Saturday, April 30, 2011

Biutiful is just beautiful

Biutiful, Spanish Mexican co-production of Alejandro González Iñárritu will hit the shores of Singapore on May 5th 2011 but I had a chance to watch it in Istanbul back in February (on its first day there). Alejandro González Iñárritu and Javier Bardem were enough for me to qualify this movie as a  "must see". The beginning and the end of the movie is peaceful and beautiful (especially the ending, which makes you realize what is that snow covered forest and who are the two men talking). But at first you would find nothing beautiful in between these scenes. It is full of poverty and misery and you will again and again witness how people who have already hit the bottom fall more. But there is still something beautiful and shinning throughout the movie.

In the movie, you will watch the life and death in "other" Barcelona. In fact the only scene which will remind you that the city is Barcelona is a brief display of the towers of Sagrada Familia. We watch the last days of Uxbal a psychic man in different illegal businesses but his only aim is to look after his children and do as much as he can for them. As if he has not already hit the bottom, he learns that he is dying of cancer. He then starts to do as much as he can to ensure his kids can go on life without him. The plot is so sad but it is hardly emotional exploitation, we watch a man, successfully portrayed by Javier Bardem, struggling to the last moment to set everything OK for his kids after he dies.

Uxbal's has a supernatural gift adds a deep dimension to the movie but thanks to successful directing, it does not compromise the realistic mood of the movie. Uxbal, like Cole Sear, can see dead people. He is a psychic man who uses his ability to help dead pay their debt before they leave (and make money from their devastated families). He knows well that "the dead suffer if they leave debt behind". This ability also helps the director to create one of the best "passing away" scene I have ever seen.

-- spoiler --
"The dead suffer if they leave debt behind". This sentence gives us a clue whether he successfully paid all his debt especially after all those things went wrong throughout the movie. In that peaceful, snow covered forest with his dad, he smiles calmly to tell us that he is not suffering and left no debt behind.
-- spoiler --

Yes, Iñárritu is repeating himself and and I still think Amores Perros is the best Iñárritu movie. But I believe this movie is still a masterpiece and I even put it in front of 21 Grams.

So what is beautiful in Biutiful? Uxbal's love for his family is beautiful. His never fading hope for his children's future is beautiful. His will to fight till the end, despite his great pain is beautiful. Biutiful tells how precious gems are life, love and family shining even in the dirt of poverty and misery, and this is beautiful.

The movie was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards and Javier Bardem received a nomination for Best Actor and received many awards. I strongly recommend it. I will actually go and watch it again.        

The 2nd Asian Buddhist Film Festival Singapore

In Singapore, going to cinema can be boring. For long months, there is simply nothing other than Hollywood and Chinese blockbusters following each other and small film festivals are rare gems. But luckily there are these small film festivals. One of them is the Asian Buddhist Film Festival, 2nd will be held in May 2011. I hope this becomes a yearly event, the first one was 4 years ago!

The festival will be held between May 5th and 8th 2011 and will screen movies from Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Sri Lanka and the United States featuring diversity of Buddhist ways and Asian cultures.

The event's first movie is highly acclaimed Hong Kong movie Echoes of the Rainbow. This movie is actually not about or related to Buddhism. It is about the struggles of a working class family in 1960's Hong Kong. It depicts a Hong Kong and an Asia gone long ago. But it is about love, family and universally accepted values of mankind, which qualifies the movie well for the festival. The festival will end by screening of Qi Xia Temple (the story of Ji Ran, an abbot who housed and protected thousands of civilians in his monastery from Japanese soldiers during the Japanese occupation of Nanjing) from China. You can see the list of movies here.

"There are two kinds of Buddhist movies: those that focus on Buddhist subjects and those that don't. Those first shows Buddhist walking around and doing Buddhist things, than there are also movies showing Buddhist values without mentioning the 'B' word.

Echoes of The Rainbow is what i call a Buddha-less Buddhist movie. It foregrounds necessity of mindfulness and compassion in everyday life, but it does not spend a lot of time on mantras, incense, gongs and extreme haircuts."
Dr John Whalen-Bridge, associate professor of English at National University of Singapore and one of the festival's organizing comittee members

In fact the lead characters in Echoes of The Rainbow are Christian and  the movie includes some church screens. "I quickly realized why they chose it, because there are not many barriers or differences among all the different religions" says Alex Law, the director of the movie.  
According to Golden Village web site the tickets for opening and closing mights are at 20 Singapore Dollars each. Tickets for all other sessions will be priced as $10.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Singapore Property Index and Bubbles

Peter C.B. Phillips and and Jun Yu from SMU (Singapore Management University) has developed a statistical diagnostic tool to signal asset bubble in a given data. They have recently published an article in The Straits Times (Warning For The Future Asset Bubbles) in which they have applied this tool to Singapore property index to look for a clue of asset bubble in Singapore property.

