Monday, October 29, 2012

Man found dead in MRT tunnel

SINGAPORE - The body of a Chinese Singaporean in his 20s was found in the tunnel between Redhill and Tiong Bahru MRT stations.

He was found lying motionless beside the train tracks, and was later pronounced dead at the scene.

Police say that it is unclear how he got there, and they had received a call for assistance at 7.45pm.

Netizens also observed police cars outside Redhill station, and a train that was stopped while entering a tunnel midway.

Redhill station is located above ground, while Tiong Bahru station is underground.

This incident caused train services on the East-West SMRT line to be disrupted for more than 2 hours on Sunday evening.

Train services between Queenstown and Outram MRT stations were temporarily stopped at 8.23pm for about 11 minutes.

This was to allow the police to investigate the incident.

However, east-bound trains had services fully restored at 10.30pm after several starts and stops.

SMRT has apologised for the inconvenience caused by the service disruption. Police investigations are ongoing.

Family who earned $16k a month complained the most: Chan Chun Sing

Providing help, building families 

Mr Chan Chun Sing will never forget the three families who turned up to ask for help at his Meet-the-People Sessions.

One of them earned just $2,000 a month, but managed to raise three children. Another had double that income, of $4,000 to $5,000, and had no children.

But it was the third, a family that earned $16,000 and had two children, who complained the most, saying the Government was not doing enough to help them.

The incident, says Mr Chan, illustrates the rising expectations that Singaporeans have and the challenge that policymakers face as they try to work out who should get more help.

"It's not an easy question to answer and we will have to find the answer as a society going forward," he says.

It is also a challenge Mr Chan's new ministry, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), will have to grapple with as it streamlines its responsibilities to focus more on policies affecting Singaporean families.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) will be renamed the MSF and pass on its youth and sports portfolios to the newly created Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

That will give Mr Chan's ministry more time and space to look at longer-term challenges such as meeting the needs of singles when they age in 20 years' time and finding ways to tap the energies of healthy elderly people to serve other senior citizens.

At an hour-long interview at the MCYS headquarters in Toa Payoh this week, the Acting Minister laid out the priorities for his new ministry.

One of them will be to strengthen the social safety net - which will require the ministry to factor in Singaporeans' changing expectations. Another is to improve the delivery of social services, and a third is to strengthen families.

Mr Chan notes that it is no longer only those at the bottom of the ladder who need help. Those in the middle are starting to feel unsettled by the growing income gap too.

"They wonder whether they can meet their aspirations because of the people at the top end," he says.

"The question for us is, as a society, to what extent we can actually help this group of people beyond the people at the bottom of the socio-economic scale."

As economic cycles become shorter and more volatile, people are also more likely to be in and out of jobs, he observes. They will have to relearn their skills at a much faster rate as well.

"If I use my mother as an example, she was a machine operator, stamping metal plates. She did that for at least 30 years."

With just one set of skills, notes Mr Chan, his mother, a divorcee, was able to raise him and his sister single-handedly.

But no longer.

The churn in jobs and the instability of people's incomes today pose a serious challenge and could even disrupt the way children are brought up and their education.

Another concern for Mr Chan is Singapore's changing demographics: More people are staying single, marrying later, having fewer children and living longer.

As he looks into the next 10 to 15 years, he foresees a shrinking of the support that extended families can now give in raising children and caring for sick relatives.

"So that is where you see us... not just building the nursing homes, which are institutional care, but growing the community care sector and the home care services," he says.

Strengthening elderly care services in the community and at home will allow people to grow old in familiar settings, he explains.

Longevity will pose another challenge as people in their 80s and 90s will be increasingly cared for by those in their 50s and 60s.

But Mr Chan also sees these healthy retirees as a source of volunteers and helpers to beef up the delivery of social services at the local level, as is being done in Japan.

Singapore is now trying out this idea: Lions Befrienders, for instance, is getting the old to befriend the old, while a seniors' activity centre in Choa Chu Kang pays elderly folk a stipend to run activities.

As for the larger challenge of strengthening families, Mr Chan thinks measures should be targeted at people's four life stages: when they are young, when they marry, when they have children and when they are maintaining a family.

He believes that a central plank of the efforts - besides helping couples with housing, health care, childcare and education - should be to inculcate from young values for marriage, parenthood and family.

"If we bring up our children appreciating the joy of a family, then I think when they grow up, chances are that they will also aspire to have their own family," he says.

It means getting people not to see their career as an obstacle to starting a family, helping them to appreciate the joy of parenthood, and maintaining healthy relationships between parents and teenagers.

Such values can be transmitted through schools and the media, he says, especially as children may not live with their grandparents and parents may be working. Positive role models are also needed, he adds.

The 43-year-old says his own values were shaped by his family and the people he met. Watching Hong Kong sword-fighting drama serials and movies helped, he quips.

The former army chief married his colleague in Mindef in 1997 at the age of 28 - the median age then. They have three children, aged 11, three and one.

Recalling their decision to wed and have children, he cites a senior's advice: "He told me that there's never a perfect time to get married or to have a child... The perfect time is when you have the commitment to overcome life's challenges with your partner.

"But through the whole journey, you find a new sense of joy and purpose beyond just the pursuit of material well-being for yourself."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Heineken gets revenue boost on sales outside W Europe

BRUSSELS - Heineken NV, the world's third-largest brewer, reported a stronger than expected increase in third-quarter revenue on Wednesday as it sold more beer in all regions except western Europe and profited from price hikes.

Heineken, fresh from its battle to take full control of Tiger beer maker Asia Pacific Breweries (APB), said revenue rose 4 per cent to 4.97 billion euros ($6.44 billion). The average forecast in a Reuters poll of nine analysts was 4.93 billion.

The maker of Heineken itself, Amstel and Strongbow cider maintained its forecast that 2012 net profit would be similar to that of last year on a like-for-like basis, with subdued demand in Europe and growth elsewhere and higher packaging costs.

Europe's largest brewer, whose Heineken brand is the continent's number beer, said the challenging economy and consumer caution led to declining sales in Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
However, beer sales rose in France and Italy.

Just under half of the Dutch brewer's revenue last year came from western Europe, boosted by its 2008 carve-up with Carlsberg of British brewer Scottish & Newcastle.

However, since then it has been gradually increasing its exposure to developing countries, including the 2010 purchase of the brewing assets of Mexico's FEMSA and its move this year to take full control of APB.

Heineken said group beer volume rose by 4.4 per cent in the Americas, with stronger sales in Brazil, Mexico and the United States of brands including Dos Equis, Tecate and Kaiser.

In the Asia-Pacific region, group volumes were up 4.8 per cent, with heavier drinking in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and a high single-digit percentage expansion in India, where it has a joint venture with United Breweries, the maker of Kingfisher lager.

SABMiller, with some 70 per cent of earnings in emerging markets, notably Africa and Latin America, last week reported a 4 per cent rise in first-half beer volumes.

World number one Anheuser-Busch InBev reports third-quarter earnings on Oct 31 and fourth-ranked brewer Carlsberg on Nov 7.

'Acid attack' baby an active boy now

When Samuel was just three months old, a maid poured acid down his throat. His injuries were so bad, nobody expected him to live. But today, the 13-year-old goes to school, swims and hangs out with his friends just like other kids. 

The only difference? Samuel has never tasted food - something his doctors hope he will be able to do someday. 

SINGAPORE - Like most boys his age, Samuel Lim Hong Xiang, 13, loves music, enjoys sports like badminton and spends hours on the computer, surfing the Internet and playing games.

But unlike other teenagers, Samuel has never tasted food. For almost his entire life, he has been breathing and feeding through tubes inserted into his body.

He was three months old when a maid poured sulphuric acid down his throat.

On June 29, 1999, the family had left baby Samuel at the flat of his grandmother before going to work. The grandmother had gone out, but the couple’s Indonesian maid Latifah was in the flat with him.

While she was in the kitchen and Samuel lay asleep in the living room, Sumiyem, 17, another Indonesian maid working with the family and jealous of Ms Latifah, poured sulphuric acid into Samuel's mouth. She wanted to get Ms Latifah, then 27, into trouble.

Sumiyem was jailed for eight years in 2000.

Tears well up in Ms Tan's eyes as she recalls that day 13 years ago, and what happened afterwards. Samuel was taken to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the National University Hospital. He spent six months there.

The horrific attack left the infant with terrible scars, and also severely damaged his tongue, throat and vocal chords. His upper airway was completely blocked.

Associate Professor Daniel Goh, head of the paediatric department, saw Samuel right after the incident. He recalled: "Because the airway and the gut were badly burnt by the acid, his life was definitely in danger. His prognosis then was very poor."

'Nobody expected him to live' 

Samuel needed two major operations to enable him to breathe and be fed, his father said. Ms Tan learnt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills and kept vigil by her baby's side round the clock after he returned home.

