Singaporeans ‘saying No’ to Philippine Independence Day

From ‘Filipino group gets online flak over event’, article by Royston Sim and Amelia Tan, 16 April 2014, ST

The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), a group of Filipino volunteers, put up a post on Facebook about the event last weekend and drew fire almost immediately. Negative comments from Singaporeans flooded in, with Facebook page “Say ‘No’ to an overpopulated Singapore” urging locals to protest on the PIDCS page.

The page, which has 26,000 “likes”, is against the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day here and said that festivities should be confined to the Philippine Embassy compound.

It took issue with the PIDCS for using the Marina Bay skyline in a logo for the event, which is meant to celebrate the Philippines’ independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. It also opposed the PIDCS using the terms “two nations” and “interdependence” in posters for the event.

The PIDCS decided to take down the Facebook post after it drew hundreds of anti-Filipino comments, with many slamming the PIDCS for holding the celebration in Orchard Road.

…Ms Cecilia Lim, 28, a self- employed Singaporean, felt some of the online comments were excessive. She said: “People should have the right to celebrate their independence day if they are granted the permits, just as we celebrate Singapore Day overseas.”

Our Intolerance

The first thing I noticed about this article is whether ‘Pilipino’ was a typo or just how Filipinos pronounce their own nationality. Turns out that Pilipino is the official name for the national language, or an enhanced variant of Tagalog. And what about the missing ‘s’ from ‘Philippine Independence’? How many of those celebrating it spell ‘Philippines’ as ‘Phillipines’? A LOT, judging from this Twitter feed and the hashtag #phillipines.

Your spelling pail

Your spelling pail

This weekend, Filipinos (not Philippinos, or Pilipinos) will be celebrating another holiday that most Singaporeans are unaware of, and it’s apt that in the light of the online kerfuffle over their Independence Day, 19 April 2014 (this Saturday) is known as BLACK SATURDAY. PIDCS intends to celebrate Philippine Independence Day on June 8th, which happens to be a SUNDAY. I’ve been to Orchard Road on a Sunday, and to me, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s Independence Day or Ninoy Aquino Day. It feels like crowds of Filipinos are ALWAYS celebrating something on Sunday anyway, whether they’re having a roadside picnic or dancing outside Ion. With Orchard being the default Pinoy haunt, it’s just going to look like any other weekend really, except with maybe flags, buffet lines and ‘cultural dances’.

One of first reported local celebration of such a holiday took place in 1946, where ’100 representatives from all communities’ joined with hosts ‘Mr and Mrs Anciano’ at a cocktail party at the Far Eastern Music School. Philippine ‘Independence Day’ then was in commemoration of the formation of the Republic, when the US granted the islands ‘true’ independence (4 July 1946). The number of Filipinos in Singapore then hovered around the 500 mark.  Today, that’s the estimated number you’ll find in the stretch between Lucky Plaza and Ngee Ann City alone on a Sunday. According to the website ‘Positively Filipino‘, that number has risen to almost 180,000 in 2013, with 100,000 of those as professionals and executives.

In the 50′s, Filipinos dressed in their national costumes to attend church, and began having outdoor picnics at places like Pasir Ris. In 1962, the date was changed from 4 July to June 12, when General Emilio Aguinaldo led the revolution for independence from the Spanish in 1898. (Some commentators believe that this was a mistake, that the Treaty of Paris signed then really ceded the country to the US as an American ‘commonwealth’, and that PIDCS is in fact celebrating a misnomer of a holiday). At a Hyatt hotel reception attended by bigwig PAP politicians like Richard Hu and S Dhanabalan in 1987, guest performers from the Philippines sang ‘lusty’ renditions of the national anthems of BOTH countries, a typical Pinoy gesture of warm, fuzzy diplomacy. More recent celebrations include song-and-dance festivals at the Singapore Art Museum and Hong Lim Park last year. Hong Lim, ironically, being the same place where the people behind ‘Say No’ will be having a 1 May protest about 6.9 million again. Why didn’t they make a puss, I mean, FUSS, over the Filipino ‘invasion’ of their ‘territory’ then?

So people, top PAP brass included, have been celebrating Philippines Independence Day in Singapore for LONGER than our very own National Day. The last event in 2013 was even jointly sponsored by household brands like Singtel, Starhub and Singapore Post. Are angry Singaporeans going to boycott both telcos for ‘betraying’ the nation? As for the unhappiness over the word ‘Interdependence’, I wonder how many of those in the petition have never ‘depended’ on a Filipino maid or nurse in their lives, celebrated the success of Ilo Ilo or laughed at Leticia Bongnino’s jokes.

