June 22, 2017

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by Ryan Ong

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

Photo By Shawn Danker
Air planes berthed and awaiting departure at Changi Airport.

by Arin Fong

Hasn’t the recent Scoot fiasco taught consumers and budget airlines anything about the reliability of cheap services? Why not avoid unnecessary drama and just fly with a commercial airline? Perhaps the solution isn’t to completely boycott budget airlines, but to simply read the fine print the next time you’re booking a tightly-budgeted flight.

Here are the 10 finer points of budget airlines that you might have missed:

1. Your scheduled date and time of the flight is liable to change so check your emails consistently for any last minute delays or updates from the airline. On Tigerair’s website, it states that “all fares, flight schedules and routes published are correct at the time of publication”, but then it expects customers to be on their toes because “we reserve the right to revise any fares and flight schedules at any time and from time to time without prior notice”.

2. In the event that your flight is rescheduled and you are unable to make the new schedule, the airline assumes that you would be able to plan around its schedule, and refunds are hard to come by. AirAsia’s policy is that it would either board you at the earliest opportunity on another available flight, retain the value of your fare for future travel (but only if you re-book within 90 days), or refund the value to your bank account if the flight rescheduling “occurs three hours or more before or after the original scheduled departure time”. Clearly, we are all very flexible people.

3. Your airfare might not cover ground transport services if you have a connecting flight. Also, the airline is not responsible for handling your transition to a connecting flight, so you will have to factor in time for possible delays, security check-in, and baggage transfer.

4. Your seat isn’t guaranteed. And, you pay to select your seat too. With Scoot, if you select a seat instead of going with the one you’re allocated, you could be paying from $7 extra for an economy seat, up to $33 for a stretch seat with extra leg room for a flight that is less than five hours. The airline is also free to change your seat any time, even after you have boarded the aircraft, and doesn’t clarify whether it will refund the extra cost of your seat should you be asked to move.

5. The airline will likely not be able to compensate you if you suffer any damage to your baggage. This is why it warns you not to pack any valuables, electronic devices, or important business and travel documents in your check-in baggage. Jetstar has a convenient little note that says “we exclude all liability for any costs, expenses, losses, or damage whatsoever that may arise in any way in connection with the carriage”.

6. With all the uncertainty that comes with travelling cheap, it’s best you buy a proper travel insurance plan as the insurance provided by budget airlines covers the bare minimum. A basic $24 travel plan by Hong Leong Group gives you unlimited repatriation coverage and emergency medical expenses and a total of $500,000 for personal liability. If you were to buy a travel policy from Scoot for about the same price, all you get to claim is $20,000 for accidental loss of life and permanent loss, $3,000 for luggage and travel documents, and unlimited coverage of Loss of Deposits and Cancellation Charges.

7. Don’t expect flexible customer service staff who are willing to cater to your needs (the most clichéd excuse “It’s part of our company policy”).

8. Check the airline’s standards for carry-on and check-in baggage dimensions and weights. Your carry-on luggage which you thought was light enough might cost you extra during check-in.

9. Fees are given out very freely. They might try to charge you for check-in fees if you don’t check-in online. Scoot charges a $30 booking fee via its call centre and a $9 payment processing fee. It’s always cheaper to book online than over the phone, but be sure to get all your details correct because it costs $60 ($90 if you make a call) for a name change or flight change fee.

10. Most bookings for budget airlines can be done online, but there have been instances where consumers are charged double for wrongly booked flights due to human or computer system errors. According to a study done by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), Scoot is the only airline with a no-refund policy for duplicate bookings, and have instead implemented various measures against these system errors. For AirAsia, only refund requests received via its web portal are accepted.

 

 

Featured photo by Shawn Danker.

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

by Ryan Ong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Flags Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key Lessons on Herd Investing

There are three main takeaways from the Iskandar situation:

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Within the herd, warning signs are often inverted

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Joining the herd can mean being stuck with it

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Featured photo by Shawn Danker.

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by Bertha Henson

Here’s a different take on Mers….

