Lee family Oxley saga a ‘petty dispute’

From ‘Singapore will not be dragged down by Lee family’s ‘petty disputes’, says Goh Chok Tong’, 17 June 2017, Today

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Friday (June 16) weighed in on the Lee family spat over 38 Oxley Road, by urging Singaporeans to “not be dragged down by a family’s petty disputes”.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Goh noted that Singapore has “prevailed through crises and adversity”. “We are a hardy people, built our family and nation from humble beginnings,” he wrote.

Mr Goh succeeded founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1990 and handed over the baton to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2004. He added: “What is happening in public between Lee Kuan Yew’s children is not us and should not be allowed to define who we are. We are bigger than our troubles, stronger than our differences. Whatever damage Singapore may suffer, willfully inflicted or otherwise, I know Singaporeans will not lay meek… We will always look forward, to fight real battles and create a better future for ourselves and our children.”

Yes, most Singaporeans we know have humble beginnings – relative to the Lees, that is. We don’t have an army of lawyers to draft our public statements. We can’t afford to have a sister-in-law or cousin to draft a high-profile will for a dying strongman father. Our kids can grow up to do their own thing without getting dragged through the mud by our aunties and uncles with claims that Dad has political ambitions for them. The only holiday we know is the one where you can chill in peace without someone Facebook posting viral shit about you at 3 am in the morning.

To most of us, a petty family dispute is when second brother forgets to message that he’s eating dinner, Mom overcooks and Dad complains why the fish was steamed instead of being deep fried, while youngest sister threatens to walk out of the house because second brother gets to iPad while she doesn’t. To our overlords, it involves National Heritage, personal integrity on a much grander scale, sung to the tune to $24 million dollars. And in the case of a a certain Lee couple, being forced to leave the country in fear of ‘state organs’. It also gives Chinese microbloggers a chance to laugh at us.

Yes, it’s an ugly state of affairs which may or may not have an impact on our everyday lives. Government will remain Government, as darkly Orwellian as the PM’s estranged brother believes it to be. Lee Wei Ling will continue to bitch about her brother being a ‘dishonourable’ son. Eventually, whether or not a certain Demolition clause is enacted, the Oxley house and all the lawyers behind it will go to dust, just as the Lees along with all of us, this land, this country, would fade into nothing, leaving a mere insignificant blip in this vast cosmic eternity that is bigger than any of us, including LKY, could ever imagine.

 

 

 

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Millennials spending money on avocado toast

From ‘Reality check for the avocado generation’, 28 May 2017, article by Olivia Ho, ST

Are millennials the avocado generation – expensive, high-maintenance and incapable of surviving in the long term?

Australian millionaire Tim Gurner made the assumption earlier this month, when he slammed millennial spending habits during a news programme and drew outrage from Generation Y worldwide.

“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” the real estate mogul, 35, told Australian current affairs programme 60 Minutes.

…The price of avocado toast in Singapore can range from $9.50 for the basics at Monument Lifestyle cafe in Duxton Road to $20 with a scoop of ricotta at The LoKal in Neil Road.

Avocado is the Greek Yogurt of fruits. On its own it’s bland as fuck, but mash it with some seasoning and spread it on bread and it becomes a symbol of millennial decadence. Just like how eating sashimi in the 80’s made you stand out as the class epicurean, eating (and snapping) ‘handcrafted’ avocado toast these days is one of the prerequisites for becoming a micro-influencer or trendy food blogger. Alas, there’s nothing groundbreaking about ‘smashed’ avocado. The Aztecs invented a similar dish in the days of conquistadors and smallpox. It’s called guacamole.

Some curious footnotes about this Superfood:

  • Avocado was first cultivated in this region sometime in the late 1920’s, when it was referred to as the ‘avocado pear’. Presumably because it looks like a pear (though that doesn’t explain ‘pineapple’)
  • In 1937, an Avocado Salad recipe called for cantaloupe, vinegar, chopped cucumber and paprika. Yes, that hipster cafe version is at least 70 years old.
  • Thought stuffing seafood in an avocado pit is the hottest culinary trend? Nope. It was done with crab meat. In 1958.

So why don’t cafe owners call a spade a spade and call guacamole guacamole? Simply because when you see guacamole on a menu, nachos come to mind. And nachos aren’t hip or cool. Unless you rename them ‘hand-cut baked corn crisps’ or something.

Random browsing through the #avocadotoast hashtag on Instagram led me to this. The green mother of all avocado toasts. It’s Ciabatta Hulk, with a rooftop garden.

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As unnecessarily ‘atas’ as the avocado toast phenomenon is, it’s probably unfair to lay the blame on this dish as the reason why millennials are being foolish with their money. The reason: nobody eats it EVERY DAY. If there’s one food that exploits the millennial economy, a food that is daylight robbery personified, it’s the morning and tea-break Venti-sized coffee from your friendly neighbourhood Starbucks.

There’s one way, though, to kill this fad and make the Millennials run back to their beloved artisan lattes – When McDonalds’ comes up with its own Avocado Burger (which is really just putting guacamole sauce in a Cheeseburger) and charge you $7.50 for it with fries and avocado mayo sauce. Oh wait. It’s already been done before.

In the meantime, I’ll skip the $20 avocado toast and get my avocado fix from Alexandra Fruit Stall ($2.50 avocado shake), thank you very much.

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.

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.

