28 February 2006

Marriage & Divorce

ST Feb 28, 2006
First big study of divorces here spotlights risk factors
By Theresa Tan

THE Government is promoting programmes to strengthen marriages, after the first large-scale study of divorces here put its finger on what made unions work or fall apart.

The study of more than 1,700 divorcees and about 1,900 married respondents raised the same red flags that had been waved by marriage counsellors for years.

The risk factors include a hasty courtship, long hours spent at work and away from one's spouse, and the arrival of a baby when a couple are unprepared for parenthood.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan, who completed the study last year, told The Straits Times: 'You can't just tie the knot and then go through daily life without conscientiously working on improving spousal relations and expect your marriage to last.'

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) commissioned the study to find out what factors kept couples together and what tore them apart.

It is now working with its community partners to get couples to attend marriage education programmes ......

The study found that couples were more likely to break up if they:

* married because of family pressure or to get a flat.
* were unhappy with their spouse's long working hours.
* were not prepared for marriage.
* had no children.

Seven in 10 divorcees blamed their marriage breakdowns on poor communication ... For a third of the divorcees surveyed, adultery was the final straw which led to the marital breakdown.
Mr Wang feels somewhat sad to read that the risk factors for divorce include "the arrival of a baby when a couple are unprepared for parenthood". Actually Mr Wang believes that you can never really be prepared for parenthood beforehand. It's like learning to swim. It's a lot of fun, but you DO have to get into the water first.

"I really don't see what's so challenging about this.
Humans are just an unnecessarily complicated species, that's all."

27 February 2006

The Morals of the Story

"Sorry, dear. I really can't think of any other position."

Questions of morality have been popping up in the comment section of Mr Wang's earlier post about Tammy of the Infamous Lost Handphone. Mr Wang will not tell you what to think about these morality issues - but will merely suggest to you how to think about these morality issues. And you can form your own opinions.

Let's begin by asking ourselves a series of questions, to which, depending on your values and opinions about sex, there could be different answers.

    1. Is it morally wrong for a married couple to have sex?

    2. Is it morally wrong for a married couple to film themselves having sex, the video being intended for their own private viewing only?

    3. Is it morally wrong for a married couple to enjoy oral sex or other "kinky" forms of sex?

    4. Is it morally wrong for a married couple to film themselves having oral sex or other kinky forms of sex, the video being intended for their private viewing only?
Mr Wang expects all normal people to answer "No" to Question 1. Mr Wang expects (but he could be mistaken) the majority of people to answer "No" to Question 2. Mr Wang also expects (but again he could be mistaken) the majority of people to answer "No" to Question 3. If you answer "No" to both Questions 2 and 3, it logically follows that your answer to Question 4 should also be "No". Now we proceed to a second set of questions as follows:

    5. Is it morally wrong for a young single female like Tammy to have sex with her 21-year-old boyfriend?

    6. Is it morally wrong for Tammy and Boyfriend to film themselves having sex, the video being intended for their own private viewing only?

    7. Is it morally wrong for Tammy and Boyfriend to enjoy oral sex or other "kinky" forms of sex?

    8. Is it morally wrong for Tammy and Boyrfriend to film themselves having oral sex or other kinky forms of sex, the video being intended for their private viewing only?
Let's say that your answers to Questions 1 to 4 have all been "No". There is a strong likelihood that Question 5 will be your first "Yes", if there is going to be any "Yes" at all in your answers. In other words, you feel that Tammy and Boyfriend, being so young and unmarried, should not have sex.

If your answer to Question 5 is "Yes", it follows that your answer to Questions 6 - 8 will all be "Yes". This is because in Questions 6 - 8, Tammy and Boyfriend are young and unmarried and having sex. However, if your answer to Question 5 is "Yes" and your answers to Questions 1 - 4 are all "No", then it should become apparent to yourself that Tammy and Boyfriend should not be regarded as being particularly immoral, just because they filmed themselves or just because they had kinky sex.

After all, if it is morally okay for a married couple to film themselves having sex (such video being intended for their own private viewing only), then this shows that there is nothing inherently immoral in filming yourself having sex (such video being intended for your own private viewing only).

And if it is morally okay for a married couple to enjoy kinky forms of sex, then this shows that there is nothing inherently immoral in kinky forms of sex.

Therefore logically speaking, and based on your own answers, if Tammy and Boyfriend are immoral, then they are immoral not because they filmed themselves, or enjoyed kinky forms of sex, but only because they had sex at all.

That makes them only about as immoral as every other young, single person who is not a virgin. Which is to say - lots and lots of young, single persons.

That's what I meant when I said earlier that Tammy doesn't deserve special vilification or condemnation. She only deserves as much vilification or condemnation as any other young, single person who is not a virgin.

LKY's Eulogy

A relative of mine works for mainstream media and was involved in covering the story of Rajaratnam's recent demise. My mum told me yesterday that this relative told her that at the funeral, MM Lee began to cry while making the speech. Unable to stop himself from crying, MM Lee quickly ended the speech and walked off the stage.

On a separate note, the 3rd paragraph of MM Lee's eulogy below shows, hey presto, that MM Lee, of all people, actually understands the importance of a free press. Too bad the Singapore Standard died a long time ago. Now we don't really have any newspaper that can provide an alternative viewpoint when the Straits Times tries to "downplay" anything.


In April 1952, just as the postmen’s union was about to go on strike, Goh Keng Swee introduced me to the associate editor of the Singapore Standard, S Rajaratnam. Keng Swee said Raja was sympathetic to workers and trade unions, and could be helpful.

As the union’s legal adviser, I was keen to meet him. By the pool at the Singapore Chinese Swimming Club, against the blare of loud music, I described to him the case for the postmen. He promised to help.

When the strike started, the Singapore Standard reported it extensively. This forced the British-owned Straits Times to do the same. Raja wrote editorials attacking the colonial government with wit, punch and vigour. Without the Singapore Standard, the Straits Times could have downplayed the strike. As it was, the British colonial government was regularly lambasted for several weeks on the front pages of the Singapore Standard, and its officials got the worst of the argument.

The strike ended with concessions to the union, and changed the course of history. A rash of negotiations, arbitrations and strikes followed, with the unions often appointing me their lawyer. This built up a mass following for our cause.


