Sunday, February 26, 2006

Network Marketing in Singapore

This is an unusually long post, because I have spent a long time, $200, and nearly my friends investigating this phenomenon.

There is a worry disturbing my thoughts, and it is not just about money.

Network marketing place themselves as a money-making venture that allows one to "own a business" with relatively low start-up costs. These companies can be selling products ranging from plain tupperware, to expensive massagers. Their business models are all common: to get as many people to join in as distributors, thereby expanding the company's reach and influence through the word of mouth, saving immensely on the costs of traditional advertisement.

I am not against network marketing per se, but I would like to draw any potential wannabe's attention to some important details, that you might have overlooked, and to caution you that a decision to enter network marketing is not one to be made lightly, unlike getting a job.

Over time, as I was in my youth, my friends have asked me to go to no less than 3 different network marketing opportunities. The very first time was during my post-secondary school days. My best buddy called me one day, and asked if I was interested in taking a tour of his company. I was intrigued, since he had not mentioned anything to me earlier (not even to your best friend?), so I agreed.

Dressing in my most indecent (t-shirt, shorts and an extremely run-down pair of sandals, to be exact), I strolled among the massive crowd waiting for the out-ward bound trains to get home. 6 pm, to be exact, and he promised me to have dinner together after he was done with his stuff. Minutes later, he appeared, and we chatted normally, complete with the horseplay and all, until we reached a small entrance in the middle of a long row of refurbished shop-houses.

"This is it," he said, and we entered.

I felt very naked to see many people milling about dressed in ties and long-sleeved shirt, some even complete with jackets. The air-conditioning seemed to have been conditioned to enable them to work with so many layers of clothing, which I really doubt would be their attire if they stepped out of the place, which looks a little bit of a facade. I squirmed (dumb decision not to wear jeans and shoes) and shivered in the artic air.

After chatting with my friend for a while, one of the extremely over-dressed guys came over to us and introduced himself:

"Hi, I am XXX's mentor. Do you know why you are here?"

Completely in the dark, I shook my head, completely dumb-founded.

First, he talked about the weather, how humid it was, and that he could not really take the heat. I shivered in response.

Next, he took out a stack of plain paper, and began to draw on it.

"So, pkchukiss, what do you wish to achieve ten years from now?"

"Erm.. World peace?"

"Ok... World peace, and?"

"Start a business of my own..."

"A business?"


"Selling what?"

"I don't know. As far as I know, this is still too early to think about what to sell."

"How about money? Do you like money?"


"You don't like money?"


"But you use money, right?"


"So you still need money right?"

"I guess you can say that.."

"How about some financial goals?"

"Financial goals, like what kind of stuff you would like to have within the next 5 years?"

"Maybe a small car, and some money."

"How much?"

"Just some savings."

"How much?" (Alright, that sounds pushy, and being the obstinate Ox in the chinese zodiac, Leo sign and Taurus sun sign, I dug in. Funny how much trust I place in unsubstantiated predictions by star-gazers, eh?)

"Tell you for what?"

"So that we can plan your financial goals."

"I don't want to."

"But you will still need it?"

"Not with you."

"Why? I am XXX's friend, and we want to help you!"

I stared back at him.

"Ok, I'll go over the proposal, and you'll see why it is important to plan your financial goals, ok?"

And he went through his speech, which was as standard as what the other 2 companies that came later put me through.

In case you are mistaken: no, network marketing is not something that cannot be done. Indeed, the model of network marketing stemmed from the earlier days, where housewives gather together to share useful products to improve their lives. Companies capitalised on these "auntie gatherings", and enabled these ladies of the house-hold to earn some extra money in their spare time.

The model still survives in some form today. However, it has undergone some additions: the pyramid scheme.

We all know that pyramidal schemes are illegal. They rob from those who enter the scheme late, and those at the very tip get enriched like a reverse funnel, channelling money from the late-comers into their neat little pockets.

The new network marketing companies are those that infuse both elements into their model, which tends to fudge the reality between truth and fiction. Some of them escape the ban on pyramid schemes by proclaiming them to be multi-level marketing companies, which has only recently been made legal.

All of them promise visions of wealth, and buckets of money. They draw you diagrams of money growing exponentially with more downlines (people who you join under you).

It isn't all a lie. What they proposed do actually come true — if you ever reach those levels they tell you, which if looking at those university students struggling is any indication, is going to take some really lot of work. However, looking at what you stand to lose in the process, many people falter, and fall out of the schemes, which in turn leads to free money for those companies.

