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16 August 2007

Still Under Warranty" but Entropy already setting in


1. I once mentioned that almost all of Singapore's physical structures were built only in the last few decades and a quick wit shot back that "Oh, so everything's Still Under Warranty!"

2. Today, let us see how this relative newness explains much of Singapore's reputation as a 'well managed' place and thus, inexorably, when these structures age, Singapore will slowly become the same as all the other cities everywhere in the world, especially Asia, and will no longer look spic and span. In other words, the PAP is NOT special or extraordinary, OR [as they always say directly as well as imply] TALENTED. Neither is the present Cabinet "as good as it gets" [LKY parroting as usual], which implies that LKY himself is 'as good as leaders get' which therefore implies that he is some sort of genius! [The worst thing about propaganda is not that it fools people but that it fools yourself]. After reading nothing but adulation and worshipful articles in his controlled media since 1959, he has come to believe what they wrote and it is only recently, with the Internet, that he, and we, are beginning to read the real truths, which being truth, rubbishes his image totally, which explains why he and his Govt are going to such extremes to suppress it. Thus, Singapore's reputation is simply that, at this moment, it is mostly NEW and therefore, everything works. It is certainly not due to an able mastermind, abetted by an able Cabinet, as we are made to believe. [There is also the "economic efficiencies of tinyness" I have written about. As well as my "3 waves of labour" of a very young population that boosted Singapore's economy up till now, but ageing rapidly and therefore, changing from asset to liability, and a matter of time before the aged population drags down Singapore's economy and everything else. Currently, 1:12 Singaporeans are 65+ in age; by 2030, this will be 1:5, thus totally changing the very nature of society and economics].

3. From 1936 to 1941, the SIT [the British forerunner of the HDB] built the first public housing satellite town of Tiong Bahru. Construction activity was slow until after World War II, when over 20,000 units were built between 1947 and 1959, mainly in the Alexandra and Queenstown areas.

4. Then, LKY unscrupulously 2-timed his PAP party leaders, especially LIM Chin Siong, and traitorously persuaded the British PM to manoeuvre him into power and thus seized control in 1959. He set up the HDB as a statutory board on February 1960. It built 700,000 flats over 35 years to house 86 per cent of the population. THUS, PRACTICALLY ALL THE FLATS HOUSING 86% OF THE POPULATION NOW, ARE NO MORE THAN 47 YEARS OLD, INDEED, MOST ARE MUCH YOUNGER THAN 47 YEARS OLD. Parallel to this frenetic building pace were other physical structures, including roads, office buildings and factories, shopping malls, etc, all being built in around the last 3 decades or so, THUS ALSO PRETTY NEW. Of course, the MRT is also new, so there are [no surprise] fewer breakdowns and service disruptions but these stoppages and even accidents will increase with the years, thanks to the inevitable Entropy that governs everything in the Universe and whose immutable Law encompasses such things as MRT trains and tracks and all their myriad parts, each of which can and will fail and hence bring everything to a halt. Our few power stations, also all new, are not exempt from Entropy and there will be more and more power outages in our future.

5. Since practically all the structures are new, being built in the last 20-30 years or so, Singapore at the moment does look spic and span, thanks to the intrinsic qualities of sheer newness. There are few crumbling houses, blocks or estates except for the areas the HDB has yet to develop, including Serangoon Road 'Little India' and areas here and there outside of the HDB towns. Even the very important shopping malls are mostly new.

6. Thus, we are living in a very new city. Quite impressive to visitors from crumbling, aged cities like London, New York, to cities in India, China, etc, and especially from neighbouring cities in the region which could not undertake the same frenetic building simply because they are too big in size and population to do so.

7. The interesting point then arises. What happens when Singapore ages as inevitably it must, since Time is unstoppable and the resultant decay and crumbling processes continue even as the minutes tick away? Look around you in some of the older estates in Tiong Bahru, Toa Payoh and elsewhere to see the future of Singapore. There is only Decay in our future. And we won't look so nice any more. We'd become exactly like old cities everywhere in the world. No longer spic and span.

8. If you cannot be bothered to look in the old estates, look in our most prestigious area, Orchard Road. Yes, Orchard Road.

