Kids clapping between movements in Esplanade concert

From ‘Children need better guidance in arts appreciation’, 15 April 2013, Voices, Today

(Liu Yiru): I watched a wonderful performance at the Esplanade last Friday evening by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Orchestra and Chorus, in celebration of NAFA’s 75th anniversary. Among the audience were distinguished composers, NAFA alumni, as well as guest performers from London’s Royal College of Music.

Also in the audience was a class of Primary 3 or 4 students accompanied by two teachers. I must commend the school and teachers for exposing their students to classical music and cultivating their interest at such a young age.

However, I believe many in the audience were, like me, shocked when the students clapped between rests that marked an end to significant sections in the fourth movement. It is recognised and accepted that the audience applauds only at the end of a piece and not at the end of every movement or worse, whenever they supposed the piece “seemed to end”.

What does this say about the’ teachers? Do the teachers have an understanding of concert etiquette? Do teachers have musical background or basic musical knowledge to guide their students’ appreciation for music in the right direction? Were there enough teachers to handle the number of students? This incident shows that our teachers’ competence in developing and educating Singapore’s future in the arts has much room for improvement.

If in doubt, always take the cue from others when you’re a concert novice. Untimely clapping can earn you dirty looks as much as sitting cross-legged with your shoes off. These kids were just being polite even though they’re likely to be bored stiff, and you’d be sending conflicting instructions if you told them that there are only certain points in a performance when they’re ‘allowed’ to clap, a mentally strenuous task that gets in the way of one’s enjoyment of the classics. It’s like I’m not allowed to use my hands to tuck into the pincer of chilli crab, and can only do so for the purpose of dipping the buns into the gravy.

I doubt the teachers themselves were aware of such a custom, and most people, myself included, would shift nervously in their seat if any performance appears to end and there would be this nagging, awkward pause or the nervous, muffled cough before hesitant applause. As a consolation, even President Obama himself once joked about the No Applause rule, which itself deserves a topic in musicology and seems to have its origins in cranky maestros and composers who abhorred over-clappers and didn’t care about the fact that their salaries were paid for by their audience. Such restrictions were in place even in the 70’s, when intrusive applause ‘disrupts the pattern’ of the programme and found to be ‘very irritating and distracting’, making otherwise harmless applause sound as disruptive as blowing a trumpet into a surgeon’s face while he’s performing emergency heart bypass surgery.

I’ve never attended an SSO concert, but only because I have no idea where to get a monocle, a shiny cane and can’t clap my hands in the dainty manner or timing befitting of concert etiquette.  I’d have to restrain myself from expressing my joy if I were to find a piece so haunting it moves me to tears, that if I couldn’t bear it and had to give a standing ovation clapping my hands sore and weeping my grateful heart out, my outburst of spontaneity would be rewarded with the harsh shushing and tsk-ing from a couple of concert snobs like some menopausal librarians shutting a genius up when he’s having his ‘Eureka’ moment. If I’m really unlucky, the conductor, furious that my clapping cramped his style, would grab the nearest cymbal and try to decapitate me by throwing it in my direction like a frisbee.

According to the SCO website, it is ‘best not to clap’ between movements of a larger composition, but it’s perfectly acceptable, maybe even recommended, to blare ‘Bravo’ and ‘Encore’ as loud as a soccer hooligan when it’s finally completed. No, you can’t wolf-whistle or yell ‘Awesome!’ too. At least the kids didn’t break out into a spell of ‘annoying, distracting’ coughing for a full 80 mins of SSO concert, or play with their mobile phones, munch crackers or giggle among themselves. Clapping between movements has its supporters who deem it a necessary, reverent inconvenience as there are those who dismiss it as fatuous snobbery. If I were in a band I’d imagine playing to a bunch of disadvantaged orphans or handicapped kids to be a more fulfilling experience even if they clapped every 5 minutes, than to some snooty folks who know everything about my music and etiquette, but might as well be ‘enjoying’ themselves with a mp3 recording of my music in the privacy of a cemetery.

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Kallang literally means ‘colder’ in Chinese

From ‘Keep it in English or all four languages’, 7 Dec 2012, ST Forum, and ‘Chinese tourists need Mandarin station names’, 3 Dec 2012, Voices, Today.

(Kimberly Lim): I BECAME aware of the Mandarin in-train MRT service announcements on Monday. I have reservations against this for two reasons. First, it gives the impression that Mandarin takes precedent over the other official languages.

Second, the translation appears to have been a hasty job. For example, “Kallang” is translated literally to mean “colder”. Translating the name to one that sounds similar to a station’s English name would make it easier for commuters to identify the stations, but it would risk ridicule among Mandarin-speaking foreigners.

