Friday, July 23, 2021

JIPABAN - On bad financial advice from Hokkien songs

If you think about it, the MVP this month are the cheekopeks who visited Vietnamese hostesses and brought the entire country down. Things got so bad even the National Day Parade got postponed. 

For weeks, the media attacks against cheekopeks and ah bengs who visited prostitutes escalated so badly, I'm not sure whether it's become cool for Singaporeans to punch down against their less-educated peers. The only exception is that since heterosexual Chinese men are being attacked, liberals sit this one out, and let everyone bash these poor guys.

If there is really one song that captures the feeling of a cheekopek who visit KTV lounges, it is this classic called Jipaban. The song speculates on what like is like as a millionaire. 

As you can find anything on the Internet, a full translation of the song lyrics can be found here.

Like many Hokkien songs, the song had pathos. The singer laments about not amounting to much in life, missing out on travel opportunities, and seeing peers start successful businesses, marrying and settling down.

Let's analyse some of the lyrics to see whether they make financial sense:

a) Travel 

One of the things the lyrics say is that if the signer has a million bucks he will travel. He will go to Hawaii, eat sushi in Japan or have a spaghetti meal in Italy. This is not too expensive for a single guy, a trip to Japan may cost about $3,000 pre-covid and Hawaii/Italy may cost slightly more. 

With $1,000,000 generating $40,000 as safe rate of withdrawal, $1,000,000 can pay for all that travel. 

Of course, somehow this guy must be able to generate this 4%.

b) Buy a car

After travel, things escalate very quickly, the singer wants to buy a car which means paying for a COE. All expenses for a car should range from $1,500 to $2,000 for the next ten years. The worst thing is that the car is a depreciating asset. 

Our cheekopek millionaire should start thinking about driving Grab to offset the costs of having a car, otherwise it will ruin half the investment income arising from the million dollars of invested assets.

Still I think owning a car is not fatal. 

c) Buy a house

Beyond getting a car, it gets much worse, the singer wants to buy a house. 

As most Singaporeans can afford HDB property, I can only speculate that the singer intends to upgrade to a private condominium. Even in the best case, the current HDB has to be sold to generate the downpayment. 

Moving forward, loan repayments can range from $2,500 to $3,500 even for a modest unit which may be unsustainable even with a million dollars . Our cheekopek friend may intend this to be a short project, selling it to earn a profit after MOP period is over and maybe earning some money in the process.  

It's not a bad idea, but I still think just upgrading to a 5 room or a jumbo should suffice.

d) Buy a shop to collect rent

It's heartwarming to find at least one piece of good advice in the song. 

Buying a shop to collect rent is wise but hard. I did a quick check on Property Guru to see whether there are units for sale at Beauty World and many will bust the $1,000,000 budget but loans should cover up to 80% of the value of the property. There is at least one shop in Katong Shopping centre for less than $1,000,000, so this may suit the singer's budget. This will still will likely be cash-flow negative as the mortgage is over $3,000 per month. 

I still think that REITs are less complicated and a safer choice.

e) Get a wife

I leave this last bit for readers to think whether our cheekopek would be able to find a wife even with a million dollars. I'm personally not optimistic given what I know about Singapore women ( In fact, I married Malaysian ). The cruel reality is that $1,000,000 represents financial capital and not social or cultural capital.

He can, of course, go to Vietnamese bride agency. Not sure whether they are in operation today.

Sadly for everyone, a song like Jipaban has not aged well. It was written in 2001 and inflation has ravaged the value of having a million dollars. Thanks to globalisation, inequality has gotten even worse as $1 million may not be able to bridge the lack of social and cultural capital in Singapore. Finally, there are too many forces conspiring to make our friend part with his money through commissions and sexual favours that will allow him to maintain his millionaire status for very long.

Maybe the singer can update the song into "Ngerng Pa Ban" or Two Million dollars. This should provide a higher quality of life for Cheekopek.

For me, I think a simple life of travel, funded by REIT dividend payouts is good enough.



  1. Even the so-called good advice of buying shop to rent out was already stale when the song was written. The heyday of this approach was in the 70s to early 90s.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Your last line of the post is the most appealing to me (minus the travel).
    This will mean lesser annual expense in which the dividends generated by the investment portfolio covers entirely and possibly with some excess. This excess can be channeled back to the investment portfolio which will be better equipped to provide more dividends. This will be a win-win circumstance.


    1. But we can't travel right now, so all into dividends portfolio which might be a good thing.

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