24 June 2007

It Feels Good To Be Given A Second Chance

It always freaks me out when I receive a letter with the words "ON GOVERNMENT SERVICE" on the envelope:

From my past experience, receiving such letters always meant that I would soon lose something, be it money or time. You see, some typical examples of senders of such letters are as follows:

1. Inland Revenue Authority Of Singapore, demanding that I pay my income tax;

2. Ministry Of Defence, calling me up for National Service;

3. Other ministries/government departments, telling me that I have violated some rules and how I would be punished.

My heart skipped a beat when I turned over the envelope and saw who the sender was:

Now who wouldn't be afraid of receiving a love letter from the Investigation & Violation Reports Branch of the Traffic Police? In the past, all my replies to such love letters consisted of a signed cheque which would "compound" the offence. Don't ask me why but "compound" in this case does not mean "to make a difficult situation even worse by adding more problems". Instead, the meaning here is quite the opposite.

I tore open the envelope with trembling hands. What a surprise! Within the envelope was not exactly a love letter but a letter that I loved to read:

The Traffic Police must have realised how easy it is for someone to exceed the normal speed limit of 60 kmh by 1-20 kmh. I am not giving excuses but some modern cars would not even reach their top gears at 60 kmh. With the driver concentrating on driving, looking out for road hazards and so on, it is so easy to exceed the speed limit. In addition, cars are nowadays mostly air-conditioned and quite stable at high speeds, hence drivers sometimes breach the speed limit without even realising it.

I must say that it feels so good to be given a warning instead of an "offer to compound the offence" (which is really an euphemism for a fine). The Traffic Police is certainly moving in the right direction, emphasising more on education rather than punishment and using more of the carrot approach rather than the stick.

In fact, the current Road Courtesy Campaign even rewards courteous road users with a FREE $20 Cashcard and a box of New Moon Chicken Essence.

I am hoping that the next letter I receive from the Traffic Police will be one asking me to collect a cashcard and a box of chicken essence. Okay, okay, with the $130 I saved this time, I could buy myself a $20 cashcard and a box of chicken essence with enough money left over to buy a couple of beers to celebrate the occasion. Of course, I will not be driving immediately after I downed the beers. Cheers!

20 June 2007

The Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer is set to be completed by March 2008. Since it is called a Flyer, it follows that a ride on it is called a "flight". Passengers on the giant observation wheel will be able to enjoy a breathtaking view of Singapore's city; from Changi Airport to Sentosa Island, and beyond into parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. The cheapest flight for an adult is $29.50. Here are some vital statistics of the Flyer:

Diameter of the wheel:
150 metres

165 metres (the height
of a 42-storey building)

Duration of ride:
37 minutes

The Flyer will be better in many ways than the existing London Eye on the bank of River Thames. The Eye was built at the turn of the century and stands at 135 metres. It is currently the tallest observation wheel in the world (but not for much longer.) The cheapest ride on it costs 14.5 pounds and lasts 30 minutes.

Here are some photos related to the Flyer that I have taken recently:

The Flyer under construction, with only half its circumference completed.

A "rainbow" forming in the sky. Is there a pot of gold at the end of it? Only time will tell.

A different view from Marina South of the half-completed Flyer (minus its glass capsules).

Doesn't the Flyer look like a bicycle wheel rim? Maybe it should've been called the Unicycle, haha.

To illustrate, take this bicycle and retrofit it with "Flyer" wheels:

Looks better, doesn't it?

I can't wait to take a ride on it when it is completed (the Flyer, not the bicycle that is).

Firehorse, next time you visit Singapore, I bring you for a ride on the Flyer but you pay, alright?

14 June 2007

Don't Grieve Forever

I read with great sadness an article in today's New Paper titled "Did slain boy's mum die of broken heart?"

More than 4 years ago, Mdm Lee's son, Wong Dao Jing died after being attack by a group of men in Lucky Chinatown Shopping Centre. Mdm Lee offered a $10,000 reward for information on the assailants but they remained at large so far.

Last February, in an interview with the New Paper, she said that it was painful to see mothers spending time with their sons. She added: "Knowing that I can no longer do the same thing with my son really breaks my heart."

She also recalled the time he died: "I was in such shock I couldn't even cry. Even when I saw his body, I couldn't believe he had died."

Mdm Lee, 45, who was divorced, was known to have taken to drinking to drown her sorrows. Last Wednesday, her decomposed body was found in her flat. At her bedside was a bottle of red wine and some pills.

I feel so sorry for Mdm Lee and I cannot imagine the extreme pain that she went through. It must have been very difficult for her. Perhaps the following article from Dr James Dobson which coincidentally was published in the same day's edition of Today newspaper can offer some advice:

Don't Grieve Forever

William Shakespeare wrote: "Grief fills the room of my absent child, lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words."

Let me tell you about my mother. My parents walked a rocky road during the early days of their marriage. But their relationship was soon cemented tight. And from that time until the day my mother died, she loved that man. It is impossible to describe how much she loved him. It was the kind of love for a husband that most men could only dream about.

A couple of years after my father died, my mother went into the hospital. She was experiencing some symptoms. So, they ran a barriage of tests, and finally two physicians sat down with her.

