April 28, 2017

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by Daniel Yap

I’M A rider. My trusty motorcycle has been my means of transportation over long distances for more than a decade. This week, the G dropped a bombshell tiered tax of up to 100 per cent of a bike’s open market value.

My current, very, very modest ride is my Suzuki DRZ 400SM. Even though I don’t fawn over it as much as other bikers do their rides, I love it. It’s considered a small capacity bike in any other developed country. Here, the G has suddenly deemed it a “luxury”. My bike is now a luxury I cannot afford.

I’m venting now, excuse me. I don’t care what you think of it.

When my bike was new it would go for $16,000 or so, COE included. Today, the latest iteration of such a bike will cost about $1,500 more thanks to the G’s new tax regime. A larger bike, even a modest-sized 600, will cost $6,000, $12,000, $20,000 more than before. Madness.

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But I know the score, it is the G’s prerogative to tax what they will. And it’s my prerogative to feel how I feel about it. And I’m not alone.

It seems like the G doesn’t understand us bikers. Biking is in our blood. Biking is a lifestyle, a community. I don’t greet other drivers in my multi-storey car park when our paths cross. I only greet other bikers. “Be safe out there, bro”, “it’s raining up north”, “nice ride”. The bike was the poor man’s hope for that feeling of freedom, of empowerment. And now it’s out of reach.

You’ve hurt us, G, you’ve hurt us. We aren’t “dismayed” like the Today article says. We are pissed off. Outraged. Livid. I’ve heard biker friends screaming blue murder, trying to migrate, crying, frantic because the dreams and plans they’ve been cherishing for the last few years, working slowly up to the next-level ride, it’s all up in smoke now. It’s crushing.

And for what? The new tax on bikes is supposed to “solve” a problem created by another more or less pointless policy decision – the slashing of bike COE supply.

The COE for bikes has risen from under $900 in 2010 to well over $6,500 today. The massive jump is because LTA decimated the bike COE supply as a proportion of all COEs. Why did they do that? To move the quota to the car COE supply because, I don’t know, somehow bikes cause the same congestion as cars in LTA-La-Land. Or maybe because car COEs make a lot more money. Or poor people should not be on the road. Or car owners were lobbying, I don’t know.

This price rise is the cause (not the result) of the surge in popularity of bigger bikes because the kinds of people who could only afford to buy a small bike like a brand new $6,000 kupchai in 2010 will never ever be able to afford a $6,500 COE in 2016. This prices them out of the market, leaving the COE supply for buyers with slightly deeper pockets. And which idiot would pay for a $6,500 COE to buy a $3,000 bike anyway?

Of course those poor unkers and delivery riders whose livelihoods got screwed over complained, and rightly so. These days even food delivery riders and couriers ride 400cc bikes. In the past, it was rare to see anything past 200cc for these jobs.

Guess what? This new tax isn’t going to make a difference for those poor bikers who got shafted by the COE crunch. It will simply put more bikes out of reach for more Singaporeans. It will just make more money (pennies, really) for a G worried about balancing the budget.

And does this tax make things more “progressive”? In a sense, yes – those who can afford to pay for a better bike will have to pay more. Cars are subject to such a tax regime (although the price of a luxury car is still ten times or more than that of a luxury bike).

But don’t make a pretence of being “progressive” when what should have been done is to make COEs more affordable for lower end bikes (and therefore more progressive) by introducing a tiered COE system, which bikers have been agitating for. Now low-income bikers are penalised with high COEs, while middle-income bikers are penalised by COEs and high ARF taxes.

No doubt, this new scheme makes good money for the G, as fellow rider Ian Tan has calculated. It makes some sense in itself, although the implementation is as shocking as the 30 per cent hike on water. Why crimp our move towards a “car-lite” society? Bikes are the definition of “car-lite”.

I could defend bikes all day. They ease congestion. Riding helps develop better driving habits. They pollute less. Riders are more community-minded. Bigger bikes are safer because they have better design, control, better brakes, and more power for responsible riders to escape danger.

Maybe I’ll still buy a bigger bike someday. I’ll just have to work hard and save more for it. But today I feel pain, a pain echoed by my fellow bikers in Singapore.  My dreams are further out of my reach. I can forget about that Speed Triple now that it costs $6,000 more. Or that Ducati Scrambler in yellow with the racing stripe. I can forget about ever feeling the exhilaration of mounting a litre bike… maybe if I move abroad. Wait, did I just think of migrating?

This is a heart issue, and the new and mostly senseless tax regime is causing us pain. I don’t want to hear the “justifications”. That you’re trying to open up the supply of bikes to lower income bikers. If the G wanted to do that, they would have raised the COE numbers.

I don’t want to hear how the G said over half of new motorcycle buyers will not be affected by the new system because they buy small bikes. We are all affected because we all dream about owning a bigger bike, a better bike. To me, this is about the G making more money, money, money, and making it off regular joes with mid-sized and low incomes.

I’m not going to listen to attempts at “reason”. Deal with it. Just like I’m going to have to deal with the new bike tax.

 

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by Elvin Ong

THE Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) report was released on February 9, 2017. It will serve as the guiding document for Singapore’s economic restructuring and growth over the next five to 10 years. Many commentators have since provided excellent analyses of the report, including former Member of Parliament Mr Inderjit Singh, research fellows at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) Mr Adrian Kuah and Mr Hawyee Auyong, LKYSPP don Mr Donald Low, as well as Business Times associate editor Mr Vikram Khanna.

Here, I share my approach in my reading of the report. First, I read the report against the grain and in between the lines to assess whether and how the thinking behind the CFE has changed as compared to past committees. Second, I approach my analysis from the perspective of the political economy of advanced capitalist societies. This perspective privileges institutional analysis – in particular, the relationship between social-welfare policies, the structure of the labour market and overall inequality.

 

Positive changes

I found at least three positive changes from past committee-lead attempts to provide new directions for Singapore’s economy.

First, in Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s reply letter to thank the CFE for its work, he noted that: “We will take a hard-headed, pragmatic approach. When results are promising, we will vigorously pursue them. When a scheme does not look like it is going anywhere, we must have the courage to cut losses.” Similarly, on page 15, the report suggested that the government “will take an adaptive approach, continuing strategies which are successful, discontinuing those which are not, and making major changes where necessary.”

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These statements are particularly noteworthy. As I have examined elsewhere, billions of dollars have been poured into various schemes such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit with negligible impact. Instead of improving productivity, they have been subjected to systematic abuse.

Moving forward, the Singapore government can and should grow its capabilities to implement and monitor the results of its various schemes more rigorously. This means civil servants having the wherewithal to admit that they were wrong in pursuing certain policies, and to shut down programs if they fall short of their targets or are not in the public’s interest. Clinging on to sacred cows to “save face” should no longer be tolerated.

Second, throughout the report, the CFE emphasized that there was no one-size-fits-all solution to economic restructuring. Instead unique solutions will have to be tailored to various industries to help firms to restructure and upgrade, such as the Industrial Transformation Programs for the various sectors already identified.

Such a recognition is consistent with recent plans, and is a decisive break from the past. Silver bullets and grand schemes such as tax incentives that apply to all individuals and companies no longer work. A sectoral approach that identifies the specific needs of an industry and its unique solutions for different firms reduces deadweight loss, enhances monitoring and compliance, and builds solidarity.

Third, on pages 4 and 15, the report emphasised that the 7 strategies articulated in the CFE report are mutually reinforcing. Each strategy complements one another in the overall pursuit of restructuring, just like how different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle come together to form a nice picture.

