F1 extension delights almost everyone

From ‘News of F1 extension delights all but bay area businesses’, 23 Sept 2012, article by May Chen, ST online

Almost every one, from fans to hotels to Formula One drivers, welcomed the extension of the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday with open arms – every one except several retailers in the Marina Bay area.

Their main beef: The disruption to business when the area goes into lockdown for the three-day extravaganza.

“The race brings a buzz to town, but not everybody is impressed. A lot of people try to stay away and it affects our business, and a lot of other people’s businesses,” said Indochine chief executive Michael Ma yesterday, a refrain echoed by Allan Chia, who operates a pushcart in Suntec City selling mobile phone accessories. “People avoid Suntec City altogether because of the road closures,” said the 35-year-old.

Well, not just the bay side retailers. While the hotels and banks may be popping the champagne with all the money flowing in, the latter flying in VIPs to hobnob with drivers and the rich and famous at the Paddock Club, there have been opposing voices to the F1 Night Race right from the get-go. So it may be rather presumptuous to announce how everyone will embrace another 5 years of night racing, when some groups were already up in arms over the inaugural one in 2008. It’s also worth noting that we didn’t get off to an auspicious start either, with Fernando Alonso winning the first Night race because a Renault teammate deliberately crashed his car to give him an advantage (I don’t know enough about racing to see how that helps). Nobody ever mentions ‘Crashgate’ anymore since, though we had a multi-religious prayer this year to make sure such ‘accidents’ don’t happen. It’s also taboo to even discuss the Ferrari accident near race period, and it’s somewhat ironic that we label supercar drivers here a menace to our roads on one hand, yet embrace the F1 with gusto on the other.

F1 claims to be making conscious ‘green’ efforts to improve on their fuel efficiency and emissions, like planting trees in Mexico or using biofuels, though such actions may register nary a blip on the carbon ECG, especially if they neutralise each other when you need to starve viable forest land to make way for fuel crops. Our Government continues to enthuse over how this event is putting our tiny country on the map, high on the ‘buzz’ that the addictive cocktail of fast cars and posh celebrity delivers, but conveniently forgetting in their delirium that we once made a PLEDGE to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 16% by 2020. Oops.

In 2007, some forum writers spurned the energy-guzzling and glamour posing that comes with each F1, that hosting this event sends conflicting messages to the rest of the world about our stand on energy conservation and combating climate change. One moment we’re talking about supertrees and the next thing you know we’re pounding our streets with oil-guzzling supercars. According to a senior ST correspondent, a single race produces up to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide, this excluding that spewed from freighting cars and equipment into and out of the country. But it’s not so much the noise, the exhaust or the heat that brands every night race an eco-nightmare; It’s the damned lighting.

According to one website dedicated to the F1 Night Race, the lighting statistics are as follows:

Total Power   3,180,000 watt
Track Projectors  1, 485, 2,000 watt each
Power Generators  12 pairs (with back-up)
Aluminium Truss 6,282m
Steel Pylons   240
Power Cables  108, 423m

At 3000 LUX levels, the lighting is FOUR TIMES the lights at sports stadiums. The gorgeous illuminated skyline that we’re so proud of, the one that helicopter cameras glide across every year like a director lingering over naked thighs in a porno film, is the result of a dozen generators belching 3 megawatts of electricity, the same amount that could light up a few Malaysia Cup final matches at the National Stadium, or serve a few underprivileged households. Will Singapore compromise when we face an oil crisis within the next 5 years, or perhaps consider switching to a less wasteful DAY race instead? But you can’t argue about electricity expenditure without sounding like a spoilsport who doesn’t appreciate the exhilaration of night racing. Singapore NEEDS the F1, so they say. But you don’t need bright lights and dozens of expensive parties and concerts to make an icon out of Marina Bay. Sometimes, all you need is an amateur porn star and a camera.

No it’s not about our national identity, the Marina glitter, the F1 fans or the small pushcart businesses in Suntec City. It’s about the after-race Dom Perignons, the $26,600 per table at Amber Lounge,  the $6850 Paddock Club pass.  Few people who could spend thousands on a ticket are really interested in the technicalities of the sport, rather using it as a backdrop for business or high-society pleasure. Money is all there is to it, and while we rush headlong into this glitzy fantasy, our heads reverberating with the erotic growl of the engine and our hearts pumping with adrenaline, our most influential supporters of the race continue to sleepwalk through our energy conservation efforts, dump flyers at us telling us how to save electricity (but not the trees obviously) while raising tariffs, yet preparing for the next race bash by hugging for dear life onto whatever surplus oil barrels we have.

