PAP is a cruise ship with a definite destination

From ‘Aljunied GRC voters can ‘have cake and eat it’:ESM Goh’, 6 Sep 15, article in CNA

While on a walkabout with the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Aljunied GRC team, ESM Goh said his sense of the ground in Aljunied, which was won by the Workers’ Party in the 2011 General Election (GE), is that “many people are caught in a dilemma”. 

“They tell us quite openly that they want to support the PAP, but at the same time they are afraid. Vote for PAP, and Workers’ Party will be out. And therefore there will be no more opposition party, led by Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim, in Parliament,” he noted.

The NCMP scheme ensures that there will always be a minimum number of opposition Members in Parliament. Citing the scheme, ESM Goh said voters and WP can, in fact, “have their cake and eat it”.

…The former Prime Minister also likened the dilemma Aljunied voters face as between a cruise ship with a destination and one without. “If you go with the PAP, you are actually embarking on a cruise ship with a definite destination. You know the destination, you know the journey, the path taken by the cruise ship. You know the captain, the crew members, you know the quality,” ESM Goh said.

“The other choice you’re given is take my cruise ship, I’m going to nowhere. You know there are cruise ships that go on a journey to nowhere. These are gambling ships, very exciting. You take my ship, you can gamble but go no where, just go round and round and so on. The point I’m making is there’s a choice for yourself.”

The phrase ‘having our cake and eat it’ has been used in the GE context to refer to Singaporeans wanting the PAP to lead the country, but at the same desire alternative voices in Parliament. In 1991, WP candiate Jufrie Mahmood used the same idiom to urge Singaporeans to vote for the WP (WP targets floaters and predicts a close fight, 31 Aug 1991, ST). Since 2011, Aljunied residents have indeed been enjoying cake, despite LKY’s insistence that they would repent for the indulgence. Come a week’s time and we’ll see if 4 years of cumulative indigestion would lead to voters puking all WP MPs out of their Parliament seats. Or, if voters are not swayed by the AHPETC salvos, Aljunied continues to eat the same cake. And then some.

ESM Goh’s cake comment reminds me of those ominous words erroneously attributed to Marie Antoinette. When told that the people were starving and had no bread to eat, she supposedly replied: ‘Let them eat cake!’, a phrase that alluded to the class separation between France’s aristocracy and the common people. It’s no coincidence that PM Lee not too long ago spoke of this ‘natural aristocracy’. Well, most Singaporeans can afford more than their daily bread, or even cake, of course. At least we don’t have to eat our own words. And we all know what happened to Marie Antoinette’s head after that. It rolled.

Since the watershed victory in 2011, it would be an insult to the Opposition to settle for NCMP positions in the catastrophic event that the PAP swallows all 89 seats this year (i.e they eating the whole damn cake, sugar frosting, candles and all). The scheme was a token creation of the late LKY in 1984 to help the younger generation appreciate ‘constitutional Opposition’.  Having gained considerable ground since then, no ‘self-respecting’ WP candidate especially the likes of Low Thia Khiang or Sylvia Lim would re-enter Parliament through the ‘back door’ if they could help it. It’s like having a chocolate lava cake one election, and being presented with a combat ration sponge cake the next.

ESM Goh’s analogy of the Goverment being a luxurious cruise ship also seems at odds with what PM Lee had to say regarding Singapore being compared to the same vessel. He said:

Once you think you are in a cruise ship and you are on a holiday and everything must go swimmingly well and will be attended to for you, I think you are in trouble.

No, it definitely doesn’t feel like the Royal Caribbean to the average Singaporean. Some of the houses we live in are even smaller than those cabin suites on board.  I’m also not sure what this ‘definite destination’ that ESM Goh painted for us is (Switzerland?) Whatever happened to choppy waters, stormy weathers and such? Didn’t we learn anything from killjoys like SARS, or the haze? Isn’t the Singaporean journey together as one united people, through ups and downs, more important than the final destination?

In fact, the casino ship seems a more appropriate analogy if you consider our dependence on the 2 IRs. Except that they’re more accommodating to foreigners than our own people, who’re probably stuck in the cargo hold peeling potatoes while the elite dance in banquet halls and have artisan cocktail parties with the captain. We need people to peep out of the porthole, to survey the ocean every now and then to look out for impending icebergs. We’d rather be a cruise to nowhere than the Titanic.