SMRT should make such announcements in English only or use all four official languages.

(Elaine Luo): …Recently, two Chinese tourists asked me for directions to “Duo mei ge” station, referring to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. When I said that they must take a train to City Hall MRT station and transfer to the North-South line, they gave me a blank look.

I did not know at the time how to translate “City Hall” into Mandarin. Granted, they could have used the brochures and asked for directions using the station numbers instead, but they were tourists trying to navigate their way around a new place. They probably thought that Chinese-Singaporeans would be able to assist them with the translation. However, we in Singapore are so accustomed to using English that many of us do not see the need to know the station names in another language.

I believe that most Indonesian tourists here, even if they have difficulty understanding English, are probably better able to read and pronounce the station names, as Bahasa and English use the same alphabet. This is not the case for the Chinese language. English and Mandarin words are dissimilar and translating the words may be more of a necessity.

Chinese station names have been confusing and tickling Chinese-speaking Singaporeans for years, although they were intended to aid the elderly according to a recent SMRT explanation. Commuters in the past have complained that the translations never made sense, whether it’s Somerset’s ‘Rope Beauty Stuffing’, Buona Vista’s meaningless and hyper-syllabic phonetic translation, or the confusion between Woodlands and Woodleigh. But even without additional languages, the selection of English names alone can be bewildering to many.

Take Farrer Road and Farrer Park. I was once asked by a stranger if the Circle Line went to Farrer Road, and had to double-check because at the back of my mind I knew there was a Farrer PARK served by NEL. So even if I had bothered to memorise every station name in Chinese, chances are I could have still sent a tourist on a wild goose chase. Imagine if I had to recall what Farrer Park was in Chinese, differentiate it from the other Farrer station, before giving the right answer. If a Chinese tourist asked me if I knew how to get to ‘Hai Jun Bu’ (Admiralty), I’d give a blank stare too, and wonder what someone from China would want with our Navy headquarters.

Thank God I’d only need to describe the Circle Line as ‘Orange Line’, rather than ‘Yuan Quan (圆圈) Line’ (some would argue it’s not even in a loop). Then again, even SMRT can mess up the colour coding sometimes. First conceived in the eighties, colour coding was meant for the ‘less-educated’. Today, if SMRT went ahead to approve the use of all 4 official languages, they may apply to EVERYONE. Also, you’d have people complaining about announcements being too noisy, or zealous Good Samaritans accusing SMRT of not doing enough for the deaf, blind, colour-blind, dyslexics or people inflicted with a neurological disease where they can only read words backwards and not forwards.

It took SMRT more than 20 years to decide on Mandarin station announcements. In 1985, the MRT Corporation was blasted by the public for using only English station signs. Four years later, there were calls to include Mandarin announcements to ‘familiarise commuters with station names in Mandarin’, as well as cater to China and Taiwan tourists. 20 years would have been more than enough time to figure out if Mandarin announcements were really necessary, whether the elderly prefer to say ‘Buona Vista’ instead of the mouthful ‘Bo Na Wei Si Da’. And yet, critics today continue to hound SMRT despite them responding to customer feedback from the eighties, some arguing that it’s unfair to single out Chinese among the other languages, others ranting about the pandering to PRCs, or those suddenly realising that some of the Chinese translations are nonsensical when they have been there all along.

Sure you can’t please everyone, but at least attempt to convince us that spending money on voiceovers actually  makes a difference rather than tarring the elderly and uneducated with the same brush. Just don’t let this be another excuse for ‘fare adjustments’.  Wait, they have the China worker strikes for that already.

Daniel Ong calling neighbour Sivalin-ganam style

From ‘He made fun of my name’, 26 Oct 2012, article by Foo Jie Ying, TNP

A dispute between neighbours over renovation noise led to one of them making a police report against the other, claiming that the latter had made fun of his name. In the report made on Oct 16, he said: “By making fun and changing my family surname, he is insulting and degrading the Indian culture.”

In an interview with The New Paper On Tuesday evening, Mr Sivalingam Narayanasamy, 55, said: “What he has done is to change my surname.” The other party in the dispute is former radio deejay Daniel Ong, 36, who is now known as a celebrity cupcake-shop owner with his wife, Miss Singapore-Universe 2001 Jaime Teo.

Mr Sivalingam showed TNP a letter purportedly written by Mr Ong to him, in which Mr Ong allegedly made fun of his name. In the letter, Mr Ong referred to Mr Sivalingam as “Sivalin-ganamstyle” and added, “That’s my new nickname for you… cool, huh?”

Mr Ong addressed this on his Facebook page, saying: “He claims I insulted him coz I addressed him as Sivalingam num-style in my last letter… but I told him that I didn’t mean that and it’s the coolest thing around now.”

