Saturday, May 27, 2006

Grounding the SingaporeFlyer

When the concept of the Singapore Flyer was first announced, I wondered what sort of attraction one could see 160metres high above Marina Bay. Look south, and all we will see are various oceangoing-ships at anchor. We look east, and we just might be able to see planes leaving Changi Airport. Look West, and we'll see signs of Singapore's economic muscle in the container business, and the huge CO2 emitter that is our Petro-chemical plant called Jurong Island. Look north, and we'll get a nice view of the Skyscrapers, and possibly a view into the heart of Singapore. Apparently, according to a Wikipedia entry, a 'flight' on the Singapore flyer is expected to cost around S$27.50.

The London Eye, on the other hand, cost me £13 (S$40) back in 2003. What the flight gave one the opportunity to see was London, and all 800 years of its development into the capital of the United Kingdom. In a sense, it was boring - all around, you could see were lots of typical english housing roofs, stretching for as far as the eye can see, a testament to London's long history of civilization.

It was fun to see the various railway lines snaking into the huge train stations, and watching trains come and go. And to look at the various statements of each generation, in examples such as London's Gherkin, and the Millennium Dome. The flight was over too quickly, and I longed to watch the trains go all day from literally a 'bird's eye view' of London.

Insulted by many, and initially only given a 5 year planning approval, The LondonEye is now one of London's top attractions, and if you want a overview of London, a trip up the London Eye has no substitute. (except a Helicopter flight over London maybe.)

Unfortunately, for Singapore, our inability to really create complementary planning has enabled us to score an own goal for the SingaporeFlyer even before it boards its first passenger. That is the Marina Bay Sands. With the Singapore Government accepting the Las Vegas Sands bid, it seems, a perfect substitute for the SingaporeFlyer has shown itself.

The planning proposal indicates that "A 1-hectare Sky Park at 50th storey (above the three hotel towers ) offering panoramic views " is part of the offering from the Marina Bay Sands. Now, I could be wrong, and "Location, Location, Location" holds true that the real estate the Singapore flyer sits on will never be the same as the one Marina Bay Sands sits on, but looking at this particular picture, and imagining where the Singapore flyer will be, most economists and real estate professionals will be hard pressed to say that the experience offered by the SingaporeFlyer's has NO substitute.

According to Yawningbread, he says that the Sky Park will be a 'public park', which means no entrance fees(?!). I cannot conclude that it will be a public park from either STB, and the LasVegasSands website fails to load (on both IE and Firefox) , so the question remains open, but I do doubt that it will cost S$27.50 to enter the Sky Park, unless the operators are perfect collusionists with the SingaporeFlyer firm.

So, I guess, the most important questions for investors of the SingaporeFlyer now are:

  1. When will I ever recoup my multimillion Singapore Dollar investment?
  2. Is s$27.50 still viable given the presence of a near perfect substitute less than 1 kilometre away, and possibly with free entry?
  3. Why didn't I put in my contracts a no-compete that Singapore was not allowed to approve any development that could create a near-perfect substitute for the x-years?
  4. Is there any way of getting compensation for the loss of revenue a-la when Singtel was "forced" to give up its "telecommunications" monopoly early?
  5. Arrrrrgh!!!!!!!
[Oh, the fun of being an STB bureaucrat dealing with the SingaporeFlyer people ;-)]

Way before the Marina Bay Sands was confirmed, back in 1999, I already felt that it would be difficult for people to want to take a trip up an oversized Ferris Wheel, when half of the view was just empty sea. Now, with a near-perfect substitute, I think the SingaporeFlyer will become a perfect business case study on business uncertainty and the failure of vision.

Anyone with investments related to the SingaporeFlyer best be calling his broker now or consulting his online brokerage web site?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

random rant on meritocracy - brought to its logical extreme, it is worse than Noblesse Oblige

Elitism can create misperceptions of reality.

Many a scholar do not come from a fishmonger background, or a roadsweeper background. Many come from more privileged backgrounds.

Basic principle - the rich get richer, the poor well, have the "opportunity" for social mobility.

