30 June 2005


Marriage talk with Qantas resurfaces, but airlines shrug it off
June 30, 2005
Tor Ching Li

NATIONAL carriers Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Qantas Airways may be competing nose to nose in the air, but their governments seem grounded on the idea of a possible merger.

Echoing remarks Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Trade Minister Mark Vaile made last week, Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong told reporters yesterday that SIA should be open to the prospect of a merger with its rival.

"As commercial companies in a very competitive sector, I think it is useful to keep all options open, which includes joining in a consolidation process," said Mr Yeo on the sidelines of the launch of the Centre for Maritime Studies at the National University of Singapore.

Last Wednesday, Mr Howard had said the Australian government was looking into "the question of whether SIA and Qantas were to remain as separate companies for an indefinite period of time".

Citing the trend of a "worldwide consolidation process", Mr Yeo said both SIA and Qantas "should also be thinking of what they need to do to remain as one of the key players in the global aviation sector".

I keep thinking that everyone should know this by now. But lots of people never learn. So I'll say this one more time. Listen up carefully, folks.

Mergers & acquisitions - what do they mean for the Little Guy? Mostly it means that he's about to lose his job. And it doesn't matter that the Little Guy had the job for the past 20 years, or that he'd always been the most hardworking chap around.

When mergers & acquisitions happen, the Higher Powers don't think of people. They think of org charts. The old chart is thrown out, a new chart is drawn, and if the Little Guy's job doesn't fit on it, then he's out, goodbye, who cares if he has 20 years left on his HDB mortgage and three kids to feed.

If you're a Little Guy in SIA or Quantas, maybe it's time to wake up and start following the news a little more closely. Maybe it's a little premature to get worried now. But once you smell something more serious, you'd better sit up, pay attention, think hard, think ahead and make your plans.

Sometimes it's better to try to ship out early to a new place while you can. You get more lead time. Rather than wait to be retrenched and then find yourself competing for scarce new jobs. Against 350 of your ex-colleagues who all just got retrenched at the same time.

Then some PAP Minister will come along and say, "Oh, the jobs are gone, they aren't ever coming back, it's called structural unemployment, life sucks, but we ain't no crappy welfare system, so don't be fussy, anyway the engineers in India are 17 times cheaper than you, so you'd better start retraining as a road sweeper, but in the meantime if your HDB flat gets acquired by the government, please don't live in the void deck because that would be so unsightly and we might have to fine you."

And then there will be this really, really foul taste in your mouth.

"What, no parachute? That's just too bad."

The Grapevine Chatter

1. Headspace


Here is another reason why Mr Wang's alternative career as a professional babysitter would work. Frankly, more middle-aged unemployed Singaporeans should consider becoming nannies. If you've raised your own children before, you already have the requisite experience.

Straits Times, June 30, 2005
Maid charged with bashing six-month-old baby's head

A 23-YEAR-OLD maid was charged yesterday with seven counts of abusing an infant she was employed to care for.

Indonesian live-in maid Kartini allegedly slammed the six-month-old baby's head against the floor twice, and hit, slapped and shook the child on other occasions.

"Bitch. Hope they lock you up and throw away the key."

29 June 2005


So is Mr Wang Zhen infantile yet? Or just incredibly creative and funny?


The TODAY newspaper reports an interesting survey. Singaporean children rank their parents poorly, in comparison to children in most other Asian countries. Thai and Indonesian parents come on tops.

How can Mr Wang help Singaporean parents? By reminding them that parenthood is a sacred duty. I share these words of wisdom from Iranian poet Kahlil Gibran:
"Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

"Wow, I must be good. Mr Wang just quoted me
on Commentary Singapore!"

28 June 2005


What would I do, if I got retrenched and somehow could not get any new job as a lawyer? And my personal savings began to run out? No, I seriously don't think it's going to happen, but what if ....

I would consider being a full-time babysitter. Leave your babies & toddlers with me and I'll look after them for you. You can pick your baby up after work. You definitely will find me more reliable and trustworthy than a new foreign domestic maid. I love kids.

Pay me $300 extra per month and I would even give special play lessons to your kids, built around Montessori concepts and Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.

"I really don't know what the fuss is about.
I manage six kids all by myself."

Only Singaporeans Need Apply?

After the earlier interesting discussion about Indian nationals coming to work in Singapore, I started composing a post about globalisation and foreign talent and all that. I was trying to convince myself that times have changed and no job in this country is truly immune from foreign competition.

Then suddenly the counter-example dawned on me:

"Hehehe. Hehehee. Hahahaa."

