Fish Hunter no different from gambling

From ‘No different from gambling’, 16 April 2014, My Point, ST Forum

(Yi-Lin Shen): IT IS worrying that senior citizens are playing arcade games like Fish Hunter to win Sheng Siong and FairPrice vouchers (“Shoot-em-up seniors find amusement at arcades”; Monday). This is no different from gambling at slot machines in a casino.

What is even more worrying is that such games are installed at video arcades, which are popular teen hangouts, as this exposes youngsters to gambling. I have seen seniors sitting for hours on end at Fish Hunter tables, armed with cups of coffee and bags of arcade tokens. What are we teaching our youngsters?

I urge game arcades to stop giving out shopping vouchers as rewards. Let the seniors have their fun, but remove the gambling aspect.

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Before shooting fish on a screen became the in thing for arcades, parents were worried about another ‘gambling’ game popular with kids, where money was spent on ‘cards’ and virtual beasts were put to battle: Animal Kaiser. With the rise of free, casual mobile phone games like Candy Crush and Flappy Bird, it appears that it’s seniors, not teens, keeping the arcade industry alive. Without the lure of Fish Hunter or Animal Kaiser to get old people out their house, the arcade machine looks set to go the way of the audio CD. The machine’s screen itself seems perfectly designed for the ageing eye, way larger than the micropixels that the elderly have to struggle with on smartphones, while iPads with their more elderly-friendly screens remain cumbersome to handle and use.

Some swear by the benefits of games like Fish Hunter: Keeping their eye-hand reflexes keen, mind alert, getting to socialise with other old people and even spending time with similarly addicted grandchildren while at it. A similar trend has been observed in Japan as well, with seniors opting for ‘push penny’ games rather than tennis or gateball. In Singapore, you need a break from all that line dancing, nannying and try to catch a ‘golden lobster’ at TimeZone. In fact, even if seniors were addicted to Fish Hunter, at least they don’t have to pay a levy of $100 everytime they sit down for a shot. Unlike casinos, arcades don’t run 24 hours, so obsessed players can still get some sleep. Uncles may get carried away though, hogging the seats and getting into arguments with other parents with kids who want to play the same game.

Even if we banned these machines, what else would lonely old souls do if not play mahjong (for money), queue for Toto, or gawk at Taiwanese drama serials on TV? Yes, even if sitting around preying and praying does resemble gambling, and playing Fish Hunter the whole day isn’t exactly ‘Active Ageing’, the other remaining options aren’t much better off either. Let’s have a few of these machines in the Jurong retirement village already. I’m sure the seniors there will have a whale of a time.


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Singapore qualifying for the Poker World Cup

From ‘S’pore makes cut for poker ‘World Cup”, 3 Nov 2013, article by Caroline Khew, Sunday Times

Singapore is going to the “World Cup” in Brazil next year. The World Cup of poker, that is. Its six-man team beat four other countries to take third place in the first-ever Asian Nations Cup in Sanya, China, last month.

It meant the Republic qualified for the second International Federation of Poker World Championship in Rio de Janeiro next February. There, it will take on 15 other countries, including heavyweights the United States and China. The prize pool has yet to be revealed but last year it stood at half a million euros (S$838,000).

Singapore team manager Vince Lau, 52, told how qualification was no easy feat. The team was in the bottom two after the first day and it was only after a change of strategy that Singapore toppled the likes of Japan and India in the later sessions.

“It has been quite an experience and a challenge for us,” said Mr Lau, who is also the president of the Poker Federation of Singapore. “This was our debut match overseas against other Asian countries. Securing third spot was really quite an achievement as we are a young team.”

…Although poker here is not as popular as it is in other countries, Mr Lau said interest is growing. The Poker Federation of Singapore, for example, started with about 100 members in 2009, but its membership has grown to about 350 today. Online poker games have also been gaining traction on sites like Facebook, said Mr Lau.

The Poker Federation of Singapore aims to create awareness of poker being a game which involves using the mind rather than just one associated with gambling. “It’s a stereotype,” said Mr Lau. “Many people don’t know that poker is about skill and risk management rather than being at the mercy of cards. It’s about making the correct decisions based on calculated risks.”

When Mah Bow Tan launched his dream project Goal 2010 for Singapore football, no one believed him and till today, 3 years past schedule, we’re nowhere near target. We may even have trouble qualifying for the 2100 championships, unless by then it’s no longer humans running around kicking a ball, but robots, a department in which we may excel in. No one would expect that we would make it to World Cups and championships that have NOTHING to do with what Mah had in mind.

Just last month, a Singaporean duo won the GARDENING World Cup in Japan. You may also be granted deferment from NS for playing World championship Counterstrike, or Super Street Fighter for the country. In the realm of ball games, we qualified for the 2012 World FLOORBALL championships.  We’ve conquered the world in schools DEBATING, and are succeeding on the Asian stage in SPELLING. All of which suggests that we’re focusing on the wrong events, that Singaporeans are more adept at landscaping, nerdy mental games or poker than swimming or table tennis. We’re, after all, a Garden City with some of Asia’s brightest kids and the most emotionless i.e ‘poker-faced’ people who’ve ever lived on this planet. Look, Sports Council, no FOREIGN IMPORTS too!

Poker, however, is a game that is less likely to send you to a prestigious championship event than into a psychiatric clinic or a Maxi-Cash. Once you’re hooked and indebted, you may very well lose the equivalent of World Cup prize money ($838,000) before getting anywhere near a tournament. If you can’t afford to pay the $100 levy to hone your poker skills at the IRs, there’s always Facebook games or online casinos, poor substitutes for the real thing which requires real-time ‘risk management’ and reading other players’ expressions and gestures. If you need human faces to practice on and can’t wait until CNY, you can join any of the poker ‘meetups’ online for some ‘clean and friendly’ games. Our IRs even have dedicated ‘poker rooms’ for the pros, with a Poker Room Manager as an actual occupation. A Harvard professor uses poker to teach ‘life skills’ like ‘patience, composure and respect for ones’ foes’. Pretty handy, until you become bankrupt when the only skill you need is that of begging for your life.