The elite study in elite schools, mix with smart students, and think, all of Singapore is like them. It is not that they are unable to empathize. They just haven't been exposed to other perspectives. I once had a long discussion over elitism with a friend who went through Tao Nan Primary, Raffles Secondary, and Raffles JC before ending up in NUS. It took about 3 hours to get him to comprehend the reality that he had no opportunity to be exposed to in his education process.

So, do we blame the products for being completely out of sync outside their perfect operating world, or the system based on the philosophy of meritocratism that shaped these elite in the first place?

Even kings understand the concept of Noblesse Oblige... our modern elite, many are incapable of understanding people other then their own, for they live in a different world. Looking at my 'last post on being in 3 Cities in one week, I cannot deny that I am becoming one of them, but at least I still remember what it felt like to had to find enough money to take the bus to work and back. (At least I didn't have to walk 15km just to work for 4 hours and back, though it came rather close then.) So hopefully, I will never forget that time, and how people can get caught in situations beyond their ability to affect. And to react and help out of empathy, and not sympathy.

Guilt of the elite is not the path to assuaging the soul. Noblesse oblige is. Noblesse oblige is not waiting for that once a year donation, or "community visit", but simple acts of kindness and support for your fellow man whenever you can. For it its society that recognizes wealth, and every man is part of society.

Without peasants, there can be no food for the king.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Random responses to comments on someone else's blog

Reproduced for my own sorry records:


Seems like a lot of noise in this entry's comments, but what are the positions here?

Pro-PAP arguments:
1. Economic stability and Progress
2. No-PAP = Philippines/Indonesia and other failed democracies.
3. Democracy is for the birds. Give me peace and stability any-day.
4. No corruption from PAP.

Can these premises be demolished.

Democracy does not mean anachy and regress. the UK/US/Europe all have high per-capita GDP & standards of living, and these did not arise out of a permanent autocracy in their democracies. (Magaret Thatcher, for all the good she did, was kicked out when the British decided she had 'served' her purpose.)

No-PAP - We don't even have enough squabbling political parties to end up in a situation like the Philippines, or even Italy and the rest of Europe. We have a few old political parties (sans PAP) without a lot of good leadership, nor any new blood. Why is this so? Because it has been systematically trained out of the Singapore population that politics = bad and PAP=good. Don't you love brainwashing? For the forseeable future (5-10 years?) we cannot turn into the Philippines overnight if PAP loses majority in an election, because the opposition isn't good enough yet. For our society to evolve to the next level of civilization (that means no more 1st world infrastructure, 3rd world mindset), we have to leave behind the "Junzi" (gentleman-scholar) mindset of always believing that someone 'better' knows better. We have to learnt to take care of ourselves ourselves.

Peace and Stability can exist without a democracy. Even in North Korea there is 'peace and stability' (not much else.) There is a misconception that peace and stability will not exist if Singapore does not have a democracy. If we had inefficient bureaucracies and governmental (NOT Political) corruption, then yes, we would not have peace and stability in a democracy.

Singapore is known for having a corruption-free governmental bureaucracy. That is a mainstay in our attraction for foreign investment. Having more opposition members in Parliament does not mean that our bureaucracies will be come corrupt.

I believe there are sufficient examples over history that no party will ever be corruption free, PAP included.

What the pro-democracy supporters can use to enhance civil dialogue:

1. A rigourous media industry with different perspectives help ensure that any shady games played by anyone will be efficiently brought to the attention of the country.

2. Singaporeans need to learn to be responsible for themselves, and not wait for an authority to tell them what they should do to take care of themselves.

3. We are a 1st-world economy competing with other 1st-world economies. It is no longer possible to just copy someone else's successful economic model. This means we need freedom of ideas to compete with other 1st-world economies' ideas, but our education culture does not encourage a free mind.

4. Singapore needs to grow up. We cannot as a society remain forever 'babied' by the agents that we give the authority to govern us.

A government serves the people, but in Singapore, it seems, the people are just 'employees' of Singapore,Inc, and encouraged to to go Malaysia when we are of no more economic use.



Looking at Europe's history, and The US's history, democracy is not an overnight event. It is a gradual process of civic realization that a society is made up OF us, and not made up FOR us.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Where lies Home? - A journey through a tropical greenhouse

"One never really understand what home means until one has lived away from it"
"Home is where one chooses to make it"

Does the 2 statements contradict each other? Are they mutually exclusive?

