Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unhappy in Singapore

Much has been made about Singapore being a place with many unhappy people. I overhead some Singaporeans talking about it, and came to realise that there are indeed many things that Singaporeans are not happy about. And these are not new. They have been there, festering as it were, and the powers that be thus far can only suggest that Singaporeans talk about it, perhaps even talk its way out of its unhappiness. Someone pointed out that the sexual and financial shenanigans may even be symptomatic of the underlying stress and unhappiness that Singaporean's in general feel. They may be right. Money and sex often go together, and even if they don't, each is able to raise the emotions a couple of notches in the direction of delirium, at least for a moment. Then you need to go back for more...

But seriously, there is a lot to be unhappy about in Singapore. For motorists, it is the sky high Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which is priced around $80,000 - $90,000 now. People whose current car entitlements are nearing 10 years fret about the prospect of spending $130,000 for a car which they got for $40,000 (with COE) the last time. That's exacerbated by noticing that their richer neighbours own 2 or even 3 cars. No wonder we can never earn enough on this island. Is it any wonder that making money is the top priority over having children? How can anybody be happy chasing after an elusive car?

Then there is the perennial concern of parents over their children's education, in ensuring that they ace their exams so that they gain admission to prestigious schools. How can anyone be happy over the stress of the competitive educational environment?

And then there is the public transport squeeze, which hasn't abated much, with trains continuing to break down at a stretch. How to be happy when you suffer from claustrophobia every day you go to work in a bus or train?

And then there is the perception that while rich foreigners who prefer PR status are lapping it up both sides of the Causeway in perks, entitlements and loopholes, Singaporeans live with so much restrictions each side of the Causeway. You begin to wonder if Singapore citizenship is a hobble than a privilege. The thought that you have to squat 2 years in uniform doesn't help to assuage the discontent with rich foreigners who get PR at a drop of the hat. How to be happy when you thought that you were the privilege ones because you are citizens?

And then there is the continued high cost of living. Though inflation has abated somewhat, it is still above 3%. That is 3% too much already for Singaporeans whose pay has stagnated or will soon stagnate going into the new year. How to be happy when your money keeps shrinking?

And who can forget that public housing is now virtually out of reach of a couple starting life together in their twenties. Hold on, nobody gets married in their 20s anymore. If you can't afford to buy public housing, you don't want to get married. And when you do get married when a house is affordable (because you earn more and not because the housing prices have fallen), you would have missed the period where you can have children, which may or may not be a good thing. The upshot? Nobody is happy.

There is really no good news going into the last mile of 2012. Singaporeans are probably expecting more of the same next year.

How to be happy like that?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Unhappy Riches

It is sad that Singaporeans don't feel happy. According to a recent Gallup Poll, not only are Singaporeans emotionless, they feel less positive compared to people in countries where war is, or at least recently has been, the norm.

Actually, it is not difficult to understand this result. Singapore is a goal-oriented high performing country with an almost religious bent on efficiency, in terms of the economy, education, healthcare, finance, infrastructure, and whatever else it feels it must be first in, which just about includes everything. We have been brought up with a siege mentality - either we make the island succeed as a nation or we are consigned to the dustbin of history, easily absorbed by our neighbours, Malaysia or Indonesia. If this were to happen, we would be consigned to the backwaters, controlled by others where discrimination is the constant monotonous tune.

No, we don't want that, and therefore, we strived hard and succeeded. But success breeds success, and soon, we find ourselves condemned to a life of ever striving after the best. There is just no going back. Yes, we became rich, materially, but something had to give. And what gave was a simpler lifestyle where people and not money, matters more, where the simple things of life will suffice on the happiness index.

But it is not really our fault. As they say, we are victims of our circumstances. Perhaps now that we know how miserable we are compared to the rest of the world, we can engineer a lot more happiness and emotions among ourselves. It is ironic that we have to do this because we thought that our strivings for a better life will give us happiness, but it turned out to have the opposite effect. Is happiness and economic growth inversely related? Maybe someone economist or sociologist somewhere at sometime studied this and has the answer. In characteristic fashion, we need to study this carefully so that we can tune the system to yield more happiness though not at the expense of economic growth and efficiency.

Given Singapore's track record, I have no doubt that this can be done. Then we can share the formula with the Gallup organization.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

By-election effect

A by-election afoot again! And the cause of it? Sex. Singapore is beginning to look like a sleazy place for people in high err, places.

Mr Michael Palmer, erstwhile MP for Punggol East, has suddenly and unexpectedly resigned both his Parliamentary seat and his membership of the PAP. What triggered this is a reportedly illicit sexual affair he was having with a female (what else) member of the Pasir-Punggol GRC office. The end came about as swiftly as it was sudden. The talk on the streets, of course, is when, and not if, the by-election will be held. I say when because of the hooha over a similar incident at Hougang not too long ago. The drama then was that a citizen sued the PM for his ambiguous stance on the need for a by-election. It was eventually held, with the Workers Party retaining its seat in Parliament. Since there is a precedent, it will be very difficult for the government to deny the people of Punggol East of proper representation.

What's that again? The government has more important things to take care of? National issues and the budget next year? The same old excuse. Surely they can be more original and not treat its citizens like children. There will ALWAYS be national issues to handle, and the budget is an annual affair. I assume that the process is already in place that it does not require resources that is not already deployed for this purpose? So this reason, really, cuts no ice. A simple reply, that the government will consider a by-election, without going into details, would have sufficed. I wonder why, with the benefit of hindsight and the experience gained not too long ago, that they are repeating the same misstep in its stance and communications with the people of Singapore?

Which of the Opposition Parties will throw their hats in the ring? Will more than one contest the ward, split the vote and hand the ward back to the ruling PAP? When will the by-election be held? After Chinese New Year? After the Budget announcement, which may have a sweetening effect? The country waits with bated breadth.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A raw deal

Goodness gracious me, did I hear wrongly or is it just a nightmare? According to reports, the Transport Minister appears to be blaming, albeit indirectly, the long-suffering public transport commuting public of being responsible for the unhappiness of the China bus drivers, and eventually their strike action. Oh no, its not the management of SMRT, you see. They are just trying to run a bus and train company, like any other profit making entity. They need to minimise cost and thereby increase profit. And it is not the innocent shareholders of the public-listed SMRT. They just want SMRT to make money so that they get their money for their money. And it is certainly not the government. See how they have virtually given away S$1 billion of taxpayers money to the public transport operators, of which SMRT is one of them, because these operators probably claim they cannot afford to buy their buses, never mind that they report profits every year. Yep, there is no better business than public transport in Singapore. The authorities have made owning a car so exorbitantly expensive that folks like you and I have no choice but to give over part of our pay to these companies every day. And now we learn that they have been squeezing every last cent out of its drivers, especially from those long-suffering China drivers. After all, isn't it the responsible thing for a listed company to do? Maximise profit? CSR? Yah, that's what you do AFTER the profits roll in.

It would appear that the management of SMRT can sit around twiddling their thumbs and whatever else they can touch in ecstasy as they look at the cash rolling in every second, from the commuters, from the government, and from its own employees. We'll just call this reverse cash flow. But the flow ends up with the company. Heck there is no real need to think. And that's when we now get trains and tracks malfunctioning for extended periods of time, with buses and trains overflowing with people. I can just hear the curses under everyone's breadth. The commuters who are just trying to get to work, or home. The transport operators' management, for having their mid-afternoon breaks interrupted rudely.

Its all the common folk's fault, you see. They just don't pay enough for their bus and train trips. When we trace the problem to its root, it is we, the common folks, who are the bloodsuckers, and the cause of all the transport problems we have been having. That's why they are looking to raising the bus and train fares, and not cutting the big fat bonuses of the kopi-drinking senior management. Yep, there is one who broke the management, took the money and has now fled the coop. And who allowed this to happen?

So, if I follow the logic correctly, we eventually have to pony up more cash from own pockets to pay for increasing the salary of its bus drivers, which by the way is shrinking as inflation stays at 4-5%. This whole thing is now so convoluted that I cannot believe this is the Singapore I grew up in. How did we arrive at this situation, anyway? And we are paying millions more to people who are suppose to protect the people's interest?

Give me a saw so that I can sink my teeth into it. It is probably more bearable than witnessing the farce taking place in front of me.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A whistle stop

A police whistle hung on the wall in my boyhood house in the Naval Base. It was made of brass, so it wasn't a toy. I didn't think much more about it, until years later, after the family had moved away, my mother reminisced about those days. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, there were a lot of labour unrest. Workers were going on strike. This also happened in the Naval Base. These agitators came by our house to persuade my father to join their cause, to strike. My father was steadfast in his refusal to make common cause with them. I learnt that they subsequent threatened my father and the family with harm if he continued to hold out. So any time these rabble-rousers came by again, my father would just blow the police whistle in an effort to summon the authorities. I am not certain if the police were responsive then, but I understand that it had the effect of scaring these bunch of people away. That whistle was still hanging off the wall in the late 1960s into the early 1970s, when labour unrest had subsided significantly.

