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.