June 22, 2017

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DR LEE Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the younger sister and brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee), released a joint statement in the early hours of Wednesday (June 14) denouncing PM Lee for his actions concerning the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s house at 38 Oxley Road. The Prime Minister is currently on overseas leave until June 17.

 

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They said that PM Lee had betrayed the values of the late Mr Lee, and desired power and personal popularity by trying to preserve the house against his father’s wishes.

The statement outlined the steps that PM Lee had taken to try and change or thwart Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s decision to demolish the house. It also named PM Lee’s wife Ms Ho Ching for being ambitious and for overstepping her boundaries.

The joint statement also said that the younger Mr Lee was leaving Singapore “for the foreseeable future” and “against his desires” because there was a fear that organs of state would be used against him, his wife Mrs Lee Suet Fern, and Ms Lee. It did not go into detail about what they experienced.

The statement said that the younger Mr Lee and Ms Lee were “hugely uncomfortable and closely monitored” and that they felt their “big brother omnipresent”.

The younger Mr Lee and Ms Lee are the executors of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will. They said in the statement that PM Lee was removed as executor in 2011.

Ms Lee had previously gone public with criticisms of PM Lee, and the siblings have been publicly at odds over the issue of the Oxley Road house since Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death in 2015.

 

Read Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s and Dr Lee Wei Ling’s joint statement in full here.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  16. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  17. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  18. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

 

Featured image cropped from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter greets Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong during a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, Aug. 1, 2016 by Flickr user Jim Mattis. CC BY 2.0.

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MICROSOFT unveiled the Xbox One X at E3 on Sunday, June 11. Can the new, powerful console grab market share back from Playstation? Watch Microsoft’s press announcement here.

Broadcast for the first time in 4K UHD on Mixer, Xbox showcased a record 42 games in its briefing including 22 with console exclusivity from creators large and small. It will be available in Singapore and other selected markets from Nov 7 and will retail for $499, 449 pounds, 499 euros, CA$599 and AU$649.

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Xbox One X was designed to be the best console to create and play games on, putting the greatest graphic fidelity in the hands of the world’s best game creators to create true 4K games. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer underscored that every game will play great across the Xbox One family, and Xbox One X also makes your existing library even better, with better textures, smoother frame rates and faster load times.

Xbox One is the only console system designed to play the best games of the past, present and future. The Xbox One games and accessories you already own are compatible with Xbox One X, so if you’re an Xbox gamer, chances are you already have a library of games that will look and play better on Xbox One X.

Spencer announced that Xbox will expand the Xbox One backward compatibility library of nearly 400 popular Xbox 360 games to include original Xbox classics, starting with fan favourite “Crimson Skies”. Xbox also revealed that “Gears of War 4,” “Forza Horizon 3,” “Minecraft,” “Resident Evil 7,” “Final Fantasy 15,” “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands,” “Rocket League” and dozens of other popular Xbox One games will receive free updates to take full advantage of the power of Xbox One X. A host of these titles will be enhanced to run in true 4K, and many will be available at the Xbox One X launch.

Video provided by Microsoft Corp.

 

Featured image is a screen grab from the video provided by Microsoft Corp.

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by Suhaile Md

YOU’D think the mother of a young child would be put off by the bloodthirsty ways of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Apparently not.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari (Izzah) was planning to take her 4 year-old daughter with her to war-torn Syria and marry an ISIS fighter. Even if her fighter husband died, she believed that “her ‘elevated status’ as a ‘martyr’s widow’, she felt she could easily marry another ISIS fighter”, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today (Jun 12). The 22 year-old single mother was arrested for radicalism earlier this month. She is the first female Singaporean Muslim radical to be detained here.

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Her radicalisation began in 2013 after exposure to ISIS propaganda online. It “deepened over time” thanks to her contact with ISIS supporters and militants online, said MHA. A year later, Izzah herself “actively posted and shared pro-ISIS materials online”. By 2015, the infant care assistant at PCF SparkleTots Preschool was “looking for ‘a Salafi or an ISIS supporter'” to marry and settle down with in Syria. Salafis are followers of Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam.

