Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kopi same

Kopitiam, the operator of cooked food establishments under the Kopitiam label opened its latest food establishment - the Sengkang Market and Food Centre (this is HDB's original label for the place) situated at a corner of Sengkang Square in the northeast corner of the island. It is a much anticipated opening because it promised the availability of a wet market - something that, if we believe what we read in the press, people are clamouring for. And, in spite of running the largest cooked food centre among tenants on the 4th level of Compass Point, it went ahead and bid $500,100 a month for the new Sengkang Market and Food Centre. Its closest rival bid, from Sembawang New Market, was $256,788, almost a quarter of a million less, making Kopitiam look like either like a fool, or desperate, or greedy, or all of them, i.e. desperate greedy fool.

Of course, to recoup that investment, the majority of the floor area is devoted to cooked food stalls. The much anticipated wet market takes up only about a fifth of the total floor area in this food establishment - something quite different from what the tender document called for. Clearly the wet market is a sideshow, probably not able to financially sustain the sky-high rental Kopitiam has to pay the government each month. I suppose the cook food stall business is a very profitable one. The prices of the food items are slightly lower than equivalent food stalls situated just across the road in Compass Point. But when we compensate for the lack of air-condition, this newest food centre's prices comes up to roughly the same as the air-conditioned one. The food assortment is more or less the same. There are many more cooked food stalls (for example, there are 3 stalls selling chicken rice). The convenience factor cannot be matched both for customers and for Kopitiam though. This is because it can operate for longer hours compared to the one in the shopping mall, and it can collect parking fees too. So I suppose it'll be profitable for Kopitiam though some cooked food stall operators in Kopitiam's Compass Point location have expressed the concern of cannibalisation of their businesses. But this is of no concern to Kopitiam because they will collect the same rents at both places anyway.

What is my feeling about this food centre? For one, I am underwhelmed. Really, for the real estate it occupies, it is more of the same thing,which makes Sengkang Square that much less attractive. Its single floor design is really a waste of land. And for the excitement it evoked when a wet market was first announced, the actual space devoted to it is really insignificant and a let down of sorts. I get the feeling that wet markets are not in fact all that popular, not what a small but vocal minority makes them out to be. Kopitiam realises this and probably did the right thing by relegating it to a sideshow.

I also don't like the fact that Kopitiam is operating major food establishments on both sides of the road. What benefit can consumers look forward to in terms of lower food prices, better customer service and more responsive operators? Zilch, numero zero, ling dan. Nope, life has not improved with this latest of commercial ventures blessed by no less than the government. One is left to rue what could have been if the operator with the second best bid had secured the contract to operate this business. The government should reflect on its 'it is a commercial decision' mentality. The government's business is to help the people lower cost of living, and not to improve the bottom line of businesses, particularly when it concerns what should have been a lower cost of eating and going to the market, given its budget/no-frills design.
Kopitiam Sengkang

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The voices of the few

If there is one thing about Singapore above all else, it must be the raw efficiency of the place, and I don't mean that in a positive manner. Take for example the night market in Changi Village. It has reportedly ceased operations from 19th December 2009, after being there for well over a year. And the reasons given for the forced closure?

1. Visitors' vehicles are parked indiscriminately along the short and narrow roads, thus contributing to congestion. The question is, how come it took all of 18 months to effect the solution (i.e. close the night market). Was the problem that serious? And I thought the obvious solution rather is to issue parking tickets, not close the market? You'd apply ointment to a wounded finger, not chop it off? But the local Singapore authorities can be ruthless and efficient, if a little late. Just chop off the damn thing!

2. Shopkeepers complain that businesses is being taken away from them. Question: ditto above. How come it took all of 18 months to bleed business before the solution (i.e. close the night market) was implemented? (NB: Shopkeepers that the press spoke to insist that the night market has actually been GOOD for their businesses, having driven human traffic to that sleepy corner of the island.) So who/which businesses complained? How many of them?

So the one big mystery that is begging an answer: Why was the night market shut down? What exactly was the complaint? What has been done in the last one year to address the complaints before it was decided that this drastic action was the only solution? 

Transparency on this island? Hardly.

I used to visit this part of the island. Sadly, there is one less reason to do so now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

That Lie

Marina Bay Sands Singapore is supposed to have opened its doors for business this month. That was the original plan, but we all know that plans can change, and in the case of the Marina Bay Sands Singapore (aka Hotel and Casino Resort), the revised opening date is some time in April 2010 though some say that June 2010 is a more realistic date.

April, when April Fools' day falls, is probably not an ideal month to open a Casino, from the gamblers' perspective. But it'll probably be roaring business of a casino though because gamblers are by nature risk takers, fools or not. These revision in schedules show up the lie in the whole Integrated Resort (IR) message. When Singapore went ahead with setting up not one but two casinos, the government insisted that it wasn't casinos per se, but an integration of various entertainment and convention businesses (MICE) that were on the cards, that Singapore isn't transforming itself into a Las Vegas of the East. Casinos were just to be a small part of the whole development. But the latest developments (or probably non-developments) has given the lie to this claim.

When push comes to shove, and it is time for payback. the only most immediately profitable business that must be opened first is the casino. So come April or June next year, or whatever month it eventually opens, the casino business must precede all others. The business / conventions / meeting / entertainment events? Well, they are not Marina Bay Sands' priority, really. From recouping the money point of view (more than S$5 Billion), the casino business is the one and only bet on the table, never mind what the government says about having 50% of the other businesses in place as a condition for the casinos to start operations. But then, starting the casino first makes sense. Nobody would want to have a major meeting event there, or go shopping, and least of all, go there for a stroll when half of the place is still under construction. The dust and dirt will be an instant turnoff. Orchard Road will still be a cooler place to go to, in more ways than one. But gambling? Hey the dirt doesn't matter. When gambling can take place in a back alley as much as it can in a swanky hotel, it is the only sensible thing to do - take the money and run.

So if we want to call a spade a spade, we should just admit that Singapore is close to becoming the betting capital of this part of the world. The rest are just sideshows. The problem is, with the government's liberal policies on immigration, will it attract the 'right' people to this island in the long run? It would appear that climate change is the least of our worries.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ballshit

Here we go again. This time, the really big one, the mother of all ball games - the 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa next year, no less. (Sheesh, that phrase is trademarked). What event can be bigger than that for a world crazy about 11x2 (minus the occasional red carded) people kicking an inflated rubber ball around a rectangular field?

And to fit the size of the event, Fifa, the world football governing body, has seen fit to extract that pound of flesh from the very people that give life to this activity. In Singapore, the main broadcast providers, Singtel and Starhub, have very sensibly colluded to get the best deal they can from the licensing people in Fifa. Yet even this collusion might not guarantee a sensible price at which armchair footballers might be willing to cough up. I hear that Fifa is expecting everyone to serve up an arm and a leg for the rights to broadcast the World Cup matches. Talk about profiteering. The price for watching club football in Britain's EPL is bad enough. They routinely also extract that pound of flesh for broadcast rights, which football crazy fans so willingly offer on the altar of the mother of all balls. I suppose Fifa has wised up to the game and wants in too. The colour of money excites more than balls, stupid! What they will do with that money is beyond me. Maybe fly first class to any and all meetings around the world to start with. They say money corrupts. Are we witnessing the beginning of the fall of soccer once the greed sets into every part (read: people) of the game? Well, ok, they did SAY they will donate the proceeds, but when you cause pain to countless so that you can appear generous to some...I am not so sure where the charitable spirit lies...(Hmmm...I wonder if Fifa's accounts are audited, and if so, by whom?)

Many say soccer is the beautiful game. Well, I agree. Its a beautifully 'green' game, and I don't mean environmentally friendly. I can see where some people can spot the beauty in the game. Soon the officials will be so swamp with the cash that they wouldn't even care what a ball looks like, or care if it is made of bullshit, much less what to do with it (handle it? - yeah this is accepted in FOOTball nowadays - the rote has set in, led by some of the world's best footballers like Diego Maradona and Thierry Henri, who win matches with their hands, whether sanctioned by God or not).

So when this happens, people will be knocked to their senses to see how they have been fooled all these many years into coughing up blood money to people who just kick a ball (and handle it once a while) and people who just organise these kicking ballfests.

Have the rest of us humans become so dumb that we willlingly let others swindle us in broad daylight? Yeah, blame the balls.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Juvenile Depiction

Singapore will be present in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo - an event that will put the stamp on China as one of the, if not, THE leading economic power in the world today. Yesterday, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wah unwield Singapore's contribution to this World Expo. Among these is the Singapore Pavilion Mascot, named Liu Lian Xiao Xing, or "Durian Star,". I was aghast at the life-sized figure of this mascot:


The first thing that came to mind was the defaced painting of Whistler's Mother, in Mr Bean (1997), in which Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) defaced a painting in the Royal British Gallery:



The juvenile face of the Durian Star mascot resembled the one that Mr Bean drew over that famous painting. And that Merlion picture on the chest is equally juvenile. Well, any 5 year-old child could have drawn that face and even the Merlion! I was embarrassed. Is this the best that Singapore can come up with for a mascot in a World Expo? I don't know whether it was a lack of funds in the Singapore government's coffers, of a lack of imagination, or a lack talent or what, but to employ a 5 year-old kid to draw the face of Durian Star is just too, err, juvenile. They might as well ask Mr Bean to draw it. What would the world think of Singapore at the Shanghai World Expo? That we are after all a Durian Republic?

