Barney the crocodile found dead at Kranji Reservoir

From ‘Death of wild crocodile a mystery’, 4 May 2014, article by Feng Zengkun, Sunday Times

A 400kg crocodile, probably one of the largest to have roamed wild here in decades, has been found dead on the Kranji Reservoir grounds. Fondly nicknamed Barney by anglers, its death has puzzled experts as the creature had seemed relatively young and healthy, and had no visible injuries.

National water agency PUB, which oversees the area, said it was informed about the dead reptile about three weeks ago. The 3.6m-long saltwater crocodile was disposed of at a nearby farm.

More saltwater crocodiles – the world’s largest reptile and known to be formidable predators – have been spotted in Singapore in recent years. Last year, about 10 of them were found living in waters around the north-western coastline, up from two in 2008.

There have also been regular sightings at Sungei Buloh and around Kranji Reservoir, although PUB said none had been reported in Kranji in 2012 and last year.

…Anyone who spots a crocodile should keep away from it and not provoke it. Once at a safe distance, they should contact PUB’s 24-hour call centre on 1800-284-6600 or the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s Animal Response Centre on 1800-476-1600.

This croc tips the scales

Reticulated pythons seem to be under the charge of a different agency (ACRES), though both reptiles can be nasty predators. So what happens if one finds a python swimming in a reservoir? Call PUB, ACRES or AVA? Saltwater crocodiles are the world’s LARGEST living reptiles, and I thought naming the deceased beast after a singing, purple dinosaur that haunts every parent’s dreams was pretty clever. So a tiny country like ours with limited wild spaces has both the largest crocodiles and largest pythons on EARTH. How are we still ALIVE?

Here is a quick social history of crocs in Singapore:

Croc trapping: In 1894, a croc was sighted in what was known as the ‘Impounding Reservoir’ on Thomson Road and men attempted to snare it using an elaborate trap called a ‘nibong’, which involves a dead duck as bait and a coconut. This cruel device  lacerated the croc from within after it swallowed the bait, and was found dead soon after. We didn’t give them affectionate names then; it was just called a BRUTE. Well thankfully, trapping has become more humane since, though these bait-and-cage devices  kinda makes the living fossil look pretty dumb too. Even if they’ve been around far longer than our own species.

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Badass Croc killers: In 1911, a croc was gunned to death at Serangoon River by a certain D.C Cook with a Browning automatic pistol. Aw Boon Haw, of Tiger Balm fame, himself tried to shoot one with his revolver but missed (1925, Katong). We had our very own ‘Crocodile Hunter’ in the form of Boey Peng Kow, who was charged for reckless shooting in 1935. 2 years later, an Australian showed his prowess in HARPOONING crocs as if they were sturgeon. An instructor for the Singapore Trade School showed off his trophy catch after killing one with a single shot (1939), posing in the kind of photo that today would earn a million ‘Likes’ on Facebook or Instagram. Such Crocodile Dundees don’t exist anymore. We don’t conquer wild animals and pose with our feet on them like hunters do. We do SELFIES, or worse, COLLAGES of selfies of some utterly meagre accomplishment. Or tell everyone that we completed a 3.5 km jog on Runkeeper.

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Croc attacks: A child went missing after being dragged into the Ulu Pandan river by a croc (1946). An Indian labourer was MAULED by one which he kept as a PET.  In 1989, the Police opened fire on a charging croc in Seletar. Other than these rare cases, you’re probably as likely to be eaten by a croc as being gored by a wild boar. Heck, there’s a higher chance of you being stung to death by angry bees.

Croc harvesting: Croc skinning and tanning was a thriving business in the 1930’s. In the late 40’s you could even BUY your own baby crocodile for about $25. So much in demand was croc leather that people would resort to stealing baby crocodiles. In 1970, FIFTY FOUR of these babies were nicked from croc ‘nurseries’. Singapore’s Heng Long Tannery was one of the top five croc tanneries in the WORLD in 2011, recently acquired by French luxury group LVMH, which also snapped up Crystal Jade. Of course Singaporeans get more worked up about local companies getting bought over by Europeans when food is involved, caring little about crocodile hide processing.

Croc haunts (other than rivers and reservoirs): In 1949, a 41/2 foot long croc was found in a Geylang DRAIN.  In 1991, another sighting took place in a monsoon drain at Fort Road (Crocodile spotted in monsoon drain at Fort Road, 22 Sept 1991). One wandered onto Tuas SHIPYARD in 1998.