If you read the contents of Daniel Ong’s letter for yourself, you’ll find it full of sarcastic insults, spite, fake LOLS and general meanness. From the way how this neighbourly spat has been overblown, it’s obvious that Sivalingam’s racist accusation is a pretext for filing against Ong’s nastiness and intolerance over a baby-tormenting and ‘old-lady murdering’ renovation project. As with his grudge against SPH, the ex-DJ has made his Facebook page his personal diary and broadcaster now that he’s gone from radio. Regardless of who’s at fault here,  this is really an exaggerated episode of neighbours thrashing it out over one ugly incident after another, culminating in a sensational turf war with a typical but ultimately futile standoff involving the police. I wonder what will become of these two once it’s Christmas.

It’s like two boys fighting in the playground and one threatening with his daddy because the other called him names and he had no comeback. The natural tendency in such testosterone-charged scuffles is for the one picked on to retort with a creative insult of his own, until both get tired of this one-upping nonsense and walk away. At least these two grown ups are civil enough not to bring their Mamas into it or roll around in the mud throwing punches. Conflicts of this sort are inevitable, no matter how we try to inculcate a ‘give and take’ culture, when in fact we’re mostly looking after our own interests and ‘community’ means running into that comfort zone and pacifier called Facebook where your ‘friends’ are obliged to support you all the way even if you’re acting like a child who just got his rattle nicked by a bully.

When it comes to a war of words, it’s unlikely that Sivalingam would get the upper hand over a cupcake king with the gift of the gab (Daniel even refers to himself as ‘FUNNY GUY” on his Twitter page), hence to counter his weakness in petty insult-trading, the big guns have to be summoned on a hot-potato issue (racism) just to show that he means business. I’m not even sure if this guy knows what Gangnam Style is, which may explain why he would consider the name-mashing a childish insult, maybe the equivalent of the Chinese ‘Tan Ah Kow’.  He does cut an imposing figure however, like a superintendent in the force, or someone who runs a butchery franchise and boxes hunks of meat in his spare time.  Daniel Ong (who once played ‘Mr Kiasee’ in the Mr Kiasu sitcom) will get his cupcakes SQUASHED if put in a ring with this bull of a man.

Don’t call him Gangnam

What’s worrying, and yet strangely assuring at the same time, is why our police EVEN BOTHER with such things (Assuring because it means our cops have nothing much to do). Well I suppose if they’re forced to investigate teachers who cut the hair of students without permission, this fight between an angry celebrity and his angry neighbour must seem as exciting as taking down rival triads in comparison. Gangs of Mei Hwan Drive perhaps. Still, this is what happens if you have public endorsement of the over-the-top censuring of anything mocking a minority race. You give people excuses to point fingers at the one thing that will get your enemies in trouble, when you’re really pissed off with them because they embarrassed you, not because they humiliated your race, your family, your ancestry and your gods.

Siva claims discrimination when Daniel Ong mashes up his surname with Gangnam style, while the latter explains the pun away as a reference to his ‘threatening’ stance with arms akimbo. Neither argument makes sense. I can’t imagine an aggressor doing this in a mano-a-mano confrontation, unless he’s trying to subdue you with laughter.

Please don’t hurt me. I’ll do anything

I suspect it’s harmless wordplay more than anything else, though these days dropping sly racial references is like tossing firecrackers on a minefield. Siva doesn’t have a case because Gangnam itself has already taken Indians by storm, and just about anyone with an Internet connection and doesn’t understand a single word of Korean.

Curious mynahs scaring off cowardly hawk

From ‘Hawk no match for pesky mynahs’, 14 Oct 2012, article by Jessica Lim, Sunday Times

Orchard Road’s hawk patrols have failed. It turns out that the bird of prey is no match for the pesky, noisy mynahs plaguing the shopping strip….The birds moved from that roosting spot to the area near Cathay Cineleisure Orchard and The Heeren, and an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 descend at dusk, especially between 6.45pm and 7pm.

People have complained about noise and droppings that strike pedestrians, cars and walkways. So far this year, the authorities have received 13 reports about the bird nuisance.

…Jurong Bird Park was happy to help, and provided a hawk and handler for three test runs from September last year. Alas, the big bird was found to be intimidated by the large flock of mynahs, said park general manager Raja Segran. He thinks there are other reasons why the idea could not take off, though some might suspect these are just a hawk’s excuses:

The mynahs’ new surroundings meant the hawk needed a long time to adjust;

The thick-canopied trees made it difficult for the bird handler to keep contact with the hawk;

Vehicles could knock down the hawk.

“The movement of the crowd and noise from vehicles along that stretch made the hawk very distracted,” he said. “The flow of traffic on Orchard Road made it too risky to fly our birds there.”