Instead of voicing our displeasure at foreigners staking their claim over our motherland through the use of a MBS backdrop and sitting around our shopping areas eating lechon (a pork dish), how about putting your patriotism into action by giving some love to the nation on 9 Aug, outdo the PIDCS event with a riot of national colours and jubiliant song-and-dance, instead of planning a protest only to go on a quickie overseas vacation like some whining Singaporeans would?

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Clubhouse for maids a space to call their own

From ‘Clubhouse for maids a good move, but charity leader’s remarks irksome’, 17 March 2014, Voices, Today

(Mannat Johal):…I am heartened to read about the clubhouse, which will provide facilities such as a computer lab and library, as well as various courses, for only S$4 a year. This will greatly benefit domestic helpers and make their experience working in Singapore a lot better. They will have something to look forward to each week, knowing that they can enhance their skills and spend time fruitfully at the clubhouse.

What irked me, though, was the statement by the President of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST). He said: “We want (the workers) to go to a place where they can be among themselves, where they will not be disturbing the owners of the building or residents of the area.”

This gives the impression that domestic helpers generally cause owners and residents annoyance by simply patronising places such as tourist attractions. No such problems are said to exist when Singaporeans and tourists patronise these areas. Are domestic helpers that different? Should they not be allowed to enjoy these areas as we do? Are they that much of a nuisance compared with tourists, who are possibly more unfamiliar with Singaporean culture and etiquette?

Also, why does FAST want domestic helpers to be among themselves? Singapore is a multiracial society where harmony between people of different races, religions and backgrounds is a significant feature.

In 2001, Sri Lankan maid Sanda Perumal, along with her employer Angie Monksfield were given the boot out of Singapore Cricket Club because having maids in the premises was against internal club policy. As recently as 2011, some condos were still banning maids from using swimming pools.  Having a clubhouse just for maids would seem like an apologetic gesture for years of discrimination bordering on colonialism, a place where FDWs may benefit from the enrichment activities that such centres can offer rather than doing wild stuff like turning a stretch of Orchard Road into a street party . The other unspoken purpose here is to keep foreign workers out of sight, out of trouble, though you can’t stop them from murdering their rich employers. It’s like how people are uncomfortable with having workers’ dorms just down the road, treating the living quarters of others like a concentration or leprosy camp. The next question then: What about having a club for workers from Little India? One which holds a masterclass on anger management perhaps? A place where they can bond over some Darjeeling tea instead of Tiger beer?

Ethnic enclaves form all over the world as part of natural urban progression, and some even serve as tourist attractions, classic examples being Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. What FAST is concerned with here is gatherings of FDWs disrupting business, but one can think of some iconic commercial spaces that may have benefited instead from foreign workers milling about, never mind the occasional drunken brawl, sleaze or spontaneous mass dancing.

1) Lucky Plaza

Though initially viewed as an ‘image’ problem, Lucky Plaza remains till this day Orchard Road’s premier maid hangout, and some businesses have learned to adapt to capitalise on the loyal throngs, from fast food chains like Jollibee to IDD sellers and remittance. It’s also the first place I would think of if I have a sudden craving for Pinoy fare like sisig and pata.

2) Golden Mile Complex

Earning its title as ‘Little Thailand’, Golden Mile is renown as a foodie destination if you’re looking for authentic, homely cuisine. Some Thais refer to the Beach Road complex as their ‘second home’. Locals looking for some alternative entertainment to Bangkok barhopping can boogie all night long at places like ‘Pure Thai Disco’.

3) Peninsula Plaza

A lesser known enclave, this place is our very own ‘Little Myanmar’. Not all’s rosy in terms of local business though, with some lamenting that Peninsula has turned from a ‘classy mall’ into a ‘Myanmar market’. It has also become a collection centre for Cyclone Nargis donations and a place to congregate and discuss politics. In my youth, it was a place to get rare records and band merchandise. Yes, those were the days when it was cool to wear a cap with your favourite band’s logo on it. Backwards.

4) City Plaza and Joo Chiat

The newest enclave on the block, City Plaza is turning out to be ‘Little Indonesia’, and would have been a ghost town if not for maids flocking there on weekends. For obvious reasons, it attracts Bangladeshi workers too. Joo Chiat, with its string of bars and restaurants, is close to becoming ‘Little Vietnam’. Now you know where to go if you’re in the mood for pho or Ayam Penyet. Or some intimate Vietnamese hospitality, if you know what I mean.

