The danger of running with durian for charity

From ‘Running with a prickly companion for charity’, 28 May 2017, article by Tay Hong Yi, ST

A quirky charity run is raising a stink on social media. In the Run for Good Durian on July 13, each runner will get a durian to run with for 5km. After that, he can eat it.

The cause is nothing to sniff at, as proceeds will be donated to the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Community Development Welfare Fund.

…Said Twitter user Gwen Guo: “(This is) possibly (the) most Singaporean charity run I’ve seen.” But there was room for some thorny questions too. In the comments section of the community centre’s post, Facebook user Ho Shigure asked: “Has anyone conducted a risk assessment?”

The run’s official website encouraged runners to “be creative” with transporting their durian safely.

“At 8am sharp, the race will be flagged off by the special guest and participants will carry, lug or hug their durians for a 5km distance until the finish,” said the organisers.

However, no recommendations on safely handling the King of Fruits were offered, beyond suggesting that “a backpack, plastic bag, gloves or other creative ways” could be used to minimise the risk of injury to oneself and others.

Participants will receive a T-shirt, while those who complete the run will receive a medal, a coconut and, of course, a chance to win a mao shan wang durian in a lucky draw.

People have done things worthy of the Darwin awards in the name of charity, of course. You could walk on flaming charcoal barefoot over 100m, volunteer to be shot with 21,000 paintballs, or be like Jack Neo and lie on a bed of glass. The difference is you don’t risk hurting anyone else other than yourself.

Safety is always the number one priority for any kind of race, whether it’s imposing restrictions on light sabres for the Star Wars Run, ensuring that zombies don’t actually bite people during ‘Race the Dead’, or that nobody sneaks anthrax powder into the Color Run.  The record shows, however, that more people have died running an actual Marathon than all these gimmicky events combined.

The number of ways a Durian Run could go wrong is easy to imagine. Though unlikely to kill anyone since this is a horizontal run and not a race up a building, one probable scenario is that people may drop the King of Fruits along the way. A runner behind could be injured not so much by stepping on the fallen durian or falling face-first onto it and getting iris incarceration, but from a rear-end collision with the durian dropper. A heated argument could result in the prize being used as a mace to hit someone in the face, like what happened to a bus driver in 1985. Yes you could go home not just with a durian but a few minor skin punctures along the way but at least that beats a fatal cardiac arrest near a 42 km finish line. 

Common sense would tell participants that under no circumstances should you, no matter how creative you are:

  1. Tape a durian to chest while running
  2. Walk in stilts while juggling durian
  3. Or go dressed like this

Still, all these hazards are at best hypothetical. The only scientific risk assessment one could ever conduct for a race of this nature is to determine if the combined odour of durian and sweat is potent enough to knock passers-by out cold.

A pity that the race doesn’t end at the Esplanade, though.

Yishun residents building wall of cacti

From ‘Yishun residents build wall to keep out nuisance neighbour’, 27 May 2017, article by Tiffany Fumiko Tay, ST

Residents at a Yishun Housing Board flat said they are at their wits’ end after being harassed by a neighbour for over a year, with one family going as far as to build a “wall” barbed with cacti on the common corridor for protection.

…The Lee family, who live in an four-room corner unit and were the ones who erected the wall, said that the barrier was a last resort for them after having had to deal with the difficult neighbour since last December.

They come home nearly every day to find an oil-like substance reeking of urine splashed across their door and along the corridor.

…Balls of toilet paper and used sanitary pads have also been found outside their flat and on their bicycle chained outside. The culprit, they said, lives on the floor below them with her daughter.

Before erecting cacti, the enterprising Lee patriarch, in true kampong spirit, designed a barricade made of durian shells. This is the way to go if ever need to fend off a shitty neighbour, pesky salesmen or a visit from the MP and lack barb wire. Even a champion Spartan racer can’t clear this obstacle. Screw mediation and CCTVs. Hurray for innovation.

Contrast this defence strategy with this lame excuse of a barricade. My 4 year nephew could surmount this in a tricycle.

Among all the bizarre warfare tactics used by HDB dwellers, this episode of planting gross sanitary pads and splashing urine ranks among the top. It’s curious how some Singaporeans would go to great lengths to collect their own excrement and weaponise them. They would defend a medieval fortress perfectly. Imagine scaling up a wall to attack a castle and getting pummelled with a storm of urine bags, sanitary pads, smelly durian shells and hot braised duck sauce. We should round these vandals up and send them on covert missions to demoralise the enemy in their base camps now, instead of wasting time and effort trying to reconcile differences, kiss and make up.

