Singapore Skyline (2013)

It’s been a while since the Bud­get was announced, and since then the only thing that seems to have con­tin­ued echo­ing is this thing called the Pio­neer Gen­er­a­tion, and the size of their packages.

I’m not say­ing that my father’s gen­er­a­tion — the one that built the republic’s foun­da­tions — doesn’t deserve the recog­ni­tion or the reward that were sup­posed to come with it. But that’s not the point of the Bud­get for me.

Any national fis­cal mea­sure is a mea­sure of the direc­tion the Gov­ern­ment wants the coun­try to head towards. And for the most part, I agree with where it wants us to head: A high tech, high pro­duc­tiv­ity economy.

There’s never been more money being poured into grants and rebates for pro­duc­tiv­ity, inno­va­tion, and inter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion. It’s easy to bandy these terms around, but the thought behind it is that we’re look­ing to look after the peo­ple that do the work.

This means mea­sures to ensure we don’t over rely on cheap for­eign labour again. I don’t like see­ing com­pa­nies that employ a whole bunch of for­eign unskilled labour and deploy them hig­gledy pig­gledy just because they can afford to, and I’m happy cheap labour sup­ply has been tight­ened, and that com­pa­nies are finally look­ing to inno­vate to save costs.

As a small busi­ness owner, I’ve been wit­ness to how ris­ing costs have forced me to inno­vate and aban­don old prac­tices. Ris­ing rental costs were killing me and my abil­ity to retain a head­count — so off went the receptionist/admin staff, finance man­ager and other staff. I opted for a cloud based, paper­less billing/accounting/time-costing sys­tem that I’ve sub­se­quently become a reseller for.

I don’t have to have a finance or accounts clerk to chase late invoices because my cloud account­ing sys­tem does that for me with increas­ingly curt emails (best thing ever). When clients call to ask ques­tions about their file, I can answer their query almost any­where thanks to my files being elec­tronic and in the cloud. There’s no need to call up the office to get a staff mem­ber away from their tasks at hand to answer a sim­ple question.

There are so many other options avail­able that would make your exist­ing staff’s lives eas­ier, and encour­age other poten­tial job seek­ers to upgrade and train them­selves so their jobs are multi-faceted, multi-skilled.

The fan­tas­tic thing in the Sin­ga­pore con­text is the fact that all these things can be sub­sidised. Actu­ally, sub­sidi­s­a­tion is an under­state­ment. The Gov­ern­ment is prac­ti­cally pay­ing busi­nesses to modernize.

Take the Pro­duc­tiv­ity and Inno­va­tion Credit (PIC) for exam­ple. You get a 400% write off in your busi­ness’ tax returns (for busi­nesses that employ 3 or more local staff), mean­ing if you buy a $1,000 com­puter, it is worth $4,000 in your tax returns, so you pay less in taxes.

But if you were mak­ing a loss, no wor­ries — the scheme lets you get a cash rebate of 60% for your pur­chase. So if you were to buy a $1,000 com­puter, dis Gah­men GIVES YOU BACK $600!

DIS KIND OF LOBANG WHERE CAN FIND LIDDAT? SRSLY!

And if you think that’s like ZOMG WLE SIGN ME UP NAO, there is more money being thrown your way to make your com­pany staff’s lives easier.

After get­ting an e2i Inclu­sive Growth Pro­gramme (IGP) dis­count of 50% off your pro­duc­tiv­ity pur­chase, if you spend more than $5,000 in a qual­i­fy­ing period and you have claimed a PIC grant of 60%, you are eli­gi­ble for a (tax­able) addi­tional cash grant of 100%. Con­fused? Nair mind.

Exem­pli gra­tia: You pur­chase $12,000 of sev­eral com­put­ers, machin­ery, and soft­ware that make your staff’s lives eas­ier and more pro­duc­tive.
You get 50% e2i IGP dis­count and only spend $6,000.

You suc­cess­fully claim a PIC cash pay­out of 60% or $3,600. THEN DIS GAHMEN WILL NOW GIVE YOU AN ADDITIONAL $6,000! OMGWTFBBQ DIS IS THE REAL GREAT SINGAPORE SALE!

