Jalan Jurong Kechil getting Singapore’s first retirement village

From ‘Ageing Singapore to get first retirement village’, 10 Nov 2013, article by Radha Basu, Sunday Times

After more than two decades of debate and deliberation, Singapore’s first retirement living community will finally be built at Jalan Jurong Kechil. Property developer World Class Land (WCL), a subsidiary of jewellery group Aspial Corp, told The Sunday Times last week that it plans to build the facility on a 10,170 sq m plot of land, roughly the size of 11/2 football fields.

…Singapore is among the fastest ageing countries in the world. The number of those aged 65 and above will nearly double over the next few years, from 352,000 in 2011 to 600,000 by 2020.

In July, NMP Lina Chiam suggested building such a village on Pulau Ubin, an idea which was shot down because it seemed like banishing the old to an island, especially one where charging wild boars roam free. Land shortage has also prompted Khaw Boon Wan to infamously propose that we look into casting our elderly away to Batam or JB which may be cheaper than sequestering them in gated communities. The Jurong site looks rosy on paper, like a nursing home with country club facilities, but one that the less well-off senior may be unable to afford. In fact, one of the village supporters cited in the article currently lives in a ‘spacious bungalow in Braddell Heights’ and is looking forward to a cozier apartment with ‘like-minded’ seniors as neighbours. Senior-living consultant Tan Hee Kian says many seniors in the ‘top fifth to 20th percentile of the income scale’ would gladly splurge on an RV (The Jurong project costs an estimated $70-80 million). The word ‘village’ may very well be a misnomer if only old, rich people live in it. It may turn out to be the Nassim Road for Senior Citizens. The only thing ‘village-like’ about the Jurong RV is that it’s inaccessible by train.

In 1985 when the RV was first brought up, it was intended as a ‘nest-egg’ for the AFFLUENT, mainly middle and upper income professionals and businessmen who were in the same ‘income bracket’ and common interests. Today’s model retirement villages also come equipped with golf courses and club houses.  If golf is the seniors’ game, how about converting one of our existing 18 golf courses to a RV instead of using up precious land then? What other benefits worth the price tag would one gain living in a RV compared to an elderly-friendly estate with easy access to medical care, public transport and an NTUC supermarket? With a ballooning greying population, finding elderly companionship in the general community shouldn’t be a problem, if the reason you’re considering the RV lifestyle is because no one shares your passion for gateball or gardening. If I’m a budding artist and need to live in a bohemian neighbourhood to spur my creativity even if I’m entitled to the living space of a closet, you can bet my calls for a Soho-esque ‘Artists’ village’ to be with ‘like-minded’ folk will be slammed for sure, because apparently young struggling artists are not as important as old retirees with actual savings.

Some elders would rather mix with all walks of life than see the same haggardly faces everyday waiting to see who dies first, or hear the same people grumble about politics or brag about whose children are more filial than others.  One can also imagine how every journey down the stairs would take an eternity if the lift breaks down.

No matter how you brand it, an RV is an enclave of people of a certain class and age, which is contrary to our national drive towards ‘inclusivity’ and integration. It’s not as if our current HDB estates suffer from ageist design. I see old people happily sitting at the void deck watching kids tumble down a ‘youth-centric’ playground where I live. There’s a church if you want to send your final prayers, a fitness corner to stave off venous thrombosis and a provision shop with a makeshift ‘kopi corner’ if you need to chat with random strangers. I’m content to grow old and die here as long there’s a patch of grass to feed pigeons, to feel appreciated by the general ‘townsfolk’, to flirt with the kopitiam beer lady and add to the communal diversity rather than be reminded everyday of my own mortality in an artificial environment smack in the middle of nowhere, where eventually if your house catches fire and you’re wheelchair bound, your equally immobile neighbour can only perish along with you rather than do anything useful.

If I really want to ‘get away from it all’, I’d plant my sagging roots away from this country if I could afford it. But of course if these 100 or so ‘villagers’ prefer it the RV way then no one can deny them a space they can call their own. Maybe they could call it ‘Silver Cove’ or something.

Postscript: The project has been quietly rebranded as a retirement ‘RESORT’ instead of a village, officially called the Hillford, with 1 to 2 bedroom units starting from $388,000 (Packed showflat at first retirement resort, article by Jonathan Kwok, 5 Jan 2014, Sunday Times). The bulk of those interested in the purchase, however, weren’t golden oldies, but those in the 40s looking for investment opportunities, just like they would for any spanking new condo. With a full time manager, 24 hour concierge service, the only things missing from the Hillford are spas, hot springs, a sea view and complimentary breakfast. And eventually anyone above 70 and ‘over the hill’ who would rather check into a nursing home nearer to civilisation than live in a 398 sq ft cell that costs nearly as much as a 3-room flat. No wonder it’s called a ‘resort’ then, by living in such ‘Mickey Mouse’ units, you can almost sense a hint of Disneyland right around the corner.

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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.

Vertical kampung to be built in Woodlands

From ‘Woodlands to get vertical kampung’, 4 Aug 2013, article by Salma Khalik, Sunday Times

Residents in Woodlands will be the first in Singapore to experience the community feel of an integrated building with public facilities such as housing, health care and hawker centres all under one roof.

