Saturday, April 24, 2010

Circle Line #Fail

In Singapore, the circle line is opened for public, but there seemed to be little information on it.

If you search Google, you can find --> this <-- Which does not tell you much. The stations my not be named properly as well as we know Bradell is actually Toa Payoh Lor 1 and many other stations are mis-named. I tried the circle line for the first time and the experience was pretty mixed. I liked the automated trains (without a driver), but felt that the trains are a bit short, and infrequent. It was fine as no one knew how to go about on the train. I've walked past Promenade (near Carrefour at Sintec City) several times and decided to try going to Suntec City, however with the opening of the Marina Sands Bridge, I decided to go to Esplanade first as I believed seeing a stop in the City Link. I took the MRT to Dhoby Ghaut with my mom and some of her friends as they were interested to ride, but were afraid to try as they think they will get lost. When we arrived at the Dhoby Ghaut Interchange, we found the entrance to circle line, but it said to Marymount! I was shocked as I thought going to Esplanade was the other way, and I could not find any signs that say Esplanade or Promenade. I asked several staff at the MRT station for help, but they just told me, "Circle line... That way." And when I asked if it goes to Esplanade, they simply told me "Train goes one way... the other side not open." I was not sure if the station to Esplanade or Promenade was opened with that reply as I was certain once, but not now. There was no signs on where the trains were heading and no one to help. The elderly ladies I was with asked other passengers and no one knew about Esplanade or Promenade. Their reply, "There go Bishan..." I asked the ladies to wait while I investigated further, and realized that Dhoby Ghaut was the last stop, and the train will pass through Promenade and Esplanade to go to Marymount. No thanks to the lack of signs or staff to help. I then got them into the new and short train to go to Esplanade. It was only 2 stops away, and when we got off, the Esplanade station seemed empty. One of them asked. "Is this station opened?" We moved towards the exit and saw signs to Raffles Hotel, and before I could ask anyone for directions, (which seemed like there was one exit) all of the elderly ladies have exited the train station. The train station was far underground, and there was only one way out, and it put us on a grassy patch of land between Raffles City and Suntec City. NOT ESPLANADE! Lots of cursing and swearing followed as they walked from the far away station towards the Esplanade, and we passed by an Entrance to the MRT station that says Esplanade on the way, an exit we previously thought did not exist.

I have a few questions:

1) Isn't the circle line newly opened?
2) Shouldn't there be staff and signs at all stations or at least at the interchanges about the route of the circle line?
3) Shouldn't there be maps or information when you exit the train to show you where the exits were on the surface relative to where you want to go? (And how to get to those exits?)

The Singapore train system is not complex compared to New York or other Metropolitan cities, however, just assuming people know where to go is simply bad form, especially when the stations are underground.

There is a lot of walking to do, and these stations does not seemed to be that elderly friendly as I timed the time it takes a 70 year old lady to exit the station to the surface, is about 8 minutes.

Is this world class transportation?

I guess not. I think I'm better off going by bus.

-- Iron Bowl

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sex Workers in Singapore

Budget hotels move in... then sex workers follow

'There wasn't much activity at first, but we see a lot more illicit activities going on these days,' said Mr Ng, 38, of his estate, which is next to Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, about 1km from Kovan MRT station.


I'm not sure if this cause is due to the import of our foreign talent. However, I really do feel that the "Sex industry" seemed to have boomed with the increase in population in Singapore.

More tourist, more foreign workers, more foreign students -- more sex workers.

Does it really have to be that way?

I've friends living in the non-red light parts of Geylang, and they have complained that their kids that are in secondary school, aged about 15 years old were approached by sex workers.

In Balestier Road, Korvan, and parts of Serangoon, these sex workers are constantly visible and sometimes touting for customers. They hang outside KTV and "clubs", which in Singapore are actually near your regular housing estates -- at least, near the bus stops where you get off to get home.

I wonder if this is a healthy way for people to learn about sex, since porn is banned in Singapore. Probably the best expert in the industry are these "experienced ladies".