There is a chart in the news (follow the article link you will see the chart named "Singapore Real Estate Index and Bubbles") signalling a recent asset bubble developed since 2009:

In the chart, the blue line shows the monthly Singapore Residential Price Index. The green line which tracks market exuberance is derived from the blue line by using a sophisticated statistical tool. The red line is the threshold. When the green line crosses above the red line, the diagnostic test signals the presence of
market exuberance. As shown in the chart, there was real estate, exuberance for most of 2007 and 2Q08 (the first shaded area). Interestingly; some evidence of another bubble emerged in late 2009 (the second shaded area) and was still ongoing in January this year. The latest reports indicate some market softening following the new stamp duty charges and loan to valuation limitations introduced on Jan 14.
We expect the empirical effects of these changes to become evident in our test indicator when the data is available."

The writers say that stability in world financial system is a valuable public international good. But it seems like until bright finance guys accept the losses they have made due to their persistent bad judgement, we will ride from one asset bubble to another and lack the stability.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Big Brother is dead. Long live The iBrother!

Apple introduced its groundbreaking Macintosh with a spectacular advertisement named after the famous novel of George Orwell, 1984. In this advertisement, directed by Ridley Scott, an unnamed heroine represents the coming of Macintosh as a means of saving humanity from conformity. The year was 1984.

In 1984, Macintosh became the first commercially successful personal computer with a mouse and graphical user interface rather than a command line one and set the standard for today's computers. Nearly 3 decades later, Apple introduced iPhone which truly opened the smartphone to masses and iPad which became the first commercially successful tablet PC.

But can we still associate Apple's image with that sexy lady who threw a hammer into the face of The Big Brother? Unfortunately whenever I see someone sucked into his/her iPhone, I cannot take myself remembering the crowds in that advertisement, who were equally sucked into the large screen from where The Big Brother was talking to them.

Apple Advertisement 1984

Another news came recently which makes me associate Apple more to The Big Bro:
Today at Where 2.0 Pete Warden and I will announce the discovery that your iPhone, and your 3G iPad, is regularly recording the position of your device into a hidden file. Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps. We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.
A year ago, Apple lawyer Bruce Sewell sent a letter to two congressmen and explained and disclosed location-data collection techniques used by Apple. He told that data is collected without specific user details and is not associated with the user's phone. But now researchers discovered that iPhone and iPad indeed records user location with details and doing it for the last 1 year. And when the phone is synchronized with a computer, this secretly collected data is transferred to the computer.

Why is Apple secretly compiling data about its users? What it would be used for? Congressman Al Franken asked this question directly to the chairman Steve Jobs. We do not have the answer yet. But if you would like to turn off Apple's ability to store your location data, simply turning location tracking off from smartphone settings. But be careful, this will also turn of the location tracking for a lot of applications depending on this data.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mustafa Center in Singapore

If you cannot find it in Mustafa Center in Singapore, it does not exist. Mustafa in Singapore sells everything - from clothes to electronics, jeweleries to groceries (at one point they were even selling cars). Actually when you are in this 70,000 sq.ft, six story shopping center, you will think that it is easier to list what is not sold here than listing what is sold. It is a supply chain manager's hell but a budget shopper's heaven. When you need something and you are not sure where you can find it in Singapore, head to Mustafa, you will probably find it there. Do not worry about the time, it is open 24 hours.

Mustafa Center, 6 story shopping center which spans two complexes in the middle of Little India, is one of the oldest department stores in Singapore. It is within walking distance from Farrer Park MRT Station (MRT = subway) on the North East line (purple line). It is so popular that in 2010, Singapore Civil Defence Force applied for a court order to stop business temporarily for 40 hours on its first floor due to concerned about overcrowding in the 24-hour shop![1] In fact, there is an Electronic People Counting System installed in the center since September 2008 for crowd control.

Current Mustafa Center complex is what Mustaq Ahmad, transformed from a 900 sq foot shop in 4 decades ago. When you enter the complex, you will feel like you are in a huge department store which is mall sized! You can find good deals for accessories, cosmetics, electronics, home appliances, mobile phones, pharmacy, groceries, textiles, foreign currency exchange, hotel bookings, travel packages, budget airline tickets, and many more. The presentation of the goods sold is not impressive but this is a place to buy bargain (well, actually there is no consensus on that: some say it is cheaper to shop in Mustafa and some say it is more expensive here to buy). Although very crowded, if you are in Singapore and did not pay a visit to there, spend an evening (preferable weekday since it is very crowded in weekends). But be careful if you have kids, this shopping center consist of six interconnected stores and it would be very difficult to find your kid if you lose him/her.