Glamorising poker or gambling in general isn’t new though; Mediacorp has done sequel after sequel of ‘the Unbeatables’ to make gambling Casino Royale cool. None of the poker pros featured, however, look anything like Li Nanxing.

One Singaporean who has avoided public scrutiny for obvious reasons is trained accountant and poker king Bryan Huang, who’s like the secret Fandi Ahmad of Poker. According to the website Pokerstars, he’s one of the highest earning Singaporeans of ALL TIME. A Poker tour is also EXACTLY how I’d imagine it to be, judging from the photo below. It’s like a car-show and a James Bond movieset in one!

You can Texas Hold Em if you want

The timing for this article promoting poker as some kind of competitive sport and the ‘thinking man’s game of chance’, however, seems misplaced. Late last month, a reported 175, 680 people were placed under casino exclusion orders, a 4 fold increase from 2011 (175, 680 excluded from SIngapore’s two casinos, 27 Oct 2013, ST). We’re also seeing a rise in pawn shops and moneylenders. Pitching the game as one that is as mathematically challenging as Sudoku and you can win big money from tournaments may encourage novices to give it a shot, and not everyone would have the ability to differentiate poker ‘for fun’ or career prospect vs poker as a spiraling addiction. Even poker pros themselves admit to getting burned at the tables in their ‘training’, and it’s obvious that to be the best in the world of competitive poker, you have to lose money. It becomes a problem when you don’t lose well. It’s not like chess where all you have to lose is face.

Yes, this face

Good luck to the poker dudes, anyhow (I doubt any Minister will come forward and offer their support, right MG Chan Chun Sing?). I’m sure there’s a Poker God of Gamblers in waiting among our Maths Olympiad kids, who are blessed not only with our Singaporean emotionless face but a natural poker heuristic, who are now being offered a lucrative career option beyond drab academia or teaching statistics . A Youth Championships in the pipeline perhaps?

Singapore as a location for blockbuster movies

From ‘Lights, camera, action – in S’pore’, 25 April 2013, ST Forum

(Matthew Varughese): THE Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is constantly striving to come up with creative ways to promote Singapore as a tourist destination…A lot of resources have been spent on advertising and organising events such as the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix. Perhaps it is time for the STB to consider another form of marketing that targets an international audience and creates a lasting legacy – that is, entice big-name international film studios to use Singapore as a location for blockbuster movies.

In this way, the STB can achieve its target of showcasing Singapore to the world and marketing it as a vibrant place to visit. Already, Indian film studios have shot movies in Singapore, and some Korean and Japanese bands have used our landmarks for location shoots in their music videos.

The next step would be to get leading Hollywood studios to shoot on location in Singapore. Our country has already been referenced in a number of films and, as a global city with multiple attractions and an iconic skyline, there should be little difficulty in incorporating a Singapore sequence into a modern blockbuster.

Regional cities such as Bangkok, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong have already made their mark in Hollywood, and it could be time for Singapore to take to the silver screen. Movies in the James Bond and Godfather series have become staples that will be watched and re-watched for generations to come. Should Singapore be featured in such a film in future, the effects of marketing and publicity would endure for far longer than any print, radio or television advertising campaign.

Singapore’s skyline will never match the scale and pomp of China or Dubai, where you have impressive monoliths like the Burj Khalifa as a phallic set-piece for Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol. Hong Kong gets to be featured in Batman and was among the first Asian countries to headline the globetrotting James Bond franchise (You Only Live Twice, 1967). Even Petronas Towers in KL has been immortalised in the spy-caper Entrapment starring ex-James Bond himself Sean Connery. The last time someone attempted to pull off an action flick in our high-rise metropolitian setting was in the Hong Kong film 2000AD, which starred heartthrob Aaron Kwok and local actors like the now obscure James Lye and Phyllis Quek, though the HK superstar served more as product placement for RSAF in the trailer than a skyscraper-crawling daredevil.

Meanwhile, we await Hollywood magnates to take notice of the only candidate to star a blockbuster so far, the Marina Bay Sands. Fast and Furious star and rapper Ludacris gave us a boost by soaking in the Infinity Pool during the F1 season and tweeting about it in 2011, though since then we haven’t heard from Tom Cruise, James Bond or even the guys from the Hangover (with its sequel shot in hot and sultry Bangkok). We have, however, been featured in a Japanese porn film. MBS, chicken rice and all.

Even Julia Roberts’ character in Eat Pray Love would rather head to Bali for some spiritual me-time. So, if our buildings aren’t glitzy or gigantic enough and we’ve lost out on that Oriental lustre and LUST to fellow ASEAN nations, where does that leave us? Bollywood and its song-and-dance with national icon backdrops I suppose. Interestingly, the first ever Indian move to be shot here was titled ‘Singapore’ (1960), and featured Haw Par Villa in its prime. The ‘strange garden’ exists till this day, though more of a curiosity than a tourist attraction that it once was.

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 10.07.39 AM

There was hope in the late 60s/early 70′s. Homegrown action starlet Marrie Lee (real name Doris Young) was featured in several foreign films including the iconic, Quentin Tarantino-endorsed, CLEOPATRA WONG, which had our campy heroine kicking butt in Chinese Garden (Trivia: Cleopatra also starred a dashing BRIAN RICHMOND, now veteran DJ with Gold 90 FM). Then America took notice with the softcore thriller Wit’s End, aka The GI EXECUTIONER (1971), which featured ‘sultry Singapore’ and sleazy sex in the Raffles Hotel. One version of the trailer started with an old local smoking an OPIUM PIPE. Singapore would have been perfect for the Hangover movies then. I’m surprised even master of the C-grade action movie Steven Seagal gave us a miss.