9. Here, even as some of the swanking new malls boast ubiquitous airconditioning and even fountains and gleaming marbled floors, there are slightly older malls that look very like the down market malls in many Asian cities. For example, Lucky Plaza looks like it could be in some other Asian city instead of Orchard Road. And there are many other shopping malls like Lucky Plaza even along Orchard Road. Singaporeans and tourists flock to the new malls like Ngee Ann City, leaving the Lucky Plazas of Orchard Road to the cheaper trinket shops and other down market stuff almost like the kind of goods you'd see in a pasar malam.

10. The point of this little essay is to point out that if Singapore looks spic and span now, it is because it is Still Under Warranty. But this cannot last. No amount of the sporadic en bloc redevelopment or SERS can slow the march of time. Decay and crumbling continues even as you read this. If you look carefully, there are many parts of Singapore where Decay is already quite advanced. So, for the average Singaporean who may feel proud of physical Singapore, enjoy it while it lasts. We are all growing old, same as Singapore. Same as the decrepit aged man who refuses to die.


11. To add a postscript or epilogue to the above, let me say that the above is mostly about the EXTERIOR structures. In the INTERIOR of these structures, even a decade can age the interiors enough to look and feel rundown. Lucky Plaza and the other older malls in Orchard Road still look good Outside but it is Inside that is rundown.

12. In the heartlands, in all the HDB towns, the same. Outside, they still look quite good, repainted every 6 years or so. But Inside is another matter. I have walked, and invite you to make the same discovery, along the common corridors of HDB blocks in the evenings and seen HDB life at close range [the corridor is narrow, hardly enough for 2 abreast, and the main doors of the flats open right to the corridor so you can literally poke your hand through the main door grille into each flat as you walk. Each flat cubicle is separated from the next by a few inches of concrete wall]. Walk in the evenings because in the day, most main doors are closed. In the evenings, everyone is back home and the hot, humid evenings open most main doors for wind or breeze, leaving only the grille locked. Here, a few minutes of saunter lets you look into many cubicles and their teeming inhabitants.

13. You will notice their dreary sameness. Not only are all the cubicles made the same, often in a factory and then lifted into place, they often have similar cheap furniture and fittings OFTEN IN EXACTLY THE SAME POSITIONS. This is not surprising. The living rooms of the cubicles have their central TV antenna socket in exactly the same place [central TV socket is to control what inhabitants may watch -- satellite dishes are banned except for the PAP and the rich-- but that is another story]. When the TV must be placed in the same corner in all the flats, this then determines where the sofa must be, and these in turn, determine the position of the remaining furniture. Also, because all the flats are the same tiny size, identical, this also forces almost the same type of furniture and limits any unusuality. So, voila, the same dreadful sameness in all the flats! To the bureaucrats [sometimes praisingly termed 'technocrats' although Singapore Math & Science types and engineers are usually stupid and make the most stupid administrators], this is OK. They don't see it as a problem or how it can be otherwise.

14. The newer, more-roomed [and a lot more expensive] HDB flats are somewhat better. But the funny trend is that for every category of flats, that is, from the 1-room to 5-room, etc, EACH SUCCEEDING CATEGORY FLAT IS BUILT SMALLER AND SMALLER. [Check the HDB website or email them]. Instead of catering to the rising aspirations of every man, woman, child and family in the city, which are indeed, the same impulse in the entire human race for bigger and better living quarters, our wonderful geniuses have been building flats that are smaller and smaller, proving my point about Singapore Math & Science types. So much so that those with some savings buy second-hand [more expensive] flats on the Resale market SO AS TO HAVE JUST A BIT MORE SPACE].

15. LKY and his technocrats defy logic mostly because they don't have any. As Singapore modernises and people become more literate and educated, they naturally want more space. Space is the premium in all cities. At home, you crowd with your family. In the bus or train, you rub shoulders with strangers. In the office, you are lucky to have a cubicle bigger than your desk. At lunch, you rub shoulders and jostle. This hunger for personal space is the key psychological reason why people buy cars, even when they can ill afford it. [Singapore cars are the most expensive in the world thanks to a multitude of taxes and the humongous COE that costs tens of thousands]. Your car gives you that 2-1/2 cubic metres of PERSONAL SPACE. All yours. No need to share it unless you give others a ride. It is about the only time in each day when you have such a big space all to yourself, to do as you like. The converse, that is, overcrowding, has big detrimental effects on humans and even rats, as proven in experiments. Much ill health is caused by simple overcrowding. And our HDB flats are mostly very overcrowded. So some couples decide to have only 1 or 0 children as a result. But that is another story.