So, with or without these club facilities, our FDWs already have a place to mingle (sometimes with other foreign nationalities) and be seen, even if it means moonlighting on the fly or simply fooling around. The fact that places like Lucky Plaza and Golden Mile have hardly changed at all means that the authorities are silently aware of their social (and economic) significance.  It is, however, unrealistic to expect migrant workers to integrate with Singaporeans on weekends, when they already spend almost their entire working lives dealing with us. In some situations, in fact, we’d rather they leave us the hell alone.

Let’s not forget the many other ‘enclaves’ and invisible boundaries that we draw around us every single day. Christians have their mega-churches, Muslims their mosques. Billionaires have their fancy clubs, golf courses, Iggy’s and Nassim Road. Women have Ladies’ Night and entire shopping mall levels dedicated to them. Hipsters have arty-farty cafes, expats Robertson Quay, and even seniors have ‘retirement villages’. What’s the big deal about a clubhouse for maids?

We’re a motley nation, not an orientation camp where everybody sits around the campfire singing ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, and by all means let FDWs have places to ‘call their own’ as long as they abide by our laws and don’t have mass orgies in public. A artificial enclosure like a clubhouse may be a place for maids to be ‘among themselves’, but without the flavours of home and the calming familiarity that Lucky Plaza brings, it’s unlikely to be a place to ‘belong’.

Orchard Xmas colours similar to traffic lights

From ‘Orchard lights up – in safer colours’, 23 Nov 2013, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

GREEN, red and gold may be traditional Christmas colours, but they are also similar to the ones on traffic lights. Given that this could lead to motorists confusing yuletide decorations with traffic signals, the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) has decided, from this year, to avoid the use of these colours for the shopping belt’s annual light-up that it organises.

“While we want to create the festive mood, we have to ensure that motorists will not be distracted by the displays,” Orba’s executive director Steven Goh told The Straits Times. He explained that initial plans to use silver and gold – which is similar to the amber signal of traffic lights – for this year’s display were altered.

Instead, the panel of senior Orba and STB representatives which plans and chooses the decorations decided to turn Orchard into a winter wonderland with giant diamonds and snowflakes – all blue and white. Called Christmas on A Great Street, the lights for the 2.2km stretch from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura will be turned on by President Tony Tan Keng Yam tonight in a ceremony at Shaw House Urban Plaza.

…Said marketing executive Lynn Seah, 33, who drives down Orchard Road at least three times a week: “What is Christmas without its iconic colours? Safety is important but which motorist can be so clueless as to mistake fairy lights for traffic lights?”

The Orchard Road Xmas lights are like the Miss Singapore Universe costume; you can never please everyone. Last year’s generous decking of red and gold, the ‘traditional’ colours of Xmas, reminded some shoppers of Chinese New Year instead of a ‘warm Yuletide ambience’ that is supposed to simulate a nostalgic misletoe-draped, pine-scented family gathering by the fireplace.

Cai Shen Night

Cai Shen Night

In 2005, someone complained about a structure that looked like a God of Fortune hat sitting on top of a season’s greetings banner.  And yes, it was in ‘Christmassy’ Red too. I’m not sure if they recycled that for the following CNY celebrations. Not enough red and Singaporeans complain. Too much of it, and we accuse you of defiling tradition.

Huat the halls

It looks like for ‘safety’ reasons, we’ll have to settle for monotonous Winter wonderland blues and silvers for good, though it may not just be the red, gold and green lights of Orchard that causes accidents, but the very distraction of having Xmas lights along ANY road in the first place. This precautionary measure may have been triggered by a video of a car sent flying last Xmas, though it’s impossible to tell if the driver was spellbound by the Christmassy atmosphere, plain reckless, or pissed drunk.

In 2000, a man was killed by a motorcycle while taking photos of the Takashimaya lighting in Orchard Road. (Man killed in Orchard Rd accident, 10 Dec 2000, ST). 9 years later on Xmas eve, a driver responsible for killing an Indonesian maid on pillion along Whitley Road blamed Christmas decor for misleading her into ‘running a red light’.  In 2010, someone ploughed into a Xmas float along Orchard.  But why take it out on Christmas decorations when the yuletide season is known for a more probable cause of accident deaths, drunk driving?

You can judge for yourself how dangerous red Xmas lights are to motorists from this 2012 video below. Note how the amber roadwork beacons are contributing to the kaleidoscopic confusion as well.

