To Singapore, With Love banned by MDA

From ‘Local film To Singapore, With Love, not allowed to be distributed, shown here’, 10 Sept 2014, Today

To Singapore, With Love, a film about political exiles directed by local director Tan Pin Pin, has been barred from distribution or exhibition in Singapore. The Media Development Authority (MDA) has classified the film as Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR) where films are not allowed for exhibition or distribution.

“MDA has assessed that the contents of the film undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals,” the MDA said in a statement released today (Sept 10).

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said in a Facebook post that he agrees with and supports the MDA’s assessment.

“The individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they left Singapore and claimed that they were unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore,” he said. “It is not surprising that ex-CPM (Communist Party of Malaya) members and sympathisers wish now to give their own accounts of historical episodes that they were involved in. But individuals who have chosen to leave and remain outside Singapore, and refused to account for their past actions, should not enjoy a public platform to purvey distorted and untruthful accounts to mislead the public, absolve themselves or deny their past actions.”

At first glance, the title of Tan’s film reads like that of a National Day song, and cleverly chosen too. The last time a NAR rating was slapped on a local film was Sex. Violence. FamilyValues for racist themes, which was eventually toned down to a R21 with cuts. It’s unlikely that Tan Pin Pin’s nuclear warhead of a film that threatens our very NATIONAL SECURITY would get emasculated likewise. Another local firebrand known for featuring political ‘agitators’ is Martyn See, whose film on Chee Soon Juan ‘Singapore Rebel’ was unbanned in 2009 after 4 years on the blacklist.  His other documentary, Zahari’s 12 years, was banned in 2007 for ‘distorting’ Said Zahari’s detention and arrest for ‘communist united front activities’ by the ISD in 1963. Today, you can find both See’s films on Youtube. The country has yet to explode to kingdom come since these were uploaded.

Tan herself was questioned by THE POLICE during the crackdown on See’s Singapore Rebel in 2005, after she, along with 9 other filmmakers, wrote a letter to the forum asking the government where the ‘OB markers’ lay when it comes to political films. Not as renown as household names like Jack Neo, Royston Tan or Anthony Chen, Tan is also the creative force behind ‘Singapore Gaga’ and ‘Invisible City’, both critically acclaimed as quirky odes and mirrors to the ‘real’ Singapore. Unfortunately in the case of a touchy subject like political detainees and ‘commies’, shit just got too real for the PAP to handle. Yaacob even tried to paint them as disloyals who ‘chose to leave’ Singapore. It was either surrender to an absurd charge and suffer endless heckling or flee. To these detainees, there was never a ‘choice’ in the matter.

This communist paranoia belies the decision to give ‘To Singapore, with Love’ the chop, which makes me wonder if MDA and gang are still stuck in the 60’s hunting down the henchmen of the Red Skull. For a film making the rounds on the international circuit, our ban strikes the foreign audience as a shameful symptom of a country in outright denial.

Here’s a quick bio of some of those exiles featured in Tan’s film (which you may eventually watch for yourself when it comes online). If you watch some other interview snippets off Youtube, these folks hardly look like the sort to tear the very foundations of our society asunder, more like people whom you’d want to give up your seat to on the MRT. Besides we already have ISIS flag flyers and Syria freedom fighter wannabes to worry about. They’re the ones who’re more likely to pick up rocket launcher shooting as a hobby.

1) Ang Swee Chai: She’s the prominent surgeon and wife of fellow dissident and outspoken human rights lawyer Francis Khoo, who both spent more than 35 years in exile. The ISD allegedly escorted her away while she was in the middle of an operation. She’s also the co-founder and Patron of British Charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. Now living in London, she recounts more than 72 hours of relentless interrogation during the ordeal, just so to dig out the whereabouts of her then missing husband. They were married for barely 2 weeks.

Incidentally, husband Francis Khoo (died in 2011) was one talented chap. He draws satirical LKY cartoons, recites poetry and sings in this video below. No wonder Ang chose to stay by his side in asylum although she doesn’t have a Marxist bone in her body.  A double loss for Singapore indeed.

2) Chan Sun Wing and Wong Soon Fong: These two were Barisan Socialis assemblymen, or ‘comrades’, which the ‘secret police’ were chasing back in 1963 for alleged involvement in the ‘Satu’ general strike. In an interview not related to Tan’s film, Wong Soon Fong spoke about his fight against British colonialism, the merger with Malaysia, spending time in the mountains like a true badass commie guerilla and missing his relatives back home. He was in Thailand at the time, along with ’20 OTHERS’. Come on, Yaacob, he’s just a harmless uncle who can pass off as someone who sells chwee kueh for a living. Let him come home for God’s sake.

