Fewer flats flying National Flag on National Day

From ‘Why fewer flats seem to be flying the flag for National Day’, 7 Aug 2014, article by Joanne Seow and Yeo Sam Jo, ST

ENTIRE blocks of flats awash in red and white in the run-up to National Day? It is a less common sight these days. More than half of the 15 Members of Parliament and residents The Straits Times spoke to said they have noticed fewer flags on display in recent years. Changes in the work of grassroots groups and public housing designs are two of the reasons for the drop in the number of Singaporeans flying the national flag from their flats, they added.

Some residents’ committees (RCs) now prefer to hold community events instead of going door to door to give out flags. Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari said some RCs in his GRC have stopped actively decorating housing blocks for National Day since two years ago.

“We feel it would be good if residents do it themselves so that it’s more heartfelt,” he said. He hopes that when residents realise fewer RCs are doing it, they will put the flags out themselves. Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said a resident told him he did not hang a flag as he did not want to be the odd one out.

New flat design is a factor too, said Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu. He said newer blocks in Queenstown do not have common corridors facing the outside, making it harder to display flags.

Public servant Rachel Lim, 29, said her family stopped putting up the flag when they moved from a road-facing block in Chai Chee to a point block in Sengkang West nine years ago.

“There is no common corridor and the block is inward facing,” she said. “Even if you display the flag, there is no audience.”

‘This is where I won’t be alone…’

Naked flats on National Day isn’t new at all. In 1989, the Kaki Bukit Zone 5 RC were forced to come up with a brilliant solution to spur Singaporeans into flying the flag over their HDB parapets loudly and proudly: LUCKY DRAW AND FREE FOOD. If you bought a flag from your RC, you stood a chance to win a radio, TV or a table fan. You were also invited to a buffet breakfast so that you could ‘mix around’ with fellow flag buyers. No such luck these days. Today it needs to be more ‘heartfelt’ without us wondering if they’ll be serving free N-day roti prata at the void deck so that I’ll be the first in line.

Even if you take the initiative to fly the flag without any form of shameless inducement or pressure from your RC, you may be criticised for not hanging it correctly, letting it flap in an unruly manner in the wind, or even get charged for displaying a faded or stained flag. So if you happen to be the ONLY one on your block showing off your patriotism, you’d better make sure the flag is in pristine condition and salute-worthy condition otherwise you’d put the whole block to shame.

When a block of flats festooned in red and white becomes an annual symbolic staple on the nation’s birthday, it naturally becomes a visual representation of how much love we have for the country, or a scoreboard of how well the PAP is doing. You can imagine the various MPs checking each others’ constituency colours out like students comparing test results. Our MND minister Khaw Boon Wan is particular proud of his Sembawang residents. CHECK THIS SHIT OUT, BITCHES!, this post seems to be saying.

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 7.44.09 AM

The government is partly to blame for setting the standard in the first place. With RCs doing the dirty work for us all this years, we never learned how to buy a flag or even hang it up ourselves, not to mention coordinate them in a single perfect file down the block. It’s like parents holding a massive birthday bash for their kid with clowns, magicians and firestarters in one year, and then ordering miserable McDelivery at home for the next. This year, nobody even bothered to compose a new birthday song. You’d think your folks love you less as you get older, when the truth is you can’t measure love by how festive every birthday gets. Think of N-Day as Singapore’s Valentine’s Day, and the display of flags as the gesture of giving an obligatory bunch of roses. Not giving one this year doesn’t mean I love her less. Conversely, putting one up for the past few years doesn’t mean I won’t migrate to goddamn Perth the next.

There are all sorts of personal excuses not to do so, of course, namely:

1. Don’t have the time
2. Lazy
3. I don’t want to stand out if I’m the only one
4. My flag is faded
5. Don’t know where to buy the flag
6. I already draped my car’s sideview mirror in flag
7. I was away on vacation
8. I forgot
9. The dog ate my flag

There are also those who try to explain the phenomenon by summoning the tired ‘too many foreigners’ argument, while some of us would only put up flags as a show of defiance on days other than N-day, like a certain ‘Gulam’ who hung a Palestine flag to ‘raise awareness’ about the Gaza situation. Or another Singaporean flying a China flag for some damn reason.

