SIA’s post following MH17 crash insensitive and classless

From ‘ SIA says sorry for insensitive post on MH17′, 19 July 2014, article in CNA

Singapore Airlines (SIA) on Saturday (July 19) apologised for its social media postings following the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17. “We are aware that our Facebook and Twitter update on Friday morning may have come across as insensitive to some,” an SIA spokesperson said in reply to queries from Channel NewsAsia. The post was in response to requests from customers who had asked for information about the airline’s flight routes, the spokesperson said in a statement.

…Following the MH17 crash, SIA had posted on Facebook and Twitter a single-sentence message which said: “Customers may wish to note that Singapore Airlines flights are not using Ukraine airspace”. It posted another message an hour later, which said: “Our thoughts are with the passengers and crew of MH17 and their families.”

But the first post had attracted a storm of criticism from netizens by then, who called the post “inappropriate” and “opportunistic”.

Facebook user Michael Reit said in a post: “How about at least acknowledging the terrible event and sending condolences to those families and friends involved instead of this cold, classless update?” Another user, Su Sripathy SIA, wrote: “Your posting was just tacky….and inappropriate at a time like this.”

That’s the problem with the 140 word Twitter limit. If SIA had combined the condolences and reassurance in a single post, it wouldn’t have drawn such flak, though practically speaking the info on re-routing planes in flight, in my opinion, was more useful for the purpose of placating the loved ones of their airborne customers than expressing shock and sadness at the catastrophe. It was a close call for SIA still, with SQ351 just 25km away from the ill-fated MAS airline, and even if they wouldn’t post it, executives in the boardroom must have been thanking their lucky stars that it wasn’t their plane that was at the receiving end of a surface-to-air missile. SIA’s post was ‘cold’ and restrained because it HAD to be. They’re in the business of sending people to places, not wreaths and well-wishes.

Even if I had lost someone on that plane, I would understand the purpose of SIA’s announcement. What I would find ‘insensitive’ and upsetting would be news of people escaping the tragic flight by the skin of their teeth, like ‘Phew, thank God I wasn’t on that plane’, rubbing salt on my wound. Or jokes for that matter. Malaysia’s own Chef Wan posted a ‘distasteful’ joke about a missing door of MH370 he found in Perth. American comedian actor Jason Biggs asked if anyone wanted to buy his Malaysian Airlines frequent flyer miles after the MH17 disaster. Until today, most of us only knew him as the guy who stuck his dick in a pie. Notorious parody Twitter troll SMRT (Feedback) couldn’t resist either.

Then there’s ‘satirical cartoons’, like this from the London Times.

The downing of MH17 is also conspiracy theory fodder, with some reports suggesting that the CURE FOR AIDS could have been on that plane following the demise of 6 top AIDS researchers on their way to a major conference. TNP went for a ‘spooky coincidence’ angle, pointing to the number 7 as an ‘uncanny’ recurrence, ignoring the fact that there is no 7 in the number of people dead. Where’s the public outcry here? Excuse me while I check the winning 4D numbers for this week (7949, 19 July 14). Gasp!

Of course, those people slamming SIA for being ‘insensitive’ and ignoring anyone else joking or garnering attention at the expense of hundreds of deaths are themselves doing absolutely nothing for the bereaved other than fighting for sympathy online. They’re probably never going to take MAS for the rest of their lives, nor will they petition the international community to bring the killers to justice. In times like these, it’s probably better to leave the condemnation and justice-seeking to the governments, and engage in more important things like spending time with your loved ones instead of complaining to the press about SIA’s ‘inappropriate’ post.

 

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Folding paper ingots forbidden by some religions

From ‘Religion getting in the way of filial piety’, 22 March 2014, Voices, Today

(Evelyn Tan): My husband’s grandmother died recently at the age of 91. The last couple of years were difficult as she was bedridden and fading day by day….According to her wishes, the funeral arrangements followed Taoist tradition. This involved elaborate prayers, processions and folding thousands of paper ingots to send her on a comfortable journey to the afterlife. With that many offspring, one would have expected all hands on deck.

What materialised seemed to be a reflection of changing times and narrow beliefs. Several of her offspring have adopted other religions and refused to participate in any of the Taoist ceremonies, including the folding of paper ingots. I find this a strange phenomenon. Surely, what matters must be the wishes of the deceased, rather than the beliefs of the living?

As more Singaporeans become well-travelled, no one has qualms about visiting religious landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan. In fact, many plan to visit these landmarks. As we progress in this society, we must remain tolerant of all beliefs.

