May 31, 2007

Consumers and the Law

I'm back because I just read something interesting on Apparently the Tomorrow editors have been threatened with legal action.

It's all because they had published, sometime in 2006, a
link to someone's article. That person (Gecko) had blogged about his unhappiness about a certain time share company known as Grand Seasons International.

So now Grand Seasons International has sent a lawyer's letter to

Just to protect myself, I shall first say here that I do not know anything about Grand Seasons International (which is true). I do not know Gecko personally (which is true). I have not spoken to any Tomorrow editor about this matter (which is also true).

Thus I am unable to verify, and I do not know, and I do not assert, and I shall not be taken to have asserted, that GSI, or Gecko, or the Tomorrow editors, has said or has not said, or are saying or are not saying, anything that is true or false.

I shall only say that (1) if you run a retail business, and (2) members of the public have negative feedback about you (whether true or false or accurate or inaccurate), and (3) your response is to threaten them with legal action, then ....

.... well, well, maybe you should rethink your PR policies. Because this kind of behaviour is unlikely to endear you to your potential customers.

While we're on this topic, I wish to comment generally on the topic of consumer rights in Singapore. My further commentary is without reference to any specific companies or individuals. It is just a general explanation of the law in Singapore.

Under Singapore laws, there is a relatively new piece of legislation known as the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

If you, as a consumer, feel that you have been the victim of an "unfair practice", then you may have a right to take legal action under this Act. Naturally, if you can find other consumers who have been the victims of the same "unfair practice" by the same perpetrator, and you all go to court together, your case will be very strong.

Section 4 of the Act explains what an unfair practice is:

"It is an unfair practice for a supplier, in relation to a consumer transaction —

(a) to do or say anything, or omit to do or say anything, if as a result a consumer might reasonably be deceived or misled;

(b) to make a false claim;

(c) to take advantage of a consumer if the supplier knows or ought reasonably to know that the consumer —

(i) is not in a position to protect his own interests; or

(ii) is not reasonably able to understand the character, nature, language or effect of the transaction or any matter related to the transaction; or

(d) without limiting the generality of paragraphs (a) to (c), to do anything specified in the Second Schedule."
The Second Schedule goes on to spell out a long list of practices that could constitute an "unfair practice". Since this list is very long (a total of 20), for the sake of brevity, I'll just highlight a few:

7. Representing that a price benefit or advantage exists respecting goods or services where the price benefit or advantage does not exist.

9. Representing that a transaction involving goods or services involves or does not involve rights, remedies or obligations where that representation is deceptive or misleading.

11. Taking advantage of a consumer by including in an agreement terms or conditions that are harsh, oppressive or excessively one-sided so as to be unconscionable.

12. Taking advantage of a consumer by exerting undue pressure or undue influence on the consumer to enter into a transaction involving goods or services.

17. Offering gifts, prizes or other free items in connection with the supply of goods or services if the supplier knows or ought to know that the items will not be provided or provided as offered.

20. Using small print to conceal a material fact from the consumer or to mislead a consumer as to a material fact, in connection with the supply of goods or services.
To know more about the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, you can click here. The full text of the Act is downloadable from here.

Thanks For Reading!

I had 59,541 readers in the first 30 days of May. (More precisely, the aggregate monthly total of unique daily page impressions was 59,541 ... but whatever). It will comfortably cross the 60,000 mark by the end of 31 May.

This would be lower than April's record readership of 67,215 (when the rise in ministerial salaries sent many Singaporeans flocking to the Internet for alternative views).

But May's readership will still be higher than all other previous months. And so Mr Wang thanks you for reading.

And he also says hello to all those new readers who just discovered the Singapore blogosphere (including this blog) in April, and who decided to stick around to read more.

Mr Wang has one more CMFAS exam left to go, so he may not be blogging much in the next two weeks. He'll be back after that. In the meantime, this very helpful aggregator - the Singapore Surf - can help you find your way to worthy reads on the Internet. Or you can visit these excellent blogs:

Yawning Bread
The Online Citizen
NMP Siew Kum Hong
No Fear Singapore

(Incidentally, as you can see from the image, it is quite difficult to make a living from Google Adsense earnings).

Bye for now!

This Evening In Mr Wang's Life

Came home after work, turned on my computer and checked my own blog. I found this comment:
"Mr. Wang, for each person who made it to compete, let alone win, in the Olympics, there must be hundreds of thousands if not millions who aspire to that. It is wise for the average person to bear that in mind. Most champions are born and identified early in life. Goals must be realistic and commensurate with one's ability. Otherwise, many will end up with miserable lives."
The anonymous commentator went on to give various examples to show that success in life is mostly attributable to random chance and dumb luck. Of course I disagreed and in response, supplied a link to an old post of mine, back in May 2005, where I had previously written:
"... I have tremendous respect for human potential. I am usually quite easily convinced that most people can achieve many quite great things in their lives. I have even made public speeches where I tell the audience, "Hey, YOU can achieve great things."

Nevertheless, I am a realist. Although I believe that most people can achieve great things, I also believe that most people won't. The greatest reason is that THEY don't believe that they themselves can achieve great things.

And really - nobody ever wins an Olympic medal, or becomes CEO, by accident. Nobody ever writes a bestselling novel, or becomes a multimillionaire entrepreneur, or gets a PhD, by accident. Whatever your definition of a "great thing" may be, it just won't happen if you don't do it."
After that, I turned off my computer, and went to check my mail (not my email, but my hardcopy mail). Okay, let's see, bills, ads, flyers, bank statements ...... and hey, a new book. Its author had sent me a complimentary copy. Flipping through the pages, I found this passage:
The Dark Side of Pragmatism - Social Myopia

Programmed to Fail

In the year 1990, I was still studying in the Swiss Cottage Secondary School, a government school which was located in Dunearn Road ... In those bad old days, I could hardly spell "myopia". I was, however, a big fan of Rick Astley.

A group of lecturers from the polytechnics came down to our school. These wise guys sought to represent the interests of the polytechnics in Singapore. And their agenda was to come over to a government school to encourage us to forget our dreams to get into a good junior college and subsequently a university.

.... one of the lecturers said that based on statistics, fewer than 50% of students who had double digit aggregates for their O-levels would be able to make it to the local universities. The good lecturers then went on to reason that this makes polytechnics a pragmatic choice because by choosing a diploma over a degree, a student may save two years in a junior college and even begin to contribute to the economy at a much younger age.

That very same year I scored 11 points for my O-levels. It was one of the biggest heartbreaks in my life in a country which measures a person's worth by the number of distinctions he gets. Still I have never regretted fighting tooth and nail to get into National Junior College. The difference it made to my life and confidence was tremendous. Till this day, I wonder what would have happened had I taken the polytechnic lecturer's advice. Would I have even graduated from university? Would I even have been a writer and working hard to fulfil my aspirations this very day?"

I turned to the first few pages of the book, to the "About the Author" section. I found out that not only did he make it to NUS, he also obtained 1st Class Honours in Electrical Engineering.

He then went on to get a Masters of Science in Applied Finance, as well as a bunch of qualifications in the two separate fields of IT and Finance: the MCSE, MSCD, CISSP, CISA, PMP, FRM, CAIA and CMFAS qualifications, and now he's on his way to becoming a
Chartered Financial Analyst.

In case you didn't know, the CFA is probably the most internationally recognised financial qualification in the world. Definitely much more widely recognised than my own humble little law degree from NUS.

