National Gallery logo should have a dome on the taller box

From various letters, 12 April 2014, ST Life! Mailbag

(Chia Ai Tong, William):…My main complaint is that the new logo looks odd and incongruous. Having tried my best to look for beauty, I’m afraid all I can see is a long row made up of two rectangles of different sizes and proportions standing side by side. And why have two logos of the same design, one in grey and the other in red?

(YG Yap): The National Gallery logo is simple. It is the two buildings it is housed in. Good. But it is a little too simple. How about adding a dome on top of the taller box? That will make it look like the former Supreme Court building.

Add an artistic and nostalgic touch by making the lower edge of the dome slightly embedded in the top of the box. That should fix it.

(Lim Fang Kiat):…As if to pre-empt the anticipated slew of brickbats the renaming of the the art gallery will likely engender, National Gallery director Eugene Tan has said: “We want to be known simply as the National Gallery. Gallery itself implies the word art.

This renaming comes after several names had been bandied about in the past two years or so. These names included National Art Gallery of Singapore (NAGS), The National Art Gallery (TNAG) and National Art Gallery (NAG). These acronyms have been the butt of jokes, but at least the word “art” tells us what the gallery is about.

To have the word “art” removed from this new name when all the proposals in the past have included it is a surprising turnaround and I wonder how much of this decision is due to the need to avoid the negative connotations of the acronym.

It may seem a matter of semantics, but some of us feel that having “art” in the name will provide some semblance of identity for this new gallery, especially when we already have a National Museum, until such time as the name of the National Gallery can stand on its own for the visual arts.

national-gallery-singapore-e1396845995825-700x407

Where Art thou?

Below is my interpretation of how a domed taller box for the much maligned logo would look like, with it overlaying the current facade of the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings.

logodome

The NG Singapore

Now it looks like 2 Duplo blocks or a man with a big nose lying on his back, making it harder for the layperson to, according to the logo description, interpret the design in ‘every imaginable way’. There’s a limit to what you can do with 2 rectangles, really. Corrie Tan of ST thinks the use of boxes smacks of our ‘baggage of over-pragmatism’, and ironically, this ‘geometric abstraction’ of two boxes befits our reputation for being ‘square’. If this were the eighties, we’d have no shame because, as Huey Lewis and the News once sang: It’s HIP to be square. To most people who don’t over-analyse simple geometrtic shapes, it’s just two bloody rectangles.

Asylum lead for the logo project Chris Lee was actually flattered when critics cried ‘My child could do that!’ (‘it speaks of a young child’s purity’, he says, which is really an excuse for ‘lack of imagination’). He also explained that its ‘reductionism reflects the museum’s dynamism and confidence in its vision….It could also represent two platforms, two dialog boxes etc… Art should be a two way conversation’. With a child’s purity. That’s the thing with art, you can explain away rubbish with snappy buzzwords like ‘dynamism’. I could come up with a National Gallery logo in less than 3 minutes, not to mention 3 months as the designers did, using nothing but the letters and symbols on my keyboard and say the following without the slightest hint of satire:

.<National>.
(Gallery)

The parentheses symbolise the ‘implicitness’ that defines modern art, the brackets and embracing periods melding the disciplines of art and language into one seamless, universal dynamic whole – an ironic, playful dualism of words being bounded, yet at the same time designed without boundaries in all its emoticonesque, symmetrical simplicity.

Surprisingly, most of our current museum logos don’t consist of anything beyond some fancy fonts. The National Museum has its acronyms floating in mid air like it were suspended in alphabet soup (NMS also stands for Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome.)

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.41.29 PM

The Peranakan Museum has a bold, flowery typeface that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jurong Bird Park logo. If I had to suggest an acronym for this, I’d go with PAM.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.45.54 PM

And there’s SAM, which is an exercise in stark black-and-white minimalism, which you can also replicate using Microsoft Word. Yes, you don’t even need WORDART for this.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 2.49.23 PM

The only one with a graphic is the Asian Civilisations Museum, which depicts the Empress Place building’s facade casting a shadow. Nothing Asian about its ‘neo Palladian’ style at all. Its acronym ACM sounds like an insurance company by the way.