In the trials, which included releasing the hawk onto a tree, it was found that at first the hawk frightened the mynahs off. “But after a while, the mynahs were seen coming back to the tree where the hawk was, as if very curious to see what bird it was,” he said.

No surprise that neither NEA nor AVA was mentioned in this article, with the writer using the annoyingly vague ‘the authorities’, since none of these agencies actually want to take charge of mynahs. Pigeons (AVA) and crows (NEA) yes, but nobody wants their hands full with these rascally birds. In 2008, the NEA did shoot down some crows, but seemingly left most of the mynahs alone since these birds are not ‘in their purview’. Maybe the selective extermination of a bigger ‘competitor’ bird boosted up mynah numbers and made them more fearless since.  So what do Orchard Road tenants do then if the authorities have gone cuckoo over pest control? Take matters into their own hands, of course. By hiring a Jurong Bird Park veteran who trains hawks more for entertainment than stalking and eating smaller nuisance birds. You wouldn’t hire Sylvester the Cat to catch Tweety Bird would you?

You can’t blame the hawk or its handler really. Not only is the force of 5000 mynahs too much to bear, but having led a good life in captivity as a pet, mascot or performer for the Bird park, you would have no incentive to hunt down an unruly flock of squawking, pooping mynahs.  You would rather put on a ‘King of the Skies’ show and awe little children with your gliding prowess and extend your lethal talons ready to strike like you’re plucking a python out of a bush, even if you’ve done nothing with them other than clutching for dear life to some falconer dressed like Mulan.

Glam hawker

Falconry is apparently a noble, majestic sport of sorts that has existed since the Mongols, where raptors are trained to specifically hunt game or impress royal guests at a party. Today falconry is also employed as a natural pest control system, but no one even in medieval times could prepare a hawk for a thousand-strong army of swooping birds, creatures who have no qualms about stealing food from the Apex predators themselves or even go banzai on them on the streets. According to the article, there has been modest success of using hawks to chase off seagulls at a shopping mall in Exeter. Either our mynahs are a formidable guerilla force to be reckoned with, or hawks and their handlers can’t deal with the concrete jungle that is Orchard Road, a jungle where a black bird is king.

If poison, sonic devices, big birds or scarecrows don’t do the job, perhaps ‘the authorities’ should install giant fans in the vicinity of the birds’ roosting areas, which are known to sever bird heads every now and then. Alternatively, you could just take the underpass instead, just to avoid a uniquely Orchard Road weather forecast of Cloudy with a Chance of Droppings.

It’s a bird..

F1 extension delights almost everyone

From ‘News of F1 extension delights all but bay area businesses’, 23 Sept 2012, article by May Chen, ST online

Almost every one, from fans to hotels to Formula One drivers, welcomed the extension of the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday with open arms – every one except several retailers in the Marina Bay area.

Their main beef: The disruption to business when the area goes into lockdown for the three-day extravaganza.

“The race brings a buzz to town, but not everybody is impressed. A lot of people try to stay away and it affects our business, and a lot of other people’s businesses,” said Indochine chief executive Michael Ma yesterday, a refrain echoed by Allan Chia, who operates a pushcart in Suntec City selling mobile phone accessories. “People avoid Suntec City altogether because of the road closures,” said the 35-year-old.

Well, not just the bay side retailers. While the hotels and banks may be popping the champagne with all the money flowing in, the latter flying in VIPs to hobnob with drivers and the rich and famous at the Paddock Club, there have been opposing voices to the F1 Night Race right from the get-go. So it may be rather presumptuous to announce how everyone will embrace another 5 years of night racing, when some groups were already up in arms over the inaugural one in 2008. It’s also worth noting that we didn’t get off to an auspicious start either, with Fernando Alonso winning the first Night race because a Renault teammate deliberately crashed his car to give him an advantage (I don’t know enough about racing to see how that helps). Nobody ever mentions ‘Crashgate’ anymore since, though we had a multi-religious prayer this year to make sure such ‘accidents’ don’t happen. It’s also taboo to even discuss the Ferrari accident near race period, and it’s somewhat ironic that we label supercar drivers here a menace to our roads on one hand, yet embrace the F1 with gusto on the other.

F1 claims to be making conscious ‘green’ efforts to improve on their fuel efficiency and emissions, like planting trees in Mexico or using biofuels, though such actions may register nary a blip on the carbon ECG, especially if they neutralise each other when you need to starve viable forest land to make way for fuel crops. Our Government continues to enthuse over how this event is putting our tiny country on the map, high on the ‘buzz’ that the addictive cocktail of fast cars and posh celebrity delivers, but conveniently forgetting in their delirium that we once made a PLEDGE to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 16% by 2020. Oops.