Flipped back to page 33 of the book, where the author wrote:
Pragmatic Use of Statistics

The name of Pragmatism is often invoked along with statistics and figures. Pragmatism does what works, based on the statistical analysis - it never takes into consideration the power of the human spirit and our ability to often surprise ourselves. It never considers the possibility that someone would want to excel simply because he wants to show the world that someone from a government school can trounce a member of the super-elite gifted club in the universities.

In many ways, my batch of classmates from Swiss Cottage Secondary School that year were subtly programmed to fail by the policy makers. After all, the numbers say it all - if you ever succeed it is only because you are lucky.

In such a case, Pragmatism when wrongly applied can destroy your very dreams and aspirations."
The book I've been reading is Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity. It is the second book written by Christopher Ng Wai Chung (who happens to be a regular reader and faithful fan of my blog). And I'll be telling you more about his book in the near future. But for now, I'll just leave you this thought. Look at the anonymous comment again:
"Goals must be realistic and commensurate with one's ability. Otherwise, many will end up with miserable lives."
... and compare it to Mr Wang's words:
"Although I believe that most people can achieve great things, I also believe that most people won't. The greatest reason is that THEY don't believe that they themselves can achieve great things."
Then further consider both statements in light of Christopher's personal story. And ask yourself - which is the likelier path to a miserable life? (1) To dare to try to succeed, like Chris .... or (2) to water down your goals, blame your luck and just accept mediocrity?

May 29, 2007

How To Set A Goal

Once again, this sounds like a silly title. What could be so difficult about setting a goal? Surely the challenging part is achieving it.

Aha. Firstly, setting a proper goal is a trickier process than it seems. Secondly, setting a proper goal is very important because a properly-set goal will automatically become much easier to achieve.

The key is clarity. You need to be very clear when you set a goal. The clearer your goal is, the more achievable it will be. Because you will know exactly what you need to do next, to bring you closer to your goal. No shooting in the dark, no beating around the bushes, no getting lost in the woods.

Setting a clear goal can be a fine art, as I will illustrate.

In my previous post, many readers listed their goals. But few defined their goals in an optimal way. Many of their so-called goals were in fact wishes, hopes, daydreams, personal philosophies or statements of principle. All of which do have their value. But they're not goals.

Let's take Henry Leong's comment as an example. He wrote: "Good health, sufficient money, good spouse & a happy family."

All of these are worthy aspirations. But none of these have been crystallised into clear, concrete objectives. None of these are goals. A goal is a goal, only when you can identify at least some concrete steps that you can take, to get there. And a goal is a goal, only if you will actually know it, when you get there.

But take "sufficient money", for instance. How much is sufficient? $10,000? $100,000? $1,000,000? More? What must the money be sufficient for, exactly? And by when?

In all likelihood, Henry hasn't thought these questions through (most people haven't). But if Henry hasn't thought them through, then his goal will be very difficult to achieve. He will just be shooting in the dark. Unfortunately, a goal like "have sufficient money" is not helpful in helping Henry find out how much he should save each month; how much he should invest; and in what; how he can reduce his expenditure, and by how much; and so on.

And because Henry doesn't have a clear idea of what he needs to do, he will probably end up doing nothing very much at all.

"Good health" is also too vague to be effective. As you go about your daily life, remembering that your goal is "good health" will have some beneficial effects. It may occasionally remind you to do or not do certain health-related things, like avoid that second helping of sweet dessert. But a goal like "good health" really isn't specific enough to significantly redirect your everyday behaviour into health-enhancing directions.

The more specific you are in defining your health goals, the better. Watch how we can progressively get more and more specific with defining a health goal.

1. "My goal is good health". [Too vague]

2. "My goal is to exercise regularly." [Better, but still vague. How regular is regular?]

3. "Exercise three times a week." [An improvement, but how will you exercise? And for how long?]

4. "Jog for at least 20 minutes, three times a week." [Very good].

5. "Jog for at least 20 minutes, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening." [Even better].

From a vague, fairly useless statement "My goal is good health", we have reached a much more concrete, definite position. We have taken an ambigious aspiration and converted into a specific thing to be done, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening.

Now Henry will remember that every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he should leave his office punctually so that he can get home before it's late. When he gets home, he'll remember that today is not a day when he can just plonk himself on the sofa and watch TV. No, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he needs to put on his running shoes and go jogging. Furthermore he will remember to wear his stopwatch and check that he jogs for at least 20 minutes before he stops.

Because Henry now has a much clearer idea of what he wants to do to get "good health", he's actually going to be able to do it.

Some goals are much less definable in concrete terms, than others. Take "happy family", for instance. You know who your "family" is, but you can't measure happiness the same way that you could measure the distance that you jog, or the time that you take to jog that distance. Nevertheless, it will still be possible, and it is very important, to devise some metrics, around a goal like "happy family". The metrics are important, because in the end, you must be able to identify some concrete actions you're going to take.

For example, you may decide that "quality time" is important for "family happiness". So you may decide that every weekend, the family should spend at least half a day doing something together. Now you are in the position to make concrete weekly plans.

This weekend, for example, you may plan to take the kids to the zoo. Next weekend, you may plan to take them swimming. The following weekend, you may plan to take them to visit Auntie May and have a family dinner together. And so on. Do something, every weekend, for half a day.

And after a year, you'll look back and you'll probably realise that the family was indeed happy, and did regularly spend quality time together. Much more so than many other families, and much more so than if you had merely aspired to a "happy family", but never designed any real goals towards that.

So .... how many of you folks still think you have a goal?

May 28, 2007

How To Achieve Greater Success Than You Ever Thought Possible

This is Part 2 of my exploration of the topic of success.

The title of my present post may seem rather grandiose. It really isn’t.

Consider the people around you – your family members, relatives, friends and colleagues. You’ll probably notice that most of them have never really failed in their attempts to achieve big goals.

That is because most people do not even have a habit of attempting to achieve big goals.

So here is the surprise. Looking around us, we actually find very little evidence in the world that if a person regularly attempts big goals, his success rate will be low.

How many people do you personally know, who regularly pursue big goals, and regularly fail? Probably none. There – see my point?

What then is the secret to achieving big goals? If you ask around for people’s opinions, the most common answers will probably be things like “talent”, “luck”, “drive”, “determination”, “hard work”.

None of these answers are wrong. However, the first step to achieving a big goal is actually to have a big goal. And that is what 90% of people lack.

Ask yourself – currently, what are your five biggest goals? Go on, write them down on a piece of paper. Or list them in the comment section, if you like.

What – you don’t know what to write? You need to think about it for a few minutes? Aha, this shows that you didn’t even have any big goals. If you don’t instantly know what your biggest goals are, then you can’t honestly say that you have any big goals.

Back to my title. So how do you achieve greater success than you ever thought possible? Well, the first step is straightforward. You must think that greater success is possible.

Have you got a big goal yet?

May 27, 2007

EDB Under Scrutiny

ST May 26, 2007
Watchdog wants more regular audits
for EDB

LAPSES at the Economic Development Board (EDB), including its financial operations, have prompted a parliamentary watchdog to urge the Auditor-General (AG) to give it more regular audits.

The Public Accounts Committee, made up of eight MPs, noted that the lapses were spotted when the 46-year-old agency underwent its first audit by the AG.

The audit led to 'a large number of observations'' that the EDB had not established proper
internal control procedures, the committee said in a report presented to Parliament on Thursday.

