Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000′s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.

 

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Fish Hunter no different from gambling

From ‘No different from gambling’, 16 April 2014, My Point, ST Forum

(Yi-Lin Shen): IT IS worrying that senior citizens are playing arcade games like Fish Hunter to win Sheng Siong and FairPrice vouchers (“Shoot-em-up seniors find amusement at arcades”; Monday). This is no different from gambling at slot machines in a casino.

What is even more worrying is that such games are installed at video arcades, which are popular teen hangouts, as this exposes youngsters to gambling. I have seen seniors sitting for hours on end at Fish Hunter tables, armed with cups of coffee and bags of arcade tokens. What are we teaching our youngsters?

I urge game arcades to stop giving out shopping vouchers as rewards. Let the seniors have their fun, but remove the gambling aspect.

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Before shooting fish on a screen became the in thing for arcades, parents were worried about another ‘gambling’ game popular with kids, where money was spent on ‘cards’ and virtual beasts were put to battle: Animal Kaiser. With the rise of free, casual mobile phone games like Candy Crush and Flappy Bird, it appears that it’s seniors, not teens, keeping the arcade industry alive. Without the lure of Fish Hunter or Animal Kaiser to get old people out their house, the arcade machine looks set to go the way of the audio CD. The machine’s screen itself seems perfectly designed for the ageing eye, way larger than the micropixels that the elderly have to struggle with on smartphones, while iPads with their more elderly-friendly screens remain cumbersome to handle and use.

Some swear by the benefits of games like Fish Hunter: Keeping their eye-hand reflexes keen, mind alert, getting to socialise with other old people and even spending time with similarly addicted grandchildren while at it. A similar trend has been observed in Japan as well, with seniors opting for ‘push penny’ games rather than tennis or gateball. In Singapore, you need a break from all that line dancing, nannying and try to catch a ‘golden lobster’ at TimeZone. In fact, even if seniors were addicted to Fish Hunter, at least they don’t have to pay a levy of $100 everytime they sit down for a shot. Unlike casinos, arcades don’t run 24 hours, so obsessed players can still get some sleep. Uncles may get carried away though, hogging the seats and getting into arguments with other parents with kids who want to play the same game.

Even if we banned these machines, what else would lonely old souls do if not play mahjong (for money), queue for Toto, or gawk at Taiwanese drama serials on TV? Yes, even if sitting around preying and praying does resemble gambling, and playing Fish Hunter the whole day isn’t exactly ‘Active Ageing’, the other remaining options aren’t much better off either. Let’s have a few of these machines in the Jurong retirement village already. I’m sure the seniors there will have a whale of a time.

 

Air steward sueing SIA after luggage fell on his neck

From ‘Air steward sues SIA’, claiming cabin bag fell and injured him’, 9 April 2014, article by Selina Lum, ST

A Singapore Airlines (SIA) air steward, who says he was injured when a bag fell from the overhead compartment, is suing the airline for around $500,000. But SIA has countered that 42-year-old K. Jotheeswaran Kaniyasan is lying and that the incident never happened. Instead, air stewardess Hezrin Hilmi, who Mr Jotheeswaran said saw the 2009 incident, has filed an affidavit stating that she did not.

SIA has also alleged that her signature on the cabin crew accident report which the steward submitted to the airline was forged.

In his lawsuit, which opened yesterday and is scheduled to run for 12 days, Mr Jotheeswaran said that on July 8, 2009 he was helping passengers as they boarded a plane at an airport in Chennai, India. That was when a bag fell from an overhead compartment and landed on the back of his neck.

Despite treatment for back pain, his condition did not improve. Five months later, he had spinal surgery. But even after this and physiotherapy, he said he still suffers from neck pain and numbness in his left arm. He said in his claim that he has developed a degenerative disease in his spine.

To my surprise, someone has been successful in a suit against SIA for deadly falling luggage before. In March 2004, the High Court awarded $600,000 in compensation to Dr Euan Murugasu after he was attacked by a falling suitcase, leaving him with headaches, double vision and costing him his job as an ENT surgeon. In 2007, traveller Mark David Ryan, vice president of DBS bank, claimed SPINAL CORD INJURY after getting hit on the head by a bag containing a DSLR camera, an accident which he believed was the cabin crew’s fault. It appears that issuing helmets could save the airlines more money than safety belts. Nobody’s going to sue NParks for negligence if a tree branch falls on their face.

Killer baggage aside, even the food that SIA serves could hurt you. A British passenger in 2000 once tried to sue the airlines for serving PINEAPPLE juice with shards of glass inside, each as big as ‘five carat diamonds‘. Turns out that Stephen Golding falsified a radiographer’s report, and SIA proceed to counter-sue him for fraud. In 1993, a NZ woman took legal action against SIA after she had hot COFFEE spilled on her (New Zealand woman takes SIA to court over coffee spill, 1 Nov 1993, ST). A year before that, a similar incident happened at a US McDonalds’ outlet, where an elderly lady was awarded 2.9 million after sustaining third degree burns from the piping hot beverage.

