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Omotesando Koffee Review

After hearing our subeditor rave about her Omakase experience in Japan and “the best tasting coffee” she ever had, the THG team visited the coffee joint’s Singapore chain to check out the hype.

Here’s our review of Omotesando Koffee!

Address: 6A Shenton Way #04-01, The Work Project, Downtown Gallery, Singapore 068815

 

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Gadgets Highlights International Review Singapore

New Apple Fitness Service Introduces Healthy Competition to the Fitness App Industry

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is reportedly working on launching a bundled fitness-oriented service by October for the higher end, to push its services business into the fitness and digital health industry. Apple’s fitness app is set to move into the digital-only subscription fitness space dominated by Peloton and Nike, that provides access to a library of virtual fitness classes at a monthly price that is lower than your typical gym membership.

And while the details remain unclear, Apple’s fitness app sounds very much similar to Peloton (NASDAQ:PTON) offerings: a digital-only subscription offer that provides access to a content library of virtual fitness classes.

The question is: Will Apple be giving Peloton a run for its money?

Following the report of possible competition from Apple, shares of Peloton, the trendy at-home fitness service that streams classes to a spin bike or treadmill, fell more than 4% in premarket trading — but then quickly recovered — and closed at $65.65, up 2%. Though Wall Street analysts remain confident that the exercise-bike company can maintain its lead in the virtual fitness space.

During the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an upsurge in interest for at-home fitness classes due to gym closures and a preference to reduce contact between individuals. During the pandemic period, guided workout app downloaded grew 220% year-on-year globally.

In broad strokes, the plan echoes products from Peloton and Nike, which offer streaming classes at a monthly price that is lower than your typical gym membership — a trend that has recently gained popularity as people have been flocking to at-home fitness classes during the coronavirus pandemic that has forced temporary gym closures across the globe. As a result, Peloton shares have been up more than 120% this year thanks to a surge in sales for its bikes and treadmills, even garnering diehard fans that some would consider ‘cultish’.

Apple’s new fitness app will be available on the company’s devices, like the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, while Peloton’s offerings are tied to hardware devices such as bikes and treadmills. As compared to Apple, Peloton already offers thousands of on-demand classes in addition to live-streamed ones. Whilst the former has lots of groundwork to be done, given how its recent new video streaming platform does not have a particularly robust content catalogue. It is also unclear how much Apple’s fitness subscription service would cost. Though it might make sense to bundle it with the Apple Watch.

In Q3 2019, Peloton’s digital-only subscription revenue represented only 1% of total revenue, which means that the biggest value in digital subscribers for the company is their potential conversion to connected fitness subscribers.

“We think Apple’s new fitness app could compete vs. Peloton’s digital only subscription offer, but will have limited impact on Peloton’s connected fitness base that uses Peloton’s bike or a tread,” Bank of America Securities Analyst, Justin Post wrote. “Longer-term, it is unclear whether Apple would partner with other at-home fitness hardware companies, or create its own proprietary bike/tread, though we think former is more likely than the latter.”

One potential partnership could be ReflectFitness Asia, a one-stop portal filled with digital classes on demand or live-streamed, and supported with resources related to fitness, health, and exercise. Launching in October, ReflectFitness builds upon its community roots and creates a digital ecosystem that revolutionises the way people exercise and consume fitness related information. ReflectFitness aims to make exercising in the comfort of home, at the user’s own time, simple and convenient. Operating with paired accessories such as heart rate monitors to track output and progress after each workout, world-class Reflect instructors will provide live and on-demand one-on-one style workouts including Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates, Barre, Kickboxing, and Zumba, all within the ReflectFitness ecosystem. The portal also allows users to compete with friends through community challenges and leader boards, creating an exciting platform to engage friends and family on the user’s fitness journey.

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Culture Featured Lifestyle Local Singapore

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, Explained

Growing up in Singapore, there was always a month in the year where respect to the dead was commissioned. The trail of incense and joss paper burning signaled the beginning; the flashy live performances (‘Ge Tai’) its peak.

The seventh month of the lunar calendar (July or August in the Western calendar) is known as ‘Ghost Month’ and the 15th day of the seventh month ‘Ghost Day’. A special custom to honour the spirits of the dead, it celebrates the Taoist (and Buddhist) belief in the afterlife. This year, the festival is held from 19 August to 16 September 2020, and as I’m writing, a familiar haze of smoke signals Ghost Day (2 September) is in full swing.

