Singaporean man setting himself on fire in JB

From ‘Singaporean man sets himself on fire in JB’, 13 April 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru. The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol. The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher. He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

In 1969, Ah Hock Keith Morrisson committed suicide ‘Vietnamese style’ by setting himself on fire with a tin of kerosene. His dramatic death happened within a few months of leaving the Singapore Infantry Regimen, during which he exhibited abnormal behaviour such as crying or staring in a daze. The ST described the fiery act as turning himself into a HUMAN TORCH, which is also a Marvel character and part of the Fantastic 4 assemble created in 1961.  A few years later, a Buddhist nun set herself alight ‘Saigon-style’ in a temple, using the same flammable liquid. It is not known if these were in fact inspired by a series of self-immolation protests by Vietnamese monks in the 60′s, or the result of a deadly obsession with a comic book hero whose entire body comes alight at will.

This man is on fire

This man is on fire

A quarrel over suspected infidelity combusted into suicide when 28 year old Madam Kalachelvi set herself on fire after hearing rumours of her husband’s cheating. The distraught husband followed suit. Suicide by self-torching continued into the 90′s, with a case of a 13 year old SCHOOLBOY performing the act after getting a scolding (Schoolboy, 13, set fire to himself after scolding in school, 28 Nov 1992, ST). In 2010, a man, reportedly suffering from mental illness, walked into a Shell petrol kiosk toilet and came out in flames. The most recent incident occurred at the Ceylon Sports Club, Balestier last August, with kerosene again found at the death scene. There’s no record of locals burning themselves to death for political causes as far as I know, though you could get in trouble for setting effigies of our Transport Minister aflame.

Singaporeans are renown petrol guzzlers in JB, some even stocking up petrol in cans in car boots to bring home. One Stomper caught Singaporean drivers attempting to bring these back across the Causeway disguised as engine oil containers (You can import up to 20 Litres without a licence). Other drivers are seen jacking up or shaking their cars  just to load more petrol, to get more bang for their Singaporean buck. With a reputation for such strange, kiasu behaviour, a lone man on foot asking to handcarry 4L of petrol wouldn’t seem too surprising, and the only reason I could think of as to why he had to do it in JB is that you can’t just walk into any shop to buy kerosene as if  it were cooking oil here.

A couple of years ago we were wracked by a spate of copycat suicides by drowning in reservoirs (which may actually be as painful and agonising as burning to death, both falling under the Top 10 Worst Ways to Die). One can only hope that this single act of self-immolation doesn’t, well, spread like wildfire.

Postscript: Stephen Lew Soon Khiang, 42, died of his self-inflicted injuries within a day, with doctors saying that he had just a 1% chance of survival.

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru.

The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol.

The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher.

He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/singaporean-man-sets-himself-fire-jb-20140413#sthash.a38528Iw.dpuf

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Schizophrenic NSman slapped with 14 extras before suicide jump

From ‘Coroner rules out foul play in NSF’s death’, 12 April 2014, article in CNA

A Coroner’s report has ruled out foul play in the death of a 22-year-old man who was serving national service last year. Full-time national serviceman (NSF) Pte Ganesh Pillay – who has schizophrenia – was found dead at the foot of his condominium in Sengkang last July.

His father has raised concerns over how the army deals with soldiers with mental conditions. The Coroner’s Court heard that Pte Ganesh’s supervisor did not know the full extent – and effects – of schizophrenia.

…Pte Ganesh was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18. But his father said his son’s condition had stabilised with medication. He said: “When the army told him that he cannot be exempted, but he will be downgraded to PES E, I was rest assured that the army will take care of him. I trusted the army.

“In fact, I trusted that much to the very last day. I still have that trust, until the time he died, then I start to figure out what went wrong.” On the day Pte Ganesh died, he was unwell and had returned home from camp.

His supervisor — Captain Jessie Goh — had earlier issued Pte Ganesh with 14 extra duties as punishment for, among other things, unsatisfactory work and improper bearing. Mr Reganathan said Captain Goh seemed oblivious to his son’s condition.

In a similar suicide case in 1979, Cpl Tan Cheng Eyong leapt to his death 2 days after consultation with a camp psychiatrist. He had obsessive-compulsive neurosis and ‘reactive depression’, a disorder reportedly triggered by his O Level exams.  A 1987 report on the incidence of mental illness among NSmen revealed that between 400 and 500 required psychiatric help each year, of which 10 to 15% suffered from schizophrenia, 30-35% with ‘stress related conditions’ and the rest from ‘depression, anxiety, HOMOSEXUALITY and various other NEUROSES’.   What was less reported in the 80′s was the phenomenon known as ‘possession-trance’, (40 cases referred to Woodbridge from 1979 to 1981) where the authors of a study published in 1986 discussed the effect of a stressful life event like NS on this ‘hysterical dissociation’. I would expect the rates of mental illness to be higher today, though it’s unlikely that there are any official statistics on this matter. Most boys escape NS unscathed of course, but some, like Ganesh, may have flown way over the cuckoo’s nest.

Ex military psychiatrist and colonel Ang Yong Guan identified schizophrenia as the MOST COMMON psychotic illness among NSmen, with only a minority of those diagnosed able to qualify to work in non-combat positions provided their disease was under control. 19 year old Julius Chan, today a peer specialist dealing with mental patients, wanted to pursue priesthood and avoid NS. He ‘prayed a lot, asking God to take away this time’ for him, went too far, suffered a schizoid breakdown and was eventually exempted from conscription. The most well known case of an NSman going berserk is Dave Teo, who went AWOL with a SAR21 rifle and ammo after his girlfriend broke up with him and eventually jailed for 9 years. He was suffering from behavioral problems including suicidal thoughts and depression, and also ‘began to HEAR VOICES of people who were not there’, aural hallucinations being one of the signs of schizophrenia. Thankfully, no one was massacred in Orchard Road where Dave was caught.

Then there are the other neurological diseases. Jonathan Lim Chong Ping, who drowned in the Singapore River over Christmas in 2013, had sought treatment for ‘adjustment disorder’ while serving NS.  Harmoko Julianus, 22, was suffering a relapse of bipolar disorder when he made a bomb hoax at the British embassy and only exempted from NS after the incident. Maybe the best management of mental disorders in young men is not helplines or risperidone, but a PES F status, whereby you’re medically unfit for any kind of service altogether.

Andy Ho of ST believes that NS, which takes the schizophrenic away from his family, stigmatises and punishes him for symptoms of his illness, should be exempted altogether (Exempt these young men from NS, 13 April 2014, Sunday Times). In any case, is clerical work so important that we need to desperately fill these vocations with boys with mental illness if we have to? What’s the value of fulfilling NS obligations for the sake of it if they don’t do anything productive or in Ganesh’s case, make things worse?

It is not clear when exactly an 18 year old Ganesh became schizophrenic, but only a study examining the onset of schizophrenia among Singaporean men will provide some insight as to whether the regimental rigours of NS has anything to do with aggravating the disease, adjusting for other factors such as family history. Any researcher, however, would be MAD to even propose such a hypothesis for a complex disorder, one that happens to manifest around the same time as NS enlistment. Also, we don’t have a base of non-enlisted men to compare to since NS is mandatory. A 1968 study by Steinberg and Durrell, however, showed a striking increase in admissions for schizophrenia among men joining the US Army, especially within the first month. Those include men who WILLINGLY signed up for war.

What’s unacceptable here is that for such a prevalent mental disorder among NSmen, someone of the rank of Captain would have totally no clue about what schizophrenia means. It doesn’t help that society also often downplays the term ‘schizophrenic’ as reference to anything that’s ‘unpredictable’ or mixes it up with ‘multiple/split personality’. Singapore’s Urbanism has been described as ‘schizophrenic’, and artist David Chan calls his exhibition about humans with animal heads ‘Hybrid Society: Schizophrenia‘.  It has also been misused to describe spouses, friends or bosses who are ‘extremely temperamental’. To an uninformed layperson like Jessie Goh, a ‘schizo’ attack may not be any more severe than someone throwing a really bad tantrum.

One of the extras dished out to Ganesh was for ‘failure to sign a logbook’. To lash out 14 extras on a human being, schizophrenic or not, is also a sign of mental disturbance, that of a sadistic psychopath. And there are probably more of these in the military than people hearing voices and thinking of killing themselves. The commando head dunker, the dog abuser, or the encik who insults your mother. Maybe all these nuts should get their heads checked as well.

Schoolchildren spending too much time on CCAs

From ‘Review time spent on CCAs’, 24 March 2014, ST Forum

(Lee Hui Ling): …My daughter studies at an independent secondary school. She is required to stay back after school for her CCA three days a week, each time for up to four hours. If there are forthcoming performances or competitions, she may need to stay back on additional days for practice.

Many of her schoolmates who take public transport wake up as early as 5.30am to make it in time for school at 7.20am. Lessons end around 1.30pm and, following lunch, CCA starts at 2.30pm and ends at 6.30pm. Taking public transport home sets them back by another one to 11/2 hours and some manage to reach home only after 8pm. Following a quick dinner and wash-up, they start on their heavy homework load or revisions after 9pm. By the time they go to bed, it is way past midnight or 1am.

They wake up a few hours later at 5.30am, with barely five hours of sleep, to start another long, tiring day.

…In their quest to excel in not only academics but also CCAs, some schools may have imposed gruelling hours on students. In the process, students, and the teachers who stay back for equally long hours, get caught up in a system that drains them mentally and physically. The primary purpose of CCA is to develop the interests and talents of students; winning accolades is secondary and this should not be done at the expense of students’ health.

I urge the Ministry of Education and the Health Promotion Board to look into this issue.

In 2008, 15 year old ACS student Tan Wen Yi wanted to get out of track and field and switch to drama as his CCA. He was made to stay back 4 times a week as punishment for skipping training to play football. When his parents refused to have any of it, he headed for his bedroom, climbed onto the ledge of the window and jumped to his death. Right in front of his hapless mother. No one saw it coming.

Of course most kids don’t resort to such drastic tactics to get out of CCAs, but added pressure and long hours during competition season is part and parcel of school life. What parents are really worried about, other than sleep deprivation or sudden suicide, is whether this preoccupation with ‘winning accolades’ would have any impact on their child’s studies. If you’re a Type A go-getter and extrovert who thrives on CCAs and little sleep and want to be the Prime Minister when you grow up, then good for you. If CCA is a dreary chore and you would rather spend the time writing Chinese composition, then there should be flexibility to cut back, like ‘days off’ after intense training or medal success, or the choice to take a less hectic CCA.  The problem is some schools may deprive you of a CCA which may be the best fit for you for purely ‘business’ reasons, like an under-performing team which can’t deliver results. Not to mention kiasu parents who think some bonus points would do you good and forbid you from joining any ‘unprofitable’ CCA that seems, well, FUN.

Add homework, tuition and piano lessons to the mix and you’ll produce ‘well-rounded’ kids who hardly have time for themselves or family, victims of the national philosophy that children can only grow up to be productive cogs in the machine if they excelled in at least 1 CCA. Kids who’re ‘team players’ but lack the spark of creativity, fail to develop spiritually, or don’t get to experience the world outside school or even the country. Kids who don’t know what it’s like to help out at their parents’ hawker stall, how to climb a tree, or do something nice for a needy stranger.  In 2007, a survey revealed that only 2.6% of teens had at least 9 hours of sleep every night, a deficit that they can’t even make up for during week long holidays which are often stuffed with even more CCA activities, homework, enrichment classes or group projects. We’re producing kids who can’t, both literally and figuratively, DREAM.

During my time, competitive sport taught me the sour taste of humiliation and defeat and I have no regrets, but I never felt like I was cheated of my personal time, nor put in a pressure cooker environment like what kids these days seem to be immersed in.  So now we know where this epidemic of ‘busyness’ in the working world comes from. We were groomed from young to be madly rushing, always behind time, and everyone believes that this constant stress as a driver for excellence can only be a good thing. Until someone breaks and does the unthinkable that is, which by then would be only too little, too late.

 

Folding paper ingots forbidden by some religions

From ‘Religion getting in the way of filial piety’, 22 March 2014, Voices, Today

(Evelyn Tan): My husband’s grandmother died recently at the age of 91. The last couple of years were difficult as she was bedridden and fading day by day….According to her wishes, the funeral arrangements followed Taoist tradition. This involved elaborate prayers, processions and folding thousands of paper ingots to send her on a comfortable journey to the afterlife. With that many offspring, one would have expected all hands on deck.

What materialised seemed to be a reflection of changing times and narrow beliefs. Several of her offspring have adopted other religions and refused to participate in any of the Taoist ceremonies, including the folding of paper ingots. I find this a strange phenomenon. Surely, what matters must be the wishes of the deceased, rather than the beliefs of the living?

As more Singaporeans become well-travelled, no one has qualms about visiting religious landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan. In fact, many plan to visit these landmarks. As we progress in this society, we must remain tolerant of all beliefs.

Using religion as an excuse to distance oneself from religious ceremonies for a loved one seems to be a practice of double standards and the start of an intolerant approach.

Although the writer did not specify what religion her uncooperative relatives belonged to, it’s likely to be Christianity,  in which a related funeral custom, the handling of joss sticks, is frowned upon by some practitioners.  Some refuse to even touch a bag of it as if it were poison. According to a certain pastor ‘Steven Wong’, holding joss sticks is a symbol of ancestral worship, and God explicitly forbids ‘a relationship with the spirits of the dead (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). He goes so far to call the practice  ‘demonic and occultic’, and makes you a bad, bad Christian.

Joss sticks aside, burning ‘hell money’ is also discouraged, for its purpose is to ‘bribe’ the departing spirits and keep them from descending into our realm and peek at us from behind the closet. Tough luck for dead Granny if her only Christian child refuses to send a paper iPad up to her in heaven, which makes her more likely to come down and haunt your dreams. A baptised ‘child of God’ is also prohibited from kneeling before a corpse, because it’s an act of demonic supplication. All this coming from a faith where you ‘eat’ the body and ‘drink’ the blood of Jesus Christ, channel gibberish in fits of ecstasy, and you carry around wooden cross talismans as protection against vampires.

The Deuteronomy text is specific on what constitutes an ‘abomination’ in the eyes of the Lord: Divination, enchanter, witch, charmer, consulter with familiar spirits, wizard, NECROMANCER. There’s no disclaimer on conducting rites as a ‘mark of respect’ for a dead human being rather than a wandering garden deity. As long as you oblige your funeral hosts with the simplest of tasks like burning incense or folding pieces of paper, you’re deemed to be engaging in evil hocus-pocus and black magic, like you’re part of a seance communicating with dead punters for Toto numbers. By that argument, Christians are also forbidden from believing in fairy godmothers, or watching clowns perform magic in front of terminally ill children.

Christians are free to visit other places of worship, of course, as long as they don’t attempt to communicate with other spirits and look like they’re worshipping another invisible heavenly being. So there’s no ‘double standard’ to speak of. But it’s not just others’ religious rites that Christians condemn as cult behaviour. They may even be a wet blanket at wedding banquets. Christian forum writer Steve Ngo experienced one of a Chinese couple where it was forbidden to shout ‘YUM SENG’ because conservative Christians considered it ‘paganistic’. Even the 12 animals in the zodiac are not spared from accusations of occultism and idolatry. One Christian writer says it’s not right to even wish your loved ones ‘GONG XI FA CAI’. My God, can you guys even wish upon a star? Whether you’re Christian or not, we engage in little acts of ‘unholy’ divination every single day. We buy ‘lucky numbers’ at the pools, we refrain from lying on the bed of the dearly departed, we throw bouquets at bridesmaids in a wedding, we shake a pair of dice longer thinking we’ll get a better roll, we throw coins in a well, we seal a love letter with a kiss. If all these are signs of devil worship, then by all means, I’d rather be Satan’s little imp than an obedient servant of a nitpicky God. Life would be so boring without fantasy and ‘black magic’.

Refusing to abide by superstitious traditions, unlike what the title of the letter suggests, isn’t so much an act of impious rebellion (The author makes no mention of the words ‘filial piety’), than being a stickler to indoctrination.  Just making the effort to turn up or stand before the altar in silence is already a decent sign of respect and gratitude and no one has the right to force you to burn incence or follow a monk around a coffin if you don’t want to, for whatever silly arcane reasons. But if you look beyond these superficial rituals, you’d see such family activities not just as netherwordly appeasement, but they serve as a form of social bonding, and if it’s in your benefit to play along even if your religion labels it as sacrilegious, then indulge your relatives just for the moment.  If your God is the loving God that He claims he is, he’d understand your intentions. Of course most Chinese Christians don’t go so far as to rubbish the ‘Year of the Horse’ or refuse to wear red over CNY because it’s a sign of sucking up to Cai Shen Ye, a pagan magical troll in the eyes of the Lord, but if you’re the kind who thinks folding paper ingots is a satanic ritual, then you should be at least consistent in your beliefs, like, burning your Harry Potter books and banning your kids from watching the Wizard of Oz.

Indonesia naming ship after MacDonald House bombers

From ‘Singapore concerned over naming of Indonesian navy ship after executed commandos’, 6 Feb 2014, article by Zakir Hussain, ST

Singapore has registered its concerns over Indonesia’s naming of a navy ship after two Indonesian marines who took part in the 1965 bombing of MacDonald House on Orchard Road. Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said on Wednesday night that Foreign Minister K Shanmugam spoke to his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Marty Natalegawa, to register these concerns “and the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims”.

Indonesia’s Kompas daily had reported this week that the last of the Indonesian Navy’s three new British-made frigates would be named the KRI Usman Harun, after marines Osman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said.

“The two Indonesian marines were found guilty of the bombing which killed three people and injured 33 others,” the MFA spokeman said in response to media queries. “Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines,” he added.

The duo were members of Indonesia’s special Operations Corps Command, which is today the Marine Corps, and had been ordered to infiltrate Singapore during Indonesia’s Confrontation with Malaysia.

In today’s context, Osman and Harun would have been labelled ‘terrorists’, and not a single mention of ‘terrorism’ or ‘terror’ was made in the entire ST article. In contrast, the original report on the bomb blast back in 1965 read ‘TERROR BOMB KILLS 2 GIRLS at BANK’. Dr Toh Chin Chye was also quoted as describing the tragedy as a ‘senseless act of cruelty’ and that people must play a more positive and determined part to ‘weed out terrorists’ in our midst.

In 2012, a blogger by the name of Thimbuktu captured the plaque on the facade of the still standing, and now National Monument, which tells us that the building was a ‘scene of a bomb attack by Indonesian TERRORISTS on 10 March 1965 during Konfrontasi’. I’m not sure if the inflammatory word has been edited since, or if anyone in the Middle East names warships after Saddam or Usama.

