Dec 30, 2010

Snakes and Other Creatures

A letter to the ST Forum:
ST Dec 30, 2010
Passing the buck on snake menace

MY DAD came across a 1m snake in the grass area about 10 steps away from the bus stop in Upper Thomson Road on Dec 17.

He told me to call the relevant authorities before the snake slithered to the bus stop, or to the nearby terrace house.

When I contacted the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the operator transferred me to the unit which she claimed could help in this matter. However, the woman who picked up the call did not even give me three minutes to speak. When she heard 'snake', she said 'Call the police please'.

Meanwhile, a commuter at the bus stop called the police.

I called AVA again and asked the operator if it is indeed the police's job to be catching snakes. She immediately said she will transfer me to corporate affairs but the call was transferred to a mail box instead.

In the next 15 minutes, neither the police nor AVA staff turned up. My dad and I looked on helplessly as the snake slithered back to the bushes and disappeared.

Angela Tang (Ms)
All I can say is that I feel glad for the snake.

Most likely it was a reticulated python (quite common in Singapore). The police are indeed the right people to catch them, but not all police officers are trained to handle snakes.

Captured snakes are passed on to the Singapore Zoo. The zoo receives so many snakes per year that it cannot possibly keep all of them. The zoo simply releases healthy snakes back into forested areas of Singapore. The less-healthy ones are euthanised.

More rarely, cobras are also found in Singapore. These are pretty nasty fellas and are best avoided. Fortunately they will also tend to avoid human beings. I had a close encounter with a black cobra once (near Kent Ridge Park), and it was spectacularly unforgettable. Big black hood, the head rearing up well above ground level, and all of that - very intimidating. A cobra's hiss sounds nothing like what you might expect a snake's hiss to be like. The sound of a cobra hissing is more like a big dog growling. It's pretty scary.

I don't like venomous snakes, but I'm okay with non-venomous ones. I've handled them and petted them on many occasions.

Other animals which I have fed, handled and petted include stingrays, elephants, lions, koalas, wombats, kangaroos, deer, goats, horses, mynahs, dolphins, alpacas, orang utans, giant tortoises, macaws and pigs. In case you're wondering, I do not go on jungle expeditions or wilderness trips. Many of my encounters have been at places such as the Singapore Zoo, Underwater World and similar places in other countries.

I would like to pet a tiger one day. That would be fun. There's a place in Thailand where you can do that. Click here to see the pictures.

But one of my most beautiful wildlife experiences was to hold a hummingbird in my two hands. The little bird had gotten itself lost and trapped inside a building and had grown exhausted, after hours of fluttering around vainly, beating its head against glass doors trying to get out. I gently picked it up, took it outside and set it free.

A hummingbird is so small, and so delicately and carefully designed by Mother Nature. Its fine, subtly luminous colours remind me of a precious jewel.

Dec 18, 2010

The IQ Test

The background to this post is here. So anyway, today I finally got around to taking my little girl for the IQ test.

I didn't tell her that she would be going for a test. I just told her that I was taking her somewhere to play some games. When she asked me what kind of games, I just told her, "Oh, puzzles. Many different kinds of puzzles. They're really fun!".

At the clinic, the psychologist had a brief discussion with me and my wife, and then asked us to leave our daughter behind and come back in 90 minutes. We went off to do some shopping. When we came back, my daughter had completed her IQ test and happily announced to us that the puzzles were really fun and she had enjoyed herself.

We asked the psychologist how my daughter had done. The psychologist said that she couldn't give a definitive answer yet - she had to do some analysis and compute the scores first. However, the rough estimate was that my daughter was well above average on an overall basis, and probably in the gifted range for verbal reasoning, but perhaps not in the gifted range for other areas.

I know the technical term for this. It's "asynchronous development". Human intelligence isn't a single attribute - instead there are about eight different types of human intelligences. For example, a person may be gifted in logic; but average in interpersonal intelligence; and poor in his linguistic intelligence.

Asynchronous development is the term to describe people who are unevenly gifted. The psychologist's comments indicate that my daughter is linguistically gifted - her natural ability to communicate, analyse, reason and express herself by using language is very high - but that she isn't gifted in all other areas.

I guess she takes after her daddy. I know that as a child, I learned to speak, read and write well at an unusually early age (those were my first steps towards becoming, at different times in my life, a top law student; a published poet; a nationally prominent blogger; a litigation lawyer and a writer for the SAF). But at the same time, I also know that I was never smart in the way that my big brother is EQ-smart with people; nor in the way that my other brother is smart with visual images and artistic ideas.

Anyway, it will take some time for the full report on my daughter's IQ to be produced (because the clinic is temporarily closing down for the Christmas and New Year holidays).

I like to think that everyone has a special talent in something, and that the only big difference is that some of us have discovered our gifts, and the rest of us have not. Of course, as a parent, I am particularly interested in helping my own children fulfill their potential.

Dec 15, 2010

Underwear What Colour?

I was at work. It was about 5 pm. It was going to be another long day (or rather, night). I planned to finish three more tasks before leaving the office.

The first task was to attend a meeting to discuss our new deal with a London-based asset management company acting for a sovereign wealth fund.

The second task was to read a document about the proposed corporate restructuring of one of our clients, a major Asian oil refining company.

The third was to review a set of legal documents that we were planning to sign with a stock exchange. The stock exchange was hoping to receive my comments by tonight.

It was all very serious work. But first I needed to pee. I went to the bathroom, pee'd at the urinal, and casually tugged at the zip to pull it back up.

Unexpectedly, the zip broke off.

Okay ... Not good. Retreated into a toilet cubicle and closed the door. Took off my pants completely and tried to fix the zip back. Not successful. Gave up after 5 minutes.

Put on my pants again and discreetly walked back to my desk. Looked down a few times to inspect myself. Unfortunately, this was one of those pants where the fly, if not zipped up, would open very wide. So wide that one could easily see my underwear. Which happened to be white today, very conspicuous against the dark colour of my trousers.

Under these circumstances, there didn't seem to be much of a choice. I couldn't be seen around the office like this.

Too bad for the sovereign wealth fund. And the corporate restructuring. And the stock exchange. I quickly left the office, clutching my bag somewhat awkwardly at the front of my body. Downstairs, I hopped into a taxi and went straight home.

An early day for Mr Wang, for once.

That wasn't so difficult, after all. All you really have to do is ... just ... walk .... out ....

Dec 4, 2010

Work/Life Imbalance

The manpower jinx in my department continues.

A week ago, one of my colleagues suddenly fell very ill. He had to be sent to hospital. A CT scan revealed a serious problem. It was literally a life-&-death matter. He had to undergo emergency brain surgery. The surgery went well, and he is out of Intensive Care, but he is still in hospital. He won't be back at work for several weeks.

Meanwhile, yesterday, it was announced that another colleague had resigned. Not even bothering to stick around to collect the bonus for 2010. Mr Foreign Talent, who came to sunny little Singapore 4 years ago, with wife and kids in tow, is now packing up and going back to his home country. He hasn't found a new job. He just doesn't want to work here anymore.

Throughout 2010, people have been quitting and most of them have not been replaced. The office has so many empty desks now that it's depressing.

Last night was also my department's Christmas party. All these years, I've always made it a point to go to the Christmas party. This time, I didn't go. I would have liked to. But I had too much work. So instead I was in the office working till slightly past midnight. As I worked, new emails continued to arrive into my inbox - from London and New York. These are the perils of working in a global investment bank - the sun never sets, and the work never ends.

I've been told that I'm well on track for promotion. Barring any unexpected circumstances,m the promotion should happen in February next year. I suppose this is a good thing. I suppose that I should feel happy or excited. On the other hand, I cannot honestly say that I feel happy and excited. Right now, nothing about working here feels happy or exciting to me.

Part of me is angry with myself, because I know that I am responsible for maintaining my own work/life balance. I know that I am at liberty to just walk out at 6 or 7 pm and that no one would say anything about it. What compels me to stay later and later in the office - as the overall manpower shrinks and my own workload grows heavier and heavier - is my own sense of responsibility and professionalism. It's my own warped drive and determination to get my work done, with a certain degree of quality and care.

I was discussing this with another colleague yesterday - he consistently works late too, in fact, later than me. I know that like me, he still tries his best. What did I tell him yesterday? I said that one day, if he notices that I'm regularly leaving home at 6 pm, then this means I don't care anymore and I've given up on this place.

As of today, I haven't given up. Yet.

Oct 24, 2010

Poetry on a Friday

Meet Anna, the latest addition to my daughter's doll collection. If you notice that Anna seems to be wearing something very similar to a CHIJ Saint Nicholas uniform, well, that's because she is.
I received this little doll last Friday afternoon, as a token of appreciation from the school. CHIJ was organising a poetry event, and I was one of the two invited speakers. The other invited speaker was Marc Nair, who had recently published his second book, entitled Chai, which is a collection of his travel poems.

