Friday, August 27, 2010

Tuition nation no more?

There's recently a lot of forum letters on the subject of tuition in Singapore. Tuition is so pervasive here that it's a shadow education, as opposed to the more formal educational institutions. I think the phenomenon is quite common in asian countries, with taiwan, HK and korea being many more times more pervasive than here in Singapore. I heard that in Korea, where the kids are sitting for their entrance exams, even airplanes have to stop flying in the duration of exams to avoid disturbing the kids. You can imagine the booming tuition business there since they are so focused on exams.

My views are naturally biased, since I'm a part of this love-it-or-hate-it industry. Some students found great benefit in tuition, because it's a much more effective means of getting to master subjects. Of course you can explore yourself to reach the same mastery level but it'll take time, and tuition can help students reach this level in the shortest time possible. But some people complained why teachers cannot do the same thing in school? After all, the kids spend more time in formal lessons in school than in tuition, so shouldn't more learning be done in school than outside during tuition?

Tuition can break your piggybank in Singapore

I think there are a few reasons why school teaching is less effective:

1. There are many more students in school classroom than in a tuition class. If you join a tuition class with as many students as there are in school classroom, you should seriously consider finding an alternative. I think teacher-student ratio is the main reason why tuition centres are flourishing. It's quite impossible to learn when you have a teacher juggling with different learning capabilities of 40 odd students in class, within say 30 mins a lesson. It's possible to do it, but it's rare to encounter it.

2. There are many distractions in school. Kids behave differently in the company of their friends and when they are in the presence of 'adults'. Put 40 kids together in a room is bound to be a testing experience for any teachers. I believe a lot of time is wasted doing disciplinary actions and on administrative matters. What about tuition? You go in, you start a lesson, you end it, you go home.

3. This point boils down to the teacher-student ratio again. If the ratio is high, meaning there are more teachers than students, there is more attention. After so many years doing this, I find that the greatest advantage of tuition lies in 1-1 kind of setting. When someone experienced is there to observe the student's reaction to the things said in the textbook, the learning is made more effective because adjustments can be made on the fly. Basically I spend a lot of time observing how the student react to a question and when I impart content to them. From their observations, I will change my teaching on-the-fly and make decisions as to whether to elaborate more, or give more examples, or go back to the previous chapters to revise certain materials before moving on. It's different from asking the student to read the textbook himself because the teacher in the classroom cannot possibly help out the individual needs and concerns of every student. A small class size of maybe less than 5 in tuition can do the trick too.

As I was reading the letters, the first thought that came to my mind was that if my career is going to be jeopardized. If so, I will need a backup plan. As I talked with my gf and analysed the situation, I find that it's hard to do away with tuition, at least not in the next 5 yrs. Perhaps more regulation in the sense of asking tutors to register with an association might be in the pipeline. So what can I do in the event that the whole industry - my livelihood - is threatened?

No way I'll be an engineer. Most likely I'll join a formal institution to carry on what I've been doing all along.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Random thoughts

Once a while, I gathered all the thoughts that I had in my mind - those that are worthy enough to blog but not long enough to write on a post by itself. For me, it's therapeutic to blog down these random thoughts. I love blogging, it converts formless thoughts in my head into concrete words. The act of converting them into forms that others can react to is itself a joy to me. Sometimes, when I write along, more thoughts will form to give framework and structure to my initial spark that prompted the blogging in the first place.

Random thoughts:

1. Why do I get the impression that FA guys are more critical of TA guys but not the other way? It seems like there is a universal disdain for the use of charts and indicators by those who walks the investing pathway. On the other hand, those who practice TA would think (in my impression, of course) that knowing the fundamentals of the stocks they are trading would definitely be of some value to their craft.

2. I think there are a lot of mindset differences between a self-employed and an employee. Speaking from my point of view of being self-employed for 7-8 yrs, I am always trying to initiate something. I've to look for work all the time, instead of letting it be arrowed to me. I've to handle my career image well and to constantly look out for ways to improve and get more work. I wonder how someone in the employee path will do. From what my friends told me, they seem to be avoiding work if and when possible. Innovation isn't that well regarded if your boss don't recognise it. Besides, if you initiate a project, you might not have any personal benefits at all.

