25 February 2007

Losing Someone Over Small Stuff (2)

(This is a continuation of an earlier post.)

A satellite photo of the bungalow which CL lived in.

One day some 25 years ago, CL said to me, "My brother has a Canon AE-1 SLR camera with 28-85 mm Vivitar lens which he doesn't use anymore. He would like to sell it for $450, complete with camera bag. He bought everything new for over $800 a few years ago. You can try out the camera for one week. If you don't like it, just return it to me."

As instructed, I took the camera home and tried it out for one week. One week later, I was not so sure about buying the camera so I brought everything back to CL.

"But I already told my brother that I have sold it to you", CL said.

"What!!!???" I exclaimed. ($450 may seem paltry now but in those days, it was two whole months of my NS pay!)

I took everything back home and thought about the whole incident seriously for one whole day. The next day I went to see CL again at his bungalow. I had with me a wad of $50 notes. I handed to him 9 pieces of the notes. "Please count the money", I said. CL did as told without saying a word. After he counted the money, I turned and walked away, also without saying anything further. In actual fact, I was trying hard to control my emotions. That was the last time I spoke to CL.

Many years later, I saw a photo of CL and his young son in a Lifestyle magazine (published by NTUC Media Co-operative Ltd). They won a 'Like Father Like Son' contest. I hope that it is only in looks the son took after his father, not his scheming ways. One Sunday morning a few years ago, I saw CL again together with his son who had grown much taller then as compared to the little boy in the contest photo. They were eating the famous prawn noodles in a coffeeshop in Onan Road. (The stall has since moved to Carpmael Road nearby.) My father-in-law and I were also having the prawn noodles for breakfast. Since the coffeeshop was quite small, CL should have noticed my presence just like I noticed his. However, we both pretended we didn't see each other. It was a case of two look at two but with eyes that cannot see. (My dear blogo-god-daughter Elaine told me that she had a similar experience a few weeks ago. Dear, I can understand how you felt then. And now you'll understand why I know quite a bit about cameras too.)

It has been a quarter of a century ago since this unhappy incident happened but I could still remember the details very clearly. It is as if the details were permanently etched in my memory. Perhaps, it was just unfortunate that e-auctions were unheard of 25 years ago. Otherwise, I don't think CL would have been so desperate to force-sell the camera to me and I wouldn't have been an unwilling owner of my first SLR camera. If Yahoo Auctions and Ebay were available then, CL could have easily found another victim willing buyer for his brother's camera.

It was a sad story, at least for me. It hurts me even today to think that CL was prepared to sacrifice our close friendship just to get rid of a camera. As for me, I unexpectedly gained a camera as well as a valuable lesson. Yet, I consider it a lose-lose situation for both of us because I too lost a good friend in the process.

Now, looking back at this incident, I think that our friendship would have ended anyway. If I had insisted on returning the camera to CL, he would have ended the friendship anyway. The difference is that by paying him $450, I could claim the dubious honour of being the one who broke off the friendship. For me, it is a matter of principle and pride which a monkey has full of.

I recall a memorable quote from CL: "Friends come and go. Only some stay a bit longer." How true! What would be my rejoinder to that quote? "Friends are by choice. Relatives are by chance."

What would you have done in such a situation? Now don't tell me that you wouldn't have accepted the camera for a trial. After hearing how the story panned out, you have the benefit of hindsight which I didn't have at that time.

I would like to end this post with the meaningful lyrics from Glen Campbell's song, Friends:

"Friends are never earned they're a gift from the loving God
And they're precious beyond human evaluation
But you dare not take them for granted or they'll lift away like a smoke
And the warmth of their caring will vanish into the chill of the endless nights
Most of my friends are unknowns they probably won't even rate an obituary
Unless they live and die in a small town
Somewhere where nothing much ever happens
But a few of my friends are big people
They'd made the word ring with laughter down to this string of court
They're famous sensitive talented and their names are household words
And yet they're no more precious in God's eyes or in mine
Than those wonderful nobodys who live and die in small towns
Who is your friend he's someone who warms you with a nod
Or with an unspoken word in hard times when you're hurting beyond words
Who is your friend he's someone who holds you to her breast
And sighs softly into your hair when no other medicine could possibly stop the pain
A friend is someone who clings his glass against yours
Or answers the phone at three in the morning when you're lost
And with a few words of encouragement and concern
Makes you realize that you're not really lost at all
Friends come in both sexes in all shapes and sizes
The most imprtant thing they have in common is their ability
To share with you your most sky splitting joys
Or your deepest most spelling ol' some sorrows for they're all your friends"

20 February 2007

5 CNY Traditions

(Caution: This is a very long post. Read only when you have the time and when the boss is not looking.)