16. So LKY's HDB keeps building smaller and smaller flats while extorting and scamming more and more money in ridiculous over-prices. Truth is, with the kind of prices the HDB pays to its contractors to build a typical, say, 4-room flat [about S$30,000 according to published tender notices in newspapers] and the prices they sell to Singaporeans [about S$300,000+], they could have graciously given us bigger flats AND STILL MAKE ALMOST THE SAME ASTRONOMICAL PROFITS. But logic seems to have fled entirely, replaced by GREED. The flats get smaller and smaller, probably so that the already astronomical profits can be squeezed higher a bit more.

17. CONCRETE BLOCKS LAST FOREVER, PRACTICALLY, SO IT IS IMPORTANT TO BUILD THE NICEST, BEST HOMES POSSIBLE WITH THE PRICES HOME OWNERS PAY OR CAN PAY. It is totally, and typically, shortsighted, STUPID, and short termed to force smaller and smaller homes upon the people. Sheesh! As to how much LKY and his HDB profiteered, when asked in Parliament, the Ministers, who all live in grand mausoleums and have cavernous offices, refused to clarify or produce numbers, as usual. To this day, the HDB and PAP insist that HDB flats are "subsidised" [the bigger the lie, the easier to believe] but not an actual 'subsidy' they explain, but a "market subsidy" meaning a lower price than what a market price would be, ignoring the fact that the HDB, being a monopoly and the largest home builder housing almost the entire population, CONTROLS the market prices as well.

18. These astronomical prices for HDB cubicles is probably the single biggest inflationary factor in Singapore economics. I paid about S$150,000 for my 5-room HDB flat and sold it after about 15 years for S$460,000. Even Warren Buffet or George Soros cannot do better. But if, like most sellers, I had to again buy a new HDB flat to live in, I would have had to pay the huge new price HDB sells for and thus gain little from my sale. SO, THE HUGE PRICE INCREASES DUE TO THE POLICY OF "ASSET ENHANCEMENT" BENEFITS SOME, PROBABLY FEW, BUT GIVES THE MAIN BENEFICIARY, THE HDB, MANIFOLD PROFITS IN THE BILLIONS EVERY YEAR, WHICH ARE HIDDEN IN ENRON-TYPE ACCOUNTING.

19. To delve a little in amateur economics, this means that for the vast majority of Singaporeans, the Asset Enhancement policy simply means they pay a lot more from their compulsory CPF salary deductions each month until they have little money left for old age, which was the original purpose of the CPF. However, this is somewhat complicated by the fact that inflation has probably soared so much that IN NOMINAL VALUES, their salaries and everything else would also have gone up, so MOST PROBABLY DON'T EVEN SEE THIS OVERPRICING AS A PROBLEM. They also, typically, cannot do anything or even complain effectively, about it. However, even though it may be in Nominal Values, the HDB does hand over EXTRA tens of billions to the Govt every single year. This single factor alone explains why the Govt coffers have swelled so much since the Asset Enhancement policy. This gives the Govt huge clout in international plays, as we are seeing, and explains why everybody is so nice to LKY, chair of GIC, from the Morgan Stanleys to the Thaksins, etc. [It may be State monies nominally, but if you can use it any way you like, without having to account for anything, or report to anybody, it is as good as your own personal monies].

20. But the typical Singaporean who pays for his overpriced flat is thus kept poor, even though most pay using their monthly CPF [if employed]. Although he pays no cash, using only his CPF, this is deferred damnation because when he reaches 'retirement' [which keeps being pushed and legislated further and further back to now 62, with calls for 65, then 67!], the vast majority have insufficient CPF money for old age, hence the constant exhortation, pressure and of course [this is Singapore] propaganda to keep working till you drop dead [because cleaning tables and toilets keep you hale and healthy]. Since the CPF takes 20% of your salary [of say, typically, S$1,501 a month], and most of it goes to pay for your overpriced flat, THE STUPIDITY AND GREED OF THE GOVT IS DIRECTLY CREATING A CRISIS OF OLD AGE POVERTY. Old Age Poverty will, in turn, create many other crises from nursing homes to hospital beds to doctors and medicines to ambulances to social workers. This is also compounded by the very low interest rates given by the CPF for your locked in CPF monies, which are invested by the Govt for far higher returns WHICH IT THEN KEEPS and not give to you. Some years, we even lose money and not gain, with the low interest, that is, an "implicit tax" by the PAP. Professor Mukul Asher has warned of this "implicit tax on our CPF" and called for a total overhaul of the CPF system in :

