Friday, February 29, 2008

The Great Toilet Escape

People like Mas Selamat Kastari shows the pain and cost that needs to be put in to keep the peace. People like him never seem to see the error of their ways. Although he has been incarcerated in Singapore for the last two years, and has had a lot of time to reflect on what he has done and perhaps turn back from the error of his ways. I am sure Muslim religious leaders must have been counseling him all this while, but apparently to no effect. Now, he has chosen to run away and likely back to his terrorist lifestyle. That's why people are wary of him, even afraid that he will set off a terrorist attack as revenge, which will surely take innocent lives.

Inexplicably, he managed to escape from his Whitely Road detention centre. That was when his relatives came a calling. Clearly, freedom is more important than his relatives. He knows he cannot run to them once he is free because he would like be recaptured. Singapore is a small island, smaller than even Bintan, where he was last apprehended by the Indonesian Authorities. And there aren't many forests or wide rural spaces for one to hide on the island. Wild fruits or food is not exactly in great abundance for a person to survive on for long, but then he may be a seasoned terrorist who has learnt to survive on less. Unfortunately, or fortunately for Mas, there are some secondary forested areas near Whitely for him to hide in.

The issues that vexes the authorities and many residents on the island is how he could have escaped in the first place. Granted, it may not be a maximum security detention centre, but given his record as the most wanted person, one would have expected stringent procedures to be in place or if in place, to be followed closely. Yet he gave these pros the slip. Heads may roll, but it wouldn't be Mas', at least, not yet.

Now is the time for all kay-poh Singaporeans and others on the island to be extra kay-poh. Report to the authorities if you spot anybody resembling him. And do it quick for obviously, if Mas is quick out of the toilet, he will be quick out of anywhere.

Look out for the man in these photos!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tremor Blase

Earth rumblings have happened so frequently in the last few years that Singaporeans are getting very used to it. Ever since the Indonesia Tsunami that originated in Aceh, Indonesia, Singapore has been experiencing tremors on a more or less regular basis and more often compared to 10, 20 years ago, ever since. This has a lot of do with continued tectonic activity taking place underneath the Indonesia archipelago, as experts had predicted in the aftermath of the tsunami

Yesterday, there was another tremor felt in the southern and central parts of Singapore though there were reports of it in Woodlands in the northern-west corner of the island. I was in a meeting on the highest floor - the 9th floor - of my office building, the tallest building in the vicinity because it stands on a hill, when I felt the tremor. The whole office was shaking and lasted for about 3 minutes or so. Well, one can have giddy spells and imagine the shaking going on in the head, whether it is real of imagined, but there was a water dispenser in the same room. When the water level moves in a pronounced fashion, oscillating from one end to the other and no one is touching nor dispensing water nor moving it in any way, you know that the tremor is not imaginary.

Well, this wasn't the first time tremors were felt in this building. There have a number in the past. Once, I was returning to this building and saw many office staff milling around the ground floor. I had been at another part of the company's grounds. I was told that they had evacuated due to tremors. On another occasion, I was in that same building and felt the tremors. I evacuated.

This time around, my colleagues and I just sat in the room to wait out the tremors. We weren't rushing for the staircases (taking the lift is a no-no). We had gotten used to these tremors. While we sympathise with the people in Indonesia who have been affected seriously by these latest tremors, we are pretty blase over it in Singapore. Sure, people continue to inundate the Straits Times with their shaking experience, but it isn't something noteworthy anymore, until something gives or lives are taken.

Image source: Author: Kevin Connors

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Your house my home

Singapore winning the rights to host the inaugural Youth Olympics is not necessarily good news for everyone on this island. Its good news for all sports professionals and aspiring professionals as well as sports fans. Its good news for the construction people because new structures such as the stadiums and sports village needs to be built. Its good news for the economy and the government because they can further generate more jobs and cash for the country. Its good news for the tourism sector because more people will be coming to Singapore pre-Olympics, Olympics, and hopefully, post-Olympics, etc etc.

So it seems good news all around. But no, something has to give. Mr Mah Bow Tan alluded to the S$3billion worth of public construction projects that will have to be delayed though public housing upgrading projects will not be affected. That's a wise thing because, the prestige of the YOG notwithstanding, building and improving our own people's homes cannot be any less important just because we now need to build the Olympic village, the stadium, etc. for a one-off event. Yes, the tourist dollar is important, MICE is a key strategy in the service-based economy now and in the future, but we cannot neglect our own people.

