Malaysia building a Forest City below Second Link

From ‘Mega reclamation project off Johor raises concerns’, 22 June 2014, article in ST

Singapore has expressed concern to Malaysia over a proposal for a massive reclamation project to create an island in the Strait of Johor below the Second Link. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed yesterday that Singapore has asked for more information so it can study the possible impact on the Republic and the strait. “They have agreed to do so and we hope to receive the information soon,” a spokesman said in response to media queries.

A report in the Malaysian daily The Star yesterday said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, about the project.

…The Star reported last Monday that China property developer Country Garden Holdings and a Johor government company, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, were planning the reclamation project called Forest City for luxury homes.

The idea to create a 2,000ha island – nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate – will take 30 years to complete, Mr Kayson Yuen, Country Garden’s regional president for the project, told the paper. A project map showed part of the man-made island under the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore to Johor.

The Edge Review online magazine reported last month that Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar was behind the project, which was being promoted actively by powerful Johor politicians.

Island in the stream

Nobody ever creates an artifical island, calls it ‘Forest City’ and expects it to be a miniature replica of the planet Pandora in Avatar, where the mode of transport is swinging vine and residents live in tree-huts. The name ‘Country Garden’ is also scathingly ironic given that these guys from China don’t build barns and landscaped lawns for a living, but high-rise luxury housing, with existing projects in Danga Bay. In 2012, the company acquired 22 ha of prime waterfront land in the Iskandar region, to the approval of Malaysia PM Najib. Even our own Temasek Holdings has got a stake in the region. CG’s logo is ‘To create a better SOCIETY with our existence’, which sounds eerily like Red Army propaganda. It doesn’t say ‘to create better neighbours with our existence’. In any case, our very Earth itself is better off if such globetrotting property developers never existed at all. Unlike how it’s named, there’s nothing remotely ‘green’ about building an entire artificial island from scratch in the middle of the sea.

Land use has always been a prickly issue between us and the Malaysians. In 2002, Malaysia’s Trade and Industry Minister called for his countrymen to SUE the Singapore government for our reclamation works along Tebrau Strait, even though these were within our borders. Fishermen staged protests about dredging affecting their livelihoods, while others complained about the narrowing of shipping lanes and damage to marine life. The Foreign Minister bashed us for our ‘selfishness’ and not being a ‘good neighbour’. It also wasn’t the first time that Singapore has embarked on land reclamation, leading some to speculate this was a case of the Malaysian politicians seizing the chance to ‘put Singapore in its place’ out of sheer jealousy. A year later, our neighbour decided to bring the matter up to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, arguing for our project to be ceased because it could ‘permanently scar’ the environment. We eventually won the case, but some refused to let the issue go even up till 2007, blaming a spate of floods in JB on our reclamation works on Pulau Tekong. Incidentally, Tekong means ‘obstacle’ in Malay.

Could this ambitious undertaking right under the Second Link be a major case of tit for tat? The Forest City project has powerful backing in the Sultan as well as a China conglomerate, and if even Najib endorses this like how he welcomed the Danga Bay development and our pleas go ignored, it appears that going back to international courts may be the only recourse. It is important, however, that both nations don’t lose sight of the bigger picture (or miss the ‘FOREST’ for the trees for that matter) in the pursuit of happy bilateral relations and economic growth. Not much is known of the long term environmental impact of any form of land reclamation, be in within or outside our borders, and the consequences of any human interference on a complex, interweaving ecosystem are often beyond our understanding, beyond the artificial boundaries we create between ourselves.

Even as we attempt to increase our own size by up to 9 ‘AMK towns’, there are valid concerns about the impact on tidal flows, even on the coastal waters of neighbouring countries. There are also concerns of the impact of our land expansion on native coral reefs. We should be careful not to be come across as having double standards if we’re plowing ahead at the expense of our own environment, not to mention other countries’. It’s like accusing a neighbour next door of having an all-day BBQ when we’re burning incense in our garden.  Before criticising the move, it would have been prudent to study what we’re doing to ourselves. It is likely however, knowing the temperament of Malaysian politicians, that if we make noise this time round, they’ll bring up the 2002 case again, saying that if Singapore can do it, why not us? At the rate of the sea being filled around us, it’s only a matter of time before what separates the two countries is nothing more than a couple of shipping lanes and a token bridge over troubled waters.

