Foreign workers rioting over cricket match

From ’17 charged after fight at Kaki Bukit’, 28 March 2014, article in CNA

17 foreign workers were charged in court on Friday following a brawl that broke out at a dormitory in Kaki Bukit. 14 of them are from Bangladesh and were charged with rioting. The other three from India were charged with affray for their alleged roles in the fight.

Their cases will be mentioned again next month. They were among 35 workers arrested following Tuesday evening’s fight, which allegedly took place during a live screening of a T-20 cricket match.

The match was between Bangladesh and the West Indies, in which the West Indies won.

I probably know a bit more about golf than cricket, but I never heard of anyone throwing furniture over the former. Like any spectator team sport, cricket has its fair share of violent hooliganism. In 2006, Indian fans unhappy with match cancellation set bonfires and burned advertising billboards, injuring a few policemen in the pandemonium. 10 years before that in 1996 at the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, the game was awarded to the visitors after things turned ugly and the riot police had to be deployed to quell an Indian mob angry that their side were on the losing end. You’d never think a sport with a lengthy glossary of confusing terms (Boot Hill, Cart-wheeling stump, Left-arm Unorthodox Spin among others), suggesting some quiet civility about it,  would have some of the worst ever sore losers in the history of sporting competition.

A wicket crowd

A wicket crowd

Emotions run high easily in crowded dorms. In 2001, an Indian national was fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife by a housemate because he spent too much time in the TOILET every morning. So when is a brawl a riot and when is it an affray? According to our statutes, an affray is ‘where 2 or more persons disturb the public peace by fighting in a PUBLIC place’. ‘Rioting’ occurs ‘whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the ‘common object’ of such assembly’, unlawful assembly meaning FIVE or more persons engaging in a ‘common object’ of wrongdoing. If you decide to throw punches with someone on the MRT, you are committing affray. If you’re part of a gang and slash people over staring incidents, then you’re ‘rioting with a dangerous weapon’.

Both terms appear to be have been used interchangeably in the past. In 1939, 17 Chinese and Indian workers got into a ‘disturbance’ at Alexandra Brickworks, resulting in several injuries and a broken arm, an incident reported as an ‘affray’. The way similar battles were described suggests that an ‘affray’ was considered a milder version, or precursor, of a riot, like a poke in the chest escalating into a kick to the face. Which doesn’t explain how in a group of 17 men involved in a free-for-all over the same thing, a few can be engaged in affray while the rest were rioting.

You may, however, avoid a rioting charge if you get into a fistfight while IN a football (or cricket for that matter) match, as long as nobody makes a police report. Being involved in a catfight also may spare you from affray charges, though people are more likely to stand and watch than try to break it apart for the entertainment. Or if you’re a Taiwanese politician.

No fighting in the war room

But if you’re really lucky, you could get involved in what’s technically an affray right outside the Subordinate Courts and nothing would happen to you, like this trio below. It’s 2 participants short of a riot, mind you.

Fight club

Then there’s the question of whether a dormitory may be considered a ‘public place’. If a husband and wife got into a massive quarrel in the wee hours that involves the tossing of hot kettles and frying pans in the kitchen and the whole neighbourhood knows about it, what charge does it come under? If 5 relatives started body slamming each other in their backyard over inheritance, are they RIOTING? Is there a penalty for, well, just ‘FIGHTING’ wherever you are? After all, you never know when a scuffle may lead to serious harm or death, in the privacy of a bedroom or on the rooftop of a building, with or without ‘dangerous weapons’.

Ironically, free-to-air live cricket matches was one of the suggestions following the Little India riot to keep our workers ‘happy and motivated’. Perhaps Bollywood movies would be a better idea.

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Teenage students dying during PE lessons

From ’13 year old student dies after PE lesson, second case this week’, 16 Jan 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A 13-year-old student from Temasek Junior College died on Wednesday during a physical education (PE) lesson, after he reportedly had an asthma attack. A relative of the boy, who is an Integrated Programme student, told Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao that the student had informed the PE teacher that he felt unwell. He collapsed right after that.

Police have classified the case as an unnatural death and are investigating. This is the second such case this week. On Monday, a 16-year-old student from Tanglin Secondary died after jogging during a PE lesson.

