March 25, 2017

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Cancer Journey

by Brenda Tan

IT HAS been about five months since my stomach cancer diagnosis in February, and I’ve completed six out of 12 of my chemotherapy cycles.

I’m currently at the midpoint of my cancer treatment and it’s a good time to review my cancer journey to date:

1. I don’t like being called a “cancer warrior”

A few friends, to cheer me on this journey, have called me a “cancer warrior”. I usually chuckle over this unexpected moniker because the image of a warrior – armed, tired and bloody from a battle – isn’t my experience of what I go through.

I don’t mean to belittle other cancer patients who are brave and courageous in facing their cancer treatments with the mentality of a warrior, but for me, I see my cancer as part of my life journey in living through it, rather than “fighting for my life”.

I see my cancer as part of my life journey in living through it, rather than “fighting for my life”.

 

2. Cancer has its own vocabulary

“Cancer warrior” is just part of the vocabulary that I have encountered while on this journey. Other terms referring to the cancer patient include “cancer survivor” (the definition has been expanded to include patients undergoing treatment), or “cancer overcomer” (a recent term, as some cancer patients don’t identify with either the label “warrior’ or “survivor”).

I too, don’t think these labels suit what I feel about my condition, but I’m stumped about how to deal with people’s sensitivities around cancer, especially when I tell them I have cancer. It sometimes feels like I’m not suppose to say “I have cancer” because then “cancer wins”. I wonder if people label diabetics as “diabetes warriors”? Or if saying someone has a history of hypertension means “hypertension wins”? There seems to be a taboo around talking about living with cancer even when more people are diagnosed with cancer year on year, due to cancer screenings and early detection.

It sometimes feels like I’m not suppose to say “I have cancer” because then “cancer wins”.

And then there are the medical jargon I had to learn about my condition and treatment, which led me to discover some really interesting facts about cancer.

For example, according to the information booklet from National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS), there are about 200 known types of cancer. Each cancer would have a different treatment, and actually, each cancer patient has his or her own personal treatment plan tailored to their cancer, its extent, and the health of the patient.

Even a term like “chemotherapy” doesn’t refer to only one kind of drug or treatment. Chemotherapy is a course of treatment that involves medication that is taken orally, applied, or infused to the body. Some cancers require treatments like radiotherapy, where radiation is used to destroy cancer cells, or hormone therapy, where hormones are used to impede cancer growth.

For many patients, the treatment plan involves a combination of treatments – I’ve had surgery to remove my stomach, and I opted for infusion (rather than oral medication) for my chemotherapy.

The treatment plan is also a guide rather than something set in stone. Each time before I go for my chemotherapy session, I have to get a blood test done to check my health status. I’ve had to postpone some of my chemotherapy sessions by a week due to low white blood count. Therefore, I don’t have an “end date” for my treatment plan, even though I have only six more chemotherapy sessions ahead of me.

With this basic knowledge about types of cancer and its different treatment plans, it is little wonder that whenever I see cancer quackery with headlines like “Eat this fruit to cure cancer!” or “Chemo kills more than cancer!” that are re-posted online, I wish I could ask the people who write these articles what type of cancer the article said eating the fruit would cure, or which particular chemotherapy drug is the one killing more than the cancer itself. When an article can’t get the basics about cancer right, it’s a sure sign that the article is a hoax set up to prey on readers’ fear about cancer.

 

3. The real heroes are the doctors and nurses

In my consultations with my oncologist, she not only guides me in what to expect in terms of my treatment, but she will also tailor the dosage of my chemotherapy drugs, according to how I react to the drugs in the past cycles and my current health status.

Most people really don’t realise the high level of skill and care that go into each individual’s cancer treatment plans, nor the number of medical staff involved in the treatment. Just for chemotherapy, there are the nurses who extract my blood samples, the laboratory staff who perform the blood test, the pharmacists who prepare the chemo drugs according to the dosage that the oncologist prescribes, the chemo ward nurses who administer the chemo drugs to the patient! Besides these medical staff, there are also the administrative and counselling staff who help with arranging dates for medical appointments or insurance and payment issues, or provide counselling to patients and family members who require a listening ear.

Most people really don’t realise the high level of skill and care that go into each individual’s cancer treatment plans, nor the number of medical staff involved in the treatment.

Each time I go for my chemotherapy session at the National University Hospital, I’m in awe at how focused on the patients each staff is, and the length they would go to see to the needs of their patients, regardless of the role they hold.

My chemo ward nurses, for example, are always on their feet, administering the infusion drugs (with some infusion needing specialised procedures), explaining procedures to new patients, making patients feel more comfortable during the infusion or just helping patients to the loo. They do all these while maintaining a cheerful smile to keep the spirits of their patients up.

