Lui Tuck Yew disappointed with train disruptions

From ‘Transport Minister Lui disappointed with train disruptions’, 23 Jan 2014, article in CNA

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew expressed his concern and disappointment with the recent spate of disruptions on the SMRT rail network during a meeting with the operator’s CEO and senior management on Thursday.

He was also briefed on the status of the ongoing investigations and SMRT’s preliminary findings on these incidents. Mr Lui said: “I share the frustrations of train commuters affected by these incidents, and I empathise with them on the anxiety and uncertainty that they may experience.

“I am also very concerned about SMRT’s service recovery efforts, particularly in reaching out to affected commuters promptly and keeping them updated during these incidents.”

Minister Lui has been ‘concerned’ and ‘disappointed’ before. In 2011 he expressed the same emotions about the N-S line breakdown which had someone resorting to breaking a window with a fire extinguisher. He told SMRT chairman Koh Yong Guan that he held the board and the management team ‘responsible for making it right’. 3 years later, it looks like disappointment alone won’t cut it anymore. Koh Yong Guan is STILL board chairman, and unless our minister has forgotten all about the pledge to uncover the ‘root cause’ in 2011, perhaps it’s time ultimatums are issued instead of second chances and tame euphemisms for ‘pissed off’.

Disappointment is shaking your head and walking away, and it has been a favourite tone adopted by some our ministers whenever someone upsets them. Lim Swee Say, for instance, was disappointed when DBS retrenched workers in 2008. S Jayakumar was surprised and ‘disappointed’ with accusations by Malaysian officials over the Pedra Blanca incident a year earlier. Disappointment is a mother telling her kid nicely that he’s an utter failure, but still loves him anyway. It’s time to slam your fists and up the ante, Lui Tuck Yew. Even your name rhymes with a classic expression that should have been thrown at SMRT a long time ago. They’ve had their chance to redeem themselves, but not only have they struggled to set things right, they even managed to convince the PTC that they deserve their fare hike.

There’s no shame in telling SMRT how you really feel to show Singaporeans that you mean business. Try DPM Teo’s expression of ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with the ICA checkpoint lapse and MFA trespass. Or DPM Wong Kan Seng being ‘totally appalled and flabbergasted’ following the ICA passport mix up in 2008. K Shanmugam recently revealed that he was ‘terribly upset and offended’ by what Anton Casey posted on Facebook. If you want SMRT to wake the Tuck up, you have to take it on a personal level beyond tepid ‘disappointment’, that you’re upset, furious, bloody disgusted and that such breakdowns are totally UNACCEPTABLE. It will even help you score brownie points for the next election, even if chances are nothing’s going to happen to the SMRT board anyway.

Stephanie Koh not proud to be Singaporean

From ‘K-pop hunt 3 finalist:I don’t feel proud to be Singaporean’, 13 Jan 2014, article in asiaone. com

Controversial K-pop Star Hunt 3 finalist Stephanie Koh from Singapore says she doesn’t regret how badly she behaved on the reality talent show. In one episode where she was asked to surrender her mobile phone, the 21-year-old had infamously said: “I’ll attack you, I’ll scratch you and I’ll kill you”.

…On the topic on viewers expressing the view that her behaviour gives Singapore a bad name, she said she is not bothered about it. “I wouldn’t actually bother about representing this country because to be honest, I don’t really feel proud to be a Singaporean,” she said.

“Everyone here is so small minded, everyone here is so submissive, everyone here don’t know how to think outside the box, no one here is creative, everyone here just thinks the same way, full of the same rules, and it’s too rigid for my taste,” she told RazorTV.

Stephanie later posted a vlog ranting about why Singapore sucks, making comparisons between Singapore and Australia wages, invoking sympathy for ‘artists’, and blaming the education system for mass manufacturing ‘homework robots’. I didn’t have the patience to listen to a K-pop wannabe complain for more than 10 minutes, so here’s a summary of her main points on why being Singaporean is nothing to be proud of based on the asiaone screenshots.

