Lui Tuck Yew disappointed with train disruptions

From ‘Transport Minister Lui disappointed with train disruptions’, 23 Jan 2014, article in CNA

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew expressed his concern and disappointment with the recent spate of disruptions on the SMRT rail network during a meeting with the operator’s CEO and senior management on Thursday.

He was also briefed on the status of the ongoing investigations and SMRT’s preliminary findings on these incidents. Mr Lui said: “I share the frustrations of train commuters affected by these incidents, and I empathise with them on the anxiety and uncertainty that they may experience.

“I am also very concerned about SMRT’s service recovery efforts, particularly in reaching out to affected commuters promptly and keeping them updated during these incidents.”

Minister Lui has been ‘concerned’ and ‘disappointed’ before. In 2011 he expressed the same emotions about the N-S line breakdown which had someone resorting to breaking a window with a fire extinguisher. He told SMRT chairman Koh Yong Guan that he held the board and the management team ‘responsible for making it right’. 3 years later, it looks like disappointment alone won’t cut it anymore. Koh Yong Guan is STILL board chairman, and unless our minister has forgotten all about the pledge to uncover the ‘root cause’ in 2011, perhaps it’s time ultimatums are issued instead of second chances and tame euphemisms for ‘pissed off’.

Disappointment is shaking your head and walking away, and it has been a favourite tone adopted by some our ministers whenever someone upsets them. Lim Swee Say, for instance, was disappointed when DBS retrenched workers in 2008. S Jayakumar was surprised and ‘disappointed’ with accusations by Malaysian officials over the Pedra Blanca incident a year earlier. Disappointment is a mother telling her kid nicely that he’s an utter failure, but still loves him anyway. It’s time to slam your fists and up the ante, Lui Tuck Yew. Even your name rhymes with a classic expression that should have been thrown at SMRT a long time ago. They’ve had their chance to redeem themselves, but not only have they struggled to set things right, they even managed to convince the PTC that they deserve their fare hike.

There’s no shame in telling SMRT how you really feel to show Singaporeans that you mean business. Try DPM Teo’s expression of ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with the ICA checkpoint lapse and MFA trespass. Or DPM Wong Kan Seng being ‘totally appalled and flabbergasted’ following the ICA passport mix up in 2008. K Shanmugam recently revealed that he was ‘terribly upset and offended’ by what Anton Casey posted on Facebook. If you want SMRT to wake the Tuck up, you have to take it on a personal level beyond tepid ‘disappointment’, that you’re upset, furious, bloody disgusted and that such breakdowns are totally UNACCEPTABLE. It will even help you score brownie points for the next election, even if chances are nothing’s going to happen to the SMRT board anyway.

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Seng Han Thong’s nightmare before Christmas

From ‘MP Seng not racist, says Shanmugam’, 25 Dec 2011, article by Teo Wan Gek, Sunday Times

…During a Channel NewsAsia programme Blog TV, which aired on Monday, Mr Seng made a comment which some found to be racist. He was asked about the lack of communication with passengers during the evening peak-hour breakdown of MRT trains last Thursday.

In his response, he misquoted an SMRT officer, who had earlier said: ‘Our staff at the stations and in the trains may not be making sufficient announcements and also good enough announcements. And that’s because our staff of different races, it could be Malay, Chinese, or Indians or any other race, they sometimes find it difficult to speak in English.’

But Mr Seng, when rebutting the officer’s comments, mentioned only Malay and Indian train drivers. He later clarified that he misheard the SMRT officer’s remarks, which he had heard over radio while driving.

…Mr Seng has since apologised for his remarks.

It’s Christmas Day, and instead of government officials sending well wishes or attending to holiday ‘ponding’, they’re spending time on damage control over an MP’s blooper, or Freudian slip, whatever critics want to call it. A driver who’s unable to calm passengers in the midst of an emergency breakdown is a victim of inadequate training, drills and SOPs. As an organisation with a rigid mastery over templates, surely there should be some standard announcements in place to aid anxious train drivers during disruptions.  This is all just one finger-pointing and tactless blame-shifting after another between various MPs, an SMRT vice president named Goh Chee Kong, and train drivers . If this incident and Desmond Choo’s backfired sexist anecdote tells us anything, it’s that politicians need to stop paraphrasing totally, or learn how to use the disclaimer ‘I quote’ or read excerpts out loud from pieces of paper instead.

In Seng’s defence, he seems to suggest that ‘broken English’ is OK when desperate times call for it, which runs counter to the efforts of our Speak Good English campaign, that lapsing into sub-par English is our ‘default’ setting in stressful situations, while putting on Good English politeness for mundane things such as telling someone that you need to ‘excuse yourself’ for the washroom is expected of us.  In fact, broken English/Singlish, by doing away with time-wasting grammatical formalities, would be ideal in a situation where every second counts and sounding professional should be the least of your worries. The problem is speaking English of any sort, whether broken or of the pristine BBC standard, isn’t very useful when one considers elderly passengers who would be more prone to fainting spells or injuries in the event of a disruption, in which you would have to depend on good Samaritans to do the necessary translation, provided of course that the driver is relaying the right instructions, and that passengers are not busy smashing windows for air in panic. You can bet SMRT will not be happily celebrating their annual Xmas dinner, despite earning the title of the year’s biggest turkey. Even if there was some form of celebration, you can bet no one wants to be caught pants down being treated like a pharaoh like CEO Saw Phaik Hwa in a previous DnD. You probably wouldn’t see the Dim Sum Dollies providing the night’s entertainment as well.