I don't think I'm can be a model employee. I hate bureaucratic paper pushing and will never do well in such environment.

3. I don't think you have to ask someone how well they do in the market. If they make a profit, they would open their floodgates and tell you all about it, if you only allow it. The sense of joy and happiness when they win something cannot be contained easily. The same goes when they lose money in the market. A general sense of gloom will prevail and they are generally more quiet. The same cannot be said for those who had been in the market for a longer period of time. They generally have a calmer disposition and are immune to both the joys of winning and the pains of losing.

If I've the time, I would so wish to sit at the financial districts and watch whether people lose or gain money just by observing them. It'll make an interesting study.

4. I've saved accordingly to my target for the past 8 months. Another 2 more months of savings and I'll have finished my savings target of 50k. This would be the second time I'm doing this and I'm getting quite used to it. This system, though tough and demanding, does have it own advantages. The most obvious one is that I got to enforce a certain discipline to how much I can spend in a month. The not so obvious advantage (it even surprises me) is that I can know how much to work. Before I had this system, I was always trying to work a little more, save a little more without a fixed goal. Thus, being much a workaholic, I take work as it comes along. These days, once I reached my monthly saving goals, I tend to cancel lessons so as to take breaks to walk further. My journey ahead is long and winding, seemingly no end. Thus, I cannot afford to burn myself out prematurely. A break every now and then is crucial for my mental well-being.

I'm so looking forward to my end of the year trip to anywhere, to take my long deserved break from the bondage of work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


** "BIAS" is a special feature in my blog where I get to say whatever I want with scant regards for your feelings. I'm not politically correct in this feature, so go ahead, judge me."

I was quite frustrated on last Sunday when I was out for work. As a result of this, I was particularly skeptical and thoughtful about things. In hokkien, this is called guai lan.

On that particular day, I was going to a condo. Actually there are two sorts of condos, one is with a laxer security and the other with more oxymoronic security. This particular one that I visited last Sunday was of the latter kind. By right, all the security guards have to ask any visitors to sign on the guest list, putting down details like:

1. NRIC and name
2. The unit to visit and the purpose of the visit
3. Time of entry
4. Signature

By principle, I do not see a point in giving these details. Firstly, I do not know what they are going to do with the book after it's finished. There are a lot of details that are personal and there is a risk that these private information can fall on wrong hands. The security guards watch the premises, then who watches the security guards? Secondly, there is no confirmation by the security guards that these details are even correct in the first place. If the purpose of writing these details is to catch those who are going to do suspicious things, then obviously it wouldn't work. Normal guests who fill in honestly will not do suspicious things, suspicious characters going in will not fill it up honestly.

As such, I always walk in as though I'm the resident of the condos. If they stop me, then I'll fill up, but in such a scribbled form that it satisfies their request but yet at the same time, does not yield any information. I think I'd even wrote an NRIC like S1234567 and it went through. If they are happy, I'm happy.

So on last Sunday, this security guard stopped me from going into the condo premises. He asked me rather rudely to sign in. I asked him why I should sign in. He was erm...ah... I think he had never been asked this question before. Then he replied that since I am an outsider, I must sign in. Then he waved vaguely behind him that there is a camera and it will track me.

Do you know why security wears black? They are trying to blend into the background to be non-intrusive

Do you know why there is rain? It's because there is water up in the sky so it drops down. It's a non-answer to a question.

If I had more time, I would request politely to meet up with the management concerning the security of the condos to ask them the questions that I had in mind with regards to filling in my details. You know what's the funny thing? I've been there for a least 2 years and had entered the condo at least 1-2 times a week. There is no excuse for not having seen me around. He is not doing his job well because the best form of security is based on a non-intrusive kind of scrutiny - you observe the people that comes in and recognise the familiar faces (either resident or not), sieving out the unfamiliar faces and observing them further.

