On Polling Day: The Power is Yours

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I was just reading DK’s post on what you are doing on the night before polling day, and this message popped into my mind.

There are a couple of references to the video above. In this new millennium, the demographics of Singapore is as diverse as the global origins of the Planeteers, regardless of where we come from, on this very day, we call Singapore home. And thus, with our powers (votes) combined, the power is ours.

It is for us to decide if history will be made in the 24 hours time, or will history repeat itself. As such, I sincerely hope that each and every person going to the polls tomorrow is not going to be frivolous with his/her vote. Though you might think that how can your single vote affect the outcome, this is a case of collective power, each and every vote on Polling Day matters. To borrow an old chinese analogy of a single chopstick vs a bunch of chopsticks, it is a time for us to either stand united or fall divided.

I shall end this post with the following 2 videos. Come 8am on Polling Day, your vote will decide the headlines on 8th May 2011. Stick with the Status Quo, or Vote for Change, which will you choose? Remember, The Power is Yours!




Being realistic this #sgelections

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I would like to begin this post by stating that whatever is written here is just the two (or maybe less) cents worth of an average Singaporean.

For the past fourteen years, I never got to vote because of the electoral system here in Singapore. As such, I thank the opposition in this General Elections for giving most Singaporeans a chance to go to the polls. I feel sympathetic towards the voters of Tanjong Pagar for the walkover in their GRC. Especially after the last minute MP change fiasco by the incumbent.

I attended my first elections rally on the first night after Nomination Day, and my second, 4 nights after that when the NSP team came to my constituency. It gave me the chance to evaluate the party and candidate running for my constituency against the ruling party. With the reach of the internet, I was also able to catch the rally speeches online by the various parties, both PAP and the opposition.

With Polling Day only 2 days away, my take away from Nomination Day till now is as follows,

First and foremost, there is no doubt that Singapore has achieved what it is today because of PAP. For the past 45 years, they have gotten most of the policies and formula right. And frankly, this track record is pretty hard to beat. As such, I believe that on Polling Day, PAP will return to power quite convincingly. However, PAP have interestingly sidestepped and avoided the major gripe that I have, which is what the opposition refers to as accountability. How does the government account for the 8-months bonus that the ministers got after all that has happened in the past couple of years? I don’t think that a simple apology during a rally is sufficient, especially with the severity of the issues. If the ministers’ pay is pegged to the private sector, I believe that when something goes wrong, they should act like senior management in the private sector. I am not saying that the ministers in question should resign, like what Tony Hayward did during the BP spill, but they should at least not be entitled to the bonus, which should be based on performance.

Secondly, the incumbent MPs have taken the opposition candidates to task for only turning up during the last few months leading up to elections. It seems to be a case of pot calling the kettle black. What I would like to know is why do most PAP MPs start doing their walkabouts and rounds during this period too? Where were they during the past 5 years? Where were they when my constituency was a walkover during the last elections? To me, the weekly MPS do not count as that is one of the responsibilities of an elected MP. In addition, I think that for them to push the opposition for concrete plans for the various constituencies if they are elected is quite unfair. Other than Hougang and Potong Pasir, the town councils for all the other constituencies are currently run by PAP. Therefore, without knowing what they are inheriting, it will be impractical for them to commit on what they can deliver.

Thirdly, as voters, to quote Uncle Ben from Spider-man, we are given great power, and with that comes great responsibility. Collectively, we have the power to decide the direction that Singapore will take in the next 5 years. This is non-trivial as some outcomes, regardless of how remote the possibility, might put Singapore into chaos. Hence, I hope that everyone going to the polls this Saturday take this responsibility seriously and evaluate the individuals or parties running in their constituencies and their ability to represent us in Parliament. We should not be influenced by all that is happening in other constituencies such as the various hot seats, or comments online, and be frivolous with our votes since we will not be able to affect the results elsewhere.

