Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chinese Characters

I am glad a prominent figure has spoken up for the traditional Chinese characters. President Ma Ying-jeou is trying to place it under world cultural-heritage list with the UN.

Besides President Ma, Sinologists too have expressed concern that people taught in the current simplified system of Chinese characters cannot read books written in traditional form, cutting them off from thousands of years of cultural heritage.

The traditional Chinese characters are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also able to transmit the meaning of the word through its form. It has been in used for more than 3000 years to document Chinese history.

Besides Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are also using the traditional forms. However with Hong Kong and Macau returning back to mainland China control, it is a matter of time before they will switch to the simplified form. Simplified characters were launched in 1956 by the Chinese communist government to boost literacy rate in rural provinces, by reducing the number of strokes in the Chinese characters.

It would be a pity and a cultural loss should one day traditional Chinese characters are only study by scholars and no longer use in everyday setting.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Beaching of Whales

We have another incident of hundred over pilot whales stranded on the beach. This time it is in New Zealand. In recent years, such tragic news have been increasing.

There have been many speculations why whales are beaching themselves. One of which is mass suicide. If so, why are they doing it ? As they are intelligent mammals, if we take human as a yard stick, could they be under extreme stress due to increasing human oceanic activities ?

In the documentary movie - The Cove, fishermen created loud din in the sea to disorientate the dolphins driving them onto the shore. Researchers have seen found that dolphins and whales which communicate in ultra sound range with sensitive hearing organs are easily stressed by man-made noises in the ocean.

This is the reason for the on going campaign to free these captive mammals which provide entertainment in oceanic parks, as they suffer from extreme stress due to the noises created by human activities around them. The mortality rate of these mammals in oceanic parks around the whole is very high.

Could the frequent incidents of whales beaching be due to stress ?

What to think of this ?

What to think of this - Malaysia representative to the United Nations (UN) cast the 'wrong' vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency. He voted for Iran nuclear activities when he is suppose to vote against it !

Now, not only is he in deep shit incurring the wrath of his government, Malaysia too is trying to appease US. US is upset with Malaysia supporting the nuclear misbehaviour of Iranian activities.

Just one vote could have skewed the balance in passing a resolution which could impact humanity and million of lives. We are talking about nuclear activities in a country know for its support of terrorists' activities.

How can a country's ambassador to UN cast the wrong vote ! This is unheard of. Well, according to the official explanation, it is due to lack of communication with the Malaysia's ministry. Malaysian UN ambassador is not aware of his country recent change of political stand.

But it is this underlying root cause that is more worrying. This is because historically Malaysia has been casting their vote in support of member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, to which both Iran and Malaysia belong. Likely there are many other countries which are also casting their vote not base on the safety and good of humanity, but solely on religious affiliation. Politics with religion - a potent explosive mixture we have here.

It is all just a political game at the UN. Most of the time is it Dis-United Nations, each country for its own interest.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unforgettable Training

I attended a 5 days course on Service Professional recently. This is likely to be one unforgettable training, due to the 'unique' folks at the training. We have a fantastic trainer, a Bollywood hunk, an infatuated female (of the Bollywood hunk) and a 'timid' hyperventilating trainee who later turn into a bold harasser after the course is over.

Our trainer is very professional and able to inject alot of fun into the training. She is an ex SIA trainer and has so many rich experiences to share with her trainees. As I have background in training, I know how hard it is to be a good trainer, who can not only impart knowledge, but to keep the trainees alert and 'entertained'.

The Bollywood hunk sat besides me. His family root is from Northern India and as he is very good looking, he became the 'Bollywood' star in the class. He is an interesting character with rich experience in business and lots of jokes to share with the class. He added 'colours' to the training.

The infatuated female sat at another table with her group. However, she hopped over to our group ever so often to be with her Bollywood idol. If ever I got up from my seat just for a moment, she would 'fly' over and plant herself firmly next to her idol. Each group had our assigned duty, our group always has an extra hand as our infatuated trainee would be hovering around her idol to offer her help. Her own group was often left short handed because of her 'disappearing act' to appear in my group instead.

Then we were asked to sign on her autograph book. Actually it is meant for her idol, but out of politeness we were all requested to write on it. Wow - I thought only children and hot blooded teenage fans go around asking for autograph.

