SICC organising poverty simulation classes

From ‘Singapore Island Country Club offers ‘poverty simulation class’ for members’, 5 Feb 2016, article by Francis Law, Today

At one of Singapore’s most prestigious country clubs, members will have a chance to see life from the perspective of those living on the poverty line, through a workshop conducted by a voluntary welfare organisation (VWO).

Called a poverty simulation exercise, the workshop was advertised in the Singapore Island Country Club’s (SICC) members magazine, and is set to be held next month.Typically conducted for schools and volunteers, it is the first time Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) is holding the workshop for a country club.

Participants will be called upon to role-play and manage challenging scenarios, like supporting a family and making ends meet on a meagre income while juggling health issues.

In Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, the two lookalike protagonists trade places to experience, respectively, poverty and royalty. Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd were the modern equivalent of Twain’s tale in the 1983 comedy Trading Places. In these stories, both characters learnt empathy and became better people for it.

In the reality series ‘The Simple Life‘, wealthy socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie sign up for menial jobs to experience first hand life beyond the ivory tower. If you want the rich to really get their hands dirty, you’ll need more than a half day’s worth of placecards and lecture notes. You’ll need them to breathe the same air, eat the same food, do the same backbreaking work and shit in the same toilet bowl, as the common people.

Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
But still you’ll never get it right
‘cos when you’re laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall
If you call your Dad he could stop it all.
You’ll never live like common people – ‘Common People’, Pulp

It only seems fair that if a rich person pays money to experience what it’s like to be poor, then vice versa; the less privileged should be given the opportunity to ride a Lambo and eat expensive caviar, to experience first hand the trials and tribulations, so called ‘First World Problems’, that plague our superrich. In fact, some of our millionaires have reached across the poverty line, offering free Supercar rides for needy kids, which drew complaints for giving children false expectations of success. We complain if the rich pretend to be poor. We complain if the poor are given a glimpse of what it’s like to be rich.

In a poverty simulation class, I presume you set aside an imaginary budget for imaginary meals of rice, egg and cabbage soup without actually eating any of the stuff, all in an air-conditioned room with tea breaks serving macarons in between. Conversely, in a ‘superrich simulation’, you probably need to deal with simultaneous overseas calls, Whatsapp messages, SMSes, emails, and face the ordeal of opening your wallet and not being able to decide which credit card to use because you’ve so many of them, thereby appreciating your current derelict but simple life without having to have so many choices forced upon you. Decadence is for other people. I want to keep my rice and sardines lifestyle thank you very much.

Of course we’re not expecting rich people to go all Siddartha on us and start renouncing all worldly possessions and roam the country barefoot, but a ‘poverty simulation’ just doesn’t seem, for lack of a better world, GRITTY enough. It’s like going camping by the reservoir without the luxuries of a handphone or Wifi. You need to throw them to the wolves, start their own fires and chop their own wood, not bombard them with Powerpoint slides.

Nikon awarding prize to photoshopped aeroplane entry

From ‘Photographer whose viral altered photo won Nikon Facebook contest apologises for his ‘mistake”, 31 Jan 2016, article by Chew Hui Min, Sunday Times

The photographer behind an altered image that won a contest on Nikon’s Facebook page has apologised.

Chay Yu Wei had been awarded a prize for his black and white photo showing an aeroplane flying overhead, framed by a ladder. Scores of derisive comments and sarcastic memes were then posted on Nikon’s page, with many saying the photo was digitally manipulated.

In an Instagram post late on Saturday (Jan 30), Chay apologised for his “mistake”, saying that he added the plane into the picture “just for fun” and that he crossed the line by submitting it for the competition.

nikon1

Ni-Con’s winning photo

You don’t need a forensic analyst to tell you that the winning image is doctored. You just need a healthy dose of skeptism and know how to zoom. Instead of apologising for his act of fraud, Chay could have played this up as a deliberate prank to expose the contest judging process, that anyone, with the right tools and time on his hands, can fool the ‘experts’ into regarding a piece of crass forgery as a genuine masterpiece.

In science, the equivalent of winning a photo competition is having your paper peer reviewed and published in a renown journal. In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal tricked the scientific community into accepting his gibberish-filled parody paper as the real thing. It was titled, excruciatingly, ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’. So, even the top minds in experimental physics can be fooled, not to mention a Nikon judging panel. It still takes considerably more effort, though, for a scientist to write a sham article, than for an amateur photographer to Google image ‘Airplane shadow’ and paste it in his ladder photo with a PicArt app.

