Singaporeans ‘saying No’ to Philippine Independence Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Intolerance

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

Your spelling pail

Your spelling pail

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript: Both Tan Chuan Jin and PM Lee had strong words for the ‘bigots’ and ‘trolls’ who complained about the event. TCJ thought the response was ‘repulsive’, while PM called it a disgrace and lowered our ‘standing’ in the eyes of the world. The latter went on to cite London as an example of the warm hospitality shown by countries who hosted the Singapore Days of the past, i.e treat your guests as you would like to be treated overseas. We forget, however, about what happened at Singapore Day 2013 in Victoria Park, Sydney, when an Australian named ‘James’ accused organisers of being RACIST for not allowing Caucasians in, even though it’s a public place, on National Radio. I wonder if there were Australian ministers as eager as ours to come out and slam him for making a shameful nuisance of himself. Unlike having to register for Singapore Day and there being a limit to how many non-citizens you can bring,  the PID organisers have declared that ANYONE is free to join the 10,000 strong crowd at Orchard Road if they so wish. Or should I say, Little Philippines.

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Orchard Xmas colours similar to traffic lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cai Shen Night

Cai Shen Night

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

Huat the halls

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

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

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

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

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

Leonard ‘Santa Claus’ Francis defrauding the US Navy

From ‘SEX, ports and government contracts’, 6 Oct 2013, article by Walter Sim, Sunday Times

Singapore-based businessman Leonard Glenn Francis has been reported to own a sprawling 70,000 sq ft Nassim Road bungalow, which has become famous for its extravagant Christmas light-ups.

But his next home could be a jail in the United States, where the 58-year-old Malaysian father of five was charged last month with defrauding the US Navy in a case involving hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts.

Part of the plot allegedly involved bribing a US Navy commander (Michael Misiewicz) and a special agent (John Beliveau) with luxury travel and women in exchange for classified information that allowed Francis to profit from his business dealings with the US Navy.

Leonard Francis has reportedly been living in Singapore for more than 30 years despite still being a Malaysian citizen. Last Christmas, the self-proclaimed ‘Santa Claus’ and Catholic adorned his Nassim bungalow with reindeers, a gigantic Xmas tree, even a nativity scene complete with manger. Who would have thought that this lavish spectacle (possibly costing at least $100,000) may have been made possible by ‘gifts’ of a totally different nature, among which include Lady Gaga concert tickets and what he called his ‘Elite Thai Seal team’, or prostitutes. When asked about the expenses, he replied ‘ You can’t put a value on happiness’. Not so for pleasure, it seems.

Francis started draping his residence in the Xmas spirit back in 2007, when he was at Cluny Road and already renown then as among Singapore’s ‘most ardent Christmas decorators’. An assistant was given a budget of $25K then to make Francis’ house shine as bright as Orchard Road, drawing complaints from those who saw the gesture as unnecessarily extravagant and felt that the money splurged on giant snowmen and Baby Jesuses should have gone into more charitable causes. The lighting even caused a minor traffic jam when cars slowed down just to gaze in awe at the audacious splendour of it all (Ironically, Francis himself has also complained to the Traffic Police about rows of parked heavy vehicles along Nassim Road). If he hadn’t been caught, this year’s light-up could have been bigger, better and brighter, maybe even with actual falling snow or a ship dressed up like Noah’s Ark sponsored by the US Navy, with Kai Kai and Jia Jia in it.

Francis’ arrest is a sigh of relief for Nassim neighbours who couldn’t sleep because of his annoying flashing extravaganza. In the video below taken of the house from a vehicle, someone quipped that he ‘basically baokaliao the sidewalk’ and questioned if decorating the place like it’s your grandfather’s road was even legal. Even if it were illegal, I doubt the authorities would go all Scrooge over it, especially on rich folks’ property.

In late 2012, just as Francis was getting ready to receive Father Christmas, his military contractor company Glenn Defence Marine Asia was charged for dumping hazardous waste in Subic Bay, Philippines, which dwarves the environmental burden of over-the-top Xmas lighting.  Of course that didn’t stop Singapore’s Mr Xmas himself from turning Nassim Road into a Winter Wonderland in a bid to out-Christmas Orchard Road, while at the same time sending ‘Not Safe For Xmas’ pics of Thai hookers to his partners in crime.  If found guilty of duping the US Navy and overcharging ‘pearl ports’, Francis may spend the next few Christmases decking prison bars with snow made out of wet toilet paper balls instead. No sheep in the manger for this conman in a slammer.

