Friday, December 31, 2010

A Glimpse in the 2010 for 2011

The age of 40 has a significant meaning or change for a lot of people. Some observed that their body energy and brain productivity start to degrade (a better word then “deteriorate”) from this age. It also mean to some as have half of the life is gone (assuming the life expectancy is of age 80) and everything start to countdown from the age of 40. I remember quite well that the moment into the age of 40 in Sept 2010, I have to stop telling people I am still thirty something and feel a little bit awkward to tell the age. This is the year I observed myself would fall into asleep at the sofa after watching TV for more than an hour.

Regardless, I would still like to summarize the passed events in 2010 in the first day of 2011. As contrary to the slow economic recovery in many of the developed nations, the recovery in the emerging markets in 2009 is robust and outstanding. The equity & real-estate markets were red-hot and the returns generated are lucrative for a lot of investors in these markets. My personal net-worth target for 2010 was met in the final month of the year thanks to the good returns of some of investments made. While exciting with the gains, it remain cautious for me as these are just paper gains for now until they are liquidated and realized.

The travel plans made in the beginning of the year were only half met. The trip to the Sichuan Province and Xi’an China realized in the month of Apr 2010. The entire trip took us 3 weeks with our footsteps left in many lovely places. The most interesting one is the picturesque JiuZhaiGou valley, a nature reserve in the north of Sichuan is well-known for its many multi-level waterfalls and colorful lakes, and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

JiuZhaiGou Valley - Panda Lake (熊猫海)

The trip to Xi'an city and the Shaan’xi province was just as brilliant as well. The museum of Terracotta Army is a must-go destination in Xi'an as it was coined as "Eighth Wonder of the World". The city tour in the historic Xi’an city was just as amazing with the wonderful collection in the Shaan'xi History Museum and the well preserved Ming City Wall in the middle of the city.

Xi'an-The Museum of Terracotta Army

The ChengDu stopover was also interesting with the fascinating trip to Mount Emei, one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China. The Mt Emei scenic area, including Leshan Giant Buddha have been listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The weekend trip to the Shunan Bamboo Sea was also worth mentioning with the huge bamboo forest covering an area of 120sqkm.

Regrettably the trip to Shanghai for the Shanghai Expo was not materialized as I was too occupied with the project work in the office. In 2011, I hope to continue my excursion in China for the 3rd conservative year with at least 2 weeks of stay at the Yunnan Province.

The company layoff exercise in the beginning of the year has caused a lot of us in the office feeling a little bit insecure and uncomfortable. This was also of the reason that has triggered many of the colleagues worked extremely hard in 2010 to acquire different professional certifications to prepare for the uncertainty in the working environment. As for me personally, I have opted for PMP certification to support myself for the project management profession. The 3 months of effort worked out quite well and I have acquired the professional certification in July 2010. As for the 2011, I have aimed for another non-IT professional certification, in addition to the CFP obtained couple of years ago.

Some of the new year resolutions made for 2010 did not turn out that well such as reading in average 2 books per month. I failed to achieve this in 2010 with the results of less than a book a month. Well, I did not blame this to the extremely high workload in the second half of the year and I personally think it was due to the lack of discipline at home. Let’s hope in 2011, I would be able to achieve this.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Investment Scheme - Too good to be true

It’s puzzling when you read about people get conned using simple tricks such as magic stones etc. You always wonder this could only happen to old folk and the uneducated minorities. Well! This is no longer true when the simple tricks have developed into complicated international pyramid scheme with lots of people incuding many professionals has become part of the victim statistics.

About 10 years ago in 1999, I was introduced by a ex-colleague into the GoldQuest scheme with a joining fee of USD 300 (about RM1200 back then) in exchange of gold-flated coins. The investment or more correctly ponzi scheme promised lucrative payout for members for introducing more downline (in fact more victims) joining the scheme. Shortly after the payment, I received a welcome letter with the tracking centre no for referring more people and collecting money. The letter indicated that the company was registered in British Virgin Island and even promised the rights for refund within 12 months of purchase. However, there were no news nor any annual statement received subsequently after more than 10 years.

It was later discovered that there were many people were lured into the similar scheme worldwide in India, Sri Langka, Iran, Canada and United States and was subsequently banned in many countries. Many hoping to get rich quick have put in their hard earned money into this scheme. In the process of recovering their investments, they have also become unintentionally as part of the many “conmen” when their friends, relatives who joined subsequently were not able to recover their investments.

As for me, thankfully I have not caused any financial loss to others. As to the so-called upline who introduced me to the scheme, we are still good friend after so many years as I know he was just a victim as well.

Nevertheless, it has become one of the important lesson learned in my subsequent investment experience - Don’t jump into anything when something seems or sound too good to be true.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Alam Sanctuary Mandola Townhouse

After about 8 months and I have almost forgotten about the booking in March this year, the sales person from Permatanah, the developer for Alam Sanctuary Mondola townhouse rang me up last week to secure the purchase of the townhouse. The project has finally gotten its approval and is launched officially on the 27th Nov 2010.

