William Farquhar should be honoured with a road

From ‘Name a road to honour Farquhar’, 3 June 2017, ST Forum

(Tay Zihan):  While Sir Stamford Raffles was the founder of Singapore, Lieutenant-Colonel William Farquhar was the First Resident Minister from 1819 to 1823. It was he who governed the new settlement in the absence of Raffles, who was stationed in Bencoolen.

Among other challenges, Farquhar had to work within a limited budget. To fund the administration, he raked in revenue through the sale of licences for vices such as gambling dens and gaming houses, and through the sale of opium and alcohol.

Raffles was furious when he returned to Singapore and saw what was happening, as he regarded these activities as immoral.

Despite the prosperity achieved through Farquhar’s diligent planning and governance, he was sacked.

…Other colonial residents are remembered by landmarks, such as Crawford Street, Crawford Lane, Crawford Bridge after John Crawfurd; Church Street after Thomas Church; Raffles Institution after Sir Stamford Raffles.

Singapore used to have a Farquhar Street. It was located between Beach Road and North Bridge Road. However, it was expunged in 1994 due to street realignment and site development.

Shouldn’t we consider naming another road to honour this man who laid the foundation of modern Singapore?

Despite having a surname that was the butt of jokes when I was in primary school, I don’t remember learning much about Farquhar’s role in transforming Singapore. He’s like the Garfunkel and Oates of our founding history, playing second fiddle to a character whose contributions have been disputed in recent days, a man who has his name stamped on an iconic hotel, a stinky flower and a range of health supplements among other testaments.

I’m guessing part of the reason why we don’t have a Farquhar Institution is that he’s being portrayed as the disgraced Scot here, running afoul with Raffles’ ‘lofty ideals’, though according to some accounts, Farquhar was the reason why Raffles decided to stay on in 1822. He was also credited as being the one who even suggested taking a look at Singapore during their scouting expeditions. Farquhar was also doing the dirty work as First Resident, keeping what Raffles deemed an ‘insignificant fishing village’ alive for 3 years while the boss was far away in Bencoolen. The fact that Farquhar resorted to gambling among other sins should not be something to frown upon these days anyway. It would in fact be hypocritical. Because M-fucking-BS that’s why.

The loss of Farquhar Street is indeed unfortunate. We still keep the controversial Petain Road. We name, rather inexplicably, roads after other countries (Hongkong Street, Holland Road). We have roads dedicated to Victorian royalty (Margaret Drive, Coronation Road, Duchess Road). Yet, nothing to honour a man who spent some years of his life holding the fort while the master is away making a name for himself.

A blogger from ‘Second Shot’ uploaded an old map bearing what was then Farquhar’s legacy in the Bugis area. Its erasure is sadly symbolic of how Raffles, the raffish George Michael of their Wham-like partnership, sent him packing for failing to turn the port into the crown jewel that it was intended to be.

Instead of arguing over whether Brit colonisation was worth celebrating over and why LKY was better than all these Englishmen combined, why not recognise individual effort where credit is due?

LTA, is the MRT station naming exercise still on?

Changi naval base renamed RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base

From ‘Problematic new name for Changi Naval Base’, 18 Feb 17, ST Forum

(Sunny Goh, Dr): Names and labels have been under scrutiny lately. While the Syonan Gallery has been hotly debated, one other name change has escaped attention: RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base (“Changi Naval Base’s new name to hark back to beginnings“; Feb 10).

It is problematic in two aspects. First, is the new name supposed to shift the emphasis away from “Changi” as the base onto the ship “Singapura”?

If so, this will force a contest between two historically powerful words, and not everyone will agree that the ship triumphs over the base.

Most people – visitors and taxi drivers included – will pick either RSS Singapura or Changi Naval Base. No one is going to blurt out the entire mouthful in everyday situations.

Second, how is the ship related to the base?

The RSS Singapura was a former Japanese minelayer that was berthed at Telok Ayer Basin and was used by the then Singapore Naval Volunteer Force as its headquarters from 1966 to 1968, while the base was officially opened only in 2004, almost 40 years later.

Those at the Republic of Singapore Navy must be able to account for this, if foreign dignitaries were to ask them about the name. From a practical point of view, there is another problem.

Over time, an abbreviation for the name will probably emerge – the same that has taken place for the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College (GKS CSC). But having seven letters, such as RSSSCNB, is itself unwieldy.

All of this begs the question: If the original name wasn’t broken, why fix it?