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$17 million NDP having too many rehearsals

From ‘Reduce expenditure for National Day Parade’, 14 Sept 2012, ST Forum

(Matthew Yeo): I AM surprised by the amount of public funding for the National Day Parade (“National Day Parade costs rise to $17.2m”; Tuesday). Why was there a need for so many rehearsals? A glitch is all right, especially when we now believe it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.

I am also curious to know why the cost of fireworks and ammunition was not mentioned. Were they really necessary during rehearsals? Each year, there are too many man-hours lost in the rehearsals, which blunt the excitement of the actual Parade itself.

The most expensive NDP ever held ($20 million) was in 2010 at the Padang, not that I remembered anything about it that distinguished this from the rest (It went mostly into laying the stage for the show, including 17 support towers for 3 LED screens). Though expenses dipped last year, it’s worth recalling that some of that 17 million went into making fun packs, and the FUN PACK song, which ended up being scrapped, and wasted, for copyright reasons. Today’s standards, of course, are a far cry from the 1 million budget we allocated to NDP in the eighties, a time when they could produce more memorable National Songs on $2.50 cassette tapes than the multi-million polished laser-guided extravangzas of today ever can. In the past, some Singaporeans thought that props like a $143,000 ‘PSA Dragon’ were a total waste of money, which does make sense considering how you only show off these dazzling displays a couple of times and then chuck them aside forever.

The reason for the expensive rehearsals and previews is that the NDP is not just for the general Singaporean audience alone, where you can ‘glitch’ up and not worry about being flamed online later. The NDP has to be blooper-free because it’s not just us or the government and President watching, but perhaps the rest of the world. As a once-a-year event with a long history of prestige and pride, this singular celebration of a nation, the holy mother of all parades and performances, has to run like clockwork because on this one very special day, the NDP simply has to be the Greatest Propaganda Show on Earth and there is no excuse in not delivering anything less. As a means to show off our military might to make our neighbours tremble with apprehension and showcase our ability to afford pyrotechnics, itself a prime indicator of our economic health, running it like a school play is to risk mockery by the entire nation. Not everyone is as forgiving as the complainant if some soldier misfires, if the parade commander botches his commands, or if someone in the VIP seat starts playing with their phone during the National Anthem. In 2006, someone complained to the press about a SPELLING error on the NDP TICKET (separate, not seperate). Last year, some disapproved of cross-dressing in one of the skits and called for the parade to be slapped with a NC-16 warning. Such vehemence towards cock-ups just goes to show how high our expectations are for this annual blast of pomp and patriotism, like deprived peasants devouring the bloody spectacle of a gladiator match in a Colosseum. You want to see savage beasts dismembering each other, not whimpering pussy cats dodging balls of wool.

But perhaps we’re only looking at costs at face value, for there are environmental reasons to curb the festivities as well. In 2008, someone suggested cancelling the flypast during NDP because it consumed jet fuel and caused noise pollution during rehearsals.  If you’re a nature lover you may bemoan the plight of airborne creatures exposed to the chemical fizz from fireworks or wild shots from 21 gun salutes. Yet, within the same year, the same eco-warrior may have added more destructive carbon into the atmosphere by traveling, turning on the air-conditioner daily or simply watching TV. So yes, although bigger and brighter doesn’t always mean better, the NDP isn’t something to be stinged on either. It’s like replacing your grandmother’s favourite shark’s fin soup with fish maw broth during her birthday bash.

No Tau Huay allowed at Diner en Blanc

From ‘Bloggers upset over Diner En Blanc rule’, 24 Aug 2012, article by Celine Asril, insing.com

Local food is discouraged at exclusive dinner event titled ‘Dîner en Blanc – Singapore’, and this is not sitting well among some bloggers in Singapore even before they could sit down for a meal. The hush-hush food party is a mass picnic pop-up event taking place at an undisclosed location in the city, set to take place on 30 August.

It apparently started on Tuesday, 21 August, when food blogger Daniel Ang – of Daniel’s Food Diary – posted an entry about Dîner en Blanc. In his post, he provided details about the event. He also jokingly included a list of white-coloured local dishes that diners may take along. Then, four days later, he tweeted, at 2.52pm: “Dear fellow bloggers, this is the post I was told to removed by Dîner en Blanc. I hope I have your support [link provided].” This is the first time he has been asked to remove his blog post, he claims.