They said: "Mrs Dobson, your problem is not a physical ailment. It is grief that is killing you, and you must find a way to release it." But she never did. She couldn't do it. She simply loved my father too deeply.

Grief for a lost family member is good and necessary. But it's a process that must be worked through, in order to get to the greener pastures beyond. It would be well to remember the words: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."

09 June 2007

The Ice Ball Man (2)

I have previously blogged about the ice ball man before, both in my own blog here and in yesterday.sg, here.

I recently bought some old Singapore postcards from Sungei Road and there was one with a very good snapshot of a real ice ball man:

Behind the undated postcard, the words "久式冰水摊" (meaning "old-style drink stall"), "VANISHING HAWKER" and some Japanese words (which I couldn't understand) were printed. The company name LIAN HONG STATIONERY (PTE) LTD was printed as well. (This company is still around today but has since shifted to a new location.) The company address printed on the postcard was "15 Seah St Singapore 0718". Thus the postcard must have been printed some time between 1979 and 1995 because that was the period when Singapore had a 4-digit postal district system.

Notice the big container in front which looks like a modern-day fish tank with no fish but with some sand at its bottom. The transparent red liquid within the container is the drink that I talked about in the earlier article. It is called air selasih in Malay and the 'sand' below looks like frog eggs but they are actually basil seeds. They have a slippery mucous coating after they have been soaked in water for some time. When you bite the seeds, they crunch delightfully.

If you look carefully, you could see the man's right hand resting on something black which I believe is a first generation ice shaver. You might even make out an ice block with a cloth on top of it lying on the ice shaver.

So this man was an "ice ball cum drink seller", no doubt about that.

Below are some of my personal observations about the postcard. (Could you come up with some of your own?) -

a. Some of the bottled drinks were Yeo Hiap Seng's chrysanthemum and soya bean; Magnolia's orange; Green Spot (an orange non-carbonated drink); F&N's orange and ice-cream soda; and Pepsi Cola.

b. The stall was mainly made of wood - even the cart wheels;

c. The hawker was an Indian man. Almost all ice ball men then were Indian; and

d. Behind the hawker, along the "five-foot way" was a mama stall. (This is a stall usually manned by one or two Indians selling toys, tidbits, sweets, cigarettes, batteries and other small items. The mama stall still exists in Singapore today and it certainly deserves a separate blog post on its own.)

Recently, I saw some bottled soft drinks still being sold at a modern-day pasar malam (Malay for "night market"). I could tell that the words on some of the bottles were Thai. Hence the drinks should rightfully be called "Thai water" instead of "Holland water", a name by which most Cantonese people called them at that time. (Chun See mentioned about the name "Holland water" in this post.)

The ice ball man from whom I bought my ice balls in the 1960s was located at the junction of Albert Street and Queen Street. (The location of the stall is indicated by the red box in the photo below. The exact location should be just behind the lorry with the green canvas in the photo, near the lamp post.

At that time, Albert Street was a bustling pasar malam at night. Every night you could find street peddlars selling all sorts of wares - toys, cassette tapes (no CDs then yet), snacks, clothes, sundry goods, etc. Most of the stalls were lighted by kerosene lamps. Many people thronged the night bazaar after dinner because they did not have a lot of night entertainment then. That was probably the main reason why we had a post war baby boom too, haha.

02 June 2007

Up Yours?

Table in Today 25 Apr 2007 on what to expect for the impending GST increase

Singapore's Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be raised from 5% to 7% on 1st July 2007. From the same day, the Government will hand out a GST Offset Package which is a "set of comprehensive measures to help Singaporeans with the increase in GST, with more for lower-income Singaporeans". For my wife and I, we both get $200 help each. (Thanks for the implied compliment from the Government that we are not that poor but the reality is we are not very rich either.)

Theoretically, a $200 handout means that we can afford to spend more than $10,000 each after 1st July 2007 before wiping out the Government handout ($200 is 2% of $10,000). Now $10,000 sure sounds like a lot of money. However in practice, we would have used up the handout much sooner. Let me explain why.

A few months ago, Ya Kun Kaya Toast increased the prices of its drinks and toasts by at least 10 cents all round - about 10% increase.

A Sausage Egg McMuffin from McDonald's is now $3.50 instead of $3.10 before - about 13% increase.

My favourite popiah sold at a stall in a coffeeshop in my neighbourhood now costs $1.20 instead of the usual $1.00 - a 20% increase.

I don't earn very much, you know?

Perhaps most outrageous of all is that a can of Milkmaid condensed milk now costs $1.60 instead of $1.10 - a whopping 45% increase!

Granted, costs of labour, materials and overheads might have gone up but why must prices always be adjusted by at least 10% or more everytime? What I find hard to accept is the Milkmaid supplier's claim that the milk now "has more calcium in it", implying that the price increase is justified. Gee, I don't need more calcium, just give me back my old milk and charge me the same price for it.

I have yet to see a price increase that is limited to just 2%. The above are just 4 random examples which I quoted. There are probably dozens of other products which have their prices increased recently as well. Mind you, the above increases were effected even before the new GST rate kicked in. At this rate, you bet even bitter medicine is going to cost more. So it is better that you take it only once instead of twice (even though that might have been your preference in the first place).

Sorry, I don't mean to be rude but if you are a businessman and are putting up new prices for your products because of the impending GST increase, have you upped yours yet?