However, the committee was 'encouraged'' by a letter it got from the EDB outlining the prompt action taken to address these lapses.

Every year, the committee pores over the financial statements of government agencies and the AG's annual report and seeks written explanations from agencies concerned. It then reports on the irregularities involving the use of public funds.

The EDB lapses involve mainly the way the agency is run and its financial operations, including its procurement and accounting systems.

The committee noted, among others, that EDB had delegated power to staff to grant loans and to borrow without reporting back to its governing board.

'Such practices were not in compliance with the law,' said the committee, which is headed by MP Cedric Foo.

More details from Reuters.

Frankly, what I find most shocking about this whole matter is not that the EDB has lapses in its "governance structure, financial operations, procurement and accounting systems" (as reported by Reuters).

The most shocking thing, to me, is that this is the first time the Auditor-General of Singapore has audited the EDB, in 46 years.

I wonder how many other government agencies or statutory boards there might be in Singapore, that the Auditor-General hasn't audited even once, in the past 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.

Who knows how many other NKFs we might discover.

What HAS the Auditor-General been doing?

May 26, 2007

Love, Life and Poetry

In a recent post, I mentioned my all-round philosophy to life. Here's an example of how it works.

I used to be in private practice in one of Singapore's top law firms. It paid very well and the work was very interesting. In fact, for my particular area of practice, no other firm in Singapore offered more challenging work. A year of experience there was worth two or three in other law firms. However, due to a chronic shortage of lawyers, the hours were very long.

Then my first child was born. Six months later, I quit the job. Mrs Wang quit private practice too. The kind of work/family balance we wanted was not going to happen, in a law firm environment.

I had absolutely no regrets. If I thought only in terms of the cost to my career, I would have had regrets. But the wiser thing to do was to consider life as a total package. I looked at my life as a whole, and the correct decision became quite clear to me. So I left private practice without hesitation, quite happily, and much to the dismay of my then-bosses.
And I haven't looked back.

Now I have two kids. Recently, I've once again been spending less time with them than I would like. This time it's not the job. It's my exams. Fortunately, they will be over soon. Also, there is another difference, compared to the earlier days. Now the kids are older, more independent, and they have each other as playmates. I've been discovering that their new attitude is: if Daddy can join in, that would be great, but if Daddy can't, then that's fine too.

Gasp. They're growing up. That was quick.

A Worried Mother recently wrote to me - she is stopping work for a few years, to be a full-time mother to her newborn. I say this: don't fret about taking time off from your career. In the big picture of things, it does not matter whether you devoted 40 years of your life to your career, or 38, or 37. But the time with your child is very important, and once lost, doesn't come back.

Because kids are not kids forever. They grow up. Treasure the time you have with them, while you still have it. Because before you know it, they'll have their own lives and it will be time to let them go.

That's what Kahlil Gibran wants to tell you too:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you,
yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Interestingly, in this other post of mine, a Buddhist reader, Chan, makes a bizarre argument against homosexuality. I thought I'd heard it all before, but this one is new to me. Chan says that homosexuality is wrong because the gay person, by not procreating, is being unfilial to his parents.

I then mentioned Buddhist monks. Are they, I asked, also unfilial to their parents, for choosing a life of celibacy and thereby not procreating? Chan's reply was that if the Buddhist monk seeks his parents' permission before entering monkhood, then the Buddhist monk is not unfilial. By extension, Chan says, if a gay person seeks his parents' permission before adopting a gay lifestyle, then the gay person's behavior becomes acceptable.

I'm struck by Chan's emphasis on filial piety. But personally, I think that in such a context, the principle has been stretched waaaay too far. Human beings are human beings, not the slaves or dogs of their parents. When they are adults, they must be left to make their own decisions and choose their own paths in life. Suppose you feel a strong calling to be a Buddhist monk. If your parents approve, that's great. But if they don't, then don't let their objections stop you.

Here is a real-life example: the Venerable Hyon Gak Sunim, Head Teacher at Hwa Gye Sah Temple in South Korea. Formerly, he was Paul Muenzen, the son of staunch Roman Catholics in the USA, and a graduate of Yale and Harvard. He pushed it all aside, to be a monk. Well, he's happy. And it's his life, after all. Not his parents'.

Speaking for myself, if my children grew up and decided to convert to Buddhism, I would not stop them. If they decided to convert to Christianity or Hinduism or Islam, I would not stop them either. In each case, I would only want to know that they have reflected and considered carefully and have concluded that this is what they really want for themselves. And if my children grew up and one day told me that they were gay, then in a strange way I think I would feel honoured. That they loved and trusted me enough to tell me such a thing, in a society where such things are often so deeply misunderstood.

In all cases, I think I would continue to love them, as a father should. I would respect their basic intrinsic right, as human beings, to choose their own paths in life, even if these are not paths I would have chosen for myself, or for them. How did Kahlil put it?
"You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you."

I like Kahlil's works. They contain such great wisdom. It's such a pity that our education system places little emphasis on Literature. It's just about the only subject that examines the condition of being human.

My next-door neighbours are always fighting and quarrelling, and it all started from the time when the handsome young Indian man there fell in love with a pretty young Chinese girl. That was years ago. Now they're married, but the man's parents are still fighting over this interracial marriage. Every now and then, they still throw the Chinese girl out of the house. So she sits outside the flat and cries. I see this as just another kind of Romeo & Juliet tragedy. If only the man's parents had read Shakespeare ... maybe they'd stop their bad behaviour.

Two Readers Say

Found on Flying Low:
"Blog about homosexuality and people with the strangest ideas and arguments come crawling out of the woodwork! I was looking at Mr Wang’s entry and I was amazed at the comments. Aside from the fact that arguments by those who hate/fear homosexuality are completely predictable, they are often expressed in the most absurd manner. Couldn’t they at least write well so that their (weak) arguments would at least looks somewhat thoughtful?"
Found on Physics, Education and Life - a blogger muses on Mr Wang's post "Ahh, The Foolish Masses":

"Family wealth = Social capital

When the family is richer, the opportunity for learning and the environment for learning is obviously better. Family wealth is social capital for investment in education of their next generation.

If you are rich, you can afford the best for your kids, including education and opportunities for educating. If your kid is not that bright, you can engage a tuition teacher, send him overseas, etc. If you are poor, you can't even afford to buy textbooks or workbooks for your kid."

Mr Wang's Inbox - On Studying Law

A reader, SY Wong, writes:
Hi Mr Wang,

I first stumbled onto your blog when the ministerial pay rise was getting lots of attention from the public and the media. Your views were always a refreshing change from the usual stuff in the papers, and I've taken to reading your blog regularly. I noticed that you were a lawyer, and so hoped that you could shed some light on my questions.

I completed my 'A' Levels last year, and I have applied to read Law at NUS. Recently, I received the acceptance letter, and was naturally very happy. However, after all the excitement died down, I actually had some doubts over whether I could even survive law school.

In secondary school, I took Literature, and had an 'okay-hate'relationship with it. In JC, I disliked General Paper and my subject combination was Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Further Mathematics - one that was widely regarded as being at the extreme end of the Science stream.

By all accounts, it does seem that my academic inclinations does not quite click with law. I'm used to math/science, in which 1+1=2, and can never be 5 or 8. Conversely, with law, there's seldom a black and white answer, often with the gray area having varying shades even. It is considered by some of my friends to be quite an "artsy" subject.