About 250 students attended. Most were from CHIJ Saint Nicks itself, but there were also perhaps 20 students from other schools including Anderson Secondary and Deyi Secondary. I spoke about how to explore one's everyday experiences and circumstances and use them as material for creative writing. In retrospect, I probably could have simplified my presentation and made it a little less high-brow.

I also read five poems from my book Two Baby Hands. One of the poems was The Couple Next Door, a poem about wife abuse, set in the HDB heartlands. Coincidentally, a CHIJ literature teacher told me that another school, Singapore Chinese Girls School (SCGS), had just used this poem to set an exam question in their literature prelim paper.

    The Couple Next Door

    Sometimes at night I hear them fight. I think
    it's over money. Usually he's drunk. He always wins.
    Hits her with something heavy - I can't tell what.
    She cries awhile, then falls silent. A door slams.
    This happens about once or twice a week.

    I listen intently to all their fights. I blast my radio.
    He will hear me. And know that I can hear him too.
    My small intrusions. My vague useless gestures.
    My rock music turning violent, bearing futile witness,
    battering doors at midnight demanding entry.

    What does she do, after he falls asleep?
    Perhaps she lies besides him, counting the reasons
    not to leave. This time not so bad, no need to see doctor.
    Maybe: I cannot go. We are already married.
    Or worse - He won't do it again. I know he won't do it again.

    Sometimes in the mornings, on the way to work, I see her
    in the common corridor. She must know that I know.
    Her eyes avoid mine. I let the walls stand.
    I will be the stranger who sees and hears nothing.
    I believe we both prefer it that way.

Perhaps a little overly dark, for teenaged students. But then again, perhaps not - since SCGS had seen fit to use it as an examination question. Ah well.

Quite a number of secondary schools in Singapore use my poems for their literature lessons from time to time. It all started several years ago, when the Education Ministry asked for my permission to include my poems in their official "teaching resources" file, for literature teachers. Although I don't get paid for this, I am pleased that this allows many of my poems to get a regular readership, year after year, among Singapore's literature students.

Even if my poems are now ... homework. :D

Oct 15, 2010

Babies and Fractures and Einstein on the Violin

In terms of manpower, my department has been jinxed most of the year.

Here are the developments in October alone. One colleague went on paternity leave. Another colleague will go on paternity leave any day now. And another colleague fell down a staircase this week, fracturing her leg, so that means six weeks' MC.

I am happy for the two new dads. And very sorry for the stairs-tripper. I am also sorry for myself - because guess who has to do all the work, while all these other people are away?

Rather ironic, because next week I am to give a talk at CHIJ Saint Nicholas (it's a literature camp, for students from six schools) and one of the things that the organiser asked me to talk about is how I successfully juggle my career with my creative writing.

Since blunt honesty is one of my more endearing traits, I don't think I will paint a pretty picture for them.

It's bloody tough. My progress on Book 2 is slow as snails.

One thing I will say is that everyone should have at least one passion, outside of and away from their career.

Doesn't matter what you do for a living, doesn't matter even if you really, really like your job. That one passion, away from your main job, allows you to recharge, renew, gain another perspective, live and learn and grow in a different way.

If creative writing is your thing, then that's great. If it's something else, that's great too. As long as you find it.

Einstein used to play the violin. Did you know that?

In other literary news, I'll be reviewing a new book - Reaching for Stones, by Chandra Nair - for Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. This is a pretty hefty collection, compiling his poems from 1963 to 2009. No further comments from me at this stage, as I just received the book (free review copy, yay!) yesterday and haven't read it yet.

Also, my publisher just told me that he's in talks with an electronic publisher in the US to license them the rights to reproduce and distribute my poetry book Two Baby Hands in any "electronic format or media, now in existence or hereafter developed".

I wonder whether that means I'll be able to read my own book on my iPhone. I would love to be an iPhone app - wouldn't that be cool?

Oct 10, 2010

The Perils of Not Attending Kindergarten

Okay, this is my situation (I mentioned it briefly in my previous post too).

My wife and I got some hassles from the Education Ministry this year, when we registered our daughter for primary school. The reason was that we hadn't sent our daughter for Kindergarten Two.

The first hassle came, when my wife was actually at the school, on Registration Day. My wife had to fill up a form, and at the space where she was to write the name of the kindergarten that my daughter had attended, my wife wrote "N.A". Then the MOE officer became quite rude, kicked up a fuss and said things like "How do we know that your daughter is ready for primary school, if she hasn't even done her K2?"

My wife pointed out that:

(1) Currently, kindergarten isn't compulsory in Singapore;

(2) There is no basis to reject a child from a primary school, just because she hasn't done her kindergarten;

(3) It isn't that we didn't give our daughter any education. Quite apart from homeschooling, we also sent her for various enrichment classes. It's just that our daughter did not go to kindergarten.

Finally, the MOE officer grudgingly registered my daughter, and we thought that this would be the end of the matter. However, over the next month or so, my wife continued to receive a number of telephone calls from the Ministry, with someone on the other line constantly asking my wife questions about why we hadn't sent our daughter to kindergarten.

The questions had a somewhat accusing tone, as if we were negligent, useless parents ... or parents too broke to send the child to kindergarten.

Finally, feeling quite exasperated, I sent a very long email to the Education Ministry telling them, in effect, to "get lost", and also informing them in great detail why we didn't send our daughter for K2.

Briefly, my daughter is very bright. She found K1 very easy. It bored her. She was way ahead of most of her peers, in her reading & numerical abilities. She's also very much ahead in other areas like social development. 85% of her first year in kindergarten was basically a waste of time for her.

So after she finished K1, we decided not to send her for K2. Instead we sent her to a variety of enrichment courses at different places (English; Chinese; Maths; and Speech & Drama), picking centres that customise their teaching to cater for kids of different ability levels. This has allowed my daughter to learn at a pace quick enough for the lessons to stay interesting for her.

On a weekly basis, my daughter still spends much less time in a classroom setting, than she would be if she were attending K2. But that's not the point. Most of the time in a K2 class would be irrelevant, boring and useless for her. At least now, whatever time she spends studying is spent on materials and lessons at an appropriate level for her.

Anyway, after further discussion with the Education Ministry, their tone changed at some point. And now they are advising my wife and me to send our daughter for testing, to assess whether she is "gifted".

The thing is - I'm not too sure where to send my daughter for testing, and what that process is all about. The Education Ministry did give some tips, but I would still like to know more about this whole matter. Also, if any of you can recommend a suitable psychologist, I would appreciate this. Thanks .....

Sep 25, 2010

But I Am Really Not Dead

In the past few weeks, I've been getting emails of a certain kind, from a few of my readers. The emails sound carefully phrased, as if the reader genuinely wants to ask something, but isn't sure how to ask it without coming across as intrusive or presumptuous, and is therefore picking and choosing his words delicately.

Well, here's the answer to the question. No, I am not dead, nor dying, nor ill, nor has any drastic event unfolded in my personal life. The reason I have not been blogging is just that I have not felt like blogging. In fact, I haven't felt like blogging for a long time. I haven't even experienced any withdrawal symptoms.

Work has certainly been keeping me very busy though. Right now, I am working in an environment which not only refuses to hire additional lawyers to deal with the increasing workload, but also refuses to hire replacement lawyers (to replace those who have left). So basically, a shrinking pool of manpower is taking on an expanding amount of work. Then the remaining employees grow stressed and unhappy and become more prone to quit, thus feeding the vicious cycle.

Oh well, what is new? This is not the first place where I've seen this happen. Very large organisations are like very large dinosaurs - they are strong, powerful but not necessarily very intelligent. In fact, I was only 18 years old when I got to see a very strong, powerful and stupid organisation close-up. No prizes for the right answer.

In other news:
1. My new house is still not quite ready, but I hope to be able to collect the keys sometime next month. (Please recommend a few out-of-the way places where I can buy cheap, good furniture).

2. I am still diligently swimming, currently averaging about 90 laps per week, and finally, I have taught myself to do a decent flip turn (well, decent by my own humble standards).

3. I bought myself a new classical guitar! And I am trying to grow the fingernails on my right hand, to achieve that brighter, clearer quality of sound when plucking the strings.

4. I have a new blog. But it's going to bore the hell out of you, unless you happen to be working in the same kind of job as I do (heck, even if you work in the same kind of job as I do, you might still be bored to death). Anyway, here it is - the Asian Banking Lawyer blog.

5. Next month I'm giving a talk to about 250 Literature students from six schools, about poetry and how to write it and read it. It's an event organised by CHIJ Saint Nicholas.

6. I recently met up with two Singapore filmmakers (a producer and a director) who wanted me to share the juicy details of what DPPs really do for a living. The two filmmakers are making a new film that involves crime - and the main character is a DPP.

7. Ever since I registered my daughter for Primary One (that was back in July), the Education Ministry has become aware that I haven't sent her to Kindergarten Two. Since then, every fortnight or so, someone from the Education Ministry calls up my wife to ask why. I guess that my wife and I, as parents, are now being suspected of being negligent or very poor.

