June 26, 2017

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by Suhaile Md

This is the final article on More Than Just, a closed-door series of three dinner conversations on race and racism in Singapore. Over 20 participants attended all three sessions and were chosen to reflect the diversity of Singapore. Names are withheld for confidentiality, to provide a safe, open space, for honest conversations. Read the first article here, and second one here.

AFTER the many stories shared in the past two sessions, it’s clear not everything’s hunky dory in Singapore when it comes to race. So what can we do about it? That’s what the final dinner on April 21 was all about.

The evening started with participants suggesting an issue they wished to tackle, after reflecting on the problems raised in previous sessions. Responses were then organised thematically and participants grouped themselves according to the themes that resonated with them the most.

The search for solutions ensued. Most ideas were not fully formed: You can’t solve decades long issues over dinner, can you? Still, the various groups presented their thoughts to everyone after. But by the end of the night, it was clear there were two ideas participants were excited about.

1. Get em young! 

Issue: Often the majority fails to realise racism exists because they are not at the receiving end of it. As a result they don’t see the disadvantages minorities face.

Solution: Organise an inter-school camp for secondary two student leaders. The core activity would be the privilege walk, followed by moderated discussions on race.

The walk starts off with participants standing abreast. They take a step forward or backward in response to questions on whether their race affected them positively or negatively. The aim is to visually represent the gap between the racial experiences of participants. Of how people of different backgrounds get different advantages regardless of merit.

The privilege walk was also done in the Channel News Asia documentary on race last year. Minister of State Janil Puthucheary was the host. Here’s the video.

The participants chose to work with Secondary two students because the 14 year olds would have had a year to settle into their schools. And should the student leaders want to, they will have a few years before their O-levels to work on creating impact within their schools.

Interestingly, four out of the five dinner participants who discussed this issue and thought of the solution were Chinese. It was also a Chinese participant who raised the issue of the dominant race not realising racism exists in Singapore. This solution was also the overwhelming favourite amongst dinner participants.

2. Attack racism with the funnies 

Issue: People tiptoe around the racial issues far too much. While sensitivity can be good, it should not get in the way of honest conversations. How do you tackle the issue if you’re too scared to talk about it?

Solution: Eh you racist ah? card game. The idea is that if you could lighten the mood around taboo topics, people would be more willing to talk about it.

It’s similar to the popular Cards Against Humanity (CAH) game. CAH has two decks of cards: One question deck, one answer deck. Every round, someone plays a question card and everyone else provides the funniest answer card from their hand. Except that the humour works because it violates social norms – most answer cards are highly inappropriate, taboo even. It’s funny because it’s transgressive.

Cards Against Humanity. Image by Flickr user Tom Bullock. CC BY 2.0.

Eh you racist ah? decks will be filled with statements that range from the blatantly racist like “X race is _____” to the subtly racist like “you are pretty for a X race”. The “winner” of each round will wear the cone of shame. This will be followed by a discussion on why the answer is racist. Essentially, said a participant, “the game is an icebreaker to talk about these taboo issues”.

The trick is that all the cards have racist answers. As players engage in the game, they will let their guard down and in choosing answer cards, they will have to tap into their existing racial biases. But because players can only use cards they are dealt with and not invent their own answers, no one can point an accusatory finger. It accords people a safe space to realise the racist stereotypes they have.

This of course assumes that reflective people will play the game and that they are generally ignorant, not consciously racist. It’s hard to say what, for lack of a better term, hard core racists would take away from this game.

3. The best of the rest

Most of the remaining ideas centred around raising awareness at the individual or society-wide level.

At the personal level, one group suggested creating safe spaces for victims to have a frank discussion with the person who made the racist remark. The group also pooled various suggestions on how to react during a racist encounter. For example, if the perpetrator is aggressive, just leave or it may escalate the matter. If someone holds on to racist or ignorant views, engage the person another time instead of vilifying. The aim is to change mindsets, not demonise.

At a broader level, one group thought of media campaigns. Another group decided to zoom in on educating the public on how to critically assess the online content they come across. For example, being able to distinguish fact from opinion, or being able to see issues beyond a racial lens, or being equipped to recognise and deal with their own biases.

Interestingly, throughout the night, there was only a brief mention of removing the Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others (CMIO) classification. Neither was there any chatter on affirmative action for greater representation at leadership levels nor was there talk on the Presidential Elections later this year, which is reserved for a qualified Malay candidate (read more here).

Instead it seemed there was an almost unconscious decision to work on solutions the individual could act on. Maybe it had to do with the question posed at the start of the dinner: “How would you tackle the issue?”

Not the G, not schools, not community leaders, but YOU. Maybe that’s a question we should all think about.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

Missed the dinner conversations on race and racism? Join the public sharing session on 20 May, 1pm. You will get to hear the stories from participants who attended the dinner series and explore race issues. Sign up here.

Also, join the facebook group to be a part of the online conversation. Click here.

TMG is the official media for More Than Just, a series of dinner talks to explore what Race and Racism mean in Singapore, and what we (as individuals, communities and society) can do to bring us to our common ideal state.

by Sharanya Pillai

WHEN it comes to building their love nest, it seems like young Singaporean couples prefer the tried and tested – even if it is more expensive.

Last year, one in five first-time HDB buyers opted for resale flats over new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, The Straits Times reported yesterday (May 3).  This is nearly twice the number of buyers who did so in 2012.

