NEA making rain to wash off the haze just for F1

From ‘Cloud seeding rumours are false, malicious: MEWR Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’, 17 Sep 15, article in CNA

Rumours that cloud seeding is taking place to induce rain ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix are false, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said.

Addressing a WhatsApp message that has been making the rounds in Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook on Thursday (Sep 17): “The National Environment Agency does not engage in cloud seeding and has no plans to do so. Singapore is so small that even if anybody tried to do it, the rain would almost certainly fall outside Singapore.”

He added: “Singaporeans should beware of malicious people spreading false rumours during a period when anxieties are heightened.”

The original WhatsApp message called for people to be wary of what it claimed were “chemically-induced rain showers”, purportedly meant to reduce haze levels in light of the coming Formula 1 race, which will be held on roads in Singapore’s Civic District from Sep 18 to 20.

In 2006, the NEA did in fact conduct a feasibility study on cloud-seeding to combat the annual haze scourge (S’pore may make own rain to beat the haze, 17 Nov 2006, ST). If you go further back to 1963 when the country was drought-hit, we embarked on the first ever rain-making attempt by sending a Royal Australian Air Force DC-3 up into the air. It is not known if that crew was actually successful, or the lack of suitable clouds to fertilise put a damper on their efforts. That probably works on the parched Outback, but not on our little pinprick of an island. Alternatively, you could try to pray for 4 hours, like what our Sikh community did that same year. I wonder what precipitated out of that. So, yeah, the possibility of us ‘playing God’ and dabbling in rainmaking is not as outright incredulous as the MEWR minister makes it seem.

Rumours of using this expensive technique, the science behind which is still rather ‘hazy’, to bring on the showers aren’t new to Singaporeans. We hear of it being done to deplete the clouds of their load so that the National Day Parade would be rain-free. But why hire a pilot and an aircraft full of silver iodide when you could do something far cheaper, and simpler, a method even endorsed by our PM himself: Making an offering chillies and onions to the rain deities.

Conspiracy theorists may recall how the US War machine supposedly weaponised the weather using aggressive cloud seeding over Vietnam. Code named Operation Popeye, the mission was to ‘reduce trafficability’ along infiltration routes. A war euphemism for torrential rain, floods and landslides. Apparently not everyone dreams of making it rain meatballs.

Cloud seeding by our neighbouring countries has also been linked with hailstones, a speculation that was firmly debunked by NEA for the reason that rain clouds formed by such seeding cannot travel such long distances to reach us. Till today, there remains no clear explanation for the freak weather we had post-haze in 2013. Not everyone complains about this ‘raining like ice cubes’, though.

Lui Tuck Yew’s resignation and the Singapore Boat

From ‘All have stations to man on the Singapore boat’, 13 Aug 15, ST Forum

(Steve Chiu Shih Tung): Though the major disruptions on the MRT lines were mentioned in Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, we can only guess at what the real factors behind his resignation might be (“Lui Tuck Yew decides to leave politics“; yesterday).

But let’s suppose that the MRT breakdowns were the factors; we ought to contemplate how our responses to the breakdowns might have shaped Mr Lui’s decision to step down.

As citizens, we are all in this one Singapore boat. It’s a boat well envied by international watchers, but it’s a boat that’s already 50 years old, and we have a lot of infrastructure, like the MRT, that has been faithfully serving us for several decades now.

As this Singapore boat weathers all kinds of storms, we must realistically expect wear and tear, damage and even downtime to some of the key machinery running this boat, such as the MRT lines. The MRT is just a microcosm of the crucial machinery running this Singapore boat.

…Storms will come and, often, they are beyond our control. We would do well to rise above our frustrations in the face of inconveniences, recognise the efforts of our fellow countrymen and cheer them on, as they do their utmost to serve us all as we weather these storms together.

The writer has successfully used the pretext of our Transport Minister stepping down from his ‘poisoned chalice’ to display his knack for cheesy analogies. Firstly, to be more specific, Singapore is a SAMPAN, as described by PM Lee himself. Once you’ve got that boat analogy down, you need to make it rock, hence ‘weathering the storms‘. One may argue that a massive MRT breakdown is not a random act of God but an inherent system failure, a problem that Lui has supposedly ‘inherited’ from the past, according to Low Thia Khiang. Not surprisingly, ministers who once owned the transport portfolio decided to keep mum about Lui’s sudden decision, or Low’s suggestion that someone, somewhere along the line of the condemned screwed up. That includes Khaw Boon Wan (Acting Transport Minister circa 2003), and retiring ex Minister of Communications Mah Bow Tan (1991-1999).