But what about cabin crew themselves seeking claims from their own employer over inflight injuries? In another heavy-luggage related 2011 incident, stewardess Li Na wasn’t satisfied with a $250,000 payout after she suffered a back injury, seeking further compensation from SIA when it was in fact a passenger who knocked into her while she was lifting luggage in the first place.  In 2007, steward S Manikam blamed SIA for failing to order the crew to cease breakfast service during turbulence, resulting in him falling against an armrest, eventually developing REFLEX SYMPATHETHIC DYSTROPHY. SIA countered that he should have known better. Sometimes even part of your uniform can physically maim you, as what happened to an ex-stewardess who in 2002 sued SIA for sandals that gave her ‘foot problems’ (Ex stewardess sues SIA over ‘problem sandals’, 23 Jan 2002, ST). Not only are those an eyesore to some travellers, but serve as ancient Chinese foot binders cum torture devices as well.

You’re liable to head-to-toe injury risk if you work on a SIA plane, and given the hazards on board, turbulence and passengers included, this hardly comes as a surprise. Falling luggage, however, presents a complex whoddunit. Is it SIA’s fault if passengers carry dumbells in their bags, overload the overhead compartments, or do not position their stuff properly? Should cabin crew be trained to detect when a bag compartment is beyond its tipping point and be drilled in Baggage Dodging? If you could pay half a million to a passenger when a bag falls on him out of no reason at all, shouldn’t your own staff be entitled the same?

Here’s a tip for any claim nonetheless, whether you’re hit by a trolley bag, scalded by coffee or tea or have your feet run over by a meal servicecart: Don’t just settle for ‘neck injury’ or ‘nerve damage’. Do your research. The longer and more convoluted-sounding your illness is, the scarier the prognosis, the better your chances of winning a suit.

A Singapore Airlines (SIA) air steward, who says he was injured when a bag fell from the overhead compartment, is suing the airline for around $500,000.

But SIA has countered that 42-year-old K. Jotheeswaran Kaniyasan is lying and that the incident never happened. Instead, air stewardess Hezrin Hilmi, who Mr Jotheeswaran said saw the 2009 incident, has filed an affidavit stating that she did not.

SIA has also alleged that her signature on the cabin crew accident report which the steward submitted to the airline was forged.

In his lawsuit, which opened yesterday and is scheduled to run for 12 days, Mr Jotheeswaran said that on July 8, 2009 he was helping passengers as they boarded a plane at an airport in Chennai, India.

That was when a bag fell from an overhead compartment and landed on the back of his neck.

Despite treatment for back pain, his condition did not improve.

Five months later, he had spinal surgery. But even after this and physiotherapy, he said he still suffers from neck pain and numbness in his left arm. He said in his claim that he has developed a degenerative disease in his spine.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/courts-crime/story/air-steward-sues-sia-claiming-cabin-bag-fell-and-injured-him-20140#sthash.U9wl1n29.dpuf

Having a ‘fat tax’ to combat obesity

From ‘Combat obesity with fat tax’, 1 April 2014, ST Forum

(Dr Edmund Lam):…The obesity epidemic has become a worldwide phenomenon. Singapore has not been spared – our adult obesity rate increased from 6.9 per cent in 2004 to 10.8 per cent in 2010.

…The Health Promotion Board has done its utmost to encourage healthy eating through public education and collaboration with the food and beverage industry to provide healthier options. But gorging is still common in food centres, fast-food outlets and eat-all-you-can buffets.

In tandem with existing efforts, a “sugar” and “fat” tax of at least 20 per cent to 30 per cent ought to “shock” Singaporeans into changing their eating habits. Taxes on vices are not new – we already have high tobacco and alcohol taxes. Taxing unhealthy food, such as sugary drinks and junk food, will hopefully induce people to opt for healthier food, which needs to be cheaper than unhealthy food.

…In short, take the scourge of obesity seriously – now.

Singaporeans are getting fatter, just like people from most developed countries. In 1992, the rate of obesity was half  of where we are now, yet we’re throwing away more food, 796,000 tonnes of it in fact, just in 2013 alone. Can you imagine how much fatter we’d be if everyone actually finished all their food?

In 2011, the Danish government decided to impose a fat tax of 16 kroner or $3.76 per kg of saturated fat in products. Before the tax was implemented, the Danes behaved like how most Singaporeans would: HOARD all the fatty stuff they could get their hands on. Within a year, the controversial tax was scrapped because it was detrimental to the economy and led to loss of jobs. Moreover, Danes who had a lust for fat were crossing the border to do their grocery shopping in next door Germany. You can imagine the same situation here with Malaysia. Lesson learnt: You can’t change our eating behaviour overnight. We’ve been nursed on fats since birth through our mother’s milk, we’ll die without it, and we’ll die for it.

Dr Amy Khor stressed that there’s no scientific evidence that increasing the cost of guilty pleasure foods ever reduced the rate of obesity. Not only would it affect lower income Singaporeans, but those who consciously refrain from eating fatty stuff may overcompensate by gorging on CARBS, which add to the flab but with half the flavour and enjoyment. The slapping of monetary disincentives also undermines the ability of consumers to exercise willpower (that includes the willingness to EXERCISE). It also doesn’t help matters when it comes to preserving our hawker culture, which is centred around high-calorie, high fat (hence delicious) food.

