Tag Archive | Hongkong

Man’s ingratitude

Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As a friend remembered not.

These were some of the earliest Shakespearean lines I learned at school, oh so many years ago.

They kept coming back to mind when viewing and reviewing events of the couple of days leading up to the so-called 5,000-strong protest at Hong Lim Park. And what took place on Feb 16.

For goodness sake, with him at 89 years old and  said to be too unwell to attend his constituency’s lo-hei dinner; with the goodwill of Chinese New Year still very much in the air, I wonder where’s the decency of those who colic-d at Hong Lim Park the evening after news of his inability to show up? Worse, to exploit young cute kids, to get them to carry placards! How lxx can you go? And I don’t mean Thia Khiang who like all House members stayed away. Thank goodness for their dignity, compassion and graciousness.

Don’t get me wrong. I may be madder with the PAP G than even some of those who made hue n cry at last Saturday’s protest.

Grouse Number 1 for me is their COE policy that has raised the COE for a new basic car to 100+% of the price of what I would have had to pay 30 months ago for a car + COE.

But I got a bigger grouse with myself. I had failed to read the news closely regarding pending drying up of COE numbers and so hadn’t bid aggressively enough (via the car agent lah!). I now have to drive with the consequences of my misreading — an almost 7-year old car 😥

Grouse Number 2 for me is the uneven playing field they have created for HDB owners and private property owners. Why allow HDB owners to buy private and still hold on to their HDB homes when private are now banned from venturing into the HDB ressale market?

Yet again, I got a bigger grouse with myself. When the rules were relaxed some 10+ years ago, family members and I did go sniffing around HDB estates. But we always came away with more minus than plus points and our search for that perfect HDB resale unit was never ending. Somehow, nothing grabbed our hearts or purses!

Not so an acquaintance who came back to live in SG after a life-time in Europe — just after the HDB resale market was liberalised. Without any home in SG, she heard from me about the joys of a Marine Parade 3-room flat, owned by a dear friend of mine. I extolled the great sea-view and the greater renovation. No, this friend wasn’t  selling. I was using her home as a conversational piece.

Imagine my surprise when within a week, the acquaintaince called to say that she had settled for a unit in the same block where my friend is, on the same floor but in a different wing. A corner unit for the grandtotal sum of $270,000! Could I introduce her to my friend as she would like to use the same contractor and designer that my friend used when she took possession of the flat??

I was taken aback by her super quick action and wondered whether this acquaintance hadn’t been too hasty and hadn’t thought through her options etc

Given where the property market has gone since then, she certainly didn’t buy in haste and now lives to enjoy at leisure 😆

So, yes, while I’m mad with the G for it’s unfair treatment of private property owners, I really only have myself to blame for not rushing into the window of opportunity but instead dithered irresolutely.

And yes, I’m also unhappy about the population White Paper but not over the potential or “worst case scenario” of 6.9 million residents. In fact, I’ve no problem with even more people, because in any contest, won’t it be better to have 10 million Singaporeans marching strong, than 10,000 Singaporeans?

What makes me apprehensive is the mad dash to build homes and infrastructure. Besides the mess, the inconvenience, the perpetual disruption to vehicular traffic and thereby negating much of road improvements, think of the inflation explosion which this mad rush to build, build and build will cause. See here. Might make what the COE prices have done to my savings look like a minor blip in the continuum!

And of course where public transport connectivity is concerned, our G gets a major F from me, when i compare it to Hongkong!

Yet despite all this anger, would I like the PAP G a lot better or be less angry with it, if it allows wild cat strikes as the new normal? So instead of being hopping mad with buses that don’t come or come in convoys, would I be happier if there aren’t any buses or taxis to be had for love or money — say for 24 hours? Ditto, instead of super crowded trains or breakdowns, we get regular walk outs of drivers and there isn’t any MRT, crowded or otherwise, every few months?