According to the Chinese papers, the boy fainted while doing WARM UP EXERCISES, dying shortly after while in hospital. In 1988, 19 year old Ong Kok Kheng also died after doing warm up exercises. 3 years later, 15 year old Aw Wei Yong collapsed and died after walking 2 rounds around a basketball court as part of team ‘warm up’. Though both the latter victims had a ‘heart condition’, we usually think of ‘warming up’ as an activity to PREVENT injury rather than one that could actually kill you. If you think about the evolution of human running, the act of warming up comes across as totally unnatural preparation for any form of rapid locomotion. Most physically daunting activities that we perform on a daily basis are often bursts of adrenaline-fuelled spontaneity and don’t require any form of ‘warm-up’ whatsoever.  Dashing after a bus, dancing, quickie sex. The worst that could happen was getting a stitch. Not stitched up in a coffin.

If doing embarrassing hip rotation exercises could slay you, imagine what track equipment could do to your mortal flesh. In 1991, a JC student died a gruesome death after impaling himself on a JAVELIN. He was playing with HULA HOOPS when the freak tragedy happened. When I was in JC, we were made to handle ‘medicine balls’, dusty heavy weapons of mass destruction that could cause sink holes on the road if you dropped them from a sufficient height. Sometimes it’s the PE teacher herself attacking you for not showing enough enthusiasm, and all you have to defend yourself with is a beanbag or a plastic cone. PE lessons aren’t just hazardous to some kids, but to PE teachers as well. You may get knocked into a coma by a stray shot put ball, or beaten silly with a piece of wood by a kid unwilling to walk around the field as punishment.

We used to be a tough lot. As early as 1939 schoolchildren were forced to do rhythmic exercises for developing ‘suppleness’. Some of these gymnastic shenanigans were more military-grade than the wussy stuff they dish out in army now. Those days if I didn’t want to study I could at least have become a travelling acrobat, with a body drilled into supple perfection.

Hangin tough

Hangin tough

When one too many army boys die for nothing, SAF puts a stop to outdoor training. If you have kids collapsing during school hours when PE is supposed to be the most fun part of your entire education, perhaps the Ministry should look into putting classes on hold as well and devote the time to catching up on homework instead. Much to the delight of kiasu parents of course.

NHB using Google Translator for Bras Basah

From article in, 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.

Policeman arrested for Kovan double murder

From ‘Shock, disbelief at cop’s arrest’, 14 July 2013, article by Terrence Voon, ST

…Senior Staff Sergeant Iskandar Rahmat, 34, was nabbed in Johor Baru on Friday night for the murders of motor workshop owner Tan Boon Sin, 67, and his son, Mr Tan Chee Heong, 42. A 14-year veteran of the force and a member of the Bedok Police Division, he was facing financial difficulties and disciplinary proceedings. Checks showed that the married man was declared bankrupt last Thursday, a day after the murders.

His relationship to the victims is not yet clear, but he met the older Mr Tan at least once, when the latter reported a theft from a safe deposit box last year. Iskandar was brought back to Singapore yesterday as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee broke the news about his identity at a sombre press conference.

“I cannot remember the last time a murder suspect was also a police officer,” a grim-faced Mr Ng told reporters. “You may have seen this kind of thing depicted in the movies and on TV, but when it happens for real, it hits you like a freight train.”

DPM Teo, who is Home Affairs Minister, said if Iskandar is proven guilty, his crime would have tarnished the reputation of the police, but nobody is above the law.

You don’t need a sensational murder to ‘tarnish the reputation of the police’. The ‘Home Team’ isn’t perfect, and every Singaporean knows it, that very occasionally our enforcement officers have succumbed to sexual gratification or been so negligent in their duties they let a jailed terrorist escape from a toilet. The ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine has been referenced so often in pop culture that we readily assumed that such ‘bad eggs’ do exist in real life. Donning a uniform and a badge doesn’t protect you from the basest of urges, be it greed, lust or homicidal rage, so when we were told that there’s a killer cop in the force, the only thing that surprises me is that Sergeant Iskandar could still enjoy a seafood dinner with a friend at Danga Bay JB after slashing two people and dragging one under a car.

But just to jiggle our Commissioner’s memory a little, cops HAVE killed innocent people in the past. Most of these incidents occurred pre-Independence, and appear to be committed on impulse. If Iskandar is found guilty of premeditated murder however, it may very well be the first such case in history, though I wouldn’t call it a ‘freight train’ hitting us as if we never saw it coming.