And the durian isn't even a national fruit or anything. Durian, if I am not mistaken, originates from Borneo (East Malaysia) and Sumatra. Over the years, it has spread to other parts of the Malay Peninsula, Thailand and the Philippines. Granted Singapore is geographically part of the Malay Peninsula, and its people love eating the fruit, but it still doesn't make durian its own. We do have the Esplanade Theatres 'Durian' on (sic) the Bay, but the building still doesn't make it any more Singaporean because it is shaped like a durian.

Malaysia once tried to stake its claim on certain foods, to copyright them even. It was a silly idea, everyone panned it, and it wasn't taken seriously. But hey, they may try to stake their copyright on 'their' fruits too, even if the foods failed. Then we will have a problem with going ahead with our mascot, if Malaysia raises a ruckus during the World Expo. We might even have to shave off the pointed parts of the durian and rename the mascot 'Pointless Star', or simply 'botak'.

Are our designers bereft of any ideas?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Serious Flood?

Sometimes you wonder about the reasoning that comes out of the government's mouth. Referring to the deluge that many parts of Singapore faced on Thursday afternoon, Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim was reported to have said that this kinds of deluge (rain) happens only once in 50 years. Well it happened yesterday, in the year 2009. According to his estimate, the next deluge of this size isn't due till 2059. So I am puzzled why the Public Utilities Board (PUB) wants to upgrade Bukit Timah's first diversion canal, which was built in the 1970s to alleviate the then flood-prone area. It has proved to be effective all these many years, except last Thursday, which as Dr Yaacob Ibrahim explained, was a rare occurrence.

Or is the PUB not letting on something? If so, then could Thursday's deluge have been prevented in the first place, or was somebody sleeping on the job. It has had to take a severe act of God to wake up our overworked(?) civil servants?

I was surprised that a wide expanse of that Bukit Timah area was flooded. Ever since the early 1980s, where floods still occurred, it has never happened again, thanks to the civil works to widen the canal and making sure that the waters flowed into our rivers unimpeded. I know, because I once had to wade, knee-deep, to make it to school there, and that was 1981.

Looks like Singapore needs to do some more digging, of a different sort that Minister Raymond Lim is familiar with. It needs to make sure that the same flooding will not occur again. But then, going by PUB's account, that wouldn't be 50 years hence. There's all the time in the world!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Calling all NBasers

A Dr Loh Kah Seng of the ISEAS is doing research on the British Bases and military withdrawal from Singapore in the 1970s. I reproduce his letter and invitation to contribute, addressed to fellow Singaporeans, regarding this research:

-quote-

Dear fellow Singaporeans

I am a Singaporean historian looking to speak to people who remember the British bases and their withdrawal in the early 1970s. The withdrawal was the first major crisis independent Singapore faced. The 56 bases, contributing a fifth of the country’s GDP, were its largest industry, and the pullout threatened the livelihood of one-sixth of the labour force, including an estimated 8,000 amahs.

The pullout also transformed the economy, society and landscape of Singapore in the 1970s. Most of the bases were converted to commercial use, while many base workers underwent a 3-month retraining crash course. Technical and vocational education also expanded, as new laws sought to increase labour productivity and attract foreign capital investment.

These developments resonate with us today: the retraining programmes, the mobilisation of the young, the philosophy that ‘no one owes Singapore a living’. There is also a forgotten social history to unearth: how retrenched base employees coped with the crisis and how workers adjusted to new work routines.

If you remember the British bases and rundown, or have a family member, relative or friend who does, kindly contact me to lend your voice to an important episode of our national story.

Please pass this message along to those who might be interested.

Thank you.
Loh Kah Seng (Dr)
Visiting Research Fellow
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
Email: LKSHIS@GMAIL.COM

- unquote -

You can also go to Dr Loh's blog: http://lkshistory.wordpress.com/

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cheap cheap

Everyone, I suppose, in Singapore knows that medicine across the Causeway is cheaper, just like food and petrol. So it is natural that Singaporeans exit Singapore in droves during weekends to stretch their feet and their Singapore Dollar. Over the years, however, Johor has become less of a shopper's paradise for Singaporeans. For some time now, the prices in their shopping malls aren't too different from what you can get back in Singapore.

Petrol is still a bargain, but the Singapore government does its best to 'pursuade' Singaporeans to 'buy Singapore'. The 3 Qtr tank rule is still there. However, of late, the powers that be appears to have changed their minds. For example, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan has famously said (in February 2009) that Singaporeans can consider putting their elderly parents in Nursing Homes in Johore. Now, Salma Khalik, ST's Health Correspondent (who reported on the Johore Nursing Home story earlier this year for the same paper) is suggesting that Singaporeans stretch their dollar by getting vaccination jabs (against streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria) in Malaysia simply because it costs much less there than in Singapore. Although Mr Khaw's name is missing in this opinion piece, it is pretty much the same point that Mr Khaw was making - there are choices for cheaper medicine, and Singaporean's should avail themselves of it, never mind that you can't avail yourself of more than a quarter tank of cheaper petrol over there. I suppose the petrol is not Mr Khaw's department. The Transport Minister, Mr Raymond Lim doesn't seem to have heard, nor is willing to hear, or if heard, is not willing to have a change of heart about Singaporeans having the choice of spending less on petrol.

By now, everybody knows that medicine in Singapore isn't cheap. That is common knowledge, really. There is a perception that, on the whole, medicine is good in Singapore. That's the premium you have to pay. But now Ms Khalik is suggesting (see Straits Time, 23 October 2009, page A2) that medicine in Malaysia, as far as vaccinations go, is just as good, you wonder why you have to continue to pay a premium in Singapore? It would appear that not only do our businesses price themselves out of the market that lead to the inevitable recessionary cycle, we, the citizens of Singapore, also get priced out of our products like medicine, which isn't exactly optional in our lives. And who are setting the prices in the medical sector in Singapore? Go figure.

I suppose we have to thank Ms Khalik for her money-saving tip, but we would also be grateful if somebody were to talk to Minister Raymond Lim about that petrol thingy.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Heavenly house

Housing people in Singapore has been a challenge. It always has been, and probably will continue to be. Back in the early days - the 1960s/70s, it was building enough public housing apartments fast enough. Today, it is trying to put people into their preferred houses fast enough - high floors, not situated in some remote and god-forsaken corner of the island, near where their parents live, has a full suite of amenities - wet markets, supermarkets, shopping mall, adequate parking, schools (the more well-known ones the better), convenient public transport (bus, MRT, LRT), has a view, preferably of the sea, or at least some greenery, etc. etc.

You can never satisfy all of them, but can you blame people with this laundry list of demands when the price of a public housing apartment these days is upwards of S$200,000? In some countries, you can get a bungalow for that kind of money. The government does not seem to get it. I think anybody will be happy with any public apartment if the prices weren't so stratospheric. But when you are potentially tied down for the rest of your life servicing the mortgage, you'd naturally want something better. Frankly, whatever subsidy that the government provides for nowadays is "peanuts", to quote a distinguished citizen. No, it wouldn't be practical to have all the items on the laundry list checked off, but you try to get the best. And this is why, I suppose, some people reject apartments offered to them time and again.

Having said that, however, people should look at the practical side of things. When it is your first apartment with your fiance/wife, take any flat that is offered, even if it is in the most remote corner of the island. Someone said that Punggol is in one corner of the island (read "remote"). Singapore is a small island, and no part of the island that is remote today will remain so tomorrow. The reason why our parents made so much money from their public apartment over the years is because of this belief. They didn't mind Toa Payoh when it was a swamp-land, ditto Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, etc. With the redevelopment of the surrounding land courtesy of the government, the value of the real estate naturally soared. Many cashed out and moved to more virgin parts of the island to repeat their conquests of new land and more value. Sure, you need to put up with the inconvenience at first, and probably the sneers and jokes from relatives and friends about your living in an ulu place, but you probably will have the last laugh when you cash out again and buy that dream condo, and then have something left over for a good meal of curry fish-head.

The value of your apartment may not appreciate as much today compared to 15-25 years ago, but property will always be valuable in land-scarce Singapore. If the government wants to build apartments in a particular part of the island, you can be sure that they already have big plans for redeveloping that piece of land and its surroundings. Don't be short-sighted and go for instant gratification. Every good investor will tell you the same. Isn't a house an investment rather than an expense?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

EPL ransom

It is news that didn't bother me at all, but it has got quite a number of people in Singapore upset yet resigned over it. No, it isn't about the local S-League that has come up for criticism from one of its own. It definitely is not about Ris Low, nor the revivied mini-bonds saga. It wasn't the earthquake in Sumatra, which shook many Singaporean's out of their highrises. No, its is about the most important thing in many people's lives in Singapore today - watching the English Premier League (EPL) games 'live' on TV.

