March 25, 2017

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The Difference Between Western and Asian-style breads
UNLESS they’re softer varieties like brioche, traditional European breads have a harder crust and a drier, saltier crumb while Asian style buns are soft, springy and sweet. Think multigrain sourdough loaves versus kaya buns or slices of rye bread versus hotdog rolls.The key difference lies in the dough’s chemistry: “Western-style bread has zero fat – its main [components] are flour, salt and water,” says Daniel Tay, founder of Old Seng Choon – the modern revival of his parents’ confectionery which operated from 1965 to 1996. “Asian-style bread is high in fat and sugar – about 15 per cent ft and 25 per cent sugar. These two work together to give the soft texture.”
https://robert-parker-michelin-sg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/02/06/9e5b5de6117e48138fcc5855ee4e7da2_Daniel+Tay.jpg

 

The successful pastry chef turned entrepreneur has seen the ebbs and flows of trends. He’s the man behind brands like Bakerzin to Cat & The Fiddle and counts reputable establishments like two-Michelin-starred Les Amis and French delicatessen Fauchon as former work places. He also runs Foodgnostic, a food solutions manufacturer. Tapping into his knowledge of bread baking was merely dipping one’s toes in the rich reservoir of his experience and technical savoir faire of the baking sciences.

“I know it’s been trendy to eat crusty bread recently,” he says. “But are most of us trained to eat that from young? Not to me.”

Indeed, it was only in recent years with the profusion of gourmet bakeries like Artisan Boulangerie Co and Baker & Cook that Western-style bread took centre stage. Otherwise, the bakeries that churn out soft buns still prevail and are found in just about every turn. This softer variant of bread has been the dominant preference for local tastes, so much so that even top end restaurants like two-Michelin-starred Odette take it into consideration when composing the bread basket.

Tangzhong Dough

But the difference doesn’t end at just fat and sugar content. Asian-style breads are also made by adding a Japanese-invented dough called tangzhong.“The Japanese realised that by cooking the flour, the dough absorbs all the water. This cooked dough is added into the rest of the bread mixture which gives a moister mouthfeel,” says Tay.

https://robert-parker-michelin-sg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2017/02/06/cb843e245bfd49cfac6f2db32110a3b0_tangzhong.jpg

 

In this method, equal parts flour and boiling water is mixed in a pan. Once it is cooled, the dough can be added into the actual bread mix to comprise 5-10 per cent of its total weight.

The precise roots of this method are unclear, but the Japanese preference for soft, sweet breads can likely be traced back to 1875 when a former samurai named Yasube Kimura invented the anpan – a soft bun stuffed with bean paste that’s otherwise used for wagashi. He found that the bread introduced to Japan was either salty or sour – flavours which were out of step with the Japanese palate.

How It Is Made
Tay has kindly provided his recipe for those who wish to make these soft buns at home. This forms the basic recipe sweet bun recipe from which modifications can be made. Bear in mind that sour dough can be omitted and to use strong bread flour of 12.5 per cent protein for both the main as well as tangzhong dough for better gluten development. 

Tangzhong Dough
100g strong bread flour (12.5 per cent protein)
100ml water

Sweet Bun Dough
1kg strong bread flour (12.5 per cent protein)
18g yeast
18g bread improver
240g sugar
30g milk powder
14g salt
2 eggs (50g each)
35ml condensed milk
450ml water
180g unsalted butter
100g tangzhong dough
100g sourdough (optional)

Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step one: Make the tanzhong dough
Bring 100ml of water to a boil in a pan and add 100 grams of strong bread flour. Stir quickly and remove from fire to prevent the dough from over cooking.

Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step two: Let it cool
Continue knead the dough with a spoon or by hand if cool enough until dough is formed. This step is crucial as adding a warm dough into the rest of the bread dough will alter the temperature.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step three: Make the bread dough
Place flour, yeast, bread improver, sugar, milk powder and salt into a mixing bowl and stir until well-mixed. Then add in the eggs, condensed milk and water and start the mixer with a dough hook.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step four
Add the tangzhong dough first and continue to knead. At this stage, the dough would’ve developed gluten. Next, add the unsalted butter and knead until dough starts to make slapping sounds against the mixing bowl.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step five: Let it rise
Cover the bowl with clean wrap film or a cloth and allow the dough to ferment for approximately one hour. Place the bowl in a cupboard or space away from heat and moving air.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step Six: Shape
Shape the dough into round balls and insert your choice of filling if any. Place the dough balls into small paper holders similar to the ones for cupcakes.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step seven: Let it rise (again)
Proof the dough again in the cupboard away from heat and moving air and let it rise until it is 2 ½ times its normal size. To see if it’s ready, poke it gently with your finger and the dent made should only return half way up. As the dough proofs, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step eight: Give it colour
Beat one egg and lightly brush over the top of the bun. This gives the bun a sheen when baked. Be sure to avoid the sides or drips.
Illustration by: Siow Jun
Illustration by: Siow Jun

 

Step nine: Bake!
Bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool. Enjoy.

 

This article first appeared on Michelin Guide Singapore. Visit Michelin Guide Singapore on Facebook.

Featured image May22: Wonderland by Flickr user Daniel Ansel Tingcungco. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Vanessa Wu

NEITHER is ComfortDelGro for that matter.

Singapore’s biggest taxi company is hoping to introduce surge pricing, which is an Uber innovation, reported The Straits Times (ST) today. It is also proposing to flatten its complicated fare structure, said its new CEO, Mr Yang Ban Seng.