Asian-Civilisations-Museum

Those who look beyond the logo complain about the dropping of ‘Art’ from the former NAG, or more bizarrely, NAGA (The additional A is part of the word ‘GAllery’). Naga is also the name of a serpent deity in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, one that would resonate with anyone who plays World of Warcraft. TNAG or TNAGS look like a typo horror dying for the autocorrect treatment to TANGS (the shopping centre). I’m not sure if the new acronym NG is any better, which not only spells out a common Singaporean surname, but can be an abbreviation of ‘No Good’, in reference to bad takes when shooting a film, while NGS resembles an acronym for a government hospital or a convent girls’ school. Personally I’d prefer NAG to TNAG any day, the latter sounding like an annoying adolescent rapper.

Contrary to director Eugene Tan’s assertion, not all ‘Galleries’ imply art. The Singapore Maritime Gallery exhibits stuff that allows you to play a Captain or a ‘Matey’ for a day. The Sustainable Singapore Gallery shows you how the Marina Barrage works. The HDB Gallery shows you how living space has shrunk over time (probably also the LEAST visited gallery ever). There’s a KINDNESS Gallery devoted to Singa the Courtesy Lion. You can even have a gallery of ICE CREAM. In our context, a ‘gallery’ is just a general space to showcase stuff, whether it’s artifacts, toys, photography, paintings, food or campaign paraphernalia. So don’t be surprised if you invite someone for a trip to the National Gallery, the response you get is ‘Gallery of WHAT?’ To which you’ll reply ‘Erm, ART?’. And then you’ve already wasted 1 second of your life explaining as such.

If naming and logos aren’t problematic enough, some have even opposed the use of the existing building facade to house a modern art gallery, that the stuffy English ‘neo-classic style’ just isn’t ‘shocking enough’ for an institution like NAG. The building needs to be ‘dynamic, contemporary and confident’ like its logo and ‘Akzidenz-Grotesk’ typeface. It needs to ‘push boundaries’, something which the logo has failed to do, and rival the Art Science Museum’s lotus dome in terms of instant iconic recognisability. If it weren’t already too late, they could have come up with an architectural style that shouts ‘playful’ and ‘geometric abstraction’ at the same time.

Something like this, perhaps.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 3.20.01 PM

The National Gallery logo is simple. It is the two buildings it is housed in. Good. But it is a little too simple.

How about adding a dome on top of the taller box? That will make it look like the former Supreme Court building.

Add an artistic and nostalgic touch by making the lower edge of the dome slightly embedded in the top of the box. That should fix it.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/life/story/national-gallery-logo-draws-heated-debate-20140412#sthash.0sKFVS4v.dpuf

My main complaint is that the new logo looks odd and incongruous. Having tried my best to look for beauty, I’m afraid all I can see is a long row made up of two rectangles of different sizes and proportions standing side by side. And why have two logos of the same design, one in grey and the other in red? – See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/life/story/national-gallery-logo-draws-heated-debate-20140412#sthash.0sKFVS4v.dpuf
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Han’s cafe sueing Japanese restaurant Han

From ‘Han’s Cafe sues Japanese restaurant over name’, 9 April 2014, article by Selina Lum, ST

HAN’S, the well-known local cafe chain, is trying to stop a Japanese restaurant from calling itself Han, saying it might confuse the public. Han’s Cafe, which has 21 outlets in Singapore selling Hainanese and Western food, has accused Gusttimo World, which owns Han, of infringing on its trademark. It is seeking a court order to restrain Gusttimo World from using the name “Han” and its Internet domain name www.han.com.sg.

…Han, which opened in 2012, specialises in kushikatsu, or skewers of deep-fried food. In its lawsuit, Han’s, represented by Mr Mark Goh, contends that the use of the word “Han” is likely to confuse the public.

…But Gusttimo, represented by Mr Suresh Damodara, argues that its Han brand is dissimilar to the Han’s trademark and the public is not likely to mix up the two.

…Gusttimo contends that patrons of Han’s are able to distinguish between the service provided by the cafe chain and its restaurant which serves old Osaka cuisine in a kaiseki – or traditional multi-course Japanese dinner – style.

Both companies are relatively big names in the FnB business, Han’s growing into a Superbrand empire from its humble origins as a bakery in Upper Thomson Road, while Gusttimo World owns high-end diners like Sarang and Gusto. The history of Han’s reads like a typical household name success story, specialising in Western food prepared the ‘inimitable Hainanese way’, while Gusttimo sounds like a company run by wine glass-chinking expats. At first glance, this appears to be a no-brainer as to who’s getting their way.