8. I have now got an iPhone 4! For $50 only!! And I pay zero dollars for the monthly subscription!!
What? You were hoping that I'd give you some news about socio-political issues in Singapore? Instead of all this boring, trivial stuff about my own life? Sorry, folks. I haven't really been reading the newspapers myself.

Jul 6, 2010

Mr Wang at the Esplanade

Just received an email from someone working for the Esplanade. In conjunction with National Day, the Esplanade will be holding a national poetry exhibition in August. Selected works by Singaporean poets will be exhibited at different areas throughout the Esplanade building.

The Esplanade wrote to ask for my permission to use a poem of mine - it's entitled Construction. I said okay.

I feel somewhat happy for this poem. The Quarterly Literary Review Singapore previously published this poem and it also appears in my book Two Baby Hands. But apart from that, Construction has not received much airplay or attention.


      They were building a subway
      station right next to our block.
      Most of the time, you could not see
      the workers. They worked deep down below,
      beyond the reach of light -
      like so many termites carving
      ceaseless secrets into the hidden parts
      of a wooden house.

      At noon, they emerged from tunnels,
      blinked into the sudden sun.
      After a quick meal, they lay
      in the shade of void decks
      and swiftly folded themselves into sleep.

      They became so still and quiet
      you might have thought them dead.

      Then a small breeze came, and one of them
      stirred slightly, though he did not wake.
      He would not have known it,
      if you had come close enough to watch him breathe -
      the way his chest slightly rose
      ............ ......... .............. and fell,
      then, almost like a miracle,
      slightly rose
      ............. and fell again.

Jun 25, 2010

New York, New York

I had some free time to explore New York. This was my first time there, so it was quite interesting for me.

I spent most of my time in museums. New York has some really spectacular museums - you could spend an entire day or two in a large one, if you really wanted to see all the exhibits.

Here's a picture I took at the Natural History Museum. The museum has plenty of dinosaur fossils and the picture shows one of the largest ones.

When you're standing right there, close to the fossil, it's pretty remarkable to think that once upon a time, such a massive creature was real and alive, and stomping and stamping its way around planet Earth.

I also visited the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Quite delighted to see many famous paintings which up till then, I had only come across in books, postcards etc.

Here's one of the paintings, The Death of Socrates. A painting that you would appreciate a lot more, if you saw the real thing in full size, and also know the story of how Socrates died.

I also went to the Apple store to buy an iPad for a friend. The iPads are still selling like hot cakes. You can't get them unless you place a prior reservation. And the rule is that the reservation lasts for only 24 hours - you need to pick it up within that time.

I would have bought one for myself, but I'm not sure how an iPad would gel with the data plans in Singapore.

It seems to me that in the long run, an iPad is the way to go, for a book lover like me. I've often had to restrain myself from buying more books, because my house is already full of books and they take up so much space. I throw away and give away books, and yet I still have so many.

With an iPad, I could switch to reading ebooks. Right now though, I'm not too sure what the range of available book titles would be like.

The Reality TV Show

I'm back from New York. I passed my reality TV show - not with flying colours, but I passed, and that's that. So I guess I'm on track for promotion early next year.

One really interesting thing we did was a complex business simulation exercise. The course participants were broken up into six groups. Each group was supposed to be one company.

At the beginning of the game, each company has exactly the same balance sheet, sells the products and owns the same kind of factory equipment. Each group then has to make a set of decisions, on issues like how much to invest in R&D; how much to spend on employee training; how many employees to hire or fire; whether to purchase new industrial equipment or not; and what price to set for the products.

At the end of each round, each team's decisions are entered into a complex computer model. Decisions made by any one team influence the result of all other teams, because the parameters of the game are that all six companies are operasting in the same market.

The model then spits out a detailed set of results, which are publicly announced. These include results such as which team gained the most market share; which team wins an award for "Best Factory"; which team produced goods with the highest quality; at what price each team sold its products etc etc.

Then there is a set of confidential results for each company, detailing its financial performance in that particular round, and also details about its inventory holdings, and its productivity ratios.

The objective of the simulation exercise is to see which team can generate the highest retained earnings, over seven rounds.

The game is quite complex, and takes into account a wide range of factors such as the depreciation of assets over time; the life cycle of the factory machines; fluctuations in market demand; and changes in interest rates. The teams also have options to do things like borrow money from the bank.

Each team can also carry out quality improvement projects; engage external consultants; purchase market forecast reports etc. Each of these decisions come with a price, of course, and each company has a limited amount of money.

The game ran over a period of one and a half days.

Anyway, I was the CEO of my team and we won - yes, we were No. 1, making 67.1 million dollars over seven game periods.

You can think of the game as a very complicated kind of Monopoly.

The other interesting feature of the game is that each team had a psychologist sitting in the room of each team. The psychologist was there to observe each participant in the team.

This part of the exercise was to focus on intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. After the game, each participant gets to discuss his own performance with the psychologist, who will comment on the participant's observed behaviour.

Each participant also receives a grade, on a very broad set of different criteria, such as whether he was collaborative; whether he communicated clearly; whether he was confident etc.

Although I was the CEO of the winning team, I only got an average score as CEO. The psychologist said that my weakness, under time pressure, was in commanding and persuading my team members, whenever I had to articulate an innovative strategy or complex idea.

I was also criticised for being poor in delegating. I personally over-focused on details, when as CEO I should be splitting up the tasks more, and getting my team members to do the analysis.

Innovation and far-sightedness were noted, as my key strengths. In Round 2, when my team members were mostly thinking about Round 2, I was already strategising and planning ahead for Rounds 5 to 7.

Oxford University Press - Gazing at Stars

Got an email from Christine Lindop, a freelance editor with Oxford University Press. She is working on a new book - a collection of short stories specially edited for readers for whom English is a foreign language.

This is part of a series entitled Bookworms World Stories, which showcase the work of writers in English from different parts of the world. Christine's volume is scheduled for publication in 2011 and will consist of stories from Asia.

I'm known for my poetry rather than for my short stories, but Oxford University Press told me that they would like to use one of my poems, entitled Accident, in the preliminary pages of their book. That's because my poem has inspired the title of their book, Gazing at Stars.

I said ok. This is the poem:

And I,
gazing at stars,
stumbled over you,
fell painfully in love,
couldn't get up
for ages.

Okay, the actual poem doesn't really look like that. The lines are arranged and spaced in a certain way, to suggest serendipitious wanderings and a sudden fall. But Blogger doesn't seem to give me any option to replicate the line arrangements - it automatically aligns all the lines for me.

Jun 5, 2010

Little Snippets From Mr Wang's Daily Life

Professor Edwin Thumboo is compiling a new anthology of poetry and wanted to include one of my poems in it. My publisher emailed to ask if I had any objections. A slightly strange question, since my publisher holds the copyright for the next nine years and I have no grounds to object anyway. But anyway, I am perfectly okay and happy with the idea.

The new anthology is aimed at students in Singapore schools, and will contain a selection of poems from writers all over the world. The objective is to expose the students, through poetry, to a variety of different social, cultural and linguistic contexts. Edwin Thumboo wants to use the following poem of mine:

    My Father Takes My Son For A Walk

    Small waves sing and sigh and run to the shore,
    Push and pull at their ankles, as they walk hand-in-hand
    Along the edge of the sea.

    My father is white-haired now, his shoulders stoop.
    With each step he is approaching the end of his life
    Altthough in this moment he does not think of it.

    My son is a young child. Shells and boats excite him.
    In the years ahead, the old man beside him will
    Become for him an uncertain memory.

    I have my own journey. I am watching them,
    As if from a very great distance, as if I were a wave
    Travelling out into the endless sea.

May 26, 2010

"But I Didn't Tell A Lie ... I Just Didn't Tell The Whole Truth" - The SAF

In March, an SAF training accident occurred. A few days ago, the Straits Times reported it:
    ST May 25, 2010
    SAF commando shot by Thai villager
    By Jermyn Chow & Lester Kok

    A COMMANDO on a night training exercise in Thailand was accidentally shot by a local villager out hunting.

    First-Sergeant Woo Teng Hai, a regular from the 1st Commando Battalion, suffered head injuries in the incident on March 13.

    The 25-year-old serviceman was hit by pellets from a shotgun, the Defence Ministry told The Straits Times yesterday. He is now on medical leave.

    Mindef spokesman Darius Lim said 1st Sgt Woo was taking part in a 'routine training exercise' in a 'designated training area' in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok.

But the story was not complete. It was missing a very material piece of information.

Another SAF servicement had been shot. He is a 19-year-old NSF. More than two months after the accident, the shotgun pellets are still lodged in his cheekbones and shoulder.

