March 30, 2017

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FINALLY, the PUB has given some answers on the cost of producing water. What was so difficult about that? Does it think that big words such as “resilience”, “sustainability” and “water security” are enough to move people to accept a 30 per cent hike in water price? Or is it waiting for the Committee of Supply debate on the budget of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources to unveil the figures? In this day and age, it’s not good to let speculation and discontent fester, simply because they can be spread so much faster via the Internet.

So what do we know now? In response to queries from the MSM, it said that in 2000, it cost $0.5 billion to operate the water system. In 2015, it was $1.3 billion. The money was spent on NEWater production, desalination, used water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of the island-wide network of water pipelines, among others. It did not say which contributed the most to rising cost, although one guess would be desalination plants.

PUB also said that from 2000 to 2015, it invested $7 billion in water infrastructure, and it expects to spend another $4 billion on such infrastructure from this year to 2021. What water infrastructure? Presumably the NEWater and desalination plants that are in the pipeline.

ST reported that besides the cost of producing water, it’s also getting more difficult to distribute water. PUB, for instance, can no longer just dig trenches to lay water pipes underground because the country is so built-up. It has to use pipe-jacking, a more expensive method which involves assembling pipes into shafts and then pushing them into position with a hydraulic jack.

In our heart of hearts, we probably know that it’s time for a rise in water prices, especially since it was last raised 17 years ago. The question is why now and why this much? Minister of State for Finance Lawrence Wong said there is never a good time for water price rises, which is true.

But a hiatus of 17 years?

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CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said at a forum yesterday that the fact that “we are finally charging a bit more for water after 17 years reflects that somebody forgot it hasn’t been done yet”.

Going by what experts say, the 30 per cent rise isn’t good enough. It should be way higher, like doubled. Say this to the people though. At forums on the Budget statement yesterday, the water price was a key issue, which is probably to the G’s chagrin since it wants to bill the Budget as a tool to shift the economy into high gear.

Although the argument is about water security (read: what if we get no more water from up north?), the price rise is also to add to the G’s coffers, which is increasingly under strain.

Now before you get your hackles up because the G is “rich”, consider what the experts have to say about the Budget.

Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin was reported in ST as noting that despite projecting a small overall fiscal surplus of $1.91 billion for the 2017 financial year, the G is looking at a primary deficit of $5.62 billion, worse than it was during the 2009 financial crisis.

A primary fiscal deficit does not take into account investment contributions from GIC or Temasek Holdings, and broadly implies that tax revenues are not keeping up with government spending.

He might as well add we can always tweak the formula on investment contributions, but that would be cheating, won’t it?

Economists are asking for more transparency in accounting and even the setting up of an independent agency to look at the effectiveness of G spending.

They have a point: We’ve seen so many announcements about millions and even billions on this or that G scheme over the years but what have they resulted in so far?

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat made no bones about the need to raise revenues, especially since he has ordered G agencies to trim their budgets. So far, he has only talked about making non-GST registered companies which do cross-border businesses here pay the tax. That means the likes of Taobao and Amazon and e-retailers.

But if the G wants to persuade people to part with more money, it has to do better at telling people what things cost. It can start with this: What in heaven’s name is “long-run marginal cost of water supply”, the formula which underpins water prices?

 

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by Elvin Ong

THE Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) report was released on February 9, 2017. It will serve as the guiding document for Singapore’s economic restructuring and growth over the next five to 10 years. Many commentators have since provided excellent analyses of the report, including former Member of Parliament Mr Inderjit Singh, research fellows at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) Mr Adrian Kuah and Mr Hawyee Auyong, LKYSPP don Mr Donald Low, as well as Business Times associate editor Mr Vikram Khanna.

Here, I share my approach in my reading of the report. First, I read the report against the grain and in between the lines to assess whether and how the thinking behind the CFE has changed as compared to past committees. Second, I approach my analysis from the perspective of the political economy of advanced capitalist societies. This perspective privileges institutional analysis – in particular, the relationship between social-welfare policies, the structure of the labour market and overall inequality.

 

Positive changes

I found at least three positive changes from past committee-lead attempts to provide new directions for Singapore’s economy.

First, in Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s reply letter to thank the CFE for its work, he noted that: “We will take a hard-headed, pragmatic approach. When results are promising, we will vigorously pursue them. When a scheme does not look like it is going anywhere, we must have the courage to cut losses.” Similarly, on page 15, the report suggested that the government “will take an adaptive approach, continuing strategies which are successful, discontinuing those which are not, and making major changes where necessary.”

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These statements are particularly noteworthy. As I have examined elsewhere, billions of dollars have been poured into various schemes such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit with negligible impact. Instead of improving productivity, they have been subjected to systematic abuse.

Moving forward, the Singapore government can and should grow its capabilities to implement and monitor the results of its various schemes more rigorously. This means civil servants having the wherewithal to admit that they were wrong in pursuing certain policies, and to shut down programs if they fall short of their targets or are not in the public’s interest. Clinging on to sacred cows to “save face” should no longer be tolerated.