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 10.18.10 AM

Then the Government happened. Local martial arts film The Ring of Fury(1973), featuring real-life kungfu master Peter Chong, was BANNED for its ‘portrayal of crime’ and depictions of gangsterism. Still, that didn’t stop Saint Jack (1978) from being filmed here, another American flick banking on what was left of our sleazy exoticism in Bugis Street. That means two American films in a decade, both with one thing in common. Barenaked BOOBIES. And nothing from Hollywood thereafter except for totally misleading references like the Singapore of Pirates of the Caribbean, a low-life haven that crosses evil Chinese temple with Old World kampong chic. Even our attempts to market the country through local film without foreign money have been stifled for being too seditious or racist for our own good. Jet Li, martial arts superstar and erstwhile Singaporean, has done absolutely NOTHING for our flagging entertainment industry. US chart-topping Singaporean diva-pastor Sun Ho would also rather sing about China than Singapore Wine.

‘Singapore’ has since been featured a 80′s MASK cartoon episode, the occasional foodie documentary with Anthony Bourdian and an Australian mini-series about the Japanese Occupation called Tanamera: The Lion of Singapore. Which ALSO FEATURES BOOBIES. Need I mention Sex: The Annabel Chong Story? Forget Batman, James Bond or Amitabh Bachchan. STB, you should know what to do to make Singapore more ‘Shiok’ now. How about an erotic courtroom drama about an underage prostitute and a high-flying politician, eh?

Foreign student, 13, arrested for MBS bomb threat

From ‘Boy arrested over threat to blow up MBS’, 1 Jan 2013, article in CNA

Police have arrested a 13-year-old boy who threatened to plant bombs in Marina Bay Sands. The boy had posted the threat on his Facebook page last Saturday. The boy cannot be named as he is a minor.

Police said the case is classified as a Breach of Prohibition Against False Threats of Terrorist Acts. If convicted, he could be fined up to S$100,000 and jailed up to 5 years.

Police investigations are ongoing.

What a way to start the New Year. The name of the culprit was withheld, but it’s likely to be a certain ‘Aditya Bhatia’, an Indian studying in the Global Indian International School according to his Facebook page (1 Jan 2013, ST). This is his ominous Facebook threat in its full uncensored glory.

Singapore: A piece of piece of shit

God knows what Singapore or MBS has done to incur the wrath of a destructive 13 year old, though you can’t exactly discount this rant as ‘mischief’ either, considering how kids these days could pick up bomb-building tips easily from Youtube. Maybe he thought the building was so ugly it had to be demolished. I doubt the US or Canadian immigration would accept him now that he’s getting a criminal record for terrorist behaviour, but I’m sure some Taliban scouts are interested. Spitting everywhere is a surefire way of getting caught, but Aditya Bomberman’s probably too preoccupied with angry thoughts of exploding things or too young to know what DNA is. Incidentally, on the same day this piece of news was reported, a crude bomb was uncovered in Delhi near the home of one of the suspects who brutally gang-raped a woman on a bus. For all we know Aditya (also from New Delhi according to FB) may have already been a amateur bomb-maker back home when other boys are spinning  tops or playing jump rope with the girls. Kids.

In 2010, another student posted his pyromaniac fantasy of ‘bombing all the top schools in Singapore’.  ‘John’ also made a public request to ‘learn terroism’. Totally unacceptable. Everyone knows that the first rule of being a terrorist is being able to SPELL terrorism correctly.

Other kids just wish for Playstations, dude.

That same year, another teen posted a checklist of things that he ‘wants’ to do, like being a hired killer and bombing a secondary school and police station. Whatever happened to cooler stuff like hacking into government websites or getting a motorcycle licence? Both boys got arrested for their posts for merely ‘wishing’ to carry out violent activities, not to mention plot big, big revenge like Aditya here. Maybe these guys are all friends on FB, with their own page called ‘We Da Bomb!’ or something. Such bloody fantasies of annihilating everything in their path is not restricted to little menaces to society though; In 2011, an upset job candidate threatened to bomb Parliament, the police force and a prison, earning himself 9 months in the slammer. He didn’t even have the balls of a 13 year old to make the threat under his own name.

People do secretly want to inflict dramatic violence on others or public property occasionally, but where do the police draw the line? Would you get charged only if you mention the specific word ‘bomb’? What if instead of ‘planting bombs’ all over MBS, I mention something physically impossible like say, summon a series of lightning strikes to rip the Skypark off the top of MBS like Zeus, or cast an infernal zombie curse on its inhabitants? How do the authorities distinguish between a legitimate security threat and the black magic ravings of a lunatic? What if Aditya had said: ‘GONNA STEAL A RIFLE FROM ARMY CAMP AND SHOOT EVERYONE IN ORCHARD ROAD’? How serious should one view such a threat? Is the SAF going to ever sound the alarm and deploy troops to barricade every single armory in Singapore to prevent a 13 year old from going on a shooting spree? What is he, Magneto Jr?


MBS like a space-age surfboard

From ‘The world’s ugliest hotels’, 3 Dec 2012, article in Relax, asiaone.

British newspaper The Telegraph has named the world’s top 20 ugliest hotels and Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands (MBS) has found its way into the list. It ranked the 55-storey hotel at No. 5 and said that the views from the hotel’s observation deck may be awesome, but not the other way round when others look at it.

“It resembles some kind of space-age surfboard,” said the report.

There were five Asian hotel properties in the list, including North Korea’s 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel, which recently announced that it will open next year, more than 20 years after its exterior was completed.

Some readers found it hard to believe that the integrated resort – which has been widely hailed an architectural marvel – was in the list. Reacting to the list, one netizen a local online forum said he did not care much for the exterior of the buildings, as long as the hotel delivered good customer service and room interiors are nice.

MBS also happens to be the world’s most expensive surfboard, costing $7.3 billion to build, not to mention a megaproject plagued by delays. Other reviewers of the three-pillared design were less scathing; some referred to the Skypark as ‘Noah’s Ark’. Budget Travel ranked it among the 11 new hotel ‘wonders’, with its ‘cruise ship’ forever suspended in mid-air. Fengshui masters were divided on the design, some reminded of ‘a scholar’s hat‘, while others see death in its trio of ‘ancestral tablets’. Sci-fi fans would describe it as an alien starcraft nestled on top of three buildings, or a gangly tripod invader like a Star Wars Imperial Walker. The most interesting description in my opinion is that MBS resembles a wicket in CRICKET.