We already have a ‘transboundary’ problem with the Indonesians from the haze, now we have another one bugging us from the north. PM Lee, PM Najib, perhaps this would be a good time to remind you guys about this:

That’s what friends are for

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Woman peeing in Pinnacle@Duxton lift

From ‘Caught in the act of urinating in Pinnacle@Duxton lift’, 18 June 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

The first photo shows the back of a woman in neat attire squatting down in a lift; the second shows the same woman, her hair tied up in a ponytail, in the same spot, but this time with a puddle near her feet in the lift. The photos were featured in posters put up this week by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council in the void deck of Block 1E at Pinnacle@Duxton, following complaints about urine in one of the lifts back in May.

The youthful-looking woman, whose face is not seen, was caught in the act by surveillance cameras in the lift at 8.22pm on May 23.

“The Town Council has received feedback regarding the stench of urine in the Fireman Lift in Blk 1E… This has caused much inconvenience to residents,” read the message in the poster. The posters and photos are part of what MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) describes as the town council’s “very effective” method of addressing such incidents, and have been employed several times at the Pinnacle@Duxton estate as well as elsewhere in the constituency.

…”We would never show people’s faces in the photos used, so only the person committing the act would know it is him or her,” she said. “We’re not trying to shame anybody, we put the posters up only in the affected blocks. Our job is not to make trouble, we just want to stop the urination problem.”

No one has stepped forward so far regarding the latest incident, and little is known about the woman pictured. “Urination in public places still happens from time to time in different areas around Tanjong Pagar, but thankfully it’s not that prevalent,” said Dr Neo.

This iconic housing project was indeed once the PINNACLE of international design, the first in the world with 2 skybridges linking the 7 blocks, creating what could be the LONGEST continuous skygardens in the world. A winner of the 2010 President’s Design Award, the Pinnacle’s skydecks have been described as ‘social dynamos’ encouraging communal activities, initiating an ‘innovative typology of public communal spaces that are metaphorically reclaimed from the air.’ A bit TOO communal perhaps. This, like how we deal with most social nuisances, calls for a CAMPAIGN, before someone brands the building The ‘Pee-nacle’ (Wait, that has already happened). The mascot could be a singing, dancing giant incontinence pad, one who goes around smothering people before they even unzip their trousers.

Peeing in lifts is a scourge that won’t go away soon, with exploding bladders, loose sphincters, alcohol and lack of public toilets often used as mitigation pleas when culprits do get caught. Most of these, to no one’s surprise, are men. In 1988, the ST ran a survey which revealed that of 112 pissers caught, ONLY ONE was a woman, and they were mostly adults within the age range of 36 to 54. These days, people seem to get away with urinating in lifts without having the media shout their name, age and occupations like they used to. An anonymous offender smearing a public amenity gets away with nothing more than embarrassment, while a blogger who smears the name of someone very illustrious gets hunted down and sued his pants off for defamation. Even getting caught EATING a damn sweet on the train is a worse situation than this.

You must be truly desperate if you’re a woman and need to resort to 1)pulling down/aside your underwear 2) squatting 3) answering the call of nature 4) risk soaking your damn feet while at it. No one seems to ever get remanded in IMH for such behaviour, especially one that has been fetishised by the authorities since Singaporeans began living in HDBs, with some MPs in the 80’s even suggesting a JAIL TERM for offenders. Peeing in a lift is an entirely different breed of public disgrace compared to say dumping litter or throwing cigarette butts out of cars. A grown adult urinating in a closed, moving compartment, especially one in which you have to eventually use yourself, seems to me more of a bizarre psychological disorder rather than a case of uncontrollable nerves, mischief, or even ‘vandalism’. It’s like vomiting on the side of your plate, and then continuing to eat the rest of your food like nothing happened.

