Singaporeans ‘saying No’ to Philippines 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

This weekend, Filipinos 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 (Saturday) is known as BLACK SATURDAY. PIDCS intend 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, Black Saturday 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.

The first reported celebration 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 reference to the formation of the Republic, when the US granted the islands full independence (4 July 1946). The number of Filipinos then in Singapore 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‘, the number has risen to almost 180,000 in 2013, with 100,000 of those as professionals and executives.

Later in the 50′s, participants 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, the date when General Emilio Aguinaldo led the revolution for independence from the Spanish in 1898. 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 people again.

Which means people, top PAP brass included, have been celebrating Philippines Independence Day in Singapore for LONGER than our very own National Day. Instead of voicing our displeasure at foreigners staking a claim over our motherland through the use of a MBS backdrop, the word ‘Interdependence’ or sitting around eating lechon (a Pinoy pork dish), how about proving how much you want to save the country from external influences by expressing your true love on 9 Aug, like trying to outdo the PIDCS event with a riot of national colours on 9 Aug, instead of planning a quickie overseas vacation like some Singaporeans would?

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

 

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).

Police running out of an ambulance like cowards

From ‘Two cops, two different reactions from COI’, 28 Feb 2014, article by Lim Yan Liang, Walter Sim, ST

ONE young officer was praised, a seasoned veteran chastised. Such were the contrasting reactions from the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on day seven of the hearing into the Little India riot on Dec 8 last year.

Even as Sergeant Fadli Shaifuddin Mohamed Sani was commended by the committee for confronting the violent mob with only a baton in hand, Senior Station Inspector Muhammad Adil Lawi had to defend his actions, which were recorded on video. The clip, which showed a group of auxiliary police and Home Team officers, including SSI Adil, running out of an ambulance, was circulated widely on the Internet after the incident.

The same footage was played during the inquiry while SSI Adil was on the witness stand yesterday. “You were the law, and you were running away, how does that reflect on the police force?” former NTUC president John De Payva asked the Traffic Police officer.

…When asked by the COI if his decision to retreat was an “act of cowardice“, SSI Adil disagreed and said: “At no time was I afraid.”

See how they run

See how they run

Former Police Commissioner Tee Tua Ba also blamed the fleeing cops for ‘allowing’ the rioters to take control, despite the vehicle bursting into flames soon after. I wonder what an ex police chief would have done in that situation. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid when you’re clearly outnumbered by a homicidal mob, and you need heroes to live to fight another day when the odds of survival seem low, rather than embark on a suicide mission and put the whole team in jeopardy, especially when our officers have admitted that they weren’t trained for a ‘full scale riot’. They even needed the help of some Good Samaritan workers to dash out of the ambulance in one piece. All that’s missing from the clip is some Benny Hill music.

Way back in the 1950′s during the Maria Hertogh riots, people were also disappointed in the police’s response to unruly mobs, namely ‘running into a five-foot-way’. Others blamed it on the ethnic makeup of the force, lauding Gurkhas while describing Malay constables with kanda sticks as ‘just looking’ on.  So why hasn’t anyone offered suggestions on how the Little India situation could have been better handled then? Should the team have taken the ambulance wheel and mow down violent rioters in GTA fashion, charge out screaming armed to the teeth with defibrillators and syringes, or scatter vials of denatured alcohol like one tossing sausages to a pack of rabid dogs?

Or should we have called THIS GUY?

How to stop a riot Bollywood style

How to stop a riot Bollywood style

Instead of accusing the police of being yellow-bellied cowards, how about considering relative INEXPERIENCE perhaps? No amount of riot simulation exercises will prepare you for the events that unfolded in Little India, it’s like aceing all the drills in NS but still refraining from shooting at a human being in an actual war. No senior officer put on the spot would admit that they were panicking and didn’t know what to do, using terms like ‘evacuation’ and ‘tactical retreat’ when what they were really doing, as most would, was running for their damn lives.

It’s easy, of course, to sit on a COI high chair and praise a lone wolf for charging at the mob risking his life while criticising others for not being badass enough while trapped in a vehicle. The members of the COI look like part of the Expendables themselves. Maybe just posing this way should be enough to make the rioters cower in fear without having to raise a weapon at all.

badassCOI

People are all ‘tulan’ with Anton Casey

From ‘We can afford to forgive this arrogant twerp’, 26 Jan 2014, article by Chua Mui Hoong, Think, Sunday Times

…To be sure, he sounded like an arrogant little twerp. But what accounts for such anger towards him? When I mentioned to a taxi driver that online reactions to Mr Casey were getting nasty, he nodded and said: “Yah, people all tulan” – a Hokkien word whose metaphorical meaning refers to being vexed beyond tolerance.

He went on to recount some of his own “Anton Casey moments”. In his case, it was expat cyclists: those who hog a lane, or two. Who expect right of way everywhere: pedestrians to make way for them on pavements, and motorists to make way for them on the road, who dart across traffic light junctions when the light isn’t in their favour, expecting cars to avoid them.