Croc attractions: The Jurong Crocodile Paradise was conceived in 1987, and cost $8 million to build. It closed down in 2006, only to be replaced by The Village@Jurong Hill, a suburban mall. The theme park featured a female croc named HULK HOGAN, who bit off part of a performer’s FACE during a show in 1989. Less well known was a place in East Coast Park since 1981 called the Singapore CROCODILARIUM, which featured crocodile WRESTLING. Even earlier than these, we had the crocodile farms of the 70s. The longest surviving one, the Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin and Crocodile Farm, closed shop in 2012. Today, you can find the most crocodiles, or rather what’s left of the reptile, in the bag wardrobe of socialite Jamie Chua. Or you could just head down to Kranji Countryside’s Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm. Gone are those head-in-jaws of death stunts, the only thing I remember about my trip to the gone-but-not-forgotten Jurong attraction. If you want death-defying thrills in Jurong these days, there’s Jem mall.

Croc love: In 1979, a woman in Tampines kept a pet croc named – wait for it – CROCKY.  In 1988, the press portrayed elusive crocs in Seletar reservoir as our very own ‘Loch Ness monsters’. Maybe we should name the next croc we spot ‘Nessie’.

Croc logos: Clothing giant Singapore Crocodile had a legal tussle with Lacoste in 2006 over similar logos. Our brand eventually won, partly because the court found that the ‘head of the Singaporean Crocodile poses towards left while the French Lactose’s head towards right’. Lacoste was formed first, by the way, 10 years before Crocodile in 1943.

Croc pervs: Crocodile in Malay is ‘Buaya’, a term used to describe a different kind of ladykiller altogether, though rather outdated in my opinion. In 1936, a ‘buaya’ was a ‘favourite epithet for an untrustworthy scoundrel, guilty of evil deeds’. It wasn’t until the 90’s that it was used to describe flirts and womanisers.

Croc eats: Crocodile meat seems more palatable than python. Braised crocodile tail is a popular dish which you can snap up at the ‘Old Geylang’ eatery. We also used to have a stall at Old Airport Road named ‘Singapore King Crocodile’, which sells ‘croc meat bak kut teh’. Presumably it tastes like a hybrid of chicken/pork. No surprise that Barney was sent to the nearest farm then. Maybe you can have a taste of him when you can buy CROCODILE BAK KWA.

UPDATE: ST Forum published a statement by PUB (PUB probing crocodile’s death, 16 May 2014, ST) revealing that Barney might have been hunted down by poachers, as he was found with a large fish hook in his mouth and a metal rod impaled in his eye. The only croc farm remaining in Singapore, Long Kuan Hung Crocodile farm, has denied that it received Barney’s carcass as what the ST previously reported. The killers remain at large, while everyone else is caught up in the media frenzy over 5 boys who spray painted a wall.

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Python found in Toa Payoh swimming pool

From ‘ Python found in pool at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex on Tuesday morning’, 29 April 2014, article by Lim Yan Liang, ST

A reticulated python was found in a pool at Toa Payoh swimming complex on Tuesday morning. Fortunately, the pool was closed for its scheduled half-day weekly maintenance.

Sport Singapore said a pool operator discovered the snake at about 6am inside its competition pool, which is not opened to the public as it is used by national swimmers and lifeguards for training. There are protocols in place for situations like this, it added.

The snake was removed by about 7.10am by representatives from animal welfare group, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres). An Acres spokesman told The Straits Times that the non-venomous snake will be microchipped and released back into the wild.

The ST managed to squeeze in a story about a swimming snake

The ST managed to squeeze in a story about a swimming snake

Well, there’s the solution to the wild boar problem, ACRES. Unleash a 3 metre monster into ‘the wild’. Wherever that is. Big snakes have slid into human territory for the longest time, and along with their porcine prey, we’d expect to see more creatures make forays into our living spaces with rapid urbanisation, all at the expense of what’s left of this ‘wild’.

Here’s 10 things you didn’t know about pythons in Singapore, other than the fact that they’re non-venomous, usually harmless, or fancy a cool dip in a pool once in a while.

1. Watch out when you withdraw money from an ATM machine. You may get more than just cold hard cash, but a cold-blooded reptile slithering up your arm. This encounter, in 1990, was also in Toa Payoh.

2. Snakes weren’t so tenderly microchipped and escorted back into the wild in the past. They were bashed to death by hockey sticks, shot in the head with rifles, or DECAPITATED by policemen with an axe.

3. In the 50’s, enterprising snake-nabbers would sell pythons for $50. In 1878, an eye witness reported a scene of a dog placed in the same cage as a python for pure entertainment. In RAFFLES INSTITUTION.

4. BIG PYTHON was once used as a SAF mobilisation code. Well, it sure beats LONG MILLIPEDE.

5. Snakes have been found in the oddest places. Some pythons may even land up in your TOILET BOWL, while you’re taking a sssssshit. So don’t ever flush dead fish or hamsters down the sewers. Your dead pet, their food. You can find one curled up all warm and comfy in your car BONNET if you’re lucky. Other pythons prefer to take the BUS.

6. People in Chinatown used to worship a female python named SOON TECK, who laid up to 60 eggs on the 9th day of the Lunar New Year in 1985.

