June 22, 2017

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Authors Posts by Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong
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by Ryan Ong

The latest in a 30+ year old “cyborg killer” franchise, Genisys is Director Alan Taylor’s attempt to restore interest in the ailing series. This movie takes place in an alternate timeline from James Cameron’s 1984 original. Resistance fighter Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and the Terminator (a CGI rendered, younger Arnold Schwarzenegger) both go back in time to tussle over Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame). And that’s where the ties to Cameron’s original abruptly ends.

Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
The mall of Medini in Iskandar.

by Ryan Ong

One of our favourite complaints is that the G won’t trust us with our money. But while the “nanny state” mentality chafes, it’s hard to argue that a lot of Singaporeans really are bad with their money.

Iskandar is a prime example. This is so spectacular an example of herd mentality, it should be studied by veterinarians, not property analysts. In 2013, Iskandar property agents could have demanded buyers wear cowbells in the showroom and the only response would have been “moo”.

These days, Iskandar fever has cooled a bit, but there are still Singaporeans pouring money into it – and many prior investors can’t bring themselves to cut their losses and leave. Why? Because too many of us still follow the way of the cow, and it ends in a slaughterhouse.

For the initiated, in other words, those who aren’t part of the herd, Iskandar Malaysia was established in November 2006. This an area about 2,200 sq km, covering Johor Bahru, Pontian, Senai, Pasir Gudang, and Nusajaya (which is the intended administrative capital of the region).

The Iskandar boom started around 2012 to 2013, with Australian billionaire Lang Walker investing S$1.59 billion in the region’s land development. Mr Robert Kuok, Malaysia’s richest man, soon followed suit.

Iskandar’s attraction is its close proximity to Singapore – it should, in theory, be popular among Malaysians who work in Singapore, and Singaporeans who live in Malaysia. Likewise, Singaporeans often shop in Malaysia (and vice versa), so easier access will only speed up economic development in the region.

Major industry players long ago expressed interest in Iskandar, like Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and Malaysia’s Khazanah Nasional, builder CapitaLand, and investors such as billionaire Peter Lim. Singapore Business Review reported in March 2013 that more than 3,500 Singapore businesses, mainly SMEs, have set up shop in Iskandar, pumping in more than RM5 billion. That was two years ago.

Investments grew significantly after Feb 19 2015, when the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart, Mr Najib Razak, agreed on the construction of the High Speed Rail (HSR). This rail line will connect Jurong East to Kuala Lumpur in a 90-minute trip, supposedly by the year 2020.

The HSR is relevant to Iskandar investors because it’s imperative to the region’s growth. DTZ Malaysia Consultancy & Research Head Brian Koh said: “The HSR will have a significant impact on population growth in Iskandar”. 

Another unnamed property analyst told The Malaysia Reserve: “It could be said the success of Iskandar does hinge on the rail project.”

Unfortunately most of this exists in the imagination. And with each passing month, cracks in the Iskandar dream become more obvious.

Red Flags Everywhere

Singaporean investors in Iskandar have had multiple warnings – some from the government, some from banks, and some from the muted voice of their common sense begging to be let out of the closet.

Without going into details (a simple Google search will highlight a multitude of issues), here are the warning signs:

  • There are around 336,000 private residences still about to be built in Iskandar. This number exceeds the number of private residences in Singapore, and does not yet include 1,400 hectares that will be space for even more residences after 2020.

On top of that, Iskandar is projected to have a population of about one-fifth of Singapore (around 1.3 million) in 2025. Landlords had better be ready to price war each other to death.

  • Malaysia’s Budget 2014 set a “magic number”: RM $1 million. This is the minimum amount a property must cost before a foreigner can buy it.

So a Singaporean investor who bought a property valued at, say, RM $700,000 before the budget announcement now cannot sell it to another foreigner. Not unless the property value goes up to RM$1 million.

But can local buyers (people living in the Iskandar region) afford properties in the RM $700,000 – RM $900,000 range? We don’t know. If it turns out they can’t, and foreigners also can’t buy it, the property just becomes a liquidity problem.

In addition to this, Malaysia imposed a 2 per cent property levy, and increased sales tax.

The late Minister Mentor already warned us about this : “This is an economic field of co-operation in which, you must remember, we are putting investments on Malaysian soil, and at the stroke of a pen they can take it over.

The Budget 2014 announcement already gave us a taste of that. But still, Singaporeans investors kept buying.

