April 29, 2017


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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared copyright.

By Ryan Ong

Have you ever wondered how people in repressive regimes manage to get video footage and messages out onto the Internet? Or how disillusioned ISIS fighters talk to journalists about wanting to go home?

Obviously, using Gmail and Facebook is out, because that sort of activity will lead to decapitation or death by firing squad. Instead, they post them on what is known as the “deep web’’, where only people with the tools and the know-how can find them.

I was introduced to the deep web two years ago after asking someone how he got hold of an authentic designer overcoat at a cut-rate price. He told me how factories always produce surplus material to replace defects but aren’t allowed to sell the surplus. Sometimes, they are given to employees who set up a sideline selling them on the deep web.

He told me how to get there, and the place feels like the weirdest and the most dangerous place anyone can be. I was totally stunned.

Besides allowing people to lament or protest political issues, the deep web doubles as what is possibly the biggest black market in the world, where arms dealers, drug dealers, human traffickers, corporate and government infiltrators are known to peddle their wares.

It is a quiet war zone, where smugglers and law enforcement officers duke it out on a daily basis. Think 1950s Chicago or Hong Kong, except in digital form. It is the sort of place where you should never try ripping off a trader, because you could be picking a fight with a professional hacker – and suddenly discover your email is sending out child pornography. Oh, and also your bank account has been frozen. Stick to Carousell, all you’ll get is a negative review.

Ross Ulbricht, founder of Silk Road (the biggest black market for drugs in the deep web and maybe the world), recently got a life sentence without parole.

Where you are right now, on The Middle Ground website, is just the surface web and the furthest that most Internet users go. This is the world of YouTube, Facebook, blog shops, etc. Places that almost anyone can access.

Everything on the surface web is indexed. In other words, you can find all the “surface” sites via Google, Yahoo, etc. Below that is the Bergie web, a thin layer where the surface web begins to descend into the deep web. Sites on the Bergie web are indexed, but they also contain instructions on how to descend into the deep web. The origins of the name, like most things on the Internet, are murky.

The deep web is the basement; highly closed, private affairs. To get to them, you need to know the correct address, which means they are in some ways “invite only”. For that you need a particular kind of router. If you’re wondering why the basement even exists, it was originally a tool for the US military to keep their secrets. Over time, it became a tool for journalists, whistle-blowers, political victims, etc. who need to protect themselves and their families. What followed were grey area goods, and then the inevitable black market goods.

(There’s an even deeper basement, the Marianas web, named after the Marianas trench, the deepest part of the world. This is where you start getting into Intranets, classified data, and other things that can actually get you hunted down and arrested as a spy. James Bond territory.)

Anyway, armed with router and anonymity, I took a dive.

Here’s what I found:


This article is to inform you of the deep web’s existence. It is not an encouragement for you to conduct business on it, or make any kind of transaction on it.

A large number of sites are scams. Even more are set up by law enforcement agencies to entrap criminals. By signing up for them, or making transactions on them, you may be incriminating yourself.

Do not buy or sell anything if you insist on visiting the deep web, and never register or give your details to any site.

  1. There are suspiciously cheap electronics for sale

I don’t want to venture a guess as to where these come from – either right out of a factory in China, or from a lost shipment. Whatever the case, they are suspiciously cheap, and their source cannot be traced.

Bitcoin is the cryptocurrency of choice on the deep web. They are chosen because they’re harder – though not impossible – to trace. Whoever buys and sells on the deep web generally don’t want their credit card numbers being sniffed ot this time of writing, 1 Bitcoin is worth about $340. So yes, those phones are very cheap (most are about $600, compared to $988 from retail stores).

  1. People use the deep web as a confessional

As a Catholic, I’ve always wondered at the power of confessions. The deep web confirms that. There are sites where you can – anonymously – confess to the terrible things you’ve done. And people will post comments, and give you advice on the right kind of penance.

The odd thing is that these sites are only half-joking. Some comments and posts are obviously trolls, or just people having a laugh. But there are just as many serious cries for help (drug addicts who are feeling suicidal, gangsters confessing to their crimes).