Izzah’s sister came to know about her pro-ISIS social media postings and her intention to join ISIS back in 2015. Her family’s attempts to discourage her from flying to Syria were in vain but they did not tip off the G about her radicalisation. One family member also “destroyed” evidence in order to try to “minimise her acts”. It’s not clear if any action will be taken against the family member for destruction of evidence.

Had Izzah’s family members brought her to the G’s attention, she “could have potentially been turned back from the path of radicalisation”, said the MHA. Furthermore, given the global threat of terrorism, it “makes it imperative for family members and friends to raise to the authorities anyone they suspect of being radicalised or planning terror activities”, it added.

Said the MHA: “Early reporting could enable the individual who is at risk of becoming radicalised to be given proper guidance and counselling. They could be steered away from the path of radicalisation and may not need to be severely dealt with under the law.”

Signs of radicalisation include, amongst other things, expressing support for terrorist groups, having the intention to or encouraging others to commit violence, sharing and reposting content related to terrorist groups and so on.

To report concerns about someone who seems to be radicalised, call the Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Izzah’s detention is the first such arrest under the ISA since August last year when then 33 year-old Asrul bin Alias was arrested for social media sharing of pro-ISIS content with the intention of spreading its extremist ideology (read more here). According to a MHA report on June 1, there were 14 radicalised Singaporeans who were brought in under the ISA since 2015.

Other arrests in 2016:

On August 19, MHA said that four self radicalised individuals were arrested for their intention to move to Syria and fight there.

On July 29, MHA said that Zulfikar Shariff was arrested and detained for joining the hardline Hizbut Tahrir organisation in Australia, among other things like showing support for extremists online.

On May 3, MHA announced the arrest of eight other Bangladeshis who were planning to overthrow the government in Bangladesh.

On March 16, four more people were arrested under the ISA. Three of them took part in the sectarian conflict in Yemen, although one of them only did “sentry duties” and “did not fire” said MHA. The fourth was arrested for intending to join Kurdish militia to fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

On January 20, MHA said that 27 Bangladeshis were arrested in late 2015 for recruitment attempts as well as possessing materials that taught how to kill.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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TRUE Fitness and True Spa outlets in Malaysia were shuttered abruptly today, following the company’s sudden closures of True Fitness and True Yoga outlets in Thailand yesterday (June 9). 

The company’s announcement to customers in Malaysia said that the business is “no longer financially viable due to evolving market conditions”.

True Fitness Malaysia said on the website that it has purchased memberships and personal training sessions for its members to redeem from Chi Fitness, a different fitness centre that has yoga, pilates and muay thai classes.

Affected customers can only redeem their fitness sessions after July 3. True Fitness Malaysia said that “The validity of these redemptions would be for 24 months from July 3, or until all membership months and personal training sessions have been utilised.”

A spokesman from True Group told the Straits Times that it’s still business as usual for True Fitness Singapore. 

Many have taken to social media to air their grievances. 

 

This is not the first time that an international fitness chain has ceased its operations abruptly.

On July 20, last year, California Fitness announced that all its Singapore branches would be closed. Just a week before, it had closed all 12 outlets across Hong Kong. The company faced severe backlash as it did not have enough money to refund customers.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Health Gauge. CC BY 2.0

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by Danielle Goh

GOOGLE announced on June 1 that it will be launching an “ad blocker” and a tool called Funding Choices on Chrome early next year.

But Google’s “ad blocker” is more of an ad filter that will rid websites of ads blacklisted by Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that develops global standards for online advertising. Those on the black list includes auto-playing ads that blare loud music, ‘sticky’ ads that are pinned to the page even after scrolling, and ads with a ten second countdown.

Funding Choices will prevent Chrome users from depriving publishers of revenue by blocking all ad blockers. Users will have to disable their ad blockers to view the website. It will also provide publishers with an alternative source of revenue. An option to pay for ad free access will be available to users. 

On twitter, some welcomed the move but voiced their concerns that Google might have a conflict of interest. Currently, advertising makes up 86 per cent of its revenue. 

