May 26, 2017

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Authors Posts by Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong
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Felix Cheong is an award-winning author of 10 books, including the satirical Singapore Siu Dai series. He teaches journalism at the University of Newcastle and Murdoch University.

by Felix Cheong

A fictitious self-confessed arts buff, Arthur Aw, complains that Singapore packs far too many arty events than are humanly and financially possible for him to attend. Maybe it’s time the Government steps in to regulate the industry.

IS SINGAPORE over-festivalised?

No matter which direction I swivel my head, there is some kind of festival asking to be counted and courted. And it’s not a good thing for my wallet.

This month alone, there are three film festivals competing for my eyeballs and credit cards: the German Film Festival (Nov 3 – 13), the French Film Festival (Nov 10 – 20) and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, the Singapore International Film Festival (Nov 23 – Dec 4).

That’s not forgetting other film festivals that had already done their time: the Israel Film Festival (Sept 22 – 25); the Buddhist Film Festival (Sept 17 – 24), the Japanese Film Festival (Sept 1 – 18), the Design Film Festival (Sept 3 – 11), the Love and Pride Film Festival (Aug 19 – 31) and the European Union Film Festival (May 10 – 22).

My wife and I, film buffs to our Singapore Core and beyond, have bought tickets to so many films over the past six months that we often skip lunch to save money. Even our two children have to share one meal a day (and sometimes, none at all).

There is so much food for thought that we just cannot afford to give any thought to food.

As if that doesn’t pile on our misery, there are numerous arts festivals whooshing through and swishing around town.

This month alone, there are six die-die-must-go festivals, happening almost one after another: the Singapore Biennale (Oct 27 – Feb 26), the Illustration Arts Festival (Oct 28 – Nov 6), the Singapore River Festival (Nov 4 – 5), the Singapore Writers Festival (Nov 4 – 13), the Affordable Art Fair (Nov 18 – 20) and the Anime Festival Asia (Nov 25 – 27).

Tickets can cost anything from $20 to more than $100. And that’s not including the ones that had already taken our breath (and money) away: the Dans Festival (Oct 13 – 23) and the Singapore International Arts Festival (Jun 22 – Jul 9).

Like all Singaporeans brought up to appreciate (read “grab”) a buffet spread, we make it a point to make it for all arts events, even if it means attending them on an empty stomach.

It’s the yao gui syndrome. Anyone old enough to have an elephant’s memory will remember that back in the 1980s, Singapore was derided as a “cultural desert”.

Well, not anymore. This desert is now an oasis flooded by and drowning in the arts. In fact, there’s so much buzz that it’s giving us a headache.

Our belts have also run out of holes for us to tighten and, short of selling our four-room HDB flat in Punggol, we can no longer afford to patronise the arts.

This is where I strongly feel the G can step in to regulate the industry, the same way it has historically stuck its fingers into all the small spaces of our lives.

For a start, it can publish a White Paper detailing how organisers can coordinate their festivals so they do not bunch up. Alternatively, festivals can be run once every four years, like The Fifa World Cup and the Olympics.

Secondly, we should be allowed to tap into our CPF to pay for arts events. Or a government subsidy, much like the ActiveSG credit to encourage people to lead healthy, sporty lives, could be dangled, like an election carrot, to all citizens.

After all, art is good for the soul is good for the mind is good for the body.

Arthur Aw

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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By Felix Cheong

I.

“WE NEED more MRT station announcements in Chinese,” Jun Liang said loudly. His voice had never recovered its quietude after being the National Day Parade commander many years ago.

The Community Integration Committee, seated like empty coffee cups, were in various degrees of absorption in their smart phones. It had convened, at the behest of the Prime Minister, after several elderly Chinese people were reported missing inside MRT trains.

“My mother was lost, lost, lost for six hours last Tuesday until we made, made, made a police report,” Jiayi said. Her colleagues had noticed her speech pattern had not been the same since she took up Candy Crush. She had a habit now of repeating words in multiples of three’s. But they were, of course, too Singaporean to point out the obvious.

“Where did they find her?” Krishnan asked.