The recent HSR confusion about where the rail should end, in Johor or Jurong East, should be an awakening. While the Malaysian authority was just misquoted, it raises a key issue: the HSR doesn’t exist yet. And should Malaysian or Singaporean authorities change their minds, the HSR project can be drastically altered or abandoned. That could send Iskandar property values plummeting in short order.

But in spite of all the warnings, some Singaporeans continue to pour money into Iskandar.

The Key Lessons on Herd Investing

There are three main takeaways from the Iskandar situation:

  1. The bigger the herd, the more likely you are to stay in it

Most of us don’t like admitting we’ve made a mistake. So when property investors are told that they’ve sunk money into a disaster, their first recourse is almost always to band together.

They’ll raise their concerns to their property agent (who will of course try to dismiss them) and side with others who have made the same investment. It’s psychological strength in numbers.

When the herd is especially large, we can get confirmation from even more people. And we rationalise that “this many people can’t be wrong”. Case in point, discussions like this one, which don’t address the over-supply issue and seems to explain things with “even the Chinese are in on it”.

It’s a defensive argument you’re sure to hear if you talk to many Iskandar investors.

  1. Within the herd, warning signs are often inverted

See Point 1 for an example of this. The massive influx of Chinese developers should be taken as a threat, as it means potential oversupply. But the herd mentality inverts this warning sign: instead, it’s taken as evidence that Iskandar must be a good investment because of all the attention it’s getting.

When reminded that Iskandar is a very large area with a very small population, a common retort from investors (probably learned from property agents in Iskandar) is that it just means you get more space for your buck.

That’s actually only great for owner occupiers who are living there, not for people making an investment – you want land scarcity to drive up property prices. But again, it’s a negative that becomes perceived as a positive, just because a lot of people have said it often enough.

  1. By the time you hear a property is hot, it is probably not

Iskandar had to be a centre of investment and high speculative values in order to make it into the news. So the media hype doesn’t predict the value of an asset (this works the same way with stocks, bonds, etc.), it only tells you the value has risen after the fact.

By the time everyone is talking about something and buying into it, the herd is already formed and stampeding. It’s almost always too late to get into the same deal without becoming one of the cattle.

  1. Joining the herd can mean being stuck with it

You know what large herds attract? Whips and lassos. The more rampant and noisy people get over something, the more likely it is to attract government attention. Like Bitcoin (banned in China), property (attracts new taxes and loan restrictions), etc.

More seasoned investors have a radar, and often know how to quit when they’re ahead. They sell at the peak of the hype and have usually moved on before the slew of regulations kick in.

Amateur investors don’t – they stay with the herd too long and get caught. Case in point: Malaysia’s Budget 2014 announcements. As mentioned above, people who bought property to the tune of RM $700,000 – RM$900,000 may now be stuck. They may not be able to sell and run even if they want to.

Singaporeans have a long way to go in terms of becoming savvy investors. The bulk of us still know little beyond our flat and CPF, and the main way investments are sold are still by word of mouth: we buy what relatives and friends recommend. We’re still more willing to trust personal relations – as inexpert as they may be – over qualified financial experts.

Financial advisers and other Singaporean wealth managers will understand what I’m getting at, and they’ll be happy to give you an earful if you ask them.

Perhaps a part of this propensity is, ironically, due to a certain trait in our national character to play as a team and pull in the same direction. Unfortunately, there are some issues that a one-directional stampede will not overcome.

 

 

Featured photo by Shawn Danker.

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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared copyright.

By Ryan Ong

Have you ever wondered how people in repressive regimes manage to get video footage and messages out onto the Internet? Or how disillusioned ISIS fighters talk to journalists about wanting to go home?

Obviously, using Gmail and Facebook is out, because that sort of activity will lead to decapitation or death by firing squad. Instead, they post them on what is known as the “deep web’’, where only people with the tools and the know-how can find them.

I was introduced to the deep web two years ago after asking someone how he got hold of an authentic designer overcoat at a cut-rate price. He told me how factories always produce surplus material to replace defects but aren’t allowed to sell the surplus. Sometimes, they are given to employees who set up a sideline selling them on the deep web.

He told me how to get there, and the place feels like the weirdest and the most dangerous place anyone can be. I was totally stunned.

