Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beijing & Shanghai

My trip to the 2 major Chinese cities was marked with a rich educational experience on Chinese culture and a beautiful jade bangle courtesy of my mom. I honestly was not planning on shopping, as this was supposed to be a strictly cultural exchange holiday. However, like most of my holidays, I just cannot help it. I bought something from almost everywhere the tour guide brought us (oops). By the time I left, my suitcase was filled with Mao memorabilia, silk, jade, pearl cream and paper cuttings. I must be channeling the spirit of a silk route trader.

Beijing’s traditional architecture is predominantly grey and white. It is a surprisingly serene and calming colour scheme. I love the traditional tiled roofs and especially the brass doorknobs. In Shanghai, I had to sample all the dumplings (soup dumplings, pork dumplings, seafood dumplings, both steamed and fried) that I don’t think I can stomach another one. It was all delicious, with just a little juice dripping out of each bite.

Today's travel tip : Bring moisturizer or you can just buy pearl cream. It's what the locals have been using for decades (when they do not have access to western style beauty products) and it's cheap too.

China just before the Olympics is expensive. It cost me SGD$20 for 3 cups of coffee at a local coffee house. With most of the attractions closed for refurbishing before the Olympics, I will definitely be making another trip down to catch all the things I missed out on.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

House Hunting

Over the weekend, I decided to look at the new condominiums being built around my area. Half-bored, half-curious. I figure now is as good a time as any to start thinking about diversifying my portfolio or moving out. After looking at some of the prices in my neighborhood, I think I need to start looking at prime properties instead. The prices were exorbitant (comparable to orchard road areas). I now know that all new apartments are built crazily tiny (e.g. you will have to use 1 entire room as a wardrobe or study). In fact, space is so valuable that developers have started charging for ceiling space at $200 psf more. I do not know how people intend to raise families in there. One real estate agent was showing me the kitchen of a $1.3.million apartment, which was a row of cabinets, sink and fridge built into 1 side of a wall….(nuff said).

Today, I learnt a new lesson. I need to strike lottery in order to afford a decent sized apartment.

Cost of an Apartment:
5% cash upfront
15% Cash/CPF 2 months later
Remainder once apartments are built.
$300-$500 conservancy charges every month thereafter.

I have heard of groups of people (e.g. ex-colleagues, classmates) pooling money to invest in property. Not sure if any of them are still friends. Of course, I am just being cynical as Singapore’s property market is still booming and I am sure there are lots of money to be made from investing in property still.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Should I buy a car?

Recent circumstances have pushed me to consider purchasing a car. Ok, again. I am one of the last few people who would buy a car. I have a license but I don’t drive. Apart from being a depreciating expense, you can actually purchase an apartment with what a car costs here in Singapore. Depreciating expense versus appreciating expense, you get the drift. That aside, there’s still road tax, insurance, maintenance, AA, ERP, petrol and parking to deal with. My friends like to tell me it’s a lifestyle choice and I have to agree that owning a car has its advantages. You can even purchase a car entirely on a bank loan, no down payment or deposit required. So gainfully employed people like me who are cashless can still purchase our dream car as long as it’s more than $55,000.

Many people view your car as an extension of you. I believe this to be true, as I have yet to find a car that I can say yes to. I am still on the hunt for the perfect vehicle. Picking the right car is tricky. I love the color pink but do not want a car that screams “Woman Driver”. Ideally, it would be easy to drive, a body that looks cute, have a gangster paint job and priced within my budget. But, we can’t always get what we want.

Today’s car loan interest rates average 6.7% p.a.. That's lower than the prevailing credit card rate but still higher than a home loan.

Push Factors for me to buy a car:

1) My office is being relocated to an obscure part of the country

2) My company is offering $200 monthly transport allowance for car owners

3) 100% bank financing

4) I need to be independent

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

LV Travel notebook (Beijing)

In anticipation of my first real holiday in a long time, I bought the Beijing Travel notebook from LV filled with beautiful watercolour illustrations of the artist’s (Sun Chuan) impression of the Chinese city. A fuss-free alternative to scrap booking my holiday that doubles up as a collectible. I was lucky too as it was the last copy in the shop.

Taking a vacation to Beijing just before the Olympics means I can enjoy the comfort of stepped up cleanliness in anticipation of the Games. All without the crush of the Olympic crowds. I will let you know if that's really true when I get back from vacation. My mom needed some convincing to make this second trip to Beijing. It seems as though everyone has been there except for me. Therefore, I expect the Chinese Capital to be more tourist-friendly with better food, better lodging and more entertainment.

Beijing’s temperature today is 13 degrees celsius.

That means I need to go shopping for some vacation clothes.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Party @ McDonald's

Over the weekend, I attended my nephews’ birthday celebration at McDonald’s that featured a professional entertainer (magician, clown, balloonist all in one). Both of them shared an express party (2 hours) as their actual birthdays are less than a month apart. How appropriate for our lifestyles today. If you fell asleep like my younger nephew did, you would have missed the whole party. By the time we left, the next birthday kid was waiting outside the door. So you have to give McDonald’s credit for having perfected the art of mass production.

I was looking forward to a McDonald’s birthday cake with sugar figurines of Ronald and the gang. But, my sister-in-law ordered special jelly cakes for both the boys (1 jeep and 1 sports car). She also spent the night before wrapping party packs to entertain the kids with when they arrive (McDonald’s hands out their gift packs at the end of the party).