“In Johor. Shopping.”

“But what about the non-Chinese?” Aisah asked.

“They can take a taxi to Johor!” Ai Leng exclaimed helpfully, her eyes bright like K-pop stars. Her colleagues secretly believed that if the exclamation mark had never been invented, she would be rendered speechless.

“I mean, the non-Chinese will not understand the Chinese announcements,” Aisah said.

“Good point. We have to be fair to everyone,” Jun Liang said thoughtfully and paused dramatically.

“So we will run Chinese classes for non-Chinese,” he said finally.

“And why should they want to learn Chinese?” Krishnan said, annoyed.

“Because they could then communicate with the other 74 percent of the country.”

II.

“We should invite non-Chinese performers for the countdown show,” Jun Liang wrote on the white board. Years of turning his voice to blast level had finally done him in. His vocal cords were permanently damaged.

At the behest of the national broadcaster, the Community Integration Committee had convened. After the last meeting, Aisah and Krishnan had resigned, citing irreconcilable differences, and were replaced by Aisha and Krishna.

“Why do we need, need, need non-Chinese performers?” Jiayi said, without looking up from her smart phone. Suddenly, she sensed Ai Leng’s exclamation marks sucking the air out of the awkward silence.

“!!!”

All eyes took turns digging into Jiayi to excavate some common sense out of her.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she finally said, putting down her phone. “No more Candy Crush during meetings.”

Aisha and Krishna rolled their eyes.

Jun Liang quickly took charge, listing, in two columns on the white board, well-known Chinese and non-Chinese performers. After some mental sums, he managed to balance the CIMO quota, using the HDB racial quota as a guide.

Everyone nodded. It seemed equitable, considering the talent pool on a small island was small, even at high tide.

“We will end the show with the countdown in Chinese,” Jun Liang wrote.

“But this is the New Year countdown, not the Lunar New Year countdown, right?” Aisha said, annoyed.

Ai Leng shrugged. “Is there a difference!”

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Felix Cheong

I HAVE to admit – my eyes couldn’t stop rolling in their sockets when news broke on Friday (Oct 28) that the silly “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen” song, by Japanese comedian Piko Taro, cracked the Billboard Hot 100 at number 77.

Along its phallic way – you don’t find the whole business of thrusting pens in fruits oddly sexual? – it also set the record for the shortest song to chart, at just 45 seconds.

Yes, in the time it takes you to clear flatulence left over from lunch, the song’s over.

Song-stupid-song-stupid-chart.

That a viral outbreak like this occurs every now and then isn’t new in pop history, of course. Think back to the horse-riding antics of Psy four years ago and you’ll realise how often it happens.

For pop music has become so mass-produced, so hip and hyped that music fans occasionally need something offbeat to purge their system.

 

Here’s my pick of 10 novelty songs that made money over the years:

  1. “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” – The Beatles (1970)

Maybe the Fab Four needed this non-sequitur to mark the end of an era. Or maybe they were just high on something and messing around in the studio.

Whatever it was, “You Know My Name”, released as the B-side of the classic “Let It Be”, is unlike anything the Beatles had recorded. Half-sung, half-spoken, the song has a great hook and only one line – “You know my name/Look up the number”.

Listen especially to John Lennon ad-libbing gibberish towards the end. It’s as bizarre as it gets.

 

  1. “We All Stand Together” – Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus (1984)

Sir Paul McCartney, singing with frogs? Yes, and it’s croakingly hummable!

This ditty was lifted from an animated film, Rupert and the Frog Song. Believe it or not, it leapfrogged to number three in the UK pop chart and re-charted when it was re-released a year later.

If the NDP people were looking for another national song – why bother commissioning one that no one remembers anyway? – they could do no worse than pick “We All Stand Together”. Its lyrics are as apt as “Stand Up for Singapore”:

Win or lose, sink or swim
One thing is certain we’ll never give in
Side by side, hand in hand
We all stand together

 

  1. “Axel F” – Crazy Frog (2005)

I’m not done with frogs yet; the next entry is so annoying you feel like throwing it in the well.