Corporal Boh Kan Cheong, 22, was nodding off. He hated sentry duty. Just long, boring hours to make sure that no Mertians slipped through the checkpoint. He pushed his spectacles up his nose to look closer at the screen which had been specially designed to spot Mertians in disguise. Was that a bleep? No, no…it’s gone off. He ran his eyes over the crew and passengers who had just come off a space ship from Mers-infested areas. He thought to himself, they should have just been barred or placed in detention barracks immediately… why take the risk?

He checked his revolver, making sure it was safe in his holster. He’s been warned about Mertians making a gun grab. Out of the corner of his left eye, he saw a fat man wheezing through the checkpoint with his out-sized hand carry luggage. He’s coughing! He looks flushed! A Mertian??

But, there was no bleep and Boh settled down into a reverie…he wondered if that cute nurse on standby nearby would go out with him to the cinema tonight. Terminator 5 is on. Boh fancies himself as John Connor…he’s beating Arnold Schwarzenegger…to a pulp….he’s firing at machines…he’s saving the world….ZZzzzzz.

BLEEEEEEEEEP!!!!

Boh jerks himself awake. What the hell was that? Panicking, he looks at his screen which had gone back to normal. Did he just let a Mertian through? Damn! Flapping his hands wildly, he scans the checkpoint area, which was full of angry Scoot passengers. Omigawd…the Mertian has melted among them, he thought, before realizing that he had just missed a critical step in SOP – he forgot to press the panic button.

In seconds, fellow members of the Special Anti-Mertian Patrol or SAP swarmed around him. Major Tan Chiak Peng loomed in front of him asking for the whereabouts of the “target’’. After several confused explanations from Boh, phone calls to higher-ups and emails to assorted agencies, Major Tan decided on his course of action: “Arrest everyone! Line them up and stick a thermometer in them!’’ Chaos ensued until he took the advice of a PR consultant and assured everyone over the public address system that they were just taking part in a free medical screening.

Boh thought to himself, this is it for me…either death by firing squad or exile to ISIS land. But Major Tan was philosophical. Patting Boh on the back, he merely said that the SOP would need reviewing.

In the war room, be-medalled warriors were ready for their orders. Major Tan intoned: “We may have a Mertian on the loose. As you all know, Mertians can stay undetected for a fortnight. Only then will their human face start peeling off to reveal their true colours underneath. They spew venom, which our doctors have yet to find an antidote for. It’s called a coronavirus and it is not a type of beer.

“So please look out for people with bad complexions and like spitting. One more clue: Mertians are known to lurk around places with sick people, so we’ll split up and cover polyclinics, GPs and both public and private hospitals.”

Boh, now in John Connor mode, asked: “When we see the Mertian, should we taser him or shoot to kill?”

Major Tan, aghast, replied: “Of course not! You will welcome the Mertian to Singalore and give him a brochure on SG50 activities. Then you will tell him that he will be conveyed by a special limousine service to a hotel known as Tan Tock Seng where a private suite has been reserved for him with 24-hour butler service and even Internet access.”

He turned to look at the other side of the room where a bunch of hunks and babes were seated. “Our psychological experts will get chummy with the Mertian over a few Coronas before 10.30pm and get his list of contacts and known associates. Then it will be for us to search and destroy! Sorry, should be confine them to their own quarters in a sort of house arrest. Just like we did in 2003 during the Sarian invasion.”

Boh tried to recall what he was up to in 2003. He would have been 10 years old then. Oh yes! He stayed home because schools were shut. His parents barricaded their flat and the family survived on instant noodles. A total of 33 people died then before the Sarians were wiped out. It took the Special Anti-Sarian commando unit four months before the all-clear was sounded in Singalore.

A chill ran down his spine. He wanted to ask how the SAP patrolmen should defend themselves but that would seem cowardly. The lao jiao, Major Tan, however, knew what his men, especially Boh, were thinking. “I know we all very kiasi, but according to scientific data, Mertians don’t really like spreading their venom, unlike the Sarians. But the bad news is, if you’re hit, you’re more likely to die.”

The brave patrolmen trooped out of the room. Boh’s heart was hammering against his rib cage. Steady, steady, he told himself, you’re John Connor. You can slay the Terminator or at least send him back to outer space.

Boh, with N95 mask on and armed with an array of thermometers, walked out into the sun. The Supreme Commander has said that the “inevitable” will happen, so this is it then.

