Saturday 31 December 2022

Month of December 2022

As part of national service requirement, I get free basic health screening around my birthday each year. The result determines whether I'm fit to carry out IPPT and vocational work. For the last six years, it had more or less delivered the same verdict and that is, cholesterol level remained elevated and I'm cleared for all duties. That's about it and I had relied on this for an indicative state of health but do not know the details. This year, somehow in my peripheral view, certain advertisements kept appearing to remind me to go for a health checkup. It was this nagging feeling that an appointment at Lifescan Medical was made two months ago while pulling my wife along who had not done one for even longer. They provide various packages (both private and corporate) and after searching, I found a UOB promotion that cost $215, much lower than their website rate. On the day, we walked in at 930am to begin the investigative tests i.e blood, eye, chest and general consultation. I found the stool sample most difficult to provide as I didn't want to make an additional trip. Three days later, the result came out. There was a slight apprehension when I opened the email. It was well presented and neatly summarized in the first few pages before providing the details. So, the outcome provided a sense of relief as the cholesterol continued to be an outlier. My right eye needs further consultation for possible signs of glaucoma. Slight concern but probably nothing to worry about.

The World Cup in Qatar may have been controversial but that's another day for debate. For me, it was about living the moment as a fan. In the group stage, I caught a couple of games with the two younger ones at Macdonalds. Obviously, I was the more enthusiastic one while the youngest just wanted to have his ice cream and fries. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable. Then I managed to watch few more games partially onboard a cruise. The late night games were too much of a stretch. It wasn't until the final that I got together with a group of friends. I'm glad we did because it was such a great match. Our hearts raced along with the pulse of the proceedings as Messi and co fought hard only to be pinned back. The majority in the group supported Argentina (in spirit and in bets) as the voices grew louder with each exciting moment. Luckily we were at my place, freely imbibing sake and yakiniku as snacks. Imagine the joy erupted when the last penalty was converted. It was a happy late ending but the yawns were setting in. Even my wife who is not a football fan stayed throughout. I hope this atmosphere can be recreated again in four years time.

On a rare afternoon where most fathers could take leave, we gathered the children from 7 - 13 years old and went for the Ice Magic at MBS Bayfront. We were geared up for winter and fortunately did not underestimate the temperatures inside. It was freezing and any exposed skin would feel numbing in few minutes. My ears bore the suffering and yet, I saw a family of four (presumably foreigners) who wore shorts! The queues at the slide took forty minutes and the adults stood in line while the kids went running around. From the excited face of my youngest son and him rolling on the ground, it must have been really fun since he had wanted to see snow. We had to take multiple breaks just to keep warm. The good thing about going in a group is that the adults could take turns minding the kids. Thus we managed to stay for two hours before heading off for dinner with twenty pax without reservation. Quite a challenge but luck was with us as a Japanese restaurant took us in.

There wasn't much time left as I tore the paper tab off and contemplated the $20 worth left. I'm referring to the soon-to-be-extinct coupon that had served the public for so long. My remaining pieces showed the final year of usage as 2022. I remembered fondly the situations when a coupon's time was about to expire and had to run to insert an extension piece. Or the time when parking in the CBD for half a day, you got to sit in the car for a few minutes just to tear the required amount and display 50 cents (half hourly) coupons across the dashboard. Or just taking a gamble when parking overnight in the open at a HDB amidst a sea of cars and not using a coupon, hoping the attendant did not check. It proved there were hardworking ones who actually prowled the car parks even at 3am! Or the lorry drivers who put in the required coupon but shoved within a crowded windscreen of used coupons. I always wondered whether that was a deliberate tactic to dissuade an attendant from inspecting. It was inevitable that the coupon would be replaced by technology, a parking app. In one more day, what it holds would just be sentimental value that grew with me over two decades.

Tip: Ron Zacapa XO, sweet maple, gula melaka, medium bodied covered by little spice

Wednesday 28 December 2022

Closing Out 2022

When I began this blog two years ago, it was due to Covid. Since then, the virus is still circulating well within the community and causing small pockets of panic ala China. From another angle, the 2022 world just got itself into more turmoil as we experienced the growing feeling of anxiety over our jobs and our way of living. The reasons are aplenty, from global financial imbalance, an unnecessary invasion and threats from various areas. Behind these, I put it down to eight billion people as the main problem. This milestone is a warning to me when it was officially recognized this year. It accentuated a further division of opinions that will bring about more bickering. When people feel stuck and starved, then things could get escalated into a clash between countries, races, religions, cultures and even idols! A pity this has to happen.

I accepted long ago that many issues were beyond my scope, ability, influence and even paycheck. I do within my means, just like how someone should prepare for their financial well being. It's simple logic i.e spending below what you earn. Therefore, it pained me to hear about a relative who's struggling with money, marriage and health problems. His solutions baffled me. He(obese) wished to continue enjoying his meals (and doesn't exercise), buy a secondhand car when the current one expires, hire a helper to assist his wife and pay for these by requesting for higher salary. As I heard this, my reply was, what value did he add to warrant this while his work record had proven otherwise. In my heart, I summarized it as entitlement. And that's clear in others whom I know. It's about the "selfish me" needing to have "whatever I want" and blame others when it's not achievable. Who doesn't want to be a millionaire by 55? Realistically, most won't be able to. Perhaps the context can be changed instead. Who doesn't want to be happy by 55? This is very possible. Be contented with what you have. Happiness is derived when you have a lack of wants. Time to take off the blinders and be more constructive. My father once told me, "the world doesn't owe me anything". So stop being selfish, relook expectations and start doing proper stuff. Smell the coffee as you do and appreciate the present. Hopefully, my relative (and a certain brother out there) will get the Aha moment.

I thought the past year had been rather kind to me. Sure, there were challenges along the way and the good news is I managed to hurdle over. Work wasn't exactly pleasant but the results were what mattered. I wished to have saved more for the kids but decided to put money to work as I tried new investments. As a whole, my family unit is stronger. We remained in good health, study/work achieved decent returns, financials are more secured and our minds are probably more relaxed now. It's a result of preparation and hard work. Therefore, as 2022 ends, I'm at ease and just started to plan for next year's goals. Broadly, these would include aging well with my wife, supporting the kids in their education journey, growing net worth and improving investment outcomes. Cheers to a better 2023.

Tip: Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2019, oaky and medium berry fruits, chocolatey and short finish

Sunday 18 December 2022

The Long Awaited Trip

It's December 2022 and that meant a first family holiday in three years. We embarked on a 7 day trip to Samurai land. Landing at Nagoya Chubu airport after an overnight flight, the immigration was a little uneasy as the youngest son was not considered fully vaccinated to their requirement and qualified under the accompaniment of a vaccinated adult. The inbound declaration was done via app and the contents were rather many. It took about ten minutes per person's application and I did it while still in Singapore. Once cleared, the itinerary began by picking up the rental car, ETC and mobile Wifi router.

Day 1: Takayama
The drive from the airport took 3.5 hours together with a pit stop in between. Along the way, one could see the autumn colors and even a peek of snow at the mountain tops. We arrived at this small city around 2pm and headed for the accommodation, Takayama Wood Hotel. It is a stylistically designed place and I chose it for the proximity to the most famous street here i.e Sanmachi Suji. We immediately went to explore the area and kept within 300m radius along the narrow alley lined with craft shops, restaurants and sake breweries. The first item bought was ice cream and this was in 10 deg C condition. Strolling along the river canal, there were ducks and large carps swimming in the clear flowing water. The streets were beginning to empty as sunset approached at 430pm. As we headed back to hotel to take a break, we stopped by a sake shop for tasting. It was identified by a brown cedar ball hanging by the door, indicating readiness to drink. The idea was to buy a cup for 100yen and purchase a tasting portion for 100yen each. There were about 12 different labels, all from local breweries. But I wasn't impressed with any as they were highly alcoholic with a strong punch. Before dinner, I brought the boys to the onsen, an indoor and comfortable place with no one else to listen in our conversation. Ajino Yohei was less than 20m away as we ate the highly advertised Hida beef from the region. It was really delicious with enough marbling and yet not being too oily. The night was still young so we ended up back at the hotel lounge to experience a unique feature. From 5pm to 11pm daily, they provide free flow of drinks ranging from tea, sake to draft beer. Do what the locals do by having an ice cold beer for a good sleep.