Sampling the theme song from the Eddie Murphy movie Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Swedish actor and playwright Erik Wernquist created an earworm that was a number one hit in 13 countries, accompanied by a computer-generated music video.

The Crazy Frog, which doesn’t actually sing but makes irritating noises, will probably turn you off frog leg porridge for a while.

 

  1. “Disco Duck” – Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots (1976)

Many of these novelty numbers often involve spoofing pop culture trends. Remember Weird Al Yankovic and his send-up of monster hits like “Beat It”?

“Disco Duck” is no exception. In the late 1970s, you couldn’t duck – lame pun – disco music no matter where you turned. So American DJ Rick Dees recorded this funky track, complete with a Donald Duck voice.

It made number one on the Billboard pop singles chart and was one of the biggest sellers of the 1970’s.

 

  1. “Dominique” – The Singing Nun (1963)

I included this gem only because it’s Sunday and I’m Catholic.

At a time when American teens were into idols like Elvis Presley and the surf music of The Beach Boys, a quaint French acoustic tune strangely made waves and hit number one.

Stranger still was that it was about St Dominic, founder of the Dominican order, and the singer was a Belgian nun, Jeannine Deckers. She would later receive two Grammy nominations.

Not long after she gained fame as a singer, Deckers left the convent. Her life didn’t end well as she ran into financial difficulties and eventually committed suicide in 1985 with her lover, Annie Pécher.

 

  1. “Pac-Man Fever” – Buckner and Garcia (1982)

If you’re old enough to remember Pac-Man, you’re old enough to remember this song. It chomped its way to number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold in excess of one million copies.

No such luck with Buckner and Garcia’s follow-up, “Do the Donkey Kong”. I guess you can only fool the public once. So it was game over for the duo.

 

  1. “Shaddap Your Face” – Joe Dolce (1981)

This is what you should blast at full volume when you’re five times over the legal alcohol limit.

American-born Australian singer Joe Dolce had a surprising number one in the UK with this pub-pleasing ditty. It also made number one in 11 other countries and sold over six million copies worldwide.

The inspiration for the rude chorus was Dolce’s Italian grandparents, who would shout “shaddap your face” to silence noisy kids.

 

  1. What Does the Fox Say – Ylvis (2013)

No list of oddball songs would be complete without “What Does the Fox Say”. Ironically conceived as an “anti-hit” by Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis, it actually became a worldwide hit, with over 630 million views on YouTube.

It peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 – the best performance by a Norwegian artist since A-ha back in 1985 with “Take On Me”.

What does Ylis say now?

 

  1. “Twelve Gifts of Christmas” – Allan Sherman (1963)

Since the Orchard Road light-up warns us that Christmas is just round the corner, it’ll be remiss of me not to include Yuletide parodies.

The first, by American comedy writer Allan Sherman, takes the old favourite, “Twelve Days of Christmas”, and piles on ridiculous gifts, such as Japanese transistor radio, green polka-dot pyjamas and “a calendar book with the name of my insurance man”.  It reached number five on the Billboard chart.

You’d have a ball belting this out loud on Christmas Day.

 

  1. “Jingle Bells” – The Singing Dogs (1955)

You could bark up the wrong tree and still find gold, as evident in two singles released in the 1950s.

The Singing Dogs was the pet project of a dogged Danish recording engineer, Carl Weismann. While trying to record bird sounds, he found that barking dogs often spoiled the recordings.

He did what anyone with too much time on his hands would do – splice the dog barks into songs.

Before you could cry “Fetch!”, he created recordings of songs like “Oh, Susana!” and even the ole Christmas classic, “Jingle Bells”.

The novelty record reached number 22 in the US and sold over a million copies, proving, once again, that you can still teach an old dog new tricks.

 

Featured image is a screenshot from Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen video.

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by Felix Cheong

This week, a fictitious young man, Jack Leo, is confused by smoke signals fanned by the G. Is he supposed to study engineering to please the economy? Or maybe he’s supposed to step up as a cyber security expert? Or a criminal lawyer? You’d need to be chameleon to satisfy the G’s aspirations for you.

