Ice bucket challenge is cultic and eradicates free will

From ‘Ice bucket dare a scary social trend’, 30 Aug 2014, Mailbag, ST Life!

(Oh Jen Jen): The ice bucket challenge smacks of peer pressure, herd mentality and narcissism. I am from Singapore and a recent newspaper article mentioned how people here also donated to the ALS Association in the United States (Donations Pour In, Bucket By Bucket, SundayLife!, Aug 24).

We do not even have a local version of the association and I cannot find any statistics on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients in Singapore. Yes, the end is good, but I question the act itself. The stunt may lead other organisations to do the same thing. What if 10, 20 or 50 charities launch campaigns simultaneously? Do the ones which need the most assistance get ignored because they are not considered fun or cool enough?

It is a dangerous precedent for fund-raising efforts and as long as celebrities propagate the trend and their fans follow blindly, it is going to backfire. While performing stunts to raise money is not a new concept, the ice bucket challenge takes it to a different level because of the way it encourages exhibitionism and instigates blind compliance.

The act itself may seem harmless, but the response is cultic in magnitude. It is a frightening indicator of the combined powers of social media, fame and egotism, resulting in the eradication of logical thought and free will.

Teo Ser Luck getting wet and wild

It’s a Dunk-Your-MP session

MP Teo Ser Luck was bullied by his residents into taking the ‘ice bucket challenge’, so it wouldn’t be fair to say that it breeds a ‘cultic narcissism’ in some instances. More like ice bucket sadism. Some netizens have even dared PM Lee to do it for the nation. I wonder if this letter would still be published if that actually happened.

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.23.54 AM

Pouring ice over someone’s head is the kind of prank you find at the climax of orientation camps, drunkard parties or in a Three Stooges episode, and when I initially read the title of this letter I thought the writer was expressing concern about the health hazards of being doused in ice, like hypothermia for example. Or how an over-creative delivery could lead to head injuries, just like how ‘selfies’ led to people plummeting to their deaths in their misguided enthusiasm. Yes, a ice bucket dunk can be potentially dangerous, but it turns out that the writer’s fears were more apocalyptic than I thought.

This is Steven Lim after pouring ice over himself in the shower. Yes, this looks very scary indeed. For concerned fans, yes the man is still alive.

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I’m not sure how many among the ice bucket ‘cult’ actually know what ALS is, or who Lou Gehrig and Stephen Hawking are. Or even wondered what a bucket of ice has anything to do with a rare disease. If you read scientific papers on ALS, you’d encounter explanations like these which will give you a ‘brainfreeze’ of a different sort altogether:

Studies done by Carpenter have shown the late onset of ALS with abnormal neuro filament accumulation in the G93 SOD1 mutant mouse model (Carpenter, 1968). Findings have suggested the cause to be due to the deregulation of Pin 1 in its involvement with the neurofilament phosphorylations, where it catalyzed the extensive phosphorylation of the neurofilaments in the perikarya by kinases by converting neurofilaments to a more stable trans form, causing the fully unraveled neurofilaments in the cell body being unable to be transported down the axonal length and accumulate in the perikarya, forming inclusions that are responsible for the disruption of the transport system and ultimately result in neuronal death (Kesavapany et al., 2007)

AGH. GIMME THAT ICE RIGHT NOOOW!

If I started a trend of pouring a bucket of my own diarrhoea over my head in support of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I doubt anyone would follow. Not even my own mother. Imagine if you had to hold a BBQ party and you realise that the store’s ice cubes were all swiped clean by companies holding a ‘IBC’ parade faster than the sale of N95 masks during the haze. Damn you social media!

Scoot: Cool as ice

I wouldn’t consider doing an IBC myself, not so much that I think it looks ridiculous or that I risk transforming into an automaton without a mind of my own, but because the ice cubes could be put to better use. Like in an glass of Kickapoo or as a prop for kinky sex. Patrick Stewart would agree with me.

