Nursing home’s Chinese name is blunt and insensitive

From ‘Hougang nursing home needs more sensitive Chinese name’, 29 Apr 16, Voices, Today

(Julia Ng): Recently, I drove past a soon-to-be-completed nursing home by Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society on Hougang Avenue 8, and was dismayed by the Chinese name of the facility.

A prominent signage states the name as THK Nursing Home. Above the English words is its Chinese name, where “Nursing Home” has been translated as “Bing Lao Yuan”. The Chinese character “bing” means illness and “lao” means old. So it literally means a facility for sick, old people.

It conjures up an image of progressing illnesses, frail old age, followed by death, and evokes a sense of gloom and doom, of bleakness and hopelessness. This is definitely unhealthy for a nursing home and disrespectful to our seniors.

Sure, we can call a spade a spade, but when it comes to senior care, there ought to be more sensitivity and empathy. There is really no need to be so blunt and insensitive.

I wonder what the complainant has to say about The Moral Home for the Aged Sick in Bedok. Nursing homes, hospices, old folks’ home, retirement villages, whatever you call them all serve the same purpose, to ‘provide quality care’ to the ‘destitute, frail and aged sick’. In the 1920s, philanthropists like Mr Aw Boon Haw of Haw Par Villa fame set out to help his ‘decrepit‘ countrymen, who were not only aged, but poor and ‘helpless’.

Today, call nursing home places where old, sick people go to die and you may get accused for not just ‘disrespecting’ our seniors, but labelled an ‘ageist’ as well. We have a pioneer generation, active seniors contributing to a ‘silver economy’. They are now our beloved elders, no longer the unmentionable ‘old folks’. If you’ve run out of ideas for hospice names, look in a geography textbook.

An example of a politically correct nursing home brand is Orange Valley, which aspires to be a ‘partner in ageing’ to your ‘senior needs’. Unlike a ‘moral home’, Orange Valley sounds like perfect place to  ‘ride off into the sunset’, like the end of a cowboy movie. Then there’s Bright Hill Evergreen Home (though these days the word ‘evergreen’ itself may still be spat upon with contempt by some seniors). Its Chinese name ‘Guang Ming Shan Xiu Shen Yuan’, translates as ‘Bright Hill Centre for Healing/Convalescence’. What next? Spring Oasis? Green Savannah? Silver Meadows? Stretch the euphemisms further and we risk mistaking hospices for condos. You wheel yourself in expecting a welcome cocktail and a garden of earthly delights but get a catheter shoved brutally down your nose instead.

If I’m aged and sick and am absolutely certain that I’d be dead in 3 months, I’d rather sign up for a place that has no pretenses and most importantly value for money, rather than one that airbrushes the reality of my impending death with phony names like how one smothers a corpse with aromatherapy bath salts.

Singapore swimmers dropping the name ‘Red Lions’

From ‘MINDEF welcomes SSA’s decision to drop Red Lions name’, 18 March 2015, article in CNA

The Ministry of Defence said it welcomes the Singapore Swimming Association’s decision to not use the name ‘Red Lions’. This comes just days after Manpower Minister and Singapore National Olympic Council President Tan Chuan-Jin announced that Singapore’s aquatic athletes will be collectively known as “The Red Lions”, in a bid to provide a common identity for the sport.

The Red Lions tag was meant to unite the five disciplines – diving, swimming, synchronised swimming, waterpolo and open water swimming. However, the name is already used for the Singapore Armed Forces’ parachute team.

In response to media queries, Chief Commando Officer COL Simon Lim said: “We welcome Singapore Swimming Association’s move to drop the use of ‘Red Lions’. The SAF Red Lions and our national aquatic teams are sources of national pride for Singaporeans. We are supportive of our aquatic athletes and are cheering them on as they fly the Singapore flag high at the upcoming Southeast Asian Games.”