Fast food giants are not going to take fat taxes lying down either. Even if you raise the price of a Happy Meal to exorbitant levels, all you need is a Hello Kitty promotion to get people biting the bait again. Raise Krispy Kreme doughnuts by 30%? No problem! Just run a promo 1 for 1 and all your revenue problems are solved. Gong Cha pearl topping up by 20%? Borrow a friend’s Watsons discount card! Restrict menus to serving wholemeal buns only? Well, introduce a double bacon with cheese McMuffin, dammit!

It’s easy to point a finger at food as the primary reason for our ballooning weight, and they make easy targets to tax while there are in fact other factors that may contribute to weight gain. Maybe we should have a cable TV tax because people who’re glued to the googlebox tend to put on weight. Or tax people for using the lifts and escalators instead of climbing the stairs. How about a fat tax on driving less than 1km to any destination? Conversely, in order to encourage people to lead active lifestyles, marathons should be FOC and the Government should sponsor a Brompton bike for every commuting Singaporean. From all that fat tax revenue of course.

We need to work on empowering consumers through nutritional information, not introducing artificial scarcity on fat food like how a diet is supposed to work (It doesn’t). Businesses will do anything to survive at the expense of our waistlines, like it has been for the longest time. You can’t overcome human psychology with taxation. It’s like putting bloody disgusting pictures on cigarette boxes; people still smoke that shit anyway. Even if you manage to cut down obesity levels through severe psychic starvation, you’ll probably see a corresponding increase in people getting warded in IMH for depression because every morsel of lard they chow down has become as unappetising and unfulfilling as swallowing a stack of 1 dollar coins.

If you’re going to charge $1 more for Char Kuay Teow, I’d still eat it as per normal anyway, except that instead of a Coke to go with it I’d order the other version with the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been linked to cancer (unproven) in some studies. So, instead of getting thinner, I stay just as fat, but expose myself to unnaturally occurring chemicals because I refuse to pay extra for sugar. If I’m unsatisfied by that combination, I’d refuel during tea break by mindlessly chewing on ‘organic’ assorted nuts, misled into thinking it’s the ‘healthier choice’ when I’ve already far exceeded my daily calorie requirements compared to having my original Char Kuay Teow with normal Coke without a nut snack in the first place. I can’t possibly eat a stick of raw carrot in my workplace without being oestracised by everyone on a normal diet.

Why stop at taxing just sugar and fat then, how about going the whole hog and tax SALT too, too much of which is bad for your blood pressure and kidneys? Or caffeine? I’d might as well eat tree bark for the rest of my life.

 

 

Indranee Rajah defending uncle with holey moley shirt

From ‘Indranee Rajah stands up for man mocked for hole in shirt’, 22 March 2014, article by Goh Chin Lian, ST

People still do not appreciate enough that their actions can have unintended consequences for others, especially on social media, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah in a Facebook post on Saturday. The Tanjong Pagar GRC MP was defending a resident in her ward whose attire Miss Singapore Universe 2013 finalist Jesslyn Tan had mocked in a recent Facebook post.

Mr Koh Hee Huat, 55, was asleep in the MRT and wearing a T-shirt with a hole in it. Ms Tan, 25, posted a photograph of him on Wednesday with the caption: “Holey moley. Sibei trendy worzxxz.”

…”If anyone merits a boost, it is this quiet, hardworking, unassuming man. He may not be sibei trendy but he is definitely ‘SIBEI HO.’”

Before she took part in MSU, Jesslyn was a 2012 FHM model, and when asked what superpowers she would like to have in an interview segment, she replied that she wanted Wolverine’s healing powers. Not to mention razor sharp claws so that she can take a vicious swipe at innocent passengers on a train. She probably thinks it’s a better idea to have Invisible Woman’s powers now.

01102011_batman1

Jessyln’s intrusion of privacy and insensitivity is one thing, but as a MSU wannabe, poking fun at someone’s dress sense and suggesting that he can’t afford to buy new clothes is against the image of a compassionate, world-peace loving beauty queen that every contestant aspires towards. Imagine sending a representative like Jesslyn to help rebuild a school for impoverished kids, only for her to spend more time commenting on the kids’ shabby uniforms (or lack of) rather than do anything remotely charitable.  It also takes some serious cheek to comment on others’ outfits considering the kind of fashion abominations that MSUs have had to put on over the years. Oh, and THAT spelling. I can’t tell if ‘worzxxz’ is a typo or the language of an alien insectoid race.  She happens to be a Bachelor of Communication graduate too, maybe one who specialises in exotic languages.

MP Indranee was quick to come to Koh’s rescue, explaining why he wears ‘holey’ shirts to work and how he works his ass off till 3 am at Ye Shanghai Teochew Muay stall. Koh was apparently so affected by the post that he thought of quitting the job, and if an aspiring MSU can’t be bothered to come forward to apologise personally or even buy him some new shirts out of goodwill, then it’ll take an MP to soothe some nerves and offer protection. Thankfully for Jessyln, his salvation comes in form of Indranee, and not some furious kopitiam friends out for revenge who also happen to be Ah Long associates.