Just the day before, the Government made a reluctant and rather surprising U-turn after a public outcry over the Syonan Gallery, changing it to the mouthful’ Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies’, which sounds more like the title of a history textbook than an actual venue. What if my grandfather DIDN’T survive the Japanese Occupation? Wouldn’t this new name be a snub to those who sacrificed their lives during this horrific period?

Think ‘Changi’ and our world-famous airport comes to mind. But there was a time when naming our iconic airport after a place that evokes bloody war atrocities was deemed to be ‘in poor taste’. Brand it anything else to soothe psychological wounds and we may not have the Changi Airport as we know today. Similarly, I’d like to think that if we had retained ‘Syonan’ as a name for exhibitions, Singaporeans would learn to accept and move on over time like how ‘Changi’ became mundane, yet still retaining a prickly reminder of wartime history. Unfortunately, we’d rather sanitise our labels than learn to deal with them.

The ship RSS Singapura itself has some interesting history. Once bequeathed with the Japanese ‘WakaTaka‘, it was given its current name when Singapore joined Malaysia. It was also intended in the 60’s to be converted into a floating night club. Now thanks to the Syonan saga, we have to be wary of labels that summon wartime sensitivities, and by coming with up a practically useless and cumbersome hybrid-hyphenated name for the naval base, we’re injecting those affected with a double whammy; combining a ship that once served the Japanese Imperial navy and a place once associated with instituted mass murder.

Maybe the Navy should emulate Yaacob and reverse the decision after some ‘deep reflection’.

 

Syonan a great insult to Singapore

From ‘Name is a great insult to S’pore’ and ‘Why should we name our gallery Syonan’, 11 Feb 17, ST Forum

(Ong Lay Eng): The name Syonan is a great insult to Singapore and Singaporeans (“Revamped war museum’s name sparks questions“; Feb 10).

We must not forget the war crimes of the Japanese during World War II and the immense sufferings Japan inflicted on our forefathers. This is Singapore’s history and we need to tell our descendants what their forefathers experienced.

(Gan Kok Tiong): If the gallery at the war museum was created by the Japanese for the people in their own country, then I would have nothing to say (“Revamped war museum’s name sparks questions“; Feb 10).

But in this instance, this is our gallery to show Singaporeans the atrocities and humiliation that our people, especially the Chinese, suffered during the Japanese Occupation.

What was light to the Japanese was calamity to the people of Singapore. I suggest that the name be changed to the hanyu pinyin shounan and zainan, meaning “calamity” in English; or simply “The Japanese Occupation Gallery”.

Last year, the National Gallery decided to name a gala event as ‘The Empire Ball‘ and anti-colonialists freaked out. Likewise, any reference to ‘Syonan’ would conjure images of our once imperialist tormenters decapitating prisoners or stabbing babies in mid-air with their bayonets. Though Syonan-to translates to ‘Light of the South‘, those 3 years and 8 months of the Japanese occupation were dark times indeed, but with the state of the world under a Trumpian leadership, perhaps our darkest days are yet to come.

But would this furore over historical fact be a case of jumpy denialism? Would simply naming the museum the ‘Japanese Occupation Gallery’ downplay the grisly emotional heft of ‘Syonan’, a word that implies utter domination and a loss of national identity? How would these symphatisers feel about the word ‘Nippon’, as in ‘Nippon-Go‘ (Japanese language), which children during then-Syonan were expected to attain a ‘complete mastery’  over, since it was the ‘lingua franca’ of Malaya? Or would they complain to MOE if teachers dashed into history class dressed as Japanese soldiers shouting ‘Banzai’?

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Yes, we should not forget the dreadful war crimes inflicted upon our forefathers, even as we fiercely embrace Japanese culture today – from otaku to sakura, sashimi to hentai. But self-censoring a part of history just because certain people find it ‘insulting’ is exactly what our rulers tried to do with their propaganda drives during the Occupation. Now that, in my opinion, would be the true ‘calamity’.

UPDATE(17 FEB 17): After some ‘deep reflection’ by Yaacob, it was decided that Syonan Gallery would be renamed as the less hurtful-sounding ‘Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”. Well, maybe not deep enough. You can’t even abbreviate the place now. If you’re taking a cab, you’ll probably have to tell the driver to take you to ‘the place formerly known as Syonan Gallery’.

Now let’s do something about ‘Syonan Jinjia (shrine)’ in Macritchie reservoir, perhaps ‘The Temple in the Woods that commemorates the Dead of our Japanese oppressors’

National Gallery Gala ‘Empire Ball’ in poor taste

From ‘National Gallery Singapore drops the theme of its gala dinner following public criticism’, 21 Sept 16, article by Huang Lijie, ST

The National Gallery Singapore has dropped the theme, The Empire Ball, from its upcoming fund-raising gala after having drawn flak from the public for it.

Those who spoke out against the theme say the use of the politically fraught term, “empire”, which carries with it the idea of colonial oppression, is in poor taste for a celebratory event. The fund-raiser is now known simply as the National Gallery Singapore Gala.

…The gala’s theme was publicised on its Facebook page earlier this week and since Tuesday (Sept 20), it has drawn public feedback, including comments from artists and curators, about the theme being insensitive and dismissive of the violence and scars of imperialism.

Artist-curator Alan Oei, 40, who is also the artistic director of the independent arts centre The Substation, wrote to the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth on Tuesday, urging that the museum reconsiders how the gala is framed.

He said in the letter that the historically fraught term “empire” is usually associated with the “shameful, oppressive epoch” of imperial rule, although there are some like historian Niall Ferguson, who recognise that “Empire has also been a positive force”.

So far, no Singaporean has rejected the prestigious OBE (Order of the British EMPIRE) award because it reeked of bloody colonial oppression. We also don’t boycott Daiso or Sushi Tei because Japanese icons give us painful reminders of the days of the Occupation. Yet somehow, a certain generation of Singaporeans still suffers from a debilitating ‘colonial hangover’.

In 2013, those who still reel from the after-effects of a ‘shameful, oppressive epoch’ complained about an archway in Queenstown proclaiming ‘Long Live the Queen’.  Despite such disdain for the Crown that once ruled us, we still feted the Royal Couple when they came to visit. Raffles Hotel, a distinctive reminder of a traumatic era still stands till this day, where Singaporeans and visitors alike, seemingly ignorant of the evil Empire’s decadent history, continue to sip Singapore Slings at the Long Bar.

With the recent Brexit, you would expect chills from the ghost of a marauding Union Jack to wane, but noooo shame on you National Gallery, you might as well name your gala ‘The White Gentleman’s Club’. Take the ‘The Time of Empire‘ tour if you dare, and experience sheer misery while strolling down Coleman street and its sickeningly imposing ‘early colonial architecture’.

Today, mention the words ‘Empire’ and ‘Ball’ in the same sentence and most Singaporeans would not think of white superiority, lawn cricket or opium trading, but a galactic spherical spaceship cum weapon of planetary destruction. Well nothing that a Death Star can do that the horrible British Empire can’t top, eh.

Singapore no longer known as SIN at sporting events

From ‘No more SIN, it’s SGP at sports meets’,

Singapore will no longer be abbreviated as SIN at international sporting events. Look out for SGP instead.

The country-code change was approved by the International Olympic Committee last month, following a proposal made by the Singapore National Olympic Council.

The first major Games where the new code can be used is at next year’s Sapporo Asian Winter Games.

Mr Low Teo Ping, Singapore’s chef de mission at the recent Rio Olympic Games, said he has been asked “a thousand times” at sports events why the country adopted the old code, with its negative connotations. Mr Low, who is also Singapore Rugby Union president, said: “It’s not so much a derogatory way of interpreting the old code.

“It hasn’t done us any harm.

“But, at the same time, it’s also not funny after a certain point of time.”

Mr Low added that there is uniformity now, as Singapore’s United Nations country code is SGP. But its International Air Transport Association airport code remains as SIN.

He said: “I think that the change is for a good reason. UN has been using this (code), so it’s nice to be known like this internationally.” SEA Games 200m sprint champion and national record holder Shanti Pereira said that the change is not a big deal.

The 19-year-old athlete added: “We will get used to it. It’s a good thing that it still starts with an ‘S’.

In 2014, a forum writer brought the ‘negative connotations’ of SIN to light, asking if it was in our NATIONAL INTEREST to retain the ‘SIN’ brand. Today, his wish is granted, though renaming Singapore to SGP is unlikely to make us less, well, ‘SINful’.

Not sure if other countries have done the same because their country code is offensive or sounds’ funny’ . Brazil remains as BRA, Liechtenstein is LIE, Madagascar is MAD, and Moldova’s is a shortform of a recreational drug (MDA). SIN sounds tame in comparison. Changing it will only make everyone realise how much ‘SIN’ bothers us, though many believe we’ve committed an atrocious one depriving gold-medal Paralympian winner Yip Pin Xiu of the $1 million prize that able-bodied athletes get for Olympic victory.