Raja was at his best when under attack. I have vivid memories of him when we were pummelled by the Communists from 1961 to 1963. Almost everyday they berated and denounced us at mass rallies and in the Chinese language press. At times I felt weary rebutting their accusations, but Raja was tireless. A chain smoker always with a cigarette between his lips and taking sips of coffee or tea during pauses, he would bang away at his typewriter, to knock down every one of their points. He did this with inexhaustible energy and gusto. He enjoyed stringing words together to capture people’s attention and make fun of or demolish our opponent’s arguments. His strength was as a thinker and a writer, a man of honour, with great moral courage.


His most enduring legacy is our National Pledge. After two communal riots in 1964 and the tensions and suspicions of Separation, we were not at our most optimistic. In spite of our dark mood at the time, I felt Raja would have the conviction and optimism to express our aspirations. I got Raja to draft it. He crafted the words, I tightened them. The cabinet adopted them as the National Pledge. It was an act of faith.

The experiences we shared in this struggle, confronting problems and crises, forged an enduring bond between us.

A few years ago he began to lose his memory. When I visited him in 1998, he did not recognise me.

With his passing, Singaporeans have lost a patriot, a man of deep conviction and principle. His contribution was not in bricks and mortar, or concrete and glass, but in ideas, sentiment and spirit. Everyday when the pledge is recited in our schools, our children are reminded to live up to our aspirations as Raja expressed them.

26 February 2006

Election Coverage & Mainstream Media

Feb 26, 2006
Media 'too timid' in election coverage: Panellist
THE way the mainstream media covers elections came under fire yesterday at a forum on politics at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Mr Viswa Sadasivan, chairman of TV production company The Right Angle Group, suggested that journalists today are more timid than they need be.

'There is so much room to manoeuvre. I don't think we need to be looking over our shoulders all the time. The media needs to play less safe,' he said.

Mr Viswa, a former current affairs producer with the then-Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), took to task today's journalists and editors.

Unlike their predecessors, he said, they fail to push the envelope. He contrasted this to his own efforts when he was in charge of elections coverage at SBC in the 1980s. He pushed for and saw through the broadcast of a debate between the People's Action Party and opposition party leaders, he said.

Mr Viswa, whose company's clients include government agencies, also chairs the Feedback Unit's political development group and sits on the Media Development Board.

Of today's journalists, he said: 'The media does not have enough strong leadership, enough people willing to take a stand.'

'The media could do with a lot more guts,' he added.

He also accused the press of not giving the opposition fair coverage.

He said that, in reporting on the Workers' Party manifesto, they had focused on the Government's labelling of four of its proposals as 'time bombs'. He claimed that many points in the manifesto were not captured in media reports, a point that Nominated MP Geh Min later agreed with.

Who's this Viswa Sadasivan fella? To find out more, check out his bio-data over at the Singapore Angle.

25 February 2006

The Doctor Speaks ...

A few posts ago, Mr Wang featured the Case of the Overly Expensive & Possibly Unnecessary Drugs. The doctor in question has now written to the Straits Times Forum to clarify his position. His reply is convincing and clear:
ST Forum Feb 25, 2006
Clinic did not overcharge patient

THERE are two issues in the letter by Mdm Gan Siok Wah in 'High prices for common drugs in HDB heartland' (ST, Feb 21).

First, the alleged overcharging. I would like to clarify that the $80 bill includes both the consultation fee and the medication prescribed to her daughter.

Her daughter was billed $22 for consultation fee for a visit at 9.20pm, when the Singapore Medical Association's recommendation to all clinics is $25 to $55 for consultation between 9pm and midnight.

With regard to the five tablets of Klacid MR 500mg costing $37, the price charged at our clinic adheres closely to the recommended retail price set by Abbott Laboratories (S) Pte Ltd. Mdm Gan is at liberty to confirm the price with them at customer.services.sg@ abbot.com.

Second, unnecessarily expensive medication.

As Mdm Gan has chosen to breach doctor-patient confidentiality by going public with her daughter's medical condition, I would like to highlight the fact that she omits to mention that her daughter had the symptoms for five days prior to the consultation in my clinic and that she had been treated elsewhere for similar complaints without improvement.

It is medically prudent to treat a patient with second line medication if the patient shows no improvement after treatment with first line medication. This was why her daughter was prescribed such medication by our clinic.

I stand by the fact that our clinic did not overcharge Mdm Gan. Nor was her daughter given any unnecessary treatment.

I would be most grateful if you can publish this to clarify the misconception that Mdm Gan's letter has created in the minds of the public.

Dr Low Jin Kheng
Clinic Manager
Street 11 Clinic
Mr Wang just wishes to make one minor point (not that it is really relevant to the real discussion). The good doctor mentioned:
As Mdm Gan has chosen to breach doctor-patient confidentiality by going public with her daughter's medical condition, I would like to highlight the fact that she omits to mention that her daughter had the symptoms for five days prior to the consultation in my clinic and that she had been treated elsewhere for similar complaints without improvement.
Actually Mdm Gan didn't breach any confidentiality. In the doctor-patient relationship, the duty of confidentiality is on the part of the doctor, not the patient (nor the patient's guardian).

24 February 2006

"Top" Funds

Mr Wang will now give you a rather striking example of why you must be very careful when you read any advertisements, brochures or other promotional materials about where to invest your money.

Today we learn from the Straits Times that in the Edge-Lipper Singapore Funds Awards 2006, DBS Asset Management has won the following awards - "Best Overall Fund Group", and "Best Bond Fund Group".

Feb 24, 2006
DBS, Phillip and Lion Capital win big in yearly fund awards
Coming out tops is DBS Asset, rated best overall as well as for bond funds
By Gabriel Chen

DBS Asset Management (DBSAM), Phillip Capital Management and Lion Capital Management emerged as the top winners yesterday in The Edge-Lipper Singapore Funds Awards 2006.

Top honours went to DBSAM, which clinched the best overall fund group and best bond fund group, with returns as high as 35 per cent in some funds.....

Based on past experience, we can safely predict what will happen next. Like every other fund house that has won awards, DBSAM will proceed to advertise its victories. In its brochures and ads for its various funds, DBSAM will proceed to trumpet the fact that it had won this award, and that award, and that other award.