National Flag dropped in Wild Rice play

From ‘Wild Rice play hits a sour note’, 8 Aug 2013, article by Feng Zengkun, ST

THE provocative ending of the recently staged play Cook A Pot Of Curry caught many people by surprise – and none more so than the authorities. When asked, the Media Development Authority (MDA) replied that the final scene – where a huge Singapore national flag is raised and then dropped to the ground – had not been included in the materials submitted to it for the play’s classification.

The agency added that it has sent a note to local theatre group Wild Rice, which staged the play, to remind it of its obligations.

…”As the last scene in the play was not part of the final script submitted, we wrote to Wild Rice to remind them to do so in the future and to also consult the National Heritage Board on the use of the state flag in their performance,” said a spokesman.

According to the NHB, the flag must be treated with ‘dignity and respect’ at all times. This includes not flying it IN THE DARK, displaying it on the exhaust pipe or wheels of your car, or in ‘bad weather’. If you just won a gold medal for Singapore, you’re also not allowed to wrap it around your body ‘like a sarong’ and run around waving to the crowd no matter how happy you are. You may hold it up after winning a national football trophy like a big Royal Baby, just not when it’s raining, or in the haze for that matter.

As for the play’s ‘gimmicky’ curtain flag dropping on stage, this violates the rule that the flag ‘shall not touch the ground’, though if you’re picky and lazy to explain the act in abstract terms, you could argue that technically a stage is a raised platform and not ‘the ground’.  Such ruling isn’t about veneration of a state symbol so much as anthropomorphizing it like a spoilt little princess, one that must not come into bare contact with mortal skin not to mention a man’s groin, or exposed in any way that outrages its modesty or desecrates its honour. The worst insult to the flag would be burning it, a crime akin to  assassination of royalty. I’m not sure how ‘dignified’ it is, then, to wrap a gurgling, pissing, shitting newborn baby in the flag to symbolise rebirth and renewal. If I were a national flag I wouldn’t be too comfortable with the idea of being hung at a great height from a noisy helicopter either. Some of our very own Red Lions even use the flag as their parachutes during their NDP freefalls. Not sure if they catch the flag entirely before allowing it to drag all over the ground.

You can’t use the flag as an artistic device without seeking permission and the people at Wild Rice should have realised this based on past crackdowns on our flags being ‘abused’ in the name of art. Yet it’s also baffling why the MDA paid special attention to a local play while not doing anything about the flag being vandalised with the words ‘The Used’ at a rock concert some months ago. But flag pampering aside, how much ‘love, respect and dignity’ was given in the MAKING of our flags in the first place? Did anyone check on the factories producing these flags to see if they were packed in boxes in a ‘dignified’ manner, or if faulty ones were disposed in a sanitised, government-approved receptacle without being mixed with used staples and banana skins?

According to a ST Forum writer on 7 Aug (Produce better quality flags), a $2 flag purchased from a community centre had many ‘missing stitches and patches of red dye on the white section’. She complained that the poor quality control from the relevant authorities was a lack of ‘respect and dignity’. For $5 from a petrol station, you may get a similarly crappy flag with distorted red and white sections. Made in China too. NHB makes no mention in its guidelines about how a single stitch on the flag should not be out of place, but perhaps they should also take some responsibility for the distribution of such shoddy merchandise from the beginning. If you’re so particular about how a flag is treated, you should jolly well start ‘respecting it’ from the very first stitch from which it birthed and not just when it’s out of its packaging, unless you’re willing to admit that a flag is only to be revered when you unbox it, before which it’s a mere piece of cloth that can barely pass off as a hankerchief.

In fact, if you’re a true patriot you should boycott all poor quality China-made flags and only settle for an artisanal one painstakingly handstitched to precision, down to the exact Pantone 032 reds and Pantone whites, by homegrown veterans. If it weren’t forbidden, I would even use it as a blanket at night and dream sweet dreams of how we built a nation, strong and free.

Happy 48th birthday, Singapore!

NDP funpack is sleek, modern and elegant

From ‘Simple, elegant NDP fun pack to keep and re-use’, 4 July 2013, article by David Ee, ST

WITH an outline of red trimming, the predominantly white goodie bag for this year’s National Day Parade is a departure from previous years’ more vivid colours and patterns. Last year, the fun pack was a bold red, while in 2011 it depicted watercolour scenes.

Designed by Nanyang Polytechnic industrial design students, the latest pack is largely bare apart from the familiar lion head representing Singapore….The bag is “sleek and modern” and “elegant”, said the organisers, who hope that spectators will re-use it rather than toss it away after Aug 9.

Said Lieutenant-Colonel Chang Pin Chuan, who chairs the NDP’s logistics and finance committee: “The NDP fun pack is an enduring feature, we give them out every year. We want to make sure it is being re-used by people.”

It can double as a sling bag. Some netizens, however, gave the pack the thumbs down.