3) Tan Wah Piow: Arrested as a student leader for ‘rioting‘, Tan sought political asylum in Britian and lives in London till this day. SBC even produced a 2 part TV series called ‘The Conspiracy‘ which exposes Wah Piow’s Marxist plot to SUBVERT Singapore, a ‘mastermind’ of a network of communist conspirators. It read like the Al-Qaeda of the time, but today the government is more hung up on him escaping NS than extracting confessions of plotting to overthrow the PAP.

4) Ho Juan Thai: Like Wah Piow, this former WP candidate fled to Britain after being charged for ‘playing up issues of Chinese language, education and culture’ to incite VIOLENT, CHAUVINISTIC reactions from the Chinese speaking population at election rallies. He’s also accused of forging his passport to gain entry into Britain.

In a digital information age where we’re encouraged to think critically and be open to viewpoints other than those of the ruling party, it’s embarrassing that the MDA, which has recently tried, but failed miserably, to ‘co-regulate’ with arts groups on self-classification of performances, has resorted to its staple blunt, arcane method of pushing the panic button with an iron fist whenever a film featuring Singaporeans who got into trouble with the regime is produced. Ironically the MDA blames the producers for ‘whitewashing’ some of the lawbreaking, but doesn’t address the oppressive crimes against humanity by the ISD. Surely these detainees were never as dangerous as Ebola, and neither is Tan’s film as remotely insidious as the propagandist bile that is the Young PAP’s Servant Leadership video.

With all this hype over next year’s SG50, maybe it’s the perfect opportunity for the government to exercise some graciousness and compassion by reconciling and engaging our political exiles and bringing them home, absolve them of alleged crimes, let them spend some time with their loved ones rather than whitewashing them off our history books as cowardly fugitives instead of the ‘pioneers’ that they deserve to be.

The Singapore Story is incomplete if those who dared to fight for their fellow countrymen, at the risk of cruel scrutiny and being shunned from the authorities with the same contempt as drug traffickers, scammers or murderers, never had a say in it. In the spirit of all things Singaporean and Family, the homecoming of political exiles, a gesture of the PAP moving beyond the old world paranoia of the past and putting family togetherness before petty politics, would be the one true thing worth celebrating on our 50th birthday.

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Ice bucket challenge is cultic and eradicates free will

From ‘Ice bucket dare a scary social trend’, 30 Aug 2014, Mailbag, ST Life!

(Oh Jen Jen): The ice bucket challenge smacks of peer pressure, herd mentality and narcissism. I am from Singapore and a recent newspaper article mentioned how people here also donated to the ALS Association in the United States (Donations Pour In, Bucket By Bucket, SundayLife!, Aug 24).

We do not even have a local version of the association and I cannot find any statistics on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients in Singapore. Yes, the end is good, but I question the act itself. The stunt may lead other organisations to do the same thing. What if 10, 20 or 50 charities launch campaigns simultaneously? Do the ones which need the most assistance get ignored because they are not considered fun or cool enough?

It is a dangerous precedent for fund-raising efforts and as long as celebrities propagate the trend and their fans follow blindly, it is going to backfire. While performing stunts to raise money is not a new concept, the ice bucket challenge takes it to a different level because of the way it encourages exhibitionism and instigates blind compliance.

The act itself may seem harmless, but the response is cultic in magnitude. It is a frightening indicator of the combined powers of social media, fame and egotism, resulting in the eradication of logical thought and free will.

Teo Ser Luck getting wet and wild

It’s a Dunk-Your-MP session

MP Teo Ser Luck was bullied by his residents into taking the ‘ice bucket challenge’, so it wouldn’t be fair to say that it breeds a ‘cultic narcissism’ in some instances. More like ice bucket sadism. Some netizens have even dared PM Lee to do it for the nation. I wonder if this letter would still be published if that actually happened.

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.23.54 AM

Pouring ice over someone’s head is the kind of prank you find during university orientation camps, drunkard parties or in a Three Stooges episode, and when I initially read the title of this letter I thought the writer was expressing concern about the health hazards of being doused in ice, like hypothermia for example. Or how an over-creative delivery could lead to head injuries, just like how ‘selfies’ led to people plummeting to their deaths in their misguided enthusiasm. Yes, a ice bucket dunk can be potentially dangerous, but it turns out that the writer’s fears were more apocalyptic than I thought.

This is Steven Lim after pouring ice over himself in the shower. Yes, this looks very scary indeed. For concerned fans, yes the man is still alive.