SAF came up with the ‘Red Lions’ in 1995, and when the SSA decided to adopt the tag for our swimming team, commandos cried foul. Granted, it’s awkward to name a swim team after a land mammal, likewise an elite group of flying commandos, but this ruckus over a name supposedly synonymous with the NDP parachuters smacks of poor, well, sportsmanship. These are our own countrymen fighting tooth and nail for national glory for goodness sake.

MINDEF itself has been accused of stealing other people’s ideas, namely a mobile medical station. ‘Lions’, in fact, has been used to identify sport teams way before the commandos decided to add a national colour to it and claim ownership. Here’s a rundown:

1) The Singapore Lions, polo (1920’s). I suppose the one with horses.

2) Our national soccer team (1970’s till now), with the developmental ‘Young Lions’ under their wing.

3) The Dunearn Lions, rugby (1970’s)

4) The ‘Police Lions‘, a squash team (1980)

5) Amazingly, a tennis squad called the Brylcreem Lions (1970s). I’m sure they gel very well as a team.

6) TaeKwanDo Lions(1980s), which in my opinion, is the most befitting of the king of the jungle, a sport which involves you striking and mauling your opponent. Sometimes you also roar.

Of course these days we have teams adopting the ‘Singapore Lions’ tag without our football team making a hissy fit about it, like this cheerleading squad for example. I could form a competitive chess team and call ourselves Singapore Lions without anyone accusing me of identity theft. Like the sky-jumpers, our footballers also deserve to be called ‘a group who have dedicated their lives and put themselves through HIGH RISKS to capture people’s imagination’. But that doesn’t necessarily grant you exclusivity to the name, especially one that pays tribute to a national symbol. 

If there’s any good out of this, it gives the SSA a chance to choose a far superior name, something closer to the aquatic nature of the sport. The ST reported that other choices included the Red Singas, Red Merlions or, strangely enough, Aquamen, the latter possibly getting you in trouble with DC comics. Or AWARE since there are women in the team.  How about the Red Tomans perhaps, unless MINDEF decides to shoot the SSA down again for choosing the same colour.

Barney the crocodile found dead at Kranji Reservoir

From ‘Death of wild crocodile a mystery’, 4 May 2014, article by Feng Zengkun, Sunday Times

A 400kg crocodile, probably one of the largest to have roamed wild here in decades, has been found dead on the Kranji Reservoir grounds. Fondly nicknamed Barney by anglers, its death has puzzled experts as the creature had seemed relatively young and healthy, and had no visible injuries.

National water agency PUB, which oversees the area, said it was informed about the dead reptile about three weeks ago. The 3.6m-long saltwater crocodile was disposed of at a nearby farm.

More saltwater crocodiles – the world’s largest reptile and known to be formidable predators – have been spotted in Singapore in recent years. Last year, about 10 of them were found living in waters around the north-western coastline, up from two in 2008.

There have also been regular sightings at Sungei Buloh and around Kranji Reservoir, although PUB said none had been reported in Kranji in 2012 and last year.

…Anyone who spots a crocodile should keep away from it and not provoke it. Once at a safe distance, they should contact PUB’s 24-hour call centre on 1800-284-6600 or the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s Animal Response Centre on 1800-476-1600.

This croc tips the scales

Reticulated pythons seem to be under the charge of a different agency (ACRES), though both reptiles can be nasty predators. So what happens if one finds a python swimming in a reservoir? Call PUB, ACRES or AVA? Saltwater crocodiles are the world’s LARGEST living reptiles, and I thought naming the deceased beast after a singing, purple dinosaur that haunts every parent’s dreams was pretty clever. So a tiny country like ours with limited wild spaces has both the largest crocodiles and largest pythons on EARTH. How are we still ALIVE?