 

4. Adapting is normal

While I’ve noted before that I’ve tried to keep as close to our home routines as much as possible, my family and I do have to adapt to my condition.

Then again, I had to adapt when I got married and live away from my family, and again when I left teaching to care for my firstborn. We had to adapt when my husband and I set up our business, and yet again, when the two younger kids came along. We adapted when the business took off, and when the kids went to school.

Life is a series of changes and adapting to these changes, which is why I don’t see my cancer as something that sends us on a tailspin, but as merely one more of life’s challenges to adapt to.

Life is a series of changes and adapting to these changes, which is why I don’t see my cancer as something that sends us on a tailspin, but as merely one more of life’s challenges to adapt to.

What really helps in dealing with any change is making a conscious choice to embrace these changes with positivity.

 

5. Having a sunshine week to look forward to helps

Each of my chemotherapy cycles is a two-week period.

I have three chemo drugs that I have to receive via infusion. Two of the drugs are infused in the chemo ward over a period of about 4 hours, while the third one is infused over 46 hours. Thanks to medical advances, I’m fitted with a portacath which not only helps with the infusion at the chemo ward, but allows for a portable infusion device to administer the 46-hour infusion over the two days when I’m home. When the 46 hours are up, I make another trip to NUH to remove the device.

I begin to feel the effects from the chemo drugs on the day I start my infusion at the ward. Day 1 is a relatively easy day, as health-wise I’m feeling strongest. But by day 3, when I remove the infusion device, all I want to do is to hide in a darkened room and sleep. The effects of the chemotherapy lasts about 7 days (my “chemo week”), and some time about day 8 or 9, I wake up feeling like sunshine and blue skies have appeared after a long, dark period of haze.

Thus far, each chemo week has its own challenging aspects and intensity in the side effects, which my oncologist warns me, may be cumulative. Some weeks, I’d have more intensive sensations of nausea and be weak from many bouts of diarrhoea, but during other weeks I don’t experience these side effects at such levels. What’s consistent though, is that my energy level is low, I am sensitive to light, sound, and temperature, and my hair loss gets more obvious, even though my oncologist assures me that I won’t go bald, and therefore, don’t need to shave.

What gets me through my chemo week besides being in a darkened room, wearing PC-glasses when I’m on my computer, reminding my kids to be quiet, and meditating in prayer during the worse of it, is knowing that there’s a sunshine week to look forward to.

While my sunshine week is now shortening due to the cumulative effect of the chemotherapy, I still enjoy my return to my usual energy level, to connect with friends, to cook for my family, or work on business matters.

While my sunshine week is now shortening due to the cumulative effect of the chemotherapy, I still enjoy my return to my usual energy level, to connect with friends, to cook for my family, or work on business matters

.

Because I’ve begun to get a better sense of what to expect during my chemotherapy cycles, I find that not only am I able to cope well with my cancer treatments, I’m in fact looking forward to my visits to the chemo ward for my “chemo-spa”:

I get a very comfortable chair in the chemo ward (they are like first-class seats on the best airline), which I make more comfortable with a cushion from home and a picnic of my favourite snacks to last me through the 4 hours of infusion. I make sure too, that I have my favourite movies on my iPad (even though there’s a TV for each cubicle) and my yarn to crochet the time away, while enjoying my “flight” to nowhere.

These happy comforts are packed in my roll-on cabin bag, which makes me feel even more like I’m embarking on a journey to better health!

 

Brenda is a columnist, and a friend, of The Middle Ground. Read her other pieces, in a series of occasional columns on her journey with stomach cancer:

  1. No stomach for cancer
  2. Reframing cancer as an opportunity to grow
  3. Mummy musings: Mothering through cancer

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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by Abraham Lee

THE Middle Ground officially launched on June 15, 2015,  one year ago yesterday. This time last year, I had just ended my penultimate year at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and was about two weeks into my marketing internship at The Middle Ground. The renovation works at our office at Commonwealth had been delayed and so the team had to camp out at Botanic Gardens for our official website launch. Fortunately, Food For Thought had all three things that we required to churn out good work – good coffee, air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi – although my lower back later learnt that the tall stools were not for slouching.

I was the first intern to be brought on, and until more editorial interns were pulled in a week after our launch, I had to handle both our digital marketing efforts and the subediting of our articles. The first day was the craziest. Bertha had stockpiled articles for the launch and at some point, we were pushing one out every half an hour. That meant I had to subedit and format each article, and prepare to share it on TMG’s Facebook page within half an hour. I still remember yowling at Daniel when I couldn’t edit everything quickly enough and him pitching in while being equally busy himself.