Finally, it has been mentioned by both PAP and the opposition that this is a watershed election for them. This might be true to some extent, and how the outcome this Saturday shapes the political landscape of Singapore remains to be seen. For me, I think this elections will determine the role of social media and the internet in future elections. In the past week, we have seen how the internet was used to disseminate election information to the masses, ranging from real-time comments on Facebook and Twitter, and rally speeches from various party being posted on YouTube. Thus far, majority of the comments online have been critical of the incumbent, ranging from the mishandling of various events to the skyrocketing prices of public housing. It will be interesting to see how much of this online frustration and chatter actually constitutes to votes for the opposition in the next 48 hours.

A small part of me is envious of the voters in the various group-representation constituencies which pit cabinet ministers against the A-teams of the various opposition parties. It is quite exciting to go to the polls knowing that your vote will decide not only if an office holder gets re-elected, but the fate of 3-5 other candidates. However, I am mostly thankful that for my maiden trip to the polls, I am in a single-member constituency, and my current MP is not an office holder. I have the luxury of weighing what my current MP has done for my constituency against the possibility of the opposition candidate bettering that.

I will end this post by reminding anyone who is reading this that your vote is SECRET, as long as you do not disclose it. The following video puts this message across very nicely.

Nearly Lost…Thank God for Google Latitude!

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Was feeling under the weather yesterday. Had a sore throat and the nose was drooling all the way. As I was leaving the office building, SBS service number 63 (SBS 2606 R) pulled up at the bus stop just outside the building. I decided to hop onto the bus rather than hoof all the way to RedHill MRT for my usual commute home by train. Since it was only the first stop from the terminal, the bus was pretty empty, so I plonked myself in the 3rd right seat from the back.

Feeling sleepy, I placed my phone in my right pocket with my portable harddisk. Fell asleep halfway through the ride back to Kallang. When I woke up, I was just one stop away. In my haste to alight, I didn’t realize my phone fell out of my pocket.

It was only when I wanted to check mobileiris for the next bus for my transfer that I notice it was missing. I panicked and ran after the bus for a few hundred metres. In retrospect, it was a really silly thing to do given the chaotic traffic in the Geylang area. When I realized it was futile to continue the chase, I stopped at a payphone and frantically called the wife. As I was ranting and panicking, she calmly ask me where I was and asked me to walk to Aljunied MRT where she could pick me up in the car and continue the chase.

After she picked me up, while I was still ranting on how careless I was, she asked me to check the bus route via mobileiris. It was then when I realized that I had Latitude turned on in Google Maps on my N97. The wife and I keep Latitude turned on for convenience. With it,  we need not update each other on our whereabouts. I started Google Maps on the wife’s N97 and viola! I was able to track the location on the bus.

Based on the current location of the bus at Macpherson, we decided that the best place to intercept the bus was at Eunos. We drove to a bus stop along Jalan Eunos and ahead of the bus and waited for it. Thanks to the positional accuracy of Latitude, we didn’t have to wait too long for the bus.

As luck would have it, two buses of service number 63 approached the bus stop one after another. Thankfully, the models of the buses were different, and I remembered that the bus that I rode on was the older Volvo model. It was the 2nd bus and I boarded it. As the services were bunched up, the 2nd bus had only 3 passengers.

I immediately dashed to the seat and found my phone in the crevice between the seat and window of the bus. All this while, the guy opposite the aisle was staring at me. Come to think of it, I must have looked pretty weird, dashing to the seat and searching high and low for something. Anyway, I was simply overjoyed and relieved to have recovered my phone.

So thanks to Google Latitude, the wife’s levelheadedness, and a bit of luck, this episode has a happy ending.

Going Prepaid with Virgin Mobile in Australia

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Just came back from a great trip from Melbourne. Will blog about it more with photos in the coming week.

After getting my N97, iPod Touch and upgrading my phone plan with M1 to an iPhone Lite plan, I’ve been so used to being online anytime and anywhere. I wanted the same accessibility during my trip.

