Lavender food heaven closing for development

From ‘Losing our food heritage in the name of development’, 31 March 2014, St Forum

(Edwin Lim): I READ with disappointment the article “Clock is ticking for Lavender’s ‘food heaven’” (last Friday). This marks the demise of yet another popular food haunt.

A few weeks ago, Singapore’s largest McDonald’s outlet, at King Albert Park – a place that many Singaporeans remember fondly as one where they “mugged” for exams and had their first date – also made headline news when it closed down to make way for redevelopment.

In place of these local favourites will rise yet more mixed-purpose developments of retail outlets, offices and residences.

Singapore is fast losing a generation of hawkers and efforts are being made to train a new generation of hawkers. Yet at the same time, we seem to be speeding up their disappearance by making their future uncertain. Will the future Singapore landscape be filled with just HDB blocks, condominiums and mixed-purpose developments? Of course, there is a need to build more homes for a growing population. But many residential units are also being bought for rental income.

How many patches of forest and popular haunts are making way for buildings that are aimed solely at property investors?

The essential guide to Singapore’s lost (and never found) hawker centres/markets can be found at the Remember Singapore Blog, a must-read for all hawker nerds and gluttons alike. Other than HDB blocks, condos and malls, another major culprit of hawker extermination is our MRT system, with food centres at Farrer Park, Labrador and Lakeview making way for development directly or indirectly related to MRT construction. The other dreaded word is ‘upgrading’, which may affect not just the ‘character’ of the hawker centre, but more importantly the livelihoods of hawkers too.

It’s also interesting how people remember certain McDonalds outlets (King Albert, East Coast) fondly but not other ‘lost’ fast food joints like BK or KFC. People even ‘mourn’ the loss of just ONE out of 120 of McDs to greater tribute fanfare than your neighbourhood coffee shop. Chicken McNuggets will never go away even if the CEO of McD’s dies, and it’ll taste the same for eternity whether it’s at King Albert Park or People’s Park.  Not the case for your favourite Cheng Tng at Bedok Corner hawker centre.

The former Bugis Square was itself a relocation of hawkers originating from Bugis Street, sans the ‘transverstite habitues‘ who were often the ‘centre of attraction’. Lavender Square’s demise comes quickly after news to shut down Longhouse at Upper Thomson Road, a food loft that used to be from the Jalan Besar stadium area, the taste of the famous duck rice still fresh in my mind long after my family brought me there in my teens (The duck rice stall, Soon Lee Kor, is slated to move BACK to Jalan Besar).

It’s sad to see anything make way for development really, whether it’s an open field or a cemetery, but if we can’t save Buona Vista swimming pool from decimation, even with celebrity Pam Oei fronting a petition to Chan Chun Sing for it, what more a hawker centre? How many of us are even willing to stop complaining about hawker extinction and give up our day jobs to pursue the trade in the first place?

Here are 12 facts inspired/extracted from the Remember Singapore piece that you never knew (or at least I never knew) about Singapore’s hawker history.

1. Taman Jurong Market & Food Centre, a merger of a market and 2 food centres, included the very FIRST hawker centre in Singapore: Yung Sheng Food Centre. Prepare your mecca now.

2. Telok Ayer Market was the first ever market in Singapore. It survived a demolition in 1879, was torn down due to MRT construction in 1984, and was refurbished in 1991 as ‘Lau Pa Sat’, which translates to ‘old market’. It wouldn’t exist without the work of  Municipal engineer James Macritchie. So he didn’t just build a reservoir here.

3. The sprawl of watering holes that is Boat Quay used to be Boat Quay Hawker Centre.

4. What used to be Simon Road Market is now string of plush condos, including one named Kovan residences.

5. Seletar Hills Market and Food Centre Centre is now a shopping mall that no one has ever heard of: Greenwich V.

6. The former Neo Tiew Market and Food Centre is now a training site for NSmen and a place to shoot a zombie apocalypse movie.

7. Tekka Market was for a while known as Zhujiao Market, or literally ‘bamboo feet’.

8. The Gateway at Beach Road was once the Clyde Terrace Market, also known in Hokkien as ‘thi pa sat khauor’ or ‘Iron Market’.

9. The Golden Bridge at Shenton Way used to be an overhead bridge CUM HAWKER CENTRE. In 2011, it was reported that there may be signs of a revival, but its fate remains uncertain till this day.