For a man who spoke only ONCE in Parliament these few years, he’s rabidly vocal this week alone. When asked about that one speech on the Population White Paper, ESM Goh admitted that it was a one-off, but at least was ‘impactful’.  You can still read the 2013 speech online and in essence he’s saying ‘I support the White Paper’, and something about pushing boulders up a mountain (Sisyphus much?). No one will remember it, quote abstracts from it, or say ‘GCT WAS RIGHT!’ should the 6.9 million target indeed turn out to be a lucky number. It doesn’t, however, beat his immortal speeches about our ‘Swiss standard of living’ or ‘stayers and quitters’ in terms of impact. Talk about Ownself praise ownself.

We’ve had a taste of cake, now here, have some humble pie, sir.

Yusof Ishak’s name misspelt in SG50 commemorative package

From ‘Typos in packaging of SG50 commemorative notes’, 20 Aug 2015, article in CNA

The launch of the SG50 commemorative notes set on Thursday (Aug 20) was marred by typos.

The name of Singapore’s first President Yusof Ishak was misspelt as “Yusok Ishak” on a foldout portion of the packaging as well as in an enclosed booklet. There were no errors in the spelling of his name on the commemorative notes, released to mark Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.

In response to Channel NewsAsia’s queries, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it is printing stickers to cover the erroneous text.

“We apologise for an unfortunate typographical error in our first President Yusof Ishak’s name in the folder containing the SG50 notes,” said an MAS spokesperson in a statement. “We are printing stickers to replace the misspelt part of his name. The stickers will be affixed to the folders available from the banks, from Aug 25 onwards. Those who have already collected the folders may also obtain the stickers then.”

…MAS managing director Ravi Menon issued a statement late Thursday, taking full responsibility for the error. “This should never have happened, is not acceptable, and I take full responsibility. I apologise on behalf of my colleagues who worked hard to prepare the notes and folders but are deeply disappointed that we made this most unfortunate mistake. We will put this right,” he said.

See what you've done MAS.

Look what you’ve done MAS.

I hope no one gets fired over this boo-boo, and MAS did the right thing admitting their mistake first before someone noticed and posted it online. Chances are you’re more likely to stare at the artwork and play with the 3-D hologram on the currency before reading a single word of introductory text. Wonder if anyone will queue overnight to get the corrective stickers though. Personally I wouldn’t line up again to get one that says ‘Yusof’, or if MAS is as stingy with the recovery budget as they are with proofreading, an ‘F’. F, for FAIL.

Incredibly, people have been making the ‘Yusok’ mistake way before this spectacular gaffe. A trawl through Twitter uncovered these gems more than 3 years ago, when ‘Yusok Ishak’ was the affectionate name people gave to cash in their wallets.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 11.43.38 PM

Well at least the English on the notes itself is clean, unlike the disaster in 1992 when ‘Board of Commissioners’ was spelt as ‘Commissoners’ on commemorative $2 bills (Spelling error in special issue $2 bills, 4 July 1992, ST). You would, however, expect some critics to complain about the ugly artwork, or how the design looks like a ripoff of some other country’s currency, like our recently minted, Euro-looking, Third Series $1 coins.

Nevermind 50 years of nation-building, another commemorative exhibition last year titled ‘Singapura: 700 years’ was marred by ‘typos, inaccuracies and style inconsistencies’, with Perak’s ‘Slim River’ misspelt as ‘GRIM River’. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra was erroneously spelt as ‘Symphonic’ Orchestra.  Thank you R.M Arblaster sir for your astute nitpicking, though your complaint and call for formal proofreading apparently did little to convince MAS that spelling is paramount, especially when it comes to the name of our first PRESIDENT. Can you imagine if people spelt the deceased LKY’s name wrongly? Their Seventh Month would be very, well, eventful, to say to the least.

If there’s any consolation, ‘Yusok’ isn’t half as bad as spelling Obama as ‘Osama’.

Pappy washing powder video is a political film

From ‘MDA reminds parties to not contravene Films Act ahead of General Election’, 17 Aug 15, article by Faris Mokhtar, CNA

The Media Development Authority (MDA) on Monday (Aug 17) said it will not be taking action against the Opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) for releasing a political film, which contravenes the Films Act.

