17 December 2005

Sungei Road (淡水河)- An Assignment Given by Chun See

This is an assignment given to me by Chun See, 'probably one of the oldest known bloggers in Singapore' (a label given by Mr Miyagi - please refer to the link at the side-panel here). Chun See delights in giving assignments to others. He wouldn't even spare school children enjoying their current year-end holidays - just take a look at his blogsite (also linked at side-panel) and you'll know what I mean. Maybe its because he is in a managerial position (he has his own consultancy business) and is used to 'performance-driving' people, i.e. pushing people to perform at their maximum potential. Not that it is a bad thing.

The assignment was given to me some 2 months ago because Sungei Road is a likely 'vanishing scene'. I happen to be not the type who feel comfortable owing people things, whether it is money, work or favours. I would feel indebted - its like bearing a load which I would rather get rid of soonest. But on the other hand, I am sometimes too busy to blog because of other priorities and commitments in life. So somewhat grudgingly, this post was written.

Sungei Road is known in Chinese as 淡水河, pronounced 'Dan4 Shui3 He2' which means 'Fresh Water River'. There are 2 things wrong with the 3-character name - the road runs alongside a canal, not a river. And if you have passed by the canal before, you will see and smell that the canal's water is anything but fresh. It was in even worse condition before the government ran a clean-up campaign in the 1980s to spruce up all rivers and canals in Singapore.

Sungei Road has been around for a long time and I don't mean the physical road itself but the weekend activities of buying and selling of old stuff there. The activities probably started in the middle of the last century - I am not sure because I wasn't even born yet. Yes, Chun See was born around that time. Maybe he can verify that. (The only other place in Singapore I know that has similar activities is in Mohd Ali Lane near Club Street where my good friend Chris grew up. But I don't know if Mohd Ali Lane is still similarly active.)

In fact, the activities do not take place only in Sungei Road itself but also in the vicinity, namely Weld Road, Pitt Street, Pasar Lane and Larut Road. The above photo is a view of Pitt Street from Sungei Road taken today 17 Dec 05 (Sat) at around 5 pm. (Chris, now you know why I was rushing off from our rendezvous - it's because I got an important assignment on hand, i.e. to take a few photos of Sungei Road before the sky turned dark.) As you can see from the above photo, even though the sky was threatening to rain, the area was still bustling with activities.

So what potential buys can you find in Sungei Road? Anything and everything. You can see the assortment of goods which the above seller is selling. From a fan that is missing its blades or blades that are missing a fan; to a bicycle that is missing an owner or an owner that is missing a bicycle. Some of the browsers in the above photo may in fact be looking for things that they have recently lost to a thief. That's why Sungei Road is also popularly known as 'thieves market'. You can pick up a second-hand (perhaps more accurately 'several-hands') mobile phone. Or rather, it could also possibly be a 'third hand' mobile phone. (There is a Cantonese saying - if someone has a 'third' hand, it implies that the person is a thief.)

However, not all the stuff on sale are old - you probably can find the latest blockbuster movie like 'King Kong' on DVD selling for less than S$10 there. They are pirated, of course. Or to use the euphemism which people in the trade like to use - copy (of the) original, and not original copy. Some of the movies you find in Sungei Road have not even made it to the big screen here yet. And for ham sup people like me (as Chun See once described me) adult VCDs are being sold brazenly on makeshift tables for S$5 a piece. (I don't really know how to translate ham sup but it is a Cantonese term used to describe a dirty old man. Not physically dirty but mentally. You should get the drift. Contrary to Chun See's description of me, in reality I am not like that, of course. Even if I am, I would never admit it in a blog on www which is the whole wide world, Chun See. We Chinese are very humble one. It's funny that the English language does not seem to have a term for ham sup. Maybe Westerners are never ham sup, only romantic. But that is a subject for another post.)

The illegal sellers of the adult VCDs will shout, 'Buy 4 get 1 free!' They also know how to use this marketing ploy, you know. (I had wanted to take a photo of them for this blog but I was afraid that they might think that I was gathering court evidence.) If you are not paiseh (shy) to buy adult VCDs, then you should also never be paiseh to haggle over the price because that is an accepted practice for buyers and sellers alike in Sungei Road. They sort of expect it. If you don't bargain as a buyer, you are likely to be overcharged. For example, your return offer for the adult VCDs should be something like S$4 a piece and at the same time you should try to get 'buy 3 get 2 free'. If the seller refuses your offer, just walk a few steps to the adjacent stall selling the same product. In all likelihood, the seller will call you back before you reach the next stall.

In the unfortunate event that you are overcharged, don't expect any recourse from CASE (Consumers' Association of Singapore) because all of the traders in Sungei Road are unlicensed operators - most of them fly-by-night, both figuratively and literally speaking. Come nightfall, you don't see them. You may also not see them again the next day or ever after. Or in the case of the illegal adult VCDs sellers, they may be in jail the next day. I once bought a 'copy original' DVD (not adult kind) from Sungei Road that would not play on my DVD player. Over the next few consecutive days, I went back to look for the seller but he was nowhere to be found. So it's still the same old advice from me - caveat emptor or buyers beware.

There is also no warranty on products sold. There is no such thing as a 'no questions asked return policy' because the seller may not be there to ask you any questions. And don't bother to ask for any receipts either. Most of the traders don't even know how to write, let alone give you a properly printed receipt.

Incidentally a few months ago, I caught a Mediacorp Chinese TV documentary on Sungei Road. Featured in the documentary was one Mr Toh Hai Leong. He is a Singapore-based freelance film critic who writes for independent film publications such as Screen International and World Paper. He directed the movie Zombie Dog which was shown at ISEAS in Nov 2004. This show was a joint effort with local popular filmmaker Eric Khoo and some others. The film Zombie Dog had earlier received a New Paper review. In the review, Mr Toh claimed that he lived from hand to mouth by buying and selling wares at Sungei Road, simply because 'I prefer to starve to death than to compromise myself to a 9-5 job like a Zombie Dog.' I mention about Mr Toh here to demonstrate that not all sellers at Sungei Road are uneducated. In fact Mr Toh was educated at the same time as me, in the same school and the same class in Sec 4. He peddled at Sungei Road out of necessity and I believe, out of principle too.

Like what Chun See said, this scene at Sungei Road might not be there for long. Already all the old buildings that used to stand there have been cleared in recent years. In their place are empty grass plots that have been fenced up to prevent trespassers from entering the state land. (Notice the fence behind the seller in the above photo.) However you need not fret, this scene has now been blogged into eternity by me.

Sungei Road will be gone sooner or later for sure. It has largely been replaced by another means of trading which is popular for IT literate people like me. It will be the subject of one of my subsequent posts.

So how many marks do you think I deserve for this post, Mr Lam?

08 December 2005

My Family's China Trip in Nov 2004

This post was first inspired by Frannxis' Shanghai trip. Frannxis didn't say explicitly that he was going to Shanghai. Always very secretive, he only said that he was going to an Asian country that was prone to bird flu. At the same time, he posted a photo of Shanghai's city at night. But Frannxis might not be going to Shanghai after all - he once misled me that he owned a certain make of car in the same way... but he didn't.

Secondly, I read Kenny Sia's 'Everiday Shanghai Engrish' yesterday. It was only then that I remembered having taken some similar photos when my family visited Suzhou, Shanghai, Wuxi and Jiangnan in November last year. The educational tour was jointly organised by my elder son's school and its sister school. I put up this post only now because I didn't have a blog then.

We stayed mostly in Great Wall Hotel in Suzhou. I would say that it was a 4-star hotel. This hotel did not lack amenities. With more than 200 participants, including teachers, students, parents and guardians, we were entitled to use this conference hall (which was not designed for small meetings) for most of our activities:

The hotel food was not particularly appetising but it was palatable. The cooks were very generous with the use of lard - our soup usually came with a layer of oil on top and sometimes even chunks of fat pork can be found floating on it. The food was also generally too salty for our liking. Despite these minor irritations, we were very grateful that we weren't served this dish:

With the Snoopy lookalike cartoon, it should be clear to non-Chinese readers what meat they were peddling. In any case, I will try to do a translation of the key phrases:

狗肉 = Dog's Meat

The red sentence that the dog is pointing to, says: "Hua Jiang dog's meat - try it once and even immortals who pass by will not be able to stand steadily." What a catchphrase! And I thought that eating this meat will make people (especially men; don't know about immortals) stand steadily.