I now wonder if the timetable for building the new subways is not one of those public construction projects that has been pushed back. If that happens, then our transport woes will continue for longer with motorists bearing the brunt of it. They cannot give up their cars, they say, because the transport network is not going to improve soon enough, even though costs continue to rise - ERP, petrol, etc. If this revamp of the transport infrastructure and services is delayed, I think people, especially motorists, will get used to these prices increases and continue to drive while government coffers will swell from the just introduce raft of transport related costs increases. I suppose motorists will just have to rationalise that working longer hours, spending less time with the family and taking more risks on investments should lick the problem, which will throw work-life balance out the window and defeat any effort to solve a critical social issue - the falling, or at least stagnating birth rate.

But what about the long-suffering public transport commuters? They will continue to suffer. Long wait times for buses will continue. After some time, people will get used to the new taxi fares and begin to take to them again. That will set off another round of more of the same transport issues that have been bugging us for ages.

Ultimately, whatever grand plans that were laid out by Minister Raymond Lim will become a White Elephant Paper - a model of transport policy and planning, but nothing more. If so, it would have been a waste of everybody's time and taxpayers' money.

We are basically back at Square One. Only Square One now costs more for the traveling public....

Image source: Author: somadjinn

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Need you need me

There has been a rash of complaints recently that young, able-bodied commuters on buses and trains are not voluntarily giving up their seats to the very young, the very old and the very pregnant commuters among us. Commuters are routinely berated for pretending not to see so that they do not feel obliged to do the necessary. While I admit that this is a real problem and more able-bodied commuters should give up their seats to others who are more in need of one, there is always another side to the story.

Some may be genuinely asleep. Many years ago, I was sitting on one end of the subway train bench and had fallen asleep. When I woke up, I was embarrassed to see a very pregnant woman standing right in front of me, holding onto the handbar next to where I was seated for support. I immediately shot up to offer my seat, not stopping to think why somebody else had not offered his/her seat to her. She smiled at me in appreciation of my gesture, but refused the seat because she was getting off at the next stop.

Nowadays, many 'needy' people think they have a right to the seats, and in some cases, refuse the offered seat with nary a smile or show of appreciation. Yesterday, I was riding in a subway train headed northeast towards Sengkang. I was seated with my very heavy PC Notebook. From across where I sat was a seated middle-aged man who had a big bag on his lap. That bag looked heavy. In came a women at a stop and stood in front of him. The train was standing room only then. I noticed the man begin to rise to offer the woman his seat. The woman did look pregnant. But the woman declined the gesture. I don't know if she had shown any appreciation for the gesture. I don't know why she refused. I thought, maybe she would be getting off the train soon, so, like in my case many years ago, there wasn't a need to take a seat.

I was wrong. When the seat next to the man became available just a stop later, she took that seat! (See picture. The kind man with his considerable bag is in a blue shirt next to her) When I disembarked from the train at Sengkang, she was still seated. She was obviously bound for Punggol. I felt disturbed over the whole incident. Here is a man ready and willing to offer his seat in spite of his huge and probably heavy bag. I would have thought the woman should have gracefully and gratefully accepted since she seemed to be really in need of a seat. If I were that man, I would not be so ready to offer my seat to another who has 'greater need of a seat' the next time. I'd probably want to pretend I didn't see anything to save myself the embarrassment of doing the unappreciated.

Blame me if you want, but often, we do need the seats ourselves.

p.s. Sometimes its quite difficult to make out if a women is pregnant or just, ermm, fat. If you offered a fat woman a seat, if might be seen as an insult and will be met with a swift rejection of the kind jesture. Sometimes, these fat women just accept the seat pronto and you then discover that they are not really pregnant. You look like a dumb fool who cannot tell the difference between a pregnant woman and one who is just 'bulky'. Sigh...being an able-bodied train or bus commuter has its psychological stresses and strains.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Gag Order

What is my letter writer, Mr Nelson Quah, insinuating when he insists that all teachers who blog must first be registered with the Ministry of Education (MOE)? (See page A20 of 21 Feb 08 issue). Besides asking the customary 'What is the policy of so-and-so on blogging?", he goes on to dictate that policy - which is that "Teachers with blogs should register them with the Ministry as well as inform their schools about them." He suggests further that "...schools can then periodically check the blogs to make sure that they are within MOE’s regulations."

Hey, teachers are not stray dogs who need to be tagged and leashed. Mr Quah wants teachers to be policed. If Mr Quah does not trust teachers in Singapore to do the right thing, then he should pack up and go somewhere else because there is a law in Singapore that says that all children must go to school, Madrasahs not included. And if he cannot trust teachers who will tutor his children (assuming he has them), and he doesn't want to migrate, then he'd better give respect where it is due.

