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.

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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’.

Orchard Xmas colours similar to traffic lights

From ‘Orchard lights up – in safer colours’, 23 Nov 2013, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

GREEN, red and gold may be traditional Christmas colours, but they are also similar to the ones on traffic lights. Given that this could lead to motorists confusing yuletide decorations with traffic signals, the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) has decided, from this year, to avoid the use of these colours for the shopping belt’s annual light-up that it organises.

“While we want to create the festive mood, we have to ensure that motorists will not be distracted by the displays,” Orba’s executive director Steven Goh told The Straits Times. He explained that initial plans to use silver and gold – which is similar to the amber signal of traffic lights – for this year’s display were altered.

Instead, the panel of senior Orba and STB representatives which plans and chooses the decorations decided to turn Orchard into a winter wonderland with giant diamonds and snowflakes – all blue and white. Called Christmas on A Great Street, the lights for the 2.2km stretch from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura will be turned on by President Tony Tan Keng Yam tonight in a ceremony at Shaw House Urban Plaza.

…Said marketing executive Lynn Seah, 33, who drives down Orchard Road at least three times a week: “What is Christmas without its iconic colours? Safety is important but which motorist can be so clueless as to mistake fairy lights for traffic lights?”

The Orchard Road Xmas lights are like the Miss Singapore Universe costume; you can never please everyone. Last year’s generous decking of red and gold, the ‘traditional’ colours of Xmas, reminded some shoppers of Chinese New Year instead of a ‘warm Yuletide ambience’ that is supposed to simulate a nostalgic misletoe-draped, pine-scented family gathering by the fireplace.

Cai Shen Night

Cai Shen Night

In 2005, someone complained about a structure that looked like a God of Fortune hat sitting on top of a season’s greetings banner.  And yes, it was in ‘Christmassy’ Red too. I’m not sure if they recycled that for the following CNY celebrations. Not enough red and Singaporeans complain. Too much of it, and we accuse you of defiling tradition.

Huat the halls

It looks like for ‘safety’ reasons, we’ll have to settle for monotonous Winter wonderland blues and silvers for good, though it may not just be the red, gold and green lights of Orchard that causes accidents, but the very distraction of having Xmas lights along ANY road in the first place. This precautionary measure may have been triggered by a video of a car sent flying last Xmas, though it’s impossible to tell if the driver was spellbound by the Christmassy atmosphere, plain reckless, or pissed drunk.

In 2000, a man was killed by a motorcycle while taking photos of the Takashimaya lighting in Orchard Road. (Man killed in Orchard Rd accident, 10 Dec 2000, ST). 9 years later on Xmas eve, a driver responsible for killing an Indonesian maid on pillion along Whitley Road blamed Christmas decor for misleading her into ‘running a red light’.  In 2010, someone ploughed into a Xmas float along Orchard.  But why take it out on Christmas decorations when the yuletide season is known for a more probable cause of accident deaths, drunk driving?

You can judge for yourself how dangerous red Xmas lights are to motorists from this 2012 video below. Note how the amber roadwork beacons are contributing to the kaleidoscopic confusion as well.

If we’re so certain that Xmas decor is confusing to drivers, we should ban the same colours along EVERY street in Singapore, not just our famed shopping district, especially areas where drivers would LEAST EXPECT to be dazzled by Xmas lighting. Or maybe even ban cars from Orchard Road altogether during the festive season, just so that thousands of shoppers can have their fill of iconic Xmas lights in all colours of the rainbow instead of, you know, boring stuff like spending time at home with loved ones.

I’m just wondering what’s to become of CNY, and Cai Shen Ye, now.

Cineleisure gang not happy with arrogant walking styles

From ‘Victim’s arrogant walk riled gang of youths’, 17 June 2013, article by Melody Zaccheus, ST

IT WAS the 20-year-old’s “cocky” walking style that purportedly riled a group of 10 tattooed youths who set upon their victim with parangs outside Cathay Cineleisure Orchard on Saturday night. Mr Wilson Siau, a full-time national serviceman, said he was smoking in an empty space between the mall and *Scape with five other friends after dinner at about 9pm.

The youths approached him and commented on his walking style, particularly the way he swung his arms, which they described as “arrogant”. Ignoring their taunts, Mr Siau turned to walk away when all 10 went after him.

