Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Merlion Legend | Origins

The Origins of the Merlion Legend

This article discusses the origins of the Merlion legend. Here, we attempt to strip fact (or at least apply some logical assessment) from fiction. In doing so, we hope to have a better understanding of what the merlion could actually have been like if it had existed sometime in the past.

Physical Characteristics of the Merlion?

Is it a fish or mammal? If we examine the stories behind the merlion legend,

The official documentation in Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) related to a Palembang Prince Sri Tri Buana sighting a strange beast that looked like a "lion" during his visit to Singapore. But lions did not exist in South Asia. The only Asiatic lions lived in a small area in northwest India. Could he have mistaken it for a tiger? This seems unlikely for a presumably highly educated member of the royal family. In his lifetime, he must have seen tigers in his realms, so he should have known a tiger from a lion. Anyway, his traveling companions must also have collaborated with his story so we will have to assume that it looked something like a lion.

Could it be some Chinese settlers playing a trick on the visiting dignitary by putting their lion dance costume? This is also highly unlikely as there were probably no Chinese settlers here at that time and the lion dance costume don't look like a real animal.

We know that it was sighted on coastal lands and in the sea, so we can assume that it must be some sort of sea mammal. We will have to assume it is a mammal as they are said to be intelligent and could probably interact with other species. It probably fed on fish and / or vegetation.

This would rule out the merlion being a fish unless you are talking about lungfish and mudskippers which are too small to attract any attention.

Some would suggest that it could be sea reptile / dinosaur like the one reportedly living in the Loch Ness. Ancient Asian people's (particularly the Chinese) encounters with dragons suggests that this may be so. However, the disappearance of dinosaurs long before the evolution of man makes this theory highly unlikely. Until it can proven that dinosaurs existed in recent history, we can dismiss the merlion-dinosaur link.

However, recent discoveries of giant squid and prehistoric fish leaves some room for speculation of the merlion being a prehistoric creature of some sort.

A giant snake? Maybe, but large snakes are not known in this region.

Crocodiles and alligators? Southeast Asian people are likely to be very familiar with these reptiles so it is unlikely people would mistaken crocodiles and alligators for monsters - no matter how big they grew.

Komodo dragons (monitor lizards) existed in Indonesia. Maybe the Javanese experience with these giant reptiles helped shaped the merlion's physical characteristics. If this is so, then the merlion's tail should probably been more lizard-like. Komodo dragons are not sea creatures.

merlion legend | originsHowever, the legend states that it had a head of a lion and a tail of a fish. This does not imply it was a lion but that it had a big medusa-like or tentacle-like head to borrow from the Greek legends. Its tail suggest that its back end was closer that of a marine mammal like the dolphin or whale - indicating that it was a powerful swimmer and could possibly live underwater for a long time.

The description that it looked like a lion may have implied that it was fierce-some looking and was not something you wanted to mess around with. It also indicated it was a powerful / strong creature which was not afraid of anything.

Its size is subject to conjecture - it was said to be both big and small. If this is true, we would have to assume that different people saw the parents and baby of the merlion separately. Alternatively, it could indicate that the creature was highly adaptable and could change shape quickly.

In terms of color, it would probably be silver grey to make it less visible in the sea. However, some suggested that it was closer to a sea lion coat's color. This is because its name is merlion - "mer" being french word for "sea or marine". So could it be a sea lion? It is unlikely that a merlion would be a sea lion or even a golden seal as these animals do not live in this part of the world (except in the zoos, of course). Moreover, these animals are relatively small compared to the descriptions of the merlion which is supposed to be gigantic.

Frankly, we don't believe the merlion had pearly scales if it was a mammal. It is also highly unlikely that creatures which spend most of their time in the sea would have a long mane like a lion. The merlion would have to be streamlined to facilitate swimming - just like other sea mammals. Could mammals' whiskers be mistaken for hair? This again, would seem to be highly unlikely.

There are no indications of its birth or death. We will have to assume it lived a long time - possibly a hundred years. No bones were found on land but this is not uncommon for sea / marine creatures. Stories that it appeared in a storm suggests that it spent much of its time in deep sea and thrived in rough seas. It was probably a nocturnal creature. It had very good eyesight and had good vision even in the deepest, darkest ocean. This implies that it could live in places which other creatures could not or would not.

It possibly spawned its young on land. It probably also took care of its young for a few years. We are not sure if it produced its own milk for its young or gave it regurgitated food. When its offspring was big enough to fend for itself, it left for the seas. In all likelihood, merlions were not social animals. They formed a family unit only when they had an offspring to take care of. There are no indication how often the merlions bred. We will have to assume that they only bred one offspring in its lifetime. It probably traded species proliferation for longevity.

Where did the merlion originally come from?

