‘Lau Pa Sat’ in Tamil can be used to curse people

From ‘STB to correct Lau Pa Sat and tighten translation process’, 7 Nov 2014, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The Lau Pa Sat sign which was incorrectly translated has been removed and will be corrected, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Friday. STB also said that it will tighten the process of translating its brown signs, which indicate tourist attractions or landmarks.

“We had notified the operator and they had taken immediate steps to remove the sign and work on correcting the translation,” Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail said in the statement, referring to the erroneous Lau Pa Sat sign.

She added that the board will ensure the new sign is checked by language experts. A photo of the sign, which translated “Sat” as “Sani” or Saturday in Tamil, was being circulated on social networks. The word can have a negative connotation, and can be used to curse people.

Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that “Sat” in Lau Pa Sat was a truncation of “Saturday”.

SAT you, STB

SAT you, STB

Notice that this brown sign has Chinese, Tamil and Japanese on it, but no Malay. Contrast the selection of languages with other tourist attraction ‘brown signs’, such as East Coast Park, which has Malay, Japanese but no Tamil. There are inconsistencies elsewhere. Sri Krishnan Temple has no Malay or Japanese, while Little India has Malay, Chinese, Japanese but not Tamil. The image next to the Lau Pa Sat text doesn’t look like Lau Pa Sat at all, more like the Supreme Court dome. Why didn’t anyone spot this glaring error instead?

According to ST, the Tamil translation for ‘Sat’, or ‘Sani’, is also a reference to ‘Satan’, the only diabolical connection to the Lord of Darkness being that Lau Pa Sat is owned by food court conglomerate Kopitiam. Other Tamil speakers from the ST FB page were quick to clarify that ‘Sani’ refers to the planet ‘Saturn’. This isn’t the first time STB made a mess of their promotional material, summoning the Devil or otherwise. In 2002, the Hungry Ghost Festival was translated in Chinese to ‘HUNGARY Ghost festival’.

I’m not sure if Tamil is notoriously difficult to translate, but getting lost in translation has haunted Tamil linguists for more than a century. In 1940, a slogan on signboards campaigning for people to grow their own vegetables for ‘health and victory’ was read as ‘Unless you grow vegetables we shall lose the war’. Or maybe that was secretly intended to serve as war propaganda to rally Indians into amassing combat rations for our comrades. A Malay song in 1952 titled ‘A yoyo Ramasamy’ riled some Indians because it translated into derogatory lyrics describing labourers who ‘drink toddy and get intoxicated’.  In 1989, a multi-lingual No-smoking sign on a TIBS bus was slammed because it contained a nonsensical Tamil word. You also don’t see Tamil subtitles for English movies on national TV, or hear any of the PMs in the 60-year history of the PAP speak a single full sentence of it during their National Day Rallies. It can be a problem too if you even attempt to anglicise Tamil. Some years back Bread Talk were accused of mocking the race and language by naming one of their creations ‘Naan the Nay’, which probably has the same racial connotations as someone mocking Mandarin with ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’.

But it’s not just STB who deserves Hell for their laziness in translation. NHB made a more humiliating mistake previously by translating Bras Basah in Chinese to the literal ‘bras’ (undergarments) on their Night Festival website. They soon made a ‘clean breast’ of it and fixed the atrocity. I wonder if STB has a brown sign for Sim Lim Square. Now if that were translated into Satan’s Square because of its reputation of scamming tourists out of their hard earned money and forcing people to get down on their knees and wail to the gods, they wouldn’t be that far off.

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Singapore is not a SIN city

From ‘Take the SIN out of Singapore’, 6 Oct 2014, ST Forum

(Andrew Choo Ming Sing): SEEING the word “SIN” emblazoned across the chests of our beaming Asian Games athletes (“Finally, a golden day for Singapore”; last Wednesday) evoked a feeling that was somewhat bittersweet. “SIN” is the International Olympic Committee code for Singapore and is used to represent our country in sporting events. “SIN” is also the International Air Traffic Association code for Changi Airport, the gateway to our country.