This is also a refreshing perspective that is different from past committee reports. For far too long, haphazard public policies proposed and implemented have been orthogonal with one another, generating conflicting incentives for firms and individuals to restructure and upgrade. It is imperative that both macro- and micro-economic policies pull everyone in the same direction moving forward. Of course, the devil lies in the details. Claiming that the strategies are mutually reinforcing does not necessarily mean that they will be mutually reinforcing.

 

Understandable silences?

Many commentators were understandably surprised that the report was silent on a whole host of issues. Macroeconomic assessments, social policy, and foreign talent were conspicuously absent from the report. Why did the CFE, billed as one of the most inclusive committees ever, keep silent on these important topics?

Therein lies the clue. I think that the report was silent on these issues precisely because the CFE was so inclusive. Ironically, the more inclusive the process, the greater the struggle for the prioritisation of different ideas, the greater the impulse to find the “lowest common denominator” areas of agreement and to pave over the differences among competing groups. If we see the report as the outcome of a three-way fight of ideas between the government, the private sector, and workers, the result was a draw. What we have is an apolitical report that suppresses and avoids all the most important political questions.

Take tax policy for example – one of the most politically sensitive issues for the Singapore government. Three paragraphs on page 63 of the CFE report is all there is to say for it. The conclusion is that Singapore tax system must remain both “broad-based, progressive and fair” as well as “competitive and pro-growth.” It does not say how we should proceed if these two principles are in conflict with each other.

 

The politics moving forward

Singapore’s Budget for 2017 has been unveiled on 20 February. Analysts will have to examine it closely for clues on how the government has decided on the treacherous politics of Singapore’s future economy. Two political problems, both related to skills upgrading, are most pressing – the question of foreign manpower, and social security.

On the question of foreign manpower, the key political problem is the trade-off between the desire to keep Singapore open to foreign talent (CFE Strategy 1) and the need to build up Singapore’s pool of deep skills with good jobs and good wages for locals (CFE Strategy 2). This is a vexing issue for both entry level jobs, and senior management roles.

At the entry level, if firms can easily hire an engineer with “deep skills” for cheap from overseas, why would they bother to recruit and train locals? There is also no incentive for firms to participate in the numerous on-the-job training programmes with our institutes of higher learning. The rewards of a fully trained and competent Singaporean worker take months and years to realise, while the benefits of a highly skilled foreign worker are instantaneous.

At the senior management level, why would Singaporean workers care to upgrade their skills, if they know that they will not be rewarded with higher wages or promotions by their employers who can easily import senior management from overseas? It is not that Singaporeans workers do not care to engage in life-long learning. It is that they are systematically dis-incentivised from doing so.

For social security, the trade-off is between the desire to keep spending on social policy low, and the related costs and risks needed to build up deep skills. Learning deep skills is an expensive and risky pursuit. Who is going to pay for the learning process? What if companies close due to a global economic downturn, and workers with deep skills who lose their jobs are too expensive to re-hire? Who pays for prolonged unemployment? Furthermore, if workers with deep skills in one industry need to change their vocations to another industry, who pays for the re-training? These are just a small sample of the tough questions that require decisive political answers.

 

Conclusion

I do not think that we should despair at the lack of new ideas or unaddressed questions in the CFE report. To be sure, it may genuinely reflect the limits of top-down thinking among our top policy-makers as many commentators have alleged. But I would also suggest that it reveals the stalemate between competing groups who have varied interests and preferences, and the government’s reluctance to politicise the report and upset these groups.

Moving forward, it is inevitable that the government will have to confront, rather than sidestep, the political questions that over-shadow the economic restructuring process. Some questions, such as social spending, will be easier to tackle because of the fiscal headroom that the government has. Others, like the foreigner-local workforce ratio, will be unavoidable. How the government decides will be a function of the need to appease the demands of local and foreign capital, versus the countervailing pressures from the mass electorate in future general elections.

 

Mr Elvin Ong is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Emory University.

 

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by Melissa Tsang

I’M A 23-year-old Chinese Singaporean woman. After graduating culinary school in 2016, I started as a commis (also known as 马王, or minion) in a Chinese restaurant kitchen along Orchard Road. This is a description of my everyday work, in English, written for friends and family who are curious.

The structure of a Chinese restaurant kitchen

I drew a diagram of what our kitchen looks like, from where I stand (I only know how to hand draw and then upload a picture, please forgive incompetence):

pic 1

Dim Sum, 点心: They make the har gow, siew mai, XLB (little soup dumplings), carrot cake, cheong fun, and many other forms of dim sum and desserts. Because nearly everything there is made by hand, from scratch, they start work at 7am to finish their prep before service starts at 11am. Since we only serve dim sum in the afternoon, they get off work at 5pm, or whenever they finish their scheduled prep for the day. They are usually considered a separate kingdom from The Main Kitchen and the roasting department.

Roasting/BBQ, 烧腊:This is where the Peking duck, braised duck, roasted suckling pig, soy sauce chicken, char siew, roasted pork belly, braised pig’s intestines, etc. are made. They have two work areas — the back, and the front. The back is where all the heavy prep work is done. Every day they have to wash, marinate, dress, and hang carcasses; as well as roast them in their huge apollo oven (it looks like a tandoor). The front (a tiny work space beside the main kitchen) is where they carve and plate their finished products. They don’t just prepare their own items, like an a la carte order of a Peking duck; they also make products for the main kitchen. For example, they have to produce char siew for the rest of the kitchen — dim sum uses a lot of char siew for their pastries; the main kitchen uses char siew in a Yangzhou fried rice.

The Main Kitchen, 厨房: When industry people say “kitchen” they often refer to any of these sub-sections, and not dim sum or BBQ:

Steaming, 上什/蒸锅/蛋扣: They are located right beside dim sum, and are responsible for anything from the main kitchen that requires steaming — for example, Teochew steamed pomfret, Cantonese steamed marble goby, steamed bamboo clams with fried garlic and tung hoon. They make the daily double-boiled soups, and are also in charge of preparing the sharks’ fin and sea cucumber (very labour intensive, time-consuming products to prepare). Unlike the rest of the main kitchen sub-sections, they coexist very peacefully with dim sum.

Wok, 炉头/炒锅: Most people are more able to understand this sub-section of the kitchen. It’s basically where all the things are stir-fried or deep-fried. Within the wok line (our wok line can accommodate six, but most of the time we work with four) there is a hierarchy.

Wok 1 is head chef, 老大/大佬. He makes the big and final decisions for the main kitchen. He doesn’t do much prep work. If there are orders for abalone, sea cucumber, Alaskan crab, the expensive stuff, they go to him. But he is really more important as a political figure, not as a cook. Like a gang leader, or any head chef, he is supposed to enforce discipline and consistency in his kitchen. He is also supposed to protect the interests of the main kitchen, especially against Front-of-House and higher management, especially in disputes with HR. For this reason, people expect him to exhibit a lot of machismo and dominance, or else they consider him ineffective and weak.

Wok 2 is the sous chef. He is not as politically significant as the Laoda, but he is acting chief in Laoda’s absence. He schedules our duty roster. He may also cook the Very Expensive Things. Some corporations/restaurants that do Cantonese cuisine have a policy of hiring only Hong Kong nationals to occupy head chef and sous chef positions. Ours is one such company.

Wok 3 is expected to cook anything short of the Very Expensive Things. Although he is lower in rank than Wok 2, he is not necessarily less experienced.

