MRT 20 hour disruption blamed on water pump

From ‘NSL train disruption: Malfunctioning water pump system to blame for flooded tunnel’, 8 Oct 2017, article in Today

A malfunctioning water pumping system allowed rain water to build up in the train tunnel near Bishan MRT station, which resulted in a massive disruption along the North South Line (NSL) at the weekend.

In a statement released on Sunday (Oct 8) evening regarding preliminary investigations into the disruption, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) noted that water had entered the tunnel through a portal opening near Bishan MRT station, where aboveground rail tracks make the transition underground.

It said that under normal circumstances, accumulated rainwater in the adjacent storm water sump pit would have been siphoned off by a system of pumps.

But as the pumping system had malfunctioned, rainwater overflowed from the storm water sump pit into the tunnel opening, and accumulating at the lowest point of the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell stations.

Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water.
Yet, to attack the hard and strong,
Nothing surpasses it.
Nothing can take its place.
– Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, Lao Tzu

Another day, another breakdown, another lesson on MRT systems learnt the hard way, another cog to blame other than the management, the regulator or the ministry itself; Signal fault, track fault, cable tie fault, sump pit fault, portal opening fault, heavy downpour fault. Screw you Acts of God. Screw you all.

Just this July, a water leak was determined to be the culprit behind the double whammy breakdown leaving 200,000 commuters stuck. Even during the post-mortem of  the infamous Circle Line breakdown in 2011, the deterioration of a DC cable was ‘exacerbated by the presence of water in some cable pits’.  Are we in such a rush to become a Smart Nation that we’ve stupidly forgotten to attend to the very basics of water seepage prevention?

Kudos to the bus drivers and engineers for fixing the problem and their ‘all-out tireless’ work (according to state media). Trust Minister Khaw Boon Wan to guilt-trip us all for our constant complaining by citing tales of heroic, soggy courage, of our brave men and women knee deep in floodwater in the muggy dark of a tunnel as a diversion from his Ministry and SMRT leadership’s incompetence. How dare you call this the WORST BREAKDOWN in the HISTORY of the MRT, news media? All you do is sensationalise with your ‘facts and figures’, sitting in your dry cosy offices while our staff work their butts off!

Speaking of the minister, though he should really be wading with torchlight in cute yellow boots to inspect the damage with our tunnel heroes, he’s actually in Panama as we speak, according to his conspicuously silent Facebook page. Maybe he’s busy gathering tips on water management.  As the palindrome goes: A man, a plan, MRT still breaks down anyway.

Given how crazy the weather has been and is going to be, and how SMRT is still cocking things up despite repeated, useless fines, maybe what we commuters need is not mandatory digital literacy programs, but basic swimming lessons. Or emergency canoes in train tunnels.

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How to future-proof our drainage network

From ‘Drainage network has to be future-proofed’, article by Sumita Sreedharan, 6 Sept 2013, Today

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the drainage network will have to be “future-proofed” to cope with intense thunderstorms that may hit the island, similar to the one that caused yesterday morning’s flash floods in several parts of Singapore.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Dr Balakrishnan laid out immediate and long-term plans for the two rivers, Sungei Pandan Kechil and Sungei Ulu Pandan, which overflowed as a huge amount of rainwater fell yesterday morning.

…As for Sungei Ulu Pandan, the area around Commonweath Avenue is undergoing drainage improvement works but the culvert underneath Clementi Road will have to be examined in the long term. These works are “a major operation” as the drainage system is inter-connected, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Future-proof this

The last medical metaphor used by Vivian Balakrishnan in relation to floods was when he recommended against ‘surgery’ of the Stamford Canal last year. This recent ‘act of God’ has led to terrified schoolchildren clinging for dear life onto fences to avoid rising floodwater like they were rats in the cargo hold of a sinking ship, a sign that you need more than just local invasive procedures but a massive rethink of our entire network before embarking on any ‘future-proofing’. Otherwise we’d just have to resign to floods like how we deal with the haze, except that instead of people scurrying for N95 respirators we’d stock up snorkelling masks and emergency floats instead.

Future-proofing originated as a computing term for anticipating change when setting up networks, and has been in use since 1997, surprisingly (‘Service providers need a future-proof solution that can deliver different types of services’, 9 June 1997, ST). It basically means ensuring that a system is built to last and resilient to change, though there are always some things you can never future-proof against no matter how much computer simulation and chaos theory you apply to it. Like a tidal wave, for example. You also need some solid 20/20 foresight to futureproof anything, a standard which even PM Lee himself has admitted the Government has not achieved.