What do you stand to lose?

  • Relationship: Your friends and relatives' trust.

    As a network marketer, you fudge the truth to get them down to the company to hear their pitch, sometimes even to the extent of lying. This isn't really good for the relationship between both of you.

    You will also be using tactics to manipulate, and target your own friends and relatives, to bring them closer to closing the deal. Your mentor might also resort to lying to create false impressions to incentivise you to join the company, which is rather pretentious.

    The end result: Your friends avoid you like plaque after your sales pitch. Sure, you meet new friends over at the company, but do you really regard them as friends, or fellow opportunity grabbers? Consider: would you trust a group of people who lie to their own relatives and friends to be there for you when you are down and out?

  • You will end up spending your spare time at the company, pulling in new recruits. You will create a profile of all your contacts, classifying them into whether they are susceptible to influence (easy to close), or rich (a better target to close the sale). Then you call your prospects, with an excuse of "visiting them". That is, if you can bear saying that excuse, with your product demo and brochure in the sales kit in your hand.

  • You end up putting money up-front: of what use is a sales pitch if you cannot be a personal testimonial to the product's effectiveness? You would have to buy one set yourself, which depending on the product, could cost you from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If your mentor (upline) pays for you, that makes you even more indebted to him, and be obliged to work in the company, even if you sincerely are not interested.

I still remember how I still joined one scheme even though I was not interested in doing network marketing. These companies try to make you think that you have to do it, even if you hate the idea. They encourage you to try it out.

The bottom line is, humans don't last doing things they dislike. If you won't even be interested in the project, why waste effort, time, money on something that hurts your personal relationship with others? Its obvious that these companies don't sincerely have your interests at heart when they insist that you join them. The adage still rings true: Follow your passion, and the rest will take care of itself. I dare say BadAunt is a really good example: her passion is in teaching, and now she leads a far happier life than if she were doing what she actually disliked. Isn't it true?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Religious Caricatures, and Freedom of Expression

Indeed, the recent caricatures of the Muslim icon have raised heckles around the world, both in the Islamic world, and in the countries that do have true freedom of speech.

As this commentary provided by a local newspaper in Singapore shows, the world is actually far from being tolerant to criticisms and being made fun of. It is a classical situation: If someone writes an article that puts a particular religion under the harsh glare of the spotlight, surely its angry supporters would go all out in arms to put down the author.

But where do we actually draw the line? A thin thread separates satire, and being defamatory; of which individuals themselves are split accordance to their actual tolerance levels. Some might be able to laugh along with a piece on the cliches of their own life, but to others, it is a sacred line, which when crossed, would mean war.

For now, let's just say that Islam as a religion, is inherently less tolerant to dissent, and satire. See how Malays who have renounced Islam in Malaysia find themselves still subjected to an Islamic funeral even after their deaths, and it is apparent that the cartoon isn't going to go down well with the devout Islamic countries around the world.

And Islam is not alone in the field of intolerance. Christianity, and Catholicism are examples of religion that are intolerant towards dissent. For example, Christians believe that non-believers in Jesus would all eventually burn in hell. Extremist strains of Buddhist followers even resort to militancy to impose their laws upon unwilling followers. (Note: I raise these examples not as a criticism of any religion in particular; but to illustrate the current status of the world.)

On the other side, we have people who believe strongly in the freedom of speech, and in the absolute right in expressing them, regardless of the feelings of others. While this is desirable in itself, in no way does the use/abuse of this right serve the world, unless we exercise self-restraint in our words. Yet we see people engaging in hate speech, writing disparaging comments on others, just because "they can".

Of course, the world could choose to side with either one: impose laws similar to that found in Singapore to make religious criticisms illegal, or a compulsory freedom of speech clause to allow people to speak their minds.

But would either way work? I seriously doubt so.

Crippling free speech in any way will most definitely handicap the openness of any given country. Where this is applicable, it is almost inevitable that this same country would find it easier to implement more controls over people's freedom. Like what most law systems go, this is a classic case of a "landmark ruling". Since lawmakers claim to act for the good of the people, they can make the most ridiculous claims, yet pass the muster of scrutiny. Already, the US of A is slipping into this dangerous "Singaporean-ism", with George W. Bush's trumpeting of blatant privacy invasion measures, without proper check and balances.