Commuters would probably appreciate a simpler system given that there are close to 10 different flag-down rates, three different metered-fare structures and more than 10 kinds of surcharges, as well as eight types of phone-booking charges in Singapore. This, however, is provided that a flatter fare is not levelled up, going by what the Land Transport Authority (LTA) found out in 2015.

But surge pricing where fares rise according to real-time demand? Such fares can exceed $140 at crunch times, such as during rail breakdowns.

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Mr Yang said that the proposals would be made to the Public Transport Council (PTC), although he doesn’t seem to hold out much hope: “We would love to do surge pricing, but I don’t think we’re allowed to.”

If ComfortDelGro, the biggest player with more than 16,800 taxis in its fleet gets its way, you can bet the other smaller taxi companies will follow suit.

Uber as well as other ride-hailing companies like Grab are probably watching developments closely, even as others put their operations and strategies under a microscope.

Uber Singapore’s general manager Mr Warren Tseng came out hammer and tongs to rebut a newspaper report that close to 1,000 of its cars were idling in carpark. He said this in an interview with The Business Times (BT) on Feb 8, even though the article appeared in The Straits Times and was based on the newspapers’ checks.

Mr Tseng said that cars that have been “deemed idling in carpark lots” were either new cars that were still under inspection and needed to have the In-Vehicle Unit (IU) installed or cars that were being cleaned after their rental owners returned them.

“With such flexibility, you see cars coming in and out daily. Sometimes they are parked for servicing; other times for cleaning after the driver is done using the vehicle. As an outsider, if you look at the lots, it is easy to assume they are not being hired,” said Mr Tseng. He refused to reveal the total number of vehicles in Uber’s fleet “for strategic reasons”.

Mr Tseng also defended Uber from industry watchers who felt that it had been creating pressure on prices of Certificates of Entitlement (COE), saying that “it is unfair and misdirected to assume so.”

“If you look at LTA’s (Land Transport Authority) data, COE prices have actually dropped from April 2015, which was a month after LCR [Lion City Rental] started, to the current rates,” said Mr Tseng. Lion City Rental is a Uber-owned car rental company that rents out private cars to Uber drivers and the general public.

COE prices have definitely fallen since nearly two years ago as a general trend. But last year, industry watchers said that Uber kept COE prices up when “aggressive” bidding was observed in one of Uber’s exercise to obtain fresh COEs in 2016.

According to an ST report in April last year as well as figures from LTA, the COE prices for cars in all three categories increased in April 2016.

If there was any decrease, it was the Prevailing Quota Premium (PQP). For instance, PQP fell from $49,541 for Mar to $46,077 for April for Category A cars in 2016. PQP is the amount required for a COE extension or renewal for a vehicle already in use.

The COE prices began to fall in the second bidding in May 2016, but an ST report said that “they would have fallen more dramatically if not for strong bidding from Uber”.

In the same report, ST said that Lion City Rental had secured about 1,700 COEs for cars in three separate bids in just two months of bidding.

From this comparison, Mr Tseng’s rebuttal is mostly in conflict with other reports and LTA’s figures. But since Uber doesn’t want to talk about numbers, the actual situation is unclear and left to further speculation.

Another newspaper report today is also not helping Uber’s reputation. Saddam Hussein Norazman, 23, was yesterday jailed for six weeks and banned from driving for five years for causing the death of one of his rear seat passengers and injuring a van driver in an accident on Sept 25 last year. This is the first case of an Uber driver involved in a fatal accident.

 

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FOR a paper published in this month’s issue of the Environmental Research Letters journal, Ms Yuan Lin, Mr Lahiru Wijedasa and Dr Ryan Chisholm from the National University of Singapore (NUS) asked 390 people of varying ages and income brackets this: from a range of 0.05 per cent to 5 per cent, how much of one’s annual income is worth giving to secure clean air?

About 0.97 per cent, it turns out. In real terms, that amounts to USD$643.5 million (SGD$913 million) a year.

Transboundary haze is a long-standing problem in the South-east Asian region, largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland as well as companies and farmers in Indonesia using fire to clear land. Singapore experienced its worst haze episode in 2015 from September to November, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels.

“[Sufficiently] negative impacts” from the air pollution make compelling enough the reason to trade-off “personal financial gain” for an improved environment, the NUS researchers concluded. At least it is, to a certain point, and to most people. Three out of 10 interviewees remained unconvinced of the need to pay at all.

The underlying challenge between personal comfort and environmental responsibility is valid too for people of these countries. 

 

1. Beijing, China – smog data control tightened

beijing

Image from Flickr user Kevin Dooley.

It was announced on Tuesday (Feb 7) in People’s Daily, China’s state newspaper, that the Beijing government has established a national network that will track the smog affecting several major cities. It will use a combination of data gathered from manual sampling stations, satellite sensing and airborne platforms to generate reports about the air quality. This national system replaces the manual smog tracking system of local meteorological stations, which smog alert services the China Meteorological Administration suspended on Jan 17.

The People’s Daily’s article reported that this change of monitoring structure was to better pollution reduction and prevent falsified data. Last year in October, environmental protection officials in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, were caught producing false numbers about the air quality by tampering with the monitoring equipment.

Public anger against China’s infamous smog condition has been rising. When the local smog alert service was suspended, citizens took to severely criticising the authorities online and raising suspicions of information suppression. Independent media outlets have complained about being told to take down articles that are derisive of Beijing’s efforts.  A Peking University study published on Feb 4, 2015, claiming that the smog had caused 257,000 excess deaths in 31 Chinese cities cannot be found online.