This is the Phase 4 of the flagship Alam Sanctuary's project by Permatanah Sdn Bhd. The duplex townhouse project worths RM45 million covering 11 acres of land and has a total 138 units available. The duplex townhouse has 2 types of units
(i) Lower Unit : 3 rooms + 2 baths - Gross built up of approximately 1,614 sf
(ii)Upper Unit : 3 rooms + 3 baths - Gross built up of approximately 1,797 sf

The sales person informed that the units are now sold at RM360k for lower unit and RM390K the upper unit with the official launch and the show house. I also noticed that the developer has reseved 3 rows of the townhouse of at least 60 units for future sales, wth the intention of fetching higher sales prices in the future.

A visit to the show house units on the 27th Nov has also cleared some of my doubts as they are defintely more spacious with the improved square design (and less sharp corners) when compared to the floorplan given in March. They looks contemporary cater to the taste of the younger generation with the smaller family. The upper units are designed with much more spaces and with an addtional one more bath room. However those families with many cars will probably have some complaint on the car porch which caters for 1 car per unit only. I can almost imagine now on how competitive parking spaces will be in the future.

I definitely like the location of Alam Sanctuary at Seri Kembangan, which is linked to several highways (LDP, ELITE, SILK, KL-Seremban, SKVE). Several hypermarkets such as Jaya Jusco, Giant and the proposed Tesco are just well within the short distance. Not to mention about the walking distance to the Pasar Borong Selangor and also travel time of about 10 minutes to Cyberjaya and Putrajaya.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Illegal Parking @ IOI Boulevard

There are many parking lots in the surrounding of the IOI Boulevard Puchong for drivers to pay and parking at the designated parking lots in yellow box. There is no problem with this system. What is really annoying is the irresponsible vehicle owners who parked their vehicles at the back and blocking the vehicle parked at the yellow boxes. This is particularly rampant especially during the office hours as the lazy drivers refused to park further down the road. These uncivilized illegal parking behaviours have caused so much inconvenience for those who are obeying the instructions as we need to wait for the car owners to remove their vehicles before we can reverse our car and get off from this area. In addition, it also caused traffic jam at the shophouses beside IOI Boulevard.

I had a bad experience this morning as I had to go shop by shop to locate the car owner who has blocked my car in the parking lot beside IOI Boulevard. This has wasted half an hour of my time and also caused unnecessary traffic jam in this area.

I had lodged a complaint to MPSJ to take drastic action against drivers who illegally parked their vehicles at the commercial area like IOI Boulevard so as to improve the traffic situation in these areas during the office hours.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

3 -Storey Townhouse @ Taman Tasik Prima

Bolton will be launching the 3 storey townhouse (lot size : 24' X 85') at the Taman Tasik Prima, Puchong in the coming Apr or May 2010.

The sales launch comprises of
(a) Lower Unit
Quantity : 81
Built Up : 1600 sf
Layout : 3+1 rooms; 1 study area; 3 bath rooms
Indicative price : RM300K

(b) Upper Unit
Quantity : 81
Built Up : 1660 sf
Layout : 3 rooms; 1 family; 4 bath rooms
Indicative price : RM290K

Both types can fit in 2 cars, back to back. Refer to the floor plan

According to sale rep, the first row facing the lake is going to price from RM350K - RM400K, about an additional 20% from the inner rows
Based on the sales info collected, the developer will be providing the sales package as follows:-
- 5% rebate
- Early bird discount
- Bulk purchase discount
- 10/90 free interest scheme (Developer Bearing Interest Scheme)
- Free SPA legal fee, disbursement & stamp duty on MOT
- Buyer get buyer incentive

Registration is in progress now. Booking fees of RM1000 is refundable. After the site visit, my major concern is not on its relatively pricey for the leased hold property, but its location which i feel is a bit too close to the high electricity pylons, close to the Lake Vista Link house. I have subsequently cancelled the booking the following day for the same reason.

The developer will also be launching the serviced apartments in Taman Tasik Prima which will comprise of 3 blocks of 33 storey serviced apartments with the size of 800sf and 1,100sf, Indicative prices are approximately from RM220K to RM290K

Monday, March 8, 2010

Domain 3 @ Cyberjaya

While investigating for the condominium investment opportunity in Cyberjaya, the intelligent city with the beautiful and well-maintained landscapes, I came across the NeoCyber project, a 21.2 acres freehold mixed development project that will span over a period of approximately 6 years in 4 phases.

