No water splashing allowed at Songkran festival

From ‘Singapore’s 1st Songkran water festival goes dry’, 25 March 2014, article by Melody Zaccheus, ST

There will be no water pistol fights, celebrity dunk stations, or really, any kind of water fun at Singapore’s first Songkran water festival on April 12 and 13. The organisers of Celebrate Songkran 2014 at the Padang have taken heed of the national campaign to conserve water and nixed the water-based activities.

Instead, they will host a Water Conservation and Water Heritage Exhibition in conjunction with national water agency PUB. The organisers said this was appropriate in view of the recent dry spell and current moves to cut back on water usage.

Though lighting designer Sanischaya Mankhongphithakkul, 25, agrees with the rationale, it still feels a little odd. “What’s a water festival without water?”

The whole point of traditional Songkran is to get soaking wet, as dousing is symbolic of washing away bad luck. It’s also the Thai New Year, usually accompanied by Buddhist activities such as prayer sessions, as what took place back in 1999 during Singapore’s first open-air Songkran near Paya Lebar MRT. In 1988, Songkran was held at the now defunct Big Splash, where other than getting wet and wild, participants would be expected to burn joss sticks and bathe statues of Four Face Buddhas. Otherwise, Golden Mile Complex is the place to be if you want to mingle with Thai workers ringing in their New Year with water fights. It’s a religious festival, not an excuse to get fashionably drunk and watch Far East Movement.

No wonder Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, Ms Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn, had reportedly (according to the ST article) threatened to sue festival organisers for ‘undermining the values’ of the Thai festival, not so much that we’re cutting out the real star of the show for conservation reasons, but because we’re twisting the agenda to suit our needs and flying in entertainers, turning it into yet another outdoor pop music festival that’s really a B-grade cousin of the F1 megaconcerts, headlined by a band who’s not even Thai to begin with. How would you feel if Westerners adopted our version of Chinese New Year, but just went around eating dim sum, making fortune cookies or ‘lo hei-ing’ over meatballs and spaghetti instead of yusheng?

The ‘CelebrateSongkran’ website continues to run misleading images of drenched people with Supersoakers, oblivious that the banning of water activities has, in a manner of speaking, rained on everyone’s parade. Conservative Christians who refuse to fold paper ingots at their grandmother’s funeral should not attend by the way because of its religious (i.e ‘paganistic’) origins.  Yes you can’t have water fun because your God forbids it.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.05.19 PM

Dampnation!

Songkran in Singapore used to be an intimate, simple, even holy affair, celebrated only within a niche community, now commercialised and rebranded as a pseudo rave party like how the Indian ‘festival of colours’ Holi has turned into a rainbow powder orgy. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Water Wally prancing around on stage either, blind to the irony that by completely overturning the theme toward water conservation just to avoid cancelling the damn thing, you forget that you’re also splurging on electricity and raking up carbon miles flying in celebrities. I mean, we could just run another ‘Keep it to 5′ campaign rather than bullshit our way through someone else’s New Year celebration, and with the $60 price tag for 2 nights of partying, you’re more likely to see rich teens and expats there than the folks who appreciate the true meaning of Songkran, the homesick Thai workers. The only sprinkling of any sort you’ll see there will be drunkards taking a piss by a bush, or the buckets of sweat produced by the people cleaning up after your mess when the night’s over.

It also sets an awkward precedent for future events which have the slightest implications on the natural environment. Should we stop people from burning incense during Qing Ming because of the haze? Stop circulating new $2 notes or printing ang pows in the event of worsening global deforestation? Scrape F1 during an oil crisis? Ban St Patricks Day or Oktoberfest when there’s an epidemic of hops infestation? Put a stop to Hungry Ghost Festival offerings during a famine? If you want to enjoy REAL Songkran without some event organiser messing it up and turning it into a poor man’s foam party (without the foam of course), yet don’t want to be seen wasting water, you can do it at a pool or beach where you can splash all you want. More importantly, it’s FREE, and you don’t have to listen to bloody annoying Far East Movement while at it.

 

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Entering or remaining in the MRT when it is full

From ‘Puzzled by MRT rules’, 28 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Adam Tan): BEFORE reviewing the penalties for flouting MRT rules, the authorities and train operators should do more to educate the public on the regulations (“Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review”; last Saturday).

For instance, not many know that it is an offence to pass items between the paid and unpaid areas without going through the fare gates. I often see people doing just that. It makes no sense for someone to enter the paid area for just a few seconds to pass an item to another person. If security is an issue, items passed into paid areas can be screened by the security staff.