She remembers waking up countless times during the night to feed and check on him.

"There were so many times when he choked on his phlegm or his airway got blocked, and we had to rush him to hospital in the middle of the night," she said.

"Once his whole face turned blue and I could not resuscitate him even after I performed CPR on him.

Somehow, out of instinct, I used a pair of scissors and snipped off his tracheostomy tube. Then I put in a new one for him before rushing him to hospital."

A doctor told her that Samuel probably could not breathe as his tracheostomy tube could have been blocked, and she had done the right thing by cutting the tube.

"Nobody expected him to live," recalled his father, Mr Lim Boon Keong, 41. "The surgeons said they would try their best. The rest would depend on him."

Amazingly, baby Samuel pulled through.

"It's a miracle that he survived. Doctors later told me that he is a very special child. The pain that my wife and I went through was indescribable," said Mr Lim.

But ask Samuel today and he describes his life as if everything is pretty normal.

What is different about him is that he depends on the tracheostomy tube to breathe. It is inserted in the front of his neck and into his windpipe.

He also relies on a gastrostomy tube inserted into his stomach for feeding.

Good listener 

He told The Sunday Times he got through the Primary School Leaving Examination last year with a score of 219 and is in Secondary 1 at Yuan Ching Secondary School, in Taman Jurong.

"When I am in school, I go to the pantry for my meals," said Samuel, covering the opening of his tracheostomy tube with his chin to make his speech clearer. "I am afraid people can't understand me.

So I don't like to speak."

His mother, Madam Tan Poh Ling, 41, piped in: "That makes him a good listener and earns him many friendships too."

When he was seven, Samuel started piano lessons. In Primary 4, he learned to play the guzheng, the Chinese zither.

Mr Lim said: "We wanted him to be able to use music to express his feelings when he got older."

Samuel's love for music grew and his talent has been recognised by Club Rainbow, which gave him a talent development fund grant for the fourth time this year.

"I have passed my Grade Three practical piano exams and Grade Five for theory," said Samuel softly.

"I don't like to speak, I like to play the piano. Now I play the piano daily and the guzheng twice a week."

His passion for music and opportunities to perform on stage helped to develop his self-esteem and he has grown to be a cheerful boy, said his parents.

The couple, former engineers, work in Mr Lim's family hardware business, which gives them the flexibility they need to care for Samuel and their younger children, son You Jun, 10, and daughter Yong Zhen, seven.

"Samuel is always surprising me with what he does," said Mr Lim. "Just the other day, he told me that he signed up for the hip hop dance class as part of his physical education programme. That's him, never afraid to try new things."

Samuel walks and runs like a typical teenager. On weekends, the family plays badminton together.

An attempt at a normal childhood
When Samuel was younger, he would go with the family on outings to McDonald's, even though he could not eat. He has never complained or asked to eat, said his mother.

Samuel said: "I just find food disgusting."

His birthdays used to be at a Swensen's restaurant, complete with an ice cream cake. But as he grew older, he told his parents he preferred not to have such celebrations.

Madam Tan recalled how Samuel would attract a lot of attention in public, and she would find herself fighting back tears when strangers asked about his condition.

But she and her husband wanted their special son to have as normal a childhood as possible and did not believe that he should be kept at home, away from stares.

"We wanted it to be easy for him to grow up, so we did not see the point in hiding him at home," she said.

"We took him to swim at public pools and we taught him to take care of himself and not let water get into his tracheostomy tube. We would find a quiet corner in public to feed him." Mr Lim said: "Now that he is older, he has no problems feeding himself in public when he goes out with his friends."

Samuel’s recovery, repeated hospital trips and his growing-up years have been a long journey for the couple.

And they are always prepared for the unexpected.

Last year, Samuel had to sit his Chinese and science papers for the Primary School Leaving Examination in hospital, as he was suffering from an intestinal obstruction as a result of his tube feeding.

Strong will to live 
Ms Tan said: “We rushed him to hospital on a Sunday night after he complained of a severe pain in his stomach.

“The next morning, I informed the Ministry of Education of his condition and the ministry managed to arrange for him to take his exams at the hospital.”

Mr Lim said: “After the accident, doctors told me that he is a very special boy. Every time I’ve needed to rush him to the hospital, I would be praying that he survives the ordeal and for his pain to be reduced. Samuel has shown that he has a very strong will to live.”

Samuel's school principal, Mrs Saraspathy Menon, told The Sunday Times that her staff help to make sure Samuel takes his meals punctually, at three-hour intervals, in the privacy of the staff pantry.

"In class, he is just like everyone else and he has been participating in most activities," she said.

"Samuel is a pleasant and friendly boy who interacts with classmates and teachers actively through non-verbal communication such as gesturing, writing and Facebook posts."

She added: "Samuel is a remarkable child. He has a smile for everyone and he has never complained about the challenges that he is grappling with.

"He exemplifies resilience and courage and all of us in Yuan Ching Secondary School have much to learn from him."

What lies ahead for Samuel? 

Associate Professor Daniel Goh, head of the paediatric department at the National University Hospital, has been seeing Samuel since the day of the acid attack and monitoring his progress.

He said that later this year a team of paediatric surgeons will attempt to reconstruct Samuel's gullet, and another team will re-evaluate his upper airway for possible reconstructive surgery later.

"It is hoped that he may ultimately be able to breathe and eat without the tubes. The reconstruction will likely be complicated and may require many staged operations," he said.

Describing Samuel's condition as unique, he said: "The circumstances under which the injury occurred as well as the extent and severity of the damage are certainly not something we have seen before.

"What's also special is Samuel himself, and his parents. Samuel has been a very brave young man who has overcome the odds and not only survived the initial ordeal but also lived to lead a good and fruitful life.

"His parents are also fantastic in supporting him through the years and have loved and cared for him very well. Despite his injuries, Samuel has grown up to be a well-adjusted, polite and delightful young man."

Samuel knows what happened to him when he was a baby. Asked what he feels about the maid who assaulted him, he said: “I don’t hate her.”

The rainbow connection 
Club Rainbow, a charity that helps children and young people with chronic illnesses, was one of the first to offer help to Samuel Lim and his parents after the acid attack. It has remained a source of support for them.

Its president, Mr Gregory Vijayendran, said: "One of the greatest joys I have experienced in service in Club Rainbow is watching Samuel grow up.

"At first, five to six years back, he was a shy, slightly withdrawn child with a budding musical talent and a quietly expressive demeanour and manner.

"He has blossomed and matured into a confident, socially engaged young man with wonderful piano playing skills that are a gateway to his soul filled with joy, hope and great sensitivity." Three months ago, Samuel played the piano for more than 300 guests at Club Rainbow's 20th anniversary celebration.

He was among 19 young people who received the charity's talent development fund grant, of between $400 and $800, that night.

Enjoy tax benefits with SRS

Many Singaporeans use their savings to buy property as an insurance for retirement. Another attractive way to make sure you have something solid to fall on when you retire is investing in the Supplementary Retirement Scheme.

Introduced in 2001, the scheme takes care of contributors' needs beyond housing and basic medical needs.

You have to open an SRS account first with DBS or the other two local banks.

For more information about SRS, click here.

For investment options and further details, contact me here.

SRS contributions may be used to purchase various investment instruments such as listed shares, unit trusts, bonds, fixed deposits or insurance policies. It offers remarkably good tax benefits as investment returns are accumulated tax-free. Contributions to SRS are eligible for tax relief. Tax is deferred till the age of 62 and beyond and only 50 per cent of withdrawals are taxable on retirement.

Moreover, you are allowed to spread out your withdrawals over a period of time.

With lower or nominal income at retirement, you may end up paying little or no income tax. But there is a 5 per cent penalty imposed for early withdrawals.

There is no age ceiling for contributions to the SRS. You can contribute to the scheme up to any age, until the point where you make the first withdrawal, at the statutory retirement age or on medical grounds.

As it is essentially a tax deferral scheme and not a tax shelter for the asset rich, caps are set on the amounts of contributions per year. This is 15 per cent for locals annually and 35 per cent per year for foreigners in view of the fact that they do not enjoy tax relief on their CPF contributions.

Employers can contribute to their employees' SRS accounts, given the account-holders' current contribution limits - in absolute terms - of $12,750 per year for Singaporeans and PRs and $29,750 for foreigners for each employee. They can claim full tax deduction for their contributions. SRS members will be taxed on the contributions that their employers make to their SRS accounts. But they can enjoy a tax relief of up to the applicable contribution limit per YA for the SRS contributions which they or their employers make.

SRS is a voluntary scheme which gives you another good and sensible option to cope with inflation and do something about what would otherwise be an inactive pool of retirement money. It is a bonus to look forward to upon retirement.

And because it is, after all, a voluntary post-retirement benefit, it is not protected from creditors. Neither can it be used as legal collateral.