So I can sympathize with the small number of SMRT's Chinese bus drivers who were reportedly forced to go on strike recently. They could possibly have been faced with harm if they had not gone along with those who initiated the strike action. To its credit, the government took the effort to investigate and separate the perpetrators from the willing and those others who were forced. One should not, to use a Chinese saying, apply the same brush to one and all.

When something works, although not to perfection, you think nothing of it. But when your daily work and routine is threatened, that's when I can understand why people are calling for the heads of all the Chinese bus drivers. I think this labour unrest was handled in an even-handed, deliberate and wise manner. Due process was followed to determine the facts of the case, and action taking accordingly. At no time did the situation get out of control. Otherwise, many commuters' lives would have been seriously disrupted. And I am glad that both the workers and the employer were taken to task. If one was favoured over the other party, this episode would have been left to fester, and the symbolic whistle would still have to be left hanging on the wall. But I suppose, given the paranoia this latest episode of industrial action has created, that whistle must  be readily available when called upon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fright train - the Zombies

A China national playing
Chinese Chess with his
companion in a very crowded train
This is an all too common sight on the subway trains nowadays. Not only do you have to contend with the crowd, you also need to contend with a crowd which is oblivious of the crowd. Why so? When you have commuters glued to their videos, and music, and games on their *pads and phones, you know you are beginning to witness a zombie nation. A place where people are becoming impersonal and insensitive. I am sure if somebody committed a crime in the train, most will be non-plussed. They'd probably glance up, look around and then just go back to their movies or games. How sad that people don't want to look at each other anymore, not that that makes them more gracious and sensitive as a people. Yes, some people don't like to be looked at, though I wonder why they even dress up anyway if this were the case. Some people, when they see an old lady in need of a seat, would just stare for a moment and then go straight back to their gadgets. I wonder sometimes, if they would recognise their own mothers standing next to them in the train and vice versa the son/daughter. And that's not all. These zombie-like creatures continue in their virtual worlds when they disembark, walk to the escalator, and onto the travellator, and then into the next connecting train. It is a wonder that they find their way home everyday, without fail. But then, that's the perfect description of a zombie, isn't it?

But I must be fair. All is not lost. There are the occasional kid who gets up the moment they see someone in need of a seat. And some, bless their souls, even offered me a seat just because they see a few more strands of white hair on my head, or the wrinkles that have become quite pronounced over time on my face. At least, that's why I think they think I am elderly probably in need of crutches all too soon. I am not yet that old, but the gesture is much much appreciated. There is hope yet.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Cleaning after

Are you going to pick up the crud left
by the previous diner?
Singapore wants its people to clean up after themselves. After so many years, it has become routine that diners at its public dining areas, commonly referred to variously as Foodcourts, Hawker Centres and Coffee Shops, expect cleaners engaged by these Foodcourts to do the dirty work, i.e. clear the dishes and collect the cups from the tables so that it can be occupied by the next diner. After all, doesn't the price of the food already include these cleaning services? Singaporeans, you see, are very pragmatic people, and they can count.

But now, there are increasing calls for diners to do the cleaning up themselves. Some have questioned whether this is fair as the price of the food probably already includes the cleaning services. Paid for or not, another group of people feel that it is gracious for each and every one of us to do the cleaning up. In principle, I agree. But in practice, we are not equipped to do so, much as we want to do so. And I am not trying to give any excuse. Just look at these 2 pictures which I snapped the other day. The previous diner just left the remains of his meal on the table expecting that someone else will clean it up. They didn't bother to pick them up to at least put them into the plate so that it can be cleared quickly, easily and cleanly. I thought it would have been more sensible if they had at least put the remains into the plate or bowl so that the next person can just clear the plate without having to handle the leftover food, if they don't clear the plates themselves, i.e. Restaurants such as McDonalds make it even more convenient for us to do this with the trays and bins. But even then, people just bring their bad habits from the foodcourts to the restaurants.

 So long as these bad habits persist, it is going to be a tough sell to get people to clean up the tables.

Clearly building return trays and pumping out messages isn't going to be enough. The problems really lies with ourselves. It is a habit of the mind. Do we ever really think of the person who will next occupy our seats? If they did, they wouldn't have left all that crap behind. Do they ever think that the mostly elderly cleaners can do with a little bit of help with less messy eating habits on our part, never mind that they are paid to do the cleaning? What if that elderly cleaner were your mother, or father?

So a first step towards cleaning after yourself and thus being more gracious is to get people to leave their tables in a more "cleanable" state. Fine if you want to leave something for the cleaners to clean so that they won't lose their jobs. It just doesn't take us a  lot to have cleaner eating habits, does it? In fact, for such a highly educated people that Singaporeans generally are, it is surprising that they do not already practise these sensible, tidy, clean yet simple habits. Maybe what it take is to set a compulsory exam question in primary school around this. This will ensure that parents take the effort and time to teach their young so that they can 'score' in these types of questions. Hopefully, parents also learn in the process of teaching these gracious habits.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fighting fire

I spoke to a few teenagers the other day about Sam Bacile's "Innocence of Muslims" and the widespead violent response to it. Imagine my surprise when they asked me what it was all about. With this news hogging headlines in every print and internet publication, it was incredible these youth of the internet generation were not all that aware of what was going on. I can understand it if they didn't know about the Chinese and Japanese tussling over an island somewhere between China and Japan. It is between 2 close neighbours who have had a long history of conflict. This latest demonstration over a amateur movie has been widely publicized and correspondingly vilified by adherents to the Islamic faith. Google has reportedly blocked the video to countries such as Libya, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia - countries with large numbers of Muslims. Although Muslims in Singapore do not form the majority, the government has also asked for it to be blocked and Google has reportedly obliged. Or has it?

There are now many versions of the movie. So much so that the movie, in part or in whole, is still accessible in Singapore. This goes to show that it is very hard to censor anything on the internet. Even countries which block access to Facebook, like China, fight a losing battle. It is relatively easy to bypass the restrictions with counter technologies. That's why I think that the best way to fight fire is with fire. This is what some Muslims have done, by putting up videos that counter the message of the "Innocence of Muslims". In my opinion, this is a far more rational and effective way of responding to something you don't agree with and not by staging violent and deadly demonstrations all over the world. These demonstrations only serve to prove that Islam is a certain type of religion, justifying the very accusations made of it.

But the mob is often unreasonable and, frankly, ignorant. Ask how many of those demonstrating have actually seen the movie and I will wager that not one of them has seen it. They may have heard about it, perhaps from many quarters. It is typical of people to exaggerate as they denigrate others. It works both ways. Sadly the net result is the death of Muslims rather than a real chastisement of the perpetrators of the video in question.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yes to dress

I rarely, well come to think of it, never, comment on fashion, and especially the way women dress. I'll make an exception because, like many, I am impressed with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge's dress sense when she visited Singapore between 11 and 13 September 2012. The press and fashion people noticed and were generally full of praise for the dresses she wore on the many occasions she was in Singapore. I must admit, I was mesmerized. Sure those dresses would have cost quite a sum of money, but simple well designed ones can be quite affordable, especially in affluent Singapore. How do I know? When you have to accompany your wife out, you inevitably end up looking at dresses. Not that I care, i.e. But it did lead me to thinking how dressed down Singapore women are. I mean, its really boring.

The standard tog? Short shorts that expose the entire thigh. Period. Hello, doesn't anyone of you have anything else in the wardrobe? It's getting a bit boring, you know. Sexy yes, but boring nonetheless. Women 'throwing' their breast out in extreme figure hugging Ts swing heads, yes, but ultimately boring. They a dime a dozen nowadays. And don't start down the path of putting on less. It becomes slutty looking.

Singapore women have forgotten how to dress. They have forgotten the dress. And I don't mean mini dresses. One piece full length (down to the knees) type. Whether it is flared out A-lined or cheong-sum tube. Truth be told I have seen some women in beautiful dresses in the subways. They really are head turners, well at least mine, because they look so elegant and beautiful in their dresses. And knee length dresses are escalator-friendly too.

Say what you will, when you have the figure, a dress will accentuate it and put you in the best possible light. Over time, shorts just makes you look like a stick. The difference is whether your are a thick stick or a think stick. Heck sometimes the look is so androgynous.

