Public Service Announcement: Internet Scam Alert!

Recently, I found myself a victim of a security scam that took me off guard. It was similar to those that you read about in the media, of victims being duped by scammers or fraudsters and you thought you wouldn’t fall for them, because you are more cautious or smarter. Well, I thought I was until I was a victim myself. 

I went to this website that offers free animated movies because I wanted to show the Hayao Miyazaki’s film ” Nausicaa of the Valley Of The Wind” to buddy.  It was not the first time I had accessed this site, and, admittedly, there are ads of young women in skimpy bikinis. But I figured it was a way for the site to make money, since it is offering free cartoons and animated movies. Besides, it is almost impossible to find streaming of Miyazaki’s movies online, and anyway I have McAfee Internet Security app installed on the PC.

That turnes out to be the first of a series of mistakes. Despite knowing there is no free lunch in this world, I was fallible like the next guy to think I would be the lucky one. Besides, I didn’t have any issues with this site during previous visits. So I clicked “play” when I found the movie. 

The next thing I knew, a Microsoft page appeared follows by another smaller window. The smaller window stated that Microsoft had detected that my computer was infiltrated by a malicious spyware and that an error response had been generated and a number was assigned to this problem. To add to the tension, an audio recording started playing repeatedly “please call the number on the page for technical support, otherwise we will shut down your computer for security reason”.  Ok, I know you might find this pretty dramatic and maybe even comical. But I panicked! Seriously, when you are in a situation where you know the site might not be entirely secure and something like this happened, you would freak out! (Or most people would.) So, without thinking, I called the number and was connected to a customer service center or what seemed to be judging from the chattering in the background. 

I asked the lady on the other line if this was Microsoft customer support, and she said she was from 3rd party technical support. I just went ahead to give her the error number, and she then explained that she would guide me through a scanning of my PC to detect the malware. But in order to do that I would need to give her control of the PC. I should have stopped there and think before acting. But again I didn’t, and this was the biggest mistake I made. I actually swallowed the story hook, line and sinker,  and stupidly ceded control to her! 

The woman went through the drive programs, while making comments about the problems the computer faced and that the McAfee was not useful because it could only detect viruses. All the while, I was nodding along, as if hynotized by the Alien light. Just then, my husband appeared, wondering what the commotion was about. He stared at the PC and asked, “what’s going on?” I gave him the story, and as I was at it, we were aghast to see a list of my husband ‘s accounts and corresponding passwords being displayed on the screen. That was when my husband flipped!

He took over the phone and demanded,”who are you? Why do you have control of our computer?” The woman gave the same line of being some technical support provider and I was the one who ceded control, but my Husband wasn’t gullible like me. He demanded to know where exactly she was calling from, and that was when she start threatening us. She said she had our number and address and would report us to the police. That pissed off my husband further, and he slammed the phone shut and turned off the computer. 

I was ordered to report to the police immediately, who instructed me to turn off the wireless connection or just not turn on the PC. And, needless to say, I received a fierce tongue lashing from my husband. We spent the next hour changing passwords for those major online accounts. But the biggest concern was whether that scammer had put in a spyware into our computer, and how could we get rid of it. 

I sought advice from my IT colleagues the next day, and was told the best thing I could do was to reset the PC to factory setting. However that requires the CD rom provided by the manufacturer. Considering that ours is at least 7 years old, we were not sure what happened to it since we had moved house during this period. 

My husband decided to do a PC reset, which I was told by the IT colleague, would only be 70-80% clean. But we couldn’t find the required CD rom, and this is the next best option. He also ran the McAfee scan, and did another PC reset the next day for assurance. This clean up turns out to be a blessing in disguise because the PC is We have decided not to use the computer for any sensitive transactions, and it’s now basically an educational tool for Buddy. The silver lining is that the computer is now working much better after the reset. I guess it had accumulated a lot of junk over the years.

So, the lesson from this moral story is that Microsoft doesn’t monitor our PCs and  will never proactively reach out to us to provide technical support. In fact the company is well aware of such scams and has provided advice on how to avoid them.  If any of you encounter something similar, don’t panic like me. If you have any slightest doubt, stop and seek advice from family members or trusted friends.

Enrichment or not to, that is the question 

If you are wondering what I am referring to in my topic, it’s enrichment/supplementary classes for kids, like speech and drama, languages, arts, or even reading, etc. In Singapore, it’s quite the norm to send kids for enrichment lessons, starting at the pre-school level. Most parents focus on language development for preschoolers, and we are no different. Buddy has been attending Berries Chinese enrichment class for more than a year.

Due to various factors, including the use of English as the main language for communication, mandarin is relegated to the sideline for many Singaporean Chinese. Though most can still speak it (albeit not as fluent as those from China), very few are able to write well. To be honest, the fault doesn’t lie with us because the opportunity of writing in Chinese is almost non-existence. (And my Husband will attest that there is no logic to the Chinese characters, especially for the simplified version.) 