Some celebrities think it’s a bloody waste of water, while I believe those who subscribe to it may have forgotten about the drought we experienced some months back, or that there may be people out there running a 42 degree fever and need a bathtub of ice stat but can’t because of an out of stock situation. The typical retort from a IBC believer to me would be ‘So what have YOU done for ALS?’, to which I’d say I’ve donated blood at least 10 times, saving the lives of people, ALS or no ALS. And then I’ll ask back ‘What do you know about neurofilament phosphorylations?’ just to savour a blank look. The only reason to dunk my head in ice is if my hair caught fire.

There are many other associations or causes in need of some insane ‘viral marketing’ to boost awareness without causing bodily harm, like dyslexia or breast cancer for example. If you wanted to educate mothers on the benefits of breast-feeding you could organise a flash mob. If the plight of the poor in Singapore needs to be highlighted to the masses, you don’t go to Speakers’ Corner anymore. You live on the streets for a week living off the generosity of strangers and Instagram it. There was a time charities had to resort to putting monks on a tightrope just to raise money for a hospital, or endanger the lives of celebrities by having them lie on a bed of broken glass, and someone else freakin’ JUMP on them. Thank God we didn’t have social media then. How ironic it would have been if your kidneys got ruptured in a stunt gone wrong for a foundation that supports end stage renal disease.

The reason why the IBC spread like wildfire is that people are not urging you to trek barefoot in the hot sun for 5km for a good cause. It’s accessible, it’s fun (supposedly) and anyone can do it without training for an Iron Man triathlon. Yes, we are generally suckers for trends with a high ‘hip quotient’, but the IBC isn’t the only fad guilty of encouraging ‘exhibitionism’ and ‘blind compliance’. I hesitate to use the term ‘compliance’ which implies ‘reluctance’, like doing it because your Mommy told you so. In simpler terms, it’s just ‘copying’.

We have pointless memes like planking, online protests like blacking out your profile pic to make a political statement, and then there’s the phenomenon known as Cook a Pot of Curry day. Need I mention selfies, hipster cafes, zumba or even bubble tea? In this age of social media you don’t need ministers or celebrities to kickstart a viral campaign anymore, just a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook would do the trick. I’d say we have benefitted more from ‘blindly copying’ each other and succumbing to ‘peer pressure’ than having our free will ‘eradicated’ just because of one viral stunt. We’ve been doing it for millennia, from the moment one proto-human tribe observed another making fire and followed suit. And look where copying each other has brought us today. We shouldn’t overlook the benefits of ‘following the crowd’ just because occasionally we latch onto something, for lack of a better word, stupid, and then complain about it online through a Xiaomi phone.

The first time you see the IBC you’d probably laugh at the absurdity of it, but after a while it becomes the stunt equivalent of Pharell’s ‘Happy’ song. Overdone, overplayed, and overstaying its welcome no matter how you remix it. How many times do you want to see people get wet anyway. The craze will die a natural death eventually like Gangnam style has, but the human tendency to mimic and one-up each other won’t. To quote a famous hip hop artiste in the 90’s:

All right stop, Collaborate and listen
Ice is back with my brand new invention

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Woman peeing in Pinnacle@Duxton lift

From ‘Caught in the act of urinating in Pinnacle@Duxton lift’, 18 June 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

The first photo shows the back of a woman in neat attire squatting down in a lift; the second shows the same woman, her hair tied up in a ponytail, in the same spot, but this time with a puddle near her feet in the lift. The photos were featured in posters put up this week by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council in the void deck of Block 1E at Pinnacle@Duxton, following complaints about urine in one of the lifts back in May.

The youthful-looking woman, whose face is not seen, was caught in the act by surveillance cameras in the lift at 8.22pm on May 23.