I wouldn’t be picky enough to describe MBS as an eyesore, but it does look awkward and appears to be more a smug demonstration of equilibrium in physics than anything remotely Buck Rogers or epic Gladiator. But here are some fun facts about a building that was once touted as a NATIONAL ICON: The headpiece that is the Skypark weighs 7000 tonnes, is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall and you could even land 4 Jumbo Jets on it. MBS is also the site of a Japanese porno film shoot. If they had the chance they would even shoot a Godzilla movie here, except that Godzilla would be ‘hanging ten’ on our iconic ‘surfboard’ instead of bashing our Airforce down with it.

The brainchild of MBS himself Moshe Safdie drew inspiration not from War of the Worlds or the Bible, but rather from the Roman Cardo Maximus, which sounds like a muscle group involved in aerobic exercise, or the name of a potbellied centurion in the Asterix comic books. The same architect is currently heading the ‘Bishan Residential Development’ project, which from artist’s impression images looks like a clash of Greek island living and something you could build in a handheld 8-bit Tetris game.

Bishan of the Future

Santorini meets Tetris

The Esplanade has its critics as well, but the ‘Durian’ has somehow grown on us. MBS is likely to remain lost in its ‘ugly’ ambiguity, either mocked as an incomplete traffic project (broken flyover), an alien-ship berth or an apparatus used in a sport nobody here ever plays. Perhaps we’d be more forgiving if it weren’t housing a casino.

Wen Wen the dolphin dead, age 10

From ‘Dolphin at RWS dies en route to Singapore’, 22 Nov 2012, article in Today online.

Wen Wen, one of the 25 dolphins at Resorts World at Sentosa, died en route to Singapore today.

Marine Life Park has issued the following statement:

We are deeply saddened that Wen Wen, one of our 25 dolphins, died en route to Singapore today. Wen Wen, a male dolphin estimated to be ten years old, died suddenly less than an hour into landing during the three-hour flight. Two marine mammal veterinarians and eight marine mammal specialists accompanying and monitoring the 11 dolphins on the flight responded with emergency medical treatment.

…The Marine Life Park’s four veterinarians have a combined experience of successfully transporting more than 500 marine mammals. The same veterinary team, with a collective experience with marine mammals of over 70 years, as well as the team of marine mammal specialists on the flight, successfully completed our dolphins’ transport to Subic Bay and the recent transport of our 14 dolphins to Singapore.

A necropsy was performed this morning in the presence of AVA officers. Over the next few weeks, further laboratory tests will be conducted in Singapore and the United States to assess any contributing factors.

…Wen Wen was a sociable dolphin that survived a shark attack in the wild and had the scars of a shark bite on his torso. Wen Wen and his trainer had developed a strong bond during their four years together. He will be sorely missed.

Bottlenose dolphins like Wen Wen can live up to 40 years, but if you’re going to spend the rest of your years living the Flipper lifestyle entertaining kids you would want to end your misery early too. The Marine Life Park was quick to emphasise the amount of research and dedicated expert care into ensuring the well being of their stars, as well as hinting that Wen Wen would have been shark fodder if he had not been ‘saved’ from the atrocities of the wild. What the RWS spokespeople fail to mention is how Wen Wen and his Seaworld inmates got into this mess in the first place, or how heavily invested we are in this dolphin-napping operation to not back out now.

27 bottlenose dolphins were captured off the Solomon Islands, of which 25 survived captivity in the Phillippines waiting to be shipped to Singapore (2 died in Langkawi in 2010 following a bacterial infection). They were KIDNAPPED, not invited, adopted, rescued from Jaws nor born out of Dolphin World already equipped with hoop-jumping abilities. In 2009, Senator Jorge Ordorica of Mexico wrote a letter to then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan to think twice about dolphin shows after a dozen died within 5 years of their transport to a Cancun water park. One died from transport-related stress, which is deemed a ‘common occurrence’ and looks very much like what Wen Wen succumbed to in this case. Mexico then proceeded to ban all dealings with cetaceans for entertainment purposes, while our authorities decided to go ahead with its gaudy, expensive oceanarium circus anyway, which the way I see it, was planned to preserve the allure of IRs in the event of loss of interest in the casinos.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had dolphins suffering or dying in captivity. In 2003, an endangered pink dolphin from Sentosa’s Dolphin Lagoon named Jumbo had to have 11 teeth EXTRACTED due to wear and tear, apparently from fighting with another male captive. Earlier in 2001, another pink dolphin Namtam died of acute gastritis. The same Namtam, along with another female named Pann, also had to deal with a tragic miscarriage barely a year earlier. When we first set up the Dolphin Lagoon in the late nineties, the AVA made a ‘clerical error’ in reporting the acquired animals as ‘bred in captivity’ when some were in fact caught from the wild. The SPCA in 2010 judged the size of  the dolphin enclosure at Underwater World to be that of a ‘swimming pool’, too small to accommodate the six dolphins, while the company insisted that it surpassed guidelines. That’s like saying Bedok Reservoir is comfortable enough for the Loch Ness monster.

All this for the sake of a wet and wild showcase that is as campy as training Kai Kai and Jia Jia to ride unicycles while holding paws. You can make one dolphin do more tricks with a football than the entire Lions squad, or get cosy with international superstars like Mariah Carey in 2000. The singer reportedly refused to get off her plane like a spoilt brat while demanding to frolic with the Sentosa darlings.

