Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000′s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.

 

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National Gallery logo should have a dome on the taller box

From various letters, 12 April 2014, ST Life! Mailbag

(Chia Ai Tong, William):…My main complaint is that the new logo looks odd and incongruous. Having tried my best to look for beauty, I’m afraid all I can see is a long row made up of two rectangles of different sizes and proportions standing side by side. And why have two logos of the same design, one in grey and the other in red?

(YG Yap): The National Gallery logo is simple. It is the two buildings it is housed in. Good. But it is a little too simple. How about adding a dome on top of the taller box? That will make it look like the former Supreme Court building.

Add an artistic and nostalgic touch by making the lower edge of the dome slightly embedded in the top of the box. That should fix it.

(Lim Fang Kiat):…As if to pre-empt the anticipated slew of brickbats the renaming of the the art gallery will likely engender, National Gallery director Eugene Tan has said: “We want to be known simply as the National Gallery. Gallery itself implies the word art.

This renaming comes after several names had been bandied about in the past two years or so. These names included National Art Gallery of Singapore (NAGS), The National Art Gallery (TNAG) and National Art Gallery (NAG). These acronyms have been the butt of jokes, but at least the word “art” tells us what the gallery is about.

To have the word “art” removed from this new name when all the proposals in the past have included it is a surprising turnaround and I wonder how much of this decision is due to the need to avoid the negative connotations of the acronym.

It may seem a matter of semantics, but some of us feel that having “art” in the name will provide some semblance of identity for this new gallery, especially when we already have a National Museum, until such time as the name of the National Gallery can stand on its own for the visual arts.

national-gallery-singapore-e1396845995825-700x407

Where Art thou?

Below is my interpretation of how a domed taller box for the much maligned logo would look like, with it overlaying the current facade of the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings.

logodome

The NG Singapore

Now it looks like 2 Duplo blocks or a man with a big nose lying on his back, making it harder for the layperson to, according to the logo description, interpret the design in ‘every imaginable way’. There’s a limit to what you can do with 2 rectangles, really. Corrie Tan of ST thinks the use of boxes smacks of our ‘baggage of over-pragmatism’, and ironically, this ‘geometric abstraction’ of two boxes befits our reputation for being ‘square’. If this were the eighties, we’d have no shame because, as Huey Lewis and the News once sang: It’s HIP to be square. To most people who don’t over-analyse simple geometrtic shapes, it’s just two bloody rectangles.

Asylum lead for the logo project Chris Lee was actually flattered when critics cried ‘My child could do that!’ (‘it speaks of a young child’s purity’, he says, which is really an excuse for ‘lack of imagination’). He also explained that its ‘reductionism reflects the museum’s dynamism and confidence in its vision….It could also represent two platforms, two dialog boxes etc… Art should be a two way conversation’. With a child’s purity. That’s the thing with art, you can explain away rubbish with snappy buzzwords like ‘dynamism’. I could come up with a National Gallery logo in less than 3 minutes, not to mention 3 months as the designers did, using nothing but the letters and symbols on my keyboard and say the following without the slightest hint of satire:

.<National>.
(Gallery)

The parentheses symbolise the ‘implicitness’ that defines modern art, the brackets and embracing periods melding the disciplines of art and language into one seamless, universal dynamic whole – an ironic, playful dualism of words being bounded, yet at the same time designed without boundaries in all its emoticonesque, symmetrical simplicity.

Surprisingly, most of our current museum logos don’t consist of anything beyond some fancy fonts. The National Museum has its acronyms floating in mid air like it were suspended in alphabet soup (NMS also stands for Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome.)

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.41.29 PM

The Peranakan Museum has a bold, flowery typeface that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jurong Bird Park logo. If I had to suggest an acronym for this, I’d go with PAM.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.45.54 PM

And there’s SAM, which is an exercise in stark black-and-white minimalism, which you can also replicate using Microsoft Word. Yes, you don’t even need WORDART for this.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.49.23 PM

The only one with a graphic is the Asian Civilisations Museum, which depicts the Empress Place building’s facade casting a shadow. Nothing Asian about its ‘neo Palladian’ style at all. Its acronym ACM sounds like an insurance company by the way.

Asian-Civilisations-Museum

Those who look beyond the logo complain about the dropping of ‘Art’ from the former NAG, or more bizarrely, NAGA (The additional A is part of the word ‘GAllery’). Naga is also the name of a serpent deity in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, one that would resonate with anyone who plays World of Warcraft. TNAG or TNAGS look like a typo horror dying for the autocorrect treatment to TANGS (the shopping centre). I’m not sure if the new acronym NG is any better, which not only spells out a common Singaporean surname, but can be an abbreviation of ‘No Good’, in reference to bad takes when shooting a film, while NGS resembles an acronym for a government hospital or a convent girls’ school. Personally I’d prefer NAG to TNAG any day, the latter sounding like an annoying adolescent rapper.

