Aug 29, 2007

Rest in Peace

Well, the Intelligent Singaporean is dead. It was a good run, while it lasted.

For those of you who don't know what the Intelligent Singaporean is, well, you obviously don't know the Singapore blogosphere very well. The Intelligent Singaporean, until a few days ago, was a very useful aggregator that regularly provided links to the latest readworthy blog posts about Singapore issues. It was like a central point for exploring what Singapore's sociopolitical bloggers had to say.

Why did the Intelligent Singaporean die? Its owner left a rather cryptic final message. An excerpt:

"Recently certain events have prompted me to re-evaluate the role & relevance of the Intelligent Singaporean in the Singapore socio-political blogosphere. These events have forced me to reconsider whether continuing my aggregation work furthers the original cause of IS.

The original intention of IS was that it would act as a mutual ground of exchange and to facilitate civil discussion about socio-political issues in Singapore. The blogosphere has however evolved rapidly in the intervening year and IS is no longer able to serve the changing needs of the blogosphere today."

Hmmm. Sounds like the kind of message which is intended to let those already in the know, know, and those not already in the know, not know. Well, I don't know, and I shall not speculate.

Guess we will just have to turn to the Singapore Surf now. Which is another website worth visiting.

Aug 22, 2007

Some NBC Links

Garuda looks back in time and reminisces about the Rally speeches of three Prime Ministers - Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong:

"I used to listen to every one of MM Lee Kuan Yew's NDR speeches when he was the PM and each time I could not help but praise him. Every one of his speeches drove something into my heart. I believed in him. I trusted in what he said. Tonight I saw him sitting right in front, facing his own son and watching very enthusiastically and anxiously. He looked very healthy and more alert than SM Goh. I think he may outlive his own sons." - Link.
Eugene reflects on PM Lee's Rally speech on education:

"His voice was wavering but he said it with his heart, “Whichever school you go to, whatever home background you come from, we will help you develop your talents to the fullest.” To some Singaporeans, this might be insignificant or forgettable but to someone who has benefited from the
education system, this promise from a leader is welcoming and reassuring."

Vince Liu ponders the risks and usefulness of the sociopolitical blogging in Singapore:

"I am mindful not to speak much about socio-political issues, especially Singaporean, because largely, what I have to say of the 'big issues' that are happening, are usually covered by people who are usually more articulate than I am, not surprising given the fact that my expertise lies in coding, not writing, not even to mention about the sensitivity of talking politics in Singapore ......... do my views bring about change in the civil society? In all honesty, I hardly think it does."

Aug 21, 2007

On CPF, Life, Work and Retirement

For the record, I agree with PM Lee’s views on the aging population. I agree with his proposed changes to the CPF system. When the specific details are announced, I will probably have a few quibbles and disagreements. But by and large, I agree with PM Lee’s general direction.

To be frank, there aren’t many alternatives to choose from. PM Lee’s solutions are not at all brilliant. They are quite obvious. It’s a “not-much-choice” situation.

As I poke around the blogosphere, I hear some people mumbling and grumbling. Their dissatisfaction is with the notion that they’re going to have to work to the ripe old age of 62, or 65, or 67. While I understand the sentiment, I think that these people may not be fully appreciating the issues.

The government is not forcing you to work. If you have enough money, you could choose to stop work at 60, or 58, or 55. As a matter of fact, if you have enough money, you could jolly well retire at 35. Come to think of it, I have ex-classmates who had already become tai tai’s at the grand old age of 30.

In all cases, it’s just that a certain portion of your CPF savings (known as the Minimum Sum) will not be available to you, until you reach 62, 65, or 67 years of age. And even then, you won’t get all of the Minimum Sum at one go. You’ll only get a small instalment, every month for the next 20 years (starting from age 62, 65 or 67).

Some people are peeved because they don’t want to wait till they’re 65 or 67, before they start receiving their monthly instalment. They feel that this rule compels them to keep working until they’re 65 or 67. Ideally, they would like to retire instead at, say, 55 or 60.

What do I think? Well, the monthly instalment is quite small. It was never going to make you feel wealthy. The whole idea of this monthly instalment is just to cover your basic survival needs.

For example, if you turn 55 after 1 July 2008 and before 1 July 2009 (and are able to set aside the Minimum Sum in full), then the monthly instalment you’ll get from age 62 onwards is about $416. That works out to about $14 a day. This will cover three square meals at your neighbourhood HDB coffeeshop. And leave you a few dollars for a kopi and an ice kachang.