SRS also compensates for inflation as monies in the SRS account can be invested to gain potentially higher returns.

China manufacturing contraction eases: HSBC

BEIJING: China's manufacturing activity contracted in October but at a slower pace than in previous months, HSBC said Wednesday, a sign the slowdown in the world's number two economy is bottoming out.

The preliminary purchasing mangers' index (PMI) released by the British banking giant hit 49.1 this month, the highest level in three months and up from 47.9 in September.

A reading above 50 indicates growth in the key sector, while one below signals contraction.

While the figure marks the 12th straight month of contraction, it is also the second consecutive month of improvement and adds to recent indications that China's economy is on the mend after a slowdown that began early last year.

The index, compiled by information services provider Markit and released by HSBC, tracks manufacturing activity and is a closely watched barometer of the health of the economy.

China's official PMI figure was 49.8 for September, a second straight contraction. October's official figures are expected on November 1, the same day HSBC will release its final result.

HSBC economists Sun Junwei and Qu Hongbin said in a report that October's reading came as total new orders picked up to a six-month high, while new export orders had their best showing in five months.

They also noted that the PMI result "reflected the filtering through of earlier easing measures" introduced by policymakers this year to boost growth.

Those include two interest rate cuts in quick succession as well as the loosening of restrictions on how much money banks must keep on hand in an effort to boost lending.

China last week said the economy grew 7.4 per cent in the three months through September, slowing for the seventh straight three-month period and its worst performance since the first quarter of 2009.

Improvements in September for exports, industrial production and retail sales spurred optimism that the worst may be over for the Asian giant, although Sun and Qu warned that problems in overseas economies and China's job market continued to weigh.

"Growth has likely bottomed out and is headed for a gradual recovery into 4Q (the fourth quarter)," they said, referring to the current final quarter of this year until December.

"With inflation still under control and downside risks to growth lingering, China should continue with its current easing efforts to secure a firmer growth recovery," they wrote.

China's consumer price index slowed in September, rising 1.9 percent year-on-year, slightly down from the 2.0 percent recorded in August.

Inflation plagued China's economy in much of 2010 and 2011, with CPI peaking in July last year at 6.5 percent.

China is preparing for a once-a-decade leadership change at a Communist Party meeting that starts November 8.

Monday, October 22, 2012

From abuse victim to millionaire academic

HE WAS a millionaire by the age of 29 and received his PhD in economics from Princeton University before turning 30 last year.

Now, economist and academic Leong Kaiwen has added another job title to his resume: published author.

This after the assistant professor of economics at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) released on Oct 1 a mini-autobiography titled Singapore's Lost Son.

Now 31, Dr Leong seems like a man who has it made. His book about his life journey so far, however, reveals a tale of hardship, personal struggles and academic failures, the result of being sexually abused as a 10-year-old.

"I was sodomised," he told The Straits Times in an interview at NTU earlier in the week.

Recounting the ordeal that lasted for more than a year, Dr Leong spoke about how he was sexually assaulted by a martial arts instructor whom he trusted.

"After that, I had difficulty trusting people. I felt that everyone had a motive."

Those traumatic experiences affected his grades, he said. His PSLE score of 200 was one of the lowest in Singapore that year.

He went on to a neighbourhood secondary school, where he was frequently picked on and beaten up by bigger boys due to his small frame. But he hardened himself, and put on an arrogant persona after he moved on to junior college.

"I walked away from teachers when they spoke to me. When they insulted me and said I was sub-normal, I would retort that they were insane."

His defiance and frequent truancy led him to be expelled from his first junior college in less than a month. With his mother's help, he was taken in by a second junior college. But again, he was expelled within weeks of going there, he said.

"I tried to conform, but I could not. No teacher could see where I was coming from."

He switched schools two more times, with the same result. After being expelled from four junior colleges in half a year, he tried to study in a private school here.

There, he received a wake-up call from a relief teacher. He wrote in his book that these words the teacher uttered changed his attitude: "You are weak. And you know you are. You are loud and arrogant, but this is not strength. True strength is quiet strength."

He left the private school and decided to study for the A levels on his own. He passed all the subjects he took and was accepted by Boston University in the United States.

He went there heavy-hearted, as his parents had lost a lot of money after his uncle Leong Yew Cheong, one of the co-founders of Autron Corporation, was found to have rigged the price of the company's shares in 2002. Dr Leong's parents had invested heavily in those shares.

"My mother sold her jewellery to pay for my first year's tuition fees," he said.

Determined to prove to himself and his family that he was not a failure, he decided that he would complete two bachelor's degrees - in economics and mathematics - and two master's degrees, in four years.

Ordinarily, this would have taken about eight years.

To do that, he needed time. So he slept just four hours every night. "I didn't need caffeine. I didn't need any drugs," he wrote.

He also had no money because his parents were on the brink of bankruptcy. So he ate a single boiled potato every day.

He wrote in his book that he had "smelling out adventures", where he would stand by kitchen vents inhaling the scent of foods while he ate his boiled potato.

"This was how I ate steaks and lobsters - with only my imagination as a knife, and my willpower as a fork," he wrote.

Later on, his tortured stomach found relief when he was allowed to eat unfinished Subway sandwiches left on the tables.

Things started turning around for him after he received a university scholarship in his second year, but he continued to tutor and invest in stocks.

In his book, he called his graduation in 2007 "my redemption". That was also the first and only time his mother visited him in Boston, due to financial constraints.

He wrote that she had no idea of his academic achievements. "I harboured each success, big and small, like a treasure trove."

Dr Leong, who is married, said that apart from his wife, his mother is "the only other encouraging person" in his life, who never used harsh words on him for his failures in school.

"My mother is my world. My wife knows that my mother is always No. 1."

After his graduation, he took a year off and invested in China's real estate market, in the hope of easing his family's financial woes.

"I bought low. And I sold out high. Very high. That was how I made my first million," he wrote.

From 2008 to last year, he was on a full fellowship PhD programme at Princeton University, in economics.

He began his search for a job back here in his final year, and was offered the job of economist at Spring Singapore.

"At last, I could return home to serve. I was no longer a lost son," he wrote.

His story of having felt loss and failure before success is what he seeks to address in his book.

He hopes that it will ignite hope in the lives of those who feel rejected and alone. "I have walked the path, and you can too," he wrote.

3-year-old meningitis patient allowed to pay hospital bill over 42 years

SINGAPORE - A 42-YEAR arrangement.

That is what the Ting family has with KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH). It is to settle three-year-old Ting De Keat's medical bill.

This is the first time a hospital here has allowed a large medical bill to be broken up into interest-free monthly instalment payments over such a long period.

The amount? A whopping $130,000 - to treat and manage the boy's meningitis.

De Keat came down with fever on June 21 this year.

His mother, housewife Koh Tat Hong, 34, said: "He was seen by the family physician near our home, but when he vomited and complained of a neck ache the next day, we took him to the emergency room at KKH."

The boy was given stronger medication and sent home, but his temperature continued to rise.

"It was hovering at 39.9 and 40 degrees (Celsius) and he was given a suppository. But that helped only for a while," Madam Koh said.

Five days later, he was taken back to KKH and rushed into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

"Doctors said he had developed meningitis and it was causing his fits," his mother recalled, eyes brimming with tears.

De Keat underwent three operations to relieve the pressure in his skull and had a shunt installed to drain excess water from his brain.

He was in ICU for 24 days and was warded in the hospital for a total of 50 days.

"When we were handed the bill and told to settle $30,000 first, we were shocked. How could we afford to pay? We couldn't even afford to settle the first $30,000 let alone the full bill," Madam Koh said.

She and her husband Ting Kok Ing, 36, a container truck driver, are Malaysians living here.

"He gets paid on consignments and makes about $1,000 a month to support the family," she said.

The Tings have a younger son, who is being looked after by Madam Koh's mother in Malaysia.

To help the Tings with the bill and follow-up treatment for De Keat, a medical social worker at KKH approached several charitable organisations.

But when none of them replied, the couple approached MP K. Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam, who represents Nee Soon GRC, wrote a letter to the hospital on behalf of the Tings, appealing for its understanding.

If boy were Singaporean... 

Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law and Foreign Minister, told The New Paper that if the boy were a Singapore citizen, it would have been easier to help.

"We have several ways of helping citizens and our 3M framework (Medisave, MediShield and Medifund) would also have kicked in. But here the situation was different.

"Both parents are permanent residents from Malaysia and the boy is not a Singapore citizen. But we have to be compassionate - the father is a delivery driver and the mother has quit her job.

"We can't walk away from them. So I tried to help them," he said.

Madam Koh said: "We were happy when we received a letter last month from the hospital informing us we could make payment in monthly instalments of $250."

De Keat is recovering at home. He is conscious and reacts to what he is told, but cannot talk or stand up. He is still being fed through a tube.

