Going Round In Circles

Anyone who’s spent enough time in Singapore, would know that apart from the recently completed phases/ segments of Downtown Line (DT-Line/ Blue line), the Circle Line (CC-Line/ Orange Line) is the newest fully operational line for train services. However, it being the spanking new line, has made headlines for all the wrong reasons – Failing repeatedly, is the cause for much angst & frustration for the dwellers of this island city.
Critics are quick to jump the gun, blame the incumbent & demand his resignation, citing a whole long list of poor management etc. And events lead to the possible complete buy-out by state, raising uproar for the investors who have lost big, in their financial misadventure. It seems all too convenient for him to be the sacrificial lamb.

To be fair, you will recall that the chap took over the reins from the outgoing lady boss, after the Circle Line works were already underway, and due for completion. Even if the new comer did play ball, the procurement & installations were already inked, and works were on schedule for completion.

It was only later, authorities uncovered some shocking discoveries, and was by then, playing catch-up to remedy defects (unfathomable how they’re there to begin with).

desmond-kuekIs he to be blamed for everything that’s on the table? Or, is there more than meets the eye?

Urban planning has the overview & grand scheme of things, it’s not like they can wantonly doodle on the map & plunge bob-head pins like it was a fictional game.

A lot of preliminary ground works, surveys & feasibility studies need to take place. And then, with the information gathered, they start charting the viable routes, weigh the cause & effects, costs estimates and many other issues before the design kicks off. Concurrently, there’s systems & material specification, design integration, and lots more civil engineering related stuff taking place.

With all that in place, the big wigs would have ascertained a certain ball park figure for a budget, and approval from higher echelons would have allotted a certain cap on the figure estimated.

From a macro perspective, everything that needs to be done is done. But, how then is it possible for the CC-Line to be consistently failing?

As it often happens, finger pointing suggests it’s an issue of inferior material, poor workmanship, or both.

Here comes the juicy part. Tenders are called, bidders offer their offers; referenced from the tender specification called. The panel of surveyors, consultants, engineers & developer would be in the know, of what the bidders are offering as alternatives, and due diligence would have been done, to ensure that offers satisfy certain criteria.

Let’s not kid ourselves, an apple will never be a pineapple, and vice versa. The designers, consultants & specifiers put in the man hours to scrutinize & specify certain parts/ systems/ material, for specific reasons. Unless it is something common enough to be substituted with cheaper alternatives, not everything can be substituted.

So, hypothetically, the price-tag for original tender specified, is at $7B, but in the good name of prudence, the tender may end up being awarded for something (much) less than the initial budget. And everybody starts popping champagne & celebrate HUGE cost savings, some people get promoted for a job well done… even before the soil breaks.

miller-lite-dominoesBecause of the earmark run of the mill promotion system, someone assumes the project from outgoing staff, and the new chap has little or no knowledge of what transpired previously. In good faith, thinking & believing that all is in good order, the flow of work follows the schedule.

The work completes on schedule, everyone’s happy, the big shots announce with confidence that the plan rolled out well, sprinkled with edification for some folks etc. The unsuspecting public assumes that all is fine, and daily routines shift to depend on the public commute.

And then, it fails. Seems apparent, will be a new norm for what could last for an unknown length of time.

So now, with a closer glimpse of how some (if not, many) project tenders flow (regardless public or private). Can you now call for the man to be crucified upside down? Or should more people be sent to the abattoir?
Such is the case of being penny-wise, and pound-foolish. Disagree if you may, deny if you will, but such practice is quite typical in many industry sectors. Ultimately, who are the ones that suffer the consequences?

Some say “expensive is not always good”, but there’s sufficient empirical evidence that says, “cheap can’t possibly be better”.

Recent news of Circle Line (CCL) Train disruption:
Train fault on Circle Line leads to delays
Train service on Circle Line delayed due to track fault: SMRT
Circle Line track fault causes 3-hour disruption
Morning rush hour delays on Circle Line for third day due to …
‘Intermittent signalling issues’ on Circle Line, causing delays
Frustrations mount as Circle Line delays persist for fifth day
Signalling fault causes delays on Circle Line during morning rush hour

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Over-subscription of the Seraph Site – Bidadari BTO

Of all the prized possessions and assets in the world, here in Singapore, there’s one thing that seems to magically defy gravity. For some unique reason, price of public housing no matter how mature or run down, will almost never suffer from the effects of deflation.

