SilkAir finally recruiting male stewards

From ‘SilkAir to finally have male cabin crew’, 1 March 2015, article by Karamjit Kaur, Sunday Times

After 26 years of having only women cabin crew, SilkAir has decided to let the men in as well.

…The major shift is necessary because it has become “increasingly difficult” to attract “the right (women) candidates with the qualities that we uphold”, SilkAir said in a recent e-mail to staff.

Amid an overall manpower crunch, the airline told staff that it also has to compete for stewardesses with other local and foreign carriers, such as parent Singapore Airlines, budget carriers Tigerair and Jetstar Asia, as well as Middle Eastern airlines Emirates and Qatar Airways.

…SilkAir’s decision to hire air stewards is a “positive and long-awaited” move, said Associate Professor Seshan Ramaswami, who teaches marketing at the Singapore Management University.

…SilkAir’s new hiring policy “reflects a moving away from a stereotype that only women are suitable for these flight crew duties on board”, he added. At the end of the day, what is critical is the training, he pointed out.

The men, whose uniforms are now being designed, will be subject to the same recruitment terms and 14-week training period as the women, who don one-piece lime green or rustic red wrap dresses, the airline’s spokesman said.

On why SilkAir never hired air stewards before this, she said: “Our earlier strategy was to hire women crew who embodied nurturing characteristics in line with the SilkAir experience we aimed to provide customers.”

According to the SilkAir recruitment ad, the airline requires the following: Cabin crew with a ‘combination of grace and a warm smile’ to provide excellent and attentive service to our customers’,  ‘grace’ and ‘warm’ being adjectives that are not often associated with the male sex, and really serve as a hint that women have always been preferred without explicitly stating that men need not apply. The real reason why SilkAir relaxed their females-only hire policy here is that they’re short of staff, i.e male cabin crew are an afterthought.

Given that other airlines have no problem with stewards, one wonders if SilkAir’s outdated profiling of the female sex as ‘nurturing’ as their rationale for not hiring men comes across as discriminatory practice. According to the Tripartite hiring guidelines, you’re discouraged from recruiting staff based on gender, among other things like race or language, and if there’s a strict gender policy it should be reflected and explained in the ad for clarity. There’s no evidence that SilkAir’s service needs to be differentiated from the rest by having, literally, a feminine touch. If you’re Hooters Air, I’d probably understand.

While we laud such moves as ‘progressive’ and ‘fair practice’, we shouldn’t forget to ask: Why only now, SilkAir? Even airlines from Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait Airways have gotten over the gender hump, for goodness sake. Thailand even has an airline (PC Air) that takes pride in hiring TRANSGENDERS.  Interestingly, SilkAir was the first local airline to break the gender stereotype in 2001 by hiring Singapore’s first female pilot. Yet the papers neglected to mention that at the same time they were hanging on to the traditional concepts of female compassion, empathy and motherly instincts by keeping their cabins testosterone free, with a staff profile resembling more like hospital ward nurses and midwives in the 1950s than a modern cabin crew.

If men didn’t have a ‘nurturing’ bone in their body, we wouldn’t see them volunteering in old folks’ homes, babysitting, nursing, feeding baby tiger cubs or being masseurs. In fact, there are times when you do need some manly muscle in the cabin e.g when there’s a drunk rowdy passenger who needs to be strapped down, or if some guy gets his crotch stuck in the zipper in the lavatory. Stuff which you can’t accomplish with ‘grace’ and warm smiles alone.

Restaurants charging up to 80 cents for tap water

From ‘More F&B outlets now charge for glasses of water’, 8 Feb 2015, article by Cheryl Faith Wee, Sunday Times

More restaurants are putting a price on tap water, to the frustration of diners. Around one in 10 dining establishments now charge for a glass of water, at least twice the number from just two years ago, said Restaurant Association of Singapore executive director Lim Rui Shan. The typical price is between 30 cents and 80 cents. And the reason is rising costs.