“The Town Council has received feedback regarding the stench of urine in the Fireman Lift in Blk 1E… This has caused much inconvenience to residents,” read the message in the poster. The posters and photos are part of what MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) describes as the town council’s “very effective” method of addressing such incidents, and have been employed several times at the Pinnacle@Duxton estate as well as elsewhere in the constituency.

…”We would never show people’s faces in the photos used, so only the person committing the act would know it is him or her,” she said. “We’re not trying to shame anybody, we put the posters up only in the affected blocks. Our job is not to make trouble, we just want to stop the urination problem.”

No one has stepped forward so far regarding the latest incident, and little is known about the woman pictured. “Urination in public places still happens from time to time in different areas around Tanjong Pagar, but thankfully it’s not that prevalent,” said Dr Neo.

This iconic housing project was indeed once the PINNACLE of international design, the first in the world with 2 skybridges linking the 7 blocks, creating what could be the LONGEST continuous skygardens in the world. A winner of the 2010 President’s Design Award, the Pinnacle’s skydecks have been described as ‘social dynamos’ encouraging communal activities, initiating an ‘innovative typology of public communal spaces that are metaphorically reclaimed from the air.’ A bit TOO communal perhaps. This, like how we deal with most social nuisances, calls for a CAMPAIGN, before someone brands the building The ‘Pee-nacle’ (Wait, that has already happened). The mascot could be a singing, dancing giant incontinence pad, one who goes around smothering people before they even unzip their trousers.

Peeing in lifts is a scourge that won’t go away soon, with exploding bladders, loose sphincters, alcohol and lack of public toilets often used as mitigation pleas when culprits do get caught. Most of these, to no one’s surprise, are men. In 1988, the ST ran a survey which revealed that of 112 pissers caught, ONLY ONE was a woman, and they were mostly adults within the age range of 36 to 54. These days, people seem to get away with urinating in lifts without having the media shout their name, age and occupations like they used to. An anonymous offender smearing a public amenity gets away with nothing more than embarrassment, while a blogger who smears the name of someone very illustrious gets hunted down and sued his pants off for defamation. Even getting caught EATING a damn sweet on the train is a worse situation than this.

You must be truly desperate if you’re a woman and need to resort to 1)pulling down/aside your underwear 2) squatting 3) answering the call of nature 4) risk soaking your damn feet while at it. No one seems to ever get remanded in IMH for such behaviour, especially one that has been fetishised by the authorities since Singaporeans began living in HDBs, with some MPs in the 80’s even suggesting a JAIL TERM for offenders. Peeing in a lift is an entirely different breed of public disgrace compared to say dumping litter or throwing cigarette butts out of cars. A grown adult urinating in a closed, moving compartment, especially one in which you have to eventually use yourself, seems to me more of a bizarre psychological disorder rather than a case of uncontrollable nerves, mischief, or even ‘vandalism’. It’s like vomiting on the side of your plate, and then continuing to eat the rest of your food like nothing happened.

The Pinnacle may boast one of the most panoramic, expensive residential skygardens in the world, but all the lifestyle frills and pledges of ‘sustainability’ aside, one thing that the building appears to be sorely lacking is a basic lift URINE DETECTOR, a gadget that stops the lift dead when someone takes a leak on the floor, sounds an alarm, and traps you inside until the cops come and whisk you and your vile bladder to court. A brilliant invention because it forces you to be confined with your own putrid stench for at least a good half an hour, and more importantly, catches you red-handed, with or without CCTV. Have we gone all soft on lift pissers lately? Will the Pinnacle management take more serious measures only when MP Lily Neo steps on a golden puddle during her walkbouts like what happened to former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon in 1991?

Urine detectors can’t do anything to prevent one from DEFECATING in the lift, though. Yes, it happens, I shit you not.

UDDs will give residents a piss of mind

Pop up kindness cafe sending wrong message

From ‘Kindness cafe sends wrong message’, 13 June 2014, ST Forum

(Jeffrey Law Lee Beng): WE SHOULD not create the notion that one can only enjoy discounts or freebies by being friendly, kind and polite (“Say please and thanks for discount”; Tuesday).

