Father Sez

From and to parents - parental advice to our children on personal financial management and life.
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Archive for April, 2009

Are you prepared for a flu pandemic like that of 1968?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

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I found this picture of a 1918 flu pandemic scene from Google. Medical science has progressed a lot since then, but so have the viruses. God Willing, we should prevail!

Can we ever be prepared for something like this? The pandemic of 1968 killed 34,000 people in the US and is suspected of having caused more than a million deaths worldwide. When I saw the Yahoo News headline that blared ;

Is swine flu ‘the big one’ or a flu that fizzles?

I just had to find out more. 

GlobalSecurity.org, claims to be the leading source of background information and developing news stories in the fields of defense, space, intelligence, WMD, and homeland security in the US. They have put up what seems to be a comprehensive report on the present outbreak of swine influenza which is spreading a huge alarm all over the world. 

The webpage also lists the history of pandemics which have happened in the past. The last one which was closest to us was that termed the 1968 Hong Kong Flu, which as mentioned above, resulted in nearly 34,000 deaths in the United States and thought to have caused around 1 million deaths worldwide. The 1968 pandemic vaccine became available one month after the outbreaks peaked in the US. 

Our own Department of Public Health seems to have not put up any advisories on their website as at the time of writing this post. Neither the Disease Control Division or the News section seems to have any warnings or suggestions on what the public should do in the light of this outbreak in Mexico.    

The Online version of the Star reported that the Ministry of Health has now issued travel advisories against travel to the US, Canada and Mexico. Medical officers at all hospitals and clinics, private and public, have been asked to report the incidence of any influenza like illnesses. (Hopefully their websites will be updated.)  

I also found an article from WHO distributed by our Kementerian Kesihatan on the ten things we need to know about Pandemic Influenza. I must say that it is not reassuring, as it says that medical supplies will be inadequate, the whole world will be affected, there would be widespread illnesses, social and economic disruptions will be great and that large number of deaths will occur.  

Now is the time of the global village, where someone can go to London for a meeting and return immediately. The ease of travel, and the sheer number of travellers all over the world is sure to accelerate the spread of the virus.

The new virus, though called a swine flu, contains genetic segments from humans and birds viruses as well as from pigs from North America, Europe and Asia. Health officials had seen combinations of bird, pig and human virus before — but never such an intercontinental mix, including more than one pig virus. More disturbing, this virus seems to spread among people more easily than past swine flus.

Back to the title of this post, I suppose we can never ever be prepared for something like this. I am not sure if a vaccine has already been developed. And even if so, is the availability sufficient to vaccinate the huge number of people involved.

My family members are all aware of this spreading phenomenon. After all our family is quite a Net savvy family. Still there is a real danger of taking this lightly as the initial symptoms are not much different from that of the common flu!

I can only pray that the lessons our country and our people have learned from the SARS outbreak in 2002/3 will stand us in good stead.

As expected, this topic is one of the hotter topics around.  Google has a list of blog posts on this topic here.  And the good news is that Reuters has reported on Sunday that most of the Mexican suspected flu victims have been given a clean bill of health and sent home.

What does a father do when your daughter unexpectedly calls and tells you she had an accident?

Monday, April 27th, 2009

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Thank God, Along’s accident was nothing like this. Just a little more than a fender bender. 

Picture source: Google

We have five children and each of them are different. The eldest is very reserved with us, while she is like a house on fire with her friends. Her conversations with me are monosyllabic. Most of my text book learned attempts to ask questions and to have a conversation have failed.  

Anyway, a couple of Saturdays ago, I received this unexpected call from Along. Luckily at that time, I had stopped after the Jalan Duta Toll and was waiting for a friend. (Our family is in Seremban, whilst my 2 elder girls work in PJ and are sharing a rented house. On this particular day, I was in KL.) 

She asked me if I was free. Of course, for my daughter, I’ll always be free. Then she dropped the bombshell!  

“Papa, Along just had an accident!” 

How do you describe your feelings and thoughts when you hear something like this? To say that my heart dropped a beat, maybe a few beats, does not quite describe my feelings. This is something all parents dread. A type of call that no one wants to receive from their loved ones. 

My first response was to ask her if she was all right. She told me she was, but her car was teruk! I told her not to worry about the car, but just tell me if she was all right. Then I asked where the accident had happened. Luckily it was in one of the minor roads in her housing estate and was not blocking any traffic. 