Or this guy.

This guy knows Teochew Muay Thai worzzxxzzz!

If I ever get verbally abused by Stompers for wearing ugly Crocs on the train, I doubt my MP would speak up for me, even if I threaten to kill myself because I got cyberbullied by a beauty queen. In fact, people get ruthlessly mocked for the way the dress all the time, the sloppy uni student, the aunty with a bucket on her head, the oversexy bareback with bra showing. Where were our MPs then?

There are many people like Koh out there, of course, sweating it out to earn a living and having to tolerate snobs like Jessyln Tan. They may not have holes in their clothing but have deeper holes in their pockets than most of us. If they weren’t sensationally victimised like Koh here on social media, would our MPs share real-life sob stories so readily with the rest of us outside of election rallies where such anecdotes are potential speech (and vote) winners?  You don’t need a beauty queen shooting her mouth off before you realise people like Koh exist and celebrate them for making sure we have porridge supper to eat at 3am. I’m also not sure if there’s an unintentional pun with Indranee describing Koh as ‘SIBEI HO’ following this ‘HOLE’ in a shirt saga. It sure was ‘SIBEI SUAY’ for Jessyln to get caught, though.

Well, if you do drop by for supper at Mr Koh’s Bukit Merah stall (thanks to his MP’s free publicity), try to refrain from inspecting his shirt, or it’d look like people are flocking to Ye Shanghai just for a glimpse of the famous hole like it were national treasure rather than the Teochew Muay. Meanwhile, it’ll probably be a while before we see Jessyln participating in any kind of pageant whatsoever, nor should she even think of going into fashion consultancy. I’d also suggest that she think twice before appearing in public wearing ‘trendy’ ripped jeans, before someone goes up to her and says: Hey Jessyln! HOLE SAY BOH??

Singtel charging $105 to watch World Cup

From ‘Breaking the bank to watch the World Cup on TV’, 14 March 2014, article by Chua Siang Yee and Terence Ong, ST

SINGAPORE will be one of the most expensive places in the world to watch football’s World Cup in June.

Pay-TV operator SingTel announced on Wednesday that it will cost $105, excluding goods and services tax, to catch all 64 matches of the month-long tournament.

This is more than double what fans in Malaysia have to pay and more than five times the price in Hong Kong.

The number of matches being offered on free-to-air TV here also pales in comparison to those in other countries. Only four matches – the Brazil World Cup’s opening game, its two semi-finals and final – are set to be screened on terrestrial channels. In contrast, Britain, China, Australia and Cambodia are just some of the countries showing all 64 matches free.

In the last World Cup 2010, Singtel’s chief of content and media services Edward Ying remarked that at $66 (before GST then), subscribers would be paying about $1 a game to watch in the comfort of their homes, equivalent to less than a CUP OF COFFEE. That’s provided that you actually get to watch EVERY live match, which makes you a soccer bum, or the kind of fanatic who accumulates years of leave just to splurge them all on the biggest sporting event of the year. Just 12 years ago, you could get your World Cup Fix at a lowly $25 (SCV), which works out to be about the price of ONE 3-D IMAX movie ticket on a weekend these days.

This year, the price per match is about $1.60, or roughly the adult train fare from Ang Mo Kio to Bedok ($1.69), which means the money you save from boycotting the World Cup entirely can give you 32 return trips from the North to the East. What more can you expect from a country recently rated as the most expensive city in the world? But I suppose only cheese-eating expats are rich, or foolish, enough to sign up for the package without complaining, while Singaporeans will probably never see their home country take the stage in their lifetime, make the most noise about extortion, yet still end up grudgingly paying more than anyone else in the world to support other nationalities’ teams.

If you’re resourceful enough, you could still try to find some places to watch the World Cup for FREE, secret spots where one could tap World Cup transmissions like one establishing contact with extraterrestrials through an inter-dimensional portal. Bishan HDB residents, for example, were able to mooch off Indonesian channel RCTI during the last Cup using nothing more than a $6.50 coaxial cable. So good news if you have friends staying there, though the fact that Bishan used to be a burial ground may explain the presence of offshore signals, a spooky, though fortuitous, breach in the ether. The World Cup is also probably the only time when Singaporeans all begin fiddling with antennas and the tuner function on their TVs, or remember there’s such a channel known as RTM1.

If you’re willing to pay the higher alcohol tax, you could pop by a kopitiam and chug a Tiger while supporting your favourite team.  In 2006, some Geylang coffeshops were able to tap into SCTV signals, while others who subscribed to pay TV providers had to fork out at least $600-1000 for alfresco viewing.  McDonald’s also cashed in on World Cup Fever previously, with their free broadcasts in 2010 ringing in customers dining at their 24 hour outlets.  Probably cheaper than beer, but if you’re hanging out at Macs everyday to watch all 64 matches over supper, you probably wouldn’t live long enough to catch the Grand Final.

