Bank matters

Posted in Daily life on February 26, 2009 by fonglh

I’ll be going up to Abisko and Kiruna over the weekend so there won’t be any posts for some time. Before leaving it’s time to complain about POSB.

Like most sg kids, I’ve had a POSB account for don’t know how many donkey years. Some time ago they were taken over by DBS, so it’s basically one and the same now. Sometimes I’m confused since the webpages point to each other.

Anyway, for some reason I couldn’t withdraw any cash from ATMs. Maybe I didn’t key in the PIN correctly or something, but having tried a few times at a few ATMs it didn’t seem likely. I decided to email them about the matter.

A few days later, there was still no reply, but the exchange rate had become really favourable so I was anxious to get some cash changed. It still wouldn’t work so I called their customer service number, the one printed on the back of the card.

After trying very long without any success to get pass the automatic machines, I finally got to speak to a real person, who transferred me to the debit card department. Thus I was put on hold. I didn’t have to wait too long. The call was cut off after a few seconds. I checked my phone balance and realised that the 90+ SEK I had started with had just become 9 SEK. Plus I had just topped up the card and it was supposed to last me a month. So after 90 SEK I still hadn’t spoken to anyone who could even make an attempt at solving my problem.

My brother was online so I asked him to call the toll free number in Singapore. After some time, he told me that DBS would not divulge any information to a third party and suggested that I call the overseas number myself. They even helpfully provided the number which I had just spent 90SEK on. When asked if they accept reverse charge calls, the customer service guy could only sound apologetic and say no. If you’re wondering how I could know how he sounded, it was because my brother told me.

Ok, now for the engineering solution. Skype can actually be used to call overseas numbers for some low cost, but I hadn’t bought their credits because I didn’t think I would need them. So I decided to Skype home and get my family to call POSB and put it on speakerphone. After my brother woke up everyone in the house, they managed to connect some speakers and get the volume levels right. My mom then dialled the number and chose the Chinese option as she is more comfortable speaking in Chinese.

As if having to pay a hefty charge because they don’t accept reverse charge calls wasn’t enough, the customer service officer who answered asked if he could use English. That kind of defeats the purpose of choosing the Chinese option. I wonder what it’s there for. We were put on hold to wait for someone who could speak Chinese.

My mom explained the situation to the guy then I explained the whole story again in English. At least he’s bilingual and I didn’t have to be transferrred to someone else. The connection worked very well and we could hear each other very clearly. His final diagnosis: “You must have forgotten your PIN. You can request for a new card and we’ll send it to the address you registered with the bank. Then you’ll have to activate it by signing the form and sending it back to us. Maybe you can try your PIN number again.”

Right…. Very helpful. Thanks… However, it does prove that Skype and a speakerphone can be used for relaying voice calls.

Anyway, I did try the PIN again the next day, pressing the numbers very carefully. This time it worked. And the exchange rate was even higher. But I’ve essentially spent the difference calling POSB.

So the moral of the story is, don’t lose your card, or you’ll spend a bomb trying to report its loss. Also, get another card from another bank. I notice that the UOB card says to call collect the number. I haven’t actually tried it, but at least it looks like their customers won’t be left in the lurch.

Both customer service officers suggested email, which I had already tried. I did get a reply a few days later. Here is what it says.

We apologise that we cannot reveal account information to you, as
e-mails are not deemed secured mode of communication. We seek your kind
understanding on this matter as this is to safeguard the banking
interests of our account holders.

May we refer you to call our 24-hour Customer Service Hotline at 1800
111-1111 or (+65) 6327-2265 (from overseas) for immediate assistance on
the account-related matters.

Thank you for writing to us.

It’s like being sent around in a spiral with the customer service hotline in the middle. Not that they could do much anyway. In fact the whole matter is quite comical. While I do understand the need for strict security procedures, the very least they could do is to accept reverse charge calls. It would be much appreciated by people who find it urgent enough to call their banks from overseas.