I had been to condos in Orchard area and they are in familiar talking terms with me. Sometimes I'll just chit-chat with them and they tell me gossips about this and that. So I know that it can be done and it had been done in other places. It's just how individuals treat their job that distinguishes them. I've also know this particular MRT security lady (those that stand near the gates to check on luggage and bags). She never fails to strike up conversation with anyone whom she stops to check their belongings. My gf chatted with her for 30 mins before, so I know.

You know the saying, the best bodyguards do not use weapons? I think it can be applied to security too. The best kind of security is subtle and non-intrusive. It is based on a network of relationships so strong that if someone tries something funny, the people involved in the network will try their best to stop them simply because they view the other people as part of their own flesh and blood.

I could be idealistic, yes, but then again, I'm very guai lan that particular day, so I don't care.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Old people don't need life insurance?

I was browsing through some of the blogs when I saw Mr Tan's post on insurance. It's his usual style to advice people to buy term and invest the rest. But that doesn't attract me - it's this line:

"There is no need for people to have life insurance when they are old."

By 'life insurance', I take it that he means the whole life variety - those plans that gives a lump sum pay out in the event of death and total permanent disability of the insured person from the inception of the policy till age 100.  This is very different from the very much cheaper term plan where a similar lump sum pay out will be paid out but it is usually up to age 65. However, life insurance these days come along with a critical illness (CI) rider that allows a lump sum payment when it strikes. Since this rider 'rides' onto the main plan of the whole life, which is up to age 100, the CI cover will also be up to age 100. I am under the impression that CI stand alone cover up to age 100 is either exorbitant in price or does not exist.

What do we need when we're old?

I think we need a comprehensive, as-charged hospitalization and surgery plans (H&S) that covers the expenses if you are hospitalized. The key word here is that you must be hospitalized locally, otherwise the H&S plans do not cover them. Some had mentioned that instead of using the CI cover that is usually attached to whole life plans these days (and covers up to age 100), we can use the H&S plans to replace CI cover from age 65 and beyond. While it's true that H&S plans cover treatment of CI, it's also relevant that H&S covers expenses ONLY if you're hospitalized in local hospitals. If you remember Charmaine's case, the little girl had to seek alternative cancer treatment overseas because the local hospitals do not have this particular drug (pardon me if I remember the details incorrectly). The cost turns out to be 350k USD and this huge sum definitely cannot be covered in the H&S plans unless you bought one of those special ones (not to forget, expensive ones) that covers overseas hospitalization bills as well. A lump sum payout by the CI rider will be very helpful in such cases. Even if it's not for overseas treatment, the lump sum is good for covering expenses related to the critical illness outside of hospitals, which is currently not covered under the H&S plans.

(Of course, you might not be able to claim your CI even if you have CI, particularly with regards to cancer. This is because of the very stupid clause where the cancer had to be in the ending stages. I ask, if it's in the ending stages, why seek treatment? If it's not the ending stage, how do I get the payout to seek treatment? Catch 22...)

I've no idea why the doc and the man is so happy with the latter throwing away his money

Do old people need death payout? It's perfectly correct to say that when we're old, there is no more dependents. If your life insurance is planned for your dependents, then obviously you do not need it when there are no more dependents. In that case, getting a term plan is perfect because unless you have a kid beyond age 40, by age 65 your dependents would already have become independent. This makes the life policy meaningless. What about the cash value of whole life plans? It's really nothing much to shout for, because if you invest in equities related instruments, you'll probably end up getting more (or losing very badly). If you need to invest, don't buy a whole life plan obviously.

It thus appears that the one redeeming feature of whole life policy is the CI cover up to age 100. I faintly remember someone mentioning that if you start savings now and invest it wisely, by the time you need it after age 65, you can self-insure the costs, especially if you bought yourself a good H&S plan. What if I can't save enough or what if my savings are all lost in the bear market? I would insure against that possibility with a few layers of defense:

1. A fully paid up whole life plan with sufficient (but not overly high) CI cover to protect my savings from age 65 to age 100. This is to reduce the premium so that I can sustain the costs of maintaining the policy, which is not going to be cheap compared to term plans.