Unique agreement 

This case is the first of its kind.

A National University Hospital spokesman said a 42-year repayment period is uncommon.

"Assistance schemes are available for patients who have genuine financial difficulties. These patients will be referred to the medical social workers to explore means of assistance.

"No patient will be denied medical care due to the inability to pay," she said.

Medical social workers TNP spoke to said hospital bills can be paid by instalments, but they "didn't know it could be done to such an extent".

Ms Jacqueline Ang, a medical social worker for HCA Hospice Care, said: "Instalment payment is negotiable and handled on a case-by-case basis. This shows the compassion of an institution such as KKH."

KKH could not reply to our questions by press time.

As for the Tings, they are hopeful De Keat will recover and return to being the bright-eyed intelligent boy he was before he fell ill.


What is meningitis

It is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges).
  • Viruses: This is the most common cause. A number of different viruses can cause the disease, including mosquito-borne viruses.
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Parasites
What are the signs and symptoms?
In its early stages, symptoms might be similar to that of flu, but some people have become seriously ill within hours. Early symptoms include:
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle ache
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Cold hands and feet
  • A rash that does not fade under pressure
What is the treatment? 

Viral meningitis will resolve itself fairly quickly and does not usually need any medical treatment. See a doctor if symptoms continue after two weeks.

Severe meningitis, which is nearly always bacterial, is treated with antibiotics, usually given intravenously, and other drugs.

Source: National Health Service (UK), The Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of Health (US)

Maid saves toddler from more hurt in Hillview accident

SINGAPORE - Hit by a car, she was thrown 3m by the impact and landed hard on the road.
Despite this, she clung on to the toddler for dear life and refused to let go.

Until she herself blacked out.

Thanks to the maid's heroic action, the 22-month-old toddler, Cienna, escaped with just abrasions.

The maid, Mrs Jeanilyn Quijano, 43, a Filipino, was not as lucky. She had to be hospitalised for head, arm and leg injuries.

The toddler's mother, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Chen, was very grateful to her maid of three years.

"It was only because of her that my girl was only hurt like this," she said.

The New Paper had reported the accident on our front page on Wednesday.

The accident happened on Tuesday at about 4.30pm.

Stepped out and... 

Mrs Quijano was taking Cienna home after school and crossing Hillview Avenue outside her employers' condominium The Petals.

She was carrying the toddler and had just stepped onto the low concrete road divider when a silver Mercedes-Benz hit her in the back, she told TNP from her hospital bed at the National University Hospital, where she is warded.

She said that the car's right side-view mirror had hit her back, causing her to fall backwards onto the windshield of the car.

When the car braked, she flew 3m onto the road, but held on to the child until she blacked out.

"I hit the car's windscreen and blacked out for a while," said the maid.

When Mrs Quijano awoke, she immediately thought of the toddler who was no longer with her.

"My first thought was, 'Where's the baby?'" she said.

"I wanted to get up, but people told me not to move."

So she lay on the road helplessly, even though she could hear Cienna crying loudly about 3m away.

An ambulance arrived and took both the maid and the toddler to the hospital.

Mrs Quijano was hospitalised, but Cienna was given outpatient treatment.

The accident has traumatised the toddler.

Said Mrs Chen: "My girl has been crying the whole night. She cannot be left alone and doesn't eat a lot. She is not as lively as before."

Mrs Chen and a few family members have taken leave from work to look after Cienna.

"She wants us to carry her all the time. Which is what we have been doing since last night," she said.

The family visited the maid in hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Are you in pain? 

"My heart was in pain when I saw the baby," said Mrs Quijano, referring to Cienna's abrasions.

"She stroked my hand and kept asking me, 'pain?'"

She added that Mrs Chen's six-year-old son had also cried when he saw her at the hospital. Mrs Chen has another son, aged three.

Mrs Quijano was visibly tired and told TNP that she had slept very little on Tuesday night because she kept crying.

"I cannot sleep," said the maid, who has been looking after the toddler since birth.

"I blame myself (for the accident), last night I kept crying."

The driver of the car, Mr Chua, who is in his 30s, had previously told TNP that the maid had been on the phone and had dashed across the road when the accident happened.

But Mrs Chen adamantly holds that this is not true.

She said that she had spoken to the security guard of The Petals, who had witnessed the accident.

Mrs Quijano also said that she had not been on the phone.

Said Mrs Chen: "She has worked for us for three years, we know her very well. She will not dash across the road."

Electricity market to be made more responsive to demand

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government is enabling the electricity market in the country to be more price responsive to industry demand.

The Energy Market Authority is launching a consultation process incorporating demand response -- where industries are encouraged to curtail their demand, thereby reducing peak demand for energy.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, S Iswaran, made the announcement on Monday at the opening of the Singapore International Energy Week.

He said the move is expected to benefit major consumers of energy, including the electronics, petrochemical and chemicals sectors.

As a small country almost wholly reliant on imported energy, Singapore has to adapt to the evolving global environment to shape its energy landscape.

One strategy is to empower consumers so they can make informed decisions on energy consumption. This is something which the industry consultation on demand response hopes to achieve.

Mr Iswaran said: "This is specifically in the context of consumers being able to respond to price signals and then curtail demand when there are spikes in the price.

"What that does is two things -- one, at the individual consumer level, whether you are a company or an organisation, is that you are able to lower your costs of energy... At the system level, it then lessens the system level pressure when there are peak demands."

Industries will be consulted on how they can put in place control systems to shed energy loads when prices spike -- for example, by cutting down lights and air conditioning.

"What we want to do through this consultation process is put out the Energy Market Authority's, the government's, thinking on these matters with some specific ideas and then get a response from the industry itself -- because there's quite a range of industry players who would be interested in these sorts of initiatives," said Mr Iswaran.

"And we want to make sure we have heard the different perspectives before we go ahead to look at how we can structure these arrangements," he added.

The public consultation will also cover the possibility of an electricity futures market in Singapore, to bring about greater competition in the energy market, which will in turn benefit the end-user.

Mr Iswaran explained: "Futures markets are already well-established for other commodities such as oil and gas. They have also been introduced for electricity in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

"By enabling trade in forward electricity products, a futures market will complement Singapore's wholesale market and yield several benefits.

"Firstly, independent retailers will be able to participate in the market by purchasing futures contracts and in turn offering competitive packages to consumers. This will increase retail competition and benefit end consumers.

"Consumers will also be able to hedge their risks by locking in longer-term prices, while generation companies stand to gain by using the futures contracts to hedge against their fuel price and operational risks during plant outages."

Besides the various initiatives to boost Singapore's energy sector, there are also several research projects in areas of renewable energy and electric cars.

Mr Iswaran emphasised that in Singapore's growing energy market, it is important to ensure that the required manpower is trained to meet the needs of the industry.

Mr Iswaran also spoke about Singapore's strategy to diversify sources to enhance its energy security.

He said Singapore's Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal is on track to start operations in the second quarter of 2013. With the development of the terminal, Singapore will be well-placed to diversify its gas supply and tap on the global LNG market.

Mr Iswaran said the demand for LNG is already stronger than initially expected.

He stressed that individuals and businesses have played, and will continue to play, a key role in developing a strong energy industry for the people and businesses.

To acknowledge those who have made outstanding contributions to Singapore's energy sector, the government has introduced the Singapore Energy Award.

Fed Reserve expected to keep policy on hold

WASHINGTON: Despite signs of revival in the housing sector and a lower jobless rate, a cautious US Federal Reserve is expected to keep its stimulus programmes in place at its policy meeting this week.

Six weeks after breaking out a new bond-buying programme labelled QE3 to shore up the economy, analysts see little reason to expect the Fed's policy board, the Federal Open Market Committee, to reverse direction in its session on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The signs of recovery remain too feeble, and the overhanging risks too many - the US election on November 6 and the "fiscal cliff" crunch, the eurozone crisis and China's slowdown - to justify a policy change.

"The recent upturn in economic activity is not enough to force the Fed's hand to change now. It is far too soon for the Fed to react and will more likely reaffirm their commitment to QE3," said Chris Low at FTN Financial.

"After all, the economy is still adding fewer than 150,000 jobs a month, not enough to cover demographic changes or meet (Fed chairman Ben) Bernanke's goals," Low said.

At their last meeting, the Fed launched QE3 - a "quantitative easing" operation of buying in $40 billion worth of bonds monthly to press long-term interest rates lower - with the express aim of sparking companies to invest and hire.

Bernanke's concern over the slow pace of job creation has mounted over the past year and by the September 12-13 FOMC meeting, most of the members of the policy board had gotten in line behind him.

Likewise, his view that inflation is not a threat that requires more caution about stimulus has also been endorsed by the committee members.

That has not likely changed in the weeks since then, despite a surprise 0.3 percentage point fall in the national unemployment rate in September, to 7.8 percent - the lowest level since January 2009.