You think that eating dog meat is cruel? Well, at least the dog was dead long before it was eaten. Not these creatures though, which were found tied up and arranged neatly in a tiny refrigerator with glass panels just next to the dog-dish sign:

These are called 'Shanghai hairy crabs' and they are freshest if they are slaughtered just before they are cooked. So they may be spending several days alive and tied up in the fridge until someone is willing to part with about S$15 to savour one of them.

Elsewhere, I found several signs using atrocious English. All rules in the book that could be broken were broken - there were typographical errors, spelling errors, translation errors, factual errors, syntax errors, context errors and even 'word order' errors, if there is such a thing. (If there isn't, it has just been invented.) These errors would make the 'BIG-MEETING HALL' sign above seemed very well-written by comparison. This sign was spotted near an old bridge:

To save you the trouble of straining your eyes in order to have a good laugh, I have transcribed the English portion here, as it appears:

TONGGUI BRIDGE - Lodated at west of The ShanTang-Bridge. First built during The Ming Dynasty Hongzhi, single hole of stone arch-bridge. Tradition there were five color cloud be found above the TongGui-bridge at Longxing 2 year, so also be called RuiYun-Bridge

Hmm... I didn't know that the Ming Dynasty people played golf on a single hole course. And I always thought that clouds came only in 2 colours - black and white.

Here in Singapore and internationally, you often see ambulances with the word ' AMBULANCE' painted on their bonnets as a mirror image:

We all know that this is done wilfully so that the drivers in the cars in front of these emergency vehicles who could not see the flashing lights nor hear the noisy sirens could at least read from their rear-view mirrors that there is an ambulance behind them and they are supposed to give way to it. However, a Red Cross vehicle that supplied blood in Suzhou got the words all wrongly painted. It would 'supply blood aid first', no matter what the situation was:

Maybe they wanted to help Malay learners of English understand what they do.

With all the confusing signs and chaotic traffic in Shanghai, I better not cycle in that city even though I am an avid cyclist. Otherwise, my bicycle may just end up like this:

Notice that there were many onlookers but no helpers. To make matters worse, one typical ugly and selfish Singaporean was busy snapping photos for his blog.

Of course I know that some of my blog readers like to see old scenes in Suzhou. So how could my post be complete without some of such photos? These scenes could well be the same as those in Singapore in the 1950's -70's:

A barber shop in Suzhou. The LPG tank was probably not used for cooking the barber's lunch but for the gas water heater just above the sink. If you wanted a hair wash, you'll probably have to do it in the sink. Daytime temperatures in Suzhou during the month of November can be quite cold - below 10 degree Celsius.

A scene you would probably only have seen in those 'bull cart water' days in Kreta Ayer of Singapore.

A trishaw rider who was willing to take both locals and tourists alike.

An elderly man sitting in a rattan chair by the pavement, reading his morning papers.

A street market selling all sorts of household and personal goods - shoes, clothings, etc.

I hope Frannxis will post some of his holiday snapshots when he comes back.

02 December 2005

A Scenic Drive

I just collected my Renault Scenic 1.6A yesterday and I would like to share my first impressions of the car with everyone here.

Having driven Japanese cars for more than 2 decades, I must say that this car needs some getting used to. First, everything (except the driver) is so stiff - from the sounding of the horn to the opening of the hatch. Another thing is that everything seemed to be in reverse (except the forward gears). Like having light controls on the left of the steering column and the windscreen wiper controls on the right. I am still activating the windscreen wipers everytime I make a turn. (Now I understand why some drivers of big continental cars seldom signal when they turn, haha.) Two flashes of light means 'unlock' for my Corolla (for the Scenic, it is one) and while one flash of light locks my Corolla, it unlocks the Scenic.

The car feels quite sluggish, more so perhaps because I am careful not to overstress the engine during the run-in period. If the fuel consumption gauge in the computer is accurate, I should be getting about 20% less mileage than my Corolla G9 (which could get almost 13 km/l). This is without any change in driving pattern (I wasn't even speeding with the Scenic.) With the high prices of petrol lately, I am getting worried.

I am particularly worried when Sales Facilitator (Renault's name for Sales Executives) told me NOT to lock my car when filling petrol. When I asked why, she said, "It's because the pump attendant may accidentally break the locking pin at the fuel tank opening." This locking pin, which is made of plastic, would protrude when the car is locked. If you or the pump attendant closes the fuel door with force while the pin is protruded, the pin may break. And it costs $280 to replace the whole assembly, unless you don't mind having the fuel door unlocked all the time.

By the way, the charming lady in the photo is not my wife - she is the Sales Facilitator. And if you are wondering about the number plate, it is just the cheeky side of me to show what number I would have bidded for if the gahmen had allowed the SEX number series, wahaha.

29 November 2005

A Futile Effort To Win Back A Lost Customer

I have no doubt about what Frannxis said in my last post that when my 24-month MaxOnLine contract was almost up, Starhub would dangle carrots in front of me to make me sign up for another extension. But that will be 2 years from now which is quite a long time and I am not going to worry about it so soon.

I just received a mail from Singnet that looked like an air ticket folder:

The mail was probably sent out automatically by their tracking system because my 18-month Singnet contract expires on 2 Dec 2005. Singnet probably didn't know that I have terminated the contract with effect from that day because of earlier connection problems. I remember a similar Singnet promotion several weeks earlier which was printed on photos of pizzas. Amused by Singnet's marketing creativity and sense of humour, I opened the folder to find my 'air tickets':

The offers are quite attractive I must say. They range from $150 - $1,400 Best Denki vouchers and/or other freebies, even a free desktop for the 3.5 Mbps package. But I am not so amused by their quality of service and hence I regret to say that they have lost me as a customer forever.

Seventeen months into the contract, I gave notice personally to the Singnet counter staff at Parkway Parade's Hello Shop that I would be terminating the service after the 18-month contract. Initially, the staff had the audacity to insist that I stay with them for 19 months, claiming that the extra month was the 'requisite 1-month notice for termination'. After I stood my ground, he checked with his supervisor. He came back after a while and said, 'Ok, for this special case, we waive the notice as a goodwill.' What goodwill? What impertinence!

If Singnet has made more effort earlier to retain my business, things might have turned out differently. Singtel will suffer too - I am soon terminating my 16-year old fixed line too because Starhub has provided toll-free/subscription-free local incoming/outgoing calls (till Dec 2007) on the voice-enabled cable modem.

As I am typing now, I am already on MaxOnLine 6500. I am impressed by the fuss-free set up, the 'always on' connection and the speed. It can only get better when my Pentium IV 3.06 GHz HT PC which is highly subsidised by Starhub, arrives within the next few weeks.

Frannxis asked me how much faster the MaxOnLine 6500 was, compared to his MaxOnLine 2000. I have experienced both but can't really tell much difference, maybe it's because I am still using my old PC or it may be dependent on the sites that I normally visit. I was told that 6500 would be noticeably faster if you were setting up a home wireless network of 2 or more PCs. I signed up for the 6500 mainly because it was the cheapest package that qualified for the subsidised PC.

26 November 2005

Singapore Expo (Continued)

For the last 3 consecutive weekends, I visited the Singapore Expo 4 times. First it was the Asian Children's Expo held from 11-13 Nov 05. But the word 'Asian' was something of a misnomer because children from other continents were just as welcomed to the expo. Notice the word 'WELCOME' just above her head?

(Chris, who has a soft spot for SYTs, will be delighted that I have yet another photo of one, hee. It was Chris who gave me the idea to add wings and a halo to the girl because he said that she looked like an angel. Indeed.)

Then came Family Festival 2005 or rather, we went to Family Festival 2005 (please see my last post about this visit). As I mentioned before, Chris teased me that I must be visiting the Sexpo instead and I was not man enough to admit it. Chris was wrong, of course.