Well, okay. I'm not in the mood today to argue that non-citizens should be allowed to run for elections in Singapore. But let's simply start with the Nominated Members of Parliament. Current rules say that only Singapore citizens are permitted to be NMPs.

But why should this be? After all, one in five persons living and working on our little island is not a citizen. We are unnecessarily shrinking our pool of potential candidates if we insist that only citizens can be NMPs.

Some may raise the issue of loyalty. However, citizenship itself is no guarantee of "loyalty". Singaporeans emigrate in droves anyway. Meanwhile, there are large numbers of permanent residents who have the intention to do what their status implies - permanently reside in Singapore.

Since the Singapore government is so determined to throw its arms wide open to foreign talent, well, doesn't it make sense that all these foreign talents also have a voice and be represented in Parliament?

Remember, Singapore is not a home. It's just a hotel. To be a six-star hotel, we must always strive for excellent customer service. Let's pay attention to what our top customers have to say.

My New Addiction

.... is Google's new function for quick-&-easy posting of images. Uh oh, I cannot resist the call of Blogger Infantilism.

The infantile Mr Wang - caught with his pants down.

27 June 2005


"Oh yeah? Well, how can you prove that we're not in a test tube?"

The full article is here. In a nutshell, a Malaysian fertility centre has been achieving one of the world's best IVF success rates and is now marketing itself to Singaporeans.

The Malaysian centre has a success rate of about 65 per cent, going by the number of babies born. In contrast, the success rate of IVF centres in Singapore, going by Health Ministry figures, ranges between 16 per cent and 28 per cent. That is to say, the Malaysian centre is more than twice as good.

Furthermore, the Malaysian centre is also cheaper. In Singapore, IVF costs about S$6,000 to S$13,000. At the Malaysian centre, it costs between RM12,000 (S$5,280) and RM16,000 (S$7,050).

It seems that the only drawback for Singaporeans is that they cannot use Medisave funds to pay for treatment at the Malaysian centre. In contrast, Singaporeans can withdraw $6,000 for their first IVF attempt in Singapore, and $5,000 and $4,000 for their next two.

I find this article quite disturbing, especially in light of earlier media reports of Singaporeans going to Thailand for laser eye surgery. It seems to me that our neighbouring countries are starting to offer better medical services and yet are charging lower expenses.

If this goes on, then for the sake of Singaporeans' financial and physical health, the government should look into allowing Singaporeans to use Medisave to pay for their medical treatment overseas. Why not? The foreign hospitals are cheaper and better and the Medisave money is OUR own money anyway.

24 June 2005


BG George Yeo. A victim of male pattern balding.

June 24 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore and India have agreed to start recognizing each other's educational qualifications in architecture, accountancy and medicine.

Not many Singapore-trained doctors may want to rough it out in Indian hospitals. From India's perspective, though, sending more of its professionals to the city-state is one of the juicier parts of the so-called comprehensive economic cooperation accord that will be signed June 29....

Even before negotiations began with India in 2003 for the economic cooperation agreement, Singapore knew what it would be asked to concede.

``I believe India will push us on recognition of Indian professionals and our facilitation of their employment in Singapore,'' said Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo.

``We're prepared to do that,'' Yeo, who then oversaw the trade and industry ministry, said in an interview in March 2003.


1. Singapore Watch

20 June 2005


"Dammit. I flunked my Econs S-Paper."

A letter to the Straits Times Forum caught my eye today. I saw several angles to it which, I'm fairly sure, the writer himself did not.

June 20, 2005
Embrace elites in order to enrich our society
By Robin Chan

MY APPLICATION to join the 'elite' club was rejected when I failed to score 4 As and a S-paper distinction. My eagerly awaited interview for the prestigious PSC scholarship never materialised. For the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable. The clouds I had been floating on since my days at Raffles Institution suddenly evaporated. I was hurled back into reality and felt like another casualty of 'the system'.

My dreams of overseas study seemingly dashed, it was a while before I summoned up enough confidence to tell myself that I still had the ability to succeed.

I stumbled through NS like an elephant on stilts. It was an awkward and uncomfortable time, but I saw the real struggles of those who had fallen by the wayside. I realised that far from being a casualty, I was still very much a functioning product of 'the system' - I had an education.

I did eventually secure a scholarship that allowed me to go overseas. I was part of the elite again.

There is nothing wrong with an educated or a governing elite. Elitism has become another of those cursed 'isms' - the convenient concoction of complainers.

Elitism is a state of mind, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we dislike it, the more it becomes a bane to our society. There will always be casualties, given the meritocratic nature of our system. Which system has no flaws?