It did not help that the people whom I know are going to law school, are so different from me in terms of yes, academic inclinations. Yet,I still believe that I AM interested in the study of law.

So my question is this: Based on what I've told you, do you think that I'm even suited (having passed the interview and test aside) to reading law? And could I even survive it?

Oh, you will survive it. At NUS, Law is very easy to pass, but very difficult to excel in. To give you an idea of what I mean, for your average Law subject at NUS, the pass rate could be more than 95%, but the percentage of students who score an A could be less than 5%. A very large majority of students would simply score a C.

Your A-level subject combination is not at all uncommon for law students. In fact, I took the same combination. The majority of law students in NUS would usually be Science students during their JC days.

You can broadly classify Law subjects into two groups. There is the "hard law" category, and the "soft law" category. The "soft law" subjects are more "artsy". The "hard law" subjects are more "science". At NUS law school, there will be a compulsory core syllabus, but beyond that, you can choose your own electives ("hard law", or "soft law", or a mix).

To expand on your analogy, the "hard law" subjects are the 1+1=2 subjects. The required answers can be quite exact. Your formulae comes in the form of legislation and case law. Your problem comes in the form of a long, detailed story about, say, a husband and wife who want to divorce, or three robbers who try to rob a bank. You are then required to apply the legal formulae to the situation and work out the legal consequences.

The answers are quite exact, because you take the facts to be exactly as they are given, and you apply the law exactly as it is. Working on these sorts of questions is more like solving a physics question than writing a literature essay. It's just that in physics, your story will take, for example, the form of a ball that is thrown out from a high building and starts falling towards the ground, and your formulae will be Newton's Laws, not Parliament's Laws.

The "soft law" subjects are the ones which ask you to think more about what the law should be, rather than it is. Or they may delve into the histories of different legal systems in different countries. Or they may explore the areas where the law intersects with other disciplines, such as political science, sociology or public policy. These are the "artsy" law subjects.

May 25, 2007

The Definitions of Success

Back to the interesting question of a person’s success in Singapore.

In my earlier post, it was implicitly assumed that everyone has a common understanding of what “success” means. But of course, success is relative and subjective.

And I think that it is very wise to have, and to pursue, your own subjective definitions of success, rather than society’s, or your parents’, or someone else’s. Because it is, after all, your own life.

My idea of success (which you certainly don’t have to agree with or subscribe to) is based on an “all-round” model. I like to divide life up into seven or eight broad areas – eg “family”; “career”; “health”; “finances”; “spiritual” etc – and consider how I’m doing.

If I were doing very well in one or two areas, but very badly in one or two others, I would not consider myself to be very successful. To me, success means that every major area of my life must at least be on an even keel.

If everything is at least on an even keel, then I can start thinking of how I can do even better in one, two or three particular areas. (Simultaneously pursuing greater heights in all seven or eight areas will just lead to burnout).

Most of the time, the major personal crises that people have did not suddenly happen overnight. They usually started off as small, harmless-looking seeds that were left unaddressed and grew slowly, slowly into large monsters. Examples would be divorces, bankruptcies and heart attacks.

Don’t let the bad seeds grow too much, before you decide to fix them. Most problems are easily solved, if you nip them in the bud. But once they reach monster size, they can bite your hand off when you try to tackle them.

For example, don’t wait till you’re 85 kg and have a heart attack, before you decide to take better care of your health.

Major personal successes also usually do not happen overnight. They may appear to. But if you look closely, you will see that they too were the result of many little things that happened over a long period of time. Ahh, now you see the importance of persistence and patience.

In my Personal Investigations Into The Nature of My Universe, I have seen that ultimately one area of my life matters more than the rest. It is the overarching theme under which all the other areas fall. This area - I call it “Spiritual”.

So far I have not been that successful here. But hey, I’m still trying. More on this, another time, perhaps. In the meantime, it’s persistence and patience again.

In Singapore, success in life is typified by the five C’s. That is very shallow. Take it as the lowest common denominator in everyday parlance, for Singaporeans to make conversation about success. Treat the 5 C’s like last week’s weather - something to chat about at a party.

But don’t take the 5 C’s as your personal benchmark to measure your life against.

Why cheat yourself? Life is a lot more than that.
Choose your own definitions.

I'll end with an excerpt from Steve Jobs' best-ever speech:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

[Describes his personal encounter with cancer]

... This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

May 24, 2007

Shocking Gay Crime Reported in the News

Today the Straits Times has a shocking report about a crime committed by a gay man against some young boys:

May 24, 2007
Three friends of gay man jailed for aiding sex crime
They persuaded their sons to have sex with the gay man
By Elena Chong

THREE men who persuaded their own sons to have sex with their 46-year-old male friend were jailed yesterday, bringing to a close one of Singapore's most shocking sex abuse cases in recent years.
Haha. Okay, I lied. This incident never happened. The above article never appeared in the Straits Times. Or rather, the genuine version of the article is as follows:

ST May 24, 2007
Three wives of rapist-dad jailed for aiding incest
They persuaded daughters to have sex with their polygamous husband
By Elena Chong

THREE women who persuaded their own daughters to have sex with their 46-year-old polygamous husband were jailed yesterday, bringing to a close one of Singapore's most shocking sex abuse cases in recent years.
What's my point? Well, you know that Lee Kuan Yew recently spoke about decriminalising homosexuality. Since then, I've been hearing many silly arguments by many silly Singaporeans on why homosexuality should not be decriminalised.

One remarkably silly argument that I keep hearing is that if homosexuality were decriminalised, society would become a more dangerous place and gays would go around raping people.

A woman even wrote on that if homosexuality were decriminalised, she wouldn't want to ever have any children (because she wouldn't want her children to live in such a dangerous world).

Foolish woman. Your time would be better spent guarding yourself against lecherous straight men. Or warning your daughters about them. Heterosexual crimes are far, far, faaaaar more common than homosexual ones.

And anyway, the fact that sex crimes do occur is not a good reason for criminalising private consensual sex between adults. Whether they're gay OR straight.

Can you imagine it? Heterosexuality being criminalised, because a man raped his daughters?

May 23, 2007

Ahh, the Foolish Masses

They simply do not know their own society. Here's an excerpt from Warren Fernandez's article "All societies have elites, but some become elitist", in the Straits Times on 19 May 2007:

".... perhaps the most striking finding was that when asked what contributed to a person's success in Singapore, the vast majority, whether from top schools or otherwise, said it was hard work, ability to do well, talent, intelligence, in that order.

Only 2 to 3 per cent of those polled from all backgrounds cited family wealth as a major factor in someone making it to the top."
So 97% or 98% of Singaporeans do not believe that family wealth is a major factor in determining one's success in Singapore. But is this true?

Well, let's take living in a private home (as opposed to a HDB flat) as an indicator of family wealth. And let's take the achievement of getting a PSC scholarship, as a symbol of success in our society. I did a little googling, and this is what I found:

Only 15% of Singaporeans live in private homes; the other 85% live in HDB flats. However, it turns out that about 47% of of all PSC scholars live in private homes.
In other words, almost half of all PSC scholars belong to the richest 15% of the population.
Details here.

May 20, 2007

Simple Maths

Yeah, I know that I already made the point recently. At the risk of sounding repetitive, here's something from the Sunday Times:
ST May 20, 2007
Being rich: It's not how much you make, it's how much you save
By Author, Sean Toh

MANY people think you have to make lots of money in order to be rich.