Is this Bud­get seri­ous about sup­port­ing SMEs and mak­ing lives of work­ers bet­ter? How about you read the pre­vi­ous five para­graphs to answer the question?

You’ve prob­a­bly also heard about the increase in CPF con­tri­bu­tion rates for the over 55s. There’s just not enough in work­ers’ CPFs to cover retire­ment neces­si­ties, partly because of how much older Sin­ga­pore­ans are when they do finally get mar­ried and have kids, and how much more our life expectan­cies have increased.

I’m glad dis gah­men is also imple­ment­ing grants to cover the increase in employ­ers’ con­tri­bu­tions. Of course, thanks are in order to NTUC for push­ing the idea of increas­ing employ­ers’ con­tri­bu­tions to the lawmakers.

There’s also other monies to tap on if you’re inter­ested in improv­ing work­ers’ skills — the Life­long Learn­ing and Con­tin­u­ing Edu­ca­tion Fund has now been topped up to $4.6b. Again, these funds and schemes have been pushed by NTUC for sev­eral years now.

You can call it the happy cir­cle of life — happy employ­ees, pro­duc­tive com­pany, bet­ter prod­ucts, and hap­pier cus­tomers. The ball is firmly in our court to put the money to good use — make your employ­ees hap­pier, more pro­duc­tive, more skilled and make your staff and your busi­ness con­tinue to be the back­bone of the Sin­ga­pore economy.

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Children under shelter

A super cyclone lashes the low lying Padma delta region, wip­ing out scores of vil­lages and ren­der­ing mil­lions of peo­ple home­less. The refugees who are able to start stream­ing onto higher ground, into already clogged and crowded cities like Chit­tagong and Kolkatta. And since we’re talk­ing about mil­lions of peo­ple — it becomes a cat­a­stro­phe of unprece­dented proportions.

Over here in Sin­ga­pore, we’re still only just com­plain­ing about 2 months with­out rain, and the haze com­pelling us to spend the rest of our time indoors. We empathise and send aid in the form of cash, food and cloth­ing. Burma and India start to ask for aid because they can’t cope with the influx of mil­lions. Bangladesh is on its knees as dis­ease begins to take hold of every­thing that isn’t in the mas­sive exodus.

Then it hap­pens — the tens of thou­sands of low wage work­ers from Bangladesh and the Kolkatta region refuse to repa­tri­ated after their con­tracts expire, because they have no homes to return to. The UN bars Sin­ga­pore from repa­tri­at­ing any­one newly classed as Cli­mate Refugees. And that, is how cli­mate change will become a mat­ter of national secu­rity. Read more and start to do something.

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Update: Give­away extended to 2 April 2014, 2359hrs

I count myself one of the lucky peo­ple in this con­stantly chang­ing coun­try. I had a mother who was a relent­less hoarder of things. She kept everything.

I dis­cov­ered a tonne of things she kept that I thought she would’ve thrown away. After all, she did throw away my ACSOBA (ACS Old Boys’ Asso­ci­a­tion) rugby jer­sey that had been retired and given to me when I played a game back in the late 80s. That the school and its Old Boys’ Asso­ci­a­tion retired their jer­seys only once every five years did not move her. She had dis­ap­proved of my play­ing rugby, even after I had left school, because rugby boys were a bad bunch.

When she passed away three years ago, my sis­ter went through her belong­ings and passed me a box of things which turned out to be a trea­sure trove. In the box was a plas­tic folder she had neatly kept her own “Leav­ing School Cer­tifi­cate” from ACS Serem­ban (Malaya) in 1955, her dri­ving licence from Mel­bourne, her first pay slip from the same city, and a rejec­tion let­ter from the PUB in Sin­ga­pore in 1965 when she applied for a job upon set­tling in the newly inde­pen­dent repub­lic of our country.

That same year, my mother and father had returned to the newly fed­er­ated union of Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore by ship from Mel­bourne, plan­ning to marry in Malaysia and set­tle in the city of Sin­ga­pore to live and work. It seems it wasn’t long after they dis­em­barked at Clif­ford Pier that that whole episode known as The Sep­a­ra­tion happened.