History

The festival’s origins come from a Buddhist tale of filial piety, where a Buddhist monk called Maudgalyayana (or Mulian) wanted to save his mother from perpetual hunger in the pits of hell. Buddha explained the only way was to make offerings to the monks returning from their annual retreat (15th day of the seventh month), as they could offer prayers that would bless his ancestors and relieve their suffering. As the story goes, Mulian’s mother was eventually raised from the status of hungry ghost to human being through this ritual, and thus, a new tradition was born.

Background

During Ghost Month, Chinese believe the Gates of Hell are opened, allowing spirits to roam the land of the living and visit their family members and descendants. These hungry ghouls are in constant search of food and entertainment, which is why all sorts of offerings are made — to keep the dead appeased and out of trouble.

While Taoists celebrate the festival as ‘Zhong Yuan Jie’ (or中元), the Buddhists name it ‘Yu Lan Pen Jie’ (or兰盆节’) — after the sutra from which the origin of this festival was derived. In Chinese tradition, deference and reverence to all ancestors is demanded; one of my earliest memories of Ghost Month was being instructed to say ‘excuse me’ whenever I passed offerings or prayer sticks, as an expression of respect.

Today, accidentally trampling on food, stepping on incense ashes, or kicking over joss sticks is still very much taboo, unless you’d like to suffer the wrath of angry spirits. The Chinese are a superstitious lot, but much of these special customs are centered around educating the next generation on proper decorum and the value of respecting the community’s elders and family members.

Offerings

Following that line of thought, making offerings are a significant part of Ghost month tradition — families burn joss paper replicas of anything their ancestors might need in the afterlife. Paper money is the most common offering, but believers also burn paper cars, luxury houses, clothes, even paper durian and pets.

Much of the joss paper burning now takes place within dark-coloured metal bins scattered around heartland estates and at temples where large furnaces facilitate mass prayer. The tradition of offering joss sticks or plates of food (often unpeeled fruits, cake or a cup of tea) still holds, and you’ll see these along pathways and public housing void decks as an aid to prayer.

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kiawui/Instagram

Ge Tai

Because wandering ghouls need entertainment, flashy performances and raucous auctions are also a mainstay. Unique to Singapore and Malaysia, these live performances are called ‘Ge Tai’ (literally translated to be song stage), and it’s often thrown by religious affiliations and temples as a culmination of Ghost Day. Large tents are temporarily set up in open fields, or in my case, an open car park and crowds of heartlanders and believers gather to watch.

Auctions are part of the lively affair, during which dinner attendees (usually members of the hosting association) bid for items ranging from a fan to thousand-dollar liquors. Winning the bid is as much about saving ‘face’ (prestige and social standing in the Chinese context) as an ego boost; things can get heated as bidders try to one-up each other.

As the night wears on, the live performances take over — singers in flamboyant, glittery costumes take center stage to perform songs in dialects — Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Mandarin. The occasional Chinese opera performance and irreverent comedy dialogues intersperse the jazzed-up performances — it’s a heady mix of old and new that entertains with choreographed song numbers and technopop LED. Just be sure not to sit in the first row, as that is purely reserved for the ‘honoured guests’.

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Asia Highlights International Japan News Popular

Japanese Prime Minister’s Resignation: A Walkthrough of Shinzo Abe’s Legacy

Japan’s longest serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced his departure from office last Friday, citing his health as the main problem. His abrupt resignation sent shock waves throughout the world, especially Japan as they ponder about the great strides Japan has taken since Abe’s presidency. Throughout the 8 years in power, this premier has rendered a paradigm shift in the Japanese society through its economic, political and social reforms.

Commentators have noted that his loss of popularity as a prime minister in recent months was also the prime reason he is deciding to leave after serving Japan for many years. Despite having steady support from its citizens for seven years, Abe saw a steady decrease in support for his cabinet in 2020.

When the pandemic swept in, Abe was criticised for the way he handled the whole situation.

Who is Shinzo Abe?

Abe, 65 was initially elected to Parliament in 1993 after the death of his father, who was a foreign minister. However, he only started serving as a prime minister in 2006, but stepped down the following year after a scandal broke out.

In 2012, Abe became the country’s leader once again where he made key promises such as fixing the besieged Japanese economy and also amending Japan’s pacifist constitution, which will allow for a full-fledged military.

Abe first exited the office in 2007, after nearly serving for eight years due to his ailing health — a relapse of a bowel disease.

Throughout his time at office, Abe’s presence has definitely left an indelible mark on Japan’s defence policies and economy. Not only that, he also managed to maintain high profile relationships with foreign allies from all over the world.

