Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Private transport (private bus, van or car)

I am starting a new job in Changi South about April 2012 and I am looking for a private transport in the morning and evening. I need to reach office about 8.30 AM and leaving at 6 PM. I have been trying hard to find over the internet but can't find anything. So I hope this blog post allow people who are facing same issue to post and maybe I can work out something.

I am staying in the West (Choa Chu Kang / CCK, Yew Tee) and hope to travel to Changi South Street 1 (can be Expo, Changi Business Park or any other Changi South areas).

Please comment if you are also looking for one such transport (i.e. maybe we can pull enough people to start one service) or if you are the relevant service provider. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fishy breast milk - the scientific summary

I have wanted to write on the topic of fishy breast milk for some time but I have not had chance to do so since my boys takes quite a huge chunk of my time at night. Luckily today somehow I have half an hour to do so!
The topic of fishy breast milk is something that I only encounter recently. My first son was literally fed with fishy breast milk that my wife produced for more than 1 year without an issue. She went back to work after 2 months of maternity leave and after that, the boy drank thawed frozen breast milk that is at least 2-4 months old. I noticed the fishy smell but did not really think about it as he still drank them and did not show any health problem at all. Well, recently he developed asthma syndrome but then there is no indication so far that this is the result of the fishy breast milk.
I started to search on fishy breast milk topic as it was more apparent for my second boy. My wife had nearly four months maternity leave so by the time she went back to work, the frozen breast milk had already been 4 months in storage. I became aware of the issue of fishy smell and upon some searches in google realized that many mothers are facing the same issue. However, I have not managed to come across any article that talks about the issue using scientific references. So in this article, I would like to share what I can gather.
Apparently there has been quite a number of studies that indicates that mother's food intake can modify the content of breast milk and thus affect the odor. Harris, W. S. et. al. in their study ( reported that mothers taking fish oil supplement reported fishy odor in their breast milk 1 to 3 hours after taking fish oil supplements. However, a recent study by Sandgruber, S. et. al. ( seemed to dispute this idea as they reported no statistically significant modification of the odor of breast milk upon fish oil intervention. It would seem that the jury is still out there on whether the smell comes from fish oil intake or not. I reckon it will be really difficult to conduct a double blinded study on this issue as mother's metabolism may potentially be a major variable including other genetic factors. In addition, it will not be easy to control diet of a big group of mothers concerned about their child's well being.
However, Spitzer, J. and Buettner, A. ( in their study showed that odor active compounds are more active in stored breast milk. In addition, Sangruber, S. et. al. ( continued their study and reported that fishy smell was not apparent in breast milk stored at -80 C. They mentioned that apparent flavor change was apparent when the milk was stored at -19 C.
Therefore, would seem that to prevent fishy breast milk issue, a -80 C freezer may be required. I have not come across a small unit of -80 C freezer though so it may prove to be a potential untapped market or simply further study on how to prevent appearance of fishy odor in storage of -19 C may be required.
At this moment, I and my wife are trying to see whether the pasteurization mentioned in some sites actually works in preventing the milk to turn fishy. Will update this post when I have more information.

Update: I realised that at times my wife's breast milk will smell quite fishy before even I pasteurised it. Unfortunately the pasteurisation did not get rid of the smell. One possible factor that I would not be able to probe is the effect of direct freezing as my wife pumped milk at work so she has to keep it in a domestic fridge for about 8 hours. Amazingly my son seems to just gobble up whatever milk, pasteurised or not, that is presented to him. I guess it means good..

Friday, October 22, 2010

Singapore on fire

If you think, based on the title, that I am going to write about haze, you are wrong.  I am referring to the mess some of the industries are, especially those the Government hopes to foster. These are the current industries or perhaps employment in a drama and on fire:
- Financial consultancy
- Property agency
- Private education
- Wellness clinic

The industries are pretty much those that fits into the Government drive for more SMEs. However, typical of people falling into complacency, laziness or perhaps simply ignorance or even worse, gambling mood, there has been a kind of stand where these steps are repeated:
- Sudden emergence of a business

- Noone cares as it looks like providing a good amount of SME
- Noone cares so lack to no regulations are set up
- Booming time, plenty of jobs - some of it goes to the so called immigrants because locals do not want to do it (for example those in wellness clinic)
- Crashing time, plenty of problems

Let's break it down one by one.