Girls have the best figure when they are in their teens and into their twenties. No matter how much they eat, they'll maintain that figure. Its biological, really. Metabolism and all that. That's when they should put on dresses, and not wait until their inevitable pounds (its biological again, really) distort the body as they push into their 30's and beyond.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Educating the parent

The Ministry of Education (MOE) didn't disappoint. Apparently it heard from the ground about some of the grouses about the way children are taught in schools and the school system itself. So in its last policy revision, it is no longer ranking (banding is the word used by the MOE) schools. Indeed it now says that all schools are good schools, whatever that means. We know this is not true, but it doesn't harm to be ambiguous, does it? I suppose not. The MOE says that academic results is not the be all and end all of learning. I will agree wholeheartedly with them, except...

But I wonder if parents who still have school-going kids and who still face 2 major national exams - the PSLE and the GCE 'O' Levels, think they can go along, even against their best wishes? Look, so long as these exams exist in their present form and purpose, parents will still engage tutors, send their children for enrichment classes, and God knows what else, to give their children that extra edge. These latest initiatives will mean little. As they say, the devil is in the details. How will this policy be implemented? How extensive will be be? Will the MOE implement communist-style uniformity? What do we mean by unique programmes? Do they matter when its comes to these major exams? After all, the Education Minister didn't say that these national exams will be reformed. The PSLE, we can control and dictate. But we are apparently not touching. The GCE - well you have to call London.

So while I congratulate the MOE for admitting it had been wrong all along, it hasn't gone far enough for these changes to make any significant difference. If I were a private tutor today, I wouldn't worry about my rice bowl a single moment.

But we, the parents, should also do some deep reflecting. Because a large part of the blame for how we educate our children goes to us.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Wayang wayang

There was reportedly another wayang going on in Queenstown yesterday. For those who do not already know, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, was in town the last couple of days. One of their stops was in Queenstown where some shows were put up for them. mrbrown suggested that this was, well, a shallow show put up to, I suppose, rub someone's behind.

Well, even if this is wayang, it is good wayang. Don't tell me that when your aunt or uncle or brother, or even a friend visit, you don't try to be a good host? At least you would offer them a cup of water? Some would normally offer more. How much more? It depends. Some will even cook up a storm to entertain the guests. Apparently, mrbrown appears not to believe in hospitality.

It appears that online views and comments are taking on an increasing vitriol to the extent that the good, the bad and the ugly are all treated with equal disdain and ridicule, especially when it has got to do with the PAP government.. And it is sad that mrbrown has stooped to this level. How does he know that the people who lined the path that Prince William took were planted there to appear to welcome him? Hasn't it occurred to him that these people are genuinely interested and came of their own accord?

I have always enjoyed his humour, but when it goes off, it really isn't funny. Its rude to refer to your countrymen as actors and they could just as likely be there because they want to be there. If we blame the government for painting a version of the truth, aren't we also equally guilty with our own version?

Friday, September 14, 2012

What is the Point?

I cannot agree more with letter writer, Mr Nick McHugh, when he asked if it was odd that the government's response to incidences of death by cycling in Singapore is to increase penalties on cyclists (Stiffer penalties for cyclists do not solve the problem). I for one agree with him that this makes no sense. I sometimes, no, often, wonder, if our highly paid civil servants and political appointees are worth the money the state (read "tax payers") pays them.

There appears to be have been an increase in cycling accidents on Singapore's roads. Motorists and cyclists have weighed in on the case, each blaming the other. I do not drive nor own a bicycle. But I seriously doubt if another increased fine solves any problem at all except enrich the government coffers.

Right now, the Transport Ministry appears to be doing all it can to relieve the strained capacity on our public transport systems and roads. S$1.1billion has been set aside for buying buses over the next 10 years. Taxpayers are footing the bill for new buses for a profit making public-listed company. Steve Jobs would have said, "Amazing". COE's are at historically sky high levels. And we are even building another expressway for motor vehicles that will cut through and remove parts of Bukit Brown and several houses along the way. Several buildings, including Chinatown's Pearl Centre will be demolished to make way for the building of yet another subway line - the Thomson line. All these cost lots and lots of money Yet when it comes to putting bicycle lanes on our roads, government officials appear to have dismissed it outright, saying that it is going to be very expensive to retrofit our roads with bicycle lanes. Well, obviously our government does not believe in cycling or cyclists. It does not believe in saving the environment and the planet. Cycling is not only clean (as in not polluting), it is a good form of exercise. If we become a cycling nation, we can probably reduce our Health budgets substantially in the long run. But no, motorists, including some well paid government officials who cannot do without their cars, want to keep cyclists off the roads. Not even that, throw the book at any cyclist who misbehave, it says. As far as they are concerned, cyclists belong in the public parks or the road connectors. Perhaps best if they keep their cycling to the gym. Don't be seen and don't be heard, they seem to be saying. The roads - well we paid thousands of dollars every year to use them, isn't where minions on bicycles belong. Talk of elitism. Some government officials betray their stripes when they speak.

What's that? A National Conversation? Who are you trying to kid? It is already dead on arrival. Like what some people are saying, its probably going to be one big fat but very expensive wayang. Somebody said that since this is a government initiative, a government that was voted in in the last general elections, we should logically participate in the whole thing. Well, I would agree if this is a bipartisan effort, a national effort. As it now stands, no political opposition figure is in the committee headed by Mr Heng Swee Keat. Lets not forget that the division of spoils in the last GE was 60% to the sitting (PAP) government, 40% anti-PAP. 4 in 10 did not not agree with the government. Go figure.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Minting myths

I am glad that the honourable Member for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and a Senior Counsel no less, has given voice to what many Singaporeans have been whispering about around the island about the education system in Singapore. Among them was the oft heard claim that teachers defer to private tutors to do the teaching ("teach less, learn more"), and even encouraging parents to engage private tutors for their weaker students, if they haven't already. I have even written about it recently, but not with as much authority and plain-ness as the good MP and Senior Counsel. You can't ignore such a person, can you?

Well. the  Education Ministry couldn't ignore him and did reply. This was reported by the newspapers. Among other remarks, it stated that

"Teachers should not recommend tuition to students or parents as a form of learning support..."

It was also reported that its teachers do put in the extra hours for weaker pupils, even on a personal level.

"Where helpful and necessary, teachers may also provide individual coaching to such students outside lessons..."

Yah, I cannot help hearing a couple of sniggers around the corner now. What does MOE mean by individual coaching? It is not unheard of that some full time paid MOE teachers moonlight as paid private tutors. And parents seek these people out because they know the syllabus intimately and are considered more able to provide their children with the "right" coaching. How many are there of these? I don't know. Of course I have no proof of this. It is hearsay, but it is powerful and persistent hearsay, as even Mr Hri Kumar has heard it and very appropriately, written about it. And even if I did have proof (and I don't), I cannot divulge it because some people's rice bowls may be broken. I am sure that if this moonlighting thing is true, it involves only a minority. But of course there are those who do this legally. They spend some years in the educational system as teachers, then resign to become private tutors, which is more lucrative. Some even go on to publish school assessment books which parents snap up, making them even more money from the royalties. But lets not go into this subject now. In the main, I believe MOE teachers are committed and hardworking within their schools for their students. But black sheeps give a black name, don't they?

As far as I feel, and probably most other parents do so too, the MOE's reply which denies these rumours or myths enumerated by Mr Kumar, isn't convincing at all. After all, what do you expect? That they will contritely state that they are guilty as charged? What is needed are not mere words but action that demonstrates unequivocally that these are indeed myths, or if they are not, to put their foot down and stop this shameful behaviour. It is going to be a real challenge. Myths don't go away easily. After all, some myths have lasted for centuries. And the reason for their longevity is that nobody has put the foot down authoritatively to debunk the stories, or admit that the myths are no myths but facts. Anyway, some myths add colour to life. The longer hearsay stories linger, the greater the possibility of them developing into ones of mythological proportions. Myths have a way of propagating themselves. People like a good story. They love myths, never mind if there isn't any truth in them, or not.

I thank Mr Hri Kumar for doing his part in helping parents and their children seek clarification.

The ball is on MOE's court now. But judging by its response so far, it is going to be a long night. True or false. The myth persists.

See also Todayonline report.

Monday, August 27, 2012

One or two?

The PM announced last evening that men will also be entitled to paternity leave, similar to women's maternity leave, to look after their just borned child. Everyone in the University Cultural Centre auditorium that I could see through the TV broadcast clapped in approval, particularly the women amongst them. The rationale? PM related an example of a women who voiced her fears that she would be forgotten by her employer if she took as long as 6 months maternity leave. So fathers should step in to shoulder this burden by being allowed to take similar leave to share the burden of nursing the baby. All of which is dandy, until you think about it further.

