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 (www.getperx.com) 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

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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.

Khaw Boon Wan wants us to save for a rainy day

From ‘Save for a rainy day, advises Khaw’, 8 Aug 2011, article by Alicia Wong in sg yahoo news

Amidst the financial turmoil plaguing America and Europe, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has reminded Singaporeans to save for a rainy day.

“Sometimes you get fine weather, sometimes rainy. But if you have always saved for the rainy day, you’ll be pretty steady and safe,” he was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.

…Minister Khaw also pointed out the need for political leaders to have foresight and “tell people what is unpleasant sometimes”.

…”To lead, you must be able to see first further, and tell people what is unpleasant sometimes,” he said. “I try to say what’s right,” he added. “Pleasant or unpleasant to me, is not as important as what is right, what is rational.”

There’s a reason why the PAP logo has a bolt of lightning in it, and that’s because our ministers like to frighten us with stale cliches of rainy days and stormy weather. I won’t go into how patronising this piece of advice is, since it’s stating the obvious that Singaporeans have to ‘tighten their purse-strings’ during this difficult  period and ‘ride out the stormy seas’, though some of us have been subject to ‘rough weather’ for the longest time.  It’s easier to tell people to brace for ‘dark clouds on the horizon’ than promise ‘clear skies’ and ‘sunny days’. After all, hiding behind the ‘weather’ analogy is ideal because it’s the only unpredictable, uncontrollable element that everyone can relate to, suggestive of an act of God which the government can’t possibly be responsible for. No minister is going to use quantum physics to describe economic turbulence because it’s too deep, nor the unpleasant word ‘chaos’ because it’s too apocalyptic. ‘Weather’ seems perfectly fine, even if it’s centuries old.

As a leader, other than ‘telling us like it is’, Mr Khaw and rest of the PAP should also lead by example and tell us how they’re going to put taxpayers’ money to more prudent use, or whether there’ll be any tapping of the national reserves (saved for rainy days like these according to our PM, see below) to help us ‘weather the storm’, instead of just reminding us of what we already know from our parents. Telling us what is ‘rational’ or ‘right’ doesn’t make it timely, appropriate, or in this case, even necessary. So much sunshine was dispensed during the last elections that it’s telling how gloomy the weather forecasts have suddenly become, especially in the wake of public transport fee hikes which makes this piece of advice as helpful as a teaspoon in a flood survival kit.

Here’s a sampling for how the PAP’s favourite platitude has been tossed about like a ‘buoy on a stormy ocean’ for the past half a century, which makes you wonder if this country is really ‘Singapura, sunny island set in the sea’.

S Rajaratnam (Raja: Watch out for storms in changing world, 25 Dec 1967, ST): As far as Singapore is concerned, the problem is one of making certain that we survive until the advent of sunnier, calmer weather. We cannot control the weather but if we have the tenacity, intelligence and resilence we can ride the storm.

Dr Ang Kok Peng, Minister of State(Communications) (Don’t spend on luxuries, Ang tells youth, 19 Feb 1973, ST): The young should be taught to practise self-discipline and to save not for only a rainy day but also for building up the economic resources of Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew (PM:Let’s find that niche, 18 Aug 1980, ST): And we got to get it into the heads of our younger generation that life is not a bed of roses. This generation has never known unemployment but if we run into stormy weather, they will get a dose of it in the 80s.

Dr Tony Tan (Rough times ahead, 16 May 1982, ST) : ‘The lower rate of growth in the first quarter of this year is a warning to us that, while we hope for an uplift in the US and the world economy, we must be prepared if necessary, to face rough weather. To avoid sinking, we must tighten up the hatches. We must cut out unnecessary spending and avoid wastage.

Goh Chok Tong (How elders can help young to weather hard times, 6 March 1983, ST) : It would also mean taking advantage of the slack period to improve ourselves to acquire knowledge and skills which we can use when the stormy weather blows over

Goh Chok Tong (A nation of cynics,  24 Aug 2002, Today): Fair weather Singaporeans who, having benefited from Singapore, will pack their bags and take flight when our country runs into a little storm.