Besides allowing people to lament or protest political issues, the deep web doubles as what is possibly the biggest black market in the world, where arms dealers, drug dealers, human traffickers, corporate and government infiltrators are known to peddle their wares.

It is a quiet war zone, where smugglers and law enforcement officers duke it out on a daily basis. Think 1950s Chicago or Hong Kong, except in digital form. It is the sort of place where you should never try ripping off a trader, because you could be picking a fight with a professional hacker – and suddenly discover your email is sending out child pornography. Oh, and also your bank account has been frozen. Stick to Carousell, all you’ll get is a negative review.

Ross Ulbricht, founder of Silk Road (the biggest black market for drugs in the deep web and maybe the world), recently got a life sentence without parole.

Where you are right now, on The Middle Ground website, is just the surface web and the furthest that most Internet users go. This is the world of YouTube, Facebook, blog shops, etc. Places that almost anyone can access.

Everything on the surface web is indexed. In other words, you can find all the “surface” sites via Google, Yahoo, etc. Below that is the Bergie web, a thin layer where the surface web begins to descend into the deep web. Sites on the Bergie web are indexed, but they also contain instructions on how to descend into the deep web. The origins of the name, like most things on the Internet, are murky.

The deep web is the basement; highly closed, private affairs. To get to them, you need to know the correct address, which means they are in some ways “invite only”. For that you need a particular kind of router. If you’re wondering why the basement even exists, it was originally a tool for the US military to keep their secrets. Over time, it became a tool for journalists, whistle-blowers, political victims, etc. who need to protect themselves and their families. What followed were grey area goods, and then the inevitable black market goods.

(There’s an even deeper basement, the Marianas web, named after the Marianas trench, the deepest part of the world. This is where you start getting into Intranets, classified data, and other things that can actually get you hunted down and arrested as a spy. James Bond territory.)

Anyway, armed with router and anonymity, I took a dive.

Here’s what I found:

Caution

This article is to inform you of the deep web’s existence. It is not an encouragement for you to conduct business on it, or make any kind of transaction on it.

A large number of sites are scams. Even more are set up by law enforcement agencies to entrap criminals. By signing up for them, or making transactions on them, you may be incriminating yourself.

Do not buy or sell anything if you insist on visiting the deep web, and never register or give your details to any site.

  1. There are suspiciously cheap electronics for sale

I don’t want to venture a guess as to where these come from – either right out of a factory in China, or from a lost shipment. Whatever the case, they are suspiciously cheap, and their source cannot be traced.

Bitcoin is the cryptocurrency of choice on the deep web. They are chosen because they’re harder – though not impossible – to trace. Whoever buys and sells on the deep web generally don’t want their credit card numbers being sniffed ot this time of writing, 1 Bitcoin is worth about $340. So yes, those phones are very cheap (most are about $600, compared to $988 from retail stores).

  1. People use the deep web as a confessional

As a Catholic, I’ve always wondered at the power of confessions. The deep web confirms that. There are sites where you can – anonymously – confess to the terrible things you’ve done. And people will post comments, and give you advice on the right kind of penance.

The odd thing is that these sites are only half-joking. Some comments and posts are obviously trolls, or just people having a laugh. But there are just as many serious cries for help (drug addicts who are feeling suicidal, gangsters confessing to their crimes).

Oh, a big hint for activists out there: some employees confess the terrible things they’ve done in the name of their company’s greed.

  1. Get free IT help and lessons

Not only do the hackers and security professionals on the deep web know about your malware / virus, some of them probably even helped code it. And if you can tolerate slews of vulgarities, smart-assery, and the risk of trolls trying to make your problem worse, it’s a good venue of last resort to find help.

Beyond the forums and chats, there are lots of obscure instructional sites that get very detailed and specific.

If you’re into this stuff, and you can handle the depth of the discussions here, the deep web is a goldmine of useful information. In general, a 50-50 rule applies: half the people you meet on the deep web will be friendly geniuses, and the other half will be rabid psychopaths.

Good luck.

  1. Learn Black Magic

You think I’m joking, but there are people who take the whole “occult” thing seriously. I guess it also helps to buy the books and skulls as props, if you have a 1980s themed metal band.

It’s like Amazon.com for bomohs.

  1. Buy your way to social media fame

I’m sure it’s absolutely not true that a lot of YouTubers or bloggers bought their way to higher rankings. There’s no way those overnight stars would have gone on the deep web and bought, say, instructions on how to exploit social media loopholes right?