Some were not too happy about Google’s new ad blocker…

While others understood that the move will have a widespread impact on digital advertising. Google is a dominant player, accounting for 40.7 per cent of digital ad revenues in the US. Chrome is the internet’s most popular browser.

Mr Sridhar Ramasawamy, senior vice-president of ads and commerce at Google said in a blog post that Chrome will stop showing ads on websites that are “not compliant with Better Ad Standards starting in early 2018.” The “ad blocker” is expected to be turned on by default on mobile and desktop. Google has not elaborated on the tech it will be using to filter ads.

But Google is helping publishers to prepare with a tool called Ad Experience Reports, alerting them to offensive ads on their sites and explains how to resolve the issues.

Funding Choices is currently available to publishers in North America, UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, and will be available in other countries later this year. This new tool will allow publishers to charge users for ad free access. Google will get a ten per cent cut from each charge. Details are not yet announced about how Google plans to distribute the money.

Mr Ramasawamy, said that Google’s new initiative would prevent people from blocking all ads, a solution that takes a “big toll on content creators”. About one in four people are estimated to have used a desktop ad blocker, and about one in ten on phones. 

By removing the most intrusive ads, Google hopes that it can improve browsing experience, and safeguard a vital source of revenue for publishers. Chrome already blocks some adverts such as pop-ups. Some publishers see the move as a good thing. “We’re supportive of action as it helps to clean up the ad-ecosystem and improves consumer trust,” said Mr Jason Klint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, the trade group for digital media publishers like Vox Media and CBS Interactive. (Vice News, Jun 2)

While it may be good news for the advertising industry, smaller publishers and ad companies might find it harder to adapt to the changes. With fewer resources, it might be financially challenging to reformulate ads to meet Google’s standards.

Others are concerned that Google will have a conflict of interest as advertising makes up 86 per cent of its revenue. Previously, Google controversially paid Adblock Plus $25 million annually to ensure that its ads are unblocked. EU antitrust regulators might be extracting a $9 billion fine from Google, if it’s found guilty of skewing search results for its own shopping service.

Google’s new “ad blocker” seems to be a good thing for everyone, publishers, advertisement companies and consumers. But concerns remain that Google’s expanding influence and policing of advertisements might also be a move to block competitors.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Skyler Wang

PERHAPS more than any of the iterations before, this year’s Pink Dot is being afflicted by a series of peculiar developments. One after another, attempts were made by both Pink Dot detractors and the State to curtail the success of the event.

The most recent incident, concerning a Pink Dot advertisement found on an escalator in Cathy Cineleisure, broke just days ago. Members belonging to the Facebook group “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” heavily criticised Pink Dot organisers for the ad placement, as well as the shopping mall for agreeing to display it. The contention around the ad eventually found its way to the tables of The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which, upon deliberation, came to the conclusion that the ad’s slogan, “Supporting the Freedom to Love”, violated one of the general principles of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) – those of “family values”. According to the authorities, public advertisements should not “downplay the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” They ultimately instructed Cathay to “amend the advertisement”, adding that follow-ups will be made to ensure its compliance.

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Beyond highlighting the State’s limited and inadequate definition of what constitutes a family unit, this incident exemplifies a persistent strategy the Singaporean government uses to quell public dissent—by exerting its influence in the form of policy and legality. In fact, what occupied much of the media attention on Pink Dot prior to this latest episode illuminate this exact pattern. To those unfamiliar with the issue, amendments made to the Public Order Act by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nov last year imposed a blanket ban on foreign involvement from all future Pink Dot assemblies. There are two ways in which this policy takes shape. One, the State has limited sponsorship rights solely to domestic corporations. Since the inception of Pink Dot in 2009, the event has largely relied on the funding provided by multinational companies such as Google, Facebook and Barclays. When juxtaposed to the collective amount traditionally pledged by foreign enterprises, local sponsorship, although not insignificant, pales by comparison. More specifically, for Pink Dot 2016, only five out of the 18 corporate sponsors were domestic entities. By circumscribing Pink Dot’s fundraising process, the government created artificial barriers that hinder the execution and success of the event.