    (i) Phase 1 - consisting of 67 units of shop-offices (Biz Avenue 1) and 272 units of serviced apartments (The Domain) which are already completed

    (ii)Phase 2 - consisting of 138 units of shop-offices (Biz Avenue II) and 1 commercial lot (6,555 nett land area)

    (iii)Phase 3 - consisting of 2 blocks of office towers (262,000 sf of nett floor area)

    (iv)Phase 4 - consisting of 4 blocks of 600 units of apartments.

There are only a few units left for the apartments in “Domain 2” launched last year. “Domain 3” is currently in registration stage and the project will be launched for sales by end of this month. According to the sales rep, there will be 4 blocks of apartments with the similar sizes as Domain 2.

“Domain 3” Apartment with the size of about 800 sq feet will be selling at the cost of RM250 – RM270K tentatively. The price is on the higher end with more than RM300 per square feet. The main attraction for the investors is of course the rental income, eyeing on the limited apartments in Cyberjaya and therefore the good demand from the students or ex-students from MMU and Lim Kok Weng University and probably the IT professionals who works in Cyberjaya. The apartments are popular among the middle-east students. Given the potential monthly rental of RM1500 for unfurnished unit, the rental yield is about 6-7%.

My concern is the shop-offices within the same project are still not fully occupied yet and therefore the commercial zone is actually not that busy yet. We only see tenants such as pharmacy, mamak restaurant and of course the developer which occupies a few units of the shop-houses. A check on the Friday evening revealed that there are not many people hanging around and therefore it is not a happening area at night. The fact that franchise restaurants such as Old Town, Papa Rich do not choose this part of Cyberjaya to operate their business does reveal the potential for capital appreciation is probably limited given the already high selling price.

The Domain Serviced Apartment

Office Towers still in construction stage

From the back

Junction in front of the shop houses

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Decent Return of 5.65% EPF Dividend for 2009

EPF announced today the dividend rate of 5.65% was declared for financial year ended 31 Dec 2009. It was declared on the back of the highest ever net income achieved of RM19.63 billion. The dividend rate is better than expectations for many EPF account holders and it is in fact an impressive return. I have initially anticipated to have the maximum of 5.25% - 5.5% for 2009 considering that the country had just recovered from the recession in Q4 2009, resulting from the global financial crisis. This is the second best dividend rate declared in the last 10 years, slightly behind the highest 5.8% in 2007.

Based on EPF website, as at 31 December 2009, EPF’s investment portfolio grew 8.55 per cent or RM29.25 billion to RM371.26 billion compared to RM342.01 billion in 2008.

There is an interesting note pointed out as well. For the 2009 dividend payout, the EPF requires RM3.43 billion to pay a one per cent dividend rate as a result of a larger membership base. This represents a 7.86 per cent increase over the amount of RM3.18 billion per one per cent dividend rate for 2008. This reflects the great challenge faced by the national pension organization in sustaining the decent dividend payout with the increase of contributors and the respective contributions.

In view of the challenging market condition and also unlikely to sustain the same performance of the EPF unit trust investment in 2010, I have decided to lock in some of the profit from the unit trust investment which I had commenced 6 years ago. The fund from the repruchase request is returned to the EPF account 1. Let's hope EPF can sustain the same performance for 2010 and beyond.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Layoff Syndrome

We have read about many layoffs in different industries worldwide especially in the west countries in the recent financial meltdown. Despite the economy recovery supported by various economy indicators and statistics, the layoff exercise is still the favorite approach used by many employers in the name of cost cutting.

Layoff is probably the worst nightmare for many employees as the termination of employment would mean a loss of main or probably the only source of income for a lot of people. There are many interesting symptoms among the employees resulting from the so-called “layoff syndrome” witnessed in one of the layoff.

The impacted staffs are in denial stage initially with lot of doubts in their mind when they first received the letter. Criteria for candidates selection not disclosed to the impacted staff further aggravated the situation. It is unbelievable that the layoff happened when some other departments within the company are still recruiting employees and contractors.

The managers involved in the exercise in determining or providing the feedback for the candidate to be laid-off are equally in denial stage, worrying to be blamed by their staff for causing the loss of their employment. Human real characters are also uncovered in this period. Back-stabbing is not unheard of for survival sake. We witnessed personally a selfish manager who refused to fight and justify the existence for the impacted staff for the own benefits. A real disgusting and embarrassing case!

The most disturbing fact is the reorganization took unusually long time of more than 3 months before the organization chart was announced. In this period, the staffs were left with unofficial rumors as their main source of information. Small group discussions or tea break gatherings are popular for the gossip catch-up. The staff productivity was in record low due to the uncertainty and the mind-boggling situation.

Employees including the non-impacted one are busy updating their resumes or updating their online profiles in the professional networking site, or contacting friends or ex-colleagues or even the head-hunters for job search. This is the symptom reflecting the fact employees are anticipating rounds of layoffs in the future even if they are spared in this round.

