Thieves market’s grimy old men

From ‘Thieves’ Market closure ends nightmare for resident’, 25 Feb 2017, ST Forum

(Ang Zyn Yee): As a resident of the Housing Board flats beside the Sungei Road flea market, I have felt only relief after it was announced that the market would be shut down for good on July 10 (“Sungei Road flea market to make way for future homes”; Feb 15).

Many of the people whose views I have read oppose the closure. They present a vision of the market as a charming area of Singapore that must be protected from the modernisation that has gripped the other parts of our nation. However, having lived with the market my entire life, I cannot help but disagree with the heavily romanticised narrative presented.

The Sungei Road flea market has been a nuisance to me for years – not because of its actual operation but how it has encroached into residential space.

…The Thieves Market has ruined the aesthetics of the estate by making the area look messy, dodgy and filthy. In addition, several of these stall-holders have made the residential atrium their home, sleeping on the stone benches and washing themselves at the tap under the HDB block. It is not uncommon to spot their clothes hanging from trees near the atrium.

It may be unfair of me to base my judgment of the flea market on the actions of these people, who might constitute just the minority. But I appeal to the public to try and appreciate the situation from a resident’s perspective.

Grimy old men hawking frayed yellow-stained books and broken toys in the pavilion have become the gate keepers to my home. Every day before I enter the lift lobby, I am careful to keep my eyes straight ahead, in fear of seeing a man relieve himself.

The Sungei Road Flea Market may hold precious memories to some, but it has been nothing but a nightmare for me. I am overjoyed that it will soon be gone.

In the mid seventies, Sungei Road market was not just a haven for ‘grimy old men’, but enterprising bootleg cassette tape pirates who sold dubbed version of originals for as low as $1.60. Such unwholesome activity would become the norm more than 30 years later, as ‘stolen music’ became blase in the Napster era. Today, $1.60 would be the iTunes price for a SINGLE, instead of the lovingly curated playlist that the Sungei Road pirates peddled in the past.

It’s a shame that one man’s livelihood is another’s ‘yellow-stained’ eyesore, but residents paranoid about wading through puddles of old-man pee are not the only ones who felt the Thieves’ Market needed cleaning up. Just ask MP Denise Phua.  Of course in a crowded city as ours it’s unrealistic to expect perpetual serenity where we live. Geylang residents are afraid of their daughters getting harassed. Serangoon folks once complained about nearby foreign worker dormitories. Sengkangers wailed about an impending columbarium.  Sin Ming residents indirectly led to the untimely deaths of wild chickens.

Along with the demolition of the Rochor tri-colour flats, the demise of an iconic flea market spells the end of the Rochor ‘character’ as we know it. Things change or get destroyed, and there’s precious little we can do to preserve what the writer calls ‘romanticised narratives’, whether it’s a downtrodden theme park like Haw Par Villa, an obliterated Lentor Forest, or people proposing air-conditioning in hawker centres to turn them into de facto Food Courts.

As for grimy old men, given our aging society, I suppose we’d better get used to seeing more of them around. Who knows when my time comes and my work is taken over by a bot, I’ll find myself peddling smelly old books and vintage handphones at a makeshift flea market, incurring the NIMBY wrath of some post-millennial who’s turned off by my shady wares and yellow teeth.

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Schoolchildren doing area cleaning is pointless

From ‘What is the point of cleaning activity?’, 14 Dec 16, ST Forum

(David Soh Poh Huat): We need to ask ourselves what is the objective of getting children to do cleaning as part of their school routine (“All schools to have cleaning activities daily from January“; Dec 12).

Is it to help the schools save on costs? Is it to create social responsibility in children, and if so, does it work? Do the schools just not have any other programmes?

Already, it is compulsory for children to return their food trays after eating in their school tuckshops. It is enforced in school, but when we go to public food courts, how many children actually remind their parents to return the trays or do it themselves?

I hope the planners of these activities will look at what the objectives are.

As early as the 70’s, concerned parents echoed the complainant’s objection to having pupils ‘slog like slaves’. There was even a time when kids were made to wash toilets, with parents then whining as they would today with the ‘I send my kid to school to study, not to clean toilets’ mentality. These likely being the same parents herding their kids into enrichment programmes anyway even if they spend 100% of their damn time in school studying.

Being a environmentally responsible citizen extends beyond merely returning trays at food courts; from leaving the toilet seat free of pee stains to conscious attempts to minimise carbon emissions when you travel.  Despite decades of schools instilling ‘social responsibility’, we continue to be spoilt by an army of foreign cleaners, horde NTUC plastic bags and jet-set on budget airlines like nobody’s business. So whether passing the broom and toilet brush to kids now to inculcate the clean and green habit would be better long-term for the environment remains to be seen.

