Covered linkways is money well spent

From ‘Covered linkways a much-needed facility’, 25 March 17, ST Forum

(Priscilla Poh Beng Hoon):  Providing covered linkways for people to transport nodes is definitely not spoiling the population (Use umbrellas at unsheltered areas by Mr Alex Yeo Eng Buan; March 16).

Covered linkways are a much-needed facility, especially for the wheelchair-bound, the elderly and those who use prams and trolleys. It is money well spent, considering the long-term and wider benefits to the community as a whole.

Using umbrellas, particularly on busy walkways linking up to transportation nodes, can inadvertently impede people’s movements because the objects take up more space. Wet umbrellas will also create puddles on MRT platforms and in buses, which may be slippery.

Certainly, money assigned to building communal amenities could be used for other purposes, like helping the poor.

But there are already many social outreach organisations across the spectrum, such as voluntary welfare organisations, community stakeholders and religious bodies, which ensure affected individuals and households receive help promptly.

The Government also provides support in the form of the ComCare scheme for the low-income. So, let’s not suggest that money for covered walkways be used to help the poor.

According to the LTA and HDB, covered walkways cost $200,000 to $600,000 per 100m to construct, excluding maintenance (Running short of shelter, 12 March 17, ST). When the walkway project was initiated in 1976 in a bid to make Singapore a pedestrian-friendly city, it cost $10 million.  A mild inconvenience of putting your handbag over your head, or running in the rain, costs nothing. For those who need a little help, like mothers with babies or old folks, you could offset the need to pamper our people with shelter wherever they go with a little kindness by sharing an umbrella, or stripping to overlay your shirt on puddles like a true gentleman. Though folks these days would rather forego the umbrella in place of a bulky portable phone charger.

We tend to take our public amenities for granted and this grousing about the lack of covered linkways is a sign that we’re a victim of our own success. We complain about the break in the linkway en route to the train station but forget that we practically have a train station at our doorstep. Would you rather walk without getting wet or scorched for 2km before even getting a glimpse of an MRT track? It’s the same thing with trees. We complain about not having enough trees for shade, but bash the authorities when one collapses on a car or kills someone at the Botanic Gardens.

What next? Charging stations along walkways? Or designated paths for personal mobility devices? How about we make our walkways air-conditioned? In the grand scheme of things we need to question our priorities when it comes to building ‘nice to have’ structures vs what is really essential. The money could be better spent on more disabled-friendly facilities like ramps for example, or upgrading our lifts so they don’t kill people.

 

Tangs having frying pan promotion on International Women’s Day

From ‘Department store TANGS panned for offering discounts on Women’s Day’, 10 March 2017, article in Today.

A popular Singapore retailer came under fire on Thursday (March 9) for “trivialising” International Women’s Day by cooking up a promotion offering cut-price frying pans. The department store chain TANGS marked the day, which falls on March 8 and is observed across the globe by women pushing for greater equality, by discounting a range of items, including two frying pans.

Other deals included beauty products, high heels and shavers.

The retailer sent out a promotional email to customers with the S$38 frying pan offers listed at the top, according to Marketing magazine. The deals were still listed on TANGS website on Thursday.

Campaigner Ms Jolene Tan said the promotion appeared to overlook the struggle of women in the city-state, who are pushing for better representation in company boardrooms.

“International Women’s Day is a day to honour the struggles of women for equality, safety and respect,” said Ms Tan, head of advocacy and research at Singapore’s Association of Women for Action and Research.

“Sadly, too many retailers present it as a consumerist event to be trivialised through sales and discounts rather than attention to the serious issue of gender equality.”

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If there ever were an International Men’s Day, and Tangs decided to have bargains on six-pack beers, remote controls, Crocs and cycling shorts, not only would NO ONE complain, but it would be a total non-event because men and shopping go together like AWARE and flour rollers.

