June 23, 2017

Authors Posts by Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang

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by Andrea Wang

BARELY a week after 7-Eleven recalled its stock of the popular Taiwanese milk tea product, Chun Cui He Milk Tea, another popular food product has been pulled from the shelves – Sakusaku Cheese Corn. The cheesy snack was part of a series of Japanese tidbits introduced last month.

Unlike the milk tea that was pulled because of an unapproved additive however, it seems the recall this time was over… spelling.

Responding to queries, a spokesman for 7-Eleven Singapore said the product was removed temporarily due to spelling errors on its ingredient label. For example, “liquorice” was spelt as “licorice”, and “artificial” spelt as “artificail”.

Said the spokesman: “The products were returned to our supplier who will make the amendments to the labels for future new shipments of stock. We apologise for any inconvenience caused to fans of the Sakusaku Cheese Corn during this period.”

The Sakusaku Cheese Corn snack, cooked with cheddar, camembert and cream cheese flavours, was part of a series of 12 premium Japanese snacks under the 7-Select brand.


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Singapore's President S.R. Nathan (C) is greeted by supporters, after his re-election for a second term at the nomination centre in Singapore August 17, 2005. Singapore's President S.R. Nathan was formally re-elected on Wednesday after poll officials disqualified all other potential candidates. REUTERS/Luis Enrique Ascui LA/PN - RTRKR81

by Andrea Wang and Vishnu Preyei

YESTERDAY (Aug 26), Mr S. R. Nathan’s funeral service opened with a Tamil song – Thanjavooru Manneduthu. Those of you who watched his service may have heard it, but the song’s significance to Mr Nathan is linked closely to Singapore’s history. Thanjavooru Manneduthu means: taking mud from Thanjavoor (a village in India).

Thanjavooru Manneduthu was one of Mr Nathan’s favourites, said Mr Gopinath Pillai, Ambassador-at-Large and friend to the late President. Mr Pillai said that Mr Nathan had a “lighter side”, and loved to watch Tamil and Malayalam movies.

This song was played in the Tamil movie Porkkalam and was written by Vairamuthu, a famed Tamil poet who has written the lyrics for more than 5,000 Tamil songs. Porkkalam was released in 1997 and was a commercial success.

While the movie is about the struggles of a potter who wants to get his mute sister married, Mr Nathan looked at the song lyrics and “heard in it a tale of Singapore- how from many, we became one”, said Mr Pillai.

The song, which is about taking clay from different parts of India to construct a doll, resonated with him, “despite our different traditions, cultures and religions, we could be ‘one people”’, he added. Mr Nathan himself is of South Indian Tamil descent and was born in Singapore.


Here’s our translation of the lyrics:

Taking mud from Thanjavooru, Taking water from Thamarabarani (x2)
Added together the doll was done, this isn’t a doll, this isn’t a doll, this is truth
I have sculpted many dolls kanamma, but none of them glow like you

Thandanane Thandanane Thandana Nightingale – god
gave me divine guidance to make you, my beauty

Nose done with mud from Moonuru – silky
cheeks done with mud from Melooru – her
lips only done with mud from Thenooru

Black tresses done with Karisapatti mud
Golden neck done with sangagiri mud
Beautiful mouth done from vaiyagatthu mud
Beautiful teeth done from mallayooru mud
For the mud to make her forehead I went all around the world
but to no avail so I ended up taking mud from the moon to make her forehead

Thandanane Thandanane Thandana Nightingale – god
gave me divine guidance to make you, my beauty


I took mud from Thangaviyal for her shoulders – I
took Thamarapatti mud for her bosom
I took Vazhaiyoothu mud for her stomach – I
took Kanjanooru mud for her hips
From the streets of Kanjipoor I took mud for her hands
I took mud from Sreerangam for my little girl’s fingers
From the stream of Pattukotai I took mud for her legs
I took mud from Paanjaalanguruchi for her nails
Taking mud from all over the country I gave created her body
but I gave my soul, I gave my soul to lighten up her eyes

Thandanane Thandanane Thandana Nightingale – god
gave me divine guidance to make you, my beauty


(Thanjavooru, Thamarabarani, Moonuru… etc are all places in India)


Featured image by REUTERS/Luis Enrique. 

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by Andrea Wang

IN HIS update on PM Lee’s condition following his ill spell during last night’s National Day Rally (NDR), Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also a doctor, revealed that “PM Lee had a vasovagal episode”.