If you turn 55 after 1 July 2008 and before 1 July 2009 (and are NOT able to set aside the Minimum Sum in full), you will get even less than $416.

Now, suppose you feel unable to retire at your ideal retirement age of 60, if you do not immediately start getting your monthly instalment. Then in my opinion, you really should not retire anyway. If with your own non-CPF savings, you cannot afford your own three square meals per day (plus kopi and ice kachang), from age 60 to age 65 or 67, then you must be quite broke.

You should probably keep working until you hit the then-prevailing official retirement age. And quite possibly, well beyond that.

Remember – the current life expectancy is around 81 years. There’s a 50% chance you’ll live beyond that. And the national life expectancy is still rising, year after year.


Singaporeans need to start adjusting their mindset about work. They also need to start adjusting their mindset about “old” age. The good thing is that we all grow older gradually, day by day, and not all at once. That means we have plenty of time to slowly adjust our mindsets.

Life expectancies in all developed countries have been climbing steadily through the past century, with no sign of leveling off. PM Lee is peering as far as he can into his crystal ball, trying to see what the future might hold. And he’s making plans for that future.

Our error would be to judge and criticize those plans according to our notions of how human society operates today. Because PM Lee is not preparing for today – he’s preparing for quite a distant tomorrow.

Today when we see a 70-year-old woman, frail, bent over, still working hard in a coffeeshop for meager pay, we feel sorry for her. That sympathy is justified. But if today you are 35 years old and live to be 70 years old in the year 2042, it’s quite probable that you will turn out to be rather different from that 70-year-old woman.

Due to medical advances, it is entirely possible that at 70, you will still be fit, healthy and fully functional. With another 35 years of life left in you. If that is the case, you will be quite happy to still be working at the age of 70. Because 35 years is a very long time to be sitting around and waiting to die.

Inevitably, over time, our views about work, and the role it plays in our lives, will also evolve and change. Currently we think of a working life spanning 35 years as “normal”. In time, we may come to think of a working life spanning 50 or 55 years as “normal”. When that happens, how might society change? Here are some possibilities:

(1) Currently, many modern women delay or avoid marriage / having children, so that they can focus on their career. This idea may gradually become redundant, as the length of the average working life increases. When you have 55 years to build your career, and not just 35 years, the idea of putting your career on the backseat for five or six years to prioritise your family life will become much more agreeable.

(2) Constant learning and relearning will naturally become accepted as a way of life. If you are going to work 50 years, you will probably be around long enough to see everything you learned in the first 40 years of your career become completely obsolete in the last 10 years of your career.

(3) It will become quite common to see people in their 40s or 50s go back to university and study for a new degree, in a completely different field from what they had been working. If you qualify as a doctor at the age of 55 but intend to retire at 75, you still have 20 years to practise as a doctor. That’s long enough to justify the opportunity cost of quitting your engineering job to enter medical school at age 48 or 49.

(4) As industries continually emerge, grow, boom, die or reinvent themselves, more people will from time to time be retrenched, made redundant or otherwise become unemployed. Over a 55-year working lifespan, it may become unreasonable for any individual to expect continuous, unbroken employment.

(5) The older workers of the future are not going to be like the older workers of today. A much higher proportion of the older workers of the future will be well-educated, skilled, trained, trainable and retrainable. Consequently, they will be quite able to compete against younger workers. In fact a very young worker with 1 year's working experience may be at a severe disadvantage compared to a very old worker with 54 years of working experience.

(6) A new species of workers will emerge – I’ll call them the Life Explorers. These are people who earn, save and invest well, within the 1st half of their working life. They accumulate a pool of income-generating assets (with potential for capital appreciation) sufficient to provide fairly indefinite financial security.

For the next 25 or 30 years of their working lives, the Life Explorers work not so much for the money, but for the fun of working, and for the sake of pursuing their various interests in life. Typically they will turn their hobbies into their jobs, or select jobs related to their hobbies.

Professional blogging, anyone? Sign up for my meditation class? Heheh.