Contrast this with ting’s experience with a Canadian bank. I find that level of service very impressive. It’s personal and sincere. Read about it here.

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Lappis Forest

Posted in Daily life, Sightseeing on February 25, 2009 by fonglh

The forest around Lappis is a beautiful place, especially when it is covered in snow and the sun is out with a beautiful blue sky. It’s a nice place to go for a walk.

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Through the reeds

A narrow path through the reeds. I’m quite sure that it’s the frozen lake below the snow.

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Walking on water (frozen) is simply irresistible. Clearly I’m not the only one to think so. Those footprints are all from others.

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A lone horse grazing in a snowy field. It has a blanket too.

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A bird hopping along the ground.

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There are some goats around too.

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The view of the later afternoon sun from my corridor window.

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One of my favourite pictures. Taken at the hill behind Forskarbacken.

Stockholm Weekend

Posted in Sightseeing on February 18, 2009 by fonglh

yh and zq came over from Linköping on the last weekend of January, so you can see that these posts are about 2 weeks late.

I hadn’t had the chance to watch the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace, so since we were nearby at that time, we decided to stay and watch it. It’s quite a grand affair with a marching band performing precision drills. There was a soldier attempting to explain the procedure and history, but as he was reading to the paper, we couldn’t hear anything. The crowd also made it hard to get a good view, especially as Asians are generally shorter.

Band

Band

Band marching out

Band marching out

After they were done they marched out to a nearby square and posed for pictures with the public.

yh looks a bit like a penguin :P

yh looks a bit like a penguin 😛

The band members are quite cheeky too. Here’s the view from the back as they pose for someone else’s picture.

Cheeky pose

Cheeky pose

The picture below shows yet another view of Gamla Stan. The large building on the right is the Royal Palace. The area below the church is where the band stops and mingles with the public.

On the way back to Gamla Stan, zq’s shoelace came off. Being a cold day, he was loathe to take off his gloves.

Tying shoelace with gloves

Tying shoelace with gloves

Showing incredible dexterity and great skill, he managed to tie his shoelaces with his leather gloves on. The final result is shown below.

Successful knot

Successful knot

We wandered through Gamla Stan. After all it’s one of those must see places on guidebooks. One of them had heard about a little place called Cafe Art where we could have lunch, and that was where we went.

Inside Cafe Art

Inside Cafe Art

It’s a nice place in what looks like the cellar of an old building. To reach it, you have to go a short way down a small alley, then down a steep stone staircase. The ceiling is rather low at times so one must be careful not to knock his head. The salmon quiche was very nice. As with most other places I’ve seen in Stockholm so far, the toilets are clean but have very limited capacity. In the case of this cafe there was just one shared toilet with a queue about 4-5 persons long.

Sunset in winter is early. After eating and getting warm again, the sun was already about to set as we left the cafe, resulting in a beautiful sky.

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We crossed the bridge to Södermalm, south of Gamla Stan and walked around the shops there. The building with the Å on it is Åhlens, a large department store.

Södermalm

Södermalm

The round thing you see down the road is Globen, or the Globe Arena. They have ice hockey matches there but I haven’t watched any there yet.

After a relatively expensive lunch, dinner was a simple self cooked affair.

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They very nicely helped me to carry out a few bags of trash after that. Thanks guys 🙂 Over here we are responsible for the cleanliness of our own corridor and kitchen. Since these are common areas, there’s a self organized duty roster and it happened to be my week for clearing the trash. No cleaner uncles and aunties here.

We woke up fairly early the following morning to explore the forest around Lappis. The water around the beach was a little frozen but clearly not safe to walk on. Here’s what happens when a piece of ice is thrown at it.

Breaking through the ice

Breaking through the ice

Someone’s dog. Looks very nice.

Nice dog

Nice dog

Moving on, we have a food chain like scenario.

Photography food chain

Photography food chain

For a better example of a food chain, check out the Sherman Lagoon’s comic below.