Would men not also be forgotten at the workplace when they take paternity leave? The couple can now share equally the 4 months of maternity leave that women are entitled to, that is 2 months each. And even supposing it is 1 month out of the 4 for the men, it is probably 1 month too long for the men to be absent from the office. In this dog-eat-dog world, if you are not around, you need not be around, period. So sharing this load might lead to both of the couple, the mother and the father, to become expendable employees. Which is better - to have one expendable person or two?

So those cheering and clapping last evening should stop and think again what paternity leave really entails. The "absence" problem is already raised above. The second question that needs asking is: are all fathers capable of looking after and handling an infant? We know what maternal instincts are. Is there such a thing as a men's version of it, i.e. a paternal instinct? Sadly, experience tells us that the answer is not clear. What is the proportion of clumsy and incompetent men when it comes to nursing an infant? I don't know, and I suspect, the people who clamoured for and the government which said yes to paternity leave last evening don't know either. Yes, I know of men who love children (and I mean that in a "straight" way). My mother often mentions that my uncle loves children. I love children too. In fact I played a big part in taking care of my infant son, without the benefit of paternity leave. My wife will attest to this. But this is anecdotal. There probably are more men who are clueless and view infant care as a woman-only job. Worst, men tend to be more impatient, with the frightening consequence that the child may suffer rather than be cared for.

PM said in jest that men, if they are given paternity leave, should use it for that very purpose. Everyone may have laughed at that remark, but it is a disturbing reaction, to say the least. There is really really a high chance that paternity leave may be abused. After all, no one can police this. The wife can't and won't say a thing. The husband who abuses it will certainly keep quiet about using his paternity leave to do other things. You expect the maid to complain to the authorities?

There are probably other reasons that make paternity leave a bad idea. The issue, really, is not about the leave - maternity or paternity, much as many mothers wish to believe that it is. This will not go anywhere near helping to resolve the problem of low fertility among Singaporeans.

I believe that I will be proven correct one year from the implementation of this policy.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Death and Taxes

Should we treat paying taxes not so much an obligation, indeed no a duty, but an act of charity. This is what a letter writer to Today suggested come days ago. Yet ironically, in that same paper, on the facing page, a letter writer wrote about how certain public servants are wasting tax-payers' money by engaging private law firms in their law suits.

At one level, I agree with the letter writer. As many would by now have found out, the personal tax bill for many this year is far far more than last year's. Last year was election year, so it would not take a Phd to figure out why. Yep, my tax bill has nearly doubled, not that my pay has increased by that quantum, mind you. And the last time I filed my tax returns online, I could not claim for some donations I made in the year of assessment simply because the organisation was not listed as one of the approved institution of public character (IPC). There wasn't anywhere on the screen form you could write it in. You could only select from a preset list. This in spite the fact that I have been donating to the same institution for 2 years prior to the last YA and the deduction had been allowed. I would like to think that I am honest, but I am penalised? Well, the Singapore IRAS is very efficient and, in a sense, ruthless, in extracting that pound of flesh, and then some, from its taxpayers. So when I thought about what the writer suggested, I wondered if I should write to IRAS to re-assess my income tax.

In a sense, the writer is correct. Taxes are a means to redistribute income and enable a government to govern for the common good. Even billionaire investor Warren Buffet famously said that the rich in America are not paying enough taxes, and that they should. Paying taxes to care for society is an ideal, an assumption that, as events in the last few months in Singapore have demonstrated, is far from the ideal. What with S$2,200 bicycles to patrol public parks, S$650 designer chairs for government officers' butts. Is it any wonder the ambivalence towards contributing to the public purse for the common good.

In any case, those who have the means - profitable businesses and wealthy individuals, routinely engage tax accountants to minimise their tax obligations. So why should the man in the street do any less in minimizing his own tax bill?

Death and taxes will remain dreaded facts of life. They are to be avoided at all cost, or for as long as possible.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Ever had somebody bark "Excuse me" to you? Yes, bark. It is annoying to say the least. This phrase is no longer that polite, and indeed apologetic, request to heed a need. The way it is used by some people nowadays sounds like "Hey low life, you are getting in my way. Move aside or else...". It grates on the ear. "Excuse me" is no longer said in a gentle, apologetic manner, but it is a bark, a command, a directive with a barely concealed impatience and disdain for the rest of mankind. And the main perpetrators of this bark?

I am sorry to say this. They are mostly young female, some are even teenagers. I am not trying to discriminate. Older people perhaps understand and use the phrase more appropriately. The guys are not ready to bark. They don't need to. Oh, how unmaidenly many of the young 'fairer' sex among us have turned, prematurely, into witches. Maybe it has got to do with the movies, or that misplaced thing called 'girl power'. I don't know. I don't have a daughter, so I can't related the phenomenon. Brash, young, the 'me' generation that demands immediate attention and yet not give any attention.

Sometimes, I just feel like turning around and given the barker a slap on the face.Only, I'll be hauled to court for molest. Don't mess with young girls, particularly if they are under-aged. Society seems to protect them more, even though they probably deserve less.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuition nation

"The fool and his money are soon parted". I learnt this a long time ago. First as an idiom in primary school. Then in a venture that I was just too careless over. Just careless, not foolish, mind you.

But there are some people who are foolish, like those that paid thousands of dollars to an unaccredited tutor that purportedly could teach their children to be gifted. Obviously these overly ambitious parents are prepared to swallow the bait, hook, line and sinker. I suppose "gifted" to them meant that it was ok to pay through their noses to give their child a chance to join the gifted education programme invented by the Ministry of Education. After all, 'gifts' are bought and given away, right?

I don't want to comment about the tutor who swindled so many people. Suffice to say that he is dastardly and probably a scum of society. There have been others in the past who acted in similar fashion, perhaps even worse. And there will be others who will come along to swindle others in like manner, so long as you have people who are ready and willing to be tricked.

What is remarkable is that people think that a person can be trained to be gifted. Someone said to me that either you have it or you don't. Hello, its in the genes, and you can't train genes to perform somersaults, can you?. I tend to agree. That's what you start off with. Good genes. But to fully harness the capabilities that those genes bring, you have to work hard, really hard. Like putting in the hours to read, to train your mind, to practise, to become familiar and good at what you want to do, like playing the piano, or creating the next  new thing. Wasn't it Thomas A. Edison who said that you need 1% inspiration and 99% hard work to achieve your goals? Well, he should know. He was probably the greatest inventor in modern times.

In a way, the Singapore education system has encouraged people to 'buy' knowledge and capability. Singapore is not known to be the tuition nation for nothing. And the sad situation is that the school system appears to be working hand-in-glove with the tuition industry. I have heard from parents and students that teachers in the formal school system assume that every child has a tutor. So they off-load, or outsource, some of their teaching to the tutors, never mind that some children come from families that are too poor to even afford a meal from the school canteen. Tell me I am wrong, but somehow I am not hopeful of being proven wrong. Perhaps these teachers are taking too literally the mantra, "teach less, learn more" - an invention of the Ministry of Education. Do we even know what this means before we take it literally? For one, excellence and promotions are still very much dependent on a rigorous examination system where the muggers tend to do well. I am not saying that that is the best and only way to do well in school. There have been exceptions, but the rule is more relevant to the rest of us.

So long as we have such a system of rote learning, there will always be pretenders who will help fools part with their money.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Numbers game

The numbers do not lie. On a per capita basis, Yahoo Sports reported that Jamaica, with a population of 2.7 million, won nine gold medals in the recently concluded London Olympic games. This casts doubt on people who say that Singapore's population is too small to produce world beaters in sports. For the record, Singapore won three bronze medals, and all by people who were not born in Singapore. They are what Singaporeans' euphemistically call "Foreign Talent". Singapore's population as of 2011 is 5,183,700 of which  Singapore residents number 3,789,300. That's roughly 1 million more than Jamaica's population, or 2.5 million more if you include the non residents.

Granted, we are not comparing apple with apple. There are differing social, cultural and economic environments that mask these numbers, and sociologists and politicians will have their stories to tell to rationalise and explain the discrepancies in these numbers.

However, going by these numbers alone, Singapore hasn't done all that well. Tao Li didn't even get into the finals. She was 6th in the Beijing Games.Joseph Schooling, the great hope of the Republic, blamed his disastrous performance on the cap and goggle, nuf said. The Singapore women table tennis team was demoted from Silver at the Beijing Olympics to Bronze at this London Games. Feng redeemed the team with her commendable individual Bronze effort. And the rest of team Singapore? What, there are others?