Aside from restricting sponsorship rights, the new amendments also banned foreigners from showing up at the event itself. Before, a participant’s citizenship status was irrelevant to his or her attendance. Immediately prior to last year’s event, the government imposed sanctions on foreign involvement by prohibiting non-Singaporeans and permanent residents from participating in a demonstration, allowing them only to peacefully observe (holding up placards was still acceptable). According to the most recent amendments, “the law no longer distinguishes between participants and observers, and regards anyone who turns up to the Speakers’ Corner in support of an event to be part of an assembly.” Foreigners, thus, are altogether barred from the Hong Lim Park event on July 1 this year (only Singaporeans and Permanent Residents can be physically present).

In response to media queries on these new circumstances, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued the statement below:

“The Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example. This is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner, for events like Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations.”  

I take issue with several of the State’s claims. First, note that by exclusively highlighting the need to protect political and social issues from foreign interference, the State strategically leaves out economic issues. This reflects the State’s ideology when it comes to managing foreigners, where the relevance of these ‘outsiders’ is confined to their economic contribution. It suggests that foreign talents, labor and investment are encouraged in our country to the extent that they help with our economy, but these entities should not have any further influence beyond that. This not only assumes that the social experiences of foreigners are external to our sociopolitical and cultural makeup, but it simultaneously reinforces the falsehood that foreigners are somehow unaffected by the workings of today’s inequalities. This is highly problematic because the criminalisation of same-sex acts and relationships do not exclusively affect Singaporeans—LGBTQ-identifying foreigners face similar forms of discrimination both at work and in their personal lives. Sometimes, we forget that foreigners who attend an event like Pink Dot may share some of the very same grievances as their Singaporean counterparts. Pink Dot could be as much about standing up for one’s own rights as it is about advancing a particular brand of politics for these non-Singaporeans.

Furthermore, it is important to remind ourselves that social issues have economic consequences. The State likes to use terms like ‘domestic’ or ‘social issues’ to trivialise the effects of certain inequalities, disregarding the fact that these very issues lead to real crevices in one’s material life. For example, and as aforementioned, the criminalisation of homosexuality (a social issue) could prevent LGBTQ individuals from gaining fair access to job opportunities (an economic issue). By failing to recognise same-sex unions (a social issue), same-sex couples are deprived of the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples when purchasing public housing (once again, an economic issue). For those LGBTQ-identifying foreigners who desire to naturalise in this country and settle down with their partners, their aspirations may not differ that much from other queer Singaporeans. This universal yearning to belong is what that propels both citizens and non-citizens alike to mobilise.

As sociologists love to say – humans are a product of society, and our thoughts and actions are never independently formulated. When the State claims that there are “political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves,” there is an underlying assumption that Singaporeans possess an intrinsically different set of morals from foreigners, and that it is vulnerable to foreign disruption. This assumption, of course, stems from a long-held belief that homosexuality is a western-imported concept that remains incompatible with Asian values or ‘true’ Singaporeanhood. This assumption also situates Singaporean culture as static and ahistorical, and that it somehow contains an essence that is ‘pure’ and non-evolving (even though the greatest irony is that in almost all other aspects of our lives, we have wholeheartedly embraced foreign technologies, cuisines and ways of being). It further suggests the fact that it is almost inherently wrong to be both gay and Singaporean, insofar as these are contradicting and irreconcilable qualities. This is a carefully engineered social narrative that still holds much cultural influence over Singaporean society today, oftentimes used by the older generation to denigrate young LGBTQ Singaporeans for their cosmopolitan and westernised worldviews.

