Freelance Chinese-English Translation Work

If there is something that characterises me, it is that I am always willing to try out new things, even as there are many new things that I do not want to try. I have gotten and completed my first freelancer project, a translation project.

It is not the first time I get paid for my translation services (most of the time I do not get paid). The first was when I did the book Flowing Desires for Vivian (a China-born Singaporean), who has since become a family friend. Kitten and I put in long hours to translate the novel – it was harder than we thought.

This time, I translated an 8-page brochure from English to simplified Chinese. It was a brochure on yacht ownership, and it makes me really want to own one of those yacht memberships one of these days. If the Lord be willing, one day I shall. Perhaps when the children are all flown the coop, Kitten and I can live onboard a yacht!

I was rewarded for my few hours of work with USD27 (USD 30 paid by my employer, of which USD3 goes to Freelancer), which is relatively low. I am not complaining though. At a time when I am jobless, any income counts.

Feel free to join Freelancer through this link (Freelancer) here, for those of you interested in getting some side income! They offer all kinds of freelance work, from IT jobs, to data entry jobs, to voiceovers!

Why GDP Figures do not make sense in China

One of the best answers on why GDP figures do not make sense in China.

Answer on @Quora by Robin Daverman to Why is it estimated that Chinese economic growth is lower than official figur… https://www.quora.com/Why-is-it-estimated-that-Chinese-economic-growth-is-lower-than-official-figures/answer/Robin-Daverman?srid=ibaJ&share=9a260348

On Evangelism, Politics and MLM

In life there are three sensitive matters that drive off friends and relatives fast – evangelism, politics and MLM*. I have seen what happens in the first two, and I suspect will see more of my friends and relatives putting me at arm’s length when they realise I am also into the third one too.

As a young Christian, I was full of fervour for God and His Kingdom. Words of “Hallelujah!” and “Praise God!” spouted out freely from my lips, and fire and brimstone issued forth in condemnation for those who did not walk in the ways of God. Many years and much life lessons later, I have tempered down as I understood more of what it meant for God to show grace and mercy to sinners like myself. I am grateful for friends and relatives that kept their relationship with me through all these years despite my craziness.

The latest election fever had me on the side of the PAP, joining the party and fighting alongside Victor and my fellow comrades, in order to get him elected at Aljunied. Because of the huge amount of rhetoric being thrown around by the incumbent party, I dropped my usually more balanced viewpoints and went totally pro-PAP in my Facebook posts. As the election fever subsided, I have returned to my more balanced viewpoints (but still remain a PAP activist, helping them with their activities). I am thankful for friends and relatives that kept their relationship with me till date despite my craziness.

MLMs have hardly interested me, because I am not into health products, travel products or training products (the three type of products normally sold via the MLM method) and could not find the passion to promote them. I remember telling all those who tried to pitch me the same – if they can find a financial MLM, I will definitely be interested. And I have indeed found one.

It is FOREX-based investment product that I studied for a month, before investing. Unlike other products where you have to keep “maintenance”, it is a one-off investment of USD1300 and you begin taking in 8%+ every month. Such a product is perfect for a salary hedge if you are just a plain investor (not interested in network marketing) but can bring in good money if you are an aggressive referrer (like my upline).

You may find out more by visiting my investment website Sensei Michael Investment. Or you can feel free to Contact Sensei Michael.

My upline has been encouraging me to be more aggressive in my approach but I suppose that aggressiveness is never in my blood (but do not provoke me). Other possibilities include my possible lack of hunger to improve my financial situation. Whatever it is, I feel that I should make some changes to my life, and push this MLM business (finally one I can be passionate about) to those who want to see financial changes in their life.

Do find out more by visiting my investment website Sensei Michael Investment. Or Contact Sensei Michael!

*I have excluded asking for money and having an infectious disease from the list, because my article would then lose the analogy!

How long is a company considered a startup? Is it the time, revenues or size?

A good read for anyone wanting to understand why startups behave the way they do.

Answer by A Quora admin:

There is no one definition of a startup. But, one of the gurus in this field, Steve Blank, offers this definition:

a startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

Think of a startup as a lab. A lab to experiment a variety of business models until one of them sticks & scalable. A researcher at the lab might try out a variety of combinations until she finds out the winning drug formula. With each formula she performs a variety of tests – first in the lab and if that works in the broader world [field trials etc].