How did these facts now come to light? Did Mindef tell the public about it? Nope. Mindef kept very quiet about it. Instead it was an unnamed relative of the NSF who called the Straits Times, to report it.
    ST May 26, 2010
    Another SAF soldier shot by Thai farmer too
    By Jermyn Chow & Lester Kok

    NOT one but two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers were hurt while out on a night military exercise in Thailand in March.

    A local farmer out hunting accidentally shot Private J. Pritheery Raj, a full-time national serviceman (NSF). Two shotgun pellets are still lodged in his cheekbones and his right shoulder.

    The 19-year-old is now on medical leave.

    News of this second shooting surfaced after a relative of Pte Raj called The Straits Times on reading its report that a villager had fired his shotgun at First Sergeant Woo Teng Hai. The regular commando is said to have been blinded in his right eye.

    The Defence Ministry, which had confirmed the accidental shooting of 1st Sgt Woo on Monday, admitted yesterday that another soldier had also been hurt in the same incident.
It was a cover-up. Exposed by the NSF's relative.

This is a simple example of why Singaporeans do not trust the SAF. All too often, the SAF just does not behave with integrity.

My only hope is that the SAF will treat both servicemen - the regular and the NSF - fairly, and give them proper compensation.

And not treat them in the the way they had treated ex-NSF serviceman Lawrence Leow.

May 15, 2010

Life Without A Blog

A few readers have asked why I have been blogging less and less frequently. One colleague expressed his "disappointment". Another reader asked if everything was okay in my life.

Well, everything is okay. Except that I've been too busy with various things (mostly work and family), to be blogging a lot. That's one answer, and it is true. However, another answer (equally true) is that I just don't feel that interested in blogging anymore. In fact I have been feeling distinterested for some time.

It seems a waste to just abandon the blog, especially when I've kept it going for quite a few years. On the other hand, to keep it going just for the sake of keeping it going also seems to be an illogical decision.

Well, everything is impermanent. Blogs are no exception. Most of the Singapore bloggers whom I once considered as my "contemporaries" have largely vanished from the scene as well. That includes Xeno Boy; Molly Meek; Singapore Angle and Singabloodypore. I wonder how many people even remember those blogs/bloggers now.

I've noticed that the less I blog, the less I bother to keep up with the news. Once upon a time, reading the online Straits Times was pretty much a daily habit for me. Now, many days might pass, before I bother to read it once. I still read Today quite frequently, but mostly because I often get handed a free copy while on the way to work.

Due to my regular inattention to the news, I feel somewhat out of touch with this country now. Nevertheless my life goes on smoothly. Sounds a little strange, but it seems eminently possible to get by just fine in one's own life, without knowing too much about the broader national developments. I mean developments in areas like politics, government, education, healthcare, the economy etc.

Maybe the nature of the world now is that people can just easily zero in on the specific information they need, when they need it. For example, you don't need to be reading the newspapers regularly, to know what's happening in the property market. Instead, right at the time when you want to know, you can just google to find out what you want to know. And you could get much more relevant, detailed information from a few dedicated property websites, than from the mainstream media.

I've considered blogging about topics other than current affairs. To some extent, I've already done it. In many of my posts this year, I have often mixed news articles with personal anecdotes drawn from my own everyday experiences. Then again, perhaps the most important question is whether I'm wasting my time blogging here. And whether I should be doing something else.

It's been almost a year since my book Two Baby Hands was published. Part of me feels that it's high time I got started on a second book (I'm considering short stories - I have plenty of ideas floating around in my head). But writing a book takes a lot of time, and I'm not a full-time writer. To succeed, I need to decide exactly what I want to do or not, and after that, I just have to avoid spending any time on things that I don't want to do.

So the question for myself is - do I want to blog, or not? Hmmm.

May 7, 2010

Marina Bay Sands - An Embarrassing Show

Well, this is one hotel that I will be avoiding, at least for the next one or two years. Hope they get their act together, by then.
    ST May 6, 2010
    Uproar over Marina Bay Sands conference woes
    By Ng Kai Ling & Lim Wei Chean

    ORGANISERS of the first conference held at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) are looking into taking action against the integrated resort (IR) for the problems which plagued the event from the word go.

    They say MBS failed to deliver the 'unmatched guest experience' it promised when it first signed the deal early last year.

    Mr Yap Wai Ming, chairman of this year's organising committee for the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) conference, said they will take stock of all the things that went wrong before meeting MBS to discuss the issue. He did not give a date for the meeting.

    The IPBA conference, a prestigious meeting of lawyers now into its 20th year, was the first event hosted at the IR, which threw open its doors on April 27 after months of delay. More than 1,000 lawyers and judges from all over the world, including the United States, Japan and Chile, attended the meet, which started on Sunday and ended yesterday.

    By the time it was over, delegates had compiled a long list of complaints about MBS, ranging from minor irritations to major flaws:

    - At the five-star Marina Bay Sands Hotel, some delegates spent the first night without air conditioning.

    - Some guests had to make calls using their mobile phones because the room phones were not working.

    - Some rooms had no hot water or working toilet flushes.

    - Facilities like the gymnasium, spa and swimming pool were not ready for use.

    But the problems did not end at the hotel rooms.

    At the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, sound quality in the conference rooms was poor, and meetings were interrupted by construction noise or worse.

    Mr Yap said an IPBA committee meeting had to be reconvened along a corridor because of loud piped music playing in the meeting room. He said MBS told them it was unable to turn the music off as the sound engineer was not around.

    To add insult to injury, the power went out for more than half an hour in the conference room on Tuesday during the address by the Chief Justice of the Australian state of New South Wales.

    The inadequacies so irked the delegates that one of them, lawyer Axel Reeg from Germany, raised a motion during the annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday that the association take a 'fair and tough stance' against MBS for not delivering what it promised.

    'The conference has been world class. The venue was presented to us as going to be world class. Sadly, it is not yet world class...I think we should rename Marina Bay Sands to Construction Bay,' the 51-year-old told the assembled lawyers at the AGM.

    Mr Yap said MBS should have been more honest about the progress of the IR right from the start, when it knew that its planned opening last December would have to be pushed back because of unforeseen construction setbacks and labour shortages.
    One of my lawyer friends, who was staying over at the hotel for the conference, told me that the hotel even messed up the check-in/check-out times for their guests.

    Five hours before my friend was due to check out, the hotel staff thought that she and her husband had already checked out. The hotel staff assigned the room to a new guest and insisted on sending his luggage to my friend's room.

    My friend had to tell them exasperatedly, "Wait, WAIT. You are making a mistake. This is MY room. You can't give a stranger a key to enter into MY room. This is a security breach!!"

    She also telephoned several times to ask for mineral water, but it never came. Oh, and she had to use her own handphone to call. The telephone in her hotel room was not working.

    There were other horror stories - about hotel guests getting stuck in lifts etc. In one case, the lift worked, but only partially - the door opened only halfway, so the hotel guests had to squeeze their way out.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    A terrible start, for the highly-billed IR. What happened to the quality control?

    Apr 14, 2010

    Singlish, English and the Way We Speak and Write

    It started with my eight-year-old son using a couple of cuss words. He was having an argument with my daughter, and he used a few cuss words on her. My eyes opened wide and I asked him if he even knew what those words meant. He didn't. He had used the words, just because he had heard some other boys in school use them.

    I sternly told him not to use that kind of language again. Still I wasn't too surprised that this had happened. He does attend an all-boys' school, after all. As a parent, I just have to learn to deal with it. Anyway, one day my son will be in the army and then he will inevitably acquire an even more colourful vocabulary.

    But until then, I do not want him to develop any habit of using cuss words.

    So I started to pay more attention generally to the way my son talks. When he realised that I was doing that, he stopped using his cuss words. However I couldn't help but notice that he now also speaks a lot of Singlish. This isn't exclusively the schools' fault - Mrs Wang and I also speak a lot of Singlish at home.

    And then I also noticed that my daughter also speaks quite a lot of Singlish.

    The difference between Mrs Wang and I, on one hand, and our two children, on the other hand, is that when Mrs Wang and I need to, we can easily switch out of the Singlish mode, and speak proper English. It's not so easy for the children to do it. So now, I'm putting some effort into training them to speak proper English again.

    I've made it into a sort of a game at home. If anyone of us catches another family member speaking Singlish, we can go beeeeeep and the person has to correct himself or herself, and rephrase what he or she was saying, in proper English. So far, so good. The kids are seeing this as a fun thing.

    I think that Singlish has a certain charm. It's part of our culture. It helps Singaporeans to relate to each other. Singlish has a number of highly expressive phrases, capable of conveying a wider range of emotions (in contrast, notice how flat and dull many Brits sound, when they speak proper English in the typically understated manner of the Brits). I wouldn't mind my children speaking Singlish, if they are also able to switch to proper English when they need to. But I think that first, they had better master proper English.

    The odd thing is that both children write very well (for their respective ages). The boy is able to write a long essay, not only without any Singlish, but with almost no grammatical errors at all. In fact he writes with a remarkable resemblance to Enid Blyton.

