Foreign workers chatting over murukku in Chinese Garden

From ‘Chinese Garden’s faded glory’, 16 May 2014, article by Lee Jian Xuan, ST

…Once a popular tourist haunt in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese Garden is seldom promoted as an attraction now and is deserted on most days, save for the odd runner. Earlier this month, its caretaker, JTC Corporation, said it had planned a long list of refurbishment works for Chinese Garden, including architectural repairs and new paint.

Designed by prominent Taiwanese architect Yu Yuen-chen, Chinese Garden was touted as “Singapore’s architectural pride” when it opened in 1975, a phoenix risen from what used to be marshes and swamps. It drew many visitors from near and far, as well as couples taking wedding pictures.

…Chinese Garden, which has no entrance fee on normal days, has turned into a retreat for foreign workers on weekends and public holidays. Some duck below ficus and yellow oleander trees, snapping selfies on their phones. Others laze beside the ponds and lakes, chatting and eating.

Indian shipyard worker Ganapathy Balasubramanian, 30, meets his friend, construction worker Prakash Chellayan, 30, every Sunday to chat over murukku.

In 1978, an Australian tourist wrote to the ST Forum suggesting that there should be a ‘unique trio’ of gardens around of the Jurong Lake area, Chinese, Japanese and an INDIAN garden. Jump to 2014 and it has indeed become a garden for Indian workers, if not eating murukku under some ficus trees then playing cricket on an area that once saw SBC actors like Chen Tianwen suspended on wires in wuxia getup swordfighting and saving Xiang Yun from distress.

Chinese Garden wasn’t warmly welcomed by all Jurong residents when it was initially proposed. One Jurong worker who was unable to get a flat in the area called the tourist attraction a ‘luxury project’, and complained that the money was better spent on housing. Others were worried that they couldn’t afford the entrance fee. In the late seventies, you would still get swindled of $1.20 for two bottles of chrysanthemum tea. Sinophile scholars swooned over its Sung dynasty inspired imperial architecture nonetheless, describing entering the Gardens as being transported into ‘Instant China’.With the number of PRCs among us these days, you don’t have to travel all the way to Jurong to experience the motherland anymore.

When it opened to much fanfare in 1975, the attraction was believed to be the largest classical Chinese garden built that century outside of China. By the 1990’s, it had degraded into a mosquito-breeding, deserted eyesore. Today, there’s nothing more ‘cheena’ about Chinese Garden than the roof design of the MRT named after it, its Twin Towers and Pagoda still resembling the campy set of a Mediacorp period drama, a lacklustre imitation of everything you’ve ever seen in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. You’re more likely to see foreign workers picnicking than old men in majestic robes doing taichi, more people jogging than doing calligraphy, kids engaging in watersports in the Lake than poets drifting about in a lone sampan fanning themselves pensively in the morning mist.

Here are some other facts you didn’t know about the Chinese and Japanese Gardens.

1. The centrepiece of the Garden, the 7 tier pagoda, was once compared to the one at Cheng-Ching Lake, Taiwan. 

2. Japanese Garden is also known as ‘Seiwa-en’, conceived by none other than Dr Goh Keng Swee himself, Seiwa-en meaning Singapore’s (Sei) Japanese (Wa) Garden (En). It also opened 2 years BEFORE Chinese Garden.

3. Entrance fees for the Japanese Gardens in 1973 was 40 cents (adult), 20 Cents (child) and FIFTY CENTS for a CAMERA. Yes, your camera was worth more than a human being. In the 1990’s, this increased to $4.50 per adult.

4. The statue of Confucius, donated to the Chinese Garden by the Taiwanese, was worth $100, 000.

5. A Registry of Marriages branch opened  in 1982, which catered to couples who wanted to have their solemnisations done over the weekend. By 1984, it was gone.

6. In 1981, it rained BULLETS on Jurong Lake, believed to be an accidental machine gun misfiring by a company under the Defence Ministry known as ODE (Ordnance Development and Engineering). Thankfully no one was hurt.

7. There were plans in 1991 to build an UNDERGROUND MUSEUM at Chinese Gardens. Shelved, obviously.

8. The now defunct Tang Dynasty City, a failed theme park located near the Gardens, once had ambitions to build a $500,000 earthquake simulator from Japan. A disastrous venture, this vanity project with its army of robot terracotta warriors cost $100 million to build, opened in 1992 and had closed shop before the end of that decade.

9. The Live Tortoise and Turtle Museum collection features an exotic reptile called the MATA-MATA. I heard the Police need a mascot.

10. Chinese Garden MRT was once called Jurong Lake Station. 

About these ads

‘Little Chinatown’ Geylang is a potential powder keg

From ‘Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders’, 30 March 2014, article by Amelia Tan, Sunday Times

Geylang Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders want more done to keep the area safe, and say the measures should go beyond ramping up police patrols. Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Edwin Tong wants fewer alcohol licences issued, stricter operating hours for businesses near residential estates, and a stop to foreign worker dormitories sprouting near Housing Board flats.

…Geylang has come under fresh focus after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last Tuesday that he was more worried about the area than Little India, where a riot involving foreign workers took place last December. Testifying at the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot, he said crime rates in Geylang were disproportionately high and hostility towards the police rife.

Mr Tong told The Sunday Times that the red-light district, with its many bars and lounges, peddlers selling contraband cigarettes and drugs, as well as shops and vendors which stay open late into the night make Geylang more of a potential trouble spot than Little India and increase the risk of violent crime.

…He also highlighted the predicament of those living in Blocks 38 and 39 Upper Boon Keng Road, off Lorong 3 Geylang. The HDB flats are beside a row of terraced houses which have been converted into dormitories for workers from South Asian countries.