I am supportive of the various initiatives of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) in encouraging Singaporeans to make a positive commitment to gracious living through simple acts of kindness. Events such as the I Love My Mum campaign, Heroes Run and photo contest organised by the SKM are commendable as they have impacted and reminded us of the importance of being filial, courteous and kind.

However, the movement’s pop-up cafe where customers are given a discount on a cup of coffee or a free loaf of bread by saying “please” and “thank you” is not the appropriate way to further inspire graciousness and friendliness, which should come from the heart.

(Lim Lih Mei): Being polite is basic manners for all. Striving hard to perform better in their studies is what all students should do. Do we really need money to incentivise such attitude and mindset? We may be nurturing a population that will perform certain acts only when the carrot is cash.

Will that be with a smile or no smile, sir?

Will that be with a smile or no smile, sir?

Here’s what you should do if you want to get a FREE coffee at the Kindness Cafe. Tip your hat, smile, bow and say ‘Good afternoon, how are you doing today, my good sir. Can I trouble you with one coffee, pretty please with sugar on top. Thank you very much!God bless you!’

There’s much more to kindness than saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of course. You can put on the most nerve-cringing display of politeness at the counter just for a $2 cuppa but come back later and complain that it tastes like bloody ‘longkang’ water after that. There is also nothing in the Kindness Cafe rulebook that says you can’t recite the $2 line with a grumpy, monotonous tone, or shout it out with your finger pointing all over the place not even looking the poor fella in the eye. You may also try to test the gimmick by seeing how the staff would react if you just say ‘Oi!Give me THAT one’. If you have $5 or more to spare, that is. What about people with speech impairments then, do they have a sign language version for discounted coffee? If I were a staff of the Kindness Cafe I’d feel pretty unimpressed throughout, knowing that people are being nice to me only because they’re following a template on the board next to them, and not that they’re actually out to make my day. In fact I’d feel pretty good if I can charge the rare $5 customer for being a total asshole whose parents never taught to say ‘please’ like a decent human being.

The last time someone ran a promo for discounted drinks was not based on how polite you are, but how physically well-endowed you are. The bigger your cup size, the less you had to pay for drinks at Overeasy bar back in 2010. Totally unrelated of course, except that it’s not just the customers alone who got to see how ‘HAPPY things can get’.  By linking ‘happy’ material discounts to politeness, the SKM is saying ‘happiness’ is about getting things cheap, when we’ve always been told that the reward of a good deed is to have done it, that, well, courtesy is FOR FREE. Courtesy has taken on a ‘GSS mentality’, and before you know it, someone will be patrolling MRT trains dishing out free transport vouchers to people who give up their seats to those who need it. So that’s where all the money for former courtesy mascot Singa’s salary goes to.

The Kindness cafe is not going to train people into becoming angels to those poor souls in the service industry. At best, it’s just a harmless reminder that baristas are humans with feelings too and it would be ‘nice’ to give compliments once in a while. I, for one, wouldn’t line up for a Kindness coffee. Not that I’m the kind who points at menus and grunts, but because I’d have to wait for people to memorise and recite their $2 lines before getting served. Anyway, it’s also time for a new courtesy song. Something like this perhaps?

Courtesy is for kopi
Courtesy is for you and me
It makes for happy sipping and harmony
Happiness you can buy
With discounted kopi-o-siew dai
Make courtesy our way of life
(Adapted from the Courtesy is for Free song, original lyrics here)

Ci Yuan CC not easy to pronounce

From ‘New CC’s name not easy to pronounce’, 29 Oct 2013, ST Forum

(Edwin Feng): I READ with interest that the new Ci Yuan Community Club used to be called Kebun Ubi Community Centre in the 1970s (“New CC in Hougang first to have a hawker centre”; Oct 20). Ci Yuan is not an easy name for Singaporeans who are unfamiliar with hanyu pinyin to pronounce.