Sports and travel are two of the most visible platforms through which we project ourselves to the world. “SIN” is the word projected when we make a name for ourselves on these platforms. Sin cities of the world are well known, for better or for worse. Whenever Singapore is elevated into focus, the image must be one that is in keeping with our cultural and social mores.

Singapore is not a sin city. But, with the use of the code “SIN”, the eye will make the association, even if the heart and mind know otherwise. Is it in our national interest for “SIN” to be associated with Singapore?

We should consider adopting the less-used (but not lesser) code “SGP” instead of “SIN”. “SGP” is, after all, the United Nations’ country code for Singapore. Indeed, the Internet domain designation for Singapore is “.sg”. Furthermore, “SGP” corresponds to the syllables that make up the word “Sin-Ga-Pore”.

It looks better, sounds better and unifies all usage and application.

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Team SIN

In 2010, the Today paper published a tongue-in-cheek feature titled I LOVE SIN, instead of the more frequently hashtagged, less embarrassing ‘ I LOVE SG’. Indeed, it’s the only code that stands out among the list of countries which participated in the Incheon games, but only if you’re suffering from excessive self-consciousness, or are more interested in scrutinising 3-letter codes instead of the number of medals that our beloved team has brought home. Incidentally, SIN ranked higher than both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, countries that many people don’t know even exist, let alone realise are part of Asia.

One may argue about how ‘sinful’ Singapore really is. Our 2 IRs already give us something in common with the original ‘Sin City’ Las Vegas. In fact, a report in 2012 states that Singapore’s 2 IRs may have surpassed all 39 casinos in Vegas in takings, making it the global gambling ‘hub’ second only to Macau. The current courtroom news gripping the nation is about church founders embezzling donations to fund a celebrity pastor who exposes a gyrating torso in her music videos. There’s a seething undercurrent of vice online, in the backstreets, occasionally in the highest public offices, right up to the dirty LUSTY antics of a certain Speaker of Parliament. Although adultery site Ashley Madison is banned, it still has a reported 25,000 registered users from Singapore. If you want to argue based on biblical technicalities, we also aim to be among Asia’s top ‘sinners’ when it comes to our fetish for local cuisine (GLUTTONY). If rich, oily food were a sin, we would rank among the most enthusiastic purveyors of food porn.

To still insist that Singapore has to upkeep a squeaky-clean image, to the extent of amending a code used for so long in sporting events which hardly anyone ever notices unless someone mentions it, is like telling a prospective son-in-law to trim his moustache because you don’t want him to resemble a brutal genocidal dictator. It just makes the association more OBVIOUS. Otherwise, no one would even think of Hitler under any circumstance. It would have been a ironic case of ‘Hmm, now that you mentioned it…’, though I doubt anyone would avoid stepping into the country just because the boarding pass tells us that we could be disembarking right onto a land of pure, perverse, EVIL.

Besides, ask a linguist and he would probably disagree that we should even pronounce Singapore as SIN-GA-PORE, with the ‘hard G’. By syllabic emphasis alone, it should be ‘SAP’ instead. But between a word that implies ‘weakling/loser’ vs SIN, I’d much prefer the latter, even at the remotest possibility that the international community, who have many better things to do with their lives, might be scoffing and shaking their heads in utter disappointment at it.

Ci Yuan CC not easy to pronounce

From ‘New CC’s name not easy to pronounce’, 29 Oct 2013, ST Forum

(Edwin Feng): I READ with interest that the new Ci Yuan Community Club used to be called Kebun Ubi Community Centre in the 1970s (“New CC in Hougang first to have a hawker centre”; Oct 20). Ci Yuan is not an easy name for Singaporeans who are unfamiliar with hanyu pinyin to pronounce.

It is ironic that a community centre meant for bonding Singaporeans of different races would change its original Malay name to a “pinyinised” one that even some Chinese Singaporeans have difficulty pronouncing. Besides, why is it named Ci Yuan when it does not seem to have any link to either its old name (Kebun Ubi) or its present location?

Unlike Kebun Ubi (Malay for tapioca garden or farm), the new name does not seem to reflect the rich history of the place, where tapioca and other staple crops were once cultivated by our forefathers, who lived in the villages there.

