June 22, 2017

Authors Posts by Vanessa Wu

Vanessa Wu


by Vanessa Wu

NEITHER is ComfortDelGro for that matter.

Singapore’s biggest taxi company is hoping to introduce surge pricing, which is an Uber innovation, reported The Straits Times (ST) today. It is also proposing to flatten its complicated fare structure, said its new CEO, Mr Yang Ban Seng.

Commuters would probably appreciate a simpler system given that there are close to 10 different flag-down rates, three different metered-fare structures and more than 10 kinds of surcharges, as well as eight types of phone-booking charges in Singapore. This, however, is provided that a flatter fare is not levelled up, going by what the Land Transport Authority (LTA) found out in 2015.

But surge pricing where fares rise according to real-time demand? Such fares can exceed $140 at crunch times, such as during rail breakdowns.

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Mr Yang said that the proposals would be made to the Public Transport Council (PTC), although he doesn’t seem to hold out much hope: “We would love to do surge pricing, but I don’t think we’re allowed to.”

If ComfortDelGro, the biggest player with more than 16,800 taxis in its fleet gets its way, you can bet the other smaller taxi companies will follow suit.

Uber as well as other ride-hailing companies like Grab are probably watching developments closely, even as others put their operations and strategies under a microscope.

Uber Singapore’s general manager Mr Warren Tseng came out hammer and tongs to rebut a newspaper report that close to 1,000 of its cars were idling in carpark. He said this in an interview with The Business Times (BT) on Feb 8, even though the article appeared in The Straits Times and was based on the newspapers’ checks.

Mr Tseng said that cars that have been “deemed idling in carpark lots” were either new cars that were still under inspection and needed to have the In-Vehicle Unit (IU) installed or cars that were being cleaned after their rental owners returned them.

“With such flexibility, you see cars coming in and out daily. Sometimes they are parked for servicing; other times for cleaning after the driver is done using the vehicle. As an outsider, if you look at the lots, it is easy to assume they are not being hired,” said Mr Tseng. He refused to reveal the total number of vehicles in Uber’s fleet “for strategic reasons”.

Mr Tseng also defended Uber from industry watchers who felt that it had been creating pressure on prices of Certificates of Entitlement (COE), saying that “it is unfair and misdirected to assume so.”

“If you look at LTA’s (Land Transport Authority) data, COE prices have actually dropped from April 2015, which was a month after LCR [Lion City Rental] started, to the current rates,” said Mr Tseng. Lion City Rental is a Uber-owned car rental company that rents out private cars to Uber drivers and the general public.

COE prices have definitely fallen since nearly two years ago as a general trend. But last year, industry watchers said that Uber kept COE prices up when “aggressive” bidding was observed in one of Uber’s exercise to obtain fresh COEs in 2016.

According to an ST report in April last year as well as figures from LTA, the COE prices for cars in all three categories increased in April 2016.

If there was any decrease, it was the Prevailing Quota Premium (PQP). For instance, PQP fell from $49,541 for Mar to $46,077 for April for Category A cars in 2016. PQP is the amount required for a COE extension or renewal for a vehicle already in use.

The COE prices began to fall in the second bidding in May 2016, but an ST report said that “they would have fallen more dramatically if not for strong bidding from Uber”.

In the same report, ST said that Lion City Rental had secured about 1,700 COEs for cars in three separate bids in just two months of bidding.

From this comparison, Mr Tseng’s rebuttal is mostly in conflict with other reports and LTA’s figures. But since Uber doesn’t want to talk about numbers, the actual situation is unclear and left to further speculation.

Another newspaper report today is also not helping Uber’s reputation. Saddam Hussein Norazman, 23, was yesterday jailed for six weeks and banned from driving for five years for causing the death of one of his rear seat passengers and injuring a van driver in an accident on Sept 25 last year. This is the first case of an Uber driver involved in a fatal accident.


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by Vanessa Wu

THEY may be physically handicapped – but they are in no way disabled.

These Singaporeans have accomplished so much, it is impressive even without having to go through life with their physical challenges. But not everyone is like them, which is why the third Enabling Masterplan, a five-year national blueprint for initiatives for the disabled, could prove to give the community a leg-up in life.

Revealed on Tuesday (Dec 20), the plan is a step towards creating a more accommodating environment where more of the disabled community can strive for personal success, working to make these success stories the norm rather than the exception.

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Recently, Paralympians Yip Pin Xiu, 24, and Theresa Goh, 29, shared the limelight, having been awarded $400,000 and $50,000 for their respective swimming achievements in the Rio Paralympics earlier this year.

Besides Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, there are other Singaporeans who have beaten the odds outside of athletics too. Here are their stories, which are an inspiration to all of us:


1. Singapore’s only doctor in a wheelchair


Image from Dr William Tan’s Facebook page.