Then, there is the offence of “entering or remaining in a train when it is full”, which carries a maximum penalty of $500.

How does one define a “full” train? If the train is full and no one gets off, is that an offence? And if someone manages to squeeze in, will he also be fined? Don’t the operators want their trains to be running at full capacity? Indeed, it is timely for a review of MRT rules.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.57.52 PM

‘Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review’, 25 Jan 2014, ST

Last August, a student was fined $400 for unauthorised use of a station socket to charge her mobile phone. She was guilty of ‘improper use of electrical equipment upon the railway premises’, which carries a maximum fine of up to $5000. In 1988, SMRT imposed a ban on DURIANS and a penalty of $500 if you decide to sneak some onto the train. This is in accordance to rule 7 which states:

7.(1)  No person shall bring into or upon any part of the railway premises —

(a) any luggage, article or thing which —
(i) exceeds the dimensions or weight restrictions specified on notices posted by the Authority or its licensee in the railway premises;
(ii) cannot be carried or otherwise accommodated on the railway without risk of damage to railway property; or
(iii) causes a nuisance or inconvenience to other persons using the railway premises.
We are also probably the only metro system in the world that has a sign barring a specific FRUIT. A true icon of Singapore indeed.

Singaporeans getting prickly over MRT rules

Interestingly enough, durians were deemed a nuisance a year before another notorious item was recognised as a threat to MRT systems: Chewing gum, which you now can’t ‘consume’ or even ‘attempt’ to consume. I have to confess I’ve gotten away with this a few times, but thank God no one has ever confronted me to inspect my mouth for evidence to charge me with.

What constitutes a ‘nuisance’ or ‘inconvenience’ is relative. I’m impartial to durians, but there are worse smells on the train, like the body odour of a sweaty kid after PE. Nobody’s going to yank him and his stinky towel out of the train and fine him for causing olfactory distress to passengers. Some people think big prams are a nuisance, but no one would ever fine parents for boarding trains with them. As for the no passing of stuff across gantries rule for security reasons, it only makes sense if EVERYONE is screened. If I wanted to blow up a train today, I could hide bombs in a pram with a baby inside and get through the fare gates without a hitch, with or without accomplices sneaking explosives to me over the barriers. The SMRT staff wouldn’t even check if I had a real baby inside at all.

Then there’s the awkward rule of ‘entering or remaining in a train when it is full’. According to Regulation 12:

No entry into train when it is full

12.  Without prejudice to regulation 11, where any authorised person determines that a train is full, no person shall enter or remain in the train if directed not to do so by him.

Though it’s reasonable to bar people from squeezing into a packed train, does this rule also mean that this ‘authorised person’ has the right to force people ‘remaining’ in a too crowded train to get out of it? As for ‘full’ trains, previous SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa has even denied that the trains were ever crowded at all, saying that ‘people can board the train, it is whether they choose to’. If rule 12 is actively enforced, it’s not that we don’t ‘choose’ to squeeze in, it’s that we don’t want to be fined $500 doing it in case this ‘authorised person’ decides that the train is ‘full’, wherever, or whoever, he or she is. In fact, it’s more rational to fine people from ‘entering or remaining’ on a crowded PLATFORM instead. Just look at this disaster waiting to happen. Look at it.

If you think that entering or remaining rule is silly, in 1991 SMRT banned SITTING on parapets along both sides of the escalator landing of City Hall MRT station (Sitting on MRT parapets banned, 2 April 1991), which they scrapped a few months later. Thankfully they did not heed the pleas of a certain Today writer, who in 2009 demanded that ‘hugging and kissing‘ be banned too. Seems like to some people, public displays of affection are more toxic than the foul stench of durians.

Postscript: SMRT replied on the first day of CNY (MRT rules must be read in context, 31 Jan 2014, ST Forum), with the intent of making us feel bad that they had to work on the response over Reunion Dinner.

(Helen Lim, Director, Media Relations):…The provisions of the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations should be read in context to understand their intent. For example, the regulation on “no entry into a train when it is full” provides for an authorised person to direct passengers not to board a train if he determines that it is not safe for it to carry more people, and penalises non-compliance.

In this context, the regulation empowers the staff of public transport operators to regulate passenger activities, and ensure that the MRT continues to operate in a safe and efficient manner for the commuting public. This is used only when the situation warrants it, and no commuter has been fined for entering a crowded train.

So much for ‘entering’, where’s the part on ‘remaining’ on a train when it’s full? Note that the penalty reads ‘entering OR remaining’, not ‘entering AND remaining’. SMRT never gave an example of when a ‘situation warrants it’. Maybe if the passenger was wearing something like this?

