Sunday, May 31, 2009

Watch Your Mood

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Yesterday, on my way to a seminar in NUS (National University of Singapore), I drove pass Haw Par Villa.

The grand dame which had been a big part in the growing up years of generations of Singaporeans looked decrepit and abandoned.


Haw Paw Villa was the brainchild of Aw Boon Haw, the tycoon behind the iconic cure all Tiger Balm ointment. The Aw family’s intention was similar to American millionaire Andrew Carnegie’s vision to share the “secrets of success” with everyone.

Andrew Carnegie commissioned Napoleon Hill to interview over 500 American millionaires and compiled his findings in the book THINK AND GROW RICH. To the Aw family, the secrets of success are already captured in traditional Chinese folklore and mythology. The Aw family wanted to share these values and principles with the largely illiterate masses through clay figures.

Co-incidentally, Haw Par Villa was opened and THINK AND GROW RICH was published in the same year, in 1937!

In the over 1000 clay figures, visitors are urged to:

- Be filial to parents, grandparents and parents-in-law
- Be responsible
- Be loyal to country, family and friends
- Be respectful
- Work hard
- Never stop learning
- Persevere – never give up
- Be honest
- Be mindful of others
- Be brave in the face of adversity
- Run from vice and temptation
- Don’t mix with bad company
- Share your blessings
- Avoid crime and doing evil. Because, even if you escaped your just deserts in this life, retribution awaits you in hell and in the next life.

None of these are genetics gifted only to a select few, but they are attitudes and beliefs anyone can have. The Aw family’s message is that anyone can grow rich so long as you think the right thoughts.

For many visitors, Haw Par Villa is gaudy, gory and perhaps even embarrassing. The figures wrapped in ancient garb or clothes from the 1930s, were made by semi-skilled workmen with clay and household paint. The end results were sometimes crude and distorted. Haw Par Villa was much maligned and vilified as low class. It is in your face, without even the slightest hint of subtlety, or sometimes even propriety.

Yet, it is uniquely Singapore. There is nothing like it anywhere in this world – not even in China.

Haw Par Villa was opened to the public free of charge. It instantly became a top tourist hot spot, and remained so up to the 1970s.

With free entry, it was an affordable treat for families. With our ang pow money (traditional cash gifts during Chinese New Year), we could indulge in kacang putih (fried groundnuts coated with sugar sold by Indian peddlers in paper cones made from used magazines at 5 cents each).

Haw Par Villa is part of the soul of generations of Singaporeans. Thousands throng the park especially during Chinese New Year. For many families, it was an annual ritual. The valuable lessons from the clay figures were passed down the generations and reinforced by regular repeat visits.

Haw Par Villa was sold to the Singapore Government in 1979. In 1980, it was closed for major transformation works and re-incarnated with high hopes in 1990 as the wannabe “Disneyland of the East” called Dragon World.

The hefty $16 entrance fee priced out much of the masses that used to throng Haw Par Villa for free. The investors soon lost money as Dragon World did not draw the crowds as its previous incarnation did.

In 1996, the park reverted back to its old name Haw Par Villa and its free entry status. That didn’t bring back the crowds, nor Haw Par Villa’s former glory. Something valuable was lost in all the sweeping changes.


Visitor numbers are dwindling. The clay figures and the grounds are falling into disrepair. If this continues, though no such plans are known to be on the table, we should not be surprised that the authorities may eventually have no choice but to demolish the park.

That will be a sad day as Singapore will lose a part of its soul.

Not many people, especially today’s young, will miss it unless they realise its value and see its part in moulding the Singaporean soul.

Support Haw Par Villa.

It is uniquely Singapore and the World’s only place for a one-stop “secrets of success” fix.

Pay it a visit with your friends and family. Help revive the spirit of Haw Par Villa of old.

Cialdini's Weapons of Influence - Reciprocity

When There Is A Will, There Is A Way

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Today, Singapore confirmed its first H1N1 case.

The victim is a 22-year-old female Singapore Management University business student who just returned to Singapore from New York City early on 26 May 2009 morning, after a school field trip. She passed through the airport thermal scanners uneventfully as she did not have a fever at that time. Coughing and feeling unwell, she went to see a doctor later in the morning and was immediately sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for tests which confirmed that she had contracted the H1N1 virus.

She is now quarantined in the Communicable Disease Centre in stable condition.

H1N1 is a new strain of flu virus combining genes from pig, bird and human flu viruses. H1N1 infection is mild for most people but proved severe and even fatal for many.

Still, there is no need for panic.

The key to remember is H1N1 spreads from person to person via airborne droplets expelled by a coughing or sneezing person who is infected with the virus.