The SDP uploaded two videos as part of its online campaign for the coming General Election. One focused on the local education system, suggesting that the system is stressful and has affected students’ well-being.

The other video is a tongue-in-cheek commercial featuring a made-up washing detergent brand called “Pappy White“. It shows a woman putting clothes printed with words like “transparency” and “democracy” into a washing machine. MDA has classified the video as a political film.

However, the authority said it will not be taking action against the SDP, noting that this is the first such incident. MDA added that parties may not have been fully aware of what is contained in the Films Act.

The authority reminded parties and candidates that they need to ensure that their political films do not contravene the Films Act. MDA also said it will not hesitate to enforce the law should they continue to publish such films.

The Films Act bans the making, import, distribution or screening of “party political films”. However, some films which meet certain criteria can be exempted. These include factual documentaries and manifestos of political parties produced by or on behalf of a political party.

The first ever political film to be shown to public is likely to be 1959’s ‘newsreel’ about PAP electioneering. Opposition parties complained that this was biased towards only one party. Ironically, the same ruling party that came up with the ban decades later could themselves have been breaching the said regulations when they first started out.

SDP’s Pappy washing powder creation has an unlikely connection with Forrest Gump. In 1998, BG George Yeo, then head of the Ministry of Information and the Arts, passed an Amendment which disallowed the distribution and exhibition of ‘political films’. He was convinced that opposition parties had sufficient avenues to disseminate their views. Fellow ‘pappie’ Jacob (Yaacob?) Ibrahim was concerned about the ‘danger’ of digital technology creating false images, as depicted in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ when Tom Hanks’ titular hero was morphed into a scene with JFK.

Which means you can forget about recreating LKY’s CG clone for a future film after all those actors worthy enough to portray him have died.

Today, our dear George is lauded as PAP’s Internet ‘maverick’, and the Films Act has since been ‘clarified’ to exclude certain types of content from the ban. For example, a film that is a live recording of any event (performance, assembly etc) which does not depict the event, person or situation in a ‘DRAMATIC’ way. An classic example of how this apparent ‘relaxation’ of legislation took effect was the decision to unban Martyn See’s ‘Singapore Rebel’. From the video on Youtube, you see scenes of Chee Soon Juan mobbed to fever pitch by the police and bystanders rabble-rousing. Nope, not the least ‘dramatic’ at all. Another of See’s films, Speakers Cornered, also features CSJ, but was passed uncut with an NC-16 rating because the MDA decrees that you need ‘maturity to discern the intent and message of the film’. No such luck for Tan Pin Pin’s ‘To Singapore With Love’. All the maturity in the world can’t offer you a glimpse of the banned, allegedly manipulative documentary.

Even without ‘dramatic elements’ or ‘animation’, an unedited video of someone telling his life story would still fall afoul of the censors if it ‘undermines public confidence in the Government’, as what happened to another Martyn See work starring ‘ex-leftist’ Lim Hock Siew. Vague terms like ‘dramatic’ or ‘factual’ have no place in the Law when the Authority, or its ‘independent panels’, have the wherewithal to decide what is ‘non-partisan’ and what is ‘political’ regardless of what the Act says. Undermining public confidence in the PAP is exactly what the Pappy washing powder implies, though the MDA failed to point this out as a ‘political’ element for some reason.

We’re so used to Mediacorp ‘current affairs’ programmes featuring Cabinet ministers, such as 2005’s ‘Up Close’, that we forget that these too may potentially breach the Films Act. And there are so many other ‘films’ out there with hidden political ‘agendas’ that get off scot-free. Like a cringeworthy, totally non-partisan Young PAP recruitment video about ‘re-igniting a passion for servant leadership’, which was spared because it did not have ‘animation or dramatic elements’. Others that inevitably fall out of MDA’s radar, including those with song, dance and animation, include:

  1. A homemade tribute video on the PAP’s 60th annivesary, with a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tarantino Western. Pappy Unchained?