    This seems to indicate that different parts of the human brain process language in its written form, and language in its spoken form. The children have learned to write, based on what they read. But they have learned to speak, based on what they hear. That's why they write excellent proper English, but speak Singlish.

    It's interesting, the way children learn language.

    Apr 7, 2010

    The Fine Quality of our Dear Deputy Prime Minister

    I wonder whether Teo Chee Hean got up in the morning, read the newspaper article below and then felt a little stupid about himself. Or perhaps his skin has become too thick for that.

      ST Apr 6, 2010
      Have more faith in the Singapore system

      SINGAPOREANS should be more confident in their country and not be swayed by outsiders who have no stake in how society here works, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said.

      Responding to a student who asked if Singapore would adopt a new political attitude or stick to its Asian values stance, he said: 'We need to be more self-confident.'

      He related how when he became education minister in 1997, he was surprised to find that teachers lacked confidence in themselves, even though they were doing a great job.

      'Everybody was telling them that they were doing the wrong things,' he said. 'I said: How can this be? People are coming to learn from us, see how we teach, why we are successful. Yet our teachers don't have self-confidence.'

      It led to Mr Teo resolving to set up a unit at the National Institute of Education for teachers to study why Singapore's education system works and how it can be improved further.

    Notice that the student wasn't asking about self-confidence. He wasn't asking about "outsiders". He wasn't asking about what Singaporean teachers were doing wrong or right. He wasn't asking Teo to talk about his past projects in 1997 at NIE.

    The student was asking Teo whether Singapore would adopt a new political attitude or stick to its Asian values.

    Teo's response was, of course, totally irrelevant. Teo might as well have said: "Oh, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Birds have wings and dogs can pee. I hereby refuse to answer your question."

    That response would, at least, have been honest. And confident. Although still stupid.

    Mar 14, 2010

    The Strange History of Productivity in Singapore

    So the latest buzzword in Singapore is productivity. The ministers are touting it as the next great new idea that will ensure Singapore's survival and success in the future.

    This is funny. Because productivity is not a new idea in Singapore. In fact, it is rather old. Back in the 1970s and 80s, productivity was one of our favourite national campaigns (along with the "Speak Mandarin" campaign and the infamous "Stop At Two" family-planning campaign).

    Productivity even had its own mascot (known as Teamy the Bee). And it also had its official song that would be aired on radio and TV. The lyrics went something like this:

    "Good, better, best,
    never let it rest,
    If it's good, make it better
    If it's better, make it best!"

    I still remember it, because I was in primary school then, and it was a simple, catchy tune (the kind that would appeal to young children). By today's standards, the words are very corny. But then the world was a simpler, more innocent sort of place back then.

    Anyway, productivity was such a big thing in the 1970s and 80s that it even had its own statutory board. Yes, along with key public institutions such as the HDB, URA, PUB and CPF, we also had .... the NPB! The National Productivity Board.

    The purpose of the NPB was to promote practices in Singapore that would lead to increased productivity. A big part of the strategy involved studying the Japanese workforce, who were known for their high standards and productivity.

    When did the productivity drive start to dwindle and fade away?

    I can't pinpoint an exact date. We know however, that the NPB died in 1996. Parliament repealed the National Productivity Board Act in April that year. From then onwards, the NPB officially ceased to exist.

    Around the same time, whether by coincidence or not, Singapore launched its new key strategy for the nation. It was all about getting skilled manpower from overseas to relocate to Singapore. In that same year, the phrase "foreign talent" entered the national vocabulary for the first time.

    Well, you know the story from there. As the years passed, "foreign talent" became a looser and looser term.

    "Foreign talent" used to mean highly-skilled professionals from overseas, who possessed expertise and knowledge that was scarce in Singapore - people such as cardiac surgeons and university professors.

    Then over time, the term "foreign talent" ballooned and expanded. It began to include nurses; engineers; IT system analysts; chefs; soccer players; bus drivers; bankers; construction foremen; salesgirls; junior executives; middle managers; receptionists; photographers, school teachers. Basically every kind of Tom, Dick and Harry. The floodgates were thrown wide open.

    In 2006, PM Lee, when making his National Day rally speech, tacitly abandoned the word "talent". He didn't say "foreign talent" anymore; he merely said "foreigners", when referring to the foreigners working and living in Singapore.

    It was both honest, and dishonest, of him. Honest, because he was admitting, in his own way, that not all our foreigners were "talented". Many were decidedly mediocre. This was the inevitable result of our strategy of importing as many foreign Toms, Dicks and Harries as we possibly could.

    It was dishonest of PM Lee, because he abandoned the word "talent", without expressly pointing out that he was doing so, and without saying why. It was a verbal sleight of hand. Most people didn't spot it. The policy had morphed, from a small-scale initiative to recruit highly-skilled foreigners, to a huge initiative to recruit any foreigner who would put his hand up. PM Lee wanted to admit, and yet not admit, that the policy had changed.

    Anyway, the problem with taking too many low-skilled foreigners is that the national productivity goes plummeting straight down. That has happened in Singapore, it has been discussed a lot recently, so I won't go further into it.

    Here's to Teamy, our dear old friend. When all else fails, going back to the basics may just work.

    Mar 11, 2010

    Another Odd Fish in the Small Pond of Mr Wang's Life

    In the near future, I'll be flying off to Europe to attend a course. It is a global course, with participants coming from many countries all around the world.

    The course is residential, one week long, and intensive. Every day, it starts early in the morning (like 8:00 am sharp) and ends quite late at night (like 9:30 pm). There are no breaks except for lunch and dinner. When I get back to my hotel room each night, I'll also have to prepare for the next day's sessions. Which means that I probably won't get much sleep.

    The course will be extensively graded and scored. If I pass, then I qualify for Part 2 of the course. This will be another intensive one-week event, to be held later in the year, in another part of the world. If I fail (either Part 1 or Part 2), then I am automatically disqualified from being considered for promotion in 2011. That's a strict rule.

    You might be thinking that since I am a lawyer, the course probably has to do with the law, and that I will be attending lectures and sitting for exams.

    However, it's not that kind of course at all. The course is mostly about personal effectiveness, and soft skills. And it is extremely hands-on. Based on what I know about it so far, a big part of the course will be run like a .... reality TV show.

    What do I mean? Well, the course will constantly place me in a variety of simulated scenarios. For example, I might be required to act as the leader of a group of people facing an emergency. Or I might have to act as a CEO chairing a meeting on business strategy. I would then be closely observed, to see how I handle the situation.

    And I will be assessed on attributes such as my leadership qualities; my presentation skills; my ability to convince and influence other people; and how I make decisions. Throughout the week, there will be judges to give me criticism and feedback on my performance.

    It's going to be a little bit like Survivor (but less rigorous), or The Apprentice (but less bitchy) or the American Idol (but less glamorous).

    (I understand that in one particular year, the participants even had to plan a rescue mission. There was a real cliff, with rappelling equipment, and a real little girl waiting at the bottom of the cliff. The idea was that you and/or your team members had to rappell down the cliff, to rescue the girl).

    I've heard accounts about a few previous participants who felt so stressed that they voluntarily dropped out of the course, after Day One or Day Two. They chose to drop out, even though they knew that their promotion prospects would be dashed. So evidently the course can be challenging.

    I do look forward to it. It will be an unusual and memorable experience, at the very least. Wish me luck!

    Mar 10, 2010

    The Sorry Story of Jack Neo

    Filmmaker Jack Neo is all over the news now. You probably noticed. It's like a local version of Tiger Woods' sex scandal, on a much reduced scale of course.

    Like a cliched plot in a bad movie, these sorts of stories seem to follow a predictable pattern. Tiger went on to to make a profuse public apology (which failed to stop his commercial sponsors from continuing to dump him). No doubt, Jack will do the same in the near future (in fact, he has already promised the media that he will soon "tell it all").

    Well, here's the first thing about apologies. Is the person sorry about what he did, or is he just sorry that he got caught? Mmmm, go meditate on the difference.

    Here's the second thing. Why is that Other Woman not apologising? How come when a married man has an affair, the man needs to apologise, but the Other Woman gets to act like a victim, all moral-uppity, as if she didn't know he already had a wife?

    And the third thing is - why even apologise to the public? If Jack was an accountant or a human resource officer or a florist, and he had all these affairs with miscellaneous women, the public wouldn't give a hoot. The only reason why the public is now interested is that Jack is a celebrity, he's a star, he's Singapore's best-known filmmaker. We all feel like we know him, just because we've watched him on TV since his Liang Po Po days, and we've enjoyed his movies such as Money No Enough and I Not Stupid.

    But does that really mean that Jack owes the public an apology? Are filmmakers supposed to be the paragon of virtues? Who appointed them to be the public flag-bearers of moral standards? Are celebrities supposed to be role models for all the husbands and fathers? Errrr, not as far as I'm aware.