While most of these are scams, you can bet that some of them – usually short lived sales that are not around for long – are probably real. Hang around on deep web forums long enough, and you’ll also notice some of the people posting these exploits seem to work for Facebook, YouTube, etc.

We’re Just Scratching the Surface

The deep web offers far more, which I frankly don’t dare to post. Drugs, firearms, and corporate / government espionage also makes its way into the deep web.

Many companies, in fact, constantly trawl onion sites for sold lists of user accounts, compromised credit card numbers, stolen video game keys, etc. This allows them to (hopefully) respond quickly when they realise a hacker has gotten into their database, and is selling the information.

The deep web is the wild west of the Internet – a battleground best avoided except by the savvy, criminal, or desperate. If you’re curious and brave enough to peek, well…you’ve been warned.

Hell Pit or Help It?

What exactly do we do with the deep web?

Authorities are mostly scratching their heads about it. It’s not easy to regulate, because it’s anonymous. It’s not exactly evil, because behind the black market abuse, the deep web is a powerful tool for whistle-blowers and the free exchange of information.

In many ways, the polarised opinions on the deep web are a microcosm of the global debate on the nature of freedom, and the extent to which it should be taken. There are conservatives who fear the deep web, and cannot sleep at night even knowing it exists. Then there are the liberals, who consider it an important check against totalitarian control.

And finally, we have the moderates in the middle ground, who are trying to figure out how to get the best of it without letting it get out of hand.

 

 

Featured Photo by Shawn Danker.

If you like this article, Like the Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!
For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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Photo By Shawn Danker
Maxi Cash Pawn Shop in Marine Parade.

by Ryan Ong

I don’t know why you’re in a situation where you can’t get any loan, and need one so urgently that it can’t wait a few months. I get the feeling it involves an investment strategy with a lever you need to pull, or derivatives closely connected to the number 21. And now, you’re faced with lenders of last resort. Fine. Borrow from them if you must, but remember: between moneylenders and the pawn shop, go to the pawn shop first.

A Cautionary Note about Credit

We do not encourage readers to borrow irresponsibly, or to resort to further borrowing when they are already in debt. Our point is not that you should be out there pawning everything you own; just that if you must choose between moneylenders and pawn shops, the latter is almost always better

Desperate? Go to Pawn Shops First and Money Lenders Last.

The difference between pawn shops and money lenders? Here’s a quick summary:

When you go to a pawn shop, you give the shop something of value – your pledge – and they in turn give you a loan. The loan amount depends on how much the pawn shop values the pledge, which might be 60 – 80% of its estimated worth (this could be much higher, it’s up to the person making the valuation).

Once you repay the loan (with interest), you get your pledge back. If you don’t repay the loan for six months, the pledge is forfeited and the pawn shop will auction it.

Now there’s always a temptation, among some people, to use moneylenders because they don’t have to part with their valuables. It’s psychologically unappealing to give up your watch, wedding ring, commemorative gold zodiac tablet, etc. Moneylenders seem appealing because you can get cash, and still hold on to your stuff.

But it’s a terrible idea, because if you use a pawn shop instead:

  • The consequences of default are more limited
  • Terms are simpler to understand
  • Pawn shops have lower interest rates than moneylenders and credit cards
  • You may even get a bit of cash back after the auction
  1. The Consequences of Default are More Limited

Say something goes wrong, and you can’t repay the loan. If you’re dealing with moneylenders, you can expect to be on the receiving end of (legal) harassment.

Expect debt collection agencies to call you at odd hours, embarrass you at your place of work, and even reach out to your friends and family. And in order to avoid confrontations with collectors, you could find yourself literally living in the dark.

Remember, licensed moneylenders exist simply because it’s better than having people go to unlicensed ones. That’s one rung above a tattooed gangster squatting in a dark alley.

With pawn shops however, the worst consequence is that your pledge gets auctioned off. The debt won’t even snowball, because the auction (which happens in six months) basically writes off the whole amount. You can just treat it as if you sold the pledge.

  1. Terms are Simpler to Understand

You leave your things (watch, gold, jade, etc.) with the pawn shop, and they give you money. When you pay back the money (with interest), you get your things back. 10 year olds have more complex toy sharing arrangements.