I will tell you now that knowing how to make lots of money will not make you wealthy.

You could make $10,000 a month, but still be poor if you spend $15,000 a month because of your luxurious lifestyle.

However, if you make $5,000 a month and your monthly expenses total only $2,500, you could save up to $2,500 every month for a period of up to 30 years.

You would then have accumulated $900,000 including interest.

You will realise that being wealthy is all about how much money you are able to keep and not how much you make.
If you put it in simple mathematical terms, it becomes quite clear how it works. But in day-to-day life, many people still fail to intuitively grasp it.

Even ex-world heavyweight boxing champion
Mike Tyson can go bankrupt. And his total career earnings were in the region of USD 300 million. Mathematically, all you have to do to go bankrupt, when you have USD 300 million, is to spend more than USD 300 million. Which he promptly did.

Poor chap has reduced to such a state that he had to consider pursuing a
new career in the porn movie industry.

Mike isn't unique. This article talks about various celebrities and ex-celebrities who also went bust. How on earth do you go bust, if you have No. 1 singles and produce best-selling albums, like famous pop stars do? Mathematically, as I said, it's quite simple. Your expenditure simply needs to grow faster than your income.

How much have you ever spent buying flowers? $20 per bouquet? $80, or $150, on Valentine's Day? In a 20-month period, Elton John spent USD $205,774 on flowers alone.

Personally, I am not a stingy person. It's just that things which interest me have a tendency to be cheap or free. Like blogging; running; meditation; playing the guitar; swimming; reading; writing. Lucky me.

Yoga is something else I'd like to take up someday. Initially, you'd have to pay for classes, but I think eventually, it's something that you do on your own, at home. All equipment is optional, other than your own body - which is free.

May 19, 2007

A Worried Mother

Another email from a reader:
" .... I have yet to read your opinion on stay-at-home mums who are aspiring to return to career later. This is exactly my situation. My husband and I migrated to Singapore and now are PRs. After working for a couple of years as professional officer in a stat board, I decided to quit to take care my son full time, since we do not have relatives to help us take care of the baby. We're also hesitant to rely on maids or childcare, and intend to provide the best conditions for breastfeeding and care, with me staying at home.

However I felt that it may be difficult for me to return to workforce when my son is 3 years old. Employers would question the gap in my resume, and "taking a break for family" is just not acceptable here in Singapore.

What are your thoughts about that?"
Personally I wouldn't be too worried.

When you take an extended break from work and then try to get a job again, the difficulty is that your skills may be a little out-of-date. You may be somewhat out of touch with industry trends and developments.

However this is a challenge faced by anyone who has taken an extended break from work. For that matter, similar challenges face those people who are crossing from one industry to another.

So the problem is not unique to women who have taken some time off to be full-time mothers. It may simply mean that you have to accept a lower salary than if you had not stopped work at all (which is fair, because if you had not stopped work at all, you would be more experienced and have more up-to-date skills).

In fact, if a job candidate had a gap in her resume, one of the best explanations reasons would be "I decided to stop work for two years, to look after my little baby." Everyone was a kid, and everyone has a mother, so at some level, we can all relate to that.

What really frightens employers are candidates who can't or won't disclose any reason for a protracted gap in their resume. Were they in prison? Did they have some mental breakdown or illness? Etc.

Incidentally, some employers are definitely more family-friendly than others. So it is good to do your homework. UBS, for example, is well-known for its flexible HR policies. Employees are welcome to propose their own working arrangements, to best accommodate their family needs. For example, you can propose to work a 4-day week; or to work 2 days from home; or whatever else.

Undergrad Planning To Emigrate

I received this email:
Hi Mr Wang,

First of all, I would like to say i am a frequent reader of your blog and enjoy your posts immensely. I would like to seek some advice on emigrating and hope you can offer a fresh perspective on this dilemma.

Currently, I am a SMU undergraduate(with majors in IT and Finance) intending to graduate in the next 6 mths and have decided on emigrating elsewhere (either Australia or Canada). What are the possible routes for a fresh graduate to migrate?

Given this current predicament, I am thinking of either enrolling in a masters program in an overseas university or work for a year to get the necessary experience in order to qualify for a work visa. Would you suggest any of these options and if not, what would be the best (hopefully quickest) route to migrating?

I don't really know the answers. But the good thing about this blog is that it has so many readers that SOME of them must know. If you have any tips or advice for Jackson, please comment.

Bala's on a Roll

My ex-boss, Bala Reddy, is getting cleverer and cleverer. This is a good idea.
ST May 19, 2007
Early NS enlistment for some youth offenders
By Tracy Sua

SOME youths aged between 16 and 18 and likely to get into trouble with the law are being packed off to National Service a little earlier than usual.

Between 10 and 15 such boys have been referred by the year-old Community Court to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for enlistment.

Community Court Judge Bala Reddy said these boys are not in school or may have dropped out of school. They are also not working, so 'the problem arises because they have nothing to do and are just idling'.

Getting them enlisted earlier would therefore bring 'some form of discipline into their lives at an early stage', he added.

He shared this idea with a group of visiting judges at the Regional Judicial Symposium held here last month.

The Community Court, set up to deal with cases involving youth, the mentally disabled and family violence, among other issues of community interest, had approached the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to ask that it consider its referrals for early enlistment.

Court spokesman Seeto Wei Peng told The Straits Times that youths who are required to be electronically tagged have the tag removed if they are enlisted early.

This is because being a military recruit already entails staying put in camp, at least in the initial stages, and having their movements restricted.

Offenders who have been ordered to stay in a hostel meant for youth probationers may also have their hostel term shortened in lieu of early enlistment.

Mindef's public affairs director Colonel Benedict Lim said that under the Enlistment Act, the majority of male Singaporeans and permanent residents are conscripted from age 18.

But the Voluntary Early Enlistment Scheme (Vees) will take in boys who are over 16, subject to their being medically and physically fit, and their parents' consent for early enlistment.

May 18, 2007

A Quick Note About CPF and Retirement

A reader, Louis Tan, emailed to ask about the implications of the government raising the retirement age from, say, 62 to 65, 67 or 68 years. Yes, this signals to Singaporeans that they are expected to work longer before retiring. Apart from that, does it really mean anything?

Well, yes. It affects your CPF money.

How does the CPF work? You do not get to withdraw all your CPF money when you turn 55. First you must set aside a "Minimum Sum" and leave it in a "Retirement Account" with the government. At age 55, the only CPF money you can immediately withdraw is any excess you have, above the Minimum Sum.

When will you start getting your Minimum Sum back? When you reach the official retirement age. And then only in monthly instalments stretched over 20 years.

This is basically to ensure that in your old age, you can at least afford to buy your own rice and water, so that you do not become a nuisance to the government. Hopefully, you will die within 20 years of your retirement age, before your Minimum Sum runs out. Then the PAP government will not be responsible for your basic subsistence needs.

Now, what happens if the retirement age is raised? Obviously you'll have to wait longer before getting your Minimum Sum monthly instalments. For example, suppose the retirement age is raised from 62 to 68 years. You'll have to wait till you're 68 years old, before you can get your monthly cheque.

Since it is a long wait between your 55th and your 68th birthday, you will feel more motivated to continue working after you turn 55. Otherwise you may not have enough savings to last until your 68th birthday.

How much is the Minimum Sum? Currently it stands at $94,600. It will be slowly raised through the years, until it reaches about $120,000 in the year 2013 ($120,000 figure has not been adjusted for inflation).