However, Abe has said that he will continue to serve as a prime minster until his successor is chosen.

Here is a walk-through of Shinzo Abe’s prominent legacy.

International Policy

Since coming into power for the second time, Abe has changed its international affairs approach. The highly contested Yasukuni Shrine which was dedicated towards war casualties ruffled the feathers of regional countries like China and South Korea. Although Abe visited the shrine in 2013, which created much public outcry, he has thoroughly refrained from visiting the shrine, knowing all too well that it will sour the relationship with South Korea — a huge departure from his predecessors. Similarly, Abe has radically changed the interpretation of Article 9 constitution, which originally renounced the right to go to war. Instead, the reinterpretation of Article 9 allowed Japanese forces to fight alongside overseas allies, drawing condemnation from China and South Korea while simultaneously receives blessings from U.S. This move has allowed U.S. to continue developing good relationships with Japan.

While regional countries like China continue to drive a wedge with the hegemon U.S., Japan under Abe has made great investments in forging closer relationship with President Donald Trump to benefit from economic investments such as trade. For example, Abe has hosted President Donald trump in high-profile summits in Japan. Their intimate relationship, as seen in their close interactions through 32 phone calls and 5 rounds of golf, has allowed Abe to pursue Japan’s interests such as keeping the Trans-Pacific Partnership alive even after America’s withdrawal.

Domestic Policy

Aside from international or political affairs, Abe has also managed to move Japan’s society towards an inclusive and diverse one with an open market that embraces migration into Japan. He has reformed unproductive corporate culture by creating a new form of corporate governance code and investor stewardship code that aims to increase shareholder control and profitability. Meanwhile, the power of the traditionalist managers weakens. Additionally, Abe has also sought to punish the toxic corporate culture where workers had to endure unproductive overtime hours. Of particular importance, while his party had long resisted Japan’s movement towards gender equality and immigration, Abe has nudged companies to hire more women and minimise gender inequality through the provision of funded daycare centers, encouraging more men to take paternity leave as well as provide companies incentives if they hire women.

Economic policy

Abe will leave behind his biggest legacy, Abenomics, which was aimed to curb the threats of deflation and an aging work force through fiscal spending, corporate deregulation, and cheap cash.

Abenomics delivered great results in the early years of Abe’s term which lifted Japan’s economy immensely and at the same time, lifting Abe’s profile as a prime minister. However, in 2019, the steady growth suffered due to the trade war between United States and China. It then took a further downfall when the pandemic hit Japan, causing its economy to hit a slump.

Who will take over Abe? 

Certainly, Abe has done pretty well in his political and public policy approach during his 8-year long term. However, Abe has not groomed a successor during this time, and this creates anxiety for Japan; some scholars have argued that with Abe stepping down, Abe’s rival, Shigeru Ishiba who is the most popular politician will take over. What lays ahead for Japan and its society? It would be tough for the next prime minister to match Abe’s legacy on economic, political, and social policies where he brought the country out of recession and diversified Japan’s labour force.

Ishiba will have a tough challenge ahead as it tries to win the support of its party members as well as Abe’s party who regards him as a political foe. With this tussle ahead of him, one wonders his plans for the future and if he is able to charismatically deliver policies despite the constant tension within the cabinet.

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International Japan News

Japan’s Revolutionary Transparent Toilets Reveal Deep-Seated Problems

Social and cultural issues drive the need for transparency.

On the ground, sentiments regarding Japan’s new transparent toilets have been a mix of privacy concerns and praises for safety; on Twitter, most Japanese netizens have felt that they were impractical due to fears of malfunction.

But what exactly are these transparent toilets?

THE TOKYO TOILET Project

These transparent toilets are part of a new project unveiled by The Nippon Foundation in early August. As part of this project, three conjoined transparent toilet cubicles were installed in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and three other in Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park.

The main aim of these installations is to address two main concerns surrounding public toilets, especially those located in parks: cleanliness and safety. They come amidst stereotypes among the Japanese public that public toilets are “dark, dirty, smelly, and scary”.

These stereotypes could be caused by mysophobia and sexual harassment.

Mysophobia

A cultural phenomenon in Japan, ‘keppekishō’, could be one possible cause of the nation’s fear of using public toilets. Roughly translated, the term means “fastidiousness” or “phobia of dirt”.

From antibacterial products to squat toilets, Japan’s obsession with cleanliness has always been fascinating.

