Thursday, July 24, 2008

The average speed of money is inversely proportional to the average speed of time

Or something like that. I meant to say something profound, but only managed to confuse myself.

Anyway. Of late, I note that our rather earnest and well-meaning Land Transport Authority has increased the electronic road pricing yet again on the basis that the average speeds of motor vehicles on the priced roads are still very low during peak hours. I'm not a rocket scientist, but as an avid peak-hour motorist, I would like to offer up some suggestions as to how this logic could possibly be flawed. And by "flawed", I mean "wrong", like "crazy-insanely-wrong", or like "you-are-dreaming-wrong".

A car can move slowly on the road for a number of reasons, even if the road is an expressway or a major road. From just today's travelling experience, I can confirm that the cars around our car moved slowly for the following reasons:

1. The driver is picking his nose. Once the finger goes up the nose, the foot will relax on the accelerator. This was the sad plight of the cab driver in front of our car at the Marine Parade stretch of the ECP. My husband thinks it could be an Asian thing. I would respectfully suggest that this does not happen in the America because their noses are so big that everything heavier than a strand of hair will simply fall out by itself.

2. The driver is staring at some chick who is standing on the pavement. Moments earlier, we almost crashed into the back of a Mercedes Benz whose driver was observing a female pedestrian bending to pick up something from the ground.

3. The driver's mouth is open. This one I really couldn't figure out. I mean, he was driving slowly across 2 lanes and when we finally overtook him, I looked over to see what the hell this person was doing, and he was just looking off to the side with his mouth open. There was no obvious reason for his terrifyingly bad driving, so I have no choice but to conclude that he cannot drive properly with his mouth open.

4. The female driver is putting on makeup. You can't be too careful with this. Sometimes you get to the Expressway just as you are trying to put the foundation under your eye or trying to line your lips with lip pencil. Screw this up and you exit the car looking like Chocho-san from Madame Butterfly. Since I do this everyday in the car as a front seat passenger, I can't really poke fun.

But the biggest reason is...

5. It is 9.22am and there is no Mata standing at the ERP Gantry. Now anyone will know that this deadly combination is FATAL to promoting traffic speeds. The ERP rate from 9am - 9.25am is higher than the ERP rate from 9.25am - 9.30am. This means that all cars approaching the ERP Gantry at 9.22am will do everything short of coming to a complete halt just before the Gantry. If you look over to see what the road looks like after the Gantry, you will see that it is empty, whereas the road before the Gantry is packed chockablock with cars much like a valet car park lot. All drivers unfortunate enough to make it across the Gantry just moments before 9.25 am just think "OFUCKIT!!!!!", slam on the accelerator and speed off. Whereas everyone before the Gantry is still hopeful of beating the clock. Which is also probably why the digital clocks in Singaporean cars are so accurate. Screw with the time on that clock and it will cost you up to S$1.50 per Gantry.

But I digress. My point is, if the LTA is measuring vehicle speeds before and just under the Gantry, then even when the ERP has gone up to S$1000000, they will still, amazingly, puzzlingly, measure exactly the same vehicle speed. Which would be about 15 - 25 km per hour. Because that's probably as slow as you can go without actually stopping on the Expressway. If they really want to know how fast the cars are really moving, they should track vehicle speeds along that part of the ECP or West Coast Highway where there are no speed detectors and no ERP Gantries in the vicinity. Some of the drivers along that stretch could well be practising for their inaugural F1 appearance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I thought nobody will be left behind?

I was chatting with a client when she suddenly said she really couldn't focus on the conversation anymore because her 16-year old daughter had just been kicked off the candidates list of her secondary school (an Elite secondary school, incidentally) for the O-Level examinations.

Basically the school principal, vice-principal and teachers had made the unilateral decision that this girl would not do well for her O-levels as she had skipped too many classes. On the basis of this unilateral decision, they informed the distraught parents that the school would apply for their daughter to be withdrawn from the list of candidates taking the O-Level exams this year through that school. Otherwise there is a possibility that she would fail, and that her failure would pull down the overall standing of the school amongst the other elite schools when the results statistics were published.

This is mid-July, by the way.

The O-Level examinations are scheduled to be held in late October.

There are still 3 months left. About 90 days. If she studied an average of 6 hours a day for the next 90 days, that would make 540 hours. Even if she did 3 science subjects, 2 math subjects, 1 literature subject, English and Chinese (that's 8 in all), it would be just under 70 hours per subject. I don't know if you would need 70 hours for English, but anyway.

Surely if you studied the textbook for 70 hours, you'd have it committed to memory. Or at least pass the exam. Right?

Bearing in mind that we need only 6 O-Level passes or something like that to get to junior college, she could fail a selected 2 subjects (or just drop them) and still get an overall pass to get to junior college. I know someone who dropped all the excess subjects, did the bare minimum and made it to Oxford University.

Anyway. My point is not that she could still pass if she started studying now, and that that seems pretty obvious to anyone with a 3-digit calculator.

My point is that the SCHOOL decided she was already a failure even though she hadn't actually failed anything yet. Isn't it wonderful, to be 16, impressionable, fresh faced, ready to start your adult life, and your own teachers (whom, I don't have to remind anyone, are supposed to be people who encourage students to succeed) tell you you're already a failure.

I went to a semi-Elite school myself (CHIJ) and I'm happy to say that we were all left alone to succeed or fail at our own pace. At some point, I failed a couple of tests because I didn't study for them. At some other point, I did pretty well. At no point, did I have a principal, vice-principal and my form teacher breathing down my neck trying to read my entire future from a random selection of events. They might as well have tried to read tea leaves. We're 16!!! Nothing is set in stone for God's sake!!!! There was NEVER a suggestion that anyone could be held back an entire school year (!!!) for something as ephemeral and sublimely ridiculous as the reason that was given by this other Elite school. SO WHAT if the statistics don't look so good next year? That's just 1 year! If the school continues to exist for another 100 years (which I doubt - just look at their short-term attitude), that 1 failure would affect less than 1% of their centennial results. Also, I don't recall such extremely detailed statistics ever being published anyway.