Thus far, HDB has reserved 95 per cent of BTO flats for first-time buyers. Heavily subsidised, these flats are often considered the most financially prudent option for first timers, especially since they come with a fresh 99-year lease, experts told The Middle Ground.

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But a desire for familiarity and a shorter waiting time are driving more young Singaporeans to the resale market, noted OrangeTee’s head of research and consultancy Wong Xian Yang.

This trend is set to continue, with stable prices in the resale market and more subsidies from the G, Mr Wong added. This year’s Budget, for instance, raised the CPF Housing Grant for resale flats for first timer couples, allowing them to enjoy up to $110,000 in total subsidies. Meanwhile, the supply of potential resale flats in 2016 was also 80 per cent more than the previous year.

“Since 2013, HDB resale prices have come down by about 10 per cent. People are more confident that the prices [have] stabilised and should not correct further. And so with more grants, many feel that resale prices are at affordable levels at the market rate,” he said.

Seems straightforward enough – why spend three years waiting for a BTO, when you might be able to move into a furnished flat with less hassle and more subsidies?

But there are more trade-offs to mull over. If you want to know what’s in this for you, here are the key factors to consider:

1. Do you want a ‘forever’ home or a stepping stone?

BTO flats come with 99-year leases, meaning that the flat can last a lifetime. But that hasn’t stopped young couples from paying more for resale flats with shorter leases, even at the risk of outliving their homes.

This trend prompted Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong to warn against assuming that all old flats will be covered by Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) – which allows owners to move to a new home with a fresh 99-year lease, along with monetary benefits.

Those who purchase old resale flats may also face difficulties trying to sell it off in future, reckons ERA Senior Division Director Alex Lim. “The demand pool for these flats among the next group of potential buyers is smaller, because younger buyers are already eliminated. So that is something to bear in mind,” he said.

OrangeTee’s Mr Wong agreed that the move has its risks: “Some couples may speculate that the value of an old flat will keep going up. But of course, there are always uncertainties.”

Ultimately, it depends on buyers’ long-term plans for the flat – whether they see it as more of a place to settle in for a few generations, as an investment to earn good returns on, or just to live in it before moving into more high-end property.

2. Postcode envy: Are some locations better than others?

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Units at the Pinnacle@Duxton became eligible for resale last year
Source: Photo by Shaun Danker

If location is a priority, the resale market offers more options than others. This is probably one of the biggest draws for young couples, who often want to live near good schools, and sometimes even upmarket locations, said PropNex Key Executive Officer Lim Yong Hock.

Units at the Pinnacle@Duxton, which just became eligible for resale last year, is especially popular among couples with higher income.

For the majority of young families that are “just starting out in life”, living close to their parents is a key consideration, Mr Lim added. Filial piety aside, first-timers are also drawn by a $20,000 Proximity Housing Grant (PHG) for buying a resale flat near their parents. The scheme, implemented in 2015, could be another “pull factor” towards the resale market, he said.

But the locations of new BTO projects may bring back some first-timers, Mr Wong noted. While earlier projects were in far-flung, newer estates like Punggol, the latest batch of BTO flats are in mature estates, like Kallang, Bedok and the Bidadari development in Toa Payoh. With more of these developments, demand trends could change again.

ERA’s Mr Lim sees more young clients attracted to BTO flats because of lifestyle factors: “The millennials go for BTOs because the flats are new and the community is new. Everyone is of the same age group. They’re looking for something brand new and affordable, and that’s the ultimate appeal of BTOs.”

3. Money over matter

Ultimately, for those starting out in life, finances are front and centre. While BTOs are generally the cheaper option, due to zero Cash Over Valuation, resale flats are becoming just as affordable thanks to the latest slew of G grants.

Effective from Feb 2017, the cap for CPF housing grants for resale flats was raised from $30,000 to $50,000 for first-time families buying four-room or smaller flats, and to $40,000 for those buying flats with five rooms or more. Other existing incentives include the Additional Housing Grant, which provides up to $40,000, and the $20,000 PHG. With these perks, the price gap between BTO and resale flats has narrowed.

But this is not necessarily the case in popular mature estates, like Bishan, Queenstown and Clementi. Resale prices there remain steep, such as those in Clementi, which have crossed the million-dollar mark. While it is easy to be swayed by news reports of price trends, Mr Wong advises young Singaporeans to do their homework and monitor the data for themselves closely.

A 2015 survey by the MND, for instance found that Singaporeans tend to overestimate the price of BTO flats. “The younger generation of buyers is very tech-savvy, so they can easily check out the HDB website to know the latest prices, and avoid these mistakes,” he said.

Meanwhile, PropNex’ Mr Lim thinks that families on a tight budget would generally be better off opting for a BTO instead. “My advice for any young couple would still be go back to the affordability. You may find a very good location, but at the end of the day, you have to slog your life away to pay the instalments.”

“Is it necessary? In life, there are also other important things, like making sure you can start your family.”

 

Featured image by Flickr user Erwin SooCC BY 2.0.

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Hawker centre, food, eat

by Daniel Yap

We must steal other people’s lunches to be competitive, says PM Lee. The world is a dark, hungry place with no scruples. But the phrase started me thinking: where does lunch come from? Is there a lunch shortage? Are some people having five lunches while others have none?

