Color Run powder and the risk of cardiac arrest

From ‘Any danger if it is inhaled?’, 4 July 2015, ST Forum

(Ace Kindredzen Cheong): I am relieved that the powder used for the Colour Run in Singapore is different from that used in Taiwan, which caused a fire that has left at least two dead and hundreds injured (“Colour Run to continue in S’pore”; Thursday).

However, I wonder if the powder used in Singapore will trigger allergies and irritate the eyes and skin. Worse yet, will it cause cardiac arrest if inhaled?

Already, there have been cases of sudden deaths due to cardiac arrest during running events in Singapore. Will the powder increase this risk? The event organisers, police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force should ensure that such powders are safe for use, other than being non-flammable.

While Chinese cities like Shenyang have cancelled the event under direction from ‘government agencies’, it seems like we’re going ahead with the ‘Happiest 5k on the Planet’.  The inaugural 16,000-strong race went without a hitch in 2013, and close to 20,000 participants graced the 2014 event. Other than tens of thousands of stained white shirts being sent to the incinerators, there appeared to be little bodily harm that came out a festival inspired by the Hindu ‘Holi’. During the same period, a man died while running a powder-less, ‘normal’ marathon. No one has asked for 42 km marathons to be cancelled over the risk of unexplained death.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t minimise the use of potentially hazardous materials if you can help it. The organisers have assured us that the powder has been tested for inflammability and successfully passed ‘the required EU standards’. On their Facebook page, they tell us that smoking is prohibited during the race, and that they use no electrical devices to douse runners with the stuff, though that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a freak ignition happening if a rainbow dust cloud gets zapped by a stray bolt of lightning. I doubt the EU can put such a scenario to the test. The fun people at Color Run encourage you to run in the rain, though.

As with all foreign particles, including baby talcum powder, coloured powder may well irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and most Material Safety Data Sheets about seemingly harmless corn starch that I browsed through online do alert users about its irritating nature. So you may complete the run teary-eyed, slightly coughing, or take the next day off because of a dye-induced facial rash, but otherwise happy as a lark, which makes running the tiny risk of ‘high pressure corn starch inhalation’ – a life-threatening accident, mind you – worth it. After all, there are considerably more dangerous recreational activities out there that involve jogging; you could break your ankle stumbling over a stone in Macritchie Reservoir for example.

The Color Run’s track record of no exploding-powder casualties speaks for itself, but what we lack information in is its impact not on human health or happiness, but the environment. Where does all the dye go after being washed off, for instance? In a cruel twist of irony, it was the Taiwanese EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) that had a legitimate concern about Color Runs contaminating the soil, groundwater and rivers in 2013. Maybe NEA would want to look into what happens during the clean-up process, lest we all end up drinking chendol-coloured Newater.

Not sure about sudden cardiac arrest, but you may not come out of the Happiest 5K smiling from ear to ear after your phone dies from exposure to green dust.


SEA games carnival ping pong table copying artist’s work

From ‘Quirky ping pong table at SEA games carnival resembles work by Singaporean artist’, 6 June 2015 article by Mayo Martin, CNA.

A circular ping pong table at the South-east Asia Games Carnival for children at Sports Hub which bears a striking resemblance to a famous artwork by a Singaporean artist has prompted criticism online.

Cultural Medallion recipient Lee Wen has said he was unaware of it of the table at the Sports Hub. His own interactive artwork, titled Ping Pong Go-Round, has the same circular features, which allow for multiple players. Variations of it have been shown in different exhibitions and fairs such as his solo retrospective in 2012 and last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong. Most recently, it was part of an exhibition of Singapore artists at the ArtScience Museum.

…“I’m trying to find out who’s in charge and talk to them to ask them to stop exhibiting until they settle with me,” he added. “It’s good that they picked up the idea but it’s as if they didn’t think it has been done before. I think they should at least talk to me. I’m thinking of asking for some compensation in terms of artists rights because according to one lawyer I’ve talked to, it’s probably an infringement of copyright.

…The ping pong table in question, called 300° Table Tennis, carries the logo of Atos, a French technology firm appointed by the organising committee to manage the information technology for the Singapore games.

While it forms a “C” and Lee’s work is a complete circle, the latter said his artwork could easily be manipulated and rejigged so that users could enter the central space.

Lawyer George Huang was quoted by the ST (‘Horseshoe shaped ping pong table by SEA games organiser similar to artwork by artist Lee Wen, 5 June 2015’) as saying that Lee’s ping pong table is ‘very simple’ and it’s possible for anyone to come up with the same design independently. Well, everything is obvious on hindsight, George.