Aug 20, 2007

PM Lee & The Aging Population

How can Singapore deal with the financial challenges of an aging population? Sounds like a big problem. However, if you think about it, the available measures are fairly obvious:

(1) Pay higher interest on CPF savings
(2) Delay citizens’ withdrawal from their CPF savings
(3) Encourage Singaporeans to work longer and retire later
(4) Make everyone invest in annuities

Okay, that wasn’t too difficult. The devil is in the details, and the actual mechanics will take plenty of working out. But the “big picture” strategy is fairly clear, and PM Lee announced it in his Rally Speech last night. What Mr Wang will explore today are a few scenarios which PM Lee didn’t explicitly touch on.

During his speech, PM Lee mentioned “longevity risk”. This is the risk that you end up living longer than you expected, and therefore you eventually run short of money to support yourself. Furthermore, a high proportion of Singaporeans in their 20s, 30s and 40s today are choosing not to have children at all. Thus many of them will one day become senior citizens literally without any living relatives at all, to depend on.

Harsh as it may sound, the problem is its own solution.

PM Lee described a future where, thanks to advances in medical knowledge and healthcare, people will live longer and longer, with life expectancies climbing to, say, 90 or 100 years or perhaps even more. However, the implicit assumption is that you are able to afford living to such an old age, or that someone else (your relatives, or the state) will pick up the tab.

If you can’t afford this, and if no one else picks up the tab, well, you die. Death is the simple solution to living too long. That’s the brutal truth. (And it’s not so bad really, everyone has to go someday).

It is not necessarily the case that many old people will not be able to afford food and water, and therefore die alone, of starvation, in their little HDB flats. No, not so dramatic or tragic. A more likely scenario is that as they grow older and their savings gradually run out, they find themselves unable to afford the various medical treatments that would prolong life.

For example, let’s say that you are 75 years old. Your heart has developed a valve problem. The doctors recommend a $50,000 operation. They say that if you don’t go for the surgery, well, you are in no immediate danger, but your heart will probably fail sometime in the next five years. On the other hand, if you do go for the operation, they will plonk a new artificial valve into your heart, and it will probably last you another 20 years.

The question then is whether you can afford $50,000. If you can, you get to live longer, perhaps up to the age of 95 years. If you can’t, you’ll die sometime in the next five years.

So essentially your life expectancy (80 years or 95 years) has become a matter of money. Your life expectancy is a function of the medical care available to you, which in turn is a function of the amount of money you have. Ultimately you die, not of starvation, but of a curable heart condition which you could not afford to cure.

My next point is about the likely pattern of wealth distribution in an aging population. It is often said that in an aging population, the working population (that is, the young and the middle-aged) will end up bearing the heavy burden of supporting (either directly or through paying income taxes) the older retired folks.

This is no doubt true, but is there any silver lining for the younger folks? Let’s consider what happens to a person’s assets when he dies.

If you die with a will, then your assets will go, of course, to whoever you named as the beneficiaries in your will (and most people will name their own relatives as the beneficiaries).

If you die without a will, your assets will be divided according to a very specific order stated in the law. For example, if you have a spouse but no children, the spouse takes all. If you have a spouse and children, the spouse takes half the assets, and the other half is divided among the children. If you have no spouse and no children, but do have certain other relatives, then your assets will go, in a certain order, to your parents, siblings, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles etc.

Now, assume that birth trends in Singapore don’t undergo any drastic change in the foreseeable future. So our population continues to age rapidly. In an aging population, a relatively high proportion of the general population are in the older age-groups.

This means that if in the year 2040 or 2050, you are a middle-aged working adult in Singapore, then the probability is that you will have many more old relatives than young relatives. In other words, the total number of your parents, uncles and aunties will probably exceed the total number of your siblings and cousins, and almost certainly exceed the number of your children, nephews and nieces.

Now as your older relatives start dying off, you will inherit their assets. You may not have been very close to your Auntie Ling (the one you never bothered to visit even during Chinese New Year). Nevertheless she will give you all her assets when she passes away. Why? Simply because she has no one else to give her assets to. After all, Auntie Ling was a typical Singaporean of her generation – she was an only child (or had only one other sibling, whom she outlived), married late (and also outlived her husband), and never had no children of her own. She was literally all alone in the world, except for you. So after she dies, you get everything.

As the population ages, the combined wealth of a relatively greater number of old Singaporeans will become concentrated (after they die) in the hands of a relatively lesser number of younger Singaporeans. This is in contrast to countries with a young population, where the wealth of the recently-deceased will be divided among a greater number of living people.

