Little India in need of sprucing up

From ‘Little India needs sprucing up’, 10 Dec 16, ST Forum

(Roy Goh Hin Soon): Little India is not as organised as Chinatown. Most of the shops in the small lanes feature businesses that have no relevance to tourism at all, such as shops selling automobile spare parts, and food caterers.

More can be done to spice up the area to attract more visitors, such as having food and beverage outlets with reasonable standards, and outdoor performances.

Currently, apart from Mustafa Centre, only the Indian Heritage Centre is an attraction in the area, but I see few visitors dropping by.

Also, walking along Serangoon Road is truly a safety hazard. Visitors are forced to squeeze and walk along the five-foot way.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and Singapore Tourism Board need to go back to the drawing board to work out how we can fully capitalise on this precious tourist belt and put Little India and Serangoon Road back on the tourism map.

Little India has long been recognised as a tourist spot ever since the early eighties, and unlike the stark , ‘organised’ pretentiousness of today’s Chinatown, always had a haphazard, chaotic charm about it, especially if you dive into the deluge of humanity on Sundays. Not only is Little India a colourful enclave with a bit of violent social history, the area was once known for its tourist-terrorising ‘giant rats’. Today, our own politicians paint a slightly anarchic picture of the Serangoon area, calling its foreign worker patrons ‘walking time bombs‘.

What the writer is suggesting by relocating businesses with ‘no relevance to tourism at all’ is to turn the district into a manufactured theme park that is more ‘blah’ than ‘buzz’, where you’ll eventually need paid entertainers to make putu ayam in front of gushing, selfie-snapping tourists. Instead of row after row of sari souvenir shops, wouldn’t it be more interesting to chance upon, say, a UKELELE shop for a change? Even Chinatown, I’m sure, has its fair share of merchants selling stationery and photocopy services to nearby office workers, and not bak kwa at every corner you turn.  Mom-and-pop stores in Little India may not even survive for long, with STB embarking on an online marketplace project called Dei.com.sg. Even Mustafa, a 24 hour shopping mecca, will have its work cut out for them.

The complaint betrays a naive lack of understanding of what modern tourists want to experience, something off the beaten path but not too far off; a place – in other words, with ‘character’, where people actually live and work, not just performers paid by STB to put flower garlands over your neck in greeting while performing a scene from Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, tourists are already flocking to the ‘real Chinatown’, a district already tagged as a ‘powder keg’ and long renown for its street food and uncharacteristic sleaze: Geylang.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 9.58.17 PM

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.

LKY wanted his Oxley Road House demolished

From ‘Mr Lee Kuan Yew stated in will that he wanted Oxley Road Home demolished’, 12 April 2015, article in Today

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had specified in his will that the house he shared his late wife on Oxley Road be demolished after his death, and this wish will be “administered strictly”, said his children Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

In a statement issued today (April 12), Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who are the executors and trustees of the late Mr Lee’s will, said their father had given them clear instructions directly and in his will — dated Dec 17 2013 — to demolish the house immediately after his death. If Dr Lee continued to live in the house, then the house should be demolished immediately after she moved out.

The late Mr Lee, who passed away on March 23, had been aware of the calls to preserve his home, but his wish expressed to his children and publicly was “unwavering” — that the house to be torn down upon his passing, said Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

“He was concerned an order might be issued against his wishes. He therefore added in his Lee Kuan Yew Will that ‘If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants’,” they said.

When interviewed during the launch of his book Hard Truths in 2011, LKY said that he didn’t want his Oxley residence, a ‘big rambling house’, to end up in shambles like Nehru or Shakespeare’s, and that because of his presence, nobody in the estate would dare build anything higher than his own. Even Google Maps can’t get anything out of its Street View of 38 Oxley Road beyond what appears to be an impenetrable forest.

