Saturday, December 02, 2006

Manscaping comes to the fore

Hilarious site for Philips' new shaver. Check out the music video.

Friday, November 03, 2006

How to believe...?

Gahmen: No one will be left behind.

WSM: Get out of my elite uncaring face.

WSK: I stand by her basic point.

Mr Wang says it better.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's that time of the year again!

Ahhh white truffles... That, among all the autumnal goodies including moon cakes, sanma (pike mackeral) and ankimo (anglerfish liver) truly gets my juices going.

White truffles on linguini at Iggy's.
So simple yet mind-blowingly good.

White truffles on scallops and mashed potato at Senso.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Science lesson for the Straits Times

See today's Straits Times, page H1.

Krist, a whale shark is NOT a marine mammal. It is a shark, i.e. a fish, i.e. NOT a mammal.

A simple Google search would have turned up this well known fact.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rather stupid

Chicago marathon winner slips on sponsor's decal as he crosses the finish line. Suffers brain hemorrhage. Officials discover plastic is slippery when wet.


See the video here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We're back!

We're back after a short break! No prizes for guessing where we went... : )

Daddy had some airmiles to burn. And yah, it was nice to holiday with Mommy again after quite a few years. So we left the kids with the Grands and zoomed off in search of the quitessential Japan Hour experience. You know, the whole ryokan-onsen-kaiseki-"oiiishiii des!!!" combo. The place was a little onsen town called Kurokawa, a 3-hour bus ride from Fukuoka. We stayed at two ryokans there - Yamamuzuki and Okunoyu. Here's what they look like (click on the pix for slightly bigger versions).

Main entrance at Yamamizuki

Traditional Japanese bedroom

Attached onsen bath

Flagship outdoor riverside bath

Main entrance at Okunoyu

Japanese-Western combo room

Attached outdoor bath

Flagship outdoor riverside bath
Overall, we got what we wanted in all its Japaneseness. A few observations though:

1. The ryokans differ quite a bit in style, but also in subtle details which make all the difference, like whether the decor includes kitschy faux-bamboo, whether you can see the hot water piping or whether they conceal it so well that you actually think it springs from that gap in the rocks. Like whether each dish in the kaiseki meal just feels like it has been given that personal touch. Yamamizuki wins hands down, we think.

2. No matter how many times you have seen it on Japan Hour, it's still a culture shock (but in a such good way!). Like how there's no shower in the room (it's in the communal bath), or how there's no bed in the room at daytime at a traditional ryokan (where do you collapse in front of the TV then?). And of course, bathing au naturel in the open (which Daddy enjoyed, but Mommy took some getting used to).

3. That onsen bathwater is si peh hot!!!

4. That we ate surprisingly little seafood. Maybe foreign Japanese restaurants overemphasize this part of Japanese cuisine. The food was still pretty shiok, though.

Kaiseki spread at Okunoyu. Yamamizuki's was better
but served course-by-course, and less photogenic.
Kurokawa itself is a nice little town, in a Japanese-alpine village kind of way. Here's what it looks like.

A river runs through it
The weather was good, and the autumn colours were just showing. A month more and it would have been brilliant.

Nice to get away from the haze!
We also spent two days in Fukuoka, which is a nice little city, much more manageable in size than Tokyo. Food and shopping were pretty good, and not a expensive as you might think. Like-for-like quality-wise, Japanese food is cheaper than in Singapore. Only thing which marred the experience was that we got ripped off at the local food stalls (which were still cute as a button). Nuff said - do unto others, right?

Fukuoka gets even for Newton Hawker Center
Special mention to Maiko, who sacrificed her half-day off to show us what's special in her part of the world. If you are reading this Maiko, thank you so much. You are welcome at our home anytime.

Arigato gozaimas, Maiko-san!

Fukuoka off-takes

Click on the pix for bigger versions.

How do you get people to come if it's so terrible?

When you cannot think of a name for your building

Top row, fourth from left says "Toddy Coffee".
Must be from the estate.

