Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Exercise critical thinking while giving #GivingTuesday

When you do a social intervention, you sort of have a responsibility on what happens next, whether it is good or bad. For the most part, donations and volunteers will yield positive results for you, however, for the beneficiary, the impact is often not sustainable.

In Puerto Rico, people are still donating canned food and bottled water. All of which I've talked to various groups to discourage people from donation after a disaster.

When a hurricane takes out >70% of the powergrid, floods and destroys infrastructure, recycling is probably one of the lower priorities of the city, however, when a lot of food and water come in containers, there will be a point where there is no place to store the empty containers but, outside in the open. As trash piles up, these containers collect rain water and breed mosquitoes, bringing about a second disaster of diseases.

Donating bottled water cost easily 100 times more than just donating water filters. Every disaster area has water. they just need to filter out bacteria and impurities.

It is also possible to ship fresh vegetable and fruits, and with water filters, people can have clean water to drink and wash the vegetables. This will create much less waste and avoid unnecessary wastage and disease.

Please exercise thought when you donate. Your action does have an impact, and not caring what your donations do, or what happens after you donate is sometimes as bad as not donating.

If you want to pick up a Charity to support, perhaps you can support Relief 2.0.

We are working on a new ways to support Refugees (in Europe) and hope to spread our knowledge once we have more success.


-- Robin Low

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 22

Tupi, a capybara who had never done a day of camping in his life visited a camping store. "Well, if I were to visit a disaster area, maybe I need to be self sufficient." Tupi looked at various solar chargers and other wilderness equipment. "I need to try some of these..."

"What is a lifestraw?" Tupi muttered as he looked at the packaging. "What is MRE?" Tupi decided to buy them and try. He believes may need to use it in the field, so he should familiarize himself.

"N95 dust mask..." Tupi said. "I have some because of the haze... Maybe I should bring batteries, a tool kit, duct tape, first aid kit and a whistle." Tupi was a very good manager and being in Singapore for so many years allowed him to be "kiasu" -- "afraid to lose" and he likes to be prepared well.

Tupi went home to pack. Looking at the items he bought, he was proud of himself. "Hey, I created my own apocalypse kit!" Tupi packed his portable solar panel, powerbank, flashlight, lifestraw, MRE, N95 mask, Antibacterial, deodorizing nanotech socks and underwear. Then he placed his writing pad, duct tape, permanent marker, knife and toolkit in a small tool box. "To save space, I need to use more multi-tools..." Tupi muttered.

Tupi packed his emergency kit and took a pack of MRE and tried it for dinner. "This this is rather expensive." Tupi said as he opened his 12 pack of MRE which he bought for $100. Tupi poured some water and the rations heat up. "This is kinda neat..."

Tupi tested the life straw. He poured a cup of water and drank through the straw. "This sucks... " Tupi sucked and sucked but no water came out. "Why does this not work?" Tupi tested it with various cups and bowls, and nothing. Finally, he read the instructions and saw -- "Submerge before use". Tupi slapped his forehead and squeaked. "Should have read the instructions first!"

Tupi had a pack of MRE for dinner, it comes with a drink and dessert. "Does not taste half bad..." Tupi said. "But if I have access to hot water, a bowl of cup noodles would be easier and cheaper..."

Tupi took out his notebook and looked at the various recipe he recorded. "Well, I got to try cooking some of these too, and see if I can make my own ration for emergency use.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Going Cheap can Cost More

Owning a factory, gives me greater insights on materials, design and production. Buying something cheaper usually means a simpler design, less quality materials. Sometimes these trade offs are okay, but at some point, going "cheaper" may not pay off.

Buying the cheapest thing may not saw you money. There are always trade offs.


Today, many of the bigger supermarkets have pricing to show you the cost per weight amount. And in most cases, buying in bulk saves you money. So if you consume a lot, buying the smallest portion actually cost more, and buying the largest portion and wasting it (if perishable), also cost you.

Buying non-perishables from a big lot store which sells in bulk may be the lowest cost per unit option, but then, it also takes up space in your apartment.



No, socks are not just socks. A pair of Greenyarn Tyrrano Hiking Socks may cost about US$20, but by changing, washing and wearing them everyday (2 pairs), these socks can last more than 2 years.

I used to wear discounted 3 for $10 socks, and they become loose after 3 months, and you have to discard all of them within 6 months if you wear them and wash them daily. The result is about the same, but if you wear and wash them regularly, the cheap socks will cost more than US$40 in 2 years.

For many other items, cheaper generally means lower quality materials. And with the manufacturing done in China, factories in China have access to all sorts of materials and you can be shocked at how cheap a product can be.

I've bought a pair of $5 leather shoes in China. They work great, a little uncomfortable in the sole part, but works fine -- until it got wet. After the first rain, the sole fell off, and the leather warped.

Unknown brands that pop up in China does not care about quality assurance. In fact, many of them buy stock lots that failed quality assurance checks, A factory making for a major brand may have received a bad batch of low quality or flawed leather, unacceptable to the brand, and the factory just has to find cheaper ways to resell and still make some money.