Well, the other thing the news report failed to report is the "sex trade" and "human trafficking". I've spoken to several Mainland Chinese ladies before, and I noticed that one of the ladies whom I used as a model for a photo shoot seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere after the shoot. She was frantic and had several phone calls shortly after and when I dropped her off at an MRT station, I noticed red spots on her thigh.

I'm not really sure, however, this really feels like human trafficking. I really do hope the authorities do take action to prevent this from getting widespread, and not ignore it and pretend that it does not happen in Singapore.

-- Iron Bowl

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Validity of Focus Groups.

Focus group meeting with NUSSU + Alumni + GSS + FASS Students

I was at a focus group today, the focus is as follows:



The master planners propose holding a dialogue with NUS student organizations & young alumni representatives to receive a comprehensive view of campus student life in relation to academia.  The discussion will place special emphasis on student/ young alumni views of campus aesthetics, conveniences, and overall student activities throughout both the night and day.  Concepts of the campus’s sense of community, belonging, and social vibrancy will also be queried, along with how these ideas relate spatially with academic services and facilities such as lecture theatres, libraries, and faculties.


Agenda

·         Introduction
·         Breakout Groups
·         Reporting


I. Introduction: (5 minutes)

·         Team introductions and why we are here


II. Breakout Groups (30 minutes)

·         Break out into groups of four to six students according to interest (NUSSU, Young Alumni, GSS, and FASS)
·         Undergraduate/ graduate students and young alumni may want to split up
·         Discuss the following questions:


Student Government:

1.       How do students participate in student organizations?
2.       What types of activities do NUS student organizations promote, and how to students hear about them? 
3.       What facilities do student organizations usually use for events or activities?
4.       Do student organizations need meeting, office, or storage space?
5.       Do the facilities or venues you use feel crowded and over scheduled? Give examples.
6.       Are there spaces or venues you feel are missing from the existing facilities?
7.       Would you prefer the location of your activities be closer to housing or your academic studies?
8.       What do you like best about the existing facilities?
9.       What do you like least?
10.   How do you think you will later remember your time at NUS, for instance as a young alumni?


Academic Faculties:

1.       How do students participate in student organizations within your faculty?
2.       Describe how student organizations within faculties may be different from other NUS student organizations.
3.       What types of activities do student organizations within a faculty promote, and how to students hear about them?
4.       Are student activities usually held near the faculty, or in other venues?
5.       Do students in your faculty feel well connected to the ‘hot spots’ of the campus?
6.       Between classes, do students within your faculty prefer to hang out or relax nearby, or go to other places on campus?
7.       Are there adequate dining options near your faculty?
8.       Where do students prefer to study, in the library, residences, or other locations?
9.       What do you like best about the existing facilities?
10.   What do you like least?
11.   How do you think you will later remember your time at NUS, for instance as a young alumni?


III. Report Findings (10 minutes per team)

A team representative will present a summary of the responses from each break-out group. 



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I was glad to be part of such a focus group and glad that NUS has an initiative to seek the opinions of students and ex-students about campus life.

During the discussions, I felt an overwhelming sense that the focus group was to justify something. The committee seemed to be focused on:

1) Student interactions or the lack there of, and attributed it to lack of meeting space and non-conducive canteens. There seemed to be suggestions that the canteens are going to be renovated, possibly to include air-conditioning.

2) Students do not spontaneously gather to do arts. There is a lack of opportunities for this to happen, and new facilities will be built to accomodate this.

3) There is lack of sports facilities, and more should be built for students to enhance student life.

4) There is a need for study rooms and something new should be built.


I seem to feel that this interview was to justify the need to add more facilities, but in my opinion, NUS seemed to have built too many new buildings and useless structures and have missed the point -- TO EDUCATE A WELL ROUNDED STUDENT.

1) Canteens are overcrowded, class scheduling seemed poor, and lunch seemed to happen at the same time for staff and students. There is simply not enough chairs to sit during lunch time. It is not really about air conditioning, but rather, seats.

2) With the heavy curriculum and study load, student do not have much time to socialize and discover themselves. The school focuses on examination results, and arts, sports and other soft skills may seem as a distraction to most students who are focused solely on academic excellence.

