| August 2003 |

CPF Changes

The CPF rate will be cut from 36 to 33 percent from October 1, and CPF rates will range in future from 30 to 36 percent, depending on economic conditions.

Although this will have a major impact on the financial plans of many Singaporeans, it’s a painful but necessary change the government has to implement. A reduction in the employer’s contribution rate to the CPF effectively translates to a mandatory wage cut and will help to reduce the labour costs for companies. This aims to increase the competitiveness of companies in Singapore and attract more foreign investments.

However, changes to the CPF have more far reaching consequences than cost savings for the companies because its primary role is to provide retirement funds for Singaporeans.

DPM Lee Hsien Loong revealed in his parliamentary statement that nearly 38 percent of the 577,000 CPF members, who use CPF for mortgages, find that their monthly CPF contributions are not enough to cover their monthly mortgage payments. And the number will increase by 76,000 after the CPF cut.

The statistics are worrisome. Since most homeowners have to service their mortgages for 25 to 30 years, they’ll most probably pay their last installment just before their retirement. This means more than a third of Singaporeans have little or no savings in their CPF accounts when they retire. In fact, a research paper reported that approximately one-fifth of its respondents have less than $10,000 in their CPF account at age 55. The CPF would have failed its primary objective of ensuring that Singaporeans are financially independent after retirement if many retirees have to depend on social welfare to survive.

The government has announced a $1 billion help package for individuals and businesses to cushion the impact of slow growth and the CPF changes. This alone will not make Singaporeans financially self-sufficient after retirement. More importantly, we have to change our mindsets.

Is the Singapore Dream still worth chasing after, if achieving the 5 C’s (Career, Condominium, Car, Credit Card and Cash) means a lifetime in debt? Perhaps it’s time to do some serious thinking about this.

31 August 2003 · Money · Comments (0)

Friday Five I

This week’s Friday Five:

  1. Are you going to school this year?

    Yes, but that’s the last thing on my mind now; I’m trying to enjoy the last of my summer holiday.

  2. If yes, where are you going (high school, college, etc.)? If no, when did you graduate?

    I’ll be a 3rd year student at University of Toronto this September.

  3. What are/were your favourite school subjects?

    I like physical education because it doesn’t require much brainpower, which might explain why I still work out regularly.

  4. What are/were your least favourite school subjects?

    I’ve never really enjoyed chemistry because I’m color-blind (“Was the precipitate reddish brown or greenish blue?”).

  5. Have you ever had a favourite teacher? Why was he/she a favourite?

    My former tuition teacher Mr Lim Hock Boon is one of the most influential people in my life.

29 August 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)

Five Days on the Rollercoaster

Pardon me for not updating my site, it’s been a long time since I’ve this much excitement in the span of five days.

One disadvantage about living in residence is the rigid moving in and checking out dates. The administration has reasons for enforcing these dates strictly: we’ve to clear out for the summer students before their semester starts and vice versa. But this creates a major inconvenience for international students like me who have to schedule their flights according to these dates.

The situation was further aggravated this summer after WHO lifted its travel advisory on Sars affected countries and many Asian students rushed to book flights back to their home countries. I’ve only managed to book my flight at an inflated price and secured an August 28 departure date from Singapore, four days before I was allowed back in New College. That was not a real problem since I’ve made arrangements to bunk over at Todd’s apartment.

But things began to unravel in mid August. Todd was going back to Taiwan and I was desperately looking for a place to stay to avoid the fate of sleeping on the streets. Then I got news that one of my cousins is getting married on September 5 while another is tying the knot in Taiwan on September 7. What’s more, Megan would be celebrating her first birthday on September 6.

It made sense for me to postpone my flight, but this was only the start of my troubles. I need to transit in London before reaching Toronto, but for whichever dates SIA was able to arrange a flight for me to London, AC couldn’t provide a connecting flight and vice versa.

I was put on the waiting lists for three flights and as time slowly runs out, alternative plans must be made. I tried to upgrade my seat class but it wasn’t allowed; my ticket would be considered a round-the-world ticket if I change my return route to via the Pacific Ocean, which meant I have to pay a hefty sum for the change; and it would have been too risky for me to take a flight to London first and hope someone fails to turn up for the flight to Toronto.

Although London isn’t my favourite city, the best alternative was a 12-hour transit in Heathrow airport. This was when SIA dropped the bombshell: my ticket only allows me to stopover twice, and I’ve already stopped over twice in London and Singapore. I would have to check in for my connecting flight immediately after I reach London and hope that security doesn’t chase me out of the transit lounge if I have a boarding pass. At least now I have my flight confirmed, one day before my scheduled departure tomorrow.

I’m glad I have such wonderful parents who helped me out these past few days. My mum made countless phone calls to SIA and many travel agencies to enquire about my flight; she even called up my travel agent in Toronto.

And my dad’s the one paying for my flight, isn’t he wonderful?

27 August 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)

Imagination, Whale

When I watched Imagination, Whale for the first time, I thought it was the trailer for a Japanese horror movie. It’s a brilliant ad, and the critics share my sentiments: it won many awards, including the Silver Lion at Cannes Lions 2002.

