Orchard Road is kind of boring

From ‘Pedestrianising will only worsen woes of malls’, 21 Apr 2017, ST Forum

(Ronnie Lim Ah Bee): Shopping is no longer restricted to Orchard Road, where premium shops and foodcourts charge premium prices.

With big shopping malls sprouting up in neighbourhood centres and within walking distance of homes, there is little incentive to go down to Orchard Road.

The people who can afford premium shopping tend to be those who drive.

If they cannot drive to Orchard Road to shop, they might as well visit their neighbourhood malls.

The large crowds which are expected to come about with pedestrianising Orchard Road are more likely to be there to socialise and soak up the atmosphere than to shop.

Pedestrianising Orchard Road is going to do little to help the shopping malls along that road.

We all know what the writer means by people going there to ‘socialise and soak up the atmosphere’ but nobody wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room – why locals prefer to stay at home to do laundry than go ‘gai-gai’ along Orchard Road on Sundays. If the pedestrianising would benefit anyone it would be a certain group of foreign workers who could then dance unhindered on the streets beyond the confines of Ion.

It was only a year back when we realised that the car-free experiment was a failure from the retailers’ perspective. In the days of HMV and Tower records, Orchard Road was the go-to hub for music lovers. I could spend half a day browsing CDs or magazines at Borders. After school we would go ‘hang out’ at Macs at Far East Plaza, traipsing through the underpasses, transversing the Patterson Road crossing which could have been our own little version of the Shibuya landmark, or watch a movie at the old Lido. The family would look forward to Xmas lights, or chaperone the kids to piano lessons at Yamaha, Plaza Singapura. Today, the only reason for me to go ‘downtown’ is to catch a R21 movie or attend a book-signing at Kinokuniya. Even the buskers are moving out and entertaining commuters at MRT stations instead. The only ‘floods’ happening in Orchard aren’t the shopping kind, but those due to a random Act of God.

My feelings for Orchard died at the precise moment when Marks And Spencer took over Borders bookstore. I remember first walking into Borders mouth agape, awed by the sheer scale of it all, books stacked almost to the ceiling and the fact that you could just walk in and out without spending a cent or any of the staff bothering you. True, such musings may be merely blind nostalgia, that the people who say Orchard Road is kind of boring are the ones who lost what they loved most about the place. Still, GSS after GSS can’t save the hollow retail shells like the fancy-pants Scotts Square. Occasionally, some gastronomic hype like a Michelin-star ramen shop or a cafe/bistro would bring some buzz to Orchard, but people soon tire of novelty and business owners eventually move to the ‘suburbs’. I dare say ‘Haji Lane’, or even Criminal Minds:Beyond Borders’ Geylang would ring more bells in tourists’ minds than ‘Orchard Road’.

Orchard Road is no longer Instagrammable, and even if you get rid of the traffic and inject some flashy gotong-royong on weekends, with Good Morning towel-twirling trishaw riders and ice-cream sandwich carts etc, Singaporeans would rather jostle with sweaty crowds at some pop-up hipster event like Artbox, or watch a midnight movie at a neighbourhood mall so they don’t have to spend a bomb on taxi fare to get home. You can infuse the streets with all the local fanfare you want, but in the end it’ll still be a place where you have to pay almost $15 for a plate of mediocre Nasi Padang.

So let’s take a moment now to remember the Orchard Road of the past – and ask yourself if you’d rather spend your leisure in a place like this today or along a concrete stretch of copy-and-paste designer brands, flash-in-the-pan food joints and mobs of selfie-stick carrying revellers. I think we should just take the pedestrianising to the extreme and rewild Orchard Road so that becomes just the Istana and a green extension all the way to Botanic Gardens. Make it the ‘Central Park’ of Singapore instead.

Orchard Road is dead. Long live Orchard Road.

