February 24, 2017

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Hyundai replaces Yeo's as S.league sponsor for 2017 season
Hyundai replaces Yeo's as S.league sponsor for 2017 season

by Daniel Yap

AFTER a run of 13 years, food and beverage maker Yeo’s will no longer be sponsoring the S. League.

The company confirmed in a statement it would pull out of supporting the 2017 season after weeks of back-and-forth, including reports of Yeo’s desire for a five-year plan for the league, and the league’s lack of such a plan.

New sponsor Hyundai will step in to take Yeo’s place, while co-sponsor Great Eastern has already confirmed its support for the 2017 season. Komoco Motors, the local dealer for Hyundai, with its Chairman Mr Teo Hock Seng has been a long-time patron of Singapore football. Mr Teo was the former chairman of Tampines Rovers FC.

The two-year deal means that the league will now be called the Great Eastern-Hyundai S. League. And after much hand-wringing about long delays in jersey printing due to the late sponsor announcements, the league will kick off this Sunday (Feb 26) at 6pm at the National Stadium with the Great Eastern Community Shield match between defending league champions Albirex Niigata FC (S) and Tampines Rovers FC.

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The S. League is in a bit of a leadership pickle now that CEO Mr Lim Chin has resigned, leaving the reins to director of operations Mr Kok Wai Leong in the interim. The Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which runs the league, is also facing its first open elections in the wake of reports of under-spending on grassroots football, a FIFA order to end political nominees sitting on the council and hold fair elections, and a lack of confidence in the current leadership.

Tote Board funding for the FAS has also now been given to statutory board Sport Singapore to administer, another sign that confidence in FAS management is less than complete. It used to be disbursed directly to the FAS, although it is not unusual for Sport Singapore to administer funds to national sports associations.

Hyundai’s sponsorship also means that chances are now slim that Mr Teo might run for the hot seat of FAS President. Mr Lim Kia Tong, current President of the FAS Provisional Council, former Woodlands Wellington General Manager Mr R Vengadasalam and Hougang United Chairman Mr Bill Ng are rumoured to be in the running for the FAS top spot.

 

Featured image courtesy of the Football Association of Singapore.

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by Daniel Yap

TWO op-eds on tobacco in the run-up to Budget 2017 caught my eye.

The first is one by the economist Mr Donald Low in the Business Times on Feb 17, calling for a “grand bargain” – an exchange of cigarettes for reduced-risk tobacco products.

The second is by Dr Chia Kee Seng, professor and dean at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, and Dr Kenneth Warner, Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health at the Michigan School of Public Health, University of Michigan, published in Straits Times (ST) on Feb 18.

The two doctors called for an end to the scourge of smoking, pitching once again the G’s already-proposed measures of age limits, flavour bans and packaging changes as the way forward. These ideas are already being implemented by other nations.

Both pieces agree on this point – courageous action must be taken to mitigate the high cost of tobacco on our society. But do Singapore’s policymakers have the courage to save lives?

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Singapore’s tobacco policy of ever-higher taxation, bans and graphic marketing has not put a significant dent in the smoker population in Singapore over the last decade. Smoking prevalence has hovered between 12 and 16 per cent, with male smoker prevalence around 25 per cent.

One should note first that in Singapore, one-fourth of those below 18, the current legal age, had already tried smoking. It stands to reason that more laws will not stop this segment of curious youth from engaging in risky, illegal behaviour. And with the youth segment being the true “gateway” to smoking (a huge majority of smokers get hooked before the age of 21), it seems that more laws alone are unlikely to put a significant dent in the smoking rate.

The Health Ministry has set an ambitious target of 10 per cent smoking prevalence by 2020. It is admirable, maybe even attainable, but it is a big reach nonetheless. Dr Chia and Dr Warner pointed to New Zealand, Finland, Canada, Sweden and France as countries that have set a goal for a smoke-free society in eight to 23 years.

What is notable is that these countries, and many others at the forefront of the anti-smoking movement, allow reduced-risk tobacco products as a way for smokers to either quit or at least reduce the cost of smoking to society.

Singapore remains stubbornly behind the times in this area, maintaining a ban against reduced-risk products and constantly citing worry about a “gateway effect” where e-cigarettes, snus (chewing tobacco popular in Sweden and Finland), and heat-not-burn products would lead youth and non-smokers to pick up smoking.

Studies in the United Kingdom (UK) over the last few years, however, have shown that the gate swings almost uniformly in one direction: helping smokers quit (and typically become e-cigarette smokers) rather than enticing youth or non-smokers to “upgrade” to smoking. You can find the Department of Health’s findings published here.

 

Taking on some risks for greater good

That’s where Mr Low’s “grand bargain” comes in.

Based on the UK research, would it not be more prudent to lift the ban on reduced-risk products while at the same time clamping down on smoking tobacco? No doubt e-cigarettes are harmful to health, but this is a risk mitigation situation, much like how the G wants gamblers to put their money with well-regulated casinos or with entities like Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club, which will redistribute to social causes.

We must remember why we want to bring the smoking rate down: the health and social costs of smoking are high. If there is a way to reduce the costs by allowing alternative products, why not? Reduced-risk products can continue to be regulated and taxed as cigarettes currently are. And with alternatives in place, we can look to the other side of the “grand bargain” – cutting down on smoking, perhaps even to the point of banning it altogether.

