Monday, May 28, 2007

Education capitulation

How can a major University, and a prestigious one at that, close its campus only three months into its operations in Singapore? If this happened in a banana republic, we can understand it. But in Singapore, where anything and (almost) everything is done with due diligence and consideration, this is incomprehensible. Don't get me wrong. I am not implying that the powers that be, whether the EDB, MOE or any other government body involved in the setting up of the University of New South Wales in Singapore (UNSW-Asia), was negligent. But I did find Tharman Shanmugaratnam's, the Education Minister, comments a bit grating when he said that the problem was UNSW's - forgetting that Singapore actively courted the Institution to Singapore as early as 2004.

Yes, UNSW also didn't do its sums properly before recruiting faculty and students. It appears now that their plan B, just in case the numbers were not achieved, was to close the school. You wouldn't expect this from a prestigious University. First for getting their basic Math wrong, and second, for its ruthlessness. How else do you described their 'cut-and-run' approach? This is no different from what a 'fly-by-night' company usually does - run at the first sight of trouble! The most adversely affected must be the faculty, who may have resigned stable positions to take on their teaching/research positions at the University. Unlike the students, I am not aware that anything beyond a severance package (and that isn't assured) has been offered. This really calls for some mudslinging. But of course, academics will not stoop so low(?).

To be fair, students do have options, and the $10,000/$22,000 grant does help. But the damage is done. Who now will enrol into a foreign University on this island, even if it is set up with the EDB's blessings? While the reputation of UNSW has taken a bad knock, that of the EDB's mantra of authority and certainty in attracting local and foreign students to buy into any foreign educational institutions it helps to set up has suffered irreparable harm.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007


Recently, a blogger friend of mine got into trouble with his employers. On his blog, so I am told, he let fly on his unpleasant experiences with his colleagues. From what I read of his writings that were circulated to me, he certainly had very uncomplimentary things to say, and he said it in his blog. Unfortunately for everyone, his blog was opened to the public. So when those whom he directed his tirade at learnt about them, they were furious, to say the least. There was even the threat to sack him. I don't know how he behaved himself at work. I suspected that he wasn't all that vicious a person. The whole problem, as I see it, is that he was imprudent in leaving offensive comments in the open, not that he made them at all. Let's be brutally honest - everyone of us at some time or another, has something unpleasant to say or write about another. We either vent our frustration at a willing ear, out of earshot of the person we are venting about, or we do it in writing, behind a pseudonym. Doing otherwise will probably invite a defamation suite or something worst.

This is not the first time. A while ago, another friend of mine used his blog to vent his frustration at an elder, writing things that he would not normally say to the person's face. Yet what he wrote was publicly accessible. Again, his blog was read by the person to whom he directed his venom, and there was some rebuking of his action by people close to the person being maligned. Sometimes the hurt person may be too shocked to say anything.

Blogging can be such as poisonous activity. The blogosphere has become a favourite channel for character assassination. Yes, the commenting feature allows for those maligned to rebut, but sometimes, some people remain unaware that something 'bad' is being written about them. Take me as an example. Up till the day that I did a google search on my own name. I did not know that there were some people writing about me - some remarks of which were mildly offensive to me. Could I have rebutted? Certainly. Did I want to rebut? I am not certain. Sometimes I do not want to dignify such blogs by replying. I believe that trash will ultimately go the way of all trash - down the drain into the vast ocean where they are broken down forever.

So I thought the angst that was shown in the light of the nasty comments on the blogosphere by my first friend was totally out of proportion to the offence. Certainly, my friend did wrong - by not writing under a pseudonym - but the opinions and emotions he displayed were certainly not unique to mankind.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tour de Singapore

I love cycling, but I hate cyclists.

Heh? Let me explain. I grew up in the British Naval Base up in Sembawang. Then, there were sprawling grounds for one to cycle around and enjoy the neighbourhood. There were footpaths which I cycled along too, but there weren't too many pedestrians up and about at any one time, except in the early mornings and late afternoons when people left for or came home to/from work. So the footpaths were relatively empty. In fact, I often traveled further, riding from the worker quarters to the vicinity of the 'Ang Moh' houses that lined Ottawa Road, Canada Road, right up to King's and Queen's Avenue. That place was even more quiet. Often you can only hear the crickets.

