26 December 2008

Our New Attraction

Come experience the Flyer
Relive peeing into a diaper
Or what the hag
Just use a plastic bag

Oh my goodness
What if it's big business?
Why haven't we thought of that?
Er, can drop them into your hat?

Wonder why it's called a "flight"?
'Cos last 7 hours it might
You could have flown to Hong Kong and back
But with us, you just stay put and relak

You may be chosen for an extended stay
If you are, take time to admire the bay
Yes it may seem a little boring for some
But the most exciting part is yet to come

Be treated to a rare acrobatic display
Climbers on the spokes coming your way
While watching entertainment you deserve
Refreshments from the sky we serve

You could have missed it in the army
No, it is not in the itinerary
Something that's called "abseiling"
We assure you it's very exciting

The climbers do not just entertain
In abseiling they did train
Oh so you do have acrophobia?
Just close your eyes and you'll not fear

Eh, why are you complaining?
For only a 35-minute ride you are paying
You get a 7-hour adventure
Anyone would've been thrilled for sure

20 December 2008

Does This Rock Look Familiar?

This quiz should be an easy one for YG. At different times, he came across to me as an entomologist (insect expert), an ornithologist (bird expert) or a botanist (plant expert). I believe YG's former profession as a teacher has something to do with his wide knowledge of diversified topics, except perhaps only in investment. :p Obviously, YG made a very good teacher.

So far, YG has never shown himself to be a petrologist. That is a rock expert, not of the music kind, according to this Wikipedia link. (Hmm... I wonder what do they call someone who studies petrol?) However, as YG seems to have been all over our little island of late, he must have seen this rock before. So YG, what's your answer?

As for me, I am no rock expert myself. I only know how to talk rocks. :p

Answer To Quiz - Updated on 26 Dec 2008

YG, Chun See and Icemoon obviously knew the answer to the quiz right away but they didn't want to spoil the game for the rest. Yes, the answer is Bukit Timah Summit.

graphic myspace at Gickr.com

The inscription says:
Bukit Timah Summit
Ht. 163.63m
Lat. N 1 deg 21' 16.85"
Long. E 103 deg 46' 34.95"
The climb to the summit is about half an hour to one hour, depending on how fast you climb. If you do it slowly, the walk can be quite romantic.

A tree trunk with a heart-shaped cross section. Ain't it lovely?

Take your time to see nature at its best. You can admire the long-tailed macaques but don't feed them. Your act may hurt your pocket more than their hunger may hurt them. ;) But more importantly, feeding the macaques will alter their feeding habits and make them associate human beings with food. They become reliant on us for food and may even turn aggressive if they don't get what they want. In fact, I witnessed a macaque snatching a plastic bag containing a water bottle from an unwary woman. It was quite scary.

The last part of the climb is a flight of stairs. This is a shortcut. If you take the road, the climb is less steep but it is further, naturally (pun intended).

After an arduous climb (for people of my age), I finally reached the summit.

If you are lucky, you might even see some unusual sights. On the day I was there, Mediacorp was filming on location.

The man in pink shirt was Director Michael Woo.

Come on. If Michael Woo I can make it to the summit, surely you can too. Make an attempt, if you haven't. I'm sure you will not regret it.

The Bukit Timah Summit

At the Bukit Timah Summit, there is a sign that reads:
"You have reached the top of Singapore's highest natural point at 163.8 metres. The first men to reach the summit was Singapore's Resident Councillor John Prince and his contractors in June 1827.

It took them five hours to cover a distance of 22.5 kilometres of plantations, hills and swamps from the south. A white flag was hoisted up the tallest tree, which could be seen from as far as Fort Canning Hill. The access road to the summit was built in 1843.

Believe it or not! Once upon a time .... where the tigers roamed. 'Bukit Timah was known to be horrid tiger-infested, forested blob to the early Colonials where tiger roars can be heard at twilight.' - A View From The Summit"
Battle For Bukit Timah

The inscription on the plaque near the Visitor Centre reads as follows:
"Bukit Timah, which dominates the arterial Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads leading to the city, was a strategically important point for both the Allied troops and the Japanese.

On the night of 10th February 1942, the Japanese troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions, supported by armour, attacked troops of the 12th and 15th Indian Brigades, the 22nd Australian Brigade, The Special Reserve Battalion, Tomforce, Merrett's Force, the Argylls, Jind State Infantry and 'X' Battalion. The Allied forces had re-grouped to defend the critical junctions at Choa Chu Kang, Jurong and Clementi Roads leading to Bukit Timah Road.

By dawn of 11th February 1942, the Japanese troops reported to their commander Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita that they had seized Bukit Timah. The road to the city was open."

15 December 2008

A Crooked Product Or A Crooked System?

Recently, many people who bought structured products burnt their fingers when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the global financial markets trended downwards. Investors of Lehman Brothers Minibonds, DBS High Notes, Morgan Stanley Pinnacle Notes and Merrill Lynch Jubilee Notes were among those affected.