CAN the Government please make up its mind what exactly it wants me to study? Stop sending so many crossed signals, like the train fault screwing up the East-West Line four times this week.

In July, in a Youth Day message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told young people to follow their dreams. “Your dreams today can become your passions tomorrow,” he said.

Inspired, I signed up immediately for a workshop on clowning, which involved eight hours of watching Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump speeches, played simultaneously on a split-screen.

But then, in the same week, Mr Lee also said, at the 50th anniversary of the Institute of Engineers, the country is in dire need of engineers. “One can argue that Singapore was built on the backs of engineers,” he said.

I knew he was hinting, in no uncertain terms, for me to take up engineering. So I retooled my passion by sending out applications to the engineering schools of NUS, NTU, SIT and UniSIM. It didn’t matter if I was intellectually suited for the field. If my country needed my humble cog well-oiled for the economy, I’d roll with it.

But then, at the end of July, an article in The Straits Times, which I read more religiously than the Bible, said that Singapore needs more R & D scientists “to study cutting-edge tech to make a difference”.

Something clicked and everything, even my Mom, fell into place. This was my dream at last, what I was meant to do for my “One People, One Nation, One Singapore”. Even though I had no idea what biotechnology is – I figured I’d know soon enough when classes start – I immediately sent out applications to NUS, NTU, SIT and UniSIM.

But what has detoured my pursuit of my country’s dreams for me, are various newspaper reports this month pointing out shortfalls in the job market. First, UniSIM said its new law school – Singapore’s third – will produce much-needed lawyers in family and criminal law.

Even though applications have already closed for the upcoming academic year, I decided my dream was really to make it as a criminal lawyer. Engineering and R & D could wait.

So, with encouragement from my Dad, a lifelong learner who’s never worked a day in his life because he’s too busy attending courses, I put in an application to study law next year.

But then, an ST article on Sun (Oct 23) reported that Singapore needs more cyber security professionals. Fearing I’d miss the boat if I didn’t act soon, I sent out applications to the usual suspects to study IT.

This was before I read another article in the same edition that the social service sector also faces a shortfall of about 500 people a year.

Ah, I could be of some use here. Or so I thought. Before I could put in another application to study social work at NUS, yet another ST article, on Monday (Oct 24), talked about a manpower shortfall in the community care sector.

By now, you’d be as bewildered as me. What does my country want of me? What does it want me to study? What kind of passion should I have? And what – or whose – dreams should I follow?

A clown can only juggle so many balls.

Jack Leo

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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By Felix Cheong

A fictitious digital native, Hal Neo, writes about suffering from digital dementia. He asks if the G understands the cost of turning Singapore into a smart nation. 

MY NAME is Hal Neo. And I’m in stage three of digital dementia.

It’s taken me much courage – and several cans of Red Bull – to come out of the closet. But with numerous Whatsapp messages of support from my family and my girlfriend (herself in stage one), I’ve made the painful decision to come clean.

This is after The Straits Times ran a report about digital dementia on Tuesday (Oct 18). It’s my duty to warn you readers that this disease is meritocratic; it has no respect for GRC boundaries or your last-drawn salary. You’re as likely to get it as anyone else, regardless of race, language or religion. 

I’ve consulted Dr Manfred Spitzer, the German neurologist who coined the term ‘digital dementia’ in 2012 to describe how our over-reliance on technology has caused a serious breakdown in our hard-wiring, akin to dementia. His prognosis isn’t good. I only have a few months before I lose my mind altogether.

I began noticing a while back (can’t recall when) that I had to check Instagram to remember what I had for breakfast. If someone talked to me on the street, I’d take a photo of him, post it on Facebook and let its face recognition software identify his name. Without #ThrowbackThursday, I couldn’t remember most of my childhood.

These strategies worked – for a while. But the problems started piling up. I remembered my birthday only because Facebook reminded me. If I had to fill in a form asking for my phone number, I had to give a missed call to someone nearby. I couldn’t talk in more than 140 characters. No one understood me, least of all myself.

This letter, in fact, had to be composed via tweets, with my mother helping to connect the sense between sentences.