Oh, a big hint for activists out there: some employees confess the terrible things they’ve done in the name of their company’s greed.

  1. Get free IT help and lessons

Not only do the hackers and security professionals on the deep web know about your malware / virus, some of them probably even helped code it. And if you can tolerate slews of vulgarities, smart-assery, and the risk of trolls trying to make your problem worse, it’s a good venue of last resort to find help.

Beyond the forums and chats, there are lots of obscure instructional sites that get very detailed and specific.

If you’re into this stuff, and you can handle the depth of the discussions here, the deep web is a goldmine of useful information. In general, a 50-50 rule applies: half the people you meet on the deep web will be friendly geniuses, and the other half will be rabid psychopaths.

Good luck.

  1. Learn Black Magic

You think I’m joking, but there are people who take the whole “occult” thing seriously. I guess it also helps to buy the books and skulls as props, if you have a 1980s themed metal band.

It’s like Amazon.com for bomohs.

  1. Buy your way to social media fame

I’m sure it’s absolutely not true that a lot of YouTubers or bloggers bought their way to higher rankings. There’s no way those overnight stars would have gone on the deep web and bought, say, instructions on how to exploit social media loopholes right?

While most of these are scams, you can bet that some of them – usually short lived sales that are not around for long – are probably real. Hang around on deep web forums long enough, and you’ll also notice some of the people posting these exploits seem to work for Facebook, YouTube, etc.

We’re Just Scratching the Surface

The deep web offers far more, which I frankly don’t dare to post. Drugs, firearms, and corporate / government espionage also makes its way into the deep web.

Many companies, in fact, constantly trawl onion sites for sold lists of user accounts, compromised credit card numbers, stolen video game keys, etc. This allows them to (hopefully) respond quickly when they realise a hacker has gotten into their database, and is selling the information.

The deep web is the wild west of the Internet – a battleground best avoided except by the savvy, criminal, or desperate. If you’re curious and brave enough to peek, well…you’ve been warned.

Hell Pit or Help It?

What exactly do we do with the deep web?

Authorities are mostly scratching their heads about it. It’s not easy to regulate, because it’s anonymous. It’s not exactly evil, because behind the black market abuse, the deep web is a powerful tool for whistle-blowers and the free exchange of information.

In many ways, the polarised opinions on the deep web are a microcosm of the global debate on the nature of freedom, and the extent to which it should be taken. There are conservatives who fear the deep web, and cannot sleep at night even knowing it exists. Then there are the liberals, who consider it an important check against totalitarian control.

And finally, we have the moderates in the middle ground, who are trying to figure out how to get the best of it without letting it get out of hand.



Featured Photo by Shawn Danker.

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by Bertha Henson

I can see why the G pulled its funding for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. The 320–page comic book makes for uncomfortable reading. But it is such a magnificent piece of work, with so many layers of content, interlocking storylines and comic styles, that the discomfort creeps up on you s-l-o-w-l-y. I recommend that you buy it once it’s available – and read it twice over.

In fact, I would like to thank the National Arts Council for bringing the book into the public eye, although I don’t think that was quite its aim for a book which it says “potentially undermines the authority of legitimacy of the Government and its public institutions’’.

Phew! What a charge! Is it warranted?

If so, doesn’t the book border on sedition and deserve to be banned? Yet it was not banned. Either the censors realise that a ban would backfire, or they are still trying to grapple with how to deal with artistic work, especially of the satirical kind. Easy enough to bar Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore with Love from public screening here because the G – and anyone else – can hear from the mouth of Singapore “exiles’’ their version of history. The G can give a point-by-point rebuttal, which it did, and use that to justify its action.

But how do you deal with someone like Charlie Chan Hock Chye, a figment of artist Sonny Liew’s imagination?

Frankly, I was lulled into thinking the G was making much ado about nothing when I got into the first few pages. Okay, the book starts spectacularly with a page each for the two political rivals, Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong.