Wok 4 is also known as the deep-frying wok, or the “tail wok”. It is usually occupied by a more junior person. If a whole fish needs to be deep fried, it goes to him. He also handles a lot of fried rice, ee fu noodles, fried bee hoon, stir-fried carrot cake. Since the larger and heavier woks are all kept at his end of the line, he cooks off most of our sauces (XO sauce, black pepper sauce, chilli crab sauce, sweet and sour sauce etc. ), deep fries peanuts, cashews, walnuts, whole chickens multiple times a week. He has an enormous role in prep. This person must work very quickly, and must multitask well. When service gets very busy, he should be able to deep fry two different items while stir frying ee fu noodles, without losing his shit.

Woks 5 and/or 6 are opened when we’re descending into chaos and desperately need another wok guy to help out. That’s when a qualified person, who otherwise performs another role, goes on the line for the night.

Butchery, 水台: The person working in butchery has one of the most strenuous jobs ever. Our butcher happens to be the largest dude in the kitchen. When deliveries come, they go straight to his room. He is the one who has to wash cartons and cartons of vegetables alone, break down entire carcasses of cod, hack entire legs of Jinhua ham, chop crates of ribs into smaller chunks, etc. He has to lug boxes and boxes of stuff to and from the walk in freezer. These are on top of the fish and seafood he has to kill and clean. He mostly works with the heaviest cleaver.

Knife work, 砧板: This station is a line of three cutting blocks (literal blocks, they are very thick and heavy, for stability). People doing knife work slice and chop almost everything the kitchen uses. They also have to marinate all the meat, sliced fish, diced chicken, etc. They have a never-ending list of things to do. They are also the first line to read and process order tickets. For example, an order comes for “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The relevant information to the dude at the cutting block is “seafood fried rice medium + salted fish” has to pass the ticket over with the correct amount of diced seafood, julienned lettuce, and a small handful of chopped salted fish. Then his job is done and he has nothing else to do with this order ticket.

The Center Line/Traffic control/Communications, 打荷: This is where I work, between the knives and the fire. This is the section most difficult to explain to outsiders. This is where the youngest, most junior people work. This is the section that is the least technically demanding (i.e. you can train a monkey to do this job), but it is the most physically mobile, and the most cognitively demanding position during peak hours.

I’ll first explain what happens when we get a single order, using the above example – “Seafood fried rice, medium, +salted fish, on hold, no MSG, not too oily, VIP, split into 6 portions”. The dude at the chopping board has already pushed the lettuce, diced seafood, and salted fish from his side to our side of the table. We take a quick glance at the order sheet. First, we grab a medium-sized portion of rice. Then we transfer everything from our side of the table to the table directly accessible to the wok guys. We tell him, “no MSG, not too oily”. We then fetch a serving tray, six small plates, a small rice bowl, and a metal dish. The wok guy makes the fried rice, dumps it in the metal dish, then we portion the fried rice using the small rice bowl (so that every portion is in a neat little mound). This fried rice example is a very simple example involving a bit of communication between our section and the wok line.

Here is another example, involving more inter-department teamwork: an appetiser plate named 特式三拼

pic 2

Let’s say there’s an order for this item for five people. The knife work dude will toss over five butterflied prawns and five mantou rings (the dim sum department makes these weekly, in huge quantities). I will have to dust the prawns in potato starch, garnish and decorate five plates on a serving tray, sear five pieces of foie gras, and have wasabi sauce and foie gras-mushroom sauce on standby. At the same time I have to talk to Wok 4 – “特式5位”. Sometimes he forgets what he has to do, so I will say “炸锅巴5件,wasabi 虾球5粒,打鹅肝汁”. He will do all that while I sear the foie gras. When the foie gras is almost ready, I will call BBQ. They will bring five individual portions of braised duck and tofu, and I will plate up and send the dishes out.

These are only individual examples. On their own, they are very easy to execute. But on a busy night, between 6:30 – 9pm, the ticket printer doesn’t stop running. It will feel like the orders are coming in faster than we can send out dishes. This is when our roles within the section become specialised, and the concept of “queue” and “time” becomes especially relevant:

pic 3

Incoming orders:

Highlighted in pink is the table where we process incoming orders. The shaded black box is the ticket machine, facing Knifework. Any order printed is first visible to them, although we have trained ourselves to read from the other side.

(As far as possible), according to the order in which they were printed, Knifework pushes ingredients with their order sheets over to our side, and they will all be received by the Korkor, who is the most senior person in the section. The first thing he will do is separate dishes “on hold” from “fire”. “On hold” means the order has been processed, but the customer doesn’t want it now. For dishes on hold, he groups them by table number. For dishes ready to fire, he sorts them according to

1. Time of order. But it’s not rigid, it’s no big deal if an order printed at 7:35pm goes out before an order printed at 7:32pm.

2. Whether it is a soup, appetiser plate, non-starch item, or starch item. Within the same time frame, items should be sorted to prioritise soups and starters first, and starch dishes last.

3. Front-of-House mistakes – sometimes FOH barges in saying “I FORGOT TO KEY THIS ORDER IN PLEASE SAVE ME AND MAKE IT NOW”. We could say “no, dis your problem”, or we could allow that item to jump the queue.

4. How angry the customer is. Some customers are able to wait, others are not. If it’s been 15 minutes and a table hasn’t gotten their fried rice and are upset, we understand and will help that item move up the queue. But if the order has literally just been printed and a server comes in saying “HE’S PISSED OFF”, we do not entertain this request. Because we honour the concept of the queue.

Outgoing dishes:

When we’re busy, I stand facing the table highlighted in green. On this table we cram at most three to four items in a wok guy’s immediate cue. Meaning he simply has to concern himself with clearing these few items as quickly as possible. The rest of the space is reserved for plating and garnishing. In a five minute time frame, I might have fish pan frying on the stove, tofu in the deep fryer, while plating lobster ee fu noodles for 10 people, while listening to wok sounds. We look down when we plate so we can’t see much else, but we are able to hear when a wok guy is done with a dish. If he’s done, we have to drop what we are doing and send out the dish. As soon as the immediate queue begins to clear, any one of us will fetch items from Korkor’s Organised Queue of Incoming Orders.

Stacking and efficiency:

Sometimes there’s a Yangzhou fried rice in Wok 4’s immediate queue, but he’s been busy and the fried rice hasn’t been started. Then Korkor receives another Yangzhou fried rice order, but if we go strictly by time, that Yangzhou fried rice would be quite further down the queue. Nevermind, we let it stack. The Korkor will call out “扬州炒饭有塔!” then he tosses it over to me. Stacking is inevitable because if we went item by item, according to time, we would literally die.

Prep work and miscellaneous duties:

There are many other small, routine, menial tasks that I do every day, that I don’t need to talk about here. Oil does not pour itself, I need to fill metal drums of oil for each wok guy about twice a day. Eggs don’t crack and separate themselves. Seasoning containers don’t refill themselves. And so on.

The more interesting prep work is in sauces. A great example would be XO sauce. We make roughly 10 litres of XO sauce every two weeks. When we realise we’re running low, we need to start dicing (very small dice) Jinhua ham and salted fish. This is very difficult. They are very tough ingredients. I do not like this part. Then we need to soak dried shrimp, steam and shred dried scallops, and grind chillies, shallots, garlic, and the soaked shrimp. We will weigh the required MSG and sugar. Then the XO sauce is ready to be cooked off.

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This article was first published at eightmileswide.svbtle.com/.

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by Bertha Henson

I WAS about to write about the much-condemned Syonan Gallery when news broke that the G had changed its mind about the name. I was going to say that my father would turn in his urn if he knew about the name.