The opening of the new community club in a few years’ time will be a good opportunity for the centre’s old name to be reinstated. Perhaps a gallery could be set up to educate younger constituents on the history of the place.

Romanised Mandarin, or ‘pinyinisation’, was once the scourge of language and history lovers everywhere. In 1987, there were calls to abolish Hanyu Pinyin names of places like Simei and Guifei.  Thankfully, Simei remains in use today, but isn’t pronounced the way it’s intended to be. Most of us, including the Chinese-speaking, pronounce Simei as ‘xi (ee-sound) mei’, rather than the correct, sharper ‘si (as in ‘4’) mei’, an example of a HYPY name that has evolved into something all Singaporeans can agree upon even though technically it’s wrong. ‘Hougang’ is a mixed bag, some say ‘Ow-Gang’ with the silent ‘h’, while others pronounce it as (correctly), ‘Hoe’-Gang. Till this day we remain wishy-washy over Yishun (the town) and Nee Soon (the army camp).

HYPY, the devil spawn of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, threatened to screw with our food culture in the early eighties. Imagine if chye tau kuey was renamed ‘Luo bo Gao’, or ‘Char Quay Teow’ as ‘Chao Guo Tiao’. Doesn’t sound as appetising in HYPY does it. In school, compulsory HYPY names wrecked havoc on our kids’ sense of identity, some confused over the two versions, while those without dialect names, like Eurasian kids, were ‘pinyinised’ with silly soundalike translations. If I were to introduce my full name to a Westerner I’d prefer my dialect name than my HYPY one, which comes with a troublesome ‘Qu’ couplet. Not everyone has an effortless HYPY name like Lee Wei Ming. Some of us have HYPY names that look and sound as complicated as a blockbuster drug with an X, Z and Y in it. Take Zhuo Xue Yan, for example. Anyone unfamilar with HYPY would be wondering if you’re an actual person or some ancient Mexican pyramid.

I doubt non-Chinese have any problems pronouncing Fengshan, Bishan, Yishun or Yuhua though, just like non-Malays can easily enunciate Geylang, Eunos of Pasir Panjang. An example of a HYPY experiment gone wrong was the renaming of Tekka Centre to ZHUJIAO Centre in the eighties, which was then reverted back to Tekka in 2000 as it better reflected the history of the place, and a better tourist draw. Other town-naming fails include the suggestion to change Tiong Bahru to ‘Hong Shan‘ and ‘Bukit Panjang’ to ‘Zhenghua’. Like Zhujiao, ‘Ci Yuan’ is tricky to pronounce considering that in standard English the C takes on an ‘S’ sound in words like ‘cider’ or ‘cistern’, even though it makes references to tapioca and sweet potato planting, according to the CC chairman Koh Hock Seng (Residents to be consulted on new CC’s name, 2 Nov 2013, ST Forum). Hopefully we’ll all get used to the tongue-twisting confusion of HYPY, and before you know it saying ‘Ci Yuan’ will be as easy as ‘Gong Xi Gong Xi’.

 

NHB using Google Translator for Bras Basah

From article in omy.sg, 15 Sept 2013 and Singapore heritage Society Facebook post

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The direct translation of ‘Bras Basah’ (as in the road) into the Chinese ‘bras’ 胸罩 (as in the undergarment) has made international headlines, no thanks to the gaffe by the folks responsible for the Chinese version of  the NHB website (I have no idea how to access the Chinese version to see if it has been amended). Wrong translation with unintended comical and embarrassing results has happened before, on the STB website and even when applied to the names of prominent ministers.

So I decided to give Google Translate a shot at ‘Bras Basah’, and found that someone must have corrected the algorithm because the end result turned out to be accurate, though the official name in Chinese (pronounced ‘Wulashibasha’) makes absolutely no sense at all.

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But isn’t Bras Basah a MALAY word, you say? So I tried converting it to Chinese from Malay instead. The result I got was 湿黄铜, which means WET BRASS. It should be, literally, 湿米 (shi mi, or wet rice, as I’ll explain later), but that sounds too close to SIMEI. The name warrants further research because it seems ‘bras’ isn’t a Malay word either.