A “vasovagal episode” may sound quite scary, but Dr Balakrishnan assured us that PM Lee is okay. In fact it’s relatively common and is one of the major causes of fainting.

Essentially, a vasovagal episode like the one PM Lee suffered from is a feeling of discomfort caused by the overstimulation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves, which emerge directly from the brain. It is linked to major organs such as the heart, lungs and oesophagus. When you sweat and digest food, it’s the vagus nerve that sends the right signal. It’s also in charge of keeping your heart rate constant.

So when this nerve is overstimulated, it can cause your heartbeat to pause or slow down, lowering blood pressure and temporarily slowing the blood supply to the brain. This is known as a vasovagal attack, or vasovagal episode.

As Dr Balakrishnan said in his post, PM Lee showed the classic symptoms of a vasovagal episode, “sweatiness, low heart rate and low blood pressure”.

Common triggers include seeing an unpleasant sight (like blood), heat exposure and standing for long periods of time.

When the overstimulation of the vagus nerve leads to a loss of consciousness, it’s known as a vasovagal syncope, one of the most common types of fainting.

Other, less common, types of fainting include situational syncope, which is when sudden sneezing or coughing puts pressure on the autonomic nervous system which regulates automatic body functions (such as heart rate or blood pressure) and cardiac syncope, which is fainting caused by heart problems (for example coronary heart disease) that interrupt the flow of blood.

If you happen to have such an episode, you can try asking your doctor for a week off – PM Lee is on medical leave until August 29.


Featured image taken from Elson Soh’s Facebook Page.

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by Andrea Wang

DESPITE the long queues at Singapore’s first vending machine cafe at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive in Sengkang, the hawkers at nearby Kopitiam Square aren’t feeling the heat.

VendCafe is Singapore’s first unmanned 24-hour cafeteria, selling hot food, snacks and beverages. Since its opening two weeks ago (August 7), it has seen queues of up to two hours. Customers can choose to buy food from the vending machines and heat it up at the available microwaves, or they can buy their meals frozen to reheat at home at their convenience.

With a rotating menu of 30 meals, ranging from local delights such as Seafood Horfun, to western delights like Spaghetti with Chicken Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, VendCafe has surprised customers who have commented that the food is surprisingly tasty considering that it came from a vending machine.

The lunch time crowd at VendCafe at 2pm.

JR Group’s CEO Ms Jocelyn Chng seeks to change the mindset of people with this venture, and show that food that is dispensed by a machine can be healthy, fresh and delicious. “When I was younger and supermarkets began to sell packaged meat, everyone said that this couldn’t be good for you,” Ms Chng told TMG as an example. “Nowadays people don’t buy food from the wet market anymore because it’s less hygienic than supermarkets.”

This mindset that Ms Chng seeks to change is one that is very prevalent among the hawkers at the nearby hawker centre.

“After the food is cooked, packed and microwaved, I don’t think it’ll be nice anymore,” said stall assistant Mr Singha Thong, 55, from Kopitiam Square’s Savis Pasta and Salad. “I’ve been a chef for 30 years, people will always like freshly cooked food better.”

Kopitiam Square, which is a five minute walk from the VendCafe, plays host to more than 42 food and beverage stalls, seven of which we interviewed. Although business is not as good as it has been in earlier years, none of the stalls experienced any change in sales since the opening of VendCafe. Some of them hadn’t even heard of VendCafe before.

Like Mr Thong, most are insistent that the lure of fresh ingredients and freshly cooked food is something that VendCafe cannot replicate, and are confident that they can keep their customers.

“Maybe the more common dishes like chicken rice might be successful in a vending machine, but not everything,” said the owner of Lok Lok, Mr Alex Goh, 38.

Some pointed out that there are dishes that simply can’t be sold in a vending machine. “We sell kway chap,” said Madam Teo Jin, 52, a stall assistant from Old Bugis Kway Chap. “You can’t freeze kway chap and sell it in a vending machine, it has to be made fresh.”

A selection of dishes available at VendCafe.

A plus point for VendCafe is that their prices are very affordable, with dishes ranging from $3 to $5. Although we found that in general, the prices at the VendCafe were lower than those at the hawker centre, some hawker stalls were serving food at bargain prices.