Farewell lunches for the leaving employees are becoming increasingly common. We had one for a colleague last week and many more are expected in the coming weeks and months. In this period, colleagues are usually more than happy to participate the lunch as a token of appreciation for the leaving colleagues or most importantly for exchange of information. A recent Chinese New Year lunch has an unusual high turn-up rate this year. It is always right to say human tends to be closer in their relationship in the difficult moments.

Friday, February 19, 2010

SetiaWalk Serviced Apartments

The Ambitious SetiaWalk Project

The serviced apartments in the Brio Tower, the central tower of the 3 tower blocks residence apartments from the ambitious Setia Walk project, were selling like the hot cakes ever since it was launched on Oct 09. Apparently only 2 units from the total of 254 units were left when I made a visit this morning.

According to the sales representative in the SetiaWalk Galleria, the developer will be launching the remaining block (The Vio Tower) for sales by March this year. It is expected to launch with a 10% appreciation from the previous Brio tower. Phased launch is definitely a brilliant move from the developer even though all the 3 blocks of serviced apartments are all in the same development stage, about 20% of completion now.

The smart developer is inviting the potential buyers to attend the Chinese New Year celebration on 26th Feb 09 for the potential goodies in terms of Angpau of up to RM1ok for purchase of the apartment in the forth-coming Vio Tower. However the developer may be reducing the benefits offered under "The Best for the Best Setia Homeownership Package" for buyers which the developer will bear the legal fees for SPA, legal fees for loan agreement, stamp duty on MOT & loan agreement, 0% interest during the construction period of 36 months.

I have been considering purchasing a property in the rapidly growing Puchong area for investment purpose. This serviced apartment fits into my expectations in terms of the strategic location (with the LRT station to be built opposite near Tesco hypermarket, under the LRT extension project), reputable developer with good track record and the layout of the apartment. However the budget seems far from favourable. The serviced apartment with the built up area of 1138sf will be selling at RM450K (after the 10% appreciation) is definitely on the higher end. To achieve a rental yield of 6%, the serviced apartment would need to be rent out at the rate of RM2,250 per month, which I feel is too high for the middle class living in this area.

I would give it a pass as it does not fit my personal investment purpose.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Economy Rankings

It is interesting to find out that Japan has successfully retained its position as the world's second largest economy, the position is maintained for more than 40 years, with the economy grew at a faster-than-expected pace of 1.1% in the last three months of 2009. The cabinet office in Tokyo reported that Gross domestic product rose at an annual 4.6 percent pace in the three months ended Dec. 31, fueled by the robust exports and a pickup in consumer demand at home. The Japanese economy was valued at about US$5.1 trillion in 2009.

On the other hand, its biggest rivalry, China ‘s GDP was valued at about US$4.91 trillion, up by a stunning growth of 8.7% in 2009. The fastest growing economy is currently at the third position of the world largest economy, behind US and Japan. However it is almost no doubt at all and almost certain that China will overtake Japan in 2010 as the world second largest economy with the GDP forecast of 9.5% in 2010, driven by the strong domestic consumption and corporate investment. The annual growth will continue to benefit from the stimulus package amounted to $586 billion to bolster its economy.

However the economy ranking serves little significance to the livelihood of the people of both the countries. Japan’s economy remains fragile and could drag growth in the months ahead as the impact of government incentives wane. Rattled by deepening deflation and falling wages, businesses remain cautious about spending and hiring. On the other hand, China’s is facing with a great challenge to maintain a balance between the economic growth needed to create sufficient jobs for the country's 1.3 billion people, and at the same time struggling not to let the economy overheat and drive up the cost of basic goods and housing for its people.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao pointed out in his recent lunar new year speech that "All the things we do are aimed at letting people live more happily with more dignity". These are really words of wisdom from my point of view. Looking at the high unemployment rates in US and the Euro zone, what dignity can we say if the people can not even have a job to support themselves and the families?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

CCTV 's Spring Festival Gala

There are not many differences for Malaysian Chinese in celebrating their eve before the lunar new year. Other than the usual get to together for the family reunion dinner at home or the increasingly popular dining out, many especially the young would also choose to go out for the so-called new year movies or catch up with friends for a drink. My personal preference has been on watching the TV program at home. The CCTV's Spring Festival Gala or Chunwan (春晚) show was my choice ever since our local satellite TV service provider, ASTRO started airing the program a couple of years ago. This is also the most widely watched program in the mainland China ever since it was inaugurated in 1982.

This year's Chunwan show is definitely a must watch because of appearance of the long missed artists such as Faye Wong (王菲) and Xiao Hu Dui (The Little Tigers - 小虎队) after a long break. The Mando-pop diva,Faye Wong performed the song "The Legend" (传奇), an old song composed by Li Jian (李健), a talented singer cum composer in the mainland. With the new song arrangement and the amazing Avatar like 3D background effect, and her usual crystal clear vocal, the performance was extraordinary good and attracted big applause from the crowd after the song performance. The video posting for her performance in Youtube has attracted more than 100,000 views in one day with many comments welcoming her back to the music career she left behind 5 years ago.

