifi signals around and the iPad just took to it, without any fuss on set up. Actually when the device was handed to me for a spin, it was already on wifi. I was surfing the web as if it was the most natural thing for this device. I didn't test how long the battery would last, but was told that it had a pretty good use-time.

Text characters were big enough to read an e-Book very comfortably. It had a useful zoom function to enlarge or reduce the size of what you are reading, with all the intuitive touch-screen navigation that is the hallmarrk of Apple products, and in particular the iPhone. Actually, the iPad is a bigger version, size-wise, of the iPhone - the same styling, the same feel, the same user interface, the same touch interface, the same buttons (there is only one). So if you have not laid your hands on a iPad, but you have and iPhone, just imagine your iPhone with a bigger screen, a heavier feel and probably longer battery life. Everything else is the same, except you can't talk through an iPad, not yet in these first version devices. 

Hmmm, as Will Smith would say, I must get me one of these. But I was told to wait for the next generation 3-G version. But truth be told, the one I had on my hands was probably good enough. But it isn't cheap. I was told that it is going for S$1,500 now in Singapore, and maybe even more depending on how much you are willing to pay. Compare that to the US$499 price of a basic iPad in the US...

OK, I'll wait.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A step behind

Anyone who visits China, even as a tourist, cannot deny that knowing the language is important. If nothing you would want to understand what the tour guide is talking about. You say, sure you can understand Chinese but not speak it. I know of some Chinese Singaporeans who cannot speak it, nor understand it. But of course, touring a country without knowledge of the local language is generally ok provided that you have a good guide.

But increasingly, many Singaporeans are heading to China for different purposes. To visit the country for business and for work. Some are there for educational purposes, to jiaoliu, for community service, etc., when a person stays at a stretch of 10 to 20 days. You would want to know how to speak the language, although writing is not quite necessary. But my experience last September was a real clincher for our attitude towards the language. I had met a teacher at a vocational institute in the course of the visit, a young man. He kept conversing in English with me. His English was already good, but every time I spoke in Mandarin Chinese, he would always reply in English. It isn't that this person doesn't know Chinese, just that he wanted very much to practise using English, to help him improve on the language. I, on the other hand, wanted to speak the local lingo in the land of its birth. But eventually, I settled on speaking in English with this chap, seeing how persistent he was in conversing with me in the language.

It is said that some China Chinese have become rich and they are traveling the world as first class travelers (stay in first class hotels, first class shopping, etc.), but many of them are becoming conversant in the international language of trade and commerce - English. I thought, if we don't work hard at their language (which for the Chinese among us, is OUR mother tongue), one day, they will dominate us, even if were are Singaporean Chinese.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kick around

So the Soccer World Cup, to be staged in South Africa this June, will cost Singaporeans S$66 dollars for all 64 matches. It'll be $88 if one signs up for the package after 31 May 2010. This is a quantum leap of more than 6 times the amount that Singaporeans had to pay for a home package 4 years ago.

Yet Mr Edward Ying, SingTel's chief of content and media services, is reported to have said that at this price, a game is cheaper than a cup of coffee. Well, I don't know where Mr Ying gets his fix of coffee, but I swear I get my coffee at $0.80 a cuppa at the neighbourhood coffee shop. Perhaps he is talking about Starbucks coffee. And that is really the point. The deal that was brokered is a rich man's deal, not for the man in the street. Let's admit it, Singtel and Starhub got a raw deal. I don't blame them. They were up against the wall, and there was pressure to deliver. That they did deliver is a credit to them. But its way too much and a little too late for everybody. For the would-be advertisers, for the fence-sitters, for those who have already hooked up their TV sets with antennae bought from Sim Lim Square and elsewhere, for those who have already booked rooms in Johor Bahru Hotels, for those who have already booked trips to be away since they can't catch the games anyway, for get the idea.

And the spoilers are precisely the very people who are tasked to bring the World Cup to the world. I don't know who was playing the waiting game, more likely the licensors, who have proven to be, well, blood-suckers.

I say, lets not pay for any of it. Unfortunately Singtel and Starhub will suffer. But if we don't do it, i.e. boycott the games, we'll end up in a similar situation another 4 years from now. Then it may not be $66 dollars given the propensity of Singaporeans nowadays to flaunt their wealth.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Stupidity is as stupidity gets

There is probably an index on the state of the Singapore economy that can be created: the number of taxi bookings per hour. You see, when the economy is not doing all that well, fewer people book for taxis, even when they are at a taxi stand. When the economy is doing well, you will see not a few people with a cell-phone seemingly stuck to their ears even as they queue up for taxis. In these times, they'd book for taxis even as empty ones come by. I suppose they just have too much money to burn, or they are showing off?

So you can't blame taxi companies for imposing a $3 surcharge for picking up passengers at Marina Bay Sands, really. Singaporeans just ask for it to happen. Sure other right thinking Singaporeans say this is profiteering at its worst, and I agree. But I also say that Singaporeans should stop calling taxis willy nilly to give the impression that they have a lot of excess cash in their pockets which they are more than happy to hand over to the cabby, not that I have anything against cabbies. Some of my friends are cabbies. This was exactly what happened yesterday as I waited for a cab at a taxi stand. Sure there were 5 people ahead of me, so I had to wait. I looked around and there were 3 people apparently wishing to jump the queue by 'ordering' a taxi. The booking took a while but a 'booked' taxi duly came and the commuter was off. Then almost immediately, 3 empty cabs came at one go, and that cleared the queue dramatically. I don't think this was luck or anything. It's just cabbies cruising for business, that's all. I wondered if the 'booker' had just been more patient, she would have saved some money. And there were still 2 people booking for a taxi as the queue cleared. If there is demand, the supply will be more than willing to oblige, is it not so? If people are willing to spend $3.20 booking fees, then what is $3 for the speed of the service at Marina Bay Sands? After all, it is a hip and happening place where people are supposed to have their pockets overflowing with cash after a day at the Casino? At least, some of them?