Among the innocents killed in the blast were 36 yr old Suzie Khoo, private secretary, 23 yr old Juliet Goh, filing clerk, and driver Mohammed Yasin bin Kesit, 45. I don’t remember the MacDonald House attack being mentioned in any of our history textbooks, nor any of the 37 bombs that hit us during the Sukarno led Konfrontasi. It wasn’t just public buildings being targetted. In Dec 1963, two men were killed in Sennett Estate, while another deadly bomb went off on April 1964 at a BLOCK OF HDB FLATS off Changi Road. The thought of such a disaster happening in the heartland is unimaginable, while people like Caleb Rozario are having fantasies about the MBS being pulverised by missiles from heaven.

LKY was in fact ‘persuaded’ by ambassador to Indonesia Lee Khoon Choy to sprinkle flowers over the graves of the executed, a symbolic move that supposedly moved the Indonesia diplomat to tears. Lee wrote:

On the night of the banquet given by President Suharto, a bat flew into room which symbolised good luck for them. The relationship between Singapore and Indonesia had been restored.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 9.58.48 PM

No, no one decided to lead the life of a Caped Crusader since that night, but the ‘flowers and bat’ effect didn’t last long. Ties were strained again in the late 1990s, with BJ Habibie calling us a ‘racist country’ and inadvertently giving us global branding by calling us, derogatorily, a ‘little red dot’, a moniker which has since stuck and used to death by STB. We blame them for the haze and they retort by saying we behave like little children.  In response to our ministers’ lament about the lack of respect from the ship naming, Golkar MP Hajriyanto Thohari had this to say: ‘Let Singapore keep shrieking, like a chicken beaten by a stick’ (Jakarta’s move reflects disrespect, 8 Feb 2014, ST). The use of ‘chicken’ is telling, but it also says a lot about the cock-and-bull story people come up with glorify murderers as heroes.

If our government hadn’t expressed their disappointment in the naming, I wouldn’t have figured that ‘Usman Harun’ referred to a couple of militant killers, nor would I have cared about what Indonesians name their vessels after. But whether or not we decide to urge the Indonesians to drop the unfortunate name, the bringing up of decades-old wounds is essential to remind ourselves of how vulnerable we can be in the face of unfriendly forces, and not to take our security for granted.

And yes, the MBS is too obvious a target for bombing. Try keeping an eye out on void decks for a change.

Teenage students dying during PE lessons

From ’13 year old student dies after PE lesson, second case this week’, 16 Jan 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A 13-year-old student from Temasek Junior College died on Wednesday during a physical education (PE) lesson, after he reportedly had an asthma attack. A relative of the boy, who is an Integrated Programme student, told Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao that the student had informed the PE teacher that he felt unwell. He collapsed right after that.

Police have classified the case as an unnatural death and are investigating. This is the second such case this week. On Monday, a 16-year-old student from Tanglin Secondary died after jogging during a PE lesson.

According to the Chinese papers, the boy fainted while doing WARM UP EXERCISES, dying shortly after while in hospital. In 1988, 19 year old Ong Kok Kheng also died after doing warm up exercises. 3 years later, 15 year old Aw Wei Yong collapsed and died after walking 2 rounds around a basketball court as part of team ‘warm up’. Though both the latter victims had a ‘heart condition’, we usually think of ‘warming up’ as an activity to PREVENT injury rather than one that could actually kill you. If you think about the evolution of human running, the act of warming up comes across as totally unnatural preparation for any form of rapid locomotion. Most physically daunting activities that we perform on a daily basis are often bursts of adrenaline-fuelled spontaneity and don’t require any form of ‘warm-up’ whatsoever.  Dashing after a bus, dancing, quickie sex. The worst that could happen was getting a stitch. Not stitched up in a coffin.

If doing embarrassing hip rotation exercises could slay you, imagine what track equipment could do to your mortal flesh. In 1991, a JC student died a gruesome death after impaling himself on a JAVELIN. He was playing with HULA HOOPS when the freak tragedy happened. When I was in JC, we were made to handle ‘medicine balls’, dusty heavy weapons of mass destruction that could cause sink holes on the road if you dropped them from a sufficient height. Sometimes it’s the PE teacher herself attacking you for not showing enough enthusiasm, and all you have to defend yourself with is a beanbag or a plastic cone. PE lessons aren’t just hazardous to some kids, but to PE teachers as well. You may get knocked into a coma by a stray shot put ball, or beaten silly with a piece of wood by a kid unwilling to walk around the field as punishment.

We used to be a tough lot. As early as 1939 schoolchildren were forced to do rhythmic exercises for developing ‘suppleness’. Some of these gymnastic shenanigans were more military-grade than the wussy stuff they dish out in army now. Those days if I didn’t want to study I could at least have become a travelling acrobat, with a body drilled into supple perfection.