Faye Wong in her performance

For many of us born in the 70s and 80s, the Little Tiger is defintely in the memory for many fans of the Chinese music industry. The boys band reunite in the year of tiger, unfortunately in the Chunwan show only, after a long break up for more than a decade. The medley of 3 old songs performed reminded the audience of their teenage days and you can see everyone in the scene clapping their hands singing together with their idols. This was definitely the most popular performance in the whole show. It doesn't really matter that the little tigers are no really young boys.

The Little Tigers reunion in the year of Tiger

Another innovation worth mentioning is the stunning background 3D effect on the stage with multiple LED screens, the first of its kind at the stage performance. This reminds me of the opening of the Beijing Olympic games in 2008.

Stunning background 3D effect

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reorganization and Retrenchment

The company is currently conducting a reorgnization as well as staff retrenchment exercise for the purpose of cost-cutting. Some colleagues have already received the letter informing them to start looking and applying internal jobs available within the company by end of Feb. The termination exercise will commence by next month and a severance package will be offered to the candidate who is unable to obtain the internal job at the end of the notice period (1 or 3 months depending on the individual letter of offer). The working atmosphere has been weird ever since the company announced the reorganization in Nov last year. The recent announcement has made the situation worse as different type of rumours were just flying around on who is staying and who is leaving.

To have a clearer understanding about the employees’ rights during the retrenchment exercise, a few of us made a trip to the Malaysia labour dept (Jabatan Buruh at Jabatan Tenaga Kerja) head-quartered in Putrajaya, inside one of the block of the red cement buildings beside Alamanda Mall. The parking is disastrous there as the single lane road were occupied with illegally parked vehicles on one of the lane.

Here are some points collected from the consultation with the officer in-charge
(1) It is up to the company conducting the retrenchment on whether to disclose to the employees the total headcounts impacted by the retrenchment. This is a bit surprise to us as we always think that the company should be transparent in this aspect when come to retrenchment.

(2) Approval from the labour dept is not required for retrenchment. Well, I guess this is the so called business friendly environment

(3) There is no provision for female employees in their pregnancies to be exempted from the retrenchment exercise if the severance package is offered and that the retrenchment is not done with the intention for escaping from the 2 months obligated maternity leave

(4) The employee can report to the labour dept for request for investigation if it is felt that the dismissal is not done properly.

(5) The employee can report to the labour dept with proof that the retrenchment for the local employees are done for the purpose of keeping the foreign employees within the same dept of the company.

(6) If the dismissal is not done correctly, the employee can report, within 2 months after the dismissal, to another government dept to seek reinstatement of job position.

(7) There is no provision that states that types of works or assignments to be assigned to the employees have to be equivalent or similar in nature with the current position or matching the skills for the employees. In summary, this can subject to abuse by employers who assign inappropriate tasks to the employees in order to make the life difficult for the targeted employees, hopefully the employees would reassign before the severance package is offered.

(8) The letter of offers or contracts offered to the employees in the local company usually does not contain any statement on the terms of dismissal and the relevant compensation for the employee in the event of dismissal, other that the notice period.

Generally, the local employment law is more geared towards and favoured the employer and the poor employees are always in the disadvantage end when comes to retrenchment.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Platinum Lake Condo - PV12

I accompanied my younger brother yesterday to collect house keys for his newly completed condominum at Platinum Lake Condo PV12, which is located at Danau Kota, Setapak. Setapak used to be familiar for me during my Stapak high schooll days decades ago. I have not been here for more than 10 years and all I could only recall is the old toll established near the Pahang roundabout which is of course long gone by now.

The condo is ready now with Certificate of Fitness (CF) and as expected the management office was filled with house owners eargerly awating for their keys. This is of course a wonderful moment for many house buyers after placing their orders 3 years ago. The condo is designed with covered parking in the first fourth floor of the building. An big open area dedicated to the swimming, wadding pools and playground is located at the fifth floor. Thumbs up for the modern concept, similar to the setup of many commercial hotels.

Fifth Floor - An open area

The swimming Pool with two small wadding pools at the side

Nice View at the open area of the fifth floor

Children Playground

For light exercise

The condo tower is 26th floor high. My brother's unit is on the 23rd floor with the Genting view. Although the units with KLCC view are more sought after according to the real-estate agent met, I would personally prefer the Genting mountain view as it is more scenic and less commercial

Mountain View

Mountain View

Mountain View

The real estate agent informed me that the condo unit with the size of 1207 sq can fetch the selling price as high as RM280K or the monthly rental of RM1300 due to the popular demand from the TAR college students. A handsome capital gain of more than 45% for investors. Another good selling point is the Platinum Walk, a street mall with the shaded boulevard ambience and now a rapidly growing happening site, is located just right beside, within the walking distance of the condo.