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Drink don’t drive ad difficult to understand

From ‘Simple language works best in public campaign advertisements’, 30 Jan 2017, ST Forum

(Michael Loh Toon Seng): An advertisement by the Singapore Police Force, Singapore Road Safety Council and Sgcarmart.com reads: “Get a ride home. Don’t drive to drink, and you will never drink and drive.”

It took me a while to figure out what the message was. At first, I thought it was saying that if you drive to drink, you will never drink and drive again because you will surely die in a road accident.

Why didn’t the ad just say that to avoid having to drive after drinking, don’t drive? A plain “don’t drink and drive” would also have sufficed, as there is strength in simplicity.

It is well and clever to use catchy phrases in ads, but if people cannot grasp a message’s meaning at the first reading, they will likely ignore it. Messages in public campaigns should use plain, easy-to-understand language so that they get the right message across.

The current anti-drunk-driving slogan may be tongue-twistingly catchy as “She Sells Seashells”, but breaks the first rule of public communications; it needs to be re-read at least twice. ‘Don’t drive to drink’ on its own already requires some cognitive juggling to interpret as ‘Don’t drive the car to the pub/bar’, while ‘you will never drink and drive’ requires a background understanding that drinking and driving is bad. There are limits to how you want to play around with words and puns in such a campaign, and while simplicity would work for the first time reader or drinker, people would soon grow tired of repetitive warnings and it’ll just become naggy after a while.

In 2011, the Traffic Police went for the jugular and presented the drink-driving message as an obituary, hoping to shock people into abandoning their cars and alcohol altogether. While the content was painfully obvious, some found it in bad taste.

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Like visuals of oozing cancer on cigarette packs, the authorities also tried to pump up the gore factor, with a 2009 campaign that looks straight out of a slasher flick. It may have been too ‘PG’ for some parents’ liking.

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So how do you find the middle ground between in-your-face viscera and pedantic finger-wagging? How about a morality tale of killing your best friend and living the rest of your life in eternal regret as an amputee in a wheelchair? This 2005 ad reminds boozers that it’s not just your life at stake when you DnD.

In real life, though, a different story pans out if you happen to be a Mediacorp celebrity. A decade back, Christopher Lee was jailed 4 weeks for drunk driving. Today, he’s still promoting bak kwa during CNY and likely to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award despite his past drunken indiscretion. Drink and drive, and all is forgiven.

Or a light-hearted approach with cute doggies? Check. Though some would say it trivialises a serious crime.

Not saying that such campaigns are entirely futile. The number of drink-driving cases reportedly fell in the first half of 2016, though that could also be attributed to the Government’s overall crackdown on public alcohol consumption, enforcement, the rise of private car hires, ride-sharing and bars offering valet services, or even ‘drink-counting’ apps. 

So, like the fact that smoking kills, everyone already knows that drunk-driving does too, but it’ll take more than blunt public announcements to steer the message home. Maybe the Traffic Police can turn their attention to campaigns urging people to actually drive in the right direction on roads too, like ‘Drive on the Right Side of the Road, or we’ll See you on the Other Side’. Hur. Hur.

 

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.

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.

All bicycles need to be regulated

From ‘All bicycles, not just electric ones, need to be regulated’, 26 Nov 2015, Voices, Today

(Alfred Lim): I support the suggestions in the letter “Greater regulation needed for electric bicycles, riders” (Nov 24). I would state further that every means of transport used on the roads, including regular bicycles, should be regulated. The growth in bicycle usage is unprecedented. Since the cost of motorcycle Certificates of Entitlement (COE) went up substantially, many have switched to bicycles, power-assisted or otherwise.

In land-scarce Singapore, car and motorcycle ownership is regulated in part by the COE system: There is a limit on the number allowed. Cars and motorcycles are required to be tested and insured, and are subject to ownership and usage laws. However, few regulations apply to bicycles, which were once few in number and hardly infringed on other road users’ rights. But this is no longer so. To be fair to all, the cost of bicycle usage cannot be zero or negligible.

Cyclists are not required to pass any test, which perhaps explains the unsafe behaviour seen regularly when they speed at pedestrian crossings, ignore the red light and disregard traffic laws. Being unregistered, they are rarely caught.