Possibly from the deep seas in the central Pacific. The merlion myth is similar to the legends of mermaids of the Greeks and possibly myths about the lost continents of Atlantis in the Atlantic ocean and Mu of the Pacific ocean. However, the existence of these civilizations have not been proven. From its rare sightings, we can deduce that it may be a migratory animal - alternating between Singapore and the deeps of the Pacific. Its migratory habits is likely to be tied to the migratory patterns of its main source of food - namely fish.

Possibly because it was a safe place to raise its young due to the lack of natural predators from land or its coastal waters. Smaller land mass usually could not support large animals. Its deep coastal waters were also an advantage of such a creature. Singapore's volcanic origins could also be a factor in its choice. Singapore may have reminded the merlion of the natural environment of its lost homeland many thousands of years ago.

When was the Merlion last seen?

The last records were from the Malay Annals (literary and historical work from the 15th or 16th century). It documents the visit of Prince Nila Utama of the Sri Vijaya empire in the 11th Century to ancient Singapore. According to fragmented records, the Sumatran prince's ship had to make landfall in Singapore (then called Temasek) after the ship had been damaged by a big storm.

As they waded ashore near the Singapore river, he saw a mystical creature which looked like a lion that could also swim like a fish. It disappeared as soon as it saw the men. The prince decided to renamed the island "Singapura" which in Sanskrit means Lion (singa) City (pura) after this encounter. As their ship was leaving Temasek, they felt a feeling of dread as they sensed that something with glowing eyes was following them though they could not see what it was. It only disappeared when the ship was several miles away from the island. This may indicate that the merlion is territorial and / or protecting its young.

South Asian and Chinese sailors also reported sighting strange creatures which some attributed to manatees, dolphins or simply swimming animals etc. though none of these animals looked remotely like the merlion.

By the time of the British rule of Singapore, only oral traditions existed of a strange creature that once lived in Singapore. These stories related to the creature guarding Singapore from an unknown threat from ancient times. Was the story made up by locals to scare away blood-thirsty, slave-taking Asian pirates - particularly those from the Sulu Sea?

Why did the merlion simply disappear? Perhaps, its time had come . Maybe it retired to the deep ocean to avoid contact with humankind.

What the merlion means to people

Today, only statues (an exaggerated physical recreation of the merlion) exists throughout Asia to remind us of the time when animals, not man ruled the earth. Perhaps it is only an allegorical tale about the necessity to be in harmony with nature.

As a famous quote goes: "A richest person is not one who has the most. But the one who needs the least."

With the threat of global warming etc, it is a timely reminder that humankind do not have absolute control of planet earth. If we do not take care of our environment, we too can become as extinct like the merlion. What good are legends if there are no people to remember them by?

Perhaps, the merlion legend serves as a lesson on survival. Like feng shui, the merlion can protect the country from destructive elements only in a limited way. In the end, it is all up to us. Some empires exist for a thousand years. Some last only a hundred years. During our short time on earth, we should make the most of it. To create a future we can be proud of. To ensure that we do not end up being a forgotten chapter in the history of mankind. A story very much like the merlion legend.

While the merlion is a mythical beast as far as we know, its characteristics and spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of many Singaporeans.

Fact or fable, we love our much venerated merlion just the same.

Related Article:

For a light-hearted story about the Merlion, read my partner's article on the Merlion Legend here.

© - the origins of the merlion legend

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Car Park Rates | Singapore

The Cheapest and Most Expensive Car Parks in Singapore

Before shopping on Sundays, check out which are the cheapest and most expensive car park rates in the City Hall / Orchard area. With the ERP-like automated gantries collecting car park fees, most drivers do not really know how much they pay when they patronize these shopping centres. So before you go downtown for shopping, do check out the carpark rates below. It will help you make some savings while you shop.

The building's carpark rates are indicative of what the weekday rates are like too. But their rates are not as absurd as those car parks in the Shenton Way / CBD area. Most CBD car parks charge $2 plus per half an hour (or $16 for 4 hours) during office hours! The most expensive car park lot is Shenton House ($3 per 1/2 hour) which works out to $24 for 4 hours of parking during office hours! So people with noisy, over-priced Lamborghinis, this is the place where you won't get your cars scratched.

the cheapest and most expensive car parks in Singapore

The parking rates given below in (red) is the equivalent rate for 4 hours from noon to 4pm:

Orchard Road:

International Building:
$2.00 per entry ($2)

Shaw Centre
$2.14 per entry ($2.14)

Far East Plaza
$3 per entry ($3)

Forum The Shopping Mall
$3.20 per entry ($3.20)

Far East Shopping Centre
$3.21 per entry ($3.21)

Pacific Plaza
$3.50 per entry ($3.50)

Royal Plaza On Scotts
$4 per entry ($4)

Wheelock Place
$4 per entry ($4)

$4.50 per entry ($4.50)

$1 for 1st hour, $1.20 per subsequent hour ($4.60)

Cathay Cineleisure Orchard
$3.75 for first 3 hours, $1.07 per subsequent hour ($4.82)

Grand Hyatt
$5.35 per entry ($5.35)