If teachers who blog must register with the MOE, I suppose he would also insist that George Yeo register himself with the PMO and PM will also need to periodically check it? Or for that matter, anybody who works for the government and who writes anything on the internet should register with some government Authority so that they can be monitored periodically? Hey Mr Quah, you seem to like the idea of a State Command and Control regime. Are you a fan of George Orwell's Big Brother regime or what? Well, I hate to disappoint you, but that's not what the internet is about and certainly blogging is the last activity anybody wants to or hopes to control. You must be living in yesterday's world.

Mr Quah's suggestion comes on the heels of a Relief Teacher (RT) who very unwisely criticized, no, ridiculed his students' English language compositions in his blog. That very act showed how immature the RT is and what a danger he is to any organisation. It is not just about correcting someone else's English to improve on anything. That's really an albatross. The issue is the breach of confidentiality between teacher and student. If this same teacher came to my organisation seeking a job, I will have grave reservations about employing him. What if he starts blogging about the organisation's confidential matters the way he broke the confidence of his students - on the open internet? Then not only will he be fired but the person who hired him will probably have to go too - for lacking the good judgment to employ him in the first place, given his propensity to ride roughshod over other people's personal matters.

Let me assure Mr Quah that the Civil Service already has in place a set of guidelines on the dos and don'ts of blogging by its officers. The CS has very wisely left it at that. If anyone wants to go beyond those guidelines, we have laws, enforcers and whistle-blowers in place who are only too willing to oblige to put the matter right. That's why I pay taxes. So far, we see that being done already. So pleeeze, we don't need any more gagging orders.

Image source: Author: Kevin Connors

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Black not White

I cannot for the life of me understand why the Singapore Air Force's Aerobatics Team is called the Black Knights. None of its jet planes, from the days of the A4 Skykawks to the F5 Tiger and today's F16 Eagles, have been painted in Black. The A4 Skyhawks probably had the darkest colours - dirty (combat) green. Given the colour of the current F16's, the Black Knights should have called themselves the White Knights, which has a more positive connotation, don't you think?

But maybe its a macho thing to label yourself black than white. I can understand that white is associated with purity and therefore has an effeminate ring around it. Imagine super hot rods of the skies appearing like puffy angels - no, that won't scare the enemies away. So black is the preferred colour, I suppose.

But again Black is associated with evil, so I wonder why the fixation with Black. If it really really likes the Black word, then at least it should paint a substantial portion of its F16 black, right? Like the US Navy's Blue Angels - their F18 Hornets are an unambiguous Blue. The Royal Navy's Red Arrow's planes are red in colour. Japan Air Self-Defense Force's Blue Impulse' planes are partly blue, the Irish Air Corp's Silver Arrows...need I list more?

We still have the red colour to 'play' with. The Red Baron, the Red Hawks, the Red Knights, the Scarlett Knights...hmmm its beginning to sound effeminate again, like Red Rose, though not the Red Arrows, but that name is already taken. I can see the difficulty with the colours, but instead of the boring name, the Black Knights, they should give themselves a name which has a more intuitive ring to it and which goes with the colour motif of their planes. Painting those planes any colour other than red and white will be unpatriotic too, I suppose.

Well, the Knights have proven to be rather good in the skies. Its just that questions keep popping in my mind as to why they have to call themselves Black. I just hope they never call themselves the Black Cats or more explicitly, the Black Lions (Lion City, get it?). Or what about Red Lions, or White Lions, but then lions are not exactly very agile animals, at least not as agile as their cousins, the Cheetahs. Black Cheetahs? Hold on, hold on, we are getting beyond ourselves.

p.s. A Google search for the "Black Knights" lead to the Republic of Singapore Air Force page which redirects to the Air Force's site's Museum pages. That does not inspire confidence in the longevity of the Black Knights. Maybe there is a deliberate message here - can the Black Knights until they come up with a better name. But of course, they do have a rather respectable website of their own.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Fat Lady Sings no more

The Lunar New Year is hardly over when we hear that Hong Kong movie actress and entertainer Lydia Sum Tin Har has died of liver cancer. She died yesterday. She was just 60. Why is this lady so important in our lives? Because we grew up with her. When my parents got their first TV in the early 1970s, she appeared regularly in the Hong Kong Cantonese movies that were a staple on the goggle-box. Mediacorp's grand-predecessor, RTS (Radio Television Singapore), was just a startup government controlled and operated transmitting station, with hardly any original content of its own. Along with Siu Fong Fong and Fung Bo Bo, Sum Tin Har was a staple. I was very young then, but could recognise her whenever there was a movie featuring her. Well, ok, she was the only Cantonese actress of note that had a certain gait, plus her signature horn-rimmed glasses. Who could mistake her for any other?