Despite the massive increasing price per-square-foot of new public housing from the Housing Development Board (HDB), better known as Built-To-Order (BTO), there’s never a time where the population is lacking in need of a roof over their heads.

The governance of this land, should already have the numbers at the back of their hands, when they look at the census and numbers for childbirth over the decades. And in anticipation, should already be able to anticipate the rise & fall in demands.

bidadari-hdb-flats-st-photoBidadari site is perched somewhere between the Woodleigh, Bartley & Potong Pasir MRT stations along the North-East Line. And it’s only a stone’s throw away from Macpherson Road, while Bendemeer Road leads road users straight into the heart of the city within 15min (subject to traffic conditions).

The sad reality of being a single/ unmarried/ widowed/ divorced citizen, the entitlement to a BTO is restrictive. And quite often redirected to larger resale (matured) units, where not only is the price heavily inflated, but also requires major renovation overhaul, particularly the kitchen and all bathrooms.

When more than 2400 applicants were bidding for a mere ±150 four bedroom units priced at more than half a million dollars, sirens should be blaring like a WWI & WWII air raid.

Public housing in this day and age is built using pre-fabricated systems, and rightly so, is also based on economy of scale in lieu of the BTO model. However, it would quite often require an average Joe & Jogette a whopping quarter of a century to pay out their housing loan, for a space in the air, without land strata. Why are we overpaying? Why should home owners bear the cost of the land, when they don’t even own a slice of it?

So, now, with the over-subscription of the Bidadari development, is another indication that the new generation of home buyers are no longer like mindless sheep, but are savvy to consider their options thorough.

bidadari-hdb-new-town-btoIf a home buyer was required to bleed the same amount for a home with great inconvenience & inaccessibility, compared with one that comes with immense convenience & accessibility, the choice is a no-brainer. Quite frankly, the Bidadari site is one of the very few locations that I too would have applied for, if I was blessed with a spouse.

Based on the numbers, we can also deduce that it is highly unlikely that there will be left overs for balloting and/or walk-in selection. In order for a chance to possess 1 of the units at Bidadari, keep your fingers crossed that someone runs into bad credit situation & gets evicted.

Or, adopt the kampong spirit, have the extended families (20pax) move into the elders’ homes, and all re-experience the lives of cramped up living in squatters or slums, except it’s high-rise.

News References:
Hot demand for Bidadari BTO flats – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/housing/hot-demand-for-bidadari-bto-flats
Demand for Bidadari BTO flats continues to rise – http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/demand-for-bidadari-bto/2286918.html
Bidadari flats big draw in latest HDB BTO sale – http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/real-estate/bidadari-flats-big-draw-in-latest-hdb-bto-sale
Second-timers dominate demand for Bidadari units – http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/bto-flats-bidadari-4-times-oversubscribed-after-24-hours


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Gas! Gas! Gas!

Once again, the haze is back, and this time, with a vengeance. Word has it that there were satellite imaging of larger scale arson & deforestation, with a lot more hot spots across Indonesia, as opposed to past years. Needless to say, the trans-territory health hazardous haze & air contamination is something that everyone needs to deal with.

In the following illustration, you may choose to agree or disagree, but here’s how I’d put it in layman terms for a better understanding.

Globalization in the world of business & commerce demands that big MNCs outsource their labor & services, and/or sprinkle satellite assets all around to lower some operation costs. Hence, choosing to plant facilities in developing or under developed territories is the preferred move.

Indonesia is one of the very few territories with the most underutilized landmass in the region. MNCs with deep pockets would obviously be flocking to have their facilities planted across the designated parcels of land.

So, assuming it’s going to cost the MNCs 3 years with a budget of $30M, to level the ground via conventional logging; before ground breaking can be done to erect facilities, with possibly another 3 years with a budget of $10M, before facilities are up and ready to run. Meanwhile, the economy doesn’t halt and wait for their facilities to be up and ready.

Or, they could hire a local pauper as scapegoat, for a handsome fee of several thousand bucks, just to light a match, or be a little charitable to bear the legal costs & penalties. They’d have the land raised to the ground in merely a matter of weeks, hence shortening their risk of opportunity cost.

In the world where dollars and cents speaks loudest, it doesn’t take rocket science to know which method is preferred.

This annual trend of the season of haze has been ongoing for decades, and in recent years, the severity had only escalated. And the change of climate patterns only serves to aggravate matters.

