Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rest in Peace Mr. J.B. Jeyaretnam - A True Singapore Lion

Rest in Peace JBJ

When I was little, back then in the early 1980s, I recall my parents speaking of Mr. Jeyaretnam in admiration. I also recalled in later years, my father telling the story of when he gave a lift to Mr. Jeyaretnam one day when he saw him walking in Tanjong Pagar. I did not understand then who he was, or why he was a figure of importance in our lives. After all, I never saw him, only heard of him.

My father, like the many other Singaporeans, respected Mr. Jeyaretnam for his honest idealism. And my father did the little he could that day when he gave Mr. Jeyaretnam a lift to his destination so as to show him that a Singaporean cared; people appreciated him knowing the full personal sacrifices he endured in order to pursue the political goals on behalf of Singaporeans.

Many years on, I finally understood why people so admired him. It's the David vs. Goliath pull that draws us all in awe and hope. We dare not articulate our own opinions for fear of the consequences, so we leave it up to someone else, and hope against hope that he somehow manages to break through. And when he doesn't, we remain silent choosing to gripe behind closed doors, or through pseudonyms on the Internet.

I have no personal stories of myself to tell of Mr. Jeyaretnam. The few times I saw him were at political rallies in 1997, and at a political forum - I think it was at NUS. Once I saw him selling his book along Orchard Road. I bought the book, shook his hand and thanked him for his political work. That was all I did to show that I cared - my miserable few bucks that went towards clearing his forced-upon bankruptcy debt.

I always believed that Singaporeans never much appreciated him for who he was. So I was heartened to read the Facebook comments in a group created in his memory. Many of the comments came from the younger generation, showing a willingness to think and articulate better on political issues than those of us from the previous generation. Maybe they are sick and tired of being told what's best for them; maybe money's not all-important any longer that they are willing to sacrifice their principles and freedom; maybe they they're no longer willing to self-censor; maybe they want a say in how their country develops.

This, I think, bodes well for the future of Singapore.

Here are some comments on JBJ's passing that I came across while surfing the Economist recently. Since these posters have articulated it much better than I could, I am re-posting some here....

"Singaporeans do not deserve someone like JBJ. The majority accepted a trade off, allowing a despot to run their lives in return for economic benefits. Does not matter if the majority are aware that the despot is self serving, conceals the truth, manipulates the elections system and MSM, influences the judiciary, abuses the ISA to intimidate citizens, appoint stooges in key positions. This begs the question, what kind of people will overlook such grotesque behavior in return for economic benefits ? JBJ never did and he stuck to his principles to the very end.
He was indeed a true Patriot."

"To conceive of what JBJ meant and how he connected with the ordinary Singapore, his son, Philip Jayaretnam cites why he always took public buses whenever possible, it was perhaps embarrassed that taxi drivers often refuse his fare. And to say he did little to dent PAP's power might be premature, like Che Guevara, his image more than his ideals will be the legacy that serve Singapore's civil rights progress."

"Singapore needs more brave souls like JBJ, but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I guess he'll be remembered as the heretic who preached democracy and rights while the rest of us were eating out of the PAP's hand. As for Lee Kuan Yew, he's a brilliant man, but nonetheless only human, and the demise of one of his fiercest political opponents should remind him that his time is drawing to an end, too."

"The epitaph should say "Here lies a man who fought for every Singaporean who has no spine of their own. One who stood up in face of hoodlooms, when eneryone else was ready to prostrate; one who spoke out when everyone else wagged; abd one who held the mirror when everyone else was singing paens to the Royal family." Dear Jeyaretnam! You were born amongst thankless spinessness people, would have loved to have you as one of my own countryman instead of seeing you getting wasted in Kingdom of Singapore."