Dr William Tan, 59, is paralysed waist down after contracting polio at the age of two. His health woes didn’t stop there, as he battled with end-stage chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 2009. However, he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from achieving his dreams.

He was expelled from kindergarten for attacking his bullies but went on to attain academic success. He majored in Biology and Psychology at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and went on to the University of Newcastle to study medicine.

He was later awarded the Fulbright Scholarship at Harvard University, and became Chevening Scholar at the University of Oxford. He has also trained at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in USA. The neuroscientist and doctor is now a resident physician at National Cancer Centre Singapore.

Dr Tan is also an accomplished sportsman. He has completed multiple marathons in a wheelchair and is a bemedalled Paralympian. He formed part of Singapore’s very first Paralympics team in 1988. He holds several world records, including one for being the fastest person to complete seven marathons across seven continents in 27 days in 2007.

He has now retired from racing and redirected his energies to table tennis. He is now the captain of Singapore’s national para table tennis team and a bronze medallist in 2013 Asean Para Games. He has also helped to raise more than $18 million for charities locally and internationally, over the last 20 years.


2. Young photographer unhindered by disability


Image from Isabelle Lim Facebook page.

Ms Isabelle Lim, 22, has Nager syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which has fewer than 200 documented cases worldwide. The syndrome affects the development of the face, hands, arms and hearing. By 12 years old, she had undergone three major operations. She had two operations to lengthen her jaw so that she can eat and breathe without the feeding and breathing tubes, and another to remove her dangling thumbs and transplant her index fingers to function as thumbs.

Her disability did not stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming a professional photographer. Ms Lim graduated from Lasalle College of the Arts with a diploma in fine arts, where she majored in photography. She was the first recipient of the Lasalle Dare to Dream Scholarship, which is awarded to outstanding students with special needs.

“I was allowed to have a sign interpreter and a note taker during lessons, which helped me tremendously,” said Ms Lim.

In August, Ms Lim held a solo photography exhibition, See What I See, at the Enabling Village at Redhill. She now works freelance and attends photography workshops. She believes that more can be done to help people with special needs to achieve their dreams.

“Without full accessibility, many people with special needs will not be able to live their full potential,” she said.


3. Lawyer presses on with a degenerative disease


Image from Chia Yong Yong’s Facebook page.

Ms Chia Yong Yong, 54, was diagnosed with peroneal muscular atrophy at age 15. Her muscles have weakened progressively and she went from using crutches to a wheelchair, while her hands have grown limp and curled.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws with Honours at NUS in 1985, and is now a consultant at Yusarn Audrey, a law firm specialising in intellectual property. At work, she uses dictation software or dictates notes to her personal assistant. Clients do not mind making a trip to her office for meetings either.

Ms Chia has also been the President of the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) since 2008, and is currently a member of the REACH Supervisory Panel, the Committee on the Future Economy, the Advocacy & Research Panel of the National Council of Social Services, and Board Member of SG Enable.

Additionally, Ms Chia was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2013, and the President’s Social Service Award in 2011. She has also been a Nominated Member of Parliament since 2014, and was sworn in for a second term in March. Ms Chia is the first wheelchair user who has a seat in Singapore Parliament. In a speech by the late S R Nathan, he described her as having “devoted herself to improving the lives of persons with disabilities”.


4. He has brittle bones but strong determination


Image from Jeremy Lim’s Facebook page.

Mr Jeremy Lim, 25, was born with brittle bone disease which affects one in 20,000 births. As a child, opening a box of toys or turning around in his sleep would cause a fracture. But after taking an experimental drug for 13 years, his bones have strengthened, and he has not broken a bone in the last five years.

Lim may look familiar to some, as he was a young ambassador for the National Kidney Foundation’s children’s medical fund from 2001 to 2005. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese Studies at NUS just last year, and will be taking a year off to study for the highest level of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test.

While he was at NUS, he won the 2013 Japanese speech contest organised by The Japanese Association in Singapore, where he spoke about his fascination with Japanese culture. For his future plans, he is still deciding between taking up a master’s degree in Japanese Studies and becoming a translator for the media industry.

His other achievements include contributing regular column pieces to TODAY for two years, from the beginning of 2004 when he was just 14 years old, as well as publishing an autobiography in 2011 titled Beyond Bone Breaking, of which the late S R Nathan contributed the foreword. He was also a recipient of the Singapore National Youth Achievement Gold Award in 2009.


5. Personal disability experience becomes career expertise


Image from Richard Kuppusamy’s Facebook page.

Mr Richard Kuppusamy, 39, is a wheelchair-bound senior architect with WOHA Architects and a lecturer at BCA Academy. He is a charted British Architect who lived in Britain for 16 years before returning to Singapore in 2014 to be closer to his family.