Posting on The Straits Times’ Facebook page, user Azriel Azman said: “I can’t remember the last time I saw a Singaporean teenager using a NDP bag as an accessory when they go out.”

Packed. With fun.

Somewhere in some parade regular’s home lies a dusty collection of souvenir flags, knapsacks, party packs and sling bags which haven’t been used since they were distributed at NDP parades but being hoarded till they die because throwing away an ugly bag that says ‘Majulah’ on it is unpatriotic. If the funpack is touted as ‘reusable’, why do we keep creating NEW ones to replace the old ones? Because that’s exactly when it’s likely to be used again, ONE YEAR later at the same parade.

We have recovered from the embarrassment that is the ‘Fun Pack Song’ in 2011 and moved on with a concept that passes off ‘plain’ for ‘elegant’ and ‘stylish’. Nothing wrong with simple designs, of course. Except that the 2013 edition fun pack looks like it was inspired by a sexy nurse uniform.

Sleek lines

But let’s forget about what’s fashionable on the outside and look at what’s INSIDE the fun pack. This year’s noise-maker is inspired by the angklung, a three tone bamboo flute that looks like what centaurs hoot with as part of mating rituals. There’s a ‘clap banner’ that resembles a paper accordion, and the standard food and beverage kit that Mindef refers to as ‘sustenance’ items. The weapon of choice this year is an extendable light-stick that is looks like a discarded prototype prop out of a Star Wars knock-off. What’s missing, however, is a red and white special edition N-95 mask, which the organisers probably thought would be a bad idea in case someone decides to sell it online for a ridiculous profit when the haze comes around next year.

Here’s a list of other wacky, fun-filled items that have been dished out to NDP attendees over the years:

2012: Bandana with snap band. You can wear this during Zumba class.

2011: Mr Bean maracas. So you can shake your groove thang to the Fun Pack Song.

2007: Animal hats.  Because there is a bit of Madagascar in every Singaporean.

2002: Heart-shaped drum. So you can ‘make some noise’ when Gurmit Singh tells you to.

2001: Nescafe instant coffee powder. Because there are some people who boil water on the go.

And there’s the stuff for vintage collectors or curators of a museum:

1995: Limited edition phonecards

1993: Pocket radio.

Not sure if there’s too much stuff for a few hours of revelry here. Most people go to 3 hour outdoor concerts with nothing more than a lighter or their handphones passing off as torches, not a picnic basket. There’s also more calories in a NDP funpack than in the goodie bag you get after running a full marathon. You may even survive a day or two lost in desert with the damn thing, fending off sandstorms with the poncho and skewering scorpions as nourishment with the extendable light sabre. If your parade programme is captivating enough, you don’t need to equip your audience with toys to keep them entertained. For the price of fun, you’re also keeping hundreds of cleaners occupied till the wee hours AFTER the merry-making and light-stick waving.

If they don’t end up shelved in the closet, funpack goodies may get strewn across parade grounds as litter, be it deflated clappers, plastic bottles, tissue or biscuit wrappers, whether or not the pack itself is recyclable high-fashion. Unless someone creates a more environmentally friendly, low-carbon footprint party kit, like say, a flute made entirely out of Khong Guan cracker which you can consume after tooting it, it’s not so much a funpack as it is, ultimately, a JUNKpack.

$17 million NDP having too many rehearsals

From ‘Reduce expenditure for National Day Parade’, 14 Sept 2012, ST Forum

(Matthew Yeo): I AM surprised by the amount of public funding for the National Day Parade (“National Day Parade costs rise to $17.2m”; Tuesday). Why was there a need for so many rehearsals? A glitch is all right, especially when we now believe it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.

I am also curious to know why the cost of fireworks and ammunition was not mentioned. Were they really necessary during rehearsals? Each year, there are too many man-hours lost in the rehearsals, which blunt the excitement of the actual Parade itself.

The most expensive NDP ever held ($20 million) was in 2010 at the Padang, not that I remembered anything about it that distinguished this from the rest (It went mostly into laying the stage for the show, including 17 support towers for 3 LED screens). Though expenses dipped last year, it’s worth recalling that some of that 17 million went into making fun packs, and the FUN PACK song, which ended up being scrapped, and wasted, for copyright reasons. Today’s standards, of course, are a far cry from the 1 million budget we allocated to NDP in the eighties, a time when they could produce more memorable National Songs on $2.50 cassette tapes than the multi-million polished laser-guided extravangzas of today ever can. In the past, some Singaporeans thought that props like a $143,000 ‘PSA Dragon’ were a total waste of money, which does make sense considering how you only show off these dazzling displays a couple of times and then chuck them aside forever.

