31 July 2007

This Old Man Still Got To Do Son's Homework

My elder son, who is in Sec 4, recently wrote an essay about "respecting difference and promoting understanding in relation to your own country". As for me, I had to write an "adult critic's assessment" of his essay. So instead of letting my homework go to waste, I am putting it on my blog, heh:

I have read my son's article and my comments are as follows:

I feel that he relied too much on only one source of information for his article, i.e. the Internet. There is a wealth of information in the print media, in particular books on Singapore's history. The two autobiographies by Mr Lee Kuan Yew could have been good resources for the article. He should also have cited the references he had used for the article, even if they are from the Internet - websites from which information have been culled for the article should have been listed.

Even as a mere statement of facts, the article had missed out the mention of significant local historical events that had caused disharmony and political upheaval, e.g. the Maria Hertogh racial riots, the Hock Lee Bus riots and the threat of communism.

Not having gone through the tumultuous years of our nation's history, it is perhaps understandable why his article lacks an angle from his personal experience. However, he could have written more about his personal observations and feelings in today's context. For example, do people in our very own HDB block live harmoniously together? Do we know our neighbours well? Do we even know their names at all? Are we friendly only with neighbours of our own race? Do we greet or smile at each other whenever we meet or do we avoid eye contact even when we are face-to-face in the common corridors and the lifts? Do we often participate in community events? What are the potential flash points, if any? What can be done to further improve understanding and tolerance so that we can continue to live in harmony together?

Do you have answers to the above questions? Or do you think that these are issues that are better left to "people paid well enough to do the job"? And I don't mean my son's teacher.

30 July 2007

I Learnt How To Use Macromedia Flash To Create Animation!

I am attending a 3-day Macromedia Flash course at Avantus Training in CPF Building. The course is sponsored by my office and it ends on 1 Aug 2007.

At the course, I learnt how to create interesting animation.

Follow the link below to see an example of what I created.

[If the link does not work, right-click on it, click "Copy Shortcut" and then paste the link (Ctrl-v) into the "Address" box of your browser. Then hit "Enter" on your keyboard and the link should work.]


28 July 2007

Some Unusual Sights At East Coast Park

I visit East Coast Park quite often, usually on rollerblades or on a bicycle. However, I seldom pass by the beach in front of the Seafood Centre.

Like most people, I usually take the path between the Seafood Centre and the car park, i.e. the part behind the above row of restaurants. The other day, I took the beach route and saw some unusual sights.

There was a sculpture called "By The Beach" which looked like pedestals on which a lion dance troupe could do acrobatics.

The chef's recommendation at The Ship Restaurant?

This one seems to be saying, "Warship me on a pedestal".

There was also what looked like an empty bathtub nearby.

However, when I looked at it again a while later, I couldn't believe my eyes - there was a girl bathing in public!

Hmm... could this be how our national symbol, the Merlion was born? (Incidentally, the term Merlion was coined from the words "mermaid" and "lion".)

You really don't know what you have been missing if you have never passed by this stretch of the beach.

21 July 2007

My First Book (2)

Wee Kiat had earlier given me a copy of each the following children's books which he co-authored:

Hence I had a fairly good idea of the writing style required for our book. However this book would be slightly different from the earlier books because it would be the first to have photos as illustrations besides stamps. I browsed through the photos which I took during my family's trip to Shanghai, Jiangnan, Wuxi and Suzhou in Nov 2004. A few of the photos were suitable for our book. I also knew what stamps were available for our story. With that knowledge, I proceeded to write the first draft of the book.

I wrote down whatever ideas that came into my mind and tried to weave them into a story. I even made a joke of some prominent person's name. (For obvious reason, I am not repeating the joke here.) Working at a leisurely pace, I put in a few hours a day for several days. At last, the first draft was finished. The first page of the draft is shown below.

As you can see, the original intended title of the book, "Of Men, Horses And A Lot Of Bull - A Moving Philatelic Ramble" is no less a tongue-twister than the current title is very different from the title which we finally adopted. Actually the whole book looks very different from the first draft. You cannot find any trace of the above page in the book, except the photo. (I have Wee Kiat to thank for making the book so different so vastly improved over my first draft.)

While writing the book, we realised that we needed some more photos. Armed with my camera and looking very much like an excited tourist, I visited a popular food centre to take a photo of the rickshaw noodles stall there.

I also took some photos of the sculptures near the Singapore River.