Lee Hsien Loong (Brace for tough times: PM, 23 Feb 2009, Today): ‘For one, the reserves will not only tide Singaporeans over on a ‘very rainy day‘, but also provide confidence to investors that ‘the economy has resources, is strong, and the Singapore dollar is strong’

Postscript:Hot on the heels of Khaw’s worldly advice is none other than Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s uncanny carbon copy of the ‘rainy day’ analogy (Economic storms may affect Singapore: Lui Tuck Yew, 13 Aug 2011, ST)

…Singapore can weather the turbulence if the government and people all came together to face squarely the challenges and make tough decisions as a nation.

He added that there are measures in place to help needy residents and Singaporeans can also prepare for the gloomy financial forecast by saving for a rainy day.

It appears that fine weather is as rare as a politician telling us something new.

Air-con in offices like winter in Siberia

From ‘S’poreans find air-conditioning too cold’, 2 March 2011, Asiaone website

NEARLY half of residents in Singapore find air-conditioning in public areas to be too cold, and many have faced health issues because of this.

Areas such as offices, cinemas and schools are found to be too cold, according to a poll conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore for Earth Hour 2011.

The aim of the poll was to determine how comfortable people currently are with air-conditioning temperatures in the country.

Out of the 450 people polled, 52 per cent are not happy with the air-conditioning and three out of four respondents faced issues such as flu, cough, and dry skin.

Half of them compared the temperature in their school or office to “autumn in Seoul”, while one in four likened it to “winter in Siberia”.

Singaporeans may be well travelled but they’re hopeless when it comes to analogies, and I doubt anyone in the survey has ever experienced winter in Siberia, not to mention been anywhere near the region. Autumn in Seoul is over -romanticising it to the point of breezy stroll-in-the-park comfort, while comparing it to sub-zero Russian winters  is an exaggeration so full of  stark, shameful ignorance that screaming kids describing vaccination as having a spear impaling their buttocks are more believable compared to these weaklings, who probably suffer frostbite whenever they pick up yogurt from the freezer section of their supermarket even with mittens on. It’s also simplistic to blame the air-con as the cause of all our respiratory ailments, when the alternative of risking heat stroke and dehydration are consequences far worse than anything our air-con-pampered bodies can possibly endure.

Our artificial winters explain why winter clothing boutiques are open all year round, not that we are travelbugs, but they have a cardigan clientele who can’t get on the bus or train, work in the office, enjoy a movie or even be detained in a prison cell without piling on garments other equatorial residents would normally leave in their luggage until it’s the proper time to use it.. in winter countries. It’s only when the system breaks down on a sweltering day when we start appreciating a bit of Siberia in Singapore  and become all Goldilocks about it, blowing hot and cold and struggling to find a temperature that is ‘just nice’ because one man’s sauna is another’s Antarctica.  There’s so many things you could do when you’re freezing to prevent hypothermia (get out of the office, put on a coat, huddle over a hot cup of coffee), but not when it’s ‘as hot as the Kalahari desert’ (Probably not entirely an exaggeration on some days) without involving antisocial, unproductive acts like abusing the pantry fridge, taking all your clothes off, or just being in a sweaty foul mood for the rest of the day. Unless the temperature is so low that our eyelids form stalactites whenever we blink, such complaints about an invention without each we’d be slave to rickety fans all day should be given the cold(as Siberia) shoulder. Similar complaints about cold 30 years ago below( We are slaves to air con level, 20 Dec 1982, ST).

Close enough. The range of accepted indoor quality is actually 22.5 – 25.5 according to NEA circa 1996 (Guidelines for good indoor quality in office premises). On a lighter note, 25 degrees also happens to be the ideal temperature to make love, according to a Thai professor (Singapore doctors pooh-pooh aircon sex claim, 22 June 1978, ST). If his theory were proven right (and there’s only one way to find out, with three basic experimental apparatus: air-con, remote, bed. The latter optional), perhaps we would do well to keep our temperatures slightly on the lower side in public places in case of any paradoxical shirt chucking at the slightest tweak upwards. On the other hand, it could also solve our nation’s most worrying fertility woes as we speak. Forget about baby bonuses or paternity leaves, just a few clicks of the ‘up’ button would do the trick.