The reason for the expensive rehearsals and previews is that the NDP is not just for the general Singaporean audience alone, where you can ‘glitch’ up and not worry about being flamed online later. The NDP has to be blooper-free because it’s not just us or the government and President watching, but perhaps the rest of the world. As a once-a-year event with a long history of prestige and pride, this singular celebration of a nation, the holy mother of all parades and performances, has to run like clockwork because on this one very special day, the NDP simply has to be the Greatest Propaganda Show on Earth and there is no excuse in not delivering anything less. As a means to show off our military might to make our neighbours tremble with apprehension and showcase our ability to afford pyrotechnics, itself a prime indicator of our economic health, running it like a school play is to risk mockery by the entire nation. Not everyone is as forgiving as the complainant if some soldier misfires, if the parade commander botches his commands, or if someone in the VIP seat starts playing with their phone during the National Anthem. In 2006, someone complained to the press about a SPELLING error on the NDP TICKET (separate, not seperate). Last year, some disapproved of cross-dressing in one of the skits and called for the parade to be slapped with a NC-16 warning. Such vehemence towards cock-ups just goes to show how high our expectations are for this annual blast of pomp and patriotism, like deprived peasants devouring the bloody spectacle of a gladiator match in a Colosseum. You want to see savage beasts dismembering each other, not whimpering pussy cats dodging balls of wool.

But perhaps we’re only looking at costs at face value, for there are environmental reasons to curb the festivities as well. In 2008, someone suggested cancelling the flypast during NDP because it consumed jet fuel and caused noise pollution during rehearsals.  If you’re a nature lover you may bemoan the plight of airborne creatures exposed to the chemical fizz from fireworks or wild shots from 21 gun salutes. Yet, within the same year, the same eco-warrior may have added more destructive carbon into the atmosphere by traveling, turning on the air-conditioner daily or simply watching TV. So yes, although bigger and brighter doesn’t always mean better, the NDP isn’t something to be stinged on either. It’s like replacing your grandmother’s favourite shark’s fin soup with fish maw broth during her birthday bash.

We’re not ready for a world without LKY

From ‘Singapore heaves huge sigh of relief at Lee Kuan Yew’s NDP appearance’, 10 Aug 2012, article by Melissa Aw, Yahoo News.

…In the past week, rumours swirled online and offline that the former Singapore Prime Minister’s health was fading quickly. Day by day, the speculation grew stronger and wilder.

…Although a quick check by Yahoo! at Lee’s Oxley Road house on Wednesday showed nothing out of the ordinary, rumours continued to grow online and offline. Soon, the health of Lee became a topic of national debate and the “will he or won’t he appear at NDP?” question grew into a audible chorus ahead of National Day.

Even members of the media were not immune to the frenzy.  The Straits Times’ political journalist Tessa Wong addressed the rumours on Twitter, dismissing claims of a cover-up and that Lee was alive and well.  Channel NewsAsia editor and presenter Glenda Chong also stepped up to clear the rumours on her Facebook wall on Wednesday.

Without mentioning names, she wrote, “So a lot of people have been asking me a question! He’s alive and please watch NDP tomorrow… Trust me he’s alive, otherwise I will be extremely busy!”

The reporter above was kind enough not to pose the REAL question on everyone’s minds this past week leading up to NDP. Did LKY DIE before the parade? Then there are the conspiracy theorists and their ‘body double’ explanations for his miraculous appearance. The truth turned out to be stranger than the fiction one sees in typical Dictator stereotypes or madcap movies like Weekend at Bernie’s; the old man’s still alive, though to say that such rife hearsay kept everyone tense on the edge of their seats and emitting a huge gaseous sigh of relief is probably pushing it. The nail-biting twisty climax to what appears to be a bad M Night Shyamalan political thriller is an apt image of LKY looking dapper in red, giving a victorious double thumbs up. It could have been two middle fingers instead.

Leader in Red

Don’t these internet gossips know that if they’re trying to start a fire online they’re equally likely to get burnt? Yaacob Ibrahim just added one more reason to this list of ‘Reasons to Regulate the Internet’ in his push for a Code of Conduct. But what’s interesting about the Yahoo article is not so much its content, but the title of its weblink in full:

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/spore-not-ready-for-a-world-without-lee-kuan-yew-.html

Which raises the question: What will become of us when LKY is dead and gone? Will we be like sheeps without a shepherd? A rock band without a drummer? A brothel without a mama-san? Sewer rats without the Pied Piper?

It’s not surprising that LKY has ‘used up’ one of his 9 lives before. In 2010, ex-Singaporean and now American lawyer Gopalan Nair admitted in his Singapore Dissident blog to publishing a hoax that LKY had ‘suffered from a massive heart attack’:

Even though I made up everything I said about Dear Leader about his heart attack, and none of it is true, I can assure you that the scenario that I painted assuming that he dies is completely correct.