He told Shin Min Daily News: “At least three of them punched and kicked me. Another two with parangs slashed at my head. To protect my head, I wrapped both my hands around it, resulting in numerous slashes on my arms and lots of blood.”

The parangs are said to have been about 20cm long. The attack lasted about a minute until security guards from the mall emerged. The attackers are said to have fled in three taxis.

Just over the weekend, it was reported that Singapore rose 7 places to become the 16th most peaceful country in the world. And then a gang-related incident occurs, where you have a young man viciously attacked in full view of public with 20 cm parangs over a trifling matter, getting away in TAXIS AT THE SAME TIME. It’s not mentioned how a bunch of bloodstained gangsters with weapons managed to get away in cabs so quickly on a Saturday evening without call-booking beforehand, but perhaps the police should investigate if the drivers were in fact accomplices to the assault. Some cabbies do look, and behave, like secret society members after all.

Most random gang assaults occur over petty disputes or staring incidents, and this slashing over having a problem with how someone walks is taking senseless violence to new low. Wilson Siau may be walking with less swagger from now on and he’s lucky that he doesn’t have to plod around with a permanent limp. Meanwhile, the authorities seem to have more success smoking out illegal immigrant prostitutes than local gangsters. Time to step up the patrols in Orchard and stop hunting down comic-strip and graffiti artists, boys. The lives of innocent shoppers are at stake here for God’s sake. It’s also probably not a good time for Royston Tan to start filming a sequel to the beloved ’15’.

Secret societies seem out of place in squeaky-clean Singapore, though there’s still one too many in operation, some even having bases where I live. In the seventies they did serious triad stuff like extorting hawkers, and have since indulged in enterprising black-market activities like hawking counterfeit and porno VCDS/DVDs, betting and online pimping. The rest without assignments sit around at McDonald’s all day waiting for someone to pick on with choppers and watermelon knives discreetly tucked in shopping bags or in baggy trousers because ganging up on unarmed victims and fleeing in cabs is such a MANLY thing to do. As you would expect in this age of social media, some gangsters even own blogs. They should be out there on Facebook as well, and I urge netizens the world over to report to the CID if they see anyone bragging over a posted pic of a bloodstained parang or a missing pinkie. Don’t get too agitated over kids posing with ‘gang signs’ though, they could merely be doing a Gwiyomi dance.

What’s interesting to me though, is how secret societies come up with their names. One of the oldest, Gang 18, was named after the ’18 Arahants’, which are described in ancient Buddhist scripture as ‘enlightened beings’ who are above worldly pursuits. Gang 24 was based on a Confucian morality tale about filial piety called the ’24 Filial Exemplars’.  Gangs 108 and 8 were named after the Chinese classics ‘Water Margin’ and ‘Eight Immortals’ respectively. Here’s another fun fact: The notorious 369, or ‘Salakau’, is supposedly an offshoot of 18, with the numbers 3, 6 and 9 adding up to 18. The rest, like Ang Soon Tong and San Ji Kia, sound like freaking chicken rice stalls (I write this at the risk of drawing death threats, but I don’t walk or talk like some big boss so it’s OK). If you want to start a secret society yourself, choose a multiple of 6 or 8 and not single digits below 4 because that would make you appear so weak that your peers will question your ability to even give a boy scout a wedgie.

With already flailing patronage, the last thing that our famed shopping district needs now is a reputation for deadly turf wars and hacking sprees. This is already the 2nd attack at Cineleisure following similar routs at Orchard Plaza (2012), Orchard Towers (2008) and Ngee Ann City (2001),  If something’s not done to weed out this menace, it won’t be GSS as in Great Singapore Sale, but Gangs of Secret Societies. If you really want to play safe, stay at home and shop online, where you won’t get brutally scalped for strutting, staring or wearing ugly shoes.

Curious mynahs scaring off cowardly hawk

From ‘Hawk no match for pesky mynahs’, 14 Oct 2012, article by Jessica Lim, Sunday Times

Orchard Road’s hawk patrols have failed. It turns out that the bird of prey is no match for the pesky, noisy mynahs plaguing the shopping strip….The birds moved from that roosting spot to the area near Cathay Cineleisure Orchard and The Heeren, and an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 descend at dusk, especially between 6.45pm and 7pm.

People have complained about noise and droppings that strike pedestrians, cars and walkways. So far this year, the authorities have received 13 reports about the bird nuisance.