And in the promotional materials for DBSAM's biggest bond fund, DBS Shenton Income Fund, DBSAM will certainly point out that DBSAM had won the Edge-Lipper "Best Bond Fund Group 2006" award.

All of this is factually true. But then, so is this report, from the Business Times, just yesterday:
Business Times - 23 Feb 2006
S'pore's biggest bond fund downgraded
Shenton Income Fund loses two stars under Mercer rating

(SINGAPORE) Mercer Investment Consulting has downgraded Singapore's biggest bond fund by two notches, saying its credit resources 'are significantly below the calibre of most of its global peers'.

DBS Asset Management's $1 billion Shenton Income Fund (SIF) had a five-star rating that was suspended in mid-2005 - after almost the entire fixed-income team, led by former MD Lim Heong Chye, walked out.

The fund's rating has now been cut to three stars.

Mercer says its ratings, introduced in 2002, are 'forward-looking' and combine qualitative and quantitative assessment. It says qualitative evaluation receives by far the most attention. Funds with five-star ratings are believed to have the 'highest future performance prospects' against their peers.
DBSAM will be mentioning the Edge-Lipper awards in its promotional materials, that's for sure. But I don't think they will mention the Mercer downgrade, do you?

Poor Tammy

Feb 24, 2006
Student in sex video: 'We didn't intend to be porn stars' She lost her phone last month, but had forgotten the video was in it
By Sandra Davie and Jermyn Chow

THE Nanyang Polytechnic girl at the centre of the ongoing sex video scandal has spoken up for the first time, describing the past few days as a 'living hell'.

And it got a bit worse yesterday as a new section of the video clip surfaced on the Internet. This just as the student became the No. 1 item on blog search engine Technorati.

But the 17-year-old told The Straits Times over the phone yesterday: 'I have done nothing wrong, I don't know why people are making such a big fuss about it. Everyone does it (films video clips of themselves), even my friends.'

Tammy, as she is called on the Net, said the video she took with her 21-year-old boyfriend was meant for 'personal and private viewing'.

'It was just for fun...we don't intend to be porn stars,' she said.

But in her next breath, she said she regrets filming the explicit video on her phone.

'I can't bear to face people. When I go out, people who know it is me look at me as if I am a porn star.

'Now, looking back, it was a stupid thing to do, because the phone could fall into the wrong hands.'

It did, giving rise to the 'living hell'.

She has had to explain herself to her lecturers, her parents and the police. She even considered quitting her IT diploma course, but her parents and friends persuaded her to stay on.

Tammy confirmed she misplaced her phone last month but because she had forgotten about the video clip, she did not worry about it.

That was until a fellow Nanyang Poly student called her two weeks later to say the video had been spotted on the Internet.

'She told me not to be too worried because there were other homemade sex videos online and they didn't generate much interest,' the soft-spoken girl told The Straits Times.

But her friend was wrong. Last weekend, news of the video exploded on the Net, creating an excited buzz on local forums and blogs.

In the midst of this unfortunate incident, I think that one particular party deserves praise. That's Nanyang Polytechnic.

In less-enlightened days, an institution in Nanyang Polytechnic's shoes would probably say, "Disgusting! Unacceptable! Our wonderful reputation as a premier education institution in Singapore has been damaged! Let's suspend this student from school for six months. Or better still, expel her for good!"

However, nothing like that seems to be happening on Nanyang Polytechnic's part. Which I think is right. Not as if expulsion or suspension would actually accomplish anything. Besides, Tammy committed no crime (quite the opposite - a crime was committed against her).

And let's just be mature, open and sensible about the whole thing. LOTS of 17-year-old girls in Singapore are having sex with their boyfriends. It's just that (1) they may not necessarily film it, (2) having filmed it, they are not necessarily losing their handphones and (3) having lost their handphones, they don't have the misfortune of having the footage circulated around the Internet.

"Look, Adam, let's just say I'm glad
that you don't have a camera handphone."

21 February 2006

Feeling Sick?

Feb 21, 2006
High prices for common drugs in HDB heartland

MY CHILD was sick, down with a bad cough, sore throat, runny nose and a slight fever on Feb 16. At 9pm, our family doctor had left so we went to another private clinic - 'Street 11 Clinic' at Block 139 Tampines Street 11.

After a brief consultation, she was given these medicines: cough syrup (one bottle, 'Dhasedyl, 90ml'); a packet of 'Danzen' (20 tablets, 5mg) for the throat; 'Telfast D' (10 tablets) for runny nose and antibiotics 'Klacid MR' (five 500mg tablets for throat and nose).

I was astonished when I received the bill. These medicines cost me $80. I am puzzled at the high cost because I believe that my daughter's symptoms were fairly common and she was treated by a locum.

I feel the clinic had either overcharged and jacked up the price of common drugs, or did it give me unnecessarily expensive drugs for a common illness?

I asked the receptionist for a breakdown of the cost of the various medicines. To my surprise, the staff informed me that the five antibiotic tablets alone cost $37.

I believe Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan had mentioned that affordable medicines be provided for patients at reasonable prices. Yet the clinic in our heartlands is charging drugs such as 'Klacid MR' at an exorbitant price. This is a worrying problem which I hope can be addressed to benefit the masses.

Gan Siok Wah (Mdm)

I wonder if any doctors read my blog. Maybe they can comment.

This reminds me of one of my old posts - where I wrote about a 92-year-old man who was charged $64 for a common cold and fever. His son-in-law related this to Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan who replied that Singaporeans should help their older relatives pay their medical bills.

That really wasn't very helpful.

I'm also reminded of another post I previously wrote, about foreign workers in Singapore going to see an unlicensed "doctor" operating an illegal medical practice somewhere in Little India. In response, the Health Ministry advised these workers not to see such practitioners and instead have "medical insurance coverage to protect themselves".

Ridiculous. If these foreign workers could afford to buy medical insurance from AIA or Prudential or NTUC Income, then they wouldn't be foreign workers.

What say you, Mr Tan Kin Lian?

20 February 2006

Money Down The Drain

About one or two years ago, my brother-in-law asked me if I would be interested in plonking down money with him to invest in a residential property in Thailand. Back then, he was travelling regularly to Thailand on business and he was familiar (or he believed himself to be familiar) with the Thai property market. He said that this was really going to be a good investment and the property was really very cheap. I declined anyway.