Compare this to moneylenders or even banks: the terms and conditions are so dense, a rainforest dies every time they print it. When you get credit from them, you’re agreeing to a bewildering range of rip-offs, like:

  • Late fees that range from $400 to several thousand, just for being a day late.
  • Obscure processing fees (e.g. charging you $150 per loan disbursed)
  • Raising interest rates sharply under well hidden terms and conditions (oh, you’re a day late? Pay a $600 late fee and that “low” interest rate just doubled)

If you wonder why some older Singaporeans prefer pawn shops to banks, even when they could get bank loans, this is often the reason. They don’t have to read and understand 50 pages of legal gibberish to pawn something.

  1. Pawn Shops Have Lower Interest Rates than Moneylenders and Credit Cards

Pawn shops typically charge 1.5% interest per month, with some charging less for the first few months. By comparison, the interest rate of the typical credit card is 2% per month, and the rate of moneylenders has just been capped at 4% per month.*

In short, pawn shops have what is likely to be the lowest interest rate you will find outside of a bank.

(*A personal instalment loan from a bank is still cheaper than all these options, at 6 – 8% per year. We assume you are looking at these options only because such a loan is not available to you. )

  1. You May Even Get a Bit of Cash Back after the Auction

When your pledge is auctioned, there’s a chance it may sell for more than expected (the person making the valuation isn’t always right). So if you pledge a watch for $5,000 and it sells for around $5,600, what happens?

You get to pocket the extra $600 (minus a few other possible charges). That’s not as good as getting your watch back, but where else can you default on a loan and still have a chance of getting a bit of money back?

 

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by Ryan Ong

Why CPF Investments Went Wrong Last Year

One bad year in investments is nothing special, but CPFIS investors have unfortunately been fighting against a losing streak since 1993. It’s not widely known (because how many people even know they can invest their CPF money?), but it’s a growing concern among people who poke and toy with their CPF savings.

Case in point: Figures from last year published yesterday showed that only 15 per cent of investors made a profit larger than the guaranteed rate for Ordinary Account savings of 2.5 per cent. Another 45 per cent made profits of up to 2.5 per cent, and woe to nearly half – 40 per cent – who made losses. For these investors, it’s money they never saw, and won’t ever see again.

So, what are CPF Investments anyway?

The CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS) allows you to invest your CPF money in a range of approved products. You don’t need to do this to grow your CPF, it’s purely an option.

If you are:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Have at least $20,000 or more in your Ordinary Account, and
  • At least $40,000 or more in your Special Account

You can invest up to 35 per cent of your OA savings and 10 per cent of your investible savings*, on anything in this list.

Returns from CPF investments go back into your CPF. In the event that you make a loss, you don’t need to top up the difference, but the government isn’t going to do that for you either.

(*Your OA balance PLUS amounts withdrawn for investment and education)

Why do People Invest their CPF?

One reason is to try and beat the CPF interest rate, which is currently at 2.5 per cent from April to June this year for the Ordinary Account.

A typical Investment Linked Policy (ILP) is projected to pay out returns of 7 – 9 per cent, and a product like the ST Index Fund (over a 15 year period) can pay out annualized returns of up to 9 per cent. This leads a lot of Singaporeans to decide they can do better.

The other reason is to put money into the aforementioned ILP through the usually untouchable CPF.

In the Last Financial Year, Most CPF Investors Performed Worse than the 2.5% Interest Rate

This is the low point in a long downward trend – In 1993 (perhaps due to the release of discounted SingTel shares), 25 per cent of CPF investors managed to beat the interest rate. But from 2004 to 2013, only 18 per cent beat the interest rate. And as of 2015, we’re at a low of 15 per cent.

The signs seem to indicate that interfering with your CPF monies is a bad idea.

What we lack, however, is data on how these people are losing money. We don’t know which of the approved products they’re buying to get their bad performance, or how they end up buying them.

What Could Be Causing the Losses?

This is speculation, but these are some ways in which CPF investors can incur losses:

  • Picking the Fixed Deposit Options
  • Purchasing Funds with High Expense Ratios
  • ILPs Not Performing as Projected
  • Punting
  1. Picking the Fixed Deposit Options

There is an option to move some of your CPF monies to fixed deposits. Doing this almost guarantees you will lose money – at present, we have found no local fixed deposit product (on the approved list of banks) which will beat the CPF interest rate.

If there is a good reason to move your CPF money to a fixed deposit (which has a much worse interest rate, often lower than 1 per cent) do comment and let us know what that reason is.

