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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grow A Little Love Everyday

Through blogging, I got to know an amazing woman - Blur Ting. She does all she can to spread cheer and blessings all around. She volunteers at a school where she works with disadvantaged children from poor families. Many of the kids don't have the type of family support required to excel in school. Many are from single parent homes and others have both parents working. Ting believes that imparting such gardening skills is a way of giving love (of which she seems to have in abundance), and will help these children grow up into productive adults. At the very least, they know how to garden and could consider a career in horticulture.

Anyway, Ting's volunteering inspired her friend to design a beautiful gardening calendar to spread the worthy message of giving love. The 2 ladies have printed their inspiration on calendars and tote bags. You can see their design here.

So... buy a bag or calendar and spread the message of love.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

House Construction 1: The Architect and the Quantity Surveyor

If you ever decide to build a house, choose the right architect. After changing out my architect from hell and replacing him with an architect from heaven, I have gone from stressful to stress free. Completely.

The architect I currently have designs factories for the most part. He therefore oversees projects that are humongous. One might think that he designs factories because he has no eye for design, and therefore home owners don't want him for their dream home projects. That is not so. The few houses he designed are appealing. There is even a stunning restoration project in an old Peranakan shop house.

Don't save money on an architect. $70,000 is about the price you need to pay, and since $70,000 is a lot of money, check out your architect properly to make sure that he is like my architect from heaven.

The architect from heaven should have very strong project management skills. There are a thousand and one things to co-ordinate on the worksite. My architect from heaven takes one look at the contractor's project management Gantt Chart and he spots discrepancies and omissions, which he then proceeds to point out in a gentle voice and a non-threatening smile. That is important because some contractors believe architects are conjured up to make life difficult for them. As such, the architect needs to know how to impose his will, without sending a skittish contractor into a fit of frustration.

The architect from heaven should be prompt in providing drawings and construction details. Contractors don't like to read... and they don't like verbal descriptions accompanied with much gesturing. Drawings are what they need. My previous architect from hell took all of one week to make small amendments to drawings. Later, I found out why. He didn't know how to use the computer and had to rely on another to make the amendments. Gosh! The previous architect from hell didn't even send out his own emails!! It was my own fault to have chosen a 60+ yr old architect just because he was cheap.

The architect from heaven should have design integrity. This means that if what you want flouts some accepted principles in good design, he should tell you. My architect from heaven convinced me to do away with the false ceilings in my master bedroom even though stingy Petunia was initially adamant about having them in to save energy on air-conditioning. False ceilings reduce the volume in the room and the air-conditioner has less work to do... ergo, lower electricity bills.

Three times my architect came back to me to suggest that we expose the sloping ceiling of the roof in order to have a larger and more impressive bedroom. "Impress?" I said, "I'm not building my house to impress." A week later, he came back again with computations about how much more electricity I would be paying over the next 20 years to cool the extra space under the roof. He was right, I wouldn't be paying much more. But then I said "It's not green to use even a little bit more electricity than you should". One week later, he came back and said "With the extra volume of air under the roof, your bedroom will be less stuffy... and perhaps you could sleep without the air con some nights". Aha! Now he speaketh a language that stingy Petunia understands! But I think the real reason why he keeps insisting is that it is a good design feature to have a high sloping ceiling. The look and feel of a room is very different when you have extra space under the roof.

An architect from heaven runs a truly objective tender exercise. Thanks to the shady dealings of my previous architect, which you can read about here, I had sourced for and interviewed a few building contractors. I personally invited them to tender. My architect invited 2 other contractors with whom he was familiar. When the tender envelopes were opened, it was clear that he had not given his own contractor contacts any undue help. And his own contractor contacts were the first contractors we took out of the picture because they had quoted a price that had exceeded our budget.

An architect from heaven will explain to you that you need a quantity surveyor. Engage a quantity surveyor (QS) to save yourself the stress when things go wrong. It's a bit like travel insurance. You pay the money and set your heart at ease. Some architects will tell you that to help you save money, you don't need a QS... that the architect will play the QS' role. Don't you believe that. One absolutely needs a QS if one has never had experience building a house.

