Foreign workers chatting over murukku in Chinese Garden

From ‘Chinese Garden’s faded glory’, 16 May 2014, article by Lee Jian Xuan, ST

…Once a popular tourist haunt in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese Garden is seldom promoted as an attraction now and is deserted on most days, save for the odd runner. Earlier this month, its caretaker, JTC Corporation, said it had planned a long list of refurbishment works for Chinese Garden, including architectural repairs and new paint.

Designed by prominent Taiwanese architect Yu Yuen-chen, Chinese Garden was touted as “Singapore’s architectural pride” when it opened in 1975, a phoenix risen from what used to be marshes and swamps. It drew many visitors from near and far, as well as couples taking wedding pictures.

…Chinese Garden, which has no entrance fee on normal days, has turned into a retreat for foreign workers on weekends and public holidays. Some duck below ficus and yellow oleander trees, snapping selfies on their phones. Others laze beside the ponds and lakes, chatting and eating.

Indian shipyard worker Ganapathy Balasubramanian, 30, meets his friend, construction worker Prakash Chellayan, 30, every Sunday to chat over murukku.

In 1978, an Australian tourist wrote to the ST Forum suggesting that there should be a ‘unique trio’ of gardens around of the Jurong Lake area, Chinese, Japanese and an INDIAN garden. Jump to 2014 and it has indeed become a garden for Indian workers, if not eating murukku under some ficus trees then playing cricket on an area that once saw SBC actors like Chen Tianwen suspended on wires in wuxia getup swordfighting and saving Xiang Yun from distress.

Chinese Garden wasn’t warmly welcomed by all Jurong residents when it was initially proposed. One Jurong worker who was unable to get a flat in the area called the tourist attraction a ‘luxury project’, and complained that the money was better spent on housing. Others were worried that they couldn’t afford the entrance fee. In the late seventies, you would still get swindled of $1.20 for two bottles of chrysanthemum tea. Sinophile scholars swooned over its Sung dynasty inspired imperial architecture nonetheless, describing entering the Gardens as being transported into ‘Instant China’.With the number of PRCs among us these days, you don’t have to travel all the way to Jurong to experience the motherland anymore.

When it opened to much fanfare in 1975, the attraction was believed to be the largest classical Chinese garden built that century outside of China. By the 1990′s, it had degraded into a mosquito-breeding, deserted eyesore. Today, there’s nothing more ‘cheena’ about Chinese Garden than the roof design of the MRT named after it, its Twin Towers and Pagoda still resembling the campy set of a Mediacorp period drama, a lacklustre imitation of everything you’ve ever seen in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. You’re more likely to see foreign workers picnicking than old men in majestic robes doing taichi, more people jogging than doing calligraphy, kids engaging in watersports in the Lake than poets drifting about in a lone sampan fanning themselves pensively in the morning mist.

Here are some other facts you didn’t know about the Chinese and Japanese Gardens.

1. The centrepiece of the Garden, the 7 tier pagoda, was once compared to the one at Cheng-Ching Lake, Taiwan. 

2. Japanese Garden is also known as ‘Seiwa-en’, conceived by none other than Dr Goh Keng Swee himself, Seiwa-en meaning Singapore’s (Sei) Japanese (Wa) Garden (En). It also opened 2 years BEFORE Chinese Garden.

3. Entrance fees for the Japanese Gardens in 1973 was 40 cents (adult), 20 Cents (child) and FIFTY CENTS for a CAMERA. Yes, your camera was worth more than a human being. In the 1990′s, this increased to $4.50 per adult.

4. The statue of Confucius, donated to the Chinese Garden by the Taiwanese, was worth $100, 000.

5. A Registry of Marriages branch opened  in 1982, which catered to couples who wanted to have their solemnisations done over the weekend. By 1984, it was gone.

6. In 1981, it rained BULLETS on Jurong Lake, believed to be an accidental machine gun misfiring by a company under the Defence Ministry known as ODE (Ordnance Development and Engineering). Thankfully no one was hurt.

7. There were plans in 1991 to build an UNDERGROUND MUSEUM at Chinese Gardens. Shelved, obviously.

8. The now defunct Tang Dynasty City, a failed theme park located near the Gardens, once had ambitions to build a $500,000 earthquake simulator from Japan. A disastrous venture, this vanity project with its army of robot terracotta warriors cost $100 million to build, opened in 1992 and had closed shop before the end of that decade.

9. The Live Tortoise and Turtle Museum collection features an exotic reptile called the MATA-MATA. I heard the Police need a mascot.

10. Chinese Garden MRT was once called Jurong Lake Station. 

About these ads

Golden Mile Complex belongs in a Mumbai slum

From ‘Buildings not worth preserving’, 9 May 2014, My Point, ST Forum

(Anuradha Singh): THE Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road is one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen. It looks like it belongs in a Mumbai slum. To even think of preserving it is absurd (“Architects keen on conservation status for Pearl Bank”; yesterday).