Cairnhill Place
$3.50 for first 3 hours, $1.50 per subsequent 30 mins ($6.50)

Wisma Atria
$3.50 for 2 hours, $.0.80 per subsequent 30 mins ($6.70)

Hilton Hotel
$7 per entry ($7)

Orchard Plaza
$1 per 30 min, $3.50 per entry (5pm-7am) ($8)

Lucky Plaza
$1.61 for 1st hour, $1.28 per subsequent 30 mins
$3.21 per entry (5pm-7am) ($9.29)

Orchard Point
$2.40 per hour (8am-10pm)
$4.80 per hour (10pm-8am) ($9.60)

$3.40 for 1st hour, $0.70 per subsequent 35 mins.
Additional $1.07 surcharge from noon to 2.30pm ($10.07)

Ngee Ann City
$2.48 for 1st hour, $1.58 per subsequent 30 mins.
$4.28 per entry (6pm-7.59am) ($11.96)

Park Hotel Orchard Singapore
$3.50 for 1st hour, $1.50 per subsequent 30 mins.
$5 per entry after 5pm ($12.50)

City Hall Area:

North Bridge Centre
$1.55 per entry ($1.55)

Capitol Centre
$2 per entry ($2)

The Adelphi
$2.10 per entry ($2.10)

National Library
$2.10 per entry ($2.10)

Peninsula Plaza
$2.50 per entry ($2.50)

Beach Centre
$3 per entry ($3)

Esplanade- Theatres by the Bay
Free parking except on public holidays (6am-2pm)
$1.50 per hour (2-6pm)
$5.50 per hour (6-10pm)
$1.50 per entry (10pm-6am) ($3)

Millenia Walk
$2 for 1st 2 hours, $1 per subsequent hour ($4)

The Ritz Carlton Millenia
$2 for 1st 2 hours, $1 per subsequent hour ($4)

Bras Basah, Bain Street (Block 232)
$0.50 per 30 mins (7am-1am) ($4)

Marina Square
$2.14 for 1st 2 hours, $1.07 per hour for next 2 subsequent hours,
$1.07 per subsequent 30 mins (7am-2am) ($4.28)

Suntec City
$1.07 per hour ($4.28)

Raffles City
$2 for 1st 2 hours, $0.30 per subsequent 15 mins ($4.40)

Raffles Hotel
$6 per entry ($6)

Peninsula Excelsior Hotel
$1.50 per hour (8am-5pm)
$3 per entry after 5pm ($6)

Carlton Hotel
$6 per entry ($6)

Odeon Towers
$2.20 for 1st hour, $0.90 fpr subsequent 30 mins (7am-5pm)
$2.20 per entry after 5pm ($7.60)

Funan DigitalLife Mall
$2 for 1st hour, $0.50 for subsequent 30 mins (7am-5pm)
$2.10 per entry (5pm-11.59am) ($8)

Expensive Car Parking in other Singapore Buildings:

Colliers International recently ranked Singapore as the 12th most expensive place to park a car in the 17 Asia Pacific cities surveyed by them. According to Colliers, the estimated median of unreserved parking in Singapore is US$182.00 (S$249.34) per month. In global terms, Singapore ranked the 68th most expensive in terms of car parks out of the 138 cities surveyed.

This high cost of parking is attributed to the limited availability of parking space in the Central Business District (CBD). The recent ruling that building developers have the flexibility to provide up to 20 per cent fewer parking lots than the prevailing car parking provisions standards for commercial buildings have motivated many building owners to convert some of their carpark space into retail / office space - further curtailing the number of car park space available.

What with a ratio of 12 cars per 100 Singaporeans, you can only expect car park rates to go up faster than your blood pressure rates.
This figure implies one car per 2.1 Singapore families (100 / 12 / 4 ) - assuming a family unit of 4.

You can also check which buildings charges the most expensive / cheapest car park rates in other Singapore Buildings online at (which can also be accessed via your mobile phone if your handphone has an internet connection). You can also buy the "Singapore Car Park Rates Guide" in printed form from sgCarMart. They currently have a promotional tie up with SPC whereby you can get the Singapore car park rates guide for free if you buy $10 worth of Choice store products. So get it, check it and save money.

© - the cheapest and most expensive car parks in Singapore

Monday, December 8, 2008

freak weather | Singapore

Freak Weather in Singapore

Sunny Singapore experienced extremely freak wet weather conditions, not seen here for the past 20 years or more. Those who were on the Singapore roads on 14 & 15 January 2008 witnessed these ferocious tropical storm conditions on two consecutive afternoons at about the same time of the day (4pm).

The freak rainfall was so heavy, the cars and other road vehicles on the highway had to slow down to a crawl. Even with the cars’ hazard lights on, it was difficult for drivers to see through the driving, blinding rain even at two car lengths away. All they saw was a grey-blur sheet of hard torrential rain. Many drivers even had to stop their cars intermittently as it was virtually impossible to see what was ahead of them - something that was very dangerous to do on a highway! Luckily, all the cars had kept their distance from the other cars as they too were experiencing the same zero visibility conditions and were clocking drive speeds of less than 10 mph.