While the baseline number looked good, other figures - the overall number of unemployed, and those who dropped out of the workforce - indicated that the US economy's jobs machine remains week.

Since then other data has been mixed: consumer spending seems stronger and consumer sentiment is higher, but industrial production has weakened and exports are down.

The Fed's Beige Book survey of regional economies released October 10 recognised only a modest pickup in activity since August.

But that could be enough to change the tenor of the Fed's discussions, from one of mulling how to deal with a deteriorating economy to one of how to anticipate a potential breakout.

The Fed still has to assess the two targets of its interest rate policy: its mandates of managing inflation and keeping unemployment down.

Compared to last year, says Narayana Kocherlakota, head of the Fed's Minneapolis branch, the worry about inflation among FOMC members has mostly disappeared, despite its key interest rate still being held at next to zero.

"The terms 'hawkish' and 'dovish' presume that the committee faces a tension between its two mandates," he said in an October 10 speech.

"But the committee does not see any tension between its two mandates now. And its long-run unemployment forecasts suggest that it does not anticipate any tension between the two mandates until the unemployment rate is considerably lower."

Indeed, in the September meeting, Bernanke made clear that the low rate policy will remain in place until there is a substantial improvement in the country's employment situation.

The FOMC is expected then to talk more about how it will signal its views and intentions - whether, for instance, to set a specific goal for the unemployment rate, at which it might increase interest rates.

Nomura analysts said they expect FOMC participants "to spend considerable time in furthering the discussion around how to communicate the Fed's intention and craft a consensus forecast," as well as what they will do when a previous stimulus programme dubbed Operation Twist ends.

S$100m hongbao for NSmen

SINGAPORE: More than 900,000 national servicemen (NSmen) will benefit from a S$100m "hongbao" from the Singapore government to commemorate the 45th anniversary of National Service in the country.

Speaking at the celebrations at The Float @ the Marina Bay, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said all NSmen will receive vouchers to enjoy a movie or meal with their family and friends.

In addition, Operationally Ready NSmen who are currently serving out their cycles, as well as those who have completed their cycles, will also receive a year's free membership to SAFRA or HomeTeam NS.

Mr Lee said the "hongbao" will cost the government S$100 million. But he said the gestures will never fully compensate for their personal sacrifices.

The vouchers, with value of between S$50 and S$100 each, can be used for groceries, dining, recreation and at petrol stations, among other things. These will be handed out next year.

Servicemen will receive a letter by post between January and April 2013 informing them of their eligibility for the benefits.

Prime Minister Lee said that the commitment of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Home Team in protecting Singapore has won the country 45 years of peace and stability.

He said fortunately, Singapore has not had to fight a war but added this was not a matter of luck.

He said the SAF, by its very existence and capabilities, has contributed to the stable and peaceful security environment in the region, and helped Singapore maintain friendly relations with its neighbours.

He added the Home Team has protected the country against unconventional threats like extremist terrorism and put would-be perpetrators away before they could do the nation harm.

Mr Lee said looking ahead, he is cautiously optimistic that the region will remain peaceful.

"One key factor is relations between the US and China. We must expect problems, frictions and tensions to arise from time to time between the two countries," he said.

"But both Chinese and American leaders recognise how inter-dependent they have become, and I believe they will strive hard to manage relations and avoid jeopardising their major shared interests."

Mr Lee went on to say: "In Asia, countries are trading, investing, and interacting more and more with one another. But there are also tensions in the region.

"Some ASEAN members have exchanged fire over territorial disputes. Tensions are brewing in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, also because of territorial disputes.

"North Korea remains a potential security flashpoint. In addition, we must always be prepared for emerging and unconventional threats, especially extremist terrorism, which remains a real danger.

"We therefore cannot take our present peace and stability for granted. We must continue to build and maintain a committed, competent and vigilant SAF and Home Team.

"We must upgrade our capabilities steadily year by year, in a sustainable and affordable way. We must help younger generations of Singaporeans who have grown up in a more stable and affluent environment understand these strategic realities, and prepare them for their part in defending Singapore.

"We must also strengthen Total Defence. Every Singaporean must be committed to the defence of Singapore, whether in the military, civil, economic, social or psychological domains."

Prime Minister Lee added that National Service is ultimately about safeguarding Singapore's homes, their loved ones and the country's freedom to determine its own way of life.

And it is a personal duty which generations of NSmen have fulfilled and which every new generation must take up.

So, as Singapore celebrates the first 45 years of National Service, Mr Lee urged Singaporeans to reaffirm their commitment to National Service and a strong SAF and Home Team.

The Defence and Home Affairs ministries say the benefits announced on Monday add to the various measures over the years to recognise servicemen for their vital contributions.

Operationally-ready NSman Captain Indrashah Muhammad Isa described the benefits as a "bonus", adding that "I'm grateful that we have this as part of them recognizing our contributions."

Full-time NSman, Corporal Wong Zeng An, said: "National Service itself, we shouldn't just go running on the logic that there must be carrots or incentives given to us all the time. But rather, we need to see beyond that and understand that National Service is present because of the importance of contributing to the defence and the security of the nation."

To mark 45 years of National Service, a book containing stories and pictures of servicemen over the generations was also launched.

Prime Minister Lee said: "Every Singaporean son is precious. It is our duty to provide our servicemen with all the equipment, training and support they need to fulfil their mission. But newer weapons, better welfare or comfier amenities are only part of the solution. What is most important is our Singapore spirit."

Awards were also given out to 15 people who attained high standards in training and contributed positively to their units as military servicemen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How to tell if it's real gold

SINGAPORE - Those dealing with gold on a regular basis are often able to tell the real McCoy by touching and holding it.

But this is often very subjective and fake or low-grade gold can often slip under the wire.

Those unsure about the grade of their precious metals, like gold, silver, platinum or palladium, can send them for testing at the Singapore Assay Office (SAO) for a fee.

The fee varies based on quantity.

Testing is needed here because unlike in some countries such as Britain, the quality of precious metals sold here does not have to be verified or hallmarked.

When an item has been verified to be of satisfactory quality, it is marked with the laboratory's logo.

Here are 3 ways the quality or fineness of gold can be tested:

1. Touchstone/carat needles

An ancient way of testing that dates back to 500BC. Gold is rubbed against a dark stone, usually quartz or jasper, which leaves a mark on the stone.

That mark is compared with a similar one made by a real piece of gold.

Next, a few drops of nitric acid are added onto the mark. As gold is a non-reactive metal, the mark will remain on the stone.

This is usually followed by aqua regia (a mix of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid), which will make the mark disappear.

Most pawnshops and traditional jewellery shops still use this testing method.

2. X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF)

This is a non-destructive method. It puts the gold pieces through a simple X-ray machine. From the result, jewellers are able to tell the amount of gold in a piece, as well as what impurities it contains.

3. Fire assay

A small sample is taken from the gold and smelted down. Base-metals, such as iron and lead are removed, leaving a gold-silver mixture.

The silver is then removed, leaving pure gold, which is then measured. While it means that the testing sample cannot be used again, this is the most accurate method of assaying gold.

Car crash sends baby flying across road divider

SINGAPORE - The impact from the crash was so great that it cracked the car's windscreen.

It also sent the baby flying across the road divider, landing almost 3m away on the other side of the road.

Miraculously, the little girl survived, with only minor injuries.

The maid who was carrying her also lived. But she had to be hospitalised for what is believed to be injuries to her head and spine.

The accident happened at about 4.30pm yesterday.

The car, a silver Mercedes-Benz, hit the maid as she was crossing the road at Hillview Avenue, at Bukit Batok.

The maid had been crossing from a bus stop to the divider in the middle of the road. It is believed she was heading towards the condominium less than 10m away.

Both the maid and the baby were flung into the air by the impact. They landed a distance from each other on the road.


Witness said the baby was left crying.

A small pool of blood could still be seen on the road when The New Paper visited the scene an hour later.

The car driver, a man in his 30s, said that the maid was carrying the baby while talking on the phone as she was crossing the road.

"She dashed across the road suddenly," said the man, who works in the food and beverage line and wanted to be known only as Mr Chua.

"There were few cars on the road at that time."

Mr Chua added that he had slammed on the brakes, but could not stop in time.

He added that the woman and the baby were conscious after the accident.

"The child was okay.The woman was bleeding slightly," he said.

The impact of the collision left his car with a cracked windshield and a dent on his car's bonnet.

A resident of a nearby condominium called the TNP hotline about the accident.

The woman, who wanted to be known only as Esther, said she was in her apartment when she heard a loud bang.

"I thought it was two cars colliding, but then I looked out the window and saw a woman and a baby lying on the road," she said.

The baby and the woman were some distance apart.

"I saw some residents of the condo and some drivers who stopped their cars to help," said Esther.