Many were upset to learn that their erstwhile provider for EPL broadcasts, Starhub, has lost its broadcasting rights to rival Singtel. Just when they were settling down on the skyhigh prices that Starhub currently charges, they are faced with the propect of paying more in a year's time. As both operate the transmission of their programmes using different platforms, die-hard fans will have to invest on both platforms - cable and mio, or give up their cable (Starhub) equipment in exchange for Singtel's mio. Such is the grief that honest but desperate consumers have to suffer from big businesses trying to hook them in. But why are these broadcast rights so expensive?

It is business. If Singtel thinks that it can 'extort' the kind of money it will probably charge viewers of these programmes, and these die-hard fans are willing to shell out that kind of money, then its a willing buyer willing seller situation. Well, Singtel did say that it will not charge more than what Starhub charges now, even though the amount of Singtel's bid is reportedly twice what Starhub paid (i.e. US$160m) when it secured the rights in 2007.

Whatever Singtel will charge is not important to me. What is important is that they don't go off and start cross-subsidizing their services, and recover the costs of the EPL license from non-viewers like me. Charge whatever you need to charge soccer-mad fans for their fix, but don't increase the prices of other services, such as mobile and fixed-line services. I am not a soccer fan and I do not want to pay for Singtel's madness, and those EPL soccer fans as well. If they find joy in contributing to the overpaid soccer players in the EPL, that's their pleasure and their right. I do not want to be a part of it.

Otherwise, I am sure MDA, or someone with a big stick, will look into it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Abused Beauty

After all is said and done, I think Singaporeans have been a bit mean (well, ok, very mean) to Ms Ris Low. Much has been said and written about her less than perfect English diction and videos have made her the laughing stock of the whole country. Why are we so mean? It is not as if she is totally unintelligble when she speaks. I can think of and heard other Singaporeans pronounce English words the way she does. Just today I was at a seminar presented by a major public-listed company, in a room full of professionals, and its speakers were pronouncing 'badder' for 'better'. There were a couple of other words that were similarly abused. This isn't all that different from Ms Low's diction. In this respect, I think some of the Youtube videos about her less than perfect diction have been made in bad taste. Yes, they are funny, but they are also very cruel. In fact, unless Mediacorp (or whoever the original video belongs to) is in on it, some IP rights may have been violated and the perpetrators could be charged in Court. What's the difference then between Ms Low's trouble with the law with this sort of 'stealing'? So whoever put them up should take them down.

And what's wrong with Boomz? At least now English has a new word, and words are created all the time. Singlish has produced not a few of them, which we have come to love. We don't understand what Boomz is? Well, neither do I understand what the 'lah' that ends Singlish phrases mean. But don't we use it with relish because that is so Singaporean? That's one thing you look out for when you are overseas, when in a sea of people, it brings a smile to your face the moment you hear it. You know for sure that a countryman is in the midst. Lewis Carroll himself was probably 'guilty' of spouting nonsense, with his invention of the nonsensical words 'jabberwocky', 'chortled and 'galumping' in his poems. But these words have since entered the English language. OK, ok, Ms Low was not being particularly poetic when she blurted out the Boomz word. But inventions are often made at the spur of the moment, no?

But isn't the whole of Singapore, in ridiculing it, now trying to give meaning to the word? In time, who knows, it may become a peculiar Singlish word that our children will use without the ridicule that accompanies it today.

I think the real 'problem' is not her language, nor particularly her diction. If it were, many Singaporean's will be just as guilty as her. Her diction could have been 'badder', as befits the representative of Singapore women, but I think the real issue about her representing Singapore is her conviction for credit card fraud. She should have come clean about it from the start. Unfortunately, she did not. Maybe she was immature, maybe she thought that her achievements in the beauty pageant will erase her 'moment' of weakness (well, that moment did last quite a while, I admit). But I think enough is enough. Let the poor girl alone. Hopefully she has learnt the right lessons from the whole affair and we will hear better things of her in the future.

Boomz! RIP.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Confused Beauty

Do we have another air-head in the making? I don't know, but I am beginning to have grave doubts about the girls that were crowned first and second (and third and ....?) in the Miss Singapore World 2009 contest.

It is all well and good for friends to stick together and speak up for each other. But when the first runner-up, Ms Lee, a graduate of NTU's aerospace engineering, insisted that Ris Low should still represent Singapore in Africa even after Ms Low has bowed out, you have second thoughts about the quality of the person who came in second. Let's separate personal loyalty and national duty. One can, and should be, loyal to one's friends, but when that loyalty concerns the nation, then you should put aside personal feelings. Ris knows she has become a liability in the competition in Africa. She knows that she can potentially shame Singapore and give it a bad name. She knows she cannot be an effective ambassador and spokesperson for Singapore, much less win the title But it would appear that Ms Lee doesn't get the point when she insisted that Ris proceed to Africa.

If Ms Lee is now chosen as the replacement, I will cringe at the thought of Singapore's name being dragged through the mud of Africa. It'll be no different sending Ris.

Where did they get these 'beauties' from, anyway? Perhaps all those years of studying aerospace has gotten to her head, She should land and show us some maturity, not blind loyalty. One would have thought that she hasn't been reading the newspapers and blogs of late. Or if she had, she hasn't been applying her mind.

P.S. Its tough to be a beauty in Singapore.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cheating beauty

Given the revelation of this year's Ms Singapore World, Ms Ris Low's conviction for credit card fraud, cheating and criminal misappropriation, numbering no less than 60 charges, and given that she did not reveal this to the organisers until after she had secured the crown, demonstrating her dishonesty and hypocrisy (I can only imagine the 'honest-to-God' answers she gave during the competition proper on her way to her now tainted crown), how can she represent the whole of Singapore on foreign soil? She can represent herself, she can represent the organisation that anointed her, but can she claim to represent the women of Singapore? If I were a women, I would cringe, though as a Singaporean, I still will cringe. Hey world, this girl doesn't show off the best of our girls - heck most of them are honest and hardworking, never mind that they may not have the perfect physical features and proportions. And many of them may have a problem or two with some physical or mental condition, but they don't steal credit cards and dine dishonestly at posh-posh restaurants.

Some talk of second chances and all. Well, yes, that is desirable. But to use Ms Singapore World to redeem yourself ultimately cheapens the Ms Singapore World title and brand. Actually, I don't care very much for Beauty contests, but if Singapore's name and reputation are at stake, that's when a line needs to be drawn. One may be compassionate and forgiving, but in the dog-eat-dog world out there in South Africa, any pretender will be mauled if she even has a spot of blemish. So the best thing for Ms Low is to give up her crown gracefully instead of hanging on to it so doggedly. I think she has already proven something. No point exposing herself to ridicule in South Africa. She will jeopardise the chances of all future Ms Singapore World at these competitions. The world will look at Singapore women with a different eye. It'll be a steeper slope for all future Ms Singapore World to climb on the world stage.

You don't want to be that selfish, do you?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Home on the net

This posting is not about life in Singapore. Its about life not in Singapore and the contrasts that it brought, at least as far as accessing the internet is concerned. You see, I have been away for slightly less than 2 weeks in Shanghai, and had thought that I could be connected to the internet and blogging and all, just like what I do in Singapore. I had been to Shanghai 2 years ago, and know for a fact that most hotels provide free broadband internet access. What's more, there is my spanking new netbook that will make the whole thing effortless, especially when it comes to lugging it around in my carry-on luggage.

So, yes, I was connected. All I had to do was to plug in the network cable into my computer and wallah, I am connected, or so I thought. The problem with China, even now, with its liberal capitalist approach in big cities such as Shanghai, is that it censors internet access to websites with a heavy hand. Popular websites such as Facebook and Blogspot cannot be accessed at all in China, or at least using the hotel broadbands in both hotels that I stayed in. Yes, I could not access any of my blogspot blogs!

Mercifully, though, I could access e-mail websites such as Yahoo, Gmail and Microsoft's Live.com. Otherwise, I would have been cut off from the rest of the world while in China, which had been the case before the 1980s, before Deng Xiaoping instituted his Black-cat-White-cat brand of pragmatism that has propelled its economy in leaps and bounds over the last 30 years. On the other hand, any website with the .cn country domain name (i.e. China for those of you who are clueless), such as baidu.com.cn, loaded extremely fast, with zero or near zero latency. Talk about favouritism!

So here I was, missing all the blogs and blogging and thus cut off from life in Singaore. My schedule was busy, and I didn't have ready access to printed news of Singapore, except perhaps to todayonline.com, Today's online newspaper, which I had delivered to my e-mail account. Curiously though, I never opened it up to read. I was more interested in chatting with people back home and then hitting the sack, so tired I was after a day's activities.

Happily though, I experienced no withdrawal symptoms with the limited access to many internet websites I frequent back in Singapore. And so I had a semi-voluntary news blackout for this period. Now that I am back in Singapore, the latest news appears to be Ms Singapore World, and yes, the F1 too. But the former makes for more interesting reading, though.

Glad to be back in Singapore.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cult of religion

On the whole, Singapore takes a balanced approach towards people's beliefs, and their freedom to practice those beliefs. This was one of the major themes in the PM's National Day rally speech this year. And for the most part, this is something to be happy about. There will, of course, be some who think otherwise, when their 'religion' is frowned upon as they propagate values that are alien to a conservative society's, as is Singapore's. Amazingly, this atmosphere prevails when the government openly favours the Muslims in putting aside land for them to build their Mosques. Less so for Christian, who often have had to resort to gathering in house-churches, or abandoned cinemas or even huge conventions centres like those in Suntec City, paying an arm and a leg, to practice their religion every week. But we all live and let live. Religion is not about equality on earth. It is the afterlife, after all, that matters, isn't it? But some religions somehow miss this point.

