NUS assistant professor faking academic credentials

From ‘NUS probing work of ex-medicine faculty member’, 14 Sept 2014, article by Linette Lai, Sunday  Times

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has opened an investigation after reports that former faculty member Anoop Shankar had faked his academic credentials. “In view of the media reports on Anoop Shankar, NUS has initiated an internal investigation into his research publications when he was at NUS,” a university spokesman said yesterday.

According to his resume, the former assistant professor at NUS graduated from India’s top medical school when he was 21 and had a doctorate in epidemiology. However, a review of his work by West Virginia University in the United States found that Mr Shankar had only a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina and did not graduate from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

In addition, some publications listed on his resume were either authored by someone else, or did not exist.

Mr Shankar was at NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine from 2005 to 2008, where he was part of the department of community, occupational and family medicine. There, he wrote several papers on topics such as diabetes, and was also part of a research programme looking into eye diseases in Singapore.

Dr. Anoop Shankar, if that is in fact his real name, was part of a team of researchers involved in the epidemiology of eye diseases in Singapore, according to the 2004 Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine annual research report. Ironically, it is NUS senior management who were too BLIND to realise they have been supporting a fraudster’s work with research funding all this time. Some of his outlandish claims can be easily refuted with random background checks or maybe a few calls (courtesy of NBC news):

1. He was never a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

2. He supposedly wrote a paper in 1976 (the year after he was born), not 1996 as claimed in his resume. It turned out that none of the papers listed were actually written by him.

3. He wasn’t among the top 3 graduates of the All India Institute of Medicine in Delhi.

4. The university where he claimed he got his doctorate in epidemiology from doesn’t even have a department of epidemiology.

5. He had photos online pointing to him being a graduate of Kottayam Medical College, not the ‘Harvard’ of India.

It all seems like a sloppy yet preposterous act of forgery to me, and ever since he charmed his NUS employers into hiring him despite the phantom qualifications, not a squeak of suspicion emerged from 4 years in the university. Some of his latest work with VWU were not even directly related to his ‘specialty’ in NUS. In 2013, he suggested a link between a chemical in popcorn and heart disease. This guy is either incredibly charismatic or has a knack for spinning scientific yarn, the academia equivalent of conman Frank Abagnale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) in the film Catch Me if you Can.

But it’s not the first time that we let a liar boasting illustrious credentials weasel his way into a senior position in the NUMBER ONE university in Asia, and then only wait for someone else to ferret him out. In 2011, former NUS don Dr Alirio Melendez was hauled up by the University of London for research fraud, when his paper published in the Nature Immunology journal was retracted due to ‘inconsistencies’. NUS soon launched their own battery of investigations, uncovering more than 20 cases of alleged fabrications and plagiarism. He was found guilty earlier this year.  Prior to the fiasco he had been working with a team on a new potential drug which may treat septic shock. I thought this discovery would have been sufficiently ‘shocking’ for NUS to tighten their employee screening and audit processes, yet no one in NUS bothered to snoop on Anoop. How many more ‘world experts’ like these have slipped through the cracks? How many bogus articles are floating out there in scientific publication universe? Quite a few apparently. Some folks have even done it as a PRANK.

Fake professors writing fake articles don’t just waste research funds which could have been put to better use. Imagine if Shankar had fabricated his way into establishing a causal link between popcorn and blindness, and a ‘respected’ medical journal is taken in by this doyen of epidemiology’s gobbledegook and made it the health scare of the century, we’d all be stuck with soggy nachos at the movies, while hailing the man as the hero who saved humanity from poison pop corn.

About these ads

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. 

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

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 298 other followers