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.