Everybody I know in blogosphere seems to be blogging about Chinese New Year (CNY). First Chun See and then Chris. Looks like I must also keep up with this tradition and blog about 5 CNY traditions (not including the one on blogging about CNY). I have blogged about Chinese New Year visits last year. So this year, I shall just cover 2 places our family visited. I am writing about the following 5 things: the re-union dinner (nian ye fan 年夜饭 or tuan yuan fan 团员饭), a visit to River Hong Bao, a visit to NAMOS, the lion dance (wu shi 舞狮) and home decorations.

1. The Re-union Dinner (nian ye fan 年夜饭 or tuan yuan fan 团员饭)

The re-union dinner is a must-have CNY tradition. But increasingly, more and more families are not having home-cooked re-union dinners. (Not everyone is as fortunate as Chris even though a steamboat is more like a self-cooked meal rather than a home-cooked one.) The reason for this trend is due to several reasons. Firstly, Singaporeans are generally getting wealthier and most could afford a re-union dinner at a restaurant. Anyway, the dinner comes but once a year and there's really no need to stinge. Secondly, most cooks family matriachs (as Chris so elegantly puts it) are getting older, that is if they are still around. It is certainly tough work whipping up an elaborate dinner for dozens of people from extended families, even though it is only a 'simple' steamboat dinner. And then there is the cleaning up afterwards - not just the dishes but also the mopping of the floor. We are wealthier but not all of us will lend a helping hand can afford a maid or even want one.

This year (and last), we had our re-union dinner at the Soup Restaurant at Terminal 2 of Changi Airport. Many other people had the same idea as us too - the restaurant was already fully booked for CNY eve when we enquired one week earlier. So we had to settle for dinner on the eve of CNY eve, i.e. Friday, 16 Feb 2007. A simple dinner for 7 adults and 5 children came up to $184, a very reasonable amount by any standard. Okay, we didn't have sharks fins, abalone or yu sheng but still, we had great company which is the real point of having a re-union dinner, isn't it?

2. A Visit To River Hong Bao

It has been a tradition for Singapore to hold a River Hong Bao carnival in conjunction with the CNY for many years already now. (However, this was the first time that my family visited the carnival on CNY eve, immediately after having our very own informal 're-union' dinner at Hong Kong Cafe in East Coast Road.) This year, the carnival is held at the Esplanade Park just next to the Padang, a popular place for courting couples in the middle of the last century. I took some photos of the carnival and of the scenery in the vicinity. Do bring your family there if you can spare the time as it is worth a visit. I think the carnival ends on the 15th day of CNY.

3. A Visit To NAMOS

Admission to the NAMOS (National Museum Of Singapore) was free on 19 Feb 2007. (Normal admission charges are $10 for adult and $5 for children.) As Singaporeans love to queue, and my family is Singaporean, we were there that day. The NAMOS was re-opened to the public only a few months ago.

I must say that the new NAMOS is very high-tech and impressive, especially the History Gallery. You see, every visitor is given an electronic gadget called a Companion. As you walk within the gallery, there is a large number printed on the floor within each exhibit area. Key in the number on your Companion, hit the 'Go' button and the companion will narrate (through clip-on headphones) related stories about the exhibit area.

Next to some exhibits there are numbers which you could key into the Companion to retrieve text about the exhibit. Cool. However, although there is a choice of text in various languages, including Japanese, narration is only in available in English.

It is dimly lit within the History Gallery. I nearly tripped over a dark-colour bench while spending quality time with my Companion and almost sprained my ankle again.

If you visit the History Gallery during CNY and are superstitious, be prepared to come face to face to a traditional Chinese funeral complete with a real coffin exhibit:

Because of the above reasons, I would recommend that illiterate and superstitious IT idiots, especially the elderly should give NAMOS a miss. (My sincere apologies to Walter. This is just my sincere personal opinion.)

4. The Lion Dance (wu shi 舞狮)

The lion dance performance during CNY is known as cai qing (采青). During the performance, a big red packet (hong bao 红包) is suspended high at the end of a bamboo stick. By 'big', I don't mean the physical size of the red packet but the money enclosed within it, of course. The red packet is usually camouflaged by some green vegetables (although I still can't figure out how green vegetables can effectively camouflage a red packet unless the lion happened to be colour-blind).

Unlike the re-union dinner, the lion dance is not a must-have. Although I have seen lion troupes perform at HDB flats before, most families do not summon a lion dance troupe to perform at their homes. For one thing, lion dances obviously do not come cheap. I do not know the market price for a performance but I guess it must in the region of hundreds of dollars. Hence, most lion dances are performed at business premises where expenses for lion dances are probably tax-deductible.

However on 19 Feb 2007 (2nd day of CNY or 大年初二), I witnessed a lion dance performance at an unusual location - the Singapore Philatelic Museum. It must be hoping that the lion dance will somehow boost the visitor numbers to the museum in the Year Of The Golden Pig. (Walter, can confirm this?)