1924: A ‘Pathan’ policeman shot a colleague to death in an Orchard Road police station, supposedly after a quarrel.

1934: Constable Abdullah Khan, in the midst of an argument, hit a man on the head with a ‘piece of stick’, leading to his eventual demise at the junction of Rochore Canal Road and Arab Street.

1946: Inspector Vadivellu Pillay was charged with murder after beating a detainee to death. The victim, Arumugam, denied Pillay’s accusations that he was a Communist.

1947: Jonat Bin Dollar, charged for murdering a Chinese. Ran amok and detained in a mental hospital. In his rampage at Stamford Road, he reportedly almost decapitated a man with a parang.

1960: 19 year old constable Shu Ang Moh was sentenced to 5 years in prison for fatally stabbing a soldier in the chest during a brawl which resulted from a staring incident.

 This isn’t taking anything away from the police, of course, and I trust that they’ll continue to secure our homes and streets after uncovering a snake in the grass. Without them we wouldn’t dare go for a movie at Orchard Cineleisure after midnight, nor would we have anyone to call in case a teacher bullies our kid in school. I wonder how the producers at Crime Watch are going to tackle this incident. Perhaps in conceptualisation stage as we speak, this ‘Killer Cop’ episode may well be the most watched one ever.

Wallet fetish thief jailed for 13 months

From ‘Leather fetish lands serial wallet thief in jail…again’, 23 March 2013, article by Elena Chong, ST

A SERIAL thief with a fetish for sniffing women’s leather wallets was jailed for 13 months yesterday after a judge decided he had already been given enough chances to mend his ways. Low Ji Qing also took “upskirt” pictures of a woman bending over in Kiddy Palace toy store, the court heard.

The 48-year-old, who becomes sexually aroused by the smell of the accessories, has been in and out of court since 1986 – spending a total of 16 years behind bars. He was spared prison in May 2011, when he was placed on probation due to his psychiatric disorder. However, he breached the order repeatedly, stealing again and insulting a woman’s modesty.

Yesterday, District Judge Soh Tze Bian decided not to give him another chance and handed him the jail sentence.

Sending a wallet sniffer to jail for repeat offending isn’t going to cure his compulsion, unless the punishment was intended as a form of cold turkey when psychiatric treatment doesn’t work. In 2011, it was  revealed that Low got hooked on women’s wallets after nosing around his sister’s personal belongings when he was just 7. He later embarked on a snatch spree, pleasuring himself while looking at photographs of strangers. An Economics graduate and previous holder of executive to director level jobs, Low’s life fell apart when he succumbed to his olfactory obsession and was diagnosed with ‘fetishism’. Other experts in the field prefer to label it ‘paraphilia’. In the Tintin comics, there’s a character who pickpockets wallets for his own personal collection. Such behaviour would be viewed as, at best, ‘an unusual hobby’ in stories for teenagers, but condemned as ‘sick’ and ‘perverse’ in real life.

There seems to be a gender bias when it comes to fetishism or paraphila. It’s OK for women to be compulsive hoarders of shoes like Imelda Marcos but if a man does the same for stiletto heels,  lingerie or used panties, it’s called a sick fetish and it’s usually assumed that the same shoe-hogging ‘sicko’ goes around sucking people’s toes too, though he could very well be a normal working adult contributing to society like any one of us. A woman who steals branded goods because she can’t help it is a kleptomaniac but a guy who runs around hostels robbing hanging students’ underwear from clotheslines is a nutcase. This probably explains why men make up the majority of fetishists; Compulsive women hug their objects of desire to sleep or snap a hundred versions of the same thing on Instagram. Men stuff their noses or rub themselves with it.

The word ‘fetish’ is used rather fast and loose these days to describe any abnormal attachment to activities or objects. What was once maligned as ‘fetishistic’ like making adult women dress in schoolgirl uniforms have become merely ‘kinky’ to even banal since ‘Back to School’ became a DnD staple theme. Fetishes are also used to sell men’s magazines, like the ‘FHM Fetish Finals’ held in 2008, to promote designer shoes in your neighbourhood shopping mall, or couple events to celebrate Valentine’s Day (2004′s LOVE FETISH).

