Toa Payoh hawker centre couple punished by society

From ‘Public backlash making us live like fugitives’, 13 Aug 2017, article by Lester Hio, Sunday Times

The couple caught in a viral video verbally abusing and shoving an elderly man at a Toa Payoh hawker centre said they believe they have been “punished by society” over the past four months.

Mr Chow Chuin Yee, 45, and Ms Tay Puay Leng, 38, were fined in court on Friday for the use of criminal force and harassment on Mr Ng Ai Hua, 76, in April.

Ms Tay was fined $1,200 for using abusive words on the retiree, causing alarm, while Mr Chow was fined $1,500 for using criminal force.

Asked about comments from netizens that they had got off lightly with a fine, Mr Chow told The Sunday Times yesterday that they have been “living like fugitives” to prevent any further public incidents after facing backlash both online and in public.

The last time individuals were ‘punished by society’ because of some online fracas, they decided to leave the country. Think Anton Casey or Amy Cheong. As if a fine and a blemish on their reputation isn’t enough, the Chows felt compelled to play the victim card, breaking down on national TV and dragging an grandmother with dementia into the fray. Telling everyone that you lost it because you had a bad day isn’t going to cut it.

Somehow they seem to be getting it worse than men previously convicted of having underage sex. Because of the bullying incident, the Chows-run Novel Learning Centre got a thrashing on Google reviews, with a total rating of 1.2 stars. More like Centre for Kids Learning How to Steal other people’s Lunches. Oh, wait.

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It’s unfortunate that they happen to be educators, and were caught being total assholes to an elderly man, but as a society that places so much emphasis on filial piety and graciousness, perhaps we should also aspire to one that exercises compassion and forgiveness, rather than stooping to their level of tormenting others for purely selfish reasons.

Maybe we should reflect on the moments when we kicked mud in the face of another human being but were lucky enough not to get caught and shamed on social media. You could be the professor who screams vulgarities as a service staff for being slow. Or just a nobody who treats your elderly mother at home as a slave. In most cases, you’d be punished only by karma or divine justice, not a society generally oblivious to your everyday behaviour. You could be a moral vigilante one moment and find yourself at the receiving end of a social media witch-hunt the next.

The problem with society being labelled as judge jury and executioner is that it changes our motivation for good behaviour, that it’s no longer about respect or due consideration, but a fear of mob repercussions, that we’re safe only when we’re out of the panopticon that is the public eye.

Toa Payoh couple, be remorseful, make amends, but stop assuming that ‘society’ as a whole gives a shit about you and your self imposed fugitive exile.

Old criminals being spared from caning

From ‘Review age limit for caning sentences’, 6 Jan 2017, Today Voices

(Liew Lai Khiun): I refer to the report “Ex-teacher, 66, jailed for molesting girl, 7”; Jan 4). It is always saddening to read about child victims of molestation, especially by teachers.

What angers me is that by dint of the culprit’s age, he was spared the caning punishment and given an extra six weeks of jail in lieu.

Besides serving as a deterrence, the purpose of judicial caning in Singapore has evolved since its codification in 1871 into an additional punishment to underscore the enormity of the crimes committed, particularly those involving bodily harm.

The age limit of 50 years for caning was set at a time when life expectancy was lower, probably around 60 years. With advancements in health, however, people are now living longer, healthier and into their 80s.

Unfortunately for many, wisdom does not come with age. As with most developed societies, Singapore does see violent crimes committed by those we consider as “elderly”.

To serve justice, the authorities should review the age limit for caning, for a more discretionary model based on the individual’s general health. Being old is no excuse for being spared the rod.

While the writer seems to be pushing for sexagenarian perverts to be brutally spanked as well, he does not mention if there should be a MINIMUM age for getting the rotan treatment. In the early 20th century, petty thieves as young as 14 were giving a walloping, even for cases as trivial as stealing a BICYCLE BELL.  Of course there are no available statistics on youths or middle-aged people getting seriously injured from the punishment, though you have to wonder how much of our healthcare cost goes into tending to people at the receiving end of this barbaric practice. You may have a broken leg but are stuck in the emergency waiting room because they wheeled in a convicted molester with a whipped arse on the verge of a massive haemorrhage.