What you can’t argue against is that doing chores is actually a decent form of exercise, especially with today’s kids having their lazy arses chauffeured to and fro school by their parents.  For the less athletically-inclined pupils, it would the preferred option to tossing medicine balls during PE. For the kids who spend their waking life on homework and tuition, wiping the windows would likely be the most physically strenuous activity of their day. So yes, if there would be a valid point of making children do the ‘maids’ work’, it’s to make sure they don’t die of diabetes before they hit 30.

I believe the yoke of repetitive chores also brings benefits beyond helping boys cope with area cleaning in the army. It’s like trekking up to Shambala to seek enlightenment and having your master grill you into picking weeds for hours on end. You may not see the purpose now, but years from now you’ll look back fondly on your gardening days and appreciate how the mundane practice prepared you for nirvana.

Young people with tattoos don’t take good care of their bodies

From ‘Stem spread of tattooing trend in Singapore’, 12 Dec 16, ST Forum

(Joe Teo Kok Seah): Tattooing is gaining popularity among young Singaporeans. In many public places, we often come across adolescents proudly displaying their tattoos.

In the past, tattoos were associated with triads, gangsters and shady characters. They normally belonged to the underclass and outcasts. This is why society in general is disapproving of them.

Also, we should take good care of our bodies. Sadly, this advice is not heeded by many in the young generation.

They have no qualms about permanently “scarring” their bodies with designs and text. This trend should be discouraged. A wiser method would be to switch to temporary tattoos.

When the novelty wears off later in life, these youngsters can elect to remove the temporary tattoos fairly easily and painlessly, rather than regret and go through the painful process of erasing permanent ones.

Indeed, in the 1970’s, the Ministry of Home Affairs had SWEEPING POWERS to arrest anyone bearing tattoo marks suggestive of secret society connections. Today, tattoos are symbols of devotion, cool fashion statements, expressions of identity or a horrid reminder of a night gone drunkedly wrong. The writer is so concerned of our rebellious youth scarring themselves for life, not realising that sometimes people taint themselves in more psychologically damaging ways without puncturing a single hole in their skin. Just like how the ST Forum pages have been scarred for life for publishing this letter.

He also thinks putting your God-given body to the nib is not ‘taking good care of it’.  How is THIS below not taking care of your body, hmm?

So how exactly would the writer propose to ‘discourage’ this insidious trend? Should we go back to the days of Mata-mata? Do we need to set up a national agency to gazette a list of permissible tattoos? If I had short-term amnesia and the only way I can figure out what the fuck is going in is to tattoo reminders on myself, will the police come knocking on my door as they do to other muckracking ‘outcasts’ of the underclass? Or how about making customers sit through a hideous video of an oozing Strep infection before getting a tattoo like how they scare mothers about to abort their babies?

There are other ways that people are inflicting unnecessary harm on themselves without getting tattoos. Tell that to the parkour enthusiasts, the swingers, the serial ear piercers, the BDSM practitioners, or the Thaipusam devotees with more holes in their bodies than those peppering this writer’s logic.

Unarmed man robbing Holland Village Stan Chart bank

From ‘Manhunt for Standard Chartered bank robber at Holland Village’, 7 July 2016, article by Lianne Chia and Diane Leow, CNA

A manhunt is underway at Holland Village, as police investigate a robbery that took place at Standard Chartered Bank on Thursday (Jul 7) morning.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the suspect made off with S$30,000 from the Standard Chartered branch, and was not armed at the time.

The branch was closed after the incident. The bank said it filed a police report immediately, and is working with the police on investigations. “We would like to highlight that the safety of our customers and staff is top priority and our branch staff are all well-trained to react to such situations,” StanChart said in a statement.

Police earlier confirmed that they are investigating a robbery at the bank which took place at 11.25am.

…Bank robberies are rare in Singapore. In November 2008, a man dressed as a woman attempted to rob a United Overseas Bank branch at City Plaza on Geylang Road.

It’s been close to 2 days since the robbery at time of writing and the robber is still on the run. By this time, if you had spray painted a HDB block with anti-PAP slogans you and your friends would have been hauled into a police van. Yes, in Singapore, you can’t escape if you vandalise public property, but rob a bank and you may elude the police for more than 10 years if you’re lucky, like the sole mastermind behind the 2004 West Coast POSB bank robbery, who successfully made off with $37,000 with the help of a fruit knife and a WOODEN PLANK. The Stan Chart robber had nothing more than a very convincing note to the teller.