Here are other ways of being an asshole neighbour from hell than would put all loansharks to shame:

  1. Corroding their metal gates with salt, throwing braised meat sauce
  2. Throwing human faeces at doors
  3. Tossing eggs at the family car
  4. Cutting bicycle chains, stealing flowerpots

Still, the most annoying acts often come from people who don’t even live the same block as you. Yes, anonymous spam-flyer distributor, I’m talking to you. I’m taking a page off the Yishun Art of War and lining my gate with pointy objects.

Milk is milk, except for breast milk which is best

From ‘Milk is milk, however fancy the marketing’, 13 May 17, article in CNA

Authorities announced earlier this week that formula milk manufacturers will not be able to use nutrition and health claims, as well as images that make drinking formula milk look attractive, once changes to Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) regulations take effect. AVA will also also streamline its import regulations in order to facilitate the entry of more suppliers and brands of formula milk, and the changes are expected to be finalised by end-2017.

Mrs Teo who heads the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in the PMO, shared her personal experience with her children on Facebook, saying she concluded that “milk is milk, however fancy the marketing”.

“Actually, breast milk is best and both the Health Promotion Board and World Health Organisation encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least 12 months,” she said. “However, for parents who need to supplement with formula, all brands sold in Singapore, regardless of price, provide enough nutrition for babies to grow healthily.

…She added: “As long as AVA approves its import, the milk is good enough. I had no reason to pay more and would buy whatever was cheapest or on sale. The kids didn’t always like adjusting but did so anyway. That’s what I found great about kids – they adjust given time and encouragement.”

Milk is Milk. Diapers are diapers. A pram is a pram. Childcare is childcare. Education is education. If the Ministry of Making Babies is serious about encouraging us to have more babies, then they should put a stop to runaway advertising across the board for all baby-related products and services. Yet parents being parents continue to splurge on their little ones, from giving premium quality milk powder to Porsche-grade prams all the way to putting them in an elite school or tuition centre if they could afford it.

A quality infant formula, as the ads go, would be your child’s ‘best start’ in life. In the 70’s, milk powder was enriched with nothing more than vitamins A and D and given unappetising names like ‘Cowhead’.  Today you have an whole armamentarium of fortified goodness targeting baby organs such as the brain, eyes and intestines, with fancy brand names such as Gain IQ (the IQ stands for Intestinal Quality), Dugro (formerly Dumex) and MaMil Gold (as in Ma’s Milk?). In TV ads, kids fed on premium formulae are dressed as little Sherlock Holmes solving practical problems to save the day. It remains to be seen if these enhanced abilities extend to solving Maths problems for PSLE.

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It’s not surprising that Josephine Teo would have no qualms about going for the cheapest milk powder on the market. After all, it’s this ‘bare-minimum’ attitude that led her to conclude that couples only need a small space to have sex. And hence small pockets to buy formula milk too.

But maybe there is a deeper social problem that explains our dependency on milk formula and why companies are capitalising on it – the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public. If mothers didn’t feel a need to hide their suckling infants from prying camera phones like a recent case on the MRT, then perhaps companies wouldn’t be making shitloads of money selling milk powder, and we needn’t be hearing platitudes such as ‘milk is milk’ from MPs.

Singapore must steal other people’s lunches

From ‘Singapore must steal other people’s lunches to stay ahead of competition’, 30 Apr 2017, article by Toh Ee Ming, Today

Amid growing competition, and workers hungry to learn in places like Chengdu and even further away such as Russia, Singapore must not only protect its lunch but steal other people’s lunches, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged.

…Ms Zuhaina Ahmad, a career guide at the NTUC Youth Career Network, said she has spoken to a few young Singaporeans “who feel that they’re in an era where they’re entitled or privileged to what the Government is giving”.

“If you study up to a degree level, this is what you’re entitled to. Not all of them are like that, but I think we need to manage their expectations as well,” she said.

Mr Lee said in reply: “It’s something that we have to work on, always. You must always want to do better, but you cannot always want to hope for the sky, and that’s the challenge. Because if you’re not hungry, you wouldn’t try, but if you’re unrealistic, you’d be disappointed.”

