Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ghosts (updated 4 Jan 2015)

2014 had several low points.

For Malaysia it was the plane crashes, including Air Asia QZ8501 (technically it was Indonesia Air Asia but MY Air Asia has a 49% share of it, and the "Air Asia" brand is synonymous with Malaysia.)

For Indonesia, there was some haze, but the beef we had with them was the TNI's naming of the KRI Usman Harun.

The matter was "resolved" in the sense that SG conceded that it was Indonesia's right to name their ship as they liked, but SG will not participate in any exercise with the KRI Usman Harun, and the ship will never be welcome in SG.

Fast forward 9 - 10 months. QZ8501 disappears enroute from Surabaya to Singapore.

Surabaya. Where I believe the KRI Usman Harun is now based.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Let it go, Let it go...

An essay on the dominant single-party politics in South East Asia, and whether they are doomed.

Well, I don't really care about Golkar (in Indonesia) or UMNO (in Malaysia). They are both at best coalition governments and weakness is a given for such governments.

They are almost certain to be inefficient and ineffective.

Monday, 15 December 2014

GUTS 1: Moving towards Singapore 2.0. Part 2 What Singaporeans Need

The Grand Unified Theory of Singapore (GUTS) today 
and what We need to move to SG 2.0

Part 2: What Singaporeans Want. Or Need.

Part 1 covered the problems of Singapore today - An Ageing population, rising costs of living, Inflation from an emerging, rising China, the problem of home ownership, falling birthrates, rising healthcare costs, and the Sandwiched Generation.

In Part 2, we consider what Singaporeans want. Or need rather. How to get Singaporeans to be more entrepreneurial. And why we are so kiasu.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

In the land of the blind...

A Singapore Parable?

It is said that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. 

The one-eyed king told the blind people that it was going to get dark soon.

And the blind asked, "what is this dark that you are talking about? We live in darkness, you stupid fool!"

"Don't worry," said the one-eyed leader, "I have fire!"

And the blind asked, "what is this fire you speak of?"

"Here," said the one-eyed leader. "This is fire. It lights the way."

The blind reached for the fire to touch and feel what they cannot see, and they scream, "Argh! It burns! It burns! You stupid king! Are you trying to burn us! How is this helping us? Put it out! Put it out!"

And the blind rushed the one-eyed king making him drop the torch and it went out.

Then the darkness came.

And the one-eyed king could not see.

But he was at last equal to the people.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Respect, Tolerance and Compromise - Why we cannot return to the Past

Previously, I had wondered if Mahbubani's article on "Nurturing the Art of Compromise" might have been out of touch with the zeitgeist of the times, the humour of society today. The current zeitgeist brooks no compromise.

There are forces pulling our society apart. Our communal spirit is being pulled apart by sectarian interests and pursuits and values.

There are those who see all this and think the answer is clear: return to the past; return to our communal spirit, our sense of common purpose, our sense of common destiny, seeing our fates inextricably linked, and our only hope is to be committed to our shared purpose, our shared destiny.

These people are unfortunately, deluded.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

E-Cownomics - the Singapore amendments

Singapore e-cow-nomics - the amendments

You have 2 Cows. The Government says we need 5. They bring in 3 Pandas. They aren't cows and can't produce milk. So 3 Brahma Bulls are brought in. Right genus, wrong gender. You try to cut your losses by slaughtering the bulls but are stopped - You can't slaughter the sacred bulls.


You want a cow? But you bought a COE. Now you can't afford a COW.


You have 2 cows. Your neighbour has 10,000. He hires workers to look after his 10,000 cows. Some are "Cowboys". They ride horses. The rest are cowherds. They don't get horses. Welcome to Singapore!

GUTS 1: Moving towards Singapore 2.0. Part 1 Singapore Today

The Grand Unified Theory of Singapore (GUTS) today 
and what We need to move to SG 2.0

Part 1

A Grand Unified Theory of Singapore (GUTS) is probably a little grandiose, and there is probably some hyperbole in that. But it got your attention, I hope.

In any case, this is just the first "Unified Theory" (working hypothesis) of Singapore.