In 2007, some forum writers spurned the energy-guzzling and glamour posing that comes with each F1, that hosting this event sends conflicting messages to the rest of the world about our stand on energy conservation and combating climate change. One moment we’re talking about supertrees and the next thing you know we’re pounding our streets with oil-guzzling supercars. According to a senior ST correspondent, a single race produces up to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide, this excluding that spewed from freighting cars and equipment into and out of the country. But it’s not so much the noise, the exhaust or the heat that brands every night race an eco-nightmare; It’s the damned lighting.

According to one website dedicated to the F1 Night Race, the lighting statistics are as follows:

Total Power   3,180,000 watt
Track Projectors  1, 485, 2,000 watt each
Power Generators  12 pairs (with back-up)
Aluminium Truss 6,282m
Steel Pylons   240
Power Cables  108, 423m

At 3000 LUX levels, the lighting is FOUR TIMES the lights at sports stadiums. The gorgeous illuminated skyline that we’re so proud of, the one that helicopter cameras glide across every year like a director lingering over naked thighs in a porno film, is the result of a dozen generators belching 3 megawatts of electricity, the same amount that could light up a few Malaysia Cup final matches at the National Stadium, or serve a few underprivileged households. Will Singapore compromise when we face an oil crisis within the next 5 years, or perhaps consider switching to a less wasteful DAY race instead? But you can’t argue about electricity expenditure without sounding like a spoilsport who doesn’t appreciate the exhilaration of night racing. Singapore NEEDS the F1, so they say. But you don’t need bright lights and dozens of expensive parties and concerts to make an icon out of Marina Bay. Sometimes, all you need is an amateur porn star and a camera.

No it’s not about our national identity, the Marina glitter, the F1 fans or the small pushcart businesses in Suntec City. It’s about the after-race Dom Perignons, the $26,600 per table at Amber Lounge,  the $6850 Paddock Club pass.  Few people who could spend thousands on a ticket are really interested in the technicalities of the sport, rather using it as a backdrop for business or high-society pleasure. Money is all there is to it, and while we rush headlong into this glitzy fantasy, our heads reverberating with the erotic growl of the engine and our hearts pumping with adrenaline, our most influential supporters of the race continue to sleepwalk through our energy conservation efforts, dump flyers at us telling us how to save electricity (but not the trees obviously) while raising tariffs, yet preparing for the next race bash by hugging for dear life onto whatever surplus oil barrels we have.

Authorities bird-brained over crows, pigeons and mynahs

From ‘Who’s in charge of bird nuisance?’, 27 Dec 2011, article by Ng Puay Leng, Today online

Birds continue to be a source of problem in areas of dense population in Singapore but as Channel NewsAsia finds out, it’s been a challenge pinning down the relevant authorities in charge of the problem. Crows come under the purview of the National Environment Agency (NEA) while the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) handles complaints of nuisance with pigeons.

But it gets a little complicated when it comes to mynahs. When Channel NewsAsia visited a coffee shop at Bishan Street 11, mynahs were seen picking at leftovers.  Stall holders said the number of mynahs in their coffee shop has more than doubled in the past two years.

And when they approached the NEA and AVA, both agencies said they are not in charge of handling the birds.

Before the NEA or AVA started pushing bird problems to one another, we had the Primary Production Department (PPD), which was responsible for exterminating all nuisance birds (crows, pigeons, mynahs).  In 1979, one crow culling job was contracted to the SAF, with tragi-comic results as two bystanders were shot in the face and leg respectively by stray pellets. In the 1980s, the PPD used water jets to hose down mynahs, which didn’t kill them so much as scatter them and stop them from tweeting. Even  members of the SINGAPORE GUN CLUB were roped in (and still are today) to shoot crows in nests or flying over rooftops when they’re not training for events like ‘Olympic trap’ and ‘skeet’, simply because the authorities wanted sharpshooters for the dirty work but couldn’t trust the SAF based on past experience.  In 2003, a crow-culling scandal ruffled the feathers of the NEA when a former national shooter from the club cheated the authority by collecting multiple rewards ($5 per dead bird) using the same carcass (which goes to show how well our shooters were paid at the time). Futile, mercenary, cruel, dangerous and wasteful methods of pest control aside, at least we knew who to call in the past, whether it’s a complaint of bird droppings, relentless squawking or swooping Angry Bird-like attacks on innocent pedestrians.