According to Infopedia, the road was listed as ‘Brass Bassa’ in 1835, and hypothesised to be an anglicised form of the Malay ‘Beras Basah’, or ‘wet rice’. Our British rulers probably didn’t like naming roads after soggy food, so decided to ‘jazz’ it up to sound more like a trumpet festival. There were also speculations that ‘basah’ is a bastardisation of ‘bazaar’ and that Bras Basah meant ‘rice market’ (‘Basah’ also sounds like the local Chinese term for ‘wet market’ 巴剎, which itself is derived from the Malay ‘Pasar’). Then there are jokes that the underwear reference came from it being used as an area to hang wet bras to dry. Some visitors, like blogger ‘Jacqkie’ from Malaysia, thinks Bras Basar ‘sounds funny’. Singaporeans, too, found the pun ROTFL-worthy, and came up with lame classics like ‘Where does Dolly Parton buy her bra in Singapore?’ (Answer: Bras Basah)

In fact, it was historically a site of rice trading, where cargo-loads were dried at the banks of Stamford Canal, occasionally made wet by the north-east monsoon, as related by an unknown writer in 1948. In the same article, ‘Tampenis Road’ was cited. I wonder how this would have turned out on Google Translate (it doesn’t translate. Unfortunately). Couldn’t stop sniggering at the puns (not sure if intended or not) in this 1939 piece on how ‘Tampines’ came about. But I digress.

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Our reluctance to restore Bras Basah to its original Malay is partly the reason for the website cock-up, though most of us have refrained from mocking its name by now because that’s just childish. Bras Basah remains generally accepted for historical and sentimental reasons, just like the distorted ‘Tampines’, though the latter is a change that residents of the town are most grateful for.

WHY someone in history decided to drop the last ‘S’ of ‘brass’ and restore the Malay ‘basah’ to its current incarnation remains a juicy mystery. As for WHEN, it could have happened sometime just before 1900, when someone commented on revised spelling on the ‘newly enamelled’ street signs, and that Bras Basah ‘sends the thoughts back to the padi fields in the valley of Fort Canning’. It could have been a lexical compromise of ‘brass’ and the colloquial ‘beras’ (Bras Basah is catchier than Beras Basah), or a colonial prankster working in road administration who wanted to leave a lasting legacy for all the wrong reasons, who had the foresight to recognise that one day mankind will be lazy enough to use technology instead of humans to translate ‘Bras Basah’ into other languages, with hilarious, and tragic, results.

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.

Charity for disabled children removing ‘spastic’ from its name

From ‘Charity drops ‘spastic’ in new name’, 16 June 2013, article by Theresa Tan, Sunday Times

The Spastic Children’s Association of Singapore has changed its name to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore. It is the latest charity serving the disabled to re-brand itself with a more politically correct name….Corporate communications manager Melissa Shepherdson told The Sunday Times the change came about after parents’ feedback that the word “spastic” was derogatory. “We want to protect our clients’ dignity,” she said.

It has also applied to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to change the name of its Spastic Children’s Association School to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School.

…The word spastic, used to refer to a person with cerebral palsy, was not laden with negative connotations in the 1950s, when the charity was founded, going by various reports on the word’s definition. But it has since degenerated into an insult used to describe someone as stupid and clumsy.

…As today’s parents are more mindful of politically correct language, many special education schools catering to disabled children have in the past decade coined new names that make no reference to disability, or dropped the word “special”.

Ms June Tham, executive director of Rainbow Centre, said: “Some parents feel that the word ‘special’ is a stigma and gives the impression that the child is abnormal. We know that some parents reject their children or are ashamed of them, and using negative words reinforces their negative feelings.”

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The old logo of the Spastic Children’s Association above features a half naked boy in a heartwrenching pose. Today it looks like a corporate logo for a government agency with what appears to be raised arms of joy. Incidentally, there is another ‘CPAS’ in Singapore which has nothing to do whatsoever with spasticity (or so it seems): The Certified Public Accountant Singapore‘.