Rest in peace JBJ. You will be missed.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Global Financial Crisis and Its Effects in Asia

Panic Attack As Investors Sell Off Shares at Any Price

Hell in Asia - Panic Attack As Investors Sell Off Shares at Any Price. This was the headline in the Straits Times that I woke up to on Thursday morning. The previous day's trading amounted to a sell-off in Asian markets, despite the coordinated rate cuts in the US, Europe and China. Herd mentality had set in - fearful retail investors (the bag holders mainly) rushed to stem their losses. So while the headline might have been shocking to those not following the financial news, the sell-off reaction in Asia was actually anticipated and in accordance to technical analysis.

When the newspapers start their massive moanings, and everyone is talking about the stockmarket, then expect there to be a rebounding in the markets. It will happen in the US first, then followed by the Asian markets (which will react accordingly as they usually do).

Now having said that (savvy traders actually trade in the up and down swings of the market, and make money doing so) , this financial crisis (mainly the problem with the availibility of credit for economic sustenance and growth) is not something that will easily be sorted out.

Small businesses will suffer because of the slowdown in consumer spending. Americans caught up in debt, are not likely to spur the economy any longer by buying items they do not really need - be it furniture to plasma tvs. Asian imports will decline, and their profits will decline leading to a slowdown in Asia. Asian jobs will be lost, and smaller business will find it harder to expand as credit have all dried up. No jobs, no income, no buying power....See where that leads to....

But some people are actually hoping that the markets will go down futher, so they can do bottom-fishing - that is, buying up expensive items, such as property or formerly high priced stocks at low prices. One writer from the Today newspaper quipped that she wants "a sharp enough drop so that her dreams are within reach". She called this a "slight correction". She also wrote that she felt no sympathy for those hit by the credit crunch because they are the ones who had earned loads of money for taking risks with other people's money. In her opinion, it's fitting that they pay the price.

Ok, she may be able to bottom-fish for property (in certain sectors). If I had more money, I would be buying into property too. And hold it for long-term, and forget about double digit growth that we got used to in the 90s. And definitely forget about bottom-fishing stocks unless one really knows how to read the fundamentals of a company. Too often people buy stocks on the way down, thinking they are getting a deal, and those companies never recover, and the investors who bought the stocks at a seemingly bargain price are left holding an empty bag.

But never mind all of that, let's go back to the Today writer. She chooses to avoid the bigger picture, which is far more dire. A protracted financial downturn will affect everyone - we saw a prelude just months ago with oil and rice price increases, and the effect it had on the poorer people in this world.

The hedge fund managers, bankers and the rich (those people the Today writer was scoffing at) will manage somehow. The rest of us will also manage by tightening our belts and reducing our spending. We will make different lifestyle choices - eat in, instead of out at a fancy restaurant; shop only when necessary; drive less etc.

But it's a different story for the poor who are already struggling to make ends meet. Increases in food prices can literally make a difference between life and death.

It's those people I am thinking about. And that's why I hope there is NO sharp drop that shakes the markets. A sharp drop is not a slight correction. When there was a sharp drop in 1929, it started the Great Depression, which lasted for years leading to misery for many people. The global consequences of such a drop would have far-reaching adverse impact given the connectivity of our economies today.

Would you want that to happen just so your dreams are within reach? Shame on that Today writer for such irresponsible hopes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Women, Vanity and Cosmetic Enhancements

Botox, Dermal Fillers, Chemical Peels Etc

Women are vain creatures. It is a stereotype that some women may oppose vehemently, but a statement that hold true for many people in general. I am one such woman. I do not have perfect flawless skin, which I so ardently wish for.

As soon as I reached that age when looks began to play an important part of my social life (that is, the teenage years), I looked for solutions to imperfection in my facial skin. I endured numerous painful sessions at spas, where my facial skin was picked clean of impurities (acne). I endured it all, believing in the words of those inflicting the pain - that my face would soon clear up. But this only led to injuries (read scars) in my skin.

Many years later, after the acne cleared up, with multiple vists to this and that dermatologists, age began pulling my facial skin down leading to the dreaded nasolabial line (unwanted "parentheses" on the face).

A small poll amongst my friends have shown that the perception of what constitutes as perfection is really dependent on one's self. Maybe even related to one's self-esteem.