Similarly, the regulation stating that items should not be passed between the paid and unpaid areas is intended to prevent the MRT from being used for trade or business purposes.

As the primary purpose of the MRT is that of a people mover, it is important to minimise the use of the system for the delivery of goods, which would impede commuter movement and add to crowding.

OK so it’s not for security reasons, and I’m glad SMRT remembers that it’s supposed to move people, though sometimes we’ve had to move ourselves after detraining during a breakdown. Next time if you want to return something to a friend on the way to work, it’s best doing it before 730 am at City Hall station so you won’t get charged for stepping in and out of the ‘unpaid’ zone.  Otherwise it’s a $2000 fine for ‘impeding commuter movement’, or just being a decent friend who returns stuff to people.

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.

Mediacorp New Year Countdown too cheena

From ‘Why Mandarin segment on Channel 5 show?’, 3 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Maria Alice Anthony):WHILE watching Channel 5′s countdown show on New Year’s Eve, I was shocked to see a host speaking in Mandarin during the programme. I had to switch between channels to check if I was tuned in to Channel 5, an all-English channel, or Channel 8, the Mandarin channel.

If the hosts were present to translate the English-language segments into Mandarin, where were the hosts to do translations into Tamil and Malay?

Why was a national celebration turned into a bilingual event catering to only one ethnic group?

Maria’s party-pooper rant about the TV50 spectacular is mild compared to theatre actor Ivan Heng’s scathing Facebook complaint about how ‘cheena’ the programme was, where MCs send greetings in Mandarin and you have singers like Wang Lee Hom headlining the event instead of homegrown artistes. To be fair, the show kicked off with a multiracial mix of talents including legend Dick Lee and the original Singapore Idol Taufik Batisah. But you’d soon realise how barren the Channel 5 ‘English-speaking’ talent pool is when you have Gurmit Singh coercing people to ‘make some noize’ as host. FOR THE 7823th TIME. The last time I remember anyone doing MC duty for BIG parties in English was Moe Alkaff.

Gurmit’s partners Joanne Peh and Bryan Wong are themselves ‘cheena’ veterans, but if you look back at the history of our 50 years of television, cheena has clearly dominated the scene, and the fact that two-thirds of the MC lineup were Channel 8 artistes suggests that national television, not to mention NYE countdowns, is unsustainable without Channel 8 celebrity. In one PCK/City Beat/Under One Roof skit, Gurmit was trading jokes with 4 ‘cheena’ artists and 1 Pierre Png, technically now a Channel 8 regular after crossing over from 5. In the final minutes of 2013, the hosts interviewed in succession a who’s who of Channel 8′s star roster, from Zoe Tay to Jack Neo, all of whom didn’t even attempt to say three simple words of Happy New Year in English. Not a single Suria or Vasantham personality was in sight. It was probably the most-watched sequence on stage when everyone’s ready to ring in the new year, yet it almost felt like Cai Shen Ye on a golden steed could ride in at any moment. And where the hell was James Lye? Or the fabulous Muthu?

Critics didn’t just pick on the language bias in the past, but even racial quotas. In 1999, Mediacorp, then known as TCS was accused by a forum writer of being a ‘Totally Chinese Station‘, where English dramas have mostly Chinese as lead actors, or foreign talents with mixed heritage (but still look Chinese). Nothing much has changed since. Think of a current Channel 5 hunk in a leading role and he’s most likely to be Chinese. Or half-Chinese. That’s if you can even think of such a programme in the first place.

It’s really all business and eyeballs for Medicorp, a company that has to struggle to reflect the ‘inclusivity’ of the real world by selling ‘make-believe’. I wouldn’t want to pay money to watch a mash-up of PCK and Moses Lim doing Dick Lee’s rendition of Rasa Sayang on NYE, especially when there’s always catch-up TV. But diehard fans will flock just to watch Jeanette Aw pirouette in a shimmery dress.  If you want a REAL Singaporean year end party, you should have been at Boon Lay instead of sitting at home miserable and wasting time channel surfing. As for Joanne Peh and Bryan Wong, see you in a few weeks’ time at the Lunar New Year Countdown then. I doubt anyone could complain about that being too ‘kantang’.

How to future-proof our drainage network

From ‘Drainage network has to be future-proofed’, article by Sumita Sreedharan, 6 Sept 2013, Today

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the drainage network will have to be “future-proofed” to cope with intense thunderstorms that may hit the island, similar to the one that caused yesterday morning’s flash floods in several parts of Singapore.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Dr Balakrishnan laid out immediate and long-term plans for the two rivers, Sungei Pandan Kechil and Sungei Ulu Pandan, which overflowed as a huge amount of rainwater fell yesterday morning.