She asked me to talk to the motorcyclist she had knocked down. That guy was talking excitedly and I got a little worried. I told him that I would be there in about 20 – 25 minutes and asked him to wait, which, thank God, he agreed. 

To cut a long story short, I got to the scene of the accident after about 25 minutes. His bike was no longer rideable, though it could be pushed. I hugged my daughter and asked her again if she was all right.  The young man, Harry, was a very decent Sarawakian. He had been knocked off the bike and had some bruises. I told him that I was very sorry about all this and what should I do. He asked for some money as a deposit to repair the bike and that he would call me after the full repair cost was known. I agreed, though it was a possible open ended arrangement.

We exchanged contact numbers and I told him that I lived in Seremban.  I asked Along to go home, keep the car at home and not to drive the car till we got it repaired and sorted out. Harry asked one of the passing motorcyclists to give him a tow to his mechanic’s shop.  

This is the first accident my daughter has had and I pray that it would be the last. I am most thankful to God, that:- 

-         no one was seriously injured in this accident, 

-         the accident happened in a minor low traffic road, 

-         it was not raining heavily at that time,  

-         I was in KL and not too far way so that I could quickly turn up at the scene and try to resolve matters and  

-         Harry was a very decent human being who though injured was most understanding that the event was indeed an accident. 

I cannot be thankful enough to God for having given us a simple test in this whole episode.  

And another thing, karma does go around.

About three months ago, a motorcyclist, a young boy waiting for his SPM results, knocked into our car whilst I was driving with my wife. He had no license and had taken his sister’s bike without permission. Our car door was badly dented. Still, we took him to a clinic, paid for his bills, paid for the bike repair and sent him back home. I think he could not believe his luck! And his father, a retired Army man, thanked us profusely. 

Maybe this was why my daughter got off lucky. 

And to my eldest daughter, Along, I say this. No one will love you more than your Mama and Papa. Your safety, well being and happiness are always foremost in our mind. Yes, you have had this accident, which in all probability could have been avoided. When the car is repaired and road worthy again, continue your driving.  

Just be more careful.   

Links – The National Park of Malaysia Edition

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

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One of the more serene stretch of rivers in Taman Negara. They also have some rapids, though the more adventurous may find them tame. The water is clean and I remember drinking it quite happily.

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One of the bigger trees in Taman Negara. The biggest tree I have ever seen was in Taman Negara, quite possibly this one.

I took both these photos off Google.

Our National Park, or Taman Negara covers an area of about 4300 sq. kilometres. The forests are also amongst the oldest forests in the world, dating back some 130 million years. Originally named as King George the Vth National Park, it got its new name after Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.  

Lonely Planet has quite a write up here. 

I have visited Taman Negara only once so far, and that was more than 20 years ago. It was an office gang trip, led by my most adventurous friend, who also got his nick name, Rambo, during this trip. Though I was already married, my wife did not come with me. I think she was expecting our second child, Azah, then.  

(Rambo is still as adventurous as ever, now cycling all over Malaysian and other countries in South East Asia and blogging about his exploits. His last major trip was a 14 day cycling trip in Sulawesi.)

The highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia, Gunung Tahan, (2187m) is also in Taman Negara. I have not attempted to climb this mountain though. I suppose there must be many changes since then. It would be great to go there again with my whole family.  

On to other interesting reads; 

Ladies, especially those in the working sector, are quite heavily pressured on spending lots on make up, hair dos, spa treatments and the like. We have 4 girls in the family. I must try to educate them on the natural and so much cheaper remedies that are available.  

Ron writes that the FTC is looking into making guidelines to hold companies responsible for untruthful product testimonials by bloggers and users of social networking sites. Tongue in cheek he adds that he is going to be a lot more careful about mentioning any book he has read or recommending a restaurant. In Malaysia, the situation is a whole lot different. I think you’ll have less trouble talking about arsenic being good for your health than if you write about political views. 

Jeff writes about how miscommunication, by presuming can cause misunderstanding. We have all been given two ears and one mouth for good reason. Still, I would bet that all of us have made this mistake a few times. I know I have, at least more times than I can count, in fact.  

Plonkee wrote about the various tugs and pulls that will come whenever we plan anything that may involve others, in this case a wedding. It may be tough not to abide by the many, many opionions, often conflicting, that would be given. Most of them given with the best of intentions.  I agree with what she says. Ultimately we’ll have to prioritise and do what we can with what we have. 

