The Mean Meat-Eating Squirrels Of New York

This is the first time I’ve been to New York, and it’s been more than what I expected. As with many people, I’ve known New York from books, television, film and every other type of media.

I’ve heard people say New York City is the centre of the universe. I now know it’s true.

I’ve also heard friends who’ve said “New York toughens you up”, and “it’s a brash place”, which I misinterpreted to mean that people here are rude and cold. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Bar one stressed out transient investment banker type cyclist in Lower Manhattan screaming profanities at a homeless man, everyone has been pleasant and polite. While pushing Kai’s pram around the city, I’ve had people holding doors for me, giving way, and at one time, letting Kai jump queue at the gents’. Then again, Kai was shouting, “my poo poo is coming out, my poo poo is coming out”.

The squirrels though, are another matter. They are bold. Singapore squirrels scurry up trees and lampposts when you approach. NYC squirrels eyeball you and approach you with impunity when they see you eating a sandwich, especially a meat sandwich. On our first day in the city, we took a walk in Central Park, and witnessed a man having to leave his park bench because a squirrel looked like it was about to pounce on the pastrami and rye that he was holding.

While we’re not the usual tourists – we don’t have to see the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building up close – we’ve got a show to catch and a meal (we’ll have what she’s having) to have at Katz’s in the coming days, and maybe return to some of the magnificent museums which we’ve only explored a touch of.

Kung Fu Squirrel of Central Park
Kung Fu Squirrel of Central Park

Double Confirm Your Dream Interior

My friend Hossan and I are doing something fun and interesting for Dream Interiors on 28 June at 7pm at 456 River Valley Road, Singapore 248342. Called Double Confirm Your Dream, it features Hossan doing a stand-up comedy set (except because there are chairs in a furniture shop, it’s more like a sit-down comedy performance).

The show is absolutely free, plus there will be champagne and refreshments thrown in. We thought also that since it’s a furniture and interiors shop, what better game to play than musical chairs – with the winner actually going home with a chair from one of the fabulous brands the store carries?

If you’re interested in coming, email me (miyagi@miyagi.sg) with your name and contact number and we’ll put you on the guest list. Space is limited (I was gonna say seats, but then, it’s a furniture shop).

Hope you’ll come and enjoy yourselves!

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We Didn’t Start The Fire But…

Some of the forests that are being cleared by fire are apparently supposed to be under protection by a moratorium on deforestation. But as we know of many things in Indonesia, pacts count for little when there is money to be made.

Most of that money being made is coming from buyers downstream of palm oil. And many of those buyers come from Singapore, where we use palm oil daily (called “vegetable oil”) in cooking because it is cheap.

Palm oil was once considered a healthy alternative to trans fats, until a 2009 study showed otherwise. In Malaysia and several other markets, it’s also used as bio diesel. There are also palm oil derivatives in our personal care products like soaps and shampoos.

Palm oil is far from “green”. If anything, if we survive this bout of PSI 400+ smoke, it’s a good time for us to be more aware of our huge demand for palm oil, and how it’s feeding the greed of the Indonesian palm oil producing companies, their shareholders and their various levels of government.

Take a look at your labels. Boycott palm products.

How Did You Spend Father’s Day?

This is the second consecutive Father’s Day we’ve been abroad with family, and I think it’s a good way to spend it. We’re gonna make this a tradition.

To all Dads – Happy Father’s Day – it’s a day to be thankful for family, and for the time you get to spend with them. A big shout out to every man who’s traded in a fast car for an MPV, a coupe for a wagon, and spent way more than you’ve dreamed of on a stroller.

Papa & Kai
Papa & Kai

Being A Good Boss Man

I’ve been an employer for several years now, and when I first started, it was easy to look for advice from other “bosses”. Whether that advice was good or not is another matter.

What’s been evident is the difference in attitudes between the younger generation of employers and the older. Last year when one of my current employees reached his first anniversary of working at my company (and survived), I thanked him and apologized that things weren’t quite as rosy as I would have liked them to be, and that I read the National Wages Council’s recommendation for that year, but I could only afford to pay him an increment slightly higher than what the annual rate of inflation was.

Expecting him to be disappointed, I was a little shocked that he said I was the first employer he’d worked for to even consider things such as inflation, or even to have spoken about the National Wages Council.

Who are the shadowy people of the NWC, you may well ask? They’re from the trade unions, the Ministry of Manpower, and employers. And every year since 1972, they’ve been giving guidelines to whether and how to implement wage increases.

And there’s the rub – they’re just guidelines. And whether or not the workers of the nation get a pay increase or not is dependent on the paymaster – and a lot has also to do with whether the company’s employers are unionized, because just looking at last year’s NWC recommendations – 80% of of unionized companies followed the recommended increase, and only 30% of non-unionized companies did. What’s more, only 25% of Singapore workers are in the union.

Yet for some reason, people complain about how the NTUC isn’t doing anything to help increase the wages of workers. Hallo? How to help if you’re not in a union?

In any case, employers were surveyed last year, and some of those that didn’t implement the wage increases obviously had issues with company growth, cash flow or a giam ganna boss.

My fellow employers, there are ways to help your situation. Out of the minimum $60 wage increase recommendation for workers earning up to $1,000, the gahmen’s Wage Credit Scheme can subsidize $24. That’s 40% leh! 

I remember speaking with a man in his 60s a few years ago, who was doing ok with his business (not making a loss), and he was complaining about the NWC and how they keep recommending increases. I was struck by his summary: “Every year ask us to increase pay, where to find the money? My backside ah?” 

With a few years’ employer’s experience in my pocket, if I had spoken to him today, I’d have said, “Abu den? You have a responsibility to your staff as well as your profit margin, and the money would indeed have to come from your backside, not your staff’s”.

The way things stand at the moment, the challenge is in getting employers to shift their attitudes a little and come on board to actively promote their workers’ welfare. The Singapore National Employers’ Federation (SNEF) is a union of bosses that I think I might also sign up for – there are quite a few things they offer that I and my staff could use.

My current staff would be happy to know I’m joining a union to get help to improve their welfare (which they say is currently pretty darn good – cos we have this thing called “boss buy lunch day” once a month where we pick an expensive restaurant for a two hour lunch and eat and discuss work – I get the best insights into how my clients are handled, and my staff get a great lunch).