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Local Review Singapore

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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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.

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Asia Local News Singapore

Singapore Will Not Return to Pre-COVID days

In a press conference held on Tuesday (11 Aug), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing announced that Singapore needs to move in another direction, after describing the nations “worst quarterly performance on record”.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) now expect a year-on-year contraction of 5% and 7%, compared to the initial 4% to 7% projection. 

Private economists’ predicted a downward drop of 12.9%. However, the nation’s quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 13.2% year on year in April through June, a sharp 0.3% decrease from the first quarter. The MTI informed that “the outlook for the Singapore economy has weakened slightly since May”.

The anticipated return to the old normal is hoped for by many. Unfortunately, quick recovery and return to the ways of the past are gone. The “painful truth” is that “we are not returning to a pre-COVID-19 world” and that recovery will be slow and unlikely to be smooth sailing. 

“We can expect recurring waves of infection and disruptions,” he said. 

Mr Chan also highlighted a few global changes that Singapore has to anticipate. The geopolitical landscape that provided Singapore with the opportunity to grow and thrive in the last five decades has changed, due to tensions amongst the major powers. He highlighted that Singapore has to avoid being between the conflicts of major powers. 

“We must avoid being caught between the conflicts of major powers or be stranded in a fragmenting world of trade relations and technological standards,” he added.

The global landscape has changed irrevocably, with global companies reorganising their production and supply chains. Some companies are also reviewing the need for regional hubs and the way their operations are organised to serve different markets. New investments will be making its way to Singapore, but some existing ones may seek to diversify elsewhere. 

Mr Chan also added that “It is a fluid landscape and we must do everything we can to defend our capabilities and capacities.” 

The nature of jobs has also changed, with remote working becoming the norm, allowing for more global job opportunities to be available for Singaporeans. Still, the nature of remote working will also let other workers in other countries do the same jobs from their homes. Some job posts have advertised openings with the opportunity to work in Singapore or remotely, which affects many PMET jobs, as such work can be done virtually or through automation and AI. 

Changes in the economy will also result in more societal frictions and tensions, as those who have more and those with less will contend, and issues such as foreign and local employment, and citizenship, will also arise. 

“We will need to better take care of those affected by job and business losses. We have and will continue to do these in a sustainable way that is not divisive, affirm the dignity of work and strengthen our social fabric. These tensions, unless well managed, can divide our society,” he said.

The way forward for Singapore is muddled, but staying still is not an option. The fluidity of the entire situation means that every factor and circumstance is fast evolving. However, the government regularly update the people on the economy and job situation, sector by sector. 

Three principles were outlined for Singapore’s moving forward. 

Firstly, the country will open for business safely and sustainably. Mr Chan said that “it will not be a binary option of open or close. It can be done. We must stay open while isolating the impacted clusters quickly and tightly.” 

Secondly, the government will extend help to businesses and workers, helping them adapt to the new normal. Firms with opportunities will be provided with a boost for growth, as this creates more job opportunities for workers. Examples of such firms include those in info-communications technology, biopharma, supply chains, and precision engineering. Companies experiencing a drop in demand now but have the potential to recover will have their core capabilities preserved so that they can come out of this stronger. Companies will also receive help in cash-flow, from schemes such as Jobs Support Scheme to rental relief scheme. Assistance is extended to companies whose industries have gone in another direction due to reinvention and adaptation. 

The last principle includes supporting businesses through establishing the “right macro conditions,”, Mr Chan said. The government will strengthen connections with the world for markets, supplies, technology and talent, to preserve Singapore’s competitiveness. 

In a novel move, Singapore will engage in digital free trade agreements to open more markets for businesses, while maintaining existing access to conventional markets. 

The future may be unpredictable, and it may be challenging to pull through. However, the minister assured that the government is still committed to every Singaporean, mentioning that instead of waiting for the situation to calm down, they will start preparations now. 

Categories
Culture Lifestyle Singapore

Singlish: A Cornerstone of Singapore’s Culture

A ten-year-old boy once looked at his parents and his two siblings before proudly declaring with gusto: “I am English, not Chinese”. This boy was me many years ago, except if one were to look at my NRIC, one would clearly see that it reads “CHINESE” for race, and nobody in my line of ancestors have come from the United Kingdom. In truth, I was simply being a cheeky boy, trying my absolute best to avoid the Mandarin tuition classes which I found myself all too often in.

It took me until I reached adulthood before the intertwining relationship between our unique cultural identity and the languages we speak became salient. It is with this mindset that I came to appreciate our colloquially spoken language of Singlish as an important cornerstone of Singapore’s culture. So as a strong proponent of Singlish, let me give you several reasons why I think Singlish should not be abolished.

Singlish gives Singaporeans our identity

Singapore has all the trappings of a modern city and country with its glass skyscrapers, glitzy shopping malls, and world-class airport. Yet many of those elements can be found in other modern cities too and the real points of difference lie in the people themselves and the culture that characterises them.

When abroad, it is not uncommon for Singaporeans to recognise other Singaporeans instantly and unmistakably when we hear phrases like “can meh” or “cannot lah”. This is proof that Singlish as a language forms part of our identity as Singaporeans.