Once she discovers the right formula that passes all the tests and cures the disease, she will take that to the engineers who will then build a large manufacturing unit that will mass produce that drug. At that point, her job is over and she can go and start discovering another drug.


Discovering a drug

This is what happens in a startup world. You are discovering for that right "drug" [solution] for that right "disease" [problem]. Facebook helped fight the disease of not being able to stay in touch with your friends and family who have moved far. Google helped fight the disease of not being able to find the right info on the web.

In their initial stages, both companies were not sure of their market and not sure of how they would make money. It took a few years for their business model to fall in place. That period of time is known as the startup phase.

Once the drug is discovered and tested, it can be mass produced in millions and billions. That's how startups grow rapidly – with the right drug they can have explosive profits.

Properties startups

  1. Most startups fail: People outside the field tell this with a dramatic effect as though they have solved Fermat's last theorem. Of course, most experiments in the lab fail. Most pharmacologists never discover a blockbuster drug. Does that mean it is not worth pursuing that goal? Any path that is worthy in life will be riddled with failures.
  2. There is luck, but can be improved with agility: Some researchers hit upon the winning experiment by chance. While others slog for years patiently looking for their combination. In any discovery, there is a huge element of chance and luck. However, this factor can be a bit reduced by doing a lot of experiments and improving from each. That can substantially improve the probability of finding the winning drug. However, many startup founders are too stuck with their initial idea and never experiment.
  3. There is failure and there is pivot. What happens when a chemist tries out a combination and that doesn't work? He tries another. He might not bother about that "failure" too seriously. It will just go into the lab observation notebook. When you are in the experiment mode, you will not get your desired result in all but one experiments. However, after each trial, he can fine tune his next experiment based on previous experiments. If including sodium gave only partial results, maybe move down the table and try potassium? In the same way, startups keep pivoting after each trial. That's not failure. That is the nature of the system.

  4. Keep testing. Chemists might write their reactions in paper and plan. But, they don't stop at that. They will do the experiment to see how the reaction actually pans out. And if that works in the lab, they will do further tests in the real world. In the same way, startup founders needs to keep pushing new products & features and keep testing. You cannot just assume something would work based on theory.
  5. Startups do get acquired even when they don't make money. This is something that the outsiders get so confused about. Underpaid journalists in popular media will scowl at how these darn startups get bought out without generating profits. Let's say you have hit upon that winning drug and have not built a full factory yet. Is the drug valuable, still? Of course. Because, making the factory is quite straightforward for a company with that expertise. But, making the winning drug combination is not. That's why Facebook bought Whatsapp and Instagram before they made a lot of profits. Both companies already had a strong winning drug, while Facebook was good at building the factories. 
  6. In fact, you don't even need to produce the winning drug in some cases. If you are quite advanced in the process and have done multiple trials – you might still get acquired by a bigger company who would build on that process. While the common public would not know about the value of that midstage product, trained eyes can.

In summary, a startup is a lab that is attempting to produce a money-making enterprise. As long as it is on track to produce a rapidly scalable company, it can be called a startup [99% of small businesses are not startups – they are not built as labs nor can have explosive growth with a winning formula].

How long is a company considered a startup? Is it the time, revenues or size?

When a Receipt is Not a Receipt

This article was first written when I was working in China.

I suspect virtually all foreigners working here in China, if they ever need to purchase anything and claim from the company, would get burnt by the strange financial procedures.

I remembered early on in my career in my school, that I needed to buy something for the school. They cost about RMB250 (about USD30 or SGD50) and I asked for a receipt from the stall. They gave me a handwritten receipt with the company stamp – something which would certainly be OK back in Singapore.

Not here in China. Finance rejected these receipts, indicating that only proper official receipts with the word 发票 fapiao on them could be accepted. So there went my RMB250. After a while, I get to understand why the Chinese are so reluctant to buy something on behalf of the company, and to pay first.

Recently, something happened again – this time to my own department teacher. My teacher bought something for the school, and got a receipt with the 发票 fapiao stamped on it. But when I tried to claim at Finance – they rejected it! Why? Because only official receipts with the 发票 printed, not stamped, are accepted! It was amazing to me as a foreigner how stuff could get done with all that barriers being placed to hinder efficiency.