So in an aging population, there is some economic “silver lining” for the younger folks, after all. In a sense, this alleviates the economic hardship of the relatively younger section of the population, in supporting the relatively older section of the population.

Aug 19, 2007

NBC & The PM's Rally Speech

NBC stands for "New Blogger Challenge". The background is here.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes his rally speech tonight. Here is your NBC exercise. Blog about his speech (or any part which interests you), and send me your link by Wednesday (you can email

If I find your post interesting, I'll blog about it, and highlight it to my readers too, so that at least some of them will go over to your blog and read it too. That should help make it worth your time and effort to compose the post.

Ideally, you'll either be a new blogger, or a little-known blogger, so that the publicity I give to you will act as a helpful kickstart in getting people to notice your existence.

Aug 18, 2007

Shame on the Police

On a Saturday morning, 40 people put on their running shoes and get together to jog along the Singapore River. A nice, healthy activity. However, they get harassed by the police.

Is "harass" a fair word? Judge for yourself. How would you like it if you go jogging with your friends, and you find that undercover cops are following you, and filming you on camera?

And then the police officers ask for your NRIC, and they insist that you were committing a crime under the Miscellaneous Offences Act. And when you ask the police what exactly you're doing wrong, they say that they don't know.

Well, let me tell you what the "crime" was. These 40 people were gay. That is all.

They were not having sex. They were not in the nude. They were not even waving flags or making public speeches. They were at the Singapore River because they wanted to go jogging.

However, because they were gay,
jogging suddenly became a crime.

So, to Kelvin Yeo, the police officer apparently in charge of this exercise, I want to ask a few questions.

How do you feel about yourself now? Don't you get bored? Don't you feel stupid? Don't you ever wonder whether you could have a more meaningful job than this?

When you joined the Singapore Police Force, weren't you aspiring to contribute to the security and safety of the nation? By nabbing robbers, murderers, rapists and other dangerous people?

How did you allow yourself to be reduced to this? Harrassing peaceful, harmless joggers on a nice, sunny Saturday morning. Where are you going to do your next stakeout on gay people?

Starbucks? NTUC supermarkets? Bus interchanges? Will it become a crime for a gay person to take the MRT train?

The shame of it. To think that you, a civil servant, are getting paid by taxpayers' money, to waste your time like this.

Chaos in the Financial Markets

Here is an email from one of my readers, Slawek Rogulski:

Hello Mr Wang,

You are no doubt aware of the world financial situation, especially that of the US with the sub-prime mortgages and other exotic instruments starting to lose their value. In your opinion what if any impact on Singapore will this have? Have any funds here had to close or at least temporarily halt withdrawals? And how sound are the local banks? I would appreciate your comments on these issues. Thank you. Regards,
Yes, I am very aware of the current world financial situation. However, for two reasons, I will not comment specifically on the US subprime mortgage situation.

1. There is already an abundance of articles and commentaries in the news and media about the US subprime mortgage situation.

2. No one knows what's going to happen next anyway. That includes Mr Wang.
Me, I'm getting at least 4 jokes per day by email, about Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns or hedge funds in general. But if you really want to read some serious, and excellent articles on this topic by an anonymous blogger, click

Trust that man, he's very good. At the same time, being anonymous, he doesn't have to tailor his commentary to suit any particular vested interest, which he would have to do if he were a known person employed by, say, certain investment banks or hedge funds right now.

As for myself, over the past two months, I've heavily dumped my own fund investments worldwide in the past two months and I'm very long on cash right now. It's been a brilliant bull run, I've made my money over the past two years and I'm out. The party's over, and it sure was fun!

I'm not going bottom fishing yet, because I think we're still a long way from bottom. It is frankly not just about US subprime - it is the market doing a major repricing of credit risk everywhere that credit risk appears. In other words, not just CDOs, but debt in general, and equities too.

Now I'm going to work on my Plan B and Plan C. What shall Mr Wang do, if in three or six months time, his own job (in credit derivatives) vanishes? Poof. Magic, just like a Bear Stearns hedge fund.

Sigh, I may have to become a lawyer again.

Aug 17, 2007

The New Blogger Challenge

Like Bernard Leong, I was recently interviewed by Jude Yew, a Singaporean PhD student doing research on the impact of new media during the 2006 General Elections.

However, during the interview, I did not feel very interested in talking about last year's General Elections at all. Internet time moves differently, as I told Jude, and the 2006 General Elections already feels like a distant memory to me. So the interview became a more meandering, loosely structured conversation about socio political blogging in Singapore.