Food from all over = GROVAL Buffet?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Can Malaysia move on?

The Business Times published an article today about an "acrimonious debate" which has broken out in Malaysia over a think tank's claim that the ethnic Malay share of corporate equity had reached 45% by Sep 2005. The current figure, according to the government, is 19%. The think tank's claim is controversial because since 1971, the government has always pushed for Malays to own at least 30% of the country's corporate equity. The article goes to some length to discuss the various methodologies which are employed by both sides to derive their stated results.

One may debate the details, but Manu Bhaskaran, an economist whom I admire a lot, cuts to the chase, saying:
'What strikes me as surprising are all these old stories. The world is moving on and talking about globalisation, of attracting the best talent - and Malaysia is still obsessing about the ethnic division of spoils.'
So the question, I think, is this: can Malaysia move beyond its racial politics and plug in to the world? Or will it be left behind, bickering over who gets what of the pie, and yet ignoring the fact the the pie is in fact shrinking, no, getting eaten, by global competitors?

Going by what PM Adbullah has said, one would think that the Malaysian government is in fact quite aware of the issue at hand. In a speech in Apr 2006 to the KL Business Club, he said:
'We have seen increased competition from our neighbours and from other regions. We have seen foreign direct investments chase new development opportunities elsewhere... With everything that is happening in the world – escalating oil prices, the rise of China and India, a continued global macroeconomic imbalance – the next five years will probably determine whether we’ll make it... The sense of purpose and urgency that it has created is not without basis. I am not an economic historian but as someone who has studied the rise and fall of civilisations, I am under no illusion that this is one of those turning points in our history.'
On the realities of racial politics, he goes on to say:
'If my government had to politically rely solely on a constituency represented by this audience here tonight, we will be out of business. Although you move and shake the world of business, you are in a minority. The mission will only work if i have the support of the majority... The economic philosophy that has allowed for this to be accepted as a national mission is that growth must be accompanied by distribution… Without a solid social foundation created by a distributive policy, we will not have the stability to stay relevant. Policies to help the bumiputera – a cornerstone of our social contract – will continue but will be designed to bring the best out of the community rather than consigning them to a culture of dependency. These socioeconomic priorities are uniquely Malaysian and are firmly non-negotiable.'
Which all sounds very first-world and yet sensitive to local realities. But yet nothing much has actually changed. So where's the disconnect? In all probability, it boils down to the necessities of staying in power, made all the more troublesome by the criticisms of an ex-PM, no less. And the fear is that Malaysia will not be able to get with the big picture, take the tough medicine and move on from the way things have been for the last 35 years...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Jia-Hui is one!

And this blog was started when she was born - how time flies! All four kiddie cousins gathered at grandma's as usual for the celebrations. But then, hor, combine four rowdy kids, a camera-phobic baby and a jealous elder sister, and you're going to have seriously few decent photos. Still, Daddy got a good one with the girls:

And got Mommy in for one as well:

The kids participated in seasonal festivities:

And had a blast as usual:

Oh, and check out Xin-Hui's vintage tai-kor-tai water bottle!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not the same when the angmohs do it

The Departed, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and directed by Martin Scorsese:

Infernal Affairs, starring Andy Lau, Tony Leung and directed by Alan Mak and Andrew Lau:

The angmoh trailer (they gotta make it more obvious):

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Perplexing article on HDB scam

The Business Times reported today about a new HDB scam called the "cash-down" scheme. Here's how it is supposed to work:

Someone may have bought his flat for, say, $400,000 during the market peak in 1996. With the drop in price, he may be able to sell it today for $300,000 - but the price declared in the official sales documents is lower at, say, $280,000.

The declared sale proceeds ($280,000) will go straight into the seller's CPF account, but he retains the undeclared $20,000 cash that he receives separately from the buyer.