If at the age of 55, your total CPF money is less than the then-prevailing Minimum Sum, then you get to withdraw nothing at all. Another reason to keep working.

Work, Study, Money, Freedom and Maslow

In conjunction with New York University, the NUS Law Faculty is offering a new master's degree course. You get two master's degrees in law, one from NYU and one from NUS, for the price of one. And getting the two degrees takes only about the same time as getting one.

ST May 17, 2007
NUS-New York uni law course draws 'rainbow' group
42 students from 23 countries enrolled; programme awards 2 master's degrees
By Jane Ng

MISS Marie Dalton could have done her master's in law in New York, but she chose to attend a 'more valuable' programme in Singapore instead.

She signed up for a course offered jointly by New York University (NYU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) and - in 10 months' time - will have two master's degrees.

Ms Dalton, a former associate attorney at a Los Angeles international law firm, chose to come here as it will give her a 'broader understanding of the economic and legal realities of doing business in Asia'.

This will help her advise clients better when she returns to her firm, said the 25-year-old NYU law graduate.She is one of five United States citizens enrolled in the NYU-NUS tie-up, which has a 'rainbow'' group totalling 42 students from 23 countries, including Chile, China, Rwanda and Uzbekistan.

All have basic law degrees and many have significant work experience.

The programme, which kicked off on May 7, is conducted in Singapore but taught primarily by NYU faculty members.

The course is taught in Singapore, but the tuition fees are based on NYU rates (that is to say, very expensive). However, to kickstart the programme, the universities are offering a very generous and large number of scholarships (including full scholarships). These scholarships won't be there forever - in fact, they will cease to be offered by 2010/2011.

Last year I seriously considered applying for this course. In the end, I decided not to.

Singaporeans tend to get a little fixated about paper qualifications. I admit I have this tendency too. But the truth is that one year of quality working experience will often be worth more than one year of further studies. And a master's degree, or two, does not necessarily add anything to a person's market value.

Market value, of course, is not the only reason for pursuing further studies. I had various reasons for considering this NYU-NUS course. One big reason was that I just felt like taking a one-year break from work and spending more time with the kids. And yet not live like a complete bum. Therefore the studying.

Incidentally, I remember Jimmy Mun describing me as a "financial ascetic", in the comment section of this post. He was referring to my simple lifestyle (relative to my income). I draw a 5-figure monthly salary, and my last bonus was double-digit, in terms of number of months. Mrs Wang, a lawyer, also commands quite respectable income. However, we live in a HDB flat and don't own a car.

Now the great thing about being a financial ascetic is that it makes many options available, if you need them. For example, if I really wanted to, I could just quit work and go study for a year. Or if I really hated my boss (I don't), I could just toss in my resignation letter without bothering to look for another job first.

Money can't buy happiness. It can buy freedom. And freedom is usually better than a condo or a BMW.'

I digress - but increasingly I begin to see that financial ascetism can possibly be a factor that leads you to enjoy your work a lot more. When you don't really need ALL that money you're earning, you start finding other reasons to work (or you find work that fulfills those reasons). Like, to challenge yourself, or to learn, or to contribute, or because you have a Vision or a Dream that you seek to fulfil through your work.

You know what I mean - it's self-actualisation. The work becomes meaningful for its own sake. The money ceases to be the point. Passion becomes the driver. And that is approximately the stage when individuals start achieving all the very best things they'll ever do in their lives.

Of course, our ministers are not there yet. Far from it. Because you see, their minds are still very much on money, money, money.

May 17, 2007

The NKF Story Goes On

In the comment section of a recent post, I was discussing the duties of directors. Being honest is not enough to escape all potential liability under the law.

For example, a director could be honest and yet lazy and incompetent, and thereby endanger the interests of shareholders. Directors have the duty to exercise reasonable diligence to ensure that the company is properly run.

This article illustrates my point. Understand now, Boon?

ST May 17, 2007
Two ex-NKF directors fined $5,000 each for failing in their duties
By Chong Chee Kin

RICHARD Yong and Loo Say San yesterday became the first of the former National Kidney Foundation (NKF) board members to be convicted on criminal charges, though both men avoided jail terms.

After a trial lasting 13 days, Yong, 65, and Loo, 58, were each fined the maximum $5,000 after a district court found them guilty of failing in their duties while they were directors of the charity.

They could have been jailed for up to one year.

Yong and Loo were charged in March with causing the charity to make excessive payments to software company Forte Systems Inc over a botched and incomplete project for the charity.

Yesterday, a district court found the two men failed to exercise due diligence over the deal.

Yong was NKF chairman at the time, while Loo was the treasurer.

The case centred on a deal between NKF and Forte - a company owned by Mr Pharis Aboobacker, a close friend of former NKF CEO T.T. Durai - to upgrade the charity's computer system.

Forte failed to deliver the software, but still demanded $2.6 million in payment.

Yong and Loo made a counter-proposal and paid the company $1.3 million.

Ruling that both men had been negligent, District Judge Jasvender Kaur spelt out clearly what was expected of company directors:

'Directors must not only act honestly, but also exercise reasonable diligence ... directors also have a continuing duty to acquire and maintain a sufficient knowledge and understanding of the company's affairs to enable them properly to discharge their duties as directors...'

She added: 'In this day and age, the demands made of directors are more exacting and the community has come to expect more from them.'

Temasek Trust Fund

ST May 17, 2007
Temasek launches $500m trust fund for Asia
Up to 4% every year will be used to support range of projects across the region

By Yap Su-Yin

TEMASEK Holdings has created a trust with an initial endowment of $500 million to support development and relief projects across Asia.

The Trust will disburse up to 4 per cent of the fund every year to support anything from youth exchange programmes to scholarships, research and disaster relief.

Signing the deed of gift yesterday, Temasek Holdings chairman S. Dhanabalan said the Trust would institutionalise the company's role as a 'corporate citizen'.

'This signals our larger commitment to play a constructive role in the continued progress and success of Asia and people in Asia,' he said.

The Trust will not actively solicit donations, but will receive funds from Temasek Holdings' profits and accept donations from third parties.

'Just as we have both benefited from and contributed to Singapore's success through our investments since the 1970s, we hope to similarly benefit from and contribute to Asia's growth and development as a prosperous and stable region, through our role as a long-term investor in Asia,' Mr Dhanabalan said.
Temasek needs this. It's a convenient way of purchasing goodwill in the countries where it plans to make major investments.

The picture I have posted is from 2006 - Thais were burning Lee Hsien Loong's effigy in Bangkok. This was when the anti-Singapore sentiment arising from the SShin Coirp debacle was at its peak.

May 16, 2007

Job Hunting

A reader just sent me his resume. Okay, folks - please note. I can't possibly know everything about every industry in Singapore. So much as I would like to be helpful, I really don't think I am in any position to give specific career advice to all of you.

(Wow, that sounds so INTJ. See the 1st paragraph

If you wish to get a job in Industry A, you should talk to people who are already working in Industry A. They will be the best people to give you a sense of what the job market is like, for Industry A.

You can also try talking to job agencies and recruiters who work within that particular industry. For example, if you're an IT guy, talk to people like
this blogger. These are the guys who will really know what kind of jobs and what kind of salary you can get, based on your experience and qualifications, and what kind of employers would be interested in you.