The GUTS 0.1 is intended to explain the problems of Singapore today and what might need to be done
to get to SG 2.0. Or maybe just GUTS 1.0.

In part 1, we do a brief stock-take of Singapore.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Persistence of Inequality

Inequality is unnatural. Sort of.

Really. In a fundamental way, the universe tends toward equality.

Left to themselves, concentrations of energy will dissipate. Energy will move from high concentration to low concentration. This is called entropy. Or heat death. It is in a way, the equal distribution of energy.

Life, on the other hand, is fundamentally about inequality. It is about creating inequality.

Every living thing accumulates energy to grow, to live, to reproduce. It creates a concentration of energy and resources, in order to struggle or resist entropy (a.k.a. "Death").

And life is persistent. And so inequality is persistent.

But we are more than just living things. We are social creatures. We are political creatures. And we are moral and ethical creatures. Well, some of us are.

And because we are socio-political moral-ethical creatures, we have values. Like equality.

But if we value equality, why are we moving towards greater inequality? Particularly, in Singapore?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Rant of a Young Singaporean (TV Character).

From a Facebook post (13 Nov 2014) by ChannelNewsAsia Singapore:
"Taken from Episode 15 of "118", Channel 8's 7.30pm drama.
A translation from one of our viewers Gavin Neo :
Do you think I'm the only one anxious to earn money?
Go ask around among the youngsters today, who isn't anxious?
After serving NS, graduating from university around 23-24 years old, we'll turn 30 at the blink of an eye.
During this short period of time, we have to get married, get a house, have baby(babies), can we do all of these without money?
The cost for a HDB is at least $300K-$400K now. Let's talk about the most basic need for spending, if we were to work in the city(town), a trip back and forth via MRT is $5-$6. Sometimes we take a taxi if we're rushing for time, ERP alone is $6-$7. Having lunch, we need at least $5-$6. Grabbing a cup of coffee from a cafe (I'm guessing he's talking about Starbucks and/or Coffee Bean etc) is $6-$7!
As if that's not enough, we have to follow what the government want us to do, to get married earlier, to have baby(babies) sooner. I have to get a girlfriend first. If I don't grab a meal, have a drink, watch a movie and go overseas occasionally with her, plus gifting a few branded goods to her, even if I have the face of a superstar, no girl will want to be with me.
Some of us still want to further our studies, what about loans and helping out with the family's finances? And when it's time to get married, it cost at least $1000 per table. A wedding photo shoot will cost at least $3000-$4000, and all of these requires money money money!
My generation of young adults don't demand a quality lifestyle. Is it even possible to not earn some money now, even if we were to live a life of the absolute basic? You don't want to have a son to have to ask you to pay for his wedding and his house, do you?
Yes, I admit that what I did to earn money is a little extreme (I don't know what he did). I've made mistakes and I'm at fault, but my fault is because of what this society has made it to be!"

Sunday, 16 November 2014

What will you defend? What will you fight for?

There is a lot of cynicism in Singaporeans today.

It is understandable.

They find the place they grew up in changing faster than they can imagine. Faster than they can cope. Faster than they like.

Until they cannot recognise their country, the place they were born in, grew up in, the only home they know.

Languages are lost, fading away as the last speakers of dialect grow silent. Replaced with new bewildering, unfamiliar, unintelligible ones, surrounding them on the trains, on the bus, in the shopping mall, in the food court, and coffee shops, and in the hawker centres.

And in the hawker centre, the food is not as good as they remembered, and old favourites disappear, never to return, replaced by new, unfamiliar foods. Or the names may be the same, but the taste is not - a pale shadow of the bright shiny memories they hold in their heads, or on their tongues.

And the crowds. The unavoidable, inevitable, undeniable, irrepressible, unrelenting crowds. Everywhere.

And of the crowd, 40% of them are not citizens. And even among citizens, 1 in 3 (?) were not born here.

So some NSmen have been asking, "why NS? what am I defending? What am I fighting for? Why should I fight for foreigners?"

Monday, 10 November 2014

AFTERNOTE - Facts, Values, and Logic - why compromise is getting more impossible (The Religious Element)

The two examples from the previous post feature issues affecting the animal welfare lobby. The examples were most recently in the media at the time of this blog piece, and so were the most germane or contemporary. Not that clash of values are only likely or possible with Animal Welfare Groups.