“You won’t find a cheaper price anywhere else, our prices are controlled,” said Madam Linda Lum, 54, a stall assistant at Minced Meat Noodle, which sells a bowl of bak chor mee for $2.80.

But perhaps it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

“We’re not trying to compete with hawker centres,” said Ms Chng. “We’re filling a gap in the market for those who want more convenience.”

When it first opened, VendCafe sold 600 hot meals a day, while the interviewed stalls said they served between 100 customers a day and over 300 customers a day. For a store of its size, it is understandable if it appears that VendCafe hasn’t made a dent in the sales of the hawkers there.

So when you’re next feeling hungry, should you head down to VendCafe at the void deck, or weather the elements and take that five minute walk to Kopitiam Square?

We at TMG decided that the best way to decide was to do a direct comparison between the food available from the vending machines, and the food available at Kopitiam Square.

Here are the results:


1. Seafood Horfun


VendCafe’s Seafood Horfun

Price: $3.50

This dish is one of VendCafe’s most popular – and for a good reason. It tastes like the horfun you could get at a hawker centre, and has all the usual ingredients you would expect, prawns, veggies and fish cake.


Ya Fu Kitchen’s Seafood Horfun

Price: $4.40 Closing time: 10pm

There’s nothing particularly special about this horfun, although the portion is noticeably larger than VendCafe’s version.

Worth the five minute walk?

You’ll probably be better off sticking to VendCafe’s Seafood Horfun. While Ya Fu Kitchen’s horfun does taste slightly better, the difference is not so vast as to warrant the extra walk. Also, kudos to VendCafe for providing two prawns, the hawker centre’s had only one.


2. Spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs


VendCafe’s Spaghetti with Chicken Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Price: $4.50

The texture of this pasta was good, firm and slightly chewy. The tomato sauce was tangy and well seasoned. The best pasta option out of the ones we tried.

tomato based pasta takeaway

Savis Pasta and Salad’s Tomato based Spaghetti with Chicken Chop

Price: $5.90 Opening times: 12pm to 10pm

This dish was creamier and had more gravy. In fact the portion was larger in general, and was much more substantial.

Worth the five minute walk?

We couldn’t find a meatball pasta dish at the hawker centre (there was Halal Western Food with its Spaghetti beef meatball marinara option costing $6.50 but it wasn’t available the day we went) but we chose the next best option, which was the Savis’ tomato-based spaghetti with chicken chop. This was a close one. Perhaps if it’s raining, don’t bother with the walk.


3. Nasi Biryani and Mutton


VendCafe’s Mutton Rendang with Biryani Rice

Price: $5.00

Suhaile, our office’s resident biryani fan noted that this biryani was better than many he had tried in hawker centres before, the mutton was tender and flavourful. Of all the VendCafe meals, this one was the most fragrant.


Green Leaf Cuisine’s Mutton Biryani

Price: $7.00 Closing time: 10.30 pm

This biryani is a good $2.00 more expensive than VendCafe’s, and that’s mostly due to portion size. There’s a generous helping of mutton and rice, and an extra papadum. One of the better biryanis you can get here.

Worth the five minute walk?

Although the dishes are not an exact match, Green Leaf Cuisine’s Mutton Biryani is definitely worth the walk. If it’s biryani that you’re craving, go for Green Leaf’s rendition. If you’re just hungry and looking for a fragrant meal, VendCafe’s biryani would do the trick.


4. Vegetarian Bee Hoon


VendCafe’s Vegetarian Bee Hoon

Price: $3.00

There were mixed responses to this, some saying that they there was a nice “claypot flavour”, while others found the noodles to be a bit too oily.


Vegetarian Econ Bee Hoon’s Bee Hoon

Price: $3.50 Opening times: 7am to 7pm

This was a tasty bee hoon with chap chai, mock charsiew and long beans. Flavourful and generous in its portion size, this was one of the favourites in the office.

Worth the five minute walk?

The fact that Kopitiam Square offered an Econ Bee Hoon made this one the clear winner. For only $0.50 more, you can choose two servings of vegetables and one serving of mock meat, and the amount of toppings is much more substantial. VendCafe’s Bee Hoon is not a bad choice though, and you won’t go wrong with it if you’re looking a quick fix past 7pm.


5. Spaghetti and cream sauce


VendCafe’s Chicken Spaghetti with Cream Sauce

Price: $4.00

The cream sauce was a bit watery in places, and the toppings a bit sparse. A decent pasta though, and like the tomato based dish, the spaghetti itself was of a good firmness.