The buyer may be enticed to agree to such an arrangement if he gets to buy the flat at slightly below the market price. In this case, the flat could have fetched a higher price at, say, $310,000, but the seller agrees to sell it for $300,000, so the buyer enjoys a $10,000 saving if he goes along with the seller's scheme.
All sensible so far, but here's where the logic gets confusing:

The scheme is said to involve mostly sellers suffering from negative equity on their property because they had bought their flats at high prices during the boom years. What they do is under-declare their sale price so as to prevent all of the sale proceeds from being returned to their Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts.

This happens because many owners would have used up a lot of their CPF savings to pay for their flats and the interest cost involved in servicing their mortgages.

Says an HDB resale market observer: 'Whereas the cashback deals were triggered more by greed or profiteering, cash-down deals seem to be driven by hardship and a need for those suffering from negative equity on their HDB flats to get out of the rut - so they can downgrade to a smaller flat, or move on.'
To clarify, negative equity refers to a situation where the value of an asset (in this case an HDB flat) is lower than the value of its attached liability (in this case a loan from the HDB or bank). Hence, asset - liability = equity is negative.

My question is this - how does the scam help you if you are in negative equity? Take the example above. Say the outstanding loan on the flat is $320,000. Hence the seller is in negative equity of $20,000. He will have to repay the bank or HDB $320,000 no matter what.

If he was not in negative equity, i.e. if the flat could be sold at say $350,000 today, the $320,000 loan will be deducted straight from the sale proceeds, with the remainder going first to CPF to cover withdrawals and interest, then to the seller in cash.

If the seller was in negative equity, as in this case where the flat can only be sold for $300,000, all of the proceeds will go to pay off the loan, and HDB or the bank will come after you for $20,000 more in cash. If you under-declare the sale price they will just come after you for more cash.

The only way all this can make sense is if the loan was from the HDB, and it does not have the practice of requiring the seller to top-up the difference between his outstanding loan and the selling price of his flat, i.e. if it forgave the negative equity. (The banks will never do this.)

I have not found anything in HDB's literature to suggest this, and I find it hard to believe HDB will be so generous. If this was true, there will be many who will exploit this route to erase their negative equity. And negative equity will then not be such a big issue.

So I'm back to scratching my head over the logic of the whole thing. Hmmm...

Hedge fund trouble and the analyst job market

The Business Times reported today that Amaranth Advisors was raising new equity after wrong-way energy bets lost the firm US$4.6b this month. That's quite a chunk of the firm's US$9.5b under management. Apparently, this is the biggest hedge fund loss since LTCM collapsed in 1998.

I'm just looking at this in relation to the huge rise in recruitment by hedge funds in Singapore over the last year. Several of my friends have made the move, lured by lucrative fees, attractive profit-sharing schemes and off course, the potential for outsized gains. Amaranth itself has an office in my building.

Timely reminder... good luck at the tables, guys!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Scholarship cut-back could be best for all

"PSA, DBS and SLA have cut back on their scholarship programmes. Is this the start of a trend as employers become more wary of bond-breakers?" So asks the Sunday Times in today's edition. The three agencies did not pin down reasons for the change, said the paper. But a PSA spokesman was quoted to say: "The number of scholarships we offer year to year varies and depends on the organisation's needs and how these needs are met by other channels such as direct recruitment."

I think that the quote is more enlightening, and enlightened, than the paper realizes. My read of the situation is this - that the agencies have awarded far more scholarships than they should have, and in so doing have directly contributed to the bond-breaking problem. Intentions were most probably good when the scholarship schemes were conceived. But honestly, how many Ivy League or Oxbridge graduates does an organization like PSA or SLA really need? Do they really need to bond tens of scholars a year?

My hope is that agencies offering undergraduate scholarships are beginning to realize that bonding large numbers of high-calibre individuals does no one any good when there is no clear understanding of how they will be employed. Unless the right challenges are found for these ambitious scholars, you will always have bond-breakers who leave in frustration. Which leaves the agency equally pissed as well. It is better to not have started the process at all.

Mr Wang has lots more to say on the issue, including answers for those who rue the reduced education funding for those who need it.