The forest was a nice place, and this time we reached the far lake which can be seen on Google Maps. yh was happily snapping photos every few paces while zq has freezing his toes off. He couldn’t snap away cause he didn’t bring his camera charger.

See his dedication as a photographer.

Taking a picture of a pine cone

Taking a picture of a pine cone

After taking a picture of this and realising that the exposure hadn’t come out right, he walked back, found it again on the floor and took a few more pictures.

The rest of the day for them was spent shopping. Joined them for lunch at a small shop which sells 30 SEK kebab with bread. It’s at Hötorget, in the small lane between the PUB building and the cinema.

Tekniska Museet

Posted in school, Sightseeing on February 15, 2009 by fonglh

That’s the Museum of Science and Technology, we visited this as part of our course Swedish Society. Sweden is famous for its science and engineering, so how can students from the Royal Institute of Technology doing a course on Swedish Society not visit this museum?

The visit started off with a lecture about the history of KTH. I don’t remember much of it anymore, but there was quite a long discussion on the gender balance of the students through the years. It used to be an all boys thing back when it was throught that women shouldn’t do engineering. Now I think it’s about equal.

The picture below is from the space exhibit. This being an excursion with a guided tour, there wasn’t enough time to see everything and appreciate the history properly.

Space exhibit

Space exhibit

Mining has always been an important part of Sweden’s economy. Even now, the northern town of Kiruna exists because there’s a mine there. They’re even going to move the town because it’s sitting on top of somewhere they want to mine. A problem with early mines is that they’re prone to flooding. Here’s one the earliest machines built to alleviate the problem. It pumps water out of the mine.

Water pump

Water pump

For demonstration purposes, it can be moved, although it’s now powered by electricity. Still, it makes many loud sounds and groans. In spite of its size, it’s not a particularly powerful pump.

In the same hall, there were exhibits of old forms of transport like cars and bicycles. Here’s the car that earned its driver the first speeding ticket to be issued in Sweden.

Old car

Old car

It wasn’t capable of going very fast. According to the tour guide, the policeman was able to run up to the driver to issue him the ticket. The ticket is now in the Police Museum, next door to the museum we were in.

Vehicles from the past

Vehicles from the past

Here we saw old cars and bicycles. While the basic design of a bicycle hasn’t changed much, the very first ones looked very very uncomfortable.

Moon Rock

Moon Rock

After hthe museum employee’s explanation of the stuff in that hall, there was some time left so he took us to the space exhibit and showed us around. In an enclosed display case, there’s a video camera of the same model as those which were used on the moon. The camera has specially designed buttons which are large and placed far apart so as to allow astronauts to manipulate the controls with gloves on. Anyone who has tried to use a compact camera with gloves in winter will know that it’s just a little bit difficult.

That shiny thing enclosed in glass behind the camera is a piece of rock from the moon.

Here’s a Foucault Pendulum. Never heard of it? Wikipedia to the rescue. Basically it’s an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the earth.

Foucault Pendulum

Foucault Pendulum

As the earth spins, the pendulum’s swing will change relative to the paper below. If you could sit on the pendulum, you’ll see the room revolving around you over a 24 hour period.

This next picture was taken in another exhibit about communications. The orange thing criss crossing the ceiling is a speaking tube which visitors to the museum can try out.

Speaking tube

Speaking tube

Here’s someone trying out the speaking tube with his friend. He says it works.

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Since mining has played such a large role in Sweden, the museum has an exhibit devoted to the history of mining. From the main hall with all those antique vehicles, there’s a small dark opening which is the entrance to the mine. You descend a staircase into the ‘mine’. There’s also an elevator which takes a long time to go down, thus giving you the impression of descending into a real mine, but it wasn’t working that day so we took the stairs.

The earliest way to mine was to use fire.

Mining with fire

Mining with fire

The fire heats the rocks and cracks them. Then the miners can come in with crowbars and stuff to break it up and transport it to the surface, where they extract the iron from the ore.