2. A good amount of savings.

3. Be darn good to my children so that if I need them to take care of me and I have the financial means to fund it, filial piety can be quite a given. These days, one has to provide the conducive environment for children to be filial - by being a good natured senior citizen and a financially 'okay' senior citizen.

What about now to age 65? Get a term plan lah, it has depth of coverage but do not have the length of coverage. Who says you have to buy term and invest the rest only? You can buy term, buy whole, save up and invest!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Marriage is NOT wedding

** "BIAS" is a special feature in my blog where I get to say whatever I want with scant regards for your feelings. I'm not politically correct in this feature, so go ahead, judge me."

Wedding is such a sham!

I've been having a rather bad week because I can't sleep well as my mind is still very active at night. I attribute it entirely to the stress of settling matters pertaining to the wedding preparation. There's a thousand and one thing to arrange and tie up with others and a million others to call up and wait for their reply before you can proceed on. It's really such a hassle! I have no romantic views on wedding and as far as I'm concerned, the marriage is more important than the wedding.

Is there a difference between marriage and wedding? I don't know if there's an official one, but I am going to make a distinction between marriage and wedding. Wedding is a one day event (but the preparation is  definitely not just one day!) where you showcase yourself to others, but marriage is a commitment (legally a contract) between the couple according, but not bounded only, by the marriage vows. I think the most important distinction is that marriage is a lifetime commitment but wedding is just a one-off incident. I might want to hold several more weddings in my lifetime but I only want just one good and long-lasting marriage.

You prepare a year ahead for the wedding so that it will run smoothly in just one day, but you say your vows and sign the papers in less than 30 mins but you are united together for a life time. That's how stark the difference is. For me, I'll concentrate on working on my marriage by ensuring that living together is made emotionally and financially possible. For my wedding, I'm just trying to reduce the cost so that my marriage life can proceed with more savings to pay for the COV and renovation. I'm very glad that my gf shares with me the same ideology and is not caught up by the rituals and rights of the wedding religion. Most people that I know prepare their wedding with 20 times my enthusiasm and energy, but of course, that's their point of view. I think it's only a problem when they try to tell me what a 'proper' wedding should be like.

Take the example of the bridal shop that I visited not too long ago to choose the photos for my wedding album. I was offered 34 poses and 28 pages for a package price of around 3k+. When I had to pick from nearly 200 pictures, we proceeded surgically. The salesperson told us usually it'll take 3 hours minimum to choose the photos but I think we took around 1.5 hrs. The salesperson also tried various methods to tempt us to part with another 1k+ to include more poses/pages in the album. I must say he looked visibly disgusted when we literally cut the amount of photos on the table by 70-80% (i.e. out of 10 photos, we threw away only 8). He then told us what other couples did blah blah blah...

I think many would have succumbed to their partners wishes to include more photos because it's "once-in-a-lifetime" event. Out of respect to some of my dearest friends who uttered the same cliche, I would refrain from discussing why wedding is not such a romantic "once-in-a-lifetime" event.

Going to take a nap now....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Living simply

I was quite intrigued by Bro8888's article on living with 100 things only. It's not so much about the number 100 that matters, it could easily be 200 or 1000 articles. Rather, it's those type of questions that when asked, will lead to more questions that will shine light on what really matters to you. It's something like one of the question that Mr WB had asked - if you only have 10 stocks that you can buy in your entire life, which one would it be? Something like that lah :) This kind of question forces one to think about what is really important.