Here is a quick social history of crocs in Singapore:

Croc trapping: In 1894, a croc was sighted in what was known as the ‘Impounding Reservoir’ on Thomson Road and men attempted to snare it using an elaborate trap called a ‘nibong’, which involves a dead duck as bait and a coconut. This cruel device  lacerated the croc from within after it swallowed the bait, and was found dead soon after. We didn’t give them affectionate names then; it was just called a BRUTE. Well thankfully, trapping has become more humane since, though these bait-and-cage devices  kinda makes the living fossil look pretty dumb too. Even if they’ve been around far longer than our own species.

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Badass Croc killers: In 1911, a croc was gunned to death at Serangoon River by a certain D.C Cook with a Browning automatic pistol. Aw Boon Haw, of Tiger Balm fame, himself tried to shoot one with his revolver but missed (1925, Katong). We had our very own ‘Crocodile Hunter’ in the form of Boey Peng Kow, who was charged for reckless shooting in 1935. 2 years later, an Australian showed his prowess in HARPOONING crocs as if they were sturgeon. An instructor for the Singapore Trade School showed off his trophy catch after killing one with a single shot (1939), posing in the kind of photo that today would earn a million ‘Likes’ on Facebook or Instagram. Such Crocodile Dundees don’t exist anymore. We don’t conquer wild animals and pose with our feet on them like hunters do. We do SELFIES, or worse, COLLAGES of selfies of some utterly meagre accomplishment. Or tell everyone that we completed a 3.5 km jog on Runkeeper.

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Croc attacks: A child went missing after being dragged into the Ulu Pandan river by a croc (1946). An Indian labourer was MAULED by one which he kept as a PET.  In 1989, the Police opened fire on a charging croc in Seletar. Other than these rare cases, you’re probably as likely to be eaten by a croc as being gored by a wild boar. Heck, there’s a higher chance of you being stung to death by angry bees.

Croc harvesting: Croc skinning and tanning was a thriving business in the 1930’s. In the late 40’s you could even BUY your own baby crocodile for about $25. So much in demand was croc leather that people would resort to stealing baby crocodiles. In 1970, FIFTY FOUR of these babies were nicked from croc ‘nurseries’. Singapore’s Heng Long Tannery was one of the top five croc tanneries in the WORLD in 2011, recently acquired by French luxury group LVMH, which also snapped up Crystal Jade. Of course Singaporeans get more worked up about local companies getting bought over by Europeans when food is involved, caring little about crocodile hide processing.

Croc haunts (other than rivers and reservoirs): In 1949, a 41/2 foot long croc was found in a Geylang DRAIN.  In 1991, another sighting took place in a monsoon drain at Fort Road (Crocodile spotted in monsoon drain at Fort Road, 22 Sept 1991). One wandered onto Tuas SHIPYARD in 1998.

Croc attractions: The Jurong Crocodile Paradise was conceived in 1987, and cost $8 million to build. It closed down in 2006, only to be replaced by The Village@Jurong Hill, a suburban mall. The theme park featured a female croc named HULK HOGAN, who bit off part of a performer’s FACE during a show in 1989. Less well known was a place in East Coast Park since 1981 called the Singapore CROCODILARIUM, which featured crocodile WRESTLING. Even earlier than these, we had the crocodile farms of the 70s. The longest surviving one, the Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin and Crocodile Farm, closed shop in 2012. Today, you can find the most crocodiles, or rather what’s left of the reptile, in the bag wardrobe of socialite Jamie Chua. Or you could just head down to Kranji Countryside’s Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm. Gone are those head-in-jaws of death stunts, the only thing I remember about my trip to the gone-but-not-forgotten Jurong attraction. If you want death-defying thrills in Jurong these days, there’s Jem mall.

Croc love: In 1979, a woman in Tampines kept a pet croc named – wait for it – CROCKY.  In 1988, the press portrayed elusive crocs in Seletar reservoir as our very own ‘Loch Ness monsters’. Maybe we should name the next croc we spot ‘Nessie’.

