Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Live and let Live

Would you rather that someone be open and honest with you, or that that person is pleasant and agreeable in front of you but say all sorts of un-sayable things behind your back? I think most, if not all, would rather the former than the later. But there are people who are so unsure of themselves, so sensitive and so lacking in self-confidence that you'd better watch what your are saying. They would rather the latter because if you tell them the truth, they cannot handle it (which reminds me of the movie, "A Few Good Men"). I am referring to the sensitive nerves that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has (again) managed to prick among Singapore's northern and southern neighbours, which are majority Muslim countries. Mr Lee made the 'offending' remarks in the newest book on him "Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going". And I agree with what he has said. There was a time when, growing up in a multi-racial community, one didn't think that a Malay or an Indian or a Chinese made that much difference.

Sure all of us looked different, spoke different languages, believe in different gods and exhibited peculiar mannerisms that one can put down to culture, social habits of particular peoples, and yes, religion. But beyond that, we called them friends, some even best friends though there were some who we didn't get along with. We just avoided these, err, let's just say disagreeble, people's company. I certainly didn't avoid them because of religion, nor they me. We, at least I, felt that whatever you believed is a personal matter and should not form any kind of barrier to good relations. I even got invited to meals at these different friends' homes. That was a much more enlightened period if only because religion was not a barrier that it is today, and here I must agree with Mr Lee. Islam in the last 2 decades or more, has become exclusive. Not only that, in some quarters they have become so sensitive about the exclusivity of their faith that they cannot tolerate others. What had happened between then and now? I will not venture an answer. Historians are probably more qualified to do an objective analysis and provide some answers, some day.

For me, I can only reminisce of the time when the many peoples in my neighbourhood, in the worst case, just live and let live.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Truth be told

The government's decision to gazette The Online Citizen (TOC) was a surprise, and a warning to myself. TOC started out aggregating blog posts by Singaporeans, such as mine. In fact, a search of TOC shows that I still have one blog post on their blog site. I thought this was swell - I get publicity and some bit of recognition for my writing. And I have never had any problems with them at all although I haven't been that active in the blogosphere for the past half year due to other pressing commitments.

I suppose that TOC has, over time, become more vocal about the Singapore political scene. It is now more like a newspaper, reporting and commenting on social and political issues of the day.  The suspicion is whether they have been 'taken over' by external parties (read: foreigners) who may be driving their agenda. Truth be told, I am totally ignorant about this, but I do notice that it isn't as 'innocent' as it once used to be.

Personally, I am not too comfortable with blog sites reporting about the issues of the day as if they knew best. If it is opinion, then I can accept it. My discomfort arise from the fact that you really don't know who are doing the reporting, and what their agenda might be. I have been around long enough to know that you take online content that purports to report on the 'truth' (expose is what they call it) with a pinch of salt, unless you know who are doing the reporting and what their credentials are. But things are evolving this way, and serious people who lack a license to publish often now do it online. This just can't be stopped, and shouldn't be stopped. But I can see how certain controls do make sense, if only to ensure that what is reported is done responsibly.

Of course, you can take all of the above with a pinch of salt.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Atypically Singapore

Yet there are some things that happens in Singapore and nowhere else in the world. You see, Singapore is an eat-out nation. People tend to finish their work day after 6 and after factoring in the traveling time, reach home around 7, or later. So in a family where both husband and wife work, there just isn't the time to whip up a home-cooked meal. Eating out during the weekdays is fairly common, so anyone in Singapore for the first time always remark that Singapore is a food paradise. Paradise to them, but a necessity for the locals, really.

Thus when it was reported that a new food centre was being built in Bedok (yeah...that Eastern Revamp again) to replace the existing one, it wasn't really new. What was interesting is what existing stall operators were concerned about.Some asked that when (not "if") they moved over to the new food centre, they'd be charged higher rentals,. This is something that happens all the time with spanking new facilities. One operator was quoted as saying "We don't want to raise our food prices because of the rent...this is a place for HDB Heartlanders to have their three meals" (Sunday Times, 16 Jan 2010 page 2). Funny this. You would think that these businesses are acting out of character. As a business, isn't it their concern to bring in a profit? They shouldn't need to care if rentals go up because they can then justifiably charge more to sustain their margins. Let the government worry about the people's complaints. Yet in Singapore, the government always chorus that market prices should dictate and reflect the true cost of doing business. So if rentals go up, so be it, they'd say. There is very little by way of effort to keep the old prices, as far as the government goes. New means progress, Progress comes at a higher price. That's the mantra that always gets chanted. In this instance, you'd wonder who better represents the needs of the residents - the food operators or the government?