Still doesn't quite answer the question - but walking through a tropical greenhouse in the Palmgarten in Frankfurt today brought back memories of home. No, not memories of the house, nor memories of the places, but memories of the air, the humidity, and well, the scents of the tropics.

It was like a mini tour through the various major climate areas of the world, in one greehouse, the air was dry like in the California region, in another, the air was 'wet' like in the tropics. Did i also mention that the temperature was different? Walking through the tropical section, it felt so much easier to 'breathe'. Having breathed in the tropics for 28 years (less a few weeks), it seemed like home, because the air and temperature felt 'normal'

So there lies the question - what then defines home? the place where one grows up in, and drinks water from the land, imbibes from the plants in the region, and leaves permanent memories in the body? (I can't compare meats anymore, since we now have "airpork" from Australia" after the Nipah virus scare back in 2001/2?, and we don't have much of a farm industry in Singapore)

Or is it the place where one forms one's first relationships (familial, societal, etc)? What are social relationships, since they appear to form anywhere and anywhere if one tries hard enough. Family links cannot be changed, though the relationships can go through ups and downs. Friends, well, one can always move to a new city! (which is a little hard to do in tiny Singapore.)

So the scent and humidity of the tropics re-triggered the question of where one calls home. It was brought into sharper focus when I saw the latest Newsweek article "The new Jet Set": Rootless travelers - or citizens of the world?

Reading through the article, it appears that I am already practicing some of the customs and habits of them, while living in Europe on Exchange. As it stands, the schedule of events for next week is as follows:

Week X of 52

Monday: Start Summer School Programme @EBS in Oestrich-Winkel (Morning/Afternoon)

Tuesday: Same as above

Morning - visit to European Central Bank (Frankfurt);
Early afternoon fly from Frankfurt Flughaven into Paris CDG.
Evening: Champions League Final @Stade de France.
(Seats behind the bench, so I am told!)

Morning: Knock on Board Game Company's doors in Paris because they never reply to any emails.
Mid-Afternoon: Fly back to Frankfurt
Evening: Possible dinner meeting in Frankfurt
Night: Return to Oestrich-Winkel.

Morning - return to Summer School classes.
Afternoon - Summer school class+dinner/wine tasting?

nothing scheduled yet; odds of going somewhere with the summer school people are high.

Looking at all that hopping around, studying+football+working, all within the space of 72 hours, in 3 different cities (erm, Oestrich-Winkel is a "Stadt", but it sure is a tiny "stadt"!) - is this the life of the future for many in the knowledge economy? Or will this still be the preserve of the top 0.01% of the world's population? What gives me the 'right' to live such a life?

With so many options, is there a real need to return to 'home' as it is currently known? Or is there a need to re-define home in terms of seasons? eg:

Spring - Europe
Summer - somewhere not so hot? (still searching for a great place)
Autumn - still searching
Winter - Singapore (because it doesn't snow, and its not so hot anymore!)

If the knowledge economy enables work to be carried on from anywhere with an internet connection (VPNs, VOIPs, Webcams, etc reduce the need to be face to face), is there a real need for tomorrow's generation to stay firmly rooted in one place? Or will all of them have bases all over the world to travel to and fro? What factors would tie them down more to one location over another?

I guess, children would be a major factor in such a situation. Tonight's dinner with the Course Leader for the Summer school, was a clear example - She is currently based in Germany, teaching @EBS. She will be heading to Virginia, USA for (a sabbatical? no idea). She mentioned how difficult it was for her and her husband to both be able to go away to Virginia for 1 semester (6 months?) at the same time. And most importantly, she was worried about her children's education not being disrupted.

On that issue, it was interesting how she offered the option to her children of deciding whether they wanted to join a more advanced class and be challenged, or stay with other children in her age group at a lower-level class. She was concerned with issues like class size (looking at a private school with 2-3 teachers for a 12-20 student class); and back in Singapore, we're still talking about a 40-student class in our national schools.
(Don't want to turn this into a discussion on societal evolution (that will come?), but its interesting how her children have a 'choice'.)