According to IPOS, ‘artistic works‘ may be protected under copyright law, but the ‘idea or concept’ of the sport of table tennis isn’t. So what happens when the worlds of art and sport collide and you have an exhibit that’s viewed as ‘artwork’ in a museum, but can also easily pass off as a fancy variation of a traditional game at a sports carnival? If I’m an artist and I put up a ‘performance’ involving a badminton racket with a chapteh instead of a shuttlecock, do I have a case if someone makes it an actual Olympic sport? What if I put people in ridiculous sumo suits and make them play touch rugby? Or captain’s ball. On trampolines?

Ping Pong Go Round isn’t JUST about bouncing balls to one another, of course. The artist himself uses the analogy of a ‘dialogue‘ between players on opposite sides, like a circular conference table. In other reviews, it’s described as a re-invention of the game in the context of ‘contemporary possibilities’. Meaning, instead of playing against one person you could easily switch to another, or play against both simultaneously. There’s not much room to manouevre if you’re in the inner hole with other players, though. So much for ‘broader dialogue’. I could add some crazy rules to the standard gameplay and make it a new sport, or work of art, if I want to. Like playing across 2 table-lengths, playing with two balls simultaneously or you’re only allowed to hit the ball with your batting arm behind and around your back.

Still, It’s a refreshing change from what we usually associate with ‘performance art’, which incidentally was once banned by the NAC in 1994 after someone snipped his pubic hair in public. Lee Wen himself is famous for his ‘Yellow Man’ work as an emphasis on his Chinese ethnicity, where he painted himself yellow from head to toe and described it as ‘wearing a full body mask’, a possible inspiration for the phenomenon known as ‘zentai’ today.

To the layman participating in this ‘interactive artwork’, it’s just crazy ping pong joined in a circle, and probably as fun and innovative as other insane sports mash-ups like roller-frisbee, hockey-golf, basket-polo or bubble-soccer. You’re not going to get inspirations on how to improve your next meeting with the bosses. But hey, ART man.

UPDATE (13 June 15): Sport Singapore acknowledged Lee’s work and has made a goodwill payment, hence resolving the issue amicably.

Sharon Au mocking Indian accent at SEA Games ceremony

From ‘SEA Games: Host Sharon Au apologises for insensitive remarks during opening ceremony’, 6 June 2015, article by Lee Min Kok, ST

Former MediaCorp actress Sharon Au has apologised for her attempt at mimicking an Indian accent during Friday night’s SEA Games opening ceremony pre-show at the National Stadium.

…Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist Bhavan Jaipragas had accused Au of putting on a strong Indian accent to mock a young Indian girl sitting in the stands. He also said Au made fun of the girl’s name. Jaipragas detailed the controversial incident in a Facebook post on Friday evening, in which he called on Au and the organising committee to apologise.

“In an audience interaction segment before the start of the SEA Games opening ceremony at the National Stadium, emcee Sharon Au approached an Indian girl seated in the stands. The girl did not properly perform the act – saying aloud a line welcoming foreign contingents (others before her didn’t get it right too). Au, speaking into a mike and with the cameras trained on her, shockingly put on a strong Indian accent, and while shaking her head from right to left asked the girl: “What (Vat) happened? What happened?” he wrote.

Sharon Au is set to play Mrs Lee Kuan Yew in an upcoming musical, and here she is forced to apologise for putting on an Indian accent in front of an Indian kid, complete with unnecessary head movements. People have complained about thick Indian accents on radio and in plays, and anyone who takes Bollywood culture a step too far by going blackface at a Dinner and Dance are labelled downright racist. You also can’t buy a ‘Naan the Nay’ from Breadtalk without feeling that you’ve just ripped apart our social fabric.

Dick Lee didn’t have to say sorry when he did Indian impersonations in his song Mustapha. Maybe Jaipragas would have let it go if Au had put on a consistent Indian act throughout the entire opening ceremony, complete with sari, bhindi and song-and-dance too. I wonder if he has anything against the SEA games organisers calling a red-maned lion ‘Nila’.