There was an article about the debacle in the Sunday Times of 7 Dec 2008 titled "Structured Products, Anyone?". It appears that many people have lost confidence in such products, if not in the banks that marketed them. I for one have lost all trust and confidence in my banks and relationship managers (RM) to invest my money for me. DBS recently retrenched 450 employees in Singapore but it claimed that the retrenchment had nothing to do with the High Notes debacle. I personally don't believe that claim. A relationship between and a bank and its customers is based very much on trust. If you lose that, you have lost everything, not just people's money. And it is going to take a long, long time to build up that trust again.

It turned out that banks in Singapore started marketing such high-risk products to retail investors (aka ordinary folks like me) from as early as 1999. How they managed to do so for so long is a wonder. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

Many other questions remained unanswered:

1. How many similar products were sold?

2. What is the total sum of money involved?

3. How many people have bought such products?

4. How many of these products are still in-force, i.e. have yet to reach maturity date?

5. What are the current values of these products?

I am a risk-averse investor myself. When you are barely 2 years away from collecting your CPF money, you should not be taking high risks. Moreover, I have been burnt badly before in 2001 when the technology bubble burst so I know how it feels like to lose your hard-earned money.

In June this year, I visited a well-known foreign bank in Singapore together with a good friend. I was there to look at their investment products. I told the RM that I was a risk-averse investor because of my previous bad experience investing in technology unit trusts. She showed me pamphlets of 3 products - the first was an agricultural commodity fund, the second was a structured product called JPMorgan AsiaConfidence Notes while the third was something called a "retail note" which I believe is also a structured product.

The expected return for the first product was not stated in the brochure. At that time, prices of commodities like wheat and rice were already quite high. So was the price of crude oil, at above US$120 a barrel. I thought the high prices were unsustainable, so I decided against this product. As for the second product, it paid an attractive coupon of 7.5% p.a. The principal was safe unless any of the 4 indices fell below 50% of the initial levels of the indices. (I do not know if any of them has already reached this so-called "unlikely" scenario by now.) I thought that the second product was too complicated and also likely to be of higher risk because of the high coupon payout. In the end, I invested a 5-figure sum in the third product which paid what I considered as a very modest 3.3% p.a. fixed coupon payout on a 5-year investment. The RM also reassured me that the third product was very safe. After all, she asked, "What is the probability of a country going bankrupt? Practically zero, right?"

Well, after what had happened in the global financial markets in recent months, I am not so sure if I could agree with her now. In any case, I now know that with structured products, you could lose your entire investment even if the reference entities did not fail. This was the case with the Lehman Brothers Minibonds and other such products. It looks like I have also been misled into investing in a vulnerable product. The irony is that in the eyes of the financial regulator, I am not considered as a vulnerable investor. I understand that the unofficial (or should it be official?) definition of a "vulnerable investor" is "someone who is above 62-year-old and has no more than primary education", arbitrary though the definition may seem.

After I had indicated my interest in the product, the RM quickly filled in a survey form for me, saying that it was an MAS requirement. I remember that I specifically told her that I was not willing to take any risk at all. It took less than half an hour to close the deal. Such easy money (for the RM and the bank)! I did not receive a copy of the prospectus nor the survey form that I signed. It didn't occur to me to ask for them. Now I know that I should have. All I received was a brochure with a lot of fine print:

A few weeks later I received my bank statement and was very surprised to see the product that I bought being classified under "non-capital protected investments". I quickly looked for the brochure and scanned the small print. And I found this statement:


I got to be crazy to risk my entire principle for just a miserly 3.3% p.a. yearly return. You bet I will never trust a bank or an RM ever again. The next 4-1/2 years is going to be a very long and nervous wait for me. Meanwhile, nobody could say how likely my note-issuer might collapse like the Lehman Brothers or how much money I would get back in the end, if at all. To make matters worse, there are people who would say that I am greedy or I "went in with my eyes open". For some people, the situation is so bad that they are even contemplating suicide. Don't worry, I am not thinking of that yet.

05 December 2008

A Crooked Car Or A Crooked Driver?

I parked my car at the open-air carpark near Blk 83 Marine Parade just now and went to the food centre at Blk 84 to have dinner. (This carpark has perpendicular parking, i.e. the carpark lots are drawn perpendicular to the curb.) Because the adjacent cars were all parked out of alignment to the lots, I had no choice but to follow accordingly.

When I came back from dinner, I was surprised to find a white car parked very close to my car's driver side. The gap was less than a foot wide and hence it was almost impossible for me to get into the car through the driver's door. I checked on the other side of the white car and found that there was a large gap from the adjacent car. Just then, the driver of the white car came along and opened the boot of his car.

I said to him, "How can you park your car like that? How am I supposed to get into my car like this?"

What irked me more was actually not how he had "misparked" his car but his reply: "But look at my car - it is parked right in the centre of the lot. It's your car that's crookedly parked."

I said, "Hey, look at the car on the left side of mine - it is also parked out of alignment so I just have to follow him."

What he said next almost caused a parking-rage incident. By then, it seemed evident to me that he had purposely parked his car that way. I couldn't believe my ears when he said, "You can climb in through the other side."

I was lost for words for a moment. I felt my blood boiling inside me. After a while, his conscience seemed to prick him and he asked, "Do you want me to shift my car?"

Hey, I thought that was a no-brainer, right? But instead I said, "No, it's alright." And then I went away for 15 minutes to buy something sharp. That seemed to have worked - when I came back, the white car had been driven off.

Now you tell me who was the crooked driver?