When the Temasek roared

The Temasek has roared. It has roared because it has been angered.

Who angered it ?  The stupidity of the  rating agency S&P has angered it because of a downgraded rating.

This is what happened.

S&P, the most stupid rating agency in the world that gave AAA rating to all sub-prime bonds has recently downgraded Temasek Holdings. Temasek Holdings is Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund.

S&P was so idiotic that it has rated Temasek in the lines of Greece. Greece is about to default in a month.

Temasek has been rated AAA for the last 20 years.

Why did the ratings decline ?

S&P says that Temasek holds stocks and assets all over the world and has no control over the markets in which it has invested in. Hence there is a risk of decline in profits.

But Temasek has been investing in all these countries for the last 30 years. How was it rated as AAA till now ?

Temasek manages funds worth USD 229 bn  that is more than the GDP of many countries. And any rating of Temasek or GIC is a rating of Singapore itself.

Understandably angered, Temasek has roared and rebutted S&P’s ratings.

These are the very people who gave AAA ratings to the sub-prime loans based bonds and we know what happened.

Don’t be surprised if S&P gives AAA to North Korea. Once that happens, re-christen S&P as Stupid and Pathetic.

Are we becoming a Zombie nation ?

Is Singapore a nation of zombies ? Well that is what it seems to be. It suddenly became a nation of zombies once smartphones became affordable.

When iPhone-3 was the only smartphone available and was not yet affordable, there were not many zombies around. But once Android came along and Samsung and cheap Chinese phones started flooding the market in Singapore, the nation suddenly became a zombie.

So, what is a zombie ? A Zombie is a person that walks on the road like a robot without paying any attention to the surroundings. In this case, people walk on roads, looking not at the on-coming traffic, but at the phone in their hands so much so that they don’t know if are about to dash against a wall.

Dashing against a wall is okay. But bumping on another person is not acceptable. Zombies bump on people coming in front of them and then, with a jerk, take a side step and walk ahead, still looking at the phone.

The other day, a zombie tripped and fell down while negotiating a step on the escalator. I dread if he would be looking at his phone while sliding out of the emergency exist of an airplane.

Yet another kind of zombie is seen in restaurants. When the waiter waits for the order, the zombie, seated in a table, is absorbed in a Facebook chat on his smart phone. Then he realizes the presence of another homo-sapien next to him, apologizes for his aversion, quickly asks for the menu card and immediately starts looking at the phone. He keeps looking at the phone even after some eatable is placed in front of him.

Then the routine of the zombie happens. The zombie takes a picture of the food in front of him, updates a status as ‘Having a nice meal in Little India Restaurant’, chats for a while on the phone even as the food gets cold, realizes his mistake, gulps the food in one go without enjoying the process and not knowing whether he ate a rice-pudding or a live rat, takes a picture of the empty plate, posts a comment ‘horrible food at Little India Restaurant’ and leaves the table even as he keeps looking at the phone.

Same is the case in the library. Instead of browsing through the pages of physical books, the zombie browses the pages of the web site that he sees in his smart phone thus defeating the purpose of coming to the library. Probably the Zombie came to the library for browsing from his smartphone, enjoying the aircon.

I see Zombies everywhere in Singapore – in temples, hospitals, dentists’, in a public rest room, on the train and even in a plane. I also see drivers looking at Facebook in their smartphones while negotiating a difficult U-turn.

Friends sitting next to each other in a park, family dining in a restaurant, worshippers in the local church and some even during a funeral ceremony in the neighbourhood are hooked to their smartphones.

People are becomimg zombines while phones are becoming smart.

I only dread the day when a surgeon, with a surgical knife in his right hand, and a smart phone in his left, begins a surgery while I lie terrified on the operating table.

How not to get cheated in Singapore

Image

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Subsequent to the post, there was a clarification from a reader on the relevant Singapore laws. The reader also pointed me to an IRAS site. Thanks. (http://www.iras.gov.sg/irasHome/page.aspx?id=2166)

They have provided an example for the calculation for calculating GST. Example is provided below. Hence my post on incorrect tax calculation that included Service Charge is IN-CORRECT.  Apologies for this inadvertent error.