The problem is of our own making, not only in MBS, but anywhere else in Singapore. My heart always sinks when I see cell-phones appearing at taxi stands. I can understand this behaviour if the person is somewhere in Tuas, or even some less remote parts of Singapore, but at a taxi stand? I don't blame the cabbies for seizing the opportunity of making a couple of bucks more. If there is money to be made from stupid people, why not? People's stupidity is the least of their problems.

p.s. Come to think of it, probably the Competition Commission and the Public Transport Council (PTC), and probably also the LTA, should investigate the collusive behaviour of all 6 taxi companies deciding that a surcharge should be levied on taxi trips made out of Marina Bay Sands. Or are they in on this too?

Sunday, May 02, 2010


It is extremely distressing to learn that an 18-year old Polytechnic student has chosen to end her life. Not that this is rare. I have heard of others of similar age who have either ended their lives or attempted to end their young lives for any reasons ranging from the pressure of school work and exams to failed relationships. Thus news of the suicide of one Temasek Polytechnic student, Melissa Toh, taking her life to end whatever hardship that had befallen her brought back memories. When I was an 18-year old, I lost a classmate, to illness. It was as sudden as this latest reported suicide, something that occurred out of the blue. Yes, he had lately been moaning about life and the meaning of life, but I had thought it was something that all 18-year old's ask all the time. Then he was absent from school and I heard that he had passed away, of an illness that he never told me about, never shared with me. I called the family, which I had never met in my life, to ascertain the truth. It was painfully true.

He was a brilliant student, and had secured offers of scholarship from one source or another. He had a bright future ahead of him, but it was taken prematurely through the curse of illness, which to this day, I have never really understood. But the fact was, he was no more.

But why, why would an otherwise healthy, and from all accounts, cheerful and pretty girl want to end her life? If the disappointment and hurt of a failed relationship all that devastating that nothing but death could comfort and resolve? Were there no one whom she could turn to for solace, encouragement and counsel? By all accounts she wasn't a loner. Yet the social safety net, if there was one, failed her in her hour of need. We will never know what had gone through her mind in the last moments of her very young life. We would want to know, to understand though not to criticize, to empathise with her though she is no more. What empathy, you ask. She is simply no more! Therein lies the bewilderment, the hurt that her friends and family must be facing right now. They must be asking the same thing though it is futile now.

Some may not agree with what she has chosen to do. I feel the same. Yet my feelings matter no more. A young life has ended, and we can only express our condolences to her family and friends. If there is one lesson that we can take away, that lesson is that death visits the young and the old. It was so for me when I was at that age with the loss of a dear friend. It remains painfully the same to some others today

Thus while we yet live, it is important that we know who our creator is, and the salvation that can only be found in him. One is never too young to face up to this.

Rest in Peace, Melissa.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Do your math

I am alarmed to read in MyPaper (22 April 2010) that some of our local undergraduates are taking anti-sleep pills to force themselves to stay awake. Why are they doing this? Well, according to the report, these undergraduates need the time not only to study, but they also need it to attend to businesses that they are running at the same time. The report doesn't say what these businesses are, but the impression given is that these businesses are not part time pursuits meant to defray livings costs and school fees, etc., something which is quite common in tertiary level education. Rather, the impression is that these businesses are serious enough to be careers in the making. The focus appears to be to build a business that will generate a steady income (lots of it too) by the time these young people turn 30. That's when they say they will stop the sleep-reducing drug and lead a more normal life, while enjoying the fruits of the sleep-deprived labour.

It isn't wrong to have ambitions early in life, and it isn't wrong to want the good material things in life early either. But when that is the overriding consideration, at the risk of long term damage to one's health, then you really need to reflect on what you are doing. Young people, they always think they can live forever and they throw caution to the wind. They should remember what a wise man once said. Paraphrasing him, "What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and loses his own life/health?"

Young man, there is yet time to 'make it', but don't die making it now. The Mathematics just doesn't add up.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hot Kopi

From what I saw yesterday, the businesses situated in Kopitiam Square (KS) aren't doing that great. Already I am seeing 'For Rent' signs going up in no less than 8 stalls that have recently been vacated. Somebody told me that whereas there were 3 chicken-rice stalls 2 months ago, it has been reduced to one now. And there used to be 2 roti-prata stalls. One announced that it was moving its stall to another part of KS, and that it will resume operations on 1 April 2010. It is now 11 April, and it is still not open, leading one to wonder if it is not an April Fool's Day joke. It is only slightly over 3 months since KS first opened for business with much fanfare back in December 2009. One of the complaints about that place is it is hot hot and hot. Add in the natural humidity of our weather and you feel you are in a gym working out instead of eating out.