The Indian accent is not the only one that you’ll need think twice before inserting in your comedy routine, even if you’re an ethnic Indian yourself. Michelle Chong’s domestic helper Leticia Bongnino was flamed too for her strong Pinoy accent, and the character has all but disappeared from the scene.  Yet,  chances are you may be spared from racism accusations if you do an exaggerated French accent or a PRC one. Someone I know gamely went full PRC during a dinner and dance skit, but no one threw duck wings at her or dunked her face in hotpot in disgust. People mimic bad American accents in front of Americans all the time, but no one calls them out for being ‘insensitive’ to American culture. If you mimic an American twang to be understood, you’re a poseur. If you mimic an Indian one, whether for practical purposes or comedy, you’re bloody racist.

As a public figure, Au should have known better, really. The kid may be too young to fully appreciate how she and her entire race were made fun of that day.  But if you ever need an example of epic grand stage levels of party-pooping, then look no further.

Fun pack items a waste of money

From ‘Fun packs should be useful to all’, 9 March 2015, Voices, Today

(Goh Kian Huat): This year’s National Day Parade (NDP) is set to be a big affair as Singapore celebrates its golden jubilee. About 1.2 million households are set to receive a free fun pack, so they can join in the celebrations even if they are not at the event itself (“Mega-NDP across Marina Bay area to draw 150,000”; March 6)

To ensure the fun packs are useful to households, some of the items should be different from the ones given out to those attending the parade. For example, things such as face paint, handheld fans, clappers, banners and plastic raincoats are useful only to those who are at the parade. Organisers should consider substituting these items with more useful ones for households, or souvenirs for keeping.

Also, organisers should ensure fun pack items can be recycled or reused as far as possible out of consideration for the environment. For example, the bag for the fun packs can be designed in such a way that students can reuse it as a school bag.

In addition, to avoid duplication of resources, households that manage to secure tickets to attend the parade should not be given a second fun pack. Organisers should find a way of identifying them.

The total cost of the celebrations is expected to be around S$40 million, twice that of previous NDPs. Let us ensure that the resources are put to good use.

Full of fun

Full of fun

This is a nice way of saying that the fun pack and its contents are pretty useless. Even if those at the parade took these out to play, they’re mostly junked once the fireworks have fizzled. 1.2 million households, 10 million dollars. The Fun Pack Song even has the self-prophesying lyric: Attack the Fun Pack,  and the attacks have been relentless. When the government sends a bag of freebies to our doorstep, we either complain that it’s ugly or an utter waste of money, and that we’d rather receive a SG50 hongbao with $10 cold hard cash inside. Such ingrates. Such Singaporeans.

If there’s one thing the SG50 committee hasn’t learned about the Singaporean psyche, it’s that they did not make us QUEUE for the damn thing. Sending the funpack straight to our homes makes it far less desirable than when we’re putting in time and effort to join long, overnight queues to grab ‘limited edition’ goodie bags, like how we drag ourselves out of bed at 4am in the morning to camp outside McDonalds for free Egg McMuffins. Likewise, if you had pitched the funpack such that there are only ‘1 million available’ and forced Singaporeans to fight tooth and nail over it, you would have more people posting their catch on Facebook and showing them off like trophies rather than grumbling about the practicality of banners and clappers. Even if it looks so god-awful that your kid would rather wear your dusty army fullpack to school than be seen slinging a funpack over his shoulder.

But look closer at the spread above and you’ll find oodles of charm and usefulness in every item. The chapteh, for instance, can be used to spice up your bedroom tickle parties in place of a kinky peacock feather if you’re not the sporty type. Face paint can be used as zombie makeup this Halloween, or for your next cosplay event. The ‘commemorative’ publications like the jubilee book can add some zesty patriotic colour to the top of your coffee table. Singapore flag erasers come in super handy when you’re down by the lake in Chinese Garden pencil-sketching pagodas and cranes. And who doesn’t love NEWWATER? This wonderful elixir is the e-pee-tome of our self-sufficiency.

Still, the SG50 folks could have done better with the selection, and should have consulted Singaporeans like how they made us vote for the Jubilee Baby package, bearing in mind that not everyone will be up on their feet dancing on National Day. Some will be doing shift work making sure convenience stores and hospitals are still manned by humans. Others will be worrying about getting food on the table for their next meal. And there are the buggers flying off somewhere for holidays who can’t be bothered about this SG50 overkill.

Here’s my wishlist for a future DREAMpack. I just hope we don’t have to wait until SG100 for this.

1. N95 mask
2. Pre-paid Ezy-link card
3. Hello Kitty Merlion edition
4. A mini rotan
5. Special edition Chope tissue pack
6. An LKY doll with knuckledusters
7. A toy replica of the boat that they used on the set of ‘The Awakening’
8. A toy replica of an ERP gantry
9. A lego diorama of the Istana, with lego Tony Tan.
10. A map of Singapore. 100 years ago.