Day 2: Shirakawago
The day started with an onsen bath and a good Japanese breakfast. At 9am, we drove off to a world heritage site that's 1.5h away. Welcome to the cosy and quiet village of Shirakawago. It's tourist season and the crowd was visibly increasing. The first activity was to take the shuttle bus that brought us on a 15min journey to the observatory deck. The sun was bright and air was cool as we settled down with some hot drinks, overlooking the village from that vantage point. This moment was memorable as I sat there, matcha latte in hand, enjoying the view with a calm heart. Then we hiked down and proceeded to lunch at Irori, a family restaurant, where we had soba and beef. A simple yet satisfying meal. The main street is about 700m long which branched out into paths leading to the many Gassho houses where locals lived. So we paid an entrance fee and visited the Kanda house. Inside, the living area was spacious and warmed by a fireplace. As one climbed to the higher storeys, the headroom and width narrowed. I wondered how would a frail person be able to handle the movement between the levels via a steep staircase. We wandered around for a while more before heading back to hotel. There was still enough time to shop and we strolled through, stopping by Yuzen to buy chopsticks engraved with personalized letters. Dinner was not so straightforward as we drove to 2 restaurants without reservation and were rejected. Luckily, the third one, Suzuya, had just enough seats to accommodate us. Instead of sushi and sashimi, we ended up having beef once again but no complaints, it was just as great on a cold winter night. The night ended with another beer at the hotel lounge.

Day 3: Kyoto
It was time to say goodbye to wonderful Takayama as we made our way towards Kyoto, specifically Fushimi Inari for a temple stop. 3h on the road later, we arrived and fortunate to find a parking lot right at the doorstep, given it's an extremely popular spot. There were many uniformed students accompanied by teachers. This temple is famous for the 10000 Senbon Torii Gates lining the way as one walked up the hill. We managed about 30min for a photo opportunity with the city landscape. Since it was still early, my wife suggested to include an unplanned visit to Kiyomizudera, another Unesco site in Japan. This temple was nearby and only accessible by a steep road. I made a mistake at a traffic junction and had to make U-turn which was nearly impossible unless one make multiple turns in a squarish manner to end up in the correct direction. Nevertheless, even after parking, we still had to walk uphill to arrive at the entrance. We spent about ten minutes inside as it was very crowded and light was fading. I quickly bought some amulets as souvenirs for office colleagues. On the way down, we had salted cucumber and chestnut ice cream as snacks. If only we had more time but it was decided to leave quickly before traffic worsened. Our next stay was at R&Run Kyoto Serviced Apartment, in the central area. This was a converted building owned by Issey san and his family who warmly received us with perfect spoken English. He's the owner's son and educated for eight years in America before returning to run the property rental arm of his family's multiple business interests. Finally, the missus could start a round of laundry washing to get the boys some fresh clothes. When dinnertime came, I had expected to easily find a restaurant at nearby Nishiki market but apparently not so. The one amazing thing about Japan is that, there are so many good restaurants that one can just pop in to enjoy a tasty meal. So we just randomly chose one after walking aimlessly and ended up at a level two Izakaya shop.

Day 4: Kyoto
This was one of the highlights of the trip as we went to the vicinity of Arashiyama. After parking near Saga Torokko station, we headed for Kameoka Torokko to board the Sagano Romantic Train that traversed along the mountainside and afforded beautiful autumn river views. 20min went by quickly and we alighted to hike along the famed path of the bamboo forest. It was a magnificent experience to immerse in the serenity even though people were everywhere. This felt a bit rushed as there were still other activities to complete. We had a quick meal at Sushi Naritaya which was only so-so and walked to the Togetsu bridge for a photo memory. Underneath was a large river with fast flowing currents, as if one was at a waterfall. With renewed energy in our strides, we started the hike up Iwatayama Monkey Park. It was certainly no walk in the park. The slope was curvy as we huffed for 30min to arrive at the monkey feeding station. There was a small hut designed to enclose tourists who would feed through grated windows after purchasing 100yen per packet of apples or peanuts. The wild monkeys were very active and well adapted to human presence as several handlers looked on. We were careful not to show any exposed items such as wallet or handphone as one unlucky visitor found out later. By now, it was about 3pm as we made our descend and stopped by a stall for snack break. From then on, we slowed down, watched the crowd and walked back to get the car. Arashiyama is definitely a place I would like to return again. At the request of the youngest son, we went to Ichiran Ramen for dinner, a first experience for the kids to eat in their own booths.

Day 5: Osaka
The car was utilized for its last day when we began an early morning journey towards Rinku Premium Outlets in Osaka. We arrived at 1030am and parked in P1 area, the mid point of the outlet shops as they were split into two big building sections. After a quick brunch at the food court, the shopping spree began. Due to limited time, it was preplanned to start at Adidas. We spent quite a bit of time trying out shoes for school and sport usage. Next stop was Under Armour and the aim was to buy tees and shorts. Then it was off to Coach for my wife to select her merchandise. I managed to sneak a last minute visit to Hugo Boss and that's about it. Among 250 shops, we only covered about six! Four hours later, we had to leave as the car needed to be at the rental shop by 4pm. Before that, we dropped off at Fraser Nankai Residence to check in while I made my way to return the car which was less than 800m away. It was still early so we brought the kids to Dotonburi and revisit one of the landmark points in Osaka after more than three years away. My wife suggested Chanko Nabe for dinner and that's what we got. A chicken hot pot filled to the brim with vegetables warmed our bodies on a windy and cold evening. Yet, the ravenous kids were able to add Macdonald's meal for supper.

Day 6: Osaka
There wasn't much planned as this was supposed to be a free and easy day. In the morning, we visited Kuromon Ichiba for some fresh kaisendon and thereafter left the kids in the hotel room to relax on their own. So it was just two of us who went on an afternoon of shopping in Shinsaibashi Suji. It's nice to see the usual joints still operating as we stocked up on pharmaceutical products and Uniqlo staples. For our last night in Japan, we went to an interesting restaurant called Zauo Fishing. The kids had a good time by skillfully catching a horse mackerel, flatfish and sea bream. We concluded the soy sauce way of cooking the fish was the best. The last stop was Takashimaya for some desserts.

Day 7: Singapore
The Nankai rapid express train was 3min walk away as we lugged 60kg of luggage onboard to the airport. Things went smoothly and after the immigration, we realized most of the shops were closed. So the only cafe and Family Mart were seeing very long queues. We settled on some vending machine drinks and sat at the departure lounge till the boarding call came. It's time to go home and plan for the next trip. The kids left feedback that they do not like too much walking (my phone app showed average of 15000 steps per day), loved the food (especially ramen) and enjoyed the casual intercity drive (750km clocked on mostly smooth traffic). Total in country expenses came up to $5000, worth every cent for the memories left behind. We will be back!

Tip: Wagauji Junmai Daiginjo Kumonoue, slight acidity, good body wrapped by mild koji paste

Thursday 15 December 2022

Finance Investment Movement 28

There's been not much movement on the investment front since I had been on holiday. Just prior to it, I made up my mind to apply for the HSBC Everyday Global Account and Revolution Card. After spending two days comparing with other offers by CIMB, SCB and OCBC, those were my picks for the following reasons. I was mainly attracted to the cashback promotions, no annual card fee and possibility of free overseas currency transfer, just in case for future needs. Initially I wanted to pick a credit card that could give good miles accrual but after going through many options, the idea was dropped. Let's see how this turns out in terms of the rebate ($400), cashback (1%) and additional interest rate (4.3%) earned in the next few months. It's 4 promotions in one bundle so I'm eagerly awaiting the final outcome.