1. No place for an artist.

The finest example of how artists aren’t appreciated here is the My Grandfather Road saga. Yet, despite Sticker Lady Samantha Lo’s scuffle with the law for her street art, she has managed to find a ‘place’ for her work in Sentosa. If you’re aspiring to be a digital CG artist, there’s Lucasfilms’ Sandcrawler at Fusionopolis. So yeah, you may not be able to get permits to display a dead shark in a tank or even get arrested for using the Singapore flag as an artpiece, but to generalise that art as a career path is a dead end in Singapore is probably stretching it. And, oh, there’s this small local film called Ilo Ilo. Perhaps Stephanie may have heard of it.

2. Singaporeans are narrow minded.

This suggests that we’re fixated on only certain things in life and not open to new experiences. I was expecting Koh to expand on this point to talk about the paper chase and PSLE, but she began complaining about how we’re brainwashed by mainstream media propaganda, and comparing what a waitress would get in Singapore vs Australia. Granted, we’re still a conservative lot, uncomfortable with homosexuality and stuff on the Internet, but that speaks more of the Government than the people of Singapore. I don’t know if she went on to discuss the chewing gum ban.

In a similar vein, someone by the name of Zing waxed lyrical about London some years back;

In London, I can be a saint or a sinner. I can be City boy, goth girl, punk kid; I can be in with the media, in with the cool kids, I can drop rhymes in East End ghettos and I can drop cash in Mahiki on cocktails. I can be posh, poor, upmarket, downmarket, chav, toff, hippie, indie. I can be gay or straight, man or woman.

Zing also bragged about being ‘mugged’ in London and having to need stitches. No I’d rather not be mugged at knifepoint, nor ‘drop rhymes’ thank you very much. And who wants to be ‘poor’?

3. Singaporeans are not creative

This is where the ‘homework’ robot argument comes in. Sure Singapore may never produce the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks we suck at creativity.

When you’re very structured almost like a religion… Uniforms, uniforms, uniforms… everybody is the same. Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior isn’t tolerated. You are extremely punished.

Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great singers? Where are the great writers? Where are the athletes? All the creative elements seems to disappear.

Perhaps what our critics mean is the lack of innovation and risk-taking, even if such elements may not necessarily lead to noble enterprises. One ex-Singaporean Brandon Wade defied the odds to let his creativity flourish in the US. He runs sugar daddy websites.

‘Creativity’ is subjective of course. Stephenie thinks Jack Neo films are ‘super amazing’ and does cover versions of Gangnam style. Ironically, Jack Neo’s movie success came  from capitalising on the exact same things that Stephenie is whining about. If we weren’t oppressive in some way, ‘I Not Stupid’ wouldn’t have existed. The fact that we’re renown for being a nanny-state makes any sort of creative output noteworthy, like ‘Wow imagine that, a thumb drive invention coming out of boring, sterile Singapore!’. Which did happen, by the way.

4. Singaporeans are submissive

Well, totally. Unlike those buggers rioting in Little India.

5. Singaporeans are not happy, and not nice.

Stephanie tries to impress with some dubious statistics about Singapore being the smallest country in the world with the highest suicide rate. What has the size got to do with suicide anyway? Yeah, we’re not shiny happy people and we grumble a lot. We’re not as ‘nice and friendly’ as the Australians, and aren’t generous when it comes to smiles, emotions, or helping strangers. It needs work I have to admit, though I rather be given a scowl on a train than have someone mug me or insult my race in broad daylight. Again, a case of selective observation and the ‘grass is greener’ syndrome. The average Australian may treat you with zealous hospitality if you’re there visiting, but it might be a different story if you’re there taking someone’s job.

6. Everybody just follow rules

This point is related to all 5 previous points. Everybody loves a rebel, the one who bucks the trend, who goes against the mainstream. ‘Breaking the rules’ has become such an overrated motivational cliche that we forget that for every person who makes it big as a non-conformer, there are other rule-breakers subscribing to the same gung-ho thinking who fall by the wayside.

