Sunday, May 28, 2006

Waxed, polised and shined. And being ripped off.

The length some low-life would go to, just to con us of our money. It's infuriating and it made me really mad. Mad at the con man. And especially at myself for my naivety and for not reading the fine print. As Victor has aptly said, I'm partly to blame. Victor, you sure know how to rub it in. Aarggh!

Last week, I shelled out $388 for a 1-year "wax-n-polish" package for my car at a car polishing shop located at the Tampinese Mall basement carpark. Throughout the transaction, the salesman kept touting the fact that once I signed up, I could have unlimited, repeat UNLIMITED, wax and polish service for me car. Unbelievable, right? I thought so too, and told myself I would never forgive myself if I let a deal like this slipped through my fingers.

So, without bothering to read the fine prints, I hastily signed up and have my car waxed and polished for the very first time on that very same day.

The next day in the office, I told Victor about it, and urged him to sign up too. See, I'm the sort of guy who likes to share a "good bargain" when I see one, especially to a good pal like Victor. Besides, Victor has told me that he's only had his car polished once since he took possession of his car more than half year ago.

Over the weekend, Victor went down to Century Square (another branch) with the intention to sign up. As he spoke to the salesman, it became apparent to Victor that I might have been conned into signing the package. See, he was told that the $388 price was only the price for the membership, and that member would still need to fork out $48 each time he wants his car polished and waxed. Luckily for him, the salesman who attended to him was upfront about it. But not the one who attended to me.

When Victor told me about it, I almost flipped. I called the Tampinese Branch immediately and spoke to the salesman who served me. True to my expectation, he changed his surname to 赖, claiming that he's told me about the $48 per wax and polish. I refuted him and accused him of using tactics that was 不折手断(unscrupulous) to trick me into signing the contract. He continued to insist that he had told me about the repeat payment, and has the audacity to suggest that perhaps there was a breakdown in communications. I then asked him what that $388 was for. He said it's for the very first polish and wax service. Exasperated, I threatened to call the bank to cancel the payment I've made via credit card. He asked me not and, his voice softening, offered to compensate me by giving my car a thorough leather-care service which he claimed was worth about $100.

It's unbelievable the length some unscrupulous and unethical vendors and sales staff would go to just squeeze money out of you. Yes, it's true I didn't read the fine print. On close inspection of the receipt, there was this $48 clearly written on it (see pic), though it was not adequately explained what this amount was for on the receipt. But I reckon if only I've bothered to really scrutinize that receipt, I would have asked that man what this $48 was for, and perhaps I wouldn't have been tearing my hair out, blogging about this now!

Victors always says, Caveat Emptor (buyers beware). This phrase still rings as true as ever.

Darn! Did I scan the company's name into that pic as well? What a heck. Dear car-owners, avoid it by ALL means. Like the plague.

Category: Personal

Saturday, May 27, 2006

And baby makes 4 ...

The fourth grandchild for my parents, that is. And the first child for my kid brother. Baby Ethan was born today at exactly 0822hrs. Everyone is so happy and excited. When we visited him at the hospital nursery today, he was sleeping like a baby (well, he IS a baby). He woke up subsequently, and began to wail. Little baby has a great pair of lungs! (think he'd be a great singer when he grows up.... hehe).

Ethan has a full set of hair. At just 6.6 pounds, he's quite tiny, but he's really cute. I suppose all babies are cute. Thank God for babies. They are His greatest gifts.

Have you cradled a baby and smelled him? That baby smell.... I can't quite describe it, but it makes you just want to cuddle and hug him. Man, I've long forgotten that feelings.... I well remember when my first child was born. It was at TMC. I was there when the mid-wife carried out my baby, cleaned and weighed him. She told me, "now check. A boy, ok? See?" pointing at the kuku bird. My boy was crying his lungs out, as all babies do when they come into the world. His skin was also all red and wrinkled. I just stood there, clueless and hapless and too dumbstruck for words. I remember asking myself: "Is this baby really mine? Am I really a father now?" At that instant, I suddenly felt the weight of responsibility coming down on my shoulder. Would I be able to care for him? Would I be a good father? Questions like this flooded my mind at that moment. But at the same time, I was also amazed at the miracle that was in front of me. This is LIFE staring at me. And the Slim Lady and I are responsible for it.