The Pinnacle may boast one of the most panoramic, expensive residential skygardens in the world, but all the lifestyle frills and pledges of ‘sustainability’ aside, one thing that the building appears to be sorely lacking is a basic lift URINE DETECTOR, a gadget that stops the lift dead when someone takes a leak on the floor, sounds an alarm, and traps you inside until the cops come and whisk you and your vile bladder to court. A brilliant invention because it forces you to be confined with your own putrid stench for at least a good half an hour, and more importantly, catches you red-handed, with or without CCTV. Have we gone all soft on lift pissers lately? Will the Pinnacle management take more serious measures only when MP Lily Neo steps on a golden puddle during her walkbouts like what happened to former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon in 1991?

Urine detectors can’t do anything to prevent one from DEFECATING in the lift, though. Yes, it happens, I shit you not.

UDDs will give residents a piss of mind

Python found in Toa Payoh swimming pool

From ‘ Python found in pool at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex on Tuesday morning’, 29 April 2014, article by Lim Yan Liang, ST

A reticulated python was found in a pool at Toa Payoh swimming complex on Tuesday morning. Fortunately, the pool was closed for its scheduled half-day weekly maintenance.

Sport Singapore said a pool operator discovered the snake at about 6am inside its competition pool, which is not opened to the public as it is used by national swimmers and lifeguards for training. There are protocols in place for situations like this, it added.

The snake was removed by about 7.10am by representatives from animal welfare group, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres). An Acres spokesman told The Straits Times that the non-venomous snake will be microchipped and released back into the wild.

The ST managed to squeeze in a story about a swimming snake

The ST managed to squeeze in a story about a swimming snake

Well, there’s the solution to the wild boar problem, ACRES. Unleash a 3 metre monster into ‘the wild’. Wherever that is. Big snakes have slid into human territory for the longest time, and along with their porcine prey, we’d expect to see more creatures make forays into our living spaces with rapid urbanisation, all at the expense of what’s left of this ‘wild’.

Here’s 10 things you didn’t know about pythons in Singapore, other than the fact that they’re non-venomous, usually harmless, or fancy a cool dip in a pool once in a while.

1. Watch out when you withdraw money from an ATM machine. You may get more than just cold hard cash, but a cold-blooded reptile slithering up your arm. This encounter, in 1990, was also in Toa Payoh.

2. Snakes weren’t so tenderly microchipped and escorted back into the wild in the past. They were bashed to death by hockey sticks, shot in the head with rifles, or DECAPITATED by policemen with an axe.

3. In the 50’s, enterprising snake-nabbers would sell pythons for $50. In 1878, an eye witness reported a scene of a dog placed in the same cage as a python for pure entertainment. In RAFFLES INSTITUTION.

4. BIG PYTHON was once used as a SAF mobilisation code. Well, it sure beats LONG MILLIPEDE.

5. Snakes have been found in the oddest places. Some pythons may even land up in your TOILET BOWL, while you’re taking a sssssshit. So don’t ever flush dead fish or hamsters down the sewers. Your dead pet, their food. You can find one curled up all warm and comfy in your car BONNET if you’re lucky. Other pythons prefer to take the BUS.

6. People in Chinatown used to worship a female python named SOON TECK, who laid up to 60 eggs on the 9th day of the Lunar New Year in 1985.

7. The most frequent headline used in snake articles by the ST is ‘SNAKES ALIVE’.  Other puns include ‘Snakes are hisss business’, and most recently ‘Surprise sssswimmer in Toa Payoh Pool’ (30 Apr 14). The worst headline in my opinion belongs to Today paper, with the ssssucky ‘SSSSS, ANY SNAKES HERE?‘(26 Jan 2001).

8. The only reported incident I uncovered of a python actually attacking someone was in 1965, when a 20 ft snake in Bukit Timah reserve tried to swallow a 10 year old girl. She turned out fine. I couldn’t find any other news about locals getting killed or eaten alive.