Seng Han Thong’s faux pas is mild compared to the remark on Indians by ex-MP and soon to be convict (twice) Choo Wee Khiang, whose atrocious joke on skin colour qualifies as true racism.  But being labelled a racist and trolled online isn’t the worst that this man has suffered. In Jan 2009, MP Seng was literally FLAMED by an assailant whilst attending a community event as Yio Chu Kang GRC MP. He was inflicted with burns on 15% of his body and his attacker was determined to be a 70 year old retired taxi driver who was subsequently admitted to IMH. Even then, not everyone was sympathetic, with some forum users adopting a ‘let this be a lesson to MPs for bullying the elderly‘ tone, adding ‘fuel to the fire’. The MP torcher was even lauded as a ‘courageous hero’ by others.

It appears that MP Seng has a history of drawing the ire of crazy old taxi drivers. Earlier in July 2006, he was punched in the face, again by a 70-plus former cab driver during a Meet the People session. The attacker was reportedly unhappy that his contract was terminated by ComfortDelgro and demanded an answer from his MP. Despite being boxed in the face and suffering the trauma of being burnt alive, this man continues to serve, though he  might be wearing asbestos underwear wherever he goes and have a phobia of blowing birthday candles for the rest of his life.

Merry Christmas everyone.

One man’s breakdown is another’s income opportunity

From ‘SMRT says sorry for its message to cabbies’, 16 Dec 2011, article by Daryl Chin, ST

SMRT has apologised for a message it broadcast to its fleet of taxis yesterday amid the chaos on the subway system. The message, which flashed on its drivers’ screens at about 8pm, read: ‘Income opportunity. Dear partners, there is a breakdown in our MRT train services from Bishan MRT to Marina Bay MRT stretch of stations.’

A photo of the screen – presumably taken by a passenger – soon appeared on social networking site Twitter and spread online, drawing sharp criticism.

‘Bad enough they are raising taxi fares, now they want to cash in on an event that is their fault to begin with,’ said sales assistant Candice Tan, 24, one of the many who tweeted about it.

Attempts to contact the photographer were unsuccessful. The message, presumably sent by SMRT call centrestaff, would have reached all 3,100 taxis in its fleet. An SMRT spokesman said last night: ‘We are sorry for the oversight. Our staff were using a template message, and we have since corrected it.’

Some More Revenue, Taxis!

The second breakdown in a week came after a Circle Line delay the day before. News of the trauma of passengers stuck in tunnels went live before SMRT could even recover from the backlash of its ‘official statement’ fiasco yesterday. Train windows were smashed out of desperation, passengers plunged into darkness and sent on a pitch-black tunnel march between City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut, images which anyone who’s seen the 90′s Sylvester Stallone disaster movie Daylight would find hauntingly familiar. I exaggerated in a previous post that SMRT was keeping silent because of zombie carnage in the train and on platforms, and looking at the state of chaos and the contorted faces of victims in agony, it appears that I wasn’t too far off the mark.

SMRT: Tunnel vision

Seems like SMRT is running out of ‘I’m sorry’ templates too. Here it’s ‘We are sorry for the oversight‘, last night it was:

We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused…Preliminary investigation shows that around 40m of the power rail had been damaged between the City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut stations.

Inconvenience, of course, is a gross understatement, especially if you have passengers gasping for air, resorting to sacrificing fire extinguishers to smash windows to stay alive. One can only guess at the kind of mixed feelings that cabbies would have capitalising on stranded, desperate commuters only too eager to head home after a hard day’s work, although the cruel coincidence of the two incendiary events (MRT breakdown, taxi fare hike) reeks of a backdoor cost-recovery conspiracy on the part of SMRT, which not only has to deal with ticket refunds and whatever damages sustained because of angry, oxygen-deprived mobs, but foreigners sueing them for negligence after having their legs pulverised by trains. Or perhaps so much attention was given to ‘security breaches’ that there were simply not enough people to inspect cables every once in a while. Give me a graffitti-strewn train that gets me to work and home on the dot rather than a squeaky clean one that disgorges passengers into tunnels smack  in the middle of nowhere.

SMRT isn’t the only body exploiting the misfortune of others. Just after the Japanese tsunami in March this year, Mediacorp sent out an email soliciting for advertisers who might be interested in ‘breaking news’ coverage, each 30-second commercial costing $5000. Edwin Koh, Senior Vice President, stepped up to ‘apologise unreservedly if we had been seen to be insensitive to the gravity of the situation’. Note that it could have been either Mediacorp or SMRT who wanted to hush up DJ Hossan Leong for tweeting about the Circle Line fault yesterday as well. But it’s only the amoral nature of business after all, and corporations like these two have been ‘cashing’ in way before the advent of social media, whether we like it or not. Pharmaceutical giants ‘cash in’ whenever there’s an outbreak of disease, weapon manufacturers in the event of war, and likewise a swarm of passengers with nowhere to go is prime catch for cabbies.  Whether you call it ‘good business’ or ‘income opportunity’, the fact of the matter, as it is everywhere else, is that there is always a market for misfortune. It’s just unfortunate that an ‘oversight’ exposed the unfeeling machine that SMRT really was all along. So much for ‘MOVING people, ENHANCING lives’ as its motto boasts, when it has done the exact opposite these past few days.

