National Gallery Gala ‘Empire Ball’ in poor taste

From ‘National Gallery Singapore drops the theme of its gala dinner following public criticism’, 21 Sept 16, article by Huang Lijie, ST

The National Gallery Singapore has dropped the theme, The Empire Ball, from its upcoming fund-raising gala after having drawn flak from the public for it.

Those who spoke out against the theme say the use of the politically fraught term, “empire”, which carries with it the idea of colonial oppression, is in poor taste for a celebratory event. The fund-raiser is now known simply as the National Gallery Singapore Gala.

…The gala’s theme was publicised on its Facebook page earlier this week and since Tuesday (Sept 20), it has drawn public feedback, including comments from artists and curators, about the theme being insensitive and dismissive of the violence and scars of imperialism.

Artist-curator Alan Oei, 40, who is also the artistic director of the independent arts centre The Substation, wrote to the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth on Tuesday, urging that the museum reconsiders how the gala is framed.

He said in the letter that the historically fraught term “empire” is usually associated with the “shameful, oppressive epoch” of imperial rule, although there are some like historian Niall Ferguson, who recognise that “Empire has also been a positive force”.

So far, no Singaporean has rejected the prestigious OBE (Order of the British EMPIRE) award because it reeked of bloody colonial oppression. We also don’t boycott Daiso or Sushi Tei because Japanese icons give us painful reminders of the days of the Occupation. Yet somehow, a certain generation of Singaporeans still suffers from a debilitating ‘colonial hangover’.

In 2013, those who still reel from the after-effects of a ‘shameful, oppressive epoch’ complained about an archway in Queenstown proclaiming ‘Long Live the Queen’.  Despite such disdain for the Crown that once ruled us, we still feted the Royal Couple when they came to visit. Raffles Hotel, a distinctive reminder of a traumatic era still stands till this day, where Singaporeans and visitors alike, seemingly ignorant of the evil Empire’s decadent history, continue to sip Singapore Slings at the Long Bar.

With the recent Brexit, you would expect chills from the ghost of a marauding Union Jack to wane, but noooo shame on you National Gallery, you might as well name your gala ‘The White Gentleman’s Club’. Take the ‘The Time of Empire‘ tour if you dare, and experience sheer misery while strolling down Coleman street and its sickeningly imposing ‘early colonial architecture’.

Today, mention the words ‘Empire’ and ‘Ball’ in the same sentence and most Singaporeans would not think of white superiority, lawn cricket or opium trading, but a galactic spherical spaceship cum weapon of planetary destruction. Well nothing that a Death Star can do that the horrible British Empire can’t top, eh.

Singapore no longer known as SIN at sporting events

From ‘No more SIN, it’s SGP at sports meets’,

Singapore will no longer be abbreviated as SIN at international sporting events. Look out for SGP instead.

The country-code change was approved by the International Olympic Committee last month, following a proposal made by the Singapore National Olympic Council.

The first major Games where the new code can be used is at next year’s Sapporo Asian Winter Games.

Mr Low Teo Ping, Singapore’s chef de mission at the recent Rio Olympic Games, said he has been asked “a thousand times” at sports events why the country adopted the old code, with its negative connotations. Mr Low, who is also Singapore Rugby Union president, said: “It’s not so much a derogatory way of interpreting the old code.

“It hasn’t done us any harm.

“But, at the same time, it’s also not funny after a certain point of time.”

Mr Low added that there is uniformity now, as Singapore’s United Nations country code is SGP. But its International Air Transport Association airport code remains as SIN.

He said: “I think that the change is for a good reason. UN has been using this (code), so it’s nice to be known like this internationally.” SEA Games 200m sprint champion and national record holder Shanti Pereira said that the change is not a big deal.

The 19-year-old athlete added: “We will get used to it. It’s a good thing that it still starts with an ‘S’.

In 2014, a forum writer brought the ‘negative connotations’ of SIN to light, asking if it was in our NATIONAL INTEREST to retain the ‘SIN’ brand. Today, his wish is granted, though renaming Singapore to SGP is unlikely to make us less, well, ‘SINful’.

Not sure if other countries have done the same because their country code is offensive or sounds’ funny’ . Brazil remains as BRA, Liechtenstein is LIE, Madagascar is MAD, and Moldova’s is a shortform of a recreational drug (MDA). SIN sounds tame in comparison. Changing it will only make everyone realise how much ‘SIN’ bothers us, though many believe we’ve committed an atrocious one depriving gold-medal Paralympian winner Yip Pin Xiu of the $1 million prize that able-bodied athletes get for Olympic victory.

Whether it’s SIN or SGP, it’s our representatives’ performance and behaviour in the sporting realm that matters more than country codes, though sometimes the embarrassment comes in the form of ridiculous national attire. Like having the national flag splayed across our water polo boys‘ crotches.