Contrary to director Eugene Tan’s assertion, not all ‘Galleries’ imply art. The Singapore Maritime Gallery exhibits stuff that allows you to play a Captain or a ‘Matey’ for a day. The Sustainable Singapore Gallery shows you how the Marina Barrage works. The HDB Gallery shows you how living space has shrunk over time (probably also the LEAST visited gallery ever). There’s a KINDNESS Gallery devoted to Singa the Courtesy Lion. You can even have a gallery of ICE CREAM. In our context, a ‘gallery’ is just a general space to showcase stuff, whether it’s artifacts, toys, photography, paintings, food or campaign paraphernalia. So don’t be surprised if you invite someone for a trip to the National Gallery, the response you get is ‘Gallery of WHAT?’ To which you’ll reply ‘Erm, ART?’. And then you’ve already wasted 1 second of your life explaining as such.

If naming and logos aren’t problematic enough, some have even opposed the use of the existing building facade to house a modern art gallery, that the stuffy English ‘neo-classic style’ just isn’t ‘shocking enough’ for an institution like NAG. The building needs to be ‘dynamic, contemporary and confident’ like its logo and ‘Akzidenz-Grotesk’ typeface. It needs to ‘push boundaries’, something which the logo has failed to do, and rival the Art Science Museum’s lotus dome in terms of instant iconic recognisability. If it weren’t already too late, they could have come up with an architectural style that shouts ‘playful’ and ‘geometric abstraction’ at the same time.

Something like this, perhaps.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 3.20.01 PM

The National Gallery logo is simple. It is the two buildings it is housed in. Good. But it is a little too simple.

How about adding a dome on top of the taller box? That will make it look like the former Supreme Court building.

Add an artistic and nostalgic touch by making the lower edge of the dome slightly embedded in the top of the box. That should fix it.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/life/story/national-gallery-logo-draws-heated-debate-20140412#sthash.0sKFVS4v.dpuf

My main complaint is that the new logo looks odd and incongruous. Having tried my best to look for beauty, I’m afraid all I can see is a long row made up of two rectangles of different sizes and proportions standing side by side. And why have two logos of the same design, one in grey and the other in red? – See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/life/story/national-gallery-logo-draws-heated-debate-20140412#sthash.0sKFVS4v.dpuf

MP Lim Wee Kiak retracting statement on MH370

From ‘Singapore distances itself from MP’s criticism of Malaysia over MH370 incident’, 11 April 2014, Today

The Singapore Government yesterday distanced itself from comments made by a Member of Parliament (MP) who said in a media interview that the Malaysian authorities could have better managed the MH370 incident. In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Foreign Affairs and Culture, Community and Youth) Sam Tan said the remarks by Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs, “do not represent the views” of the Government.

Mr Tan said: “The Singapore Government position has been clearly set out in the remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam to the Foreign Correspondents Association on March 28, as well as by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the editors of the Asia News Network on April 9. It is an unprecedented and very difficult situation and, as Prime Minister Lee said, the Malaysian Government has done a ‘manful job’.” He added: “Singapore deployed aircraft and ships in the search and rescue operations, and has conveyed that we stand ready to provide further support as needed.”

Responding to Mr Tan’s statement, Dr Lim said on his Facebook page: “I have reflected on my comment and agree with the comments of our Foreign Minister and our PM.”

hC1B03D5C

MP Lim referred to the communication lapses among ASEAN counterparts as a ‘missed opportunity’, which is a euphemism for ‘failure’.  He also compared the Malaysia Airlines’ handling of MH370 to the ‘better media management’ by SIA when the latter’s plane crashed in Taiwan back in 2000. The difference is till today no one really knows for sure what happened to MH370, so the comparison may not be entirely fair. Besides, what’s the point of complaining now anyway? It’s as helpful as camping on an island in the middle of the Indian ocean with a pair of binos and waiting for a piece of wreckage to bob your way.

PM Lee’s compliment is a headscratcher though; Is a ‘manful’ job a ‘brave’ effort as in ‘manly’ or does it mean a manpower-heavy mission? An archaic term used as far back as 1917 to describe what I can only guess to be ‘backbreaking’ work, I’m not sure if this was a deliberately diplomatic choice because the more flattering option of ‘courageous’ would be overdoing it, especially considering what many furious Chinese think of the whole incident. After sharing a selfie bromance, it looks like Singapore is set to support Malaysia through thick or thin, though we’re not so certain if that loving feeling is mutual.

Malaysian politicians have always had no qualms about talking trash while meddling in our affairs without anyone urging them to retract their statements ever. In 2003, Dr Mahathir had a problem with Singapore supporting the US war in Iraq. Others found fault in the racial makeup of our SAF, blasted us for hosting the Israeli president in 1986, and slammed LKY for banning Islamic preachers from entering the country the year after. People will remain divided on MH370 for years to come even after the wreckage is recovered, if ever, and since Malaysian politicians have slung mud our way like the playground bullies that they are, why is the PAP afraid of bilateral ties getting bruised over ONE MAN’S opinion on the matter? Are we living up to what one journalist once called ‘little brother’ status?