Judging the authenticity of a photo is one thing, yet assessing contestants in a beauty pageant is another. Take the case of the ‘Miss Korea 2013‘ profile montage, which had doubters crying foul about a farcical combination of plastic surgery and Photoshopping. If Miss Universe today confessed to having a double-chin reduction previously, I doubt anyone would go all Steve Harvey on it. Not that people still watch Miss Universe anyway.

Attack of the Cloned

Some photographers go to ludicrous extents to get their winning shot without any digital chicanery. A birder was fined $500 for animal cruelty when he tied a baby tern’s legs to a bush so that he didn’t have to skulk around and leopard-crawl in camouflage to remain undetected. A UK wildlife photographer was stripped of a 10,000 pound prize for getting a tame Iberian wolf to leap over a fence.  You could also con innocent minds into believing that your cat is a selfie queen, that she could pick up a smartphone, switch to reverse camera, frame the image and press the snap button. This would win top prize on ‘World’s Funniest Animals’, no doubt. Opposable thumbs? Screw that.

This incredible, controversial image of a frog riding a giant beetle below continues to raise eyebrows. This is the GOLD standard for all you wannabe photo con-artists out there.

If Chay had HIRED A PLANE to fly over that specific spot in Chinatown, or got a crane on top of a building to dangle a model plane over him, then he’d probably get an A for effort, despite the cost of these alone exceeding far beyond the price of a goddamn trolley bag.

In some instances, judges are forced to play spot the difference when investigating frauds. The 2013 winning entry for National Geographic was disqualified because the creator shopped out a PLASTIC BAG from his photo. Which raises the question of how much ‘image refining’ is too much. When does a minor artistic nip/tuck become a gross act of fraud? For all we know we may be placing so much emphasis on the crappy plane image that we miss out other finer details that may potentially kick Chay’s photo out of any photo contest. Maybe he edited out a protruding screw on the base of the rung without anyone knowing.

The viral plane photo, generating comedic meme gold aside, is also a social commentary on how EVERYONE, to some extent, tweaks their shared photos to get the perfect image, whether it’s manipulating hues with filters, cropping out anything that gets in the way of the composition, distorting the context to make an image newsworthy for a Stomp website, or posting an old (but real) photo of a rainbow during LKY’s funeral to stir up emotions. All this just for a fling with Facebook fame, to feed our insatiable hunger for Likes and Shares, or a $169 Nikon trolley bag.

Chicken rice founder’s house worth $16 million

From ‘Sons of Swee Kee founder in tussle over $16M home’, 2 Jan 2016, article by Selena Lum, ST

Three sons of the man who founded the famous Swee Kee chicken rice shop are embroiled in a court fight over the family home in Tanjong Katong, which was recently sold for $16.3 million.

One of them, Mr Moh Tai Siang, 58, denies selling his one-quarter share in the house for $200,000 while suffering financial difficulties in 1985, and claims his two brothers are holding it in trust for him.

In a High Court suit filed in November last year against his brothers Tai Tong, 59, and Tai Suan, 56, he contends that he is entitled to his portion of the single-storey Branksome Road bungalow. It sits on 13,844 sq ft of freehold land, which went under the hammer on Sept 30 for $16.3 million – the highest auction price of last year.

…The property was bought by the brothers’ father, the late Mr Moh Lee Twee, in 1957. Mr Moh was the founder of the now-defunct Swee Kee, which operated from a Middle Road shophouse from 1949 to 1997. The shop was often considered to be the pioneer of Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore.

It comes as no surprise that one can make a fortune selling hawker food. Tan Kue Kim, the ‘Hokkien Mee Master’ is known for frying his signature noodles in a long sleeved shirt wearing a gold ROLEX WATCH.  Looi Saan Cheng, Tip Top Curry Puff owner, earned a net profit of $200K in 2006, before being jailed 2 weeks for tax evasion. Beach Road Prawn Mee founder Lee Chee Wee reportedly earned up to almost $140K a month. Former entrepeuneur of the year and zhi char hawker Eldwin Chua now owns the ‘Paradise’ empire. So don’t underestimate the uncle in the straw hat and towel around his neck sweating over a hot wok of char quay teow. He could be driving a Peugeot for all you know.

The list of ‘rags to riches’ success stories involving humble hawker fare goes on, but despite us hearing about hawkers who ‘live on landed property’ and ‘drive Mercedes‘, millionaire hawkers are the exception rather than the norm. In the late eighties, when hawkers were reportedly robbed of $18,000 worth of gold jewellery and watch, the first thing that people were concerned about was not so much the crime itself, but how a hawker could afford such luxuries without dodging the taxman. In the seventies it was ‘common knowledge’ that hawkers don’t pay taxes even if they earn up to $3000 a month.