Bicycles require other road users to keep a safe distance; one occupies as much space on the roads as a motorcycle. They can cause accidents; hence, insurance is necessary.

Bicycles were once slow and cumbersome, but the new, lighter ones are capable of speeds nearing 50km an hour. Accidents could prove injurious to riders and other road users.

It is time to revisit the premise that we need not regulate bicycle ownership and usage. Accountability and regulation in this regard would be to the benefit and protection of all road users and pedestrians.

The call to issue licences to anyone who owns a bicycle is a case of backpedalling into the early 20th century, a time when bicycles were ‘slow and cumbersome’ and yet it was still dangerous to cycle one-handed while doffing your hat when a lady walks by.

In 1933, such measures were lauded as revenue-generating for the Government, in addition to deterring theft. Licensing did eventually come into play in 1936, with nearly 100,000 bikes being registered with the authority, and naturally, the Government took credit for  the subsequent reduction in traffic offences. I’m not sure if baby tricycles were spared, and whether it was your civic duty to report to the Police if you caught someone’s kid on an unauthorised vehicle blazing down the pavement without having to pass any sort of ‘test’ whatsoever.

In 1981, the Registry of Vehicles decided to scrap bicycle registration as they thought it was no longer sustainable to continue producing number plates and that it involved too much paperwork. The fee then was a measly $5. The very thought of applying for a licence for bicycle-riding today would turn many budding riders off, even if the fee is in the low double-digits. All this runs contrary to our vision of a cyclist-friendly nation. If roads do eventually appear to be safer following bicycle registration, it could merely mean that there are less cyclists on the streets, not because errant cyclists suddenly begin behaving more responsibly. You could register your killer pitbull with AVA, but if you don’t leash him in public there’s still the risk that it would bite someone’s face off.

Perhaps we should be thankful, for now, that the Government doesn’t already mandate bicycles to install ERP gantry readers. ‘To be fair to all’, as the writer suggests, maybe it’s not just cyclists who need to ‘pay’ for running riot on our streets. How about that oblivious jogger with earphones on, or those trolley-pushing cardboard collecting aunties? Or the uncle on a motorised wheelchair? Not every nail that sticks out needs to be hammered down.

The blunt instrument of regulation is not the answer to harmonious commuting. For cyclists, motorists and pedestrians to get around seamlessly requires creative rejigging of the current infrastructure given our space constraints. It requires smart policies coupled with enforcement, not slapping on another bureaucratic hoop that echoes the days when Mamasans rode around in trishaws.

Uber and Grabtaxi drivers requiring a vocational licence

From ‘Uber, Grabtaxi drivers may need vocational licence’, 10 June 15, article by Zachary Soh, My Paper

DRIVERS who run chauffeur services under ride-booking apps such as Uber could be required to obtain a vocational licence in the future.  While they are currently free from this requirement, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that it is looking into removing this exemption, as a way to ensure the safety of passengers taking private-hire rides.

In a forum letter published in The Straits Times, LTA noted that chauffeured vehicle services have become more accessible to the public with technology and given the industry’s recent growth, it is studying possible measures to safeguard commuter interest. The cab community has cried foul recently, following news of ride-matching apps and rental companies working together to run their own fleet of “taxis”.

The rental firms lease out cars to drivers at a rate cheaper than taxis. The drivers then use the vehicles to fulfil bookings from apps like Uber and GrabTaxi. These companies and drivers, however, do not have to meet the stringent requirements imposed on the taxi industry, such as vocational training.

…Meanwhile, Uber drivers have told The Straits Times that the time and money required to take a vocational course will be an extra burden for them. One driver, Yu Kim Reed, 30, asked why vocational licences have to be implemented now, given that chauffeur services have been around for so long. “The only difference is that a (car hire) call centre has been replaced by the Internet,” Mr Yu said.