For the most part, however, I shadowed Daniel. I joined the meeting with the creative agency handling our branding, I followed him to SingFirst’s pre-GE forum and under his guidance, learnt the ins and outs of using Wordpress, Facebook Ads and MailChimp, the platform on which we set up The Lunchtime Digest, TMG’s email subscription list. It was only when I took a digital marketing class at NTU that I realised that my internship had already taught me what the class was meant to teach and more. In fact, instead of the module helping me to become a better digital marketer, it was my summer internship with TMG that prepared me to do well for the class.

Another aspect of my internship was to do the bidding of my direct superior, making me Daniel’s go-to sai kang warrior. I will never forget the days we spent driving from one end of Singapore to another to collect pre-loved chairs, tables, bookcases, an office fridge we bought off Carousell and even a large sofa – one does not simply underestimate the brute strength of a father of six. We turned a dusty industrial office into a fully-functioning newsroom.

Before, an empty and dusty room, and after, a busy newsroom.
Before, an empty and dusty room, and after, a busy newsroom.

Admittedly, I, like many of my peers, had wished to intern at a large MNC – something that would look great on my CV. However, looking back, I wouldn’t give up my experience at TMG for an internship at a large firm. Unlike many of my friends, I did more than master the art of making coffee or writing minutes. Instead, I pitched ideas to the bosses, carried out ad campaigns on Facebook worth thousands of dollars and had my writing published to a large audience. Indeed, there’s nothing quite like an internship at a small start-up, simply because there’s too much to do and not enough people to go around.

In the past year, I’ve seen TMG grow its staff with the additions of the visual team, various generations of editorial interns and also the breadth of news covered with the incorporation of the lifestyle section. As hoped, the company burst into the online news scene during GE2015 and has since steadily grown its readership.

Though I had left the company for school, I remained on in the Facebook workgroup: Offering ideas, and pointing out typos in articles before readers could get to them. I’ve seen that each generation of interns has brought on different skills, thereby shaping how TMG has moved forward. Some have been proficient at coding, helping the backend team to fine-tune how we use WordPress and expanding the different ways we present stories, with various online tools. Others have been more dogged in their journalism, able to track down elusive pieces of information.

I was able to witness first-hand the progress TMG had made, at its relaunch event in February. The logo was upgraded and the website had finally become pleasing to the eye.

This month, everything came full circle and I returned to TMG as a Marketing Executive. In brief, I’ll be managing and optimising our distribution channels, like Facebook and other social media, to get our articles out to a greater audience. But unlike last year, I have a proper newsroom to work in, more people to talk to – and an awesome pantry.

Happy first anniversary to us, at TMG.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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by Brenda Tan

WHEN I became a mother 17 years ago, I left teaching to be a stay-at-home mum.

I went from teaching a classroom of 44 boys to a classroom of one baby boy.

Motherhood for me has always been about teaching – nurturing and guiding my children so that they can learn to be independent and thrive in their own life’s journey.

My curriculum is simple as there are lessons to be learnt in everything we engage in. Eating is a lesson in nutrition, culture and social behaviour. Playing is a lesson in daydreaming, exploration, collaboration, creating. Our daily routines are lessons in self-discipline, duty and responsibility.

My role as “mother-teacher” was later cemented when I had to homeschool my eldest at primary two.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to homeschool the younger kids, which allowed me to pay more attention to my professional work with my husband. Later, with home support from my in-laws, I was also able to pursue solo work assignments that required me to travel in the region to as far away as Nigeria.

Despite business success in a field that no longer resembled a classroom, I was still mother-teacher to my trio: Kor-kor (17), Ah Girl (10) and Di-di (8).

And then in February this year, I found out that I have stomach cancer.

I am honest with the kids about my health and what I will be going through because I believe it is the lack of information that will make kids worry more. However, because of my children’s ages, I’m mindful of what is appropriate to share for each of them. So, while Kor-kor visited me at the hospital soon after my gastrectomy, the younger ones were only able to visit me days later, when most of the tubes attached to monitor my post-op condition were removed. Kor-kor also visited me daily when I was warded for my first chemotherapy session as he was able to use public transport on his own, but the younger ones only accompanied me to the hospital on that first day.

Thus, my cancer journey became an object lesson in my life-long curriculum for my kids.

After all, cancer doesn’t stop me from being a mother.

I’m proud to say that my kids are real troopers. We’ve kept close to our home routines – for instance, dinner is still at 6pm, to meet the younger kids’ bedtime at 8:30pm. The kids still chill with me after homework is done, reading, playing or going online. Dinner is still noisy, with lots of chatter about school hijinks.