As seen from his LinkedIn profile, his notable projects include the BBC Headquarters in Glasgow, and he has lectured on universal and inclusive design while he was in the UK. Locally, he was involved in the design of Kampung Admiralty, Singapore’s first integrated public development that brings together a mix of public facilities and services under one roof. It opens in late 2017.

Since his return, he has been actively contributing to the disabled community in Singapore. He is vocal about the importance of having businesses and building owners recognise the value of Universal Design, a concept that takes into consideration the physical, social, and psychological needs of all age groups and people of different abilities.

Echoing his personal job hunting experience when he returned, he said: “It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how skilled you are. If you can’t get into the building, you won’t get that job.”

He has also served as a committee member in the executive committee of the Handicaps Welfare Association since 2015. This year, he became the captain of the Singapore Wheelchair Rugby team.


Featured image Titled: Untitled by Flickr user Keoni Cabral. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Vanessa Wu

DO YOU think you’d enjoy watching a performer insert her finger into her vagina and then into her mouth? Or would you find it offensive?

Either way, you won’t get a chance to find out. The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) has rejected an application for two shows, one of which features the above scene, to be put up with an R18 rating for the upcoming M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Arts groups and art practitioners have taken their rallies of support public.

Read what happened here if you missed the news this week.

At the heart of the controversy is whether the shows were suitable for the R18 rating found under the Arts and Entertainment Classification Code (AECC). FYI, the AECC is a different set of ratings from the ones used for film. You may be more familiar with the ratings used for film, which are G, PG, NC16, M18, R21.

The AECC ratings are G, Advisory, Advisory 16 and R18. To classify arts entertainment, the content is evaluated against six content elements: race and religion, social norms, violence, nudity, sexual content and language. We take a look at what the ratings mean according to AECC.


1. R18 – Restricted to persons 18 years and above

This the highest rating and it is given to events that feature adults themes with more explicit content than the Advisory 16 category. Events that fall into this category explores contentious racial or religious issues and uses strong racial/religious stereotypes or strong racially/religiously charged language.

It makes explicit references and depictions of issues or lifestyles which are contrary to prevailing social norms or violence. It also permits a non-excessive portrayal of full male and female nudity in a non-sexual context, strong sexual verbal references, stimulated heterosexual sexual activity and occasional sexual gestures in a homosexual context.


2. Advisory 16 – Content more suited for persons 16 years and above

This rating is for events with mature themes such as prostitution and sadism or alternative lifestyles which are more suitable for discriminating audiences 16 years and above. Events under this category use moderate racial/religious stereotypes or moderate racially/religiously charged language.

It makes references and depictions of issues or lifestyles which are contrary to prevailing social norms or infrequent violence. There is also the portrayal of female frontal upper body, back and rear nudity, sexual verbal references or gestures and infrequent simulated heterosexual sexual activity.


3. Advisory – Content may not be suitable for a general audience

The Advisory is for events that include some mature content that is sexual, violent in nature or expletives which may be upsetting or disturbing to some audience members. Such events use mild racial/religious stereotypes or mild racially/religiously charged language.

It makes implied references and depictions of issues or lifestyles which are contrary to prevailing social norms or violence that is not detailed or prolonged. There is also brief portrayals of full rear nudity, mild sexual verbal references or gestures, infrequent and brief implied sexual activity and non-excessive use of expletives.


4. G – Content suitable for a general audience

The General rating cover arts entertainment which is suitable for a general audience including children. Such events have infrequent use of mild racial/religious stereotyping, no references and depiction promoting issues of lifestyles contrary to prevailing social norms but allows mild violence. The portrayal of upper back nudity is allowed along with mild and infrequent sexual verbal references or gestures or expletives.


Not again

This was not the first time arts groups and art practitioners have disagreed with IMDA. Within this year, there were a few instances and it usually involved IMDA informing organisers at the last minute of censorship requirements or ratings, leaving them with limited time to react.

I Know Why The Rebel Sings by Newsha Tavakolian, an Iranian photojournalist and documentary photographer, was told by then MDA to censor 33 photographs three days before The O.P.E.N. exhibition which was a pre-festival event for Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA).

Cultural Medallion winner Ong Keng Sen criticised MDA’s censorship for being inconsistent and not transparent as they only read the official reason published in The Straits Times on June 24. Furthermore, these photos have already circulated in Singapore in print in the April 13, 2015 TIME magazine (international edition). In the end, 15 photographs were removed from the exhibition and replaced with black cards.

Similarly for Five Easy Pieces, a play based on the life of Belgian criminal Marc Dutroux which was directed by Swiss dramatist and filmmaker Milo Rau and performed by children, was given an R18 rating three days before it staged.

