EBRC not transparent about boundary changes

From ‘More detailed explanation needed to fend off gerrymandering claims’, 25 July 15, article by Siau Ming En, CNA.

Noting that the boundary changes announced on Friday (Jul 24) were not drastic, political analysts nevertheless felt the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee should explain in greater detail the rationale behind its decisions to fend off perennial accusations of gerrymandering from the Opposition.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the generic reasons given for the redrawing of boundaries, which include taking into consideration population shifts and housing developments, still leave many questioning how they were done.

“Because sometimes voters are unable to explain or even observers are unable to explain why the boundaries were redrawn the way that they are, that fact lends itself to possible criticisms of gerrymandering,” he said.

The committee said it “reviewed all the existing electoral divisions, taking into account their current configurations, population shifts and housing developments since the last boundary delineation exercise”. It also followed guidelines by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to reduce the average size of the GRC to fewer than five members, and have at least 12 single-seat wards.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong said: “Insofar as the committee does not provide clear and detailed reasons for its changes, it will trigger speculation and conspiracy theories — which may or may not be justifiable or grounded in truth — about the reasons behind its decisions, and that is not healthy and not conducive to a resilient political culture in Singapore.”

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the changes were significant but “not exactly earth-shaking”, adding that he had expected some three-member Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).

Gerrymandering is the carving up of electorial boundaries to benefit one political party, and is the kind of word you shouldn’t toss about willy-nilly in case you get ‘Roy Ngernged’.

In a 2009 dialogue session, the EBRC explained that they’re made up of senior civil servants such as the chief statistician and the heads of the HDB and SLA, and considers ‘population growth and movement’ when recommending changes. When quizzed whether such a committee was in fact non-partisan without being pressured by the PM himself, a member from AGC clarified that civil servants owe their allegiance not to the PAP, but the President, a ‘politically neutral institution’. Yes, we trust these people are ‘politically blind’ even if our current President was once a PAP-man himself, and all civil servants just got a SG50 $500 handout. And oh yes, even if the Chairman of the EBRC so happens to be Tan Kee Yong, Secretary to, erm, the Prime Minister.

Prior to independence, our Government set up the first ‘Electoral Boundaries Delineation Committee’. Despite being chaired by the Perm Sec of the PMO, all registered political parties were ‘invited to give their views by way of memoranda’. Today, nobody is consulted on whatever’s going on in those boardrooms, and then boom!, your Changi Village is now officially part of goddamn Siglap, though both places, for all practical purposes, are worlds apart. Which makes you wonder if the EBDC are using an actual Singapore map, or the one that Frodo uses to get to Mordor.

The population shift reasoning is shaky for certain enclaves such as Joo Chiat, which is made up almost entirely of private residences, and has a schizoid history of getting in and out of GRCs (from 1959 to 1988, then 2001-2015 according to NMP Yee Jenn Jong). The fact that PAP incumbent MP Charles Chong won over Joo Chiat with a slim 51% margin had nothing to do with it being swallowed up, I suppose. Similarly, back in 1997, PAP garnered 54.8% of votes in Cheng San GRC, and it was dissolved completely before the very next election cycle. In that same year, Braddell Heights SMC, which the PAP escaped by the skin of their teeth when SPP’s Sin Kek Tong contested in 1991 (48% votes), was engulfed by Marine Parade GRC. Chiam See Tong remarked that residents woke up one morning and realised that they were in Marine Parade, without the beaches.

To give the illusion of ‘fairness’, some sacrificial lambs from the PAP have been offered to the EBRC altar.  Lui Tuck Yew and Dr Yaacob see their beloved Moulmein-Kallang dissolved to their disappointment. One consolation is the rise of Jalan Besar GRC from the dead, which Yaacob is already staking a claim on. Only the EBRC knows why one is dropped while another is resurrected. I wonder if those guys take the MRT or are fans of social media. Opposition wards were left untouched for obvious reasons. Even the ghost of LKY can’t deal with the repercussions if the PAP were to stick their fingers into the WP Aljunied pudding.