7. The most frequent headline used in snake articles by the ST is ‘SNAKES ALIVE’.  Other puns include ‘Snakes are hisss business’, and most recently ‘Surprise sssswimmer in Toa Payoh Pool’ (30 Apr 14). The worst headline in my opinion belongs to Today paper, with the ssssucky ‘SSSSS, ANY SNAKES HERE?‘(26 Jan 2001).

8. The only reported incident I uncovered of a python actually attacking someone was in 1965, when a 20 ft snake in Bukit Timah reserve tried to swallow a 10 year old girl. She turned out fine. I couldn’t find any other news about locals getting killed or eaten alive.

9. If you find a snake in your room and you hire a pest-control team to remove it, you’re expected to pay somewhere in the range of $300-600. In the early 80’s you could count on ‘Ah Chee’ from Chinatown, self-professed ‘Sei Chai’ or ‘Snake Boy’, who catches and serves freshly killed python meat to customers. No surprise that it ‘tastes like chicken’.

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10. The reticulated python is the WORLD’S LONGEST SNAKE (Even longer than the Giant Anaconda!). A 6-metre monster, twice the length of the Toa Payoh swimmer, was caught in Lorong Marzuki in 1986, an area fondly known as ‘Pythons Place’.

ACRES encourages people to leave our serpentine visitors to the professionals, but they should make it easier for us to remember the 24 hour wildlife rescue hotline (9783 7782). Like 1800-HISS-HISS for example. No one can remember beyond a three digit number when they’re panicking, which explains why the first thought that comes to mind whenever we see a python is calling the police or fire department. By the time you try to log on the Internet to find ACRES’ contact, the beast would probably have taken your pet dog, cat and chinchilla for dinner, before slithering away into the nearest canal, never to be seen again.

 

 

 

Singaporean radical fighting against Syrian regime

From ‘S’pore man under probe for ‘going to fight in Syria”, 23 Mar 2014, article by Priscilla Goy, Sunday Times

Singaporean man is being investigated for allegedly going to Syria “with the intention to undertake violence” in the ongoing armed conflict there, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday. Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali, a 37-year-old supermarket manager, is a former Indian national who obtained his Singapore citizenship in 2008.

A member of the public informed the authorities of his alleged trip to fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after he had left Singapore last November. The MHA confirmed it is investigating the allegations.

The ministry also said the authorities established that Gul Mohamed Maracachi Maraicar, a 37-year-old Indian national and former Singapore permanent resident, helped to radicalise Haja and assisted him in his plans to participate in armed violence in Syria.

Gul, who worked as a system analyst here, was investigated under the Internal Security Act. He was deported and banned from entering Singapore for his role in abetting and aiding Haja. When The Sunday Times asked when Gul was investigated or deported, an MHA spokesman said it “does not comment on operational matters”.

The initial reaction to such news is how on earth did we allow such budding extremists to become citizens and PRs in the first place, fanatics who would rather sacrifice themselves in another country than take up arms to defend ours. But ‘radicalisation’, sometimes of the ‘DIY’ kind, could happen to anyone with a passion for ‘militant jihad’, Singaporean or not.

It happened to Abdul Basheer in 2007, a bright law grad and lecturer who graduated from Raffles Institution and National Junior College and was an employee at Drew and Napier. Having succumbed to ‘MTV-style’ recruitment websites espousing extremist Islamic ideology, Abdul was seduced into joining the Taleban to fight in war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan against infidels (He was later re-arrested in 2012 for pursuing the same agenda). Henceforth the term ‘self-radicalisation’ was born, along with related terms that threaten to glorify self-service terrorism: The ‘DIY’ terrorist, the ‘Lone Wolf’, the Jihad Rambo.

In 2010, a full time NS men followed in Abdul Basheer’s footsteps. 20 year old Muhammad Fadil was exposed to online Jihadist propaganda, and ‘deeply radicalised’ by the lectures of personalities such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, whose videos you can download freely off Youtube (Feiz Muhammad has been suspected to be the inspiration behind the Boston marathon bombers). I can’t tell if these clerics were directly urging youths all over the world to buy a ticket to Pakistan and take up arms in Arabic, though it seems to boil down to a matter of selective interpretation. MDA and MFA should be doing more to ban inflammatory martyr recruitment sites, rather than forcing news/opinion sites to close down over licensing requirements, or blocking sites that encourage marital affairs or medical marijuana.

To ‘radicalise’ someone is a term that has been in use locally since 1987. Third Stage, a drama group, was accused of ‘radicalising’ the public with ‘Marxist propaganda’, producing ‘satirical plays’ which put the Singapore’s political system in a bad light. And these guys were put on watch by ISD presumably because at the time the pen was deemed mightier than the sword. You didn’t need to fly to terrorist school or even know how to load a bullet, you just needed to produce provocative government-bashing drama in order to be labelled ‘leftist’ or ‘radical’, capable of subverting people into overthrowing their rulers.