You can say that most Chinese parents are in no position to teach their own kids the language. So we have a strange situation here whereby almost every Chinese kids have to go for either enrichment class or tuition for their Mother tongue. It has even come to a point when Mandarin is the bane of many parents and kids, because it is a required subject until junior college (senior high). Anyway, for now, it is not the bane of Buddy and I (my husband excluded), and I think Buddy will continue to accept his Mother tongue as long as I continue to use it with him. Currently this is the only enrichment lesson he is having. 

My husband is now thinking of adding Mathematics next year, and I have some reservations about it because I want Buddy to have a happy childhood, instead of one where he spends time at enrichment classes. My husband insists that he is not being a helicopter parent, since the plan is to add on only a Maths class.  He has always emphasized the importance of building a strong foundation early, so that Buddy doesn’t struggle later in school. This involves developing the skill to think or reason, to enable buddy  to understand math concepts instead of memorising formulae. In fact, it goes to the extend of knowing how to derive the formulae. 

I argued for the importance of play for kids, especially at such young age. He countered that there is a time for play and a time for work. Just like there cannot be work all the time, there cannot be all play as well. And work is a way to ease buddy into the discipline of delayed gratification. When he puts in the work first to build the foundation, he will be rewarded with the time to play. This will be more apparent in formal school when he has developed the ability to grasp concepts quicker.

I asked around friends with young kids if they put them through enrichment lessons. Though it’s a small sample size, most children only went for the language class. Only one did go through Maths enrichment but not for very long. The consensus is that language development is more important at preschool age than Maths. And I also found out that many kids start Maths tuition when they are at primary school, particularly at certain levels when the curriculum gets tough. 

My husband disagrees that languages should be a priority over Maths at the preschool level. The other day, he went to a bookstore and bought a primary 6 Maths assessment book to check out the type of questions that students face. As suspected, he found that some have a heuristic bent to them, and he believes that these are the differentiating questions. They are not solved by memorising methods or formulae, and instead through logical thinking. 

My husband is convinced that the goal of the PSLE (primary school leaving exam) is to test kids on their mathematical reasoning. When buddy learns how to solve heuristic problems at an early age, it will become second nature to him. Whereas the notion of starting the development this skill at the primary school level is a little late because there is the time pressure of handling four subjects then, and this makes it tempting to resort to memorising. Sure, taking shortcut by memorising the formulae or methodology can get you quite far initially, but when eventually the kid faces with the situation or environment of having to figure things out quickly, the shortcoming is exposed. Besides, thinking is a rather difficult skill to develop, and requires a lot of effort and time.

“Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was very young, and the same for Joseph Schooling. He didn’t start learning swimming only when he was in primary school! It’s the same for mathematical reasoning skill. It has to start from kindergarten when the kid has the time to develop it and able to stay ahead when he goes to primary school.” So said my husband. He also feels that sending kids to tuition when they hit a brick wall in his or her study is being reactive. He hopes that if buddy has to attend tuition, it’s because he is going to a masterclass to have an edge. 

I guess my husband does have a point, though I hope that buddy would only have to attend at most 2 classes a week. I want to plan the lessons for him in such a way that he does have sufficient time to play and enjoy. So now, we have to evaluate the different Maths enrichment classes. 

Chasing after Eevee, Pikachu and Bulbasaur

If you are wondering what are those mentioned in the title, then you are clearly not playing Pokemon Go. I have mentioned in my last post that I have joined in the PG craze, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I have played many game apps before, but I have not experienced one that is this fun and captivating. In fact it’s not only me, but Buddy enjoys it too. He loves the cute critters like Pikachu, Eevee, and Bulbasaur. He even named his doggy pillow lovey as “Eevee”, and “turned” his little dino models into the Pokemon creatures.

Buddy remembers the names of many critters, and how they evolve. And after each catch, without fail, he wil announce, “Gotcha! Eevee (or whatever the Pokemon) was caught.” Not only do we have fun catching them, but we also get a kick out of battling in the gyms. In fact, he has a fascination with the latter, and always wants to check out the creatures defending them.

But Buddy doesn’t just sit around and get glued to the cellphone. He incorporates the game into his physical play. He acts out as Eevee and wants us to throw Pokeballs at him while he dodges them. He also  does gym battles with me, when he acts out as a Vaporeon (because it is super duper Eevee), stamping his foot on the ground while I am a Pidgeot (flapping my hands like a crazy person), and we will end up pushing against each other like Sumo wrestlers. 


I know there are people who regard the game as stupid, and some religious leaders even branded PG as unholy and called on the followers not to play the game. The rationale given is that it is addictive and turns people against God, and some even insinuate that it is of the devil’s making. Well, I didn’t know that the Divine Entity is so sensitive to an app, that it would threaten his status. Or is it really the egoistic attitude of men, who think they speak for God? As far as I can see, there are a lot of other addictions around us, like power, being in control, money, material goods, fame, and the list goes on. In fact, with so much atrocity, injustices and heinous behaviors going on every minute, you would think there are much more serious and legitimate issues to tackle instead of criticizing PG. I guess it’s easy to attack an app since it is passive, instead of standing up against child abuse, exploitation of labor, inciting hate or violence in the name of religion, or even exploitation of environment.