5. Home Decorations

There are certain things that we decorate our homes with during CNY and they each has a symbolic meaning.

Spring Couplets (chun lian 春联) herald good luck for CNY:

Flowers welcome the arrival of spring and symbolises renewal:

Lanterns symbolise a bright future:

Oranges symbolise gold or wealth:

Pineapples (huang li 黄梨) sounds like (wang lai 旺来), especially in dialects and literally means 'prosperity comes':

I learnt from the show 'I Not Stupid 2' that some Chinese believe that if a pregnant woman eats a lot of pineapple, the baby might be aborted. Of course, this is not true otherwise we don't need any obstetricians and gynaecologists.

However, I only learnt recently that a certain part of the pineapple can be used to pleasure a woman. Not the thorny crown or the rough skin, mind you, otherwise you would really need an obstetrician and gynaecologist. I shall not go into further details here as I treasure my coconuts, a symbol of the reason for my maleness and virility. I don't know how true this claim is as I dare not try it.

Some Chinese even display two pineapples in their homes during CNY as they believe that everything should come in a pair:

Chris and Walter, no prizes for guessing where the second pineapple should fit into.


14 February 2007

Losing Someone Over Small Stuff (1)

The New Paper of 13 Feb 2007 had the following headline:

S'PORE MUM TAKES DAUGHTER TO COURT OVER SALE OF HOUSE. Wins case, but loses daughter. Dies of hypertension 3 days after getting court papers. Mum says...

Inside, a sprightly 80-year old mum (left) recalled with sadness, "I didn't want to fight, but I had no choice... I just wanted my money back. It's a matter of principle..." She was finally awarded an undisclosed amount but she had already lost her daughter and she regretted that she would never have the chance to reconcile with her. Although a house cannot be considered small stuff and the death of the daughter was probably not caused by the law suit but still, it is a sad and depressing story. And they say that blood is thicker than water. It is probably not thick enough in this case.

This incident reminds of an experience I had with someone called CL (no relation to other CLs). The property involved was this one:

Photo by Desmond Wee published in the Straits Times 3 Jan 2007

Another front view of the bungalow

It was a grand neo-Renaissance style bungalow located in the east coast at No. 23, Amber Road. It was designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell in 1912, the very same architect who designed the 'Grand Old Dame', the world-famous Raffles Hotel:

A new developer, AG Capital, bought the bungalow last year. The company said that "no corporate decision has been adopted" on future plans for the site. Early this year, there was a call to preserve this building by a group of about 20 people who called themselves Historic Architecture Rescue Plan.

Before land reclamation began, the bungalow stood at the seafront. It had an unusual crescent shape to let in as much seabreeze as possible.

Back view of the bungalow - note the crescent shape of the house

In the late 70s, I had meals in that bungalow. I also spent some time listening to music on the upper floor. In those days, CDs had not been invented yet. (MP3 music came much later in the late 90s.) Music was then recorded either on cassette tapes or black vinyl records:

Cassette tapes

Vinyl records

The former were played on tape decks with famous names like Nakamichi, Akai and Teac while the latter were played on turntables spinning at either 33 rpm (revolutions per minute) or 45 rpm. Sought after names in turntables then were Thorens, Audio-Technica and Denon. I was listening to the music of Abba, America, Cliff Richard, Eagles, 'Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young', George Benson and Chuck Mangione.

Do not be mistaken, I wasn't involved in a court battle with my family over the sale of the bungalow. We never owned it. It was my very good NS-mate CL who stayed in it before. I never asked if his family owned it but I think that they probably rented it.

CL and I were extremely close friends. (With all due respect to Chris Sim, I could safely say that I was closer to CL then than I am with Chris now.) His family knew me very well and conversely, mine knew him just as well. We spent most weekends together. Once, his family brought me out on a power boat trip up the Kim Kim River in Johore. We didn't bring along our passports because we didn't intend to land in Johore. Of course, it was still considered as trespassing but the Malaysian Customs was probably more lax then. Our state of relations with our neighbour then was also likely to be better than it is now. CL, his father and his younger brother could all ski very well. They took turns to ski behind the power boat and could execute slalom very gracefully, much to my admiration.

Quite often, we would watch a movie together in town. I remember catching shows like Car Wash, Grease, Every Which Way But Lose, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and some Chinese Kung Fu shows like 18 Bronze Men with him. We even stayed in a chalet together before. Sometimes we went for a swim in the sea at night.