For instance, one friend insisted she needed further cosmetic procedures done to even out her skin tone, and flatten the scar damage from acne flare-ups years ago. But to the rest of us, she looked fine.

But I can understand why she would feel the need to continue the procedures, having been through years of battle with acne myself. It is partly healing (emotionally) to undergo procedures because it keeps the hope alive that at the end of it, you come out looking better. So the more procedures, the more better you end up looking. So even if the visible improvements are small, the emotional improvements are huge!

The group of us are not yet into Botox - I think we are not in the right age group yet. But we have tried TCA chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and now....

Dermal Fillers is the next new cosmetic enhancement we would like to try.

This is what I found out about dermal fillers:

"When we age, we lose firmess (through fat loss) in our skin; this leads us to have a droopy effect. In the face, we get those "parentheses" around the naso-labial area. The skin loses stucture and volume, forming lines and wrinkles.

Juverderm corrects this by injecting materials called "demal fillers" into the skin, to achieve a temporary effect on smoothness. The dermal filler used in Juvederm is called hyaluronic acid (HA).

HA is a natural complex sugar found in all living cells, and one of the major components of the skin tissue. HA retains water and hydrates the skin to increase volume and density.

Since Juvederm uses a naturally occuuring substance that is already present in the skin, this is a safe procedure that has no advserse long-term effects. The benefits from the procedure though are temporary, lasting anywhere from 6 months to a year".

Sounds good to me. Who's up first, gals?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Finance | Credit Card Rate Increases

Credit Card Increased Its Interest Rates For No Absolute Reason

I am one of those obessively punctual people who make sure to pay all of their bills, mortgage and credit card payments on time. I even do it the old-fashioned way with a checklist, even if I can automatically schedule recurring online payments. Somehow, going through my checklist, logging online and double-checking that the right amount was paid on the right date, then placing a check mark next to the creditor in question makes me feel good. Something accomplished!

Now, I wish I had paid as much attention to reading the now and the notices regarding card agreements that these credit cards like to send out ever so often. Typically, I throw those out without much thought!

Anyway, I am almost never late. The one or two times I have been late on a payment were due to unavoidable circumstances.

Therefore, when I checked my statement for a business credit card recently, I was shocked beyond words to see that the APR interest rate has been increased to 21.19% from 7.99%! What????

My first thought was that I had made a late payment the previous month, and the credit card had automatically done a default APR. So I quickly checked my 'checklist' to see when I made the payment. It showed that I did it on time. Then I logged to my online credit card account to verify what I had noted in my book. Yup, I had not been late.

When I called the credit card - Advanta Small Business Credit Card - they told me that they had sent out a mailer with the notice of an amendment to their interest rates. Well, it had been sent to my residence in the US and since I was here in Singapore, I did not read it.

This is what I found out - so please those of you who have credit cards with sizeable balances on them had better beware. Credit card companies can magically increase the APR with advance notification through mailers of the impending changes. They will give you a period of time (short!) to dispute the changes. And you have to do this in writing. If you dispute the charges, the most likely scenario is that you have to clear the balance and close the account. This may not be helpful if you have no way to clear the balance, so disputing it may not be an option to begin with.

Now, I am quite angry about this situation. My solution is to completely transfer off the entire balance to another business credit card with a lower fixed APR - and find someway to quickly bring that balance down, in case this other credit card decides to magically increase its APR to an exorbitant figure as well.

I try to pay more than the minimum monthly payment suggested by the credit card company. Why? Because the minimum payment required only stretches out the debt nearly indefinitely. These two charts below show the difference between what happens when one pays only the minimum monthly and when one starts making bigger payments to bring down the debt.

Source: Consumerist

You know what I think. Things have gotten so bad that credit card defaults must be on the rise, and the credit companies are pushing the buck to those of us who have been managing their debt well. People just like me, with excellent credit scores and a clean credit record, and who want to keep things that way. Such people are the ones who will have to pay the high price because we will always find a way to keep up the payments.