I am so happy that I have a QS. He tabulated every item in each of the contractor quotes in an Excel spreadsheet. He sent out emails to clarify prices and work scope. At one glance, he could tell whether some numbers were not right and he picked them up for discussion during contract negotiations. My QS has all the standard templates documenting building specifications... and listing all the materials to be used in the house... and the payment schedule. When all this documentation is done right, you are legally protected if the contractor is naughty in any way.

A friend of mine is stuck in a brawl with his contractor. He has paid up quite a lot of money but his contractor wants more, or work won't continue. They are at a point where each is threatening to sue the other. With inadequate documentation, the winner is the more aggressive one. You don't want to get to fisticuffs with your contractor do you?

Yet another person has paid up $100,000 to a contractor who has only done 20% of the work. The contractor has no motivation to continue working because he has already made 80% of profit. More work brings down his profit. Work on the site has stalled and the contractor is using the 80% profit to fund work on other projects. The QS knows how to assess the extent of works done on site. His expert eye can tell if 20% or 30% or 40% has been done. He will then advise you how much to pay. And in the presence of a QS, the contractor knows he faces an expert, and will think twice before trying to pull the woollies over your eyes.

I am glad I engaged a QS because I don't like contentious relationships. I like to be able to speak softly and still be taken seriously. Why be a shrew if you can carry a big stick and speak graciously? My QS is my big stick, and because he is there, I can be nice Petunia. You wouldn't go to India without immunisation shots. Why would you build a house without a QS?

My previous architect told me that he would double up as my QS. I agreed because Petunia can be stingy to the point of stupidity. But even to my untrained eye, his documentation was imprecise, fraught with error and ambiguous. This of course gives the contractor a lot of wiggle room to charge more later, and once you are locked into a contract with a contractor, you have to pay what the contractor asks.

I strongly suspect that my previous architect was gonna get a cut of the fat earnings that his favourite contractor would cream off me. A difference of 200k in tender price from what is usual... plus an architect who has managed to convince owners to choose the same contractor in at least 3 different recent past projects (despite higher than normal tender pricing) can only mean that the tender exercise was not quite as objective as it should have been. And why would an architect favour a particular contractor so much if he didn't get to share in the spoils of a very high tender price?

Notice that I didn't say anything about getting an award winning architect. After all, if you're only building a small house of about 4000 to 5000 sq ft, what kind of artistry do you want? Besides, most of us who want to build a small house want OUR own design details. Go for an architect with a proven track record in the hard stuff (project management, co-ordination and certification) and he will still be able to give you elegance and style to the theme that you want... because that was what he learnt at school.

What you can't learn in school is how to manage contractors... how to oversee a project... how to co-ordinate work and approve builder shop drawings.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I've recently garnered a new blog follower. Unbeknownst to her, I drop by her blog and browse... and dream... and browse... and then I spend the rest of the day dreaming. This lady (I am told by a reliable source that she's REALLY pretty and REALLY smart) lives on a farm (from what I can make out from the sketchy but alluring details on her blog). She keeps 2 ducks (called YaWho and YaTwo) and 4 sheep (called Hilly, Billy, Milly and Silly).

I don't know what the ducks are for, but her sheep mow the lawn. That oughta give you an idea of how big her lawn is. 4 sheep eat its grass... and I think, looking at how obese those sheep are, that she has too much land for 4 sheep. Her sheep are overfed - quite grossly overfed.

She has a proper proper proper vegetable garden, quite unlike my somewhat make-believe one which has everything in pots. She grows tomatoes, bok choy, lettuces, beetroot, onions, cauliflower... and in the spring time, she gets to complain about spring rains... and maybe, hunt for snails?

Oh... it's like living in an Enid Blyton storybook. Before you know it, there'll be the Five Find Outers bunking out there on the brink of a great adventure with ducks, sheep and a cat. I wonder how much it'll cost to buy a small farm (enough to feed 2 sheep) somewhere in Tasmania.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pain Brioché

It all started with OKC's focaccia bread. After making it a few times, I thought it would be helpful to get a bread machine to help with the kneading. The machine came with a recipe for pain brioché, which is a brioche-like bread.