When I eventually moved to Pasir Ris, I nudged my wife to cycle with me. She was great. Up till then, she hadn't cycled at all. For safety's sake, we cycled along the footpaths, not knowing then that it was illegal. But I always refrained from ringing my bell at pedestrians to move aside for me to pass. Either I went off the footpath onto the grass to overtake or I just waited patiently for the pedestrian to make way for me. My wife even used to say 'Thank you' when pedestrians were kind enough to stand aside. After all, we agreed that 'pedestrian footpaths' are called that for a reason.

When I stopped cycling (that's another story) and became a pedestrian myself, I was always irked that my pedestrian 'rights' weren't always respected. Cyclists rang their bells at me to give way, as if they have first rights to a footpath. Some even wiz pass dangerously, forcing me off the footpath. I could empathise with them when they didn't want to use the road, but I could not condone their attitude towards the use of the footpaths. From the way they behaved, you would have thought they owned the whole footpath.

Now, Singapore is considering making it legal for cyclists to use footpaths. With no recourse to complaint and the law, will cyclists now actually own the footpaths? I dread for the future of pedestrians in Singapore.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Give and ye shall regret

Well, well, well, some people have now been charged in court for illegally collecting money from the public in the name of charity. This is not surprising. I am sure many of us unsuspecting charitable folks have been conned before, either on TV or on the streets.

The authorities have 3 tips for us victims to avoid being tricked again in future, and I summaries:

1. Check the list of licensed fund-raising events on the NCSS and police websites.

2. Ask to see a copy of the Collector's Certificate of Authority...

3. Check the Charities Portal if the beneficiary is a charity.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I read these 3 rather useless tips. When you are out and about, you normally wouldn't have ready access to the internet, unless you carry a Notebook PC that has wireless and you are within range of an access point. While wireless@sg provides wider coverage than ever before, it is highly unlikely that even with a wireless device, you will bother checking the websites. Tell me, is it easier to say 'no' or spend the time checking those websites? No prizes for getting the common sense answer. So tips 1 and 3 are useless.

Collector's Certificate of Authority? Why bother? Either you give 10 cents or you walk. Anything can be forged nowadays, what with cheap yet high quality printers and software. Heck, someone even managed to pass off homemade $50 notes to taxi drivers not too long ago. Lets cross out Tip #2 also, which leaves us with nothing but our own judgement and generosity.

Doing good just got a lot more difficult.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Money corrupts

It is said that money corrupts, now it can be said that charity corrupts absolutely. Yes, sir, on this little 'ol island of ours, even people who at first had the best and most genuine intentions to do good to the community, when they see how easy money can be had through very generous people (or at least people who grudgingly ante up when faced with an innocent student with a donation tin in hand on a Saturday), they see the money only from then onwards.

Yes, the love of money corrupts, and it corrupts absolutely. This explains how a young man who started out doing good ended up with a whole pot of money that he couldn't decide how to give away. Money from donations not given away, by definition, is stolen. There's just no excuse for not using the money to which donors intended it. If you don't know how to use it in the first place, don't collect it.

The problem is that Singaporeans are a gullible and lazy lot of people. They would just not refuse to give away a few cents here and there because for most, its spare change. If it can assuage the soul and make them feel better, all the reason to plonk down those coins, if not those notes. If it can get rid of those pesky students with their tins or bags, sometimes chasing after you (mind you, some of these students probably have a quota to fulfill), all the better. The concern now is that Singaporeans will go to the other extreme of not giving because, as the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy.

And so who can we blame for this state of affairs? It would be unfair to blame the contributors, for after all, they are out of pocket by a couple of dollars, at least. It will be politically incorrect to blame the regulators. We see that they are doing something serious now. On the other hand, it feels good to blame the ringleaders, but in retrospect, they started out with the best of intentions, I believe. In the final analysis, they were led astray by the glitter of gold. As the good books says, this love of money will

pierce (themselves) through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Fastest Feet First

Wow, I didn't know that Singaporeans ranked first in the world for speed of walking. At 10.55 seconds per 18 metres, we outrank the second fastest walkers, the Copenhagens, by 0.27 seconds. Seriously, what's the hurry?