Tsunami=Income opportunity

Let’s not forget another player in the grand scheme of things; ComfortDelgro for raising fees in the first place, after which we’ve seen wave after wave of sociopathic behavior occurring, from old men vandalising taxis, to graffitti on taxi panels about how we’re like ‘donkeys’ and always ‘Pay and Pay’, and the most ‘Grand Theft Auto’ of them all, a Trans cab taxi going on a hit-and-run rampage across town. Police blamed it on DRUGS, naturally. Maybe it’s the same drug that the SMRT spokespeople have been taking these couple of days, one that depletes every ounce of empathy in your body. Then again, according to writer/film-maker/lawyer Joel Bakan, corporations  are inherently self-interested psychopaths, with one of the traits being a ‘callous unconcern for the feelings of others’. A big, fat ‘Check’.

Nobody died during the shutdown last night (though it was reported that one fainted), but if there’s anybody that should be ‘apologising unreservedly’ it should be an actual PERSON, not the epitome of insincerity  in the form of the collective ‘WE’, crafting a response with the cut-and-paste dexterity as one garbles swill from random leftovers for pigs. The only trait that separates a chief mafioso from a company head in the context of exploiting tragedies for personal profit is that the gangster never needs to apologise.  This is how conspiracy theorists would view this situation: If you’re stuck with a cure (fare hikes to alleviate cabbies’ miserable takings) which nobody wants to take, then you have to create the disease (train failures). The truth is ‘shit happens’, but adding to the stink with a ‘template oversight’ is just ‘full of it’.

We want to see a sorry face, not a sorry excuse for an answer.

Postscript: And here’s SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa’s ‘very, very sorry face’ during a press conference later in the day. Isabella Loh must be thanking the heavens she never got into a seat as hot as this.

CEOs can resign, it is whether they choose to

Occupy Raffles Place is a joke

From ‘Only a handful turn up for planned protest in Singapore’, 16 Oct 2011, article by Amanda Tan, Sunday Times

The bravado for a planned protest at Raffles Place on Saturday afternoon fizzled out after fewer than 20 people turned up over several hours at the spot where it was supposed to have taken place. Occupy Raffles Place, a protest modelled after its Wall Street counterpart, was intended to be a ‘peaceful movement’ to demand accountability and change, said its unidentified organisers, who launched the campaign on social networking site Facebook earlier this month.

They argued that the ‘wealth of 99 per cent’ of Singaporeans is in the hands of ’1 per cent’ – Temasek Holdings and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. Organisers said they planned to march towards SGX Centre after meeting fellow protesters at the open space outside Raffles Place MRT Station. But the police warned the public last week against taking part in the protest, as it is considered unlawful.

…Despite the online chatter, only curious onlookers – most of them foreigners and armed with cameras – had gathered by 2pm on Saturday, the time when the event was to start. Members of the media made up more than half of those present. No placards or banners could be seen. Nor did anyone step out to identify themselves.

Instead, the organisers hid behind their Facebook and Twitter accounts, posting messages such as ‘We should try this again on Monday morning?’ and ‘Where is everyone right now?’ At about 3.30pm, they declared it a ‘no-show’ and said that they were ‘heading to #OccupyOrchardRoad’.

Eventually, as netizens labelled the event a ‘joke’, they posted a note in the evening saying: ‘Those who have come out today to show your support for the occupation, you were heroes. It means an awful lot to be courageous men and women.’

Everyone is occupied

There are a few reasons why OccupySG turned out to be a failure, not least because the police were keeping an eye on this (it applies everywhere else in the world where people gather to make some noise), but for what I propose to be the following:

1. Who are the 99% exactly? 99% is a bold statistic but what does this really mean? Do Temasek and GIC really hold 99% of the wealth of all Singaporeans? Or did it fail because a sizeable portion of us are already relatively well-off (according to Bloomberg, 15.5% of Singaporean households draw ‘millionaire’ incomes) and lack the motivation to protest about wealth distribution?99% of what? According to the we are the 99% blog,

They are the 1 percent. They are the banks, the mortgage industry, the insurance industry. They are the important ones. They need help and get bailed out and are praised as job creators. We need help and get nothing and are called entitled. We live in a society made for them, not for us. It’s their world, not ours. If we’re lucky, they’ll let us work in it so long as we don’t question the extent of their charity.

We are the 99 percent. We are everyone else.

It appears that EVERYONE else is either jobless, has no money to pay hospital bills, can’t afford a university education or the monthly mortgage, i.e 99% of us are discontent. And therein lies the problem of this movement. 99% is just one of those catchy, easy to remember, mantras plucked out of thin air which you can’t apply any scientific rigour to, coined to create a bloated sense of us-vs-them solidarity. The actual percentage of victims (if that can even be defined) is more likely to include at least 2 decimal points.  It’s like perspiration when one talks about what  ‘Genius’ consists of (99% perspiration, 1% inspiration according to Thomas Edison).  In fact there’s a correlation between the two; maybe ’99%’ 0f us work our butts off to just get by, while the ’1%’ are the privileged ultra-rich who rely on a mixture of cunning and speculation.  99% is also a popular figure thrown about by biologists to convince us that we’re only 1% different from chimpanzees (We’re not). But seriously, income disparity? Mega-rich running the world? Tell me something I don’t already know. Would the Occupy folks be happy with, say, 50-50?

2. It is over-ambitious. According to the ‘mission’ taken off the OccupySG Facebook page,

Our purpose is to engage the public in this dialogue and make the voices of the people heard. We want national leaders to hear our concerns about ways to remedy the economic injustice and unfair influence the wealthy have over the political system.