There are other examples of challenges to authority, and the increasing improbability (if not impossibility) of compromise and consensus.

Lawrence Khong and his challenge to the law is an example of a conflict of values. Khong dismissed a staff on moral grounds when the woman was pregnant. This was against the employment act. His position, (he claims) was informed by Christian "morality" as the woman had an adulterous affair with another church staff who was also married. Khong felt that he had the moral authority to dismiss the woman on moral grounds. He was affronted to learn that the laws of the land had precedence and primacy over his religious "morality", especially when it came to protecting the secular rights of employees. He initiated a court action to pursue his position (that the church has independence to act on moral grounds).

His question about how moral values and secular values should be resolved, is not a new one. It has been covered by the Bible.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Facts, Values, and Logic - why compromise is getting more impossible

In a recent article (Sept 2014) , Kishore Mahbubani highlighted the fracturing of Singapore Society - the loss of "political unanimity", the rise of "contestation" over consensus in our society, - and suggested that the solution was compromise and consensus.

Unfortunately, I believe he is wrong.

In the current zeitgeist, "compromise" is a dirty word. "Consensus" is an euphemism for "conforming" or "capitulating".

In his next article (Oct 2014) in his series of Big Ideas, he proposes to "future-proof" Singapore and Singapore society. How?
"To help a well-educated citizenry make well-informed decisions, I would like to propose that we "future-proof" Singapore by creating a treasure trove of well-researched and well-reasoned policy papers on all the major challenges that Singapore will be facing in the next 50 years."
His idea is that with a well-stocked "treasure trove" of well-reasoned papers on major challenges that Singapore would face, Singaporeans would be able to learn from these "thought leaders" and understand what must be done.

Unfortunately, Mahbubani is an intellectual...

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Hawkers - foreign and domestic

In the news: "Penang bans foreign cooks at hawker stalls"

This was apparently to "preserve the state's food heritage".

How is this different from the Bumiputera policy?

If you discriminate based on race or nationality instead of ability or meritocracy, then what you will end up with are local hawkers. But are they able?

Not to say that ALL foreign hawkers will be good, but I would rather have one foreign hawker who managed to master a local dish than 100 local hawkers who are in it because it is a protected job that they can do without having to worry about competition from foreigners.

That said, yes, currently there are no "gatekeepers" to ensure that hawkers who run their stalls are capable let alone able to authentically replicate the food of yester-years - regardless of whether they are local or foreign.... well, no "gatekeepers" except for their customers.

If this policy is intended to ensure that hawker food are authentic, why is it necessary. If there are authentic local hawkers, they will blow away the non-authentic foreign hawkers.

If you need to protect the local hawkers, it may well mean that the local hawkers are not much better than the foreign hawkers.

And the net effect of this policy is simply to protect the incompetent local hawkers. How is this better for the customers?

I would rather have an authentic tasty szechuan mala hot pot provided by a foreign hawker, than a bad, tasteless, laksa by a local hawker. And if I could get a good, tasty, authentic laksa at hawker prices, I won't care if the hawker is local or foreign.

A comment from the Food Editor is here.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Is Singapore a Fascist State?

I found this website with 14 characteristics of a Fascist State.

And as I read them I couldn't help comparing them to Singapore, and also the bastion of democracy, USA.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


The Sunday Times editorial/opinion editor asked,  "What would move Singaporeans to Protest"?

In her opinion, it would be "whether there are fair rules, and whether government and people play by those rules."

That is, Singaporeans will protest if they perceive the rules as being unfair, or there is an uneven playing field, like say if there were corruption.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Singaporean Beautitudes

From some years ago.

Happy are those who are not Kiasu: They have WON true peace of mind.
Happy are those who are not Kiasi: They shall LIVE life to the full.
Happy are those who are not Kiaboh: They shall not WANT.
Happy are those who are not KiaZhengHu: They have emigrated.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Revisiting the White Paper

The Population White Paper was debated over a year ago, and it invoked a lot of responses.