I snapped at interesting bicycles, tricycles and trishaws which came within the range of my camera lens.

However, the most interesting photo trips were made together with Wee Kiat. In January this year, we visited Little India during the Pongal Festival to capture images of a cow all decked out for the celebration.

On another occasion, we visited Kreta Ayer and the Jinriksha Station.

The three co-authors had several meetings, mostly on Saturday afternoons at Wee Kiat's condo in the east. At the meetings, we did alot of eating, drinking, chatting and serious discussion. Several emails were also exchanged. Each new draft looked better than the previous one. Some 9 drafts and 6 months later, our book was finally ready for printing and it was time to look for a sponsor and a printer. Noel and I practically left this task entirely to Wee Kiat as it involved quite a lot of running around and he needed the exercise. As we expected, Wee Kiat eventually managed find a sponsor and a printer for our book. And as they say, the rest is history.

And yes as I discovered, writing the book is a lot of work, but it is also a lot of fun.

More about the book:

The book uses stamps and photos to describe the early modes of transport in Singapore. It narrates how goods were transported in the olden days and tells the story of the rickshaw, the bullock cart, the horse-drawn carriage, the bicycle and the trishaw. Although the book is intended for young readers, adults can read it too. (However, adults can probably finish reading the book at "one toilet sitting".) The co-authors are not expecting the same level of public euphoria for the launch of our book as that experienced for Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows which was launched today. After all, only 2,000 copies of our book were printed. If you would like to grab a copy, the book is available at the Singapore Philatelic Museum (SPM) at Coleman Street. As we have left the pricing of the book to the SPM, we apologise that as of now, we do not know how much the book cost.

Update on 23 Jul 2007:

Shilpa has demanded requested that I show her the rickshaw noodle instead of just the stall that sells it (see 3rd comment to this post). The challenge is taken. Here is a photo of the rickshaw noodle from that stall:

And the ingredients that go into the dish? Those that I know of are bo cai (波菜) or spinach, dried shrimps, shallots, corn flour and of course, yellow noodles. Now I am throwing her a counter-challenge - create the dish and let me taste its authenticity. :)

14 July 2007

My First Book

My first book was an ABC book of English with phrases like "A is for Apple"; "B is for Boy"; and "C is for Cat".

But here I am not talking about the first book I read. Some of you may know that I have been writing a children's book. Its title is quite a mouthful - "Horse-powered & Man-powered Transport: a philatelic excursion." (More about the contents of the book in a later post.) It is my maiden book and it has just been published. I am now officially an author. Yeah!

Actually, I really should not be claiming all the credit because the book has 2 other very distinguished co-authors - Dr Tan Wee Kiat and Noel. Dr Tan (not to be mistaken with his namesake who is the CEO of National Parks Board) is a stamp enthusiast, a veteran author and a retired NIE lecturer, all rolled into one. Of course, he is a very good husband, father, grandfather and babysitter to his grandchildren as well. He has written several children's books based on stamps. As for Noel, I think I better let him introduce himself since I do not know enough of him to do him justice.

I have never imagined in my life that I would write a book, least of all when I am over 50 years' old. So how did it all start and what motivated me to do it?

It started on 25 Nov 2006, the day when Chun See gave a talk on blogging for seniors. When the talk ended, Wee Kiat, who also attended the talk, approached me and broached the subject of co-authoring a children's book with him. Frankly, I felt both honoured as well as apprehensive at the same time.

I asked Wee Kiat, "I feel very honoured but I have never written a book before. Do you think that I am up to the mark?"

The grandfatherly Wee Kiat was very reassuring, "I've read your blog before and you write quite well. Moreover, I heard you mentioning that you wanted to blog about the trolley bus of yesteryear. So why not write a book instead? I can search for all the relevant stamps to be used as illustrations. I would like my books to have a new perspective. A blogger's perspective would be nice. Then the books will not always have my same old style and angle which can become kind of stale after a while. Besides stamps, we can include photos as illustrations as well."

Wee Kiat further explained that when writing a children's book, we should keep our language simple. We should also include lots of colourful illustrations to keep the book interesting. Children have short attention spans and if the first few pages of the book cannot hold their attention, they would not read on.

Writing a children's book is just like writing a blog post. Some of Wee Kiat's previous books have only about 20 odd pages with each page containing only 2 or 3 sentences. A few of my longer blog posts could possibly have more words than some of his books.