This urgent need to restrict outside influences (“foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events”) is also an unsatisfying explanation for the new changes in law because Singaporeans are leading increasingly interconnected and transnational lives. Democratic ideals travel across the world through mainstream and social media outlets. We lived through the events that led to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defence of Marriage Act in the US in 2015, just as how we witnessed the Taiwanese’s high court’s ruling that brought same-sex marriage to its legal fruition this May. These historic events do not exist in social vacuums; we hear about them and they have the power to shape how we understand and navigate our world. Moreover, in this day and age, websites such as Netflix and YouTube grant us instant access to content that expose us to the lives of LGBTQs and the sexual activism that is happening all around the world. This global diffusion of narratives, values and knowledge have happened, is happening and will continue to happen, whether the Singapore government likes it or not. Banning foreign speakers and participants from an LGBTQ rights event for the fear that they would transmit un-Singaporean values to its attendees should be the least of the State’s concerns.

Singapore prides itself for being a diverse and multicultural nation, oftentimes flaunting its cosmopolitanism as a means to legitimise its position in the global arena. An international city puts people of all creeds and citizenship into constant social intercourse, facilitating the formation of friendships and partnerships between citizens and non-citizens. Singaporeans befriend and date folks who are non-citizens—this is a social fact that could not get anymore mundane. However, under the new Public Order Act, couples, families and friends with mixed citizenship status will be unable to attend this year’s Pink Dot together. This laboured and politically-motivated effort to separate particular forms of social union poignantly points to the reality that underpins the need for Pink Dot’s existence, where notions of “freedom” and “love” have yet to transcend the rigid boundaries of socially constructed categories such as gender, sexuality and incidentally, citizenship.

To sum up—queer politics in Singapore cannot and will never become a purely Singaporean affair because amidst an increasingly cosmopolitan and global world order, it is impossible to trace and defend what one might call an ‘authentically Singaporean ideal.’ In fact, we need to move away from the pursuit of this false sense of pureness by aspiring to become critically aware global citizens (by balancing values and morals from a wide array of cultures and traditions), rather than the static and non-evolving Singaporean our government so desperately wants us to be.

Besides, take a minute to think about what the State just tried to accomplish—by removing foreign involvements, the governing power, as I believe, ventured into slowing down the momentum of Singapore’s first and only LGBTQ movement. This suggests that the State’s imagination of the average Singaporean is someone who is politically apathetic and unsupportive of, or at best, neutral towards the idea of gay rights (‘without foreigners, the movement would fail’). For galvanised Singaporeans, showing up and mobilising is one of the most powerful ways to overcome such an inadequate conception of themselves.

In addition, the idea that only someone with the right documentation can participate in a social movement is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but it sends a disturbing message to non-Singaporeans living in the nation state—that your voices do not matter, and that you do not get to mess with the status quo. Foreigners who disagree with such a treatment should also find meaningful avenues to express their discontent towards this form of exclusionary politics (e.g. voicing your concerns through both online and offline platforms). Regardless of whether this could lead to a tangible change of heart by the government, getting the conversation going is key.

Perhaps a heartening outcome that emerged amidst all of this controversy is that in just under six weeks, more than 100 Singaporean firms have stepped up and committed financial support for this year’s event, a size twenty times larger than last year’s five. According to The Straits Times’, as of early May, Pink Dot organisers have raised a total of $201,000—surpassing their initial target of $150,000. It is important to remember though, that in a country where 30 per cent of the population is made up of foreigners, most domestic firms have foreign representation. Embedded deep within the backing of Singaporean firms lies the support of their non-Singaporean constituents as well.

Online, many overseas Singaporeans have expressed their intentions to return home to attend this year’s Pink Dot (to make up for some lost numbers). I assume that during their time abroad, many of these overseas Singaporeans would have accumulated new cultural values and understandings of democracy. Perhaps their way of navigating the world resembles more closely to the foreigners residing in our country than those who never left. In the eyes of our government, might these individuals also be unworthy of civic engagement in Singapore?

Ultimately, what matters most for us is that when faced with the State’s repeated attempts at redrawing the contours of the Pink Dot, movement organisers and their allies need to fight to ensure that the integrity of the movement is not lost. How the story develops depends less on the shape or size of this one dot, but how many new ones we can inspire as new and imminent waves of activism await us.

Skyler Wang is a PhD student in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Broadly, Skyler’s research foci include sexualities, culture and the global economy. His interest in the sociology of sexualities was sparked by his personal experiences growing up queer in Singapore. He can be reached here.