Perhaps we should study countries like Jamaica or even Grenada to discover how else, other than immigration, which is a contentious issue in Singapore right now. Singapore can do better on the world sporting stage. I think, after the post-mortem (I assume there will be one conducted), it won't be for the lack of ideas and initiatives that the Singapore government and the sporting community have approached the issue. But many would say that monetary reward is not the only, nor the best way, nor is it the right way in the long term to produce local sporting talent. Don't get me wrong. Money can and does play a part, but obviously there is something missing that the Jamaicans appear to have. Usain Bolt is not their one-shot wonder. Their 1-2-3 victory in the 200m race proves it.

Singapore has the next 4 years to prepare for gold in the Rio Olympics. Hopefully, we will have answers way before then so that we can works towards greater success in those Olympics.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Daoxiao lunch

Singapore has become a cosmopolitan place, and a bit confusingly amusing. I was having lunch on National Day at a Chinese restaurant serving dao-xiao mian (literally shaved noodles). I was attended to by a waiter who took our order in English. Nothing odd about that. Then came a couple - two women, who took seats next to ours. It wasn't as if I wanted to eavesdrop. It wasn't a large restaurant, so we literally sat side by side with them. When they started to converse, I could tell immediately that they were China Chinese.

When the waiter came by, they were discussing their choices in Chinese. Then having decided, one of them placed their order with the waiting waiter - in English! It wasn't a case that they wanted to show off their linguistic skills. The waiter was a Filipino. I suppose he could only speak English, and perhaps his native Tagalog. So here I was, in a Chinese restaurant, seated beside a couple of China Chinese who were placing their order in English.

If this weren't Singapore, it would be odd.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Regardless of language

As Singaporeans recite the National Pledge today in celebration of its 47th National Day, I am reminded of the phrase in the pledge "regardless of language...". Much has been made of our Table Tennis trio of Feng Tianwei, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu being foreign imports and therefore not representative of the country's sporting abilities. One the the factors often cited about this ambivalence toward the trio is their inability to speak English, or even try to to learn to speak English. Is the ability to speak English a distinguishing attribute of a Singaporean? If you asked my father, he might spit at you. But no, he was just too gentle and even tempered a person to ever do that. But there would probably be many other Chinese who would - spit at you, or at least on the ground in front of you, i.e.

English was the language of the colonialists. It had no place in a local's linguistic heritage as opposed to the foreign devils. My father brought up all his children in Singapore, put them through the Singapore education system. He sent them to English language schools because he was a pragmatic person. You couldn't possibly advance in your lives if you didn't know how to speak English, he reasoned. Yet all his life, he never spoke nor learnt to speak English. He was born in China, spent his youth in Hong Kong, then came to Singapore shortly thereafter. He spoke Cantonese, could understand Mandarin but not speak it. He also spoke and understood a smattering of Malay. His penmanship (in Chinese AND English - he signed his English name beautifully) was of the first order. If we define being a Singaporean as one who can speak English or makes an attempt to do so, then my father was not a Singaporean. Perhaps he tried to learn it, I am not sure. He conversed with his children, and everyone else, in Cantonese and no other language.

Yet it would be absurd to say that he was not a Singaporean. He appreciated the government under Lee Kuan Yew and never waivered in giving them his support at every GE. I am not embarrassed to say this. Lee Kuan Yew was good for Singapore. It gave him a peaceful and safe environment in which he could practise his religion, make friends across races, earn a living and bring up his children. He started off living in an attap house, and gradually owned a HDB flat. And so it was for that generation of 'imports' - people who migrated to these shores for one reason or another, sunk roots and never thought of anywhere else as home.

We are their descendants and woe to us if we call our fathers, or their fathers, foreigners because they never learnt to speak English.

Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

That maiden medal

Ms Feng Tian Wei has won a bronze medal in Table Tennis at this year's London Olympics, and many Singaporeans are proud and happy about it. After all, the last time a Singaporean won a medal at these games was in 1960, by Mr Tan Howe Liang, in weight-lifting. I say "many" because there appears to be many others who have poured cold water over it because Feng is not a 'true-blue' Singaporean. And the quarter million dollar reward for achieving this feat appears to be one of the reasons. True, Feng, and compatriots, Yuegu and Jiawei, were imported from China, ostensibly for the very purpose of ending the Olympic, and in fact, any International sporting medal  drought. There were no other stated purpose. At least the importees were open and honest about this. A Singaporean is a Singaporean sol long as he/she has sworn allegiance to the country, right? If this weren't so, you'd have to ask who made the decision to grant this much prized citizenship status away. Someone said that TW and her compatriots have not made any effort to assimilate within the local environment - they speak Chinese all the time, whereas the world over has encountered that brand of English known as Singlish as a distinguishing identity of a native of the island of Singapore. The trio face an uphill battle for recognition, not so much on the ball court, but in the court of public opinion.

My advice, if it is worth anything at all, is to have each of them marry a Singapore guy and bear a couple of "authentic" Singapore children (must be born in KK Hospital). It doesn't matter if their offspring do not become TT champions. They probably will not when they are plugged into the Singapore system of educating its young ones. Yes, Jiawei is already married to a China Chinese, and borned a son in Beijing. So no chance that the child will become a Singaporean though maybe a great TT player after her mother. Lest history repeats itself, Singapore would not have been very wise in its investment of time and money. A good sporting history counts for little if it does not pay the baby bonus for Singapore. I know, I know, let's not demean female foreign talents as sows, but you just can't help it when you think of the millions of taxpayers' money expended on this venture.

Nevertheless, credit where credit is due. We must congragulate these women for their effort and victory on the world largest sporting stage.Let's not collectively "chase" them away. We will be shooting ourselves in the foot.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

That 2200 bicycle

Much has been reported, written, talked about around the table, discussed and dissected by all and sundry about the now notorious case of the Singapore NParks  buying Brompton bicycles for its officers to patrol the network of parks around the island.

NParks has undoubtedly done a good job putting in place, connecting and nurturing the green lungs of Singapore. It is now possible to cycle around the island through this network of parks, away from the busy roads and Singapore drivers' bullying ways towards cyclists. However there might be instances when you need to lug your bicycle over an overhead bridge here and there. Its not perfect, and that's why NParks needed foldable bicycles for its officers, so we are told. That way, they can ride and carry their bikes as the situation demands, and even take the bus with these foldable bicycles. Certain bus types operated by SBSTransit are bicycle and wheelchair friendly. I suppose covering those kilometers of Singapore's parks isn't an easy task. So our officers deserve every tool that will make their job easier and probably more productive.

But Singaporeans are up in arms over the NParks spending S$2,200 on some Brompton bicycles. Some cycling enthusiast have weighed in with their bicycle purchases of a wide variety of models, foldable and otherwise. None that we have heard from have spent more than a S$1,000 on a bicycle. Most that have spent that amount of money bought 2 or more bicycles. For the rest of us, S$200 is about what all that is needed for a good and sturdy bicycle. And if you are a casual cyclist, you can get one for S$80 or less from Carrefour. So when did NParks decide they needed a super premium bike to do their jobs? Its like the police buying Porshe's and Ferraris for their patrol cars. Well, the police have, quite sensibly, so far, bought the more economical Japanese and European models. At least nobody has gone to town accusing the policemen of  luxuriating in super cars during their patrolling duties, chasing down speed demons who ignore traffic lights. They could easily have given this excuse for expensive tastes, just as NParks has done.

It is incredible that NParks insists that Bromptons are the only foldable bicycles out there that fit their purposes. Knowledgeable cyclists will tell you, and I agree wholeheartedly with them, that these bicycles are  easily S$2,000 more than the alternatives that would help the NPark officers do their jobs. And the Bromptons aren't light, if a video of an NParks officer lugging the bicycle up an overhead bridge, which was broadcast on the CNA news, showed.

This episode of extreme waste of tax payers' money has now been conveniently swept under the proverbial carpet by NParks writing a letter that expressed some remorse, that they could have done a better job in the procurement process, promising that they will do a more thorough job the next time. That goes without saying, but the deed is already done. Tax payers like myself, who wouldn't even consider buying a $200 bicycle, just spent $2,200 on one. I am seriously considering asking the IRAS to re-assess my income tax for reliefs that I apparently could not claim in the last tax filing.

Thank you, Mr Khaw, for helping me re-evaluate my tax obligations to the government.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

God in the City

There has been a spate of court cases on corruption June. Don't know if this is because of the sweltering temperature. This was preceded by sex cases in May. I wonder what July will bring. One cannot but be impressed by the work rate of the Attorney General's Chambers. Going by these cases (and more to come?), they can look forward to big performance bonuses at the end of the year, particularly if the cases lead to convictions and fines. I am not suggesting for a moment that the AGC has monetary motives in mind when they haul people to court. I am glad that they are doing what they are paid to do - uphold the law of the land and make the point that Singapore is not a place for any sort of hanky-panky.