Let's turn elitism on its head. We should not let the educated elite be the be-all and end-all of our society. Since we each have a myriad of talents, there is space to create many kinds of elites, and society will be richer for it.

The writer is a second-year student majoring in International Political Economy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

The Question of Self-Esteem

In my view, one great flaw of the Singapore system is that it disallows Singaporeans from feeling good about themselves. Most people go through it and emerge with their self-esteem damaged. Severely damaged, in some cases.

The misconception is that this is a problem afflciting the Normal stream students, the ITE students etc. WRONG, in my view. The problem exists at all levels.

The letter above is one example. The writer was from Raffles Institution, won an overseas scholarship and is now studying at a prestigious American university. Yet he felt like a "casualty of the system" and suffered a serious confidence problem, when his application for a PSC scholarship was rejected.

This reminds me of one of my friends, a President's Scholar. At that time, he had already graduated with 1st Class Honours from Cambridge and was rapidly rising through the ranks of the civil service. He was feeling somewhat down and wanted to meet me to talk about his woes.

So we met up and I bought him a beer and lent him a sympathetic ear. "So, what's your problem? Let's talk about it," I said. It turned out that he was feeling insecure and inadequate. He felt incompetent and useless. He was having a mini personal crisis of confidence at work.

"You are nuts, my friend," I said, as sympathetically as I could (which is to say, not very sympathetic). "You just got promoted a few months ago. You have a 1st class degree from Cambridge. And you are a President's Scholar. You could sit there and twiddle your thumbs and they will promote you anyway."

"Yes, I know," he said mournfully. "But I feel really lousy. I am not as good as the other President's Scholars. I am really just not as good as the other President's Scholars."

Local Universities vs Overseas Universities

The letter writer had been deeply disappointed at not being to go overseas for his university education. Has anyone ever thought about how the vice-chancellors and the dons of Singapore's local universities like NUS and NTU would feel about that?

What delicious irony. Our local institutions NUS and NTU have great aspirations to become world-class institutions. At the same time, our brightest young minds have great aspirations to avoid studying at our local institutions NUS and NTU.

While there is much to be said for an overseas education, I can't help but feel that its attraction for so many young Singaporeans is partially due to the marketing strategies of the PSC over the years.

These marketing strategies are hurting NUS and NTU. Perhaps these local institutions must start generating their own counter-hype. Don't ask me, go hire your marketing consultant. Maybe get Mercermachine. Or even XiaXue, queen of hype.

Slaking the Wanderlust

As Acidflask told us, scholarship bonds can be highly disadvantageous to your future career aspirations. So think carefully, young bright Singaporeans.

If your true desire is just to go abroad, see the world and experience life in another country, then I say this -

there will be other opportunities. Companies these days are forever posting employees to different parts of the world. Many jobs nowadays require the employee to make short business trips very frequently to many different countries. Or to relocate permanently to another country. Or to work on projects for some significant duration (six months to a year) in another country.

And so on.

So don't break your heart over the scholarship you didn't get.

(Personally, Mr Wang Zhen detests travelling on business. Travelling on holiday is fine, but travelling on business is icky)

The Dangers of a Overseas PSC Scholarship

Mr Wang would like to issue a warning about the dangers of a PSC overseas scholarship. The danger lies in the bond, and the working experience you will gain in those bondage years.

Young Singaporeans may not know enough about the working world to know the risks they are taking. You see, in many, many ways, the government operates very differently from the rest of the world - ie the private sector.

The implications? The experience you gain in the bonded years may not be easily transferable to the private sector, if you should subsequently decide to leave the civil service. Many government jobs have no parallel, or only very rough equivalents, in the private world.

Suppose for example you were a government scholar involved in planning policies to encourage Singaporeans to have more children. Or suppose you were an SAF scholar and your major responsibility was to steer a submarine. Or perhaps you were from the Foreign Affairs Ministry and you specialised in negotiating international treaties with Malaysia.

When it comes to the time to leave the civil service - how relevant do you think your work experience will be, to the private sector?

The Grapevine Chatter

1. Zuco's Blog
2. The Depths of Shallowness
3. Heavenly Sword
4. Singapore Angle

17 June 2005


A rather well-known Singaporean has started blogging. He is Tan Kin Lian, CEO of NTUC Income (yes, that company insuring your life, health and car). Here's his blog.

Those who personally know Tan Kin Lian or have previously read about him in the media will have some idea of what the man is like.

Tan Kin Lian will not wow you with his brilliant writing (his writing is just not brilliant). He's not controversial like Steve McDermott, or funny like Mr Brown, or sexy like XiaXue. Don't even expect to see any site meters, fancy photos, bloggerhacks etc on Tan's blog.