First, he would have said it was really Syonan-to, not Syonan. Then, he would have said it was not the Light of the South but the Dark of the Night. Finally, he would curse and swear at the historians and members of the advisory panel which the National Library Board (NLB) said it had consulted before alighting on the name.

Seriously, the NLB’s rationale for the name is no rationale at all. It merely reiterated the importance of remembering that period. It did not say that it had considered alternatives and discarded them. It merely stated that “no other name captured the time and all that it stood for”.

Nor was the public outcry about burying or erasing the past, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong alluded to when he weighed in on the matter. What people were asking for is some sensitivity to those who would rather not remember how they had to use banana money and watch kith and kin die while Singapore was so grandly named Syonan-to. No one would object if the gallery was called simply Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

What people were asking for is some sensitivity to those who would rather not remember how they had to use banana money and watch kith and kin die while Singapore was so grandly named Syonan-to.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim had defended the name when he opened the exhibition on Wednesday: “Some among older Singaporeans who lived through that dark period feel that the name legitimises the Occupation. Others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and we should call it what it was.” It was not, he said, about glorifying or legitimising those years.

He repeated this in his statement last night but there were also these lines: “Over the past two days, I have read the comments made on this issue, and received many letters from Singaporeans of all races. While they agreed that we need to teach Singaporeans about the Japanese Occupation, they also shared that the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ had evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents. This was never our intention, and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused.”

He said the Syonan term had been used before in an exhibition called When Singapore was Syonan-to. There was no problem then. I can’t think why anyone would object to the phrase – it is accurate and factual. But sticking Syonan onto the word Gallery simply makes it too glamorous-sounding.

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I read reports in mainstream media (MSM) which quoted old-timers saying that it was fine to name the gallery Syonan and I wished my father was alive to say something different. I have also heard others who say that it was a good way to enthuse young people because it sounded so intriguing. Far better than Memories of Old Ford Factory. If so, then we aren’t quite honouring our forefathers, are we? We’re just interested in getting young people on board.

I had thought about how easy it would have been simply to bow to public opinion and rework the name instead of coming to its defence. After all, this was not about reversing policies or opposing fundamental tenets.

In fact, we even have the politicians and NLB saying that they had expected the public outcry. Why do it then?

In a nod to the public outcry, the signs were tweaked before the grand opening. The new signs now reflect its full name, Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies and include the phrase, An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory.

And it will be changed again.

No one would object if the gallery was called simply Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

Said Dr Yaacob: “I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation. I have therefore decided to remove the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ from the name of the exhibition, and name it ‘Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies’.

“The contents of the exhibition remain unchanged. They capture a painful and tragic period in our history which we must never forget, and which we must educate our young about. It is vital for us to learn the lessons of history, and reaffirm our commitment never to let this happen to Singapore again.”

Yes, the exhibition is a lesson of history and for the G, this episode is a lesson on communication. I can only think that the NLB, historians, advisory panel and whoever else was involved in picking the name simply didn’t have the pulse of the people. It is distressing.

I applaud the G for making the change. It takes courage to admit and rectify mistakes, especially right after putting up a defence. My father would applaud this too.

 

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by Joshua Ip

AT THE “Singapore Perspectives” conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, 27-year-old lawyer-poet Amanda Chong accused the development of our arts infrastructure as (and here I begin to quote the Mothership article):

“… a branding exercise grounded in the desire to transform ourselves so we might be attractive to the world’, citing our beautiful galleries and museums as well as the government’s annual $700 million expenditure on the arts.

‘If we continue this trajectory of pursuing a global city built from the outside in while opening our doors wide to the world, we are ultimately closing the doors on ourselves… Singapore’s arts scene is important for our own sake. The arts should not just or even primarily be an instrument of the State to attract global talent.”

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In doing so, she drew the ire of Tommy Koh, but made a strong and strident argument for art for art’s sake. She made three points to back this up. I feel the need to further expand on the three points of her argument, as it seems inadequate to me. In the spirit of “Cabinet Battle” from Hamilton, I have crafted my retorts in a hip-hop beat:

 

1. The arts teaches us to be more mindful of dissenting views that exist, and enrich our understanding of the truth.

The arts assists the state to be more mindful of those
who must persist in making noise, who try to oppose;
it gathers them in easily-observable groups
so everywhere they feasibly go, Big Brother snoops.
Dissenting views enrich the few with faux independence,
so call a poetry reading and just take the attendance!

 

2. The arts helps us to see other members of our society as equals and as humans, not as objects to be dealt with.

The arts helps us to see other society members
as inspiration for our literary adventures;
Prostitutes or prisoners or even the Prime Minister
are equal opportunity protagonists in literature!
They won’t object to be subjected to our prolificity,
from nothing, we make something, we’re increasing productivity!
Human interest stories might be individually worthless;
we can monetise them if we just put the right word first!

 

3. The arts can contribute to the national conversation about our future in a meaningful way.

The arts can contribute to conversation.sg,
by making richer countries think that we are so edgy.
Unlike third world regimes that can be much more demanding
we never censor arts, we only pull back our funding!
If liberals want to gibber about freedom and passion
the free grants that we give will be our kneejerk reaction!

So what is wrong, Amanda Chong, with art not for art’s sake?
Observe the upward market curve that all of us partake.
We started with a junket to take part in this whole damn response
to marketing a market and its artificial Renaissance:
if foreign talent is inherently arts-obsessed,
why can’t our parent-state apparent fake its interest?
So Amanda, I contend there’s nought to contend with,
its fine to sell your soul but please just make it expensive!

P/S: (She plays the part of starving artist slightly too well:
please give her book a look at the attached URL.)

 

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

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by Suhaile Md

MY CHINESE friend once told me that a practising Muslim will support ISIS. He hates ISIS with a passion. I consider myself a practising Muslim. I quietly wondered if he hated me.

If I really know my own religion, he continued, I would either support ISIS, or convert. It’s the western education that prevented me from becoming like them. There’s a reason why Muslims don’t get into sensitive roles in the army, or civil service, he said.

I did not know how to respond to that. It hit a sore point.

Muslim loyalty to Singapore has been in question for a long time. For years after National Service (NS) was instituted in 1967, Muslims were not called up for conscription. The policy was eventually reversed. But the feeling of being untrustworthy has remained among some people here.

When I attended my brother’s passing out parade at the Civil Defence Academy in 2015, all I saw was a sea of brown faces. I remember the Chinese uncle sitting with his family in front of me, looking around and noting: “Wah, we are a minority here.” Singapore is 74.3 per cent Chinese.

I guess I was lucky to have served in the Army instead. But while serving, the feeling that I was not trusted because of my religion intensified at times. Sometimes my NS job required me to drive to other military camps that had no halal food catered in the cookhouse because there weren’t any Muslims posted to that unit. In the cookhouse at my camp, the Muslim queue was about as long as the non-Muslim queue, even though less than 15 per cent of Singaporeans are Muslim.

Why? Security reasons, I heard. 

I met national servicemen in the army who were Chinese nationals just a year or two before enlistment. They could not speak a word of English – I always needed a translator. I always wondered if they understood the pledge, the national anthem, or what they were defending? Yet they serve in the army when many of my Muslims friends who grew up here can’t.

Someone once told me Muslims shouldn’t complain. Go online and you’ll see similar sentiments: Look at other countries, they don’t treat their minorities as well as Singapore does, so be grateful.

So I should just shut up about how I feel here, in my own home? Swallow my words? Do they hate my voice? Such comments confound me, frustrate me. I am not from those countries, how is it even relevant here? 

