Illegal Geylang peddlers pranked by Merlion TV

From ‘Police investigating video pranksters’, 25 Jan 2015, article by Danson Cheong, Sunday Times

A group of pranksters who pretended to be plainclothes officers in order to terrorise illegal cigarette peddlers may have got themselves in trouble with the real police. The pranksters, who call themselves MerlionTV, uploaded a two-minute video on Jan 14 called “Scaring the s*** out of illegal dealers in Red Light District”.

It shows a crew member approaching cigarette peddlers in Geylang and pretending to be an interested customer. But right after, he walks away and pretends to speak into a mouthpiece. In one segment, he is heard saying: “10/20 Romeo, we found a subject, we found a subject.”

Another crew member then lunges from the shadows, and the peddler is then seen running away desperately. The crew members give a short chase before returning to the abandoned cigarettes and showing off the goods.

Three peddlers, all seemingly foreigners, were targeted in the video, which carries a disclaimer saying the crew “did not impersonate any police officers or law enforcement entities”.

Geylang is scheduled for ‘re-zoning’ and a public alcohol consumption ban to free itself from its reputation as a sleazy foreign worker enclave with an undercurrent of ‘lawlessness’. Until then, it’s still open season for syndicates to ply their contraband trade, in this case what the ICA calls ‘duty-unpaid’ cigarettes. Not sure if the Merlion TV team knew that they could be fined $500 for buying the stuff, even if what they pulled off here was part prank, part vigilante sting operation, a fake vice raid that the SMRT Feedback group would surely approve. Though laughs were intended, the video does raise some serious questions about the state of enforcement in the district, like ‘Where the hell were the actual authorities’? and ‘Are these immigrants even legal?’

Impersonating an officer is a serious crime, of course. You could wave your fake badge and swing your fake baton and pressure prostitutes into having discount sex with you. Or you could ‘confiscate’ sex drugs or cough syrup dressed up in fake police paraphernalia bought from Peninsula Shopping Centre. Maybe the real police can check that place out for a change. Imagine all those fraudsters out there wearing tight black shirts with the words ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on them scaring gullible folk into surrendering their ICs, money, phones or even their damned virginity. I may even be forced to give up my queue for Hello Kitty at Mcdonalds if I get approached by one with a fake stern mug.

In a previous ‘Purge’ prank, the guys were stalking innocent bystanders with a weapon and managed to get away scot-free to indulge in more ‘extreme Candid Camera’ silliness. Now, the police are again hot on their tails for creating what could be deemed a ‘public nuisance’, though technically they did not identify themselves as police officers. But this is Geylang, not Bishan Park, and people getting chased all over the place screaming ‘Mata lai liao!’ is the norm. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary ‘fear, alarm of distress’ out of the ordinary here, and if the Police decide to arrest the team for making a mockery out of the profession, you’d expect fans to complain that the cops should be out there rounding up the masterminds behind the illicit street trade instead of locking up some video pranksters with a warped idea of fun.

The fact that foreign workers appear to be exploited here suggests that there’s more to this than just an underground black market trade, probably someone ‘higher up’ is plotting a revenge gang war as we speak. Ironically, the people behind the Purge prank are giving the authorities greater reason to ‘purge’ dirty, chaotic, smutty Geylang once and for all. And since we are imposing a liquor control zone in this hotbed of vice, how about passing a Bill to ban all selling, possession and smoking of cigarettes too? Duty paid or unpaid.

Singtel wants to make ‘everyday better’

From ‘Netizens react to new Singtel logo and slogan’, 23 Jan 2015, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The new Singtel logo unveiled on Wednesday has created quite a buzz. it also came with a new slogan “Let’s make everyday better”, and new service commitments by the telco. The rebranding and logo – the first in 16 years – were conceptualised by creative agency Ogilvy and Mather. The logo and slogan did not get the best reception online, it seems.

…Entrepreneur Calixto Tay wrote in Alvinology.com that the “new logo isn’t making too much sense”, and even asked two designers to come up with some new ones. Those by designer Jeremy Kieran featured the ‘T’ in negative space, and in one, it was made to look like an upward arrow.