In 2000, the PPD morphed into the stat board we know today as AVA, which means the crow problem was relinquished and pushed to the NEA for some reason. Are crows greater ‘noise pollutants’ than pigeons or mynahs hence qualifying them under NEA’s purview, and are pigeons more likely to spread diseases like avian flu through droppings hence remained under AVA? Not really. In 2008, the H5N1 virus was detected in a dead crow in Hong Kong. Which means one can’t explain this split without reasoning that crows are badder, uglier, less likely to have animal lovers up in arms, hence classified as less of a living thing than a scourge and pollutant like a fungi invasion or an oil spill i.e the division of responsibility was for sentimental reasons. You see kids throwing breadcrumbs at pigeons, not crows.  Pigeons fly out of magician hats and are featured in Disney movies like Enchanted, not crows. In a recent Japanese study however, crows were proven to rather intelligent creatures with a long term memory of up to a year, which means you can’t use ‘bird-brained’ in the imbecilic context like we used to. Nobody knows how mynahs, which look like shaven little crows, should be treated. More than a 1000 of them roost along Orchard Road, and you can’t do a clean job without removing trees altogether or sealing off a busy shopping zone for a shooting spree.

According to the Wild Animals and Birds Act in 1974, all wild birds were protected by law with the exception of the ‘house crow’, which is like a fatwa against a renown noisy scavenger bird, a free for all for anyone with a catapult or air pistol at the time. Today, the Wild Animals and Birds Act is helmed by the AVA, and the list of feathered pests which you’re legally exempt from penalty for capturing,  killing or trapping for food has expanded to the following:

  •  House crow (Corvus splendens)
  • Feral pigeon (Columba livia)
  • Purple-backed starling (Sturnus sturninus)
  • Philippine glossy starling (Aplonis panayensis)
  • Common myna (Acridotheres tristis)
  • White-vented myna (Acridotheres javanicus)

Given an order to kill all 4 birds in sequence, I’d have to go with crow, mynah, starling then pigeon according to cuteness factor, though the last bird is likely the most edible.  According to the law, I would not be committing an offense if I go around hacking these birds with a chopper. The Act doesn’t, however, say anything about the authority’s role in pest control of these ‘scheduled’ birds, which means, in the absence of any natural predators or if Gun club members decide not to become bird bounty hunters, one possible last resort to bring down the numbers is for more Singaporeans to take up trapping during the non-avian flu season and start appreciating roast feral pigeon or braised crow than buying hormone-laced broiler chicken from the supermarkets. Or, we could just clean up after we’re done at hawker centres, stop wasting food, and cease making stray cats obese by spoiling them with Whiskers.

Woodleigh in Mandarin sounds like Woodlands

From ‘Cut loud, unnecessary train messages’, 3 July 2011, Your Letters, Sunday Times

(Manmohan Singh): …Ever since the North East Line came into operation, there has been a constant increase in the number of announcements…with only a few seconds of peace. There is also no standard volume and sometimes, the volume is really loud.

Some announcements are also unnecessary. For example, is it necessary to announce that the elderly should take the lift – when it is natural for them to do so? As for the announcement asking the public to look out for ‘suspicious-looking’ people, the ordinary commuter is not trained to do such detection. For me, any person who carries a bag is ‘suspicious’.

Finally, why does SBS Transit announce the names of train stations in two languages? This is confusing, as the announcement for Woodleigh in Mandarin sounds like ‘Woodlands’, Farrer Park is pronounced as ‘Falla Fu Yuen’ – a name that stumps even taxi drivers.

Farrer Park is actually 花拉公园, ‘Hua La Gong Yuan’, which means either Mr Singh got it wrong, or his ears have already been damaged by shrill as hell MRT announcements. Perhaps you can’t blame the writer for misinterpretation,  but surely the forum editor should have done his homework before allowing this to print. As for ‘unnecessary’ lift announcements, these may actually be useful not just to our forgetful elderly population, but senior travellers from overseas as well. The authorities can’t expect passengers to sniff out suicide bombers, but you also can’t expect the ‘trained’ police to be everywhere all the time targeting people carrying bags ‘suspiciously’. Civilian vigilance is a standard preventive tool in counterterrorism, even though we  tend to rely on movie stereotypes most of the time. Just because the writer has poor intuition when it comes to sensing danger doesn’t mean that other commuters should just kick back and ignore the crazy person chanting nervously with a backpack under his seat.

His concern with confusing Chinese names seems to be a valid one, though the reason why ‘sound-a-like’ names are preferred at the expense of nonsense creations like Somerset (索美塞, literally Rope Beauty Stuffing) is to minimise such confusion in the first place. Woodleigh reads as 兀里 (Wu Li), while Woodlands is 兀兰 (Wu Lan), a slight difference but still discernible, yet there remains inconsistency in Chinese naming, with stations like City Hall (政府大厦, Zheng Fu Da Sha) and Admiralty (海军部, Hai Jun Bu) sounding totally different in Mandarin. Perhaps SMRT should really turn the volume down, before more hearing damage occurs and people start mistaking Orchard (乌节, Wu Jie) for Woodleigh too, or Bras Basah (百胜, Bai Sheng) for  Bishan.

