Japan always Number 1

A train company has been stopping at a remote station for the past three years to pick up just one passenger.

The Kami-Shirataki station in Hokkaido, Japan, is visited by a train twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, so that a schoolgirl can get to class and home on time.

Teenager, Kana, catches the service at 7.04am every day and returns promptly at 5.08pm, and she is the only person to use the station.

Click here to read the full story.


My good friend, Chris forwarded the above article to me. He thought I should read this interesting train story from Japan. This heartwarming story is nothing new of the Japanese society. It clearly reflects the uniqueness of Japanese culture and their idiosyncratic way of life.

From the above news article, it’s so obvious that the train company is losing tons of money over the past 3 years just to pick up the only passenger. The operating costs such as fuel, maintenance of the remote station, railway tracks, staff etc all cost money. It’s as good as running empty ghost trains incurring high operating costs just to cater to the sole passenger. Utter madness?

The school girl was treated more than an VIP by the rail company. It just doesn’t make any economic sense at all. Economists or any greedy commercial entity will scream “stupidity” within the 4 walls of highfalutin board meeting and the Operations Director will definitely get the sack!

I believe no other places in the world that such losing money venture will be allowed to bleed for 3 full years as in the above example in Japan. We need not go far, remember how our Potong Pasir and Buangkok stations were not opened but delayed for quite some time even though they were ready for full operations due to its “low demand and economically infeasible?”

That’s the difference between us and the Japanese. In fact, that’s also the difference between the Japanese and the rest of the world! The Japanese are a great race with its unique culture that no other race, culture or society could hold a candle to them.

I could go on and on singing praises about the Japanese. There are so many anecdotes especially my conversation with Japanese passengers in my previous life, to talk about. But that will be another blog another time.

Suffice to say, whilst drafting this short blog post, my friend Encik forwarded a video clip to me. Pls watch it yourself to reaffirm what I just said.

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Young lady bike mechanic

After working for 5 days on 12 hour shift, I earned my day off yesterday. On normal working days, I take a direct bus to work. Within 40 mins, I’d usually arrive at my work place via bus. It’s convenient, safe and comfortable. It costs me only $1.05 per trip. Only on my off day, I’d ride my 10 yr old Honda Wave around.

     When I walked to the nearby carpark to retrieve my bike, the front tyre gone completely flat. This is the 2nd time it happened. On my last off day, the same happened. I had to push the bike all the way to the nearby petrol kiosk to pump air. It was up gradient all the way to the petrol kiosk few hundred metres away.

      I checked for any nail or damage on the front wheel which I had changed only last week. The brand new tyre was flawless with no trace of embedded nail. It must be the nipple I thought to myself. I’d have it fixed later after running some errands.

      Other than the normal shopping trips to town such as Sim Lim Sq, Bugis area, Beach Rd Golden Mile etc, I usually go round the island on my old trusty economical bike to pick up items from sellers or off load items to buyers which I’ve pre-arranged with sellers or buyers on Carousell over the past few days. But that’s another blog another time.

      I planned my route carefully for all my errands with the last stop at Defu Lane to fix my front tyre issue before heading home. I left home around 10.30 am and by the time I arrived at the bike workshop in Defu Lane it’s around 3pm; having done many trips on my bike. It wouldn’t be possible if I had to rely on public transport to do all my errands. With my bike I could zip around the island.

      When I reached the workshop, lo and behold, I saw a young little pretty lady amongst the 4 or 5 seasoned mechanics either serving or repairing bikes in the crowded busy premises. After I explained to the shop owner my tyre problem, he directed me to that little girl (presumably his daughter). Once he sprayed some soap water on the tyre nipple with bubbles bursting about; it confirmed our suspicion.


      I’ve serviced my bike over the last 30 yrs at so many countless workshops but I’ve yet to come across any young lady mechanic. When I watched her dismantling the front tyre, taking it to the machine to pry open the tyre until she replaced the nipple with a new one on the rim, I was impressed by her singular tenacity in getting the job done.