When many beautiful old buildings are being demolished in the name of “development”, why maintain this monstrosity in the name of modernist architecture?

There are many fine examples of modernist architecture worth preserving – but Golden Mile Complex and People’s Park Complex do not belong in that category.

Golden Slumdog Millionaire

I don’t know if Anuradha has actually been to a Mumbai slum, but who made this woman the heritage AUTHORITY in deciding what should be preserved and what should be demolished? A favela in Rio would be a more apt description. Still, she may be right about the ugliness. In 2006, NMP Ivan Png echoed the writer’s sentiments and called Golden Mile a ‘vertical slum’ and a national DISGRACE. Other Singaporeans slammed it as an EYESORE, and that it belonged in the same slummy category as Lucky Plaza (incidentally also a foreign worker enclave like Golden Mile). Maybe in a few decades’ time people will be complaining about another ugly building that has erstwhile become a national icon, the hanging surfboard that is Marina Bay Sands. You won’t have to look far, though, for the OTHER slum in our spanking clean Garden City – the entire Hougang GRC. Would the writer suggest going all Sodom and Gomorrah on Hougang as well?

Here are some things you never knew about Golden Mile Complex, other than it being the only place in town you can celebrate Songkran with actual water. For a while, it was the pinnacle of urban living and a tremendous ‘breakthrough’ in Singapore architecture intended to attract the well-heeled, the ‘mile high club’, so to speak. Today it’s a top contender for Architecture’s equivalent of the World’s Ugliest Dog award, with people so pissed off with its look that they would come in like a wrecking ball themselves to knock it out of existence.

1. In the 70′s, you could buy a ‘luxury apartment’ and ‘penthouse’ with a ‘uninterrupted panoramic’ seafront view, facing even the Southern Islands.

2. Golden Theatre, opened in 1973, boasted a preview room and a VIP LOUNGE, and was one of the BIGGEST theatres in those days.  These days it screens softcore porn and the occasional Hindi blockbuster.

3. In 1989, you could buy Thai nudie mags disguised as ‘respectable women’s magazines’ there for $3. Ah, pre-Internet.

4. The ‘ugly’ facade was intended to resemble a ship, and by the mid eighties has been described as a ‘tacky beach cruiser’. Well, from certain angles, you could see why. All aboard, mateys.

Not so smooth sailing

5. It was designed by a team of architects including Tay Kheng Soon. In his bio for the 2010 Fifth Gold Medal Recipient, works cited include KK Hospital, ITE Bishan and Serangoon Gardens Country Club. GMC wasn’t mentioned. As for KKH, doesn’t its cross section in this draft remind you of something else, a cruise ship maybe? A GOLDEN cruise ship?

6. Its stepped terrace design has been praised by international architecture experts including Dutch Rem Koolhaas, who referred to Golden Mile and her sister ‘monstrosity’ People’s Park Complex, as ‘accidental’ landmarks and bold ‘experimental’ structures. They’re probably the same people who gush over Mumbai slums because there’s nothing sexier to architects than chaos and decadent sprawl. As long as they don’t live a day in it.

7. Lastly, GMC has also been compared to a typewriter.

An icon doesn’t need to be pretty to endear to Singaporeans and tourists alike, and we don’t need to rely on just refurbished shophouses or rusty religious buildings to add ‘character’ to our city. GMC and People’s Park are just a couple of many local designers’ creations out there threatened by collective sale. Victor Chew’s Cairnhill Hilltops and Ming Court Hotel (now Orchard Parade Hotel) were given the Godzilla treatment. If we don’t start conserving now, all we’d have left on this tiny island are HDB blocks,  condos and ugly showpieces commissioned to foreign designers, too expensive to tear down. Losing Golden Mile would be like sweeping ‘lawless’ Geylang off the map.

Still good as Gold Photo credit: Darren Soh

Still good as Gold
Photo credit: Darren Soh

GMC is not just a Thai hangout and hub of sleaze where you could get a gloryhole blowjob from a stranger in a cubicle of the dingiest loo in the country. Even if GMC fails to remain viable as a mixed-use building, it could at least be preserved as a location to shoot a dystopian Judge Dredd action movie. But for now it’s still a workplace, home and even SECOND HOME to many people, Thai workers included, and to call for its destruction because it burns your eyeballs just to gaze at it is, well, rather ugly thinking too.

THE Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road is one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen. It looks like it belongs in a Mumbai slum. To even think of preserving it is absurd (“Architects keen on conservation status for Pearl Bank”; yesterday).

When many beautiful old buildings are being demolished in the name of “development”, why maintain this monstrosity in the name of modernist architecture?