Fortunately, the freaky weather did not last too long as strong winds blew the rainstorm clouds quickly westwards of Singapore. In the photos below, you will be able to see part of the dark storm clouds behind a small section of the Singapore city skyline. The Singapore skies over the city cleared after about 15 minutes. Because of the rainstorm did not last long, no serious damage were reported here.

Below are photos taken after the severe rain had whittled to a drizzle. From these pictures you can see the remaining low rain clouds drifting at about mid-level of some of the Singapore skyscrapers. This is quite unusual as these Singapore city skyscrapers - the tallest of which is only 280 meters high due to local aviation regulations - as seen in these photos, are not very tall buildings by world standards. The photos were taken by my son using his hand phone camera in a moving vehicle.

freak weather singapore

Could this freak weather in Singapore be due to global warming? Only time will tell.

Find out the predictions of global warming for 2008 and how it will affect us. Don't be fooled into believing that we don't have global warming, if we experience cold spells. This is part of the"two faces" of extreme weather caused by global warming. Many of the anti-global warming proponents are big business "fronts" aimed at preventing global warming legislation from being enacted in their respective countries as it would affect their bottom line. Global warming measures are to keep the climate within normal range - neither too hot or too cold so people can live comfortably and the environment, their livelihood and way of life will not destroyed as a result of abnormal climate change.

Freak Weather - Waterspout Spotted in Singapor

Reminds me of the waterspout that hit Singapore on 7 May 2007. Here is the home video using time lapsed photography taken by a home security system. Time lapsed photography of course results in the video being speeded up. Video was taken near Shaw Towers with the East Coast Expressway (ECP) in the foreground. Sorry, we have no audio on this video, but I'm sure you will have a blast with this speeded up freak show. The phenomenon lasted for 15 minutes. If you think our featured video is too short, visit YouTube or LiveLeak and view other videos of the waterspout. The last waterspout was seen off Sentosa on 13 August 2006 - lasted for 5 minutes. According to the Meteorological Services, such waterspouts occur about once or twice a year but further off-shore.

Freak Cold Spell in Singapore

Singapore experienced the coldest temperature in 74 years on 13 Mar 2008. Singapore's temperature dipped to 12.8 degrees Celsius - about the average day time temperature in wintry Hong Kong. Singapore, which lies less than 100 miles north of the Equator, recorded the coldest spell in its history on 30 Jan 1934, when thermometers dipped to 19.4 degrees Celsius (Straits Times, 14 Mar 2008).

© - freak weather in Singapore

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Feng Shui: Marina Bay Sands IR

Feng Shui: Marina Bay Sands IR

The Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort (IR) is the biggest and most expensive development project ($5.4 billion on 50.9-acre prime waterfront site near the financial district,) undertaken in Singapore. It is also the world's most expensive casino project so far. Usually the undertaking of a major construction project like this in the country is an indicator of excessive market confidence. It usually precedes a major market top with a fierce recession following close behind. But life goes on, and in 2-5 years, you can expect business to be booming like never before.

The casino project is without its problems like escalating project costs and the financial problems of Las Vegas Sands. LVS problems is not due to earnings problems but the difficulty of getting funding for their many projects due to the current Credit Crisis. Once funding have been secured, things will proceed at full steam. The IR was slated for a staggered opening in 2009. (UPDATE: Now slated to open in early May 2010)

About Feng Shui
To most foreigners, it would seem that the Chinese are a superstitious lot. But feng shui is not about ghosts and spirits. It is all about living in harmony with nature. To make use of nature to improve our lives. To place things which could be potentially dangerous in a location where it would do the least harm. When people are in harmony with nature and themselves, they can do great things. Some of the feng shui is pretty much common sense things which we may overlook due to our disorganized and hectic modern lifestyles.

Marina Bay Sands IR - good feng shui or bad feng shui?
Many people blame the "bad" feng shui of the Marina Bay IR as the cause of Las Vegas Sands current problems. This sounds like gobbly-gook to me. How can a property that has yet to be completed bring bad luck? Now this is pure superstition or wishful thinking by the anti-gambling crowd who are hoping against hope that the project will fail.

Don't get me wrong. I'm against gambling too. But let's face facts. There are hundreds of Singaporeans who are going to Batam, Genting and Star Cruise's voyage-to-nowhere to gamble every weekend. If these silly folks got money to burn, it might as well be in Singapore and provide employment to the locals here - especially the 40-50 year old workers.

Many people think that the feng shui elements has been artificially implanted into the Marina Bay IR as an afterthought. However, architect Moshe Safdie and LV Sands maintain that they have utilized the services of the Chinese geomancy experts when designing the casino property.