We are a peaceful, non-violent resistance movement that aims to encourage people to participate in democracy and use their voices to influence positive change. We are the 99% and our voice will be heard.

Nowhere in the site does it explain how 99% in the Singaporean context was derived.  Is 99% a global figure or exclusive to the US? The mission also appears distorted to suit the organisers’ own political agenda. They continue to lament about bad investment choices by the accused bodies, and boast about ‘creating a new democracy’. Through a FACEBOOK page. If you’re serious about change, you set up a proper website with links to references for your claims,  not whine on social media about why nobody turns up at your event on a Saturday afternoon. You also have to be specific with your demands and pitch the benefit of sacrificing a precious weekend to the ’99%’, which, in this case, there was none. Where is the HOPE in this? What’s in it for ME? What’s the point of all this really? There’s not even curry to make up for the eventual futility of it. ”OCCUPY’ also has an aggressive, war-like, territorial ring to it, as in ‘Japanese OCCUPATION’, which contradicts the organisers’ claims of being a ‘peaceful’ movement. It’s more like OBSTRUCT really, though it’s not so much Raffles Place being barricaded here, but common sense.

3. Nobody takes anonymous activists seriously. Local organisers should take a look at the original OWS website. Creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account without enquiry channels or an actual living person taking charge casts doubt on the dedication of this ‘movement’, and resembles more like flippant bandwagon-jumping similar to other  internet trends like planking, parkour or flash mobs. You can also bet on a higher attendance if someone organised a ‘Save the RWS Dolphins ‘ day, because the result of a successful protest, no matter how unlikely, is clear (No dolphins at RWS). For Occupy, there isn’t a clear objective to fight for, and it seems like protesting just for the sake of it, capitalising on the recent curry saga which, in spite of the national enthusiasm, really achieved little other than serving as a transient reminder to tolerate one another.  In short, you don’t want to risk getting put in jail when the instigators themselves refuse to stand up and lead by example, especially if nobody has the faintest idea of what they expect to see changed from doing this.

4. Targetting the wrong audience. The REAL ’99%’ of downtrodden people who can’t afford three meals a day wouldn’t have a basic internet connection, not to mention have the luxury to maintain a Facebook/Twitter account. Occupy seems to be obsessed with the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, without a clue as to how to handle the ‘just-have-enoughs’, which probably applies to the majority of us, people who live in HDB flats, perhaps own a car if lucky, but can’t afford to risk our livelihoods over the Seinfeld equivalent of a protest i.e a show about nothing.

5. It’s easier to boycott than be an active voice for change. Or to put it another way, short of voting, Singaporeans are mostly passive agents of change. It’s easier (and maybe more effective) to turn down a wedding dinner if the host serves shark’s fin soup than march onto a shark-fishing boat and try to toss finning knifes overboard. It’s easier to cook, or eat from, a pot of curry than to seek permit to organise a forum bringing ethnic groups under one roof to  preach tolerance (in two or more languages). It’s easier to save your money on RWS and stay at home if you think training dolphins for entertainment is cruel. Sometimes, non-action works just as well, if not better, than so called ‘non-violent’ movements. It also has the added benefit of being legal, so if you want to be part of the ‘resistance’ and ‘stick it to the Man’, don’t consume Coke, McDonald’s or buy branded goods, patronise a minimart instead of a hypermart,  and avoid the casinos or even recommending them to your friends from overseas. Collectively, for certain cases of corporate greed at least, we can make a difference from doing nothing rather than holding hands around the Supreme Court  or KFC threatening to light ourselves on fire like crazy martryrs.

Overall, it’s not so much being cowed into submission that Singaporeans are less than enthusiastic about the Occupy movement, in case critics label our lacklustre response as a symptom of oppression or apathy.  Rather, it’s because we have better things to do with our time than ape our Western counterparts by customising the OWS to suit our own selfish agendas. We also do not subscribe to an activist herd mentality and organise  viral ‘movements’ only when ‘everyone else is doing it’, yet keeping silent and minding our business like obedient citizens the rest of the time. And here’s a fun fact: Tin Pei Ling has more followers on Twitter than OccupySG.

But I think the real reason is that 15,000 Singaporeans were ‘occupied’ with something of far greater importance on that very day: The Ben and Jerry’s annual Chunkfest.

#OccupyChunkFest

Subway sues nonya kueh chain

From ‘Sandwich chain Subway sues S’porean company Subway niche’, 5 oct 2011, article by Selina Lum, ST

The American owner of the Subway chain of sandwich shops has sued the boss of local nonya kueh chain Subway Niche for trademark infringement. A two-day hearing into the case began in the High Court on Tuesday.

Subway, owned by Florida-based Doctor’s Associates, has been selling sandwiches since 1967 and has become the world’s largest fastfood chain with 34,891 stores in 98 countries. The American company started legal action after it became aware that Subway Niche has begun selling sandwiches. It contends that there is a real likelihood that the public will be confused by the similar marks.

But Subway Niche sole proprietor Lim Eng Wah says ‘subway’ is a common English word. He also asserts that there is no conceptual similarity. As his first outlet was at the basement of Wisma Atria (in 1987) near the Orchard MRT station, the idea behind his business name was to attract MRT commuters. On the other hand, Subway’s name has its roots in the submarine sandwiches that they sell.