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I’m not sure how many among the ice bucket ‘cult’ actually know what ALS is, or who Lou Gehrig and Stephen Hawking are. Or even wondered what a bucket of ice has anything to do with a rare disease. If you read scientific papers on ALS, you’d encounter explanations like these which will give you a ‘brainfreeze’ of a different sort altogether:

Studies done by Carpenter have shown the late onset of ALS with abnormal neuro filament accumulation in the G93 SOD1 mutant mouse model (Carpenter, 1968). Findings have suggested the cause to be due to the deregulation of Pin 1 in its involvement with the neurofilament phosphorylations, where it catalyzed the extensive phosphorylation of the neurofilaments in the perikarya by kinases by converting neurofilaments to a more stable trans form, causing the fully unraveled neurofilaments in the cell body being unable to be transported down the axonal length and accumulate in the perikarya, forming inclusions that are responsible for the disruption of the transport system and ultimately result in neuronal death (Kesavapany et al., 2007)

AGH. GIMME THAT ICE RIGHT NOOOW!

If I started a trend of pouring a bucket of my own diarrhoea over my head in support of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I doubt anyone would follow. Not even my own mother. Imagine if you had to hold a BBQ party and you realise that the store’s ice cubes were all swiped clean by companies holding a ‘IBC’ parade faster than the sale of N95 masks during the haze. Damn you social media!

Scoot: Cool as ice

I wouldn’t consider doing an IBC myself, not so much that I think it looks ridiculous or that I risk transforming into an automaton without a mind of my own, but because the ice cubes could be put to better use. Like in an glass of Kickapoo or as a prop for kinky sex. Patrick Stewart would agree with me.

Some celebrities think it’s a bloody waste of water, while I believe those who subscribe to it may have forgotten about the drought we experienced some months back, or that there may be people out there running a 42 degree fever and need a bathtub of ice stat but can’t because of an out of stock situation. The typical retort from a IBC believer to me would be ‘So what have YOU done for ALS?’, to which I’d say I’ve donated blood at least 10 times, saving the lives of people, ALS or no ALS. And then I’ll ask back ‘What do you know about neurofilament phosphorylations?’ just to savour a blank look. The only reason to dunk my head in ice is if my hair caught fire.

There are many other associations or causes in need of some insane ‘viral marketing’ to boost awareness without causing bodily harm, like dyslexia or breast cancer for example. If you wanted to educate mothers on the benefits of breast-feeding you could organise a flash mob. If the plight of the poor in Singapore needs to be highlighted to the masses, you don’t go to Speakers’ Corner anymore. You live on the streets for a week living off the generosity of strangers and Instagram it. There was a time charities had to resort to putting monks on a tightrope just to raise money for a hospital, or endanger the lives of celebrities by having them lie on a bed of broken glass, and someone else freakin’ JUMP on them. Thank God we didn’t have social media then. How ironic it would have been if your kidneys got ruptured in a stunt gone wrong for a foundation that supports end stage renal disease.

The reason why the IBC spread like wildfire is that people are not urging you to trek barefoot in the hot sun for 5km for a good cause. It’s accessible, it’s fun (supposedly) and anyone can do it without training for an Iron Man triathlon. Yes, we are generally suckers for trends with a high ‘hip quotient’, but the IBC isn’t the only fad guilty of encouraging ‘exhibitionism’ and ‘blind compliance’. I hesitate to use the term ‘compliance’ which implies ‘reluctance’, like doing it because your Mommy told you so. In simpler terms, it’s just ‘copying’.

We have pointless memes like planking, online protests like blacking out your profile pic to make a political statement, and then there’s the phenomenon known as Cook a Pot of Curry day. Need I mention selfies, hipster cafes, marathon running, zumba or even bubble tea? In this age of social media you don’t need ministers or celebrities to kickstart a viral campaign anymore, just a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook would do the trick. I’d say we have benefitted more from ‘blindly copying’ each other and succumbing to ‘peer pressure’ than having our free will ‘eradicated’ just because of one viral stunt. We’ve been doing it for millennia, from the moment one proto-human tribe observed another making fire and followed suit. And look where copying each other has brought us today. We shouldn’t overlook the benefits of ‘following the crowd’ just because occasionally we latch onto something, for lack of a better word, stupid, and then complain about it online through a Xiaomi phone.