Is there any solution to the situation?

Well, it should be a little more cost effective to make good use of deserts, instead of forested areas. For one, there’s no need to deforest, and development can take place almost immediately. Hence, causing lesser damage & environmental scars.

If we take the time to study the map of the earth, there are plenty of deserts and plains readily available, and untouched for eons since human civilization has taken place. Now, with technological advancements, there’s no reason not to explore the use of desserts. Heck, the famous Las Vegas was built on a desert~!

Further to add, man made forestry, integration of green & sustainable architecture, and/or sub-terrain development, these efforts should be celebrated as a small step towards preserving the planet for our future generations.

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Speculation Escalation of the Impending General Election

It has been some months since I last made my entry, notably, the latest being an entry dedicated towards a man who some affectionately refer to as a founding father of modern Singapore.

His era is past, while the island celebrates her golden jubilee over this weekend at the Padang. A monumental celebration, recounting 50 years of peace & progress since independence in 1965.  Amidst the air of euphoria, joy & pride, there is incidentally looming thoughts lingering of the imminent General Elections.

Unlike 50 years ago, where there were plenty of opportunities to develop and put infrastructure in place, resulting in the cosmopolitan city we have today; the present day electorate look to the parliamentarians, policy makers & incumbent government with increasing expectations, and diminishing tolerance for trial & error policies.

The apologists would urge the people to be realistic, but the realists will urge the apologists to wake up their idea.

So, let’s start asking ourselves “Have there been adequate sound solution to the myriads of brick and mortar issues?” – note, we’re looking at the general empirical issues within the built environment, and shall be apolitical.

It’s already etched in stone that population will increase, and when population increases, the upkeep rises. Luxuries aside, let’s look at some of the fundamentals:

Roof Over The Head – the band of founding fathers in the 60s, conceived the concept of high rise state funded public housing development. Affordable housing was something that would give the people pride, sense of belonging & sense of ownership. Housing precincts were built up and people only had to walk in to select the unit of their choice.

1960-hdb1960-tanglin-halt-chap-lauToday, given a vibrant economy, quickening pace of living and inevitably population increase, the public housing now maintains on a built-to-order basis that stagnated the process of delivery for housing. And since the demand is constantly on the rise, while the suspense to move into a completed unit averages ±54 months. Doesn’t this process create a retarded supply?

New home owners would also find themselves riddled with a ±20-25yrs debt (possibly may require re-financing facilities in the later years), to fulfill the payment to a unit in the air for 99 years lease, in which, they do not hold the deed to the land below their feet.

So, did it create a lifelong and potentially generational problem?

Dignified Employment – in every developed society, education equips the people with knowledge & skills, applicable for the workforce that generates revenue. Given the volatility and uncertainties of the global economies, employees (regardless blue or white collar) are susceptible to hire-and-fire situations.

While there are increasing sky scrapping office towers and SOHO (small office home office) developments popping up, nobody really knows or predicts the duration of tenancy, of companies local & foreign. There was a mass exodus for manufacturing & logistics companies, when the global economy weakened during the Asian financial crisis. And more exodus took place when the Chinese doors opened to the world.

While there is constant campaigning from the relevant authority and agencies, urging people to upgrade their skills, the throbbing question is, are employers willing to double or triple the salaries of their upgraded skilled workers?

Consequently, upgraded skill workers would probably see a marginal salary increment, and would see the salary plateau, until such time where he or she is replaced by another worker who’s equally or better qualified and willing to settle for lesser wages.

Displaced workers in their 40s and beyond, with the burden of financing the overpriced housing, and financial crunch of raising a family in tow, often find it a lot harder to be granted employment that matches or offers more than their last drawn salary.

So, has the employment been dignified, or is it the modern form of slavery?

Food and Water Supply – this tiny island doesn’t really produce enough commodity to feed a quarter of the total population, much of everything ingestible is imported from neighboring countries (who also face their respective series of domestic issues). So when an unforeseen act of God takes place, and halves the yield of crops, this island is at the mercy of supply, or may be forced to pay higher prices.

The island is surrounded by water, yet, there isn’t sufficient storage to stash potable water that could last the island long enough, if the tap from the north is turned off.

It’s not unheard of that with the presence of some technologies, high rise horticulture can materialize. Though the initial cost is high, the time taken for return can also be hastened. So if food & water made better affordable, wouldn’t the household savings be allocated towards other sectors of the economy?