Many of the workers drink alcohol at the void decks of the blocks late into the night and some urinate at the playgrounds. Mr Tong said the problems have not been solved despite his asking police to increase their patrols. He said: “I think the solution is to stop the houses from being used as dorms. They are just too near the HDB flats.”

Grassroots leader Lee Hong Ping, 45, who labelled Geylang “Little Chinatown”, said crowds of foreign workers from China can cause traffic jams when too many of them gather on the pavements and spill onto the roads. Residents have also complained about not feeling safe at night.

The Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee described Geylang as a hotspot for ‘lawlessness’ and a congregation area for ‘unsavoury characters’. The Police also cited statistics that the level of public order offences and crime were almost twice as high as that in Little India in 2012, thus the ‘powder keg’ analogy. Another ST report carried the headline ‘People in Geylang speak of an ‘undercurrent of fear’ (March 30, 2014) based on the refusal of some residents to talk to the press. The authorities should be wary, however, not to focus too much on buffing up security at these ‘enclaves’ while neglecting other public areas when random people get slain. Since the Little India incident, we’ve all but forgotten about what went on in the very beating heart of the city, gang fights at Orchard Cineleisure for instance.

18452177

There’s no question that the Lorongs are where resentment of authority is rampant. In 2007, a crowd of 200 gathered around 4 undercover police officers on an illegal gambling raid operation and threw rubbish and beer bottles at them, forcing one officer to draw his weapon on one of the men in the crowd. It had all the makings of a full blown riot, though today we’re unlikely to see the level of violence of the secret society clashes in the 1920s, where the police don’t just get glasses and rocks tossed at them, but BOMBS as well. There’s no evidence that alcohol had anything to do with these events, though some shopkeepers admit that vice is a crowd-puller and good for business.

Geylang may be called ‘Little Chinatown’ today, but according to some sociologists in 2009, Geylang was already the NEW Chinatown when PRCs started flocking to the area to set up shop, while its older sibling with its annual gaudy CNY decorations has morphed into a tourist town, today complete with giant LCD advertising screens and a ‘food street’ that’s clearly designed to draw tourists on a hawker mecca. We’ve already lost our vintage Bugis Street, we don’t want the same fate to fall on ‘Little Chinatown’ now, do we?

The police may think that Geylang, with all its vice and sleaze, is a time bomb waiting to explode. Residents worry about their wives or daughters when they go out at night. But to anyone with a sense of history or adventure, the ‘unsavoury’ nature of Geylang is part of its gritty, trashy charm, a seedy side of Singapore that remains largely unsanitised and brimming with a thrilling sense of ghetto sprawl and chaos, like the Chinese Harlem except that the only protection you need is not a personal weapon, but personal contraception. It has even been called a mini ‘United Nations’ of street-walkers. This is a place you won’t see on our tourist brochures, but any Singaporean will try to tempt a foreigner to have a taste of it. With a nudge and a wink of course.

 

 

Sham marriages is big business in Singapore

From ‘More convicted over sham marriages’, 28 July 2013, article by Theresa Tan, Sunday Times

Immigration authorities are cracking down on those involved in sham marriages, with 139 people convicted in court in the first half of this year. This is a sharp jump from the 89 people dealt with in court for the whole of last year, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) told The Sunday Times.

The increase follows stepped-up enforcement by the ICA against marriages of convenience, where a Singaporean marries a foreigner to enable the latter to enter or remain in Singapore. Middlemen who arrange such unions were also among those convicted.

…The Sunday Times understands that women entering into such marriages are usually from China and Vietnam, and they marry Singaporeans to extend their stays here. They often come as tourists, but want to find work here. Some find their “husbands” on their own, while others go through middlemen, who include Singaporeans and foreigners.

The women pay the middlemen, who in turn pay the bogus Singaporean bridegrooms. The men – mostly manual workers or jobless – are often paid between $2,000 and $5,000 for their part in the scam. On top of that sum, some men also receive a few hundred dollars more for each visa extension obtained after the marriage is registered. The couples in these marriages usually live apart and no sex is involved.

…Under the new law, those found guilty face up to 10 years’ jail or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

…Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan noted that sham marriages have been going on for years and syndicates are often involved as it’s “big business”...He has a Vietnamese client in her 20s who felt she needed more time than her tourist visa allowed to find a good Singaporean man to marry. To extend her stay, she agreed to go through a sham marriage and paid a Singaporean less than $1,000.

“The irony is that she had a fake marriage in order to find a real one,” he said.

Lawyer Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, welcomed the crackdown on sham marriages, but warned of a downside. He said: “Because the ICA now has to impose rigorous criteria and checks to ensure that marriages are not sham, it affects genuine marriages as well.

“Some in genuine marriages are finding it difficult to secure long-term stays for their spouses. This creates uncertainty for the couple and makes it difficult for them to plan a family.”

In 2011, 1 out of 5 marriages was between a Singaporean and a foreign spouse. No one can know for sure how many of these were ‘genuine’ marriages, nor is it easy to define a ‘marriage of convenience’. For example, would you call arranged marriages or shotgun weddings ‘marriages of convenience’? Yet both are perfectly legal even if there’s no love involved. If such a union leads to sex and babies, is it still a sham marriage if the purpose of having babies is to grant one a Long Term Visit Pass? Last year, China nationals bore Singaporean men twice the number of babies (2034) compared to 2000 (1122)(Fewer kids with both parents from Singapore, 21 July 2013, Sunday Times). We assume these are ‘genuine’ cases because people only have babies with those they love, no?

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 11.55.26 AM

I’m thinking the ICA data is an underestimate, and you can probably get away with a sham marriage without ever sharing the same bed with someone as long as you play ball with your partner in crime.  Conversely, a ‘genuine’ marriage is one that should involve some degree of sacrifice and consummation, preferably leading to babies which our government will welcome happily with open arms. And yes, you’re supposed to love each other till death do you part as well. In other words, a fairy tale wedding.