There are thus a few things we can do to protect ourselves:

- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, especially those who are coughing and sneezing.
- Avoid unnecessary contact with crowds. You never know who has the virus.
- Cover your mouth with tissue paper when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of the tissue paper as soon as possible after use, preferably by flushing it down the toilet.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap, and immediately after coughing or sneezing.
- Don’t touch your mouth, nose or eyes with your hands.
- Clean high traffic public surfaces with disinfectant e.g. door knobs, hand rails, shopping trolley handles, lift buttons, telephone handsets.
- Pay attention to and cooperate with public health advisories from the relevant authorities.
- If you are sick with flu symptoms like coughing, sneezing or fever, see a doctor without delay. On your way to the medical centre, put on a surgical mask and avoid unnecessary contact with others. Be socially responsible to yourself and others.

Stay healthy. Keep your immune system strong. Get sufficient rest, eat a balanced diet and drink enough water.

Take care!

Know What Drives Others

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Never underestimate the danger of online game addiction.

Online game addiction can kill. It was implicated in several tragedies before and it claimed another victim recently, in Singapore.

On 2 March 2009, David Widjaja, a final year engineering student at Nanyang Technological University leaped to his death after a brief struggle in the office of his final year project supervisor. David had earlier slashed himself and stabbed his supervisor with a knife.

Court testimonies provided an insight into the extreme stress David was under before the tragedy.

David’s hostel mates and friends told the court that David was obsessed with online games to the point of neglecting his studies. David could not keep up with his school work and was taken off his scholarship by the university.

Miss Chua Jia Yu, David’s “online wife” said David would play the DESTINY ONLINE game day, night and frequently till 4am. The virtual couple met online in DESTINY ONLINE and “got married” a month later. Throughout their virtual first meeting, courtship and marriage, David and Jia Yu never met in real life.

Like any addiction, whether it is cigarettes, drugs or alcohol, online gaming addiction grips its victims by altering their brain chemicals.

Online gaming produces dopamine surges that produce feelings of pleasure. Online game addicts are hooked because they crave that feeling of pleasure that dopamine surges produce.

What are the danger signs that you, a loved one or someone you know is a potential online game addict? Its time to act when you see someone exhibiting more than any 3 of these symptoms:

- Feels euphoric while gaming
- Can’t stop gaming
- Can’t find time to eat, sleep or bathe
- Crave for more gaming time
- Can’t stop daydreaming about their favourite game
- Spent most of their non-class time on gaming
- Feels empty, depressed and irritable when not gaming
- Neglect family and friends
- Lie to supervisors, teachers and family about their gaming
- Falls asleep in class
- Drops out of social groups
- Become a recluse
- Can’t keep up with school work
- Can’t stop grades from sliding.

Don’t get hooked! Just say NO! before it is too late.

Law of Miscommunication

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Yesterday, people at the office were all excited about the $5 million Toto draw (in Singapore).

As usual, I was totally indifferent.

My colleagues and friends often wondered why I am totally oblivious to all the fun and excitement surrounding Toto or the office soccer pool during the World Cup Finals.


You see, when it came to “big time” gambling, I had a head start on most people. Incredible as it may seem, I was in primary (elementary) school, nine or ten years old at that time, when I became a gambling addict and fell into serious gambling debts.

Living in Toa Payoh new town in the late 1960s, the boys would gamble while waiting for the school bus to pick us up. We gambled in many different ways. We played cards, dice, fighting spiders, fighting fish (bettas), marbles, cuti cuti (small plastic figurines), chart teh (juggling a shuttlecock in the air with one foot), ti kam (lucky draw), what we called pennies – actually iron washers, and anything else we can imagine.

We would be eager to leave the house for school, not because we love studying but because we can’t wait to try our luck with our meagre pocket money. My allowance then was 5 cents a day.

If my luck was good, I would have a bigger snack that day at the tuck shop – an extra curry puff (spicy potato pie) or an ice cream soda. If my luck was bad that day, I would go hungry and had to drink water straight from the tap.

We discovered the concept of credit very early. If you don’t have cash, you could always place your bets on credit. Believe it or not, at ten, we were gambling with money we don’t have! Sure enough I was soon struck by a streak of bad luck. I kept making bad bets until I owed my kakis (gambling mates) more than 4 dollars. That was a small fortune at that time. To put it in perspective, 4 dollars amounted to 4 months of pocket money at 5 cents a day.

It was a harrowing experience for a ten year old. My so-called friends became my creditors. To settle my debts, I had no food or drink at the tuck shop for many days. My creditors became impatient and began to harass me everyday. They threatened to get their money from my mother. That was my greatest fear as I was sure my parents would “kill” me. I lived in fear everyday for the day of reckoning.

Sure enough, the dreaded day when my creditors came banging at my door arrived. My mother was at home. After bailing me out, my mother settled accounts with me by giving me a well deserved bashing.

Looking back, I realised that my bad gambling luck early in life was really a blessing.

Though not all of my risk taking instincts had been wringed from me, from that day on, I stayed well away from any form of gambling. I would not bet on 4D, Toto, soccer pool, horses, mahjong, jackpot or even the customary friendly card games during Chinese New Year.


It is because I learned early, how bad it feels to owe a large sum of money with no means of paying it back and how harrowing it is to live in constant fear of creditors banging down my door.

I’ve learned my lesson and don’t relish re-living the mistake again.

Make Time