After failing to bid for the previous Tbill, I went a little conservative at 3.82% for the latest one and it actually got settled at 4.4%! I got filled for $6000. Very lucky there as it seemed many people chose to sit out this round or were simply out of ammo. Either way, it strengthened my belief that rates should continue to rise as the Fed convenes for the next decision. So I'm going to try again the next round.

The fight for retail deposits continued unabated with more and better interest rates across the various banks. DBS finally gave in and raised its Fixed Deposit rates but still nowhere close to its competitors. It probably did this out of concern for the home loan payer whose plan was pegged to the FHR. Plus, among the local banks, it has the largest depositor base and ample SGD liquidity. As for me, I preferred to keep cash in the latest SCB esaver rate of 3.8% for fresh funds deposit.

Tip: Niwa No Uguisu Junmai Ginjo 60, subdued fruit with honeydew lingering, easy drinking

Wednesday 30 November 2022

Month of November 2022

As I recall, this was one of the busiest months and boy were there many events that happened. I had to be selective so as not to overload the page.

When the exams were over, school teachers must have been clutching straws on how to make time pass more meaningfully. In a rather last minute arrangement, parents were given one month notice of a Father Son Camp. Usually, this was an annual 2D1N event but Covid stopped it. We indicated our interest since both the younger ones were keen. Apparently, there were too many applications and we luckily secured our seats. On a drizzly Saturday morning at 7am, we reported to school, put the bags in the allocated classroom and then began a full day of activities. There were about 150 pairs of fathers and sons, plus a few like mine with 3. Our group went to Sentosa, built a catapult for launching water bombs and also did kayaking while the afternoon was spent cooking from mess tins and playing team building games. As one can imagine, it was a tiring day. After a campfire huddle, it was lights off at 10pm. In the end, the sleep on the floor resulted in lots of tossing and a backache. Well, at least gained some new friendships and bonding time with the kids.

I don't remember how long ago but it's been a while since I attended a wedding. Not one but two in a month and they were a Chinese lunch and a Western dinner, held at St Regis Caroline Mansion and Fullerton Bay Hotel respectively. Both locations were first time experiences. The joyous occasions proceeded per standard procedure but there were two interesting impressions left behind. In the first instance, by 3pm, a friend was stumbling and terribly drunk when she usually held her liquor very well. She was probably too relaxed and drank quickly. 3 people were activated to send her home, stretching a hectic lunch till almost 5pm! Second, the emcee for the dinner was a popular Getai personality and responsible for the Mandarin speaking portion. Her co-emcee was the groom's friend who, being inexperienced, was simply bumbling through. They obviously didn't rehearse any script and just played by ear, often wondering aloud what's on the next agenda. The night ended with her dedicating a hokkien song to the couple. By the last of a not-so-tasty menu, probably one third of the seats were vacated, wasting the desserts. This was one of those East meets West kind of event that became more of a fumbled rojak.

On a weekday morning, I was poised to meet a friend for lunch at Dempsey and needed to pass time. So I opted to go for coffee at Holland Village. As I parked and walked towards my destination, I came across a shop that has stood the test of time. For the older folks, they might remember the well stocked magazine stall at the corner of Lorong Liput. It reminded me of my younger days going through the covers of 4-4-2, Teenage Magazine, FHM, Time, Cosmopolitan, Square Rooms etc. Such wonderful memories but a pity that kids nowadays don't really patronize such places any more. The only change I noticed was the shop having a space selling coffee, presumably by its tenant.

On another weekday morning, I was having breakfast alone and reading from the phone. A waving hand from the front roused my attention and I naturally looked up. It was an ex colleague whom I have not met for about 5 years. But this was not an ordinary meeting and I politely mouthed the usual greetings. He started talking about work and gradually eased himself into the seat in front of me. This was the General Manager who left the company after being caught for diverting business transactions to his new employer (where he still remains) over a period of time. Further investigations found that he hid certain decisions and created a messy situation. There was no amicable parting as he tried to implicate some subordinates. He praised my company for doing well recently and expressed that it's been such a long time. Unfortunately, reputations count in any industry and I don't think many would have forgotten his eventful time with us. We spoke for about 30 minutes and then he had to leave, not before extending an invitation for a coffee catch up session next time. Hmm...

To end the month on a positive note, my son achieved his desired PSLE results that enabled him to apply for his school of choice, hopefully reuniting with some of his classmates. Well done and a note of thanks to my wife who was the educator in charge all these years. Now, we can relax and prepare for the long awaited holiday travel.

Tip: Macallan Classic Cut 2021, impressive caramel, vanilla and candied fruits

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Finance Investment Movement 27

The theme of the month so far is the continuation of last month; a buffet of investment options for cash holders. It's becoming more impactful as many of us would have felt the purchasing power of our money diminishing. So instead of standing idly by, it's best to sought out assets to retain value.

I did several moves to diversify out my investment timeframe and objectives. One was to add the October SSB by $7000. The November edition looks tempting at 3.47% average and the probability tilts towards another application. I aim to purchase enough tranches so as to enjoy uninterrupted monthly payout for the next ten years. It feels like a mini annuity plan that's custom designed and hopefully gives $250 per month eventually. Another was to subscribe to T-bill that yielded 4% and caused a system outage. I reckon retirees and those with excess OA in CPF were the ones tuning up demand this time round. In the end, I was allocated 49% out of $6000 (=$2940.15) that I applied. My plan was to capture short term interest rate spike and enjoy while it lasts.  It would be awesome if it can hit 5% but the path to get there is uneven given the overwhelming response from investors. Why am I optimistic? While the US inflation situation seemed to be peaking, it does not take away the fact that it's still very high. Hence I expect the Fed to continue raising interest rates and that would coax short term rates higher. Cross my fingers, the US economy would then slowdown and go into mild recession, thereby bringing the market and rates down, probably from mid 2023.

My assessment of the stock market presents a see-saw pattern of indecision. There are rich pickings if one doesn't mind the volatility and possess holding power. With this in mind, 1000 shares of FCT was bought at $1.94 to lower average cost. Next was to do a short strangle on Starbucks options since I expected a narrow price range. The call was almost activated as it came within a few cents of the strike price. Either way, I would have sold off quickly if that happened. This trade collected a premium of US$65. It was followed by selling a Disney put. But the markets taught me a lesson. There was much speculation among analysts that company results would be spectacular. What I learnt is the so called "experts" can say what they want to hear but it's better to do due diligence. Disney reported a poor set of numbers and the stock plunged 12% immediately at the opening bell, touching my strike price. Then the price the next day rebounded due to the announcement of less than expected US inflation rate. So I collected another US$24, not bad for a nice coffee break.

Tip: Katsuyama Tokubetsu Junmai En, fragrant rice, pleasant and clean after taste

Monday 31 October 2022

Month of October 2022

Life gives you little surprises now and then. This month, there were four.

The first was an encounter with a friend not seen for almost five years. We have known each other for ten years and she was at a high level management role, working almost everyday and reaping the fruits of her effort. We met at a business event that she hardly went, opting for fashion shows over economic seminars previously. Through our conversation, she revealed her activities and showed me many pictures. In them, she was dressed in slacks, wore jungle boots or wrapped in a head scarf, sometimes with her younger sister. The background typically consisted of beautiful blue skies, mountain ranges, waterfalls or dirt tracks. She had taken time off work to avoid burnout, starting from a week to two and then to months, now it's the fifth adventure year! What sparked this was an incident at work where she felt helpless and frustrated. She needed peace and found it in nature, aided by teachings of zen and meditation. One takeaway she constantly shared was to think of how work is defined and its meaning. In her view, she's on a learning journey and will return to work when she's experienced enough life to lift her thoughts from a singular angle. I was part impressed, part inspired by her transformation. This was not the same person I knew.