There are several perils in real property investments that Mr Wang is not comfortable with. Mr Wang is especially uncomfortable with the idea of making real property investments in emerging markets where you yourself aren't based, probably don't have local knowledge and cannot conveniently keep track of what's happening.

Today the Straits Times has an article featuring the unfortunate situation facing some Singaporeans, some years after they had invested in resort condominums in Johor. Over time the entire condominium complex degenerated into a slum of a ghost town, with large numbers of residents moving out. Then came the spectacular plundering that the criminals of Johor are so famous for.

Feb 20, 2006
Resort homes in Johor ransacked
37 flats owned by S'poreans hit as thieves take even windows, wiring

By Arlina Arshad

SINGAPOREAN businessman B.T. Ong, 53, got the shock of his life when he visited his Johor resort condominium in December.

The metal staircase railing leading to his third-floor unit at Anjung Seri Condominium in Bandar Seri Alam - an hour's drive from Singapore - had been sawn off and the light fixtures and electrical wiring removed.

The two-bedroom apartment, bought with his brother 11 years ago at RM209,000 (S$92,000) as an investment, had also become an 'empty shell'.

Thieves looted everything - from the sofa bed and curtains, to the air-conditioners
and an electric fan. Even fixtures like kitchen cabinets, wash basins, taps, wooden doors and sliding glass windows were not spared.

'My condo looks like a construction site now. Everything has disappeared. They only forgot to take my floor tiles,' said Mr Ong, with incredulous laughter.

All 199 units in the condominium, including 37 owned by Singaporeans, were plundered by thieves last year.

Developed by Resort Habitat Sdn Bhd, the units had cost RM150,000 to RM400,000 each.

But in 1995, the company faced financial difficulty and left two of the five blocks incomplete. Two years later, the Asian financial crisis hit. Many Singaporeans and other foreigners moved out.

The condominium fell into disrepair: Lifts were not repaired, the swimming pools were not cleaned, rubbish was not removed and paint was left to peel.

The exodus continued until, by October last year, only a handful of residents were left. Since then, residents returning at the weekend have found their units broken into and belongings missing.

But large-scale looting was believed to have been carried out in December, said residents' committee spokesman Jackson Chia, a 62-year-old retired Singaporean businessman. By that time, everyone had left, said Mr Chia.

'We have suffered great losses. I regret buying the unit. What was meant to be a dream retirement home has become a slum,' he added.

On Dec 8, residents were told by liquidator SC Corporate Recovery Sdn Bhd that the current developer, public-listed Anson Perdana, had become bankrupt.

They were told to pool resources to refurbish the condominium so they could sell it to a new developer or rent the units out, said Mr Chia.

Ten days later, more units were looted. Then, on Jan 8, residents found the doors, windows, wire cables and even Tenaga Nasional Berhad's generator and compressor, ripped out.

At least 40 reports were lodged with the Johor police, but the looting did not stop.

So, in January, they wrote to Malaysian minister for housing and local government Ong Ka Ting, and made a copy of their complaint to Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman.

The Johor police are investigating the matter.

Businessman Loy Jit Meng, 62, told The Straits Times residents should be compensated because developers had failed to safeguard their interests.

Mr Loy paid RM267,000 for his two-bedroom unit and spent RM40,000 on renovations.

'Since 2001, the lifts have not been usable and the pool has algae swimming in it,' he said. 'Now, why should I spend more money to refurbish my condo if nobody is going to guard it? I may be burgled again.'
Mr Wang recommends that the next time you want to invest in real property, consider REITs.

18 February 2006

Theory & Practice

Today the Straits Times has an article entitled "45,000 more can vote in next GE". Naturally this is untrue. More precisely, 45,000 more people satisfy the requirements that would permit them to vote if their respective constituencies were contested. Of course the majority of constituencies in Singapore are not contested at all.

Mr Wang is well over 21 but he has never had a chance to vote. When he was a teenager, the PAP just barely won in his constituency (something like 50 point something per cent vote). In the subsequent elections, the authorities gerrymandered redrew the electorial boundaries and Mr Wang's area has since officially become part of the Marine Parade constituency, stronghold of SM Goh Chok Tong.

It actually costs Mr Wang more than $11.00 to take a taxi to East Coast Park, so Mr Wang wonders why his residential area is considered part of Marine Parade. (Well, now, of course Mr Wang knows why. But he can't say it, can he?)

Feb 18, 2006
45,000 more can vote in next GE
By Peh Shing Huei

MORE Singaporeans are eligible to vote in the upcoming General Election. There will be nearly 45,000 more voters compared to the last polls in 2001.

The Elections Department announced yesterday that 2,158,439 Singaporeans can go to the ballot box this time, up from 2,113,540 in 2001.

The final tally came after voter registrations closed on Jan 17 and voter registers for the 23 electoral divisions were certified.

17 February 2006

On Fats

ST Feb 15, 2006
Is this back on the menu?

Supporters of low-carb, high-fat diets gloated last week as doctors scrambled to contain the damage of a huge and expensive study which set out to show the benefits of a low-fat diet - and couldn't.

The study involved nearly 49,000 women aged 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years. Those on a low-fat diet were found to have the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased.

Hurray! said everyone else, while doctors hurried to come out in support of low-fat diets anyway. Even if the largest study ever done on the subject showed that it didn't cut the risk of heart disease and cancer, they were sticking by the mantra that low fat was good for the heart.


The thing about these studies is how contradictory they can sound. One day, you're told to eat margarine; the next day, you find out that butter is better. One day, you're loading up on fibre; the next, some surgeon says the way to cure constipation is to go slow on the greens.

What's one to make of these mixed signals?

Mr Wang is neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. So he may not be very qualified to comment on this topic. However, from a layman's commonsensical point of view, Mr Wang feels that this study on low-fat diets and their effect on the risk of major diseases may be missing a rather important point.

In Mr Wang's mind, the reason for being on a low-fat diet is so as not to be fat. The reason for not being fat is that you become less likely to get cancer, heart disease etc. However, being on a low-fat diet may or may not succeed in making you thin.

For example, if you're on a low-fat diet but you consume huge quantities of low-fat food (for example, lots of rice and bread every day), you could still be very fat. Conversely, you might not be on a low-fat diet but if you exercise a lot (run, swim, cycle etc), you may still be quite slim.