Using religion as an excuse to distance oneself from religious ceremonies for a loved one seems to be a practice of double standards and the start of an intolerant approach.

Although the writer did not specify what religion her uncooperative relatives belonged to, it’s likely to be Christianity,  in which a related funeral custom, the handling of joss sticks, is frowned upon by some practitioners.  Some refuse to even touch a bag of it as if it were poison. According to a certain pastor ‘Steven Wong’, holding joss sticks is a symbol of ancestral worship, and God explicitly forbids ‘a relationship with the spirits of the dead (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). He goes so far to call the practice  ‘demonic and occultic’, and makes you a bad, bad Christian.

Joss sticks aside, burning ‘hell money’ is also discouraged, for its purpose is to ‘bribe’ the departing spirits and keep them from descending into our realm and peek at us from behind the closet. Tough luck for dead Granny if her only Christian child refuses to send a paper iPad up to her in heaven, which makes her more likely to come down and haunt your dreams. A baptised ‘child of God’ is also prohibited from kneeling before a corpse, because it’s an act of demonic supplication. All this coming from a faith where you ‘eat’ the body and ‘drink’ the blood of Jesus Christ, channel gibberish in fits of ecstasy, and you carry around wooden cross talismans as protection against vampires.

The Deuteronomy text is specific on what constitutes an ‘abomination’ in the eyes of the Lord: Divination, enchanter, witch, charmer, consulter with familiar spirits, wizard, NECROMANCER. There’s no disclaimer on conducting rites as a ‘mark of respect’ for a dead human being rather than a wandering garden deity. As long as you oblige your funeral hosts with the simplest of tasks like burning incense or folding pieces of paper, you’re deemed to be engaging in evil hocus-pocus and black magic, like you’re part of a seance communicating with dead punters for Toto numbers. By that argument, Christians are also forbidden from believing in fairy godmothers, or watching clowns perform magic in front of terminally ill children.

Christians are free to visit other places of worship, of course, as long as they don’t attempt to communicate with other spirits and look like they’re worshipping another invisible heavenly being. So there’s no ‘double standard’ to speak of. But it’s not just others’ religious rites that Christians condemn as cult behaviour. They may even be a wet blanket at wedding banquets. Christian forum writer Steve Ngo experienced one of a Chinese couple where it was forbidden to shout ‘YUM SENG’ because conservative Christians considered it ‘paganistic’. Even the 12 animals in the zodiac are not spared from accusations of occultism and idolatry. One Christian writer says it’s not right to even wish your loved ones ‘GONG XI FA CAI’. My God, can you guys even wish upon a star? Whether you’re Christian or not, we engage in little acts of ‘unholy’ divination every single day. We buy ‘lucky numbers’ at the pools, we refrain from lying on the bed of the dearly departed, we throw bouquets at bridesmaids in a wedding, we shake a pair of dice longer thinking we’ll get a better roll, we throw coins in a well, we seal a love letter with a kiss. If all these are signs of devil worship, then by all means, I’d rather be Satan’s little imp than an obedient servant of a nitpicky God. Life would be so boring without fantasy and ‘black magic’.

Refusing to abide by superstitious traditions, unlike what the title of the letter suggests, isn’t so much an act of impious rebellion (The author makes no mention of the words ‘filial piety’), than being a stickler to indoctrination.  Just making the effort to turn up or stand before the altar in silence is already a decent sign of respect and gratitude and no one has the right to force you to burn incence or follow a monk around a coffin if you don’t want to, for whatever silly arcane reasons. But if you look beyond these superficial rituals, you’d see such family activities not just as netherwordly appeasement, but they serve as a form of social bonding, and if it’s in your benefit to play along even if your religion labels it as sacrilegious, then indulge your relatives just for the moment.  If your God is the loving God that He claims he is, he’d understand your intentions. Of course most Chinese Christians don’t go so far as to rubbish the ‘Year of the Horse’ or refuse to wear red over CNY because it’s a sign of sucking up to Cai Shen Ye, a pagan magical troll in the eyes of the Lord, but if you’re the kind who thinks folding paper ingots is a satanic ritual, then you should be at least consistent in your beliefs, like, burning your Harry Potter books and banning your kids from watching the Wizard of Oz.

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.