Planned, built and run by multiple government agencies – a first – this vertical “urban kampung”, as National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan calls it, will bring together the young and old to live, eat and play together.

At the bottom of the building will be a massive “town square” or community plaza, and at the top, 100 studio apartments for elderly singles or couples.

In between will be a medical centre with about 35 consultation rooms and options for day surgery, senior activity and childcare facilities, shops and watering holes, as well as roof-top decks that residents can turn into community gardens.

In land scarce Singapore, architects have long dreamed of building the city upwards and this idea of vertical ‘strata zoning’ isn’t new at all. Urban planners have fantasised of residents working and playing within the same ‘self-sufficient’ complex, a soaring monolith that combines community services like schools and medical centres interspersed with commercial zones and open spaces for interaction and line-dancing. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to step out of the building or take public transport at all. The kampung kids of the future may not even know what the ground smells like if this thing takes off.

Proponents of skyline living have christened vertical city models with names such as ‘Babel’ and ‘Arcosanti’. Jakarta may even be ahead of us in terms of embracing the vertical city concept, with their Peruri 88 project, which looks like badly stacked real-life Tetris. In a world where overcrowded megacities are building modern microcosms of themselves, Khaw Boon Wan’s description of future living as ‘vertical kampungs’ is like calling Spotify an ‘online jukebox’. My impression of such a ‘kampung’ is something similar to the Ewok village on the Forest Moon of Endor. How apt that it’s to be located in WOODLANDS, of all places.

Not the artist’s impression

Like the Woodlands project, concentrating the community was the main concept driver behind one ‘progressive’ housing/shopping design in the late 1960′s. This $16 million, 30-storey landmark building was to be the highest in Asia at the time. Even its name embodied the spirit of the design, though today it’s viewed more as an endearing ‘grand dame’ kind of relic known more for its traditional eateries and grimy massage parlours than the archetype of vertical housing. It’s name? People’s Park Complex.

Jump ahead 40 years and we started thinking again of the ‘future of public housing’. Completed in 2009, this award-winning structure has interlinked sky gardens, bridges that allowed residents to ‘sky-walk’ , flexible interiors and remains the tallest public housing project in Singapore at 48 stories high. I’m talking about the iconic Pinnacle@Duxton, of course, basically the yuppie cousin of what Khaw Boon Wan has in mind for Woodlands.

I’m not sure about living in the same complex as a hawker centre or a hospital, where one may be exposed to deep-fry odours one moment and the smell of death the next. Or knowing that it’s not just your karaoke-blaring neighbour from upstairs annoying you but a band performing in one of these ‘watering holes’. I’m already having trouble dealing with void deck weddings and funerals as it is. I don’t want an iMax theatre round the corner shaking my walls before I sleep. I want to have an address that the average taxi driver recognises and I can pronounce, unlike Compassvale Ancilla. I want a HOME, not a 40-storey sardine can, which is likely the case if the designers commissioned for this project honed their skills playing Tiny Tower on their handphones.

Meanwhile, one can only hope that a ‘vertical kampung’ would fetch ‘kampung prices’. At the rate that property prices are climbing, one might as well apply for a space colony on board a mothership than live in someone’s SimTower fantasy come true.

Compassvale Ancilla Latin for ‘girl servant’ or ‘sea snails’

From ‘Matilda Portico? HDB gets into the name game’, 19 May 2013, article by Daryl Chin, Sunday Times

A portico is a columned walkway that originated in ancient Greece. Nautilus is a shellfish and the name of Captain Nemo’s submarine in the Jules Verne classic 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. What about ancilla? It does not exist even in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, but is said to have a Latin origin and apparently means girl servant, or sea snails.

…Among the latest Build-To-Order (BTO) projects announced in March this year was one in Punggol called Matilda Portico. Compassvale Ancilla in Sengkang Central and the Nautilus in Punggol are the other names the HDB has come up with in recent years. Others include Waterway Sunbeam, Punggol Spectra, The Periwinkle, Edgedale Green and The Coris.

These tongue-twisters may be a bane to non-English-speaking elderly folk and taxi drivers, but the HDB says it is all part of a long- term branding policy, which it hopes creates a special identity and builds a sense of community among residents. “The objective was to create local identities that residents can relate to and foster neighbourliness,” said a spokesman for HDB.

…The HDB said its guiding principles for names include the location of the estate, special design features and any interesting historical or cultural link. As much as possible, HDB would also choose names that are distinct from nearby developments to avoid confusion.

…The HDB even has a theme going for studio apartment projects, which are meant to provide seniors with affordable housing. All have the word “golden” in the first part of their names to indicate graceful ageing. The second part can come from local plants or spices, like Golden Saffron in Woodlands.

*Video stills from Stomp/Wah Banana.

HDB has been ripping off condo concepts for BTO branding for years, and since most words containing ‘water’ in them have already been taken, why not a name that sounds like a high-end Italian bakery? Matilda Portico is supposedly inspired by the nearby Matilda House, an abandoned and the only bungalow left standing in Punggol which as of 2012 has been converted to a clubhouse for a condo that calls itself A TREASURE TROVE . Imagine asking a taxi uncle to take you to ‘A Treasure Trove’. He’d probably ask you if you have a wooden leg and a parrot on your shoulder.