The most unforgettable character is the 'timid' hyperventilating trainee who also sat next to me. Whenever she was asked to make a short speech she would be gasping for breath. She is so timid that the class gave her encouragement and help her along. In fact she got the prize award for the best student in class for her effort.

Well, her true colour only reveals after the training. She has been contacting a few of us, including the trainer non stop many times a day via phone, sms and emails asking us to solve her escalating family issues. She is provided with professional helplines to call (eg AWARE, SOS, National Family Service Centre) but refuses to do so. This has been going ever since the training completed until all of us are under emotional stress. It came to a stage where I called the helpline on her behalf to contact her. But unfortunately I was told she refuses to talk to these professional trained helpers.

Others in the class were also trying to get folks in counseling services to help her. But how to help someone who refuses to help herself? It has come to a stage where we let her know that what she is doing constitute harassment. We are surprise by her behaviour as she seems so timid in class, hardly speaking up. The phrase 'Never judge a book by its cover' is spot on in this case.

How to forget such a training course? Even if I do not enter the service sector, I will never forget this training due to the 'unique' characters. Never have I met so many at a time. This is really something.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Employment Agency and Middleman

Employment service agencies providing contract staff to companies and middlemen bringing in foreign workers are the main factor contributing to the current woes of lower wages and unfair terms of employment for both local and foreign workers.

There has been many feedback regarding the plight of foreign domestic and non-domestic workers being sucked dry by middlemen who charges exorbitant agent fees. These workers have their salaries deducted for months just to pay off the agency fee. This amounts to exploitation in 'broad daylight'.

Local contract staff are not spared either. Employment agencies pay peanuts to them though companies pay market rate for the staff employment. Thus, for similar job nature, those who are employed directly by companies have a better deal than if they are contract staff under employment agencies.

Besides, the terms of contract in some employment service providers are unfavorable to employees, binding them to unfair conditions. This simply another form of 'legal' exploitation. Some examples of unreasonable terms in employment contract are :

1)An admin staff doing clerical work during the 1st year of service is required to give 2 months notice for resignation, if not a penalty of $2000 is imposed under the contract term. Such long notice period are only required of management staff under current employment practices. Under The Employment Act, employees with 26 weeks to less than 2 years service need only to serve 1 week notice! As they are savvy businessmen, they know the loopholes in the Act and use a binding contract in their favour. Such unreasonable notice period basically put the person at disadvantage in job seeking.

2) Potential employees of the company are made to attend training at their own time without compensation even before the employment contract is offered and signed. But they are made to sign an undertaking that should they pull out from the training, they have to compensate the company.

This current trend of companies using employment agencies and middlemen has resulted in many workers having raw deal while fattening the pockets of some. It is an unhealthy trend which will only lead to a widening of income gap.

As even government sectors are using contract staff from employment agencies, looks like there will not be any improvement to the wage structure of these workers. Besides, Singapore does not even have a law regarding minimum wages, though there have been countless feedback on the needs from the public.

Hair Styling Heaven

I wonder if this a record breaking number - 24 hair styling saloons set up at the few blocks of shops around the Community Centre. This is not even the town centre of the estate.

I started noticing the mushrooming of hair styling saloons some months back. How can they survive with such steep competition ? Some are already slashing prices, offering special packages, while others charging only $3 plus for a hair cut.

Many years back, this 'mushrooming' effect happened to those bubble tea shops. They closed down one by one. There were less than 10 of them at that time but you already see them at ever turn of corner. Then came the life style bread shops taking after BreadTalk concept. Think there were around 6 of them but it was already too many, for again the older ones were force out of competition by the new set up.

Now the area has become a hair styling heaven for those looking for such services. Plenty of choices - shop for hair styling services amongst the 24 saloons. But likely their numbers will dwindled in a few months time. There is simply not enough heads, nor speedy hair length growth in the neighborhood to support such so many hair stylists.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Thio Are At It Again

In my previous post I mentioned about the fanatics behind the AWARE saga. The main instigators of the whole unpleasant event are the Thio gang. They are at it again. It was reported in the papers some weeks back that Prof Thio while addressing lawyers at a seminar said ..."What about Singapore...when there are questions of moral controversy, do you go to the courts or do you go to Parliament?"