It seems that harsher laws against smoking would be most effective in tandem with the availability of alternative tobacco or nicotine products, with a complete smoking ban as the end game.

Perhaps Singapore can lead the world in this area as well, and become a smoke-free nation by 2030? What will it cost us? Likely nothing more than converting smokers to lower-risk non-smoking tobacco and nicotine products. Courageous policy-making like this, I think, is the best care that this nation can provide for the long-term health of its smokers – and non-smokers too.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user markusspiske. (CC0 1.0)

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by Melissa Tsang

I’M A 23-year-old Chinese Singaporean woman. After graduating culinary school in 2016, I started as a commis (also known as 马王, or minion) in a Chinese restaurant kitchen along Orchard Road. This is a description of my everyday work, in English, written for friends and family who are curious.

The structure of a Chinese restaurant kitchen

I drew a diagram of what our kitchen looks like, from where I stand (I only know how to hand draw and then upload a picture, please forgive incompetence):

pic 1

Dim Sum, 点心: They make the har gow, siew mai, XLB (little soup dumplings), carrot cake, cheong fun, and many other forms of dim sum and desserts. Because nearly everything there is made by hand, from scratch, they start work at 7am to finish their prep before service starts at 11am. Since we only serve dim sum in the afternoon, they get off work at 5pm, or whenever they finish their scheduled prep for the day. They are usually considered a separate kingdom from The Main Kitchen and the roasting department.

Roasting/BBQ, 烧腊:This is where the Peking duck, braised duck, roasted suckling pig, soy sauce chicken, char siew, roasted pork belly, braised pig’s intestines, etc. are made. They have two work areas — the back, and the front. The back is where all the heavy prep work is done. Every day they have to wash, marinate, dress, and hang carcasses; as well as roast them in their huge apollo oven (it looks like a tandoor). The front (a tiny work space beside the main kitchen) is where they carve and plate their finished products. They don’t just prepare their own items, like an a la carte order of a Peking duck; they also make products for the main kitchen. For example, they have to produce char siew for the rest of the kitchen — dim sum uses a lot of char siew for their pastries; the main kitchen uses char siew in a Yangzhou fried rice.

The Main Kitchen, 厨房: When industry people say “kitchen” they often refer to any of these sub-sections, and not dim sum or BBQ:

Steaming, 上什/蒸锅/蛋扣: They are located right beside dim sum, and are responsible for anything from the main kitchen that requires steaming — for example, Teochew steamed pomfret, Cantonese steamed marble goby, steamed bamboo clams with fried garlic and tung hoon. They make the daily double-boiled soups, and are also in charge of preparing the sharks’ fin and sea cucumber (very labour intensive, time-consuming products to prepare). Unlike the rest of the main kitchen sub-sections, they coexist very peacefully with dim sum.

Wok, 炉头/炒锅: Most people are more able to understand this sub-section of the kitchen. It’s basically where all the things are stir-fried or deep-fried. Within the wok line (our wok line can accommodate six, but most of the time we work with four) there is a hierarchy.

Wok 1 is head chef, 老大/大佬. He makes the big and final decisions for the main kitchen. He doesn’t do much prep work. If there are orders for abalone, sea cucumber, Alaskan crab, the expensive stuff, they go to him. But he is really more important as a political figure, not as a cook. Like a gang leader, or any head chef, he is supposed to enforce discipline and consistency in his kitchen. He is also supposed to protect the interests of the main kitchen, especially against Front-of-House and higher management, especially in disputes with HR. For this reason, people expect him to exhibit a lot of machismo and dominance, or else they consider him ineffective and weak.

Wok 2 is the sous chef. He is not as politically significant as the Laoda, but he is acting chief in Laoda’s absence. He schedules our duty roster. He may also cook the Very Expensive Things. Some corporations/restaurants that do Cantonese cuisine have a policy of hiring only Hong Kong nationals to occupy head chef and sous chef positions. Ours is one such company.

Wok 3 is expected to cook anything short of the Very Expensive Things. Although he is lower in rank than Wok 2, he is not necessarily less experienced.

Wok 4 is also known as the deep-frying wok, or the “tail wok”. It is usually occupied by a more junior person. If a whole fish needs to be deep fried, it goes to him. He also handles a lot of fried rice, ee fu noodles, fried bee hoon, stir-fried carrot cake. Since the larger and heavier woks are all kept at his end of the line, he cooks off most of our sauces (XO sauce, black pepper sauce, chilli crab sauce, sweet and sour sauce etc. ), deep fries peanuts, cashews, walnuts, whole chickens multiple times a week. He has an enormous role in prep. This person must work very quickly, and must multitask well. When service gets very busy, he should be able to deep fry two different items while stir frying ee fu noodles, without losing his shit.

Woks 5 and/or 6 are opened when we’re descending into chaos and desperately need another wok guy to help out. That’s when a qualified person, who otherwise performs another role, goes on the line for the night.

Butchery, 水台: The person working in butchery has one of the most strenuous jobs ever. Our butcher happens to be the largest dude in the kitchen. When deliveries come, they go straight to his room. He is the one who has to wash cartons and cartons of vegetables alone, break down entire carcasses of cod, hack entire legs of Jinhua ham, chop crates of ribs into smaller chunks, etc. He has to lug boxes and boxes of stuff to and from the walk in freezer. These are on top of the fish and seafood he has to kill and clean. He mostly works with the heaviest cleaver.