Yet, I was still not very sure so I asked, "Is it a lot of work?"

Wee Kiat replied, "Sure it is a lot of work. But then, it is also a lot of fun."

Wee Kiat's motive in writing children's books is to share knowledge and not to make money. In fact, he told me that he had to "come out money from his own pocket" for most of his previous books. Not because there were no sponsors for his books, but it was mainly because he gave a lot of complimentary copies to his friends, relatives, ex-colleagues, libraries and other organisations. Shucks, and I thought I could become rich and famous. Now, I can only hope to be famous.

Wee Kiat taught education psychology when he was in NIE. No wonder he is so good at convincing people. He finally talked me into living up to the title of my blog, i.e. Taking Up The Challenge. So it was not so much "what" motivated me to write the book but rather, "who" - Wee Kiat, of course. I cautioned him that I have a lot to learn and he would need to be very patient with me.

(As the famous Cantonese storyteller, the late Lei Dai Soh would say, "So what happened then? Tune in at the same time, on the same day, on the same station blogsite." Heh.)

13 July 2007

Don't Give Up Hope

Frannxis has a nice Cantonese opera video but every few minutes, the producer's big logo floats across the screen and sometimes momentarily blocks out the performer's face. Frannxis finds this annoying as it spoils the video. He asks if there is a way to remove the logo. (See his blogpost here.)

Frannxis' question reminds me of a joke which my primary school teacher told the whole class some 4 decades ago:

Two friends were having a casual conversation:

A - I watched this romantic movie in the cinema several times, you know?

B - Oh really? Why? Was the movie really that good or are you being overly sentimental?

A - Neither. You see there was a scene which showed a young couple standing on a train platform. The woman was bidding a tearful farewell to her lover who was going away for a long time. Just as they embraced each other and were about to engage in a passionate kiss, a train moved into the station and blocked the whole view for a while. After the train passed, the action was over. But I am not giving up hope. One day the train will be late.

So Frannxis, don't give up hope.

12 July 2007

The History Of Singapore

I have passed by The Esplanade many times but last Sunday was the first time that I attended a matinee in its theatre. The play was called "The History Of Singapore".

If you are hoping to learn serious history about Singapore from the play, then you would be sorely disappointed. You see, it is a satirical cabaret comedy. What do you expect from The Dim Sum Dollies? The trio is made up of Emma Yong, Selena Tan and Pam Oei, all of whom are very accomplished actresses in their own right.

The tickets were almost completely sold out when I got mine about one hour before showtime at 3 pm. I paid $38 (cheapest "Cat 9" ticket) plus $2 booking fee per ticket. Multipled by 4 persons, the total damage came up to $160, certainly no small beer by all standards. We had to sit separately in Circle 2. I sat alone while my wife and the boys had slightly better seats. I had a hard time looking for my seat because the seat number was printed on the front side of the seat back - if someone is sitting in the seat, you can't see the seat number. So silly, shouldn't the number be printed at the back of the seat instead?

I realised why the tickets were so cheap and yet they remained available in the last hour. If you paid only about one-third of the price of a best seat, expect to see only two-third of the stage. I would call this "the law of inverse proportionality" but the theatre simply called this "restricted view".

Luckily, the show did not disappoint and there were many rib-tickling scenes and punchlines. The guest star was the very funny Hossan Leong. I believe that he was the reason why the show was a sellout.

Hossan did a mean impersonation of an Indian walking a cardboard cut-out of a cow. His Indian accent sounded genuine and native. In another scene, he was dressed in a red cheongsam as a very sexy Miss Singapore who got kicked out from a Malaysian pageant (an obvious reference to Singapore's ouster from Malaysia in 1965). It may be an illusion but Hossan's very slim profile made him looked even more curvaceous than Emma Yong when he was dressed in a pinafore as a rebellious convent girl. Hossan even made satires out of our PM and his wife. Even the very respectable MM was not spared. A catchy tongue-in-cheek jingle was "respectful-Lee" made just for him.

There were some vulgar Cantonese language when a colonial mistress uttered the word "tuna" to her Cantonese amah who didn't understand a word of English. The Amah misunderstood the word as a vulgar Cantonese phrase, of course, just as she might similarly misconstrue the phrase "Deal Or No Deal". Well, I guess little harm was done because my two sons didn't seem to catch the joke.

Go watch the comedy. Although the ticket prices are not exactly cheap, considering the amount of laughter that you are getting, the play is well worth your money. The show runs till 15 July 2007 (Sunday).