Incidentally, just before Lui was tasked to ‘brave the perfect storm’, he spoke of poison mushrooms during his 2011 GE rally. And sick was what our aging MRT turned out to be. Despite having the cards heavily stacked against his favour, we got our Free early morning rides and a new Downtown Line due by the end of the year. Tower Transit London won a bus tender with the Government Contracting Model.  Naturally, with his boss reluctantly accepting his resignation, the accolades from co-workers came pelting like the gentle rain. He was ‘hardworking’, had a ‘heart’ for Singaporeans, and worked the ground like all Ministers should. He descended into the dark belly of the beast with the unwashed masses.  He referred to these niceties, in his own humble words, as ‘obituaries and eulogies without the flowers’. How accurate. We haven’t had such pleasant things said about a PAP politician since LKY passed away.

To say that things haven’t been smooth sailing for the former Navy Chief is an understatement. The hashtag #tuckyew has been trending on Twitter ever since 2011, first tweeted by a guy called Martin Wong: ‘Let’s trend #tuckyew’. For the past 4 years, any delay in train service, any instance of a SBS driver not understanding English, every time a bus gets so packed it passes us by as we flag for it,  someone tweets their frustration with a ferocious, tragically catchy ‘Tuck Yew!’. Alas, despite Facebook pages dedicated to ousting Lui out of the position, our PM’s stand on cock-ups under his Ministers’ watch has remained firm. In response to the Wong Kan Seng-Mas Selamat episode, he said that we should not encourage a culture where officials are forced to resign whenever something goes wrong, that this may appease the angry public, but ultimately leave the problem unsolved. Which explains why WKS is relinquishing his seat ONLY NOW.

An outgoing SMRT CEO, on the other hand, may get the most unceremonious of public farewells. Just ask Saw Phaik Hwa.  Current CEO Desmond Kuek also got rapped for declaring his $2.25 million salary. Nobody is going to send the SMRT CEO off with a bouquet and a heavy heart when they decide to step down, so maybe being Transport Minister isn’t quite the shittiest job in the world after all. Yet, for some reason, nobody tweets ‘PhaikHwa!’, or ‘BakChye’ (Desmond Kuek) when shit happens.

As for the Singapore boat, it’s probably less a case of a good man tossed overboard, but one setting sail for less turbulent waters towards the horizon. Here’s wishing Tuck Yew all the best in his future endeavours. To his successor, let’s pray that he makes good of his time in charge while walking the plank.

Eduardo Saverin likes Chilli crab

From ‘Facebook co-founder gives up US citizenship’, 13 May 2012, article in Sunday Times

Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin officially ‘defriended’ the United States last September, giving up his citizenship for the more tax-friendly residency status of Singapore. It is not known if the soon-to-be billionaire has taken up Singapore citizenship.

…Born in Brazil, Mr Saverin moved to the US in 1992 and became a citizen in 1998. In 2009, he relocated to Singapore. Explaining that decision, he told The Straits Times: ‘I got out of Changi Airport and was amazed by the line of trees and saw how clean and green Singapore was. Then I discovered the various entrepreneur programmes and the long list of government funding available for start-ups. I decided I must live here.’

Among his investments in Singapore is Anideo, a technology start-up that has created at least 10 applications for Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Last year, he also invested in Perx ( a customer loyalty mobile app which has signed up big brands such as Popeyes and Dunkin Donuts.

…Mr Saverin, who likes chilli crab, has kept a low public profile, although he is a much sought-after speaker at entrepreneurship seminars in Singapore. He has also put money into two start-ups in the US – multimedia Web search service Qwiki, and online payment technology firm Jumio.

Saverin’ Succotash!

So where in Singapore is Eduardo Saverin? According to other sources, one of the world’s richest 30-something is living it up in exclusive clubs like Filter, hobnobbing with the elite and supermodels in his luxury penthouse, drives a Bentley, and is a sponsor for ex Miss Singapore Rachel Kum’s cosmetics line Rachel K, all elements of a typical billionaire-tycoon playboy lifestyle that the ST has chosen to omit, instead giving us the impression that he may be found tucking into chilli crab at Long Beach seafood, maybe hanging out with the local uncles drinking Tiger beer in a pair of flip-flops.