    As a member of the public, I do not feel that Jack owes me an apology. I'm not saying that I think that Jack is wrong or right. I am saying that it's basically none of my business.

    And I do not think that it's the public's business anyway. If any apologies are to be made, they should be made behind closed doors, and they should be privately exchanged between Jack, his family members and his Other Women.

    The rest of you kaypohs, move along, move along. Stop blocking the traffic.

    Feb 24, 2010

    Local & Foreigner - Little Ironies in Singapore

    My brother-in-law (BIL, for short) is an engineer. He used to work in the manufacturing industry, in a well-known MNC in Singapore.

    I say "used to", because BIL no longer does. You know what has happened to the manufacturing industry in Singapore, over the years. The MNC in question is still a famous global brand. But it has drastically reduced its manufacturing activities in Singapore, and moved those activities to cheaper offshore locations.

    For a year or two, BIL was posted to Thailand to help the MNC set up its new factory there. Meanwhile, the operations in Singapore continued to get downsized. Eventually, when the new factory in Thailand was up and running, BIL lost his job too.

    He tried to find another job in Singapore. But he could not. Those were dark days for the manufacturing industry here. Eventually, BIL did get an offer. The job was to help set up a new factory in China. So off he went. He didn't really want to go, but it seemed like the best option at that time.

    While BIL was working in China, he met a young Chinese woman (quite a bit younger than himself). They fell in love. They got married. The woman was keen to come to Singapore - she felt that she would have better job prospects here - so the plan was that they would make Singapore their home.

    In fact, they did come back to get married here, and since then Sister-in-Law (SIL) has been staying with Mother-in-Law. However, BIL was, and still is, unable to find a job in Singapore. It seems that nowadays, there is no demand whatsoever in Singapore, for his type of work experience and skills.

    So he's still working in China, setting up new factories there. He flies back to Singapore whenever he can, to visit. Now, years have passed, and they have a two-year-old daughter (here, in Singapore).

    In the meantime, SIL had been upgrading herself, by learning English, and by taking courses to be a beautician. SIL now works in a beauty parlour in the Raffles Place area. She also has the ambition to set up her own beauty parlour business in Singapore.

    And yes, SIL flies to China a couple of times a year, to visit her husband.

    A series of small ironies here - do you see them?

    1. The China wife ended up in Singapore; the Singapore husband ended up in China.

    2. The Singapore man could get a good job only in China; and the China lady could get a good job only in Singapore.

    2. The China lady came to Singapore to be with her Singapore husband, only to find that the Singapore husband is still stuck in China.

    I offer no conclusions, no final remarks. Just telling a true story ....

    Feb 2, 2010

    The Problem with Singaporeans

    I was chatting with an old friend. She's a headhunter specialising in lawyers. 10 years ago, which was probably around the time I first got to know her, her work was mostly about recruiting Singaporean lawyers for local law firms and corporations.

    That work has changed with the times. Like many other things in Singapore, her work has become much more globalised. Yes, she continues to be based in Singapore. Yes, most of her clients are still banks, companies and firms located in Singapore. But her candidates have changed.

    The Singaporean lawyers are still around, of course. But as a proportion of her candidate pool, they have dwindled. As a headhunter, she is now also placing lawyers from Australia, the UK and India. In fact, she spoke about having to fly to India, to directly interview and recruit fresh law graduates from a top Indian university.

    She made one interesting observation. She says that Singaporeans consistently lose out to the Australians, the Brits and the Indians in one important respect. Singaporeans are not as articulate. They don't speak so well. They are more reserved.

    So at job interviews, Singaporeans consistently appear to be less capable than they really are. Consequently, the Aussies, the Brits and the Indians often get the job instead. ("In particular, the Indian lawyers," my friend remarked, "are excellent talkers").

    My headhunter friend is a little saddened by this. She knows that many of these Singaporean candidates are at least as capable and competent as the foreigners. It's just that culturally, the typical Singaporean candidate does not feel comfortable aggressively tooting his own horn and singing his own praises at a job interview. This misplaced Asian sense of modesty/humility ends up killing his own chances.

    Sad to say, you can extrapolate this into a wider context, and see quite clearly how Singaporeans have screwed themselves. The consistent failure of Singaporeans to speak up boldly for themselves has led to adverse consequences, politically, socially and economically.

    I have more to say, but I gotta run. Talk more later, in the comment section.

    More on the HDB Market

    Well, now that the news is public, I guess I can talk about it ....
      ST Jan 29, 2010
      HDB reviews rules to stamp out possible speculation
      By Jessica Cheam

      THE Housing Board is embarking on a review of its rules to ensure that property speculators are not abusing the system - and driving up flat prices.

      It will check if any rules are 'encouraging or allowing' people to speculate on HDB flats, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

      At the same time, it will step up efforts to make sure people do not get away with abusing the system.
    No, Mah Bow Tan is not my uncle. However, back in December, I already knew that the HDB would be reviewing its rules to stamp out possible speculation.

    How did I know? Back then I was looking for a place to rent. I viewed many homes. And one property agent told me, in a most assured tone, that the HDB was in the process of reviewing its rules and would announce this publicly, in February 2010.

    How did she know? She said that she had heard it from her "source", a friend working in the HDB, who constantly gave her the "inside news". She further exclaimed that I was fortunate to have just sold my own HDB flat (otherwise, by February 2010, its market value would very likely have been dampened by the HDB public announcement).

    So much for official secrets.
      Some disgruntled homebuyers, priced out of a rising market, worry that some HDB buyers are exploiting the rules to try to make a fast profit.

      They claim these speculators snap up flats on the resale market and then either rent them out illegally or sell them legally after the stipulated one-year period.

      Under HDB rules, citizens and permanent residents who buy resale flats without housing grants or HDB loans must live in the flats for at least one year before selling, or at least three years before renting out the entire flat.

      Speaking on the sidelines of a housing conference hosted by the HDB on Wednesday, Mr Mah said these claims were worth checking and he wanted to ensure that such factors were not inflating the market artificially.
    The HDB initiative does not impress me. In my opinion, it is at least partially politically motivated.

    Mah wants to do something (more importantly, to be seen as doing something). After all, public unhappiness with high HDB prices is already quite palpable. However, the rise in HDB prices has, in my opinion, very little to do with speculation (unless one applies a very liberal definition to the word "speculation"). That's because the existing HDB rules, such as these, already effectively eliminate most of the speculative activity:
      1. Resale flats bought on the open market without a CPF housing grant and with a private bank loan can be sold only one year after the date of resale.

      2. Owners of HDB flats are allowed to sublet the whole flat only after living in it for three years, (for those who bought it on the open market without a CPF grant), or after five years (for those who bought it directly from the HDB or on the open market with a CPF housing grant).

      3. Those who illegally sublet entire flats may have their flat compulsorily acquired or pay a penalty.
    HDB flats are rising, simply because of the usual law of supply and demand. For years, this country encouraged a massive inflow of foreigners (and handed out citizenship and PR status generously), but the housing authority didn't factor this into their plans and projections at all. Now the demand for accommodation has outstripped the supply. Simple as that.

    Jan 25, 2010

    The House of Wang And Other Little Stories

    Hi there, miss me? I haven't posted for a week, because we've been busy moving house. Right now, we still have boxes lying around the place, but order has largely been restored and we are settling in nicely.

    As regular followers of my blog would know, I bought a cluster house in March 2009 (when the private property market was at a bottom). I also sold my HDB flat in November 2009 (when the HDB market was at a high - I think).

    And right now, while the cluster house is still under construction, we've rented a condo apartment (when the rental market is still weak).

    So far, so good - it would appear that I am reading the stars correctly. Here's a little more validation, for my astrological interpretations:
    ST Jan 23, 2010
    Cash premiums for HDB flats hit a high
    Q4 median COVs at $24,000, but have since dropped this month
    By Jessica Cheam

    BUYERS desperate to get into the public housing market are shelling out twice as much in cash top-ups for HDB resale flats as they did just a few months back.

    These cash premiums are known as the Cash-over-Valuation (COV), and refer to the amount a buyer has to pay above a flat's valuation set by a bank.

    High demand and tight supply drove the median COV paid to $24,000 in the fourth quarter of last year, according to fresh data from the Housing Board (HDB) yesterday.

    That is double the $12,000 median in the previous three months and breaks the COV record of $22,000 achieved in the fourth quarter of 2007.

    The buying frenzy seems to have abated a little since the new year. The HDB said yesterday that median COV has come down to $22,000 for the first half of this month.

    So the COV was at a high in Q4 2009 (when I sold my HDB flat) and seems to be falling now (in January 2010).

    Anyway, after moving into our current place, we realise that we like it a lot. It is quiet and peaceful, and the apartment has a nice view and is quite breezy.

    The condo also has the kind of swimming pool that I really like. Not just big, but deep (and those of you who like swimming will know that a deep pool is much more fun than a shallow one).

    Also the MRT is a short walk away. As the station is on the Circle Line, we think that the the apartment has the potential to appreciate in value, over the next one, two or three years.