It's not that my places of rest and recreation always follow a certain fad. Several weeks ago, Chris (whose favourite pastime seemed to be teasing me) teased me again that I seemed to be going to Ikea every Sunday. (We were then looking around for suitable furniture for our next PC.)

Then came Sitex 2005, the perfect place to shop for my next PC. Like Frannxis, we had also been looking around and considering for a long time before committing ourselves to a purchase such as a PC. (Ironically, buying a car was a totally different matter for us.) And as you'll find out later, we didn't regret waiting so long to get a PC.

We visited Sitex in the afternoon on the day of the opening of the exhibition. We saw this crowd at the Starhub booth:

Wah, it was 'kana mian lui' one (Hokkien for 'like free-of-charge'). We soon found out why - previously if you have bought certain brand of PCs, Starhub would have given you 2 months of free Internet access, including a free cable modem. Now, when you sign up for some of their faster plans, you get a PC free! It was only then that I understood how Frannxis felt when the price of the persimmons he bought fell. Luckily for me, I had not committed to any Internet plans yet since I gave notice to Singnet that I would be terminating my Internet subscription with them from early December.

So I joined the queue. It took me 45 minutes just to get to the counter. I was served by a very handsome young lad called Wei Xiang. He took another half an hour to sign me up, painstakingly explain all the details like rules, procedures and equipment. There was one particularly interesting piece of equipment called Voice-Enabled Cable Modem. This modem allows you to make unlimited local outgoing/incoming toll free till Dec 2007. IDD facility is also available but the calls are chargeable, of course. If this fixed line service is good, I will terminate my Singtel fixed line and save some more money (at least $200 for 2 years).

So I got myself a new PC at a basement bargain price - $758 because I upgraded the free PC to a Pentium 4 with HT 3.06 GHz complete with DVD writer and 19-inch LCD monitor. This package would have easily cost about $2,000 in the market. However, there was a 24-month contract with Starhub - breach it and a $1000 penalty applies.

Last Saturday morning, we visited Sitex again. The crowd was already gathering near the entrance before the exhibition opened for the day. Security personnel were guarding the entrance to prevent people from going in before the opening time at 11 am. When the H hour approached, I heard someone's voice on the security guard's walkie talkie saying, "When I give you the signal 'now', you let them in, ok?" Wah, I was impressed - such military precision. The only thing missing was the countdown to zero. If they had included that too, then it would be exactly like a NASA space shuttle launch!

This time round, we made a beeline for another bargain - an all-in-one printer with 2.5-inch LCD display which was selling for $99 only. The original selling price was $399:

However as always, there was a catch - you had to buy 2 ink cartridges which would then entitle you to buy a 3rd cartridge at half the usual price. So I ended up with 3 extra cartridges and paying a total of $178.60 which I consider to be still a very good bargain.

I was an extremely happy man that day and Chris was there to share my joy with me.

Latest update from MJM, who was at Sitex on Sunday, the last day of the show:

The bargain printer was completely sold out. Singaporeans, like me, sure know a good bargain when they see one. I requested MJM to buy for me 3 ink cartridges. He had an instant lucky dip and won for me a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse! This guy is always so lucky and very honest too. I mean if he was not honest, he could've kept me in the dark and I wouldn't even know the difference right? I must say that I am lucky to have such good friends. Chris is another one - he always dishes out good advice for me. These two good friends and colleagues of mine were the ones who introduced me to use Yahoo Auctions to buy and sell my stuff. My experience on Yahoo Auctions deserves a separate post which I will do soon.

When MJM smsed me about the win, I said, 'Alamak, I already bought a Microsoft wireless keyboard on Thursday'. Events always seem to be so coincidental when you don't want them to happen. But when you want them to happen, they never do. It's called Murphy's Law, I think but I never studied it in school. I only get to experience it in real life - like how come when I strike 4D one weekend, it never happens again by coincident the next weekend? Haha. So I guess I will just sell the free wireless keyboard and mouse on Yahoo Auctions and give MJM a lunch treat for his luck and honesty.

19 November 2005

Back To The Present - S'pore Expo or Sexpo?

After several posts about old Singapore, it is about time I stop reminiscing and get back to present day reality. Ultimately, I have only so much memories and one cannot keep living in the past.

My wife and I were on leave yesterday. The kids had a rest day too - the elder one had already started the year-end vacation while the younger one's school held a graduation ceremony which did not involve the lower primary students. We went to the S'pore Expo for the Family Festival. But when Chris came to know about it, he teased me that I must be visiting the Sex Exposition (Sexpo) instead. The Sexpo, held here for the first time, was not only showcased at the same time as the Family Festival, but the two exhibitions were held in adjacent halls:

Actually I really went for the Family Festival only and I had photos to prove it. My son took a flying fox ride from this treehouse:

He was quite a brave boy and I am proud of him. (I took a movie clip of him taking the exhilarating ride but I do not know how to post it here.) He did not hesitate at the launch platform, quite unlike a younger boy who went before him. This boy sat there for a few minutes despite coaxing and encouragement from the instructor. In the end, he burst into tears and retreated back into the treehouse. I felt sorry for him and so did many of the spectators.

We were at the Expo almost the whole day. Some time in between, I sneaked out of Hall 5. Very naturally, my eyes strayed and I was greeted by this sight which was no less exhilarating compared to the flying fox ride:

At first, I thought that they were Sexpo live exhibits promoters who happened to be outside Hall 4. But then I remembered just in time that only those who were aged 21 and above could be admitted to Sexpo and they certainly looked a bit underaged to me.

There were even security personnel who were armed to the teeth to ensure that nobody flouted the age restriction. You could be forgiven if you had mistaken that this expo was about terrorism. The security guard in the photo seemed to be shouting to the father (carrying toddler at the entrance), `Hey, she's too young!':

But then, you are never too old to show an interest in the Sexpo. The senior citizens below (above 55) seemed to be asking the ticketing staff: 'Er... are we too late for this?' or maybe even 'Senior citizens got discount or not hah?'

But not to digress too much. Back to the objects subject of the gorgeous girls. Indeed, on clarification, the girls revealed that they were actually promoting this show instead:

To me, it looked like this show had the same theme as the Sexpo. (I might have aging eyesight but I certainly won't miss the bikini clad lass at the side.) It even had the tagline, 'It's all about a man's fantasy, vanity and masculinity.' However, the right hand side of the banner seemed to be promoting different things... maybe that's another show.

You can't deny that in Singapore, sex sells and it sells big time. The entrepreneurs and businessmen know this Singaporean psyche. Why do Singaporeans behave this way? It's probably because the Films Censorship Board and the Customs have been doing too good a job.

As for me, I honestly, really, truly didn't see the Sexpo, Chris (crossed my heart). But I did end up with one unexpected family buy from the family expo:

When I smsed Chris about my buy, he was truly surprised. Frankly, so was I because I didn't set out in the morning intending to buy a car. I didn't even have my cheque book with me. And I wasn't charmed by pretty woman sales executive either. For me at least, sex doesn't sell. Maybe it couldn't because my wife was with me. That is not to say that I have bought on impulse and regretted it. It is still too early for regrets (and maybe also too late).

For the sake of Chris who was distracted by the 'wallpaper' of yachts in the background, below is another photo taken from the front of the car. (See, I know Chris so well that I even pre-empted his fussiness by having ready another photo from a different angle.) Chris, you certainly could use some advice - 'Don't sweat the small stuff; always look at the BIG picture.'

07 November 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 6 (My Secondary School Days)

After writing about my primary school days, it is only natural to proceed to write about my secondary school days. I attended Victoria School from Sec 1 to Pre-U 2 (1969 - 1974).

The school building is more than a century old - you can tell from its architecture from the above photo which was also taken on 9 Sep 05 (Fri). There are at least 8 (2-leave) wooden doors to each classroom (4 on each side). When all the doors are opened, the classroom is very airy even on a hot day. Each leave of door has 8 square pieces of green-coloured glass in the top half of the door.