Stephanie goes on to say she won’t be here for long and will be scooting out of this godforsaken place (I’m guessing Australia where she can join 50,000 of ex-fellow countrymen). I wish her all the best and I’m sure all unhappy, submissive, uncreative Singaporeans are spurred into proving some of her gripes about the country wrong. Not sure if Australia would welcome with open arms someone who mocks her fellow countrymen on Youtube, or feral enough to scratch you if you get anywhere near her precious phone. She ends her video challenging anyone to come up with something worthy to be proud of as a Singaporean. That’s easy: I’m proud of our food, though I don’t know if Stephenie’s diet consists of only kimchee and sour grapes. Maybe she should try some humble pie for a change. That would help a lot if you’re settling down in ANY foreign country and can’t afford to piss people off with a snarky attitude.

I would argue that you don’t have to be ‘proud’ of your own country to be perfectly happy living in it. Singapore has things to be ashamed of, but so does everywhere else in the world. And even if Australia turns out to be a disappointment, it’s unlikely that someone committed to romanticising the country and its way of life would admit that they made the wrong decision to pack their bags and leave in the first place. Let’s be ‘nice’ and just leave her be, shall we.

$4.3 billion MCE congested on second day of opening

From ‘Motorists fume over slow traffic along newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway’, 30 Dec 2013, article by Kenny Chee, ST

Traffic on the newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) might have been fairly smooth on Sunday when it opened to the public, but it was a different story on Monday.

Travel was slow on several segments of the MCE and surrounding roads. Some motorists said they were stuck on the $4.3 billion expressway for nearly an hour, while some commuters were fuming over having to pay higher than usual taxi fares because they were stuck in jams linked to the expressway.

LTA boasts that the MCE is their ‘most ambitious‘ project to date, flashing earth-shattering statistics like how 1200 Olympic pools’ worth of soil were dug up to create the first of its kind undersea tunnel in Singapore. We all know how expensive this project is (you could build 4 Project Jewels), but here are some other fun facts that LTA might not be so willing to brag about following a nightmarish start to what has been lauded as a marvel of civil engineering. Clearly, in the case of undersea roads, ‘bigger’ and ‘deeper’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’, or ‘faster’.

  • Singapore’s second most expensive expressway is the KPE, costing $1.8 billion.
  • When construction started in 2009, LTA’s Chief Executive declared the work a major engineering challenge, that they had successfully ‘moved a river’ for the KPE and have ‘dammed’ the sea for this Kraken of a road. His name? Yam Ah Mee. Dammed if he do, dammed if he don’t.
  • Early the same year, it was reported that the project busted its budget by almost 2 billion (from its original 2.5 billion) because of higher prices of materials and unexpectedly weak soil. Minister Raymond Lim was questioned if his team had looked to other possibilities before building ‘underground and underwater’, but he said none of these were suitable and that the government takes a ‘stringent financial approach’ to evaluate the cost vs benefit of such massive jobs. Money can’t buy you imagination, I suppose.
  • In 2008, the government appointed global engineering firm Mott MacDonald as design consultant for 3 of the 6 contracts. These are the same people behind the first MRT line in Singapore, and worryingly, the Downtown line as well. Incidentally, the Marina Coastal Expressway has a Mc in its acronym. I doubt an Upsize will do any good.
  • Lastly, we make our transport systems ‘safe and smooth flowing through a suite of advanced traffic systems’ called ITS. Or Intelligent Transport Systems. It’s an acronym as ingenious as our expressways themselves.

We’ve been hit by a series of sloppy planning rearing ugly heads in dramatic fashion. First the Downtown line, then the DNC registry reversal and to cap the year off, a disappointing sluggish scrum through the MCE. We’re so used to agencies employing quick recovery action and offering Band-Aid solutions that we confuse their responsiveness and nervous engagement with social media for competency. Anyone can patch a leak, but you need some form of higher intelligence to prevent one. LTA fines SMRT or SMS for crappy work. Who fines the LTA then?

The LTA may have believed they built the tunnel equivalent of the Colossus, but what we have seen so far from opening day jitters is a choking Goliath, with so much emphasis on making the expressway wide and sturdy that we ignore its relationships with surrounding infrastructure and forget how to direct traffic. LTA was quick to publish a help guide to drivers confused about the MCE exits, which to a non-driver like me looks like a trigonometry problem sum confusing enough to quit driving altogether. AYE to ECP or CBD? WTF MCE.

