Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kafka On The Shore

I am not too familiar with Japanese writers. But those whom I been lucky enough to pick up their books have given me countless hours of joyful reading.

There are two of them which I have become a follower of their works. Haruki Murakami's works are translated, while Kazuo Ishiguro writes in English.

I have completed reading the book Kafka On The Shore by Haruki recently. Just like his other works, the story is surreal but yet the reality setting makes it believable and we could identify with the characters. I came across it few years back but did not pick it up. Perhaps there is a time for everything, as this time I bought the book and it has given me hours of pleasurable reading. In fact I was so enthralled by it that I could hardly put it down even after past midnight.

The two lead characters in the book are a runaway teenager and an elderly subnormal man who is a tracker for lost cats. And behold, he could converse with cats. Some of their conversation is so humourous, how I wish I could do the same with my cat. There are many subplots within the story which are trilling...murder, third dimension, aliens ?......subconscious projection.....

Then there is Kazuo whose work Remains of the day has been made into a movie. But I prefer An Artist of the Floating World and A Pale View of Hills as they are richly immersed in Japanese culture. The only work by Kazuo which I did not enjoy was The Unconsoled. What a title, I too was unconsoled after reading it.


Recently the government seems to be contradicting itself. They are encouraging work life balance, hoping for babies boom and at the same time asking the work force to be 'cheaper, faster and better' in order to remain competitive.

Their liberal immigration policy is their own undoing, as the high influx of cheap foreign labour has resulted in the fall in productivity rate in the work force.

So what do they want ? More babies or high productivity ?

How could young couples procreate if they are stress out at work trying to be faster and better. They also need to be cheaper. How to support a larger family if they have to come cheap too?

Retracement & Thinking Out of The Box

Glad to read that SM Goh C T and MM Lee both said that the influx of foreign workers would slow down in the coming years. At last they recognised that are flaws in the liberal policies which brought with it social plus employment issues for locals. Besides, due the high influx of cheap labour, the productivity rate has been on the decline in recent years.

Looks like it is another 'retracement' exercise. Hope this U-turn is done in time before irreparable damage is done, like the population policy which lead to current problems of high influx of foreign works and aging population.

As for population control policy which resulted in the present dilemma of low population replacement rate, it is time that the government recognise that their existing policies do not work. Some of them don't even make sense like encouraging foreign talent to take up citizenship by letting them bring along their parents. How to solve aging population issue when one new citizen brings along 2 aged parents, who likely are in retirement phase and not contributing to the economy ?

PM Lee is still going on and go about giving birth to more babies. Just think out of the box and the issue could be solve. Encourage adoption of children from other countries. Giving orphan and abandon kids a home and integrate them into local community from young. This is far easier than trying to get adult immigrants to blend in. It is more fruitful to relax that adoption rules rather than immigration policy.

Recognise family unit which falls outside 'conventional' definition. Allow these folks to adopt children or even go for artificial insemination to complete the family unit with young blood, which the government hungers for.

Allow singles to adopt children. Why not ? The reason given is children need a 'complete' family for health growth. Really ? So all those children brought up by single parents are all trouble kids ? Then we are in deep shit for there are alot of single parents out there because of widowhood or divorce.

In the early days, Ma Chye and Sam Sui women were known to adopt children and bring them up single handed,without churning out problem kids. I have personally know of such friends who are amongst the top students in class and fairing equally well in their adult lives.

These women opted for spinsterhood by choice. Ma Chye were female maid servants dressed in white blouse and black pants with plaited hair, our pioneer domestic helpers. Sam Sui women identify by their red head gear, were our pioneer construction workers. They were know for providing quality labour and their loyalty to their employers. They were a upright and hard working bunch.

Thus, it is more to the character of the parents and the care and love in which they bring up a child that matters.

The so call 'complete' family unit where the couple fight and quarrel is even more damaging to the emotional and physical health of the child.

So it is more of the 'conventional' view that is the hindering block of letting single folks to have children of their own.

Will our government think out of the box ? Unlikely since they are always giving the excuse S'poreans are not ready for any policy which they themselves are not in favour. It is they who is not ready for changes.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Is this taking it too far ?

It was reported in the papers that MacDonald initially omitted the pig from its line-up of Chinese zodiac toys, to be 'sensitive' to the local Muslim community. It is precisely this sort of sensitivity we should avoid. If view from another perspective, it is disrespect to the Chinese culture. Patronise one group at the expense of the other ? Is this really sensitivity ?