Along the way I begin also to understand why there is a need for this fapiao when a receipt would do in more developed parts of the world. Tax evasion is rampant in China, and so indirect taxation became very necessary. Fapiao has to be bought at the Finance Bureau, and stands in lieu of taxes paid. A book of RMB1000 fapiao will cost RMB130 because the sales tax involved is 13%. To encourage people to take the fapiao from vendors (and hence ensure they are taxed), all forms of financial accounting require this fapiao to expense off any spending.

I can also appreciate why things get done slowly here. Everything is stifled and choked by a morass of bureaucracy. No wonder Singapore, a tiny country with no resources, can survive and do well. We compete on pure and simple efficiency!

CMS to CMS

A migration from a platform to another is no easy task for someone with limited technical skills in SQL, even if he is IT-savvy. In fact, I argue that the IT-savvy guy is the person who wastes lots of time trying to get things done his way, while the non-IT guy will simply hire the correct guy to do it. With little time on my hands, I decided to pay a small some for the correct guy.

CMS2CMS recently published a post “Quite and Painless CMS Switchover” (it must have been a typo in my comment to them, since they quoted it – the English teacher in me nearly died!), after getting feedback from me for this useful service. For just USD29.00, I got a painless migration of all my data from Joomla (which I still could not figure out how best to use) to WordPress (the platform I have been using since 2006).

I am also amazed at their business model. The amount of work needed by a human pair of hands is minimal, and everything is done via their web platform. I just need to put in their programme into my server, and everything was taken care of. The migration was also perfect, with no broken links and so on, though I needed some minor editing of some posts that ended up duplicated and “Uncategorised”.

Quite a painless CMS switchover it is indeed! Now if only CMS2CMS will edit off the poor English that appeared on their website and my job shall be complete!

StMichael: As of now, CMS2CMS has made the edit I requested! Hurray!

Supporting the Small Businesses

I passed by an adik (Malay for “younger brother”) selling his home-made curry puffs today. I actually passed by Old Chang Kee (a chain of curry puffs retail stores in Singapore) and gave it a pass, but this one was different. He stood near the underpass with his box of curry puffs, looking at me expectantly. At just $1 for 3, they were a steal and I bought some to relive memories of those days when we would buy curry puffs for breakfast on the way to work.

They still taste as lovely as before. Old Chang Kee’s curry puffs are good, but these curry puffs are different. Within these curry puffs go the aspirations of a man who wants to earn more to feed his family. Each of these curry puffs are cooked the way his ibu (mother) would cook them, the way his isteri (wife) would cook them, the way I know any macik (auntie) would cook them. I may be ethnic Chinese, but I grew up playing soccer with Malays, and I love the way we all take to each other’s foods and customs.

The fact that my family of 5 are cramped into one small bedroom in Ghim Moh gave me a chance to relive childhood memories of interacting with the grocer, the shopkeeper of the sundry store and the various hawkers from whom I ate their cooked food. These were small businesses, and they all conduct business to feed their family, and know their customers intimately.

How different can that be from my former residence of Bukit Batok, where I see corporations and chain stores muscling into the neighbourhood? It is a very different feeling when you are served by an employee who can be replaced any time, who is working to enrich his boss (whom, I must admit, has the entreprenuerial mindset to make others work to make him rich).

I really long for the days when the small family businesses are the ones you buy things from. I suspect I can never return to these days in Singapore, the land of the big corporations

Rent-Seeking Behaviour

One of our favourite imported goods store, Silver Palate, is closing down after 6 years in operation. This has been a favourite neighbourhood store for the expatriates living here for its fair prices (compared to many other imported goods stores), and a chat with the clerk revealed that the landlord wanted to raise rents triple. Similarly, book stores are closing one by one in Singapore – Borders, Harris and Page One, one by one. All quoted the same issue, that the landlords are increasing rents as much as double the previous rate.

Students of Economics know that Adam Smith noted three means of income: profit, wage and rent. Much arguments have been made about the wealth-creating ability (or lack of) of rent. Arguments against rent note that rent takes away from the creation of wealth by creating unproductive overheads (unlike utilities or wages,which are productive) for the profit seekers. Rent-seeking behaviour also takes away from the creation of wealth by directing efforts towards securing “strategic locations” or (in extreme forms) lobbying government for certain portion of taxes to be given to a certain body.