Noisy engines are not the Police’s problem

From ‘What happened to ‘no wrong door’?’, 14 March 2011, Voices, Today.

(Edward Leow):…My wife and I have been woken up almost every day between 4.30am and 5am by an inconsiderate motorist, who revs his engine very loudly as he cruises along Woodlands Avenue 10. I assume he must have modified his engine.

A few days after the unwelcome “morning call” started, I decided to make a police report. To my disappointment, the officer on duty at Sembawang Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) sent me away, saying the case did not fall under their scope of duty.

His advice was for me to report the matter to the Land Transport Authority if it was a traffic problem or the National Environment Agency if it was a complaint of noise pollution. And if it was a public nuisance, we could lodge our complaint online.

Here I thought the public sector had a “No wrong door” policy. I was also told I needed the motorist’s licence plate number to make a formal police report.

…We made an official police report online on March 2. At first, we were quite impressed that an officer called me within 15 minutes. But our hope was short-lived; the officer gave me a generic number for the NEA, asking me speak to one “Geraldine” on this matter.

…More than a week has passed and still no call from the NEA or “Geraldine”. Feeling that enough was enough, I woke up at 4am on March 10 hoping to catch the culprit on video. But my effort was dismissed by the NPC officer who said my video could not be used as evidence.

..My only consolation is that after calling the NPC twice, I’ve now been told that my case has been referred to the LTA and that the traffic police would look into it.

So I wonder: Should I have tried calling the NPC, NEA and LTA to complete this mission impossible – or should I just have lived (or in this case, slept) with the problem, like my neighbours did?

To cut the excruciating story short, Edward Leow was given the runaround by the police, bouncing off an elusive ‘Geraldine’ from NEA onto the LTA, because the nature of the problem is so arbitrary that instead of twirling their batons and jumping at the chance to patrol the streets like real policemen do and getting to the source of the problem i.e illegal modified vehicles(speeding probably), they leave the categorisation of the complaint to light sleeper citizens ,who have to flip the law books themselves to decide whose jurisdication modified engines come under.  Gone are the days when firemen would come to your rescue if your cat were stuck on your roof, or if you’ve got your leg stuck in the toilet. Instead of charging in with a ladder, pickaxe and a pair of safe manly arms, you have customer service officers , not men in yellow helmets, filtering such seemingly frivolous calls to the AVA or SPCA for the cat, or the local plumber for your incapacitated leg, so that our civil defence team can conserve their energy for more serious matters like gas leaks, arson and bomb blasts which could, you know, happen anytime. Meanwhile, instead of getting some assurance or recourse, we’re tossed about in acronym hell, realising that there are more irrelevant authorities than ‘relevant’ ones, and if it were ever to come to a situation where I’m being slowly poisoned to death by incense fumes from a neighbour’s altar, I’d be better off, and more importantly ALIVE, addressing the situation myself  with a pail of water than partake in a HDB-NEA-NPC-Buddhist Society-back to HDB conga dance by which time I would have begun decomposing, except smelling like a mosquito coil instead of a festering carcass.

It’s hard to draw a line when it comes to deciding on matters that should involve the police, because we’ve traditionally taken the word ‘law’ in ‘law enforcers’ too loosely and have become so dependent on them to settle things whenever we’re more than inconvenienced.  Whether it’s slippers stolen from outside your home, neighbourly spats, public nudity, offensive words on signboards or a little overzealous celebration of Thaipusam, the police will always be invoked, if not used as threats just to keep people at bay. And it’s that tendency of us to dial 999 at the slightest provocations in the first place that makes it necessary for the force to re-assign such responsibilities to other hydra-like government bodies, unfortunately sucking at it in the process. Kudos to the writer then, for being a model Neighbourhood Watch member, willing to conduct a vigilante stakeout, without a baton or pistol, at his own risk to catch a speed demon.  Really deserving of a public service medal. Shouldn’t such stealth activities be done by the professionals? We mortal HDB residents have not been trained to camouflage ourselves and ambush perpetrators of justice by springing out of bushes yelling ‘Ah-Ha!!’. Still, if nothing is done to rein in the culprit (which is likely to be the case), the writer could always sleep with the air-con, like how some people do it to shut out MRT noises in the middle of the night. Similar complaints about ‘no wrong doors’ below (Given run around on a small issue, 20 July 1978, ST), this time about the menace that is TREE ROOTS. Unacceptable, really.