…As for Sungei Ulu Pandan, the area around Commonweath Avenue is undergoing drainage improvement works but the culvert underneath Clementi Road will have to be examined in the long term. These works are “a major operation” as the drainage system is inter-connected, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Future-proof this

The last medical metaphor used by Vivian Balakrishnan in relation to floods was when he recommended against ‘surgery’ of the Stamford Canal last year. This recent ‘act of God’ has led to terrified schoolchildren clinging for dear life onto fences to avoid rising floodwater like they were rats in the cargo hold of a sinking ship, a sign that you need more than just local invasive procedures but a massive rethink of our entire network before embarking on any ‘future-proofing’. Otherwise we’d just have to resign to floods like how we deal with the haze, except that instead of people scurrying for N95 respirators we’d stock up snorkelling masks and emergency floats instead.

Future-proofing originated as a computing term for anticipating change when setting up networks, and has been in use since 1997, surprisingly (‘Service providers need a future-proof solution that can deliver different types of services’, 9 June 1997, ST). It basically means ensuring that a system is built to last and resilient to change, though there are always some things you can never future-proof against no matter how much computer simulation and chaos theory you apply to it. Like a tidal wave, for example. You also need some solid 20/20 foresight to futureproof anything, a standard which even PM Lee himself has admitted the Government has not achieved.

The term itself is counter-intuitive to what we usually mean when we ‘___-proof’ something. A bulletproof vest, for instance, protects you against bullets. Similarly fireproof, shockproof or lightning-proof, which guard against external, threatening elements. So without context, ‘future-proof’ by itself would mean ‘anti-future’, that ‘future’ is something scary and undesirable that we need to be shielded from. It only makes sense if the future we want to avoid is that of Waterworld.

As expected of most trendy catchphrases, there are other things in life that you can seemingly ‘future-proof’ other than electronic and drainage systems. You can futureproof your SKIN (more like age-proof), your Home, even your CHILD. Want to keep your marriage and job? Why, just futureproof it silly! Hell, I could write a book called ‘Futureproof Your Sex Life!’ and maybe beat LKY to the top of the bestseller list.

Maybe it’s easier to relate if Vivian had said ‘our drainage systems need to be future-ready’ (EDB website has the logo ‘Future-Ready Singapore’, not when it comes to the weather apparently), though what you really want to do to our streets, our pavements, our school grounds, so that people don’t scramble up walls, is to ‘water-proof’ the damn thing. Now that’s an analogy that’s, well, IDIOT-proof.

 

Baey Yam Keng is a selfie crush

From ‘MP Baey Yam Keng: I am surprised and flattered by the interest in my selfies’, article by Yunita Ong, 15 Aug 2013, ST

As a politician, Mr Baey Yam Keng is no stranger to public scrutiny. But the MP for Tampines GRC wasn’t quite prepared for the sudden buzz surrounding the “selfies” – or self-taken photos of his face – which he posted on his Instagram account.

Mr Baey, who turns 43 on Aug 31, was crowned “selfie crush” by a pop-culture website called Popspoken on Aug 5. It collated what it called the MP’s “hottest 10 selfies”.

“I was quite surprised and a bit flattered that someone took enough notice of my selfies,” he told The Straits Times. “I appreciate it as I thought it’s quite a positive article.”

…While some are not supportive of him taking selfies, most have given him the thumbs up. One Instagram user praised him for “engaging Singaporeans through online interaction”.

In 2007, Baey ‘Yum’ Keng’s photo was mistakenly used in a Malaysian Chinese newspaper article, where he was depicted as a 50 year old woman’s ‘serial womaniser’ husband. With his range of selfies online, he may be easy pickings for people photojacking his shots for dating portfolios, or end up in advertisement banners for sites with names like Hot Asian Studs or Moustache Madness. As for ‘engaging Singaporeans’,  posing with Iron Man is fine, but acting cute with a Coach box will earn you mortal enemies and a Facebook petition to kick you out of Parliament. Just ask Tin Pei Ling. What is it, then, that makes it alright, sexy, some may even say respectable, for a male politician to take a playful selfie, but when an attractive female counterpart does it, it seems, well, ‘unprofessional’?

BYK isn’t the only male politician with smouldering filmstar looks. Those who have been labelled ‘auntie-killers’ include boyish Desmond Choo and Chen Show Mao with his ‘scholarly good looks’. One man who has been literally compared to a filmstar is our Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, whom some housewives think resemble Richard Gere. These are probably the same women who think Khaw Boon Wan looks like Al Pacino. One such auntie-killer lived up to his reputation as a ‘ladies’ man’, being the first PAP MP to be publicly shamed for adultery and lost his job over it. His name? Michael Palmer.

