Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Presidential Elections in Singapore

Tan Jee Say has my vote in the coming elections.

I wish to share my story as an associate working in a well-paid position in a global foreign corporation with an office in Singapore.

Over lunch one day, an acquaintance, who had "fled" from New York to Singapore for a job and now occupied a high position in an MNC, who analyses the credit card market, asked me, "What do you think of the Singapore-Foreigner Wage Gap?" He obviously meant the large wage gap between so-called foreign talent and struggling Singaporean PMEBs. He vocalized what many in Singapore have been directly impacted by. Lower wages and a loss of jobs to the foreign influx.

All the signs point to a capture of the state by sectarian interests, as Alex Au wrote on his blog.

My office has approximately 40 people. Of the team of 11 associates, only 1 is Singaporean - myself. 3 were from India, 1 from America, 1 from Taiwan, and other foreign countries. One foreign associate had obviously misrepresented his locally-obtained credentials (as a Singaporean could tell, but many foreigners could not) in obtaining his job but was employed.

The company had recently fired 3 well-paid Singaporeans, one after the other - the managing director, the operations director, and another senior director level position. The reason given was a lack of compliance with the US head office. The head office replaced them with an Indonesian, and two foreign born Indians. I don't know how much cheaper their salaries were, but I suspect a Singaporean would have been equally qualified.

Most had no intention to stay in Singapore for more than 2 years. One colleague had been awarded her PR after just 4 months of working in the office. One had skipped from India, to Singapore, and next to a Western country after two years. The whole office was a floating barge of foreigners, hiring foreigners to send profits to the head office, providing precious few Singaporeans with jobs. Is this the purpose of our government's employment policies?
My experience with executives in the financial industry is the same. Overwhelming numbers of foreigners (which are divided into two groups; Indians, Indonesians, and other lower-wage Asian workers, and Western workers from increasingly job-less Western economies) and a speck of Singaporeans. I have been to several networking events where PRC Chinese/Indians/Hong Kongers/Americans/Malaysians are so surprised to meet a Singaporean that they would query me repeatedly: "Are you from Singapore?...Are you really Singaporean?.. Born in Singapore?" Evidence that Singaporeans are a rare and almost extinct breed in well-paid professions. In this way there is a transfer of our tax money from Singaporeans, to support foreign corporations that do not give jobs to Singaporeans.
Singaporeans are right to be angry. The best, well-paying jobs have been stolen for foreigners. And unless something changes, there will be an increasing Singaporean-Foreigner Wage Gap - with Singaporeans the ones earning less.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tea in Starbucks Drinks - or - The Fastest Way to Make a Buck

If you're a clever student looking to while the afternoon away at Starbucks, be warned.

The renowned coffee chain has begun to add "Extra Strong Tea Concentrate" to previously non-caffeinated drinks including the Blackberry Fruit Shake and the Mango Fruit Shake, in some chains in Singapore. Nowhere on the price listing are the Shakes listed as Tea based.

So why the free, extra ingredients in your afternoon drink?

I had been purchasing the Fruit Shakes as an affordable way to have 5+ hours of time at the cafe to work. One day, I noticed the shakes, for the first time in 6 months, made me use the bathroom really quickly. The next time, I carefully observed the barista pour Tea Concentrate into the drink, behind the counter, hidden to the customer. I have noticed most customers with caffeinated drinks have to get up to use the bathroom every 20 minutes or so. After awhile, somewhat uncomfortable with rapidly filling bladders, they leave.

I can only wonder if we are getting more caffeine in our drinks to encourage us to vacate our coffee tables shortly after we arrive. Although downright unethical (customers don't want sneaky additions to their drinks) This would liberate more tables quickly than a world full of signs telling students not to study.

Skeletal Head of State to Appear Next

Since the devastating blow to the dominant party's mandate in the June(-1 month) elections, the Prime Minister has been appearing frequently to make pronouncements in the media. He talks about the need for (cheap) foreign workers (to drive "growth" ever higher), about jobs going to Singaporeans.

And each time he appears, his hair is just a little whiter, his wrinkles deeper, his face more haggard.

A ploy for pity?

What if we see a skeletal Prime Minister appearing next? Perhaps he will be so haggard, whether by make up or other means, that he expects to move the people that way. The question is whether he can pull this off.

How Do You Spend Your Money?


