Sunday, December 31, 2006

awld lang zeyen

The title is the phonetic rendering of the traditional Scottish song, Auld Lang Syne, which means “Time Long Past”. Well, 2006 is not yet time long past - not until about 2 and a half hours later in Singapore, that is. Some parts of the world, though, have already crossed the midnight hour into 2007.

On the penultimate days of 2006, the news have been filled with the deaths of two former Presidents. The first is the of the 38th President of the US, Mr Gerald Ford, and the second, the death of Saddam Hussein, former President of Iraq. The first will be honoured with a state burial, the second has been convicted for crimes against humanity and has duly been executed by hanging.

If you asked everyone on earth, as CNN and the BBC did, what they felt about the execution of Saddam, you are bound to get many different and diverse views and emotions - from those who celebrate the event to those who condemn the execution.

For a Singaporean Chinese who has lived all his life in South-east Asia, Saddam's death does not, and cannot, evoke the strong feelings that was witnessed amongs the Iraqis. However, when I watched scenes of his hanging on TV, I cannot feel a bit sad that a life will soon end, as it surely did. Many question whether that occasion should be taped and televised at all. Unfortunate as it is, I can understand why it has to be. Iraq must demonstrate, without any shadow of a doubt, that Saddam was indeed executed. Leaving scenes of the execution to the imagination will, in time, just throw up conspiracy theories about how he is still alive and directing the struggle against the American invaders - just like in the case of Osama Bin Laden.

Osama Bin Laden's body has never been found. He has not appeared in person in public for 5 years now, so the world cannot but assume that he is still alive. There is just no conclusive proof that he is dead.

I personally think that he has met his maker and is keeping company with the devil in hell - for a very very very long time - like the words from Auld Lang Syne. I cannot imagine what his fellow terrorists who are sharing his hell hole are doing to him for misleading them. One thing is certain though. They are all burning in hell. Amen.

Goodbye 2006.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A dismal December

December is turning out to be a month of disasters in Southeast Asia. Two years ago today, the Asian Tsunami claimed the lives of 130,000 people across a huge swat of Asia, stretching from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka beside the Indian Continent right up to Penang Island on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula. The hardest hit was Aceh in Indonesia, which was nearest the epicentre of the undersea earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter Scale.

Two years hence, CNA reported on 24th December 2006 that at least 60 lives were lost due to the devastating floods caused by heavy rainfall in the Aceh Tamiyang district in Indonesia. Will there be no respite for this ravaged land?

On a smaller scale this December, Malaysia again suffered, though this time farther south of Penang. Flood waters caused by the heaviest rainfall in a century took the lives of at least 4 people in Peninsula Malaysia. Almost 90,000 people lost their homes mainly in the southern parts of the country.

Earlier in the month, Typhoon Durian wreaked havoc in the Philippines, killing at least 400 people with almost the same number reportedly missing. About 66,000 people became homeless due to the destruction caused by this typhoon.

Though no one lost their lives in Singapore, the flood waters caused by incessant rainfall over several days led to significant damage to property and businesses primarily located in the centre of the island. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was away from Singapore most of this time and never experienced any of the inconveniences that it reportedly caused had I been commuting to work. You see, one of the places I pass through to work is Lornie Road beside MacRitchie Reservoir. It seems that my holiday and travelling plans of the past week or more have unwittingly saved me all the inconvenience.

Nevertheless, at this moment, beside remembering those that lost their lives in the tsunami 2 years ago, it is also opportune to remember those who lost lives and homes in the Philippines, West Malaysia and again in Indonesia this December.

Somehow, remembering the loss that businesses sustained in Singapore seem not to be in the same 'league' as lost lives, but as someone has pointed out, this is Singapore's mini-tsunami of sorts.

While we hope that it never happens again, who can stop the forces of nature?

Monday, December 25, 2006

The true meaning of Christmas

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
the Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Isaiah Chapter 9 Verses 6 & 7

Thursday, December 21, 2006


It is here again. As I look out at the forested hills in front of my hotel room at 6 in the morning, a white cloud-like mist has descended and formed a thick blanket over the hills. It feels cold and yet when I open the balcony doors and step out, it is warm and humid. It feels strange. The floor is wet. It must have rained last night. But the sky has exhausted its vapours, at least for now.

Yesterday was bright and sunny. Today promises more of the gloom of the week past. It will be wet day again. Hopefully, it will not bring back the floods. Only mother nature decides.

Today, I sail. It has been a week since I’ve been home. Not a long time, but the heart grows fonder each passing day. Strange, the ordinariness of home can attract such yearning. But back at my desk I am less anxious.