Which male politician do people most want to see naked? One gay forum posed such a tantaslising question. According to poll results, Ng ‘Richard Gere’ Eng Hen got 0.77% of votes. Steve Chia, who did in fact take erotic naked pictures of himself, scored 2.47%. Baey was a distant second (21%) to winner Teo Ser Luck (60%), whereas no one in their right mind would want to see Yaacob Ibrahim expose himself (3 votes).

Blogger Hansel 25 has more eclectic tastes in his male politicians. BYK only makes it to a measly no.8 on his Top 10 list, with the likes of Tan Chuan Jin, Teo Ser Luck and even Vivian Balakrishnan higher in hotness ranking. It’s also a well known fact that height correlates with attractiveness, and the tallest PM we’ve ever had was once called ‘My HANDSOME prime minister’ by a resident. (My handsome Prime Minister!4 Jan 1997, ST). Standing at 6″2, he’s none other than our current Emeritus Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong. Seems like it’s OK to be ‘wooden’ but still a heartland heartthrob as long as you’re taller than 180cm.

There are the unsung, underrated hunks as well. Forum commentators laud NMPs Nicholas Fang and Lawrence Lien, while others swoon over Christopher De Souza and Lim Wee Kiak, guys who don’t need an Instagram account to show off their unconventional good looks through vainpot pictures. But what’s truly remarkable is how one of our top leaders made it to the top 20 hottest heads of state. This ‘yandao’ man-god is currently number 14 on the list, and officially hotter than THIS man below:

Vladimir Putin. The piranha at the end of his fishing line was out of the picture

Our hot world leader doesn’t hunt deer or wrestle with bears while swilling vodka in one hand, but he looks absolutely fabulous in a pink shirt. He’s so smokin’ hot he doesn’t need a selfie to prove it. In fact, during a National Day Rally he REVERSED the selfie. How cool is that? Take a bow, Lee Hsien Loong.

Our PM, 14th hottest head of state in the world

Police investigating mutilation of new 1 dollar coins

From ‘Hole in $1? That’s what photos online show’, 13 July 2013, article by Pearl Lee, ST

…Barely a month since the launch of Singapore’s latest series of coins, several pictures of $1coins with a hole have been circulating online, leaving some to wonder how it could happen. Only with extreme force, said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) yesterday, adding that it was an offence to mutilate coins, and that the matter was being investigated by police.

So far, The Straits Times has found three different pictures of a $1 coin with the middle missing, indicating that this may not be an isolated issue.

…The new $1 coin, launched on June 25 as part of a new series, is the only one with a bi-metallic design. The gold part on the outside is brass-plated, while the silver centre is nickel-plated. In a statement, MAS said that its Third Series coins had “undergone stringent tests before circulation”. The $1 coin, in particular, had “gone through numerous tests to ensure the durability of its bi-metallic components”.

On Wednesday, MAS posted a warning against damaging coins on a Facebook page it set up to promote the new coins….Under the Currency Act, a person who mutilates or destroys any Singapore dollar notes or coins may be fined up to $2,000.

They liked it so they put a ring on it

Thanks to the person who posted photos of dislodged $1 coins, now anyone who gets their itchy fingers on one will try to see if they can pop the middle out, like how we poke out parking coupons. While the majority of the police force is shocked by the arrest of the Kovan double murder suspect who turned out to be one of their own, we have some officers scrambling to nab people who mutilate coins in such a foul grisly manner or for possibly posting a hoax on Stomp and causing widespread alarm that the new Singapore bi-metallic currency is defective (in addition to being mistaken for Euros). It also gives new meaning to the term ‘break a dollar’.

According to the Currency Act, it is also a crime to ‘print or stamp, or by any like means write, or impress, on any currency note any mark, word, letter or figure’, which means that if you’re an aspiring magician you may be charged for currency destruction while practicing tricks that involve signing on, tearing or setting aflame 2 dollar notes. If you’re a billionaire you’re also not allowed to wipe shit off your ass with money or light cigars with them, though the $2000 fine is spare change to you anyway. Cash is king after all, so for most of us insulting money is like committing treason against the monarchy. To some, messing with their money is like vandalising the statues of their gods.