There are many fine examples of modernist architecture worth preserving – but Golden Mile Complex and People’s Park Complex do not belong in that category.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/my-point-20140509#sthash.o4BCuG0m.dpuf

Gilbert Goh wants you to splash dog poo at PM Lee’s photo

From ‘Protest organiser Gilbert Goh advised against defacing poster of PM’, 30 May 2014, article in Today

The police have contacted social activist Gilbert Goh regarding his Facebook post calling on the public to deface a poster of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a planned Labour Day demonstration at Hong Lim Park tomorrow (May 1). In a statement to the media, the police said Mr Goh, who organised the protest, was advised against carrying out such activities during the demonstration, as they could be considered offences under the Penal Code and the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

…In a Facebook post dated April 19, Mr Goh had spoken out against Mr Lee’s comment that he was “appalled” to read about the harassment of organisers of the Philippine Independence Day celebrations in Singapore. “We want to showcase (Mr Lee) on our labour day protest by putting up a huge poster for protestors to vent their anger. You can spit, throw eggs, splash dog poo, draw graffiti and kick at the poster of our Prime Minister,” Mr Goh wrote. The post was still on his Facebook page as of this evening.

This afternoon, Mr Goh also posted: “A police inspector called me earlier asking us not to deface our Prime Minister photo tomorrow or else…but that doesn’t mean we can’t scold him for his errant pro-foreigner policies right?”

Few world leaders have been spared from public defacement. It happened to Obama.

Vladimir Putin.

And naturally..

With photoshopping skills you can mock a politician without stepping out of your house. Yet no one thus far has been taken to task for superimposing our President’s face on Colonel Sanders’. Or adding bloody fangs onto LKY.

Gilbert Goh got away with doing an impromptu Songkran on an effigy of Lui Tuck Yew previously, and now is threatening to incite violence upon an image of the PM. Resorting to juvenile voodoo aside, Gilbert’s call for egg-tossing is a shameless waste of a perfect food, and NEA should clamp down on the protest for encouraging wastage. Photoshopping Wong Kan Seng’s face onto an executed Viet soldier, however, may get you arrested, and Gilbert is tempting fate here by simulating violence against the PM himself. Interestingly, there was a time when the man was more accommodating of foreigners, leading some to accuse him of doing a U-turn or singing a different tune when he was working in Sydney.

In a 2008 letter to Today titled ‘Treat foreigners the way you want to be treated’, Gilbert revealed that he had left Singapore to work in Australia, and concluded from his experience that Singaporeans ‘must welcome such foreign talents’ and ‘at the very least not give them a hard time’. A year later he called for more integration among our migrant workers, at the same time stating that we should be more selective in who we bring in – people with ‘real talents’. In fact he thought it would be ideal if the good ones can remain long enough to convert to actual citizens.  In a Facebook post he mulled over the high cost of living in Sydney while he was there, about $10 fried rice and ‘surviving’ despite his $15 per hour wage as a ‘casual worker’. Whatever that means.

In an interview with the SgVoize blog, he explained that he was there via a 4 year work visa tied to his ex-wife’s visa, who’s now a PR there (but he’s not). He also visits his daughter (I would assume also a Aussie PR) now and then. I wonder where would he be now if he had stayed married. If not for Gilbert, Hong Lim Park would be a terrifyingly lonely place, good only for picnics, family frisbee or qigong. Singaporeans would have lost the only place where you can cosplay as Guy Fawkes without getting questioned by the Police.

In 2011, he was appointed as  candidate for opposition party NSP (after a brief, ‘sour’ stint with Reform Party), banking on his credentials as the President of Transitioning.org, a support organisation for the unemployed. Armed with a Graduate Diploma in Counselling, he went on to racially profile the various foreign workers in Singapore in an article written in 2013, from PRCs being ‘brash and rude’ to Filipinos as ‘political and manipulative’. All this leading up to his personal vendetta against Philippine Independence Day, where he complained to the Philippine ambassador that the display of their flag in Orchard Road is a ‘betrayal of the motherland’.

PM Lee was probably referring to him among others when he called such harassment a ‘disgrace to Singapore’. The May Day Protest, with the highlight being people doing nasty, scatological things to the PM’s photo in a fit of rage (or fun) appears to be Gilbert’s way of retorting ‘Up yours!’, and maybe even following up with taunts of ‘My dad is better than your dad’. I’d advise anyone to stay away from the protest, not because you may get hounded by the police, but you may be coerced into holding up a lump of dogshit in your hand instead of a pink I/C or EZLink card, an act which has become somewhat of a Gilbert signature.

Next up, dog poo

Singaporeans ‘saying No’ to Philippine Independence Day

From ‘Filipino group gets online flak over event’, article by Royston Sim and Amelia Tan, 16 April 2014, ST

The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), a group of Filipino volunteers, put up a post on Facebook about the event last weekend and drew fire almost immediately. Negative comments from Singaporeans flooded in, with Facebook page “Say ‘No’ to an overpopulated Singapore” urging locals to protest on the PIDCS page.