Men who seek foreign brides for ‘love’ have given reasons such as loneliness, family pressure, or blame Singaporean women for being too pampered or materialistic while foreign brides have less expectations and are better at cooking or foot massages.  The guy gets a girl who doesn’t nag him to death, the girl gets someone to look after her and a chance to escape from a miserable home country to become Singaporean eventually. It’s a win-win situation. It becomes a crime if you’re entering the marriage just for money. Oh, wait. Hmm.

Sham marriages, or ‘marriages of convenience’ as euphemistically termed, have been recorded as early as the late 50’s. In 1975, a shoemaker and a Dutch national were caught in a MOC, the former not even knowing what his wife’s name was at the time. They married in 1956 and never saw each other again after they registered their union. In 1969, a Hong Kong woman was charged for corruption after marrying a local widower so that she may apply for permanent residency. In the same year,a local labourer filed for divorce, exposing his MOC to an Indonesian woman in the process because his wife refused to have sex with him until she got her IC. Taiwanese entertainer Chen Chin Pei was declared an illegal immigrant after being accused of contracting a MOC with a local man for a PR status in 1987. More recently, Chinese immigrant Lin Yanmei was probed by the CPIB for MOC with a cleaner. She was also hanging out in hotels with another man whom she called her ‘godfather’.

Not all MOCs are initiated by foreigners who want an extended stay in exchange for marriage. In 1975, a local clerk married a teacher whom she did not love because she wanted to ‘get away from home’. Some Singaporeans marry just to land a HDB flat. Supermodels or Playboy bunnies marry old tycoons who are only capable of consummation with urinary catheters. I could marry a woman whose father is a powerful politician to get ahead in my career, a roundabout, perfectly legal way of getting paid for marrying someone I do not love nor want to have children with. Yet a low-wage male worker desperate for money, in the hope of some female company on the side even if he knows it’s all fake, stands to face jail-time for agreeing to an indecent proposal while his wife fools around as some rich bloke’s mistress so that she can afford to keep the scam alive.

Or you can choose to believe Hollywood that some good may come out of bogus marriages after all. In the case of movies like Green card and The Proposal, that ‘good’ is called love. But sappy endings aside, in the case of Sandra Bullock’s character in the Proposal, a high-flying immigrant professional marries a local out of convenience to attain permanent residency. I doubt the same crackdown would apply to ‘foreign talents’ in a similar position here, though it’s likely that if you’re a foreign-born billionaire we’re more than happy to make you a Singaporean without you having to bear the inconvenience (or is it convenience?) of marrying anyone anyway.

 

Singapore Girl announcing that she’s from China

From ‘Stewardess making announcements:Why the need to specify her origins?’, 25 May 2013, ST Forum

(Kua Bak Lim): WHEN on board a recent Singapore Airlines Beijing/Singapore flight, I was puzzled when the flight stewardess who made announcements in Mandarin identified herself as someone from China. It struck me as odd that the airline found it necessary to make such a distinction when it came to announcements in Mandarin.

I then asked the in-flight supervisor whether the stewardess or steward on board an SIA flight to London needed to declare that he or she was from the United Kingdom when making announcements. The answer was no. This piece of personal information about the staff is completely irrelevant to the announcements, regardless of the language spoken.

This, in my view, tends to be divisive for the staff on board. I also find it disconcerting for SIA’s image as a world-class international airline. One also cannot help but notice that there seems to be the subtle insinuation that Singaporeans cannot speak good Mandarin, which is certainly not true.

Would the SIA management please comment?

There’s no need for an SIA stewardess from China to announce her origins simply because her accent and grammatical precision would be a dead giveaway, if the intention is to cater to PRCs on board. SIA has been hiring foreign staff for a while now so it’s no secret,  though they still insist on keeping the ‘Singapore Girl’ moniker.  As of April 2013, 7 out of 10 cabin crew are locals, with Malaysians, Thais, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Koreans making up the numbers. It is perhaps the only airline in the world to brand their attendants after a nationality. Even Air India doesn’t call their ladies ‘India Girl’, nor China Airlines ‘China Girl’. The latter is also derogatory in the local context, often associated with mistresses and illegal immigrants than a glamorous profession that involves pushing foodcarts up and down a aisle asking if people want the chicken or the beef.

Interestingly, according to the SIA recruitment site, it’s a prerequisite to be ‘proficient in English and Mandarin’ if you’re a Taiwanese, whereas the requirement specified for candidates from China is just ‘a HIGH level of English proficiency’, though I believe the average Chinese or Taiwanese native could deliver any announcement in Mandarin without much difficulty at all. No such language criteria has been set for the Singaporean candidate, though you’d need to have A and O Level credits in General Paper and English respectively. Which means you can fail your Chinese exams and still become a successful Singapore Girl. But having splendid passes in GP or even Chinese doesn’t necessarily make you proficient in ANY language. The writer above seems highly optimistic about our locals’ standards of spoken Mandarin, but if we were that good we wouldn’t need ‘Speak Mandarin campaigns’. Even ang mo children put Chinese Singaporean adults like myself to shame. I can only remember one Chinese nursery rhyme during my childhood, the one that goes ‘san zi lao hu’ (Three Tigers, Three Tigers, run very fast, run very fast, one has no eyes, one has no ears, very strange, very strange), compared to today’s non-Chinese kids reciting Confucian EPICS like San Zi Jing.