Financial businesses are very lucrative. After all, Singapore drives itself hard to be the leading financial hub. What comes with it is the financial consultant, people who are supposedly working hard to help commoners to plan for their finance. However, as the business rules go, profit is the main driver. So the client's interest go to the back, money making comes to the front. So far, does not seem that there is any regulation to put bad financial consultant to task (or even the agency) if they cause a big loss to the client, misrepresent product or even for hard selling. Unless of course, the client is so rich that they can hire lawyer and push it to court! Plenty of insurance product sold under investment linked features add up to the woe because let's face it, we all want to get more for less. So what happen? Plenty of people become one of such consultants, plenty of people including ah pek and ah mah who got burned. Let's recall Lehman brothers. What happen after that? Nothing, practically nothing that would really change the life of the ah pek and ah mah. I bet those financial industries remain banking on people with sweet lips and nothing is in place to ensure their agents know the products upside down and have system to check or audit for things like honesty. Is it so costly to set up 'mystery shopping' kind of thing for a check and balance system? Nothing comes from the Government so far. After all, the drive is for financial hub, profit, profit, profit. They will at most tell you, if you don't want to get burned, don't go in. Again, my fault. Indeed, so every single one of us has to take care of ourselves better. Know what you are going into and oh yeah, make sure everyone in your family is super smart and don't get conned unless you are rich and can get a lawyer to get your money back. *sarcasm intended* ( I simply wish for a better regulations and to make sure those people are responsible for their jobs. I am sure if I am one such consultant, I will not make too much sales per people but I am sure those clients will love me as I will never cheat them. But then again, I prefer honesty. :-) )  

Property agent is another issue. Lots of moonlighting meaning, potential lack of commitment. Plenty of cases to use for example where there is allegation that the agent won't help the client to save or earn few more thousands. Hey, wake up. What will make the agent help you with few thousands since it only translates to few more tens of dollars. Remember, you are paying 1%. Worse, if you are buyer, you are hoping to lower the price so you are hoping to cut the agent's fee? Dream on! What I would probably do next time I buy a house is to say to the agent that I will give him 20-30% of the savings should he succeed in reducing the cost. I hope no one kills me for disturbing the status quo in the industry. Then again, plenty of bad apples in the industry. Plenty of people who see their interest not represented. Even a case where the agent get a client, the client's tenant (for rental that is) not paying and got evicted within 2 months, the agent still pockets the money and small claim tribunal action has to be started. Gee..... where is the honesty? What's the rules anyway? Huh? Got rules meh? Again, where is the governing regulation or even framework for the industry?

Private education is one of the newest problem. Plenty of schools, into thousands. Yes, you read it right, thousands. Small ones of course. SME, remember? Small enterprises. Seems to be so easy to start one. Plenty of people from overseas coming in for education. Hey, the drive is to be another education hub. Heck care of the start. No strict regulations. Just register with Ministry of Education, get a CASE (Consumer Association of Singapore) and then run your business. My biggest question is why even with the involvement of Ministry level people and a consumer association, a so called accredited and approved institutes can still fold up so easily? What is in the so called requirement to get approval anyway? Simply has money to invest? Gosh... does anyone even start to sit down and think how many foreign students and poor hard working souls (especially those who really want education but got ignored by the other institutes) will be stranded? How many of the foreigners end up being exploited and becomes overstayer? There is even a news of a student who after schooling for a year, haven't obtained student visa. What's he staying with anyway? A work permit? Or simply an overstayer? Now, what does this seemingly mess produce? Some (or plenty perhaps) super rich and a dent in the image. Only after some folds up suddenly there is so called stricter requirements for registration. Gee.. why does it need to have some casualties before action?

Wellness clinic is also another SME growth in the latest years. Plenty of gullible people who thought they can save money by buying a year worth of service only to find out that their money flies away and no service can be obtained since the clinic folds up. Why would you buy the package anyway? Is the risk so low? Who will even guarantee your money should the clinic folds up? CASE will never care even after providing so called accreditation. What is the requirement anyway? Is it a good list of requirement if so many can fold up after the consumer's money run away? Who benefits? Well, again some (or plenty perhaps) super rich. Lots of unemployed immigrants (since their jobs are not interesting for Singaporeans) and clients with money in the black hole. Some of the immigrants surely will contribute to the social ill at the end of the day. Perhaps simply the case of the honest people being pushed to the corner. And yeah, no new regulations yet.

I question the roles of CASE and will they ever do better in protecting the consumer? Perhaps one of the possibility is to start a more powerful consumer association manned by people who can better predict and come up with better accreditation system and who can be hold responsible in a way if there a mess despite their so called accreditation system.