I remembered a few of the staff, in particular the Discipline Master Mr Mok Khoon Yam. He could often be seen pacing the corridors of the building with a cane behind his back. Coupled with his stern look which was enhanced by his moustache, it was surely more than enough to make us behave ourselves. A few years ago, I saw his obituary in the newspapers. Somehow, he didn't look that stern in that photo.

Then there was the Maths teacher Mr Wee. Because of his somewhat drooping cheeks and stern look, the students nicknamed him 'bulldog'. (Come to think of it, the students can be quite creative in this respect.) Mr Wee himself probably didn't know that he had such a terrible nickname.

The field in the foreground was where we had our PE lessons during fine weather. During bad weather, we used the hall. One of the most unforgetable incidents for me happened in one of the PE lessons when we played football. During the game, I did a very bad tackle on a friend, Mr Lee L C. He fell and broke his wrist. To make matters worse, this incident happened very near the period of a very important examination (I think it was the A levels). A blessing in disguise, if I could call it that, was that Mr Lee's left wrist was broken and he was right-handed. I remembered that he sat through the exam with his left arm in a sling. I was wrecked with guilt for a long time after that. That incident was probably the reason why I never played any contact sport after that.

Chun See, my new-found friend, might be glad to know this - after getting my results for the Sec 4 preliminary exam in 1972, a group of my friends applied to NJC (National Junior College) to continue their Pre-U studies. I didn't get very good results, I think about 13 points aggregate for the best 5 subjects in my prelim exam but nevertheless I followed suit. At that time, NJC was the premier junior college. Only the creme de la creme could gain admission (that's a compliment to Chun See). I was shortlisted for an interview. When I turned up for the interview, I was quite shocked to find that there was a panel of 4 interviewers waiting to assess me. I remembered a few questions which the interviewers asked that stumped me:

Interviewer A: What is the reason for your application to this college?

Me: Because most of my friends also applied to this college.

Interviewer A: So if your friends didn't apply to this college, you won't too?

Me (Stumped): ???

Interviewer B: Do you know where is our PM now? (At that time the PM was visiting the European Community.)

Me (who didn't have a habit of following the news then but yet always willing to risk an intelligent guess): Er... overseas?

Interviewer B (saying to himself, 'This one we definitely will not take.'): Ok, we will inform you of the results soon. Thank you.

With all due respect to NJC and Chun See, considering that such a selection process was in place, it was little wonder that they had all the brightest students.

When my 'O' level results were released, I got an aggregate of 8 points. I received another letter from NJC inviting me to apply again. But once beaten twice shy, I guess my ego was bruised. I went back to Victoria School. The principal Mr Naidu asked 'Why so late? Applied for NJC is it?'. I replied sheepishly, 'No lah, not quite decided whether want to continue study or not mah.'

So that was why I was stuck in Victoria for 6 years. When I visited the school a few years ago, it was occupied by Christchurch Secondary School. But when I visited the school on 9 Sep 05, coincidentally the situation was exactly the same as that of my primary school - the school was deserted and an Indian watchman stood guard. I asked him if I could take some photos. He said 'No, but outside can.' He then said that I should not be in the school compound and asked me to leave. That's why the above photo was taken from the 2nd storey of Jalan Besar Stadium where during my Victoria school days, I attended several football matches played between my school team and SJI, RI and I am sure NJC as well.

04 November 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 5 (My Primary School Days)

From 1963 (Pr 1) to 1968 (Pr 6J) I attended primary school in Selegie Integrated School. In those days, 'integrated' simply meant that the school was a mixed school where boys and girls studied together. The meaning of the word might have changed somewhat through the years - as in 'integrated' resorts now.

The school is located in Short Street. Despite its name, this street is longer than the street where I lived. It is the street behind the building in the above photo which was taken on 9 Sep 05. The most memorable stall in Short Street for me as a primary school kid was a roadside aquarium which started me on the hobby of tropical fish rearing. The road in the foreground of the photo is Selegie Road.

When the building was constructed in the late 1950s, it was touted as the 'tallest primary school' in Singapore as it was 10-storey tall. In fact, I think it might be still holding that honour today. A glimpse of the school could be seen in one of the old trailers about Singapore's development which was shown frequently on TV around National Day each year. The school was so big (vertically) that it had 2 canteens - one on the ground floor and another on the seventh. Students had a choice of which canteen they wanted patronise. I liked the dry chilli yellow mee on the seventh floor which was selling for 10 cents a bowl.

The school had 2 huge lifts (the size of today's cargo lifts in shopping centres). The whole class of 40 primary school students together with the teacher could squeeze into one of those lifts. (Of course, in those days obesity among children was not yet a prevalent problem.) After PE (Physical Education) class, the whole class of perspiring pupils would take the same lift to the one of the upper floors of the building. No prize for guessing why we always had to hold our breaths even for the 30-second ride up.

My form teacher's name in Pr 6J (1968) was Mr Teo Keng Koon, I think. Anyone of you out there who is reading this thinks that you were in the same class with me? If so, please drop me a comment. Don't laugh, I did actually bump into one of my Pr 6 classmates, Mr Lam Chow Min in Hong Lim Food Centre 1 or 2 years ago. I couldn't recognise him but he could recognise me. I really marvel at this guy's memory - it was like an elephant's. He could even remember my full name and my trademark black plastic spectacles that I wore in Pr 6. (I had my cataract operation done on both eyes some 7 years ago and was without specs when I met him.) He updated me on what (bad things) happened to some of our classmates - one died of cancer, another died of a traffic accident and yet another broker classmate died by commiting suicide just after a financial crisis. I didn't mean to respond dispassionately but when he related the stories, they just sounded like statistics to me. Maybe it's because I have lost touch with these classmates for far too long - almost four decades now. I had wanted to ask him in jest if he knew how many of our classmates were still alive today but I stopped short in case the answer came back as 'just two'.

I could remember only one Pr 6 classmate's name, i.e. Mr Ong Eng Kiat, for one thing - he always taunted me whenever I returned from one of my numerous trips to the in-house dentist for tooth extraction. (Yes, the school was so self-contained that it even had a permanent in-house dental clinic, much to the chagrin of pupils who had poor oral hygiene like yours truly.) Every few months or so, the dental nurse would come personally to the class with a stack of appointment cards. That's when our hearts sank. I would start praying silently that my name won't be called but no matter how hard I prayed, invariably my name always seemed to be in the stack of cards that the nurse carried.

After I had met with my fate and returned to class, Eng Kiat would always torment me with 'Wah, you eat fishball again ah?' because after an extraction, the dentist would make me bite on a big piece of cotton dressing to stop the bleeding. To Eng Kiat whom I envied for having especially good teeth, the cotton wool certainly looked like a fishball. He was of much bigger build than me. If not, I would probably have knocked his good set of teeth out for saying something so hurtful. It was funny to him but certainly not to me. That's why I remembered his name till this day.

My school was located only five streets away from where I lived. (If I had walked to school, I would have to cross Queen St, Waterloo St, Bencoolen St and Prinsep St to arrive at Short St. It would have taken only about 15 minutes at most.) My mother found out that our Malay neighbour drove his son to the same school everyday. So for a low monthly token fee of $5, my mother requested him to fetch me to and from school as well. The neighbour was working as an usher in Cathay Cinema. (He was proof that in the olden days, you could afford a car, a wife and 3 kids on an usher's salary. Today, we don't even have any job for an usher, not to mention about paying him a salary.)

The neighbour's car was a Ford Anglia. Yes, it was the very same model used by Harry Potter which was reported stolen last week. Little did I know then that the car that I rode to school everyday would be made famous by a blockbuster movie some 40 years later! For those who haven't seen the movie, the car looked like this (and it could fly):

Don't you find that the car had a very human face to it? To me, it had eyelids, big round eyes, luscious lips and was always smiling ear-to-ear. Cute isn't it? No wonder it was targetted by thieves. The car had only 2 doors. This meant that the children had to climb in by lifting the front passenger seat. The back windows could not be wound down but could be opened slightly (about 2 inches gap) by straightening the locking clasp located at the rear. Although the car had no air-conditioning, I didn't complain - it shortened my journey to and from school to under 5 minutes.