Yet, it has also been a sign of a serious mental epidemic. According to an anonymous 52-year-old Japanese reporter, his fear of contamination by germs in toilets became so extreme that he would avoid public toilets in train stations altogether.

Of course, he isn’t the only one suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and there are many more like him.

Sexual harassment and perverts

The Japanese social phenomenon of ‘sekuhara’ could be another possible cause of the fear of using public toilets. The term is an abbreviation of ‘sexual harassment’. In a country where sexual harassment and public indecency are grossly under-reported and under-criminalised, public toilets are hotspots for sexual predators to lurk in.

In 2018, two men were arrested on the same night for willfully entering a Sapporo supermarket’s women’s toilet. One of them was caught secretly filming a female supermarket employee from a neighbouring stall while the other was wearing women’s clothing and occupying a stall. Both of them were middle-aged men.

Public harassment faced by Japanese women has been reported to be much more common than that faced by Japanese men. 47.9% of Japanese women surveyed in 2019 claimed that they had been touched inappropriately before, while 41.9% of them claimed that they had experienced close physical contact (presumably unwarranted).

Similar campaigns in other countries

In a bid to weed out voyeurism, Seoul’s government dispatched 8,000 workers in 2018 to inspect “more than 20,000 public restrooms, in subways, parks, community centres, public gyms and underground commercial arcades”.

In the West, the British Toilet Association (BTA) had implemented the “‘Use Our Loos’” campaign in the same year to have more toilets in businesses open to non-customers, following a 39% decrease in the number of public toilets. The aim of this campaign was to make public toilets more accessible to the general public.

Would Japan’s transparent toilets campaign work in Singapore?

Unfortunately, no. This is simply because the Singaporean government’s focus has always been on keeping local toilets clean and improving mass awareness of good toilet etiquette since 1982, when the first “Keep Public Toilets Clean” campaign was launched. Therefore, a campaign like THE TOKYO TOILET would be highly irrelevant to the imperative needs of our nation in its current stage of development and would not soothe Singaporeans’ fears of public toilets being dirty.

A step forward in the right direction

While these newly-sprung toilets continue to garner attention from both Japanese and international news media, unwelcome fundamental issues have also been brought to light. Thankfully, The Nippon Foundation has acknowledged the presence of said fundamental issues.

Still, the country lacks legislative safety nets for sexual abuse as well as public awareness of and treatment for mysophobia.

On the governmental level, women’s sexual rights protection is nonexistent. In fact, Japan is the only high-income country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without a law prohibiting sexual harassment.

On the social level, sufferers of mysophobia (and OCD in general) normally delay seeking treatment until their conditions become severe. Moreover, the lack of trained therapists has prevented diagnosed patients from receiving the proper treatment they need.

The transparent toilets are a step forward in the right direction. Thereafter, the real work begins.

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Local Singapore

Massive Retrenchments in Singapore Due to COVID-19

What lies ahead of those affected by the recent string of layoffs?

As Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrinks by a historic 13.2% year on year, retrenchments have abounded. On 18 August, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced that it would be laying off 140 employees from its media sales and magazines operations due to the negative “impact COVID-19 has had on advertising revenues”. This figure is, as of yet, the highest when compared to those of past exercises held by the company in October 2017 and October 2019.

According to the World Economic Forum, a decline in advertising revenues can be largely attributed to “changing consumer behaviour”. In a troubling time when social distancing and stay-at-home measures are the norm, digital consumption (i.e., use of social platforms and streaming services and gaming) has risen dramatically, thus allowing digital advertising to take precedence over its print counterpart.

Furthermore, in a debilitating recession, advertisers have been looking to speed up the sales process by focusing on purchase immediacy through “direct response campaigns”.

But advertising has not been the only sector to be severely hit by the pandemic. The hospitality industry has also faced its fair share of large-scale layoffs, with Millennium Hotels and Resorts making the headlines. A day after SPH’s announcement, the said hospitality management group retrenched 15.2% of its Singapore-based workforce. As an offset, the company also reduced its foreign employee dependency by 45 per cent, resulting in a net increase in its “Singapore core” from 61 per cent in January to 69 per cent on 19 August.

drastic drop in the number of tourists is to blame for this phenomenon. In April, visitor arrivals in Singapore dropped to 748 for the first time in history. Compared to a year ago that saw 1.6 million tourists hit our shores, this counts for nearly a 100 per cent dropMoreover, the number of tourists from January to April decreased by 58% compared with the same period last year.