So, it appears that the primary factors for deciding if she could go away were:

1. Familial-Husband
2. Familial -Children.
3. Nothing else critical?

Would she be considered a jet-setter as per the Newsweek article? I don't know much of her life as an academic, but she was educated in France and Florida before landing a job in EBS. I guess that makes her a citizen of the globe.

So, where lies home? or what is home? I don't even know what my room will look like when I return to SG. Does it trouble me? I don't seem terribly worried about not being rooted anymore. Maybe I am already a citizen of the world.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

When should a blog die or lose its reason for continued existence?

I thought about it after my friend who's on study exchange outside Singapore, decided his blog would have nothing interesting to write about after he returns to SG.
(is SG really that boring? or is it reflection of the fact that one's mind has to put on blinkers to survive in SG? or?!)

Oddly, it then made me wonder - when would this blog have reason to cease continued existence?

Well, its rather simple isn't it? just take the title of the blog and turn it into a yes/no question.

The day that there are no more serial numbers on my vote, will be the day that this blog ceases to have relevance to the future.
(that just means its time to find a new reason to blog)

anyway, just as a link to help spread the word, if one wants to look for non-StraitsTimes/CNA viewpoints, check out

Next up: Trainspotting.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Is the party the government, or does the party form the government?

Semantics - or the world that we come to recognize as reality

As a friend commented - your writings are so long, boring and plain. No color. Well, colors are an ebellishment. It should be the ideas-that-words-inspire to make life exciting. (anyway, too much background, no context, and digressing from the post.)

This was the contents of a mail I had sent to the SiGNeL mailing list after being told about MM Lee's open debate with the youth (well, university students.) I was told it was rather fiery. So off I went to the state-owned media company's website, to find a report and writeup. Well I found it, and also found evidence that even the mightiest can only stay so long in the sun.

As a lawyer, it is about the worst sin you can commit to argue illogically. Well, I think i found evidence that the argument used was illogical.

When a political party wins an election and forms a government, is its mandate to take care of the entire nation or only the wards that it wins?

I have no issue with some pork-barrel politiking, since you do have to reward your supporters, but to what extent should the government act for the party's supporters' benefit, and to what extent ALL citizens benefit?In our case, WHO are party supporters? Wards where the opposition did not contest? that seems to me a not-false premise, but not necessarily a true premise.

Going by the pork-barrel logic, one must reward those wards first that voted, then those wards that didn't vote, because the latter is suspect, and the former has declared its support.

Is the government to represent a country's citizens, or only citizens who voted for the party in power? (again, did they get a mandate, or was it a walkover?)

Where lies seperation of church (party ideology) and state?

I guess SG's world-reknown personality has defined it. In his opinion,
it clearly seems, the equation is:

the party = the government

the government = the party

and NOT

The government = sum(elected representatives who
may be majority from one party)

see the statement he made and question the logic of what he said:

"does any government help the opposition to displace itself?"

Should it have been?:

"does any party help the opposition displace itself?"

(caution: he does ask the rhetorical question in a debate-style response to a queston on the viability of other political parties etc etc, but flaw in logic is a flaw in logic. The party is not the state!)

The party is NOT the government. The government is not the party. It appears that to him, for all intents and purposes, the party IS the government. If so, then we cannot call ourselves democratic anymore, for the state is now opposed to helping any opposition displace the ruling

We're now no better than any other nation state that has fused church and state. Sure, our ideology may be less limiting, or restrictive, and may not be based on the religious written word, but in no sense does it that mean we are better for it. We have fused church and state in our own unique way, and the democratic experiment is over.


This mail was sent before the elections were called, so I guess the SG democratic experiment is not yet over. No educated society will ever want to be told what it should be, but rather, want to be given the freedom of choice to determine what it wants to be, at the individual, and at the societal level. Maybe the SG democratic experiment is still going on.

One can only hope. Potential and realization are not mutually exclusive, but they are also not sequential either. We will know by May 7th if the experiment is still on-going.

A Serial Number on my Vote


i guess, nothing like starting a blog with a title like such in the midst of election season in Singapore. It appears that the end of one-party dominance has begun in Singapore.