My wife just couldn't stop watching all the tribute programmes by her fellow entertainers at TVB. Even Singapore got in the act because Lydia did work with Singapore's Mediacorp in the 1990s on the 'Living with Lydia' series.

When people you 'grew up with' dies, you are more aware of mortality issues. Strangely, I was drawn to memories of the movie, "Chariots of Fire", which I watched as a youth. In that movie, Eric Liddell preached of how weak we humans can be. We fail in our best effort and fall like flies (I am paraphrasing from memory). Eric Liddell went on to become a Christian Missionary to China, where he died. I remembered Ah Meng, who died about a week ago.

Truly, there has been more talk of death than fortune this Lunar New Year. It is depressing.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Better to receive

When it comes to government hand-outs, announced most recently in the 2008 Annual Budget, the story is the same for me. I don't get the lion's share. A mouse's share is more like what I get. But then again, this is the year of the rat, so what was I expecting, anyway?

I do not get more because of the type of house I live in. It is as simple as that. The annual assessable value of my apartment is beyond $10k, so that puts me in the last bracket receiving the least. This happened before when I lived in a HDB Executive Apartment (EA). Then, those who lived in an EA did not get a single cent of the rebates for the Service and Conservancy charges that all HDB apartment dwellers need to pay monthly. I missed out on this not once but twice. I got fed-up and upgraded. Darn, I should have downgraded. The type of apartment one stays in in Singapore is critical to one's financial well-being come Budget time. Small is better - always. Not only do I miss out on the one-off cash grant, my son also got the least from the education grants because he, through no fault of his, lives with me - in a private apartment with an annual assessable value exceeding...oh, you get the point.

But the rebates on Personal Income Tax was good news. Although I haven't benefited much from the government by way of its annual Budget goodies so far, I do pay quite a sum in taxes every year - personal income, property, TV, GST, cinema, restaurants, airport... The government seems to be in every corner of your life, extracting any little money from you. Next year I hope that the Finance Minister will just cut the personal income tax percentage, period. Rebates are so old-fashioned, you know.

That's all I've got to say about the Budget. The rest, literally, doesn't concern me.

Image source:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pants go down

It is downright shameful. Should never have happened. How could it have taken place at all? It's the last thing you'd expect in a high tech island with one of the greatest take-up rates in handphones (cellphones) and internet usage. And what's more, this is a can-do place. I'd understand if this happened in Malaysia, but Singapore of all places?

For those who haven't guessed it, I am referring to the online ticket sales debacle for Singapore's just revived F1 Grand Prix event scheduled this September. People who queued or tried to use the Internet to buy the tickets on the first day the ticket went on sale literally wasted a whole day because they failed to get a single ticket. These people were prepared to shell out as much as a few thousand dollars for the tickets. They were THAT hot!

If the people selling the tickets are to be believed, there were too many people online for the system to handle. And I thought that the system had been stressed-tested, at least that was what the provider of the ticketing system claimed. Well, if it was, it wasn't enough. And it made the ticketing agent, OmniTicket Network, look like rank amateurs. Certainly, the reputation of Singapore has been damaged grievously. Even the Singapore government stepped in to express unhappiness over this international embarrassment. It has made the international news and I bet the Malaysians must be gleeful over this because we, Singaporean's, do this often enough to them whenever anything they did screwed-up (excuse the language). Well, Singapore got screwed this time around by OmniTicket. They can bet that the next time they handled another ticketing event (like the Singapore Airshow next), they'll be placed under a nanoscope.

Singapore GP is now out-of-pocket by a couple of thousand dollars for the apology ads they put up in two major local newspapers. Their faces have also been plastered with yesterday's pumpkin pie. There are lessons here, guys. Don't oversell your event unless you are willing to back up your sales pitch with more than enough capacity. Expect the unexpected. And don't rely totally on the internet for your sales. This is what Singapore GP did. They must have used the same system at the 62 SingPost outlets (Post Offices), the Singapore Visitor Centres and some popular shopping centres - the very same one on the Internet. When the internet system fails, everything else will, stupid. Somebody didn't think of putting in an offline system - something which is done in all mission-critical systems such as a Point-of-Sales system.