According to the Sunday Times (Are ride-matching apps an UBER problem, 14 June 2015, ST), some Uber drivers do in fact ply their trade like ‘chauffeurs’. One subscriber known as ‘Marcus’ supplies mints, newspapers, water, even a socket for phone charging for his customers. Uber also has a strict rating system whereby any score below an average of 4.3 (out of 5) warrants a suspension or total ban, so drivers are forced to go the extra mile, sometimes literally.

Other requirements before becoming a full-fledged Uber driver include a 2 hour training session, online lessons, up to $5000 commercial insurance, and setting up your own company and registering your car for commercial use should you choose to drive your own vehicle. All that, however, doesn’t ensure passenger ‘safety’ as what LTA is hung up about. Then again, your safety isn’t guaranteed even if you’re in the backseat of a ‘proper’ taxi anyway, especially if you’re drunk and vulnerable.

One ride-sharing/matching app supporter explained in a letter to the ST that the business model satisfies a genuine need among frustrated passengers who have tried calling call centres and forced to ‘listen to their holding music’ (Ensure licensing doesn’t stifle progress, 12 June 2015, ST Forum). He also hinted at an element of ‘protectionism’ given that main players like Comfort Delgro, having tremendous ‘economies of scale’, still reap profits despite their high rental costs. As the occasional app-user myself, I tend to agree that there is a market for such services, more so if my Uber ride includes complementary perks like an iPhone charger or a bottle of champagne.  It is also a wake up call for regular cabbies not to disappear just before midnight charges kick in, not to rely on the customer for directions, or drive like demented road warriors in Mad Max.

Financial factors like app companies taking a cut from your earnings aside, 3rd party booking apps have their share of problems too. Grab Taxi requires you to exchange handphone numbers with cabbies, for instance. Passengers could screw you over by cancelling last minute or not appearing at the designated pick-up spot. You still risk having someone puke all over your backseat, or rob you with a box-cutter. Someone got duped into paying $97 to a fake Uber driver. But that is how ‘market forces’ work. If you want your privacy, or if you don’t trust private cars, take the train, but bear with the crowd and breakdowns, or fight with other flag-down passengers.

Ride-sharing/matching is still, at the very least, more reassuring than the ‘pirate taxis’ that once roamed the streets.  These flourished as early as the mid fifties, when entrepreneurial drivers capitalised on the bus strikes to perform a public service when people could no longer rely on the main form of public transport. Business was so competitive in fact, pirates were willing to charge 5 CENTS per mile and provide ‘doorstep’ escorting services.  It’s a misuse of the traditional use of the word ‘pirate’, though. These drivers aren’t plundering from anyone. They’re pirates like how people operate ‘pirate radio’ before the Internet. Comfort DelGro is your ‘Top Hits’ station, with the same old songs played to death, while Uber/Grab Taxi is where you get to hear the ‘cool stuff’ without ‘royalties’.

Of course, the Government had to clamp down on these guys and declare all out war, not so much that passengers were harmed by it, but because they had to protect the interests of our taxi-drivers, who were partly the reason why pirates had their supporters in the first place. Taxi drivers then tend to ‘choose’ tourists over locals, and people complained about their ‘attitude’ after an evening at the cinema. Today, taxis choose to wait in queue outside our casinos rather than pick you up when you’re stranded in some godforsaken ulu place past midnight. By the time you get an actual human voice on the Comfort Cab booking line, you would have been assaulted and left to die pants-down by the road.

In 1970, the Government coerced drivers into ‘job conversion’ in a bid to phase out pirate operations, and anyone who continued to go pirate would be fined and have their ride confiscated. In 1971, a man who depended on pirating as his livelihood was driven to suicide by traffic offences slapped by the police, among other debt woes. By 1975, the pirates returned to the new towns, because the waiting time for the only bus on the road was probably longer than that needed to set up your one-man taxi business.  Even if bus frequencies have since improved, we sometimes still watch helplessly as bus after bus zooms by, the captain ignoring your flailing arms, oblivious that there’s a gaping hole in the middle because nobody wants to move in.