The term itself is counter-intuitive to what we usually mean when we ‘___-proof’ something. A bulletproof vest, for instance, protects you against bullets. Similarly fireproof, shockproof or lightning-proof, which guard against external, threatening elements. So without context, ‘future-proof’ by itself would mean ‘anti-future’, that ‘future’ is something scary and undesirable that we need to be shielded from. It only makes sense if the future we want to avoid is that of Waterworld.

As expected of most trendy catchphrases, there are other things in life that you can seemingly ‘future-proof’ other than electronic and drainage systems. You can futureproof your SKIN (more like age-proof), your Home, even your CHILD. Want to keep your marriage and job? Why, just futureproof it silly! Hell, I could write a book called ‘Futureproof Your Sex Life!’ and maybe beat LKY to the top of the bestseller list.

Maybe it’s easier to relate if Vivian had said ‘our drainage systems need to be future-ready’ (EDB website has the logo ‘Future-Ready Singapore’, not when it comes to the weather apparently), though what you really want to do to our streets, our pavements, our school grounds, so that people don’t scramble up walls, is to ‘water-proof’ the damn thing. Now that’s an analogy that’s, well, IDIOT-proof.

 

Vivian Balakrishnan: A flood is a flood

From ‘Balakrishnan: PUB should not have used word ‘ponding’ for floods ‘, 9 Jan 2012, article by Feng Zengkun, ST

…Dr Balakrishnan said during the Parliament session that the ministry checked the Stamford Canal and nearby drains after the Lucky Plaza and Liat Towers floods in December, and found no signs of blockage.

He said national water agency PUB should not have called the phenomenon at the water-logged areas ‘ponding’. He added: ‘As far as I am concerned, PUB should not have not used the word ‘ponding’. I call a spade a spade. A flood is a flood.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan tells it like it is, even if such comments are really too little too late. Rest assured that this will be the last we hear of ponding from PUB, but the Minister’s intolerance for sugar-coating is merely a delayed reflection of ground sentiment to offset the general lack of enlightenment when it comes to tackling flood issues. The use of the spade idiom is apt, since PUB effectively dug a hole for itself by explaining away ponding in a response to a reader who had the same thoughts as Dr Vivian, but merely expressed them earlier.

Since Dr Vivian is such an advocate of honesty, it’s only fair that he should also speak directly and responsibly in the event that he makes a mistake, which was exactly what happened when the YOG blew its initial budget threefold in 2010.

“We got the initial estimates of the money to be spent on the YOG wrong”

A mistake is a mistake indeed. Besides speaking directly, word play and alliteration seems to be the man’s forte. On the AWARE saga in 2009, he unleashed the following tongue-twister/mind-boggler.

..We live in a diverse society, there will always be some issue we cannot agree on – we need to be able to learn to live and let live, to agree to disagree and do so agreeably.

One can’t help but agree to agree. A Today reader once complained that Vivian’s ‘idiomatic manner of speaking’  was a communication barrier when addressing the common people. In a BCA speech, he used ‘eggs in different baskets’ and ‘certain eggs getting into trouble’. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t yet used the ‘You need to break some eggs to make an omelette’ classic. If there’s any Minister would could pull off a Zen koan without blinking or the slightest hint of irony, this man would be it.

In 2004, Vivian was one of the more outspoken proponents for the introduction of casinos in Singapore, and this was what came out in his justification:

We must be able to attract our share of the rich and famous for which casinos may be an attraction. If they’re going to lose their money, they’re going to lose it our way..

Which is, technically, what’s really happening when we promote our IR to tourists. Except that what, or rather WHO, he meant by ‘our way’ remains anyone’s guess; the deliberate ambiguity has been concealed by flowery language.

Straight-talking and idioms, however, won’t help one score points across the Causeway, something which Vivian has plenty to learn from LKY’s experience with our Malaysian politician counterparts. 10 years ago in 2002, when he was Young PAP Vice Chairman, he ‘jokingly’ referred to Malaysian journalists as a ‘pack of wild animals’, a comment which would ‘bring irritation to bilateral relations’. The first thing one imagines of a ‘pack of wild’ anything would be hungry wolves, hyenas or any other canine breed, which the Malaysians may have taken in the literal sense and hence offended by it.

In the spirit of calling spades spades and flood floods, this is what I would say to our Minister’s lament on PUB’s choice of words: Tell us something we don’t already know.