Lastly, we must develop a healthy respect for technology. It tends to fail when you need it most, so Mr Murphy observed, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.". You only hope that that won't happen when your pants are down. Pity Singapore GP. Perhaps they were too fast off the block to make sure first that the drawstrings had been tightened enough.

See also:
OmniTicket wins Singapore GP Contract
Huge demand creates problem for Singapore
Huge demand for Singapore's F1 Grand Prix tickets

Source image: Author:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Down the drain

My, my, my. It appears that not only have Singaporeans become money-mad, they have also become mad, period. First, there were the complaints about Singaporeans' unwillingness to give up seats in buses and trains for those more in need of one. Now not a few letter writers have been grousing about people not giving space in lifts, especially when those who needed it most - mothers with babies in prams and kids in tow - have been waiting a long time for one. And it appears that Paragon Centre is the favourite place to do this. It also appears that some have turned violent, as in a case where mother AND daughter ganged up to assault a petite Thai women at a supermarket. For what? Nothing more than accidentally bumping into the protagonist's shopping trolley. The reported assault that followed is unbelievable. If true, and the Thai women were to take it up with the law, that mother and daughter pair could be in serious trouble.

What is interesting is that many of these complaints mention women as perpetrators of these ungraceful, rude and violet acts. I suppose that if men were involved, they would be charged with molest, or at least shamed for ungentlemanly behaviour. If what I read is true, then there is something wrong with many women on this island. One wonders where the term 'fairer sex' originated? Certainly not in Singapore! Why are women so aggressive nowadays? Has it got something to do with frustration at the workplace that translates into aggression outside of it? Is it a venting of whatever frustration in public that cannot be done in the office? I can imagine psychiatrist offering this explanation to a judge if some of these woman were charged in Court. Or have we become so insular and intolerant in keeping ourselves to our high-rise pigeon coops that we take offense at any little bump outside of it?

We do not need to shape up because foreigners amongst us are complaining. We need to shape up because otherwise, our kids will take to the example we set them, propagating ungracious behaviour until someone more ungracious comes along. There is a Chinese say, "There is always a hill higher than the present one". Although this saying is about improving oneself, it can probably also be used in the negative sense in these cases. We need to shape up because it is an unpleasant way to live a life, when we have this siege mentality. What are we wary of, anyway? That somebody else is after our rice bowl, that somebody else is after our position in the office, in the supermarket, that somebody else is trespassing into our private virtual space? Sounds to me like a person lacking in self-confidence, a person with an inferiority complex, as psychologists would diagnose. Where has the sense of community and charity gone? You never know but one day, you may need the help of the stranger standing next to you.

It would appear that as we get more prosperous, we get more intolerable. We become worst as a people. Progress or regress? It is a non-brainer. How to reverse this? That's what we need to agonise over, not just build more race-tracks, more resorts and more casinos and think that our future is bright as day.

Image source: Author:

Friday, February 15, 2008

Love in the air

Love was in the air yesterday, Valentine's Day. From women in fancy clothing to schoolgirls and schoolboys carrying bouquets of flowers, to the very happy flower shops that were selling fresh roses at S$10 a pop. Yes, who says there is no love on this tiny island of ours. There was evidently plenty of it. So I became a voyeuer...

I just couldn't resist taking this. The girl had such cute shoes and look at the length of her hair! They are almost touching the floor. Usually Indian ladies have such long hair, but she didn't look Indian to me. I don't know how the boyfriend, seated on the right (I presume he is the bf) handles it, along with all her other assets. Well, if you know, you don't need to tell me. My girlfriend keeps it sensibly shot and sweet.

This is a classic boy-girl scene. Boy gives girl a bouquet. Boy volunteers to hold the bouquet....

In another similar scene, boy gives girl a bouquet and has to hold the bouquet because the girlfriend prefers the sculpted balloons instead. Must be puppy love going on here.

What's up with this crowd? Well, all of them were crowding around to look at and actually buying bouquets of flowers! At S$10 a pop, these guys must really be in love! But wait, these roses look fake! They are fakes, but beautifully so. And what's more, a stalk goes for 10 cents! No, you didn't read wrongly, its 10 cents. So a bouquet of 10 'roses' will only cost you S$1. Cheap love on sale here, if you don't know where else to look for one.

And this is the enterprising lady who just cannot stop handling the the continual stream of orders for her roses. I must say, its very well done. This is a picture of a stalk above. When they are put together as a bouquet (below), it looks really nice. For those valentinos and valentinees on a budget yesterday, this would have been the perfect gift for Valentine's Day.

