Friday, April 27, 2012

How government services should behave

The Singapore Public Utility Board are rockstars.

I arrived home tonight at 11:00 pm to find no water in my taps. No water. Until that actually happens you have no idea how fundamental it is to your life.

I called the apartment building's 24-hour helpline, only to be told unhelpfully - five calls and three maintenance guys later - that it was my problem, not theirs. Their weird reason was that it was just one flat and not the whole floor. By then it was almost midnight and I still had no water. I had a fight with the guy who told me this, hung up and wandered outside my flat, looking at the stuff there for the tenth time, hoping to spot some magic valve I hadn't seen before. There were none - the only meter outside my door is for electricity; I've never seen the water meter.

I checked online for 24-hour plumbers and found several. Then I registered that if all the taps were dry, it was probably not a plumbing issue but one of supply, which would make it either vandalism or a mistake. Either way, I needed the support of some sort of authority. In any case, I was reluctant to hand over a hundred dollars to a bunch of plumbers for something they may not be able to solve. So I went to the SP Services website and called the first phone number I saw. I eventually got someone who told me I'd called the wrong place. But - and this is a very big but - he didn't stop there. He asked me: "but tell me what assistance you want". So I told him my story and he said he would leave a message for one of the Public Utility Board guys to drop by and check. I thought he meant in the morning, but 40 minutes later, I heard water in the kitchen sink (I had, of course, left the tap on in my dismay). And three minutes after I'd turned it off and done grateful raindances, a PUB engineer arrived at my door to tell me I should inform my building management somebody's messing around in the water meter area and playing with the valves.

It was government service in the best sense. He did not even let me tip him.

Update at 7:30 am: The kinder of the building maintenance guys I had spoken to last night did show up early, as he had promised.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Can you hear the drums Fernando?

I looked up casually from my book somewhere on my train journey this morning, was briefly confused about whether I was coming or going and suddenly realized something very startling, apropos of nothing – I'm happy. I'm almost terminally broke, nearly forty, about 10 kilos over my ideal weight, and my career is a revolving door. And yet somehow I'm happy.

I'm not given to counting my blessings and being grateful. In fact, I usually exist in an exalted state of resentment. I complain all the time. I throw tantrums on the smallest provocation, feel sorry for myself on none at all. And yet somehow I'm happy.

I have a good boss and nice colleagues. At least half my clients respect my work. Having known the other thing, I fully appreciate the importance of these to my overall well-being. Now and then, my Facebook newsfeed throws up a status update from some brand page that I wrote - and I'm reminded afresh that my content calendar was accepted as-is by the client. With no changes at all. Small though it is, that's two doses of job satisfaction a week, the highest rate of my working life.

When I’m done working, I have family and friends, rolled into one, a daily benediction. Actually that’s even when I’m working – I objected to being in the same office as my brother but actually it’s fun.

My flat is in a crummy building that I mutter to myself about every day, but it sits on the edge of a lovely lake that is another daily benediction (hourly on the weekends). And inside, I have room for a study, with a desk by a window through which I can see trees and rain.

Then I returned to my office from the rooftop where I’d been sitting writing this, and I found my life had changed again. It was not a nasty change – far from it – but I will have to uproot at short notice, leave the desk, the window, the lake and the family, start again with new colleagues. And I'm still 10 kilos heavier than I want to be. On the other hand, great problems hold great opportunity, and as a boss once said to me “only stupid people are not nervous”. Especially when I keep getting exactly what I wanted, quite unawares. Maybe that's why I'm happy.

In the words of ABBA, if I had to do the same again, I would, my friend.

Fernando, ABBA. Non-album single, 1975

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