Friday, August 28, 2009

Living standards

An article in Today written by this lady who calls herself "Budget Tai Tai" (BTT) piqued my interest.
She's currently working in Hong Kong, and earning 20% more in terms of her last drawn salary while she was in Singapore.

20%!??! Wow, not a bad increment for doing essentially the same job and at the same time getting a chance to move abroad to experience a different sort of life eh? That's what a lot of her friends and acquintances thought too. Apparently, she's been getting these "green-eyed" feedback and responses from people who poured out their envy and told her how lucky she was.

But no - according to her, the cost of living in HK - for an Asian, at least - can be much higher than that in Singapore. She qualified this by comparing the cost of assessible food (ie. not comparing high-class restaurants and fine dining, that sort of things), the public transport, and lastly rental costs.

First, food.
Actually, no surprises there. Although the prices of hawker fare has been consistently going up over the years (a bowl of noodles probably cost $1.50 ten over years ago. Now they cost $2.50 - $3.00. That's like 60-100% jump in 10+ years), Singapore can still boast of being one of the most affordable developed countries when it comes to dining outside. I mean, if you don't compare with some of the other nearby Asian countries (where there are arguably much cheaper food stuff, but tyically sold at pretty run-down places, not to mention the hygiene factor!), Singapore is really an excellent place for having a decent meal outside of your home. Like what BTT said, if you compare having a decent chinese meal at our foodcourts compared to HK's 茶餐厅, certainly the latter option costs more.

Next, public transport.
Again, this seems to favor Singapore. A single trip on our MRT (or bus, for that matter) cost no more than $2++ (not sure exactly how much, but I seriously don't think it's more than $3), whereas in HK apparently a similar trip can cost $4-$5 (converted to SGD).
I'm lazy to actually check out their cab fares, but I have a feeling it is probably comparable to ours.

Lastly, housing cost.
According to BTT, rental costs are much higher in HK compared to Singapore, but I suspect she is not comparing apple-to-apple. I mean, if you take a 3-room HDB flat located at the outskirts (esp. far away from town and not near an MRT station), of course the rents can be quite low, compared to a small apartment located in HK/Kowloon, if it is conveniently located.

Does that mean people in Singapore really have it that great? Well, if that were really the case, our leader wouldn't have to worry so much about the current brain drain now, would they?

In fairness, I can say this.... Here in Singapore, when it comes to food and (public) transportation, we do seem to have a greater range of choices - from the very affordable to the expensive - as compared with many developed countries.

Look, if you could be happy with having 3 simple $2 meals per day (even in Raffles Place area, you can find food at that price!), drink tap water (which is clean enough to drink in Singapore, by the way), and say take 2 trips of the bus/MRT at $1.50 per trip, to "survive" a day would only cost you a total of $6 + $3 = $9 per day!
On a monthly basis (theoretically), one could live with less than $300.
* Oh, you can even enjoy "free" air-conditioning comfort in the public libraries and the hordes of shopping centres located all over the island.

However, that is assuming you already have a roof over your head. And a place in Singapore is NOT cheap.

Furthermore, how many of us can truly be contented with such a lifestyle?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

End of the world dream...

I dreamt of the end of the world last night.... Rather surprisingly, it wasn't as frightening as I'd thought it would be. But I'll start from the beginning. It's really quite weird.

You know how dreams are - they are always bits and pieces of scenarios, all un-connected and seemingly unrelated. The people who appear in my dreams are a mixture of people I know and some unfamiliar ones. Well, actually for these "unknown" people, they appear more as feelings rather than precise faces. Somehow, you just know you dont know them! Weird huh? =P

Anyway, it was a series of scenarios as mentioned. In one of them, I saw my boss and her family, and I was with beastie JK. Naturally, all the fuss was about kids and babies, seeing how they interacted and played together. Funnily, it was in a coffeeshop kind of setting.

A second scene. This time I was queuing up for some stuff. Wasn't exactly clear what it was for, but the queue was extremely long, and the human line went into this cramped little office space, and at one point, the queue extended down some stairs. I recall at the end of the queue, we picked up some disc (think they were movie DVDs!). This probably led to the 3rd scene...

I was with BL (maybe that's why the association with movies, DVDs..haha!) but we seem to be rushing somewhere. I remembered it felt cold, and we needed to rush into a vehicle or something. Then I seem to have left something behind, and had to turn back to pick it up - there was a sense of regret and panic as I had to run back. I asked BL to go ahead. The car sped off... I then saw/felt/experience a bright light which looked like a silent explosion in the far horizon.