The great showdown.

 

 

Featured photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons by user Scinceside.

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By Ryan Ong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I found:

Caution

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

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

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

  1. There are suspiciously cheap electronics for sale

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

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

  1. People use the deep web as a confessional

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

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

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

  1. Get free IT help and lessons

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

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

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

Good luck.

  1. Learn Black Magic

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

It’s like Amazon.com for bomohs.

  1. Buy your way to social media fame

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

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

We’re Just Scratching the Surface

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

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

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

Hell Pit or Help It?

What exactly do we do with the deep web?

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

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

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

 

 

Featured Photo by Shawn Danker.

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By Brenda Tan

Have you ever wondered why Mother’s Day is right in the middle of the children’s school examinations in May and Father’s Day is in the middle of the June vacation? I have, ever since my children got into primary school and I have to celebrate Mother’s Day while ensuring that there is an answer for that multi-step math problem that they have to work out, just in case it comes out in their math exam. I don’t even bat an eyelid if we skip the Mother’s Day dinner on the Sunday night, because the kids have to be at their freshest to tackle the exams the next morning.

So Father’s Day in June seems a luxury of a whole day of play with nothing to worry about the next day.  And it may even be celebrated abroad with the entire family on vacation.

Fatherhood seems to be the easier and less stressful role of the parenting partnership. (I am now waiting for all fathers to disagree.)

Like many working parents, I get the more time-intensive mothering role. I have to make sure that the children have good hygiene habits (“Have you brushed your teeth? Clean up your room!”), relatively nutritious diet (“No, you can’t have any more fries. Finish that carrot!”), and are doing well in school (“Have you done your homework? Packed your bags? Get off the computer!”).

Given the greater time spent by mothers with their children, it is easier to be grateful and appreciative of mothers on Mother’s Day, even if it’s in the midst of exam preparations.

But what about Fathers?

Perhaps, because fathers don’t have that time-intensive role with the kids, it’s easy to make caricatures of them as the ‘clueless parent’. The kind that is highly competent at work, but dysfunctional at home.  The parent who brings home the bacon, but doesn’t know how to connect with the children. The one with exceedingly impossible expectations of their children, but did not provide the ladder for their children to climb.

Think of Tan Ah Teck or Homer Simpson or any TV father. By an episode’s end, you would have the TV dad correcting his comically, unreasonable ways and re-connecting with the children, after a soundtrack of uproarious laughter. Even if the father figure is a wise one, he’s clothed in iron, emotionally stunted and inarticulate.

This Father’s Day, I am paying tribute to my husband, the father of our three children.

He is the Provider, spending the bulk of his time ensuring that we have enough to live well. My hope is that the children will see the time he spends at work as equivalent to loving them – and not as a discount on love. There’s too much angst these days, especially on television, about parents who are too busy at work to care about home and tearful children who end up lambasting them for “not being present”. But it is as much a sacrifice for fathers to be absent from their children, because he has to ensure the family has enough for the finer things in life.

My husband, though, is no absentee Father. He is also Fun Guy. To this end, we’ve been on many adventures as ‘tourists in our own country’, even as he’s led us on family holidays abroad. He taught the children to ride their bicycles, brought them on hikes, the beach, Sentosa… and the children know that Daddy only needs reminding that ‘The Minions’ is playing at the cinema, and the whole family gets to troop down to City Square Mall for a movie-treat. With popcorn.

Perhaps, this is where the idea of the ‘fun’ role of fathers is cemented in a child’s mind. The idea of fathers as ringleader, the companion and conspirator of silliness and nonsensical banters; the ‘Dads for Life’ advertisements where fathers and their children go camping together or read a book together. The father smiling with pride, hand on his child’s shoulder as the child’s kite soar into the air.

The kind of father that deserves a full day of play on a June Sunday as Father’s Day.

My husband is also Protector and Disciplinarian. It’s hard for children to appreciate fathers when, on the one hand, he’s the one giving you a mobile phone because he understands you need it, but he is also the one confiscating it when he feels you’re spending too much time playing games on it.  Resentment builds, especially when children can’t see the action as loving and beneficial to their growth, but as an arbitrary act of tyranny. I will say what every parent has said in his or her life-time: “Wait till you have children yourself!”