Second, throughout the report, the CFE emphasized that there was no one-size-fits-all solution to economic restructuring. Instead unique solutions will have to be tailored to various industries to help firms to restructure and upgrade, such as the Industrial Transformation Programs for the various sectors already identified.

Such a recognition is consistent with recent plans, and is a decisive break from the past. Silver bullets and grand schemes such as tax incentives that apply to all individuals and companies no longer work. A sectoral approach that identifies the specific needs of an industry and its unique solutions for different firms reduces deadweight loss, enhances monitoring and compliance, and builds solidarity.

Third, on pages 4 and 15, the report emphasised that the 7 strategies articulated in the CFE report are mutually reinforcing. Each strategy complements one another in the overall pursuit of restructuring, just like how different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle come together to form a nice picture.

This is also a refreshing perspective that is different from past committee reports. For far too long, haphazard public policies proposed and implemented have been orthogonal with one another, generating conflicting incentives for firms and individuals to restructure and upgrade. It is imperative that both macro- and micro-economic policies pull everyone in the same direction moving forward. Of course, the devil lies in the details. Claiming that the strategies are mutually reinforcing does not necessarily mean that they will be mutually reinforcing.

 

Understandable silences?

Many commentators were understandably surprised that the report was silent on a whole host of issues. Macroeconomic assessments, social policy, and foreign talent were conspicuously absent from the report. Why did the CFE, billed as one of the most inclusive committees ever, keep silent on these important topics?

Therein lies the clue. I think that the report was silent on these issues precisely because the CFE was so inclusive. Ironically, the more inclusive the process, the greater the struggle for the prioritisation of different ideas, the greater the impulse to find the “lowest common denominator” areas of agreement and to pave over the differences among competing groups. If we see the report as the outcome of a three-way fight of ideas between the government, the private sector, and workers, the result was a draw. What we have is an apolitical report that suppresses and avoids all the most important political questions.

Take tax policy for example – one of the most politically sensitive issues for the Singapore government. Three paragraphs on page 63 of the CFE report is all there is to say for it. The conclusion is that Singapore tax system must remain both “broad-based, progressive and fair” as well as “competitive and pro-growth.” It does not say how we should proceed if these two principles are in conflict with each other.

 

The politics moving forward

Singapore’s Budget for 2017 has been unveiled on 20 February. Analysts will have to examine it closely for clues on how the government has decided on the treacherous politics of Singapore’s future economy. Two political problems, both related to skills upgrading, are most pressing – the question of foreign manpower, and social security.

On the question of foreign manpower, the key political problem is the trade-off between the desire to keep Singapore open to foreign talent (CFE Strategy 1) and the need to build up Singapore’s pool of deep skills with good jobs and good wages for locals (CFE Strategy 2). This is a vexing issue for both entry level jobs, and senior management roles.

At the entry level, if firms can easily hire an engineer with “deep skills” for cheap from overseas, why would they bother to recruit and train locals? There is also no incentive for firms to participate in the numerous on-the-job training programmes with our institutes of higher learning. The rewards of a fully trained and competent Singaporean worker take months and years to realise, while the benefits of a highly skilled foreign worker are instantaneous.

At the senior management level, why would Singaporean workers care to upgrade their skills, if they know that they will not be rewarded with higher wages or promotions by their employers who can easily import senior management from overseas? It is not that Singaporeans workers do not care to engage in life-long learning. It is that they are systematically dis-incentivised from doing so.

For social security, the trade-off is between the desire to keep spending on social policy low, and the related costs and risks needed to build up deep skills. Learning deep skills is an expensive and risky pursuit. Who is going to pay for the learning process? What if companies close due to a global economic downturn, and workers with deep skills who lose their jobs are too expensive to re-hire? Who pays for prolonged unemployment? Furthermore, if workers with deep skills in one industry need to change their vocations to another industry, who pays for the re-training? These are just a small sample of the tough questions that require decisive political answers.

 

Conclusion

I do not think that we should despair at the lack of new ideas or unaddressed questions in the CFE report. To be sure, it may genuinely reflect the limits of top-down thinking among our top policy-makers as many commentators have alleged. But I would also suggest that it reveals the stalemate between competing groups who have varied interests and preferences, and the government’s reluctance to politicise the report and upset these groups.

Moving forward, it is inevitable that the government will have to confront, rather than sidestep, the political questions that over-shadow the economic restructuring process. Some questions, such as social spending, will be easier to tackle because of the fiscal headroom that the government has. Others, like the foreigner-local workforce ratio, will be unavoidable. How the government decides will be a function of the need to appease the demands of local and foreign capital, versus the countervailing pressures from the mass electorate in future general elections.

 

Mr Elvin Ong is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Emory University.

 

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Black watch showing 8.30.