Sure, I know some PG trainers (or players in layman term) can be rather idiotic and inconsiderate, like dashing across the road to chase after a Pokémon, getting into a fight, and even leaving behind trash after congregating at an area. Unfortunately, there’re always bad apples in any society. But people don’t seem to realize that it has nothing to do with the app, but everything to do with the person using it.

Anyway, I think PG is a better game app than others out there because it actually gets trainers to get out of the house. I was also told by a friend, who had been to a hot pokestop (where hundreds of  trainers gather), that it was really fun interacting with fellow aficionados who are pretty friendly as well. I haven’t been to any of such hotspots, but I have been sharing tips with another friend who has attained a higher level.

I read a news report today that the game is losing popularity, but the crappy article doesn’t even provide reasons for it. I can guess what it might be, but still, I am going to enjoy it while I can, since it provides another chance for buddy and I to bond together. 

 

Grabbing a sight of the cherry blossom!

Last Sunday, we went to Gardens By The Bay for the floral exhibition display in the Flower Dome. It was a showcase of various species of the cherry blossoms or sakura, and peach tree. The sakura is known for its fleeting beauty, blooming for a short period of time when the weather starts to get warm. In case you are not aware, in Japan, watching out for the blossoms is a national event, and the practice of hanami, or pinicking under a blossomed cherry tree, is highly popular. Many companies, especially the large ones, will organize hanami as a staff outing.

According to Wikipedia, the first bloom in Japan occurs in Okinawa in January, and the blossoming wave will travel northward to Tokyo in end March, before proceeding to Hokkaido. Here in Singapore, we are lucky that the Gardens have brought in so many Sakura species for public viewing. Within these two weeks, from 11-27 March, we get to admire the flowers without having to travel to various regions of Japan.

The sakura is a temperate flora and cannot survive in our hot and humid weather, particular now when we are experiencing really warm temperature because of the El Niño and Equinox phenomena. The flower will wilt in one nanosecond! Even the residents are screaming, “it’s freaking hot!” Instead, the flowers bloom in the air-conditioned Flower Dome, which also brings a big relief for the crowd escaping from the outside heat. So, here are the pictures taken by my husband. 

Upon entering the Dome, there is a huge bonsai tree greeting the visitors, and behind it are a few white cherry blossom trees.

The view from the upper gallery. You can tell that there were a lot of people down there.

There were lines to get into the display, and my husband patiently waited for the photo shots.


The Sakura flowers were in full bloom when we were there, and I am not sure if they can last till this Sunday. To be honest,  we find that though the flowers are pretty at first glance, they look rather boring after a while. There is little to distinguish them, unlike the multi-hue daisy, the varied exoticism of the orchid or the elegant lily. I might get whacked by the Japanese for our views since it’s their national flower, but I am interested to know what are their distinguishing features.




And here are the pictures taken by me, which are basically the non-Sakura flowers. I couldn’t get any close up photos because the place was packed! I was in line to enter the display when I took the below picture. The visitors were only allowed to enter in batches.



I am not sure if it was because the sakura flowers were in full bloom last weekend or what, but it was like a mad house inside the Flower Dome. Many were jostling to take pictures of the flowers. I had to keep an eye on Buddy in case he got lost so that my husband could focus on the photo taking.

In fact, when we arrived at GBTB at 10.30AM that day, there were only 2 lots in the Visitor Center carpark, and so my husband decided to park at Meadow, the open air carpark. That turned out to be a mistake. Firstly it was a bit of walk to the Flower Dome, and secondly, the car was like an oven when we returned to it in the mid afternoon. This carpark is only good for the early evening when the temperature is cooler.

The other problem with going to GBTB in the morning is the limited dining options for breakfast. There are only a few restaurants opened, like cafe Crema and McDonald’s (which, unfortunately, took over from Verandah which served very good chicken curry) located at the Visitor Center, and the Hill Street Coffee shop and Peach Garden Noodle House at Supertree Grove. If you want to splurge, there is Pollen located within the Flower Dome. 

We went to Hill Street since we wanted some local breakfast; and besides both McD and Cafe Crema serve mainly wheat products. We skipped Peach Garden because the food sucks big time and it’s a tourist trap. At least Hill Street has some decent grubs, but the management must be ignorant of the Sakura display as well as the children’s festival held last week. There was a shortage of staff to handle the constant stream of customers, and the eatery ran out of bread and dessert at 11.00AM! It does smack of incompetence. 

Anyway, if you are interested to check out the floral display, try to go in the weekday. Considering that there is the long Good Friday weekend this week, the Dome is expected to be packed to the hilt. 

 

 

About death

I know that many regard death as a taboo subject, either because it is considered inauspicious or that the topic has never crossed their mind, or it is a morbid subject that one doesn’t talk about. I think we should get over this psychological barrier because we will all die eventually. It could be tomorrow, a year from now or maybe a decade later. I feel we should accept it and be mentally prepared for it.