There will be more gatherings before the year is out. The eves of a birth and another milestone. More holiday than work.

Yet ten days and everything begins anew.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Opened skies

I am blogging this as I sit in my Hotel in Batam Island, on a short vacation. I haven't been home for close to a week now though I have rejoined my family. I learnt over TV that it has been pouring non-stop in Singapore over the last few of days, resulting in floods.

TV showed Christmas trees being pulled out of the flood waters and a taxi had become partially submerged in the brown-coloured water.

This is unusual for Singapore and a grief for retailers as shoppers stay away from their favourite activity during this last week of the Christmas shopping week. It is no different in Batam. For the last two days, it has been pouring here in Batam and any outdoor activity has all been cancelled. The only thing we could do outside is to take the car to a nearby shopping mall to continue any indoor activity. I wonder if that is what Singaporeans are also doing in Singapore. If so, it shows the resilience of Singaporeans when it comes to spending and spending.

Today, the sky is clear in Batam. It looks good enough now for a dive in the pool. For once, I can see clearly the forested hills in the distance where once there was only mist, which I thought I had left behind in Shanghai when I was there last week. At last, the children will not feel cooped up all day with the ever wet and gloomy sky for company.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Have a jolly holly communist Christmas

After talking to some friends in Shanghai, I learnt that there is no Christmas holiday here. They'd still have to go to work come 25th December. This made sense, because China is by no means Christian at all. But as many people are pointing out, many people who are not Christians seem to celebrate the occasion with greater gusto than Christians themselves.

Witness the Christmas trees and buntings that deck the front of malls and inside the malls. Some are techno-trees decked with glass mirrors, others are flushed pink in colour and all of them are at least 3 metres tall. And I am not talking about Singapore's Orchard Road. It's all right here in (communist) Shanghai.

Yes, you don't have to celebrate Christmas to be Christmasy. Somehow, the end of a year demands some symbol of the culmination of one year's effort and Christmas seems to be the universal choice of many, whether you celebrate it or not, or whether you are communist or a democracy, or whether you live in the hot tropics or in temperate Shanghai.

Yes, I am still blogging this as I sit in my Hotel room in Shanghai. Pity that I didn't bring enough electronics to transfer some pictures that I took over here with my handphone and digital camera into this blog. I'll do that when I get home.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Bund

I am writing this as I sit in my Hotel room in Shanghai. I had to take an urgent company business trip up here and will only fly home to Singapore tomorrow afternoon. When I came, the temperature was 8 degrees celsius. I heard that it will drop to 0 degrees today.

This is my first trip to Shanghai. It is certainly a busy city with a very vibrant night life. A friend of mine who has been living here for 3 months told me that he hasn't gotten tired of the city, that there is something new to see and experience. As every visitor does, I went down to the Bund (Wai-tan) yesterday evening. The Bund was made famous by a Cantonese serial way back in the 1980s starring Chow Yun Fatt (the guy who played the King of Thailand with Jodie Foster as his home tutor). His alter ego, Ding Lek (a character in the movie), became such a favourite with a friend of mine back then that he would mention the name every time we talked. It was certainly a seminal movie that brought Shanghai back to life - at least in minds of many.

Youths are too young to remember that the Cantonese song "Shanghai-tan" was introduced through this serial. This just goes to show that audio still surpasses video in longevity in capturing and sustaining history - or is it because of the Speak Mandarin campaign in Singapore that killed this part of our youth's exposure and consciousness to history in the making?

Shanghai has since roared back life. It is a relatively safe place although one must get used to the Shanghainese's loud banter. I'll come back again, the next time for a vacation. I heard the shopping can rival Bangkok's. Well, I'll come more for the history, although, from I have have seen so far, a lot of it has been commercialised.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

mymall is no mall - blared Mediacorp over TV in the last week or so. It tells you to login (and shop?). Well, I logged in, and it asks me for a keyword as seen on TV.

Heck, I didn't see any keyword on the advertisements on TV, so I tried 'ipod'. No, says they that is not the right keyword. I tried other common words - the same problem. For the life of me I cannot remember that there was any keyword on those TV commercials. And there is simply nothing else you can do on, unless you know the keyword.

Give this 'mall' a miss. Your neighbourhood mamak stall will be more interesting.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What a genting bore

The most anticipated secret in the second half of 2006 is out - Genting International has won the race to build the Sentosa Integrated Resort (IR). There is no surprise in this for after all, it is a safe choice. In retrospect, the writing was already being sketched on the wall with the quick succession of pronoucements and announcements in the press regarding Singapore-Malaysia affairs. First, DPM Najib Tun Razak virtually laid out the red carpet for Singapore when it encouraged greater economic cooperation between the two countries. This after a lot of Singapore bashing all of this year. Then there was the 'inadvertent' announcement that Singapore's SMRT could be linking up with Johore to build a commuter rail system linking Woodlands to Johore. Phew! aren't we glad that the Causeway is still intact.