It isn't that Kopitiam is not doing anything about this problem, it seems. I visited KS this morning and saw a number of un-assembled giant stand fans in one of the vacated stalls. I assume that they are meant for diners in the Square, to help blow away the heat and humidity. Singapore has been experiencing very hot weather of late and these fans will be a relief, though I wonder how diners will feel eating and having a blow-dry all at the same time. Maybe Singaporean diners can view this as value-for-their-money?

I suspect that stall holders are giving up their leases prematurely or trying to rent out their spaces due to the possibility that they cannot make enough money to cover the high rents they must undoubtedly have signed onto. Kopitiam has to pay half a million dollars every month to the government, who are the landlords of the piece of land KS is sitting on, so they can only reduce rental so much before they start to bleed cash themselves, if they have not already started bleeding, i.e.

KS has turned out to be quite a good place to have around Sengkang, and I would hate to see it becoming a shell of a foodcourt. Fortunately, the wet market appears to be doing well. At least the number of these business occupants appear to have increased, and the wet market looking really like a wet market. And the dry good shops are still there - a bonus for shoppers visiting this place. Fortunately they haven't closed, yet. Well, lets see if the giant fans will save the place.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Regardless of race

Race, language and religion are very sensitive issues in public (and of late, not so public) discourse in Singapore. Take for example how Pastor Rony Tan was taken to task for 'mocking' Buddhists and Taoists in a sermon delivered in the confines of his own Church, Lighthouse Evangelism. That's really not a public speech, but the government, represented by the Internal Security Department (ISD for short), deemed it necessary to step in to warn Pastor Tan. Witness the latest complaint from an Indian, Mr Ravi Veloo. He was unhappy that DJs from Class 95FM were seemingly 'mocking' Indians by putting on an exaggerated Indian accent (I can only surmise that the DJs were themselves not Indians) in the course of their commentary. It was meant to be funny and lighthearted, but Mr Veloo took exception to it.

What the DJs said exactly is not clear from the news report. Nor did I hear the manner in which the alleged comments were made by the DJs. But Class 95FM does not deny it, stating that '...our DJs do all sorts of funny things on air...", that they are done " entertain and appeal to discerning listeners." (ST, 10 April 2010, page A41). Opinion appears to be leaning towards the 'oh, its just for fun' camp. Only two other letter-writers disagreed with Class 95FM. I am taking this unscientific straw-poll from a count of the same Forum page mentioned earlier. It appears that more people agree with Class 95FM - parody the Indians, its just for fun. But an Indian has protested publicly.

This being the case, why hasn't the authorities, the guardians of racial and religious sensitivities in Singapore, among other things, seen fit to haul up Class 95FM for treading on sensitive ground here, the way they hauled up Mr Rony Tan? Is parodying a particular race in a very public media a less serious matter than putting down a religion or two? Have DJs a right to slur a particular race in the course of their job, never mind that they think it is all very funny.

Second, Class 95FM's stance is that their DJs' play on race and language should be seen as 'fun' and 'entertainment' by 'discerning listeners'. Does this mean the Mr Veloo is not a discerning listener? Or the other two who wrote in to express the same sentiment, or the silent lot (whoever they may be) who would agree with Mr Veloo? Should we then not say that the people who listened to what Pastor Tan said about Buddhists and Taoists should be discerning and that it is not the business for the rest, much less the ISD, to criticise? It appears that Class 95FM has conveniently and simply swept the dust under its proverbial carpet. It has not addressed in a fair, sensitive and reasonable manner the concerns of its listeners. It states that Mediacorp, its parent, has left such issues to Class 95FM to, in its own word, 'discern'.

I think it is time for Class 95FM, and its parent, Mediacorp, to re-evaluate its corporate social responsibility, or God forbid, for the ISD to step in?

P.S. Having said all that, my take is that the ISD should never have stepped in over the Rony Tan affair. Because it did, it is now bound to step in on this Class 95FM issue. Otherwise, it opens itself up to the charge of a lack of transparency in the discharge of its public duty - something that the Government of Singapore prides itself on.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Sheng Siong used to be the toast if the middle to lower income households in Singapore. The prices of its products at its supermarkets were really the cheapest in town, cheaper even than the prices of NTUC Fairprice supermarket's 200 controlled items. Housewives make a beeline for the supermarket. Even my mother gushed about its really cheap products. I dropped by and verified it myself. But of late, it appears to have abandoned its low price approach to business, or at least when it come to property management. It bought up 6 heartland wet markets and increased the rental by a reported 30%. It also shortened the lease to a maximum of 1 year, triggering off suspicion that it might want to convert these wet markets into something more lucrative - say, supermarkets? A cost leader must increase and/or expand its outlets and floor space so as to sell more of the same at low prices. This is one of the primary strategy to increase revenue. That's what NTUC Fairprice has done. That's the business logic behind hypermarkets such as Carrefour and Giant in Singapore.

Doing more of the same for the wet market stallholders - i.e. not increasing rental and cutting lease periods, will be nothing but performing charity, from a business perspective. So of course Sheng Siong is not going to maintain the status quo. But to its credit, HDB has warned that it will not allow Sheng Siong to change the business use of these 6 places. HDB says that the wet markets must stay, but Sheng Siong can charge as much as it thinks makes business sense, which, if you think about it, may yet work in Sheng Siong's favour. They may not rake in as much as they had planned to do so, but an increased 30% margin is not bad, actually.