So what scenario was Nostradamus here talking about? According to his original tall tale, ‘such a happening can destroy the business confidence and cause total destruction in the small island city state.’ There were also ‘peaceful protesters and demonstrators… holding placards reading “Democracy” and “Down With the Dictator” and chanting slogans.’ As far as I’m aware there were no ‘Hurry up and Die already’ campaigns going on in the build-up to NDP aside from the scatterbrained hullabaloo and white noise in social media. If the sources were in fact reliable, I would think most of us would have been stunned at first, but gradually come to accept and carry on with our lives. We wouldn’t be thinking of packing our bags and, like Gopalan, seek asylum in a country where you can get gunned down by madmen while watching Batman in a movie theatre or praying to your gods in a temple. In fact, Gopalan is still drilling in our heads even in the midst of this gonzo media circus that we’ll be hapless without LKY, that the stock market would plunge, and the Sing dollar would be worthless. WORTHLESS, I tell you. Woe is me!

If LKY did have a major coronary, the media would have jumped on it like a rabid coyote, as how they have done in the past reporting on the state of the elder statesman’s health from minor infections to bladder evacuations. We really didn’t need to know. Telling me that LKY was ‘ill’ before the parade is nothing new, so someone decided to up the ante and say ‘Hey, why not have him DEAD for a change?’

2011-Peripheral neuropathy (as revealed by daughter Lee Wei Ling)

2008 -Abnormal heart rhythm (article above)

2003- Prostate Surgery 

1998 – Infection arising from minor surgical procedure (SM in hospital, 23 Nov 1998, ST)

1997 – Acute respiratory tract infection (SM Lee in hospital due to infection, 7 Sept 1997, ST)

1997 – Elective evacuation of the bladder (SM Lee to undergo elective evacuation of the bladder, 11 Jan 1997, ST)

1996 – Balloon angioplasty (SM’s balloon angioplasty op a success: PMO, 16 March 1996, ST)

It’s easy to spin insensitive yarns about someone’s father and grandfather when you’re based overseas and still persist in egging LKY’s lawyers to sue you for slander, but more importantly, bad taste. Gopalan had it easy compared to Twitter users like ‘izreloaded’, who got name-dropped in the Yahoo article above as one of the perpetrators of a highly contagious rumour. But it’s one thing to plant a lie in the national psyche for your own sick indulgence, another to condemn the country into anarchy and chaos because of the demise of one man, especially if you’re not doing anything to help avert the impending end of Singapore as we know it, a ringside commentator pulling one awful joke after another. This Gopalan prophet of the coming apocalypse may have no love lost for LKY, but where’s the faith in the the rest of us? If the old man is as formidably crafty as he’s reputed to be, he would have set a series of events in motion as part of an elaborate grand scheme of command and control, to ensure that Singapore runs like clockwork centuries after his death, like how we splice a dead Nat King Cole with his daughter Natalie in an ‘Unforgettable’ duet and still make it number one on the charts.

Still, nothing bugs a nation like an dead or dying dictator/autocrat. Fidel Castro was reportedly dead (false) earlier this year, the dates of rumour-mongering occurring near two special dates for the Cuban leader, similar to how sparks flew near our very own 9th of August. Barely taking over the reins from his late father, Kim Jong Un was ‘assassinated’ by gunmen in what would have been the month of his dad’s 70th birthday. Equally ‘killed by Internet’ were Hosni Murbarak, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Suharto. This bespeaks a frivolous trend of ‘Dead Evil Leader pranking’, which plays psychological parlour tricks on our basic emotions. Rumour feeds the need to be heard, the sudden loss of a figure of stifling authority feeds our need to be free, while the stock market blips attest to our fear. What we need the most now, though, is the belief that we can carry on. With or without LKY.

And we can only hope that when the time comes, it doesn’t end up like this.

We are all doomed

National anthem is not Mari Kita

From ‘Understanding Majulah Singapura’, 4 July 2012, ST Forum

(Grace Zhang): MONDAY’S article (‘Sung with national pride’) about the significance of national anthems – or their irrelevance – spurred my thoughts about our National Anthem. In all honesty, I almost forgot its title when I tried to recall it; assuming it was Mari Kita (Let Us) because these are the first words, before I remembered that it is Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore).

Sadly, beyond the title, I have no clue what the rest of the anthem means, despite having sung it every single day from primary school to junior college.

My second problem is that the anthem is in Malay. If the purpose of a national anthem is to forge national identity and rally citizens towards a common vision or goal, why choose a language that four-fifths of Singaporeans today neither speak nor understand?

Should our National Anthem be updated? The view that doing so would open a Pandora’s box of unwelcome controversy framed along sensitive racial lines misses the point. The problem is not that most Singaporeans do not understand Malay, but that we do not understand what our National Anthem means.