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The media tells us that the house was ‘spartan’, with LKY’s bed bearing nothing more than a ‘towel blanket’ and a bolster. The downstairs bathroom had traditional mosaic tiles, a ‘hamdankong’ (barrel for making salted eggs) and an urn filled with water for bathing like how people used to wash themselves in the old days. Other than the old man’s computer, the second most modern thing in the house is probably his exercise bike, which looks set to the next piece of memorabilia to be displayed at the National Museum alongside his red box and the ‘battleship’ telegram. I’m sure LKY wouldn’t mind if someone designed an exact replica of the house as an exhibit by itself, with Gurkhas, hamdankongs and all.

There is currently a 1500-strong petition to gazette the house as a national heritage site and museum, which seems like a good idea for the sake of future generations, provided the government maintains it such and ignores the issue of property prices. Hundreds of years down the road people would still flock to Oxley Road like how tourists swarm the House of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire, where you could bring home a mini 38 Oxley Road fridge magnet as a souvenir, or get your picture taken with a Gurkha against the backdrop of the PAP’s ‘War Room’. The Chinese are already doing that to LKY’s ANCESTRAL home in Guangdong, regardless of what Singaporeans think.

Alas, LKY was not a man who would succumb to fawning sentiment, and would rather see a hideous luxury condo take its place in Oxley than have a part of his legacy worshiped and swooned over like devotees to a shrine. The last thing our late founding father wanted was to have his private domain turned into a site of pilgrimage, or a giant statue built in its place like our version of Christ the Redeemer. He already has a baby in India named after him, Jeyaprakesh Lee Kuan Yew. The least we could do, as grateful Singaporeans, is to fulfil a dying wish, and not be disobedient to Ah Gong like this writer/consultant in 2013, who basically thought destroying a monument in Singapore’s history was a silly idea. Ignore his wishes, and risk having Oxley Road eternally haunted by his angry hatchet-wielding spirit.

Still, it would be nice if we had an open house before the government sends the demolition team in, with the blessings of daughter Lee Wei Ling of course. You would probably have to start queuing from Novena MRT station for 8 hours to get a sneak peek, which could be a boon to Orchard Road businesses by the way.  Wonder what’s to become of the Nassim Jade and Scotts 28 apartments, though.

UPDATE(13 April 15): Lee Wei Ling has decided to continue staying in 38 Oxley Road. The house gets to live another day.

Couple having sex in RWS jacuzzi in front of children

From ‘Couple causes stir in Resorts World Sentosa jacuzzi’, 14 Dec 2014, article by Lim Yi Han, Sunday Times

A couple allegedly stripped and had sex in a jacuzzi at Resorts World Sentosa’s Beach Villas last Friday afternoon, in full view of horrified guests. While the jacuzzi was meant only for the couple’s villa, it sat within a larger pool being enjoyed by other guests.

One guest, who wanted to be known only as Madam Lee, told The Sunday Times that she was alerted to the incident when her two children and their two cousins – aged between five and 11 years – noticed that the woman was not wearing anything from waist down. The children were swimming in the pool at the time.

The 41-year-old housewife, who was there with other family members after one of them paid about $1,000 a night for their villa, said she alerted the concierge immediately, and told the children not to look.

“But the couple started having sex in the jacuzzi. It was very obvious, and my mother shouted at them. I quickly ran in to get my phone and snap pictures, and they stopped only when they saw me doing that,” said Madam Lee.

“I would have closed one eye if the kids were not there, but I’m surprised the couple did it even though they were aware there were children around.”

…Those guilty of public nudity can be charged under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, and face up to three months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,000. For committing an obscene act in public, the maximum punishment is three months in jail and a fine.

Embarrassed, curious, shocked, amused, angry perhaps, but the ST chose to describe onlookers as ‘HORRIFIED’. Madam Lee herself admitted that she would have let the horny couple go at it if there were no kids around, though I doubt that would stop voyeurs like her from taking photos either. If there’s anything useful about this complaint it’s that people, not just young innocent children, should avoid private jacuzzis altogether. You never know what remnants of bodily fluids lurk in that bubbling cauldron of sex.

Telling your kids ‘not to look’ is just about the worst parenting advice ever. Children will stumble onto sex inevitably, whether it’s from the Internet, a HDB staircase, void deck, on public transport, even erotic bus ads. A mother determined to shelter her children’s eyes from any activity hinting at public fornication would have to equip them with smart visors 24/7, a gadget that turns your field of vision into a mosaic fog once activated by Mommy’s stern voice, or if the device detects two human bodies connected in a pattern consistent with ‘fondling’.