Mustafa Center
Mustafa is also a cheap place to buy electronics and computer appliances like Sim Lim Square and is a lot cheaper compared to shops in central Singapore. If you are planning to visit Singapore and buying an electronic appliance (i.e. iPad), you will find the same product much cheaper in Mustafa or Sim Lim Square compared to Orchard Road shopping centers i.e. Lucky Plaza. If something you are looking for is sold out in Sim Lim Square or Funan, you can head to Mustafa to look for it.

Many new comers to Singapore overlook this place as a tourist attraction but Mustafa Center is a very good place to shop items for your house.

If you are heading to Singapore from India, it is probably cheaper to convert Rupees in Singapore rather than buying Singapore dollars in India and Mustafa Center is a good option to buy Singapore Dollars with Rupee.

[1] - Mustafa to close first floor for 40 hours

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Money minded Chinese woman and housing affordability in China

New York Times recently published an article on how even the suburban houses are not affordable for college-educated Chinese white collar workers. Here is the news article:
"In the realm of eligible bachelors, Wang Lin has a lot to recommend him. A 28-year-old college-educated insurance salesman, Mr. Wang has a flawless set of white teeth, a tolerable karaoke voice and a three-year-old Nissan with furry blue seat covers. 
“My friends tell me I’m quite handsome,” he said in confident English one recent evening, fingering his car keys as if they were a talisman. 
But by the exacting standards of single Chinese women, it seems, Mr. Wang lacks that bankable attribute known as real property. Given that even a cramped, two-bedroom apartment on the dusty fringe of the capital sells for about $150,000, Mr. Wang’s $900-a-month salary means he may forever be condemned to the ranks of the renting."
Source : For Many Chinese Men, No Deed Means No Dates 
First of all, these numbers are really incredible! A house is considered affordable if it is priced at most 4 times the net disposable income of an individual. Now this Chinese guy earns around 11,000 USD per year and a 2 bedroom flat on the fringe of the city he lives is 150,000 USD! That makes 13.8 times and is 3 times the housing affordability rate! A house like this should go either for around 44,000 USD or he should earn around 3000 USD per month to make it affordable for him. And 3,000 USD per month is an exceptionally high salary in China.

No money, no honey? These Chinese women think so.
Viral video "No Car No House" with English subs

In China, 1 child policy + traditional obsession of having a son creates a gender imbalance which makes woman powerful in choosing a husband. And it is obviously spoiling many to a point that any clever Chinese man should avoid them even as a girlfriend:
Gao Yanan, a 27-year-old accountant with a fondness for Ray-Bans and Zara pantsuits, said the matter was not up for debate. “It’s the guy’s responsibility to tell a girl right away whether he owns an apartment,” she said. “It gives her a chance not to fall in love.”
Source : For Many Chinese Men, No Deed Means No Dates 
Man, it would be great that all these money obsessed chicks are easy to spot like this woman, then it would be very easy to avoid them! Marriage with a woman like this is a big big under achievement for a university educated Chinese man! Marriage in 21st century is building a life together, and woman and man need to work together to build up their life, assets and the future of their kids. A woman like this is just a wealth sucker, can never be satisfied and should be avoided at all cost, even if you can afford her. It is way better to stay single than to date or worse marry to this kind of woman and the money you would invest to her endless needs(!) would bring you more fun and sex if you avoid her in the first place! But love? Come on man she would not love you anyway, it is the money she loves.

It may really be hard to avoid these money minded woman as a partner, it worths it:
Liu Binbin, 30, an editor at a publishing house in Beijing, said he often arrived at first dates by bus, even though he owned a car. “If they ask me questions like ‘Do you live with your parents?’ I know what they’re after,” he said. 
Mr. Liu said he went on 20 unfulfilling blind dates until finding a suitable girlfriend last year. He said he knew she was the one after passing the three-month mark. 
“The whole time she thought I didn’t own an apartment and she still wanted me,” he said. “Someone like that is rare.” 
Source : For Many Chinese Men, No Deed Means No Dates  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tips for finding job in Singapore

I have just been head hunted while looking for a job in Singapore and I would like to give some tips on job search in Singapore. In this article I will write about leveraging Singapore job portals based on my own job searching experience.

Your CV is your advertisement and in order to be effective it must have the quality and it must be easily found! Do not forget, there are people out there looking for suitable employees for open positions and you must help them to find you. To help them, you need to create or upload well written,  keyword rich resumes into at least, and jobsdb. Skipping on of this web sites will decrease your chance of being found greatly.