Or perhaps not. In 2012, sandwich giant Subway tried to sue a small-time nonya kueh stall called ‘Subway Niche’, but failed as the judge ruled that there’s no evidence of any risk of confusion between the two brand names, even if both companies were selling common items, namely sandwiches. The food at Han is, of course, nothing like Han’s fare. You have Terrapin Stew at Han instead of Mushroom Soup of the Day at Han’s, and although you have beef on both menus, Han’s’ $16.80 NZ Sirloin Steak is a far cry from the Ohmi Beef Steak Alacarte at Han worth a whopping $120. Han’s is a place for the lunch crowd, Han is one for very special occasions, where homely food items like ‘Pork Chop’ and ‘Fish Congee’ don’t exist and the waiter is likely to give you a funny look if you ever asked for ‘Ice Lemon Tea’.

Speaking of Fish congee, why didn’t Han’s turn their attention to this stall specialising in fish soup called HAN KEE? Or this Korean BBQ place called Han Geun Doo Geun? In 2011, Australian namesake Han’s Cafe actually tried to sue a SHAN Cafe. This ‘Han’s’ was established only in 1995, about 15 years after our own Han’s set up shop. Not sure if naming rights extends across continents, because both Han’s appear to sell Pork Chop Rice and Vegetarian Fried Rice.

On the basis of risk of cuisine ‘confusion’, I doubt the Chinese Han has a strong case against the Korean/Japanese one. If a precedent is set for this suit, Jack’s Place may start going after Mad Jack.  There may be a problem, however, if you want to arrange for dinner at either restaurant, that you need to be extra careful not to omit the ‘s if you wish to dine at the cheaper Han’s. Or if you’re a food writer describing the menu items as ‘Han’s delicious Kushikatsu’ which may have readers asking for deep fried skewers at HAN’S instead, though this can be readily prevented by adding the standard disclaimer ‘Not to be confused with Han’s the cafe’.

Still, I doubt the risk of communicating the brand name inaccurately is sufficient grounds to force the newer Han to change its name. Like saying Mac’s (cafe at Fusionopolis) when I mean McDonald’s because only ‘McDonald’s’ is registered and not its short form. If anything is to come out of this accusation of brand theft, it’s publicity for the victim, just like what litigation did for Subway Niche.

Now, how about some terrapin stew for a change?

Indonesia naming ship after MacDonald House bombers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 9.58.48 PM

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

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

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

Batman is a normal Javanese name pronounced ‘But-mun’

From ‘Batman Suparman story takes off’, 17 Nov 2013, article by Nur Asyiqin Mohammed Salleh, Sunday  Times

Singapore’s Batman Suparman (below) made news when he was sent to jail last Monday for a string of crimes. His story also took off beyond Singapore, making the list of best-read stories on the BBC website. The interest clearly was less about his crimes – theft, housebreaking and consuming heroin, for which he was jailed for two years and nine months – and more about his unusual name.

His mother, however, was not amused to hear that his name was being talked about here and elsewhere. “A person’s name is not a laughing matter and it’s our business what we name our child,” she said, irritated to be asked if he had been named after the comic hero. She claimed Batman, 23, was a “normal” Javanese name properly pronounced as “But-Mun”.

Only one other person in the phone directory is named Batman but when contacted, the woman declined to be interviewed. There are 23 listings of Suparman, the name of Batman’s father.

…Veteran Malay language teacher Abdul Rahim Omar told The Sunday Times that while Suparman is a common Javanese name, Batman is not and has no meaning in Malay or Javanese. “I think his parents were probably inspired by the comic.”

What happens if you Google Image 'Batman Bin Suparman'

What happens if you Google Image ‘Batman Bin Suparman’

To date, no one has published a photo of Batman outside of his identity card and it would be interesting to see what he looks like now. I thought it was also rather insensitive of ST to ask Batman’s mother about his superhero name when he’s serving time in jail. No wonder she was irritated; she must have been asked the same question a million times. Nobody cares if you name your son ‘Tan Ah Kow’ anymore. Too bad the writer of the Batman article wasn’t Kimberly Spykerman.

Kudos to Ch5 newsreader Chew Wui Lynn for keeping po-faced when reporting Batman’s arrest. And she passed the pronunciation with flying colours. This is how you say ‘Batman Bin Suparman’ like a pro, ‘bart-mon (as in monday)’.

Not so for the rest of the world, who say Batman as, literally, Bat-Man. Holy Java Chip Frappucino!