Stamford canal to blame for Orchard Road floods

From ‘Stamford canal a cause of flooding again’, article by Saifulbahri Ismail, 31 Dec 2011, Today

The 4km-long Stamford Canal, cited as a factor in last year’s floods along Orchard Road, has again been traced as the source of flooding at Liat Towers last Friday.

Explaining yesterday why the flooding occurred, national water agency PUB said the “prolonged and heavy” monsoon rain on Dec 23 caused “some parts of Stamford Canal to flow full“. Then, 152.8mm of rain fell on Orchard Road from 2.20pm to 5.20pm – equivalent to about half the average monthly total of 287.4mm of rain recorded for the entire month of December over the last 142 years.

…In its statement, PUB assured the public that it takes “its responsibility for flood management seriously”. “PUB regrets the inconveniences caused by the floods to members of the public and businesses,” said the agency. “

…To improve flood protection during similar storms, Liat Towers will be building a perimeter wall along its internal drain. “This will allow more water to be held within this so-called pond and, with the difference in pressure, we’d be able to drain the water into the canal,” said Liat Towers director of property management Lydia Tjhia.

…Given the constraints in expanding Stamford Canal due to the urbanised development in the area, PUB is studying the feasibility of building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment in the longer term.

In 1984, the Ministry of Environment responded to a reader’s complaint about Orchard Road flooding by citing ‘extremely heavy rainfall’, exposing the inability of Stamford canal to handle any load exceeding the intensity equivalent to a once-in-5-year storm. In that year, May 21’s freak storm yielded a rainfall of 130mm within the interval of 100 minutes, an intensity matching a ONCE in NINETY YEAR storm according to the Ministry, which would require the canal to expand to more than twice its width to 10m. On Dec 23 2011, within the same time period, we had about 84 mm of rainfall, and since the canal overflowed, the downpour would have been considered AT LEAST a once in 5 year event, though it seems we’ve been having ‘improbable’ weather almost every other week.

I’m particularly interested in how weather experts coin a probability of one-in-ninety years when we have been tracking weather for only 142 years without invoking some form of predictive statistics. According to the NEA’s 142 years-old records, December has constantly been the rainiest month. On a single day in Dec 1978 alone, 512.4 mm of rain fell, almost twice the monthly average. In response to what was known then as the ‘worst floods ever’, Minister of Environment E.W Barker said ‘Singapore’s drains were not designed to cope with exceptional rainfall, and it was impractical and uneconomical’ to build ‘extra-large’ canals to cater to freak weather. Between 1978’s record-breaking storm and 1984’s ‘once in ninety years’ rainfall is only a period of 6 YEARS. To pour more cold water on such doubtful statistics,  then-Minister of Environment Yaacob Ibrahim was ‘told by the PUB’ that the Nov 2009 floods occurs ONCE EVERY 50 YEARS. In that storm, 92 mm of rain fell within HALF an HOUR. But wait a second; 1984’s 39 mm/half hour storm was considered a once every 90 YEARS event, which makes the heavier storm in 2009 a MORE LIKELY event, effectively rendering PUB’s predictions meaningless, a case of our climate folks plucking numbers out of ‘thin air’.

Just last year in June, PUB put the blame on a blocked ‘culvert’ along Stamford Canal and ‘an intense amount of rain within short bursts’ within the space of an hour, stubbornly refusing to consider the possibility that flooding is really the result of poor project management over the years. But let’s look at the history of the Stamford canal and, assuming our rainfall patterns haven’t altered significantly based on NEA’s records, see how much time the authorities  have actually spent tackling the flood problem and ‘regretting the inconveniences caused’. It’s like saying I ‘regret’ that you got bitten by my crazy, unpredictable dog but I’m still not sending him to obedience school or putting a muzzle on him.

Originally known during the days of Raffles as ‘Sungei Bras Bassa’, the early versions of the Stamford canal were in place for over a century and was already being blamed for flooding as early as 1911 (sluice gates’ fault). Millions were subsequently pumped into flood control projects to modify the canal, though you can’t help but feel that however PUB claims to take flood management seriously, expanding the Stamford canal has always been an afterthought to more lucrative developments along Orchard Road. It’s not the weather that the canal needs to catch up with but the rabid urbanisation going on around (and OVER) it. Making dodgy predictions about how often heavy rainfall would occur has also prevented the board from preparing for the worst case scenario, and using ‘extreme’ weather is no longer an excuse given we’ve had experiences with ‘once-in-whatever-years’ deluges for more than a century.