These days, the dream of making a decent living from selling fishballs may be shattered by cold hard bureaucracy, no matter how young and hungry you are to make a splash in the hawker scene. You could slog more than 12 hours a day to make ends meet, but have the misfortune of encountering shitty customers who threaten to complain to NEA about your imaginary cockroaches. For all your hard work, your kids may not even continue the family line, not to mention fight over your expensive house when you’re dead.

SG50 bringing the nation together

From ‘Singaporeans  felt SG50 brought nation together:Poll’, 28 Dec 15, article by Tham Yuen-C, ST

More than 80 per cent of Singaporeans polled in a survey said they felt that the celebration of Singapore’s 50th year of independence had brought people closer, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Speaking at an interview earlier this month, he said the SG50 Programme Office had been doing monthly surveys since November last year to gauge people’s feelings towards SG50.

People were asked if they knew about SG50 and whether they were excited about it, among other things. The polls showed growing interest and participation in the activities organised for the occasion.

Needless to say SG50 was a success, and we had loads of fun thanks to our Government pumping millions’ worth of freebies and promotions into the festivities. But to say it ‘brought Singaporeans closer together’ based on a snap poll seems quite a stretch. I wonder if those surveyed included the same folks who disappeared overseas for holidays during the long SG50 weekend. Have we forgotten that our Speaker of Parliament even had to urge Singaporeans to stay home instead? Maybe we answered ‘Yes we’re closer now’ out of firstly, gratitude, and secondly, guilt, without actually thinking about what unity means.

To cap an awesome year, we have Adam Lambert performing for the grand SG50 send-off. Thanks to this guy, our supposed unity was tested as two camps embarked on an all out petition war, which some international observers called a ‘cultural divide’.  Not all of us were unanimously happy about the SG50 bonus payout either, with some complaining that the rewards weren’t fair to everyone. When Amos Yee bashed LKY and Christianity after his death, we saw another case of ‘us vs them’, those who supported Amos, and those who wanted to give him a slap across the face. So despite all the feels we have for the country and a newfound reverence following the passing of a great leader, there remain issues that continue to divide people no matter how many free concerts and goodie bags you give them: Sex, religion and money, the same stuff that rip the closest of families apart.

But maybe these are just minor defects in the tapestry that is our Singapore. We can’t all agree on the same things. We may complain about how useless the SG50 goodie bag items are, condemn the local movie 1965 as the worst film of all time, or whine about trivial things like not getting tickets for a free BBQ, but when it comes down to a ballot of even greater importance, the GE, most of us seemed to agree that the PAP are doing pretty fine after all, and our ship is being steered by the right people, for better or worse.

It has been a year awash with sentiment, coupled with a very significant death and a climate crisis inflicted upon us by an incompetent neighbour who blames us for not being thankful for their supply of fresh air on non-haze days, so it does FEEL like we’ve bonded as countrymen, in suffering against a common enemy and in mourning of a god-king figure. It just SO HAPPENS to be SG50. Whether this will keep us united, however, we’ll have to wait and see over the coming years. Unity isn’t measured by how loudly we sing the national anthem, it’s how we behave in little situations with little acts of kindness towards your fellow Singaporean. How many of those who felt ‘closer’ were willing to hug a complete stranger but still refuse to say hello to their neighbours? We know we’re united if we don’t need the Government do give us money or holidays just to express it.

If we wake up one fine day and realise we have something similar to what the Malaysians call a Bumiputera-only mall, then all this talk about SG50 bonding and togetherness is a big fat $10 million illusion. If we see a foreigner pinned under a bus and we do nothing, then we know we have failed. If we lock ourselves in our houses in fear of getting caught in a racial riot, then the Singapore as we know it is doomed.

Compass Point renamed as 1 Sengkang Mall

From ‘Compass Point to be renamed 1 Sengkang Mall’, 23 Dec 15, article in CNA

Compass Point will have a new name when it re-opens with a new look next year. The shopping centre said on its Facebook page on Tuesday (Dec 22) that the name 1 Sengkang Mall has been approved by Government authorities.

In the Facebook post, Compass Point said the mall was renamed to Sengkang Mall before updating the post and changing it to “1 Sengkang Mall” at about 10am on Wednesday.

It also announced the winner of the naming contest, who walks away with a S$1,000 cash prize. However, many on Facebook were unimpressed by the choice of the name and urged its owners to stick with Compass Point. Some called the new name “simplistic” and “boring”, or even something a 3- to 4-year-old could come up with.