It is very important to make your resume rich in keywords. This means your CV should contains all keywords related to your dream job in it and at least top 2 or 3 of them are repeated for 4 times. For example if you are looking for an IT job in Singapore, you want to work as an IT Business Analyst and you are experienced in Java/J2EE these keywords (IT Business Analyst, Java/J2EE) should be repeated at least 4 times throughout the keyword. A keyword rich CV will (1) put you at the top when a head hunter searches for candidates in a job portal and (2) make you appear in more searches.

A best practice in CVs in terms of these keywords is to create a Key Skills section in the first page of your CV and fill it with keywords. But do not exaggerate it. Stuffing your CV with keywords may increase your chance to be found but it will look cheap and your CV would be skipped.

While using, I have realized that after I log in to my account, e-mails inviting me to apply jobs start to come to me for a couple of days and if I do not log in, their frequency fades to zero in a week. It looks like monster bubbles your CV to top when:
  • You edit your CV
  • Apply to jobs through their Apply button
  • Login your account
I believe all job portals have mechanisms like these. So, regularly login to your account in Singapore targeted job portals and edit your CV, even if you do small cosmetic changes! And even most of the jobs have e-maıl to send your resume regularly use "Apply" functionality of the employment web site. These will combine with keywords in your CV and persistently keep you at the top of resume search.

Source: Dilbert
Other than traditional employment web sites there are also online job search engines specialized on job searches over many job databases. One of them is featured here before: is basically a search engine like a general purpose search engines i.e yahoo and google. It employs bots/spiders to scan jobs from various online sources: employment web sites (i.e. jobsdb), company web sites, recruitment agency web sites, etc. It then indexes these jobs in its database like Google indexes web pages. When a job seeker performs a job search, based on the keywords entered it displays the most relevant job to the user.

Recently popular and very effective source of jobs is linkedin. If you somehow do not know what linkedin is, it is a business-oriented social networking site, you can say Facebook of business networking. Create an account in linkedin, fill it with your experiences, add people to your network and collect recommendations. Then join groups of your interest and jobs will flow to you. I have also been contacted by head hunters several times through linkedin messaging mechanism.

To summarize:
  1. Keep well written keyword rich resumes in all of the main Singapore employment web sites. These are at least, jobstreet and jobsdb.
  2. Regularly login to your employment web site accounts and update your CV. This will carry your CV to the top of the searches conducted by companies and head hunters.
  3. Use specialized job search engines like
  4. Use linked-in.
Related Articles:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pangaea and Avalon at Clubs Open at Marina Bay Sands in July

Just months before the celebrities and jet setters fly into Singapore for Formula 1’s only night race, the Singapore Grand  Prix, Marina Bay Sands announces the opening of Asia’s much-anticipated nightclubs in July. Emerging from Marina Bay and enclosed in the distinctive glass crystal pavilion, Pangaea and Avalon, two of the hottest nightclub brands in the U.S. and Europe, will captivate party goers in Singapore and from around the world with its innovative concepts, music and premium service.

Pangaea, the ultra-lounge bottle club that swiftly attracted celebrity followers in New York, Miami and London, has hosted A-listers including Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Moss and Will Smith. Occupying 6,000 square feet, Pangaea is on the first level of the southern Crystal Pavilion. Patrons can access the club through the underwater tunnel connected to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. The ultra-lounge will be able to host up to 400 party goers at one time or over a thousand a night.

Pangaea operator Michael Ault said, “When we first announced our plans to open this club, the structure as not even built.  We only had our imagination and a few wild ideas. Today, piercing the waters of Marina Bay, the crystal pavilion is one of the most stunning and perhaps the best venues in Singapore. We said from day one that we will create something the world has never seen and with the formulae of great architecture and our experience in successfully operating the best clubs in leading international cities, we simply cannot wait to open our doors and put Singapore on the global party map.”

The second and with a completely distinct concept from Pangaea will be  Avalon. Across two levels and over 12,000 square feet, entertainment at Marina Bay Sands will reach a whole new high with Avalon. The club will feature an exciting line-up of leading international DJ’s, live concerts and high profile events.

Avalon co-founder and club guru Steven Adelman said, “Avalon has hosted virtually every celebrity  – The Black Eyed Peas, Ashton Kutcher, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Pink, to name a few. Parties at our club in L.A have included the annual Grammy after-party hosted by Justin Timberlake. Here in Singapore, we are building the most ambitious and state-of-the-art visual, sound and light system we’re aware of anywhere. The combination of Avalon’s star power and Marina Bay Sands’ iconic structure will set the stage for the biggest party in Asia,” said Steven.