Mimi emancipated

So it’s not just ‘homesickness’ that dolphins have to deal with while keeping our kids entertained. They fight, they suffer strange diseases and they deliver stillborns. According to a Today writer and a fan of ‘The Cove’, more than half of all captured dolphins die within two years of captivity. But you could argue that animals die prematurely and horribly in captivity all the time, in the zoo, or a lab and that it’s easy to get riled up about dolphins because they’re ‘almost human’. This Wen Wen incident, like shark’s fin soup, will be divided between animal lovers and people accusing animal lovers of being hypocrites. Nobody goes to the aid of the guinea pig getting paralysed in a botched experiment, or the monkey forced to wear a tutu for a busking hobo. ACRES was deathly silent about the thousands of sheep flown here for ritual korban slaughter. Maybe sheep just aren’t smiley enough.

Putting aside arguments from a compassionate standpoint or how sentient dolphins really are compared to bunnies in a cage, or whether they’re really smiling or being ironic when they splash about to Katy Perry music, perhaps we should talk about ‘necessity’ instead. Do we need this so much that we’re willing to let some animals suffer for it? Is science worth drilling a monkey’s brain for? How about tourism dollars? Seeing a child with terminal illness or the disabled pet a dolphin on the nose? Will Mariah Carey ever set foot on our shores again without dolphins? What can I get out of Marine Life Park that I won’t out of National Geographic on cable? Is there anything less controversial that I can use to replace vulnerable cetaceans? A giant squid that predicts football results perhaps?

If we can achieve the drastic result of banning sharks’ fin from supermarkets and hotels, we can also put pressure on unnecessary ‘dolphinariums’ that really serve to bolster casino earnings and pander to megastar fantasy rather than to ‘educate’ the public or contribute to ‘conversation efforts’. If 100,000 petitioners won’t do the trick, hopefully one shocking, and jarringly for RWS – embarrassing, loss of life would sound the death knell of this aquatic circus-prison once and for all. As I would turn to our PM Lee and say, losing a Dolphin Park  is not the ‘be-all and end-all’ of the entertainment/tourist/marine industry. A backflip at this point of the project and slowly re-introducing the animals back into the wild may well be the respectable thing to do without compromising the rest of the less adorable marine attractions. The IRs are already contributing to human suffering, let’s not drag other mammals into our moral decline too.

Jewel of Pangaea most expensive cocktail in Asia

From ‘Local club unveils Asia’s most expensive drink’, 15 Sept 2012, article by Nicholas Yeo, Today online.

Local club Pangaea and luxury jeweller Mouawad unveiled Asia’s most expensive cocktail at an exclusive showcase at Marina Bay Sands on Friday evening. The drink, dubbed “The Jewel of Pangaea“, costs S$32,000 a glass, and is targeted at a rarefied clientele that enjoys the art of cocktail mixing.

The Jewel of Pangaea is mixed by award-winning master mixologist Mr Ethan Leslie Leong, who has over 18 years of experience in the industry and is reknown for his work as director of bar operations at the Maison Ikkoku cocktail bar on Kandahar Street. The cocktail is infused with gold-flecked Hennessey brandy, a hickory smoke-infused sugar cube, 1985 vintage Krug champagne and garnished with a Mouawad Triple X 1-carat diamond.

…At the event, Leong prepared the drink for the first time and presented it to Ms Sabrina Ault, owner and creative director of Pangaea. She said, “The Jewel of Pangaea is not just a drink, it’s an experience – the spirit of Pangaea in a glass.”

The ‘spirit’ of MBS elite club Pangaea is of course the appreciation of the finer things in life in the most obscenely exorbitant manner possible. Opened in 2010, this exclusive lounge is not ashamed to admit their preference for ‘the well-travelled and discerning set, celebrities, CREATIVE types, models and, of course, the rich and famous’ as their clientele. In their mission statement, not only do they aim to be the most ‘thrilling’ ultra lounge in the world, they also cater to those who only ask for the very best, meaning if you ‘drive a Ferrari’ or ‘fly a private jet’. For a brand that makes reference to a prehistoric super-continent, the appeal of Pangaea is anything but Stone Age, though someone like me who wouldn’t meet their criteria of an ideal customer  may be barred from entering for resembling too closely a Flintstone. I suspect Pangaea is not so much about the element of ‘jetsetting’ than it describing the age of some of the stuff they put into cocktails to justify the ridiculous prices.

One could make any beverage cost 30k by ‘garnishing’ it with expensive jewellery, even if precious stones add no flavour whatsoever to a cocktail. You could surprise your spouse on your wedding anniversary with a diamond ring tucked within the mint leaves of her Mojito and declare that it was the most expensive drink on the menu, provided she doesn’t choke on it first.  Gold flakes used to be something people adorn their clothes , hair or love letters. If you’re a Pangaea regular however, you eat precious metal just for the sake of eating it, not that it’s tasty or nutritious, but because you could afford it. I bet Pangaea’s toilet rolls are lined with cashmere from albino mountain goats and you wash your hands or flush with ‘sparkling’ water imported from the Alps. Even the complimentary nuts may be seasoned with the finest Baltic Sea Salt money can buy, and perhaps served in an oyster shell complete with mother-of-pearl. What’s missing is just the stack of dollar bills for you to light your vintage cigars with.

A ‘mixologist’ is a fancy term for an ‘accomplished bartender’, where you create your own award-winning drinks instead of sticking to a bar menu. It’s like how an ‘illusionist’ is more celebrated than a parlour-trick magician. Take away the accessories from the Jewel and you’re left with a sweetened champagne-brandy mix, nevermind that something as simple as a flaming sugar cube is described as if it were Peking duck. Of course, you can’t leave any simple ingredient unnamed without some history and scarcity behind it. A Mint leaf has to be ‘Louisville grown’, and your ice must be sourced from a 10,000 year old glacier (FACT!). Your blackcurrants must come from the FOREST, your honey from WILDFLOWERS, and somewhere in that ‘infusion’ must be an extract of some BARK. No wonder you have names like Pangaea; the ingredients are stuff our foraging cavemen ancestors used to pick too.