Then it moves into Charlie, product of pre-war Singapore, trying to live his dream of being a comic book artist, despite his very practical parents advising him to get a job which can “tan chiak’’. (Note: You have to be terribly Singaporean – and even a little on the older side – to understand the work because of its smattering of dialects and references to past events. It is THAT clever.)

I mean, how dangerous can Charlie be?

That’s the magic of Sonny Liew. There are two story lines threading through the comic book: a record of Charlie’s attempt to have his comics published through the years, and the comics that he supposedly drew, which took inspiration from the political events of the day. Thrown in the mix is the idealism infusing Charlie who ends up as a sad old man who clings on to the tools of his trade.


Not since the days of Hello Chok Tong, Goodbye Kuan Yew have I seen our late Prime Minister and the various political figures depicted in so many ways.

There is Lee Kuan Yew depicted as

a young, handsome lawyer with the gift of the gab

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as a young, handsome lawyer.

as Sang Kancil, the clever mouse deer

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as Sang Kancil, the clever mouse deer.

as chief of the Planetary Achievement Party fighting to kick the Hegemons out of Lunar City.

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as chief of the Planetary Achievement Party.

as the owner of Sinkapor Ink, a stationary and office supplies company.

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as the owner of Sinkapor Ink.

as a fierce looking Prime Minister (oil on canvas, dated 1970) who is actually pictured on the book’s cover introducing the artist.

Charlie Chan-2
Lee Kuan Yew depicted as a fierce looking Prime Minister.

And even, gulp (!) as Orang Minyak although it isn’t explicitly stated.

Lee Kuan Yew depicted as Orang Minyak although it isn’t explicitly stated.

The depictions of Lim Chin Siong are rather more complimentary. At all ages, he is unfailingly handsome. (Charlie even depicted him as crime-fighter Roachman, a nightsoil carrier who got his superpowers after he was bitten by a cockroach a la Spiderman) And in a brilliant twist, Liew/Charlie had Lim thrown into an alternative future where he became Prime Minister, beating LKY to the top job.

A depiction of Lim Chin Siong.

But Liew’s presentation of history, whether as Charlie’s “real-life’’ experience or the characters he draws in his comic book, is the part that makes readers think, if they get the point – or maybe no point? – in the first place. It’s sometimes tough differentiating fact from fiction, even though there are very interesting notes giving historical background at the back of the book.

For example, I didn’t realise that Singaporeans voted for merger with Malaysia in 1963 simply because all three choices available in the referendum were for merger, just in different ways. And that Singapore was booted out of Malaysia because, among other things, the PAP reneged on its promise not to contest the elections in Malaysia. (In Charlie’s depiction, they want to compete in a band competition in the hinterland and make it to the top of the Billboard charts.)

While Liew/Chan is quite careful in the way they depict the Singapore history of the ’60s, he becomes more explicit when the book progresses into the later years. “The Singapore Story’’, for example, features Wong Sha and Ye Fong, popular live comedians of Singapore’s past, conducting an interview with the Minister of Museums of the PAY-AND-PAY party on an exhibition about the Singapore Story. I reproduce a couple of pages here:

Charlie Chan-6
A sample of the depiction of Singapore history.
Charlie Chan-7
A sample of the depiction of Singapore history.

Wah. So brave, I thought when I read it.

The notes about this at the back of the book are even braver: The “Singapore Story’’ depicted here represents the official PAP narrative of Singapore’s history. The satirical take anticipates the launch of the National Education programme in 1997, a major push by the PAP to “engender a share sense of nationhood’’ in youths and students by instilling core values in newer generations that had not gone through the nation’s early struggles, with the aim to “ensure [Singapore’s] continued success and well-being.’’

Charlie Chan-8
Mr Goh Tok Chong explains why the company should continue to buy a certain brand of white board markers.

As a media person, I was most interested to see how Liew/Charlie deals with the media management and controls. This section is the most explicit, with cartoon panels lining the bottom of the pages in case the reader doesn’t get the point of how Sinkapor Ink is run. The company is handed over to Mr Goh Tok Chong who explains why the company should continue to buy a certain brand of white board markers, namely, OB markers. Harrrhharrrrhaaaa!