Arguments for rent-seeking behaviour noted the investments needed, for which the rent is a form of returns on the risk taken. Proponents also noted that rent itself is only a “gross income” for which other overheads like the maintenance of the property and payment of taxes have to be counted against – making “rent” a form of profit-seeking behaviour.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult for start-ups to grow in Singapore is this very same rent-seeking behaviour. Rents in Singapore can be very extreme. Imagine, as an entrepreneur, that you have managed to get a year or two of some decent profits. Unfortunately, your landlord also noticed your roaring business, and wants his share. It can be very heartbreaking, especially if you are doing a food business in a decent location, to move on and start again elsewhere, rebuilding your clientele.

I have been a landlord before. My empathy for my tenants (they, like me, are foreigners in a foreign land, trying hard to earn a living to pay off debts and return to their homeland) meant that I kept my rent artificially low. When I finally decided to sell my apartment, they had by then paid off their debts and could return to their homeland. Till today, we still keep in touch, and I know they have started businesses in their native lands. Still, the experience allowed me to understand that landlords who refuse to raise rents are not landlords – they are social services.

While I can understand the feelings of the public (the customers) and the businessmen (the profit-seekers), I believe rent-seeking is unlikely to go away. What the landlord should do is to gradually increase rents so that businesses can plan for it. A sudden tripling of the rent makes for difficult businesses, and a loss of a partnership beneficial to both landlord and tenant.

Opt-in Lists

Introduction

I’m sure those of us who have been using e-mails for at least a month or so would have found our mailboxes full of ‘junk’ mail. Mails from advertisers telling us all about things we are not interested in knowing about. We call these mails spam.

Over in Singapore, spam is not illegal (though I sure wish they would do something about it). In the US, however, those who spam can have legal actions taken against them. Not only that, many advertisers are starting to find out that, instead of increasing their number of customers, they are alienating them. But e-mail advertising still remains one of the cheapest means of making their presence known. It would be wonderful if they can have e-mails sent to those who do want to know about their products.

Thus the concept of Opt-in lists, or Safe lists, was born. These list managers keep the e-mail addresses of subscribers to their lists, and do not reveal them to the advertisers. The advertisers know that the list-managers have their target audience (age, gender, interests, etc), and are willing to pay them for the right to advertise their products to the target audience.

In return, the list managers share the advertising revenue with their list members. This act encourages the list members to remain in the list. Since a larger list generates a higher income for the list, most managers encourage their members to refer more members to the list – with a referral fee up-front or over time.

Unfortunately…

Yes, there are some pitfalls to watch out for when joining these lists.

  • Some new lists are heavily advertised, and large rewards promised to those who joined. The list managers do not intend to pay up, however. Once a critical mass has been reached, or when it is time to pay up, the list managers simply close shop. The e-mail lists are, sadly, sold to spammers who want the e-mail addresses. Which is why it is good to join only established lists.
  • Many mailing lists do not give cheques as payments. Most prefer e-gold or paypal. E-gold is difficult to transact in. Paypal requires a credit card to verify identity. Thus, those without credit cards may find difficulties taking back their money if cheques are not given.
  • List managers handle lots of mails, queries and what-not, from both the advertisers and their members. While some argue that it is in their interest to serve the members, there is a limit to what they can do. If your sponsor (the person who referred you) is knowledgeable and committed, you have somebody who can help you carve out a niche for yourself, and earn more than just pennies.

Why You Should Join A Mailing List

Still, with the proper precautions, mailing lists are something I believe everything e-mail reader should go for. Why? Well…

  • You are opening your Mail Programmer to read your mails anyway, why not just read some things that will interest you, and earn some money as well?
  • It signals your commitment to the advertisers that you do not support spam. When the number and size of lists begin to reach a critical mass (hopefully in a few more years’ time, as more people know about this), advertisers and law-makers definitely will take notice!
  • You can keep abreast with products of your interest.

The Lists I Personally Subscribe To

I have been with the following mailing lists for some time. You can sign up for them by clicking directly on the links. Please let me know when you have signed up for any of them, so that I can help guide you with any questions, and also to increase your earnings from the programmes.

