Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Slim Lady's special day....

The Slim Lady gets a year older today.

Unlike most families, we don't usually celebrate birthdays, not even for the kids', other then giving the kids presents. The Slim Lady simply hates party because party messes up the house. Dine out? Oh, it's too troublesome I might as well stay at home, she'd usually say.

Well, this year, I decided to do things differently. I bought her flowers (why waste money? she had said)and it's not as if I'm buying her flowers for the first time! Treated her lunch at Phin's restaurant with Senior Junior. I also gave her a Flash-Disk MP3 players to store all her Korean songs.

She was happy; or at least she appeared to be....

Living simply ........

I don't care much for planning the future. I live today for today. Needless to say, I don't have much saving. Whatever "little" I earn, I spend it all. My philosophy is quite simple - how to save for tomorrow when you're trying to eke out a living today? The cost of living has skyrocketed. The fare for public transport has gone up. So has the price of petrol. It's unbelievable the kind of money I fork out each time I pump up petrol for my compact car. It seems to be spiraling up, never coming down, a sentiment shared by all motorists, no doubt.

Other than some insurance policies I bought from friends-turned-insurance agents when I was much younger and none the wiser, I'm really as poor as a church mouse, unless you consider insurance policies a form of 'wealth'. Okay, so I have a car. Technically speaking, it belongs to the bank from which I loan huge amount of money to drive it. The last time I went on a tour of leisure was more then 10 years ago with the slim lady in New Zealand and that was before the arrival of the storks.

An article I read in the TODAY newspaper about our CPF monies has sort of jostled me from my muddle-headedness in financial matters. The HARD FACTS:

Minimum sum at 55 years old-
We are required to keep a minimum sum of $90,000 in our Ordinary Account when we reach 55. This sum will gradually increase to $120,000 by 2013. This means that we can only withdraw anything in excess of that amount. Woes to people who take up 30-year mortgage loan for their house. Well, I happened to be one of these people! By 2013, I'll be 54. If I remember my maths, I'll still be paying for my HDB flat, until the age of 63 when I retire! Forget about the minimum sum of $120,000!

Contribution To The Ordinary Account Does Not Grow With Age:
As we grow older, in line with the lower CPF contribution rates, the amount going into our Ordinary Account will drop from 22% (35 years old and below) to 20% (35-45 years old) to 18% (45-50 years old) to just 12% (50-55 years old). Also under current rules, any excess above the Medisave contribution ceiling ($32,500) will flow directly into our Ordinary Account. However, from July 1, 2006, this money will be transferred to our Special Account instead (for those aged below 55 years), or our Retirement Account (55 years old and above)

Lower Salary Ceiling
From Jan 1, 2006, the salary ceiling from CPF contributions will be lowered to $4,500 per month, down from %5,000 currently. Thus, if we earn $4,800 a month, our combined contribution from the employee and employer for the month will only be based on $4,500. This means more take-home pay but also dwindling Ordinary account contributions for Loan repayments.

These are quite sobering facts. I'll probably work till the day I drop unless I'm too ill to work. I foresee myself begging for handouts from my sons.... Perhaps it's time for me to get rid of my car and start saving now! I hate to plan long term. Because you never can tell what tomorrow may bring. Some will argue that's the precise reason one should start saving, because we never know what the future holds.... But I've grown quite used to driving. Taking the trains and buses just don't sound very appealing to me. And the fact that trains and buses were blown up in London is not helping much to convert me to taking public transport .... We cannot rule out what has happened in London may never ever happen in Singapore... If it happens, what's the use of the money that I've amassed? Might as well enjoy it now... and live today like there's no tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The youth of old age ....

VT turns 50 this Thursday. The BAGUS team, comprising JO, MJM, Victor Koo and myself bought him lunch today at Blooie's, a cozy little restaurant just across our office. Though 50, VT looks good for his age and claims that he can still make any women "meow" like a pussycat.