Cream pasta takeaway

Savis Pasta and Salad’s spaghetti with cream sauce

Price: $7.90 Opening times: 12pm to 10pm

The freshness of the ingredients was noticeable, with some in the office noting that the mushroom was “more bouncy”. Savis’ pasta is also customisable, so you can chose the toppings you want.

Worth the five minute walk?

Both have the same ingredients – carrots, mushrooms, ham – but differ in serving size. While VendCafe’s pasta comes in a standard packet size of 300g, Savis’ pasta weighs 771g – more than double the vending machine’s serving. If you have a large appetite, it would probably be worth your time to go for the bigger serving a mere five minutes away. Note the heftier price tag though.


Additional reporting by Wan Ting Koh.

Featured image and images by Andrea Wang and Wan Ting Koh.

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by Andrea Wang

ABOUT a year after MediShield Life (MSHL) replaced MediShield, Integrated Shield Plan (IP) users could see an increase in their premiums as soon as October this year.

Such policyholders could see their premiums increase by more than 20 per cent due to “ballooning medical costs and worsening claims experience”, reported The Business Times (BT) on Wednesday (August 10). The rise would also tie in with the expiration of the IP insurers’ promise to hold off premium increases for a year since the launch of MSHL last November.

A few assumptions (based on past industry data) were made here when calculating this figure – such as claims going up by 5 percentage points a year. According to the BT report, insurers will have to raise premiums by 21 per cent if they are to break even over the next three years.

How much exactly an individual’s premiums will rise will still however depend on other factors, including age, the type of insurance policy, and its coverage.

Apart from rising medical costs, other pressures facing insurers include making money. In a separate report yesterday, BT said three out of these five IP insurers incurred losses last year.

These insurers, Aviva, NTUC Income and Prudential, have chalked up losses due to the skyrocketing cost of claims that have gone up at a faster rate than anticipated, BT said.

AIA and Great Eastern were the two insurers that recorded profits. A sixth insurer AXA Life also offers IP, but because they only started offering plans in May this year, they were excluded from the report.

If there’s a silver lining for insurers, it’s that Singaporeans are increasingly recognising the value of health insurance, and in particular, IP. The Life Insurance Association (LIA) said that there has been a 25 per cent rise in new premiums in the first half of the year, with a sizeable portion coming from IPs.

Back to the premium increases. It is too soon to say how the expected increases may influence individuals, but available government grants could mean that you may not need to pay out-of-pocket costs – something which the BT report left out.

These subsidies are the Premium Subsidy, Transitional Subsidy, Pioneer Generation Subsidy and Needy Subsidy. To find out more about these subsidies, click here. Or, contact your insurance provider for more information on how the upcoming premium increases will affect your policy.


Featured image Health Insurance Premiums by Flickr User Sharon Sinclair(CC BY 2.0).

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by Andrea Wang

IT REALLY was like stepping back in time.

Old school adverts adorned the walls; an old Brands chicken essence advertisement, flecked with rust, hung from the ceiling. A faded sign bearing the iconic figure of a milkmaid carrying pails of milk was propped up against the rafters, next to a plaque illustrated with Colgate boxes.

The store was dimly lit and painted in a palate of muted colours, contrasted by the occasional brightness of the various products filling the shelves. The soft whirring of a fan and the babble of the radio were occasionally interrupted by the friendly chitchat of patrons swinging by for odds and ends.

Some things, however, gave it away. This was not the past, but 2016.

The rusty milo tin, characteristic of provision shops, is nowhere to be seen – swapped out for a cash register that dings and rattles with every purchase. Old school snacks usually stored in clear containers and translucent plastic – replaced by the neon packaging of sweets that would be more at home at a contemporary 7-Eleven than 1960s Singapore.

The provision shop is a staple of many a Singaporean’s childhood, a place where locals would purchase their groceries and daily necessities before the times of 24-hour supermarkets and convenience stores on every corner. More than that, provision shops also served as a hub for the local community.

Although Tee Seng Store is undoubtedly a relic of Singapore’s past, it isn’t stubbornly so. Tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood at Rosyth Road, it has managed to weather the demands of a high-speed, technology dependent Singapore by adapting just enough to keep it afloat.