Tan is a very basic guy. He's down-to-earth, simple and unpretentious. Therein lies his appeal. He came from a poor family background, worked hard through the years to rise to where he is today, but he's never lost touch with his humble roots. He will never flame you. He won't even be rude. And unlike the chairman of a certain statutory board in Singapore, Tan will definitely not threaten to sue bloggers for defamation. Tan is not slick or polished, but he is gracious.

Tan is a very practical guy, with lots of ideas. Nothing airy-fairy or abstract for him, please. But if you want a solid, workable solution to a practical, real-life problem, you could try tapping Tan. He's simultaneously sensible and creative. If you see how NTUC Income has been expanding into all kinds of new business areas over the past six or seven years, then you have some idea of how his brain works.

Incidentally, Tan has always been lurking and floating around the Internet. I met him for the first time, years and years ago, in a wild-&-woolly place called soc.culture.singapore. He's a good guy. Trust me.

[Prediction: Someone from SPH will read my post and decide to write an article about Tan Kin Lian's blog in the Sunday Times. But this time, unlike what happened in the Acidflask saga, the journalist won't claim that he "broke the story".]


"Next time, I'll just take a Panadol."

Straits Times, June 17, 2005
Making sense of health-care dollars
By Radha Basu

A 92-YEAR-OLD man walked into a Tanjong Pagar doctor's clinic on Wednesday night to seek treatment for a common cold and fever. The visit cost him $64.

Citing this example, his son-in-law, a well-heeled doctorate holder, complained to the Health Minister last night that medical costs were getting 'too unaffordable', especially for people well beyond the insurable age like his father-in-law.

The minister's response: 'His insurance is that he has a good son-in-law.'

With a mixture of witty repartee and cogent arguments, Mr Khaw Boon Wan stoutly defended his ministry's policies and candidly offered his own view on health care at a dialogue with National University of Singapore alumni and health-care professionals last night.

The topic of discussion: Is falling sick more scary than death?

The minister reiterated the long-held policy that the Government would not underwrite the medical expenses of the rich at the cost of the poor.

Pointing out that even barbers charged $20 for a haircut - as his did, even though it wasn't a 'fancy' one - the minister said that surely doctors could charge $64, especially since that cost included medicines too.

'If you feel health care is important, then you must be prepared to spend a certain
percentage of your income, say 10 per cent, on it,' said Mr Khaw. 'You can't say
health care is important but please could the Government pay for it.'

Citing Asian values, the minister said, where possible, children and other relatives should foot old folks' bills. 'They brought us up, we must be prepared to support our elderly.'

However, he added that those who could not afford to pay their medical bills would be taken care of by schemes such as the $2 billion Medifund.

The lively two-hour discussion, chaired by eminent eye surgeon Arthur Lim, also touched on contentious topics such as competition within the two public health-care clusters, waiting times at hospitals, why Singapore needs to attract foreign patients and when to pull the plug on the terminally ill.

When a member of the audience, Mr Johnny Tan, asked whether it made sense to have two competing public health-care clusters in such a small nation, Mr Khaw retorted: 'I am less interested in structure than substance.

'Is there a role for competition in health care? The answer is yes.'

Competition, he explained, drives down costs for patients. One of the most competitive 'medical businesses' here, he said, was obstetrics care - the delivery of babies. There were many players in the field, he pointed out, and the competition had kept prices flat for the past 10 years.

Prices for laser eye surgery were another case in point. After the ministry made public the prices charged by the various institutes for the surgery - some of which were 'ridiculously high' - all the institutes started lowering their prices.

'When there is competition, there is a limit to the premium we can charge,' said Mr Khaw.

The minister also denied that foreign patients would crowd out Singaporeans in the island's bid to become a medical tourism hub. Instead, practising their skills on an increased patient pool would only increase medical practitioners' expertise. 'The more you practise, the more skilful you are,' said Mr Khaw.

This obviously was a wide-ranging discussion and the ST could not realistically have reported more than the gist. Khaw's comments, in totality, would not have been as simplistic as they appear above. So we have to give the man some benefit of the doubt. My observations anyway:

The $64 example

Someone raised the example of a doctor charging an elderly patient $64 for treatment of a common cold and fever. Khaw's response was that the $2 billion Medifund was available to help the very poor, and that Singaporeans should support their older relatives.

This answer is not very satisfactory. The fundamental point remains unaddressed. Has basic healthcare become unreasonably expensive in Singapore? That is the question. It is not so relevant whether the patient is a 92-year-old retiree or a 45-year-old Chief Executive Officer who owns a bungalow and two BMWs.