I don't even feel like blogging about the interview. Except to say that during the interview, I expressed disappointment at the lack of depth in serious blogging in Singapore.

In my opinion, a disproportionately high proportion of readworthy blog content is being produced by a very small number of S'pore bloggers. The same few usual suspects.

So the health of the Singapore blogosphere is at risk. It is constantly at risk. All it would take is the departure of a few significant bloggers (eg
Alex Au, Aaron Ng, Molly Meek, XenoBoy and a few others) and suddenly the tap would run dry.

I said that it was this serious lack of depth that compelled me to continue my own sociopolitical blogging. If there were a sufficient number of readworthy sociopolitical bloggers in Singapore, I would be quite happy to "retire" or blog instead about my other interests (and I have many).

As it is, I often feel grudgingly compelled to blog about social, political and economic issues in Singapore every now and then. Just to keep the flame alive. Keep people thinking. Ensure that the discussion goes on.

And I still get a steady stream of emails from readers, all the time, and more than I can respond to. Readers who say, "Mr Wang, could you please blog about this, could you blog about that, I would appreciate your views etc etc".

It does make me wonder. Why do I still have to do this? By now, surely I've already done more than my fair share of blogospheric National Service. I wish 20 new, serious, sociopolitical bloggers would appear next week or next month to "replace" me. Yes, 20. Out of one entire nation. Is that really too much to ask?

Go on. Take this as a challenge. Be one of the 20 new, serious, sociopolitical bloggers. Start a blog. Write something readworthy. Then email me or put a link in the comment section of this post. I'll publicise you. And if you want it, I'll help you along with tips and suggestions on how to get at least 10,000 readers a month.

Work, Religion, Money, Psychics and Other Assorted Things

Murabaha; riba; gharar; arbun; wakil; sukuk; fiqh; salam; hadith; haram; musharaka. My new vocabulary.

Caught a plane on Tuesday night to Kuala Lumpur to attend a conference on
Islamic finance. In the past five years, Islamic finance has gained more and more prominence, as banks all over the world explore ways to tap into the great amount of wealth in the Middle East. Even DBS has moved (very seriously) into this area - hence we now have The Islamic Bank of Asia in Singapore.

Islamic finance, however, is a topic of which I have very little knowledge. And so, on the brief flight to KL, I found myself attempting to speed-read through an Islamic finance textbook. In the process, I became more intrigued by Islam, than by Islamic finance itself, and made a mental note to find out more about this religion.

Next morning, at the conference, I was one of the few non-Muslims in a predominantly Muslim audience. The conference speaker was a white man, with a very American accent. However, it quickly became apparent that he too was very Muslim. Abdulkader Thomas was his name, and as he went through the course, he spoke Arabic, wrote Arabic, quoted Islamic scholars, and referred often to the Quran and the life and times of the Prophet Mohammed.

Very curiously, at a certain time in the course, Abdulkader briefly alluded to having studied biblical Hebrew during university (could he have originally been Jewish?!), but I did not get any convenient chance to ask him about his unusual spiritual journey through life.

My personal mission was really to explore ways by which modern derivatives (famously described by Warren Buffett as "
financial weapons of mass destruction") might be integrated with Islamic finance, and thereby be made palatable to Islamic clients. But it quickly became clear to me that I was on a long trip into uncharted waters. Abdulkader made it quite clear that this was an area with more questions than answers.

I am either on the edge of the next hot innovation in the investment banking world, or at the entrance of a long winding passage leading to a dead end. The religious underpinnings of Islamic finance are, well, very Islamic, and if I don't learn to think more like a Muslim, I doubt if I will go very far with the creation of new Islamic financial products,

Caught some TV from my hotel room this week - watching mostly Discovery Channel documentaries - and there were two which interested me, in particular. The
first documentary was about João Teixeira de Faria, more popularly known as John of God, a faith healer in Brazil. This was the first time I'd heard of him, although apparently he has been doing his faith healing for decades and is already very well-known, receiving patients from many different countries.

The documentary showed, in rather graphic detail, John stabbing people with his unsterilised knife, slitting open their stomachs and back muscles etc, and pulling out their cancer tumours, cysts etc with his bare, exposed hands. As we would expect of faith healers, his patients experience no pain, and almost no bleeding, and apparently no post-operation infections either. Like
Jane Roberts, John of God is a channeller. He calls upon "spirits of the dead" to enter his body, and use him as a vehicle to carry out the operations - thereafter, John himself has no recollection of how happened.