Feng Shui: Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort and Casino

Marina Bay Sands IR -
Good Feng Shui or Bad Feng Shui? Let us examine the Differing Assessments of Geomancy Experts :

50 Storey Garden Rooftop / Sky Garden / Sky Park

Safdie wanted the building to capture the essence of Singapore as a garden city, make it an iconic and first of its kind building in the world and fusing it with good urban design sense. The 1 hectare (larger than 2 football fields) sky garden, maximize space for more greenery and provides a 360 degree view of the city and the Singapore Straits.

Critics said that the roof / sky garden looked like an aircraft carrier. To others, it represented an incomplete or broken flyover / expressway that goes nowhere.

Geomancer Victor Li, who has worked with The Raffles Hotel and The Grand Hyatt Singapore, said: "On their own, the three tall buildings look like three ancestral tablets and, with the sky garden, it looks like a broken flyover, with 'neither head nor tail'." He said the Mandarin phrase 'neither head nor tail' has a negative connotation, usually used to describe things that are incomplete and imperfect.

Geomancer Gwee Kim Woon says that the buildings are positioned in the shape of a bat and the Mandarin work for “bat” sounds similar to “luck”, so that is good news.

The Sharp Blade That “Cuts” The Financial District

Master Tan Khoon Yong of Way Onnet Group said it resembles a blade that will affect (cut) all buildings surrounding the IR, especially the Swissotel Stamford. "Also, because the rooftop is flat, it restricts the development and growth for the IR," he said.

Knife-edge buildings are not new in Singapore:
  • We have had blade-like buildings like the Gateway, the UOB Building (said to be designed by feng shui experts to "chop off" competitors), the Suntec City with the biggest monument to Feng Shui - Fountain of Wealth and even the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. I recalled when the design of the Esplanade was first released to the public, there was a chorus of disapproval and naysayers predicting that these "bug eye" looking theaters were doomed to failure. Today, it is a much photographed iconic building which look like durians (their unique dome structure actually represents the top part of the microphone) with an impressive track record for money-making performing arts shows.
Master Chong said it's like a scholar's hat, meaning the IR will bring new learning to Singapore.

Pools on the Tower Rooftops

While geomancer Adelina Pang has no problem with the flat roof, she warned that the garden should not have ponds or water features, because this would symbolize a drowning building.

Master Chong said that the garden has water and plants, like a mountain. We have water, and the water flows to the MICE (meetings, incentive travel, conventions, exhibitions) business.

The 3 Slanted Hotel Towers

LV Sands wanted the towers to be iconic and dramatic

Critics said that the towers looked like ancestral tablets (tombstones) which is a bad omen.

Feng Shui Proponents disagreed saying that all buildings look like a rectangle ancestral tablets. The experts said that the towers with a gradually broadening base would negate any resemblance to an ancestral tablet.

Master Chong Swan Lek
(who advised Genting Highlands, Marina Bay and Sentosa years ago) said: "You look properly, they are three warriors standing a foot apart. They are guarding the gateway to Singapore. Tablets are straight up, these are curved".

Gaps Between The Three Towers

Critics said that the wind tunnels (gaps between buildings) will bring bad luck to the financial district, and hotels such as Swissotel Stamford and The Fullerton.

Master Chong Swan Lek, 66, commenting on the negative remarks, said it is not a geomancer's job "to tell the architect what to do". His input to the Sands project, however, had the designers splitting one original hotel block into three to let the qi (wind) through. Asked if geomancy could reduce gambling's social ills, he said "You would have to tighten the law".

On the gaps, which critics say are wind tunnels that bring bad luck to the financial district:
Master Chong: We split them so that the qi (wind) could pass through. The Swissotel does not even face the IR. It faces Maybank, the mouth of the Singapore River, not the lagoon. The IR actually becomes the kao san (backer). They got it wrong.

funny singapore buildings not feng shui
If you think the Marina Bay Sands towers seem odd, look at these funny-looking, crooked buildings that are coming up at Marina South. These buildings are called 'FLOATING' BLOCKS: Surbana. They are planning for 30- to 50-storey-high blocks on shallow pools, making them appear to float on water.

Lotus Shaped Art Science Museum
LVS wants the museum to look like a hand opening up to the heavens with three interwoven low-rise domes to give an impression of flow and fluidity.

People from both camps supported the idea of a bloom along the waterfront. in the form of the lotus-shaped Art-Science museum. Architect John Ting said: "To us in Asia, the lotus is providential and if you know how to capitalize on the concept of a lotus, it can be iconic."

Master Cheong said: "Art-Science Museum is shaped like the divine lotus. Its five fingers complements the Esplanade. Water flows in and is recycled. Money flows into the casino and back to Singapore, so it won't flow out into Batam and Bintan" - which also plans to have competing casinos.

The Three Domes

Master Chong says they are like three coins. In feng shui, when a household has problems, you give them three coins to ward off evil and bring prosperity. Some amateur feng shui practitioners suggested that gamblers could get lucky if they throw three coins in the fountains at the IR.


Feng shui-friendly elements — glass, crystal and water are put into good use to enhance the qi qualities of the property.