Knife work, 砧板: This station is a line of three cutting blocks (literal blocks, they are very thick and heavy, for stability). People doing knife work slice and chop almost everything the kitchen uses. They also have to marinate all the meat, sliced fish, diced chicken, etc. They have a never-ending list of things to do. They are also the first line to read and process order tickets. For example, an order comes for “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The relevant information to the dude at the cutting block is “seafood fried rice medium + salted fish” has to pass the ticket over with the correct amount of diced seafood, julienned lettuce, and a small handful of chopped salted fish. Then his job is done and he has nothing else to do with this order ticket.

The Center Line/Traffic control/Communications, 打荷: This is where I work, between the knives and the fire. This is the section most difficult to explain to outsiders. This is where the youngest, most junior people work. This is the section that is the least technically demanding (i.e. you can train a monkey to do this job), but it is the most physically mobile, and the most cognitively demanding position during peak hours.

I’ll first explain what happens when we get a single order, using the above example – “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The dude at the chopping board has already pushed the lettuce, diced seafood, and salted fish from his side to our side of the table. We take a quick glance at the order sheet. First, we grab a medium-sized portion of rice. Then we transfer everything from our side of the table to the table directly accessible to the wok guys. We tell him, “no MSG, not too oily”. We then fetch a serving tray, six small plates, a small rice bowl, and a metal dish. The wok guy makes the fried rice, dumps it in the metal dish, then we portion the fried rice using the small rice bowl (so that every portion is in a neat little mound). This fried rice example is a very simple example involving a bit of communication between our section and the wok line.

Here is another example, involving more inter-department teamwork: an appetiser plate named 特式三拼

pic 2

Let’s say there’s an order for this item for five people. The knife work dude will toss over five butterflied prawns and five mantou rings (the dim sum department makes these weekly, in huge quantities). I will have to dust the prawns in potato starch, garnish and decorate five plates on a serving tray, sear five pieces of foie gras, and have wasabi sauce and foie gras-mushroom sauce on standby. At the same time I have to talk to Wok 4 – “特式5位”. Sometimes he forgets what he has to do, so I will say “炸锅巴5件,wasabi 虾球5粒,打鹅肝汁”. He will do all that while I sear the foie gras. When the foie gras is almost ready, I will call BBQ. They will bring five individual portions of braised duck and tofu, and I will plate up and send the dishes out.

These are only individual examples. On their own, they are very easy to execute. But on a busy night, between 6:30 – 9pm, the ticket printer doesn’t stop running. It will feel like the orders are coming in faster than we can send out dishes. This is when our roles within the section become specialised, and the concept of “queue” and “time” becomes especially relevant:

pic 3

Incoming orders:

Highlighted in pink is the table where we process incoming orders. The shaded black box is the ticket machine, facing Knifework. Any order printed is first visible to them, although we have trained ourselves to read from the other side.

(As far as possible), according to the order in which they were printed, Knifework pushes ingredients with their order sheets over to our side, and they will all be received by the Korkor, who is the most senior person in the section. The first thing he will do is separate dishes “on hold” from “fire”. “On hold” means the order has been processed, but the customer doesn’t want it now. For dishes on hold, he groups them by table number. For dishes ready to fire, he sorts them according to

1. Time of order. But it’s not rigid, it’s no big deal if an order printed at 7:35pm goes out before an order printed at 7:32pm.

2. Whether it is a soup, appetiser plate, non-starch item, or starch item. Within the same time frame, items should be sorted to prioritise soups and starters first, and starch dishes last.

3. Front-of-House mistakes – sometimes FOH barges in saying “I FORGOT TO KEY THIS ORDER IN PLEASE SAVE ME AND MAKE IT NOW”. We could say “no, dis your problem”, or we could allow that item to jump the queue.

4. How angry the customer is. Some customers are able to wait, others are not. If it’s been 15 minutes and a table hasn’t gotten their fried rice and are upset, we understand and will help that item move up the queue. But if the order has literally just been printed and a server comes in saying “HE’S PISSED OFF”, we do not entertain this request. Because we honour the concept of the queue.

Outgoing dishes:

When we’re busy, I stand facing the table highlighted in green. On this table we cram at most three to four items in a wok guy’s immediate cue. Meaning he simply has to concern himself with clearing these few items as quickly as possible. The rest of the space is reserved for plating and garnishing. In a five minute time frame, I might have fish pan frying on the stove, tofu in the deep fryer, while plating lobster ee fu noodles for 10 people, while listening to wok sounds. We look down when we plate so we can’t see much else, but we are able to hear when a wok guy is done with a dish. If he’s done, we have to drop what we are doing and send out the dish. As soon as the immediate queue begins to clear, any one of us will fetch items from Korkor’s Organised Queue of Incoming Orders.

Stacking and efficiency:

Sometimes there’s a Yangzhou fried rice in Wok 4’s immediate queue, but he’s been busy and the fried rice hasn’t been started. Then Korkor receives another Yangzhou fried rice order, but if we go strictly by time, that Yangzhou fried rice would be quite further down the queue. Nevermind, we let it stack. The Korkor will call out “扬州炒饭有塔!” then he tosses it over to me. Stacking is inevitable because if we went item by item, according to time, we would literally die.