So how many Singaporeans you know are actually up to the task of delivering a message to international travellers over a PA system? How many can deliver a simple interview to a Mandarin news crew in full sentences? How about telling a Chinese tourist the TIME? Not a lot, apparently.  Ex Mediacorp actor Ix Shen says we have a TOTAL DISREGARD for grammar and sentence construction. Sumiko Tan posits that English educated folks like herself lacked interest in the language because it was forced down our throats and not promoted in a fun, lively way. Journalist and film-maker Pek Siok Lan mocks our ‘half-baked English and half-baked Chinese’. Back in 1981, a Taiwanese professor urged us to ‘DROP Singapore Mandarin’ because we were over -‘translitering’ it. We could consider a Speak Mandarin mascot like Water Wally or Singa, but it would be hard to conceive of a character related to Chinese culture without making it a dragon or coming across as racist and xenophobic.

From a business and customer service standpoint, it’s better for SIA to let a ‘professional’ handle a Mandarin announcement than risk an unseasoned Singaporean butchering it in front of PRCs, generally thought to be so proud of their language they wouldn’t stand for anything slipshod and ‘half-baked’. It would also be a hassle for the cabin crew if PRCs started throwing up their meals because they heard us speak. But you don’t have to tell people you’re from China because it’s obvious and it would confuse everyone about what ‘Singapore Girl’ means. I suppose with enough practice, a true ‘Singapore Girl’ would be able to deliver Mandarin with striking confidence. Maybe that would be the ‘makeover’ that we locals can truly be proud of, a bilingual SIA stewardess who knows what is Chinese for ‘mild turbulence’ and ‘fried mee goreng’, rather than say, toning down on blue eyeshadow.

Li Yeming sending an army to flatten Singapore

From ‘Xenophobia row:Police report filed’ 23 Feb 2013, article by Leonard Lim and Andrea Ong, ST

NEW citizen Li Yeming, who had accused Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang of driving a wedge between Singapore-born and new citizens, has made a police report against netizens whom he said falsely accused him of making anti-Singapore comments.

A friend had alerted him that netizens were circulating posts he supposedly made on his Weibo microblog, including one which said “I will send an army over to flatten your home (Singapore)!”, he told police yesterday.

Mr Li, 43, said in his police report he had not written the posts “stating that I scolded Singaporean(s), threatened to flatten Singapore and also commented on how lazy Singaporeans are”.

Yesterday, Mr Li told The Straits Times he hopes the police can find out who started them. He also hopes to set the record straight through the police report, so as not to affect relations between local-born and new citizens.

…On Monday, Mr Low  issued a rebuttal and said he was shocked that Mr Li had accused him of “inciting xenophobia”. The systems analyst then wrote a second letter to the Chinese daily on Wednesday, saying his sentence, “inciting xenophobia is not patriotic“, was a general statement not targeted specifically at the WP. He had intended to question Mr Low’s stance in the White Paper debate as it seemed to make a distinction between native-born and new citizens, he said. Mr Low has said he made no such distinction.

As a ‘new’ citizen, Li has picked up the Singaporean trait of sending in the cops to ‘set records straight’, though this drastic action is likely to rile the ‘xenophobes’ further. Buzzword of the Day ‘Xenophobia’ isn’t new, having been freely uttered by LKY on the local sentiment against our British colonialists more than 50 years ago. Today, it is an accusation that has been tossed willy-nilly at Opposition politicians, White Paper petition organisers like Gilbert Goh and some bloke named Darryl Nihility dressed like the Sex Pistols holding up a sign saying ‘Singapore for Singaporeans’. That technically includes Li Yeming.

Begs the question of who’s Singaporean

Li’s original letter to Zaobao used the Chinese term ‘排外’, which I think literally means to ‘cast outside’, and I’m not sure how accurate this translates to a word that seethes with fear and hatred, a word that borrows from medical terminology suggesting a form of mental illness. ‘Xenophobia’ is really the flipside of the same coin when you’re talking about extreme ‘patriotism’ or ‘national pride’. It’s like choosing to call someone ‘fussy’ instead of ‘meticulous’, ‘possessive’ instead of ‘concerned’ or ‘stupid’ instead of ‘underachieving’. Some of the most patriotic people on the planet are also the least welcoming of foreigners, the kind that put up national flags on their front porch and ask ‘What the hell do these Chinese have to move in this neighbourhood for?’ These are also the same people who use dehumanising words like ‘scum’, ‘vermin’ and ‘swine’ and have miniature gas chambers and shotguns in their backyards. Unlike the rest of Li’s public articles, this blurt about him summoning a Red Army to storm our land does sound like the rantings of someone who’s watched far too many reruns of Mulan.

The tendency to distinguish and shun members out of our social circle serves the purpose of protecting our own and preventing outsiders from leeching off our resources, and is the whole premise of civilisations demarcating territories, building defences, national service and calling ourselves ‘nations’.  Humans have evolved with brains equipped with an ‘us vs them’ module, otherwise we wouldn’t tell our kids not to open the door to strangers. Foreigners are labelled with slurs like ‘gwailos’, ‘ang mors’, ‘gringos’ and ‘gaijins’ in almost any country that accepts them. Without the ability to distinguish friend from foe by which tribe they belong to, we’d be long decimated by freeloaders or psychotic barbarians. Although we have grown to be more altruistic in our treatment of strangers and discovered some social and economic magic to ‘integration’, it is perfectly normal to question the wisdom of taking the term ‘global village’ and ‘cosmopolitian’ to the level of a desperate streetwalker warming her bed for any Tom Dick and Harry. In that sense, to some who petitioned it, the White Paper was a slut manifesto. Interestingly, the White Paper translated in Chinese is 白皮书, or White Skin Book.