A brioche normally has a 2:1 flour and butter ratio, but since this bread is brioche-like and not a true brioche, it is healthier with a far higher flour to butter ratio. It still has a lovely buttery fragrance, and a very soft and springy texture inside.... and it is slightly sweet. Lightly toasted the next morning, each slice crisps nicely on the top and remains soft and chewy inside. A bit like the Yakun Kaya toast bread... but still moist inside, somewhat sweet and in thicker slices.

If not for the confidence OKC's focaccia bread recipe gave me, I would never have started making bread... and I would never have bought a bread machine... and I would never ever know how lovely home-made bread tastes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Paying to Keep Employees?

Mr Peter Handal appeared in the Straits Times Interview on Wednesday. Mr Peter Handal is the 68 year old CEO of a global training company Dale Carnegie and Associates. Mr Handal shared that to keep employees and keep them happy, you need to pay them right, praise them and recognise them. He is not entirely wrong. But he is not entirely right either... or maybe the article in the Straits Times did not accurately reflect his level of expertise.

Which? I don't know.

You see... in between making yoghurt, laughing at my kids and getting strawberries to bloom, Petunia has a deep fascination with the psychology of human motivation. In other words, I actually get down to doing dry and boring research in human motivation. I analyze rows of numbers that measure human motivation... I listen to and pick apart hours of one-to-one interviews on human motivation... I read every research paper (of good quality) on human motivation. And I have been doing this for 7 years.

Of course, on a scale of 1 to 10, I probably don't rate very high as a researcher... but even the half-baked researcher that I am, I know enough to say that Mr Peter Handal has got it only half right.

Let me explain.

Someone really smart came up with a psychometric instrument that measures motivation from 1 to 10. If you score one, you don't have much internal drive... if you score 10, you have plenty of internal drive. Those people who score 1 are driven by factors outside of themselves. It's like a parent bribing a child to do his homework. No more bribe = no more homework. Kid does homework for an external reward. No more reward, no point to do homework i.e., no internal drive.

Those people who score 10 are driven by factors inside of themselves. These people have... I don't know... strength of conviction... passion for something... a burning desire to make a difference. They work because they are driven from within by something they find hard to describe. In my research, some people have actually told me... "I stuck in there because I couldn't let someone down." or "I stuck in there because it was my duty" or "I stuck in there because I believed in it".

Now pay, praise and promotion (the three Ps) are ALL extrinsic motivators, right? Well... here is the strangest thing yet.

Again and again and again, research shows that extrinsic motivators REDUCE internal drive. Researchers love to argue with each other... oh yes, they do. Some fracas published in serious journals look a lot like high class bitch fights, with male combattants. But get this... they DON'T much argue about the notion that extrinsic motivators REDUCE internal drive ANYMORE, because so many studies have reported this.

So what it means is this... if you are counting on pay to keep your people engaged (i.e., motivated to stay in your company and help you achieve your goals), it WON'T work. People will still leave because other companies can offer more. If you want people to stay with you, you need to engage them from within them, not from outside them. You need to develop their intrinsic motivation, not undermine their intrinsic motivation with a battery of extrinsic motivators such as pay, praise and promotion.

And there are practical and effective ways to do that too. Petunia quit her job because the kids were doing poorly in school. The Daughter once scored in the bottom 25% of her year. Little Boy was completely un-interested in reading... and his motivation for Chinese would be in the minus portion of the scale, if there was a minus portion. Little Boy fled Chinese like the plague.

7 years on, The Daughter is a straight A student (often) in a top JC. Little Boy just topped the class in something or other. Neither need be bribed nor threatened (yes... threats are extrinsic motivators too) to get work done. Indeed, I once locked up The Daughter's books to PREVENT her from studying herself to death.

I never once gave my kids presents or money to study. I feed them and clothe them. Is all. I knew that presents and money would destroy everything I was trying to do to build their internal drive for studying.

Ok... ok... ok... by now, some people are saying, "Ptooie! That's a crazy Petunia alright!! Where got money don't motivate people one?! Crazy ah?! Everyone is motivated by money!! I sure am!!"

Of course you are... but that's the point! You are motivated by money and so when the money is gone, your motivation is gone too. True motivation... the kind that drives people to achieve miracles like building the first plane... or to sacrifice their entire wealth to build planes... or to not eat for 10 days so that the children can eat... or to stay and slug it out when the going gets tough for country and people... looks beyond the money, praise and promotion. THIS was the drive with which Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Keng Swee built this nation. It is a drive that fashions miracles out of marshland and mosquito people.