 

 

 

MM Lee is Singapore’s coolest icon

From ‘Red Hot and Cool’, 13 Feb 2011, article by Ng Kai Ling in Sunday Times

..Most recently, CNNGo, a lifestyle and travel companion to CNN, ranked Singaporeans ahead of the siesta-loving Spainiards and the dreadlocks-donning Jamaicans as the second-coolest people in the world. At No 1 were the samba-dancing Brazilians.

…(Tay Kheng Soon, architect): It (Marina Bay Sands, no. 3 coolest icon in Singapore) is one of the finer buildings of Singapore. My regret is that it is a  strong design and because of that, unfortunately, it is the de facto icon of Singapore. Which self-respecting nation wants to have a casino as its icon?

…(Jamilah Abdul Rashid): The lovely beautiful smiles on elderly folks’ faces when you walk past them are cool, and pushing and shoving in crowded places is so uncool

…(Steph Kim): Singaporeans spend way too much time studying. That’s so uncool.

Ranked behind ‘Can’t Think of one’ at second place of Coolest Icon In Singapore is MM, which essentially makes him  by default the coolest icon in Singapore. The problem with such polls, other than the fact that by sheer chance that only uncool Singaporeans partake in them,  is that there is no placeholder for the definition of cool, which ends up with people mistaking other more appropriate adjectives like ‘safe’, ‘smart’, ‘funny’, ‘blunt’, and ‘nice’ for ‘cool’. It could also mean that Singaporeans are so cooped up in what the media feeds them everyday that the only important person they could think of other than the very dead Sir Stamford Raffles is our very own MM. Or perhaps they were just trying to be funny.

The list is also  hopelessly vague. For example, there’s nothing ‘cool’ about a good transport system, but sneaking in to spray paint graffiti on a MRT train undeniably is. Safety isn’t cool, but rock climbing and Universal Studios’ Battlestar Galactica is. Gurmit Singh of PCK fame may be ranked cool, but drunk-driving Christopher Lee is the one gracing ‘cool’ fashion magazines. An old man’s smile isn’t cool, but if he also races in his pasttime instead of doing taiji or gardening, he is. ‘Shopping’ per se isn’t cool at all, but ‘shopping’ for components to build your own computer is. ‘Studying’ isn’t cool, but ‘studying the history of social media tools ‘ is. ‘Coolness’ then, has and always will be defined by a certain level of mischief, risk-taking and trailblazing. MM Lee may be a pioneer, but compare him to the likes of Steve Jobs, or Barrack Obama and you have an idea of what’s missing. The fact that you can’t pinpoint what that is just proves how ambiguous and fuzzy the definition of ‘cool’ is.

Secondly, there’s only cool personalities or activities. An author, a book, a movie, robot-designing, skydiving, elephant-training can all be cool, but not something as massively diverse as a country, because then it becomes meaningless when there’s nothing specific to a nation’s activity, or style that allows one to form any kind of rational blanket description whatsoever. The entire process of only selecting bits and pieces of seemingly ‘cool’ elements and missing the whole picture is itself flawed. Even the ‘uncool’ list, though easier to construct, looks ridiculous. Our ‘weather’ is uncool? Seriously, this whole survey is either full of deceitful puns or tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, which really isn’t very  helpful, or cool, at all. It’s only fair to say that we, like all countries, have our share of cool and uncool. Even the country that invented cool (USA) is the same one that came up with cheesy soap operas, charismatic churches, Starbucks and the Scary movie franchise.

So allow me to give my take on what’s really cool, and uncool, about Singapore/Singaporeans, in no particular order.