Flags on flats or not, this is still home, truly. Happy National Day, Singapore.



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Woman peeing in Pinnacle@Duxton lift

From ‘Caught in the act of urinating in Pinnacle@Duxton lift’, 18 June 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

The first photo shows the back of a woman in neat attire squatting down in a lift; the second shows the same woman, her hair tied up in a ponytail, in the same spot, but this time with a puddle near her feet in the lift. The photos were featured in posters put up this week by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council in the void deck of Block 1E at Pinnacle@Duxton, following complaints about urine in one of the lifts back in May.

The youthful-looking woman, whose face is not seen, was caught in the act by surveillance cameras in the lift at 8.22pm on May 23.

“The Town Council has received feedback regarding the stench of urine in the Fireman Lift in Blk 1E… This has caused much inconvenience to residents,” read the message in the poster. The posters and photos are part of what MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) describes as the town council’s “very effective” method of addressing such incidents, and have been employed several times at the Pinnacle@Duxton estate as well as elsewhere in the constituency.

…”We would never show people’s faces in the photos used, so only the person committing the act would know it is him or her,” she said. “We’re not trying to shame anybody, we put the posters up only in the affected blocks. Our job is not to make trouble, we just want to stop the urination problem.”

No one has stepped forward so far regarding the latest incident, and little is known about the woman pictured. “Urination in public places still happens from time to time in different areas around Tanjong Pagar, but thankfully it’s not that prevalent,” said Dr Neo.

This iconic housing project was indeed once the PINNACLE of international design, the first in the world with 2 skybridges linking the 7 blocks, creating what could be the LONGEST continuous skygardens in the world. A winner of the 2010 President’s Design Award, the Pinnacle’s skydecks have been described as ‘social dynamos’ encouraging communal activities, initiating an ‘innovative typology of public communal spaces that are metaphorically reclaimed from the air.’ A bit TOO communal perhaps. This, like how we deal with most social nuisances, calls for a CAMPAIGN, before someone brands the building The ‘Pee-nacle’ (Wait, that has already happened). The mascot could be a singing, dancing giant incontinence pad, one who goes around smothering people before they even unzip their trousers.

Peeing in lifts is a scourge that won’t go away soon, with exploding bladders, loose sphincters, alcohol and lack of public toilets often used as mitigation pleas when culprits do get caught. Most of these, to no one’s surprise, are men. In 1988, the ST ran a survey which revealed that of 112 pissers caught, ONLY ONE was a woman, and they were mostly adults within the age range of 36 to 54. These days, people seem to get away with urinating in lifts without having the media shout their name, age and occupations like they used to. An anonymous offender smearing a public amenity gets away with nothing more than embarrassment, while a blogger who smears the name of someone very illustrious gets hunted down and sued his pants off for defamation. Even getting caught EATING a damn sweet on the train is a worse situation than this.

You must be truly desperate if you’re a woman and need to resort to 1)pulling down/aside your underwear 2) squatting 3) answering the call of nature 4) risk soaking your damn feet while at it. No one seems to ever get remanded in IMH for such behaviour, especially one that has been fetishised by the authorities since Singaporeans began living in HDBs, with some MPs in the 80’s even suggesting a JAIL TERM for offenders. Peeing in a lift is an entirely different breed of public disgrace compared to say dumping litter or throwing cigarette butts out of cars. A grown adult urinating in a closed, moving compartment, especially one in which you have to eventually use yourself, seems to me more of a bizarre psychological disorder rather than a case of uncontrollable nerves, mischief, or even ‘vandalism’. It’s like vomiting on the side of your plate, and then continuing to eat the rest of your food like nothing happened.

The Pinnacle may boast one of the most panoramic, expensive residential skygardens in the world, but all the lifestyle frills and pledges of ‘sustainability’ aside, one thing that the building appears to be sorely lacking is a basic lift URINE DETECTOR, a gadget that stops the lift dead when someone takes a leak on the floor, sounds an alarm, and traps you inside until the cops come and whisk you and your vile bladder to court. A brilliant invention because it forces you to be confined with your own putrid stench for at least a good half an hour, and more importantly, catches you red-handed, with or without CCTV. Have we gone all soft on lift pissers lately? Will the Pinnacle management take more serious measures only when MP Lily Neo steps on a golden puddle during her walkbouts like what happened to former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon in 1991?