Consequently, the average occupancy rate of gazetted hotels plunged by 27.2 percentage points to 58.6 percent, contributing to a 30.9% fall in overall revenue in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year.

Uncertainty creates opportunities

Corporate loyalty can often turn into disillusionment when retrenchment suddenly strikes. Take it from Madam Josephine Low, a 75-year-old lady who was laid off after a near 10-year career at a hotel.

Maybe, the trick to fighting structural unemployment is not upskilling but reskilling.

After all, Mr Andy Yap, once a digital design director of an events company, has now turned to food delivery via mountain bike after he had been axed during a retrenchment exercise.

He claimed, “‘Food delivery is pandemic-and recession-resistant.’”

Governmental schemes

Currently, the most prominent reskilling programme rolled out by the government is SGUnited Skills.

Under this scheme, trainees can learn skills relevant to their preferred industries which will help improve their employability. These certifiable courses are delivered by Continuing Education and Training (CET) centres, including Institutes of Higher Learning. As bonuses, they will also receive a training allowance of $1,200 per month for the duration of the programme, to cover basic subsistence expenses and its highly subsidised course fees will be deductible from their SkillsFuture Credit.

For those who have been recently retrenched, it would be wise to pair this scheme with the Enhanced Hiring Incentive to maximise their chances of getting employed upon completing their reskilling training.

SkillsFuture Singapore

The latter scheme, which is an upgraded version of its predecessor (Hiring Incentive), boasts a salary support of 40% for six months, capped at $12,000 in total for employers who hire a local worker aged 40 and above, and a salary support of 20% for six months, capped at $6,000 in total for employers who hire a local worker aged below 40. These are assuming that the said hired workers have undergone eligible reskilling or training programmes.

But, given the 6- to 12-month length of the SGUnited Skills programme, such would not make for a feasible short-term solution for those who have borne the brunt of massive retrenchment exercises.

Gig economy

With employment agencies unable to cope with the piling application forms following the widespread displacement of workers from their jobs, the once go-to alternative for finding a job has quickly now become a bottleneck to steer clear of. Instead, freelancing has replaced these agencies as a quick fix for those who have lost their jobs.

The two main advantages that freelancing has over the traditional corporate setting are greater efficiency and lower costs. Besides, jobs like food delivery courier and freelance stylist/designer entail the freedom to schedule one’s working week and an extremely short time lag between the application for gigs and the hiring (no traditional intermediaries like job interviews and contracts).

The only downside is that freelancers are not entitled to health benefits. Fortunately, on 4 November 2019, the government enacted the contribute-as-you-earn (CAYE) scheme to divert a portion of their earnings to their MediSave accounts, which would aid in the payment of their medical bills where applicable.

This scheme, however, applies only to those working in the public sector.

COVID-19 has challenged the paradigm that longstanding employment is permanent and has forced us to value subsistence over complacency. And while the future may look bleak from where we are standing, all is not lost: reskilling and job opportunities are out there for us to fully utilise provided we do not give up on searching for them.

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Exclusive Local News Singapore

Hyflux Saga: What Happened, and What’s Next

On 13 August, Hyflux announced that an unsecured working group of bank lenders (UWG) has filed its application for a judicial management order, following an extension of the deadline from 7 August to 12 August granted by the Singapore High Court. 

Justice Aedit Abdullah gave the green light for the filing of the judicial management order last month, taking into consideration UWG’s case that they could no longer trust Hyflux’s management for any restructuring efforts. Justice Aedit Abdullah had previously rejected the judicial management order, but reiterated that the application could be revived if needed. He stated during a hearing last May, “A moratorium is meant to be a temporary solution to allow a company to put something together… but it doesn’t mean I can give a blank cheque for the moratorium going forward.” 

If given the go ahead, this order would allow the group of bank lenders — Mizuho, Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, CTBC Bank, KfW, Korea Development Bank, and Standard Chartered Bank — to carve out their respective shares from Hyflux’s debt moratorium. 

This is the second time that the UWG has applied for a Judicial Management Order. The first was done in May 2019, but was met with resistance from Hyflux, which refuted that judicial management applications often lead to liquidation of a company. 

Hyflux had its break in 2001, when it became the first water treatment company to be listed in Singapore, and secured the water treatment project to supply and install the process equipment for the Newater plant in Bedok. The company then went on to clinch other major projects, such as the third Newater plant in Seletar, the SingSpring Desalination Plant. 