(You can contact us on Facebook! And don’t forget to like us too).

  1. Purchasing Funds with High Expense Ratios

The Total Expense Ratio (TER) of a fund subtracts a percentage from its returns. This is the price tag on an investment product.

There’s a possibility that some investors have been looking at the average performance of a product, without checking the TER. For example, if a product delivers average returns of 4 per cent, but has a TER of 1.6 per cent, the investors would actually be getting returns of around 2.4 per cent.

Mutual funds tend to have high TERs, whereas Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) can have expense ratios as low as 0.3 per cent. This can explain a wide disparity of returns between investors – a mutual fund and ETF might both have returns of 4 per cent, but the investor in the ETF will make a lot more due to the lower expense ratio.

  1. ILPs Not Performing as Projected

If the bulk of CPF investors have placed their money in ILPs, then the projected 7 – 9 per cent returns for many ILPs must be misleading. Because an investor who puts money in an ILP should have beaten the 2.5 per cent CPF rate by a wide margin.

Alternatively, it could mean that only a small minority of CPF investors are using it to pay for their insurance (they should be within the 15% who beat the interest rates).

  1. Punting

There is a possibility that some CPF investors are punting – taking gambles or experimenting with different investment products. Some may have an investment portfolio outside the CPF, and just want to use their CPF money as a guinea pig to try out different risky funds (its money they can’t touch anyway, so they feel less of a sting when they make a loss).

Others are long time punters – people who pick stocks like they’re playing darts at a carnival stall – and can’t resist doing the same thing with their CPF that they do with their regular portfolio.

Most punters lose. There’s only so much money to go around, and the winner who takes the bigger gains is funded by the losses of the others.

Do you invest your CPF money? Comment and let us know how you did!

 

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Photo By Shawn Danker
A family quietly watches some planes prepare for departure from Changi Airport's viewing gallery.

by Ryan Ong

As a veteran traveller I’ve been mugged, robbed (there’s a difference), caught in riots, cheated by hotels, and assaulted by white supremacists. Whatever could go wrong, I’ve survived it and learned from it, like a freakish man-roach hybrid. The lessons I’ve learned will keep you safe:

  1. Never book an AirBnB Apartment Before Checking the Refund Policy

Some renters have a “strict” to “long term” policy for refunds. You can view the definitions of each refund policy here.

Here’s a common way people lose money on the refund:

You book an apartment, without noticing the refund policy, and think everything is fine. Then the person renting suddenly contacts you, and says something like “Oh, you didn’t tell me there was another person. I didn’t hear that. I’ll have to charge you $X more”.

If you get annoyed and back out, they’ll quickly agree.

That’s when you’ll realise that you just lost half the money you put down, because a policy of “strict” or above means a 50% refund. Imagine paying $1,200 for a 10 day stay, and then getting only $600 back (and you’ll still have to pay for a new place after that).

  1. Never Bring All Your Credit Cards with You

Keep at least one credit card in the hotel safe. If you lose your wallet, the thieves won’t be able to max out all your cards. Also, you’ll still have some credit available even if you lose the wallet.

  1. Never Use Names like “Mum”, “Dad”, “Brother”, etc. on Your Phone Contacts List When Abroad

Use your family members’ first names. Otherwise, you make yourself a prime target for a kidnap scam. This is when thieves steal your phone, and then send ransom messages to your family. Remember, they have your phone so it’s not like your family can call you to check.

Which leads to my next point…

  1. Never Fail to Have a Spare Phone

Get a second, cheap phone that you leave in the hotel. This is your emergency mobile, in the event you lose your regular phone.

Always have your whole contacts list programmed in this phone as well. When you are robbed or misplace your phone, the main problem is not finding another phone but retrieving your contacts list.

In the event of an emergency, such as an injury, you will need those phone numbers on hand.

  1. Never Leave Without Insurance Coverage

I highly recommend that you buy travel insurance from your current agent, instead of online or at an ATM.

Insurance claims can get complicated, and you will want the insurance agent’s guidance. If you are injured, for example, failing to get the medical report or going to the wrong clinic can invalidate your claim.

On that note, check if your health insurance policy applies when you’re injured or ill abroad. If you travel often, consider buying a clause that covers you when you’re overseas.

  1. Never Leave Before Knowing the Embassy’s Address and Number

Wherever you’re going, always note down the address and contact details of the Singapore embassy there.