Trust religion to corrupt a word that once described a good thing (a radical idea, change) into one suggesting extremist violence. It’s likely that ‘radical’ has its roots in politics, used way back in 1846 to describe the act of questioning authority by ‘despots’ and ‘rulers’. Sometime in the 80’s, radical became ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’, and for a time abbreviated to ‘rad’, as popularised by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who subscribe to the ‘ideology’ of fighting crime, skateboarding and eating pizza. Today, you’d have to be careful about using the word in case the ISD comes knocking on your door searching your laptop for ‘radicalising’ material.

All this tight-lippedness over this mysterious Gul Mohamed Maracachi Maraicar seems shady though. There’s no information of his previous arrest or deportation as far as I could find online other than he and Haja being ‘village friends’, unlike the media spillage that surrounded Abdul Basheer and Fadil. I hope it’s not too radical to ask: Why?

Mission school students forced to attend chapel sessions

From ‘Respect faiths of others in mission schools’, 6 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Poh Choon Kiat): WHEN my family went to the Open House of a mission secondary school, we were told that non-Christians were welcome and that my daughter would not be forced to attend chapel (“Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools” by Mr Benjamin Wee; last Friday). But after admission into the school, my daughter was forced to attend fortnightly one-hour chapel sessions.

When she protested that she was not a Christian, she was taken to see the principal, who made cutting comments about her knowing full well she was joining a mission school.

My daughter’s suggestion that she do her own revision or homework during chapel sessions was flatly rejected. In Secondary 3 now, she is still being forced to attend these sessions. The Education Ministry should ensure that all government and government-aided schools do not force chapel sessions on students of other faiths, as respect and tolerance of other religions are the cornerstone of our country’s values.

In 1992, St Andrews JC made attending chapel sessions a condition for admission into the school for a group of ‘appeal’ students, prompting the Education Ministry to summon Article 16 (3) of the constitution that states that ‘no person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion OTHER THAN HIS OWN. In other words, no one can compel you to attend chapel if you’re a non-believer, even if the school has been established to promote the Bible as moral nourishment like pushing milk for strong teeth and bones. One of those students forced to ‘sing hymns’ and hear the chaplain preaching was a SIKH, who also lamented about Muslims being excused from such tedious rites.

‘Proselytising’ was a charge laid against the Anglo Chinese school way back in 1896, where about 60 Chinese boys were coerced into attending ‘religious exercises’. More than a century later, the ministry continued to warn schools against making religious activities compulsory or as a criterion for admission. PM Lee, himself from Catholic High, stressed in his 2009 National Day Rally that religious activities should be optional, and he didn’t want to see ‘Christians, Buddhists, Hindus all attending different schools’. But the evangelising wasn’t just happening in the confines of the school, some school teachers make it their personal mission to convert errant delinquents outside school hours.

Yet, it was in 1984 when the Government made ‘Religious Knowledge’ a compulsory subject for all secondary students, for it was deemed the ‘best and most dependable basis for inculcating moral values’, especially for rebellious teens corrupted by ‘Western’ influences. Except that no prayers, meditation or carrying of ‘artifacts’ were allowed during such classes. Which is like telling you to study a cookbook and not getting to cook anything, not even crack an egg. Within 5 years there were calls to scrap RK for good, and replace it with something more ‘inclusive’, like Civics, much to the agony of RK supporters who tried to convince us, and then Minister Tony Tan, that the scrapping of religious subjects was responsible for our young and impressionable becoming ‘materialistic and individualistic’.  Look what good decades of religious study has done to the likes of Kong Hee and gang then.

There are those who still believe that the touch of God is a necessary rite of passage for a ‘complete’ education and upbringing of a person. Some even propose to offer Religion 101 to students (Offer Religion 101 to students, 8 Jan 2013, ST Forum), which is like revisiting the 80s all over again. Except there is no evidence from history that being exposed to religion in school makes you a more moral, wholesome being than one who hasn’t. You don’t even need to be in a school, mission or non-mission, to get harassed by proselytisers outside, like how I’ve been targetted during my secondary school days by people trying to educate me about Jesus Christ. What I came to appreciate, and despise, about religion didn’t come from school, but from social encounters, family gatherings and IRC chatrooms.

In fact, it may be easier if you’re a non-Christian in a mission school to just pretend and attend chapel anyway, so that your staunch teachers or friends won’t single you out and try to shepherd you onto the path of eternal life. Or just report diarrhoea and bring your homework into the toilet with you.