9. If you find a snake in your room and you hire a pest-control team to remove it, you’re expected to pay somewhere in the range of $300-600. In the early 80’s you could count on ‘Ah Chee’ from Chinatown, self-professed ‘Sei Chai’ or ‘Snake Boy’, who catches and serves freshly killed python meat to customers. No surprise that it ‘tastes like chicken’.

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 5.03.00 PM

10. The reticulated python is the WORLD’S LONGEST SNAKE (Even longer than the Giant Anaconda!). A 6-metre monster, twice the length of the Toa Payoh swimmer, was caught in Lorong Marzuki in 1986, an area fondly known as ‘Pythons Place’.

ACRES encourages people to leave our serpentine visitors to the professionals, but they should make it easier for us to remember the 24 hour wildlife rescue hotline (9783 7782). Like 1800-HISS-HISS for example. No one can remember beyond a three digit number when they’re panicking, which explains why the first thought that comes to mind whenever we see a python is calling the police or fire department. By the time you try to log on the Internet to find ACRES’ contact, the beast would probably have taken your pet dog, cat and chinchilla for dinner, before slithering away into the nearest canal, never to be seen again.

 

 

 

Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000’s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.

 

Lavender food heaven closing for development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

No water splashing allowed at Songkran festival

From ‘Singapore’s 1st Songkran water festival goes dry’, 25 March 2014, article by Melody Zaccheus, ST

There will be no water pistol fights, celebrity dunk stations, or really, any kind of water fun at Singapore’s first Songkran water festival on April 12 and 13. The organisers of Celebrate Songkran 2014 at the Padang have taken heed of the national campaign to conserve water and nixed the water-based activities.

Instead, they will host a Water Conservation and Water Heritage Exhibition in conjunction with national water agency PUB. The organisers said this was appropriate in view of the recent dry spell and current moves to cut back on water usage.

Though lighting designer Sanischaya Mankhongphithakkul, 25, agrees with the rationale, it still feels a little odd. “What’s a water festival without water?”

The whole point of traditional Songkran is to get soaking wet, as dousing is symbolic of washing away bad luck. It’s also the Thai New Year, usually accompanied by Buddhist activities such as prayer sessions, as what took place back in 1999 during Singapore’s first open-air Songkran near Paya Lebar MRT. In 1988, Songkran was held at the now defunct Big Splash, where other than getting wet and wild, participants would be expected to burn joss sticks and bathe statues of Four Face Buddhas. Otherwise, Golden Mile Complex is the place to be if you want to mingle with Thai workers ringing in their New Year with water fights. It’s a religious festival, not an excuse to get fashionably drunk and watch Far East Movement.

No wonder Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, Ms Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn, had reportedly (according to the ST article) threatened to sue festival organisers for ‘undermining the values’ of the Thai festival, not so much that we’re cutting out the real star of the show for conservation reasons, but because we’re twisting the agenda to suit our needs and flying in entertainers, turning it into yet another outdoor pop music festival that’s really a B-grade cousin of the F1 megaconcerts, headlined by a band who’s not even Thai to begin with. How would you feel if Westerners adopted our version of Chinese New Year, but just went around eating dim sum, making fortune cookies or ‘lo hei-ing’ over meatballs and spaghetti instead of yusheng?

The ‘CelebrateSongkran’ website continues to run misleading images of drenched people with Supersoakers, oblivious that the banning of water activities has, in a manner of speaking, rained on everyone’s parade. Conservative Christians who refuse to fold paper ingots at their grandmother’s funeral should not attend by the way because of its religious (i.e ‘paganistic’) origins.  Yes you can’t have water fun because your God forbids it.

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Dampnation!

Songkran in Singapore used to be an intimate, simple, even holy affair, celebrated only within a niche community, now commercialised and rebranded as a pseudo rave party like how the Indian ‘festival of colours’ Holi has turned into a rainbow powder orgy. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Water Wally prancing around on stage either, blind to the irony that by completely overturning the theme toward water conservation just to avoid cancelling the damn thing, you forget that you’re also splurging on electricity and raking up carbon miles flying in celebrities. I mean, we could just run another ‘Keep it to 5′ campaign rather than bullshit our way through someone else’s New Year celebration, and with the $60 price tag for 2 nights of partying, you’re more likely to see rich teens and expats there than the folks who appreciate the true meaning of Songkran, the homesick Thai workers. The only sprinkling of any sort you’ll see there will be drunkards taking a piss by a bush, or the buckets of sweat produced by the people cleaning up after your mess when the night’s over.