The study did not seem to have focused on whether the women on low-fat diets were indeed thinner than the women who ate whatever they pleased. The scientific conclusion was merely:

Women on a low-fat diet were found to have the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased.
This is NOT the same as saying:
Women who were thin were found to have the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who were fat.
Who knows? Perhaps the truth is simply that if you're thin, you can eat whatever you like. And if you're fat, you ought to lose some fat. Oh, and that just going on a low-fat diet may not be an effective way to do that.

13 February 2006

Language & Numbers

Feb 13, 2006
Good English for S'pore to be education hub
I READ with interest the report, 'JC - Is it a tough climb?' (ST, Feb 9).

The subhead, 'English not so good - how to survive GP?' requires a closer look by educators and all interested parties. It is wrong for O-level graduates to think polytechnic education is an escape route from the General Paper (GP). They must know GP will help to build a better command of English and keep up to date with the changing world. It is important that the education system helps students communicate effectively in English and be knowledgeable enough to compete in the job market and international arena.

Perhaps polytechnics should offer GP as an optional paper in the course syllabus and encourage more students to study it in addition to their main discipline.

It is important to be aware that Singapore's reputation as an education hub depends to a large extent on the high standard of English practised by Singaporeans. Therefore, O-level graduates should make use of every opportunity to study English and not see GP as an obstacle or a source of fear when deciding their further study.

To encourage more students to take GP, I suggest the following.

First, teachers should not discourage O-level students from attempting the argumentative writing topic in their English paper. I have heard many students say teachers do not encourage them to try the argumentative writing topic because it is hard to score good marks. Teachers do not do students any good by this because they develop a fear of argumentative writing, and A-level GP essays are mainly on this type of writing.

Second, junior colleges should invite professional journalists to talk to JC1 and JC2 students on good writing skills and discuss current affairs. Newspapers should publish more reference magazines like No Sweat by The Straits Times to aid students in their reading and arouse more interest in current affairs.

Simon Ng Yap Peng

Thoughts, thoughts.

The first thought that strikes me is a rather ironic one. Some Singaporean students shy away from junior college because GP is a compulsory JC subject and failing it would impede their subsequent attempt to enter the local universities. However, our local universities throw their arms wide open to students direct from the PRC. In other words, as far as university places are concerned, we discriminate against Singaporean students with a poor command of English, but we welcome foreign students who never did GP at all and who speak and write even worse English than those Singaporean students.

Well, well. Yet another disadvantage of being a citizen in Singapore.

The second thought that strikes me is that the PRC students tend to do extremely well in Singapore's universities despite having a poor command of English. This is also quite easy to understand. The PRC students flock in large numbers to our Engineering Faculties, where mathematical aptitude is far more important than linguistic ability. The PRC students are conspicuously absent from faculties such as Law, Arts, Mass Communications or even Business Administration. So it's a matter of knowing where your strengths are.

My third thought is that if PRC students can be bad in English but still make great engineers, then Singaporean students who are bad in English may also nevertheless make great engineers (or mathematicians, or IT programmers or chemists). Which in turn leads us to realise that it could be rather stupid for local universities to deny places to Singaporean students on the grounds that those Singaporean students did badly in GP.

Instead the local universities should give greater consideration to the kind of courses that the Singaporean student wants to study. If the Singaporean student failed GP but wants to study English Linguistics & Literature, then we may justifiably be sceptical or dismissive. But if he wants to study a course which requires some kind of proficiency other than proficiency in the English language, then really the poor GP grade should not stand in the way.

Fail, fail lor. GP only what.

11 February 2006

Here is a Comment ...

.... from one of Mr Wang's anonymous readers:

" ...... the Chinese New Year used to be more looked upon by me and my brothers with more anticipation than my children and my siblings' offsprings. Why? Well, as children we were less well-off and Chinese New Year meant getting some money to buy the things we want to buy. Our children are more fortunate and they can buy more things they want. Because of the different experience, we develop differently, and I think something good about the earlier generation fades away. The question is how do we try to retain these values which we think are worth keeping.

Therefore, Mr Wang, what are the things/values you think are worth keeping? And how do you keep them. You have children, you think about that...or you give everything to your children."

Interesting, yes? I spent some time today musing on this question. Frankly, in raising my children, I have never stopped to consciously think about which particular traditional values or habits I want to inculcate in them. I suspect that most parents haven't either. I think most parents just do whatever they naturally do, and the children absorb values unconsciously, by osmosis, by observing their roles models, by sheer immersion in their particular home environment.

I do realise that I am raising my kids in quite a different way from the way my father raised me. At the same time, my father's attitude to my kids today is a lot more similar to my own attitude to my kids today than his own attitude to me long ago when I was a kid. So the times are ever-changing, and not just for the little kids. The grandparents evolve too. Today they no longer treat small children the way that they used to treat their small children.

For example, my father is very affectionate towards my kids. He hugs and kisses them, and I hug and kiss them too. He habitually says things like "I love you" to my kids, and I say things like that all the time to them too. However, I don't ever recall my father hugging and kissing me or my brothers or saying things like "I love you" when we were little. Certainly my dad and I are not in the habit of saying such things to each other today.

I think that in the old days, Asian families tended to place a lot more emphasis on respect (or its external expressions) and a lot less emphasis on love (or its external expressions). For example, when I was a kid and my father returned home after work, it was expected that I would immediately have to go respectfully greet him "Pa". If I didn't do it, then this was rude behaviour on my part and I deserved to be scolded or smacked.

Now, when I return home after work, it is expected that my kids will run to me shouting "Daddy's home!" and then they jump into my arms and hug me. If they don't do this, then there must be something quite wrong, deserving my investigation (they must be coming down with a flu bug or or something).

On material luxuries - to which my anonymous commentator also alluded - well, I am considerably wealthier than my father was, when he was at my age. This means that my kids enjoy more material comforts and luxuries than I myself did as a kid. At the same time, I don't think I ever felt particularly deprived of material luxuries as a young kid, just as my kids probably do not feel particularly lucky for the material luxuries that they have today.

The reason is quite simple. Material luxuries count very little towards a happy childhood. As Mr Wang has said before, money can't buy happiness. It follows that kids don't actually need material luxuries to be happy, and therefore may not appreciate material luxuries very much. The fact that a particular toy is expensive is no guarantee that the child will have any interest in it. A $3 plastic ball or a box of cheap crayons may well be much more beloved.