When I told that question to my gf in a cafe for dinner, I replied my own question. I said that I would be quite sufficient to have what I had brought with me when I met her for dinner. This is what I had then:

1. A columbia heavy duty haversack bag
2. My highly durable Nalgene water bottle
3. My pencil case with stationary inside
4. My organiser
5. An umbrella
6. HTC handphone with internet data connection
7. Wallet with the necessary cards inside, for withdrawal of cash, transport and credit purchase etc..
8. Whatever clothes I'm wearing + Jeans. Definitely a pair of hard, worn out jeans
9. My super durable Clarke shoes that I had been wearing for 16 months now
10. Old casio watch with alarm and light

If I can bring along my kindle dx, I'll be even happier. If I have to travel, these 11 odd items will be sufficient for me. A laptop / desktop would be nice but not really essential. These are the objects that I really need in life. Life can be so simple if you limit the number of personal belongings to a certain digit. I think that's really what the original article is trying to point out.

But I guess having those articles with me wouldn't do. While I do not need a lot of material comfort, I do need emotional comfort. I need my gf with me, I need my close friends around me and family as well. There was a time where I was obsessed over a scratch on my new watch or my new phone but I had grown over it. I think one of the most important thing is to distinguish between objects and people. Objects are replaceable but people are not so easily replaceable. If a child drops your ipad, would you rush up to tell her that it's alright or would you give her a good scolding for damaging your new gadget?

As I age, I realise that I do not need a lot of things. There are a few things that I wished to get but the desire wanes over time and I ended up not buying it. There's this headphones that I wanted to reach aural orgasm, this particular graphics card that would make my gaming a few notches higher, this gaming console that would provide endless fun, this electric guitar and awesome amplifier that churns out insane riffs and this hot car that would make my travelling so much more fun and convenient.

Nah, maybe not anytime soon. I'd rather work less and acquire less of such things than to use my limited time to work to save up for it. If the desires boils up to a need, then I'll get it. If the desire boils up until it dries up, so be it. I'm still the same person with or without it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

My experience on using credit card

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I've trouble applying for credit cards. It's a miracle that I got the POSB credit card when I applied a few months ago. Miracle because all the other cards have rejected me, despite the aggressive sales person pushing the cards, touting them as free.

After a few months of purchasing things on credit, I have very positive comments about it. I'm sure everyone knows about the dangers of bursting your own credit limits and going into debt blah blah. There are very good things to say about credit cards based on my limited experience.

1. It improves my cash flow.

Interesting isn't it? How can being in debt increase my cash flow? Firstly, you must understand that my work does not give me a nice pay check at a fixed date every month. It comes in bits and pieces throughout the month. Sometimes, because of the amount of money I diverted away from my spending account for savings, I do not have much liquidity to pay for things until my 'paycheck' comes in. Thus buying things on credit allows me to have slightly less than 1 month of interest free money for such spending. I especially like how I can control the date in which I have to pay my bills (of course, I pay in full before the due date), thus offering me a lot of freedom to control my cash flow.

I don't think people with a fixed paycheck will understand fully what I meant, so this advantage of having a credit card is no big deal for them.

2. I get points to offset my purchases.

This is not a big deal for me. Since mine is a POSB card, there are cash rebates for spending using the card. So far, I've got less than $10 rebate after using it for 4 months...really no big deal. Nice to have it, but really not essential. Perhaps after some super big expenditure like buying tons of furniture or wedding banquet, would I realise the benefit of having cash rebates. I'll know it soon ;)

3. Great discounts at selected places

I think this is fantastic. Sometimes, by flashing your cards, you get a lot of freebies that spending cash would not entitle you to have. I am often puzzled by how credit card companies manage to pull off such a deal for their customers and what the restaurants that offer such treats got in return. More business? Either way, I'm not complaining. I'm eyeing the buy 1 get 1 free lunch buffet at the chatterbox to see what the famous chicken rice is all about, haha :)

Of course, this post is not to encourage you to start swiping your cards right now. There are two sides of a coin, and thus a credit card is just like a tool - whether it's good or bad depends on how you use it. To those that have been scared by various literature that having a credit card is very risky and you can go bankrupt - yes, it's true, but it all depends on the user.