Most people would not think of bending a coin out of shape or try to snap it with their teeth, though for the new $1 coin, some may be tampering with it just so to fit the slot on a supermarket trolley as it supposedly should. It’s the bank notes instead that are often the recipient of someone’s rage. A writer to the ST in 1958 threatened to ‘tear up all bank notes’ which bore the image of the Queen or King of England because it reminded him of the yoke of colonialism. In 1965, someone defaced the $10 note with the words ‘Lee Kuan Yew is a Traitor’, stamped in purple ink.

Money talks

Money talks

Defaced paper currency have also been used as communication material for gangs, when the words ‘Black Eagle Gang’ and ‘Pig’s Mind’ were scrawled on money back in 1983. 5 years later, a drunkard was fined $300 for tearing up 2 $20 bills. In a somewhat comical sequence of events in 1989, a man walked up to a police officer, tore a 1 dollar note in front of him saying that he ‘can’t buy beer with it’ and got arrested for his efforts with a fine of $50. The most severe penalty I could dig up was a $1000 fine slapped on a labourer for burning off $205 (Man fined $1000 for burning $205, 23 Dec 1994, ST). These examples of foolish contempt for your own stash suggest that the more money you destroy, the higher your fine, since you behaved like you could bloody well afford it.

I wonder if you’ll get arrested for EATING your money, though.

NEA urging Indonesia to do something about haze

From ‘Singapore urges Indonesia to take immediate measures over worsening haze’, 17 June 2013, article by Grace Chua, ST

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) has urged the Indonesian authorities to take urgent measures to halt transboundary haze, as the haze clouding Singapore’s skies crossed into the unhealthy range on Monday. At 8pm, the PSI was 140 – the highest since 2006.

Any reading above 100 is considered unhealthy.

“NEA has alerted the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on the haze situation experienced in Singapore, and urged the Indonesian authorities to look into urgent measures to mitigate the transboundary haze occurrence,” an NEA spokesman said on Monday.

…Smoke from forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatra island, some deliberately started to clear forests for planting, has been carried by winds from the west and south-west to Singapore this week and to Malaysia, where it reached unhealthy levels over the weekend. The number of Sumatran hot spots has been rising: on June 15, there were 101 hot spots, while on Sunday there were 138.

The highest PSI ever recorded in Singapore was 226 in 1997. I’m not sure if the NEA has enough clout to pressure the Indonesian authorities when even our ministers’ complaints have fallen on deaf ears over the past 2 decades. The Indonesian ministers have even rebutted on those occasions when we were worst hit, saying the region, and the world, should be THANKFUL for the oxygen that Sumatran forests have provided to make the air ‘cool’ for us. President Suharto did apologise, however, for the bush fires which they have failed to stop despite imposing bans on the slash-and-burn practice, but it was a pretty useless apology indeed, as we watch the PSI shoot up the charts on the top left corner of the TV screen and forced to cancel our plans of family kite-flying at Marina Bay. Susilo Bambang apologised again in 2006, but we’ve reached a point in our negotiations where it’s ‘Sorry no cure’, Indonesia. Your haze has ruined many a lung and a childhood thanks to your wilful negligence. Give me back the outdoor vigorous exercise that you stole from me, dammit.

Yaacob Ibrahim was involved in ASEAN taking ‘serious steps’ to stop the haze back in 2007, where he called for less meetings and more implementation. Jakarta boasted of a $150 US million dollars action plan then, which aimed to halve forest fires that year. All that money seemed to have gone up in smoke.  In 2010, ex-minister George Yeo personally called his Indonesian counterpart to complain about the haze and offer help, but the response then was a wimpy admission of weak forestry enforcement i.e they could do nothing about it. Vivian Balakrishnan followed up in 2011 with a letter stressing the need for ‘immediate measures’ because the haze was bad for business, namely F1 business. Indonesia declined our offer to help because they felt things were ‘under control’.  Nevermind then, we went ahead with the damn F1 anyway, an event which generates a mini-haze and plenty of hot air of its own. As if things weren’t smoky enough. Our PM also joined the nagging, expressing ‘disappointment’ over the haze problem, alas, amounting to nothing more than trying to douse a hotspot with a bucket of ice.

Even ASEAN ganging up on the clueless Indonesians failed to resolve the issue, with some academics calling for Singapore to take legal action ourselves against polluting culprits without waiting for the Indonesian government to get their act together or sulk about how ungrateful we are in spite of all the wonderful oxygen they have supplied us.  Since rounding up the neighbours also didn’t work, we  complained about the haze to the UN, which had one Indonesian minister so miffed about it that he skipped a meeting in protest. It’s like telling your neighbour off for calling in the fire department when you’re the one who started blowing smoke over in the first place. Someone must have tossed maturity into the bonfire as well.