Kids can be very happy and absorbed just singing nursery rhymes with Mummy; climbing and running around at the playground; or looking out the window on a rainy day to watch the rain falling down. In other words, they can be very happy doing things that cost nothing at all.

The best things in life are free.

Structured Deposits

Feb 11, 2006
What's gone wrong with our deposits?

WE HAD supported POSB even though its interest rate was lower than commercial banks'. In 200l, POSB promoted aggressively a new product called Structured Deposit. The aim was to get better returns than the saving account. The placement was for five or seven years and upon maturity, the principal sum would be returned in full.

I was induced to transfer about $94,000 from my saving account to invest in this. Upfront, the bank deducted $8,412.36 for managing my funds.

Every year when I enquired about its performance, the answer was always the same. The fund was below the par value after five years.

What I fail to understand, especially for 2005, is that while my other investments are making a return of 5-12 per cent, why is the DBS Swing 7.0/l still under water?

The fund managers owe us an explanation. We were not told how the funds were allotted or what they had invested in. The other POSB Swing funds also suffered the same fate and are all below the par value of $1.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore should scrutinise this type of transaction.

Meanwhile, we have to wait for seven years to get back our principal sum and forgo the interest that we would have been earned if the money had stayed in the saving account.

Chan Chong Fatt
I don't know the exact details of this particular structured deposit. But if DBS Swing 7.0/l works like many other structured deposits that I have seen, Chan Chong Fatt might possibly get back even less money than he put in.

The fellow at the bank tells you that this is a structured "deposit", and that the principal sum is guaranteed. So you plonk down your $94,000, thinking that in the worst case scenario, you will still get your $94,000 back after seven years.

Actually they deduct $8,412.36 (as fees) from your $94,000. So the principal sum you invested is $85,587.64. Which means that after seven years, all you may get back is $85,587.64 for the $94,000 you put in.

That's assuming that your structured deposit is 100% guaranteed (some types may only be 90% or 80% guaranteed).

Risk is all part & parcel of the investing game. If you want higher returns, you must take on the risk of greater loss. That's acceptable to some people, and not acceptable to others. The problem here is that when a bank offers a "structured deposit", the word "deposit" will fool some risk-adverse people into believing that hey, this is a very safe thing, something like a traditional fixed deposit - you will SURELY get back at what you put in, and more.

Well, it doesn't work that way, unfortunately. More later - Mr Wang needs to bring his kids to enrichment class now.

08 February 2006

Hardship Etc

ST Forum Feb 8, 2006
Parents pamper their kids too much now

I WAS a bit bemused and saddened to read about the saga on getting up early to go to school. I think Singaporean parents are pampering the kids too much.

Please allow me to share a bit of my schooling experience to put things in perspective.

Back in the 1980s, I was one of the many kids who travelled daily across the Causeway from Johor to study in Singapore in the hope of getting a better education. Getting up at 5am to prepare for the morning session was a common routine for us.

Getting stuck in massive jams during festive months was common for us too. We could take two to three hours to get home.

When we were in the afternoon session, we could reach home as late as 9pm because of traffic jam.

Did we turn out badly? No, I don't think so. Many of us excelled and went to good schools and later on to good jobs. Our experience taught us the importance of prioritising and discipline. You don't have extra time to watch TV or play computer games. School work comes first. We also learnt about responsibility. I carried my passport to school since I was seven. I have learnt to take care of important documents since young.

In recent times, there has been an influx of foreign students from China, Taiwan and elsewhere who have to put up with separation from their families and an unfamiliar environment to seek a better education. Do they do badly? No. It is common to see them topping their cohort.

I hope Singapore parents pause to reflect on how fortunate our kids are and allow them to grow up with some 'hardship'. It will do them good.

Ng Tze Yik

Yeah, right. And in Kenya, kids run 15 km across the African savannahs each day to get to school. On the other hand, that's hardly a plausible reason for banning Singapore's children from taking school buses and MRT trains, is it?

Mr Wang does not believe in hardship for its own sake. Work smart, not hard.

Perhaps Mr Ng Tze Yik still laboriously scrubs and soaps and wrings and handwashes all his dirty laundry piece by piece, just like my grandmother used to do. After all, according to Tze Yik's reasoning, he will stand to benefit from the hardship. However, Mr Wang - and any other sensible, modern Singaporean - will stick with the modern washing machine.

"Oww, my back .... what I really need is
the Osim iDesire OS-7800 Massage Chair."

06 February 2006

"Stayers are people who do not have the means to quit!"

This letter in TODAY was, I felt, an excellent summary of the major challenges and difficulties faced by Singaporeans today.
Can you blame them for leaving?
From young to old, life here doesn't get easier

Give locals priority over foreigners
Monday • February 6, 2006
Letter from Jimmy Ho Kwok Hoong

I REFER to the letter, "Puzzle of migrating Singaporeans" by Lim Boon Hee (Feb 2). Let us rationally analyse the "quitter" problem from the perspectives of different age groups.

Our educational curriculum deprives us of a proper childhood from a tender age. Judging from the proportion of students wearing spectacles here, it is not difficult to tell they have been overexposed to textbooks. Parents who cannot bear to see their kids live with the need for regimental "mugging" may consider migration.

On the next level, a hopeful graduate, fresh from his victory in the educational system, may be in for a rude shock when he discovers that the job market — with its plentiful supply of foreign talent — is not prepared to pay him enough for a decent lifestyle.

It may be worth mentioning that our definition of the words "foreign talent" has changed from its initial meaning of highly-paid expatriates and cheaper IT staff to include the foreign worker who clears the dustbin. Although these foreigners may be needed to reduce the overall costs of operations in Singapore, have we gone too far in welcoming them by being reluctant to control their impact on local rice bowls?

When setting up a family, most couples will learn that the house they buy will probably cost them a lifelong mortgage.

When a Singaporean reaches 40 years old, he should realise that his shelf life in the workforce is only about 10 years, upon discovering that he is considered "obsolete" at that age — even after having acquired a Masters' degree at 30.

The middle-aged professionals, when they are retrenched, will have to decide whether to "upgrade" themselves — taking up menial jobs despite their immense experience in white-collared posts — or to throw their savings into entrepreneurship, for which the chances of success are slim.