In the interview, Lim asked: ‘How could everybody miss the plane? If the plane really made U-turn, wouldn’t someone’s radar have caught it?‘ Last I checked, Lim’s an opthalmologist, not a master of aeronautics. In fact, if there’s anyone doing a U-turn now it’s him, producing a turnaround apology that seems coerced after he expressed himself with such ‘manful’ conviction during the interview.  This makes it a hat-trick of apologies for Lim; first his comment on ministers’ salaries and their dignity, followed by his mocking of Low Thia Khiang’s hearing, and now getting ‘distanced’ from the team because of what he thinks not just of Malaysia but ASEAN as a whole. In local parlance it’s the political equivalent of ‘Eh, I don’t know you’ when someone in your circle of friends does something to embarrass the entire group, and you slowly inch away, pretending that he’s just some crazy stranger talking nonsense.

Nonetheless, I wonder if our ministers would still give Razak and company a pat on the back for a job well done and dismiss Lim’s remarks if it had been SINGAPOREANS missing and it were their families banging on doors and tables demanding answers instead. Dealing with critics should be the last thing on the Malaysian authorities’ minds anyway. Every second spent rebutting a loose cannon is a ‘missed opportunity’ in moving one step closer towards solving what looks set to be one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

DJ Chris Ho calling for ‘fckn’ Singaporeans to be killed

From ‘Radio DJ apologises for Facebook post’, 5 April 2014, article by Walter Sim, ST

A MEDIACORP Lush 99.5FM DJ apologised yesterday for a controversial Facebook post in which he called for Singaporeans to be killed. Mr Chris Ho commented on an army recruitment advertisement on the social media platform on Thursday.

The campaign, launched last December, bears the slogan: “How far would you go to protect our home?” The Singaporean wrote in response: “How far…? Let’s see… I’m with you foreigners! Kill the **** Singaporeans but not my friends, can?”

His comment caused fury among netizens and was reposted on citizen journalism portal Stomp. Contributor Tee Seng said: “What kind of joke is this? If he hates Singaporeans so much, why is he still here? I used to be a fan of his but he has gone too far.”

Mr Ho told The Straits Times yesterday he was surprised by the response. “It is such a far-fetched statement that I’m shocked that Singaporeans are taking it so seriously,” he said, adding that the “satirical” message was meant to mock the campaign slogan. “Hello, Singaporeans, you mean you need people to give you a wake-up call to defend the country?” he asked.

“Why should the question be put forth as such? Singaporeans who love the country would know what to do.” He said he wanted to allude to the rising levels of anti-foreigner sentiment here. The ex-Straits Times rock columnist added: “I think Singaporeans are looking for a new Anton Casey… I’m not advocating genocide.”

How far? Too far for some, apparently

How far? Gone too far for some, apparently

It took me a while to ‘get’ the humour behind Chris Ho’s jibe at the SAF ad, and thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks he’s ‘too cheem’ for me. It’s also hard to tell when he’s sarcastic or furious when he and New Nation bickered online over the post where the latter made fun of Chris ‘falling’ for a satire piece about ‘Man dying in a protest against foreigners‘ (which wasn’t even very funny to begin with). I don’t know what experts on wit think of either example of this ‘satire’, but in my book, satire should have universal appeal, is spontaneous, and actually funny to someone other than the creator. Or maybe it’s just me.

As for the ad, I don’t see anything wrong with asking someone ‘how far would you go’ to defend the nation, even if any response other than ‘I’ll fight to the death’ will be deemed unacceptable. It’s like asking ‘Will you die for Singapore?’, or ‘How much would you give to society?’, a pedantic rhetorical device to remind you of your duty, where an actual answer isn’t expected because we don’t want to hear the ugly truth.  But there’s a double meaning here too if you interpret ‘how far’ in terms of literal DISTANCE, which is more likely to be the case here, looking at the mountains in the background. It sounds sensible at first, referring to overseas stints from Brunei to Afghanistan to get you all geared up for military operations, but if you think about it, the further away you are, the SLOWER you are in coming back in the event of a real ATTACK back home. Either way, the slogan is bound to get criticised, and Chris, or X’Ho, is no stranger when it comes to controversy or criticising his home country.

Dj-ing for Lush aside, Chris is a local music icon who in the early 80′s performed as frontman for Zircon Lounge and is today revered as the counter-cultural antithesis to more ‘wholesome’ ambassadors like Dick Lee.  He also dabbles in ‘spoken word’ album territory, and from his 1999 album ‘X’ with an X’ came a track called ‘Singapore is Not My Country‘, his take on Alfian Bin Saat’s ‘ode’ to the nation (the full transcript here). In the 2000′s, Zircon Gov.Pawn Starz was formed. The album ‘Follywood’ features the track ‘Mouthless Fish‘ about people ‘barely breathing to make ends meet’, with BigO magazine rating it as the ‘most fucking punk rock album we have ever’. Check out this ‘punk rock’ album cover!

Majulah SingaPawnStarz

The ‘shock jock’ has even been filmed getting his PENIS tattooed. In THAI. A Today review of 2008′s Baphomet Sacrum describes him as ‘Singapore’s unfavourite son’.  Anyone unfamiliar with ‘dark wave’ or goth would think track titles such as ‘Satan’s Blood’ and ‘Her Soul’s Demise’ off the Lucifugous collaboration album were devotional hymns of the occult.  ‘No Ordinary Country’ has the refrain ‘Majulah Fearless Supremacy’ and its album cover has lightning logos on it. There’s even a song about the Blogfather himself called ‘Excuse Me Mr Brown’, where Chris calls Brown the ‘next Talking Cock big time’. ‘Talking cock’ being, well, the lingua franca of social media most of the time anyway.