Industry sources say an average restaurant can end up spending from $5,000 to $10,000 every year serving free water. There is also the loss in drink sales, which can make up at least 20 per cent of a restaurant’s total earnings, and the manpower cost involved in what is already a tight labour market, as service crew have to constantly refill glasses.

…About two to three years ago, Chinese restaurant chain Crystal Jade also started charging 30 cents for boiled water and this practice is currently in place at 21 of its 25 outlets here. Another food and beverage brand, Skinny Pizza, stopped serving plain water for free in April last year.

It now charges 50 cents for a glass of water flavoured with herbs and fruits such as mint and strawberries. A spokesman for the brand said: “Unfortunately, business costs have spiralled over the years and we have to do all we can to find a balance.”

…Establishments which still offer tap water for free said that there are customers who take advantage. Some come in a group, order one dish and keep asking for water refills. Said Ms Debby Lim, 27, senior marketing executive of Peranakan Place, which runs two bars and a cafe: “What the customer sees is just a glass of water; what we see is time and effort taken to wash, pour, serve and refill.

One clue which tells you whether a restaurant serves free tap water or not, if you’re afraid to ask, is if it has more than 1 brand of bottled water on its menu. It’s not clear if these places are charging for boiled water (50 cents at Ya Kun) or water literally taken from the kitchen tap (which logically should be cheaper than boiled). The water direct from our pipes is supposedly top grade and more drinkable than some of the tonic oxygenated slush they sell these days. So drinkable in fact, that some establishments would charge you $26.40 for two pitchers of it. But that doesn’t mean customers are willing to bring an empty glass to the toilet to help themselves.

I think most people tend not to opt for the bottled alternative, but the unhealthier and cheapest drinks on the menu, usually a basic coffee (not handcrafted or artisan), or worse a can of Coke.  If you’re the sort you needs to rinse your palate after each course, you’re better off bringing your own tumbler of home-brewed H20. Now, if the restaurant not only has a no-free-water policy, but one whereby you can’t even bring water from outside, then you’re morally obligated to make a scene about it, Joanne Peh style.

Thankfully, there are still eateries that uphold the philosophy of free tap for all and we should all applaud them for making sure we don’t perish from dehydration. Some places I’ve visited provide each table with one communal flask without you having to ask for it (Swensens, for example), which means less effort on your staff to ‘wash, pour, serve and refill’. We don’t ask where the water comes from, or demand that someone puts a lemon slice in it. If you see free water (especially the ICED variety) on your table before you even flip to the drinks menu, you feel good enough about it to want to order dessert as well. Otherwise, I would rather go to the Toastbox next door for kopi after dinner rather than buy your signature tiramisu cake (which I’ll need to wash down with a $2.50 Evian).

In 2009, blogger Veron Ang put up a list of restaurants that charged for water, some of which turned out to be ‘libelous’ accusations, which shows how serious the issue of free water is. In Hungry Go Where’s updated list, True Blue Peranakan charges you A DOLLAR if you order water on its own without accompanying drinks.

Restaurant owners were quick to come up with excuses, like:

  • People who complain are not educated about business..nothing is free.
  • Our patrons are ‘serious’ diners who come to taste food, not water…nobody outside Singapore asks for free water…which turns out to be false.
  • Even the kopitiam charges 30 cents for ice water i.e Everyone else is doing it.

Well of course if I’m having a posh dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant I would think twice about asking for tap water, but here you’re talking about places (according to the Sparklette blog circa 2009) like Ajisen Ramen, Crystal Jade, Gelare and even Boon Tong Kee chicken rice. There was a time when asking for ‘tap water’ made you sound like a hobo in a soup kitchen, and we had to say stuff like ‘normal’ or ‘regular/plain’ water, especially after the server asks you the dreaded question ‘Sparkling or still’?, which is a hint that ‘No, we don’t serve tap water to cheapskates like you’. (The correct answer to the question is ‘Sorry I asked for water for drinking, not the liquid from church that you vanquish demons with’)

Personally I wouldn’t boycott a restaurant just because of a strict water policy if the food can make up for it. Others, like this parchedpatron blogger, insist on shaming the culprits. People have their own business reasons (which the lay diner can NEVER understand) for charging you for trivialities, be it water, wet towels, peanuts, an ice bucket, or non-existent service.  I’m curious though, about places that charge you almost a buck for a glass. Maybe they run their tap water through a silver nanocrystal filter, or it’s some ‘handcrafted’ elixir infused with homegrown mint, acai and Chinese wolfberries.