Water desalination is deemed a costly process, but only when weighed against the final product, which is potable water. There is also by-product harvested that can be put to good use within the eco-system and fertilizing of the much needed greenery that helps to keep the ambient temperature bearable.

Waste Management – where there is human inhabitance, there will be refuse & waste. Though there is some level of awareness towards environment protection & conservation. Not everything is recyclable or immediately reusable.

Evidently, population increment will give rise to waste & garbage. If waste disposal & management is well taken care of, it can potentially provide more gainful employment in the environment engineering sector. Subject to how thorough the processes are designed, up-cycled waste could also be applicable towards building material of sorts, such as grain & sand-like material for concrete or tiled footpath.

Transportation – people commute daily. With increased population, more commuting takes place. Apart from the increased frequency of outages of the subway trains, the crunch has also shifted towards buses and/or taxis. The authorities and agencies, in all their wisdom decided to enlarge bus fleets. Which then means, there’s increased vehicular activities on the limited roads.

Getting more people into vehicles that barely move, isn’t adequately solving the problem of getting people from point A to B. And if commuters are required to transit more, in order to get to their destinations, is it truly being productive?

More thought is required to consider overhead and subterranean carriageways, but such works are costly & time taking to develop. It’s already quite obvious that these infrastructure are a little behind time, since the population will not stop increasing exponentially.

Given the abundance of water engulfing the island, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for people to commute via waterways. Mathematical assumption suggests that it wouldn’t cost as much to build a series of jetties lining the coasts, while a fleet of shallow hulled vessels would cost just as much as a fleet of buses that congest the roads (and going nowhere). Compared to laying complex matrix of carriageways on land that require maintenance of traffic lights & comprehensive right-of-way traffic light controls, water is just water.

The above mentioned are merely some issues that are hot button and integral to people’s livelihood. There are plenty more issues, and they’re a little more technical. I might just find the time over the long weekend to familiarize, and in time, be sharing thoughts here. So stay tuned…

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Lee Kuan Yew, Survived By A Nation (And More)

Singapore, the island city, where the red dot on the atlas is larger than the land mass: bright shining star of South East Asia dimmed for a moment this week.

It didn’t come as a surprise to those who’ve been following the rapidly deteriorating health condition of the 91 year old Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The news of his passing shook the planet on the morning of March 23, 2015 (Monday). His time of passing announced, at exactly 0318hrs (GMT+8hrs).

clearly youve never been to singapore
For the lesser traveled, some don’t exactly know where Singapore is situated. Nonetheless, not many can deny not ever reading, hearing, knowing about the man who shaped the transformation of an under-developed island city, into a 1st world nation.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew, till this day (even in his death) is not only remembered for his hard-line brand of politics (albeit some were deemed controversial), but he is also recognized for influencing the rapid growth of several other nations. Word has it, that he was looked upon as a mentoring character to several renowned national leaders in the continent.

There will be those who adore him, there will also be those who hate him (fact: impossible to please everyone). Whichever side of the coin is viewed, a dime is a dime.

picture from 1960s

picture from 1960s

picture taken 2014

picture taken 2014

In slightly less than 4 decades, this lackluster island city, no different, if not, inferior to her neighbors underwent a major metamorphosis, and is now recognized one among the Four Asian Dragons or Tigers.

Back in the days, when the island was still under British colonial rule, Lee, together with a handful of like-minded cohort mates who returned from Cambridge, saw a vision not many could imagine. Singapore joined the Malaysian Federation, but due to ideological differences, was expelled shortly after the merger.

Probably one of the very few (if not, only) bloodless independence the world has ever witnessed. The circumstance of a resource-less, talent-limited island nation, warrants no margin for error.

Testaments of the ordinary man who did extraordinary feats is sprouting everywhere- online & offline. Some extremes make him seem god-like, some go to the extent to sounding as though he (in literal sense) fathered them.

half mast long queue 2 Whichever way the pendulum swings, the oscillation of a longest ever serving statesman- who functioned like clockwork, has stopped. The numbers of the ‘lying in state at Parliament house’ visitors would probably go down in the Guinness book of Records: for the most voluntary attendance queuing to pay their last respect to a former statesman.

long queue 1Due to overwhelming public response, they have to run 24hours daily until Mar 28, 2015 (Saturday) 2000hrs (GMT+8hrs).

Mortality knocks on everyone’s doors. Mourning shall soon pass, and all shall be celebrating his Life & Legacy.