First they took sex offenders to court. Then they took civil offenders to court. They also took commercial offenders to court. And the latest, they took God to court. Errmmm, let me correct that. They hauled purported servants of God to court in the dying days of June 2012. The city has been set abuzz, and the blogosphere has gone into overdrive to self-righteously condemn one and all, never mind that the courts have not passed judgement at all in most of the cases. But you can't stop people from talking. Yesterday, I was having dinner in a neighbourhood food court. I overhead 1 women passing comment to her 2 companions about Pastor Kong Hee of City Harvest Church living it up in a house in Sentosa Cove. Yep, only the ultra-rich can afford a house in Sentosa Cove. Yeah, the pastor says that the house doesn't belong to him, nada nada nada. Who would believe a person accused of swimming in S$50 million over the last 2 years if not longer? But then these are only allegations. The court process has only just begun, and it is there that the contest of truths will be waged. While the weather has become cooler with the passing of June into July, don't expect the temperature to fall over these cases.

But some things seem to have died down, or at least become less noisy. Discussion of foreign labour, housing and transportation seem to have taken a back seat. Government overseeing these ministries must be relieved. Even the release of the COI report on the SMRT train breakdowns seem to be a non-event. But I suppose we will hear more of this the coming week when Parliament sits to consider this and other issues.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Sex in the City

2012 is shaping to be sex in the city of Singapore. First, there are the 44 odd men who were hauled to Court for having sex with an underage girl. Then there are revelations coming out of the Courts about how a former senior civil servant had his tryst with three middle-age woman (apparently still very desirable still), two of whom are married, so it was reported.

And what a difference there are in these two cases. No, I don't mean the sex, although that is itself a salacious part of these two sagas. The difference is that the Courts protected the identity of the underage prostitute and let the press free rein over the identity and indeed the acts of the three women involved in the corruption scandal. In a way, I feel sorry for these women. I don't know how or where they can hang their heads now that these lurid details have been reported, and may I add, with glee, by the repressed press who were told to shut up or "shut down" in the previous case. Yes, the press even tried to get in touch with these women, all to no avail, for obvious reasons. By all accounts, these are intelligent woman who have probably excelled academically and then scaled the corporate ladder to reach the pinnacle of their careers. Were they desperate for that contract from the SCDF, or were they, at least for two of the married ones, desperate "housewives". Why they would sell their bodies to get the contracts for their companies? After all, they don't own the companies, do they? Were their respective companies in such dire straits that they had to sell their bodies to redeem them? Or was the SCDF guy such as casanova that these three woman, unbeknownst to each other, just found him too attractive to resist, never mind their husbands and children?

I can understand corruption, but I just can't understand sex. You can sell sex, or you can give it away with abandon. What must be going through the minds of these women when they did either. One young and three mature women. But one impression that must strike anyone is that the former chief of the SCDF sure had a good time, and probably the women, all of them bar none, did too.

But as they say, good things never last. Unfortunately, for these three career women, the bad days have been a disaster to their careers, their families and themselves. In retrospect, the sex was just too expensive. The lesson, or takeaway, from all this is that if you want to do it, do it while you are young, probably before you are of age, as the prostitute has well demonstrated.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Crossing the bridge

When the by-election was first announced a couple of weeks ago, my colleague confidently declared that the Hougang ward will revert to the PAP. I thought it was not likely as that will require a 15% swing, given that the last incumbent, Mr Yaw Shin Leong, secured about 65% margin of victory in the 2011 GE. Given that nothing very drastic has changed since then, except for the sacking of a sitting MP by the Workers Party, there was no real reason for the swing. Of course political commentators and letters to the press suggested that Hougang residents are finally ready to throw in the mantel of "sacrificial lamb" in favour of inflating their property prices through the behest of a PAP MP. But it appears that this is the minority view. The people of Hougang appears to continue to like the WP and returned the Hougang seat to them.

It was comical indeed, last night, when I was catching the press conference by the losing team. In the first one, Mr Desmond Choo was totally hidden behind the cameras and I could hardly hear what he said. And I was not the only one. A reporter at the scene made the same point and had Mr Choo repeat what he said, but his face was still hidden. Much later, CNA interviewed him again, without any other reporters in sight. DPM Teo was again standing next to Mr Choo, now in full view, saying the same thing for the 3rd time. The whole thing struck me as rather amateurish. Certainly the whole thing was not as carefully stage-managed as one would expect of the PAP machinery, but I suppose they weren't in the mood anyway.

My sympathies go out to Mr Choo. I don't know him personally, but from news reports leading up to polling day, I could see that he was working hard, and appeared to have the residents' interests at heart. I don't doubt his sincerity. He appears a good man. Young, handsome, energetic. What's not to like about him? His only problem is that he is with the wrong party, on the wrong side of the fence, so to speak. So what if his influence got Hougang a free legal clinic and whatnots. The benefit of these appeared unproven to 62% of Hougang voters. I think the WP also noticed Mr Choo's sincerity. At least MP Png Eng Huat (aka Huat Ah) appears to be able to get along with him, hinting at a cuppa or more with him in the future. Maybe Huat Ah can, in time, persuade Mr Choo that his political future in Hougang is with the WP, i.e. if he still wants to stay around in Hougang. Otherwise, he will have to wait out Mr Png's health before finally getting elected, like Mr Sitoh Yih Pin of Potong Pasir. But this is WP, so you can bet that there will be another good WP candidate then. Why shouldn't that candidate go by the name of Desmond Choo? He should just  join the WP, shadow Huat Ah for the next 4 years, get the residents to know him as the Low Thia Khiang anointed successor to the Hougang seat, and stand as a WP candidate for Hougang. I am sure the reluctant Huat Ah will be more than willing to step aside. The fastest way into Parliament, I'd say, though at the "wrong" side of the bench.

Its his choice but it will give the PAP a fit.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


I was amused the other day to read how Mr Gerard Ee was 'caught' visiting, well lets say certain sites, on the internet. I have no idea what these sites were, but from what was reported, it wouldn't be what your mom would approve of. But don't we all click on one link or another and we end up where we do not intend to go to. Happened to me also (blush blush). I read Yahoo News quite often. The news stories are all above board decent, but there are certain stories that contain one or more scantily clad bodies. Its not porn, really. Never seen a person in a bikini lying on the beach or beside a pool before? But you know, you can't control what people think, or how they think. That's where the danger lies. Not knowing enough. They say a little knowledge can be dangerous. And it doesn't help with the ongoing trial of those 40 or so people for engaging in underage sex.

And the culprit may be a link that appears on the page you are viewing. If the Facebook link Social is ON, then that page will be shared with whoever you allow to read your Facebook - the public or your friends. What is so insidious about it is that you only learn about inadvertently sharing the page when you visit your Facebook account later. Hold on, where did that come from? Sure you could have turned it off, but you realise this AFTER the "damage" is done.

So next time, if you do not want the world to see what you are reading or where you are visiting, turn Social OFF:

This can save you some embarrassing moments, though of course, there was nothing wrong with it in the first place, except in the minds of some people who jump to conclusions and ascribe too much.

Facebook still has a long way to go to ensuring its members' privacy. You thought you had locked down your account, but it only takes a new feature, or app to expose you, no thanks to FB. In the past, this is the very reason that many have refused to join FB. I just have to say that if you want to continue using FB, you have to be very careful, and that includes our PM, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who just opened his FB to the world.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Island that was

It is a sad day for Singapore.

The celebrated "Singapore works" moniker is in danger of extinction. The erstwhile 'it just works' island is now an unreliable place to be, transport wise. How did we ever descend into this?

Commuters are so spooked that they pray and cross their fingers they will get to the office on time every morning. And students taking exams are now caught up in this worrisome phenomenon - of trains breaking down for hours. Come to think of it - Singapore students of one type or another are taking exams and tests throughout most of the year, except perhaps in June and December. I am beyond that, but I have children who may face this previously unthinkable prospect. If you are late, it is because you are late. Don't blame the bus or the train. You should have set off earlier to allow for heavy traffic. That's what we get told anyway.

Now, we can definitely say it was the train that was late. What can you do when you are stuck in a subterranean tunnel somewhere on the island for an extended period of time? There is really nowhere to go, nothing to do except wait for help. And given the mess that is likely taking place above ground, you can hunker down and wait, and wait and ....until the oxygen runs out or someone smashes the door with a fire extinguisher.

But we have become complacent, even arrogant in our perceived resiliency. We have gotten drunk on the praise that the international community has lavished on us for years that we have begun to believe in our own invincibility. Well, schools are going to have to craft out a new set of rules that govern these exceptions that are likely to occur to students taking exams. Our exam standards and processes will now get to a higher level. Yeah, you bet.