But of course, the consumers will ultimately bear the increased cost of grocery at a rate that will ultimately drive them to the supermarkets - probably what Sheng Siong would want happen. The wet markets will ultimately be abandoned and deserted, so something 'new' can rise up in their place. Well, if this is what Sheng Siong had planned to do all along, then it is now starring at a bad investment. Yes Sheng Siong may own the markets and the land, but the government owns the right of use of the territory. And the Housing & Development Board (HDB) has done the right thing this time. Although it goes against the government's oft-stated position that businesses should be left to make their own commercial decisions, this is potentially a hot political potatoe to leave alone in the simmering charcoal. If not handled properly, many of the powers that be could get their fingers burnt. And that's bad for people who need to go to the electorate to renew their license to rule in the near future.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Putting your best mouth forward

I rarely listen to the radio nowadays. The only occasions when I do are when I am a captive audience - riding in a taxi, or someone else's car. Maybe it is the far more varied and interactive content that the internet offers that has pulled me away from the radio. When I was younger, and when there was no WWW, radio, particularly shortwave radio, was my staple on what was happening around town and in the rest of the world. Heck, I also catch some music on air on occasions, but its really about the news.

News now is that disgraced former beauty queen, Ris Low, has been engaged by Mediacorp as a DJ for its 987 FM radio station. Is Mediacorp desperate or what? Ris isn't exactly perfect with her English diction, and she is hardly erudite. So why has Mediacorp dropped its standards so drastically? Or is this a gimick by Mediacorp, to put on a freak show to boost its listener ratings and make Ris the laughing stock of the country, again? The poor girl, I don't know if she knows what she is getting into. The media and entertainment industry is likely a dog-bite-dog place and I am concerned that she will be mauled, or the rest of the industry, particularly Mediacorp's radio business will be mauled, depending on your prejudices. But then again, what do I know? Maybe this is the silver-bullet that will send the ratings for 987 FM radio through the roof as people, like me, who do not usualy tune in to a radio station, will be curious enough to do so, if only to see if a freak show is on. OK, I am being mean. I am prejudiced too. It may not be a freak show, you just have to reach for the dial to listen first and then judge.

By this measure, Mediacorp has probably already succeeded in boosting the popularity of its 987 FM station by injecting a dose of notoreity. Already, there are reported antics going on, Ris being late for her first show, and her reportedly making uncomplementary remarks of her co-host, Ms Lee (Rozz). Maybe Ris thinks that there is one too many women on the show? The storm, its a brewing...

Friday, March 26, 2010

More or Less

Singapore's property prices have burst above the roof and is heading for the stratosphere. That's the general talk now in the coffee shops. A coffee-drinker pal of mine remarked the other day that he cannot see himself buying an apartment for more than S$1,000 psf, and he wasn't thinking of the uber-ultra luxury apartments and properties along Orchard Road and Sentosa Cove. It's just the run-of-the-mill condos that people seem to have an insatiable apetite for nowdays that he was referring to.

I couldn't agree more, or umm, well, less. I agree because I can't see myself buying at those prices, but I do have a private apartment which I suppose I can sell at those prices too, which will give me no end of pleasure, not to mention, wealth. So you will find me talking like a snake nowadays - depending on whether you are with people who want to buy or sell.

Well, whether it is to buy or sell, I find it hard to believe REDAS' Simon Cheong (I really really would want to believe him) when he insisted that if developers got land cheaper from the government, they would price their apartments lower. Yes, they CAN price their apartments lower, but would they? Unless you are facing a housing glut, and everybody is either dead broke or the environment is just not favourable, no self-respecting property developer will price their property below the market price. That's doing good business. Developers are hardly charitable organisations, and Mr Cheong, of all people, should know that.

So on the whole, I agree with the MND. I'd rather the government make the money, for which it can then use to spread around the benefit to the public rather than have the developers build and buy more property with the inflated margins that they have already made, which they can then sell at inflated margins, etc. etc.

Actually my grouse with property developers nowadays is that almost every condo they develop leaks water. I thought it was my apartment, until I keep hearing the same stories from anybody and everybody I meet who has bought into a condo in the last 10 years or so. When you find out about the leaks, the one year warranty would be over,  and its your problem, buddy. I cannot understand this. Even TV manufacturers give 3-year warranties, but condo developers (and I think HDB too) are only confident their apartments will hold together for only a year.

So I have this advise for people making a beeline, or who have already put down the deposit for their dream condo. Go through every room and every wall, and every inch of the floor, and the ceiling (particulary false ceilings), the cornices and the air-con pipes to look for cracks, hollow-sounds and damp trunkings - all within the first year. Frankly, the quality of condo apartments sucks and if you are going to pay more than a thousand dollars psf for that apartment, you owe it to yourself to minimise any grief that you will certainly face some months or years down the road.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A sharing we will go

Well, things develop really fast, or is it that I am slow? Lui Tuck Yew has now announced that the government is jumping into the commercial fray by mandating that any and every content, whether exclusively obtained by any media company, such as Singtel and Starhub, have to be shared. i.e. made available on each other's setup boxes. And this is suppose to kick in from September 2010.

Sadly, this doesn't apply to the monopoly broadcasts that Singtel has earlier secured for the BPL games. Otherwise, there will really be no need for soccer-mad fans to subscribe to mio TV in order to get their BPL broadcasts for the next 3 years.

But this is the right direction. Hopefully, prices will come down as a result of mandating the sharing of 'exclusive' content. Signing up for an extra box wasn't a good idea to start with. The question now is - how much Singtel/Starhub are going to charge their rival's subscribers for the content originating from each other? From a commercial standpoint, it has to break even on their investment, plus some margin on top of that. And probably enough to 'persuade' people to subscribe to mio TV / Starhub Cable.