Prep work and miscellaneous duties:

There are many other small, routine, menial tasks that I do every day, that I don’t need to talk about here. Oil does not pour itself, I need to fill metal drums of oil for each wok guy about twice a day. Eggs don’t crack and separate themselves. Seasoning containers don’t refill themselves. And so on.

The more interesting prep work is in sauces. A great example would be XO sauce. We make roughly 10 litres of XO sauce every two weeks. When we realise we’re running low, we need to start dicing (very small dice) Jinhua ham and salted fish. This is very difficult. They are very tough ingredients. I do not like this part. Then we need to soak dried shrimp, steam and shred dried scallops, and grind chillies, shallots, garlic, and the soaked shrimp. We will weigh the required MSG and sugar. Then the XO sauce is ready to be cooked off.

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This article was first published at eightmileswide.svbtle.com/.

Featured image by Pixabay user takedahrs. (CC0 1.0)

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ONE legend of Valentine’s Day says that Valentine was a Christian priest who lived around 300 AD in Rome. Marriage for young men was outlawed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who thought single men unencumbered by a wife and family would make better soldiers. Thinking the edict unjust, Valentine defied the emperor to continue secretly performing marriages for young couples. He was found out and executed in the end.

Leaving aside the question of how true the story is, it seems that opposition have always played a part in the Valentine’s Day narrative; not necessarily out of romance. For the people of these countries, they had cause to protest in the name of some other love:

 

1. Islamabad, Pakistan – court banned Valentine’s Day celebration

Pakistan

Image from Facebook user Sam Mugabe.

Pakistani florists and restauranteurs aren’t too happy. The Islamabad High Court banned all celebrations of Valentine’s Day in government offices and public spaces, with immediate effect. For the first time, flowers and heart-shaped balloons could not be sold on the streets of Islamabad. This came in response to a private petition arguing that Valentine’s Day was un-Islamic, as it promoted immorality, nudity and indecency under the guise of spreading love.

While conservative Pakistanis cheered the court order, younger and more liberal residents voiced their dissatisfaction at what they perceived as state interference in a non-issue. Many Pakistanis managed to circumvent this law, by celebrating the occasion in groups or holding private parties indoors.

At least one person was happy with the ban. USA Today reported that Ms Mehak Haque, 23, a communications student in Lahore, found Valentine’s Day to be “a dreadful day for all the single people out there… There is unwarranted pressure on those who don’t have a Valentine date or aren’t seeing anyone.”

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2. Surabaya, Indonesia – students protested against Valentine’s Day

Indonesia

Image from Facebook user Surabaya Kita.

“Say No to Valentine!”

Students from one Muslim school in the city of Surabaya held a protest against Valentine’s Day on Monday (Feb 13). Protestors ranged from 13 to 15-year olds and included many girls wearing the hijab, or headscarf. They denounced Valentine’s Day as a Western occasion that encourages casual sex; something incompatible with Indonesian values.

Such sentiment is not new. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has often seen Islamic clerics and religious leaders deride Valentine’s Day as a celebration of sexual immorality. In 2015, Indonesia’s Islamic clerical body even threatened to issue a fatwa, or a ruling under the Islamic law, against the sale of condoms, following reports they were sold together with chocolate to mark Valentine’s Day.

Despite these objections, many in Indonesia still enjoy the occasion, particularly in major cities such as Jakarta where cards and chocolates are widely available.

 

3. Mecca, Saudi Arabia – no longer so disapproving of Valentine’s Day

Saudi arabia

Image from Facebook user Sujit Pal.

While some Islamic countries are tightening regulations for Valentine’s Day, Saudi Arabia has done just the opposite. It kept to its efforts for reform under the leadership of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Salman, aimed at making Saudi Arabia more open to the world. This year for instance, flower shops throughout the Arab city, Jeddah, were selling custom-made Valentine boxes, including balloons and flowers, starting at 550 Saudi riyals (around SGD$209).

This is in stark contrast to previous years when religious police patrolled flower shops and confiscated  offending red roses they found. In 2012, more than 140 people were arrested for celebrating the event. This year however, celebrations were possible after the cabinet banned the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice from pursuing, questioning, requesting identification from or arresting suspects in April last year.

However, some florists in the kingdom still chose to avoid participating in the holiday to prevent controversy. “We have experienced problems in the past and I am not willing to go through the same dilemma again,” an anonymous florist in the city of Riyadh told Arab News.

 

4. New York, USA – charity drive named after a banned Valentine’s Day custom

Sofitel

Image by Facebook user Sofitel New York.

Here’s a Valentine’s Day nugget: New York Trend, a weekly news publication of New York city and Long Island, reported on 7 Feb that New York’s luxury hotel, Sofitel New York, was holding a charity drive named “Une Loterie d’Amour”, which translated to A Love Lottery. Like the legend of Valentine the priest, the hotel seemed to be making good out of a bad case. Because the charity drive, which lasted from Feb 1 till Feb 14, actually shared the same name as an old, outlawed French Valentine’s Day custom.