Subway Nicked

As hard as it is to believe that Subway, with its fattening cookies-and-chips sides and high-calorie soda beverages, was founded by an American DOCTOR in the late sixties, the fact remains that the ‘little guy’ Subway niche was here first, while Subway the fast-food-disguised-as-healthy-alternative-deli  launched its first Singapore store in Lau Pa Sat almost 10 years later in 1996 according to the company website. If Subway niche had appeared after the emergence of the American sandwich giant, I probably wouldn’t fault the latter for thinking Niche was trying to pass off as a Subway ‘Lite’. or ‘Express’. Even if both ‘subways’ referred to the same type of submarine sandwich (Niche maintains that their SUBWAY refers to actual location), one may apply the same logic to ‘branded’ everyday words like ‘pizza’ or ‘fried chicken’ and wonder why PIZZA Hut isn’t sueing California Pizza, KFC Texas Fried Chicken, or Delifrance Sushi DELI,  for ‘confusing’ fast food fans. Incidentally, Niche’s sandwiches are triangle-cut and reminiscent of what Mommy packs for her kid’s lunchbox, while Subway’s are 6 to 10 inch sloppy schlongs, symbolic of the hostile, domineering manner in which they’re ramming this lawsuit down their opponent’s throat.

Fast food giant bullying is nothing new, though the chief instigator of lawsuits McDonald’s hasn’t had much success beating down small businesses for adding a Scottish twist to their brand, like the locally produced instant ‘MacTea/MacNoodles’ trademark battle in 2004, or the McCurry embarrassment in KL, 2009. The same argument applied then, that usurping a brand name would cause ‘deceit or confusion’, as if grocery shoppers in a supermarket or teh-tarik drinkers would think of ‘upsizing their Happy Meals’ every time they see an item starting with Mc or Mac, though the prefix ‘Mc’ has been applied not just to actual products but as a journalistic device to describe anything that reeks of the same time-cutting, capitalist mass-production ethos of the fast food chain, like McChurch, McJob and McPhone (McWords according to wikipedia). More recently a beverage paying homage to a beloved hazelnut spread got coffee chain TCC into a McSUIT for bearing the name Nutello.

It would be a sad day for local enterprise and nonya kueh if the B.M.T (Big McTyrant) wins this case. For the price you pay for a standard sub you could watch a movie on a weekday, or feed two stomachs at a hawker centre. Subway, you’ve already conquered the world with SUB-satisfactory light-bite excuses for lunch, beating even McDonald’s who can’t sell salad dressing the way you do. Go pick on someone your own size already.

Postscript: The sandwich giant lost the suit, with the judge citing ‘very little evidence of confusion among consumers’.

Singaporeans are less peeved at work than Indians

From ‘S’pore No. 2 in peeves tally’, 30 Sept 2011, article by Jennani Durai, ST

…Singapore has come in second in a survey of 16 countries tallying the number of pet peeves in the office. In the No. 1 spot was India, according to the findings released yesterday by professional networking site LinkedIn.

The 17,000 survey participants – nearly 1,000 were from Singapore – were given a list of 38 possible pet peeves in the office and told to select all that applied to them. Only one peeve listed – overachievers pandering to the boss – had to do with management.

The peeves ranged from the general, such as loud typing and office pranks, to the specific, from hitting ‘reply all’ on mass office e-mail messages to not reloading a printer when it ran out of paper. Singaporeans’ top annoyance: people not taking ownership for their actions. It was also the No. 1 annoyance picked by 78 per cent of the 17,000 respondents.

Rounding up Singaporeans’ top three gripes were dirty common areas – such as shared microwave ovens or refrigerators – and constant complainers.

…There were also gender differences in the findings. For example, 57 per cent of Singaporean women were bothered by ‘clothing that’s too revealing for the workplace’. But only 29 per cent of Singaporean men surveyed found that to be a problem.

Japanese offices don't celebrate April Fool's

Despite the ubiquitousness of office nuisances, a few interesting  cross-cultural observations can be inferred here: Swedish males have the best office jobs in the world, Americans really make themselves at home in office pantries, Indian workers don’t set their mobile phones on silent mode and you can get demoted in Japan for so much as spamming your boss with email jokes.

‘Taking ownership’ is a relatively recent form of corporate-speak which, in the local context at least, usually refers to the act of taking charge of a certain project or task, people who are the ‘go-to’ guys, or in local parlance ‘champions’, for a specific set of skills or experience, but constantly fail to live up to the position entrusted upon them, either shirking responsibility, delegating others to perform odious tasks, or making excuses to dilly-dally. This, to me, isn’t merely a PEEVE, rather a PESTILENCE. These are toxic colleagues who bring down the morale of the whole team, and are often a hot topic of discussion among culprits of the no 2. pet peeve: Constant complainers. Lazy or irresponsible workers/leaders are a social and occupational hazard in any office, not a trifling annoyance along the line of loud typers or mothers who mollycoddle their kids over the phone. The worst sort of colleagues are really those who are an insufferable combination of the two major peeves of ‘laziness’ and ‘sycophant i.e bosses’ favourite’.

Here’s my own list of office peeves:

1. People who print hundreds of copies of documents while you’re waiting in queue just to print one.

2. People who short-form Best Regards to BR in email

3. Complicated phone handling instructions (call forwarding, recording voice message, retrieving voice mail)

4. Having to change passwords every 60 days

5. Having to correct your bosses’ horrible grammar

6. People who interrupt when you’re having a face to face conversation

7. Track changes in Word documents

8. People who use FYAP, FYIA, or any ‘For Your’ acronyms extending beyond four letters. FYIWTFS (FYI, WTF, seriously)

9. People who ask you to resend them emails because they can’t be bothered to archive their inbox or even think of  search tags

10. Horrible laughter

11. Email trails longer than a script for a short film.

12. A birthday card from the CEO with your name spelled wrong

A similar survey was conducted 4 years ago by Mediacorp’s Media Research Consultants in 2007.