Unemployment fell to a low of 2.5 per cent last quarter. However, wages have yet to recover to the level they were at in the previous cycle. In other words, jobs were created but at lower value added as a whole.

The private sector has been asked not to discriminate based on age when hiring, yet public organisations continue to recruit based on age limits.

Older folks in their "golden years" are also not spared. They are expected to slog for their livelihoods to a ripe old age, while their peers elsewhere happily rely on welfare and healthcare provided free of charge by their governments.

The biggest issue may be the refusal to acknowledge that the problems exist — let alone working on solving them. Given such an environment, is it any wonder that some Singaporeans choose to migrate? As I hear someone saying in a coffeeshop say: "Stayers are people who do not have the means to quit!"
The last paragraph of the letter reminds me of what Catherine Lim termed, sometime around 1995, the Great Affective Divide, an emotional estrangement between the people & the government. In more recent times, Catherine Lim said this:
"Perhaps the most disturbing thing .... is that while both sides are having their due say, neither appears to believe it will make the least difference. A kind of fatigue has set in.

The Government and the people seem no longer to be in dialogue; they appear to be talking at rather than to each other.

Indeed, there is the eerie sensation of the observer that both sides are merely going through the motions and paces of a practised stance, doing an accustomed, tedious but necessary dance with each other.

The Government seems to be saying, a little wearily: "We will keep explaining our decision, as meticulously and as patiently as we can, for as long as you like, but don't expect us to change it in any way."

And the people seem to be saying with equal weariness: "We know. But since there is this new climate that allows for freer expression than we have been used to, we might as well make use of it, and have our say, for all it's worth."

In the end, the situation remains the same, caught in a time warp where everything else around is moving on.

On Paper

Feb 6, 2006
Eco-friendly? Far more pressing issues on my mind
By Eisen Teo

ENVIRONMENTAL scientists were recently ringing the alarm bells again - '2005 was the hottest year on record', 'Polar ice sheets could begin melting this century', 'Large-scale and irreversible disruption to the planet's climate system'.

The headlines kept screaming but I do not find myself losing much sleep over them. I do not even find myself conserving or recycling paper.

As products of a ruthless educational system, my peers and I have mastered the art of photocopying - without batting an eyelid - more than 100 pages at one sitting.

If we make a mistake? Never mind - we simply crush the offending sheets and fling them into the nearby bins, each already full with hundreds of similarly crumpled sheets. I can almost hear protests from the greenies.

But for us, it is a matter of 'I can't be bothered' or 'I alone can't do much'. Our mentality is: 'If I save 10 pieces of paper, it'll only be wasted by the next guy who comes along'.

We have far more pressing issues on our minds, like the urgency of schoolwork. And frankly, it is easier to give in and do what everyone else is doing - especially if we can afford it (less than five cents for one sheet of paper).

We are also mostly 'immune' to reports of environmental destruction now, because we are taught to take everything with a (large) pinch of salt and treat even frightening stories about dying polar bears with scepticism and cynicism.

For all our calls for the freedom of civil society, we need the Government to prod us to adopt environmentalism. The awareness is there, but we need more to translate it into action.

The writer is a first-year history major at National University of Singapore.

This article brought back a funny little memory for me. I recall that when I was a law student at NUS Law Faculty, I read about some environmental study focusing on the use of paper in Singapore. The study showed that the NUS Law Faculty (one of the smallest faculties in NUS) used more paper per year than the entire Singapore Armed Forces put together. Amazing, isn't it.

I don't know if the Law Faculty is still like that now. Frankly, a lot of the paper was wasted paper because the average law student never made it through more than 40% of the voluminous amount of prescribed reading. Nevertheless the Faculty admin staff would just faithfully photostat all the prescribed materials and slot them every two or three days' into the students' lockers. If you had chickenpox and you didn't come to school for a fortnight, the Faculty admin staff would get mad because your locker would get completely filled and they couldn't slot any more materials into it.

Thinking back now, I wonder why a better system couldn't have been devised. Perhaps the Faculty should have just provided hard copies of the Absolutely Most Essential Reading, then put everything else on CD-ROMs and given each student a CD-ROM. From the CD-ROM, the student could then just print out only as much as he had time to read.

650 MB = an immense amount of paper.

Maybe the problem was that CD-ROM technology wasn't exactly that common back in those days.

05 February 2006

Inspiring? Hmm.

The newspaper today has a story which I think is supposed to be inspiring:
ST Feb 5, 2006
From IT expert to struggling medical student
At 30, she decides to be a doctor - tough switch but she has no regrets
By Jean Loo

WHAT would make someone give up a successful career as a computer engineer and, at the age of 30, study to be a doctor instead?

It is an unconventional choice, but one that 33-year-old Devi Ng had no trouble making.

For eight years, Ms Ng was the epitome of the urban IT professional, working as an analyst programmer for the Ministry of Defence and then as a systems engineer at the Land Transport Authority, where she helped develop the ez-link system.

But in 2002, after her three-year marriage fell apart, she decided to take a different path.

Now she is on the long road through medical school - a story she felt was so inspiring that she asked a journalism student friend to write it down and send it to The Sunday Times.

When we interviewed Ms Ng yesterday, she said her marriage had failed because she was determined to keep working despite objections from her former husband.

'I was in a period of depression, wondering what else could I do with my life.'

A newspaper advertisement offering a part-time distance learning degree in bio medical sciences, offered by the University of Central Queensland, changed her life.

Ms Ng immediately registered for the course, which cost her $12,000.

Channelling her spare time after work into the three-year course, Ms Ng graduated in a mere 1 1/2 years, scoring distinctions for most subjects and
making it onto the Dean's List, despite her lack of background in science.

She also had to juggle family commitments. The sudden death of her father in 1994 had left her the sole breadwinner.

'The money was good, so I stayed on in IT till my two younger brothers found jobs.'

She is now a first-year medical student at the International Medical University (IMU) in Malaysia and will serve a three-week attachment at the Changi General Hospital as part of her course.

Once she has completed her foundation studies in 2008, she hopes to move on
to the next phase of her medical training at the University of Queensland.

She plans to use her savings to pay for part of her course fees, which will cost about $200,000 for the next four years.