3) There are sports facilities in places that are unused but out of bounds to students and alumni, making those available packed and overcrowded.

4) There are classrooms that should be opened, and a lot are utilized as study rooms. No new rooms are required.


What really irks me is the feeling that the university has already decided on these changes and are getting these surveys with flawed questions to justify these new structures that will be built in the near future. Though not needed or wanted more than the extra seats required at the canteens, there is a need to justify and the survey was supposed to show that, and the findings of the survey on other topics will be ignored as "this is not a survey" for the other findings.

As for the canteens that close too early, lack of a bar or hangout place except Fong Seng (A coffee shop outside NUS sadly) Poor service for the ATM machines. The incredible amount of paperwork and bureaucracy to make things happen in NUS, the task force does not seem out to find a solution for that, but rather a justification for more money to be spent to make NUS look more pretty from the outside with more facilities that are out of bounds and are of no concern to the student body in general.

Well Done.

-- Iron Bowl


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Legal Drugs in Singapore.

Mephedrone / Meow / Miaow / 4-MMC
To my surprise, the above drugs are not banned in Singapore.

http://wapedia.mobi/en/Mephedrone

As of February 2010 mephedrone is legal in Singapore, 'CNN Go' reported that it is ordered over the internet and exported from the UK

Mephedrone, also known as 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC), or 4-methylephedrone, is a synthetic stimulant and entactogen drug of the amphetamine and cathinone classes. It is reported to be contained in some legal highs and is sometimes sold mixed with methylone. [4] It is a synthetic substance based on the cathinone compounds found in the khat plant of eastern Africa. Mephedrone can come in the form of capsules, tablets or white powder that users may swallow, snort or inject. [5] In 2009 it became the fourth most popular street drug in the United Kingdom, behind marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy. [6] Slang names include meph, drone, [7] MCAT and bubbles. [8] In late 2009, UK newspapers began referring to the drug as meow or miaow (sometimes doubled as meow meow or miaow miaow), a name which was almost unknown on the street at the time. [7]

http://naughtyplantfood.com/

I was talking to someone on the bus a while ago and he show me some pills and he said that he ordered them online and they were delivered locally using Singpost.

I was shocked as Singpost now deliver drugs??

Mephedrone to be made Class B drug 'within weeks'

Home Secretary Alan Johnson is to ban mephedrone and other synthetic so-called "legal highs" within weeks.

MEPHEDRONE FACTS

Effects similar to amphetamines and ecstasy
Sold as a white powder, capsules and pills or can be dissolved in liquid
Often sold online as plant food marked "not for human consumption"
Completely different to methadone, used to treat heroin addicts
Reported side effects include headaches, palpitations, nausea, cold or blue fingers
Long-term effect unknown
Currently legal to buy and be in possession of the powder, but against the law to sell, supply or advertise the powder for human consumption
Already illegal in Israel, Denmark, Norway and Sweden

I've heard about this and seen them in Singapore and US before, and did not know that they were not illegal. I guess someone is not doing their job.

I feel if Ecstasy is illegal, any other drug that has similar effects should be too.

-- Iron Bowl

Thursday, April 08, 2010

COE Price Woes.

The amount of speculators on COE may be rising and the government usually does not intervene when they are gaining from this.

COE Prices of course. "Car prices up after COE premiums hit new highs"

With speculators on housing, housing price rises, COEs, Vehicle prices and eventually transportation price rises. Getting more cars on the roads, increasing ERP Prices basically increases revenue. Does it control traffic flow and prevent traffic jams? I really doubt the ERP system works that way.

Now with enough cars and traffic jams all the way till 10pm at night on the CTE, steps are taken to reduce the increase amount of cars on the roads. (By limiting COE)

The biggest increase was in the Open category, where the premium closed at S$42,001, an increase of S$14,411.

The COE for big cars also saw a significant jump. It rose S$9,700 to S$36,089. For small cars, the new premium stood at S$28,389 - up S$7,587.