Croc logos: Clothing giant Singapore Crocodile had a legal tussle with Lacoste in 2006 over similar logos. Our brand eventually won, partly because the court found that the ‘head of the Singaporean Crocodile poses towards left while the French Lactose’s head towards right’. Lacoste was formed first, by the way, 10 years before Crocodile in 1943.

Croc pervs: Crocodile in Malay is ‘Buaya’, a term used to describe a different kind of ladykiller altogether, though rather outdated in my opinion. In 1936, a ‘buaya’ was a ‘favourite epithet for an untrustworthy scoundrel, guilty of evil deeds’. It wasn’t until the 90’s that it was used to describe flirts and womanisers.

Croc eats: Crocodile meat seems more palatable than python. Braised crocodile tail is a popular dish which you can snap up at the ‘Old Geylang’ eatery. We also used to have a stall at Old Airport Road named ‘Singapore King Crocodile’, which sells ‘croc meat bak kut teh’. Presumably it tastes like a hybrid of chicken/pork. No surprise that Barney was sent to the nearest farm then. Maybe you can have a taste of him when you can buy CROCODILE BAK KWA.

UPDATE: ST Forum published a statement by PUB (PUB probing crocodile’s death, 16 May 2014, ST) revealing that Barney might have been hunted down by poachers, as he was found with a large fish hook in his mouth and a metal rod impaled in his eye. The only croc farm remaining in Singapore, Long Kuan Hung Crocodile farm, has denied that it received Barney’s carcass as what the ST previously reported. The killers remain at large, while everyone else is caught up in the media frenzy over 5 boys who spray painted a wall.

‘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.


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.



Policeman arrested for Kovan double murder

From ‘Shock, disbelief at cop’s arrest’, 14 July 2013, article by Terrence Voon, ST

…Senior Staff Sergeant Iskandar Rahmat, 34, was nabbed in Johor Baru on Friday night for the murders of motor workshop owner Tan Boon Sin, 67, and his son, Mr Tan Chee Heong, 42. A 14-year veteran of the force and a member of the Bedok Police Division, he was facing financial difficulties and disciplinary proceedings. Checks showed that the married man was declared bankrupt last Thursday, a day after the murders.

His relationship to the victims is not yet clear, but he met the older Mr Tan at least once, when the latter reported a theft from a safe deposit box last year. Iskandar was brought back to Singapore yesterday as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee broke the news about his identity at a sombre press conference.

“I cannot remember the last time a murder suspect was also a police officer,” a grim-faced Mr Ng told reporters. “You may have seen this kind of thing depicted in the movies and on TV, but when it happens for real, it hits you like a freight train.”

DPM Teo, who is Home Affairs Minister, said if Iskandar is proven guilty, his crime would have tarnished the reputation of the police, but nobody is above the law.

You don’t need a sensational murder to ‘tarnish the reputation of the police’. The ‘Home Team’ isn’t perfect, and every Singaporean knows it, that very occasionally our enforcement officers have succumbed to sexual gratification or been so negligent in their duties they let a jailed terrorist escape from a toilet. The ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine has been referenced so often in pop culture that we readily assumed that such ‘bad eggs’ do exist in real life. Donning a uniform and a badge doesn’t protect you from the basest of urges, be it greed, lust or homicidal rage, so when we were told that there’s a killer cop in the force, the only thing that surprises me is that Sergeant Iskandar could still enjoy a seafood dinner with a friend at Danga Bay JB after slashing two people and dragging one under a car.

But just to jiggle our Commissioner’s memory a little, cops HAVE killed innocent people in the past. Most of these incidents occurred pre-Independence, and appear to be committed on impulse. If Iskandar is found guilty of premeditated murder however, it may very well be the first such case in history, though I wouldn’t call it a ‘freight train’ hitting us as if we never saw it coming.

1924: A ‘Pathan’ policeman shot a colleague to death in an Orchard Road police station, supposedly after a quarrel.

1934: Constable Abdullah Khan, in the midst of an argument, hit a man on the head with a ‘piece of stick’, leading to his eventual demise at the junction of Rochore Canal Road and Arab Street.