Little girl activating Downtown Line detrainment switch

From ‘More info given for Downtown Line fault’, 29 Dec 2013, article by Christopher Tan, Sunday Times

Downtown Line operator SBS Transit yesterday gave more details of how a child passenger could have activated a detrainment switch that triggered a power cut which disrupted the newly opened line on Friday. A spokesman said preliminary findings showed that “the internal laminate of the metal cover which holds the detrainment door switch had debonded”. This, she said, caused the cover to be loosened.

“When the cover was moved, the detrainment switch was triggered,” she said. As a safety precaution, power is cut off when the switch – which lowers a ramp for emergency evacuation – is activated.

SBS Transit said closed-circuit television footage showed a little girl may have caused this. It declined to share the footage.

…Netizens have questioned the cause of the breakdown. Commenting on Facebook, Charlton Gan asked: “Why is the device so easily accessed by the kid in the first place?” Another, Neo Eng Hin, asked how the system could be “so fragile and sensitive”.

SBS Transit said it has since “enhanced the cover for a tighter fit” on all its Downtown Line trains. It has also stationed staff at both ends of trains to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Kids

Kids

In a previous statement, SBS Transit reported that some children were playing around the detrainment door area and a small girl appeared to have triggered the power disruption by accident. Train manufacturer Bombardier argues that detrainment was unlikely when the train was still moving. If you look at SMRT’s emergency protocol for passenger-activated detrainment, you’d have to perform a series of actions as a safeguard against accidental triggering in order to access the train captain’s cabin, before finally operating the ramp. For this ill-fated ride, you just needed a tiny human to rattle the cover in order to turn on a detrainment switch, which from the description of events seems more like a touchscreen button than a lever that you need to push or lift with considerable force.

If you look at how the detrainment device is positioned on a DTL train above, right before a tunnel view of the ride, you can imagine how tempting it is for kids to clamber all over the counter.  SBS’s remedial actions of ‘enhancing the cover for a tighter fit’ and employing staff just to guard the thing seems more like a cosmetic, stopgap attempt than a real effort to childproof an emergency button, like painting the lever for a hot water dispenser red than making it slightly more tedious for a child to maneuver. I shudder to think if the same manufacturers were behind the panic button that presidents push to unleash nuclear warheads.

Without divulging any evidence of the exact nature of the playtime causing the downtime, I suppose the only way to determine what really happened around the detrainment device and what kind of rampage the kids were on would be for our ministers to launch a Committee of Inquiry (COI) into this incident to expose all this ridiculous secrecy over CCTV footage once and for all. Until then, a campaign to keep our hands to ourselves unless in case of emergency would suffice.

$1.47 billion Project Jewel a vanity showpiece

From ‘Who is Project Jewel’s target customer?’, 27 Dec 2013, ST Forum

(Kelvin Quek): I WAS surprised and concerned to read about the high cost for Project Jewel (“Project Jewel at Changi Airport to cost $1.47b”; last Saturday). It is unclear how this expensive complex, 70 per cent of which will be retail space, will give our airport an edge over other competing air hubs.

It is also unclear who it is targeting – visitors, residents, airport staff, or all three. When travellers arrive at their destination, they want to get out of the airport as quickly as possible.

Similarly, departing visitors are unlikely to make it a priority to visit shops, eateries or leisure attractions located outside the departure gates of the airport. If the project is primarily aimed at attracting residents to Changi Airport, the question then is: Why is that necessary?

Why use up valuable land at Changi to build another shopping mall? Why not have an aviation museum or something related to the airport?

…We should also stop building iconic projects which may just end up as vanity showpieces that bring little tangible benefits to Singaporeans. The money saved can be put to better use to meet more pressing needs in areas such as health care, education, transport and housing.

Jewel of Changi

The 1 billion dollar price tag has drawn comparisons to another iconic ‘vanity project’, the Gardens by the Bay. PM Lee himself referred to the Airport’s Jewel, semi-jokingly, as the ‘Gardens by the Airport’ during his National Day Rally this year, unwittingly hinting at the cost of this glorified mall. Visibly gushing over this new addition like a first-time father, he mentioned that the Jewel was not just for visitors, but for Singaporeans too, including ‘families on Sunday outings, students studying for exams and even newlyweds taking bridal photos’, which answers the writer’s question about who the target customers are. Don’t we already have the 3 terminals, and Kinetic Rain for that?