And what an ‘interesting historical link’ this Matilda House is, especially if you’re the superstitious sort. ‘Matilda’ was the mother of an Irish businessman named Alexander Cashin, who built the house in her honour in 1902. Alexander’s father, Joseph, was a 19th century expat who made his fortune out of OPIUM farms. Also known as Istana Menanti (The Waiting Palace), rumour has it that it’s HAUNTED and that several construction workers were killed mysteriously while trying to demolish it. In fact, so renown is its spookiness that it is one of the stopovers of the Singapore Spooky Tour organised by the Asia Paranormal Investigators, advertised as the ‘most haunted home in the city’. With the recent makeover, the only thing scary about Matilda today are the prices of the condos and ‘atas’ BTO flats surrounding it. With a name like Portico, I’d expect the facade of a Roman bathhouse at the very least.

Punggol Amityville.

‘Ancilla’, on the other hand, has as much cultural or historical relevance as naming another BTO after a fabled submarine. A quick Google tells us that it indeed refers to a genus of sea snails, while in Latin it also means maid, or girl-slave. I don’t know about the natural history of sea snails in Punggol or whether they have been eaten to extinction thanks to Pungool Seafood, but maids we have aplenty. If you Google IMAGE ‘Ancilla’, however, you don’t see gastropods or slaves, but THIS:

Ancilla, Playboy model

Ancilla, Playboy model

Goodness, HDB has unwittingly named one of its projects after a nude model. Let’s hope it turns out to be as sexy as it sounds. But remember, residents of Ancilla, it’s not pronounced AHN-SEE-LA, but AHN-KEE-LA (though both will confuse taxi drivers nonetheless). I bet some smart-alecks will attempt to say it like AHN-CHI-LA, as in CHINCHILLA. Those in the medical field will make nerdy jokes about how close it sounds to ‘axilla’, or ARMPIT. Meanwhile I would suggest HDB consult a marine biologist before giving BTOs such fishy names.

So it’s not just old people or taxi uncles who get confused about BTO and condo names, it’s the people who LIVE in these buildings themselves. Even deceptively simple words can have different interpretations, like Fernvale LEA: (LEE or LE-A). Don’t even get me started on D’Nest. You have BTO names which are a mouthful like WATERWAY SUNBEAM (not to be confused with Waterway Sundew),  or named after one of the 7 sins (Keat Hong Pride), a Wonder Woman accessory (Corporation Tiara), or a Superman accessory (Compassvale Cape). Not to mention frustrating clones like Tampines GreenTerrace, GreenForest and Greenleaf. All without the spacing in between. Like, you know, atreasuretrove. Kids, don’t try this in school.

There is also the trend of naming studio apartment for seniors with the word ‘Golden’ in them. I’m sure old folks can handle numbers and traditional names like ‘Kim Keat’ and ‘Choa Chu Kang’ easily, but forcing them to say ‘Golden Saffron’, ‘Golden Clover’ or ‘Golden KISMIS‘ is a form of elderly abuse. There’s even a ‘Golden DAISY’ which sounds more like a florist in People’s Park Complex than a home. What if they get lost and need help finding their way home but can’t tell us where they live? What if taxi drivers and paramedics end up at Golden Mile or Golden Village cinema instead? In any case, ‘golden’ is passe. Seniors now belong to the ‘silver’ generation. So how about Silver Crest, Silver Hills, Silvervale or Silver Waves? Wait, scrap the last one, that sounds too much like a tsunami.

Locksmiths and real estate agents sticking ads all over the place

From ‘ Illegal ads a sticking point for HDB residents’, 12 May 2013, article by Lim Yan Yang and Lim Yi Han, Sunday Times

Now that Singapore’s “Sticker Lady” has been sentenced in court for mischief, some Housing Board residents are wondering if they will see the end of a sticky problem they have been living with for years. They say locksmiths, real estate agents and providers of all sorts of services paste small advertisements and labels all over the place, and seem to get away with it.

Tampines resident Francis Cheng contacted The Sunday Times and said he has put up with ads and calling cards that have been stuck to his meter box, doorbell, gate and on the railings along the common corridor. “It’s a nuisance. I peel it off and a few days later they paste it back,” said the 40-year-old business manager. Competing businessmen sometimes leave layers of overlapping stickers that are just unsightly, he added.

…The police website refers the public with such “non-police matters” to relevant agencies such as town councils and the LTA….Technically, the law has penalties for unauthorised advertisements, under the Vandalism Act and the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

But lawyers said the courts are unlikely to act against businesses that do not adhere to the rules unless home owners pursue the matters themselves by lodging a magistrate’s complaint. “Some might argue that it’s a slippery slope: if you don’t arrest them, they will paste more stickers,” said criminal lawyer Amolat Singh. “But the courts operate under the de minimis principle, which means the law does not concern itself with trivialities.”

He said the law must strike a balance between the fact that advertisements promote a commercial service – unlike in the Sticker Lady case – and that most people do not view them as mischief or vandalism.

Most of the locksmiths, plumbers and air-conditioning repairmen The Sunday Times called declined to talk about their ads but one argued that his sticker has helped many people. The 40-year-old locksmith, who declined to be named, said: “Those who complain are those who haven’t had their door spoilt or forgotten their keys.”

Your grandfather meter box is it

I have to admit I once benefited from a vandal’s calling card stuck on a letter box. My door was jammed and I had no one to call. It was, for my intents and purposes, an emergency and I remain grateful enough to close one eye to rival locksmiths tearing each others’ stickers or sticking their ads on top of each other outside my house as long as it’s not on my gate. Property flyers on the other hand, are a downright nuisance, the only consolation being sometimes they come with eye candy amidst the eyesore, on which I’d waste a couple of seconds of my life ogling before tossing it away for recycling.

Need a house NOW

So we have one group of people running foul of Vandalism laws, another being annoying Litterbugs, with neither getting arrested for their deeds, while a graffiti artist with better aesthetic taste when it comes to stickers gets charged for mischief and has to serve 240 hours of community service. If Samantha Lo had inserted an additional line in her Press Until Shiok stickers advertising swimming lessons and a fake number, maybe the law would consider her actions ‘trivial’ as well.

I can’t say, however, that MOST people don’t mind such rampant defacement. Maybe some folks like myself do benefit from sticky ads, whether it’s breaking into their own house urgently or selling their homes at cushy prices. But I’m certain there are many who find it more disruptive and polluting than Sam Lo’s street work, so I question the lawyer’s assumption unless he had run a nationwide survey to ask Singaporeans what they think of sticker ads. There’s also a suggestion of exemption from penalty if your sticker is about a ‘commercial service’ rather than ‘art’. Which means there’s a chance you may be an illegal landlord, uncertified driving instructor or maybe even a prostitute sticking ads willy-nilly and not get caught. What if you’re spreading the gospel through stickers, like what happened in 1977 with a ‘I found it’ campaign? (‘It’ meaning ‘a life in Jesus Christ’). Would the authorities have hauled in a church leader for ‘mischief’ or use some fancy legal Latin term to convince us that he did no wrong?

It also begs the question of what exactly the law considers a ‘triviality’ which it doesn’t concern itself with. One man’s triviality is another’s outrage. If Sticker Lady had simply pasted ONE offending sticker in town, maybe less than 2 cm in radius, would it be ‘trivial’ enough to adhere to the ‘de minimis’ principle? One HDB owner’s complaint may be trivial, but if EVERY level on EVERY block of HDB flats reports a case of sticker vandalism, surely it becomes a PROBLEM, one that I forsee our authorities and courts will no doubt be STUCK on.

Something is wrong somewhere with EC scheme

From ‘Khaw:Something not right with EC scheme’, 27 April 2013, article by Woo Sian Boon, Today

A few months after some super-sized Executive Condominium (EC) units were sold at eye-catching prices, sparking a public debate on whether the EC scheme was being abused, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has signalled that the scheme will be tweaked.

Speaking on Thursday evening to participants at an Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) session focused on housing, he said that “something is wrong somewhere” with the scheme. “We cannot carry on the ECs with these current rules,” he said.

 …Referring to the qualifying income ceiling for ECs, Mr Khaw said: “Hence, there is a sense of inequity here. The lower-income groups are getting less subsidies than somebody who is earning S$12,000. So, something is wrong somewhere. Therefore, we cannot carry on the ECs with these current rules.”

khaw1713e

$2 million EC condos aside, Khaw Boon Wan remained a stout defender of the EC scheme up till now. During the Jan Parliament sessions this year, he called it a ‘wonderful’ scheme because it was like giving Singaporeans a ‘Lexus at a Corolla price’. He could have made the same analogy for Nparks purchase of a $2200 Brompton bicycle, except that something did in fact go terribly wrong with the Brompton deal. Chan Chun Sing would refer to buying an EC like eating XO sauce chai tow kuay in Peach Garden.

4 months since the EC grilling by fellow MPs and our MND Minister now realises that something is amiss, not sure WHAT that ‘something’ is and WHERE it is. Your guess is as good as mine, sir, but it’s not very reassuring to hear such U-turns from our leaders. It’s like undergoing emergency amputation surgery while still conscious and hearing your surgeon murmuring ‘ehhh, something’s not quite right’ when your bloody sawn leg is already dangling by its tendons.

Wavering confidence and uncertainty has inflicted many a politician, including LKY himself. At the launch of his book Hard Truths, he said:

The message I want to convey is a simple one: we are a nation in the making. Will we make it? Am I certain we’ll get there? No, we cannot say that. Something may go wrong somewhere and we’ll fall apart.

In response to a horrific rape of a 5 year old child, the Delhi high court said ‘something somewhere is wrong‘. If you hired a plumber to clear your shit-congested toilet bowl and he said ‘something is wrong somewhere’, you’d probably want to flush him down the loo too.

‘Something is wrong somewhere’ is the kind of doubt any lay Singaporean may express, and it’s a flaw we knew all along from the moment someone decides to build fountains and presidential suites for executive condos, or sells off a Queenstown 5-room for $1 million. We don’t need to hear this coming from an authority who’s supposed to be finding and fixing the problem. If they can’t, well, then there’s ‘something wrong somewhere’ with the kind of pay they’re getting to do the job.

Yet, there’s one thing that Khaw seems to be dead confident about: That the government loses ‘hundreds of millions’ of dollars just to build HDB flats.  It explains why you never hear reports of HDB making tidy profits these days, it’s like a monk announcing that he won first prize in the lottery. Not so in the past. In 1970, someone calculated that the HDB made an ‘enormous profit’ from rental of flats and shops. In 1982 it was reported that the board made a $7 million windfall off carparks. In 2002, they made reportedly $87 million from carpark operations, half of that from fines.

How HDB manages its finances today remains a mystery, though our ministers would love to brag about how the government is constantly in the red to justify its noble mission of ‘public housing’. I suppose with all this ‘deficit accounting’ to deal with, it’s only fair that HDB gives its staff the occasional treat, like a Dinner and Dance at MBS with Daniel Ong as MC, for example (more proof of that ever happening here). Did the government subsidise THAT as well?

$2 million for an EC Presidential Penthouse Suite

From ‘Khaw to developers: Don’t forget intent of ECs’, 24 Nov 2012, article by Esther Teo, ST

DEVELOPERS have been warned not to forget the fundamental premise of an executive condominium (EC) even as they fall over themselves to offer luxurious finishings to attract buyers. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said they should remember the policy intent of ECs: to help Singaporean families earning $12,000 or less a month buy a condo for a price under the market rate.

In a blog post yesterday, Mr Khaw reminded developers that land prices for ECs are lower than prices of private condo land. This is done through the zoning and tendering out of the land earmarked for EC projects. Mr Khaw’s post came on the back of reports about a string of ECs sold at sky-high prices. A 2,845 sq ft penthouse at Heron Bay in Upper Serangoon Road, for instance, was sold for $1.77 million last month. And the upcoming CityLife @ Tampines will offer a 4,349 sq ft “presidential penthouse suite” that is likely to cost more than $2 million.

“I expect the developer to have done his calculations, to ensure that the unit will be affordable for the targeted EC applicants,” Mr Khaw said. While EC developers have flexibility in designing and pricing their units, they “must be mindful that flexibility must be exercised in keeping with the intent and spirit of the EC policy”, he warned.

Introduced in 1995, the ‘fundamental premise’ of the EC scheme was to meet the aspirations of the ‘sandwiched class’ who cannot afford private condos but do not qualify for public housing due to income ceiling requirements or wish to upgrade to a semi-luxurious apartment. If you consider the ‘intent and spirit’ of public housing in general, according to the HDB vision statement, it is to ‘provide affordable homes of quality and value‘. Just recently a Queenstown flat was sold for almost the same price as a EC penthouse at slightly more than $1 million. Khaw Boon Wan not only didn’t wag his stern finger at such resale pricing then, but coolly told buyers not to be ‘traumatised’ by the million dollar price tag of a HDB flat.  In the early 2000s, ECs were considered good investments, and with the first-timer $30,000 grant you could snare pseudo-condo living for $390,000. Can the ‘sandwiched class’ even afford million dollar HDB flats these days, not to mention ECs?

According to an ST feature on CityLife@Tampines’ presidential suite, it could easily accommodate four 5-room HDB apartments, which is almost twice the size of the Heron Bay’s five-bedroom penthouse worth 1.5-1.6 million. The latter was touted as the ‘first’ for an EC development. But you could also live in the lap of luxury simply by sprucing up your HDB flat into a ‘penthouse maisonette’, sell it for more than a million and get a landed property bypassing the EC route altogether. The million dollar EC is nothing new. In fact, $1.1 million was paid for a Pinevale EC in 1997. That’s TWO years after ECs were launched.

So just how massive is 4349 square feet, or about 404 sq meters of ‘presidential’ penthouse living in City@Tampines? Here’s a comparison:

 With skyhigh pricing narrowing the gap between public and private housing, is the ‘spirit’ of ECs still relevant? In 2002, calls to scrap the scheme by the ERC were rejected by then MND Mah Bow Tan. 10 years later some Singaporeans remain unconvinced that the ECs were really being purchased by their intended targets, or that using taxpayers’ money to subsidise these buyers would be put to better use helping the disadvantaged or those just looking for a roof over their heads rather than a private jacuzzi or having an address with a fancy @ symbol or a description of a body of water in it (Bay-, Sea-, Water-). The Heron Bay penthouse was reportedly bought by a ‘young couple’ who are also first-time property buyers. Considering that the household income cap is $12,000, the only logical conclusion is that these people come from wealthy families, and having a $30,000 subsidy helps too.  Sandwiched class? The kind of sandwich with prime Wagyu beef and foie gras, perhaps. Maybe the Ministry should review the the ‘intent and spirit’ of basic HDB housing first, before turning their attention towards profiteering EC developers.