There was some discussion as to whether the slogan was grammatical, and Facebook user Sergio Gs IIo wrote: “there is an even worse error: it should have been ‘everyday better-lah.

singtel-new-logo-628x330

The contentious issue here is whether the word ‘everyday’ is appropriate, since strictly speaking it should be ‘make every day better’. The conjoined ‘everyday’ is usually used as a adjective to describe the humdrum, the banal, the common, like our ‘everyday life’, ‘everyday people’ or ‘everyday heroes’. If Singtel had capitalised the word (Everyday) to imply that they’re using it as a noun in this instance, people would probably complain less vehemently. I assume these are the same people who lose sleep over LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem (EVERYDAY I’m Shufflin’).

Most people don’t bother to split the term in, well, ‘everyday’ conversation through email or messaging, and for practical purposes the two have become somewhat interchangeable, just like how we’ve learned to live with ‘someday’ rather than ‘some day’. Not every body, I mean EVERYBODY, has the time or patience to nitpick between the two.

So either this is a genuine case of grammatical oversight, or a deliberate marketing gimmick of using an adjective as a noun. Like ‘Think Different’, ‘Spread Happy’, ‘Imagine Extraordinary’, or the song titles ‘Beneath your Beautiful’ and ‘Excuse My Rude’, except this one’s less obvious and rolls off easier on the tongue. Singtel were quick to defend the slogan as referring to the ‘day-to-day’ things that matter to customers, but ‘Let’s make your day-to-day experience better’ just sounds terrible.

Some marketing folks do believe that the logo is an improvement, especially when the font has been changed from the previous ‘Time New Roman-esque’ typeface. The ‘t’, interestingly, not only has been downsized to small caps, but even has a funky incomplete stroke at the tip, almost resembling the side profile of a Jurassic-era phone receiver. If anyone continues to grumble about the new logo, which has 5 sprightly red dots in some kind of planetary trajectory, I’d be happy to refer them to the one proposed for our new National Gallery as a comparison. The ‘planet’ reference is fitting nonetheless, considering that there are times, in the train tunnel especially, when the 4G connection is literally ‘out of this world’.

Public consumption of alcohol to be banned after 10.30pm

From ‘Stricter laws on public alcohol consumption proposed’, 19 Jan 2015, article in CNA

The public will not be able to purchase alcohol for take-away or consume alcohol in public places from 10.30pm to 7am daily when liquor control laws proposed in Parliament on Monday (Jan 19) kick in. The Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill was introduced on Monday.

The start time of 10.30pm is aligned with the closing time of most businesses in residential areas, and it is the time by which most community events, including getai, end, said the Ministry of Home Affairs in a media statement. The restriction will apply to all public places to avoid displacement of problems from one area to another, MHA said.

People will continue to be allowed to drink at home, at approved events and in licensed establishments such as bars and coffee shops outside of these hours, the MHA said.

Under the proposed law, Little India and Geylang will be designated Liquor Control Zones and come under stricter restrictions on alcohol consumption and retail hours of take-away alcohol, based on the police’s operational assessment. Such zones are where there is significant risk of public disorder associated with excessive drinking.

Under the new restrictions, you can’t bring booze to a BBQ in East Coast Park at night without applying for a ‘liquor consumption permit’. Likewise if you and your significant other intend to celebrate Valentine’s Day with champagne over a moonlit picnic. The punishment for your midnight revelry is a fine of up to $1000, and if you happen to be intoxicated within the Liquor Control Zone, the police have the right to tell you to ‘leave and DISPOSE of your liquor’, failure of which is a 6 months jail-time. All this doesn’t, however, address the problem of drunk-driving, which accumulated over any festive period may cause more deaths, injuries and blocked roads than your occasional Little India Riot, whether you drink in the day or night. You don’t even need a drop of alcohol to trigger disorderly behaviour. SMRT bans ALL forms of drinks on the train but people still fight over priority seats anyway.

To single out Geylang is no surprise, it being called a ‘powder keg’ and all, but this zonal extension is a ominous sign of ‘nanny-creep’, where you may have LCZs being slowly formed elsewhere for our ‘protection’, from Joo Chiat to goddamn Joo Koon.  Tekka hawker centre near Little India has already suffered from the migration of the drunken blight, with police banning beer bottles in the premises. So what’s a midnight outdoor drinker to do? Stock up your fridge, invite your friends over, get pissed drunk, and get into an indoor brawl over cricket. Well, at least it’s not a PUBLIC disgrace- that is until someone gets thrown out of the 8th storey window in the heat of battle.