Now, mind you... I am not saying that we should be paying people peanuts and try and get at their internal balls. We should be paying people decent wages... market competitive wages... OR even a little below. And then you work on their internal motivation... such that, when competitors beckon, they will stay with you. Such that, their internal drive compels them to surpass the objectives set at only levels that will get them rewards. The target is set at 1 million? Watch them achieve 2. It is this same internal drive that will lead them to even disobey you and disagree with you at every risk to themselves... so much are they enthused by the corporate vision. They will look past you because they believe so much in your vision, and the work that needs to be done. They will put up with pay cuts even... and no pay.

And then wonderful things begin to happen. The Daughter suddenly blooms into a rather good student. Little Boy, the gong-gong onesheds all gong-gongness and actually enjoys Chinese. It is powerful you know, this internal drive thing.

When you manage employees with only a battery of extrinsic motivators, it is like an unskilled cook in the kitchen. He can only employ salt because salt is necessary (ummm... adequate pay is necessary), and has a strong and obvious taste. But to make a successful dish, there are other more subtle flavours that can be employed to good effect in an orchestra of taste notes.

Pay, praise and promotion are obvious, in-your-face motivators. Any Tom, Dick or Peter Handel can tell you that pay, praise and promotion will keep staff and keep them happy. But they'll only be half right... and they're right on the much smaller half at that!! Working purely with extrinsic motivators is like pushing your Ferrari. We all agree that when the internal engine is switched on, the Ferrari can do far more than what you can push outta it. The human spirit can accomplish miracles. Singapore is one. Will it continue to be one when everywhere you turn money is both a carrot and a stick?

Now mind you, even in this post, I have had to simplify. The field of psychology in human motivation is far wider and deeper than what I can articulate here, and there are myriad exceptions and subtleties to beware of when using these other "spices of motivation" in cooking up your "dish of employee retention and performance". So you see, how can the recipe for staff retention be as simple as pay+praise+promotion?

By all means, pay people well (it is necessary... I do feed my kids because it is necessary)... but do MORE than that too or you will only get the performance you ask for. No miracles... no huge big achievements. The American pop culture sells these trite solutions to all American companies. It's no wonder that the American workforce is a largely unhappy and burnt out one. Singaporeans look like we're about there too because we follow these American gurus blindly... and pay them a lot for what I could tell you on my blog for free.

Note also that Mr Peter Handel said in his interview that he has one rule in life - to do things he likes. That's internal drive at its highest. Gee... why didn't he apply pay praise and promotion to himself?


Just in case people misinterpret this post as an objection to ministerial pay, I state here that it is not. I think our politicians should be well paid. It keeps them honest. It is NECESSARY.

However, American HR practices such as bonus payouts tagged to KPIs need to be more stringently assessed for practical application to our context. The American way got the Americans into a lot of trouble... Why is everything they say taken as gospel truth? They advised us a system that we live with. They don't have to live with it.

Firstly, tagging bonus to GDP trains the eye/attention overly on economic growth. This reflects an assumption that COULD BE outdated, i.e., that jobs and more jobs are necessary. We want to have jobs, yes... but not so many that waves of immigration bring Singaporeans back to subsistence level existence - i.e., no jobs.

We want jobs that don't demand our entire lives as sacrifice - 12 hour days and dismissal when one is pregnant. We want to live like humans again, with time for family... time for friends... time to reach out to loved ones and feel for and with them... care for and be cared for by them. Make babies in safety, knowing that there will be enough good things to share with them as they grow up and we grow old. Things of the heart that nourish the soul... and that make a person feel that this is truly my country and my home.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Yaourtière

The Husband went to France last week and brought home a yoghurt maker. I wasn't too keen at first because between making focaccia and pizza and ratatouille... I was feeling somewhat overworked and NOT paid.

Me: I didn't ask for a yoghurt maker. Yoghurt, we can buy.

The Husband: I got it for you as a gift.

Me: Really? You will make yoghurt for me?

The Husband: *Stunned Silence*. Gentle Joy can make yoghurt. The Daughter can make yoghurt. Little Boy can try too. It would be fun.