Modern day household products, snacks and foods may make up the majority of the store, but the feel of the place itself is definitely an old-timey one, with its zinc roof and wooden shelves and cabinets.

The worn out signboard of Tee Seng Store. Image by Najeer Yusof.

Mr Ang Lu Heng, the owner of Tee Seng Store, may be considered by some as the personification of what people miss about old Singapore, and a simpler time. He lives a modest life, but at 76 is still active and busy. Aside from running his store with his wife from 8am to 8pm, he teaches qigong, which he has been doing for over 30 years – every morning at his local community centre as a volunteer.

Mr Ang is a man of few words. “Do I have any regrets? No. If I lived life again, I would still choose to be here managing this shop.”

The eldest of six, Mr Ang was 15 when he began working at the store, helping the owner with chores and delivering goods to people’s houses on his bicycle. He lived close to the provision shop as a child, studying at the nearby Chinese school, Guang Yang School, until Primary 6. He still has a black and white school photo, placed on a ledge on top of the drinks fridges alongside photos of his children.

“After I finished studying, there was nothing to do so I started working here. Eventually when the previous owner stopped, I took over from him.” In 1983, he finally bought over the store after renting it for the previous 20 or so years.

While local director Royston Tan didn’t hesitate to call Tee Seng Store a “hidden gem of a provision shop” when talking to TODAY, one would wager that Mr Ang would downplay such a complement with a chuckle. In his own eyes, there’s nothing at all extraordinary, or even particularly difficult, about what he’s doing.

Tan’s flick, The Provision Shop, used Tee Seng Store as its backdrop, and given its rustic charm, it’s not hard to understand why. Tee Seng Store is currently the only landed property on Singapore’s mainland which doubles as a provision shop.

“Do I have any regrets? No. If I lived life again, I would still choose to be here managing this shop.”

Mr Ang and his wife, who is a year younger than him, live behind the shop. A floral curtain separates the shop from the living space. The same floral curtain can be seen quite distinctly in the backdrop of the telemovie, left there because Tan liked the feel it gave.

Commissioned by Ministry of Communications and Information, the telemovie aired on Channel 8 earlier this month. Depicting the social tensions in society, Tan told CNA that a key theme in the film is embracing diversity.

It has just come up to 60 years since Mr Ang began working at the shop, and he’s seen the community, and the people in it, evolve around him. He’s had to do his fair share of embracing diversity.

Testament to the changes in Singapore’s cultural make-up, Mr Ang shifts between languages with ease, conversing confidently in Malay with one customer, then in Hokkien with another. The interview itself was conducted in Mandarin. “I’ve also learnt Tagalog, some Indian dialects and Thai while working here. I’m not fluent of course, but I know enough to get by.”

Often, parents would bring their children into the store and reward them with a treat or two while they pick up their groceries. Years later, the same children return to their childhood haunts.

“Some of them went overseas to places like Australia to study, but they’ll come back here to visit,” Mr Ang said. “I think they have an emotional connection to this place.”

Although the store lacked the bustle akin to what you would find in your local NTUC, Tee Seng Store saw a steady stream of customers in the hour and a half TMG was there for.

Tee Seng Store stays alive due to the regular patronage of nearby residents, he explained. “Of course business is not as good as it used to be. I don’t make money doing this anymore.”

Various canned goods line the shelves of the provision shop. Image by Najeer Yusof.

True enough, many of his customers seemed to be regulars, fondly calling him Uncle, or calling out to him before even entering the shop. “My customers are my friends,” he said with a smile. For him, his customers are definitely one of the best things about the job.

Nearer to the end of the interview, an old Hainanese lady hobbled through the door with the aid of an umbrella. Instead of heading for the shelves or the fridge as the majority of the patrons seemed to do, she made a beeline for the stool next to the cashier. Easing herself down, she launched herself into an exuberant conversation with nobody in particular.

“She’s old already,” Mr Ang said. “90 plus years old.” He humoured her boisterous chatter with a smile and the occasional comment – when he could get one in.

At one point, a young lady strolled into the store clad in exercise gear. “Hello Uncle,” she greeted him, before putting a drink, damp with condensation, onto the counter. They engaged in small talk before he gestured to a cluster of photos taped up on the shelf behind him. “Did you watch Channel 8 last night?” he asked in English. “They filmed a short movie here.”