"Ok check the fingers... and the toes," the mid-wife continued. "Ten each, ok?" "And here," she pointed to the birthmark on my son's knee, "here's a mole. Cannot run away one," she said, clearly meaning that even if there was a mixed-up at that hospital, I could always trace my son with his mole on his knee.

Junior's adventure at the KK hospital six years later was less of a drama. For one thing, I didn't even know when junior was wheeled out. It was not because I wasn't being attentive. For some reasons, the nurse DID NOT call for the father. I caught sight of a nurse wheeling a baby trolley and waiting by the lift, all ready to push him into the mummy's ward. I ran towards her and asked: "Is this MY baby?" After asking for my wife's name, she confirmed the baby was mine. Don't ask me how I know that baby was mine... it must be the father's instinct, I guess. Hmmm... wonder if there's a mixed up? But I guess not, for Junior is handsome, just like his Dad. Must be from the some mould lah. LOL. But you could just see the difference in service between the private and the public hospital.

Baby Ethan will be home this Monday. My brother and his wife are sure to have a rocking good time. Rocking baby Ethan to sleep, that is. Hee.

Category: Family

Friday, May 19, 2006

That "top-of-the-world" feeling

This time last year, I wrote about promotion in my office and how happy we were when VT got his promotion.

It's frightening how time flies. Well, it's that time of the year again.

Happiness. Resentment. Jealousy. Smugness. Anger. These are emotions that we mere mortals are capable of at one time or another. And these are the emotions that will be played out in full force in the days ahead, when the HR dept circulates the promotion list in our email.

We'll see lots of happy and smiling faces, looking as pleased as punch. And some with a certain degree of smugness, as if to say, "see? I told you I'm good."

There will be tears of joy, and of frustration. A few others will "march" into the bosses' office and demand for an "explanation". And yet others will lie low, resigned and hurt. Lots of questions will be asked; and gossips will fly across the office premises. There would be some awkward moments among colleagues, especially to those who are more senior and was passed over for a promotion.

The competition has been intense and stiff, especially with a structure like me company's. Life is never fair. And like it or not, when it comes to promotion, luck plays an integral role.

Well, happily for me, my boss has just informed me that I've been promoted (those promoted always get first-hand knowledge before the official email is sent out). I'm lucky, I guess, for I work for a boss who is impartial and kind, and who believes in "developing his men". I've always felt that the ability to do so is the mark of a true leader.

I'm elated, of course, about my promotion. For getting a promotion means getting a pay increment. That means more money "to make ends meet" in a society that's getting more and more expensive by the day. A little more money sure goes a long way.

Of course, money is not the "for-all-end-all". A promotion means more than just that. More importantly, a promotion is a recognition from our boss for our work performance. It's an acknowledgment, an appreciation for our commitment and for a job well done. It is also about self-esteem.

Of course, the flip side of getting a promotion is more responsibilities, more work, more stress, and perhaps less time for the family.

I'm feeling "top-of-the-world" now. The euphoria will last. There'll be promotion treats galore in the office when the official namelist is finally announced. It's a culture that has been ingrained into us in my office. But all's fair, I suppose. My treat this year, and next year, it's yours.

Category: Office

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Woa, "pau chia" one ah? (sure to win?)

You can say that I'm shocked.

On my weekly trip to the 4-D outlet this week, I picked up this little flyer by the counter.

Entitled "Winning Times", the brochure is an advertisement by the Singapore Pools (SP) to either get more Singaporeans and foreigners alike to gamble, or to get Singaporeans and foreigners alike to gamble more. Either way, it just doesn't sound very right to me.