The bus whizzed by, a poster of brilliant colours on its hindside. The poster advertised the Van Gogh exhibition held the Marina Bay Sands ArtScience Museum, the newest museum in Asia. It boasted the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings displayed in any museum worldwide, a panoply of his world-famous art displayed in one destination. A slick website advertised the exhibit in breathtaking tones.
Furthermore, it would be displayed with cutting-edge technology, a light show projecting the paintings onto museum walls, promising an amazing experience for the viewer.

Except it wasn't.

The experience proved to be a disappointing experience for many viewers. Most viewers were dismayed that the projected paintings fell far short of the slick writeup on the website. The killer was that no actual paintings were displayed; the exhibit was simply blown-up pictures on the walls, paired with monotonous music echoing in the gallery.

In one reviewer's words, "That is pretty much what the entire installation is: a large, empty room with pretty images on the walls and loud music."

One viewer, on the other hand, raved about the pretty pictures and the beautiful installation. She said it was a pleasant experience and an excellent insight. The difference was, she had heard the complaints about the horrible museum from other museum goers.

So if you're a museum owner, what are you to do?

You would eliminate the dramatic website videos and slick advertisements. You would focus on the world-class architecture of the building (which was constructed to rival the MOMA in New York.) You would use words such as "experimental", and "soothing", instead of grand or unprecedented.

In other words, you would manage expectations.

And if you're a museum go-er; you would trust the reviews of fellow museum-goers, and not that of the websites; at least; until the ads matched the reality. If forced to attend, you would read the worst reviews and enjoy the exhibit for what it is.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reduce your rent in Singapore

It's a dreadful cancer on an unregulated market populated by pirates and bandits. In Singapore, unscrupulous housing agents are jacking up rental prices to unsustainable and unethical prices.

In the space of barely 5 years, rental prices have shot up by 80-200%, and in many cases, doubled and tripled.
In 2006, the rental for a 3 bedroom HDB apartment was $1800.
In 2011, the rental for the same 3 bedroom would be $3000-$3400.

In 2010, the rental for a single common room in a condominium would be $700.
In 2011, the same room would cost $900. The several hundred thousand foreign workers arriving in Singapore with no idea of the housing market are the catalyst for this problem - ignorant of the actual prices of housing in Singapore, they are held hostage by rental agents to part with an unfair chunk of their salary, at prices no Singaporean would actually pay.

If you are someone affected by rising rentals, here's what you can do, immediately and effectively, to rent your place at low and reasonable rates.

1) Choose to deal only with ethical housing agents who rent out apartments. An ethical housing agent has your interest in mind and allows you time from several days to a week to consider if you want to rent a place. An ethical housing agent never forces you to rent a place on the same day.

Put the vultures and gold-diggers out of business. With a lack of regulation in the Singapore market or any form of rent control, housing agents are quoting whatever price they can possible convince buyers of.

It is extremely common today to hear words such as," The apartments in Singapore will rent on the same day. Have you decided to buy on the same day? If you haven't, don't bother to come for a viewing." This can only end up with you living in an apartment you hate. Agents are engaging in despicable behaviour because they collect a commission of 1/2 month's rent with each apartment they sell. Don't be fooled.

A rental is an sizeable investment for you of $5000-6000 over several months.

Always choose agents who look out for your interests. Boycott agents who press you to choose on the same day. Put them out of business. Choose an agent willing to show you several rental properties.

2) Take a look at the market to make a realistic assessment.

Take a look at the condominiums in Bukit Batok in Singapore. Many condominiums in Singapore are 50-60% empty because there is no one renting them.
There are many empty apartments in Singapore.

Be aware that there are thousands of agents in Singapore, and it is a buyer's market for agents. Be aware also that there are thousands of empty apartments in Singapore - with homeowners eager to rent.

2) Offer a fair price and stick to your price.

Your apartment will be your home for the next 6 months - 2 years.

Offer a price that that is fair to you; that is in line with the demand and supply of apartments in Singapore.
Let the homeowner know that you will come back in a month with the same price - and if they have not rented it out then - they will lose the money they stand to make immediately.

Let them know that if they rent it out to you now at your price, a reasonable and agreed on price, they will benefit from having cash right now.

So stick to your guns and deal with ethical agents.

If you agree with this post, please feel free to spread it to other websites.

You are welcome to post the details of ethical housing agents on the comments of this blog.

Agents, if you follow such ethical guidelines of behaviour, you are welcome to post your contacts here.

Those who read the comments, please be aware to examine your agents thoroughly for whether they are people with your interests in mind.