Monday, April 19, 2010

Picture Blog #11 : The Floral Symbol of Singapore

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This picture blog is dedicated to the national flower of Singapore.

In 1981, Vanda Miss Joaquim (卓锦万黛兰) (picture above) was chosen to be a national symbol. It is a hybrid orchid which was the first registered hybrid plant from Singapore.

Miss Joaquim was was born in Singapore in 1854 into a family of Armenian descent. She was an avid horticulturist and was said to have won many prizes. In 1893, the first director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Mr H N Ridley, named the flower after her as he acknowledged that the plant was the results of a cross made by Miss Joaquim.

Photo by Vanilla

One of the best places to catch a glimpse of Vanda Miss Joaquim is in the National Orchid Garden. It is a beautiful three-hectare site with a collection of more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids, located within the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

I have taken some pictures of orchids during a recent visit to the National Orchid Garden. No picture can ever replace the experience of being there. You would have to see the real thing yourself.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Weird Tax Stories

We have a few more days to April 15.

In the US, this date is marked on the calendar as the official deadline for filing individual tax returns. It is the same here in Singapore.

If you are one of those who wait till the last minute, you are probably still struggling to put the pieces together. While I am in no position to offer any tax advice, I can share some weird tax stories. Hopefully, that takes some stress off you.

The Russian Beard Tax

It was a tax to regulate the appearance of the Russian people

In some past eras, beard was considered 'fashionable'. However, in the 17th century, beard went out of fashion in Western Europe. In order to keep up with time, Peter the Great of Russia ordered his people to shave off their beards. In 1705, he levied a tax on beard and wearing of beards was prohibited unless the tax was paid. To him, beards were 'ridiculous ornament'.

Window Tax in England

In 1696, King William III introduced the Window Tax as a means to overcome the controversy surrounding the idea of income tax. It was a form of wealth tax which was imposed on house owners.

The tax was made up of two parts: a flat amount at two shillings per house and a variable tax on the number of windows above 10 windows.

I guess the people could try to evade tax by having many doors instead.


This is a tax of 'text'.

In 2008, the Philippine government planned to impose a tax on text messages. Understandably, the Filipino texters were upset. They blasted "NO TO TEXT TAX!" text messages to the government and within less than a day of its announcement, the idea was dropped.

The Philippine government attempted to impose text tax again in 2009 but to no success. However, the people in Sacramento, California was not so lucky. In Dec 2008, they started to pay a new tax on SMS. Apparently, the voters were willing to trade it with a lower tax on landlines.

Cow Tax

This is a modern tax aimed at fighting global warming.

Scientists have reported that a high level of methane, a greenhouse gas, is believed to be 'released' by livestock. Several European countries have been discussing the idea of imposing cow tax in recent years. In US, the Environment Protection Agency was said to be considering US$175 a cow and the farmers all found the idea too stinky to be acceptable.

Taxing cows because they burp and fart may no longer sound funny if it eventually translates to a global price hike in dairy products.

Mooncake Tax in China

This is not a new tax but an extension of income tax.

Last year, in a bid to up the government's coffer, the Chinese tax authorities stepped up tax collection effort. One of their main targets was on the mooncake.

Mooncake is a pastry eaten during the Mid Autumn Festival (See earlier post on "Where's The Bunny?"). It is traditional to give mooncakes to friends and family during this festival. In China, many businesses also extend the gifts to their employees. For convenience, many provide gift coupons redeemable at local groceries.

The Chinese government launched an inspection of more than 3,100 companies last year. They managed to feed the coffer with 30 billion yuan of back taxes on gifted mooncakes and coupons. (See article)

Next time, think twice before you sink your teeth into mooncake given by your boss.

The Swedish Naming Law

This is not exactly a tax but a naming law regulated by the Swedish Tax Agency. The law was enacted in 1982 to regulate the use of names of noble families.

Nobody loves tax and they hate it even more when the taxman has the final say on the names of their children. In 1991, a child was named "Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116" as his parent protested against the naming law.

The Irish Artists Tax Exemption

Let's wrap up with a sweeter note of tax exempt.

In Ireland, income derived from the sale of art is exempt from taxation. This must be heavenly for Irish artists such as playwrights, composers, painters, photographers and sculptors.

The tax exempt is capped at €250,000. Otherwise, the millions of euros earned by U2, the famous rock group from Ireland, would be free from tax.

Taxes In Singapore

There is nothing all that weird about Singapore taxes. It is not fun, just like everywhere else. Even though the Singapore tax rates for individuals are lower than many countries and more than 90% of taxpayers file individual tax returns using the relatively easy electronic forms, tax is still tax.