When asked why, Ang said, “The French organisers conveyed to the PR company that they were not happy with my post. The argument is that chicken rice and tau huay [bean curd] are not in line with their image.”

Prawns aren’t white

Daniel’s suggestion of local fare such as soon kuey and pohpiah was clearly tongue-in-cheek, though the reaction to Diner En Blanc being a stickler for some fancy-ball theme rules has been overwhelming, verging on a possible boycott and a counter-event being proposed by some powerful bloggers to show who’s boss when it comes to local cuisine. Typical of passionate Singaporeans when something so close to their hearts (and stomachs) is being dissed as ‘peasant food’ by stuck-up foreigners: Organise a copycat local gastronomical event just to irritate the hell out of them. The sheer animosity that Singaporeans feel when our beloved tau huay gets snubbed just goes to show how dearly we identify with the stuff we eat everyday, with the nationalistic fervour and vengeance as if someone defecated on our national flag. What are we, hawker Nazis now?

In response to the furore organiser Clemen Chiang quipped: “The diners have to ask themselves if they are comfortable eating you tiao (fried dough sticks) and drinking champagne. If you feel comfortable putting you tiao on your table, carry on.”(Is Tau Hway too low-class for posh picnic?, 25 Aug 2012, ST). Come off it, NOBODY eats you tiao with champagne. You should pair it with hot almond milk paste or Horlicks, both foods in line with the White theme. Chiang also mentioned that this is really an extravagant pot-luck of sorts, that ‘da-paoing’ is not encouraged, similar to another European invention called the Slow Food movement, something which will probably never take off among ravenous buffet-loving Singaporeans who take less time to finish their food than browse menus.

Some good does come out of such culinary revolt though; thanks to some complaints of curry smells last year, we got ourselves an annual CURRY festival. There’s nothing wrong, or illegal, with having silly pretentious dining restrictions for some party; that’s the whole point of having a THEME, or men owning dinner jackets and bow-ties. For example, foldable tables must be 28″ by 32″ and white. Plastic cutlery and paper plates are forbidden (even if they’re white). Only wine and champagne are allowed, while beer and hard liquour are banned (I suppose Guinness stout wouldn’t make the cut too). But silliest of all is how you’d have to CARRY your own table (not to mention the expensive chinaware) there, dressed like you came out of a Jane Austen novel, or the hospital. In this HEAT. Anyway, if you’re not happy with the rules, if you think it’s snob-porn,  if you don’t want to risk being labelled a ‘cheapskate’, if you don’t want to end up looking like you participated in a Wet T-shirt contest instead of a classy Frenchie picnic, you just don’t attend, plain and simple. You could sign up for the nearest hobo convention for all I care.

Actually, we had Diner en Blancs all along

If I held an ALL-MEAT only party and force my attendees to come dressed only in leather or fur, I would piss off plenty of vegetarians. If I organised a Bollywood party and people come in blackface, someone may make a police report. People who could afford it hold all kinds of weird fetishistic parties in secret all the time, like the Secret Cooks’ Nyamatori feast where people eat off naked bodies. Whether it’s a self-indulgent, ‘atas’ black-tie event with ridiculous standards of etiquette, a swinger’s orgy or a tea party where everyone dresses as a character from Alice In Wonderland, what these people do for fun is really none of my business. In the case of DeB, however, the use of symbolic ‘white’ as a theme also suggests a kind of holy ‘purity’, while some may associate it with Western colonialist opulence and race segregation, as what ‘exclusive’ clubs like Singapore Swimming Club used to do in the fifties, banning locals from the premises even if they dressed to the nines and could discuss cricket like a pro with the nearest cigar-munching Englishman.

Chai Tau Kway (white version) may not make the DeB list of suggested foods, but perhaps they would reconsider if Chan Chun Sing were invited VIP and decided to bring it with him to the party in a bid to win bloggers over. I mean, he could even attend the event straight from Parliament without changing. As local Gangnam style goofs ‘Dee Kosh’ and Co would sing: Give me Tau Huay.

We’re not ready for a world without LKY

From ‘Singapore heaves huge sigh of relief at Lee Kuan Yew’s NDP appearance’, 10 Aug 2012, article by Melissa Aw, Yahoo News.

…In the past week, rumours swirled online and offline that the former Singapore Prime Minister’s health was fading quickly. Day by day, the speculation grew stronger and wilder.