To be honest, I doubt anyone could have guessed what the boy was drawing based on his first piece of blackened paper. What impressed me was the dedication shown by his teachers and doctors; they never gave up hope on him. I believe this is the real message that the ad is trying to send across.

No child should ever be labelled a failure, and it’s our duty to bring out the best in them. Margaret Fishback Powers was right when she said:

One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of car you drove, what kind of house you lived in, how much you had in your bank account, or what your clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because you were important in the life of a child.

Channel 8 is showing I Not Stupid next Sunday night. We should seriously ponder the issues raised in the movie; who are we leaving behind as we revamp our education system in the name of meritocracy.

22 August 2003 · Education, Media · Comments (0)

Interesting Mathematics

Romance Mathematics

Smart man + Smart woman = Romance
Smart man + Dumb woman = Affair
Dumb man + Smart woman = Marriage
Dumb man + Dumb woman = Pregnancy

Office Mathematics

Smart boss + Smart employee = Profit
Smart boss + Dumb employee = Production
Dumb boss + Smart employee = Promotion
Dumb boss + Dumb employee = Overtime

20 August 2003 · Fun · Comments (1)

It is Good Night and Not Goodbye

During this year’s National Day Rally, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss when PM Goh Chok Tong announced his intention of stepping down as Prime Minister to make way for DPM Lee Hsien Loong before the next general election.

I have my utmost respect for SM Lee Kuan Yew, who was Prime Minister from our independence in 1965 to 1990. Under his leadership Singapore progressed from Third World to First in less than 3 decades, an incredible feat for a tiny city-state with no natural resources. However, I was too young to see him in action back then.

PM Goh was the Prime Minister I grew up with. When he became Prime Minister in 1990, SM Lee said he was too "wooden" and advised him to see a psychiatrist. In that same year, we welcomed a new family member at home. Suddenly I became the middle child in the family, after being the youngest for 10 years. I didn’t suffer from the Middle Child Syndrome, but now I have to share my stuffed toys with my baby sis. This meant a great deal to a 10-year-old boy who needs his teddy bears to protect him from evil Barbie dolls that wake up in the middle of the night like Chucky.

As PM Goh spoke at this year’s National Day Rally, he’s a proven leader with impressive oratorical skills, able to rally Singaporeans together for the common good of Singapore; hardly the "wooden" person he once was. And here I am, a 3rd-year university student getting ready to leave home once again to continue my studies in Canada.

Some pundits think that PM Goh is just a seat warmer for SM Lee’s eldest son, DPM Lee. To this, I have for them a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Although his speech at this year’s National Day Rally might be PM Goh’s last as Prime Minister, he isn’t stepping down until 2005. It is good night and not goodbye.

19 August 2003 · Politics · Comments (0)

Recycling Disposable Bottles

The recent article about reusing disposable bottles came as a shock to my family; we’ve been reusing them for as long as I can remember. We knew the hazards of bacteria-infested bottles, so conscientious efforts were taken to ensure the bottles are cleaned properly. But we face Catch-22 situation when experts found that heat and scrubbing will release a cancer-causing chemical from the plastic.

Disposable bottles hold sentimental values for me: they are one of my most indispensable accessories during my school years. I once had a favourite mineral water bottle which I brought to school everyday for two years, until it was tragically decommissioned by the wheels of a passing Mercedes.

After reading the article, I wonder how many colonies have faecal coliform formed in my body and how much DEHA I’ve absorbed, no thanks to my favourite mineral water bottle. Out goes my treasured collection of plastic bottles.

Experts recommended that consumers consign disposable bottles to the recycling bin and buy a bottle properly designed to store water. Singaporeans will be more than glad to follow their advice; we’re affluent enough to care more for our health than a few dollars.

However, it created a dilemma for environmentalists like me. We would like to stay healthy and save the environment at the same time, but recycling bin is a rarity in Singapore. It’s so rare that ENV can list all the public recycling collection points on its website. This is in stark contrast with the large number of garbage bins around the island.

Waste statistics show that the recycling rate has improved slightly from 1996 to 2002, but I believe we can achieve better results. Although increasing the number of recycling bins will help the cause, the key factor is education.

ENV has a good recycling programme using 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Sadly, none has been organised since 1999.

ENV should work with MOE to implement a recycling programme in schools. Annual drives will not work; we need a long term recycling programme to instil the habit of recycling in young children.

Singapore is just a tiny state on the map. Land resources are as essential to us as water resources. It’s time to act on the issue of recycling now.

14 August 2003 · Environment, Health · Comments (0)

Toucheng Farm Stay

Toronto had a harsh winter, and Ray is trying to make up for ultraviolet and heat loss in the summer. After a trip to Spain in June, I decided to visit Taiwan during its hottest month. The marginal utility of sunshine dropped drastically after the temperature in Taiwan hit 38°C. In contrast, the marginal utility of seeing Megan rose exponentially with every visit, rain or shine.


A visit to Tou Cheng Farm in Ilan during the weekend was the highlight of our Taiwan trip. It’s very popular with Taiwanese; we were on the waiting list until only 2 days before we set off.

We stayed in a 4-person room, at least that’s what they claimed. The room is so small that there wasn’t even enough space to lay out all 4 mattresses. We have to sleep like sardines during the night. The only consolation we had was a working air-conditioner.

The first activity we did was baking sweet potatoes using a stone stove. I wasn’t too keen getting my hands dirty, but it was fun building the stone stove together as a family. I’ve passed the stage of my life where hanging out with parents is considered "uncool"; being able to spend time with my family is one of the main reasons why I come back Singapore every summer.

The stove setup was not as difficult as it seemed, after the guide demonstrated how to us. It made use fundamental physics but a university student like me didn’t know how to put simple theories to practical uses in a real-life scenario.

I did a better job starting the fire. The stove was then dismantled after we put in the sweet potatoes. Everything was then covered with newspapers and a layer of dirt to prevent heat from escaping.


The most interesting activity during our 2-day farm stay was making sky lanterns. Those familiar with Romance Of The Three Kingdom would definitely know the inventor: Zhuge Liang (Kong Ming). He was the greatest strategist during his time, and he used sky lanterns to relay messages to troops at the frontline.

Using waxed rice papers, glue and a little creativity, we created our very own sky lantern. It was said that any wish written on the lantern would come true if the lantern rise up high. All went well and our lantern joined others’ in the night sky. It was a sign that I’ll attain invincibility soon.

It would have been an enjoyable stay if not for the hot weather and the crappy room we stayed in. Nevertheless, it was quite a memorable experience and time well-spent with Megan. It’s not where you go to, but who you go with that matters more.

13 August 2003 · Travel · Comments (1)

Taiwan Trip


Ray is going to Taiwan, and Megan is the reason for me being there.

Megan doesn’t seem to like guys with long hair; she cried almost everytime I tried to carry her during our family trip to Malaysia. Friends’ feedback on my hairstyle weren’t that encouraging either, so my shoulder-length hair is gone for good.

Stay tuned for updates on my Taiwan trip.

07 August 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)


Geography of a Woman

Between the ages of 18 - 21 a woman is like Africa or Australia. She is half discovered, half wild and naturally beautiful with bushland around the fertile deltas.

Between the ages of 21 - 30 a woman is like America or Japan. Completely discovered, very well developed and open to trade especially with countries with cash or cars.

Between the ages of 30 - 35, she is like India or Spain. Very hot, relaxed and convinced of their own beauty.

Between the ages of 35 - 40 a woman is like France or Argentina. She may have been half destroyed during the war but can still be a warm and desirable place to visit.

Between the ages of 40 - 50 she is like Yugoslavia or Iraq. She lost the war and is haunted by past mistakes. Massive reconstruction is now necessary.

Between the ages of 50 - 60 she is like Russia or Canada. Very wide, quiet and the borders are practically unpatrolled but the frigid climate keeps people away.

Between the ages of 60 - 70 a woman is like England or Mongolia. With a glorious and all conquering past but alas no future.

After 70, they become Albania or Afghanistan. Everyone knows where it is, but no one wants to go there.

Geography of a Man

Between the ages of 15 - 70 a man is like Zimbabwe. Ruled by a dick.

05 August 2003 · Fun · Comments (0)

NTU Bi-Annual Economic Forecast

The NTU bi-annual economic forecast was widely anticipated because the report usually provides a fairly accurate prediction of the overall performance of the Singapore economy in the near future; and it’s highly regarded by the business community and the government. Hence I was surprised when Dr Ng Eng Hen, the Acting Minister for Manpower, called a press briefing to criticize the NTU professors’ report on employment figures.

Perhaps I should not be surprised at all. The government is having a hard time rallying the workers’ morale amid retrenchments and wage cuts, and the NTU report couldn’t have been released at a worse time.

Many analysts are urging the government to be more open about labour figures, since the figures that MOM used to correct the NTU report were previously classified and unavailable to the NTU professors. Their arguments are not without merit: other countries make labour figures public information; and if the Singapore government wants a proper discussion, they ought to provide researchers with the proper figures.

Dr Ng explained that certain sensitive data have never been published because of national interest. Indeed, we have such a large number of foreign workers in Singapore that it makes us vulnerable to foreign interventions in our domestic affairs. Singapore has about 800,000 foreign workers, making up about 37% of our labour force. Suppose our neighbouring countries restrict the number of their citizens working in Singapore using a quota system, it’ll cause massive disruptions to many industries.

However, after being administered by a one-party government for nearly 4 decades, it’s hard for Singaporeans to distinguish national interests from the ruling party’s interests. This is a dilemma faced by the Singapore government too: how to convince skeptical Singaporeans that certain policies are implemented in the nation’s interests and not for political gains.

In the face of global economic slowdown and threats like Sars and terrorism, we’ll have to find a balance between government transparency and national security.

03 August 2003 · Money · Comments (0)

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