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2. Fukushima, Japan – radiation reading the highest since 2011

fukushima

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Digital Globe.

On Monday (Feb 6), China urged the Japanese government to detail plans on how to tackle the radiation from the broken reactors of the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It was responding to utility operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) revelation that radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor 2 was at 530 sieverts per hour.

This is the highest reading calculated since the March 2011 meltdown of the three reactors in the plant, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami and followed a few days later with the breaking down of the fourth reactor. The previous highest reading was 73 sieverts per hour.

According to Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, 4 sieverts of radiation exposure already would kill 1 in 2 people. Japan Times, an English language newspaper in Japan, reported that experts have claimed this reading as “unimaginable” and that an institute official said medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation.

Mr Azby Brown, a member of a radiation-monitoring citizen science organisation called Safecast cautioned against unnecessary alarm by noting that this reading reflected radiation activity inside the reactor and not what was happening in the wider area of Fukushima.

 

3. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – toxic smog failed to abate

mongolia

Image from Flickr user Einar Fredriksen.

Reuters, the international news agency, produced an article this week about the smog that has been shrouding the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, created from the smoke from thousands of chimneys. The World Health Organisation has set acceptable standard of harmful breathable particles existing in the air, known as PM2.5, at 20-25 micrograms per cubic metre. Late last month, the reading in Ulaanbaatar hit 855 micrograms per cubic metre, at least over 30 times that limit.

But this pollution is also a socio-economic problem.  About 80 per cent of the smog comes from what is known as the “ger” districts found at the edge of the city, said Mr Tsogtbaatar Byamba, director of Mongolia’s Institute of Public Health. “Ger” districts are a mass of traditional tents, housing ex-herders who migrated to the city upon losing all their livestock to the harsh environment and weather conditions. Winter could be fierce in Ulaanbaatar and these poor would burn whatever they can get their hands on – coal, wood and even trash – to keep warm.

To tackle the smog, the Mayor of Ulaanbaatar, Mr S. Batbold, had announced on Jan 9 measures that heightened restriction of migrants to the capital. It would accept only those who need long-term medical care, already owning homes or mortgage loan.

Still, the pollution failed to abate. So, on Jan 28, near 7,000 protestors gathered in the capital’s Chinggis Square to signal their dissatisfaction against the authorities’ inability to improve air condition.

 

4. London, United Kingdom – multiple failings in applying environmental laws

london

Image from Flickr user David Holt.

The European Commission released the Environmental Implementation Review on Monday (Feb 6) which pointed at the United Kingdom (UK) as one of the 23 member states within the European Union (EU) that failed to meet air pollution quality standards.

The review aimed to improve implementation of EU’s current environmental legislation and policies, which UK has been in breach of since 2010 when it first crossed safety limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In fact, within just five days of 2017, it was reported that London overshot its annual air pollution limit. Not only has UK failed in effectively applying laws on air quality, laws on water standards and conservation of several species, particularly marine porpoises, have not been followed. Until the Brexit deal is realised, UK remains obliged to fulfill all EU’s environmental regulations.

According to the review, about 50,000 Britons have died prematurely from illnesses related to the country’s air pollution. Also, six million working days are wasted, at the cost of €28 billion (or SGD$49.7 billion) per year.

 

5. Dakota, United States – US Army has given approval to complete Dakota Access pipeline

Dakota

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

On Tuesday (Feb 7), the United States (US) Army granted the last permit, or easement, needed to allow the final section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline to be built under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, which forms part of the Missouri River system. Should construction process goes well, the USD$3.8 billion pipeline can begin operation by June.

This project became controversial because of resistance by The Standing Rock Sioux, a native American tribe which contended that the pipeline desecrates sacred sites and could potentially pollute its water source. Protest camps sprung up in the North Dakota plains, where thousands gathered last year to show their support for the tribe. Activists clashed several times with law enforcers, with more than 600 people arrested. In late November, the police even used water cannons in the -4°C weather against them. The previous US president, Mr Barack Obama, allowed a delay in the completion of the pipeline because of this protest and instructed last December for an environmental study to be carried out.

However, the suspension of the project was overturned when the current president, Trump, ordered on Jan 24 a continuation of the construction. Supporters of the pipeline believe that it is safer to transport oil using a pipeline than by rail or trucks. Then, less than a fortnight after, the Army said that it would cancel the study. Mr Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army stated that there was already enough information on the likely effect on the environment to make a decision about whether to grant the easement.

The tribe and its supporters are not accepting the recent development. Mr Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the activist groups, promised even greater “mass resistance”.

 

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

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by Suhaile Md

DIGITAL jobs like software, web, and multimedia developers are the third most in-demand jobs according to a report released by the Manpower Ministry on Tuesday (Feb 7). Clearly, technical skills like coding and data analysis will put candidates in a good position for these jobs.

But it would be a mistake to think coding is all that matters. Soft skills play an integral role in career progression as well.

The idea of the “lone wolf” who does not get along well with others, but writes brilliant code, is a thing of the past, said Mr Sheng Yunzhou, a software engineer.

“Like any other job, domain skills alone are not enough,” he said. Other skills like resilience, ability to learn, teamwork, and communication, are important, added Mr Sheng. The 29-year-old develops apps for private banking clients at a major international bank.