Better still, hook your 11 year old up with chastity underwear with erection sensors, because once you stop him from staring at people having live sex, his adolescent mind will automatically conjure up fantasy scenarios beyond a wet romp in a hot jacuzzi. Once an arousal is detected, a signal will be transmitted to an app in Mommy’s phone with the notification: ‘Level 5 erection detected’, after which the program will share tips on how to control your kid’s bodily urges, like throwing him into a tub of ice or making him kneel before an altar and confess to some angry deity.

Children should be protected from domestic violence, misogynistic rap songs, bad grammar on public signs and people not clearing trays in hawker centres. An encounter with public sex is an opportunity for realistic, fact-based parenting, not puritanical liturgy; To teach children that people engage in exhibitionist sex because they’ve run out of ideas in the bedroom, that excessive time spent in a jacuzzi is bad for your sperm (after which you can educate him about what sperm is), and that if you ever think of hanky-pankying with your classmate in the void deck, the penalty will be some uptight housewife whipping out her phone (which they only ever use to play Candy Crush), uploading your pic on Stomp, and exposing the precocious, disgraceful pervert that you have become, your life ruined forever.

Shisha ban affecting the ‘character’ of Arab Street

From ‘Shisha smoking on decline over past 2 years’, article by Amir Hussain, 10 Nov 2014, ST

…Last year, the authorities revoked the outdoor smoking licences of 12 out of 23 shisha cafes in the area for allowing shisha smoking outside designated areas. Under the law, food establishments are allowed to have smoking areas of up to one-fifth of their outdoor refreshment areas. There are now 16 licensed shisha retailers, with the majority in Kampong Glam. This is a far cry from the 49 in 2012.

A ban on the import, distribution and sale of shisha, which will kick in later this month, will allow existing retailers to sell the tobacco product until July 31, 2016. Noting the gradual decline in shisha providers over the past two years, seven businesses, ranging from carpet shops to an outdoor gear retailer in the Arab Street area, told The Straits Times they were not surprised by the ban announced in Parliament last week.

…But the first shisha retailer in Singapore, Cafe Le Caire’s owner Ameen Talib, said: “The fact is that shisha brought a certain character to the area, led it to be known as an Arabic Quarter and added a certain vibrancy.”

Dr Talib, 52, first received a tobacco retail licence from the Health Sciences Authority in September 2001, two months after opening his restaurant in the then sleepy Arab Street. The former accountancy professor, a third-generation Arab Singaporean, said he wanted to rejuvenate the former Arab Quarter of colonial-era Singapore.

“When you walk around, you need to smell the aroma of kebab, the aroma of shisha. Visually, you need to see people sitting on the road relaxed, smoking shisha. You get the feeling you are in the Middle East. And you need to hear Arabic music as you walk down the road,” he said.

In 2004, 3 years after Dr Talib first introduced Singaporeans to shisha, or ‘sheeshah’, he called Arab Street the ‘only bohemian village in town’, where one can have ‘nice, CLEAN fun’ without alcohol. A shisha contraption, of course, other than having a pipe that you stick in your mouth and trade saliva with others, is far from ‘clean’, despite the use of a bubbling water vessel that gives the illusion of ‘purification’. Before MOH resorted to a total ban, HPB had to rely on public education i.e scare tactics to warn users that shisha wasn’t just another form of social smoking. Unlike a standard cigarette, you risk contracting not just lung cancer, but Tuberculosis and HERPES. It’s like putting an ornamented pubic toilet brush in your mouth and sucking on it for hours. Yes, don’t let that cute Ninja Girl blowing a dildo-shaped watermelon shisha fool you. That thing is a biohazard.