YOU’D think these were graduates from two different countries, so starkly different were the headlines about the 2016 graduate employment survey in Singapore’s main English dailies. ST decided to lead with how “most grads find jobs in 6 months” and the “new high” starting median salary of $3,360, while TODAY highlighted the 2.9 per cent drop in the number of graduates who found permanent jobs within six months of graduation, the lowest ever for the survey.

Another sobering statistic that TODAY noted was that the rate of salary increase has slowed from 3 per cent last year to 1.8 per cent.

All in all, it’s a slower year for graduates, with SMU leading NUS and NTU in terms of median salary and employability. SIT and SUTD conduct their surveys in February and March.

So what’s all this say in the context of Singapore’s ongoing SkillsFuture initiative? It seems that relevant coursework and experience win out for grads, and university rankings don’t mean very much to employers.

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The tension between Malaysia and North Korea over the assassination of Kim Jong Nam is escalating. KL has named a North Korean diplomat as someone they sought to question for the case, but the North Korean Embassy refused, citing diplomatic privilege.

Another North Korean who works for North Korean national carrier Air Koryo is also being sought for questioning. KL has threatened to issue arrest warrants for the duo, but a warrant is unlikely to be effective in securing the diplomat. Four other North Korean suspects and one North Korean person of interest remain at large.

The embassy also made a startling demand for all suspects to be released, including the “innocent females”. Apart from the two women, a Malaysian man and a North Korean man are being held in remand for the killing.

And then, someone tried to break into the morgue in KL, where Mr Kim’s body lay. Who did it? KL police simply said, “We know who you are. There is no need for me to tell you.”

Someone’s done a smear job on Sam’s Early Learning Centre, it seems. Photos of the centre and its students posted on Chinese social media service WeChat seem to have been taken out of context, and surprise checks and interviews by the Early Childhood Development Agency have turned up no issues at the centre.

Who could have done the deed? Centre director Mrs Samia El-Ibiary says it was the work of a disgruntled former employee who has since returned to China. The WeChat post claimed there was abuse, neglect and waste at the centre.

Where do you go if you want to buy a ship? How about Taobao? Singapore-flagged crude oil tanker Varada Blessing, of late owned by Singapore firm Varada One, was sold for $16.7 million after 19 bids were made by six parties. The Varada Blessing had fallen into an “admiralty dispute” and was then auctioned off. These are bad times for oil tankers, and Taobao is gaining popularity as a place to offload toxic assets. So… does that Taobao purchase come with free shipping?

 

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Black clock showing 8.30.

DON’T expect the property market to change much after Budget 2017 and in the years to come. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong cautioned that existing property curbs will “stay for some time” and that Singapore has achieved a “soft landing” for the market with its measures – just the outcome it had been looking for.

The additional CPF housing grant announced on Monday (Feb 20) is also unlikely to have a significant effect on property prices, given that it is a buyer’s market and if sellers raise prices, buyers will simply move on to a better offer elsewhere. Volumes are expected to go up.

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Now is probably not the best time to ride your soon-to-be-expensive motorcycle into Malaysia. The trip back might be extra long as newly-deployed automated MBIKE customs lanes on the Johor side have malfunctioned for the second day in a row, causing hours-long tailbacks.

The Johor Immigration Department said that the breakdowns were caused by motorcyclists tailgating and damaging the gantries. The department also said that 38 motorcyclists had been detained for going through the gantries without providing their passports to the Immigration Department.

Coldhearted – some people are going around impersonating Singapore Heart Foundation volunteers, and armed with flag day stickers too! The Heart Foundation has made a police report about the miscreants, who were operating around Bugis Junction.

Bona fide Heart Foundation fundraisers are required to carry an identification badge and a copy of the Collectors Certificate of Authority issued by the National Council of Social Service, so if you’re in doubt, ask.

Heartbreaking – the body of hiker Steward Lee, reported missing by his family on Friday, has been found hanging at the top floor of multi-storey car park Block 468A Segar Road on Monday (Feb 20) night.

A widely shared appeal for information by his sister on social media kicked off a 70-man search through Mr Lee’s favourite nature reserves on Sunday. Police have classified the case as unnatural death and are investigating.

 

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Morning Call, 0830, clock

EVERYBODY is probably talking about the new price of water, which is why MSM seems so keen to make sure people get the big picture of Budget 2017. So words like “[positioning] Singapore for the future” and “a Budget for today – and tomorrow” are headlines being splashed.

It’s too bad because the key thing that will blow people’s minds will be the water price and what it means for their pockets. Never mind the hefty rebates that will cover the increase for lower-income households. In fact, rebates, including GST vouchers, have become a standard feature of Budget announcements. People notice what they will have to pay more for – not what they will ACTUALLY be paying.

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Nevertheless, plenty of commentators are trying to cast the Budget as forward-looking and necessary for volatile times, except for the business sector which described the measures as “underwhelming” and “disappointing”. It’s true that there isn’t much respite for businesses beyond extension of corporate tax rebates. There’s nothing on rentals and fees, for example. Then again, it’s the job of the business associations to always ask for more, whether they get more or less, no?