The street poll, conducted at office hotspots Raffles Place, Suntec City and the Orchard Road belt, netted responses from 306 people: 150 comprised males, 113 were below 30 years old and 156 were aged 30 to 49.

Apart from loud talkers, another two top pet peeves were gossiping and people trying to avoid work. In fourth and fifth positions were people peering over one’s shoulder to read what was on one’s monitor, and public reprimands at work, respectively.

Perhaps the advent of instant messaging led to the decline of loud talking or gossiping as pet peeves, with most bitching happening online, though at the risk of not just background surveillance, but people ‘peering over your shoulder’. Such busybody-ness was common even in the desktop-less late eighties when people actually WROTE. Using a PEN. On PAPER.  And people faxed proper acknowledgment forms, signed and dated instead of replying ‘OK’ or ‘Approved’ through email. Lazy workers or bosses rank among the top scourges till this day,  a bane of any results-driven office culture, and HR departments everywhere need to take a long hard look at the survey results because of the number of genuine workers suffering under endorsed incompetence. Someone also needs to conduct a study on how sexy clothing affects work productivity (in particular absentee rate among men) before being judged by envious women as a peeve when it’s really, in light of all other disruptive peeves and provided it’s done in a tasteful manner, more of a pleasant distraction, some might even say motivation, than anything else.

Abercrombie hires only good looking people

From ‘Wrong to hire staff solely on looks’, 27 Aug 2011, ST Forum

(Bryan Chow): IT IS worrisome that the hiring practices of Abercrombie & Fitch have been confined to purely good looks (‘Abercrombie & Fitch on hunt for attractive staff’; Thursday). By choosing to adopt such discriminatory practices, the fashion icon is subscribing to the notion that outward appearance is the key to success.

Idolising the human body should not be institutionalised in any retail outlet. It is wrong for Abercrombie & Fitch to send a message to potential customers and markets that they do not approve of those whom they deem to be less attractive.

The store should understand that its recruitment practices are bound to affect the self-esteem of youngsters and shape their version of the perfect person. We should be trying to nurture a culture where the youth respect one another and are comfortable with who they are and not what society dictates of them.

Should the Government allow such overtly discriminatory hiring practices?

The arguments about job candidates chosen based on being born in a certain way and how unfair this is could go on forever. A n F is a brand renown for its blatant reliance on overt hypersexuality as a selling point. In fact, it’s probably better that A n F is upfront and honest about its criteria rather than wasting the time of unattractive people applying for a position which is basically glorified eye candy.  In spite of how companies like A n F claim to embrace diversity, what really matters, as everyone already knows deep down, is what works for its bottomline, which in this case so happens to be hunks and babes. Work ethic alone doesn’t cut it anymore, because employers have generally  succumbed to the grand illusion that is the ‘first impression’. Much research has been done on how important good looks factor in one’s self-confidence and earning power, and it’s hard to distinguish between cause and effect when it comes to explaining the relative success of attractive or tall people in other jobs in which being beautiful has no apparent relevance to the job at hand, be it law enforcement, business or even politics.

In the case of A n F, if all you need to qualify for the job is a 6 foot frame, a six-pec and a bronze tan, how is this any different from car show organisers  and lingerie makers hiring only lanky models? Why isn’t anyone complaining about the latter then?  Fashion icons engaging in coarse filtering of its staff is nothing new, in fact, you could even say they’re following by example the actions of a respectable public hospital which discriminates openly when it comes to cherry picking staff only of a certain BMI over other traits that make one a good health worker. We all hear of companies , be it public or private, sneakily hiring only family members, members of a certain religious or racial enclave, or fellow immigrants, all of which discriminatory on the basis of staff simply being ‘born this way’, so what’s so shocking or deleterious about hiring people based purely on looks? In fact, one needs to do more work maintaining a figure than simply be recognised by virtue of heredity.

Even if hiring based on superficial attributes is the standard practice here, anyone can even out the competition for ‘face value’ by undergoing cosmetic surgery these days, be it a tummy tuck, rhinoplasty, ab-sculpting or even Lasik if their goal in life is to stand outside the store premises and get ogled at for a living. So, if there are people out there already willing to sell their souls to a lifelong addiction to plastic surgery in exchange for a dream job, A n F’s recruitment policy is merely a drop in the ocean of an increasingly image-driven and self-obsessed society on the downward spiral. You don’t need A n F to foster this harmful ‘perfect’ image, you see it happening for the longest time in books, magazines , film and television.  It explains the booming plastic surgery and self-help industries, blockbuster antidepressants and Tony Robbins. We will continue to be a discontented, envious and chronically imperfect lot, suffering endlessly trying to live up to manufactured ideals, with or without A n F’s hiring practices and their lewd topless Orchard Road posters.

Singaporeans need to have more sex

From Singaporeans want more sex: Survey, 14 July 2011, article by Lin Wenjian, ST

Men here had sex 5.2 times on average per month – even though they would ideally like to be doing it 8.7 times – said a survey commissioned by drug maker Pfizer.

Singaporean women also felt they were somewhat lacking in romantic encounters, although they were slightly less enthusiastic than the men. They had sex 5.5 times per month, but would rather be doing it 7.3 times.

The same pattern emerged across all 10 countries surveyed by Pfizer, which makes erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. Its online poll featured 3,282 respondents sampled at random from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and China.