At that time, I was staying in Haig Road - a short distance from Amber Road. With a new chopper bike that I bought, it took me only 10 minutes to cycle to his house:

He would then ride his own bicycle:

We invariably headed towards East Coast Park which was just behind his house:

More often than not, we ended up at Bedok Jetty:

As CL was considered overweight then, there were a few occasions when he jogged while I cycled. We went all the way from Big Splash to Bedok Jetty and back, a distance of at least 10 km. It was no problem for me to cover that distance on my chopper but CL would be perspiring profusely by the time he finished back at Big Splash. He would say that he must have lost at least 2 kg from the jog. "Probably all water", I would tease him as I always do. We often joked with each other and CL was a good joker. I thoroughly enjoyed the times I spent with him.

When I moved to Jalan Bukit Merah in the early 80s, our friendship continued but we seldom cycled together because of the distance between our residences. Not long after that, our friendship ended abruptly because of one minor incident. I was devastated. I was hurt not so much by the ending of our 5-year old friendship but by the manner it ended.

(To be continued.)

12 February 2007

Fun Guy With Funny E-mail Address To Match

Today, I received an email from Chun See:

"Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 18:24:33 +0800
From: Lam C S
Subject: Chris
To: Victor


What is Chris' email? Is he Chris Sim or Chris Soon? I have a Chris Soon in my address book.

Chun See"

My reply to Chun See is as follows:

"Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 22:45:39 +0800
From: Victor
Subject: Chris
To: C S Lam
cc: Chris

Hi Chun See,

'Chris Sim' is correct. Chris is aware of this error but believe it or not, an IT-savvy him does not know how to correct it. So you can say "it Sims like the mistake will not be corrected anytime Soon."

You are See, 'Sim' is Chris' surname while 'Soon' is his name. As to how someone can ever be confused between his own surname and his name, I think only Chris Sim is capable of that.



11 February 2007

New Words/Meanings I've Learnt (3)

A fellow blogger (name deleted to protect the innocent) sent me an email titled 'Sayings Of Wives'. It was interesting and humorous but at first, I didn't want to blog about it because such information is likely to be available somewhere on the web. However, after I forwarded the first email to another blogger (name deleted to avoid implicating anyone), I received what looked like a 'veiled threat' email titled 'Warning' from her. Its content was just a few cryptic Chinese characters. When translated into English, they roughly meant 'knowing got tiger in jungle and you still want to venture in'. I asked her to elaborate what she meant but as of last night, she didn't.

As I am by nature a fearless, playful and defiant monkey blogger, I purposely want to blog about the first email. I think that email must be the reason why the female blogger sent me that threatening email. The first email is about our (men's) take on wives and marriages.

As usual, for those of you who have read this before, please skip the first half of this post but don't miss the second half. I believe most of the second half is original and has never been published before. Under no circumstances should you complain or say that the jokes are 'so lame' because they are not my own.

Men, you are welcome to add yours here in the comments. However, please note that any defamatory remarks, racist comments and personal attacks will be blogged blocked by the blog owner (that's me lah) and the originator will be forever banned from commenting on this blog. However, risque and sexist remarks are perfectly fine. In fact, they are most welcome.

"When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her." (Sacha Guitry)

"After marriage, husband and wife become two sides of a coin; they just can't face each other, but still they stay together." (Hemant Joshi)

"By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher." (Socrates)

"Woman inspires us to great things, and prevents us from achieving them." (Dumas)

"The great question... which I have not been able to answer... is, 'What does a woman want?' " (Sigmund Freud)

"I had some words with my wife, and she had some paragraphs with me." (Anonymous)

"Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays." (Henry Youngman)

"I don't worry about terrorism. I was married for two years." (Sam Kinison)

"There's a way of transferring funds that is even faster than electronic banking. It's called marriage." (James Holt McGavran)

"I've had bad luck with both my wives. The first one left me and the second one didn't." (Patrick Murray)

"Two secrets to keep your marriage brimming 1. Whenever you're wrong, admit it, 2. Whenever you're right, shut up." (Nash)

"The most effective way to remember your wife's birthday is to forget it once..." (Anonymous)

"You know what I did before I married? Anything I wanted to." (Henny Youngman)

"My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met." (Rodney Dangerfield).

"A good wife always forgives her husband when she's wrong." (Milton Berle).

"Marriage is the only war where one sleeps with the enemy." (Anonymous)

"A man inserted an 'ad' in the classifieds: 'Wife wanted'. Next day he received a hundred letters. They all said the same thing: "You can have mine." (Anonymous)

"First Guy (proudly): 'My wife's an angel!'
Second Guy: 'You're lucky, mine's still alive.' "

Here are more similar wise sayings from my other blogo-friends:

"The most difficult part of a marriage is when you're in it." (Anonymous)

"In an argument, always let your wife have the last word. Because anything you say after that is the beginning of another argument." (From the husband with an argumentative wife.)