If you’re ever charged 80 cents for a glass, do the rest of us water fans a favour; ask that it be filled to the brim, with not a particle visible by magnifying glass floating in it, and it must be slightly tepid at a temperature of exactly 32.7 degrees Celsius. If you’re lucky they may just give you Chinese tea for free as a peace offering.

Chee Soon Juan is a ‘political failure’

From ‘Chan Chun Sing rebuffs Huffington Post for running articles by Chee Soon Juan’, 16 Jan 2015, article in CNA

Your website has given Dr Chee Soon Juan considerable but undeserved attention and space. You perhaps believe that he is a weighty political figure in Singapore. He is nothing of the kind. Dr Chee has stood for elections thrice – and lost badly all three times, once receiving just 20 per cent of the vote.

The party he now leads, the Singapore Democratic Party, was once the leading opposition party in the country. But that was when it was led by Mr Chiam See Tong, a man everyone in Singapore, political friend and foe alike, regards as an honourable man.

Indeed, it was Mr Chiam who brought Dr Chee into the SDP in 1992. He mentored the younger man and promoted him. Dr Chee then proceeded to betray Mr Chiam, isolate him and force him out of the SDP, a party that he had founded in 1980 and had nurtured over 14 years. Since then the SDP hasn’t won a single seat in Parliament, though Mr Chiam himself went on to win elections repeatedly.

In 1993, Dr Chee was dismissed from the National University of Singapore for misappropriating research funds and for other serious misconduct, including surreptitiously recording conversations with university staff.

He has been sued for defamation not only by ruling party politicians, a fact that he likes to trumpet in the foreign media, but also by the doyen of the opposition in Singapore, Mr Chiam, a fact that he doesn’t mention because it is embarrassing.

…It is because of these and other failings that Dr Chee is a political failure – not because he was persecuted, as he likes to pretend.  His party is now one of the weakest political parties in Singapore principally because voters do not regard its leader as an honourable man.

…As he has done in the past, he has looked to the foreign media for redemption, chiefly because foreign journalists don’t know him as well as Singaporeans and he believes he can beguile them into believing he is the Aung San Suu Kyi of Singapore politics. Dr Chee, however, claims he is forced to publish in the foreign media because he has been silenced in the Singapore media.

But this is false. There are several socio-political websites in Singapore, some with as wide a reach among Singaporeans as the Huffington Post has among Americans. They have run several articles by Dr Chee. The local press also has carried several of Dr Chee’s letters.

Dr Chee’s problem is not that he has not been heard by Singaporeans. His problem is that they have.

Aung San Suu Chee

The PAP probably keeps a checklist of all the things that make Chee Soon Juan a shitty, hopeless politician, while using Chiam See Tong, the ‘doyen’ of Singapore politics, as a counterweight role model, but only because they no longer feel threatened by the latter. For decades CSJ has been the archetype of everything that’s wrong with opposition politics, and while not exactly a hero to many amongst us, the PAP insists on demonising him as the Wicked Witch of Singapore politics, and can’t wait to banish him from the Emerald city.

A ‘failure’ is just one of the many insults that CSJ has had to bear since his masochistic run with politics in the early 90’s. You might say he has already gotten used to it, as evident from his surprisingly calm response to Chan’s verbal thrashing. Here’s a sample of insults which make Chan’s assault seem like a thumb to the nose in comparison. If the James Bond franchise ever runs out of villains, CSJ might just fit the bill.