  • 1952: A proposed $750,000 to widen and rebuild, including ‘COVERING part of the canal to make a CAR PARK’.
  • 1970: $250,000 to ‘BEAUTIFY the Stamford canal embankment’, including an ‘exposed footpath of uniform width’.
  • 1973: $1.3 m to COVER the Stamford Canal with a pedestrian mall between Cuscaden and Grange Road.
  • 1978: $32 million on a flood control scheme to reconstruct Stamford Canal by ‘widening and deepening’ it.
  • 1993: Floodgates costing $200,000 built in Ngee Ann City-Lucky Plaza underpass (Floodgates built at a cost of $200,000, 16 Sept 1993, ST)

Given that the authorities were well aware of Stamford Canal’s design flaws for so long, Orchard Road continues to be a hotbed of commercial activity.  A pro-business approach towards retail chain Gap  in 2008 resulted in immovable barriers being replaced by a sliding mechanical floodgate system instead. It’s not certain if this compromised, or indeed left a ‘GAP’ (hurr hurr), in flood control, but it leaves one to wonder if Orchard Road would be ‘high and dry’ if it wasn’t, well, Orchard Road.

It’s also a strange twist of ironic terminology that the PUB is now considering ‘ponding’ areas, a mitigating measure which I’ve described in an earlier post, though they were quick to eliminate the use of the same word to describe ‘flooding’ in this press release. Flood dynamics is no doubt a complex science, and no one will blame the PUB for admitting to lacking the expertise to handle the problem, if only they’d stop fudging storm probabilities and making scapegoats out of bad infrastructure like a  carpenter blaming his tools. To make things worse, their ‘drainage overview’ report following the 2010/11 floods contains a blatant lie:

'Orchard area has been flood free for more than 25 years'

Taking 2010 as the assumed ‘first case of flooding in 25 years’, this implies that we haven’t had any Orchard Road floods since 1984. Wrong (1988) and wrong again(2007).

Happy new year everyone.

Ex-Navy chief to handle ponding

From ‘Call it what it is: Flooding’, 27 Dec 2011, Today

(Peter Loon Seng Chee): From a “once in 50 years” event, flooding is now expected in almost every heavy downpour, reducing our first-world roads to a wet mess. But in “No floods in Orchard Rd, just ‘ponding’: PUB” (Dec 24). this was referred to as “ponding”.

It would be sad if we resort to word usage to dissipate the impact of these floods. We have been offered reasons, and remedies have been promised, but the issue has become a crisis over the past two years.

Do our officials have a handle on this problem? Has the incessant load of new developments in recent years exceeded the limit of our national drainage system?

The new head of the national water agency, from this month, is an ex-Navy chief. What are the credentials that enable him to head PUB? When my friends from overseas talk about visiting Singapore, they joke about packing canoes and scuba gear, and I am embarrassed to have nothing to say in defence. It is time for a solution.

Cafe or orientation camp?

The CEO in question is Chew Men Leong, who cited his relevant Navy experience in ‘balancing’ to be relevant to ‘maintaining our complex system at a high level of operational effectiveness and efficiency, while keeping an eye on the long term future’. A goal you could attribute to any aspiring organisation really, whether it’s a public amenities board or a kaya toast business. There’s something almost comically naive and ironic about selecting a seaman , whose job is to keep things afloat on large bodies of water, to manage floods; it’s like getting a oil driller tycoon to deal with earthquakes. I would have some faith if Chew had at least submarine admiral experience, when one’s very life depends on the vessel NOT spouting a leak. Or maybe I’ve just watched Crimson Tide once too often.

A Navy chief may know everything there is about seawater, how it tastes, how high it rises when one drops anchor, but ‘ponding’ is really a drainage problem, and the only pipes that most sailors are familiar with are those that Popeye smoke.  However, according to the man’s Facebook page, he’s a trained engineer and Master of Science before military service (which suggests some knowledge about fluid systems). He’s also helmed a missile gunboat, who sounds impressively macho but this time he’s waging war against an entirely different and utterly formidable enemy altogether: Our crazy weather. You also need someone not just with the ground expertise of a mole or a dungeon keeper, but someone with the clout  to put a stop to any activity suspected of aggravating floods at the expense of progress. Wait, don’t we have a minister of Environment and Water Resources for that, you say? He’s a surgeon by profession, so maybe a knowledge of arteries, veins and heart valves may come in handy. ‘Ponding’ would be like fluid congestion or edema in the legs during heart (pump) failure. He just hasn’t figured out how to apply this analogy successfully yet.