Those who held strong views and bigots at heart will see 'moral' controversies in everything. The scary part about them is they will go to the extreme to have it their way - like hijacking AWARE, going to court and taking it up in the Parliament. This was what happened when one of the Thio gang was an NMP. Thank God and/or all gods she is no longer a NMP. It is hard to digest her mouthful of illogical moral sermons at the Parliament seating.

To me those who persecute others base on their own belief system are the 'immoral' ones. It is hypocritical of them to use morality and religion as excuses to justify their own prejudice and religious bigotry. Hide behind the veil, with no guts to own up to their religious superiority complex. Their personal weakness is in needing a perpetual target group to vent their 'anger' arising from their strong biased views.

Good luck to all of us who do not subscribe to their belief system. We may end up as their next victim.

Harmony Through Acceptance

There is this report about faith in America. Seems like Americans 'personalised' their religion. They have a 'dominant' faith but at the same time 'blend' other positive religious beliefs into their lives.

Some may find such practices unacceptable or even 'shocking', but I see it as a path towards true religious harmony. It is only through true understanding of religion other than our own, can we accept things with an open mind and from our heart.

Religious tolerant will not lead to harmony - as the word tolerant says it all. We are 'tolerating' what we do not accept. It is only about self control and being sensitive. By not speaking about it? Or perhaps harbor the view that we are more 'superior' in our belief system?

Being sensitive is a two edge sword. There are those who are sensitive towards others, and those who are sensitive about what others say / think about them. The latter group are often those who react strongly. They may be 'polite' on the surface but harbour strong prejudicial views against others different from themselves. Remember the AWARE saga early this year? A group of high profile religious women plotted to take over an established NGO to perpetuate their believe system. These are the folks who will rise up to the occasion whenever there is a chance to impose their views on others as they are 'hot blooded' bigots at their core.

Harmony could only come about through understanding and acceptance of others different from ourselves in religious practices and way of life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Politicians vs The Environment

Can our world leaders solve global environmental problems ? Not if they are politicians first and global citizen taking 2nd place. Evidence is abound with the flop in the recent Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen.

They are not so worry about the future of our earth, perhaps they think they do not live to see it. Their immediate concern as politicians is to ensure their party remains in power and their political future is not shaken. Thus, their decision is not base what is the right thing to do to cut carbon emission and slow down deforestation, but focus on the political impact it has on them.

Politicians do not have the best interest of the earth at heart. It is all about their country interest (which is link to their political future) - which may not what is good for the environment. The convention is nothing but the usual 'circus' show where they 'bash' each other over preservation of self interest rather than resolving environmental problems.

The dilemma is those who have the power to make decision are not the best people to discuss environmental issues. Non-political affiliated scientific communities and environmental NGO groups are the best parties to be in UN environmental conventions making decision. However, these folks do not have the power and could only provide information to their political leaders who may not share their views.

What is the future for our mother Earth ? I hope I don't live long enough to see its further deterioration.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

S'pore dealing with ageing population of our neighbours ?

I noticed there is an increase in the number of group gathering amongst foreign senior citizens who came here to live with their children. This can be observed in early morning at the parks where they gather to chit chat and exercise.

Thus I wonder has S'pore taken on the issue of ageing population of our neighbouring countries while struggling with our own ? With our liberal immigration policy and citizenship, aged parents could become S'pore PRs and live here with their child who has taken up citizenship.

So we welcome two retired senior citizens with every 'foreign talent' that immigrated here ? How does this work out mathematically to have high influx of foreigners to boost up the ratio of the work force vs retirees ?

Has the government done a break down of statistics as to how many PRs whom most of us presume are active working adults are in fact retired senior citizens ?

Chewing Gum, Cigarette and Casino

What do chewing gum, cigarette and casion have in common? They all happen to start with letter 'C' and generated lots of public interest and debate in apolitical Singaporeans.

How our government deals with them is interesting too, though as usual, they have the last say. A direct ban on chewing gum - period. We became the butt of jokes world wide, but we have the last laugh. Some Western countries are doing the same now after years of struggle with the sticky issue left by gum discarded irresponsibly.

When it comes to cigarette, we have over the years pile up the layers of restriction and taxes, but no direct ban. Now, chewing gum has some positive health effect - exercise the jaw, freshen the breath and clean the teeth of food debris. Cigarette ? Blacken the teeth, fill the lungs with soot, stale breath, pollute the air around us affecting non-smokers health....the list can go on and on. However, there will never be a direct ban. Why ? The handsome revenue generated, besides cigarette companies have the financial muscle and political influence world wide, which chewing gum companies can never hope to achieve.