"Instructions for men: If a woman asks you, 'Am I fat?', under no circumstances should you answer because whatever reason you give will be a wrong one. Not answering by walking away or pretending not to hear the question are also wrong. No matter what you do, she will not talk to you for at least one week after asking that question." (Sources cannot be revealed to protect the 2 thin husbands who probably have rather 'heavy' wives.)

"There is never a dialogue with a wife. It's more like a multiple-choice Q&A session. She asks you a question, you need 10 words to give your reply but before you could utter 5 words, she shoots another question. Then you pause and answer the second question and before you could say 5 words, a third question pops up. The whole thing goes on for 5 minutes and before long, you find that her mood changes and she becomes aggressive and accuses you of not listening to her." (Source cannot be revealed to protect the poor hen-pecked husband from further verbal abuse.)

"She asks you whether you think she is heavy. (She either never admits she's fat or insists that it's the wrong word to use. If you dare correct her choice of word, you'll be terribly abused verbally.) If you choose to agree, you are in trouble. She heads for the latest "slimming and spa" joint where she ends up buying a package worth $5K. After $5K is spent (and you know that she still can't fit into those clothes - yesterday, it was size 5; today, it is more like size 8), she asks you whether you see any 'progress'." (From a husband speaking from bad experience.)

"She warns you not to eat too much ice cream. 'It's not good for your health', she says but she buys a tub from NTUC Fairprice because it's on 'special offer' for today. Then you open the fridge and you find out from your maid that it's your 'Missus' and child who helped themselves to the ice cream first. Now who puts on weight?" (From an underweight husband.)

"Wives are meant to be loved not understood because the 'good book' says, 'Husbands, love your wives.' It doesn't say we have to understand them." (From a god-fearing husband.)

I thank all my blogo-friends who 'contributed' the above wise sayings. I apologise for not seeking your permission before posting them in my blog. If my cheeky remarks touches a nerve, I seek your forgiveness. They are all uttered in jest. However, should any of you think that I should take them down, just let me know, okay?

10 February 2007

New Words/Meanings I've Learnt (2)

My wife brought home an email circulated in her office a few days ago. It gave humorous definitions of some everyday words. (For those of you who have read this before, please skip this post. Under no circumstances should you complain or say that the jokes are 'so lame' because they are not my own.)

Cigarette: A pinch of tobacco rolled in paper with fire at one end and a fool on the other.

Conference: The confusion of one man multiplied by the number present.

Conference Room: A place where everybody talks, nobody listens and everybody disagrees later on.

Committee: Individuals who can do nothing individually and sit to decide that nothing can be done together.

Office: A place where you can relax after your strenuous home life.

Yawn: The only time some people ever get to open their mouths.

Compromise: The art of dividing a cake in such a way that everybody believes he got the biggest piece.

Classic: A book which people praise but do not read.

Smile: A curve that can set a lot of things straight.

Etc.: A sign to make others believe that you know more than you actually do.

Experience: The name people give to their mistakes.

Opportunist: A person who starts taking a bath if he accidentally falls into a river.

Miser: A person who lives poor so that he can die rich.

Father: A banker provided by nature.

Criminal: A guy no different from the rest... except that he got caught.

Boss: Someone who is early when you are late and late when you are early.

Politician: One who shakes your hand before elections and your confidence after.

Doctor: A person who kills your ills by pills and kills you with his bills.
I've already put the 'smile' definition to good use in my complaint feedback to the bank.

I'd like to add my own to the list:

Banker: Someone who lends you an umbrella in fine weather but takes it away when it rains.
You are welcome to add yours here in the comments. However, please note that any defamatory remarks, racist comments and personal attacks will be blogged blocked by the blog owner (that's me lah) and the originator will be forever banned from commenting on this blog. Risque remarks are perfectly fine. In fact, they are most welcome.

08 February 2007

New Words/Meanings I've Learnt (1)

Some of you might have read this article in tomorrow.sg before. Just in case tomorrow becomes yesterday and the article is no longer accessible for some reason, I have extracted the interesting portion here:
"New Singapore Vocabulary

Singaporeans shall now onwards use these new terms in their daily conversation to forever remember how we are cheated and insulted, and yet not received any apology.

NKF: (verb) - to cheat, to report lower or higher figures with an intention to cheat, to report false figures.

Eg. Ah Beng NKFed his salary to impress that chio bu he was after without realizing that she NKFed her vital statistics by wearing wonder bra.

NKF: (noun) - an organization whose modus operandi are dubious.

Eg. Ah Lian left that company because she found that it is an NKF.

TT Durai: (verb) – to secretly take and take money from company, to secretly maximize entitlements or privileges.

Eg. Ah Seng regretted not TT Durai'ing as much as possible from his ex-company before he was sacked.

Davinder Singh: (verb) – to interrogate, to grill to the finest details.

Eg. Ah Huay scolded her daughter, “Do you need me to Davinder Singh you before you tell me the truth?”

peanut: (noun) – a unit of currency equivalent to S$600,000.