1946: Inspector Vadivellu Pillay was charged with murder after beating a detainee to death. The victim, Arumugam, denied Pillay’s accusations that he was a Communist.

1947: Jonat Bin Dollar, charged for murdering a Chinese. Ran amok and detained in a mental hospital. In his rampage at Stamford Road, he reportedly almost decapitated a man with a parang.

1960: 19 year old constable Shu Ang Moh was sentenced to 5 years in prison for fatally stabbing a soldier in the chest during a brawl which resulted from a staring incident.

 This isn’t taking anything away from the police, of course, and I trust that they’ll continue to secure our homes and streets after uncovering a snake in the grass. Without them we wouldn’t dare go for a movie at Orchard Cineleisure after midnight, nor would we have anyone to call in case a teacher bullies our kid in school. I wonder how the producers at Crime Watch are going to tackle this incident. Perhaps in conceptualisation stage as we speak, this ‘Killer Cop’ episode may well be the most watched one ever.

Pulau Ubin villagers paying rent to SLA

From ‘No plans to evict Pulau Ubin residents’, 13 April 2013, article by Eugene Neubronner, Today online

Contrary to online speculation and some media reports, the authorities yesterday clarified that “there are no plans to evict the households currently residing on Pulau Ubin or develop an Adventure Park on the island”. Issuing a joint statement, the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) reiterated: “The planning intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans. Given this, there is no need for the residents to move out.”

The speculation started after some residents on the island received a notice signed off by an official with the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) Land Clearance Section, which carried the header “Clearance scheme: Clearance of structures previously acquired for development of Adventure Park on Pulau Ubin”. The authorities clarified that on March 12, the HDB, acting on behalf of the SLA, informed the residents of a census survey in Pulau Ubin. They added that these households had been informed as far back as 1993 that they would be affected by a public development project, which included the development of a recreation park.

“To align with the rustic nature of Pulau Ubin and its planning intention, outdoor adventure elements were included in the recreation park, for example, trails for cycling and hiking, campsites and amenities like shelters and toilets,” the MND and the SLA said.

…The MND and the SLA said that the affected houses sit on what is now state land, and the households were now residing on state land without the required Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL). If they wish to stay on, they would need to obtain a TOL and pay rent — generally pegged at market rate — to the SLA.

If you want a taste of true ‘kampung’ spirit, look no further than Ubin, often cited as the ‘last bastion’ of rustic, indigenous wilderness. 10 years ago you could spot leopard cats, hornbills and wild boars and bask in the nostalgic Old-World smell of chicken droppings. Thrill-seeking lovers could elope there to set up campfires, cook meals in mess-tins and get lost in mangroves without being marauded by eco-tourists and moutain bikers. But perhaps not for much longer, based on the revelations of the White Paper, as we are already seeing the gradual transformation of what was once an idyllic stone quarry sanctuary into Sentosa in one of her pre-casino incarnations, a ‘fun-in-the-sun’ getaway for fans of outdoor adventure.

The selling point of Ubin has always been a ‘rustic CHARM’, a ‘throwback’ to old Singapore, but history tells us that our relentless march towards progress will somehow squeeze every last drop of its kampung soul dry. Today it may be a bike park or OBS school, tomorrow a luxury beachside villa, and you could still call Ubin ‘rustic’, ‘raw and untouched’, even when this ‘charm’ has been reduced to a puny saltwater pond in some rich man’s backyard and the only fishermen you see on the island are the ones charging you for prawning rod and bait at a spa resort, or giving urban folk a demo of how to toss a fishing net in the visitors’ centre. A far cry from Ubin’s strange, astounding natural and social history, one that boasts of temple devotees of Barbie dolls, straying elephants from Johor, sightings of dugongs, monitor lizards as well as the site of a 1920’s Chinese secret society ritual.