What about those Robertson Quay teens, who now deprived of their fun beverage, decide to turn to another drug of choice, nicotine, or something more illicit perhaps? They sure as hell ain’t converting to detox juices. Worse, they may even drink MORE than their usual fill before the curfew clock strikes 10.30pm, after which the police won’t just be stalking people holding onto beer cans, but fishing out bodies from the river into which the intoxicated kids plunged to their deaths.

If the Government is serious about the alcohol scourge, they should ban outdoor consumption 24/7, or risk having public buses impeded by suicidal drunks in broad daylight. It seems like the only thing stopping us from banning alcohol altogether is sin taxes. But as if increasing the tax isn’t enough, now you’ll need to pay for a permit to bring a chiller stocked with Tiger beer to a beach party. Might as well make full use of that hard-earned permit by binging and destroying your livers too. Good luck with that, though, if you intend to hold a party for some Bangladeshi guest workers. You may have to pay the authorities extra for the chaperone riot police.

In fact, with the ban in place and you can no longer buy cheap beer from 7/11 in the middle of the night, alcoholics are being nudged towards the ‘licensed retailers’, meaning bars and kopitiams benefit, so hooray for more sin taxes, and if you have to drive just to get your fix, then you’re giving the traffic police, or the Grim Reaper, more work to do. If the objective is the maintenance of public order and safety, then a supplement Bill should be tabled along with the alcohol curbs. How about the banning of picking and throwing of projectiles, lighting fires, or use of makeshift bamboo poles as spears in public? Hell, even walking around with your face glued to your phone is a safety hazard. Why not ban public texting or watching Korean drama videos on phones too?

Ironically, the tagline for Singapore’s own Tiger beer is ‘UnCAGE’, but what we’re creating here, because we don’t trust people to behave responsibly in the presence of alcohol, are depressing cages of sobriety.

Charlie Hebdo cartoon pulled out of Economist Singapore

From ‘Right to speak freely and responsibly must come together':Yaacob on Charlie Hebdo, 17 Jan 2015. article in CNA

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said he appreciates a decision by a local printer of The Economist not to reproduce a page with the latest cover of the Charlie Hebdo magazine depicting the Prophet Mohammed. “We have no doubt that there’s no such thing as freedom of expression without limits. As I have said before, the right to speak freely and responsibly must come together,” Dr Yaacob said to the media on the sidelines of the JFDI.Asia Demo Day on Friday (Jan 16),

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs said the circulation of the cartoons will not be allowed in Singapore. He later posted on Facebook that “there are longstanding laws against causing offence to our races and religions” in Singapore. The page in the Singapore edition of The Economist was replaced with a statement informing readers that the magazine’s “Singapore printers” declined to print it. The magazine hit local newsstands on Friday.

“I think Singaporeans understand the sensitivities and we must continue to protect our racial, religious harmony. So I appreciate the sensitivities shown by the printer and I commend them for the decision,” said Dr Yaacob.

…Dr Yaacob said the Malay/Muslim community is “by and large offended” by the latest Charlie Hebdo cover. “But I think they also understood that we need to act rationally and I am quite impressed at how the community has come together to respond to this particular episode,” he said.

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Instead of the actual image, our local printer (Times Printers) agreed to allow a link directing the reader to the cartoon, only without the disclaimer ‘Click at your own risk. We are not responsible for any bloody riots taking place on the streets over this’. As the head honcho of all Muslim Affairs we’re supposed to take Yaacob’s word that ‘by and large’ a cartoon of the prophet shedding a tear expressing solidarity with the Je Suis Charlie movement is insensitive to Islam. Hebdo has published worse, of course, with images of His Most Exalted One being subject to gross humiliation and explicit violence. The creator of the latest cartoon has already explained the meaning behind it, that it wasn’t meant to poke fun but imply that the prophet would never have approved of these mindless killings. Angry Muslims elsewhere have already taken to the streets slamming the resurgence of Charlie as an act of defiance. To some, it’s an act of WAR. Well, Sacre bleu!