The Budget, coming after the Committee for the Future Economy report, lacks specifics. People ask about the measures to transform the economy. It’s already in place, in fact. These are the Industry Transformation Maps for sectors.

They draw up ways to get the whole sector, such as hotels and retail, to do things differently. This means that if a player with deep pockets comes out with an innovation, he should share it, or there could be joint research into technologies. G agencies could also help bring the sector to international trade shows. Twenty-three sectors have been targeted and six have already been implemented.

Not new, you say? Yes, it was announced in the last Budget and will be expanded. What’s missing in almost every Budget statement is a report card on how past initiatives have worked out. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat have both talked about discarding ideas which don’t work and being ruthless about it. But no one really knows what ideas have been dropped and what deserve greater expansion.

If you want to know about what’s in the Budget, read this: BUDGET 2017 is about YOUR budget getting tighter.

 

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Brown leather strap watch showing 8.30.

BUT first, today is Budget Day. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce the national budget and measures to tackle the current economic slowdown and its attendant problems. Stay tuned to The Middle Ground as we report on and react to the announcement in the late afternoon.

Malaysia is looking for four North Korean men in connection with the assassination of Mr Kim Jong Nam. Rhi Ji Hyon, 33; Hong Song Hac; 34, O Jong Gil, 55; and Ri Jae Nam, 57 left for Jakarta after the attack last Monday (Feb 13) and Malaysian paper The Star reports that they are back in North Korea via the UAE and Russia.

Four others remain in custody – two women (Vietnamese and Indonesian), a Malaysian man, and a North Korean man. The whereabouts of three other men, one North Korean and two other unidentified men, are unknown.

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A larger proportion of each local university cohort can now be admitted through the discretionary admissions scheme. The shift away from a grades-only approach means that 15 per cent of each cohort, up from 10 per cent, can rely on interviews, essays, aptitude tests and portfolios to secure a place instead.

The G has also targeted that by 2020, 40 per cent of all students each year will attend local university.

Hiker Steward Lee, 27, is still missing in spite of a 70-man search of forested and nature reserve areas yesterday. The search team, comprising police, park rangers and volunteers who had responded to Mr Lee’s elder sister Lee Yunqin’s appeal on Facebook, spent four hours on the search.

Mr Lee was last seen at 2pm on Friday at Block 407 Fajar Road. He was wearing a plain black short-sleeved T-shirt and blue jeans with slippers and glasses.

If you have information on the missing hiker, please call the Police hotline (1800-255-0000) or make a report at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Melissa Tsang

I’M A 23-year-old Chinese Singaporean woman. After graduating culinary school in 2016, I started as a commis (also known as 马王, or minion) in a Chinese restaurant kitchen along Orchard Road. This is a description of my everyday work, in English, written for friends and family who are curious.

The structure of a Chinese restaurant kitchen

I drew a diagram of what our kitchen looks like, from where I stand (I only know how to hand draw and then upload a picture, please forgive incompetence):

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Dim Sum, 点心: They make the har gow, siew mai, XLB (little soup dumplings), carrot cake, cheong fun, and many other forms of dim sum and desserts. Because nearly everything there is made by hand, from scratch, they start work at 7am to finish their prep before service starts at 11am. Since we only serve dim sum in the afternoon, they get off work at 5pm, or whenever they finish their scheduled prep for the day. They are usually considered a separate kingdom from The Main Kitchen and the roasting department.

Roasting/BBQ, 烧腊:This is where the Peking duck, braised duck, roasted suckling pig, soy sauce chicken, char siew, roasted pork belly, braised pig’s intestines, etc. are made. They have two work areas — the back, and the front. The back is where all the heavy prep work is done. Every day they have to wash, marinate, dress, and hang carcasses; as well as roast them in their huge apollo oven (it looks like a tandoor). The front (a tiny work space beside the main kitchen) is where they carve and plate their finished products. They don’t just prepare their own items, like an a la carte order of a Peking duck; they also make products for the main kitchen. For example, they have to produce char siew for the rest of the kitchen — dim sum uses a lot of char siew for their pastries; the main kitchen uses char siew in a Yangzhou fried rice.

The Main Kitchen, 厨房: When industry people say “kitchen” they often refer to any of these sub-sections, and not dim sum or BBQ:

Steaming, 上什/蒸锅/蛋扣: They are located right beside dim sum, and are responsible for anything from the main kitchen that requires steaming — for example, Teochew steamed pomfret, Cantonese steamed marble goby, steamed bamboo clams with fried garlic and tung hoon. They make the daily double-boiled soups, and are also in charge of preparing the sharks’ fin and sea cucumber (very labour intensive, time-consuming products to prepare). Unlike the rest of the main kitchen sub-sections, they coexist very peacefully with dim sum.

Wok, 炉头/炒锅: Most people are more able to understand this sub-section of the kitchen. It’s basically where all the things are stir-fried or deep-fried. Within the wok line (our wok line can accommodate six, but most of the time we work with four) there is a hierarchy.