It is also a gut reaction to label those who choose to stay here as ‘ingrates’ for trash-talking Singaporeans, whether we’re lazy slobs, bad Mandarin speakers or just a pack of dogs, again a symptom of our national ‘pride’ where we consider Singapore our home and these guys, new citizens or not, are guests or tenants.  So it seems counter-intuitive that people are preaching about preserving a Singaporean Core, yet telling us that being accepting of foreigners is what a ‘patriot’ should do. Ironically, ‘patriots’ are often associated with violence, whether they’re pistols-ablazing on a horse or decapitating people in a kilt like Mel Gibson or named after Gulf War missiles like how one names a rabid pit-bull terrier ‘Braveheart’. Anyone who yells ‘Majulah Singapura’ while charging headlong into a bunch of rowdy drunk expats will be martyred before being accused of being ‘anti-foreigner’.

The emotional motive that belies our general wariness of foreigners, whether in war or in their ‘naturalisation’, remains the same: The protection of our land, our heritage, our kids, our future against outward influences. How is that a ‘sickness’ like xenophobia is presented to be? A milder version of being ‘xenophobic’ is NIMBY (Not in my backyard). Except that those who actually OWN backyards probably can afford to move out of the country if they’re too many guests pitching tents on their lawns. The media’s use of the phrase ‘new citizen’ has exposed a grey boundary where we even need to debate over what a ‘Singaporean’ or ‘Our Home’ means anymore. ‘New’ citizens like Li will eventually become as ‘Singaporean’ as anyone of us born and bred here. The question no one can answer, not Low Thia Khiang nor Li Yeming, is: When?

Changi Airport CNY discounts for PRCs only

From ‘Airport’s insensitive sale promotion’, 16 Feb 2013, ST Forum

(Ben Ho): …I had checked in at Terminal 3 for a flight to Shanghai late last month. I stopped to buy some chocolates and was told by the cashier that travellers holding a Chinese passport would receive a 20 per cent discount. Being an ethnic Chinese but not from China, I was not entitled to the discount.

I thought that was the end of it, but when I was walking towards the boarding gate, I noticed large signs and brochures in front of the information counter that were only in Chinese. On them were Chinese New Year greetings as well as information on a variety of discounts and offers at all three terminals exclusively for Chinese passport holders. Many stores were participating in this promotion.

I am amazed at such an insensitive promotion, especially in a multicultural society. It is disrespectful to have all promotional materials in a language that is neither the national language nor the official first language. Having a promotion based solely on nationality is also an unacceptable snub to other tourists.

I lodged a complaint with Changi Airport’s public relations office and received a reply saying it “organises different promotions from time to time, targeting different customers”. The Christmas promotions were listed as an example. But those promotions were open to everyone, and all information on them was in English.

One can argue that it is only a marketing tactic. However, there are many ethnic Chinese who are not from China but also celebrate the Chinese New Year. It is unacceptable that one of the world’s top airports should give exclusive rights to people of a certain nationality.

A very Snaky deal

Changi Airport spokesperson Robin Goh explained in his apology that such promotions coincided with the peak travel period for Chinese nationals. Still, it’s like having a Christmas promotion only for people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, or a Valentine’s Day promotion targetting couples only. There’s a fine line between ‘targetted’ and ‘discriminatory’ selling. If I give free drinks to women based on the size of their boobs it is discrimination against the less endowed because D cup women are not necessarily bigger customers than A cup ones.  Here, it is the shameless, strategic targetting of rich PRC pockets first, though the use of the CNY festivities as an excuse for this entitlement does put the true meaning of the New Year in a god-awful light.

There were hints of this happening since last year. Knowing that PRCs made up a whopping 20% of sales at the airport, senior vice president of airside concession Ivy Wong acknowledged that Chinese nationals were a ‘very affluent group of people’, and revealed that the airport will be ‘rolling out programmes to tap on the spending behaviour‘ of Chinese nationals, shying away from details. So I looked up what ‘airside concession’ is all about. According to a recruitment website it is ‘supporting the implementation of policies and activities in retail planning and leasing, in order to continuously improve and enhance our Transit Malls’ retail mix’. The title suggests something more intimately linked with aircraft, like leasing hot dog stands on the runway. But no, you don’t even need to know how planes work to get the job. And ‘tapping on spending behaviour’ is simply getting people to part with their money i.e marketing, promotion, the works.

This isn’t the first preferential selling attempt by a prominent organisation. Last year, Starhub offered freebies worth $50 for ‘expats’ from select countries participating in the Euro cup finals. The company cleaned up their mess by extending the offer to all fans to make up for what they called ‘scoring an own goal’. Changi would do well to follow suit, given what little time we have left this festive season. How about giving everyone an Ang Pow when they shop at the airport? Hurry before offer ends on the last day of CNY!

Airports are no longer mere transport stations. Gone are the days of just sitting around reading the paper in the departure lounge with a cup of chalky coffee in your hand. Fashionista paradise aside, Changi has also become a hub for fancy lucky draws and jackpot games that entitle you to a shot at becoming an instant millionaire. In the 80’s, such gimmickry were questioned on their selection process and racial bias. Someone lamented that awards like the ‘4th million visitor to Singapore’ tend to be given to Caucasians rather than Asians.With all its promotional fanfare and bounty of giveaway riches, one tends to forget that they’re in a departure terminal, but rather the shopper’s equivalent of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, where the boarding pass in your hand is your very own Golden Ticket.

In 2011, one Chinese businessman spent quarter of a million dollars on a botttle of whiskey at the airport, as part of a ‘Masters of Spirits’ promotion, an invitation-only showcase targetting true ‘connoisseurs’ and ‘collectors’ of the world’s most expensive booze. With such filthy-rich visitors walking around just waiting to snap on any bait you dangle before them, this CNY ‘targetted promotion’ was a simple matter of opportunistic greed. You only have so much time to snare a big customer before they catch a flight. I’m surprised Changi didn’t offer free tram rides for PRCs just to get them from one participating shop to another. It also doesn’t matter to the people at airside concessions if these same rich buggers start rioting and abusing your ground staff over flight delays. In fact, all the better so they have more time to, you know, buy whiskeys and stuff to drown their sorrows.