 

Featured image from Pink Dot SG’s Facebook page.

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AN EXTRAORDINARY moment on Capitol Hill on Thursday, fired FBI Director James Comey strongly hinting that President Donald Trump may have broken the law, telling a Senate panel that Trump fired him to undermine the Russia probe.

Mr Comey said, “I was fired because of the Russia investigation, something about the way I was handling it, the president felt created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.”

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Mr Comey’s dramatic testimony – the first time he’s spoken in public since he was fired – has only fanned the flames around Mr Trump’s White House.

The world witnessing the spectacle of a former high-ranking government official under oath pointing his finger directly at the president, saying he was pressured to drop an investigation into Mr Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

Mr Comey’s account largely going unchallenged by senators of either party, the question of whether the president’s actions amount to obstruction of justice, a crime for which people can go to jail and presidents can be impeached.

Mr Comey came under intense questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee, declining to say directly whether he thinks Mr Trump interfered with justice, but revealing deep suspicions of the president’s motive.

Elaborating on his written statement that Mr Trump repeatedly asked him for loyalty and pressed him to drop a probe into Mr Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

Mr Comey said, “I took it as a direction. The president of the United States with me alone, saying I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.”

Mr Comey saying he took notes for memos about his interactions with the president, specifically because he thought he might lie about their conversations after the fact. -REUTERS

Featured image by Flickr user DonkeyHotey. CC BY 2.0

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by Daniel Yap

THE Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) has spoken up against the Cineleisure Pink Dot ad.

Less than two days after the Police ruled that Pink Dot and Cathay were well within their rights to promote the event in advertisements in Cathay’s Cineleisure mall, the advertising watchdog has demanded that the content of the ad be changed because it breached the “family values” required in the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP).

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Can you spot the infringement?

Marketing reported that ASAS demanded the removal of the phrase “supporting the freedom to love”, saying that it downplayed “the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” It also said that the phrase breached Singapore’s shared values of “family as the basic unit of society”, “community support and respect for the individual”, and “consensus, not conflict”.

ASAS did not give any other details about why the phrase was considered subversive.

Members of the public were quick to mock ASAS’ demands.

 

Days earlier, members of a Facebook group called “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” announced that they had made a Police report against the ad, prompting the Police announcement that the ad was perfectly legal.

Anti-LGBT campaigners in the Facebook group, however, seemed less than satisfied with ASAS’ actions.

A post in the “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” group

But the uproar over the ad is perhaps having the opposite effect that anti-LGBT campaigners are hoping for – visibility of the ad in social media and on the news has skyrocketed because of the controversy, allowing the promotion of the event to reach far beyond the confines of the mall.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Jnzl’s Photos. CC BY 2.0

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by Sharanya Pillai 

IT IS an unlikely union – Singapore’s largest taxi operator collaborating with a young startup which has captured a small slice of the market for third-party booking apps. But both ComfortDelGro (CDG) and carpooling app Ryde hope that their new joint taxi-booking service will help them win over customers.

The taxi-booking service, which launched on Thursday (June 1), combines Ryde’s technology with CDG’s fleet of over 16,000 taxis. The two companies had earlier announced the partnership in a press release on May 25. Ryde also revealed that it has obtained a Third Party Taxi Booking certificate from the Land Transport Authority.

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The startup currently has 100,000 registered users and 30,000 cars on its platform in Singapore. Ryde CEO Terence Zou revealed that the app has about 250,000 bookings per month. Prior to this, Ryde had positioned itself solely as a social carpooling app, which matches users with everyday drivers going the same route, for fixed fares. “Ryders” can choose the gender of the drivers, and both parties are encouraged to interact.

The taxi-booking feature, however, does not incorporate the carpooling element. It operates much like other taxi-booking apps, allowing individuals to book a CDG cab on the roads. The difference is that customers can choose between a flat or metered fare. If they pick a flat fare, the amount is displayed on the taxi meter itself, so that the driver does not have to use the app.