Since the time someone was investigated for posting an image of a pig on the Kaaba in Facebook, Singaporeans have become all too familiar with the consequences of breaching boundaries of ‘free speech’. The publisher’s ‘self-censorship’ is similar to the restraint exercised by Singaporeans from expressing their honest views about such a ‘sensitive topic’. We don’t talk about it in school, at work, even around the dinner table, letting the controversy drift by while we argue instead over the ethics of Xiaxue vs Gushcloud. Opinion leaders straddle an overcrowded fence, saying that ‘I am not really Charlie Hebdo’ and ‘Killing is bad, but free speech has its limits’. One moment we’re condemning the murderers, the next we’re saying ‘Hmm, maybe those cartoonists went too far’. The usual refrain is ‘There is no excuse for murder, this has nothing to do with religion…’. Then there’s this big ‘BUT….’.

Some go to the extent of calling out countries for hypocrisy, such as Saudi representatives at the Charlie Hebdo march, who hail from the very same place that sentenced a blogger to 1000 lashes for denigrating Islam. Maybe our publishers just really wanted to play it safe in case they get a similar mode of punishment in Singapore, or their office gets razed to the ground by insurgent syndicate members. We can’t blame them for that really, but one can’t help noticing the double-take when a public figure goes on to commend them for muzzling themselves over a cartoon that anyone can find online at the click of a mouse. In particular THIS cartoon. Our local FHM magazine has published a caricature of Jesus Christ with a shotgun previously, which in my opinion is more offensive than the Prophet with a glum face holding a ‘Je Suis Charlie’ sign. Today, FHM is still in business, though focusing more on boobs, thighs and butts, which ‘by and large’, doesn’t offend the general populace. MDA must be thanking the heavens that the publisher censored themselves otherwise they’d have some work to do. Thank you for acting ‘rationally’. Hey wouldn’t it be more ‘rational’ if you removed all links and references to Hebdo COMPLETELY? Here’s a broom and a rug, guys!

The irony was evident from the moment our ministers lined up to ‘strongly condemn’ the act, even sending dignitaries to march with the Parisians. The French ambassador took Singapore’s deep condolences as a gesture of support for the French people, and ‘solidarity in the fight against terrorism’. Yet, we knew that Singapore would have banned Charlie Hebdo all along, whether they’re slamming the Prophet, Buddha Jesus, or the Supreme Court for that matter, as one of our own cartoonists Leslie Chew found out the hard way. It would be a matter of time before the awkwardness hits home, when a ‘controversial’ image from the ‘survival edition’, meant to symbolise resilence against terror, is taken out because people are afraid of the consequences. By branding the latest cartoon as ‘religiously insensitive’, MDA is throwing the ‘context’ out of the window and going for the safer option of a blanket ban. The failure to appreciate context, of course, is the reason why extremists kill people in the first place, and a ban is exactly what they have always hoped to achieve.

The French ambassador may want to take a second look at our condolence signing and look for the small print that says: ‘We feel you, bro, but Charlie Hebdo is still a no-no here. Sorry’. As for us, maybe looking up ‘solidarity’ in the dictionary might be a good idea before jumping on the Hebdo sympathy bandwagon.

Chee Soon Juan is a ‘political failure’

From ‘Chan Chun Sing rebuffs Huffington Post for running articles by Chee Soon Juan’, 16 Jan 2015, article in CNA

Your website has given Dr Chee Soon Juan considerable but undeserved attention and space. You perhaps believe that he is a weighty political figure in Singapore. He is nothing of the kind. Dr Chee has stood for elections thrice – and lost badly all three times, once receiving just 20 per cent of the vote.

The party he now leads, the Singapore Democratic Party, was once the leading opposition party in the country. But that was when it was led by Mr Chiam See Tong, a man everyone in Singapore, political friend and foe alike, regards as an honourable man.

Indeed, it was Mr Chiam who brought Dr Chee into the SDP in 1992. He mentored the younger man and promoted him. Dr Chee then proceeded to betray Mr Chiam, isolate him and force him out of the SDP, a party that he had founded in 1980 and had nurtured over 14 years. Since then the SDP hasn’t won a single seat in Parliament, though Mr Chiam himself went on to win elections repeatedly.

In 1993, Dr Chee was dismissed from the National University of Singapore for misappropriating research funds and for other serious misconduct, including surreptitiously recording conversations with university staff.