A friend offered free tickets for my family to attend the Singapore F1 and we duly obliged by attending the Friday event. We watched the practice sessions from the flyer capsule, getting a bird's eye view of proceedings. There was lots of walking and crowded streets brought a sense of relief that life is indeed getting back to normal. I'm glad we avoided the mud baths created by the heavy downpours on the weekend spectacle.

Last month, I made a business trip since Covid. This month, my wife and I went on a leisure trip to Vietnam! It's our first experience and was a very pleasant one. Two weeks before departure, her friend mentioned she was also going with her husband and we had a couple of overlapping days. So we planned to stay at the same hotel and went together on a full day sightseeing tour along the Mekong river cruise together with a visit to Coconut Island. This trip was relaxing as I just tagged along to wherever they planned. I enjoyed the Viet, Jap and French food plus the wonderful cafe settings. Also did a few business shirts and bought some sports attire. The weather was accommodating and it's nice to let time drift by, having a massage or just sipping coffee.

Finally, the last one was the most unexpected. I was at an exhibition when a friend called me over to introduce someone. There was no need to. As soon as the stranger pulled down his face mask, I immediately recognized him. He's not changed much except being unshaven. This was a dear neighbour whose family used to live at the unit below mine. We lost contact more than 30 years ago after I moved and they (brothers and sisters) went separately for overseas studies. Over the years, I only heard from the grapevine that someone met one of the sisters but nothing much. So I was absolutely delighted to recount our many years of wonderful memories and to know his family members were all well. What's even more amazing is that his brother actually stays at the same unit now. This encounter reminded me of an episode on a TV show called Super Sunday where the aim was to look for long lost relatives or friends. I'm so glad that life has arranged for us to meet once more.

Reading the above as I post this out made me feel so grateful and humbled.

Tip: Haneya Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu, rich and flavorful, a little sparkle, full bodied

Saturday 22 October 2022

When Earth Gives You Lemons

What life deals you, the only way is to make the best of it. Where the mountains and seas are, make good use of what they give you. Where the soil is fertile, plant the right fruits and reap rich rewards. A skillful ruler can become the king of men if he/she knew how to turn a situation to his/her advantage. Learn to trade with friends across borders yet keep enemies at bay along the same borders. One's survival can be determined by deliberate actions, natural endowments or just pure luck.

The above summarizes what I learnt from a recent read, "Prisoners of Geography". Although this book was published in 2015, from the introductory paragraph, it already foretold future events happening now. It certainly captivated my attention and maybe it was destined to be this way. The beginning touched on the thoughts of Putin and his insecurity arising from Russia's western plains, adjoining Ukraine. This as we now know, has become reality in a battle that does not look like ending soon. For the rest of the book, it delved into ten different maps and presented the facts on the ground and what historical events led to certain formations of human tribe, split along geographical constraints. It predicated the fortunes of each nation and explained why some would always find it hard to prosper eg Brazil. These insights allow us to better appreciate leadership considerations and their stubborn insistence on issues others might find repressive eg China's "ownership" over Tibet. Accordingly, one could even simulate future flashpoints through scenario modelling.

This is a fascinating book that I highly recommend. It's full of interesting information bits and written with just enough weight on each continent/region. At around 130 pages, one could swig a glass of whisky on a cool Saturday afternoon and be taken on a knowledge quest around the world.

Tip: Aberlour Abunadh Batch 67, apricot cherry, ginger ale spice encased by heavy sherry oak

Saturday 15 October 2022

Finance Investment Movement 26

In the past few weeks, there had been much impactful news that could move financial market sentiments. The Korean peninsula once again featured missile threats, UK did a major about turn in their tax cut plan, the western hemisphere continued its grapple with Russia and impending winter crisis while Asia got whipped by a typhoon with flood waters still yet to fully recede in Thailand. All these events inadvertently contributed to scary fluctuations in certain currencies and swung the global markets on a high rope. Amidst this chaos, Singapore respectably stood rather resilient, especially the SGD. Therefore an opportunity had risen. There were a buffet of choices if one had cash reserves.

It was after a long deliberation that I decided to do something. The November SSB offer of 3.21% marked a new record and I have set aside $10000 to apply although it's unlikely the full allocation will be given. Fixed deposit rates are reaching levels unseen since my younger days. It's tempting to put all idle cash in but I'll wait. As travel resumes and in anticipation, $1500 was exchanged for Yen and $6000 for Aud. Reits were going on a Great Singapore Sale and I picked up 5300 shares of Lion Phillip ETF at $0.981. Soon after, the price continued to tumble, reflecting even more market concerns. Next, one share of SPY was purchased at US$358. I expect this to drop more as the outside expectation of a recession is imminent. I don't think I'm done yet, hoping for more fruits to pick.

As requested by the kids for quite some time, the fibre plan was upgraded to 2Gbps with Singtel Wifi 6 extenders. The installers are coming next week and crossing my fingers that the intended speed and coverage will improve our surfing experience.

Tip: Bijoufu Junmai Ginjo One Grain For A Drop, great all rounder, a little sweet and gentle punch

Friday 30 September 2022

Month of September 2022

It took a while and I finally broke the duck by embarking on a first business trip since Covid. Travelling to Jakarta with a colleague, we squeezed in an exhibition visit and eight meetings over three days. We adopted a new meeting concept where all were held in the hotel lounge so as to minimize road journey time and avoid the notorious jams. The only downside was there were not much meal options in the vicinity but we were fortunate to meet local friends who drove us out to malls and other eateries. The food experience was memorable. I tried Sup Buntut, various Nasi combinations, seafood and the all important Avocado juice. Spicy as they were, I enjoyed every bit until the payback came with a fiery toilet trip at the end of each day. Only managed to clock one gym session which meant the pants endured some buckle pressure. The airport and flight experience were smooth and felt the same as before. 

The SMEICC conference was held from 13 - 14 Sep at Suntec Convention Centre. I had the privilege to attend and hear sharings by various industry professionals on their respective views on exploring new trends and innovate towards a challenging future. The best takeaway was in regard to artificial intelligence (AI). To most people, the first impression is a complex, scary and yet exciting field of discovery. The key to manage this is to understand that AI needs good data to operate and can only manipulate what's given. The speaker offered his view on two areas which I found interesting. One, the humanoid AI robot depicted in movies is not coming any time soon because we must first crack the brain function code and that's not even close. Two, the jobs of the future cannot be scoped on manual or plain processing role such as warehouse packer or accounts management. An AI machine can compute faster and at a precision level that no humans can compete against. So we must make effort to understand machine learning, operate it and offer a creative and human touch. The biggest worry of a rogue robot comes not from its self learning but the bad actor behind the controls.

This month also saw a few meetups with old friends from secondary school, junior college and ex colleagues. People whom I have not met for six months to 4 years. Some spoke on their dealings with toddlers while some mentioned their intentions to get married. Such a spectrum of life hustles and we are mostly around the same age. One guy commented on the need to create new memories instead of reliving old ones which I totally agree. Now, there are two different groups of friends proposing an overseas trip next year. It's been such a long time since I travelled with either of them. Looks like something potentially exciting could happen!

I was about to regret my procrastination but fortunately the LKY musical dates were extended. My wife and I found a compromised schedule to spend a weekday night giving support to a local production. It was played to a packed theatre and for over 2.5 hours, we were touched by the stellar performance although we agreed the role of Mrs Lee could have been explored deeper. To end the night, we bought supper from a porridge shop in Chinatown that we had not visited for many years. The warm and velvety taste was reminiscent of our dating times while the kids were young and asleep.