Hotel guests who donated to The Bowery Mission – which provided for poor and homeless New Yorkers – got to pick one of the red valentine envelopes hung from the window display at the hotel’s Gaby Brasserie Francaise restaurant. The envelopes were differentiated based on the currency denomination of the donation – USD$10, USD$25, USD$50, USD$100, USD$250 and USD$500. Prizes written inside ranged from one complimentary cocktail, a dinner or dessert for two, to a two-night Sofitel Los Angeles stay at Beverly Hills.

The historical “Une Loterie d’Amour” however, was not so loving. Singles of both sexes and all ages would enter houses opposite each other in the middle of February and shout through the windows for their desired partner. Unfortunately, should the female partner not come up to the man’s standards, the match was called off for him to continue with his search. Vengeful women left high and dry would gather before a ceremonial bonfire to hurl vulgarities at as well as burn the belongings of the men who did the rejecting. Behaviour got so bad during the Love Lottery that the authorities felt the whole custom had to be stopped.

Though Sofitel New York’s “Une Loterie d’Amour” shared faint echoes of the banned tradition, such as approaching a window and picking a prize, it is not confirmed if it drew inspiration from the past. More likely,  thankfulness, rather than hurt feelings, rounded off the modern “Une Loterie d’Amour”.

 

5. Paris, France – say no to love locks

love lock

Image by Facebook user Briony Wemyss.

Inscribed your name and your lover’s on a padlock, clip it to the railing of a bridge and throw the key into the river. This is the love lock – 21st century’s grand gesture of romantic love.

But there are those who thought walls of love locks on monuments unsightly and structurally hazardous to boot. In June 2014, part of Paris’s iconic bridge, the Pont des Arts, collapsed due to the sheer weight of the locks.

Two Parisian residents, Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, had observed how the trend got out of hand from 2008 and decided to launch a “No Love Locks” campaign in January 2014. For four years running, it declared Valentine’s Day a “No Love Locks Day”.

Its 2014 petition, which called for a ban of love locks in France gathered more than 11,000 signatures. Though no formal ban was instituted, the city cleared all 45 tonnes of padlocks from the Pont des Arts in June 2015. Later in the same year, transparent panels replaced the mesh wires to discourage love locks from being clipped to the grilles.

The campaign continued because the problem has not been isolated to Pont des Arts. The organisers counted at least “10 bridges… the entire quay along the Seine, and several landmarks including the Eiffel Tower” affected by love locks. They were convinced that “only a ban will begin to make a permanent change in Paris, and save their historic landmarks”.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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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.

 

Featured image by Pexels user freestocks.org. (CC0 1.0)

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by Suhaile Md

CONOR McGregor. Who’s that?

He’s a mixed martial arts (MMA) star and star swimmer Joseph Schooling’s idol.

Although practising kicks are about the only thing the sport has in common with swimming, it doesn’t stop Joseph Schooling from finding inspiration in McGregor, reported TODAY (Feb 7).

MMA is a growing in prominence globally but is not as well known as swimming in Singapore. Here are five things about 28-year-old MMA champ Conor McGregor and why, we think, he inspires our very own Olympic champion.

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1. Championship record

McGregor won the featherweight title in December 2015. Not content with just one, he went on to win another title in the lightweight class nearly a year later. This made him the first fighter in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history to simultaneously hold two titles from two different weight classes. Not an easy task because losing or adding weight affects a fighter’s balance and body awareness. And McGregor did it in the UFC, the most prominent competition in MMA.

Schooling won gold and broke the 100m butterfly record at the Olympics last year. After the win, like McGregor, he set his eyes beyond that one event. Schooling has said he wanted to compete in other races in the future: The 200m butterfly and 100m freestyle. We hope he dominates those events as well. Go Joe!

 

2. Champion mindset 

“I should create my own belt. I am, in myself, my own belt. It doesn’t matter if its featherweight, lightweight, welterweight. It’s the McGregor belt. That’s it, I’m fighting for my own belt,” said McGregor, at a press conference in the lead up to a fight last year (Feb 24) .

“I want to make a mark for myself, set my own tone, I don’t want to be compared to anyone,” said Schooling when asked about comparisons to swimming great Michael Phelps (Aug 16, 2016).

Yes, McGregor is known to be much more flamboyant and uses colourful words not fit for kids. Schooling is not like that, he has a reputation of being very polite. But the mindset, of being the best and in a class of their own, is something they both share.

 

3. Champion support

McGregor, on his girlfriend Dee (Nov 14): “She’d drive me to the gym, and she’d listen to all my dreams. Dee is a lifesaver for me. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her, and that’s for sure.”

McGregor’s story has his leading lady.

As for Schooling, sorry ladies, that spot is taken by Joe’s mum May Schooling. Although, rumour has it he was dating 22-year old Casey Shomaker, who is pursuing a doctorate in law at the University of Texas where Schooling studies.

“Without their help, their love, their contributions, I would not be where I am today. So mum and dad, thank you,” said Schooling yesterday, reported ST( Feb 7).

By the way ladies, mummy May is ever watchful, making sure her son is not put in a compromising position by random girls (read more about May Schooling here).

 

4. Champion focus

Fame in the fighting arena set McGregor up for an action movie appearance with Hollywood star Vin Diesel. But last year McGregor cancelled the seven-figure movie deal so as not to get distracted from training.

Likewise, Schooling is focused on the coming swimming season in the United States, where he is studying and training.