Eg. The jackpot for the Toto this Thursday is 2 peanuts (S$1.2m).

Eg. Ah Kow just bought an old 1-peanut terrace house at Sembawang.

mrsgct: (noun) – a lady with a foul mouth, a lady who speaks insensitively

Eg. Ah Ngeow walked away because he tak boleh tahan that mrsgct.

educated: (adjective) – able to appreciate the many uses of taps or simple items and think their unit cost of S$1000 is cheap.

Eg. Ah Goo was extremely glad to be so educated to spent only $1000 on his toilet bowl seat."

And it seems that the list is still growing. The word "Duraiesque" was used in the 5th Feb 07 edition of Today by a Mr Balji who spent 6 months in NKF's corporate communications department in 2004 - "I remember asking him (Durai) once: What is your hierarchy? His Duraiesque answer: What hierarchy?"

In last weekend's Today (3-4 Feb 07), we were told the meanings of "parturition" and "capstones". Lawyer representing the current NKF, K Shanmugam had asked former NKF chairman Richard Yong whether he knew the meanings of those terms which appeared in letters ostensibly written by the latter but were actually written by the former NKF chief T T Durai. Richard Yong was stumped and said that he had never come across them before. Shanmugam referred to one letter signed by Yong, which praised Matilda Chua for working hard into the night "without regard to your impending parturition" - and another which said she had "produced remarkable capstones for the NKF".

I looked up my "Longman Dictionary Of Contemporary English" but failed to find the words there. Hmm... maybe my dictionary is too contemporary? So I looked up the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary found the following entries:

Why can't Durai use simpler terms like "pregnancy" instead of "impending parturition" and "achievements" instead of "capstones"? Maybe it's because he's a lawyer by training and lawyers learn bombastic English. Ironically, his powerful English happened to contribute to his undoing in the NKF scandal.

However, I must say that those new words I learnt must surely be one of the few good things that came out of the NKF saga. Of course, another good thing that has just been announced is that the new NKF has won the civil suit against its former management. Now I just can't wait for the criminal proceedings to start.

06 February 2007

CB Has Opened Up, Cocky No More

Yesterday I received an email reply from CB about my earlier complaint feedback. I can't help but feel that the email looked rather like a standard reply. The bank probably only filled in the blanks with my surname and the date of my email:

"Dear Mr Koo,

Thank you for your email dated 03/02/07.

Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience you had experienced.

At CB, we place significant emphasis on the quality of our service and customer satisfaction. We truly appreciate your time in providing us your feedback and we will endeavour to continue to improve our level of service in order to serve our customers better.

We wish to thank you for taking the time to provide us with this valuable feedback. We have since forwarded it to the relevant parties to assist you directly with your queries.

Thank you and have a nice day.

Direct Banking"

At slightly past 7 pm tonight, my handphone rang. I glanced at the caller-ID display - it was an unfamiliar handphone number. I answered the call. It was JY. He had called to offer me his apologies. He said that after reading my blog, he realised that he was "too much" that day. He explained that he was not himself that day. So it must be his identical twin brother whom I spoke to that day.

I said that I hoped that he learnt something from this incident. Not everyone was a pushover. He said he surely did. I reminded him about Helen, the coffee lady and told him that I accepted his apologies and asked him to convey my acceptance to the bank.

Now that JY had apologised, I am willing to put this incident behind me and I hope that CB and JY could too, without any hard feelings. Please don't retaliate by raising my loan interest rate some more. I am really at your mercy. On the other hand, it would be good to show how genuinely apologetic you are by slashing the interest rate.

Actually, I would very much have preferred JY to offer his apologies by commenting on my blog. Then, I would look less like Mr Lee Dai Soh telling a one-sided grandfather story here. Yes, it would be nice if JY could do what bluemad did, when I complained provided feedback about my not-so-pleasant experience when shopping around for an LCD TV.

I know what Mr Lam Chun See is thinking - that I look more and more like a difficult customer who likes to complain rather than that the service standards in Singapore sucks, am I right? Sheesh.

04 February 2007

A Cheap And Good Restaurant

Singaporeans just love to queue. In particular, they like to queue before a store opens its doors. I am not talking about the first day of operation of a newly opened store like Ikea Tampines which saw people queueing overnight for the store to open the next day. I am talking about queueing before an established store opens its doors for the day. You see it at Hello Shops:

You see it when they give away free digital cameras:

You also see it at restaurants:

It was the long snaking queue outside this restaurant I saw 2 Saturdays ago which made me vow to try its food some day. When there is a queue at a restaurant, there can only be 2 reasons:

1. The food is good; and

2. The food is cheap.

In the case of Aston Specialties, it is both good and cheap. And since I didn't make a killing from the stock market recently unlike some people, I can only afford cheap food, never mind if it is good or not.