Original photos by epilogos

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Money Madne$$

Singaporeans are a money-mad people. Or should I say have become a money-mad people. Witness the game show "Deal of No Deal', a franchised game show currently running on Mediacorp TV, where people show off how much they love money. Participants and the 'live' audience have no inhibitions in dancing, jumping, shouting, screaming and even praying (to whom I am not sure) at the very thought of winning more money (or not losing the pile they have already accumulated). A true display of naked greed in the temple of capitalism if ever there was one. The fantastic thing about it all is that even people who may not have a direct stake in the game, both those in the studio and those in front of the goggle-box at home, unfailingly urge the contestant to refuse any deal that the boss offers, even when the probability of winning is very low. Well, it is not your money to lose, so what the heck, right? And not too long ago, we had been mouthing "Who wants to be a millionaire"? Well, they must have axed the show because nobody in Singapore won a million $. The show must have developed a credibility problem.

That's not all. Even those who worship at real temples are not immune. It was reported that devotees at the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple were fighting to be the first to get their joss sticks onto the giant urn, believing that those who do so on the first day of the Lunar New Year will have exceptionally good luck for the year. As soon are these first joss sticks are planted in the urn, they are removed so that others can plant theirs in. The dieties notwithstanding, this ritual almost turned into a riot had it not been for the watchful eyes of the very human Police who, very wisely, were standing by. It would appear that in this whole ritual, the dieties have been chucked to the backseat as fortune rushed to the fore. These dieties to whom the joss sticks and prayers are offered really do not get any respect at all. I don't know why 'devotees' do not see the irony and sacrilege in it all. Perhaps the thought of striking it rich with the strike of the sticks into the urn over-rides any other consideration. Yes, they have come to worship - not the dieties - but wealth and fortune.

Truly no place escapes the money madness of Singaporeans nowadays. Not in a place of worship, not in the studios, and certainly not in the citadel of capitalism - the office. Even the normally serious and otherwise excellent actor, Mr Adrian Pang, has not been spared this mad greed over money. And what did they say? Sex and money are natural bedfellows? Just look at the skimpy and often see-through bustlines of the costumes worn by the girls with the bxoes (gosh, can't spell properly just thinking about it!). Sometimes I wonder if one didn't win the money, one would nevertheless go home satisfied with the feast on those bountiful boobs positioned at level with the boxes. I bet the positioning is done quite on purpose.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Eternal Rest

Someone mentioned to me yesterday, the day that Ah Meng was buried, that she was fortunate to have been given a piece of land in land-scarce Singapore, to be buried in. For most of the rest of Singaporeans, we have to buy a 'high rise condo', albeit amid the lush greenery of Mount Vernon or Mandai, for our final resting place.

This is not to take anything away from Ah Meng, and the grand way Singapore sent her off. She probably deserved it, having been in the service of the country for most of her long life. About 4,000 Singaporeans showed up for the funeral ceremony, to see Ah Meng for the last time, and the place she would be buried, which is at the zoo's Garden with a View, overlooking Seletar Reservoir Lake - an idyll setting if there ever was one.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Death of a distinguished Primate

Ah Meng caught the attention of many school going kids in the 1970s when she was first revealed and promoted by the Singapore Zoological Gardens. I didn't think much of it. Let's face it, an Orang Utan isn't the most graceful nor beautiful of animals. A chimpanzee is probably more huggable, as Michael Jackson would attest to, and for grace, what can beat the swan? Yet Ah Meng, the Zoo's resident Orang Utan and erstwhile long-serving Teacher and Ambassador, has developed that graceful stature that few will deny, not least among Singaporeans who literally grew up with her. Ah Meng was perhaps Singapore's first foreign talent. She originated from Sumatra, Indonesia, was seized from a family which had illegally kept her as a pet and brought to the Singapore Zoo. The rest, as they say, is history. When Ah Meng made the zoo her home in 1971, I was still a primary school student. At her death yesterday at the age of 48, I am already an adult with a family and children.

The story would be the same for EVERY Singaporean who has lived and grown up on this little island of ours. At this time, I can imagine not a few among us who would have shed a tear at the passing of such a graceful and steadfast part of Singapore. While Ah Meng has met many dignitaries in her long life, it is the common folks she would have touched, right from when they were young and starry-eyed Primary School students on their first visit to the Zoo. Thereafter, a visit to the Singapore Zoo always meant a visit to Ah Meng's place and then to the rest of the Zoo.

This blog bids farewell to Ah Meng, distinguished primate and Ambassador par excellence of the Republic of Singapore.