April 15 will always be a grim date to remember. Ouch!

"People who complain about taxes
can be divided into two classes:
men and women."
~ Author Unknown~

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Choose Your Words

"I've told him already but he ..."

How often have you found yourself saying that? Very frequently, I'd say. If you deny, you are perfectly normal. The thing is, many of us do not realize how bad we are as communicators. In our minds, we are very clear about what needs to be said and what needs to be received.

Unfortunately, the two seldom coincide.

There are many reasons for such a common phenomenon, which we call, 'mis-communication'. One of them is the "Choice of words".

Remember, in a communication process, what is more important is 'what's understood' and not 'what is said'. You would want to choose the right words so that your message is understood.

Here are a few pointers you can ponder about.

Many words, similar meanings

English words have evolved over many centuries. Today, every other word has its counterpart(s) in the Thesaurus. This adds to the beauty of the language and it also adds to the difficulties in ensuring that the most appropriate word is used.

It is not wise to look into the Thesaurus and pick a bombastic word just to impress. Chances are, you would annoy your receiver. Generally, simpler words are better received.

It is also not helpful to keep using the same word over and over again. Your receiver may find you boring and soon loses interest in what is being sent.

Many words, no meaning

Sometimes, we go away thinking that saying more means sending a clearer message. Not quite.

I have often come across people who attempt to string many words into a sentence, thinking that they are good to impress. They failed.

Examine these sentences closely...

  • "The project has been delayed because the team is not able to meet the deadline." - states the obvious.
  • "We have considered all the considerations and we will decide on a decision soon." - says nothing.
  • "This is the best method to use even though we have found that some other methods are better." - illogical and out to confuse.

More words do not assure better clarity, get it?

Words affect emotions

Think of a moment when you are at the receiving end of the communication process and harsh words are thrown at you. You would feel bad, wouldn't you?. Words do affect emotions and I am sure you can relate to that.

Most people are sensitive to how received-words affect their emotions. However, few are mindful about the importance of 'choice of words' when they are the sender of message.

The good news is that, when a message sender hurts someone with the wrong choice of words, it is seldom intentional. Another good news is that, using a better choice of words can be a habit, which you can acquire.

From now on, whenever you are upset by some words, note them down and develop a habit of not using them in the same way. In doing so, you will reap two immediate benefits:

  1. Learn more effective use of words to influence the positive emotion of the receiver; and
  2. Feel less upset as you pre-occupy your mind in acquiring the habit.

Your choice of words reveals your personality

Words make up your thoughts and ideas. They also tell about your personality.

How you feel and react towards things depends on your personality. You will in turn select the most appropriate words (usually nouns and verbs) to express yourself.

Imagine a scene where your friend turns up very late for an appointment with you, would you instinctively say:

  1. "What happened to you? Why are you so late?" or
  2. "You are late. Is everything OK? Did something happen to you?"

The first expression suggests that you are doubtful that he has a good reason to be late. The second expression shows some concerns for your friend.

So, it would seem that what you say in this instance depends on whether you have a 'distrusting' personality or a 'caring' personality.

Don't be quick to conclude that nicer personality is the pre-requisite for saying nicer stuff. Actually, it is a 'chicken and egg' thing and the two factors influence each other. You will be surprised how saying nicer things can help to turn your personality 'nicer'.

The next time you send a message, take a moment to think about how the receiver might feel about your words. The general rule is very simple: "Don't do what you do not want others to do unto you."

With some effort, you would find yourself saying 'nicer' things and gradually, your choice of words would also help to shape your personality. As your personality turns for the better, so would your natural expressions.

Here are some examples of expressions you would not want to have. I will leave them to you to work on better alternatives:

  • I just knew that you were going to make this mistake when you planned your project that way. (A non-constructive use of hindsight)

  • I know that already. (Shut off the flow of information)
  • You always forget to switch off the lights. (Over-generalization and 'accuse' the receiver of wrongs they never commit)
  • I am sure you did not take that into account and that is why the project failed. (Assumption without basis)
  • Why can't you be less careless? (Focus on problem/symptom rather than outcome)

George Bernard Shaw once said: "The problem with communication ... is the illusion that it has been accomplished".He was absolutely right. Good communication is not easy but not impossible. Do take baby steps and work on one or two things at a time.

Make what you say heard the way it should be.

"When I get ready to talk to people,
I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and
one third thinking about what I want to say."
~Abraham Lincoln~

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