Why buy an expensive sandwich when you can have a proper burger

Postscript: ($2m Tampines EC penthouse sold in two hours, 30 Dec 2012, Sunday Times) Tampines’ Citylife penthouse eventually sold for 2.05 million to a certain Ms C.Koh, who together with massive chipping in from her businessman father, bought the suite for her brother and wife. The whole family of 7 intends to move in. When questioned about the debate on EC prices, she said: “Why is there controversy? We’re just a middle-class family.” I’m not sure if this equates to being ‘sandwich’ class, but anyone who is a beneficiary of family finances and already an owner of a ‘presidential penthouse’ before 30 belongs to a WEALTHY family in my opinion, ‘middle-class’ or not. Also, no one is going to say “We’re from a high-income family’ on the national paper. It’s either a case of overbearing modesty, or a different interpretation of the term ‘middle-class’.

In 2008, ex NMP Siew Kum Hong defined the middle class as the ‘middle 60% of the population by income’, which ranges from the ‘lower’ middle class earning $2590 monthly (in 2005) to the top one-third earning $6575. The father of the penthouse owner himself admitted that his ‘son can’t afford it, he’s only a salaried employee’. Therein lies the ‘controversy’; that you’re entitled to HDB grants as long as you fall within the income bracket, when you could jolly well own private property so long as your rich Daddy helps out. And where do grants come from? Taxpayers who can’t afford condo living, that’s where. Is the EC system targetting the right ‘class’, or just offering discount savings for people who can easily own bungalows instead?

Amy Cheong blaming divorce on cheap Malay weddings

From ‘Police report filed against Amy Cheong over offensive Facebook post’, 8 Oct 2012, article in Sg yahoo news.

Singapore police are investigating the former NTUC staff who was fired on Monday morning for her profanity-laced post insulting traditional Malay void deck weddings. A police report was filed against Amy Cheong, assistant director, membership department at labour movement NTUC, by a member of the public, Lionel Jerome de Souza on Monday morning.

De Souza is the secretary of Hougang’s Inter-Racial and Confidence Circle (IRCC), which comes under the purview of the Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports. In his report, he urged the police to take a serious view of Cheong’s comments which “inevitably hurt the feelings of the Malays”.

In her post on Sunday evening, Cheong had put up a public status on her personal Facebook timeline, complaining about a Malay wedding that was being held at a void deck near her home. Among other things, she related Malay weddings to high divorce rates, and asked how society could “allow people to get married for 50 bucks”, peppering her post with vulgarities.

In a separate post, she also allegedly wrote, “Void deck weddings should be banned. If you can’t afford a proper wedding then you shouldn’t be getting married. Full stop.”

Unless calling a Malay an ‘asshole’ is considered a racial slur, I think this is more a case of carelessness and faulty logic than racism. There are, of course, people who don’t spend a cent outside the registration fee for marriage, and still live happily ever after. If Amy Cheong had complained about the noise rather than associating divorce rates with ‘cheap weddings’, maybe she would have just been let off with a stern warning without getting the sack. For someone who already lost her job, a police report seems like overkill, but for someone in senior management, Cheong should have known better, especially after so many incidents of Facebookers getting in trouble posting ‘silly’ remarks about Muslims, not to mention a certain filmmaker being dealt with death warrants for making a shoddy Internet film where the Prophet was played by an actor looking like Jesus. In such a charged climate of ‘anti-Islamic’ sentiment and its subsequent retaliation, it wasn’t so much a malicious, hateful remark, as it was a really bad idea. Of course our Facebook-savvy PM was quick to dish out the damage control by urging everyone not to let this incident ‘undermine our racial and religious harmony’. But maybe this is more a case of custom intolerance than a hate crime that nearly everyone is making this out to be. If I post on Facebook about ‘damned ding-dong-chiang lion-dancing’ during Chinese New Year, I would get the same treatment from the Chinese community too. Or would I?

Just last year, people were flamed for racial abuse after complaining about McDonald’s playing religious prayers during the fasting month, putting links to images of pigs Photoshopped on the Kabba, or calling kids on kindergarten buses little ‘terrorists’. But let’s see if high ‘divorce rates’ among the Malays is indeed a factual statement, and whether it’s in any way related to ‘$50 weddings’. According to a 2006 commentary by a Malay man, there are 3 typical reasons to explain the high divorce rates among Malays. One, the tendency of women to ‘fall in love’ too easily. Two, the cultural expectations of ‘short courting periods’ and thirdly, general ‘money problems’. In the same year statistics showed that divorcing Muslims stayed in a marriage shorter than non-Muslims (an average of 7.8 vs 10 years), and the most common reason for divorce was ‘personality difference’, followed closely by ‘infidelity’. Just this year, ‘infidelity or extra-marital affair’ took top spot as reason for divorce in Muslim marriages.  There would also be the pressure of ‘remarrying’ within two years as the community supposedly frowns upon single parents. Which suggests that money issues aside, there’s also a hint of  ‘fools rush in’ syndrome. So it’s not just about the ‘affordability’ of weddings that encourages failed marriages (This may well be a myth, you can be charged $1K to $6K just for PLANNING and DECOR alone). One may have to consider whether the union was failed in the first place.