10. Taman Serasi Food Centre, near the Botanic Gardens, used to be famous for roti john. I’m not sure if the revamped Taman Serasi Food Garden is still around. Or has it devolved into ‘Food Canopy’, a glamorised food court?

11. The original ‘Glutton’s Square’ was located at Orchard Road Car park, what’s now become the much under-patronised Orchard Central. (Another Orchard Road favourite Cuppage Centre is now Starhub centre)

12. If you thought Golden Bridge was cool, we used to have a hawker centre UNDER A FLYOVER along Whitley Road. Another unforgettable place for a family outing which my folks referred to affectionately as ‘Under the Bridge’. An empty desolate patch where foreign workers like to hang out drinking remains.

Sumiko Tan believed that Singapore is in the midst of a ‘Golden Age’ in 2012 and that she preferred ‘progress’. If progress meant the loss of our food heritage and our local haunts replaced by bogus 24 hour ‘kopitiams’ if not spanking condos, then many Singaporeans who were born and bred on the foodstuff of our forefathers would rather starve to death than settle for ‘Mixed Economic Rice’.

So yeah, in the vein of a classic Paul Young 80′s song, everytime you close down a hawker centre, you take a piece of Singapore with you.

 

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Authorities in a muddle over leaves in drain

From ‘Who should clear leaves in drain?’ 21 March 2014, ST Forum

(Arthur Lim): THE ineffective clearing of fallen leaves is not just evident along major roads and expressways (“Act promptly to clear fallen leaves” by Dr V. Subramaniam; Tuesday), but also in housing estates. In my estate, the leaves seem to be frequently cleared from areas visible to the eye, but those that are “hidden” under the covered portions of drains are not. This may cause pooling of water and mosquito breeding.

I have raised this issue with the officers who check for mosquito breeding in my estate, but they said their department was not in charge of this. They were not sure if it should come under the National Environment Agency or the PUB.

I hope the relevant authorities will step in to address this issue.

This confusion over who’s in charge of dengue-breeding ‘longkangs’ has existed for at least a decade. In 2005, if the affected drain is in a Housing Board precinct, the town council is responsible. If it’s by the road in a residential estate, either the NEA or PUB is in charge. If it’s in a public park, then NParks needs to pick up the trash.  Filthy drains are like the NEA/AVA tussling over mynahs; nobody wants to claim them, like separated parents each refusing custody over an obnoxious child. Even the source of the leaves, the very trees that line our roads, have different agencies looking after them, NParks or the SLA. Good luck blaming either for negligence when a loose branch falls and knocks you into a month-long coma, which is probably the duration of time needed for someone to finally admit that he’s responsible.

NEA, being the national dengue-buster, received a complaint in 2007 by a member of public about a choked drain along Jalan Loyang Besar, whereby nothing was done for 3 days after reporting the hazard. A second NEA officer then proceeded to refer the caller to the PUB instead. NEA later apologised and announced that the officer who did not abide by this ‘No Wrong Door’ policy was reprimanded for his incompetence. Another resident noticed workers from NEA actually sweeping dried litter and leaves INTO drains. Instead of a joint effort to curb the mosquito nuisance, what happened here was literally one agency pushing the problem to another, or rather, sweeping the problem under the other’s DOOR instead.

The writer of this latest complaint did not mention if the officers he approached were from the NEA or not, and it’s possible that from the time agencies begin their bureaucratic shrugging, finger-pointing and someone finally getting a contractor down, a handful of residents would have been hit by the dengue scourge already.  Since 2008, NEA has led an ‘inter-agency’ dengue taskforce, including the PUB, to keep our drains from turning into festering dengue hotspots. It remains to be seen if officers from the agencies involved even know what the heck is going on, or this collaboration and showcase ‘synergy’ efforts have, well, all gone down the drain. It sounds nice on paper, but it’s beginning to look like a football team where players don’t have a damned clue what their field positions are, and run away when they see a ball coming instead of passing it towards goal.

Perhaps it’s time the Ministry of Environment set up a DRAin Maintenance Authority. Or DRAMA.

$4.3 billion MCE congested on second day of opening

From ‘Motorists fume over slow traffic along newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway’, 30 Dec 2013, article by Kenny Chee, ST

Traffic on the newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) might have been fairly smooth on Sunday when it opened to the public, but it was a different story on Monday.

