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:


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

- unquote -

You can also go to Dr Loh's blog: