April 29, 2017

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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…

 

 

Featured image by Vimeo user mariah garnettCC BY-SA 2.0

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Man in a purple shirt sitter and pondering while two businessmen walk by, at the CBD.

by Wan Ting Koh

IT’S all about workers’ rights early this year, with a few prominent cases making headlines and even into Parliament. The issues all revolve around what is fair for an employee – whether it concerns his or her termination, taking sick leave, or even whether he or she is getting paid.

In Parliament this afternoon (Feb 7), MP Tan Wu Meng asked for updates on the Surbana Jurong terminations, with NCMP Daniel Goh following up on what constitutes due and fair process in dismissing employees due to poor performance, and how employees can seek redress.

Surbana Jurong, a Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy, came under the spotlight last month for terminating 54 of its employees, a practice which it said was part of a performance review. The lay-offs raised concerns that the company was retrenching workers under the banner of poor performance so that it wouldn’t have to pay additional compensation to its employees.

Surbana has insisted that the terminations were not a retrenchment exercise. Its chief executive Wong Heang Fine sent an email to staff following news of the terminations, informing them that the company “cannot allow a small proportion of poor performers to be a drag on the rest of the organisation”.

“We cannot allow our 1 per cent of poor performers to continue to affect the rest of the 99 per cent of staff who are performing,” he said in the email.

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After their dismissal, terminated employees took the issue to two unions, the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union, and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Surbana later acknowledged in a joint statement with the unions that the process “could have been better managed”. It added that it would work closely with the unions to provide an “equitable and mutually agreeable arrangement” for the affected workers and to help them find new jobs.

When asked for an update on the Surbana case, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say said that the company and unions have reached a “fair settlement” of ex gratia payments. This means that Surbana will pay a sum of money to affected workers even though there is no obligation for it. Mr Lim added that Surbana’s mass termination and then public labelling of the employees as poor performers were “unacceptable”.

There may be other factors such as working environment and HR practices, said Mr Lim, adding that a poor performance in one company doesn’t mean it will be the same for the next company.

Mr Lim said that companies dismissing employees over poor performance have to substantiate their claim with documented evidence. “If the employer cannot substantiate, he may be ordered to reinstate the employee or pay compensation,” said Mr Lim. He added that employees who feel that they’ve been unfairly terminated may approach MOM, which will ask the companies for proof.

Being prematurely dismissed is one matter. What if you’re not being paid your salary?

 

Salary issues

Some 6,000 salary non-payment and short payment cases were lodged by employees last year and in 2015. Mr Lim gave the breakdown of cases in a written answer to NMP Kok Heng Leun’s parliamentary question last month about how many such cases had been referred to the Labour Court.

Of the 3,000 cases referred, 1,400 cases had the Labour Court issuing court orders in favour of employees. Out of these, 800 cases saw employees being paid within 14 days while 250 cases had employees who were paid after 14 days. A total of 350 cases were defaulted as the 200 companies involved were in financial straits or had ceased operations.

Some 25 employers were charged in court for more egregious offences each year for the past two years, Mr Lim added. These charges may include failure to pay salaries on time, or not paying a dismissed employee within three days of termination, and each charge carries a fine of not more than $15,000, or a jail term not exceeding six months, or both.

 

Sick leave entitlement

Employers are expected to excuse employees with sick leave or hospitalisation leave from work too. MOM called these “basic protections” after several Singapore Airlines (SIA) employees claimed that taking sick leave would affect their chances of promotion. Their allegations came after SIA stewardess, Ms Vanessa Yeap, 38, was found dead in a San Francisco hotel room on Jan 31 (United States time). She was reportedly ill two days before her death.

According to crew members interviewed by ST, every employee has 10 incentive points each year and these are docked when the employee submit medical certificates for common illnesses. All points are lost when the member of the staff accumulates 12 medical certificates.

Points are considered in the staff’s annual appraisals, though they account for less than 5 per cent of the weightage.

When contacted by ST, SIA said that operating with a medical certificate is a disciplinary lapse. It declined to say how it measured performance of its staff, but said that it takes into account many other factors apart from crew attendance.

It said: “As with all other businesses, employee productivity and attendance at work are important for a successful airline operation. Although crew attendance is a component in the performance management process, we would like to emphasise that crew performance is measured across many other factors.”

In response to concerns, MOM issued a statement yesterday saying it expects all employers to excuse their employees from work if they have a medical certificate.

