‘Lau Pa Sat’ in Tamil can be used to curse people

From ‘STB to correct Lau Pa Sat and tighten translation process’, 7 Nov 2014, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The Lau Pa Sat sign which was incorrectly translated has been removed and will be corrected, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Friday. STB also said that it will tighten the process of translating its brown signs, which indicate tourist attractions or landmarks.

“We had notified the operator and they had taken immediate steps to remove the sign and work on correcting the translation,” Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail said in the statement, referring to the erroneous Lau Pa Sat sign.

She added that the board will ensure the new sign is checked by language experts. A photo of the sign, which translated “Sat” as “Sani” or Saturday in Tamil, was being circulated on social networks. The word can have a negative connotation, and can be used to curse people.

Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that “Sat” in Lau Pa Sat was a truncation of “Saturday”.

SAT you, STB

SAT you, STB

Notice that this brown sign has Chinese, Tamil and Japanese on it, but no Malay. Contrast the selection of languages with other tourist attraction ‘brown signs’, such as East Coast Park, which has Malay, Japanese but no Tamil. There are inconsistencies elsewhere. Sri Krishnan Temple has no Malay or Japanese, while Little India has Malay, Chinese, Japanese but not Tamil. The image next to the Lau Pa Sat text doesn’t look like Lau Pa Sat at all, more like the Supreme Court dome. Why didn’t anyone spot this glaring error instead?

According to ST, the Tamil translation for ‘Sat’, or ‘Sani’, is also a reference to ‘Satan’, the only diabolical connection to the Lord of Darkness being that Lau Pa Sat is owned by food court conglomerate Kopitiam. Other Tamil speakers from the ST FB page were quick to clarify that ‘Sani’ refers to the planet ‘Saturn’. This isn’t the first time STB made a mess of their promotional material, summoning the Devil or otherwise. In 2002, the Hungry Ghost Festival was translated in Chinese to ‘HUNGARY Ghost festival’.

I’m not sure if Tamil is notoriously difficult to translate, but getting lost in translation has haunted Tamil linguists for more than a century. In 1940, a slogan on signboards campaigning for people to grow their own vegetables for ‘health and victory’ was read as ‘Unless you grow vegetables we shall lose the war’. Or maybe that was secretly intended to serve as war propaganda to rally Indians into amassing combat rations for our comrades. A Malay song in 1952 titled ‘A yoyo Ramasamy’ riled some Indians because it translated into derogatory lyrics describing labourers who ‘drink toddy and get intoxicated’.  In 1989, a multi-lingual No-smoking sign on a TIBS bus was slammed because it contained a nonsensical Tamil word. You also don’t see Tamil subtitles for English movies on national TV, or hear any of the PMs in the 60-year history of the PAP speak a single full sentence of it during their National Day Rallies. It can be a problem too if you even attempt to anglicise Tamil. Some years back Bread Talk were accused of mocking the race and language by naming one of their creations ‘Naan the Nay’, which probably has the same racial connotations as someone mocking Mandarin with ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’.

But it’s not just STB who deserves Hell for their laziness in translation. NHB made a more humiliating mistake previously by translating Bras Basah in Chinese to the literal ‘bras’ (undergarments) on their Night Festival website. They soon made a ‘clean breast’ of it and fixed the atrocity. I wonder if STB has a brown sign for Sim Lim Square. Now if that were translated into Satan’s Square because of its reputation of scamming tourists out of their hard earned money and forcing people to get down on their knees and wail to the gods, they wouldn’t be that far off.

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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.

Singaporeans ‘saying No’ to Philippine Independence Day

From ‘Filipino group gets online flak over event’, article by Royston Sim and Amelia Tan, 16 April 2014, ST

The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), a group of Filipino volunteers, put up a post on Facebook about the event last weekend and drew fire almost immediately. Negative comments from Singaporeans flooded in, with Facebook page “Say ‘No’ to an overpopulated Singapore” urging locals to protest on the PIDCS page.