"But no one dared to lift the baby or move her."

Security guards from a nearby condominium said the baby was crying, and the maid was conscious but unable to get up on her own.

An ambulance arrived soon after.

A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman said the SCDF received a call at 4.47pm about an accident at 95 Hillview Avenue,The Petals.

Both casualties were taken by ambulance to the National University Hospital (NUH).

The baby has been discharged while the maid remains hospitalised.

SCDF said that a woman in her 30s, believed to be the maid, had suffered injuries to her head and was suspected to have spinal injuries.

At the hospital yesterday, her employers were overheard saying that there were no fractures.

They looked worried, but also relieved that the baby had sustained no major injuries.

She was surrounded by relatives at the Accident and Emergency department at NUH.

They had rushed down to the hospital from work on receiving a call about the accident.

The baby's mother had declined to comment, but said: "The most important thing to us right now is that they're all right."

She was also overheard saying that she had not met the driver, but that he should have gone to the hospital to apologise.

But Mr Chua had been at the scene of the accident at that time with a police officer.

'I grabbed hold of the wheel for dear life'

He was driving on the expressway when a car on the opposite side of the road suddenly crashed into the central divider and flipped in the air.

Then, a broken-off concrete block about the size of a brick flew towards his vehicle. He heard a thud and his car spun out of control and flipped on its left.

"I didn't realise I was going off the road. It seemed to happen in slow motion," said Mr Jayanath Perera, 52.

"I grabbed hold of the wheel for dear life." When his car flipped and landed on its side, it trapped him inside.

The accident happened on the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE)on Sunday.

Mr Perera said he had been driving from his Bukit Batok home to church, in Bugis, at about 12.45pm.

He was travelling on the right-most lane on the PIE when a white Mitsubishi car travelling on the opposite side of the road crashed.

Mr Perera, a technical writer, said that when his Hyundai Matrix came to a stop, he found himself without a scratch on his body, although his right wrist was sprained.

"My first thought was: ' My car is gone!' Next I thought: 'How do I get out of the car?'"

He switched off the engine and rolled down a window to get air.

Traffic was light at the time and cars behind him were not affected, Mr Perera said.

"I stayed still, hoping someone would help. It was strange, at the moment I could think quite clearly. I knew I was okay, but I thought I shouldn't do anything stupid."

Thumbs up

Then one person stopped by to ask if he was fine. Mr Perera gave a thumbs up sign.

Four more men rushed to him, drivers and motorcyclists alike. Among them was PR consultant Richard Koong, 62, who arrived in his Mitsubishi Colt Plus.

They tried to open the doors of his Hyundai, but the doors were jammed.

So they lined up alongside Mr Perera's car and tried to right it as he braced himself for the jerk.

"We tried twice or thrice: One, two three, push. The car shook a bit, but it was too heavy for us," said Mr Koong, who had been travelling on the second lane from the right.

He remembered Mr Perera overtaking him just before the accident.

He had also caught a video of both accidents: The white Mitsubishi mounting the railings before falling back, and the bronze Hyundai veering to its right before flipping over.

Faced with the stuck doors of Mr Perera's car, somebody suggested breaking the windshield.

Then another person opened the rear hatch of the car.

Mr Perera unbuckled himself, half-stood up and crawled through the back of his car to freedom.

Yesterday, Mr Perera said he was impressed with the car design, as he was comfortably seated and strapped back - "as if it was normal to be on my side".

The possibility of the car catching fire crossed his mind, but he didn't smell anything burning. The accident dented the seven-year-old car on all sides, but inside, it was safe, he said.

Mr Koong said he was shocked when he saw Mr Perera's car flip.

He parked his car on the left side of the expressway and went back to help.

"I thought it could be serious. He could have been hurt. I immediately wondered if there was petrol, but there was no petrol on the ground."

Mr Perera said another driver parked his car behind his own, so nobody would hit his car.

Some people even passed him their mobile phone numbers, volunteering to be witnesses as he waited for the police and ambulance by the side of the road.

One man waited at least half an hour until Mr Perera's family - his wife and two sons in National Service - got there, after which he was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

A woman also got out of her car to tell him she had called the police before driving off.

Mr Perera said he called those who helped him on Sunday night to thank them.

"They went out of their way to stay with me, they made sure I was okay.

"I'm very appreciative of them; very appreciative that I've no injuries. Cars can be replaced, but the most important thing is I'm unhurt," he said.

The police said yesterday that the driver of the white car was not taken to hospital. He is assisting with investigations.

Foreign investment in China falls further

BEIJING - Foreign direct investment (FDI) in China continued to fall in September, the government said on Friday, owing to persistent weakness in the global economy and a slowdown in China.

Investment from overseas declined by 6.8 percent from a year earlier to US$8.43 billion last month, the commerce ministry said.

The decline continued a downward trend stretching back to November, with the exception of May, when FDI eked out a marginal gain of 0.05 percent.

The government has blamed the slump on the slowdown in global economic growth, the prolonged European debt crisis and rising costs and weak demand at home.

For the first nine months of the year, foreign firms invested US$83.4 billion in factories and other projects in China, down 3.8 percent from the same period a year ago, the ministry said.

Investment by the 27-member countries of the European Union fell 6.3 percent on year in the first nine months of the year to US$4.83 billion, while that from the United States dipped 0.63 percent to US$2.37 billion, the ministry said.

Capital flows from 10 Asian countries and regions including Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea also tumbled by 4.9 percent year-on-year in the period to US$70.99 billion, it added.

Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said China was in an "adjustment stage" in terms of receiving foreign funds but that the government remains optimistic about the country's long-term appeal to overseas investors.

"We think the general trend of FDI development in the country remains positive and healthy," he told reporters at a briefing.

He added that there were "positive changes" in the quality and structure of the use of foreign capital, such as a rise in fund flows into less developed central China.

Data on Thursday showed the world's second-largest economy has slowed for seven consecutive quarters, expanding 7.4 percent in the three-month period ending on September 30, its worst performance since the first quarter of 2009.

Exports, the key indicator of the health of China's vital manufacturing sector, rose 9.9 percent in September on year to a record monthly high, but analysts warned the performance was unsustainable given the weak global outlook.

Shen downplayed hopes that the export sector has yet bottomed out.

"Currently the trade environment remains complicated and draconian and there are still many difficulties in expanding foreign demand, so that it is too early to come to the conclusion that China's foreign trade has recovered based on data for the single month," he said.

"The most key target for the full year at the moment is to try hard to maintain and improve our global market share."

3,500 ILTC staff to get government-funded pay rise

SINGAPORE: The government will help to fund salary increments of 10 to 24 per cent for more than 3,500 administrative, ancillary and support care staff in the Intermediate and Long Term Care sector (ILTC).

This will apply to staff in Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) who make up more than half of the manpower in the ILTC sector.

The funding support will apply from September 2012, as part the pay review conducted by the Ministry of Health to better recruit and retain staff.

This was announced by Minister of State for Health and Manpower, Dr Amy Khor, at a healthcare awards ceremony on Friday.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Balance austerity measures with growth, says IMF committee

TOKYO: The world economy needs to balance austerity with growth if it is to recover fully from the global financial crisis, a key IMF committee said in Tokyo on Saturday.

"Fiscal policy should be appropriately calibrated to be as growth-friendly as possible," the International Monetary and Financial Committee said in a communique.

The statement came after days of back and forth between those - led by Germany - urging no let-up from belt-tightening and those arguing for a loosening of the grip of austerity.

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said world economies are in a better position today than they were six months ago, with regard to the policy footing for getting growth restarted.

"We've got to find ways of supporting growth in the short-term, even in the environment of fiscal consolidation, by finding measures that are growth-friendly... growth-friendly forms of fiscal consolidation," he said.

Mr Tharman was speaking as the chair of the International Monetary Fund's steering committee.

He is at the IMF and World Bank's annual meeting in Tokyo, where world leaders endorsed a checklist of policy reforms aimed at defusing debt troubles in Europe and the United States.

Global financial ministers wrapped up two days of talks, calling for quick and effective action to safeguard faltering economic growth.

The IMF's governing panel praised policy steps which it said made the world financial system safer, even if they had not yet gone far enough.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Thursday she was happy for Greece - struggling under the weight of cuts demanded by international creditors - to have two more years to meet its deficit-reduction targets.

But the following day, Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said there was "no alternative" to cutting bloated national balance sheets.

Speaking to reporters, Lagarde played down growing speculation of a rift on the depth and timeline for painful austerity cuts in debt-addled eurozone economies.

"There have been a lot of debates on fiscal adjustment. And what sometimes has been presented as disagreement is more about perception than reality," she said.

"We all recognise credible, medium-term adjustments are necessary in all advanced economies... (but) the pace and type of measures obviously need to be calibrated on a country-by-country basis. It cannot be one-size-fits-all."