Depending on which stage the production is cancelled, the product may be unfinished but sold to the public. You may think you get a discount on a 3 for $10 shirt, but often, these are unstretched fabric. And once washed, they may shrink, and the problem is not being just smaller, the shrinking may not be consistent sometimes.

Cheap printing is not breathable, and some peel off after 1 wash. There are also many toxic chemicals used in bright colored clothing, and there are processes to remove the chemicals or use less toxic chemicals, but in the focus on cost, the right thing is usually not done. Well, it is Asia, and many people are just out to make profits.

Sadly, many people go for "Fast Fashion" -- lower cost branded wear that is not durable. Many of our materialistic lifestyles in Asian countries promote the mentality of "lets go shopping" as a past time, and at lower cost, there is always something to buy.

What happens when Fashion becomes "Fast, disposable and cheap"? More style means more purchases. It may cost less, but you buy more.

"The rate of disposal is not keeping up with the availability of places to put everything that we're getting rid of and that's the problem." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded.''

Discounted electronics:

Cheap fans, batteries and various other electronics do not last. I've broken 3 electric standing fans in a year, and after changing to a trusted brand like KDK, the KDK fan now last more than 3 years.

Cheap batteries generally have much lower capacity, and the other problem -- they leak. The leaking may cause other damage to your electronics.

The reason why cheap electronics can be cheap is because -- cheap low quality circuits + low quality control. For many products with lithium batteries, by just removing the batteries can reduce cost greatly.

Cheaper circuits and poor soldering can lead to a product breakdown fast. If you know electronics, checking it while it is still working may allow you to reinforce some soldering joints which can prevent fires.

Cheap lithium batteries do not have overcharging and heating sensors. So they may catch fire while charging or while in use.


Factory rejects / Factory outlets

I often buy shoes from the outlet store. According to some of my friends working in the big brands, it takes a shoe about 3 years from manufacturing to get to the outlet store. In the meantime, the shoe would be in warehouses for years.

Many big brands now use a more eco-friendly glue which binds the soles to the shoe. The glue would last easily 2 - 3 years, and beyond that, the bonds may start to weaken.

When a shoe is not worn, you will not see anything difference, but when you wear an old sports shoe you have not worn in years, chances are, the soles will give up and fall apart.

The environmental change can be an issue to the shoe. Most warehouses are low in humidity to prevent mold and other fungus, and when you introduce the shoe after years in such environment to a high humidity place like Singapore, besides the glue, the fabric, leather and other parts may warp.

There is usually no issues for me when I get a pair of discounted factory outlet shoe and just continue to wear them everyday until they wear out. It is the wearing them for a bit, storing them and wearing them again that kills them faster.


Food / Perishables

In many countries, you may have access to cheaper markets which sell produce which are "not so nice" Sometimes, it is just appearance, and it still taste the same, but other times, they are close to expiry dates, and you have to make sure that they are not inedible.

From time to time, I do go to Asian Supermarkets to get Mangoes (In the US which is very expensive) I usually pick the discounted ones which are overripe -- sweet and cheap, however, I need to eat them immediately. Sometimes I can't even keep them for more than 1 day in the refrigerator before they go bad.

It is ok if you buy and cook, some discounted vegetables and fruits may have slight damage, but removing the damaged parts makes it still edible.

Of course when you suddenly have an appointment and cannot cook, then chances are, the cheap vegetables you buy will go bad before you have a chance to consume it.



Going cheap sometimes does not save you money. You need to think and test the other options available as you may save money buying full price, and it really depends on your lifestyle.

If there are anything else you would like to add, feel free to contact me and let me know.

-- Robin Low

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 21

Picking where to volunteer and what to volunteer at is not an easy task. Many activities like cleaning the beach is tired and depressing, Tupi wanted to do more locally, but another part of him wanted to travel. "Maybe I should just go on a holiday." Tupi said and looked at various exotic locations, but the cost was relatively high. "Although I can afford it, I don't feel like paying $2,000 just for flights to Brazil. "

Tupi sent several messages to various friends in Kenya, Tanzania, Haiti and South Africa. He was interested in visiting and learning more about the culture and places and how he could be of use.

Tupi left a few comments on his friend Alex's page. Alex lives in Haiti and co-founded an NGO that started a children's academy which provides quality education for kids in a rural village. Alex was on Facebook sharing about the recent installation of a solar panel and LED lights at the school, and they were thinking about having a windmill to power the while village. "I'd like to learn more about renewable energy too." Tupi said.


Tupi made a few phone calls to friends in South East Asia who knew people living in villages. Tupi had a friend with a domestic worker from the Philippines and Tupi chatted with her for a while and talked about renewable energy.

"Your village still has no power?" Tupi asked.

"Yes, we still have no power." the lady said. "The next village down the road has a power line, and they just got power 3 years ago. We do not really need power though."

"What do you do at night?" Tupi asked. "Without light? What about refrigerator?"

"We don't need a refrigerator." The lady said. "Nothing needs to be refrigerated. We cook using charcoal and we have kerosene lamps."