Thus it is puzzling that peoples in other countries practice their religion in such as literal and earthly manner. This calls to mind whether they are following the letter of the law, and blindly at that, but have lost the spirit of these religous injunctions. For example, we hear of 2 Muslim women sentenced to caning for doing nothing more than drinking beer and wearing pants! Maybe in these places, such barbaric practices are the norm, that women-folk are accepted as the constant object of abuse in the name of religion, if not society at large - even by the women themselves. In the case of the women sentenced to canning, she perversely asked that she be caned. I often wonder if women like her have a sado-masochistic streak or are they plainly longsuffering in the name of religion? Whichever the case, it is probably no wonder that that section of society finds the whole thing quite civilised, proper, and (gasp), holy(istic).

Which reminds me. Today is 911 - the day of infamy when, 8 years ago, a few religious Muslim fanatics found it the height of their obligations to Allah, their God, to first hijack a plane, and then ram them straight into 2 towering buildings in New York City, thus attaining their ultimate religious state at the expense of thousands of poor innocent people. As I am reminded today, these people who perished were fathers, they were mothers, they were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, grandchildren and grandmothers....How can any religion find it right in its teachings that killing innocent people is the way to release? Yet as recent events have shown, in Jakarta for example, these religious fanatics have persisted in their perverse views. They will glady kill again in the name of their religion.

May such thinking and the people who continue to propagate them, face their just deserts when they see their God. Those who have already gone before would have been shocked to discover that they have died for a lie.


In memoriam, to the victims of 911
and terrorism the world over
May you rest in peace

Friday, August 28, 2009

Castle in the air

It was James Otis who first said that a "man's house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle...". Well, I am sad to observe that in Singapore, even the Law acknowledges that this is not necessarily true. There was a recent case where 2 people sued a man for not being dressed at all while he was in his house's kitchen. The inside of this kitchen faced a public area, and as the newspaper account went, these 2 women were walking pass it when they saw the man of the house all naked sitting in his kitchen. Their modesty was so outraged that they sued the man. The Courts agreed with the women and fined the man $2,000 for the indecent exposure and a follow-up act of agression against the same.

So now, I am very careful about being decently dressed while I am at home. All the more so as many public, and might I say also private, apartments face public wakways and other apartments' windows. I once observed that in Hong Kong apartments, you could just reach out with your hands to touch your neighbours' window. Such was the congestion and design of their houses. Nowadays you can say the same about Singapore. At least you could see clearly into someone else's apartment.

Why would anyone move around in his/her apartment dressed to the zeros (as opposed to nines, i.e.?) Well, given Singapore's hot and humid climate, this would be the most sensible thing to do, actually. Nowadays, I sweat even when I remain still, sitting on my sofa chair in the living room. Sometimes, I take off my shirt and go around the house in nothing more than a pair of shorts. How short is my shorts? Well, that is my business. But that is exactly the issue. How much or how little must you have on before you offend the modesty of some prudish women (or men for that matter) and land up in court on the opposite side of the law? Nobody is forcing anyone to look into somebody's castle...err house. You are not forced to be a kay-poh. You choose to be one. If you take a look and see a naked man or woman in the house and am offended by what you see, that is your problem. You shouldn't even contemplate taking the owner of the house to court for exposing whatever. We talk of being tolerant when religion is concerned, but we must be equally tolerant of what the master of the house chooses to do, short of committing a crime. An act of indecency you say? What is indecent to you may be common sense to another, so long as it is done in his castle.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rain or shine

All of a sudden, some locals are now concerned about the safety (and comfort?) that employers employ in ferrying their foreign workers to and from work. Right now, many of these foreign workers sit at the opened back of their employers' station wagons. Some of these station wagons, or lorries or trucks (whichever word you use depends on where you come from) are not covered, so workers hold on to whatever they can to steady themselves while the lorry moves. Some lorries have roof shelters, so when it rains, they are protected. Some have additional fencing so workers can sit on raised wooden planks installed across or along the sides of these lorries, probably making the ride more comfortable.

Responding to safety concerns, some people are suggesting a gamut of things - not about making the lorries safer, but suggesting that employers abandon the use of their lorries in favour of using buses and the like for ferrying their workers. One has even accused Singapore of being worse than what some 3rd World countries practise. For example, someone pointed out that China has laws that disallow the use of lorries for this purpose. Well I am not sure if that law exists in the first place, and even if it does, whether it exists nation-wide. Just becaues a local says so to make a point does not mean it is so.

I think in their fervour to make it safer for our foreign workers,we are forgetting one important thing. And that is to keep costs low for our business owners. Otherwise, these same businesses will lose out to our regional neighbours resulting in the retrenchment of these foreign workers. Then these best safety practices will be moot. It will be a supreme irony - that 'better' laws or rules that are meant to protect our foreign workers' safety will result in their being sent home prematurely. Sure we can have First World best practices. This also means we will have First World costs.

I have ridden behind open-top lorries and station wagons before. While it can be thrilling, I recognise the danger that it poses. But I also think that if passengers practice sensible care, this mode of transport can be quite comfortable and safe. Of course when it rains, it can get uncomfortable, but it is nothing that a tarpaulin cannot fix. Even with a roof, water can splash in, and you'd just have to wear a water-proof overalls for cover. Sure this isn't as comfortable and ideal as a bus, but if it is going to kill the foreign workers' job, which would they prefer? Before we pontificate on what our employers should do, shouldn't was ask them - the foreign workers, what they want?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thank you foreigners!

















Tunnel boring for Singapore's MRT circle line was completed today. (Today and The Straits Times, 18 August 2009, p12 and p4 respectively). The Straits Times had a picture showing the large boring mechanism in the background and everyone clapping and jumping in celebration. Normally this is unremarkable. Sure they should be happy. Its a job completed without any more loss of life. But one thing caught my attention about the photograph.

If one didn't know better, one could be forgiven to think that the boring took place somewhere in India. Every single person in the picture looks like an Indian! I don't see any Chinese, or Ang Mo for that matter. It just goes to show that the real credit for Singaporean's getting a world-class transport system is due in no small measure to some of our imports - foreign labours, just as it took our forebears - today's Singaporeans' fathers and grandfathers who hail from India and China, to build Singapore into the modern city-state that it is today. Even as Singapore celebrates its National Day, it bears remembering that our prosperity, our first-class infrastructure, comes from the toil and sweat of the very same peoples who settled in this land more than 50 years ago and whose sons from that same faraway land continue to do so today.

Yes, they are not doing it for free. But the smiles on their faces, and the jubilant cheering (I can only imagine this) shows how much pride they have in their work. Imagine, celebrating an achievement which they may never get to enjoy as they must go home to India (or wherever they came from) one day. Given that most Singaporeans are unwilling to work in such jobs anymore, we owe them a debt of gratitude in helping make our journeys to and from work faster and a lot more bearable.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Truth and pragmatism

"We the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as...."

This National Day, our 44th, much was made of it. We got as many people as possible to recite that pledge at 8.22pm during the National Day celebrations at the Marina Bay and everywhere else. Many would have reflected on the words in the pledge, what it really meant to them, why, as a student, they had to recite it every school day (except when it poured rain or H1N1 or SARS), and whether they even meant what they say.

It would appear that there are some who are dead serious about it. NMP Viswa Sadasivan spoke about squaring our public policies with the words of the pledge, something that, one would say, is obvious. You say what you mean and mean what you say, so the saying goes.

But, as any citizen and long-time resident would know, this is not exactly how Singapore works. There is what the Americans would call affirmative action - positive discrimination in favour of a particular race in Singapore from the very first day it was founded as an independent nation. So it isn't regardless of race. Maybe language, maybe religion, but certainly not race. The Chinese race is dominant but it has been pragmatic enough to realise that it lives in a sea of countries dominant in a race that is a minority on the island of Singapore. And that therefore, it must pay especial attention to this fact - discriminate, regard the race, in order to move forward toward happiness, prosperity and progress.

Some would disagree, as the honourable NMP does, because we would want to be true to ourselves and what we say. But ironically, we have to be schizophrenic if we want to maintain a semblance of sanity and order. On the other hand, when you think about it, a mother does not neccessarily treat all her children the same. One may born less well endowed. Another may be stronger. So a good parent will discriminate against the stronger in favour of the weaker because she knows that the stronger can fend for himself, whereas the weaker needs more support. Of course the wish is that one day, the weaker one will be able to stand up for himself and find his own place in society, confident, independent and contributing in his own way to others. This is called paternalism - a label that Singapore has had for a very long time. So all these are nothing new. MM Lee Kuan Yew reminded Singaporeans in Parliament on Tuesday.

Is this the best state of affairs? I think few would say 'yes'. Those who say 'no' look for a day when it will be. MM says it will take tens, if not hundreds of years, and even leaves it open if it will ever be reached. Many will agree that we are on a journey, that the journey is more important than the destination, because if and when we reach the destination, then what? Is it even a desirable goal in the first place?