It added: “Paid sick and hospitalisation leave is a basic protection under the Employment Act and is also a core benefit in collective agreements… employers should avoid penalising an employee solely based on his consumption of sick leave.”

According to ST, MOM is in touch with the SIA Staff Union and SIA’s management over the issue.

Under the law, employees with three months of service get five days of sick leave and 15 days of hospitalisation leave.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Ryan Ong

There may be too many property listing sites for Singapore

WITH the addition of two new online services last year (Ohmyhome and Yotcha), the online property market has gotten crowded. Along with PropertyGuru, 99.co and StreetSine, all of them are now locked in a constant fight for your attention. And they all provide the same basic service, which is comparison.

All of this is supposed to be good for “the market”. Property agents, buyers and sellers are supposed to have it easier than ever. Listing sites are much cheaper than traditional marketing methods, such as classified ads – 99.co charges just $588 per year for 100 listings, while PropertyGuru (which is the granddaddy of property sites in Singapore) charges $2,240 per year.

Contrast this with traditional print advertisements, which can end up costing those same amounts for just a single ad.  And of course, buyers now have the luxury of looking for property on their phone, on the bus or at home.

In some respects, these sites have succeeded in changing Singapore’s property market. Some of the changes that have been caused by these sites are:

  • Buyers are quicker at spotting abnormal prices
  • The property business is becoming more entwined with the online media business
  • Buyers are somewhat better informed

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1. Buyers are quicker at spotting abnormal prices

Most property portals, such as 99.co or StreetSine, don’t just list the price of a specific property. They also show the prices of other properties in the same vicinity, which lets buyers work out the average (or median for the more mathematically inclined) price per square foot. For example, look at this screenshot:

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You can see almost immediately if a unit is exceptionally expensive or cheap. Here’s another example, which also tracks prices in the general neighbourhood:

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In the past, buyers had to dig through records themselves to check transaction histories. Portal listings practically guarantee every buyer is less likely to get ripped off, even first-timers who may not know where to check the price history. (You can check the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s records here by the way.)

The ease of information impacts our property market in ways that go beyond the portal’s user numbers. Even casually browsing the site could influence buyers and sellers.

 

2. The property business is becoming more entwined with the online media business

One major difference to the property market is that now, sellers have to fight for online visibility. Fewer buyers will walk around a neighbourhood for two hours, shopping for potential sales. They find their prospects via price and location filters on a portal site.

This leads to property agents and developers now having to think like media companies, instead of just real estate experts. If someone types “condo-jurong-under $800,000” into a search bar, every site wants to be the first result they get. As such, an increasing number of developers and agents are now also learning to think in terms of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and content marketing. In Singapore’s property market, “e-commerce” will soon lose its meaning – e-commerce is commerce.

At present, developers and agents are basically paying portal sites (or even private bloggers) to get them visibility. But it’s just a matter of time before they learn to produce their own online content.

Which leads to the third thing…

 

3. Buyers are somewhat better informed

Property news used to be esoteric. Go back to the 1980s; issues like stamp duties and deferred payment schemes were random words that made no sense to buyers. Today, most buyers – even those who are buying their first home – have some familiarity with concepts like the Qualifying Certificate or Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty.

They can’t help it. Portal sites fight tooth and nail for high visibility online and that results in a non-stop deluge of content. Google one project and you’ll find a few hundred pages breaking down the pros and cons, and speculating on potential gains. And in order to get ahead, portal sites also churn out information on how loans work, what agents do, what the Option to Purchase is, and so forth.

That’s all a sneaky way to get visibility. When you type “what is an Option to Purchase”, every portal site wants to be the first to answer your question.

This results in buyers who are somewhat better informed. I say “somewhat better” because, within the mass of content, buyers are also absorbing information that persuades them to buy.

 

What hasn’t and probably won’t change no matter how many portal sites we get?

Portal sites are also credited with big industry changes, despite evidence to the contrary. They are:

  • Decreased use of property agents
  • Major changes in property prices

 

1. Decreased use of property agents

This is the number one accusation hurled at listing sites, like Yotcha. But that’s putting the cart before the horse.

In 2010, only 11 per cent of HDB resale buyers and sellers handled transactions without an agent. By 2013, that number was up to around 25 per cent. HDB itself has concise guidelines for buyers and sellers wanting to do this. You’ll note that Yotcha (and the app Ohmyhome, which bypasses the need for property agents) came about in 2016.