Bidadari new town should be renamed ‘Sunshine estate’

From ‘S’poreans unfazed by Bidadari’s past’, 1 Sept 2013, article by Rachel Tan, Sunday Times

…Once the largest grave site in Singapore, the 18ha Bidadari Cemetery is making way for a new Housing Board town and private estates. However, many young Singaporeans are not aware of its history. From a group of around 20 people in their 20s and 30s that The Sunday Times spoke to, only half knew it was a burial ground.

…Mr Gan Ying Kiat, 30, was looking to move to the Bidadari area with his wife. “I’m not bothered by its cemetery history,” he said. “I’m aware that other housing areas like Bishan were also cemeteries.

…Bidadari – meaning “angel” or “fairy” in Malay – had sections for Muslims, Hindus, Singhalese and Christians but burials ended there in 1972. Towns such as Bishan, Toa Payoh and parts of Bukit Timah were also cemeteries.

…Businesswoman Eunice Tan believes it will take a lot of incentives to entice people to live on a former graveyard. The 60-year-old said: “Frankly, I wouldn’t like to live on such burial grounds unless the prices and amenities are extremely attractive, especially for first-time buyers.”

She even proposed alternative names for the new development – including “Happy Estate” and “Sunshine Estate”.

Ms Sitifazilah Perey had similar sentiments. She wrote on Facebook: “Since there are a significant number of superstitious Singaporeans, it is better to change the name.”

Bishan today is more renown for an elite institution, a congested MRT interchange and an iconic park than a place where dead bodies were left to rot. It’s also known for maisonettes with sky-high prices more terrifying than the ghost stories we used to tell about the last train on the MRT line, or creepy tales about the said prestigious school itself. Not that supernatural urban legends or dug up skeletons will stop people from sending their children to RI, or making Bishan their home (because of wanting to send their children to RI).

Formerly the graveyard known as ‘Pek San Teng’, Bishan was renamed to its Hanyu Pinyin version as part of a $700 million facelift with the original intention of housing ‘LOWER and MIDDLE income groups’. Haunted or not, that didn’t stop ‘superstitious Singaporeans’ from flocking to what was touted as a ‘spanking new’, ‘state of the art HDB‘. Nobody cared if Kampung San Teng used to be a gangster hideout; Bishan was the future then and remains popular now, even if property prices continue to feel like bloody extortion.

Bidadari, a bird naturalist and cyclist haven, looks set to follow in Bishan’s footsteps, yet another relentless drive to turn our hallowed grounds into trendy estates, unabashed urban sacrilege for the sake of progress. History tells us that the government may tweak its name to help people forget about wandering spirits, but one shouldn’t patronise its morbid past by calling it the schmaltzy ‘Sunshine estate’, which sounds more like a retirement hub than an up-and-coming model for sustainable living.

I doubt they would turn a Malay word into Hanyu Pinyin either, because there’s no difference between ‘Bi Da Da Li’ and ‘Bidadari’. My only reservation with the sing-song ‘Bidadari’ is its inconvenient phonetics which encourages tongue-twisters, like ‘Hey Dar, I bid for Bidadari BTO already!’, and that it sounds like a lyric in a 90′s techno song . I have to admit I also typo-ed ‘Bididari’ and ‘Bidadiri’ while writing this post.  Who knows, there may be a competition for such things. How about ‘Vernon’ after the nearby columbarium? ‘Woodley’ as a hybrid of Bartley and Woodleigh (both neighbouring MRT stations)? Or Angelville?

Whatever it’s called, there will be urban legends, legends that our kids will remember more than what Bidadari actually once was.  But it’s not just the ghost of long-haired women in white that we should be worried about, but the ghost of ecological damage coming back to haunt us. Nobody cared about exotic birds or variable squirrels when Bishan was developed, and if voices against environmental holocaust go ignored this time, Bidadari, like Bishan, will within 30 years turn from promising ‘urban oasis’ to a cookie-cutter HDB town with smatterings of sterile, forced greenery where the only link it has with its cemetery past would be how devoid of a soul it is.

Compassvale Ancilla Latin for ‘girl servant’ or ‘sea snails’

From ‘Matilda Portico? HDB gets into the name game’, 19 May 2013, article by Daryl Chin, Sunday Times

A portico is a columned walkway that originated in ancient Greece. Nautilus is a shellfish and the name of Captain Nemo’s submarine in the Jules Verne classic 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. What about ancilla? It does not exist even in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, but is said to have a Latin origin and apparently means girl servant, or sea snails.