Location and Orientation

The site has yin water flowing from right to left. Entering from between 95 - 105 degrees more towards 95, water will enter from the birth 长生 or nurture 养 direction and exit from either sickness 病 or death 死 direction. These are based on estimation from a Google map. Although there isn't much benefit from any of these water entrances, at least water exits from very bad directions. This site is unable to tap on the prosperity 帝旺 incoming water direction unless it faces east, which is not feasible.

The highway behind the casino is also a cause for concern. This is probably why the architecture of the site has 3 such tall towers. They are to block off the energy from behind. The highway will have a north-south orientation. Referring to the 3 combination water theory again, it is actually favorable for traffic from to move from north to south. But gravely unfavorable to move from south to north. And since the highway is 2-way. The feng shui master must have not left this to chance and decided to block it off altogether.

Based on the feedback from my usually reliable feng shui experts, it looks like LVS' Marina Bay Sands IR will bring good luck to the company if it survives the bad patch of project financing difficulties.

Some anti-government and anti-casino critics are hoping that the Marina Bay Sand project will fail. This is highly unlikely as I am reliably informed that there are many corporate "big guns" waiting eagerly at the sidelines for a chance to muscle in on this casino action should LVS run into problems - especially those who had failed to secure this lucrative 30-year concession earlier. As Chinese always say: "Crisis = Opportunity". So with or without LVS, the Marina Bay IR would still be completed. But LVS holds all the good cards, so it is highly likely they will win this high stakes game.

The plus factors in LVS favor: LVS has recently announced that much of its 120,000 sqm convention space has been booked by some 15 international MICE operators till 2013. On 5 December 2008, it said that 50% of its retail space (which is 20% smaller than VivoCity) of 800,000 sqm had been taken up mainly by 300 high fashion European, American, Japanese and some Korean labels including crowd drawer Victoria Secrets. The bigger stores will open in 2009 and the others in 2010. LVS has put on hold projects that have lower yield and putting greater resources on potential projects like the one in Singapore.

Singaporeans are not poor people. The tai tais alone can occupy several casino tables. Casinos have deep pockets and can afford to offer perks like complimentary food, drinks & hotel rooms (it has 2,500 premium hotel rooms). It can also afford to provide VIP treatment (like invitations to significant photo opportunity events) and tickets to concerts to get the well heeled mahjong crowd to regularly patronize their 15,000 sqm casino. Its many attractions like the Art and Science museum, a skating rink, boat rides through the shopping mall and two floating crystal pavilions for dining and entertainment will also pull casual visitors to the gaming tables.

Believe me, gambling is big business in Singapore. Singaporeans just love to gamble. They will bet on anything that moves. Some have gone to jail just to prove the point. So let the dice roll and may the feng shui force be with you when you are in the casino - a definite maybe.

© - Feng Shui: Marina Bay Sands IR

Monday, December 1, 2008

timeshare resale

Why Can't I Sell My Timeshares?

A short answer to this question is: there is no resale value for your timeshare because you've been sold an overpriced product. Because the sale of timeshares is unregulated in Singapore, timeshares have been sold at an absurd premium here compared to countries where timeshares are regulated.

LGM says it is prepared to buy your timeshare at about 80% of the price you paid for but you will have to buy their lifetime vacation travel club plan of $40,000 which means that you will have to fork out 50% or more cash depending on the value of your existing timeshare property. This hefty price tag represents $1,000 premium per year assuming you faithfully use this travel program for 40 years without fail.

It it a good deal? It depends on whether the travel company will honor their lifetime commitments to you. Looking at the way timeshares are performing as an equity product, I have serious doubts. You can bargain down resaler's price tag by reducing the lifetime (years covered) of the product but I doubt it will solve your core problem - which is reducing your travel costs over the long term.

As anyone who have joined a lifetime membership program like signing up for a slimming program or a car polishing service will tell you, it takes a lot of discipline to use the service intensively and the chances of the service lasting a lifetime is pretty slim. So a lifetime membership program is a loser's game at best. Companies that offer a lifetime membership count on buyers not using the service intensively throughout their lifetimes even if the company lasts a "lifetime".

There are other 'timeshare resale" companies offering such resale / terminating solutions for your timeshares. This is their code word for your timeshare being "unmarketable" i.e. your time share is "not registered" (or "fake") . They will also use their "whispering system" to determine your property's value. Friends who have seen this piece of paper from this whispering system were not impressed by it. Ironically, insiders says that there is no such thing as a "non-registered" timeshare. (You can confirm it with companies like LGM). To sell your timeshare to these re-sellers, you'll have to buy their product and top up more good money for a bad investment. There is no way you will be able to get cash back. And worst still, this new product is no better than the old one - even worst possibly.

For companies which offer an opportunity for cash back, - there is a catch - you will first have to buy their expensive product and than market it at a some timeshare auction site. This auction process may take a few months (according to them: 2-6 months) depending on the availability of buyers (sic).