Coming back to the choice of Genting and its plans for the IR. In my opinion, it is more of the same thing actually. Which makes the pending development rather a bore.

Singapore has now chosen NOT to be different from others. It has thrown its hat into the mega amusement park model to attract tourists, with Universal Studios helming this part of the IR. It is boring because there is already a Universal Studio theme park in Australia (Queensland), besides those in the US, and Hong Kong has its Disneyland. Isn't this space getting a bit crowded? Travellers will be spoilt for choice and Singapore's Sentosa IR will, at the end of the day, just be another so-so destination. And to think that there was so much hype over the whole thing. This must be an anti-climax of sorts.

I would have been excited if the Kerzner bid won. It is so 'ugly' that it will become iconic, thereby injecting a lot more interest and excitement in the long run. But safe decisions are always, well, safer.

That's Singapore for you.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reconstructing the tower of Babel

Some people are now suggesting that Singapore should relax its rules on the use of Chinese dialects in the officially support and sanctioned broadcast media - specifically television programmes produced or carried by Mediacorp. There is a sense of loss of heritage and language when our children do not know how to speak Cantonese or Teochew or some other Chinese dialects. When our children's generation replaces us, dialects will all be forgotten as everyone will only know how to speak Mandarin only, the dialect of the nobility in the north of China.

I agree. My son cannot speak Cantonese although both my wife and I are Cantonese and we converse both in Cantonese and English (though strangely, never in Mandarin, although we are just as competent, if not more so, in this dialect). Whenever we converse in Cantonese within earshot of our son, he would insist that we NOT speak to each other except in either Mandarin or English - the only languages he knows. His concern is that he cannot follow what we were saying to each other. I always point out to him that he is born Cantonese and he should, at the very least, understand spoken Cantonese, if not speak it as well.

Therein lies the irony of a successful Speak Mandarin campaign, as some have pointed out. Our children will soon lose their dialectal heritage by their inability to converse in the language of their fathers - people who may have migrated to Singapore from all parts of China, but predominantly from the south of China. What's so important about China you ask? Well, many Singaporeans have moved there to take up jobs in recent years. I have a friend who now works in Shenzhen. He has a son who is schooling in Singapore, learning Mandarin. But of course, not everyone in Shenzhen, or even Hong Kong for that matter, speak Cantonese. In fact, I have noticed that many Hong Kongers are taking the effort to learn Mandarin. However, Cantonese still predominates.

The point is, it is easier to live and work in these places if one knows the local dialect. As China grows in importance as an economic force, it will only make sense that Singaporeans learn Cantonese as much as Hong Kongers are learning Mandarin. Who do you think will be in an advantageous position ultimately? The one who know a single dialect or the one who knows two?

So what we should do is a no brainer, actually. I have decided to speak more Cantonese when my son is around us because I really want him to acquire the language. I only wish that Mediacorp/MDA will stop wasting money dubbing those programmes from Cantonese into Mandarin for our consumption. They can export the dubbed version to China or other lands. As for reversing the policy on speaking Mandarin, well, we have already slain one sacred cow, slaying another wouldn't be that hard now, would it?

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sliding down or moving sideways

This entry is in response to a reader's thoughtful comment on my previous blog entry "Declining language".

I often wonder if the English language as used in Singapore is sliding down or merely moving sideways. For example, I was taught a long long time ago that one doesn't 'eat dinner' as much as one 'takes dinner'. This applies to breakfast and lunch as well. However, the usage today is to say one 'eats dinner'. I have noticed this both in speech and print. When you consider that one does 'drink tea' (or coffee as the case may be), you understand why the phrase became 'eat' rather than 'take'.

Take another example. People cannot distinguish (or don't do so anymore) the difference between countable and uncountable nouns. As a rule, we do not append an 's' at the end of an uncountable abstract noun (is there such as thing as countable abstract nouns?), such as experience(s), effort(s), etc. But you find that done quite often in writing today. I sometimes wonder if it is not better to simplify the language and accept that a rule which has stood for so long should take a rest in the name of consistency and, yes, less rules.

Is the language sliding? Taking the long term view, linguists would say it is evolving, or moving sideways. Teachers, who are tasked with preserving a standard, would view it as a decline of the language. Each is right, depending on how much and how long society can bear with it. This is the only politically right answer.

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