Tip: Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, fresh, fruity and medium bodied. Ready to drink

Thursday 15 September 2022

Finance Investment Movement 25

SSB for September is underwhelming at average of 2.75% pa. After getting allocation for the previous two offers, it looks like my plan of six consecutive applications will be derailed. I had wanted to create a continuous stream of monthly income but with such yield rate, I rather put the cash into better use elsewhere. Or perhaps I could replace this with the newly launched Frasers Property Green Bond offering 4.49% pa for 5 years. The issuer risk is of course the biggest differentiator to warrant higher premium.  

So I have begun saving up towards the 2022 goal of the kids' education fund. However, the tricky part is to decide how best to use these idle funds since they are not required till the eldest son turns 21 (assuming he finishes national service at 20). A financial advisor friend suggested a moderately high risk fund that focuses on global premium brands. Browsing through various fund's factsheets, I am rather tempted not least because the returns record had been fantastic but also I do not have such a product in my investment portfolio. Still sitting on the fence as I study the offer in greater detail.

I finally completed payment for an upcoming family cruise trip in November. Total amount came up to about $5200, including some perk add-ons. Standard Chartered happened to be running a cashback promotion for travel expenses and lucky draw for every $200 or above transaction, subject to terms and conditions. So after several installment payments, I enjoyed additional draw prizes and await the final tally at year end when it's disbursed.

Now that all banks are racing to increase savings interest rate to capture deposits, my DBS Multiplier account received extra $40 compared to previous months. My belief is that interest rates will continue on the rise until year end, led by the Fed's determined move to tame inflation. So it's better to have spare cash on the side to capture the peak rate. The first T-bill subscribed will start to mature in Jan 2023 and progressively over consecutive months, hopefully the timing proves to be accurate.

Tip: Uggiano Chianti Riserva 2017, slight acidity, fresh fruits locked in a medium body

Monday 5 September 2022

My View On Lentor Modern

A week prior, I managed to secure a preview on the opening day at 4pm. When I arrived near the showflat, the surrounding roads were fully lined up with cars. By luck, an empty spot was available and I quickly slotted in. My wife, her friend and I met up with the agent near the entrance and the atmosphere was ringing with excited chatter.

Inside the hall, we were introduced to the concept which the developer termed as modern classic. I can see why. The building facade is dark colored, balcony and rails are beautifully aligned across all units. Three blocks of 25 storey each stand out against the surrounding private estate and empty land, depending on which direction you are looking from.

This project has huge plus points for being integrated with a retail mall spanning 96000sqft and the only one with MRT right below. It is designed to keep out noise by having a 200m long pool laid out above the highest retail level and car park entrance is deliberately kept to the side. The best units are the ones facing the private estate as they would be unblocked even for the lowest level unit starting at the fourth floor. However, those units on the other side are likely to be obstructed once the opposite land plot is sold. In total, we were informed there would be eleven plots of land in the Lentor estate for private apartments.

Given three minutes each, we viewed the two, three and four bedroom units and they had common features of a high 2.95m ceiling, a flex space (which I think could have been part of a bigger bedroom) and good sized bathrooms. Kitchen and living areas were rather standard compared to other projects. Maintenance fees were averaged around $400 plus.

The project is likely to be priced close to Amo Residence, I expect a hot take up rate. For someone who values privacy and wants the convenience of amenities by the doorstep, it's a best fit so long the price is right. Personally, while I liked the overall presentation, I rather wait for the adjacent launch by the same developer who bought for a lower per sqft land and therefore, the price should be more palatable. It's right across a road and I wish they would consider to link to the MRT via an underground walkway, creating a truly integrated project and adding more retail space. No harm dreaming, I guess. The Lentor Modern sales launch date is near, I'm getting ready to be stunned again.

Tip: Azumarikishi JD Namagen, medium bodied, dry and easy with most food

Wednesday 31 August 2022

Month of August 2022

The month started with a visit to a physical event at the Asia Infrastructure Forum. The message from the various speakers is pretty clear; resource sustainability is at a critical point, not only for companies but also on individuals to put action into place. While progress has been very uneven, across countries and industries, more effort is required as we feel the heat of wildfires, droughts, inadequate drinking water and polluted air. I felt the awareness level was raised sufficiently and elevated our consciousness to be more prudent. What you can do starting today is to use less resource and use wisely, that would be a good first step.

I had the privilege to enjoy two new experiences, one for the wife's birthday and the other on a friend's recommendation. The first was a Japanese omakase at Sushi Yujo which I found by chance online. It's quite hard to find a reasonably priced set nowadays so I must commend the chef owner, Desmond, for being kind with his quality and well portioned servings. Apparently it's very popular and I think it deserved the high reviews. Perhaps I can go again when a new season arrives. The second was at Tong Xin Ru Yi Hotpot. What I liked about this restaurant is the clean premise, fresh food (I even had pig brains!), affordability and to sweeten it further, no corkage. Again, this is a crowded place and the only downside I can think of is the lack of parking lots in a super busy street. But I'll travel anywhere for good food and we are very blessed, living in a food haven.

In a rare occurrence, my wife took up golf lessons for the reason that she could play this as she aged. Considering her only form of exercise was grocery and window shopping, this was a complete reversal that I would never dream of. From her feedback, it seems like she's enjoying the coach's methods and with a friend alongside her, I guess it won't take long for both of them to be ready for the greens.

NDP was great! It's almost standard ritual to gather family and watch it on television. Instead of BBQ, we dined out at a cousin's place, indulging in tex-mex cuisine. I thought it was a long awaited celebration that we've been denied over the past two years. Kudos to the performers. I look forward to the NS Square concept that will take over the floating platform.

Tip: Tatenokawa Junmai Daiginjo Seiryu, mellow fruity, nice weight on the palate

Monday 22 August 2022

Overview Of National Day Rally 2022

The most anticipated speech in Singapore did not disappoint as PM Lee outlined his long term vision in 2.5h on live television. I usually make it a point to attend this event as it offers clues on upcoming directions in policy making.

The repeal of Section 377A frankly did not resonate much with me. This law has been around since 1930s and overdue for an update as societal norms changed over time. Indeed, what PM said summed it best that private matters between individuals that does not cause public nuisance or harm should not be punished. As the Singaporean core matures, I think most people are able to accept this explanation. While we do not encourage, neither do we want to over-police matters. The focus is rightly on family nucleus and more resources must be given.

The geopolitical situation and economic implications were addressed and I liked the way PM put it across as clear as day to "get real". I hope this message got into the minds of 2 groups of people; the young ones yet to or about to start work and the old ones resistant to change. We lived through a few stable decades and I think the young ones assume that it's normal things are going to be status quo. Likewise, the old ones assume their working time is almost up and rather not rock the boat. They hang on to decisions made in the past. Such careless thoughts would be exposed within the next decade if we don't buck up and start to steer the boat away from its current path. While it's not my intention to broad brush the general public, I get the sense of little urgency in my personal interactions.

Finally, it's standard template to end the speech with optimism as the air and sea hub concept began to take shape along with big potential for land redevelopment. Residents around these areas must be hopeful of things to come. I'm excited to hear what new ideas we have to incorporate a sustainable ecosystem. I welcome new schemes for top talent as this would bring more dynamism but wish the "lesser" talents residing here now can be shepherded off over time. My opinion is the country needs growth but I rather it's at a lower pace and give locals the chance to take on bigger roles in middle and top management, through policy or incentive rather than lip service.

As per his usual style, PM orated various issues in a finely balanced manner. That's something everyone can learn from and likely the most challenging expectation the incoming PM has to meet. The only issue that I felt given insufficient air time is the cost of living. Given this would likely be PM's final rally, a brief mention was probably intended not to stir the hornet's nest as such sensitive and emotive issue would generate endless debates.

Good luck PM Lee and thanks for many years of outstanding public service, it's time for you to relax in the passenger seat.