Despite our PM’s call for smaller GRCs, the two SUPER GRCs AMK and Pasir-Ris-Punggol still remain as 6 member teams, each helmed by the PM himself and Deputy PM Teo respectively. Some of the ‘conspiracy’ theories about jumbo GRCs is that it makes it difficult for Opposition to summon the numbers to contest, that there is ‘safety in numbers’, especially if key ministers need to be ‘protected’. Another ‘benefit’ of XXL GRCs is that it allows nobodies to ride on ‘coattails’ of anchor ministers. After the last election these GRCs served as a training ground for newbies and 4 years on, we get to see the likes of Tin Peiling, formerly a latch-on to Marine Parade GRC and poster-child for everything wrong with PAP, grow up and take on Macpherson SMC. Today no one ever mentions racial diversity among MPs as a reason for humongous GRCs, which incidentally, was the original intention of setting up GRCs in the first place. Maybe the refrain ‘One People, One Nation’ is finally setting in. Or is it ‘The more the merrier’. For the ruling party that is.

If you look at our PM’s GRC, there’s still a majority of Chinese with 1 Malay and one Inderjit Singh (who decided to retire from politics altogether). Why the ERBC didn’t splinter one SMC out of each supergroup to make it a maximum of 5 across the board for all GRCs is shrouded in secrecy. They probably wouldn’t throw out Dr Intan Moktar out into the wild. Not after what happened with her and the Yang Yin saga. Pasir Ris Punggol GRC has a similar racial and gender profile, and if there’s someone who should break out and claim an SMC, my recommendation would be the guy who has a workout named after LKY, Teo Ser Luck.

Or maybe all this is an elaborate ploy to get Singaporeans passionate in politics, for what is politics without lies and deceit, rumour-mongering and hot-headed drama?

SAF getting first female Brigadier General

From ‘SAF promotes first female to Brigadier General’, 26 June 2015, article by Chan Luo Er, CNA

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) now has their first female Brigadier-General (BG). Col Gan Siow Huang was one of seven Colonels promoted to the rank of BG and RADM (One -Star) at the annual SAF promotion ceremony on Friday (Jun 26). She will assume her rank on Jul 1.

She was among the first four women to receive the SAF merit scholarship in 1993, and she now heads the Joint Manpower Department. In recent years, she has been making calls for more women to choose the SAF as a career. Currently, close to 1,500 women hold combat jobs in the SAF, less than 10 per cent of SAF regular personnel. Every year, about 60 women join the army.

As women make progress in the armed forces, Singapore continues to lag in terms of female presence in boardroom positions (9% of board seats). This despite instances of negative gender stereotypes in army recruitment ads, such as the ‘Shades of Green‘ campaign that suggested that there’s still a little vain princess in every woman looking at a career in SAF, rather than a GI Jane. It’s probably a matter of time before we get a female Chief of Army, and this is likely to be even before we get our first female Prime Minister.

Here’s a timeline of achievements by women in uniform in an organisation that is traditionally helmed by men with moustaches. As expected, those in the honour roll who are also mothers are lauded for their ability to ‘balance work and family commitments’, and talk about how their husbands are always ‘supportive’ and OK with the fact that their spouses have more balls than they do.

1967: First deployed doing clerical and logistics work.
1971: First military car drivers.
1987: First Senior Warrant Officer (SWO).
1987: First combat instructors. In this article, the now derogratory phrase ‘fairer sex’ was used.
1999: First Lieutenant Colonels (LTC) (High-flying women, 30 June 1999, ST)
2000: First Commanding Officer (CO) of an an army combat unit
2005: First colonel. Like BG Gan, Karen Tan (now retired from SAF) is a working mother.
2006: First Regimental Sergeant Major
2007 (?): First F-16 fighter pilot
2014: First Apache helicopter pilot. Captain Joyce Xie was formally trained in molecular and cell biology.
2015: First BG.