After she left, he pointed to three actors who are beaming in the cast photo. “Those boys are the ones who destroyed the shop,” Mr Ang said with a laugh. He was referring to a scene in Tan’s telemovie where three ruffians take a baseball bat to the shelves of the provision shop. He then pointed to a dented golden Khong Guan biscuit container, a souvenir of the filming.

Also proudly displayed are a collection of laminated newspaper articles, tacked up above rows of M&M’s and Vapodrops. “This article was in a New Zealand newspaper,” Mr Ang said, referring to one of the two English articles featured on the wall. Also pinned up is a fuzzy picture of him and the group of people he does qigong with.

Mr Ang has three children in their 50s, none of whom have any plans to take over the running of the shop. His daughter is a teacher and his sons work in IT and the Air Force. He will probably have to let the shop go when he retires.

When asked what he thought the future of the shop will be, he shrugged. “I just live day by day.”

Like many of Singapore’s provision shops, Tee Seng Store will eventually became a faded memory, but it’ll certainly be a cherished one.


Additional reporting by Vishnu Preyei.

Featured image and images by Najeer Yusof. 

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by Andrea Wang

WHEN the words “maid”, “kills”, and “employer” make the news, most people assume it’s the maid who’s done the killing.

Not in this most recent case, where employers of 24-year-old maid, Piang Ngaih Don, were charged for her murder last Thursday (July 28), after the Myanmar maid was found dead in a Bishan flat.

The suspects are mother and daughter, Prema S Naraynasamy and Gaiyathiri Murugayan. Court documents available to the media don’t reveal how she was killed, or the extent of her injuries.

If Ms Piang’s employers are found guilty of murder, they face life imprisonment or the death penalty.

We tried to find out if there had been similar cases in the past five years, but our search turned up nothing. Instead, we found that since 2014, there were at least five high-profile incidents of a maid charged with killing her employer, or a family member of her employer.

Just two months ago, in June, an Indonesian maid was charged with murder, after killing her employer Madam Seow Kim Choo and slashing her husband’s neck with a knife.

A month before that, a maid was charged with culpable homicide after a one-year-old child in her care was found unconscious with bruises.

In 2014, there was also the case of the brutal murder of socialite Nancy Gan, whose maid swung her head against a wall before pushing her unconscious body into a swimming pool. She was sentenced to 18 years in jail.

Then there was this maid. And, this maid. Both involved the killing of mothers-in-law.

Stories of maid deaths that we found usually were related to deaths by falling. They fell while cleaning windows, committed suicide, or merely slipped. In 2012, 10 maids fell to their deaths while cleaning windows.


Featured image from TMG file.

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by Andrea Wang

ON WEDNESDAY morning (Aug 3), a motorcyclist and his pillion rider were injured when strong winds of up to 61km/h caused two canopies at Tuas Checkpoint to collapse.

How fast, or strong, is 61km/h?

The answer: Faster than the fastest man alive.

In the 2009 Berlin World Championships, Olympic runner Usain Bolt reached a top speed of 43km/h in his record-breaking 100-metre sprint.

That’s pretty fast, but not faster than the cheetah, which would have outrun the strong winds on Wednesday easily. Nature’s fastest land mammal can speed up to 95km/h.

Things get even speedier if we start looking at vehicles. The Bugatti Veyron, the fastest street-legal production car, can hit speeds of 408.84 km/h. The top speed of a Toyota Camry is 185km/h, and in case you’re wondering, the average speeds of F1 cars zipping around the Marina Bay Street Circuit is 172km/h.

Going back to wind speeds, check out this video of 110km/h winds in Brussels that knocked over pedestrians and even uprooted trees. That’s almost twice as fast as the winds that blew down the canopies.

In fact, winds in Singapore have reached highs of 144.4km/h, and in June 2014, winds of 103.7km/h on the West Coast highway resulted in 18 incidences of fallen trees, 30 fallen branches, and six snapped trunks.

According to the Beaufort scale, which relates wind speeds to observable conditions on sea or land, winds of 61km/h are an eight on a scale from zero to 12. This puts our canopy collapsing winds as a “near gale”, just one level above a “strong breeze”.

In comparison, a “moderate breeze”, which is described as “Dust and loose paper raised. Small branches begin to move” refers to a windspeed of 20-28km/h.

The land description for a “near gale” is as follows:

“Whole trees in motion. Effort needed to walk against the wind. Swaying of skyscrapers may be felt, especially by people on upper floors.”