The IBC is probably funny the first time round, but after a while it becomes the stunt equivalent of Pharell’s ‘Happy’ song. Overdone, overplayed, and overstaying its welcome no matter how you remix it. How many times do you want to see people get wet anyway? The craze will die a natural death eventually like Gangnam style has, but the human tendency to mimic and one-up each other won’t. To quote a famous hip hop artiste in the 90’s:

All right stop, Collaborate and listen
Ice is back with my brand new invention

Authorities not claiming responsibility over a fishball stick

From ‘New Municipal Services Office announced’, 17 Aug 2014, article by Monica Kotwani and Eileen Poh, CNA

There will be a new authority set up to coordinate the work of various Government agencies in order to better serve the public when it comes to municipal issues. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this on Sunday (Aug 17) during his National Day Rally. The Municipal Services Office (MSO) will coordinate the work of agencies such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA), NParks, the Housing and Development Board and Police. The aim is to improve service delivery to residents.

PM Lee highlighted an example cited by Mayor for South West District, Low Yen Ling. “Yen Ling’s residents had complained that the walkway to the Bukit Gombak MRT Station was often dirty,” Mr Lee related. “One resident told her he saw a fishball stick there on the walkway. The next day he came back and looked, the same fishball stick was still in the same place. Her residents have very sharp eyes. So Yen Ling called up the agencies to find out why the area was not being cleared regularly. And she had to make multiple calls to several agencies, held several meetings. She finally managed to establish what happened. “

Ms Low found that a slope on the left of the walkway is overseen by the National Environment Agency (NEA). In the middle, which is a park connector under NParks, while the pavement close to the road is under LTA. Mr Lee said the cleaners of these areas had different cleaning schedules, and the area on the right where the fishball stick lay was cleaned every two days.

Stick it to the Man

Stick it to the Man

Ironically, in the same article, PM was waxing lyrical about Singapore becoming a SMART NATION, and here you have a mayor having to arrange MEETINGS with agencies to decide what to do with a dumped fishball stick. I wonder who would take responsibility if the fishball stick happens to lie exactly midway between NPARKS and NEA’s turf. Maybe the cleaners under the respective payrolls would have to play scissors-paper-stone in order to come to a decision.

Like an unexpected pregnancy after a drunken mass orgy, the Bukit Gombak fishball stick anecdote has become an awkward metaphor of our neurotic, self-serving, ‘not my problem’ bureaucracy. Creating another liaison office to coordinate a response isn’t going to solve the actual problem here which PM Lee did not address in his rally: LITTERING. In full parental mode, our government have spawned yet another nanny to pick up after us because we don’t know how to make people responsible for their own environment. It’s like how setting up child welfare isn’t going to stop people from having irresponsible sex. In fact it takes some of the guilt and regret off your shoulders because you know someone ‘s taking care of your damn baby, rather than leaving him abandoned and straddling the imaginary boundary between two agencies who want nothing to do with him.

The formation of an MSO is a typical approach to how we deal with such issues: Create another layer of bureaucracy to address it, confuse everyone with yet another acronym, and hope for the best. This is just sweeping the littering scourge under the carpet. And then putting another carpet on top of the first one for good measure.

‘Municipal’ is a word that is as old as there have been only gas lamps on the streets, as seen in this 1849 article below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 10.24.50 PM

It’s also an old-timey word you wouldn’t expect Singaporeans to even pronounce properly, with the MSO appearing to be an organisation whose responsibilities we’ll inevitably mix up with those of the ‘Town councils’.  MSO also stands for ‘Medisave-cum Subsidised Outpatient‘ scheme, or the fancy rank of some random customer service officer in the civil service. Maybe we need another agency to regulate how agencies are named, one that could launch an ‘Acronym Streamlining Scheme’. Or ASS.

There are other ‘grey areas’ around which our ‘relevant authorities’ don’t want to touch with a ten foot fishball stick. Nobody wants to claim responsibility over pesky mynahs, for example.  Then there’s killer treesleaves in drains, or even stray pythons, which depending on where the creatures are found may have to involve ACRES, PUB or even the Police Force. Some of these, like venomous reptiles, obviously need more urgent attention than something out of an Old Chang Kee deep fryer, and I’m not sure if the MSO can get the agencies’ act together in double-quick time before someone gets killed. We need an Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force equivalent to deal with such things. A ‘task force’ implies active hands-on, while an ‘office’ brings to mind meeting minutes, roundabout e-mails and endless hole-punching. If I need someone to get rid of a snake in the toilet bowl and I don’t know who to call, I instinctively would choose the people who call themselves a task force rather than an office, though there jolly well could be no difference between them at all.

Good luck to us if we were ever invaded by a swarm of radioactive, mutant, giant mosquitoes aggregating and breeding over a drain by the road in a HDB estate. By the time you get around calling NEA, AVA, HDB, PUB, LTA, the Town Council, or the whole damn ARMY, we’d all get hemorrhagic, radioactive dengue and die a horrific death before the first minutes of meeting have even been tabled.