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.

Millennial parents over creative with baby names

From ‘Hello, my name is Abcde’, 6 March 2016, article by Antika Varma, Sunday Times

When 24-year-old Rachel Siu was looking for a name for her son, she went to Greek mythology for inspiration, searching through names of gods and emperors for something “bold and different”.

The mass communications student’s online search led her to the Greek god of flowers, Dianthus, whose spelling she modified to Dyanthus for a twist. She, her husband and son currently live in Perth, where she is studying.

The name is supposed to be pronounced Dee-an-thus.

…Drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as the hit HBO fantasy series Game Of Thrones and popular celebrities, and freely mixing up the spelling to create tongue-twisting, phonetics- defying new words, these parents want a name that no other kid would share in the playground.

So goodbye to John and Jane, and hello to Matz, Ckash, Zoen, Zeremy and Abcde (pronounced Ab-si-dee) – which are not typographical errors, but the tricky names that Ms Sherlyn Chan, 28, a teacher at enrichment centre The Learning Lab, has encountered in her young students.

Dear Mum and Dad,

Glad we caught up over Chinese New Year. Ben already misses his grandparents. Trust you two to have the experience and wits to manage a 2 year old monster.

It’s been great here in Perth since I took up the new job posting. Boss is awesome and the colleagues are more than what any foreigner can ask for. But there’s something I couldn’t bear to tell you over the holidays. Mum cried the moment she saw us come out of the arrival hall, so I held back. I suppose this letter would do.

No I don’t have cancer.

I decided to legally change my name.

I know you two were inspired by both Star Wars and Game of Thrones when you had me. Giving kids an unusual name was the ‘in’ thing then. I remember asking you as a kid what it meant and you said ‘golden child of summer radiance’ in some fantasy fiction tongue, that it reminded you guys of your first picnic date at Marina Bay. It probably didn’t occur to you that not everyone binge reads Lord of the Rings.

Pronunciation was just one of the problems. In primary school there were at least 3 variations, and even the English teacher was stumped. She confessed to me that she tried to Google it but failed. Since then, I was that special kid with a weird name, who grew up holding up Starbucks queues because no one at the counter knew how to write on the cups. When I told them there’s a double consonant in there, they gave a pained expression, as if I just told them to write out Pi to 10 decimal places.

But the real killer was the jokes. I had already switched to my dialect name when introducing myself to new people, but I couldn’t escape when I had to show people my ID. When I got caught illegally parking, the LTA officer shot me a look and backed away ever so slightly. My former boss let it rip at the New Year office party, and everyone was laughing, slapping their thighs because they wouldn’t dare tell him how offensive it was. I couldn’t take it anymore.

So I moved on.

It’s probably not your fault that people make fun of my name. It just happened to be a fatal coincidence. I should be thankful I didn’t get something slightly worse. I’m glad it’s not Ckash, Abcde, wxyz, Antron, LITTLE or BOULDER. I mean, I would have settled for Tan Ah Kow anytime, rather than sound like a gangsta rapper, the sides of a parallelogram, an unflaterring adjective, a megalomaniac evil robot from the Avengers, or a large rock. Though I have to admit it was a conversation starter, and partly because of it I have Sarah, and we have Ben.

Still, given the current situation, I thought it was best that I gave myself a name that didn’t remind people of a deadly virus, but was close enough so that you wouldn’t be too upset. I hope you understand.


Your son, Zachary (formerly known as Zykker)

Eunoia in the Bible alludes to sexual relations

From ‘New JC name lacks local relevance, historical context’, 31 Dec 15, ST Forum

(Estella Young): The choice of an obscure word of Greek origin for the name of Singapore’s newest junior college suggests that despite our year-long SG50 extravaganza to honour Singapore’s history, we still have so little confidence in our ethnic roots that we uncritically look West for grand and noble concepts (“Get your tongue around Eunoia, the newest JC“; yesterday).

I certainly appreciate Greece’s historical and philosophical contributions to human civilisation.

But Asia – where Singapore is located, and from where most of its citizens hail – is similarly rich in achievements and in cultural depth.

Instead of importing an esoteric word from a country more than 9,000km away – which the Bible uses, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, to allude to sexual relations – could the Ministry of Education (MOE) not have found a more familiar one rooted in Sanskrit, Tamil, Chinese or Malay?

Asian cultures do not lack words for personal virtues, achievement, or the pursuit of knowledge.

As it stands, Eunoians are likely to be nicknamed “Eunnoyances” or “Eunuchs” by rival schools (“Eunoia JC? Please rethink the name“; ST Online, yesterday).