…Among the latest Build-To-Order (BTO) projects announced in March this year was one in Punggol called Matilda Portico. Compassvale Ancilla in Sengkang Central and the Nautilus in Punggol are the other names the HDB has come up with in recent years. Others include Waterway Sunbeam, Punggol Spectra, The Periwinkle, Edgedale Green and The Coris.

These tongue-twisters may be a bane to non-English-speaking elderly folk and taxi drivers, but the HDB says it is all part of a long- term branding policy, which it hopes creates a special identity and builds a sense of community among residents. “The objective was to create local identities that residents can relate to and foster neighbourliness,” said a spokesman for HDB.

…The HDB said its guiding principles for names include the location of the estate, special design features and any interesting historical or cultural link. As much as possible, HDB would also choose names that are distinct from nearby developments to avoid confusion.

…The HDB even has a theme going for studio apartment projects, which are meant to provide seniors with affordable housing. All have the word “golden” in the first part of their names to indicate graceful ageing. The second part can come from local plants or spices, like Golden Saffron in Woodlands.

*Video stills from Stomp/Wah Banana.

HDB has been ripping off condo concepts for BTO branding for years, and since most words containing ‘water’ in them have already been taken, why not a name that sounds like a high-end Italian bakery? Matilda Portico is supposedly inspired by the nearby Matilda House, an abandoned and the only bungalow left standing in Punggol which as of 2012 has been converted to a clubhouse for a condo that calls itself A TREASURE TROVE . Imagine asking a taxi uncle to take you to ‘A Treasure Trove’. He’d probably ask you if you have a wooden leg and a parrot on your shoulder.

And what an ‘interesting historical link’ this Matilda House is, especially if you’re the superstitious sort. ‘Matilda’ was the mother of an Irish businessman named Alexander Cashin, who built the house in her honour in 1902. Alexander’s father, Joseph, was a 19th century expat who made his fortune out of OPIUM farms. Also known as Istana Menanti (The Waiting Palace), rumour has it that it’s HAUNTED and that several construction workers were killed mysteriously while trying to demolish it. In fact, so renown is its spookiness that it is one of the stopovers of the Singapore Spooky Tour organised by the Asia Paranormal Investigators, advertised as the ‘most haunted home in the city’. With the recent makeover, the only thing scary about Matilda today are the prices of the condos and ‘atas’ BTO flats surrounding it. With a name like Portico, I’d expect the facade of a Roman bathhouse at the very least.

Punggol Amityville.

‘Ancilla’, on the other hand, has as much cultural or historical relevance as naming another BTO after a fabled submarine. A quick Google tells us that it indeed refers to a genus of sea snails, while in Latin it also means maid, or girl-slave. I don’t know about the natural history of sea snails in Punggol or whether they have been eaten to extinction thanks to Pungool Seafood, but maids we have aplenty. If you Google IMAGE ‘Ancilla’, however, you don’t see gastropods or slaves, but THIS:

Ancilla, Playboy model

Ancilla, Playboy model

Goodness, HDB has unwittingly named one of its projects after a nude model. Let’s hope it turns out to be as sexy as it sounds. But remember, residents of Ancilla, it’s not pronounced AHN-SEE-LA, but AHN-KEE-LA (though both will confuse taxi drivers nonetheless). I bet some smart-alecks will attempt to say it like AHN-CHI-LA, as in CHINCHILLA. Those in the medical field will make nerdy jokes about how close it sounds to ‘axilla’, or ARMPIT. Meanwhile I would suggest HDB consult a marine biologist before giving BTOs such fishy names.

So it’s not just old people or taxi uncles who get confused about BTO and condo names, it’s the people who LIVE in these buildings themselves. Even deceptively simple words can have different interpretations, like Fernvale LEA: (LEE or LE-A). Don’t even get me started on D’Nest. You have BTO names which are a mouthful like WATERWAY SUNBEAM (not to be confused with Waterway Sundew),  or named after one of the 7 sins (Keat Hong Pride), a Wonder Woman accessory (Corporation Tiara), or a Superman accessory (Compassvale Cape). Not to mention frustrating clones like Tampines GreenTerrace, GreenForest and Greenleaf. All without the spacing in between. Like, you know, atreasuretrove. Kids, don’t try this in school.