Inside the flyer are stories of luck and success concerning four individuals. It's the kind of stuff that only dreams are made of. These characters have one thing in common - all of them have won money in 4-D, Toto or the Singapore Sweep. And all of them, like most fairy tales, lived happily ever after. My friends, please meet:

1. The Incurable Romantic. A man in his forties who looks forward to nothing more than a quiet dinner with his wife. Though he hardly placed any bet on Toto, he decided to do so on the spur of the moment once while having a meal with his wife at Bishan. He won the Toto Hongbao Draw and surprised his wife with a house.

2. The Blue-collared Worker. Having toiled most of his life, a man in his late 50s has been thinking of retirement. But he had little savings and had a wife to support. To add to his woes, his only means of transport, a bicycle, broke down. While wheeling his bicycle to a shop for repair, he chanced upon an SP outlet and decided to try his luck with the Toto Hongbao Draw. Needless to say, he won, bought a roof over his head with the money with spare money left for his retirement.

3. The Loving Father. A man in his early fifties has a medical condition that needs attention. But he decided to use his money for his son's tertiary education, knowing full well the importance of education, of which he had very little. While walking pass a SP outlet one festive season, he decided to try his luck on a $28 Prosperity Pack. And as luck would have it, the man won and was able to send his son for overseas education, with money enough for him to go for his medical procedure.

4. The Mother who knows best. A lady in her late 60s thought that she might have won the 2N2 (??) Special Prize when she checked the teletext. She did a double take and when she was very sure about her winning, she immediately called her daughter who was working overseas. Knowing that their mum's eyesight was failing, the daughter called her brother to help to confirm if the woman has really won. It turned out that she really did win. And when the cheque was finally presented to her, she proclaimed to her children, "Mother knows best!"

Well, don't you just wish that you're in THEIR shoe? I don't know about you, but I do find the advertisement by SP a tad irresponsible and of bad taste. Ok, I suppose SP, being a profit-making organisation, has a duty to watch its bottom line. But the rosy and happy picture painted by SP in the flyer is extremely loop-sided. If we were to believe the stories portrayed in the flyer, most Singaporeans who bought 4-D would have become millionaires. Of course, we know nothing is further from the truth. What about those who are so mired in debt because of 4-D and Toto that they break up their families and their homes? What about those who are driven to suicide?

I also wonder about the need for the advertisement, considering that we Singaporeans are already quite well-known for having made buying 4-D one of our national hobbies. Is it a case of "money no enough" for the SP? Or a case of "the more the merrier"?

If SP is allowed by the authorities to promote gambling so brazenly, I shudder to think what will happen when the casino (I refuse to call it Integration Resort or IR... let's call a spade a spade) is ready for operations a few years down the road.

Ok, to be sure, the brochure did advise one to "Play Responsibly" and "Always Play with Care". But what exactly are the measures in place to encourage one to "play responsibly"? The flyer offers no clue.

Category: Musings

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I not stupid, too


I caught Jack Neo's "I Not Stupid, Too" on VCD today and I'm not ashamed to admit that I actually cried "bucket". My colleague has warned me that the movie is quite a tear-jerker. But I never expected a grown man like me to shed a tear so easily. Sniff.

I think Jack Neo makes a great satirist; at least in our local context. Like his previous movies, there are many subtle messages about government policies and socio-political issues in this movie. In his movie "Home Run", there's a scene in which two camps of boys were seen tussling over the use of a water well. To the uninitiated, this scene is really a portrayal of the never-ending dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over the water agreement. Any wonder that the movie has been banned in Malaysia? And surpise surprise, Jack seems to have gotten away with "murder" back home. He didn't come under fire despite his many jabs at our government policies, nor his prevalent use of the dialects in his movies. In fact, he was worthy of a mention by our then PM Goh in one of his speeches.