Another success came a decade later, when Ms Olivia Lum, CEO of Hyflux, became the first Singaporean and the first woman to win the Ernst & Young (EY) World Entrepreneur of the Year award. That year, Hyflux also won Singapore’s second and largest seawater desalination project, which led them to propose building an on-site 411 megawatt combined cycle power plant to produce electricity for the desalination plant and power grid — the Tuaspring Integrated Water and Power Project, which formally began its operation in 2016. 

However, Hyflux’s foray into the energy business did not go as well as predicted. 

With the dip in electricity prices in Singapore, the Tuaspring Integrated Water and Power Project registered a net loss of S$81.9 million at the end of 2017. 

The loss of profit can be attributed to various factors. According to Associate Professor Lawrence Loh, Director of the NUS Business School’s Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations, Hyflux’s risk management committee met only once in the 2017 financial year — a red flag considering the high-risk nature of their business. 

There have also been questions raised about the management practices within the company. In an interview with TODAY, NUS corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen, pointed out that Hyflux’s board of directors may not have adequately questioned Ms Lum’s decisions, as the latter is known to have a strong personality. 

Another problem could be due to the fact that the eight-member board includes two former employees — which present a level of conflict of interest. Non-executive independent director Christopher Murugasu was Hyflux’s senior vice-president for corporate services and Mr Gary Kee, a non-executive non-independent director, was its executive director overseeing areas such as corporate finance and information technology. Having ex-employees on the board could be problematic, as boards are meant to represent shareholders’ views and monitor the management. 

As such, after reporting a year of consecutive profit loss in 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, Hyflux decided to appeal to the High Court for a supervision of business and debt reorganisation. A 6-month debt moratorium — filed under Section 211B of the local Companies Act — was also granted, hence protecting Hyflux from court proceedings from creditors and investors while restructuring was underway. This would allow Hyflux to focus on discussion with investors, optimise operations and complete ongoing projects to generate some cash flow.

The moratorium has since been extended multiple times to accommodate Hyflux’s efforts to restructure — much to the frustration of more than 34,000 investors, who have been seeking reprieve since 2018. 

To add on to their problems, Hyflux’s restructuring process has also been shaky, as a significant portion of local bonds have been bought by individual investors, leading to difficulties in uniting investors when it comes to decision making. 

Amidst these troubles, another stumbling block appeared in late January 2020, when Hyflux’s legal advisor expressed intent to resign, owing to a “lack of confidence”. The company has retorted by saying that they too have lost confidence in their existing legal advisors, and have since appointed new ones.

So, what’s next for Hyflux?

Hyflux has undergone negotiations with various investors in a bid to save their business. Some of these entities include Middle Eastern utility firm, Utico, Pison Investments led by Johnny Widjaja, Unilegend Investments, and Aqua Munda. 

Out of all these potential suitors, Utico and Johnny Widjaja through Pison Investments have been touted the ‘white knights’, as both have outlined their desire to save Hyflux from its financial troubles. In an agreement which took months of negotiation to materialise, Utico offered to take a 95% stake in Hyflux, in exchange for a $400 million ‘rescue’ deal whilst Pison Investments have set aside $200 million for debt repayment and working capital. Mr Widjaja believes in the potential of Hyflux and aims to integrate Hyflux’s water treatment services with the coastal industrial estate he plans to build in Java . 

As the possibility of judicial management looms, Hyflux has to choose on a rescue package soon or face the prospect of liquidation which often happens to companies under judicial management. The fate of many retail investors numbering close to 34,000 and their prospects of recovering any part of their investments will be known in the coming weeks.

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Adventure Asia Destinations Lifestyle Singapore

Undiscovered Hiking Trails in Singapore for Your Next Weekend Adventure

What plans do you have for the upcoming weekend? If, like us, you’ve spent most of the week in an office chair in front of a computer screen, there’s no better time to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh air.

Hiking has become one of the most popular things to do in Singapore, with some hotspots seeing high footfall over the weekends. If you’re looking for something a little quieter, head to these undiscovered trails in Singapore for some well-deserved nature lovin’ — sans the crowds! 

1. Kranji Marshes 

Kranji Marshes is Singapore’s largest freshwater marshland, containing 57 hectares worth of natural and green habitats. Home to three unique biomes, the area is home to 170 species of birds, 54 types of butterflies, and more. You might also chance upon an estuarine crocodile or monitor lizard along the way!

Head up the Raptor Tower for a panoramic view of the area. Bird enthusiasts will also be delighted to discover species like the Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Purple Heron and Changeable Hawk Eagle. If you’d like to learn more, join the free ‘Evening Chorus at Kranji Marshes’ guided tour through the core conservation area, which is usually not open to the public.