Travel was slow on several segments of the MCE and surrounding roads. Some motorists said they were stuck on the $4.3 billion expressway for nearly an hour, while some commuters were fuming over having to pay higher than usual taxi fares because they were stuck in jams linked to the expressway.

LTA boasts that the MCE is their ‘most ambitious‘ project to date, flashing earth-shattering statistics like how 1200 Olympic pools’ worth of soil were dug up to create the first of its kind undersea tunnel in Singapore. We all know how expensive this project is (you could build 4 Project Jewels), but here are some other fun facts that LTA might not be so willing to brag about following a nightmarish start to what has been lauded as a marvel of civil engineering. Clearly, in the case of undersea roads, ‘bigger’ and ‘deeper’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’, or ‘faster’.

  • Singapore’s second most expensive expressway is the KPE, costing $1.8 billion.
  • When construction started in 2009, LTA’s Chief Executive declared the work a major engineering challenge, that they had successfully ‘moved a river’ for the KPE and have ‘dammed’ the sea for this Kraken of a road. His name? Yam Ah Mee. Dammed if he do, dammed if he don’t.
  • Early the same year, it was reported that the project busted its budget by almost 2 billion (from its original 2.5 billion) because of higher prices of materials and unexpectedly weak soil. Minister Raymond Lim was questioned if his team had looked to other possibilities before building ‘underground and underwater’, but he said none of these were suitable and that the government takes a ‘stringent financial approach’ to evaluate the cost vs benefit of such massive jobs. Money can’t buy you imagination, I suppose.
  • In 2008, the government appointed global engineering firm Mott MacDonald as design consultant for 3 of the 6 contracts. These are the same people behind the first MRT line in Singapore, and worryingly, the Downtown line as well. Incidentally, the Marina Coastal Expressway has a Mc in its acronym. I doubt an Upsize will do any good.
  • Lastly, we make our transport systems ‘safe and smooth flowing through a suite of advanced traffic systems’ called ITS. Or Intelligent Transport Systems. It’s an acronym as ingenious as our expressways themselves.

We’ve been hit by a series of sloppy planning rearing ugly heads in dramatic fashion. First the Downtown line, then the DNC registry reversal and to cap the year off, a disappointing sluggish scrum through the MCE. We’re so used to agencies employing quick recovery action and offering Band-Aid solutions that we confuse their responsiveness and nervous engagement with social media for competency. Anyone can patch a leak, but you need some form of higher intelligence to prevent one. LTA fines SMRT or SMS for crappy work. Who fines the LTA then?

The LTA may have believed they built the tunnel equivalent of the Colossus, but what we have seen so far from opening day jitters is a choking Goliath, with so much emphasis on making the expressway wide and sturdy that we ignore its relationships with surrounding infrastructure and forget how to direct traffic. LTA was quick to publish a help guide to drivers confused about the MCE exits, which to a non-driver like me looks like a trigonometry problem sum confusing enough to quit driving altogether. AYE to ECP or CBD? WTF MCE.

$1.47 billion Project Jewel a vanity showpiece

From ‘Who is Project Jewel’s target customer?’, 27 Dec 2013, ST Forum

(Kelvin Quek): I WAS surprised and concerned to read about the high cost for Project Jewel (“Project Jewel at Changi Airport to cost $1.47b”; last Saturday). It is unclear how this expensive complex, 70 per cent of which will be retail space, will give our airport an edge over other competing air hubs.

It is also unclear who it is targeting – visitors, residents, airport staff, or all three. When travellers arrive at their destination, they want to get out of the airport as quickly as possible.

Similarly, departing visitors are unlikely to make it a priority to visit shops, eateries or leisure attractions located outside the departure gates of the airport. If the project is primarily aimed at attracting residents to Changi Airport, the question then is: Why is that necessary?

Why use up valuable land at Changi to build another shopping mall? Why not have an aviation museum or something related to the airport?

…We should also stop building iconic projects which may just end up as vanity showpieces that bring little tangible benefits to Singaporeans. The money saved can be put to better use to meet more pressing needs in areas such as health care, education, transport and housing.

Jewel of Changi

The 1 billion dollar price tag has drawn comparisons to another iconic ‘vanity project’, the Gardens by the Bay. PM Lee himself referred to the Airport’s Jewel, semi-jokingly, as the ‘Gardens by the Airport’ during his National Day Rally this year, unwittingly hinting at the cost of this glorified mall. Visibly gushing over this new addition like a first-time father, he mentioned that the Jewel was not just for visitors, but for Singaporeans too, including ‘families on Sunday outings, students studying for exams and even newlyweds taking bridal photos’, which answers the writer’s question about who the target customers are. Don’t we already have the 3 terminals, and Kinetic Rain for that?