It also sets an awkward precedent for future events which have the slightest implications on the natural environment. Should we stop people from burning incense during Qing Ming because of the haze? Stop circulating new $2 notes or printing ang pows in the event of worsening global deforestation? Scrape F1 during an oil crisis? Ban St Patricks Day or Oktoberfest when there’s an epidemic of hops infestation? Put a stop to Hungry Ghost Festival offerings during a famine? If you want to enjoy REAL Songkran without some event organiser messing it up and turning it into a poor man’s foam party (without the foam of course), yet don’t want to be seen wasting water, you can do it at a pool or beach where you can splash all you want. More importantly, it’s FREE, and you don’t have to listen to bloody annoying Far East Movement while at it.

 

Authorities in a muddle over leaves in drain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children burning schoolwork after PSLE

From ‘Burning question on post-PSLE ‘celebration’, 10 Oct 2013, ST

(Desiree Tan): IT SADDENED me to read about a group of children and parents burning school material right after the Primary School Leaving Examination (“Post-PSLE book-burning photo inflames netizens”; Tuesday). While I agree with netizens that these items should be recycled or given to needy pupils, the more disturbing issue is the celebratory connotation of the act of burning to signify the end of a major examination.

I can understand people blaming the system for placing too great an emphasis on exam grades. I can also understand that in their quest to excel, children experience a great deal of stress sitting the PSLE.

But to use these reasons to justify the act of burning school material is inexcusable. Are we teaching 12-year-olds that once they complete the PSLE, they can burn away what they have learnt?

What is the point of achieving stellar results if our children grow up with such thinking? The damage that has been done is far more serious than just killing trees.

We did start the fire

We did start the fire

Bonfire organiser Arnold Gay said the symbolic act of destroying schoolwork was ‘cathartic and fun’. One critic of the celebration said ‘books and writings’ should be revered and are a ‘sacred part of civilisation’ as if they were magical scrolls or scripture (We were not burning textbooks, says Kiss92 DJ Arnold Gay, 9 Oct 2013).  While my sympathies go to the authors of such assessment books or worksheets, tossing educational material into the fire isn’t a culmination of resentment against the system or deliberately erasing from memory everything primary school taught us so much as a stark, dramatic exaggeration of what people actually do with their old worksheets after the PSLE.  Not many of us would laminate them and stack them nicely in a chest as an heirloom to our descendents, hoping that they would look upon our maths notes like they just stumbled upon ancient manuscripts that foretell the ultimate fate of the Universe.

During my time there were no recycling bins to speak of, and most of what I threw away would have ended up disintegrating into ashes in the incinerator anyway. In fact, the most heinous acts of violence on school material were performed BEFORE the actual exam. Wooden rulers were snapped, pages were stabbed with pens and flunked test papers were ripped to shreds, sometimes by angry parents themselves. The holiest of tomes have been vandalised by the luminous scrawling of highlighter pens, battered into tatters, riddled with stains, disfigured by ugly dog ears and left to die like they were humiliated and gangraped a thousand times over. Though sometimes that is EXACTLY how some kids feel when they’re taking the PSLE. Better we take it out on homework than on ourselves, I say. A search on Youtube will reveal the many creative ways that liberated kids around the world destroy their schoolwork, by torching it with an acetylene flame, flushing it down a toilet, or literally letting their DOG EAT the damn thing.