Platinum Walk

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Charity Sale

The charity committee in the company is organizing a charity sale within the office to collect some fund for donations to the victims from Haiti who suffered from the catastrophic Mw 7.0 magnitude earthquake in the 12th Jan 2010. The organizing committee seeks the donation of household items, clothing, toys or books from the colleagues for the charity sales. I was looking around at home to see what I can contribute for this charity sale. My aim is not to clear something I do not want but rather to share esomething which is beneficial to others. Finally I have chosen a book entitled “Foods that harm, Foods that heal – An A-Z Guide to Safe and Healthy Eating” published by Reader’s Digest couple of years ago.

I bought this book two years and have benefited much from this book since then. The book is about 400 pages with more than 150 food entries, organized from A to Z, provides the readers the lowdown on the nutritional value every food which you can name it. The benefits and the drawbacks are listed for each food in plain English for ease of understanding. Other than that, readers can also look for foods that that are beneficial for the patient and foods to be avoided for different type of diseases and medical conditions. Inside the book, there are also short paragraphs of case studies and myths which are really interesting for reading.

The food bible is invaluable and should be a collection at home for anyone who claims to be health-conscious. Rather than sitting idle in my book-shelf, I share this out so that hopefully someone else can also benefit from this book. I recommended to the organizing committee for the price tag of a minimum RM100 for this book. Let's see how it turn out to be in the charity sale.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Gen-Xer in Malaysia With His Retirement Plan

Mr X, a Malaysian Chinese, in his late 30s, falls into the category of Generation X, a generation born in between 1965 to 1980.

His parents are in their 60s, retired baby boomers with saving last only for 3 years of retirement. As long expected, taking care of them become his responsibilities. The baby-boomer is a generation which works the whole life to bring up their children, usually a couple of them, with little planning for their retirement in their early working lives. Their savings are usually insufficient for retirement as they have used up most of their hard earned saving for their children’s cost of livings and education. Most of them are expecting their children to look after them in their golden age, hopefully a shared responsibilities among the siblings. They believe in fixed deposit savings in bank or owning some real estates. Few of them can probably afford to retire independently, funded by their retirement savings, rental income, interest income from their deposit savings or dividend income from their stock investments.

Mr X has a lot of married colleagues and friends in the same age-group, in their mid 30s and 40s. Unlike their parent’s generation, they keep their family size small with 1-2 children the most. He even heard about the female colleague who aborted the unplanned baby so as not to jeopardize the family planning. This is a poor sandwiched generation which is caught in the rat-race situation. They have to look after their aging parents, their children and most importantly funding for their education. To maintain their lifestyle, they have no choice but to have both the couple working to earn the double incomes.

He counted at the time spent in the formal education and it was 18 years of his life (6 years of primary school, 6 years of secondary schools including an additional 1 year for Remove Class, 2 years of high school and 4 years of college). It is therefore no surprise that he entered the working life only at the age of 25, as compared to his peers in other countries with their age of early 20s when they graduated. With the official retirement age of 55, he has only a maximum of 30 years to accumulate savings for his retirement, which he expected to be another 30 years of life. It is definitely too early to retire at the age of 55 as compared to other countries which are now extending or considering to extend their official retirement age due to the higher life expectancy. Singapore is considering to raise the retirement age for its citizens to 65 from 62 by 2012 and eventually to 67 to account for the higher life expectancy of its ageing population. Spain has just announced recently the plan to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 from 2013 onwards.

He owned his first property at his age of 30, similar to many of his colleagues and friends in the same generation. He was lucky as he bought the property at discount when the country is at the 97-98 financial crisis and the property market is at its trough. The price for the resident properties have since recovered, inflated much in the last 10 years and the prices are still on the way up without fail even in the current financial crisis. Many of the colleagues have bought their primary residence at the cost of RM500k or more. He knew that it is definitely tough for them even with their double incomes.

With the knowledge gained from his financial course, he estimated several years ago that he would require a total of RM2.5 mil at the age of 55 in order to support his retirement years at no degradation of the current lifestyle. He could not imagine at the whopping figure as he used to think a million ringgit is already a huge figure. His current net-worth is not even a quarter of the required figures even though he has used about half of his working life accumulating the savings with investments. He knew he is definitely not on the right track for a comfortable retirement. His fellow colleagues and friends are in the worse situation, struggling to maintain their decent lifestyles. He looks forward for the aim for Malaysia to become High Income Economy by 2020 as average Malaysian does not enjoy the fruits of the GDP growth for the country in their income over the years. He realized that he is about 50 by then and does not have many years left before retirement. Other than extending his retirement with a part time job, he is thinking seriously on what other options do he has now. He is really doubtful on this.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In the Mood of 1Q84

Novel has always not my cup of tea for reading in the last few years as I guess I am lacking now the kind of mood as well as the senses required for appreciating the novel. The latest release of "1Q84" from the Haruki Murakami, the most celebrated contemporary novelist in Japan, is certainly one of the few exceptions for me.