Did some research on Google and found a promotion by Virgin Mobile where an extra 1GB of data is given on each prepaid card purchase or recharge. The promotion is till end August. What luck!

So during lunch on the first day of my trip, I made a quick detour to Elizabeth Street to buy a Your Cap 19 SIM Card Starter Pack. The instructions that came with the pack was pretty sparse, so I had to call the Customer Service. The CSO was friendly and patient and helped me through the registration process over the phone. She even told me I could use the prepaid credits to make IDD calls. One thing to note though, to register you will need a local address and land line on hand. The CSO informed me that I can use the hotel details to register since I was a tourist. When I was done, she informed me that the line will be activated within an hour.

After a few hours, I was still not able to access the Internet or make phone calls, not even to the Customer Service hotline. I had to resort to using my M1 line to call.  The CSO, I think his name was Mika, was very helpful. Apparently, my account had zero balance. This was the reason why I could not make any calls with the SIM card. He activated the account on the spot, and told me to check. As I had to swap my SIM card, I asked him to call me back in 5 minutes, and he obliged.

I still had issues accessing the Internet, and when he called back, I highlighted it to him. After doing some checks on my account, there was an issue with the pack I bought. It seems the prepaid mobile number that came with the SIM doesn’t match with the starter pack. He proceeded to log a case for me and told me I had to either fax or email the details on the starter pack and my receipt (Thank goodness I asked for one). He also credited $3 into my account for me to get by. I had to wait until I got back to the hotel to email the details, and by then it was after office hours.

When I tested it the next day, I was able to access the Internet via all the usual channels, FaceBook, Hotmail, Twitter, FourSquare, etc. Not too sure how much data I used in all, but I was able to access the Internet for the rest of my trip. I also managed to make about 25 minutes of IDD calls back to Singapore during my trip, which was an unexpected bonus! Access in Melbourne and outside the city was quite ok, unlike some of the reviews I read which said that signals outside the city was bad.

With the additional 1GB data promotion, this is definitely a worthwhile deal if you need mobile data access. Too bad the promotion is till end of August. I doubt they will make the additional data permanent, but I seriously hope they will revise their plans to provide more data.

Pros:

  • additional 1GB of data (till end August 2010)
  • able to make IDD calls with the call credits
  • friendly and helpful Customer Service

Cons:

  • additional 1GB of data (till end August 2010)
  • Lack of in pack instructions and details for registration

Traitor to God?

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Blogging about this to serve as a reminder to myself about an incident that happened during Saturday’s sunset Mass on 3rd July at Queen of Peace church at Tanjong Katong. Attended Mass with the boy as the wife was busy with work that day.

The boy was being his usual mischievous self and started busying himself by climbing up and down the kneelers and pew before Mass. At first, the guy sitting directly behind us was somewhat amused by his antics. However, as time went on, he became annoyed and found it distracting. I tried to pacify the boy by carrying him and sitting him on my lap, but, being a restless 3-year old, the boy tried to wiggle and talk his way to freedom and made even more noise, especially during the homily.

The guy could not tolerate any more and made loud shush sounds during the Eucharistic Prayer in an attempt to hush the boy. I knew we were in for it, but what shocked me was that he made a scene during the distribution of the Communion. He started with “You think this is Macdonalds?” and when I tried to reply and apologize, he let of a barrage of admonition loud enough to attract stares from the rest of the congregation queuing to receive Communion. Some of the comments he made include,

  • “…If you can’t control your son, go to the back. Other people want to pray…”
  • “…We can go to speak to Father Lee (the parish priest) after Mass about this …”
  • “…You can go complain to the Archbishop if you are not happy…”
  • “…Don’t talk about the Gospel to me…”
  • “…You are a traitor to God…”

He made the 4th comment when I tried to quote Mark 9:37. I think the most hurtful comment was the last one. How does making noise during Mass equate to being a traitor to God? Was so shock by the whole incident that all I managed was a weak “Why come to Mass when you are so angry?”. But, it was enough to defuse the confrontation for the moment. I felt his stare on us for the rest of the Mass. I just smiled at him after I returned from receiving the Communion, and he simply stared back. The boy was also shocked by the incident and kept quiet for the rest of the Mass.