Also, people, if you're not sure how to make your resume look good, please do yourself a favour and borrow one of those "how to write a good CV" books from the National Library. The resume does matter. Use yours, to present yourself in the best light possible. Good luck.

The Dead Don't Need Memorials. The Living Need Insurance.

Back in September 2006, I proposed several ideas for improving our NS system. I understand that a certain political party in Singapore in fact conveyed my suggestions to Minister Teo Chee Hean via the Government Feedback Unit. One of my suggestions was the need to implement an insurance system to protect SAF servicemen. This is what I wrote:
Insurance Benefits. I have heard stories about how the SAF compensates the family with a few thousand dollars, when an NSF dies in a training accident. That's like an insult. I cannot substantiate these stories - they are more hearsay and rumour than anything else. But I think few of us would really be surprised to learn that the SAF pays little, if an NSF suffers death or serious injury as a result of military training.

Singapore forces its young men into military service, which in turn necessarily entails some degree of risk of death or injury. It is bizarre to me that the SAF has no standard insurance plan in place for NSFs. I think that it is only reasonable that the SAF buys life, disability and personal accident insurance for NSFs (at least for those in combat vocations, and for something significantly more than a few thousand dollars). In fact, the coverage should extend to active NSmen as well. As a fringe benefit, NSmen should have the option of continuing with the coverage (and paying for it themselves), when their NS liability is completed.

These measures would show that the SAF has the welfare of NSmen and NSFs at heart (I have to make that assumption, of course) and also serves the very real purpose of protecting the individual financially. The other significant side benefit is that the SAF will have an added incentive to maintain high safety standards (otherwise the occurrence of training accidents will drive insurance premiums upwards over time - costing MINDEF more money). Personally, I have a poor impression of the SAF's safety record.
Four days ago, I reiterated this suggestion, when I heard about the Lawrence Leow case - an ex-serviceman now permanently paralysed. He receives a paltry $500 per month from the government.

It's also rather timely to reiterate the suggestion, in view of the very recent incident where some SAF servicemen were badly injured, and some SAF servicement were killed, while training in Taiwan.

(Incidentally, as a result of this incident, one of Singapore's worst-kept military secrets is now openly reported in the international media. Notice, for example, Reuters using a certain codename in its reports. And recall that officially, the SAF has no relationship with Taiwan whatsoever).

Today, we look at a letter in the ST Forum. Someone has proposed the same insurance idea as I did. I wonder if he read my blog. I'm glad that this idea has made it to the mainstream media.
ST May 16, 2007
Memorial to NSmen who die while on duty
THE sudden, horrific deaths of and serious injuries to our national servicemen in Taiwan came as a great shock. Young men in their prime about to embark on a promising career were stopped suddenly through no fault of their own. Their parents must have felt devastated to lose their sons in such circumstances.

All Singapore parents with sons in NS, or who are about to enlist, must have felt a strong sense of sadness and empathy for the parents of the dead and injured NSmen. However, we can comfort them only with words of condolence and support. Soon, the incident will be forgotten except by the affected parents and family members.

NS is now 40 years old and there are many families with members from three generations who have served the country. NS has become a rite of passage for all Singapore men and is well entrenched in all families. Unfortunately, as a conscripted force, NS is still viewed by parents as a high-risk activity and most feel anxious and concerned for NSmen's personal safety, notwithstanding training precautions taken.

The effort and sacrifices of NSmen are given recognition in various ways, for example, tax rebates, bonuses and club facilities. However, there appears to be a lack of recognition of unfortunate ones who fall while on duty in the defence of Singapore. They may have fallen but they should not be forgotten.

I suggest that, as part of the 40th anniversary of NS, the Government go one step further in recognising the sacrifices of our young men and at the same time, alleviate the emotional devastation and hardship of parents who may lose their sons in the defence of the country.

I propose that the Government provide insurance coverage for all NSmen during their full-time service and allow them to carry on the policies at their own expense after their operationally ready date (ORD). I believe the premium for group insurance is within the budget of the Government. This is in addition to any payment currently made to families of affected NSmen.

Another proposal is to build a memorial to NSmen who lose their lives while on duty. This could be in a prominent location where the public could visit at any time. Their names could be inscribed on the memorial. On National Day, a simple ceremony could be held there to remember them.

Lim Chong Leong
I hope something concrete happens out of this. If it does, it won't happen that soon (these sorts of things take time to put together). But better late than never.

I can predict that Lim's second idea (about setting up a memorial in a public place) will not happen. Why would the SAF want to build a public monument to its own failures? Most accidents, whether they occur in the home or on the roads or at the workplace, are preventable.
And deaths in the SAF have a particular tendency to appear very unnecessary- see here and here, for example.

MINDEF surely wouldn't want to remind you of that. Don't expect to see a memorial.

May 15, 2007

The Art of an Inexact Science

Readers often send me emails. They ask all sorts of different questions, but career advice is a fairly common topic. Recently one reader, JW, asked me for tips on how to get a job in investment banking. Well, here’s a tip about job interviews at investment banks.

In most other industries, to get a job, you go for one interview, maybe two. Very occasionally, three. Then either they offer you the job, or they don’t. But investment banks are a little different. To get the job, you typically have to go through five, six, seven or even more interviews.

This can be a little exhausting, if you are simultaneously pursuing opportunities with, say, three or four investment banks. As you can see, you could easily be doing more than 20 interviews in two months.

My little tip for JW is that after each interview, you should quickly make a note of which bank it was, who the interviewers were, and what you spoke about. Otherwise everything can soon degenerate into a blur in your memory.

It would be embarrassing if you went for your 6th interview with Bank A, and the interviewer asked you something about your 3rd interview with Bank A, and in your mind you confused your 3rd interview with Bank A with your 4th interview with Bank B.

Why do investment banks have so many interviews with their job candidates? The key consideration is usually not your technical expertise. They already have your resume. With two interviews and a few careful questions, they can already have a good sense of your technical skills. You probably wouldn't get to the 3rd interview, if they thought you didn't have the right skills.

The key consideration is your personality. You go through half a dozen interviews with one investment bank, so that different people in the investment bank can “smell” you. All of them are trying to see if they would be happy and comfortable working with someone like you.

And yes, definitely there are some candidates who don’t get the job, because an interviewer later said, “I just didn’t like that guy. He didn’t give me good vibes.” The poor candidate may have made it through seven earlier interviews, but in Round Eight, he met an interviewer who didn’t like him. And that was that.

Is this unfair? Well, I would say that personality is very important. The fact that there is no 100% reliable method of testing personality doesn’t mean that it’s not important, or that prospective employers shouldn’t try to make a subjective assessment.

Some employers do use personality tests, which in theory is clearly a more objective method. The problem is that in practice, job seekers are likely to give answers that they think the prospective employer wants to see, rather than the most truthful answers about themselves.

So I do not believe that personality tests are particularly useful, in the recruitment process. The best use of personality tests, in my opinion, is still for the purpose of self-knowledge and self-improvement.

No, that’s not an exact science either. It never will be. But then again, that’s no excuse for not trying to understand and improve yourself. Is it?

Happy Amnesia

A little bit of psychology to begin our day. The recency bias is our psychological tendency to give more weight to recent data or experience, than to earlier data or experience.

For example, suppose it's the end of the year and your boss is assessing your work performance. His impression of your work performance will probably be much more heavily influenced by what you did in the 2nd half of the year, than what you did in the 1st half of the year. This is despite the fact that what you did in both halves should matter equally.