He has been sued for defamation not only by ruling party politicians, a fact that he likes to trumpet in the foreign media, but also by the doyen of the opposition in Singapore, Mr Chiam, a fact that he doesn’t mention because it is embarrassing.

…It is because of these and other failings that Dr Chee is a political failure – not because he was persecuted, as he likes to pretend.  His party is now one of the weakest political parties in Singapore principally because voters do not regard its leader as an honourable man.

…As he has done in the past, he has looked to the foreign media for redemption, chiefly because foreign journalists don’t know him as well as Singaporeans and he believes he can beguile them into believing he is the Aung San Suu Kyi of Singapore politics. Dr Chee, however, claims he is forced to publish in the foreign media because he has been silenced in the Singapore media.

But this is false. There are several socio-political websites in Singapore, some with as wide a reach among Singaporeans as the Huffington Post has among Americans. They have run several articles by Dr Chee. The local press also has carried several of Dr Chee’s letters.

Dr Chee’s problem is not that he has not been heard by Singaporeans. His problem is that they have.

Aung San Suu Chee

The PAP probably keeps a checklist of all the things that make Chee Soon Juan a shitty, hopeless politician, while using Chiam See Tong, the ‘doyen’ of Singapore politics, as a counterweight role model, but only because they no longer feel threatened by the latter. For decades CSJ has been the archetype of everything that’s wrong with opposition politics, and while not exactly a hero to many amongst us, the PAP insists on demonising him as the Wicked Witch of Singapore politics, and can’t wait to banish him from the Emerald city.

A ‘failure’ is just one of the many insults that CSJ has had to bear since his masochistic run with politics in the early 90’s. You might say he has already gotten used to it, as evident from his surprisingly calm response to Chan’s verbal thrashing. Here’s a sample of insults which make Chan’s assault seem like a thumb to the nose in comparison. If the James Bond franchise ever runs out of villains, CSJ might just fit the bill.

1. A ‘political gangster, fraud, liar and cheat': In 2004, CSJ, rather unsuccessfully, tried to sue LKY for defamation for mouthing these words. The reason for then SM Lee’s wrath? CSJ’s dramatic allegation of a $17 billion loan by Goh Chok Tong and LKY to Indonesia during a walkabout (a ‘rescue package‘ that never happened). Chan forgot to mention that CSJ also ‘cheated’ when he consumed glucose during his 10 day hunger strike after his 1993 sacking from NUS.

2. CSJ has been diagnosed with a series of mental disorders, most memorable being LKY’s ‘psychopath’. ST editor Chua Mui Hoong cited ‘antisocial personality disorder’, a euphemism for the former ‘psycho’, while Charles Chong used ‘megalomaniac’. Our PM himself, however, has admitted that the PAP can be rather ‘paranoid’ at times. Chan Chun Sing’s furious rebuttal of the Huffington Post articles betrays a sense of, well, ‘anxiety’ perhaps. It’s a madhouse, this politics thing.

3. CSJ’s cosy association with foreign media has earned him the ridiculous title of ‘Sarong Party Boy’, again thanks to Chua Mui Hoong (The Sarong Party Boy of Opposition politics, 30 Oct 2001, ST). In 2011, he was awarded the Liberal International ‘Prize for Freedom’, joining, ironically enough, the ranks of Aung San Suu Kyi. Not something any ol’ bimbo would win. Chan’s assertion that even the ‘local press’ has carried several of Chee’s letters is laughably misleading, because these are often censored, if not outright rejected.

4. CSJ’s ‘milking of public sympathy’, familiarity with prison cells and bankruptcy have earned him the label of a ‘martyr’. Chan’s use of words like ‘redemption’ isn’t helping to steer us away from the idea of CSJ as a rebel messiah with a cult following willing to impale himself on the Singapore flag for us all. CSJ  thrives on bashing, and Chan eagerly took the bait.

If there’s one thing that CSJ has accomplished despite his dismal showing at the elections and run-ins with the law, is the publication of actual books. Chan, to his credit, has introduced us to XO Chai Tau Quay and made us reflect on kueh lapis. He may even have rolled around in trenches during his time in the Army. Explains all this to-and-fro GUTter politicking then.