If you’re not the sort who clubs at fancy parties or don’t even own a dinner jacket or appreciate fast cars and champagne, you may want to hang around the Sail@Marina Bay if want to catch a glimpse of Saverin. According to the New Straits Times, Saverin has reportedly been dwelling in the ‘tallest residential building’ in Singapore. Put two and two together from this pitch to expats and you’ve got Mr Popularity’s address. In 2008, Indian billionaire turned Singapore citizen Dr Bhupendra Kumar Modi bought a Sail penthouse unit for $15 million, which netted the seller, another Indian-turned-Singaporean tycoon Dr Sudhir Gupta a $6 million profit. Treating property like trading cards is common practice among the ultra-rich, while many of our own locals struggle to even maintain one, and can only gaze up at this steel mega-tycoon playground complex in awe, waiting for them to excrete some small change as we pander to them like gods.  We used to fly kites at Marina Bay, now it’s a Beverly Hills-like showcase for high-flying foreigners. Dr Modi did live in the ACTUAL Beverly Hills, in fact.

Saverin isn’t the only foreigner renouncing a US citizenship to make Singapore his home. Investment guru Jim Rogers moved here in 2007 so that his children could learn Chinese. Gongfu superstar Jet Li has done it too, having given the Americans films like THE ONE and ROMEO MUST DIE, is now residing in a $20 million bungalow in Bukit Timah, and is officially a Singapore citizen as of 2011, despite not working his chops in the movie scene here. Neither has anyone heard from Gong Li since her conversion and subsequent divorce either. We’re known to warm up easily to rich foreigners (some people would call that rich-people poaching), despite the fact that Saverin has left America for good and can easily do the same to Singapore if things don’t go down well as planned with the start-ups that he’s busy funding. Unlike other billionaires who have made it big in Singapore, Saverin is somewhat special. He’s young, Brazilian, fresh-faced, has an interesting job, co-owns Facebook for God’s sake, and may be perceived as an eligible bachelor, though his marital status remains unknown (Rachel Kum insists that they’re good friends who club at Butter Factory once in a while). The words ‘tycoon’ and ‘magnate’ which summon images of grey-haired paunchy men doesn’t apply. Saverin is too cool for that, or even descriptions that end with ‘-preneur’.  Years from now, our kids will think of Saverin when quizzed about famous tech-wizards from Singapore. No one will remember who Sim Wong Hoo is.

Some Americans feel cheated and betrayed by Saverin’s seeming ‘tax evasion’, that he ‘owes’ America for being where he is today.  This billionaire ‘tax dodger’ has 1.4 million ‘subscribers’ on Facebook currently, the same number of people Jesus Christ would have if he had Facebook then. They’re probably many more ‘friends’ in line waiting, like peasants in a king’s court grovelling for a new fence to keep the goats from escaping. If you want to have a foreigner friend in high places (literally) like Saverin, it would also be worthwhile checking out a library book on Meterology, a topic that Saverin is a self-professed fan of. To say his rise is ‘meteoric’ is an understatement, and like a ‘hurricane’ he has swept Singapore off her maiden feet. Let’s just hope he doesn’t change his mind about us like the ‘weather’. Someone once described Singapore as ‘Disneyland with the Death Penalty‘. I think we all know who’s living in Snow White’s castle then.

And yeah I’ll be in a whole new tax bracket/ We in recession, but let me take a crack at it/I’ll probably take whatever’s left and just split it up/ So everybody that I love can have a couple bucks       – ‘Billionaire’, Bruno Mars/Travie McCoy

Vivian Balakrishnan: A flood is a flood

From ‘Balakrishnan: PUB should not have used word ‘ponding’ for floods ‘, 9 Jan 2012, article by Feng Zengkun, ST

…Dr Balakrishnan said during the Parliament session that the ministry checked the Stamford Canal and nearby drains after the Lucky Plaza and Liat Towers floods in December, and found no signs of blockage.

He said national water agency PUB should not have called the phenomenon at the water-logged areas ‘ponding’. He added: ‘As far as I am concerned, PUB should not have not used the word ‘ponding’. I call a spade a spade. A flood is a flood.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan tells it like it is, even if such comments are really too little too late. Rest assured that this will be the last we hear of ponding from PUB, but the Minister’s intolerance for sugar-coating is merely a delayed reflection of ground sentiment to offset the general lack of enlightenment when it comes to tackling flood issues. The use of the spade idiom is apt, since PUB effectively dug a hole for itself by explaining away ponding in a response to a reader who had the same thoughts as Dr Vivian, but merely expressed them earlier.