Jack Neo's latest offering is a poignant story on the social problems brought about by the generation gap between parents and their kids; their lack of communications; the demands on the kids by the parents who are in turn pressured by the social norm of our society. Indeed, we can identify and see in us the many Singaporeans depicted in the movies:

1. The professional parents who have no time for their kids and try to compensate them with money and material wants;
2. The uneducated and handicapped father who has problem expressing his love to his 15-year-old son and has never offered him a word of praise since the child turned 3;
3. The teenagers troubled by their teenage angst and lack of understanding from their parents;
4. The mother-tongue teacher from the "old school of thought" whose method to make the kids learn the Chinese language is to humiliate the kids in front of the class when they failed their tests;
5. The protective grandma who comes to the rescue of the grandson each time the kid takes a beating from the parents.

Of course, Jack Neo will not be Jack Neo if he does not take swipes at some of our government polices, however subtle the messages are:

1. The old Mother-tongue policy, which, for the longest time, had been a bane to many otherwise brilliant students trying to gain a place in our universities. This policy has been relaxed and teachers are now told to "Teach Less" and help the kids to "Learn More";
2. The way some school principals expel students whom they think are "beyond hope". The boy in the movie joined the street gang when he was expelled, having nothing to do to while away his time. Indeed, some schools expel students for the sake of the school reputation. But teachers, and not just parents, have a social responsibility to guide and correct the youngsters from their wayward ways, and not turn them away. As one father puts it in the movie, "没有教不会的孩子,只有不会教的父母."

The parents portrayed in the movies are quick to find fault with their kids but slow to praise them when the occasions arise. The underlying message in the movie is that we parents must take time to understand our children and don't just concentrate on their shortcomings and negative traits. Just like a piece of paper with a blemished black dot in the centre. Why focus on the black dot and isolate the rest of the white? Why, indeed. And much as I hate to admit, I can't help but draw some parallels in the way I treat my sons after watching the movie.

Category: Movies

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Know thy neighbours

"Neigbhours are friends nearby".

Do you greet and smile at your neighbors when you run into them at your doorsteps, along the corridor, in the lift or in the neighborhood? Honestly, how many of us really know our neighbors?

I've always thought we Singaporeans are a suspicious lot. We keep our distance when approached by strangers in the street. We peek when we hear the doorbell, scrutinizing the person behind the door and trying to determine if that person is a salesman attempting to sell us the vacumm cleaner we never need. If he's not a salesman, we wonder if it's someone asking for a donation, or perhaps a civil servant, a HDB officer acting on a neighbor's complaint about a leaking toilet or dripping laundry.

That's why I was surprised when my sister-in-law told me that she usually gives her house-keys to her neighbors for safe-keeping whenever her family is away on holiday on stretch for a couple of days. She assured me that her neighbors, a couple looks to be in their mid-50s with three grown-up children are friendly and extremely nice.

I'm sure they are. But I wonder if what my sister-in-law does is the norm. My personal experiences with my neighbors, current and old, tell me that most Singaporeans make good and friendly neighbors. I, too, had the pleasure to stay next to a nice couple when I first shifted to Simei. They have two teenage sons who inherited their parents' friendly genes. The only unfriendly member in their family is their dog (a toy dog of which the breed I'm not too sure). The dog never failed to bark at my family and me whenever we got past their corridor unit to reach our corner one.

The man of the house assured us that his dog's bark was louder than its bite, and invited us into his house one day. Indeed, the dog stopped barking as soon as we were in the house, and started going around us, sniffing and licking our toes. "Ah, that’s my dog’s way of trying to get to know you guys better," the man had joked. Yes, what a nice family, but I've never entrusted my house keys to them. There was no chance anyway, for not long after we moved in, my neighbors shifted out. Despite barely knowing them, they gave us their new address and contact number and told us to visit them when we are free. Didn't I tell you most Singaporean make good neighbors?

Noted I said MOST Singaporeans. Of course, unfortunately there are some neighbors who would rather keep to themselves than to engage in mindless banters with you. My former neighbors unit was bought by a young couple with three very young kids. We nod and smile whenever we run into each other in the neighborhood; but conversation was scarce. The first time the man talked to me was when he asked how much I paid for my car. Then his wife gave birth to a boy. We were in a lift, and it didn’t occur to me to offer him my congratulations. On hindsight, I think that would have been a good icebreaker. But I didn't. Don't ask me why.