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Teamwork

In the past, coding used to be “product or project centric”. So when a project came along, various people were pulled together to work on it, only to be disbanded once completed. But now, it’s about “nurturing a strong team, keeping them together”, to work on successive projects said Mr Sheng.

A team “has to become an entity itself… so that it can move quickly” to solve problems.

Mr Sheng recalled the time his team had a developer whose coding was good but his inability to work with others created problems. For example, the team would have two weeks of the project planned out but the developer’s tendency to do things his own way would throw the plans off. Time, and hence money, was lost due to a lack of cooperation from the developer.

Learning how to work well with people is a skill that can be picked up.

For example, understanding what motivates others, or why they act a certain way, goes far in making one an effective team player. The Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) course “Winning with difficult people” is a course you can take. Singaporeans can use their SkillsFuture credit to pay for the course. 

 

Communication

The “biggest problem” with many developers, Mr Sheng found, is their inability to “communicate ideas clearly” even to their fellow coders.

Bad communication can hamper the quality of work. After all, developers basically “teach computers to do things that people can use”. If developers do not learn how to listen, to talk to people to find out what problems users are facing, or to hold a conversation exploring different ideas, how can they create a product that people find useful?

Courses that teach skills like how to structure a conversation such that you draw out the relevant information, understand the various communication styles people have, and craft clear messages, are available. For example, the “interpersonal communication skills” course by the British Council.

.

Resilience

Coding is hard, even for developers, said Mr Sheng. The field changes so fast, “it’s a must to keep on learning new things, all the time”. New jargon crop up every time there’s a development.

So anyone who wishes to progress in this field needs to “instil the habit of deliberate practise”.

It’s the “most valuable asset”.

Coders need to practise harder codes and different programming languages in their downtime, over the weekends and so on. Or other developers will take their place.

The challenge of continual learning and deliberate practise is that failing is part of the process, which can be “really daunting,” he added. Without resilience, effective learning in this field is difficult.

It’s a sentiment shared by Mr Tan Choon Ngee, CEO of aZaaS, a Singapore-based Information Technology firm with subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

“Positive nature and grit” is what Mr Tan looks out for in his new hires. Otherwise they would not be able to keep up with the industry as it “experiences high rates of change”, said the 42-year-old.

At the end of the day, as Mr Sheng said, while coding is a must-have primary skill in his field, without communication skills, team work, and resilience, your career would be stunted.

His advice, regardless of which industry you’re in: “Keep learning, don’t stop.”

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Pixabay user Tumisu. (CC0 1.0)

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by Suhaile Md

CONOR McGregor. Who’s that?

He’s a mixed martial arts (MMA) star and star swimmer Joseph Schooling’s idol.

Although practising kicks are about the only thing the sport has in common with swimming, it doesn’t stop Joseph Schooling from finding inspiration in McGregor, reported TODAY (Feb 7).

MMA is a growing in prominence globally but is not as well known as swimming in Singapore. Here are five things about 28-year-old MMA champ Conor McGregor and why, we think, he inspires our very own Olympic champion.

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1. Championship record

McGregor won the featherweight title in December 2015. Not content with just one, he went on to win another title in the lightweight class nearly a year later. This made him the first fighter in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history to simultaneously hold two titles from two different weight classes. Not an easy task because losing or adding weight affects a fighter’s balance and body awareness. And McGregor did it in the UFC, the most prominent competition in MMA.

Schooling won gold and broke the 100m butterfly record at the Olympics last year. After the win, like McGregor, he set his eyes beyond that one event. Schooling has said he wanted to compete in other races in the future: The 200m butterfly and 100m freestyle. We hope he dominates those events as well. Go Joe!

 

2. Champion mindset 

“I should create my own belt. I am, in myself, my own belt. It doesn’t matter if its featherweight, lightweight, welterweight. It’s the McGregor belt. That’s it, I’m fighting for my own belt,” said McGregor, at a press conference in the lead up to a fight last year (Feb 24) .

“I want to make a mark for myself, set my own tone, I don’t want to be compared to anyone,” said Schooling when asked about comparisons to swimming great Michael Phelps (Aug 16, 2016).

Yes, McGregor is known to be much more flamboyant and uses colourful words not fit for kids. Schooling is not like that, he has a reputation of being very polite. But the mindset, of being the best and in a class of their own, is something they both share.

 

3. Champion support

McGregor, on his girlfriend Dee (Nov 14): “She’d drive me to the gym, and she’d listen to all my dreams. Dee is a lifesaver for me. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her, and that’s for sure.”

McGregor’s story has his leading lady.

As for Schooling, sorry ladies, that spot is taken by Joe’s mum May Schooling. Although, rumour has it he was dating 22-year old Casey Shomaker, who is pursuing a doctorate in law at the University of Texas where Schooling studies.

“Without their help, their love, their contributions, I would not be where I am today. So mum and dad, thank you,” said Schooling yesterday, reported ST( Feb 7).

By the way ladies, mummy May is ever watchful, making sure her son is not put in a compromising position by random girls (read more about May Schooling here).

 

4. Champion focus

Fame in the fighting arena set McGregor up for an action movie appearance with Hollywood star Vin Diesel. But last year McGregor cancelled the seven-figure movie deal so as not to get distracted from training.

Likewise, Schooling is focused on the coming swimming season in the United States, where he is studying and training.

“I came back (from Singapore) in December and started working hard, watched what I ate, no more going out, time to focus on the championship season,” said Schooling, reported TODAY (Feb 7).