It is ironic that a community centre meant for bonding Singaporeans of different races would change its original Malay name to a “pinyinised” one that even some Chinese Singaporeans have difficulty pronouncing. Besides, why is it named Ci Yuan when it does not seem to have any link to either its old name (Kebun Ubi) or its present location?

Unlike Kebun Ubi (Malay for tapioca garden or farm), the new name does not seem to reflect the rich history of the place, where tapioca and other staple crops were once cultivated by our forefathers, who lived in the villages there.

The opening of the new community club in a few years’ time will be a good opportunity for the centre’s old name to be reinstated. Perhaps a gallery could be set up to educate younger constituents on the history of the place.

Romanised Mandarin, or ‘pinyinisation’, was once the scourge of language and history lovers everywhere. In 1987, there were calls to abolish Hanyu Pinyin names of places like Simei and Guifei.  Thankfully, Simei remains in use today, but isn’t pronounced the way it’s intended to be. Most of us, including the Chinese-speaking, pronounce Simei as ‘xi (ee-sound) mei’, rather than the correct, sharper ‘si (as in ‘4’) mei’, an example of a HYPY name that has evolved into something all Singaporeans can agree upon even though technically it’s wrong. ‘Hougang’ is a mixed bag, some say ‘Ow-Gang’ with the silent ‘h’, while others pronounce it as (correctly), ‘Hoe’-Gang. Till this day we remain wishy-washy over Yishun (the town) and Nee Soon (the army camp).

HYPY, the devil spawn of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, threatened to screw with our food culture in the early eighties. Imagine if chye tau kuey was renamed ‘Luo bo Gao’, or ‘Char Quay Teow’ as ‘Chao Guo Tiao’. Doesn’t sound as appetising in HYPY does it. In school, compulsory HYPY names wrecked havoc on our kids’ sense of identity, some confused over the two versions, while those without dialect names, like Eurasian kids, were ‘pinyinised’ with silly soundalike translations. If I were to introduce my full name to a Westerner I’d prefer my dialect name than my HYPY one, which comes with a troublesome ‘Qu’ couplet. Not everyone has an effortless HYPY name like Lee Wei Ming. Some of us have HYPY names that look and sound as complicated as a blockbuster drug with an X, Z and Y in it. Take Zhuo Xue Yan, for example. Anyone unfamilar with HYPY would be wondering if you’re an actual person or some ancient Mexican pyramid.

I doubt non-Chinese have any problems pronouncing Fengshan, Bishan, Yishun or Yuhua though, just like non-Malays can easily enunciate Geylang, Eunos of Pasir Panjang. An example of a HYPY experiment gone wrong was the renaming of Tekka Centre to ZHUJIAO Centre in the eighties, which was then reverted back to Tekka in 2000 as it better reflected the history of the place, and a better tourist draw. Other town-naming fails include the suggestion to change Tiong Bahru to ‘Hong Shan‘ and ‘Bukit Panjang’ to ‘Zhenghua’. Like Zhujiao, ‘Ci Yuan’ is tricky to pronounce considering that in standard English the C takes on an ‘S’ sound in words like ‘cider’ or ‘cistern’, even though it makes references to tapioca and sweet potato planting, according to the CC chairman Koh Hock Seng (Residents to be consulted on new CC’s name, 2 Nov 2013, ST Forum). Hopefully we’ll all get used to the tongue-twisting confusion of HYPY, and before you know it saying ‘Ci Yuan’ will be as easy as ‘Gong Xi Gong Xi’.

 

Passenger boarding SMRT bus 190 only after 13 tries

From ‘Video of commuters who boarded SMRT after 13 tries goes viral’, 19 Oct 2013, article by Lee Jian Xuan, ST

A video filmed by a frustrated passenger who claimed she was unable to board SMRT bus service 190 after 13 tries has gone viral online. The edited eight-minute footage has drawn more than 16,000 views in four days. Most of the buses were packed, while some did not stop. The video showed commuters trying to board via the back entrance as the front was too crowded.