It comes in 2 volumes with many readers believe that more volumes to be released in future. The book was published in Japan mid last year and has sold for more than a million copies. It was reported that the English version will only be available in Sept 2011, definitely a long wait for the fans eagerly awaiting the release. I read the mandarin-translated version from Taiwan, published recently in Nov 09. The translated version is certainly also a big hit among the local Chinese readers as well.

There are different interpretations for the title of the book whichever you choose to believe. The 1Q84 stands for 1984, a reference to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (I have not read before but now included in my to-read list). The Q can also refer to the Questions or doubts. The story is fantastic and imaginative with each chapter dedicated to the tale of one of the two main characters - Aomame (青豆) and Tengo (天吾), who are in the memory of each other since the age of 10, and both are searching for each other for 20 years. The story shifts back and forth in between the 2 main characters, seems in isolation and yet so close, and finally it interlinks in the second volume. Despite this arrangement, the story is amazing and it keeps the readers' interests to keep on reading to find out their fates, love and of course a bit of sex scenes (I like the portion of the story in between Tengo and his elderly married girlfriend) and a few murders scenes in between etc. An interesting observation is the occupation for Tengo's father which is unheard of for me. He worked for NHK going door-to-door collecting the network's reception fee. I guess such occupation no longer exist now. We used to have television license fee in Malaysia in my teenage time, which is abolished long time back in 1999.

I read a couple of chapters in my leisure before the bedtime and it took about 3 weeks to complete the two volumes. I certainly looking forward to the future volumes, if any to be published.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Echocardiogram Check-Up

The insurer for my medical insurance has increased the premium with a heavy loading, an additional 30% on top of the annual premium due to the voluntary disclosure 2 years ago when I took up the medical insurance as an added protection. I have disclosed in the insurance proposal form for having a small VSD (ventricular septal defect), or generally known as the hole in the heart. The defect is a small hole (0.7cm in diameter) below aorta valve, diagnosed in one of the medical check-up during the school days. The defect does not cause any issue, nor any operation required as I guess it is a tiny hole.

It was rather annoying as the insurance company started charging insurance loading 2 years after the insurance were in force and before the annual premium is renewed for the 3rd year. (Frankly speaking I would say the insurance company is seeking additional protection for themselves rather than for the customer like me, who has been the loyal customers for more than 15 years).

I attended an Echocardiogram check-up yesterday in our the Sunway Medical Centre to obtain the latest medical report to support for the request for reduction of insurance loading. This is my third visit for the similar purpose in the last 10 years. I was overwhelmed with the courteous customer service at the counters as well as the medical practitioners met. A comfortable gown was arranged for the patient for wearing during the Echocardiogram check-up is one of the improvement seen, as compared with my previous visits. Another point to mention is the fees charged for the check-up have not increased much when compared to the similar check-up 10 years ago.

The services in private medical centres generally have improved thanks to the booming medical tourism industry in Malaysia. Malaysia is among the world’s top five medical tourism destinations for medical tourists and foreign investors. Malaysia came in third behind Panama and Brazil, and was followed by Costa Rica and India. The industry brought in large volume of patients in the last couple of years. In 2006, the revenue earned is approximately USD59 million or RM203.66 million.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Insurance Cash Dividend

It is very rare, but I have recently received a letter from a life insurer proposing me as the policy holder to encash all the bonus collected for a "well-deserved" holiday. Yes I am not wrong, the bonus is the accumulated cash dividend declared by the life insurer on yearly basis for one of my life policy, a 16 years old life insurance policy which I have been paying premium biannually without fail since my college days.

I called up the call centre for the life insurer to enquire on the proposal as I am little bit fishy on this. More importantly I would also like to check out the interest rates declared on the last few years of the cash dividend as I had not been receiving the statement for the bonus for the last couple of years. The call-centre agent responded hesitately that the previous interest rates declared was usually in the range of 4-5% on the account balances. The past returns were not bad, higher than the interest rates for the Banks Fixed Deposit for 12 months as the interest rate for our country is currently at its lowest. I figured out that the life insurer is trying to encourage the policy holders to encash th cash dividend so that it relieves the pressure for them to obtain a decent return similar to the EPF dividend for it's investment, with the limited investment vehicles for the life insurer.