“I came back (from Singapore) in December and started working hard, watched what I ate, no more going out, time to focus on the championship season,” said Schooling, reported TODAY (Feb 7).

 

5. Champion… body?

McGregor did a shoot for the ESPN sports magazine last year. The magazine has an annual “body issue” where athletes strip to their birthday suits and readers can lust after appreciate the athletic build of leading sports figures.

No Schooling has not done a naked photoshoot… yet. But there is a photo book, “Hello, my name is Joseph Schooling”, published last year. It contains photographs by Alvin Toh, who had exclusive access to Schooling on many occasions. But there’s nothing risque.

And yes, it was a bit sneaky to put this part in. Just a bit. But come on, how many ladies (and guys too, admit it!) would love Joe to bare it all?

Let’s hope he gets all inspired…

 

 

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by Najeer Yusof

YESTERDAY, the shutters of Mustafa’s Serangoon Plaza outlet opened for the last time to a line of customers who gathered for the final day of sales. With the closure of the Serangoon Plaza branch today, Mustafa will now operate only from its main outlet, along Syed Alwi Road. Mustafa had been a tenant of Serangoon Plaza since the mid-1980s.

When we visited Mustafa in its final hours, the second and third floors were already emptied and sealed off. Customers were restricted to the first floor, where clearance sales were being held. The store became crowded by noon and the lines to the cashiers grew. Customers were generally nonchalant as many came for the clearance sales which had promotions on items such as clothes, toiletries and home appliances. Some items such as blankets had huge price cuts of up to 50 percent. Although most of the customers we spoke to did not feel sad about the outlet’s closure since Mustafa’s main outlet is just around the corner, some had a sentimental connection to Serangoon Plaza as they had been always shopping there.

Here is a look at the final day of operations of Mustafa at Serangoon Plaza:

 

CUTTING TIES: The overhead pedestrian bridge that linked Mustafa's Serangoon Plaza outlet to the main outlet was removed earlier this month. The opening to the bridges on both sides were either cemented or sealed off.
CUTTING TIES: The overhead pedestrian bridge that linked Mustafa’s Serangoon Plaza outlet to the main outlet was removed earlier this month. The openings to the bridge from both sides have either been cemented or sealed off.

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RESTRICTED ACCESS: The second and third floors of Mustafa's Serangoon Plaza outlet were cleared and sealed off by the second week of January. Red tapes and and cardboard boxes were used to seal off access routes such as escalators and stairs, to the upper floors. The customers were only allowed on the first floor.
RESTRICTED ACCESS: The second and third floors of Mustafa’s Serangoon Plaza outlet were cleared and sealed off by the second week of January. Red tapes and and cardboard boxes were used to seal off access routes, such as escalators and stairs, to the upper floors. Customers were only allowed on the first floor.

 

WAITING LINE: Customers gathered outside the store, awaiting the opening. Although the store opened at 10.30 am, some began gathering outside as early as 10.
WAITING IN LINE: Customers gathered outside the store, awaiting the opening yesterday morning. Although the store opened at 10.30 am, some began gathering outside as early as 10 am.

 

STEEP CUTS: Items such as home appliances, blankets, clothing and even toiletries were on sale. Some had huge price cuts and irresistible promotions. There were 3 separate store spaces for the customers to browse the various items on sale.
STEEP CUTS: Items such as home appliances, blankets, clothing and even toiletries were on sale. Some had huge price cuts and irresistible promotions. There were three separate store spaces for customers to browse the various items on sale.

 

VALUED CUSTOMER: Madam Chandravalli, 42, rummages through a pile of blankets. "I heard about the closure yesterday on the news so I decided to come down today to check out the sale. It is sad that this outlet is closing as I have been shopping here for 15 years. With only one outlet now, I do not know how are they are going to manage the crowd," she said.
VALUED CUSTOMER: Madam Chandravalli, 42, rummages through a pile of blankets. “I heard about the closure yesterday on the news so I decided to come down today to check out the sale. It is sad that this outlet is closing as I have been shopping here for 15 years. With only one outlet now, I do not know how are they are going to manage the crowd,” she said.

 

OFF THE RACK AND PACKED: Some items were already cleared by the final day of sales, while others that were not on sale were moved over to the main outlet.
OFF THE RACKS AND PACKED: Some items were already cleared by the final day of sales, while others that were not on sale had been moved over to the main outlet.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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SHARED SPACE: The common room where the elderly residents gather for meals and activities such as watching tv. They also do engage in spontaneous activities such as dancing or even cooking.

by Wan Ting Koh 

AMID the controversy over the future of Singapore’s nursing homes – whether seniors are better off in private rooms or ward-type facilites – for at least one group of seniors, what they really want is the best of both worlds.

They like the privacy and autonomy that their own bedroom offers. But at the same time, they also like being able to mingle with other residents, saying that sometimes being by themselves can get a bit lonely.

We spoke to Saint Bernadette Lifestyle Village, one of Singapore’s few assisted living facilities that offers private rooms and is run by a Volunteer Welfare Organisation. Last month marked the facility’s first anniversary since it opened in December 2015. Currently, it houses eight seniors who range from 75 to over 90 years old.

Most of the eight residents said that while privacy is a priority, they also appreciate the companionship of fellow residents and the presence of nurses who attend to them when needed.