So the first question that came to mind was: What did this multi-hyphenate (author, singer, DJ, film director) celebrity, being Singaporean and all, actually DO IN NS? According to a 2006 Interview with Today, he said he ‘has done everything he could think of to get into the Singapore Armed Forces MUSIC AND DRAMA Company’, and eventually spent 2 years as an actor after BMT. Like, who wouldn’t right? How far then would you go, Chris Ho, to protect this country that you love-hate so much? A question that wasn’t addressed in his FB apology, or maybe it was hidden somewhere so deep and lost in ‘satire’ that I couldn’t detect it with my radar for low-brow fart jokes and all.

There was a time when the man actually made seriously good pop music, without the Singapore-bashing and ‘satire’ getting in the way. Unlike his current ‘uneasy listening’ work, ‘Deeper’ (1992) is heartfelt and uncharacteristically melodious, and no surprise that this came before the ‘Punk Monk Hunk’ days, where spiritual awakenings mean getting your genitals pricked and scarred in the name of art. Pubic hair snipping? Amateur!

Which suggests that Chris is capable for much more than just ranting against the Government or NS, or participating in the Berlin Porn Festival. It would be nice to see that good ol’ innocent side of him once more.

Schoolchildren spending too much time on CCAs

From ‘Review time spent on CCAs’, 24 March 2014, ST Forum

(Lee Hui Ling): …My daughter studies at an independent secondary school. She is required to stay back after school for her CCA three days a week, each time for up to four hours. If there are forthcoming performances or competitions, she may need to stay back on additional days for practice.

Many of her schoolmates who take public transport wake up as early as 5.30am to make it in time for school at 7.20am. Lessons end around 1.30pm and, following lunch, CCA starts at 2.30pm and ends at 6.30pm. Taking public transport home sets them back by another one to 11/2 hours and some manage to reach home only after 8pm. Following a quick dinner and wash-up, they start on their heavy homework load or revisions after 9pm. By the time they go to bed, it is way past midnight or 1am.

They wake up a few hours later at 5.30am, with barely five hours of sleep, to start another long, tiring day.

…In their quest to excel in not only academics but also CCAs, some schools may have imposed gruelling hours on students. In the process, students, and the teachers who stay back for equally long hours, get caught up in a system that drains them mentally and physically. The primary purpose of CCA is to develop the interests and talents of students; winning accolades is secondary and this should not be done at the expense of students’ health.

I urge the Ministry of Education and the Health Promotion Board to look into this issue.

In 2008, 15 year old ACS student Tan Wen Yi wanted to get out of track and field and switch to drama as his CCA. He was made to stay back 4 times a week as punishment for skipping training to play football. When his parents refused to have any of it, he headed for his bedroom, climbed onto the ledge of the window and jumped to his death. Right in front of his hapless mother. No one saw it coming.

Of course most kids don’t resort to such drastic tactics to get out of CCAs, but added pressure and long hours during competition season is part and parcel of school life. What parents are really worried about, other than sleep deprivation or sudden suicide, is whether this preoccupation with ‘winning accolades’ would have any impact on their child’s studies. If you’re a Type A go-getter and extrovert who thrives on CCAs and little sleep and want to be the Prime Minister when you grow up, then good for you. If CCA is a dreary chore and you would rather spend the time writing Chinese composition, then there should be flexibility to cut back, like ‘days off’ after intense training or medal success, or the choice to take a less hectic CCA.  The problem is some schools may deprive you of a CCA which may be the best fit for you for purely ‘business’ reasons, like an under-performing team which can’t deliver results. Not to mention kiasu parents who think some bonus points would do you good and forbid you from joining any ‘unprofitable’ CCA that seems, well, FUN.

Add homework, tuition and piano lessons to the mix and you’ll produce ‘well-rounded’ kids who hardly have time for themselves or family, victims of the national philosophy that children can only grow up to be productive cogs in the machine if they excelled in at least 1 CCA. Kids who’re ‘team players’ but lack the spark of creativity, fail to develop spiritually, or don’t get to experience the world outside school or even the country. Kids who don’t know what it’s like to help out at their parents’ hawker stall, how to climb a tree, or do something nice for a needy stranger.  In 2007, a survey revealed that only 2.6% of teens had at least 9 hours of sleep every night, a deficit that they can’t even make up for during week long holidays which are often stuffed with even more CCA activities, homework, enrichment classes or group projects. We’re producing kids who can’t, both literally and figuratively, DREAM.

During my time, competitive sport taught me the sour taste of humiliation and defeat and I have no regrets, but I never felt like I was cheated of my personal time, nor put in a pressure cooker environment like what kids these days seem to be immersed in.  So now we know where this epidemic of ‘busyness’ in the working world comes from. We were groomed from young to be madly rushing, always behind time, and everyone believes that this constant stress as a driver for excellence can only be a good thing. Until someone breaks and does the unthinkable that is, which by then would be only too little, too late.