The page, which has 26,000 “likes”, is against the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day here and said that festivities should be confined to the Philippine Embassy compound.

It took issue with the PIDCS for using the Marina Bay skyline in a logo for the event, which is meant to celebrate the Philippines’ independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. It also opposed the PIDCS using the terms “two nations” and “interdependence” in posters for the event.

The PIDCS decided to take down the Facebook post after it drew hundreds of anti-Filipino comments, with many slamming the PIDCS for holding the celebration in Orchard Road.

…Ms Cecilia Lim, 28, a self- employed Singaporean, felt some of the online comments were excessive. She said: “People should have the right to celebrate their independence day if they are granted the permits, just as we celebrate Singapore Day overseas.”

Our Intolerance

The first thing I noticed about this article is whether ‘Pilipino’ was a typo or just how Filipinos pronounce their own nationality. Turns out that Pilipino is the official name for the national language, or an enhanced variant of Tagalog. And what about the missing ‘s’ from ‘Philippine Independence’? How many of those celebrating it spell ‘Philippines’ as ‘Phillipines’? A LOT, judging from this Twitter feed and the hashtag #phillipines.

Your spelling pail

Your spelling pail

This weekend, Filipinos (not Philippinos, or Pilipinos) will be celebrating another holiday that most Singaporeans are unaware of, and it’s apt that in the light of the online kerfuffle over their Independence Day, 19 April 2014 (this Saturday) is known as BLACK SATURDAY. PIDCS intends to celebrate Philippine Independence Day on June 8th, which happens to be a SUNDAY. I’ve been to Orchard Road on a Sunday, and to me, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s Independence Day or Ninoy Aquino Day. It feels like crowds of Filipinos are ALWAYS celebrating something on Sunday anyway, whether they’re having a roadside picnic or dancing outside Ion. With Orchard being the default Pinoy haunt, it’s just going to look like any other weekend really, except with maybe flags, buffet lines and ‘cultural dances’.

One of the first reported local celebrations of such a holiday took place in 1946, where ’100 representatives from all communities’ joined with hosts ‘Mr and Mrs Anciano’ at a cocktail party at the Far Eastern Music School. Philippine ‘Independence Day’ then was in commemoration of the formation of the Republic, when the US granted the islands ‘true’ independence (4 July 1946). The number of Filipinos in Singapore then hovered around the 500 mark.  Today, that’s the estimated number you’ll find in the stretch between Lucky Plaza and Ngee Ann City alone on a Sunday. According to the website ‘Positively Filipino‘, that number has risen to almost 180,000 in 2013, with 100,000 of those as professionals and executives.

In the 50′s, Filipinos dressed in their national costumes to attend church, and began having outdoor picnics at places like Pasir Ris. In 1962, the date was changed from 4 July to June 12, when General Emilio Aguinaldo led the revolution for independence from the Spanish in 1898. (Some commentators believe that this was a mistake, that the Treaty of Paris signed then really ceded the country to the US as an American ‘commonwealth’, and that PIDCS is in fact celebrating a misnomer of a holiday). At a Hyatt hotel reception attended by bigwig PAP politicians like Richard Hu and S Dhanabalan in 1987, guest performers from the Philippines sang ‘lusty’ renditions of the national anthems of BOTH countries, a typical Pinoy gesture of warm, fuzzy diplomacy. More recent celebrations include song-and-dance festivals at the Singapore Art Museum and Hong Lim Park last year. Hong Lim, ironically, being the same place where the people behind ‘Say No’ will be having a 1 May protest about 6.9 million again. Why didn’t they make a puss, I mean, FUSS, over the Filipino ‘invasion’ of their ‘territory’ then?

So people, top PAP brass included, have been celebrating Philippines Independence Day in Singapore for LONGER than our very own National Day. The last event in 2013 was even jointly sponsored by household brands like Singtel, Starhub and Singapore Post. Are angry Singaporeans going to boycott both telcos for ‘betraying’ the nation? As for the unhappiness over the word ‘Interdependence’, I wonder how many of those in the petition have never ‘depended’ on a Filipino maid or nurse in their lives, celebrated the success of Ilo Ilo or laughed at Leticia Bongnino’s jokes.

Instead of voicing our displeasure at foreigners staking their claim over our motherland through the use of a MBS backdrop and sitting around our shopping areas eating lechon (a pork dish), how about putting your patriotism into action by giving some love to the nation on 9 Aug, outdo the PIDCS event with a riot of national colours and jubiliant song-and-dance, instead of planning a protest only to go on a quickie overseas vacation like some whining Singaporeans would?