This is why I read with dismay that students in future don’t need to leave the classroom to visit the heritage trail in Katong or Duxton. They just need to wear virtual reality goggles. 

No, the world exists in the real, not something you can download. What next? Get a virtual partner for virtual marriage, move into a virtual HDB flat to have virtual sex in small virtual spaces?

Has the Government calculated the economic costs (healthcare, loss of productivity, the usual numbers it excels in churning out every quarter) if a whole generation goes down with digital dementia?

The impact is already showing. A driverless car hit a lorry during a test drive in Biopolis on Tues (Oct 18) – with two engineers on board. Two engineers couldn’t control a runaway computer car! 

Yet, the very next day (Oct 19), the Land Transport Authority said it will start a trial run of self-driving buses at the Nanyang Technological University in 2018. This is on top of driverless road cleaners due to come our way. 

Have we lost a few bolts, like the MRT screen door at Sixth Avenue station? Do we need a reboot to get our priorities right? 

All this push (more like a shove) towards being a ‘smart nation’. All this worship of technology as the only way to a better life. All this money pumped into technology, only to make us stupider.

Hal Neo

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Felix Cheong

ANY member of my family will testify, hand on the Bible or a copy of the Singapore Constitution, that I’m quite a cheapskate when it comes to eating out. And that includes even celebrating special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays. Why spend more when two can eat as cheaply as one?

In the light of the economic downturn about to turn our lives a shade darker, it’s especially prudent to watch the bottom line. (Which might be good, come to think of it, for your waistline.)

The good news is you don’t have to stop eating out altogether. You just have to start eating smarter. Here are my top five tried-and-tested tips:

 

  1. Credit card promotions

Any credit card worth its weight in your wallet offers dining promotions all-year round (except the school holiday season of June and December). Those that don’t, leave home without them.

From DBS to UOB (download their apps to get the latest deals), they bring to the table a range of discounts from 10 per cent to 30 per cent, depending on your total bill spent.

But the deal I swear by is the 1-for-1 promo. Buy one, get one free, like voting in a GRC. This is the mother of all deals.

Take your pick. From buffet lunch at Aquamarine at Marina Mandarin to main courses at chill-out cafés like High Society, these are big money-savers when you have the whole clan (preferably in even numbers) out to celebrate Ah Boy’s 21st birthday.

A caveat – terms and conditions apply, though not in the Jover-Chew sort of way. Some outlets limit your booking to six pax; others don’t entertain bookings on weekends and special days like Valentine’s.

If in doubt, keep your magnifying glass handy to read the fine print. Or ring up the restaurant to double-confirm.

 

  1. Credit card points

Cash out your credit card points in the form of dining vouchers. No point keeping them – they won’t rot, of course, but they also don’t do much except sit around in your account and shoot the breeze.

Check how many points you’ve accumulated when your credit card bill comes a-knocking. Cash them out the moment they reach a critical mass. In this way, I’ve gotten hold of $20 vouchers to restaurants like Crystal Jade and Canton Paradise. It’s not much, but at least it gets a decent meal of fried rice and a glass of warm water (at 50 cents!) down your stomach.

 

  1. Voucher vulture

People collect stamps; I collect discount vouchers. They’re my equivalent of food stamps. And they can be found all over the place, if only you know where to sniff them out.

For a start, go through the junk mail stuffed into your letterbox. A few could well be a goldmine of restaurant discount vouchers. Cut them out, keep them in an envelope within easy reach of an empty stomach.

Outside malls or at MRT stations, you might occasionally find restaurant staff handing out flyers. Take all of 30 seconds to check if it has any cutout coupons before binning it.

Or pick up shopping mall brochures. Sometimes, if the planets are aligned, you might come across a discount voucher or two for cafés that have recently opened.

Alternatively, bite your tongue as you flip through The Sunday Times. Lost in the haze of G-friendly news, you might suddenly find shopping mall coupons for 1-for-1 specials.

A few websites, such as SGDTips, collate these promos in one handy-dandy page. Bookmark them for easy reference.