Cool

  1. Ye Olde Railway Station at Tanjong Pagar
  2. Battlestar Galactica
  3. Mr Brown/Mr Miyagi
  4. 881
  5. Park Connectors

SO Uncool

  1. Camwhore blogs
  2. Chope-ing seats with tissue paper
  3. Backpacks on the train
  4. Flipped up collars on polo T shirts with sunglasses
  5. Going to a local football match wearing Manchester United jerseys

 

Cheerleaders had absolutely no enthusiasm

From ‘Improve premier marathon’, 18 Dec 2010, ST Forum online

(Kartik Krishnamurthy): THIS year’s Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS) was one of the worst organised marathons I have ever run. There were several reasons why this was so:

1. Cheerleading: It was a sorry excuse for cheerleading during the most gruelling period of the race – 8am onwards, when the sun was out. Some of the cheerleading tents had two, maximum four, people who had absolutely no enthusiasm. In fact, in some tents, people were just sitting, chatting with one another other, talking on their phones or even sleeping.

2. Running through the Marina Bay Golf Course: By the time the majority of runners reached this part of the run (around 28km), the sun was beating down hard on the concrete surface and there was just one drinking station along the way. The openness of the area (no trees for shade) and the heat off the concrete made it extremely difficult.

3. Drinking stations: In other parts of the world, volunteers stand on the outside of the drink tables, holding the glasses in their hands, so that runners can grab them on the go and not have to walk to the table, and push and shove to get a drink. It also ensures that runners continue with their momentum.

Just as Singapore will never have a football culture, likewise we will never produce excellent marathoners, for the very reason that we find it too hot, we’re spoilt, and we can’t reach our peak performance without having volunteers egging us on with shallow encouragement. Spare a thought for drink station volunteers, Kartik, especially if you’re talking about a record breaking 60000 runners. Not only do they have to endure the blistering heat, now they’re expected by runners the likes of you to perform butler services in addition to picking up your trash after you’re done with your sip of water. As for marathon conditions, the heat is really no excuse and people should jolly know what they’re getting into whenever they pay money to be physically tormented. I mean, just look at the Kenyans. Does anyone ever hear of them complaining about drink stations (Do they even need them?), or heat emanating concrete surfaces and ‘no trees for shade’? Really, the very act of grumbling during a run itself is sure to slow anyone down, which is fine if you’re not at that level of competitiveness and are one of those 60000 and counting people deceived into thinking long distance running is some kind of recreation of sorts. But if your lifelong dream is to be among the top 100′s of every international marathon there is, I’m afraid whining about cheerleaders with absolutely no enthusiasm will get you absolutely nowhere. Singapore has been hot ever since the end of the Ice Age, so blaming the weather for poor runs is just a case of abysmal sportsmanship, and it’s not like you could do anything about it anyway, short of airconditioning 42km of marathon route and having bubbly pom-pom girls spur you on every 5 km or so. Similar sentiments in this letter ‘It was a hot marathon’ dated 6 Sept 1984.

 

 

 

Orchard Road sandbags

From ‘Eyesore, hindrance but sandbags to stay..for now’ 22 July 2010, article by Geraldine Yeo/Koh Hui Theng in The New Paper

MOST people were not convinced that the 200 plus sandbags lined up outside Liat Towers in Orchard Road would do the trick.

These 25kg buffers, which were put up yesterday afternoon, are the building’s way of shoring up its defence against flash floods.

(Paul Kek): “If you saw the level of the flood the other day, you will know that these bags of sand won’t help at all.

(Andi Shah): “The line of bags may cause people to trip and it is also an eyesore.

(Johnny Neo, Scorpia Xtreme Gaming): “Why is a modern country like Singapore using sandbags? There’s no point. Water will still seep through during heavy rain.”

How to build a fort like you’re in a war

Well, not like our Orchard Rd tenants can help it, knowing that MM Lee has already declared with typical confidence that no amount of engineering can counter this Act of God, an endorsement for PUB not to treat drainage issue as top priority since our resident minister prophet already said that it’s pointless. This sandbag fortification is like peasants in biblical times preparing for one of the impending Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Nonetheless, desperate times call for ugly desperate measures, though stacking up sandbags like you’re engaging in trench warfare and scaring off customers rather than doing business really defeats its purpose of curbing the floods in the first place. Still, even if nobody goes to Orchard Road anymore, we could always bring back Street Wars and at least make use of these ‘eyesores’ for some hardcore urban warfare action. And no, nobody will trip over a 25 kg sandbag unless it’s lying alone in the middle of the pavement while you’re busy trying to upload a video of sandbags onto Stomp.

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