Future Music festival banned because of drugs

From ‘Future Music Festival Asia’s appeal for permit denied’, 7 March 2015, article in CNA

Future Music Festival Asia’s appeal for a permit has not been approved, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement on Friday (Mar 6).  “The Minister for Home Affairs has carefully considered and turned down the appeal by Livescape Singapore to hold the Future Music Festival Asia 2015 in Singapore,” said MHA in a statement. It said the appeal was received on Mar 3, and the outcome was conveyed to organisers Livescape Singapore on Mar 6.

Livescape Singapore, which has sold about 15,000 of the 20,000 tickets available for the two-day festival, previously submitted applications for a public entertainment licence to the police in January and last month, but was rejected both times. Police cited “serious concerns” over potential drug abuse at the event.

…The festival, which had a three-year run in Kuala Lumpur, has been marred by drug problems. Concert organisers had to put a stop to the event on its third day last year, after six Malaysians died of drug overdose and another 16 people were hospitalised for drug-related reasons.

Several Singaporeans were also hospitalised after a suspected drug overdose. Two were later charged for drug offences in Kuala Lumpur.

In Parliament on Friday, Senior Minister of State Masagos Zulkifli said that the Government is “keeping an eye” on music events, over concerns of potential drug abuse at such festivals.

In 1970, Woodstock: THE MOVIE was banned in Singapore. No official reasons were given then, but for a nation that also banned Puff the Magic Dragon, it became clear that the censors deemed Woodstock as not only a vile gathering of unsavoury, promiscuous, slovenly hippie characters who strut around nude, but also as a rock bacchanalia promoting and glamourising drug use.

Then ‘electronic music’ in the form of techno/trance arrived on the scene, and the Ecstasy-fuelled ‘rave party’ was born. Not only was such head-bobbing monotonous music conducive to getting high or stoned, it also served as a mantric, vulgar call to arms for secret society hooligans, as depicted in Royston Tan’s ’15’.

We mananged to keep Zoukout in check though, thanks to an army of security officers, though that didn’t stop people from falling into the sea and drowning, or getting molested. In fact, the risk of getting drunk or groped, whether it’s a rave or a state-sponsored New Year countdown, is higher than you slipping into a psychedelic death trance after popping some fun pills.

Zoukout isn’t all that innocent as we might think. Some folks have called for a total ban on that as well, for promoting a hedonistic lifestyle, spreading STDs and encouraging people to have random sex on the beach. The Zouk management insisted that this was the work of a few black sheep, and we shouldn’t allow such ugly incidents to taint the image of Singapore as THE nightlife destination in all of South East Asia.

Not that drug abuse isn’t already happening anyway. If you can’t drop some ketamine or mephedrone at beach festivals, you can always do it in the clubs, or ‘house parties’, where you don’t have nosy bouncers or undercover cops poking into your business all the time. This isn’t the first time we’ve deemed music a threat to public order and civilization as we know it. We’ve pressed the mute button for Thaipusam festivals, for example.

If it’s not due to knee-jerk ‘serious concerns’ over drug use, we also have zero tolerance towards artistes promoting the ‘gay lifestyle’. In 2005, an Action for Aids charity concert Affect05 was banned because it featured a gay couple as lead singers. Some Christians were aghast that openly gay Adam Lambert was performing in Singapore. Taiwanese veteran Ah Mei was banned from performing ‘Rainbow’ at Gardens by the Bay. It appears that succumbing to toxic hallucinations from Avicii-induced euphoria is just as bad as having the idea drilled into your head that ‘gay is OK’.

Maybe we should ban the Laneway festival as well, for turning our clean and green Singapore into a hideous ‘garbage city‘. Not to mention K-pop boyband concerts, for inducing cult-like behaviour. How about F1 concerts? In 2013, mega superstar Rihanna was allegedly high on weed while lip-synching on stage. Think of the harm this would do to her teenage fans! It’s been a while since we’ve seen the ‘Stomp!’ troupe performing in Singapore. Maybe we secretly banned them because they encouraged people to pick up random trash cans and sticks off the street and raise a ruckus, fooling the police into thinking that a riot is happening. And finally Sentosa New Year countdown parties too, because we don’t want women to get gang-raped in full public view.

What we’ll have left is ‘good clean,  wholesome, drug-free fun’, like Air Supply or Kenny Rogers in concert, where you’ll be exposed to love ballads about the sun and the rain and not think about getting high on marijuana at all.