More effort must be made in schools to teach the anthem to students. I remember being cursorily taught its meaning in primary school, with its translation tucked away in an obscure page of a social studies text. If efforts are not made to impress the meaning and significance of the National Anthem, then generations of students will continue to sing Majulah Singapura every morning without understanding its importance or worth.

Our national anthem has been affectionately known as ‘Mari Kita’ since the eighties, and during my time no effort was made by music teachers to decipher the lyrics for us. Even if you were grilled into appreciating the gist of the song,  if you’re not a native Malay speaker you’re highly likely to mistake your bersatu’s for your berseru’s, and not knowing what either word means. Perhaps it’s not so much we don’t get the lyrics DESPITE singing it every day in school, but rather BECAUSE of it. Whether translated into English, Chinese of Tamil, if you make a chore out of singing Majulah Singapura, it loses its meaning and hence any sense of patriotic fervour whatsoever. When Majulah’s composer Zubir Said died in 1987, the ST headlines read ‘Mr Marikita: Shy, humble and well loved’ (17 November 1987), which translates into the nonsensical Mr ‘Let Us’.  It’s also unfortunate considering ‘Marikita’ has also been abused as a euphemism for an erection, by association with flag-RAISING ceremonies and standing at attention.

Maybe it’s not so much the content or language of the anthem that matters, but the emotions, history and familiarity that its melody and mood stir within every true blue Singaporean who has ever sung it loud and proud during assembly, NDP, or a medal ceremony at the Olympics. Language is irrelevant when you have a homegrown athlete beating others on the world stage, shedding a tear on the podium when the instrumental anthem is played. In fact, ‘Onward Singapore’ doesn’t do justice to the pride and glory that swells inside us when a fellow Singaporean, not some Chinese import, achieves the unthinkable. What matters is how much heart and soul you put into it, nevermind how bad your Malay is.

It’s also hard to come up with anything catchier than our national anthem; the opening drumroll, the empathic horns, the goosebump-raising crescendoes. No composer in the history of Singaporean music has produced a more immortal tune that ranks amongst greats like ‘Chan Mali Chan’, the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Yankie Doodle’. You don’t have to understand English to know that ‘Yesterday’ is a melancholy ballad about lost love, or that ‘Yankie Doodle’ is about musket-carrying soldiers marching and tooting in victory. Chan Mali Chan just sounds like a happy song. Some have lauded Majulah as short, simple and understandable. In fact, the late S Rajaratnam believed that ‘the Malay lyrics were so simple that anyone above the age of 5, unless MENTALLY RETARDED‘ should be able to sing it (Thanks for the link, ‘Matthew’), which makes those of us adults who commit the bersatu-berseru blooper complete idiots.  ‘Majulah’ is a timeless, chest-beating classic that transcends mere words, which, as with all anthems, are ultimately banal drivel without a rousing, effective tune making it come alive. According to Wikipedia’s English translation, two thirds of the anthem consist of the following refrain:

Come, let us unite
In a new spirit
Together we proclaim
Onward Singapore
Onward Singapore

Which doesn’t make me sing Majulah with any more gusto and ‘feeling’ than if I didn’t know what it meant. Anthem aside, not many Singaporeans I know could easily rattle off what the 5 stars of the National Flag symbolise either.  We can’t even remember 5 things in English, let alone an entire song in Malay.

Postscript: A silly rumour has been floating around in the Twitterverse that the suggestion to change the anthem to Chinese was raised by President Tony Tan. No official sources of such a remark have been cited.

PM Lee wants more Dragon babies

From PM Lee: Singapore’s fertility rate up last year, 22 Jan 2012, article by Judith Tan/Lydia Lim, Sunday Times

Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) picked up slightly last year to 1.20, up from a historic low of 1.15 in 2010. The Prime Minister announced the figure on Saturday in his Chinese New Year message, which focused on the central role of families as anchors for identity and sense of belonging, and sources of support in good times and bad.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong also said: ‘I fervently hope that this year will be a big Dragon year for babies.‘ Historically, Singapore enjoys a baby boom every Dragon year, which comes round every 12 years.

…Singapore’s TFR has been on a downward trend and is way below the replacement level of 2.1. It fell from 1.60 in 2000 to 1.20 last year, despite government measures to encourage couples to have more children. The TFR for Chinese Singaporeans is lower, falling from 1.43 to 1.08 over the same period.

