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