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I am not ISIS

In junior college, my class saw a documentary on violence against women in Pakistan. In a particular scene, a man used Islam to justify burning his wife. I was the only Muslim in the room. A few classmates glanced at me. I don’t think they could help it. Still, it was enough to get me tense.

But I understood their curiosity, and concern even. After all, supposedly non-violent-me based my life on the same Quran (holy book) as the violent man. So I marched into class the next day, notes filled with quotes and arguments, ready to defend myself. I told my classmates context matters. A violent man will find any justification. Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Not much has changed in the years since. Every time there’s a terror attack somewhere, it’s expected that as a Muslim, I take a moral stand against ISIS or its like. 

A tall order, given that there have been at least 140 terrorist attacks by ISIS, or inspired by it, in 29 countries in the 30 months since the group declared its caliphate in June 2014. Most recently, one of its followers shot up a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve.

On average, that’s just over an attack a week. And it does not include other brutal groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al-Shabaab in Somalia. It’s hard to apologise so frequently, publicly, for something I have no hand in and do not believe in.

There were times I got fed up and remained silent, especially on social media. ISIS is evil. It burns people alive and blows out their brains. It should be obvious that like everyone else, I am just as disgusted by these. Why do I have to continually prove my humanity by repeatedly condemning the same acts over and over again? Every time I disassociate myself from them, I am clumped together again the next time they attack, guilty by association. It gets tiring.

Still that does not mean I do not own the problem of extremism (read more here). Many Muslims do so too (here’s a list) because our faith demands that we speak out against oppression, inhumanity and injustice.

Taking a moral stance against extremism also means we speak up against the oppression of Palestinians by the Israelis and the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

Which is why we find it hard to quietly accept that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be warmly welcomed in Singapore next month. Or when Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has yet to condemn the atrocities being committed in her country, enjoyed a friendly tour here recently. 

When I speak out on such issues, I’ve had non-Muslim acquaintances dismiss it saying it’s just politics, just business. Funnily enough, these are the same people who ask me why Muslims don’t speak out against violence. As if my conscience can be turned on or off at their convenience.

Sometimes it feels as if Muslim voices only matter when it suits an agenda. Sometimes, it even feels like Muslim suffering overseas does not matter at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it, there are economic and security considerations Singapore needs to make. I understand why the G does not officially speak up on these issues, why it has an official policy of non-interference, while quietly allowing non-governmental donations to help Palestinian and Rohingya victims. At times the G donates a small sum too. There are pragmatic, political considerations.

But where does that leave its citizens, who feel slighted? The pragmatic and the political can leave a bitter aftertaste. Extremists capitalise on this, blurring complexities, obliterating nuance, drawing thick lines in the sand between Muslims and the rest of the world.

This divide is made stronger every time someone asks me if I’m a Muslim first or a Singaporean first. The question stops short of asking outright: Where does my loyalty lie?

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first or a brother. I can’t imagine life outside either role. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first, or a brother. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

Likewise, I don’t know where the Singaporean part of me ends and where the Muslim part begins. Besides, I thought we are Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion.

So why the need to squeeze me into two categories – Singaporean and Muslim? It’s suffocating. I am Muslim Singaporean, Singaporean Muslim. I am both, at once. Don’t break me into two, please.

Thankfully, I have non-Muslim friends who get it.

Like Young-hwi, who in my absence, of his own accord, made sure the restaurant that the group booked was halal. Or the former classmate, Jianwei, who apologised to me for particular nasty racist comments on Facebook. The comments weren’t even directed at me personally and the commenters were online trolls in no way related to him. My friend had no obligation. Yet he apologised, to let me know that my concerns mattered to him, that he cared.

I wish more people around the world stand up for Muslims like my friends did. But the popular support and rise of anti-Islamic right wing figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands scare me. Most troubling was the recent successful presidential election of Donald Trump in the United States, in spite of his anti-Muslim prejudice.

At the end of the day though, do I think the world hates me? No, but sometimes it feels that way.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Iffah Nadhirah Osman, Lim Qiu Ping, Vanessa Wu, Glenn Ong

SELF-CHECKOUT machines at supermarkets are supposed to cut down queuing time for the customers. But there are people who would choose to pay at the cashier. We ask them why and here’s what they said:

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Mr Dhiya Yamin, 23, unemployed

“I find the machine a little bit complicated. If I press wrongly, it gets complicated especially for a first timer. And we don’t really know how to use it. Sometimes there isn’t anyone on standby to help. That’s why I prefer to go to the human cashier.”

Madam Hartini Jamaludin, 40, executive with NEA

“I prefer the human cashier because it’s much easier. The self-checkout machine is for people who are more IT savvy. It’s best to use cash for payment method and having a human cashier at least creates employment.”

Mr Shaful Akram, 18, higher Nitec student

“I choose to use the human cashier instead of the self-checkout machine because it’s become a habit. And on certain days, I just forget to bring my card.”

Ms Nur Syafiqah Musa, 18, Junior College student

“I feel that it’s faster to go to the human cashier. I don’t know how to use the self-checkout machine and it would take some time for me to get used to it.”

Ms Maggalena Kalita, 35, full-time mother

“When we buy too many groceries and have our kids along with us, it’s easier to go to the human cashier. On other days when I’m alone and just buying a few items, I would use the self-checkout machine.”

Mr Royston Liang, 20, polytechnic student

“I go to the human cashier out of habit. Other than that, sometimes I don’t see the self-checkout machine.”

Ms Naimah Masuri, 27, marcomm executive

“It’s faster to go to the human cashier. I don’t really use the self-checkout machine even if I’m just buying one item.”

Madam Nora Ibrahim, 43, business owner

“I prefer personal touch. Even if I’m just buying one stuff, I prefer cash than my card getting swiped in a machine.”

Ms Ghazzali Ramos, 32, Filipino tourist

“Because there is no one queuing.”

Ms Nur Aqilla, 15, Secondary school student

“Because it’s more convenient and faster.”

Ms Nurul Ain, 25, housewife

“Based on my experience, when you pay at the self-checkout machine, certain things cannot be scanned, like [those] on offer, or things that I want to void. Meaning that, after the total [cost counted], I cannot afford another item or I took [too many], I still have to call one of the staff to assist, because they need to insert the key to void or cancel the item.

If I go to the cashier straight, everything can be done there with the cashier, although there is sometimes a long queue and is a bit troublesome. But I prefer the cashier; at least I can settle everything there without any need to call any staff.”

 

Mrs Gracy Patti, 32, nurse

“There’s nobody at the cashier. Otherwise I would like to pay at the self-checkout machines because that is very easy [to use].”

Mr Freddy Yip, 70, technician

Speaking in Mandarin: “It is easier to pay at the cashier. It is more convenient; don’t have to scan the items one by one by myself.”

Mr Pang Tee Meng, 70, retired engineer

“The space is available. If the queue is too long, I will use the self-checkout machines.”

 

Madam Law Yoke Ching, 49, housewife

Speaking in Mandarin: “It’s a habit. I’ve always pay this way.

Using the machine is convenient if I buy one or two item. If I buy too many items, like 20 to 30 items, it takes too long so I would use the cashier.

There is pressure if there is a long queue behind [at the machines]. Everyone is looking at you.”

Madam Zulaiha Zainal, 43, part-time cleaner

“Because I got cash only in my hand. I don’t have Nets.”