 

5. Champion… body?

McGregor did a shoot for the ESPN sports magazine last year. The magazine has an annual “body issue” where athletes strip to their birthday suits and readers can lust after appreciate the athletic build of leading sports figures.

No Schooling has not done a naked photoshoot… yet. But there is a photo book, “Hello, my name is Joseph Schooling”, published last year. It contains photographs by Alvin Toh, who had exclusive access to Schooling on many occasions. But there’s nothing risque.

And yes, it was a bit sneaky to put this part in. Just a bit. But come on, how many ladies (and guys too, admit it!) would love Joe to bare it all?

Let’s hope he gets all inspired…

 

 

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Man in a purple shirt sitter and pondering while two businessmen walk by, at the CBD.

by Wan Ting Koh

IT’S all about workers’ rights early this year, with a few prominent cases making headlines and even into Parliament. The issues all revolve around what is fair for an employee – whether it concerns his or her termination, taking sick leave, or even whether he or she is getting paid.

In Parliament this afternoon (Feb 7), MP Tan Wu Meng asked for updates on the Surbana Jurong terminations, with NCMP Daniel Goh following up on what constitutes due and fair process in dismissing employees due to poor performance, and how employees can seek redress.

Surbana Jurong, a Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy, came under the spotlight last month for terminating 54 of its employees, a practice which it said was part of a performance review. The lay-offs raised concerns that the company was retrenching workers under the banner of poor performance so that it wouldn’t have to pay additional compensation to its employees.

Surbana has insisted that the terminations were not a retrenchment exercise. Its chief executive Wong Heang Fine sent an email to staff following news of the terminations, informing them that the company “cannot allow a small proportion of poor performers to be a drag on the rest of the organisation”.

“We cannot allow our 1 per cent of poor performers to continue to affect the rest of the 99 per cent of staff who are performing,” he said in the email.

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After their dismissal, terminated employees took the issue to two unions, the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union, and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Surbana later acknowledged in a joint statement with the unions that the process “could have been better managed”. It added that it would work closely with the unions to provide an “equitable and mutually agreeable arrangement” for the affected workers and to help them find new jobs.

When asked for an update on the Surbana case, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say said that the company and unions have reached a “fair settlement” of ex gratia payments. This means that Surbana will pay a sum of money to affected workers even though there is no obligation for it. Mr Lim added that Surbana’s mass termination and then public labelling of the employees as poor performers were “unacceptable”.

There may be other factors such as working environment and HR practices, said Mr Lim, adding that a poor performance in one company doesn’t mean it will be the same for the next company.

Mr Lim said that companies dismissing employees over poor performance have to substantiate their claim with documented evidence. “If the employer cannot substantiate, he may be ordered to reinstate the employee or pay compensation,” said Mr Lim. He added that employees who feel that they’ve been unfairly terminated may approach MOM, which will ask the companies for proof.

Being prematurely dismissed is one matter. What if you’re not being paid your salary?

 

Salary issues

Some 6,000 salary non-payment and short payment cases were lodged by employees last year and in 2015. Mr Lim gave the breakdown of cases in a written answer to NMP Kok Heng Leun’s parliamentary question last month about how many such cases had been referred to the Labour Court.

Of the 3,000 cases referred, 1,400 cases had the Labour Court issuing court orders in favour of employees. Out of these, 800 cases saw employees being paid within 14 days while 250 cases had employees who were paid after 14 days. A total of 350 cases were defaulted as the 200 companies involved were in financial straits or had ceased operations.

Some 25 employers were charged in court for more egregious offences each year for the past two years, Mr Lim added. These charges may include failure to pay salaries on time, or not paying a dismissed employee within three days of termination, and each charge carries a fine of not more than $15,000, or a jail term not exceeding six months, or both.

 

Sick leave entitlement

Employers are expected to excuse employees with sick leave or hospitalisation leave from work too. MOM called these “basic protections” after several Singapore Airlines (SIA) employees claimed that taking sick leave would affect their chances of promotion. Their allegations came after SIA stewardess, Ms Vanessa Yeap, 38, was found dead in a San Francisco hotel room on Jan 31 (United States time). She was reportedly ill two days before her death.

According to crew members interviewed by ST, every employee has 10 incentive points each year and these are docked when the employee submit medical certificates for common illnesses. All points are lost when the member of the staff accumulates 12 medical certificates.

Points are considered in the staff’s annual appraisals, though they account for less than 5 per cent of the weightage.

When contacted by ST, SIA said that operating with a medical certificate is a disciplinary lapse. It declined to say how it measured performance of its staff, but said that it takes into account many other factors apart from crew attendance.

It said: “As with all other businesses, employee productivity and attendance at work are important for a successful airline operation. Although crew attendance is a component in the performance management process, we would like to emphasise that crew performance is measured across many other factors.”

In response to concerns, MOM issued a statement yesterday saying it expects all employers to excuse their employees from work if they have a medical certificate.

It added: “Paid sick and hospitalisation leave is a basic protection under the Employment Act and is also a core benefit in collective agreements… employers should avoid penalising an employee solely based on his consumption of sick leave.”

According to ST, MOM is in touch with the SIA Staff Union and SIA’s management over the issue.

Under the law, employees with three months of service get five days of sick leave and 15 days of hospitalisation leave.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Ryan Ong

There may be too many property listing sites for Singapore

WITH the addition of two new online services last year (Ohmyhome and Yotcha), the online property market has gotten crowded. Along with PropertyGuru, 99.co and StreetSine, all of them are now locked in a constant fight for your attention. And they all provide the same basic service, which is comparison.