Fewer flats flying National Flag on National Day

From ‘Why fewer flats seem to be flying the flag for National Day’, 7 Aug 2014, article by Joanne Seow and Yeo Sam Jo, ST

ENTIRE blocks of flats awash in red and white in the run-up to National Day? It is a less common sight these days. More than half of the 15 Members of Parliament and residents The Straits Times spoke to said they have noticed fewer flags on display in recent years. Changes in the work of grassroots groups and public housing designs are two of the reasons for the drop in the number of Singaporeans flying the national flag from their flats, they added.

Some residents’ committees (RCs) now prefer to hold community events instead of going door to door to give out flags. Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari said some RCs in his GRC have stopped actively decorating housing blocks for National Day since two years ago.

“We feel it would be good if residents do it themselves so that it’s more heartfelt,” he said. He hopes that when residents realise fewer RCs are doing it, they will put the flags out themselves. Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said a resident told him he did not hang a flag as he did not want to be the odd one out.

New flat design is a factor too, said Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu. He said newer blocks in Queenstown do not have common corridors facing the outside, making it harder to display flags.

Public servant Rachel Lim, 29, said her family stopped putting up the flag when they moved from a road-facing block in Chai Chee to a point block in Sengkang West nine years ago.

“There is no common corridor and the block is inward facing,” she said. “Even if you display the flag, there is no audience.”

‘This is where I won’t be alone…’

Naked flats on National Day isn’t new at all. In 1989, the Kaki Bukit Zone 5 RC were forced to come up with a brilliant solution to spur Singaporeans into flying the flag over their HDB parapets loudly and proudly: LUCKY DRAW AND FREE FOOD. If you bought a flag from your RC, you stood a chance to win a radio, TV or a table fan. You were also invited to a buffet breakfast so that you could ‘mix around’ with fellow flag buyers. No such luck these days. Today it needs to be more ‘heartfelt’ without us wondering if they’ll be serving free N-day roti prata at the void deck so that I’ll be the first in line.

Even if you take the initiative to fly the flag without any form of shameless inducement or pressure from your RC, you may be criticised for not hanging it correctly, letting it flap in an unruly manner in the wind, or even get charged for displaying a faded or stained flag. So if you happen to be the ONLY one on your block showing off your patriotism, you’d better make sure the flag is in pristine condition and salute-worthy condition otherwise you’d put the whole block to shame.

When a block of flats festooned in red and white becomes an annual symbolic staple on the nation’s birthday, it naturally becomes a visual representation of how much love we have for the country, or a scoreboard of how well the PAP is doing. You can imagine the various MPs checking each others’ constituency colours out like students comparing test results. Our MND minister Khaw Boon Wan is particular proud of his Sembawang residents. CHECK THIS SHIT OUT, BITCHES!, this post seems to be saying.

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 7.44.09 AM

The government is partly to blame for setting the standard in the first place. With RCs doing the dirty work for us all this years, we never learned how to buy a flag or even hang it up ourselves, not to mention coordinate them in a single perfect file down the block. It’s like parents holding a massive birthday bash for their kid with clowns, magicians and firestarters in one year, and then ordering miserable McDelivery at home for the next. This year, nobody even bothered to compose a new birthday song. You’d think your folks love you less as you get older, when the truth is you can’t measure love by how festive every birthday gets. Think of N-Day as Singapore’s Valentine’s Day, and the display of flags as the gesture of giving an obligatory bunch of roses. Not giving one this year doesn’t mean I love her less. Conversely, putting one up for the past few years doesn’t mean I won’t migrate to goddamn Perth the next.

There are all sorts of personal excuses not to do so, of course, namely:

1. Don’t have the time
2. Lazy
3. I don’t want to stand out if I’m the only one
4. My flag is faded
5. Don’t know where to buy the flag
6. I already draped my car’s sideview mirror in flag
7. I was away on vacation
8. I forgot
9. The dog ate my flag

There are also those who try to explain the phenomenon by summoning the tired ‘too many foreigners’ argument, while some of us would only put up flags as a show of defiance on days other than N-day, like a certain ‘Gulam’ who hung a Palestine flag to ‘raise awareness’ about the Gaza situation. Or another Singaporean flying a China flag for some damn reason.

Flags on flats or not, this is still home, truly. Happy National Day, Singapore.

 

 

World Cup Public Holiday hoax reported to Police

From ‘President Tony Tan did not declare July 14 a public holiday: Istana’, 14 July 2014, article in Today

The authorities have clarified that the President’s Office did not issue any letter declaring today (July 14) a public holiday. According to a statement issued by the President’s Office, a “letter circulating on mobile and online platforms in the name of President Tony Tan Keng Yam” had declared July 14 a public holiday.

