Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Farewell comrades

J.B. Jeyeratnam, veteran Singapore opposition politician, aged 82, died this morning. By all accounts, JBJ, as he is often referred to, was a brave and courageous man. Whether out of stubbornness born of a deep conviction and/or a dogged in his beliefs, he remained, unfortunately, an outsider in mainstream Singapore politics for much of the last 20 years.

When he first entered Parliament through the Anson by-election, there was much promise for people hankering for an alternative voice. He was the first one in many years to break the PAP monopoly in Parliament and ultimately forced a rethink of electoral politics within the ruling party. The now entrenched Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system, the reluctance to hold by-elections, and the Non-elected Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme probably dates from the PAP's debacle in Anson '81.

His win was quickly followed by another opposition politician's, Mr Chiam See Tong, in 1984, where the PAP, represented by Mr Mah Bow Tan (currently the National Development Minister), was beaten soundly by Mr Chiam's 60% majority vote.

Sadly, JBJ never could hold his tongue. He was sued multiple times in Court for defamation, which resulted in him losing his Parliamentary seat, his money and his influence in Singapore politics over the last 10 to 15 years. Just when he had formed another opposition political party - the Reform Party - to wrest back his opposition mantel, death would deny him for the last time.

I met him once, in Raffles Place many years back, when he was selling his party's newspaper, The Hammer, to raise money for one reason for another. I never talked to him, nor bought his paper. I thought he cut a forlorn figure, and thought of how much he had 'fallen' - a former MP and District Judge reduced to selling newspapers on the streets for a $1. Truly, what a waste of talent. If he had been more circumspect and careful about avoiding the pitfalls which his political foes would certainly set for him, he could have done so much more.

Yet in spite of all his failures, history will show that he did stir the giant that is the PAP from its inertia to forward the cause of all opposition politicians that will follow.

JBJ - Rest in Peace.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Start your engines

I am no car racing fan, yet yesterday evening's inaugural Formula 1 race was something not to be passed up - on TV at least. I couldn't afford the thousand(s) dollar tickets. I have stopped working around the Raffles Place area since 6 eyars ago and thus couldn't get anywhere near the tracks to have a freebie off the office's aerial view of the race. Many offices which had good views of the tracks had a party last night - in the office premises while watching the race for free. Lucky blokes.

I am sure those at track-side got their tickets' worth, what with the atmosphere and roar of the F1 car engines and all. But watching on Telly has its advantages too. The room is air-conned (at least mine was), I can snack on anything and everything that I fancied, the toilet is just next door and you get aerial views of the cars and tracks. There was the magnificant skylight too, courtesy of the cameraman from Mediacorp's free-to-air channel, or any of the pay TV channels that was broadcasting the race. And I can follow the race at every turn and corner, including a view of the paddock when Felipe Massa raced off with the refueling tube in his car. The instant replays are one of the features watching on site could never match. With informative commentary thrown in, it is no wonder that F1 sells.

Some had earlier derided the whole event as nothing more than 20 cars circling a track 61 times. They really missed a good race, which was full of drama and action. I didn't know that circling a track that many time was so engrossing to watch. At the end, only 16 cars (I remember) completed the circuit. I would have wanted to be on site so that I could also have taken away videos and photos that I can share with my children in the years to come. Oh well, there is next year.

Though not the first F1 event on this island, it was the first F1 race staged at night. I remember people TALKING about the F1 races in the Old Thomson Road tracks when I was about 8 years old. Then there wasn't any broadcast of the event on TV. The best you got was either be on site or near a radio. (Was there a radio broadcast of the event then? I don't remember).

What a fantastic night and an exciting race it was. I am looking forward to next year's race, which reminds me - I need to put that on my spending budget for the next year to be on track side, or find a job that has an office with a view or get a 52 inch High Definition TV so that I can catch it on Mediacorp TV HD5.

And congratulations to the eventual race champion, Fernando Alonso (in a Renault), whose name will now be associated forever with this small little island.

Image source: morgueFile.com Author: Rogan Josh

Friday, September 26, 2008

Luckless Bliss

I rarely comment on a particular person, much less a beauty queen as Ms Teo Ser Lee. It is not about her actually, but a person who wrote in to Today (24 September 2008, Voices, page 29) to state that "meeting the right person for marriage requires a lot of luck to start with". She was commenting on the fact that Ms Teo, despite her undoubted beauty, remains unmarried at 43.