Voice & accountability in Singapore lowest in 10 years

According to the World Bank, voice and accountability in Singapore is at its lowest in 10 years, as measured against a sample of 213 countries. In its 2006 report on governance, Singapore scored 38.2 in the category, meaning that it beat only 38.2% of all the countries surveyed on this measure. Singapore had scored highs of 63.8 in 2002 and 59.1 in 1996, but has seen its rating fall drastically in the last three years.

The World Bank defines voice and accountability as the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and free media. I'm still digging into the World Bank's comprehensive website on the survey to see if I can find the exact reason for the decline, but by any measure, the result looks pretty dire.

Meanwhile, I pulled a couple of interesting charts from the site. First, a chart comparing the voice and accountability scores of 20 East Asian countries. At a glance, one can imagine calls of "Look at Taiwan! Look at South Korea! Do we want to be like them?!"

Now let's look at the same chart for 20 OECD countries. Will we then say "Look at Switzerland, Australia, UK and Japan! We do want to be like them!" Food for thought. Click here for a basic table of the World Governance Indicators for each country.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kiddie pix @ Grandma's!

So, everyone trooped back to Grandma's for a self-declared long weekend, giving Daddy a much-needed break. Xin-Hui had a blast as usual, and Jia-Hui seemed quite happy too. Except we still have a bit of that reaction to the camera problem...

Left: Xin-Hui at 12 months.
Right: Jia-Hui at 11 months.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Babies and the analyst job market

So, the gahmen says we'd better make more babies or we'll have to import more foreign talent... Makes me think of the current job situation in my industry. FYI, the job market for equities analysts is hot, hot, hot. This is quite a new phenomenon, taking root really only in the last year or so. Before that the market had been pretty weak following the bear markets of 1998, 2001 and 2003.

I was speaking recently to a senior regional analyst from a top international brokerage. They are looking to fill an analyst position in Singapore and have been looking for months without success. And they can pay MEGA bucks. Another big-name house lost an analyst some weeks ago, and did not even bother looking locally. They brought in someone from their Australia team instead, which I thought was great solution, rather than competing for whatever talent was available in Singapore. At our shop, half the analyst positions have turned over within a year.

I've never seen such a job market before, not even in the go-go mid-90's. Now we have hedge funds and property funds taking analysts from long-only houses, long-only shops ramping up analyst teams, and all three poaching from the sell-side. Meanwhile, sell-side brokers are replenishing numbers and top-tier names are poaching from second-tier houses. On top of that, the traditional breeding ground for new analysts - local brokerages, have all but disappeared. The upshot being, analysts with two to three years' experience are filling jobs specified for five-year-olds, and getting paid that way.

I'm gonna teach my kids to pick stocks, man. A is for "Assets", B is for "Book value"...

Kiddie pix!

We have a problem. When her photo is taken, Jia-Hui now reacts before the flash by squinting and covering her eyes. Damn, gotta think of ways to sneak up on her. BTW, check out the mountain of toys behind. Note to gahmen: this is why we can't have more kids - no storage space.

Tough month for old friends

Three old friends of mine are in mourning this month. Two lost their mothers unexpectedly and another, the grandaunt who raised him.

Take good care guys. My thoughts are with you.

In with the new

Swapped my K750 for a brand new N73. Strangely, I was sad to let the K750 go. I'd gotten used to the interface, which is surprisingly good, and has a few tricks that Nokia should learn. But the hardware was beginning to conk out after just six months (mainly the joystick, which is a known problem), so it was time to cut loss.

The N73 has a gorgeous screen, superb speakers, and generally solid build quality. The interface, well I'll say that Nokia has some serious competition to its Human Technology. And it's slower and has hung on me a few times. There's the 3.2 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, of course. Though initial tests indicate that the improvement over the K750's 2 megapixel is not a quantum leap. For one, it tends to overexpose close-up shots, against the K750's perfect exposure. But get this - you can adjust the exposure on the N73.