On the other hand, allowing the freedom of speech would only embolden the outspoken antagonists — people who are out against a certain religion to carry out a legalised hate campaign, to the extreme disadvantage of the victimised.

The bottom line is that nobody has a good answer for the delicate balance between allowing people to speak their mind freely, and maintaining the dignity of religion free from criticism. The solution is for the people themselves to exercise their right to expression with the justification of promoting harmony between different groups. This means determining when something is definitely purely offensive, and avoiding it, and reserving criticisms for constructive ones.

Given the fact that we keep reading about Islamic suicide bombers running rampant in the world, if you ask me whether the Danish cartoon is justified, I would most definitely say: yes. The caricature illustrates the irony of the Islamic majority — slow to condemn their extremist brethren, yet swift in hammering outsider opinion.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Being nice versus standing up for yourself

Once upon a time, we were all little babies, with little awareness of the world, except the small confines of our comfortable cots, along with that comforting pillow, or soft toy (more or less, depending on your tendency to stuff your face in them).

... And babies we were. We didn't mince our vocals whenever we needed something.

Food: cry.
Wet diapers/soiled them for the umpteenth time of the day: cry.
Felt burping: cry.
Felt hot: cry.
Felt like crying: ... (you get the idea.)

Basically, our lives revolved around demanding for our caregivers to satisfy our little demands (need I add that we did it without even letting them know specifically what's wrong?).

But as we grow up, our parents instill in us the need to be considerate for others in our thoughts and actions: so much so that over time, some of us develop such a knack for caring about others that we sometimes forget to look out for ourselves.

Don't be mistaken: the world is largely a selfish place, composed of entire industries committed to catering to the big "I"; yet there exist people who are almost permanent "agreeables" — people who don't seem to get angry no matter how hard you try to irritate or insult.

These people are the "nice" people.

Nice people are not necessarily without their own needs: They still have their own worries to conquer; their own needs to satisfy. Yet, through some choice of theirs, they decide to put other people's interests above theirs.

The reasons may vary wildly: Some might feel that they are undeserving of fulfilling their own interests; others might be extremely eager to please others (and in so, sacrifice their own personal character). But one trait identifies them all: they are nice, perhaps all too nice.

I consider myself to be a nice person: for some reason, I tend to put people's worries above mine; and probably for this reason, I am a perpetual "Yes" man, changing my conversations with different people as I meet them.

I have my own opinions: but I don't really voice them out once I realise that the other party holds the exact opposite opinion: whether that is an expression for the loathe of conflict, or simply just a matter of the lack of confidence in my opinion, I have yet to find out. But being too nice is already costing me a lot in terms of my mental health.

I am tired of people tramping on top of me; making decisions in mutual projects without discussion. While I am agreeable to most proposals, even if it runs contrary to my original thread of thought, that doesn't mean that anybody should run over my top and make decisions without consulting me.

To put it nicely (yes, "nice" again), it isn't really respectful to me as an individual.

I have not brought the matter to my project mates' attentions yet, but I really hope that this blog post hits them before I actually get around to doing so; for in my "niceity", I find it really tough to put this across to them without hurting their feelings.

Yet this cannot be put off for much too longer: each time the matter is aggrieved, the discomfort builds up; and nothing can stand being built up for long. The pent up pressure can only accumulate, and when the container fails:... we all know what happens.

That has already happened to me and my platoon mates on our first trip to Taiwan. As they can testify, I did something really outside my normal behaviour; and in doing so, shocked some people who really thought that I could actually "keep it all in".

On the bright side, I came across a book written specially for "nice" people. The author wrote about how nice people put off communicating with others their feelings, and in so, are accomplices in perpetuating actions that irritate themselves. Meanwhile, the aggressor goes along, merrily blessed in his ignorance to continue his actions: until the aggrieved explodes, in a gory-filled confrontation.

Looks like I have got some conversations to hold.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Shin Splint

Finally, after having to bear with the dull pain in my shins for more than 3 months, the x-ray finally revealed the true cause of my suffering: Shin Splint, known in the medical community as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).

This is characterised by a pain that develops when you start running, disappear for a while when you are running, and then comes back with a vengence after you finish running.

Here are some more additional details on shin splints.

The MO has given me 1 month's excuse from physical training; hopefully the stress will heal by itself.

Meanwhile, my body is busy merging the muscles into the one giant lump that it once was.