Tip: Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2019, raisin and vanilla with buttery finish. Tropical fruits

Monday 15 August 2022

Finance Investment Movement 24

It's a proud moment to achieve my savings goal for the year and even slightly exceeded that. Although the distribution is uneven, given the time still available, I should be able to make up for the shortfall in other categories. In any case, I need to ramp up the preparation for Vacation expense as my family had decided to go on a year end cruise. We booked two ocean view rooms on the Royal Caribbean liner. I'm hoping to squeeze in an additional trip to Australia just with the wife for a short unwind.

I didn't expect the SSB average coupon rate to fall to 2.8% but it was slightly mitigated by the high 2.63% offered for the first year. Just when I thought I could build a ladder of six consecutive months of subscription, this has left me with the dilemma on whether to proceed. Perhaps I might still go for it but treat it like a short duration bond and redeem within one to two years.

Received the NS credit of $100 and while I thought for a moment on how to utilize it, I came across several articles that advocated cash withdrawal or CPF payment. I opted for the latter and transferred the amount to my wife's account since hers is still a long way from FRS.

Finally, after almost daily observation of the AUD fixed deposit rate, I saw the opportunity arrive and promptly locked in at 2.41% for 6 month tenor with DBS. I never knew these rates change so quickly as the impression had been that they follow the central bank rate of its home country. I expect overall interest rate environment to be on the uptrend till year end so it should be in time for a renewal at the higher rate.

Tip: Kitaya Junmai Ginjo Summer, dense fruit base, rich mouthfeel

Monday 8 August 2022

The 4.0 World

We live in an uncertain world, right?

Rather, I like to think we are the ones who created an uncertain world. Nature has its laws and assuming minimal interference, things should proceed as how it should be to achieve harmony and balance. Ancient Chinese philosophers studied this in detail and preached the concept of Yin and Yang. However, where waters flow from the mountains to the seas, we chose to dam and control the movement. Where there is forest inhabited with its wildlife, we razed the ground for housing and office purposes. These are now slowly coming back to bite as climate changes, unleashing fluctuating extreme temperatures and causing floods from melted ice.

Yet, what we continue to do is to churn out more uncertainty as a frightened response. A country worried for its security decided to strike its neighbor first in order to guard its borders. A trip to Taiwan by a US official resulted in a 4 day military exercise, complete with live ammunitions. In Singapore, we beautify the parks but forgot to check the proper execution to clear a strip of woodlands. So what we are left with are more question marks than answers. At the end, it just shows deliberate ignorance while pursuing self interests. Because these things wouldn't have occurred if there were thoughts made before they happened. The world is beginning to look like a daunting place where the mighty, influential or vested authority seemed to be making decisions that upset the majority.

Whatever happens on a macro level filters down to the average person. We are more concerned with the next meal and having a roof over our heads. I am worried for the next generation as affordability becomes an issue. Too many $1m HDB transactions are not a good signal and neither is the increasing health related costs. But I have to first take care of myself, without harming the others or environment. As I watch the financial markets keenly, I know there are many sharks out there but perhaps a leap of faith is needed to make that breakthrough to accelerate returns. That's the fastest way to ensure stability and lift those around me. Are we ready for the challenging times ahead while uncertainty lurks?

Tip: Chateau Jean Faure 2010, straight up smooth with a little oak, unpretentious

Sunday 31 July 2022

Month of July 2022

The above picture was downloaded on 12 July and shows the Carina Nebula with a spectacular display of stars formation within their attendant galaxies. Ok, I'm not an expert and just wanted to marvel at the beauty of the universe while reminding myself that we are all just a speck in a mysterious world.

Yet, most of us are caught in the human rat race, sometimes showing petulant behavior such as she-warrior here, committing silly petty crimes or worse, harming innocent children. Already, life is tough enough and what's needed is a bit more patience and a generous mind. Usually, I mind my own business, focus on positive stuff and laugh.

For the first time, I attended a rugby match featuring the youngest son. He's the junior in the team, having joined actual training a few months ago since Covid stopped physical activities last year. In a game of 7-a-side, he was a substitute for both games played, coming in to play the second game for the final three minutes. Granted, he's not the most sports inclined but I saw that happy face chasing after his opponent and enjoyed the moment.

After 2.5 years of non travel, it was discovered that the youngest son's passport was expiring and thus began the long application process two months ago. While the document took one month to be ready, it was another three weeks to select an appointment date. On that day, we turned up at ICA and the building entry attendant was insistent to see some form of proof for the purpose of the visit. I looked up the mobile email folder but couldn't find an appointment reminder or confirmation. Logged into the ICA website to retrieve information but again there was none. Feeling a little flustered, I thought hard. Luckily, a SMS that was sent previously remained and I was definitely relieved to be waved through. The passport pickup was over in minutes as the boy had his retina scanned and fingerprints taken. Now, like the rest of the family, he can use the self service check in lane at the airport.

Tip: Tignanello 2017, fruit forward, smells floral and decent body. Can keep for few years

Thursday 28 July 2022

My View On Amo Residence

Stunning. The Amo Residence was nearly sold out after launch with an average price about $2100psf which was close to my expectation. I had visited the show flat, the buzz on the ground was apparent as those without an appointment were made to wait and queues formed just to get into a display unit. We were allowed three minutes and the minders started to shoo us on the dot. There were several attractive points about this development. Located within proximity to popular schools, well designed public spaces with ample facilities such as swimming pools (seven in total!), great greenery views and the finish quality was certainly up to standard. However, the maintenance fee at around $420 per month is quite expensive. There's one sticking point which I feel could adversely impact the value of this location in the future. Around the corner, there resides a forty year old with block number 259 of a HDB flat. Surrounding it includes an open car carpark and grassy patches which combined together, could be rebuilt into several blocks of HDB or a nice boutique condominium. A check on URA Master Plan confirms this.

The above development potential may or may not happen in the near future. Nobody knows except the person in charge of land sales. My take is, congratulations to Amo Residence for such a wonderful sales result. It had set a new benchmark for the area although I'm curious about the buyers who could afford such a big purchase given known factors such as rising interest rate and a pending economic slowdown. Perhaps it could be pent up demand and cash hoard over the past few years. Let's see whether there are any irregular exercise of the sales option in the coming weeks. Please, I hope Lentor Central is not as hot when it launches. Regardless, in our local lingo, I'm still stunned like a vegetable. 

Tip: Drappier Blanc De Noir NV, off dry mineral, soft acidity and nice citrus notes

Friday 15 July 2022

Finance Investment Movement 23

This is the third month into trading options and I have done only sell put transactions. The results thus far have been encouraging. From trading one counter to four counters now, it's been quite a revelation to monitor price movements of the underlying with respect to the broader market. What I look for would be something that's one week to expiry, strike price at least 10% away from current market and minimum US$15 premium. Other factors include overall trend, high low price of the counter, macroeconomic news etc. Usually, I let the option expire as that reduces the transaction cost by half. It's quite a hefty fee for small trading like mine. Of course, if the trade goes against me, I have already buffered the capital to absorb or prepared to cut loss. I will continue to work out different strategies to maximize earnings. There's just much to learn in order to make sustainable and steady income.

Did my second foray into 6-month T bill for the month of June and got allocated $5000 with yield at 2.36% pa. It's a very nice payout in lieu of fixed deposit and close to CPF OA. The objective is to let the money work and use it to pay off expenses early next year when redemption is completed. Since the yield is looking upward, I'm planning further applications in batches with $20000 remaining to be deployed.

The home loan revision letter came in. It was expected as the new rate of 1.55% under DBS FHR6 will become effective in two months. The additional repayment sum adds to existing burdens and the best way to react is to continue the journey of building multiple income streams while managing risks in a looming recession scenario. My feel for the market environment is that inflation is peaking with demand reducing from now onwards. When supply concerns are resolved, that would further dampen inflation. Growth should dip and hopefully just into slight negative. If that was to happen, expect strong market rallies. The window of buying opportunities is available till September and I'll re-evaluate at that time.