…Although a quick check by Yahoo! at Lee’s Oxley Road house on Wednesday showed nothing out of the ordinary, rumours continued to grow online and offline. Soon, the health of Lee became a topic of national debate and the “will he or won’t he appear at NDP?” question grew into a audible chorus ahead of National Day.

Even members of the media were not immune to the frenzy.  The Straits Times’ political journalist Tessa Wong addressed the rumours on Twitter, dismissing claims of a cover-up and that Lee was alive and well.  Channel NewsAsia editor and presenter Glenda Chong also stepped up to clear the rumours on her Facebook wall on Wednesday.

Without mentioning names, she wrote, “So a lot of people have been asking me a question! He’s alive and please watch NDP tomorrow… Trust me he’s alive, otherwise I will be extremely busy!”

The reporter above was kind enough not to pose the REAL question on everyone’s minds this past week leading up to NDP. Did LKY DIE before the parade? Then there are the conspiracy theorists and their ‘body double’ explanations for his miraculous appearance. The truth turned out to be stranger than the fiction one sees in typical Dictator stereotypes or madcap movies like Weekend at Bernie’s; the old man’s still alive, though to say that such rife hearsay kept everyone tense on the edge of their seats and emitting a huge gaseous sigh of relief is probably pushing it. The nail-biting twisty climax to what appears to be a bad M Night Shyamalan political thriller is an apt image of LKY looking dapper in red, giving a victorious double thumbs up. It could have been two middle fingers instead.

Leader in Red

Don’t these internet gossips know that if they’re trying to start a fire online they’re equally likely to get burnt? Yaacob Ibrahim just added one more reason to this list of ‘Reasons to Regulate the Internet’ in his push for a Code of Conduct. But what’s interesting about the Yahoo article is not so much its content, but the title of its weblink in full:

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/spore-not-ready-for-a-world-without-lee-kuan-yew-.html

Which raises the question: What will become of us when LKY is dead and gone? Will we be like sheeps without a shepherd? A rock band without a drummer? A brothel without a mama-san? Sewer rats without the Pied Piper?

It’s not surprising that LKY has ‘used up’ one of his 9 lives before. In 2010, ex-Singaporean and now American lawyer Gopalan Nair admitted in his Singapore Dissident blog to publishing a hoax that LKY had ‘suffered from a massive heart attack':

Even though I made up everything I said about Dear Leader about his heart attack, and none of it is true, I can assure you that the scenario that I painted assuming that he dies is completely correct.

So what scenario was Nostradamus here talking about? According to his original tall tale, ‘such a happening can destroy the business confidence and cause total destruction in the small island city state.’ There were also ‘peaceful protesters and demonstrators… holding placards reading “Democracy” and “Down With the Dictator” and chanting slogans.’ As far as I’m aware there were no ‘Hurry up and Die already’ campaigns going on in the build-up to NDP aside from the scatterbrained hullabaloo and white noise in social media. If the sources were in fact reliable, I would think most of us would have been stunned at first, but gradually come to accept and carry on with our lives. We wouldn’t be thinking of packing our bags and, like Gopalan, seek asylum in a country where you can get gunned down by madmen while watching Batman in a movie theatre or praying to your gods in a temple. In fact, Gopalan is still drilling in our heads even in the midst of this gonzo media circus that we’ll be hapless without LKY, that the stock market would plunge, and the Sing dollar would be worthless. WORTHLESS, I tell you. Woe is me!

If LKY did have a major coronary, the media would have jumped on it like a rabid coyote, as how they have done in the past reporting on the state of the elder statesman’s health from minor infections to bladder evacuations. We really didn’t need to know. Telling me that LKY was ‘ill’ before the parade is nothing new, so someone decided to up the ante and say ‘Hey, why not have him DEAD for a change?’

2011-Peripheral neuropathy (as revealed by daughter Lee Wei Ling)

2008 -Abnormal heart rhythm (article above)

2003- Prostate Surgery 

1998 – Infection arising from minor surgical procedure (SM in hospital, 23 Nov 1998, ST)

1997 – Acute respiratory tract infection (SM Lee in hospital due to infection, 7 Sept 1997, ST)

1997 – Elective evacuation of the bladder (SM Lee to undergo elective evacuation of the bladder, 11 Jan 1997, ST)

1996 – Balloon angioplasty (SM’s balloon angioplasty op a success: PMO, 16 March 1996, ST)