YouTube user Galaxnite, who uploaded the video, said that she and other passengers had tried to board at Thong Teck Building near Scotts Road, on the evening of Oct 4. She told The Straits Times that she takes bus service 190 regularly to get from her home in Choa Chu Kang to her workplace in town.

“The incident tired me out physically and mentally,” said the commuter, who identified herself as a 29-year-old graphic designer.

…SMRT said on its Facebook page last night that it had been alerted to the overcrowding on bus service 190. The transport operator noted that its buses were crowded, especially on Friday evenings, and said that it would continue to monitor the situation closely.

Last year, SMRT were penalised for allowing bus 925 to exceed the ceiling capacity of 95% during peak hours. Like 190, it also served Choa Chu Kang residents. The excuse given by SMRT then was that they had faced a shortage of drivers during the December period. The fine? $100. Just for comparison, SMRT declared in a recent report that fare revenue rose by 2% to $213.15 million for Q1 this year. Which brings me to question the effectiveness of punitive fines since SMRT directly profits from trains and buses being packed to the brim and can afford the occasional pittance because commuters have NO other choice. Someone needs to highlight that overcrowded transport isn’t as trivial as the fines make it out to be. In the video, the bus nearly drives off with someone’s arm caught between the backdoors. The articulated bus design is supposed to cater to the disabled, and not disable people.

Loading of buses falls under the category of ‘Operating Performance Standards‘ according to the Public Transport Council (PTC) website. I’m not sure how one determines if a bus is 95% full, but it’s unlikely to be the case for some of the 13 buses since some passengers in the back refused to budge. A bus could be HALF full and you would still be unable to board because of these people, the bus driver not doing his job, or on rare occasion if there’s a bloody python in the back of the vehicle.

PTC and SMRT could blame their customers, the driver or the Singapore Kindness Movement for the dead space, but such responses wouldn’t be so outright ridiculous if LTA hadn’t run a survey recently that tells the world how delightfully gracious passengers we are. For example, 96% of us say we would move in for others to board. The key word here, of course, is ‘SAY’, like how the authorities SAY they will monitor the situation CLOSELY, only for fares to rise again despite our complaints of poor service. More money for the swear-jar budget then. A more meaningful survey should have investigators stationed at busy bus stops and OBSERVING, not polling people just to get the answer they are SUPPOSED to give anyway.

lta_poster_3_21-08-2013

Under the PTC’s category of Safety, one finds ‘Accident rate’ (less than 0.75 per 100,000 bus km per month), and it’s puzzling why a bus exceeding 95% of its capacity i.e overloaded isn’t also classified as a safety hazard here. Why is ‘loading’ a separate ‘deliverable’ from ‘safety’, and if a bus that exceeds its specifications for safe carriage compromises passenger lives, how do we explain the measly $100 fine? If bus 190 didn’t exceed the 95%, arrived at the right intervals, but didn’t do enough to pack the sardines in, would SMRT even be punished in this case?

Kudos to Galaxnite for sacrificing 2 hours of her time to capture a disappointing snapshot of the state of public transport and commuter behaviour today. Whatever the intentions of her filming consecutive buses, you can’t deny its impact. I probably would have given up after missing the fourth bus, but I’d also have to weigh the tricky odds of not being able to catch a cab (all pre-booked!), taking the MRT (only for it to suffer a train delay due to a track fault!) or switching to bicycle (get knocked down by heavy vehicle!). Considering all the above, a good bet to getting home in one piece and before daybreak would be to trek 14.2 km for 3 hours from Scotts Road to Choa Chu Kang via Bukit Timah Road. If you’re a brisk walker you could probably reach home by the time the 15th bus comes around.

