Anti-football railings erected in HDB void deck

From ‘Void deck railings to stop ball games’, 25 Feb 2016, article in ST

A set of barriers that caused confusion among residents of a Queenstown Housing Board block when they were installed at its void deck were set up to stop football being played, Tanjong Pagar Town Council clarified yesterday.

Three railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday, leaving residents scratching their heads and wondering what they had been put there for.

One Facebook user posted a photograph of them and wrote: “(This) space, originally filled with so much potential for use and creativity, is now effectively transformed into a dead space.”

The miscreants were told to stop playing football, as it was not allowed in the area, but to no avail. “Upon discussion with (MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Chia Shi-Lu) and the Residents’ Committee (RC), we installed the barricades… to discourage football activities.

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It’s a dark day for humanity when kids playing soccer in a void deck are called MISCREANTS by journos. The guy on the train playing his handphone game at full blast is a miscreant. The couple having a sex tryst in the stairwell are miscreants.  Amos Yee is miscreant extraordinaire. A town council that wastes our money building obstacles to stop fun things from happening, hence destroying a child’s dream of becoming the next Fandi Ahmad, is the worst offender of them all.

Void decks have been romanticised as ‘community spaces’ and people have won photography contests capturing them in all their concrete, uniquely Singaporean glory. These places are where foreign workers eat and sleep, Chinese traditionally mourn and weep, Malays rejoice in matrimony, Indians sell sundries, a home next to home resonant with chapteh memories, the rustle of old hanging magazines at the mama shop, the echoes of neighbours’ greetings, the squawky horns of the karang guni man and, soon to be a thing of the past, the thuds of balls bouncing off the walls. Void decks were designed to break down the walls between us, but now we’re building them up again.

An entry for the Singapore Stories exhibition, by Alphonsus Chern, 2012

Sometimes barriers do more harm than good. We all know of glass doors in shopping malls that shatter over little children. When the LTA built an anti-bicycle deterrent on overhead bridges to persuade cyclists to get off their bikes, somebody crashed into it and became paralysed. Other bicycle barriers built along void decks proved to be an obstacle not just to errant cyclists, but the disabled as well. If you’re wheelchair bound the only railings you want to see are those you can hang on to for dear life, not those placed in a manner that makes traversing a void deck as painful as solving a booby-trapped labyrinth designed by an evil dungeon master who just wants to fuck with your mind.

If your rose garden is invaded by a family of gophers, grow them on a minefield. This is what erecting barricades in a void deck says to you when you’re home after a hard day’s work. You’re not welcome. Keep out. We already deal with metaphoric cages and choke-chains on a daily basis, and now we’re punished with physical, spiritually toxic ones right below our homes. That’s right, with these new fittings the void deck underneath your flat now looks EXACTLY like a GE polling station save for the yellow lines that you’re not supposed to cross. 24/7. Whatever your opinion of void deck football, about how flying balls tend to hit pregnant women smack in the bellies or how the miscreants of the night keep you awake, you have to admit that this idea is balls-out bonkers.

There is already a dismal lack of play spaces to kick a ball around these days, what with people complaining that grass patches are becoming bald because of the sport. Unlike those up there who only know how to build fences when they can’t figure out how to shepherd a flock, kids these days have more creative ways of wriggling their way around the iron clasps of authority, at risk of putting themselves in even greater danger. Put up a fence and I will climb it. Build a wall and I will tag it with graffiti. Obviously the town council hasn’t heard of parkour, or  groin-crushing skateboarding tricks. Worse, they may give up football altogether and turn your void deck into a flying kendama death trap.

But maybe it’s not just kids who will make the most out of these ugly obstacles. We may lose our football, but we may yet become a nation of champion hurdlers, steeple chasers or calisthenic spider-warriors if those barriers could be put to actual use. Alternatively, if you’re not the active type, you could lean around it fantasising about waiting for the bus, while the foreign worker grumbles next to you about having one more damn thing to wipe down.