Well, lets see.

Broadcast Disaster

Singtel recently apologised to about 10,000 of its mio TV subscribers due to a reported software glitch that denied these customers the use of their mio TV signals, i.e. 10,000 went without TV for 2 or more days. As compensation, it threw open its entire stock of channels to mio TV subscribers as a gesture of goodwill and apology. Actually, its dead heat rival, Starhub, regularly throws open their entire stock of channels every once a while to its cable TV subscribers for no other reason than generosity (well, ok, it is still business, not charity).

Singtel recently secured the sole rights in Singapore to carry and broadcast all Barclays Premier League soccer matches, depriving Starhub, which currently holds the license, a significant chunk of its business. Singtel was very happy and its CEO, Mr Allen Liew gloated over it, outright rejecting any sharing of the broadcast signals with Starhub. So in the last couple of months, subscription to Singtel mio TV has increased substantially (so I heard) if only because soccer-mad Singaporeans are willing to be held ransom to watching their favourite sports on TV. Now, with the glitch, Mr Allen Liew must be sweating in his pants that mio TV outage does not happen when it begins broadcasting these games later this year. Can you imagine how angry these soccer-mad mio TV subscribers will be if their mio TV signals malfunctioned, especially in the middle of a match between Manchester United and Chelsea? And that the malfunction lasts 2 or more days?

So on second thoughts, it is probably prudent for Mr Liew to resume talks with Starhub on sharing those signals. At least people who own both mio and Starhub cable won't be so angry. In the meantime, they had better look at upping the reliabilty of their mio system, say to the level of 100%?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Grievous Hurt

I say, let us Singaporeans show our hearts and compassion and be good decent humans beings, for once. Don't buy any newspaper, nor tune in to any media that continues to report on and play up the Jack Neo infidelity saga. Because of our thirst for gossip, we forced an innocent, aggrieved women into the open, to see her collapse, yet with photographers still clicking away to take the best shot, not concerned that a fellow human being is in trouble. What if she had suffered a heart attack? or a stroke? It is sickening. Where have our humanity gone?

Yes, selling papers is a business, and you need to pay your writers and photographers, but when it is done at the expense of an innocent defenseless person, I say, enough is enough. That none of the photographers volunteered to help a women in distress speaks volumes of their vulture instincts - wait for someone to collapse and start picking their flesh. Hey, this is not Jack Neo, this is his wife, the person whom Mr Neo has hurt the most. And we want to jump in and give her more grief? Some conspiracy theorists say all these have been stage-managed by Mr Neo for his latest film, "Being Human", which unfortunately wasn't released during the Chinese New Year due to some hiccups in post-production (or so I heard). Well, I don't believe it is and people should just stop speculating and show some decency.

Mrs Neo did not have to show up, just as Mrs Woods didn't, but she did. I personally think she shouldn't and needn't have showed up at the Press Conference. Nobody would have blamed her. In fact, she should have been shielded from all these. But Mr and Mrs Jack Neo have appeared in public, said what they wanted to say, so now lets everyone back off and give them space.  God knows, they need our help and sympathy by leaving them alone, so just leave them alone!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Entertainment Today

Nothing titillates more than sex. And Singapore is now in a frenzy over the Woods-like scandal that one of its most famous sons is embroiled in - yes, you guessed it, the Jack Neo extramarital affair. First, it was about a 22-year old who came knocking on the front door, but in this instance, nothing was broken, unlike what happened in Florida. Instead, a pow-wow was organised in a quiet corner of Singapore, consisting of the wayward husband, the long-suffering wife, the aggrieved third party, and her parents, or so it was reported. It was also reported that some others joined in the pow-wow. What I heard so far is that the extramarital affair was consensual, whichever one hooked the other first is immaterial. The girl, Wendy Chong, said that Jack made the first move. Whichever. Both jumped into bed (and rolled in a car) quite willingly, and I assume, with their eyes opened.

Now, the 'paparazzi' or 'kaypoh news' are going to town with stories of other women who are accusing Jack of trying to seduce them in the past. These are just stories so far, nothing proven, but they sound oh so familiar to that Florida story. But all of a sudden, some women have become shameless. If they have had such grievances regarding Jack Neo's indiscretion with them, they are all coming out now. Why now, you wonder? I don't know the details, nor am I interested to read the details. Unless Jack Neo has committed rape or molest, these women have no case. If they had, probably half of Singapore will be embroiled in multiple scandals. So I think these women are merely taking their cue from Wendy and trying to profit from someone's shame for the fame, or notoriety. But for the rest of Singapore, its oh so juicy. Flaunt it if you have done it, they say, or even if you haven't.

Some may sympathise with or berate Jack's wife for her calm and forgiving stance. But this whole affair is a private one and it should stay private. Whatever happened to common decency? If it were you, do you want the whole of Singapore to keep talking about you and your affairs? Would you want your wife/husband, and your children to be dragged through the mud? You say Jack has had it coming to him, that he is a celebrity and therefore these things come with the territory. Well, who said so?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Slow and steady

Minister Mah is correct. Young people/couples (and perhaps the not so young) in Singapore are too much in a hurry to get that first high-rise apartment which has, among other idyllic features:

1. A high-floor with a view (think Pinnacle@Duxton);
2. Water-body facing apartment (think Pasir Ris/Punggol, Bedok Reservoir, etc.);
3. Quiet and calm surroundings (think Holland V);
4. Near amenities such as Bus, Train stations, Markets, Malls (think Toa Payoh Central);
5. Strategic locations - near Schools and Playgrounds (especially 'brand-name' ones) - (think Bishan);
6. Have relatives (mainly parents) who live close by (so you can fob the kids out to); and
7. (Fill in your own dreams and fantasies).