Designed by the same brain behind MBS, Moshe Safdie, Project Jewel appears to nothing more than a posh cousin of the existing T3 mall, a mash-up of our new National Stadium’s dome, Safdie’s LV island maison and the Gardens by the Bay which will draw locals from all over the island for the same reason that people flock to novelties like Jem in Jurong. In 2007, there was similar fanfare over the retail arm of T3, with the promise of top brands like the first Ferrari shop and luxury cellphone manufacturer Vertu. I don’t think these are around anymore. Instead you have ‘Speciality Stores’ like Poh Kim Video and 24 hour light-bite cafes like ‘Heavenly Wang’. If you want to spend some final precious moments with your child before his departure for overseas study, you’d have to jostle for parking space with families going to the airport just to buy stuff from some upmarket grocer, and not see a single plane landing or taking off, as what normal people would do if they’re going to the airport, well, FOR FUN.

Perhaps the money could have been put into better use, like providing proper resting areas for all those in transit treating the airport like a ‘refugee camp’. If Project Jewel fails to take off and goes the way of the Singapore Flyer, one might as well have installed a 4-storey tall, world-record breaking Kinetic Rain display instead, with round the clock security to prevent crazy people from tampering with it. Or an actual jewel-encrusted giant statue of Lee Kuan Yew. Don’t forget to bring in the feng shui masters though.

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.

National Stadium should be named after Lee Kuan Yew

From various letters, 16 Nov 2013, ST Forum

(Kong Peng Sun):…Had it not been for one of our founding fathers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, we would not have our nation and stadium today. He has sacrificed a lot for this country, leading it to be so successful economically and able to stand tall even among the developed and advanced countries. There is no bigger way to honour Mr Lee than to name our stadium after him.

(David Tan Kok Kheng):…When the original National Stadium was officially opened in 1973 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, it was seen not only as a move towards a more sporting nation but also a step forward in nation building.  If there is one single personality who comes to mind when we think about the building of this nation, be it economically, socially, in education or even sports, it is Mr Lee.

(Lim Teck Meng):…The Grandstand (West) could be the Choo Seng Quee Grandstand, after our most successful mastermind who created our super team and started our unique Kallang Roar.

The Main Gallery Stand (East) could be named after our most famous footballing son, Fandi Ahmad. Till today, there is no footballer like him who has given fans lots of memories with his fantastic performances.

The Northern Stand could be dubbed the Majid Ariff Stand, after “Mr Twinkle Toes” who is our only footballer to have made it to the Asian All-Stars team.

The Southern Stand could be the Dollah-Kim Song Stand, after Dollah Kassim and Quah Kim Song for the moment that epitomised the Kallang Roar days: In extra time of the 1977 Malaysia Cup Final, Dollah crossed to Quah to score, allowing Singapore to beat Penang and bring back the Malaysia Cup after a long hiatus.

Our ex-premier has been named after many prestigious awards, the World City Prize included, but has yet to even have a street, or MRT station named after him. Some have called for a capital in Singapore to be named ‘Leekuanyew City‘, among other viable proposals such as a hospital and even our beloved Changi airport. A public amenity like a spanking new stadium shouldn’t have any issues with branding if you decide to name it after an important person instead of sticking to sentimental, marketable monikers like the ‘Grand Old Dame’ or ‘Kallang Stadium’. One may argue, however, if honouring a powerhouse politician over sporting legend is taking the piss on local sports. You also risk having critics of nonagenarian ministers mocking the stadium as the ‘Grand Old FART’ instead.

Naming parts of the new stadium after famous footballers sounds like a decent idea if we can’t decide on anyone ‘big’ enough to fit the bill, except that the National Stadium, or Singapore, is not all about football and we might not be fair to sportsmen who actually made it to the Olympics, like Tan Howe Liang for instance. ‘Dollah-Kim Song’ also sounds more like a Korean rapper than a striking partnership. LKY aside, EW Barker has also been suggested for his contributions to sporting complexes in housing estates. But if you’re deadset on choosing a leader who spearheaded sports on an administrative level, you’re forgetting one particular person – someone who came up with the idea of having a National Stadium in the first place.