Today, my family arrived at the restaurant at 11.45 am. Its shutters were not opened yet and there were already 3 persons standing ahead of us in the queue. One was an elderly lady aged about 70 who said that she grew old while waiting she had been waiting there since 11.15 am. When the small restaurant finally opened its doors at 12.10 pm, the 10 tables or so within it were filled very quickly. Tea and coffee ($1.20 each) were served quite quickly:

I should mention that there is a 30-cent charge for a glass of 'sky juice' (plain water) but there is no service charge or GST levied at this restaurant. You get to choose 2 side dishes to go with your main course.

The grilled fish ($5.90) was served in 10 mins:

Grilled fish with onion rings and mashed potato

About another 10 mins later, the other 3 main courses were served:

Barbeque chicken with sausages, seasonal vegetables and baked potato

Black pepper chicken with sausages, seasonal vegetables and mashed potato

Black pepper sirloin steak with seasonal vegetables and baked potato

There are plenty of mushroom bits in the mushroom soup ($2.20). It's so tasty that I couldn't resist finishing half the soup before taking a picture:

The mushroom soup came with 2 small pieces of garlic bread

Overall, we found the restaurant's food very good and its prices very reasonable. The most expensive main course we ordered was my sirloin steak ($10.90).

So how about buying me lunch at this restaurant, Jayne? It is near your residence as it is located at 119 East Coast Rd. It is a cheap treat as lunch for our family of 4 only cost us a little over $44, about the price of a meal for one at Cafe De Amigo. I am sure that it won't make a noticeable dent in your share earnings. Maybe you should also invite Chris Sim as well. Don't let us grow old waiting for your treat.

02 February 2007

Singapore's Cockiest Bank Officer? (2)

I got a queue number for Priority Banking (PB) customers. A Relationship Manager (RM) in his 20s looked unengaged so I asked him if he could serve me or would I have to wait for my number to be called. He replied curtly and without smiling, "Ya, your number will appear on the display. We have other things to do." Okay fine, I waited. Meanwhile, I noticed that the normal queue was moving faster than the PB queue - What priority? What irony!

My number finally flashed on the display and I was to be served by the same officer. "S***, just my luck", I thought. He gave me a cold look as I sat down. No smile, no shaking of hands, no "Good morning, Sir", "Hello" or "May I help you" from him either. Didn't say who his father was. Didn't introduce himself or hand me a name card. As the silence was getting awkward, I had no choice but to start the conversation:

Me: I am here to find out if it is worthwhile to partially redeem my housing loan with my CPF money since it is paying me only 2.5% interest and your bank is charging me 4.55% for the loan.

RM (as if interrogating a suspect): What is your IC number?

Me: xxxx134B

He typed something on his PC and looked at the display for a few minutes, without saying a word. (A customer-oriented officer could say something like, "Please wait a moment while I retrieve your records. It won't take very long.")

I cocked my head to peer at the display. He realised what I was doing and immediately swivelled the PC a little away from me. I got the message and looked elsewhere. Such hostility was unjustified - wasn't I only looking at my own records?

What seemed like an eternity passed.

I finally broke the silence: Actually, if the bank didn't introduce the new way of calculating interest recently, I wouldn't have wanted to redeem the loan.

RM (looking bewildered): But the bank is losing money.

Me: How can the bank be losing money? So would the bank rather lose a customer?

RM (dropping the bombshell nonchalantly): I think so.

WTF! Frankly, I was stunned by that uncalled-for retort. Now I know why the bank's name has the letters 'CB' in it. At this time, my wife came and sat beside me. While the RM was away getting some forms, I told her what happened. My wife was furious. (Hell hath no wrath like a woman scorned poorly served.) The RM came back after a while.

Wife: Can we see your supervisor or manager?

RM (looking cocky): Today, I am the one the way and the truth.

Wife: Okay, then can you give us the necessary forms and the contact number as we would like to reconsider our options more carefully.

He wisely did as told to avoid incurring the wrath of a woman.

I don't know why I bothered to thank him but when I did, he just nodded. The much awaited "You're welcome", his last chance at a saving grace, never came. Before leaving, I took one of his name cards from his table. No, not to write him a letter of commendation, of course but to know the identity of what could be 'Singapore's cockiest bank officer'. Ah, so his initials were JY.

So JY, if you are reading this post, I have this to say - I think you are in the wrong line. You are doing a disservice to your bank.

Make no mistake, my banking experience with CB has been positive until recently when they started to squeeze so much money out of me. And lest any of you think that I am a difficult customer, well I am actually not. I have previously encountered a few RMs of the same bank who provided impeccable customer service. A few years ago, I even gave feedback via the bank's website, commending another RM in its Marine Parade Branch. By the way, her initials are YW and her customer service, attitude and looks are excellent. But most important of all, she knows how to smile. (JY, if this word sounds foreign to you, its definition in my dictionary is 'a curve that can set a lot of things straight'.) You will understand why I still prefer to go to YW whenever I have dealings with CB. It's just that I happened to be in Tampines that day. Damn it! And it turned out to be a wrong decision.