UPDATE: Both Tan Chuan Jin and PM Lee had strong words for the ‘bigots’ and ‘trolls’ who complained about the event. TCJ thought the response was ‘repulsive’, while PM called it a disgrace and lowered our ‘standing’ in the eyes of the world. The latter went on to cite London as an example of the warm hospitality shown by countries who hosted the Singapore Days of the past, i.e treat your guests as you would like to be treated overseas. We forget, however, about what happened at Singapore Day 2013 in Victoria Park, Sydney, when an Australian named ‘James’ accused organisers of being RACIST for not allowing Caucasians in, even though it’s a public place, on National Radio. I wonder if there were Australian ministers as eager as ours to come out and slam him for making a shameful nuisance of himself. Unlike having to register for Singapore Day and there being a limit to how many non-citizens you can bring,  the PID organisers have declared that ANYONE is free to join the 10,000 strong crowd at Orchard Road if they so wish. Or should I say, Little Philippines.

UPDATE 2: Organisers decided to withdraw their application to hold the party at Ngee Ann City (Filipino group drops plan to hold Orchard Road event, 26 May 2014, ST). Xenophobes everywhere rejoice.

‘Little Chinatown’ Geylang is a potential powder keg

From ‘Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders’, 30 March 2014, article by Amelia Tan, Sunday Times

Geylang Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders want more done to keep the area safe, and say the measures should go beyond ramping up police patrols. Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Edwin Tong wants fewer alcohol licences issued, stricter operating hours for businesses near residential estates, and a stop to foreign worker dormitories sprouting near Housing Board flats.

…Geylang has come under fresh focus after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last Tuesday that he was more worried about the area than Little India, where a riot involving foreign workers took place last December. Testifying at the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot, he said crime rates in Geylang were disproportionately high and hostility towards the police rife.

Mr Tong told The Sunday Times that the red-light district, with its many bars and lounges, peddlers selling contraband cigarettes and drugs, as well as shops and vendors which stay open late into the night make Geylang more of a potential trouble spot than Little India and increase the risk of violent crime.

…He also highlighted the predicament of those living in Blocks 38 and 39 Upper Boon Keng Road, off Lorong 3 Geylang. The HDB flats are beside a row of terraced houses which have been converted into dormitories for workers from South Asian countries.

Many of the workers drink alcohol at the void decks of the blocks late into the night and some urinate at the playgrounds. Mr Tong said the problems have not been solved despite his asking police to increase their patrols. He said: “I think the solution is to stop the houses from being used as dorms. They are just too near the HDB flats.”

Grassroots leader Lee Hong Ping, 45, who labelled Geylang “Little Chinatown”, said crowds of foreign workers from China can cause traffic jams when too many of them gather on the pavements and spill onto the roads. Residents have also complained about not feeling safe at night.

The Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee described Geylang as a hotspot for ‘lawlessness’ and a congregation area for ‘unsavoury characters’. The Police also cited statistics that the level of public order offences and crime were almost twice as high as that in Little India in 2012, thus the ‘powder keg’ analogy. Another ST report carried the headline ‘People in Geylang speak of an ‘undercurrent of fear’ (March 30, 2014) based on the refusal of some residents to talk to the press. The authorities should be wary, however, not to focus too much on buffing up security at these ‘enclaves’ while neglecting other public areas when random people get slain. Since the Little India incident, we’ve all but forgotten about what went on in the very beating heart of the city, gang fights at Orchard Cineleisure for instance.

18452177

There’s no question that the Lorongs are where resentment of authority is rampant. In 2007, a crowd of 200 gathered around 4 undercover police officers on an illegal gambling raid operation and threw rubbish and beer bottles at them, forcing one officer to draw his weapon on one of the men in the crowd. It had all the makings of a full blown riot, though today we’re unlikely to see the level of violence of the secret society clashes in the 1920s, where the police don’t just get glasses and rocks tossed at them, but BOMBS as well. There’s no evidence that alcohol had anything to do with these events, though some shopkeepers admit that vice is a crowd-puller and good for business.

Geylang may be called ‘Little Chinatown’ today, but according to some sociologists in 2009, Geylang was already the NEW Chinatown when PRCs started flocking to the area to set up shop, while its older sibling with its annual gaudy CNY decorations has morphed into a tourist town, today complete with giant LCD advertising screens and a ‘food street’ that’s clearly designed to draw tourists on a hawker mecca. We’ve already lost our vintage Bugis Street, we don’t want the same fate to fall on ‘Little Chinatown’ now, do we?

The police may think that Geylang, with all its vice and sleaze, is a time bomb waiting to explode. Residents worry about their wives or daughters when they go out at night. But to anyone with a sense of history or adventure, the ‘unsavoury’ nature of Geylang is part of its gritty, trashy charm, a seedy side of Singapore that remains largely unsanitised and brimming with a thrilling sense of ghetto sprawl and chaos, like the Chinese Harlem except that the only protection you need is not a personal weapon, but personal contraception. It has even been called a mini ‘United Nations’ of street-walkers. This is a place you won’t see on our tourist brochures, but any Singaporean will try to tempt a foreigner to have a taste of it. With a nudge and a wink of course.

