National Gallery Gala ‘Empire Ball’ in poor taste

From ‘National Gallery Singapore drops the theme of its gala dinner following public criticism’, 21 Sept 16, article by Huang Lijie, ST

The National Gallery Singapore has dropped the theme, The Empire Ball, from its upcoming fund-raising gala after having drawn flak from the public for it.

Those who spoke out against the theme say the use of the politically fraught term, “empire”, which carries with it the idea of colonial oppression, is in poor taste for a celebratory event. The fund-raiser is now known simply as the National Gallery Singapore Gala.

…The gala’s theme was publicised on its Facebook page earlier this week and since Tuesday (Sept 20), it has drawn public feedback, including comments from artists and curators, about the theme being insensitive and dismissive of the violence and scars of imperialism.

Artist-curator Alan Oei, 40, who is also the artistic director of the independent arts centre The Substation, wrote to the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth on Tuesday, urging that the museum reconsiders how the gala is framed.

He said in the letter that the historically fraught term “empire” is usually associated with the “shameful, oppressive epoch” of imperial rule, although there are some like historian Niall Ferguson, who recognise that “Empire has also been a positive force”.

So far, no Singaporean has rejected the prestigious OBE (Order of the British EMPIRE) award because it reeked of bloody colonial oppression. We also don’t boycott Daiso or Sushi Tei because Japanese icons give us painful reminders of the days of the Occupation. Yet somehow, a certain generation of Singaporeans still suffers from a debilitating ‘colonial hangover’.

In 2013, those who still reel from the after-effects of a ‘shameful, oppressive epoch’ complained about an archway in Queenstown proclaiming ‘Long Live the Queen’.  Despite such disdain for the Crown that once ruled us, we still feted the Royal Couple when they came to visit. Raffles Hotel, a distinctive reminder of a traumatic era still stands till this day, where Singaporeans and visitors alike, seemingly ignorant of the evil Empire’s decadent history, continue to sip Singapore Slings at the Long Bar.

With the recent Brexit, you would expect chills from the ghost of a marauding Union Jack to wane, but noooo shame on you National Gallery, you might as well name your gala ‘The White Gentleman’s Club’. Take the ‘The Time of Empire‘ tour if you dare, and experience sheer misery while strolling down Coleman street and its sickeningly imposing ‘early colonial architecture’.

Today, mention the words ‘Empire’ and ‘Ball’ in the same sentence and most Singaporeans would not think of white superiority, lawn cricket or opium trading, but a galactic spherical spaceship cum weapon of planetary destruction. Well nothing that a Death Star can do that the horrible British Empire can’t top, eh.

Singapore no longer known as SIN at sporting events

From ‘No more SIN, it’s SGP at sports meets’,

Singapore will no longer be abbreviated as SIN at international sporting events. Look out for SGP instead.

The country-code change was approved by the International Olympic Committee last month, following a proposal made by the Singapore National Olympic Council.

The first major Games where the new code can be used is at next year’s Sapporo Asian Winter Games.

Mr Low Teo Ping, Singapore’s chef de mission at the recent Rio Olympic Games, said he has been asked “a thousand times” at sports events why the country adopted the old code, with its negative connotations. Mr Low, who is also Singapore Rugby Union president, said: “It’s not so much a derogatory way of interpreting the old code.

“It hasn’t done us any harm.

“But, at the same time, it’s also not funny after a certain point of time.”

Mr Low added that there is uniformity now, as Singapore’s United Nations country code is SGP. But its International Air Transport Association airport code remains as SIN.

He said: “I think that the change is for a good reason. UN has been using this (code), so it’s nice to be known like this internationally.” SEA Games 200m sprint champion and national record holder Shanti Pereira said that the change is not a big deal.

The 19-year-old athlete added: “We will get used to it. It’s a good thing that it still starts with an ‘S’.