When I visited the school on 9 Sep 05 (Friday, a school day) the gates were locked and the school was deserted. There was no sign to say what the school building is used for now. I remembered that not too long ago, the school was used as a campus for the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. I peered in and saw a lone Indian watchman guarding the school. He looked at me suspiciously, not knowing that I was a friendly old boy who was back only for some nostalgia.

I only hope that this magnificent building, which holds so much pleasant memories for me, will not be torn down in the name of development like so many others before it.

03 November 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 4

In the 1960s, on the street where I lived, i.e. Cheng Yan Place, I remembered very vividly that every afternoon at more or less a fixed time, an Indian man would traverse the street on-foot from the Queen Street side towards Victoria Street (please see map in post before the last one). Always with him were his 2 cows, one brown and the other white. He was a street dairy (also daily) seller.

If you wanted to buy some milk, he would stoop down and milk it straight from the cow for you. He would then bottle the milk into a glass bottle right in front of your eyes. Now how could you get milk fresher than that, brown cow?

The hygiene practices of this Indian man were questionable. Why, I didn't think he ever bothered to clean up the bovine poo that the 2 cows left on the street every now and then. Even if he did, I didn't think that he bothered to wash his hands after that. That's why I never bought any milk from him, haha.

23 October 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 3

Several days ago, Chris reminded me that my blog was gathering spider web again. I blog when I feel like it and have the time. I would not like to feel pressured into writing a post because that would take the pleasure out of blogging. It then defeats the purpose of blogging, one of the purpose of which (Chris claimed) is to relieve pressure. On the other hand, I would also not like to vanish for too long while writing a series titled ironically 'Vanishing Scenes of Singapore'.

In my last post, I mentioned about my regular barber who was in his 70s whom I met in the 70s. Well on 9 Sep 05 (Fri), I was on leave. I took a nostalgic cycling trip around Kampong Glam (in the city near the North Bridge Road/Beach Road area). Guess what I came across as a surprise find? There were not one but two barbers operating in a backlane off Aliwal Street (see photo). The second barber's reflection could be seen in the mirror. In fact, there were 3 barber chairs - the third barber might be also on leave like me or taking a toilet break. They were exactly like the barbers of yester year. I never expected that such barbers still existed in modern Singapore, what more right in the smack of the city area. Mind you, they did not have any lack of customers even on a weekday morning - see the guys reading the newspapers and patiently waiting for their turns?

I am sure that this scene qualifies to be put under my post here because it is very likely that it would vanish one day from the face of Singapore, sooner or later.

08 October 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 2

Chris was right when he guessed that the next building I wanted to blog about must be the old National Library. The National Library building at Stamford Road was completed on 12 Nov 1960 and was the first public library to be opened in Singapore. On 6 Dec 1998, it was made known explicitly that the National Library building would be demolished to make way for part of the Singapore Management University's city campus. The National Library held fond memories for many Singaporeans. When it closed its doors for the last time on 1 April 2004, many members of the public mourned the loss of the familiar red-brick building in which they spent time reading and learning. There were many shutterbugs who flocked to the building to capture the final moments of this magnificent building on image.

Before the advent of the Internet, the library was the only readily available and affordable source of information for the purpose of research. It charged a one-time entrance fee of only $10. The Children Section was on the left side of the 1st floor while the Adult Section was on the right. These 2 sections were not air-conditioned, unlike the Reference Section on the 2nd floor. The library operations were very manual. In the 60s to 80s there was no automation or computerisation to speak of. Each member was issued 4 beige library cards which measured 1-1/2 x 3 inches each. Your name was handwritten on the cards. The cards were actually pockets and were open at the top and right hand edges. This pocket allowed the librarian to slot in a bigger card which was retrieved from the inside cover of the book you wanted to borrow. This 2-card combination was a physical record that you had borrowed the book. The librarian then kept the cards neatly arranged in a wooden trough.

When you returned the books some 2 weeks later, the librarian would go through the reverse process to retrieve the cards and return your library card. If you had returned the books late, the fine was 5 cents per book per day overdue. One thing good about such a manual system was that you were always served by a human being even though smiles from the librarians were not very common then.

I used to stay within walking distance of the National Library and would usually walk there. On the way there, I would sometimes stop at the Indian food stalls at the roadside of Waterloo Street to eat mee goreng or Indian rojak for lunch. The street where I lived is called Cheng Yan Place. That was more than 3 decades ago. I lived here for about 18 years, from birth until I finished Pre-U at Victoria School. (The street is still there today but none of the familiar sites remains. This street is quite short, only about 115 m.)

At the Queen Street end, by the street side, an Indian sarabat stall served very good Indian 'teh tarik' at night. On the opposite side of the street, within the five-foot way, stood an Indian 'mama' (meaning 'brother') stall which was open '711' (i.e. from 7am till 11 pm at night). It was also my younger days' equivalent of the modern-day 7-Eleven convenience store. You see, this was the place where I would spend most of my daily pocket money of 20 cents. Many things could be bought for 5 cts. For example, you could get 3 sweets for 5 cents. I usually bought the mint type which was transclucent-white in colour and came with a transparent wrapper. When I was more adventurous, I would buy the black 'Hacks cough drop' which was extremely minty to the point of almost being spicy. This sweet came in an orange cellophane wrapper and was selling at 5 cents for 2 sweets.

I could also choose to spend my 5 cents on a game of chance called 'tikam tikam'. In this game, dozens of prizes (mostly little toys), each tagged by a unique number, were stapled onto the top half of a poster-size vanguard sheet. The prizes were usually wrapped in transparent plastic bags so as to tempt the children into trying their luck (and parting with their money). On the bottom half of the vanguard sheet, many pieces of folded-in-half paper were neatly pasted in columns and rows, each piece of paper partially overlapping the one below. Each piece of paper measured about a square inch in size and within each paper was a secret number. Five cents entitled you to try your luck once - you peel off a piece of paper and open it to reveal the secret number inside. You then match it against the numbers of the prizes pinned on the top half of the vanguard sheet. If there was a match, you won that prize. This was a simple game which was fun and exciting for the children of that era. It probably contributed quite significantly to the earnings of the stall owner too and he didn't have to pay entertainment duty for it.

Next to the mama stall was a barber in his 70s. It was by sheer coincidence that he was also living in the 70s when I first met him. His equipment were spartan - a small mirror hung on the wall, a rattan chair and a pair of manual hair clippers. He was my regular barber when I was a kid, that is, before I became more conscious of my appearance. You see, he was cheap but not that good - his hair cuts had a certain 'Hainanese' style to it. I like Hainanese chicken rice but not Hainanese hair cuts. I couldn't remember how much he charged for a hair cut but it was probably less than a dollar, maybe 80 cents.

On the same street was a backlane where 'ladies of the night' operated. It was of the 'budget class type' like those of Desker Road today. The ladies there were not exactly young. Some I believe were more than 50 years' old. On warm nights, you could see them sitting in rattan chairs along the backlane with fans in hands, fanning frantically away. Occasionally, they would try to solicit business by calling out to male passers-by who showed the slightest interest or curiosity about them. I passed by several times, taking the backlane as a shortcut on the way to buy things. Luckily I was too young and they left me alone. I remember hearing occasional laughters breaking out from within the houses there which broke the silence of the night. It was not exactly a nice neighbourhood to bring up your kids but it was colourful enough.

Life in the olden days was simple, colourful, care-free and happy. It was also much cheaper. Maybe it was because I was still a kid or maybe it was because of the economic phenomenon called 'inflation'. They say 'inflation makes the balloon bigger but the candy bar smaller'. How true. Whatever happened in the past, I cannot deny that I have had a happy and memorable childhood worth reminiscing about.

21 September 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 1

If you read my previous posts, you will know that I like to reminisce. My next few posts will be about vanishing scenes in Singapore. An integral part of the ever-changing landscape in Singapore must be the renewal of its old buildings. As we are a small and young nation undergoing rapid development, many old buildings have to be torn down to make way for new ones. Some buildings are demolished for justifiable reasons while others have to go solely because of commercial considerations.