But I must give credit to NMP Sadasivan for bring up the issue. I suppose that is what NMP's are for - to challenge the status quo, push the boundaries and provoke thought, whether one agrees with the proponent or not.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Uncock the bottle

Today is Singapore's 44th National Day. Today, Singapore is just as racially diverse as it was 44 years ago, perhaps more so. 44 years ago, we had Indians, Chinese, Malays and Eurasians. There were, of course, the Europeans - mostly British - our former British colonial masters who stayed behind to support a fledgeling nation, if only for a while. And among the locals, there were the sub-groups among the Chinese and Indians - the Cantonese, the Hokkiens, the Teochews, and among the Indians - the Malayalees, the Tamils, the Sikhs. The Malays were probably the most homogenous group, this land being historically theirs, until the British colonised Malaya.

Today, 44 years later, we have just as many diverse people. The Chinese dialect among the younger Singaporeans have almost died out, though there are still among them some, like me, who continue to speak Cantonese (or whichever dialect) at every opportunity. Some people think I am a Hong Konger, but I am never more Singaporean than a Singaporean. Nevertheless, the island's Mandarin only regime (particularly in the mass media) is stifling. It hides our identities, no, it has buried our identities, RIP. Our children no longer speak these dialects, not even if you tempt them with rewards beyond their years.

But we have been joined by people from all over the world - expatriates here to earn a living. Some have stayed - the Czechs, the Serbians, the Hong Kongers, the Shanghainese, the Beijingers, the Koreans, the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, the Burmese, and yes, the Americans too - and married locals, producing yet other species of children among us. Truly, the Singapore of 44 years is now as diverse as it has ever been. Today, we are not puzzled by our neighbours who speak Hakka, or Hokkien. We are puzzled by very much more strange tongues when we travel the MRT subway. Though sometimes disconcerting, it is probably a good thing. We have retained, if not grown our cultural diversity. We remember that it has always ever been this way, though sadly, some feel threatened by strange skins and strange languages, as we did 44 years ago.

But this is the only way Singapore can grow. It is probably the easiest way. The locals want smaller families, either by choice or forced by choice - they want the good life above any toddler who may be a hindrance. They cannot see beyond 50 years later and what they will live by. Perhap the CPF kitty, their wholly-owned apartments, have replaced whatever need for financial dependence on children in our old age that our parents used to have. And anyway, in the hothouse of the Singapore education system, you probably really can only afford one, at most two. Not because of the financial burden - we are much more well-off than our neighbours in surrounding countries, but the social and psychological pressure that comes with having our kids perform in exams - twice a year - for at least 12 continuous years. Surely it is too much for any parent to bear, after they have borned their own 12 years?

But I am thankful for the relative peace and safety of this place. So I take this opportunity to wish all Singaporeans a very happy and meaningful National Day. Let's uncock the bottle!

PM Lee's National Day Message

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Corporate Responsibility

Some call it Corporate Social Responsibility - CSR for short. Corporations see it as good PR to be seen to be generous towards non-profit purposes, for the good of the community, such as acts of donations to charities, organising meaningly charitable events at their expense, and etc.

Great Eastern Life just did that - not in the usual way we associate it with CSR, but it is CSR at its best. Why? Because its payback is not immediate nor guaranteed while it swallows, on behalf of its investors, the losses that have fallen on its GreatLink Choice investment products. My mother made a startling remark about 5 months ago - that bankers have become professional fraudsters. For all her life, she has kept her money faithfully in a bank, not under the bed, nor in the drawer. And she got us all to keep our monies in the bank too, for the interest that it would earn. So can you blame her when she put a substantial amount of that money in what a relationship manager called a high-yield structured investment product? She had wanted to open a fixed deposit account with the cash, actually. After all, she has been trusted banks with her cash for over 40 years. Structured or not, the banks are selling it and they must have evaluated the product's risk. They said it was low-risk high-yield. What's more, they also threw in the principal guaranteed / principal protected words. Little did we know that banks' definition of 'guaranteed' and 'protected' can be so convoluted that it would take a couple of lawyers to untangle it, or make it more confusing, depending on who you spoke to.

So, 'Thank you', Great Eastern Life and OCBC Bank (the parent), for taking what must be a difficult decision to return all the money that people have invested in structured products with you, knowing that their values have plunged 40-80% today. That's good 'ol banking - honouring people's trust and keeping their money safe, like it has always been, until recently.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Public love

Singaporeans, they can take things a bit too far. So when the word went out about fines beings dished out to people who were caught eating on the subway trains, I insisted that it be done on buses as well. Then people protested that drinking water should be allowed and yet others say: have pity on the babies - let them be fed (milk from a bottel, I suppose) on trains and buses.

Now there is a swing the other way. Somebody suggested that amorous behaviour on these public transport vehicles be banned. Yes, it is not uncommon to find couples smooching away on public transport nowadays, hugging, kissing, dozing of each other's shoulders, if not the chest in broad daylight with the bus/train engine at full blast, as if there are no private spaces for them to do so. But hey, why discourage the behaviour? Taxpayers have had to throw millions of dollars to get people to be amorous behind closed doors in order to up the population numbers. Why don't we just let people go about their courting habits in full public view? It's their choice, really. If they don't mind being watched, I don't mind watching either.

Well, its an Asian thing, some say. Not very prim and proper. Some people are very sensitive to these things. Well, let me say that unless you are the parent, you have no business stopping them, unless they begin to take their clothes off in the process of their smooching. Otherwise, what is so bad about seeing two people expressing affection for each other? There's hope for mankind yet when there is love, whether its in the privacy of their spaces or in the publicity of the bus.

So boys and girls, keep doing it. God knows how life is so stressful nowadays without somebody telling us to sit straight and not even hold your partners' hands while you sit side by side on the bus, or the train.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speak easy

I wonder why some people are still so hung up about speaking Good English in public, that there must only be one version of the language - the Queen's. A reader of Today was aghast to hear Singlish spoken and concluded that Singaporeans haven't progressed all that much, language wise.

Just the other day, I was having lunch at a just opened shopping mall. 2 teenage girls were sitting at the same 4-seater table with my companion and myself. One of the teenagers was a Caucasian. From her accent and tone of voice, I guess she was an American. The other teenager looked and dressed no differently from the typical Singapore Chinese teenager, except that when she opened her mouth, not for the food but to speak, she revealed a deeply accented American voice. They conversed in English, that much I could tell. But this Chinese girl's English was difficult to comprehend - I told my companion after they had left. It was heavily accented and she spoke so fast that it took all of my years of training in that language to understand what she was saying. Even then, I failed to understand her. Not that I wanted to eavesdrop, but you cannot not hear, you know, when you are seated next to each other in congested space. She was probably speaking 'well-formed' English, not Singlish. But you know, I would prefer Singlish any day. Language is about communication, and whatever and however it is done, so long as the message is conveyed, language has fulfilled its function.

This is not to say that 'standard' English has no place at all. Don't we all naturally switch to it when we need to address an audience in a formal setting, or when we converse with people whom we are not familiar with? We start off there, but when we become familiar with each other, we switch gear and converse in a manner that shows our affinity. I once tried to speak in full sentences all the time, but found that it formed a barrier to communication in some informal settings. So I have reverted to 'switching languages' as and when the occasion calls for it. Anyway, Singlish as a language has seen development over the last 50 years. We should embrace it and treasure it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Demoted Bug

The gates have been lifted. Now, people getting flu is happening like a flood around me. 2 colleagues have taken medical leave, one as long as a 3-day MC. He wasn't that sick when I had lunch with him last week. Mr Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament the other day that 53% of flu cases in Singapore from here on in will be due to H1N1. It would appear that he is correct?

Well, nobody is counting anymore these days, except the really serious cases at the hospitals. You get flu? You get flu, period. Except now you get a generous dose of MCs with your medicine (probably Tamiflu), and strong advice to rest at home. Yeah, let's dispense with the alphanumerics H1N1. People appear to be immune to its name nowadays. It is so widespread the world over that the bug has joined the ranks of the seasonal flu virus. What ignominy - to be referred to as a common bug. So some medical people are predicting the coming of H1N1V2 (version 2, i.e.). Somehow, such dire predictions have lost their shock factor. That is the problem when actual experience de-sensitises you.

Can I look forward to a visit by H1N1? According to Mr Khaw, there is more than a 50% chance that I will, what with the stories I hear of nowadays about colleagues and their children and their children's friends, and...

Friday, July 17, 2009

A fine society

Eating on the MRT (subway trains) and be fined $30? I say, fine them $500 - the amount that is applied ever since I was a kid. Don't you fine it ironic that 30 years ago, it was $500 and today, when Singaporeans are more affluent, you fine them as measly $30? It would solve the problem immediately. Otherwise, it'll be like the case of the guy, who was fined $1,500 recently, retorting that it was JUST ONLY that amount, that he could afford it, that it was no big deal. And why just only the MRT? Just the other day, there was a whiff of ham and cheesey smell when I was on a bus travelling home. Lo and behold, the teenage girl sitting just in front of my seat was eating away, oblivious of the aroma. Well, ok, the food smelled good, but what of noses that are less appreciative of the smell of ham and cheese, or what if she was eating something more, err, exotic? And this isn't the first time. Slightly more than two years ago, I captured on my HP camera a picture of a teenager eating away on a subway train and blogged how I noticed more and more people eating away on MRT trains. Well, it about time SMRT did something about this anti-social behaviour.

