Clubhouse for maids a space to call their own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Lucky Plaza

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

2) Golden Mile Complex

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

3) Peninsula Plaza

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

4) City Plaza and Joo Chiat

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

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

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

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

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$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.

JEM mall using Feng Shui to reverse misfortune

From ‘Jem to reopen only when mall is risk-free’, 21 Sept 2013, article by Jessica Lim, ST

The boss of the development firm behind the Jem mall yesterday promised that it would reopen only when there is “no risk” of incidents like a burst pipe occurring again. It came as a team of experts flew in from Australia to assess damage at the beleaguered shopping centre – which is even considering hiring a fengshui master to revive its flagging fortunes.

Mr Steve McCann, group chief executive officer of Australian firm Land Lease, also refuted an accusation from MP Ang Wei Neng that his company may have taken short cuts in a rush to finish the mall, which was eventually opened four days late in June.

Calling the MP’s comment “unfortunate”, Mr McCann told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: “We certainly do not put revenue ahead of safety.”

…Last month, the mall also made the news when three employees suffered burns in a deep fat fryer accident and a car went up in flames in its carpark.

He added: “It goes without saying that, (it is) unfortunate, but totally unrelated to the centre and quality of the asset.”

Following the collapse, MP Ang said he was ‘concerned that there was some rush to open the mall’ and that the builders ‘may have taken some short cuts’ (Collapse of ceiling: Jem closure worries shoppers, 20 Sept, ST). Though Lend Lease denies any accusation of doing a rushed job, the management should be faulted for bad planning from the very beginning, getting off to a shoddy start with a 4-day delay back in June due to ‘administrative issues’. In a 2011 MND press release on JEM’s website, the country’s third largest suburban mall was scheduled for completion in 2014.  But JEM isn’t the only building being erected in a jiffy these days. Condos, BTOs, offices and every other cookie-cutter mall are sprouting across the city like a mold infestation, and nobody notices when something catches fire, or walls collapse within them because they don’t name themselves after hard, precious stones.

I’ve passed through JEM just once, the self-proclaimed ‘CROWN JEWEL of the WEST’, and the recent incident would make any wary future shopper brace for broken slabs of concrete falling on their own crowns instead of window shopping. Designed to bring the retail buzz of Orchard Road to Jurong, it was built according to meet the requirements of the BCA Greenmark Platinum award, the country’s highest accolade for SUSTAINABILITY. Whatever that means. To most people who are unfamiliar with eco-jargon, a ‘sustainable’ design is something that doesn’t topple on your head. JEM Park consists of ‘green space and sky gardens’ across 3 levels, as part of a ’100% green replacement strategy’. In air-conditioned comfort. If you want a true ‘green’ design, you’d build a much cheaper attap longhouse on stilts instead, with the same risk of things falling on your face.

So what good can geomancy do for what seems to be a cursed shopping mall? In 2008, feng shui masters advised that the Singapore Flyer spin in the opposite direction to wheel in fresh prosperity and blow the ‘qi’ towards the financial heart rather than sucking it away. In December the same year, the icon was hit by an electrical fire, followed by a lightning strike in 2010. It’s also technically out of business as we speak. Of course the fengshui experts may explain away these mishaps as a price to pay for what the direction change really intended to do, which is fan fortune our way at its own expense.

The prime example of fengshui-focused design is none other than Suntec City Mall, which has its Fountain of Wealth and towers arranged like a human hand. Business started to suffer since 2010 because of collateral events like the NDP and YOG, and has just reopened recently after a $410 million facelift. Another national icon the Marina Bay Sands also invested in feng shui on the selection of opening dates, which could have explained the phenomenal success of the casinos to date, but apparently didn’t ward off people plummeting to their deaths from over 50 storeys.

MM Lee once famously derided Feng Shui as ‘utter rubbish’, and anyone with a skeptical, rational mind can understand why, yet both bigwigs at Lend Lease and MBS are First World Westerners who subscribe to such magical thinking. Flailing revenues and accidents are part and parcel of the natural progression of any retail structure, but I guess a little superstition wouldn’t hurt. I’m not an expert in the ancient pseudoscience, but I question how effective geomancy is compared to say, getting religious leaders from every faith down to pray for JEM’s structural integrity and the safety of its tenants and shoppers. It seemed to have brought down the spate of Bedok Reservoir drownings.

It would be interesting to see how JEM incorporates feng shui in its remedial action plan, though the consultation fees could be better spent on securing water pipes. A name change would be awkward at this juncture, even though JEM rhymes with ‘(caught in a ) JAM’. Maybe all the sharp pointy leaves as part of their green replacement strategy has something to do with it.

Postscript: Jem reopened on 2 Oct 2013, after the BCA certified it safe for humans and a fengshui consultant instructed that a trolley bay be removed at the Jurong Gateway entrance because it was ‘blocking the flow of energy through the entrance’ (Jem mall reopens after 2 week closure, 3 Oct 2013, ST). Take note, future mall builders, that your interiors must be flushed with energy to prevent walls from falling down.

Changi Airport CNY discounts for PRCs only

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very Snaky deal

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

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

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

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

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

Cops vs Shoppers

Esme the guide dog not allowed in Forever 21

From ‘Store says sorry over guide dog incident’, 30 Nov 2012, article by Melissa Lin, ST

A FACEBOOK post from a blind woman with a guide dog who recounted her treatment by staff at a Forever 21 clothing outlet went viral yesterday, prompting the American retailer to apologise. Ms Cassandra Chiu, 33, who contracted Stargardt disease when she was eight and lost her vision over time, was at the fashion chain’s Orchard Exchange outlet yesterday afternoon with her six-year-old daughter Kady, a maid and her labrador Esme.

Ms Chiu, a psychotherapist, is the second Singaporean trained to use a guide dog to help her move around.

…After picking up a pair of white pants, she headed to a changing room to try them on. But she was stopped by a female staff member, who told her that no dogs were allowed in the store, Ms Chiu told The Straits Times. She started explaining that Esme was her guide dog, and not her pet, but the staff member walked away before she could finish speaking. “I ended up talking to thin air,” Ms Chiu said.

…Finally, another staff member intervened to say that guide dogs are allowed in the store. Ms Chiu told her to “ask the staff to stop harassing me” and left the store with her purchase of pants.

…The Singapore management of Forever 21 apologised on the post, and said they would like to meet her to apologise in person. “I don’t think that’s necessary,” Ms Chiu said. “The problem is that we need to have a more inclusive society. If they want to do something, they should put a guide dog decal in their store so there won’t be questions about whether guide dogs are allowed inside.”

The president of the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind, Dr Francis Seow-Choen, said people should be more open to guide dogs and be aware of what they are. “They’re not pets. People can be reassured that the guide dogs we bring in have been certified and trained.” Meanwhile, Forever 21 has released a statement saying it has issued an apology to Ms Chiu on its own Facebook page and that of Esme The Guide Dog.

Forever 21 not seeing eye to eye with Seeing eye dog

Esme the dog has her (?) own Facebook page, and it’s more entertaining than BABIES who status update about lactation time. One post recounts how Esme shocked someone while inside the toilet, something I’m not quite used to myself, though I’d rather have a dog staring at me pee than a little girl accompanied by her father. What’s surprising is that Cassandra is only the SECOND blind Singaporean with a guide dog. There could be many reasons why our government has taken so long to implement dogs to help the blind, but some of the most obvious ones are hardly ever mentioned in the article above.

In 1988, it was reported that guide dogs for the blind were barred by various government agencies, of note the Ministry of Health (hospitals and clinics), SBS (buses) with SUPPORT from the predecessor of MICA and, tellingly, the Muslim Religious Council. One can only conclude that the authorities (and certain cultures) deemed a blind man’s helper as a scary, filthy animal, even though a mutt could do more for 1 blind person in its short years of life than a rich, miserly man ever would. The first ever guide dog owner Kua Cheng Hock had to send his pal Stacey back to Australia because of public disapproval. Dogs would have been an economical alternative to enhancing our amenities with disabled-friendly infrastructure, yet we baulk at the thought for the sake of the beliefs or irrational fears of certain individuals. They have been trained not to lick, bite, bark or shit about unnecessarily, which is more than you say of some human beings. I’m not sure if they’ve been trained not to SALIVATE though.

It wasn’t until 2005, when we only had ONE guide dog (Kendra) in the entire country, that SMRT Transit decided to allow them on public transport provided that they were accompanied by station masters and dressed in a harness, just in case there were people who were ‘afraid of dogs’ or ‘culturally sensitive’. Restaurants, with blessings from NEA, followed suit in the same year. Esme in fact posted pics of herself and owner in IKEA, on a bus, in a church, in NTUC, Food Junction and surprisingly, in a cab. This dog has been to more places than the most pampered Pomeranian puppy in Singapore.

Wimp

Wimp

So what do Muslims do when they’re blind and walking canes are not an option? Get a miniature horse, of course. But probably not feasible in Singapore as the poor creatures are likely to be harrassed by kids (and some adults) wanting to ride them like My Little Ponies. Britain passed a groundbreaking fatwa in 2008 allowing a blind teen to walk into a MOSQUE with his guide dog. We’re unlikely to become THAT inclusive, though such acceptance of a taboo animal on holy ground so that one can pray is something to mull over.

Esme’s owner did well to let Forever 21 off with a Facebook post. In other countries, the blind would lodge complaints for discrimination if Muslim cabbies ever refuse to take them. Our PM Lee himself is a fan of ‘inclusiveness’ as well, and unless something is done to address our attitudes and foster compassion towards the blind and their four-legged companions regardless of our religious inclinations, his speeches and tweets would be, well — wait for it — all bark and no bite.

Curious mynahs scaring off cowardly hawk

From ‘Hawk no match for pesky mynahs’, 14 Oct 2012, article by Jessica Lim, Sunday Times

Orchard Road’s hawk patrols have failed. It turns out that the bird of prey is no match for the pesky, noisy mynahs plaguing the shopping strip….The birds moved from that roosting spot to the area near Cathay Cineleisure Orchard and The Heeren, and an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 descend at dusk, especially between 6.45pm and 7pm.

People have complained about noise and droppings that strike pedestrians, cars and walkways. So far this year, the authorities have received 13 reports about the bird nuisance.

…Jurong Bird Park was happy to help, and provided a hawk and handler for three test runs from September last year. Alas, the big bird was found to be intimidated by the large flock of mynahs, said park general manager Raja Segran. He thinks there are other reasons why the idea could not take off, though some might suspect these are just a hawk’s excuses:

The mynahs’ new surroundings meant the hawk needed a long time to adjust;

The thick-canopied trees made it difficult for the bird handler to keep contact with the hawk;

Vehicles could knock down the hawk.

“The movement of the crowd and noise from vehicles along that stretch made the hawk very distracted,” he said. “The flow of traffic on Orchard Road made it too risky to fly our birds there.”

In the trials, which included releasing the hawk onto a tree, it was found that at first the hawk frightened the mynahs off. “But after a while, the mynahs were seen coming back to the tree where the hawk was, as if very curious to see what bird it was,” he said.

No surprise that neither NEA nor AVA was mentioned in this article, with the writer using the annoyingly vague ‘the authorities’, since none of these agencies actually want to take charge of mynahs. Pigeons (AVA) and crows (NEA) yes, but nobody wants their hands full with these rascally birds. In 2008, the NEA did shoot down some crows, but seemingly left most of the mynahs alone since these birds are not ‘in their purview’. Maybe the selective extermination of a bigger ‘competitor’ bird boosted up mynah numbers and made them more fearless since.  So what do Orchard Road tenants do then if the authorities have gone cuckoo over pest control? Take matters into their own hands, of course. By hiring a Jurong Bird Park veteran who trains hawks more for entertainment than stalking and eating smaller nuisance birds. You wouldn’t hire Sylvester the Cat to catch Tweety Bird would you?

You can’t blame the hawk or its handler really. Not only is the force of 5000 mynahs too much to bear, but having led a good life in captivity as a pet, mascot or performer for the Bird park, you would have no incentive to hunt down an unruly flock of squawking, pooping mynahs.  You would rather put on a ‘King of the Skies’ show and awe little children with your gliding prowess and extend your lethal talons ready to strike like you’re plucking a python out of a bush, even if you’ve done nothing with them other than clutching for dear life to some falconer dressed like Mulan.

Glam hawker

Falconry is apparently a noble, majestic sport of sorts that has existed since the Mongols, where raptors are trained to specifically hunt game or impress royal guests at a party. Today falconry is also employed as a natural pest control system, but no one even in medieval times could prepare a hawk for a thousand-strong army of swooping birds, creatures who have no qualms about stealing food from the Apex predators themselves or even go banzai on them on the streets. According to the article, there has been modest success of using hawks to chase off seagulls at a shopping mall in Exeter. Either our mynahs are a formidable guerilla force to be reckoned with, or hawks and their handlers can’t deal with the concrete jungle that is Orchard Road, a jungle where a black bird is king.