    That's because currently, only five stations on the Circle Line are operating. When the Circle Line is completely up and running, it will be the longest MRT line in Singapore, covering 31 stations. Home buyers would then be more willing to pay a higher premium, for the convenience of living near a Circle Line station.

    So the beginnings of a new game plan has started to arise in my mind. It's all tentative. But who knows, we might end up BUYING the condo from the landlord, and staying here; and selling our cluster house for a good profit (high-end properties are expected to appreciate in 2010).

    It seems possible that the landlord will agree to eventually sell, if we really discussed the matter with him. In fact, Mrs Wang has already tentatively sounded out the landlord and his wife and they are open to the idea.

    Their main motivation for selling would be to make a clean break with Singapore and just get out for good. They already own a home in Australia and that's where the landlord's wife is staying, most of the year.

    The landlord himself is still working in Singapore (and flies frequently between Australia and Singapore) but he is nearing retirement. When he retires, the plan is for the entire family to leave Singapore and live in Australia.

    At my end, I'm starting to suspect that the corner cluster house might not be the most appropriate home for my family. The house is very big, with four floors, one basement and a large PES. It's the kind of place where I might have to shout "Where are you?!" a lot, before I can find my own kids, or wife, or maid.

    Staying in a condo apartment might be a better idea for us.

    Jan 13, 2010

    The Mystery of the Missing Pig

    First we had that unnecessary hoo-haa in Malaysia, about the word Allah, and it escalated into something really nasty, with churches getting burned and all that.

    Now we have another example of foolishness - alas, this time it is happening in Singapore, not in Malaysia. This one won't escalate into a mess, but it is an example of foolishness nonetheless.
      ST Forum, Jan 13, 2010
      Hard to believe McDonald's promotion was not about the zodiac

      I WAS born in the year of the Pig. So, when I first saw the toy collectibles in a McDonald's outlet, I stared at the display for a long while to confirm that I was not mistaken: that McDonald's had omitted my Chinese zodiac sign.

      The pig was not one of the 12 collectible designs representing the dozen animals of the Chinese zodiac. Instead McDonald's replaced it with Cupid.

      I wrote to McDonald's last week to ask why and to say why it was wrong:

      - Cupid is not a Chinese zodiac sign;

      - While McDonald's is a halal restaurant, and the reason for replacing the pig is to be sensitive towards the Muslim customers, the exclusion seems to be disrespectful and insensitive to Chinese patrons.

      - By replacing the pig, McDonald's is suggesting that the Muslim community is not tolerant enough to accept it as part of the Chinese zodiac.

      McDonald's said that as Valentine's Day coincided on the first day of the Chinese New Year, it decided on Cupid.

      It also stated that its Doraemon lucky charms promotion was never intended as a zodiac collection.

      If the 12 designs were not meant to mimic the 12 zodiac signs, why are customers upset?

      Tan Chin Kwang
    For goodness sakes, Chin Kwang. It's a McDonald's souvenir. It's a free gift. It's just a little pig toy, for kids!

    Okay, there is no pig. You can't get a pig. So go get yourself the tiger, the horse, the bull, the monkey.

    What? You're born in the Year of the Pig? And you must have a pig toy? Okay, then go somewhere else and buy it. Die die MUST get a pig toy from McDonald's meh?!!

    There are things in life which are worth making a fuss over. And there are things in life which are not. Free gifts from fast food restaurants, in my opinion, belong to the latter category.

    Jan 12, 2010

    An Alternative Model for Preschoolers

        ST Jan 11, 2010
        Pre-school is affordable

        A VARIETY of schemes and grants has helped make pre-school education affordable for low and mid-income families, said Minister of Education Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Monday.

        These have ensured that over 97 per cent of children from each cohort do attend pre-school before they enter Primary One, even though pre-school has not been nationalised.

        Mr Ng was addressing the concerns of MPs in Parliament that pre-school education would be out of reach for the low-income unless the system is nationalised.

        Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan expressed the worry that children who do not go through pre-school education will start primary school at a disadvantage. 'It is very important for us to make sure that access is universal,' he said.

    Most people assume that kids ought to go to kindergarten. And that if the kids don't go, it's because the parents are too poor, or the family is dysfunctional.

    Well, my daughter finished Kindergarten One last year. And this year we are not sending her to Kindergarten Two. (Oh, we are also neither poor nor dysfunctional).

    What happened? Well, we realised that she was under-challenged and quite bored in Kindergarten One. It was basically a waste of her time.

    She's somewhat more advanced than most kids her age. For example, she doesn't have any problems reading her big brother's Primary 2 textbooks.

    Instead of sending her to a normal kindergarten, we are now sending her for a couple of enrichment courses. Maths; Chinese; English; Speech & Drama .... and she has swimming lessons too.

    Does it sound like a lot? It's not. The total time she spends in class is less than half of what she would spend, if she were attending kindergarten every day. After all, most of these enrichment courses are only once a week.

    These courses are more challenging than the typical K2 syllabus. You'll have to pick & choose your enrichment courses and schools, of course.

    The rest of the time - the girl is at home. I supply plenty of books, toys and art materials, to keep her occupied.

    I suppose it could get lonely, if she were an only child. But she's not. Apart from the fact that she has a big brother to play with, my wife does also regularly take her to play with other kids.

    I don't know any other parents who have done what we've done with our daughter (I mean - about taking her out of kindergarten). Still I must say that so far, it seems to work quite well.

    Jan 10, 2010

    How Not To Choose Your Aquarium Fish

    Yesterday I said goodbye to my two plecos. Fished them out of my tank, put them in a pail and released them into a big pond at a nearby condo development.

    When I first bought the plecos, they were 3 cm each, or roughly half the length of my little finger. That was eight years ago. Now they are about 25 cm, about as long as my forearm.

    I let them go, because my tank has become too small for them. I really should have done this a year or two ago. However, I've been both lazy, and a little sad to say goodbye to these guys.

    Eight years ago, I had bought the plecos, because of their tank-cleaning ability (plecos will suck and eat algae right off your aquarium glass walls). They are also easy to keep in a community tank, as they are completely docile and non-aggressive towards other fish. What I didn't expect was that my plecos would live so long and grow so big.

    With hindsight, my purchase of the two plecos was a classic aquarist's mistake. The fish that you see on sale at aquarium shops are usually babies and juveniles. What you need to know is the maximum adult size of that particular species. If your tank is too small for a full-grown adult specimen to be swimming around freely in it (and if you don't want the hassle of upgrading to a larger tank), then you shouldn't buy that species of fish at all.

    In the wild, plecos can reach a size that you'd never see in a home aquarium. See this monstrously large specimen:

    Another classic victim of the size problem is the arowana. They are highly popular among Chinese businessmen, because they are believed to bring good luck and prosperity. On the other hand, most home aquariums are too small for an adult arowana to feel comfortable in it.

    Also, arowanas are very powerful jumpers. In the wild, they have been reported to jump right out of the water to catch insects and small birds on overhanging branches.

    In the home context, this means that one morning you might wake up to find that your arowana has jumped right out of its tank and is lying dead on your floor.

    To raise arowana properly, you would need either a custom-made and very large fish tank, or a pond. All but the most serious aquarists should stay away from trying this species.

    It's only when you see an arowana in a large open water area that you will truly appreciate what a beautiful fish it is. It moves with speed, power and grace - qualities which you won't really see if the arowana is stuck in a little tank.

    And here's a fascinating video, showing two arowanas breeding. Stick around to the end, to see what the male does with the eggs! It isn't eating the eggs, it's keeping them in his mouth, to protect them. Really worth watching, if you're a fish enthusiast.

    Jan 9, 2010

    Another Review of Two Baby Hands

    NP Tribune is Ngee Ann Polytechnic's student newspaper. Apparently it's been in production for the past 18 years. A friend just sent me a page from the latest issue, because it contains a review of my poetry book Two Baby Hands.

    This reviewer, Grace Yeoh, appears to have enjoyed my poems a lot. Her only complaint is that the book is too short. She finished reading the 99-page volume "all too soon" and that caused her some disappointment.

    Elsewhere in the article, Grace is lavish with her positive adjectives, describing my book as "such a good find", and my poems as "enthralling".

    The review ends on a very "thumbs up" note:
      "Despite its stark and simple language, Two Baby Hands has the amazing ability to affect you deeply, and leave you in a reflective state of mind.


      That is the lingering feeling that Two Baby Hands leaves one with, long after the last page is turned."
    Well, that's another small piece of personal memorabilia, to add to my collection. Thank you, Dr David Fedo, for sending the article to me.

    Jan 5, 2010

    Singaporeans, Foreigners, Babies and the Property Market

    Some news about the property market:
        ST Jan 5, 2010
        Resale HDB flat prices hit new high
        Year's total increase amounts to 8%; private home prices too are up
        By Jessica Cheam

        HOUSING Board (HDB) resale flat prices continue to climb ever higher, with prices in the fourth quarter of last year setting a new record.