I don't know if the letter writer had in mind the play on the word 'luck' which Ms Teo's brother, the Honourable MP, Mr Teo Ser Luck, holds, that inspired her to spout this line of inexplicable err... nonsense. In my experience, and I believe in thousands of others, meeting the right person for marriage really has nothing to do with luck at all, good or bad.

In the first place, luck is usually used as a catchall to attribute causes that cannot be explained or, more likely, something that one is too lazy to explain. To me, that is as good as not saying anything. No, luck (whatever it is), has nothing to do with marrying the right person. When is a person the 'right' one, anyway? When the 2 decide that they should get hitched? On the day of solemnisation of marriage before God? In the first 7 years, until the 7-year itch kicks in (not that I believe in the 7-year itch)? After 15 years of marriage? Until the marriage survives till the golden jubilee? People have been known to divorce after being married for 20 years! Did the couple become 'unright' for each other only after 20 years? Clearly, the 'right' person is an elusive entity.

Rather, what I think is important in making a marriage last is not the first flush of love or infatuation, the good vibes (whatever that means again), or as many TV and movies suggests - a mutual 'click' and romantic fit. I have been married 15 years - not so long that I have become an authority on it, but not that short not to have understood something of the process of keeping married. Many years ago, after I was already married, someone taught me that a couple must have a certain fondness for each other. It didn't matter if they were otherwise incompatible in many ways. For example, I am an 'early to bed early to rise' type of person whereas my wife is a night owl. I love reading and writing, but my wife would rather spend her time talking to people (she is a people person) - mind you that is altogether different from gossiping, which she detests. My wife cannot keep money from flowing out of her bank account. I would rather take a bus than a taxi.

Really, if you look at the two of us, we couldn't be more different than night is from day. Yet I have grown very fond of her over the years. Towards the end of the work day, I would think of the dinner she would have whipped up that I will be going home to. Sometimes, she buys in, but I am no less appreciative of her effort. We talk about things, our day at the office, at home, about our friends and relatives, really nothing substantive along the lines of the important politics of the day or dwell deep into the philosophy of life. Yet I enjoy our conversation because it is laced with complaints, humour, care and concern, rage and irony. Sometimes I think she is a bit shallow in her thinking, but I always let it pass, remembering that I am not in a University lecture hall debating something critical to life and thought. Instead, I try to appreciate where she is coming from and often, underneath the apparent shallowness, she has a point. I look forward to days when I am on leave so that I can have a slow breakfast with her at the local coffeeshop.

But at other times, she gets under my skin and I'd complain about her in front of our son even - in her absence of course! We'd end up in a cold war - until someone gives in. We take turns doing that - giving in - though I tend to do so more often. Leave pride and ego outside the door, I always remind myself. This is not about me, its about us, about the family, and whatever differences we had, it wasn't that serious to warrant a permanent stand-off. We appreciate each other for giving in - not because anyone 'has won', but because it just isn't fun while it lasted.

I can go on, but suffice to say, marriage needs working on and done properly, fondness for each other will grow over time. So I regret that some people are still looking for love or that 'right' person. You will probably not find him/her if we must size up that person first with a whole kitchen list of must-haves. By the time this person appears, you'd only have a third of your life left to give to each other. The biological factory would have shut down, depriving both the joy of having children.

Don't be reckless when it comes to marriage, but then, choosing a life partner is not about finding that perfect person either. Non exists. It is what the two of you want for each other that is important, not what I want from the marriage that the other must fulfill.

Image Source: morgueFile.com. Author: Stijn Swinnen

Monday, September 22, 2008


I find it rather ludicrous that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) needs to give warranties on the public apartments it builds. In this case, they are giving warranties on apartments (flats) built not too long ago. Most Singaporeans know that the HDB has been in this building public housing business for more than 30 years - and are proud of this fact. It has, over the years housed a great many Singaporean families, upward of 80% if I am not wrong.

Yet in all these 30 years, it has not learned to build apartments where the walls and ceilings do not leak water. I remember the first apartment that my parents moved into in the late 1970s. There was spalling concrete at the toilet ceiling. We wondered if we would not be dumped with various types of 'soil' as we squated while doing our business. Those whose apartment were located at the end of a block also suffered from leaking walls, when it rained, ruining the paintwork and raising worries about how secure their homes were. I remember the senior engineer trooping into our apartment with a bunch of trainees in tow, pointing out the spalling concrete problem. I assume the purpose of that was to train them not to do build houses with this problem in future.