What’s obviously different now though, is that apart from mummy’s short hairstyle, she no longer goes out because of her low immunity. Daddy now has the privilege to keep the younger ones’ cycling adventures and reading adventures going, with participation at Car-free Sundays and regular library visits. Kor-kor the teenager doesn’t always go with them, but he’s now become my indispensable proxy to buy things that I can’t get from online grocery stores or other online shops.

But my cancer does have an impact and I miss some things I used to do, or would have done, with them as their mother:

  1. Stalking Kor-kor’s first day at Polytechnic
    I don’t even have an obligatory picture of him entering the school gates, much less being able to attend a ‘Welcome Parents’ event organised by the poly.
  2. Volunteering at Ah Girl’s school for her first Singapore Youth Festival dance presentation
    At such events, I’d be giving the make-up kit a good workout, getting the children looking their stage-best, and sharing the giggling enthusiasm of putting on a good show.
  3. Being a perpetual parent volunteer at Di-di’s school
    This I miss most, as Di-di’s school was the one I taught at 17 years ago, and never quite left as it’s so near our home. My last involvement as a parent volunteer this year was to help in a committee to prepare for the school’s Games Day, which I wasn’t able to attend.

Despite missing being involved in these milestone events in my children’s educational journey, I’m still grateful for the adults who looked out for them. In fact, I’m immensely grateful to the mother of one of Ah Girl’s friends, who had WhatsApp-ed many photos of Ah Girl’s SYF preparations and performance to me that day.

“What have you learned about mummy’s cancer?” I asked Ah Girl recently. She had donated her hair twice to make wigs for cancer patients via recycleyourhair.blogspot.sg, and unlike her brothers, had showed more concerns about the implications of me having cancer.

“Cancer is scary because people die from it,” she said. “But sometimes you cannot choose what is going to happen. Sometimes in life, things don’t go your way. But even in these times, we can still find good things to be thankful for.”

Words that gladden a mother’s heart.

 

Brenda is a columnist, and a friend, of The Middle Ground. Read her first piece, in a series of occasional columns on her journey with stomach cancer, here. She is also a mother to three children and this year’s Mother’s Day is her first celebration since she was diagnosed with cancer.

This piece is a part of our Mother’s Day series of columns, showcasing the views and experiences of real mums in Singapore. Read Pam’sJean’s and Esther’s pieces, and check out our video too.

 

Featured image 安心 by Flickr user Toshimasa Ishibashi. (CC BY 2.0). 

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by Jean Angus

IT’S nearly 9pm on a school night and I’ve just arrived home from a long day in the office. I hastily bolt my dinner and go in search of the kids. Fourteen-year-old A is lying on her bed, eyes glued to her phone. She puts it down and tells me about her Chinese composition exam. “I don’t think I’ll do well. I never do when the paper seems easy,” she frets. I assure her that she will do just fine if she’s put in the effort, and encourage her to focus on preparing for the next paper.

Then I look around for 10-year-old Z, who has a penchant for hiding in wardrobes or under beds when she knows she’s wanted. No shenanigans tonight – she emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered. I ask her about her day. “It was terrible!” she says with a grin, so I know she’s just joking. At least I hope she is, because today was Chinese oral exam day.

A few minutes later, it’s lights out.

Since I started a new and demanding job two months ago, weekday time with my daughters has been greatly reduced to quick catch-ups like these. Although both girls are at ages where they prefer not to be associated with their boring, embarrassing parents, they still need help with things like an emergency pick-up from school, or how to solve a particularly difficult math problem. They turn to my husband for these things instead of me, because he runs his own business and has the flexibility to make time for parental duties while I am stuck in the office.

I constantly waver between two extremes: Feeling grateful that my husband is an involved parent and that I have an opportunity to build a future for our family, and feeling guilty and resentful for not having the luxury of owning my time. I’m most torn when I have to miss important occasions such as student council investiture ceremonies and parent-teacher conferences, because I can’t take leave from work. But being 38 years old, I’m not getting any younger, and will soon peak in my career. I should make hay while the sun shines. So I toil from 8am till after 7pm nearly every weekday, trying to finish as much as I can so that whatever family time I have is uninterrupted.

The good thing is that I had plenty of time and energy to build strong bonds with the girls in their formative years, when my jobs were more laidback. The foundation built then is the basis for their trust in me now as they navigate the minefields of school and adolescence. There are times when they instinctively know that they need me instead of their dad. When this happens, it’s like I’ve won the lottery. I can’t do everything for my kids, but I can do enough. And that is all I and every other mother can ask for.

 

Jean Angus works in public relations. On weekends, she takes her two daughters to afternoon tea and allows them to shock her with how much cake they can eat in one sitting.