That's the protagonists' point of view. On the other hand, the antagonists would argue that it is precisely because Singapore is a small and young nation that its history is so short and hence its historical relics so precious and few. Therefore old buildings with unique architecture are invaluable artefacts which ought to be preserved. Thankfully, this job of deciding whether a building is justified to be preserved rather than demolished rests in the hands of Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) of Singapore. It identifies and recommends buildings of historical, architectural and cultural merits for conservation.

One good example is the National Theatre which used to stand near the junction of River Valley Road and Clemenceau Avenue. Officially opened on 8 August 1963, the theatre was built to commemorate the attainment of Singapore's self-government in 1959.

If this old memory of mine serves me right, in the late 1970s I attended a concert by the pop group America in the theatre. My recollection is that a resplendent fountain (by 1960s standard) stood at the front of the theatre. At the back, the distinctive feature of the building was its cantilever roof which provided spectators some form of shelter from the sun and the rain. It was however quite useless during heavy downpours as some rain could still get in. Being open at the back also meant that there was no air-con – a minus point which most 1960s folks didn't seem to mind. (There weren't many places with air-con then anyway. Even public buses were cooled by natural breezes from their open windows.) Besides, being a 'semi-open air' theatre somehow meant that people need not bother to dress up for the shows – they could come as they were, in their singlets, shorts and char kiaks (wooden clogs). The gate keepers (don't remember there were any ushers as it was free-seating), would never stop you because you were not properly attired so long as you did not over expose yourself. Yet another great advantage was that if the tickets for any show were sold out, you could still catch a free glimpse of the performance by standing on the hill slope (Fort Canning) which was overlooking the back of the theatre. It was even better if you had brought along a pair of binoculars.

When I think of the National Theatre, memories of the Van Kleef Aquarium just next to it comes flooding back. This aquarium was nowhere near the standard or the size of today's Underwater World in Sentosa but for a mere S$2 entrance fee, one could gawk at the 2 crocodiles (in an enclosure, of course) at the entrance before entering the aquarium to view the marine fishes. In contrast, today's entrance fee to Underwater World is more than S$10 and that's not counting the admission fee to Sentosa Island itself. (That's why people say that SENTOSA stands for So Expensive, Nothing TO See Anyway, haha.)

Then there was the River Valley swimming pool nearby too. I had a few swims there before it also had to make way for redevelopment. I guess it must be too expensive to maintain a swimming pool in the heart of the city. (This area is within Singapore Central Business District or CBD.) The land is just worth too much there, not to mention the water. Clarke Quay (see earlier post) was just opposite the swimming pool.

Many Singaporeans were deeply saddened when the National Theatre had to be demolished in 1986 due to structural reasons. (I think it was because the cantilever roof was structurally unstable, meaning that it might fall down anytime.) I was one of the sad people. Now we have the spanking new Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, also affectionately known to locals as 'the Durians' because of its thorny roof structure. (Actually the roof was designed that way to resemble a microphone – a supposedly clever and relevant reference to the activities to be staged inside the theatres.) But no matter how well-designed and acoustically-sound (pun intended) the Durians are, they could never evoke the nostalgia which many people have of the old National Theatre... sob, sob.

Update on 7 Aug 2008:

Here is another shot of the National Theatre. It is one of several other photos of old Singapore, probably from old postcards, that was emailed to me by a friend recently. This one has the resplendent fountain that I was talking about in this article. It was probably taken at a later date than the first one.

06 September 2005

Being Positive For A Change

I promised Chris and myself that I will make a conscious effort to be more positive in my posts. Otherwise, my blog would be quite dreary for anyone to read and yes, even for me to review too. So this post is about being more positive in our outlook. I don't think anyone can be born positive or an optimist. On the contrary, I believe that one must make a conscious effort to stay positive, at least at the beginning. As with all things, if one has enough practice, being optimistic then becomes second nature. I must confess that I am still a long way off.

I remember this movie some time ago called 'Paying It Forward'. Although I have not seen the show myself, I believe the message of the show is to encourage everyone to do a good deed to someone. The recipient of the good deed would in turn do another good deed to another person, who in turn does another good deed to yet another person, and so on. As the saying goes, 'one good deed deserves another'. The good deeds will then propagate, if not in geometric progression then at least in arithmetic progression.

If everyone strives to do as exhorted by the movie, I believe that this world will be a much better place to live in. Pain and suffering, as mentioned by Chris in his recent post, will however still be around - no amount of human good deeds will ever avert the disasters which the heavens choose to inflict upon us nor the accidents which we mortal humans cannot avoid. This fact is borne out by the recent disasters brought on by the Katrina hurricane and the Medan air crash. Perhaps, (trying to be positive now) this our Creator's ironical way of showing us joy and pleasure because without knowing pain and suffering, how can anyone claim that he or she truly knows joy and pleasure? A good analogy would be: it is difficult for a person born with a silver spoon in his mouth to understand what poverty is like.

For a start, I would like to reflect on the good deeds that others have so kindly done for me. These are good deeds for which I am eternally grateful:

I have my lost wallet returned with its cash and documents intact on two separate occasions. One of the good Samaritans even came personally to my flat to hand me the wallet after finding out my address from my Identity Card in the wallet. He did it within minutes after I have dropped it in my car park, even before I realised that my wallet was missing. It was raining cats and dogs at that time too. I was extremely grateful to him and thanked him profusely. Returning someone's money and not expecting to be rewarded is, I feel, a true test of one's honesty. (Not that I was not prepared to reward him but I didn't offer him because I doubted that he would accept it. I was also afraid that he might even see a reward offer as an insult.) Although it was not a test of honesty that I deliberately put them through, these two good Samaritans had passed the test with flying colours.

But then maybe I am just being lucky. (Here I go again being negative.) I believe many people would be tempted by the cash and perhaps return only the documents, that is, if they still have some conscience in them. Otherwise they would not think twice to take the cash, throw the documents away and let some other people who pick them up do the returning. The worst people are those who take your money and still use your IC to borrow from Ah Long (illegal loan sharks) or use your credit card to buy the Rolex watch which they have pined for so long. Haven't we read these horror stories in the media often enough? However, to be fair, even if I have the misfortune to meet such people, I can't really put all the blame on them - after all it is, in a way, human nature which is prompted by my own carelessness. Dishonest people live by the motto 'finders keepers'. My elder son had lost a handphone which was never returned. Somehow, finders of handphones don't believe in returning handphones and owners don't expect them to be returned. Therefore I was very pleasantly surprised that two complete strangers would go out of their way to return my wallet. What incredible luck I had! They completely restored my faith in humanity.

I also have lesser good deeds done unto me which I will also remember no less. Like the time when a lady who bought something at an NTUC supermarket offered me to claim her rebate points since she was not a member and I was. Or the occasion when the wanton (noodles) lady offered me extra wantons at no extra cost, much to the envy of Chris.

I have paid it forward too - I once returned a pouch that I found near the door of my neighbour who stayed one floor directly below me. I didn't know how much money or valuables were inside, if any, because I didn't open it. I just knocked on the door and asked if the pouch belonged to the neighbour. The neighbour said "Yes", took the pouch and then thanked me with a smile. Now when I think back about the incident, the negative side of me asks: Oh dear, what happens if the pouch didn't really belong to my neighbour? Maybe I should have checked its contents and then asked the neighbour to name some of the contents just to verify that she was the rightful owner of the pouch? I am not doubting my neighbour's honesty but there are all sorts of people in this world and you just can't be too careful. (No, I must think positive now. It is already too late to be negative. No doubt, I will be more careful in the future.)

Then there was this occasion when it was also raining heavily. I was at my flat's void deck when I was approached by a blind man. It must be either that he was only partially blind or it was the noise of the opening of my letter box that betrayed my presence to him. He told me that he was in the vicinity to sell socks to earn a living. (What a way to earn a meagre living!) He wanted to go home to Eunos Crescent as he was not feeling well. He requested me to hail a taxi for him. Call me softhearted but this kind of request always tucks at my heartstrings. Therefore I very gladly obliged. I asked him to wait in the void deck while I went out to the roadside with an umbrella to hail a cab for him. When the taxi came, I gave the blind man $5 as cab fare which should be enough to take him home. This time, I was careful enough to tell the taxi driver that I had given the blind man the requisite cab fare, just in case the blind man tried to evoke a second round of sympathy from the taxi driver, hehe. Sigh, it is really difficult to suppress the negative and suspicious side of me. I will still try though.