What does the NEA, or ANYONE of ministerial calibre, expect out of such pleas really. The Indonesians have been dawdling on this with bits and pieces of recovery action and expensive promises but we still suffer the same fate every year because no one is penalising the burners. The PSI is 155 as we speak. We should fly in some top honchos from the region, knock on the their doors, hog their office chairs refusing to budge until they make a few phone calls and sign some treaties and legislation themselves instead of us just expressing ‘deep concern’ every year and having them tell us to mind our own business. But it’s not just a domestic issue anymore. The world’s oxygen (as they like to claim) and EVERYONE’S lungs are at stake here, so enough of the phony niceties because, as some writers put it, this smoggy incursion is a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY (ST Forum, 25 Sept 1997). I’ve also had enough of the countless haze puns at the expense of my air sacs. Every year without fail, someone will remind me of ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’. Well you wouldn’t get smoke in your eyes if I wallop them shut, eh?

Speaking of jokes, I wonder how our PM would react if some Beijing diplomat makes one about us having a smoke and opening windows now.

Singaporean girls getting 3/10 for fashion sense

From ‘Singapore women either wear too little or too much make-up: TV host Pauline Lan’, 26 April 2013, article by Jan Lee, ST

When Taiwanese TV host Pauline Lan was in town on Friday to launch the Singaporean version of her popular Taiwanese fashion and beauty show Lady First, she was not shy to blast the local women for fashion boo-boos. “A lot of Singaporean girls have either too little or too much make up on, it’s often not suited for the occasion,” she says.

Another mistake she thinks Singaporean girls make is wearing the wrong lingerie and underwear for different outfits.

Out of 10 marks for fashion sense, she gives local girls a mere three. Then she turns her attention to the Singapore men, saying it is their fault that the women do not try harder. Pointing out the men’s general sloppiness, she says: “Singaporean men don’t give Singaporean women the urge to dress up!”

If a local fashion guru slams us for dressing sloppily, we’d probably accept the charge. A foreigner, on the other hand, without an intimate understanding of our crazy weather, is less qualified to judge. But more importantly, an outsider scouting the streets for fashion boo-boos can’t be sure that they’re catching badly dressed SINGAPOREANS or other foreigners since there’s so many of the latter about. It’s also a misconception that women here dress up to impress fellow Singaporean men, whether they’re in flip-flops and shorts or suit and tie. Women dress up to impress OTHER women.  So, bros, go easy on the shoeshine and ties. The babe in the skimpy hot pants is more interested in what your girlfriend thinks than you.

But what’s creepy is fashionistas checking out whether your undergarments match your outfit. Does Pauline Lan have X-ray vision or go around peeking down ladies’ blouses? Isn’t underwear NOT meant to be seen at all? Or do some girls expose themselves intentionally like so:

Brazen lack of dress sense

Lan isn’t the first foreign image guru to remind us that we’re horrid dressers. Television personality Jeannie Mai refers to flip-flops as FLIP-NOTS, and endorses ‘wearapy’, which basically means to dress ‘emotionally’, advocating the use of ‘energetic’ and ‘bold’ colours to lift your mood or confidence. Seems psychologically sound, though I’m less convinced by wearing purple at a public speaking event to ‘convey ROYALTY’ unless you’re giving a tribute to the Joker at a Batman Comics Convention. Or you’re just Groovy, Baby!

Good for public speaking

In 2012, French designer Roland Mouret was shocked by the ‘fashion disasters’ in his hotel, especially sloppy men with their ‘wrong shorts and flip flops’ and suggested that there should be a law against awful dressing in swanky places.  He must have avoided hawker centres like the plague. Shame. In 1994, image consultant Robert Pante said most Singaporeans wear clothes that ‘even burglars would not steal’ (‘Most Singaporeans dress badly, says image guru’, 14 Oct 1994, ST). But burglars generally DON’T steal clothes at all; the only people who do so are those with a panty or school uniform fetish.

Singaporean women know better than to take Pauline’s abysmal rating seriously. After all, this is a woman who wears a beaver’s dam on her head.

Passengers pushing the MRT emergency button

From ‘Explain when train’s emergency button can be used’, 18 April 2013 and ‘Emergency button not for those caught between train doors?’, 19 April 2013,  ST Forum

(Terence Teoh Pin Quan): ON TUESDAY night, I was taking the south-bound MRT train towards Ang Mo Kio. At Yio Chu Kang station, a woman asked for help in a desperate tone, then pressed the emergency button on the train. I realised that an elderly man had his arm caught between the train doors. The doors did not re-open after the usual few seconds, and his arm was stuck for about a minute.