This piece is a part of our Mother’s Day series of columns, showcasing the views and experiences of real mums in Singapore. Read Pam’s, Brenda’s, Esther’s piece, and check out our video too. 

 

Featured image The love of a mother by Flickr user rarye. (CC BY 2.0). 

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

THE thing about growing up in a new housing estate is that you mature along with it. So people who used to walk upright, are suddenly spotted hunched over a cane and later, being pushed around in a wheelchair.

I grew up with tiny instant trees in Bedok which are now green-topped towers with roots that break through concrete pavements. The koi pond that used to be in the neighbourhood has been covered over and is now a fitness ground for seniors. The void deck where children used to play “illegal’’ football has been converted to a senior citizens’ activity centre.

I have grown old(er) along with the estate. A lift that stops on every floor is a godsend to long-staying residents and staircases are no longer used for vertical races by teens. Every now and then, little improvements are made to help the elderly move around, like pavements which slope down to the road. But there seems to be a clash of ideologies as well here: you have metal barriers to prevent bicycles from invading pathways meant for pedestrians – but, also impede wheelchair access.

Living in an old estate means jostling with wheelchairs in the market centre and driving very slowly because they take time to cross the road. No amount of honking is going to get them across faster because they simply cannot. A few times, I have worried about those who were trying to cross a traffic junction before the lights turn against them. But the thing about living in the HDB heartland is that most people understand the frailty of old people.

The senior citizen’s activity centre is a hive of activity on weekdays. Residents in cars drop off their elderly kin while a van would disgorge the wheelchair-bound every morning, picking them up in the evening. I always look through the windows when I pass the centre to see what the elderly were up to. Wearing name-tags round their necks, they are engaged in beadwork, or playing cards or doing exercises according to the instructions of a uniformed staff member.

My six-year old nephew once asked my mother why she wasn’t in the centre. In his eyes, old people should be with old people. My mother replied that she wasn’t that old, although there are much younger people there. Once, peeking through the darkened windows of the centre on a Sunday, my nephew spotted butterflies stuck to pipes and little pictures on the wall. Puzzled, he asked if this was a kindergarten for old people.

Sometimes, I have been puzzled too. Like how the senior citizens don party hats at festivals and start clapping to the sound of music as directed by staff members. Or how they have to do strange actions that are apparently ways to exercise their limbs. It is no wonder my mother does not want to be at the centre. She would never wear a party hat or blow whistles just because someone said so. But I suppose she would join them in a game of bingo. I have seen how the old people’s faces light up when their number has been called.

Then again, I also see some old people at the centre who look about them aimlessly or who stare at some indefinable point in the room. They are with people, but they are alone.

You know, my knees seem to be giving way these days. I need calcium.

In this column, consulting editor Bertha Henson muses about life and living – and makan – through the scenes she witnesses in her neighbourhood.

 

 

Featured Image by Natassya Diana.

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by Bertha Henson

WHAT a crazy news filled two weeks it’s been, or at least for those who follow the news. So what’s important to young people or what sort of news stuck with them? I asked my class of undergraduates this yesterday (March 29) for an idea of their reading habits. The Brussels bombing came up tops because it was something that they wouldn’t have expected to happen in a developed country. Plus the news is full of it.

Some also referred to the Lahore bombings because the targets were women and children – and because a few had actually received the faulty Facebook notification asking if they were safe…

Locally, the SMRT deaths were what they remembered. They know two died and it had to do with an Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) lapse. More interestingly, they referred to Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s post on the matter and the insensitive manner in which he talked about the two deaths in a Facebook post. Note though that Mr Khaw’s gaffe was circulated on social media, not in MSM.

Likewise, they didn’t know much of events that accompanied the first death anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew but they knew of his daughter’s diatribe against such hero worship as well as the intemperate comments of a certain journalist. This is despite muted coverage in MSM and no MSM coverage at all about the journalist.

Ask them about local news and they knew the Budget “happened”, and it had something to do with helping SMEs. They had to be prompted about the upcoming Bukit Batok by-election. In contrast, they have been following the US Presidential elections and could talk eloquently about contenders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

But what about the politics in Malaysia then? Not much knowledge, except that Dr Mahathir had resigned from UMNO. And what about the 100 Chinese fishing boats said to be sailing in Malaysian waters? They knew nothing of it.

Examining their own news consumption patterns, they acknowledged that most news came to them via their newsfeeds. They were reading what their like-minded friends were reading, like Batman versus Superman reviews. There was some interest in technology news like the swearing chatbot and Apple’s fight with the FBI. Technology was a big deal because it was about the future, they said.

Now this is not because the students are not interested in news. It is because they are not exposed to them. Tell them about how a change in prime ministers in Malaysia might have an immediate impact on Singapore and they recognise immediately that while the US presidency is important, it is not urgent. Tell them that the Budget is about how much will be spent on what and who will be paying for it and interest perks up.