The mall had narrowed down its list of suggested names to eight choices. The other options were: Sengkang Central Mall, One Sengkang, Sengkang Square, One Sengkang Square, Sengkang One, #1 Sengkang Square and 1SM.

Some names are hard to shake off. I still call the ‘Grandstand’ at Bukit Timah ‘Turf City’, while others, like Orchard’s ‘Wheelock Place’, took a while to catch on after its rebranding from ‘Lane Crawford’. Some older buildings continue to retain names that confuse shoppers. Even now I find it hard to differentiate between Bukit Timah Plaza and Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. Then there’s Bugis Junction and Bugis Cube, Tampines Mall and Tampines Mart, Far East Shopping Centre and Far East Plaza. Some folks give up totally and just refer to shopping centres by their key tenants. My parents used to call Thomson Plaza ‘Yaohan’, for example, and would have continued to use Yaohan whether or not the managment spends thousands of dollars just to change the name of the building from Thomson Plaza to Thomson Square, Thomson Point, Thomson Mall or #One@Thomson.

It’s also interesting how frequently shopping centres use the numbers 1 and 8. There’s ONE KM, Junction 8, Ten Mile Junction (Now Junction 10), 888 plaza and Triple One Somerset. Nobody’s going to rename Jem as Jurong 50 although its actual address is 50 Jurong Gateway Road. What do you expect from a country that names a second bridge to Malaysia, well, the Second Link, and its national stadium The National Stadium.

Shopping centres aside, here’s a list of rebranding exercises that suggest that money doesn’t always buy originality, and that sometimes it’s better to hire a monkey on a typewriter than reward a member of public if you want a name for something.

  1. $400,000 was spent on a marketing agency Interbrand to name Marina Bay as Marina Bay.
  2. $2000 cash awarded to a 15-year old who christened the now defunct Budget Terminal. How was it possible that this beat the awesome FUNPORT?
  3.  $3000 for a winning battleship name. Among those entries selected include the mouthfuls that are Sovereignty and Indomitable. All wonderful names for male libido enhancement pills too.
  4. Attractive prizes including F1 tickets to name TURNS 1, 7 or 10 of the 2009 circuit. These were named ‘Sheares’, ‘Memorial’ and ‘Singapore Sling’ respectively. I’d be extra careful around a bend named ‘Memorial’ if I were a racecar driver.
  5. You’ve probably heard of Nila or Merly, but the reason why ‘Frasia’ doesn’t ring a bell is because it’s a portmanteau of ‘Friends’ and ‘Asia’ and was the product of yet another naming contest for an 2009 Asian Youth Games mascot. It sounds more like a flower than the King of the Jungle.
  6. Ah Boy‘ was shortlisted as a baby orang utan name in 2011 following a contest organised by the Singapore Zoo. That’s what 50% of Singaporeans call their dogs and 100% of grandmothers call their grandsons.
  7. In 2012, one of Scoot’s first aircraft was named, bizarrely, ‘Barry’ thanks to a naming contest. I’m a little surprised no one picked ‘Scottie’.

National Stadium a white elephant paraded for profit

From ‘Privatisation of Sports Hub not financially feasible’, 19 Dec 2015, Voices, Today

(Quek Soo Beng): The report “High costs ‘a new reality’ with new National Stadium” (Dec 17) about the stadium’s high rental costs is a wake-up call that is not unexpected. As with renting an office space, rental costs vary with capacity. Return on capital and net profitability are realities of any commercial enterprise, as they are in the way the Sports Hub is set up.

It seems the pricing problem has more to do with the public-private arrangement than with the Sports Hub’s management. In a small country, privatisation is often not financially feasible. We’ve seen that with the MRT system, and now the Sports Hub.

…Singapore can justify only one huge sports stadium. Switching it back and forth for concerts and other non-sporting purposes, while necessary to increase usage and revenue, is fuelling operating and management costs and, ultimately, pricing problems.

Any solution that is not financially viable or prudent will not do. Otherwise, under persistent public and government pressure, the demise of the Sports Hub organisation, as it is now modelled, will be only a matter of time.

We cannot have our cake and eat it. The National Stadium is an iconic asset. Let it not become a white elephant to be paraded for profit.

The $1.33 billion Sports Hub costs nearly as much as the Gardens by the Bay, and since the NDP impasse people are already wondering if this behemoth is turning out to be a stupendous waste of money. Already 2 senior management staff have been given the boot over contract disagreements, following in the footsteps of stadia pitch expert Greg Gillin in 2014. Even before a single event was staged, we had problems with its ‘sandy turf’, which threatened to make the stadium not just a white elephant, but probably the most expensive artificial beach in the world.