 

 

Foreign workers rioting over cricket match

From ’17 charged after fight at Kaki Bukit’, 28 March 2014, article in CNA

17 foreign workers were charged in court on Friday following a brawl that broke out at a dormitory in Kaki Bukit. 14 of them are from Bangladesh and were charged with rioting. The other three from India were charged with affray for their alleged roles in the fight.

Their cases will be mentioned again next month. They were among 35 workers arrested following Tuesday evening’s fight, which allegedly took place during a live screening of a T-20 cricket match.

The match was between Bangladesh and the West Indies, in which the West Indies won.

I probably know a bit more about golf than cricket, but I never heard of anyone throwing furniture over the former. Like any spectator team sport, cricket has its fair share of violent hooliganism. In 2006, Indian fans unhappy with match cancellation set bonfires and burned advertising billboards, injuring a few policemen in the pandemonium. 10 years before that in 1996 at the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, the game was awarded to the visitors after things turned ugly and the riot police had to be deployed to quell an Indian mob angry that their side were on the losing end. You’d never think a sport with a lengthy glossary of confusing terms (Boot Hill, Cart-wheeling stump, Left-arm Unorthodox Spin among others), suggesting some quiet civility about it,  would have some of the worst ever sore losers in the history of sporting competition.

A wicket crowd

A wicket crowd

Emotions run high easily in crowded dorms. In 2001, an Indian national was fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife by a housemate because he spent too much time in the TOILET every morning. So when is a brawl a riot and when is it an affray? According to our statutes, an affray is ‘where 2 or more persons disturb the public peace by fighting in a PUBLIC place’. ‘Rioting’ occurs ‘whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the ‘common object’ of such assembly’, unlawful assembly meaning FIVE or more persons engaging in a ‘common object’ of wrongdoing. If you decide to throw punches with someone on the MRT, you are committing affray. If you’re part of a gang and slash people over staring incidents, then you’re ‘rioting with a dangerous weapon’.

Both terms appear to be have been used interchangeably in the past. In 1939, 17 Chinese and Indian workers got into a ‘disturbance’ at Alexandra Brickworks, resulting in several injuries and a broken arm, an incident reported as an ‘affray’. The way similar battles were described suggests that an ‘affray’ was considered a milder version, or precursor, of a riot, like a poke in the chest escalating into a kick to the face. Which doesn’t explain how in a group of 17 men involved in a free-for-all over the same thing, a few can be engaged in affray while the rest were rioting.

You may, however, avoid a rioting charge if you get into a fistfight while IN a football (or cricket for that matter) match, as long as nobody makes a police report. Being involved in a catfight also may spare you from affray charges, though people are more likely to stand and watch than try to break it apart for the entertainment. Or if you’re a Taiwanese politician.

No fighting in the war room

But if you’re really lucky, you could get involved in what’s technically an affray right outside the Subordinate Courts and nothing would happen to you, like this trio below. It’s 2 participants short of a riot, mind you.

Fight club

Then there’s the question of whether a dormitory may be considered a ‘public place’. If a husband and wife got into a massive quarrel in the wee hours that involves the tossing of hot kettles and frying pans in the kitchen and the whole neighbourhood knows about it, what charge does it come under? If 5 relatives started body slamming each other in their backyard over inheritance, are they RIOTING? Is there a penalty for, well, just ‘FIGHTING’ wherever you are? After all, you never know when a scuffle may lead to serious harm or death, in the privacy of a bedroom or on the rooftop of a building, with or without ‘dangerous weapons’.

Ironically, free-to-air live cricket matches was one of the suggestions following the Little India riot to keep our workers ‘happy and motivated’. Perhaps Bollywood movies would be a better idea.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.42.57 PM

 

 

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.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.05.19 PM

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.

 

Clubhouse for maids a space to call their own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Lucky Plaza

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

2) Golden Mile Complex

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

3) Peninsula Plaza

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

4) City Plaza and Joo Chiat

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

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

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

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

Singapore is misery city with a massive compassion deficit

From ‘Massive compassion deficit in Singapore?’, 16 March 2014, article by Maryam Mokhtar, Sunday Times

FREELANCE writer and self-described food lover Charlotte Ashton jumped at the chance to relocate from London to Singapore last year, she says in the biography section of her website. The Oxford University graduate and former BBC reporter and her husband were happy here until one day, in her 10th week of pregnancy, she felt nauseous while taking the train to work and ended up crouching for 15 minutes because no one offered her a seat.