2. A Steven Lim monologue urging you to vote PAP. Which the PAP may decide to ban for an entirely different reason.

3. This Taiwanese animation on Chee Soon Juan getting jailed.

4. This multimedia presentation that climaxes with a PAP logo next to a thumbs up. With cool retro 8-bit music.

5. This ‘Friday parody of how wonderful Election Day is.

6. Mr Brown parody on our ‘One Party’ leadership.

Which goes to show how archaic our laws are when it comes to catching up with new media. MDA’s ticking off aside, the Pappy video remains online as we speak, and in the meantime, if you need some legal ‘political’ entertainment, there’s this:

Unfair treatment of single mums a deterrent to unwanted pregnancies

From ‘Unequal benefits for single unwed mums a matter of deterrence’, 3 Aug 15, Voices, Today

(Sum Siew Kee): I agree with the writer of “Unwed mums did make choices that led to their situation” (Aug 1), and I wish to add a point. Some people argue for more benefits on the grounds that the child is innocent. While this is true, the child is also the parents’ responsibility.

For something to be a strong disincentive, it often must go beyond affecting the person himself. Nothing is more motivating than preventing harm from coming to the people one loves. For example, jail terms are a deterrent not only because of the unpleasant confinement, but also the loss of income, which may create hardship for the offender’s family.

Likewise, loan sharks ask for their client’s address because they can incentivise their clients to pay their debt by inflicting some pain on their family. Kidnapping a person and asking for ransom would work better than torturing him directly. Terrorists, criminals and the justice system understand this principle.

In the case of benefits for single mothers, if we intend to deter people from unwanted pregnancies, we must make good on the threat of inadequate support for a child born out of wedlock, otherwise the deterrent will not work. In conclusion, the matter is a balance between social justice and setting the right incentives.

The writer sounds like he holds a Masters in Criminal Psychology, using hard economics to justify why not treating single moms as we would typical parents is a form of ‘social justice’. What’s missing from this simplistic view of an ancient human predicament is the apparent failure to appreciate the emotional aspects of unwed motherhood. It’s such gnawing stigma about how single moms ‘asked for it’ that drives some to give their kids up for adoption, or worse, abort the baby before it has the chance to grow into a curious toddler asking Mommy ‘Why don’t I have a Daddy like my friends in school?’.

We leave those who choose to discard their foetuses alone, but when a mother decides to rear a child herself, we shake our heads, wag fingers and think ‘shotgun’. In the case of this Mr Sum, he uses the yardstick of kidnapping ransom and incarceration to make the disconcerting point that some form of ‘soft punishment’ of this bastard child of an illicit union not sanctioned by thy Heavenly Father must exist. Remove the scarlet ‘A’, and we’ll have fatherless babies crawling all over the place.

There are other ways to deter unwanted pregnancies besides the ‘threat of inadequate support’ of course. Sex education and knowledge of the various contraceptive measures available, for example. Or slapping charges on fathers who run away from personal responsibility. If unwed parenthood isn’t in your opinion socially acceptable as a ‘lifestyle’ and those who embrace it should not be granted equal parental rights, it follows that we shouldn’t make life easy for ex-convicts, divorcees, gamblers, morbidly obese people, prostitutes, smokers or people who are HIV positive either. All these folks ‘made their choice’. It’s our choice if we want to be humane or not.

Of all the conservative folk who frown on single motherhood, the worst culprits are policy-makers. In 1984, then Trade and Industry Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore was still a fairly conservative society and ‘would not welcome’ unmarried mothers. 10 years later, we remain just as conservative, with PM Goh Chok Tong declaring that the acceptance of unmarried motherhood as a ‘respectable’ part of society was WRONG. Echoing the letter writer’s incentive theory above, he went on to say that ‘removing the stigma’ may encourage more women to have more babies out of the wedlock. In other words, the shame of being an unwed parent, and omiting them from housing policies, is necessary so that others won’t think it ‘fashionable’ to bear the child of some dark and handsome stranger after a torrid one night stand. Like Terence Cao for instance.

So much for an inclusive society. Incidentally, the 90’s saw the release of a ‘single mother’ anthem, Heart’s ‘All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You’, which tells the tale of a woman conceiving with a stranger after a rainy night of ‘magic’ and giving birth to a child with ‘his own eyes’. Damn these Western soft-rock bands and their illegitimate love-child fantasies. 20 years on and they continue to threaten our ‘Asian values’.