21. But words like "Overhaul" or "Reform" or "Big Ideas" are anathema to LKY. All his life and career, LKY has never had an idea and gotten along just fine by copying the West, Hongkong and Japan. He even once told his Cronies "If you come across a problem, don't try to re-invent the wheel. Go to the advanced countries and see how they solved the problem and copy it exactly." Thus, like everybody else, LKY pays lip service to being receptive to other people's ideas but not if these differ too differently from what he thinks or is capable of thinking. In other words, not if they are truly Big Ideas. I have covered this some time ago in :

22. There are many things wrong with Democracy, as you can see in Bush's America [the rot set in many Presidents ago]. And quite some things right with authoritarians like in China, which is honestly working very hard to give its people a better life, and not strive after self-glorification like LKY, or indulge in frivolous pastimes such as the inflicting and enjoyment of cruelty as entertainment like the Americans. The main virtue of democracies is that the people, or rather, the voters, are placed first in the system, and this generally enables their interests to be placed first, correspondingly. But in America and elsewhere, this theoretically noble system can and has been, subverted. On the other hand, authoritarians are usually self-serving and place THEIR own interests first, as in LKY Singapore. But in China, the Govt does place the peoples' interests first, thereby being as good and moral as any democratic Govt. So a communist Govt of honest men that places its peoples' interests first is better than a democratic Govt of dishonest, power-crazy men who lie their country into disastrous wars. In authoritarian Singapore, the LKY brand of despotism has quickly, soon after 1959, degenerated into a vicious abuse of power, corruption, nepotism and self aggrandisement. Some say he has done quite well but that is purely because LKY found it fun and egoising to decide EVERYTHING, from HDB toilet Squat bowls to bus fare increases. The fun of being a dictator is that you get to decide EVERYTHING. Who to live. Who to die. Who to jail for how many decades without charge or trial. Who to beat senseless by the ISD. How many mandatory strokes of the cane for overstayers and those caught in possession of small amounts of banned substances, etc. It is like playing SIMcity before SIMcity was invented. Where to build the power station. Where to build the airport. How many flats to build a year and sell at what prices. So fun! Almost like playing GOD. Powerful men often believe they are Gods because of their power of life and death over us. Especially when they have totally bypassed or corrupted the true Rule of Law. LKY has indeed put his stamp on everything but sadly, did not have the brains or sagacity to do it all well. Those things he has done well are all copied solutions. He not only copies the solutions, but also the debates from the advanced countries, apparent in such issues as stem cells ethics debates to euthanasia or organ transplant acts. He has indeed proven an adept copycat in both the solutions as well as the debates and rationales, including even the propaganda to push the various agendas. He has also been lucky, having Hongkong as twin to copy and match, progress for progress, from their MTR to our MRT, from their financial centre to our less successful copycat attempt, heck, even our pathetic Chinese tv programmes are almost entirely directed and crewed by second-string or third-string [cheaper] Hongkong directors and crews.

23. LKY's successes come from copying, from Singapore being tiny, from being able to wield absolute control, even to suppress reality and facts, from having a shining jewel British Crown Colony cum fortress to build upon. His failures, many of which have yet to become apparent, like the multi-crises Old Age Poverty problems, are only beginning. Like him, Singapore is growing older by the day, soon decrepit. There are many problems associated with old age. Old people need doctors and hospitals. They can't work. Their monies have all gone into their crumbling cubicle flats. Vast sums of money will soon be needed to build new, or rebuild, infrastructure, from power plants to MRT tracks. Old equipment will soon give too much trouble to keep or repair and will have to be replaced. All these costs money. A new city works without a hitch. An old city is a bottomless pit sucking up unceasingly, humongous money and effort, all just to keep going to the barest minimum standards. So the hubris that demands S$3+ million plus a similar sized pension a year is totally misplaced. Come back in 50 years and see the difference. You are ordinary, after all. Not special, not unique, and certainly not talented.