“For the first time, Singapore had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable – completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. Singaporeans, I felt, had let me down,” she wrote. Recounting the incident in a BBC Viewpoint piece, she concluded that Singapore suffers from a “massive compassion deficit”.

One Singaporean friend told her it was because “we measure everything in dollar bills – personal identity, self-respect, happiness, your sense of worth”.

In the original BBC article, Charlotte Ashton was singing praises about our country’s cheap, delicious noodles and pineapple juice. She also described Starhub’s ‘Happiness everywhere’ campaign as ‘full of smiling Singaporeans dancing to PLINKY PLONKY music’, an ad with no ‘deficit’ of goosebumps or cheesiness whatsoever.

Then things changed abruptly for the worse following the train incident. Disappointed by how she felt let down by her Singaporean hosts, she quoted some guy called ‘Marcus’ who blamed our apathy on money and that we’re ‘programmed to think only of ourselves’. This obsession with money is too simplistic a root cause of our ‘compassion deficit’, and the only way to prove Marcus’ theory right is for us to reward altruistic behaviour, like winning a week’s worth of free train rides if you’re the first one to surrender your seat, though no one would conduct such an experiment without being branded for cheapening basic human courtesy as we know it. Marcus is desperately trying to flee to Canada as we speak, and I can’t imagine how that would be accomplished smoothly if one didn’t at some point think deeply about the money involved, you know, like the rest of us miserly penny pinchers.

Someone should tell Ashton what happened to us that drove Singa the Lion to quit his courtesy job altogether. Was it because we don’t give a shit about anything anymore, whether it’s a pregnant woman puking her guts out, or a butt-naked man lying in the middle of the carriage? To be fair, I’ve seen more people giving up seats than what public complaints of isolated incidents suggest. Was her baby bump obvious at 10 weeks? That it’s possible that people did not REALISE that she was pregnant? In any case, Ashton needed HELP regardless, and nobody responded. If it were that bad, why didn’t she just ASK for a seat? Or were the people sitting nearby too caught up in an important Whatsapp business conference chat, or too busy faking sleep to be disturbed? You’re very unlikely to get rejected if you’re pregnant and ask someone, especially from the priority seat, to get off their Ugly Singaporean ass pronto. In a nice polite way, of course.

Some attribute this coldness to us being a ‘reserved’ lot, that we refuse to budge when a stranger is in clear distress because it’s in our nature to mind our own business, an argument shot down by victims of the ‘bystander effect’ who retort that this ‘shyness’ is an excuse for ‘selfish and cowardly’ behaviour. I’m also not sure if there’s a correlation between being miserable and being a callous, unfeeling twat. The greatest feats of altruism, after all, are often displayed during the darkest periods of humanity. We were all miserable during last year’s haze, for example, but there were still kind souls who went around distributing N95 masks to the needy. If we were all suffering from a ‘massive’ compassion deficit, we wouldn’t queue like civil beings for those things, and would be looting Chinese medical halls for ‘cooling teas’ if we had the chance. Incidentally, the most ‘positive’ country based on a survey cited by Ashton was Panama. I’d be impressed if the country also holds the record for fastest return of a lost wallet.

A consultant psychologist once claimed in 2000 that Singaporeans are mostly ‘intrinsically kind’, that most of us DO want to help, but are either afraid of ending up being redundant, seen as trying to ‘act like a hero’, or making things worse. The more skeptical don’t want to let the Good Samaritan get the better of us, in case the ‘victim’ is really a con artist preying on the naive altruism of others, who ends up swindling money from you for doing what you thought was the ‘right thing’. But that’s as rare as finding a gracious Singaporean at a buffet with a 60 minute time limit. A case of spirit willing but flesh weak, perhaps?

Some group psychology studies have shown that this isn’t a malady of Singaporeans alone; the more people around a victim, the less likely someone will step forward to assist. The fact that using ‘eye power’ and waiting for someone else to take action is a universal trait, however, shouldn’t excuse us from exercising compassion when it’s so close to us that we could touch it. Ashton mentioned that the train was ‘packed’, and it’s baffling that you could have a pregnant woman ‘crouching’ next to you and you ignore her totally. That wouldn’t be a mere ‘deficit’ in graces or anything to do with being caught up in the ‘ratrace’, it would be a mental disorder, where the part of the brain that’s responsible for empathy has completely degenerated, possibly from playing too much handphone games like Flappy Bird. In fact, some psychiatry circles have coined the term EDD, or ‘empathy deficit disorder’, though that could apply to anyone from the engrossed teen thumbing his phone to death to a psycho killer charging at random people with a chainsaw.

Let’s hope Ashton’s case is a one-off affair, and may she continue to enjoy the affordable tropical delights that our little city has to offer, a tasty consolation I might add, even if we do suffer from a pathological lack of social graces, a disease that no one, not the Government, not the Church, not Singa the Lion or Dim Sum Dollies can do anything about. Synchronised dancing on an escalator, especially, isn’t going to help one bit. In fact, from the kindness campaign video below, it’s obviously a bloody waste of time.