But maybe it’s not just an issue of rental costs. The original National Stadium had its attendance woes too. In 1958, Financial Secretary T. M Hart, a cricket-loving Scotsman,  slammed the idea of building a ‘white elephant, full every 4 years‘, that Jalan Besar stadium would be good enough at the time. Come the 70’s, despite it being the ‘golden age’ of Singapore soccer, we had to bring in English league teams to draw the crowds, with the SSC boss then continuing to defend the charges that the National Stadium wasn’t making money. More than 10 years ago we saw a dip in confidence filling up seats for tournaments such as the Asian Cup. Dreams of a ‘Malaysia Cup’ resurgence recently died when our Lions were kicked out of the Malaysian Super League. Today, we merely encased that same beast in a shiny dome, gave it a new name, and baptised it with superstars like Jay Chou (whose concert some fans described as a total washout)

The hallmark of any advanced civilisation is that you can afford to build a state-of-the-art Colosseum for the ages. Singapore’s vanity project is no different.  Other mega-structures like the Singapore Flyer, for instance, have already fallen into disuse, but it remains an indispensable fixture of our world-renown skyline. Our billion-dollar dome will remain iconic for decades to come no doubt, but if nothing is done about its management or our general waning interest in sports, it will become, as one ang mo skeptic prophesised half a century ago, ‘full only every 4 years’, an empty shell containing nothing but distant echoes of its once glorious past, making ends meet only when Jay Chou comes to town.

Vivian Balakrishnan wants you to save money

From ‘Minister calls on S’porereans to save money, not make sacrifices, on energy’, 5 Dec 15, article by Albert Wai, Today

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday (Dec 4) expressed confidence that Singapore will meet its pledge to reduce emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, adding that for many Singaporeans, this will mean having to be more conscious about saving energy on a daily basis.

Speaking to reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before leaving for Paris to attend talks on a post-2020 global climate change regime, the minister said “a concerted and deliberate long-term plan has been put in place to ensure that we can all save money, at the personal, national and industrial level”. “I’m not asking you to make sacrifices. I am asking you to save money. We all need to pay attention to the way we use (electricity) and, more importantly, go back to the age-old wisdom about not wasting.”

Yes, we should all tighten the purse strings, nevermind if Christmas is round the corner. Instead of popping the bubbly, let’s toast with goddamn NEWater. Christmas lights? Hell no. Free range organic turkey? Bah! In fact, let’s all have our meals in hawker centres instead of grand buffets.

This exchange between MP Lily Neo and Minister Vivian with regards to how much recipients under the Public Assistance scheme should be getting is worth reproducing in its entirety (2007).

Dr Lily Neo: Sir, I want to check with the Minister again when he said on the strict criteria on the entitlement for PA recipients. May I ask him what is his definition of “subsistence living”? Am I correct to say that, out of $260 per month for PA recipients, $100 goes to rental, power supply and S&C and leaving them with only $5 a day to live on? Am I correct to say that any basic meal in any hawker centre is already $2.50 to $3.00 per meal? Therefore, is it too much to ask for just three meals a day as an entitlement for the PA recipients?

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?

Oh if only the entire government subscribed to Vivian’s thinking that urging Singaporeans from the very beginning to abide by ‘age-old’ values would be good enough to keep unnecessary spending in check. Then we wouldn’t have to wait till we’re 55 before the Government relinquishes our piggy bank, i.e. withdrawing part of our CPF.

It’s one thing to be told that you should save money by your stingy dad who refuses to throw holey singlets away. It’s another to be educated about money matters by a highly-paid minister, especially one who needs to justify how the YOG budget blew up to $387 million. Luckily he didn’t bring up sacrificing simple pleasures into the picture, like how ex Health Minister beseeched women to ‘save on a hairdo and go for breast screening’. If there’s one leader role model that one should look up to when it comes to frugal financing, it’s the late, jogging shorts-mending, underwear-washing LKY.

Talk is cheap, of course. If you want your citizens to take you seriously, get off the high chair and show that you mean business. Do your part to cut carbon emissions by cycling as part of your daily commute, like Britain’s ‘minister of cycling’ Robert Goodwill. Take the train not just to get a ‘ground feel’ of commuter suffering, but because you choose to do so over driving. Organise an ‘eco-Xmas’ party with your Holland residents, where Xmas trees are made out of recycled trash and the most expensive item on the dinner menu is Farmers’ market eggnog, not airflown Iranian caviar.

Nonetheless, our Minister would do well to be conscious of his own personal spending after making this statement, and keep his luxurious holidays, if any, thoroughly hidden from the public eye. Especially any that involve learning how to cook fancy French food over 5 weeks for $46000.

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