At first glance ‘eunoia’ looks like the scientific name of a wildflower, or one of the moons of Saturn. It’s tedious on the tongue and in written form due to the consecutive vowels. It makes you check twice like how one is careful with words like ‘unctuous’ or ‘bulbous’. Nevermind if it describes something beautiful, the word looks, and sounds awkward. It’s only slightly less esoteric than the singer Prince calling himself Prince logo.svg in the 90’s.

Despite the ministry issuing a guide to pronouncing Eunoia (yoo-noe-iea) and not ‘you-know-yah’, a Greek language expert asserts that it should be a 4 syllable word ‘Eh-yu-no-ya’ (Eunoia pronounced as four syllables in ancient greek, says language expert, 31 Dec 15, ST) instead. Between MOE and someone who actually speaks the language, my money is on the latter, though the professor isn’t helping the JC and its Eunoians by confirming our initial guess of ‘You Know Yah’, now with the additional ‘EH’ in front. Some other sources say that it should be ‘eff-ni-ah’.  At least people won’t argue over the pronunciation of names like ANGSANA Primary School. At least that has ‘local flavour’. Still, why is it we’re OK with naming primary schools after local flora but cringe if we suggest things like ‘Orchid JC’ or ‘Chiku JC’?

But to be fair, calling the new JC ‘Bishan JC’ will bring its own share of criticism, that it lacks originality, or can be abbreviated to ‘BJC’, which will draw some low-brow smirks. Someone else suggested ‘Trinity’ JC, but that sounds too much like an academy for priests, nuns and sorcerers. Unlike hospitals, we don’t usually name schools after billionaire philanthropists these days. So, you know ya, it ain’t easy coming up with a JC name. It’ll be a tough call, though, if the alternative to Eunoia happens to be an equally silly-sounding Merlion JC. In any case, MOE is refusing to budge, and maintains that their pronunciation is correct, nevermind what a Professor of Greek Studies, Aristotle, Paul of the Bible or Zeus, God of Thunder says.

So how did ‘beautiful thinking’ become corrupted into a sexual euphemism in the bible? According to the First Corinthians Bible Commentary, eunoia refers to a spouse’s ‘conjugal duty’ to satisfy the other’s sexual needs. ‘Eu’, the adverb (good, well), combined with ‘noia’ (mind) form the compound word ‘benevolence’. In the context of sex, I would read it as if you’re a ‘good’ husband or wife, you don’t ‘mind’ performing your conjugal duties. It’s ironic that someone would call a Eunoian a Eunuch then.

Curiously enough, the Chairman of the SCGS (part of the Integrated Programme trinity of schools making up EJC) board is named EULEEN Goh.  Let’s hope, for the future Eunoians’ sake, that the board has the ‘eunoia’, good mind and benvolence, to change the name and spare their students from the ‘paranoia’ of being mocked by others.

Compass Point renamed as 1 Sengkang Mall

From ‘Compass Point to be renamed 1 Sengkang Mall’, 23 Dec 15, article in CNA

Compass Point will have a new name when it re-opens with a new look next year. The shopping centre said on its Facebook page on Tuesday (Dec 22) that the name 1 Sengkang Mall has been approved by Government authorities.

In the Facebook post, Compass Point said the mall was renamed to Sengkang Mall before updating the post and changing it to “1 Sengkang Mall” at about 10am on Wednesday.

It also announced the winner of the naming contest, who walks away with a S$1,000 cash prize. However, many on Facebook were unimpressed by the choice of the name and urged its owners to stick with Compass Point. Some called the new name “simplistic” and “boring”, or even something a 3- to 4-year-old could come up with.

The mall had narrowed down its list of suggested names to eight choices. The other options were: Sengkang Central Mall, One Sengkang, Sengkang Square, One Sengkang Square, Sengkang One, #1 Sengkang Square and 1SM.

Some names are hard to shake off. I still call the ‘Grandstand’ at Bukit Timah ‘Turf City’, while others, like Orchard’s ‘Wheelock Place’, took a while to catch on after its rebranding from ‘Lane Crawford’. Some older buildings continue to retain names that confuse shoppers. Even now I find it hard to differentiate between Bukit Timah Plaza and Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. Then there’s Bugis Junction and Bugis Cube, Tampines Mall and Tampines Mart, Far East Shopping Centre and Far East Plaza. Some folks give up totally and just refer to shopping centres by their key tenants. My parents used to call Thomson Plaza ‘Yaohan’, for example, and would have continued to use Yaohan whether or not the managment spends thousands of dollars just to change the name of the building from Thomson Plaza to Thomson Square, Thomson Point, Thomson Mall or #One@Thomson.

It’s also interesting how frequently shopping centres use the numbers 1 and 8. There’s ONE KM, Junction 8, Ten Mile Junction (Now Junction 10), 888 plaza and Triple One Somerset. Nobody’s going to rename Jem as Jurong 50 although its actual address is 50 Jurong Gateway Road. What do you expect from a country that names a second bridge to Malaysia, well, the Second Link, and its national stadium The National Stadium.