LKY antagonising an entire generation of Chinese

From ‘Life after Cabinet…and death’, 11 Aug 2013, excerpts from ‘One Man’s View of the World’, Think, Sunday Times.

…Occasionally, when I disagree strongly with something, I make my views known to the Prime Minister. There was an instance of this when the Government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air channels.

A suggestion was made: “Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas.”

I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack?

I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show.

Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren. It will creep back, slowly but surely…

When the Speak Mandarin Campaign brought its War on Dialect to radio in 1982, clamping down on dialect broadcasts over Rediffusion, that didn’t stop master storyteller Lee Dai Sor from producing his own albums, TWELVE of them in fact. That’s more albums than all the Singapore Idols combined. His bestseller cassette, Ru Chao San Bu Wen, was a folk legend about incompetent Qing emperors. In 1983, he rejected SBC’s invitation to perform at a New Year show because he had to speak Mandarin. In the media, he reportedly ‘retired from broadcasting’, but now we have confirmation from LKY himself that the plug was pulled on his show because it was in Cantonese.

This was a man who could sell the Singapore Story better any million-dollar NDP, but had to pursue his passion working for Radio Australia and Rediffusion Malaysia when his own country turned him away. Celebrated as a folk hero, drama company Toy Factory produced a play about Lee’s life, titled ‘Big Fool Lee’, a homage to Lee’s influence as the voice of a generation who refused to be muted by LKY’s social engineering. ‘Big Fool’ died in 1989, but his spirit, like dialect, lives on today.

Dialects have already crept into mainstream consciousness and pop culture, ‘slowly but surely’ no matter how LKY tried to suppress it with the same vigour as SARS. As late as 1990, Cantonese ‘patriotic’ songs like Sparrow With Twigs were banned from airplay and only recently reinstated. In a big way too, being featured in local movie ‘That Girl in Pinafore’. It’s not just the older generation ‘threatening’ to make dialect fashionable again. Local rapper Shigga Shay boasts about being a ‘Limpeh’. Mr Brown’s ‘Lekuasimi’ was a spoof of an NDP song. Royston Tan’s 881 made us (the English-educated included) all sing ‘Che Lang Che Pua’ in KTVs again.

We continue to order ‘kopi siew dai’, not ‘coffee, less sugar’, and order ‘har gao’, not ‘prawn dumplings’. Dialect has already been embedded in our social fabric, gone beyond the days of ‘Wah Lau’, and there’s nothing a 90 year old Hakka politician can do about it. Especially when his own PAP successors are using it as rhetoric. Goh Chok Tong used ‘pah see buay zao’ in reference to ‘stayers’. You could use the same phrase for Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese and what have you. If there’s anything that needs a resurgence it’s Mandarin itself, our general grasp of it left a lot to be desired, though we have more than enough PRCs moving here to help us, well, ‘keep up’ with the language.

Unlike Mandarin, dialect doesn’t exist in textbooks nor does it appear in listening comprehension tests.  It lives only in the hearts, minds and mouths of Singaporeans, young or old, proud enough to speak it and keep it alive, campaign or no campaign, a glorious artifact that binds us to our roots. Anyone can be a polyglot or Chinese scholar if they train hard enough, but only in Singapore can one be a true master of the dialects, like the late Ah Nan was. Those who agree, please Kee Chiu.

Singapore Girl announcing that she’s from China

From ‘Stewardess making announcements:Why the need to specify her origins?’, 25 May 2013, ST Forum

(Kua Bak Lim): WHEN on board a recent Singapore Airlines Beijing/Singapore flight, I was puzzled when the flight stewardess who made announcements in Mandarin identified herself as someone from China. It struck me as odd that the airline found it necessary to make such a distinction when it came to announcements in Mandarin.

I then asked the in-flight supervisor whether the stewardess or steward on board an SIA flight to London needed to declare that he or she was from the United Kingdom when making announcements. The answer was no. This piece of personal information about the staff is completely irrelevant to the announcements, regardless of the language spoken.