How to get there: Take the Kranji Express Bus from Kranji MRT Station to the D’Kranji Farm Resort, followed by a short walk to Kranji Gate.

2. Bukit Batok Nature Park

Witness a slice of history at Bukit Batok Nature Park, which was developed on an abandoned quarry back in 1988. During the Japanese invasion, one of the most vehement battles took place at the Bukit Timah area. Bukit Batok Nature Park is home to a hill that overlooks the battleground; a WWII memorial was hence constructed on this very hilltop to commemorate the lives lost during the battle.

In addition, the park offers multiple hiking trails that offer magnificent views of the lakes and granite quarry. 

How to get there: Take buses 61, 66, 157, 178, 852 and 985 to Bukit Batok East Avenue 6.

3. Tampines Eco Green

Hidden away between the Tampines Expressway, Tampines Avenue 12, and Sungei Tampines, Tampines Eco Green is a secret park that pays homage to all things natural. True to its theme, the park has no lights or pavements. It doesn’t even have a flushing toilet; instead, its toilet is a compost-based one! The park’s signboards and benches are also made from recycled and environmentally-friendly materials.

Take your pick from three trails — Diversity Trail, Forest Trail and Marsh Trail — through secondary forests, vegetated swales, and more. Keep your eyes peeled for any of the park’s 75 species of birds and 35 species of butterflies! The park is also home to the Hanguana Rubinea, a native flower that’s found only in Singapore.

How to get there: 20-minute walk from Tampines MRT Station.

4. Thomson Nature Park

Be spoilt for choice at Thomson Nature Park, which boasts five trails that span a total of 3.8 kilometres. Previously a Hainan Village, bits of its heritage have been preserved in the form of old village houses, old street signs and the remains of a rambutan plantation.

Check out the Run and Figs Trail, as well as the Stream and Ferns Trail. If you’re lucky, you might even chance upon a Raffles’ Banded Langur, an endangered primate; or the Sunda Pangolin and Malayan Porcupine, both of which are highly elusive.

How to get there: Take buses 138, 138A, 167, 169, 860 and 980 to Upper Thomson Road.

5. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Comprising the first ASEAN Heritage Park, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a haven for nature and wildlife lovers. Home to some of the island’s richest biodiversity, the swamps of Sungei Buloh are home to 140 species of birds, mudskippers, tree-climbing crabs, mud lobsters monkeys, otter, civet cats, monitor lizards, and even the occasional estuarine crocodile! 

The Migratory Bird Walk’s Aerie Tower is a prime spot for bird-watching, especially during the migratory season. To find out more, there are free guided walks available every Saturday at 9.30am.

How to get there: Take Bus 925 from Kranji MRT Station to Kranji Reservoir Carpark B.

If you’re raring for an adventure of bigger proportions, tackle the Coast to Coast Trail, a mega 36-kilometre route that stretches all the way from Coney Island to Jurong Lake Gardens. Along the way, you’ll also pass through Punggol Waterway Park, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Macritchie Reservoir Park, the Rail Corridor, and Bukit Batok Nature Park. 

Alternatively, the North Eastern Riverine Loop is a 26-kilometre trail that runs through Buangkok, Sengkang and Punggol — including Punggol Promenade and Lorong Halus Wetland. This trail is also suitable for cycling if you don’t wish to go entirely on foot! Another option is the Western Adventure Loop, which connects the five parks of Bukit Batok Nature Park, Jurong Lake Park, Zhenghua Park Dairy Farm Nature Park, and Choa Chu Kang Park.

That’s exactly what we love about Singapore — it may be a metropolitan city but, look close enough, and you’ll find little pockets of green space scattered all around that are the perfect escape from all that hustle and bustle.

So, which of these hiking trails will you explore first?

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Local News Singapore

Troubled Times at Singapore Companies

There is a saying that when it rains, it pours. That saying could not be truer for several Singapore companies which have been heavily impacted by the biggest global health crisis since the 1918 Spanish Flu.

One-two punches

Once a promising company which briefly counted Temasek Holdings as an investor, Hyflux made its name providing water treatment technology expertise and project management. It has since been brought to its knees by a one-two punch, namely the oversupply of natural gas in 2018 and the oil market crash in 2020, exacerbated by the global pandemic, which have seen a prolong weakness in electricity prices.