UPDATE 9 March 2015: FMFAsia is officially cancelled. You could say it won’t be coming our way anymore in the near..future.

Parents sending kids for brain-training

From ‘Parents jump on brain-training wagon in bid to boost concentration and memory in children’, 9 Feb 2015, article by Amelia Teng, ST

Forget maths tuition, swimming lessons or piano classes. Parents are now sending their children for brain training, hoping to improve their concentration and memory skills.

…Some opt for these classes – which can cost more than $100 per session – as they think tuition may not be as effective. Aiming to train motor and processing skills, for instance, the centres use methods such as listening exercises and puzzles, as well as physical activities like catching balls.

…Ms Cheryl Chia, founder of BrainFit Studio, said getting distracted is a common problem. To combat this, children learn to focus and follow instructions. BrainFit has three branches here, two of which were set up in the last five years. Each branch takes in 200 pupils every year.

To cater to the growing interest, it started programmes in the last two years for pre-schoolers and toddlers as young as six months old. These programmes had about 50 and 20 children respectively last year.

At Happy Train, children go through “right-brain training” to speed up information processing skills. The centre has seen more than 400 children sign up, twice as many as seven years ago. Children younger than two years old make up half of its pupils today, compared with 30 to 40 per cent in 2008.

Another centre, People Impact, uses brain training techniques among its methods to boost intellect and social skills. It had over 100 children last year, a 45 per cent jump from the year before.

‘Brain training’ is preparatory class for what would eventually become tuition, and we already have enrichment classes for toddlers. Before you know it, with advancements in brain-fitness ‘neuroscience’, we’ll be training brains of foetuses while they’re still in their amniotic sacs. Maybe pregnant mummies will have to gyrate their bodies in a certain way to the nourishing sounds of Mozart so that their unborn child will exercise the necessary ‘mental muscles’ to prepare them when they’re discharged out of a womb into a chaotic world. You could call this Pre-brain training, priming your child’s rudimentary nervous system with tools based on the latest ‘neuroscientific principles’ when there’s nothing bigger than a budding hypothalamus in that gooey pre-head of his, so that he can develop an ‘intellect’ before he can even climb and descend a playground slide.

Anyone familiar with dystopic sci-fi should be able to see the creepiness of all this. An analogy would be an elite group of human beings with superior intellect and powers plugging newborns into a vat filled with neurochemicals and hormones, their eyes glued to a series of flashing cue cards and images from the history of mankind, subject to constant physical aquatic exercise, so that by the age of 3 years they emerge from their cell ready to devour Shakespeare, form theories of the universe, play tennis blindfolded and attend  a cocktail party without experiencing any social awkwardness at all.

Brainfit Studio is unabashed in giving its programmes titles like Baby Da Vinci, Baby Newton and Baby Einstein, with the notable absence of Baby Michael Jordan, Baby Britney Spears or Baby Lee Kuan Yew. It’s practically giving you a choice to pick the kind of genius and fine physical specimen you want your kid to grow into. Happy Train claims to imbue the powers of PERFECT PITCH and ALPHA-WAVE RELAXATION into their students, which are exactly the kind of properties you would want a docile singing robot to have. Heguru Education wants to take you out of the ‘Friendzone’ and into the INCREDIBLE GENIUS ZONE. And this is how People Impact describes one of their ‘creative sequencing’ courses:

The learning objective for this module is to enhance each student’s ability to recognise, encode, and generate sequences of significant symbols, objects and events, in ways which enhance memory whilst also reducing their cognitive workload. Students will learn to identify and make use of the differences between arbitrary and ‘naturally’ ordered sequences, whilst developing the means to construct time- and energy-efficient hierarchically organised sequence embedding when set-sizes become too large to handle ‘in-the-head’ when relying upon short-term memory alone.

Which sounds like something a theoretical physicist needs to decipher gravitational waves, not kids who’re barely old enough to tell the time. Playing with wooden blocks is not good enough, these guys want you to break codes that would stump Alan Turing. With all this emphasis on ‘right-brain training’, your kid may grow up with a skull that looks exactly like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Einstein never needed a gym instructor for the mind nor an intellect on steroids. Kids these days.

As a parent you could, of course, forget about the prenatal ratrace and only start preparing your kid by buying past years’ PSLE assessment books when they’re Primary 5. You could bring them to the beach instead of a ‘learning lab’, build sandcastles, play catch, hide and seek, climb a tree, challenge to tic-tac-toe in the sand, catch a crab or skip stones.  Or, if you want your kid to grow up into Megamind, you could splurge on a brain-training session so that someone else can play damn ball with him, and not waste time with all this dirt and adventure bullshit.