In 2014, a forum writer brought the ‘negative connotations’ of SIN to light, asking if it was in our NATIONAL INTEREST to retain the ‘SIN’ brand. Today, his wish is granted, though renaming Singapore to SGP is unlikely to make us less, well, ‘SINful’.

Not sure if other countries have done the same because their country code is offensive or sounds’ funny’ . Brazil remains as BRA, Liechtenstein is LIE, Madagascar is MAD, and Moldova’s is a shortform of a recreational drug (MDA). SIN sounds tame in comparison. Changing it will only make everyone realise how much ‘SIN’ bothers us, though many believe we’ve committed an atrocious one depriving gold-medal Paralympian winner Yip Pin Xiu of the $1 million prize that able-bodied athletes get for Olympic victory.

Whether it’s SIN or SGP, it’s our representatives’ performance and behaviour in the sporting realm that matters more than country codes, though sometimes the embarrassment comes in the form of ridiculous national attire. Like having the national flag splayed across our water polo boys‘ crotches.

NAC Bin Centre costing $470K, mostly on consultation

From ‘Inadequate financial controls, weak governance uncovered in AGO report’, 26 July 2016, article in CNA

…For instance, in the audit of the National Arts Council (NAC), the Auditor-General found from its checks of contracts for the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall Redevelopment project that 47 out of 164 variation works were carried out before approvals were given. The delays in obtaining approval were up to 3.5 years, it added.

“The large number of instances indicated a breakdown in the controls put in place to ensure that variations were properly justified and approved before works commenced,” it added.

AGO also found that NAC had paid a consultancy fee of S$410,000 for the construction of a bin centre costing S$470,000. “There was inadequate assessment on the reasonableness of the exceptionally high consultancy fee, at 87.2 per cent of the cost of construction,” it said.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) had told AGO that the construction of the bin centre was more complex and required significantly more design expertise, technical consultancy services and effort to coordinate with multiple parties and these were the reasons for the fee to be above the norm.

The NAC Bin Centre is the EC of all bin centres. To foreign workers who’ve been found living in HDB bin centres, or more commonly known as ‘rubbish dumps’, the NACBC is the pinnacle of refuse repository luxury. For near half a million, you get a classical design, odour control, maybe even air-conditioning and wi-fi. Right in the heart of the Civic District too.

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Imagine how much $40K could do for the arts scene, or local graphic novels like The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Instead of channeling resources into promoting a vibrant local culture, the NAC decided to focus their energies into making a rubbish collection centre ‘blend in’ with the help of some overpaid consultants, and in doing so have unwittingly made the NAC Bin centre a star attraction, as Instagrammable as the departed Punggol lone tree. Soon it’ll make it into the TripAdvisor Top Things to See List, favorited by those with a morbid fascination with the logistics of rubbish. Step aside, Supreme Court Jail Cell, this is next big thing to hit the Civic District since thousands queued for hours to see a dead politician’s body.

We’ll never look at bin centres the same way again. NAC has taken the humble bin centre from its smelly eyesore roots, pumped in an extreme makeover and created an icon for architecture junkies everywhere. Some foresight may have gone into this; you never know when one can repurpose a lowly bin centre into a hipster cafe, or even a RC meeting room. Yes, versatility is built into its price tag. One day it’s piling trash, the next it’s selling profiteroles or artisan hot dogs. For those who see utility out of having a deserted train station, a 1 billion dollar artificial Gardens, a giant spinning wheel or high-end sandy turf inside the Sports Hub, this $40K is worth every peanut – I mean penny.

Jetstar making inflight announcements in Singlish

From ‘Confirm plus chop: Jetstar to go Singlish for National Day’, 1 Aug 2016, article by Wong Pei Ting, Today

In-flight announcements on Jetstar Asia flights flying into Singapore will be made in Singlish on National Day this year, and this time it is not a prank.

So don’t be surprised if you hear the cabin crew saying “make sure your seatbelt kiap tight tight” or “cannot smoke anywhere hor”. The Singlish lines were first cracked as part of a joke on the eve of April Fool’s Day this year, but they will be used on flights following “an unprecedented number of requests from passengers and fans on social media”, the airline said on Monday (Aug 1).