I guess one big value of the comic book is that it highlights lesser known facts about our history and, along with it, new ways to think about our past. It’s satire, much like so many political plays that are performed these days. But does this book have the potential to undermine the authority of the G?

We all know how upset the G gets at what it sees as attempts to “revise’’ history. What is information and what is mis-information? Do we have all the facts, or just some of them, some of the time? Whose version of the facts? In time, all will be out and there’s no preventing a thinking person from seeing history through a lens that is not officially sanctioned. Some pages sting, of course, but I would hope that at age 50, we have moved from the thin-skinned era of boh tuah, boh suay to an acceptance that in order for a mature society to take root, art must be allowed to push the boundaries of discussion.

I think it’s a brilliant book.

Not just because the cartoons are so wonderfully executed, but because it makes people think.

*The book has been reprinted and copies are available at major bookstores, online at epigrambooks.sg and the Celebrate Singapore Books popup store at Isetan Orchard at Wisma Atria until June 30.


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Photo By Shawn Danker.
Maybank tower.

by Wan Ting Koh

A VETERAN banker has come out to comment on the lack of local talent in senior positions of Singapore’s banking sector. UBS Singapore Country Head Edmund Koh, 55, said that although the Government should push to hire locals in the highly competitive sector, Singaporeans should also prove themselves worthy to take up those positions.

“Let’s not get too carried away about not hiring foreigners. I’m a Singaporean, and you’ve got to earn it,” he said in the papers yesterday.

Mr Koh’s comments come on the back of hiking worries over the rising proportion of foreigners taking over executive management positions in the banking industry that, some feel, should be held by Singaporeans.

It is a concern that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam echoed two years ago in a 2013 dialogue with the Singapore Indian Development Association, where he said that Singaporeans need to be adequately represented in the banking sector. Then, Mr Tharman had said that though some banks had a mixture of locals and foreigners occupying a range of roles, Singaporeans in other banks retained predominantly middle and backend roles.

Since then, measures have been implemented to ensure a more balanced foreigner vs local demographic in the hiring process – not just in the banking sector, but across all industries. The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) was minted in 2014, enforcing an open attitude towards local applicants in job opportunities. Under the FCF, companies must first advertise their job vacancies on Jobs Bank, a Workforce Development Agency-run website, for at least 14 days before applying for an Employment Pass for foreign candidates. At least at entry-level positions, locals appear to be given priority representation.

According to figures obtained by The Straits Times, the “financial sector makes up about 12 per cent of Singapore’s economic output, with more than 1,000 financial institutions and about 190,000 employees, of whom about 70 per cent are Singaporeans.” Here are some figures from three banks who spoke to ST.

BanksCitibankABNStandard Chartered
Percentage of foreigners in senior management postsAbout 70% of its Asean management committeeAbout 40% About 80%


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Photo By Shawn Danker
A family quietly watches some planes prepare for departure from Changi Airport's viewing gallery.

by Ryan Ong

As a veteran traveller I’ve been mugged, robbed (there’s a difference), caught in riots, cheated by hotels, and assaulted by white supremacists. Whatever could go wrong, I’ve survived it and learned from it, like a freakish man-roach hybrid. The lessons I’ve learned will keep you safe:

  1. Never book an AirBnB Apartment Before Checking the Refund Policy

Some renters have a “strict” to “long term” policy for refunds. You can view the definitions of each refund policy here.

Here’s a common way people lose money on the refund:

You book an apartment, without noticing the refund policy, and think everything is fine. Then the person renting suddenly contacts you, and says something like “Oh, you didn’t tell me there was another person. I didn’t hear that. I’ll have to charge you $X more”.

If you get annoyed and back out, they’ll quickly agree.

That’s when you’ll realise that you just lost half the money you put down, because a policy of “strict” or above means a 50% refund. Imagine paying $1,200 for a 10 day stay, and then getting only $600 back (and you’ll still have to pay for a new place after that).