That was more than 30 years ago. Yet many public apartments still report spalling concrete problems as late as a few years ago. And my private apartment wall was leaking water during a heavy downpour earlier this year. Was nothing learnt by civil engineers all these many years?

Incredibly, in today's ultra-modern HDB apartments in Punggol, the HDB found it fit to issue warranties against spalling concrete and leaking walls - but only for 5 years for external wall leakages and ceiling leakages in the toilets and kitchen. It would appear that they are not all that confident to extend that warranty period to 10 years, which, admittedly, they have done for spalling concrete. My point is, when you build a house that costs upward of $200,000 (which is heavily subsidised, we are told), a 5 or even 10-year warranty seem to say very little about the confidence that they have in what they have built. Though they lease the entire apartment to its customers for 99 years, the longest warranties they are confident in extending is only a tenth of the lease period. That's really incredibly uninspiring show of confidence. I can understand if a TV set breaks down, or a washing mahine in 5 years, but have you heard of a house falling apart except in a category 3 - 5 storm or earthquake - the former of which is unheard of in Singapore?

Frankly, I would hesitate to hang up such warranties (which were given to the house owner all framed up) for fear that visitors to the house might take their leave earlier than expected after they learn that it has been occupied for ten years. Well, ok, its just the ceiling in the kitchen and toilet and the external walls. Nobody said that the whole apartment would collapse. But in kiasu Singapore, it wouldn't be surprising that people would behave that way.

What is the lesson in all this? When you own a house in Singapore, you need to buy insurance for it. But then nowdays insurance companies themselves are known to collapse too....sigh. Are there no certainties in this world anymore, except death and taxes?

Image source: morgueFile.com. Author: Kenn W. Kiser

Friday, September 12, 2008

Para Vic

I am ambivalent about the achievements of Laurentia Tan at the Paralympics - the Olympics for the disabled, which is currently being held in Beijing, at the very same site that the 29th Olympics was held less than a month ago.

Yes, she was wearing the Singapore flag when she took not one, but two bronzes in her equestrian event. Being individual events, it can be argued that her achievements exceeded that of our table-tennis team's silver medal at the Olympics, it being a team effort. A letter writter has event pointed out the the monetary reward of $25,000 is far too small a sum compared to her Olympic counterparts' $250,000.

Yet, that ambivalence lingers, not only in me, but obviously in the rest of Singapore. No campaign bottle was uncocked, there were no victory parties nor parades and the press was subdued in its reporting about this achievement compared to how it reported the victory of our table-tennis team. The reason, perhaps, is that until she won those paralympic bronzes, she was a nobody in Singapore. From what little I gathered from the press, her parents brought her over to Britain when she was just 4 years old, and she has been there ever since. Her father probably did the right thing. It has given her daughter the chance to develop into a confident young women who is contributing productively to society. She is today employed as a Mental Health Worker in Britain, caring for those perhaps more fortunate than her. There must be an inspirational 'Chicken Soup' story here to be told and I am sure it will be told eventually.

For all the help that British society and medicine gave her over the course of her living with her disabilities and overcoming them, I thought that she should have put on the British flag in the Paralympics. For her achievements is a compliment and testimony to the British, more than to anyone on one of its former dominions. And this dominion, Singapore, should be honest and graceful to accept that it played very little part in her rehabilitation and conquest at these Paralympic games.

We would like to toast her victory with 'Majulah Singapore', but in this case, it perhaps should be more like 'God save the Queen!'

. Author: Nicolas Raymond

TOC at Speakers' Corner

Be a part of history in the making. Come down with your family and friends tomorrow. No entrance fees, free seating, free speech, free performance. What are you waiting for, Singapore?

A programme organised by The Online Citizen.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I find the idea of a township for blue-collared foreign workers odd. Minister George Yeo made the announcement on Sunday that the Ministry of National Development is looking into establishing 'self-contained' living spaces for our swelling numbers of foreign workers apparently so that they do not encroach on the living comforts of the rest of Singapore, as starkly highlighted in the recent (and ongoing) incident of Serangoon Gardens residents signing a petition to the government to shelf its plans to make use of the dis-used Serangoon Gardens Technical School to house up to 1000 workers. See also Today Online.