The second Discovery documentary was entitled
Psychic Vietnam. This is about a Vietnamese government project to use a small number of psychics (tested and screened by government officials) to locate the remains of long-deceased, missing Vietnamese soldiers who had died during the Vietnamese war, 30 years ago. Here's a BBC commentary on the show. The actual documentary is quite interesting - it relates how the remains have been sent for DNA testing, and verified to be the remains of the person that the psychic says they are.

Visited the Kinojuniya bookstore at Suria KLCC and was pleasantly surprised to discover that its "Religion" section has much more variety than the one at Singapore's Kinokuniya, and this despite the fact that Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, while Singapore supposedly has more religious heterogenieity.

Two of my new acquisitions are "
A Course in Miracles" (this is no ordinary "Christian" book, do click on link to find out how it was allegedly written) as well as "The Life And Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi" - India's mysterious, and living, godman (did you know he has a temple in Singapore too, somewhere around Moulmein Road?).

All in all, a rather interesting trip to KL, yielding much serendipitious, varied fodder for my metaphysical grazing.

Aug 14, 2007

Salaries in Singapore

I found, through Tomorrow, an interesting blog that's all about salaries in Singapore. Here it is -

There are lots of interesting posts on that blog, including this nifty
one which allows you to benchmark your own annual income (or anyone else's) against the general population of taxpayers in Singapore. Anyone tried typing in PM Lee Hsien Loong's annual income yet? Heheh.

The post featured on Tomorrow was this one -
Median Income By Age Group. It tells you the median gross monthly salary of managers (the generalists) and professionals (the specialists), by different age groups. To get a more complete picture, you would want to plow through the original MOM report, but Salary.Sg's graph does give a quick, convenient snapshot.

Aug 11, 2007

Retirement, Money and Singaporeans

A Straits Times article, about retirement, savings and Singaporeans' expectations.

ST Aug 11, 2007
Retire? Not so soon, say many
Singaporeans polled

They need to carry on working because of worries
over insufficient savings
By Lydia Lim

SINGAPOREANS are in no hurry to retire and most want to work beyond the official retirement age of 62, some even into their 70s.

It's a case of 'CPF no enough' for many of these workers.

Seven in 10 polled last month in a Straits Times Insight survey on CPF said they do not think their savings in the national pension fund will see them through old age.

Six in 10 of them said the same of their Medisave funds for hospital bills and specified treatments.

The survey of 636 Singapore residents aged 30 and above found that apart from CPF, 77 per cent expect to be able to draw from other sources of retirement income, mainly savings, investments and insurance.

But a significant minority of 23 per cent had nothing else set aside.

One cause for concern is that only one in two Singaporeans has done any financial planning for retirement.

Even fewer, three in 10, have done their sums on how much they need to squirrel away.

What may mitigate against any resulting savings shortfall is their willingness to work beyond the retirement age of 62. Some two-thirds said they plan to do so.

Of these, one-third are willing to work up to age 65, another third up to age 70 and the remaining third into their 70s.
The journalist has got her thinking hat on backwards. The truth can be stated much more simply. It doesn't really matter what the "official" retirement age is. You will go on working as long as you (a) need the money, and (b) are still able to keep working.

Unless you regard suicide as an alternative, you don't have a choice. What were you thinking - that Singapore is a welfare state?

Blue-collar and lower-income workers are the most likely to want to work longer.
Eight in 10 plan to do so, against six in 10 among professionals, managers, executives and business types, or those drawing more than $3,000 a month.

Older Singaporeans are also more likely to want to work past the retirement age than those in their 30s.

The vast majority - 83 per cent - are however against a recent suggestion by ministers to raise the age when they can draw down their CPF minimum sum. It is currently 62.
The only practical significance of the "official" retirement age is that it is also the age when you can start utilising (in tiny little monthly instalments) your CPF minimum sum. For an explanation of how this works, refer to my old post here.

The survey findings also revealed a good amount of ignorance of the workings of the CPF system. Seven in 10 do not know how much they had in their CPF accounts.
And one in two does not know the rate of return on CPF savings.

Of the half who do, most - 63 per cent - are unhappy with the interest rate, which
stands at 2.5 per cent for Ordinary Account savings and 4 per cent for Special and Medisave Account savings.