Yes, Singaporeans have become more affluent, and with it has gone the social graces that we lament about nowadays. I don't know if it is due to the lifestyle - that we need to fill in every waking hour of the day doing something besides looking out the window of life passing by on a bus or a train. But there is a good reason why food and drinks are not allowed, just as it is forbidden in offices and some other places, except canteens and restaurants. Food left behind in these places, whether intentionally or unintentionally, attracts creepy crawly vermints that can destroy things, besides scaring some people, especially the fairer sex, out of their wits. I know because I have to prepare to carry my wife when such creatures appear.

There are certain things that were done better in the past than now. How about it - lets up the fine to $500. That'll not only stop the littering, but the bugs will also stop appearing. Ahhh....heaven on earth.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Inconvenient Virus

The Influenza A H1Ni virus is not a deadly virus. Yes, it has killed more than 12,000 people worldwide, but I understand that this number pales in comparison to the numbers that die from the seasonal flu virus, which I caught last week, probably from someone in the MRT Train while going to work a week earlier. Yes, 2 weeks ago, I have had a person sit next to me who was sniffing mucus all the way to my destination. I optimistically hoped that he had a case of sinus. Then there was the case when a woman sneezed while standing next to me in the train. Fortunately, she didn't sneeze in my direction, but she was standing next to me.

With over a hundred people identified with H1N1 and not a single fatality in Singapore, people are beginning to treat H1N1 as a variety of the seasonal flu. Only this flu strain is so new that we don't have a vaccine against it yet. Some pharma companies have announced positive results towards a vaccine but we do have other drugs, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, which have proven effective against it.

Really, the problem with H1N1 is not that you die from it. The inconvenience is that you get 'jailed by association' for it - a minimum 7-day quarantine period - either on your own, or in government mandated locations. That means that you can't earn a living, you can't socialise, you can't see your kids or your husband/wife. (Well, ok, for some people, this can be a blessing). Nor do they want to see you during this 1-week jail time. And you get to go to this 'jail' not because you carry the virus, but that you have been in contact with a person or persons who carried the virus. That's why people are afraid of travelling - not that they will die, but that they will be locked up. So holidayers who have gone overseas over the last couple of school vacation weeks will be treated as a separate class of citizens once school starts. Some wouldn't be in school with the rest of their classmates.

One only hopes that these vacationeers won't 'elevate' those who have stayed home to that separate category of people. So I thought it ludicrous that people think they can 'get away' from these complications by their staycation plans. What if that staycation involved a 4-day 3-nights at the Swissotel the Stamford over the last weekend, or even into this week when more athletes from around the region show up at the hotel?

So staycation or vacation, it makes no difference in Singapore because Singapore brings the world to its doorsteps anyway. The only way to avoid the bug, whether of the seasonal variety or the H1N1, is to go to 'jail' - voluntarily. No turning right, no turning left, just go straight to jail. That's what most of us are already doing, anyway. What an inconvenient virus!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lucky blokes

I am envious, I really am green with envy. How come youth half my age get to stay in Swissotel the Stamford (Swissotel) when I can only either dream about it or break my bank otherwise? It would appear that Swissotel is going all out to accomodate and feed the participants and sportsmen/women of the Asian Youth Games (AYG). Not only that, they have reserved an entire floor at the Swissotel for its medical centre, ostensibly, to catch the H1N1 bug that threatens to infect the community at large, now that carriers have been found wandering the streets, the cafes, the theatres, the shopping centres and the workplace. Let it not be said that the Singapore government doesn't put its best foot forward in taking care of visiting athletes.

Only, who is paying for the bills at the Swissotel? Is business that bad at the Swissotel that they are willing to lower their prices and put in an extra beds a room, just for some young athletes who haven't even qualified for the Olympics? Heck, in most cases, athletes are housed in dormitories, or 3-star hotels at best, but when you come to Singapore, you get housed in one of its best hotels. Well, who said anything about lowering prices? I don't know, really. If room prices are not much lower than the normal rates (June happens to be a peak season, or shoulder, if you consider that the Asian Youth Games do not start until the end of June), then how would some impoverished nations, like North Korea, afford the bill? Unless sugar daddy Singapore is footing some of it? And that means I, as a taxpayer, am footing some of that bill. And to think I was never willing to break the bank for a stay in the Swissotel.

Why am I treating myself so shabbily? To think that some North Korean youth have stayed in the Swissotel before...

That said, would Raffles City Mall beside it become a ghost town now that everyone is put on notice that the hotel next to it is a potential hotbed of hotblooded young athletes and possibly the H1N1 bug? Yikes!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Of the People

Yesterday in Parliament, Mr Yaacob Ibrahim, the Minister for Environment and Water Resources, in rising to answer the MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Mr Inderjit Singh, referred to the MP by name and not as the Member for Ang Mo Kio GRC. In the British Parliamentary system, the system that Singapore's Parliamentary system is based on, each member in the House is addressed by the constituency he/she represents, in recognition of the fact that that is how they got into Parliament in the first place. When government ministers refer to fellow Parliamentarians by name instead of the constituents that is represented by that MP, are they forgetting the people? Do they remember them only during the Elections when the people's votes count? Mr Inderjit Singh was speaking on behalf of the people's towns, specifically the running and upkeep of these people's properties and possessions. True, some of these properties belong to the government, but isn't the government, to quote Abraham Lincoln, of the people?

When this happens, and this is not the first time MPs are calling each other in Parliament by first names, we know that Parliamentary democracy has taken a step back. All MPs in Parliament should be referred to the Member for the constituency he/she represents. They speak on behalf of his/her constituency. That is the primary role of an MP. They speak at the national level on laws and policies as a consequence of their understanding of the needs and issues of the people they serve. This is not new. Somebody some time ago raised this point and I am just raising it by way of reminder.

Nevertheless, Singapore Parliament is set for changes. So much so that the Constitution needs amending to accomodate the changes.

Chief among the changes announced is the institutionalising of Opposition seats in Parliament. 9 guaranteed seats will be set aside for non-ruling party MPs and/or NMPs. These 9 can be duly elected MPs or all 9 of them can be nominated MPs, should the party other than the ruling party lose all seats contested in a General Election. This may be a good thing, or it may not. If all 9 are NMPs, then they have no constituency to speak for. For all you know, they can speak on their pet subjects (e.g. the Arts and other civil society groups, etc.), which may not have anything to do with the bread and butter issues of the electorate. Funny, I thought there are government ministers, who are paid very handsomely in Singapore, and his Ministry who already looks after the Arts. In Singapore, that's MICA - the Ministry of Information and the Arts. It should be doing that instead of paying yet another person (the NCMP) to raise issues on the Arts.

So why do we need 'specialised' NMPs anyway? And what if the Opposition parties sweep all 9 seats, and then some? No more voices for the civil society and special interest groups? Is this a further tactic by the ruling party to limit the number of Opposition Members in Parliament? So is the latest suggested innovation in Parliamentary democracy necessarily a good thing? Of course, whether this works depends on the people's need for such 'specialist' NMPs, and their actual performance and effectiveness in Parliament. Yes, today, we have a few strong NMP voices in Parliament. They lend their voices to certain subjects. They speak frankly, but my sense is that they are not taken very seriously because when it comes down to it, they cannot vote on the things that matters. They are just toothless tigers, roaring aloud, yearning to be heard. In practice, their effectiveness is limited. One can talk, but when you are in no position to execute, to put action to words, it isn't must use, is it. MPs that are elected by the people are those who truly matter in Parliament.

The problem in Singapore is that, even with upwards of 70 MPs, we still see the need for NCMPs, and 9 at that. What a waste of money and resources. What a failure of the government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Swine Cometh

Well, finally, the virus, now known the world over, as Influenza A (H1N1), aka Swine Flu, has made landfall on the shores of Singapore island on the 26th May 2009.

Yes, it was a sooner or later thing when our island's neighbours, Thailand and Malaysia, received their unwelcome aliens in the last 2 weeks.

And is it any surprise that it came via a women who returned from the US of A? That was the route it came by for both Thailand and Malaysia. I just hope that there won't be panic all around, though I suspect that 'Temperature Taking' season will now definitely come back.

Fortunately, public schools are taking a break from next week, otherwise the spread of the flu among the Singapore populace should take on pandemic proportions, if that viral swine were to get out into the open. Can we be comforted that this time around, available anti-viral drugs have been found to be effective in combating this virus, and that Singapore has stocked up plenty of them for occasions such as this? After all, the number of fatalities against infection is in the low low low 0.00749% - 12,950 cases, 97 deaths as of 26th May 2009.

Stay calm, Singapore.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Chairwoman

Singaporeans should be shameful for the way it treats its 'foreign talent' in sports. All its major sports - soccer, swimming and until recently, table-tennis, are coached by foreigners. Yet in a year when Singapore has achieved most in the sports arena - Olympic silver medals, 5th place finish in the Beijing Olympics, 1st place in the Paralympics swimming, it couldn't find a coach who had stood out. I don't know what yardstick is being used, but it appears that this yardstick is a tad too long for anyone to measure up to.