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands Executive Director, Mr. John Postle, said, “We have discovered two of the most leading and sought-after club operators in the world.  With the creative genius of both Michael Ault and Steven Adelman, we are creating an entertainment hotspot like no other in Asia. Floating on Marina Bay and set in the stunning crystal pavilion, Marina Bay Sands will be home to every guest looking for the best energy in town.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Qatar airways Singapore Doha flights doubles

There are good news for everyone who can fly from/to Singapore by using Doha as a hub. Qatar Airways will introduce a second daily service on its popular Singapore route from May 1st 2011. And they will not stop there: three further weekly flights will be added by October 1st 2011 and then an extra flight by November 3. This will add up to 2 flights per day between Doha and Singapore!

As I have written before because of its quality of service and price, I have started to use Qatar Airways for my flights between Europe and Singapore. Boeing 777 planes they use between Doha - Singapore route are equipped with their state of the art Oryx in-flight entertainment system which is the best among I have experienced (I have flew by Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines and KLM in Europe route previously). And an important factor is the price, the ticket between Singapore - Istanbul is usually %40-%30 cheaper than Singapore Airlines which is flying directly between these destinations.

With the introduction of these new services, waiting time will be greatly improved. It will also be possible to chose a morning or evening departure from Doha or an evening and late night departure from Singapore.

Qatar Airways deals from Singapore

Singapore route must be very profitable for airliners:
"Singapore has been one of our best-performing routes in the entire region for a long time, with load factors consistently in the high 90s. The addition of a second daily service will allow Qatar Airways to grow the passenger market for inbound and outbound travel to Singapore," said Al Baker.
Source: Ameinfo
It is not only Qatar Airways. Turkish Airlines has recently increased its service to a flight per day between Istanbul and Singapore from 5 flights a day (they are using Istanbul as a hub flying directly from Istanbul).

Related Article : A Cheap Flight to Singapore with Qatar Airways

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Win free ticket to Singapore’s Timbre Rock & Roots Festival

Timbre Rock & Roots FestivalSingapore's biggest music festivals, will be held in Marina Promenade on this 15 - 16 April. Bob Dylan (last seen here in 1994), John Legend (won 3 Grammy's in the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards), Imogen Heap, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Toots & The Maytals, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Raw Earth, 53A and The Sets Band will be there. Tickets are selling fast and regular Early Bird's Passes are already sold out.

You can buy your tickets by surfing the festival web site but has got 5 pairs of tickets to it, and you can win a pair! Follow the link and answer the question there.

Timbre Rock & Roots is a two-day evening festival to be held at the Marina Promenade featuring a host of world-class musicians, Grammy Awards winners and nominees.

Timbre Rock & Roots is a joint collaboration project between Timbre Music Pte Ltd (of Timbre Group) and Bluesfest Pty Ltd, the organiser behind one of the world’s most prominent music festivals, East Coast Blues Festival also known as Bluesfest (Byron Bay, Australia) headed by its festival director, Mr. Peter Noble.[1]

[1] - About Rock&Roots

Travel insurance is a must even if it is not mandatory

You may regularly skip buying a travel insurance for your short holidays to a nearby South East Asia wonder from Singapore. You are not alone, many Singaporeans as well as foreigners do not buy it too. You do not have to buy an insurance to go to SEA countries from Singapore. And also many Singaporeans think if something happens, they do not need to worry because hospitals in South East Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia are cheap. Well this perception is wrong! If you have to spend more than a few nights in an hospital, it can get expensive really fast and you can face tens of thousands of dollars of hospital bill if an accident keeps you hospitalized in these countries. And if the worst happens and you need to be transported back to Singapore by an ambulance flight, do you think your embassy will pay the cost?

Even if you are going out of Singapore for a short trip never fail to buy a travel insurance. Many airliners, especially the budget ones, offer travel insurances when you are buying your ticket online. But check the policy rules and the coverage before buying an insurance, there are many companies out there competing to sell you travel insurance, use the competition to your advantage.

Even if you are traveling for a short time (i.e. weekend) do not fail to buy a travel insurance. There are basic plans to cover at least 100,000 SGD of medical expenses incurred overseas. For example, NTUC Income and DBS Travel Shield covers up to 500,000 SGD of your medical expenses if something goes terribly wrong. It is better to pay 50 SGD upfront instead of facing tens of thousands of hospital bills later.

What else should be covered? British Foreign and Commonwealth office offers a check list for UK citizens and most of these items apply to any traveller:

A good insurance policy will cover you for cancelling or cutting a trip short. Check carefully to see exactly what you’re covered for:

  • accident
  • illness
  • pregnancy (unknown when you buy the policy)
  • jury service or witness summons
  • home emergency: fire, storm or flood, burglary redundancy strikes
  • bad weather – affects the departure of flights and ships.
Did you buy a travel insurance?