Calculating GST on the supply

You may impose a service charge (usually at 10%) based on the price of goods and services that you provide. The service charge is subject to GST as it is part of the price payable for the goods and services provided. Therefore, the GST chargeable should be calculated based on the total price payable (inclusive of service charge).
Example:

Food & Beverage $100.00
10% Service Charge $ 10.00
Sub-Total $110.00
7% GST ( on $110.00) $ 7.70
Total Price With GST $117.70

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Original Article :

If you thought you can’t get cheated in Singapore, you are probably wrong. I experienced this today.

Had been to a restaurant in the afternoon. I never had the habit of looking at the bill ( receipt ) when payment was due in a restaurant. Normally would be in the company of friends and would not bother to look at the line items.

But a couple of days ago when I was sending off writer Jeyamohan he was talking about a service charge for a credit card purchase. I was dumbfounded as credit card transactions don’t attract service charge normally in Singapore.

That incident suddenly came to my mind and I paid some attention to the restaurant bill. There was a service charge of 10%. And on top of that there was a GST  ( Goods and Service Tax ). GST was normal but what was not normal was that the GST was charged taking into account the Service Charge as well.

So I contested the bill. The counter sales person said that it was his fault not to have informed me of the service charge in advance. I told him that I was rather pleased with the service and hence didn’t mind paying the service charge. But what I didn’t want to pay was the GST even on the service charge. How could I be expected to pay a tax on a service charge?

The sales person was confused. ‘Sir, but we charge like this normally’, he said.

‘But’, I continued, ‘do you know that this is not legal?’.

‘The word ‘legal’ probably sounded the right bells and the bill was reversed. I paid SGD 2 less than the original bill amount.

My point is not to defame a restaurant. The restaurant is still one of the best in Singapore serving vegetarian folks like myself. Probably the restaurant didn’t know the rule.

But to be on the side of caution, let us be vigilant.

On a different note : How come they charge 10% flat ? Any pointer on Singapore law regarding this is welcome.

Dear Restaurateurs – It is okay to go behind profit. But don’t cheat. It leaves a bad taste even if the food is good.

P.S : I have removed the restaurant name from the receipt as my intention is not to defame them but to create an awareness.

Singapore budget – some thoughts

The Singapore budget for the year has been presented. And the surplus is SGD 3.9 billion. That means the government is left with more cash . That means the government has cash to disburse to its Citizens.

As a person who has been tuned to hear ‘deficit’ alone in budgets the world over, it has been a welcome change for the last 5 years when I have been hearing about  budget surplus. That doesn’t mean any cutting down of governmental welfare measures. It means the government’s income has consistently been more than its expenditure.

In this year’s budget, the elderly have been adequately taken care of. I spoke to some senior citizens that I know of and they expressed genuine happiness to the slew of measures that the government has announced to address their medical needs.

Well, Saint Thiruvalluvar said that the duty of a government was to identify sources of revenue, earn money from those sources, safeguard the money and then distribute the same to the people according to their needs.

And Singapore government does that admirably well.

No water, but water everywhere

Don’t be intrigued by the heading. If you are thinking of the adage ,’Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink’, you are probably at least a mile away from reality. It is the reverse here in Singapore.

It is actually the case of the place that has no water on its own but gets water the most sensible way. The country, or city state if you choose to call it so, has no springs. It doesn’t have water springs because it does not have hills and mountains. It does not have hills and mountains because there is no room to place the hill and the mountain. So when God said,’ Let there be earth’, He didn’t obviously pay attention to this small dot near Indonesia and Malaysia. And hence He didn’t create mountains and hills. And so there are no springs and hence there is no natural source of water.

But God gave a team of sensible leaders to the country under a sensible chief who decided to defy God and produce water for the country. I think God was happy that His work was outsourced that He had some time for Himself.