The top two changes CPF members would like to see are more flexibility in the use of their money, and a higher interest rate on their savings.

Financial experts and Members of Parliament said it is good that Singaporeans feel no false sense of security over their retirement finances.

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen emphasised in an e-mail interview that a critical factor in determining what is enough for retirement is how long people work in relation to how long they can expect to live. Average life expectancy has risen from 61 years when CPF was introduced in 1955, to 80 today.
I believe that in the long run, what will catch many people off-guard is how long they end up living. Life expectancies (except in very poor countries) have steadily been rising over many decades and the curves don't seem to show any sign of topping off.

In 1900, life expectancy at birth in the United States was only 47 years. By year 2000, it had climbed to 77 years (an increase of 30 years). In 1950, life expectancy in China was 35 years. By 2000, it had risen to 71 years.

If you google around to check out what the scientists and doctors have to say about new medical discoveries and research and their implications for
how long people are going to live, well, you'd probably be quite startled. Anti-aging medicine has become an industry in itself.

The question is - how long can you afford it? Not the medicine. I mean - life itself. Living 10, 20 years longer than you expected means that you need money to support yourself for an additional 10, 20 years. That's a pretty long time.

Aug 9, 2007

Green Thoughts

A volunteer writer from a local environmental group just interviewed me. His article is for a publication that will be released at the time of the next National Youth Environment Forum (yes, we do have such things in Singapore).

Initially I had sensed a little tentativeness on his part. That was probably because he had gone through my blogs and found that I had never really written much about the environment before. He may have been wondering whether I would have anything interesting or insightful to say about environmental issues.

Well, in the end, I don't think he was disappointed. There are many things in the world which Mr Wang hasn't blogged about yet, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have opinions about them, heheh.

Purely by coincidence, I've just come back from a trip to Australia. During that time, I met up with an ecology/environmental volunteer with a special interest in plants. He was a 63-year-old man who cycled 60 km that morning, so as to meet me. The reason why he didn't drive is that he doesn't own a car. The reason why he doesn't own a car is that he does not want to contribute to air pollution and the global consumption of petroleum resources.

He also told me that until last year, he never turned on the heating in his home. If it was cold, he would just wear thicker clothes and sleep with more blankets. Conserving electricity is his other little way of helping to protect the environment. It's only now, when he's starting to get some arthritis in his joints, that he has started turning on the heating during winter.

Until recently, Western Australia was having a prolonged drought right now, and this old man felt that it was a "blessing in disguise". He said that the drought had the benefit of teaching Australians to be more environmentally aware. He proceeded to give me a detailed theory of what the true cost of beef should be, taking into account the cost of the amount of water it takes to raise a cow.

What I saw in this old man was a deep love for Mother Earth and a very strong sense of responsibility for the environment. Do such staunch advocates of the green movement exist in Singapore? Perhaps, but there can't be many.

As I was telling my interviewer, the level of environmental awareness in Singapore will be driven more by economics than anything else. If water and electricity become more expensive; if petrol prices go up; if more shopping centres start charging for plastic bags - these are the sorts of things that will make Singaporeans sit up, take notice and start adopting greener sorts of lifestyles and habits.

National Education

Learn more about the old & poor in Singapore. Click here.

The Mandatory National Day Post

A few weeks ago, a free Singapore flag was delivered to my doorstep, wrapped in clear plastic. It's the kind which HDB residents are supposed to hang over their parapets or outside their windows, to exhibit their patriotism to the world, on National Day.

I have a mild adversion about doing such things. I still remember how some citizens, a few years back, were fined for not hanging out their flags properly.

The exact details escape me now. But I think in one case, the chap didn't hang his flag properly, a heavy storm came along, and the flag became crumpled, messy or something like that. The chap didn't bother to tidy up his flag. Later he was fined by the government. Some obscure offence having to do with disrespect to the state flag.

So I looked at my own flag, still in its plastic packaging, and I couldn't decide whether to hang it out or throw it away. Hanging it out would entail a risk of getting fined, a small risk no doubt, but why take any unnecessary risks at all. At the same time, throwing away the flag seemed vaguely wrong and a bit wasteful (I am quite environmentally conscious - I will blog more about this in future). I considered using the flag as a rag, but I was afraid the strong red colour would run.

Unable to decide, I left the flag on the dining table for the time being. A few days later, when I looked around for it, it was gone. I asked Mrs Wang, "Do you know where's that flag?"