Anyway, the reason why I got inspired to write was simple - a one liner on one of my friend's blog that said, and I quote "I used to think Singaporeans were ignorant. Some are.. but I have realized that most are not. Most were afraid. I honestly believed the PAP would know if you voted against them. I remember growing up wishing that nothing would happen to my parents if they had chose to vote opposition." So, thanks Fir, you've now got me to start blogging

I grew up with those same fears. The government had made the political scene in singapore one where the opposition were seen as people who would destroy what our parents and their parents and.. (u get the idea) have spent their lifetimes building up. As the ruling party of over 30 years, in a Parliament of 82 representatives (for a population of only 3.5million?!), their standard electoral spiel is - vote us in because we know best, and the opposition knows nothing.

Well, that worked as long as the ruling party was able to pick the best of the remaining talent pool to be put forth as members of Parliament, and also as well, to discourage political participation in everyone else. (Apathy? or systematic denial of political maturity in a society?)
The spectre of economic doom and gloom (straw man? slippery slope? bad logic?) was always used as a scare tactic during elections.

Digressing as usual. Back to the whole idea of the blog title - Firdaus' remark made me remember the choices I had when i stood in that voting booth back in (2001?) in MacPherson Secondary School. The voting ticket was clear and simple. 2 choices. Ruling party candidate and i think it was an independent candidate. No complex voting forms like in Euope, America (North and south) or such. I cast my vote based on economic principles, or what I thought was economic principles.

Well, 4 years later, much more tertiary education later, much more thinking later, it appears that I had cast my vote on insufficient information. Sure, the ruling party had a track record. The independent had none. Sure, the independent candidate cannot compete in terms of getting his message out in terms of campaign funds. (which makes me wonder, WHERE does the ruling party get its campaign contributions from? Do we have the potential for a US/UK-style scandal occuring one day?

I had also been irresponsible with the decision. I had not made any effort on my part to hear what the opposition candidate had to say about anything. (well, the internet wasn't as pervasive as it is this election, so it was harder to get any message out!) I had not bothered to be an informed voter. I had made the decision based on available information, which was +ve for the PAP candidate, and 0 for the independent candidate. (come to think of it, he may actually have been a member of some party).

Again, too much background, not enough focus on today's issue. That is - a serial number on my vote, and the fear factor it produced. At least a portion of the decision on voting was made based on the fear that I could be identified as being an opposition voter and discriminated against in my life from now on. On the back of the vote, there was a serial number. Now a serial number is nothing wrong, especially since there must be some sort of record to ensure that every vote can be accounted for. However, what caused the fear was that before I was given the voting form, I was registered in a process, that had someone identify the serial number with my name and IC number.

I cannot remember if the actual electoral process was one that could actually have made me idenfitiable by vote. However, the general feel within Singapore is that "big brother is watching", so it definitely had an effect in limiting the decision sphere. And in the new information age, it is actually easier than in the past to make one identified with every action/decision made in one's entire life. But back then in the last election, there was definitely that sense of fear.

So the ruling party and the government did nothing to dispel the fear that "big brother knows". From a selfish perspective, it is unnecessary to waste any advantage in the competition that is an election. However, it perverts the purpose of an election, which is to choose representatives that best represent the people.

What we have in the world today are candidates that sway to 'public opinion' (in our case, its the invisible conservative majority that the ruling party claims to reflect). We no longer have many candidates who stand for what they believe in, and tell the world what they believe in. We have politicians, when we are looking for leaders. (but that's for another day's diatribe).

Anyway, just to re-state the point - there was a serial number on my vote, and the then perception of being identified, singled out for voting opposition and persecuted against was an unnecessary constraint upon my freedom to choose, and based on that memory, I shall remember the time where I abdicated my full right to be responsible for my own future.

{Post-logue - I can't vote in this 2006 election because I happen to be out of Singapore, and by chance, I will be able to make it to the Singapore High Commission in London where overseas voters can go. However, to qualify as an overseas voter, it appears that I need to have stayed overseas for 2 years (and as a colloquary, it appears that u also must have stayed in SG for 2o hf the past 5 years). So since I have only been away from SG for 2 months, I don't qualify as an overseas voter, and must again, abdicate my responsiblity as a citizen of the little country that I still call home.}