…Jurong Bird Park was happy to help, and provided a hawk and handler for three test runs from September last year. Alas, the big bird was found to be intimidated by the large flock of mynahs, said park general manager Raja Segran. He thinks there are other reasons why the idea could not take off, though some might suspect these are just a hawk’s excuses:

The mynahs’ new surroundings meant the hawk needed a long time to adjust;

The thick-canopied trees made it difficult for the bird handler to keep contact with the hawk;

Vehicles could knock down the hawk.

“The movement of the crowd and noise from vehicles along that stretch made the hawk very distracted,” he said. “The flow of traffic on Orchard Road made it too risky to fly our birds there.”

In the trials, which included releasing the hawk onto a tree, it was found that at first the hawk frightened the mynahs off. “But after a while, the mynahs were seen coming back to the tree where the hawk was, as if very curious to see what bird it was,” he said.

No surprise that neither NEA nor AVA was mentioned in this article, with the writer using the annoyingly vague ‘the authorities’, since none of these agencies actually want to take charge of mynahs. Pigeons (AVA) and crows (NEA) yes, but nobody wants their hands full with these rascally birds. In 2008, the NEA did shoot down some crows, but seemingly left most of the mynahs alone since these birds are not ‘in their purview’. Maybe the selective extermination of a bigger ‘competitor’ bird boosted up mynah numbers and made them more fearless since.  So what do Orchard Road tenants do then if the authorities have gone cuckoo over pest control? Take matters into their own hands, of course. By hiring a Jurong Bird Park veteran who trains hawks more for entertainment than stalking and eating smaller nuisance birds. You wouldn’t hire Sylvester the Cat to catch Tweety Bird would you?

You can’t blame the hawk or its handler really. Not only is the force of 5000 mynahs too much to bear, but having led a good life in captivity as a pet, mascot or performer for the Bird park, you would have no incentive to hunt down an unruly flock of squawking, pooping mynahs.  You would rather put on a ‘King of the Skies’ show and awe little children with your gliding prowess and extend your lethal talons ready to strike like you’re plucking a python out of a bush, even if you’ve done nothing with them other than clutching for dear life to some falconer dressed like Mulan.

Glam hawker

Falconry is apparently a noble, majestic sport of sorts that has existed since the Mongols, where raptors are trained to specifically hunt game or impress royal guests at a party. Today falconry is also employed as a natural pest control system, but no one even in medieval times could prepare a hawk for a thousand-strong army of swooping birds, creatures who have no qualms about stealing food from the Apex predators themselves or even go banzai on them on the streets. According to the article, there has been modest success of using hawks to chase off seagulls at a shopping mall in Exeter. Either our mynahs are a formidable guerilla force to be reckoned with, or hawks and their handlers can’t deal with the concrete jungle that is Orchard Road, a jungle where a black bird is king.

If poison, sonic devices, big birds or scarecrows don’t do the job, perhaps ‘the authorities’ should install giant fans in the vicinity of the birds’ roosting areas, which are known to sever bird heads every now and then. Alternatively, you could just take the underpass instead, just to avoid a uniquely Orchard Road weather forecast of Cloudy with a Chance of Droppings.

It’s a bird..

Orchard streetwalkers soliciting expats

From ‘Streetwalkers: Stores vigilant’, 16 Sept 2012, article by Nathaniel Fetalvero and Nicholas Yeam, and ‘Streetwalkers getting more blatant at Orchard Road’, 10 Sept 2012, TNP

Foreign women touting sex services are no longer just operating around Orchard Towers. They are now covering areas as far as Far East Shopping Mall. The minute they spot a potential customer, usually a male tourist, they would approach them with offers of ‘massage’. Said one expat: “It’s like running a gauntlet. If you make the mistake of looking at them, they’ll be all over you in seconds.”

…ON WEDNESDAY, two days after The New Paper reported on foreign women soliciting expatriates on Orchard Road, it appears that not much has changed. At the stretch between Orchard Parade Hotel and Orchard Towers, we spotted one or two women standing around, but after an hour, more emerged, loitering on the sidewalks.

Businesses, like Modesto’s Singapore, said the women do not pose a problem. A spokesman for Modesto’s Singapore told TNP that “if some ladies enter and ask for a table, they will be seated and served because we cannot judge who they are. “However, if they are seen to be then going to single men and hassling them, they will be immediately asked to leave our restaurant.”