All of this is supposed to be good for “the market”. Property agents, buyers and sellers are supposed to have it easier than ever. Listing sites are much cheaper than traditional marketing methods, such as classified ads – 99.co charges just $588 per year for 100 listings, while PropertyGuru (which is the granddaddy of property sites in Singapore) charges $2,240 per year.

Contrast this with traditional print advertisements, which can end up costing those same amounts for just a single ad.  And of course, buyers now have the luxury of looking for property on their phone, on the bus or at home.

In some respects, these sites have succeeded in changing Singapore’s property market. Some of the changes that have been caused by these sites are:

  • Buyers are quicker at spotting abnormal prices
  • The property business is becoming more entwined with the online media business
  • Buyers are somewhat better informed

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1. Buyers are quicker at spotting abnormal prices

Most property portals, such as 99.co or StreetSine, don’t just list the price of a specific property. They also show the prices of other properties in the same vicinity, which lets buyers work out the average (or median for the more mathematically inclined) price per square foot. For example, look at this screenshot:

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You can see almost immediately if a unit is exceptionally expensive or cheap. Here’s another example, which also tracks prices in the general neighbourhood:

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In the past, buyers had to dig through records themselves to check transaction histories. Portal listings practically guarantee every buyer is less likely to get ripped off, even first-timers who may not know where to check the price history. (You can check the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s records here by the way.)

The ease of information impacts our property market in ways that go beyond the portal’s user numbers. Even casually browsing the site could influence buyers and sellers.

 

2. The property business is becoming more entwined with the online media business

One major difference to the property market is that now, sellers have to fight for online visibility. Fewer buyers will walk around a neighbourhood for two hours, shopping for potential sales. They find their prospects via price and location filters on a portal site.

This leads to property agents and developers now having to think like media companies, instead of just real estate experts. If someone types “condo-jurong-under $800,000” into a search bar, every site wants to be the first result they get. As such, an increasing number of developers and agents are now also learning to think in terms of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and content marketing. In Singapore’s property market, “e-commerce” will soon lose its meaning – e-commerce is commerce.

At present, developers and agents are basically paying portal sites (or even private bloggers) to get them visibility. But it’s just a matter of time before they learn to produce their own online content.

Which leads to the third thing…

 

3. Buyers are somewhat better informed

Property news used to be esoteric. Go back to the 1980s; issues like stamp duties and deferred payment schemes were random words that made no sense to buyers. Today, most buyers – even those who are buying their first home – have some familiarity with concepts like the Qualifying Certificate or Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty.

They can’t help it. Portal sites fight tooth and nail for high visibility online and that results in a non-stop deluge of content. Google one project and you’ll find a few hundred pages breaking down the pros and cons, and speculating on potential gains. And in order to get ahead, portal sites also churn out information on how loans work, what agents do, what the Option to Purchase is, and so forth.

That’s all a sneaky way to get visibility. When you type “what is an Option to Purchase”, every portal site wants to be the first to answer your question.

This results in buyers who are somewhat better informed. I say “somewhat better” because, within the mass of content, buyers are also absorbing information that persuades them to buy.

 

What hasn’t and probably won’t change no matter how many portal sites we get?

Portal sites are also credited with big industry changes, despite evidence to the contrary. They are:

  • Decreased use of property agents
  • Major changes in property prices

 

1. Decreased use of property agents

This is the number one accusation hurled at listing sites, like Yotcha. But that’s putting the cart before the horse.

In 2010, only 11 per cent of HDB resale buyers and sellers handled transactions without an agent. By 2013, that number was up to around 25 per cent. HDB itself has concise guidelines for buyers and sellers wanting to do this. You’ll note that Yotcha (and the app Ohmyhome, which bypasses the need for property agents) came about in 2016.

In other words, services like Yotcha came about as a response to fewer people using property agents. They are not a “cause” of it.

The commission of a property agent in Singapore is around 2 per cent of the sale price for sellers. On a $350,000 flat, that’s a hefty $7,000. So it’s not surprising that most people will at least try to muddle through it first and then call in an agent as a last resort.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Yotcha won’t compound the problem – it is too new to tell. But in the words of Billy Joel, it didn’t start the fire.

 

2. Major changes in property prices

So price comparison drives prices down, right? That’s a supposed benefit of comparison platforms, but we should be careful not to exaggerate the impact.

Property prices move for a huge variety of reasons. Property prices in Singapore are going down because of cooling measures by the G, a weakening economic outlook, fewer rich expats due to the slump in oil and gas and finance, and many other possible factors. One of those many factors may be the increased use of portals and price comparisons. But we can’t know that for sure or guess to what degree it contributes to falling prices.

The flip side is also true. If there’s a huge hype for a particular area, prices will be inflated. And the comparison platforms will reflect and reinforce that. When you can see everyone hiking prices, you will too.

It’s more accurate to say that various portal sites reflect the market sentiment. Property portals probably won’t be the catalyst for major price changes, no matter how many of them we have.

 

Featured image House/Home Inspection by Flickr user Mark Moz. (CC BY 2.0) 

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by Michelin Guide Singapore

CHINESE New Year is always a welcome period for festive eating but the dedicated for whom fitness resolutions still loom large in January, the search for waist-friendly grub can be a challenge.