If we’re so certain that Xmas decor is confusing to drivers, we should ban the same colours along EVERY street in Singapore, not just our famed shopping district, especially areas where drivers would LEAST EXPECT to be dazzled by Xmas lighting. Or maybe even ban cars from Orchard Road altogether during the festive season, just so that thousands of shoppers can have their fill of iconic Xmas lights in all colours of the rainbow instead of, you know, boring stuff like spending time at home with loved ones.

I’m just wondering what’s to become of CNY, and Cai Shen Ye, now.

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..

Orchard streetwalkers soliciting expats

From ‘Streetwalkers: Stores vigilant’, 16 Sept 2012, article by Nathaniel Fetalvero and Nicholas Yeam, and ‘Streetwalkers getting more blatant at Orchard Road’, 10 Sept 2012, TNP

Foreign women touting sex services are no longer just operating around Orchard Towers. They are now covering areas as far as Far East Shopping Mall. The minute they spot a potential customer, usually a male tourist, they would approach them with offers of ‘massage’. Said one expat: “It’s like running a gauntlet. If you make the mistake of looking at them, they’ll be all over you in seconds.”

…ON WEDNESDAY, two days after The New Paper reported on foreign women soliciting expatriates on Orchard Road, it appears that not much has changed. At the stretch between Orchard Parade Hotel and Orchard Towers, we spotted one or two women standing around, but after an hour, more emerged, loitering on the sidewalks.

Businesses, like Modesto’s Singapore, said the women do not pose a problem. A spokesman for Modesto’s Singapore told TNP that “if some ladies enter and ask for a table, they will be seated and served because we cannot judge who they are. “However, if they are seen to be then going to single men and hassling them, they will be immediately asked to leave our restaurant.”

Orchard Towers, also known to foreigners as the ‘Four Floors of Whores’, wasn’t always the dark seedy underbelly of our country’s premier shopping district. In 1974, it was hyped as a ‘new-idea in office home development’, boasting a state-of-the-art theatrette on the 3rd floor, as well as ‘medical, scientific or technical’ offices on the 4th and 5th floors of the front block facing Orchard Road. It was also home to ‘fine art’ exhibitions, and its Premier Theatre screened selections of the ASEAN film festival in 1980. From Gallery of Fine Arts to Bongo Bar and Top Ten Disco; what the hell happened that turned a centre for art appreciation into the girly-bar hotbed of sleaze and sex that we know today?

In April 1980, Johnny Teo (a name as pimp as it can get) was fined $3000 for managing a brothel from his Orchard Towers apartment, housing mostly Thai prostitutes. Things started to heat up once Premier cinema shut down operations in 1983, with Top Ten Disco taking over after a brief conversion of the auditorium to a ‘live show theatre’.  By 1988, Orchard Towers was an entertainment hub and yuppie den with bars, pubs and ‘social escort agencies’ making their foray into the premises. Some recognisable names in the entertainment business also cut their teeth in Orchard Towers, including singers Wendi Koh (Celebrities bar), Cantopop sensation William Scorpion (Utopia) and DJ Brian Richmond (Peyton Place). Before there were ‘streetwalkers’, pubs like Utopia had ‘public relations officers’ to provide ‘companionship’ and ‘conversation’. By then it would also have its fair share of transvestites and transsexuals, who found acceptance and metaphorical ‘beginnings’ within the building’s four walls, only to be rounded up by the police, who were also on a rampage against homosexuals.

By 1991, Orchard Towers began to be ‘plagued’ by fly-by-night foreign hookers, with the police cracking down on the trade in Dec the same year (Orchard Towers cleared of fly-by-night prostitutes, 28 Dec 1991, ST). In 1992, Singapore’s ‘largest KTV’ opened at the basement of the building (Orchard KTV). In 2002, Orchard Towers was the scene of a high-profile murder, after bodies were found in an abandoned vehicle in the car park. 4 years later, Top 10 rebranded itself as Top 5, its evolution over the years in sync with the gradual moral decline of the entire complex. Today the disco houses private rooms named ‘Desire, Passion, Seduction, Temptation, Obsession’, named after ‘ladies’ emotions, which also describes perfectly the naughty shebang happening on the streets outside. Cross-dresser comedian Kumar also performs there at 3 Monkeys bar these days, and being risque in Orchard Towers is like baring it all in a nude colony.