She made an amaz­ing effort to keep my stuff too. There are about 10 copies of my birth cer­tifi­cate, my cit­i­zen­ship cer­tifi­cate (I had not been a cit­i­zen at birth even though I was born in Sin­ga­pore — con­sti­tu­tional lawyers would know why), my first IC, pass­port pho­tos through the years, Army mugshots, old bank­books, cleared and returned cheques and dozens of other para­pher­na­lia wor­thy of a museum display.

I am for­ever grate­ful that she kept these things in such great con­di­tion, given that every­thing else in our coun­try seems to be get­ting erased and built over so relent­lessly and rapidly. I can hardly remem­ber what Marina Bay looked like when it was a real bay.

Where I lived from birth till I was about 6 is also almost a mere mem­ory. I remem­ber my first address: 412 Pasir Pan­jang Road, Sin­ga­pore 5. Yes, a sin­gle digit postcode.

Across the road there used to be a police sta­tion (not an NPP), where police­men in their shorts used to be sum­moned across by my mother to scare the crap out of me when I mis­be­haved. Behind the police sta­tion was the beach, and a jetty where fish­ing boats docked, unload­ing their catch to be sold at the fishmonger’s (Ah Heng’s) on the cor­ner of Pasir Pan­jang and Clementi Roads.

I must be one of the lucky, lucky few who can still find his house of birth after 45 years. The orig­i­nal stones that make up the gate’s pil­lars are still there in its 70s kitschy glory. I drove past it last year and reminded myself to go and take a pic­ture of the gate. Or maybe chip off a piece for keep­sake. After all, the police sta­tion is no longer across the road.

From this mag­i­cal box my mother left with me, there are four items I want to share with you:

From the magical box of belongings

From the mag­i­cal box of belongings

My First Pink IC

My first Pink IC: This was essen­tially a piece of pink paper with printed fields and a hand­writ­ten sig­na­ture of a civil ser­vant autho­rised to issue IC on behalf of the Com­mis­sioner of National Reg­is­tra­tion. We always won­dered who this per­son was. Every one had the same sig­na­ture, and it always looked like it read “Mdm Sam”. So, Madam Sam, if you’re still around, reveal your­self and let the world know who you are.

OCBC Cheque, 1970:

OCBC Cheque, 1970: In the age of paper, non digi­tised cur­rency, a cheque would take 3–5 work­ing days to clear. Once cleared, it was returned to the drawer, because it had served it’s pur­pose as an instruc­tion to the bank to pay the payee what­ever amounts of money was writ­ten on it. 45 years later, a cheque still takes about 2–3 work­ing days to clear, and it was only this week that inter­bank elec­tronic trans­fers were sped up to 1 work­ing day.

Diphteria Vaccination Certificate, 1969:

Diph­te­ria Vac­ci­na­tion Cer­tifi­cate, 1969: I don’t even know what diph­the­ria is now. But what about that fancy pen­man­ship of the clerk huh?

Army ROD Clearance Form

Army ROD Clear­ance Form: Does any­one even know what a cyclostyled sheet is or how poor Army clerks used to get ink on their hands mak­ing cyclostyle copies of Rou­tine Orders?

And not from the box my mother left me, this is a pic­ture of the gate’s pil­lars at 412 Pasir Pan­jang Road:

The gate pillar of my first home

I played within these gates, on the dri­ve­way, on my toy cars and bicy­cles. I hope my son will remem­ber his play­grounds and other places he spends with his Mama and Papa the same way I try to remem­ber mine. It is impor­tant to have that sense of belong­ing and continuity.

I strongly urge every­one to take stock of the things around you, record them and the sto­ries attached to them, for pos­ter­ity, and for the pros­per­ity of our col­lec­tive memories.

As part of the Sin­ga­pore Mem­ory Project’s “10 for Keeps” cam­paign, a fab­u­lous mem­ory kit worth over $100 will be given away to 2 of you, and it comes com­plete with an Instax cam­era, a guide book on how to record your favourite mem­o­ries, two packs of film and a pam­phlet to sub­mit some of the pho­tos to SMP.