Mrs Padma Raja, 42, housewife

“Because I have a trolley full of things, so I prefer to pay at the cashier. I’m not allowed to pay at the self-checkout. Only a basket full of things can be paid there.”

 

Mr Jason Goh, 52, graphic designer

“It is more convenient. You just put your items there; the cashier calculates for you. You don’t have to do the scanning; then you just pay the money.

Maybe you have to queue a bit longer, lah.

But sometimes you, let’s say, self-checkout. Maybe sometimes you get stuck; probably the [scanning] procedure is wrong.”

Mrs Yaw Hui Ching, 28, credit officer

“Because I want to use the vouchers.”

Madam Siti Patimah, 45, healthcare assistant

“If there is a long queue [at the cashier], I’ll use the machine. If there’s one, two people at the cashier, I’ll use the cashier.”

 

Madam Lim Bao Jiao, 70, housewife

Speaking in Mandarin: “Because I don’t know how to use [the self-checkout machine].”

Miss Choo Wan Luoh, 18, Junior College student

“Because it’s much faster. And it’s easier. We don’t have to check the price ourselves.”

Mr John Chan, 76, retiree

“Because when I see whichever side is available, then I go. For convenience’s sake. When the counter is empty, then I pay there.”

Madam Wong Yek Liang, 55 factory worker

Speaking in Mandarin: “I use the vouchers. Like $2 deduction if I spend $5. Like the $10 or $20 vouchers. I don’t really know how to use the machines. If I buy a little, I’ll use the self-checkout. If I buy a lot, I use the cashier.”

Miss Goh Si Kei, 48, warehouse assistant

Speaking in Mandarin: “Using machine is more troublesome. There are two types of machine. I don’t know to scan the member card or Nets card on which type. I don’t know which icon to press.”

Ms Anuja Wararas, 34, teacher

“It’s a habit. I guess I prefer human touch than the machine. Also, it’s faster with the human cashier and you can just check out how many people there are in the queue.”

Mr Sufyan Razali, 20, ITE student

“I don’t own a card. But if I do own one, I would use the machine because it’s more convenient.”

Ms Noele Ng, 23, research assistant

“I go to the human cashier because there aren’t [many] people in the queue and it’s faster for people to scan my items for me.”

Madam Iris Tahn, 62, administrator

“I seldom use the self-checkout machine. I also don’t always buy groceries. The self-checkout machine has a lot of people. If I use the machine I need to train how to use it. There aren’t a lot of people at the human cashier.”

Mr Jeff Pastwick, 34, US Navy

“I don’t like the machine. It always gives me issues such as not scanning the items properly or can’t read my card.”

Ms Christine Teo, 23, university student

“The human cashier doesn’t have a queue at the moment. But I usually go to the self-checkout machine. I only go to the human cashier depending on how short the queue is.”

Madam Jessica Yeo, 46, homemaker

“For cashier, I can pay cash, they will pack for me and it is easier. For the self-checkout machine, I have to use Nets, pack things myself.”

Ms Hazel Loh, 33, optometrist

“Usually I will use the self-checkout machine but today I’m trying to use up my LinkPoints. I find the self-checkout faster. I will use the cashier when I have vouchers to use up as well.”

Madam Esther Lee, 61, housewife

“It is easier for me. I may key wrongly and there are many cards to insert. When I use the self-checkout machine, I insert the cards in the wrong direction.”

Madam Irene Lee, 60, counsellor

“It is fast and quick as the queue is short today. I have tried the self-checkout before but I am unsure of the process. Simply lazy, out of habit and refuse to change.”

Madam Evelyn Chua, 65, retiree

“It is more simple. Just pay and walk out. Don’t have to press it myself. Today, the queue is short. If the queue is long, I will go there.”

Ms Singdha Ayarwal, 29, homemaker

“I have too many stuff that need to be properly packed and arranged today. So I prefer this line. If the queues are long I will use the self-checkout machine.”

Ms Milly Sin, 42, homemaker

“The self-checkouts are not set up in a user friendly way. Not enough space for goods and in the packing area. The discounted items barcodes often do not match up. I have been to Europe and Australia as well and the set up is better there. They can consider fitting the self-checkout machines with weighing scales. The technology is already there, they just have to incorporate it in.”

Mr Wandi Hashim, 33, restaurant manager

“We only carry cash. I think the self-checkout machine is convenient and fast but I am with my mum today and we want to pay cash.”

Ms Jaya Nthi, 37, private tutor

“I forgot that there is a self-checkout. I use it at Woodlands Cold Storage. I am comfortable with the cashier. When I scan my items at the self-checkout, it doesn’t quite catch. Some discounted items require assistance and I have to wait. There are 10 self-checkout counters and there are 10 people in front of me. I have to think of it that way.

There are also too many instructions on the screen at one go as there are many cards being used here.”

Miss Michelle Kang, 22, student

“I use both but the queue [for the cashier] seems short today. If one is not accustomed to the machine, it can get overwhelming. When it was first introduced, my mum struggled with it.”

Madam Cao Wan Lin, 38, homemaker

Speaking in Mandarin: “I feel that the self-checkout machine is not easy to use. It can be time wasting when the assistance of the supermarket staff is needed. Customers needs to put all of their purchases in the bagging area before packing them. I think that packing your purchases as they are scanned, like they do at the human cashiers, is more efficient.

Additionally, I am unsure of how to use my LinkPoints at the self-checkout machine as I am not strong in English. I can ask the cashier to check my points balance and decide whether to use my rebates on the spot. Hence if the queues at the cashiers are not too long, I am willing to queue to make payment. However, my nine-year old son loves to use the self-checkout machines. When he is at the supermarket with me, I always use it. He likes to play with the machine as he finds it very interesting.”

Ms Crystal Hong Wei, 25, youth worker

“The queue for the self-checkout is long. I am only buying two bottles of water, weird to use Nets. I didn’t know I can use cash at the machine. I would have gone there if I knew there was cash.”

Mr Anthony Man, 40, business development manager

“While I’m queuing, I can send messages and use my phone. It is more convenient and humans are creatures of habit. They can consider having discounts or more points at the self-checkout. Maybe that will attract more people to queue there.”

Ms Charmaine Loh, 29, IT professional

“Right now the queue appears shorter [at the cashier]. I weighed my options and decided to queue here. Sometimes technology screws up and it may end up taking longer than expected.”

Mr Archie Rodil, 36, software engineer

“Right now, I am too lazy to do it myself. I am feeling a bit tired from work. On weekends, I will gladly use the self-checkout. I can read my phone while waiting in the [cashier] queue since it moves slower.”

.

Ms Mary Joy Yladia, 32. interior designer

“I am just used to paying with the cashier. I tried the self-checkout a few times but I just come back to the cashier. It is more convenient and I don’t have to worry about checking the price. I just put everything there.”

Miss Jasmine Wong, 25, media professional

“I didn’t thought of that. Usually I will go to the self-checkout at Chinatown NTUC but today I just stood at the cashier. I didn’t see the self-checkout and went straight to the cashier.”

Miss Ashley How, 14, student

“It is more convenient at the cashier. At the self-checkout, you have to scan each item. They have improved the system but when you do something wrong, it will still stop completely.”

Mr Miko Gino, 23, student

“The self-checkout is more tedious. If you don’t have your credit card, it is easier to use the cashier. If you are carrying many things, it is hard to do the scanning at the self-checkout. I was talking to my friend and were not in a rush, so we chose to use the cashier although we have one item each.”

Featured image a collation by Sean Chong.

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by Brenda Tan

SCHOOL lunch times have been in the news – why are our kids having their mid-day meal so late?