National Stadium a white elephant paraded for profit

From ‘Privatisation of Sports Hub not financially feasible’, 19 Dec 2015, Voices, Today

(Quek Soo Beng): The report “High costs ‘a new reality’ with new National Stadium” (Dec 17) about the stadium’s high rental costs is a wake-up call that is not unexpected. As with renting an office space, rental costs vary with capacity. Return on capital and net profitability are realities of any commercial enterprise, as they are in the way the Sports Hub is set up.

It seems the pricing problem has more to do with the public-private arrangement than with the Sports Hub’s management. In a small country, privatisation is often not financially feasible. We’ve seen that with the MRT system, and now the Sports Hub.

…Singapore can justify only one huge sports stadium. Switching it back and forth for concerts and other non-sporting purposes, while necessary to increase usage and revenue, is fuelling operating and management costs and, ultimately, pricing problems.

Any solution that is not financially viable or prudent will not do. Otherwise, under persistent public and government pressure, the demise of the Sports Hub organisation, as it is now modelled, will be only a matter of time.

We cannot have our cake and eat it. The National Stadium is an iconic asset. Let it not become a white elephant to be paraded for profit.

The $1.33 billion Sports Hub costs nearly as much as the Gardens by the Bay, and since the NDP impasse people are already wondering if this behemoth is turning out to be a stupendous waste of money. Already 2 senior management staff have been given the boot over contract disagreements, following in the footsteps of stadia pitch expert Greg Gillin in 2014. Even before a single event was staged, we had problems with its ‘sandy turf’, which threatened to make the stadium not just a white elephant, but probably the most expensive artificial beach in the world.

But maybe it’s not just an issue of rental costs. The original National Stadium had its attendance woes too. In 1958, Financial Secretary T. M Hart, a cricket-loving Scotsman,  slammed the idea of building a ‘white elephant, full every 4 years‘, that Jalan Besar stadium would be good enough at the time. Come the 70’s, despite it being the ‘golden age’ of Singapore soccer, we had to bring in English league teams to draw the crowds, with the SSC boss then continuing to defend the charges that the National Stadium wasn’t making money. More than 10 years ago we saw a dip in confidence filling up seats for tournaments such as the Asian Cup. Dreams of a ‘Malaysia Cup’ resurgence recently died when our Lions were kicked out of the Malaysian Super League. Today, we merely encased that same beast in a shiny dome, gave it a new name, and baptised it with superstars like Jay Chou (whose concert some fans described as a total washout)

The hallmark of any advanced civilisation is that you can afford to build a state-of-the-art Colosseum for the ages. Singapore’s vanity project is no different.  Other mega-structures like the Singapore Flyer, for instance, have already fallen into disuse, but it remains an indispensable fixture of our world-renown skyline. Our billion-dollar dome will remain iconic for decades to come no doubt, but if nothing is done about its management or our general waning interest in sports, it will become, as one ang mo skeptic prophesised half a century ago, ‘full only every 4 years’, an empty shell containing nothing but distant echoes of its once glorious past, making ends meet only when Jay Chou comes to town.

ASEAN Para athletes taking the MRT to venues

From ‘Para-athletes voice support for ASEAN Para Games transport option’, 8 Oct 2015, article by Justin Ong and Wendy Wong, CNA.

As organisers of the ASEAN Para Games sought to assuage concerns that para-athletes competing in December’s Games in Singapore would be travelling to venues via MRT trains, local athletes have voiced both support and concern for the move.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Oct 8), para-swimmer Theresa Goh said that those competing in the Para Games have not yet been officially briefed on the transport arrangements, but said that the option to take the train was “not a bad idea”.

…The Singapore ASEAN Para Games Organising Committee (SAPGOC) said in a hastily called news conference on Thursday afternoon that the MRT is just one option available, and that shuttle buses will be used to ferry competitors to venues.

SAPGOC chairman Lim Teck Yin stressed that their first priority was the “well-being and care of the athletes”. He also said that the train arrangement was a means “to bring the ASEAN Para Games closer to the people” and that athletes would have the option to choose whichever mode of transport they are most comfortable with.