31 August 2005

'A Rule Is A Rule, Locked Doors Have To Remain Locked'

I have received an e-mail response from Singnet to my query about their unreasonably high charges for the premature termination of my broadband account. In a terse, business-like manner, it says unflinchingly:

"Dear Mr Koo

Thank you for your email.

I would like to inform you that we base our Early Termination Charge for 512kbps Unlimited plan as follows:-

For contract balance of more than 12 months: $420
For contract balance of less than 12 months: $315

I would also like to highlight that this is applied across for all existing 512kbps SingNet Subscribers who wish to terminate their account prematurely. I seek your understanding on this and hope that you would comprehend."

I checked the agreement form that I have signed. The above terms and conditions were indeed stated clearly in the form. The different terms and conditions which I mentioned in my last post were nowhere to be found in the agreement - I must have seen them somewhere else. But I still think that what I mentioned is the maximum anyone can charge for any breach of contract. A more reasonable amount should be even lesser.

In any case, how many of us read the small print before we sign on the dotted line of an agreement? At my age, I couldn't read them even if I wanted to, if I didn't bring my reading glasses along. In addition, there are so many clauses and legal terms in the agreement, the sales staff never have the time or patience to explain them to the customer. In all likelihood, the customer might not understand the legal mumbo jumbo even if they did.

Is this another case of poor service and inflexible rules? Well, maybe and maybe not. I can only utter the same words as I did in an earlier post, i.e. caveat emptor or buyers beware.

29 August 2005

A Backdoor That Is Locked

Our family has been with Singnet for more than 4 years now, ever since Mar 2001 when we got our first PC at a S'pore Expo exhibition. It is a Datamini which is still serving us faithfully albeit slowly. I recently heard from a sales person that the company had since closed down. No wonder I don't see this brand being sold in the hyperstores anymore. It makes me reflect on how many products we are still using for which their manufacturers have since closed shop. It might be that they don't make companies as well as their products anymore.

Except for the recent connection problem (see my recent blog entitled 'A World Without Internet') and a power supply problem with the PC, we are generally quite satisfied with Singnet's quality of service as well as our antique PC.

I had a chance to try out Starhub's MaxOnLine service recently (see recent blog) and was quite impressed with the reliable and fuss-free connection. I was eager to switch my loyalty to this ISP. So I sent an e-mail to Singnet asking what will be the penalty imposed if I switched loyalty now since my contract with Singnet was up to 1 Dec 2005. To my surprise, Singnet's reply was I have to pay a penalty of $315 if I breached the contract now. Compare this amount with the slightly over $140 which is the subscription fee that I would have incurred if I just let the contract expire by itself on 1 Dec 2005. Moreover, while I could pay the $140 by 3 monthly instalments, I doubt that I could do the same with the penalty amount.

Which of the 2 options would a sane person choose? Unless I am a moron, the answer is obvious. And it looks like Singnet is treating me like a moron because their opt-out offer to me looks as good as a 'backdoor that is locked'. It remains a mystery to me how Singnet came up with the magical figure of $315. According to what is written in the fine print of the contract (which I have earlier 'misplaced') the penalty amount should be the 'monthly subscription' x 'remaining number of months of contract period'. This is logically the maximum amount Singnet could charge as penalty. Whether the amount is reasonable or not is however another matter.

25 August 2005


Chris, the above 4 letters were created using Microsoft IME 3.0 for Chinese (PRC).
Quite easy leh. (I can almost see you swearing "Show Off!" at me again, hee。)
To switch from 中文 to English, you just need to press the 中 (Chinese) button if you want it to toggle to English. You press the “英” (English) button again to toggle it back to Chinese.
Simple isn't it?
And to choose tones you can type the figure directly after the pinyin e.g. "ta" gives you 他 but "ta3" gives you 塔, and "ta4" gives you 踏。
Alternatively you can type "ta" first and get 他 and when it is underlined by the program, you hit the right arrow key - this will bring up a list of possible variations of the same hanyu pinyin character based on the various tones available. Press down arrow to move to the character you want and then hit to choose the right character.

14 August 2005

A More Computer-literate Me

Over the last 3 days, I attended an Adobe Photoshop course sponsored by the office. That's where I learned how to create the image on the left - a lost penguin in the desert. Admittedly, it is quite an amateurish effort when compared to the professional masterpiece which Chris produced by swopping the heads of 2 women colleagues in a photograph taken at a recent wedding dinner.

Talking about the image on the left, some 7 years ago, I was exactly like a 'lost penguin in a desert' when it comes to computers and the Internet. Because my job required me to search for information, a colleague whom I called 'Jek' very kindly taught me how to use search engines to look for information on the Internet. Since then I have never looked back.

Besides learning Adobe Photoshop, I have since progressed to learning other IT (information technology) stuff like:

a. The basics of how to assemble a PC;

b. Upgrading my PC's RAM with a card bought from Yahoo Auctions and installing it myself;

c. Learning the basics of designing web pages using HTML;

d. Diagnosing Internet connection problems (see last post);

e. Chatting using MSN Messenger; and of course

f. Blogging.

As you can see, I am actually quite keen to learn. It should be evident that I also believe in putting into practice what I have learnt. Unless I practice what I have learnt, I will not be able to remember or find meaning in what I have learnt. There is a Chinese saying that goes something like this when literally translated - live till old, learn till old. This saying cannot be more true. Because of my thirst for knowledge, I am now far from being a 'lost penguin in the desert' when it comes to IT. But there is still so much more to be learnt. I am intent on dispelling Chris' assertion that 'old dogs can't learn new tricks'. Some can.

09 August 2005

A World Without Internet

As promised, here's the first person account explaining my recent 'disappearance act' from this blog. (Caution: This is a very long post. You have a choice not to read on. But please do if you would like to learn more about diagnosing Internet connection problems and also how to be a more educated consumer. Contrary to Chris' practice, I blog when I have the time, an issue to talk about and last but not least, when I have an Internet connection. Unlike Chris, I do not blog when I am stressed. Sorry Chris, no offence meant.)

My Internet connection had been acting strangely for the past 1 or 2 months. I was on Singnet Broadband which used an ADSL modem and existing telephone line for connection to the Internet. I kept getting disconnected while on-line. At first the problem wasn't so bad. After a disconnection, the modem would re-sync itself after a while. If not, it would after I rebooted my PC. Then things got worse. Even after letting the PC rest for a while and rebooting several times, the connection just refused to come back until the next day. Then it would happen again. This problem was intermittent but it was enough to drive the sanity out of any person.

The first thing was to make sure that my equipment set-up and configuration was correct. I also reinstalled the modem driver. I even got the latest driver from Singnet's website. No use. Then I upgraded my Windows OS to XP Pro from ME. Still no use. Chris, being a true friend who was ever willing to offer a helping hand, lent me his Prolink 7000 ADSL modem which had been lying in his storeroom ever since he upgraded to Starhub cable. His modem also failed to solve the problem. So I ruled out a modem problem as the cause.

I called Singtel and was advised to connect my computer to another wall socket to see if the problem persisted. It did. I was at my wits' end. I even contemplated buying a brand new PC, hoping that the problem might just go away with a new PC (see cartoon above). But being an analytical person, I was determined to find out the root cause. Then I thought of something – when the disconnection problem happened, I disconnected all equipment from each and every telephone wall socket in the house (I had 5 but normally only 3 were connected – 2 for telephones connected via microfilters and 1 for the PC's ADSL modem.) After about 5 minutes, I reconnected a single telephone without a microfilter to one of the wall sockets. Eureka! No matter which socket I tried, there was a loud high-pitched humming noise on the line.

I immediately contacted Singtel. They said that this noise was not a normal phenomenon (as if I didn't know!). They offered to send a technician to my place to check the line. However they first cautioned me that if the cause of the problem was found within my premises e.g., there was a loose connection somewhere in my house, there would be a service charge of $20. I asked, 'What if you can't trace the problem or the problem did not occur while your technician is here?' 'Then there would be no charge,' came the reassuring reply.