The real point is whether Singaporeans are paying too much for basic medical treatment. For example, is $64 a fair price for treatment of a common cold and fever?

Mr Khaw's $20 Haircut

Mr Khaw, enjoying his million-dollar salary, probably does not know this. But there are many barbers who do not charge $20 for a haircut. There are still many places in Singapore where a man can get a haircut for half that price. Personally speaking, Mr Wang Zhen gets a $10 haircut at a barber shop along City Link.

Mr Wang Zhen wonders whether Mr Khaw's $20 haircut example is another sign that our million-dollar ministers have lost touch with the ordinary Singaporean.

Obstetrician's Fees

Mr Khaw mentions that competition will keep medical fees down. For example, he notes that competition has kept obstetricians' fees flat for many years.

Mr Wang Zhen feels that it is difficult to draw any generalisations about Singapore's healthcare costs using obstetricians. Obstetricans' fees are an anomaly. The main reason why they have not risen over the past 10 years is that many Singaporeans have been refusing to give birth for the past 10 years.

In contrast, Singaporeans cannot refuse to have a common cold or fever. There is no choice in such matters.

Laser Eye Surgery

Laser eye surgery is another poor example cited by Mr Khaw. Mr Wang Zhen wishes that Mr Khaw was able to point to better examples, such as those relating to diseases and illnesses where professional medical treatment is essential. For example, what is the cost of medical care for people suffering from heart disease? Breast cancer? High blood pressure? Diabetes?

Laser eye surgery is a poor example because laser eye surgery is generally not necessary. If you cannot afford it, you just wear glasses and that's that. Yes, you are inconvenienced if you want to go swimming or play tennis. But since Martina Navratilova used to win Wimbledon and US Open tennis championships wearing her spectacles, you really have no cause for complaint.

The Grapevine Chatter
1. The Lovers & The Dreamers

13 June 2005

Cabbies In Trouble

"They still charge ERP, but at least I save on petrol."

ST, June 13, 2005
More cabbies failing to pay rental

ON THE back of ballooning fleets and falling passenger numbers, taxi companies are facing a worsening problem of cabbies with bad debts.

Six of the seven cab companies here have been hit and, based on official figures, The Straits Times estimates that operators now repossess 1,000 cabs a year because of non-payment of rental.

That is about 5 per cent of all taxis on the road now.

ComfortDelGro, the largest taxi operator here with about 17,000 cabs, used to repossess about 50 taxis a month because of non-payment. The number has risen to nearly 70 recently.

'It is very difficult,' said cabby C. K. Chan. 'I know of drivers who collect only about $120 to $150 a day in fares. They cannot cover costs.'

Taxi operators act like car rental companies, leasing vehicles to cabbies. The drivers pay a daily rental of about $90, on top of about $40 a day for diesel and other outlays on things like carparks and car washes.

Ms Tammy Tan, spokesman for transport group ComfortDelGro, said: 'From January to May this year, a monthly average of about 30 per cent of our hirers owe an average of five days.'

A five-day delay in rental payment from one-third of its hirers translates to about $2.3 million.

Mr Johnny Harjantho, managing director of newcomer Smart Automobile, has also observed a worrying trend.

'There are cabbies who genuinely cannot pay, but we are coming across people who are out to cheat. They come in on a Thursday, pay a deposit of $1,000 and take a cab. We bank the cheque on Friday. When we realise the cheque has bounced on Monday or Tuesday, he is gone.

'By the time we find him, he would have owed us 20 days of rental. Some of them will say: 'Go ahead, sue me'.'

Mr Harjantho estimates that half the hirers of his fleet of 460 cabs owe between one and 30 days of rental. The company is forced to repossess 'a few cars' each week.

Unable to cope, companies sometimes turn to debt collectors.

Ms Priscilla Low, an account manager at debt collector Lousintan, said the company handles more than 20 cases a month for several taxi companies. Debts range from 'a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand'.

'We work out payment by instalments over six months to a year.

'We have a 70 per cent to 80 per cent success rate,' she said.

ComfortDelGro has its own credit controllers, but would still like to see an industry blacklist of drivers with bad payment records.

Premier Taxis general manager Lim Chong Boo said the company had to slow down fleet expansion plans this year, to weed out errant drivers and bring its debt situation under control.

Cabbies say the problem is there is just too much competition.

According to Land Transport Authority figures, there are more than 21,400 cabs on the road today, 45 per cent more than in 1994. At the same time, taxi ridership has fallen. An LTA study found taxi rides fell 12 per cent to 827,000 a day during the 12 months up to March last year.