MDA said the show was given an R18 rating as it explores the mature topic of paedophilia. Ticket holders below the age of 18 were refunded. However, SIFA director Ong Keng Sen commented that MDA’s decision was counterintuitive to the purpose of the play which was to present a cautionary tale about paedophilia.

Tony Manero by Chilean director Pablo Larrain and A German Youth by French filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Periot was in the movie line-up for The O.P.E.N. and was scheduled to be screened on June 20,  24 and 27.  However, the organisers were informed on June 17 that both movies required a scene to be cut due to sexual and mature content. The organisers chose to pull out both films “to respect the integrity of the directors’ vision and craft”.



Featured image No Entry by Flickr user Håkan Dahlström Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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by Vanessa Wu

YOU know the season to be giving has come when you start seeing Christmas decorations light up along Orchard Road and shopping malls. If that isn’t enough to get you in the mood, joining one of the activities this Giving Week may help.

A national movement that aims to encourage everyone to give back, Giving Week is being organised this year by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) a second time. It’s built on an earlier initiative called Giving Tuesday which started in the United States in 2012. Giving Tuesday was a response to the commercialisation and consumerism of the Thanksgiving season with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales.

Starting from Nov 29 to next Monday (Dec 5), Giving Week features weeklong festival highlights such as cleaning up Singapore’s waters while kayaking and having tea in silence as deaf tea servers guide you through a silent tea ritual. Companies, non-profits and individuals come together in Giving Week and managed to raise 9 million dollars in December last year.

Regardless of whether you are looking to counter your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping guilt, or get into the season of giving, or knock Myanmar off the top of the list of the World Giving Index, or just simply curious about Giving Week, here are five causes for you to look into.


1. Building Rainbow Dreams, Brick by Brick


Image from Rainbow Centre giving.sg fundraising page

Rainbow Centre is a non-profit organisation that serves children and youths with special developmental and learning needs, such as autism spectrum disorder and multiple disabilities which can include a combination of intellectual, physical, visual and hearing impairments.

Founded in 1992, they currently run two special education schools, one at Margaret Drive and the other near Yishun Park. They are raising funds for an extension wing at their Margaret Drive campus that is estimated to cost $21.5 million (before partial funding from Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social and Family Development). You can help them reach their $20,000 fundraising goal by the end of the month by clicking here.


2. Reach out to more socially-isolated seniors


Image from Lions Befrienders giving.sg fundraising page

Lions Befrienders is a voluntary welfare organisation formed in 1995 which engages with seniors who live in isolation to help them establish social networks and friendships. Studies have shown that loneliness negatively impacts the mental and physical well-being of a person and Lions Befrienders works to minimise that by providing friendship and care so seniors could age with dignity and participate with the community.

They are fundraising $10,000 to help them to continue and enhance their efforts to engage seniors. Donations will go towards organising inexpensive but engaging outings and activities for seniors, providing them with basic grooming necessities, home cleaning services and recruitment and training of new volunteers to reach out to more socially-isolated seniors. You can donate to help their cause by clicking here. Alternatively, you can volunteer your time to take part in their islandwide flag day happening on Dec 7.


3. Action for Aids


Image from Action for Aids Facebook Page

Formed in 1988, Action for Aids (AFA) is Singapore’s only charity dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS. They work to achieve zero new infection through education, zero stigma through advocacy and zero deaths through care and support. AFA runs Singapore’s largest and longest running Anonymous Testing Service (ATS) for HIV and Syphilis.

They also provide financial assistance as well as organise support groups to help affected individuals cope with HIV infection. For more information on how to get involved or donate, visit their website here.


4. Community Justice Centre


Image from Community Justice Centre giving.sg fundraising page

The Community Justice Centre is a charity organisation launched in 2013 to help unrepresented litigants who need help while handling a case on their own, so that access to justice is enhanced, irrespective of background or social status.

They not only provide assistance with the courts procedures to better navigate the court system, but also offer a befriending service to provide emotional support and one-to-one supportive listening to these litigants who are undergoing a stressful experience. They also work with social service agencies to help litigants by making timely referrals for them. Visit here to make a donation to support their work.


5. The Middle Ground Patreon campaign


Image from TMG file

Last but not least, we would like to include a worthy cause close to our hearts. The Middle Ground is an independent news site that serves the middle ground of readers in Singapore and beyond. We’ve been publishing the news for more than a year, in an industry that is facing severe financial challenges and yet remains a crucial part of our society.

We want to buck the trend of decline that incumbent publishers are facing. We want your support! We believe that there is an audience that will put their money where their mouth (and heart) is and financially back balanced reportage from us.

To support us, visit our Patreon page here. Thanks!


Featured image by Natassya Siregar.

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