Suzhou Industrial Park ex-CEO probed for corruption

From ‘Ex-CEO of Suzhou Park in graft probe’, 21 Sept 2014, article by Kor Kian Beng, Sunday Times

Suzhou Industrial Park’s former chief executive officer Bai Guizhi, a Chinese national, has been investigated for graft, in the most serious scandal to hit the first bilateral project between China and Singapore.

….SIP’s administrative committee, an arm of the Suzhou city government overseeing the project, is believed to be responsible for Mr Bai’s appointment and that of other key posts in the industrial park.

CSSD chief executives were Singaporeans from 1994 to 2000, when a Singapore consortium held a majority 65 per cent stake in SIP – which was set up with the backing of Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the late Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping. The key goal of the 288 sq km industrial park was to replicate Singapore’s industrialisation expertise and to transfer the Republic’s “software” and way of doing things to Suzhou and other cities.

From Jan 1, 2001, Chinese nationals were appointed as CEOs after a loss-making streak in SIP saw Singapore shrinking its stake to 35 per cent and its share of the park to just 8 sq km, instead of the 70 sq km planned. Things have picked up for SIP. It has become one of China’s most successful industrial parks, and garnered international awards.

A Singapore consortium now holds a 28 per cent stake in the CSSD.

To mark 20 years of the ‘special and long-standing friendship‘ between Singapore and Suzhou, the city’s mayor planted 5 Osmanthus flowers (the official flower of Suzhou) at the Gardens by the Bay. Things, however, haven’t been all rosy since its inception in 1994, this sprawling lovechild of LKY and Deng Xiaoping. The latest graft incident would be what our esteemed elder statesman would refer to another of the Chinese government’s ‘municipal shenanigans’. Despite all the ‘teething problems’ which LKY had with the Chinese authorities, Suzhou has been flourishing since, even winning the ironically titled Lee Kuan Yew World City prize recently, despite us having a physical presence of just 8 sq km.

Here are some interesting tidbits about our maiden ‘bilateral’ project:

1. Singapore’s social order was an inspiration for Deng Xiaoping, who in 1978 called us a ‘capitalist version of the COMMUNIST dream’, before the SIP program began. Yet any mention of communism in our media today gets slammed and banned by the government, as what happened to a recent documentary by Tan Pin Pin.

2. The SIP’s estimated cost was $30 billion. For 4 years since it was set up, it was making losses of up to US $24 million annually. Our flagship ‘government to government’ cooperative wasn’t exactly off to a flying start.

3. Lee Hsien Loong disclosed in 1998 that 10 of the 24 companies of the Singapore consortium were government-linked companies and statutory boards. $115 milion was pumped in.

4. In 1998, city vice mayor Wang Jinhua told a group of German investors to pump their money directly into rival and precursor industrial park SND (Suzhou New District), which was run by local authorities, without involving Singapore. LKY complained to President Jiang Zemin about it, despite the situation in China being a case of ‘The mountains are high and the emperor is far away’.

5. The founding CEO of the Suzhou project was former MP Chan Soo Sen. He went on to become Independent Director of a company that calls itself MIDAS Holdings.

6. 2001 was the year Singapore ceded management duties over to the Chinese government. The NY times called it a ‘face-saving’ exercise. LKY blamed the Chinese government for promoting SND instead. Other political observers surmised we had no bloody idea what we were getting into. I believe there’s another Chinese saying for ‘small fry in a big pond’. LKY expected ‘special treatment’ for his baby, but wasn’t prepared for the reality that is, well, competition, underhanded as it may be.

7. The Economist referred to the SIP as an attempt to ‘clone’ Singapore in a Chinese city. Other extensions of our ‘software replication’ would sprout up in Tianjin and Vietnam. In May rioters set fire to 3 factories in the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park complex. Seems like the ‘software’ was not flameproof.

8. In 2009, despite his disappointment with Chinese business practices, LKY maintained that SIP was the ‘right decision’. Not sure if it was ‘right’ for bilateral relations,  or ‘right’ for Singaporeans in general, especially since to the layman, the Suzhou incident appears to be a case of the Chinese ‘borrowing’ our ideas and hijacking the Singapore brand, then running off with it, applying our ‘software’ to copycat cities to the tune of billions of dollars; i.e it turned out ‘right’ for the Chinese. Then every 10 years, they come down and plant token flowers in our $1 billion garden. Which is NICE, rather than just ripping us off like this thing they did with Apple without giving credit where credit’s due.