By now, I was quite certain that the fault did not lie within my premises. (It was fortunate that I was tech-savvy enough to do some pre-diagnostic troubleshooting myself. I really sympathized with those who can't.) 'Send your man over', I replied confidently. Besides, I was losing so much connection time that certainly amounted to more than $20, not to mention the inconvenience.

The technician called via phone on 2 Aug 05 at around 11 am. He told me that he 'changed my line'. At that time the connection seemed alright so I thought that the problem had been solved. But no, it happened again later that day. So I called Singtel again to summon the same technician back. The technician called via phone again to say that he identified the problem to be 'an internal network problem' (meaning that it was not my problem but Singtel's). However, Singtel could not attend to the problem immediately so I had no choice but to be at home again on the morning of 6 Aug 05 to 'welcome another technician who would be more well-equipped' into my house for another thorough check. Imagine my frustration!

Meanwhile, my elder son's homework was in arrears and it was getting more so each day without the Internet connection. So the next day, I went to a Starhub shop to see what Internet cable packages they had to offer. One of the packages called 'MaxOnLine FlexiSurf 2000' required you to buy a cable modem for S$99.23 and then sign up for a minimum of 3-day block of Internet connection time (at S$7.50 each) by entering your credit card details on first-connect to the Starhub page when you used the modem for the first time. You didn't have to pay if you didn't use. There was also no contract period. On expiry of your connection time, you just sign up for another 3-day block if you needed it. I thought that this package was neat and served my needs very well. It would provide a temporary solution while Singtel could take their own (sweet) time to rectify the problem. So I paid S$99.23 for the modem, went home and signed up for the 3-day S$7.50 connection time.

Much to my dismay and anger, I found out from Starhub's website the next day that there was another more attractive package called 'Fun Learning Pack' offered by the Telemarketing Dept of Starhub (yes, they were from the same organization!). Mainly, this package had the added feature of free 60 days Flexisurf thrown in when you buy the cable modem for S$99.23. How could the same organization offer 2 packages with different benefits for the same price? And I had been given the less attractive of the 2 packages just because I didn't know what to ask.

Therefore the next day, I contacted Starhub to demand that they put things right. They said that the package must be bought via a telephone number of their Telemarketing Dept, In other words, it was my own fault for missing out this piece of crucial information. However at my insistence, they offered to refund me for the purchase of the modem. Then I could sign up for the 'Fun Learning Pack'. Ironically, this whole experience was definitely no 'fun learning' for me. And I believe that Starhub could have avoided all this trouble in the first place if they had been more transparent at the point of sale.

Singnet finally managed to solve the line problem on 6 Aug 05 by replacing a 'mux' (multiplexer) at the neighbourhood access point. My Internet connection has been good for the past 4 days now and I am keeping my fingers crossed.

So my advice to all – if you intend to make a purchase whether big or small, always do you homework. Ultimately, the rule in a free and open market is caveat emptor or buyers beware.

A Visit To Pulau Ubin

I have not written for more than a month now. Chris very kindly informed me that my blog had spider webs growing on it. "Guess that's why it is called the World Wide Web", I thought to myself. I shall not bore you with the details of my 'disappearance act' here - it is actually quite interesting, meaning that I feel it is worthy of a separate post which I will do in due course. (Patience, Chris). But briefly, besides being preoccupied with other more pressing issues, I had another reason for not writing for some time - my computer had difficulty connecting to the Internet. After personally carrying out about a week of diagnostic tests and troubleshooting, I finally managed to identify the cause to be a noisy Singtel line which carried my ADSL signals. Singtel finally rectified the problem on 6 Aug 05 and I am back in action again.

So this post is part of my BackLOG (hehe, no pun intended).

On 24 Jul 05, my family of four visited Pulau Ubin. It was a trip organised by the Sports Club of my wife's office. We took a ferry (the more correct terminology is a bumboat) from Changi Village ferry terminal at about 9 am. The ferry could take a maximum of 12 passengers. It would normally not leave the terminal until it was filled to capacity. However this was not a problem that morning as there were scores of trip participants in addition to the usual Sunday crowd.

No one in my family can remember ever visiting Ubin although we have come across much media information about this idyllic island before. The media has always emphasized that this island is one of the last countryside places in Singapore where one can enjoy peace and serenity away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore's hectic city life. The nature lovers have always been clamouring that the island be left in its present pristine natural condition. They do not want the island to undergo too much development and commercialisation like Sentosa. If it were so, the island would lose it main attraction that is its natural charm and become just another tourist attraction.

My personal impression of the trip was that it was indeed quite an experience for all of us. For example, I can't remember when I last did a 4-hour walk, much less my younger son. At one point, he complained that he can't feel his legs! But the trek must go on for there was no transport provided - we had chosen to go on foot rather than on bicycles and daddy had left the car at home. It didn't help when it started to pour.

When we reached Noordin beach in the 'Noorth' of the island, we could see Malaysia across the straits. We even felt that we were in Malaysia - our phones started receiving smses welcoming us to Malaysia. We were careful not to call each other indiscriminately then because we would be charged double trunk call rates if we did - once for routing the call back to Singapore because the called party was a Singapore subscriber and another time for re-routing the call back to Malaysia where the called party had been falsely detected to be roaming. Yes it was that complicated. Even on the idyllic island, we could not run away from this technological intrusion which was evident from the ringing of mobile phones every now and then... unless we had purposely left them at home.

On the walk back to the jetty, we visited a prawn farm. The prawns were intensively bred in huge cement tanks some distance away from the sea. This high-tech agro-industry was set up on the island only about 2 years ago. If the industry proved to be successful, it would be able supply relatively cheaper live prawns for the local market.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience for all of us but we are not so sure if we would want to make the 4-hour walk again anytime soon. Maybe the next time we visit the island, we would either be on bicycles or on one of those 'PU' registered vans which abound on the island.

18 June 2005

Unusual Discovery At The Science Centre

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On 16 Jun 05 (Thu), my family went to the Science Centre. It was our umpteenth visit there. (Where else could we bring our children to during the school holidays?) As always, at the ticket booth, I asked to purchase 2 adult tickets and 2 children tickets. The ticket seller took a glance at my elder son and promptly asked, "How old are your children?". I did some quick mental calculation and said "13+". "I'm sorry Sir, but the children ticket is for 12 years and below only", came the polite but firm reply. Quite embarrassed, I paid up for 3 adult tickets and 1 children ticket immediately.

Children grow up so fast that sometimes it takes an incident like this to make you realise that they are fast growing up into adults.

Clarke Quay

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This is Clarke Quay. It is on the bank of Singapore River. It used to be a part of old Singapore until it was redeveloped into a commercial/shopping area some 20 years ago by Capitaland. The facades of the old buildings have been retained so that the area maintains its old world charm after redevelopment. This place brings back many wonderful memories for me. In the early 80's, there used to be a stall in one of the coffeeshops there which served very delicious Teochew minced pork noodles.

15 June 2005

My First Camera

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My first camera looked liked this.

I have since learnt that this is called a "folding camera". About 15 years ago, I gave it to a good friend whose passionate hobby was to collect antiques (it still is). He appeared extremely delighted with the gift. Although my camera was not in as good a condition as the one in the photo, he promised me that he would restore it to its former glory. But I don't think that he has done it yet as this friend is known to be a good procrastinator too. But it is just as well... because the antique could only grow older and hence he fonder of it.

Singapore City Skyline, Circa 1970s

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This was the same Singapore city skyline circa 1970s, except that this aerial photo was taken from a different angle. It is almost impossible to find such an old photo taken from exactly the same angle as the new photo below because the latter was taken while I was standing on land (Marina Promenade) which was reclaimed only a decade or so before.

From the above photo, you can make out Asia Insurance Building (tallest beige building on the left). Compared to the modern photo below, the same building appears just above the boat in the sea. The Fullerton Building (now a hotel) is visible in both photos on the right hand side (the building with columns and a terracota roof).