        Flash estimates released by the HDB yesterday show prices rose by 3.8 per cent in the fourth quarter, bringing last year's total price rise to about 8 per cent - a surprise outcome for many property experts who had predicted price falls at the start of last year.

        The Resale Price Index (RPI) hit 150.7 in the fourth quarter, up from the third quarter's 145.2 and far beyond the previous peak of 136.9 achieved in the fourth quarter of 1996.

        HDB flat prices have risen almost 40 per cent over the past three years.

    Guess who sold his HDB apartment in the last quarter? Heheh.

    There is no such thing as a good market or a bad market - it all depends on which side of the market you're on. That is to say, whether you are a buyer or a seller.

    Luckily for me, I bought my other home in March 2009, when the market was at its bottom. As a buyer, I caught the bottom, and as a seller I caught the high.

    Nevertheless I do feel sorry for young Singaporean families who are now finding it difficult to buy their first home. And here's a big reason for their difficulty:
        ....... PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said that permanent residents easily made up 20 per cent of his agency's total HDB sales.

        At C&H Realty, this group of buyers account for as many as 50 per cent of all HDB resale transactions, revealed managing director Albert Lu.
    By now, the Singapore government must surely be well aware of the housing problem. In fact I'm certain that this issue is one reason why PM Lee made such a shocking point - Singaporeans are top priority! - in his New Year speech a few days ago.
        ST Jan 1, 2010
        Singaporeans come first for Govt: PM
        Sharing benefits by raising per capita income is one big aim
        By Kor Kian Beng, Political Correspondent

        SINGAPOREANS are top priority for the Government, which will aim to grow the economy in a way that allows all citizens to share in the benefits, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has emphasised in his New Year message for 2010.

        ... At the same time, the Government will also 'manage and moderate' the inflow of foreign workers so that Singaporeans are not overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, he said.
    The question is - what can or will the government do, to make housing more affordable and available again, for the average Singaporean? Back to the ST property article:
        HDB yesterday moved to address supply concerns by announcing it would launch more build-to-order (BTO) flats this year if there was 'sustained demand for new flats'. It would, it added, 'ensure that there is an adequate supply of flats to meet prevailing housing needs'.

        Some 1,300 new flats are to be launched for sale today by HDB in Choa Chu Kang and Hougang.

        As an indication of the red-hot demand for homes, there was an overwhelming response to a recent launch by HDB of BTO flats at Dawson, where some flats were more than 11 times oversubscribed.
    These measures are helpful but somewhat inadequate. Why? Because the construction phase itself will take another three, four or five years. Whatever new flats the HDB may launch this year, they won't be ready till 2013, 2014 or 2015.

    Meanwhile, many Singaporeans will still be needing a more immediate roof over their heads. One option is to rent. For the average Singaporean, renting HDB accommodation would traditionally be the most affordable route. Alas, what would be the problem here?
      Integrated Resorts in Singapore upbeat about outlook in 2010
      By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia
      23 December 2009

      SINGAPORE: Three years in the making and Singapore's two integrated resorts will finally open soon and the operators are upbeat about the prospects. Resorts World Sentosa, due to open in a matter of weeks, expects to attract 13 million visitors in the first year alone.

    An entertainment industry like Resorts World is very labour-intensive. It's unlike, say, the pharmaceutical R&D industry at Biopolis, which will go a long way with a few dozen highly qualified, top-notch scientists.

    The estimate is that when the two IRs are up and running, they will have created about 50,000 to 60,000 new jobs. If half the jobs go to foreigners, we're expecting a flood of 25,000 to 30,000 new foreigners coming to reside in Singapore, just for the IR jobs alone.

    Most of these foreigners won't be the senior management types (the kind who will rent a District 10 condo or house to live in). Instead they will be the croupiers, the ticket sales staff, the cleaners, the ride operators, the F&B staff, the theme park guy who dresses up in the funny costume and entertains the kids.

    These are the same foreigners who will need to rent a HDB flat. Their sheer numbers will push up the rental demand for HDB accommodation. When demand goes up, so will the rental price.

    Many Singaporeans will be caught out. They can't afford to buy, they can't afford to rent. They will park themselves with their parents or in-laws, and defer marriage and/or childbirth.

    A few years later, PM Lee will stare at his charts and numbers, and lament once again about how come Singaporeans are getting married later and later, and why are the birth rates falling lower and lower again.

    Then in his great wisdom, he will conclude, "Oh we need to import more foreigners."

    Jan 4, 2010

    God, By Any Other Name

    A big controversy is brewing in Malaysia right now. It's all about whether Catholic publications should be allowed to use the word "Allah" to refer to "God".

    The executive government had said "no". Then the High Court said "yes". And now NGOs in Kuala Lumpur are protesting and saying "no".

        Protests in KL, Penang over 'Allah' ruling
        Protests were against the use of the word "Allah" in the Herald, a Catholic weekly.
        -New Straits Times, Jan 04, 2010

        KUALA LUMPUR: Thirteen non-governmental organisations protested here yesterday against the use of the word "Allah" in the Herald, a Catholic weekly.

        Ten police reports were also lodged by the NGOs to express their disappointment over the use of the word in the publication. About 100 protesters gathered outside the Sentul district police headquarters about 3pm before 10 representatives were allowed in.

        The entourage was led by Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Dr Ma'amor Osman.

        In his police report, Dr Ma'amor said the NGOs requested for an investigation into the publisher and that the publication stop using the word.

        "We are acting based on the Rukun Negara, where Kepercayaan Kepada Tuhan (Belief in God), is a general way of describing God in the context of a multiracial country."

        Dr Ma'amor said "Allah" was generally used by Muslims to describe Him exclusively.

        "The issue is very sensitive, especially for Muslims in the country and has to be dealt with in a proper manner to avoid unnecessary racial tension."

        ..... On Thursday, High Court judge Lau Bee Lan granted approval to the Herald to continue using the word "Allah", after dismissing the home minister's prohibition on it.

        In her decision, Lau declared that under Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution, applicant Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam had the constitutional right to use "Allah" in the Herald in the exercise of his right that religions other than Islam might be practised in peace and harmony in the country.

        On Feb 16 last year, Pakiam filed for a judicial review on the usage of the word "Allah" in church publications, on the basis that the word was not exclusive to Islam.

        The church publishes the Herald, a weekly which is available in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil.

        It had challenged the home minister's order to stop using the word "Allah" in a non-Muslim context which was made on Jan 7 last year.

        In George Town, a crowd of about 250 people gathered in front of the Penang High Court at Lebuh Light yesterday to show their unhappiness ....
    The above matter does not particularly excite me (since I am neither Catholic nor Muslim). But I do find the matter a little ironic. After all, the Catholics and the Muslims (and in fact the Jews too) all worship the same God.

    No doubt some Catholics and Muslims might disagree with my preceding statement. If they do, it's because they don't know the religions very well.

    The respective stories of Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) are inextricably intertwined, featuring many of the same figures and places in the Middle East. All three religions can be traced to the same common origin.

    Historically, Judaism was first. Christianity came next, followed by Islam. But when a Muslim prays, when a Christian prays, when a Jew prays, each of them is praying to the one and the same God that Abraham worshipped.

    That's why the three religions are known as the Abrahamic religions. And what does Wikipedia tell us about the word Allah? An excerpt:

        Allah is the standard Arabic word for God. While the term is best known in the West for its use by Muslims as a reference to God, it is used by Arabic-speakers of all Abrahamic faiths, including Christians and Jews, in reference to "God" ...

                  .... Arabic-speakers of all Abrahamic faiths, including Christians and Jews, use the word "Allah" to mean "God". The Christian Arabs of today have no other word for 'God' than 'Allah'.

              There you go.

              In one sense, you could say that the Malaysian controversy is a contest to establish who's entitled to use what word, to refer to the same thing. However, the usefulness of such a contest is unclear to me.

              If I were a Muslim, I would probably say, "Oh never mind, let the Catholics go ahead and use the word Allah."

              If I were a Catholic, I would probably say, "Oh never mind, let's just drop the word Allah and use the word Tuhan instead."

              But then I am neither Muslim nor Catholic. So instead as a member of the human race, I can only say, "Sigh, here we go again, yet another religious spat. Another fine example of love, peace and harmony."

              At this point, I can't help but be reminded of Eckhart Tolle. He hails from Germany and is a non-religious spiritual teacher (and no, that is not a oxymoron). Tolle stopped using the word God, because he found that the word means too many different things to different people. Too much historical, social and cultural baggage is attached, and he found that most of it is unhelpful.

              So Tolle does not use the word God anymore. Instead he uses the word Being. A new word, a fresh word, a marvellous starting point for rediscovering man's relationship with the divine.

              Best of all, with a word like Being, you won't accidentally break anybody's rules about what you can say or think, or cannot say nor think, about ... God.