Here’s a thought: Whip up a healthier version of yusheng. Granted, the entire dish is meant to signify abundance but that doesn’t have to mean an abundance of calories. In fact, The Health Promotion Board notes that a serving of yusheng may contain as many calories as a main meal thanks to the use of oil as well as sweetened plum sauce.

“We do have some customers who request for ‘healthier’ options but as tossing yusheng is a once-a-year affair, most clients are happy with the yusheng options that we provide,” said Michelle Chan, Restaurant Manager of one-Michelin-starred Crystal Jade Golden Palace. “Typically, some customers would request for the service staff who is assisting with the tossing of the yusheng; to add less oil and/or less sauce to suit their palate.”

 

For those who prefer to have complete control over their food intake, the restaurant has also provided a healthier recipe so even the most stringent of weight watchers won’t worry for partaking in some festive cheer.

“The ingredients are mainly fresh fruits and salad leaves instead of the usual yusheng assortment,” said Michelle. “Green salad leaves provide crunch while fruits impart a natural sweetness. Rather than fried ‘pok chui’ biscuits, chef has used sweet potato strips instead.”

As with any recipe, more modifications can be made to further reduce the calories. The sweet potato strips that the restaurant recommends is deep fried but it can be baked or air-fried to a crisp for a similar texture. The fruit jam to be used for the sauce can also be substituted with low sugar options or homemade fruit compotes while plum sauce can be omitted entirely.

 

Healthful Yusheng
Serves 4-5

Ingredients
80g Japanese sweet potato, baked or air-fried
50g black fungus, soaked in water till soft and thinly sliced
50g strawberry, thinly sliced
50g honeydew, sliced
50g papaya, sliced
50g apple, sliced
50g watermelon, cubed
100g red carrot, cut into fine strips
100g white radish, cut into fine strips
10g fresh yuzu peel (orange can be used as well)
50g sesame seeds, toasted
50g pickled onions
20g olive kernals, finely diced (substitute with other nuts)
100g assorted salad leaves, washed and drained
10g Tobiko (flying fish roe)
50g yellow capsicum, cut into fine strips
2 lime leaves, cut into fine strips
2 stalks rosemaryFor yusheng sauce:
Fruit jam such as apple or orange marmalade
Lime juice
Plum sauce (can be omitted)
Rice vinegar
Pomegranate juice
Boiled water, to add to desired consistency
150g peanut oil

Method
1. To make the yusheng sauce, combine about 1 tablespoonful each of your choice of fruit jam such as green apple jam, lime juice, plum sauce, rice vinegar and pomegranate juice. Season to taste by adding more of all or some of the condiments and add as much water to reach desired consistency.
2. Arrange remaining yusheng ingredients onto plate and sprinkle Tobiko, lime leaves and rosemary leaves at the top.
3. To toss, add peanut oil and yusheng sauce.

 

This article first appeared on Michelin Guide Singapore. Visit Michelin Guide Singapore on Facebook.

Featured image CNY-52 by Flickr use Lynn Chan. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Najeer Yusof

INSTEAD of letting your excess food go to waste, why not place them in fridges that others can access?

Two community refrigerators were installed in the lift lobby of Block 441, Tampines Street 43, for residents in the area to donate food to needy neighbours. The two-week-old initiative by Tampines North Citizens’ Consultative Committee (TNCCC) was launched by Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng on Saturday (Jan 21).

One of the fridges was labelled with a “Halal” sticker, to cater to Muslim residents. Food donors were advised to be aware of the items they put in each fridge. Over the course of the first week, we noticed the “Halal” fridge being empty most of the time. According to the residents, the food in both fridges usually disappear within a couple of hours after replenishment. Eggs and meat were usually cleared the fastest. Although this initiative has been intended for the long term, the TNCCC is planning on monitoring the initiative for three to six months. Subsequently, it will decide on the next course of action: making improvements or stopping it entirely.

We decided to monitor the use of these fridges for a week, to see how the residents were using it and this is what we saw:

Residents of block 441 and Mr Baey Yam Keng fill both fridges with groceries on the day of launch.
DAY 1: Residents of Block 441 and Mr Baey filling both fridges with groceries on Saturday, Jan 21, the day the project was launched. The groceries, such as fresh meat, vegetables and fruits were donated by residents.

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Madam Poh Muei Giok, 73, a resident of block 441, taking an ice-cream from one of the fridge. "It is a good idea but some people are misusing it by taking a lot of the food," she said.
DAY 2: Madam Poh Muei Giok, 73, a resident of Block 441, taking an ice-cream from one of the fridges. “It is a good idea but some people are misusing it by taking a lot of the food,” she said.

 

Madam Evangeline Ang, 57, a member of the Residents' Committee, takes a photo of the contents of both fridges to update the other members on what needs restocking. "I come on alternative days to check on the stock and to see what needs restocking," she said.
DAY 3: Madam Evangeline Ang, 57, a member of the Residents’ Committee, taking a photo of the contents of both fridges to update the other members on what needs restocking. “I come on alternate days to check on the stock and to see what needs restocking,” she said.

 

Mr Michael Lim, 61, a retiree who resides in the neighbouring block checks the fridge to see which grocery requires a top up, before heading to the market to purchase them. "I heard about the initiative but I did not have time to come down to check it out till today. I bought fish cakes, meatballs, tofu, apples and oranges to fill into both fridges," he said.
DAY 4: Mr Michael Lim, 61, a retiree who resides in a neighbouring block checking the fridge to see which item requires a top up, before heading to the market to purchase them. “I heard about the initiative but I did not have time to come down to check it out till today. I bought fish cakes, meatballs, tofu, apples and oranges to fill both fridges,” he said.