Sex, rock n roll, transgender performers, has-been celebrities, even murder. This building has seen it all, and should be curated for being a seething well of all imaginable contradictions, an antithesis to the safe, sterile Singapore brand. If the National Stadium is the Grand Dame, this place is the Wretched Slut. Orchard Towers remains the ‘original’ sex destination for rich foreigners on exotic dirty pilgrimages, despite the vice and sleaze leapfrogging over to the other end of Orchard Road at Orchard Plaza and Concorde Hotel shopping centre. Unlike the sleek, squeaky clean, ultramodern behemoths like Ion and 313, the one and only ‘Four Floors’ remains unabashed about its sordid associations and services, one of the last buildings in town with a hint of CHARACTER and history. A stubborn stain on the gleaming tourist showcase that is Orchard Road, it still has many stories to tell, even if they’re not ones you really want your children to hear.

Haka flash mob needs a public entertainment licence

From ‘NZ restaurant apologises for haka flash mob’, 16 Sept 2012, article in Soshiok, asiaone.com

A New Zealand bar and restaurant in Clarke Quay has come forward to apologise for “misunderstandings”, after about 20 of its staff performed a traditional haka dance along a walkway in busy Orchard Road last Sunday. The haka – a traditional Maori dance made famous by New Zealand rugby team All Blacks – was performed in a flash-mob style.

It received mixed reviews among netizens after a video of the performance was posted online earlier this week, on websites like citizen-journalism website Stomp, with some calling it “cringe-worthy” and others calling it “good fun”.

The video shows participants, some topless, breaking out into loud chanting in a crouching stance, slapping their hands against their bodies and stamping their feet, all of which are part of a haka dance. my paper understands that the restaurant, Fern & Kiwi, had not applied for a public-entertainment licence from the Singapore Police Force prior to its staff appearing in Orchard Road.

Any public performance requires such a licence. The restaurant’s owners were called in by the police for questioning yesterday. They declined to give more details as the case is ongoing.

During university orientation days we had to do silly things in crowded places just to entertain our sadistic seniors, and I never knew if they had to apply for public performance licences. If I did, I would have probably declined embarrassing myself on the basis that such shenanigans are downright illegal and I can’t afford to have a criminal record when I still have my entire future ahead of me. Damn you orientation camp leaders!

Applying for a grant to do something ‘spontaneous’ totally defeats the purpose of a ‘flash mob’, though what Fern & Kiwi has done in Orchard Road may be considered as a cheap advertising stunt as well.  I visited the Facebook page and was pleased to note that it wasn’t an organic vegetarian hangout as the name suggests, but a bar catering mainly to expats with a passion for the muddy sport of rugby. It also bears a logo that bears a faint resemblance to a controversially-conceived clothings line.

FNZK

‘Flash mobs’ used to be meaningless stunts done in the name of pure fun, and has evolved into something that blurs the line between ‘performance’, ‘advertising’ or ‘public service message’. Just recently some mothers got together in a ‘Latch on for Love’ ‘flash mob’ to breastfeed their babies. I suspect it’s not just the message of ‘mother’s milk is the best’ that was disseminated, but the very swell of maternal love and hormones in the air may have female passers-by spontaneously ovulating. It was also, to some sensitive viewers who can’t tolerate the sight of bare nipples, dangerously close to the word ‘flash’ being interpreted in another sense altogether. What I really want to ask, though, is: Did they need a public entertainment licence for this?

Latch mob

In celebration of World Sleep Day 2012, 90 people gathered at Raffles Place to take a NAP, it too was labelled a ‘flash mob’ endorsed by the Singapore Sleep Society. First of all, why wait until someone organises a flash mob to promote World Sleep Day, considering all the years of festivities that I missed? Shouldn’t flash mobs be about people actually entertaining someone? Did anyone express concerns about terrorist attacks or a sweeping pandemic after witnessing a pile of motionless bodies lying on a grass patch?  Did they need a public entertainment licence for this?

In March some 300 One direction fans hogged parts of Orchard Road in a ‘flash mob’ dance-off to the UK boyband’s Greatest Hits. Well it’s a MOB alright, and while some may call it harmless fun, calling this a ‘flash mob’ is like describing a riot as a ‘public nuisance’. Shouldn’t there be some regulation against obstructing an entire pavement with synchronised boyband mayhem?   A bunch of Filipina maids also danced the weekend night away outside Ion last year, although no one referred to it then as a ‘flash mob’. Did they need a public entertainment licence for this?

You can also propose to your girlfriend via ‘flash mob’, a trend that threatens to ‘spoil market’ for guys planning to use the ‘Let’s buy a HDB’ ruse. Do you need a public entertainment licence to dance to (the painfully obvious) Bruno Mars’ Marry You? Can you even play Bruno Mars without breaching some public broadcasting copyright law? I could post the proposal video, but that would be infringing this blog’s policy on videos deemed too mushy for general viewing. Why THANKS A LOT, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, now I can’t impress a woman unless I take up dancing lessons and pay a bunch of people to dance around her to her favourite Taylor Swift song.