Madam Joy Lo is one such resident. The 94-year-old has been staying at the facility for some six to eight months and has no plans to move. She first moved to St Bernadette as she felt lonely at home with only a domestic helper as company. Her son had to work, while her daughter was in the UK.

“At home we are all alone with the maid. The maid have to do housework, how can she attend to you all the time? Here we can meet others and play mahjong,” said Madam Lo.

When asked if she would want to stay in a dormitory-style nursing home, she said no, citing privacy as her main concern. However, Madam Lo is still quite mobile and doesn’t require any assistance to move around. She even made it her daily morning routine to sweep the garden after getting up at 6am.

Others her age, however, might need more supervision, she acknowledged. Like those who are ill and not mobile.

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St Bernadette, which began accepting residents in end 2015, is an assisted living facility located a five-minute walk from Newton MRT. Unlike most nursing homes in Singapore, St Bernadette offers its residents a more home-like setting by providing residents with private bedrooms and ensuite toilets, while having a nurse available 24/7 to care for the residents. Residents sign a six-month lease, which they can extend and pay $3,500 per month.

The home is located entirely on the ground floor and consists of a common room, which is attached to eight private bedrooms. Each bedroom has a TV, a bed, a bedside table, a drawer for personal effects, a phone, a chair and an attached bathroom.

Madam Lo, whose room faces the front of the home, has decorated the space with her personal belongings. Her medicinal cabinet is filled with small bottles from her makeup collection, including her favourite skincare brands: Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden.

Said Madam Lo:

“You’re free to do what you want, but you have food on time and people take care of you.”

St Bernadette stands in stark comparison to the more commonly seen model of nursing homes in Singapore – the dormitory-style nursing home. These are homes which can house up to 30 residents in a single ward and focus on giving residents round-the-clock medical care.

A report released last year, titled Safe but Soulless, suggested that many of such nursing homes in Singapore, though clean and safe, are regimented to the point that they become “soulless”. The two organisations behind the report, Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation, want more “home-like” environments, with single or twin-bedded rooms that give the elderly more privacy.

However, representatives from six nursing homes disagreed. They penned an ST forum letter saying that the money spent on building private bedrooms could be better spent on volunteer-recruitment and organising more activities.

Some elderly, they said, prefer to share a room because it makes them feel less lonely.

As Singapore argues over what the seniors want, back at St Bernadette, it seems the seniors are well-contented with their home.

Another resident, Madam Leong Mei Yong, has been at the home since it first opened.

The 95-year-old, who needs assistance moving around, said that there was no company at home as her children were always working. Her daughter, Ms Shirley Yap, 54, said that she decided on St Bernadette for her mother as it is near to her house and offers a private room for her mother.

Before St Bernadette, Madam Leong had stayed in Econ Medicare Centre as she lost her swallowing reflex. “She stayed there for four months until she could swallow. But she was getting to a stage where she was getting very weak, so she needed round-the-clock assistance,” said Ms Yap. Madam Leong recovered from her condition in December 2014.

Her daughter acted immediately when she heard of St Bernadette. “When this came out in the papers, I called in straightaway and came down on the same day,” said Ms Yap.

She brought her mother to see the facilities and her mother “liked it”, said Ms Yap. Madam Leong liked talking and going out to “walk” with friends. “At home there is no one, they are always working,” said Madam Leong in Mandarin, referring to her family.

Madam Lisa Lai, a fellow resident, concurs.

“Here I can talk to friends. No one takes care of me at home, so staying here is more convenient,”

said the 85-year-old.

As residents treat the facility like their own home, they are free to come and go as they please as long as they have company. At the time when TMG visited, one resident had gone to stay with her daughter who was back from the UK and another resident had brought friends over to visit.

Residents also have events to look forward to. Just a two weeks ago, residents of St Bernadette joined neighbouring nursing home Good Shepherd Loft for a Chinese New Year reunion dinner for the first time.

And if they feel that the festivities are too much for them at any one point, they always have the option of returning to the peace and privacy of their own bedrooms.

For Madam Lo, this peace is well cherished. “You can eat together, you can play together, but when we sleep we go in,” she said.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Joshua Ip

AT THE “Singapore Perspectives” conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, 27-year-old lawyer-poet Amanda Chong accused the development of our arts infrastructure as (and here I begin to quote the Mothership article):

“… a branding exercise grounded in the desire to transform ourselves so we might be attractive to the world’, citing our beautiful galleries and museums as well as the government’s annual $700 million expenditure on the arts.

‘If we continue this trajectory of pursuing a global city built from the outside in while opening our doors wide to the world, we are ultimately closing the doors on ourselves… Singapore’s arts scene is important for our own sake. The arts should not just or even primarily be an instrument of the State to attract global talent.”

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In doing so, she drew the ire of Tommy Koh, but made a strong and strident argument for art for art’s sake. She made three points to back this up. I feel the need to further expand on the three points of her argument, as it seems inadequate to me. In the spirit of “Cabinet Battle” from Hamilton, I have crafted my retorts in a hip-hop beat:

 

1. The arts teaches us to be more mindful of dissenting views that exist, and enrich our understanding of the truth.

The arts assists the state to be more mindful of those
who must persist in making noise, who try to oppose;
it gathers them in easily-observable groups
so everywhere they feasibly go, Big Brother snoops.
Dissenting views enrich the few with faux independence,
so call a poetry reading and just take the attendance!