Some of your pho­tos may be selected for a Mem­ory Show­case exhi­bi­tion at the lobby of the National Library Build­ing from 11 Apr — 26 May. Come and check out if yours have been chosen.

Details on the project can be found on www.iremember.sg or on FB at facebook.com/iremembersg

Before you leave this page, leave a com­ment below to share what items you cher­ish the most, and the mem­ory that comes with it by 31 March 2014. Best two entries (I choose) will win this Mem­ory Kit.

The fabulous Singapore Memory Kit

The fab­u­lous Sin­ga­pore Mem­ory Kit

 

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OK the fort­night is almost up, and I think I’ve lost the Blog­ger Chal­lenge com­po­nent (to get as many peo­ple to sign up for the 1 Mil­lion kg chal­lenge) of the campaign.

That means a for­feit. Of me wear­ing span­dex and doing yoga or some other exer­cise designed to make me look more ridicu­lous than I already do. So please, if you want to save your eyes and those of the nation, do your part and let me not be last if there’s still time.

Being a part of this cam­paign has been inter­est­ing. Not least because I got my friends think­ing about what they’re eat­ing and what they’re doing about their health. I get lunch reports from friends telling me what they’ve had and what they’ve cut out. A fried chicken meal is now had apologetically.

Last week, a friend brought Naomi and I a box of deli­cious nonya kuehs sprin­kled with coconut and guilt.

Per­son­ally I don’t believe in putting even more stress on myself when it comes to my own health. I count myself lucky I’m able to enjoy tasty and unhealthy good­ies once in a while, and in mod­er­a­tion. But to be able to do that requires a lit­tle bit of thought into what I’m eating.

Two years ago I was diag­nosed with hav­ing pre-diabetes and I’m quite sure if I hadn’t mod­i­fied my diet then, I’d have upsized it to full dia­betes by now. I’m now so used to not hav­ing soft drinks or any drinks with added sugar that the last time I had a gin­gerale, I had a stom­ach ache for a whole night. Most days now, the drink accom­pa­ny­ing my meal is a glass of water or a cup of unsweet­ened tea.

It pays to be mind­ful, and I’m glad we eat health­ily in our house­hold. I know it’s hard to change our mind­sets — but like the pro­lif­er­a­tion of soup stalls shows, once we cre­ate the demand for health­ier food, the sup­ply will follow.

If the 1 mil­lion kg chal­lenge is new to you, or your friends, sign up, and sign them up. Oh lordy save me.

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So we have two bad cops, one Abe Lin­coln, one Panda pair, two baris­tas and one West­ern Wyld Style avail­able to swap for:

Emmett, William Shake­speare, Robot Girl Recep­tion­ist & Mer­maid. If we get these, then EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

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photo 4
There’s been a surge in soup shops across the CBD in the past two years, cater­ing to work­ers’ increas­ing pref­er­ence for health­ier options. I’ve tried some of these places, and I’ve never gone back to any. Soups dished out from boil­ing vats are sim­ply depress­ing, and most of them don’t taste good.

It is dif­fi­cult find­ing cheap, healthy, and tasty lunch options, but I think this trin­ity might have finally arrived in the form of this non­de­script food stall in a cof­fee shop in Bukit Merah Cen­tral. Thanks are due to Dr Leslie Tay and the HPB’s 1 Mil­lion kg Chal­lenge for bring­ing us to this place.

Called Lim’s Soup (The Art of Soup), the food stall is lov­ingly owned and oper­ated by Eric Lim in the day. By night, Eric does some­thing in finance. He didn’t elab­o­rate and I didn’t ask what it is that requires you to work at night in finance, because when you make soup as awe­some as his shop does, why would you want to talk about any­thing in finance?

Soups are dif­fer­ent at Lim’s, as Eric explains — there is a sci­ence (and and art) to “double-boiling” soup. The indi­rect heat extracts the flavour of the soup’s ingre­di­ents with­out over­cook­ing (yes you can over­cook soup) them. The results are clear broths and sub­tle flavours that dis­pense with the need for fur­ther sea­son­ing, or god for­bid, MSG.