As it stands, the maximum number of strokes for a ‘youth’ is 10, while adults get 24. There is clearly no scientific basis for these numbers, though there has been one case of a robber who received TWICE the maximum number of strokes and lived to try to sue the Government for it. That case was settled ‘out of court‘. Other convicts have also complained of getting bonus strokes beyond what they were initially sentenced. Those on death row also need not be caned, though you may argue if rotanning them to death could be a preferred option to the hangman, the latter seeming relatively quick and painless compared to say, 48 damn strokes of the cane.

Other than the old getting off lightly, we might as well question why females are spared entirely, and how the authorities deal with transgender offenders. Is it because hitting women is not the ‘gentlemanly’ thing to do? The rotan descended from the old British legal system, ironically from the same country where women used to be burned at the stake for practising ‘witchcraft’. Today, the rotan remains the symbol of the Janus-faced paradox that is the Singaporean identity, cosmopolitan and forward-looking on one hand, and a stickler to inhumane capital punishment on the other.

We already give our pioneer generation priority queues among other perks, let’s apply the same compassionate principle when they’re in prison, shall we?

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.

More elderly Singaporeans killing themselves

From ‘More seniors in Singapore taking own lives’, 17 Dec 2015, article by Janice Tai, ST

…Last year (2014), 126 seniors aged 60 and above killed themselves. This is a jump of nearly 60 per cent from the 79 seniors who committed suicide in 2000. There were 95 of them in 2010.

While the suicide rate in Singapore has remained at between eight and 10 suicides per 100,000 residents over the past decade, the proportion of the elderly among those who take their lives each year has risen.

In 2000, 23 per cent of suicides here were from among the elderly. By 2010, the group made up 27 per cent, and the number grew to 30 per cent last year.

In less than 20 years, a fifth of Singapore’s population will be at least 65 years of age, making our country a ‘super-aged’ nation. Despite this, our Government still sees the ‘silver’ lining behind the challenge of dealing with millions of old folks, that they could turn a burden into a ‘positive force for social and economic development’. In other words, we will try our darnedest to keep you productive, but nothing much can be done about your psychological well-being. Other than, well, giving you priority queues for everything.

We used to think that longevity and advances in medical technology would make our ‘golden years’ less miserable than they’re supposed to be, but not every senior citizen will spend their twilight years watching their last sunsets on a hill with loved ones by their side. Some will end up rotting in a house with no one noticing until the stench overwhelms your Indian neighbour’s pungent curry. If you’re counting on your children or grandchildren to keep you sane till your dying breath, you better hope they don’t beat you to it and commit suicide themselves too. Yes, those below 10 years included.

Having one of the highest rate of diabetes in the world isn’t helping either. Not only are we ageing faster, we’re getting sicker too. Not every old foggie wants to socialise in the seniors’ corner or have the time for your ‘community activities’, especially if there’s cardboard to be pushed and sold, or if you’re struck with dementia and spend your days indoors trying to figure out how to get out of your pants to take a piss. Our grandfathers used to entertain the family with war stories and tales of famine and survival. When it’s my turn, nobody will give a shit about how I passed my PSLE, or how I met my wife online. The kids will come, give Gramps a hug, and then go stare at their phones for the rest of the visit.

If I were to find myself immobile, physically dependent on a bedpan and have to live with the shame of a helper cleaning up after my foul incontinence, then yes, I’d rather die before being transferred to a retirement village and oblige dancing kindergarten kids with an ugly toothless grin and arthritic clapping. Deplete my bank account to pay for that additional hospital stay and a pill worth more than a ferry ride to seedy Batam for one last fling? Hell no.

The term for killing yourself to spare others the pain of caring for you is ‘altruistic suicide’, which makes the act sound as heroic as sacrificing yourself by taking a grenade in the face for your loved one. The tricky bit is how to end it all painlessly. I can’t possibly roll myself off the top of my block, not to mention pop a hundred painkillers into my mouth without shaking them all onto the floor if I’ve got Parkinson’s. Which may explain why some old folks decide not to wait for the inevitable decline and meet their maker when they still have the strength to climb the stairway (to heaven).

