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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Gd O'times

The stretch of shop at Changi Village continues to attract more and more F&B outlets and some are pretty good too like this Peranakan food Gd O'times. This is a relatively small place and the thing about them is that they cook all the food for each table order together so expect to wait long long for the food to be served. But once served, all the food comes together and everything is eaten piping hot. No need to eat 1 item and then wait another long stretch of time for the next item to be served.  Because of this, it is better to call and place the order in advance.

We ordered the usual Peranakan food.

1. Bak-wan Kerpiting Soup

2. Chilli prawn

3. Assam Fishhead

4. Chap Chye

5. Ngoh Hiang

All the food were good, portion reasonably big and above all very reasonably priced. We couldn't finish everything so we asked for the leftover chap chye to be doggy bagged which they obliged with a cheery smile.

I think for those looking for nice home cooked food, instead of the usual zhezhar, this will be a good alternative. But just remember to place the order in advance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Of Strange Requests and Rude Customers

Recently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs shared some quirky demands of Singaporeans made at the overseas missions. He described this as the "entitlement mentality" of some Singaporeans. 

The people at the embassies and missions are not the only people who have to deal with such unreasonable demands. In my almost 30 years of working, I find that more and more people are behaving very unreasonably and demanding. As people becomes more educated, their expectations and demands increases and woe befall whoever gets in their way of getting what they want or should I say, demand. They will threaten to complain to Senior Management, the Authorities, write to the press, go to the MP ......

Dealing with unpleasant people and situation is part of my job but still sometimes these people get me so pissed off that I will return as good as they give. And I don't take kindly to threats of any nature. I for one do not subscribe to the thinking that "the Customer is King". As far as I am concern, if a request is reasonable and can be accommodated, we will try but there is a limit to what we can agree to. Let me share some examples of unreasonable demands that I got from customers in the past few years.

1. A customer was at the banking hall to perform some transaction. By the time he completed the transaction, it had started to rain. He then demanded that the teller give him an umbrella.  People always assumed banks have umbrellas to give away as gift but that is not always the case. At the time, the company had no umbrellas to give away so the teller was not able to accommodate his request. There and then in front of other customers and staff, he started yelling and shouting and threatening to complain to the authorities. But there was no free umbrella to give away and in the end he walked away empty handed. Sure, the staff would have loan him one of their own but that was going beyond the call of duty and not expected of them. 

2. One of our branch has safe deposit box facility. The facility closes at 4.30 pm sharp in line with our business hour. About 4 pm, a customer called the branch and informed that he was on the way to the airport in the evening and would like to access his safe deposit box at about 7 pm while he was enroute to the airport. Naturally the staff at the branch told him the branch closes at 4.30 pm and they could not wait for him. But regardless, he still turned up about 6.30 pm and demanded to be let in. By then, there was only 1 staff left and there was no way for security reason that he could open the facility for him. He kicked up a big fuss, accused the staff of poor service and eventually wrote a letter of complaint to Head Office. 

3. A customer had bought a property. She managed to sell it soon after but like all property loan contracts, there was a lock in period where a penalty has to be paid if the contract is broken. She asked for a waiver of the penalty. We perused her contract, worked out our costs and looked at her sale contract and determined that we will lose money on this deal if we waived the penalty. Furthermore, she had made a tidy sum from the sub-sale of the property. So we turned her request down. That was when from a polite voice over the phone, she turned into a witch. She cursed me since I was the one speaking to her, cursed the company and told me that the day my company closed down, she will be standing outside our front door cheering and clapping! 

4. in the past, when a person wants a loan, he will go to the bank, sit meekly before a stern looking officer to make a case why the bank should lend him money. Nowadays, that is not the case. Of course, nowadays there are no more stern looking officer. What we have now are "relationship managers" but they still do the same job. They have to evaluate the client's request and ensure that the 1001 legal requirements are met before they can give in-principle approval for the loan. In the past, if you don't get the loan, you walk away with your head hung low, despondent as to how to raise that money. But nowadays, customers don't take no for an answer. They scream, shout and threaten the officer. And when all else fails, they write letter of complaints to the authorities or go and see their MP. We even had people getting lawyers to come and sue us claiming that our refusal to grant them a loan results in them losing business deals and thus causing them to suffer loss. Good try but no go. But still they try.