Who’s the most fetishist of them all?

It has also been trivialised to describe a strict preference for specific mate qualities. Supermodel Bar Rafaeli insists that she has a ‘fetish’ for men with nice teeth. Caucasian men who come to this part of the world for its ‘exotic’ women have an ‘Asian’ fetish. I have a fetish for women who can recite the value of Pi up to 17 digits.  If I keep my workplace table tidy I have a fetish for cleanliness, likewise I have a fetish for blue if it so happens to be the colour of my bedroom and iPhone cover. But seriously, this overuse and undermining of a mental disorder isn’t new. An article in 1934 labels people who over-indulge in exercise as having a ‘fetish’ for it, an addiction which is still rampant today, judging by the rate people are posting their run timings and distances on Facebook and making the rest of us look like we have a fetish for sleep, junk food and TV.

Today, it might be deviant sexual behaviour to go around sniffing people’s armpits, but who knows, when it becomes mainstream this may become part and parcel of perfectly healthy foreplay (if it isn’t already). It may be gross now to view videos of women stepping on pieces of bread, but nobody says anything about people drawn to continuous video loops of Nigella Lawson kneading dough. Before you know it, anything from hugging and your hairstyle of choice to mundane activities like eating, Facebooking or putting a favourite song on repeat may be inflated to ‘fetish’ status just because you appear to be a slave to it. I can have potatoes for lunch everyday but that doesn’t mean I have a tuber fetish. That would imply that I tickle my erogenous zones with french fries.

Double-barrelled surname sounding like CNY

From ‘Bound together in name’, 30 Dec 2012, article by Lisabel Ting, Sunday Lifestyle

When freelance writer Yu-Mei Balasingamchow was in school, examinations were more of a nightmare for her than for most other students. “It was really troublesome to fill in my name on optical answer sheets. Sometimes, by the time I was done, it felt like half the exam had gone by,” says the 38-year-old.

Ms Balasingamchow’s unique last name is an amalgam of the names of her parents – Chow is her Chinese mother’ family name, and Balasingam is the name of her half-Chinese, half-Ceylonese father.

Her parents created it to “give people an idea of my heritage, although they did acknowledge that it would be troublesome”, she says.

…Double-barrelled surnames such as Ms Balasingamchow’s seem to be more acceptable now, and raise fewer eyebrows than in previous generations.

Mrs Wendy Chiang-Cheong, 40, who wed in 1998, recounts that her mother did not take similar steps to retain her family name as it was uncommon then.

…Mrs Chiang-Cheong, who is married to a 41-year-old IT project manager, admits that her last name can be quite a mouthful. “Some people have told me that my last name sounds very noisy and reminds them of Chinese New Year,” says the counsellor.

If you’re a member of British royalty in the 1930′s you could collect women surnames like Pokemon. There was an Earl of Buckinghamshire called John Hampden Hobart-Hampden-Mercer-Henderson, which made it much easier to just refer to him as the Earl of Buckinghamshire. Today if you want to sound like a conqueror you don’t need multiple surnames. You just need to give yourself a name like Romeo Tan. 

Having a double-barrelled surname that is onomatopoeia for cymbals clamging or almost a soundalike for a dim sum staple is awkward, but not as awful as the wacky permutations that Tweeters contributing to the hashtag #SurnameMashups have come up with. Here’s a sample of dual combinations of Chinese surnames that you may wish to avoid adopting or bequeathing to your children:

Hong-Gan, Chee-Tan, Long-Kang, Yam-Seng, Ngiam-Kheng, Seow-Leow. And the list goes on.

Some would use hyphenated/combined surnames to their advantage as a killer ice-breaker and personal marketing tool. Yu-Mei Balasingamchow herself mentioned in an interview that her surname made her more ‘Google-able’. Try it yourself (type Balasingamchow) and you’ll find her filling the entire first search page. And just about every page thereafter.

Even if, thankfully, your double-barrelled name doesn’t sound like food, drains, toasting or Hokkien expletives, there’s the question of order: Husband or wife’s surname first? This was a question posed since the early 1980s, when women were already using such combinations professionally. Without any formal convention on how hyphenated names should be arranged, you’d have people second guessing your actual maiden name.  Or perhaps the order is chosen solely to avoid the catastrophic reverse; Tan-Chee, for instance.