Of course our PM meant ‘stealing other people’s lunches’ as a figure of speech, just a darker version of ‘punching above our own weight’. The language of success is often filled with bloodthirsty metaphors:  We’re told to ‘seize’ the day and ‘conquer’ our doubts, words usually used in military parlance to mean plunder and destroy. We ‘grab’ the bull by the horns and ‘eliminate’ the competition in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. The harsh truth is just that – success usually means having to tread on some heads along the way, and there are people who excel in their careers at the merciless expense of others’ ‘lunches’. These days, others’ trust seems to be an even bigger bounty than actual money. Just ask Kong Hee and gang.

Even Teamy the Bee, our forgotten productivity mascot, makes a living by ‘stealing’ nectar from flowers. Corporate banditry happens all the time; a small start-up gets chewed to bits when a bigger company copies i.e ‘steals’ its ideas. Aspiring inventors fall prey to patent disputes with entities armed to the teeth with lawyers. The use of the phrase in the context of ailing productivity, though, seems to suggest that it’s time for workers to switch to survivalist fight-or-flight mode, that in the event that we may not be able to punch above our weight, sometimes we just have to hit below the belt for our lunch money. But still, the only thing stealing our lunches eventually will not be other people, but robots, which makes our PM’s statement, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately redundant, like what most blue-collar workers will be in the silicon age. Needless to say a politician’s job is robot-proof and he doesn’t need to worry about lunch for the rest of his life.

‘Lunch’ is always a sensitive topic for food-loving Singaporeans. You could tell by how aggressively we reserve tables at hawker centres. When an ex Transport Minister told Singaporeans that ‘there is no free lunch‘ during a public transport hike, we went ballistic as the Toa Payoh couple refusing to share their table with an old man would.

Yes, there’s a time to be hungry and rise up to the challenge when it comes to our precious lunches, but we are also in desperate need for compassion. Beg, cheat and steal like Robin Hood if you have to, but share your ‘lunches’ with less fortunate human beings, especially those who can only afford 3 meals a day at a hawker centre instead of restaurants.

So let’s take PM Lee’s metaphor with a pinch of salt, and sprinkle it on our lunch of the day before someone sneaks up from behind to steal it.

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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OK chope! making fun of Najib Razak

From ‘Mediacorp Channel 5 apologises for offensive segment on Ok Chope’, 5 April 2017, article in CNA

Mediacorp Channel 5 has apologised for a comedy segment that contained comments on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that some viewers found offensive.

After the segment on comedy show OK Chope! was aired on Mar 29, the channel received feedback from viewers that it was offensive, it said in a statement on Wednesday (Apr 5)

In response to media queries, Mediacorp’s chief customer officer Debra Soon said: “Channel 5 and the production team behind OK Chope! wish to sincerely apologise to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak for a segment on last week’s episode.

“OK Chope!, a weekly live show, features comedians providing humorous takes on news and current affairs. Last week’s episode included references to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak which were in poor taste and offensive. We have thus pulled it from repeat telecast with immediate effect. We apologise unreservedly for this mistake.”

When Malaysia banned the comedy classic Zoolander over a storyline that involved the assassination of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Singapore followed suit in order to be ‘sensitive’ to our neighbours. We would have no issue with the countless movies that depict villains trying to kill the POTUS, for example, probably because we don’t share the same brotherly love with the US as we do with our immediate neighbours. I doubt we would flinch if someone made a movie about killing the mayor of Batam.

The OK chope jibes against Najib were rather harmless, even juvenile. Unlike allusions to corruption that got another local comedian Fakkah Fuzz some heat from Malaysian authorities. Curiously, both Najip (with a p) and Fuzz apologised for roasting the Malaysian PM, though both would have no qualms slamming comedy fodder like Trump for the sake of a few laughs (and dollars).

Which puts the state of local satire in awkward jeopardy; that you’re more afraid of insulting another country’s politician than your own. Of all the discontent going in the country, it’s strange that Najib symphatisers should focus on a Singaporean rip-off of Who’s Line is It Anyway, rather than sending the Thought Police to scour their own forums and comedy clubs for anything that suggests foul disobedience against a man treated like a god-king.

Singaporeans and Malaysians tease and joke about each other all the time. We mock their accents, they slam our kiasu-ism. We’re like two buddies in the shower room slapping each other on the butt-cheeks with wet towels, but always in good humour without any malice. It’s unfortunate that one tiny slap from a little known show from the Little Red Dot could cause so much butthurt over the Causeway.

Perhaps Najib and his lackeys could learn a thing or two from our self-professed ‘flame-proof’ PM Lee. 

 

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.