Finally, my husband is the man I would like my two sons to grow up to be. And I’m hoping that my daughter will grow up and marry a man just like her dad. In my view, he is a role model of what a man ought to be, who tries his best to do the right thing for his family, community, and country. A man who puts people above things. A man who remains idealistic and hopes for the best in people, and actively tries to make wherever he goes a place of humanity and compassion.

To my hubby, I say: “Happy Father’s Day!”

 

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by Bertha Henson

I can see why the G pulled its funding for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. The 320–page comic book makes for uncomfortable reading. But it is such a magnificent piece of work, with so many layers of content, interlocking storylines and comic styles, that the discomfort creeps up on you s-l-o-w-l-y. I recommend that you buy it once it’s available – and read it twice over.

In fact, I would like to thank the National Arts Council for bringing the book into the public eye, although I don’t think that was quite its aim for a book which it says “potentially undermines the authority of legitimacy of the Government and its public institutions’’.

Phew! What a charge! Is it warranted?

If so, doesn’t the book border on sedition and deserve to be banned? Yet it was not banned. Either the censors realise that a ban would backfire, or they are still trying to grapple with how to deal with artistic work, especially of the satirical kind. Easy enough to bar Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore with Love from public screening here because the G – and anyone else – can hear from the mouth of Singapore “exiles’’ their version of history. The G can give a point-by-point rebuttal, which it did, and use that to justify its action.

But how do you deal with someone like Charlie Chan Hock Chye, a figment of artist Sonny Liew’s imagination?

Frankly, I was lulled into thinking the G was making much ado about nothing when I got into the first few pages. Okay, the book starts spectacularly with a page each for the two political rivals, Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong.

Then it moves into Charlie, product of pre-war Singapore, trying to live his dream of being a comic book artist, despite his very practical parents advising him to get a job which can “tan chiak’’. (Note: You have to be terribly Singaporean – and even a little on the older side – to understand the work because of its smattering of dialects and references to past events. It is THAT clever.)

I mean, how dangerous can Charlie be?

That’s the magic of Sonny Liew. There are two story lines threading through the comic book: a record of Charlie’s attempt to have his comics published through the years, and the comics that he supposedly drew, which took inspiration from the political events of the day. Thrown in the mix is the idealism infusing Charlie who ends up as a sad old man who clings on to the tools of his trade.

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Not since the days of Hello Chok Tong, Goodbye Kuan Yew have I seen our late Prime Minister and the various political figures depicted in so many ways.

There is Lee Kuan Yew depicted as

a young, handsome lawyer with the gift of the gab

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as a young, handsome lawyer.

as Sang Kancil, the clever mouse deer

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as Sang Kancil, the clever mouse deer.

as chief of the Planetary Achievement Party fighting to kick the Hegemons out of Lunar City.

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as chief of the Planetary Achievement Party.

as the owner of Sinkapor Ink, a stationary and office supplies company.

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as the owner of Sinkapor Ink.

as a fierce looking Prime Minister (oil on canvas, dated 1970) who is actually pictured on the book’s cover introducing the artist.

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Lee Kuan Yew depicted as a fierce looking Prime Minister.

And even, gulp (!) as Orang Minyak although it isn’t explicitly stated.

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as Orang Minyak although it isn’t explicitly stated.

The depictions of Lim Chin Siong are rather more complimentary. At all ages, he is unfailingly handsome. (Charlie even depicted him as crime-fighter Roachman, a nightsoil carrier who got his superpowers after he was bitten by a cockroach a la Spiderman) And in a brilliant twist, Liew/Charlie had Lim thrown into an alternative future where he became Prime Minister, beating LKY to the top job.

A depiction of Lim Chin Siong.

But Liew’s presentation of history, whether as Charlie’s “real-life’’ experience or the characters he draws in his comic book, is the part that makes readers think, if they get the point – or maybe no point? – in the first place. It’s sometimes tough differentiating fact from fiction, even though there are very interesting notes giving historical background at the back of the book.