ON LABOUR Day, I went down to my local market and ordered myself a nice bowl of bak chor mee, found myself a table and sat down. I thought: well, a nice cold drink would hit the spot, so off I went to the drink stall. When I got back, someone had stolen my lunch.

It was the guy from the nearby rental block who was a familiar sight around the neighbourhood. He always seemed hungry, hanging around the food centre asking for a free kopi or a bite to eat. Often, the hawkers would be generous and feed him for free. Today, it seemed, he had decided it was my turn to bless his soul.

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Stunned and somewhat offended, I looked over to the next table, where the obese neighbour from Block 5 was stuffing his face with his third helping of Nasi Lemak Set G (tambah everything). Our eyes met, as he drooled a few fragrant grains from his overfull mouth, but he quickly turned away to stare at his food, as if to say “not my problem”. Clearly the problem was mine.

“Eh hello, that’s my lunch.”

“Yes, and now it’s mine! Good, right?” the hungry man mumbled as he fumbled with my chopsticks (ok, not my chopsticks: the stall’s, but he TOUCHED them – desecration).

“Hey, you cannot just anyhow steal people’s lunch, you know?”

“You left it here, mah! Anyway, you see that guy there, he went to buy drinks – go eat his Hokkien mee.”

“But I wanted bak chor mee for lunch!”

“Lunch is scarce, bro, going to be come more scarce. Unemployment going up. You got to learn to compromise.”

“You stole my lunch! I paid for it!”

“Okay lah, I play fair. If I stand up, you can steal it back.”

I was on the verge of attacking him with a Chinese soup spoon when the bak chor mee uncle piped up. “Eh, young man, you give him eat, ok? Uncle make another one for you. Up-sai to big bowl some more.”

“But uncle, how can he like that?”

“Every day he come here, every day somebody give him food. You see everybody eating here, they think there is only one lunch for them. But when you are the one making the food, you know behind still got a lot of lunch left. Is not jiro-sum game one.”

I paused, stunned.

“You see, I am entrepreneur one. As long as end of the day I make money, it’s okay. I can come out how many bowls of bak chor mee, never mind. But if you start fighting in front of my stall then I got no business to do. Maybe you fight for your lunch and you win, you eat, but in the end nobody else get to eat my bak chor mee; next door the roast duck also cannot sell.”

He pushed a massive bowl of noodles into my hands. “Eat, eat! Not everyday I give you eat, but I tell you, lunch is got a lot one.”

I think it must be nice to be him. He can eat his own lunch. As many bowls as he wants. But can man live by bak chor mee alone?

 

Featured image by Flickr user Tiberiu Ana. CC BY 2.0.

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A new Central Greenway will provide a direct and seamless connection from Pasir Ris Town Centre to Pasir Ris Park Source: HDB

by Daniel Yap

THE plans for remaking the heartlands of Woodlands, Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris have just been announced. Based on the feedback of some 400 residents and stakeholders from the towns, the plans are an indication of the aspirations of the community, and pose a question to the rest of the nation: how do we engage with each other within our built environment?

In the end, it is not just features and infrastructure, but how people – residents – interact that defines the soul of a city. What do the latest changes say about the way we want to engage in community?

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We’re going local

A little more heartlands, a little less Orchard Road. Neighbourhood centres in Pasir Ris, for example, will be enhanced with the aim of having amenities closer to home. This means less time spent travelling and more time spent in the immediate neighbourhood, and providing opportunities for local interaction.

The enhancement of comprehensive amenities at each town centre is also expected to boost local engagement and make each town self-sufficient. There is thus no need to travel across the country unless you’re looking for something specific.

A new Town Plaza in Woodlands Central will serve as a vibrant public space for residents.
Source: HDB

The character and heritage of each revamped town have also been deliberately preserved or commemorated in each plan. Toa Payoh will stay wedded to it’s iconic Ring Road, and its pedestrian walkways lined with HDB shops will not be giving way to malls – Toa Payoh has always eschewed big malls in favour of more local retail flavour. Both Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris will have heritage sites beside the town centre that tell of the town’s history. Woodlands will get a “discovery playground” that also showcases its development.

It is an opportunity to take pride in each town and its unique institutions – icons, people or features that have been around for decades. It gives character and distinction to each town and shifts the focus away from thinking of Singapore as a single physical place.

We embrace diversity

A place you can call home needs to offer something for everyone. There is a deliberate attempt to inject diversity into each town. Multi-generational facilities, “silver zones”, and a range of amenities can appeal to different interests, but one big part of the plan is to introduce more new housing units to older towns, which are likely to be bought up by younger families.

When a whole new town springs up, like Punggol, it gets filled mostly by younger families applying for their first build-to-order flats. In 20 or 30 years, these families grow as a generation and in order to inject diversity, different demographics have to be added in.

Think of mature towns like Toa Payoh, or “young family” towns like Punggol. This will cut down on the pressures of extreme local undersupply of childcare places, or very high demand in one area for elder-care facilities. It makes amenities easier to plan for, and nobody will feel left out.

Walk, cycle, or scoot

You can be sure that exercise has become fashionable when people clamour for cycling paths more than they beg for additional bus stops. That, and the burgeoning flocks of spandex-clad cyclists we see on the roads these days. The emphasis of the latest town plans has been to enhance walking and cycling facilities as a means of intra-town travel, especially with each town becoming more self-sufficient. There is less of a focus on longer-distance travel, which will be centred around MRT stations and regional centres.

