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.