  1. Never Bring All Your Credit Cards with You

Keep at least one credit card in the hotel safe. If you lose your wallet, the thieves won’t be able to max out all your cards. Also, you’ll still have some credit available even if you lose the wallet.

  1. Never Use Names like “Mum”, “Dad”, “Brother”, etc. on Your Phone Contacts List When Abroad

Use your family members’ first names. Otherwise, you make yourself a prime target for a kidnap scam. This is when thieves steal your phone, and then send ransom messages to your family. Remember, they have your phone so it’s not like your family can call you to check.

Which leads to my next point…

  1. Never Fail to Have a Spare Phone

Get a second, cheap phone that you leave in the hotel. This is your emergency mobile, in the event you lose your regular phone.

Always have your whole contacts list programmed in this phone as well. When you are robbed or misplace your phone, the main problem is not finding another phone but retrieving your contacts list.

In the event of an emergency, such as an injury, you will need those phone numbers on hand.

  1. Never Leave Without Insurance Coverage

I highly recommend that you buy travel insurance from your current agent, instead of online or at an ATM.

Insurance claims can get complicated, and you will want the insurance agent’s guidance. If you are injured, for example, failing to get the medical report or going to the wrong clinic can invalidate your claim.

On that note, check if your health insurance policy applies when you’re injured or ill abroad. If you travel often, consider buying a clause that covers you when you’re overseas.

  1. Never Leave Before Knowing the Embassy’s Address and Number

Wherever you’re going, always note down the address and contact details of the Singapore embassy there.

The embassy is the first place you should call if you end up in legal trouble abroad. You should also let the embassy know if you have been severely injured, fall ill, or become the victim of a crime. This is even more important when you are alone, as it assures that they will check on you and keep your family updated.

  1. Always Know Your Credit Card Helpline

You’ll want to call the bank back in Singapore as soon as your credit card is gone. The faster it’s cancelled, the lower the chances of someone getting a free shopping spree.

Also, if the bank decides you took your time to report it*, they will hold you liable for the charges.

(*I was once beaten and robbed in a country where few people speak English. I managed to call the bank after two and half hours, and Standard Chartered still called it “late reporting”. That’s so you know how quickly you have to call.)

  1. Buy Your Prepaid Phone Card at Your Destination

Sure, you can try and set things up with your telco in Singapore, or buy a prepaid card over here instead.

But what happens if you get there and it doesn’t work?

Odds are you’ll have to buy a prepaid card over there anyway, and you would have wasted your money (or you can go through the hassle of a refund when you get back). This is especially an issue in developing countries, where communications can get spotty.

Save yourself the hassle and buy the prepaid card over there. Then test it in the shop, and let the storekeeper help you.

  1. Never Reload the Price Comparison Site Before Clearing Your Cache

Comparing airline tickets? Clear the cache before going back to the site. Many price comparison sites raise the prices when you return repeatedly, because they know there’s a good chance you’re going to buy.

  1. Never Use the Phone in Your Hotel Room Without Checking the Rates

I have seen rates for hotel room phones go as high as $12 a minute. A three minute call to your old friend, to say you’ve arrived, might incur a $30+ charge.

So never, ever, use the hotel phone without checking the rates. Use it for calling the front desk or room service, nothing else.


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Photo By Shawn Danker
AIA Singapore.
(Illustration by Marcus Tan)
(Illustration by Marcus Tan)

The alleged abuse of an intern has been in the news over the past week. Our young writers, BN’s Junior Chefs, penned these letters to employers on what they expect from an internship – if they get one, that is.


(Illustration by Melissa Lim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

You are probably reading through yet another highly-polished résumé and letter beseeching you, the honourable employer, to employ a humble intern.

For three months, or six months only, you would expect me to jump ship just because I am not going to be a permanent employee. Bear with me as I give you another perspective to the story.