In Singapore, 301 people – 150 men and 151 women – took part in the survey, which was carried out between October last year and this January. The participants were aged between 31 and 74 and had all had sex at least once in the past year.

The survey showed that, on average, the ‘ideal’ amount of sex is 10.5 times a month for men, and 8.8 times for women.

What a no-brainer. Is there anyone with a sexual experience, assuming that it was a pleasurable one, who actually wants LESS SEX? Or even to be content with a fixed frequency of sex? Note that the survey doesn’t specify sex with WHO, and men being men, being posed anonymously with a question that takes the partner out of the equation, will answer a definite YES, please, for the love of God, can I have MORE SEX! Sponsored by Pfizer, it’s obvious that this has something to do with erectile dysfunction miracle Viagra, leaving readers of this survey with the throwaway pitch that if you allow some sildenafil into your barren, limp life, you could actually achieve your dream of attaining SWINGING LOTHARIO status. I’ve an issue with the age range of the subjects sampled, because these are men LIKELY to need Viagra. There’s even 74 year olds in this for God’s sake. Maybe our teenagers are getting so much sex that if we had included them in the sampling, we’ll average out to be pretty content with our sex lives.

The ST headline on what Singaporeans WISH to have MORE doesn’t reveal anything enlightening. This would be as convincing as saying ‘Singaporeans want more money, or want to travel more, or want peace and quiet’.   It’s disappointing that these sex researchers would give the Asia-Pacific Sexual Health and Overall Wellness study the boring, unsexy AP-SHOW acronym. I was expecting something along the lines of Sexual Health in Asian Geriatrics (SHAG) or Cumulative Length of Impotent Male Appendages having seX (CLIMAX). The result of people desiring more sex appears nowhere in the abstract (see below) of the actual study, which focusses more on the disappointing rate of Asians actually HAVING sex. If you’re not getting laid enough, it’s only natural to want more isn’t it.It’s like asking people wearing glasses if they’d want better eyesight.

Of 3957 (men, n=2016 and women, n=1941) respondents, 41% of men and 34% of women were completely or very satisfied with sex….Erection hardness was associated with increased frequency of sex and importance of and satisfaction with erection-related elements of men’s sexual performance. Approximately half of respondents (men, 57% and women, 47%) were at least moderately interested in improving the sexual experience. Most Asia-Pacific respondents were less than very satisfied with sex. Satisfaction with sex was associated with satisfaction with life priorities. Erection hardness was associated with sexual satisfaction and activity, satisfaction with life priorities and overall health.International Journal of Impotence Research advance online publication, 16 June 2011

So other than concluding with the painfully obvious that you have better sex when you’re hard, there’s nothing subtle about the link here. Viagra increases erection hardness. Hardness increases satisfaction and activity and overall health. Viagra is therefore good for overall health (Isn’t ‘less than very satisfied with sex’ ‘somehwat satisfied’?). If you want a better indicator of how sexed up Singaporeans are, instead of how how their hardness affects ‘life priorities’, take a look at the Durex Global Sex Survey. In 2004, it was revealed that Singaporeans were second last in THE WORLD in terms of having sex (S’pore rises in world sex poll, 13 Oct 2004, Today), and when they do get that rare sex (79 times in a year, or less than twice a week), 4 miserable minutes of it were spent on foreplay compared to the world average of 19.7 minutes. Singaporeans would be sleeping already after 19.7 minutes. Interestingly, we were ahead of Japan, a country known for exporting of sex, and not keeping any for herself. It’s pathetic really, we’re tops in the Busiest anything (Airport, Port), that we’ve no time for decent sex.

In the 2008 Durex Sexual Wellbeing survey (Can’t Get no Satisfaction, 29 April 2008, Today), we were a miserable 23rd out of 26 countries in terms of rate of orgasms attained. 49% of men climaxed during sex, while women came at a shocking 23% of the time. So if you want more useful trivia to entertain at a party, don’t cite a Pfizer study, but a Durex one. We don’t need to know how much sex we WANT, but how much we’re actually getting — compared to EVERYONE else. It all makes sense now,  locals are not having enough babies because we’re not having enough sex and not giving our partners orgasms, and because of the low birth rate, we’re flooded with foreign workers, with whom the need to compete  makes us an ungracious, unhappy lot, which makes us less likely to want to have sex.

SMRT’s $5000 compensation is tragic

From ‘Unfair’, 16 June 2011, ST Forum,  ‘Thai teen’s family sues SMRT for $3.4m’, article by Poon Chian Hui in ST, 18 June 2011.

MR DAVID CHOO: ‘The accident in which Thai teenager Peneakchanasak Nitcharee lost both her legs was tragic. What is equally tragic is SMRT’s meagre offer of $5,000 in compensation when this young girl’s family is faced with medical and rehabilitation costs north of $200,000. In contrast, it is heartening to see ordinary Singaporeans rallying around Nitcharee’s family with donations and support. It is time SMRT did the same.’

(ST)…THE family of the Thai teenager who lost both legs following a horrific accident at the Ang Mo Kio MRT station in April is suing SMRT for $3.4 million. The writ filed in the High Court here was served yesterday on the transport operator, which confirmed that it had received it.

…Although the sum received (from gifts and donations) has crossed the $400,000 mark, it is but a small proportion of her medical bills, spurring the family to take legal action.

