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”


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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Soccer Hooliganism In KL

The Lee–Lin rivalry is between two legendary badminton players, Datuk Wira Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia and Lin Dan of China. The rivalry is considered to be one of, if not, the greatest rivalry in badminton history. They have played a total of 38 times.

Below is the letter supposedly written by China’s Lin Dan to Lee Chong Wei after he lost the game in the semi finals. We take it as genuine.

“The 37th time I meet you opposite the net, it’s already gone a whole round since our first. Truthfully, when I slipped and lost to you, I had no regrets. You are my greatest rival, I am willing to lose to you, without regrets. When I hugged you, I really felt as if the past ten years with you, had been but a dream. I will take your jersey to my future child and tell him: ‘There is an uncle known as Lee Chong Wei, your dad’s greatest rival, and also best friend.’ To meet you in my best years is my luck. Good luck in the finals.”

Some claim that the letter is faked. But the fact remains that they are still friends even though they were bitter rivals (competitors) in badminton. Thru the game, they met each other. Also thru the game they gained respect of each other. A lasting friendship is forged even though they represented their own respective countries, were arch rivals fighting savagely for glory and honour.

That is what true sportsmanship is all about. Did they humiliate or jeer at each other? They set good examples for their supporters and fans.

Sadly, it is not the case in the recent football match between Singapore and Malaysia held in KL. The soccer fans were chanting anti Singapore slogans calling Singapore dogs etc… Such soccer hooliganism which is quite common in Europe & UK leading to riots, vandalism and loss of lives & property.

It’s supposed to be part of SEA games promoting understanding and friendship across different countries with different cultures. So much time, effort, money and resources allocated to organise these games destroyed by a small number of hooligans! What should we do to them? That Fatty from North Korea would have gladly shot them and finish them off. We don’t need such hooligans to exist in this world already full of challenges and problems.

Out of this murky episode, one silver lining appears. My Malay friends such as Che Mat, Norman and many others expressed indignation and condemned those soccer hooligans chanting anti Singapore slogans when they forwarded me the viral video clip.

My Malay friends identify themselves as Singaporeans first and stood up against them. Their sense of loyalty and identity lies with Singapore even though they are senior citizens whom have close kinship ties across the other side. But reasons and fair play made them speak up against those shit head soccer hooligans.

Yes, we are a multi-racial society and we belong to Singapore. Singapore also belongs to all of us irrespective of race, language or religion when we stand up against such uncivilised barbaric behaviour akin to savages and animals when they chanted “Singapore dogs” and humiliated a close neighbour coming over only for a friendly soccer game.

We may have lost the game but we stood tall in character, honour and dignity. We did not behave like animals even though they taunted us and called us dogs. Even though they won the game but they have lost much more. In the eyes of the world and the sporting community, they are the real losers!

Click here to read about the news.

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7th Month Hungry Ghosts Celebrations

In Sep 1982, when I was a student I wrote an article on the 7th month Hungry Ghost Festival. That was more than 35 years ago. Click this link to read. Till today, the same Festival is still observed by the Chinese community. In fact, it is being practised by all the Chinese community not only in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan but also throughout South East Asia.

Yesterday, on the 22 Aug 17(Tue) was the start of the 7th lunar month which ushers in the month-long Hungry Ghost Festival. At the stroke of midnight on 22 Aug, as if by some unseen telepathic signals, burning of incense, candles and food offerings sprouted simultaneously all over the HDB heartlands and shop houses. The air is filled with déjà vu burning smell. The month long celebrations will climax on the 15th day with another big bang on the last day of the month.

Images from SCMP

There are many Chinese customs and rituals withering or facing extinction as our modern society marches on towards more sophistication. Surprisingly, this particular phenomenon appears more widespread and entrenched in the Chinese psyche after more than 35 yrs when I first wrote about it. I don’t think it will face extinction in the near future.

It would be most interesting to examine and study why this superstitious custom continue to survive and attract followers?

This Hungry Ghosts Festival – simply said refers to the opening of hell gate for one month allowing all the ghosts full liberty to roam the human world of existence. After the one month period, all the ghosts will have to return to hell before the gate is shut for another year. Any wandering ghost refusing to report back to hell shall be deemed as “AWOL”. Severe punishment is meted out when AWOL ghost is caught by the hell guardians. Link

Back to the earlier question why this festival is still celebrated by Chinese community all over the world, and even in Thailand, Vietnam or Japanese society with traces of Chinese roots? As Asians, they just follow the superstitious folklore with no questions asked. No need scientific proof for verification. They know that life is impermanent and one day they will join the dead. It is this belief in eternity with a glimmer of hope in the afterlife.

Everyday, there are millions of births and deaths amongst humanity. They believe in the perpetual life cycle of death and rebirth. When there is birth, there must be death as this is the natural order of things in all life forms. The deaths sojourn in hell undergoing purgatory to redeem themselves before seeking nirvana or continue with perpetual reincarnation.

In the meantime, those hungry ghosts holidaying on earth need to be appeased for the sake of peace. The living do not want those hungry ghosts to wreak havoc on their business or safety especially certain hazardous jobs such as construction sites, shipyards or even training camps. When I was first enlisted for my BMT in Tekong camp, I witnessed an army captain in uniform offering prayers at the obstacles course during the 7th lunar month. Such is the widespread practice entrenched in the Chinese psyche.

Pictures from Raymond who was at Bedok Central Getai yesterday evening

Businesses not doing well with budget cuts elsewhere will nevertheless spend lavishly on this occasion. Those that did well will definitely throw more money on the occasion by setting up elaborate rituals engaging Toast priests, Getai performance , dinner feasts etc to boast their spending power in an “upmanship” show to rivals. That’s how the commercial game is played.

Inadvertently, it created an industry of joss & incense accessories from paper replica iPhones, houses, cars, ingots etc to be burnt as offerings. The tentage contractors and mobile kitchen catering to nightly feasts with noisy auction will have a field day. What about those so-called 7th month singers? Some of them from media corps and some unknown freelancers also making their rounds making hay with the ghosts! As such, 7th month is boom boom time generating lots of economic activities in the otherwise ghastly economy.

I’ve briefly sketched out the economic and spiritual aspects of the 7th month hungry festival to justify it’s stubborn existence thru the years. In our multi-racial society, even the other races are aware of such practice.

Usually, it coincides with the haze issue from neighbouring country. They burn their vast forests for their ghosts whilst we burn paper incense contributing to the haze problem. But surprisingly it doesn’t happen this year round. Hopefully, they will not clash in the future or we will all get suffocated.

Let’s live and let live in peace – ghosts or no ghosts!

Click here to read related article.

Click here to another interesting article. Man with 3rd eye able to see ghosts?

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