NHB using Google Translator for Bras Basah

From article in omy.sg, 15 Sept 2013 and Singapore heritage Society Facebook post

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The direct translation of ‘Bras Basah’ (as in the road) into the Chinese ‘bras’ 胸罩 (as in the undergarment) has made international headlines, no thanks to the gaffe by the folks responsible for the Chinese version of  the NHB website (I have no idea how to access the Chinese version to see if it has been amended). Wrong translation with unintended comical and embarrassing results has happened before, on the STB website and even when applied to the names of prominent ministers.

So I decided to give Google Translate a shot at ‘Bras Basah’, and found that someone must have corrected the algorithm because the end result turned out to be accurate, though the official name in Chinese (pronounced ‘Wulashibasha’) makes absolutely no sense at all.

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But isn’t Bras Basah a MALAY word, you say? So I tried converting it to Chinese from Malay instead. The result I got was 湿黄铜, which means WET BRASS. It should be, literally, 湿米 (shi mi, or wet rice, as I’ll explain later), but that sounds too close to SIMEI. The name warrants further research because it seems ‘bras’ isn’t a Malay word either.

According to Infopedia, the road was listed as ‘Brass Bassa’ in 1835, and hypothesised to be an anglicised form of the Malay ‘Beras Basah’, or ‘wet rice’. Our British rulers probably didn’t like naming roads after soggy food, so decided to ‘jazz’ it up to sound more like a trumpet festival. There were also speculations that ‘basah’ is a bastardisation of ‘bazaar’ and that Bras Basah meant ‘rice market’ (‘Basah’ also sounds like the local Chinese term for ‘wet market’ 巴剎, which itself is derived from the Malay ‘Pasar’). Then there are jokes that the underwear reference came from it being used as an area to hang wet bras to dry. Some visitors, like blogger ‘Jacqkie’ from Malaysia, thinks Bras Basar ‘sounds funny’. Singaporeans, too, found the pun ROTFL-worthy, and came up with lame classics like ‘Where does Dolly Parton buy her bra in Singapore?’ (Answer: Bras Basah)

In fact, it was historically a site of rice trading, where cargo-loads were dried at the banks of Stamford Canal, occasionally made wet by the north-east monsoon, as related by an unknown writer in 1948. In the same article, ‘Tampenis Road’ was cited. I wonder how this would have turned out on Google Translate (it doesn’t translate. Unfortunately). Couldn’t stop sniggering at the puns (not sure if intended or not) in this 1939 piece on how ‘Tampines’ came about. But I digress.

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Our reluctance to restore Bras Basah to its original Malay is partly the reason for the website cock-up, though most of us have refrained from mocking its name by now because that’s just childish. Bras Basah remains generally accepted for historical and sentimental reasons, just like the distorted ‘Tampines’, though the latter is a change that residents of the town are most grateful for.

WHY someone in history decided to drop the last ‘S’ of ‘brass’ and restore the Malay ‘basah’ to its current incarnation remains a juicy mystery. As for WHEN, it could have happened sometime just before 1900, when someone commented on revised spelling on the ‘newly enamelled’ street signs, and that Bras Basah ‘sends the thoughts back to the padi fields in the valley of Fort Canning’. It could have been a lexical compromise of ‘brass’ and the colloquial ‘beras’ (Bras Basah is catchier than Beras Basah), or a colonial prankster working in road administration who wanted to leave a lasting legacy for all the wrong reasons, who had the foresight to recognise that one day mankind will be lazy enough to use technology instead of humans to translate ‘Bras Basah’ into other languages, with hilarious, and tragic, results.

The silencing of the Boars

From ‘Crossbows to cull wild boar’, 11 June 2012, article by Feng Zeng Kun, ST

KILLING wild boar with bows and arrows may sound primitive, but the National Parks Board (NParks) is considering the method to curb the animal population. The Straits Times has learnt that the agency met animal welfare groups last month to discuss using powerful crossbows against the animals.

It told the groups that the silence of the bows would avoid alerting the animals, which travel in groups. In trained hands, a single bolt could also kill a boar instantly.

…The Straits Times understands that most of the groups did not favour the method and considered it inhumane. The agency said it would enlist the help of trained archers to do the job, should it decide to go with this culling method.

…Mr Louis Ng, executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), says NParks could sterilise the animals instead. ‘Culling doesn’t work because the animals breed every year. You would have to cull them every year’ …’Put up fences. Wild boar are big and powerful, but they can’t jump,’ he said.

Pork-eye

Boar hunts have been documented in Singapore as early as the late 1870s, where white men with a pack of dogs chased these beasts around the Bukit Timah area with a shotgun, occasionally finding a boa constrictor getting to the prize first. Locals stalked boars with guns even up till the late fifties, and anyone who happened to be plucking leaves in the forest may find himself at the wrong end of a buck shot after being mistaken for a pig. In 1957, a wild boar hunter was charged for murder for firing at and killing a certain Abdul Kareem. Today, you’re unlikely to get hit by bullets, but you may fall into a pit intended to snare these animals, or have your foot maimed in an illegal trap. Seems like the $1000 penalty for killing them isn’t severe enough to stop some Singaporeans from living out their Man vs Wild fantasies.