The tender system is probably one of the culprits behind the incessant rise of prices. We do not yet know if the NEA or private developer is building this new place. If a private developer comes in, the result is a foregone conclusion. Look at the development of Kopitiam Square in Sengkang. From the tender exercise, the winning bid was easily close to a quarter million dollars more than the second highest bid. As a result, food prices must be charged at a level that can sustain this cost. In other words, higher prices must be charged. We ask who benefits from all these and you are right - the government coffers. Now isn't that a good thing, since this means the government can dish out more goodies come the year end, or during budget time? But that's the point. They get to decide how to spend that money, and in the process either arm-twist or make people beholden to them. Now isn't that dandy? Using your money to fulfill their own purposes?

Before I get gazetted, let me just say that if you do not agree with me, you can always leave a comment - the very policy advocated by the Singapore government - the right of reply.

And no, I do not receive a single cent from my mother for blogging, much less from foreigners.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Typically Singapore

Singapore is very much like elsewhere in the world.

Take for example the grand plans that are being rolled out in the past 2 months, the latest of which is the improvements promised to that part of Singapore called Bedok. Touted as the great Eastern Revamp (Sunday Times, 16 Jan 2011, pages 1 & 2), it promises a slew of improvements, including new MRT stations, transport hubs, sports and recreation centres...(come to think of it, none of these are really new nor creative). When these things take place, you know the elections are coming. Well, no surprise really as there has been talk about this for the last couple of months. But it is very common for the government to make massive improvements, or at least PROMISE to make those improvements as a form of enticement for votes. Nothing wrong with that. That's the benefit of incumbency. But promises are just that - promises. They never tell you about the fine print - that if the votes are not forthcoming, oh, say, in the high 70%, the promises will remain promises, until the next elections. Well we are not kids, and even kids will know when the adult is lying when promises keep getting broken, not that this has happened in a widespread manner, i.e.

So let's see how the election fares, in places where plans for significant improvements in civil facilities have been promised. You can't blame me for being cynical sometimes, if you have lived in Singapore for a while.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Murderous Youth

If you had followed the local news in the last 3 months, you would have asked the question, "What is wrong with Singapore's Youth today?" Frankly, if it were anywhere else except Singapore, this question would have been passe - what is wrong with youth has always been wrong with youth. But in the usually orderly and systematic Singapore, a country where you can reputedly walk the streets at night alone without beings harassed or mugged, youth gangs fighting other youth gangs, and in some instances youth attacking by-standers, this is unusual to say the least, and very worrying for everyone - the government, society and parents. Now every parent is worried any time their teenage children are spending time out on an evening, no matter where. We parents advise them to 'walk away' when there is any hint of people turning aggressive - better to be a living 'coward' than to be a dead 'hero'. At least you live to 'fight' another day for society and become a real hero.

But really, what is wrong with youth in Singapore today? Some are still reported to be involved in fights at the very same locations that shocked Singapore. Downtown East is at risk of gaining the unwelcome reputation of being a den of gangs. It first got into the news with the murder of a Polytechnic students on its premises. Of late, another 3 assault cases have been reported at Downtown East, by youth to youth. Downtown East, in various forms, has been there since I was a youth, and that is many many years ago. It used to be a quiet place for a family-and-friends-BBQ getaway. It still is. It was redeveloped over the years and has become a much more hip-and-happening destination for the family, but more so today for youth who descend on its holiday chalets, amusement parks, live shows and the great variety of food. It appears that many hot-blooded youths are attracted to it in droves and at all hours of the day. It used to be a members-only place - you had to pay an entrance fee to get into its premises. Now it is wide open. Anyone can walk in and out of the place any hour of the day, except for the holiday chalets.

Yes, there have been gang fights elsewhere on the island, some reported and some kept quiet, but Downtown East is the focus of youth mis-behaving today in Singapore. Many have written and speculated on why Singapore youth have turned out this way. But to put it in perspective, it is after all just a handful compared to the generally well-behaved youth in Singapore. And we should suspend our judgments until the original murderous youths are brought before the Courts. Then perhaps we can better understand what has gone wrong. In the meantime, we should advise our children to be cautious and not get into meaningless arguments and fights, and above all, not to stare at anyone. For some people, this is even worst than pointing with the middle finger. Bravado counts for little when you get a black eye for no good reason.