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.