According to the SSC Sports Museum history of the National Stadium, the construction of the original National Stadium would not have been possible if not for money raised from the national lottery. Between 1968 and 1976, more than $20 million was raised. The operator was Singapore Pools, the lottery games were Toto and Singapore Sweep, and the minister who came up with the brilliant idea (inspired by the Bulgarians) of building a stadium using Singaporeans’ gambling money was none other than Othman Wok.

In 1965, Encik Wok, then Social Affairs Minister, argued for a stadium of ‘Olympic’ standards in Kallang to help put Singapore at the forefront of international sport. As the chairman of the Singapore National Olympic Council, he launched the Singapore Sports Awards in 1967 to recognise sporting excellence. Tasked with the ‘toughest job in sports’, Wok himself was a sportsman in his own right, a hockey player and rugby captain back in RI. I can’t imagine LKY indulging in any team events other than fist-shaking debating. Or even kicking a chapteh about for that matter.

In 1971, Wok introduced the National Stadium Corporation Bill in Parliament, which laid the groundwork not just for the physical stadium infrastructure but the future of Singapore sports. Fans of F1 should note that he was also an avid supporter of the Singapore Grand Prix back in 1967. Punters should be reminded that without Wok and his vision for a National Stadium, we’d have no TOTO too. The man has even met Football God PELE in person, which alone should be sufficient reason to give Wok the edge over LKY, Barker or football personalities from Fandi to supersub Steven Tan if you want to name the stadium after someone who’s done more for sport than merely give a speech on its opening day.

The Othman Wok Stadium has a nice ring to it and if I had the chance I’d vote him in. Let’s save LKY for bigger things. I hear Changi Airport’s Terminal 5 would be ready by 2020.

Wok this way

Jalan Jurong Kechil getting Singapore’s first retirement village

From ‘Ageing Singapore to get first retirement village’, 10 Nov 2013, article by Radha Basu, Sunday Times

After more than two decades of debate and deliberation, Singapore’s first retirement living community will finally be built at Jalan Jurong Kechil. Property developer World Class Land (WCL), a subsidiary of jewellery group Aspial Corp, told The Sunday Times last week that it plans to build the facility on a 10,170 sq m plot of land, roughly the size of 11/2 football fields.

…Singapore is among the fastest ageing countries in the world. The number of those aged 65 and above will nearly double over the next few years, from 352,000 in 2011 to 600,000 by 2020.

In July, NMP Lina Chiam suggested building such a village on Pulau Ubin, an idea which was shot down because it seemed like banishing the old to an island, especially one where charging wild boars roam free. Land shortage has also prompted Khaw Boon Wan to infamously propose that we look into casting our elderly away to Batam or JB which may be cheaper than sequestering them in gated communities. The Jurong site looks rosy on paper, like a nursing home with country club facilities, but one that the less well-off senior may be unable to afford. In fact, one of the village supporters cited in the article currently lives in a ‘spacious bungalow in Braddell Heights’ and is looking forward to a cozier apartment with ‘like-minded’ seniors as neighbours. Senior-living consultant Tan Hee Kian says many seniors in the ‘top fifth to 20th percentile of the income scale’ would gladly splurge on an RV (The Jurong project costs an estimated $70-80 million). The word ‘village’ may very well be a misnomer if only old, rich people live in it. It may turn out to be the Nassim Road for Senior Citizens. The only thing ‘village-like’ about the Jurong RV is that it’s inaccessible by train.

In 1985 when the RV was first brought up, it was intended as a ‘nest-egg’ for the AFFLUENT, mainly middle and upper income professionals and businessmen who were in the same ‘income bracket’ and common interests. Today’s model retirement villages also come equipped with golf courses and club houses.  If golf is the seniors’ game, how about converting one of our existing 18 golf courses to a RV instead of using up precious land then? What other benefits worth the price tag would one gain living in a RV compared to an elderly-friendly estate with easy access to medical care, public transport and an NTUC supermarket? With a ballooning greying population, finding elderly companionship in the general community shouldn’t be a problem, if the reason you’re considering the RV lifestyle is because no one shares your passion for gateball or gardening. If I’m a budding artist and need to live in a bohemian neighbourhood to spur my creativity even if I’m entitled to the living space of a closet, you can bet my calls for a Soho-esque ‘Artists’ village’ to be with ‘like-minded’ folk will be slammed for sure, because apparently young struggling artists are not as important as old retirees with actual savings.