Today, the authorities are considering a softer approach in contrast to the ‘Operation Pirate Taxi’ blitz of the past, but the fact that we’re even discussing frameworks and legislation now despite our ‘world class’ transport system, in view of the high demand for these apps (6 companies and counting, the LTA one not included), suggests that not enough is being done to move people around an increasingly crowded city efficiently. Well yes, there are good and bad Comfort drivers, just like there are good and bad Uber/Grab Taxi drivers, but there isn’t enough evidence to say that the one without an official licence is more likely to drive you off a pier and plunge into the river. For the record, regular taxis have driven into condo pools before. At least I know which of the two is more likely to carry a float just in case the unimaginable happens.

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of mandatory licensing, the first thing LTA should work on is figuring out what’s wrong with the current system, and consider the benefits of these apps not just in terms of moving the public, but as a form of employment, without having their judgement fudged by taxi giants with vested interest in seeing the demise of their hi-tech rivals.  In the meantime, if I want an ‘uber’ chauffeur service at a fraction of the price of an actual limousine, I know who to call.

Singaporean man setting himself on fire in JB

From ‘Singaporean man sets himself on fire in JB’, 13 April 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru. The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol. The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher. He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

In 1969, Ah Hock Keith Morrisson committed suicide ‘Vietnamese style’ by setting himself on fire with a tin of kerosene. His dramatic death happened within a few months of leaving the Singapore Infantry Regimen, during which he exhibited abnormal behaviour such as crying or staring in a daze. The ST described the fiery act as turning himself into a HUMAN TORCH, which is also a Marvel character and part of the Fantastic 4 assemble created in 1961.  A few years later, a Buddhist nun set herself alight ‘Saigon-style’ in a temple, using the same flammable liquid. It is not known if these were in fact inspired by a series of self-immolation protests by Vietnamese monks in the 60’s, or the result of a deadly obsession with a comic book hero whose entire body comes alight at will.

This man is on fire

This man is on fire

A quarrel over suspected infidelity combusted into suicide when 28 year old Madam Kalachelvi set herself on fire after hearing rumours of her husband’s cheating. The distraught husband followed suit. Suicide by self-torching continued into the 90’s, with a case of a 13 year old SCHOOLBOY performing the act after getting a scolding (Schoolboy, 13, set fire to himself after scolding in school, 28 Nov 1992, ST). In 2010, a man, reportedly suffering from mental illness, walked into a Shell petrol kiosk toilet and came out in flames. The most recent incident occurred at the Ceylon Sports Club, Balestier last August, with kerosene again found at the death scene. There’s no record of locals burning themselves to death for political causes as far as I know, though you could get in trouble for setting effigies of our Transport Minister aflame.

Singaporeans are renown petrol guzzlers in JB, some even stocking up petrol in cans in car boots to bring home. One Stomper caught Singaporean drivers attempting to bring these back across the Causeway disguised as engine oil containers (You can import up to 20 Litres without a licence). Other drivers are seen jacking up or shaking their cars  just to load more petrol, to get more bang for their Singaporean buck. With a reputation for such strange, kiasu behaviour, a lone man on foot asking to handcarry 4L of petrol wouldn’t seem too surprising, and the only reason I could think of as to why he had to do it in JB is that you can’t just walk into any shop to buy kerosene as if  it were cooking oil here.

A couple of years ago we were wracked by a spate of copycat suicides by drowning in reservoirs (which may actually be as painful and agonising as burning to death, both falling under the Top 10 Worst Ways to Die). One can only hope that this single act of self-immolation doesn’t, well, spread like wildfire.

Postscript: Stephen Lew Soon Khiang, 42, died of his self-inflicted injuries within a day, with doctors saying that he had just a 1% chance of survival.

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru.

The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol.

The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher.

He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/singaporean-man-sets-himself-fire-jb-20140413#sthash.a38528Iw.dpuf