For example, I didn’t realise that Singaporeans voted for merger with Malaysia in 1963 simply because all three choices available in the referendum were for merger, just in different ways. And that Singapore was booted out of Malaysia because, among other things, the PAP reneged on its promise not to contest the elections in Malaysia. (In Charlie’s depiction, they want to compete in a band competition in the hinterland and make it to the top of the Billboard charts.)

While Liew/Chan is quite careful in the way they depict the Singapore history of the ’60s, he becomes more explicit when the book progresses into the later years. “The Singapore Story’’, for example, features Wong Sha and Ye Fong, popular live comedians of Singapore’s past, conducting an interview with the Minister of Museums of the PAY-AND-PAY party on an exhibition about the Singapore Story. I reproduce a couple of pages here:

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A sample of the depiction of Singapore history.
Charlie Chan-7
A sample of the depiction of Singapore history.

Wah. So brave, I thought when I read it.

The notes about this at the back of the book are even braver: The “Singapore Story’’ depicted here represents the official PAP narrative of Singapore’s history. The satirical take anticipates the launch of the National Education programme in 1997, a major push by the PAP to “engender a share sense of nationhood’’ in youths and students by instilling core values in newer generations that had not gone through the nation’s early struggles, with the aim to “ensure [Singapore’s] continued success and well-being.’’

Charlie Chan-8
Mr Goh Tok Chong explains why the company should continue to buy a certain brand of white board markers.

As a media person, I was most interested to see how Liew/Charlie deals with the media management and controls. This section is the most explicit, with cartoon panels lining the bottom of the pages in case the reader doesn’t get the point of how Sinkapor Ink is run. The company is handed over to Mr Goh Tok Chong who explains why the company should continue to buy a certain brand of white board markers, namely, OB markers. Harrrhharrrrhaaaa!

I guess one big value of the comic book is that it highlights lesser known facts about our history and, along with it, new ways to think about our past. It’s satire, much like so many political plays that are performed these days. But does this book have the potential to undermine the authority of the G?

We all know how upset the G gets at what it sees as attempts to “revise’’ history. What is information and what is mis-information? Do we have all the facts, or just some of them, some of the time? Whose version of the facts? In time, all will be out and there’s no preventing a thinking person from seeing history through a lens that is not officially sanctioned. Some pages sting, of course, but I would hope that at age 50, we have moved from the thin-skinned era of boh tuah, boh suay to an acceptance that in order for a mature society to take root, art must be allowed to push the boundaries of discussion.

I think it’s a brilliant book.

Not just because the cartoons are so wonderfully executed, but because it makes people think.

*The book has been reprinted and copies are available at major bookstores, online at epigrambooks.sg and the Celebrate Singapore Books popup store at Isetan Orchard at Wisma Atria until June 30.

 

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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright

By Brenda Tan

It is very impressive to hear of a three-year old child with an IQ of 140, who is a member of Mensa. I went “wow” when I read the news report in ST today. In case you didn’t know, an average child’s IQ is 100.

Yet, would I send my kids for IQ testing just for Mensa membership?  Or rather, what’s stopping me from getting my three children IQ-tested, especially since they are, ahem, generally seen as smart and articulate?

My reason: I don’t want to open a Pandora’s Box.  Once parents have their children’s IQ tested, it will be difficult to dismiss the result or put it out of mind. If my children test high on the IQ scale, I think I would expect, even unreasonably so, that they would show how clever they are at everything they do.  What would be my excuse then, if my clever kids don’t perform well in school? Would I then clutch at labels like “learning difficulties” or “bad school environment”? How would they cope with failure, when they already know how clever they are? Where does self-motivation and hard work come in?

There’s also the danger of turning them into “entitled beings” who deserve more opportunities than others just because they are cleverer than others. I’d be tempted too, to stretch their abilities further by sending them for a myriad of classes so that they can reach their highest potential. But just reading about the classes attended by the children in the article gave me heart palpitations.  Aikido, Ballet, Communication skills classes aren’t the typical ABCs for five-year-olds.  At that age, my children had no special classes apart from kindergarten.

Or, let’s say I was too optimistic about my children’s IQ and they actually tested below average. I can, of course, blame my husband’s bad genes, but I fear I would start bombarding them with enrichment classes just to make sure that they can keep up with the rest of their cohort! And if those classes don’t work, I would be thinking: “That’s the best that they can do because that’s their IQ”.