In fact, double-barrelled names were actively DISCOURAGED by the Registry of Births in 1981, when there was the possibility of quadruple surnames if two individuals with dual surnames married and had children. Things would get more complicated if you were of mixed race. If you took up your Caucasian husband’s name entirely, you may be accused of ‘selling out’ your Asian heritage. Yet, too much cross-fertilisation to the extent of triple and quadruple-barrells would make you sound like a theory discovered by a team of physicists or mathematicians rather than an actual person. And if pulled off creatively, that may not be a bad thing after all.

Singaporeans not pronouncing Singapore correctly

From ‘Pronounce Singapura correctly’, 18 Dec 2012, ST Forum

(Mohammad Yazid): IT IS strange that many Singaporeans, be they media hosts, broadcasters, celebrities and even some politicians, do not seem to know how to pronounce the country’s name correctly.

Singapore or Singapura is a combination of Malay and Sanskrit words. Singa, meaning lion in Malay, should be pronounced “si-nga” as in “singer”, instead of “sing-guh”.

It is important that they say it right by virtue of their positions in society. How they say it may be taken as the right and official way of pronouncing Singapore.

I think the writer means Sing-GAH-Pore as the mispronunciation instead of the ambiguous Sing-GUH-pore. In fact, according to and contrary to what he claims, Singapore SHOULD be pronounced ‘sing-GUH-pawr’. Amazingly, this petty confusion over whether it’s ‘ga’ as in ‘manga’ or ‘galore’ goes all the way back to the 1930′s, when some called the country ‘Singgah-pura’, which means ‘Port of Call’ instead of ‘Singa-pore’ (Lion City). The ‘correct’ way of pronouncing Singapore/Singapura wasn’t initially the ‘British’ way either. In the early 20th century, British seamen reportedly referred to the island as, incredibly, SINKAPORE, which many of us still use affectionately, cynically or in sing-song jest. Just ask any uncle or auntie on the street. I would love to hear a demonstration by Mr Yazid himself.

Let’s see how SinGAHpore is bandied about in Parliament by our very own MPs, courtesy of Lim Swee Say and Low Thia Khiang:

How do our National Songs fare when it comes to accurately articulating the country’s name? Here’s ‘We Are Singapore’ from 1987, which pronounces Singapore the ‘proper’ way. Try singing it with ‘GAH’ instead and note the difference; using ‘-er’ sounds subdued, while the cathartic ‘AH’ can be ejaculated with much more gusto and pride.

How about ‘Singapura, Sunny Island’? Not so clear here. I still hear some ‘Gah’ moments, though it still sounds perfectly natural to me.

Listen to the National Anthem closely, written and sung entirely in Malay. In my opinion, there’s not a single word of Singapura in the track sounding like ‘Singerpura’.

So, if the writer is right in claiming that the proper way to saying ‘Singa’ is ‘Singer’, is ‘singing’ it as ‘Sin-GAH’ for melodic effect, especially in the National Anthem, OK? How would foreigners sing it? Listen to Manhattan Transfer below. Pretty vague here.

You would expect an American, European or African to pronounce Singapore differently, but will anyone correct them on the spot, or our fellow countrymen for that matter, for making this ‘mistake’? The French, for example, pronounce it the ‘heartland’ way.

Here’s how Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean says it:

And Prince William during his State Visit. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

I think the phonetic difference is trivial, insignificant even. Most of us express it somewhere in the spectrum between ‘er’ and ‘ah’, which has since been formalised as the non-commital ‘uh’. We have more important things to worry and complain about than saying our own country’s name one way or the other, like what the anthem even means or how the Merlion came about. I would use the softer ‘Singerpore’ when introducing myself to an immigration officer or someone in a foreign land, while the brash, uncouth ‘Sinkapore’ is what I’ll use with family and friends. It’s almost like Singlish really, which makes it oh so uniquely SinGAHporean.

Sungei Road should no longer be called a Thieves’ Market

From ‘Thieves’ Market: Time to stop the name-calling’, 2 Oct 2012, ST Forum

(Tay Boon Suat):IT IS regrettable that people still refer to the market in Sungei Road as Thieves’ Market (“Time catches up with Thieves’ Market”; last Saturday). Yes, years ago, when life was difficult in Singapore, perhaps some dishonest people relied on this place to make a living. But those times are long gone.