Apart from the soups, Lim’s offer three grained steamed rice with a top­ping of cab­bage as accom­pa­ni­ment, as well as menu items such as steamed minced meats with var­i­ous top­pings like salted egg yolk.

 
photo 1
There’s also a dish of baked rice with salted fish which is prob­a­bly the best I’ve ever tasted. At other places, you’d prob­a­bly dig into the dish and bite into chunks of salted fish which kill your taste­buds. Not so with Lim’s ver­sion because the salted fish is so finely minced that it infuses the entire dish.
photo 5
The thing that’ll prob­a­bly make me lim a lot more of Lim’s Soup is that they deliver (if you order a day in advance). They’ll dou­ble boil your order and put them in vac­uum flasks that will keep your dishes warm for two hours. This is because Eric thinks microwav­ing your soup to reheat them is an insult to every ingre­di­ent in your soup. He’s such a double-boiled soup nazi about it that he’ll let you keep the vac­uum flask and only col­lect them the day after you’ve fin­ished your meal. Now, that’s dedication.

Lim’s Soup (The Art of Soup)
Block 161, Bukit Merah Cen­tral
Sin­ga­pore 150161.
11:30am to 8pm
Closed Sun­days and PH
Tel: 83837687

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Our combined weight might be close

Our com­bined weight might be close

So I went to the 1 Mil­lion kg Chal­lenge launch at Ngee Ann City’s Civic Plaza on Sat­ur­day, signed myself up for the chal­lenge by pledg­ing to lose 3kg in three weeks.
It was a mas­sive event, with exer­cise sta­tions and sus­te­nance sta­tions where you could pre­sum­ably learn about what kind of exer­cise was suit­able for you, and what kind of food you could eat to become, and remain healthy.
The bad news is, in the days after the launch, I haven’t exactly been on the straight and nar­row path to suc­cess. Being in the mid­dle of a the­atre pro­duc­tion does that to you. It can be dif­fi­cult to get enough rest, and I think I must have tal­lied an aver­age of 5 hours a night this past fort­night.
Mon­day must have been a demon­stra­tion of what not to do if you wanted to lose weight: I woke up, dal­lied before skip­ping break­fast, then hav­ing a high carb lunch with lit­tle pro­tein before feel­ing faint and trem­bly from hunger at about 4pm. Loaded up on another high carb pre-dinner, before hav­ing din­ner and dessert. Fail.
I’ll get bet­ter. Promise.
Mean­time, if you’re strug­gling with try­ing to get healthy and don’t know where to start — try sign­ing up for the 1 Mil­lion kg Chal­lenge and make a rea­son­ably achiev­able pledge. There’ll be days (like mine) where your plans go awry, but keep at it, and keep me com­pany. Let me know how your jour­ney goes!
Remem­ber to sign up: http://bit.ly/1iw4Uko

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Prime Min­is­ter grate­fully posts a pic­ture of rain:

"LHL=Lor Hor Liao". Hahahaha!

LHL=Lor Hor Liao”. Hahahaha!

The Act­ing Min­is­ter For Man­power posts a pic­ture of rain:

Grateful if stop work orders happen due to rain...

Grate­ful if stop work orders hap­pen due to rain…

And the Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Tampines posts a pic­ture of himself:

Magic selfie FTW

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We’re into the third month of the new year, and while I’m glad I didn’t make any health-related res­o­lu­tions to break, I haven’t done any­thing for my health apart from an alco­hol fast that ended when I went on hol­i­day last month (walau, Hokkaido is home to many first class brew­eries, can?)

But that’s going to change with another HPB ini­tia­tive. The 1Million kg Chal­lenge aims to make the whole coun­try lose 1 mil­lion kg through healthy choices in diet and fit­ness. That hope­fully will make Sin­ga­pore light enough to be towed out of this region and away from the haze.

