Saturday, November 24, 2007

My pet subject

Life in Singapore – my pet subject. I have now been living in Singapore on and off for nearly 7 years. When I came here for the first time in 2000 I was fascinated by the progress made by this tiny little island state. Without any resources to speak of, the country has advanced by leaps and bounds over the other Southeast Asian countries. In the past 7 years there have been many improvements in infrastructure such as roads, MRT, public services and many other projects to improve the standard of living for the Singaporeans. Public Housing in Singapore is second to none and the majority of Singaporeans are owners of their homes. The speed of transformation from a squalid little third world country to almost a first world city is astounding. Within 40 years Singapore, an island without any resources, transformed itself from a backward state to what it is today. How did this come about? I think it is through sheer hard work, good and strict governance and maybe little not so pleasant political maneuvers. Less said about that the better.

Becoming a modern and dynamic city has brought with it some very serious problems. One of the most urgent problems for this fast growing city is the aging population. The nation builders of 40 years ago are in their 60s and 70s today. Time for these people to retire from the workforce. The city state is finding it very difficult to support this ageing and non-productive portion of the population. To compound to this problem of the ageing population was a law passed some 40 years ago by the Singapore Government regarding the optimum number of children a couple should have. Any family with more than 2 children were penalized by having to pay higher school fees, medical bills, birth certificates and low priority in the choice for schools. All these discouraged the Singaporeans of 40 years ago from having more than 2 children. Many stopped at one or even had none at all. Owing to this law, Singapore is now suffering from a shortage of manpower.

Clamoring to become the financial hub of Southeast Asia, Singapore has to import workforce from other countries. Foreign talents have been encouraged to come to this little island to work and become citizens. These imported citizens come mainly from India, China and other countries in Asia and even from European nations. The Singaporean government is choosey in who they allow into the country. Only talented and skilled applicants are welcomed. Skilled and talented people are also encouraged to bring in families to increase the future workforce of the country. Good schools and medical facilities are added attractions to lure these foreign talents into the country. The Singaporean government has a target of 6.5 to 7 million populations for 2015. To cater for this fast population growth the government has put in place a programme to upgrade the infrastructure and housing. This involves a large importation of manual labour from nearby countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and some also from Malaysia.

The fast and sudden influx of foreigners into Singapore has to some extent taken the true blue Singaporeans by surprise. The majority of Singaporeans are middle class and probably are not fully aware the reason for this encroachment into their island. Whether this is good or bad for the country is not evident to them. What is glaringly obvious to them is the fact that their jobs, their space, their children’s welfare are being threatened by these newcomers. They probably do not fully understand that Singapore needs these foreigners to ensure survival in decades to come. They are more interested in the here and now and the daily survival for their families. Fast growth and a buoyant economy have brought with it some nasty side effect – inflation. Singapore has become one of the most expensive cities in Southeast Asia, not too far below Tokyo and Hong Kong. The middle and low income Singaporeans are now feeling the pinch of inflation and rising prices of daily essentials. I am sure the Singapore government, being as efficient as they are, is aware of this and is taking steps to combat this difficulty.

Importing citizen into ones country, which is what Singapore is doing, comes with it some very unpleasant side effects. This is very evident in the Singapore case. Lately from the MSM and the bogs about Singapore I have come across complaints, grievances, criticisms, objections, protests and grumbles from all various parties concerned. Although mostly from Asia, these parties are all from different countries with different customs and cultures. Clashes of cultures and customs manifest themselves through lack of understanding and intolerance. Bitterness arises when ones livelihood is threatened or when one’s feels there has been an encroachment on his space. The fight for jobs or a seat on the bus or the MRT is potential sources for such bitterness. Distrust between different factions also enhances suspicion and animosity. The cliquing of the various factions of the imported citizens tends to be looked upon as snobbery and aloofness. Cliquing for safety and comfort in a foreign land is quite normal but this could be misinterpreted as unwilling to mix attitude. Furthermore there is also snobbery within each faction of these new citizens. White collar citizens would not mix with the manual workers from the same country. All these silent “rivalry” go on under a surface of calm civility. What will happen in days to come no one can predict. I am certain the Singaporean government is trying their hardest to encourage integration. To achieve this there has to be more compassion, tolerance, humility and understanding. In my opinion, unfortunately these qualities hardly exist in Singapore.