When the doors did open, the old man entered the train and was unharmed. However, an SMRT staff member came and demanded to know who had pressed the button.

When the woman owned up, he asked in frustration: “Why you press the button?” Later, when the train stopped at Ang Mo Kio station, the woman was detained and further questioned. Thankfully, another man stood up for her. When is the right time to press the emergency button? If someone gets caught between the train doors, are we supposed to wait until the train starts moving before we press the button?

Perhaps SMRT can clarify the protocol for using the emergency button.

(Lydia Fung): …I was caught between the train doors on the Circle Line last year. A woman inside the train tried to pull me in. I asked her to press the emergency button, but she said the button was not for this purpose, and that there was a hefty fine for indiscriminately pressing it.

I lodged a complaint after I got off the train at Paya Lebar station, but was told that the train was fully automated with no driver, and that there were cameras to alert staff to emergencies. I received a call from SMRT a week later, telling me the same thing. I asked that the public be educated on the usage of the emergency button, but nothing has been done.

The advice given in the SMRT Rider Guide website is that you may push the button (or technically the ECB, Emergency Communication Button) if you get caught between doors while ON the train, and assures us that the train would not move when doors are not fully closed. In the first case, the elderly man appears to be outside the train when his arm got clamped. Judging by the seniority of the victim and the probability of him having a heart condition, pushing the panic button seems to be the instinctive thing to do.  Strangely enough, in 1991, a passenger was lauded as ‘quick-thinking’ for pressing the ECB when a woman’s HANDBAG got caught between doors (MRT slams on handbag, 23 Dec 1991, ST). It appears that there are times when an inanimate object deserves more attention than a living person’s limb.

Sometimes, it’s actually better to alert the staff through the ECB than try to be a hero yourself. Last year, an elderly woman who got clamped got a ‘large piece of skin RIPPED OFF’ when commuters struggled to free her. In 1988, the button was expected to bring the train to a stop for children who failed to board the train after their parents.  One complained about a rude SMRT officer for not understanding the gravity of having left a 6-year old behind on the platform. It was an ‘emergency’ because a helpless child without a parent could have been ‘SCARED TO DEATH’. (See below for SMRT’s U-turn on ‘lost child’ policy) Most emergency hotlines are deliberately vague on examples of situations that warrant activation, because anyone can argue that something needs urgent attention as long as it happens to them.  I, for one, would sooner die of embarrassment if I were caught spreadeagled and squashed in the groin by the jaws of death before anyone would come to my rescue.

SMRT has also used button-pushing to explain ‘longer travelling times’ in a series of tweets in 2012.  A spokesperson also suggested that the button may be activated solely by people LEANING on it. With the crowds these days and the impending free ride morning rush, I’m hardly surprised. To some freeloaders, NOT getting to the gantry by 7.45 am to earn your free ride is a serious emergency indeed. But aside from people suddenly collapsing and carriages catching fire, you MAY push the button under certain special circumstances without a SMRT warden scuttling over demanding “WHY YOU PRESS BUTTON?!’ with a wagging white-gloved finger.

- When a glass panel breaks

- This excruciating scenario:

Apparently not urgent enough to let go of your Old Chang Kee

- When there’s FIGHTING over people flouting No Eating on Train laws. (However, in a 2009 poll, 52% of commuters voted NO to pushing the button when there appears to be an ASSAULT, especially if it’s gang related, not so much because of the fear of being fined $5000, but of becoming the next target in a gang raid).

- When someone looks like a terrorist about to bomb the train. In the same poll above, 51% would report a ‘suspicious character on board’. I highly doubt it though. I see suspicious characters all the time; they carry dangerous construction tools, smell bad, speak in coded language and nobody ever whispers into the ECB that there is a terrorist insurgence on board.

- When the train breaks down and you need to ‘talk to the train officer’. Unfortunately some commuters take train delays as reason enough to push the button and demand to know what’s going on, inadvertently worsening delays. A $5000 fine is well deserved for such counterproductive kancheong-ness. If Sticker Lady Samantha Lo had targetted ECB buttons instead of traffic lights, she could have saved us all a hell lot of time.

Don’t press until shiok, can

- When your lost child is trapped on the train. In 2012, Senior Manager Bernadette Low responded to a parent whose kid ran into a train without her by THANKING a female passenger for pushing the ECB so that the two can be reunited. Try explaining that to your boss if you’re late for a very important meeting. I think such parents need to pay a nominal ‘Lost and Found’ fee at least if it affects hundreds of passengers. Especially if it costs them a free ride.

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