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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MP Lim Wee Kiak retracting statement on MH370

From ‘Singapore distances itself from MP’s criticism of Malaysia over MH370 incident’, 11 April 2014, Today

The Singapore Government yesterday distanced itself from comments made by a Member of Parliament (MP) who said in a media interview that the Malaysian authorities could have better managed the MH370 incident. In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Foreign Affairs and Culture, Community and Youth) Sam Tan said the remarks by Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs, “do not represent the views” of the Government.

Mr Tan said: “The Singapore Government position has been clearly set out in the remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam to the Foreign Correspondents Association on March 28, as well as by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the editors of the Asia News Network on April 9. It is an unprecedented and very difficult situation and, as Prime Minister Lee said, the Malaysian Government has done a ‘manful job’.” He added: “Singapore deployed aircraft and ships in the search and rescue operations, and has conveyed that we stand ready to provide further support as needed.”

Responding to Mr Tan’s statement, Dr Lim said on his Facebook page: “I have reflected on my comment and agree with the comments of our Foreign Minister and our PM.”

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MP Lim referred to the communication lapses among ASEAN counterparts as a ‘missed opportunity’, which is a euphemism for ‘failure’.  He also compared the Malaysia Airlines’ handling of MH370 to the ‘better media management’ by SIA when the latter’s plane crashed in Taiwan back in 2000. The difference is till today no one really knows for sure what happened to MH370, so the comparison may not be entirely fair. Besides, what’s the point of complaining now anyway? It’s as helpful as camping on an island in the middle of the Indian ocean with a pair of binos and waiting for a piece of wreckage to bob your way.

PM Lee’s compliment is a headscratcher though; Is a ‘manful’ job a ‘brave’ effort as in ‘manly’ or does it mean a manpower-heavy mission? An archaic term used as far back as 1917 to describe what I can only guess to be ‘backbreaking’ work, I’m not sure if this was a deliberately diplomatic choice because the more flattering option of ‘courageous’ would be overdoing it, especially considering what many furious Chinese think of the whole incident. After sharing a selfie bromance, it looks like Singapore is set to support Malaysia through thick or thin, though we’re not so certain if that loving feeling is mutual.

Malaysian politicians have always had no qualms about talking trash while meddling in our affairs without anyone urging them to retract their statements ever. In 2003, Dr Mahathir had a problem with Singapore supporting the US war in Iraq. Others found fault in the racial makeup of our SAF, blasted us for hosting the Israeli president in 1986, and slammed LKY for banning Islamic preachers from entering the country the year after. People will remain divided on MH370 for years to come even after the wreckage is recovered, if ever, and since Malaysian politicians have slung mud our way like the playground bullies that they are, why is the PAP afraid of bilateral ties getting bruised over ONE MAN’S opinion on the matter? Are we living up to what one journalist once called ‘little brother’ status?

In the interview, Lim asked: ‘How could everybody miss the plane? If the plane really made U-turn, wouldn’t someone’s radar have caught it?‘ Last I checked, Lim’s an opthalmologist, not a master of aeronautics. In fact, if there’s anyone doing a U-turn now it’s him, producing a turnaround apology that seems coerced after he expressed himself with such ‘manful’ conviction during the interview.  This makes it a hat-trick of apologies for Lim; first his comment on ministers’ salaries and their dignity, followed by his mocking of Low Thia Khiang’s hearing, and now getting ‘distanced’ from the team because of what he thinks not just of Malaysia but ASEAN as a whole. In local parlance it’s the political equivalent of ‘Eh, I don’t know you’ when someone in your circle of friends does something to embarrass the entire group, and you slowly inch away, pretending that he’s just some crazy stranger talking nonsense.

Nonetheless, I wonder if our ministers would still give Razak and company a pat on the back for a job well done and dismiss Lim’s remarks if it had been SINGAPOREANS missing and it were their families banging on doors and tables demanding answers instead. Dealing with critics should be the last thing on the Malaysian authorities’ minds anyway. Every second spent rebutting a loose cannon is a ‘missed opportunity’ in moving one step closer towards solving what looks set to be one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

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.

Esplanade rhymes with lemonade

From ‘Is Promenade and Esplanade pronounced the same at the end?’ 10 Jan 2010, Today online

(Raymond Koh Joo Guan): I was quite amused by the daily announcements on the Circle Line MRT as it approaches Promenade and Esplanade Stations.

The pronunciation of Promenade was correctly announced as “prom-me-naad” but Esplanade was pronounced as “Es-pla-nayd”. Shouldn’t it be “Es-pla-naad”? Can SMRT verify if Esplanade is correctly pronounced in its announcements?