In fact, Sungei Road is now known as a place where many poor and old people rely on selling used household articles to make a living. Many of them have been selling goods there for 20 or 30 years. Some of them are creative enough to add value by repairing old household items and in doing this, are able to turn trash into cash.

They are the majority of sellers, and make an honest living, so why call the place Thieves’ Market?

In Singapore, there are very few local traditional markets that have been able to survive since the 1930s, so why destroy them for the sake of modernisation? I hope our urban planners can be more inclusive, and let this little market have some breathing space, and let it survive. Who knows, this karung guni market might some day become as big a local attraction for foreign tourists as the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok.

The Dirty Dozen starting work

In 2008, MP Denise Phua called the Sungei Road market ‘a slum’, and urged authorities to ‘clean it up’, but it’s not just the notorious flea market that’s in a mess, so was Ms Phua’s English:

I’m not seeking to ‘prettify’ the Sungei Road market, but I think it can be cleaner and better managed’

The same MP would be invited to a gala dinner next year to celebrate the launch the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, intended to protect the vendors’ interests. With the MRT development around the area, it would be impossible for Sungei Road to achieve the gonzo hustle and bustle of Chatuchak, but that doesn’t mean it can’t retain it’s ‘old world charm’, or its ‘sustainable model’ of karang guni trading. If there’s any ‘thieving’ going on, it’s how vendors get to set up shop at ‘a steal’, without having to apply for licenses or pay rental. If pitched right, ‘Thieves’ Market could be a weird and wonderful retro curio paradise, a likely place to find a vinyl player, a ship in a bottle or a Walkman. You may even get a ‘wacky’ pepper spray there too.

Although no longer the chaotic haven for crooks to make a quick buck off stolen junk, you just need to go back a couple of years to uncover incidents which justify why this legendary bazaar still has an air of ‘Ali Baba’ about it. In 2010, you could buy suspected contraband like mountain bikes for $300 (usual price $700). It was 60 years earlier that one of the first references of Sungei Road as a ‘thieves’ market’ was made by a certain Court Magistrate D. A Fyfe, who fined a vendor $100 for selling stolen SWIMMING TRUNKS. In a comical twist of events, the thief was caught by the original owners of the trunks HALF an HOUR after they were swiped at Rochor Road. The victims headed straight for Sungei Road to sniff him out, hence the name stuck.

Swimwear and bikes aside, if you’re lucky you may chance upon someone’s car keys, reels of copper wire worth tens of thousands of dollars, or used army uniforms.  But before it earned the reputation as a one-stop garage sale of pilfered bounty, Sungei Road was affectionately known in the 1930′s as ‘Robinson Petang‘, in reference to the ‘Robinsons’ department store where, other than the iffy stuff, most of it was traded from the rag-and-bone, or karang guni, man, stuff ranging from cigarettes to tin cans and gramaphones. It was raw entrepreneurship at work, a spirit that lives on in the many indie flea markets and pasar malams that line our streets today. I still have my suspicions of those paperbacks which I see at some of these roadside stalls. These are books which obviously NOBODY ever reads and I suspect they were ‘borrowed’ from libraries and never returned.

‘Thieves’ Market’ comes across as a romantic, catchy title that brings to mind flying carpets, genie lamps and even lost treasure maps if you let your imagination wander a little, though anyone strolling through the area in the hot sun would consider it anything but. You may still find the occasional yanked bicycle part, car tyre or bootleg Nokia if you search hard enough, but if a flea market run by pot-bellied uncles is called a ‘Thieves’ Market’, then what is Sim Lim Square? Pirates’ Cove?

Giant Pandas in Singapore for a decade

From ‘Giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia arrive in Singapore’, 6 Sept 2012, Today online

Singapore welcomed two new residents, giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia from Chengdu, China this morning. The pandas are in Singapore on a 10-year loan from the Chinese government to mark two decades of strong ties between China and Singapore.

Kai Kai and Jia Jia boarded a Singapore Airlines Boeing 747 cargo freighter at 3.45am this morning, arriving at Singapore Changi Airport about four and a half hours later along with a team of five keepers and vets from both China and Singapore who were also on board to ensure the pandas’ well-being.