One suggested that the media was not covering what was important, like developments in China. But the newsrooms here, such as ST, Lianhe Zaobao, and Channel News Asia, do devote resources to the region – it is just that they are not being shared.

That’s because the Internet news space is being overwhelmed by Western media and its emphasis on things western. Dramatic news and amusing people (read: Trump and Sanders) in the west get blanket coverage. Regional or local news, on the other hand, is boring unless something as dramatic as the SMRT deaths occur.

What about the two Koreas? They said that the rantings of North Korea and its ballistic threats have become commonplace so “what’s new?”. The problem is if developments are not tracked by viewers or readers, then they risk missing signs of an escalation and will be shocked by any conclusion. How many times have I heard of people being surprised by events even though there has been coverage leading up to them?

The trouble with news consumption these days is that few people seek out news. News has to be pushed to them. And news will be shared only if it is dramatic – or funny.

I know this well enough. My big lament about writing online has always been that the tongue-in-cheek stuff I write under half an hour is better read than what takes me a couple of hours to put together.

It makes me want to give up.

Well, almost.

 

Featured Image by Natassya Diana.

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

THE old man is no longer there. He was a fixture at the HDB shop, which over the years found that it made more sense to sell cigarettes and newspapers than joss sticks and incense. He would sit on a stool outside the shop in his striped polo tee-shirt and handle transactions. I have known – and yet NOT know – him like forever. I have never bought anything from him, partly because his facial features alternated between a scowl and a leer. Now, he is no longer there. A few discreet enquiries later and I know that he is dead. End-stage lung cancer, according to his helper who is sometimes at the shop. The shop was shuttered for a few days for the funeral. Now, there are two slightly younger men who do his job. There is no scowl, no leer but transactions are far less swift. They are clumsy with the change.

People mourn the loss of monuments a lot more than they do people (unless it’s people they know). Yet people are fixtures of the environment, part of the furniture of familiarity. I walk by the shop and lament the absence of the old man I had never bothered to buy anything from. I wonder why.

It’s a bit like how the old couple who manned the chwee kueh stall at my neighbourhood hawker centre seems to have given up the business. One day, a youngish man appeared. A few discreet enquiries later, it transpired that it was their son-in-law who had taken over operations. I lament the absence of the old couple, even though they worked in slow-motion. Nobody minded standing in line for their chwee kueh. The younger man was just as slow in the beginning, but he’s picking up the pace. He’s also adding more variety to the usual fare. I suppose we can call this greater efficiency and productivity. Who knows? He might even keep the stall open all day, instead of operating it only in the mornings. Or rent it out for the rest of the day. Still, I miss the old couple.

I was walking past a row of shops in the market when I suddenly realised a particular shop hadn’t been open for days. It had nothing to do with Lunar New Year period. I know of the woman who ran the stall, which sold brooms and baskets. In fact, she was my senior in secondary school. While still in her school uniform, she used to help her mother at the shop. Then she took over on her mother’s death. I’ve always wondered why, since she has A levels qualifications, which was a very big deal 30 years ago. She could have easily found a job in an office. Now she sits by the shop doing whatever sale she can and mingles with the neighbourhood aunties. A few discreet enquiries later, I found out that she does part-time house cleaning and dish-washing in restaurants. That’s why she is no longer such a fixture.

All these people who were part of my growing up years are probably in better places. Now, I think that I have been pretty selfish about wanting things to always remain the same.

In this new column, consulting editor Bertha Henson muses about life and living – and makan – through the scenes she witnesses at her neighbourhood kopitiam.

 

Featured illustration by Natassya Diana.

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Me and My Bicycle
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Bertha Henson

THE Sunday Times Lifestyle section runs a series called Me and My Car. Yesterday, it ran “Boutique manager Mercy Goh loves her Pradas as much as her Porsches”.

You can read the story here. In this day and age when poverty stimulation is in vogue, we decided to do a more down-to-earth version for the less well-heeled.

Mr Tan Ah Kow has a big appetite for power and speed.

The 59-year-old security guard likes his bicycles fast and furious – starting with the tricycle his father got for him when he turned six and an “uncle” bicycle when he got a job as a dishwasher during his dish washing days in Toa Payoh.

His dad, a coffee shop helper, bought the tricycle from a second-hand shop. His current ride is a BATT-ASS, battery-powered bicycle which is not approved by LTA.

The Uncle bicycle was Mr Tan’s daily ride when he was employed as a cleaner for Bishan-Toa Payoh town council. Back then, he was a regular at the racetrack at the Turf Club and often went fishing with fellow cleaners, whom he still kept in touch with.