Mummy's probably on the phone with a lawyer

This is indeed an awkward juxtaposition of events. Singaporeans rallied around the victim, donating a $250,000 check to cover her medical fees, probably assuming that the $5000 pittance that SMRT’s offering isn’t enough. The  5000 figure happens to be in line with our Government’s tendency to donate sums of money with the number 5 in it, the last donation, which left Singaporeans similarly unimpressed, was towards the victims of the Japanese tsunami. But that’s another story.

What happened to Nitcharee is no doubt tragic, and her will to survive and make light of a horrific situation is worth emulating. But we don’t hear as much of our locals making such donations to the numerous Singaporeans maimed or killed by trains all this while, which raises the question of what makes Nitcharee so special? Is it because she’s just a kid, was all alone in a foreign country or is this generosity triggered by the inspiring tales of her winsome, smiling fortitude in the face of tragedy? Why are we Singaporeans so nice to foreign students but turn a blind eye to our own kind?

We could have left it at that, until this twist in the tale with Nitcharee’s family coming back with a vengeance, undermining everything that Nitcharee represents (overcoming crises and getting on with life), all the loving memories she has of Singapore and all the goodwill expressed by her sympathisers. But how responsible should SMRT be, really, for someone inexplicably falling onto the track? The fact that this suit comes from foreigners and is scrutinised by millions of Thais further complicates the issue, as it would set a worrying precedent for compensation seekers who have been in some way or other incapacitated by an oncoming MRT train, whether it’s being amputated or getting a nasty bruise from the doors clamping the arm when one’s rushing to board. SBS has in fact been successfully sued for causing grievous hurt to one of the infamous complaining Khek sisters for an unnecessary emergency brake, ironically an action, if successful, that could have saved SMRT all this trouble in the first place. If the Thais win this case, instead of merely teaching SMRT a lesson on the importance of safety doors, we could also see a rise in desperate people trying their luck getting hit by a train before these doors become fully implemented.

As a commuter, I’d hate to see SMRT involved in such legal hijinks, nevermind if they could easily afford it. But losing a few million and bracing for more will only put ordinary citizens who take the train faithfully, without fooling around behind the yellow line, at a disadvantage. Now they can justify raising transport fees, or cutting back on the Downtown Line and extra trains, or spend less resources on reducing waiting times, all because these people are busy suing them on behalf of train jumpers/track stumblers. Nitcharee’s case is unfortunate, but I believe the Thai government, and especially Thai donors, should work something out on their side as well. Perhaps a Facebook page to support the funding of Nitcharee’s prosthetic legs? Either way, this is a classic study of a story of unbridled hope and altruism gone sour, and only God knows what Nitcharee’s Singaporean donors are thinking right now.

HSBC staff not giving up reserved seat

From ‘Tit for tat exchange over reserved MRT seats’, 12 May 2011,  article by ‘kaifong’ in Yahoo News sg blog

…Jason Wang, a 63-year-old architect, took to social networking site Facebook to voice his disapproval of the younger man who refused to give up his seat. He also posted a photo, shot with his camera phone, of the seated commuter, who is said to be Joel Liang, 23.

…Liang took to the forums yesterday evening to clear his name. He claimed that he was “on drowsy medication” when he was awakened by somebody tapping his foot with an umbrella. He was also commuting with half his vision as one of his contact lenses had fallen out before his encounter with Wang, and “couldn’t guess his (Wang’s) age at all.”

A couple of lessons to be learnt in the light of social media savvy vigilante uncles such as Jason Wang here. Don’t get caught asleep on a Reserved Seat, or better still, avoid it at all costs. Don’t wear your damn landyard identifying the organisation you work for around your neck wherever you go. And — this applies to both parties — don’t make flimsy excuses over why you need to sit down, with the HSBC culprit taking the cake here with the double whammy of ‘drowsy medication’ and ‘missing one contact lens’. There’s no end really, to the kinds of justifications Singaporeans would give to lay their lazy ass down. Try something new for a change, like ‘I need to take the reserved seat because I suffer from a rare neuromuscular disorder of collapsing rectum if I stand too long’, or ‘I  can’t tell if you’re old or pregnant because I suffer from temporary glaucoma due to fluid rushing abnormally into my eyeballs every time I sit down’.

All this fuss could have been avoided if two situations had occurred. One, Jason Wang had asked nicely without prodding people with his umbrella, and two, someone else around Liang gives up the seat in view of the commotion that this cranky old man must have kicked up. Which doesn’t speak well of everyone involved here; the complainant for directing his rage at HSBC and posting Liang’s photo, the Reserved Seat hogger Liang for not being gracious (or for being a real man for that matter), the rest of the people on board for being complicit in Liang’s fate with HSBC and encouraging his aggressor because they simply didn’t give a damn, SMRT for not relaying the message of Priority seating authoritatively enough, the Dim Sum Dollies for not appearing over the PA anymore to stir these morons awake every 5 minutes or so with their noise, and the insensitive Facebook administrators of the REACH page who could have taken down the photo or at least blanked out Liang’s face instead of allowing the likes of Jason Wang to get anything they want out of complaining, even if it means ruining someone’s reputation in the process. Shame on you, Singaporeans. Shame on you all, for perpetuating a formula for civic failure, for sweating buckets over small stuff, for not being able to reason and solve trivial disagreements with grace or intelligence, for being self-serving, self-destructive, having as much empathy for your fellow Singaporean as a pig has for its swill,  and utterly incapable of performing the slightest decent gesture for the betterment of society.  We may have been promised a First World Parliament, but that’s pointless if we’re all languishing in Third World Public Behavior.

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