It is no wonder that many public apartment buyers cannot find one that suits them and repeatedly reject those offered to them by the HDB. And some end up paying an arm and a leg for such an ideal apartment and shackle themselves to a 30-year loan, without much possibility of their apartments appreciating in value (because they paid an arm and a leg) over the next 10 to 15 years.

They should take a leaf out of Minister Mah's experience about living humbly (albeit not of his choice) and moving up and on years later. My first HDB apartment was far away from the train station (at least 20 minutes walk), about 10 minutes walk to the nearest neighbourhood centre (yeah, not even the town centre) - meaning a 20 minute 'walking commitment' if I wanted to, say, go for a hair cut, which itself would take no more than 10 minutes. It was also only served by one feeder bus, which came infrequently and erratically, and what's more, the apartment faced the expressway and had a corridor. It wasn't the stretch of flats I had been eyeing when I was invited to select an apartment then. I was devastated when they were all taken because my queue number was too far back. However, I chose to look at the positives. It was a quiet place, an expressway looked stunning towards the evening, and I could put in some walking exercise that is sorely missing in my life. It wasn't perfect, but it could do.

After living in it for close to 8 years, I sold it for S$200,000 more than the price I paid HDB for it, first-hand. Many would say that S$200K over 8 years is small potatoes, but it gave me enough to upgrade to a condo, which is now worth about S$200K more than what I paid for it. The other day, I was told that I had enough cash in the bank and CPF to redeem my entire loan, so I'd own, without any further financial encumbrance, this $200K shy of a million $ home (according to current market prices). And did I say that this condo is located next to the MRT station, the Bus station, has a large shopping mall beside it, has a 'branded' school 10 minutes walk away, has a wet market 5 minutes walk away, has a public library in the mall beside it, has a SingHealth Polyclinic across the road, has a Post Office, also across the road, and...*pant*pant*...and it you lived in a high enough floor facing the right direction, has a sea view and is surprisingly quiet though it is situated at a major crossroads of human traffic and activities (I did say that the MRT/Bus was easily within reach). And did I say that a public bus that travels on the expressway 4/5 of the journey takes me directly to my mother's place in less than half an hour?

And if I wanted to, I could just hop onto a train that will take me to the Harbourfront MRT station, from which I can then transfer onto the Sentosa train to visit the RWS, all with minimal need to wait and walk. Of course my weight has ballooned, a trade-off for extreme convenience.

Perhaps some people may say I am lucky. I don't believe in this vague thing called luck. I am not a savvy investor. All my bets in the Stock Market have bombed. All I can say is, I am willing to take whatever comes, and through shrewd moves, make the best of what HDB has gifted me. In other words, take your time, get a place which may not be great but which will certainly appreciate in value over time (especially virgin, ok ulu, places like Simpang/Tengah, for those very young now) - in Singapore, any property has a high chance of appreciating in value, if only because it is good politics by the sitting PAP government! The only caveat is if the property is acquired by the government (;-). Meanwhile, bide your time, hunt around and I am sure something better will come along. By then, you would have built up your finances, which will go a long way towards owning that new idyllic place you are eyeing.

Young man/women/couple/fiance/fiancees, learn from Minister Mah.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Bumped out

What is this I hear? The Singapore General Hospital is running its patients out of the hospital, and early in the morning too? And they are not even ready to be discharged. So much so that the patient had to go to another government (euphemistically known as Restructured) hospital to 'clean up' whatever SGH had neglected to do.

This is shocking. And to think that we, Singapore, supposedly have the best medical care in this region! This is embarrassing for the government, and particularly for the Health Minister, Mr Khaw Boon Wan. This is embarrassing for Singaporeans. How can we hold our heads high in front of foreigners now over our supposedly tip-top medical services, never mind that their reputed high standards come also at a high price tag. Yes, Minister Khaw has apologised to the nation about delaying the building of the Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital in Yishun. He said in Parliament that he should have done it 2 years earlier than when it was actually started. But hey, it is not Minister Khaw's fault alone. As the head honcho in the Health Ministry, the buck stops with him. But what happened to the top talent in the Government Ministry - you know, those who are this scholar and that scholar, the best performers in our national level exams - the 'A' levels, and who are sent to the best Universities in the world on Singaporean tax-payers' money? You know, the local talents that are supposed to be the best and brightest in the civil service? Aren't they paid to think, or are they just pushing papers and holding meetings ad-nauseam? How can such a thing happen in Singapore? In Singapore!

Today, these very tax-payers, who paid for our local talents' development, and/or their dependents, face the real possibility of being run out of a public hospital just as sick or even more so when they were first admitted.

Some people in the Health Ministry did their sums very badly. Were they sleeping on the job? They can tell you about the greying population, as if making such an analysis required a PhD, but cannot think of building enough hospital capacity to take care of the populace's needs in good time. Did they not read the statistics that the government obsessively produces regularly, or did they read and not understand? Was it the large sums involved in building a hospital that held them back? Well, the GIC goes around the world acquiring banks and easily lost billions of dollars in the process. What is S$200 million, or even S$500million to this government? You begin to wonder if they have got their heart in the right place.