Town centres will be planned with more pedestrianisation in mind. Woodlands will get a “social corridor”, interspersed with community spaces, stretching across the town from east to west, which branches out into a comprehensive network of cycling paths.

Even Toa Payoh’s ring road will be upgraded for pedestrians and runners, and the old town will be retrofitted with biking infrastructure and “silver zones” that will help the elderly get around more safely.

The growth of bike sharing companies also sets the stage for increased use of cycling as a transport option, and the bike connectivity between individual blocks and MRT stations will be a major aim of any upgrade.

We want to be green

Greening the towns has been a major theme across latest developments. Take some time to appreciate nature, get active outdoors, and please stop polluting the environment.

A seamless central greenway (with cycling paths, of course) will connect the Pasir Ris town centre with Pasir Ris Park and 8.2 km of “Nature Ways” spotted with small parks will be added along major thoroughfares. Toa Payoh will have seven “pocket parks” added along its 4km ring road.

The pocket park in front of Block 157 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh will feature landscaped spaces with plants and furniture inspired by popular motifs in the town.
Source: HDB

Woodlands too will get a green upgrade: the 1.9-kilometre WoodsVista Gallery with dedicated cycling and pedestrian paths that link Woodlands MRT to the coast.

We want to spend time with people

Who says Singaporeans are a private lot who shy away from interactions with neighbours? If it were so, people would have asked HDB to install traffic lights in the floor, and free wi-fi throughout the entire length of Pasir Ris Drive 1 so that they can get around in full “phombie” mode, ignoring everyone and everything around them.

Instead, requests by residents for the development of local community spaces like parks and town plazas are calls for more opportunities for interacting with family, friends or neighbours. A new concept of community nodes has created earmarked spaces for art installations, community gardens, reading corners, or community cafés. Sound good?

But they are only going to be as good as how we use them. The heart of any town is its people, and if residents don’t want to engage with one another, then the “kampung spirit”, will not grow. Take ownership of your neighbourhood, or leave it as it is – the outcome is up to you.

 

Want to have a say in how your town develops? The Remaking Our Heartland proposals for Woodlands (beside Woodlands MRT until April 30), Toa Payoh (HDB Hub Atrium until May 7) and Pasir Ris (beside Pasir Ris MRT until May 14) will be on display for residents to give feedback on. You can also see the proposals and give feedback online at HDB InfoWEB (http://www.hdb.gov.sg/ROH). 

This article is done in partnership with the Housing & Development Board.

 

Featured image courtesy of HDB.

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by Bertha Henson

WHAT is the weight of public opinion? It is heaviest during election time, when everybody gets to vote. How they vote is science and for political parties and academics to interpret. Only the individual knows why he voted the way he did – and sometimes not even that.

Public opinion, that vague phenomenon, can be viewed in a positive way as reflecting the community sentiments which may or may not be based on rational grounds. Politicians know that they have to get public opinion on their side to be voted in or to simply garner support for an agenda.

Or, public opinion can simply be viewed as the baying of the mob. Whether you think it’s positive or negative depends on which side of the fence you are on. So if public opinion is aligned with your own views, it must be correct and something must be done about it. If it doesn’t, then those who hold such views are misguided, ill-informed or just plain idiots.

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When Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam talked to TODAY about the weight of public opinion in the review of laws, I did a double-take. It seemed odd to me that such a tough minister would consider public reaction a factor until I read this further along in the story: ‘’But it doesn’t mean automatically you agree with it. You must assess it, whether it is also fair. So, there are two parts to it — one, whether it is fair; two, what does the public believe is right.’’

He’s speaking generally, he said in his rebuke of academic Donald Low.

As an example, he spoke of American Joshua Robinson, a mixed martial arts instructor who had sex with two 15-year-olds and showed an obscene film to a six-year-old. Many saw the four year jail term as too lenient. Mr Shanmugam had directed his ministries to re-look this.

In the TODAY story, however, is this:

A deputy public prosecutor, who declined to be named, had reservations about reviews being announced soon after a case concludes in court.

“When the Government says these things, it ties our hands,” he said.

This is a pertinent point. Sometimes it’s not so much public opinion that matters – since they can always be dismissed – but the opinion of a powerful person.

The former G lawyer didn’t give an example but you wonder what prosecutors will do now since the minister announced last month that there will be a review of maid abuser penalties. This comes after a Singaporean couple was convicted for starving their maid. The man was sentenced to three weeks’ jail and a S$10,000 fine while his wife was sentenced to three months’ jail.

Commentators are also waiting to see what sort of measures will be taken against so-called fake news, and announcement that came immediately on the heels of the G’s failure to get the courts to agree that it can use the Protection from Harassment Act.

Unlike past Home Affairs and Law ministers, Mr Shanmugam – who holds both portfolios – is well-known for speaking up about court cases.

And unlike members of the public who can face contempt of court charges, he said in Parliament last year (Mar 1), “public officials like myself can make statements if they believe it to be necessary in the public interest – even if there is a hearing pending. Amongst other things, public confidence in the police must be maintained.”  This is in response to public speculation that 14-year old Benjamin Lim had committed suicide as a result of police investigations.

There is also the forum of Parliament which conveys immunity to its members.

He has never been one to keep quiet.