Only Theseus can slaughter this monster

But how much of a nuisance are these pigs? In the 60’s, boars were known to charge at and almost gore amorous couples at Macritchie Reservoir.  On Malaysia’s highways, a charging boar may cause fatal accidents, a freak scenario which is unlikely to happen here, though you can have other breeds of swine ramming themselves into innocent people on our roads. We don’t have crops for them to ravage, nor do they steal our grocery bags or scratch and bite like the monkeys do. They don’t shit all over our cars or air-con compressors, nor spread airborne diseases. For all intents and purposes, man and boar have been left pretty much to themselves.  More animals and humans have been injured by wannabe boar hunters than the tusked beasts. If there’s any wildlife that bugs the hell out of us it’s the damned birds, and before we hire Green Arrows, Legolases, Hawkeyes and Katnisses to do the dirty work for us, perhaps we should control our pesky mynahs, crows and pigeons first. Hell, maybe we don’t even need to pay hunters to trap boars at all; our road barriers can do a pretty decent job as it is.

It’s not funny if it’s your kid in it

One of the arguments cited for culling is that wild boars ‘trample and destroy the forest undergrowth’ (They destroy forests, 16 June 2012, ST Forum), especially since they have no known ‘natural predators’. Well, there’s another animal higher up in the food chain which no other being eats and destroys forests and old cemeteries for development at a faster rate than a bunch of seed-gobbling, soil-digging pigs. Us.

Even if the authorities eventually attempt to equilibrate whatever’s left of our ecosystem through controlled murder, I’m not sure about crossbows as a weapon of choice. Our ‘archers’ (most likely members of some sporting club because the army no longer plays Cowboys and Indians) may need just one shot to kill a pig in the quickest, most painless, squeal-less way possible, but you probably need an experienced poacher to tell the difference between a pig and a foraging human from a distance. A poorly judged snapped twig may make all the difference between an impaled hog, or a pierced stray dog. You need someone with the seasoned, pricked ears to tell the difference between a frightened porcine grunt and something more human.  If these sharpshooters don’t bring home the game, at least their very presence, or even the very thought of arrows flying all over the place,  would deter people from having sex in jungles.

Why not blowpipes loaded with tranquiliser darts, where at least there’s room for mistaken identity, after which you can proceed to make a proper meal out of the animal and feed the needy, or Wong Ah Yoke?

SOON

Postscript: A few weeks after this post, a boar reported charged at a CISCO officer (who hurt his hand in the ensuing escape) and a child (who wasn’t harmed) in Bishan Park, and Khaw Boon Wan, a self-declared staunch Buddhist, publicly supported the decision to ‘manage’ the wild boar population because ‘protecting our babies’ is more important. Maybe we should leave it to the real boar-killing professionals below.

Snakes in a Drain

Punggol Waterway is like Venice

From ‘Venice of Punggol the pride of former backwater’, 24 Oct 2011, article by Cai Haoxiang in ST

…Punggol used to be a fishing village and farming area, and a relative backwater. PM Lee recalled going to Punggol Point to eat at its famous seafood restaurants, and to the area for an orienteering exercise when he attended the Outward Bound School.

‘We had to navigate from point to point with a map but without a compass. It was quite possible in those days to be lost in Punggol because there were no roads, no signs; some attap houses and tracks, and you had to find your way around. But we got lost,’ he said.

In 1996, the Government announced plans to develop the area, with private and public housing, MRT and light rail lines and water sports facilities, marinas and a waterfront park. But the project, Punggol 21, was halted in its tracks by the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

After the economy recovered, the Government revisited its plans for Punggol, and in 2007, PM Lee unveiled Punggol 21-Plus, which includes the waterway as the rejuvenated estate’s centrepiece.

He said yesterday that some have called the waterway the ‘Venice of Punggol’, and promised more developments to come. By the end of the year, 23,000 families will be living in Punggol, and by 2015, there will be a new commercial hub and town plaza by the Punggol MRT station.

 Bringing a little bit of Marina Bay into the ‘heartland’ is no doubt a sweetener to many Singaporeans and a refreshing change from the usual high-rise steel and concrete projects  which have been dominating most of our landscape. ‘Venice of Punggol’ is probably a harmless exaggeration, but I was amused to discover that ‘Venice’ analogies weren’t always as charming or picturesque as what our PM makes Punggol out to be. In fact, it’s not just Punggol that has the ‘honour’ of being called the ‘Venice’ of Singapore. It’s unfortunate that this classic mercantile city, renown for its architecture and art history, has become reduced to a romantic cliche describing any town where you have to ride a sampan to borrow stuff from your neighbours, or go ‘prawning’ literally at your doorstep.