Why do I find it odd? Well, I know that the Ministry of Education has been pushing schools to mount overseas trips so that our students can learn about the social, cultural and historical characteristics of our neighbours, in order to appreciate their people and their way of life better. Our schools have already begun to do this in droves, so I heard, including those in the tertiary institutions such as the Polytechnics. I also heard that the cost of these trips is not trivial. A trip to India, for example, will set you back by S$1,800 for a 5 day / 4 night jaunt. Quite a lot of money goes towards subsidizing these programmes. As I understand it, one of the objectives of these trips is to help our students appreciate our foreign neighbours better in terms of their economy, their businesses and their socio-cultural settings. But more importantly, these trips hope to give them the initial impetus to uproot themselves in years to come to work in foreign lands, as and when the opportunity, or necessity, presents itself.

Ironically, when these foreigners come to our land to live and work, at no initial expense to us but great expense to them, we try our level best to keep them away from our children and ourselves, fearing (with little basis) the harm these people will bring to us. We make a big deal out of these expensive overseas study visits just so that we can look at foreigners through a glass tank but are unwilling to swim with them when they present themselves in our own soil. Now, we are suggesting to confine these same people in a fish-tank of a township, thereby perpetuating the perception that they are to be seen and not heard, that they should go about doing what they are paid to do and nothing more. I would have thought that interacting with these people on a daily basis on our own soil will show that we are indeed sincere in knowing and appreciating our neighbours, that it will enrich our lives (not threaten it) and that we would, as a result, not feel any inhibition in going to their lands one day to work. Instead, we would rather they not trample on our tranquility, and our way of life. We leave behind a legacy of insularity, which in this globalised world, our children can hardly afford to follow.

As it stands, if we treat foreigners in this way, I wonder if they would not have the right to 'return the favour' when our roles are reversed? Given our parochial outlook and attitudes, we still have a long way to go towards becoming global citizens. It would appear that our government ministries, politicians and people are all working at cross-purposes. I therefore do not envy Minister Yeo's job at this moment. Hopefully, good sense and good neighbourliness will prevail, or are we doomed perpetually to our kampong mentality?


Image source: morgueFile.com. Author: Kevin Connors

Thursday, September 04, 2008


I wrote about foreigners in our midst some time ago. It appears to be haunting residents in Serangoon Gardens, especially those that are living in the semi-detached private houses. A petition has even been started to stop the government's plans to relocate some 1000 foreign workers to a dis-used school compound nearby. The stated concern is that these people will probably clog up their roads. Some even view it as a security concern, as if the government is moving a bunch of misfits and shady characters into their neighbourhood. I think these people have lost sense of reality and are showing their prejudicial and snobbish side all too obviously.

If these foreigners are not welcomed in their midst, do they then think that somebody else's neighbourhood is more suitable? Who do they think they are? The heavenly host up there whose peace cannot be disturbed no matter what? That the rest of Singapore, where the minions live, are more suitable for such (dare I say), 'low life'? Well, ok, many of these people do have million dollar properties they are sitting on. Are they worried that the value of their properties will drop a notch if 'low life foreign workers' move into their neighbourhood? Are they worried that these 'low life' will roam their neighbourhood to steal, rob and rape, or at least swagger around drunk and noisy in their neighbourhood? 

Well, yes, they are foreigners and may have habits that we are not used to. They may congregate more and speak a decibel louder than us. But these do not make them criminal. Our fathers were once foreigners in this land, and they managed to rise up to own property and land, which they have passed down to us, their children. Truly we have forgotten our roots. So instead of petitioning against these people, they should try to make these people feel at home, or at least not treat them as 'low lives' and suspects. Many of them probably have families in faraway lands, families they are supporting and feeding by coming to this place to toil and sweat. If we treat others shabbily, they will always be shabby as far as we are concerned. If we treat them well, we may get rewarded. How do we know that amidst all the sea of brown, black and yellow, there is not an angel amongst them who might save and protect us someday? 

We are talking of a gracious society. There is an opportunity to show our graces. We should practice charity, for surely it must begin at home. Otherwise, whatever civility we may have cultivated among ourselves is only skin deep, and that skin is particularly thin for people living in the private houses in Serangoon Gardens.


Image source: www.morgueFile.com. Author: LaRae