(It’s in Russian because the other clips have errors)

In 2008, 400 people froze for 5 minutes in the middle of Orchard Road. If you’re new to performance art, you would have been wondering if you were trapped in some kind of time warp, or part of some Just for Laughs gag. After Michael Jackson’s death, we had tribute Thriller flash mobs. Frankly the second one (video below) gave me goosebumps. Did you need a public entertainment licence for these too?

Fans of Oppa Gangnam style, don’t even THINK about it. Or perhaps I’m already too late..’Opps’.

So as you can see, you make ‘flash mob’ anything and everything, from groupie dancing to exuding bodily fluids and even SLEEPING, as long as it doesn’t have a ‘political’ agenda. What’s inconsistent is how the requirement for permit is applied, and if F&K were ever charged for flouting the law, I’ve given some examples which got away with it for their lawyers to argue the case. My guess as to why the police took notice is that Haka performers look scary and glower like they’re out to hurt someone, especially when they mimic throat-slitting, while no one in their right mind will go out to book a lactating woman.

Stamford canal to blame for Orchard Road floods

From ‘Stamford canal a cause of flooding again’, article by Saifulbahri Ismail, 31 Dec 2011, Today

The 4km-long Stamford Canal, cited as a factor in last year’s floods along Orchard Road, has again been traced as the source of flooding at Liat Towers last Friday.

Explaining yesterday why the flooding occurred, national water agency PUB said the “prolonged and heavy” monsoon rain on Dec 23 caused “some parts of Stamford Canal to flow full“. Then, 152.8mm of rain fell on Orchard Road from 2.20pm to 5.20pm – equivalent to about half the average monthly total of 287.4mm of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years.

…In its statement, PUB assured the public that it takes “its responsibility for flood management seriously”. “PUB regrets the inconveniences caused by the floods to members of the public and businesses,” said the agency. “

…To improve flood protection during similar storms, Liat Towers will be building a perimeter wall along its internal drain. “This will allow more water to be held within this so-called pond and, with the difference in pressure, we’d be able to drain the water into the canal,” said Liat Towers director of property management Lydia Tjhia.

…Given the constraints in expanding Stamford Canal due to the urbanised development in the area, PUB is studying the feasibility of building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment in the longer term.

In 1984, the Ministry of Environment responded to a reader’s complaint about Orchard Road flooding by citing ‘extremely heavy rainfall’, exposing the inability of Stamford canal to handle any load exceeding the intensity equivalent to a once-in-5-year storm. In that year, May 21′s freak storm yielded a rainfall of 130mm within the interval of 100 minutes, an intensity matching a ONCE in NINETY YEAR storm according to the Ministry, which would require the canal to expand to more than twice its width to 10m. On Dec 23 2011, within the same time period, we had about 84 mm of rainfall, and since the canal overflowed, the downpour would have been considered AT LEAST a once in 5 year event, though it seems we’ve been having ‘improbable’ weather almost every other week.

I’m particularly interested in how weather experts coin a probability of one-in-ninety years when we have been tracking weather for only 142 years without invoking some form of predictive statistics. According to the NEA’s 142 years-old records, December has constantly been the rainiest month. On a single day in Dec 1978 alone, 512.4 mm of rain fell, almost twice the monthly average. In response to what was known then as the ‘worst floods ever’, Minister of Environment E.W Barker said ‘Singapore’s drains were not designed to cope with exceptional rainfall, and it was impractical and uneconomical’ to build ‘extra-large’ canals to cater to freak weather. Between 1978′s record-breaking storm and 1984′s ‘once in ninety years’ rainfall is only a period of 6 YEARS. To pour more cold water on such doubtful statistics,  then-Minister of Environment Yaacob Ibrahim was ‘told by the PUB’ that the Nov 2009 floods occurs ONCE EVERY 50 YEARS. In that storm, 92 mm of rain fell within HALF an HOUR. But wait a second; 1984′s 39 mm/half hour storm was considered a once every 90 YEARS event, which makes the heavier storm in 2009 a MORE LIKELY event, effectively rendering PUB’s predictions meaningless, a case of our climate folks plucking numbers out of ‘thin air’.