Orchard Towers, also known to foreigners as the ‘Four Floors of Whores’, wasn’t always the dark seedy underbelly of our country’s premier shopping district. In 1974, it was hyped as a ‘new-idea in office home development’, boasting a state-of-the-art theatrette on the 3rd floor, as well as ‘medical, scientific or technical’ offices on the 4th and 5th floors of the front block facing Orchard Road. It was also home to ‘fine art’ exhibitions, and its Premier Theatre screened selections of the ASEAN film festival in 1980. From Gallery of Fine Arts to Bongo Bar and Top Ten Disco; what the hell happened that turned a centre for art appreciation into the girly-bar hotbed of sleaze and sex that we know today?

In April 1980, Johnny Teo (a name as pimp as it can get) was fined $3000 for managing a brothel from his Orchard Towers apartment, housing mostly Thai prostitutes. Things started to heat up once Premier cinema shut down operations in 1983, with Top Ten Disco taking over after a brief conversion of the auditorium to a ‘live show theatre’.  By 1988, Orchard Towers was an entertainment hub and yuppie den with bars, pubs and ‘social escort agencies’ making their foray into the premises. Some recognisable names in the entertainment business also cut their teeth in Orchard Towers, including singers Wendi Koh (Celebrities bar), Cantopop sensation William Scorpion (Utopia) and DJ Brian Richmond (Peyton Place). Before there were ‘streetwalkers’, pubs like Utopia had ‘public relations officers’ to provide ‘companionship’ and ‘conversation’. By then it would also have its fair share of transvestites and transsexuals, who found acceptance and metaphorical ‘beginnings’ within the building’s four walls, only to be rounded up by the police, who were also on a rampage against homosexuals.

By 1991, Orchard Towers began to be ‘plagued’ by fly-by-night foreign hookers, with the police cracking down on the trade in Dec the same year (Orchard Towers cleared of fly-by-night prostitutes, 28 Dec 1991, ST). In 1992, Singapore’s ‘largest KTV’ opened at the basement of the building (Orchard KTV). In 2002, Orchard Towers was the scene of a high-profile murder, after bodies were found in an abandoned vehicle in the car park. 4 years later, Top 10 rebranded itself as Top 5, its evolution over the years in sync with the gradual moral decline of the entire complex. Today the disco houses private rooms named ‘Desire, Passion, Seduction, Temptation, Obsession’, named after ‘ladies’ emotions, which also describes perfectly the naughty shebang happening on the streets outside. Cross-dresser comedian Kumar also performs there at 3 Monkeys bar these days, and being risque in Orchard Towers is like baring it all in a nude colony.

Sex, rock n roll, transgender performers, has-been celebrities, even murder. This building has seen it all, and should be curated for being a seething well of all imaginable contradictions, an antithesis to the safe, sterile Singapore brand. If the National Stadium is the Grand Dame, this place is the Wretched Slut. Orchard Towers remains the ‘original’ sex destination for rich foreigners on exotic dirty pilgrimages, despite the vice and sleaze leapfrogging over to the other end of Orchard Road at Orchard Plaza and Concorde Hotel shopping centre. Unlike the sleek, squeaky clean, ultramodern behemoths like Ion and 313, the one and only ‘Four Floors’ remains unabashed about its sordid associations and services, one of the last buildings in town with a hint of CHARACTER and history. A stubborn stain on the gleaming tourist showcase that is Orchard Road, it still has many stories to tell, even if they’re not ones you really want your children to hear.

Haka flash mob needs a public entertainment licence

From ‘NZ restaurant apologises for haka flash mob’, 16 Sept 2012, article in Soshiok, asiaone.com

A New Zealand bar and restaurant in Clarke Quay has come forward to apologise for “misunderstandings”, after about 20 of its staff performed a traditional haka dance along a walkway in busy Orchard Road last Sunday. The haka – a traditional Maori dance made famous by New Zealand rugby team All Blacks – was performed in a flash-mob style.

It received mixed reviews among netizens after a video of the performance was posted online earlier this week, on websites like citizen-journalism website Stomp, with some calling it “cringe-worthy” and others calling it “good fun”.

The video shows participants, some topless, breaking out into loud chanting in a crouching stance, slapping their hands against their bodies and stamping their feet, all of which are part of a haka dance. my paper understands that the restaurant, Fern & Kiwi, had not applied for a public-entertainment licence from the Singapore Police Force prior to its staff appearing in Orchard Road.