 

Singaporean radical fighting against Syrian regime

From ‘S’pore man under probe for ‘going to fight in Syria”, 23 Mar 2014, article by Priscilla Goy, Sunday Times

Singaporean man is being investigated for allegedly going to Syria “with the intention to undertake violence” in the ongoing armed conflict there, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday. Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali, a 37-year-old supermarket manager, is a former Indian national who obtained his Singapore citizenship in 2008.

A member of the public informed the authorities of his alleged trip to fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after he had left Singapore last November. The MHA confirmed it is investigating the allegations.

The ministry also said the authorities established that Gul Mohamed Maracachi Maraicar, a 37-year-old Indian national and former Singapore permanent resident, helped to radicalise Haja and assisted him in his plans to participate in armed violence in Syria.

Gul, who worked as a system analyst here, was investigated under the Internal Security Act. He was deported and banned from entering Singapore for his role in abetting and aiding Haja. When The Sunday Times asked when Gul was investigated or deported, an MHA spokesman said it “does not comment on operational matters”.

The initial reaction to such news is how on earth did we allow such budding extremists to become citizens and PRs in the first place, fanatics who would rather sacrifice themselves in another country than take up arms to defend ours. But ‘radicalisation’, sometimes of the ‘DIY’ kind, could happen to anyone with a passion for ‘militant jihad’, Singaporean or not.

It happened to Abdul Basheer in 2007, a bright law grad and lecturer who graduated from Raffles Institution and National Junior College and was an employee at Drew and Napier. Having succumbed to ‘MTV-style’ recruitment websites espousing extremist Islamic ideology, Abdul was seduced into joining the Taleban to fight in war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan against infidels (He was later re-arrested in 2012 for pursuing the same agenda). Henceforth the term ‘self-radicalisation’ was born, along with related terms that threaten to glorify self-service terrorism: The ‘DIY’ terrorist, the ‘Lone Wolf’, the Jihad Rambo.

In 2010, a full time NS men followed in Abdul Basheer’s footsteps. 20 year old Muhammad Fadil was exposed to online Jihadist propaganda, and ‘deeply radicalised’ by the lectures of personalities such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, whose videos you can download freely off Youtube (Feiz Muhammad has been suspected to be the inspiration behind the Boston marathon bombers). I can’t tell if these clerics were directly urging youths all over the world to buy a ticket to Pakistan and take up arms in Arabic, though it seems to boil down to a matter of selective interpretation. MDA and MFA should be doing more to ban inflammatory martyr recruitment sites, rather than forcing news/opinion sites to close down over licensing requirements, or blocking sites that encourage marital affairs or medical marijuana.

To ‘radicalise’ someone is a term that has been in use locally since 1987. Third Stage, a drama group, was accused of ‘radicalising’ the public with ‘Marxist propaganda’, producing ‘satirical plays’ which put the Singapore’s political system in a bad light. And these guys were put on watch by ISD presumably because at the time the pen was deemed mightier than the sword. You didn’t need to fly to terrorist school or even know how to load a bullet, you just needed to produce provocative government-bashing drama in order to be labelled ‘leftist’ or ‘radical’, capable of subverting people into overthrowing their rulers.

Trust religion to corrupt a word that once described a good thing (a radical idea, change) into one suggesting extremist violence. It’s likely that ‘radical’ has its roots in politics, used way back in 1846 to describe the act of questioning authority by ‘despots’ and ‘rulers’. Sometime in the 80′s, radical became ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’, and for a time abbreviated to ‘rad’, as popularised by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who subscribe to the ‘ideology’ of fighting crime, skateboarding and eating pizza. Today, you’d have to be careful about using the word in case the ISD comes knocking on your door searching your laptop for ‘radicalising’ material.

All this tight-lippedness over this mysterious Gul Mohamed Maracachi Maraicar seems shady though. There’s no information of his previous arrest or deportation as far as I could find online other than he and Haja being ‘village friends’, unlike the media spillage that surrounded Abdul Basheer and Fadil. I hope it’s not too radical to ask: Why?

Folding paper ingots forbidden by some religions

From ‘Religion getting in the way of filial piety’, 22 March 2014, Voices, Today

(Evelyn Tan): My husband’s grandmother died recently at the age of 91. The last couple of years were difficult as she was bedridden and fading day by day….According to her wishes, the funeral arrangements followed Taoist tradition. This involved elaborate prayers, processions and folding thousands of paper ingots to send her on a comfortable journey to the afterlife. With that many offspring, one would have expected all hands on deck.

What materialised seemed to be a reflection of changing times and narrow beliefs. Several of her offspring have adopted other religions and refused to participate in any of the Taoist ceremonies, including the folding of paper ingots. I find this a strange phenomenon. Surely, what matters must be the wishes of the deceased, rather than the beliefs of the living?

As more Singaporeans become well-travelled, no one has qualms about visiting religious landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan. In fact, many plan to visit these landmarks. As we progress in this society, we must remain tolerant of all beliefs.

Using religion as an excuse to distance oneself from religious ceremonies for a loved one seems to be a practice of double standards and the start of an intolerant approach.

