June 30, 2006
See reaction: Distorting the truth, mr brown? TODAY
THINGS are certainly looking up for Singapore again. Up, up, and away.
Household incomes are up, I read. Sure, the bottom third of our country is actually seeing their incomes (or as one newspaper called it, "wages") shrink, but the rest of us purportedly are making more money.
Okay, if you say so.
As sure as Superman Returns, our cost of living is also on the up. Except we are not able to leap over high costs in a single bound.
Cost of watching World Cup is up. Price of electricity is up. Comfort's taxi fares are going up. Oh, sorry, it was called "being revised". Even the prata (Indian style bread) man at my coffeeshop just raised the price of his prata by 10 cents. He was also revising his prata prices.
So Singaporeans need to try to "up" their incomes, I am sure, in the light of our rising costs. Have you upped yours?
We are very thankful for the timing of all this good news, of course. Just after the elections, for instance. By that I mean that getting the important event out of the way means we can now concentrate on trying to pay our bills.
It would have been too taxing on the brain if those price increases were announced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability to choose wisely.
The other reason I am glad with the timing of the cost of living increases and wages going down, is that we can now deploy our Progress Package to pay for some of these bills.
Wait, what? You spent it all on that fancy pair of shoes on the day you saw your money in your account? Too bad for you then.
As I break into my Progress Package reserves to see if it is enough to pay the bills, I feel an overwhelming sense of progress. I feel like I am really staying together with my fellow Singaporeans and moving forward.
There is even talk of future roads like underground expressways being outsourced to private sector companies to build, so that they, in turn, levy a toll on those of us who use these roads.
I understand the cost of building these roads is high, and the Government is relooking the financing of these big road projects.
Silly me, I thought my road tax and COE (levy for buying a car) was enough to pay for public roads.
Maybe we can start financing all kinds of expensive projects this way in future. We could build upgraded lifts for older HDB blocks, and charge tolls on a per use basis.
You walk into your new lift on the first floor, and the scanner reads the contactless cashcard chip embedded in your forehead. This chip would be part of the recently-announced Intelligent Nation 2015 plan, you know, that initiative to make us a smart nation?
So you, the smart contactless-cashcard-chip-enhanced Singaporean would go into your lift, and when you get off at your floor, the lift would deduct the toll from your chip, and you would hear a beep.
The higher you live, the more expensive the lift toll.
Now you know why I started climbing stairs for exercise, as I mentioned in my last column. I plan to prepare for that day when I have to pay to use my lift. God help you if some kid presses all the lift buttons in the lift, as kids are wont to do. You will be beeping all the way to your flat.
The same chip could be used to pay for supermarket items. You just carry your bags of rice and groceries past the cashierless cashier counter, and the total will be deducted from your contactless cashcard automatically.
You will not even know you just got poorer. And if your contactless cashcard runs out of funds (making it a contactless CASHLESS cashcard), you just cannot use paid services.
The door of the lift won't close, the bus won't stop for you, taxis will automatically display "On Call" when their chip scanners detect you're broke.
Sure, paying bills that only seem to go up is painful, but by Jove, we are going to make sure it is at least convenient.
No more opening your wallet and fiddling with dirty notes and coins. Just stand there and hear your income beeped away. No fuss, no muss! I cannot wait to be a Smart e-Singaporean.
I also found out recently that my first-born daughter's special school fees were going up. This is because of this thing called "Means Testing", where they test your means, then if you are not poor enough, you lose some or all of the subsidy you've been getting for your special child's therapy.
I think I am looking at about a $100 increase, which is a more than a 100 per cent increase, but who's counting, right? We can afford it, but we do know many families who cannot, even those that are making more money than we are, on paper.
But don't worry. Most of you don't have this problem. Your normal kids can go to regular school for very low fees, and I am sure they will not introduce means testing for your cases.
We need your gifted and talented kids to help our country do well economically, so that our kids with special needs can get a little more therapy to help them to walk and talk. And hey, maybe if the country does really well, the special-needs kids will get a little more subsidy.
Like I said, progress.
High-definition televisions, a high-speed broadband wireless network, underground expressways, and contactless cashcard system — all our signs of progress.
I am happy for progress, of course but I would be just as happy to make ends meet and to see my autistic first-born grow up able to talk and fend for herself in this society when I am gone.
That is something my wife and I will pay all we can pay to see in our lifetimes.
mr brown is the accidental author of a popular website that has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997. He enjoys having yet another cashcard, in addition to his un-contactless one and the ez-link one to add to his wallet.