The page, which has 26,000 “likes”, is against the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day here and said that festivities should be confined to the Philippine Embassy compound.

It took issue with the PIDCS for using the Marina Bay skyline in a logo for the event, which is meant to celebrate the Philippines’ independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. It also opposed the PIDCS using the terms “two nations” and “interdependence” in posters for the event.

The PIDCS decided to take down the Facebook post after it drew hundreds of anti-Filipino comments, with many slamming the PIDCS for holding the celebration in Orchard Road.

…Ms Cecilia Lim, 28, a self- employed Singaporean, felt some of the online comments were excessive. She said: “People should have the right to celebrate their independence day if they are granted the permits, just as we celebrate Singapore Day overseas.”

Our Intolerance

The first thing I noticed about this article is whether ‘Pilipino’ was a typo or just how Filipinos pronounce their own nationality. Turns out that Pilipino is the official name for the national language, or an enhanced variant of Tagalog. And what about the missing ‘s’ from ‘Philippine Independence’? How many of those celebrating it spell ‘Philippines’ as ‘Phillipines’? A LOT, judging from this Twitter feed and the hashtag #phillipines.

Your spelling pail

Your spelling pail

This weekend, Filipinos (not Philippinos, or Pilipinos) will be celebrating another holiday that most Singaporeans are unaware of, and it’s apt that in the light of the online kerfuffle over their Independence Day, 19 April 2014 (this Saturday) is known as BLACK SATURDAY. PIDCS intends to celebrate Philippine Independence Day on June 8th, which happens to be a SUNDAY. I’ve been to Orchard Road on a Sunday, and to me, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s Independence Day or Ninoy Aquino Day. It feels like crowds of Filipinos are ALWAYS celebrating something on Sunday anyway, whether they’re having a roadside picnic or dancing outside Ion. With Orchard being the default Pinoy haunt, it’s just going to look like any other weekend really, except with maybe flags, buffet lines and ‘cultural dances’.

One of the first reported local celebrations of such a holiday took place in 1946, where ‘100 representatives from all communities’ joined with hosts ‘Mr and Mrs Anciano’ at a cocktail party at the Far Eastern Music School. Philippine ‘Independence Day’ then was in commemoration of the formation of the Republic, when the US granted the islands ‘true’ independence (4 July 1946). The number of Filipinos in Singapore then hovered around the 500 mark.  Today, that’s the estimated number you’ll find in the stretch between Lucky Plaza and Ngee Ann City alone on a Sunday. According to the website ‘Positively Filipino‘, that number has risen to almost 180,000 in 2013, with 100,000 of those as professionals and executives.

In the 50’s, Filipinos dressed in their national costumes to attend church, and began having outdoor picnics at places like Pasir Ris. In 1962, the date was changed from 4 July to June 12, when General Emilio Aguinaldo led the revolution for independence from the Spanish in 1898. (Some commentators believe that this was a mistake, that the Treaty of Paris signed then really ceded the country to the US as an American ‘commonwealth’, and that PIDCS is in fact celebrating a misnomer of a holiday). At a Hyatt hotel reception attended by bigwig PAP politicians like Richard Hu and S Dhanabalan in 1987, guest performers from the Philippines sang ‘lusty’ renditions of the national anthems of BOTH countries, a typical Pinoy gesture of warm, fuzzy diplomacy. More recent celebrations include song-and-dance festivals at the Singapore Art Museum and Hong Lim Park last year. Hong Lim, ironically, being the same place where the people behind ‘Say No’ will be having a 1 May protest about 6.9 million again. Why didn’t they make a puss, I mean, FUSS, over the Filipino ‘invasion’ of their ‘territory’ then?

So people, top PAP brass included, have been celebrating Philippines Independence Day in Singapore for LONGER than our very own National Day. The last event in 2013 was even jointly sponsored by household brands like Singtel, Starhub and Singapore Post. Are angry Singaporeans going to boycott both telcos for ‘betraying’ the nation? As for the unhappiness over the word ‘Interdependence’, I wonder how many of those in the petition have never ‘depended’ on a Filipino maid or nurse in their lives, celebrated the success of Ilo Ilo or laughed at Leticia Bongnino’s jokes.