As the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on transport proceeds, we are hearing of lapses that reddens the face, and not least those earning millions whose job was to put in place people and processes precisely to prevent, and manage disasters. But no, the here and now matters more. The stockholders' interest is primary. If you can't cut cost and grow profit, you're just not good enough a CEO. You need to get one person to do two persons' job. That's promoting productivity. Isn't that what the government is advocating, nay, droning on and on these days?

The customer who? Oh those rats in the tunnels and holes. Well, consider themselves lucky that we charge them so little to zip from one hole in the ground to another, those vermins. For us, that Porshe is just fine.

City Hall, we have a problem here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hold the money

Listen up, the identity of the whore who set up 44 men, and counting in sleepless Singapore is...

Cannot tell or I will be fined S$5,000. Serious.

I'd rather save it and pay the teenage whore that money...

Hey, last I heard, she is older than 18 now. That means a visit to her bordello wouldn't get you hauled up to Court. Now you don't need to squat in jail after squatting on... Its open season if her identity is revealed.

When you think of tainting (ahem) the witness, you'd understand why the Prosecutors and the Judge find it a horrifying prospect to reveal her identity in public at this time. Thus the gag order even for the public, I suppose.  Bad news travel fast. Bad and dirty news even faster.

There are many in Singapore who are still sleepless.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Face it, PM

It's nothing new, really. Since Mr George Yeo went a blogging some YEARS ago, the trend for other government-types to go online was inevitable. For those who have read George Yeo's blog, it was, well, rather officious. It adopted the civil service style of writing - para 1, para 2, para 3...But it caught netizens' attention, nevertheless. The blogging Minister.

Now no less than Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has taken to fronting his own FB page. That's great, though he is late to the game. Nevertheless, within a day (or less), his FB page has garnered more than 20,000 likes, though I don't know what there is about it to like at this point in time. Even the Wall Street Journal has seen fit to publish the event. I suppose power attracts, or you just want to be seen hobnobbing with the rich, the powerful, the famous/infamous and the politicians. PM Lee fits all of these descriptors so it is no wonder the overwhelming strength of the magnet of the man. As an aside, George Yeo's Facebook likes lead PM Lee's by a wide berth. But this is to be expected. George has had a head start.

Frankly, I couldn't care less about whether he's had his dinner, but apparently many in Singapore have no other past time than to kay-poh and boast to one and all about when he/she learnt that LHL has had his dinner. Now don't get me wrong. I am not belittling anyone, not least the PM. He has done himself a favour by engaging his stakeholders on the universe's most significant media. Not through a group of admins who purport to speak on his behalf.

But, and this seems never too far away - the perceived threat of action against detractors and abusers of LHL's FB page. No, the law of the internet does not apply. Singapore's Laws do. Just read the House Rules on his FB page, reproduced below for your convenience.

I don't think those were LHL's words. Perhaps his lawyer's, or some smarts in the PMO. But you will agree with me that those words sound ominous.

Yes, Prime Minister! No dirty or abusive words. Otherwise...

OK, we get it.

Somehow these words just take away some of the personal feel of the page. I doubt any netizen puts up those kind of rules. It is live and let live on the internet. You want to join in, then you have to be prepared for the occasional abuse. I have been abused before, and called all manner of the most un-nice things when I took a position that basically agreed with the government's stand. You don't really have to send your lawyers after them. There is a certain intelligence of the crowd, or rather decency of the crowd. On balance, we look after each other. We will wack down anyone who is abusive, unfair, unreasonable and downright abnoxious, no expensive lawyers needed. You just have to trust the crowd, Prime Minister. Look at George. No threats. No House Rules. And he is doing just fine.

Welcome to the Wild Wild Web.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sleepless in Singapore

What do 44 men have to do with an under-aged (i.e. less than 18 years old) girl? Well, they bought themselves sex with this girl. This in itself is unremarkable. It happens everywhere, every time. legally or illegally, consensual or otherwise. After all, they say that it is world's oldest profession, and by that, the world's oldest business. So what if 44 men had paid for sex? It happened. It will continue to happen. Of course, as they say, if you want to engage in such activities, just remember not to get caught. These 44 were caught. There were reportedly as many as 60 involved in the investigations. Well, those got away. But 44 is perhaps enough to divert the attention of Singaporeans away from the woes of high property prices, stratosgpherically high cost of Certificate of Entitlement (COEs) and unrelenting breakdowns in the rail system. We do need some diversion from bad news. While reading of 44 people being charged in court for illicit sex can be a yawn for some, it may be sweet relief for others, not least the people in charge of housing and transport in Singapore. Here's a breather for them.

But seriously, one wonders if men in Singapore are so sex deprived. I can understand this of workers who toil and sweat by day in a foreign land (or for that matter, even the locals), and live rather sedate and lonely lives in their dorms at night. Its one of those natural urges that cries out for satisfaction and fulfillment one way or another. But a school principle, a naval officer, a senior lawyer, a senior civil servant, a senior banker and a businessman among them? Can't get no satisfaction at home? What are the women doing, or more particularly, not doing to keep their men from straying? When money becomes a commodity for these high income earners, there is nothing else, I suppose that satisfies a man's ego. Or is it just ego, for after all, it's underage girls you know. But I suppose some may suppose that such girls carry less risk of transmission of sex diseases. They are young after all? But we now know, and the 44 also should know, that the girl wasn't a virginal damsel. They were probably passing any and every dirt among themselves, no thanks to the messenger of a damsel.

Having said all these, the question still arises - the case against the 43 hasn't been proved yet, save one - the remorseful (I suppose) principal who continues to spout Confucianism and moral verses to assuage his soul, by self confession. But as their lawyer, Mr Subhas Anandan asked, who is the girl? How old is she actually? This girl that the 43 men allegedly paid a couple of hundred dollars for an hour or so of bliss? Common justice demands that her identity be revealed, for she was as much, if not more, culpable in the whole affair. Why protect the messenger at the expense of the messengees? But I suppose the prosecutors have their reasons. Whatever these may be, the girl must be produced at some point in time, and I expect no less than rotten carrots and eggs to fly her way.

Truly, where sex is involved, few are spared. But more so, we just aren't interested in propagating ourselves the right way any more.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

That Brown Mount

Bukit Brown - a cause célèbre among civil society and special interest groups nowadays. All these over a cemetery that nobody cared about, much less heard of, before the Singapore government announced its intent on building an expressway through this piece of land. True to character, the government is planning ahead and it deemed the exhumation of graves, some dating back a hundred years, small sacrifice for the here and now, and probably for the future too. After all, they have done it before. The Bidadari Cemetery along Upper Aljunied Road was removed to make way for the then new Woodleigh MRT station. Much of the land above ground has yet to be redeveloped, which has proved to be a boon to the living. It has become a favourite jogging place for the health conscious exercise enthusiasts. What's not to like about clean clear spaces in an otherwise congested city?

The government is doing this, amidst strong dissenting voices from mainly environmental and civil society groups, for the motorists, which is becoming associated with the rich and the pretenders in this country. With a new small car costing no less than S$80,000, it's become a luxury (again) to own a car. That is the rub. Why must our heritage be destroyed just so the rich blokes (yeah, that's what you are when you own a car on this island) can zip around unimpeded, that they can go from point A to point B in a quarter of the time that we poorer public commuters have to spend doing the same? But of course it is impossible to restrict car ownership any further in an increasingly unequal society that is Singapore today. You'd be asking for a revolt at some point in time, likely through the ballot box. Unlike Hong Kongers,  Singaporeans who gather without a permit, except in designated places, face arrest. So nowadays, they congregate online to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, these voices are a mixed bag. Some are rational, considered, some vociferous, others are rude and abusive, yet others hawk semi-truths and parrot others without verifying the veracity of what they are repeating. This isn't doing their cause any good because the powers that be will treat them as such - noise of the rabble-rousers.

Of course, there are those who are sincere and wish to engage the government. I think the authorities have accommodated these views with a re-design of the new expressway, but not a cancellation of their original intent to build that road. You can't please everyone. Some are still smarting from feeling that they have been run over by a government bulldozer, unhappy that they didn't get what they want. Uncharacteristically, the government has reflected on the episode and admitted that it could have done better to manage expectations. I began with disapproving the building of the expressway. After all the debates, I still think that it shouldn't be built, not for the sake of preserving our history and heritage, but because the plan smacks of elitism. Why spend millions of dollars building something that I am not ever likely to use since I don't drive? The taxi you say? That's also becoming a luxury. If anything, nowadays I pop down a hole at one part of the island and emerge from another hole somewhere else, much like a gopher, then take a short bus ride or walk the rest of the way to my destination. Why do we need new expressway bridges anyway? But I can also see that more land will be freed up for the living. I only hope that these added land will not be for the benefit of the rich only. Sadly I am not optimistic about this.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Burning money

Bishan Town is in the news again. No, it's not just about its newest landscaping, though that is noteworthy. But more than anything else, Bishan is known for its expensive public housing. Many years ago, in the 1990s, during the height of the housing bubble, someone paid a million dollars for a public housing apartment there-an astonishing sum in those days! Today, one of its new private condominium, the Sky Habitat @ Bishan, is reportedly asking for S$1,700-S$1,800 psf  for its apartments. For a 1,200 square foot apartment (about the size of a 5-room public housing  apartment), the price will come up to S$2.04m - an insane price. For comparison, a 5-roomer public housing apartment could be got for $500k plus or minus $100k As our politicians have explained, that is not including the generous subsidies that they routinely dole out for 'needy' people. One wonders if it is the property developer who is insane, or the prospective buyer is, or both of them are, based on the willing-buyer/willing seller principle? What's so insane, you ask?