The same shisha-pushing professor also called for a blanket ban of alcohol throughout the area back in 2012, in order to preserve the ‘core and heritage’ of Kampong Glam, the same shisha-centric ‘character’ that he pioneered back in 2001. There was no shisha before Talib opened the floodgates, but it doesn’t mean that Arab Street, with its carpets, textile, spice shops, tomb-makers, didn’t have any less of its Islamic ‘charm’ then, even if it didn’t immediately transport visitors to the bustling smoky, dusty bazaars of Baghdad sans camels and belly-dancing slave girls. In fact, some shop owners in the area even agreed that shisha was a relatively new trend, and was NEVER connected to Kampong Glam’s identity and history. Maybe the Sultan and his royal family imported them secretly from the Middle East back in the 19th century, but it was never a feature of the ‘kampung’ vibe on the streets.

So what’s Talib’s cafe going to do now that it doesn’t sell alcohol and recently had its shisha licence revoked for flouting outdoor smoking regulations? How about some nice, clean, live screenings of football over authentic Samovar tea then? The total ban may be a little extreme, given that cigarettes are spared because they have become ‘entrenched’ according to MOH spokesmen (and also taxable), but to say that banning shisha will make the ‘Arab Quarter’ lose its ‘character’, ‘vibrancy’ or ‘heritage’ is a pitiless excuse for the real reason; Fear of business going up in smoke. Ban prostitution and you’ll have pimps complaining that, like losing shisha, it’ll deprive Geylang of its ‘character’ and ‘colour’ as well.

‘Lau Pa Sat’ in Tamil can be used to curse people

From ‘STB to correct Lau Pa Sat and tighten translation process’, 7 Nov 2014, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The Lau Pa Sat sign which was incorrectly translated has been removed and will be corrected, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Friday. STB also said that it will tighten the process of translating its brown signs, which indicate tourist attractions or landmarks.

“We had notified the operator and they had taken immediate steps to remove the sign and work on correcting the translation,” Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail said in the statement, referring to the erroneous Lau Pa Sat sign.

She added that the board will ensure the new sign is checked by language experts. A photo of the sign, which translated “Sat” as “Sani” or Saturday in Tamil, was being circulated on social networks. The word can have a negative connotation, and can be used to curse people.

Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that “Sat” in Lau Pa Sat was a truncation of “Saturday”.

SAT you, STB

SAT you, STB

Notice that this brown sign has Chinese, Tamil and Japanese on it, but no Malay. Contrast the selection of languages with other tourist attraction ‘brown signs’, such as East Coast Park, which has Malay, Japanese but no Tamil. There are inconsistencies elsewhere. Sri Krishnan Temple has no Malay or Japanese, while Little India has Malay, Chinese, Japanese but not Tamil. The image next to the Lau Pa Sat text doesn’t look like Lau Pa Sat at all, more like the Supreme Court dome. Why didn’t anyone spot this glaring error instead?

According to ST, the Tamil translation for ‘Sat’, or ‘Sani’, is also a reference to ‘Satan’, the only diabolical connection to the Lord of Darkness being that Lau Pa Sat is owned by food court conglomerate Kopitiam. Other Tamil speakers from the ST FB page were quick to clarify that ‘Sani’ refers to the planet ‘Saturn’. This isn’t the first time STB made a mess of their promotional material, summoning the Devil or otherwise. In 2002, the Hungry Ghost Festival was translated in Chinese to ‘HUNGARY Ghost festival’.

I’m not sure if Tamil is notoriously difficult to translate, but getting lost in translation has haunted Tamil linguists for more than a century. In 1940, a slogan on signboards campaigning for people to grow their own vegetables for ‘health and victory’ was read as ‘Unless you grow vegetables we shall lose the war’. Or maybe that was secretly intended to serve as war propaganda to rally Indians into amassing combat rations for our comrades. A Malay song in 1952 titled ‘A yoyo Ramasamy’ riled some Indians because it translated into derogatory lyrics describing labourers who ‘drink toddy and get intoxicated’.  In 1989, a multi-lingual No-smoking sign on a TIBS bus was slammed because it contained a nonsensical Tamil word. You also don’t see Tamil subtitles for English movies on national TV, or hear any of the PMs in the 60-year history of the PAP speak a single full sentence of it during their National Day Rallies. It can be a problem too if you even attempt to anglicise Tamil. Some years back Bread Talk were accused of mocking the race and language by naming one of their creations ‘Naan the Nay’, which probably has the same racial connotations as someone mocking Mandarin with ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’.