If you are going to a holiday for adventure like Skuba diving or mountaineering try to find an insurance which covers them. Yes there are companies out there who will insure you like World Nomads Travel Insurance so be careful to check whether your adrenalin pumper activity is covered so you can risk your life peacefully. But some adventures will never be covered. Probably no one will cover you to ride a motorbike without a valid driving licence in Vietnam (it can easily be considered suicidal behavior!)

Att least buy something which covers overseas medical costs up to half a million SGD, pays full cost of travel back to Singapore (dead or alive), protects you against theft, damage and cancellations. You will slightly regret paying money to it after you safely return from your trip but you would deeply regret not taking out travel insurance if something goes wrong.

Monday, April 4, 2011

First rule to save money: Thou shall pay yourself first

How to save money? There are many tips to save money out there. But one of them shines out of all. Anyone who is serious about saving money shall pay himself first. What does this mean? This means when you receive your salary (or any income), before spending a single cent from it, remove a predetermined percent out to a savings account. This is exactly the opposite of majority of savers do. When they get their salary they spend it first and then try to save the remaining portion. It is not a surprise when they have little or no money left  to save.

OK, this golden rule is over depicted everywhere and you can find it in any money saving tips web site. But here, I will explain how you can practically pay yourself first in Singapore, even if you do not have the discipline to do so. There are bank accounts in Singapore offered by several banks and are designed to realize "pay yourself first" rule.  These regular savings plans offered by local banks automatically channel your money to another account.

MySavings Account, offered by POSB comes with an automatic monthly savings feature. You choose an amount between $50 and $3,000 Singapore Dollars and a savings date between 1st and 25th of the month, and the savings will be made automatically each month.

MSA123 from OCBC offers you to start a savings plan to save a fixed amount every month according to your needs and earn fixed interest rates. You can choose to save in a 13-month, 24-month or 36-month plan.

How much money you should save? First, you should not target absolute values but percentages to have a successful saving habit. Instead of having a target like $500 per month you should have targets like 15% of your income. If you do not earn much start with small percentages and increase it as your income increases. %10 percent is good to start with and as your salary increases aim 25%.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Let the Bullets Fly is a great eastern western movie

I had a chance to watch Jiang Wen's latest film "Let the bullets fly" yesterday. This is a well written, well directed and well played movie with a great casting. I loved it, it is really hard to not love it. This is actually a Chinese western in genre, and it is full of Quentin Tarantino style dialogues and violence. So well casted that you love all the characters even the warlord Huang. It is a little difficult to understand metaphors, refined satire and dark humor if you do not speak Chinese and follow the movie from sub titles but still it is very entertaining. For Chinese the pleasure is double I guess.

Previously I have only watched one movie of Jiang Wen, Devils on the Doorstep. Devils on the Doorstep is the best Chinese movie I have ever watched up to now (and in my top 20 list). So I was very eager to see Let The Bullets Fly.

The main characters reminded me the trio in spaghetti western classic "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". Bandit Pocky Zhang (Jiang Wen) is The Good, local mobster Huang (Chow Yun Fat) is The Bad and small-time hustler Tang (Ge You) is The Ugly. But the plot is different here, it basically progresses as an exiting and entertaining chess game between two intelligent and strong man, the mobster and the bandit. In each move the power balance shifts and the tension never decrease to the very end.

-- spoiler --
The story takes place in anarchic days of 1920's China bandit Zhang Mazi (Jiang Wen) meets conman Tang (Ge You) and quickly plans to pretend to be a new mayor to Goose Town to rob the rich for the benefit of the poor. But local mobster Huang (Chow Yun Fat) is a tough enemy to overcome.

-- spoiler --

Behind the entertaining comedy-action script refined satires are burried and even if you are not a Chinese you can feel there is something more in this movie. Yes the hot issue of corruption in China is obvious but there are also subtle criticsms. For example if you feel that the train car pulled by the horses has something to do with Russia (the train car is so Russian) you probably have a point. "Abbreviation of "Marx and Lenin" in Chinese is pronounced "Ma Lie," corresponding to the Chinese pronunciation of "horse and train".[1]

Here is another political message:

At one point, Tang counsels Zhang Mazi that in order to make money as an official, he has to levy taxes on the rich first, so that the rest of the townsfolk will follow. Then he has to return the amount paid by the rich and split the money collected from the poor so that 30 per cent goes to him and 70 per cent goes to the rich. To which Zhang retorts: “Then we’ll be collecting taxes till 2010!” 
Amid comparisons of Let The Bullets Fly to classic spaghetti westerns, there has been much discussion generated among Chinese netizens because of the messages that one can read into the film.[2]
Let The Bullets Fly is a very good movie, do not miss it. And Jiang Wen is a great director and a very good actor. I will now look for his previous movies to watch.