Final scene. I barged into a classroom-like place, where a teacher (or professor) was conducting a lesson. I think it was something to do with Astrology. Somehow, I knew something was wrong, and I picked up the chalk/marker and started to tell the class my theory. Many were stunned at what I knew, and some were lost for words. A few started to ask some questions which I answered readily. There were a couple of guys who instantly knew that I was right. I gathered the group of them and wanted to warn them further, but it was too late. Out of the window, a blinding white light could be seen over the horizon, and very quickly, the rays of white light expanded towards our location. The last thing I remembered was shouting out to this group of folks to huddle together and focus their minds (not sure what that would do...) when it comes.
The blast came over us........ and I closed my eyes (in my dreams lah).

And then, a strange beeping sound was heard.

EP's alarm clock! Oh no, time to wake and bring beastie to his granny's place... and then to work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Helping to advertise a book!

My sis-in-law recently got her book published! EP has read it and found it pretty interesting. I have t admit, I have yet to read it (besides looking at some of the nice photos of the bento sets. Looks yummy!), but will surely find some time to do so.

The book should hit the stores sometime in Sept.

Work till we drop?

I sometimes wonder whether it is still worthwhile thinking about retirement. It was supposed to be a time when one can finally "enjoy life" - whatever that's left of it anyway - and not worry about any sort of financial commitments and associated worries.

The current trend, however, is that there IS no such thing as "retirement" anymore. Not in Singapore anyway. At least that's what our leaders are telling us. Where there used to be a fixed retirement age of 62 (or was it 60?), now this appears to be a moving target. One that is constantly being pushed later and later. What choice do we have? The population is greying. If the elderly doesn't work, who will then support this country and ensure the economy doesn't collapse under its own weight?

Then, there's that argument that retirement should -not- be about "doing nothing", as that would slowly but surely take away the reason to live. This I do not dispute. Yet, must the activity a retiree engage in necessarily be "productive" and more importantly - contributing the economy? In my opinion, when a person hits his/her 60s, surely he deserves to DECIDE for himself, what he wants to do with his life. Afterall, he has spent the last 3 and a half decades ( or possibly 4) slogging it out on the job, just to bring home the dough and feed the family.

Yes, if one has done proper financial planning (which has to start as early as possible, it must be added), he can afford to "declare" his own retirement at any point in his life. In fact, a friend of mine ever boasted that his retirement age would be in the 40s! Still, the fact that the government locks away a substantial amount of money that belongs to the individual, till he's deemed 'old enough' to withdraw the funds - in the form of the Central Provident Fund - says a lot about the state of financial understanding and saavy-ness of the people. Or at least that's how the government perceives its citizenry to be - that they can't be left to decide when they can retire.

Funnily, even as the government tries to get the nation's folks to work longer, the recent spate of letters in the papers suggest that sometimes it takes more than 2 hands to clap. Yes, the seniors are responding to the call, whether out of willingness or necessity, but no company wants to employ them! Unless the public sector (again, led by the government) display the courage to walk the talk, and start employing folks in their 50s and 60s, I wouldn't bet on the private companies doing anything heroic. The perception of older folks being more demanding (in terms of their working hours, nature and renumeration), less adaptable and creative, compared to their younger counterparts is sticking to the minds of the HR consultants. Some companies even go as far as to reject the prospect just by ascertaining their age at the onset.

It is futile to argue on the rights and wrongs of their approach. Afterall, private companies exist only for the purpose of generating profits, be it for their shareholders or for the private owners. Thus, they will do whatever they deem to be beneficial for the organisation's growth and ultimately the bottom line. The only way these companies are going to be convinced about hiring older workers, is for the government/public sector to take this leap of faith first. If the public sector starts to employ the older workers (in sizable numbers, mindyou - not just a handful for publicity sake!) and can be seem to be doing well and prospering, it may just send the neccesary message to the private sector to turn their heads in this direction.

Unfortunately, as far as many of us could tell, even the government/public agencies are not convinced of its leaders message, and they continue to place the utmost importance and emphasis on attracting the younger talents, from local and abroad. Until this changes substantially, I think our "retirement" age should be capped at 60, don't you?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A father's wish

Seeing your children grow up.

Surely that must be one of the most important things to a parent. I can certainly relate to that - to be able to watch and witness your child grow up day by day before your eyes, going through the stages of learning and development newfound abilities and skills, and eventually gaining independence and forming his own family - that to me, has to be one of the greatest and most profound joy any father can have.

Why the sudden sentimentality? Well, it was mostly because a lunch topic today, with my buddy, Wolf.