There is no running away from "aging". None in the BAGUS team is below 40. I was just commenting, during lunch, that time really flies and that a lifetime is really quite short. Even if one lives to the ripe old age of 80, time is really not quite enough. There are mountains to climb and rivers to swim. And how many people do we know who have gone through life and said that if they were to die today, they would die a happy and contented person?

I know I would not be able to say so, because there are so many things I want to do; such as learning to roller blade, play a musical instrument, travel the world, doing community work, the list goes on ... Most people have the fear of mortality. The fear intensifies as one approaches middle age, and by most account, 50 is definitely way pass middle age, I reckon. But you know how the human spirit has a way of "denying the truth", always conjuring up excuses to defy the truth. How else do you explain the phase "40 is the old age of youth; and 50 is the youth of old age"? Something coined up by someone in the 50s no doubt and probably someone who is in self-denial about his age.

Anyway, to make VT feel better for having hit the big 5 "O", not that he needed it because he sure looked cheerful enough, I quoted the exact phrase on the birthday card we bought him. Members of BAGUS each has their story to tell. Victor Koo wrote to tell him to make a trip to Hawaii, the backdrop for the detective series Hawaii 5 "O" which was very popular in the 70s. I love his wry sense of humour. He's not called a wordsmith for nothing.

Can't remember much of what MJM and JO wrote other than MJM telling VT to take life slow and easy ... As if VT is not taking life easy enough...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Charity Fair

The word "charity" raises a stink these days. All thanks to the unfortunate events surrounding NKF. Nonetheless, we were reminded, time and again by ministers, newspaper commentators that "two wrongs can't make a right" and that if we stop giving to charity altogether, the only group of people who will really suffer would be patients in need of dialysis. While some people have been swayed to reinstate their monthly donation to NKF, others choose to wait until NKF puts its house in order under the new CEO and the Board of Directors.

My office held a charity fair today. This event was planned long before the NKF saga and the committee decided then that the beneficiaries would be MINDS or Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore.

I was worried that the bad publicity resulted from NKF would dampen the charity fair somewhat. But my fear was unfounded. The fair turned out to be quite successful. Business was brisk in my team’s hotdog bun stall. The buns were sold out within two hours. There were other stalls offering games, souvenirs and IT gadgets. The foyer was just bustling with activities. Basically, there were three groups of people - those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that wait for things to happen. It was an event like no other in my office.

At the end of the day, my team collected more than $350 for MINDS. In our very humble ways, I think we can measure up to NKF, if I may say so. At least we are transparent. Though it was a lot of work, the charity fair has been fun. Looking at how we worked as a team, cutting onions, slicing the bun, toasting the sausages, taking orders and playing waiters delivering the orders, I can't help but feel a sense of comradeship with my co-workers. It's a great way to build a team culture and it feels great to be able to contribute to charity in our small ways. We achieved quite a few "firsts" today:
1. The first time a charity event was ever organised in my office;
2. The first stall to sell out the the hotdog buns; and
3. The first time we saw MJM, a colleague of me, wear jeans to work. It made him look 10 years younger. Ha!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A betrayal of a charitable act?

Victor Koo is absolutely right. My stress level does have an impact on how often I post entries in my blog. It does seem that my posts go up proportionately when I'm feeling the stress. The past week when I was on course in the SAF, I was totally spent and yet found time to write on my blog. Only because a blog, to me, is really a therapeutic outlet to vent my grips and frustrations... And now that my life has gone back to civilization and my stress level has gone considerably down, I have less need for this outlet. :)) Or so I thought....

These past two days, my attention, and many of those in this tiny island state, was riveted on the NKF CEO's high salary and bonus, all played up in the court room. This followed the CEO's lawsuit against SPH for what it considered was a defamatory article on how how NKF lacked the transparency on how it was being managed, and how public fund meant for kidney patients are being used to pay the ridiculous high salaries and bonuses of the staff in NKF. The charges also included expensive fixtures like gold-plated taps and $1100 toilet bowl being installed in the shower room of the CEO's office.

Even as I write, more than three thousands people are terminating their monthly donations to the NKF. Fifteen thousands have gone on line, signing petition and demanding the CEO to step down. The NKF Headquarters was also vandalized with the word "Liar" spray-painted in red.