 

Mr Tay, 52, a member of the Residents' Committee, stacks jars of Chinese New Year goodies on one of the fridges. The goodies were donated to the nearby Community Center by one of the residents. "Someone donated a few boxes of Chinese New Year goodies to the Community Center so I decided to bring them here for the residents to take them," he said.
DAY 5: Mr Tay, 52, a member of the Residents’ Committee, stacking jars of Chinese New Year goodies on one of the fridges. The goodies were donated to the nearby Community Centre by one of the residents. “Someone donated a few boxes of Chinese New Year goodies to the Community Centre so I decided to bring them here for the residents to take them,” he said.

 

Madam Salma Binte Ismail, 62, a resident of block 441, takes vegetables from one of the fridges. "The other day I was able to take some fish. This is a good initiative especially for residents like me who cannot afford to purchase a lot of groceries. My husband is the only one working and due to the recent heart bypass he had, he has not been working much lately. So we are not doing very well economically," she said.
DAY 6: Madam Salma Ismail, 62, a resident of Block 441, taking vegetables from one of the fridges. “The other day I was able to take some fish. This is a good initiative especially for residents like me who cannot afford to purchase a lot of groceries. My husband is the only one working and due to the recent heart bypass he had, he has not been working much lately. So we are not doing very well economically,” she said.

 

Madam Rei Tjoeng, 42, a resident from the neighbouring block, fills the fridge with mandarin oranges. "We may need to think of safeguarding the food inside such that there isn't a growth of bacteria. This can be done with proper storage and clearing any waste inside," she said.
DAY 7: Madam Rei Tjoeng, 42, a resident from a neighbouring block, filling the fridge with mandarin oranges. “We may need to think of safeguarding the food inside such that there isn’t a growth of bacteria. This can be done with proper storage and clearing of any waste inside,” she said.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Najeer Yusof

YESTERDAY, the shutters of Mustafa’s Serangoon Plaza outlet opened for the last time to a line of customers who gathered for the final day of sales. With the closure of the Serangoon Plaza branch today, Mustafa will now operate only from its main outlet, along Syed Alwi Road. Mustafa had been a tenant of Serangoon Plaza since the mid-1980s.

When we visited Mustafa in its final hours, the second and third floors were already emptied and sealed off. Customers were restricted to the first floor, where clearance sales were being held. The store became crowded by noon and the lines to the cashiers grew. Customers were generally nonchalant as many came for the clearance sales which had promotions on items such as clothes, toiletries and home appliances. Some items such as blankets had huge price cuts of up to 50 percent. Although most of the customers we spoke to did not feel sad about the outlet’s closure since Mustafa’s main outlet is just around the corner, some had a sentimental connection to Serangoon Plaza as they had been always shopping there.

Here is a look at the final day of operations of Mustafa at Serangoon Plaza:

 

CUTTING TIES: The overhead pedestrian bridge that linked Mustafa's Serangoon Plaza outlet to the main outlet was removed earlier this month. The opening to the bridges on both sides were either cemented or sealed off.
CUTTING TIES: The overhead pedestrian bridge that linked Mustafa’s Serangoon Plaza outlet to the main outlet was removed earlier this month. The openings to the bridge from both sides have either been cemented or sealed off.

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RESTRICTED ACCESS: The second and third floors of Mustafa's Serangoon Plaza outlet were cleared and sealed off by the second week of January. Red tapes and and cardboard boxes were used to seal off access routes such as escalators and stairs, to the upper floors. The customers were only allowed on the first floor.
RESTRICTED ACCESS: The second and third floors of Mustafa’s Serangoon Plaza outlet were cleared and sealed off by the second week of January. Red tapes and and cardboard boxes were used to seal off access routes, such as escalators and stairs, to the upper floors. Customers were only allowed on the first floor.

 

WAITING LINE: Customers gathered outside the store, awaiting the opening. Although the store opened at 10.30 am, some began gathering outside as early as 10.
WAITING IN LINE: Customers gathered outside the store, awaiting the opening yesterday morning. Although the store opened at 10.30 am, some began gathering outside as early as 10 am.

 

STEEP CUTS: Items such as home appliances, blankets, clothing and even toiletries were on sale. Some had huge price cuts and irresistible promotions. There were 3 separate store spaces for the customers to browse the various items on sale.
STEEP CUTS: Items such as home appliances, blankets, clothing and even toiletries were on sale. Some had huge price cuts and irresistible promotions. There were three separate store spaces for customers to browse the various items on sale.

 

VALUED CUSTOMER: Madam Chandravalli, 42, rummages through a pile of blankets. "I heard about the closure yesterday on the news so I decided to come down today to check out the sale. It is sad that this outlet is closing as I have been shopping here for 15 years. With only one outlet now, I do not know how are they are going to manage the crowd," she said.
VALUED CUSTOMER: Madam Chandravalli, 42, rummages through a pile of blankets. “I heard about the closure yesterday on the news so I decided to come down today to check out the sale. It is sad that this outlet is closing as I have been shopping here for 15 years. With only one outlet now, I do not know how are they are going to manage the crowd,” she said.

 

OFF THE RACK AND PACKED: Some items were already cleared by the final day of sales, while others that were not on sale were moved over to the main outlet.
OFF THE RACKS AND PACKED: Some items were already cleared by the final day of sales, while others that were not on sale had been moved over to the main outlet.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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