So, what should retailers do to contribute to the recognition of women’s ‘place in the boardroom’? Discounts on designer power suits? Special edition name card holders? Wouldn’t that ignore other no less steely women like the the grandmother who’s also a taijiquan master, our Paralympian swimmers, nurses, Mother Theresa? Would Bollywood Veggies’ head honcho Ivy Singh-Lim call Tangs out for not having sales on potted plants and daisies? If these don’t apply, then International Women’s Day should really be renamed as ‘Alpha-women Day’, or better still, ‘AWARE day’.

For ages, the kitchen has been cast as a symbolic prison for the female of the species. Gone are the days of corsets and chastity belts, and women are referred to as the ‘weaker sex’. Though we had a minister who once said he would rather women spend money on mammograms over a trip to the salon, overall we still live in an era of ‘girl power’. The best selling artistes in the world are women, pop culture is awash with strong female characters, from Dragon Queens in fantasy epics to zombie hunters facing down the Apocalypse to goddamn nasty aliens.  We spend more on Mother’s than Father’s Day. Yet here we have feminists, in the face of a grim economic outlook, slamming deals on household items, footwear and cosmetics, because apparently women are not supposed to benefit from them on Women’s Day. Because the frying pan is the yoke that chains a woman to a livelihood of servitude. Throw away that apron, woman, and join the Sisterhood of the Travelling (Office) Pants.

Congrats Tangs, you just made yourself on the list of nominees for the ALAMAK AWARDS. Imagine the blood that would be spilled if they had offered promos on THIS instead.

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Cyclists paying road tax

From ‘Cyclists should pay road tax like other road users’, 23 Jan 2017, ST Forum

(Felix Heng Teck Seng): Currently, cyclists have special treatment on the road (“Pay to gain respect on the road? I’m in“; Jan 15).

They do not need to wear helmets, pass the Highway Code, or pay registration and road tax.

Yet, they want the same respect as other road users.

Not only is there a need to get cyclists to register and pay to use the road, but also, more importantly, they should be made to learn the Highway Code and pass tests before they are allowed on the road.

It is time to deal with this hot potato issue before more cyclists get killed.

In 1892, a certain Old Izaac shared the same concern about errant bicycles which cause ‘no small amount of nuisance’ and proposed that a tax be imposed on riders, just like how folk then paid to ride on horse carts. 125 years later, bicycles remain as fashionable as ever and people still call for these to be registered and cyclists to be taxed.

Problem is, we impose all kinds of regulations and levies on motorists and drivers still fuck shit up. Unless the revenue from bicycle taxes goes into building decent bicycle lanes, taxation will only serve as an empty, tedious bureaucratic exercise, but do this and you’ll have motorists howling louder than filthy rich golfers losing their turf to railway stations. Pedestrians will also complain because sharing bike lanes at traffic junctions means they can’t cut across to the other side of the road like a boss without suffering an altercation with a cyclist with a sense of entitlement because they pay goddamn road tax.

Errant cyclists will still remain as errant cyclists, Highway Code or not. But charge them tax and the worst of the lot will behave even more like their grandfather owns the road And let’s face it, Singapore is too hot and crowded to be a ‘walking city’. Everywhere you turn you’re bound to cross paths with joggers, cyclists, babies in strollers, hoverboarders, and people still playing Pokemon Go like it’s still 2016. Regulation is just an excuse of doing one’s job while avoiding the harder task of coming up with an actual solution. If you’re going to penalise everyone for any form of public locomotion for everyone’s safety, people are just going to stay at home, do their online shopping, get fat and die.

Singaporeans drowning in self-help books

From ‘Can Singaporeans read’, 14 Jan 2017, article by Kishore Mahbubani, ST

Many Singaporeans, especially some of our businessmen, were surprised and troubled by this obvious downturn in China-Singapore relations. Some were completely surprised by these events. They did not see them coming. Yet, some of these challenges in China-Singapore relations could have been predicted. Indeed, they were predicted. I, too, have made such predictions.