Cops vs Shoppers

Dual citizenship is like polygamy

From ‘4 in 10 S’poreans married foreigners in 2012′ 4 Feb 2013, article by Ashley Chia, Today

Last year, 9,000 marriages registered in Singapore — or about four in 10 — involved a Singaporean and a non-Singaporean. That figure has held steady for the past five years. In the White Paper on population released yesterday, the Government said that Singapore’s immigration policy “must also take into account” this growing proportion, including children born to Singaporean citizens overseas.

Analysts whom TODAY spoke to said that if this trend continues, it may prompt policymakers to reconsider dual citizenship, although they stressed that changing the law is not the only way to encourage this group to “sink in their roots”. Sociologist and former Nominated Member of Parliament Paulin Straughan, a staunch advocate of dual citizenship, called for more measures such as courting and engaging children below 21 born overseas and who carry dual citizenship, to make them feel that Singapore is their home.

“Many of them have already been educated here … allow them to sink in their roots, build their careers without fear that they have to give up their Singapore citizenship,” urged Associate Professor Straughan, adding that the ones who stay would “contribute meaningfully” to Singapore society.

It’s no surprise that Dr Straughan is a strong advocate of dual citizenship. Married to an American maths lecturer PR, she has 2 sons who are holding two passports until they have to forsake one by the time they’re 21 (Home in Singapore, heart in homeland, 4 Feb, ST). When ST’s favourite sociologist was interviewed, she said:

“How does it make sense to lose a Singaporean child who has grown up here, while giving citizenship to newcomers? We should not be too dogmatic and rigid in the way we perceive the responsibilities of a citizen.”

She has a point, but she also has a vested interest in the revision of our citizenship laws. Loyalty and our being a relatively ‘young and inexperienced’ nation is often cited as a reason why you can’t hold two passports. There still remains a fear of such people running away in the event of crises, or refusing to come back from their second home to do battle or contribute to society once we’ve given them the option of a second home. Some have compared dual nationality to polygamy where you have to divide your attention between two wives. If that’s the case, then Singapore is a damn needy wife indeed.

Another renown individual with a stake in dual citizenship is our very own Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, who has a boy who’s both US citizen and Singaporean. According to Daddy in 2011, he will serve the army, which should be some time this year. Only time will tell what will become of him after that, though it’s not enduring the 2 years  that would be the key factor in determining which passport to toss aside, it’s the RESERVIST training thereafter. But maybe it’s not just the foreigners and their kids who we should worry about. How about those 1200 Singaporeans ‘divorcing’ their country annually? There’s also the argument from ‘muddled identity’ if you have two nationalities. Erm, with only 55% of the country consisting of Singaporean citizens by 2030 according to the White Paper, as it is…WHAT IDENTITY?

If we’re so sticky about having foreigners with their hearts in two places commit to swearing their unconditional love and allegiance to Singapore, then why are we giving our passport away so freely to people who have yet to prove they are willing to stay in the first place? Like our China-born athletes for example, some of whom have already disappeared without a trace, taking our passport along with them. What about Jet Li? Shouldn’t he have set up some kungfu dojo in Singapore by now? In 2008, Vivian Balakrishnan pooh-poohed the dual citizenship issue by saying that being Singaporean is an ‘conscious, active choice’ and that he ‘cannot give it away freely, like a FREE GIFT in a CORNFLAKE BOX’. Well, I don’t know about ‘free'; Olympic medals must be worth something, no? The argument from ‘split loyalties’ is shaky, at best.

When the laws were first implemented in the 1960s by Minister of Home Affairs Ong Pang Boon, the intention was to ‘debar those who sought to obtain citizenship for reasons of convenience or expediency, hoping to enjoy the BEST OF BOTH WORLDS.’ Which suggests that there should be some form of selection process here other than the blanket ban that it is today, though I can’t imagine anyone keeping two passports other than, well, maximising the benefits of both. Like having a wife who controls the house finances on a tight leash on one hand, and one who’s fantastic in bed on the other.

In the ‘spirit’ of the law, I think a case-by-case system needs to be considered to assess the likelihood of a foreigner staying and making themselves useful. A mother from a war-ravaged country married to a Singaporean with a comfortable job, for example, is likely to make Singapore her permanent home though she may prefer to be bonded to her motherland emotionally. A 36 year old Briton who has never carried a weapon or charged through muddy forest in his life, will not leap into the line of enemy fire just because he’s granted a Singaporean citizenship. In fact, I doubt most born and bred Singaporean men, even those fit and agile ones, will die for the country, dual citizenship or not. Some foreigners may also feel insecure if they converted 100%, partly because of the cold or awkward reception given by local residents towards Singaporean ‘ang mos’. I mean, would you as a Chinese Singaporean renounce your citizenship to be a Papua New Guinean for example? Don’t you want something to hang on to when you’re bombarded with funny stares every single day? Others may wish to retain their belonging to a glorious heritage, a proud and mighty homeland with centuries’ worth of scientific and cultural advancement. As a country that places so much emphasis on sinking roots, surely we should empathise if people find it hard to tear away from their homes. Who wouldn’t want to retain some ‘French-ness’ about them? Well not actor Gerard Depardieu I suppose.

I wonder what Eduardo Saverin, Facebook billionaire thinks of the idea. Maybe if he’s game for dual citizenship (Singaporean, Brazilian), our laws may just change overnight.

Li Jiawei returning to China after retirement

From ‘Li Jiawei’s departure a loss to Singapore’, 1 Jan 2013, ST Forum

(Christopher Chong): IT WAS disappointing to learn that former world table tennis champion Li Jiawei (right), who came to Singapore on the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme, will be returning to China (“Hard for Li to say goodbye”; last Friday).