I couldn't help drawing comparisons with my own McDonald's birthday party which was held over 2 decades ago. The food is the same (love the French fries). The location and decor similar. The service world’s apart. Back then, you just paid for the food and they let you have the party for more than 2 hours. Nowadays, its $7.50 per kid in addition to food and limited to 2 hours (the staff will start chasing you out 15min before the end of the time slot). The games and entertainment by the McDonald’s staff wasn’t too good, so it was good thinking on the part of the parents’ to hire an all-in-one entertainer for an hour. There just wasn’t any time left to open the presents or have any other forms of entertainment. The birthday boys had to wait until they got home to open their presents. We even caught some parents buying food for their kids after the party as there wasn’t enough time to finish their meals.

This week’s happy meal toys will drive some of my friends nuts with a range of pink & sparkly Hello Kitty stuff.

Tips for a fuss-free party:
- When dealing with kids, its best to leave it to the professionals.
- You can get everything you need from Toys’r’us. They even provide free wrapping.
- Heard those party stuff shops at The Concourse will be moving to Tekka Mall.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Career Day

I attended a lunchtime career seminar at work today and experienced a massive case of flashback. It feels exactly like the career days we had in school, where people would talk about their chosen careers and the experiences they have had at work. But, instead of parents from diverse backgrounds, I had my colleagues who all work in the same bank for a number of years. The presentations were surprisingly candid and the speakers must have been very self-assured with introspective comments about their lives in general. Again, I feel inspired by their life stories just like I did with the speakers back in school and more than ever feel assured that I have chosen the right career path (It could also be the paycheck).

I didn’t take long to figure out what I wanted to do. Every graduate eventually joins the Banking & Finance sector after graduation anyway because of the money. It doesn’t matter if you are a Science or Engineering graduate, what more a Business School grad like myself. I like working within the formal structure of a large corporation as it provides a sense of stability and security that we do not have to deal with in real life. I can feel free to decorate my workspace, something that is not possible hot-desking and work in air-conditioned comfort typing away at my computer. They even provide free coffee to make you last that extra hour of OT.

Today’s buzzword is “networking”.

I realize the common theme running though all the speeches were the fantastic connections that led them to where they are today. Be it from colleagues, managers, clients or friends. Their networks helped them to achieve breakthroughs in their careers, information to aid them in their work and support to achieve their objectives. This should be my new year’s resolution.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Flower Arrangement

I am in the middle of my floral certification course (just finished a class today), at the end of which, I will receive a certificate endorsed by the WFC. Which qualifies me to work at a or as a florist. Not that I plan on quitting my day job soon or seek early retirement. However, knowing I have a marketable skill at the end of an expensive hobby gives me a sense of assurance that I am not wasting my hard-earned money frivolously. Alternatively, I could have just gotten a night job at a florist and have the government subsidize my hobby under the skills re-training program (just kidding).

In line with my new hobby, I have signed up for a new magazine subscription (hopefully it is in English. Otherwise, I can just look at the pretty pictures).

The flowers are put to good use decorating my workspace and home. There is just no substitute for the fresh, sweet smelling scent that fills the air like a natural air-freshener. I will be posting more pictures of arrangements as I make them.

Today’s arrangement is a bouquet of Irises, Eustomas, Gerberas and Hypericums.

Couple of lessons I learnt working with flowers:
1) Lilies are high-maintenance. The orangey-red pollen scatters itself everywhere; all the time, staining everything they fall on.
2) When working with roses, family members should always wear shoes or protective goggles (flying thorns).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Today, I received the proceeds from my ERS and decided to buy some Gold with it. What would be more appropriate in the first year of the new lunar cycle than the extremely limited edition and extremely collectible Chinese horoscope gold coins. This being the year of the rat (the first animal of the lunar cycle), it presents many opportunities for one to start a lunar constellation collection of any sort. I personally like to start a collection of gold coins this year (given gold’s intrinsic value). Other variations offered by a local bank include a selection of religious or art-inspired precious metal collectibles. For the investment-minded, there is the evergreen gold bullion produced by various countries and acceptable in place of currency (The kinebars are the prettiest).

Now, everyone knows gold is a good investment, and the free gifts that come with it are excellent for re-gifting. I plan on re-gifting the free gold-plated mouse to my mom for her birthday. I couldn’t have thought of a better present myself, as my mom is born in the year of the rat. Coincidentally, I met my aunt at the counter who helped me out with a staff discount ($9), paper bag to put my purchases in and a box of chocolates (coz she is my aunt). Thanks =)

Today’s Gold Spot Price is 909.85 (SGX website)

Helpful hint from the friendly counter staff: To avoid queuing, come in the mornings to buy gold. During mid-day, you will have to contend with the lunch-time crowd and most of the staff will be out for lunch.

Better late than never

I think I must be one of the remaining people on earth that have yet to start a personal blog. Everyone has given me various reasons why I should start one (e.g. no more emails/smses to catch up with one another). I thought about it for quite some time and couldn't decide the subject matter or tone it should take. So finally, I decided this is just going to be me and it will be about communication. Letting my friends and family know what I am up to and hopefully, increase the current level of interaction I have with everyone in my life.