The bottomline is that there should be a simply risk assessment. The Government agency who is the stakeholders in any emerging business should sit together and carry out a risk assessment. They need to assess the positive and negative risk and think about what framework and regulations are required to safeguard the population. What I am looking at now is a Government who is so reactive that I wonder what they are doing in the office day by day. Is that so difficult to wish for proactive civil servants? They are not exactly paid low, supposedly at better than market to get the best. Too much to ask similar thing from the Government to make sure sufficient regulations are in place before victims show up? Is that so difficult to do a risk assessment? The workplace safety and health council just release a code of practice on risk management. I am confident that the code of practice can be easily used for non safety issues, provided they want some changes to better governance.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Risk assessment in Singapore

Today's newspaper reported the incident of silts from building site leaking into two rivers feeding drinking water system in Singapore. While there does not seem to be a clear indication of preventive action, there is also no clear indication that the builder will even be punished.

What I come to realize in Singapore is how risk assessment has become an empty catch word. Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) requires companies to do so, but there is no enforcement scheme. I never know of any requirement for environmental assessment before construction as well. All these, I suspect, are in the name of progress. After all, doing proper risk assessment require some initial investment (read: COST) which burdens the company. Worse, even saying that risk assessment will prevent further cost, the FUTURE COST is not something easily tangible and seen at present. Hence, things are easily ignored.

The case on silt which is reported is a highly probable sign that little to no environment assessment via risk assessment was carried out before construction. If they have carried out the assessment, most likely they would have realized that Singapore tends to rain all year long and the location of their site is near river feeding to drinking water system. Hence, there shall be a need to ensure no run off of building materials or waste into the rivers. Sadly, no such thoughts seem to exist. In addition, for PUB, nothing seems to have gone wrong. 

It is also a sad practice that risk assessment becomes a task for a single person sitting down in the office. How would that person be able to cover issues from multi disciplinary field? Or is it simply for convenience sake when things go wrong? After all, it is easier to blame one than a group of people?

From what I can see, Singapore's risk management system is far than working. Unless remedial action in improving the safety culture and enforcement, I am afraid that we are waiting for big ugly event to occur. Hopefully it won't be as bad as the red sludge in Hungary.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Minimum wages for maid in Singapore

Now, there has been some argument that there should be a minimum wage for maid in Singapore. This is mainly triggered by Philippines' Government who wants USD 400 (~SGD 525) as a minimum wage for their citizens who work as maid.

I want to examine the case objectively. Since maid or housekeeper is a profession, it needs to be compared with other profession of similar nature. In Singapore, I would argue that cleaner in the coffee shop should have a job similar in nature to maid, i.e. keeping things clean. After all, Ministry of Manpower in Singapore theoretically says a maid should be asked to do only one job scope, i.e. if the maid is to keep house clean, he/she cannot be asked to take care of your kids.

I understand the cleaner in coffee shop is normally paid SGD 600. Considering that they are paid for 8 hours work while maid normally work up to 16 hours, the equivalent wage would be SGD 1,200.

Currently a maid from Philippines in general is paid SGD 350 a month. However, that would have included accommodation, meal and other expenses. If I put in monetary value into those:
- Accommodation of one room without air conditioning and relatively poor condition (admit it, only very few employer give their maid an accommodation fit to be paid normal rental): SGD 300
- Meals, assuming SGD 3.00 a meal and 2 meals and 1 breakfast (SGD 1.00): SGD 7.00/day or SGD 210/month; say if you give fruits and others stuffs, maybe I will round it to SGD 230
- Toiletries and other expenses: assume SGD 30/month
- Travel expense: assume SGD 40/month

The total expense for a maid excluding wage is then SGD 600. If I would to include wage, in total it will become SGD 950. However, there is still levy to pay, that is around SGD 170 (with concession). That means, an employer's effective cost is SGD 1120. That is not that much different from what will be earned by a coffee shop cleaner. In fact some coffee shop cleaner may be even paid less. In fact, if the employer does not receive concession, there will be around SGD 80 extra for levy, making the cost the same.

If the minimum wage for maid is upped to SGD 525. It constitutes a SGD 175 increase. Using the same argument of cost, it would mean that a maid will earn more than a coffee shop cleaner. Hence, I would urge the Government of Singapore to also implement a minimum wage for coffee shop cleaner and other similar profession similar to a maid. There should be equality, right?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I have visited Hanoi numerous times but I can't get used to the city yet. Many things remain confusing to me so I thought I may just write some of my experiences here in case someone happen to stumble upon this blog to learn more about dealing with Hanoi trip for first timer.

1) Hanoi airport
1.1) Arriving
In the international airport, there are two baggage belts, check where your baggages will be issued from the TV screen hanging on the ceiling. The cart to wheel your luggage is available for free. You may or may not have to give the officials your custom white card. It all depends on the guy who watches over the booth near the exit from the baggage areas. Just in case, fill them up.