Instead of voicing our displeasure at foreigners staking their claim over our motherland through the use of a MBS backdrop and sitting around our shopping areas eating lechon (a pork dish), how about putting your patriotism into action by giving some love to the nation on 9 Aug, outdo the PIDCS event with a riot of national colours and jubiliant song-and-dance, instead of planning a protest only to go on a quickie overseas vacation like some whining Singaporeans would?

UPDATE: Both Tan Chuan Jin and PM Lee had strong words for the ‘bigots’ and ‘trolls’ who complained about the event. TCJ thought the response was ‘repulsive’, while PM called it a disgrace and lowered our ‘standing’ in the eyes of the world. The latter went on to cite London as an example of the warm hospitality shown by countries who hosted the Singapore Days of the past, i.e treat your guests as you would like to be treated overseas. We forget, however, about what happened at Singapore Day 2013 in Victoria Park, Sydney, when an Australian named ‘James’ accused organisers of being RACIST for not allowing Caucasians in, even though it’s a public place, on National Radio. I wonder if there were Australian ministers as eager as ours to come out and slam him for making a shameful nuisance of himself. Unlike having to register for Singapore Day and there being a limit to how many non-citizens you can bring,  the PID organisers have declared that ANYONE is free to join the 10,000 strong crowd at Orchard Road if they so wish. Or should I say, Little Philippines.

UPDATE 2: Organisers decided to withdraw their application to hold the party at Ngee Ann City (Filipino group drops plan to hold Orchard Road event, 26 May 2014, ST). Xenophobes everywhere rejoice.

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.

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.

Fitness freaks leaping up and down the Cenotaph

From ‘Lack of respect at war memorial’, 1 Sept 2012, article by David Ee, ST

KEEP-FIT enthusiasts have attracted controversy by leaping up and down the steps of a memorial for soldiers killed in the two world wars. The 20-strong group congregates on Thursday evenings at The Cenotaph in Esplanade Park.

War historians and other commentators have criticised their choice of workout venue, saying the memorial is “sacred ground”. “It is a solemn site and should be used responsibly,” said history professor Brian Farrell from the National University of Singapore.

…The keep-fit enthusiasts have been working out at The Cenotaph as part of a training regime organised by Journey Fitness. Group member Ngo Tien Leok felt that the memorial’s central, public location gave them every reason to use it, especially as land is scarce in Singapore. The 38-year-old IT manager said that he does not consider the site sacred, adding: “I’ve not been through a war. I don’t feel a connection to it.”

…Associate Professor Kevin Blackburn, who teaches history at the National Institute of Education, felt Singapore could do more to make people aware that war memorials are sacred. For example, wreaths could be laid all year round. “Singapore tends to downplay some of its monuments,” he said.

Mr Ben Pulham, who co-founded Journey Fitness, said he had no idea that the structure the group was using was actually a war memorial. Asked if he would change the training venue now that he knew, the 31-year-old said he probably would not.

“We saw another group doing the same thing,” he said. “We’re celebrating life by encouraging people to be active, that’s my take on it.”

Hands up those who ‘planked’ here before

Well that’s the whole purpose of a memorial isn’t it, to remind future generations who’ve ‘never been through war’ (or never will) that our country had its share of martyrs, or that we even HAD wars. Nobody’s asking tourists or joggers to bow their heads in gratitude or forcing anyone to lay flowers at the Cenotaph’s base and weep like war widows, but using the Cenotaph steps as a free gym under the excuse of ‘land scarcity’ is like a hurdler leaping over headstones in a cemetery because he has nothing else to practice on. In a previous post, some Rock of Ages churchgoers decided to use the Kranji War memorial for an ‘Amazing Race’. Well at least the recently completed (and smugly successful) Diner En Blanc didn’t make the memorial grounds their ‘secret location’.