Sadly, the real victims of this saga are the beneficiaries of the NKF. They are none other the kidney patients undergoing dialysis and awaiting transplants. It would be sad indeed, if the patients who can ill afford the treatment are denied the financial aid, all because of the doing of one man.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The making of a chef .......

Daryl, my senior junior, announced today that he would be preparing dinner. Apparently, he has been taught how to whip up a mean plate of spaghetti during the home econs lesson in school. The feedback he got from his teacher was that his spaghetti tasted better then most of his classmates. So proud was he that he couldn't wait for us to be his guinea pigs.

See the chef in the making at work.... It's really cute he even don an apron while preparing the food. Quite clumsy I must say, but this is his first attempt and I'm sure he'll get better next time.

I think our educators have done a terrific job trying to make "house husbands" out of our boys. In my time, only girls needed to attend home econs lessons. I suppose with most families being duo-income these days, the power that be recognises that the men can no longer be spared the household chores... How clever of them to make the boys learn cooking!

Take a look at the final products of Daryl's first attempt at cooking dinner. I know what you're thinking ....The photo does not do justice to the actual food.... The proof of the pudding is really in the tasting.

On a scale of 1-10, the slim lady and I gave Daryl a 7. It taste quite good. And yes, he made us proud. After all, how many of us grown man can claim to have cook dinner for the family??

Friday, July 08, 2005

POP loh ......

Day five.

Moral was high today. End of course. Graduation! "Passing out parade" loh!

Most of us felt like zombies for lack of sleep. I have no choice put to assist to present today. And guess what? I felt great after the presentation, not because I've finally done it, but because I felt I've contributed my share to my team, and being a team player.

Almost all the presentations went through smoothly. Not so much grilling by the instructors this time.

After the course debrief, there was a small reception. It's crappy that both kwan and myself have to contribute $2, just like the rest of the army participants for the reception. What? Do you ask your guests to pay when you invite them to your house for dinner? That's what the SAF did to kwan and me! What's more, we have to pay $4 for the group photo too! Unbelievable!

Was glad and happy to say goodbye after the debrief. Oh, got a cert too. Maybe I'll have it framed up and hang it in my cubicle, just to make a mockery of it....

What a week it's been for me.......

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The little old man ........

Day four.

I did not present today. The presentation started from 1000H and lasted until 1430H. After each participant of the group finished their presentation, the instructors wasted no time throwing questions and grilling them. This is done with the best intention, most of us understand. They merely wanted us to learn, to apply the tools that they have taught us in presenting our findings on the exercise. But one instructor in particular, Keith Hutton, is less diplomatic then the others. His jabs can be quite hurtful to people who aren't used to his sarcastic way. He likes to quote the example of the "little old man". The "little old man" being the lazy man sitting on your right shoulder, telling you not to do things which you should.

Right after the grilling, more woes followed. We were told the 2nd part of the presentation were to commence tomorrow. We had to fine-tune or redo our slides.

This time, we stayed back until 2300H. When I hit my bed, it was already 0030H the next morning.

What a life.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Damn those slides! And where's my night snack???

Day three.

The first three quarter of the day was occupied by military lessons - lessons on various tools to assist us in preparing slides on a case study on naval exercise. At 1500H (that's the military way of writing the time), my group started preparing the slides for the presentation for tomorrow. It was not easy. We only have two computers each group to work on. The case study was based on a military exercise. Being extremely military-centric, both Kwan and myself found the going rather difficult. And we were also told that we would have no choice but to stay back to complete the slides for the presentation tomorrow!

The guys in my group, including two officers, were ok. There was Richard, the potential "best trainee"; Isabel, the typical SAF "blur" queen; Fabian, the officer who is quiet and unassuming; John, the other officer, who is loud, spontaneous, smart and a joker. Jaime, the rather aloof (I think stuck-up is a more appropriate word) gal who called up today to day she's running a fever and is on MC for three days!