The embassy is the first place you should call if you end up in legal trouble abroad. You should also let the embassy know if you have been severely injured, fall ill, or become the victim of a crime. This is even more important when you are alone, as it assures that they will check on you and keep your family updated.

  1. Always Know Your Credit Card Helpline

You’ll want to call the bank back in Singapore as soon as your credit card is gone. The faster it’s cancelled, the lower the chances of someone getting a free shopping spree.

Also, if the bank decides you took your time to report it*, they will hold you liable for the charges.

(*I was once beaten and robbed in a country where few people speak English. I managed to call the bank after two and half hours, and Standard Chartered still called it “late reporting”. That’s so you know how quickly you have to call.)

  1. Buy Your Prepaid Phone Card at Your Destination

Sure, you can try and set things up with your telco in Singapore, or buy a prepaid card over here instead.

But what happens if you get there and it doesn’t work?

Odds are you’ll have to buy a prepaid card over there anyway, and you would have wasted your money (or you can go through the hassle of a refund when you get back). This is especially an issue in developing countries, where communications can get spotty.

Save yourself the hassle and buy the prepaid card over there. Then test it in the shop, and let the storekeeper help you.

  1. Never Reload the Price Comparison Site Before Clearing Your Cache

Comparing airline tickets? Clear the cache before going back to the site. Many price comparison sites raise the prices when you return repeatedly, because they know there’s a good chance you’re going to buy.

  1. Never Use the Phone in Your Hotel Room Without Checking the Rates

I have seen rates for hotel room phones go as high as $12 a minute. A three minute call to your old friend, to say you’ve arrived, might incur a $30+ charge.

So never, ever, use the hotel phone without checking the rates. Use it for calling the front desk or room service, nothing else.

 

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Photo By Shawn Danker
A vacant office.

by Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong’s official story is that he was rocketed here from a dying planet, saw his foster parents brutally murdered, and was bitten by a radioactive spider while vowing to fight crime.

In the more imaginary version, Ryan started writing freelance as a student. He contributed to fantasy and sci-fi magazines while studying in Perth, Australia, and published his first story at age 14. It won him an award for amateur horror fiction, as well as mandatory school counselling.

Upon his return to Singapore, he worked as a marketing executive for a local restaurant, while still writing freelance and playing gigs on the side. He also had to study while doing this, so it’s lucky the songs people want in pubs have only four chords.

Ryan valiantly attempted to study both Business and English, despite being told it was impossible. He persisted anyway out of passion, and did not succeed, because that’s what happens when you believe motivational coaches.

After getting just a diploma in marketing, Ryan ended his business studies and instead got an English degree from the University of London (Goldsmith). His rationale was that writers at least admit they make things up.

Later, Ryan ghost-wrote several books and articles on finance for the industry’s leading minds. He learned and applied a lot of the lessons from them, and especially enjoys being able to say “I wrote the book on investments. Literally.”

Ryan made his first serious cash during the 2008 crisis, thanks to the financial education that came out of his work. He still believes that finance professionals ultimately write books to learn, not to teach (you really need to know your stuff to fill a few chapters).

Ryan has subsequently written for various other finance sites, and his work has also appeared in magazines such as Men’s Health, Reader’s Digest Asia, and Esquire. By now, his work has covered topics ranging from ball bearings to mortgages to common foot diseases.

Then Ryan got a call from Daniel Yap and was asked to write for The Middle Ground. He rushed right in, hoping for an office in the central district. It turns out that the office won’t be along Middle Road, but in Commonwealth Avenue. He was told he was still to write about finance, but in a user-friendly manner for that wide swathe of people who are stressed from looking after kids and parents, like me. He was told that The Middle Ground was needed because in this age of polarised opinions, changing mindsets and reality TV, it would be good to have a publication that would stay in the middle or even switch sides. He wondered if this showed lack of conviction, then decided that people who never change their minds lack intelligence.

In any case, he thought it would be good to make readers rich because of something he wrote. Then, when they are all high income earners, successful business owners, directors, etc. he hopes to sell you private jets, yachts, and other things they can afford by then.

His life ambition is to travel the world as a nameless stranger, standing in the middle of town to offer large cash rewards to people for completing quests (e.g. save 10 dogs from an animal shelter), and solving puzzles.

 

This article was first published at mermaninaseaofapathy.wordpress.com.

If you like this article, Like the Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!
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