And therefore the whole country was dug up, drains were laid and every drop of water was collected. And the drains were networked and they led to man-made reservoirs. And then you have those purifying stations and the pumping stations and voila, you have potable water in your tap. So you get to see signs along the roads -‘your reservoir starts here’- asking you not to litter. And underneath your feet there are iron girders that help drain the rain water into the underground drains.

But until the reservoirs were built, could the people live in thirst ? No. So the chief and his lieutenants entered into multi year water import agreements with Malaysia. But Malaysia cannot be relied upon for ever. Therefore Singapore built its man-made reservoirs. So, even if the water agreements with Malaysia expire after sometime, in-land water would be available.

The story is not over yet. The chief and his team decided that even water from homes need to be re-cycled and so they built a water treatment facility under the name ‘New-Water’  that is currently used for industrial purposes.

And when Chinese leader Hu-Jintau visited Singapore sometime back, he made it a point to understand how New-Water was produced and asked Singapore to help China build such facilities in mainland China. A country that has many natural rivers and has the capability divert rivers ( like they are diverting the Indian Brahmaputra river ), sought help from tiny Singapore on New-Water. Not surprising that Singapore counts Israel among its peers when it comes to water management.

So let me end the water story with some pictures that I took in Pandan Reservoir during my morning walk. Those envious of Singapore, please continue to do so. Those who want to emulate Singapore in water management, please visit the facilities once and take back the learning to your countries.

Walkway along the reservoir.

Walkway along the reservoir.

An introduction to the reservoir

When the reservoir spoke

Reservoir 3

Spic and span walk way / jogging track

 

Reservoir 5

Another view

Reservoir 7

Vegetation in the reservoir – home for some reptiles and birds

How come you write often ?

This is the set of standard questions from colleagues and friends. How come you write often ? When do you get time to write ? Why do you write ? What makes you write ? How do you choose topics to write ? and the like.

These questions have been asked for some considerable number of times and I thought it would be useful ( ?? ) for readers to know my views on these. Let me try and answer these one by one. If you think this to be self promotion, that is the last thought on my mind. However a word of caution : It would be better for readers to have the Indian political scene in mind while going through some of the answers.

So I have decided to clear the doubts and show the path of eternal writing to upcoming writers ( what modesty, you see !)

How come you write often ?

Well, frankly, I don’t have nothing much to do after office. Either I read or I write. My children have found out that it is not of any use for them to get help from me for their home work assignments. So, they rather undergo the pain of doing their home works all by themselves rather than explain me what they need done for their home work assignments. And the spouse has resorted to ‘silence’ having seen her throat go dry after trying to cajole me take up some household chores. I think she has decided to leave me in peace like my children – euphemism for ‘there-is-no-use-talking-to-you-so-I-rather-do-the-work-myself’.

Don’t you watch TV ?

Yes, I am an avid TV watcher – when it is switched off. The TV looks great when switched off. Even it sounds great too when switched off

How do you know the News then ?

Internet is the great provider of information. Anyways TV news analyses have become the ‘four-boxes-that-shout-at-each-other’ episodes. So you avoid these analyses and thus become wise.

.Don’t you go to movies ?

No, the movies decide to move out of the theatre once I decide to go for a movie. I usually take around an year to decide to watch a movie.

When do you get time to write ?

I start writing the moment  I wake up ( I want to say that. But that is not true). I write during my MRT rides ( Train rides to and from office). I am usually the odd man out in the train when the whole of the compartment scratches its phones playing ‘Temple Run’ and ‘Angry Birds’, I use he phone to write my piece. If in case of Tamil ( www.amaruvi.com ) I write in a note book.

Don’t people look down upon you in MRT because you write in a train ?

It is an offence to write on the walls of the train and not in one’s smartphone. Anyways nobody notices anybody in Singapore trains as they have the daily scores to attain in ‘Temple Run’.

How do you get the topics ?

For this you need to overhear conversations in Kopitiams or Taxis. And while in a Taxi, you should allow the driver uncle to speak. And you get a wealth of information ranging from NASA Space Launch to India’s Mangalyaan Mars Probe to HDB prices.