But I also understand that many times, death does not come at the right time, if ever there is a censensus on what is. I guess we would regard death as inevitable for an old person. When that time comes, hopefully, death is quick and painless. However, when someone younger passes away, we typically feel that life has been robbed from this person. But life is never certain, though death is.

For many, there is an innate need to cling on to life. As for me, it really depends. As long as Buddy is not independent of age, I feel I should have the will to continue living in order to care for him. But once he becomes independent, I will accept death when it comes, regardless of how I die. My loved ones will probably grieve, but like what my Husband’s always said, “we should learn from the Irish. They hold a party at the funeral!” Well, it’s not exactly a party in its true sense, but there are lots of food, drinks (especially alcohol), funny stories, some dancing and even games. The Irish believe in making the passing more bearable for the deceased’s family during the wake.

For those who believe in God, in death the deceased is united with the almighty and it should be a joyful occasion for him/her. This is especially so for the old folks. We should celebrate the divine reunion instead of mourning the departure. 

Buddhist teachings also advocate that death is nothing to be afraid of. If you have accumulated good karma during your current life, you will have a better rebirth. Buddhism even advocates that a believer should not have any attachment to this earthly world. It is only when one let go of any attachment, the person will be able to break the cycle of life and death. 

I like the idea of detachment, though I can probably do it at the end of my life. (Yes, I know I can’t be selective about this because it’s supposed to be a lifelong attitude.) Anyway I guess if we remind ourselves that if we have led a fulfilled life, we should have no regrets about leaving this world. Even if there are regrets, these are situations which cannot be reversed, and we should accept them as they are. 

I know it is very hard to transcend our emotions when death is near or when our loved ones are at their death beds, or have passed away. However, when we truly accept  the respective religious philosophies, it does make the departure less painful. Using one of my husband’s favorite quotes, taken from the Dalai Lama XIV (which also applies for the atheist):

“If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.”

What kind of society do we have?

What kind of society do we have? That is the question that popped into my mind a few days ago. It was trigged by this news report of a man who lodged a complaint against an officer at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), for making insensitive remarks to him during a conversation on delayed financial assistance payment from the Ministry to him. The Minister for MSF, Tan Chuan Jin, also weighed in on the issue in a FB post which defended the officer and also included an article on horror stories of welfare recipients from MSF.

The summary of the issue is that the man in question, Mr Ravi, was expected to receive assistance of S$600 every month on 4 December, but he had applied for an increase in aids as he and his wife were expecting their second child this month (his wife had since given birth to a pre-matured baby). Due to bureaucratic process, the revised amount of S $800 would only be credited to his bank account on 9 December. But this information was only relayed to him on 3 December, a day before he thought he would get the money. So he and wife went to the MSF office for a discussion with the officer.

During the conversation, the officer mentioned he would give the couple shopping vouchers from NTUC supermarkets to tie over the period before they get the money. But Mr Ravi told him they needed money for his wife’s medical conditions, and to visit their premie baby who is in neonatal ICU. He questioned why they were not notified earlier so that he could seek money elsewhere. He said claimed that he was so desperate for money that he even sought out loansharks.

The office then blurted out that the financial aids were not a form of pay and MSF didn’t owe them the money. Incensed, Mr Ravi and his wife left the office without taking the vouchers.

During the exchange, Mr Ravi’s wife had recorded the conversation using her phone. Mr Ravi then sent the recording to the activist, Gilbert Goh of transitioning.org, who uploaded it on his FB book. The video can be viewed on the Red Wire Times website.

Since then, Mr Ravi had received heavy criticisms online, much of it implied he was a moocher, and a significant number of people even questioned why he has a second child. The prevailing mindset is that if anyone is poor, he or she should not have any kids. There was also outrage that Mr Ravi dared to have the conversation recorded and posted online, and questioned his motive for doing so.

There was very little criticisms of the MSF officer’s comments or how the Ministry handled the matter. In fact, none of the mainstream media asked Mr Ravi for his side of the story, or even asked any aids recipients for their experiences with the Ministry. Much was publicized about the good works of MSF and the sufferings they had to go through with the recipients. Instead, only alternative media reported on Mr Ravi’s views , such as the above-mentioned article from Red Wire Times and this Q&A conducted by The Online Citizen with him.

Personally, I feel many comments smacked of self-righteousness bordering on underlying sociapathic tendencies. First and foremost, I am not sure if most understand Mr Ravi’s circumstances, that he is suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, a disease that causes his muscles to weaken and waste away, and this caused him to be certified permanently unfit for work by a doctor at a public hospital. Just because he can walk around doesn’t mean he’s a lazy bum who is only looking for handouts. Secondly, he and his family are living from hands to mouths. He has a toddler son as well as a baby daughter who is, unfortunately, born pre-matured, and his wife is not exactly in the pink of health. They’re not having the days of their lives lazing by the pool, having meals at Michelin-starred restaurants, or shopping at LV. Seriously, they’re surviving on S$600 a month, which only increased by S$200 starting in December. Thirdly, NTUC vouchers can only be spent at the supermarkets. You cannot use the vouchers to pay for transport fares and prescribed medicines etc. Hell, not every NTUC supermarket has a pharmacy where you can get OTC medicines either. Fourthly, what did the MSF officer mean when he said MSF didn’t owe Mr Ravi anything? When the Ministry has ascertained that he is in need of financial aids and agreed to provide monthly payments, it owes him the money!