…In any case, if his latest apology is sincere – unlike the earlier one issued through a public relations company – he is having his own personal epiphany. What about us Singaporeans? Perhaps we too need to do some self-reflection.

Can we be a little less prickly when others poke fun at us? Can we learn to fight back online, without resorting to personal attacks, vulgarities or threats of harm? Do we have the grace to accept an apology and forgive?

And to say: This man, who is our guest, has returned hospitality with insult. He has done us wrong, but he has apologised and is paying the price. Enough is enough.

twerp

In 2012, PAP hottie and selfie king Baey Yam Keng had to apologise for a controversial remark he made about Singaporeans having to ‘reflect upon ourselves’ after PRC scholar Sun Xu said that ‘there are more dogs than people in Singapore’. Chua Mui Hoong is clearly living dangerously here, saying that Singaporeans can be over ‘prickly’ when foreigners mock us, and that we need to do some ‘self-reflection’. She has also jumped on the ‘spare Anton’ campaign bandwagon after SKM chairman William Wan called for tolerance and empathy, except using the less subtle approach of slamming the guy as an ‘arrogant little twerp’ (the kind of insult that Joe Pesci’s bungling burglar would use on Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone) and then calling for forgiveness later.

The strangest bit about her ‘opinion’ piece is describing Anton’s downfall as him ‘having a personal EPIPHANY’. Is he getting canonised in Perth as we speak or what? The worst thing that could happen now, with people wanting to make pandering statements by straddling the fence between condemnation and forgiveness, is if Anton Casey becomes not just a ‘poster-child’ of Singapore’s expat millionaires, as fellow expat and ST contributor Rob O’Brien put it elegantly (Anton Casey is not every expat, 26 Jan 2014, Sunday Times), but God forbid, victimised to the point of anti-hero and martyr. Enough is enough already.

But reflect I shall. Not if we’re being too harsh on Anton, but rather if this backlash that could be felt all over the world would mean that netizens and online vigilantes are creating a climate of social media phobia for themselves. Fear of saying the wrong things and losing your job over it because someone started a chain reaction of Facebook ‘sharing’. Whether the brouhaha has led to some form of self-censorship, where we’re afraid to touch on matters like race, religion, or class in a non-PC way because you never know when a random post gets blown out of proportion. We may be forced into playing it TOO safe, leading to an ironic state of affairs where the government could kick back and never need to monitor hate speech because we have inadvertently stifled our ‘freedom of speech’ ourselves, more wary of Stomp and Facebook users than the actual media police. Will social media be dumbed down because of the tyranny of the mob, that we’re so careful with being ‘responsible’ that we decide it’s safer to shut up than say something remotely provocative?

Then again, there’s always Perth. Scoot managed to take the AC case to new heights of absurdity. Once vilified as scum, he’s become a running joke. And his family isn’t spared. There’s no letting up on this guy is there? Curiously, this ad reminds me of the ‘Get Lost’ ad used by STB to promote our country in Australia. And get lost he did. He must be praying that no one in Perth says the same to him.

New scoot mascot

On a separate note, I’m rather taken aback that the ST allowed the word ‘TULAN’ in a national newspaper, while other times they’ve been known to censor ‘b**th’, a** and even ‘cr*p’. Tulan is a crude Hokkien term for ‘exasperation’, or literally ‘pig’s dick’. In other words, a vulgarity, like ‘Singaporeans very TULAN cos that ang moh Anton Casey SIBEI GUAILAN (very obnoxious dick)’. Similan (what the dick)?

Keep Calm and Willian Wan

From ‘Anton Case case: Where has all our empathy gone?’ 24 Jan 2014, article by William Wan, ST

…Justice should be meted out, but in a civilised society, one need not gloat at the fallen. To maintain a largely civil society, punishment should not be celebrated. That one would revel in another’s punishment, whether deserved or not, reveals a nature which lacks empathy, a very important property of graciousness.

Empathy for your fellow human being, no matter how bad that person, is a large part of what makes us humans. To be fair, while a large portion of the community felt good about the “punishment” for Anton Casey, many also called for forgiveness since he has apologised. So the feeling of gloating when someone gets his come-uppance isn’t exactly unanimous.

It is, however, significant enough for us to ask ourselves if we are losing touch with our empathetic nature. It is indeed hard to reach for empathy and understanding, especially when one gets swept up in the emotions that such offensive conduct invariably brings out in us. Yet we must do so, to resist the tide of least resistance that would sweep us into concurring or even celebrating the condemnation of others who offend people like us.