Maybe the school believed there was a 0.2% possibility that the Straits Times reporter might ask if anyone had failed any subjects, and a corresponding 0.0002% possibility that such a fact might be mentioned in the published article, so it would be much better to just throw away a student's chances altogether than to risk it.

So why doesn't she still do the exam anyway, just as a private candidate? Because the red tape for the withdrawal of her Elite-school-related application would delay the process beyond the final deadline for all applications, and a submission of a private application now would get rejected as a duplicated application. Not that the school actually cares, but yes they managed to screw her twice!

We take all the effort, time, blood and sweat to raise our children and put them in a good school, maybe the best school we could think of. I guess it's because we think the school will nurture them and give them something better than we could give them somewhere else. Could this be how Elite schools have been maintaining their good track record, NOT by nurturing everyone equally but just quietly cutting out the potential failures? I'm not impressed. I thought Elite schools had good teachers. I didn't know they had fortune-tellers.

Post Script in response to requests for additional information.
1. Played truant for 1 month after 9.5 years in the same school
2. Prior to truancy, she had been described in her school reports as a conscientious student with good attendance.
3. Started avoiding school after being picked on by bullies in her class.
4. Bullying was reported to the school. School did not act as it is not their problem.
5. School did notify parents, suggest counselling. However, counselling failed to happen as school did not follow up. Also, school counsellor is on long leave, so I guess it wasn't that important after all!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gah! Telemarketers

One would have thought that, with the anti-spam laws coming into effect in Singapore, we would be getting LESS spam, and LESS telemarketers. But somehow the passing of the anti-spam laws seems to have had the effect of completely revitalising that particular industry and now I get flooded with spam in my inbox (with or without the obligatory "ADV" prefix), telemarketers calling my mobile phone all through business hours and, most recently, telemarketers calling me on my direct line in the office.

Maybe it's just me, but I find these calls extremely irritating. There's nothing more annoying than to get multiple calls from the same number during a client meeting, then interrupting that client meeting to answer the phone only to discover it's someone trying to offer me a loan. Which I do not need or want and which I never asked for. Or asking me to attend a seminar, in an area of law in which I practise. This lucky caller dialed in at 6pm on Friday, a time when everyone is scrambling to finish their work and meet all the deadlines for the day so that they can go home to their families. It was all I could do not to snap at him.

"Hi - I'm calling from a seminar organiser established in Europe. Would you like to attend a seminar to find out more about mergers and acquisitions in Singapore?"

"No. But thank you. I'm not interested."

"Why? Do you know that your potential clients will be there? Like Singapore Power. They are attending. Also Singapore Technologies. There are many more, but I cannot give you any more information because it's confidential"

"No. I'm not interested. Thank you."

"Don't you want to be in a place where your clients might go?"

".... No."

"Okay. Thank you. Goodbye."

I wanted to explode into tiny little flaming bits. Actually what I would have loved to say to him is, well, yes, if I wanted to go to places where my clients might go, then what about the toilets at Singapore Power. Why would I hang around in the toilet? Because they might go there. Maybe I should consider sitting at the reception of Singapore Power all day. In the off-chance that they might pass through, then I can hijack them and shove my namecard in their face. Because as a marketing tool, just hanging around in places where your clients might go really works.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Local Toddler Experiences Miraculous Fever Cure Following No-School Announcement

So we were all in a tizzy last evening when The Son came down with a 39.4 degree fever. There was sponge baths, followed by wipe-downs, followed by medicine, followed by lots of fluids and a temperature check every half an hour and much, much discussion about whether or not we should be getting him to the Hospital for some quality treatment.

This morning, he remained listless and had no appetite. We checked his temperature again, gave him more fluids, porridge and as much television as he wanted. Still listless, sad, moping on the couch, some little baby tears and recriminations.

Then I said

No school for you today, Ryan!

And then there was

playing football in the house
shouting at the goalie
pissing off the dog


requests to attend at the playground, in search of possible friends and toys.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I don't think they know what a monkey is.

So my mother, in her continuing effort to own every piece of furniture on the planet, decided to buy a second dining table the other day because she found a little bit of extra space somewhere in the house.

The table arrives on a day when everyone is out, except for my mom's maid, who walked out in the rain to greet the delivery guys and get the table into the house. This woman has served my mother for 20 years and she runs the household beautifully.

As she walks to the gate, she hears my mom's neighbour say "Excuse me, but someone threw a cigarette butt outside our gate. Can you please pick it up."

It's not us, she said. No one in this house smokes.

What about the delivery boy? I think they threw it, came the smartass response.

Ok. I don't know. I'll pick it up for you after I've told them where to put the table, she said.

No. You pick it up now.

So my mom's maid walks out in the pouring rain, to the front of the neighbour's house (48 Swiss View Singapore 288054) and picks up a wet cigarette butt to throw it away. As she picks it up, she hears the neighbour's little girl say:

Monkey can smoke cigarette!

And then the little girl pointed at her and laughed.

And then the little girl's mother said:

Yes! Monkey can smoke cigarette!

And she also laughed and laughed.

I'm really not sure where these people get off calling someone a monkey. Perhaps they've never seen a monkey before. Or perhaps they think they're monkeys too. I wonder what the Philippine Embassy would have to say about someone calling one of their most honest, hardworking, trustworthy citizens a monkey, just because she decided out of the goodness of her heart to pick up a piece of trash in front of someone's house as a personal favour.