Apart from bicycles, his other love is collecting bottle caps, which he sticks on his bicycle. His favourite brands include Carlsberg, Tiger, Heineken, and Coca-cola. He confesses that he has more bottle caps than he can count. “I feel naked and incomplete without my accessories,” he says.

In March last year, the bachelor joined security firm ABC Security. That’s when his workplace was relocated from Toa Payoh to Ang Mo Kio. Limited bicycle lots and downtown traffic forced him to give up riding his Uncle bike to work. He takes a bus or walks instead.

As no one in the family wanted to ride the “uncle” bicycle, he sold it and bought the BATT-ASS.

“My new bicycle is a bicycle which the whole family, including my 90-year-old mom, can ride,” he says.

Asked why he picked the BATT-ASS and not the more expensive SPEEDSTER, he replied with a laugh: “I am always early. Besides, who says my bike is slow?”

But he added quickly and more seriously: “We must be responsible and not abuse the pavement. My parents also taught me to be thrifty.”

When he was younger, he would modify his bicycles more extensively, but he has since toned down.

“I have learnt to appreciate the bicycle as it is,” he says, adding that some past modifications also resulted in trouble with the law.

For the BATT-ASS, he restricted himself to cosmetic changes, such as respraying the handlebars and changing the seat to accommodate his bony behind.

The BATT-ASS has a suitable blend of sportiness and practicality. Because he attached a basket to it, Mr Tan says it has plenty of room for groceries as well as a stray cat he picked up.

And to get more out of the bicycle, he plans to sign up for advanced cycling courses which the community centre conducts, including for rainy cycling.

While it would not come as a total surprise if he were to trade in this premium ride for another soon, he says with a grin: “Unfortunately, I can change the bottle caps on the bicycle every day, but I cannot change the bicycle that I ride every day.”

 

Featured image by Sean Chong 

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Code breakers.

by Bertha Henson

Here is an example of the gobbledygook and gibberish that media people and citizens have to make sense of from G mouthpieces (and we don’t mean the MSM). It seems that the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) might do better to rename itself because it neither communicates nor informs.

This is how MCI announced the restructuring of its two agencies – Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA).

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) will restructure the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) to form the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) and the Government Technology Organisation (GTO). 

The restructuring follows the launch, in August 2015, of the Infocomm Media 2025 plan, the first integrated industry development plan for the info-communications and media sectors. It also recognises the importance of the Digital Economy in transforming many sectors in the economy, as well as the need to support the transformation of government service delivery through even more intensive use of IT. 

(So there you have it. A mouthful of a term and we’re not clear why beyond that it is a follow-through from a Masterplan. So how exactly will the duties be re-divided? What sort of chop and change?)

The new IMDA will develop and regulate the converging infocomm and media sectors in a holistic way. It will implement the Infocomm Media 2025 plan, to create a dynamic and exciting sector, filled with opportunities for growth, through an emphasis on talent, research, innovation and enterprise. The new IMDA will also deepen regulatory capabilities for a converged infocomm media sector, safeguarding the interests of consumers and fostering pro-enterprise regulations. 

With more pervasive use of data, the Government will continue to promote and regulate data protection in Singapore through the Personal Data Protection Commission, which will be part of the new IMDA. This will ensure that public confidence in the private sector’s use of personal data is safeguarded, even as companies increasingly leverage the data they collect as a source of competitive advantage.

(And more words. With ad copy like “dynamic” and “exciting” thrown in. Plus “holistic”, which is every civil servant’s favourite word. But what can the new IMDA do that the old MDA and IDA couldn’t? And what would happen to the regulation of content? MDA is the first agency everyone thinks of when it comes to censorship, grants and responsible viewing/reading/listening. The new body appears to be more interested in the nuts and bolts of technology and in technology as a medium.)

The new GTO will lead digital transformation efforts in the public sector. It will focus on providing a citizen-centric user experience and encourage the participation of citizens in the co-creation of public digital services.  While anticipating and meeting citizens’ expectations for digital service delivery, the GTO will continue its efforts in ensuring the resiliency and cybersecurity needs of our government infrastructure. 

As the nexus of technology and engineering capability within government, the GTO will be well-placed to help government agencies capitalise on the speed of innovation and new technology trends such as robotics, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and Big Data. The new organisation will also play a vital role in supporting Singapore’s Smart Nation vision, especially in delivering the Smart Nation Platform and Smart Nation applications. The GTO will also focus on developing new technology capabilities as well as attracting and nurturing ICT engineering talent that will provide a strong foundation for Singapore’s Smart Nation ambitions.