1. A ‘political gangster, fraud, liar and cheat': In 2004, CSJ, rather unsuccessfully, tried to sue LKY for defamation for mouthing these words. The reason for then SM Lee’s wrath? CSJ’s dramatic allegation of a $17 billion loan by Goh Chok Tong and LKY to Indonesia during a walkabout (a ‘rescue package‘ that never happened). Chan forgot to mention that CSJ also ‘cheated’ when he consumed glucose during his 10 day hunger strike after his 1993 sacking from NUS.

2. CSJ has been diagnosed with a series of mental disorders, most memorable being LKY’s ‘psychopath’. ST editor Chua Mui Hoong cited ‘antisocial personality disorder’, a euphemism for the former ‘psycho’, while Charles Chong used ‘megalomaniac’. Our PM himself, however, has admitted that the PAP can be rather ‘paranoid’ at times. Chan Chun Sing’s furious rebuttal of the Huffington Post articles betrays a sense of, well, ‘anxiety’ perhaps. It’s a madhouse, this politics thing.

3. CSJ’s cosy association with foreign media has earned him the ridiculous title of ‘Sarong Party Boy’, again thanks to Chua Mui Hoong (The Sarong Party Boy of Opposition politics, 30 Oct 2001, ST). In 2011, he was awarded the Liberal International ‘Prize for Freedom’, joining, ironically enough, the ranks of Aung San Suu Kyi. Not something any ol’ bimbo would win. Chan’s assertion that even the ‘local press’ has carried several of Chee’s letters is laughably misleading, because these are often censored, if not outright rejected.

4. CSJ’s ‘milking of public sympathy’, familiarity with prison cells and bankruptcy have earned him the label of a ‘martyr’. Chan’s use of words like ‘redemption’ isn’t helping to steer us away from the idea of CSJ as a rebel messiah with a cult following willing to impale himself on the Singapore flag for us all. CSJ  thrives on bashing, and Chan eagerly took the bait.

If there’s one thing that CSJ has accomplished despite his dismal showing at the elections and run-ins with the law, is the publication of actual books. Chan, to his credit, has introduced us to XO Chai Tau Quay and made us reflect on kueh lapis. He may even have rolled around in trenches during his time in the Army. Explains all this to-and-fro GUTter politicking then.

Here’s an idea for a campaign theme song for the upcoming GE, CSJ. Chumbawamba!

Fernvale Lea buyers demanding for refund over columbarium

From ‘Upset over columbarium plans, Fernvale Lea’s future residents want a refund from HDB’, 4 Jan 2015, article by Samantha Boh, ST

Upset about an upcoming columbarium close to their future flats, some would-be residents of Fernvale Lea have asked the Housing Board for a refund. Their request came even after Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, held a dialogue with residents on Sunday and said that there would not be a crematorium or funeral parlour services at the Chinese temple where the columbarium would be housed.

Some residents stood in line to leave their contact details with the HDB after a three-hour dialogue with Dr Lam and representatives from Life Corp, the company developing the temple. Residents at the dialogue said the HDB should have been more upfront about the Chinese temple housing a columbarium.

News of the columbarium, which is expected to be completed by 2016, had surprised many residents when it was reported last week. An online petition started on Tuesday to stop the development of the columbarium had garnered more than 800 signatures.

Speaking on the sidelines of the dialogue, Dr Lam said the authorities had been upfront, noting that it was indicated in the Fernvale Lea brochure for the new flats that the temple may include a columbarium allowed under the guidelines of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). “There is really nothing to hide,” he added.

Some residents had also asked why the Chinese temple is being developed by a private company. Dr Lam said URA guidelines did not restrict the type of company that can develop a religious institution and he understood from the URA that it has been done before.

Sin Ming residents can relate. When a funeral parlour was proposed to be built in the vicinity of a school, one resident complained that the estate would be henceforth known as the ‘Avenue of the Dead’. But it’s not just spaces for the deceased that get people upset, but also void deck elder-care facilities and sometimes even community HOSPITALS, where residents may get traumatised by the ‘smell of medicine’ in addition to the threat of impending doom.