The President’s Office reiterated that it had issued no such letter, adding that public holidays are announced by the Ministry of Manpower. According to the hoax letter, the holiday was meant to allow all Singaporeans to have a chance to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina, and had the approval of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Government offices would be closed today, the letter claimed.

A police report has been lodged and  investigations are ongoing, police said.

Last year, MP Irene Ng was impersonated by someone posting a fake haze article on The Real Singapore website using a bogus email account. A police report was lodged but I’m not sure if the culprit was ever caught. In the President’s case, not only do you have a potential impersonation charge, but another on ‘false transmission of information’.

The letter is unlikely to cause a premature rapture followed by mass absenteeism in offices since we would typically trust the mainstream media to feed us such vital info. Also if this were genuine, the President wouldn’t have announced the good news only during the FINALS. I doubt the prankster had any malicious intentions, and no one would be dumb enough to take the letter seriously. After all, this ‘Tony Tan’ isn’t declaring war on a neighbouring country, or freaking us out by saying there is a giant asteroid on a collision-course with the planet like what more illustrious presidents do in cosmic disaster movies, so the Police shouldn’t worry about widespread panic or looting on the streets.

There was never a time when a World Cup holiday, or even half-day, was granted in Singapore, not least because we were never in the tournament and therefore have no reason to celebrate as a nation. But that didn’t stop people from urging the government to declare public holidays for other less spectacular occasions, to no avail of course.

1. Former President S R Nathan’s Inauguration Day

2. Hindu and Sikh New Year’s Day (April 13)

3. Lao Zi’s Birthday (Taoist Day)

4. Raffles/Founder’s Day, Lim Bo Seng’s Day, Multi-Racial Day

5. An additional day off for our 25th National Day. We can try asking for this again next year for our 50th.

6. Confucius’ birthday

And here are some facts you never knew about our public holidays.

1. Thaipusam used to be a public holiday.

2. We used to have BANK holidays. THREE in 1960 alone. These were subsequently abolished in 1966.

3. Vesak Day used to be called WESAK Day.

4. Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s birthday, Nov 12,  used to be a public holiday.

5. Before 1968 we had 16 PHs. Today we have 10.

If there’s one thing this hoax taught us though, it’s that there’s actually one LESS thing that our president can do. Now, MOM, how about bringing back a bank holiday or two, then?

Malaysia building a Forest City below Second Link

From ‘Mega reclamation project off Johor raises concerns’, 22 June 2014, article in ST

Singapore has expressed concern to Malaysia over a proposal for a massive reclamation project to create an island in the Strait of Johor below the Second Link. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed yesterday that Singapore has asked for more information so it can study the possible impact on the Republic and the strait. “They have agreed to do so and we hope to receive the information soon,” a spokesman said in response to media queries.

A report in the Malaysian daily The Star yesterday said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, about the project.

…The Star reported last Monday that China property developer Country Garden Holdings and a Johor government company, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, were planning the reclamation project called Forest City for luxury homes.

The idea to create a 2,000ha island – nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate – will take 30 years to complete, Mr Kayson Yuen, Country Garden’s regional president for the project, told the paper. A project map showed part of the man-made island under the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore to Johor.

The Edge Review online magazine reported last month that Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar was behind the project, which was being promoted actively by powerful Johor politicians.

Island in the stream

Nobody ever creates an artifical island, calls it ‘Forest City’ and expects it to be a miniature replica of the planet Pandora in Avatar, where the mode of transport is swinging vine and residents live in tree-huts. The name ‘Country Garden’ is also scathingly ironic given that these guys from China don’t build barns and landscaped lawns for a living, but high-rise luxury housing, with existing projects in Danga Bay. In 2012, the company acquired 22 ha of prime waterfront land in the Iskandar region, to the approval of Malaysia PM Najib. Even our own Temasek Holdings has got a stake in the region. CG’s logo is ‘To create a better SOCIETY with our existence’, which sounds eerily like Red Army propaganda. It doesn’t say ‘to create better neighbours with our existence’. In any case, our very Earth itself is better off if such globetrotting property developers never existed at all. Unlike how it’s named, there’s nothing remotely ‘green’ about building an entire artificial island from scratch in the middle of the sea.