[1] - Fun for Funs Sake? Chinese Film Smash "Let the Bullets Fly"
[2] - Let The Bullets Fly

Is this a good time to invest in gold in Singapore?

I currently ask myself this question a lot:  Is this a good time to invest in gold in Singapore? I personally do not know the answer and what I will write in this article only describes my plans they are not investment advises! Since I have limited knowledge on the markets, I prefer to follow the investors who has a lot of knowledge and does good predictions based on calculations not wishful thinking. So I am currently looking at what they are saying.

Seth Klarman is an ideal person to follow, he manages one of the biggest hedge funds in the world and he is known to be a conservative person:

"But because the greatest risks are of currency debasement and runaway inflation, protection against a currency collapse – such as exposure to gold – and against much higher interest rates seem like necessary hedges to maintain."
Insider Monkey, Seth Klarman Bullish About Gold, Concerned About Runaway Inflation

First of all he is talking about US dollars and inflation risk in USA. I earn in Singapore Dollars and most expect a value appreciation in Singapore dollars so Singapore can manage inflation which is expected to be high this year. But since there is this inflation, holding all my savings in money is not a good idea. I believe gold is a good hedge against inflation and I can even make real returns by investing gold since investors in developed world will likely to buy more gold to hedge them against a currency collapse (particularly US dollar collapse).

Chinese gold ingots - Source: Proactive Investors

Buying physical gold is an option but it is subject to GST. A better way in Singapore to invest in gold looks like UOB Gold Savings Account. It allows you to buy and sell unallocated gold at market prices and this gold account holdings are not subjected to Singapore's Goods and Services Tax (GST). You can exchanged it for cash, whenever the need arises. But it charges an administrative fee of 0.12 gram of gold per month or 0.25% per annum whichever is higher. So keeping low balances in your UOB Gold Savings Account not worth your while[1].

As a diversification strategy gold looks like a good option. It is a form of money in itself and it's value is not tied to any currency. It is also in demand during inflation times and we are in inflation times in South East Asia.  So i will slowly buy gold for diversification and although I will not invest all my money into it (it would be an opportunity cost if stock prices rises significantly) I will allocate a good proportion to it.

[1] - Investing in gold via uob gold savings account

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.

Hong Kong, Australia Property prices overvalued says The Economist

When a housing bubble bursts, people who think prices will indefinitely go to moon tend to behave like there was no clue before the price burst signaling a bubble. But actually there are signs for those who want to see, but since a lot of professionals depend on this highly unrealistic dream of indefinite price rise, it needs some research before finding them.

Let's look at the article by The Economist named In come the waves. There they said "The worldwide rise in house prices is the biggest bubble in history. Prepare for the economic pain when it pops". This article is dated 2005 and clearly predicts what has happened in the coming years! I highly recommend you to read the article as a lesson. Also note that in this article they talk based on numbers and good indicators. Since they have predicted the future in the past with their indices, it always worths to look at their numbers to forecast the future.

The Economist uses the long term house price to rent ratio to understand how overvalued or undervalued the property prices are in 20 economies. They look at the percentage difference between the current price to rent ratio and the long term price to rent ratio. Their article in 2005 was based on this figures and let's look at what are the figures saying now:

The Economist House price indicator Source: The Economist

"But whatever those 31,000 agents say, Hong Kong homes are not a good deal, according to our latest global house-price index ... In Hong Kong, that ratio is now almost 54% above its long-run average—and it is still rising.

Hong Kong’s price rises are the steepest in our index but it is not the most overvalued housing market. That honour remains with Australia, which is overvalued by about 56%. "
The Economist Hong Kong phew-whee

There are also other interesting figures in this price indicator. For example, although the house prices crashed in Spain, the price indicator shows that the properties are still 43 percent higher. USA looks mostly corrected and now only 3 percent overvalued.

Singapore looks 18 percent overvalued based on this price indicator. The difference  between Hong Kong and Singapore signals that if we did not have property cooling measures in Singapore, we would also be in more unrealistic region soon. Still the danger is not over since mainland Chinese buyers who inflated Hong Kong and looks dangerously eager to create a Chinese version of Japanese Property bubble are coming to Singapore more and more and now are the biggest group of foreigners buying property here. With the interest rates in the coming months they will be a significant driver in property prices both in Singapore and Hong Kong. 

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.