On a good day I love being in Singapore. Everything works and things are so well managed. Buses are on time and MRT are clean and cool. There is hardly any litter on the ground and there is zero graffiti. Shops are full of goods and groceries are plentiful. In Singapore you can get anything money can buy. Everything here comes with a price tag and this price tag is usually high. As I have already mentioned, Singapore is an expensive city to live in.

I do have bad days in Singapore too. Drivers in Singapore are the rudest I have ever encountered. They care little for other divers and even less for pedestrians. No Singapore driver would wave a pedestrian to cross the road even when he cannot proceed himself. He would willingly drive to block you from crossing even when his road is not clear. Jumping queue is another horrible Singapore habit. The “always must win or must be first in line” in a Singaporean’s second nature. On a crowded bus or MRT, very few would offer their seats to needy passengers. Having been here for so long I have sort of got accustomed to these bad habits, so now my bad days are relatively few. Just have to accept that is the way of life here.

These comments I make about Singapore and the Singaporeans are just my personal views. I am non-political and am not affiliated to any political party. I am in no way criticizing the government or the people of this island. I do not intent to offend anyone. If I have inadvertently done so, please accept my apologies.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Tiffany's Show

Our last night in Pattaya, and to celebrate our wedding anniversary and my birthday we went to the famous Tiffany Show of Pattaya. I must confess that before the show my opinion about transvestites was a feeling of indifference. I also must admit that whenever I come across one I always feel a little curious and a little uncomfortable. Is it nature or nurture, the question that always pop into my mind. I have neither judged them harshly nor condone their way of life. As far as I was concerned they are free to dress anyway the please as long as they do not offend or infringe on the privacy of others.

Now I have been to the Tiffany’s Show and watch the performance through un-prejudice eyes. I must admit my opinion has greatly changed after seeing the magnificent performance by what I would classify as elegant artists. The performers, although all male were every bit as graceful as any female performer I have seen.

I came away from the show full of admiration for all the performers. If ever you visit Pattaya, do not miss this performance.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


At this time of the year, just after my birthday I usually like to spend a few moments to ponder and sort of plan for the next 12 months ahead. Reflecting on the 12 months that have just gone by, I try to analyze all the major events in this period.

These are the list of questions that come to mind,

Has it been a good year?

On the personal travel front, the answer is yes. It has been a very enjoyable year. Apart from flying between the UK and Singapore we have visited a few places. This time last year we were in Marbella and Tangier. In June 2007 we visited Ho Chi Minh City. We made numerous visits to JB and Kuala Lumpur for shopping and meeting old friends. Our last visit to KL was for a reunion dinner for the Class of ’62. Meeting friends I had not seen for 45 years was quite a nostalgic experience. However, shortly after the reunion we lost a dear friend to cancer. That was a low point of the year. The only consolation was we manage to get together before she left us. It just shows that life can be very unpredictable and fragile.

There are ups and downs when it comes to the family. New arrivals into the family mark the good occasions. I have another 2 new nephews. Our grand daughter has turned 3 and developing into such a loveable young lady. On a sadder note I have lost another aunt. One of my brothers has been told he has a dreadful disease and one of my nephews has leukemia. Thankfully they are both progressing well and I pray for their full recovery.

As one gets older time becomes very precious. I am glad I took early retirement and have the freedom to travel, indulge in my hobbies and most importantly to re-connect with my relatives and siblings. I have managed to visit Segamat twice last year. I must try to visit more often. Relationship with siblings tends to become stale over the year. Coping with our respective families, bringing up our children and generally fulfilling the many parental responsibilities has somewhat made us overlook the importance of staying in touch with loved ones.