Well, first, it isn't a landed property. If it were, in land-scarce Singapore, that will make sense in the long run. Second it doesn't sit on free-hold land. Its only a 99-year leasehold property. Third, it isn't in a prime district like Bukit Timah. It is located in a suburdan part of Singapore, somewhere in the middle of the island and is surrounded by plenty of public housing apartments. It doesn't boast of fantastic scenery (yeah, don't believe the advertisements which invariably paint a scenic picture of the locality). In fact, within living memory, this place used to be a cemetery,  not that I have anything against that. I used to, as a boy, visit some relatives who lived in the kampongs in Bishan (Peck San Theng, I remember my father calling the place where the relative stayed) then during the Lunar New Year. And I do remember the small bridge made of wooden planks over the stream that I had to go over to get to my relative's house.

Over the years, it has developed into a much sought after place to live in, but it isn't exclusive in any way. There are those who say it is served by the MRT station. That's true of and increasingly true of every town in Singapore. I know of other places where it is even more well-served by the MRT. Others say that the island's premier Raffles Institution (RI) being nearby is a big plus. Yeah, it probably is, but how many years do you expect your child to stay in RI for this to be remain a 'plus'? Of course, there is more than an even hope that others may be looking to move in, so you may have a sale-able apartment location. But at this price, I wonder what margins you will gain, anyway? Yet others point to the brand name designer behind the condo. Well, I don't know who he is, I am not in this line, but the visual are quite attractive, which is true of other developments elsewhere on the island.

So really, I see no reason beyond insanity to buy this place at this kind of prices. The only reason one would do so is if you have money to burn, and these are not those that you bring to the cemetery.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The right stuff

I had a very bad experience when I visited Beijing some years ago. You see, my friend used a public toilet. We were in a place where tourists go to. I just can't recall which one that was. Anyway, she exited the toilet looking choked and on the verge of spilling her guts outs. What was the reason for this? The toilet. It was damned  damned damned (pardon the word and the emphasis) smelly. It looked ok from the outside though. I may not have used the toilet myself, but I believed her 100% when I saw the 'pain' she was in.

So toilets, dirty, messy and stinking ones, are not the preserve of Singapore. Yes, we do have them, and in a First World country that we have become, now for more than 10 years, we are damned ashamed of it. Truth be told, there are probably well kept toilets for every dirty stinky ones. In fact there are probably more than a 1:1 ratio. I would hazard that for every stinking ones, there are probably 2 well maintained ones. If you lived in Singapore, like me, you might not agree. Perhaps I don't visit public toilets all that often nowadays, at least not those in our hawker centres. I'd use the ones in the shopping malls, which if you consider the prices that shops there charge for their merchandise, you sort of expect better treatment in their loos.

Now Singapore is considering building more hawkers centres that will not be parceled out to commercial operators such as Kopitiam and Koufu to operate. Hooray! Lower prices of food, but I hope that the toilets would be 21st century quality also. Or are our designers of our new generation hawkers centres going to retain this aspect of our dirty toilets, for nostalgia's sake? Nooo, social enterprises will be running these places, surely they are more socially conscious and will have a heart not to cause a person to retch upon existing that most essential of places?

But who know? There's nothing like nostalgia.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Bitter and the Sweet

Well, finally the boss has spoken. The earlier foray into this subject by his henchman hadn't gone down well with many people, not least with this blogger. But I am disappointed. Somehow, PM Lee Hsien Loong's pronouncement on the subject of calling for/not calling for the widely anticipated Hougang by-election came across as less than Prime Ministerial. If he were in the hustings, it would have been expected. But in a Parliament where he is the Prime Minister and his party, the PAP, commands an unassailable majority, it grated on the ears when he all but blamed the WP for the loss of its MP in Hougang, that the people of Hougang are now without an MP because of the WP's thoughtless action in sacking Mr Yaw. Which is true, but it is not as if the WP wantonly and recklessly sacked its Yaw Shing Leong thereby causing the Hougang seat to be vacated and the residents of Hougang unrepresented. I believe them when they said it was a difficult and a non-unanimous decision to sack Mr Yaw. (Hmmm...why is it easier to believe the WP than the PAP nowdays?).

Even then, the PM is still happy to continue playing the cat-and-mouse game, saying in a rejoinder to Opposition Leader, Mr Low Thia Khiang, that he will inform the House the period in which the by-election will be called "as soon as I have finished considering all the factors". This is as blank a cheque as any I have seen. As some sensible people from the public have commented, what crisis is the nation facing now that it has to put the issue of a by-election on the back-burner? It may be true that Cabinet has more information than any person in Singapore and they are cognizant of the dire situation facing Singapore economically. They may be hunched over thinking through the strategy, options and responses so much so that 24,560 Hougang residents aren't all that important. Of course they are not important. It's the WP's sh*t-h*le and they are not in a hurry to step into it. One might even think that the PAP government has all but given up on winning Hougang back to its fold. Its a lost cause, so why give the WP the satisfaction of a victory so soon? Let them sweat and double up serving both Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC. That'll deplete their energies and resources, surely?

I think that's the strategy. The PAP knows it is a lost cause, so it is better to exact as much damage on the WP resource-wise. But of course, it will suffer collateral damage, they are not stupid. More Hougang residents will be turned off by a PAPty that doesn't care. The real unknown is how much collateral damage it will sustain from the rest of Singapore, which is watching the drama as it unfolds very publicly?

I, for one, am put off and disappointed with the PAP over this incident, never mind that it put out significant sweeteners in Budget 2012. By the way, I don't live in Hougang.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Balancing the People

Senior Counsel and the honorary MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC (etc. etc.) Mr Hri Kumar Nair has been crossing swords with Asst Prof Eugene Tan of SMU over the issue of the need to hold a by-election at the Hougang single member constituency (SMC). Prof Tan argued that the government is obliged to hold one. Mr Hri Kumar said no. That's what Mr Kumar's legalese amounted to anyway. You know what? I may be able to follow the argument, but I am no more enlightened by it all, especially Mr Kumar's arguments, which seem to fit chambers, but are lost with us common folks.

But one thing I can discern, and that is the PAP, which Mr Hri Kumar so likes to point out that he is beholden to for his present position in Parliament, has still not learned from last year's elections. Well, let's set aside all the intellectual crossing of swords and ask ourselves: if I were a resident, if Mr Kumar is a resident, of Hougang, would he much prefer to have an MP represent him? Honestly? A 'yes' or a 'no' will do. I would say 'yes'. If nothing, having an MP working for you is an entitlement as a citizen. I don't pay more nor less for an MP's allowance, so why deprive me? But above all considerations of money, can I trust the PAP government to look after me? Not if it pussyfoots on holding a by-election, as it appears to be doing now.

So my question is, does the PAP government even have a heart for the people? Right now, the answer, going by Mr Hri Kumar's eloquence on the national stage and in the newspapers, is NO. Its the law, you see. Its about "may" and "should" or "could" or whatever, that is important. He admires and trusts the law, whether it is British Law or Singapore Law, to cover the PAP's collective behind. And all said in learned sentences that probably three-quarters of Singaporeans don't understand. I daresay that if Mr Kumar comes out to contest in an SMC tomorrow (why not Hougang"), he will have his figurative tail between his legs when the votes are tallied. Maybe that's the REAL reason for prevaricating? (see I also know some cheem words, don't play play).

So we have another PAP man who rides a high horse and seems to be having a good time talking it up. The people, nahhh...neigh..., they are not important. Where are the people in Mr Kumar's learned opinions? Sadly, they don't exist. The PAP might as well drop the first 'P' in its name.

If the PAP is listening, the problem with you is your arrogance. Period.

P.S. I fear that I will be accused of putting words into someone's mouth. I apologise if I have offended anyone, or deigned (there's another cheem word) to criticize duly elected and learned members of national institutions.