Whether it’s SIN or SGP, it’s our representatives’ performance and behaviour in the sporting realm that matters more than country codes, though sometimes the embarrassment comes in the form of ridiculous national attire. Like having the national flag splayed across our water polo boys‘ crotches.

Nursing home’s Chinese name is blunt and insensitive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eunoia in the Bible alludes to sexual relations

From ‘New JC name lacks local relevance, historical context’, 31 Dec 15, ST Forum

(Estella Young): The choice of an obscure word of Greek origin for the name of Singapore’s newest junior college suggests that despite our year-long SG50 extravaganza to honour Singapore’s history, we still have so little confidence in our ethnic roots that we uncritically look West for grand and noble concepts (“Get your tongue around Eunoia, the newest JC“; yesterday).

I certainly appreciate Greece’s historical and philosophical contributions to human civilisation.

But Asia – where Singapore is located, and from where most of its citizens hail – is similarly rich in achievements and in cultural depth.

Instead of importing an esoteric word from a country more than 9,000km away – which the Bible uses, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, to allude to sexual relations – could the Ministry of Education (MOE) not have found a more familiar one rooted in Sanskrit, Tamil, Chinese or Malay?

Asian cultures do not lack words for personal virtues, achievement, or the pursuit of knowledge.

As it stands, Eunoians are likely to be nicknamed “Eunnoyances” or “Eunuchs” by rival schools (“Eunoia JC? Please rethink the name“; ST Online, yesterday).

At first glance ‘eunoia’ looks like the scientific name of a wildflower, or one of the moons of Saturn. It’s tedious on the tongue and in written form due to the consecutive vowels. It makes you check twice like how one is careful with words like ‘unctuous’ or ‘bulbous’. Nevermind if it describes something beautiful, the word looks, and sounds awkward. It’s only slightly less esoteric than the singer Prince calling himself Prince logo.svg in the 90’s.

Despite the ministry issuing a guide to pronouncing Eunoia (yoo-noe-iea) and not ‘you-know-yah’, a Greek language expert asserts that it should be a 4 syllable word ‘Eh-yu-no-ya’ (Eunoia pronounced as four syllables in ancient greek, says language expert, 31 Dec 15, ST) instead. Between MOE and someone who actually speaks the language, my money is on the latter, though the professor isn’t helping the JC and its Eunoians by confirming our initial guess of ‘You Know Yah’, now with the additional ‘EH’ in front. Some other sources say that it should be ‘eff-ni-ah’.  At least people won’t argue over the pronunciation of names like ANGSANA Primary School. At least that has ‘local flavour’. Still, why is it we’re OK with naming primary schools after local flora but cringe if we suggest things like ‘Orchid JC’ or ‘Chiku JC’?

But to be fair, calling the new JC ‘Bishan JC’ will bring its own share of criticism, that it lacks originality, or can be abbreviated to ‘BJC’, which will draw some low-brow smirks. Someone else suggested ‘Trinity’ JC, but that sounds too much like an academy for priests, nuns and sorcerers. Unlike hospitals, we don’t usually name schools after billionaire philanthropists these days. So, you know ya, it ain’t easy coming up with a JC name. It’ll be a tough call, though, if the alternative to Eunoia happens to be an equally silly-sounding Merlion JC. In any case, MOE is refusing to budge, and maintains that their pronunciation is correct, nevermind what a Professor of Greek Studies, Aristotle, Paul of the Bible or Zeus, God of Thunder says.

So how did ‘beautiful thinking’ become corrupted into a sexual euphemism in the bible? According to the First Corinthians Bible Commentary, eunoia refers to a spouse’s ‘conjugal duty’ to satisfy the other’s sexual needs. ‘Eu’, the adverb (good, well), combined with ‘noia’ (mind) form the compound word ‘benevolence’. In the context of sex, I would read it as if you’re a ‘good’ husband or wife, you don’t ‘mind’ performing your conjugal duties. It’s ironic that someone would call a Eunoian a Eunuch then.

Curiously enough, the Chairman of the SCGS (part of the Integrated Programme trinity of schools making up EJC) board is named EULEEN Goh.  Let’s hope, for the future Eunoians’ sake, that the board has the ‘eunoia’, good mind and benvolence, to change the name and spare their students from the ‘paranoia’ of being mocked by others.