I’ve taken to preparing a packed lunch for my daughter. It takes me 10-15 minutes in the morning.

I invest in good thermal food containers that keep food hot or cold for a long period. I also plan a weekly menu so that I’m not usually stumped for what to cook for her. Moreover, this menu is a guide that gives me flexibility. If we have lots of leftover from dinner, I can simply reheat and pack it for her as lunch. I also take note of her favourite foods and what works well for her meal and what don’t, so that the meal can be refined.

Here are some tips and tricks, and recipes, for packing a lunchbox meal:

Tips for packing school lunch

Tip #1 – Prepare the food container

To ensure that the thermal food containers are at their optimal temperatures, put in boiling water and seal the container while cooking. Then, when the food is ready, pour away the water before putting the hot food into the container. Do likewise using ice cold water for cold foods.

Tip #2 – Calculate nutritional value over a whole day rather than in one meal

While I try to ensure that the lunch follows recommended food groups and servings, sometimes it’s difficult to do so with a packed meal. It’s easier to remember that if the kids do not get their serving of fruits and vegetables at lunch, they can do so in a snack when they get home.

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1. Japanese cold noodles with dipping sauce

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

My children’s number one favourite and very easy to make.

Ingredients:

Soba noodles (or udon noodles)
Katsuo Atsukezuritsuyu (soba sauce)

  1. Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
  2. Cool the noodles in ice water.
  3. Strain the cold noodles and put it into a cold food jar. Garnish with sesame seeds and cut seaweed.
  4. In a watertight container, dilute soba sauce with water.
  5. Kids can either dip the noodles in the sauce or pour the sauce over the noodles to eat.

I purchase the noodles and sauce from Daiso or from any Japanese supermarket.

 

2. Fried rice

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

It’s easy to prepare the ingredients ahead and store it in the fridge. Cooking the fried rice takes only a few minutes and the rice keeps its heat very well for lunch as a balanced meal.

Ingredients:

Leftover rice
Leftover meat from dinner, diced (or marinated raw meat, diced)
Leftover vegetables from dinner, diced (or frozen vegetables)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 egg

  1. Heat up oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped onions. If using raw meat, cook the meat when the frying onions turn fragrant.
  2. Add the rice and stir-fry to break the rice up. Add the leftover ingredients or the frozen vegetable. Fry and mix the ingredients well.
  3. Move the rice mix aside and crack the egg into the frying pan. Stir-fry the mix again and incorporate the egg.
  4. Add pepper and salt to taste.
  5. Put into a warm food jar.

A variation to fried rice would be to make rice pancakes. Leftover rice and frozen vegetables are mixed with eggs into a batter, with a little salt and pepper. The batter is spooned into small round pancakes on a hot frying pan to cook. When the rice-and-egg batter firms up, the pancake is flipped and is done.

 

3. Noodle soup

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Noodle soup is easy to prepare ahead and delicious for lunch. The trick is to keep the soup hot in the thermal food jar and to add it to the noodles and vegetables when it is time to eat. My daughter found it easier to pour the hot soup into the noodles so I usually pack the noodles in a lunchbox that can accommodate the soup. This meal is good for older kids as it might be difficult for younger children to deal with hot soup.

Ingredients:

Cooked noodles
Leftover soup broth from dinner or use chicken stock for the base
Fishballs
Slices of fish cake
Leafy vegetable like chye sim, cut into one-inch pieces

  1. Boil noodles and vegetables until cooked. Drain and put these in a lunchbox.
  2. If using chicken stock, fry some chopped onions and garlic before adding the stock to give the soup more flavour. Add the fishballs and fish cake slices. When the soup boils, pour it into a thermal food jar.

 

4. Spaghetti aglio olio

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Another favourite of my kids, this only requires three basic ingredients:

Spaghetti
Olive oil (enough to coat cooked spaghetti, about 2 tablespoons)
Minced garlic (usually half a teaspoon for one portion)

  1. Cook the spaghetti in water, with some salt and olive oil added.
  2. While the spaghetti is almost done, in a separate large frying pan, fry the minced garlic in the olive oil on medium heat until fragrant.
  3. Drain the spaghetti, leaving about 1 or 2 tablespoons of its water with the noodles.
  4. Add the spaghetti and water to the frying pan. Stir to combine well with the garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Depending on the kid’s request or whether I have the ingredients on hand, I sometimes add chopped tomato or mushrooms, or even bacon to the spaghetti.

 

5. Easy macaroni and cheese

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Another family favourite, but for packed mac & cheese in the morning, I make a “cheater” version.

Ingredients:

Elbow macaroni (or fusilli pasta or any kinds of pasta)
Evaporated milk
Cheddar cheese, 1 slice

Method:

  1. Measure how much pasta could fit into the container. Then pour enough evaporated milk to cover all the pasta. If you don’t have evaporated milk, just use plain milk. The evaporated milk gives a creamier texture to the mac & cheese. Pour out the pasta and milk into a microwave safe dish and heat it up for about 2 to 3 minutes. (You don’t have to fully cook the pasta as it will continue to cook in the thermal jar for the next 4 hours.)
  2. If you don’t have a microwave, just estimate the amount of pasta and evaporated milk you’ll need. Boil the pasta (using water) until it is semi-cooked. Drain it and then continue cooking the pasta in the evaporated milk.
  3. Add a slice of cheddar cheese to the dish and stir to mix well. If the milk dried out too fast, just add milk or water to the dish. Add salt and pepper, dried herbs like oregano or basil, to taste.
  4. If using the microwave, put the dish back into the microwave for another minute to melt the cheese. If using the stove, just make sure to stir the cheese into the pasta until it’s melted.
  5. Put the mac & cheese into a thermal jar for it to continue cooking.

 

Easy and healthy snacks

These are easily packed into small lunch boxes for the kid’s breaks:

  • Nuts (eg. almond, peanuts, cashews). Buy in larger quantity. Pack the amount desired into the kid’s airtight lunch boxes to reduce waste.
  • Fruits (eg. grapes, apple slices, blueberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, kiwi fruit, melon, bananas). Fruits tastes better if cooled and kept in a cold thermal jar. For small fruit items like grapes or blueberries, it may be faster for the kid to eat them if they are skewered on a food pick.
  • Cooked chickpeas. I buy this in a can, drain the water and heat it up in a microwave with water and a stick of cinnamon. The chickpeas are then cooled before packing them into a lunch box.
  • Vegetables (eg. celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, corn cup).
  • Cheese sticks or cheese cubes. To ensure cheese keeps well, I usually put them in cold thermal jars.
  • Hard-boiled eggs. To make it fun, I usually use an egg mould to shape the eggs.
  • Sandwiches and buns. These are great stand-by for a quick snack box.

 

Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

Why do our primary school kids have such LATE lunches?

MOE responds to lunch break story

 

Featured image by Pixabay user yujun. (CC0 1.0)

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

MY MOTHER rang me on Wednesday evening in a heightened state of excitement. She had caught “me” on TV.

Except that it wasn’t me, but a parody (poor one) of me, on The Noose. I thought my mother would never know, because she watched the news, not The Noose. So while I was watching The Borgias on the Internet, she was urging me to switch to Channel 5.

I’ve known for some time about the character known as Bertha Haryani, which I supposed is a take-off from the name of my blog, Bertha Harian. Except that I never use the blog now that I have The Middle Ground website. An undergraduate student of mine informed me of it in August and more recently, people have been sending me screen shots and videos. I decided, after my mother rang me, that it was time to check out my caricature.