…It was the pandas’ first time away from home, and extra care was taken to minimise stress for the animals.  The departure and arrival times were scheduled to reduce climate-related discomfort for the pandas. The cabin temperature was kept between 18 to 22 degrees celsius, consistent to their native habitat in Sichuan, China.

Fruits, water and about 90kg of bamboo were also carried on board for the pandas’ meals. Wildlife Reserves Singapore also brought along bamboo from Guangzhou, in case the pandas need time to adjust to the taste of locally-grown bamboo.

This is only the third time in history that Singaporeans have seen pandas in the flesh. Cute and cuddly national treasures aside, KKJJ are beasts turned political gifts as part of China’s bid for world domination. In 1988, JIAO JIAO arrived here as part of a Circus troupe, performing tricks like riding a horse and eating with fork and spoon at the Kallang Theatre. These acts, of course, are totally unnatural to the poor creature, which spends most of its time gnawing on shoots, sleeping, or tumbling down playground slides. Perhaps the pandas’ new loft has the latter to deliver hours of solid entertainment to the zoo folk, though it may distract the pair from the REAL purpose of planting them here: To grow our very own SingaPanda, failure of which Kai Kai may have to be prodded by a gland-stimulating stick in order of us to save face. We may have to do that to our childless couples too some day.

In 1990, we took custody of AN AN and XINXING for 100 days without them dying. KKJJ will be here for a decade, by which time they would probably feel right at home, not so much because we would have devised a way of genetically modifying our local bamboo into panda chow, but because it wouldn’t be just their caretakers and feeders who’re China-born, but maybe half the population here as well.

Pandas are notorious for their dismal libido and diet preferences, though pop culture has made them synonymous with kungfu fighting. All this fanfare and media blitz over KKJJ aside, it’s worth noting that rent-a-panda schemes still risk ending in disaster despite the good intentions, technology, attention and money involved. Only recently, a panda cub perished in Japan’s Ueno Zoo barely after birth. In 2010, also in Japan, the unfortunately named LONG LONG died after an unsuccessful bid to extract his SPERM in a breeding programme. Casting out pandas as ambassadors to China without doing one’s homework of hostile environments led to the demise and suffering of many a panda in the last century. The first envoy to cross the Iron Curtain Ping Ping died 3 years upon arrival in Russia in 1961. In a time when white men and former US Presidents in trilby hats shot down rare exotic animals as trophies, a panda died on a voyage to London from China via Singapore in 1937. It was painted BROWN to avert unwanted attention. Today, people paint brown dogs into PANDAS.

Cue commercial spin-off into commemorative plush toys, coins, sweets and all sorts of panda memorabilia to celebrate the arrival of two endangered, temperate animals in a hot, strange land, with their names changed (JJ used to be HU BAO, while KK was WU JIE) , eking out a lavish honeymoon in a place called a RIVER SAFARI while incubated in their below-20 C enclosure. Perhaps Breadtalk could relaunch their ‘Peace Panda Buns‘ in honour of KKJJ. Although this is all politics, Sino-relations and tourism marketing in the name of ‘conservation’ of the species, you’d have to wonder just how costly and carbon-unfriendly rearing pandas could be in a tropical climate like ours, and how beneficial this panda exchange programme will be for the EARTH in general. Air-conditioning 24-7, flights to and fro China transporting bamboo and ‘pandalogists’, setting aside land to grow something that can’t sustain any other animal, humans included.  For 10 whole years. The amount of money spent playing panda match-maker could have went into other local green projects and animal welfare, unless we discover a renewable energy resource in panda poop.

If only there were as many panda souveniers as there are panda puns; If I had 5 cents for every time someone mentions the annoying word ‘pandamonium’, I would have enough money to foster KKJJ myself, or send them back into the reserve where they belong.

Mentally ill man punching Flag Day fundraiser

From ‘Hold family of mentally ill patient responsible for public misdeeds’, 1 Aug 2012, ST Forum

(Edward Zaccheus): MAY I plead with families of mentally ill people not to let their loved ones roam freely in public (“Dealing with mentally ill offenders”; July 6)? Last year, I was punched twice by a mentally ill adult while I was seeking donations for Flag Day along Waterloo Street. I called the police, who arrested him and sent him to the Institute of Mental Health where he was once a patient.