If all goes to plan, Ms Ng will graduate in 2010, at the age of 37.

It has been a tough switch from successful professional to struggling student but she has no regrets.

'As a doctor, I can see the patient getting better and that will be the best motivation to keep on working. In IT, projects can drag on for years and it
becomes very meaningless.

'I am fine giving up the chance to start a family, because I've found my true calling, which is to be a doctor and help other people.'

I might be missing something here. But I have some difficulty seeing why the average reader is supposed to find this story inspiring. Instead, I see:

    - a marriage that failed in double quick time;
    - a bout of depression;
    - eight years wasted on an IT career that the person found "very meaningless";
    - the loss of a chance to start a family;
    - an impending huge expenditure of more than $200,000 on her medical studies;
    - a relatively shorter career as a doctor (due to the fact that she'll be starting late);
    - immense opportunity costs;
    - a medical degree from Malaysia (IMU) which I suspect may not be recognised in Singapore; and
    - Singapore losing a seasoned, experienced IT professional for a rookie, wet-behind-the-years doctor .
I hope medicine really turns out to be Devi's "true calling". That would make up for some of her past and present sufferings.

02 February 2006

Charity Nuts & Bolts

Some time ago, Mr Wang mentioned that he had signed up to make regular donations to Club Rainbow via credit card. Club Rainbow is a registered charity that helps children suffering from serious chronic diseases.

Today Mr Wang received a letter from Club Rainbow. The purpose of the letter was to provide detailed information about Club Rainbow's operations and how it uses its donation money. In the post-NKF saga era, charities evidently feel that they need to be more transparent in order to retain donors' trust and confidence.

One particular paragraph in the letter which caught Mr Wang's eye was this:

"With a growing number of charities tapping into a limited supply of donor funds, fundraising has always been a struggle and will continue to be so. The last three financial years - from 2002 to 2004 - has seen Club Rainbow running deficits of $35,714, $209,612 and $285,216 respectively. This can be attributed mainly to a growing number of beneficiaries and other external factors like SARS, the Asian tsunami crisis and a general downturn in the economy which saw a decrease in both individual and corporate donations to smaller charities like ours."
Mr Wang is not an accountant and is slightly allergic to words like "deficits". Based on Mr Wang's simplistic understanding of the word, Mr Wang thinks that it means that in the respective years, Club Rainbow spent $35,714, $209,612 and $285,216 more than it actually raised. Mr Wang further believes that the opposite of "deficit" is "surplus", and "surplus" is something like "reserves".

What Mr Wang further thinks is that despite having less-than-zero reserves, Club Rainbow seemed to have been able to continue its activities throughout 2002, 2003 and 2004. Now if charities seem to be able to run on less-than-zero reserves, then perhaps Mr Wang has been thinking about the story of the NKF reserves in the wrong way.

Previously we were told that NKF had reserves that could last 30 years. Then we were told that NKF had reserves that could only last a much shorter time (3 years?) and the impression we were given is that this would be disastrous for kidney patients. Mr Wang (foolishly?) believed that if NKF's reserves totally ran out, then that was that and there would be nothing at all that NKF could do for any kidney patient.

Well, evidently that is not necessarily the case. Going by Club Rainbow's example, it seems that charities can actually run for years on less than zero. So it may not really be such a unmitigiable disaster for kidney patients if in fact the NKF reserves ran out. It may simply mean that the NKF will have to pay for one year's expenses using the next year's donations, and keep doing that, year after year.

Come to think of it, Mr Wang has just reminded himself of another old post he wrote. About another charity which regularly spent practically almost all the money it raised each year, and still went on and on, year after year.

Well, Mr Wang could be wrong. Readers who know more about accounting than Mr Wang (and Mr Wang is sure that there must be many of them) are invited to comment and educate Mr Wang about the deficits, reserves and surpluses of charities.

On a separate note - Mr Wang noted a few things about the Club Rainbow letter which pleased Mr Wang. The letter was printed on both sides of a single sheet of poor quality paper, the font was very small (probably Times New Roman font size 8?), the text came in single spacing, the margins (top, bottom, left and right) were narrow and the letter took up practically the entire of both sides of the sheet of paper.

What does this suggest? Club Rainbow was being very thrifty with its paper. Rather than use two or three sheets of paper for each letter to each donor, Club Rainbow tried very hard to squeeze the contents of the entire letter onto a single sheet. The extra paper probably wouldn't have cost that much, but after NKF, it does feel nice to see a frugal, thrifty charity at work. It reflects the kind of attitude that charities should have.

Or is Club Rainbow really, really broke?

01 February 2006

Mr Wang is Glad He Does Not Depend on Rental Income For A Living ....

... because he could have been hurt by this latest HDB move.

ST Feb 1, 2006
HDB puts up five-room and executive flats for rent
By Daryl Loo

FOR the first time, the Housing Board is putting up five-room and executive flats for rent through a private company.

On offer are 160 five-room and 90 executive flats in Jurong West, Sengkang and Bukit Merah.

Property agents say these are likely to be from the HDB's stock of 9,000 unsold flats. In the past, it has only offered smaller units for rent through property companies.


This means that while foreigners on student and employment passes may rent the flats, foreign construction and factory workers are barred.


The HDB's annual report for the year ending March 2005 said it had 19,488 one-room and 23,057 two-room units for rent, mainly to low-income households.

It also rented out 6,856 three-room and 702 four-room units, mainly to companies as workers' housing.
So the HDB oversupply problem just goes on and on. See Mr Wang's old post on this matter. Back in May last year, the HDB broke its own sacrosanct rule and started, for the first time ever, to sell HDB flats to non-Singaporeans.

Now it seems that the HDB will also rent out what it cannot sell. This marks an important shift in policy. In the past, the HDB did rent out its flats but this was to low-income families who couldn't afford to buy a flat. Now the HDB is renting out five-room and executive flats, and the target market includes expats and foreign students. This brings the HDB into direct competition with private sector lessors.

The HDB's latest move will particularly affect Singaporeans who had purchased, for investment purposes, a second residential property in or around the Jurong West, Sengkang or Bukit Merah areas. They would have had the expectation of being able to rent the property out and use the rental to offset the monthly mortgage payments. Now, they will find it more difficult to find tenants and rental income may be affected too.

A Jurong West condo owner reacts
to the latest news from HDB.