Even today, sometimes when I ran into my neighbors, they would pretend they didn't see me and look elsewhere. Other times, they would smile and acknowledge me, and then look away to avoid further eye contact. Perhaps some people simply have no time for superficial and mindless pleasantries. I can't blame them, really. I think it's not so much they are unfriendly, as they are perhaps "shy". Or sometimes, after a hard day's work, people just don't have the mood for mindless conversation. I'd admit I'm guilty of this sometimes, and perhaps I'm also perceived as being unfriendly by my neighbors.

But truly, there are some neighbors who are downright "stuck-up" and aloof. Most people, and not just neighbors, would return your smile if you volunteer one. But there are people in my block who give me a look as if to say, "What you smiling at? Do I know you?", or one that looks as if you "owe them 5 cents". There's a man in my block who looks at me as if spoiling for a fight. Well, I guess it takes all kinds. Indeed, neighbors are friends nearby. But it takes two hands to clap, I'm afraid.

Category: Musings

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Paradox of Life

Years ago, a friend emailed this passage. I remember thinking how profound yet true the message was...

The paradox of our time ....
We have taller buildings but shorter tempers
Wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints
We spend more, but have less
We buy more, but enjoy less
We have bigger houses but more broken homes
We have more degrees but less sense
More knowledge, but less judgment
More experts, yet more problems
More medicine, but less wellness

We drink too much, smoke too much
Spend too recklessly, laugh too little
Drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired
Read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life
We've added years to life not life to years
We've been all the way to the moon and back
But have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour.
We conquered outer space but not inner space
We've done larger things, but not better things
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul
We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice
We write more, but learn less
We plan more, but accomplish less
We've learned to rush, but not to wait
We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less

These are the times of fast foods, and slow digestion
Big men and small character
Steep profits and shallow relationships
These are the days of two incomes but more divorce
Fancier houses, but broken homes
These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers
Throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill
It is a time when there is much in the showroom window
And nothing in the stockroom.
A time when technology can bring this letter to you
And a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

I thought that part about "We have bigger houses but more broken homes" is especially true. Divorce rate is up. And many of our kids are so caught up in their own world that they hardly spare a thought for the people around them. Indeed, there seems to be an erosion of social values. This is borne out by letters to the ST forum of youngsters refusing to give up seats to the elders in public transport.

"We've been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour". Does that sound familiar to you? Do you say "hi" or greet your neigbhours? The one who stays just next to your unit in your HDB flat? Do you know their name? I do, but it never goes further than that. And I suspect it's not just me. My neigbhours reciprocate when I say "hi". And then she stops making eye-contact. I'm sure you know how difficult to hold a conversation without eye contact. So you see, it's not just me.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What's for dinner, Papa?

I don't know how it happened. Ever since my mum announced that she was getting old and too tired to cook us dinner (that was way before she had her by-pass), I've been given the uncoveted task of buying dinner for my wife and kids. This duty was not assigned to me by the Slim Lady. It just happened.

My mum used to complain that cooking dinner always gave her headache. Sometimes she simply didn't know what to prepare for so many people, each with taste buds of their own. My sister doesn't take pork, unless it's bak kwa (isn't that a joke?) My kids hardly eat any greens. That Slim Lady of mine survives only on Hor Fan, Kway Teow dry, and avoids anything that's yellow in colour like noodle or mee pok.

Home-cooked meal is always the best and most healthy. Unfortunately, how many of us have that luxury of eating home-cooked meals everyday? My wife and I hardly cook, for we're both usually spent after a day in the office. On the rare occasions that we do, it's usually on weekend. Most days, we tah pau dinner home.