It’s easy to spin insensitive yarns about someone’s father and grandfather when you’re based overseas and still persist in egging LKY’s lawyers to sue you for slander, but more importantly, bad taste. Gopalan had it easy compared to Twitter users like ‘izreloaded’, who got name-dropped in the Yahoo article above as one of the perpetrators of a highly contagious rumour. But it’s one thing to plant a lie in the national psyche for your own sick indulgence, another to condemn the country into anarchy and chaos because of the demise of one man, especially if you’re not doing anything to help avert the impending end of Singapore as we know it, a ringside commentator pulling one awful joke after another. This Gopalan prophet of the coming apocalypse may have no love lost for LKY, but where’s the faith in the the rest of us? If the old man is as formidably crafty as he’s reputed to be, he would have set a series of events in motion as part of an elaborate grand scheme of command and control, to ensure that Singapore runs like clockwork centuries after his death, like how we splice a dead Nat King Cole with his daughter Natalie in an ‘Unforgettable’ duet and still make it number one on the charts.

Still, nothing bugs a nation like an dead or dying dictator/autocrat. Fidel Castro was reportedly dead (false) earlier this year, the dates of rumour-mongering occurring near two special dates for the Cuban leader, similar to how sparks flew near our very own 9th of August. Barely taking over the reins from his late father, Kim Jong Un was ‘assassinated’ by gunmen in what would have been the month of his dad’s 70th birthday. Equally ‘killed by Internet’ were Hosni Murbarak, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Suharto. This bespeaks a frivolous trend of ‘Dead Evil Leader pranking’, which plays psychological parlour tricks on our basic emotions. Rumour feeds the need to be heard, the sudden loss of a figure of stifling authority feeds our need to be free, while the stock market blips attest to our fear. What we need the most now, though, is the belief that we can carry on. With or without LKY.

And we can only hope that when the time comes, it doesn’t end up like this.

We are all doomed

National anthem is not Mari Kita

From ‘Understanding Majulah Singapura’, 4 July 2012, ST Forum

(Grace Zhang): MONDAY’S article (‘Sung with national pride’) about the significance of national anthems – or their irrelevance – spurred my thoughts about our National Anthem. In all honesty, I almost forgot its title when I tried to recall it; assuming it was Mari Kita (Let Us) because these are the first words, before I remembered that it is Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore).

Sadly, beyond the title, I have no clue what the rest of the anthem means, despite having sung it every single day from primary school to junior college.

My second problem is that the anthem is in Malay. If the purpose of a national anthem is to forge national identity and rally citizens towards a common vision or goal, why choose a language that four-fifths of Singaporeans today neither speak nor understand?

Should our National Anthem be updated? The view that doing so would open a Pandora’s box of unwelcome controversy framed along sensitive racial lines misses the point. The problem is not that most Singaporeans do not understand Malay, but that we do not understand what our National Anthem means.

More effort must be made in schools to teach the anthem to students. I remember being cursorily taught its meaning in primary school, with its translation tucked away in an obscure page of a social studies text. If efforts are not made to impress the meaning and significance of the National Anthem, then generations of students will continue to sing Majulah Singapura every morning without understanding its importance or worth.

Our national anthem has been affectionately known as ‘Mari Kita’ since the eighties, and during my time no effort was made by music teachers to decipher the lyrics for us. Even if you were grilled into appreciating the gist of the song,  if you’re not a native Malay speaker you’re highly likely to mistake your bersatu’s for your berseru’s, and not knowing what either word means. Perhaps it’s not so much we don’t get the lyrics DESPITE singing it every day in school, but rather BECAUSE of it. Whether translated into English, Chinese of Tamil, if you make a chore out of singing Majulah Singapura, it loses its meaning and hence any sense of patriotic fervour whatsoever. When Majulah’s composer Zubir Said died in 1987, the ST headlines read ‘Mr Marikita: Shy, humble and well loved’ (17 November 1987), which translates into the nonsensical Mr ‘Let Us’.  It’s also unfortunate considering ‘Marikita’ has also been abused as a euphemism for an erection, by association with flag-RAISING ceremonies and standing at attention.

Maybe it’s not so much the content or language of the anthem that matters, but the emotions, history and familiarity that its melody and mood stir within every true blue Singaporean who has ever sung it loud and proud during assembly, NDP, or a medal ceremony at the Olympics. Language is irrelevant when you have a homegrown athlete beating others on the world stage, shedding a tear on the podium when the instrumental anthem is played. In fact, ‘Onward Singapore’ doesn’t do justice to the pride and glory that swells inside us when a fellow Singaporean, not some Chinese import, achieves the unthinkable. What matters is how much heart and soul you put into it, nevermind how bad your Malay is.