See also: Ah Meng, the Sumatran Orang Utan, Ah Meng dies, Ah Meng, icon of Singapore Zoo, dies of old age, Ah Meng and Sam

Image source:

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Quiet Celebration

It was eerily silent yesterday, the first day of the Year of the Rat. As I made my way to my mother's house in Woodlands at about 11.30am - my first stop - all was quiet on the roads and the neighbourhood. Sure there were a family or two of fellow Chinese dressed to their nines on the same 'mission' - visiting relatives, but I thought, this is the Lunar New Year, it shouldn't be that quiet. Maybe all the cars have gone up North to Malaysia for these holidays that extend into the weekend. Maybe I was out too late in the day. People drop by their father's/mother's place around 9/10 in the morning. I am a relative slacker when it comes to occasions like these. However, it turned out that I wasn't the last among my siblings...

Noise goes hand in hand with the Lunar New Year, at least it once used to. Mercifully noisy Lion Dancers still prowl the streets and the apartments. Before the firecracker ban, in the 1950s and 60s the New Year was filled with noise from firecrackers going off every other minute. Since then, two generations of Singaporeans have grown up never experiencing this. Its a great pity. Then, I used to buy a whole packet of small firecrackers (not the big red and mean-looking types that only adults used), unbound each string of firecrackers into individual ones to 'fire off' with a smoldering joss stick. It was great good fun, until some people somewhere in Singapore set off a couple of big fires through their irresponsible 'fire cracking' that the government decided to ban them. Ironically, as I think back, we were the original 'terrorists' packing miniature dynamites. Then, even children could buy these miniature 'bombs' from the neighbourhood store.

I had hoped that perhaps one day, the firecracker ban would be lifted, just as motor racing was once banned but is now become a central plank in Singapore's economy. (I was reminded of the old Grand Prix on news of the death last week of two Polytechnic students along the stretch of Old Upper Thomson Road - the original Grand Prix tracks then) Truly, nothing talks better than money or kills faster than recklessness+youth. This would really bring back the noise and colour of the Lunar New Year. But with security a big issue in Singapore, I doubt that even money could buy any lifting of the ban on firecrackers. Getting the ban lifted on the selling of chewing gum would probably be easier.

May I wish a Happy and Prosperous, albeit noiseless, Lunar New Year to all Chinese readers of this blog.

p.s. Cars were out in full force late in the afternoon on the expressways as I was making my way home. Singaporeans just can't live without their cars.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Naughty boys

It is nothing new, really, curious boys trying to figure out what's up a woman's skirt, just like one wonders what's up a Scottish man's kilt. When there were no camera phones, boys used mirrors or just tried to lower themselves enough to take a peek. Good for acrobatic training.

But a recent incident in a Singapore school, some school boys were reported to the police for taking upskirt pictures of their teacher. This had set off a debate whether there should be a dress code for women teachers. Some have even suggested that all teachers wear dress-pants for the ultimate 'protection'. Many disagreed. Count me in. I agree that teachers should not be made to look as if they are the ones who are to blame for upskirt incidents because they wore something that encouraged such behaviour.

No matter how short or long the skirt, you can trust that curious boys will be at their inventive best to achieve their object of satisfying their curiosity. And I stress the word curiosity because I believe boys are just that and not malicious or vulgar. I may be wrong and boys may have changed since the time I was their age. Perhaps the very public and free media channels like blogs and Youtube allow them to bring something essentially private into the public domain. They certainly do not lack examples from adults, who regularly use these media to put up stuff that sometimes border on the pornographic, all in the name of self-expression.

I agree with many that women teachers just have to be one step ahead of their hot-blooded young charges not be to caught unawares. That's the ultimate solution - not imposing a uniform on teachers. I am surprised that some teachers remain so naive about youth. Didn't they learn that from their time in the Institute of Education when they were preparing themselves for the teaching profession? But then, I have known of teachers who dress provocatively, with not much more than many female office workers whom you will encounter in buses and the subways and trains. I am sure you would have encountered these women who hike up their skirt or plunge the neckline, and often both, in their dressing, all of which seduces the opposite sex, but who will scream murder if you looked too closely. To these I say watch out, because boys will be boys and they will do their mischievous best to foil the adult.

Would to it that these same boys had applied the same inventiveness and industry in their school work! Therein lies some lesson for the way we teach students nowadays. I just don't know right now what that may be.

Image source: Author: Mary R. Vogt

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Where's the beef?

I understand that many blogs are profitable - some insanely so - that the owner(s)/writer(s) live off these blogs. Some of these profitable blogs have professional content, which gives value to readers in that particular field of interest, others are filled with inane - tantalizingly so, even bordering on the pornographic. These, I suppose, give value to readers and lookers too.