After the invention of dynamite, it was used instead. However, this involves drilling a hole in the rock first, still a very tedious, time consuming and tiring process requiring a huge heavy drill.

Drilling a hole for the explosive

Drilling a hole for the explosive

As technology progressed, they were able to use better drills and one person could manage more and more of them at one time. Nowadays they sit in front of computer terminals and control stuff from there.

Interestingly, open pit mining is one application of linear programming. It allows the mining company to find the best way to excavate and maximise profit based on the shape of the lode and the cost of digging etc etc.

Metal ores

Metal ores

Here are some example of iron ores.

There did seem to be lots of interesting things in the museum, but there wasn’t enough time to read through all the information panels, some of which was in English.

The good thing is, it’s free for KTH students.

Army Museum and Riksdag

Posted in Sightseeing on February 14, 2009 by fonglh

Why go to the army museum? Cause they had free admission in January, hehe.

Unfortunately most of the explanations were in Swedish, so I could only look at the nice displays.

Weapons on display

Weapons on display

It’s quite interesting how a weapon can be hidden in a violin case.

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I’m guessing this is some army camp or village scene from a time long ago.

Charge!!

Charge!!

The caption says it all.

Standard

Standard

The captured standard of a Russian unit. Standards were very intricate and precious things last time. It’s a great shame for a unit to lose it in battle, and therefore it’s a very valuable prize for the enemy.

Model Soldiers

Model Soldiers

Cute little toy soldiers with not so cute looking sharp pointy things.

Horse artillery

Horse artillery

These horses are drawing a piece of artillery. There’s an explanation (in Swedish naturally) on the information panel to the right.

I left the army museum after a short while to make it for the free guided tour of the Swedish Parliament building at 1.30 pm. There are much fewer tours in winter. Details of guided tours can be found here.

Google translate says Riksdag means parliamentary. I guess it also means parliament, parliament building etc etc. To enter the Riksdag, everyone has to go through a security check. This took a long time as they were very thorough. It’s just like an airport security check. The guard must have seen a suspicious looking metal cylindrical object in my bag. He asked if it’s a water bottle and then asked me to show him. He asked what liquid was inside, then proceeded to open it up and smell it. It was just water. Satisfied, I was through security.

Next, everyone has to deposit their bags and coats in the lockers provided. A 10 kr deposit is necessary. Only 10 kr coins are allowed, so remember to bring one. The money changing machine didn’t work when I was there.

The picture below shows the Riksdag chamber. The upper area where we are at is the public gallery.

Riksdag Chamber

Riksdag Chamber

The chamber is where the elected representatives debate and take decisions. The sit by constituency, regardless of party affiliation. The Speaker, Prime Minister and other big shots sit in front. Each seat has a little box with a few buttons for voting. Voting results are displayed on two illuminated boards at the front of the chamber.

There are 349 representatives. After they are elected, they choose a Speaker to represent them. The Speaker then chooses the Prime Minister. According to the tour guide, there is plenty of background work done before that so the actual process of choosing goes smoothly.

Here’s a picture of City Hall from the upper floors of the Riksdag. Clearly it’s not a clear and sunny day.

City Hall from the Riksdag

City Hall from the Riksdag

Assembly room

Assembly room

The above picture is the assembly room of the Finance Committee. It’s in the Riksdag’s heritage-listed reference library.

The legislative process is very complicated. First a proposal is submitted to the Chamber, where it goes to the relevant committee. The committees are made up of members of the different parties. They discuss it and prepare a proposal for a decision by the Riksdag. Then the individual members go back to their own parties and discuss the position they’re going to take in response to the proposal. There are other rooms for them to do this, pictues coming later.

Next the Riksdag debates and takes a decision on the new law or amendment. The Government is then informed of the decision and it is their job to enforce it.

All the information comes from a little info booklet which they gave out. More info is on their website.

Party discussion room

Party discussion room

The room shown in the picture above is where the political parties gather and decide on how to respond.

Skylight

Skylight

A nice looking skylight in the Second Chamber.