Coupled with a 40 per cent hike in diesel prices over the last year, that means cabbies' earnings have fallen.

In addition, a cabby who cannot find a relief driver often has to drive two shifts to cover his costs.

Mr Chan said: 'I have seen many drivers sitting in coffee shops, in a daze because they are so tired.'
So what do we learn from the article above?

Firstly, taxi companies don't make money out of passengers. Taxi companies make money out of taxi drivers.

Secondly, who are taxi drivers? Ordinary Singaporeans who can't get a better job and are suckered into driving a taxi.

Thirdly, Straits Times journalists are great at offering meaningless statistics to support poor conclusions. Take a look at this:

"According to Land Transport Authority figures, there are more than 21,400 cabs on the road today, 45 per cent more than in 1994. At the same time, taxi ridership has fallen. An LTA study found taxi rides fell 12 per cent to 827,000 a day during the 12 months up to March last year."

The journalist is trying to tell you that today, (1) there are more and more cabs and (2) fewer and fewer passengers.

To prove (1), he tells that that the number of cabs has increased significantly, between 1994 and 2005.

To prove (2), he tells you that from March 2003 to March 2004, the number of passengers has fallen.

But of course, those numbers are quite meaningless.

The number of passengers may have fallen in the period from March 2003 to March 2004 (a one-year period), but the number of passengers may well have risen sharply in the period from 1994 and 2005 (an 11-year period).

Alternatively, the number of cabs may have risen significantly between 1994 and 2005 (an 11-year period), but it may have fallen sharply between March 2003 and March 2004 (a one-year period).

Moral of the story? Statistics lie. Especially if the Straits Times is providing them. See here for another example. And here too.

The only people I know who consistently handle statistics as badly as the Straits Times are those banks, fund managers and insurance agents who throw a set of highly-manipulated numbers at you and tell you, "Yes! This is the best-performing fund. You must invest in it!"

09 June 2005

Fridae's Lesson For Everyone

"Well, we could move to San Francisco too. Or even Phuket."
Did you know that homosexuality occurs widely in nature? Click here for more info.

Straits Times - June 9, 2005
No licence, so gay party moves to Phuket

THE Nation party, billed as Asia's largest gay celebration and held here annually since 2001, has been moved to Phuket after police here denied its organisers a licence.

The party, which is being organised by Fridae.com, an online gay and lesbian network, has been held here in August every year, ostensibly to celebrate Singapore's National Day.

The first evening of this year's three-day bash, Nation 05, had been scheduled to be held on Aug 6,with the other two nights at private clubs.

It will now be held in Phuket from Nov 4 to Nov 6.

The police said on Tuesday that it denied the organisers' request for a public entertainment licence because the 'event is likely to be organised as a gay party that is contrary to public interests'.

Pointing out that the party had been given the go-ahead here four times already, Fridae.com chief executive Stuart Koe said the refusal this time round is a 'direct contradiction to Singapore's aspirations of becoming a more cosmopolitan city and a creative centre'.

I see many interesting aspects in the above matter. The particular aspect I want to discuss is Fridae's purposeful response to the Singapore government's denial of a licence.

Instead of merely protesting or complaining, Fridae has decided to take some concrete action. And simply organise the gay party somewhere outside Singapore.

I admit that I am writing this post under the heavy influence of The Road Less Travelled. Psychotherapist Scott M Peck wrote this classic book (about spiritual growth and mental health) way back in 1975. But I only recently got around to reading it.

Scott Peck devotes an entire chapter to the topic of discipline, which to him means consistently facing up to life's problems and solving them. Rather than merely avoiding problems. Or just complaining and whining about them.

It occurs to me that many Singaporeans are great complainers. They whine a lot about different aspects of the Singapore government but they often don't actually do anything concrete about their gripes.

But those who do decide to do something may well discover that they possess more control and power over their own lives than they ever realised before.

I am not saying that if you decide to do something, you will definitely succeed in changing the government's policy or position. Far from it. But if you are really dissatisfied about some aspect of life in Singapore, it is for your own good to consider how you can try to do something to reduce your own dissatisfaction.

Once you start thinking along those lines, you may discover solutions more powerful than you would have expected.
Fridae's plans of shifting their party to Phuket reminds me, curiously enough, of Sim Wong Hoo. Years ago, when Creative Technology was relatively unknown, Sim repeatedly tried to get the company listed on the Singapore Exchange but his application was denied.