Why should social safety net be regarded as a goodwill gesture from the government?  Working adults pay taxes to the government, and the taxes are used to fund infrastructure development and social services, among other things. So social welfare is  a right of the people. And please don’t just see it as money for the needy, welfare is also the subsidies the government provides for housing, education, healthcare, childcare and even the quasi-monopoly status of government-linked companies, and list goes on.

I find it puzzling that MSF didn’t bother to consider if its SOP is effective. Has it not wonder what the aids recipients  to do when there is a delay of payment?  Does the Ministry think that NTUC vouchers are good enough, and that the recipients should be grateful to be provided instead of complaining? Why is it not possible to provide interim petty cash to the recipients?

In fact I also wonder how the MSF officers regard the recipients, that they are beggars? Are they behaving in a condescending manner disguised behind a polite demeanor? I have been told that the initial screening process of a potential aids recipient is very stringent to weed out the undeserved. But as a result, the questions become very intrusive and humiliating. So for those who went through it, they are facing real desperation. In fact I would venture that they are undergoing great stress, and some might even be suffering from depression. Even though a few of these recipients might be in the pits because of their own doings, I’m sure most are there because of events beyond their control. And even for those who were responsible for their dire states,  they also deserve a chance to rehabilitate and start anew.

For those of us who are living a comparatively stable and comfortable lives, please remember that we are damn lucky that we are not struck by bad luck, and we should spare a thought for those who were unfortunate. In fact, whatever happened to them might happen to us, because life can be a bitch when shit happens.  Even those who did ride through tough times, think of the help, the opportunity and the encouragement given to you. We don’t live in silos here. When we are down on our luck we need help and empathy from society, and as part of this community, we should also extend the same to our fellow men. Welfare recipients are not moochers or lazy bums. Even if some politician or civil servant throws us a case, ask ourselves if that is the exception or the rule, and if that applies to our context. If we regard the needy as moochers, we might as well also lump the old folks and the disabled in this category too, and consider dumping them into some island.

The Singapore government keeps urging its people to be entrepreneurial in various niche areas. But how do we expect them to take risks if there is no safety net? Would anybody quit school to start FB here? If you fail and have to look for a job, will the HR look at you with disdain, and hire a foreigner instead?

Lastly, why are people making nasty remarks about Mr Ravi having a second child? Who are these people that are so mean-spirited and filled with spite? Are we practicing eugenics here? Singapore is facing a silver tsunami in the next couple of decades. We don’t have enough children, period. So any able child will grow up to be a working adult who will pay taxes to fund your social welfare. Even the children from poor families!

 

 

 

 

The cheongsams are back!

Sorry for the long gap in between posts as I have been running dry of ideas for my blog. Luckily I have some recent news on the cheongsam. In fact the title refers to those from The Happy Cheongsam, which made a return after a long hiatus when designer/founder, Ming, was on maternity leave earlier this year. The latest collection 11 was launched last Friday (9 October) with the theme “The Playground”. This was a smaller than usual collection comprising of four dresses and two tops, though there are actually only three designs.

First, we have the shift dress which comes in either black or white.
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Then there are the pleated skirt cheongsams: black or pastel blue.
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Finally, the two tops.
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I guess May is trying to get back into the design groove, and hopefully she will do so soon. Because, to be honest, I am indifferent to this range other than the tops. But I wish the prints are more interesting or sophisticated instead of the vehicle motif.

Our Bitsy Prints is launching it’s 26th collection after a hiatus too. (Oh my, has it been so many since?) The theme is “Cool Blue”, and I have noticed there is a change in the model. Anyway you can get your hands on the dresses tomorrow (13 October) at12 noon. (In fact OBP has also changed it launch time to daytime.)

I don’t have the closed-up pictures, but looking at the collection, the collars seem a little low. I feel that some of the dresses seems less like cheongsams and more like typical frocks. The collection is just not exciting enough for me to stand by at launch time to rush out an order email.

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I hoping that we’ll see more interesting designs as Christmas and subsequently Chinese New Year draw closer.

Dinosaur parade

I have mentioned in an earlier post (dated 21 July “Being dino-mad”) that Buddy loves dinosaurs. The other day, I suggested to him to form a dinosaur parade just like in the book of the same name by Shari Halpern. He agreed excitedly, and this was what we did. I lined a few of the big ones up front but he wanted to have the rest in pairs (maybe inspired by Noah’s Ark). Rounding up at the rear is Rex, the T Rex soft toy (hence the name).