I'm sure everyone in Singapore is going to pay for this, and if you think you are taking the BUS and not affected by this, you are too Naive!

-- Iron Bowl

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Speculation driving up costs.



There are lots of things driving up prices of everything in Singapore nowadays. A few people are profiting while a lot are bearing the consequences.

1) COE trading.

On which country do you buy a piece a paper to allow you to own a vehicle? Yes, you guessed it -- in Singapore. This paper is sometimes worth 4 times the market value of the car, and without it, you cannot drive your car on the road.

Who benefits at the end. The government. By allowing people to speculate and buy these pieces of papers, releasing news and rules which people do not understand, many who are uninformed will inevitably fall into this trap of "buying a car now" or the price will go up.

I've talked to a speculator, who claimed to have bought more than 50 COE (Certificate of entitlement) in February and March, claimed to have made more than $500,000 thus far as the prices of these COE skyrocketed from about $20,000 to about $40,000 now. ($20k for each COE, he could have made more than $1MM)

What has LTA (Land Transport Authority) done to stop this? Absolutely nothing. It seem that as prices of this paper goes up, they are to gain from the high COE prices. Does this in return give us a better public transport system in Singapore or better roads? -- Not really. Where does all the extra revenue go?

The COE system, the OPC (Off Peak Car) and many other mind boggling rules set by the LTA is generally not understood by the public, and people actually do hire consultants to understand this better. When buying a car or choosing which scheme to get is so complex, the public lose.

Tip: Take a bus or a train.

2) Housing Speculation

Whenever there is a new condominium released in Singapore, there are a lot of speculators snapping up the demand. As more immigrants and foreign workers, students come into Singapore, they inevitably drive up housing cost.

When HDB (Housing and Development Board) decides that public housing are subjected to market prices and new public housing or leased hold flats are being offered to the public, they cost $600,000. There is never enough housing, hence prices have no where to go but up.

For those who are married and need to buy a home. Good luck. Live with your parents or in Far Far Away land. Say hi to the Gingerbreadman for me. When HDB prices hit $900,000, it is time to pack up and leave.


3) Retail Space Sub-Subletting

I've heard many rumors about this and I am starting to believe it. When a company like Sheng Siong leases a Market from the government, they subsequently do little renovation and increase the rent -- significantly.

Just think of all the local coffee shops, food courts that you see. There is often renovation and prices of the food goes up. Are these renovations really necessary? For the hawker centers, markets and food courts. Really, does it change anything?

Yes, rent. When rent goes up, food prices goes up.

The problem is when there is a market value for a store, say $6,000 a month, when someone rents it for $1,500, they would then sub-lease it again for $3,000 and they would not work and earn $1,500 a month. Then this person may then sublease it for another $2,000 profit, making it to be about $5,000 a month.

As many Singaporean are being displaced from their jobs by "foreign talents" some become hawkers, and they would have to sell a lot just to pay the rent. Unless they own the place. Otherwise, rent become the significant part of their expenses.

Hey its just market price to some, but in the end, food prices are rising, while income remains stagnant.

All in all, in this top down society, nothing much can be done. You cannot protest, you cannot gather to talk in public. If it benefits the government, nothing will be done as the people who are suffering either don't know about it, or feel too powerless and have given up.

I guess when prices go up, the government would say our standard of living has increased. This is a good thing right?

-- Iron Bowl

References:

COE System not working to plan

Property buyers not deterred by speculation curbs

Friday, April 02, 2010

LTA woes.

I was at LTA at 10 Sin Ming Drive today, and it was crowded.

All the talk of productivity by the government does not seemed to have any effect here yet. Firstly, there is a large queue at the entrance. Many people who enter get stuck there, even though more than half of them did not need to do so. There were signs to direct people to where they should go, but still, as Singaporeans, they formed a queue and created a huge jam at the entrance.