5. Just yesterday, a customer described me as the "worst bank officer" he has ever met. And all because he was unable to pay a debt which we were chasing. That was uncalled for but something that I am so used to that I don't even blink an eye at such "compliments". Now if only there was an award for the most number of rude comments received, I think I will surely win that award!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Jekyl and Hyde Transport Policies

Yesterday for the first time in my life staying in Pasir Ris, I ran into DPM Teo. At the Pasir Ris Bus interchange and he was giving out flyers! This not being election year, it comes as a big surprise. More so, considering that I had stayed in Pasir Ris for more than 15 years in total and had never bumped into him and his entourage all these times - not even during election times.

Turned out he was there to promote the launch of a new shuttle bus that will complement the existing shuttle bus being run by SBS. This is part of a new initiatives launched by the government to augment the current services being provided by SMRT and SBS.

And today I managed to get on one of this shiny new buses. 

Actually it is more a luxury coach than the typical bus. See the interior is just like one of those tour buses that we take to Malaysia.

While I am appreciative of the effort to improve the bus situation, I cannot help but wonder whether the government is getting its public transport policy right.

A long long time ago when policeman worn shorts, the bus companies were private companies. Then the government decided to take over the running of the bus transport system and set up Singapore Bus Services to take over all the routes. And rightly so. The private bus companies were only interested in running profitable routes. The buses were rickety affairs and irregular. When SBS took over, there was a big jump in bus standard. Those days, every time SBS introduces something new, it was always with the commuters in mind. From my home in Margaret Drive, I had direct bus to Orchard Rd, Serangoon Road, Chinatown, Jurong and almost every part of Singapore and all within a 5 minutes walk. Such was the convenience. Then the government decided SBS was a monopoly and hived off the Northern part of Singapore to a new company, TIBS. That was the start of the many weird policies that LTA comes up with since then. How does setting up a new company operating mainly in the north creates competition? I think to this day nobody has any idea.

Then the MRT came along. And this time ostensibly to reduce overlapping routes with the MRT, major bus routes were withdrawn. My bus accessibility to almost all part of Singapore dwindle to almost zilch. And to get anywhere further than the immediate neighbourhood, I had to take a 15 minutes walk to the nearest station. Oh well, the comfort and speed of the train was a fair trade off I suppose, though I still think it weird that the government would deem bus routes to be in competition with train routes.

And as the trains begin to get more crowded as more people are forced to take the trains due to the inefficiency of the buses, the grumbles and complaints started to come in louder and louder. The problem was the buses were not making money as rider-ship went down. And because it was not making money, the bus companies were only willing to ply profitable routes leaving many part of Singapore without any public transport. I had a personal experience once when I was going to Senoko. I took the train to Woodlands to transfer to a bus. After checking the bus guide panel at the bus stop, I set down and wait. And wait. And wait. After over 30 minutes of waiting I checked the board again only to realise that the bus to where I was going only ply during the morning peak hours. So how was people going to go to the area during off peak hours? I took a taxi in but that was not the end of the problem. How do I get out of the area after that? I had to walk! No taxi will come into the area and so I had no choice but to start walking and hope to get a cab along the way. Luckily for me, a lorry stopped and the kind driver gave me a lift out to the nearest train station. And I understand that is the situation for people going to Tuas, Sungei Kadut, Neo Tiew and many other far flung areas and even Marina South. The bus operator simply put priority over profits rather than being a responsible corporate citizen. And I don't blame them. After all, they are private companies and their priority is profits for the company to pay directors' fees and shareholder's dividends.