Maybe the description should be updated to include the line: “Collapse of checkpoint canopies possible.”


Featured image from Suthen Shemu’el’s Facebook

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by Andrea Wang

IN RESPONSE to reports of sexualised activities at NUS orientation camps, the higher ups at NUS have decided to suspend all student-organised freshman activities. This decision has resulted in a lot of students shaking their heads at the move for being a hasty and needlessly drastic measure.

One such student community, NUS-Yale group The G Spot, and social group The Gender Collective, which promotes discourse about gender, sexuality and privilege, have outlined their qualms in a Statement of Concern, which so far has been signed by over 180 people. You can read the statement here.

Outlined in the statement are three reasons why students are so disappointed with the decision.

They raise the point that overtly sexualised events at orientation camps are symptomatic of a larger problem – worrisome attitudes to sex and consent. Cancelling all activities will do nothing to correct the real issue at hand, they said. Trying to pretend nothing has happened is usually not a productive endeavour. Instead, it is suggested that there should be “long-term measures to foster a culture of respect and consent”, including sexual respect training and workshops to educate freshmen on sexual respect and violence.

They also pointed out that orientation camps offer more than strangely sexualised activities. Incoming freshmen could genuinely miss out on rewarding orientation experiences.

“…many students have also shared their positive experiences at these programmes which have served the purpose of welcoming and introducing them to the university community.”

Lastly, what of the relationship between student and administration? The statement points out that many students have worked hard to plan enjoyable, appropriate orientation activities, and their efforts have been put to vain by the cancellation. The statement urges “the administration to instead adopt a more consultative approach in partnership with students to organise and carry out orientation activities that are respectful of the dignity of all those participating.”

People have taken to social media to air their grievances. Some applaud the decision, while others disagree, echoing the sentiments expressed in the statement.


Click here to read our column on why consent is the crux of the issue.


Featured image UTown, National University of Singapore by Flickr user smuconlaw. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Low Taek Jho, Jho Low

by Andrea Wang

BILLIONAIRE, playboy, philanthropist.

No, not Tony Stark (if he was involved in embezzling funds), but Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, 34, who is a prime suspect in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal. (If you haven’t been following the 1MDB saga, click here to find out what the fuss is about.) Those have been the words used to describe him in various media reports and profiles; from The Sunday Times to The Guardian.

On Thursday (July 21), Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), seized $240 million worth of 1MDB linked assets, half of which belong to Mr Low, who is also known as Jho Low, and his family.

MAS added that its investigation into the wealth fund revealed that many Singapore-based banks need to tighten up their anti-money laundering controls, as it found weaknesses and lapses. Five banks were named: BSI, DBS, Standard Chartered, UBS, Falcon Private Bank and Raffles Money Change. BSI was ordered to close earlier this year due to multiple breaches of anti-money laundering regulations.

Just hours before, Mr Low was named in a lawsuit filed by the the US Department of Justice, which is looking to seize assets linked to US$3.5 billion ($4.7 billion) worth of misappropriated 1MDB funds.


Mr Low’s involvement in the 1MDB Scandal

In February last year, the Malaysian billionaire’s name was first brought into the mix after leaked email correspondences revealed that he was responsible for 1MDB’s controversial joint venture with PetroSaudi International.

PetroSaudi is a relatively unknown company, and was said to be a front for many of Mr Low’s dubious deals. This included a US$700 million (S$950 million) loan that was supposed to be paid to them, but it is suspected that it went straight into his pocket. The money went into a Swiss bank account in the name of a company called Good Star, owned by Mr Low.

At first, Mr Low denied all allegations, even claiming that he was targeted because he was young, rich and Chinese.

“I feel like I’m an easy target and victim perhaps because of my age and unfortunately, from the things done in my early years, the partying where I was having a bit too much fun.” 

However, in the recently filed lawsuit, Mr Low has been accused of using Good Star to launder US$1.03 billion ($1.4 billion). US$400 million ($540 million) of these funds are said to have been brought into the US through Good Star, and used for “the personal gratification of Low and his associates.”

It seems to be more and more likely – from media reports – that Mr Low has been a mastermind in this narrative. It is said that he helped develop 1MDB from Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) into what it is today.

For a full timeline of events, refer to our infographic here.


Billionaire, playboy, philanthropist 

Mr Low has amassed quite a reputation as a big spender – even before he was first linked to the money laundering saga.