To register your vehicle, you need the latest printed ACRA information. Even though they can easily access it on their systems, you have to go print one out. I had one printed a year ago but it was not good enough, and I had to print one out for $5. (2 companies so $10 in total). It took me 1.5 hours to get one printed. After paying with your credit card, and transaction goes through, it seemed to take 10 minutes before you can print it. (Seriously, computer systems at ACRA needs to work a lot faster than that)

There seemed to be a lot of complains on "Loss of vehicle." There were at least 4 people complaining about the loss of their vehicles. (Are there so much car thefts?)

A man has lost his 10 year old sports car with a big engine, and wants to claim his road tax which exceeds $6k, and his COE which has 9 years left. However, he claims it has been 3 months and insurance has already agreed to pay and the police closed the case, however, he still cannot get the refunds as the police has not sent the "closed case" information to the LTA yet.

-- Iron Bowl

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Qingming Festival 清明节

Qing Ming or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox), usually occurring around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar (see Chinese calendar).

It is observed in Singapore and coinciding with good Friday, traffic around cemeteries, crematorium & columbarium are a little crazy. There are hordes of people and as fire is involved, be extra careful!


I was at Mandai Crematorium & Columbarium Complex today to visit my late father.
Coinciding with Good Friday, the roads were packed and there was utterly no traffic control at all, making transportation to the far away location a nightmare.


From the exit of the expressway, there is a traffic jam that will take you 40 minutes to get to the Mandai crematorium & columbarium. The place was crowded and full of people. I would recommend not bringing your infants and handicapped old folks as I do not think the place can handle crowds. There are people lighting joss sticks at the isles praying.

The place is full of smoke from the burning of paper and other things, elderly with respiratory problems should  take note. There seemed to be a lot of children as well. And the children are ill behaved and running around this otherwise should be peaceful resting final resting place for many. With the fire, smoke and large crowd, I really doubt that there is any form of fire safety laws that this place has not broken. Furthermore, if a fire did break out, I don't think a fire engine could get there in time with all that traffic.



Tips:
Do not bring too much things to burn, there are a lot of other people there, and the flame is very hot.
Avoid going on weekends and public holidays. Go early morning before going to work.
Do not bring your children or old people if you plan to go there during the weekend. Traffic will be bad, there will be lots of people, fire and smoke.




Be considerate, please do not litter. And watch your children!

-- Iron Bowl
NTUC INCOME INSURANCE WOES

Once again, the insurance companies have increased their premiums.

I was paying about $1200 for comprehensive commercial vehicle insurance under NTUC Income, and it has gradually increased over the years, even though I never had a claim in my life.

As I am closing down one of my companies, I had to transfer ownership of the van from one of the companies I own to another. Though I recently renewed my insurance at about $1200 on March 15, 2010, when I am transferring ownership between companies, I need to get a new policy. I called yesterday to check several insurance agencies for quotes, and I have used an agent by the name of "Tracy" to get quotes, but all these insurance companies seemed reluctant to do business.

I was put on hold for long periods of time, then talked to a sales staff to and they asked a few questions, and say, "I'll get back to you." Which obviously they did not.

As I need to effect the transfer of ownership on April 1, 2010, I need to get the insurance immediately as I've given these agents 1 week, still no reply. As my commercial vehicle was insured by NTUC Income, I called them on 31 Mar, 2010 and eventually got a quotation for about $1500 (For period 1 April - 15 Mar 2011)

The quotation was not that good, and I told them I need the paperwork done today, so I decided to go to NTUC income.

To my horror,

1) INSURANCE was about $2100. This was far from the $1500 quoted. I checked my old policy and it was about $1200, from NTUC Income 2 weeks back.

2) I asked the lady to check again, and time and again she has to consult her manager, and the end result was still about $2100. (Process took longer than 1 hour) Productivity tips by their NTUC Chairman Lim Swee Say does not seem to be used in the organization.

3) When I asked about my quotation, I got the bureaucratic answer, "Company policy increased premiums of all commercial vehicles today." BY MORE THAN 50%

As I was in a rush to register my vehicle, I had no choice as the other insurance companies does not seem to want to do business, and NTUC gave me an invalid quotation which was available yesterday and somehow different today because of company policy.

Why do they even bother to give a quote when they cannot offer that price?

-- Iron Bowl