Forget about going Hong Lim Park to protest about the ridiculous prices. The best way to stick it to profiteering cable providers is to share your tips on how, or where, to watch the World Cup without having to pay a single goddamn cent. Open up your house to friends or strangers, gather a group of fans at the nearest CC, shout profanities together with the uncles at the kopitiam, just like what the World Cup spirit is supposed to be, bringing people of all walks together, not mass pillaging our wallets.

 

Singapore is the most expensive city (for expats only)

From ‘Singapore budget 2014: Expatriate living costs survey does not reflect locals’ costs: Tharman’, 5 March 2014, article by Janice Heng, ST

Cost-of-living reports, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit one that has just ranked Singapore the priciest city in the world, are aimed at comparing costs of living for expatriates and thus do not reflect the cost of living for a local resident, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his wrap-up speech on the Budget debate on Wednesday.

There are thus two important differences between what such reports measure and what affects the living costs of Singaporeans, he added. One is currency. “An important reason why we’ve become expensive for expatriates is that the Singapore dollar has strengthened,” said Mr Tharman. That makes things pricier for an expatriate who is paid in a foreign currency. But it improves Singaporeans’ purchasing power, both at home when buying imported goods, and abroad.

The second important difference is the goods and services whose prices are being measured, which are “quite different from the goods and services consumed by ordinary Singaporeans.” Mr Tharman listed some of the things included in the EIU consumption basket: imported cheese, fillet mignon, “Burberry-type raincoats”, the four best seats in a theatre, and three-course dinners in high-end restaurants for four people.

In addition, when it comes to transport, these expatriate cost-of-living surveys only take into account the cost of cars and taxis, not public transport. Cars here are indeed more expensive than in other cities because Singapore is a small country but its public transport and taxi fares are cheaper than in many other hubs, noted Mr Tharman.

“It’s not that these surveys are wrong, it’s not that they are misguided. They’re measuring something quite different from the cost of living for an ordinary local.”

It’s not just imported cheese and fillet mignon that ‘ordinary Singaporeans’ can’t seem to afford according to our DPM. We also don’t dress up as well as our far more dapper expats, who go for $4000 Giorgo Armani men’s suits and drink Moet and Chandon. Surely there are more Singaporeans driving cars than expats, which doesn’t explain how the price comparison for cars is ‘measuring something quite different’. You’d only need to find an equal if not SMALLER country than Singapore in the list with cheaper cars to counter our minister’s weak justification for the sky high prices. Just rating the stuff paupers live off day-to-day is also a misrepresentation of the ‘costliness’ of living, living for most of us involving some form of occasional enjoyment and splurging other than the core human functions of eating, sleeping and shitting. Yes, that includes 3 course dinners in ‘high end’ restaurants with fillet mignon as the main.

The EIU report says nothing about their data being exclusive to expats, and Tharman’s assumption is challenged by the fact that the list includes not so expat ‘friendly’ cities like Damascus, Algiers and Karachi (all among the cheapest cities to live in). Somewhere in the report also talks about the price of something as basic as a 1kg LOAF of BREAD. In Singapore it’s $3.36 vs $1.21 in Mumbai. Contrary to Tharman’s expat hypothesis, locals do eat sliced bread. I suppose Tharman’s version of expats go to artisan boulangeries and eat their dough with foie gras or steak tartare instead of spreading upon it  the disgusting green goo we penniless locals call kaya.

The rich foreigners love it here, a good proportion of them reportedly earning more than $200K a year, and with that kind of money it doesn’t matter if Singapore is the most ‘expensive city’ in the world or not since they live off the finest things in life anyway. That is, until they piss us off and bugger off to Perth. We’ll need to see the complete results to believe that the survey is expat-centric instead of taking Tharman’s word for it hook, line and sinker. This preview chart already shows you how the price of cigarettes and unleaded petrol here fare against the rest of the top 10 cities, stuff that people need, whether you’re expat, local or PRC.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 10.10.34 PM

No surprise here, but we probably have the most EXPENSIVE bottle of table wine in the world, and this $25.04 on average may be even an underestimate given the recent tax hike. Thank God Singaporeans can at least still buy a plate of chicken rice with the same amount you pay for a 1kg loaf of bread. I wonder if the survey rates the cost of something as mundane as raising a child, which according to sgasianparents, is $340,000, just about the price of a Mercedes Benz E-class with COE. Singaporeans, don’t even think about it.

There are flaws in this survey, no doubt, but brushing it aside as one targetting just expats without a fair definition of ‘expat’ and making it a defensive ‘us vs them’ exercise is a typical symptom of blame-shifting instead of self-reflection. Singapore is the most expensive place to buy some things, maybe imported cheese and lobster mee pok included, but you can still get a cup of coffee for less than a dollar, a haircut under 10 bucks or go swimming for less than $2 in some places. Perhaps our leaders should angle their perspective that way rather than making tenuous assumptions that don’t hold water (which won’t stay ‘cheap’ for long judging by the way this drought is going).