So after the complains become louder and louder, what did the government do? They allowed the bus companies to run "premium" bus services that ran almost parallel to the train. Errr... wasn't that the reverse of the reasons they cited when they withdrawn the bus routes earlier? To make sure no overlapping! Now the premium buses are charging an arm and a leg to get commuters to town and of course probably making big fat margins in the process judging from the number of such services popping out.

And because the 2 main bus operators refuse to operate the non-profitable routes and refuse to increase the number of buses plying a route, to satisfy the commuters, the government now has to step in and allow private operators to run parallel services like the aforesaid new shuttle bus services. So it looks like we have gone one full circle and is now back to the era of policeman worn shorts again!

So I don't understand the government's policy on our public transport. It is pandering to the whims and fancy of the 2 bus operators. If the bus operations are unprofitable, they should jolly well use their profits from the other divisions that is earning megabucks from advertisements, rentals and private hiring to cross subsidies the non-profitable bus operations. After all, that is what most private companies will do. And if the bleeding continues until they cannot tahan, they should get out and let other companies take over. Asking the government to bail them out with a new financing scheme is tantamount to asking the public to bail out the bus companies. While I agree generally with the new scheme that the government is going to put in place, I hope SBS and SMRT will not automatically be allowed to be part of the scheme and will have to bid for the new routes like all the other companies. Than at least we will see some real competition and hopefully then we will get a good enough public transport system that will really make us think twice about owning the most expensive car in the world!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Your Money or My Money?

What is yours is yours and what is mine is mine, Right? Well in a normal case of ownership, that is true but many times what is so obviously yours is actually not yours. Confused? If something belongs to you, you should have the right to use it any way you want, throw it away or give it away. Right? Err actually not necessarily. I was reminded of this when talking to a colleague. She was pissed off that her adult son had given away his handphone to somebody.  Apparently, it was given to him by her and she was angry that her son did not consult her or ask her permission before giving it away. But I argued, "you gave it to him, shouldn't he be free to decide what he wants to do with it?" But she still insisted that as she was the one who gave him the phone, she has the right to make the decision on what he does with it.

So it is with many things in our lives. The things we have which we think we own, we may not necessarily have full control over it. Like our house. There are rules and regulation governing its usage - from the type of renovation to who can stay in it. Like the money in a fixed deposit in a bank. You are bound by the terms and conditions and cannot suka suka withdraw it without forfeiting part of it. And like the money in our CPF account.

Which is the crux of the kow peh kow bu in town over the past weeks. The gahmen said CPF is our money. But it also said you can only use for certain purposes and you can only withdraw the money when it (the gahmen) decides you can do so. The gahmen also decides how much you can draw out, how much to keep aside and what type of annuity you have to buy with it. Which leaves me kinda confused. So is it our money or the gahmen's money? It kinda sound like my wife when she gave pocket money to the children for their school aeons ago. She will give each one X dollar and then dictate what they can buy with it (only food and drinks). I remembered one particular instance when one of them spent part of it on some stationery items and she kicked such a big fuss over it. So did the money she gave the children belongs to the children or her?

Anyway, back to the is CPF money our money or the gahmen? If we follow strictly the definition of ownership, then it is not our money because we have absolutely no control over its usage. So if it is not ours, then it must be the gahmen right? Well not exactly. At the end of the day (maybe when we die), the gahmen is duty bound by law to give the money to us or our dependants if all the conditions are met. So in that sense, the money belongs to us and is being held in trust for us by the gahmen. Just like a trust fund. So it is our money after all. Just don't dream of touching it unless you need to buy a property, buy insurance, pay for your own/children's education in the local universities, buy stock and shares, unit trusts, invest in gold, pay for medical bills....

Actually hor come to think of it, can use for quite a lot of things leh. Let admit it, without CPF, I dares said the majority of us wage earners will never be able to afford to buy our home, pay for Class A ward in hospital and when we retire, take that lump sum that we are allowed to withdraw and spend it all within 1 year or less on pretty little er-niang in some foreign country. 

So why so much unhappiness?