Since Dr Vivian is such an advocate of honesty, it’s only fair that he should also speak directly and responsibly in the event that he makes a mistake, which was exactly what happened when the YOG blew its initial budget threefold in 2010.

“We got the initial estimates of the money to be spent on the YOG wrong”

A mistake is a mistake indeed. Besides speaking directly, word play and alliteration seems to be the man’s forte. On the AWARE saga in 2009, he unleashed the following tongue-twister/mind-boggler.

..We live in a diverse society, there will always be some issue we cannot agree on – we need to be able to learn to live and let live, to agree to disagree and do so agreeably.

One can’t help but agree to agree. A Today reader once complained that Vivian’s ‘idiomatic manner of speaking’  was a communication barrier when addressing the common people. In a BCA speech, he used ‘eggs in different baskets’ and ‘certain eggs getting into trouble’. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t yet used the ‘You need to break some eggs to make an omelette’ classic. If there’s any Minister would could pull off a Zen koan without blinking or the slightest hint of irony, this man would be it.

In 2004, Vivian was one of the more outspoken proponents for the introduction of casinos in Singapore, and this was what came out in his justification:

We must be able to attract our share of the rich and famous for which casinos may be an attraction. If they’re going to lose their money, they’re going to lose it our way..

Which is, technically, what’s really happening when we promote our IR to tourists. Except that what, or rather WHO, he meant by ‘our way’ remains anyone’s guess; the deliberate ambiguity has been concealed by flowery language.

Straight-talking and idioms, however, won’t help one score points across the Causeway, something which Vivian has plenty to learn from LKY’s experience with our Malaysian politician counterparts. 10 years ago in 2002, when he was Young PAP Vice Chairman, he ‘jokingly’ referred to Malaysian journalists as a ‘pack of wild animals’, a comment which would ‘bring irritation to bilateral relations’. The first thing one imagines of a ‘pack of wild’ anything would be hungry wolves, hyenas or any other canine breed, which the Malaysians may have taken in the literal sense and hence offended by it.

In the spirit of calling spades spades and flood floods, this is what I would say to our Minister’s lament on PUB’s choice of words: Tell us something we don’t already know.

Stamford canal to blame for Orchard Road floods

From ‘Stamford canal a cause of flooding again’, article by Saifulbahri Ismail, 31 Dec 2011, Today

The 4km-long Stamford Canal, cited as a factor in last year’s floods along Orchard Road, has again been traced as the source of flooding at Liat Towers last Friday.

Explaining yesterday why the flooding occurred, national water agency PUB said the “prolonged and heavy” monsoon rain on Dec 23 caused “some parts of Stamford Canal to flow full“. Then, 152.8mm of rain fell on Orchard Road from 2.20pm to 5.20pm – equivalent to about half the average monthly total of 287.4mm of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years.

…In its statement, PUB assured the public that it takes “its responsibility for flood management seriously”. “PUB regrets the inconveniences caused by the floods to members of the public and businesses,” said the agency. “

…To improve flood protection during similar storms, Liat Towers will be building a perimeter wall along its internal drain. “This will allow more water to be held within this so-called pond and, with the difference in pressure, we’d be able to drain the water into the canal,” said Liat Towers director of property management Lydia Tjhia.

…Given the constraints in expanding Stamford Canal due to the urbanised development in the area, PUB is studying the feasibility of building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment in the longer term.

In 1984, the Ministry of Environment responded to a reader’s complaint about Orchard Road flooding by citing ‘extremely heavy rainfall’, exposing the inability of Stamford canal to handle any load exceeding the intensity equivalent to a once-in-5-year storm. In that year, May 21’s freak storm yielded a rainfall of 130mm within the interval of 100 minutes, an intensity matching a ONCE in NINETY YEAR storm according to the Ministry, which would require the canal to expand to more than twice its width to 10m. On Dec 23 2011, within the same time period, we had about 84 mm of rainfall, and since the canal overflowed, the downpour would have been considered AT LEAST a once in 5 year event, though it seems we’ve been having ‘improbable’ weather almost every other week.