It can be argued, very strongly, that the coach of the year (COY) award should have gone to the coaches of sportsman/sportswoman who did Singapore proud in the Olympics, indisputably the most prestigious and the toughest sports arena in the world. Yet all of them have been found wanting. If so, why don't we just sack all of them and find more worthy people to fill their shoes. After all, Singapore taxpayers' money is being used to fund sports in Singapore. Singapore taxpayers have a right to ask why we are using sub-standard coaches to drive excellence in Singapore sports.

But the most shameful thing is that an aggrieved coach, Mr Liu Guodong, is in town to seek an apology from Mdm Lee Bee Wah, President of the STTA, for allegedly slighting him in remarks explaining why he wasn't nominated for the COY award. This in spite of the fact that he coached Singapore's Olympic Table-Tennis team to silver medals - the first in 48 years. Yet, in the first meeting, she reportedly didn't turn up. Some officials appeared instead. I don't know what was said in that meeting, and whether the discussion was useful, but it does look to me as if the STTA is acting like the Communist Part of China -that 'Chairwoman' Lee BW deigns it beneath her to meet with a 'discredited' coach. Liu flew in to Singapore to LBW's doorstep. The least she could have done was to meet him, if only for old times' sake? Well, I shouldn't drag China into this, but Mr Liu is from China , after all. And for the Chinese, 'face' is important, and credibility is important in any leader, as our top political leaders in the PAP have stressed and demonstrated countless times since the country's independence.

So I am not surprised at Mr Liu's incredible quest (I hope it is not an impossible quest) to clear his name. It is now up to Chairwoman Lee to show that she is deserving of everyone's respect and support, from all sportsmen/women and coaches down to the taxpaying public, by facing Mr Liu and explaining herself, and/or otherwise, apologise PERSONALLY.

Personally, I think she and her management team in the STTA should step down for bringing disrepute to the Table-tennis fraternity in Singapore and diminishing the achievements of the silver-medal winning Olympic team by refusing to nominate their coach for the COY award. A wrong step here and she may even cost the PAP a GRC, eventually. For a fresh politician, nothing is worse than becoming unpopular for the wrong reasons.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Swine fugitive

Singapore has this slippery relationship with Mas Selamat Kastari. He is a Singapore citizen and yet he wants to wreck Singapore and possibly Singaporeans who are 'suey' enough to be near his targets of destruction. We can understand when a foreigner wants to do that, but a local boy? What has he against Singapore, the land which he adopted from young, albeit it being the choice of his parents? If he hates Singapore that much, why doesn't he remove his entire family to Indonesia, or Malaysia, and let the rest of us get on with our lives instead of having to look over our shoulders all the time and providing him free food and lodging when he is in town, albeit shorn of freedom.

That is why Singapore heaved a collective sigh of relief when news broke that he has been caught by the Malaysia Special Branch in Johore, very near the birth place of his radicalisation. He was reportedly arrested on April 1, 2009. For a moment there, an April Fool's joke flashed across my mind, but I thought it is probably too serious a matter to fool around with. At least, Mr Wong KS and his entire ISD's reputation is at stake. So while we haven't really seen his face since his capture was announced, we believe that he is in police custody. Where exactly he is now held we have the faintest idea. Whether he will be returned to Singapore eventually is not even a foregone conclusion. Actually, a couple of days ago, I had hoped that Influenza A H1N1 would do us the courtesy of infecting him and thus flushing him out. Well, the police beat the swine to it.

You can't always get what you wish for.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Silvery tongue

To its credit, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has come out to state, officially and unequivocally, that the instructor guide used in the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme run by AWARE are "explicit and inappropriate, and convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of pre-marital sex." (See Today, 7 May 2009, page 1 and Voices section, page 30; Business Times, 7 May 2009, page 3 - "MOE suspends AWARE 's sex education programme")

This vindicates the former AWARE committee's stance that AWARE has lost its direction. Indeed, it appears that AWARE's agenda has been hijacked by liberal elements, either from within or outside, that is pushing their views and preferences regardless of what the rest of Singapore society believes in or prefers. This insidious approach is worse than one where a particular religion is identified and accused of pushing its religious agenda. At least we know where they are coming from even if we may not agree entirely with them. By painting itself as non-religious and non-judgmental, the homosexual 'religious' faction has hoodwinked some, nay, many, naive women (and some men too) in AWARE into adopting, if not applauding, such liberal ideas and perverted practices (e.g. "Anal sex can be healthy, homosexuality is perfectly normal...").

Yes, more than a thousand women voted for the old AWARE guard, but I wonder among these group of people, how many are AWARE of AWARE's practices, particularly with respect to the CSE programme. I, for one,just got to know about it only in the last few weeks. If they are, do they approve? If they approve, will they let their children be schooled in this homosexual 'religion'? Is AWARE now a hotbed of homosexuals and homosexual sympathisers? If AWARE's CSE programme is neutral in its message about sexuality and choice, does the CSE give equal voice and emphasis to sexual abstinence as a choice, as Ms Charlotte Wong, former VP of the ousted AWARE committee has rightly questioned? And even if the CSE seeks to present a balanced view, as the old guard has always claimed, what has it put in place that will ensure that its trainers do not push their own preferences and biases in the classroom?

Josie Lau and her supporters may have lost within the confines of the Suntec City Convention Centre room by the 'ballot box', but it would appear that outside it, there is a significant number of people who are questioning the very practices that moved Ms Lau and her band to attempt to reform AWARE. Today reports that there are 7,000 signatures, so far, from people who have expressed concerns about AWARE's CSE. So before the old AWARE celebrate its 'victory' last Saturday (2 May 2009) for much longer, it must take stock of itself. Its President, Ms Dana Lam said that AWARE "will be open to seeing what has to be done" in response to the MOE ban, but in the same breadth, she said that AWARE will "stand by the programme. After all, we've been running it for almost 2 years."

I am worried. Can we ever trust what AWARE says now? Where along the way has it lost its integrity?

A critique of the secret CSE Manual: http://www.vtaide.com/blessing/AWARE-cse.htm - Thank you, Mr Alan S.L. Wong for the link.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

RIP

The die has been recast, and the new has become the old and the old the new. AWARE members, many of whom just joined, voted collectively that they want the old AWARE back. The former new have bowed to the will of the majority who voted. Hopefully, we will see the end of this saga which has gripped the nation, young and old, male and female. It was perhaps a good distraction from the constant flow of bad news about the economy. Perhaps it is also timely because we now have to face a potentially deadly enemy - the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, which Singapore is trying its hardest to deny entry to our shores.

Unfortunately, there are hints of the continuing feud amid the threat of a lawsuite, as if the threat against people's lives earlier is not enough. I applaud the new old AWARE committee members, who were brave enough to take up a cause they believed in. Nobody can take that away from them. One may disagree vehemently with their way of going about the whole thing, but through it all, I think they succeeded in drawing much attention to the issue of homosexuality education in Singapore schools. The MOE is looking into this. They may find nothing wrong with AWARE's programme (why would they want to be found with pies on their faces?), but these programmes will face greater scrutiny now from the public, not only from Christians, but from the conservatives among us. And these include Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and even the religiously non-committed, especially those with school-going kids. No one can ever be neutral on this matter.

Thank you for hearing me

I am honoured that a reader has nominated this blog for the Singapore Blog Awards. However, I wish to decline for personal reasons.

I wish those who are nominated similarly the best and may the best weblogs/bloggers win!

epilogos.

quote message:

Dear blogger,

You have been nominated by (name withheld) to join the Singapore Blog Awards, because (name withheld) thinks that your blog is loud and clear.

The Singapore Blog Awards, organised by Singapore's leading bilingual news and entertainment portal, omy.sg, gives recognitions to outstanding blogs in Singapore.

The winners in the 10 main award categories will walk away with a total of more than S$ 20,000 worth of prizes and a trophy designed by famous artist, Tan Swie Hian.


Please accept the nomination by completing the registration form.

We look forward to your participation to make this event a success for the Singapore blogosphere.

The Singapore Blog Awards is sponsored by East Asia Institute of Management (EASB), United International Pictures (UIP), National Heritage Board (NHB), Koka, Asia Web Direct, Play Smart Pte Ltd and HTC.

Supporting media: Avertlets, ping.sg


unquote

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Other Page

The AWARE saga has been a long-running one, often characterised, not by women against women, but by sex against sex. For some, it is secularists against Christianity, although there are people of other religions who are just as concerned by the issues - specifically, homosexuality, raised by this group of Christians who now form the core committee of AWARE.

For more than 4 weeks (the whole thing started on 28 March 2009), the issues and personalities have hee'd-and-haw'd. The wounded party - the old guard raising the most voice, if only because the new guard has been inexplicably silent most of the time. This has given occasion for diverse parties to cast aspersions on the valiant new guard who were willing to take action according to their convictions. Even the government has weighed in, warning off would-be religionists (aka Christians) mixing religion with politics.