Every once in a while we get annoyed by atrocious singing, throbbing drums, motorcycles chugging and horning, yelling and general littering amid the merrymaking, but I would make the same complaints against Chinese funerals even as a Chinese, just not making a fcuking ass of myself ranting on Facebook about it. I wonder how Amy Cheong would react if someone went:

How many f**king days do Chinese funerals in void deck go on for?F*ck!!!Pay for a real funeral you asshole!How can society allow dead people to lie in a dirty void deck? KNS!

I also stumbled upon a Twitter account of ‘Amy Cheong’ apologising to countless people. I doubt this is the real Amy Cheong, considering that her Twitter icon is that of Ted, the vulgarity spewing bear.

NS man killed by tree in freak accident

From ‘NSman’s death: Tree was checked in April’, 29 Sept 2012, article by Jalelah Abu Baker and Lim Yan Liang, ST

The site where the fallen tree killed an operationally ready national serviceman (NSman) on Thursday was checked during a routine inspection in April.

The inspection was carried out by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which said in response to The Straits Times’ queries last night that such checks included the pruning of trees on state land in populated areas.

“For forested state land next to populated or high-traffic areas, SLA carries out periodic and cyclical checks of trees, and will prune them when necessary,” said an SLA spokesman.

The spokesman did not say how often these checks were made, and declined to comment when asked what the authority thought had caused the tree to fall, citing ongoing police investigations.

On Thursday, Lance Corporal (NS) Tan Tai Seng, 23, was waiting to enter the military grounds of the Ama Keng Training Area in Lim Chu Kang when the tree fell and pinned him to the ground.

When a tree falls by the roadside and no one is there to see it, who do you point your fingers at? SLA, NParks or GOD? April is a good 6 months since this tree was maintained, and according to NParks’ Tree Management Programme, inspection along ‘major roads or parkland’ is done at least once every 18 months, to check ‘health and stability to ensure that trees are safe and stable under NORMAL weather conditions’. Which suggests that the authorities have little control over ‘healthy’ trees still succumbing to ‘tree failure’ in the event of storms. Of course when someone’s life is at stake, it’s no longer ‘tree failure’ anymore, but a ‘freak accident’. In the Garden City, when the bough breaks, it’s not just the cradle that will fall. Vehicles are a favourite target for killer trees. Other hits include houses, hikers, covered walkways and even the NTU hostel. One death is too many still, no matter how much pruning or hi-tech tree tomography the authorities deploy to keep our 800,000 roadside trees (in 2009) in pristine condition.

In 2000 alone, there were at least 3000 cases of trees falling apart, and NParks maintains that the number has been reduced over the years. So how did SLA suddenly get involved in tree management? Earlier in March, one particular huge tree in Upper Bukit Timah which crushed a couple of cars was reported to be ‘managed’ by SLA (after a clarification by the media that it was wrongly attributed to NParks’ charge) with one of the motorists describing it as more than ‘FLIMSY’. It seems that the work to look after our trees is split between these agencies (though they would call it ‘tapping on mutual resources and expertise’), with SLA taking charge of a tree bank consisting of 11,000 trees in 2008. But even SLA may refer you to someone else if you try to seek damages when a giant tree crashes into your house. In the case of a near-fatal bungalow incident in Seah Im Road in 2008, it was EM Services, a property management company. If a tree falls and hits your car in a HDB carpark, a lawyer may tell you to claim damages against your TOWN COUNCIL, though the latter will tell you to speak to your insurance company. Sometimes, the town council may pin the blame on a ‘horticultural contractor’, and even the URA may be answerable to trees falling in their carparks. Like pesky birds, it seems that we’re facing the same accountability problem with toppling trees, and no one knows if they should call the HDB, NParks, URA, SLA, property agents, insurance companes, third-party contractors, your MP or the Archbishop if something unforseen and terrible happens.

Most of our trees were part of a LKY-led ‘green rage’ to artificially landscape Singapore into a tropical paradise, and instead of just focusing on post-mortem fingerpointing, one should think about the tree’s history too, whether it was indigenous to the area or one of those ‘instant trees’ that was erected in a hurry, like a clumsy prop on a shaky wooden stage. Any attempt to sue NParks, SLA or your town council with negligence in the event that a tree murders a loved one would be countered with the ‘Act of God’ defence, unless you could prove beyond a canopy of a doubt that the authorities have not been diligent in their inspections. But just how efficient are these ‘checks’ anyway? In the recent case of a tree crashing a metal roof of a walkway in Sentosa, it was checked merely 3 WEEKS before the incident, though the inspection was managed by Sentosa’s ‘environment and landscape’ team and there was no mention of any agencies’ involvement. If so, SHOULD NParks have been involved? Or is it a case of ‘your tree, not mine’? Are victims of killer trees condemned to resigning themselves to just ‘bad luck’ and endless rounds of ‘passing the parcel’ over which tree belongs to which agency?