Tip: Les Haut De Smith Rouge 2016, blackberry all over a medium palate, flinty and supple

Monday 4 July 2022

Setting The Bear Trap

It's been another three months and I thought to update my current thoughts to the situation.

In short, Russia has taken over bigger territory swaths, the Nato allies responded by providing larger amounts of weapons and many diplomatic visits were conducted with no result thus far. Putin remained adamant on his justification while Zelensky also appeared defiant. For consumers, we continue to see various exports limitation that partly contribute to the escalating inflation. 

So how do I think this military conflict will end?

The conventional thinking would be a stalemate via a treaty, possibly ceding some Ukrainian land in return for Russian security guarantee and funds for rebuilding. But this increasingly doesn't look like happening if (and that's a big IF) the conflict drags on. I say this because of the following.

If this was a purely Russia versus Ukraine situation, then by virtue of size, the Russian army should win eventually by mutual attrition. Both sides had expended much ammunitions and lives as they won and conceded ground simultaneously. At the moment, the area controlled by Russia is rather big and it would have to spread its resources thinly to defend. It's possible to hold on due to weakening forces on both sides. Then Nato decided to wade in with promises of more firepower support. A significant show of intent. This drastically tilt the balance into Ukraine's favor. Consider this, the US and EU combined will be able to supply more advanced weaponry if they so choose. For now, I think they are content to give just enough for defending purposes and thereby encourage a longer battle. Why? As the timeline extends, the Russian morale and spirit will weaken while improving Ukrainian's. This also buys time to find alternative energy and food sources or allowing the global demand to moderate and adapt. At the right opportunity, launch a counterattack with Nato's backing and try to reclaim lost territory but also inflict damage on the Russian army and land.

I see two potential end points. One, the exhausted Russians concede this was not worthwhile and sign a peace treaty. Two, the ordinary Russian people find a way to force the government's hand to stop although this can be disguised to save face. An unlikely scenario would be Putin suffering ill health or him being toppled which would be an abrupt disruption. Therefore, if any of the above happens, I consider it a Ukrainian victory.

Putting myself into Nato's shoes, this conflict is a good reason to legitimately change the status quo. Russia has been a long time adversary and economic integration was not a strong enough deterrent. Assuming China does not step in, it would be great to cripple the Russian military and set it back, extract oil and gas concessions and disarm nuclear capabilities. All these for thirty years. Why so? Just to ensure Putin would not be around to plot another Soviet renaissance.

This is just a simple analysis. In the end, I'm more concerned about living cost and retirement planning. I feel more financial pain is still to come and the year should end in a not so positive way for most investors. When this situation has a definite resolution, it could start a strong rally for the markets which I'm looking forward to.

Tip: Koshino Kanchubai Ginjo Nama Chozo, clean and refreshes the palate, very dry

Thursday 30 June 2022

Month of June 2022

For the past ten years until Covid struck, I used to frequent a coffee shop near my office that among others, housed a Teochew porridge stall run by a pair of early fifties couple. They were down to earth, got ready very early everyday for the morning workers and closed after lunch. My favorite breakfast was french beans, eggplant and braised tofu with a small bowl of porridge that cost $2.80. Such affordable and comfort food. During the WFH phase, I probably went to office about once a week and dropped by the stall twice in 2021. The price had risen to $3.30 for the same combination. The couple retained the same vigor and eagerness despite the slow business. Somehow, I did not manage to visit thereafter and early this month, made the long awaited trip. Getting off the car and looking in with excitement, what greeted me at 630am was a brightly lit frontage with many trays of food ready to be served. Not bad, it appeared things were looking up. When I got to the stall, the couple were not around, instead it was manned by three guys in uniform with various tattoos on their arms, looking dreary at proceedings. The signboard had also changed and the feel not as cosy as before. Unfortunately, I do not know the names of the couple (since they were addressed as Uncle and Aunty) and not taken a photo of the stall before. I walked towards another usual haunt for Ban Mian and the stall keeper was no longer the young Chinese man with a thick Southern accent. They are probably economic victims of the pandemic and needed an income replacement elsewhere. Sadly, these strangers whom I had not acquainted with left without notice after ten years of breakfast service and all I can only say is to wish them the best of whatever life brings them next.

Ever since I contracted Covid, one of the action item I wanted to tick off quickly was the annual IPPT. This year, I had to do it twice. In the first session, after completing the static stations, it was decided to cancel since the weather wasn't cooperative. When the announcement was made, you could immediately see a group of twenty inch closer to the trainer as if the instruction was not clear enough. They wanted to appeal the cancellation as it was their last chance before the test window closes. Of course, many disappointed faces emerged after. The booking system reopened a day later and I quickly secured the next available slot which was an evening one a few days later. My memory of the second session was running my lungs out in the 2.4km and scrapped through for a silver award by seven seconds! Very close shave there.

To round up, the last week of the month was spent serving this year's reservist requirement. Not much going on in the unit except preparation for the very important celebration of SAF Day on 1 July. Well, I just played a small part by manning the office area while the regulars get on with their work.

Tip: Gran Maestro Primitivo 2019, gooseberry, plum and menthol. Decent sample

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Finance Investment Movement 22

A long delayed task was finally completed. That's the Will endorsement of the wife and I which had been pushed back due to Covid and scheduling mismatch over the last few months. The trip to meet the lawyer lasted about 30 minutes as he confirmed the draft details, made a few minor amendments and then affixed our signatures to seal the first Will of our lives. It was also mentioned there would likely be a version two when situation changes later on in life.

One fine day, I received a text message from Syfe to open up a trade account and get a one day special promotion of S$15 credit for any deposit amount. So I tested its validity by completing the onboarding process and put in a dollar. Indeed, I saw the amount credited the next day. Next, I attempted to get the welcome bonus of S$60 by making a buy trade. The US market seems to be tanking at the right time for a foray so I went in for one share of SPY at $378.50.

After studying the JPM Income fund, I concluded not to proceed as the interest rate environment is not in its favor. You see, the main components are US long dated bonds and yields are rising, add in the management fee of 1%, the fund manager will have difficulty delivering positive returns this year. It's kept in my watchlist for now.

Tip: Didier Pabiot Pouilly Fume Eurythmie 2017, fresh vanilla with good length and finish

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Look Back To Plan Forward

Today, I thought to review my approach to financial sufficiency after going in circles since my 20s.

My journey began around national service period with stocks and insurance being the preferred ways of investment. Saving in the bank was something my mum strongly advocated and I picked up this mindset very early on. I did save quite a bit of money only to spend almost all in my higher education pursuit as I wanted to experience life in a different country. Over the years, things unraveled as life circumstances changed (get married, have children, buy car etc). Naturally, I was working, earning around $4500pm and the saving routine was re-established. It took a number of years to prepare a warchest. However, my investment at that time was very haphazard and focused only on Singapore stocks. I tried various stocks, never mind growth or value, big or small cap, with or without CPF. It was part trading, part holding for the longer term and the overall value never got above $40000 as I preferred saving more and life expenses increased. Now looking back, it's a mistake as I wasn't making much headway. My investment path was narrow and much of my money was in the bank earning fixed deposit rates. I thought I knew but the result spoke for itself.

It was only in recent years that I read more from others' experience and received advice on building a retirement portfolio. Today, CPF is a big part of my net worth, I have a house to stay, enough emergency funds to last at least 10 months, my family's insurance coverage is adequate and I'm excited to be on the next investment mile. This include stocks, options, bonds, T-bills, cryptos, foreign currencies... a much wider selection than what my younger self had. The main concern, at the end of the day, is to ensure a comfortable retirement. Where I'm short now is the area of recurring income. What I gather from other views suggest having property rental, Reit dividend, blue chip portfolio, setting up a side business or annuity plans. While I don't have the means to pursue everything at the same time, I'm inclined to focus on building up a Reit portfolio. Perhaps even diversify by spreading out the funds. Time to clean up the remnants of the past and start anew. There is still much investment work left to be done.