It’s been a life-time since we didn’t have radio or TV when we tuned in. Would we feel more liberated, if like the BBC, Mediacorp’s crew now and then down tools to protest their rights? And of cos, if the Straits Times staff now go on strike like they did in 1971, it’s more their funeral than the readers, given the vast array of alternative sources of news and information 😉

Frankly, now that most countries in our neighbourhood or farther afield have taps, telephones and all other modern cons that work, there isn’t much that truly distinguishes Singapore from the rest.

Mayb it’s time that we went back to the time where nothing worked so that we can stand out distinct, unique, poor and a harbinger of what could await those who aren’t grateful for what they have inherited?


I truly <3 Hongkong's transport system

Now that everyone n his uncle are raving about China’s Special Administrative Region’s seamless connectivity treat for commuters — including the Straits Times which has begun rolling out magnum opus-like pieces about Hongkong’s transport system eg Sep 23 by xueying@sph.com is one (Pointers from HK’s public transport) — I feel i must trumpet that I’ve been singing that system’s praise (as compared to our abysmal one) since 2009!

Let me gather the links right here for friends and enemies who drop by this site to savour! Remember, I sang HK’s praise first 🙄






PS: Our G is getting it right by asking — more effective to demand in this situation — that shopping mall owners better get their act together n build links between their premises and/or our MRT stations. That’s why Hongkong’s MTR works so well. Even if unlike HK, G and SMRT don’t normally own the properties on and around the MRT stations, but it’s NO excuse to say linkages can’t be made. Let Parliament start cracking the whip, I say!

Hooray, cheaper by the millions!

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a recent forum on the National Conversation that Singapore could accommodate 6 million people in time to come. Which sent lots of Internet folks into a tizzy, feeling claustrophobic at the prospect.

Personally, I welcome the prospect. The more the merrier, I say, as I’m one of those rare Singaporeans who have no problems with foreigners.

Think where would I be if not for the fact that we have Picky Siti from the deepest Lampung in Sumatra looking after my mother and my home of 1,750 sq ft for these past 5 or so years. Sure, she isn’t the most accommodating of foreigners, especially when one has to have her in one’s home.

But when she was away for 39 days on home leave in recent weeks, I needed two part-time cleaners, an old friend to come stay over as an emergency net and myself working flat out to cook, shop for essentials and look after mum.

Picky, a foreigner, did the work of four persons! 🙄

Her absence also made me realise very quickly that I no longer need to live in such a big place and that a shoe box home or two would do very well for me! One to live in and one to let out. Then i won’t need to invest so much time and money (water, detergents, mops, pails, manpower and related cleaning equipment) to keep the place clean!

Which brings me to why having 6 million people in SG will make it an almost certainty that the majority of us will have to live in smaller homes. Which is no bad thing.

Think of the money that will be freed up — smaller homes could make for smaller mortgages. Less need for live-in domestic help — so fewer foreign “talent” of the wrong kind — while ladies and gentlemen of the house might even have enough spare time to remain longer in the formal workforce or rejoin it, if they don’t need to expend time slogging in keeping home n hearth clean. That may help to ease SG’s perennial labour shortage.

When we have 6 million plus people, there will be gr8er economy of scale, whether it be what we produce, import or consume. There will be gr8er choice and variety. Why, those of us who are still single could even have more chance of a compatible mate right at our door step, without any need to go overseas to fish in bigger ponds.

There will also be more working folks and rich folks to support the uneconomic old from yesteryears.

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to live in Hongkong because of  its way of packing ’em in that makes living and moving around so convenient and effortless. Transport is well integrated with housing and commercial centres so that going from home to work, shop, eat and play is a breeze.

Now that SG is on the way to match Hongkong’s people mass, I can stay put and have Hongkong’s way of life come to me.

So, please pretty please, let’s speed up the transformation — not slow it down!

Die for one another? Better to live for S’pore!