It is tough being a parent.

Whatever a child’s IQ score, it’s probably best to remind ourselves that it isn’t a measure of creativity, emotional intelligence or character. Rather than label a kid with a number, and publicly too in the case of the children who were featured, we should look at them as personalities and individuals, not someone on a scale.

Parenting is complex enough without the burden of knowing your children’s IQ scores and wondering what you should do about them.

 

Photo by Shawn Danker

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A very dead Jon Snow

by Ong Ling Kang

You shouldn’t read this if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones – and I mean the television series, not George R R Martin’s tome. That’s because I’m going to wax lyrical over Season 5 which just ended on June 14. I don’t know about you but I thought the season ended on a highly-satisfying note.

Here’s the good, bad and ugly of the season.

Such a good feeling about the beautiful baddie…

Yup, I’m talking about Queen Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey) finally getting her comeuppance. Her son, King Joffrey Baratheon, dies after eating pie in Season 3 and her father Tywin Lannister was killed on his throne of the toilet kind in Season 4. Death came too quickly for them.

Queen Cersei’s retribution came not in her planned demise, but in her long drawn out shaming. Amidst the jeering of her people and the chants of the words ‘Shame’, Queen Cersei, shaved and naked, is made to parade around the capital of her kingdom to atone for her ‘sins’.

Cersei Lannister on her walk of shame  (Image screen capture from YouTube).
Cersei Lannister on her walk of shame (Image screen capture from YouTube).

You’re left thinking…about time! To kill off a political rival family, she brings to power religious fanatics wholly intent on preserving ‘the faith’. Blinded by hubris, her charge of ‘fornication’ eventually rebounds on her when all is revealed about her sins, including her previous manipulative plots. Cersei is spat on, defiled and completely humiliated. We see her crumble, and cry, but did a little twinge of sympathy creep into you? Please. Harden your hearts. She’s ‘dead’, politically at least… So maybe we can save ‘good riddance’ for next time.

Even a baddie can arouse good feelings…

The trouble with the series is that the are so many baddies  you end up trying to find someone to root for to restore your own faith in humanity. Stannis Baratheon has emerged as a major fan favourite. Never mind that he killed his younger brother in a bid for power in Season 2, you thrill, at least I did, in the way he amasses power. It is in episode 4 (‘Sons of Harpy’) that we see a softer side of him as he explains to his daughter how he fought to save her life despite everyone telling him she was fated to die from her sickness.

Stannis Baratheon in the Season 5 finale (Image screen capture from YouTube).
Stannis Baratheon in the Season 5 finale (Image screen capture from YouTube).

Okay, he still killed her in the end because he was told that her death would bring him victory. The pleas and screams of his daughter Shireen are unforgettable sounds. We watch as he hardened his heart. As he tried to be a daddy, a royal, a leader, a politician….Okay, I am partial to the man. But seriously who would you rather root for? The insane Ramsay Bolton and his torture skills?

When the beautiful meets the ugly, it’s just too good...

One outcast meets another. So mother-of-dragons Daenerys Targaryen meets the fugitive-dwarf-daddy killer Tyrion Lannister in episode 8 (‘Hardhome’) and out comes one of the most memorable lines in the series: “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”

Daenerys Targaryen: "I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel.'' (Image screen capture from YouTube).
Daenerys Targaryen: “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.” (Image screen capture from YouTube).

Both characters have been scorned since their births, and their unlikely alliance makes for great television. Frankly, it is Tyrion who probably has most of the best quotes in the series, but this time, you’ve got to hand it to Daenerys. The tension is so sharp the air freezes over as the eyes of each great character (and actor for that matter) glance over the other. So here’s a diminutive girl who has freed cities of slaves meeting one of best wits in the series. You’d almost wish they got married.

So here’s to another year dealing with withdrawal symptoms – or maybe I’ll just buy all of Martin’s books and read them while I’m on my own throne at home.

 

Featured image is a screenshot from YouTube.

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

by Ryan Ong

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

A Cautionary Note about Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Terms are Simpler to Understand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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