Hangin tough

Hangin tough

When one too many army boys die for nothing, SAF puts a stop to outdoor training. If you have kids collapsing during school hours when PE is supposed to be the most fun part of your entire education, perhaps the Ministry should look into putting classes on hold as well and devote the time to catching up on homework instead. Much to the delight of kiasu parents of course.

Bidadari new town should be renamed ‘Sunshine estate’

From ‘S’poreans unfazed by Bidadari’s past’, 1 Sept 2013, article by Rachel Tan, Sunday Times

…Once the largest grave site in Singapore, the 18ha Bidadari Cemetery is making way for a new Housing Board town and private estates. However, many young Singaporeans are not aware of its history. From a group of around 20 people in their 20s and 30s that The Sunday Times spoke to, only half knew it was a burial ground.

…Mr Gan Ying Kiat, 30, was looking to move to the Bidadari area with his wife. “I’m not bothered by its cemetery history,” he said. “I’m aware that other housing areas like Bishan were also cemeteries.

…Bidadari – meaning “angel” or “fairy” in Malay – had sections for Muslims, Hindus, Singhalese and Christians but burials ended there in 1972. Towns such as Bishan, Toa Payoh and parts of Bukit Timah were also cemeteries.

…Businesswoman Eunice Tan believes it will take a lot of incentives to entice people to live on a former graveyard. The 60-year-old said: “Frankly, I wouldn’t like to live on such burial grounds unless the prices and amenities are extremely attractive, especially for first-time buyers.”

She even proposed alternative names for the new development – including “Happy Estate” and “Sunshine Estate”.

Ms Sitifazilah Perey had similar sentiments. She wrote on Facebook: “Since there are a significant number of superstitious Singaporeans, it is better to change the name.”

Bishan today is more renown for an elite institution, a congested MRT interchange and an iconic park than a place where dead bodies were left to rot. It’s also known for maisonettes with sky-high prices more terrifying than the ghost stories we used to tell about the last train on the MRT line, or creepy tales about the said prestigious school itself. Not that supernatural urban legends or dug up skeletons will stop people from sending their children to RI, or making Bishan their home (because of wanting to send their children to RI).

Formerly the graveyard known as ‘Pek San Teng’, Bishan was renamed to its Hanyu Pinyin version as part of a $700 million facelift with the original intention of housing ‘LOWER and MIDDLE income groups’. Haunted or not, that didn’t stop ‘superstitious Singaporeans’ from flocking to what was touted as a ‘spanking new’, ‘state of the art HDB‘. Nobody cared if Kampung San Teng used to be a gangster hideout; Bishan was the future then and remains popular now, even if property prices continue to feel like bloody extortion.

Bidadari, a bird naturalist and cyclist haven, looks set to follow in Bishan’s footsteps, yet another relentless drive to turn our hallowed grounds into trendy estates, unabashed urban sacrilege for the sake of progress. History tells us that the government may tweak its name to help people forget about wandering spirits, but one shouldn’t patronise its morbid past by calling it the schmaltzy ‘Sunshine estate’, which sounds more like a retirement hub than an up-and-coming model for sustainable living.

I doubt they would turn a Malay word into Hanyu Pinyin either, because there’s no difference between ‘Bi Da Da Li’ and ‘Bidadari’. My only reservation with the sing-song ‘Bidadari’ is its inconvenient phonetics which encourages tongue-twisters, like ‘Hey Dar, I bid for Bidadari BTO already!’, and that it sounds like a lyric in a 90′s techno song . I have to admit I also typo-ed ‘Bididari’ and ‘Bidadiri’ while writing this post.  Who knows, there may be a competition for such things. How about ‘Vernon’ after the nearby columbarium? ‘Woodley’ as a hybrid of Bartley and Woodleigh (both neighbouring MRT stations)? Or Angelville?

Whatever it’s called, there will be urban legends, legends that our kids will remember more than what Bidadari actually once was.  But it’s not just the ghost of long-haired women in white that we should be worried about, but the ghost of ecological damage coming back to haunt us. Nobody cared about exotic birds or variable squirrels when Bishan was developed, and if voices against environmental holocaust go ignored this time, Bidadari, like Bishan, will within 30 years turn from promising ‘urban oasis’ to a cookie-cutter HDB town with smatterings of sterile, forced greenery where the only link it has with its cemetery past would be how devoid of a soul it is.

LKY on death and mediocrity

From ‘Singapore’s Lee says he wants a quick death’, 7 Aug 2013, AFP article in insing

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who will turn 90 next month, said in a new book published Tuesday that he feels weaker by the day and wants a quick death.

“Some time back, I had an Advanced Medical Directive (AMD) done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit,” he wrote in the book “One Man’s View of the World”.

…”There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach,” he wrote.

…Singapore’s low birth rate has forced the government to open the country to foreigners, who now comprise a third of the population. The influx, however, has sparked protests from citizens and prompted the government to tighten immigration flows in recent years.