Here’s an idea for a campaign theme song for the upcoming GE, CSJ. Chumbawamba!

Llao llao discriminating against non-Mandarin speaking woman

From ‘Yogurt chain to raise hiring standards after shunning woman for not speaking Mandarin’, 15 Jan 2015, article by Joanna Seow, ST

Frozen yogurt chain llaollao has promised to improve its hiring guidelines after a local woman was allegedly turned away from a job interview because she could not speak Mandarin.

Indian undergraduate Karishma Kaur, 22, applied for a part-time role at the company’s West Mall branch on Jan 7 but said she was not given an interview as the manager spoke only Mandarin and could not interview her in English.

After she posted about the matter on Facebook, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) received a complaint about it on Jan 12 and is looking into the issue.

Llaollao Singapore’s country manager Edwin Ferroa said he has been in talks with Tafep “to look into how we can better the way we employ”, and added: “We don’t condone such discriminatory behaviour based on race, language or religion.”

He said that the company had already begun probing the incident on Jan 10 and found that the woman who had spoken with Ms Kaur was the wife of the store’s owner who had been helping out. She was not an actual employee.

To date, there are no anti-discriminatory laws in Singapore. The Tafep, launched by Minister Tan Chuan Jin, makes ‘guidelines’, organises workshops to teach employers about ‘fair’ hiring and if necessary, slaps ‘demerit points’ on recalcitrant companies. Since then, the agency has shamed companies for wanting directors ‘aged around 30 years’, ‘Filipinos only’, ‘Malaysian PRs’ and ‘preferred Female Chinese’. Some companies are more specific on who would make ideal employees – people who recoil at the ‘thought of having kids’. Others, while not guilty of discriminatory advertising, may drop you during the interview if you have a barely noticeable baby bump, stutter, or are openly gay.

According to the Tripartite guidelines, you are discouraged from employing people based on age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability unless exempted by the nature of work. For obvious reasons, you need someone who’s fluent in Mandarin in order to be a tour guide for PRCs, or you’ll have to exclude Muslims if you’re dealing with Bee Cheng Hiang bakkwa. If you’re hiring masseurs, you’d have to say sorry to the guy missing both thumbs.

However, the guidelines do not say anything against hiring people based on their LOOKS. Which means Abercrombie and Fitch can get away with hiring ‘attractive’ people, Hooters can pick and choose employees with a ‘GREAT SMILE’, and our very own SIA can reject any lady below 1.58m tall. A ‘pleasant’ look, as everyone knows, is euphemism for ‘good-looking’. In my experience patronising hip ice-cream or yogurt joints, you’re more likely to be served by young women in shorts than, well, 40-ish uncles in khakis and crocs. Just look at this FB post, which claims that the company hires ‘Singaporeans or PRs only’. Apparently they missed out the ‘Speak no English OK’ requirement. According to Ms Kaur, she was told that the manager of the West Mall stall was ‘from China’. Well well, you’ve got some explaining to do, Llaollao!

LMAO

LMAO!

Another notable absence from the guide is discrimination against one’s ‘sexual orientation’. You’re unlikely to get a job as a Sunday school teacher if you’re a transgender, nor have we heard of openly gay colonels in the SAF. Goldman Sachs, however, has a team dedicated to hiring LGBT staff, which one could counter-argue to be discriminatory against heterosexuals. What about ‘political beliefs’? Just ask Cherian George. Or ‘dietary habits’, like say I only hire vegetarians for my Animal Rescue company because of my belief that anyone who loves animals shouldn’t be eating them as well?

As an employer, it’s easy to slide from ‘discerning’ to ‘discriminatory’. The harsh truth is no one who cares about the survival of their business is just going to hire any Tom, Dick or Harry willy-nilly for the sake of universal equality. If you want to publish a politically correct ad for a beer server in a kopitiam, for example, following the guidelines strictly would mean something like ‘Wanted: A human being (nope, even ‘waitress’ is frowned upon). With a working brain’. Which is a waste of not just your candidate’s time, but yours as well. As for the hugely popular frozen yogurt chain, I doubt this series of events would turn the business cold, though you may want to familiarise yourself with yogurt flavours in Chinese the next time you order.