HDB resale price rise slow but transactions are up in Q1 2011

If you want to predict HDB resale flat price moves and buy resale HDB flat in Singapore you should check HDB resale flat price index[1]. HDB releases this data quarterly and it has just released the flash estimate of the 1st Quarter 2011 Resale Price Index (RPI) yesterday (April 1st 2011). According to HDB, the prices increased of 1.6% quarter-o-quarter in the first quarter of 2011.

HDB resale units are HDB units sold by owners in the secondary market not by HDB. Singapore citizens and Singapore PRs can buy these units. Even bought from the secondary market, public housing rules apply to these units like 5 years minimum occupancy. With the rounds of cooling measures, new rules are applied like an HDB resale unit purchaser cannot have a private unit even abroad.

There is definitely a slow down in the price increase and it can be correlated to property market cooling measures. You can compare the price index rises with the 4 property cooling measures:

  • September 2009
  • February 2010
  • August 2010
  • Jan 2011

HDB Resale Price Index
Year Quarter Index % change from the previous quarter
2011 Q1 174.8 1.60%
2010 Q4 172 2.50%
2010 Q3 167.8 4.00%
2010 Q2 161.3 4.10%
2010 Q1 165 2.80%
2009 Q4 160.8 3.90%
2009 Q3 145.2 3.60%
2009 Q2 140.2 1.40%
2009 Q1 138.3 -0.80%
HDB Property Price Index

You can clearly see that although first two rounds of property cooling measures were not very effective on HDB resale market, last two (starting with the August 2010 measures) were very effective. This is not a suprise since the August 2010 measures had the most effective rules related to HDB resale flats. For example, by August 2010 if you own an HDB and want to buy private property, you must have lived in your flat for 5 years. This makes HDB resale buyers with the intention to buy private property soon think twice. Previously there were no restrictions. And if you are a private3 property owner who wants to buy an HDB flat, you need to sell your private property within 6 months of buying your HDB. This includes private property abroad! Previously there was no restriction.

But there is a wind blowing against these HDB market cooling measures now which increased the number of transactions in HDB resale market in the first quarter of 2011: unreachable prices of mass market condo units makes resale HDB flats attractive even with the restrictions imposed on them:

"PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said higher prices and lower sales volume, particularly in cheaper suburban condos, could signal that HDB upgraders are deciding against buying private homes and returning to the HDB resale market for their home purchases. If the trend is strong, it may put upward pressure on HDB resale prices in the coming months, he warned. This would counteract the impact of government moves last August to restrict financing and home ownership for the HDB market."
The Straits Times

Will HDB prices fall in 2011? Or will they still go up? There are 2 conflicting powers now in the market and it looks like although the price increase is slow, increased interest in HDB resale units will probably help HDB sellers to resist a significant price falls. The demand will determine the trend and we will need to see whether number of people dropping from private home market will increase or not in the coming months.

[1] - Flash Estimate of 1st Quarter 2011 Resale Price Index

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What is Build To Order HDB?

The Build-To-Order (BTO) is a mode of sale offered by HDB (Housing Development Board) in Singapore in which flats are built after sufficient interest has been gathered from eligible buyers (65 percent or more). Otherwise, the project will be aborted. This is one of the three schemes HDB has. Others are Executive Condominiums (EC), Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS).

With BTO, HDB announces sites for new flats and interested flat buyers submit their applications within the application period. After the application period is closed, HDB conducts a computer ballot to determine the queue position to book a flat. Once this queue is constructed, HDB invites applicants to book a flat. This exercise is followed by an assessment to determine whether to build the project or not. If HDB decides to go for the project, tenders are invited for the construction of the flats. After the flats are built they are handed over to their buyers.[1]

To buy a new HDB flat you must be a Singapore Citizen or your family nucleus must have at least another Singapore Citizen or Singapore Permanent Resident.[2] There are also income ceilings to buy flats directly from HDB for example, to be eligible to buy a 3 room flat in a non-mature town or estate, your gross monthly household income must not exceed $5,000 (applicable for sales launches from Feb 11 BTO).

Currently demand for BTO is very hot. For example two BTO projects in Jurong West and Sengkang were oversubscribed by seven times at the application closed date. There are 1527 flats in these two projects. This was even after HDB released details of 10 BTO projects expected to be offered in the next two months from April 2011 onwards.

Senkang Rivervale HDB apartments
One of the reasons BTO projects are hot is that they are cheaper than HDB resale flats. For example BTO flats are around 12 to 22 percent cheaper in Jurong West. [3] HDB offers 2 room, 3 room, 4 room and 5 room flats and it seems like 5 room flats (a living room + 4 rooms + kitchen) is the most popular flat type.

[1] - Build-To-Order (HDB)
[2] - Eligibility to buy new HDB flat
[3] - Hot demand for two BTO projects, The Straits Times

Related Articles:
What is an Executive Condominium (EC)?