In a 1896 article titled Venice At Singapore’, Waterloo Street was ‘always like a river when it rains’, proof that sarcasm was alive and well in the late 19th century.  In 1906, ‘a modern Venice’ was used to describe ‘a veritable river that had transformed’ and ‘emptied itself into the (Bukit Timah) canal at the Junction of Syed Alley Road’ following heavy flooding. It was reported that houses were flooded and the ‘natives’ must have ‘suffered terribly’. 3 years later, a series of floods following the overspill of Stamford and Rochore Canals, creating ‘miniature lakes’ in Geylang and cataracts down Mount Sophia, prompted the ST headline ‘Venice in Singapore’. More than a century on and areas like Orchard Road continue to be flooded, according to this 1982 complaint titled- what else –  ‘Venice of the East’. Just last year, we had a taste of ‘Venice’ again, captured perfectly by the image below of some guy putting a positive, wacky spin on a really bad situation.

Venice of Rowell Road, 2010

Not all analogies were derogatory, of course. In 1969, a Sydney architecture professor praised Singapore as the ‘Venice of the East’, suggesting that our public buildings adopt a form of architecture representing a ‘fusion of both East and West’, without any mention of waterways becoming a mode of leisure transport. A more ambitious analogy was drawn in a letter ALSO titled ‘Venice of the East’ in 2008, where waterways were envisioned as additional traffic arteries to relieve the burden on roads and the MRT, so instead of singing gondoliers entertaining lazy lovers you’d have ‘boat uncles’ with a schedule to meet and impatient commuters to ferry. People would need a life-jacket IN ADDITION to an EZ-link card to hitch a ride.

Architecture and waterworks aside, in 1979 the ‘Renaissance Venice of South East Asia’ , a dynamic techonological hub, was what Singapore was forecast to become in 2000, according to the director of the Science Centre. Minister of State Tay Eng Soon proclaimed that ‘Singapore can survive 1000 years like Venice’ (1988) whose assets are her people, ‘outward-looking, patriotic and practical’ (just like Shylock). So much for predictions then; we have become nothing like the ‘good’ Venice of the East, Asia, or even South East Asia, though now we finally have one to call our own thanks to our PM. And it’s in once ulu-like-hell Punggol.

So there we have it, a Venice that we aspire to be, and a ‘Venice’ that Minister of Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan silently prays that we’d never turn into for good. Let’s hope, for the sake of Punggol residents, that PM Lee’s dreamy description of their rejuvenated ‘marine’ town doesn’t turn out to be a self-prophesising  double-edged one.

Ms Singapore Universe: Mice live on moon cheese

From ‘Cheeky or cheesy?’, 10 Sept 2011, article by Kwok Kar Peng in TNP and ‘Is this S’pore’s national costume or rojak’?, 10 Sept 2011, Stomp.

Miss Singapore Universe 2011 Valerie Lim has left netizens agog with her unusual replies to the three questions that were posed to all 89 contestants this year for the Miss Universe pageant’s official online Q&A video interview.

When asked if Lim believes in life on other planets, the 26-year-old said rather jokingly: “I know the moon is not a planet, but I think it’s made of cheese, and so mice live on cheese.” She paused momentarily before adding with a giggle: “The moon cheese!”

Miss Singapore Universe Valerie Lim wasn’t the only Asian contestant who gave quirky replies. Miss Thailand, for example, said the animal she would like to be is ‘plankton’.

Still, English is not the first language of these beauty queens, so something may have got lost in translation.

It’s a bewildering response upon first viewing, but compare Valerie Lim’s answer to the rest of the Miss Universe hopefuls and you’ll realise that this tongue-in-cheek faux pas is a deliberate and bold juxtaposition of an endearing pun and whimsical cliche, delivered with unusually cool confidence and self-effacing child-like humour. Though naysayers would slam this as bimbo playacting and astronomy fans would beg to differ on the actual composition of our satellite, Valerie’s playful answer, if taken the right way by the pageant judges, clearly distinguishes her from the other finalists, who were taking the obvious, but dull, scientific approach and speculating on the probability of aliens using whatever rudimentary knowledge they have about astrobiology and alien invasion movies. Some, like Miss Great Britain, grossly and disappointingly underestimated the expanse of space by using the baseline of  ‘solar system’ instead of the more likely ‘galaxy’ or ‘universe’ when explaining the probability of extraterrestrial life (By the way, she also would like to be a caterpillar. Eew). To be exact, the actual lunar cliche specifies that the moon be made of GREEN cheese, and has been in use, astonishingly,  since the late 1800’s (Thoroughfares, Straits Times Overland Journal, 13 Dec 1879).