But let’s go beyond the Internet sensation and the most famous Singaporean other than LKY, or the Dark Knight, and try to uncover the origins of ‘batman’ if its Javanese source is disputed. In 1912, a CAPTAIN BATMAN was fined $10 for stowing away a ‘decrepit Chinaman’ into the ‘Colony’. In Melbourne, there’s a place called Batman’s Hill, named after founder John Batman (1801-1839). All this happening, of course, way before the father of the creator of DC’s Batman was even born.

In the military, a ‘batman’ is an obsolete term for a soldier assigned to an officer as a ‘manservant’, and is tasked with ‘batting’, or basically being at the beck and call of your boss.  You could say that the comic’s butler Alfred is a ‘Batman’ in his own way. In 1951, the Singapore Free Press published a report with the headline ‘Batman in theft case’,  so it’s not the first time that a real-life ‘Batman’ has committed a crime.

A batman is also an ancient unit of mass, as defined by the Ottoman empire, roughly working out to be today’s 7.6 kg. The Turkish province Batman, the Batman River and the Batman airport all hint at a possible connection with the Javanese ‘Batman’. ‘But-man’ itself isn’t immune to mockery either (think ‘Buttman’). Either Batman bin Suparman’s parents are closet superhero geeks, or are well versed in the ancient Ottoman metric system. What the journo should have done to uncover the mystery of Batman as a first name, is to get a Javanese or Turkish phonebook rather than a local one. Only then will you get some insight into how, well, Batman Begins.

National Stadium should be named after Lee Kuan Yew

From various letters, 16 Nov 2013, ST Forum

(Kong Peng Sun):…Had it not been for one of our founding fathers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, we would not have our nation and stadium today. He has sacrificed a lot for this country, leading it to be so successful economically and able to stand tall even among the developed and advanced countries. There is no bigger way to honour Mr Lee than to name our stadium after him.

(David Tan Kok Kheng):…When the original National Stadium was officially opened in 1973 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, it was seen not only as a move towards a more sporting nation but also a step forward in nation building.  If there is one single personality who comes to mind when we think about the building of this nation, be it economically, socially, in education or even sports, it is Mr Lee.

(Lim Teck Meng):…The Grandstand (West) could be the Choo Seng Quee Grandstand, after our most successful mastermind who created our super team and started our unique Kallang Roar.

The Main Gallery Stand (East) could be named after our most famous footballing son, Fandi Ahmad. Till today, there is no footballer like him who has given fans lots of memories with his fantastic performances.

The Northern Stand could be dubbed the Majid Ariff Stand, after “Mr Twinkle Toes” who is our only footballer to have made it to the Asian All-Stars team.

The Southern Stand could be the Dollah-Kim Song Stand, after Dollah Kassim and Quah Kim Song for the moment that epitomised the Kallang Roar days: In extra time of the 1977 Malaysia Cup Final, Dollah crossed to Quah to score, allowing Singapore to beat Penang and bring back the Malaysia Cup after a long hiatus.

Our ex-premier has been named after many prestigious awards, the World City Prize included, but has yet to even have a street, or MRT station named after him. Some have called for a capital in Singapore to be named ‘Leekuanyew City‘, among other viable proposals such as a hospital and even our beloved Changi airport. A public amenity like a spanking new stadium shouldn’t have any issues with branding if you decide to name it after an important person instead of sticking to sentimental, marketable monikers like the ‘Grand Old Dame’ or ‘Kallang Stadium’. One may argue, however, if honouring a powerhouse politician over sporting legend is taking the piss on local sports. You also risk having critics of nonagenarian ministers mocking the stadium as the ‘Grand Old FART’ instead.

Naming parts of the new stadium after famous footballers sounds like a decent idea if we can’t decide on anyone ‘big’ enough to fit the bill, except that the National Stadium, or Singapore, is not all about football and we might not be fair to sportsmen who actually made it to the Olympics, like Tan Howe Liang for instance. ‘Dollah-Kim Song’ also sounds more like a Korean rapper than a striking partnership. LKY aside, EW Barker has also been suggested for his contributions to sporting complexes in housing estates. But if you’re deadset on choosing a leader who spearheaded sports on an administrative level, you’re forgetting one particular person – someone who came up with the idea of having a National Stadium in the first place.

According to the SSC Sports Museum history of the National Stadium, the construction of the original National Stadium would not have been possible if not for money raised from the national lottery. Between 1968 and 1976, more than $20 million was raised. The operator was Singapore Pools, the lottery games were Toto and Singapore Sweep, and the minister who came up with the brilliant idea (inspired by the Bulgarians) of building a stadium using Singaporeans’ gambling money was none other than Othman Wok.