But this APR increase from Advanta is complete madness. As soon as I transfer the balance, that card is history! That's one customer you have lost Advanta.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Religious Faith Discussions and The Question of Tolerance

Religion and Tolerance

I read with amazement Monday's Straits Times article on "How far should discussions of religious faith go?". I haven't been around Singapore for a long time, but I guess kudos are in order that the topic is even partially discussed in the Singaporean print media. Back then (one or two decades ago), any mention of religion and tolerance was considered tabboo.

The article was basically five brief commentaries from Singaporean youths. The general theme of most of the comments was that there should be more of an emphasis on understanding each other's differences rather than simply tolerating. I agree, but I would add that respect is even more important.

Sometime ago, I had written a research paper on the question for religious tolerance and understanding in multi-cultural societies such as Singapore. The research paper was for a graduate seminar class in an ivy-league school in the US, and I had written it just after the hijab ban in Singapore schools fiasco.

I cannot remember what I wrote exactly - if I were to post excerpts here in this blog, I'd have to do some digging into my old files (in my old laptop!). But the thrust of my argument was simply that without respect underlying any attempt in fostering proactive interactions between ethnic (and religious) communities, there would be no genuine understanding. And without genuine understanding amongst the citizenry, you merely have different groups co-existing within the same society.

This ties into the whole question of nationhood. What ties us (all of us from the different ethnic and religious groups) to Singapore? Are our loyalties stronger to our group than the nation?

It seems that these are essential questions that need to be addressed in schools. It is impossible to inculcate a sense of responsility, awareness and respect once a person has attained adulthood - this needs to be done from young.

This is an excerpt of the comment from Ian Poh, a 21 year old NUS first-year law student that was published in the above-mentioned article.

"It is asking for a lot for frankness and tolerance to co-exist - there will always be someone taking issue with your opinion. I base this on my experience in mission schools. Even among peers, there were frequent disagreements arising from interpretations of weekly sermons delivered at chapel services, mostly from the freethinkers and those of weaker faith. Many take these differing opinions personally, adopting a hostile attitude after these debates. The situation might have even been worse had students of other religious faiths not been excused from these services. In my opinion, when it comes to religion, silence beats the discordance of open discussion".

Wow! The above is an example of a dangerously naive way of viewing the world from a future Singaporean lawyer.

I'll give you my take on why the above thinking is so flawed.

First, there will always be individuals around in this world who will take issue with your opinion on a whole lot of topics. Somehow the idea that only religion has the ability to inflame people to irationality has been perpretated so much in Singapore that is has become an accepted truth. I fear of this becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy!

There are Singaporeans who know that there are minority groups here - Singaporean Muslims for example. But they have never interacted with Muslims except for the cursory social interaction at work and school. Such people are prone to believe stereotypes when they encounter them. To prevent that, there has to be a proactive push towards respect, which leads to understanding; not just tolerance.

Second, a telling sign of how progressive a society is, is in exactly how differences between people are aired out. In such societies, there is an underlying respect for the right of that individual to state his position, and to listen to counter-positions.

In fact, this mode of discussion is one of the first things university students in the US are taught. The exchange of ideas then flows easily because there exists this attitude of respect and acceptance, which is critical in fostering creativity and innovation. You cannot pick and choose which topics are acceptable and which are not.
But you can have guidelines for kind of speech is acceptable and what is not. That is why there are such laws as hate speech laws in many progressive countries. And if you educate people from young to have respect for differences, then there will not be an attitude of hostility for those different from yourself.

Only a stagnant society prevents open discussion. Sad to say, the writer's experiences at his school must only be a reflection of the state of the intellectual development in Singapore.

Third, is on a personal note. For all of my formal education in Singapore, I was in Catholic mission schools. I am a Muslim, and on hindsight, I must congratulate the educators at my school for fostering an attitude of openness amongst its students. During my later years, the non-Catholics were excused from Mass services, but prior to that I had attended enough of them to understand the ceremony, which I feel makes me closer to my Catholic friends.