I will be suitably grateful for the employment. Thereafter, it will be my life’s mission to prove my worth. However, consigning me somewhere in a dark alley of your company, or doing tasks that I probably would be doing at home anyway, such as making tea and coffee, or “assisting” in trivial tasks will do nothing beneficial for your company. I am here to learn, and also apply what I have learnt for your benefit. Allow me to explore, and spark new ideas which may provide a new direction or opportunity for your company. We interns might just be sojourners, but we are fresher than many of your permanent staff that might have be so bored doing their jobs that they could be less creative, less inspiring or less productive than many of us interns. We, the said interns, are dying to give our best shot in this limited time window.

Here is a potential window of opportunity where, if you place your trust in us, you will find repaid plentiful with intangible benefits that money simply cannot buy.

Have I offered an offer you cannot refuse?

Yours Truly,
Donavan Cheah
One Who Makes a Difference


(Illustration by Melissa Lim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

I am a professional student, currently in my second year of undergraduate study at the National University of Singapore. I would like to apply for the position of Intern at Your Company.

After 14 years of experience in the school industry, I have a wide array of skills that will prove useful to Your Company.

These are my terms and conditions for some of the relevant services I offer:

Package A* – $0/ month
Printing and Photocopying
Buying Coffee and Tea
Data Entry

Package B* – $500/ month
Making Presentation Slides
Phone Reception

Package C** – Valuable Insight and Experience (negotiable)/ month
Problem Solving

*For a limited time only, I offer complimentary Boredom and Slacking services for Packages A and B. Blindly Following Instructions Though Sometimes Ignoring It is also available upon request.

**Please note also that some monetary remuneration is expected for Package C, though the rate is negotiable. The market rate of $0/ month may be accepted, though there will be an additional charge of Less Respect for Not Being a Half-Decent Employer.

Quality of services provided (Package C) is directly proportional to Valuable Insight and Experience paid.

At higher rates of Valuable Insight and Experience, you may also be eligible for Appreciation, Sense of Loyalty, as well as access to services in Package A and B – with no additional cost.

For further enquires, please contact me at 9xxx – xxxx or capablestudent@internship.sg.

Thank you.

Warmest regards,
Jonathan Tan


(Illustration by Melissa Lim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

You have probably shuffled through many internship cover letters, all proclaiming how working in your company would be a “tremendous (or once-in-a-lifetime) opportunity”. These cover letters will be accompanied by impressive résumés clad in professional templates, proclaiming how the applicants have involved themselves in a multitude of activities. And maybe you will receive calls from the Career Services department of the universities, inquiring whether you will be interested in opening up more positions for the undergraduates.

Despite the anecdotal incidents of abuse, many still flock to these openings. Why?

The remuneration is often a non-issue. Most applicants are cognisant that their lack of qualifications depresses their allowances, and that they will not enjoy the same benefits as their full-time colleagues who have graduated from school. Those who are in serious need of cash will avoid internship offers. Abuse cases are far and few between, and most do their tasks well. At the end of the day, the schools have repeatedly emphasised that internships are opportunities for students to gain work experience (in other words, I should be thankful that you are gracious enough to provide work openings for us in the summer). And as a desperate young Singaporean deeply immersed in the rat race, these stints are extremely valuable.

Yet, your internship should not feature simplistically on my curriculum vitae (where I detail my supposedly magnificent contributions to the company, and how I have made a difference). Bollocks. Is it possible for me to be an “asset” if the three months were but a breeze?

Put me out of my comfort zones. Do not group us – the young interns – conveniently together, but allow us to interact with colleagues who have been involved in this line of work for some time. Hear me out, and understand my strengths and specialisations. Allow me to ease into the daily routines. Do not treat us as young ignoramuses with no experience in “the real world”, and mollycoddle us every step of the way. We can bring something new to the table.

Because quite frankly, I just want to be treated as a normal employee. Let me be part of the company. Once I have been shown the ropes, and after I have proven my competency in my first few assignments, entrust me with roles and responsibilities that you would have assigned to regular workers. More rigorous challenges like these will give me the chance to make mistakes on the job; and, more importantly, to eventually learn from these shortcomings.

Challenge your interns. We can take it.