Asked if the new feature replicates the existing CDG app, Mr Zou responded that each platform has a different user base: “Our target consumer is younger, tech-savvy, and typically from Gen Y. They’re below 45 years old, and more willing to explore different mobility options… What we are essentially giving CDG is the technology. It’s another option for them to get more riders.”

The booking process was straightforward and seamless when TMG tried using the app. It took about thirty seconds for the app to locate a taxi, and another three minutes for the taxi to arrive. For a 2.5km journey from Pioneer MRT into Nanyang Technological University, the fare was $8, which was slightly cheaper than $8.62 for an UberX and $8.10 for UberPool.

It also fell within the estimated $7 to $11 range for booking a standard taxi using Grab at the same timing. However, the JustGrab and GrabShare services were more competitively priced at $6 and $5 respectively – a reminder of the cutthroat competition Ryde is up against.

This is especially since all five other taxi operators – SMRT Taxis, Prime Taxi, Premier Taxis, Trans-Cab and HDT Singapore Taxi – chose to collaborate with Grab in March. The next month, news broke that SMRT Taxis, the third biggest operator, is in talks to sell off its business to Grab. Meanwhile, Uber continues to compete fiercely with Grab to dominate the market for private-hire cars. As reported late last month, private hire cars now outnumber taxis by 1.5 times.

Ryde also operates in Hong Kong, but has not partnered with taxi companies there yet. Abroad, the startup also faces more rivals like the Hong Kong taxi ride-sharing app Hopsee.

Mr Zou reckons that being smaller makes the Ryde more efficient than its rivals. “Uber and Grab have their strengths, but for us, we are light and nimble, and we innovate and implement quickly,” he said, adding that the company typically aims to roll out new features every month and is now working on an online payment system.

For now, Ryde is focused on expanding the taxi-booking system in Singapore to include more premium options like limousine taxis. The company is also open to collaborating not just with taxis but any other transport providers to be a “full suite mobility platform”,  Mr Zou said.

Ryde also hopes to up its own carpooling fleet. Currently, about 1 in 17 private cars in Singapore are on Ryde’s platform, and Mr Zou aims to change that to 1 in 6 by next year. And while new reports continue to indicate that the likes of Uber are bleeding cash, Mr Zou also hopes that Ryde will break even by next year.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the partnership within one of the biggest incumbents and smallest disruptors will bear fruit.

 

Featured image from Ryde’s Facebook page.

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by Danielle Goh

ALL the cheese lovers in Singapore rejoice. The rest of you, we understand you may not be too enthusiastic.

The newly revamped LiHo has a range of cheese milk teas, and a $1.90 topping of cheese to go with any drink. RTG Holdings decided not to continue the Gong Cha franchise here, after its Taiwanese business partners sold the company to Gong Cha Korea. By Monday (Jun 5), all 80 Gong Cha outlets will be replaced with LiHo. It’s new name means “How are you?” in Hokkien.

Some additions to the menu are the cheese milk tea, smoothies, and vitagen drinks. Gong Cha fans need not fear, as trademark flavours such as Oolong Milk Tea, and Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M still remains on the new LiHo menu. There are also more ways to drink your milk tea: A small opening with a heart-shaped lid helps to get to the top layer, and comes in handy for hot drinks. Also, drinks come in medium and large sizes.

NOTE: Gong Cha has clarified that Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range actually consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping. We apologise for the error.

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TMG went down to LiHo at Paragon and Cineleisure to try the controversial cheese teas, other new flavours, and also the more ‘conventional’ milk teas. We’ve rated each drink, and picked out the best and worst ones:

 

1. Cheese Guan Yin with cheese topping, Large. $7

So for this drink I went crazy with the cheese… It was a bit of a splurge, but worth it.

Fans of Gong Cha will be happy to know that the cheese had a light foamy texture, similar to the Gong Cha milk topping. The cheese was like a creamy version of a Japanese cheesecake. Mixed with a light brew of oolong tea, the slightly savoury cheese topping blended well with the drink. The cheese was not too overbearing, and the different layers in the drink made for a colourful taste palette. It took a while getting used to the blend of savoury with the slight bitterness of the oolong tea.