In other words, services like Yotcha came about as a response to fewer people using property agents. They are not a “cause” of it.

The commission of a property agent in Singapore is around 2 per cent of the sale price for sellers. On a $350,000 flat, that’s a hefty $7,000. So it’s not surprising that most people will at least try to muddle through it first and then call in an agent as a last resort.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Yotcha won’t compound the problem – it is too new to tell. But in the words of Billy Joel, it didn’t start the fire.

 

2. Major changes in property prices

So price comparison drives prices down, right? That’s a supposed benefit of comparison platforms, but we should be careful not to exaggerate the impact.

Property prices move for a huge variety of reasons. Property prices in Singapore are going down because of cooling measures by the G, a weakening economic outlook, fewer rich expats due to the slump in oil and gas and finance, and many other possible factors. One of those many factors may be the increased use of portals and price comparisons. But we can’t know that for sure or guess to what degree it contributes to falling prices.

The flip side is also true. If there’s a huge hype for a particular area, prices will be inflated. And the comparison platforms will reflect and reinforce that. When you can see everyone hiking prices, you will too.

It’s more accurate to say that various portal sites reflect the market sentiment. Property portals probably won’t be the catalyst for major price changes, no matter how many of them we have.

 

Featured image House/Home Inspection by Flickr user Mark Moz. (CC BY 2.0) 

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by Michelin Guide Singapore

CHINESE New Year is always a welcome period for festive eating but the dedicated for whom fitness resolutions still loom large in January, the search for waist-friendly grub can be a challenge.

Here’s a thought: Whip up a healthier version of yusheng. Granted, the entire dish is meant to signify abundance but that doesn’t have to mean an abundance of calories. In fact, The Health Promotion Board notes that a serving of yusheng may contain as many calories as a main meal thanks to the use of oil as well as sweetened plum sauce.

“We do have some customers who request for ‘healthier’ options but as tossing yusheng is a once-a-year affair, most clients are happy with the yusheng options that we provide,” said Michelle Chan, Restaurant Manager of one-Michelin-starred Crystal Jade Golden Palace. “Typically, some customers would request for the service staff who is assisting with the tossing of the yusheng; to add less oil and/or less sauce to suit their palate.”

 

For those who prefer to have complete control over their food intake, the restaurant has also provided a healthier recipe so even the most stringent of weight watchers won’t worry for partaking in some festive cheer.

“The ingredients are mainly fresh fruits and salad leaves instead of the usual yusheng assortment,” said Michelle. “Green salad leaves provide crunch while fruits impart a natural sweetness. Rather than fried ‘pok chui’ biscuits, chef has used sweet potato strips instead.”

As with any recipe, more modifications can be made to further reduce the calories. The sweet potato strips that the restaurant recommends is deep fried but it can be baked or air-fried to a crisp for a similar texture. The fruit jam to be used for the sauce can also be substituted with low sugar options or homemade fruit compotes while plum sauce can be omitted entirely.

 

Healthful Yusheng
Serves 4-5

Ingredients
80g Japanese sweet potato, baked or air-fried
50g black fungus, soaked in water till soft and thinly sliced
50g strawberry, thinly sliced
50g honeydew, sliced
50g papaya, sliced
50g apple, sliced
50g watermelon, cubed
100g red carrot, cut into fine strips
100g white radish, cut into fine strips
10g fresh yuzu peel (orange can be used as well)
50g sesame seeds, toasted
50g pickled onions
20g olive kernals, finely diced (substitute with other nuts)
100g assorted salad leaves, washed and drained
10g Tobiko (flying fish roe)
50g yellow capsicum, cut into fine strips
2 lime leaves, cut into fine strips
2 stalks rosemaryFor yusheng sauce:
Fruit jam such as apple or orange marmalade
Lime juice
Plum sauce (can be omitted)
Rice vinegar
Pomegranate juice
Boiled water, to add to desired consistency
150g peanut oil

Method
1. To make the yusheng sauce, combine about 1 tablespoonful each of your choice of fruit jam such as green apple jam, lime juice, plum sauce, rice vinegar and pomegranate juice. Season to taste by adding more of all or some of the condiments and add as much water to reach desired consistency.
2. Arrange remaining yusheng ingredients onto plate and sprinkle Tobiko, lime leaves and rosemary leaves at the top.
3. To toss, add peanut oil and yusheng sauce.

 

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

Featured image CNY-52 by Flickr use Lynn Chan. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Najeer Yusof

INSTEAD of letting your excess food go to waste, why not place them in fridges that others can access?