There is also the trend of naming studio apartment for seniors with the word ‘Golden’ in them. I’m sure old folks can handle numbers and traditional names like ‘Kim Keat’ and ‘Choa Chu Kang’ easily, but forcing them to say ‘Golden Saffron’, ‘Golden Clover’ or ‘Golden KISMIS‘ is a form of elderly abuse. There’s even a ‘Golden DAISY’ which sounds more like a florist in People’s Park Complex than a home. What if they get lost and need help finding their way home but can’t tell us where they live? What if taxi drivers and paramedics end up at Golden Mile or Golden Village cinema instead? In any case, ‘golden’ is passe. Seniors now belong to the ‘silver’ generation. So how about Silver Crest, Silver Hills, Silvervale or Silver Waves? Wait, scrap the last one, that sounds too much like a tsunami.

Satanic soldier having sex with 11 year old cousin

From ‘Soldier jailed for sex with two minors; told one minor that he was a Satanist’, 12 March 2013, article by Elena Chong, ST.

A 21-year-old army regular was jailed for 20 months on Tuesday for having sex with two minors. Neither the accused nor the two girls, then aged 15 and 11, can be named as there is a gag order. A district court heard that he was initially given a 12-month conditional warning for having sex with his girlfriend, aged 15, at his home in November 2008. He was then 17. The girl, now 19, became pregnant and underwent an abortion.

He breached the condition of the warning to remain crime-free for the next 12 months by committing similar offences. This time, he preyed on his 11-year-old cousin. Claiming that he was a “Satanist”, he told her in October 2009 that since she was the first person to touch him, she must have sex with him or else “Satan” would “come after her”.

The girl became disturbed and later on, began to believe him as she started seeing “figures” in her bedroom. She was often scolded by her mother and she attributed the incidents of “bad luck” to the fact that she did not have sex with the accused.

Satanism is one way to use alleged powers of the occult to frighten gullible girls into sex, but the Horned One and the blood rituals committed in his honour have gone out of fashion in recent decades, which makes the victim’s fear of the Prince of Darkness rather surprising. Telling a kid horrific stories about Satan these days is as good as wriggling your fingers in a creepy fashion and summoning the Boogeyman. Parents no longer use scare tactics to send children to bed or ‘be good..or else’, when sometimes the threat of imaginary monsters may be more effective than a stern wagging finger and ‘rationalising’ with a brat who refuses to let go of your iPad.

There seems to be a trend of boys taking liberties with evil deities to deceive innocent girls. A certain ‘John’ fell into a trance in order to make girls succumb as he channeled Yan Luo Wang, the Chinese God of Hell back in 2011. Just earlier this month, Simon Wong Choy Chuan pretended to be possessed by ghosts whilst chanting and speaking in a different voice, calling himself ‘Gasura’, which sounds more like Godzilla’s bumbling arch nemesis than an embodiment of pure evil. For his theatrics he got 5 girls to submit to him, his hisses, fits and sputters probably more convincing than any of the professional actors on Channel 5′s Incredible Tales. But even blessed angels and saints aren’t spared from lecherous pretenders. You have fake monks ripping you off your ‘donations’ and priests touching boys where they shouldn’t be touching. If drawing inspiration from the pits of hell doesn’t work, there’s always the other side of the ‘supernatural’ to turn to.

The ‘medium con’ was first brought into public awareness by the shocking trial of serial rapist-killer Adrian Lim, who was an ‘ardent believer of the goddess Kali’. In 1983, he related to the courts how he SOMERSAULTED and rolled to the front of an altar, mimicking the ‘voice of an old man’. But it’s not just playing a vessel for spirit possession that makes people piss their pants. Conversely, you may trick someone into sex by convincing her that she herself is the one who needs a special brand of ‘exorcism’, taking ‘sexual healing’ to gruesome extremes. Lying alone is useless without a little persuasion, authority, plenty of charisma, and perhaps some gravity defying acrobatics for authenticity. You also have to choose your avatar wisely. It would be embarrassing to channel Hades, mythic Ruler of the Underworld and get a blank stare instead of reluctant undressing.

As customary as it is to symphatise with any victim of such a ruse, you’d have to wonder what good a little common sense and skepticism could do to save a child, or even an ADULT for that matter, from trouble. We teach our kids how to solve complex Maths problems but fail in our duty to protect them from malicious superstition or predators. Even if you’re the sort to be fooled by eyeball rolling and scary gibberish, at least ask yourself what our army is doing letting these wild, incestuous Satanists serve the country, what with their blood rite nonsense and heavy metal music and all. Let’s see what the Dark Lord has in store in return for this follower desecrating a nubile and blood relative like a good Satanist should. A hot tub in hell would be well deserved.