Yours Truly,
Kwan Jin Yao
Resident Student Sceptic


(Illustration by Melissa Liim)
(Illustration by Melissa Lim)

Dear Prospective Employer,

I am the triple science ‘O’ level student who switched to triple humanities in the International Baccalaureate programme. I am also the NSF who took 1 whole week of leave during NS just to participate in the Habitat for Humanity programme, as well as the student who travelled to France for a semester exchange with only rudimentary French (4-week crash course, to be exact).

Why? Just because I can.

Expect different from me – from us – we are the You-Only-Live-Once (YOLO) generation. Our curiosity knows no bounds, leading us on to paths less travelled. While other employees give you the same ole’ dry ideas, don’t expect the same from me. I don’t promise mistake-free work, I promise a fresh perspective, a new take on old problems.

But I also expect different from you. I will not be satisfied with photocopying, with tea-making, with paper-filing. Been there, done that. And definitely not for anything less than $600 a month. You see, I did a quick calculation in my mind; if I worked at McDonald’s for $3.50 an hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, not only do I earn more ($560), I will also learn more (how to make those curly fries!). Not to mention, McDonald’s has won the Hewitt Top 10 Best Employer Award (Singapore) in 2007, 2009 and 2011. In the UK, interns are seen as just another source of cheap labour, I hope that the companies in Singapore do not follow the same path. We are not cheap labour.

An internship is a two-way process. You judge our work performance but we are also judging you. You are the prospective employer but we are your prospective employees. The internship is your marketing campaign to us. Mess it up and we not only promise not to ever apply to your company but we will also tell our friends not to work there. I remember all the internships where my friends have done menial labour, received paltry remuneration and in one particular case – sexual harassment in the form of dirty jokes bandied about.

I’m sure your esteemed company recognises that a happy intern is a productive intern. Treat us like valued employees in your company and I promise it will be a win-win situation for the both of us.

Yours Truly,
Augustin Chiam
Highly Employable Undergraduate

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A Disco Ball.

by Yen Feng

It’s common knowledge that those yummy black “pearls” in bubble tea drinks are full of calories – but who knew they could give you kidney damage?

Yesterday, the AVA said they found maleic acid in several of these starch-based products from Taiwan. Consuming high levels of this can apparently cause kidney damage – though, it’s unclear in the various media reports from this morning exactly what “high” means.

If you want to know which bubble tea shops to avoid – turn to Zaobao.

Neither ST nor TODAY were able to locate any shops using the contaminated products; shops contacted by ST all denied using any, its report said.

ZB however found one – Ah Gan Green Tea, which has six stores here and who stopped serving the chewy black pearls to customers in their drinks since last Wednesday.

Another bubble tea shop, Red Sun, tested its supply of starchy tapioca balls for maleic acid even though the brand they used was not among those identified by the AVA. Its stores now have put up a sign saying their balls are safe for eating.

The Chinese paper also managed to locate an importer of one of the identified brands, Top 1. It said that although its stock was not a lot, the news has affected several stores because of the popularity of the drink.

When asked, the AVA told ST that it was unable to disclose the names of the importers and manufacturers involved in the recalled products, adding that it was “monitoring the situation closely”, whatever that means.

It also declined to identify which of the bubble tea shops in Singapore had used, or uses, them – why? Seems the public have a right to know.

In any case, the food safety agency could have made the news public earlier.

The bubble tea shops affected by this was informed of the contamination by the Taiwanese authorities – the recall of one such brand, Sunright, in fact was conducted earlier this month, according to ST.

Was it because AVA needed to conduct its own tests that it took them until yesterday to say something about this?

In the statement, AVA also released a list of the recalled products – but how is this going to be useful to consumers? No one makes their own bubble tea…

Photo By Shawn Danker
AIA Singapore.

by Daniel Yap

There has been plenty of buzz over the last week about the intern who was a victim of workplace abuse, and the other intern who put a stop to it.

In addition to our latest summary of the situation, it has emerged that the alleged abuser Alan is also the owner of the company, not just a supervisor. The family has demanded $100,000 in compensation. Meanwhile, the victim has received several job offers, some at a monthly salary of $3,000 – compared to the $500 he was said to be receiving at the time of the abuse.