It’s also hard to come up with anything catchier than our national anthem; the opening drumroll, the empathic horns, the goosebump-raising crescendoes. No composer in the history of Singaporean music has produced a more immortal tune that ranks amongst greats like ‘Chan Mali Chan’, the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Yankie Doodle’. You don’t have to understand English to know that ‘Yesterday’ is a melancholy ballad about lost love, or that ‘Yankie Doodle’ is about musket-carrying soldiers marching and tooting in victory. Chan Mali Chan just sounds like a happy song. Some have lauded Majulah as short, simple and understandable. In fact, the late S Rajaratnam believed that ‘the Malay lyrics were so simple that anyone above the age of 5, unless MENTALLY RETARDED‘ should be able to sing it (Thanks for the link, ‘Matthew’), which makes those of us adults who commit the bersatu-berseru blooper complete idiots.  ‘Majulah’ is a timeless, chest-beating classic that transcends mere words, which, as with all anthems, are ultimately banal drivel without a rousing, effective tune making it come alive. According to Wikipedia’s English translation, two thirds of the anthem consist of the following refrain:

Come, let us unite
In a new spirit
Together we proclaim
Onward Singapore
Onward Singapore

Which doesn’t make me sing Majulah with any more gusto and ‘feeling’ than if I didn’t know what it meant. Anthem aside, not many Singaporeans I know could easily rattle off what the 5 stars of the National Flag symbolise either.  We can’t even remember 5 things in English, let alone an entire song in Malay.

Postscript: A silly rumour has been floating around in the Twitterverse that the suggestion to change the anthem to Chinese was raised by President Tony Tan. No official sources of such a remark have been cited.

Singapore Day an expensive exercise in futility

From ‘Thanks, but spending $4m for S’pore Day is too much’, 14 April 2012, ST Forum

(Liang Kaicheng): I AM one of thousands of happy Singaporeans based in the United States who will be making their way by plane, car or bus to New York City today for Singapore Day. But I am also embarrassed to discover that the event will cost $4 million (‘New York to draw 4,000 on S’pore Day'; last Saturday).

Much as I am looking forward to stuffing my face with chicken rice at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, I find it bewildering that the Government is prepared to spend such a considerable sum to woo overseas Singaporeans home and boost the local talent pool.

There may be far better ways to spend $4 million of taxpayers’ money than on a bunch of Singaporeans living abroad, many of whom have their eye on lucrative, prestigious opportunities in their adopted countries and have no plans to return to Singapore in the foreseeable future.

No amount of fried carrot cake, 1980s music or (local TV show character) Barbarella’s preening can pull people away from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, top university professorships, or the myriad other reasons why some Singaporeans choose to live abroad.

If the aim of the event is merely to remind overseas Singaporeans of their home, it may be even more overpriced. I am grateful that the Government has me in its thoughts, but I am also uncomfortable that Singapore Day may inevitably be an expensive exercise in futility.

A similar piece was written on Singapore Day being more of a showcase of local gluttony by Siew Kum Hong in 2007. According to the ex-NMP, National Day Songs were played at the inaugural event in New York, with a ‘singular emphasis on food’, although another Overseas Singaporean (OS) Colin Goh commented that the local fare flown over could already be sampled in New York except for ‘chwee kueh’. With more than a million PRCs living here, I’m surprised no one has thought of a ‘China Day’ in Singapore yet, though it would probably feel just like   ‘Any Other Day’ to most of us.

This year, Zouk’s ‘Mambo night’ is being marketed as something of a uniquely Singaporean past-time, though synchronised gesturing to cheesy 80’s retro music is not that far off from sending in a Great Singapore Workout contingent. It’s like reminding the Spanish about Macarena, though one must admit it’s at least better than launching a mobile National Day Parade at Singapore Day like we used to.

In 2011’s event, Kit Chan was flown to Shanghai to sing ‘Home’ (truly, where know I MUST be). It also featured kampong games like chapteh and five stones, which comes across as an propagandist exercise in inaccuracy rather than ‘futility’ since our kids are too busy swiping iPads or attending weekend enrichment classes to play pick up sticks anymore. In 2008, Melbourne, a NATIONAL SERVICE showcase was presented, featuring ‘various simulators and high-tech training equipment to display the prowess of the armed forces’. Reminding our boys of what they moved overseas to escape from, or what some may be forced to face if they ever return, is a terrible idea regardless of how advanced our laser weaponry is, painting the event with the sour, parasitic tone of a ‘recruitment drive’ rather than a nostalgic funfair. Covert enlistment aside, perhaps the festival is also an annual million-dollar, grovelling, elaborate apology for Goh Chok Tong’s  ‘quitter’ label some years back.