The first telltale sign of a potential bank robber is what he puts on his head or over his face. A hoodie is a dead giveaway. A motorcycle helmet. A surgical mask – possibly. But if you walk into a bank planning to steal money with a STRAW HAT like you just came out of your Hokkien Mee stall, then your plan is DOOMED from the start. DOOMED.

With neither witnesses or the police giving details of what exactly happened in the bank, one can only speculate about how a single person can bypass security and coolly steal wads of cash without the usual drama most of us associate with bank robberies: Toy guns, taking hostages, bombs, getaway cars, wearing stocking over your head. If a previous successful robber could figure out the exact dimensions of a wooden plank to jam a door, I suppose the Stan Chart perpetrator could accomplish the same deed through sheer methodical research. Or by watching repeats of Ocean’s Eleven.

There doesn’t seem to be an elaborate scheme here, unlike the 1970 case of a man conspiring with 5 others to pull off a bogus heist of his own bank. It took 3 weeks for the crime to be solved and the stolen quarter of a million dollars recovered. This remains the biggest bank robbery in Singapore’s history, one that is faithful to the typical bank robber scenario where a gun is waved and the actual words ‘THIS IS A HOLD UP’ were uttered. Today, if you want to steal from your own company, you don’t need to plan a full scale robbery. Some do it through pineapple tarts.

Unlike other petty criminals or upskirt voyeurs, bank robbers have the mystique of romantic banditry about them. Internet commentators have given the guy a thumbs up for breaking the establishment. Jokes have been made at Stan Chart’s expense. Sales of hoodies and mustard pants may skyrocket. Still, I doubt the reception towards a serious offense potentially punishable by death if you carried real guns would be this laissez-faire had the robber not been a Caucasian, but a PRC instead. If it had been any foreigner other than a white guy, the Internet would probably hunt him down while the cops continue checking dustbins for non-existent weapons all over Chip Bee Gardens.

UPDATE: The robber was caught 3 days after the incident in Bangkok. Go Home Team!

Tesla electric car penalised with $15000 carbon surcharge

From ‘Electric car Tesla slapped with $15000 tax surcharge’, 5 March 2016, article by Christopher Tan, ST

An electric car which attracts tax breaks in several countries has been slapped with a tax surcharge in Singapore. The Model S – a sedan made by California-based Tesla Motors – is the first tailpipe emission-free car to be penalised this way here.

Mr Joe Nguyen, 44, registered a used Model S he sourced from Hong Kong just before Chinese New Year. He was shocked that the car – for which he paid close to $400,000 – was liable for a $15,000 carbon surcharge.

“Honestly, it’s stupid,” said the senior vice-president with an Internet research firm. “I went back to them (Land Transport Authority), and they cited a UN emission test regulation. They also factored in carbon emissions at the power station. We don’t apply a carbon penalty to people charging their iPhones, do we?”

According to LTA, the Tesla uses 444 watt/hr per km, equivalent to 222g/km of carbon. You will only get rebates if your carbon emission is below 136g/km. In comparison, if you use the ICAO carbon footprint calculator to determine the amount spewed from a round trip between Singapore and Bangkok, you get a figure that is roughly a 1000 fold increase – 240kg of carbon per passenger. That’s excluding the taxi ride to and fro the airport. In other words, you need to drive a Tesla for 1000km before you can clock the same amount chugged out over a short holiday. How much carbon did we emit over the SG50 long weekend last year, I wonder. Alas, policy decisions made on the basis of CO2 emissions are never simple. You could avoid taking the car out on the weekend but end up guzzling electricity at home Netflixing on your giant 48 inch Smart TV, snacking on smoked salmon flown all the way from Norway to your coffee table. Your very mundane existence is itself a strain on the carbon budget.

Before we saw carbon in a different light, beyond its presence in fizzy drinks and the fact that we excrete it out and trees suck it back in, electric cars were seen as the panacea to our oil dependence problem. If we’re not able to witness solar-powered flying cars in this lifetime, then electric seemed to be the way to go. We imagined these vehicles as sleek, Zen-quiet machines which naturally smell of fresh pine, guided along by a GPS equipped with the voice of Sir David Attenborough. It was the future of transportation, not MRT lines underneath Macritchie reservoir, not car-free days, not bicycles or hoverboards. Instead, our government bans electric scooters in parks, slaps penalties on supposedly ‘green’ cars that happen to be gluttons for electricity, and the public asks for zero emission bicycles to be regulated. No, we’re still not going to emulate the Jetsons in another 50 years.