…In short, the warning to prepare psychologically for a rough road in US-China relations was given almost two years ago. Why was it not heeded? Perhaps not enough people knew or read about that prediction of mine. Another simple answer is that Singaporeans don’t read enough. And when they do read, their reading is narrowly focused.

One clue to what Singaporeans read is provided by The Sunday Times’ bestseller list. The list of non-fiction books should be seen as a national wall of shame. Instead of looking at the world and trying to understand how it is changing, Singaporeans indulge in self-help books.

…Week after week, Singaporeans drown themselves in self-help books. The underlying assumption of many Singaporeans seems to be that if I take care of my individual self, I will be fine. This assumption is a massive act of folly. We don’t live in a large, secure country. We live in a small, highly exposed, indeed, the most globalised country in the world.

Our destiny is more likely to be rocked by events happening outside of Singapore. Hence, if we don’t read books written about our external environment, we are committing national suicide.

The title of this essay should really be: ‘Can Singaporeans please read my book ‘Can Singapore Survive’? Because apparently, through the magic of non-fiction books, you can make a difference to Sino-Singapore relations. The esteemed Prof has harsh words for the state of our literacy and knowledge of current affairs. Basically, his piece can be summed up as: Singapore is FUCKED, so stop reading shit like this –

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Time to take out the broom for CNY spring cleaning, because such statements are sweeping.

I’m not a fan of self-help books, but where is the evidence that Singaporeans do not read about WORLD ISSUES. Has Mahbubani checked with the NLB on the borrowing rate by Singaporeans? Has he done observational field studies on the MRT or the bus? Granted, according to a 2015 survey on e-books, NLB reported that ‘the majority of English e-books borrowed are works of fiction such as thriller, science-fiction and romance novels. Non-fiction titles on self-improvement are also popular among adult readers’. This says as much of our current-affairs reading habits as ‘bestseller’ lists tell about people walking into bookstores. Even if it’s true, that we’re suckers for motivational schtick, maybe we should examine why Singaporeans  need to feel inspired and want to level up all the time, instead of decrying this habit as a terrible, soul-crushing shame.

His key source of reference is the Sunday Times BESTSELLER LIST. Firstly, we’re not even sure if his claim is accurate. According to the latest list on Jan 8 2017, the top bestseller is about the memoirs of a dying surgeon, there’s a biography about the Tesla visionary, and just a handful of books that teach you how to make shitloads of money or think like a champion.

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Also, we can’t tell from bestseller lists if these people are grunts merely supporting the author by throwing money at them, or just collecting titles on the bookshelf to impress guests at a party. Just having a book cover with a successful person’s face on it will give others the impression that you’re a driven, ambitious optimist, serving as a talisman boosting your self-confidence and hopefully, success. Nevermind that the only thing in the book you actually read was the blurb and accolades by other famous people about how the book will change your life.

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘7 Habits’ or a Stephenie Meyers kind of reader, reading in general benefits EVERYBODY, as pasttime or for serious study. Yet, you can be a scholar of Chinese military history and still do absolutely fuck-all about the situation right now. Or you can be some guy who complains about Singaporeans not reading enough and then indulge in publicity for your own work on the side.

Instead of fear-mongering and putting the blame on our political cluelessness, perhaps it would be more useful to educate Singaporeans with bite-size nuggets of history and geopolitics in a way that would titillate and intrigue them rather than literally throwing a collection of great speeches by LKY at us and saying ‘Nah, READ dammit!’. We live in an age of instant gratification and wasp-sized attention spans. The days of blowing dust off old tomes and being dazzled by the musty smell of paper are long over. If I want to know everything there is to know about Jack Ma, I’ll watch a documentary on Youtube, not buy an Omnibus of his Life story.

Yes, China is a monster, US is in shambles, and Singapore, the little red dot that people still think resides in the very same China monster, is a splinter of driftwood in a tumultous sea. Maybe there should be a self-help book on this, like ‘Negotiating with Big Bullies for Small Farts’.

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.

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.

 

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!