Frescoes in the Second Chamber

Frescoes in the Second Chamber

They sure have a nice environment for their discussions.

Grand Gallery Skylight

Grand Gallery Skylight

This skylight in the Grand Gallery is ringed by Sweden’s 24 provincial coats of arms.

Grand Gallery

Grand Gallery

If you’re the Prime Minister, or maybe it’s the Speaker, I can’t remember what the tour guide said already, you get a portrait.

Committee Assembly Room

Committee Assembly Room

Here’s another committee assembly room. Doesn’t look as pretty as the one that houses the Finance Committee.

Grand Stairway

Grand Stairway

The stairs and columns are made of different kinds of marble. It is now used for ceremonial occasions like when the King opens the Riksdag session each year in September.

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

A view of Gamla Stan from inside the Riksdag.

Bank Hall

Bank Hall

This building used to belong to the Bank of Sweden, but they moved out and the Riksdag needed the space. So they took over, built the chamber on top of the roof and joined the buildings with covered bridges.

Prime Minister's Residence

Prime Minister's Residence

The white building in the centre is the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. I have no idea if he actually lives there.

And now I know more about the Swedish Parliament than the Singapore one. I wonder if they give a free tour too.

On the way back, I saw a street busker about to start his performance outside the entrance of T Centralen.

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Those 2 ‘people’ he’s carrying on his back will form part of his performance.

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By pulling the whole thing over his head and wrapping the girl’s legs around, he is able to make it look like a couple is dancing. He does this to some fast music playing from his boom box.

Playing with fire

Playing with fire

For his last act, he lit these torches and juggled them around in varying patterns. He dropped them a few times but overall it was a very interesting performance.

Food Glorious Food

Posted in Daily life on February 13, 2009 by fonglh

Mom has been under the unfortunate and most incorrect impression that I’ve been eating nothing but quick microwavable TV dinners. While they’re certainly wonderfully convenient, they don’t taste all that good and they’re not that cheap either. So this post should put to rest once and for all the notion that I can’t cook.

Ok I admit it. I can’t really cook, but it’s enough to survive, heh 🙂

I don’t really like taking pictures of food, so there aren’t that many. Usually I cook with 2 other fellow NUS students. By the time we’re done we’re so hungry we want to start eating, so we don’t usually take pictures. Before that we’re usually all busy washing, defrosting, doing the actual cooking and wondering what we’re going to do with that slab of half frozen meat on the plate. Plus I don’t have the habit of bringing a camera around to cook and eat.

Sometimes, there are exceptions, like those huge 9-10 people cooking sessions where there are more people than things to do. This frees some people to document the rare sight of a young Singaporean who actually has to cook. For some of them, it’s still a novelty and they do take pictures of themselves cooking so they can show their families and friends.

Mass cooking session

Mass cooking session

Here’s an example of one of those mass cooking sessions. Every person you see in the picture is one of our group.

Bacon with egg

Bacon with egg

Curry Chicken!!

Curry Chicken!!

Using some curry powder brought over from SG.

The picture below was when zq and yh came over from Linköping. Eating out is expensive, so we decided to cook.

Fried onion, egg, lettuce

Fried onion, egg, lettuce

Pasta

Pasta

Here’s what we had for dinner, there will be more on their visit in another post. Still have a backlog of posts to write.

A more recent picture. SY tried her hand at making bread. I admit I played no part in this because of a homework assignment due the next day.

Homemade bread

Homemade bread

Very good for a first attempt.

Now for some pictures of my solo efforts at cooking.

Lunch

Lunch

Mashed potatoes, onion omelette, meatballs with cheese and lettuce. The lettuce is really nice. I’ve been buying quite a lot of it. We figured out how to make mashed potatoes previously so I just used the same method. Cooking the potatoes took longer than expected though. Tried to melt cheese onto the meatballs by microwaving them but it didn’t turn out too well. Think I left it on high heat for too long.