For topics on India, you just need to read the ‘Tamil Murasu’ in Singapore. It would contain, from cover to cover, news from India – especially Tamil Nadu. If you thought that the paper was from Singapore, think twice. It is from Singapore for people in Singapore about Tamil Nadu and India, containing detailed information on the latest gossips about Tamil film heroines.

How do you write humor ?

Very good question. It is actually simple. Do a random search on Rahul Gandhi and Karunanidhi. Go through some of their speeches. And you get material for two years. Rahul’s speeches would remind you of Thomson and Thomson of Tintin series.

Why do you write in Tamil ?

Because I don’t know Mandrin. Writing in Tamil makes me read Tamil books – especially scholarly material usually not known to general Tamil speaking populace. National Library Singapore is the culprit here. They have all kinds of scholarly material that are not available even in Tamil Nadu.

What makes you write ?

The abundance of comedy around me.

What differs between your Tamil and English posts ?

Language. Other than that, there are serious topics in Tamil while in English it is not so serious. That is because Tamil language writing has seen its nadir due to the influence of parochial and regional biases and that needs to be straightened up. See the burden of responsibility on my shoulders 🙂

Who are your readers ?

English posts have a wider audience especially  from India and the USA. Tamil posts get more visits from Sri Lanka, Singapore and USA. Slightly titillating topics in Tamil draw readers from Tamil Nadu.

What do your readers do after reading your posts ?

Probably would be banging their heads on the nearest walls. Generally readers who read my Tamil posts unfriend me in Facebook.

How are you sure you have got readers ?

Misfortune happens to every one. And getting to read my blog is one such. Suddenly you stumble upon a post of mine, read it and then look for the nearest lamp post to bang your head against. Happens in life.

Do you read Tamil stories ?

No. I want to remain sane. I avoid novels.

Could you tell a recent humour that you have had ?

There is this dental surgeon who has had his Masters in Dental Surgery from India. He is in Singapore for his Ph.D. It seems he cannot practise as a dentist but is qualified to teach undergraduate dental students. Humour such as this is available everywhere. One just needs to listen to people speaking.

What would you do if , one day, all humour ideas dry out ?

I always keep a copy of Congress Party’s election manifesto handy. That is better than a P.G.Wodehouse novel. Just in case that doesn’t tickle my humour muscles, there is this manifesto of the Communist Party of India. Words such as ‘proletariat’, ‘ masses’, ‘bourgeoisie’ tickle me to no end.

Why do you think you are capable of advising others on writing ?

When Rahul Gandhi can aspire to become the PM, why can’t I advise on writing ?

The Good, bad and the PSLE – book review

There are some books that are pleasant, eminently readable, simple, creative as well as realistic while at the same time give you the inspiration to read again. Such books are indeed rare now-a-days and this book ‘The Good, bad and the PSLE’ by Singaporean author Monica Lim is one such.

The books’ content is about the trials and tribulations in the life of a working mom who has two primary school going kids. One is smart and a perfectionist like any Singaporean girl while the other is given to the ways of the world albeit in children’s parlance. And the daily transactions in the lives of these three characters, in Singapore, where there is an over-insistence on the scores a child gets in the Primary School Leaving Exam, forms the crux of the story line.

There are many such occasions where you have to hold on to your chair while reading the passages where the younger child Noah interacts with the mom, for you are sure to fall down laughing. I don’t mean to say that the laughter is just a mirth and nothing else but after the laughter part you get to ponder on the ill-effects of this over insistence on the primary school’s final exams by the Ministry of Education, Singapore.

Please note that I am not competent to pass judgement on the MoE’s policies but the children that I meet day to day and the extreme stress that those children undergo at ages 10 to 12 as well as the stress that the parents undergo have made me change my initial opinion about the schooling in Singapore. Probably it suits the country, I am not sure about that. Just for the sake of evaluation, let us say, the bench mark of a schooling system is the number of nobel prizes that the country has won. Did the education system help win even one Nobel, be it in Science or in Literature or in Medicine ?