Just last year in June, PUB put the blame on a blocked ‘culvert’ along Stamford Canal and ‘an intense amount of rain within short bursts’ within the space of an hour, stubbornly refusing to consider the possibility that flooding is really the result of poor project management over the years. But let’s look at the history of the Stamford canal and, assuming our rainfall patterns haven’t altered significantly based on NEA’s records, see how much time the authorities  have actually spent tackling the flood problem and ‘regretting the inconveniences caused’. It’s like saying I ‘regret’ that you got bitten by my crazy, unpredictable dog but I’m still not sending him to obedience school or putting a muzzle on him.

Originally known during the days of Raffles as ‘Sungei Bras Bassa’, the early versions of the Stamford canal were in place for over a century and was already being blamed for flooding as early as 1911 (sluice gates’ fault). Millions were subsequently pumped into flood control projects to modify the canal, though you can’t help but feel that however PUB claims to take flood management seriously, expanding the Stamford canal has always been an afterthought to more lucrative developments along Orchard Road. It’s not the weather that the canal needs to catch up with but the rabid urbanisation going on around (and OVER) it. Making dodgy predictions about how often heavy rainfall would occur has also prevented the board from preparing for the worst case scenario, and using ‘extreme’ weather is no longer an excuse given we’ve had experiences with ‘once-in-whatever-years’ deluges for more than a century.

  • 1952: A proposed $750,000 to widen and rebuild, including ‘COVERING part of the canal to make a CAR PARK’.
  • 1970: $250,000 to ‘BEAUTIFY the Stamford canal embankment’, including an ‘exposed footpath of uniform width’.
  • 1973: $1.3 m to COVER the Stamford Canal with a pedestrian mall between Cuscaden and Grange Road.
  • 1978: $32 million on a flood control scheme to reconstruct Stamford Canal by ‘widening and deepening’ it.
  • 1993: Floodgates costing $200,000 built in Ngee Ann City-Lucky Plaza underpass (Floodgates built at a cost of $200,000, 16 Sept 1993, ST)

Given that the authorities were well aware of Stamford Canal’s design flaws for so long, Orchard Road continues to be a hotbed of commercial activity.  A pro-business approach towards retail chain Gap  in 2008 resulted in immovable barriers being replaced by a sliding mechanical floodgate system instead. It’s not certain if this compromised, or indeed left a ‘GAP’ (hurr hurr), in flood control, but it leaves one to wonder if Orchard Road would be ‘high and dry’ if it wasn’t, well, Orchard Road.

It’s also a strange twist of ironic terminology that the PUB is now considering ‘ponding’ areas, a mitigating measure which I’ve described in an earlier post, though they were quick to eliminate the use of the same word to describe ‘flooding’ in this press release. Flood dynamics is no doubt a complex science, and no one will blame the PUB for admitting to lacking the expertise to handle the problem, if only they’d stop fudging storm probabilities and making scapegoats out of bad infrastructure like a  carpenter blaming his tools. To make things worse, their ‘drainage overview’ report following the 2010/11 floods contains a blatant lie:

'Orchard area has been flood free for more than 25 years'

Taking 2010 as the assumed ‘first case of flooding in 25 years’, this implies that we haven’t had any Orchard Road floods since 1984. Wrong (1988) and wrong again(2007).

Happy new year everyone.

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.

Ministry of Waxing ad is UnFurgivable

From ‘This isn’t indecent… but this is’, 1 Oct 2011, ST Forum

(Anand A. Vathiyar): WHAT is the fuss over American fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch’s giant advertisement, which the regulatory watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), saw fit to define as indecent (‘Abercrombie & Fitch ad ‘indecent’ but will stay for now’; Thursday)?

Would ASAS care to assess a truly obscene poster advertising a local firm specialising in beauty and waxing? The vulgar visual of the poster advertising Strip: Ministry of Waxing is plastered in malls and on lamp posts, and as street buntings. One cannot fail to see it at The Cathay building and on lamp posts around Great World City, to name two of the places.

Not Safe Fur Work

Thanks to Anand’s wild imagination, no longer will we view the above as a stylishly shot interior of a  fur purse, but a shameless, invasive allusion to female GENITALIA! There’s no question of what the ‘gestalt’ design resembles on second viewing, but to compare what’s just tacitly  ‘suggestive’ to the in-your-face nudity of AnF is like calling for the suspension of bananas because they remind people of penises.  Children will probably be curious about the black-and-white Colossus of a male nude at Knightsbridge, but would be oblivious to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it innuendo of the Strip campaign. It’s unlikely that ASAS would call for a ban because there’s no clause in the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice that states that an ad is in breach of decency if it uses torrid visuals of objects shaped like private parts.  It’s also worth noting that the ad is part of a PETA anti-fur campaign, which means Strip didn’t intend to solely disguise a vagina as a purse, but came up with a crafty double-entendre that is supposed to be open to interpretation. The writer chose to ignore the link to PETA’s anti-fur campaign, obviously, but you can’t create awareness of animal cruelty without shock value these days, and if it’s not a simulacrum of female anatomy it would be something equally titillating and bizarre that would not just get adults hot under the collar, but children running into Mummy’s arms crying as well (see below)