According to Infopedia, an ‘expressway road and a Mass Rapid Transit rail system linking the mainland’ was planned for after the year 2030. As it is, Ubin already boasts a couple of resorts, including the Celestial Resort owned by Marine Country Club which aims to ‘give glitzy Sentosa’ a run for the money, where Singaporeans and can go unwind, enjoy lush greenery, and frolic around in wild lallang for a staycation . A 100 year old kampong house has also been refurbished as a Lonely Planet endorsed Cookery Magic culinary school, where you can make Nasi Kerabu with ‘jungle herbs’. Plans for an adventure park comes as no surprise really; it’s just a sweatier theme park with no rides, air-conditioning or Wi-fi, and has been talked about for decades. In 1996, then Minister of National Development Lim Hng Kiang announced that HALF of Pulau Tekong would be turned into a ‘recreational’ centre. I remember drinking fresh coconut from a dishevelled hut along one of the bike trails some years back. On my next trip to the island there could very well be a Gong Cha outlet in place of it.

Although the government hasn’t forced their hand YET, the slow creep of modernisation and tourism overspilling onto Ubin because of our mainland exploding at its seams may drive residents away from the maddening crowd sooner or later, with or without the additional rental fee. In 1989, S Jayakumar said that Ubin residents were ‘not immune to the law’, and if they were, ‘drug addicts and other criminals’ would be headed for the island. Ironically, the island once housed political detainee Lee Tee Tong in 1980, as well as a boatload of Vietnamese refugees in 1978.

So urban dwellers, time to grab your tumblers, hiking boots and mess tins, relish the last remains of a kampung island, and let’s all sing Dayung Sampan, shall we?

Fitness freaks leaping up and down the Cenotaph

From ‘Lack of respect at war memorial’, 1 Sept 2012, article by David Ee, ST

KEEP-FIT enthusiasts have attracted controversy by leaping up and down the steps of a memorial for soldiers killed in the two world wars. The 20-strong group congregates on Thursday evenings at The Cenotaph in Esplanade Park.

War historians and other commentators have criticised their choice of workout venue, saying the memorial is “sacred ground”. “It is a solemn site and should be used responsibly,” said history professor Brian Farrell from the National University of Singapore.

…The keep-fit enthusiasts have been working out at The Cenotaph as part of a training regime organised by Journey Fitness. Group member Ngo Tien Leok felt that the memorial’s central, public location gave them every reason to use it, especially as land is scarce in Singapore. The 38-year-old IT manager said that he does not consider the site sacred, adding: “I’ve not been through a war. I don’t feel a connection to it.”

…Associate Professor Kevin Blackburn, who teaches history at the National Institute of Education, felt Singapore could do more to make people aware that war memorials are sacred. For example, wreaths could be laid all year round. “Singapore tends to downplay some of its monuments,” he said.

Mr Ben Pulham, who co-founded Journey Fitness, said he had no idea that the structure the group was using was actually a war memorial. Asked if he would change the training venue now that he knew, the 31-year-old said he probably would not.

“We saw another group doing the same thing,” he said. “We’re celebrating life by encouraging people to be active, that’s my take on it.”

Hands up those who ‘planked’ here before

Well that’s the whole purpose of a memorial isn’t it, to remind future generations who’ve ‘never been through war’ (or never will) that our country had its share of martyrs, or that we even HAD wars. Nobody’s asking tourists or joggers to bow their heads in gratitude or forcing anyone to lay flowers at the Cenotaph’s base and weep like war widows, but using the Cenotaph steps as a free gym under the excuse of ‘land scarcity’ is like a hurdler leaping over headstones in a cemetery because he has nothing else to practice on. In a previous post, some Rock of Ages churchgoers decided to use the Kranji War memorial for an ‘Amazing Race’. Well at least the recently completed (and smugly successful) Diner En Blanc didn’t make the memorial grounds their ‘secret location’.