Urine detectors can’t do anything to prevent one from DEFECATING in the lift, though. Yes, it happens, I shit you not.

UDDs will give residents a piss of mind

Young couples not keen on 3-Gen flats

From ‘3Gen flats? No thanks, we’d rather live on our own’, 9 June 2014, article by Yeo Same Jo, ST

YOUNG couples taking part in a dialogue on housing were largely against living in new jumbo-sized flats with their parents after marriage, echoing the preliminary results of an online poll that showed most young couples would rather live on their own. Most of the 20 couples taking part in the Ministry of National Development (MND) session were worried about the lack of privacy of such three-generation (3Gen) flats.

“Personally I value freedom and I want my own space,” said chemist Toh Ke Min, 24, who took part in last Saturday’s event, the first of three conversations held to find out how housing policies can help draw families closer.

Her boyfriend, transport operations officer Quah Hai Hui, 26, shared her sentiment. “I’m apprehensive about what my in-laws think about me. Living in the same flat as them might bring some conflict,” he said.

Others said the 3Gen flats, meant to encourage multiple generations to live under one roof, might be difficult to sell in future, as they can be resold only to other multi-generation families.


‘Jumbo’ is not as big as it once was. The 3Gen flats at Saraca Breeze @ Yishun come with 4 bedrooms, 2 of which with attached bathrooms, and has an area of 115 sq m. In 1990, a ‘jumbo’ unit in Woodlands had SEVEN rooms (150 – 165 sq m), created by knocking down the wall between 3 room and 4 room units. It was practically a presidential suite by today’s standards. Today’s 3Gen units are more ‘Grande’ than ‘Jumbo’, really.

With prices starting from $335K, calling these 3Gen flats ‘jumbo’ makes it seem like a steal, when it’s almost the same size as a 5-room flat, which your property agent will try to sell to you, along with your aged parents and kids, as ‘cosy’ despite the superlative tag. In 1986, if you wished to stay close to your old folks but prefer to retain your privacy you could get an extended unit with a ‘granny’ flat attached, a 40 sq m studio apartment with its own toilet and kitchen, the smallest of the range being 133 sq m, still more spacious than the current ‘jumbo’ flat.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 9.21.09 PM

It wasn’t long before Singaporeans began exploiting the extra space for other uses, as a ‘workout room’,  study, workshop and a maid’s bedroom among others. By 1992, the ‘granny’ project was faltering and HDB eventually put a stop to it, with some experts explaining that old people preferred to live away from their married children. Today, there is the ‘retirement village’ for those who would rather live alone than play nanny to Junior when Mom and Dad are slogging their asses off at work.

We all appreciate MND’s aims to meet the national objective of happy-family togetherness, but as the survey results show, perhaps there is a limit to how physically tight families should be when it comes to sharing living space. There are squabbles, and then there are, at the other extreme, horrific bloodbaths. Not everyone gets along and sits around being entertained by grandfather’s stories like the folks in Under One Roof, nor is every family as ‘kampung-spirited’ and accommodating as some 4 generation HDB households. In pure economic, White paper terms, squeezing an extended family in a 3G flat makes sense. Until, of course, it is decided it’s better to send the old folks to a nursing home in JB before someone gets killed, that is.

Toa Payoh HDB rooftop vandalised by graffiti

From ‘Roof of HDB block in Toa Payoh vandalised’, 7 May 2014, article in CNA

The roof level of a 22-storey Housing and Development Board block was painted with graffiti containing vulgarities and criticism of a political party in an apparent case of vandalism. Pictures of the graffiti were circulated on social media sites on Wednesday morning.

Police said they received a call at 6.47am requesting for assistance at Blk 85A, Toa Payoh Lorong 4. “Upon police’s arrival, it was established that a case of vandalism had occurred at the said location,” a police spokesman said.