For cheese lovers, don’t forget to drink it to the end for the last bits of cheesy goodness!

Verdict: Yes, it lives up to the hype. 9 out of 10

 

2. Cheese Jing Syuan tea, with white pearl topping, Medium. $4.80

The cheese and Jing Syuan tea is an unexpected pairing.

It’s like salted egg yolk on a bailey’s ice cream, unique together, but also completely okay without the other. The savoury cheese was a surprisingly satisfying counter to the sweetness of the Jing Syuan tea though. This one didn’t blend as well as the Cheese Guan Yin, so the cheese layer remained at the top. So this was like drinking the Jing Syuan tea, but also eating a slab of cheesecake, separately. After stirring more vigorously, the cheese still didn’t quite mix with the tea, so I felt like I was drinking regular Jing Syuan tea. It was not as good as the Cheese Guan Yin in my opinion.

Verdict: Surprisingly good, but can be better blended. 7 out of 10

 

3. Yam Milk with custard pudding topping, Medium. $4.30

This was so good…

It’s a tough fight between the yam milk and the Cheese Guan Yin for first place. I was glad to have taken the staff’s suggestion to have the custard pudding topping. It added a caramelised sweetness, and the soft, milky texture of the pudding complemented the yam perfectly. The concentration of yam was just right, and it made the drink appetising. This drink reminded me of my favourite mango pudding, it could double up as dessert any time! I finished the drink very quickly.

Also the pretty purple colour is a plus.

Verdict: Perfect mix. 10 out of 10

 

4. Classic Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M, Medium. $4.20

Ah, the classic milk tea. Basically an improved version of Gong Cha’s Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3J. Slight difference is that Gong Cha has more of a smooth texture, while for LiHo there’s a stronger brew of tea, and it’s a little more milky. The mixture of black pearl, pudding and jelly is bubble tea heaven.

Verdict: It’s classic for a reason. 8 out of 10

 

5. Choc-A-Milk + OREO, Medium. $4.20

I had to walk to Cineleisure for this one, because it was sold out at LiHo’s Paragon branch. According to the staff, this drink is a best-seller. But after drinking it, I think that most of the credit goes to the Oreos. There’s a generous portion of crumbled Oreo bits at the top of the drink, but it doesn’t really go well with the chocolate milk tea. After a while, I felt that I was drinking diluted chocolate milk, but with the occasional Oreo crunch. It was quite a disappointment. Maybe it would work better as a smoothie…

Verdict: Does not taste as good as it sounds. 5 out of 10

 

6. Vitagen ‘n’ Peach, Medium. $4.00

Tastes just like normal Vitagen, and it’s very, very, very sweet. Sadly, nothing really special about this drink. I couldn’t taste much of the peach, and as if the Vitagen was not sweet enough, there’s sugar liquid at the bottom. Feels like they bought bottles of Vitagen and just poured it in; If I wanted Vitagen, I would rather just go to Sheng Siong.

Verdict: Excuse me while I reel from sugar overdose… 3 out of 10

 

7. Golden Yuzu Juice + Golden Ai Yu, Medium. $3.70

Here’s a healthier option if you need a pick-me-up drink for the day. It was really refreshing, a great thirst-quencher on a hot and humid day! The sourness of the yuzu hits you very quickly, with a sharp aftertaste. Some yuzu slices are mixed in with the drink, so it’s peel fresh. The jelly helps to break the sourness with its honeyed sweetness. Only downside to this is that the jelly is a gigantic chunk. Was a little annoying because it’s too big to drink with the straw, so I had to keep mashing it.

Verdict: Don’t be jelly, try this. 7 out of 10

 

Well, at this point I’ve been convinced: Cheese does go with milk tea. Top favourites are the Cheese Guan Yin and the Yam Milk with custard pudding; I’ll gladly go for a second cup.

 

Note: Previously, the article mentioned that Gong Cha’s Oolong Milk Tea remains on the new LiHo menu. This is incorrect, as Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping.

 

Featured image by TMG.

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