Firstly it should be a linguist that the writer needs to approach and not SMRT, and if indeed the recorded announcement of Esplanade were pronounced wrongly, would you seriously expect  SMRT to eat humble pie and amend it? This is like complaining to the radio stations for having their DJs pronounce Saturday as the Americanised ‘Sare-turday’ ‘instead of ‘Sah-turday’,  correcting the hawker fruit store uncles that you want a ‘ber-nare-nah’ and not ‘bah-nah-nah’, or tsk-tsking the French for calling the world’s best selling isotonic drink ‘Gato- rahd’ instead of ‘Gato-rayd’. Incredibly this confusion over the ‘ade’ at the end of words has been going on for over a 100 years, as seen in this letter below dated 26 August 1907 ‘Pronunciation in Singapore’.  As classy as it seems to call it the Espla-nahd these days (rhymes with art, sort of), apparently it was ‘not equally pleasing’ in the olden days. Still, according to Merriam-Webster, it’s  audio.pl?esplan01.wav=esplanade, but ‘nayd’ as explained by the Speak Good English website. Fine either way, it seems, but does makes one wonder why English is the most widely used language on the planet.

The other tricky MRT name to pronounce would be ‘Outram Park’, as seen in this 24 Dec 1987 article below. Since Outram is not an official word, the phonetics here is debatable, and till today we still have variations in the pronunciation (Ooo-tram vs Ohh-tram), but really, what’s the problem if people know exactly where the next station is, nevermind how it’s interpreted by different tongues? I mean, is it really wrong for someone to pronounce Lim Chu Kang as Lim Chu K-air-ng (as in bang), Tampines as Tam-Pines, or Pasir Ris as Pah-Say Ris?

Dashing masseurs will shower for you

From ‘Risque ads pulled from LTA signboard’, 5 Jan 2010, article by Jeremy Au Yong in Home, ST

Among the offers for rooms and tuition classes on the community notice board (run by a LTA appointed vendor) outside Ang Mo Kio MRT station, two notices stood out.

One sought  ‘young, pretty, attractive, open-minded’ female masseuses or escorts, while the other had an eye-opening $10 ‘shower package’ among the highlights of services provided.

…’Our hot, sexy and pretty masseuse or handsome, charming and dashing masseurs will shower 4 u before or after a massage’ read the ad.

…Yesterday, passers by who spotted them found the adverts inappropriate, and questioned why they were not screened.

(Chew Kok Kiong): ‘They’re so neatly done, and it’s paid for, so someone must have gone through them before they were put up. They should be more stringent and stop such advertisements from being put up.’

…LTA..had reminded the vendor to ‘tighten the screening process to sieve out such offensive advertisements’. These paid community notice boards are a relatively recent addition to the neighbourhoods. They were put up last year in a bid to stop having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to clean up handbills pasted around bus and train stations.

…(Kurt Tay, escort agency owner): ‘I’m saying one thing and people are thinking something else. I’m just offering escort and massage services. I used to work at a massage centre and I’m just following the words and services used in their ads.’

Either it’s genuinely bad English or ingenious word play. At first glance the ‘shower package’ just means that your masseuses are scrubbed fresh and clean with soap before they even lay their hands on you. So even if it sounds silly and we all know what it really means, the double entendre, if taken literally without the sexual context, is actually quite harmless and may be argued to the agency’s defence that the shower package in fact attests to the company’s commitment to good hygienic practice in delivering quality customer service. LTA being the LTA, of course are not amused.

Everyone knows escort and massage services are euphemisms for work that involves transactions of sexual favours, just like how chat hotline ads are presented in magazines for ‘teenagers’ to ‘make friends’. We all know what goes on here but accept the smoke and mirrors marketing because such industries exist whether we like it or not, and being sleazy sounding is no grounds for cracking down on them if they’re genuinely doing what they purport to do i.e massage and escort. How one interprets these verbs is entirely subjective, and prohibition of any sort will only serve to drive the industry and their clientele into shady territory, where they’ll boldly offer services way beyond the limited imaginings of a ‘shower package’. The history of shaky legislation over handbills, by the way, goes all the way back to the early 1900’s, as seen in this letter dated 19 Oct 1908, ST.

 

Kick the Chinaman

From ‘Troublesome Rikisha coolies’ 4 May 1905, Letters to ST

A 105-year old letter with the editors of the age displaying a high tolerance for racist slur. Rikisha or rickshaw pullers were the taxi-drivers of the early 20th century, which would probably make us slightly thankful for what we have today.  Of course, any impulse to ‘kick the ah pek cabbie’ would not be tolerated in today’s context, especially if they tune in to a radio station in a language you don’t understand. Trishaws, the next stage of taxi evolution, were not spared from complaints either.

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