Designed by the same brain behind MBS, Moshe Safdie, Project Jewel appears to nothing more than a posh cousin of the existing T3 mall, a mash-up of our new National Stadium’s dome, Safdie’s LV island maison and the Gardens by the Bay which will draw locals from all over the island for the same reason that people flock to novelties like Jem in Jurong. In 2007, there was similar fanfare over the retail arm of T3, with the promise of top brands like the first Ferrari shop and luxury cellphone manufacturer Vertu. I don’t think these are around anymore. Instead you have ‘Speciality Stores’ like Poh Kim Video and 24 hour light-bite cafes like ‘Heavenly Wang’. If you want to spend some final precious moments with your child before his departure for overseas study, you’d have to jostle for parking space with families going to the airport just to buy stuff from some upmarket grocer, and not see a single plane landing or taking off, as what normal people would do if they’re going to the airport, well, FOR FUN.

Perhaps the money could have been put into better use, like providing proper resting areas for all those in transit treating the airport like a ‘refugee camp’. If Project Jewel fails to take off and goes the way of the Singapore Flyer, one might as well have installed a 4-storey tall, world-record breaking Kinetic Rain display instead, with round the clock security to prevent crazy people from tampering with it. Or an actual jewel-encrusted giant statue of Lee Kuan Yew. Don’t forget to bring in the feng shui masters though.

UOB Painting of the Year is an ‘indignity’

From ‘UOB painting win: Calls to tweak rules’, 28 Nov 2013, article by Deepika Shetty, ST Life!

The new rules for the United Overseas Bank Painting Of The Year have kicked in, but the winning work by German- born, Singapore permanent resident Stefanie Hauger, 44, has generated talk in the arts community that the rules might need to be tightened further.

Hauger, a former interior designer who became a full-time artist two years ago, snagged the South-east Asian painting prize worth US$10,000 (S$12,500) and the Singapore award of US$25,000 for her 170 by 170cm acrylic on canvas, Space Odyssey.

…Singapore artist Aaron Gan said the fact that Space Odyssey trumped Suroso’s more nuanced and detailed painting titled Indonesian Artist’s Studio was an “indignity”.

Said Gan, 34: “I understand that artworks are judged on message, creativity, composition and technique. While Space Odyssey may score highly in message and creativity, it should accordingly score equally low points for composition. The technique is nothing to write home about. You pour paint on a canvas and turn it around. That’s it. You do not have to be trained to do it.”

It was a point picked up by Indian classical vocalist and visual arts lover Krishnapuram Venkatachar Godha. She felt Space Odyssey was “not that impressive” to win a first prize in such a prestigious competition.

“The painting reminds me of the artworks we did in school. Essentially pour some three to four poster colours, fold the paper into half and get this effect. It looks exactly like that except for the size of the painting,” said Mrs Godha, 42.

A swirl of controversy

A swirl of controversy

Hauger’s painting looks like a bird’s eye view of our blue planet from the perspective of an astronaut dropping acid in space, a psychedelic portrait of her morning coffee just after stirring with colours inverted and distorted, or what the worst oil spill ever would look like. It seems too splashy and accidental a work to be a winner in the eyes of fellow artists, professionals who come out harping every year about unworthy champions. Bai Tianyuan simply ‘copied’ a photograph, while 17 year old Esmond Loh’s victory was a slap in the face of ‘established’ artists who slog day and night to hone their craft. Both young winners weren’t even born when veteran participants were already showcasing their work.

This year, you have a 44 year old PR upstart whose work some claim can be accomplished by a kid in a blindfold during art class. I’d like to see Aaron Gan pour cans of paint on a canvas while turning it around and achieve what Hauger did with ‘Odyssey’. Or better still, rub 4 colours on your naked body and roll around on paper in a circle. If you can replicate a UOB Winner by throwing random buckets of paint on a wall, then point taken, though by the sheer element of chance, you can still create crazy, fantastic ‘art’, like a monkey typing out a couple of stanzas of poetry on a keyboard. In other words, winning the UOB Fluke of the Year.