Me: And you? You won't try?

The Husband: Ah yes! Me... yes, yes, of course I can try.

But well, when the yoghurt maker arrived, guess who actually made yoghurt. Yes... Petunia did. And I love it. The yoghurt that comes out is smooth and creamy. You can flavour it anything you want. Instead of the insipid atom-sized fruit bits, you can put in humongous blocks of peach or longan or mango.

The first chilled mouthful stretches out languorously over your tongue... it feels something like stretching out on a cold bed on a hot day. There is soft and there is smooth. There is creamy and there is fruit. A little tart, and something sweet

Hmmmmm... hmmmm...

But I know that whenever The Husband says "I bought you a gift", it means he bought himself one. He will ever refer to it as HIS yoghurt maker just as he is wont to refer to HIS frangipani tree and HIS grapes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is the Singapore Government Too Business Friendly?

The Singapore government holds up a sacred cow - the Singapore economy. Over the years we have tended this cow and made it grow. We have nourished it and it has nourished us. But the economy is a hungry animal. It eats... and it eats... and it eats our lives away. With every cycle of boom and recession, the Singapore economy becomes ever more voracious, devouring lives, families and love.

I agree the economy is important but I wish to gently question its place on the foremost pedestal of Singaporean life, to the extent that it throws our very existences out of whack.

Economy = money = high quality of life? Does that make sense?

How can that make sense when dual income couples work 12 hour days everyday in order to get an 'A' grade on that performance appraisal... in order to get the next promotion... in order to earn enough money.

Singapore has come to a point where it chases dreams and forgets that quality living is all about basics. We went after the YOG... set up a wonderful sports school... groom our talent at MIT, and we forget that all honour and glory starts from within the warm beating heart of the family. Could we not see that the Swiss people have a high quality of living because they have work-life balance? They live graciously because they have time. They treat each other graciously because they have time.

What time do shops close in Switzerland?

But you see, in Singapore we are so afraid that the economy will stop humming that we feed it what it wants. Women are given maternity leave, but my friend was sacked shortly after she gave birth. MOM said that there was little recourse for her because it is difficult to point the fault at maternity leave. Working hours are long... very long, far longer than 40 hours if you are middle management. It has become the norm to put in those hours or one would not have a good appraisal, nor get promoted fast enough. In essence, unless you are very rich, you have no time for a very basic act of quality living - spend time with your family.

Over time, Singaporeans began to push back. Employees tried to negotiate better deals for themselves. They didn't want such long hours. They wanted more flexibility. And they wanted to be paid enough so that they could buy time with the children without having to worry about money.

Again, employers pouted and the government brought in foreign talent to feed the insatiable economy. Foreign talent know that when they've had enough, they can go home and have all the time they want with their families because we pay them enough that they have a lifetime's worth of earnings in a few years. And in a single wave of immigration, Singaporeans' bargaining chips for use in employer-employee negotiations vaporised into ether. "If you won't work 12 to 18 hour days, that's fine, we'll hire the foreign talent. Easy for me... tough luck for you."

Left alone, the Singapore population may have reached a natural negotiated equilibrium with businesses and employers for better working conditions. Businesses that don't provide productivity tools... and don't learn to be productive... and don't treat workers well, won't survive because they can neither keep staff nor get work done productively enough. The economy will learn to discipline its hunger in order to remain alive.

And as a nation, people would have higher quality of life.

As it is, we have an ineffectual Ministry exhorting people to be filial, to exercise, to spend time eating with their families... but these are words only. No one dares to say anything to employers who sack women who take maternity leave. No one dares to say anything to employers who pooh-pooh these non-profit generating values - family, filial piety, kindness, graciousness. Only the very rich have time to be kind. Everyone else is busy feeding their own lives to the economy one 12 hour day at a time. And every Singaporean knows that when you hit 40, few will hire you. Even if you want to work, it's hard to find a job. That Ministry has no power. The economy is all boss.