Two community refrigerators were installed in the lift lobby of Block 441, Tampines Street 43, for residents in the area to donate food to needy neighbours. The two-week-old initiative by Tampines North Citizens’ Consultative Committee (TNCCC) was launched by Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng on Saturday (Jan 21).

One of the fridges was labelled with a “Halal” sticker, to cater to Muslim residents. Food donors were advised to be aware of the items they put in each fridge. Over the course of the first week, we noticed the “Halal” fridge being empty most of the time. According to the residents, the food in both fridges usually disappear within a couple of hours after replenishment. Eggs and meat were usually cleared the fastest. Although this initiative has been intended for the long term, the TNCCC is planning on monitoring the initiative for three to six months. Subsequently, it will decide on the next course of action: making improvements or stopping it entirely.

We decided to monitor the use of these fridges for a week, to see how the residents were using it and this is what we saw:

Residents of block 441 and Mr Baey Yam Keng fill both fridges with groceries on the day of launch.
DAY 1: Residents of Block 441 and Mr Baey filling both fridges with groceries on Saturday, Jan 21, the day the project was launched. The groceries, such as fresh meat, vegetables and fruits were donated by residents.

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Madam Poh Muei Giok, 73, a resident of block 441, taking an ice-cream from one of the fridge. "It is a good idea but some people are misusing it by taking a lot of the food," she said.
DAY 2: Madam Poh Muei Giok, 73, a resident of Block 441, taking an ice-cream from one of the fridges. “It is a good idea but some people are misusing it by taking a lot of the food,” she said.

 

Madam Evangeline Ang, 57, a member of the Residents' Committee, takes a photo of the contents of both fridges to update the other members on what needs restocking. "I come on alternative days to check on the stock and to see what needs restocking," she said.
DAY 3: Madam Evangeline Ang, 57, a member of the Residents’ Committee, taking a photo of the contents of both fridges to update the other members on what needs restocking. “I come on alternate days to check on the stock and to see what needs restocking,” she said.

 

Mr Michael Lim, 61, a retiree who resides in the neighbouring block checks the fridge to see which grocery requires a top up, before heading to the market to purchase them. "I heard about the initiative but I did not have time to come down to check it out till today. I bought fish cakes, meatballs, tofu, apples and oranges to fill into both fridges," he said.
DAY 4: Mr Michael Lim, 61, a retiree who resides in a neighbouring block checking the fridge to see which item requires a top up, before heading to the market to purchase them. “I heard about the initiative but I did not have time to come down to check it out till today. I bought fish cakes, meatballs, tofu, apples and oranges to fill both fridges,” he said.

 

Mr Tay, 52, a member of the Residents' Committee, stacks jars of Chinese New Year goodies on one of the fridges. The goodies were donated to the nearby Community Center by one of the residents. "Someone donated a few boxes of Chinese New Year goodies to the Community Center so I decided to bring them here for the residents to take them," he said.
DAY 5: Mr Tay, 52, a member of the Residents’ Committee, stacking jars of Chinese New Year goodies on one of the fridges. The goodies were donated to the nearby Community Centre by one of the residents. “Someone donated a few boxes of Chinese New Year goodies to the Community Centre so I decided to bring them here for the residents to take them,” he said.

 

Madam Salma Binte Ismail, 62, a resident of block 441, takes vegetables from one of the fridges. "The other day I was able to take some fish. This is a good initiative especially for residents like me who cannot afford to purchase a lot of groceries. My husband is the only one working and due to the recent heart bypass he had, he has not been working much lately. So we are not doing very well economically," she said.
DAY 6: Madam Salma Ismail, 62, a resident of Block 441, taking vegetables from one of the fridges. “The other day I was able to take some fish. This is a good initiative especially for residents like me who cannot afford to purchase a lot of groceries. My husband is the only one working and due to the recent heart bypass he had, he has not been working much lately. So we are not doing very well economically,” she said.

 

Madam Rei Tjoeng, 42, a resident from the neighbouring block, fills the fridge with mandarin oranges. "We may need to think of safeguarding the food inside such that there isn't a growth of bacteria. This can be done with proper storage and clearing any waste inside," she said.
DAY 7: Madam Rei Tjoeng, 42, a resident from a neighbouring block, filling the fridge with mandarin oranges. “We may need to think of safeguarding the food inside such that there isn’t a growth of bacteria. This can be done with proper storage and clearing of any waste inside,” she said.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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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 Najeer Yusof

THE pineapple tart is an iconic pastry that is found in many Chinese homes during the Lunar New Year. The term for pineapple in several Chinese dialects, such as ong lai in Hokkien and wong lai in Cantonese, sounds similar to the arrival of prosperity. Making the buttery pastry, which comes with a dollop of pineapple jam on top, has been a part of Mr Wei Chan’s family business for 33 years.