Singlish truly represents Singapore

Singapore’s multi-racial society means Singlish has become a melting pot for the different races that make up society. Singlish has been known to absorb and use the words of all the different races to adapt to the needs of its users. Singlish is one of those marvellous cultural icons because it is made from our multi-racial people into one united language and one unique cultural tapestry. Furthermore, one of the reasons why Singlish is commonly used in informal settings is because of its efficiency. We require simply require fewer words to communicate our intended message. We as a country pride ourselves by our efficiency in numerous fields, it is therefore extremely apt that our colloquial language of Singlish mirrors that same ethos of being efficient. Singlish simply embodies the Singapore spirit and represents us in a manner that not many other cultural landmarks can.

Singapore has few things which are unique to our cultural identity

While many countries have accumulated and formed distinct cultures surrounding food, art, music, sports, music, and beyond, Singapore is a young country with not many traits unique to its culture. Apart from local food and our pragmatic approach to governance, Singapore has very few cultural landmarks. Thus, it is even more critical that we hang on to Singlish as a national treasure.

The need to preserve national culture

One must bear in mind that Singapore is a highly cosmopolitan city with a diverse mix of people from all over the world. According to Statista, in 2019 there were about 2.16 million immigrants (classified as people living in a country in which they were not born in) in Singapore out of approximately 5.7 million. That is almost 40% of the total population in Singapore. Moreover, in a city state like Singapore, we do not have secondary cities with the population numbers to absorb the influx of new people and with them the cultures that they bring.  It is therefore even more critical that local languages unique to our cultural identity should be preserved.

A language worthy of celebration

I think of that young ten-year old boy I once was. Except for perhaps my still poor command of Mandarin, I could not be more different from that boy now. Today, when Singaporean friends of mine based overseas return to Singapore, I cannot be prouder to welcome them back home with a healthy dose of Singlish. I know a part of me knows that seeing someone dear will always be an elated moment, but part of me also knows that hearing Singlish, conversing in a familiar language after being away for so long, is just as poignant. Whether we consciously or subconsciously recognise them, it is in those moments where I strongly feel this language that binds all Singaporeans are worthy of celebration. Or as they say in Singlish: “This one confirm must celebrate lah”!

Categories
Athletics Local Singapore South East Asia Sports

Singapore Athletics Examines Leaked Recording, After Recent Scandals Take Stage

A three-hour long audio recording of the association’s extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) started to make its rounds on 13 July 2020, as the group and its members were reviewing its constitution.

The Singapore Athletics Association (SA) has since released a statement, condemning the leak and further opening investigations into its source.

Speaking to The Straits Times, SA president Tang Weng Fei has said that it was reiterated and emphasised multiple times and “made clear repeatedly” that any of the association’s meetings and proceedings are highly private and confidential.

Affiliate members attending the virtual meeting were made aware of this.

“There were strict professional instructions and conditions provided to the members before the EOGM, and reiterated at least twice during the EOGM, but the professional standards were not adhered to by certain members,” he said.

“Actions will have to be taken to make those who were responsible, account for their conduct, as confidential information was imparted (by all attending) on the common understanding and obligation of confidence.”

During the EOGM, 20 of the association’s 23 affiliate members, as well as 15 other associate members, attended a meeting which lasted around five hours.

As per the contents of the clip, Tang himself was addressing a question from honorary secretary of Wings Athletics Club. The SA had suggested a removal of their voting rights from its athletes’ commission representatives.

This, along with other proposed changes, were several that were raised during the meeting, which elicited concerns from some clubs even prior to the EOGM.

Notably, the clip was thereafter reposted on social media by Soh Rui Yong, a national marathoner, who famously sued SA for defamation earlier last year. The marathoner felt their statement on his non-selection for the 2019 edition of the SEA Games in the Phillippines was unwarranted.

In his Facebook post, Soh questions the proposed changes to the SA’s constitution, of which were made by Tang.

In another Facebook update on 3 August, Soh posted an update regarding his lawsuit against the SA:

“During a hearing before the Singapore High Court this morning, the Court ordered costs of $2,500 in my favour, to be paid by Singapore Athletics (SA).”

The leak comes after the SA was embroiled in a sexual misconduct case in the sport. Former veteran coach Loh Siang Piow, 75, was found guilty in June 2020 for molestation and abuse of a teenage athlete on several occasions.

In 2013, Loh had sexually abused the then 18-year-old victim under the guise of a sports massage to ease her cramps. This happened on two occasions at Tampines Stadium.

The SA has reiterated that it strives to construct safe sporting environments for athletes, citing the introduction of several measures that has been implemented ever since its new management committee was formed in 2018. It had downsized the size of its committee subsequently to prevent nominees from infighting.

The association has also been strengthening the appropriate channels utilised for any potential misconduct in the future, working closely with Sport Singapore to provide education and awareness.

Tang, when probed for comments on the guilty verdict, only said that Loh “contributed significantly over the years as an athlete, coach and administrator”.

Having never encountered any cases of abuse or harassment in her 16 years of representing Singapore, three-time Paralympic gold medallist Yip Pin Xiu, 28, reminds that vigilance is key.

“There might possibly be cases of under-reporting, considering how sexual assault victims everywhere normally find it hard to speak out. I think that (Loh’s) case will encourage people to speak up on these kinds of experiences.”