Screenshot of The Noose on Toggle at 6:19min.
Screenshot of The Noose S9 Ep4 on Toggle at 6:19min.

 

Screenshot of The Noose S9 Ep5 on Toggle at 16:46min.
Screenshot of The Noose S9 Ep5 on Toggle at 16:46min.

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First off, whoever hit on the dim idea to portray me probably knew me when I was in my 20s. That was the era of suits, chunky earrings and chokers. Today’s Bertha never dons a coat or suit if she can help it and uses ear studs and one of those thin chains that is supposed to make you healthier.

Second, Bertha isn’t fluent in Malay. She can manage a few sentences but it doesn’t flow as smoothly as the TV character played by Siti Khalijah. So some expert advice for the Noose-room: More Singlish works better.

Some idiosyncrasies are portrayed correctly, like how I can’t stand the heat. More expert advice:

I always have a foldable fan with me, even while reporting.

Go ask your news colleagues.

It is true that I am not an elegant person off-camera, but I think I would be the same on-camera. I know this, which is why I stick to words, not pictures and video.

My mother was both aghast and amused. My brother thinks I should trademark the name Bertha Harian although I don’t know what good that would do. Others who’ve seen the clips think it’s hilarious and were rather more interested in my own reaction to the antics of The Noose.

I have been flamed, called names, caricatured and cartoonised for such a long time that nothing fazes me anymore. But this is the first time I have actually been parodied (or lampooned?) on free-to-air TV. Not once, but as a more or less regular feature.

I am terribly flattered. Somebody actually thinks I am well-known enough for local audiences to recognise what I would have thought was an “inside joke”. It’s nice to be among the ranks of the Bee Bee See and Xin Hua Hua.

What bugs me is this:

Why use a caricature when you can ask the real thing to come on The Noose.

Come on, people at The Noose, I dare you. You only have to foot cab fare.

You see, I too can get quite tired of doing The News.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Brenda Tan

THIS year, seven more primary schools in Singapore have switched to be single-session schools, leaving only eight primary schools as double-session schools. This is in line with the recommendation of the Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) committee made in 2009.

Single-session schools have a greater flexibility in maximising the use of facilities and arranging staff schedules, enabling school leaders to focus on executing programmes without needing to think about how they would affect the afternoon session’s school hours, or where to hold the student body without affecting either school session.

Newer directives like Form Teacher Guidance Period and daily classroom cleaning are accommodated simply by extending school dismissal time. Thus, the dismissal time in many single-session primary schools has been steadily shifted from 12:55pm to 1:45pm over the years.

To help children cope with the extended dismissal time, schools are now directed to allow students a five to 10-minute break for snacks between 11:30am and 12:30pm in class.

As a parent of two primary school children, I wonder if this is enough for our children to deal with the very real issue of hunger.

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Unlike my P3 son, my P5 daughter takes the school bus to school. My son gets home at about 2pm for lunch, but with the extended dismissal time, my daughter gets home at about 2:50pm. She’s by no means the last student to get off her bus; she tells me her friends often complain of hunger on the bus, and their lunch times are past 3pm!

My daughter gets on her bus at 6:20am, but as a P5 student, her recess is at a relatively late time of 10:45am — about 4 hours later. Her snack break comes at 12pm, which is usually too short for more than a quick snack of fruits or biscuits, and then the next time she eats is 2:50pm.

She’s not alone going through such long hours between food breaks.

A P1 child I know gets on her bus at 6:05am, with her recess at 10:15am. She doesn’t get home until 3:30pm. Unfortunately, on the first day of school, with all the logistical issues her teacher had to focus on, her class wasn’t given that 10-minute snack break. The poor girl was famished by the time she got home!

Unlike recess, the snack break is usually held in class and the children are not allowed to go to the canteen buy food. Thus, kids who don’t have a snack in the form of lunch boxes of fruits or sandwiches, would bring in packets of biscuits, seaweeds, or crisps to consume in class. My son tells me that sometimes, his classmates would forget to pack snacks and they would have to go without, or hope that someone would share their snacks with them.

However, I wonder if that short break to wolf down a quick snack is enough to sustain the children until their very late lunches, especially for those who commute by school bus, where eating is restricted on the bus.

Studies are clear that nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand. In one study, the American Psychological Association found that hunger can cause depression, anxiety, and withdrawal, hindering a child from focusing on education. A single child’s behavior in class can affect the rest of the students, the teacher’s attention, and the overall learning atmosphere.

Another study conducted an experiment where a class was told to skip breakfast one morning, and then half the class were given a good breakfast at school, while the other received nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who had breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by observers who didn’t know which children had eaten). Later, after all the children were given a healthy snack, “the differences disappeared as if by magic”.

While I don’t think our Singaporean children are malnourished, being hungry in class does affect their ability to focus.

Being hungry in class does affect our children’s ability to focus.

If we take workers’ welfare seriously and institute work breaks and lunch breaks to ensure their productivity and well-being, why aren’t we doing the same for our kids?

Even when I run full-day adult workshops, my participants expect to have 15-minute morning and afternoon tea breaks and an hour-long lunch – why then do we expect our children to be learning optimally when they aren’t given timely food breaks for nutrition and socialisation?

I also wonder at how much time there is for children to learn healthy eating habits. The onus is on parents to prepare healthy snacks not only for recess, but for the break as well. The canteen is usually too crowded to buy freshly cooked food in time, even with staggered recess timing. And children simply don’t have the time to both sit down for a meal and be actively playing with their friends – I know which of the two activities my son would opt for during recess!

Most nutrition sites just list the kinds of food that are recommended for rapidly growing kids, but very few sites focus on when older children ought to eat. Even our Health Promotion Board’s ‘Raising Heathy Kids’ eBook recommends breakfast at 8am, lunch at noon, dinner at 6pm, and snacks for when active children are hungry between meals. This recommendation could only be carried out if the children are on school vacations or if they are in pre-school.

 

What can we do?

So what can we realistically do about our primary school kids’ late lunches?

Apart from highlighting to their schools if your child gets home after 3pm for lunch, perhaps it may be helpful to see if schools can switch their recess and break times.

If schools have their snack break between 9am and 10am, then they could have their staggered recess from 11am onwards. The longer recess timing might allow children to have more time to eat a heavier meal, which could sustain them better for their journey home, whether their lunch is at 2pm or 3pm.

Another thing parents could do is to pack foods that measure lower on the glycaemic index (GI). Foods with a low GI such as nuts, vegetables, and beans are digested more slowly and release energy more slowly than high GI food such as white bread and sugar. Also, pack high-fibre foods which help reduce hunger between meals.

I also invest in good thermal food containers to pack food for my children’s recess. These thermal food containers may be bulkier to bring to school, but they keep cold foods like sushi and fruits, and warm foods like fried rice very well. I also explore interesting and “fast to eat” food for their snacks, to avoid relying on energy bars that may contain high levels of processed sugar. For example, I skewer grapes with food picks so that during the snack break, these can be easily eaten in a few quick mouthfuls.

That said, I hope that schools and teachers are more mindful about their children’s nutrition, which often gets forgotten in the daily grind. Unlike heading to the staff room between lessons for a quick short bite, our kids don’t have that luxury when keeping to school rules regarding eating in class or on the school bus.

We do want our children to obey school rules and be disciplined, but we also need to create an environment that helps them to grow up strong and healthy.

 

Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

MOE responds to lunch break story

5 quick and easy meals for a lunchbox

 

Featured image Nan Hua High School Canteen by Wikicommons user JinKai97 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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