But here’s an interesting history of ‘ponding’, and it may surprise some to know that this isn’t a new euphemism for floods at all:

As early as the 20’s, ‘ponding’ wasn’t an apparition of heavy downpours in today’s context. It was in fact used as a PREVENTIVE, and probably outdated, measure against flooding, as in ‘ponding and pumping’. A ‘ponding area’ was used to hold off floodwater during ‘adverse tides’. The first instance of ‘ponding’ being twisted into a euphemism for floods was probably sometime in the early eighties. In fact, the work done then to alleviate ‘ponding’ had nothing to do with tugrope knot-tying skills or yelling ‘Land Ho!’; scupper drains were enlarged, drains unchoked and road depressions were patched, very ‘grounded’ and dirty work indeed. Between a naval officer’s ‘sea legs’ and a road sweeper, I would think the latter has a better eye for ‘ponding’ zones and drainage.

2000 saw the following familiar headline: ‘No floods, only ‘water ponding’ (22 Jan 2000, Today). Not only was this a sloppy cushion for bad news but a bad tautology as well. What else could one find in a ‘pond’ if not WATER? Perhaps a frog sitting on a lotus pad if you’re lucky. My heart goes out to Wendy’s and Starbucks of Liat Towers, but this calls for a change in business model. A poolside cafe, mini bum boat ride for kids, fish spa or prawning deck could do wonders for capital recovery instead of waiting  around for PUB to fix the problem or stacking sandbags, only to watch your burgers and frappuccinos washed away in pond murk. There’s another downside to hiring a Rear Admiral to head PUB though, there’s a pun just waiting to happen if the board fails to live up to its mission: Being ALL AT SEA (hurr hurr!)

Punggol Waterway is like Venice

From ‘Venice of Punggol the pride of former backwater’, 24 Oct 2011, article by Cai Haoxiang in ST

…Punggol used to be a fishing village and farming area, and a relative backwater. PM Lee recalled going to Punggol Point to eat at its famous seafood restaurants, and to the area for an orienteering exercise when he attended the Outward Bound School.

‘We had to navigate from point to point with a map but without a compass. It was quite possible in those days to be lost in Punggol because there were no roads, no signs; some attap houses and tracks, and you had to find your way around. But we got lost,’ he said.

In 1996, the Government announced plans to develop the area, with private and public housing, MRT and light rail lines and water sports facilities, marinas and a waterfront park. But the project, Punggol 21, was halted in its tracks by the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

After the economy recovered, the Government revisited its plans for Punggol, and in 2007, PM Lee unveiled Punggol 21-Plus, which includes the waterway as the rejuvenated estate’s centrepiece.

He said yesterday that some have called the waterway the ‘Venice of Punggol’, and promised more developments to come. By the end of the year, 23,000 families will be living in Punggol, and by 2015, there will be a new commercial hub and town plaza by the Punggol MRT station.

 Bringing a little bit of Marina Bay into the ‘heartland’ is no doubt a sweetener to many Singaporeans and a refreshing change from the usual high-rise steel and concrete projects  which have been dominating most of our landscape. ‘Venice of Punggol’ is probably a harmless exaggeration, but I was amused to discover that ‘Venice’ analogies weren’t always as charming or picturesque as what our PM makes Punggol out to be. In fact, it’s not just Punggol that has the ‘honour’ of being called the ‘Venice’ of Singapore. It’s unfortunate that this classic mercantile city, renown for its architecture and art history, has become reduced to a romantic cliche describing any town where you have to ride a sampan to borrow stuff from your neighbours, or go ‘prawning’ literally at your doorstep.

In a 1896 article titled Venice At Singapore’, Waterloo Street was ‘always like a river when it rains’, proof that sarcasm was alive and well in the late 19th century.  In 1906, ‘a modern Venice’ was used to describe ‘a veritable river that had transformed’ and ’emptied itself into the (Bukit Timah) canal at the Junction of Syed Alley Road’ following heavy flooding. It was reported that houses were flooded and the ‘natives’ must have ‘suffered terribly’. 3 years later, a series of floods following the overspill of Stamford and Rochore Canals, creating ‘miniature lakes’ in Geylang and cataracts down Mount Sophia, prompted the ST headline ‘Venice in Singapore’. More than a century on and areas like Orchard Road continue to be flooded, according to this 1982 complaint titled- what else –  ‘Venice of the East’. Just last year, we had a taste of ‘Venice’ again, captured perfectly by the image below of some guy putting a positive, wacky spin on a really bad situation.