So what if the government says that it will help any Singaporean who has difficulty settling their expensive medical and ward charges? If they can cut corners like this, where is the sincerity, one wonders? Just who is running the public healthcare services, particularly the hospitals, in Singapore, anyway? Why have they become so callous? Do they still find it a calling to heal the sick and the disabled? Or is it all a matter of $$$ and cents now? Are our public hospitals no more than a 'destination' and only those that have the means are guaranteed of not being run out of a hospital in Singapore?

The common saying among Singaporeans - 'never get sick in Singapore...(because it will bust your bank account)' has taken on a new meaning.
God help Minister Khaw, and the sick people in Singapore.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Toss of Fortune

Today is yuan xiao, the last day of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. The Chinese put aside 15 days of every year to celebrate its New Year, and it is universally practiced, wherever the Chinese are.

And in true Chinese fashion, food figures extensively in these celebrations. In Singapores, droves of Chinese families, including mine, headed for our favourite dining haunts, whether it is to a traditional Chinese restaurant, or to a Western restaurant servings potatoes and steaks, or to a Japanese sushi joint, or even an Italian restaurant. You name it, in Singapore, we have it.  The Chinese in Singapore is a cosmopolitan lot.

But what marred the evening for me was the unending stream of people who came by the particular restaurant I was queueing up at buying take-away yusheng, that Chinese salad mix of raw fish, syrup, nuts and possibly 8 types of vegetables. I was about to say 'herbs and spices' but there really isn't much of it in this concoction, except Chinese pepper powder. The restaurant was kept so busy that I had to wait about 45 minutes before I could get a seat in the restaurant. I warned my partner not to order the dish as I knew that she was a salad junkie, even at $38.80 a pop!

Truth be told, this salad concoction is anything but traditional. It only became fashionable (yes, that's the right word to use) in the last 10 years or so, and in keeping with the occasion, it goes for $18.88 to $1,888 (and then some) depending on the serving size, and I suppose the type of fish and the brand name. The Chinese believe that taking this salad-like concoction will bring them good luck, good fortune, good health, etc. etc. when you, together with the family and friends, 'toss' the salad and mix in the raw fish, communal fashion, and chant 'God of Fortune, bring good wealth, good health, good fortune, money money money...' (you can sing the money part to the tune made famous by ABBA). The Chinese, they are crazy, about money!

Well, to me, the only people this concoction benefit are the sellers. The sellees, uh, buyers, are the fools. When ever has the toss of salad and fish ever brought anything good each year? Establishing the correlation is, at best, pseudo-science, at worse, it is no more than shamanism. Ok, I am mixing up culture and language, but you get what I mean, right? And yet, however shrewed the Chinese are reputed to be when it comes to making a buck, they just burn up their money, very willingly I assure you, at the very next turn that yusheng is sold. Really, only one type of people (and it need not be Chinese) who are assured of a fortune in plying this dish are the restaurants, who just cannot keep up with the orders from the long queues that do not stop forming up outside their shops. It is at these time that one dreams of owning a restaurant, preferably a Chinese restaurant. The money is so easy when you have an army of gullible and foolish queuees in front of your restaurant. Heck, even the Supermarkets have jumped on the bandwagon and hawk these concoctions, making tonnes of money in the process.

For the rest of us, may what we have tossed for come true. If not, there is always the next Chinese New Year to toss again. You did ask to live at least another year in your toss, didn't you?

I hope then to be the seller, not the sellee.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Flogging a dead horse

It would appear that, from what little I have read, that Singaporeans, or at least those who live on this little red dot of an island of ours, is having a field day putting in their 2 cents worth over the incident of Past Rony Tan's sermon on Buddhists and Taoists. Now I must confess that I haven't read much of these comments, nor am I interested in reading any of them. But I do notice that besides apologizing to the Buddhists and Taoists, that some are demanding that Pastor Tan also apologize to the Lesbians and Homosexuals. What next? The Muslims? The Jains? The Government? The man has said his sorries, very publicly, so what else is there to flog? People just cannot leave the issue alone. They must say something. I think they should heed the advice of Jesus, who said, '...let he who has no sin cast the first stone', or the common and wise saying that 'he who lives in glass houses should learn not to throw stones'. I think our Buddhist and Taoists friends would agree wholeheartedly with these.

But of course there will be many who will disagree with me. They see this opportunity to lambast others in the name of their beliefs and self-interest too good to pass up. In this sense, how are they any different from the pastor?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Let the games begin

"The Chinese are inveterate gamblers", said MM Lee Kuan Yew, when the setting up of resort casinos for Singapore, along the lines and scope of those in Las Vegas and Genting, was approved. True to fashion, Singapore's first casino was opened to the public on the first day of the Lunar New Year, at the auspicious hour of 12:18pm. Auspicious for who, you wonder? For the operator, which in this case is Malaysia's Genting group, or for the punters, the gamblers? Even the God of Fortune will find it hard to give its fortune to both the Operator and the gambler at the same table at the same time.You either win the money or you lose it. There is no third way about it.