It would be unfair to blame the SAF for not training our soldiers how to defend themselves against uprooted trees, but if history prevails, the likely answer given to the distraught family of the deceased is probably a botanical (fungus infection, bad soil) or a meterological one (bad weather, strong winds). Mother Nature already took the blame for being the mastermind behind our flash floods, and now she’s orchestrating death by trees too.  I think it’s time we have an NParks App that alerts Singaporeans to any tree that is ‘due for inspection’ so that we can watch out for falling branches or whole trees going ‘timber!!’ on us if we’re anywhere near. They could call it Angry Trees or something. It could save a few lives and cost much less than a bunch of overpriced bicycles.

Queenstown wayanging during the Royal Visit

From ‘Queenstown visit was an exhibition’, 13 Sept 2012, article by Tessa Wong, Singapolitics, ST

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah has responded to online criticism of the staged scenes put up at the Queenstown Green playground for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. “The pictures that people have posted do not take into account the context of the visit,” she said.

She was referring to several pictures surfacing on the Internet showing the playground before and during the visit, accompanied with sarcastic captions. Many netizens felt that the sight of residents performing taichi and silat, and using the playground and fitness equipment in the middle of the afternoon presented an unrealistic slice of Singapore life.

She told Singapolitics that the organisers – made up of grassroots groups, the Housing Board, the People’s Association and the British High Commission – had two objectives for that visit. One was to showcase HDB living. The other was to showcase the various cultural and community activities of Singapore.

“At the same time, the organisers were also given a very short timeframe of about 25 minutes to show all of that,” she said, adding that they felt the best way to achieve it was to “do it in little exhibition spots…The demonstrations were to showcase the different types of activities themselves. It was not to suggest that these activities take place at 3pm everyday… It was meant to give a snapshot, and in that sense it was no different from a demonstration of activities,” she said.

Ms Indranee said that as she toured the area with Prince William, he had asked her if Singaporeans actually practice taichi and silat in the afternoon. “I explained that they wouldn’t do so at 3pm because it’s hot, and that these groups were just here to demonstrate… So it was explained to our visitors that we were just showcasing activities,” she said.

Uncle, you can’t get any cuter

The Queenstown wayang is the Singaporean way of laying the red carpet to welcome aristocrats, and somewhat of a hospitality overkill. The image of a playground JAMPACKED with activity looks like a scene taken off a staged musical, a real-life collage of local kampong pasttimes squeezed into a common space, people PRETENDING like they JUST happened to be there at the time.  I wonder who’s the director of this conniving carnival set-piece, thinking it could fool the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge into believing that Singaporeans owe their success today to afternoon playtime and chapteh kicking (Who plays with chapteh these days, anyway?). One can imagine what Will must be thinking while fumbling with a toy not many children actually know about these days: ‘Bugger. Back home we hit these feathered things with racquets. This game is bollocks, now I appreciate Polo better’. Still, he would get thunderous applause even if he so much as tossed the chapteh to a commoner. WITH HIS BARE HANDS.

Will was also cheeky enough to ask if uncles do taichi at 3pm in the afternoon, probably long aware that his trip here is one elaborate, but fishy, show and tell after another. Kudos to the couple for pulling through what seems like a laborious globetrotting courtesy call to celebrate the Queen Mother’s Jubilee, while grinning and bearing with the phony Potemkin-ness of it all. Anyway, the Queen would have spoilt the surprise for them by now. In 2006, she dropped by Toa Payoh to the same rousing lion dance routine, watched a demo of SEPAK TAKRAW (not the most elegant of sports I must say), and of course had to endure some uncle performing TAICHI like waiting for painting on a wall to dry. She also planted a tree. There’s nothing uniquely Singaporean about taichi and lion-dancing anyway. At least a flash mob of the Great Singapore Workout would have meant something.

Queen having a ball

In 1989, the same Queen was greeted by pom-pom schoolgirls while touring Townsville Primary School. She was also caught wearing shoes into a resident’s home during an Ang Mo Kio Town Centre visit. Of course one doesn’t just tell the QUEEN to take off her shoes before stepping into your abode. It’s like asking her if she’s the one who farted at a dinner table.

Exhibition or not, one can’t help feeling that this outlandish choreography is an insult to royal intelligence. I’d assume Will and Kate have done their homework on Singapore before trotting over here. These blue-bloods are probably secretly wishing to see the things low-lifes only whisper about in seedy underground London bars, like:

  • The auntie who feeds stray cats and leaves a mess the morning after
  • The rats that are bigger than cats
  • The stained underwear and sanitary pads which were tossed out of windows
  • People hanging flags of China on their window ledges
  • Children doing homework at void decks
  • The ‘No Urinating’ sign in the lifts
  • The hidden CCTVs which track residents’ every move
  • Loan sharks’ O$P$ calling card
  • And of course, the MILLION DOLLAR flat barely big enough to house the Queen’s corgis

Viewing a slum in a country like Singapore is an eye-opener, not something ‘been there, done that’ which can pass off in a bid for the next Happiness Olympics. After all, these guys spend their entire lives in pageantry, the last thing they need is trying to act like they’re thoroughly impressed. Adieu, Will and Kate, you have been obliging, sporting, very noble and if you’ve been disappointed by this patronisingly sterile charade of  Singapore, a hub of stress, sleaze and scandal rather than a picture of spotless, blissful ‘gotong royong’, then I offer my humble apologies.

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