Trent asks us if we can live without that service or thingamajig that we pay for monthly. He cut Netflix when he was looking for ways to put more money into paying off debt. And his life went on as merrily as before. We had the same predicament, when we cancelled our cable TV. My wife and I thought that the kids would raise a hue and cry. Much to our surprise, (it has been more than a year now), it was hardly missed.  

Mrs. M asks us about our personal financial stories. She details quite an outline about hers and Mr. M’s, the similarities and the differences.  I particularly liked her advice, in fact insistence, that couples should talk about their individual financial situations before they get married. This matter is quite important to me, as our two elder girls should be walking this path the next few years. I have wondered about how I should go about talking / advising about this to them. Maybe I should just blog about this.  (And hope they read the post!)

Preet asks a very thought provoking question. Should we cut our children’s allowances in this recession? This thought has never crossed my mind, till now. My children know I am unemployed, and whilst the reduction in income has not been openly discussed, now might be a good time. At the very least, as Preet points out, the invincibility mentality of my kids might be given a reality check. I must think this over very carefully.       

This is it for the week, folks. Have a great, productive and happy weekend!

Lessons from the story of the donkey, the father and his son

Friday, April 24th, 2009

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Credit: Google 

This was a story I read so many years ago. It’s a story which is so simple yet the powerful lessons it tells us has stuck in my mind all these while. 

For those of you who may not have heard this story, it goes like this.  

A man and his son were taking a bag of salt on a donkey. They were going to the market to sell the salt and make some money. As most fathers would do, he had allowed his son to ride the donkey along the way. 

They passed a village, where the villagers gave tough looks at the boy and commented that a strong lad like him should not be allowing his father to walk. So the son got down and walked, whilst the father got to ride the donkey. 

As they passed the next village, the villagers commented that the father was a cruel man to make his son walk while he rode the donkey. So the father and son both got on top and rode the donkey. 

At the next village, the villagers commented that the father and son were really cruel and had no feelings, to make the donkey suffer. So the father and the son got down and carried the donkey and the bag of salt. 

As they crossed a bridge, the donkey struggled a little and fell into the river together with the bag of salt. The father and his son ended up with no donkey, no salt and no money.  

The moral of this story is that we cannot please everyone. For everyone who says that we must do this or that, we’ll find an equivalent number saying that we should not do this and that.  

Trying to please everyone would surely end up in pleasing no one. 

This is a powerful lesson. A lesson that we would all do well by remembering and practicing. This does not mean that we should ignore everyone and just do as we please. There are norms of behaviour as well as rules that we should follow. The practical experiences of others in our position are also available for us to learn from.     

When all has been considered, it is finally up to us to make our decisions and live with it. All we have to remember is that at the end of the day, only God makes 100% right decisions. We are just human!

Job scams on the rise. It’s always better to be safe than sorry

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

 The lethal combination of more and more people losing their jobs and less and less jobs being available, is providing a huge market for those scammers out to make quick bucks from conning the desperate. 

An ex-colleague once told me that when poverty meets illiteracy and the uneducated, it creates a very ripe environment to be taken advantaged of. Add to this an element of desperation and it becomes even more potent. 

This was in Ghana, way back in 2000. But the quote remains etched in my mind.  

Recent events like the Madoff Ponzi Scheme have shown that even the rich and the well educated can fall prey to scams. 

In this current climate of continued job losses, we cannot really be surprised that job scams, where well paying jobs are offered for payment of a fee, abound.  

Malaysia is gaining a stellar reputation as a country of scamsters.  Topmost on the list would be the bringing in of foreign workers and then abandoning them without the jobs they were promised. These scams have become institionalized as it is almost impossible to do this without getting approvals from the Immigration and Home Ministry Authorities.  

Then come the various job advertisements that litter our classified section and in the Internet offering all kinds of jobs. This lures the job seeker with promises of well paying jobs. Eventually some fee has to be paid and then it is found that there is no such job at all. 

These scams must be rising in Malaysia. I have hear radio announcements seeking people to be wary of such “too good to be true” offers. Though the Authorities can do some more to help eliminate the scams, the wide spread use of anonymous Internet sites by the scammers is making this difficult.  

In India, when I once wanted to advertise for office jobs for our Chennai Office, the newspaper company refused to accept my ad without my passport! The reason was because they wanted to prevent scamsters. 