"Threw it away," she said.

"You threw it away?"

"Yeah. Down the rubbish chute. Why do you ask? Were you planning to hang it out?"

"No, not really."

"Well then, that's why I threw it away. Our place got too much junk, anything we don't want to use, we just gotta throw it away. Otherwise we kena one big mess, how?"

Mrs Wang is a true blue Singaporean, pragmatic to the bone.


Yesterday my little daughter came back from her playschool with a little national flag painted on her cheek. Apparently the theme in class that day was National Day. All the kids had a little national flag painted on their cheeks or hands.

It was some kind of non-water soluble ink. I was a little annoyed. She looked cute but the ink wouldn't wash off easily. It's still on her face right now. I think it will take another day or two before it comes off completely.

But my mild annoyance really stemmed from the fact that nowadays I doubt whether patriotism is a desirable value to instill in our kids. In fact, I believe that one day, patriotism will become widely viewed as an odd, useless anachronism. Something like the way we regard communism in North Korea and Cuba today.

Globalisation is changing Singapore - and the rest of the world. I see this very clearly in my own work. The world is shrinking quickly and getting more and more interconnected. I believe that the optimal approach would be for the kids to grow up with a very global, international perspective on life. As it is, they are already living in a country heavily populated with non-citizens.
I can easily imagine that in the course of their own adult lifetimes, they may well end up living, studying and working for substantial periods of time in half a dozen different countries. They could easily end up holding multiple citizenships or PR status.

The kids need to grow up being very open and receptive to the idea that they may move and move again. Home will be just any place where they stay for more than three or four years. It is important that they are not handicapped by any dubious concepts like patriotism. By any strange notions that they belong to any particular corner of the planet. By any odd idea that they should be loyal to any specific red dot on the global map.

New horizons would open up for them, if they could see themselves as true citizens of the entire world. They must learn to be able to be comfortable, make friends and interact with people of all sorts of different cultures, anywhere in the world. I'm going to have to scrub harder at that little red-&-white smudge, on my daughter's cheek.

Aug 1, 2007

Bye For Now

Mr Wang will be travelling for several days and is unlikely to blog. See you when I get back.

In the meantime, a reader emailed and asked me to recommend the really "hardcore" readings on the concept of thought affecting reality. Yes, my friend, you're right - Mr Wang hasn't covered the really hardcore stuff yet, and it does get pretty weird. Try
Seth, for starters (although the material covered goes beyond TAR). From Wikipedia:

In late 1963, Jane Roberts and her husband, Robert Butts, experimented with a Ouija board as part of Roberts' research for a book on extra-sensory perception. According to Roberts and Butts, on December 2, 1963 they began to receive coherent messages from a male personality who eventually identified himself as Seth. Soon after, Roberts reported that she was hearing the messages in her head. She began to dictate the messages instead of utilizing the Ouija board, and the board was eventually abandoned. For 21 years until Roberts' death in 1984 (with a one-year hiatus due to her final illness), Roberts held regular sessions in which she went into a trance and purportedly channeled messages from Seth. Butts served as stenographer, taking the messages down in homemade shorthand, although some sessions were recorded. These messages from the Seth personality, consisting mostly of monologues on a wide variety of topics, are collectively known as "the Seth Material" (sometimes referred to herein as "the Material") ......

......... "You must watch the pictures that you paint with your imagination, for you allow your imagination too full a reign. If you read our early material, you will see that your environment and the conditions of your life at any given time are the direct result of your own inner expectations. You form physical materializations of these realities within your own mind.

"If you imagine dire circumstances, ill health, or desperate loneliness, these will be automatically materialized, for these thoughts themselves bring about the conditions that will give them reality in physical terms. If you would have good health, then you must imagine this as vividly as in fear you imagine the opposite.

"You create your own difficulties. This is true for each individual. The inner psychological state is projected outward, gaining physical reality -- and this regardless of the nature of the psychological state. ... The rules apply to everyone. You can use them for your own benefit and change your own conditions once you realize what they are.

"You cannot escape your own attitudes, for they will form the nature of what you see. Quite literally you see what you want to see; and you see your own thoughts and emotional attitudes materialized in physical form. If changes are to occur, they must be mental and psychic changes. These will be reflected in your environment. Negative, distrustful, fearful, or degrading attitudes toward anyone work against the self."