The 45-year-old is the current owner of Pine Garden Bakery, a heartland bakery that specialises in handmade cakes and baked goods. He is from the second generation of a line of family members who ran the bakery before him. His mother, a former seamstress, decided to open the bakery with a few relatives after realising that her tailoring business was not doing well. The recipe of pineapple tarts was passed down from her mother, Mr Chan’s grandmother. Although Mr Chan has made minor alterations to the recipe to make the tarts softer, he has retained the gist of it and still has the tarts handmade.

The pineapple tarts are made only during the Chinese New Year period and the preparations begin about a month and a half in advance. Here’s how the tarts are made:

MAKING THE PASTE: Mr Chan sources the pineapples from dealers in Malaysia. He obtains samples from them and decides on the best one before placing his order. The pineapples used to make the tarts have to be half-ripped and must not be sweet. They are skinned, grated and made into paste. The homemade paste are then stored in a refrigerator until it is time to make the tarts.
MAKING THE PASTE: Mr Chan sources pineapples from dealers in Malaysia. He obtains samples from them and decides on the best one before placing his order. The pineapples used to make the tarts have to be half ripe and must not be too sweet. They are skinned, grated and made into a paste. The homemade jam is then stored in a refrigerator until it is time to make the tarts.

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ROLL AND CUT: The base of tart is made from a mixture of butter, plain flour and salt. The batter is rolled out using a roller, to ensure even thickness. Subsequently, the base of the tart is shaped out from the flattened batter, using a cutter.
ROLL AND CUT: The base of the tart is made from a mixture of butter, plain flour and salt. The dough is rolled out using a roller, to ensure even thickness. Subsequently, a cutter is used to cut out the tart base from the flattened dough.

 

IDEAL WEIGHT: The pineapple fillings are weighed on a scale to exactly eight grams. They are then hand moulded into round shapes and placed onto the tart. The portion of the filling has to be exact, to ensure the best taste.
IDEAL WEIGHT: The pineapple fillings are weighed on a scale to obtain a weight of 8g. They are then hand-moulded into balls and placed onto the tart. The portion of the filling has to be exact, to ensure the best taste.

 

NEAT AND TIDY: After the pineapple filling is placed onto the tart, the filling is pressed to ensure that the tarts have a smooth top. Since fresh pineapples are used, the fillings contain pineapple fibers. Pressing the fillings helps to prevent these fibers from sticking out.
NEAT AND TIDY: After the pineapple filling is placed onto the tart, the filling is pressed to ensure that the tarts have a smooth top. Since fresh pineapples are used, the fillings contain pineapple fibres. Pressing the fillings helps to prevent these fibres from sticking out.

 

SEE AND SWITCH: A worker inserts a tray of pineapple tarts into the oven for baking. This is a 40-year-old oven and it has four decks. Each can fit four trays. The trays in each deck are switched among one another during baking, to ensure even baking. The worker has to observe the colour of the tarts to know if they are baked proper.
SEE AND SWITCH: A worker inserts a tray of pineapple tarts into the oven for baking. The oven is 40 years old and has four decks. Each deck can fit four trays. The trays in each deck are switched around during baking, to ensure even baking. The worker has to observe the colour of the tarts to know if they are baked properly.

 

WORKING TEMPERATURE: The tarts are made in a enclosed room with a room temperature between 19 to 20 degrees celsius. Since the batter is made with butter, a cool temperature is needed to prevent the butter from melting and making the batter too soft.
WORKING TEMPERATURE: The tarts are made in an enclosed room with a room temperature that is between 19 and 20 deg C. Since the dough is made of butter, a cool temperature is needed to prevent the butter from melting and making the dough too soft.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Ryan Ong

EVERYTHING is faster and more efficient in the age of digital banking, including going bankrupt. When you consider you can get four times your monthly income in cash, in 15 minutes, it’s pretty amazing we’re all not stress eating caviar while looking at our monthly bills. For those without self-control though, the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) has made a help package – in the form of a new debt consolidation programme:

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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