So if you don’t want to be in the haze*, and want to be healthy, do sign up for the chal­lenge at www.millionkg.sg to pledge your weight loss or com­plete healthy tasks to be rewarded** with prizes.
1MKGC Blogger Challenge - MIYAGI
The other chal­lenge the HPB has ini­ti­ated is this #1mkg Blog­ger Chal­lenge. mrbrown, DanielFood­Di­ary, and myself will try to get as many peo­ple sign­ing up on the 1 Mil­lion kg Chal­lenge por­tal. Please click through this link or my pic­ture on the right to sign up, and I’ll be cred­ited with the referral.

This is where I beg and grovel for your help. Because if I come in last, they’re going to make me do some­thing humil­i­at­ing, like wear­ing span­dex and doing hot yoga or some­thing. So, tolong. Because mrbrown looks bet­ter in span­dex than I do.

Over the next three weeks, mrbrown, DanielFood­Di­ary, and myself will be talk­ing about our chal­lenges in becom­ing healthy. We’ll be accom­pa­nied and men­tored by the evil Dr Leslie Tay, who will tor­ture us with tales of tasty hawker food while telling us it’s bad for us.

mrbrown and myself will also be at Ngee Ann City this Sat­ur­day between 3 and 4pm, sup­port­ing the launch of this cam­paign. Come and have a chat with us, and maybe give us your weight loss tips.

Think you’re up for the chal­lenge? If so, then it’s game on! #campaign4mrbrown2wearspandex!

*sorry, jok­ing. Haze beyond our con­trol
**min­i­mum sys­tem require­ments: par­tic­i­pants must be between 18 and 64 years old, and have an exist­ing BMI of between 18.5 to 37.4

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At the last man­age­ment coun­cil meet­ing of the last year at my condo, we were pre­sented with a request by the clean­ing com­pany for a 20% con­tract fee hike. The man­ag­ing agent then pre­sented us with three other quotes that hov­ered around the old fee mark. We opted to ter­mi­nate the incum­bent and go with the cheaper one. 20% was just too much.

The con­trac­tor gave the usual rea­sons — gah­men tight­en­ing sup­ply of labour, and the man­dated pro­gres­sive wages about to hit the industry.

The Pro­gres­sive Wage Model did indeed ‘hit’ last month, in a bet­ter way than I thought — in an incen­tive (bas­ket, early nair say) worth a total of $5M for buy­ers of ser­vices — mean­ing we could’ve stayed with the old clean­ing com­pany, and NTUC’s Pro­gres­sive Wage Incen­tive would’ve foot part of the bill.

That’s a nice cush­ion for buy­ers since it is now com­pul­sory for clean­ing com­pa­nies to imple­ment the Pro­gres­sive Wage Model – Lim Swee Say’s bet­terer ver­sion of the min­i­mum wage. Clean­ers will now have bet­ter entry pays (at least above $1,000 per month), with clear path­ways to higher pay based on work expe­ri­ence, skill upgrad­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity improvements.

That, together with other grants (from the e2i) means that out­sourc­ing indus­tries like clean­ing com­pa­nies and secu­rity busi­nesses can look at ven­dors of machines, sys­tems and ser­vices that improve their pro­duc­tiv­ity so they can pro­vide the same level of ser­vice for clients with­out hav­ing to jack up prices 20% all of a sud­den. (Which, in the words of a mem­ber our man­age­ment coun­cil — “wah lao, one time so high, is too much”).

I also sat through a par­tic­u­larly dry pre­sen­ta­tion (sorry ah, pre­sen­ter) by the Changi Air­port Group dur­ing the Best Sourc­ing Sym­po­sium at the e2i, and man­aged to glean some­thing — that with pas­sen­ger num­ber increases over the last five years, the adop­tion of best sourc­ing prac­tices has some­how man­aged to keep the con­tract cost and num­ber of clean­ers rel­a­tively low while main­tain­ing clean­li­ness standards.

There are ways for com­pa­nies and buy­ers to bite the bul­let and shift towards a more pro­duc­tive and inno­v­a­tive mind­set, and seri­ously, you can get a dis­count via the Pro­gres­sive Wage Incen­tive if you’re one of the first to do it. Apply now before it runs out!

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