The wonder of it all is that the voice of the majority has been deafeningly silent. Take a poll and you would probably find that more people in Singapore are against homosexual practices, yet it is the supporters of homosexuality, the old guard of AWARE, for example, that seem to be speaking for the majority. Yes, perhaps people are offended by the way the new guard 'took over' AWARE. If it hasn't been noticed, it was done democratically, according to the rules that the State (the ROC /ACRA ) stipulates, cuts no ice. I can understand. When a rug is pulled under you, you wouldn't stretch out a hand to the 'pullees'. The press hasn't helped either. It is repeatedly using emotive words like 'takeover', "a coup", 'militants', ad-nauseam.

Now religious figures have appeared too, in spite of the point made repeatedly for religions to stay out. But well, I suppose some people think that religion is important in the whole scheme of things. But of course, religious figures are trying to moderate the fight, but in doing so, I wonder if they are not taking a stand themselves?

For me, I don't even have to bring religion into this whole thing in order to express an opinion. Homosexuality is wrong, period. Many people seem to have forgotten how AIDS came about. AIDS is still with us, and it is still incurable, and it is still transmitted via unsafe and unnatural sex practices. Now I believe that any behaviour that puts at risk another's life is wrong, just as you would haul a person to court for trafficking in narcotics. Singapore law even mandates the dead penalty for such people. You may agree or disagree with the death penalty, but in Singapore, it would appear that more rather than less agree with it. And it does seem to be the case that more disagree with homosexuality than those that do, at least in Singapore.

So why are we lambasting those ladies who have the courage of their convictions?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Deja Vu

The thermometers that the government issued to me came out of the office drawers last Thursday, the last day of March 2009 where it has languished for over 5 years. Yeah, that tells you how often I clean out my office drawers. Who was it that Shakespeare caused to say, "Beware, the ides of March?" This time, it may be 45 days late, but I was still apprehensive. Its a digital thermometer, stupid, and I wondered if it worked any more - the battery, i.e. At these times, you see the virtue of alcohol or mercury thermometers. These would still do their magic even if you have left them in the drawer for 10 years or more.

I pressed the button and a beep sounded. Ahhh...it is alive! And I took my temperature - 36.7 celsius. That's good. I wasn't running a fever, so that meant that I wouldn't be escorted off the office premises. All these bring back memories, 6 years ago, to be exact, when the SARs virus caused so much consternation and fear, yes, fear. This time around, we knew exactly what to do. No need to refer to office manuals nor have office briefings. Just say the word, which the authorities, from the government down to the private enterprise, and we went about our temperature taking and recording like second nature. Perhaps this is one of those things that will characterise the first decade of the 21st Century - the terror of killer viruses (besides the terror wreaked by Islamist terrorist). Or perhaps it can just be shortened to terror, which is ironic.

The first decade of the 21st Century has been relatively peaceful. There have not been wars between nations (Iraq and Afghanistan do not count), as in the 20th Century, yet we live in times where we have had to guard ourselves and our nations from unseen enemies, who will strike willy and nilly, bringing down the weak and the strong, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, suddenly and indiscriminately. So also this Swine Fever (somehow its easier to say that Influenza A (H1N1)). It has brought down more than 170 people in Mexico, where it reportedly originated, as well as a 2-month old Mexican child in the US. Thus far, Singapore is still H1N1-free, but we wonder for how long. So you can't blame people for raiding the stores for those masks, which is now scarcely available.

How long will this last? It is anyone's guess. Until the vaccine comes along in half a year's time? Perhaps. But then, we are reminded that there are large quantities of stockpiled Tamiflu in Singapore, which has proven effective against this virus. Maybe that, and the fact that we have gone through this before, has given us a quiet confidence that we will lick this sucker in time. Err...wrong use of word, let me rephrase. We will stamp out this virus if and when it appears amongst us, make no mistake about it. But of course, the priority is to prevent this sucker from stepping onto our shores.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Toasted

I have been watching on the sidelines the election debacle at Aware (Association of Women for Action and Resarch). After all, it is about women and does not in the least affect me. Many have weighed in with an opinion or 2, including PN Balji, editor of the Today newspaper. It is Balji's opinion that the old guard of Aware should not be sour grapes for having many of its people kicked out of the Executive Committee. Instead they should welcome new blood and all. Of course there are those who disagree, pointing out that these 'young turks' are unknowns, unliked, and probably unable. They point out that these newly elected people have not made even a squeek one week after their elections, leading them to wonder if these people are real or not.

Of course people are speculating that the hidden agenda of this new group is to take Aware along the straight and narrow - no to homosexuality and yes to straightlaced religiousity, which is causing concern among the old guard and the more liberal amongst them. Now what is wrong with saying no to homosexuality and being religious? It is a point of view, much as irreligiosity and homosexuality are another set of beliefs? If we tolerate one party to push the homosexual agenda, why can't we let those sitting on the other side of the fence to do so with their beliefs, and respect those views? Whether one side or the other prevails depends on whether and how society supports or rejects either party's agenda.

The old guards should accept that they have been out-maneuvered through the rules they have put in place and maintained for 25 years. If nothing, they left the door open and now they are blaming others for sneaking in? They should kick themselves in their collective behinds instead. If any blame is to be placed, it must rest squarely on the complacent shoulders of the old guard, who, until now, assumed that their way is the only way for women, an obviously arrogant, presumptious and oppressive stance. If this were a military encounter, the old guard will be toast, much like what the British suffered in Singapore at the hands of the Japanese in 1941 - marching down Upper Bukit Timah Road to surrender the flag of the mighty British Empire that had ruled Singapore for more than a hundred years and thereafter to incarceration for the next 4 years, some never living to taste freedom again.

Thank God that they can still do an EOGM. I hope they believe in God because they can do with some divine intervention now. Whether they will succeed remains to be seen.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Paradox of recession

Nothing is predictable in Singapore nowadays, or at least, some things do not work according to the script.

Consider the opening of the newest shopping mall, Tampines 1, in the middle of one of the deepest recessions in Singapore. Retailers and even the Retailers' Associations have, in the recent past, asked the government for help in cutting costs, such as reducing the GST from 7% to 5%. The government said no. And after witnessing Tampines 1, who can blame them?

Tampines 1 sits on the site where Sogo was. It opened last week, to throngs of people. If there is one thing you can trust Singaporeans to do, it is shopping at the latest malls. I avoided the mall (yea, I am an atypical Singaporean) on its opening day, as well as the weekend, for obvious reasons. I thought today, Monday, would be a good day to visit. I was wrong. The crowd at this Mall on Monday afternoon is nothing like a weekday crowd. Everybody on the island seem to be there, from the children to the teenagers to the adults in businesses and casual wear to the aunties and uncles, all of them were there. I can begin to understand the gridlock that shoppers were faced with last weekend at this mall.

The Japanese retailer chain, Uniqlo, the newest new thing, was shuttered, not because there weren't any customers. Yes, it had drawn down its shutters, but a long queue of would-be customers were lining up just outside, ready to rush in when the shutters come up again. How any retailer would envy at this state of affairs. The mall is much bigger than I'd imagine it to be because I used to visit the old Sogo quite often before it shut. I could imagine the retailers at Tampines Mall and Century Square swatting flies all day long. The crowd was over the other side of the MRT station - in Tampines 1, stupid!

People just came, like bees to flowers, except that visitors came to dump their money into this newest of new places whereas bees would suck dry the nectar from the flowers. Come to think of it, that's what the shoppers were doing - sucking dry the merchandise using their not-so-hard-to-part money. Hey there's a recession going on, if you've forgotten. But then again, it should be like this if one wants to break the spiraling cycle of thrift, which has the effect of choking economic activity thereby worsening the recession.

My one complaint is the food sold at Kapitan, the Kopitiam food court located at the 4th level. Let me rephrase that. My complaint lies with one food stall in Kapitan, the stall that sold char siew rice. When my companion put the plate of char siew rice on the table, the stranger sitting next to me exclaimed at the portion - it was very small indeed. This is the first time that a total stranger has ever made such a remark. Singaporeans tend to be a reserve lot. They'd usually just whisper among their own group of friends. So you can imagine how small the portion really was to elicit such an unbridled comment! But this takes the cake - it costs $3.80! Cough cough cough... And in case you were wondering, there is nothing out of the ordinary about the rice, the char siew, the cumcumber and the sauce. In fact, you could getting better char siew rice at $2 elsewhere.

I thought, if this is how much things will cost, I shuddered to think how high prices will be at the planned wet market in Sengkang Square when it goes into operation. Kopitiam won the bid to build and operate it just 2 weeks ago. And their bid was 2 times the next highest bid. There may be some red faces in Kopitiam right now, but I think they will have the last laugh because they know they can recoup this exorbitant investment quite quickly. That's because people will still flock to this market even if it prices are higher. The reason is very simple - there just isn't anywhere that can compete with the convenient location of this planned wet market. This lack of competition is something that HDB overlooked when it pretended to understand how free markets (there is no effective competition) worked. Of course, there have been complaints and dismay expressed by heartlanders of the prospect of having yet to pay more. The initial euphoria of having a wet market at your doorstep is turning to disillusionment. At the end of the day, the ward's MP and the HDB will be the ones with red faces.

This is living in Singapore today - all full of irony and contradictions.