Fernvale Lea’s selling point, according to its online brochure, is that residents get to live amid ‘lush greenery’, which also happens to be the kind of environment you want to ‘rest in peace’ within. It does mention the future placement of a Chinese temple, but leaves the interested buyer to interpret the disclaimers at his own risk, namely the statement that ‘the proposed facilities, their locations and surrounding land-use….are indicative only and subject to change or review. These facilities may include other ancillary uses allowed under URA’s prevailing Development Control guidelines.’ Which basically means HDB can do whatever the hell they want years after you’ve settled down in your new home, whether it’s building a private-owned ‘dragon and phoenix’ temple, a foreign workers’ dormitory, or a cut-and-paste shopping mall which turns out to be an foreign worker enclave. Heck, they could run a new highway or MRT line right next to your house and you can’t do anything about it.

In 1984, applicants of Clementi flats slammed the agency for keeping dead silent about plans to build a funeral parlour near the estate. It appears that HDB should know exactly the sort of reaction from people whenever you surround them with facilities reminding them of their mortality, but till this day continues to refrain from telling buyers straight in the face, like a property agent omitting the tiny detail of your flat being previously owned by someone who committed suicide in the living room. In any case, people are still going to hold void deck funerals right under your block anyway, columbarium or no columbarium.

If you’re diligent enough, you’d actually go the extra mile and read about URA’s ‘Development Control’. And by extra mile I mean sending an email to URA because I have no idea where these guidelines are from the website. Or, if you’re desperate for a house even if it means living next to a cemetery or a string of noisy pub/bars, you could look past the hazards of living near a storage for urns and maybe consider that you have quite a few decent schools nearby (e.g Nan Chiau), which may allay any fears of poor resale prices, since some parents would camp above a mortuary just to live 2 minutes’ walk away from a top school. You could also interview Yishun Ring Road residents if they had witnessed any creepy happenings living near a heartland columbarium, a mere 10 min walk away from the MRT station.

Ironically the developer of the ‘80% temple, 20% dead people’s ashes’ is called ‘Life Corp’.  People will continue dying in our ageing society and unless we move beyond the traditional way of remembering the deceased through tablets and urns, or loosen up on our superstitions, both the living as well as the dead will be fighting for space in this already very crowded city. Hopefully when it’s time for my demise, all I’d need to do is download my memories digitally into a thumb drive or upload my electronic ghost on a password-protected family cloud somewhere without having to hide in some basement of a posh temple designed to look like a shopping mall and scaring the shit out of the living around me.

UPDATE 29 Jan 15: In a surprising about turn, Khaw Boon Wan announced that there would be no commercial columbarium in Fernvale after all, as Eternal Pure Land (under Australia’s Life Corporation) was a private entity with ‘no religious affiliation’. Waitaminute. Earlier in the month, URA said that they did not restrict the type of company developing a religious institution and it has been DONE BEFORE, now Khaw says that this tender award to such a company without godly links was a ‘first’. So, has it been done before or not? Pray tell.

Qiaonan and Griffiths merging to form Angsana Primary School

From ‘Griffiths and Qiaonan alumni upset over new name for merged school – Angsana Primary’, 23 Nov 2014, article by Pearl Lee and Ho Ai Li, ST

What’s in a name? Plenty of history and memories, say former staff and pupils of Griffiths Primary School and Qiaonan Primary. They are upset that the two pioneer schools, which together have been around for 145 years, will be merged to form Angsana Primary School – a name with little connection to its predecessors.

“Why Angsana? Why not something like Griffiths-Qiaonan?” asked 86-year-old Eunice Tan Khe Tong, a retired principal, who was there for Griffiths Primary School at its start, and its end.

…Primary 6 pupil Lim Jiexin, who was Qiaonan’s vice-head prefect this year, shook her head when asked what she thought of Angsana, which will occupy the Griffiths building. “Why do they have to use that? They should choose a better name.”