The economy is important. It nourishes us. But when the balance is tipped such that the economy devours more than it nourishes, then the solution is NOT to feed it with easy meat (i.e., foreign talent). Feed a monster and it only gets bigger. Businesses who won't respect workers will LEARN to if there were no easy access to foreign talent. Businesses who aren't family friendly will LEARN to be. Businesses who won't hire people above 40 will LEARN to do so too. Otherwise, it's all TALK... and ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

It's time to let the economy learn discipline so that Singaporeans can live higher quality lives. And when people are not stressed out, they'll find time to get married. They'll want to have babies. They won't divorce because each of the other ended up married to the job. But well, it may well be that the government wants more spouses and more babies to feed to the economy too, eh?

I'm not saying the economy is un-important, but things are just a little imbalanced... is all.

At the end of the day, I think we have a government who cares... who wants to do a good job, and honestly too. It just does not have the courage to tell the economy to devour less and nourish us more.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grape and Rosemary Focaccia Bread - The Step-By-Step


300g of bread flour
100g of plain flour
1 pinch of salt
6 large Chinese tablespoons of olive oil
1 packet of yeast
4 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar
250ml of warm water at 40 DegC

1) Dissolve brown sugar in warm water of about 40 DegC.

2) Stir yeast into water.
3) Measure flour into a large mixing bowl. Add pinch of salt.
4) Mix dry ingredients well with a wooden spoon.
5) Add in the olive oil. Mix with flour until oil binds the flour into clumps.
6) Add water+yeast+sugar solution. Add enough water so the flour sticks onto the wooden spoon like so.... See picture below.

7) Knead the sticky flour on the table top. No need to dust with flour because the olive oil seems to prevent sticking quite well. At the start, the dough will be sticky. As you knead it more and more, it'll smoothen out and make a nice dough ball.

8) Shape into a ball. Place into a mixing bowl. Proof it for an hour in the oven at 50 DegC.
9) After 1 hour of proofing, punch down. Divide into 8 portions of dough. Shape each into a ball and lay down on a baking sheet. If you want, you can dimple it and place a seedless grape into each dimple.
10) Proof again for 3 to 4 hours in a warm room uncovered.
11) Dust with fresh rosemary leaves and bake at 175 DegC for 20 minutes.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Strawberry Plant Fruited

It was thrilling this morning. Gentle Joy fairly squealed up the stairs at me about a strawberry. True enough the strawberry plant has fruited. One tiny red strawberry with 2 others on the way.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A World Full of Colour

The children and I were reminiscing today about life in our HDB flat. To be honest, we've only just left that flat behind... and when I sold it and pocketed the proceeds some years back, I felt that I had lost a part of me. And as we sat giggling in the car over the neighbourhood weirdos, a wave of nostalgia washed over me and I somewhat regret that my flat is no longer mine.

There were quite a few notable weirdos. There was a man with a tic who once or twice lurched towards me with a blood curdling yell, sounding like some Red Injun with a tomahawk. With his lopsided face and pock marked skin, and lolling tongue... he gave me quite a start. I quickly learnt to walk an arch around him.

Then, for 2 years of our stay there, the kopi tiam downstairs employed a skirt-wearing man. He was a very professional server. Very efficient. But he wore a tight top and a denim mini skirt. The server freaked The Husband out so bad that for the 2 years he worked there, The Husband refused to eat at the kopi tiam. I was made to go downstairs and buy food back instead.

After that, it was my turn to be freaked out because the server after that had these eyes like Mona Lisa. I could feel his eyes on me all the time I sat down to eat... or sometimes even when I passed by the kopi tiam on my way to another shop. It's hard to feel comfortable when a pair of eyes seem to be gazing at you the whole time. Now I know why people find the Mona Lisa spooky.

When we moved in, the shops looked nothing like those shops I had gotten used to in the East of Singapore. Even in my 20s, provision shops in the East had aircon and a cash register. The shops downstairs our HDB flat made do with an old Milo tin can attached to a rope and pulley to the roof. The shopkeepers kept their loose change there. Bags of rice and onions were on display... there was the old style coconut grater for grating white coconut flesh into a bag... It was all very backward... and a walk down the long walkway of shops was an assault on the nostrils. You could smell all sorts of unidentifiable smells.

The kopi tiams only just got upgraded by more modern kopi tiam chains a few years ago. They now look neat and clean. The stray cats we used to feed with scraps from our table have disappeared. All the shopkeepers have put on weight and have iron in their hair. A few provision shops now have aircon... 7 Eleven set up shop.