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If you’re wondering about the size of the leading dinosaur, yes it is really big at 34cm tall and 40cm long.
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This is a Brachiosaurus by the way, and one of the biggest dinosaurs ever discovered. It’s made by the French toy model company, Papo, and is very well sculpted and sturdy. Buddy even tried to ride on it. There were a couple of times he wanted to take it out (which would have caused a sensation among other kids), but my husband stopped him, “Don’t take brachio out! It’s too big, unless you’re going to a bad neighborhood.” Yes, it’s heavy enough to be a weapon!

I first bought Buddy some mini dinosaur figures for his birthday this year, and they were from Bullyland, a German toy maker.  As his interests in dinosaurs grow, I want to get him a couple of bigger ones and Bullyland was a natural choice. The mini ones were bought from Natures Collection, at S$5.50 each, but the bigger ones are retailing for at least S$25 each. Being someone who likes to arbitrage (my husband can testify to that), I decided to go online to see if I can get them cheaper.

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It was during the search online that I found a couple of pretty useful websites. One is Dino Dojo which provides a guide to building a child’s dinosaur collection. The author is rather critical of Bullyland figures, citing that those bought have peeling paintwork, and he/she highly recommends Papo figures instead. After checking them out at The Better Toy Store (which seems to be the only retail shops selling them in Singapore), I understand the raving reviews they received: they are pretty realistic with amazing details and beautiful paintwork. In fact, I’m not even sure if they should be considered as toys, particularly the dinosaurs.

I also found out that there is a group of people out there who are avid dino figure collectors, which brings me to the site of Dino Toy Blog. This site provides a treasure trove of reviews of various dino figures which also guide what I get for Buddy, like the Stegosaurus figure from Papo below. Look at how amazing it is, with its mouth opened in a silent cry. Buddy sometimes wants to take it to bed with him. But I don’t recommend it, because being hit by one of those horns around the frill can be rather painful.

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If you’re wondering, yes I bought the Papo dinosaurs online, from Everything Dinosaur, a British online store which has a wide selections of dinosaur merchandise at reasonable prices. The service and delivery are pretty good, and the owners are friendly and helpful. Mike, the owner expert, even provides data sheet on each of the dinosaur purchased. (Please note that I am not paid to write this, and instead this is based on my pleasant experience buying from the store.) I first bought a baby Pachycephalosaurus and a baby T Rex for Buddy because he asked for them.

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Some time later, Buddy got interested in Velociraptor. After doing some research, I found out that the Bullyland figure is highly rated. (In case you’re wondering, those figures which are high on scientific accuracy and beautifully sculpted are favored by the collectors.) Firstly it has feathers (apparently Paleontologists think it did), unlike figures from other toy companies which made them with reptilian skin (like the one from Papo). Secondly it is a beautiful model with an animated feel about it. Buddy likes it a lot, and of course he plays with it rather often. True to what Dino Dojo said, the paintwork started peeling within a month, compared to those from Papo. (Even the mini Bullyland dinos are starting to get a little scruffy too.) Like figures from other toy companies, these are hand painted. But I don’t know what type of paint the company uses or how many costs are given that caused the colors to peel off so easily. I guess the adults don’t handle their figures roughly and so they don’t experience this, but with kids, rough play is par for the course.
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In addition to the Velociraptor, I also got a Utahraptor (below picture) for Buddy. There are not many options for this dinosaur, and other than the gimmicky movie tie-in, the only figure in production is this from CollectA (surprisingly, a Hong Kong-based toy manufacturer). This is actually a pretty big dinosaur, but unfortunately, the figure size is not to scale, and the model is smaller than the above Velociraptor (which in reality is only 1 meter tall). The figure is also not as detailed as those from other  companies, but at least it has feathers. There are very few Utahraptor models in the market and this is the best I can find, since the better ones have been retired and may be available only in eBay at a premium.

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However, I found out that this year CollectA has launched a number of really interesting dino models, including obscure dinos. One figure that I want to get my hands on is the feathered T-Rex, which Buddy has asked for (to be exact, papa T-Rex). Yes, contrary to popular belief, scientists have concluded that T-Rex and perhaps all dinosaurs are actually covered in feathers. (Now you know why the birds and chickens are descendants of the dinosaurs.)

T -rex

Then Buddy was fascinated with the Parasaurolophus, and naturally I gravitated to the Papo figure. It turns out that the Schleich version is a better choice because it’s more accurate. (Schleich is another German toy maker.) According to the collectors, Papo didn’t mold its figure accurately, for instance it has front teeth which is not in line with the fossil findings. Unfortunately, the Schleich model, launched in 2012, has been retired by the company, and ED doesn’t have any stock. So I had to search in Amazon, and managed to find a seller who ships to Singapore.
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At the same time, I bought the below dino figure of Dacentrusus from Amazon as well. This is from the American toy maker, Battat, which retails its model figures under the Terra brand exclusively at Target. I found out from collectors that the Battat dinos are highly sought after for being scientifally accurate, and the company doesn’t launch many of them. Apparently those older models launched in the 1990’s are highly prized.