Since I started buying dinner for my family, I've realised, to my chagrin, that buying dinner, not just cooking, can also be a cause of headache. When I ask my family what they would like for dinner, I get response like "anything". And they complain when I buy food they that don't like. The safe bet for the kids are chicken rice, western food and fast-food, especially KFC. For the Slim Lady, it's dry kway teow or hor fan. Like it or not, these oily and unhealthy food has become the staple for my family, and I've decided that it's time for some drastic actions to make them eat healthy.

So sometimes, I'll just buy what I feel is best for them, WITHOUT asking them. Usually, it's rice with mixed veggies and some meat. They continue to complain, including the Slim Lady, and pass comments like "next time don't buy me rice. I've eaten rice for lunch!" I used to retort, "you know how difficult it is to buy dinner for you guys? Next time, YOU buy!". Now, my usual response is, "You have two choices for dinner - Take it or Leave it."

What else could they do? They will eat when they get hungry. Hehehehe (evil laugh).

Maybe I'll have that pic above enlarged and hung it in my dinning room. LOL.

Category: Musings

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It takes two to communicate.... Hello?

I received a handout from my son's school, telling me to access the school's revamped website. The school says it is trying to promote 2-way communication between parents and the teaching staff as a way to foster greater rapport with parents.

All very noble, I'd thought, and promptly clicked on the email address of my son's form teacher and started writing.

I wrote:

Dear Mrs Vasu,

First, congrats on the school's revamped website. It's a perfect tool for communication between parents and teachers.

I understand how busy school teachers are, but please feel free to reach me at if you wish to share with me anything about Darren, his school work, etc, and especially his behaviour in school.

Thanks & best regards

That was four months ago. And I didn't hear a word from the teacher.

Today, I finally hear from her. You see, while our nation is having an Election Fever, many schools in Singapore are having another kind of fever - Exam Fever. And my son, not to be outdone, decided to have a fever of his own too, with a sore throat to boot. Happily for him, he was given two days MC and excused from having to go to school (and to take his exam).

The teacher, Mrs Vasu called me at my office and asked me the whereabout of my son. When told that he was down with fever, the teacher said she was "worried" about his absence since it was the exam period, hinting subtly that I, the father, should have called the school about it. I asked her, politely, that was it not the norm for the kids to submit their MC on their return? And that surely, the phone call to the school was not necessary? She replied yes, but because of the exam, she was just worried.

I know many of us are finding the many political hustings a tad tiresome. But teachers are very much like our politicians. We hear from them when we don't want to, and when we least expect to; and we DON'T hear from them when we want to. LOL.

She's yet to reply my email. What exactly 2-way communications is the school talking about?

Fortunately, not all teachers are like that. Victor is one lucky Dad. He constantly gets emails from his son's teacher about how his son was doing in school. Well, I guess my boy is just "lucky", in the sense that his teacher never bothers complain about him, not because he's good, but because his teacher is the sort who is BBC (Basically Bo Chap). LOL.

Category: Personal

Monday, May 01, 2006

我们这里是新加坡 (This is Singapore)

This is a song by local singer/composer 梁文福. The song waxes lyrical on Singapore, on how she's gone through World War II in 1941, on the migrants uprooting from around the globe to arrive at Singapore and on their decision to make Singapore their home. The song is about being born in "Tekka", about living in 1-room-1-hall HDB flats. It's about the kids of yesteryears, their childhood and growing up years, and their school days in old Singapore. Each time I listen to this song, it never fails to evoke nostalgia and memories of yesteryears. And what better time to give this song a spin than during this election time, when emotions run high as manifested in the general public (not to mentioned the blogosphere)?

There's a verse that says, "This is Singapore. We used to have nothing, but now at last, we have achieved some accomplishments; not much but we do treasure them". Indeed, there's much to thank and be grateful for. And if that came across as sounding rather contrived, I make no apologies for it. How often do you hear friends who have been overseas and upon their return, proclaimed, "Singapore is still the best"?

Go on, turn on the speakers and listen to the lyrics of the songs. Part of the song is in dialects and I do apologise if the translation is not as accurate as it should be.

1941 年轰炸机近过

我阿妈在Tekka 生我





Category: Gahman