Alcohol ‘sin tax’ increasing by 25 percent

From ‘Alcohol suffers stiffest hike among ‘sin taxes’, 22 Feb 2014, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

BARFLIES absorbed the sobering news yesterday that they will have to dig deeper to pay for drinks, with an increase on alcohol tax by 25 per cent. In the first such hike in a decade, the tax on wine and spirits goes up to $88 per litre of alcohol content, and for beer, to $60 per litre of alcohol content, with immediate effect.

It is the heftiest of the hikes on the so-called sin taxes, with cigarette levies also up by 10 per cent and betting duty rates up to 30 per cent from 25 per cent. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday that the move is “in line with our social objective of avoiding excessive consumption or indulgence in these areas”.

…Lawyer Ranjan Indiran, 32, who spends $300 on drinks on weekends, argues that a person with an alcohol problem will not stop drinking just because alcohol is more expensive. “He will channel more money towards his drinking habit and he and his family will just be worse off,” he said.

The hikes on alcohol will net the Government $120 million more a year. Cigarette and tobacco levies will add $70 million and betting, $255 million.

In Feb 2006, PM Lee decided ‘reluctantly’ against increased taxes on tobacco because it didn’t make Singaporeans smoke less, but smuggle more. Unlike previous years, 2006 was an exception as hikes were frozen for booze and cigarettes, and offering a reprieve to drinkers and smokers didn’t seem ‘in line with the social objective’. 3 months later, the General Election was held. Another objective took precedence over public health then.

Though betting tax from lotteries also went up to 30%, no mention was made of the biggest generators of ‘sin’ money, the IRs. For elder hardcore addicts who qualify for the Pioneer Package, the payouts may come in useful. For rich expats who can afford a Jewel of Pangaea or those hobnobbing at F1 parties, this hike is a mere drop in their ocean of excess. The increase comes across as an opportunistic one following the fallout of the Little India Riot which made a convenient villainy out of alcohol. If a gambling addict is willing to pay $100 to enter a casino multiple times, an increase in at least 40 cents for a bottle of Tiger at the kopitiam is not going to make anyone quit the habit overnight. You may, however, think twice if you are a social drinker, and maybe that alone would be enough to make the difference between going home sober, or ending up in jail for drunk driving.

If you’re dead serious about public health and want to help those who really need to quit, you would have heeded the advice of SANA in the 1970s, when they advocated DOUBLING of the same sin taxes. You would curb the sprawl of ‘nightlife’ spots and impose some form of Preservation of Public Order Bill everywhere and not just Little India to clamp down on liquor/tobacco sales and rowdy behaviour. You would have stricter punishments for anyone caught with contraband, which incidentally spiked to 46,300 cases just in the first half of 2013 alone. You also wouldn’t try to sell off confiscated vodka at 75 cents per bottle as the Singapore Customs did in 2004. In 2003,  Dr Warren Lee, MP for Sembawang, suggested that there be a COE for cigarettes, an idea that itself sounds like it was conceived, well, ‘under the influence’.

The message sent from the sin tax increase may be borne out of good intentions, but I doubt it’ll serve its ‘official’ purpose. It just means poorer, not less, smokers and drinkers, but more revenue and ‘more good years’ for everyone else.

Entering or remaining in the MRT when it is full

From ‘Puzzled by MRT rules’, 28 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Adam Tan): BEFORE reviewing the penalties for flouting MRT rules, the authorities and train operators should do more to educate the public on the regulations (“Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review”; last Saturday).

For instance, not many know that it is an offence to pass items between the paid and unpaid areas without going through the fare gates. I often see people doing just that. It makes no sense for someone to enter the paid area for just a few seconds to pass an item to another person. If security is an issue, items passed into paid areas can be screened by the security staff.

Then, there is the offence of “entering or remaining in a train when it is full”, which carries a maximum penalty of $500.

How does one define a “full” train? If the train is full and no one gets off, is that an offence? And if someone manages to squeeze in, will he also be fined? Don’t the operators want their trains to be running at full capacity? Indeed, it is timely for a review of MRT rules.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.57.52 PM

‘Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review’, 25 Jan 2014, ST

Last August, a student was fined $400 for unauthorised use of a station socket to charge her mobile phone. She was guilty of ‘improper use of electrical equipment upon the railway premises’, which carries a maximum fine of up to $5000. In 1988, SMRT imposed a ban on DURIANS and a penalty of $500 if you decide to sneak some onto the train. This is in accordance to rule 7 which states:

7.(1)  No person shall bring into or upon any part of the railway premises —

(a) any luggage, article or thing which —
(i) exceeds the dimensions or weight restrictions specified on notices posted by the Authority or its licensee in the railway premises;
(ii) cannot be carried or otherwise accommodated on the railway without risk of damage to railway property; or
(iii) causes a nuisance or inconvenience to other persons using the railway premises.
We are also probably the only metro system in the world that has a sign barring a specific FRUIT. A true icon of Singapore indeed.