Singapore is the most expensive city (for expats only)

From ‘Singapore budget 2014: Expatriate living costs survey does not reflect locals’ costs: Tharman’, 5 March 2014, article by Janice Heng, ST

Cost-of-living reports, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit one that has just ranked Singapore the priciest city in the world, are aimed at comparing costs of living for expatriates and thus do not reflect the cost of living for a local resident, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his wrap-up speech on the Budget debate on Wednesday.

There are thus two important differences between what such reports measure and what affects the living costs of Singaporeans, he added. One is currency. “An important reason why we’ve become expensive for expatriates is that the Singapore dollar has strengthened,” said Mr Tharman. That makes things pricier for an expatriate who is paid in a foreign currency. But it improves Singaporeans’ purchasing power, both at home when buying imported goods, and abroad.

The second important difference is the goods and services whose prices are being measured, which are “quite different from the goods and services consumed by ordinary Singaporeans.” Mr Tharman listed some of the things included in the EIU consumption basket: imported cheese, fillet mignon, “Burberry-type raincoats”, the four best seats in a theatre, and three-course dinners in high-end restaurants for four people.

In addition, when it comes to transport, these expatriate cost-of-living surveys only take into account the cost of cars and taxis, not public transport. Cars here are indeed more expensive than in other cities because Singapore is a small country but its public transport and taxi fares are cheaper than in many other hubs, noted Mr Tharman.

“It’s not that these surveys are wrong, it’s not that they are misguided. They’re measuring something quite different from the cost of living for an ordinary local.”

It’s not just imported cheese and fillet mignon that ‘ordinary Singaporeans’ can’t seem to afford according to our DPM. We also don’t dress up as well as our far more dapper expats, who go for $4000 Giorgo Armani men’s suits and drink Moet and Chandon. Surely there are more Singaporeans driving cars than expats, which doesn’t explain how the price comparison for cars is ‘measuring something quite different’. You’d only need to find an equal if not SMALLER country than Singapore in the list with cheaper cars to counter our minister’s weak justification for the sky high prices. Just rating the stuff paupers live off day-to-day is also a misrepresentation of the ‘costliness’ of living, living for most of us involving some form of occasional enjoyment and splurging other than the core human functions of eating, sleeping and shitting. Yes, that includes 3 course dinners in ‘high end’ restaurants with fillet mignon as the main.

The EIU report says nothing about their data being exclusive to expats, and Tharman’s assumption is challenged by the fact that the list includes not so expat ‘friendly’ cities like Damascus, Algiers and Karachi (all among the cheapest cities to live in). Somewhere in the report also talks about the price of something as basic as a 1kg LOAF of BREAD. In Singapore it’s $3.36 vs $1.21 in Mumbai. Contrary to Tharman’s expat hypothesis, locals do eat sliced bread. I suppose Tharman’s version of expats go to artisan boulangeries and eat their dough with foie gras or steak tartare instead of spreading upon it  the disgusting green goo we penniless locals call kaya.

The rich foreigners love it here, a good proportion of them reportedly earning more than $200K a year, and with that kind of money it doesn’t matter if Singapore is the most ‘expensive city’ in the world or not since they live off the finest things in life anyway. That is, until they piss us off and bugger off to Perth. We’ll need to see the complete results to believe that the survey is expat-centric instead of taking Tharman’s word for it hook, line and sinker. This preview chart already shows you how the price of cigarettes and unleaded petrol here fare against the rest of the top 10 cities, stuff that people need, whether you’re expat, local or PRC.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 10.10.34 PM

No surprise here, but we probably have the most EXPENSIVE bottle of table wine in the world, and this $25.04 on average may be even an underestimate given the recent tax hike. Thank God Singaporeans can at least still buy a plate of chicken rice with the same amount you pay for a 1kg loaf of bread. I wonder if the survey rates the cost of something as mundane as raising a child, which according to sgasianparents, is $340,000, just about the price of a Mercedes Benz E-class with COE. Singaporeans, don’t even think about it.

There are flaws in this survey, no doubt, but brushing it aside as one targetting just expats without a fair definition of ‘expat’ and making it a defensive ‘us vs them’ exercise is a typical symptom of blame-shifting instead of self-reflection. Singapore is the most expensive place to buy some things, maybe imported cheese and lobster mee pok included, but you can still get a cup of coffee for less than a dollar, a haircut under 10 bucks or go swimming for less than $2 in some places. Perhaps our leaders should angle their perspective that way rather than making tenuous assumptions that don’t hold water (which won’t stay ‘cheap’ for long judging by the way this drought is going).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 291 other followers