Singapore is losing someone who has had an impressive list of contributions and achievements; someone who has won countless medals for us and earned an estimated $1.27 million from the Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme.

I am disappointed also because her departure lends support to those who doubt the long-term commitment of our foreign-born athletes: Will they return to their countries of origin after they are done with their sporting careers here?

Singapore should not be seen as “buying” success – fast-tracking citizenship for our foreign-born athletes, only for them to return to their countries of origin when they can no longer win medals for us. While Li has indicated that she will continue contributing to Singapore, it is unclear if she intends to remain a Singapore citizen, and whether her family will move here in future.

As a Singaporean, my wish for the new year – and the years ahead – is not to lose any more talented citizens.

Li Jiawei’s not the first foreign-born athlete to return to her homeland after a sporting stint here. Another naturalised player and former compatriot Zhang Xueling quit the game after just 7 years as a Singaporean, moving to Beijing to join her Chinese husband only to endure his sudden and tragic demise. In the interview, Zhang had initially wanted to settle down in her adopted country, but things ‘didn’t go as planned’. In 2008, another top shuttler and Singaporean Li Li resigned abruptly and returned to Wuhan to spend CNY with her parents, citing ‘personal reasons’ and ‘fatigue’. Fellow shuttlers Zhang Beiwen and Gu Juan followed suit barely a YEAR after being granted citizenship. None of those who departed have been seen or heard since. I doubt they can even get past the first line of Majulah Singapura.

It’s probably the same ‘change of plans’ with Jiawei here, for whatever personal reasons that she decided to move back to China. Many would recall her high-profile turbulent relationship with ex-fiance Ronald Susilo, and her similarly public marriage to a Chinese businessman right up to her pregnancy and birth of her Singaporean boy. Who knows, if Ronald and Jiawei had worked out and stayed for good, critics wouldn’t be howling ‘I told you so!’ at the STTA right after the her retirement announcement. Some may have noticed her slow creep back to the motherland when she took part in the China Super Table Tennis League playing for BEIJING University. Now, there’s the possibility of us not just losing another Singaporean athlete, but her progeny as well. I don’t hear ESM Goh Chok Tong coming out to chastise those who pack their bags before even learning how to construct a proper sentence in English as ‘quitters’.

Along with Sun Bei Bei, who also decided to quit table tennis, Jiawei, Li Li and Xueling were all part of the $7 million Project 0812 funding program, which unashamedly declares that its mission was to win medals and national glory for Singapore. The program also involves converting star players into Singaporeans as soon as possible to qualify for international tournaments. If they had arrived as nobodies playing for domestic clubs and left as millionaire Chinese nationals we wouldn’t have bothered, but these girls left their hard-earned fans as Singaporeans and have given critics all the more reason to call them out for treachery, treating the citizenship as a mere feather in their cap and using the Olympic opportunity as a stepping stone to loftier ambitions that have nothing to do with Singapore. But what else can they do if they had chosen to remain after retiring from professional sports? Just look at happened to our original silver medallist Tan Howe Liang. Maybe our ex-National Players were just looking out for their own given the uncertain, limited future of sports professionals here.

I would question why so much effort and money is splurged on nurturing foreign sports talent at the risk of losing them, and whether the pursuit of Olympic success is worth dispensing citizenship like candy from a vending machine. With many Singaporeans giving our China-born sportsmen a less than lukewarm reception, you should expect them to be a little ‘homesick’ given the cold treatment. Maybe we were a bit too hasty in christening our paddlers as our own, or overestimated our reputation as a ‘promised land’ for sporting achievement. With Wang Yuegu also retiring from competitive sport, maybe it’s time to close this obsessive chapter on Singapore table tennis and focus on other talents. Let’s hope Feng Tianwei makes good of her stay, finds a decent Singaporean man for once (instead of a Chinese tycoon) and settle down. Meanwhile I’m still waiting for a sighting of fellow Singaporean Jet Li here. No one I know was particularly excited that we had a Singaporean starring alongside the biggest action stars on the planet in The Expendables 2. I’m sure many of us still think he’s either from Hong Kong or China (Like Jiawei he’s also from Beijing)

Police report filed against Diaoyu Dao cafe

From ‘Agencies to probe cafe over name’, 25 Dec 2012, article by Melissa Lin, ST

BARELY two months after opening for business, a cafe at Peace Centre – called Diao Yu Dao – has come to the attention of at least three agencies for its name linked to islands whose ownership is disputed by Japan and China. The agencies are the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas), the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) and the police.

…The Sophia Road cafe, with an adjoining bakery, opened in October and sells Hong Kong fare like bolo bun and roasted meat. On the shop’s signboard are the words Diao Yu Dao, accompanied by a picture of the islands…The eatery’s walls are adorned with over 30 framed graphics, maps and photographs related to the islands, as well as information about the islands’ history and the dispute over their ownership.

The cafe owners are believed to be a couple, both Chinese Singaporeans. They could not be reached for comment.

Dr Tan Sze Wee, chairman of Asas, which regulates signboards and advertisements, said it will be investigating the cafe for possible infringement of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice.

A clause in the code states: “Advertisements should not adopt or encourage a confrontational approach to resolving societal conflicts or differences. Advertisements should not exploit or fuel conflicts relating to national problems and controversial policies or issues.”

…The police said a report had been lodged and they are “looking into the matter”. It is understood the issue is related to the cafe’s name. An Acra spokesman said the cafe was registered under the name Onion Restaurant and Bar Pte Ltd.

Fishing for trouble

In a Nov MyPaper article, Diaoyu Dao cafe reportedly displayed a signboard bearing the words ‘Protect Diaoyu Dao’ (see image above), which is the kind of protest publicity that would rile both the authorities and Senkaku sympathisers. You can also find such call to arms on banners adorning vessels sailing around the disputed islands.