She added that fiscal policy alone "is not sufficient".

"On these points, there was complete agreement," she said.

The International Monetary and Financial Committee is a body made of up two dozen central bankers and government ministers who advise the IMF's board on its work.

Days after the Fund warned the world's economy was growing at a slower rate than previously thought, the committee said there remained "substantial uncertainties and downside risks".

"Key policy steps have been announced, but effective and timely implementation is critical to rebuild confidence," it said.

"We need to act decisively to break negative feedback loops and restore the global economy to a path of strong, sustainable and balanced growth.

"Advanced economies should deliver the necessary structural reforms and implement credible fiscal plans. Emerging market economies should preserve or use policy flexibility as appropriate to facilitate a response to adverse shocks and support growth."

The communique said monetary easing - like that practised by the US Federal Reserve and other central banks - had been helpful, but it was vital that "credible medium-term fiscal consolidation plans" were put in place.

"In the euro area, significant progress has been made. The ECB's decision on Outright Monetary Transactions and the launch of the European Stability Mechanism are welcome. But further steps are necessary.

"We look forward to timely implementation of an effective banking and a stronger fiscal union to strengthen the monetary union's resilience, and structural reforms to boost growth and employment at the national level."

The communique said Washington had to resolve the looming problem of the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- a collision of tax hikes and reduced public spending due to hit early next year.

Observers have warned this could knock the already-wobbly US recovery off track.

The committee said that Japan, the world's third largest economy, which has struggled to refloat itself after a series of set-backs, including the quake-tsunami disasters last year, needed to secure funding for this year's budget.

The Japanese government has warned it could soon face shutdown if a deadlocked parliament does not take its foot off the brake and allow it to borrow more money.

Authorities say bubble tea pearls safe for consumption

SINGAPORE: A German study has warned that tapioca pearls found in bubble tea may contain cancer-causing chemicals.

However, authorities said recent checks on pearls in Singapore showed they are safe for consumption.

The study claims the sweet, chewy pearls contain toxic chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB).

Chong Kok-Yoong, food scientist at TUV SUD PSB, said: "They are used... to make plastic, floor polish, as well as ballast for florescent lights. Specifically, they can cause cancer and certain immune system malfunction(s), or cause our hormonal system to go haywire."

It is not the first time bubble tea has come under fire for food safety.

Just last year, Singapore suspended a Taiwanese brand of fruit juice concentrates used in bubble tea, for containing the industrial chemical DEHP.

But this time, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said the level of PCBs detected in its recent tests on tapioca pearls here are "well within international food safety limits".

AVA said products that fail its safety standards are not allowed for sale in the market.

For some local chains, business has not been affected.

Chua Keem Long, CEO of Each-A-Cup, said: "AVA called me up and asked me for pearls for testing. I brought them down myself and it's been five or six weeks already. Nothing happened so I think it should be fine."

Most consumers Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they have not heard of the latest food safety concerns.

"I would continue drinking it because I'm not afraid of this giving me cancer... it's just milk," said one student.

"Honestly, I don't think it'll affect me because everyone dies anyway, so why not enjoy while you can," said another.

Experts said Singapore has a stringent food monitoring system, but there can be loopholes.

Mr Chong said: "There're just so many of these foods imported, I think we as consumers, besides relying on the authorities to do all the checks, should exercise some caution."

Swiss bank UBS could shed 10,000 jobs: report

GENEVA: The Swiss banking giant UBS could shed 10,000 jobs in the near future, according to a report on Saturday in the Tages Anzeiger daily.

The company could announce the layoffs when it presents its quarterly results on October 30, the newspaper said.

Most of the layoffs are expected to come from the bank's Information Technology arm which currently employs 8,200 people, 3,200 of them in Switzerland, it said.

The bank employed 63,520 people worldwide at the end of June, including 22,500 in Switzerland.

There was no comment immediately available on the report from the bank.

Singapore workers have highest burnout rate in region

The good news is that the vast majority of employers here are either upbeat or neutral over their staff numbers for the rest of this year.

However, the bad news is that Singapore is also seeing the highest levels of employee burnout in the region.

These were the findings of the latest quarterly employment trends report released yesterday by global recruitment firm Hudson.

The firm surveyed a total of 426 Singapore employers in August on their views for the October-December period for the report.

An overwhelming 93.2 per cent of employers say they will increase or maintain headcount in the remaining months of 2012.

But Singapore workers are also seeing the highest levels of employee burnout in the region, with nearly a third, or 32.6 per cent, of employers here reported an increase in staff burnout.

Local employees are also having rising workload, the highest figure in all Asia-Pacific markets studied, said Hudson.

Nearly two thirds, or 60.8 per cent of employees here said their workload has increased over the last year and almost half, or 45.5 per cent, now work 51 hours a week or more.

Keeping a work-life balance is one of the key issues being explored by the Government as it looks for solutions to arrest the falling birth-rate.

Mr Wilson Wong, Senior Lecturer at UniSIM's School of Business , said that Singapore employers need to realise that employee burnout not only has a social cost but could affect their bottomlines too.

"It is also about time that employers realise that longer working hours do not necessarily translate into greater productivity. For instance, France with its 35-hour work week, has ironically one of the highest productivity rates in the industrialised world," he said.

"Further, government organisations such as SPRING could also promote greater awareness of the social and economic cost of burnout among local employers."

Girl, 5, dies after being hit by taxi

A 5-year-old girl died of internal injuries and her seven-year-old brother had head injuries after they were hit by a taxi as they crossed Sembawang Drive on Wednesday night.

The children and their parents are from Mumbai.

The accident occurred near Sembawang Primary School at about 8.20pm.

According to Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao, the siblings were taken to a nearby clinic, before being sent to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

The girl died at the hospital. The boy was later transferred to intensive care at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and was said to be in a stable condition.

The children were with their 32-year-old housewife mother, who was not hit by the taxi.

Their father, who is also 32 and works in the financial services industry, was not with them at the time of the accident.

When The Straits Times visited KKH yesterday, the parents were too distraught to speak to the media.

They were accompanied by friends and relatives, some of whom had flown in from Mumbai yesterday.

A friend, who did not wish to be named, said that the family had moved to Singapore two years ago and are permanent residents. He said they live in the Admiralty area.

A TransCab spokesman told The Straits Times that the driver of the taxi, a 68-year-old Singaporean, visited TransCab offices yesterday to file an accident report.

She said he claimed the children dashed out onto the road and that the traffic lights were in his favour at the time.

When asked about the taxi driver's claims, the family friend, who also lives in the Admiralty area, said that the road was usually quiet with few cars, and that the taxi had allegedly been travelling at a high speed.

The accident is believed to have taken place within a designated school zone, with the road marked in red.

It is not the first fatal accident in the area.

In January this year, Sembawang Primary School pupil Lee Yu Heng, nine, was killed after a speeding car hit him as he crossed the road near the school entrance.

His parents started a petition, calling for the area's roads to be made safer by installing larger road signs to let drivers know they are entering a school zone, as well as speed humps to slow vehicles down.

Meanwhile, a police spokesman said that the taxi driver is assisting with investigations. He is currently on bail and has not been charged with an offence.

Man dead after being knocked down by Sentosa bus

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean man in his 50s was killed after he was knocked down by a Sentosa shuttle bus on Wednesday.

The accident occurred at about 5pm at a roundabout in front of Imbiah Station, an express rail station which is a stop away from the Resorts World Singapore integrated resort.

There is an overhead bridge and pedestrian crossing within 100m of the accident scene.

The bus was driven by a man in his 30s who had started work in Sentosa three months ago, said a spokesman for the Sentosa Leisure Group, which operates the shuttle buses.

The bus driver is assisting the police with investigations.

There were no passengers on the bus, which had been dispatched to pick up passengers at Siloso Point.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived at the scene after receiving a call at 5.08pm.

The victim was pronounced dead at the scene, said a spokesman. He declined to provide information on the identity of the man.

Eyewitnesses told The Straits Times that staff from the Sentosa Leisure Group helped perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the victim, who was believed to be alone, while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

A pushcart salesgirl at the Imbiah Station, Ms Sophia Chua, 22, said it was a frightening sight as there was a lot of blood.

She said the victim, who was wearing a polo T-shirt and trousers, was already not moving when the ambulance arrived.

"The bus driver looked scared and nervous, and was pacing about the accident scene," she said.

Another eyewitness, cleaner Raju Thanatal, 46, said: "There were so many people crowding around to see what happened."

The Sentosa Leisure Group spokesman said that while there had been "minor accidents of buses hitting the kerb, nothing serious has happened here (before)".

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Paralysed after car crash, she turns life around

This primary school teacher's life changed in a second when her husband crashed their car - while trying to swat a housefly - nine years ago. Paralysed from the shoulder down, Madam Zhang Kaini did not give up on herself. 