Where we stay now, there is a weirdo too. He can be found in one of the many large fields in Woodlands strapped to a huge parachute trying to run and catch the wind so that he can fly like a kite I suppose. I've never seen him actually fly up very much but he never stops running and stopping as his parachute balloons out behind him. WHAT is he doing?!

Woodlands is a nice place to stay. We're all weirdos here... it's part of our history and our charm.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Woes of Housing Joys

A couple of months back, I was a little worried that our government under the PAP was beginning to rot from within. This can happen you know when people focus so much on past successes that they forget that the present moment requires successful governing too.

One autobiography after another came off the printing press about the Lions of Singapore. As one lion after another faded and passed on, one began to wonder if the famous Chinese curse on wealth creation and preservation would come to pass in tiny little Singapore. Many Chinese believe that wealth does not last beyond 3 generations. The first generation builds wealth. The second generation maintains wealth. The third generation squanders it.

It was a scary thought because our whole life is in Singapore.

One worried whether civil service bonuses constructed around GDP growth meant that the government machinery would become slowly blinded to issues of social justice which every country faces, but which are far less of an imperative for profit-making conglomerates. One worried that the education system would be skewed to benefit the English-speaking families of Singapore. One worried that transport companies, in streamlining profits and expenditures, would neglect the needs of older folks who travel safer on long haul bus routes. One worried that people who needed homes could not afford them anymore because waves of moneyed foreigners came here to snap up properties. One did a double-take and ran screaming away from the showflat at Centro Residences because they were selling leasehold apartments in the suburbs at S$1000/sq ft.

It seemed that the country were in the throes of runaway capitalism, and the world had come to Singapore to compete and win. Sure enough, Singapore has had a blessed 5 decades or so. And sure enough, the government has provided an excellent education to its people... but there will always be those who cannot keep up. When forced to compete with highly educated foreigners who are geographically mobile, huge swathes of the Singapore population lose and fall behind... into despair and poverty. In every country, there are those who squander their chance at education... squander their HDB flat to buy new clothes... spend all they have on bags, shoes and cool gadgets... to wake up one day to realise that they are unable to look after themselves nor their children. But well... these people are still Singaporeans and one can't do as the British used to do with their people in the last century - ship them off to Australia. So something needed to be done to help them without helping so much as to reinforce undesirable behaviors.

One worried that the government cared only for the brightest and the best. I suppose it IS easy to love such people.

But well... one worries no more. The housing market restrictions will make housing more affordable... starting first with the HDB flats. I am of course rather peeved because my own properties may drop in value but I am willing to concede that I already have a place to sleep when winds howl at night and the rains beat down on us. And therefore, I can accept and live with the slew of regulations which will help those with no homes, to buy them.

I feel encouraged and this has renewed my faith in the PAP (earlier buffetted by a Minister's appalling support for an adulterer with a taste for sweet young things). The PAP has not forgotten, after all, the common man.

And if you're not convinced that the government means to help, then drive past Pathlight - the school set up for the abject failures of the hard-driving and uber-demanding Singaporean educational system. This school takes failures and turns them around. Surely Pathlight is evidence of the government's recognition that people are born into unequal homes and that a child's success in school.... and later in life is a function of the quality of home life. It turns out that large numbers of children in Pathlight school failed because their families had no money to buy them spectacles. Children won't do well if parents fight all the time. Children won't do well if they cannot see well enough to read the blackboard. And Pathlight is a shining beacon of love for those who are not the brightest and the best.

Of course, there are some who are peeved because they intended to upgrade to a nicer home. But it's odd that they're so trigger happy in their grief. If prices drop some, then they would be able to make that 30% no? They just have to wait a bit more. And gee... if you're upgrading, it does mean you already have a home, no? That surely can't be as bad as those who have no home to call their own.

I don't think it's easy to be a government who cares. I'm sure it hurts when people you work to help, don't appreciate the help. I'm sure it hurts to read hurtful insults. And I don't think many people realise that when one holds the reins of power, one can do anything. One can shoot to kill. One can declare martial law. One can change the law. One can replace a democracy with a hereditary royalty or a dictatorship. It only takes wanting. But this government is a gentle one with a firm touch and fine brains. It really does want to help the people.

I think.