Naturally, someone thought this matter was serious enough to have the police come check it out, in case the eatery is really a front for an island-defending ultranationalist rebel Resistance and that its PRC chefs would one day decide to hold demonstrations on top of Peace Centre like their fellow countrymen staging illegal ‘crane-ins’. You know, like in Allo Allo.

The brainchild and boss behind Diaoyu is supposedly a ‘Chinese Singaporean’ in his 60’s according to cafe manager Jeffrey Ng, someone who could either be a Chinese patriot turned Singaporean or a Singaporean-born Chinese chauvinist. Or he could be a Darwin-reading naturalist raising funds to protect the ecological and geological diversity of the islands. It certainly doesn’t seem like a shop that specialises in seafood contrary to what most Singaporeans who haven’t heard of the islands dispute would imagine. Instead, you have dishes like roast duck rice served with LETTUCE. If you’re being enticed by a wall display of ocean panoramas and desolate islands, you’d be expecting fresh oyster hors d’ouevres, not bolo baos.

Naming a diner after a ‘fishing island’ when it sells duck and char siew is like calling an all-you-can-eat carnivorous grilled meats spread ‘The Meadow’ – it’s just misleading advertising. Choosing a ‘theme’ that reeks of insensitive propaganda brings to mind another unfortunate bar named after a WWII holocaust camp. Public display of politically charged banners and other peoples’ national flags are a no-no of course, though that hasn’t stopped people from putting up China flags outside HDB flats.

Funny how a name like Diaoyu Dao would get us all worked up and the police involved, when no one is complaining about another pub that calls itself Coq and Balls. I bet it’s not a place to go if you’re craving for roast chicken. If you’re going there expecting Magic Mike or some hot gay action, prepare to be disappointed. You may still try your luck during their Xmas bash tonight, though. It’s called Ra-Pa-Bum-Bum.

The balls of this Gastropub!

PRCs unlawfully remaining on cranes

From ‘Arrested PRC workers had contacted MOM before acting on their own’, 6 Dec 2012, article by Goh Shi Ting, ST

Police on Thursday arrested two workers from China in connection with a case of unlawfully remaining at the place and intentionally causing alarm. This after both men had allegedly climbed up to the top of two 10-storey high tower cranes in a Jurong worksite in protest over a wage dispute with their employer.

…The Police Crisis Negotiation Unit was activated to get the two men to come down to safety. AT 2.20pm, after more than four hours of negotiation, one of the men came down from the crane escorted by Singapore Civil Defence Force officers. The second man followed suit an hour later.

The two men were arrested for unlawfully remaining at the place and causing a public order disturbance. If convicted, they may be imprisoned up to a maximum of three months, or fined up to $1,500, or both.

N.B: Both were charged of Criminal Trespass on 7 Dec 2012, with the intent of causing alarm to their project manager by ‘threatening behaviour’.

King of the World

If Simeon the Stylite (390 – 459) were alive today and climbed up the highest structure that isn’t a pillar where he could be seen, like a crane tower for example, he’d probably be slapped with the same charge of ‘unlawfully remaining at the place’ and being a ‘public order disturbance’. In the old days, we used to admire such feats of asceticism and defiance, and send up nourishing bread and goats’ milk to the aspiring martyr. When they die on pillars we make statues of them. In Singapore, any foreigner standing in one place for a prolonged period of time risks arrest or ‘repatriation’.

Anyone trying to make a bold statement by climbing up towers or bridges, be it protesting over wages, government policies or attaining religious epiphany, will be coaxed down by sweet-talking police and then arrested for their trouble before they could make it past a day of rigorous fasting. Unless he’s David Blaine performing an endurance stunt, or crazy French ‘Spiderman’ Alain Robert (who got arrested for trespassing in 2000 when he tried scaling the UOB Building, but eventually got commissioned by the STRAITS TIMES, of all people, to crawl up Suntec City.)

Without a permit this is trespassing

This isn’t the first time that China workers have taken to the skies in displeasure. In 2011, a lone PRC climbed to the top of a 30m crane and was ‘rescued’ within 2 hours. He wasn’t charged for ‘unlawfully remaining on a crane’, but rather TRESPASSING. The same charge was dealt to another who climbed up seven storeys of scaffolding and threatened to jump if he wasn’t paid. In 2009, one climbed onto the rooftop of the MOM building, feet dangling over the edge, presumably upset over multiple rejection by MOM officers. Instead of trespassing, this was ATTEMPTED SUICIDE. Yes, we have held a squeaky clean ‘strike-free’ record for so long, but that’s because the unhappily unpaid who resort to doing something spectacular have been classified not to be ‘striking’, but ‘trespassing’, ‘causing public alarm’, or just ‘trying to kill themselves’.

In fact, there’s an entire movie about a man pulling off a similar stunt getting everyone worried sick. In Man on a Ledge, it’s not a crane that sets the stage for protest, but the edge of a building. There’s something about death-defying heights that attract unhappy workers. Having a sit-down ‘industrial action’ on the steps of the ministry, or on an open field in the hot sun, even if you’re in a force of 100-200, is NOTHING compared to one sensational sky-high solo or duo symbolic act to capture our attention. Today it’s a crane, tomorrow it could be straddling the Singapore Flyer, or the rooftop of the Pinnacle@Duxton, all of which are proud monuments borne out of our dependence on migrant labour. Tweeting on Weibo to express your displeasure and incite your coworkers to fight for their rights is kids’ stuff.

I think there’s still room for our foreign workers to air their grievances ‘legally’ yet creatively if their employers or unions won’t listen. It’s called ‘flash mob’. And even if they lose their jobs, there’s still a market for acrobats in some Las Vegas casino out there.

Foreign labour: Our unsung pillar of strength

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 291 other followers