However, able-bodied national racewalker Edmund Sim said he was puzzled by initial reports suggesting the MRT would be the main transport arrangement for para-athletes. “In major Games, there are higher priorities such as managing competition stress to fret over. As much as possible, I am sure the athletes will prefer little fuss over logistical matters.”

As for organisers’ point that taking the MRT could promote “inclusivity”, Sim said there are “other ways to showcase social acceptance”. “Public transport to ferry (athletes) during a major event is a bad move. You must remember there will be spectators taking the same train or bus too.” The reputation of Singapore as host in the international arena is at stake as well, he added.

Able-bodied rower Nadzrie Hyckell, a SEA Games silver medallist, said the MRT could be a faster mode of transport, but questioned why it was not used for competitors during the SEA Games in June.

“Did they test this method? Like whether it is easier for the athletes?” he asked.

In a paper written by Jorain Ng from the Disabled People’s Association titled ‘Achieving Inclusion in Transport‘, numerous barriers of accessibility to those with special needs were identified. We have oblivious commuters hooked to their devices standing on tactile indicators, frequent breakdown of lifts and escalators (not to mention the trains themselves) and clueless MRT wardens. One Forum writer complained of able-bodied people using the disabled MRT toilets as dressing rooms. (Limit use of toilets for the disabled at MRT stations, 2 Sep 15, ST Forum).

Although Stadium station is only 3 stops away from where the Para athletes are staying, one has to wonder if our infrastructure and MRT staff are up to par when it comes to accommodating even a couple of blind commuters, not to mention entire contingents of people with various disabilities. Getting on board is one thing, being compromised by a train delay, by an ugly commuter, or someone using the disabled toilet for hanky-panky while the whole world is watching (including new Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan), is quite another.

As for ‘promoting inclusiveness’, what does chairman Lim Teck Yin expect of Singaporeans when they see Para athletes waiting for the train? Give them hugs of encouragement, assuming Singaporeans even KNOW about the Games? Will there be ‘priority lines’ for ASEAN Para teams just like how vehicles are expected to give way to SEA games buses? If not, are we telling the world that it’s OK to give able-bodied sportsmen and women traffic privileges but not those on wheelchairs and walking sticks?

If I were an athlete, disabled or otherwise’, I’d probably be more concerned about getting to my venue on time instead of mingling with the local population. These people are here to win medals, not your sympathy. They could have gotten SEA games marathon runners to jog directly to their venues and mingle with our local joggers, but noooo, they had to hide and ferry them around in air-con buses, with not even an open top deck for us locals to wave, cheer and toss bouquets of flowers at. I suppose those are reserved for PAP victory parades once every 5 years.

Alternatively, if cost was really the issue, the organising committee could have looked into chartering trains en masse, like what ACS did to bring their boys to a rugby final. And considering that people tend to behave better when they see imposing men in uniform with weapons, up the kiasu level and activate the SAF (for free, too) to make sure things go according to schedule.

Grass patches becoming bald because of football

From ‘Grass patch not a suitable place to play football’. 28 July 15, ST Forum

(Cheng Ming Kang): I am a resident in Redhill and, unlike Mr Simon Owen Khoo Kim San (“Let kids have a place to play football”; last Thursday), I am relieved that football is no longer being played on the grass patch downstairs.

Playing football at that green patch poses two problems for nearby residents. First, as the area is not meant for playing football, the grass patch has become bald in parts after many months and looks unsightly among the surrounding greenery.

Second, as the grass patch is not a proper area for football, there are no barriers to prevent the ball from hitting residents who are in the vicinity.

In fact, I have observed multiple occasions where there were near misses. There are proper places where football can be played safely for both the players and residents.

Sports Singapore has opened up football fields in schools for public use, and there are two schools in our neighbourhood.