‘Jewel’ also appears to be inspired by the 35,000-pound  ‘Flawless’ drink served at uber-rich club Movida in 2007, which contains gold leaf, Cristal Rose champagne, Louis XII cognac and a white diamond ring at the bottom. No it’s not an ‘experience’ in a glass, it’s a rich-man’s aquarium in a glass. If I wanted a diamond ring I’ll go to a jewellery shop, rather than via the round-about way of getting my hands on it only after poisoning my liver with spirits named after dead French emperors and swallowing gold at a snobs’ party where you can’t tell if someone has a genuine ‘stiff upper lip’ or one injected with collagen. But then again, time is what rich people have in spades anyway.

Jewellery-drinks are stupefyingly crass and an insult to beverage artisans who believe that the ‘finest ingredients’ don’t necessarily have to come from halfway around the world, or from the ground remains of some famous rapper’s gold dentures. The Jewel makes the Singapore Sling look like raspberry flavoured throat gargle in comparison, and although the price of it shouts ‘high-end’, it’s hard not to label this concoction as flashy and shallow, like a Playboy mansion party or a gaudy Las Vegas casino. You don’t need to be a mixologist to create something vulgar (but less costly) right in your kitchen: Get some brandy and champagne leftover from last year’s Xmas hamper, sprinkle in gula melaka, young coconut juice (YOUNG, mind you) and finish off by dropping your mother’s engagement ring into the bottom. Instant atas-ness achieved. Incidentally, there’s a luxury cocktail called ‘The Red Ruby’, which contains pomegranate liqueur, cognac, vodka, champagne and, you guessed it, an ACTUAL RUBY. I prefer mine with coconut milk, sago and chestnuts wrapped in gelatin.

Hawker gambler glamorised by media

From ‘Media hype over MBS winner glamorises gambling’, 12 Nov 2011, Voices, Today

(Sebastian Tan Gee How): …While I am happy that Ms Choo Hong Eng will get her S$416,742.11 winnings from Marina Bay Sands, and even happier that she has decided to donate half to charity, I am worried that too much hype and attention has been accorded to her case.

Already, we are grappling with the real problem of elderly persons gambling away their (or their children’s) hard-earned money at the casinos. Surely such publicity would make it more “attractive” for them to try gambling. I can imagine the elderly persons now telling their family members and friends, who may be trying to dissuade them from gambling, that it is possible to “get rich” by citing Ms Choo’s example.

I urge the media to stop their reporting of Ms Choo, which has inadvertedly “glamorised” gamblers like her.

( The following photo was published in ST on the same day this forum letter appeared)

The most guarded piece of paper in the country

Vegetarian hawker Choo has become a minor celebrity not so much of her claimed generosity (will anyone actually check that she puts the money where her mouth is?), but because this saga is a classic  biblical trope of small-time folk hero battling the odds to smite a Goliath in the casino business.  If she weren’t a hawker but a rich man’s wife, we’d probably wouldn’t care so much. Justice may have been served, but this admittedly over-sensationalised rags to riches story, including an elaborate background of hardship as an orphan (could there be a Jack Neo autobiographical movie in the making?) is exactly the kind of news that people lap up, because it gives us HOPE, makes us ENVIOUS, and for those in the anti-casino camp, a satisfying dollop of just deserts (though $400K means nothing to MBS; they have been reported to make $11 million a DAY).

What the media is selling isn’t MBS or gambling per se, but a narrative that Singaporeans would all sympthatise with, one that celebrates the triumph of humility and good over evil i.e the papers are just selling themselves. It was geared to tug at our emotions, and for all this ‘victory for the common people’ and how Choo seemingly deserved her fortune for doing good deeds most of her life, it doesn’t dispel the irony of the other deliberately subdued lesson here; that one can strike it rich by sheer luck, whether you’re rich or poor, especially if you’re kind-hearted by nature. The fact is, for every good hawker who strikes a lottery, there are plenty others like her living on a prayer at the brink of bankruptcy, no matter how active they have been doing charity or saving people’s lives, waiting for the day of their divine reward to arrive in the form of a highly improbable alignment of numbers, jackpot icons or rolls of the die. These people will continue to wait, and hope, or take a shot at the MBS, with or without Choo’s story being blared all over the media.

What’s really underplayed here is whether MBS will be penalised for trying to pull the wool over a patron’s eyes and deny payouts, which could help take some of the limelight off Choo, maybe even dissuade gamblers from patronising a casino with a reputation of cheating their customers. Instead, it’s likely the reverse has already happened, judging by the recent reports of MBS daily takings. But gambling influence aside,  the flip side of such publicity is that Choo probably has to sleep with one eye open for a while, and even if her story reveals a no-nonsense feisty character about her, the very fact that she’s an ordinary person, doing an ordinary job, does put her and her family in an unnerving, and quite unnecessary, spotlight.  If I were in her shoes, the first thing I’d buy for myself would be a bodyguard. THEN donate everything to ‘charity’. I would also change my mobile number in case some long lost friend in need suddenly calls to ‘see how I’m doing’.

You don’t physically need a casino, or journalists, to ham up gambling as a glamourous lifestyle. Back in 1993, a certain SBC blockbuster called the ‘Unbeatables’ was aired, a blatant copy of Hong Kong’s God of Gamblers series, complete with flying cards and slow motion, close-up  dice rolls. This spawned parts 2 and 3, as well as a new generation of high-roller drama called ‘the Ultimatum’, with good-looking leads in opulent settings, throwing in some gun-totting intrigue, romance and overblown card tricks for good measure to complete the allure of the casino universe.  I’m sure none of the producers or actors are losing sleep over the casino problems we’re facing currently, but Choo’s life story blends in well with any of the synopses of these dramas. Let’s all hope her tale ends here on a happy note.

How can anyone watch this poker-faced?

SLA director cheating the Authority of $11.8 m

From ‘SLA staff member charged with fraud of $11.8 m’, 28 Oct 2011, article by S Ramesh in Channel News Asia website.

A senior staff member of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is facing 249 charges of cheating the Authority of $11.8 million. 40-year-old Koh Seah Wee was charged on June 25. He is alleged to have conspired with two others, Lim Chai Meng and Ho Yen Teck to cheat the Authority.