I could not seek compensation because my assailant was a mental person. When I contacted his family, I was chided for calling the police; instead of admitting responsibility for improperly caring for his mentally disabled father, the son blamed me. The incident has convinced me that while the mentally ill should rightfully be protected by the law, those in charge of their care must be held responsible for a mentally ill person’s misdeeds in public, especially if they are violent.

The relatives should be responsible enough to ensure that the public is safe from potentially violent behaviour.

If the writer wasn’t punched in the face, he would have gotten the same treatment as DJ Glenn Ong for his remark on ‘mad dogs’ needing to be put to sleep.  But you don’t need ex-patients, or escaped patients, to cause a ruckus in public. Anyone diagnosed with even a behavioral disorder like depression may snap in public, especially those who push old ladies off a bus.  The writer later clarified in a follow up letter on 7 Aug  that he was referring only to mentally ill people with ‘violent tendencies’. Perhaps Zaccheus was unlucky here; we’re more likely to be bruised in a scuffle with gangsters, road ragers, drunkards or priority seat hogging seniors than mentally ill people looking to thump you on the nose. Most of the bizarre behaviour we see don’t come from mental patients at all. You have pathological liars like Aristocare’s Kelvin Ong, random people roaming about in the nude, and serial pedophiles like Jonathan Wong. Then there’s politicians, whose decisions could affect the livelihoods of not just one poor guy with a donation tin, but everyone in the country.

Letting a dangerously ill person out is like putting a loaded gun in a child’s hand, and here the family plays the role of ‘weaponising’ the child. Yet many perfectly healthy ‘normal’ people out there are capable of the same, if not worse, kind of irrational, unprovoked violence. Who is to decide if a schizophrenic is fit to take a cab without strangling the driver, or a pedophile to soak in as children’s pool without getting frisky? Who can predict how much more dangerous someone like that could be if they’re confined at home? What if they end up hurling crockery from the window in the nude? There are safeguards in place to certify mental patients before they’re fit to be released into society, not so for the teenager who spends 8 hours a day playing bloody shoot-em-up video games and fantasising about running through pedestrians with a chainsaw instead of boobies like normal kids do. We can’t assume all the time that the only thing that separates a violent mental patient and a violent ‘normal’ person is the latter being ‘responsible for their own actions’.

There was a time when you didn’t need to think twice before labelling people with mental disorders. Before Woodbridge was a euphemism for the Mental Hospital, we had an Insane Hospital and Lunatic Asylum.  People who went cuckoo were called MADMEN in the press, and were hosed down by the police for disrupting the peace rather than escorted to the nearest clinic. In the 20′s, someone who went on a killing spree with no fathomable reason was a MANIAC run AMOK, and seemingly had the CUNNING of the INSANE. In the seventies, these patients were labelled ‘ILL’ in quotation marks. We were merciless in our categorisation of the psychotic, yet today, these politically incorrect terms have been defanged of their original usage. Insane and mad have become ‘ridiculous’ as in ‘He’s insane/mad to quit his job now’. Dick Lee calls himself the MAD Chinaman (Chinaman also a derogatory term). Artists are ‘mad geniuses’. Asylum is now something that people SEEK (refugees) instead of RUN AWAY from.  ‘Maniac’ is used to describe obsessive hobbyists, as in ‘He’s a maniac at the gym’, while ‘lunatic’ and ‘amok’ are rarely used these days. In the 80′s, it was OK to use ‘patients with an UNSOUND MIND, though nobody until now can define what a ‘sound’ mind is.

WOODBRIDGE, however, once believed to be named after an ACTUAL wooden bridge, has become synonymous with mental illness, and you can’t go wrong if you use the former instead of IMH when telling a taxi driver to take you there. In 1998, a road named Jalan Woodbridge was wiped off Singapore’s map and replaced with Gerald Drive because of its associations (Jln Woodbridge taken off map, 5 July 1998, ST). In 2002, however, IMH’s CEO tried to run a Club M.A.D campaign, comparing the hospital to the resort Club Med, a poor choice of acronyms (it actually means MAKE A DIFFERENCE) which does absolutely nothing to erase the stigma of mental illness at all, and only to bring us backwards to the jolly ol’ straitjacket days of the Sanitarium.


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