Sim went on to the US and tried to list the company on NASDAQ, a stock exchange far more prestigious and well-known than the Singapore Exchange. Logically, he ought to have failed but he succeeded. Creative Technology went on to grow into the massive international success that it is today.

Now Sim has become the Singapore government's poster boy for entrepreneurship. Ironically, it seems to me that Sim succeeded despite the Singapore system, rather than because of it. But I guess the important thing for Sim personally is that in the end, he did succeed.

Now the government has decided to kill the Nation party in Singapore. Fridae can't do anything about that. But they can hold the party elsewhere. And they will. It may even be a lot more fun in Phuket than in Singapore. Open-air beach parties, maybe?

The idea actually isn't so radical. For example, I know that many law firms in Singapore no longer hold their annual dinner & dance in a Singapore hotels. Instead they do a firm trip to somewhere overseas.

Everyone in the firm - partners, associates, secretaries, admin staff - leaves Singapore on a long weekend to enjoy the event in Phuket, Bangkok, Bali, Sydney or Bintan.

Maybe Fridae can even do what the law firms are already doing - arrange for bulk discounts from airlines and hotels. I can already see Tiger Airways hatching ideas ("Tiger Airways Nation 05 Group Discount - 4th gay travels free!", etc).

I think that the way Fridae's decision to move the Nation party to Phuket offers an important lesson to Singaporeans - irrespective of their personal views on homosexuality.

A Singapore government decision or policy may be adversely affecting you. It could be a decision or policy on education, the economy, income tax, healthcare or NSmen. But you might not be as helpless as you think. You might be able to do something to help yourself.

Think. Come up with an idea. Then put it into action.

06 June 2005

Foreign Maids & Poor Singaporeans

Recently, the press provided us with some interesting figures about the poorer people in Singapore. The bottom 20% of wage earners in Singapore earn less than $1,200 a month.

June 4, 2005
Bosses told to raise low wages for own good
NTUC chief says not doing so could lead to social tension, damage businesses
By Lynn Lee

IT IS in employers' interests to raise wages for their lower-salaried employees, as having a pool of workers unable to cope with living costs could lead to social tensions.

Labour chief Lim Boon Heng said last night that this would in turn hamper the operations of businesses here.

'It is for the own good of the employers,' he said, commenting on the National Wages Council's (NWC) recommendation that firms planning to raise wages should give lower-income employees higher increases.

'So it's in everyone's interest to play our part and ensure that they are not left behind.'

The nearly 300,000 low-wage earners in Singapore - those earning $1,200 or less a month - make up the bottom fifth of salary earners here.

Let's take a moment to think abut the earning power of (1) Singapore's poorer citizens and (2) Singapore's foreign maids.

Let's say Madam Jin Pai Mia is a 55-year-old spinster belonging to the Low-Income Singaporean category. She works as a cleaner in a commercial office building and earns $900 a month.

Madam Jin takes the MRT to and from work every day. That's about $1.50 x 2 x 24 days = $72 a month. She pays about $60 for her water and electricity bills at home. She eats three meals a day, each costing an average of $3.00. That's $3.00 x 3 meals x 30 days = $270 a month on food. Let's say Madam Jin falls sick once in a while and needs to see the doctor. We'll put it at $20 a month. She rents a flat from the HDB. Let's say it's $250 a month (I don't know how much it costs - it's just my guesstimate).

That's $672 on basic stuff like transportation, water, electricity, food, medical care and accommodation. After deducting $672 from Madam Jin's monthly salary of $900, she's left with $228.

Now, a foreign domestic maid gets about $300 a month. However, the maid does not need to spend money on public transport to get to work each day. Her employer pays the electricity and water bills and provides three meals a day. The maid's accommodation is essentially free. If the maid falls ill, the employer is, by law, responsible for her medical expenses.

So when the maid gets $300 a month, the maid really earns $300 a month.

However, when Madam Jin gets $900, she's really earning just $228 a month.

What are the conclusions we can draw from my simple scenarios above? Well, it largely depends on your perspective.

You could say that poor Singaporeans are really poor and that it's amazing that 300,000 of them live like that. Or you could say that Singapore's foreign maids are in fact quite well-paid, considering that the employer provides free food, lodging and other amnities.

If you probe a little more, you might wonder why richer Singaporeans (those who need and can afford a domestic helper) generally don't employ a poor Singaporean woman as a live-in maid, as opposed to a Filipino or Indonesian woman. (The Singaporean woman could be paid less, but in return you provide food, lodging etc).

You might also examine the idea that Singapore employers are basically an evil bunch who exploit both foreign maids as well as lowly-educated, lowly-skilled Singaporeans.