One last photo using the K750.

N73 photo in good light.

N73 close-up photo.

N73 photo in poor light. Much better than the K750,
which takes very grainy photos in such conditions.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Enough with the STOMP tip-offs already!

Sian buay?! Tree fall on car, car fall into drain also must report. Liddat also call drama ah?!

Get. A. Life.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Woodneuk lost

I'm speechless... a hundred years of history destroyed just like that. There was an article about it in Zaobao on 11 Jul 06. Click here for more pictures of the burnt-out ruins.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Back at the 190

After a disappointing first experience at the Four Seasons' 190 restaurant, I was invited back by management, following a letter I wrote to them. This time round things worked out a lot better, with everyone getting what they ordered (well, everyone ordered the same thing after all), and pretty solid food quality. Am happy now.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

This is going to be interesting

Why would demonstrators be interested in protesting at a "secure, private area", with "bans on wooden or metal poles to hold up placards". I know - how about balloon clappers and cheerleaders?

Wikipedia says: "A growing trend in the United States has been the implementation of "free speech zones," a fenced-in area which is often far-removed from the event which is being protested; critics of free-speech zones argue that they go against the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by their very nature and that they lessen the impact the demonstration might have otherwise had."

No outdoor demos for World Bank, IMF meets, say police
But those who want to engage the two organisations can do so in secure, private area at Suntec City
The Straits Times, 29 July 2006

OUTDOOR demonstrations and processions will not be allowed during September's International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings, the police said yesterday.

But in keeping with the tradition of these meetings, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who want to engage the two organisations will be allowed to do so, but only in a private, secured area set aside for them at the Suntec City venue.

Issuing their public order guidelines for the meetings yesterday, the police said demonstrations are already banned by Singapore law, which cannot be changed to accommodate the meeting.

Securing the country against terrorist attacks and protecting residents, conference delegates and visitors, they said, must take priority.

Singapore Police Force chief-of-staff, Senior Assistant Commissioner Soh Wai Wah, said: 'We are talking about a high security period, and we do not want to create opportunities terrorists can exploit, which can then compromise our security.

'The threat of a terrorist incident is a real one, and requires Singapore to take all necessary and effective measures to safeguard the meeting.'

That means accredited CSOs will only be permitted to express their views inside the convention venue, in a special area on Level 1 of the Suntec Convention Centre. Even then, they must stick to the police rules, which include bans on wooden or metal poles to hold up placards.

The area in and around Suntec City, where the meetings are being held, will be tightly secured.

Said SAC Soh: 'We recognise the importance of the participation of CSOs in the event and have made the maximum effort to facilitate their involvement, within the framework of our laws.'

To stay within that framework, groups must not display anything or behave in a way which will offend religious, racial or ethnic sensitivities.

Last night, in response to queries from The Straits Times, the World Bank's Singapore representative, Mr Peter Stephens, indicated that the global body might want to explore alternative arrangements with the Government.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Time capsule in the city

You have driven past it countless times along Holland Road. You may even have heard of it, or seen its pitched blue roof on Google Earth. Built by William Napier in 1854, Istana Woodneuk, also known as Istana Tyersall, was given to Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor in exchange for his land at Telok Blangah. He then had it rebuilt in 1892. Check out these great photos by Wong Chek Poh.

Source: National Archives of Singapore

Source: synapseman

Woodneuk on Google Earth

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Is the 140th actually... talking back?!

Yawning Bread has a thesis that the Straits Times could be sending a message to the Government regarding the Bhavani-Brown Affair in a recent article on political cartoons. Could it be... true?