Fernvale Lea buyers demanding for refund over columbarium

From ‘Upset over columbarium plans, Fernvale Lea’s future residents want a refund from HDB’, 4 Jan 2015, article by Samantha Boh, ST

Upset about an upcoming columbarium close to their future flats, some would-be residents of Fernvale Lea have asked the Housing Board for a refund. Their request came even after Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, held a dialogue with residents on Sunday and said that there would not be a crematorium or funeral parlour services at the Chinese temple where the columbarium would be housed.

Some residents stood in line to leave their contact details with the HDB after a three-hour dialogue with Dr Lam and representatives from Life Corp, the company developing the temple. Residents at the dialogue said the HDB should have been more upfront about the Chinese temple housing a columbarium.

News of the columbarium, which is expected to be completed by 2016, had surprised many residents when it was reported last week. An online petition started on Tuesday to stop the development of the columbarium had garnered more than 800 signatures.

Speaking on the sidelines of the dialogue, Dr Lam said the authorities had been upfront, noting that it was indicated in the Fernvale Lea brochure for the new flats that the temple may include a columbarium allowed under the guidelines of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). “There is really nothing to hide,” he added.

Some residents had also asked why the Chinese temple is being developed by a private company. Dr Lam said URA guidelines did not restrict the type of company that can develop a religious institution and he understood from the URA that it has been done before.

Sin Ming residents can relate. When a funeral parlour was proposed to be built in the vicinity of a school, one resident complained that the estate would be henceforth known as the ‘Avenue of the Dead’. But it’s not just spaces for the deceased that get people upset, but also void deck elder-care facilities and sometimes even community HOSPITALS, where residents may get traumatised by the ‘smell of medicine’ in addition to the threat of impending doom.

Fernvale Lea’s selling point, according to its online brochure, is that residents get to live amid ‘lush greenery’, which also happens to be the kind of environment you want to ‘rest in peace’ within. It does mention the future placement of a Chinese temple, but leaves the interested buyer to interpret the disclaimers at his own risk, namely the statement that ‘the proposed facilities, their locations and surrounding land-use….are indicative only and subject to change or review. These facilities may include other ancillary uses allowed under URA’s prevailing Development Control guidelines.’ Which basically means HDB can do whatever the hell they want years after you’ve settled down in your new home, whether it’s building a private-owned ‘dragon and phoenix’ temple, a foreign workers’ dormitory, or a cut-and-paste shopping mall which turns out to be an foreign worker enclave. Heck, they could run a new highway or MRT line right next to your house and you can’t do anything about it.

In 1984, applicants of Clementi flats slammed the agency for keeping dead silent about plans to build a funeral parlour near the estate. It appears that HDB should know exactly the sort of reaction from people whenever you surround them with facilities reminding them of their mortality, but till this day continues to refrain from telling buyers straight in the face, like a property agent omitting the tiny detail of your flat being previously owned by someone who committed suicide in the living room. In any case, people are still going to hold void deck funerals right under your block anyway, columbarium or no columbarium.

If you’re diligent enough, you’d actually go the extra mile and read about URA’s ‘Development Control’. And by extra mile I mean sending an email to URA because I have no idea where these guidelines are from the website. Or, if you’re desperate for a house even if it means living next to a cemetery or a string of noisy pub/bars, you could look past the hazards of living near a storage for urns and maybe consider that you have quite a few decent schools nearby (e.g Nan Chiau), which may allay any fears of poor resale prices, since some parents would camp above a mortuary just to live 2 minutes’ walk away from a top school. You could also interview Yishun Ring Road residents if they had witnessed any creepy happenings living near a heartland columbarium, a mere 10 min walk away from the MRT station.

Ironically the developer of the ‘80% temple, 20% dead people’s ashes’ is called ‘Life Corp’. And for anyone who has gripes about religious institutions run like corporations, look no further than City Harvest. People will continue dying in our ageing society and unless we move beyond the traditional way of remembering the deceased through tablets and urns, or loosen up on our superstitions, both the living as well as the dead will be fighting for space in this already very crowded city. Hopefully when it’s time for my demise, all I’d need to do is download my memories digitally into a thumb drive or upload my electronic ghost on a password-protected family cloud somewhere without having to hide in some basement of a posh temple designed to look like a shopping mall and scaring the shit out of the living around me.

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