1.2) Money changer
Go around various money changers to compare exchange rate. It may differ nearly 10% among those service providers. I was told that the rate is better in town but I have not had chance to compare so pick your choice.

1.3) Taxi
Taxi trips can be one of the most exasperating experiences in Vietnam in general. Do not try to get taxi from tout. Upon exiting the airport, look around and you will see simple marking indicating Noibai Taxi or Airport Taxi. Go to the stand (most likely there will be plenty of other people there as well) and ask for taxi. You can choose to pay fix rate or by meter. I am not sure what is better yet, even after numerous trips! For this current trip to the famous Hoan Kiem lake area from airport, I chalked up 300,000 VND by airport taxi. I had a feeling that I was had but I am not sure how to check. That is the problem. However, that is still better than the 30 USD rate quoted by some private taxi stands within the airport which translates to 570,000 VND. Taxi flag down rate ranges between 9,000 to 15,000 VND. In town, try your best to get Mailinh or Vinasun taxis. They are considered the most honest ones.

2) Amenities
2.1) Shopping
It is not that easy to find supermarket in Hanoi. Appears to me that many relies on traditional market or small mini market. There are some supermarkets in the big shopping malls but the prices are slightly expensive.

2.2) Hotel
There are quite a number of decent hotels with the rate of 50 USD a night and above. I am sure you know more than I do.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

I feel compelled to write something about Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) after listening to the woe of my friends whose children had or is having HFMD. The information I write here are a compilation from the internet with some analysis that I carried out.

1) Organism
Wikipedia entry mentioned that Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a human syndrome caused by intestinal viruses of the Picornaviridae family. The most common organisms causing HFMD are Coxsackie A virus and Enterovirus 71 (EV-71). I understand that within that two species there are plenty of strains and new strain can also emerge. That should be why your child who has had HFMD did not develop immunity towards HFMD. Other strains may strike and when that happens, your child does not have immunity. If it is the same strain, most likely your child would be immune. Something in the line of why Flu vaccination has to be taken every year.

2) Victim
Basically it is infant and children who can fall ill to HFMD. However, although uncommon, healthy adult can also get HFMD. I had one colleague who actually contracted HFMD and although it was mild, she was absent from work.

3) Incubation period
The most commonly stated incubation period from infection to onset of symptoms are three to seven days although Singapore's MOH states in their website that the incubation period are between two to five days.

4) Symptoms
From US CDC website:
* The disease usually begins with a fever, poor appetite, malaise (feeling vaguely unwell), and often with a sore throat.
* One or 2 days after fever onset, painful sores usually develop in the mouth. They begin as small red spots that blister and then often become ulcers. The sores are usually located on the tongue, gums, and inside of the cheeks.
* A non-itchy skin rash develops over 1–2 days. The rash has flat or raised red spots, sometimes with blisters. The rash is usually located on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet; it may also appear on the buttocks and/or genitalia.
* A person with HFMD may have only the rash or only the mouth sores

Hence, it is important to check for those symptoms if you suspect your child to have contracted HFMD.

5) Transmission
The most common transmission route for HFMD is contact transmission. Meaning that the illness is passed through contact. So it is not something you get from breathing in the virus. It is something that has to get into your body. The virus causing HFMD can be found in nose and throat secretion, blister fluid, saliva and stool. Hence if a kid touch those infected fluid and get that fluid inside his/her body, he/she can be infected. Once the virus is inside the body, it does not necessarily cause a disease. However, children are with lower immunity compared to adult and hence, the chances of getting the disease after infection is more likely. It is also said that the first week of illness is the most infectious period. Disappearance of symptoms should also not be taken as a sign that the child is no longer infectious.

In fact, some people who are infected with HFMD may not have symptoms. Hence, it is very important to check your child's surroundings and friends to ensure that no one has had symptoms of HFMD and keep personal hygiene high. You should not let your guard down simply because there is no one with HFMD symptoms. This is specifically important if your child is in area where contact transmission is easier to happen, such as infant / toddler / child care, schools, etc.

5) Hygiene
It is important to inculcate good personal hygiene from young. Good personal hygiene will reduce the risk of infection but will never fully eliminate the risk.
Personal hygiene include (but not limited to):
- washing hand with soap and water before meal
- sneezing and coughing into tissue, handkerchief or the sleeves
- cleaning articles which may have come in contact with the body fluid of HFMD sufferers
- avoiding direct contact with HFMD sufferers

6) Vaccination
There is currently no vaccine available for HFMD. I am quite sure the inventor will earn quite a handsome amount of profit considering the economic loss from HFMD (e.g. parents taking leave to bring their child to doctor or even hospital).