Whether there’s a spike in Dragon babies born or not, the general trend is a fertility decline. 1988, two Dragon Years ago, saw a  high of 1.98, a figure that seems unattainable now unless someone flushes our reservoirs with  fertility drugs. Baby booms alone, of course, will not guarantee population growth over time, no matter how many baby-friendly packages are promised by the PM every CNY. It was recently revealed that an average 1000 Singaporeans pack their bags for greener pastures EVERY YEAR. Making Singapore family-friendly isn’t enough, you need to make baby-boomers happy enough to want to stay, or at least not kill themselves. Which means a total revamp of the educational, labour, political and leisure scene to keep citizens stimulated and proud to be Singaporean, not just expanding maternity wards or building more kindergartens.

Lee Kuan Yew kickstarted the CNY baby wish-list in the 80′s after the Dragon boom in 1988.  While encouraging couples to ignore the Zodiac, he also refuted the long-held belief that the Dragon year was auspicious for China’s Chinese at all, citing the great Tangshan earthquake in the last dragon year in 1976.

We should not decide the birth of our children by animal years. Have your babies in any year, including the Snake Year.

And if that year has less babies than Dragon Year, there will be the advantage of more places in good schools and at universities.

The latter statement was a catch that his son refused to elaborate on 24 years later, just as I suspected. But that was 1988, and even though we were just below the 2.1 replacement mark then, we could afford to temper the Dragon craze with a healthy  dose of reality.

Here’s a sample of PM’s baby urgings during CNY speeches over the years, and whether what he wished for actually came true.

2011 (Rabbit), Lee Hsien Loong, TFR increased by 0.05 to 1.20 :

I hope more couples will start or add to their families in the Year of the Rabbit. Chinese New Year is the time for families to come together in celebration, and more babies can mean only more joy in the years to come.

2010 (Tiger), Lee Hsien Loong, TFR dropped from 1.23 to 1.15:

It is one thing to encourage ourselves with the traditional attributes of the zodiac animals…But it is another to cling on to superstitions against children born in the Year of the Tiger, who are really no different from children born under other animal signs.

2009 (Ox), Lee Hsien Loong, TFR dropped from 1.28 to 1.23 (Official stats cite the latter TFR as 1.22)

Even in hard times, we should not neglect the need to bring up a new generation. If you remember, every time there was a recession, birth rates went down. But I hope this time we can buck the trend and keep the birth rate steady. We have implemented many measures to encourage marriage and help you in supporting and bringing up your children. There is also a lag time in procreation, so with luck your babies will arrive in time to enjoy the upswing.

2008(Rat), Lee Hsien Loong, TFR dropped from 1.29 to 1.28.

The government is studying the practical arrangements carefully, to see how we can create an even friendlier environment for having and raising children. We want Singapore to be a great place to bring up families and children.

Looking at his track record since 2008, it’s either PM Lee’s mild exhortations are falling on deaf ears, or the family initiatives are simply not working. To sum up, here’s the TFR trend since 2004:

1.24 (2004), 1.25 (2005), 1.26 (2006),  1.29 (2007), 1.28 (2008), 1.22 (2009), 1.15 (2010), 1.20 (2011)

Which suggests a slow positive creep of TFR up to the point of 2007-2008, when the recession hit, followed by a Tiger year double-whammy barely 2 years later. Meanwhile, the media continues to bombard us with fascinating who’s-who trivia of Dragon personalities, from Li Ka-Shing to Keanu Reeves, when they should have done the same for the Tiger year instead of perpetuating the bossy Tiger female stereotype. But is it truly a race effect? Let’s break it down.

In the 2010 Tiger year, the Chinese TFR hit 1.02, the Malays dipped rather dramatically to  1.65, while the Indians held steady at 1.13. Which means there was nothing special about the drop among the Chinese in 2009-2010 compared to the previous year ( a rate of -0.06); something else was amiss. In the last Dragon year in 2000, the reverse happened, but surprisingly not just for the Chinese. The other races seemed to respond to the Dragon’s roar as well, according to a ‘crude rate report’ charting birth rates from 1997 to 2006. But then it wasn’t just a Dragon year, it was the start of a new MILLENNIUM, and it would be interesting to see if any birth spike occurred 9 months post-Y2K.

Dragon spike for all 3 races

Only time will tell if 2012 breathes fire into the wombs of our women, whether Chinese, Malay or Indian. Meanwhile, the government should focus not just on generating babies or allowing the media to suggest that Dragon babies can grow up to become just like Professor X (Patrick Stewart), but retaining them when they grow older.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Overnight queueing for Lim Chee Guan Bak Kwa

From ‘S’poreans queueing overnight for bak kwa’, 15 Jan 2012, article in insing.com, translated from SM Daily

…Singaporeans are even queuing up through the night to get their bak kwa this time round. Well known bak kwa store Lim Chee Guan saw its stock sold out within 75 minutes of its opening at 9am this morning.