‘Spastic’ used to be a derogatory taunt that I encountered only during my secondary school days, and meant general idiotic behaviour. In the US, however, ‘spastic’ refers to clumsiness or ‘over-excitedness’. They even named a Transformer ‘Spastic’, which was pulled from the UK. Somehow ‘blind’ as an insult has gotten away with it. If your boss scolds ‘You must be BLIND’ when you miss out glaring info in a report, you’re not going to sue him for verbal abuse. When he says ‘Your report is bloody SPASTIC’, on the other hand, you might have a case against him. Even the word ‘special’ is no longer as ‘feel-good’ as it once was, as the phrase ‘special treatment’ would tell you.

UK ad circa 1977

UK spastic association ad circa 1977

Other name changes for the sake of political correctness mentioned in the article include the dropping of ‘Autism’ from Singapore Autism School to ‘EDEN school’ and ‘Singapore School for the Visually Handicapped’ into ‘Lighthouse School’ (which to me sounds vaguely ironic, even patronising). ‘Visually Handicapped’ itself is a euphemism for ‘BLIND’, and the SAVH’s timeline of name-changing to appease the public is a classic example of how PC has evolved. In 1951, it started off as the ‘Singapore Association for the Blind’, and morphed into SAVH in 1987. A ‘sub-committee of the Blind (1964)’ turned into the ‘White Cane club (1972)’, which retains its name till this day as a recreational branch of the association. That’s like calling a social group for amputees the ‘Wheelchair Club’. Today’s MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore) was once called the Singapore Assocation for RETARDED children (1962).

So it seems that some neurological handicaps are more offensive than others. Cerebral Palsy is fine for now, but it appears that the word ‘Autism’ is still being shunned by some parents. Hence the biblical trope ‘Eden’, which according to the Autism Resource Centre, is inspired by the proverbial Garden where its ‘fruits gave life’.  I’m not sure if naming a special school after a mythic paradise is overdoing it though. The logo of Eden school is a tree with round hanging fruits, one of which I could assume is the forbidden one that tempted and corrupted Adam and Eve into an eternity of sin, which is, one could argue, the ‘life’ given to us today anyway, handicapped or not.

In 2003, PATHLIGHT school (for autistic kids) was launched with assistance from MOE, complete with ‘smiley face logo’ that tells you how ‘joyous’ the place is.  Not to be confused with ‘NORTHLIGHT’ school, which caters to kids who are not mentally disabled, but are poor academic performers (or ‘slow learners’ in the past) There’s still room in this age of uppity PC for the likes of Autism Children’s Centre in Clementi and St Andrew’s Autism School which refrain from flowery names that stray from its cause, but it’s only a matter of time before these get rebranded into shining beacons of hope and aspiration, such that eventually the only way to tell if a school is for ‘special’ kids or not is that its name reads like a gospel and says NOTHING about the illness that its students suffer from.

‘Cerebral Palsy’ doesn’t sound like a term one would abuse in the same way as ‘spastic’, but we once thought the same about ‘autism’, or God forbid, ‘educationally subnormal’. Describing your kid as ‘different’ or ‘special-needs’  may not be socially acceptable to some these days, but apparently changing the name of his school into an extra-special one is. I believe it would be simpler to say that your child has autism or cerebral palsy rather than run rings around euphemisms like ‘special’, ‘different’ and ‘differently abled’, or pray that people know what Pathlight school does without you having to explain that it’s not exactly a school for Christian children or angels from heaven.

Or we could follow Derek Zoolander’s example, naming his dyslexia school as the ‘Derek Zoolander’s Center for Kids who Can’t Read Good’. The Spastic Children’s equivalent could be ‘Center for Kids who Can’t Move Good’.

Silat World champion not winning Sportsman of the Year

From ‘Silat world champ Shakir among those snubbed for sportsman title’, 31 May 2013, article by Goh Jun Yong, St and ‘Puzzling snub to world champ’, 1 June 2013, ST Forum

A world champion, an Olympian, a doubles winner in his sport’s top professional competition and a man who is third in Asia. Yet silat’s Muhammad Shakir Juanda (world champion), sailor Colin Cheng (15th in the men’s Laser class at the London Olympics), table tennis player Gao Ning (ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals doubles winner), and wushu’s Seet Wee Key (Asian Championships bronze medallist) have been snubbed for the country’s top male athlete award.