So far neither my daughters, thank God, nor me have been caught in such schemes. I have no idea how sophisticated these scammers would be when my younger children enter the job market. I can only hope that these nasty guys don’t get their grubby hands on any of our cash. In these difficult times it pays to be helpful.

This site gives some ways to help protect ourselves from such schemes.

Read how six Africans with the help of a Malaysian accomplice managed to implement another version of this scam. God knows how many victims are just keeping quiet licking their wounds and pride.

Worse still, this young lady ended up with a death sentence for her gullibility! 

So my younger children now save money, what next?

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I have written about our system of giving allowances to our three younger children (15,14 and 10). This has been going on for more than a year now. We started with weekly allowances in late 2007 and this year changed to monthly allowances for the elder 2.

Our youngest girl still gets a weekly allowance. In addition, they are supposed to keep accounts of their spending.  Here our youngest girl is the most disciplined. Daily she updates her accounts book with the amount she spent and the amount she put into her savings box. Our boy, the 15 year old seems to have absolutely no concern about his accounts. I have changed back his routine to a weekly allowance. I think I have to monitor and bug him a little more weekly. Nana, our 14 year old girl, writes the neatest accounts. However I suspect that some of her accounts are, well, a little fudged.  

There have been some adjustments made along the way. At the end of last year, it was found that the physical money in hand was much less than what was supposed to be as per their books! So now, I periodically sweep their accounts out and give them a signed IOU.  

However, one thing is clear. All the three save part of their allowances. I insist that they should save at least 10%, a sort of a paying themselves first, guideline. The children save more, something that I am pleased with. Now what should be the next issue that I should try to impart to them? 

I am not completely done with what I had planned to do, i.e. to discuss with them on what are salaries and wages, how do people spend their salaries, what happens when expenses are more than income and the concept of budgeting, living below our means and paying ourselves first.

Then there is the concept of charity, the giving of gifts and what Lynnae calls ‘Blow money”.

Their next school holidays start on the end of May for 2 weeks. I have made a note in my calendar and Insya’Allah will have the discussion with them then. I’ll keep you posted on their responses.  

Links – The National Monument of Malaysia Edition

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

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Our National Monument. A shot taken from Google 

Our National Monument or Tugu Negara, as we call it is a sculpture that commemorates those who died in  our struggle for freedom, principally against the Japanese occupation during WW2 and the Malayan Emergency.It is located in our Federal capital, Kuala Lumpur near the National Parliament.

The monument, sculpted in 1966 by Austrian Felix de Weldon, is 15 metres tall and  depicts a group of  soldiers holding the Malaysian national flag, Each of the bronze figures symbolizes leadership, suffering, unity, vigilance, strength, courage and sacrifice.The site is not far from the National Mosque and the Lake Gardens.  

On to other posts that caught my fancy: 

I liked this post by GLBL on getting our own back on the credit card companies. Unfortunately this calls for us to be financially well informed and responsible. I am sure the credit card companies know that they still have a huge pool of “prospects.”   

Frugal Dad wrote a piece on his family’s Budget Committee Meetings. He holds it monthly with his wife as the other part of the compulsory quorum. This is quite a neat idea. My family has Family Meetings with the children also attending. Our next Family Meeting is overdue. With the two elder girls being away from home almost all the time it’s becoming a little tough to schedule the meeting.    

Mrs. Micah wrote about the sunk cost fallacy. Sometimes our basic instincts make us throw more good money after bad. Her examples are those at the individual level, but this lesson also serves equally well at higher and larger levels…..companies and even countries. There are plenty of voices that say that bailing out the huge financial giants is just throwing good money after bad.

The SFD tells us that car repairs and servicing will be guaranteed by the US Government if GM or Chrysler goes bankrupt. These may be noble intentions, but I suspect that there will a massive rip off of Government funds from this loophole.

Jacquelyn writes about parents having exam jitters. It is true. Asians are so competitive and the kids’ exam results are something that is endlessly boasted about. I have the same jitters too. My greatest fear is that the school system will classify those who don’t do well as failures and take pains to reinforce that message. I don’t want my children to be trappped in this minefield.  

Michael has come up with a neat dashboard of the major markets. He can see the trends as the markets open one by one, giving him an idea of how the Malaysian markets would open. This should be a great tool for all those traders out there. 