Probably Nobel prize should not be used as a bench mark as the population is too few for sampling. I might be wrong in my hypotheses. But a similar hypotheses, if applied to the USA, works in favour of its schooling system. And its primary schooling system is not as stress inducing as Singapore’s is.

Well, as I said, I am not an academic and certainly not an expert on education and hence not competent to advise Singapore on what it needs to do. However the policy of grading students even as early as Primary 3, if that is true, certainly calls for an introspection. Edison was not an academic achiever, neither was Srinivasa Ramanujan who consistently failed in English but who was far ahead of the world in Mathematics.

Coming back to the book – it discusses these things in not so detailed a fashion but through the transactions of Noah, the Mathematically gifted yet linguistically disadvantaged child and April, the linguistically gifted yet mathematically not-so-gifted elder sibling.

I am not going to write in detail on the transactions of the two children for that might hinder your reading experience and spoil the joy of reading.

The time when Noah is asked by his mom to learn while he actually looks at a butterfly and replies that was what he was doing made me think hard on the choices that we give children towards their education preferences. Noah was actually learning by observing a butterfly outside his window while we are asking him to learn by reading the book. What kind of choice is that we give the children ?

And the moment April is stunned by her PSLE result and cries uncontrollably – that part is bound to touch your heart. The child is good in English but would not be going to the ‘elite’ schools just because the overall PSLE score is low – this does not speak of an enlightened schooling system.

The book ends with the mom writing to both her children letting them know how much she loves them and that their academic scores don’t matter in her love for them while at the same time the scores are needed for the outside world.

The book is Singapore centric no doubt. But the problem of educational stress that children undergo is universal. Cases of children committing suicide as they did not get a high mark are a common occurrence now-a-days in India as well known for its civilisational maturity.

Read this book. You will enjoy it no doubt. But would be left with many questions. I request you to sincerely ponder over the questions and think of alternatives.

Why Air India needs Meiraa Kumaar

Despite the best efforts of the pilot and the ‘admirable’ communication skills of the hindi speaking staff, the Air India flight to Chennai was comfortable, not to mention the inclement weather.

I was expecting an Airbus A 319 short haul flight but was rather pleased to find that it was A-330-200 and hence felt comfortable that the plane was a better deal than A 319 or A 320 – better in handling turbulence.

AI, true to standards, started one hour later. And as soon as it climbed, met with inclement weather which continued for two hours.

Later when the captain announced that he was ‘hoping’ for better weather, dinner was served at 12:00 AM.

Nothing to speak of the dinner menu. They would do better to serve  two bananas and a cup of tea – easier to digest and would not cause consternation in children who try hard to decipher what was served.

Hari asked,”What is this meal about ? Can you tell me what it is?”

“I think it is something vegetarian but really not sure what it is”.

“Is this an eatable, I mean, can we eat this?”

“I would think so. I don’t know if it is eatable but definitely it is edible”.

Leave alone what is served, let AI concentrate on what is spoken.

When they announce in Hindi they murmur and when they announce in English, they take part in a fast speaking competition.

I was able to catch some phrases such as ‘Udaan’, ‘Thaapmaan’, ‘Seat Belt’, ‘Krupaya’ and ‘dhanyavaad’ that respectiely meant ‘plane’,’temperature’,’seat belt’, ‘please’ and ‘thanks’.

I believe that Indian flights, both government and private, don’t need better pilots but would need better speakers.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against Hindi. If you want to say something to the passengers, say them loud. And if you want to whisper among yourselves, don’t switch on the mike. We are unable to find if there is somebody speaking or is it the speaker static.

During the long flight Bharat asked incredulously ,”Appa, why do they whisper over the speakers?”

“They don’t want to disturb those who are sleeping”, I said and continued to decipher what came over the speaker.

“You mean, the pilot who is sleeping?”, he asked.

“I hope not”, I said.