We’re no longer living in kampung days when you can kick a ball around in any open space and not worry about your neighbours complaining. They may even join you in a round of spontaneous frivolity. The Fandi Ahmad tribute video titled ‘Ordinary’ is a throwback to the organic, dusty age of village soccer. The legends we know today did not fall in love with the the sport inside gated school football fields under the watchful eye of PE teachers; they challenged strangers in their backyard, they used slippers as goalposts, they didn’t have useless offside rules, and when they’re done they got a trouncing from their moms for messing up their shirts. Cue Fab commercial.

Today, with grassy patches becoming ever scarcer that you have to fight for space with picnicking foreign workers or dog-walkers with their bags of poo, most ‘street soccer’ as we know it has ended up on basketball courts. Which partly explains why Singapore sucks in both sports; you can’t play a full court match of either game without having to give way when the other party tries to score a basket, or a goal, on either end. These days, you’re more likely to see people playing cricket on a Sunday in an open patch by the MRT station. Sometimes there’s this lone guy sitting on a grass patch all by himself and no one wants to enter the field in case they interrupt his quest for nirvana.

Playing in void decks remains illegal, you can’t kick around in your own home without the neighbours complaining, and that open field you used to tumble about in has become barricaded for development of yet another carpark or fitness corner which ends up as an outdoor clothes rack. Lack of open spaces aside, our boys and girls are simply not interested in the ‘beautiful game’ anymore, which you can lay the blame square on parents for believing there’s ‘no future’ in the sport, and forcing you to go for tuition instead of roughing it out and getting dirty with your kakis. Or you could blame the internet for us being ranked below bloody Barbados in the FIFA standings.

When you do eventually find a spot for footie, you get residents like the writer above telling you off because your running about is marring the natural landscape, or they’re scared shitless about suffering concussions from careening balls. Such fears are not unfounded of course, though it’s just as likely that you’ll get felled by killer litter when you’re walking around your block,  knocked down by someone on a bicycle or electric scooter, or get your eye impaled by a smashed shuttlecock gone awry. I’m always wary of being hit in the face by someone’s flying shoe when I’m in the vicinity of a sepak takraw match.

Lawrence Wong would love to see kids playing soccer in random places, of course, despite all the ominous ‘State Land’ signs that tell us to stay the hell away. Unless some wealthy philanthropist with a passion for local soccer decides to open up his backyard to public, we’ll remain a space-starved nation with more people wearing wannabe club jerseys than those actually owning, or playing with an actual football.

SEA games carnival ping pong table copying artist’s work

From ‘Quirky ping pong table at SEA games carnival resembles work by Singaporean artist’, 6 June 2015 article by Mayo Martin, CNA.

A circular ping pong table at the South-east Asia Games Carnival for children at Sports Hub which bears a striking resemblance to a famous artwork by a Singaporean artist has prompted criticism online.

Cultural Medallion recipient Lee Wen has said he was unaware of it of the table at the Sports Hub. His own interactive artwork, titled Ping Pong Go-Round, has the same circular features, which allow for multiple players. Variations of it have been shown in different exhibitions and fairs such as his solo retrospective in 2012 and last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong. Most recently, it was part of an exhibition of Singapore artists at the ArtScience Museum.

…“I’m trying to find out who’s in charge and talk to them to ask them to stop exhibiting until they settle with me,” he added. “It’s good that they picked up the idea but it’s as if they didn’t think it has been done before. I think they should at least talk to me. I’m thinking of asking for some compensation in terms of artists rights because according to one lawyer I’ve talked to, it’s probably an infringement of copyright.

…The ping pong table in question, called 300° Table Tennis, carries the logo of Atos, a French technology firm appointed by the organising committee to manage the information technology for the Singapore games.

While it forms a “C” and Lee’s work is a complete circle, the latter said his artwork could easily be manipulated and rejigged so that users could enter the central space.

Lawyer George Huang was quoted by the ST (‘Horseshoe shaped ping pong table by SEA games organiser similar to artwork by artist Lee Wen, 5 June 2015’) as saying that Lee’s ping pong table is ‘very simple’ and it’s possible for anyone to come up with the same design independently. Well, everything is obvious on hindsight, George.