The name ‘Angsana’ is the brainchild of MOE’s Schools Naming Committee, but speaks nothing of either school’s history. It also has no relation to Casuarina Primary, another school named after common trees in Singapore. The SNC probably ran out of ideas since ‘Changkat’ (where Qiaonan is currently located) and ‘Tampines’ are already taken. This lack of creativity is apparent when you have primary/secondary schools named Bedok View, Bedok Green and Bedok South within the same constituency. Some schools make an extra effort to remind us of their roots, such as the FIRST TOA PAYOH Primary School (To be more precise, it’s in Potong Pasir).

If renaming a school after where it’s located is ‘insipid’ and renders it ‘devoid of character’, why not that of a common tree then? With Singapore’s birth rate likely to decline further, we may see more schools closing, merging and given other tree names such as ‘Yellow Flame Primary‘, or ‘Saga Primary’. If not an actual tree, then how about something related to the Garden City theme, like ‘Woodgrove’, ‘Fernvale’ or ‘Orchid Park’. It seems that the first thing that comes to mind when naming new schools is something leafy, green or flowery, not whether the final selection ‘resonates’ with the students or the alumni. That would take some, well, imagination.

It’s not the first time that current and former students have protested against schools merging or changing names, citing the severing of a vital link to history as the main reason.

1) 1976 – Stamford Girls’ School to San Shan Integrated School (which later merged to form First Toa Payoh Primary School)

2)2001 – Swiss Cottage + Moulmein Primary to Balestier Hill. The geocities petition website still exists. Meanwhile the ‘Swiss Cottage’ brand lives on in its secondary school. The only Swiss cottage I’ve ever seen is the one on a Ricola box.

3) 2005 – St Michaels to SJI Junior. The reason for this renaming was not so much poor enrollment, as it was to ‘thicken blood ties’ within the Lasallian religious order.

4) 2005 – Thomson Secondary to North Vista (in Sengkang). Thomson was supposedly the name of a colonial architect. A Vista is what you call a HDB estate that’s not a ‘Green’ or a ‘View’.

All these complaints fell on deaf ears, naturally. It’s interesting how we place so much sentimental value on old schools and their names, more so than the history of other buildings or amenities which tend to hold a less special place within our hearts, such as temples, swimming pools, libraries or mum-and-pop coffee shops. Part of the reason, I believe, is because our primary schools are where most of us made our first best friends, got into our first fights, and of course, where we had the damned mother of all exams, the PSLE.

I’m proud to say that my own primary school, Mayflower Primary (an AWESOME name too, I must add) still exists. The fact that I remember the first line of my school song is the best indicator of how its history and memories ‘resonate’ with me after all these years. One can only wonder what’s going to happen to the school songs of Qiaonan and Griffiths. Any school song with the lyric ‘Angsana’ in it just sounds terrible and I wonder why the SNC didn’t even consider that in their name selection. For one, you can’t pair it to rhyme with anything other than ‘Banana’.

Hard-selling Beijing 101 not accredited by CASE

From ’15 complaints lodged this year against Beijing 101′, 15 Nov 2014, article by Melissa Lin/Amir Hussain ST

Singapore’s consumer watchdog has received 15 complaints against Beijing 101 so far this year. This includes the one made on Monday by Madam Susan Koo Moi, 75, who said she was pressured into signing a $15,600 package with the hair-care centre last month.

Most of the complaints were about its hard-sell tactics to persuade consumers to buy more hair-related packages, said Consumers Association of Singapore’s (Case) executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon. Beijing 101 could not be reached for comment.

The Straits Times reported yesterday that Madam Koo had gone to Beijing 101’s Funan Mall outlet last month hoping to use a $50 voucher, but ended up paying $4,000 as a deposit for a package.

…Beijing 101 is not accredited by Case, which means it does not have to offer a five-day cooling- off period during which consumers can ask for a full refund.