Wok 1 is head chef, 老大/大佬. He makes the big and final decisions for the main kitchen. He doesn’t do much prep work. If there are orders for abalone, sea cucumber, Alaskan crab, the expensive stuff, they go to him. But he is really more important as a political figure, not as a cook. Like a gang leader, or any head chef, he is supposed to enforce discipline and consistency in his kitchen. He is also supposed to protect the interests of the main kitchen, especially against Front-of-House and higher management, especially in disputes with HR. For this reason, people expect him to exhibit a lot of machismo and dominance, or else they consider him ineffective and weak.

Wok 2 is the sous chef. He is not as politically significant as the Laoda, but he is acting chief in Laoda’s absence. He schedules our duty roster. He may also cook the Very Expensive Things. Some corporations/restaurants that do Cantonese cuisine have a policy of hiring only Hong Kong nationals to occupy head chef and sous chef positions. Ours is one such company.

Wok 3 is expected to cook anything short of the Very Expensive Things. Although he is lower in rank than Wok 2, he is not necessarily less experienced.

Wok 4 is also known as the deep-frying wok, or the “tail wok”. It is usually occupied by a more junior person. If a whole fish needs to be deep fried, it goes to him. He also handles a lot of fried rice, ee fu noodles, fried bee hoon, stir-fried carrot cake. Since the larger and heavier woks are all kept at his end of the line, he cooks off most of our sauces (XO sauce, black pepper sauce, chilli crab sauce, sweet and sour sauce etc. ), deep fries peanuts, cashews, walnuts, whole chickens multiple times a week. He has an enormous role in prep. This person must work very quickly, and must multitask well. When service gets very busy, he should be able to deep fry two different items while stir frying ee fu noodles, without losing his shit.

Woks 5 and/or 6 are opened when we’re descending into chaos and desperately need another wok guy to help out. That’s when a qualified person, who otherwise performs another role, goes on the line for the night.

Butchery, 水台: The person working in butchery has one of the most strenuous jobs ever. Our butcher happens to be the largest dude in the kitchen. When deliveries come, they go straight to his room. He is the one who has to wash cartons and cartons of vegetables alone, break down entire carcasses of cod, hack entire legs of Jinhua ham, chop crates of ribs into smaller chunks, etc. He has to lug boxes and boxes of stuff to and from the walk in freezer. These are on top of the fish and seafood he has to kill and clean. He mostly works with the heaviest cleaver.

Knife work, 砧板: This station is a line of three cutting blocks (literal blocks, they are very thick and heavy, for stability). People doing knife work slice and chop almost everything the kitchen uses. They also have to marinate all the meat, sliced fish, diced chicken, etc. They have a never-ending list of things to do. They are also the first line to read and process order tickets. For example, an order comes for “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The relevant information to the dude at the cutting block is “seafood fried rice medium + salted fish” has to pass the ticket over with the correct amount of diced seafood, julienned lettuce, and a small handful of chopped salted fish. Then his job is done and he has nothing else to do with this order ticket.

The Center Line/Traffic control/Communications, 打荷: This is where I work, between the knives and the fire. This is the section most difficult to explain to outsiders. This is where the youngest, most junior people work. This is the section that is the least technically demanding (i.e. you can train a monkey to do this job), but it is the most physically mobile, and the most cognitively demanding position during peak hours.

I’ll first explain what happens when we get a single order, using the above example – “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The dude at the chopping board has already pushed the lettuce, diced seafood, and salted fish from his side to our side of the table. We take a quick glance at the order sheet. First, we grab a medium-sized portion of rice. Then we transfer everything from our side of the table to the table directly accessible to the wok guys. We tell him, “no MSG, not too oily”. We then fetch a serving tray, six small plates, a small rice bowl, and a metal dish. The wok guy makes the fried rice, dumps it in the metal dish, then we portion the fried rice using the small rice bowl (so that every portion is in a neat little mound). This fried rice example is a very simple example involving a bit of communication between our section and the wok line.

Here is another example, involving more inter-department teamwork: an appetiser plate named 特式三拼

pic 2

Let’s say there’s an order for this item for five people. The knife work dude will toss over five butterflied prawns and five mantou rings (the dim sum department makes these weekly, in huge quantities). I will have to dust the prawns in potato starch, garnish and decorate five plates on a serving tray, sear five pieces of foie gras, and have wasabi sauce and foie gras-mushroom sauce on standby. At the same time I have to talk to Wok 4 – “特式5位”. Sometimes he forgets what he has to do, so I will say “炸锅巴5件,wasabi 虾球5粒,打鹅肝汁”. He will do all that while I sear the foie gras. When the foie gras is almost ready, I will call BBQ. They will bring five individual portions of braised duck and tofu, and I will plate up and send the dishes out.