Singaporeans getting prickly over MRT rules

Interestingly enough, durians were deemed a nuisance a year before another notorious item was recognised as a threat to MRT systems: Chewing gum, which you now can’t ‘consume’ or even ‘attempt’ to consume. I have to confess I’ve gotten away with this a few times, but thank God no one has ever confronted me to inspect my mouth for evidence to charge me with.

What constitutes a ‘nuisance’ or ‘inconvenience’ is relative. I’m impartial to durians, but there are worse smells on the train, like the body odour of a sweaty kid after PE. Nobody’s going to yank him and his stinky towel out of the train and fine him for causing olfactory distress to passengers. Some people think big prams are a nuisance, but no one would ever fine parents for boarding trains with them. As for the no passing of stuff across gantries rule for security reasons, it only makes sense if EVERYONE is screened. If I wanted to blow up a train today, I could hide bombs in a pram with a baby inside and get through the fare gates without a hitch, with or without accomplices sneaking explosives to me over the barriers. The SMRT staff wouldn’t even check if I had a real baby inside at all.

Then there’s the awkward rule of ‘entering or remaining in a train when it is full’. According to Regulation 12:

No entry into train when it is full

12.  Without prejudice to regulation 11, where any authorised person determines that a train is full, no person shall enter or remain in the train if directed not to do so by him.

Though it’s reasonable to bar people from squeezing into a packed train, does this rule also mean that this ‘authorised person’ has the right to force people ‘remaining’ in a too crowded train to get out of it? As for ‘full’ trains, previous SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa has even denied that the trains were ever crowded at all, saying that ‘people can board the train, it is whether they choose to’. If rule 12 is actively enforced, it’s not that we don’t ‘choose’ to squeeze in, it’s that we don’t want to be fined $500 doing it in case this ‘authorised person’ decides that the train is ‘full’, wherever, or whoever, he or she is. In fact, it’s more rational to fine people from ‘entering or remaining’ on a crowded PLATFORM instead. Just look at this disaster waiting to happen. Look at it.

If you think that entering or remaining rule is silly, in 1991 SMRT banned SITTING on parapets along both sides of the escalator landing of City Hall MRT station (Sitting on MRT parapets banned, 2 April 1991), which they scrapped a few months later. Thankfully they did not heed the pleas of a certain Today writer, who in 2009 demanded that ‘hugging and kissing‘ be banned too. Seems like to some people, public displays of affection are more toxic than the foul stench of durians.

Postscript: SMRT replied on the first day of CNY (MRT rules must be read in context, 31 Jan 2014, ST Forum), with the intent of making us feel bad that they had to work on the response over Reunion Dinner.

(Helen Lim, Director, Media Relations):…The provisions of the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations should be read in context to understand their intent. For example, the regulation on “no entry into a train when it is full” provides for an authorised person to direct passengers not to board a train if he determines that it is not safe for it to carry more people, and penalises non-compliance.

In this context, the regulation empowers the staff of public transport operators to regulate passenger activities, and ensure that the MRT continues to operate in a safe and efficient manner for the commuting public. This is used only when the situation warrants it, and no commuter has been fined for entering a crowded train.

So much for ‘entering’, where’s the part on ‘remaining’ on a train when it’s full? Note that the penalty reads ‘entering OR remaining’, not ‘entering AND remaining’. SMRT never gave an example of when a ‘situation warrants it’. Maybe if the passenger was wearing something like this?

Similarly, the regulation stating that items should not be passed between the paid and unpaid areas is intended to prevent the MRT from being used for trade or business purposes.

As the primary purpose of the MRT is that of a people mover, it is important to minimise the use of the system for the delivery of goods, which would impede commuter movement and add to crowding.

OK so it’s not for security reasons, and I’m glad SMRT remembers that it’s supposed to move people, though sometimes we’ve had to move ourselves after detraining during a breakdown. Next time if you want to return something to a friend on the way to work, it’s best doing it before 730 am at City Hall station so you won’t get charged for stepping in and out of the ‘unpaid’ zone.  Otherwise it’s a $2000 fine for ‘impeding commuter movement’, or just being a decent friend who returns stuff to people.

Keep Calm and Willian Wan

From ‘Anton Case case: Where has all our empathy gone?’ 24 Jan 2014, article by William Wan, ST

…Justice should be meted out, but in a civilised society, one need not gloat at the fallen. To maintain a largely civil society, punishment should not be celebrated. That one would revel in another’s punishment, whether deserved or not, reveals a nature which lacks empathy, a very important property of graciousness.

Empathy for your fellow human being, no matter how bad that person, is a large part of what makes us humans. To be fair, while a large portion of the community felt good about the “punishment” for Anton Casey, many also called for forgiveness since he has apologised. So the feeling of gloating when someone gets his come-uppance isn’t exactly unanimous.

It is, however, significant enough for us to ask ourselves if we are losing touch with our empathetic nature. It is indeed hard to reach for empathy and understanding, especially when one gets swept up in the emotions that such offensive conduct invariably brings out in us. Yet we must do so, to resist the tide of least resistance that would sweep us into concurring or even celebrating the condemnation of others who offend people like us.