Interestingly, someone speculated a link between opium and elderly suicide in 1975. Or rather, the lack of it. Another theory about why it tended to be Chinese men who took their own lives rather than the Muslims was possibly religion, which makes taking your own life a cardinal sin for the latter. Whatever it is, loneliness, money problems, shitty unfilial kids or just abject futility at the whole purpose of your existence, maybe it’s time our Government reboots their thinking of geriatric care and study how we can age gracefully, and not obsess whether we have enough money to carry us to our graves.

We should look at other less affluent societies where old people celebrate life even without the best nurses or hospitals that money can bring, where they’ll sip wine, laugh, enjoy slow dancing, and go skinny dipping in an icy lake without being hauled up for indecent exposure, where they’ll reminisce on the trivial absurdities of their youth, rather than harp on a lifetime of missed chances and regrets.

 

Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000’s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.

 

Fish Hunter no different from gambling

From ‘No different from gambling’, 16 April 2014, My Point, ST Forum

(Yi-Lin Shen): IT IS worrying that senior citizens are playing arcade games like Fish Hunter to win Sheng Siong and FairPrice vouchers (“Shoot-em-up seniors find amusement at arcades”; Monday). This is no different from gambling at slot machines in a casino.

What is even more worrying is that such games are installed at video arcades, which are popular teen hangouts, as this exposes youngsters to gambling. I have seen seniors sitting for hours on end at Fish Hunter tables, armed with cups of coffee and bags of arcade tokens. What are we teaching our youngsters?

I urge game arcades to stop giving out shopping vouchers as rewards. Let the seniors have their fun, but remove the gambling aspect.

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Hooked on Fish Hunter

Before shooting fish on a screen became the in thing for arcades, parents were worried about another ‘gambling’ game popular with kids, where money was spent on ‘cards’ and virtual beasts were put to battle: Animal Kaiser. With the rise of free, casual mobile phone games like Candy Crush and Flappy Bird, it appears that it’s seniors, not teens, keeping the arcade industry alive. Without the lure of Fish Hunter or Animal Kaiser to get old people out their house, the arcade machine looks set to go the way of the audio CD. The machine’s screen itself seems perfectly designed for the ageing eye, way larger than the micropixels that the elderly have to struggle with on smartphones, while iPads with their more elderly-friendly screens remain cumbersome to handle and use.

Some swear by the benefits of games like Fish Hunter: Keeping their eye-hand reflexes keen, mind alert, getting to socialise with other old people and even spending time with similarly addicted grandchildren while at it. A similar trend has been observed in Japan as well, with seniors opting for ‘push penny’ games rather than tennis or gateball. In Singapore, you need a break from all that line dancing, nannying and try to catch a ‘golden lobster’ at TimeZone. In fact, even if seniors were addicted to Fish Hunter, at least they don’t have to pay a levy of $100 everytime they sit down for a shot. Unlike casinos, arcades don’t run 24 hours, so obsessed players can still get some sleep. Uncles may get carried away though, hogging the seats and getting into arguments with other parents with kids who want to play the same game.

Even if we banned these machines, what else would lonely old souls do if not play mahjong (for money), queue for Toto, or gawk at Taiwanese drama serials on TV? Yes, even if sitting around preying and praying does resemble gambling, and playing Fish Hunter the whole day isn’t exactly ‘Active Ageing’, the other remaining options aren’t much better off either. Let’s have a few of these machines in the Jurong retirement village already. I’m sure the seniors there will have a whale of a time.

 

Jalan Jurong Kechil getting Singapore’s first retirement village

From ‘Ageing Singapore to get first retirement village’, 10 Nov 2013, article by Radha Basu, Sunday Times

After more than two decades of debate and deliberation, Singapore’s first retirement living community will finally be built at Jalan Jurong Kechil. Property developer World Class Land (WCL), a subsidiary of jewellery group Aspial Corp, told The Sunday Times last week that it plans to build the facility on a 10,170 sq m plot of land, roughly the size of 11/2 football fields.

…Singapore is among the fastest ageing countries in the world. The number of those aged 65 and above will nearly double over the next few years, from 352,000 in 2011 to 600,000 by 2020.