But it’s not just STB who deserves Hell for their laziness in translation. NHB made a more humiliating mistake previously by translating Bras Basah in Chinese to the literal ‘bras’ (undergarments) on their Night Festival website. They soon made a ‘clean breast’ of it and fixed the atrocity. I wonder if STB has a brown sign for Sim Lim Square. Now if that were translated into Satan’s Square because of its reputation of scamming tourists out of their hard earned money and forcing people to get down on their knees and wail to the gods, they wouldn’t be that far off.

Mandai should be left alone for future generations

From ‘Use Punggol as a lesson in development’ and ‘Mandai should remain untouched for our next generation’, 15 Sept 2014, Voices, Today

(Sum Siew Kee): I was recently at the Punggol Waterway Park and it is an impressive development. No one was there, however, and I could guess why. It was the early afternoon on a weekend. The sun was blazing and the trees were small and few. The bare grass and concrete around the park did not help.

I looked at the woods in the vicinity and wished that I could be in the shade. Then I remembered that Punggol had been a forest/mangrove, razed for residential development. We are spending money to recreate the waterways and replant the trees. And if the trees do not provide sufficient shade, the park will be used only in the early mornings and late afternoons.

The redevelopment at Mandai should take this lesson into account. Instead of something “spectacular” made primarily for tourists, we should have attractions targeted at residents, which need not be big nor fancy. (“Mandai area set for major redevelopment”; Sept 5). Residents cannot visit the zoo or bird park every week, but can take regular walks in a nearby forest, if only to escape the city briefly. This may not bring in the tourist dollar, but it brings positive externalities and makes Singapore a more attractive place to live in.

…We must decide when to spend and when not to spend. Big-budget activities look good on a civil servant’s curriculum vitae, but may not necessarily be the best use of Singapore’s scarce natural resources.

(Ben Lee):…Having visited Mandai’s forested area, I am overwhelmed by the natural settings that house some of our most vulnerable fauna and flora. Many of our native animals survive in scarce spaces within our nature reserves, where human intrusion such as army training, jogging, cycling, school visits, et cetera, is pervasive.

These precious species include the banded leaf monkey, Sunda pangolin, lesser mousedeer, Asian palm civet and flying lemur, or colugo. Ground dwellers form the bulk of the wildlife. In my assessment, the status quo is more ideal for our next generation to appreciate our natural forest, which is dwindling due to developments for housing and recreation.

…My concern, as a wildlife conservationist and advocate, is over the plan to relocate the Jurong Bird Park. There would be more roadkill from heavier traffic and animals encroaching on human settlements due to lack of food and space, as well as an increase in the opportunities afforded to potential animal poachers.

Mr Singapore Zoo himself Bernard Harrison was against the relocation of Jurong Bird Park, citing cost issues (he estimates $200 million), wondering if there’s a dearth of creativity among Singaporeans and would ‘hate to see Supertrees’ in Mandai. The author of ‘Naked Ape, Naked Boss’ was also a former CEO of WRS who left in 2002 because he couldn’t stand the ‘civil service manual’, and didn’t see eye to eye with chairman Kwa Soon Bee. You don’t need to pack Mandai with another tourist attraction to realise that wild animals are already intruding into human territory, from pythons in swimming pools and toilet bowls, groceries-swiping monkeys to crocodiles in reservoirs. Like most people I know, I haven’t visited the Bird Park since primary school excursion days, and it’s unlikely that I’ll revisit even after the big Shift. Somehow conservationists have become afraid to tell it like it is, in fear of being labelled tree-hugging Luddites who collect useless knowledge like the difference between a mousedeer and a LESSER mousedeer, which is ‘Leave Mandai alone, dammit!’.