If you think a little further, you'd also wonder about what the future holds for someone like Madam Jin Pai Mia. Because there WILL come a day when she grows too old and weak to be cleaning toilets in an office building. Madam Jin will eventually be replaced by a strong, healthy Bangladeshi male worker. This young man will do the same work for 5 years, then return happily to Dhaka, buy a plot of land and start a rice farm that will support his family's needs for years and years to come.

Meanwhile, what will happen to Madam Jin? How long will her meagre retirement savings last her?

03 June 2005

The AIDS Issue - Theresa Tan Mucks It Up Again

Not too long ago, I criticised ST journalist Theresa Tan for her poorly thought-out article on teen HIV cases in Singapore. See here.

Today Theresa has written another article concerning AIDS. Again it is a poorly thought-out article that jumps to hasty conclusions. Let's take a look:

June 3, 2005
Undergrads think they're less prone to getting Aids
NUS poll findings have serious implications for Aids campaign
By Theresa Tan

ALMOST nine in 10 NUS undergraduates here are under the illusion that their chances of getting Aids are far below that of other people, a local survey has found.

Yet, nearly eight out of 10 feel the Aids campaign with the message that 'No One is Immune from Aids' is effective.
Theresa tells us that most NUS undergrads are of the mistaken impression that their chances of getting AIDS are far below that of other people.

At the same time, she seems to find delicious irony in the fact that most NUS undergrads think that the "No One Is Immune From AIDS" campaign is effective.

In case you haven't detected the flaw yet in Theresa's logic yet, let me explain it to you.

I, Mr Wang Zhen, share one thing in common with most NUS undergrads. I believe that my chances of getting AIDS are very low. What is the basis of my belief?
    1. I do not frequent prostitutes.
    2. I have never had sex with a prostitute.
    3. In fact I have never had sex with anyone except my wife.
    4. To the best of my knowledge and belief, she has never had sex with anyone but me.
    5. I do not abuse drugs and hence I do not share needles with anyone.

Therefore I believe that my chances of getting AIDS are very low. And I do not think that my belief is mistaken.

Theresa Tan tells us that most NUS undergrads believe that they have a low chance of getting AIDS. She also tells us that this belief is an illusion. But why does Theresa think so?

It may well be the case that most NUS undergrads, like Mr Wang Zhen, are indeed at low risk. For example, many of these undergrads may still be virgins. Others may be engaging only in safe sex. Only a very small minority may actually be promiscuous.

If Theresa wants to show that the NUS undergrads are really under an illusion of low risk, then she must give evidence that in fact, NUS undergrads engage in high-risk behaviour. Where is that evidence? It is not found anywhere in Theresa's article.
    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads have multiple sex partners?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads do not know what a condom is?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads visit prostitutes?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads abuse drugs and share needles?

    Does she tell us that many NUS undergrads are poorly educated like so many Africans and simply cannot comprehend the concept of a virus?

No, no, no, no and no.

Here are Theresa's only teeny-weeny attempts to provide some evidence:
Yet global figures show a worrying number of young people getting infected by the HIV virus: Over half of all new infections are among those aged between 15 and 24.
Theresa cites global figures. Not "Singapore figures" or "Asian figures". Or even "Asia-Pacific figures".

"Global" includes South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, India, Thailand, the United States etc. Certainly we can't take the figures to reliably indicate anything about young Singaporeans.

Much less young Singaporeans who are studying at a particular institution in Singapore known as the National University of Singapore.
In Singapore, at least three teens, an unprecedented number, were infected with the HIV virus last year, when the number of new Aids cases jumped 28 per cent to 311.
As I had mentioned in my previous post, Theresa's understanding of statistics is seriously in doubt. Her own previous article tells that every single year from 2000 to 2003, the number of new teen HIV cases has been one or two. In 2004, despite highly increased frequency of testing, we found only three new cases.

This is hardly an amazing or remarkable "increase". It certainly doesn't point to any real upward trend in the number of teen HIV cases.

In fact, it is noteworthy that there were 311 new AIDS cases in Singapore, and only three of these cases involved teens. Thus teen cases form less than 1% of the overall AIDS cases.

I am all for AIDS education. But let's do it the right way. We don't need to stir up paranoia where it's not justified. Each year, the number of NUS undergrads who:

- get killed or seriously injured in traffic accidents;
- attempt suicide or suffer a mental breakdown due to exam stress;
- get struck by lightning or swept away in a tsunami; or
- contract some disease like leukaemia, SARS or dengue fever

is probably greater than the number of new teen HIV cases in the entire country.

Safe Sex


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