Any public performance requires such a licence. The restaurant’s owners were called in by the police for questioning yesterday. They declined to give more details as the case is ongoing.

During university orientation days we had to do silly things in crowded places just to entertain our sadistic seniors, and I never knew if they had to apply for public performance licences. If I did, I would have probably declined embarrassing myself on the basis that such shenanigans are downright illegal and I can’t afford to have a criminal record when I still have my entire future ahead of me. Damn you orientation camp leaders!

Applying for a grant to do something ‘spontaneous’ totally defeats the purpose of a ‘flash mob’, though what Fern & Kiwi has done in Orchard Road may be considered as a cheap advertising stunt as well.  I visited the Facebook page and was pleased to note that it wasn’t an organic vegetarian hangout as the name suggests, but a bar catering mainly to expats with a passion for the muddy sport of rugby. It also bears a logo that bears a faint resemblance to a controversially-conceived clothings line.

FNZK

‘Flash mobs’ used to be meaningless stunts done in the name of pure fun, and has evolved into something that blurs the line between ‘performance’, ‘advertising’ or ‘public service message’. Just recently some mothers got together in a ‘Latch on for Love’ ‘flash mob’ to breastfeed their babies. I suspect it’s not just the message of ‘mother’s milk is the best’ that was disseminated, but the very swell of maternal love and hormones in the air may have female passers-by spontaneously ovulating. It was also, to some sensitive viewers who can’t tolerate the sight of bare nipples, dangerously close to the word ‘flash’ being interpreted in another sense altogether. What I really want to ask, though, is: Did they need a public entertainment licence for this?

Latch mob

In celebration of World Sleep Day 2012, 90 people gathered at Raffles Place to take a NAP, it too was labelled a ‘flash mob’ endorsed by the Singapore Sleep Society. First of all, why wait until someone organises a flash mob to promote World Sleep Day, considering all the years of festivities that I missed? Shouldn’t flash mobs be about people actually entertaining someone? Did anyone express concerns about terrorist attacks or a sweeping pandemic after witnessing a pile of motionless bodies lying on a grass patch?  Did they need a public entertainment licence for this?

In March some 300 One direction fans hogged parts of Orchard Road in a ‘flash mob’ dance-off to the UK boyband’s Greatest Hits. Well it’s a MOB alright, and while some may call it harmless fun, calling this a ‘flash mob’ is like describing a riot as a ‘public nuisance’. Shouldn’t there be some regulation against obstructing an entire pavement with synchronised boyband mayhem?   A bunch of Filipina maids also danced the weekend night away outside Ion last year, although no one referred to it then as a ‘flash mob’. Did they need a public entertainment licence for this?

You can also propose to your girlfriend via ‘flash mob’, a trend that threatens to ‘spoil market’ for guys planning to use the ‘Let’s buy a HDB’ ruse. Do you need a public entertainment licence to dance to (the painfully obvious) Bruno Mars’ Marry You? Can you even play Bruno Mars without breaching some public broadcasting copyright law? I could post the proposal video, but that would be infringing this blog’s policy on videos deemed too mushy for general viewing. Why THANKS A LOT, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, now I can’t impress a woman unless I take up dancing lessons and pay a bunch of people to dance around her to her favourite Taylor Swift song.

(It’s in Russian because the other clips have errors)

In 2008, 400 people froze for 5 minutes in the middle of Orchard Road. If you’re new to performance art, you would have been wondering if you were trapped in some kind of time warp, or part of some Just for Laughs gag. After Michael Jackson’s death, we had tribute Thriller flash mobs. Frankly the second one (video below) gave me goosebumps. Did you need a public entertainment licence for these too?

Fans of Oppa Gangnam style, don’t even THINK about it. Or perhaps I’m already too late..’Opps’.

So as you can see, you make ‘flash mob’ anything and everything, from groupie dancing to exuding bodily fluids and even SLEEPING, as long as it doesn’t have a ‘political’ agenda. What’s inconsistent is how the requirement for permit is applied, and if F&K were ever charged for flouting the law, I’ve given some examples which got away with it for their lawyers to argue the case. My guess as to why the police took notice is that Haka performers look scary and glower like they’re out to hurt someone, especially when they mimic throat-slitting, while no one in their right mind will go out to book a lactating woman.

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