…“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking ah! Weather along the way is quite swee. But just to be safe, please kiap your seatbelt tight hor. Thank you and enjoy your flight,” it went.

Incidentally, the Singlish version of ‘fly aeroplane’ is completely different from the literal form. As a one-off publicity stunt, Singlish on a Plane is probably harmless, provided the captain doesn’t confuse passengers with ‘Eh siao liao, the left wing pecah already, very jialat leh!’ when disaster strikes. By then, the joke isn’t funny anymore. To foreign ears, the cutesy use of ‘kiap’ or forced ‘lahs’ may raise a smile or two, but to Singlish veterans, there comes a point when it just seems, for lack of a better word, “bo liao”.

If Jetstar keeps it restrained and limits the use of Singlish to non-essential communication, it’s unlikely that their reputation would go down the longkang.  Just don’t expect Singapore icon SIA to follow suit. Passengers have complained that flight attendants spouting Singlish were a disgrace to international travellers. Yes, our very own Singapore Girl is forbidden from speaking the local tongue, and was bred only to articulate with the same eloquence as our television newscasters, or befuddle passengers with a chapalang of fake Western accents that make Singlish more intelligible in comparison.

Speaking of whom, it would be fun to see our CNA anchors breaking into Singlish as part of the festivities. Just watching Cheryl Fox reading a story in Singlish for 3 minutes would be far more entertaining than the entire Red Lions-less National Day parade.

Library fine creating phobia of borrowing books

From ‘Library fines cost more than book’, 23 July 2016, ST Forum

(Sheeba John):My daughter borrowed two books from Toa Payoh Public Library in December last year. She forgot to return the books and we received a reminder from the library this month.

I immediately returned the books and wrote to the library requesting that the penalty of $31.42 be waived, as the late return was not intentional and this was the first time it had happened.

But a library officer called and said I am still required to pay $25. The cost price of the books are around $16. Now, my children and I have a phobia of borrowing books from public libraries.

I hope the authorities will look into this matter and develop a proper system for helping library users.

The complainant should count herself lucky. In 2005, a man in the US had to pay a $3571 fine for hogging a book for more than 20 years. If anything that needs to be improved about the system, it’s that the NLB needs to throw the book even harder at people who complain despite having their fine reduced out of goodwill. Mrs Sheeba John, the library doesn’t need members like you. If I were NLB not only would I raise the $25 back to $31.42, but I would suspend you from all library services indefinitely.

As a book borrower myself, I see nothing wrong with NLB’s email reminder service, which serves solely to irritate you into returning your books on time. Instead of reflecting on one’s own actions and learning from the mistake, the writer resorts to fingerpointing without specifying exactly how NLB should help forgetful morons. It’s like me exceeding the speed limit and then saying LTA should look into roads which are too smooth.

Maybe all books should be tagged with a buzzer like those they give out at food courts. Not only does this help you remember you need to return the book, but forces you to actually look for it too. Maybe she’s looking at some form of premium concierge service, where someone can come right to her doorstep to pick up forgotten books, and at the same time give a head massage to relieve her book-borrowing phobia.

The NLB has done a pretty fine job with its online platform and we’ve come so far from the days of queueing at the counter to get your book chopped. Still all the convenience in the world would not stop the penny-pinchers and blame-shifters from having something to whine about. I suppose books may improve your writing or your general knowledge about the world, but probably do nothing about a sense of moral responsibility or even common sense.


Queue for 1 Michelin Star hawker as long as Great Wall of China

From ‘Here’s what they queue an hour for’, 23 July 2016, article by Benson Ang, ST

After his hawker stall was awarded a prestigious Michelin star, hawker Chan Hon Meng, 51, decided to open 45 minutes earlier than his usual 10am.

On Thursday night, right after the awards were announced, the owner of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Food Complex said: “I know more people will come. I want to open earlier so the crowds will be more manageable.”