I’m particularly interested in how weather experts coin a probability of one-in-ninety years when we have been tracking weather for only 142 years without invoking some form of predictive statistics. According to the NEA’s 142 years-old records, December has constantly been the rainiest month. On a single day in Dec 1978 alone, 512.4 mm of rain fell, almost twice the monthly average. In response to what was known then as the ‘worst floods ever’, Minister of Environment E.W Barker said ‘Singapore’s drains were not designed to cope with exceptional rainfall, and it was impractical and uneconomical’ to build ‘extra-large’ canals to cater to freak weather. Between 1978’s record-breaking storm and 1984’s ‘once in ninety years’ rainfall is only a period of 6 YEARS. To pour more cold water on such doubtful statistics,  then-Minister of Environment Yaacob Ibrahim was ‘told by the PUB’ that the Nov 2009 floods occurs ONCE EVERY 50 YEARS. In that storm, 92 mm of rain fell within HALF an HOUR. But wait a second; 1984’s 39 mm/half hour storm was considered a once every 90 YEARS event, which makes the heavier storm in 2009 a MORE LIKELY event, effectively rendering PUB’s predictions meaningless, a case of our climate folks plucking numbers out of ‘thin air’.

Just last year in June, PUB put the blame on a blocked ‘culvert’ along Stamford Canal and ‘an intense amount of rain within short bursts’ within the space of an hour, stubbornly refusing to consider the possibility that flooding is really the result of poor project management over the years. But let’s look at the history of the Stamford canal and, assuming our rainfall patterns haven’t altered significantly based on NEA’s records, see how much time the authorities  have actually spent tackling the flood problem and ‘regretting the inconveniences caused’. It’s like saying I ‘regret’ that you got bitten by my crazy, unpredictable dog but I’m still not sending him to obedience school or putting a muzzle on him.

Originally known during the days of Raffles as ‘Sungei Bras Bassa’, the early versions of the Stamford canal were in place for over a century and was already being blamed for flooding as early as 1911 (sluice gates’ fault). Millions were subsequently pumped into flood control projects to modify the canal, though you can’t help but feel that however PUB claims to take flood management seriously, expanding the Stamford canal has always been an afterthought to more lucrative developments along Orchard Road. It’s not the weather that the canal needs to catch up with but the rabid urbanisation going on around (and OVER) it. Making dodgy predictions about how often heavy rainfall would occur has also prevented the board from preparing for the worst case scenario, and using ‘extreme’ weather is no longer an excuse given we’ve had experiences with ‘once-in-whatever-years’ deluges for more than a century.

  • 1952: A proposed $750,000 to widen and rebuild, including ‘COVERING part of the canal to make a CAR PARK’.
  • 1970: $250,000 to ‘BEAUTIFY the Stamford canal embankment’, including an ‘exposed footpath of uniform width’.
  • 1973: $1.3 m to COVER the Stamford Canal with a pedestrian mall between Cuscaden and Grange Road.
  • 1978: $32 million on a flood control scheme to reconstruct Stamford Canal by ‘widening and deepening’ it.
  • 1993: Floodgates costing $200,000 built in Ngee Ann City-Lucky Plaza underpass (Floodgates built at a cost of $200,000, 16 Sept 1993, ST)

Given that the authorities were well aware of Stamford Canal’s design flaws for so long, Orchard Road continues to be a hotbed of commercial activity.  A pro-business approach towards retail chain Gap  in 2008 resulted in immovable barriers being replaced by a sliding mechanical floodgate system instead. It’s not certain if this compromised, or indeed left a ‘GAP’ (hurr hurr), in flood control, but it leaves one to wonder if Orchard Road would be ‘high and dry’ if it wasn’t, well, Orchard Road.

It’s also a strange twist of ironic terminology that the PUB is now considering ‘ponding’ areas, a mitigating measure which I’ve described in an earlier post, though they were quick to eliminate the use of the same word to describe ‘flooding’ in this press release. Flood dynamics is no doubt a complex science, and no one will blame the PUB for admitting to lacking the expertise to handle the problem, if only they’d stop fudging storm probabilities and making scapegoats out of bad infrastructure like a  carpenter blaming his tools. To make things worse, their ‘drainage overview’ report following the 2010/11 floods contains a blatant lie:

'Orchard area has been flood free for more than 25 years'

Taking 2010 as the assumed ‘first case of flooding in 25 years’, this implies that we haven’t had any Orchard Road floods since 1984. Wrong (1988) and wrong again(2007).