Chinatown snake sculpture reminds people of death

From ‘Good designs are sensitive to cultural norms’, 19 Jan 2013, ST Forum

(Dr Tam Chen Hee): I READ with interest the report (“Chinatown snake sculptures may slither into S’pore record books”; Wednesday) on the negative feedback some Chinatown residents gave about snake decorations in the area.

One cardinal rule of good design is that the design must be in keeping, rather than in conflict, with the implicit norms and cultural understanding of the local community and/or habitat. Hence, some research and understanding of the local customs and heritage should have been done, and some thoughtful consideration exercised when deciding to introduce avant garde ideas (which are clearly to be welcomed but need to be sensitively and creatively tailored to the local context).

The students were trying to be creative, which is good, yet they also need to be taught to create sensitively and with care to local knowledge. This will serve them well when they design for overseas markets. The Chinese, even the Peranakans, avoid sharp edges (for instance, a round dining table is preferred) and indeed, the cubic lantern boxes in the snake sculpture (above right) do remind the older generation of Chinese of funereal objects.

Another lesson from this episode is that good designers should always look out for good examples by others. In the report, one student said that as the snake is symbolically ambiguous, unlike the dragon, it is harder to design decorations appropriate to it.

I saw one good snake design in Taiwan recently – snakes circling around pillars (showing movement and vitality) and looking skywards with their jaws open, spewing golden showers of coins for the new year or cherry blossoms for new growth. I hope the students have learnt something useful from this and take the well-intended criticism in their stride, so they can better themselves next time.

8-bit snake

8-bit snake

In an earlier feature on the potentially record-breaking snake design, the SUTD students were told by elderly folks that they didn’t like to have ‘snakes all over the place’. I wonder how they would feel if it weren’t the Year of the Snake but the RAT instead. Then again, you already see live rats any time of the year in Chinatown, not just during CNY. I’m no expert in art and crafts but the boxy sculpture looks like it was inspired by an 8-bit Nintendo game. Giving the snake a ‘pixellated’ look may nullify the primal fear we all have of a slithery mythological creature that has inspired centuries of dark villainy, sorcery and Samuel L Jackson swear words. But if you overdo it and give the fearsome Serpent a smiley face like the other hovering Chinatown snake, you risk having people mistaking it for an overgrown flying tadpole, or a happy Sperm deity. It’s a Chinese Zodiac icon, not a Japanese sex festival mascot. Even the resident Pokemon reptiles Ekans and Arbok look more terrifying than this.

La Mamba

I don’t know about the Taiwanese Snake, but it sounds like a rip-off of the Caduceus, the symbol of the medical profession. Entwining pillars may signify ‘movement and vitality’, but that’s also the way the reptile suffocates its prey. More like ‘torture and death’, especially if you’re at the receiving end of a snaky cuddle.

Not one to follow customs or shy away from taboos even though I’m a Snake Baby myself, I’m not sure if traditional Chinese refrain from sharp lines or using sharp objects only during auspicious festivities or run for the hills (not mountains, these have jagged edges) every single time we sit at a square jutting table as the writer suggests. In spring cleaning rituals, the use of sharp objects like scissors may ‘cut off’ your fortune. But I’m not aware if there’s a taboo over dining tables, boxes or HDTVs, though some Chinese may take offence towards PLANTS. In 2011, a pair of squabbling neighbours were deflecting bad luck off each other with curtain hooks and pointy leaf blades. Guess I should start checking on my neighbours’ flowers to make sure the thorns aren’t facing my doorway.  That explains the sharp pain in my skull every time I step out for work. I should also avoid walking behind people with earrings. Damn you plants and jewellery!

This fear of edges explains why wedding banquet tables are round but I haven’t seen any couple cut the cake with a truncheon (rather than a knife), signed off their marriage certs with thumbprints instead of pens, nor has anyone banished forks or bony fish from the dinner package. In fact, I don’t think one can even live without sharp edges or objects unless you live in a ballpit. As for lanterns, they have been used as skyborne vessels for well-wishes and good fortune too, not just to light up a trail for visiting spirits at a wake, something I’m sure the writer should know having visited Taiwan. But wait, maybe there IS one thing with sharp edges that every married adult should avoid during the New Year: ANG POWs. Those dreaded things can give you the most gruesome papercuts other than burning holes in your pocket and can be used in place of Ninja throwing stars. If this superstition is to be applied across the board I think we should do away not just with the scissors and other pokey things, but also over-crisp 2-dollar notes, red packets, expensive bak kwa, and give out coins, balloons and pineapple tarts instead.

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