In July, NMP Lina Chiam suggested building such a village on Pulau Ubin, an idea which was shot down because it seemed like banishing the old to an island, especially one where charging wild boars roam free. Land shortage has also prompted Khaw Boon Wan to infamously propose that we look into casting our elderly away to Batam or JB which may be cheaper than sequestering them in gated communities. The Jurong site looks rosy on paper, like a nursing home with country club facilities, but one that the less well-off senior may be unable to afford. In fact, one of the village supporters cited in the article currently lives in a ‘spacious bungalow in Braddell Heights’ and is looking forward to a cozier apartment with ‘like-minded’ seniors as neighbours. Senior-living consultant Tan Hee Kian says many seniors in the ‘top fifth to 20th percentile of the income scale’ would gladly splurge on an RV (The Jurong project costs an estimated $70-80 million). The word ‘village’ may very well be a misnomer if only old, rich people live in it. It may turn out to be the Nassim Road for Senior Citizens. The only thing ‘village-like’ about the Jurong RV is that it’s inaccessible by train.

In 1985 when the RV was first brought up, it was intended as a ‘nest-egg’ for the AFFLUENT, mainly middle and upper income professionals and businessmen who were in the same ‘income bracket’ and common interests. Today’s model retirement villages also come equipped with golf courses and club houses.  If golf is the seniors’ game, how about converting one of our existing 18 golf courses to a RV instead of using up precious land then? What other benefits worth the price tag would one gain living in a RV compared to an elderly-friendly estate with easy access to medical care, public transport and an NTUC supermarket? With a ballooning greying population, finding elderly companionship in the general community shouldn’t be a problem, if the reason you’re considering the RV lifestyle is because no one shares your passion for gateball or gardening. If I’m a budding artist and need to live in a bohemian neighbourhood to spur my creativity even if I’m entitled to the living space of a closet, you can bet my calls for a Soho-esque ‘Artists’ village’ to be with ‘like-minded’ folk will be slammed for sure, because apparently young struggling artists are not as important as old retirees with actual savings.

Some elders would rather mix with all walks of life than see the same haggardly faces everyday waiting to see who dies first, or hear the same people grumble about politics or brag about whose children are more filial than others.  One can also imagine how every journey down the stairs would take an eternity if the lift breaks down.

No matter how you brand it, an RV is an enclave of people of a certain class and age, which is contrary to our national drive towards ‘inclusivity’ and integration. It’s not as if our current HDB estates suffer from ageist design. I see old people happily sitting at the void deck watching kids tumble down a ‘youth-centric’ playground where I live. There’s a church if you want to send your final prayers, a fitness corner to stave off venous thrombosis and a provision shop with a makeshift ‘kopi corner’ if you need to chat with random strangers. I’m content to grow old and die here as long there’s a patch of grass to feed pigeons, to feel appreciated by the general ‘townsfolk’, to flirt with the kopitiam beer lady and add to the communal diversity rather than be reminded everyday of my own mortality in an artificial environment smack in the middle of nowhere, where eventually if your house catches fire and you’re wheelchair bound, your equally immobile neighbour can only perish along with you rather than do anything useful.

If I really want to ‘get away from it all’, I’d plant my sagging roots away from this country if I could afford it. But of course if these 100 or so ‘villagers’ prefer it the RV way then no one can deny them a space they can call their own. Maybe they could call it ‘Silver Cove’ or something.

Postscript: The project has been quietly rebranded as a retirement ‘RESORT’ instead of a village, officially called the Hillford, with 1 to 2 bedroom units starting from $388,000 (Packed showflat at first retirement resort, article by Jonathan Kwok, 5 Jan 2014, Sunday Times). The bulk of those interested in the purchase, however, weren’t golden oldies, but those in the 40s looking for investment opportunities, just like they would for any spanking new condo. With a full time manager, 24 hour concierge service, the only things missing from the Hillford are spas, hot springs, a sea view and complimentary breakfast. And eventually anyone above 70 and ‘over the hill’ who would rather check into a nursing home nearer to civilisation than live in a 398 sq ft cell that costs nearly as much as a 3-room flat. No wonder it’s called a ‘resort’ then, by living in such ‘Mickey Mouse’ units, you can almost sense a hint of Disneyland right around the corner.