(And even more words with stuff like “capability”, “nexus”, “resiliency” thrown. Whatever has happened to simple English that ordinary people can understand? In fact, you realise you can only just make sense of the last line… )

IMDA and GTO will be established in the second half of 2016. In anticipation of the formal establishment of the two agencies, IDA and MDA will be administratively re-organised from 1 April 2016.

Then there is a set of quotes from its key people which is so turgid that you can’t imagine anyone actually saying them. We have taken the liberty of re-writing them.

Advances in technology have blurred the distinction between broadcasting and telecommunications. The reorganisation of IDA and MDA is therefore, not only timely, but a positive development. The infocomm media sector offers many opportunities to improve productivity growth, create high-skilled jobs, support an ageing population and foster a cohesive society in the midst of globalisation. It is an important sector for Singapore to nurture. I am confident that the newly merged IMDA will help the industry navigate the evolving environment and develop the necessary capabilities to stay relevant. It will bring Singapore closer towards our goal of establishing a value-creating economy.

– Mr Koh Boon Hwee, Chairman, Infocomm Media Masterplan Steering Committee

TMG:

The line between broadcasting and telecommunications is blurred. For example, you can read The Middle Ground website on your cellphone as well. We can expect plenty of jobs to be created in the Infocomm sector and the IMDA will be in charge of making it so. We want to streamline our approach in dealing with online media sites, because apparently most of the public want to read their news online. This is not because we want to regulate – no, because we want to help them grow so they can create more jobs and money to our economy. How? We give them tips and advice, and train them on the best business practices. Also, we think they can help ‘foster a cohesive society’ and ‘support an ageing population’. How? Err…

Since 1999, IDA has played a significant role in developing and transforming Singapore’s infocomm landscape. Singapore is recognised today as a dynamic infocomm hub. Our citizens and businesses here enjoy world-class infocomm infrastructure and digital services.

The infocomm landscape has evolved over the years, and the pace will quicken with growing infocomm and media convergence. Our government agencies responsible for infocomm and media must ensure they are optimally structured, to help Singapore benefit from and exploit opportunities in the new digital economy. The government itself can do more to leverage on technology and innovation to provide more engaging, seamless and efficient digital experiences for Singaporeans. The creation of IMDA and GTO will help bring sharper focus to these areas.
– Mr Chan Yeng Kit, IDA Chairman

TMG:

The IMDA and GTO will be responsible for making sure that the G’s networks never go down, protecting us from hackers and making Singaporeans feel that they can always reach the G, anytime, anywhere.

In other words, IDA can be proud of the pivotal role it played in advancing our Infocomm industry to world class standards. Its usefulness, however, has not caught up to the modern Infocomm landscape. So we are going to start afresh by adding a ‘M’ to our name, and integrating relevant MDA duties so we can better guide the Infocomm industry of today. IDA is dead, long live IMDA.

The establishment of IMDA is a timely move which will allow us to better respond to the opportunities and challenges that media convergence brings. It will pave the way for a more harmonised regulatory framework, and integrated approach to industry development.

– Mr Niam Chiang Meng, MDA Chairman

TMG:

IMDA will make us all work better, together. Its integrated approach can better regulate and/or support the development of the online media.

 

Featured image Bletchley Park Bombe by Flickr user Adam SingerCC BY-ND 2.0.

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by Daniel Yap

WITH the New Year comes change, and we want to change to serve you better. Today we will send out the first of our daily email newsletters, The Lunchtime Digest, which we will use to push good content to interested readers without having to rely on social algorithms.

The Lunchtime Digest will be a daily compilation of TMG’s published content for the last 24 hours, and will also be a means for us to keep in touch with readers who want to follow TMG closely. We will also be offering exclusive deals and opportunities to The Lunchtime Digest readers in the months to come.

Sign up to be on our mailing list for The Lunchtime Digest if you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

Today also marks a milestone for our team as our Facebook page passes the 45,000 likes mark. It has been a tough but inspiring six months since we first started publishing and we would like to thank everyone who keeps coming back to read us.

We will continue to report – and speak – for the broad middle ground of citizens who have little time to digest the vast amount of information that they are bombarded with. We want to serve their news needs while providing a balanced perspective, hopefully, in a “non-boring” style.

In the next few months, we will be unveiling new colours, a new front page and launching new sections for news you can use, a section of lifestyle-oriented content under the TMG brand.

We will also be spending the next six months strengthening our revenue streams so that we can continue delivering our product to you. It has been a slow buildup so far and we thank our partners and clients for supporting us by advertising, sponsoring our editorial content and working with us for their marketing and outreach campaigns.

Here’s to more of better for 2016!


Daniel Yap is the Publisher of The Middle Ground

 

Featured image TMG File.

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