Maids dancing at Ion Orchard

From ‘Amusement or a nuisance’, article by Joyce Lim, 9 March 2011, The New Paper

…Before Ion Orchard was built, Filipino maids gathered at this busy junction on Orchard Road and held picnics on the grass patch behind Orchard MRT station on Sundays. The spot, which they called “Gulong Park” (Gulong is Tagalog for roll) has been developed into the current premier shopping mall, carrying some of the world’s top luxury brands.

Last Sunday, when The New Paper on Sunday team was there, we saw hundreds of maids turning the former Gulong Park into a rock ‘n’ roll party scene….More than 500 maids had parked themselves outside Ion Orchard – some were sitting on the steps, others were on their feet, grooving to the “live” music.

…Shopper Kelly Chen, 38, a communications director, said: “I feel that they are downgrading the image of Ion Orchard. I’ll avoid going there on Sundays now.”

Lawyer Amolat Singh is more concerned with the potential law and order problems.

He said: “When authorities organise parties on Orchard Road, a lot of effort has to be put into crime prevention.” Mr Singh added that if the maids created a public nuisance, the police could act. “One could also argue that these women are providing public entertainment by dancing in public.

Heads will roll

There was a time when public spaces were meant for more intellectual pursuits, the simple enjoyment of a string quartet, the random discourse of speakers on a podium, strolling couples discussing philosophy and politics, or men of science pondering the perturbations of a pendulum or observing the length of their shadows. Today, a city cannot be called dynamic or vibrant unless you have at least a few couples spontaneously dancing to busker music every now and then, not to mention stiltwalkers, fireeaters, struggling pantomime artists, and shaggy prophets bearing signboards making witty commentary on how ‘nigh’ the ‘end’ is. In Singapore, you probably need a permit even to demonstrate card tricks in public, which explains why it takes the vivacity of the Filipino mind to get jiggy with it using nothing more than a guitar and a space to prance about, putting the rest of us unimaginative, straight-laced,  boring, Ai-watching slobs to shame.

Still, a dozen or so strangers engaging in spontaneous hedonistic activity is a breath of fresh air. 500 domestic workers thronging the front of a shopping mall is a security issue. Or a decapitation, as Guyong (Rolling) Hill was once made infamous for in September 2005 (Body parts murder – Did maid kill, dismember her rival in love?12 Sept 2005, Today). Not sure if the generation of workers today are familiar with the Guen Garlejo Aguilar case, but given the significance of the location in the social dealings of maids at the time, it is certainly worth giving a grisly , though party-pooping, reminder that the vicinity and its activities are not all innocent fun and games as it’s made out to be. But of course, no haunting threats of ghostly heads swirling around Ion would deter a bunch of spontaneous upstarts from having fun, while the rest of us dabble in pretentious flash mobs, expensive social dancing lessons, and complain to no end about maids getting in the way of our shopping when clearly most of the shopping at Ion is done INSIDE the building and can be accessed underground from Orchard MRT without seeing them in action, or sunlight for that matter.

British buses are rattle-free

From ‘Rattled by rattling buses’, 24 Feb 2011, ST Forum online

(Ong Tiong Meng): LAST Thursday, I took SBS service 143 from UE Square to Scotts Road and back. Both the double-decker buses I was on rattled non-stop throughout the whole journey.

On Monday, I took service 64 from Sim Lim Square to UE Square. It was not a double-decker bus, but it rattled non-stop too.

I hope the Land Transport Authority monitors the bus services as the rattling reminds me of the old days when the buses were operated by private companies.

Perhaps we can learn from Britain where the buses are rattle-free and the drivers do not execute knee-jerk stops at bus stops to the detriment of senior citizens.

Senior citizens are probably more rattle-intolerant than the rest of us because any form of vigorous jiggling in their seats causes  their dentures to come loose and send a sound similar to a firing semiautomatic pistol resonating directly through their frail and hollow jawbones into their heads, so I guess they can be forgiven for making a fuss about  anything so disrupting as the incessant ticking of a clock,  the sound of newspapers fluttering under air-con or the swiping of fingers across a touchscreen. Of course it’s disappointing that our buses rattle, what good is a journey if it’s not as smooth and quiet as riding a cloud-mobile considering how much we pay for pubic transport, or that you can’t lean you head against the glass pane to grab some shut eye without suffering repetitive concussions? I mean, nobody should make us think that we’re sitting in a hunk of  assorted metal on wheels, and no one, elderly or not, deserves to have their daily commute turned into a mobile Stomp! concert. By all means, hire foreign bus drivers who don’t know what Ulu Pandan is even if they drive past the area everyday, let aunties hog empty seats with their market catch all they want, but please, for the love of God, let us have our rattle-less buses at least. This, amazingly for a country that boasts of first rate public transport infrastructure, has been going on for far too long, as seen in this letter below(16 Aug 1971, ST)



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