But too bad Target doesn’t ship to Singapore and not even going through vPost helps. ED doesn’t carry it, and even the online store at Dino Toy has no stocks; in fact I have never seen them in Singapore either. Thank God I found the Dacentrusus figure in Amazon, but I had to pay a premium compared to the bargain basement prices Target is selling them at. (Looks like Target regards them purely as kiddy toys.)

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I also managed to arrange for my brother-in-law to get the Cryolophosaurus figure, and this time round from Target online store, after I found out he’s coming.

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Not everything I bought for Buddy is considered collector’s item. This Ankylosaurus figure from Hasbro is a merchandise tie-in  for the Jurassic World movie. This was one of the first dino toys I bought for Buddy (from a department store), before I started doing serious research on the figures. You can see that it’s not as sophisticated compared to those featured above. (Well, what do you expect from Hasbro?) I later found out that this toy was reviewed in Dino Toy forum as well, and received a mixed review. Main reasons being inaccurate armour and a suspicious resemblance to the Papo’s Ankylosaurus but a poorer form (see below it). Also the toy has screw holes, which made the collectors dissed Hasbro for not trying to make it look better. According to a comment, it’s suspected that Hasbro took a digital scan of the Papo figure and so able to dull the details and reduce sculpting time.

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Ankylosaurus-Papo

Another kiddy dino toy is this Styracosaurus, that we initially thought was a Triceraptops (but Buddy pointed out it doesn’t have 3 horns on its face). My father-in-law bought this for Buddy’s birthday, and so I don’t know which company made this. It’s battery-operated and able to move and make sound, but this scares Buddy. My husband tried using Blu tack to cover up the holes to dampen the noise, but since Buddy doesn’t like it moving, it suits us just fine. Anyway it’s not a favorite of his, and so he doesn’t play with it much.
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Finally, we have Rex, the Gund soft toy T Rex, which is perfectly safe to bring it to bed.
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Initially I wasn’t sure if we should get Rex since Buddy has sensitive nose. But the toy is machine-washable, and my husband suggested that we could wash it regularly to prevent dust accumulation.

Confused by the confusion: the AHPETC saga (updated)

How time flies, it’s General Election time again. I still remember 2011 when I was a big supporter of Worker’s Party. I was dazzled by Chen Show Mao’s credentials, and thought we finally had a potential future PM or minister from the opposition party. There was much euphoria when WP won Aljunied GRC, and I thought WP would develop into a viable alternative party for us. How wrong was I! WP did not even bother to put up any alternative policy papers at all, other than an ill-thought out population white paper, not worthy of parliament, in response to the one published by the ruling party. (At least Singapore Democratic Party, SDP, made the first step in proposing well thought out alternatives to healthcare, education and housing etc, despite not being in parliament.)

So, over time, I became more disappointed with WP for its passiveness. Then came the Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga. I had written my thoughts about this in an earlier post dated 26 February this year “A follow-up to Unsupporting You – It’s worse than I thought”. Basically WP has shown very poor corporate governance and terribly weak financial management.