Knowing and understanding the many differences between us, I respect the right for them to believe and worship in the things they do, and I also choose to focus on our many commonalities.

Home Alone on a Rainy Day

At Home On A Rainy Day

I am a homebody. I can entertain myself at home alone with absolutely no problem. I think this charecteristic of mine developed from my years of living abroad and by myself. I had roomates during the early years, but as I got older, I got my own apartment. And that has been my lifestyle eversince.

I cannot envision my having to share my beautiful apartment with someone else. I mean, a someone else that I cannot order around. Heh. My family, or future significant other is a different issue.

I know women who need to have people around them all the time. Some cannot sleep in empty apartments, if they are all alone. I just cannot fathom living a life in their shoes. It must get awfully scary because no one can be with people all the time. There will always be situations when you will find yourself alone.

I think such people are afraid of themselves more than anything else.

I am not saying that one should not need others. Rather I believe that if you are comfortable with yourself, you'll always find things to occupy your mind when you find yourself alone. So that you are, in fact, keeping yourself company.

So I am at home alone today. I have been so used to living by myself for years, that it has taken some getting used to being in a house full of people (my family). So today, I am quite relishing being by myself. Watching the heavy rain fall from my window.

There is nothing quite like rain in Singapore. I have just come from the East Coast of the US, and it never ever rains the way it does here. I just love the rumbling thunder, the occasional lighting, and the heavy relentless rain. Then that earthy smell, most noticeable in the air as the rain dies out.

Of course, this is best experienced on a leisurely day at home, just where I am today!

This led me to remember Surah Ash-Shams (The Sun) from the Quran. I came across this when I was reading the Quran during Ramadan (the month that has just passed). Order and proportion in the world, order and proportion even in our soul. And if we cannot see or feel the order in our soul, that must mean we are failing in someway - that our souls are not as purified as it should be.

This worldly muslimah thinks that the soul does become tainted when forced to tackle so many of life's issues. I am not talking merely of sins. But the usual hustle and bustle of life - rushing to work, worrying about paying bills on time, taking care of loved ones etc. All of these occupy our energies, and sometimes we forget to tend to our souls. And this makes it get darker (tainted). But the Quran says that it is important to purify the soul, that means we should give it time, that is, time to ourselves that we can spend on reflection, studying the Quran and remembrance of the frailty of life in this world. Only then, the Quran says, will we truly succeed.

By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour;
By the Moon as she follows him;
By the Day as it shows up (the Sun's) glory;
By the Night as it conceals it;
By the Firmament and its (wonderful) structure;
By the Earth and its (wide) expanse:
By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it;
And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;-
Truly he succeeds that purifies it,
And he fails that corrupts it!
(Quran 91:1-10)

Just Another Worldly Muslimah

Thoughts, Observations and Ideas

I am just another worldly Muslimah who wants to share her thoughts, observations and ideas with interested readers out there. I chose the word worldly not to convey the idea that I am one of those devoted to the temporal world as opposed to the spiritual, nor am I overly concerned with the secular issues in my life over the spiritual ones.

Instead, I chose the word worldly because I think I understand the ways of this world and its inhabitants - the positives, the negatives, all of its manipulations, and all of its attractions. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a tad bit.

But I have lived around the world, mostly in cosmopolitan cities that has enabled me to meet and interact with different kinds of people from different cultures. I think I have developed a kind of worldly understanding of how things and people function.

Now, being worldly is not necessarily a bad thing. It has made me sophisticated in my ability to react to the world, and it has helped me advance in the secular world.

Still, I think it is time to focus more on my spiritual development. And since I have more time on my hands these days (I have just returned to the country of my birth, Singapore, after 13 years away, to try and spend some months taking stock of my life), I thought it would be a good idea to document my various thoughts, observations and ideas in a blog.

Please feel free to leave your comments. I am always interested to know what others think. However, I do not appreciate anonymous comments so I am restricting the comments to those who have OpenId. If you prefer not to leave me a public comment, please feel free to email me at amaryllisma [at]


Saturday, October 4, 2008

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