You will have to assume that these companies will be around in the ensuing months while your new investment is being auctioned off. You'll also have to assume that there are buyers to this big ticket item. Insiders say you'll have to mark down your price to move the product as these resellers do not guarantee the sale of the product. Even if they guarantee, there is no guarantee they will keep their word.

You may be able to sell it if your price is right. It is all about how desperate you are in selling your second-hand product at a lower price. How much money will you eventually get back, if any at all? Your guess is as good as mine.

At the end of the presentation process, if you don't buy, they will usually subject you to an intimidation process. They will try to imply that you are, well not stupid, but there is obviously some wrong with you if you can't see a "good" deal because "many people" have benefited from such a scheme. You can't talk to these people and even if you do there is no guarantee that you will have a happy ending like them.

This process inevitably involves a time limit to take up the offer - which is usually means that you must sign up immediately. They say that their offer is not available tomorrow. This is nonsense. Of course, you can buy tomorrow. It is not like they have people lining up outside their office to buy their "fast selling" product.

CASE has given good advice to the public about timeshares and everyone should apply it when dealing with these companies: "If you are asked to buy something immediately.... leave immediately".

CASE other advice is to deal directly with the resort owners rather than middle men like these.

As mentioned in my earlier post, don't upgrade, don't invest more money unless you are prepared to take more risks with your hard earned money.

You should only average down on your investment if the company and industry is financially sound, has long term growth prospects and the ability to give consistently good customer value over the decades - and this usually applies to public listed companies in a regulated stock exchange.

Now that timeshares are difficult for these companies to sell, due to bad press, they are diversifying into vacation travel membership plans. I heard that some of these companies are also moving into landbanking (heaven forbid!). Landbanking is another unregulated business in Singapore, so you can expect a lot of companies will be getting into landbanking. Some are good companies, but many are likely to be fly-by-night companies out to sell you a scam. Read more about landbanking in Singapore by clicking here.

Business have been so tough for these timeshare resellers, they are now doing home visits / calls. I would not advise against this as it is difficult to terminate the meeting when they are at your home and you may be setting yourself up for junk mails and sales calls.

Be careful when dealing with such companies. Insiders say that timeshare reselling are not allowed in Singapore. I am unable to verify this claim but looking at the huge list of blacklisted timeshare resale companies, there is probably some element of truth in it.

How do you know whether you are dealing in an unreliable timeshare resale company? Look at their "profile":

How they approach you:

  • How did they get your name and phone number
  • What they promise on the phone versus what you get eventually. On the phone, they will tell you that you won't need to fork out a single cent. But during the presentation, they will ask you to pay a big sum of money by credit card.
  • The type of people who will interview you
  • Lengthy interview process to give the impression they are "serious" people. Its actual effect is to wear you down so you will be glad to fork out more money to remove your uncertainties about your ill-fated timeshares.
  • The threat of losing the opportunity to sell your timeshare if you don't sign up with them immediately - "We can only buy 20 timeshares, and we have reached our last quota today". This is nonsense. It is a high pressure tactic to make you commit cash before you are able to do due diligence. You can always come back if you have the cash. The question is whether they have ceased operations because of you-know-what.
  • The devaluation of your timeshare - they will claim that your timeshare is "not registered" without substantiating their claims.
  • Their highly secretive, non-transparent "whispering system" which provides no proof that you are getting a fair price of your timeshare
  • You will have to buy their product which costs more than your timeshare
  • There is no "cooling off" period as required by legislation
  • You can't show the contract to your lawyers
  • The contract is very sketchy of details of their commitments and pricing versus what they promise you verbally. The "contract" is loaded in their favor.
  • Gated-mentality - locked doors to keep out unwanted visitors
  • More staff than customers in the office. Most of them idle. You are shuttled from one person to another if you are a "difficult" customer.
  • And for Pete's sake don't sign on the dotted line because some ang mio tell you that this is the only way you can sell your timeshare. Particularly if the person is from the UK and has a fancy job description title. Chances are he is probably in it for possibly a cut in the action as a broker.

Check with the Consumer Association of Singapore (Case), Timeshare Association (Singapore) and international timeshare blacklist websites to see if the company you intend to deal with is not blacklisted or on their watch list.

By all means, do go to these timeshare resale presentations if you must - just simply for its therapeutic value ie. to vent your frustrations. But don't buy unless you know exactly what you are getting into. Believe, more times than not, you really don't know what is going on until well after the purchase. By which time, it is game over for you.

Questions to Ask if you want to attend a timeshare resale presentation:
Is your company registered with Registry of Companies?
Is your company a member of the Timeshare Association (Singapore)?
Are there any complaints against your company with CASE or MAS?

Then tell them: "Do you mind if I check these details with the 3 organizations concerned before signing up with you?"

If pushed for a commitment, say: "I don't have any money right now. Can I settle payment in one month's time?"