In 2016, several years prior to a COVID-19 pandemic, Hyflux was already deep in financial turmoil. However, a collapse in the demand for oil caused by the pandemic led to a crash in oil prices and thereby lowering the profits of electric power generation. Since Hyflux’s projects integrated water treatment with power generation, it meant that the drop in electricity price caused substantial losses for the company. For its Tuaspring project in Singapore, Hyflux estimated electricity prices at $220 per MWh. At the time, Hyflux had the intention of selling excess electricity to the national grid to offset the low cost of supplying water to PUB. Unfortunately for Hyflux, electricity prices have trended only downwards and presently are approximately $81 per MWh. With $1.6 billion in debt, the fate of Hyflux now remains in the hands of UTICO, an Emirati company; Pison Investments led by Johnny Widjaja; Aqua Munda, a Singapore register chemical company; and a consortium comprising of unsecured working group (UWG) of banks — Mizuho, KfW, Bangkok Bank, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered Bank, CTBC Bank, and Korea Development Bank — who have recently applied to the courts for the company to be placed under judicial management.

Similarly, Singapore’s marine industry have also endured a one-two punch of its own — first with the cyclical weakness in shipping, and secondly with the COVID-19 pandemic that hammered oil prices. As a result of closing its Singapore yards for months due to the pandemic, Sembcorp Marine posted a net loss of $84 million in the first half of 2020. While production gradually resumed with the lifting of island-wide circuit breaker measures, Sembcorp Marine have also implemented salary cuts across the company and job cuts. Sembcorp Marine’s rival, Keppel Offshore and Marine, similarly cut jobs this month. In 2017, it had already cut 1250 jobs and the economic disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic means the recovery of Singapore’s offshore and ship building industry remains gloomy. Both parent company Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Marine are partly owned by Temasek.

One almighty punch

One almighty punch can be sufficient to wipe out a business. In 2020, that one punch is COVID-19.

Knocked out by COVID-19, around the world airline bankruptcies have been par for the course, with only those receiving government aid as the likely survivors of this global health crisis. Thankfully for Singapore Airlines, majority shareholder, Temasek Holdings, will no doubt continue to provide full backing, and the national flag carrier will likely survive this crisis. Having said that, it faces a monumental challenge ahead.

The current situation at Singapore Airlines has deteriorated due to a much longer than anticipated time before air services can resume. Unlike larger countries which have a domestic air network that may still function in a global pandemic, a carrier like Singapore Airlines is highly susceptible to international travel restrictions such as mandatory quarantines.

The resultant precipitous drop in demand for air travel means Singapore Airlines is facing its greatest challenge yet in its seventy-three-year history. According to data from International Air Transport Association (IATA), revenue-passenger-kilometer in April 2020 has dropped by 94.3% on a year-on-year basis. The SIA Group is currently operating at only 4% of its pre-COVID routes and a load factor of just over 10%. As the reality is setting in that the resumption of air services could happen much later than hoped, the company is staring at an extended period of operating in survival mode.

Given the magnitude of the decline in air travel, the fact that no definitive time line is set for the resumption of air travel, and no certainty that SIA’s capacity will be the same size as pre-COVID, it is inevitable that job cuts would occur. Currently, more than 22% of its 27,000 staff are on no-pay leave, and there is a company-wide pay cut among other measures that have been rolled out. However, even with the Singapore Government’s Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) extended till March 2021, covering 50% instead of the current 75% of wages, it is likely that staff retrenchments will come sooner rather than later.

Investing in a Pandemic Economy

Yet as tumultuous a time as it is for its subsidiaries, Temasek have been adding to its estimated $306 billion portfolio, prudently taking advantage investment opportunities created by market volatility.

In its recent 13F filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Temasek added to its stake in the world’s largest asset management firm, BlackRock, worth approximately $4.8 billion. Meanwhile Temasek have also purchased additional shares in Chinese bio-pharmaceutical companies, China Biologic Products Holdings and Beigene.  In addition, earlier this month, Temasek and Bayer AG’s impact investment arm, Leaps by Bayer, announced a new joint-venture called Unfold. Combining seed genetics and agriculture technological experts, the new company hopes to develop crops specially designed for the unique requirements of indoor vertical farming.

Meanwhile, Temasek have pulled out of a recent deal to increase its stake in Singapore’s Keppel Corp due to Keppel’s financial losses. Certainly, Temasek’s recent investments in bio-pharmaceuticals and high-tech agriculture is a hint at how investing in a COVID-19 world will look like going forward, and that for now, perhaps the best investment opportunities lie outside Singapore.