      Most of us will not care for a mechanic job even if it pays well cuz you must be prepared to get your hands especially your fingernails perennially blackened. You could imagine how I felt when I witnessed this young lady barely 16 yr or 18 yrs old doing the dirty black-oil stained job of a seasoned mechanic. It’s tough and back breaking job with lots of bending and squatting in this job where few youngsters will take up, let alone a young fragile lady with an angelic face.


      I noticed that those old uncle mechanics around our cute little lady were ever ready to assist when she needed strength to lift the rim with tyre around. The boss – presumably her father – spoke to her in such tender soft tone when giving instruction to her on how to go about getting the job done. Needless to say, one could see the proud father’s loving, touching feeling towards her. How he wished that she were a boy instead.

      The boss charged me $15 for the thirty mins replacement of the tyre nipple. That lady at the congested space wanted to push my bike out. I straightaway told her I’d do it myself instead. I thanked her profusely for the job well done. She was beaming with joy seeing the satisfied customer in me before moving on to the next waiting customer.

Related article here.

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Cashless smart nation in 18 months?


Three main themes in PM’s recent National Day Rally speech – Diabetes, Pre-school education and Cashless Payments. It’s about kids – the hope of Singapore, the health of the citizens and the future economy of Singapore. I think he’s the only leader in the world to go on national television to exhort citizens to eat wisely, exercise frequently and take care of our health!

I’ll just touch on cashless e-payments. PM quoted China using e-payments way ahead of us. He admitted that we need to catch up. People in China are using “WeChat” which is similar to our WhatsApp, to transfer money, pay for goods and services by scanning QR or Dox Matrix codes. Read about cashless payments in China here.

Just to side track, China opened up its closed economy in the mid 1980s in Shenzhen; next to Hong Kong, whereas we started our industrialisation in 1965. We are not only a tiny country with high level of western education, we also had at least 10 yrs lead time ahead of China, yet they have now overtaken us by leaps and bounds in so many areas.

Just visit their first tier super cities in China and you will be awe struck by the tremendous progress in terms of infrastructure – the super highways, longest land and sea bridges and yes their train system – high speed and normal speed zig-zagging all over the vast country from the coastal regions right up till Lhasa in Tibet! These are their symbols of success and their pride showcase for all the world to see!

Look at their super efficient train system almost on par with the Japanese and the world’s best. Are they bothered about driverless trains? Here, we are obsessed with converting our aging train system to driverless trains resulting in so much woe and misery.


Back to the cashless topic. As usual, when the most powerful man says something, all will take the cue. Suddenly, all got jolted awake and the scramble to go cashless begins as if it’s something new.

Let’s forget about the credit cards such as Visa or Master as they did not originate from Singapore. Let’s take a look at Nets which has been around for a long time. Why is it not pervasive? If you use Nets to pay for taxi fare or buy 4-D, you are charged 20 cents per transaction. If you use it in other shops, the merchants will have to pay monthly subscriptions for the SIM card, terminal and 0.80% to 0.60% fee of turnover to Nets. More often than not, merchants don’t encourage you to pay by Nets unless you willing to pay extra on top of existing prices. In a nutshell, it basically explains Nets’ low adoption rate.


After Nets, Nets Flash, EZ Link, Dash, PayLah and very recently PayNow came about. Are we short of e-payments? For a small tiny nation with everyone holding a smartphone with access to all these homegrown modes of e-payments, not to mention Apple Pay and Samsung Pay via NFC, why is it that the PM still had to talk about e-payments?

“Thanks @minliangtan! Make me a proposal, and I will study it seriously. — Lee Hsien Loong (@leehsienloong) August 23, 2017”

Link

Out of nowhere, one enterprising entrepreneur gained instant fame and recognition (many of us did not know about him or his company) when he simply tweeted that he could fulfil the Prime Minister’s dream within 18 months! No need bidding or rounds of meetings. Just tweet it to the most powerful man and it’s done. (worth millions of contract of course) Hopefully, he will succeed and all of us stand to benefit from his proposal even though the other modes of e-payments are without much success.