 

Tangs having frying pan promotion on International Women’s Day

From ‘Department store TANGS panned for offering discounts on Women’s Day’, 10 March 2017, article in Today.

A popular Singapore retailer came under fire on Thursday (March 9) for “trivialising” International Women’s Day by cooking up a promotion offering cut-price frying pans. The department store chain TANGS marked the day, which falls on March 8 and is observed across the globe by women pushing for greater equality, by discounting a range of items, including two frying pans.

Other deals included beauty products, high heels and shavers.

The retailer sent out a promotional email to customers with the S$38 frying pan offers listed at the top, according to Marketing magazine. The deals were still listed on TANGS website on Thursday.

Campaigner Ms Jolene Tan said the promotion appeared to overlook the struggle of women in the city-state, who are pushing for better representation in company boardrooms.

“International Women’s Day is a day to honour the struggles of women for equality, safety and respect,” said Ms Tan, head of advocacy and research at Singapore’s Association of Women for Action and Research.

“Sadly, too many retailers present it as a consumerist event to be trivialised through sales and discounts rather than attention to the serious issue of gender equality.”

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If there ever were an International Men’s Day, and Tangs decided to have bargains on six-pack beers, remote controls, Crocs and cycling shorts, not only would NO ONE complain, but it would be a total non-event because men and shopping go together like AWARE and flour rollers.

So, what should retailers do to contribute to the recognition of women’s ‘place in the boardroom’? Discounts on designer power suits? Special edition name card holders? Wouldn’t that ignore other no less steely women like the the grandmother who’s also a taijiquan master, our Paralympian swimmers, nurses, Mother Theresa? Would Bollywood Veggies’ head honcho Ivy Singh-Lim call Tangs out for not having sales on potted plants and daisies? If these don’t apply, then International Women’s Day should really be renamed as ‘Alpha-women Day’, or better still, ‘AWARE day’.

For ages, the kitchen has been cast as a symbolic prison for the female of the species. Gone are the days of corsets and chastity belts, and women are referred to as the ‘weaker sex’. Though we had a minister who once said he would rather women spend money on mammograms over a trip to the salon, overall we still live in an era of ‘girl power’. The best selling artistes in the world are women, pop culture is awash with strong female characters, from Dragon Queens in fantasy epics to zombie hunters facing down the Apocalypse to goddamn nasty aliens.  We spend more on Mother’s than Father’s Day. Yet here we have feminists, in the face of a grim economic outlook, slamming deals on household items, footwear and cosmetics, because apparently women are not supposed to benefit from them on Women’s Day. Because the frying pan is the yoke that chains a woman to a livelihood of servitude. Throw away that apron, woman, and join the Sisterhood of the Travelling (Office) Pants.

Congrats Tangs, you just made yourself on the list of nominees for the ALAMAK AWARDS. Imagine the blood that would be spilled if they had offered promos on THIS instead.

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NAC Bin Centre costing $470K, mostly on consultation

From ‘Inadequate financial controls, weak governance uncovered in AGO report’, 26 July 2016, article in CNA

…For instance, in the audit of the National Arts Council (NAC), the Auditor-General found from its checks of contracts for the Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall Redevelopment project that 47 out of 164 variation works were carried out before approvals were given. The delays in obtaining approval were up to 3.5 years, it added.

“The large number of instances indicated a breakdown in the controls put in place to ensure that variations were properly justified and approved before works commenced,” it added.

AGO also found that NAC had paid a consultancy fee of S$410,000 for the construction of a bin centre costing S$470,000. “There was inadequate assessment on the reasonableness of the exceptionally high consultancy fee, at 87.2 per cent of the cost of construction,” it said.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) had told AGO that the construction of the bin centre was more complex and required significantly more design expertise, technical consultancy services and effort to coordinate with multiple parties and these were the reasons for the fee to be above the norm.

The NAC Bin Centre is the EC of all bin centres. To foreign workers who’ve been found living in HDB bin centres, or more commonly known as ‘rubbish dumps’, the NACBC is the pinnacle of refuse repository luxury. For near half a million, you get a classical design, odour control, maybe even air-conditioning and wi-fi. Right in the heart of the Civic District too.

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Imagine how much $40K could do for the arts scene, or local graphic novels like The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Instead of channeling resources into promoting a vibrant local culture, the NAC decided to focus their energies into making a rubbish collection centre ‘blend in’ with the help of some overpaid consultants, and in doing so have unwittingly made the NAC Bin centre a star attraction, as Instagrammable as the departed Punggol lone tree. Soon it’ll make it into the TripAdvisor Top Things to See List, favorited by those with a morbid fascination with the logistics of rubbish. Step aside, Supreme Court Jail Cell, this is next big thing to hit the Civic District since thousands queued for hours to see a dead politician’s body.

We’ll never look at bin centres the same way again. NAC has taken the humble bin centre from its smelly eyesore roots, pumped in an extreme makeover and created an icon for architecture junkies everywhere. Some foresight may have gone into this; you never know when one can repurpose a lowly bin centre into a hipster cafe, or even a RC meeting room. Yes, versatility is built into its price tag. One day it’s piling trash, the next it’s selling profiteroles or artisan hot dogs. For those who see utility out of having a deserted train station, a 1 billion dollar artificial Gardens, a giant spinning wheel or high-end sandy turf inside the Sports Hub, this $40K is worth every peanut – I mean penny.