Understanding and accepting each other culture and religion even though we do not subscribe to it is the key to harmony. Having our own faith and yet not be easily offended by others just because we have different religious and / or cultural practices.

Being over sensitive will only lead to trouble. Look no further than what our neighbour, Malaysia is going through now - the burning of places of worship as a result of religious sensitivity.

Often being sensitive means avoiding or not talking about it. How can we gain a better understanding of each other if we do not dare to even discuss it ?

Perhaps it is time to do away with all these hype of being sensitive and tolerant. We need to have more open discussion for true understanding and acceptance to take place.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CPF Board needs to pull up its socks

No wonder our formal PM Mr Goh C T said recently that our productivity is very low. My experience with CPF Board recently is a classical example of unproductivity resulting in poor customer service.

I went down to CPF board personally with my mother today to enquire about CPF Life scheme since she received a letter about it. We were at the CPF Life queue. When the counter staff cannot answer my question regarding private annuity, he referred me to his colleague. This person called another staff to help me. So I explained my situation for the 3rd time to this staff. This 3rd person told me another dept is in charge and asked me to queue up at another counter.

Is this productivity ? Being refer to one staff after another ? Should not CPF staff be cross train and understand CPF policies in depth ? What sort of customer service is CPF board providing ?

To the public, the 2 issues regarding Retirement and CPF Life are linked. However CPF board is not aware of public sentiment. They have separate departments to answer specific questions which members of public find difficulty separating the 2 issues. We are cross refer to different departments when looking for answer to our question.

Be it by phone, email or face to face enquiries, productivity and good customer service is being able to handle public enquiries without pushing them from one staff to another. If CPF staff is not well verse with its own policies, it only means CPF policies are getting so cumbersome over the years that even its own staff have difficulty comprehending them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Hachiko is a movie based on a true story about a dog which waited for nine years everyday at the same spot outside the railway station for its master, who had long passed away.

The story line is very simple and there is nothing dramatic in the plot development. There is no terrible tragic scene, as the Hachiko's master died without suffering while giving a lecture (possible sudden heart attack). Yet it got most folks watching the movie sobbing away. This is its success, as it is able to link up with our inner emotion.

OK, the sobbing part is not when its master died, but the scene showing an old dog still making its way slowly to the same spot, regardless of weather condition to continue its wait.

Why did it keep going back to the station to wait for its master? The answer for most will be linked to the quotation - "As faithful as a dog".

Besides faithfulness, I think there is more to it. Perhaps it is clinging to pleasant memories it had together with is master. The railway station is where it was found and later adopted. It is where it look forward to each day accompanying its master to work and later await eagerly for his return. Don't we human cling to pleasant memories too ?

Then there is the question of sudden death, especially those which we did not witness. Even as human we find it hard to accept sudden death of a love one. This bring to mind disaster where sometimes the body of the deceased is not recovered. It is even harder for family members to accept death in this case. I wonder who have it worst, those who witness their love one suffering from slow prolong death due illness, or those who have to come to terms with the sudden departure of their love one.

So here we are talking about a dog which sent its master off to work expecting to welcome him home as usual in the evening. He never returned. Can it comprehend this? As animal is habitual creature, perhaps it kept to its routine for 9 years, until its own final dismissal.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Does our CPF saving belong to us ?

I have this feeling that our CPF saving is not really our money, as we have no say in how much we can withdraw, what we do with it and even when we can withdraw it.

At least when we put our money in the bank, if it is a fix deposit account, we know the period we cannot withdraw in order to get the full interest rate. We have the choice to withdraw the full amount at the end of the deposit period.

With CPF, the time line is always shifting...55 to 62 to 65 to 67. Will it be extended further? Your guess is as good as mind...sigh ! Even how much we can withdraw at 55 is changing from 50% ..40%..30%..and finally to zero. Yes - ZERO. The compulsory minimum sum and the endless number of compulsory schemes are perpetually increasing, while the withdrawal limit is continuously decreasing till it becomes totally no withdrawal at 55. All our retirement fund will be used to purchased CPF Life.

There are so many 'compulsory' requirements attached to CPF scheme that make one feels we are borrowers instead of owners of our CPF money.

For those of us that don't live long enough (ok accidents do happen, right?) - we are make to save hard with no chance to enjoy the fruit of our labour.

If banks have the same restrictive and forever changing regulations like CPF, I am sure all of us would rather put our money under the pillows instead. At least money under the pillow is one's money and we can do what we like with it.