And if you haven’t checked out Groupon, you should. On good days, you might spot fairly good deals, with discounts of up to 40 per cent.

 

  1. Sign up membership

A few cafes, like TCC and Coffee Club, offer membership deals in which you pay upfront, say $50 (NOTE: TCC’s is $88), for a stack of dine-in vouchers, usually worth more than the fee itself. Best of all, during your birthday month, you’re entitled to 50 per cent off a meal.

(By the way, in case you don’t already know: At Swensens, you can get a Firehouse ice-cream, on the house, on your birthday. Just order any item on the menu, flash your IC and presto, a free treat, complete with birthday candle!)

Others, like Starbucks, offer 1-for-1 drinks when you purchase a store-value card, top it up with the minimum $10 and register the card on its website.

Even if most restaurants don’t dish out such membership deals, they do put out cheap set lunch meals, especially on slow-business Mondays. Keep an eye out for them when you’re window-shopping.

 

  1. Apps

By far the most worth-it find for me, over the past six months, has been table reservation app Eatigo. It’s easy to use and easy on the pocket.

The app allows you to reserve a table from its partner outlets (anything from Bangkok Jam to Modestos) and the discount runs on a sliding scale, depending on the timing (in half-hour blocks).

If you, like me, don’t mind an early meal at off-peak hours like 11am or 2pm, then you can easily secure a 50 per cent discount off your bill (only for ala carte items. Service charge, GST, drinks and set meals are usually not included).

This can be a hefty saving, especially with a big family in tow. I recently brought my family to Pappasan at Dorsett Hotel for a Sunday lunch. We wolfed down satay, kueh pie tee, beef hor fun, Penang fried char kway teow and nasi goreng. The bill surprisingly came to just under $60 for six of us, half the full amount.

These are, by no means, the only ways to eat on the cheap. But they are good starters!

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Felix Cheong

Joseph Sim, a fictitious Pioneer Generation retiree who had written last week about why he thinks Singapore is falling apart, rides another of his hobby horses this week. Here, he argues for another vice to be brought above ground.

.
WHY ON earth did we change our country code from SIN to SGP?

As far as I’m concerned, whether in sports or any other business, the best letters in the best order that best describe this city are S-I-N.

From talk of claustrophobic sex for young people in Parliament, as Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo had done on Tuesday (Oct 11), to how the government allows online gambling, we seem to have slipped a long way from moral high ground.

You can call it progress, a changing of the times or maybe even time for a change. Call it what you like. But let’s not hide behind polite language.

Take, for example, what Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said last week (Oct 6) about the government’s move to allow online gambling.

The most telling line for me is this: “It is a global market with a lot of money to be made, and the worst thing is that it is unregulated and there are no safety measures in place.”

I was immediately struck, and dumbstruck, by “a global market with lot of money to be made”. So this is the pot of gold at the end of the issue. So much money, so few legitimate ways to grab it.

Everything else, all the talk about spaces – whether unregulated, unprotected or safe – is really like looking through a telescope. A lot of outer-space emptiness.

If I allow Mr Tan’s logic, then why were two men charged this week (both on Oct 10) for vice activities?

First, a former hotel chef was sentenced to three months’ jail and fined $23,000 for subletting the condo units he was renting to prostitutes.

Now, wasn’t he providing “a tightly managed safe space” for vice, the kind of small space Mrs Teo had been advocating for sex? Or maybe because this chap hadn’t offered the government a cut of his profits that he was hauled up to court?

Then a webmaster was put in jail for four months for helping prostitutes to advertise their services for a year. He was also fined $6,000.

Surely, here is a man who had not only “managed (online) space” for hookers, but also provided them with “safer alternatives” than street walking the lorong of Geylang and getting beaten up by pimps.

Moreover, he had used his computer skills in a way that would have made the Communications and Information Minister proud. For, at the Oct 8 launch of the new statutory board, the Government Technology Agency, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim had said: “Singapore must remain forward-looking and embrace technological change to realise our vision of becoming a smart nation.”