This, in my view, tends to be divisive for the staff on board. I also find it disconcerting for SIA’s image as a world-class international airline. One also cannot help but notice that there seems to be the subtle insinuation that Singaporeans cannot speak good Mandarin, which is certainly not true.

Would the SIA management please comment?

There’s no need for an SIA stewardess from China to announce her origins simply because her accent and grammatical precision would be a dead giveaway, if the intention is to cater to PRCs on board. SIA has been hiring foreign staff for a while now so it’s no secret,  though they still insist on keeping the ‘Singapore Girl’ moniker.  As of April 2013, 7 out of 10 cabin crew are locals, with Malaysians, Thais, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Koreans making up the numbers. It is perhaps the only airline in the world to brand their attendants after a nationality. Even Air India doesn’t call their ladies ‘India Girl’, nor China Airlines ‘China Girl’. The latter is also derogatory in the local context, often associated with mistresses and illegal immigrants than a glamorous profession that involves pushing foodcarts up and down a aisle asking if people want the chicken or the beef.

Interestingly, according to the SIA recruitment site, it’s a prerequisite to be ‘proficient in English and Mandarin’ if you’re a Taiwanese, whereas the requirement specified for candidates from China is just ‘a HIGH level of English proficiency’, though I believe the average Chinese or Taiwanese native could deliver any announcement in Mandarin without much difficulty at all. No such language criteria has been set for the Singaporean candidate, though you’d need to have A and O Level credits in General Paper and English respectively. Which means you can fail your Chinese exams and still become a successful Singapore Girl. But having splendid passes in GP or even Chinese doesn’t necessarily make you proficient in ANY language. The writer above seems highly optimistic about our locals’ standards of spoken Mandarin, but if we were that good we wouldn’t need ‘Speak Mandarin campaigns’. Even ang mo children put Chinese Singaporean adults like myself to shame. I can only remember one Chinese nursery rhyme during my childhood, the one that goes ‘san zi lao hu’ (Three Tigers, Three Tigers, run very fast, run very fast, one has no eyes, one has no ears, very strange, very strange), compared to today’s non-Chinese kids reciting Confucian EPICS like San Zi Jing.

So how many Singaporeans you know are actually up to the task of delivering a message to international travellers over a PA system? How many can deliver a simple interview to a Mandarin news crew in full sentences? How about telling a Chinese tourist the TIME? Not a lot, apparently.  Ex Mediacorp actor Ix Shen says we have a TOTAL DISREGARD for grammar and sentence construction. Sumiko Tan posits that English educated folks like herself lacked interest in the language because it was forced down our throats and not promoted in a fun, lively way. Journalist and film-maker Pek Siok Lan mocks our ‘half-baked English and half-baked Chinese’. Back in 1981, a Taiwanese professor urged us to ‘DROP Singapore Mandarin’ because we were over -‘translitering’ it. We could consider a Speak Mandarin mascot like Water Wally or Singa, but it would be hard to conceive of a character related to Chinese culture without making it a dragon or coming across as racist and xenophobic.

From a business and customer service standpoint, it’s better for SIA to let a ‘professional’ handle a Mandarin announcement than risk an unseasoned Singaporean butchering it in front of PRCs, generally thought to be so proud of their language they wouldn’t stand for anything slipshod and ‘half-baked’. It would also be a hassle for the cabin crew if PRCs started throwing up their meals because they heard us speak. But you don’t have to tell people you’re from China because it’s obvious and it would confuse everyone about what ‘Singapore Girl’ means. I suppose with enough practice, a true ‘Singapore Girl’ would be able to deliver Mandarin with striking confidence. Maybe that would be the ‘makeover’ that we locals can truly be proud of, a bilingual SIA stewardess who knows what is Chinese for ‘mild turbulence’ and ‘fried mee goreng’, rather than say, toning down on blue eyeshadow.

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