Happy new year everyone.

Ex-Navy chief to handle ponding

From ‘Call it what it is: Flooding’, 27 Dec 2011, Today

(Peter Loon Seng Chee): From a “once in 50 years” event, flooding is now expected in almost every heavy downpour, reducing our first-world roads to a wet mess. But in “No floods in Orchard Rd, just ‘ponding’: PUB” (Dec 24). this was referred to as “ponding”.

It would be sad if we resort to word usage to dissipate the impact of these floods. We have been offered reasons, and remedies have been promised, but the issue has become a crisis over the past two years.

Do our officials have a handle on this problem? Has the incessant load of new developments in recent years exceeded the limit of our national drainage system?

The new head of the national water agency, from this month, is an ex-Navy chief. What are the credentials that enable him to head PUB? When my friends from overseas talk about visiting Singapore, they joke about packing canoes and scuba gear, and I am embarrassed to have nothing to say in defence. It is time for a solution.

Cafe or orientation camp?

The CEO in question is Chew Men Leong, who cited his relevant Navy experience in ‘balancing’ to be relevant to ‘maintaining our complex system at a high level of operational effectiveness and efficiency, while keeping an eye on the long term future’. A goal you could attribute to any aspiring organisation really, whether it’s a public amenities board or a kaya toast business. There’s something almost comically naive and ironic about selecting a seaman , whose job is to keep things afloat on large bodies of water, to manage floods; it’s like getting a oil driller tycoon to deal with earthquakes. I would have some faith if Chew had at least submarine admiral experience, when one’s very life depends on the vessel NOT spouting a leak. Or maybe I’ve just watched Crimson Tide once too often.

A Navy chief may know everything there is about seawater, how it tastes, how high it rises when one drops anchor, but ‘ponding’ is really a drainage problem, and the only pipes that most sailors are familiar with are those that Popeye smoke.  However, according to the man’s Facebook page, he’s a trained engineer and Master of Science before military service (which suggests some knowledge about fluid systems). He’s also helmed a missile gunboat, who sounds impressively macho but this time he’s waging war against an entirely different and utterly formidable enemy altogether: Our crazy weather. You also need someone not just with the ground expertise of a mole or a dungeon keeper, but someone with the clout  to put a stop to any activity suspected of aggravating floods at the expense of progress. Wait, don’t we have a minister of Environment and Water Resources for that, you say? He’s a surgeon by profession, so maybe a knowledge of arteries, veins and heart valves may come in handy. ‘Ponding’ would be like fluid congestion or edema in the legs during heart (pump) failure. He just hasn’t figured out how to apply this analogy successfully yet.

But here’s an interesting history of ‘ponding’, and it may surprise some to know that this isn’t a new euphemism for floods at all:

As early as the 20’s, ‘ponding’ wasn’t an apparition of heavy downpours in today’s context. It was in fact used as a PREVENTIVE, and probably outdated, measure against flooding, as in ‘ponding and pumping’. A ‘ponding area’ was used to hold off floodwater during ‘adverse tides’. The first instance of ‘ponding’ being twisted into a euphemism for floods was probably sometime in the early eighties. In fact, the work done then to alleviate ‘ponding’ had nothing to do with tugrope knot-tying skills or yelling ‘Land Ho!’; scupper drains were enlarged, drains unchoked and road depressions were patched, very ‘grounded’ and dirty work indeed. Between a naval officer’s ‘sea legs’ and a road sweeper, I would think the latter has a better eye for ‘ponding’ zones and drainage.

2000 saw the following familiar headline: ‘No floods, only ‘water ponding’ (22 Jan 2000, Today). Not only was this a sloppy cushion for bad news but a bad tautology as well. What else could one find in a ‘pond’ if not WATER? Perhaps a frog sitting on a lotus pad if you’re lucky. My heart goes out to Wendy’s and Starbucks of Liat Towers, but this calls for a change in business model. A poolside cafe, mini bum boat ride for kids, fish spa or prawning deck could do wonders for capital recovery instead of waiting  around for PUB to fix the problem or stacking sandbags, only to watch your burgers and frappuccinos washed away in pond murk. There’s another downside to hiring a Rear Admiral to head PUB though, there’s a pun just waiting to happen if the board fails to live up to its mission: Being ALL AT SEA (hurr hurr!)