If Valerie doesn’t score points on accuracy, surely she deserves credit for saying something unexpected and choosing to steer away from blind speculation and countering one cliche with a cuter one. But maybe this question wasn’t really a test about how many times one has read Carl Sagan’s Cosmos or seen the movie ‘Contact’, but how stylishly one can pull off a somewhat existential poser without sounding like a wannabe astrophysicist. Other than the fact that Valerie could pass off as a nursery school teacher who could trick little kids into believing Jupiter is a really a giant orange, her diction is assuredly cosmopolitan and polished, with only the surprising Malaysian and Indonesian contestants to beat. Couple her unsettling spontaneity with a sense of parody with regard to perceptions of pageant sexualisation and it’s possible that we have a high-scoring MSU in the making.  It would be tragic, however, if she were let down by the perennial bugbear of all MSU contests to date: The national costume segment.

(On Miss Singapore Universe’s costume, Stomp): …”This outfit deliberately combines different styles into a mish-mash of styles and cultures, but I can’t help but feel that it’s all been forced together somehow. “The colours and styles all end up looking ‘rojak’ to me, like someone just tried his or her best to blend it all together.

“Some people have even said it looked like a carpet or curtain. Unfortunately, though I am behind Valerie a hundred percent, I have to agree.

This has bits of Miss China, India and Saudi Arabia mixed in it, which was probably the intention of the designer to weave our multicultural heritage in one costume. Well, you’ve got to admit it’s at least better than our Merlion disaster and last year’s silver bore. Good luck, Valerie.

Postscript: Miss Angola won the title, while Miss Phillipines and Miss China were the two Asians making up the top 5. I guess hoping for a once in a blue MOON event (Miss Singapore in Top 10) is too much to ask for.

There were no tomatoes in Ang Mo Kio

From ‘Be inclusive:PM Lee urges’, 18 Jul 2011, article by Victoria Barker in myPaper

Mr Lee, who is an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, noted that although Singaporeans travel widely and many live and work overseas, they must remember where they come from.

“Home means you must have memories, shared experiences…some sense of where we came from and why we’re here,” he said. Mr Lee cited the name of his constituency as an example of Singapore’s rich history.

Until the early part of the 20th century the area was called “Ang Mo Kiah”, he explained, although he was not quite sure how this came to be. “Ang mo kio” means “tomatoes” in Hokkien.

“But, in fact, there were no tomatoes in Ang Mo Kio. Maybe it was called Ang Mo Kio not because of the fruit but because…there were nine bridges connecting this very rural area (back then),” he speculated.

“Or…because the British built it.”

In Hokkien, “ang mo” refers to Caucasians while “kio” means bridge. Such “folklore” is worth recording to pass on to future generations, he said.

Our PM, and AMK MP,  was mistaken when he mentioned that the name Ang Mo Kio as we know it today emerged only in the ‘early 20th century’. In fact ‘Ang Mo Kio’ as a plantation (though unlikely to be a tomato one) has been cited as early as 1855, barely 40 years since the founding of Singapore by Raffles (See below, Singapore Muncipal Committee report, 2 Jan 1855, ST). ‘Amokia or ‘Amokiah’, which could have been an anglicised version of AMK, or perhaps a typo at the time, made its print appearance in 1883 (Advertisements, 13 Feb 1883, ST), though there’s no conclusive proof of which came first.  A 1872 map of Singapore also places ‘Amokiah’ in the vicinity of where today’s AMK should be (see map below).

According to  Wikipedia, the literal ‘red hair’ translation in ‘ang mo’ referred to a certain surveyor John Turnbull Thomson (1820 – 1884), a supposed ‘carrot-top’ Scot who was instrumental in bridge-building in the area to ‘facilitate logistical transport to nearby British bases at Seletar’. The original ‘Ang Mo Kiah’ perhaps, who also happened to love durians (Surveyor who loved durians and painting, 13 November 1983), Thomson was also responsible for the construction of numerous public buildings including the Pedra Blanca lighthouse. I couldn’t find any evidence to the claim that Thomson was in fact red-haired, or whether the colloquial term ‘ang mo’ was attributed to him. What’s almost certain though is that he was in Singapore from 1838 (1841 in other accounts) till 1853 building roads and bridges, which is consistent with the emergence of ‘Ang Mo Kio’/Amokia from that point onwards.  According to Singapore Infopedia, only 1 bridge over Kallang River at what is now the junction of AMK Ave 1 and Upper Thomson Road was mentioned as the inspiration behind ‘Ang Mo Kio’, or ‘red haired bridge’, though every other bridge at the time were probably built by ang mors anyway.

Perhaps some mysteries surrounding town names should be left unsolved. To me, Ang Mo Kio seems to be a case of a bad  colonial racist joke lost in translation, and there’s nothing wrong with naming it after a fruit/vegetable. Was there any lavender in Lavender? Was Redhill ever really red? Does Woodlands sound like a good place for hunting rabbits?

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