There were other kids in the congregation making noise around us, but I think we bore the brunt of his anger because we were sitting in the pew directly in front of him. I guess what goes around, comes around. Before the boy came into our lives, I used to also wonder why parents couldn’t control their kids during Mass. Now I’m experiencing it first hand.

A close friend asked whether I tried to occupy my boy with books or colouring during Mass. My reply was “What’s the point of bringing them to Mass then?”. I remember attending a homily in which the priest encouraged parents to bring their kids to Mass to cultivate the good habit from young. He also said that we should get them to sit and listen rather than occupy them with some other activity. Someone else asked why I didn’t let him play with my iPod Touch. Given his expertise with the controls of the device, it would be even more disastrous. Imagine him playing the JJ Lin YOG Cheer at maximum volume in church. I think we will be thrown out  by the wardens before the Mass even began.

It was definitely an experience I will not soon forget. However, it will not discourage me from bringing the boy to church, as that will certainly make me a traitor to God.

Ask OCBC for what?

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Robinsons has always been one of our preferential department stores with their wide range of products, regular discounts and excellent service. However, this weekend we had an awful shopping experience at Robinsons.

No, it’s not caused by Robinsons. On the contrary, the staff there were very patient and understanding, as we have always had a pleasure of experiencing all these years. It was due to the inadequacy of the bank carrying the Robinsons co-brand credit card. Hence, the title of this blog post.

It all began on Thursday, when the wife wanted to go for an impromptu stress-relieving shopping session at Raffles City. When we were about to leave, she asked me for my opinion on an Agnes b. bag that caught her eye when she was window-shopping while waiting for me. The salesgirl at the Agnes b. shop informed us that there will be a late night shopping discount the next day and offered to reserve the bag for us to come back and enjoy the discount. Since the wife liked the bag a lot, we decided to come back the next day to do dinner and get the bag.

On Friday morning, while flipping the Straits Times, I saw a full page Robinsons advertisement on beds. We have been wanting to upgrade our bed to King for the longest time, as our little boy who sleeps with us is not that little anymore, if you know what I mean.

When evening came, we met up at Raffles City after I picked the boy after work. Since we still had about 45 minutes to our dinner reservation at Prego’s, we dropped by Robinsons bed section to check out the Simmons promotions and test out the mattresses.

We have been using Simmons all the while and found no reason to change. They had a BackCare 2 mattress promotion with a standard bedframe going at $1. The total cost added up to $3.4K. Another promotion was on the mattress provided to Resorts World Sentosa. It comes with a plush pillow top that felt awesome when I tested it. The total cost of the mattress together with our preferred bedframe was 4.5K. We couldn’t make up our minds on an empty stomach and decided to discuss over dinner.

We made our way to Prego’s to have our dinner. We dined on the ever warm and fluffy bread with salsa sauce, a mushroom soup drizzled with truffle sauce, a seafood linguine with tomato sauce and a ham and mushroom pizza with an extremely thin crust. It was an excellent dinner to kick off a great weekend, or so we thought. Over dinner, we decided to splurge on the more expensive promotion since we will spend at least one-third of each day on our bed. That was the beginning of my credit card limit nightmare.

We proceeded to approach the Robinsons staff that we spoke to before dinner to purchase the RWS promotion mattress. Everything was fine until we were trying to make payment. As usual, we used the OCBC Robinsons Platinum VISA card under my account to make payment in order to enjoy the 5% rebate. The cashier swiped the card and it was declined. She tried a few more times before she informed us. I suspected it could be the low credit limit as I had the card since I started work and have not increased my credit limit ever since. That was my oversight, as I never had a need for a credit limit over $4K until now.