Some examples:

a. Mr Shanmugam’s comments at a public forum in May 2010 on Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong sparked a judicial review of Yong’s clemency process. Mr Shanmugam said: “If Yong escapes the death penalty, drug barons will think the signal is that young and vulnerable traffickers will be spared and can be used as drug mules.”

Yong’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, felt that Mr Shanmugam’s comments could prejudice the decision of the President to grant clemency. The review was dismissed in August 2010 because it was argued that – constitutionally – Cabinet, in which Mr Shanmugam is a member, could in fact advise the President on matters of clemency.

b. In April 22, 2015 he said the actions of the boy who attacked foreign worker to practice martial arts was “sickening conduct, the kind of conduct that you would not approve if somebody did it to animals.” Earlier that week, the boy was sentenced to 10 days jail. The Attorney-General Chamber’s appeal a few days later for stiffer sentencing was dismissed. You can say that the judge wasn’t influenced by what he said. But it does cast a pall over the verdict if it went the G’s way.

c. In April 2015, he came out strongly to castigate the man who slapped teen terror Amos Yee, saying in a Facebook post: “Rule of Law means respecting the legal process. If everyone starts taking the law into his or her own hands, then we will no longer be a civilised society. I hope that the attacker will be caught quickly, and is dealt with appropriately.”

He is right to warn against vigilante action, but it would have been better coming from the police. Because people would expect that the culprit, since he’s been the subject of ministerial comment, would be dealt with heavily by the courts. The man was sentenced to three weeks jail.

d. He nearly made a police report when Ms Sangeetha Thanapal misrepresented his comments online in August 2015. Her Facebook post was “inaccurate and seditious”, he said. But he later decided not to do so after meeting her as she had no ill-will. Ms Thanapal on her part apologised on Facebook, saying what she had posted earlier was “unjustified”.

e. More recently (Oct 22, 2016), he announced that he would be filing a police report over “completely false” allegations made by sociopolitical site States Times Review. The site claimed that Mr Shanmugam had said that “Eurasians are considered Indians” for Presidential candidacy and downplayed the chances of a Eurasian becoming the President.

In his Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam expressed shock that “such outright falsehoods” could be spread online.  A check by TODAY the day after his post found that no report had been filed yet. It is unclear if a report was eventually made.

Now, a minister making a police report carries a lot more weight than reports filed by ordinary people. Face it, not everybody’s opinion is equal.

It is correct that public opinion should play a part in our laws. Some archaic holdovers like the criminalisation of oral sex has been thrown out of the window and the death penalty is only mandatory for egregious cases. Marital rape might well make it into the books. These are a reflection of changing societal norms and expectations.

But what if some people think that the laws of defamation here are too strict? And that more young people are getting soft on drugs as was reported in MSM today?

Then a judgement call must be made about what is fair and what is right for Singapore. This is what we elected people for, as representatives of Parliament and not as delegates. We vote them to exercise their judgement on our behalf.

It’s not always public opinion that matters or has an impact, minister. It’s yours. If you’re carrying a big stick, maybe you should tread softly.

 

Featured image from Minister K Shanmugam Sc’s Facebook page.

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THE first Football Association Singapore (FAS) elections is turning out to be quite the drama. The two teams vying for control of the association are Mr Bill Ng’s Game Changers and Mr Lim Kia Tong’s Team LKT. Things got spicy when Mr Ng crowed about a $500,000 donation to the Asean Football Federation via the FAS. This led to questions about propriety, $36.8 million in jackpot revenue made by minnows Tiong Bahru FC (which eclipsed the FAS annual budget), links made between him and former FAS political-appointee President Zainudin Nordin, and police raids on his clubs and the FAS offices. Former FAS council members on Team LKT said they were unaware of the $500,000 donation to Asean Football Federation’s (AFF). The FAS election is still going to happen tomorrow, Apr 29. Anyway, good luck, Singapore football! Let’s keep the game clean.

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Read other pieces here:

  1. Former FAS council members unaware of donation, no oversight on gaming at clubhouses
  2. FAS saga: Fruit machines and the root of all evil
  3. Football saga: Six points of contention
  4. Hat-trick of raids at football clubs, investigations at FAS
  5. Speak up Mr Zainudin!

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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By Bertha Henson

WHY are people getting so upset with the news of school mergers, especially at the junior college (JC) level? It’s a no-brainer right? If junior colleges are emptying out, then might as well close them now or merge. It’s such a rational, efficient thing to do. Reading the reactions, the unhappiness boils down to these nine questions.

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1. How is it that our so-efficient G can misjudge birth rates?

Well, the G keeps saying that it is based on information available at that time – and probably thought that its pro-baby policies will work. The last two JCs built were Innova which was founded in 2005 and Eunoia which opened its doors this year. So maybe if you look at the birth rate of the cohort that would enter Innova in its first year, it still looks like it can be filled. Except that later on, Singapore couples didn’t cooperate. Tsk. Tsk.

2. But that doesn’t explain Eunoia, does it?

Ah. But that’s a special JC that caters to the cohort studying in Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School. They will move to the JC as part of the Integrated Programme (IP).

Okay, Eunoia could have waited until next year and moved into one of the JCs’ vacated premises. Could have saved money. But it could be location as well. Eunoia is in Mount Sinai, and will move to its Bishan premises in 2019. Oh wait. Maybe it could still move into an empty campus before money is spent on yet another set of buildings…

3. So, the JCs that will be merged all don’t have IP feeder schools? What does this mean? I have to make sure my kid gets into a secondary school with IP so that they can progress right through to JC and university?