…The prices of bak kwa has also risen from $48 per kg yesterday to $50 per kg today.Each person was limited to buying 30kg yesterday, and the limit lowered to 20kg per person today.

Bak kwa prices are expected to rise further as Chinese New Year, the biggest day of the year for the Chinese, inches closer. One of those in the queue, Ms Chen, told reporters that she had taken a taxi from Hougang to New Bridge Road at about 6am to get the bak kwa. Together with five others, the group queued for four hours before they managed to buy their bak kwa.

The group planned to spend $6,000 to buy 120kg of bak kwa for their relatives and friends, and to give out to company employees. They had even arranged for vehicles to help carry the bak kwa back.

Many in the queue also appeared prepared for the long wait as some came with portable chairs while others were seen leisurely reading the papers. Reporters spoke to some folks in the queue, asking why they would spend so much time queuing for bak kwa. They explained that this is because the bak kwa here is delicious, and they get to feel the festive vibe by joining the queue.

More than a week to go to CNY and the price of Lim Chee Guan bak kwa has already escalated to $50/kg. Last year, according to KeropokMan’s blog, it hit $52/kg on Jan 30 at LCG Chinatown, and an anecdotal forum complaint in 2011 cited $54/kg at the LCG in Ion Orchard, both prices surpassing the ‘Big Five-O’ which bak kwa lovers  feared in 2008.  There’s even a Bak Kwa Index to monitor ‘sizzling’ prices over the days leading up to CNY. According to a 2007 report, LCG raised its price to $44 from $38 a month earlier, more than 2 weeks before CNY on Feb 18 that year. The 2007 $2 increase per week seems conservative in light of how the same rise occurred A DAY this CNY.

A writer to the ST called the bak kwa companies ‘oligopolistic’, and swore to avoid the fatty snack altogether. Such profiteering was apparent in the early 2000′s, when $48/kg bak kwa was already in existence. But what’s curious about the CNY-bak kwa phenomenon is despite the hike, or BECAUSE of it, the queues have taken on similar characteristics to the HnM line last year; overnight camping and bak kwa lovers treating what appears to me is a sheer waste of time as some kind of ‘occasion’. 6 to 8 hour queues were unheard of when people first began jacking up the prices, and counter-intuitively, the higher the price per kg, the longer the wait. I’d rather spend the time spring cleaning my kitchen fridge, cabinets and all windows in my house.

Even more puzzling is how bak kwa can be taken for granted when it’s readily available throughout the year, when other seasonal goodies like pineapple tarts and love letters fail to take on the allure of scarcity to justify a price increase. A common argument is that prices of pork and oil have increased, but hasn’t everything else? Like flour, eggs, pineapples? The economics of bak kwa price hikes aside, there could be other human factors behind the absurd success of bak kwa, that people are willing to wait for ages and fork out such money for a few slices of dried BBQ meat, which in the Western context, is something you can prepare at home by simply plonking pork jerky over a weekend grill.

Surprisingly, it’s not so much the actual TASTE of Lim Chee Guan’s meat that draws the crowds. In a 2009 blind taste test, Lim Chee Guan was rated similarly to Bee Cheng Hiang, though both were chosen as top picks. BCH, of course, is the Sakae Sushi of bak kwa. I might as well buy a lot of bak kwa from the nearest mall, remove the packaging, trick my guests with a miserable tale of how I queued in the rain for 6 hours in Chinatown, and they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. In fact, even if they COULD tell the difference (which would rank them above the experts), they wouldn’t dispute and embarrass their host in the spirit of CNY. Perhaps the brand name helps too, since naming a bak kwa company after an actual person has a ring of authenticity to it, bringing to mind images of its founder (who happens to be NOT called Lim Chee Guan) sweating over the flames, stoking his moist, sweet hand-cut meats to crispy perfection.

What about  auspiciousness then? According to food guru K.F Seetoh, bak kwa is ‘long yoke’ in Cantonese, which means a ‘robust fortune ahead’, though true only for bak kwa sellers rather than those eating it  (more like robust ‘myocardial infarction risk’ ahead). Steeped in tradition and a ‘die-die-must-have’ staple aside, I’m hazarding a theory that it’s not the taste, or the ‘meaning’ behind bak kwa that drives people to camp overnight for what’s possibly the unhealthiest, most carcingogenic containing CNY goodie of all. Buying bak kwa is a gesture to show how much you’re willing to splurge and sacrifice for your guests, and the more expensive it gets, the longer the wait, the more generous and altruistic it makes you look, no matter how it ends up tasting like marinated cardboard.  Nothing scores more points than a gift of expensive bak kwa to your boss, or a prospective parent-in-law. It also helps that queuing happens to be a Singaporean pasttime, which pretty much explains everything.

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