Although the writer did not specify what religion her uncooperative relatives belonged to, it’s likely to be Christianity,  in which a related funeral custom, the handling of joss sticks, is frowned upon by some practitioners.  Some refuse to even touch a bag of it as if it were poison. According to a certain pastor ‘Steven Wong’, holding joss sticks is a symbol of ancestral worship, and God explicitly forbids ‘a relationship with the spirits of the dead (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). He goes so far to call the practice  ‘demonic and occultic’, and makes you a bad, bad Christian.

Joss sticks aside, burning ‘hell money’ is also discouraged, for its purpose is to ‘bribe’ the departing spirits and keep them from descending into our realm and peek at us from behind the closet. Tough luck for dead Granny if her only Christian child refuses to send a paper iPad up to her in heaven, which makes her more likely to come down and haunt your dreams. A baptised ‘child of God’ is also prohibited from kneeling before a corpse, because it’s an act of demonic supplication. All this coming from a faith where you ‘eat’ the body and ‘drink’ the blood of Jesus Christ, channel gibberish in fits of ecstasy, and you carry around wooden cross talismans as protection against vampires.

The Deuteronomy text is specific on what constitutes an ‘abomination’ in the eyes of the Lord: Divination, enchanter, witch, charmer, consulter with familiar spirits, wizard, NECROMANCER. There’s no disclaimer on conducting rites as a ‘mark of respect’ for a dead human being rather than a wandering garden deity. As long as you oblige your funeral hosts with the simplest of tasks like burning incense or folding pieces of paper, you’re deemed to be engaging in evil hocus-pocus and black magic, like you’re part of a seance communicating with dead punters for Toto numbers. By that argument, Christians are also forbidden from believing in fairy godmothers, or watching clowns perform magic in front of terminally ill children.

Christians are free to visit other places of worship, of course, as long as they don’t attempt to communicate with other spirits and look like they’re worshipping another invisible heavenly being. So there’s no ‘double standard’ to speak of. But it’s not just others’ religious rites that Christians condemn as cult behaviour. They may even be a wet blanket at wedding banquets. Christian forum writer Steve Ngo experienced one of a Chinese couple where it was forbidden to shout ‘YUM SENG’ because conservative Christians considered it ‘paganistic’. Even the 12 animals in the zodiac are not spared from accusations of occultism and idolatry. One Christian writer says it’s not right to even wish your loved ones ‘GONG XI FA CAI’. My God, can you guys even wish upon a star? Whether you’re Christian or not, we engage in little acts of ‘unholy’ divination every single day. We buy ‘lucky numbers’ at the pools, we refrain from lying on the bed of the dearly departed, we throw bouquets at bridesmaids in a wedding, we shake a pair of dice longer thinking we’ll get a better roll, we throw coins in a well, we seal a love letter with a kiss. If all these are signs of devil worship, then by all means, I’d rather be Satan’s little imp than an obedient servant of a nitpicky God. Life would be so boring without fantasy and ‘black magic’.

Refusing to abide by superstitious traditions, unlike what the title of the letter suggests, isn’t so much an act of impious rebellion (The author makes no mention of the words ‘filial piety’), than being a stickler to indoctrination.  Just making the effort to turn up or stand before the altar in silence is already a decent sign of respect and gratitude and no one has the right to force you to burn incence or follow a monk around a coffin if you don’t want to, for whatever silly arcane reasons. But if you look beyond these superficial rituals, you’d see such family activities not just as netherwordly appeasement, but they serve as a form of social bonding, and if it’s in your benefit to play along even if your religion labels it as sacrilegious, then indulge your relatives just for the moment.  If your God is the loving God that He claims he is, he’d understand your intentions. Of course most Chinese Christians don’t go so far as to rubbish the ‘Year of the Horse’ or refuse to wear red over CNY because it’s a sign of sucking up to Cai Shen Ye, a pagan magical troll in the eyes of the Lord, but if you’re the kind who thinks folding paper ingots is a satanic ritual, then you should be at least consistent in your beliefs, like, burning your Harry Potter books and banning your kids from watching the Wizard of Oz.

Authorities in a muddle over leaves in drain

From ‘Who should clear leaves in drain?’ 21 March 2014, ST Forum

(Arthur Lim): THE ineffective clearing of fallen leaves is not just evident along major roads and expressways (“Act promptly to clear fallen leaves” by Dr V. Subramaniam; Tuesday), but also in housing estates. In my estate, the leaves seem to be frequently cleared from areas visible to the eye, but those that are “hidden” under the covered portions of drains are not. This may cause pooling of water and mosquito breeding.

I have raised this issue with the officers who check for mosquito breeding in my estate, but they said their department was not in charge of this. They were not sure if it should come under the National Environment Agency or the PUB.

I hope the relevant authorities will step in to address this issue.

This confusion over who’s in charge of dengue-breeding ‘longkangs’ has existed for at least a decade. In 2005, if the affected drain is in a Housing Board precinct, the town council is responsible. If it’s by the road in a residential estate, either the NEA or PUB is in charge. If it’s in a public park, then NParks needs to pick up the trash.  Filthy drains are like the NEA/AVA tussling over mynahs; nobody wants to claim them, like separated parents each refusing custody over an obnoxious child. Even the source of the leaves, the very trees that line our roads, have different agencies looking after them, NParks or the SLA. Good luck blaming either for negligence when a loose branch falls and knocks you into a month-long coma, which is probably the duration of time needed for someone to finally admit that he’s responsible.