But this isn’t the first time that anyone who tried to promote clean tech got into a tangle with the authorities. James Diebley couldn’t register his battery-operated three-wheeled Corbin Sparrow as a motorcycle as the LTA deemed it to be more ‘car-like’. Although the LTA explained that it would have granted the rebate , Diebley eventually gave up the EV, but only because being a solo vehicle, he couldn’t use it to send his kids to school. On one hand, we want to encourage families and pledge to cut emissions, on the other it seems that the prerequisites of driving a cool electric car around Singapore include being 1) bloody rich and 2) single. Yes, try picking up girls with a gadget that looks like a character out of Pixar’s Cars.

Somehow, people have this perception that being small and compact, Singapore would be ideal for an electric revolution. Yet at the same time we have one of the highest ownership of modified supercars in the region, despite the roads being notoriously race-unfriendly. Bureaucracy is often blamed as the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of us becoming a car-lite, low-carbon nation, but without the right mindset and behaviorial changes in all of us to ‘heal the world, make it a better place’, or we continue to have billionaires who can afford to be penalised even if their EV is a grid vampire, our future generations will still inherit the scum we leave behind, with or without electric cars and their rebates and charges.

More elderly Singaporeans killing themselves

From ‘More seniors in Singapore taking own lives’, 17 Dec 2015, article by Janice Tai, ST

…Last year (2014), 126 seniors aged 60 and above killed themselves. This is a jump of nearly 60 per cent from the 79 seniors who committed suicide in 2000. There were 95 of them in 2010.

While the suicide rate in Singapore has remained at between eight and 10 suicides per 100,000 residents over the past decade, the proportion of the elderly among those who take their lives each year has risen.

In 2000, 23 per cent of suicides here were from among the elderly. By 2010, the group made up 27 per cent, and the number grew to 30 per cent last year.

In less than 20 years, a fifth of Singapore’s population will be at least 65 years of age, making our country a ‘super-aged’ nation. Despite this, our Government still sees the ‘silver’ lining behind the challenge of dealing with millions of old folks, that they could turn a burden into a ‘positive force for social and economic development’. In other words, we will try our darnedest to keep you productive, but nothing much can be done about your psychological well-being. Other than, well, giving you priority queues for everything.

We used to think that longevity and advances in medical technology would make our ‘golden years’ less miserable than they’re supposed to be, but not every senior citizen will spend their twilight years watching their last sunsets on a hill with loved ones by their side. Some will end up rotting in a house with no one noticing until the stench overwhelms your Indian neighbour’s pungent curry. If you’re counting on your children or grandchildren to keep you sane till your dying breath, you better hope they don’t beat you to it and commit suicide themselves too. Yes, those below 10 years included.

Having one of the highest rate of diabetes in the world isn’t helping either. Not only are we ageing faster, we’re getting sicker too. Not every old foggie wants to socialise in the seniors’ corner or have the time for your ‘community activities’, especially if there’s cardboard to be pushed and sold, or if you’re struck with dementia and spend your days indoors trying to figure out how to get out of your pants to take a piss. Our grandfathers used to entertain the family with war stories and tales of famine and survival. When it’s my turn, nobody will give a shit about how I passed my PSLE, or how I met my wife online. The kids will come, give Gramps a hug, and then go stare at their phones for the rest of the visit.

If I were to find myself immobile, physically dependent on a bedpan and have to live with the shame of a helper cleaning up after my foul incontinence, then yes, I’d rather die before being transferred to a retirement village and oblige dancing kindergarten kids with an ugly toothless grin and arthritic clapping. Deplete my bank account to pay for that additional hospital stay and a pill worth more than a ferry ride to seedy Batam for one last fling? Hell no.

The term for killing yourself to spare others the pain of caring for you is ‘altruistic suicide’, which makes the act sound as heroic as sacrificing yourself by taking a grenade in the face for your loved one. The tricky bit is how to end it all painlessly. I can’t possibly roll myself off the top of my block, not to mention pop a hundred painkillers into my mouth without shaking them all onto the floor if I’ve got Parkinson’s. Which may explain why some old folks decide not to wait for the inevitable decline and meet their maker when they still have the strength to climb the stairway (to heaven).

Interestingly, someone speculated a link between opium and elderly suicide in 1975. Or rather, the lack of it. Another theory about why it tended to be Chinese men who took their own lives rather than the Muslims was possibly religion, which makes taking your own life a cardinal sin for the latter. Whatever it is, loneliness, money problems, shitty unfilial kids or just abject futility at the whole purpose of your existence, maybe it’s time our Government reboots their thinking of geriatric care and study how we can age gracefully, and not obsess whether we have enough money to carry us to our graves.