So why was this forward-looking geek not feted for his marriage of the world’s oldest trade with technology? Maybe because he had not declared his $50,000 earnings to the tax collector?

Here’s my two-cents’ worth: Since men will look for sex anyway, inside or outside of wedlock, in sickness or health, why not exploit the opportunities?

Nationalise brothels in Geylang so they are protected and safe spaces (condoms are not optional). Take the business away from petty entrepreneurs who have driven vice underground and into cyberspace.

It’s a two-in-one solution that is economically sound and rationally defensible. The wayward Romeos get serviced, the economy gets more bang for its buck.

To do otherwise is SINcerely unconscionable.

Joseph Sim

 

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By Felix Cheong

A concerned citizen, Joseph Sim, reflects on why Singapore seems to be coming apart at the seams.  

WHAT in the world is happening to my country?

Not a week passes without something that busts, bursts, cracks or crashes. And that’s just using the first few words I could find in the Thesaurus to go with “break”.

I have the not-altogether-incorrect impression that Singapore is breaking down, breaking up and breaking apart at the seams. The litany of woes is not about to take a break any time soon.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

This week alone, platform screen doors at Sixth Avenue MRT station cracked up (and I didn’t find it funny), causing yet another train disruption. Mind you, this is a relatively new station that shouldn’t have such breakages.

On Monday (Oct 3), another tree fell at Holland Close and brought down gas pipes that affected more than 100 flats. This followed the domino momentum started by a heritage tree that had keeled over and damaged six homes at Pearl Bank Apartments last month.

It all adds up: sunshade of a HDB block in Tampines that collapsed last week; glass walls of an infinity pool in a condo that shattered in August; sheltered walkway in Bukit Batok that gave way when a lorry crashed into it in June; an escalator step at a mall that suddenly came apart in January and almost sent a woman sprawling into the gap.

Also, in case you readers have forgotten: Recurring sightings of rats giving pest controllers the runaround all over the island; frequent train faults and delays; lift breakdowns that had caused serious injury and death; and Christmas decorations that spontaneously burst into flames last December.

And, of course, sinkholes that strangely appeared in roads several times in 2014.

Just rattling off this list tires me. It’s like things are taking turns to lose screws and bolts. It’s like your body is being eaten from the inside and you don’t realise it until hair and teeth come off at the same time. By the time you rush to the clinic, a trail of blood (or poop) has already begun following you.

Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But for small people like me, even molehills look like mountains.

Again, I ask: What in the world is happening to my country?

I have a theory. You may not agree with me but, if you indulge an old man his thoughts, hear me out.

It has to do with a fishball stick.

Not just any ordinary fishball stick but one with an extraordinary historical significance because it was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day Rally in 2014.

It was a fishball stick carelessly thrown on the pavement near Bukit Gombak MRT which a resident had complained about. It was a fishball stick that wasn’t cleared by anyone for a couple of days. It was a fishball stick that had set off meetings between several government agencies as to whose responsibility it was.

If you want a metaphor of what’s wrong with this country, that’s it.

Who’s the culprit? Take your pick: The one who can’t care less; the one who only knows how to complain; the one who passes the buck, or the one who protects his turf.

It all adds up and it all comes down this:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Joseph Sim

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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By Felix Cheong

A patriotic citizen, Chew Sum More, is all for SMRT bidding to construct the LRT in Bandung, Indonesia.

IT IS with great pride – and not without a jingoistic jig – that I read about SMRT submitting a joint bid with an Indonesian engineering firm to build the Light Rail Transport (LRT) in Bandung.

The public transport operator made this announcement on Monday (Sept 26) in a Singapore Exchange filing.

It does not matter that in the same week, the LRT in Bukit Panjang broke down on consecutive days and had to be suspended for six hours on Wednesday (Sept 28) due to a track fault.

As a believer of home-grown talent, I strongly feel SMRT should not be faulted for such coincidences. It’s just bad luck or bad timing, which is too bad if shareholders want to quibble about it.

The bottom line, for a public-listed company soon to be delisted, is to show me the money. And the money, as SMRT reported last month, is not showing up: It posted a 23 per cent decline in first-quarter profit, with revenue falling 2 percent to $313.9 million.