Oooh. Looks like that’s the best bet. Because JC is usually seen as the next step into university, unless your kid is a very bright polytechnic student. Through-train you know… even if this means less choice…

4. How did MOE pick the eight JCs anyway? Just because no IP?

Hmm. It says “geographical’’ distribution. So it’s about spreading them out equally. Like Meridian JC, which is in Pasir Ris, and Tampines JC. So they’re getting stuck together at the newer Meridian campus. Don’t forget that Temasek and Victoria JC are also in the east.

Then there’s Innova JC and Yishun JC merging to be on Yishun grounds. MOE said Yishun was picked because it’s more “accessible’’ than Innova, although Innova is newer. Maybe it also has to do with cut-off points. Innova is at the bottom of all 19 JCs, as reported by The Straits Times. MOE isn’t saying anything about it.

5. Wait a minute, why should cut-off points have anything to do with whether a JC disappears?

Hmmm. Guess MOE thinks there’s no point in having such poor performing JCs. Seven of the eight JCs that are merging are actually clustered at the bottom of the ladder, which means that their students aren’t, ah, as good as the rest. Elitist, but perfectly rational. Okay, there’s something to be said about preserving the school’s heritage and making alumni happy but you know what is said about “scarce’’ resources and so forth.

6. But if it is a matter of geography, Hwa Chong Institution and National JC are right across the road…

They’re IP and good performers and probably with strong alumnus that will kpkb . Just disregard what MOE said about geography, it doesn’t know how to spin doctor.

7. Why so sudden anyway? Some of the kids are already looking forward to entering JCs of their choice, especially those near their homes. Quite demoralising isn’t it?

The G will probably say that there’s never a good time to make such an announcement. If the mergers are delayed, then what are the chances that parents will allow their kids to apply for a JC that’s going to be closed? Rather than sound the death knell, just kill it off quickly.

8. That’s heartless when you think about the people who have been to the schools and have fond memories.

True. But hard truths.. hard truths.

9. Has it got to do with the G changing its mind about having more people going into university?

Well, it said it’s aiming for 40 per cent of the cohort by 2020, but it’s a declining cohort so the absolute numbers will probably remain about the same as now. Although it’s likely that when it came up with that figure, it didn’t think about the birth rate then. Or maybe it figured that the polytechnic route would also yield more university graduates. Then again, polytechnics are facing declining enrollments too. Are you thinking that this will have a knock-on effect on the capacity of our universities? That something will be done about polytechnics too?

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Suhaile Md

This is the second of three articles on More Than Just, a closed-door series of three dinner conversations on race and racism in Singapore. Participants attend all three sessions and were chosen to reflect the diversity of Singapore. Names are withheld for confidentiality, to provide a safe, open space, for honest conversations. Read the first article here.
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DAY two (Mar 31) of the dinner series and the stories streamed out. Of racism, in racially harmonious Singapore. Some spoke of the casual cruelty that springs from ignorance. Others lamented the broader sense of discrimination that permeates society at large.

But underlying it all, was the question: When is it racist, really?

A 28-year-old Indian male participant mentioned during the large group discussion that stereotypes do have some basis in reality, or “nuggets of truth so to speak”. He said, for example, that he found the various races can smell different. He thinks it’s due to cultural factors like diet for example. Not bad, just different.

So, when a child asks: ”Why you smell like that?”, it might just be innocent curiosity on the child’s part and the child just does not have the language or maturity to phrase it politely. Likewise for other observations, such as “why you so black?” or “why you so hairy?”.

In response, an Indian lady recalled the time in primary one when a Chinese boy refused to hold her hand. It’s something young students do when they line up during school assembly. “He said I was black… and I don’t think he meant it maliciously but it definitely affected me you know.”

He said I was black… and I don’t think he meant it maliciously but it definitely affected me you know.

Just like it affected her when “someone said my hair was so oily you could fry a fish”. And it definitely “affected me in secondary school when my classmates all spoke Mandarin, and for no reason of my own I was excluded from people with whom I could engage with”.

She said she doesn’t “attribute any malice to any of these episodes” but she wishes she was able to make her former classmates “understand that it hurts”. It’s cruel how casually ignorant questions cut.

The lady was hurt as a child because of her race. But by her own account, she did not think it was malicious. Would it be fair to call her former school mates racist? Well, the intentions may not have been racist, but the outcome certainly was.

On hearing the Indian lady’s story, a Chinese lady added: “Race really played a really big part in choosing a primary school for my daughter.”

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Why race matters in school choice

The Chinese lady is married to an Indian man. Their daughter has darker skin. Even though her daughter can “speak really good Mandarin”, the Chinese kids at the playground “just don’t talk to her at all and exclude her”.

When it was time to choose a school, the mother had three choices, a top Chinese school which was her alma-mater, a neighbourhood school nearby, and a convent school.

Following the advice of most people, she was thinking of either the top school or the school next door, “until a Eurasian mother came and talked to me and said… you want to put her in a Chinese school, you know she’s going to be so excluded from everything?”

You want to put her in a Chinese school, you know she’s going to be so excluded from everything?

Likewise for the neighbourhood school because she lived “in a new estate… with many new citizens from China and Malay(sian) Chinese.” Given her daughter’s experience at the playground, she realised it might play out the same way at school.