We should look at other less affluent societies where old people celebrate life even without the best nurses or hospitals that money can bring, where they’ll sip wine, laugh, enjoy slow dancing, and go skinny dipping in an icy lake without being hauled up for indecent exposure, where they’ll reminisce on the trivial absurdities of their youth, rather than harp on a lifetime of missed chances and regrets.

 

Nude-less Playboy still banned by MDA

From ‘Playboy.com ban in Singapore remains: MDA’, 14 Oct 15, article by Lee Gim Siong,  CNA

The ban on access to Playboy.com in Singapore will not be lifted, said the Media Development Authority (MDA) on Wednesday (Oct 14). The US-based magazine had announced on Tuesday that it will stop publishing nude photographs in its pages from February next year. The website had also stopped publishing nude images since 2014.

In response to queries from 938LIVE, the MDA also said that it is too early to comment on the revamped Playboy magazine, as it has yet to be launched.

The spokesperson added that Playboy.com remains on the list of websites which are symbolically blocked in Singapore, to signal the types of content which the community regards as offensive or harmful.

The majority of these websites are pornographic in nature, and this position on the Playboy website has been in effect since 1996.

Playboy’s shift of focus away from naked centrefolds spells the inevitable demise of the ‘girly mag’. Along with Singapore’s very own FHM, we men may no longer bond at the newstands pretending to be browsing golf monthlies but in fact peeking at the covers of dirty magazines. The Internet (more specifically, porn) has made the eponymous bunny and its celebrated flesh parade obsolete, just like how it has made MDA’s ‘honour roll’ of blacklisted websites redundant. Some of these ‘symbolically’ banned sites may not even exist anymore. Not sure if it still has ‘Sex.com’ on it.

MDA’s taking a cautious ‘wait and see’ approach, naturally, but may find other reasons to stick to the status quo, like articles glamourising homosexuality, incest, bestiality or anything that goes against our conservative Asian values. No hot-blooded man is going to access Playboy.com for erotic essays of course, unless they’re doing so out of pure nostalgia, a misty-eyed throwback to the good old days of borrowing a semen-stained Playboy mag from your classmate for a few days and hiding it from your parents under your mattress. It wasn’t a ‘men’s magazine’ so much as a ‘boys to men’ magazine.

Here then, is a curious history of Playboy magazine in squeaky clean Singapore:

1) Playboy and its companion Playmate calendar was banned in 1960. Until then it was being sold at $2.10. Today, you may have to fork out at least 10 times that price considering it’s a collector’s item. You may even choose to feature it as an art exhibit, for hipsters to stare and stroke their chin at, instead of stroking something else.

Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield

2) In 1979, there was talk of the glitzy Playboy Club opening in Singapore. Its philosophy stood for ‘refinement, distinction and perfection’. Yes, that is exactly what we teenage boys feel while rubbing ourselves under the blanket spending a hot night alone with the magazine. Remember, the actual Playboy publication was still banned then. I don’t suppose the Club hosted strip-shows. In any case, in 1983, the Club was struck off the register because it wasn’t doing worthy of ‘distinction’, or rather, ANYTHING at all.

3) In 2003, one of the reasons given by the Censorship Review Committee for the ban of Playboy magazine but not Cosmopolitan was that it was ‘demeaning to women’. So I guess movies like Secretary are fine, then.

4) Ngee Ann City once boasted of Singapore’s first PLAYBOY boutique store (Playboy rears its rabbit’s head at Ngee Ann City, ST 1994). I’m shocked that I’ve never heard of this. Maybe I was too busy with, ahem, the Internet. It soon went bust, and was never to be mentioned again.

5) In 1991, Temasek Holdings reportedly acquired a 5% stake in New Zealand-based Brierley Investments Limited (S’pore’s connection with Playboy, 20 July 1991, ST). Industrial Equity (Pacific Ltd), a unit of Brierley’s, acquired a 5.8% stake in Playboy Enterprises in 1987. So, get this, a part of our Government-linked investment funds may once have connections to a girlie magazine that the Government itself BANNED for local consumption. That’s like investing in a company owned by a Mexican narc cartel.

6) In 2007, Singapore-based Acme Mobile Pte Ltd struck a deal with Playboy to distribute ‘Playboy branded’ games, images and ring tones across South East Asia. No nudity, of course. But likewise for Playboy.com.

Without naked pictures, it’s only a matter of time before Hugh Hefner’s salacious legacy goes limp. As limp as the reasons given by MDA to continue banning the World’s Finest Men’s Magazine ever.