It is just the third time since its inception in 1967 that the Singapore Sports Awards (SSA) will not have a Sportsman of the Year. The other two times were in 2009 and 2010. Said Singapore Bowling chief Jessie Phua, who also chairs this year’s SSA: “We acknowledge the athletes for their achievements. However, the bar has been raised and, this year, there just wasn’t a milestone that was significant enough for us to give this award out.

“There are definitions of World Championships that the selection committee does not agree with. You must take a look at how many people and countries are actually participating in the event. We can’t begrudge the athlete for conditions that he or she can’t control but, at the same time, we will not compromise on the standards of the award.”

(Yeo Yujin):…If being a world champion, like silat exponent Muhammad Shakir Juanda, is not significant enough, then what is? Can the selection committee be more transparent about its decision-making process? I agree with assistant sports editor Chia Han Keong’s view that an athlete should not be discriminated against just because his chosen sport is not mainstream or popular enough (“Let’s celebrate, not discriminate”; Wednesday).

At a time when we are trying to encourage our young to take up competitive sports, such an attitude from the committee is disappointing. How can we nurture the young if we don’t give them our support? What is there to strive for if your countrymen don’t think your achievements are worth celebrating?

There was a time when silat could have been the next Muay Thai, but martial arts star Iko Uwais didn’t get as much exposure in mainstream cinema as was hoped. Both Sportman and Sportswoman awards have been handed out generously to athletes in swimming, table tennis, badminton and even ten-pin bowling. Another form of non-Olympic martial arts, wushu, was recognised just ONCE in the Sportsman category courtesy of Goh Qiu Bin in 2006, and he wasn’t even a WORLD champion despite doing well in SEA and Asian competitions. Shakir Juanda beat contestants from UK, Netherlands, what he described as a 89kg RUSSIAN TANK and a 1.9m Vietnamese giant to bring glory to the state. The contest script reads like a Bloodsport movie, yet he was snubbed because according to the SSA judges, it just wasn’t a milestone that was ‘significant’ enough. Have these folks even watched the Karate Kid?

A missed opportunity to celebrate an underrated sport, but this isn’t the first time that Shakir’s achievements were glossed over as a nominee. In 2009, the reason given for the lack of any deserving winner then was that ‘the standard of Singapore sports has GONE UP‘. I wonder if that claim was based on the Beijing Olympic medal success of our table tennis foreign talents the year before. If our standard is so high today that we can’t afford to trivialise it by awarding a world champion, why aren’t there more Olympic medals?

It’s not that silat isn’t recognised by the SSA because Sportsboy and Sportsgirls have been crowned for excelling in it the past. Still, Shakir isn’t the only silat sportsMAN who has been deprived of the coveted title. Sheik Alau’ddin, triple Gold medal winner at the SEA games, did not win this as well. Yet, someone like Li Jiawei was given the female equivalent of the award FIVE YEARS in a row (2002-2006), and last reported to be going back to China, probably bringing all 5 trophies with her.

This isn’t the first time that winner selection, or the lack of, has stirred controversy. In 1970, a sports fan complained to Timesport about Henry Tan, second best bowler in the WORLD, losing out to C Kunalan (who won in 1969 and 1970), whom he called a ‘has-been’. Henry later went on to win the same title the very next year (1971) and again in 1976. So if Shakir keeps up the good work and we complain enough, next year may JUST be his year, provided we wake up from this pipe dream of table tennis being the eternal poster-child of Singapore sports.

There’s also a glaring omission from the Sportsman list of winners. You have the legendary likes of Ang Peng Siong, Benedict Tan and C Kunalan, but not the one legend who put Singapore on the world sporting map. Although the SSA formalised the award only in 1967, the title existed since 1961, which nominated individuals from CRICKET and even MOTOR RACING. This ignored individual has been ranked the No 2 GREATEST Singaporean athlete of all time (1999), and the only individual to ever win a silver Olympic medal, yet was NEVER officially awarded a ‘Sportsman of the Year’ (despite being namechecked by a journalist as the Sportsman of 1958)

His name? Tan Howe Liang.

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