As you can see, women in uniform have achieved more in 15 years than their counterparts in Parliament. Our Cabinet is still predominantly male. Maybe Jack Neo, currently bleeding the Ah Boys franchise dry, may want to consider an ‘Ah Girls to Generals’ movie trilogy.

‘Bishan gay’ molesting boy in J8 toilet

From ‘Man gets 12 months for molesting boy in toilet at Bishan Junction 8, appealing’, 8 May 2015, article by Elena Chong, ST

A part-time tutor who sometimes refers to himself as “the Bishan gay” was sentenced to 12 months’ jail on Friday for molesting a 12-year-old boy in a mall toilet. Cheng Hoe Huat was found guilty after a two-day trial of touching the student’s private parts in the male toilet of Bishan Junction 8 shopping centre on Nov 13, 2013.

The 52-year-old, who was unrepresented, is appealing. Bail of $30,000 was allowed. During the trial, the prosecution called 13 witnesses, including the victim, his four friends, a child psychologist and teacher.

Cheng had approached a group of boys, including the victim, to “conduct a survey on sex education“. The victim accompanied him to the toilet as he thought Cheng, who was using a walking stick, needed help.

…The maximum penalty for molesting any person under 14 years old is five years’ jail, fine and caning.

Daniel Cheng, or known to wary schoolboys as ‘the creepy Bishan uncle’ or ‘Bishan gay’, was actually interviewed by the ST in 2008, when he was found snapping photos and stealing looks at boys in fast food joints and flashing them his ‘signature smile’. He claimed that RI was his ‘alma mater’ then, and his activities were out of ‘love’ for his Bishan hometown and that he felt ‘responsible’ for the well-being of the kids.

Then regarded as nothing more than a middle-aged, otherwise harmless weirdo and something of an ‘urban legend’ in the area,  the RI deputy headmaster called for students to refrain from ‘calling him names‘, so it’s unlikely that Cheng would “refer to himself as ‘The Bishan Gay'” as the ST reported. It’s like admitting to the police that you’re the Serangoon Slasher or the Punggol Peeping Tom.

For years Cheng has been ridiculed and villainised on social media as a potential sex fiend, like a resident village ogre that townsfolk hurl stones at to keep him away from their livestock. No self-respecting teenager from RI, Catholic High or SJI could step into Coffee Bean in J8 or take bus 156 without looking out for some leery-eyed uncle snapping photos of him as a personal keepsake, or giving him a ‘scary, gay’ smile that sends chills down the spine. Parents may even have taken advantage of the situation, telling their boys to come home by 9pm, otherwise they may get kidnapped and made to be some basement sex slave by the ‘boo-gay-man’ of Bishan.

Some kids tempt fate by getting up close and personal with the icon himself. The photo below would be just as creepy if you replaced Cheng with the silhouette of a ghost. Note that he was facing THE BACK of the bus.

Others, like this ‘thegreenyellow’ blogger, chatted with the man out of curiosity in 2007, and discovered that he was actually a ‘nice dude’ who speaks ‘good English’.

Just last year, a man was caught on Stomp ‘ruffling’ boys’ hair in McDonald’s at J8. Speculations were rife that this was THE Bishan Gay taking his antics a step further, or perhaps this was just a ‘Phase 1 experiment’ of his ‘sex education survey’. It appears that Cheng exhibits more of paedophiliac tendencies rather than scientific inquisitiveness,  so calling a stalker obsessed with schoolboys as a ‘Gay’ may be considered derogatory by the LGBT community. You can say a shirt ‘looks gay’ or a song ‘sounds gay’ without offending most homosexuals, but not if you use it in reference to a child predator. The correct term should be ‘Bishan Paedophile’. Unfortunately, ‘Bishan Paedo’ just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘Bishan Gay’ does.

Now that he’s facing jail time and all is peaceful in Bishan once more, maybe it is indeed time for some sex education for our schoolboys, so that any uncle who happens to be lounging around swimming pools staring at boys in tight trunks isn’t automatically labelled as a dangerous, creepy ‘gay’.

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.

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