Tip: Chateau Musar 1998, orange peel, herbaceous light body and opened up to floral bouquet

Tuesday 31 May 2022

Month of May 2022

I have a narrow nasal passage and mostly breathing through mouth when asleep. Hence, my throat typically feels very dry after a night's rest. On Mother's Day, I woke up feeling the same but my wife told me to do ART test because she thought my overall condition looked different. The result came back negative and we proceeded for a dim sum meal with the kids and her mum. The next morning, I thought to do the test again just to be sure. This time, it was positive! As I recall, the infection probably came from the office environment where I was present for 2 days. Soon, my second son joined me in the isolation room and we were together until I got the all clear. Now, I have this nagging lower backache and no matter what position I adopt, the discomfort remains. Can only hope this clears up soon.

The bi yearly CPR/AED course was due and this time, the first day theory lesson was conducted online. The trainer was very sticky to ensure the participant's face was visible throughout for audit purpose. Learnt some new updates such as no need for bandage if victim suffered from jaw dislocation, continuous chest compressions without need to blow air into the mouth etc. Second day was in the classroom for practical tests on bandaging, rescue actions and injury management. I thought the most meaningful takeaway was that as a first aider, you improvise during a situation so as to preserve life. If you are given a chance to learn, go for it.

By now, most people would have heard about the coming inflation environment or is it already here? For the unaware, the loose monetary policy of the US Fed led to cheap and easy money during the start of Covid. As companies and individuals went on spending spree, they racked up large amounts of debts. Now, with the global economy showing recovery signs, the days of almost free money are about to end. Interest rates are rising and coupled with a tightened monetary policy, there will be pain for those servicing debts accumulated earlier. Buying food has also become an expensive trip as price of ingredients soars, wages increase due to short labor supply and rental adjustments to compensate for higher mortgage repayments. India has halted sugar export, Malaysia did likewise for fresh chicken and I'm sure more to follow. The ramifications of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is now showing as they are major suppliers of wheat, fertilizers and energy which are impacting food and industrial productions. For the average Joe and more so the below average ones, I expect a tough time till mid 2023.

Tip: Umenoyado Junmai Daiginjo, off dry with a tinge of fruity and sweetness

Saturday 21 May 2022

The Role We Play In Each Other's Life

I didn't plan to read this as I thought to take a break from "personal development" genre of books and perhaps read something fictional. But as luck would have it, my wife happened to borrow from the library and I swooped in once she had completed it.

It's such an amazing coincidence that she would pick this book from Mitch Albom, making it my second experience with this author. There's a familiar theme to the previous one I read in that the story began with a near death experience. This time, the protagonist got into a dreamy and fantasy like world where she got to meet five people her life crossed path with. Each of them showed her their version of heaven and how the interaction on earth impacted each other. The first person was the doctor who helped deliver her, then her childhood dog companion, her mum, the man who saved her from a falling carriage and finally her husband whom she had desperately tried to save on their wedding night when things started to unravel. To each, there was an attachment on how they interacted and also an opportunity to explain the actions taken then. The underlying message is that despite the ending of a period in time, it spells the beginning of another. Our time in the present will shape and influence who we are and others as well.

Just like the dog, I think what's most important to learn and appreciate is to empathize with others. If one can really achieve that, the world would be a much kinder and calmer place. It's not an easy thing. Read this and treat others well.

Tip: La Dame De Montrose 2011, vanilla, black berries and medium bodied. Drink now

Sunday 15 May 2022

Finance Investment Movement 21

The milestone of the first option trade I had ever done was achieved on 5 May. The strike price quoted was US$141 with a week long duration and a put was sold. This honor went to Apple as I'm a fan of its products and didn't mind holding its stock even if the put was activated. Otherwise, I stand to gain a net premium of about US$25. And one trade became two when a put option for Disney was made days later. This is for a strike at US$95 versus US$55 payout. In total, I collected about US$35 in premiums after a rather spooky stock market week and closed the Disney position early.

As the US market tanked last week, investors were left grappling whether to buy the dip or hold onto cash. With a rising interest rate trend, I had set aside a little spare cash. Since the cash was idling, it set me thinking on how to maximize its value. Besides equity purchase, some options that were considered include CPF Housing Refund, Singapore Savings Bond and short term endowment plan. This cash was meant to be liquid so I narrowed it to SSB and began searching for its latest offer. On the MAS website, it showed T bills were available too and the last yield was 1.56%. How could I have forgotten about this instrument! This could have been my go to option when the fixed deposit was redeemed in February. So I applied and am waiting for the result.

Another instrument that I'm monitoring is the unit trust, JPM Income Fund. It's invested primarily in US national debt and pays a monthly dividend that works out to 4% pa. This might be the right alternative bond portfolio for diversification purpose. Various platforms distribute this but there are different fees, so I'm still looking around.

Tip: Chateau Moulin Riche 2014, nice floral bouquet, slight spice, medium body and length

Tuesday 3 May 2022

Not As Easy As It Seems

Got this book at a random atrium fair for a steal at $8. This is the third Malcolm Gladwell book I have completed within the past year. Still as spell binding, still as engaging.

This time, the topic revolved around human communication and perception. Specifically, between strangers, how do they size each other up in a given situation. The most interesting example was the one involving the CIA and one of its Cuban agent. She was a double spy and had infiltrated for more than ten years. The matter was further compounded by the revelation of many other spies who worked for the Cuban government. For so long, they combined to put the veil over USA and fed wrong information to distort the picture in the country. Could it have been prevented? Hard to say as body language may sometimes be said as a giveaway but in the book, several other examples clearly showed this theory is flawed. Human's tendency to default to truth (believing the honesty of a stranger) is the Achilles heel. We think we know but that's not the case. Without belief though, the world would be a distrusting arena where survival is compromised due to continual suspicion.

Sadly, there had been much news on scams wherever you may be. Singapore was hit by mobile breaches, the elderly got conned to transfer money, corporate honchos invested in a nickel scheme that doesn't exist... the list goes on. It's not difficult to understand the reason behind a scam's success. It preys on the human heart and you just got to be alert to clear warning signs and pause to question yourself at times. The message I got from Malcolm is to practice humility, be kind and improve knowledge. When dealing with people, whether strangers or not, thread carefully to avoid misunderstanding and for me, give the other person the chance to "win" by nodding and walking away.

Tip: Tignanello 2007, cassis, mostly black fruits, slight tobacco. Fine tannins, medium length

Saturday 30 April 2022

Month of April 2022

So it has finally happened. After 2 years of valiant resistance against Covid, my wife became the first in the house to test positive. The usual tell tale signs were there i.e cough, sore throat and lethargy. She was very confident even though she had negative returns for the first 2 days. And she was to be proven right. The recovery process went uneventfully as she isolated herself in the room while the children and I continued with our daily routine.

With the almost full relaxation of Covid measures, it's definitely a relief although I previously mentioned here that life during this period was quite enjoyable as well. This month saw the resurgence of road traffic especially at the Causeway Link to Malaysia. While I do not have relatives there, I was happy to hear colleagues reporting their joy of being able to reunite with family after so long.

One day while driving, I brought up the topic of maturity to my kids. With the combination of different ages and characters, sometimes it really drives me up the wall with their nonsense. But after the car ride, I reflected on my tone and was appreciative that they were still growing up in a normal way. Time will hopefully mold them well.

Whenever I look in the mirror nowadays, there is the gradual realization that age has really caught up. This was the motivation as I arranged a photoshoot for an individual portfolio. It was over in less than an hour and 4 softcopies were given to me 3 days later for a price of $148. The pictures captured a nice life moment as I strive to make more meaningful memories.

Tip: Ohmine 3 grain Yamadanishiki, unami sweet, smooth melon and dangerously delicious