Word has it, that it was the late Mr Lee’s greatest wish to witness the SG50 celebrations. Will you grant him his last wish of a nation dressed in RED, and send him off this Sunday?

Mar 29, 2015 (Sunday), be sure to expect people lining the streets along the route between Parliament House, all the way to Mandai Crematorium.

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Room for the Departed

Amidst the myriads of news that made the headlines in recent weeks, with Malaysia losing another aircraft, volatile movements on currencies, and plummeting oil prices, another piece of news that caught my attention was, the uproar and outcry of residents in a particular district closer to home.

Apparently, there’s a plot of land within proximity of a residential area that’s been gazette for religious use, and it seems there’s a clause that allows the religious organization to use up to 20% of the land for columbarium. Evidently, the residents are not quite pleased with this piece of news, because the entities seemed to be corporate and is quite bewildering. Some cited tangible reasons, of fear that their home prices would be affected, some don’t welcome the notion of cremating services etc.

I’m not going to agree with the relevant authorities and agencies, nor, the residents’ reaction. It’s quite obvious that whoever responsible for these decisions, are not quite handling the situation amicably, but as we all know, it’s not possible to please everyone as well.

I’m not going to dwell much on the politics or technicalities of the entities, but I’m more concerned about the meta perspective of things for the island, for the country as an entirety and for the future.

Singapore is a tiny island, land is becoming scarce. Hence, situation warrants more high-rise developments. With the population growth, it is fast becoming a norm for residential developments to clock 20-30 floors high, and in some areas, averaging 40 floors or more. Not to mention, the population density against land mass continues to stretch the threshold for almost every infrastructure as we speak.

On one hand, dense population may promote closer human interaction & cohesion, but the flip-side is, it gets claustrophobic. And because human by nature, need their radius of personal space, people feel intruded when that radius is shrunken or breached.

Though it may seem quite taboo, but in some other cities, it’s a norm for people to be literally living among the dead, or vice versa.
Within the next decade or so, it’s foreseeable that, some of the frowned upon facilities, amenities or services may eventually be located at one’s doorsteps. Are we mentally & emotionally prepared to be living right next to a sanitation facility? Will we welcome mourners weeping daily when a funeral parlor is next door? Will we be able to appreciate a view from the balcony overlooking a scrap yard?

So, unless the relevant authorities and decision makers start planning for celebrations towards the nation’s next jubilee, in having more subterranean, submarine, or off-shore developments to accommodate the sky rocketing demands (between now till then); things will only continue to get a little more crowded.
Off the cuff, a new crematorium or columbarium weighs almost the least of development problems for the country presently. There’s need for some serious catching up on medical facilities, day care, elder care, facilities for any form of impairment etc. And penitentiary facilities should all be relocated offshore in the likes of Alcatraz, so more land can be freed for development.
We don’t know if these ideas will only fall upon deaf ears for the next decade or 2, but the spike in land prices is perceived to be an economical merit that makes some people look good; at the expense of those who put them in the position to do so.

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Keep Talking~ Keep Talking

To all my followers & readers, I’ve to apologize for my long hiatus in lieu of my swarmed schedule, but I trust that you’ve had some good insights on my food & journeying blogs, that I’ve been updating a little more regularly.

I’ve had some feedback from peers who’ve been reading, requesting for some useful tips that were immediately applicable in the house; citing reasons that if everyone does their part, and the initiative spreads across the neighborhood, across town, across cities, across states or countries etc. there’s a chance of a global movement to be more energy efficient.

Well, I’ve to admit that some of my illustrated ideas and theories may seem somewhat far-fetched, but if we look at the bigger picture, the initiatives macro or micro level shouldn’t take place in any order; but rather, should be attempted simultaneous (that’s if there are people keen on funding the paramount projects at all).

Here’s a short video clip that offers a temporary solution for anyone who wants to cut down on their electrical bills. Though it’d be the ideal solution for many underdeveloped & developing nations; and as most Singaporean men are familiar with the term “demonstration without explanation”.

Apparently, it’s been said that this technique can handle a load of up to 2000W, which means, it could take care of some essential appliances like; hair dryer, clothes iron, electric shaver, rice cooker, water kettle, vacuum cleaner, microwave oven etc.

I could imagine this would solve problems for those living in remote places where electricity is limited. In fact, it is applicable for disaster relief and/or displaced persons, where electricity is inaccessible.

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