Land use has always been a prickly issue between us and the Malaysians. In 2002, Malaysia’s Trade and Industry Minister called for his countrymen to SUE the Singapore government for our reclamation works along Tebrau Strait, even though these were within our borders. Fishermen staged protests about dredging affecting their livelihoods, while others complained about the narrowing of shipping lanes and damage to marine life. The Foreign Minister bashed us for our ‘selfishness’ and not being a ‘good neighbour’. It also wasn’t the first time that Singapore has embarked on land reclamation, leading some to speculate this was a case of the Malaysian politicians seizing the chance to ‘put Singapore in its place’ out of sheer jealousy. A year later, our neighbour decided to bring the matter up to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, arguing for our project to be ceased because it could ‘permanently scar’ the environment. We eventually won the case, but some refused to let the issue go even up till 2007, blaming a spate of floods in JB on our reclamation works on Pulau Tekong. Incidentally, Tekong means ‘obstacle’ in Malay.

Could this ambitious undertaking right under the Second Link be a major case of tit for tat? The Forest City project has powerful backing in the Sultan as well as a China conglomerate, and if even Najib endorses this like how he welcomed the Danga Bay development and our pleas go ignored, it appears that going back to international courts may be the only recourse. It is important, however, that both nations don’t lose sight of the bigger picture (or miss the ‘FOREST’ for the trees for that matter) in the pursuit of happy bilateral relations and economic growth. Not much is known of the long term environmental impact of any form of land reclamation, be in within or outside our borders, and the consequences of any human interference on a complex, interweaving ecosystem are often beyond our understanding, beyond the artificial boundaries we create between ourselves.

Even as we attempt to increase our own size by up to 9 ‘AMK towns’, there are valid concerns about the impact on tidal flows, even on the coastal waters of neighbouring countries. There are also concerns of the impact of our land expansion on native coral reefs. We should be careful not to be come across as having double standards if we’re plowing ahead at the expense of our own environment, not to mention other countries’. It’s like accusing a neighbour next door of having an all-day BBQ when we’re burning incense in our garden.  Before criticising the move, it would have been prudent to study what we’re doing to ourselves. It is likely however, knowing the temperament of Malaysian politicians, that if we make noise this time round, they’ll bring up the 2002 case again, saying that if Singapore can do it, why not us? At the rate of the sea being filled around us, it’s only a matter of time before what separates the two countries is nothing more than a couple of shipping lanes and a token bridge over troubled waters.

We already have a ‘transboundary’ problem with the Indonesians from the haze, now we have another one bugging us from the north. PM Lee, PM Najib, perhaps this would be a good time to remind you guys about this:

That’s what friends are for

Zouk an institution that needs saving

From ‘Zouk may shut by year end’ 18 June 2014, article by Joyce Lim, ST

The founder of Zouk, Mr Lincoln Cheng, says he is tired of getting short lease extensions for the popular dance club’s Jiak Kim Street site. If he does not get a three-year extension he is now requesting, he will close the 23-year-old iconic nightspot for good by the end of this year.

…When the club first opened in 1991, the land around it was largely vacant. But today, the club – which is situated within three recently conserved riverside warehouses – is dwarfed by neighbouring condominiums and hotels. It was no surprise, therefore, when questions about the fate of Zouk started making the rounds in 2012.

…When told of the news, celebrity presenter and Zouk regular Najip Ali said he was shocked. “When Zouk opened, it was ahead of its time. In the 1990s, Zouk put a stamp on the kind of nightlife that didn’t exist.” It was where he learnt about music and deejays. “Zouk has been and is still an institution,” he said.

Development plans aside, it was MP Indranee Rajah (“If Zouk was not there, then it is unlikely the youth would congregate there.”) who indirectly blamed the rise in drunken rowdiness in the Robertson Quay area on the dance ‘institution’. Since complaints by residents, the Government has been mooting the idea of a ‘no-alcohol’ zone so that babies from nearby condos can sleep at night. If Zouk were an ‘institution’, then its graduates are Masters in Inebriation. No riot has broken out on Jiak Kim Street so far, though there may soon be a protest or two. Like the SaveZouk campaign for example. I wonder what colour these guys will be wearing. Maybe neon rainbow.

I’ve been to the club myself a few times, and back in those days it was a hedonistic eye-opener seeing people gyrating on raised platforms, revellers decked out in the wildest accessories, meeting gays, transgenders and Najip Ali, sweating and grinding to guest DJs spinning revolutionary dance tracks that no other disco at the time were keen to play. In the 90’s, Zouk WAS Clubbing, a place that has become synonymous with a street with the unlikeliest of names in ‘Jiak Kim’. You didn’t need to give taxi drivers directions or addresses. You just had to say ‘Zouk’, and he’d give you that knowing wink and a nod, sometimes breaking out into small talk about how ‘happening’ you are. Then again, it’s also the same place that revived Rick Astley’s popularity, thanks to Mambo Jumbo Nights, a phenomenon that has even been exported out for the 2012 Singapore Day in New York.