I want to state here that I will not mention any numbers, as I did not analyse WP’s audited statements, which by the way, have never been unqualified since 2011. Instead I read the opinions given by their appointed auditors to get an overview of the corporate and financial governance.
Since 2011, the auditors have not provided any opinion on the TC finances in the annual reports. Basically they couldn’t say if the numbers were a fair representation of the financial status within the town council – as a result there can be no assurance that public funds have been properly spent and accounted for. The reason they couldn’t verify the numbers is because the TC management could not (whether voluntarily or otherwise is open to question) provide documentation evidence to back them up. There were repeated mentions of AHPETC not putting money into sinking funds, as a result millions are owed to the sinking fund. In the FY13/14 report, the auditors also raised the concern of conflict of interests because the employees at the TC were shareholders of the company that provided services to the TC. These TC employees were signing off payment vouchers issued to their own company (or basically themselves). As of today, remarkably, all AHPTEC’s financial statements since 2011, continues to be qualified, accountants and investors will tell you, is not worth the paper it is printed.
If I am an investor and looking at AHPETC, I would drop it like a hot potato since I do not know what the hell is going on within the TC. AHPTEC is also fighting in the High Court to avoid a definitive forensic audit with more legal powers to follow the money trail unlike a normal audit. Why would they want to prevent an audit which could clear their name, if they had nothing to hide? So far, because AHPTEC is governed under the Town Council Act, the High Court judge had to disallow the audit; the Ministry of National Development is appealing the judgement with HDB. Let me quote the judgement of the presiding High Court judge, Quentin Loh, on the mismanagement at AHPETC:
“…travesty for AHPETC to have ignored their duties and obligations imposed on them by the Town Councils Act and Town Council Financial Rules.”
“They owe a duty and a heavy responsibility to their constituents to run AHPETC properly and it is incumbent on them to put their house and finances in order.”
“If AHPETC was a managing corporation … I have no doubt that AHPETC or its officers will be exposed to to the possibility of civil liability or, in an extreme scenario, criminal liability,”.
Let me try a Q&A here to answer the confusion over the whole saga.
Q: What did Justice Loh mean by “If AHPETC was a managing corporation”?
A: Town councils function similarly to private condo managers called “management corporations” that manage the operations of private estates. Also, like the TC, the management corporation has to manage a sinking fund for capital projects. But there is one big difference between them; the management corporation is governed under the Companies’ Act whereas the TC is governed under the Town Council Act. Contraventions of the Companies Act by condo managers are very serious offenses and will result in investigations by the enforcement agencies, sometimes leading to civil and even criminal prosecutions.
Q: If that’s the case, how come there is no investigation into AHPETC?
A: As mentioned earlier, AHPETC (and other town councils) are governed under the Town Council Act which, unfortunately, is rather loosey goosey. There are only three offences listed under the law: a) misuse of town council funds, b) Contraventions of lift upgrading rules, c) wilful withholding of information from auditors. The first two attract fine of not more than $5,000, while the third has a fine of not more than $1,000. No jail terms, believe it or not. Note that it is not even an offense for not putting money into sinking fund. In fact, when I looked at the offences in the law, it doesn’t look like they are easy to prove. For instance, the Sinking fund can be used for a variety of projects, including “any other works… prescribed from time to time.” In other words, anything goes. The Town Council will work only if the managers are ethical as it gives them wide latitude. Having unethical people running the Town Council, no matter how nice, helpful and responsive they are to Town Council residents, will be like allowing wolves to guard the henhouse.
Q: If it is hard to prove to prove misuse or contraventions, why still harp on it?
A: There are actions which are unethical but not punishable by the weak law. Using an extreme example, say I make my parents sleep in the balcony or corridor. I don’t think there is any law that says I committed a crime, but you will certainly agree that my actions are terrible and morally wrong. Or perhaps the law states “children must let parents sleep in a sheltered area. Otherwise there is a fine of $1000.” I can argue the balcony or corridor is sheltered, and since it can be interpreted that way, the authorities will be hard-pressed to sue me. But I’m sure you will agree that something needs to be done about it, since it’s wrong of me to make my parents sleep in the balcony. So you see, this is the issue we have with the the Town Council act. Something needs to be done about AHPTEC. Lets hope MND and HDB succeeds in launching a forensic audit – it is in the public’s interest.
Q: What’s the big deal with the AHPETC’s accounts? So what if they didn’t put in money into sinking fund and the numbers cannot be verified?
A: The money belongs to taxpayers, yours and mine. Don’t you want to know that your money is properly accounted for? I certainly don’t want mine to go into wasteful projects, grossly overpriced projects meant for profiteering,or worse, disappear for no reason at all. The money in the Sinking fund is used for capital projects like upgrading works for HDB flats. If there is not enough money, how can the estate be maintained? Wouldn’t the estate fall into disrepair? Wouldn’t a taxpayer bailout be necessary eventually?
Managing a TC is a good little test of the ethics, management and operational skills of the people running it. Don’t forget it is much less complicated than running a country.
Q: But government service, stat boards, People’s Associations also have lapses. Why is the PAP targeting WP?
A: Please remember that the civil service is a big organization, and of course there will be some bad eggs around. We should be worried if such lapses are not reported with claims from the government that everything is fine. In fact, the audit reports on government service and statutory boards are tabled before parliament for debate. So warts and all are revealed to the public and the opposition MPs can demand for explanation from the government.
There is no government in the world that dares to claim it is 100% corruption free or lapse-free. There will be always be people trying to take short cuts or flout the regulations or take advantage of loop holes. What matters is whether the corruption/lapses are widespread or are mere exceptions. The fact that Singapore has been consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world should tell you something.
Also, think very carefully before you say we should put in check and balance in every step. The bureaucracy will burden all of us, as well as kill the economy. For instance India has one hell of a bureaucratic system and it’s almost impossible to get anything sensible done. Does it help to reduce lapses? No, people will just grease the palms to speed things up, encouraging more not less corruption.
Besides, let me quote a wise adage “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Let’s say an opposition MP was caught having extramarital affairs. A short while later, a PAP MP was also caught doing the same. What would you say if the PAP gave the excuse, “the opposition MP also made the same mistake. Plus, he had affairs with more than one woman; and I only had it with one. So I am not as bad.” Does the argument make sense?
This is the same argument used by a number of WP supporters. Why are we resorting to pandering to the lowest common denominator? Why are we not aiming for the better party, which sets higher ethical and competence benchmarks? When we insist on the PAP having integrity, honesty and transparency, we should apply the same to the opposition parties. There should not be double standards here. If you insist on voting in opposition regardless, you are basically “cutting off the nose to spite the face”. As for those who think that since we have an efficient civil service, it doesn’t matter who is in power, that is a fallacy. The civil service requires direction and leadership to operate, and it does not have the mandate of the people. The political leadership is given the mandate to provide direction, and set policies. It is very important that we get the policies right because the civil service cannot change course for the country. Who is in the leadership role is vital to this country!