Sunday, January 20, 2008

Into Malaysia

I never pass up an opportunity to be back in my birth country - Malaysia. The few days we spent in Kuala Lumpur last week were good. We managed to dine with my brother and family and also met up with Onn and Julina. The hotel was nice and not too expensive, compared to an equivalent in Singapore.

A day was devoted to sorting out some legal matters with the lawyers. The rest of the time we were with family and friends, mostly eating and shopping. Dining in KL in my opinion is much better than in Singapore. Restaurant dining is far cheaper than in Singapore and the quality is definitely more superior. Shopping is better and cheaper and we had a great time there.

Yesterday we had another day in Johor Baru for some bank business. Dianne took the opportunity to do yet more shopping. That was an enjoyable day out for both of us. Bought another Korean period drama on DVD of 24 episodes.

Now we are packing for our journey back to UK. We leave Singapore on Jan 21 and will be at Heathrow on the morning of Jan 22. Not looking forward to the long haul journey of 12 hours. Economy seats are so uncomfortable on BA flights. Hope to get First Class tomorrow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Peacocks and the Sparrows

Singapore, the land of modernity and wealth has GDP growth of double figures over the past decade. The government style, good or bad, has been copied by other young countries worldwide. There are more BMWs and Mercedes per square kilometer here in Singapore than anywhere else in the world. In Singapore unemployment is negligible; salaries are higher than most other countries in the region. The economy is stable and vibrant. Most Singaporeans are asset rich. There are many who own more than one property. Some I know own 2, 3 or even 4 properties from which rents are collected each month. Rentals are high in Singapore because of the demand from foreign talents imported by the Singapore government from countries such as China, India, Malaysia and Europe. The sudden influx of these foreign talents, most of these being “hungrier and meaner” from other countries has resulted in social tension in Singapore. Conflicts in social behavior and cultural clashes have been slowly creeping into this otherwise peaceful and placid Singaporean way of life.

Superficially, this little island state is what many would consider a near “ paradise on earth “. However if one digs a little below the shiny surface , and one does not have to dig too deep, one realizes that under all the glitters there lurks a more humble side of the Singaporean scene. The per capita average monthly income in Singapore is S$3,500. However there are still many at the lowest rung of the income ladder with monthly income of S$300. For the very poor there is a government handout of S$290 per month. So, we have here a small and very prosperous nation with an accumulated surplus in national asset of hundreds of billion dollars. There are those who work in the financial sector earning monthly 6-figure sum with end of year bonuses of 6 to 8 months. At the other end of the scale we have those who are desperately poor and with every hike in the cost of daily essentials, become poorer still. The recent hike in GST ( VAT ) from 5 to 7% did not help matters. Although the Singapore government has distributed financial assistance to counter the effect of this latter increase, there has been an increase in the number of Singaporeans seeking government social handouts. With such vast wage disparity one wonders whether the calmness and serenity of life in Singapore will last much longer.

In the local main stream media each day we read about Singapore advancements in all fields of the economy. The banking and financial sectors are booming and economy remains upbeat even with the gloom of the sub-prime problems in the USA. Financial gurus are predicting growth in 2008 and on the surface all are well.

Each morning on my visits to the newspaper stand and the local coffee shop and the vegetable market, I hear a totally different story from the poorer section of Singaporean society. Unlike the cries of jubilation from the trading floors, these are cries of doom and gloom. I suppose the million dollar question must be, why should there such depression when the economy of the country is doing so well? My daily conversation with the old man selling newspaper, the coffee shop attendant, the old couple selling vegetables tell me a very different story from what you read in MSM. I hear about the difficulties experienced by many from the effect of the high inflation and the recent hikes in daily essential, fares and utilities. In blogsphere you read about the disquiet of ordinary folks who are unhappy with new policies imposed on them by the government.

On such a small island, the vast income gap is astonishing. The difference in all things between the elite and the poorest are so glaringly obvious. At one end of the spectrum you have the peacocks, proud, beautiful and going through life with all the luxury and the fine trimmings. At the other end you have the ordinary sparrows, in their unglamorous brown scratching away for crumbs fallen off the elite tables. There is a large section of the population sandwiched between these two extremes, neither very rich nor very poor. For most Singaporean, life is comfortable, safe and the future looks rosy. For the small section who cannot keep up with globalization, a little sympathy and compassion may be needed to help them along. Sad to say such virtues are becoming harder to come by in this fast and uncompromising world.

These are just my personal views of life in Singapore.

Friday, January 04, 2008

To Kuala Lumpur and then UK

Next week we leave for a few days in Kuala Lumpur. There are a few things we need to sort out in Malaysia. I have booked us in my favorite hotel, the Royale Bintang in Damansara. Next to the hotel is one of the largest shopping malls The Curve. This is a very prestigious shopping mall with outlets selling all sorts of branded goods. It is a very pleasant place to spend a day just going through the stores. Adjacent to this shopping mall is another building housing eateries and restaurants. There is a restaurant specializing in Peranakan dishes at this place. We have been there twice and we enjoyed dining there on both occasions. We will definitely dine there during our stay in KL.

One of the days in KL will be dedicated to meeting up with my brother and family. I am looking forward to seeing them again. It has been a long time since our last meeting. We have also a dinner appointment with an old school friend. The remaining time will be dedicated to shopping, eating and just chilling out at some of our favorite haunts in KL.

Five days after we return from KL we will be on our flight back to UK. The weather in UK will be cold this time of the year. Leaving the house empty during the winter months may cause problems such as leakage and condensation. I must admit I am a little concerned. Anyway it will be good to return to UK again, albeit into the cold.

Before we leave for UK I have to remember to assemble my usual collection of cooking ingredients for the next few months stay. There are some items that are not available in the UK. Cooking is a hobby of mine and it is important I have the necessary ingredients.

Looking forward to returning to UK. I am getting a little bored here in Singapore. I guess 3 months is more than I can tolerate staying in Singapore.