Some elders would rather mix with all walks of life than see the same haggardly faces everyday waiting to see who dies first, or hear the same people grumble about politics or brag about whose children are more filial than others.  One can also imagine how every journey down the stairs would take an eternity if the lift breaks down.

No matter how you brand it, an RV is an enclave of people of a certain class and age, which is contrary to our national drive towards ‘inclusivity’ and integration. It’s not as if our current HDB estates suffer from ageist design. I see old people happily sitting at the void deck watching kids tumble down a ‘youth-centric’ playground where I live. There’s a church if you want to send your final prayers, a fitness corner to stave off venous thrombosis and a provision shop with a makeshift ‘kopi corner’ if you need to chat with random strangers. I’m content to grow old and die here as long there’s a patch of grass to feed pigeons, to feel appreciated by the general ‘townsfolk’, to flirt with the kopitiam beer lady and add to the communal diversity rather than be reminded everyday of my own mortality in an artificial environment smack in the middle of nowhere, where eventually if your house catches fire and you’re wheelchair bound, your equally immobile neighbour can only perish along with you rather than do anything useful.

If I really want to ‘get away from it all’, I’d plant my sagging roots away from this country if I could afford it. But of course if these 100 or so ‘villagers’ prefer it the RV way then no one can deny them a space they can call their own. Maybe they could call it ‘Silver Cove’ or something.

Postscript: The project has been quietly rebranded as a retirement ‘RESORT’ instead of a village, officially called the Hillford, with 1 to 2 bedroom units starting from $388,000 (Packed showflat at first retirement resort, article by Jonathan Kwok, 5 Jan 2014, Sunday Times). The bulk of those interested in the purchase, however, weren’t golden oldies, but those in the 40s looking for investment opportunities, just like they would for any spanking new condo. With a full time manager, 24 hour concierge service, the only things missing from the Hillford are spas, hot springs, a sea view and complimentary breakfast. And eventually anyone above 70 and ‘over the hill’ who would rather check into a nursing home nearer to civilisation than live in a 398 sq ft cell that costs nearly as much as a 3-room flat. No wonder it’s called a ‘resort’ then, by living in such ‘Mickey Mouse’ units, you can almost sense a hint of Disneyland right around the corner.

Changi Airport’s Kinetic Rain damaged by woman in white

From ‘Woman arrested for intrusion into Kinetic Rain sculture at Terminal 1′, 3 Nov 2013, article by Royston Sim, ST

A woman was arrested by the police after she climbed over the railing at Changi Airport Terminal 1 onto the netting below the Kinetic Rain sculpture on Saturday morning. A police spokesman said they received a call about the incident at 8.28am, and on arrival at the airport, officers arrested a woman in her 30s under the Mental Health Act.

Investigations are ongoing, he said. A one-minute video circulating online shows the woman in a white dress perched precariously on the netting. Police officers later helped to pull her back onto safe ground.

A Changi Airport Group spokesman said the Kinetic Rain display was damaged by the intrusion, with some strings on the art sculpture entangled. “We have referred the matter to the police and our engineers are arranging for the sculpture to be repaired.”

A great place to hang out, T1

The Mental Health Act stipulates that a police officer may apprehend anyone they might believe to be ‘mentally disordered’ and is a danger to himself or other persons. In a Yahoo report of the incident, an onlooker thought the woman’s antics might have been a stunt or performance, and did not ‘respond in English’ to the airport security, while CNA mentions that she is ‘not a local’. Some people are just desperate for last minute souvenirs and maybe our terminal shops ran out of ‘It’s a Fine City’ T shirts.

A few months back, a street art installation at the Night Festival was ruined when itchy-fingered visitors stole more than 180 wooden blocks, though the thieves were never arrested. This woman in white probably suffers from the same artpiece fetish, that a hanging shiny copper-coated aluminum raindrop would be so alluring that she’d risk her life for it, like the proverbial Eve plucking a golden apple from the garden of Eden. Or the entrancing ‘dance’ of the computer-choreographed raindrops was simply calling out to be groped, lulling one into an altered state of suicidal stupidity, like the ONE RING from LOTR. The ‘I Walk the World’ blogger admits that the ‘temptation to reach out and touch them was just too high’. I would, too, be fascinated like how I would have the urge to poke a water bubble in zero gravity. Kinetic Rain, or HYPNOTIC rain?