Still on the topic of customer service, today I had lunch at Maxwell Food Centre. It was not exactly a place where I expected to get a very contrasting customer experience. But I did.

I went to order a cup of tea from stall no. 01-90 (金成号饮品冰室). The middle-aged stall lady greeted me with a smile and a "Good afternoon". When I paid for the tea that she served personally to my table, she said gratefully, "Thank you very much." I was so impressed by her service that I spoke to her, commended her good service, shook her hand and even got her name (Helen) because she did not print name cards. When I told her that I wanted to blog about my good customer experience with her, she thanked me some more and asked me to bring my friends to her stall. So go on and try her, I mean her coffee and tea. Give her an impromptu test and let me know whether she treated you differently.

JY, looks like you could learn something from Helen, the coffee lady. She only sold me a cup of tea that cost a mere 60 cents and yet she took pride in providing good service. On the other hand, you know that my dealings with your bank run into several hundred thousand dollars and are worth several thousand dollars in annual earnings to your bank, part of which pays your salary. So did I really deserve the service that I got last Saturday?

I would like to consult my dear readers on what further action I should take, if any, besides blogging about this experience? If I lodge a complaint via the bank's website, JY could be in serious danger of losing his job or his next promotion (for I am quite sure that he's not the Bank President's son). I don't want that to happen because this may be his first job and he may really need it. Should I send a personal email to him highlighting this post so that he may improve? (I got his name card, remember?) Or should I wait till he or his colleagues find out about this post (and I am sure they will, in time). Please give me your views as I am still in a state of shock and cannot think properly. Oh, I nearly forgot, thank you very much for reading this post and giving your views. Hope to see you again and have a nice day.

01 February 2007

Singapore's Cockiest Bank Officer? (1)

I am still servicing my housing loan with an established foreign bank. Previously, this bank used to have a very attractive way of calculating my loan interest. It worked this way - I deposit my excess savings in a 'check-and-save' account. The monthly balance that I maintain in the account will be deducted from the loan principal before the monthly loan interest is calculated. For example, if I have a $300,000 housing loan and I have $240,000 savings in my account, I effectively pay loan interest only on $60,000, i.e. $300,000 - $240,000.

However, everything changed in October last year. The bank introduced a 'novel' (read profitable) way of calculating loan interest. With immediate effect, only 2/3 of my savings could be used to offset the loan principal for the purpose of calculating the loan interest. For the balance of 1/3 of the savings, the bank pays only a measly 1% interest which they claim 'is still higher than what most banks are paying'. Some consolation.

Many of the bank's customers, including yours truly, were caught unaware. Because of the recent property boom, some had signed up for a housing loan with the bank only a few months ago. Within that period, the interest rate, being a floating one, had been revised upwards a few times. As for me, I restructured my loan with the bank in early 2006. I had to pay more than $500 in administrative charges then. Immediately after the restructuring, I was enjoying a low loan interest rate of 1.6% p.a., but not for long. Now, only one year later, I am paying a hefty 4.55% p.a., almost a 3-fold increase.

To add insult to injury, the bank slapped us with the new way of calculating loan interest which was obviously aimed at squeezing even more money out of us. I have calculated - I am now effectively paying almost 6 times more interest compared to what I was paying early last year. Let's rework the sums using the same example above. With the new method of calculation, I can only offset 2/3 of my $240,000 savings or $180,000 from the loan principal of $300,000. This means that I have to pay interest on $120,000 instead of $60,000 previously, a two-fold increase. Coupled with the nearly 3-fold increase in interest rate, I am paying almost 6 times the original interest amount. This is simply ridiculous!

A few letters of complaint written by irate bank customers were published in the forum pages of our mainstream newspaper in October 2006. The bank replied, explaining that because of the rising interest rate environment, it had to raise interest rate for housing loans. It also refused to budge regarding its new way of calculating loan interest. It even tried to convince us that customers 'do not end up paying more interest than before'. What crap! Does the bank think that all of us failed our Primary School Maths?

Because of the above developments, I was at the Tampines Branch of the bank last Saturday to find out if would be worthwhile for me to redeem part of my loan using CPF funds. (CPF is paying me only 2.5% interest while the bank is charging me 4.55%. However, I have to pay 1.5% in penalty charges since my loan is still within the 2-year lock-in period.) As if to rub more salt into the wound, the 'Relationship Manager' who served me gave me extremely poor service despite the fact that I am a 'Priority Banking' customer.

(To be continued)