Keep Calm and William Wan. As general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movment, Mr Nice Guy William Wan feels that it is his job and duty to tell haters that we’re overreacting and taking this Anton Casey bashing a tad too far. Perhaps it’s an exaggearation to say that we’re ‘celebrating’ his ‘punishment’ when what most of us are doing is merely gloating silently at some twat’s misfortune, someone who happened to be white, drives a Porsche, and has a Ms Singapore Universe for a wife. To most people, this is a perfectly normal response. Mass disapproval in all its forms is a mechanism that has evolved as a penalty for anyone who flouts the unwritten rules of basic human decency. Anton was a consummate tosser, and needed to be put in his place. Issuing death threats, however, makes you as much as a ‘wanker’ as he is.

Personally I didn’t bang my screen or hurl my mouse across the room like an angry keyboard warrior when I saw what Casey wrote on FB. In fact, I’m wondering what if the inverse happened and I walked into a posh golf club and posted ‘Daddy who are all these rich filthy bastards?’ and ‘Normal service can resume. Once I wash the stench of atas consumerism off me’. I did not pump my fist in sweet victory when he was forced to make a public apology. I may have chuckled at a few memes and lame puns here and there, but I wouldn’t make a police report or throw eggs on his front porch and all over his ‘baby’ Porsche. I also wouldn’t go to the extent of saying ‘Hang in there, buddy’. That’s like giving someone comforting last rites before an execution. I can, however, IMAGINE what it must be like to be him right now. That is empathy. Absolving him of sin, calling for a group hug and singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ is another matter altogether.

We enjoy seeing powerful, obnoxious characters fall from grace; it feeds our lust for poetic justice, and as social animals, this ‘herd mentality’ isn’t a vile contagion to be exorcised with a sermon about attaining Mother Teresa levels of compassion.  It is simply human nature in all its ugly, irrational glory. It’s the same herd mentality that makes us vote a certain ruling party into power, sing the National Anthem during the NDP, or mutter gibberish in church. To feel good about bad behaviour being penalised is itself a manifestation of empathy; we empathise with the common man who has to put up with arrogant swine. If we didn’t care about the well-being of total strangers, we wouldn’t go out of our way to put  serial murderers behind bars for life and thank God for it.

He did escape to Perth eventually, citing ‘threats to his family’ (Briton and family leave for Perth amid threats, 25 Jan 2014, ST). Perhaps he could meet Amy Cheong there and talk about the ‘greatest mistake of his life’ over a spot of tea. Anton also offered to volunteer his time in ‘community projects’ in repentance. He could start by reaching out to the MRT-riding ‘poor’ that he so flippantly mocked (My house is in need of spring cleaning). Or help knit arm warmers for the sick and elderly. He’s got plenty of time for that now that he’s FIRED from CrossInvest Asia.

If William Wan walks the talk, he’d go up and give the bloke a magnanimous hug and a ‘I feel you, bro’. ‘Fight fire with water’ he would say. Except that in this case, he’s trying to extinguish a forest fire with a shower hose. Wan means well and who knows, the world might be a better place if we weren’t so eager to dish out this ‘social media justice’ over some silly, insensitive gaffe. After all, anyone of us could be as careless and unfortunate as Anton Casey was, like the proverbial saying about casting the first stone goes. There is, perhaps, a fine line between online vigilantism and cyber-bullying. In both cases, the instigator always feels that the other ‘deserves’ it. Hating on Anton is fashionable while forgiving him is naive. If you haven’t heard of him by now, you’re living under a rock. Which approach gives a better social payoff is a no-brainer.

Instead of just chastising our hostility as the workings of a crazed mob, let’s think about the positive aspects of this whole saga instead, despite it turning one man into cannon fodder.

1) Singaporeans are willing to rally together when push comes to shove, though some more zealously than others. Given the right reasons, this could be a force to reckoned with.

2) It serves as a deterrent against antisocial behaviour and no stone goes unturned no matter how rich and influential you are.

3) We are proud to defend our MRT as a carrier of the common man, even if it does stink when it comes to breakdowns at times.

4) That the Anton story has gone global serves as a lesson against expat chauvinism everywhere.

5) If Anton does become a changed man after this ordeal, commits himself to lifelong penance through prayer and abstinence and becomes a champion of the destitute, we’d view social media more than just a platform to brag about babies, but one with the power to change lives. Arguably for the better.

6) Singaporeans know better than to extend Anton’s bastardry to ALL expats.

7) Despite Anton on the verge of becoming more hated than Mas Selamat, there are still angels and Bodhisattvas like William Wan to exercise magnanimity and console us if we one day ever find ourselves in Anton’s (Louis Vutton?) shoes.

8) Don’t ever think of migrating to Perth.

I believe Wan isn’t the only person advocating empathy for Anton as a cure to humanity’s ills. Maybe the Dalai Lama has heard of him by now. Others are taking the more practical approach of ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘just let it go already’, without being swept away by this bashing frenzy or playing Jesus. Alas, now that he’s lost his job, calls to chill are probably too little,  too late. I guess the question on William Wan’s mind now would be: ‘Are you people happy now?’

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