He was right. Some customers were there as early as 8.50am. By 9.15am, a queue had formed and it grew to more than 20 people at 10.30am.

…Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane, the other hawker stall with one Michelin star, also saw a longer queue. The stall sells about 400 bowls a day, with prices starting at $5 a bowl. Customers said they usually stand in line for about 45 minutes but yesterday, some queued for more than an hour.

Ms Lynn Chen, 42, who lives in the same block, started queuing at 11.10pm, but got her food only at 12.15pm. The part-time telemarketer, who has been patronising the stall two or three times a week for more than a decade, said: “The good thing is that we now have a Michelin- starred eatery below our block. The bad news is that the queue now will be as long as the Great Wall of China. The stall wins the award, but we customers lose.

“But I will still queue because my husband and I like the food.”


Now that we finally have a place in the ‘little red book’, Singaporeans can proudly say our cuisine is of ‘global standard’, and in typical kiasu fashion, despite our hyperbolic complaints about long queues, we still do it anyway. Come on, 1 hour is nothing! We have queued longer for things far less deserving. Like goddamn Krispy Kreme. Yes, there was a time when you could literally fly to visit the actual Great Wall of China during the period you spend queuing overnight for donuts.

While it’s easy for us to say we should take the Michelin Guide with a ‘pinch of salt’ and that this will spark meaningful conversations among Singaporeans about local cuisine regardless of our preferences, it may place unnecessarily high expectations on its recipients. The Michelin folks are known to take away stars should the quality of food fall below minimum standards. One chef took the grade so seriously he shot himself in the mouth when he heard that his 3 star restaurant might be downgraded to a measly 2 star one.

The pressure to maintain the rating could deter hawkers from experimenting with new flavours, or prevent them from retiring early lest their successors are unable to fill their Michelin shoes. IF they have any successors left. It would be interesting also to see how NEA would grade a one-star hawker stall, though I doubt a hygiene rating of D or a sporadic roach sighting would make the queues for Tai Hwa Bak Chor Mee any shorter.  On the other hand, a one-star could make an already ya-ya hawker even worse. He may ditch his straw hat and put on an actual chef’s hat instead. He may change the stall name to ‘Le Baque Chor Mee’, or ‘Poulet de Soy’.

Some critics call the whole thing a publicity stunt, similar to Gordon Ramsay pitting his Western culinary skills against locals in laksa cooking contests. Others cry foul because trailblazers and veterans who dabble in true-blue Singaporean food like Wilin Low and Violet Oon were snubbed. We should remember, however, that Michelin critics are anonymous foreigners with taste buds probably attuned to ‘Michelin-friendly’ cuisine who’re unlikely to award a restaurant that’s renown for serving the best durian pengat in the country, or something you could find in a SAF cookhouse like fried chicken wings.

Looking at the nagging disparity between the unpronounceable L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon with its sommeliers and fine customised cutlery vs the humble pork noodle hawker with his sweaty towel and smelly trays, the results somehow reek of gastronomic tokenism, given that Singapore has marketed itself so aggressively as a hawkers’ paradise. Michelin could be saying ‘OK people, let’s do the MBS thing and then choose a few small-timers just to show we appreciate hawker food too’.

Let’s hope our one star hawkers don’t let the Michelin star go over their heads and keep up the good work.  For the rest who didn’t make the cut, don’t fret, there’s always Singapore Day.

Terrorists using Pokemon Go to launch mass-casualty attacks

From ‘Think twice about giving Pokemon Go-ahead’, 21 July 2016, ST Forum

(Estella Young): The frenzied playing of augmented-reality game Pokemon Go abroad makes it increasingly clear that the Singapore authorities should think twice about allowing the game to be played here (“Local fans try various ways to get hold of Pokemon Go“, last Thursday).

Apart from the reported incidents of “Pokemon zombies” injuring themselves or others due to poor situational awareness, is it in Singapore’s best interests to permit a game over whose targets it has no control?