NEA, being the national dengue-buster, received a complaint in 2007 by a member of public about a choked drain along Jalan Loyang Besar, whereby nothing was done for 3 days after reporting the hazard. A second NEA officer then proceeded to refer the caller to the PUB instead. NEA later apologised and announced that the officer who did not abide by this ‘No Wrong Door’ policy was reprimanded for his incompetence. Another resident noticed workers from NEA actually sweeping dried litter and leaves INTO drains. Instead of a joint effort to curb the mosquito nuisance, what happened here was literally one agency pushing the problem to another, or rather, sweeping the problem under the other’s DOOR instead.

The writer of this latest complaint did not mention if the officers he approached were from the NEA or not, and it’s possible that from the time agencies begin their bureaucratic shrugging, finger-pointing and someone finally getting a contractor down, a handful of residents would have been hit by the dengue scourge already.  Since 2008, NEA has led an ‘inter-agency’ dengue taskforce, including the PUB, to keep our drains from turning into festering dengue hotspots. It remains to be seen if officers from the agencies involved even know what the heck is going on, or this collaboration and showcase ‘synergy’ efforts have, well, all gone down the drain. It sounds nice on paper, but it’s beginning to look like a football team where players don’t have a damned clue what their field positions are, and run away when they see a ball coming instead of passing it towards goal.

Perhaps it’s time the Ministry of Environment set up a DRAin Maintenance Authority. Or DRAMA.

Clubhouse for maids a space to call their own

From ‘Clubhouse for maids a good move, but charity leader’s remarks irksome’, 17 March 2014, Voices, Today

(Mannat Johal):…I am heartened to read about the clubhouse, which will provide facilities such as a computer lab and library, as well as various courses, for only S$4 a year. This will greatly benefit domestic helpers and make their experience working in Singapore a lot better. They will have something to look forward to each week, knowing that they can enhance their skills and spend time fruitfully at the clubhouse.

What irked me, though, was the statement by the President of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST). He said: “We want (the workers) to go to a place where they can be among themselves, where they will not be disturbing the owners of the building or residents of the area.”

This gives the impression that domestic helpers generally cause owners and residents annoyance by simply patronising places such as tourist attractions. No such problems are said to exist when Singaporeans and tourists patronise these areas. Are domestic helpers that different? Should they not be allowed to enjoy these areas as we do? Are they that much of a nuisance compared with tourists, who are possibly more unfamiliar with Singaporean culture and etiquette?

Also, why does FAST want domestic helpers to be among themselves? Singapore is a multiracial society where harmony between people of different races, religions and backgrounds is a significant feature.

In 2001, Sri Lankan maid Sanda Perumal, along with her employer Angie Monksfield were given the boot out of Singapore Cricket Club because having maids in the premises was against internal club policy. As recently as 2011, some condos were still banning maids from using swimming pools.  Having a clubhouse just for maids would seem like an apologetic gesture for years of discrimination bordering on colonialism, a place where FDWs may benefit from the enrichment activities that such centres can offer rather than doing wild stuff like turning a stretch of Orchard Road into a street party . The other unspoken purpose here is to keep foreign workers out of sight, out of trouble, though you can’t stop them from murdering their rich employers. It’s like how people are uncomfortable with having workers’ dorms just down the road, treating the living quarters of others like a concentration or leprosy camp. The next question then: What about having a club for workers from Little India? One which holds a masterclass on anger management perhaps? A place where they can bond over some Darjeeling tea instead of Tiger beer?

Ethnic enclaves form all over the world as part of natural urban progression, and some even serve as tourist attractions, classic examples being Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. What FAST is concerned with here is gatherings of FDWs disrupting business, but one can think of some iconic commercial spaces that may have benefited instead from foreign workers milling about, never mind the occasional drunken brawl, sleaze or spontaneous mass dancing.

1) Lucky Plaza

Though initially viewed as an ‘image’ problem, Lucky Plaza remains till this day Orchard Road’s premier maid hangout, and some businesses have learned to adapt to capitalise on the loyal throngs, from fast food chains like Jollibee to IDD sellers and remittance. It’s also the first place I would think of if I have a sudden craving for Pinoy fare like sisig and pata.

2) Golden Mile Complex

Earning its title as ‘Little Thailand’, Golden Mile is renown as a foodie destination if you’re looking for authentic, homely cuisine. Some Thais refer to the Beach Road complex as their ‘second home’. Locals looking for some alternative entertainment to Bangkok barhopping can boogie all night long at places like ‘Pure Thai Disco’.

3) Peninsula Plaza

A lesser known enclave, this place is our very own ‘Little Myanmar’. Not all’s rosy in terms of local business though, with some lamenting that Peninsula has turned from a ‘classy mall’ into a ‘Myanmar market’. It has also become a collection centre for Cyclone Nargis donations and a place to congregate and discuss politics. In my youth, it was a place to get rare records and band merchandise. Yes, those were the days when it was cool to wear a cap with your favourite band’s logo on it. Backwards.