Keep Calm and William Wan. As general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movment, Mr Nice Guy William Wan feels that it is his job and duty to tell haters that we’re overreacting and taking this Anton Casey bashing a tad too far. Perhaps it’s an exaggearation to say that we’re ‘celebrating’ his ‘punishment’ when what most of us are doing is merely gloating silently at some twat’s misfortune, someone who happened to be white, drives a Porsche, and has a Ms Singapore Universe for a wife. To most people, this is a perfectly normal response. Mass disapproval in all its forms is a mechanism that has evolved as a penalty for anyone who flouts the unwritten rules of basic human decency. Anton was a consummate tosser, and needed to be put in his place. Issuing death threats, however, makes you as much as a ‘wanker’ as he is.

Personally I didn’t bang my screen or hurl my mouse across the room like an angry keyboard warrior when I saw what Casey wrote on FB. In fact, I’m wondering what if the inverse happened and I walked into a posh golf club and posted ‘Daddy who are all these rich filthy bastards?’ and ‘Normal service can resume. Once I wash the stench of atas consumerism off me’. I did not pump my fist in sweet victory when he was forced to make a public apology. I may have chuckled at a few memes and lame puns here and there, but I wouldn’t make a police report or throw eggs on his front porch and all over his ‘baby’ Porsche. I also wouldn’t go to the extent of saying ‘Hang in there, buddy’. That’s like giving someone comforting last rites before an execution. I can, however, IMAGINE what it must be like to be him right now. That is empathy. Absolving him of sin, calling for a group hug and singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ is another matter altogether.

We enjoy seeing powerful, obnoxious characters fall from grace; it feeds our lust for poetic justice, and as social animals, this ‘herd mentality’ isn’t a vile contagion to be exorcised with a sermon about attaining Mother Teresa levels of compassion.  It is simply human nature in all its ugly, irrational glory. It’s the same herd mentality that makes us vote a certain ruling party into power, sing the National Anthem during the NDP, or mutter gibberish in church. To feel good about bad behaviour being penalised is itself a manifestation of empathy; we empathise with the common man who has to put up with arrogant swine. If we didn’t care about the well-being of total strangers, we wouldn’t go out of our way to put  serial murderers behind bars for life and thank God for it.

He did escape to Perth eventually, citing ‘threats to his family’ (Briton and family leave for Perth amid threats, 25 Jan 2014, ST). Perhaps he could meet Amy Cheong there and talk about the ‘greatest mistake of his life’ over a spot of tea. Anton also offered to volunteer his time in ‘community projects’ in repentance. He could start by reaching out to the MRT-riding ‘poor’ that he so flippantly mocked (My house is in need of spring cleaning). Or help knit arm warmers for the sick and elderly. He’s got plenty of time for that now that he’s FIRED from CrossInvest Asia.

If William Wan walks the talk, he’d go up and give the bloke a magnanimous hug and a ‘I feel you, bro’. ‘Fight fire with water’ he would say. Except that in this case, he’s trying to extinguish a forest fire with a shower hose. Wan means well and who knows, the world might be a better place if we weren’t so eager to dish out this ‘social media justice’ over some silly, insensitive gaffe. After all, anyone of us could be as careless and unfortunate as Anton Casey was, like the proverbial saying about casting the first stone goes. There is, perhaps, a fine line between online vigilantism and cyber-bullying. In both cases, the instigator always feels that the other ‘deserves’ it. Hating on Anton is fashionable while forgiving him is naive. If you haven’t heard of him by now, you’re living under a rock. Which approach gives a better social payoff is a no-brainer.

Instead of just chastising our hostility as the workings of a crazed mob, let’s think about the positive aspects of this whole saga instead, despite it turning one man into cannon fodder.

1) Singaporeans are willing to rally together when push comes to shove, though some more zealously than others. Given the right reasons, this could be a force to reckoned with.

2) It serves as a deterrent against antisocial behaviour and no stone goes unturned no matter how rich and influential you are.

3) We are proud to defend our MRT as a carrier of the common man, even if it does stink when it comes to breakdowns at times.

4) That the Anton story has gone global serves as a lesson against expat chauvinism everywhere.

5) If Anton does become a changed man after this ordeal, commits himself to lifelong penance through prayer and abstinence and becomes a champion of the destitute, we’d view social media more than just a platform to brag about babies, but one with the power to change lives. Arguably for the better.

6) Singaporeans know better than to extend Anton’s bastardry to ALL expats.

7) Despite Anton on the verge of becoming more hated than Mas Selamat, there are still angels and Bodhisattvas like William Wan to exercise magnanimity and console us if we one day ever find ourselves in Anton’s (Louis Vutton?) shoes.

8) Don’t ever think of migrating to Perth.

I believe Wan isn’t the only person advocating empathy for Anton as a cure to humanity’s ills. Maybe the Dalai Lama has heard of him by now. Others are taking the more practical approach of ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘just let it go already’, without being swept away by this bashing frenzy or playing Jesus. Alas, now that he’s lost his job, calls to chill are probably too little,  too late. I guess the question on William Wan’s mind now would be: ‘Are you people happy now?’

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