My question is “Why re-invent the wheel?” When we ask ourselves why the need to kickstart another e-payment system when so many retailers have got Nets or EZ link terminals with everyone, young and old holding one or two smartphones?

For more than 30 years since Nets came into the picture in 1985, we have yet to achieve 100% cashless smart nation. Link  Yet our local entrepreneur via a tweet had the audacity to declare publicly that within 18 months he could achieve the impossible! Let’s wish him success so that all of us could just throw away the many cashless cards in our wallets. We only need one universal card (or no card via a smartphone) for everything instead of so many. 

I think the EZ link card is the best so far. Link Nowadays, we hardly see people using cash to pay for bus or train rides. Unlike Nets, I could even use it at the neighbourhood convenient store to pay for things without incurring any surcharge.

Now, they are trying to enforce it in the hawker centres on a pilot basis. Will it take off if there is extra surcharge incurred? Do the hawkers need to pay for the cashless terminals? Do consumers have to pay extra using e-payments like Nets charging both a fee for using their system? Many are suspicious that e-payments introduced in the hawker centres is a form of tracking hawkers’ revenue for the purpose of taxation. Is that the case?

As such, there are so many nitty gritty issues that need to be ironed out before we could declare ourselves a fully smart cashless nation. To say that “within 18 months” we could achieve that kind of cashless infrastructure island-wide is an ambitious over statement. Will it materialise? Only time will tell.

Read related article here.

Government crowdsourcing cashless system at hawker centres and heartland shops.

Why communism fails? Backward China decided to open up to the outside world.

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“Parrot” attitude and the slaughtered Turkey

Someone forwarded the following anecdote quite some time ago. I’ll reproduce it here.

A man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.

John tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder.

John, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.

Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said,

“I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.”

John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued,

“May I ask what the turkey did?”

If we study the above anecdote carefully, there are few things worth taking note. It’s applicable to people with that “parrot” attitude around us. Taking things for granted, ceaseless demands and no sense of proportion thinking that the whole world owe them a living.

Let’a start with the children. If you look around, sometimes you could see spoilt brats throwing tantrums over small little things. Maybe, the mother didn’t buy the toy the spoilt child wanted. He then misbehaves and started screaming, crying, throwing things in public. The hapless mother at wits end.

Maybe only the maid could control him. But it happened on a Sunday with the maid off and the parents bringing out the kid where they only had that limited time together. That’s the maid generation of children we are bringing up in Singapore. They are the future faces of Singapore when they become adults. Let’s hope they won’t vote according to their whims and fancy.

It’s commonly acknowledged that National Service for our boys is the rite of passage to adulthood. Maybe, we should incorporate another few months of compulsory overseas attachment before they ORD to poor neighbouring countries for voluntary work. Send them to some ulu places far away from the cosy comfort of their homes to experience first hand what the real outside world is like.

My Friend Manish – Indian FT turned PR used to harp repeatedly on this idea to me. Without experiencing the dire living conditions lacking in basic necessities like clean drinking water, decent housing, basic education, health care etc, our youngsters will never understand the meaning of deprivation.

People of my generation older than me lived through those days in the kampungs. When I was a teenager, I had to use hurricane lamp and later on, we only had one 4-foot florescent lamp for lighting. We also didn’t have toilet flushing system then. It was bucket style with shit infested maggots cleared by a 36-door night-soil truck on a weekly basis.

With the blink of an eye, within one generation, we have leap-frog to a modern metropolis, obliterating all those rustic kampungs, enjoying the comforts of modern amenities which our young take for granted. That’s why most of them are having this “parrot” phenomenon as in the above anecdote.

Will they, the future inheritors of this fragile tiny sunny island of 710 sq km have the resilience and tenacity to face the many challenges and “threats” looming on the horizon? Hopefully they will not grow up with that “parrot” attitude, only to end up like the “turkey” inside the fridge?

Only time will tell.

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