“Businesses should have the conscience to give their clients a reasonable timeframe to change their minds,” said Spa and Wellness Association of Singapore honorary secretary Edward Wong. He noted, however, that firms are not legally obligated to do so.

The multi-million hair care business is not an industry known for its ‘conscience’. Beijing 101 is among the first in the country to sway the gullible public with raving celebrity endorsements, even if the said celebrity’s hair loss was due to breast CANCER  chemo. In 2003, Beijing 101 got ex Mediacorp actor Xie Shaoguang to advertise as a ‘satisfied Beijing 101 client’, who thanked them profusely for his ‘thicker and healthier-looking’ crop. Today, the man is an ordained MONK in Malaysia. Other familiar faces soon followed suit, including the late Huang Wenyong, who was paid to declare that since Beijing 101 uses ‘100% natural Chinese herbs…there will be NO adverse effects’. Well I’ll fill a tub with their tonic and just submerge my bloody head in it then.

Giving freebies to snag customers is a sales tactic that has been used since the 80’s. Svenson, the hair experts whose name no 75 year old vainpot is able to pronounce, launched what was known as ‘Hair Week’ with free consultation services. Also, no before and after picture in those days was complete without a full, macho beard. Today, you just have a sad balding face (before) and a happy winner ready to take on the world (after).

Your money HAIR today, gone tomorrow

Your money HAIR today, gone tomorrow

Not much has changed since the swinging 50’s. A luscious, crowning glory has traditionally been viewed as the glorious symbol of a man’s success and attractiveness. Before hair care consultants emerged, you could harvest a head of shiny, healthy hair in the comfort of your home, using a bottle of Vaseline tonic no less, a trusted formula that keeps your hair ‘perfumed, cool and fresh’. Today’s Vaseline can also be used at the other end of your body, for callused toes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 10.06.30 AM

For an empire that has been operating for 40 years and having its fair share of complaints, largely unregulated by the authorities when it comes to product effectiveness or safety, the least I would expect as a client who also happens to be an adoring fan of Zheng Guoping or Chen Shucheng, is some form of basic consumer protection. But it’s not just unscrupulous practices that we should watch out for. In 2010, a couple of its hair growth tonics were found to contain undeclared minoxidil, a ‘Western’ drug that has been approved for use in male-pattern baldness. In other words, the ‘natural power’ of premium Chinese herbs as so claimed was horseshit. The typical Beijing 101 customer may be balding, but what our self-proclaimed consumer ‘watchdog’ is severely lacking, despite such incidents, is a set of TEETH. If not, hopelessly DEBARKED.

Hair care centres like Beijing 101 or Yunnam should be classified under the ‘Spa and Wellness’ scheme under CaseTrust, but you don’t find either listed. Instead, the level of ‘assurance’ you get as a customer of Yunnam are brand awards like ‘Trusted Brand’ or ‘Most Effective Brand’. Beijing 101 is more discreet of its accolades, with a tiny ‘Most Preferred’ logo (2012) on the top right corner of its website. How about ‘Most Pushy’ or ‘Shameless brand’ then? We force local news websites like The Independent or Online Citizen to apply for licences but give free rein to shameless ‘wellness’ centres that hawk their questionable wares using Mediacorp celebrities, putting the bank accounts of innocent people at risk. This despite us not knowing for sure if these actors/actresses even HAD a scalp problem in the first place. Maybe they noticed a few strands plugging the shower drain and then suddenly realised: ‘Oh God, I need my confidence back and the wardrobe people don’t have nice wigs to spare!’

Time to get to the root of the problem, CASE. We can’t have our Pioneer Generation getting scalped by unethical business practices anymore.

4 year old boy’s death from Nasi Padang a misadventure

From ‘NEA to take action against stall owner’, 1 Nov 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday said it will be taking action against the owner of the nasi padang stall linked to the death of a four-year-old boy. A coroner’s inquiry completed the day before found that Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam had likely contracted salmonella from food which his mother bought from the stall in Northpoint Shopping Centre’s Kopitiam foodcourt, before dying four days later on Jan 22. The coroner called the tragedy a “misadventure”.