Venice of Rowell Road, 2010

Not all analogies were derogatory, of course. In 1969, a Sydney architecture professor praised Singapore as the ‘Venice of the East’, suggesting that our public buildings adopt a form of architecture representing a ‘fusion of both East and West’, without any mention of waterways becoming a mode of leisure transport. A more ambitious analogy was drawn in a letter ALSO titled ‘Venice of the East’ in 2008, where waterways were envisioned as additional traffic arteries to relieve the burden on roads and the MRT, so instead of singing gondoliers entertaining lazy lovers you’d have ‘boat uncles’ with a schedule to meet and impatient commuters to ferry. People would need a life-jacket IN ADDITION to an EZ-link card to hitch a ride.

Architecture and waterworks aside, in 1979 the ‘Renaissance Venice of South East Asia’ , a dynamic techonological hub, was what Singapore was forecast to become in 2000, according to the director of the Science Centre. Minister of State Tay Eng Soon proclaimed that ‘Singapore can survive 1000 years like Venice’ (1988) whose assets are her people, ‘outward-looking, patriotic and practical’ (just like Shylock). So much for predictions then; we have become nothing like the ‘good’ Venice of the East, Asia, or even South East Asia, though now we finally have one to call our own thanks to our PM. And it’s in once ulu-like-hell Punggol.

So there we have it, a Venice that we aspire to be, and a ‘Venice’ that Minister of Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan silently prays that we’d never turn into for good. Let’s hope, for the sake of Punggol residents, that PM Lee’s dreamy description of their rejuvenated ‘marine’ town doesn’t turn out to be a self-prophesising  double-edged one.

Japanese on TV are very stoic looking

From ‘More safeguards to be introduced to curb gambling addiction if needed: Dr Balakrishnan’, 12 March 2011, CNA online article by S Ramesh

…Mr Goh (Chok Tong) said a long term solution is to ensure that the younger generation of today develop interests which stand them in good stead when they age. He added that there is also a need for Singaporeans to be more self reliant.

Mr Goh said: “How many of you followed the latest tragic events in Japan with the tsunami…and then put into context our floods in Singapore against that kind of disaster.

“I am not saying we shouldn’t do anything about the flood. But the amount of noise you made with just sporadic flood compared to the Japanese. I saw them on TV. Very stoic looking. You don’t see them crying. This has happened, just get on, that’s the kind of spirit you want to have and you call it nation building.”

Which channel were you on exactly, SM?

Using images on TV to make an assessment about the resilience of an entire nation is selection bias at its most myopic. SM Goh has probably never in his life ducked under an office table in the wake of a shaking building, not to mention face the wrath of 10 m walls of water, so there’s no way he could understand the magnitude of a plight affecting millions based on the ‘very stoic’ faces of a few survivors which news cameras have chosen to capture, only because the rest are either trapped in buildings, missing or stuck on top of burning buildings. It’s true that Singaporeans have never been tested against wanton forces of nature, so if there’s anything to be said about the calamity, one should keep it along the lines of  ‘consider yourself lucky’, instead of the haranguing ‘the amount of noise you made’. But it’s also likely that if we were ever struck by a tsunami, assuming that we’re all alive following it, we would be too inundated by shock and anguish to complain about the Marina barrage or the government not doing its job. Just like how the Japanese are not complaining , regardless of how outsiders like SM deem them to be ‘stoic’ just from the blank looks on their faces, because, like the Marina Barrage in the face of total disaster,  it’s all useless anyway. The only reason why the Japanese picking themselves up leaves such an impression on us is because of how quake-prepared they’ve been historically, and using that alone as a gauge of a nation’s self-preservation prowess is ignoring all the other factors which have made us a successful nation.

Pushing a weary agenda about Singaporeans griping all the time, using a terribly lopsided example in the form of a catastrophic ‘act of God’ no government can do anything about, is unnecessary and untimely. No Japanese would wish for a tsunami just to display their nation-building capabilities, and to praise that spirit whilst running down Singaporeans for lacking self-reliance using a cavalier analogy is not just an insult to locals but to undermine the disaster as an opportunity to drill some lessons on gratitude, like a parent chiding a child for not finishing his food using a ravaging famine in Ethiopia as an example. Condolences are in order really, not complaints about our complaints.