MM Lee: You must want to die for each other .. so said a story by Elgin Toh on Straits Times Online.

Actually, I can’t be sure that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew did throw such a challenge to Singaporeans.

I didn’t catch the TV news on it, assuming that Channelnewsasia covered the launch of Hard Truths, comprising 16 interviews over 32 hours that MM Lee gave to a Straits Times team. Can’t find it on the Todayonline website either. I checked yesterday’s  ST hard copy, which arrived this morning with my usual supply of old copies from my nephew’s home.

Well, there are no direct quotes on the topic from MM in the ST paper. There’s an inference, that’s all.

Be that as it may.

Let’s assume that MM Lee did convey such a challenge to Singaporeans, albeit not in so many words.

Thus, let me say with all due respect to Mr Lee: I think it’s so quaint and last century a notion to talk about citizens dying for one another.

In this mostly pragmatic and cynical age — unless you belong to the coterie of fanatics of all persuasions — no one would die for a cause, in the vein as celebrated by the Charge of the Light Brigade or, more recently, as celebrated in Chinese kungfu movies and similar sagas.

(Oh incidentally, I was once inspired to write a doggerel of a Chinese soldier bidding farewell to his beloved — after I watched one of Jet Li’s films. Here it is:

Farewell my tender love.
The bugle calls and I must go.
If this flag
instead of me
you see,
then know I’ve
ceased to be,
for the sake
of our beloved


In this pragmatic and cynical age, the only “heroic” deaths would only be died by those who defend our law and order as a profession. They die in the line of duty; not for love of country or to preserve our way of life. Then, there will be those who die accidentally — in a reflex rush of public spiritedness — such as chasing a bag snatcher who unexpectedly turns super violent.

For the rest of us, it’s more apposite to ask us to live for Singapore and continue to live in Singapore, rather than declare ourselves Singaporeans loving Singapore forever but spend most of our lives elsewhere — out of choice.

We must be encouraged to continue to love living in Singapore even if our port may forever lose its No 1 status; even when our transport infrasture for the less affluent remains a far second behind Hongkong; even when many liveable cities within a four-hour flying time (most are far, far closer with no need to fly) beckons, offering 40% the cost of Singapore –for  living and sickness.

That’s the real challenge in my view when crystal ball gazing about the future of Singapore!

“In the old days” arguments don’t fly any more

With all due respect to our veteran politician, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, I think his story about waiting for more than an hour for a bus to go home every night when he was a young civil servant would provide cold comfort to those who nowadays have to struggle with the masses to get onto an MRT train during peak hours.

This is because whatever happened “in the old days” isn’t relevant or persuasive any more.

Yup, MRT trains are arriving every two minutes — at peak hours — and one needs wait perhaps up to a maximum of 8 minutes to squeeze into a less packed train.

But then, life today is a lot more intense and competitive than when SM Goh was young. There are so many things to occupy one’s time than there were 40, 45 years ago.

So everyone is doing his or her best to pack them into the 24 hours we have, and hanging around 8 minutes in a sardine-like station ain’t the best way to fritter away precious time.

Frankly, I’m not sure that making the frequency of trains go from 180 seconds down to 120 seconds at a cost of $1 billion will provide the full or perfect solution to the overcrowding of trains, especially when it won’t happen overnight, but several years down the line.

To me, what’s preventing me from adopting BMW in Singapore is the paucity, if not total lack, of good connectivity between B and M and reducing to negligible the W in the equation.

I love telling this story and have told it often. So I will tell it again.

Years ago, I was staying with a friend in Hongkong, whose flat was somewhere in Tai Koo Shing. It isn’t near an MTR station but it’s served by a series of mini buses right at the bottom of her block that took passengers at one flat fare to the MTR.

In all the time I stayed there, at whatever hour of day I went out, I always found a mini bus about to go off, or if I missed one, another appeared on the horizon even before the first was out of sight. It was the same for the journey from the MTR station to the flat.

