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!


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 or on FB at

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



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:

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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 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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