A contractor at the scene told Channel NewsAsia that residents had called the Town Council’s 24-hour hotline to complain about the graffiti. The access hatch to the block’s parapet was locked when the police tried to enter the site on Wednesday morning.

According to a Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council staff member, who did not want to be named, the water tanks on the roof top had not been tampered with. “I don’t know how they managed to get up here. The police are investigating,” said the staff member.

My grandfather's rooftop

My grandfather rooftop

Graffiti and PAP go together like waffles and honey. Breaking into a MRT depot to spray-paint a train is nothing compared to this aerial spectacle of a middle finger to the ruling party, provided that the culprits abseiled the block rather than break their way onto the roof. (Incidentally, there’s a rooftop bar at Carlton Hotel called GRAFFITI SKY BAR.)

Those in the street art scene label such vandals ‘extreme taggers’, amateurs who risk life and limb to mark territory. One such tagger died from such a stunt hanging from a rope by the 16th floor of a building in Sacramento. Another in the same city fell to his death while trying to mark a bridge. No vandal here has died while pretending to be Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa so far, but we may see the first if this high-rise FUCK PAP mural triggers a spate of copycat HDB tagging. The moniker ‘Mike Cool’ sounds like a 80’s rapper, reminding me more of bright baggy pants and inverted caps than a mohawked punk with a taste for anarchy.

Artists have put roofs to more creative use in other cities, drawing entirely opposite reactions from residents, who view urban graffiti like how they view their child’s first scribblings on the wall. One even proposed to his girlfriend using 5 rooftops as his canvas. If you did this in Singapore, you’d be spending your engagement anniversary in jail, lashes on your back still warm to the touch.

In New York, high rise graffiti has assimilated into the urban landscape, and no one questions how the vandals got up there in the first place. Graffiti artists there are the stuff of fable and magic who sprinkle rainbow fairy dust while you sleep and then disappear before you wake. Maybe it’s because they don’t spray-paint FUCK OBAMA in CAPS all over the place.

Only in Singapore does one see this obsessive urge to deface the Government in public using the ‘language’ of graffiti.  Campaign banners in Aljunied GRC, for example, were subject to a blue streak of vandalism in 2011.

PAP, you’ve been Tagged

Then there’s the rampage of digital vandalism that culminated in the hijacking of the Istana website, with the hackers putting up unflattering comments about President Tony Tan. Well that’s one way to get noticed, but a silly risk to take since the Government knows your IP address and all. The tricky part about nabbing rooftop vandals is that the perpetrators are unlikely to be caught in the act by eyewitnesses, and nobody really sneaks up there unless they want to dispose a body in the water tank, have sex, or SUNTAN.  Maybe the litterbug-catching CCTVs would have some leads for the Police.

A minor embarrassment for the PAP really, but they should take comfort in knowing that for every dozen pieces of graffiti cursing the government, there’s always that rare, diehard pro-Government fan who would break the law just to declare his love for it. Like so.

UPDATE: ‘Mike Cool’ and his 4 friends were arrested within days of the incident, similar to the speed at which the Cenotaph vandal was captured. I don’t know what they were doing to the 17 year olds in the police van, because they seemed to be in some kind of pain. One of them was allowed access to a lawyer, but denied a gag order because the law ‘protects victims, not accused persons’. The last time a gag order request was rejected was an appeal made on behalf of a certain Cecilia Sue. Meanwhile, another infamous 17 year old’s identity remains gagged to this day, as more than 30 men and counting, their names splashed all over the news, get charged one by one for having underaged sex with the ‘victim’.

Or maybe it was just hot that day

 4 of them (Boaz Koh, Reagan Tan, Chay Nam Shen, Goh Rong Liang) were alleged to have committed criminal trespass, while David Graaskov has been charged of conspiring to commit vandalism, the latter also accused of ‘removing a reflective vest worth $5 from another rooftop in Toa Payoh. (Teens in vandalism case face more charges, 17 May 2014, ST). Boaz was also playing with a fire extinguisher at the Marina Bay Suites, causing $70 worth of damage to property. Why bother with expert witnesses to solve crimes when you have Instagram? (Boaz and Graaskov have since closed their accounts).


New age construction worker

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.

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.”


$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?


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