The cashier offered to call the bank and explain to the customer service staff before handing the phone over to me. When I tried to ask for a temporary credit limit increase for the transaction to go through, I was shocked to hear that they were unable to entertain temporary credit limit increases for purchases. I never had a problem requesting for a temporary credit limit increase with any of my other credit cards with the other banks, such as DBS, UOB or Citibank. Citibank even has a fuss-free option via their Internet Banking site to request for a temporary credit limit increase. And the increase was almost instantaneous, which I was expecting to be the case, how wrong I was.

The bank staff then proceeded to explain that only under 4 circumstances would they be able to do it. I only caught the first two, which was funerals and hospitalizations, which made me ponder why would I even bother to use a card with such troublesome restrictions when I’m dead or sick. She said that she could not do anything about it and said that if we really wanted to use the card, we could do a top-up into the credit card account for the purchase to go through. I did the usual Singaporean thing by asking to speak to a manager. The staff explained that it was after office hours and there were no managers around till Monday. I had to make a big fuss before she agreed to get her manager to call me back. It took about 15 minutes for her manager to call back.

In the meanwhile, the Robinsons staff were kind enough to offer us alternatives such as breaking the payment over 2 cards or topping up the purchase with cash. As the purchase amount was rather big, the 5% rebate was rather substantial which means that we had to stick with the card one way or another. Apparently, this was not the first time they have encountered such an issue. The bed department staff told us that she once had a customer whose purchase was a few dollars off the credit limit and the bank refused to do anything. After speaking to the Robinsons staff, we decided to put down a deposit to lock the purchase in and come back over the weekend once we resolve the issue with the bank. Even though the whole episode was not their fault, they kept apologizing for the inconvenience caused. Kudos to Robinsons for their excellent customer service. I think all businesses in the service industry should strive for such excellence. Especially the co-brand bank.

When the manager from the bank called back, all she did was to regurgitate what her staff mentioned to me that they were unable to do anything. Personally, I think that it was more useless speaking to the manager than to the customer service staff. The manager didn’t do anything to defuse the situation and insisted that she was the highest authority. I am still waiting for the email she offered to send stating the 4 circumstances in which the bank will allow a temporary credit limit increase. I made an even bigger fuss until she said that she will get someone from the credit card department to call me on Monday. I will update this post after I take the call.

Ultimately, I had to do a top-up into my credit card for the purchase in the middle of the night as the bank was unable to do anything. Thankfully, I had an OCBC Savings account which I used to make payments for my school fees back in my NP days. I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I did not have the account. I transferred $1K into the account and ensured that the amount allowed on the card is more than the purchase amount after deducting the deposit. We had to go back to Raffles City on Saturday to complete the purchase.

This is not the first time I faced issues with OCBC. A few years ago, I made payment for the same credit card account using my Savings account and had an email acknowledgement on the payment. However, due to some glitch, the payment didn’t go through. The bank had the nerve to charge me late fees and interest. I had to insist and showed them the email as proof before they agreed to waive off the additional charges. At that time, I asked for an explanation on how such a thing could happen. To this day, I am still waiting for that explanation.

This incident also reminded me of the misleading advertisement from the bank that Kitchen Tigress so aptly proved at the beginning of the year. The OCBC slogan and catch phrase is “Ask OCBC”. I asked, and they did not deliver. I think it should be rephrased to be something more Singlish like, “Ask OCBC for what?“. Especially since they are unable to provide what they advertise.

Coincidentally, maybe I should try and ask them for a birthday cake on Monday.

Update:
Another person from the credit card call centre called and repeated everything I heard on Saturday. And she was the one who sent the official email to me, not the person whom I request it from. The other two circumstances are Weddings and Overseas Trips. I seriously wonder how they are going to enforce this. I could possibly request for a increase for an overseas trip and then proceed with my purchase. Would they be able to stop the purchase from going through?