So she followed the advice of the Eurasian mother who had said: “Send her to convent, she’ll mix, she’ll blend in there with everybody.”

The Chinese mother’s sharing led to a discussion on how individual experiences might build up to society-wide stereotypes and consequently racial discrimination.

When a Mandarin speaking yet-not-Chinese-looking child is at risk of being ostracised on account of skin tone, what more the other races?

Furthermore, as another participant mentioned, his secondary school, a top Independent school, only had a handful of Malay students in the whole cohort of about 400. Let alone Special Assistant Plan (SAP) schools which only offers Mandarin as a second language. Are such schools racist? Do they end up allowing stereotypes to foment due to a lack of exposure to citizens of other races?

As a Eurasian man in his 40s put it, racial differences are visible. “You can see what the guy looks like but you don’t know his” background or who he is. This can lead to viewing everything through a racial lens.
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When race becomes the only lens

The Eurasian participant brought up the example of the radio DJs who got into trouble a few months back. They were discussing a survey on the sleep patterns of Singaporeans. In the process, they made remarks that stereotyped certain races. They were subsequently fined by the G.

Said the participant: “They split (survey results) it according to racial lines. What is that teaching you? How is race even relevant? Let’s talk about what kind of jobs they are doing, which neighbourhoods are they living in, how are they getting to work, those are things that will teach you things that are useful that you can turn into policy or constructive discussion.

“At a certain point, even mentioning race itself becomes racist because if race has nothing to do with something, why are you even bringing it into conversation?”

At a certain point, even mentioning race itself becomes racist because if race has nothing to do with something, why are you even bringing it into conversation?

Expanding on his point, other participants said that the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) categorisations in Singapore forces a racial lens on everything even if there’s no need to.

However, a Malay social service practitioner in his mid-30s felt there may be a “need to compartmentalise according to racial groups because members of a “particular community would know what works best… what will be culturally sensitive, what will not.”

That said, he added, after a certain point it blinds us. “Race is just a lens that we put on.” What about viewing the issues through another lens, like class?

Race is just a lens that we put on.

In his work, he found that a Chinese boy from a single parent household living in a rented flat has much more in common with the Malay boy with a similar background, than he did with other Chinese kids with more stable families.

At this juncture, a Chinese participant asked the Malay social service practitioner if he thought too much focus on race “hides all the other factors which are more important”.

“Definitely”, he replied.
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Ghosts of policies past

For example, on the issue of drug abuse, when the social service practitioner visited prisons, he said, “for every one Chinese inmate I see, I see four or five Malays”. That’s a fact, “a reality my community is compounded with, but again we need to stop saying” it’s a Malay problem. It’s wrong to just attribute it to race.

Back in the 70s, a whole generation of Malay men were left in limbo because they were not enlisted for National Service (NS). Many of them could not find a job because they were not officially discharged from their NS obligation. Employers did not want to take the risk of hiring them. It was safer to hire someone who completed their NS.

“He can’t get a job, he just waits, NS never comes, nobody calls him, puts him in a difficult situation…” and that’s a contributing factor for the drug abuse cases. It’s a challenge the Malay Muslim community is dealing with.

This has an effect over generations, and we’re still feeling it now. Yet when the drug problem is discussed, it perpetuates stereotypes by focussing on race.

He added: “I’m not just saying this, this is actually based on academic literature I studied back in my tertiary days (as a sociology major). There are so many other structures that either work for you or against you.”

Another structural issue that came up during the discussions was on how Singapore’s elites might have blind spots when it comes to race.

Most participants, both Chinese and non-Chinese, acknowledged that a lot of top schools seem to have under-representation of minority races.

The trouble is, a participant mused, many top students and scholars come from the above mentioned top schools. They then proceed into the Military for example where it’s a predominantly Chinese background. Many parts of the Armed Forces – Army, Navy and Air Force – have little to no Malay Muslim representation especially. So it’s likely that many of these top leaders have little to no exposure interacting with minorities since their school days.

Yet, these same military leaders from lieutenant-colonels and above are channeled into various parts of the civil service or state affiliated companies where they influence policy making decisions.

Have they had the opportunity to examine pre-conceived and unchallenged stereotypes that might have calcified from their school days? Based on the stories shared, many minorities had schoolmates who had no racist intent, yet the outcomes of their actions were racist nonetheless. Maybe this is something that needs to be addressed.

 

TMG is the official media for More Than Just, a series of dinner talks to explore what Race and Racism mean in Singapore, and what we (as individuals, communities and society) can do to bring us to our common ideal state.

Join the facebook group to be a part of the online conversation. Click here.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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By Bertha Henson

OVER the past few days, we’ve been deluged by eulogies on the late Cabinet Minister Othman Wok. Every facet of the man who died at age 92 on Monday (April 17) has been polished to a high shine, whether as a father, Malay leader or national politician.

Threading the eulogies is one theme: his commitment to multiracialism. It is a term that some might take for granted, especially if they belong to the majority race. It is a term some may bristle at, because of perceived discriminatory acts or an unintended racist joke they’ve heard. Doubtless, some would also view the speeches as politically-oriented, to bring together society when race and religion seem to be such potent divisive forces.

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I choose to see Mr Othman a little differently: as a man who placed his convictions above his comfort and convenience. This is no pragmatic Singaporean who jumps on the bandwagon and hitches himself to a rising star. This is a principled man who went against the popular tide.