Our SERS replacement flat

Akan datang in 2010.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Monday, July 03, 2006

Feedback also must exprain

MICA responds to mrbrown's rant on the cost of living. 209 304 370 angry comments ensue. I can just see it coming:

Customer: Eh, your bak chor mee not nice!
Bak Chor Mee Man: What you mean my bak chor mee not nice?!
Customer: I mean, your bak chor mee is not nice.
Bak Chor Mee Man: So, what's your solution?
Customer: How I know? You are the bak chor mee man what. If I know, I will be selling bak chor mee also!
Bak Chor Mee Man: How I know your see lang tau lah! Comprain also must have solution, feedback also must exprain, OK!
Mr Wang helpfully decontructs MICA's response for us, just so we're sure. Heavyweight bloggers add their take on the issue, but I like these, by The Negative Man, and soulgroove. Everyone is so unhappy with their bak chor mee...

Meanwhile, the man himself comes up with a classic response.

Technorati tags: ,

A different take on Joo Chiat

In a post which will make a real estate analyst envious, yawningbread offers a new angle on the Joo Chiat "problem".

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Bourdain boo-boo

The Straits Times' Cheong Suk-Wai spots Bourdain's mistakes in today's review. I'm reading the book too, and the man got sloppy, I must say.

Food - THE NASTY BITS by Anthony Bourdain
The Sunday Times, July 2, 2006
By Cheong Suk-Wai

THIS magpie's nest of foodie irks and quirks is a trove for couch potatoes mad about tell-all musings.

More Zen than Kitchen Confidential (2001) and less self-absorbed than its sequel, A Cook's Tour (2002), this book is a compilation of Bourdain's gourmand globe- trots, published in such rags as Gourmet and GQ.

The ex-druggie and 28-year veteran of hot stoves has since turned TV host with shows like No Reservations (airing currently on StarHub Channel 16).

He divvies up this selection into Salty, Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Umami but it is largely a bittersweet brittle of his pet peeves, especially celebrity chefs.

Still, whether he is swooning over seawater sorbet or slamming cocktails 'that look like fabric softener', his mind is always inventive, his heart in the right place. This nasty is nice.

His homework is not, though. 'I've really come to love Singapore,' he enthuses on the last page. But not enough to get to know it better. He confuses nasi lemak with Nonya laksa, and calls bak kut teh 'an appetizingly- looking Malay specialty'. And that fabric softener remark? He means the Singapore Sling. Oy.

If you like this, read: Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures Of A Professional Eater by Alan Richman (2005, US$11.44 or S$18.15 from which, as with Bourdain, is about the man, not his munches.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Numo the supercute hedgehog

Check out the adventures of Numo, the snowflake hedgehog. Click on the pix.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Crap service at 190

I thought I'd try the well-reviewed wagyu burger at the Four Seasons' 190, so I suggested it when a business associate hosted lunch yesterday. There were seven of us at the table, and we all ordered either the wagyu or tenderlion burger. Some wanted their's cut in half so that they could share burgers and try both. Most went for the foie gras and truffle toppings.

The food was delivered with a little confusion about which burger was which. They all looked alike and you couldn't tell the level of done-ness till you chomped into one anyway. Conversation was brisk, so it wasn't till a quarter way through my burger that I realised that it did not have the extra toppings that I'd wanted. And one of my colleagues had the toppings instead when he did not ask for any. They had messed up on who was having what.

I was supposed to have the wagyu, and my colleague, the tenderloin. We exchanged the second half of our burgers, but the meats tasted the same, and the colleague's burger was not medium-rare, which was what I wanted. In the end I don't know what I ate. Which was damn disappointing, considering I really wanted to try the wagyu. Other than that, dishes were also not cleared promptly when coffee arrived (again, delivered to the wrong diners).

All in all, completely unacceptable for the Four Seasons. I didn't complain at the restaurant out of deference for my host, but still feel crap enough to blog about it today. Makes me appreciate Iggy's all the more.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mommy styles Jia-Hui too much like a boy

Meanwhile, in squeaky clean Singapore...

There's this curious symbiosis between good food and men's entertainment. I was checking out with some colleagues the #1 rated wanton mee at Keong Siak Rd, which is of course a well known red-light district. And snapped this photo.

We then adjourned to Temple St for Chinese desserts, when this caught our eye. Check out the killer tagline near the bottom (of the poster, lah!).