The sum and substance of the story – Air India, please hire Ms.Meira Kumaar, the ‘bait jaayeeyee” person. She would be out of job soon in 2014 after the elections are over.

A short course on greed

Atrocious, obnoxious, illegitimate, against all decency, not at all acceptable, greed personified, this is a kill, unpardonable..

If you would have uttered any one of the above with a grand expression of surprise as soon as your credit card bill reached you, then you are not alone. The world is full of such people. And it is also full of those who make people say so.

But this is likely to end soon. Or at least that appears to be so.

43,500 customers of ANZ Bank in Australia have proceeded with a class action suit, the largest of its kind, demanding that USD 220 Mn levied as fees be returned to them.

These are some of the fees that are levied. Honor fee, Dishonor fee, Late Fee, Penalty and if some more greed cannot be hidden inside these, then you have the hidden clauses that no human mind on earth can decipher.

Look at some.

An honor fee is levied when an informal overdraft facility is exceeded. A dishonor fee is charged when a regular payment to another account cannot go through for lack of funds. And a late fee is charged if the payment is not made on time. So, more than one fee is charged for the same or related accounts.

Let us take another example. You have a credit card. Initially you get a fee waiver for two years. Then you go overseas and so don’t use the card. As a precaution you also cancel the card over a phone call. Then the third year starts and they levy you the annual charge. As you are overseas, you don’t know of this charge being levied. Then it enters into delinquency as you don’t pay the due. Are you responsible for the delinquency and the associated charges ?

And why do banks resort to these fees ? How come a single transaction is charged a fee twice ?

The answer, dear Watson, is greed and the need to recoup the losses due to the financial crises.

Coming back to the case. What are the implications for ANZ ? And for other banks ?

Did anybody say ‘bonus’ ?

Minus 20

‘Appa, What is minus 20 ?’ asked Bharat.

‘Well it could be a number. Like it could be the temperature in say Denver in the USA’, I say.

‘No Appa, Amma says somebody got minus 20. So what is that?’

I am, as usual, confused. Why on earth should someone get minus 20 ?

‘Is it the IIT exam?’ I ask the wife, his Amma thinking about the marks that somebody would have got
in the entrance exams to the technical institutes in India ( hushed tones – yes, my marks ).

‘No, not that. He is asking about something in the TV’ she says.

It was the election news and apparently Bharat was talking about the Congress’ score in Delhi.

Realizing what it was all about, I say,’Bharat, it is the score, like cricket score,like marks’.

‘But who got it ? And how can one get a mark in minus?’He was indeed puzzled.

‘See,let us say you got 80 marks in Maths last month’.

‘No Appa, I got 100 last month’, he protested. He is particular about his marks.

‘Ok, you got 100 last month. And if you get 80 this month, you get a minus twenty, right?’

‘No, you are wrong’, he says, ‘I got 100 this month also’.

Damn his marks. But I continue, ‘let us consider your friend Pradeep got this 100 last month and 80 this month’.

‘Appa, you are wrong even now. Pradeep did not write his exams this month. So how will he get 80?’

Logical question though. I give up and ask him the following :

‘Who got 100 last month and 80 this month in your class?’

‘Hmmm..’, pondering for a while, he says,’ Rahul got that’. This was Rahul Gupta of Class III.

‘Ok. So Rahul got twenty less than last time, right ?’

He agrees.

‘In the same way, there is another Rahul in Delhi. Last month he got 100 and this month he got 80. And so he got minus 20’.

I am extremely happy that I have overcome a major issue.

Bharat still looks confused.

‘So, Appa, is Rahul that you are talking about, is he studying in Class III?’

That ofcourse I do not know.

‘So what is he studying, this Rahul from Delhi?’asks Bharat. I keep quiet.

I think that the interview is over. But Bharat continues further.

‘Appa, If Rahul does so badly at school does his mother not scold him ?’

Some questions are diffiult to answer. How do I explain that his mother is as erudite as Rahul is and
so her score is even poorer than her sons’ ?

Please help me out.