Personally, I am not going to depend on OCBC for either, especially with all the hassle I might have to go through to get the increase. Imagine the IDD charges I might get just to increase the limit for a few hundred dollars. Who is going to pay for the charges?

In the end, I also didn’t bother asking for the birthday cake. No point spoiling my birthday over non-existent customer service.

Morale of the story: If “Ask OCBC” doesn’t help, I recommend asking another bank. No point wasting your energy. It’s just a contact centre, they can’t do much. Their contact centre and credit cards feels more like an after-thought. There just because others are doing it.

Rain and Queue Mars Navy Open House 2010 Visit

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After reading various tweets on the visit to this year’s Navy Open House, we decided to pop by, since the first day it is opened to the public coincides with my son’s birthday. So on Saturday, we woke up bright and early to prepare for our trip. We prepared sandwiches for our snack and prepared sunblock, since it was recommended. We originally intended to take the MRT to Singapore Expo, but it was raining when we were leaving the house, we drove there instead.

We got to Singapore Expo at around 8.25am, and there was already a queue for the bus all the way from Hall 1 where the boarding point wass to Hall 2. It seemed that they were prepared for the large crowd coming in as the entire Hall 1 was converted into a huge check in centre with cordons for queues, metal detectors and bag scanners. The entire process took about 10 minutes from queue to boarding the bus.

The bus ride took about half an hour from Singapore Expo to Changi Naval Base. We proceeded to register for the balloting for the Frigate guided tour and the ship cruise. As it was still drizzling, we popped into the closest aircon to view the exhibits. We queued for the ST simulator exhibit and our boy had fun fiddling around the control panel for the simulator. The ST folks even had a portable printer set up so they could print instant photos for keepsake, which was a nice touch.

As the aircon in the tent was very cold, we decided to brave the weather and do a guided tour on board one of the vessels available for public viewing. This was where I felt the logistics arrangements and wet weather plan could have been better. While waiting in the queue, the rain started to pour and the wind blew the rain into the tent where the queue was.  From the way they were scrambling to try to keep the rain from coming in, there was no wet weather plan in place. Kudos to the quick reaction of the staff in trying to rearranging the cordon to keep everyone dry. The estimated waiting time sign on each queue was a good indicator as it helped us decide on whether we want to join the queue or not. It was quite accurate as we waited about 30 minutes as indicated on the sign. The guided tour of the Patrol Vessel RSS Independence was nice. We had a chance to try out the cannons and weapons on board, and tour the bunks and the bridge.

By the time we were done, it was almost noon and it was still raining. Initially, we wanted to try out the duck tour as we did not get the ballot for the cruise, but the waiting time for the duck tour was about 1 hour 30 minutes according to the sign. And the waiting time on most of the other attractions have swelled to at least an hour. So, instead of queuing, we went back to the parade area and watched some performances before calling it a day. The attention span of a 3 year old is that short. Normally excursions lasts half a day before he gets cranky.

In all, the visit was an eye-opener and I think the organizers did a great job. There is something for everyone in the family. I am definitely for the idea of balloting, as I would rather spend my time watching the performances or viewing the exhibits rather than in a queue waiting. This is especially so if you have kids in tow, and from the looks of it, there were a lot of kids when we were there.

Personally, I think the balloting system can be enhanced to a central virtual queuing system in which it distributes the opportunity to visit the guided tours and cruises evenly so that everyone actually gets a chance to try out something. Or alternatively have a virtual queuing system for each attraction in which queue numbers are assigned and displayed on LED like the ones found in various customer service centres. This way, visitors are free to tour the nearby areas while waiting for their turn. I understand that queuing is the norm when it comes to theme parks and attractions, but this Open House is a time-limited event where one will not be able to go back on another and try out the other attractions.

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