During the past year I have managed to become closer with a few siblings. We now write to each other regularly and whenever time permits I will visit more often. My boys are all young men now, each with their own chosen path. I love them all dearly but I am determined not to intrude on their lives and if they wish to be in touch with me, I will gladly reciprocate. I believe they know best in what they have chosen for themselves. I must never interfere unless asked.

What is in store in the 12 months ahead? I can only hope that there will be much happiness. I am sure there will be disappointment along the way, but I can only hope that those will be few and far between. As I said, time is precious and everyday that goes by is a day less for love and goodwill. On my part I will try to be sincere, compassionate and above all understanding and forgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thailand or Singapore ?

Now back in Singapore after a week in Pattaya Thailand. I cannot help but notice the total difference in culture between the two countries. On one hand we have the easy going Thais who have a considerably lower standard of living. They are poorer and less affluent than the Singaporeans. Their per capita income is much much lower than the Singaporeans. Cost of food, transport and daily essentials are much lower than in Singapore. For this reason alone, there are many European who have retired to this city. Life here is less stressful and I guess if one seeks a comfortable carefree lifestyle with few worries, then Pattaya might be a place for you. Here, you get more for your money and people are friendly and hospitable. Life for retirees who are flexible and adaptable might find this place a good choice for lazing away their twilight years.

However, there are many downside in Pattaya when compared to Singapore. Pattaya is dirty and the public drainage is appalling. After any downpour, which occur very frequently, the sewer under the roads and pavements become blocked and the smell of methane is everywhere. The roads are chaotic to say the least. The only means of public transportation in the city are the Baht buses or the motorcycle “taxis”. The latter are dangerous and not recommended. There does not seem to be a standard of charge for public transportation. The drivers of the baht buses will try to charge tourists as much as they think they can get away with. The shops and places of business on both sides of the roads are usually very shabby and the goods for sale on display are generally of low quality. There are numerous hawkers lining the pavements selling food, fruits and all sorts of sweets. Generally, locally produced products such as local fruits, vegetables and meat are very affordable. The imported equivalents are costly and only used by the European expatriates.

Now which is a better country to live in? I do not think there is a simple answer to this question. It will all depend on what you look for in life. On one hand you have the easy, carefree and almost stress free life in Thailand and on the other hand you have Singapore where you have an almost perfect system where everything from transportation to entertainment is clinically and strictly controlled. In Singapore you have a no nonsense system where the law and regulation have to be abide by. Any deviation from this will be severely dealt with. In Thailand, or at least in Pattaya things are less rigid and more uncertain.

There is the social side of things too. Thailand, aka the Land of Smiles truly lives up to this great compliment. People are very friendly, always greeting you and saying farewell with hands together followed by a smile and a bow. In general the Thais are a happy lot. They are simple and less demanding.

Singapore is totally different. People are always in a hurry. Time is money and the Singaporeans go through life with the appearance they are squeezing every cent out of every minute of the day. The crave for money and the idea of the get rich quick mentality are the main factors that drive the Singaporeans to the way they are today. On the way the Singaporeans have picked up the labels of being rude, uncompassionate, always want to win and be first in the queue. In my opinion, it is a sad situation to be in.

I like the Thais better, but that is just my opinion and preferance.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Last day in Pattaya - 5th wedding anniversary - 63rd birthday

Today November 16 is our 5th wedding anniversary and my birthday. I am 63. It is also our last day in Pattaya. Tomorrow morning we return to Singapore. We celebrated the day sitting by the seaside enjoying the cool sea breeze. It was nice just sitting there chatting and talking about the years we have been together. It has been a great 5 years. I am sure we will have many more happy years ahead.

For our wedding anniversary dinner and also because it is my birthday we went for a seafood dinner. We had a lovely dinner with crabs fried in black pepper, steam sea bass and a stir fried vegetables. We both enjoyed it very much.

Tonight we have tickets for the Tiffany’s Show in Pattaya. All the performers are actually men beautifully dressed in ladies’ costumes. I have heard good reports about this show, so I am looking forward to be entertained.