These are only individual examples. On their own, they are very easy to execute. But on a busy night, between 6:30 – 9pm, the ticket printer doesn’t stop running. It will feel like the orders are coming in faster than we can send out dishes. This is when our roles within the section become specialised, and the concept of “queue” and “time” becomes especially relevant:

pic 3

Incoming orders:

Highlighted in pink is the table where we process incoming orders. The shaded black box is the ticket machine, facing Knifework. Any order printed is first visible to them, although we have trained ourselves to read from the other side.

(As far as possible), according to the order in which they were printed, Knifework pushes ingredients with their order sheets over to our side, and they will all be received by the Korkor, who is the most senior person in the section. The first thing he will do is separate dishes “on hold” from “fire”. “On hold” means the order has been processed, but the customer doesn’t want it now. For dishes on hold, he groups them by table number. For dishes ready to fire, he sorts them according to

1. Time of order. But it’s not rigid, it’s no big deal if an order printed at 7:35pm goes out before an order printed at 7:32pm.

2. Whether it is a soup, appetiser plate, non-starch item, or starch item. Within the same time frame, items should be sorted to prioritise soups and starters first, and starch dishes last.

3. Front-of-House mistakes – sometimes FOH barges in saying “I FORGOT TO KEY THIS ORDER IN PLEASE SAVE ME AND MAKE IT NOW”. We could say “no, dis your problem”, or we could allow that item to jump the queue.

4. How angry the customer is. Some customers are able to wait, others are not. If it’s been 15 minutes and a table hasn’t gotten their fried rice and are upset, we understand and will help that item move up the queue. But if the order has literally just been printed and a server comes in saying “HE’S PISSED OFF”, we do not entertain this request. Because we honour the concept of the queue.

Outgoing dishes:

When we’re busy, I stand facing the table highlighted in green. On this table we cram at most three to four items in a wok guy’s immediate cue. Meaning he simply has to concern himself with clearing these few items as quickly as possible. The rest of the space is reserved for plating and garnishing. In a five minute time frame, I might have fish pan frying on the stove, tofu in the deep fryer, while plating lobster ee fu noodles for 10 people, while listening to wok sounds. We look down when we plate so we can’t see much else, but we are able to hear when a wok guy is done with a dish. If he’s done, we have to drop what we are doing and send out the dish. As soon as the immediate queue begins to clear, any one of us will fetch items from Korkor’s Organised Queue of Incoming Orders.

Stacking and efficiency:

Sometimes there’s a Yangzhou fried rice in Wok 4’s immediate queue, but he’s been busy and the fried rice hasn’t been started. Then Korkor receives another Yangzhou fried rice order, but if we go strictly by time, that Yangzhou fried rice would be quite further down the queue. Nevermind, we let it stack. The Korkor will call out “扬州炒饭有塔!” then he tosses it over to me. Stacking is inevitable because if we went item by item, according to time, we would literally die.

Prep work and miscellaneous duties:

There are many other small, routine, menial tasks that I do every day, that I don’t need to talk about here. Oil does not pour itself, I need to fill metal drums of oil for each wok guy about twice a day. Eggs don’t crack and separate themselves. Seasoning containers don’t refill themselves. And so on.

The more interesting prep work is in sauces. A great example would be XO sauce. We make roughly 10 litres of XO sauce every two weeks. When we realise we’re running low, we need to start dicing (very small dice) Jinhua ham and salted fish. This is very difficult. They are very tough ingredients. I do not like this part. Then we need to soak dried shrimp, steam and shred dried scallops, and grind chillies, shallots, garlic, and the soaked shrimp. We will weigh the required MSG and sugar. Then the XO sauce is ready to be cooked off.

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This article was first published at eightmileswide.svbtle.com/.

Featured image by Pixabay user takedahrs. (CC0 1.0)

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GROWING ambiguity of the global environment highlights not only Singapore’s vulnerability, but also the need for policies to adapt quickly to changes, to guarantee safety and prosperity.

On the geopolitical and military fronts: While the administration of President Donald Trump has not made active reference to the Asia-Pacific region or the engagement of the country in the region, Singapore’s defence minister Ng Eng Hen – at the sidelines of a security conference in Germany – met with new United States defence secretary James Mattis. They reaffirmed the “excellent and longstanding” bilateral ties between the two countries, and Dr Ng added that this first meeting gave assurance of stability and progress, with the hope that they had “moved things towards a much more predictable and stable environment that we all hope for.”

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On the economic front: Finance minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver his budget address tomorrow afternoon, and following mixed reviews of the report and recommendations proffered by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), even more strategies are expected: to help displaced workers, to support small and medium enterprises through a high-cost environment, and to focus on macroeconomic changes. Mr Heng must also navigate around the growing predilection for protectionism and the threats of disruption to older industries, both of which leave Singapore vulnerable to lower economic growth rates as well as higher competition rates.

In other news, on another form of vulnerability: Malays in Singapore are three times more likely than the Chinese and two times more likely than the Indians to suffer from kidney failure, and over the past 10 years the kidney failure rate among Malays has increased by 50 per cent. Doctors and medical researchers have attributed these trends to the higher incidence of diabetes and high blood pressure, the levels of exercise and smoking, and delayed diagnosis too. Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said health and wellness programmes are in place: “We need to focus more on the young, rather than waiting until [the] illness strikes.”