As for casino, the ones who said "NO WAY" years ago are the ones who say build not one, but two at the same time. Why ? Money makes the world goes round. The equivalent in Chinese saying - Money can make the devil push the cart. Now many countries around the region are jumping into the casino bandwagon too.

Will the 'preventive' measures taken to ensure S'poreans do not gamble away their lives work ? Unlikely. If folks can get 'addicted' to boring games of circling numbers in 4-D & TOTO, casino offers a wide varieties of 'mental' stimulation bound to activate the dormant genes in potential gamblers.

Most probably started off innocently enough with having an outing at the integrate resort(s) which might as well include the casino out of curiosity. Having paid the deposit/entry fee to the casino, why not just have a go at some of the games for fun ? If they win handsomely, why not go back for another round of fun ? If they lost, they want to go back to recoup the losses. After all it is so convenient - right at our doorstep. No need to take a bus, boat or plane to our neighboring country for a spin. So the vicious cycle starts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Slow To Act As Usual

It is reported in the papers today of our government continual struggle...I mean - 'effort' to upgrade the service quality in the sales, retail and hospitality industries.

It is no wonder that momentum to improvement is slow as there is a lack of foresight and failure to response to the changing profile of the work force.

In yesterday program on Channel News Asia, there was an interview with new immigrants taking up work in the service sector. They featured this young lady who took up a job at one of the eateries in Changi International Airport. She does not speak nor understand English. She is not familiar with local terms. She has no idea what is kaya, teh-o, kopi and even common word like butter. She is learning while on the job. Her company does not send her for English classes. She took the initiative pick up English at one of the Churches which conduct free lesson.

Here she is selling things she has no idea what are they. S'poreans who speak only English have problem with their orders. Foreigners who like to find out what is 'kaya' bread will not be any wiser after asking her. And this is happening at the main gate way to S'pore - at the airport. First impression matters. This young lady is a typical example of the current service standard in S'pore.

The good news is they are finally doing something about it next year. Immigrants who wish to work in S'pore will need to undergo some basic language test. Should not this be implemented way earlier ? There are many countries that we can learn from which have more sensible and sustainable immigration policy. Why the reluctant to act unless the problem escalate, even though it is obvious as daylight it is a teething problem ?

In the same papers it is reported that MM Lee is asking Japan to 'take a leaf out of Singapore's book' in dealing with their economic social problems due to its ageing population. Is he sure our current liberal policy on immigration is on the right path ? It took him 40 years before he realized our bilingual policy is a flop. It may be another few decades before he or his successors realize it is another mistake. The current liberal immigration policy has brought with it social problems which are already surfacing.

This 'urgent' U-turn to beef up S'pore population happens because of action taken too late to reverse the 'Stop At Two' birth control policy. So we want Japan to learn from us ? We are very slow to act besides needing decades to admit to any policy which is way off the mark.

Perhaps we should learn from Japan instead. At least their top brass admits to mistake, make public apology and take full responsibility when thing goes wrong. Here we love basking in past glory and all our top brass can still remain comfortably in their position when things go very wrong. Remember Temasek, GIC and Mas Selamat issues ?

Where is the accountability ? When Mas Selamat escaped from a 'highly secure' detention center with lax security practices, seems like the lower ranking officers took the rap for the incident. Work can be delegated, but responsibility is owned by those in policy and decision making position. There is a Chinese saying, if the top is not straight, the bottom will bend.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where Are They ?

It is very obvious in recent years that our 'aunties and uncles' are disappearing from the job market. They used to be in cleaning, retail and service jobs at hawker centers, food courts, shopping malls, MacDonald, 7-Eleven ...... Where are they?

Now we see young women and men mostly from our neighboring countries replacing them. They have been forced out of the competitive job market, as it is highly unlikely that there is a mass shift in mentality that they prefer to stay at home to look after their grand children.

For those that are not financially well off, are they on government dole ? It is not easy to apply for it especially if one is uneducated and do not know about help venue nor able to fill up the tons of forms required. Besides, it is hard to survive on the merge sum. There have been reports these needy folks cut back on their electrical bill by living in the 'darkness', survive on 1 meal per day and most of the time, they still need additional help from NGO welfare groups. In fact, it is often NGO welfare group that reached out and help them with government red tape to apply for assistance. Wonder what are our grass root leaders and MPs doing?