Success or flop, there are take-home lessons from our experience with SIP, yet our government continues to woo China like an infatuated puppy, still stuck in its Sinophilia, insisting that the SIP was a resounding masterstroke of the genius that is LKY despite the apparent ‘glitches’ in the software. A Guangzhou Knowledge City is in the pipeline as we speak, lauded as one ‘driven by the private sector’ unlike the previous projects, which is in fact a 50:50 venture involving Temasek Holdings-owned Singbridge International. The man in charge? Wong Kan Seng, who had always believed that there was ‘money to be made‘ in China. Isn’t that the guy who…never mind.

If the SIP and similar ventures were products you could pick up off the shelf, you can be certain that it’ll say ‘Made in China’ on the labels, and next time when a foreigner asks you if Singapore is ‘somewhere in China’, he wouldn’t be totally off the mark. Maybe it’s time for some software updates and bug fixes, before we go around pointing to SIP and claiming credit like an excited kid telling his parents that this entire city would never have existed if he hadn’t built a Lego model to inspire it from the beginning.

Malaysia building a Forest City below Second Link

From ‘Mega reclamation project off Johor raises concerns’, 22 June 2014, article in ST

Singapore has expressed concern to Malaysia over a proposal for a massive reclamation project to create an island in the Strait of Johor below the Second Link. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed yesterday that Singapore has asked for more information so it can study the possible impact on the Republic and the strait. “They have agreed to do so and we hope to receive the information soon,” a spokesman said in response to media queries.

A report in the Malaysian daily The Star yesterday said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, about the project.

…The Star reported last Monday that China property developer Country Garden Holdings and a Johor government company, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, were planning the reclamation project called Forest City for luxury homes.

The idea to create a 2,000ha island – nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate – will take 30 years to complete, Mr Kayson Yuen, Country Garden’s regional president for the project, told the paper. A project map showed part of the man-made island under the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore to Johor.

The Edge Review online magazine reported last month that Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar was behind the project, which was being promoted actively by powerful Johor politicians.

Island in the stream

Nobody ever creates an artifical island, calls it ‘Forest City’ and expects it to be a miniature replica of the planet Pandora in Avatar, where the mode of transport is swinging vine and residents live in tree-huts. The name ‘Country Garden’ is also scathingly ironic given that these guys from China don’t build barns and landscaped lawns for a living, but high-rise luxury housing, with existing projects in Danga Bay. In 2012, the company acquired 22 ha of prime waterfront land in the Iskandar region, to the approval of Malaysia PM Najib. Even our own Temasek Holdings has got a stake in the region. CG’s logo is ‘To create a better SOCIETY with our existence’, which sounds eerily like Red Army propaganda. It doesn’t say ‘to create better neighbours with our existence’. In any case, our very Earth itself is better off if such globetrotting property developers never existed at all. Unlike how it’s named, there’s nothing remotely ‘green’ about building an entire artificial island from scratch in the middle of the sea.

Land use has always been a prickly issue between us and the Malaysians. In 2002, Malaysia’s Trade and Industry Minister called for his countrymen to SUE the Singapore government for our reclamation works along Tebrau Strait, even though these were within our borders. Fishermen staged protests about dredging affecting their livelihoods, while others complained about the narrowing of shipping lanes and damage to marine life. The Foreign Minister bashed us for our ‘selfishness’ and not being a ‘good neighbour’. It also wasn’t the first time that Singapore has embarked on land reclamation, leading some to speculate this was a case of the Malaysian politicians seizing the chance to ‘put Singapore in its place’ out of sheer jealousy. A year later, our neighbour decided to bring the matter up to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, arguing for our project to be ceased because it could ‘permanently scar’ the environment. We eventually won the case, but some refused to let the issue go even up till 2007, blaming a spate of floods in JB on our reclamation works on Pulau Tekong. Incidentally, Tekong means ‘obstacle’ in Malay.