She raises her two young girls, trains her maids to cook and sew, uses the laptop to update Facebook and even paints for charity 

SINGAPORE - A buzzing housefly changed her life.

Madam Zhang Kaini says she can remember the car accident which paralysed her from the shoulder down "vividly, like it was yesterday".

It was a Sunday morning in December nine years ago, and she and her husband, Mr Vincent Tong, were driving to have breakfast at a cafe near their Bishan home.

Annoyed by a housefly that had entered the car, Mr Tong reached out with one hand to swat it away, leaving the other on the steering wheel as he manoeuvred a turn.

But he lost control and crashed the car into a lamp post.

"We weren't going fast at all. We had just left the HDB carpark, so he was at about 40kmh at the maximum," she recalls.

She felt a sharp pain in her neck, and realised that the other parts of her body had gone numb. "I couldn't feel the rest of my body, and somehow, in that moment, I kind of knew that I might be paralysed," she says.

Her mind immediately raced to her children.

"The first thing I told my husband was to call the helper and tell her that we wouldn't be home so soon and to ask her to take care of the children," she says.

Her elder daughter was two years old then, and her younger, four months.

Madam Zhang spent the next six months at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, out of which 11/2 months were spent in the intensive care unit. She was hooked onto tubes and machines which helped her to breathe.

She also underwent two operations to realign her collarbone to her spine.

"I remember a doctor telling me that I need to be prepared, that I may have to be bedridden the rest of my life," she says.


The slim and slightly frail-looking woman says she remembers feeling distraught. "I was sad, very sad, but I still had some hope.

"The doctor said there is a slim chance I will walk again, perhaps a one per cent chance. And I thought to myself, maybe I'll get that one per cent," she says.

The six months she spent in the hospital after the accident were excruciating not only physically, but emotionally.

"After the operation, I kept trying to move my body, but couldn't. It felt heavy, like stone. I was frustrated.

"And I kept worrying about the kids," she says of her children, then two years old and four months old.

After five months in hospital, she finally got to see Isabelle and Olivia, her two young daughters.

What was meant to be joyous turned out to be tainted with heartache.

"The older one could still remember me, but the younger one did not. My husband placed my then nine-month-old daughter on the bed beside me. I wanted to kiss her, but she struggled and kicked me.

"She put out her arms and wanted the maid," she says, a tinge of anguish cracking her stoic composure.

"I resolved then that I had to build up the trust again. Even though I'm not hands-on with showering her, feeding her or changing her diapers, I realised I must make her know that I'm her mother," she says.

Still, she admits that there were moments of despair and periods when she felt like giving up.

"After I returned home from the hospital, I felt like a corpse. Only my head was alive. I felt useless, ugly and unwanted," she says.

It was a far cry from the attractive, accomplished woman she used to be.

The slender and stylish Qingdao native came here from China in 1995 with some friends to see what Singapore had to offer, and if she could make a life for herself here.

Her beautiful face and love for dressing up made her a natural head-turner.

Young and ambitious 

Determined to carve out a career for herself, she signed up for private night classes which trained her to pass the O levels and subsequently, A levels.

In the day, she worked as a Chinese tutor to pay for her school fees. She also met and married her Hong Kong-born husband, Mr Vincent Tong.

After passing her A-level examinations, she landed a contract teaching job at a primary school here, and was pursuing a diploma in Education at the National Institute of Education when the accident happened.

Mr Tong, who was driving the car at the time, is still racked with guilt.

"There is not a day that goes by where I don't think about that accident," he says. "Initially, I was like the walking dead. I would do anything if I could reverse the situation, or gladly take her place. It was like a knife cutting into my heart."

But Madam Zhang doesn't blame her husband of almost two decades.

"I knew in my heart that he loves me deeply and he would give up his life for me. It was just an accident," she says.

After the accident, she could do nothing on her own. She needed help even to scratch an itch.

"It was like starting from zero. I needed catheter tubes to pass urine. I needed people to feed me," she says.

For a year after leaving the hospital, she would not step out of her home.

When she finally did, she received stares from strangers, which affected her daughters.

"They asked me, 'Mummy, why do people look at us when we go out? It's very embarrassing.'

"I told them that there's nothing I am ashamed about. 'Even though I'm disabled, I try my best. You should be proud of me'," she says.

These days, mother and daughters are close.

"They save money and buy my husband and I presents for our birthdays, or on special occasions like Christmas.

"And whenever it's time to have dinner, they will ask permission before starting without me. Usually they will wait for me to start together," she says.

Looking back, it was her husband and two children who kept her going, she says.

Thoughts of giving up came but went just as quickly because she felt responsible for the children.

"I didn't want my husband to worry, and I didn't want everything I was used to in my previous life to change because of the accident."


Her hands break into tiny spasms in the middle of the conversation.

Without skipping a beat, she smiles warmly and explains that the spasms, a side effect of the car accident she was in nine years ago, happen occasionally.

The 38-year-old's hands are limp and useless, along with most of her body.

A once active, vibrant, vivacious woman reduced to being a prisoner in a listless body - or so you'd think.

Until you look into her eyes. Until you discover a mind that is alive, nimble and bright. You'd think that a woman whose dreams came crashing down in an instant would be consumed with bitterness, or at least be wallowing in anguish and self-pity.

But seated ramrod straight in her motorised wheelchair, Madam Zhang exudes an air of serenity and dignity.

She reveals painful details about her past with startling clarity, her sharp mind a stark contrast to her frail body.

Nine years ago, Madam Zhang was married to the love of her life and was a mother of two beautiful babies and a primary school teacher.

She enjoyed golf, went for weekly aerobic classes and was passionate about life.

Then in one moment, her life changed. She and her husband were in a car accident which left her paralysed from the shoulder down.

"Everything was going so well. We had two cars and two properties here," recalls Madam Zhang, who moved from Qingdao, China, to Singapore 17 years ago.

"It was like falling from a very high place. Everything I built up collapsed in one second," she says in fluent English, a tone of disbelief slipping into her voice.

CEO of the home 

Her home - a Mount Sinai condominium unit off Holland Road - is impeccably neat. A whiff of black chicken soup fills the air, as her two maids prepare dinner.

Throughout the interview, she frequently pauses to instruct them in fluent Malay and Bahasa Indonesia that she has picked up on her own, through books and frequent conversation with them.

They cook the meals she plans, and help with everything from laundry to applying mascara on her eyelashes.

But it's clear that she is the CEO of her home.

"Every time the maids' contracts end, we get new ones and I have to train them from scratch. "I have to know what is in every cupboard of the home, and teach them how to cook, how to sew, to do everything I can't.

"I store all of the information in my laptop," she says.

Her husband, Mr Vincent Tong, an engineer in an American company, says she is the master of his house and his life.

"She knows everything in the house. I wouldn't be able to care for the kids without her," Mr Tong, 51, says.

The IT-savvy mummy keeps an e-mail account and is also active on Facebook.

To type, she grasps one end of a chopstick with her mouth, and prods the keyboard with it, letter by letter.

She created the innovative tool by wrapping a deflated balloon to the lower end of the stick, like a glove.

This increases friction and as a result, her precision.

The Mother 

Her two children, Isabelle and Olivia, aged 11 and nine, were just three years and 10 months old respectively when she got discharged from hospital.

But unlike most mothers, Madam Zhang couldn't hug or cuddle her children. Yet this didn't stop her from bonding with them in her own way.

"I would put my baby on my bed and talk to her. I couldn't play physical games with my kids, but I would use my voice and their imagination to create interaction.

"I would ask them to act like a tiger, and they would do that. In turn, they would ask me to make the sound of a dog, and I would do that too," she says with a smile.

She cannot spank her children when they are naughty, but is determined not to spoil them.

"When they were younger and misbehaved, I would tell the maid to put them in the 'punishment corner', where they sat.

"After some time I would go to them, 'cuddle' them and tell them that I still love them," she says.

The Painter 

Six years ago, Madam Zhang found a new sense of independence, which came with learning how to paint with her mouth.

At the beginning, she struggled with the basics of grasping the brush between her teeth and positioning herself close to the paper.

The process was especially trying as she suffers from low blood pressure, and had to cope with dizziness and fainting spells while painting.

Regular practice and persistence through the years have paid off.

Today, Madam Zhang is patience personified as she steadily dips a paintbrush (attached to a chopstick) in white paint, then in red, to get the perfect shade of pink.

With the smallest shake of her head, she forms the petal of a large rose, pauses, then brushes the canvas again to give the painting further character and dimension.

These days, she can paint for three hours at a time without stopping, with each painting taking four to 10 days to complete.

She is also a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, and regularly sells her work at public exhibitions.

Asked what advice she has to give to people with disabilities, Madam Zhang says: "Don't underestimate yourself, or think that you are useless because of your physical limitations.

"There's great inner power to unlock if you believe in yourself."

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