It seems that the US Mint would stop production of pennies from 1st April 2011. Malaysia phased out the 1 sen coin recently. Transactions are now rounded up to the nearest 5 sen. My wife used to keep the 1 sen that she got as change from supermarkets and used them to pay our electricity and water bills. Now we pay our electricity bills by credit card whilst the Waterworks still only accepts cash. (Incidentally the US example was an April Fools prank by Patrick! And I fell for it hook, line and sinker!) 

The 5XMom writes her thoughts as she picks up her son from kindergarten. She has quite some colourful expressions of her feelings as she is subjected to the idiosyncrasies of the other “pick uppers”. Hey, Mom, It’s not only moms, dads also pick up their kids. Wait till your son enters school, then you have to deal with a 100 more such drivers and pick uppers….hehe. But tell me truthfully, doesn’t the joyful chatter and laughter of the kids as they rush out of school make it all feel so worthwhile?   

Brooke has submitted an appeal for a reduction in her property taxes. FMF wrote about his experience on the same matter recently…with presentations on the rates, history, comparable property prices and the like. FMF said the Government mostly won. Let’s hope Brooke has a more generous assessor.     

Jaimie writes about the “Battling the I want syndrome”. Yes, it has to do with their 4 year old child who is now getting exposed to the Joneses of his age. We are going through 5 children, and thank God, this nasty syndrome has somehow been controlled.  

This is it for the week, folks. Have a great, productive and happy weekend!

A really neat business – making good old collector type of cars

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Every Friday, my son and I pass by this double story shophouse on the way to the mosque for Friday prayers. I have never seen the shop opened or busy. The shutters are always down. 

What I see is different cars, all junks from perhaps about 25 – 30 years ago. They must have been transported on the back of other lorries and unloaded here, as none of them look capable of moving on their own. 

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Some of the cars. This one must be at least 35 years old. 

I believe (it’s just an educated guess, since I have never talked to the owner or operator) that the operator buys these old junks, repairs them and paints them till they look like new and then sell them.  He seems to specialise in Mini Minors as you can see from the pictures. I have not seen the repaired and done up cars either. 

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These old junks must have been lying somewhere, getting rusty and a general pain in the neck for the owner or his heirs. There must be a system used to scout for these cars. I am not sure if there is someone who specialises in stocking cars like these and selling them. 

I wish I had these kinds of skills. Skills to make good old junks and get them road worthy again. I am sure the equipment needed should not be prohibitive. 

I am going to continue watching and hopefully one day I get a chance to talk and understand the owner’s business model better.  

A part of whatever you earneth, the taxman taketh

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

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This lesson has just been reinforced upon my second girl, Azah. 

She is an accounting graduate, so she is well aware of the need to pay taxes etc. Still there is no better teacher that the act of having to pay taxes herself.  

She started work with an accounting firm in July last year. As is required under our Malaysian tax laws, her employer prepared a certificate of her earnings and sent one copy to the Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri, (as we call our Inland Revenue Service) and gave another copy to my daughter. 

In the old days, the next step would be to fill up and file a stack of forms that the IRS sends to every taxpayer early each year.  Now it’s all online. The deadline for filing is 30 April.  

As she was a first time tax filer, she needed a PIN for her account. I took her particulars to the local LHDN office and got her PIN. I suppose, strictly speaking, they should have insisted that the number be given only to the tax payer. But then, I am the father and I had the documents to prove it.  

Her earnings for the year are below the taxable threshold, so she should not be paying any taxes. In any event, Malaysian employees are all put into a PAYE system where the estimated taxes for the year are calculated upfront and deducted from the wages monthly.  

Last Sunday we did her first filing together. I did the logging in etc., whilst she sat beside me. We went through the process of filling up her personal info, her earnings, the deductions allowed for her and the net results. The process took only about 15 – 20 minutes.

The lessons learnt were deep. Azah realized the need to keep proper documents and receipts, and that there were allowances for her insurances, books and computer purchased. 

This year, she managed to file her taxes well before the deadline. I wonder how her next year’s tax filing experience would be. 

Fathersez.com featured in Malay Mail Cyberspot

Monday, April 13th, 2009

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The online version can be read here.

My sincere thanks to Sheila Rahman and Gabey Goh for featuring Fathersez in today’s Cyberspot section of the Malay Mail 

This is the first time this blog has been mentioned in the mainstream media and I must say it feels good. 

I welcome first time visitors who are coming from the Malay Mail to look around and feel at home. Your visit is deeply appreciated.    

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