Lee pointed to the example of Japan, which he said is on a “stroll into mediocrity” as the ranks of its elderly swell due to young couples not producing enough babies.

Well, I suppose everybody desires a quick and painless death, including founding fathers, though for LKY he may choose to succumb to it only if he’s willing to let go of his baby, our Singapore. In 1988, he famously declared at the National Day Rally that:

Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.

A quote that has often been misinterpreted as LKY RISING from the grave. Like a zombie. Our ex MM has been the victim of a couple of hoax deaths himself, none of which imply a ‘quick and painless’ one as he so desires, though some opponents would wish him the exact opposite.

Today, he appears to want to spend as little time on a ‘sick bed’ as far as possible. To LKY, death is, in other words, Retirement and playing Scrabble, while most of us look forward to the end of work as a reason to rejoice, to LIVE. In 2008 after suffering from an atrial flutter, he said that he would not live beyond 94 as his father did, and attributed longevity to his parents’ genes in addition to an abstemious lifestyle of repetitive exercise and spartan eating, a routine some would deem to be worse than death itself.

Despite his intolerance for mediocrity like one’s revulsion of the plague, there’s every possibility that LKY’s inevitable demise will be as ‘mediocre’ as the rest of humanity. In 1976, he set out his criteria on Government job candidates:

…I don’t defend rudeness. I don’t defend arrogance. I don’t defend mediocrity. I don’t defend the desire to do the minimum and get by.

In 2007, he even used mediocrity to justify why First World Nordic countries like FInland and Denmark paid their ministers less than those in Singapore.

…He (Low Thia Khiang) has compared Singapore as if it were Denmark, Finland or Switzerland. Their systems and governments never produced the kind of transformation that we have, and their system and government have a broader base and can afford a mediocre government.

So much for this medicore ‘Swiss standard of living’ then. Naturally you would have Scandinavians retorting to LKY’s remark with the ‘Nokia’ argument.

He kept up the defence of his stance of only having the best in 2008, when he said:

If they (Government) do not find talented people with the drive, energy, integrity and passion, then the future is in doubt. The system cannot cope with inadequate, mediocre men. You need top men, able men.

Alas, you can’t have a functioning society without mediocre people taking up mediocre work to serve the cream of the crop. To us it’s a ‘normal’, even ‘average’, day job, be it operating cranes or running a hawker stall. To LKY, mediocrity is a euphemism for physical and intellectual laziness. From the way he describes Japan’s ‘elderly swell’ like a fetid tumour, it appears he has little faith in the ‘silver economy’ as well.

Mediocrity may also be defined as being nothing ‘out of the ordinary’, so if Japan is ‘strolling towards mediocrity’, then Singapore, if she continues with the same system of government, policies, education, housing and arcane laws,  is steadily ‘brisk-walking’ towards it.  A template city with a makeshift citizen core that has lost its soul, a mediocre shell of what it aspires to be, that even she herself would commit seppuku just to get it over and done with.

It’s unlikely that ‘One Man’s View’ will be the elder statesman’s swansong and he may be waiting out for that ultimate autobiography of autobiographies to deliver his final chapter on himself, on Singapore. If he’s right about the 94 year deadline, then that last book, a potential record-breaking blockbuster (especially if unfinished), will be 4 years in the making. Fifty Shades of Lee, perhaps?

Children younger than 10 committing suicide

From ‘Younger victims a cause for concern’ 14 July 2013, article by Kash Cheong, Sunday Times

It is a chilling statistic. Last year, a boy became the first child in the five-to-nine age group to commit suicide here in at least 10 years.

“There are rarely any deaths in this age group because children do not understand the concept of death,” said psychiatrist Chia Boon Hock who has studied decades of suicide data in Singapore…”Some of them might think that death means closing your eyes, but you can wake up tomorrow…The coroner must have found evidence beyond doubt that this is a suicide.”

Seventeen teenagers aged 10 to 19 killed themselves last year, the second highest figure among this age group for the past five years, the Registry of Births and Deaths statistics also showed. In 2009, the figure was 19.

Not only is it a chilling statistic, but it’s probably also one too distressing or unbelievable to report to the public when the boy’s suicide occurred last year. God knows what a child is thinking when he decides to end his life, but this is one act of extreme defiance that will haunt his parents forever. Instead of hushing up an unthinkable tragedy, someone needs to look into how a society like ours triggers self-destructive thoughts in children, who either have no understanding of what death is, or believe in the sweet euphemism that is heaven and the afterlife. Parents, think twice before telling your kid that Grandma or his dead hamster is in a ‘better place’.

In 2000 and 2001, a total of 12 children between 10 and 14 years old killed themselves in Singapore, then one of the highest rates of child suicide in the world. One of them, 10 year old Lysher Loh, believed to be stressed out from schoolwork, jumped to her death. Lysher had previously joked about suicide if her CHINESE grades didn’t improve. She was Primary 5. In the 1990s, a 9 year old boy hung himself in a bathroom in Ang Mo Kio during the mid-year school holidays (Boy, nine, found hanged in bathroom, 12 June 1992, ST). According to a book titled ‘Suicide in Asia and the Near East‘, a SEVEN-YEAR old committed suicide between 1969-1976.