Dinner

Dinner

Here’s a picture of dinner I just cooked. Just a simple meal of spaghetti, more meatballs, lettuce which is not really visible, and you can see the corner of an egg sticking out in the bottom left hand corner.

The reason there have been so many meatballs in recent meals is because we have to finish 1 kg of them before they expire on Sunday. A lot of stuff here have short expiry dates so we need to share to finish it. Like 500g blocks of butter and 5 kg bags of potatoes. We used to split bread too, but I realised that if I eat 4 slices a day, it’s possible to finish it.

Finally some Swedish food, the semla. More information can be found at the ever helpful wikipedia.

Semla

Semla

If you think it looks like a large bun stuffed full of cream and covered with sugar, it’s because that’s more or less what it is. I bought a box of 2 at a convenience store to try it out. It tastes like a bun stuffed with cream, no surprises there. I didn’t really like the taste of the almond paste hidden somewhere under the cream.

This period I’ve been quite fortunate as  I have long breaks between lessons, so I can go back and cook something for lunch. Since eating out costs so much, how do the locals do it?

The answer is that there are kitchens in school. I was fortunate enough to be invited to one after a lab report discussion. They cooked something simple, pasta with mushrooms and minced beef, all thrown into the sauce. Very filling. It’s also where I found out where to buy semlas.

I don’t think everyone gets access to that kitchen, but there are microwaves available elsewhere. People bring their packed lunches and just microwave them to heat them up. The many boxes from Ikea which JJ left for me are most useful.

Ahh I miss the engineering canteen with S$2.80 meals and S$1.80 yong tau fu. Here S$6 for kebab and bread is considered cheap.

So see mom, we’re all eating very well here, there’s no need to worry 🙂

Swedish Dinner

Posted in school on February 9, 2009 by fonglh

Part of the welcome activities organised by the student’s union included a Swedish dinner, which was a chance for us to experience Swedish food. It cost 150 SEK.

Here’s a picture of the appetiser.

Appetiser

Appetiser

It was some bread-like thing with what tasted like a cheese filling. Not too bad.

While waiting for the main course to be served, the toastmaster led us in party and drinking songs found in a songbook which had been left at all the places. He wasn’t too successful cause everyone was busy having their own conversations. They have a student group called PQ whose job is to provide entertainment at parties. Here you can see them in their yellow shirts.

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They danced, sang and played musical instruments. While not on duty they each had a reserved seat in the middle of each table.

Here’s the main course. Chicken and potatoes in some sauce. A bit too salty but otherwise quite good.

Main course

Main course

In between they got various nationalities to go up on stage to sing. There was also plenty of alcohol. They also served 2 shot glasses of alcohol, which to me smelt like the ethanol they use as fuel in their buses. The stuff is really strong so I gave most of mine to a German guy who was trying rather unsuccessfully to get drunk.

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The alcohol is the one in the little shot glass beside the can of Fanta. The large cup to the right holds water, which is what I drank most of the time.

Finally, dessert was served.

Dessert

Dessert

Some kind of cake and a sauce. Not too bad.

It took very long in between courses, so here’s what engineers do when bored.

Tower of Beer cans

Tower of Beer cans

They even tried to secure it with the decorative ribbons on the table. It was going rather well but the irritating PQ guy you can see in the yellow shirt there seemed to be jealous of their success and kept banging the table and blowing at the tower.

We actually hoped that there would be more food cause what they had served us so far wasn’t very filling, and we certainly hoped to try more types of Swedish food. Unfortunately, that was all, except for another shot glass of punch (ie more alcohol).

After the meal, everyone went outside to party. Overall, it was quite a ripoff. Seemed like an excuse for a party and a chance to get drunk, disguised under the noble objective of allowing international students to try Swedish food. If you drink a lot, it would probably have been worth it. There was lots of alcohol to make your money worth it.

KTH emblem

KTH emblem

Here’s a picture of the KTH emblem, taken when we left after most people had adjourned to the dance floor. The words mean “Science and Art”, with ‘art’ in this case referring to technology.