Could this ambitious undertaking right under the Second Link be a major case of tit for tat? The Forest City project has powerful backing in the Sultan as well as a China conglomerate, and if even Najib endorses this like how he welcomed the Danga Bay development and our pleas go ignored, it appears that going back to international courts may be the only recourse. It is important, however, that both nations don’t lose sight of the bigger picture (or miss the ‘FOREST’ for the trees for that matter) in the pursuit of happy bilateral relations and economic growth. Not much is known of the long term environmental impact of any form of land reclamation, be in within or outside our borders, and the consequences of any human interference on a complex, interweaving ecosystem are often beyond our understanding, beyond the artificial boundaries we create between ourselves.

Even as we attempt to increase our own size by up to 9 ‘AMK towns’, there are valid concerns about the impact on tidal flows, even on the coastal waters of neighbouring countries. There are also concerns of the impact of our land expansion on native coral reefs. We should be careful not to be come across as having double standards if we’re plowing ahead at the expense of our own environment, not to mention other countries’. It’s like accusing a neighbour next door of having an all-day BBQ when we’re burning incense in our garden.  Before criticising the move, it would have been prudent to study what we’re doing to ourselves. It is likely however, knowing the temperament of Malaysian politicians, that if we make noise this time round, they’ll bring up the 2002 case again, saying that if Singapore can do it, why not us? At the rate of the sea being filled around us, it’s only a matter of time before what separates the two countries is nothing more than a couple of shipping lanes and a token bridge over troubled waters.

We already have a ‘transboundary’ problem with the Indonesians from the haze, now we have another one bugging us from the north. PM Lee, PM Najib, perhaps this would be a good time to remind you guys about this:

That’s what friends are for

Zouk an institution that needs saving

From ‘Zouk may shut by year end’ 18 June 2014, article by Joyce Lim, ST

The founder of Zouk, Mr Lincoln Cheng, says he is tired of getting short lease extensions for the popular dance club’s Jiak Kim Street site. If he does not get a three-year extension he is now requesting, he will close the 23-year-old iconic nightspot for good by the end of this year.

…When the club first opened in 1991, the land around it was largely vacant. But today, the club – which is situated within three recently conserved riverside warehouses – is dwarfed by neighbouring condominiums and hotels. It was no surprise, therefore, when questions about the fate of Zouk started making the rounds in 2012.

…When told of the news, celebrity presenter and Zouk regular Najip Ali said he was shocked. “When Zouk opened, it was ahead of its time. In the 1990s, Zouk put a stamp on the kind of nightlife that didn’t exist.” It was where he learnt about music and deejays. “Zouk has been and is still an institution,” he said.

Development plans aside, it was MP Indranee Rajah (“If Zouk was not there, then it is unlikely the youth would congregate there.”) who indirectly blamed the rise in drunken rowdiness in the Robertson Quay area on the dance ‘institution’. Since complaints by residents, the Government has been mooting the idea of a ‘no-alcohol’ zone so that babies from nearby condos can sleep at night. If Zouk were an ‘institution’, then its graduates are Masters in Inebriation. No riot has broken out on Jiak Kim Street so far, though there may soon be a protest or two. Like the SaveZouk campaign for example. I wonder what colour these guys will be wearing. Maybe neon rainbow.

I’ve been to the club myself a few times, and back in those days it was a hedonistic eye-opener seeing people gyrating on raised platforms, revellers decked out in the wildest accessories, meeting gays, transgenders and Najip Ali, sweating and grinding to guest DJs spinning revolutionary dance tracks that no other disco at the time were keen to play. In the 90’s, Zouk WAS Clubbing, a place that has become synonymous with a street with the unlikeliest of names in ‘Jiak Kim’. You didn’t need to give taxi drivers directions or addresses. You just had to say ‘Zouk’, and he’d give you that knowing wink and a nod, sometimes breaking out into small talk about how ‘happening’ you are. Then again, it’s also the same place that revived Rick Astley’s popularity, thanks to Mambo Jumbo Nights, a phenomenon that has even been exported out for the 2012 Singapore Day in New York.