"Do you use solar lamps?" Tupi asked. "How do you charge your phones?"

"Solar is too expensive." The lady said. "We go to the village center to into town to charge our phones."

"Technology is always getting cheaper." Tupi said. "How much is kerosene?"

"How much is solar light now?" The lady asked. "Kerosene costs about $20+ per liter, and we do use other kinds of cheaper oil for light"

"I don't know how much is solar light now, but I am trying to find out." Tupi said. "I guess it would definitely pay for itself in the long run."

Tupi could no imagine living in a place without power.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 20

Tupi bought lunch for an old man collecting cans and card boards. The old man rubbed Tupi's head and Tupi closed his eyes.

"How did this happen?" Tupi asked.

"I used to be in construction, I paint and do tiling for kitchen and bathrooms." The old man said.

"With so many new projects, don't you get more business?" Tupi asked.

"How to get Garmen contract? You know the HDB gates, all go to one company only, Garmen call for tender, all bluff one. They give to their own relatives and friends, high price low quality also get job. Sometimes, no experience also get job, then they find sub-con and squeeze us. Many people kenna burn, and sub-con take all the risk and go bust, main con need connection and make all the money." The old man complained. "Then you work for some of these people, they also squeeze your salary. $5,000 project, they pay you only $3,000 which just covers cost. Otherwise, they say hire bangla lor, 100 men job, they can bring in 500 men, then collect money from the snakehead for each person coming to Singapore. Just the kickback earn until siao already."

"Wow, I did not know that." Tupi said.

"Aiya, complain also no use, the garmen people and the main con so close, sometime minister also can own construction company and ownself do upgrade with ownself company." The old man said. "Politics smelly lah."

"What about doing skills training and get another job?" Tupi asked.

"You think free meh?" The old man said. "You pay and go useless course, then get cert that no one want. Where got job? The company that train you make money only lah."

Tupi was quite surprised on what he heard. "So, why are you collecting cardboard now?"

"You think money drop from sky. Everyday no need eat meh?" The old man said. "Collect can and cardboard at least no need beg, full cart sell already can eat at hawker center."

Tupi did not have much of a response. "Where do you live?"

"I have a 2 room flat in Yishun." The old man said. "Sold off my 4 room flat in Bukit Merah and used all savings to pay for my wife's medical bill. She died and still have to pay bill. After that, cannot afford flat in open market, stayed in relative place, different place every week, for few years, then finally get the new flat in Yishun. 70 years old liao still paying for flat every month."

It seemed like the old man had a lot of complains. He kept talking through lunch and Tupi gave him his ears and listened.

Tupi learned a lot today, and had a different perspective after talking to the old man. It was all worth it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 19

Tupi is back home and busy with bills and laundry. There was a stack of mail and other bills to sort out. After his laundry is in the washing machines and his mails are cleared, Tupi poured himself some whisky on rocks and sat back on his chair. "There is so much I don't know..." Tupi said and took out his phone and searched the Internet.

Tupi reached out to his camera and took out the finished roll of film. "Another roll of 36 to develop." Tupi said and sorted some of the tasks that needed to be done the next day.


Over the next few days, Tupi collected his severance pay check and deposited it in the bank. He paid all his bills and ran all his errands. Tupi started apply at suitable jobs and responding to many of his friends messages about his recent trips.

Tupi felt really good reading the positive responses to his trip and encouraged to do more.

"Hmm, Peace Boat?" Tupi muttered as he looked at some of his friend's profile. "Too expensive..."

"Africa? Hmmm..." Tupi looked through a few of his friend's profile about some of their projects, then checked on some news and related articles. "Too much conflicts."

"Latin America?" Tupi muttered. Various parts of Latin America looked very exciting. Tupi had never been so far before, and it did scare him a little but excites him as well. "Lets see who we can find."


Tupi messaged a few local groups in Singapore and checked out some of the local activities of supporting the homeless people or people living in poverty. There were surprisingly many groups on Facebook helping poor people in Singapore.

There was a group helping the senior cardboard collectors, giving them meals every day. "Wow, there are so many poor people and even homeless people in Singapore?" Tupi muttered. "What is the government going about this? Don't think they collect cardboard for exercise."

Tupi checked out the activities of the group and it seemed like just meeting the cardboard collectors and giving out food. "So many of them..." Tupi said as he saw many cardboard collectors. As he passed by Sungei Road, there was a old flea market that had been around for years. Tupi remembered coming here when he was young.

He looked at the people selling the items, many of them old and looked malnourished. Some have open wounds and does not seem to be treating the wounds. He did not make such observations before. "Are all of these people poor, and selling here because they cannot afford rent?" Tupi said and looked at some of the vintage items they were selling, most of the items were probably found in the trash and sold here so that the shop owners can have a next meal.

Tupi felt sad, poverty was also in his own country, but all he read about on the news is the millionaires and multi million dollar projects that the government want to build. Tupi walked around and saw all the tall buildings in the downtown area and a lot more construction going on. "Have all the people got left out in the name of progress?" Tupi muttered.