In 1965, Encik Wok, then Social Affairs Minister, argued for a stadium of ‘Olympic’ standards in Kallang to help put Singapore at the forefront of international sport. As the chairman of the Singapore National Olympic Council, he launched the Singapore Sports Awards in 1967 to recognise sporting excellence. Tasked with the ‘toughest job in sports’, Wok himself was a sportsman in his own right, a hockey player and rugby captain back in RI. I can’t imagine LKY indulging in any team events other than fist-shaking debating. Or even kicking a chapteh about for that matter.

In 1971, Wok introduced the National Stadium Corporation Bill in Parliament, which laid the groundwork not just for the physical stadium infrastructure but the future of Singapore sports. Fans of F1 should note that he was also an avid supporter of the Singapore Grand Prix back in 1967. Punters should be reminded that without Wok and his vision for a National Stadium, we’d have no TOTO too. The man has even met Football God PELE in person, which alone should be sufficient reason to give Wok the edge over LKY, Barker or football personalities from Fandi to supersub Steven Tan if you want to name the stadium after someone who’s done more for sport than merely give a speech on its opening day.

The Othman Wok Stadium has a nice ring to it and if I had the chance I’d vote him in. Let’s save LKY for bigger things. I hear Changi Airport’s Terminal 5 would be ready by 2020.

Wok this way

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’.

 

Le Restaurant’s Buddha statue in the wrong place

From ‘Buddha statue in wrong place’, 5 Oct 2013, ST Life!

(Danny Cheong): I refer to the story Chinese Goes Chic (SundayLife!, Sept 29).

In Buddhism, devotees become vegetarian in order to refrain from killing livestock. It is improper and discourteous of Le Restaurant of Paradise Group to place a huge Buddha statue in its meateating outlet.

Even if it is a piece of art, it is certainly in the wrong place

Amita-Bar

Le Restaurant is the brainchild of former Entrepreneur of the Year Eldwin Chua, and has been described as a ‘bar featuring Nordic-style wooden latticed ceiling, sexy pink lighting, and a DJ spinning soulful house music’(Chinese goes chic, 29 Sept 2013, Sunday Lifestyle). It also serves ‘Asian tapas’, which sounds to me like swanky fusion dim sum with toothpicks, where you can pass off mantou as ‘sliders’. Not a place to celebrate Grandma’s 80th birthday I suppose.

A Buddha statue in Le Restaurant or plush ‘Asian bistros’ like Tao in New York seems ‘right’ for the concept, since the idea of Buddha and Buddhism has come to represent everything ‘hip’ and ‘mystical’ about the Orient, but wrong to those who revere the image as how one prostrates before the same statue at an altar. Other than sprucing up the place, a Buddha statue can even double up as a feng shui talisman for prosperity and luck. Westerners may find such themes appealing in a ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ kinda way but to me it’s just tacky decor, like a stuffed antelope in a BBQ diner, or a wax figure of Sly Stallone as Rambo in Planet Hollywood.

The liberal use of religious artifacts as a restaurant/bar/lounge theme isn’t new. The Buddha Bar was the pioneer of modern ‘buddhist chic’ back in 1996, with its own range of exotic new age CDs to bring the ‘neo-spiritual’ vibe of the establishment right into your living room.  Nevermind if the tracklisting contains titles like ‘Egyptian Disco’ or ‘Salaam‘, which makes you wonder if the French who came up with the idea thought Buddha resided in the ancient Pyramids or traversed vast Deserts on the back of a magical camel.

In 2010, Indonesian Buddhists in Jakarta protested against Buddha Bar for insulting their faith and tarnishing the ‘good name of Buddha’, not because of the meat they served, but that it came across as a debauched hangout for drunkard party-goers and prostitutes. Here, the Buddha Bar owners already decided in 2000 to change the ‘controversial’ name of their UE Square branch to ‘Siam Supperclub’ (Buddha at the Bar has gone off the Siam, 26 May 2000, ST), where not only can you gawk at Buddha statues but order a lychee martini called ‘Laughing Buddha’. If turning your restaurant/club into a temple alone isn’t New Age enough, why not name an alcoholic beverage after a deity too? Some practitioners believe the Buddha himself would turn a blind eye to the glamorous exploitation of his image. Not sure if you could pull off the same gimmick with Jesus on a crucifix; your menu would have to be restricted to wafers and red wine.

