20 April 2006

What Is GEMS?

Every month, I normally draw a cheque to transfer my funds from Bank A to Bank B so that I can earn a higher rate of interest on my money. Like most people would, I prefer to write a cheque rather than handle cash transactions. By issuing a cheque to myself and depositing it in the express cheque deposit box, I avoid having to wait for the banks to open, stand in line in Bank A to withdraw cash and then commute to Bank B only to join another long queue to deposit the money. That is, if I am lucky not to have been robbed of my money by then. I have been doing this for the past several years without any problem at all. It has saved me quite a lot of legwork and time.

Then this month, I noticed that my cheque was not cleared after one whole week. I called Bank B's hotline yesterday morning to ask what had happened. The prudent lady at the other end of the line asked me a series of verification questions to ascertain that I was indeed the rightful account owner. It was only after I managed to convince her that I was no conman that she took down my contact number and promised to call me back later.

I waited... and waited... till the end of the office day. Running out of patience, I decided to call her again. Not sensing that I was running short of patience, she tested it again by going through the whole list of verification questions again! It was only after I bursted out, "Look, I am only checking what happened to my cheque and not withdrawing a million dollars with this call" that she explained sometimes it could take one whole day to cheque check check cheque details like this. (Quite efficient hor?) She let me hear another few more minutes of soothing music (to calm my frayed nerves, I suppose). Finally, she came on and said, "Sorry, Sir. Your cheque is 'out-of-date'.

"What?", I retorted. "Out-of-date? How could that be? I only deposited it last week."

"Sir, you have dated the cheque with year '05'. We have returned the cheque to you by post."

True enough, when I reached home, I found the following returned cheque in my letter box:

I acknowlege that it was my mistake for thinking that it was still last year. No excuse for that, especially when it is already Apr 06 now. Hey, but it was an honest mistake and I am 50, which makes me forgiveable for making mistakes like that. So I continued unrelentlessly, "But I have dutifully written down my contact number behind the cheque. Why didn't you call me. If you never make use of my contact number then why did the bank always ask for it? You could have gone that extra mile in service, you know? And I would have appreciated it very much. After all, banking is a service. Good or bad makes a world of difference."

There was a short silence. (I don't think that it was because she was shocked by what I said but rather, she was probably thinking of a diplomatic and politically correct reply.) Then the lady apologised: "I am so sorry about that, Sir. We will remind the cheque clearing section to check with the customer first the next time."

Me: "Then how about my free platinum credit card which one of your relationship managers promised me one month ago? I still have not received it yet, you know?

Lady: "Sir, you have to apply for the card. Have you submitted your application yet?"

Me: "I signed a lot of forms then. Don't know whether I signed any credit card application or not."

Lady: "No problem, Sir. I'll check and call you back again."

Me thinking: (Oh no, not again.)

Incidentally, this is the same bank which I complained about a few months ago in this post. Ironically, the bank has recently signed me up as one of its priority customers. Priority? What priority? What is GEMS? "Go-the-Extra-Mile for Services" or "Gone's-the-Extra-Mile for Services"? I think I should seriously consider putting my money where there's better service rather than going for a higher interest rate. HHNNGG.

16 April 2006

Qing Ming Festival (清明节)

It is customary for the Chinese to observe Qing Ming Festival (清明节) every year. (This year, the actual day of Qing Ming Festival was on 5 Apr 06.) Anytime within 10 days before and 10 days after the actual day, one may perform this annual ritual. But most people choose to do it during a weekend or a holiday so that they need not take leave from work. During the festival, it is not uncommon for vehicles to queue for hours just to reach the cemeteries and columbariums.

Qing Ming Festival involves the living paying respect to their dearly departed ones by visiting their resting sites, burning joss articles and offering food and prayers. When I was a young child, my whole family used to visit the cemeteries once a year during Qing Ming Festival. At that time it seemed that all the Chinese graves were concentrated in one cemetery, i.e. Peck San Theng (碧山亭). (This area is now called Bishan and is fully built-up with HDB flats which are among the highest valued in Singapore. It is ironical how a place where previously only the dead would rest became such a sought-after residential area for the living.)

If my memory serves me right, Peck San Theng used to have about 10 pavilions (called theng2 in Cantonese or ting2 亭 in Chinese) which were located in various parts of the cemetery. The tings were numbered sequentially from 1 to 10 and served as guiding posts for visitors to find their ways around the cemetery. Without the tings, you would very likely lose your way as the cemetery was otherwise devoid of landmarks. To make matters worse, one grave looked just like another. Of course, the tings also served another very useful purpose - they provided much needed shaded rest areas where you could rest your tired feet after walking for hours from one grave to another in the scorching sun. Most people had to walk because not many could afford to drive at that time.

When Peck San Theng area was redeveloped into a housing area more than 30 years ago, all of the graves were exhumed, cremated and housed in columbariums elsewhere. New cemeteries like those in Choa Chu Kang were built to replace Peck San Theng. My uncle was buried in Choa Chu Kang Cemetery in 1966:

Exactly 40 years later, this cemetery in Choa Chu Kang too must make way for redevelopment. My uncle's grave is scheduled to be exhumed later this year. History is repeating itself. Due to the shortage of burial ground in Singapore, nowadays when a Chinese passes away, he/she would usually be cremated and his/her ashes would be stored in a columbarium thereafter. My dad passed away in 1993 and my mum in 2003. Both of them were cremated and are now housed in, where else, but Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng Columbarium, of course. Their urns are next to each other. They had achieved more than just keeping their marriage vows - even death wouldn't do them part, how sweet!

To save space, most of the columbariums are multi-storey, not unlike HDB housing. Not only that, the niches themselves are in columns. (Perhaps that's why the building is called a columbarium.) Location matters too. I heard that the ones located centrally and at eye-level are most expensive. The niches also have house numbers, just like the flats we live in. The similarities don't just end there - some of the more expensive niches have freehold leases while the others are on leasehold of 30 years or more. One question which I have been asking myself is: Will there be surviving descendants around to renew the leases when they expire? I also wonder, will we run out of columbarium space one day? For obvious reason, I hope that this will not happen in my lifetime. If it does, my ashes will most likely to be disposed in the sea. Not that it is my preferred way to go.

Suggested further reading for the academically inclined:

1. I was really impressed by a very interesting and informative article written by Raja Abdul Razak (a relation of the Perak royalty). The article appears in the website of the Tourism Department of Penang.

2. Also read about themediaslut's account of how she followed her mother to prepare for the Qing Ming festival.

3. The explanation of Qing Ming Festival by "A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English".

05 April 2006

Prophesy Came True

Last Saturday, I was again at the shopping centre I featured in a Feb 06 post. In that post, I described how the shopkeeper nearly got me arrested by the security guard for alleged txxxxxxxm.

I promised Chun See that I would try to make up with the shopkeeper the next time I visited the shopping centre again provided the shop was still operational. Looked like the shop had indeed closed down for good and I didn't have a chance to make amends. Me and my big mouth!

04 April 2006


My colleague MJM passed me some funny videos the other day. I had a browse through them and spotted this one. Since I am on the topic of funny humsup posts and have featured quite a few chimpanzees in my previous posts, I thought this one was quite hilarious and appropriate. (Sorry for being long-winded and always repeating what I say - I was born in the Year of the Monkey.)

I thought that nature lovers like Chun See would love this one because it is environmentally friendly as it promotes recycling. However, I wouldn't recommend that you try this method to save the 10 litres of water a day which the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources is currently exhorting us to do, wahaha.