We worked till past 2240H. As team players Kwan and myself have no choice but to stay back, just like the military participants. I jokingly told my group that I may decide to sign-on after this course! It was just like my active army days when I've to stay-in for duties. The only difference now is I'm a civilian. And the lack of night snack!

Working with the SAF people, it's inevitable we get to know each other better as days go. Richard, though outstanding, strikes me as someone not very willing to share the knowledge that he has. John, the officer was the "happy-go-lucky" one whose idea of a presentation is to blabber on and on with plain looking slides, screening the room with so much smoke that both the participants and instructors alike felt like choking to death.

Though I hate presentation, I felt tremendous pressure to assist in presenting. After all, my team is down with only 5 men, all thanks to Jaime!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The daze thinkens...

Day two.

The lectures were getting heavier and the exercises more complex. They gets so military-centric that I wanna to just give up at times.

Thankfully, I was not asked to present. Instead, Richard, one of the soldiers, volunteered and I thought he did a terrific job, more so then the participants from the other two teams. I don't think I or kwan should be presenting in all honesty, and if we're asked to, we should resist. The presentation is really a vehicle for the regulars to shine, and both kwan and myself, being "outsiders", won't want to outshine them in anyway, do we? Hee!

The instructors were a bunch of sadists. They took great pride and glee making us stay back until 1850 hrs today. They told us the "night training" is inevitable. How else are we gonna find time to prepare the slides for the presentation to be conducted during the course? We expect to stay back even longer tomorrow. Rats.

Trying to stay awake during the lectures is a challenge. It's not just me. Many of my course mates experienced intermittent attack by the Z monsters as well, especially after lunch. It's quite funny, the way how Ang Tat's (another participant) eyes sort of squinted as he tried not to doze off. I realised that observing faces like Ang Tat's help to keep me awake! Haha.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Army Daze

Slept badly last night. I was awoke at 4.30am, tossing and turning, then 5.15am and finally decided to get up at 6.15am.

It was raining cats and dogs on my way to the SAF camp. Ate just a piece of measly bread and a cup of coffee. Tummy felt funny. Maybe it was stress.

When I reached the lecture room, almost all the other trainees were already seated. I wasn't late. All were in army uniform, and all eyes were on me. Scanned the room for Kwan, a colleague of mine attending the same course but failed to see him. Felt like such an odd ball. Thankfully, by lunchtime, has made acquaintance with most of the participants. The 18 of us were divided into groups of six.

The lectures were pretty concise and good. The fundaments behind the topics were basic but the exercises were quite complex. Lots of unfamiliar military terminology was used.... This created a slight problem during discussion with fellow trainees. However, "army dazed" I certainly am not. After all, I've served years in the army before... Still, am not sure if the course is totally relevant....

Honestly, I'm beginning to enjoy the course, but that doesn't mean I'm not counting though... one down and four more days to go!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Peaceful slumber....

Surprisingly, I slept well last night. No nightmare about the SAF. No waking up at 5 with cold sweat. I was determined not to let it spoil my Sunday, as it did on my Saturday...

The morning and the day started well enough. Had lunch with the kids and the slim lady at East Point. As the evening creeps in, so did that "sinking" feeling...

Singapore's Dads evaluated

According to an article in the July issue of Readers' Digest, Singapore's men fared badly in a survey on fatherhood by their children in the region, lagging behind their counterparts in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia. We only managed a C. The C also stands for "clueless" and the report suggests we fathers in Singapore are not interested to know our children, do not attempt to remember the names of our children's best friends and do not know what goes on in our children's life. Basically, the report implies, in Beng language, that we are "BOCHAP" fathers. The only "consolation" that came out of the survey is that we fathers are a lot more funnier than the mummies, even though the survey did not go into specifics what "funnier" means. Does it mean that we fathers are the "clowns" in the family? Always playing the "fools"? Or what?? Maybe it means we're more fun-loving, which is not entirely a bad thing. But that's at odd with "BOCHAP" fathers. So I'm inclined to think either "clowns" or "fools" are what the report implies...