Cocktails aside, there’s even a meat broth named after Buddha, containing sharks’ fin, ham, abalone and scallop. An origin story behind this renown dish describes how monks would leap over temple walls just to have a whiff of this fragrant concoction. Why, it’s the famous ‘BUDDHA jumps over the wall’ of course, a delicacy that I’m sure some Buddhists do enjoy nonetheless without complaining that it’s not vegetarian. Not sure if Le Restaurant has its own version though. Maybe it’s called ‘Bouddha saute par-dessus le mur’ and comes in shot glasses with tiny umbrellas in it.

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.

Tiger Airways ditching leaping tiger logo

From ‘Tiger Airways rebranded to claw market share’, 4 July 2013, article by Karamjit Kaur, ST

BUDGET carrier Tiger Airways has ditched its leaping tiger and changed its name to Tigerair – all part of a major rebranding to boost market size and shareholder value.

The changes are not just cosmetic, said group chief executive officer Koay Peng Yen, as he unveiled the new look at Changi Airport yesterday.

“Customers who fly with us understand that we are not providing five-star service or fine dining. We are your hawker centre, but even as a hawker centre, you have to do things well,” he said.

If Tigerair is a ‘hawker centre’, then it shouldn’t matter what you do to your logo as long as you fly at dirt cheap prices does it? I’m also supposed get my food (i.e board a flight) FASTER at a hawker centre compared to  fine dining. Koay’s toothless analogy for budget services is similar to that of a Tiger Australia spokesperson who remarked that ‘You can’t expect a champagne experience on a beer budget’. For some companies, you’re likely to get the tap water experience for the price of beer.

Marketing experts claim that unlike household brands like Apple or Nike, dropping the pouncing tiger icon will not make a difference to customers who recognise airlines by name and quality of service rather than mascot artwork.  Others felt that the previous logo was a little ‘brash’ and ‘in-your-face’, like the cover of a box of ‘penis pills‘. Rival carrier AirAsia mocked the Tiger concept in 2010, releasing a full page ad that read ‘If Tigers were meant to Fly, they would be born with wings’. But who says you can’t have a land animal as a plane mascot? Here’s a sample of international carriers with animal logos OTHER than birds or Pegasuses.

Cheetah or Leopard, I’m not sure

Oryx. If your child can name this animal under ‘O’ instead of ‘Ox’, he’s a genius.

Dolphin Air is based in Dubai. DUBAI

But of course..

Not many bother to scrutinise our very own SIA’s logo to realise that it’s in fact a yellow bird, an icon that has been PATENTED since 1977 as part of the company trademark known as the SIA and BIRD DEVICE. In 1981, SIA took legal action against a US airline for using a design that uncannily resembles ours, the infringing party claiming that they’ve never heard of SIA nor seen its logo. Today, with our Singapore Girl in her sarong kebaya being the face the airline, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a yellow bird, Merlion or a seahorse on the plane’s tail fin( I always thought it was a stylised letter ‘Z’ though). Till this day, no one has identified what kind of bird it’s supposed to be, though it’s obviously a far cry from our ‘national bird’, the Crane.

‘Tiger’ as a brand name is rumoured to be the brainwave of RyanAir founder Tony Ryan’s seven-year old grandson. Other sources say it came from the old Malayan Airlines flying tiger logo, which doesn’t look out of place on a 70′s futurist prog-rock band’s album cover . If Tiger had stuck to this mutant flying beast with  WINGS and all (which also looks like the work of a 7 year old),  AirAsia would have had nothing to pick on.

With a name like Tiger, you’re asking for puns galore with or without the big cat on your logo. 10 years ago, Mr Brown imagined beer girls in minis on deck asking ‘Ai Lim Tiger, Mai?’. A year later, a ‘Catfight’ broke out between Tiger Airways and a UK company of the same name. The carrier ‘ROARS’ into new destinations and threatens to MAUL its competitors with cheaper rates. If you make it to senior management in the company, you’ve earned your ‘stripes’ (also the name of its VIP club). On it’s 8th anniversary in 2012, Tiger held a DEN party at Changi Airport T2. Even its inflight magazine is called ‘Tiger Tales’. I wonder if you get a tummy ache on board after eating their food they’d give you Tiger Balm. No, those puns aren’t going away with the rebranding. They’ll always CLAW their way back somehow.

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