 

2. The arts helps us to see other members of our society as equals and as humans, not as objects to be dealt with.

The arts helps us to see other society members
as inspiration for our literary adventures;
Prostitutes or prisoners or even the Prime Minister
are equal opportunity protagonists in literature!
They won’t object to be subjected to our prolificity,
from nothing, we make something, we’re increasing productivity!
Human interest stories might be individually worthless;
we can monetise them if we just put the right word first!

 

3. The arts can contribute to the national conversation about our future in a meaningful way.

The arts can contribute to conversation.sg,
by making richer countries think that we are so edgy.
Unlike third world regimes that can be much more demanding
we never censor arts, we only pull back our funding!
If liberals want to gibber about freedom and passion
the free grants that we give will be our kneejerk reaction!

So what is wrong, Amanda Chong, with art not for art’s sake?
Observe the upward market curve that all of us partake.
We started with a junket to take part in this whole damn response
to marketing a market and its artificial Renaissance:
if foreign talent is inherently arts-obsessed,
why can’t our parent-state apparent fake its interest?
So Amanda, I contend there’s nought to contend with,
its fine to sell your soul but please just make it expensive!

P/S: (She plays the part of starving artist slightly too well:
please give her book a look at the attached URL.)

 

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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ASIA is home to thousands of cultures, yet the one ingredient that unites us all is having rice as part of our daily meals. From India in the west to Japan in the far east, down to furthest southern reaches of the Indonesian islands, rice has been a staple for billions of people for thousands of years.

Yet the humble grain, or at least the processed white version of it, has been at the crosshairs of health authorities in recent years for its role in diabetes.

Harvard researchers studying over 350,000 participants way back in 2012 for instance, noted that an additional serving of white rice raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 10 per cent. This is explained in part by its high glycemic index (GI) score which causes spikes in blood sugar.

But these same researchers note that modern sedentary lifestyles have a large part to play as rice has been in the Asian diet for millennia and health issues are cropping up only now. One solution: reduce the amount you eat, but do it without starving.

This is easily done by adding seeds, nuts and grains. While the purity of a simple bowl of white rice is certainly hard to beat, these small modifications not only add interest in flavour and texture but ramps up the amount of nutrition you’d get in one sitting. Here’s 7 you can add for a healthier bowl of rice.

01 Barley
Barley incorporated into short grained rice yields a nutty taste with the chewy texture of al-dente pasta while providing more manganese, phosphorus and proteins. The grain cooks at the same rate as rice so it can be mixed and cooked at the same time. To get this right, combine 1 cup barley with 1 cup rice with 2 ½ cups of water and cook as per normal in your rice cooker.

02 Quinoa
For those looking to increase the amount of protein in your diet, quinoa is your go-to grain. The cereal which is native to South America takes just 15 minutes to cook so add it into your rice towards the end if you prefer it still crunchy. While white rice and quinoa is an easier combination, consider cooking with brown rice to include more fibre.

Amaranth, the ancient Aztec grain.
Amaranth, the ancient Aztec grain.

03 Sesame Seeds
There’s more to sesame seeds than just having it as an oil or to sprinkle on top of burger buns. They’re packed with nutrients like proteins, fat and fibre, and tastes best when roasted and crunchy. To get the best out of this flavour and texture, dry roast the sesame seeds on a hot saucepan until slightly browned, and mix it in with cooked rice.

04 Amaranth
This ancient grain was a staple of the Aztecs and is as protein packed as quinoa. Unlike quinoa though, amaranth turns mushy when cooked, so go by your preference when cooking it with rice. Generally, more amaranth leads to a soft pudding-like texture. But a good way to start and gauge your preference would be to use 1/4 cup of amaranth to 3/4 cups of other grains.

05 Soy Beans
Soybeans have long been cooked with glutinous rice in Asia as part of leaf-wrapped dumplings and often come seasoned with savoury additions. The beans are also so protein-packed that it’s recommended as a replacement for those on meat-free diets. To cook it, soak the soy beans overnight so they soften up, dehull them and then add your desired amount into the rice to cook simultaneously.

A bowl of garbanzo beans
A bowl of garbanzo beans

06 Mung Beans
Healthy ingredients can be difficult to find but thankfully, mung beans or green beans as they’re commonly known are found everywhere. They’re packed with nutrients like magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, folate, zinc and vitamin B6. Like soy beans, soak the green beans overnight before cooking. Recipe-wise, the Iranians have a dish named Mash M’tubuq which calls for ½ cup of mung beans to 1 cup of rice. It also calls for other ingredients like yoghurt, onions, molasses and dill but there’s no reason why you can’t try it out plain.

07 Garbanzo Beans
Garbanzo beans are often seen more as the main ingredient in hummus than with rice but it’s a combo that’s also seen in Mediterranean and Indian dishes. Save yourself some time and go for the canned version rather than the dried version as getting the buttery texture it’s so loved for requires more than just soaking, but also simmering for 1 ½ hours. As canned versions are already cooked, simply add your desired amount towards the end of the rice cooking cycle and give it a good stir.

 

This article first appeared on Michelin Guide Singapore. Visit Michelin Guide Singapore on Facebook.

Featured image mixed rice by Flickr user theilr. (CC BY 2.0)

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