Weirder things have happened at Changi Airport. A man with a TV for a head was spotted in June last year. Rob Zombie was chilling out in the airport lounge in 2011. In 2004, the Amazing Spiderman scaled the airport control tower to promote the Spiderman 2 movie. It’s no surprise that we wouldn’t be able to tell a publicity stunt or performance art from someone of unsound mind being a nuisance to himself and others. The Kinetic Rain installation was once the site of the iconic ‘mylar cord’ fountain which was there since Changi’s birth in 1981. For more than 30 years, it wowed passengers without having anyone jumping headlong into for a free rainshower and destroying it in the process. It was also the first thing my family took a photo with the first time we visited the airport. Then last year it simply disappeared with the multi-million renovation of T1, replaced by a bunch of synchronised metal bulbs that move up and down in concert to create a wavy illusion of flight. There’s supposed to be a dragon and kite somewhere among the 1216 moving droplets, but I guess I’m the sort who prefers the soothing drizzle of water than stand around racking my brain over a charade of metal and strings pretending to be water.

The Kinetic Rain sculpture is just over ONE YEAR old and has already been desecrated like a monkey breaking an expensive chandelier after swinging on it (The Changi group have declined to reveal the cost of this contraption). This is also the WORLD’S BIGGEST kinetic sculpture, created over a span of 20 months, weighing a total of 2.4 tonnes and broken within a day. No mean feat to single-handedly dismantle a product of German design, though I suspect the fine that is likely to be slapped (provided the intruder is certified sane) wouldn’t exceed the cost of even a fraction of the 1000 plus 180g raindrops.

Once a fountain which actual water. Kinetic water

188 words of inspiration stolen from Night Festival

From ‘Stolen art pieces paint ugly picture of society’, 10 Sept 2013, ST Forum

(Aw Yang Kang Ming): I WAS disappointed to find out that people would actually steal pieces of an artwork at the Singapore Night Festival (“More words of art go missing”; Sept 2). The installation by artist Karen Mitchell featured 365 wooden panels that were supposed to represent the shared aspirations of everyone.

Why would anyone want to remove an artistic installation that was supposed to inspire people?

Removing the panels is akin to downloading licensed content from the Internet without permission from the author; it is theft and a clear sign of disrespect to the creator. It also showcases the dissolute side of people; what would foreigners think of our society?

Perhaps the 188 panels went missing because they were not affixed onto any permanent structure.

Did any one of these say ‘FREE’?

When artist Karen Mitchell made her woodwork installation to be of the interactive sort, she didn’t expect viewers to ‘assimilate’ her work so well that they decided to take them home. Clearly, some people still don’t grasp the concept of street art. When they see others playing with these wooden slabs like how one browses wares at a flea market, but don’t see anyone around collecting money, they assume that it’s a free-for-all jamboree like those cheese samples promoters dish out at NTUC supermarkets.

Respect for the artist is one thing, but taking something that clearly doesn’t belong to you from public space is the fundamental no-no which we were taught as babies. I don’t see any practical use of Karen’s panels anyway, unless they were swiped by parents too cheapskate to buy spelling cue cards for their kids. I would, however, pay her if she could craft a sign for me that says ‘SILENCE’ or maybe ‘TOILET’. If anyone did surrender pieces of her work to her eventually, they deserve a gift panel with the word ‘CHAMPION’ on it.

The term that describes such ugly behaviour in the local context is ‘itchy fingers’, and Karen isn’t the first artist to suffer from a meddlesome public. A dragon sculpture displayed at a square near Chinatown Complex vanished completely in 2000 (So who stole the dragon? 15 May 2000, ST). In the 2001 Nokia Singapore Art exhibition, Tay Bee Aye’s 179 small fabric cushions shaped as lips gracing the pillars of Suntec City were nicked. Wikipedia explained away the theft by mentioning that her work was ‘too well received’. You could say the same thing if my sculpture of a famous politician built entirely out of gold tooth fillings got amputated overnight, that it was ‘overwhelmingly popular’ with the public. Sure, these petty looters ‘appreciate’ your handiwork. Like how a starving mongrel ‘receives’ a gourmet butcher meat display perhaps.