You don’t need to fly the Noose team or Phua Chu Kang to major cities to help Singaporeans ‘RE-CONNECT’ with the local scene. Thanks to the Internet and social media, if I want to see Kit Chan sing ‘Home’ I’ll just Youtube it. If I want to preserve my Singlish I’ll view Mrbrown podcasts or Dr Jia Jia. If I’m the sort who can’t wait to serve NS, I’ll Google Mindef. If I want to keep in touch with friends back home, I’ll Skype, Facebook or Tweet.    Still, the fact that tens of thousands of OS have flocked to Singapore Days suggests that there’ s more to it than just hawker food or multimedia history lessons plucked out of recycled NDP montage video clips. Maybe it’s simply hanging out with people who speak your lingo, with whom you’re guaranteed something common to talk about (lah punctuated no less), nevermind if you’ve never Mambo-Jamboed in your life, or haven’t the faintest inclination to pack your bags. If anything, this annual diaspora bonding may even deter OS from ever returning, given that Singapore Day always seems to oversell itself as a fun, vibrant, dare I say more ‘Singaporean’ , jamboree than the actual Singapore itself.

In my opinion, the OSU should keep it subtle and simple, ditch the NDP songs and ridiculous dancing, the vain attempts to make Singapore or its SAF attractive again, and just rename the awful sounding Singapore Day to ‘Shiok (Food) Festival’. Don’t even attempt to sell Merlion keychains.

Brother Cane’s tofu-whipping and pubes-snipping

From ‘Cane re-enactment draws debate’ 16 Dec 2012, article by Corrie Tan, Life! and ‘Why show Brother Cane again?’, 18 Feb 2012, Life! Mailbag,

…Artist and film-maker Loo Zihan, 28, is re-enacting Brother Cane, a 1993 performance by Josef Ng which protested the arrests of 12 men during an anti-gay operation in 1992. The performance involved Ng whipping pieces of tofu and packets of red liquid on tiles, burning himself with a cigarette and snipping his pubic hair with his back to the audience.

The original performance ignited a public debate over obscenity in performance art here, as well as a 10-year restriction of the licensing and funding of performance art in Singapore.

…Some questioned the purpose of the re-enactment and whether it was merely riding on the controversy sparked by the original work. There were also concerns about how a new audience might experience the work.

Singapore-based British artist James Holdsworth, 57, told Life!: ‘I think it’s a publicity stunt and I’m quite disturbed by it.’

…(Pek Li Sng): The Brother Cane re-enactment should not be allowed (Cane Re-enactment Draws Debate, Life!, Feb 16). Cutting pubic hair again? What is it trying to show?

There is absolutely no meaning in performing such an act. It is so silly, weird and crude. Performance should be something that one can enjoy and not cringe with embarrassment when watched.

Smashing Tofus

The original ‘Brother Cane’ in 1993 was showcased publicly at Parkway Parade and landed Josef Ng, an ex Navy sergeant, on an obscenity charge for exposing his buttocks. ‘Buttocks’ also happen to be a motif for Amanda Heng’s ‘SinGirl’ project which featured a montage of women’s bums back in 2010. You don’t even have to be a controversial artist to wiggle some flesh in public these days, what with a spate of unnecesary nudity hitting the country in the same year.  In the age of Youtube where anyone can film themselves making a booger salad for lunch or self-immolating and call it ‘protest-art’, snipping your pubic hair with or without clothes doesn’t seem very shocking anymore. And what a waste of perfectly edible tofu.

Erotica and art have been intertwined ever since early man constructed grossly exaggerated female figurines out of rocks and clay. Today, you can pay $250 just to take  photo with ‘nude artist’ T Venkenna. Cashing in on one’s buttocks is small change in comparison.