Shopping centres aside, here’s a list of rebranding exercises that suggest that money doesn’t always buy originality, and that sometimes it’s better to hire a monkey on a typewriter than reward a member of public if you want a name for something.

  1. $400,000 was spent on a marketing agency Interbrand to name Marina Bay as Marina Bay.
  2. $2000 cash awarded to a 15-year old who christened the now defunct Budget Terminal. How was it possible that this beat the awesome FUNPORT?
  3.  $3000 for a winning battleship name. Among those entries selected include the mouthfuls that are Sovereignty and Indomitable. All wonderful names for male libido enhancement pills too.
  4. Attractive prizes including F1 tickets to name TURNS 1, 7 or 10 of the 2009 circuit. These were named ‘Sheares’, ‘Memorial’ and ‘Singapore Sling’ respectively. I’d be extra careful around a bend named ‘Memorial’ if I were a racecar driver.
  5. You’ve probably heard of Nila or Merly, but the reason why ‘Frasia’ doesn’t ring a bell is because it’s a portmanteau of ‘Friends’ and ‘Asia’ and was the product of yet another naming contest for an 2009 Asian Youth Games mascot. It sounds more like a flower than the King of the Jungle.
  6. Ah Boy‘ was shortlisted as a baby orang utan name in 2011 following a contest organised by the Singapore Zoo. That’s what 50% of Singaporeans call their dogs and 100% of grandmothers call their grandsons.
  7. In 2012, one of Scoot’s first aircraft was named, bizarrely, ‘Barry’ thanks to a naming contest. I’m a little surprised no one picked ‘Scottie’.

Yusof Ishak’s name misspelt in SG50 commemorative package

From ‘Typos in packaging of SG50 commemorative notes’, 20 Aug 2015, article in CNA

The launch of the SG50 commemorative notes set on Thursday (Aug 20) was marred by typos.

The name of Singapore’s first President Yusof Ishak was misspelt as “Yusok Ishak” on a foldout portion of the packaging as well as in an enclosed booklet. There were no errors in the spelling of his name on the commemorative notes, released to mark Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.

In response to Channel NewsAsia’s queries, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it is printing stickers to cover the erroneous text.

“We apologise for an unfortunate typographical error in our first President Yusof Ishak’s name in the folder containing the SG50 notes,” said an MAS spokesperson in a statement. “We are printing stickers to replace the misspelt part of his name. The stickers will be affixed to the folders available from the banks, from Aug 25 onwards. Those who have already collected the folders may also obtain the stickers then.”

…MAS managing director Ravi Menon issued a statement late Thursday, taking full responsibility for the error. “This should never have happened, is not acceptable, and I take full responsibility. I apologise on behalf of my colleagues who worked hard to prepare the notes and folders but are deeply disappointed that we made this most unfortunate mistake. We will put this right,” he said.

See what you've done MAS.

Look what you’ve done MAS.

I hope no one gets fired over this boo-boo, and MAS did the right thing admitting their mistake first before someone noticed and posted it online. Chances are you’re more likely to stare at the artwork and play with the 3-D hologram on the currency before reading a single word of introductory text. Wonder if anyone will queue overnight to get the corrective stickers though. Personally I wouldn’t line up again to get one that says ‘Yusof’, or if MAS is as stingy with the recovery budget as they are with proofreading, an ‘F’. F, for FAIL.

Incredibly, people have been making the ‘Yusok’ mistake way before this spectacular gaffe. A trawl through Twitter uncovered these gems more than 3 years ago, when ‘Yusok Ishak’ was the affectionate name people gave to cash in their wallets.

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 11.43.38 PM

Well at least the English on the notes itself is clean, unlike the disaster in 1992 when ‘Board of Commissioners’ was spelt as ‘Commissoners’ on commemorative $2 bills (Spelling error in special issue $2 bills, 4 July 1992, ST). You would, however, expect some critics to complain about the ugly artwork, or how the design looks like a ripoff of some other country’s currency, like our recently minted, Euro-looking, Third Series $1 coins.

Nevermind 50 years of nation-building, another commemorative exhibition last year titled ‘Singapura: 700 years’ was marred by ‘typos, inaccuracies and style inconsistencies’, with Perak’s ‘Slim River’ misspelt as ‘GRIM River’. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra was erroneously spelt as ‘Symphonic’ Orchestra.  Thank you R.M Arblaster sir for your astute nitpicking, though your complaint and call for formal proofreading apparently did little to convince MAS that spelling is paramount, especially when it comes to the name of our first PRESIDENT. Can you imagine if people spelt the deceased LKY’s name wrongly? Their Seventh Month would be very, well, eventful, to say to the least.

If there’s any consolation, ‘Yusok’ isn’t half as bad as spelling Obama as ‘Osama’.