According to IPOS, ‘artistic works‘ may be protected under copyright law, but the ‘idea or concept’ of the sport of table tennis isn’t. So what happens when the worlds of art and sport collide and you have an exhibit that’s viewed as ‘artwork’ in a museum, but can also easily pass off as a fancy variation of a traditional game at a sports carnival? If I’m an artist and I put up a ‘performance’ involving a badminton racket with a chapteh instead of a shuttlecock, do I have a case if someone makes it an actual Olympic sport? What if I put people in ridiculous sumo suits and make them play touch rugby? Or captain’s ball. On trampolines?

Ping Pong Go Round isn’t JUST about bouncing balls to one another, of course. The artist himself uses the analogy of a ‘dialogue‘ between players on opposite sides, like a circular conference table. In other reviews, it’s described as a re-invention of the game in the context of ‘contemporary possibilities’. Meaning, instead of playing against one person you could easily switch to another, or play against both simultaneously. There’s not much room to manouevre if you’re in the inner hole with other players, though. So much for ‘broader dialogue’. I could add some crazy rules to the standard gameplay and make it a new sport, or work of art, if I want to. Like playing across 2 table-lengths, playing with two balls simultaneously or you’re only allowed to hit the ball with your batting arm behind and around your back.

Still, It’s a refreshing change from what we usually associate with ‘performance art’, which incidentally was once banned by the NAC in 1994 after someone snipped his pubic hair in public. Lee Wen himself is famous for his ‘Yellow Man’ work as an emphasis on his Chinese ethnicity, where he painted himself yellow from head to toe and described it as ‘wearing a full body mask’, a possible inspiration for the phenomenon known as ‘zentai’ today.

To the layman participating in this ‘interactive artwork’, it’s just crazy ping pong joined in a circle, and probably as fun and innovative as other insane sports mash-ups like roller-frisbee, hockey-golf, basket-polo or bubble-soccer. You’re not going to get inspirations on how to improve your next meeting with the bosses. But hey, ART man.

UPDATE (13 June 15): Sport Singapore acknowledged Lee’s work and has made a goodwill payment, hence resolving the issue amicably.

Sharon Au mocking Indian accent at SEA Games ceremony

From ‘SEA Games: Host Sharon Au apologises for insensitive remarks during opening ceremony’, 6 June 2015, article by Lee Min Kok, ST

Former MediaCorp actress Sharon Au has apologised for her attempt at mimicking an Indian accent during Friday night’s SEA Games opening ceremony pre-show at the National Stadium.

…Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist Bhavan Jaipragas had accused Au of putting on a strong Indian accent to mock a young Indian girl sitting in the stands. He also said Au made fun of the girl’s name. Jaipragas detailed the controversial incident in a Facebook post on Friday evening, in which he called on Au and the organising committee to apologise.

“In an audience interaction segment before the start of the SEA Games opening ceremony at the National Stadium, emcee Sharon Au approached an Indian girl seated in the stands. The girl did not properly perform the act – saying aloud a line welcoming foreign contingents (others before her didn’t get it right too). Au, speaking into a mike and with the cameras trained on her, shockingly put on a strong Indian accent, and while shaking her head from right to left asked the girl: “What (Vat) happened? What happened?” he wrote.

Sharon Au is set to play Mrs Lee Kuan Yew in an upcoming musical, and here she is forced to apologise for putting on an Indian accent in front of an Indian kid, complete with unnecessary head movements. People have complained about thick Indian accents on radio and in plays, and anyone who takes Bollywood culture a step too far by going blackface at a Dinner and Dance are labelled downright racist. You also can’t buy a ‘Naan the Nay’ from Breadtalk without feeling that you’ve just ripped apart our social fabric.

Dick Lee didn’t have to say sorry when he did Indian impersonations in his song Mustapha. Maybe Jaipragas would have let it go if Au had put on a consistent Indian act throughout the entire opening ceremony, complete with sari, bhindi and song-and-dance too. I wonder if he has anything against the SEA games organisers calling a red-maned lion ‘Nila’.