This blog isn't one of these profitable ones. It is more a labour of love. 5 years ago, after I left my last job and began my current one, I promised myself, and rather bravely told some others, that I wanted to do some writing. And I mean serious writing. Well, I somewhat achieved that, having a piece of work published in a digital media. But, sadly, it was a one-off thing, as I found that my current work demands just as much effort and time as my last, maybe even more. I used to move around more in my last job, but I now push more 'papers' across my desk. Sigh. Blogging is more of a personal thing but about writing no less. I have taken pleasure in doing so for the last 2 and a half years. My first post goes back to 24 July 2005, when Singapore was in the midst of its greatest controversy over the National Kidney Foundation's practices.

But blogging does 'suck' away a lot of my time, so much so that I have a whole backlog of things that remains undone. Some of these have to do with more writing (of another 'more serious' genre) and others having to do with another type of creative writing. I have always read voraciously, but have slackened in this 'department' also.

What is the occasion for this reminiscing? Simply because I just cross my first US$100 in Adsense earnings. US$100.70 to be exact as of this writing and Google will be sending me a check (cheque) towards that amount. You earn US$100 after 2+ years of effort? That's hardly 11 cents a day, and all this time, Google's stock has skyrocketed to well over US$600 a share. (For the un-initiated, Google owns Adsense). Worst, US$100 was worth more 2 and a half years ago, so my earnings actually depreciated while my blogging effort remained unabated. Inflation has eaten away a whole chunk of value. How I wished I would be paid in Euros or Aussie dollar instead of the once almightly Dollar. Talk about a losing proposition. But I console myself that my blogging is a labour of love, so monetary gain is secondary.

Let me go think about how I would want to spend US$100. Probably a luxury dinner for the family. At least I can tell my child how difficult it is to earn a living as he gobbles down my 2+ year's worth of labour...

Source image:

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Divorcing the car

We are all creatures of habit, aren't we? Which is why, if you had been driving for the last 10 years, you probably won't stop driving, even when Mr Raymond Lim, Transport Minister, strongly insists that you not drive anymore. Yes, he is making it more expensive for anyone to continue driving his/her private car and carriage in his Ministry's remake of the Transportation system announced over the last few days.

The only reason why one would abandon his/her beloved car would be when it is too expensive to keep. On the positive side, if public transport became very convenient, then the lifelong habit of driving daily could be 'kicked'. But fulfilling these two conditions are by no means certain. There is a limit beyond which making the cost of owning a car becomes politically unacceptable, never mind that the PAP government has prided itself on instituting unpopular policies. Why are we working so hard if not to own something that we take pleasure in? If the daily grind involves having to be packed like sardines in a moving box for an hour of so, what is the point of working any harder? So that we can continue to be packed in a moving box for even longer hours? So people will still drive, never mind that they are going to pay through the nose on ERP charges, petrol and the like. One just has to earn more money to defray these expenses, and if this means more time at work and less time with the children and the family, so be it. Priorities to reproduce ourselves will take an even deeper backseat, with dire consequences for the future and more headache for MOM.

Can people not drive? That is the million dollar question that only the bus and rail companies can answer. Right now, the rail services are pretty consistent and reliable. They are taking steps to stop people using their open platforms as launchpads to nirvana. More rail tracks are being built, meaning more destinations will become available through rail. But that has not been the problem all these many years with our public transport. It is the bus, stupid! If a word from the Transport Minister will cause our bus companies to ship up, then we would have solved this problem a long time ago. If he can be so effective, then we must be prepared to erect a pedestal somewhere on this island to commemorating such as person. But I think even Minister Lim may not have such powers. Meaning that the bus companies will continue the way they are now, perhaps making some incremental and unimportant improvements, and people will continue to stick to their cars. By the way, have you tried taking a SBSTransit's spanking new buses on its service 100 and 62? The interior layout of this bus is terrible and the display of its Service Number at the front of the bus is too bright and blurred, especially in the night. I have to squint to try to make out the number as it approaches. But I digress.

Why would our bus company executives want to stick their necks out for Minister Lim. After all, their loyalties are to their major shareholders, all of whom drive private cars, anyway.

The only party that will benefit will be the tax collectors, particularly those who work in the ERP department. I can imagine them throwing a party some time down the road to congratulate themselves for having improved their revenue collections and thus deserving of fat 'performance' bonuses. Yeah, as if it has anything to do with productivity. Its the law, stupid.

Image source: Author: Nicolas Raymond