Overall, every two days in Singapore nine lose the use of their kidneys, and based on the number of patients on dialysis per million people, the country is ranked third in the world.

And finally, the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) celebrated its 25th anniversary yesterday, and to complement its counselling endeavours and the projects to raise awareness of cancer in Singapore, the organisation is looking to help vulnerable beneficiaries through two new programmes – during the treatment period and beyond – to provide psychosocial support and nutritional care. CCF will be working with the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital on these new programmes.

 

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ONE legend of Valentine’s Day says that Valentine was a Christian priest who lived around 300 AD in Rome. Marriage for young men was outlawed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who thought single men unencumbered by a wife and family would make better soldiers. Thinking the edict unjust, Valentine defied the emperor to continue secretly performing marriages for young couples. He was found out and executed in the end.

Leaving aside the question of how true the story is, it seems that opposition have always played a part in the Valentine’s Day narrative; not necessarily out of romance. For the people of these countries, they had cause to protest in the name of some other love:

 

1. Islamabad, Pakistan – court banned Valentine’s Day celebration

Pakistan

Image from Facebook user Sam Mugabe.

Pakistani florists and restauranteurs aren’t too happy. The Islamabad High Court banned all celebrations of Valentine’s Day in government offices and public spaces, with immediate effect. For the first time, flowers and heart-shaped balloons could not be sold on the streets of Islamabad. This came in response to a private petition arguing that Valentine’s Day was un-Islamic, as it promoted immorality, nudity and indecency under the guise of spreading love.

While conservative Pakistanis cheered the court order, younger and more liberal residents voiced their dissatisfaction at what they perceived as state interference in a non-issue. Many Pakistanis managed to circumvent this law, by celebrating the occasion in groups or holding private parties indoors.

At least one person was happy with the ban. USA Today reported that Ms Mehak Haque, 23, a communications student in Lahore, found Valentine’s Day to be “a dreadful day for all the single people out there… There is unwarranted pressure on those who don’t have a Valentine date or aren’t seeing anyone.”

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2. Surabaya, Indonesia – students protested against Valentine’s Day

Indonesia

Image from Facebook user Surabaya Kita.

“Say No to Valentine!”

Students from one Muslim school in the city of Surabaya held a protest against Valentine’s Day on Monday (Feb 13). Protestors ranged from 13 to 15-year olds and included many girls wearing the hijab, or headscarf. They denounced Valentine’s Day as a Western occasion that encourages casual sex; something incompatible with Indonesian values.

Such sentiment is not new. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has often seen Islamic clerics and religious leaders deride Valentine’s Day as a celebration of sexual immorality. In 2015, Indonesia’s Islamic clerical body even threatened to issue a fatwa, or a ruling under the Islamic law, against the sale of condoms, following reports they were sold together with chocolate to mark Valentine’s Day.

Despite these objections, many in Indonesia still enjoy the occasion, particularly in major cities such as Jakarta where cards and chocolates are widely available.

 

3. Mecca, Saudi Arabia – no longer so disapproving of Valentine’s Day

Saudi arabia

Image from Facebook user Sujit Pal.

While some Islamic countries are tightening regulations for Valentine’s Day, Saudi Arabia has done just the opposite. It kept to its efforts for reform under the leadership of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Salman, aimed at making Saudi Arabia more open to the world. This year for instance, flower shops throughout the Arab city, Jeddah, were selling custom-made Valentine boxes, including balloons and flowers, starting at 550 Saudi riyals (around SGD$209).

This is in stark contrast to previous years when religious police patrolled flower shops and confiscated  offending red roses they found. In 2012, more than 140 people were arrested for celebrating the event. This year however, celebrations were possible after the cabinet banned the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice from pursuing, questioning, requesting identification from or arresting suspects in April last year.

However, some florists in the kingdom still chose to avoid participating in the holiday to prevent controversy. “We have experienced problems in the past and I am not willing to go through the same dilemma again,” an anonymous florist in the city of Riyadh told Arab News.

 

4. New York, USA – charity drive named after a banned Valentine’s Day custom

Sofitel

Image by Facebook user Sofitel New York.

Here’s a Valentine’s Day nugget: New York Trend, a weekly news publication of New York city and Long Island, reported on 7 Feb that New York’s luxury hotel, Sofitel New York, was holding a charity drive named “Une Loterie d’Amour”, which translated to A Love Lottery. Like the legend of Valentine the priest, the hotel seemed to be making good out of a bad case. Because the charity drive, which lasted from Feb 1 till Feb 14, actually shared the same name as an old, outlawed French Valentine’s Day custom.

Hotel guests who donated to The Bowery Mission – which provided for poor and homeless New Yorkers – got to pick one of the red valentine envelopes hung from the window display at the hotel’s Gaby Brasserie Francaise restaurant. The envelopes were differentiated based on the currency denomination of the donation – USD$10, USD$25, USD$50, USD$100, USD$250 and USD$500. Prizes written inside ranged from one complimentary cocktail, a dinner or dessert for two, to a two-night Sofitel Los Angeles stay at Beverly Hills.