Every time I take the train to work in the morning, I could here the click-clack-clonk of women's shoes hitting the escalator stairs in double-quick time. This sound itself would make one walk a little faster, or at least raise the heartbeat a little (and that's not because of the sexy attire of some of these women, who are likely heading to the office). I suppose we are all trying not to miss the train. Also we want to get in front of the queue so that we get the greatest chance of securing a seat. In Singapore, nobody believes in 'ladies first'. Its everyone for himself/herself.

The same psyche must also take hold when Singaporeans walk to the food court during breakfast, lunch and dinner - particularly lunch. We need to secure a seat as we only have a hour or less, and to do so, we need to get there ahead of others and place our bags of tissue paper on the seats as a sign of conquest. Taking the lift is very common as we head to our offices, and of course, we need to catch that lift...And oh, did I mention the need to get to the shopping centre first, ahead of the queue, to get the best bargain or else end up a loser? And yes, there is the taxi queue, the bus queue, the ATM queue, the 4-D queue, and ad naseum.
So is it any wonder that Singaporeans are the world champion walkers? We do so out of competitive necessity. The local lingua for that is 'kiasu', which when translated, means 'afraid to lose (out)' (to the guy next to you). That's the hectic life in Singapore for you. Not very healthy, socially, but a heck of an efficient way of squeezing more time out of life. I just hope that we don't get felled by a stress-related disease sometime down life's path.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

BYOBD Reloaded

Yes, people, we have another acronym on this island state of ours. BYOBD (pronounced 'bee-ob') - Bring Your Own Bag Day - is here again on the first Wednesday of every month. Started by the NEA (Nat'l Environment Agency) and SEC (Singapore Environment Council) with the cooperation of the major supermarkets on the island, shoppers can either pay 10 cents for a bag, or better, bring their own bags to shop.

Which reminds me that many years ago, my mother used to go the market (none were considered 'super' then) with her own shopping basket. It was a wonder that that basket could contain so many things. What's more, she hauled the basket full of her shopping back home on foot - no taxis, no buses, just those two legs of hers and a strong arm.

So actually, it was the supermarkets which eventually 'phased out' her shopping basket because they gave out plastic bags free of charge. I remember vividly those plastic bags because they made so much noise whenever handled. I didn't like them at first, but they persisted and became a way of life. Now, today, we are trying to get rid of them, not because they are noisy, which they still are, but because they are very difficult to get rid of - literally. It is now recognised that the plastic that these bags are made of will take a couple of hundred years to break down and return to dust.

Nowadays, whenever my mother goes to the supermarkets on the first Wednesday of the month, she must have a deja vu feeling. Why is it that some things we do many years ago are wiser in retrospect?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Das Kapitalism

Capitalism, that system of free market, free-wheeling practices, contains the seeds of its own destruction. Some would say that is God's truth, others would insist that nothing is further from the truth. The last economic recession in Singapore in 2003/04 is still fresh in people's memories. But the capitalist monster cannot be bothered as it reared a darker side of its head.

You see, capitalism's mantra is to maximise profit from one's investments - always. So when rental rates in Singapore, both in the commercial and residential markets sky-rocketed in recent months, it is capitalism through and through at work here. In fact, the current scramble for some people to offload their houses without regard to anything else except $$$ is a perfect example of the outworking of the capitalist mantra. Capitalism has a very short memory. It lives for the moment and has little sense and respect for history, or for that matter, fellow human beings and the community. That is why capitalism is doomed to a series of booms and busts. It is in its nature.

Yes, costs in Singapore are creeping up again. Capitalists, the people who own the factors of production - the buildings and houses - are laughing all the way to the bank now. But this windfall will ultimately lead to a desertion of patronage and business, whence the busts will come around again. Capitalism will then starve, until the next upswing comes. But who cares? As a wise capitalist bum once said, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die".

Happy May Day!

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