Even artistic attempts to spruce up our streets by government agencies are not immune from grubby hands. In 2009, STB introduced flower ‘totems’ to brighten up Orchard Road, but decided to move them to Sentosa instead because people were stealing flowers.  I wonder if in this instance such anti-social behaviour would have been considered vandalism instead, though you’re more likely to be charged for defacing public property than taking a piece of it with you. Spray-paint over the Cenotaph and you’ll go to jail, but I doubt you’ll be punished the same way if you chisel off a bit of staircase as a souvenir. For a country so paranoid about CCTV surveillance that we have them set up to catch people taking a piss in lifts, we still don’t seem deterred from messing around with someone’s livelihood in broad daylight.

Perhaps Karen, and anyone aspiring to be a street artist in Singapore, could learn from this experience and come up with immovable themes instead of designs that easily come apart encouraging people to ‘interact’ with them like a pack of wolves descending on fallen prey. Otherwise, rig each detachable piece from your work with an electric charge so that people will be conditioned to keep their hands to themselves once and for all.

As the Bee Gees famously sung,

‘It’s only words
And words are all I have
To take your heart away’

In Karen’s case, her WORDS, not the audience’s HEARTS, were the ones swept away.

Vertical kampung to be built in Woodlands

From ‘Woodlands to get vertical kampung’, 4 Aug 2013, article by Salma Khalik, Sunday Times

Residents in Woodlands will be the first in Singapore to experience the community feel of an integrated building with public facilities such as housing, health care and hawker centres all under one roof.

Planned, built and run by multiple government agencies – a first – this vertical “urban kampung”, as National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan calls it, will bring together the young and old to live, eat and play together.

At the bottom of the building will be a massive “town square” or community plaza, and at the top, 100 studio apartments for elderly singles or couples.

In between will be a medical centre with about 35 consultation rooms and options for day surgery, senior activity and childcare facilities, shops and watering holes, as well as roof-top decks that residents can turn into community gardens.

In land scarce Singapore, architects have long dreamed of building the city upwards and this idea of vertical ‘strata zoning’ isn’t new at all. Urban planners have fantasised of residents working and playing within the same ‘self-sufficient’ complex, a soaring monolith that combines community services like schools and medical centres interspersed with commercial zones and open spaces for interaction and line-dancing. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to step out of the building or take public transport at all. The kampung kids of the future may not even know what the ground smells like if this thing takes off.

Proponents of skyline living have christened vertical city models with names such as ‘Babel’ and ‘Arcosanti’. Jakarta may even be ahead of us in terms of embracing the vertical city concept, with their Peruri 88 project, which looks like badly stacked real-life Tetris. In a world where overcrowded megacities are building modern microcosms of themselves, Khaw Boon Wan’s description of future living as ‘vertical kampungs’ is like calling Spotify an ‘online jukebox’. My impression of such a ‘kampung’ is something similar to the Ewok village on the Forest Moon of Endor. How apt that it’s to be located in WOODLANDS, of all places.

Not the artist’s impression

Like the Woodlands project, concentrating the community was the main concept driver behind one ‘progressive’ housing/shopping design in the late 1960′s. This $16 million, 30-storey landmark building was to be the highest in Asia at the time. Even its name embodied the spirit of the design, though today it’s viewed more as an endearing ‘grand dame’ kind of relic known more for its traditional eateries and grimy massage parlours than the archetype of vertical housing. It’s name? People’s Park Complex.

Jump ahead 40 years and we started thinking again of the ‘future of public housing’. Completed in 2009, this award-winning structure has interlinked sky gardens, bridges that allowed residents to ‘sky-walk’ , flexible interiors and remains the tallest public housing project in Singapore at 48 stories high. I’m talking about the iconic Pinnacle@Duxton, of course, basically the yuppie cousin of what Khaw Boon Wan has in mind for Woodlands.

I’m not sure about living in the same complex as a hawker centre or a hospital, where one may be exposed to deep-fry odours one moment and the smell of death the next. Or knowing that it’s not just your karaoke-blaring neighbour from upstairs annoying you but a band performing in one of these ‘watering holes’. I’m already having trouble dealing with void deck weddings and funerals as it is. I don’t want an iMax theatre round the corner shaking my walls before I sleep. I want to have an address that the average taxi driver recognises and I can pronounce, unlike Compassvale Ancilla. I want a HOME, not a 40-storey sardine can, which is likely the case if the designers commissioned for this project honed their skills playing Tiny Tower on their handphones.

Meanwhile, one can only hope that a ‘vertical kampung’ would fetch ‘kampung prices’. At the rate that property prices are climbing, one might as well apply for a space colony on board a mothership than live in someone’s SimTower fantasy come true.

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