07 July 2007

The Heat Is On

No, I am not talking about the date today (07/07/07) being a hot date for couples to get married as reported by the Straits Times and the New Paper.

My NS friend used to say that while temperate countries have 4 seasons, Singapore has only 2. If you think that they are dry and rainy, that's not what he said. He said, "Singapore's 2 seasons are hot and hotter". Although this friend often babbled nonsense, this was one of the rare occasions when he spoke a lot of sense. This time of the year must be the hotter season he was talking about.

With temperatures forecast to hit 33-34 deg Celsius (C) on a few hot days within these two weeks, the heat is on.

Coupled with high relative humidity of more than 90 percent, tonight felt hot as hell (pardon the pun). It was so bloody hot that a butterfly chose to rest inside my fan for some cool relief!

I just read news about western US states currently sweltering under a record heatwave. I immediately thought of Tigerfish who, according to information on her blogsite, is either in Singapore or California. I thought I saw a phrase "Now In Singapore" somewhere on her blog's side panel today. Looks like whether she is in Singapore or California, there is no escape from sweltering heat.

ABC News even reported that temperatures in part of the West were climbing so high that authorities warned residents of southern Nevada, southeastern California and northwestern Arizona that outdoor activities could be dangerous except during the cooler early morning hours. Phoenix reached 115 deg Fahrenheit (F); Baker, California, reached 125 deg F (52 deg C).

There was even the tragic news of 1-year-old boy being found dead on Wednesday evening in a locked car in temperatures approaching 100 deg F (38 deg C) in Orofino, Idaho. He was locked in the car for about 5 hours when passers-by noticed him. The boy's stepgrandmother was charged for his death.


In her comment to this post, Etel asked whether the insect in the above photo was a butterfly or a moth. According to her, the former rests with its wings spread open (like in the photo) while the later rests with its wings closed together. I am no naturalist but you know what... Etel may just be right. You see, an earlier photo I took of the insect was indeed with its wings closed:

Besides, I understand that butterflies are more colourful than moths. I think this insect is colourful enough to qualify as a butterfly, doesn't it? I would appreciate any comments from my naturalist friends like Otterman and Cool Insider.

Does anyone know how I managed to get the insect to open its wings for the top photo then?

06 July 2007

Tenor Singing A Different Tune

With reference to my last post about the use of the words "tenor" and "tenure" in an MAS/ABS pamphlet about home loans, I have received the following reply from MAS:

Dear Mr Koo

I refer to your email of 4 July 2007 to Stomp copied to MAS. We would like to clarify that we did not receive your earlier email.

2 We appreciate your interest in the ABS-MoneySENSE home loan guide. We used the term "loan tenor" in the guide as it is the more widely accepted term in the financial industry to describe the duration of a loan and other debt obligation. For instance, three financial dictionaries make reference to the term "tenor" instead of "tenure". The definition of "tenor" from the Barron's Dictionary of Banking Terms (third edition) is appended for your reference.


(a) shorthand reference for maturity on a note or financial instrument.

(b) designates a time when a draft is payable: on sight (when presented), a given number of days after presentment, or a given number of days after the date of the draft.

(c) terms set for payment of a draft, i.e. when delivered (a sight draft) or at a future date (a time draft).

Tenure: This word is not found in the Barron's Dictionary of Banking Terms (third edition)."

3 We hope this has clarified your concerns. Thank you for your feedback.

Yours sincerely,

[Name removed to protect the innocent.]

Consumer Issues Division, MAS

[Telephone number removed to prevent MAD people from calling.]

So there you have it - the final verdict is that I was wrong and MAS was right after all. I apologise unreservedly to MAS for my ignorance and for making a joke out of the use of the word "tenor" in the pamphlet. I am very grateful to MAS for pointing out my mistake. I am so sorry for the error.

But hey, wait a minute... I googled "loan tenor" and found 809 hits on the web. However, when I googled "loan tenure", I found 18,200 hits instead, almost 22.5 times that of the former! Alright, "loan tenor" may be the "more widely accepted term in the financial industry" but it certainly doesn't appear to be so in the IT industry. Maybe those 18,200 webpages are written by lay persons and not by people in the banking industry.

Oh well, the professionals always have their own views of things. They also like to go by the book or shall I say "3 books" in this case, i.e. 3 financial dictionaries. (Ah, so that's how they got their 3 "tenors", haha.)