And needless to say, it was the same with the MTR trains. I never had to beat my breast when I missed one, because another one would arrive on the platform almost immediately.

Hence, once, while in Central and not liking the lady’s loos in a departmental store, I actually went back to Tai Koo Shing to refresh myself and was back again in Central all in slightly over an hour.

Singapore’s public toilets are of a higher standard. So I never have need to rush from the heart of our shopping belt using public transport to get to the toilet at home.

But on the few occasions I turned out of choice (not need such as having no car for the day) to public transport in a burst of optimism about our trains and buses, usually brought on by positive write-ups or ads about our transport system, I’ve been sadly let down.

Such times, I found taking the MRT to Orchard or Newton and then a bus to get home a nightmare journey. Especially when I was foolish enough to be carrying highly perishable shopping like uncooked fish!

While there was nothing to complain about the trains, it was waiting for the connecting bus that reinforced every argument to have one’s own wheels.

I’ve waited anything from 20 minutes to half an hour, so that one journey that would take mayb 15 minutes to complete by car, could end up four times that, after factoring in walks to and out of stations.

Sure, in the old days, when I was a child, I had walked all the way from my school in Victoria Street to my home in Rangoon Road. More than once.

Why couldn’t I have walked just 3 bus stops from Newton or even six bus stops from Orchard? Instead of waiting for the bus?

The answer is this: we aren’t in the old days any more. The old is in me, dude! 😀

LTA, gimme seamless travel lah!

It may seem that I’ve got something against our LTA, judging by some of my posts in this blog. But I haven’t.

It’s just that I don’t think we have the sort of seamless travel that one enjoys in Hongkong. Which is a considerable cause for alarm because with our population now over 5 million and nudging HK’s, it’s about time Singapore does a lot better helping people to move around.

And seamless travel isn’t achieved by making it from cheaper to free to transfer from bus to MRT and back again, if the commuter so wishes. Frankly, which commuter would go to the trouble of making these transfers unless there’s also a huge saving in time — and that one can’t be sure of, given the erratic and whimsical time arrivals of our buses.

What makes for seamless travel and movement should also take into consideration the connectivity of buildings and this, alas, is an area that Singapore, while trying to catch up, is still a long way from Hongkong.

I was amazed by how easy it was to move between several buildings, without once needing to hit the road, dodge traffic and search for pedestrian crossings when I was on assignment in that city years ago.

And every visit since then, my admiration continues to soar for how linkways between buildings, small buses, the MTR and the plentiful availability of taxis all combine to make it such a breeze to get around Hongkong, the outlying islands, the New Territories and Shenzhen.

Not so in Singapore as I was reminded once again yesterday. I couldn’t get to Cathay Building from Plaza Singapura without getting out of the building into crowded Handy Road with its octopus-like series of lanes carrying impatient traffic into and out of the Plaza.

For some reason, I had believed that the Plaza was linked to Cathay Building via one of the basements. After all, isn’t Dhoby Ghaut the MRT station for both the Plaza and Cathay Building?

Dhoby Ghaut may be the station for Cathay Building but just like Park Mall, one can’t access the station from within the building. Which means no below street linkage between the Plaza and Cathay.

A fact I couldn’t believe to be true at first, hence I asked one shop-keeper in the Plaza to tell me how to get to Cathay. And then a passerby. And a leaflet distributor. Each said something along this line: “You have to get out of the building and then turn left…”

But I’m stubborn, convinced that the information given me must be wrong. So I went down to B2, followed the MRT sign till I got to the Dhoby Ghaut station. Dead end.

Still I refused to give up. I asked someone going into the station if I could go through the station and then reach Cathay Building. No, I was told, followed by a look that spoke volumes.

All right, I gave up. Got out of Plaza Singapura and walked to Cathay Building in the blazing sun and counted it a blessing, it wasn’t thunder and pouring rain I had to brave.