With the lack of confidence for obtaining a higher return in these days (the equity and commodities like gold are all at their high), I have decided to leave it to the life insurer to work it out for me. A 4-5% return is good enough for me for a life policy and I would opt for premium holidays instead.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interesting Behaviors

My foreign colleagues and friends like to share with me the interesting behaviors they observed for some of Malaysians they met here. Most of these are quite funny but it can be quite embarrassing sometimes. Here are some of the common observations:-

(1) Does not like to walk

An observation which I must agree with. Look at how we park our cars at the shopping mall. We will first park at the parking lots nearest to the entrance (even though it may be a parking lot for the disabled) so that it saves a few walking steps. See the cars illegally parked at the commercial streets especially around the banks during the weekdays. We can ask ourselves and look around how often we walk to the shops for meals from our apartments or houses even though the locations are near and the weather is not hot.

(2) Lack of patience

A lot of Malaysians will never queue up and wait patiently for the turn without the attempt to jump queue. A colleague of mine shared his recent experience when waiting for his turn at one of the hospital. Many visitors (generally they are not really sicks) walked to the counter every 15 - 30 minutes for checking their turns or negotiating for faster turn for them with all sort of excuses. They even asked their kids to check for the turn hopefully to obtain the service faster. I observed the similar experiences usually in the customers service counters at the bank. The walk-in customers would often interrupt the customer service staff that is serving the customer to hijack the attention for information. You will get so annoyed that the customer service staff often stop serving you and begin to respond to a couple of these adhoc customers who interrupted your conversation. This behaviors are really rude for me as they are wasting people's time.

(3) Keep "intimate distance" with others

Do you stand behind the yellow line or leaving some spaces in between when there is someone in front of you performing transactions at the ATM machine or at the counter? A lot of people does not realize this and keep very "intimate" physical distance when others are performing financial transactions which should be private and confidential. Frankly speaking I think this is because we are not sensible to the privacy for the others.

(4) Litter anywhere, anytime

My foreign friends are usually stunned when they see kids or even adults throwing out rubbish from the moving cars. I had worse experience in my apartment when the lift floor is often filled with kids' urine. Due to the open design, the balcony at my apartment had always been a rubbish bin for the residents at the upper floors. Once there is even a dead rabbits thrown at my balcony. A few years ago, the Indonesia house maid used to curse when she had to clean up the balcony littered with dirty woman sanity bags. What an embarrassing and disgusting behaviors by some of the people around.

(5) "Last Minute" Behavior

It is not uncommon to see our renown "last-minute" behavior especially before the deadline such as 30th Apr every year for tax form submission or the year-end rush for claims. I had a bad experience in the last year-end for the dentist visit when many people rushed for dental visit at the year end to utilize the dental benefits from their companies. I had to queue for more than 5 hours for the service. A visitor, who brought his entire family for dental visit, told me that this is the 7th dentist he visited for the day as all the other dentists were filled with year-end appointments. Well, I am one of those with this "last-minute" syndrome.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Renminbi Foreign Currency Account in Malaysia

Public Bank Berhad, in collaboration with Bank of China (Malaysia), has just launched on the 18th Jan 2010 the first Renminbi Foreign Currency Account (CNY FCA) by local bank in Malaysia for both Fixed Deposit as well as Current Account.

For Fixed Deposit Account, the following is the interest rate as well as the additional interest rate for the first placement only during the promotional period, obtained this morning from the bank branch.

The minimum amount to open the foreign currency account is RM10,000 equivalent of Renminbi. (Customers can not open account or top up additional receipt using the Renminbi notes). The additional 2% mentioned in the press release is actually the promotional rates given to the existing MYR FD account holders to convert to this CNY FCA account without the fear of losing the interest rate earned in the existing MYR FD account.

In anticipation of the currency appreciation or interest rate upward revision in China in the very near future, I opened the fixed deposit account this morning. A surprise welcome mug is received. There were already a few customers like me queueing up first thing in the morning to open the first ever Renminbi Foreign Currency Account in Malaysia. I can expect the overwhelming response as lot of people have long waited for this to capitalize for the anticipated Renminbi appreciation, other local banks will probably lining up to offer the similar service very soon.

The Renminbi Current Account is also available at the same time with the interest rates of 0.4%. As there does not seem to have other additional benefits other than the marginal interest rate and the potential currency appreciation, I did not open this current account. The initial minimum deposit amount for current account is USD1,000 equivalent in CNY.

However this investment is not necessary a sure-win as it is betting on the assumption that China will appreciate their currency in this year (say in the range of 5-6% as commonly predicted) and our MYR currency does not appreciate that much or better still stays status-quo. There is concern that our currency will also appreciate at the same time (like other currencies in Asia Pacific region) when China removes the repeg and allows the renminbi to appreciate again, making this investment less favourable. There was similar "alignment" experiences in the past when our government removed the currency peg to USD on 21 July 2005, at the same day shortly after the Chinese government announced their decision to lift their currency peg to USD to a managed floating exchange rate with reference to a basket to foreign currencies.