Incidents of completed suicides among the very young may be very rare, but I believe many kids have at least thought about it in secret. In 1985, SOS received a call from a boy below 10 who wanted to die. He was believed to be influenced by a show called ‘A Dawn in Winter’, which depicted a girl signing a suicide pact with a friend. 4 years later, a parent explained to the ST Forum that they were migrating to Australia because her 9 year old son hated Chinese and wanted to kill himself over it. In 2008, helpline for kids Tinkle Friend reported a distraught LOWER PRIMARY kid who did very well for her exams, but still failed to satisfy her parents who expected a result BETTER than 90%. Today, a child may be considered a suicide risk if he suffers from a mental disorder, or gets a Facebook account before puberty and becomes a victim of cyberbullying. Not many in the field would point their fingers at ridiculously demanding parents.

As hard as it is to prevent children from leaping off buildings, it’s about time we reflect on how we’re educating our kids, examine the root of pediatric mental disorders and what society’s and families’ expectations of children are. We can no longer wait until our moody 7 year olds start drawing and sticking bloody images of death on their bedroom walls anymore.

Policeman arrested for Kovan double murder

From ‘Shock, disbelief at cop’s arrest’, 14 July 2013, article by Terrence Voon, ST

…Senior Staff Sergeant Iskandar Rahmat, 34, was nabbed in Johor Baru on Friday night for the murders of motor workshop owner Tan Boon Sin, 67, and his son, Mr Tan Chee Heong, 42. A 14-year veteran of the force and a member of the Bedok Police Division, he was facing financial difficulties and disciplinary proceedings. Checks showed that the married man was declared bankrupt last Thursday, a day after the murders.

His relationship to the victims is not yet clear, but he met the older Mr Tan at least once, when the latter reported a theft from a safe deposit box last year. Iskandar was brought back to Singapore yesterday as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee broke the news about his identity at a sombre press conference.

“I cannot remember the last time a murder suspect was also a police officer,” a grim-faced Mr Ng told reporters. “You may have seen this kind of thing depicted in the movies and on TV, but when it happens for real, it hits you like a freight train.”

DPM Teo, who is Home Affairs Minister, said if Iskandar is proven guilty, his crime would have tarnished the reputation of the police, but nobody is above the law.

You don’t need a sensational murder to ‘tarnish the reputation of the police’. The ‘Home Team’ isn’t perfect, and every Singaporean knows it, that very occasionally our enforcement officers have succumbed to sexual gratification or been so negligent in their duties they let a jailed terrorist escape from a toilet. The ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine has been referenced so often in pop culture that we readily assumed that such ‘bad eggs’ do exist in real life. Donning a uniform and a badge doesn’t protect you from the basest of urges, be it greed, lust or homicidal rage, so when we were told that there’s a killer cop in the force, the only thing that surprises me is that Sergeant Iskandar could still enjoy a seafood dinner with a friend at Danga Bay JB after slashing two people and dragging one under a car.

But just to jiggle our Commissioner’s memory a little, cops HAVE killed innocent people in the past. Most of these incidents occurred pre-Independence, and appear to be committed on impulse. If Iskandar is found guilty of premeditated murder however, it may very well be the first such case in history, though I wouldn’t call it a ‘freight train’ hitting us as if we never saw it coming.

1924: A ‘Pathan’ policeman shot a colleague to death in an Orchard Road police station, supposedly after a quarrel.

1934: Constable Abdullah Khan, in the midst of an argument, hit a man on the head with a ‘piece of stick’, leading to his eventual demise at the junction of Rochore Canal Road and Arab Street.

1946: Inspector Vadivellu Pillay was charged with murder after beating a detainee to death. The victim, Arumugam, denied Pillay’s accusations that he was a Communist.

1947: Jonat Bin Dollar, charged for murdering a Chinese. Ran amok and detained in a mental hospital. In his rampage at Stamford Road, he reportedly almost decapitated a man with a parang.

1960: 19 year old constable Shu Ang Moh was sentenced to 5 years in prison for fatally stabbing a soldier in the chest during a brawl which resulted from a staring incident.

 This isn’t taking anything away from the police, of course, and I trust that they’ll continue to secure our homes and streets after uncovering a snake in the grass. Without them we wouldn’t dare go for a movie at Orchard Cineleisure after midnight, nor would we have anyone to call in case a teacher bullies our kid in school. I wonder how the producers at Crime Watch are going to tackle this incident. Perhaps in conceptualisation stage as we speak, this ‘Killer Cop’ episode may well be the most watched one ever.

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