But of course, some gamblers will tell you that they take pleasure in the act of gambling, and therefore losing any or all of their money is no different from dining at an expensive restaurant. You get treated like a king. You get served (I heard that free food was offered to one and all), you can drink in the den's ambiance, savour the atmosphere which must be very different from queuing in the neighbourhood 4-D and Toto counters). If you want to gamble, do so in style and comfort, they say. So there was a reported bee-line for the entrance of Resort World Sentosa's (RWS) newly minted casino, never mind that you lose a S$100 to the Entrance Levy (tax) before you pass the door into the casino. But that money doesn't belong to the Casino Operators, it is money made by the Singapore Government in the name of gambling addiction*. It is probably a good idea to levy the fees to fund the programmes meant to correct the anticipated problem behaviour and chronic habits that gamblers would pick up as a result of accessing the gambling facilities blessed by the government. Sounds convoluted? Yeah, but gambling is straightforward - either you win or you lose. And for the Operators to be around, gamblers must lose more than they win. That's simple Mathematics, although the Math underlying the Game of Chance may not be understood by most people. 

This is indeed a milestone, as our Institute of Mental Health (IMH) prepares to admit its first patients in the new category of big time problem gamblers.

God help us, in more ways than one.

*p.s. If 75,000 people got into the casino on the first 2 days, the government itself would have raked in a cool $7.5M. Now that's what I call good business and easy money.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Fifa Tango

Perform Group who? Well, this name may be welcome music to football hungry people in Singapore. Just when Singaporeans face the increasingly likelihood of not being able to watch 'live' telecast of all 64 matches of the Football World Cup in June 2010, along comes this company that says that it can stream all these matches, but via the Internet. It further boasts that the streaming will be of good quality  as it has had experience streaming the Australian Open Tennis competitions and others sports competitions. Well, it wouldn't be free. It is likely going to be pay-per-view deal, with prices like S$11 / S$12 dollars per match being quoted based on its past broadcasts.

If this happens, it'll be great for people who use their computers often, and also for those who can hook up their computers to their LCD TV sets. But the quality will not be as good though, depending on your Internet connection bandwidth, and your PC. Even with the Next Generation Broadband (NGB), which is not available to most Singapore households yet, it cannot match Starhub's dedicated infrastructure. So yes, the option will be there, but the experience may not. Internet speeds are only as fast as the connections across the internet network, which may pass through shared undersea and overland cables and various machines hosting the IPs along the same network.No one can determine the exact path that an internet connection passes through, even if you have a million dollars.

The question that must be asked is; why is Fifa willing to do a deal with this London-based company and allow the Worldcup matches to be accessible to Singapore when they will not back down on the reported S$40m they are demanding from Singtel/Starhub? It is not as if Performance Group's technology is out of this world, cutting edge or anything. Why let a foreign company profit from this business and deprive Singtel/Starhub? If all this is true, then Fifa's discriminatory pricing and predatory practices are not only reprehensible, they are puzzling also. Just because Singtel paid an arm and a leg for the rights to the BPL matches doesn't mean that it can levy the same or more for the Worldcup matches. Whether Singtel makes a profit or loss from this BPL deal isn't even certain and anyway, it is their business, not Fifa's.

What is the relationship between Performance Group and Football Media Services, which is the exclusive sales representative for Fifa in Asia? If Performance Group is given the business, then Football Media becomes a real joke. It levies astronomical sums on Asian businesses but gives the same to a London business entity (read: non-Asian business) for a song? This whole Fifa farce has gone on long enough. I pity that Singtel, Starhub and Mediacorp have been hoodwinked into dancing the ultra-expensive Fifa tango. It is sad that Fifa can act in such unprincipled and monopolistic manner, if my analysis of this whole Performance-Fifa shenanigan is correct.

Singtel/Starhub may have been taken for an expensive ride, but lets not have the same happen to all football loving Singaporeans.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Religious fear

Someone reputable made the observation that a Google search on the word "Christianity" will throw up results such as "Is Christianity Absurd?" and "Christianity is Stupid" on the first page of the search results. On the other hand, when 'Islam' is searched, no such negative search results are returned. He speculated that Google might be filtering the results in the fear of offending Muslims.

The sad thing is that everyone is afraid of offending Muslims and Islam. In Singapore, for example, McDonalds' ongoing promotion campaign has replaced the pig in the Chinese Zodiac with an angel (Cupid) for fear of offending Muslims. Muslims consider pigs as unclean and forbids its consumption. Another potentially fatal example is the firebombing of churches in Malaysia - all because the Malaysia High Court ruled that religions other than Islam (i.e. Christianity) have the rights to use the word 'Allah' to refer to God. This is Malaysian Law. Apparently, Muslims in Malaysia do not believe in their own laws. And examples in other lands abound, where people are afraid of offending Muslims in any slight way because of the possibility of reprisals, which may include the loss of innocent lives  and limps. The only people who are not cowed are Danish cartoonist who dare to defy the disciples of Muhammad and are paying for their stance, just as Salman Rushdie did many many years ago.

It is really really sad, that terrorism is now synonymous with Islam. And it is really really sad that an angel had to step in to protect McDonalds. After all McDonalds is a major American institution. Its fear would appear to be well founded given that anything American, wherever it is, is a favourite target of Muslim extremist terrorists. Sure Singapore is pretty ok as far as security goes. We book anyone breaking the law and protect the innocent. For that matter, we throw highly suspicious people behind bars anyway, without due process. And our secret service is usually tip top identifying threats and putting would-be perpetrators behind bars. But there is no stopping people bombing McDonalds elsewhere because of what McDonalds Singapore does, or does not do.

It is really really sad.