Another year has passed and another year older. Birthday wishes received from my darling wife Dianne and Carrie via a text message and David my youngest son. My second son Martin surprises me this year, he emailed me this year with a birthday wish, albeit a day late.

William my eldest son has sent birthday wishes from Tehran Iran. I am very fortunate this year. Birthday greetings have come from all my sons.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pattaya - third day

Third day was spent walking the whole length of Beach Road. I have been to many beach resorts including the famous Surfers Paradise on the east coast of Australia and the beach in Marbella. I must say the Beach Road in Pattaya is second to none. One can see it is specifically designed for tourist comfort and entertainment. The deck chairs lining the beach are only a few feet away from the crytal clear water. Ten feet out into the sea, one is about chest high in water. Speed boats line the beach only a few feet away from the water edge. These speed boats take tourists out for a spin along the coast and also to the nearby islands. There are glass bottom boats for fish viewing around coral islands for hire to those who are interested. The whole stretch of the coast along this road is always crowed with tourists from many countries.

The Thai people are a very enterprising lot. They line the whole stretch of the beach selling ice cold drinks from soft drinks to beer. Chilled coconuts are also on sale. There are some who go around selling BBQ prawns, crabs and cuttlefish.

The whole strech of Beach Road is approximately 2 kilometers in length. It is impressive and I am sure for those who come here for the sea, sun, beer and sex will not be disappointed.

On the other side of Beach Road are shops, bars, restaurants and coffee houses.

We enjoyed our day out in this area and we have decided to visit the Beach Road agan before we leave.

Pattaya - second day

Carrefour in Pattaya turns out to be another large shopping mall. This was where we went the second day. It was a massive shopping complex with food, groceries and everyday requirements. We had a good day wandering around the place and enjoying the food and coffee. The complex was very crowded and vibrant with lots of tourists and also many expats who have decided to settle in Pattaya. What is indeed evident in Pattaya is the many European men in their 60+ and older who have decided to make Pattaya their place of retirement. Here the norm is for a European retiree to find a young Thai girl, mostly in her 20s, either marrying her or if that is not convenient, just live with her. Everywhere you look you can see old European men hand in hand with young Thai girls. This is very accepted here in Pattaya. The young Thai girl quite likely come from very poor family. Offering themselves to live with or even marrying old European retirees give them the only way out of poverty.

I do not really condone this arrangement but I do understand the reason why these girls have to degrade themselves this way. Pattaya is a very tourist oriented place with bars everywhere. This is not a place for family vacation because it is geared totally for tourists with alcohol and sex in mind.

Tomorrow we will visit the beach. We have been told it is quite a nice place.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pattaya - first day

Pattaya Hill Resort has been aptly named, it is situated on top of a hill. It is in the southern part of Pattaya. In Pattaya there are no taxi or buses or trains. The only mode of public transport for people traveling from one part of the city to another is by the Baht Buses. They are actually pickup trucks with a cover over the open back. It can comfortably accommodate about 10 passengers, but often you can see overflow passengers hanging out or standing on a ledge at the back of the truck. To get on one, you just flag it down and get on. They go along a specific route and when you get to your destination you just ring the bell, get off and pay the fares. Tourist usually pay 10 baht while the locals pay 5 baht. However, to get back after a day in downtown Pattaya we usually have to pay 100 baht for the journey to the hotels. These baht bus drivers are pretty shrewd and know exactly how to fleece the tourists.

Today, our first day in Pattaya we went to a shopping mall called the Big C. It is quite an up market place with branded shops and expensive restaurants. After spending a few hours walking around the mall we decided to lunch at MK. This is a very famous chain of restaurants in Thailand. They specialize in steamboats. You have to pick the raw uncooked food you want, from vegetables, meat, dumplings, fish balls and fish cakes and stuffed baby squids. You then cook your food in a pot of boiling stock in the middle of the table. We had some dim sum with our lunch. It ws good and it cost about 7 GBP for the whole meal.