Here's the skinny on the fur trade

This, ironically, is exactly the kind of attention and free publicity that  Strip planned for, and the writer was quick to fall for it when everyone else would have taken a more subdued  ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ approach. Still, one may argue if an anti-fur message is relevant in our tropical climate, and whether PETA should have pitched this from a ‘shark’s fin’ angle, though Strip would be hard pressed to connect the dots between a banquet staple and waxing. The Strip ad was probably inspired by UK electronic pop act Dubstar, which had a similar design on the cover of their album ‘Disgraceful’ in the early 2000s, sans the ‘zipper’, which sticks out like a pimple on a model’s  forehead.

Rabbit Hole

Why didn’t the writer pick on a similar ad by regular stirrer of controversy Burger King for their ‘twin burger’ ad, for making their BK shots look like a comely, smooth pair of buttocks, or boobies (whichever way you look at it) and accompanying the image with a sexist tagline? How about tissue boxes, or anything with a lascivious, slightly open slit in the middle?

Twice the bun, pardon the pun

Softness you can feel


Singaporeans queuing overnight for H&M freebies

From ‘Overnight queue for Singapore’s first H&M store opening’, 3 Sept 2011, article by Feng Zengkun, ST

SINGAPORE’S first H&M clothing store will throw open its doors only at 11am on Saturday, but by Friday evening there was already a queue outside the Orchard Road store. At 9.45pm on Friday night, about 15 people were patiently sitting outside the store at the Orchard Building across from Cineleisure Orchard.

Some were fans of the Scandinavian brand but others were there for the freebies – the first five to enter the store today will each get a $250 gift card, with the next 300 receiving $20 cards. Singapore permanent resident Rita Nguyen, 28, was at the head of the 20-strong queue that had formed by 7.30pm on Friday

Coming up next: A & F Q

Forget planking, Singaporeans are undoubtedly the masters of queue endurance, a national trend matched only by magician David Blaine’s ‘locked in a box for days” performances. The opening of a flagship store isn’t exactly the launch of a revolutionary gadget like the iPad, or the last Harry Potter novel, but pull a gimmick like gift cards for ‘first  five customers’ and you’ll have excited fans preparing for store entrance camp as they would a jungle expedition in search for the Holy Grail.

Merchandisers can draw this level of anticipation whether they’re selling novelty books (free bookmarks!), movies (free popcorn!)  groceries (Free vouchers!), or even fast food (free side garden salad!), and sad to say Singaporeans have become hardwired to rush and wait out what we would perceive to be a good deal.  This meme has penetrated our psyche to the extent that we use the long queue as an indicator of how good a hawker or restaurant is, and I’m certain most of those in the H&M line were roped in by sheer instinct, like migratory salmon heeding nature’s call to spawn.

Queues pique our interest like a mangled car would attract motorists on the highway, only because they signal to us there’s something out there worth waiting for, regardless of whether we need it or not. The wait itself makes the object desirable, whether it’s a gift card, a coffee mug or woolly earmuffs. Or you could just call us kiasu, cheapstake, ugly Singaporeans who would cut off an arm or a leg to get hold of limited edition collectibles as long as we’re among the first in line, even if these trophies are, for all practical purposes, rather useless. This is phenomenal patience gone untapped, and despite all the pent-up energy and short attention spans of our people today, imagine the world of good we could accomplish if we applied this inexhaustible knack for queuing to things normal people do for a living.

I took a brief look into the history of the ‘overnight queue’, a trend which I speculate to have evolved from 70′s primary school registration, giving rise to the kiasu parent syndrome. It does make evolutionary sense; parents who were kiasu by nature had the advantage of putting their kids successfully into schools of choice, who themselves grow up to produce kiasu children. Here’s a list of the things we Singaporeans are willing to spend more than 12 hours waiting for, and you can see how the kiasu syndrome has spilled over from life-changing events like education, housing and marriage to Hello Kitty toys and marathons. Personally, queuing up for marathon registration is a more punishing ordeal than running the marathon itself, and why people would pay money to suffer twice is beyond me.

Kiasuism born in 1970

Queuing for flats in 1987

Hello Kitty Goodbye Sanity in 2000

Queuing to run in 2011

 

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