Money in CPF just does not feel like it belongs to us at all. Wonder why all of us is taking all these craps for so many years. We are really a whole bunch of tolerant citizens or is it because the CPF system is so complicated it needs too much effort to comprehend ? A stress out society like ours just rather not bother ?

If any bank imposes similar policies as CPF Board to our fund - it would be deemed illegal. For example, our term deposit at the bank is extended to another few years without our approval upon maturity and we are deny the option of drawing it out. Then the bank uses it to purchase into some insurance scheme without our approval. But the irony is this is exactly what CPF is doing and it is perfectly legal, as it is back by the law ! Basically we do not have a choice, the board make all the decision for us. Sigh !

The funny thing is the govt is trying to 'appease' those affected by dangling carrot in terms of 'bonus'. But this is just taking money from the left hand and giving it back to the right. Bonus are funds from CPF members' contribution and/or tax payers' money. So why are people so easily appease, when it actually comes from their own 'pocket' in a way ?

CPF - a web of complication

Our CPF system is just like our taxi fare structure (with tons of surcharges) - so many 'add on' over the years that it is cumbersome and a web of complication.

It started off years ago simple enough with 2 accounts - Ordinary (OA) and Special (SA). OA we can use for government approved investment..etc and SA is suppose to be 'untouchable' for retirement. Then later SA can also be used for certain approved folks run out of old age money for their daily expenses and healthcare. Medisave (MA) and Retirement (RA) created to patch up the holes. Sigh - this is just the beginning of the complication.

From Medisave - an compulsory insurance scheme, Medishield is added with a number of plans to choose from. Then due to the increase in medical cost, in recent years another insurance scheme, Eldershield is added. Sigh...still not enough...add more...Eldershield upgrade and then supplementary Eldershield Care plan.

More holes to patch up, so now we have another compulsory insurance scheme - CPF Life which is an annunity plan.

In fact I think it is so complicated that even CPF staff have problem grasping all the details of the various plans. Thus if you have any question, you have to address your enquiries to the various different depts in charge of specific plan.

Beauty is simplicity. Complication only creates inefficiency and confusion. I wonder how many more plans they will be adding within the next decade to patch up all the holes due to their shortsightedness in planning.

2010 - International Year of Biodiversity

"My hope is that we will be able to show through our actions that conservation issues also have to do with values and ethics. Nature has an intrinsic value independent of any economic valuation. It can be best appreciated after one spends meaningful time getting to know it better "
..... Dr Shawn Lum, President NSS (Nature Society, S'pore)

Professor Tommy Koh, patron of NSS is one of the main driving force behind biodiversity initiatives for the Convention of Biodiversity to be held in Japan this year.

It is hope that we all could do our part by being more tolerant and understanding towards animals which share our neighbourhood, parks and nature reserves. This will enable biodiversity to flourish.

We have endangered and protected species which could become extinct due to our insensitivity. Extinction is forever, and it will be sad if we have a hand in it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

S'pore scene

"The person who killed someone in a hit and run went away scot free, but jail someone who distribute flyers."

The above is an extract from a comment in The Online Citizen (TOC).

It refers to Ms Chee Siok Chin serving her one-week jail sentence recently for distributing flyers without a permit. She is one unlucky soul to end up in hot soup, since there are many other folks distributing flyers at the various MRT stations and Bus interchanges without getting into trouble. What to do, if you are in a politic party, things become extra 'sensitive'.

The scot free incident refers to the hit and run case involving a Romanian embassy car dashing through 2 traffic junctions. One of his victims died, while the other two were injured. As it is an embassy car, the person involved is under diplomatic immunity and above the law.

Sigh ...seems like justice cannot be fair whenever it is mix with politics.

S'pore has Chameleon's Ability

Is S'pore a Developed or Developing country? I thought we have reached the status of a developed nation some years back, until I was confused recently by PM Lee's speech at the Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen. In his speech, we are part of the developing nations in Asia. It is to our advantage to be under this category since developed nations have to bear the heavier burden of financial support to developing nations to cut carbon emission.

Then in today press report, WHO has asked developed countries to donate 10% of their H1N1 vaccines purchased. S'pore is doing her part since our Health Ministry over projected the vaccines needed and has excess stock. So now we have join the rank of developed countries. It is only about one month time lapsed after PM Lee's speech in Copenhagen and we have advance to the status of developed nation!

Look like our status is pretty much dependent on the situation. We have the ability just like the chameleon to change colour to suit the environment!