Sitting nude as art

Loo isn’t the first artist to replicate ‘Brother Cane’. In 2007, a play about homegrown pornstar Annabel Chong titled ‘251’ featured actress Cynthia Lee Macquarrie paying ‘homage’ to Josef’s tofu-bashing. ‘251’ is also the number of men that Annabel claimed to have non-stop sex with, which some, including the porn starlet herself, may label as a gritty no-holds-barred ‘performance’. Mimicry and ‘cannibalising’ the works of others, whether in the form of DJ sampling, hoax paintings, remixes, mash-ups,  ‘shot-for-shot’ movie remakes like Gus Van Sant’s version of ‘Psycho’,  have existed for as long as humans started copying and inspiring each other. Once upon a time someone decided to destroy a guitar at the finale of a rock concert, and this defiant ‘performance’ was subsequently replicated by band frontmen the world over. When it comes to brash punk/rock musicians, no one ever needs to ask WHY they do crazy stuff. Ozzy Osbourne once bit the head off a live bat. Rammstein lights their keyboards on fire. Artists, on the other hand, have some explaining to do, and I get the impression that some take their work so seriously that they deem re-enactments OK but parodies unacceptable. Speaking of parodies, this tofu-caning business reminds me remotely of the clip below.

Tofu or not tofu

Along with Josef in 1993, an artist named Shannon Tham self-induced vomitting and then poured his puke all over himself, which appears to be the stuff of freak porn, not to mention dangerous and unsanitary. It was actually a protest against ‘The New Paper’ for unfair reporting, a copy of which Shannon burnt and drank the ashes before a nauseous finale. You could at least see the point of what Shannon did, even if it seemed a bit drastic. Most people who don’t like what they read in the papers merely throw it away, spit on it, or use it for the cat litter box. The line between ‘performance’ in the traditional sense of ‘entertaining’ and creative ‘protest’ has been blurred; I could set up an act in town biting off my own armpit hair in protest of discrimination against hairy people, but without the label of ‘performance art’, it would just be seen as a silly gimmick.  Or viral advertising for hair removal cream. Some viewers may be concerned enough to report that a patient from IMH had escaped.

In 1992, Vincent Leow drank his own urine as part of a performance piece. According to his website, ‘the art gesture was later elaborated upon through the packing and sale of bottles of urine – epitomizing Leow’s artful handling of ‘underground, subversive’ practices with a savvy understanding of the mechanics of market consumption and its desire for and absorption of infamy, scandal and controversy‘.  Blah-blah. If you take away the fancy conceptualisation behind consuming your own excrement, or the ‘artist’ away from the ‘act’, it becomes not so much a ‘gesture’ or ‘statement'; but a wacky Jackass stunt or a ragging forfeit played  out by drunk campus kids. Those who flock to watch gory movies just to squirm in their seats are probably the same lot who’d be fascinated by artists squeezing unmentionables out of their orifices.  If an audience has been moved in some way by the artist’s antics, be it tears,  nostalgia, goosebumps or a grimace with reflex crossing of legs, then the artist has succeeded. Still, it’s all been done before, and the torture-art circle needs something fresh and unflinching to wow fans already attuned to mind-numbing degradation. Today it could be pube-snipping, tomorrow someone may neuter himself with a razor blade.

Some forms of performance art, if not known for vulgar display of bodies and bodily functions, are also steeped in violence and masochism. In last year’s ‘Future of Imagination 7′, Loo Zihan reenacted another Josef Ng work called ‘Don’t Go Swimming, It’s Not Safe’, in which he asked a random audience member to hit him with a violin. Loo then proceeded to hurl himself at walls, which is exactly what the folks at JackAss do. It appears that in order to succeed as a ‘performance artist’, you need to score some brutality points to bring the meaning of ‘tortured artist’ to a whole new level. Like how Jackie Chan collects broken bones, battle scars and concussions throughout his career as an international action star.

Walling is the new planking

In 2007, vegetarian artist Simon Birch showcased a multimedia art show which featured a scene of himself, dressed as a SAMURAI, killing a pig with a sword. A gruesome act which was ‘conceptually necessary’ to depict the theme of death. I just hope someone made a good meal of the poor creature.  You can also poke needles on butterfly wings and revolve an entire exhibition around it. I’m not sure how ‘conceptually necessary’ snipping your pubic hair is. I ‘get’ the tofu analogy (white and soft i.e innocent), but giving your naughty bits a trim defies explanation. Or as the swanky art elite would tell me: ‘Why don’t you just go home to your Michael Bay DVD collection, you unsophisticated pilgrim?’

Whatever.  Performances which involve artists maiming themselves with household appliances or intentionally falling down should come with a ‘Don’t try this at home’ warning and a standby medical squad.  If your motivation as an art-goer is to watch people do crazy stunts professionally for an audience, you can get your torture-fix from the comfort of home in front of the computer without spending a single cent. You’d just have to settle with the lack of ‘participation’, ‘immersion’,  ‘interpretation’ or ‘meaning’ that comes with ‘performance art’.

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