Though one can't help but wonder how the government could check on a buyer's overseas property status. Hmmmmmm.... is it at all possible?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Milo is NOT a Rabid Dog

Look at that expression of utter adoration as he stares deep into The Daughter's eyes... his face gentle and paws cradling her arm. How can that be a rabid dog?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Songs We Like

We all like Country Music. The question is - What KIND of country music? Here is a sample of the songs The Husband and Little Boy like...

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lot of men didn't, a lot of men died
One fist of iron
The other of steel
If the right one don't get you, then the left one will

You load 16 tonnes
What do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
St Peter don't ya call me
Cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

Every time these words come on. Both testosterone deformed individuals will laugh and snigger evil-ly... tapping their feet in unison.

The Daughter and I like poignant songs like the following...

Our little boy is 4 years old and quite a little man
So we spell out the words we don't want him to understand
Like T-O-Y or maybe S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E
But the words we're hiding from him now tear the heart right out of me

Every time these words come on, we will hum along.

It's kinda hard to agree on what type of country music to play when family males and family females are in the room together.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wanna Walk Milo?

In Woodlands, one can still find wide expanses of empty grass fields which the government very kindly trims regularly. Walking Milo is like a bullock (Milo) walking a cart (me).

I know. I know. There are ways to train him to heel. But I have not managed to do it. And no matter how irritating he is, all is forgotten when he gets onto my lap. So, after so long, he is still the bullock and I am still the cart.

Understandably therefore, one of my favourite ways of walking Milo is to bring him into a large (and secret) field in Woodlands with lots of grass and no one else, and take his leash off. He loves that. He will run, and run, and run... muscles rippling and ears flying back in the wind. He literally flies through the air with every bound. Our Milo has lotsa machismo. If he were a human, he would be a biker in leather pants.

When he sees a puddle of water, he'll run towards it full pelt... bound into the air and do a body turn and land on his flank ... SPLASH! into the puddle. Therein, he wiggles about and then turns the right way up and DRINKS in thirsty gulps. There is no way to stop him from drinking the water that possibly, another dog pee-ed in. If I can't stop him from being a bullock on our walkies, I can't stop him from drinking pee.

With the many rains this season, there are plenty of water puddles in our secret field. In some of them, we can stand knee deep. They're chock full of little tadpoles too. Milo loves them. It's such great fun trying to catch those black wriggly things in the water.

But you know, we're in Singapore right? Even if a field has no one in it, there are still people around. Joggers run by along the kerb. Little dogs the size of kitties scuttle along on impossibly tiny paws. And Milo gets attracted to anything that runs. I have thus to be vigilant to keep a good 500m distance of buffer between Milo and any moving target. When I spy a moving target, I start running in the other direction so that Milo will chase me instead.

There have been close calls though. Milo took off after a jogger, who saw him from 300m away and then jogged faster. Milo is fast. So the jogger sped up some more. I could not see the jogger's face but I would imagine that his pupils must've been dilated to the maximum. The Daughter had to run very hard in the other direction to get Milo to chase her instead.

Milo is a scary looking dog. All who know him, know he is a wimp. His favourite seat is on someone's lap and just 2 drops of rain on the patio starts him begging. But with his black snout and dark spots on his tongue, he looks like a Doberman wannabe about to revel in carnage and murder whilst on his walkies. You can just imagine him lifting his head up, jaws dripping with blood to howl at the white fluffy clouds after having ripped the hearts out of innocent passersby. Even when he is on the leash, most people's eyes go wide when they see him. Some stop in their tracks. Others walk around us gingerly.

BUT little old ladies and little old men with walking sticks recognise Milo for who he is. A kampong kia (village or small town kid) with no elegance, no style but a lot of heart. He's a huge giant that can be laid low with a sharp "No!", and all he wants when he chases someone is to smell him/her at the crotch and offer his own crotch for inspection. That's called making friends and being sociable.

Little old ladies and little old men love Milo. He reminds them of the village dogs that roam their childhoods. They'll tell us that Milo is handsome. They hold out in the frail and trembling hands delectable snacks that they keep away from the other dogs in the neighbourhood. By contrast, The Daughter's classmates call him "that rabid dog". Obviously, these young people never heard of crotch etiquette.