The article above also mentioned a ‘rock music’ fashion shoot at the Civilian War Memorial in 2009, which would make sense if you were doing a ‘Thriller’ theme. And then there’s this, people taking the same place for a Kenko Fish Spa.

My feedback to bring in piranhas went unanswered

Do we hold anything sacred outside our handheld devices anymore? Have our hallowed grounds become playgrounds for tourists and ‘keep-fit’ enthusiasts? Will the Cenotaph become part of a celebrity magician’s disappearing monument act? Will couples continue to make out beneath the names of those killed in war? Before we had joggers, our colonists adopted a sternly reverential, but condescending, attitude towards the treatment of the newly erected Cenotaph. In 1922, the structure was ‘desecrated’ by ‘scores of NATIVES sprawling on the steps in almost every conceivable posture of inelegance‘ (A CLASSIC line that I’m tempted to use on people who slouch on chairs). It also wasn’t a place meant for ‘half clad coolies’ and ‘TRAMPS’ and any suspicious activity, be it even STEPPING FOOT on it, would be dispersed by policemen (Today we have half-clad desecrators of a different sort altogether). In the 1940s, some locals were particularly picky over the sarcophagi design, expressing ‘abhorrence’ over mobs of hawkers and loiterers squatting on the steps. Today, only historians lament the abuse of those sacred steps, and they don’t even sound local. I wonder how many of us today even know what this Cenotaph is about, other than something important that’s not the statue of Stamford Raffles, the Merlion, or Marina Bay Sands.

The suggestion of laying wreaths habitually in memorandum of the fallen wouldn’t work. Other than the rain and humidity dashing the tributes making it look like like a florists’ wagon crashed into the structure, the gifts would probably get stomped upon by people doing squat-jumps or stolen by cheapskate lovers. I would suggest a ‘Memorial Day’ holiday to make remembrance of unsung war heroes who, unlike many today, have something to give up their lives for. This would be perfectly aligned to PM Lee’s ideal of ‘Hope, Heart and Home’, attributes which our glorious dead embodied in more ways than us lucky bastards can ever imagine.  Instead of hothousing kids in tuition classes, parents could take their kids ‘memorial hopping’, and impress upon our children that life wasn’t all rosy in the past, even if it means making up stories about some granduncle who was badass enough to skewer an entire platoon of Japs with a bayonet before blowing himself up and bringing an entire tank squadron with him ala Medal of Honour, a time when the word ‘brave’ meant the will to charge at the enemy, not ask the prettiest girl in class out for a date in Gardens by the Bay.

Are the words ‘Our Glorious Dead’ not obvious enough to alert people like Ben Pulham that this is no ordinary piece of granite in the park? Should we change the inscription to ‘In Dearest Memory of Soldiers who Died in War’? One could argue that you can respect the dead by making a ‘celebration ‘out of their sacrifice. After all, another inscription does say ‘They died so we might LIVE’, like how some families honour the departed by slow-dancing at their wake. I mean, nobody’s going to stop you from attaching balloons on your dead relative’s coffin, provided he was a professional clown. If one may consider brutal training regimes and marathon running as ‘a celebration of life’ and a reason to run riot over the Cenotaph, then anything goes really. By defining ‘living’ so loosely rather than out of reflective indebtedness, why stop at jogging all over the monument? How about shaking your bon-bon and singing ‘Living Da Vida Loca’ on the steps? Halloween is also coming up, by the way.

Labelling cenotaph-hoppers ‘Keep-fit’ enthusiasts is an understatement when referring to members of groups like Journey Fitness. According to the company website, you can enroll for a package that includes a ‘lactate test’ and ‘fuel efficiency’ test, which makes me wonder if this is a club for humans or cyborg hamsters.  This being the Seventh Month and all, perhaps it’s better to be safe than sorry and not mess around with the Cenotaph, whether you’re a lactate-producing adrenaline junkie or a random loiterer. You wouldn’t want to hear the wails of dying soldiers and muffled gunfire while doing your burpees on its steps.