We then decided to do a little shopping to stock up our fridge in the hotel room. Our groceries included some pears, mangoes, orange juice and also some Pringles.

We got back to the resort just before it got dark. Had to pay 80 baht for the hire of a bart bus for the journey. It was an interesting day and we enjoyed ourselves. Tomorrow we plan to visit Carrefour, another shopping centre.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pattaya Hill Resort

I am at this moment on the 9th floor of this Pattaya Hill Rsort. We arrived this evening and we are now settled in our room. The room is pretty spacious and clean. The shower room / toilet is not too bad. I have seen worse, but it is not 5 star standard like the hotel website claim to be. Well, it is relatively inexpensive and by Thai standard it is quite good.

We have been for a walk around the resort. The roads leading to and from the resort are pretty dark so we did not venture too far. We visited 2 garden restaurants next to the hotel, not to dine but just to find out what is available. The menus look ordinary and quite inexpensive. We might give them a try later in the week.

We have decided to go to town tomorrow to do a little shopping and sight seeing. Unfortunately we have damaged out digital camera and it has gone away for repair. No photographs on this trip I am afraid. Will write more about Pattaya when I have seen more of it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Jason - my nephew

When I left Segamat many years ago Jason was just a baby. Jason is the youngest child of my youngest brother. On my visit last week to Segamat I met Jason again. He is now 13 years old and what a fine boy he has become. A very polite boy, soft spoken and very well mannered. He was rather shy when we met but we very quickly became friends. I think the box of chocolates made things easier. I must remember to bring him more from UK when I visit Segamat again.

I was rather sorry our visit to Segamat was such a short one, but I am glad we made it. It has been too long since our last visit. First mother is getting older and very few uncles and aunts are left. Those who are left are also getting on in age. Siblings and cousins who are still in Segamat are like me getting older and it would be a shame to stay away for too long. Nephews and nieces are all grown and most have departed either for work or studies in KL or overseas. Very soon there will be very few left in Segamat.

I will return for another visit soon. Segamat will always be home to me. You can take me out of Segamat, but you will never take Segamat out of me.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Trip to Segamat

It was exciting driving to Segamat on November 1. Started the journey at 6.30 am and we were in Segamat by 9.30 am. Driving into Segamat gave me a feeling of coming home again, especially after a month living in Singapore. Segamat gives me a sense of belonging. Although having been away from this little sleepy town for 41 years, I still consider this place my home. Each time I return I get this thrill and nostalgia. Memories of bygone days come floating back. Each street corner, the playfields infront of the old school, the old buildings in the old part of town, all bring back fond memories. They all look so small!

A wander into the wet market brings back memories of the days when grandfather and I would go each morning to buy my fish for lunch. The old coffee shop where one gets fresh toasts spread lavishly with butter and kaya ( coconut jam ) still stand at the corner of the market. The stone steps leading up to the coffe shop and the five-foot way in front are exactly the same as when I left it many years ago. Life on the whole in Segamat has not changed much over the few decades I have been away. I hope it will never change, because I would like to return often to this little town and get this same feeling of nostalgia and the feeling that I have come a full circle and home again.

The family are all well. First mother, 94 on her next birthday is still very alert and independent. Long may she remain so. We spent a good few hours chatting to her and her only complaint was that we did not inform her of our visit before we arrived. She would have gone to the trouble of preparing carrot cakes for us. I love her carrot cakes, but thought I should not put her through all the work.

The night we spent in Segamat we had a family dinner at one of the many restaurants in the new part of town. The food was good and cheap compared to Singapore where one would have to pay at least 3 times for the same dinner. We had a good time, good food amongst good company.

The next morning Phyl my cousin invited us for breakfast at a local Indian restaurant. We had roti pratas and curry. It was delicious and again brought back lovely memories of long ago breakfasts. After breakfast, we said goodbyes and started on our journey back to Singapore. Heavy was my heart as I drove out of the town. I said a fond farewell to my beloved place of birth, promising I will return again soon.