Now I somehow can’t help feeling that if Plaza Singapura and Cathay Building were in Hongkong, they won’t have been allowed to stand unconnected, unlinked and completely commuter unfriendly.

Chew on that LTA!

Stay in hotel or with friends?

This is a question that always vexes me when I travel.

Stay with friends and save on hotel money, have some company and also be certain that the accommodation is safe ( 😉 too many stories about haunted rooms, you see).

Stay in a hotel, not knowing who or what had been there before you; waste good money when you are hardly there enough to justify the price etc.

Of cos, put like that, there seems to be no contest, but that is to load the stay-with-friends option with all the good things and the stay-in-a-hotel option with all the bad things.

In truth, the drawback to staying with friends isn’t minor. When you are the guest in someone’s home, even a very good friend’s home, you have to obey his/her house rules and some of them could strangle a potentially good holiday.

I know of a Singapore woman, settled in New York, who is such a neat-freak that guests don’t dare put down their cups after sipping, because she whips them to the dish washer, even if the coffee is only half-finished. They don’t dare to leave their beds to go to the toilet early in the morning, because when they go back for a further snooze, the bed is already made.

I myself had experienced something similar when staying with a Malaysian friend who had settled in Switzerland. She dries her stainless steel sink so thoroughly after every use that no water mark ever appears to mar the shiny surface. And she expects the guest who should touch the sink to do the same!

And when I stay with friends in Malaysia, they somehow give me the impression that the whole country is unsafe, insisting on accompanying me everywhere I wanted to go, or if they can’t, they will make me stay home till they are free to take me, as exemplified by a visit to Penang I made late in 2008.

An even worse experience was a stay at an ex-colleague’s Bali home. The hostess, whom I’ve known for decades, is a very temperamental person and for whatever reason, during that visit she was downright hostile and rude to me throughout.

When I tell people about that experience, they suspect I exaggerate, as they can’t imagine I would suffer the insults for more than one minute, without packing up and checking into a hotel.  

In retrospect, I too wonder at myself. I put it down to the fact that I wanted to save the friendship but on returning home and on calmer reflection, I decided that there was really no friendship to begin with.

Thus the next time my erstwhile hostess made contact, I simply cut her dead, something that was a bit belated but nevertheless still gave me a kick!

So there’s some wisdom in my mother’s stand, that if she doesn’t have money for hotels, she won’t travel (altho she did accompany me to visit friends, once in New York and another time in Hongkong — not the most enjoyable of her trips, I suspect, even tho, she being an elder, my friends were more accommodating with her than with me!).

My mother isn’t alone in her stand, as I stumbled by chance on this declaration by Siutuapui, a Sibu-based prolific bogger, whose site I dug through recently, looking for nuggets of information on Kuching, where I would be heading in a couple of weeks.

The Sibu pacik wrote: “I prefer staying in hotels. Every time I travel, I will gracefully decline any invitation to stay at someone’s house, never mind whether it’s a relative or friend. Maybe it is because I used to travel a lot when I was still in government service and I stayed in hotels all the time…and I enjoyed the freedom and the privacy.”

I had begun to think like my mother and Siutuapui too, especially after the Penang experience, till I remember there are hosts/hostesses who are mostest by doing the least for their guests.

I always remember with pleasure my visit to MK in Shanghai in 2006. She just let LW (who travelled with me) and me have free run of her home, which was most central and convenient, since it was on Huaihai Lu.

She didn’t offer to show us the sights and we met for meals only if convenient, so neither she nor we felt obliged to work to the same time-table. She didn’t “look” after us yet she did enough to make us welcome, without suffocating us.

So we had the best of both worlds, a safe, comfortable and clean place to stay but with the freedom we enjoyed, we could have been in a hotel — but without any price tags.

My conclusion is this: I would stay in a hotel only if the friend who invited is more likely to spoil my holiday than improve it. And the best way to improve my stay is generally to leave me alone!