I would imagine kids hurling schoolwork into the flames with the hedonistic zest of one destroying the autobiography of a ruthless dictator, the belongings of a spouse’s illicit lover, or the Pope condemning to Eternal Hell ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. There is nothing ‘sacred’ about mass-produced assessment sheets, and there’s no reason to treat the act as if someone blew up the National Archives and important knowledge has been lost forever, that these book-burning kids would grow up into rebellious troublemakers who would run their bosses’ family photo through the office shredder. Still, you shouldn’t need to make a party out of it like Arnold Gay did, and any torture that you’d wish to inflict on your notes just to fulfill your wildest, sickest fantasy should be performed in strictest privacy, like how I would gyrate to Ricky Martin songs when nobody’s watching.

Arnold Gay didn’t round up some Satanists to burn bibles or the Declaration of Independence, but such tribal abandon strikes me as rather premature. Let’s hope his kids actually PASS the exam, otherwise it’s not just assessment papers, but hopes and aspirations, that go up in flames.

Leonard ‘Santa Claus’ Francis defrauding the US Navy

From ‘SEX, ports and government contracts’, 6 Oct 2013, article by Walter Sim, Sunday Times

Singapore-based businessman Leonard Glenn Francis has been reported to own a sprawling 70,000 sq ft Nassim Road bungalow, which has become famous for its extravagant Christmas light-ups.

But his next home could be a jail in the United States, where the 58-year-old Malaysian father of five was charged last month with defrauding the US Navy in a case involving hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts.

Part of the plot allegedly involved bribing a US Navy commander (Michael Misiewicz) and a special agent (John Beliveau) with luxury travel and women in exchange for classified information that allowed Francis to profit from his business dealings with the US Navy.

Leonard Francis has reportedly been living in Singapore for more than 30 years despite still being a Malaysian citizen. Last Christmas, the self-proclaimed ‘Santa Claus’ and Catholic adorned his Nassim bungalow with reindeers, a gigantic Xmas tree, even a nativity scene complete with manger. Who would have thought that this lavish spectacle (possibly costing at least $100,000) may have been made possible by ‘gifts’ of a totally different nature, among which include Lady Gaga concert tickets and what he called his ‘Elite Thai Seal team’, or prostitutes. When asked about the expenses, he replied ‘ You can’t put a value on happiness’. Not so for pleasure, it seems.

Francis started draping his residence in the Xmas spirit back in 2007, when he was at Cluny Road and already renown then as among Singapore’s ‘most ardent Christmas decorators’. An assistant was given a budget of $25K then to make Francis’ house shine as bright as Orchard Road, drawing complaints from those who saw the gesture as unnecessarily extravagant and felt that the money splurged on giant snowmen and Baby Jesuses should have gone into more charitable causes. The lighting even caused a minor traffic jam when cars slowed down just to gaze in awe at the audacious splendour of it all (Ironically, Francis himself has also complained to the Traffic Police about rows of parked heavy vehicles along Nassim Road). If he hadn’t been caught, this year’s light-up could have been bigger, better and brighter, maybe even with actual falling snow or a ship dressed up like Noah’s Ark sponsored by the US Navy, with Kai Kai and Jia Jia in it.

Francis’ arrest is a sigh of relief for Nassim neighbours who couldn’t sleep because of his annoying flashing extravaganza. In the video below taken of the house from a vehicle, someone quipped that he ‘basically baokaliao the sidewalk’ and questioned if decorating the place like it’s your grandfather’s road was even legal. Even if it were illegal, I doubt the authorities would go all Scrooge over it, especially on rich folks’ property.

In late 2012, just as Francis was getting ready to receive Father Christmas, his military contractor company Glenn Defence Marine Asia was charged for dumping hazardous waste in Subic Bay, Philippines, which dwarves the environmental burden of over-the-top Xmas lighting.  Of course that didn’t stop Singapore’s Mr Xmas himself from turning Nassim Road into a Winter Wonderland in a bid to out-Christmas Orchard Road, while at the same time sending ‘Not Safe For Xmas’ pics of Thai hookers to his partners in crime.  If found guilty of duping the US Navy and overcharging ‘pearl ports’, Francis may spend the next few Christmases decking prison bars with snow made out of wet toilet paper balls instead. No sheep in the manger for this conman in a slammer.

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.

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