Here's a ST forum letter that was savaged in a blog post.

And an excerpt of that forum letter:
The real issue is how we can control the cost of living - and, by implication, the labour component for businesses - and the rise of commercial rents, as well as ways to improve productivity.

I used to be amazed that a plate of fried rice in the United States could cost US$15 (S$19), and worry that this could happen in Singapore if inflation is not controlled.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

And a child shall lead them..

I wondered, what does a 22-year-old know about CPF? How much does she have in CPF? When you were 22 (if you are over 22) how much money did you have in your CPF?

Even the 33-yr-old don't seem to understand CPF or the way it works or how investment works.

Well, if you add 22 to 33, you have a 55. That's the closest they will get to being 55 at this time.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Social Enterprise - to boldly go... where...?

"Social Enterprise" is trendy.

I am reminded of this as I passed the site of a "Social Enterprise".  I know it is a "Social Enterprise" because it says so on the signboard above the gate.

So, what is a social enterprise?

Pop Quiz!

Which of these are social enterprises?

1) A seasonal store (opens at most once a month) that sells donated goods at or near market prices. This is not a thrift store. The goods are not used, and the operators are picky about what donations they accept. But funds raised go towards a charity. Social Enterprise, or not?

Perspective - 27 Sept 2014

In Singapore: Return our CPF or we will traumatise these kids!
In HK: Return our democracy, and you can tear-gas us, baton us!

[This post is short as I do not wish to waste time on the infantile. Others have said all I care to.]

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A compromise compromised. Sitting on the fence is an uncomfortable position

So apparently Walter Woon and Tommy Koh disagreed on the question of 377A. Actually, they don't. Bad headlines by the Straits Times.

Walter Woon made a case as to why there is a constitutional flaw or pitfall in the position taken by the government. However, the fatal flaw depends on one's interpretation of how the govt has framed their position, in particular to the direction (if any) given to the Attorney-General.

Tommy Koh agrees that 377Ashould be taken out, but notes social and political concerns or considerations.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Ideas for Ubin

A lot of comments were to leave Ubin alone. Leave it Rustic. Undeveloped. Untouched. Pristine. Primeval. Primitive.

I agree.

Then of course there was the recent incident where a man collapsed/fainted, and died while being transported to a Hospital on the main island.

So maybe there should be a emergency medical centre there?  But who to staff it? Is it worth it? How often is there a life and death situation to warrant such a centre?

So maybe not.

Leave it pristine, untouched, undeveloped.

Leave it for Singaporeans, for future generations.

Leave it historical.

Friday, 5 September 2014

You are either part of the solution...

... or you are part of the problem.

You may have heard or read that quote.

I was reminded of that quote when I read some of the comments on the Wear White/Pink Dot issue.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

How to save $400,000 in 60 years

You may have read this story: about how a 74-year old cleaner managed to save $400,000 and lose it all to con artists.

What some people found unbelievable, was how a cleaner was able to save $400,000.

In 60 years. Or slightly over.

She's 74 now and (according to the news report) she started working when she was 10. Sixty-four years to save $400,000. Assuming 0% interest, that's $200k in 32 years, $100k in 16 years. Or about $60k in 10 years. $6k per year for 64 years?

Or about $600 per month.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Hazards of a Giant Stumbling.

No. This is not about the US.

I am not an expert in China, but I'm trying my best to understand China's growth trajectory, especially since my usual source has dried up.

Here's a quote from an expert, or at least one familiar with the issue:
A study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences showed the debt/gross domestic product ratio for China’s non-financial corporations was 113 per cent by the end of 2012. Standard & Poor’s found that, a year later, these firms’ total debt amounted to US$14.2 trillion (S$17.7 trillion), eclipsing the US$13.1 trillion of outstanding debt in America and making China the world’s largest issuer of corporate debt.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

CPF Realities and Alternative Policies (CRAP)

The CPF is being reviewed. Again.

Because people aren't happy with it currently.

What are they unhappy about? Many things. Everything.

Here's a no-brainer prediction: Whatever the review recommends and is implemented, not everyone will be happy.