Pokemon Go should not be played at certain locations for reasons of public safety and human decency. Schools, hospitals and public transport interchanges should be off limits due to the risk posed by uncontrolled surges of human traffic.

Nor does it befit the dignity of other locations, such as houses of religious worship and cemeteries, to be invaded by gamers blindly chalking up points.

Americans have already objected to the appearance of Pokemon Go characters at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemetery, while the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland has had to ask game developer Niantic to exclude the former Nazi death camp from the game to safeguard the solemnity of the site.

At present, Pokemon Go targets are assigned by Niantic. While one can request certain locations to be removed from play, the game developer is not legally obliged to do so and cannot be held accountable for the consequences.

Since private individuals can purchase “Lures” to attract Pokemon Go players to a location, a person could harass someone else by placing a Lure near the victim’s home or workplace to attract disruptive crowds.

And in this age of lone-wolf terrorism, an extremist could easily buy a “Lure” to draw players into a low-security zone before launching a mass-casualty attack.

While Pokemon Go is certainly good for getting fans off the couch and out exploring the “real world”, Singapore would do well to seek a degree of control over how Niantic assigns its Pokemon targets before letting the game into the country.

Until Pokemon Go makes its long awaited debut in Singapore, its potential as a weapon of mass destruction blasting all the Pokezombies into ‘Vaporeons’ remains to be seen. It could, however, be a concern for our SAF when it comes to trespassers stumbling into protected areas. You don’t a situation where a Pokemon Hunter treks through a forest and finds himself smack in a rifle range.

In order to protect national security like stopping random mobs from infiltrating MRT stations resulting in freak deaths everywhere, I won’t be surprised if Singapore would be the first in the world to lead by example and ban Pokemon Go entirely, nevermind that there’s another non-gaming module of the handphone that ‘gets you off your couch’ but puts you in extreme peril at the same time. Various people have died using it while standing on the edge of precipices. If Pokemon should Go, then we should ban SELFIES too.

Calling for regulation on the distractions of technology is nothing new. People were complaining of pedestrians walking out plugged into their Walkman headphones in the 80s. If video games like Mortal Kombat were not blamed for violence in children, they drew flak for promoting gambling, like the Pokemon-inspired Animal Kaiser . Despite fans debunking the writer’s unfounded fears of Pokemon destroying us all, her underlying concern that Pokemon Go is not exactly harmless either is worth ‘thinking twice’ about. If a crowd of Pokemon trainers go berserk at a ‘Lure’ and a fight breaks out, would they all be charged for an unlawful assembly? If a child sneaks out past midnight to catch a rare Pokemon and gets hacked down by a psycho killer, would the parents file charges against the game creators for being partly responsible for murder? Already we have reports of people getting robbed while in pursuit of  Pokemon so such a scenario, bizarre as it may be, may not be entirely implausible.

So while using Pikachu to launch a terrorist attack may seem rather far-fetched, just as businesses could jump on the Pokewagon to draw more customers, there will be that random oddball who will use Pokemon for nefarious means like how fake DHL phone-scams you of your life savings. Pokemon Go may well boost the economy or our general well-being, though at the expense of a few people bumping their heads in a cemetery, or otherwise bright students failing their exams because they’re hooked. Still, you don’t need an addictive game to get people to make a nuisance of themselves at solemn places. Folks from church group Rock of Ages ran wild over Kranji memorial some years back, Pokemon or no Pokemon.

With education, creativity, some self-discipline and the appropriate privacy settings, the Pokemon Go concept could be harnessed as a force for good where you need the power of crowdsourcing to get a job done, like drawing players to a place to clean up a mess for Poke-points, or deliberately planting Poke-stops where illicit activity tends to take place like forest brothels. Given Singapore’s national psyche of Kiasuism, we can be certain that local gamers will go PokeBALLS-out to ‘catch them all’. Let’s hope what they catch is just pixellated monsters and not bio-engineered smallpox.