Punggol Waterway is like Venice

From ‘Venice of Punggol the pride of former backwater’, 24 Oct 2011, article by Cai Haoxiang in ST

…Punggol used to be a fishing village and farming area, and a relative backwater. PM Lee recalled going to Punggol Point to eat at its famous seafood restaurants, and to the area for an orienteering exercise when he attended the Outward Bound School.

‘We had to navigate from point to point with a map but without a compass. It was quite possible in those days to be lost in Punggol because there were no roads, no signs; some attap houses and tracks, and you had to find your way around. But we got lost,’ he said.

In 1996, the Government announced plans to develop the area, with private and public housing, MRT and light rail lines and water sports facilities, marinas and a waterfront park. But the project, Punggol 21, was halted in its tracks by the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

After the economy recovered, the Government revisited its plans for Punggol, and in 2007, PM Lee unveiled Punggol 21-Plus, which includes the waterway as the rejuvenated estate’s centrepiece.

He said yesterday that some have called the waterway the ‘Venice of Punggol’, and promised more developments to come. By the end of the year, 23,000 families will be living in Punggol, and by 2015, there will be a new commercial hub and town plaza by the Punggol MRT station.

 Bringing a little bit of Marina Bay into the ‘heartland’ is no doubt a sweetener to many Singaporeans and a refreshing change from the usual high-rise steel and concrete projects  which have been dominating most of our landscape. ‘Venice of Punggol’ is probably a harmless exaggeration, but I was amused to discover that ‘Venice’ analogies weren’t always as charming or picturesque as what our PM makes Punggol out to be. In fact, it’s not just Punggol that has the ‘honour’ of being called the ‘Venice’ of Singapore. It’s unfortunate that this classic mercantile city, renown for its architecture and art history, has become reduced to a romantic cliche describing any town where you have to ride a sampan to borrow stuff from your neighbours, or go ‘prawning’ literally at your doorstep.

In a 1896 article titled Venice At Singapore’, Waterloo Street was ‘always like a river when it rains’, proof that sarcasm was alive and well in the late 19th century.  In 1906, ‘a modern Venice’ was used to describe ‘a veritable river that had transformed’ and ’emptied itself into the (Bukit Timah) canal at the Junction of Syed Alley Road’ following heavy flooding. It was reported that houses were flooded and the ‘natives’ must have ‘suffered terribly’. 3 years later, a series of floods following the overspill of Stamford and Rochore Canals, creating ‘miniature lakes’ in Geylang and cataracts down Mount Sophia, prompted the ST headline ‘Venice in Singapore’. More than a century on and areas like Orchard Road continue to be flooded, according to this 1982 complaint titled- what else –  ‘Venice of the East’. Just last year, we had a taste of ‘Venice’ again, captured perfectly by the image below of some guy putting a positive, wacky spin on a really bad situation.

Venice of Rowell Road, 2010

Not all analogies were derogatory, of course. In 1969, a Sydney architecture professor praised Singapore as the ‘Venice of the East’, suggesting that our public buildings adopt a form of architecture representing a ‘fusion of both East and West’, without any mention of waterways becoming a mode of leisure transport. A more ambitious analogy was drawn in a letter ALSO titled ‘Venice of the East’ in 2008, where waterways were envisioned as additional traffic arteries to relieve the burden on roads and the MRT, so instead of singing gondoliers entertaining lazy lovers you’d have ‘boat uncles’ with a schedule to meet and impatient commuters to ferry. People would need a life-jacket IN ADDITION to an EZ-link card to hitch a ride.

Architecture and waterworks aside, in 1979 the ‘Renaissance Venice of South East Asia’ , a dynamic techonological hub, was what Singapore was forecast to become in 2000, according to the director of the Science Centre. Minister of State Tay Eng Soon proclaimed that ‘Singapore can survive 1000 years like Venice’ (1988) whose assets are her people, ‘outward-looking, patriotic and practical’ (just like Shylock). So much for predictions then; we have become nothing like the ‘good’ Venice of the East, Asia, or even South East Asia, though now we finally have one to call our own thanks to our PM. And it’s in once ulu-like-hell Punggol.

So there we have it, a Venice that we aspire to be, and a ‘Venice’ that Minister of Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan silently prays that we’d never turn into for good. Let’s hope, for the sake of Punggol residents, that PM Lee’s dreamy description of their rejuvenated ‘marine’ town doesn’t turn out to be a self-prophesising  double-edged one.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 375 other followers