SMRT can only get back on track if we, as commuters, support its plan to stretch its staff between overseas projects and local operations.

No need to complain why rectifying the track fault had taken so long. As SMRT has already warned us in numerous posters put up all over its stations: “We’re working on it.” The promise is in the compromise.

And certainly, these LRT disruptions don’t make the company look any worse than what it already does. It’s like trying to tar the colour black – not impossible, but why bother?

This is why Bandung mayor Ridwan Kamil declared, in a Facebook post, that SMRT has already been awarded the tender. It does not seem to matter to him that even though SMRT can’t get its own house in order, it’s looking to build someone else’s house 1,000km away.

Why? Because the “made-in-Singapore” label is worth the money. Because Singapore is the second most competitive economy in the world.

And SMRT, if anything, is competitive. Kudos to a company that had not only taken the brunt of Singaporeans’ wrath over the past five years for numerous train breakdowns, but also developed a hide thick enough to venture overseas!

This is surely what the Singapore Spirit, often cited by ministers but never seen in public, is all about. The silence of resilience, the ability to get up, get out there and get on with it.

As my grandmother used to say: Bite off more than you can chew now, for you may never know if there’s a tomorrow.

Chew Sum More

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang. 

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By Felix Cheong

An impassioned citizen, Buskaran Traineran, writes an appeal to Singaporeans to cut the Land Transport Authority some slack because some of that slack is picked up by its greater attention to small details.

SINGAPOREANS are not an appreciative lot. All we ever do is complain till the cow peh cow bu comes home. Especially whenever the MRT breaks down, as the Circle Line did on Tuesday (Sept 20), and you reach home (or the office) later than usual.

Have you looked up from your phone and noticed that the colour of the bus number signs at bus stops had been changed to a uniform lime green? A small gesture, no doubt, in line with the nobody-had-asked-for-it Colour Your Buses campaign.

Do you appreciate that civil servants (maybe an action committee comprising half a dozen Superscale-something scholars) had given their youth to thinking this up? For lime-green numbers will naturally be a welcome distraction, especially when you’re fuming that your bus still hasn’t arrived, despite the all-seeing Iris app telling you otherwise.

When was the last time you didn’t see the need for free Wifi at MRT stations? Have you said “thank you” in the silence of your heart that it has, in fact, benefited some poor chap who is five minutes away from being fired (or fried) if he’s late for work again?

Have you thanked the stars for the free phone charging points at MRT stations that you don’t really need? That this service, in fact, has benefited people who hang around the station and count the bars till their phones are fully charged, free of charge?

Have you taken notice of USB charging points on 10 SMRT buses? Do you appreciate that the poor chap standing at the far-end of the bus needs the charging point more than the aunty sitting next to it (who probably doesn’t have a phone anyway)?

And have you made the effort to visit a bus stop equipped with fans and appreciated that you can turn them on? Do you cool off just as quickly as you have fumed over the non-arrival of your bus, knowing that, once again, an action committee somewhere had dreamed this up in the comfort of their air-conditioned office?

So why do we complain about crowded buses and train breakdowns? Every major city has its fair share, from London to New York City. If you don’t have them, you don’t deserve to be called a world-class transport system.

What makes ours uniquely Singaporean is that we make up for the inadequacies by small, innocuous, inconspicuous, blink-it-and-you-miss details. These are what make and break careers.

How many more CEOs do we want to see leaving the Land Transport Authority (LTA)? Mr Chew Men Leong quit last month, less than two years on the job (or on the line). How many more Transport Ministers do we want to see leaving the cabinet (and leaving politics altogether)? We’ve had three in 10 years.

Just because the LTA motto is “We keep Your World Moving” does not mean these able men should keep moving on and out.

All it takes, my fellow Singaporeans, is for you to stop complaining too much, too often and too long. If the LTA can take care of the small things, the big things, like mysterious signalling problems that plagued the Circle Line, will take care of themselves.

Say it often enough and you’ll believe it. I’ve tried it. It works.

Buskaran Traineran

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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