What is most mystifying is that nobody had thought that anything was wrong with the fact that the victim had been an intern for three whole years. No contract, no paid leave, no benefits, just plenty of abuse.

Surely, allegedly abusive bosses like this Alan must have been laughing all the way to the bank, having found someone foolish/weak/desperate enough to take advantage of for so long. It is practically free labour, and with a little psychological domination, the boss has a willing “slave”, satisfied with being underpaid, under-appreciated and abused.

MOM is investigating the case, but one wonders what they can do since there was no contract in the first place. There are few hard and fast rules here in the realm of no contracts, but MOM may still decide it wants to kick someone’s butt to send a message. The physical abuse matter should rightly fall to the police.

So employers take note: What’s the right way to hire an intern? Companies can go about this in different ways. One way would be a Contract of Service (typical employment contract), offering the position on a temporary (limited time) basis. Under this method, the Employment Act would determine the minimums for leave, overtime, CPF and other work conditions. You can see the stipulations on the MOM website. You can still pay your intern whatever you want (yes, even one dollar a month) without breaking any laws.

Watch out for one thing – although there is no minimum wage in Singapore, low wage workers (under $4,500 for manual jobs and $2,000 for non-manual jobs) are covered by the Employment Act.

Alternatively, most employers choose to “hire” interns as “contractors”. This means that instead of a “Contract of Service”, they offer a “Contract for Service” (or no contract at all). This treats the intern (or any other “employee” under such a contract) as someone outside of the company. They are not entitled to CPF, leave or any benefits. They aren’t even paid a salary – the $500 ($600 is the minimum rate these days) is actually an allowance, much like what NSFs get in the army.

There is no limit to how badly you can pay an intern and for how long, and how much non-physical (non-illegal) abuse you can subject them to. If you manage to find some rube to engage with you in some kind of perverted Stockholm Syndrome scenario, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

Interns beware! Singapore’s labour laws don’t really protect interns very much. Employers aren’t screened properly due to a lack of resources and that’s why sometimes companies like Encore eServices slip through the cracks. This is not to say that all small companies are bad places to intern at – good small employers exist and interns in small outfits have advantages too – they get to be more involved, or see a broader scope of the business, for instance.

Will MOM start to consider legislation to prevent future abuse of interns? With their apparent reluctance to legislate employment practices – opting instead for “moral suasion” – it seems unlikely.

Interns (and employees) will have to know their rights like the backs of their hands and rely on whistle-blower heroes like Yang Jiexiang, 23 – the intern who exposed the abuse – instead of waiting for the Government to act. If you can, might as well join NTUC as a member to gain access to some free legal representation and resources (even if you’re technically not employed). Oh, and discounts on groceries too.

Photo By Shawn Danker
Cavenagh Bridge

by Rachelle Toh

Singapore is the second country in Asia to adopt Google Business Photos, an indoor version of Google’s Street View project which provides a 360-degree view of various places.

Since January, technology firm Smap Agency has been certified to create the virtual maps. Currently, maps of about 400 businesses and heritage sites in Singapore have been put up.

These virtual tours are meant to change the way people shop in real life. For example, diners can peek into F&B outlets to check out their ambiance before deciding where to go for meals.

But what about other types of businesses? Shoppers for consumer goods – from fashion to electronic devices – may find little use for these tours. Especially when you probably can’t even see the products, much less buy them.

Wouldn’t a virtual tour be more relevant to heritage sites than businesses in general anyway?

ST reported that virtual tours of some heritage sites such as the Tiong Bahru air raid shelters and Thieves’ Market in Sungei Road are already available. Others include the Army Market in Beach Road and even the dragon playground in Toa Payoh. Hopefully, tours will soon be produced for all of Singapore’s heritage sites.

More than merely looking around our shopping malls (which will always be around), virtual tours of our heritage sites would help to preserve them.

They may not be as good as the real deal, but it would make them more accessible to everyone – especially the disappearing ones.