Seriously speaking, it's not easy being a father, or a mother these days. Readers' Digest should conduct a survey on how WE parents rate the kids of today! When our children came along, the hospital didn't issue us any instruction manuals. Much of what we do to raise them is through trial and errors, some common sense and yes, from hearsay from my parents and the KPOs. And we're still learning everyday how best to bring up the kids! It's a heavy responsibility! In my time, kids were only seen, and not heard. Kids these days want to be heard, and heard lound and clear. And they also come in L or XL size. Senior Junior is already hovering over me half a head and he's only 13. Soon, he'll be stronger then his old dad...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Weekend blue...

Feeling rather lethargic and tired today, even though it's a Saturday. And I don't expect it to get any better tomorrow. My mind is pre-occupied with the 1-week training in the SAF camp next week. It's really not something new to me, having served in the army for 10 years and the last 13 years as a reservist. The buggers in the camp - they're not people whom I've not met before. And I'm all too familiar with the way these buggers run the show. Nothing is ever on schedule. When they say meet and assemble at 1000 am, the regulars would show up at 1030 am or later. Waiting games is the order of the days (and the nights) for these buggers in the SAF.

Nothing in the army surprises me anymore. So I can't quite figure out why it's pulling me down. I suppose it's the break in my daily routine life that eats into me. Instead of starting work from 7.30am to 5pm as I normally do at work, I'll have to start my day from 8am to 6 pm during the course. What's more, we're expected to stay back for some night training. That's the SAF way. And it seems that I've no choice but to abide by the rule....bringing inconveniences not only to me, but also to the slim lady, junior and senior junior ...

More somber news on the young men who collapsed while jogging. An article in the newspaper today suggests that high cholesterol may be the reason behind the death of these seemingly healthy men. The writer quotes the chairman of the Singapore Heart Foundation as saying....

"...Apparently healthy youths may have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure or be pre-diabetic - putting them at risk of sudden heart attacks and stroke. Such problems could cause plaque to build up in their arteries. Ironically, exercise could have ruptured the plaque, leading to their death..." unquote.

He also advocates that young men be checked for cholesterol and blood glucose levels during their pre-enlistment check-up. Treatment for affected men could be as simple as taking an aspirin a day. More importantly, these measures will save lives.

Clearly, there're larger issues in life than my "Weekend blue" brought about by the SAF. Trying to stay positive....

Friday, July 01, 2005

Seems like old time ....

I no longer served my ICT, having completed my 13-year cycle in 2003. I guess most males in Singapore, whether we like to admit it or not, view the army and the ICT as a complete waste of time. But being able-body and fit like a bull, most of us have no choice but to be enlisted for National Service. The joke that went round during my time was just SAF - Served and F***** off. It was with great pleasure that I kissed the SAF goodbye in 2003.

Sometimes, life can be stranger then fiction. By a twist of fortune (or misfortunate), I have been selected to attend a 1-week course in an army camp - the very one where I used to served my ICT no less! It was a collaboration of sorts my company has with the SAF. Man, it was like going back to an old girl friend whom I parted ways in less then friendly term. It seems like old time ...

The trip to the camp today brought back nothing but bad memories about my army days. The smell of the lecture room which still looks very run-down, the regimental manners which some of the officers adopt when talking to their "men", the few recognisable faces of my army "baddies" (as opposed to "buddies") who were guilty of "tekaning" me one way or another when I was a "little wet behind my ears", and yes, even the army food though the food has improved slightly over the years.

I was however, pleasantly surprised by some of the baddies' hospitality. Perhaps age does mellow people down somewhat. Alex, the skinny fox who used to be the ICT RSM and has seemingly put on some weight in the middle, was one of the firsts who greeted me. I never could see things eye-to-eye with him. But hey, he was quite nice today; telling me that life in the army was so good that was why he put on weight. The kind hospitality could also be due to the fact that perhaps I'm no longer there as a reservist but rather as a guest... Still I can’t get over the "military" style of management in the camp. That's one reason I resigned from the army 16 years ago....

I have no doubt I'll have a "swear" time with the SAF next week ....