Opt-in Pays
This programme gives very frequent mails, and has been established for quite some time. You can even decide how many mails you want to receive each day! The best way of requesting payment is by e-Gold. They will pay by Cheque as well.

HTMail
This programme has infrequent mails, but if I were to be an advertiser, I would love this programme – they have a section for members to comment on the website of the advertiser. They pay by cheque.

May you have a fruitful (both knowledge and financial) time with the programmes!

Multi-Level Marketing-Legal and Ethical Concerns?

Introduction

Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) is a system of marketing that has been around for some time. Also known as Network Marketing, it is a method of distributing products that involves little or no mass advertising. Instead, marketing of the product is spread by word of mouth of its users.

Of course, word-of-mouth marketing is around even longer than MLMs, so what makes it different? Unlike traditional word-of-mouth marketing, the users who spread the word for the company, and gets others to buy the products, gets a commission for doing so. The person who spreads the word is called the Sponsor or Upline, while the person whom he sponsors is called his Downline.

To make the deal even sweeter, the company gives the Sponsor a commission for products the Downline of his Downline buys! Many companies allow each Sponsor a network up to 6 levels deep. Hence the name for this style of marketing – Multi-Level Marketing or Network Marketing.

Legal Concerns

Legally speaking, MLMs have been legal in Singapore since June 2000, when the government finally recognised it as a method of product distribution, rather than a Pyramid Scheme. The U.S. government (the land where MLMs first originated with a company called Amway) has slapped a whole list of conditions on an MLM system to set it apart from Pyramid Schemes.

Ethical Concerns

To me, many MLMs toe a very thin line to Pyramid Schemes. The problem does not lie with the marketing system (which actually represents a very cheap method of product distribution for the parent company). Rather, it lies with the people who promote the products. In some cases, the way the system is run by the company also makes it a form of legalised Pyramid Scheme (if there is such a thing).

Why do I say that the problem lies with the people who promote the products? The problem is with the fact that it is promoted as a means to get rich. Its promoters want the downlines at all costs – it means more money for them. In order to get the downlines, they push the ‘business model’ and use hype and emotional draws to appeal to those who are looking for more income.

More often than not, the products are very expensive and marketable only to certain segments of the population (e.g. health products). In addition, many who are drawn to such MLMs are actually not prepared for the kind of sacrifices and time required for the business to work. It can take as long as 1-2 years, and thousands of dollars in expenditure before a profit can be turned in. These are the ‘hidden’ stuff that many promoters did not mention, in their push for more people in their downline (and hence greater wealth for them).

Another practice many companies have (that makes for high dropout rates) is that of a ‘maintenance’. Each month, their distributors must buy a certain amount of their product to keep their downlines. With increasing expenditure and of both money and time (especially time) and sometimes alienation from friends and family (due to overzealous promoting of the products to get a downline), the distributor gives up – and all their work goes down the drain.

The final point that personally bugs me is the fact that the promoters always harp on the fact that MLM is a sure-win business model. They insist that everybody can succeed in having the MLM as a business, to attain financial freedom.

Let me put it across very plainly. Is it possible for everybody to earn money from MLM? In order for a person to earn money from MLM, you need a critical mass of downlines (as little as 256 persons or as many as 1024, if not more). Mathematically, it is a folly to assume that there is no bottom of such a pyramid network. For those near the bottom, where are their critical masses coming from?

Ultimately, there must be somebody who is taking money from outside of the MLM structure, and pumping it into the network of sponsors above. Now, I have no problem with that. There might be those who buys the products without taking it as a business (also known in network marketing circles as ‘consumers’). I was one of them (my money comes from outside of the MLM structure). However, to push MLM as a business where everybody can make money is simply unethical.

Conclusion

I personally do not have an anti-MLM pose (I used to be a consumer, but not an active MLM business leader). To me, it represents a distribution system that takes away the wealth from the big boys (the advertisers, the warehousing systems, the transport systems, etc) and put it in the consumers themselves. For those who went in early and helped the company market their products, their income will increase.

For those who come in later, however, it is a different story. My desire, for those who read this article, is to warn against the hype and emotional traps that comes from a desire to get rich quick. I also hope (against hope, perhaps) that those promoters who have been pushing that mathematically-impossible model will at least tell the truth to their potential downlines.

I welcome all feedback on this article. Till then, may you find health and wealth in your endeavours.