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.