He did so by awarding network maintenance contracts to various companies. Koh was a deputy director with SLA’s Technology and Infrastructure Department and his level of approval allowed payments to be made to these shell companies. No work was done to fulfil the contracts.

According to some charge sheets, payments were made in amounts ranging from $25,000 to $60,000. Koh also faces several charges of using his ill-gotten gains to buy cars and properties. The charges said that Koh had used the money to pay for a Lamborghini, Mercedes Benz cars, acquire property at Axis@Siglap along East Coast Terrace, and purchase various unit trusts.

What would you do if you were a fraudster who has managed to embezzle your organisation and turn into a multi-millionaire overnight? Why, spend it in the most extravagant, least discreet way possible of course. Instead of harping on the integrity breach and betrayal of public trust, and considering my lack of experience in cheating people of their money and analysing scam methodologies, here’s a brief history and profile of local high-profile swindle cases and how these con-men (CEOs, monks, principals) squander their spoils, from cars to private jets, casinos , mistresses and even gold-plated bathroom fittings.

1)  Just a day after this piece of news, an ex-M1 account manager was charged for ‘criminal breach of trust’ and ‘money laundering’ by stealing handsets and creating bogus subscription contracts. He then spent his loot on luxury watches including a $50,000 Patek Philippe watch, three Rolex watches worth $8,000 each and Audemars Piguet watches worth between $15,000 and $30,000 each. He also bought Porsches and invested $300,000 in Metalgraces, a sci-fi movie for Hollywood (Ex-staff jailed 6 years for embezzling $2 million, Sg Yahoo news). A Google search revealed nothing about this project.

2) Businesses aside, even school principals get their fingers dirty as well. A former Maris Stella High School principal took $148,540 between May 2004 and September 2009 from the school’s account. The money was spent on a ‘relative’s overseas school trips’ and ‘other supplementary lessons’. Such misplaced, criminal ‘altruism’ was committed even by monks (see below Ren Ci saga)

3) In what’s touted as Singapore’s biggest corporate heist to date, ex finance manager of Asia Pacific Breweries Chia Teck Leng took off with $117 million from foreign banks over 4 years from 1999. His ill-gotten fortunes were spent taking private jets to Crown Casinos in Australia, or ‘high roliing’ on Star Cruises, to feed a gambling addiction. Part of the money was also spent on abetting a 22 year old China national lover to use a forged passport to enter Singapore. Compulsive gambling was also the impetus behind customer service officer Chong Seah Wee’s ripping off his employer HSBC of $12.6 million over 5 years (1997-2002). Ironically he was caught based on suspicious winnings from 4D (over $20 million from Singapore Pools)

4) Charities are not immune from fraud either. In the NKF saga of 2004, CEO T T Durai splurged on first-class flights, gave himself the infamous $600,000 ‘peanuts’ annual salary (in addition to bonuses) and installed a golden tap in an executive bathroom, perhaps taking the King Midas fable a touch too seriously. In 2009, founder and CEO of Ren Ci hospital the venerable Shi Ming Yi was found guilty of misappropriating $50,000 to his aide Raymond Yeung for his own ‘personal’ use.

3) In 2000, Cabin crew supervisor Henry Teo Cheng Kiat cheated SIA of a $35 million dollars over 13 years by misappropriating payroll funds, spending the money on the ‘high life’: Seven private properties for which he paid about $6.5 million; a Mercedes-Benz C200 and BMW 728; jewellery and branded watches worth $1.85 million; an array of designer goods; and five-star hotel accommodation in Kuala Lumpur at least once a month

4)  ‘White-collar’ crime as we know it today existed in a more rudimentary form in the early 20th century. Assistant manager and cashier Tan Boon Kiah of Hai Tong Bank and Insurance co swiped $100,000 between the months of Oct and Nov in 1934 (Charges against Tan Boon Kiah, 7 Dec 1934) Needless to say that in the 1930′s this was an enormous sum of money, though the methods were primitive by today’s standards (Tan just took money from the safe). But that’s what modern corporate scams really are, just a roundabout, hoodwinking way of taking someone else’s money i.e stealing.  Calling it a ‘criminal breach of trust’ is sugar coating it.

So, no one is immune to temptation by fraud, not even monks, and you don’t even need to be a manager or director with key responsibilities to pick your employer’s pockets. Extravagance aside, the biggest corporate scam artists also happen to be compulsive gamblers (both are high risk-taking activities), which means casinos and Singapore Pools are unwittingly flushed with dirty money, and the absolving of all responsibility on the part of the gaming industry when it comes to such crimes needs to be questioned. Some culprits don’t even do it out of greed, instead taking the heat for a fellow man, for all the wrong, and rather bewildering, reasons. But what’s intriguing is how nobody reports about tracing money spent at high-end restaurants, which suggests that going on a binge-spree at random Michelin-rated restaurants around the world could be one possible way to cover the ‘scent of money’. Another dispersion trick is to give each relative of yours (provided they don’t snitch on your sudden wealth) an all-expenses-paid ticket around Europe, or organise a underground elite escort party for all your buddies, or better still, convert all your cash into gold coins and stash it in a giant safe-cum-swimming pool like Scrooge McDuck.

Locals visiting casinos is just an urban legend

From ‘IRs here have not created more gambling addicts:CRA’, 30 July 2011, article by Ng Jung Yng in Today

The presence of the Integrated Resorts (IRs) here has not caused a spike in the number of gambling addicts, said Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) chairman Richard Magnus yesterday, citing a study done by the Institute of Mental Health. Speaking at a question and answer session at the 23rd Singapore Law Review Annual Lecture, Mr Magnus said that the study concluded that gambling addiction numbers before and after the establishment of the IRs remained the same.

What the IRs did, though, was provide “just another avenue for gambling”, said Mr Magnus. He added: “The thinking is that some of these gamblers moved away from the traditional gambling areas and move into casinos.”

…On the call for greater transparency with regard to the number of Singaporeans entering the casinos, Mr Lau (Peet Meng, CRA Chief Executive) agreed that this could be looked into. “It is … probably one of the aspects of the (Casino Control) Act (that) we need to look at more carefully, which is the legality of the information and how the information shared can be used,” he said.