And they couldn't find the word "tenure" in the Barron's Dictionary Of Banking Terms? Hmm... maybe they should just junk it and look in the web instead?

03 July 2007

The Loan That Makes You Moan And Groan

I always thought that banks are only interested in the 3M's, i.e. "Madly Making Money". I never knew that banks are actually also quite cultured because they are also passionate about another "M" word called "Music".

You see, on 15 June 2007, MoneySENSE and the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) jointly launched the guide “About Home Loans – Key Questions to Ask the Bank Before Taking a Home Loan” to educate home buyers on the various types of home loans available in the market and to prompt them to ask the bank the relevant questions before committing to a home loan.

When I read the on-line guide, I was surprised to see the word "tenor" being used not once or twice but a grand total of 34 times in phrases such as

"loan tenor"

"fixed tenor"

"entire tenor"

"remaining tenor"

"tenors" (3 of them - Luciano Pavarotti/Placido Domingo/Jose Carreras?)

"shorter tenor" (Jose Carreras?)

"longer tenor" (Tough fight between Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo?)

The 34 "tenors" are also mentioned in the PDF version of the guide

I quickly checked my on-line dictionary for the meanings of the words "tenor" and "tenure":

I don't think that the two words can be used interchangeably like the American/English spellings for "flavor/flavour" or "honor/honour". The key question that I would like to ask the bank is, "How can they make a mistake like that?" While they are at it, maybe they can consider changing "base interest rate" to "bass interest rate" and "bank" to "band" as well?

Oh yes, I visited no less than 5 different banks in the past few days and all of them could not give me a hardcopy of the said pamphlet. Isn't it supposed to be freely available? Now is that yet another mistake? Or have all the pamphlets been recalled for correction of the glaring mistake?

This is certainly a loan that makes you moan and groan. And it's not only because of the high interest rate that it is charging.

01 July 2007

Ways Of Making A Living (1)

Yesterday late afternoon, I saw a woman in the vicinity of Geylang. (It's NOT what you're thinking. Take your mind out of the gutter, will you?)

The woman I saw was about 80-year-old. She was rummaging through the rubbish bin behind her in Lorong 37 Geylang. She was taking out the neatly tied-up trash bags from the bin. She laid them on the floor and then untied them one by one. It seemed like she was looking for something. (Hmm... could she have lost one of her contact lenses? Nah, silly me, it can't possibly be that, can it?)

At first, I thought that she was looking for some old but still useful stuff that she could re-sell at Sungei Road for some money. Oh man, how wrong I was!

I took a glance at the shop which generated the rubbish. It was a coffeeshop that sold Teochew porridge. At that moment, a coffeeshop worker came out and deposited yet another trash bag into the bin. Then horror struck me! I realised that the old lady was probably looking for some food to satisfy her hunger, the most basic human need. (You certainly don't need renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow to tell you that, do you?)

To the old lady, any discarded food would do. However, I figure that Maslow would probably have listed her hierarchy of needs preference as follows:

(1) Surplus food which could not be sold;

(2) Leftovers of customers who ordered too much food; and

(3) Food that has gone bad (and unfit for human consumption).

I could not bear to see what the old lady's "choice" of dinner was. (I am aware that my use of the word "choice" here is insensitive and maybe even cruel because the old lady really had no choice at all in such dire circumstances.) It was indeed a very sad and depressing sight. I quickly took the above photo and hurriedly continued with my life. I was rushing home to pick up my wife and then together, go and pick up my younger son who was attending badminton lesson at Tao Nan School. In my haste, I have forgotten to give the woman a little money to buy a decent meal. Damn, I should have done that! Now my conscience is pricking me.

I wonder if this old lady got any social assistance from the authorities. If not, why not? Maybe the authorities didn't know she existed? Now that I have a photo of how she looks like and where she hangs around, hopefully the authorities could locate her more easily and render her some assistance. One more thing - did the old lady know that she could have claimed the GST Offset Package? Damn, I should have asked her myself!

So no matter what the official statistics say, there are still people in Singapore who live way below the poverty line - people who fall between the cracks. I believe that most of these people are old and unemployed. Unlike the old lady, some of them may even be too sick to go out to rummage through rubbish bins. Hence, the old lady may still be luckier than some other people.

Finally, I hope that no one will waste food after reading this article. It is also a timely reminder for us to spend our money wisely and save early for our retirement.