In 2009, Mr Low burst onto the New York nightclub scene. Seen canoodling with socialite Paris Hilton among others, he quickly became known for being a playboy and throwing lavish parties.

Image Paris Hilton Net Worth by Flickr user celebrityabc. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The New York Post paints a picture of a flamboyant party animal who had no qualms about splashing his cash, often at exorbitant, high profile parties. With the Big Apple as his stomping ground, Mr Low spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at night clubs. He once flew eight waitresses from a New York bar to an after party in Malaysia. For actress Lindsay Lohan’s 23rd birthday bash in 2009, he bought her 23 bottles of champagne.

Of course, when his own birthday rolled around that same year, he celebrated it with just as much vigour. Arriving at all destinations flanked with Cadillacs, Mr Low’s birthday celebration was a four-day event in Las Vegas that included a pool party adorned with caged lions and tigers.

His antics caught the attention of tabloids, which were abuzz with rumours, some claiming that Transformers star Megan Fox flew down to party with him.

In 2013, Sarawak Report claimed that Mr Low flew his pals on two private jets from Sydney to Las Vegas so that they could “double-countdown” the year. Pictures from that night posted by his pals on Instagram show fancy yachts and expensive drinks that could only have been achieved through extravagant spending.

Jamie Foxx even bragged about the incident on The Jonathan Ross Show.

 “I got a friend, you know he got some money and he flew me, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and some other cats and we flew to Australia, right.  And we did the countdown in Australia then jumped back on a plane and then did the countdown in Vegas. That’s crazy! That was nuts!” 

Mr Low’s A-lister friends may have come from his foray into the film industry via Red Granite Pictures, a Hollywood production company, founded by Riza Aziz and Joey Mcfarland, which Mr Low helped to set up. It was in Harrow where Mr Low became good friends with Mr Aziz, who is the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Image Leonardo DiCaprio by Flickr user Danny Harrison. (CC BY 2.0)

Red Granite Pictures has denied using money from 1MDB to fund its projects, most notably the award winning movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. Not many are buying this. Critics continue to believe that Mr Low diverted 1MDB funds into the production company through Good Star.

Hollywood heartthrob DiCaprio even gave Mr Low a shout out when accepting his Golden Globe, which he won for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street, thanking “Joey, Riz, and Jho”. Mr Low’s name was also listed in the credits of the movie.

Mr Low doesn’t just spend money on parties. He has acquired a taste for expensive properties, especially in the New York area. He purchased a US$30.55 million ($41 million) penthouse in the Time Warner Center, which Beyonce and Jay Z once lived in. Another US$23.98 million ($33 million) went to a condo at the Park Laurel, and US$17.5 million ($24 million) to a Beverly Hills mansion.

Closer to home, Mr Low paid up $54 million in 2013 for two units in TwentyOne Angullia Park along Orchard Boulevard. One of the units was a $42.9 million penthouse, putting it as one of the priciest properties in Singapore.

Aside from real estate, Mr Low also has a penchant for art. With his art collection bedazzled with names like Monet, Basquiat and Rothko, he is also said to have been the customer behind the most expensive painting ever purchased – Picasso’s US$141 million ($191 million) “Women of Algiers”.

Image Women of Algiers, after Delacroix [1955] by Flickr user alltollz_org(CC BY-ND 2.0)
As for Mr Low’s philanthropy, after his brush with cancer in 2012, he founded the Jynwel Foundation. Committing millions to cancer research and to the preservation of wild cats, he has also directed his funds to more honourable pursuits.

 “Jynwel Foundation is built on the Family’s heritage & vision for investing in society, and seeks to fund breakthrough programs that are working to solve the world’s toughest problems in global health, education, and conservation.” 


The source of Mr Low’s riches

The million dollar question we end up with here is: Where did he get his cash from? 

It certainly helps that Mr Low was born into wealth. The son of a rich businessman and the grandson of a liquor and mining magnate who made fortunes in Thailand, Mr Low went to Harrow and then the Wharton School of Business.

Aside from dipping into the family accounts, Mr Low claims to have made his own money though investments, including selling real estate in Johor in 2009. He built up a £650 million ($1.1 billion) investment fund, and runs Jynwel Capital, a Hong Kong fund which has media, retail and property investments.

If the reports and rumours are right, it may not be only his family’s cookie jar that he’s been putting his hands in.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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