But Mr Magnus reiterated: “I can perhaps give you the assurance that the local urban legend that quite a number of our locals or PRs frequent the casinos … is just a legend.”

‘Legality of the information’? It’s a simple statistic, Mr Magnus. The number of locals visiting casinos can be obtained by counting the number of paid levies, nobody’s asking for the IDENTITY of the people gambling. If the likes of the CRA is reluctant to reveal such information, you will have the casino pundits themselves telling all kinds of stories, like how 3% of Singaporeans have visited the casino. According to the MCYS’s response to MP Terry Lee’s request for a levy breakdown, the answer was ‘about 70 million as of 10 May 2010′ (RWS opened in Feb 2010, MBS April 2010), an astounding figure, even if you consider repeat visitors.

What is so scary about curious Singaporeans or hardcore gamblers visiting our own IRs that it must be labelled an ‘urban legend’? Urban legends are usually dark, gruesomely implausible tales like eating monkey brains, or HIV positive women going around sticking infected needles into men at Zouk, not Singaporeans lurking in casinos and contributing a quick 70 million in levies while at it.  If the very thought of locals patronising the IRs is so horrifying why bother imposing a 30% limit on locals and why not just ban us from entering totally? And what is the CRA doing making a statement that seems to be defending the impact of the casinos on our gambling addicts? Could it be because without the casinos, there would be no, gulp, CRA jobs to speak of? It is regrettable that instead of looking at the broader picture, of how gambling is affecting us on a whole, a respected statutory institution like CRA is telling us ‘Hey, it’s not our fault gamblers are jumping off buildings, look at 4D and the EPL’. Fine, after all they are just the CASINO regulatory authority, not the GAMBLING regulatory authority. Which leaves it to the professionals treating the disease to make a stand (See below, Don’t take gamblers’ SOS lightly, 30 July 2011, ST Forum)

(Dr Tan Hwee Sim, Dr Thomas Lee Kae Meng): BASED on our clinical experience in treating problem gamblers, we think it is a grave misconception to believe that ‘while the gamblers may sound desperate, they actually pose a low suicide risk and are more impulsive than anything else’, as Wednesday’s article (‘Help I’m in debt’) noted, quoting counsellors and suicide experts.

Elevated rates of suicide attempts among problem gamblers are well established. For example, a 2002 study on treatment-seeking pathological gamblers reported that 49 per cent had a history of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. In a more recent local study published in the Singapore Medical Journal this year, 17.2 per cent of help-seeking gamblers had a history of suicide attempts.

The risk of suicide among gamblers is exacerbated by the high levels of impulsiveness, as well as depression and other substance abuse, which are often reported in association with gambling disorders.

We have managed many cases of people suffering from gambling disorders who have attempted suicide or have had serious suicidal thoughts.

Could the CRA and these doctors be looking at the same study but focusing on different outcomes? Neither of them really addressed the important question: ‘Has the introduction of IRs led to an increase in suicides or suicidal behaviour in gambling addicts’? Not an easy question to answer, obviously, but let’s look at what the study actually reported (Are the demographics and clinical features of pathological gamblers seeking treatment in Singapore changing? SMJ, 2011):

Soccer betting is tops

Cohort 1 consists of the first 150 gamblers who sought treatment from IMH since the launch of its national addiction management service (NAMS) over a period of 4 years, while Cohort 2 consisted of the last 150 patients from 2006 to 2008 (2 years). A few problems here, firstly, ”suicide attempts’ but not ‘suicidal behaviour or thoughts’ were considered as a variable in assessing patient co-morbidities, and this only takes into account addicts SEEKING HELP, omitting an unknown number of addicts out there keeping mum about their condition. But more importantly, the casinos only opened 2 YEARS LATER in 2010.

So, if Mr Magnus was referring to this IMH study, it would be misleading to conclude that ‘gambling addiction numbers before and after the establishment of the IRs remained the same’, when the IRs weren’t even in existence when this study was conducted. What does ‘gambling addiction numbers’ mean anyway? ‘Remained the same’ itself is a bold claim. In scientific parlance it’s preferable to use ‘no statistically significant change’, especially in  scientific papers published by IMH clinicians, and making a statement like that is just prompting skeptics to ask more hard questions.  If anything, this study does imply that soccer betting is on the rise, but I doubt anyone is looking into this, probably because you can’t do anything about it short of banning all television, radio and internet broadcasting of football matches and putting Singapore Pools out of commission. But someone needs to call out Richard Magnus and ask exactly what study he was referring to to support his claim, as I couldn’t find the said publication online myself.

So much for the academics giving much insight, what do politicians have to say about this then? Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, expressed concern about the ‘social effects’, citing the boom in ‘moneylenders offering quick cash/loans’ (Grace Fu voices concern over effects of casinos, 29 July 2011, Today). MP Charles Chong was also a ‘little bit concerned’ if MBS were to expand its business. Nothing much on suicides either, or impact on immediate families, something that is often neglected when dealing with not just gamblers, but ANY addict. Concern is not good enough, PAP. You are the People’s Action Party, not the People’s Concerned Party, and someone needs to put his foot down on the tail of the Road Runner that is the IRs and get some basic data out, before we’re hit by an unsuspecting wave of addiction morbidity and suicides if the industry and the regulatory authority both insist on whitewashing their statistics.

The most telling data in my opinion, in light of all this fudging round, is from this table below from the Samaritans of Singapore, where one sees a clear jump in ‘loan shark’ and ‘gambling’ problems between April 2010 and March 2011. It’s not yet a ‘statistic’ because nobody wants to apply scientific rigor to this data. But here is what I would like to know: Number of people who need help for problems directly or indirectly related to the IRs. It’s not that hard to probe callers for this sort of information, and they may even divulge it willingly. I believe part of the answer may lie with the Samaritans, and the likes of MCYS and NCPG should look into this if they are genuinely ‘concerned’ about Singaporeans.


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