The Indian accent is not the only one that you’ll need think twice before inserting in your comedy routine, even if you’re an ethnic Indian yourself. Michelle Chong’s domestic helper Leticia Bongnino was flamed too for her strong Pinoy accent, and the character has all but disappeared from the scene.  Yet,  chances are you may be spared from racism accusations if you do an exaggerated French accent or a PRC one. Someone I know gamely went full PRC during a dinner and dance skit, but no one threw duck wings at her or dunked her face in hotpot in disgust. People mimic bad American accents in front of Americans all the time, but no one calls them out for being ‘insensitive’ to American culture. If you mimic an American twang to be understood, you’re a poseur. If you mimic an Indian one, whether for practical purposes or comedy, you’re bloody racist.

As a public figure, Au should have known better, really. The kid may be too young to fully appreciate how she and her entire race were made fun of that day.  But if you ever need an example of epic grand stage levels of party-pooping, then look no further.

Singapore swimmers dropping the name ‘Red Lions’

From ‘MINDEF welcomes SSA’s decision to drop Red Lions name’, 18 March 2015, article in CNA

The Ministry of Defence said it welcomes the Singapore Swimming Association’s decision to not use the name ‘Red Lions’. This comes just days after Manpower Minister and Singapore National Olympic Council President Tan Chuan-Jin announced that Singapore’s aquatic athletes will be collectively known as “The Red Lions”, in a bid to provide a common identity for the sport.

The Red Lions tag was meant to unite the five disciplines – diving, swimming, synchronised swimming, waterpolo and open water swimming. However, the name is already used for the Singapore Armed Forces’ parachute team.

In response to media queries, Chief Commando Officer COL Simon Lim said: “We welcome Singapore Swimming Association’s move to drop the use of ‘Red Lions’. The SAF Red Lions and our national aquatic teams are sources of national pride for Singaporeans. We are supportive of our aquatic athletes and are cheering them on as they fly the Singapore flag high at the upcoming Southeast Asian Games.”

SAF came up with the ‘Red Lions’ in 1995, and when the SSA decided to adopt the tag for our swimming team, commandos cried foul. Granted, it’s awkward to name a swim team after a land mammal, likewise an elite group of flying commandos, but this ruckus over a name supposedly synonymous with the NDP parachuters smacks of poor, well, sportsmanship. These are our own countrymen fighting tooth and nail for national glory for goodness sake.

MINDEF itself has been accused of stealing other people’s ideas, namely a mobile medical station. ‘Lions’, in fact, has been used to identify sport teams way before the commandos decided to add a national colour to it and claim ownership. Here’s a rundown:

1) The Singapore Lions, polo (1920’s). I suppose the one with horses.

2) Our national soccer team (1970’s till now), with the developmental ‘Young Lions’ under their wing.

3) The Dunearn Lions, rugby (1970’s)

4) The ‘Police Lions‘, a squash team (1980)

5) Amazingly, a tennis squad called the Brylcreem Lions (1970s). I’m sure they gel very well as a team.

6) TaeKwanDo Lions(1980s), which in my opinion, is the most befitting of the king of the jungle, a sport which involves you striking and mauling your opponent. Sometimes you also roar.

Of course these days we have teams adopting the ‘Singapore Lions’ tag without our football team making a hissy fit about it, like this cheerleading squad for example. I could form a competitive chess team and call ourselves Singapore Lions without anyone accusing me of identity theft. Like the sky-jumpers, our footballers also deserve to be called ‘a group who have dedicated their lives and put themselves through HIGH RISKS to capture people’s imagination’. But that doesn’t necessarily grant you exclusivity to the name, especially one that pays tribute to a national symbol. 

If there’s any good out of this, it gives the SSA a chance to choose a far superior name, something closer to the aquatic nature of the sport. The ST reported that other choices included the Red Singas, Red Merlions or, strangely enough, Aquamen, the latter possibly getting you in trouble with DC comics. Or AWARE since there are women in the team.  How about the Red Tomans perhaps, unless MINDEF decides to shoot the SSA down again for choosing the same colour.

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