4) City Plaza and Joo Chiat

The newest enclave on the block, City Plaza is turning out to be ‘Little Indonesia’, and would have been a ghost town if not for maids flocking there on weekends. For obvious reasons, it attracts Bangladeshi workers too. Joo Chiat, with its string of bars and restaurants, is close to becoming ‘Little Vietnam’. Now you know where to go if you’re in the mood for pho or Ayam Penyet. Or some intimate Vietnamese hospitality, if you know what I mean.

So, with or without these club facilities, our FDWs already have a place to mingle (sometimes with other foreign nationalities) and be seen, even if it means moonlighting on the fly or simply fooling around. The fact that places like Lucky Plaza and Golden Mile have hardly changed at all means that the authorities are silently aware of their social (and economic) significance.  It is, however, unrealistic to expect migrant workers to integrate with Singaporeans on weekends, when they already spend almost their entire working lives dealing with us. In some situations, in fact, we’d rather they leave us the hell alone.

Let’s not forget the many other ‘enclaves’ and invisible boundaries that we draw around us every single day. Christians have their mega-churches, Muslims their mosques. Billionaires have their fancy clubs, golf courses, Iggy’s and Nassim Road. Women have Ladies’ Night and entire shopping mall levels dedicated to them. Hipsters have arty-farty cafes, expats Robertson Quay, and even seniors have ‘retirement villages’. What’s the big deal about a clubhouse for maids?

We’re a motley nation, not an orientation camp where everybody sits around the campfire singing ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, and by all means let FDWs have places to ‘call their own’ as long as they abide by our laws and don’t have mass orgies in public. A artificial enclosure like a clubhouse may be a place for maids to be ‘among themselves’, but without the flavours of home and the calming familiarity that Lucky Plaza brings, it’s unlikely to be a place to ‘belong’.

Alcohol ‘sin tax’ increasing by 25 percent

From ‘Alcohol suffers stiffest hike among ‘sin taxes’, 22 Feb 2014, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

BARFLIES absorbed the sobering news yesterday that they will have to dig deeper to pay for drinks, with an increase on alcohol tax by 25 per cent. In the first such hike in a decade, the tax on wine and spirits goes up to $88 per litre of alcohol content, and for beer, to $60 per litre of alcohol content, with immediate effect.

It is the heftiest of the hikes on the so-called sin taxes, with cigarette levies also up by 10 per cent and betting duty rates up to 30 per cent from 25 per cent. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday that the move is “in line with our social objective of avoiding excessive consumption or indulgence in these areas”.

…Lawyer Ranjan Indiran, 32, who spends $300 on drinks on weekends, argues that a person with an alcohol problem will not stop drinking just because alcohol is more expensive. “He will channel more money towards his drinking habit and he and his family will just be worse off,” he said.

The hikes on alcohol will net the Government $120 million more a year. Cigarette and tobacco levies will add $70 million and betting, $255 million.

In Feb 2006, PM Lee decided ‘reluctantly’ against increased taxes on tobacco because it didn’t make Singaporeans smoke less, but smuggle more. Unlike previous years, 2006 was an exception as hikes were frozen for booze and cigarettes, and offering a reprieve to drinkers and smokers didn’t seem ‘in line with the social objective’. 3 months later, the General Election was held. Another objective took precedence over public health then.

Though betting tax from lotteries also went up to 30%, no mention was made of the biggest generators of ‘sin’ money, the IRs. For elder hardcore addicts who qualify for the Pioneer Package, the payouts may come in useful. For rich expats who can afford a Jewel of Pangaea or those hobnobbing at F1 parties, this hike is a mere drop in their ocean of excess. The increase comes across as an opportunistic one following the fallout of the Little India Riot which made a convenient villainy out of alcohol. If a gambling addict is willing to pay $100 to enter a casino multiple times, an increase in at least 40 cents for a bottle of Tiger at the kopitiam is not going to make anyone quit the habit overnight. You may, however, think twice if you are a social drinker, and maybe that alone would be enough to make the difference between going home sober, or ending up in jail for drunk driving.

If you’re dead serious about public health and want to help those who really need to quit, you would have heeded the advice of SANA in the 1970s, when they advocated DOUBLING of the same sin taxes. You would curb the sprawl of ‘nightlife’ spots and impose some form of Preservation of Public Order Bill everywhere and not just Little India to clamp down on liquor/tobacco sales and rowdy behaviour. You would have stricter punishments for anyone caught with contraband, which incidentally spiked to 46,300 cases just in the first half of 2013 alone. You also wouldn’t try to sell off confiscated vodka at 75 cents per bottle as the Singapore Customs did in 2004. In 2003,  Dr Warren Lee, MP for Sembawang, suggested that there be a COE for cigarettes, an idea that itself sounds like it was conceived, well, ‘under the influence’.

The message sent from the sin tax increase may be borne out of good intentions, but I doubt it’ll serve its ‘official’ purpose. It just means poorer, not less, smokers and drinkers, but more revenue and ‘more good years’ for everyone else.

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