And it's not just that SOME people might be unhappy. That SOME people might include YOU!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Reactions and Reflections on the 2014 National Day Rally

I can't help but compare with the NDRs of Lee Kuan Yew.

Firstly,  I thought it was sad that time had to be spent during this NDR in explaining the CPF, the minimum sum, and retirement options.

But perhaps it was the zeitgeist - the concern of the day, of the people.

And perhaps it is an indictment of the government's communication of policy.

Secondly, I thought the NDR to be too inward looking.

Again, zeitgeist. And politics, I guess.

But I thought about LKY's rallies, and what would he talk about if he were PM today.

I think he would have chosen to focus on more important things.

What is more important than the concerns of the electorate in a time when PAP is losing votes and being accused of ignoring the concerns of the electorate? Would he focus on "more important things" and risk further antagonising or at least alienating a prickly electorate?

Sunday, 17 August 2014

That "Fishball stick" problem

I was at the bus stop in front of United Square (Thomson Road) recently. There was a shabby, dirty man with a box and and some bags taking up one of the bench seats at the bus stop with his box and bags. He was obviously a vagrant. No one wanted to sit next to him, or even stand close to him.

Suddenly he got up and stepped towards some litter at the back of the bus shelter, scooped it together, picked it up, and brought it to the nearest bin to dispose of it.

He did not call the NEA. Perhaps he did not have a cell phone. He did not call his MP. Perhaps as a vagrant homeless, he does not have any MP representing him. He did not call LTA. Perhaps he did not know the number to call to complain about litter at the bus stop.

He did not have much. Perhaps all his worldly belongings were in that box and the few bags he had with him.

But he had two hands and he had eyes, and when he noticed the litter behind the bus stop, he did not ask, "who's responsible for cleaning up this bus-stop?" but took matters into his own hands (literally!) and cleaned it up.

He did not have much, but perhaps he had a better sense of civic consciousness, a better sense of social responsibility, than me.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Happy 49th. Part 1 - Children and Childhood

Things to be happy about growing up in Singapore.

1 Childhood.

Well, how was your childhood?

49 years is a long time in a person's life. Those born 49 years ago or so, faced a different situation, and a different experience growing up. Children born 10 years ago face a whole different situation.

How to compare?

In my childhood, the longkang was a playground, firecrackers were available, and the whole street/lorong/kampong was our turf. The road in front of my home had a near permanent "pond" of muddy water, drying up occasionally when there was a "drought" and eventually "fixed" when modernity reached our "kampong" and the road was paved/sealed.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

How I Learned to stop Worrying and love the Minimum Sum

The Fear of Death does not keep us from Dying. It only keeps us from Living.

The first time I went down a 3-storey water slide (the now defunct Big Splash*), I was very frightened halfway down and I was trying very hard to slow myself down. I pressed my legs against the sides to try to brake, to slow down, but it was too slippery. I just slid faster and faster until I hit the water.

"This is fun?" I asked myself, as I sat in waist-deep water collecting myself.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Experiments with Google

Here's an experiment you can do on your computer.

1) Google "Singapore Brides".

There may be ads (paid search results) like this one (this is a screen capture. you can't click on it):

2) Take a note of the number of ads and what they are advertising for. In this case, it is trying to sell wedding gowns to Singapore Brides.

3) Then take a look at first 3 or first 5 search results. In this case, the first 3 results are:

a) SingaporeBrides, a wedding directory
b) Blissful Brides, a bridal magazine, and
c) Singapore Brides, a Facebook page.

4) Now Google the following search terms and do the same, take a note of the number of ads and the services or goods being advertised, and then note the first 3 or 5 search results.

Search Terms:
a) Thai Brides
b) Malaysian Brides
c) Indonesian Brides
d) Vietnamese Brides
e) Philippine Brides

The search results for Malaysian brides had a forum on boutiques and wedding photography for the first and third search result. But the rest of the top results (the 3 paid results/ads, and the second search result) were for mail order brides or matchmaking services.

Well, "Indonesian Bride" had "Wedding in Bali as one of the ads.

"Thai Bride" 3rd result was a documentary/video. But it was about the "introduction service" for meeting a Thai potential wife.