Hauger’s swirly work represents the muddle that local art is in when it comes to recognising and rewarding true talent. Or someone was spinning the work around and got the judges hypnotised into giving it full marks. People are questioning how the categories are defined, or how skilled the winner is, but not the credibility of the judges, who are the ones selecting paintings of the year in the first place. If your judges are supposed to be able to discern the work of an amateur from an experienced hand, it doesn’t matter if your participants are a mix of wannabes, snobs or greenhorns painting for the first time trying their luck. We’ve seen how a piece of ’emerging work’ has been deemed to be no lesser in quality than an ‘established’ one, a fact proven a few times already from past shockers.

Perhaps I should start training and submit a still-life of fruit as my entry in next year’s contest under the ’emerging’ category. I could call it ‘Sour Grapes’.

PM Lee: Happy people don’t have time for the Internet

From ‘Facing new media’s challenges‘, 23 Nov 2013, article by Cai Haoxiang, Business Times

SOME new media users in any country are likely to be anti-establishment, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a forum last night. He said that to get the support of the people, the government must continue to do its work, try its best to communicate and involve people in its initiatives to give them a stronger sense of satisfaction.

“We can’t wish for new media not to exist, but we can try our best to use it,” Mr Lee said in Mandarin, in response to a question from a member of the audience, who asked how the government regards online views about how it is disconnected from the people.

“People who are content don’t have time to go online,  those who are unhappy will complain online,” Mr Lee said. “I am not saying all contrarian views are complaints, but this seems to be a worldwide trend. Therefore, we need to understand these views, and interpret it objectively,” he said.

In another version of the same report, our PM is quoted as such:

“Satisfied people don’t have time to go onto the Internet. Unhappy people often go there,”

There’s a key difference here. In the first version of the statement, our PM says unhappy people will COMPLAIN online, which is generally true. In the second, he suggests that the Internet is a place for miserable souls who troll the government because their lives are devoid of fulfillment or meaning. So is it a case of careless reporting, or a gaffe being hastily covered up?

But let’s ignore the second part of the quote and argue whether it makes sense that people who are ‘content’ or ‘happy’ with the way things are going ‘don’t have time’ to go online. By ‘online’, our PM probably meant a portal to grumble, or spread malicious rumours, and that by ‘content’, he means people who’re too busy with day to day activities to find stuff to moan about. I can only think of monks and old people in senior citizen corners as examples of such shiny, happy (and oblivious) people.

PM Lee himself held a tea party for prominent bloggers and Internet sensations last August,  inviting people like Dr JiaJia and Mr Brown who are well versed in the art of political parody, and even unabashed, often angry political critic Andrew Loh.  I mean why not, bloggers and netizens have PLENTY of time on their hands, right? Maybe it was all a tactical ploy to lace these ‘unhappy’ lot of Internet vigilantes with anti-depressives. Or do away with the happy pills and simply showcase a barn owl instead.

Shiny unhappy people

If I were completely satisfied with my life and deeply involved in fruitful toil that keeps me off the Internet, it also makes me blissfully ignorant of current affairs, a modern-day Luddite if you will; in other words, the ideal citizen. But PM Lee’s forgetting about those who don’t go online to vent about the PAP, but are in a state of volatile discontent nonetheless. Some would bypass the forums altogether and launch a direct summons against the PM for taking his time to hold the Hougang by-election, like part-time cleaner Vellama Marie Muthu. Those of a more extreme bent would set MPs on fire, literally ‘flaming’ them. One may hypothesise that without an online channel for unhappy people to express their disappointment or anger at the government as a form of release, you’d have a riotous million man march on your hands, or at the very minimum protestors throwing not just pie, but kueh lapis, in our politicians’ faces.

The nation needs unhappy people to keep the government on their toes, while a ‘content’ population will only breed complacency. I’m not even sure why this surge of discontents bothers our PM anyway, after all he did brag about being ‘flame-proof’ didn’t he?