8 years ago, there were already cries of protest when STB got hooked on this ‘eco-tourism’ craze, proposing a ‘mixed use’ attraction and ‘back to nature’ accommodation. They promised that they would be ‘sensitive’ to the environment. Today, they tell us the same thing, even though the decision has already been made. Since when have we conducted and completed an ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ that was NEGATIVE and we trashed all our mock-ups and blueprints going ‘Oh well, too bad, let’s just build another casino on Sentosa then’? How about doing an EIA on a more regular basis AFTER you’ve poked your itchy fingers into virgin land? That is the only way to determine if you had been ‘sensitive’, or just bloody clumsy. Tell us how many trees would need to be uprooted, how many animals displaced, instead of throwing a EIA report in our faces saying ‘See I told you so!’.

In spite of what the Government has done for the Park Connector Network, the Green Corridor, an upcoming marine park and Punggol, ‘development’ still sounds like a dirty word these days, and it’s only natural to be wary of our government’s intentions to revamp Mandai in a bid to pursue the tourist dollar, after what we’ve done to Tampines Bike Park, and proposing to do to Bidadari or Bukit Brown, in a frenzy of ‘progress’. Even Pulau Ubin’s fate looks to be on tender hooks now. As for Punggol, PM Lee once called the Waterways our very own ‘Venice’. Charming and novel the first time round, the artificiality of it gradually dawns on you, that the eco-park theme still pales in comparison to the raw, twig-crunching-beneath-your-feet joy of forest treading. Unlike the actual city, the only thing sinking, however, appears to be its popularity among people who’re NOT ‘Punggolites’.

No matter how creative you are with eco-projects, you can’t stop Singaporeans from eventually getting tired of them. A retreat from the city means a day spa in Batam or ECP for the average Singaporean, not wandering through the forest feeding mosquitoes. We’d rather be stuck on our sofas in our air-con rooms watching Animal Planet Youtube on our iPads. Ah, BUT NOT THE TOURISTS, they say. Seriously, if tourists want an ‘eco’ experience they’d go to Indonesia or Costa Rica. STB should focus on preserving our hawker culture, not tussle with environmentalists whenever they want to chop down some trees to make way for a spa in a log hut facing a mangrove swamp.

Yet, we tend to be knee-jerkingly protective, and rightfully skeptical, over radical makeovers of untouched land when we have so little of it left, but the truth is that Mandai has been altered in bits and pieces over time, and because we eventually adapt to these ‘developments’, we fail to realise that today’s Mandai only vaguely resembles the old Mandai of the past. From what used to be lush tin mining territory, we’ve snuck in a Zoo, widened its roads, built extensions of a reservoir, highway and golf course, warehousing, army camp, orchid garden, a state-of-the-art crematorium, and finally a Night/River Safari to its current incarnation. Before you know it there’ll be a freakin MRT line there. It’s like replacing parts of a vintage car with new shiny ones. You’ll only realise the stark difference once someone adds the finishing touches and by then it would have been already too late, your protests drowned out by the assurance that this spanking new vehicle will be ‘bigger and better’, and that many ‘consultations’ with concerned parties have been held. More like ‘consolations’ really, because they’re going to DO IT ANYWAY.

This incursion into Mandai isn’t a brutal rape of Mother Nature; it’s a slow creep to the death, like a painless, but invasive, tumour, and before you know it, 30 years from now, you’ll have condos facing our new Mandai Reserves called ‘Mandai 8’, ‘Le Fauna’, ‘Sky Safari’,  hipster cafes dedicated to the late, great orang utan Ah Meng, a jungle-themed mall and cinema. Rare creatures like mousedeer and pangolins would have died out before anyone this generation has seen one outside of the Zoo’s enclosures. Nature enthusiasts who’ll complain about the first condo in Mandai would have long forgotten that the same voices went unheard back when we talked of building a damn army camp there, when we were probably also told that the government would be ‘sensitive’ to the whispers of the wild.

If our obsession with progress, little-by-little, goes unchecked, it would not be nature’s whispers but the haunting bellow of ghosts that we’ll be hearing. Bernard Harrison has proposed building an ‘UN-ZOO’ instead of lumping the Bird Park together with the current attractions. He would probably agree with me that a better alternative would be to leave the Mandai wilderness UNTOUCHED.