He was telling me about a friend of his, this lady who had contracted breast cancer and currently undergoing chemotherapy. Mind you, she's in her mid-thirties and has 3 young kids in the family. He was telling me how the treatment is causing her so much pain, and that she had to virtually stop working as she is feeling too weak to continue at her job. It is really sad, as the cancer has spreaded to her lungs area, and she is gradually losing her speech as well.

I told Wolf that I'd heard from EP about one of her co-worker's husband also recently losing the battle to cancer. He was even younger - in his early 30s, I believe.

It's so sad to think that these folks wont get to see their children grow up. The kids, being as young as they are now (I'm thinking these kids cant be any older than 4-5, maybe even younger) probably wont feel too much sadness now; but the afflicted parent will certainly be devastated.

I know I would be if it were to happen to me *touch wood*.

And that reminded me suddenly of what a doctor told me not too long ago, during one of my visits to the clinic ( I was down with flu and sore throat, I think). She advised me to watch my blood pressure and diet, and to exercise regularly. When I laughed it off, she gave a stern warning, "Do it if you want to watch you son grow up." ( during our chat, she'd asked me if I had children, and I told her I've got this little baby at home)

I remembered for several weeks after that visit, I was definitely more careful with what I eat, and I made it a point to exercise pretty regularly. Alas, that didnt last for too long, and soon I was back to the super unhealthy regime of having late night snacks, eating super unhealthy food and making excuses all-too-often for not exercising.

This has to change. I WANT to see my boy - my little beastie! - grow up!

It has to start now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I have never been particularly impressed by the government officials in Singapore, well, at least not with their "spirit" of public service. It is difficult to convince anyone you are really doing something for the "good of the country" when at the end of the day, you are getting so much in return FROM the country and its citizens (in terms of renumeration). At best, you can probably say that we have a group of decent administrators running the country, pretty much as any capable management would run a company.

Which is why many skeptics (like me) see Singapore more as a firm, rather than a nation. We're in fact - Singapore Inc.

Besides the issue of our leaders receiving top management pay packages, there're also other striking similarities between this country and a well-managd MNC. They both accept individuals from all over the globe, giving little regard to their country of birth nor their ethnicity, provided they have something of value to contribute to the collective entity - which is a good thing, in my opinion. They both operate in a top-down manner of management, where the leaders decides what's best and steers the group toward what they feel is a better future. Of course, there will be explicit (and open) channels whereby the citizen (read: employee) can provide feedback and voice concerns, but truly - how often are these heard and responded to by the top? And if you're not happy, you are welcome to pack up your bags and head for greener pastures elsewhere, though they will both tell you, "Be a Stayer, not a Quitter". See the similarities?

After the recent National Day Rally speech by PM Lee, I have to admit that managing a country require certain considerations which do not necessarily concern a company. And one of that is - managing the differences and maintaining harmonious living between people of different races & religions.

The managers (boses) in a company would not normally need to fret over such issues and that is because most people are able to relate their work and careers as something close to their daily well-being. It concerns their income and hence their livelihood, so they are unlikely to risk doing something which may jeopardise it in any way. In other words, most of us are willing to work reasonably hard to make sure the company we are working for prosper as an organisation, since we see ourselves as direct "stakeholders". Afterall, who doesn't want a bigger bonus at year end, right?

On a country basis, though, it becomes much harder for people to think that way. Reason being - we have come to take for granted that we'd always have a home to go to when we're tired, the chance to walk on the streets without being harassed, the freedom to visit where we'd like go and to eat what we love to eat. Such civil liberties have long been taken for granted, especially by this generation (not to mention the generation after mine!) of Singaporeans, as we have all grown up in a safe and sheltered environment.
Hence, while many of us know how painful it is to lose a job (if the company we work for closes down), and the stress accompanying the subsequent process of looking for a new one in order to sustain our lives; I seriously do NOT believe many Singaporean can even IMAGINE losing some of those simple civil liberties (as mentioned before) which will happen if the country goes into turmoil as a result of social/racial/religious unrest.

Sometimes, I wonder if many Singaporeans see themselves as direct "stakeholders" in this country. At least I know I often don't - which is a problem, because I should. Well, at least if I consider all those things that I currently have in my life as important, I should. Again, it's a question of having these things for so long that they're assumed to be "given" rights.

Actually, think about it - the average working adult in Singapore usually goes through a couple of job/career changes in his life, but how often does one change citizenship? Like it or not, we have to admit that besides those who are very privileged (ie. wealthy!) or very skilled/qualified, most of us are stuck with the country we are born in. Migrating is usually a very very difficult option to take, one which is filled with obstacles and involves big sacrifices. So doesn't it make sense for us to try our darn best to make our country a better place to live in?