If poison, sonic devices, big birds or scarecrows don’t do the job, perhaps ‘the authorities’ should install giant fans in the vicinity of the birds’ roosting areas, which are known to sever bird heads every now and then. Alternatively, you could just take the underpass instead, just to avoid a uniquely Orchard Road weather forecast of Cloudy with a Chance of Droppings.

It’s a bird..

F1 extension delights almost everyone

From ‘News of F1 extension delights all but bay area businesses’, 23 Sept 2012, article by May Chen, ST online

Almost every one, from fans to hotels to Formula One drivers, welcomed the extension of the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday with open arms – every one except several retailers in the Marina Bay area.

Their main beef: The disruption to business when the area goes into lockdown for the three-day extravaganza.

“The race brings a buzz to town, but not everybody is impressed. A lot of people try to stay away and it affects our business, and a lot of other people’s businesses,” said Indochine chief executive Michael Ma yesterday, a refrain echoed by Allan Chia, who operates a pushcart in Suntec City selling mobile phone accessories. “People avoid Suntec City altogether because of the road closures,” said the 35-year-old.

Well, not just the bay side retailers. While the hotels and banks may be popping the champagne with all the money flowing in, the latter flying in VIPs to hobnob with drivers and the rich and famous at the Paddock Club, there have been opposing voices to the F1 Night Race right from the get-go. So it may be rather presumptuous to announce how everyone will embrace another 5 years of night racing, when some groups were already up in arms over the inaugural one in 2008. It’s also worth noting that we didn’t get off to an auspicious start either, with Fernando Alonso winning the first Night race because a Renault teammate deliberately crashed his car to give him an advantage (I don’t know enough about racing to see how that helps). Nobody ever mentions ‘Crashgate’ anymore since, though we had a multi-religious prayer this year to make sure such ‘accidents’ don’t happen. It’s also taboo to even discuss the Ferrari accident near race period, and it’s somewhat ironic that we label supercar drivers here a menace to our roads on one hand, yet embrace the F1 with gusto on the other.

F1 claims to be making conscious ‘green’ efforts to improve on their fuel efficiency and emissions, like planting trees in Mexico or using biofuels, though such actions may register nary a blip on the carbon ECG, especially if they neutralise each other when you need to starve viable forest land to make way for fuel crops. Our Government continues to enthuse over how this event is putting our tiny country on the map, high on the ‘buzz’ that the addictive cocktail of fast cars and posh celebrity delivers, but conveniently forgetting in their delirium that we once made a PLEDGE to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 16% by 2020. Oops.

In 2007, some forum writers spurned the energy-guzzling and glamour posing that comes with each F1, that hosting this event sends conflicting messages to the rest of the world about our stand on energy conservation and combating climate change. One moment we’re talking about supertrees and the next thing you know we’re pounding our streets with oil-guzzling supercars. According to a senior ST correspondent, a single race produces up to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide, this excluding that spewed from freighting cars and equipment into and out of the country. But it’s not so much the noise, the exhaust or the heat that brands every night race an eco-nightmare; It’s the damned lighting.

According to one website dedicated to the F1 Night Race, the lighting statistics are as follows:

Total Power   3,180,000 watt
Track Projectors  1, 485, 2,000 watt each
Power Generators  12 pairs (with back-up)
Aluminium Truss 6,282m
Steel Pylons   240
Power Cables  108, 423m

At 3000 LUX levels, the lighting is FOUR TIMES the lights at sports stadiums. The gorgeous illuminated skyline that we’re so proud of, the one that helicopter cameras glide across every year like a director lingering over naked thighs in a porno film, is the result of a dozen generators belching 3 megawatts of electricity, the same amount that could light up a few Malaysia Cup final matches at the National Stadium, or serve a few underprivileged households. Will Singapore compromise when we face an oil crisis within the next 5 years, or perhaps consider switching to a less wasteful DAY race instead? But you can’t argue about electricity expenditure without sounding like a spoilsport who doesn’t appreciate the exhilaration of night racing. Singapore NEEDS the F1, so they say. But you don’t need bright lights and dozens of expensive parties and concerts to make an icon out of Marina Bay. Sometimes, all you need is an amateur porn star and a camera.