There’s already a tried and tested, but more importantly, FREE, method available to any parent who wants to see their offspring develop into a human being full of potential with his own personality, not a polished automaton with a bootcamp brain with chill alpha-waves. It’s called PLAY.

Shisha ban affecting the ‘character’ of Arab Street

From ‘Shisha smoking on decline over past 2 years’, article by Amir Hussain, 10 Nov 2014, ST

…Last year, the authorities revoked the outdoor smoking licences of 12 out of 23 shisha cafes in the area for allowing shisha smoking outside designated areas. Under the law, food establishments are allowed to have smoking areas of up to one-fifth of their outdoor refreshment areas. There are now 16 licensed shisha retailers, with the majority in Kampong Glam. This is a far cry from the 49 in 2012.

A ban on the import, distribution and sale of shisha, which will kick in later this month, will allow existing retailers to sell the tobacco product until July 31, 2016. Noting the gradual decline in shisha providers over the past two years, seven businesses, ranging from carpet shops to an outdoor gear retailer in the Arab Street area, told The Straits Times they were not surprised by the ban announced in Parliament last week.

…But the first shisha retailer in Singapore, Cafe Le Caire’s owner Ameen Talib, said: “The fact is that shisha brought a certain character to the area, led it to be known as an Arabic Quarter and added a certain vibrancy.”

Dr Talib, 52, first received a tobacco retail licence from the Health Sciences Authority in September 2001, two months after opening his restaurant in the then sleepy Arab Street. The former accountancy professor, a third-generation Arab Singaporean, said he wanted to rejuvenate the former Arab Quarter of colonial-era Singapore.

“When you walk around, you need to smell the aroma of kebab, the aroma of shisha. Visually, you need to see people sitting on the road relaxed, smoking shisha. You get the feeling you are in the Middle East. And you need to hear Arabic music as you walk down the road,” he said.

In 2004, 3 years after Dr Talib first introduced Singaporeans to shisha, or ‘sheeshah’, he called Arab Street the ‘only bohemian village in town’, where one can have ‘nice, CLEAN fun’ without alcohol. A shisha contraption, of course, other than having a pipe that you stick in your mouth and trade saliva with others, is far from ‘clean’, despite the use of a bubbling water vessel that gives the illusion of ‘purification’. Before MOH resorted to a total ban, HPB had to rely on public education i.e scare tactics to warn users that shisha wasn’t just another form of social smoking. Unlike a standard cigarette, you risk contracting not just lung cancer, but Tuberculosis and HERPES. It’s like putting an ornamented pubic toilet brush in your mouth and sucking on it for hours. Yes, don’t let that cute Ninja Girl blowing a dildo-shaped watermelon shisha fool you. That thing is a biohazard.

The same shisha-pushing professor also called for a blanket ban of alcohol throughout the area back in 2012, in order to preserve the ‘core and heritage’ of Kampong Glam, the same shisha-centric ‘character’ that he pioneered back in 2001. There was no shisha before Talib opened the floodgates, but it doesn’t mean that Arab Street, with its carpets, textile, spice shops, tomb-makers, didn’t have any less of its Islamic ‘charm’ then, even if it didn’t immediately transport visitors to the bustling smoky, dusty bazaars of Baghdad sans camels and belly-dancing slave girls. In fact, some shop owners in the area even agreed that shisha was a relatively new trend, and was NEVER connected to Kampong Glam’s identity and history. Maybe the Sultan and his royal family imported them secretly from the Middle East back in the 19th century, but it was never a feature of the ‘kampung’ vibe on the streets.

So what’s Talib’s cafe going to do now that it doesn’t sell alcohol and recently had its shisha licence revoked for flouting outdoor smoking regulations? How about some nice, clean, live screenings of football over authentic Samovar tea then? The total ban may be a little extreme, given that cigarettes are spared because they have become ‘entrenched’ according to MOH spokesmen (and also taxable), but to say that banning shisha will make the ‘Arab Quarter’ lose its ‘character’, ‘vibrancy’ or ‘heritage’ is a pitiless excuse for the real reason; Fear of business going up in smoke. Ban prostitution and you’ll have pimps complaining that, like losing shisha, it’ll deprive Geylang of its ‘character’ and ‘colour’ as well.


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