Operations at the stall were suspended for three weeks for the NEA to conduct investigations. After the coroner’s inquiry, netizens wondered if stall owner Siti Abibah Guno would face further action. Responding to queries from The Straits Times, an NEA spokesman said yesterday: “With the coroner’s inquiry now completed, NEA will proceed to prosecute the licensee in court.”

Under the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations, Madam Siti faces a fine of up to $2,000 for each charge. Investigations had revealed unsafe levels of bacteria at the stall because of two main hygiene lapses – failure to register a food handler as required and failure to protect food in a covered receptacle.

Madam Siti was adamant when she told The Straits Times over the phone on Thursday that she had done nothing wrong as her licence to run a food stall had not been revoked.

According to the NEA’s advisory webpage, ‘3 persons’ were reported to contract ‘food poisoning’ on 18 Jan 2014, and NEA decided to drop the grading down to ‘C, but only effective from 10 April 2014, nearly 3 months after the boy’s death. My Paper reports that other than the deceased, his mother and 2 year old sister were also hit by the salmonella bug, the culprits being curry chicken and tahu goreng. If you check the latest grade for Siti’s stall from NEA’s online database, you would find, to anyone’s befuddlement, that it had since been upgraded to A. But what’s more surprising is that Siti was awarded NO DEMERIT POINTS and listed as NO SUSPENSIONS at all the past year, despite the Jan incident. You might even say it’s an unblemished track record just looking at the details below. No wonder she thinks she has done ‘nothing wrong’.

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 ‘C’ means a score of 50-69%, or barely meeting the passing mark, though the running joke among fans of hawker food is that the lower the score, the tastier the food, with the lowest rating ‘D’ standing for ‘Delicious’. With this Nasi Padang tragedy, you can’t tell that joke anymore without someone groaning at its, well, tastelessness. D is diarrhoea, then death. So, the question remains, how reliable are these ratings anyway? How does the public make an ‘informed choice’ from these grades if there’s a lapse of a few months between a tragedy and the actual ‘demotion’? Or if your online licensing details says there were no suspensions the past year when in fact there was?

It seems that NEA will only issue some kind of strained apology or reassurance when hundreds of people are affected, like the Geylang Serai rojak poisoning back in 2009, which also took 2 lives thanks to an outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium that also sounds like a Harry Potter spell to induce instant faecal incontinence. Back then, the CEO of NEA himself wrote a letter to Today saying he was ‘deeply saddened’ and that NEA ‘should have moved in firmly’ to tackle the rat infestation problem at the Temporary Market. In this Nasi Padang case, they’ve decided to go on the litigious offensive straight off, before telling us how ‘affected’ they are by the tragic demise, or what measures, other than tweaking gradings up and down, are going to be implemented to ensure that such ‘misadventures’ don’t happen again. Incidentally, the rojak stall was also rated C (Rojak stall given C grade for hygiene in Dec, 8 April 2009, ST).

 Meanwhile, if you think you’re safe if you avoid stalls which display uncovered food, whether it’s economic rice, rojak or Taste of Nanyang Chicken Rice, think again. Even dipping your fishballs in a Sichuan hot pot may not avert a gastrointestinal holocaust. Nor eating Prima Deli chocolate cakes. You should also worry about what your kids eat in their school canteens. If you see a food stall with a ‘C’ rating, don’t think of it as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘average’, but ‘CAUTION’.  Do a quick spotcheck of the premises before ordering, and don’t gobble down the food in case it’s swarming with gross, hidden maggots, as what happened with another case of Nasi Padang last year (also from a stall in Yishun), an image that is enough to turn you into a vegetarian for a week. Watch out for Ecoli in salad though.

As for NEA’s online database, if it’s really a case of wrong information displayed, then you’ve just scored a big ‘F’ in my book.

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