Recency bias also affects the way people invest money. Suppose for example the stock markets have been in a bull run for the past two years. The masses will tend to forget other, less-recent years when bull runs turned abruptly into market crashes (eg the NASDAQ crash of 2000). Since all the recent data and experience indicates a charging bull, the masses will tend to develop the expectation that the bull will keep on charging on.

You might know this saying - "Those who never remember the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes." It's a neat encapsulation of the recency bias.

In the past two years, the Gods of Money have been very kind to Mr Wang. Thank you, sirs. Today, Mr Wang will start getting out of the markets. He senses mania.

ST May 15, 2007
STI hits high after China eases investment rules
Regional markets also shoot up in anticipation of massive outflow of new money

By Markets Correspondent, Goh Eng Yeow

SINGAPORE'S stock market hit a record yesterday after a landmark decision by China's banking regulators sparked a Manic Monday rally across the region.

Investors piled in to local shares to drive the Straits Times Index up 54.18 points to close at 3,501.1 - a rise this year of 17.3 per cent that has added $77 billion to the market's value.

The bulls were primed to run wild yesterday by a historic decision announced in Beijing last Friday: China's bank customers will be allowed to buy shares in overseas markets - mostly via funds - for the first time.

Such purchases will initially be confined to the Hong Kong market, but bourses from Mumbai to Sydney shot up in jubilant expectation of what could be a massive outflow of new money.

'We are witnessing history in the making - a move that may eventually open the floodgates for some US$2 trillion (S$3 trillion) of Chinese domestic savings (looking) for better opportunities,' said Mr Loh Hoon Sun, Phillip Securities' managing director.
Mr Loh forgot to mention that for starters, the Chinese government is going to allow China's bank customers to invest only US$7 billion overseas, over 12 months.

In terms of global stock markets, US$7 billion over 12 months is quite small peanuts. You can see from the ST article that the Singapore stock exchange itself grew by 11 times more (USD 77 billion) in market capitalisation, in the 1st five months of 2007 alone. And the Singapore stock exchange is quite small, relative to many other stock markets around the world.

May 13, 2007

Why Mr Wang Upsets People

I love psychology. I think that it is a fascinating subject. One of my favourite daydreams is to make a lot of money, retire at 40 and then go study for a psychology degree. Just for the fun of it.

It was during my DPP days that my interest in psychology first developed. I dealt with criminals every day. Many criminals are mentally ill or psychologically impaired. So quite often I would get to read all their psychiatric reports.

These days, my interest has veered away from abnormal psychology, into positive psychology. I'm also quite interested in the study of personality - for example, the Myers-Briggs system. The Myer-Briggs system is one of those very multi-faceted things. You think you've got it all figured out, but every time you come back to it, you discover something new. Either about yourself, or the people around you.

Recently, I have been thinking about the most common ways I upset people, and the kinds of people who are most easily upset by me. You can analyse it in terms of personality. The category of people I upset most easily are the Guardians (the SJ family, meaning the ISFJs, ESFJs, ISTJs and ESTJs). Unfortunately the Guardians are quite common - they comprise about 40 to 45% of the population. Whereas my own category - the Rationals - are estimated at 5 to 7%. So I'm outnumbered.

Why would conflicts arise between the Rationals and the Guardians? Essentially, Guardians are defenders of the status quo. They like things to stay the same. They seek to conform, they follow rules, they administer procedures, they respect tradition, they are the loyal, practical workers, the round pegs in the round holes, the reliable little cogs in the wheels that keep the world turning. Here, for example, is Keirsey's description of Supervisor Guardians (one of the sub-categories):

Supervisor Guardians are squarely on the side of rules and procedures, and they can be quite serious about seeing to it that others toe the mark-or else face the consequences ...

Like all the Guardians, Supervisors worry a good deal about society falling apart, morality decaying, standards being undermined, traditions being lost, and they do all they can to preserve and to extend the institutions that embody social order. Supervisors are so in tune with the established institutions and ways of behaving within those institutions, that they have a hard time understanding those who might wish to abandon or radically change them.

The Rationals, on the other hand, are the change agents of the world. They are constantly exploring new ideas. They are the inventors and the innovators. They have an intuitive understanding of complex systems and are constantly driven to create improvements. Preserving what is, is of no interest to Rationals, because their powers of imagination tell them about what could be, and they see that things usually can be a lot better. Here for example is Keirsey's description of the Mastermind (one of the Rational sub-categories, aka INTJs, which is my personality type):
To the Mastermind, organizational structure and operational procedures are never arbitrary, never set in concrete, but are quite malleable and can be changed, improved, streamlined. In their drive for efficient action, Masterminds are the most open-minded of all the types. No idea is too far-fetched to be entertained-if it is useful. Masterminds are natural brainstormers, always open to new concepts and, in fact, aggressively seeking them. They are also alert to the consequences of applying new ideas or positions. Theories which cannot be made to work are quickly discarded by the Masterminds.
You can pretty much predict how a typical Rational-vs- Guardian disagreement would arise.

First, there would be a System. Rationals are naturally gifted at understanding systems, so they know how to step out of the System, look at it from different perspectives, and see how everything fits together. As the Rational's mind is always geared towards making improvements, he immediately zooms in on the flaws in the System and says, "This is bad, that is out-dated, this is irrational, that is wrong. All of these things must change - how can we allow this situation to continue?!". Because the Rational is both analytical and creative, he has no problems pointing out the flaws AND proposing a dozen new ideas to fix the flaws.

Then the Guardians get upset. Guardians don't like change. They are comfortable with what is, and they are afraid of what could be. They get angry with the Rationals and wish that the Rationals would just go away. For example, they might say, "Oh if you are so unhappy with Singapore, why don't you just leave and don't come back." Guardians are also loyal, dedicated followers, and they view the Rationals' ideas for improvement as disrespectful to the establishment and to tradition. So for example, the Guardians might say: "How dare you criticise the PAP? They have done so much for us, in the past 40 years."

Guardians desperately want the system to stay the same; so in a debate, they will keep making any argument they can, to keep the system the same, whether or not they really believe in that particular argument. For example, in order to keep homosexuality criminalised, they will argue that it is "unreasonable", "uncivilised", "unnatural", "worsening the aging population", "psychologically disordered", "immoral", "makes me afraid of getting raped by a man", "abnormal", "disgusting", "the law says it's wrong, so it must be wrong", "it disgusts me even if it happens in private and I don't know about it", and finally, even "I am entitled to be irrational in my hate for gays".

Another example is Edmund Khoo's letter. You can see that Edmund's overpowering motivation is to support Lee Hsien Loong. As I've mentioned, on that particular topic, it's possible to support or not support PM Lee, but whatever side a Rational takes, it will be on a rational basis. A Guardian, however, is more likely to take a position first (and as a result of his loyalty tendencies, he will tend to support the incumbent), and then simply make as many arguments as he can possibly think of, to support his leader (whether or not the arguments actually make sense).

I've generalised a lot. But if you read my blog and the comments, you'll note that very often, when readers disagree with me, the Rational-Guardian pattern seems to be at work. Guardians endlessly seek to guard the System from change; while Rationals endlessly seek to change the System to make it better.
I, as INTJ, would be the Rational, while most of my regular critics, I suspect, are Guardians (the SF family).

These are the subtle patterns in our minds, the natural processes in our different brains that govern how we think and feel about approximately anything. Psychology is sooooo interesting.