The historical “Une Loterie d’Amour” however, was not so loving. Singles of both sexes and all ages would enter houses opposite each other in the middle of February and shout through the windows for their desired partner. Unfortunately, should the female partner not come up to the man’s standards, the match was called off for him to continue with his search. Vengeful women left high and dry would gather before a ceremonial bonfire to hurl vulgarities at as well as burn the belongings of the men who did the rejecting. Behaviour got so bad during the Love Lottery that the authorities felt the whole custom had to be stopped.

Though Sofitel New York’s “Une Loterie d’Amour” shared faint echoes of the banned tradition, such as approaching a window and picking a prize, it is not confirmed if it drew inspiration from the past. More likely,  thankfulness, rather than hurt feelings, rounded off the modern “Une Loterie d’Amour”.

 

5. Paris, France – say no to love locks

love lock

Image by Facebook user Briony Wemyss.

Inscribed your name and your lover’s on a padlock, clip it to the railing of a bridge and throw the key into the river. This is the love lock – 21st century’s grand gesture of romantic love.

But there are those who thought walls of love locks on monuments unsightly and structurally hazardous to boot. In June 2014, part of Paris’s iconic bridge, the Pont des Arts, collapsed due to the sheer weight of the locks.

Two Parisian residents, Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, had observed how the trend got out of hand from 2008 and decided to launch a “No Love Locks” campaign in January 2014. For four years running, it declared Valentine’s Day a “No Love Locks Day”.

Its 2014 petition, which called for a ban of love locks in France gathered more than 11,000 signatures. Though no formal ban was instituted, the city cleared all 45 tonnes of padlocks from the Pont des Arts in June 2015. Later in the same year, transparent panels replaced the mesh wires to discourage love locks from being clipped to the grilles.

The campaign continued because the problem has not been isolated to Pont des Arts. The organisers counted at least “10 bridges… the entire quay along the Seine, and several landmarks including the Eiffel Tower” affected by love locks. They were convinced that “only a ban will begin to make a permanent change in Paris, and save their historic landmarks”.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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HOUSING and Development Board (HDB) households in People’s Action Party town councils will be paying more in service and conservancy charges. How much? Between $1 and $17 altogether depending on flat type. When? Not clear. But the rise will be staggered over two years. The first increase will take place from June 1 while the next increase is slated for June next year. Why? Higher pest control, cleaning charges as well as the new provision that town councils must set aside money for lift upgrading.

Before re-looking your household budget, wait for the Budget announcement on Monday. The bet is that there will be S&CC rebates that will relieve you for a couple of months or so.

Going by the news yesterday, what else can we expect from the Budget? Motor industry people are wondering what will be announced for vehicles given that next week’s COE tender exercise had been postponed by two days pending “an upcoming announcement”. It usually starts on Monday but it will start on Wednesday next week. Since no details were given, people are speculating like crazy.

Is it to stop private hire car companies from bidding and jacking up the price of COEs? After all, taxi companies were taken out of the public process and given a new scheme. Is it about announcing a lower car ownership rate for the future? Then again, do you need to suspend the bidding exercise for this? Or has it got to do with re-calibrating rebates on vehicles with lower carbon emissions? But the current scheme is supposed to run till June this year…

Before rushing to the showrooms this weekend, maybe we should just wait till Monday.

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Digging into the fine print of news reports, we’ve unearthed a couple of nuggets that you might have missed:

a) Senior Counsel Hri Kumar is no longer a member of the People’s Action Party, reported TODAY. It was announced two days ago that the former PAP MP will be appointed Deputy Attorney-General, sparking talk about what this does for the impartial image of G lawyers. The PAP, however, didn’t say when he quit the party. Was it the year before when he decided not to go for a third term? Or yesterday? Or does that matter?

b) Remember former tour guide Yang Yin, the Chinese national who scammed his way into getting Singapore permanent residency? Well, his PR papers have been revoked, ST reported the Immigration and Customs Authority as saying. This was done on November 1 last year, after he was convicted of cheating a rich Singaporean widow.

c) Complaints about motor vehicles have been going up, from 844 in 2014 to 1,477 last year, mainly about defects in cars. So, too, are complaints about pressure selling tactics in spas and beauty salons. TODAY reported the consumer watchdog, Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), as saying that one tactic was to withhold a customer’s credit or debit card unless he or she said okay to a sale. It’s an unethical practice, but isn’t it also illegal?

d) Muslims will be glad to know that the number of haj places will go up from 680 to 800 a year. Saudi Arabia uses a 1987 formula which sets the quota at 0.1 per cent of the Muslim population. The Muslim population has grown by 20 per cent since then, to 800,000 now, reported TODAY. Now, how did that increase come about? Has the proportion of Muslims in the country increased as well?

 

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