For 23 years, Singaporean merrymakers have stayed faithful to the icon of glam, the ‘queen’ of clubs, despite intrusions by global players like Ministry of Sound and Supperclub, which all bowed out of the scene entirely while Zouk continued to attract 24 hour party people, even till now, except to the wrath of condo owners, who obviously didn’t have a clue about what Zouk was about when they decided to move in right next to it. In the spirit of MP Indranee’s argument: If the condos were not there, there would be no one to complain about noise, piss and vomit. And we probably would have let the kids drink themselves to death or fall off the bridge and drown or something.

Here are some facts every Singaporean should know about our homegrown premier club:

1. Zouk means ‘village party’ in French Caribbean, and was refurnished out of 3 abandoned riverside godowns. The logo was inspired by Arabic script and is a mixture of the ‘sun, all-seeing eye and the sea’. Zouk’s address is 17 Jiak Kim Street, though no one knows what happened to the other 16 numbers.

2. Founder Lincoln Cheng is an architect by training. In 1995 he was charged for bringing in 376 diazepam tablets and having possession of 125 Upjohn tablets, 4 Playboy magazines and some porno tapes, all part of a high profile drug bust which forced the club to close temporarily.

3. Tan Jiak Kim was a fifth generation Baba merchant who formed the Straits Steamship Company in 1890 with a few other rich businessmen, in addition to sterling work among the Chinese community and setting up a medical college. He would have qualified for the Pioneer package. Most of us would have never heard of him if not for Zouk. Thankfully, there’s also a nearby bridge named after the man, a bridge that the very same drunk kids are puking and dumping trash on.

4. In 1993, a brewery bar named ORANG UTAN opened in the Zouk complex. No it wasn’t a place where you could pet Ah Meng for free over beer and grub like what you do in a cat cafe. Though that just MIGHT work elsewhere.

5. A ‘Healthy Lifestyle Party‘ without cigarettes and booze was held for 1000 SAF personnel in 1992. As fun as your Grandaunt’s birthday bash, I reckon. The words ‘healthy’ and ‘party’ belong together like ‘innocent’ and ‘sex’. I hope there was at least Hokkien techno.

6. ‘Zoukette’ is what you call a fashionable female club regular. It was also the name of one of the more popular IRC channels in Singapore. Yes, Zouk has outlived even IRC, ICQ and Windows Messenger.

7. The PAP celebrated its 50th anniversary there in 2004, an event that most true-blue Zoukers and Zoukettes would rather forget. Amongst those boogieing the night away then was PM Lee himself, Lim Swee Say, and a certain Indranee Rajah, the same MP who thinks Zouk turns our kids into raving alcoholics. Look, here’s proof!

Party people in the house, y'all.

Party people in the house, y’all.

Wait, that means 2014 is the 60th year of PAP’s reign. How about a farewell All-White Zouk party again this year, for the club to go out with an unforgettable BANG?. After all, who WOULDN’T want to see our ministers dancing?Not sure if invitations will be extended to Ms Indranee though.

8. Zouk is likely to have played host to a more diverse range of international stars than any other stadium or concert hall in Singapore. From 80’s synth-pop band Erasure to techno/trance maestros, Kylie Minogue to K-pop girl groups, even a crooning Tony Leung.

9. In 2007, Zouk was where you could watch girls in skimpy attire wrestle one another in spaghetti sauce. 3 years later, the club organised an event called ‘Baby Loves Disco’, where hip parents could bring their babies for an afternoon party, some as young as 2 MONTHS. It looked like the beginning of a slow demise, less an ‘institution’ than a free-for-all venue for any event under the sun.

10. In 2008, it was reported that Zouk hired 70 security officers and had 100 surveillance cameras installed. What would become of these bouncers once Zouk is gone? Maybe protecting our ministers when they queue for chicken wings, perhaps?

So those were the days, my friend, we’d thought they’d never end. Thanks for the memories, Zouk. The puke on the sidewalk, the awesome live DJ gigs, the vodka-Ribena, the silly dancing, for being the only place in town where you could impress the girl of your dreams with cheesy 80’s moves. Unlike high-end exclusive clubs like Ku De Ta, Zouk welcomed mopey teens, the fuddy-duddies, the geeks and the wannabes with open arms. You did well to put us on the map of ‘cool’ and convince the world that Singapore was not THAT boring after all, but like all good parties, this 23-year-long one must come to an end. Good night, and Zouk Out.


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