The article above also mentioned a ‘rock music’ fashion shoot at the Civilian War Memorial in 2009, which would make sense if you were doing a ‘Thriller’ theme. And then there’s this, people taking the same place for a Kenko Fish Spa.

My feedback to bring in piranhas went unanswered

Do we hold anything sacred outside our handheld devices anymore? Have our hallowed grounds become playgrounds for tourists and ‘keep-fit’ enthusiasts? Will the Cenotaph become part of a celebrity magician’s disappearing monument act? Will couples continue to make out beneath the names of those killed in war? Before we had joggers, our colonists adopted a sternly reverential, but condescending, attitude towards the treatment of the newly erected Cenotaph. In 1922, the structure was ‘desecrated’ by ‘scores of NATIVES sprawling on the steps in almost every conceivable posture of inelegance‘ (A CLASSIC line that I’m tempted to use on people who slouch on chairs). It also wasn’t a place meant for ‘half clad coolies’ and ‘TRAMPS’ and any suspicious activity, be it even STEPPING FOOT on it, would be dispersed by policemen (Today we have half-clad desecrators of a different sort altogether). In the 1940s, some locals were particularly picky over the sarcophagi design, expressing ‘abhorrence’ over mobs of hawkers and loiterers squatting on the steps. Today, only historians lament the abuse of those sacred steps, and they don’t even sound local. I wonder how many of us today even know what this Cenotaph is about, other than something important that’s not the statue of Stamford Raffles, the Merlion, or Marina Bay Sands.

The suggestion of laying wreaths habitually in memorandum of the fallen wouldn’t work. Other than the rain and humidity dashing the tributes making it look like like a florists’ wagon crashed into the structure, the gifts would probably get stomped upon by people doing squat-jumps or stolen by cheapskate lovers. I would suggest a ‘Memorial Day’ holiday to make remembrance of unsung war heroes who, unlike many today, have something to give up their lives for. This would be perfectly aligned to PM Lee’s ideal of ‘Hope, Heart and Home’, attributes which our glorious dead embodied in more ways than us lucky bastards can ever imagine.  Instead of hothousing kids in tuition classes, parents could take their kids ‘memorial hopping’, and impress upon our children that life wasn’t all rosy in the past, even if it means making up stories about some granduncle who was badass enough to skewer an entire platoon of Japs with a bayonet before blowing himself up and bringing an entire tank squadron with him ala Medal of Honour, a time when the word ‘brave’ meant the will to charge at the enemy, not ask the prettiest girl in class out for a date in Gardens by the Bay.

Are the words ‘Our Glorious Dead’ not obvious enough to alert people like Ben Pulham that this is no ordinary piece of granite in the park? Should we change the inscription to ‘In Dearest Memory of Soldiers who Died in War’? One could argue that you can respect the dead by making a ‘celebration ‘out of their sacrifice. After all, another inscription does say ‘They died so we might LIVE’, like how some families honour the departed by slow-dancing at their wake. I mean, nobody’s going to stop you from attaching balloons on your dead relative’s coffin, provided he was a professional clown. If one may consider brutal training regimes and marathon running as ‘a celebration of life’ and a reason to run riot over the Cenotaph, then anything goes really. By defining ‘living’ so loosely rather than out of reflective indebtedness, why stop at jogging all over the monument? How about shaking your bon-bon and singing ‘Living Da Vida Loca’ on the steps? Halloween is also coming up, by the way.

Labelling cenotaph-hoppers ‘Keep-fit’ enthusiasts is an understatement when referring to members of groups like Journey Fitness. According to the company website, you can enroll for a package that includes a ‘lactate test’ and ‘fuel efficiency’ test, which makes me wonder if this is a club for humans or cyborg hamsters.  This being the Seventh Month and all, perhaps it’s better to be safe than sorry and not mess around with the Cenotaph, whether you’re a lactate-producing adrenaline junkie or a random loiterer. You wouldn’t want to hear the wails of dying soldiers and muffled gunfire while doing your burpees on its steps.

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

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