For 23 years, Singaporean merrymakers have stayed faithful to the icon of glam, the ‘queen’ of clubs, despite intrusions by global players like Ministry of Sound and Supperclub, which all bowed out of the scene entirely while Zouk continued to attract 24 hour party people, even till now, except to the wrath of condo owners, who obviously didn’t have a clue about what Zouk was about when they decided to move in right next to it. In the spirit of MP Indranee’s argument: If the condos were not there, there would be no one to complain about noise, piss and vomit. And we probably would have let the kids drink themselves to death or fall off the bridge and drown or something.

Here are some facts every Singaporean should know about our homegrown premier club:

1. Zouk means ‘village party’ in French Caribbean, and was refurnished out of 3 abandoned riverside godowns. The logo was inspired by Arabic script and is a mixture of the ‘sun, all-seeing eye and the sea’. Zouk’s address is 17 Jiak Kim Street, though no one knows what happened to the other 16 numbers.

2. Founder Lincoln Cheng is an architect by training. In 1995 he was charged for bringing in 376 diazepam tablets and having possession of 125 Upjohn tablets, 4 Playboy magazines and some porno tapes, all part of a high profile drug bust which forced the club to close temporarily.

3. Tan Jiak Kim was a fifth generation Baba merchant who formed the Straits Steamship Company in 1890 with a few other rich businessmen, in addition to sterling work among the Chinese community and setting up a medical college. He would have qualified for the Pioneer package. Most of us would have never heard of him if not for Zouk. Thankfully, there’s also a nearby bridge named after the man, a bridge that the very same drunk kids are puking and dumping trash on.

4. In 1993, a brewery bar named ORANG UTAN opened in the Zouk complex. No it wasn’t a place where you could pet Ah Meng for free over beer and grub like what you do in a cat cafe. Though that just MIGHT work elsewhere.

5. A ‘Healthy Lifestyle Party‘ without cigarettes and booze was held for 1000 SAF personnel in 1992. As fun as your Grandaunt’s birthday bash, I reckon. The words ‘healthy’ and ‘party’ belong together like ‘innocent’ and ‘sex’. I hope there was at least Hokkien techno.

6. ‘Zoukette’ is what you call a fashionable female club regular. It was also the name of one of the more popular IRC channels in Singapore. Yes, Zouk has outlived even IRC, ICQ and Windows Messenger.

7. The PAP celebrated its 50th anniversary there in 2004, an event that most true-blue Zoukers and Zoukettes would rather forget. Amongst those boogieing the night away then was PM Lee himself, Lim Swee Say, and a certain Indranee Rajah, the same MP who thinks Zouk turns our kids into raving alcoholics. Look, here’s proof!

Party people in the house, y'all.

Party people in the house, y’all.

Wait, that means 2014 is the 60th year of PAP’s reign. How about a farewell All-White Zouk party again this year, for the club to go out with an unforgettable BANG?. After all, who WOULDN’T want to see our ministers dancing?Not sure if invitations will be extended to Ms Indranee though.

8. Zouk is likely to have played host to a more diverse range of international stars than any other stadium or concert hall in Singapore. From 80’s synth-pop band Erasure to techno/trance maestros, Kylie Minogue to K-pop girl groups, even a crooning Tony Leung.

9. In 2007, Zouk was where you could watch girls in skimpy attire wrestle one another in spaghetti sauce. 3 years later, the club organised an event called ‘Baby Loves Disco’, where hip parents could bring their babies for an afternoon party, some as young as 2 MONTHS. It looked like the beginning of a slow demise, less an ‘institution’ than a free-for-all venue for any event under the sun.

10. In 2008, it was reported that Zouk hired 70 security officers and had 100 surveillance cameras installed. What would become of these bouncers once Zouk is gone? Maybe protecting our ministers when they queue for chicken wings, perhaps?

So those were the days, my friend, we’d thought they’d never end. Thanks for the memories, Zouk. The puke on the sidewalk, the awesome live DJ gigs, the vodka-Ribena, the silly dancing, for being the only place in town where you could impress the girl of your dreams with cheesy 80’s moves. Unlike high-end exclusive clubs like Ku De Ta, Zouk welcomed mopey teens, the fuddy-duddies, the geeks and the wannabes with open arms. You did well to put us on the map of ‘cool’ and convince the world that Singapore was not THAT boring after all, but like all good parties, this 23-year-long one must come to an end. Good night, and Zouk Out.

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