If they insist on an immediate commitment, threaten to make a complaint with CASE. Insist on collecting any gift they promised you for sitting through a 1-2 hour presentation.

Related Timeshare Articles:

Blacklisted Timeshare Companies

Timeshare Singapore (SG)

Hard Sell Tactics

Timeshare Resale | LGM | Maxmega

Timeshare Complaints

© - why can't I resell my timeshares?

Jewellery Singapore

Jewellery Singapore - Shortchanged on Gold

As recession begins to bite, some Singapore jewellers seems to be skimping of the gold content according to the Today's Consumer Alert report: "Not all that glitters is all gold" and Straits Times "Jewellery that's not worth its weight in gold" on 2 December 2008.

gold jewellery - shortchanged on gold in SingaporeFor the first time, the Consumer Association of Singapore (Case) has tested the fineness standard in gold sold in shops in the Singapore suburbs. Case found that out of the 30 pieces taken from 30 retailers, one-sixth (5 pieces) of the samples taken failed to meet the 22-carat or 91.6% pure gold standard. SAO said that most of the 5 failed its test by a few decimal points. The worst score was 85.94 per cent.

There have also been instances of 8 retailers overcharging for example charging customers for the gold that was lost in the making of the jewellery, a practice stopped here in 1995.

Also, most jewelery retailers weighed the gold items only when they were asked to do so.

Worse still, three out of the five items that failed the gold test came from retailers who were members of the Singapore Jewelers Association.

Two of the shops carried the SAO (Singapore Assay Office) certification yet sold jewelery that did not carry the SAO hallmark.

The 5 jewellers claimed ignorance and blamed their suppliers. Casehas referred the cases of the 5 retailers as Catherine Goldsmith & Jewellery, Chan Foon Jade & Jewellery, Boon Lay Goldsmiths & Jewellers, Teng Huat Jewellery and Sri Meeachi Jewellers to Spring Singapore and the Trade and Industry Ministry for further investigation.

These jewellers are blaming their suppliers for their items failing the gold purity test. Hello? These jewelers should know that as sellers to the public, they are responsible in ensuring the gold meets the fineness standard. The buck stops with them. So they better have their jewellery items checked before they put it up for sale.

On 7 December 2008, the Singapore Jewellers Association announced that it has set up a Hotline: 6533-4053 for the public to call if they require assistance in getting a refund from association members whose 24k or 22k gold does not meet fineness standards. Members who flout rules may be blacklisted or kicked out of the association, though this has not been done before.

The jewellers' group is looking into getting a special X-ray device in its office so members can analyze any jewellery item's gold content in minutes.

Chan Foon Jade & Jewel, Boon Lay Goldsmiths & jewellers and Teng Huat Jewellery are members of the association.

The Singapore Jewellery Market

This year, Case received 2 gold-related complaints from the public and none last year. In 2006, jewelery sales were estimated to be worth $1.5 billion of which gold jewellery sales were a "small" percentage according to Ho Nai Chuen, President of the Singapore Jewellers Association. Only 30 out of the estimated 500 jewellery outlets in Singapore are certified, Mr Ho of the Singapore Jewellers Association said. They cited high costs of creditation(certification costs $1.10 per item for retailers) as the reason for not having the jewellery certified by Singapore Assay Office.

The Singapore Jewellers Association is the only group in the jewellery trade which is worth over $1 billion in sales in Singapore alone. It has 155 members with about 335 outlets across the island. Of the 500 jewellery outlets in Singapore, Mr Ho estimates that 100 of them have a substantial gold jewellery inventory.

How to Avoid Being Shortchanged on Gold Jewellery:

  1. Have the jewellery weighed in your presence without the price tag. Ask for a detailed breakdown to be stated in the receipt ie. unit price per gram, gold purity and net weight of the gold item.
  2. Check the hallmarks (etched inscriptions) on jewellery items which should have the jeweller's stamp and another mark indicating the purity of the gold. In addition, those certified by the Singapore Assay Office should have the SAO stamp.
  3. If you have doubts about the gold content in the jewellery you have purchased, you can send it to SAO for testing. Each item will cost $2.40 for an x-ray test (which will not damage your item) A simple pass/fail result can be obtained within an hour. A more detailed report which included the gold and alloy content used, takes about a day.
  4. If the item fails the test, make a complaint with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, under the Consumer Protection (Trade Description and Safety Requirements) Act. Consumers who are overcharged can approach Spring Singapore under the Weights and Measures Act. If the retailer has breached the Consumer Protection Act, you can make a claim at the Small Claims Tribunal. For tourists, you can make a complaint through the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB).
  5. Avoid jewellery shops that bills you for "gold loss" in their price. They should only charge the net weight based n current prices, negotiable workmanship fees and tax.
If jewellery items at certain stores are advertised at much lower prices than other retailers, there is reason for you to be on your guard. In gold jewellery, there is no such thing as "cheap and good". You get what you pay for.

© - Jewellery Singapore - Shortchanged in Gold