It must have been so difficult for him to put his lot in with the People’s Action Party in the early days of Singapore. It was far easier to stay within the comfortable confines of the then majority community of Malaya. We’re told about how he was called unmentionable names, had his campaign posters smeared by faeces and faced death threats from communal rabble rousers.

I can hear his fellow Malays accuse him of disloyalty to the community which unlike, the Chinese, is infused with a common religious identity: “Why turn against your community – or your God?’’ I can even hear well-meaning non-Malay friends suggesting that he “take cover’’ and enjoy the benefits of staying put in a place where there was a national commitment to promote the advance of the community. Think of all the racist remarks that can be made against him and multiply its force several times – and think of what such pressure would do to his family.

Why would anyone choose such a dangerous road? It defies pragmatism and common sense.

I raise this because we’ve made such a virtue of pragmatism that we ignore what it means to abide by principles. We hedge principles with compromises and plenty of grey areas. Mr Othman, we are told, had two days to settle his affairs in Kuala Lumpur before receiving a summons to stand in the contentious 1963 elections on the PAP ticket. Then racial riots broke out.

Being a community leader would really mean something in those days. You would have to placate or persuade your own community to your point of view while dealing with suspicions of outsiders who wonder if you have a hidden agenda. To do this at a time when rabble rousers were calling for your head calls for, well, a cool head.

Mr Othman introduced the Administration of Muslim Law Act for Singapore Muslims. And he joined the pioneer National Service contingent. Both made important statements on what it means to be a Muslim Singaporean in secular Singapore.

I think today of the degree of harmony we have here even if we do get the occasional racist remark being made. Compared to Mr Othman, we have very thin skins that are easily pierced by some speech or act. Yet we all gave up something precious for this place called Singapore, whether they are Chinese dialects, open prayer calls or language-medium schools. A give-and-take attitude is hard-wired in our DNA.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the people here as an “obstreperous’’ people in 1965, refusing to be cowed by threats or seduced by promises. It is an interesting choice of word, given that Singaporeans are more usually known as sheep these days. Are we still an obstreperous people who would go against conventional and pragmatic wisdom because we have a cause to believe in? Would we risk life and limb? Mr Othman did.

Thank you, Sir.

 

Featured image from People’s Action Party Facebook page 

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by Ong Lip Hua
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THE trends are clear: We’re headed for a future where full-time employment is going to be a smaller slice of the pie, and where skills, both hard and soft, will bear more fruit over a career than the qualification you graduate with.
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A recent JobsDB report on how more than 10,000 respondents from seven Asian countries think that promotions are based mostly on your “supervisor liking you” and “leadership ability” tells of the need for soft skills in all types of employment. Job performance was also high up on the list from both employee and employer perspectives, especially in Singapore.
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Most Singaporean parents see studying and academics as their children’s job specialisation and invest heavily to this end. In some families, other childhood experiences, even basic life-skills like housekeeping, cooking and carrying your own bag, are subcontracted to a maid, grandparent or parent, who picks up after the kids. In exchange, the children are expected to deliver stellar academic results in school.
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And while good grades might set you up for a good start in a career, at what point does sacrificing other areas of development in favour of better grades begin to hurt a person? Would it make sense then to gear our children’s education so specifically towards grades?
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This approach has been hotly debated for the last few years, even as the G has begun to call for change through initiatives like Skillsfuture.
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It reminds me of how Major Motoko Kusanagi, in the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie, described the diversity of her team in a high-tech future: “If we all reacted the same way, we’d be predictable, and there’s always more than one way to view a situation. What’s true for the group is also true for the individual. It’s simple: Over-specialise, and you breed in weakness. It’s slow death.”
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But what future are we preparing our children for? Would stellar but narrow academic performances be sufficient, or even give a competitive edge as we think it would? Would it be good for the individual and for society, or do we court Kusanagi’s “slow death”?
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HRinasia cited a February 2016 Willis Towers Watson 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study that measured employers in Singapore expecting a three per cent drop in full time employment over the next three years, and a 59 per cent increase in contingent workers in Singapore, compared to 25 per cent globally, over the same three year period. NTUC expects the 200,000-strong freelancer pool to grow in the years to come. These reports seem to say that our children have to be prepared for periods of non-full time employment.
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This points to the need to have a trade skill to participate in the contingent economy. The need to “bid” and “win” contracts would also require large doses of communication and inter-personal skills for effective networking. Yet these skills are not properly taught in the classroom, and perhaps they can never be.
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When Australia, one of the world’s education powerhouses, finds that skills are insufficient in its education system and that collaboration is increasingly more important than competition, we need to take heed.
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While tuition centres are abundant in Singapore, information on non-academic training, both in schools and by private trainers, is scarce. It is perhaps due to the lack of awareness and hence demand (and budget) that such services remain either a peripheral or the domain of the more well-off.
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But the real solution is simpler – help our kids balance their in-school learning with real-life application: temporary and part-time jobs, apprenticeships and internships, non-curricular activities and engagements and hands-on work at home. Make more holistic university choices and take in basic lessons from the army like making your bed in the morning.
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Ong Lip Hua was in University Admissions for a decade and being passionate about the career of students he admits, decided to pursue a career in HR Recruitment. He was a minor partner in a recruitment firm before going in-house. He is still crazy about providing education and career advice.
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