No it’s not about our national identity, the Marina glitter, the F1 fans or the small pushcart businesses in Suntec City. It’s about the after-race Dom Perignons, the $26,600 per table at Amber Lounge,  the $6850 Paddock Club pass.  Few people who could spend thousands on a ticket are really interested in the technicalities of the sport, rather using it as a backdrop for business or high-society pleasure. Money is all there is to it, and while we rush headlong into this glitzy fantasy, our heads reverberating with the erotic growl of the engine and our hearts pumping with adrenaline, our most influential supporters of the race continue to sleepwalk through our energy conservation efforts, dump flyers at us telling us how to save electricity (but not the trees obviously) while raising tariffs, yet preparing for the next race bash by hugging for dear life onto whatever surplus oil barrels we have.

Orchard streetwalkers soliciting expats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children getting maimed by escalators

From ’4-year-old’s hand torn after being pushed down MRT escalator’, 31 March 2012, article in asiaone.com

A four-year-old boy was pushed down the escalator at Ang Mo Kio MRT station, causing his left hand to get caught in the escalator and badly injuring it. The news first broke when Ms Visa Lee, who put up a Facebook post showing a photograph of the boy’s hand torn and bloody, called for help sharing the picture to locate witnesses for the accident.

According to reports, Lucas Xie was with his brother and maid going down the escalator when he was shoved from behind. He lost his footing and landed on his left hand, which subsequently got caught when the steps of the escalator went beneath the floor, The Straits Times reported.

Escalators are public limb-guillotines, things we take so often on a regular basis that we forget what lethal slice-and-dice contraptions these can turn out to be, epitomised by one of the more gruesome deaths from the Final Destination series.

No Crocs were harmed in this movie

A series of toe mutilations occurred in 2006-2008, with people pointing fingers at rubber footwear instead of negligence on the part of the parent or playfulness/carelessness by the child. But feet trappings were already happening before Crocs became popular; In 1985, canvas shoes and shoelaces were gobbled up by escalators, almost dragging their wearers with them. Handrails, designed as a safety feature, have ironically claimed the hands of a few as well, with cleaners getting theirs stuck in the line of duty. Kids have gotten stranded while hanging on handrails on the outer side of up-escalators, or landed themselves in critical condition after monkeying around trying to climb over them. Even holding on to handrails too tightly may get you keeling over if they stop suddenly, as what happened to 4 elderly women in Punggol Plaza last year. Hands and feet aside, you could also get your HEAD stuck between escalator and wall if you’re leaning over the handrails staring at the basement below (Boy’s head stuck between escalator and wall, 19 Aug 1997, ST)

What about DEATH by escalator? In 1993, a housewife died after falling and hitting her head on an escalator in Jurong East MRT while attempting to retrieve something she dropped (MRT station death accident, 13 April 1993). A year later,  an 11 year old boy fell 3 storeys to his death off an escalator (Misadventure ruling on boy who fell off escalator, 17 Sept 1994, ST). Even if you paid extra caution to avoid those deadly gaps and teeth on escalators, there’s a chance you might perish in a freak fire still, as what happened to an escalator in Ang Mo Kio Hub in 2010. An overloaded escalator may also spell your demise, with commuters tumbling like dominoes during rush hour at Boon Lay MRT station. In 2003, 20 people were injured, including a pregnant lady, when the escalator at City Hall MRT suddenly REVERSED (Sprocket to blame, 29 May 2003, Today), an event captured in an unfortunate analogy used by then DPM Lee Hsien Loong to Pre-U students on the topic of education and career.

…We are no longer riding on an escalator, which you step onto by attaining a degree, and after that the only way is up..Once in a while the escalator stops suddenly and MOVES BACKWARDS (Pursue your passions, 4 June 2003, Today)

A similar incident happened at Bugis MRT one year later (Commuters tumble down escalator, 16 Nov 2004, ST). You could even get hurt on horizontal TRAVELLATORS; according to a Today contributor, a young boy was ‘knocked off his feet’ by rushing commuters at Dhoby Ghaut station in 2005.

If not maiming body parts or falling off them, you could also have your modesty outraged on an escalator, with dirty old men sneaking mobile phones on ‘record’ mode beneath women’s skirts. Of course, any pervert getting his kicks filming upskirts on something as dangerous as an escalator is asking for it if caught in the act by a furious victim more than willing to offer the hungry metallic beast an appendage to chomp on.

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