So, on one hand the government wants our citizens to work till a ripe old age, but on the other hand they are forcing them out of the job market with the liberal immigration policy. Our government is not a supporter of social welfare. But if they cut off the means of livelihood of these elderly workers, how do you expect them to make a living ?

Seems like not only are the uneducated senior citizens affected, even those who are from the category of PMET are not spared. PMET is another fanciful term coined by our govt, which stands for Professional, Managers, Engineers and Technicians. PMET are encouraged by the government to take up skill retraining and start a 2nd career. But then these folks looking for a job are facing even tougher competition from the high influx of 'foreign talents' who may already have experience, unlike the PMET who have just undergone skill retraining and lack practical experience in the new field.

I heard that part time job with the National Library board which used to be offered to locals are now being taken up by PRs and foreigners. Is it surprising ? Hardly as the competition has penetrated the whole job market be it skill, semi-skill or unskilled.

Is there a glimpse of light in the current darkness for our jobless citizens? Perhaps from socially responsible SMEs such as Old Chang Kee and Ya Kun. These two eateries are still employing our 'aunties and uncles' in their outlets. We certainly hope to see more S'pore SMEs doing similar out of their own initiative.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Grandma At Game Arcade

It is common to see parents accompanying their kids to game arcade. But to see a grandma in her mid sixty to seventy playing at the machine is unusual. She was actually doing it for her grandson who got bored with the game, but wishes to collect the card dispense by the machine. So there she was patiently 'playing' the game over and over again just to collect the cards, while her grandson was roaming the arcade trying his hands at other more interesting games.

I was there with my nephew. He too is collecting game cards. The game - Animal Kaiser is actually quite boring, but it is the range of over 100 animal cards that draw the children to playing the machine. These kids would exchange cards with each other to beef up their collection.

Back to the grandma and her grandson - think he is around 12 years of age and unlikely to find the game Animal Kaiser challenging. That is why he asked his grandma to play on his behalf. There are 2 observations here - the selfish nature exhibited as they were at the machine at least an hour, denying other kids hovering around a chance at the machine. The boy would 'chop' the place while his grandma went to exchange for more game tokens. Then, youngsters spending so much money on gaming with blessing of adults. I noted the grandma changed another $50 to tokens after her current lot ran out.

Well, the good sign is - S'pore economy is robust. I suppose beside those economic indicators which the government uses, we as layman can judge by observing the crowd at shopping malls, the long queue at restaurants and the how much children spend at game arcade.

After all, the govt economists do not always get their sum right. We were told that the economy recovery is a 'W' shape with a double dip, well looks like there will not be a double dip. Then few years back the govt forecast a budget deficit but we ended up doing so well we were given 'bonus'. The gap was pretty wide between their forecast and financial year result.

Post note : I limit my nephew game money to less than $10 per visit.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Social Enterprise - The S'pore Shawl

Shelley Siu is 65 years old, but she is so elegant and energetic that one would never have guessed. She has 3 grand children, however, unlike other grannies, she is not looking after her grand kids but actively helping marginalised women.

She is the founder of The Singapore Shawl, an social enterprise which reach out to breast cancer survivors, single mothers, home-bound care-givers, the retrenched......

She is proud of her achievement as not only does her creation provides employment, it has successfully position itself as an exclusive brand of unique, elegant and eco-friendly shawls which feature the flora, fauna, history, art and cultures of Singapore.

It is not just another shawl - for it has graced the shoulders of world leaders, royalty and celebrities.

Her presentation was so interesting, spice with humour and anecdote, that she had all her audience 'captivated'. She was telling us how she pushed for bamboo fibric for her shawls in early years but it was not 'in fashion' then. She had resistant from buyers as they prefer pure silk.

Only in recent years, the eco-friendly bamboo has gain market momentum. Bamboo makes great flooring as it is naturally anti-terminate and cooling. Bamboo naturally screen off harmful UV rays, it is light and strong.

The stuff she was telling us, is new to me - about bamboo and even her product - The S'pore Shawl. I have never heard of it before, though some of the folks in the audience worn her shawls to the talk in support for her.

Perhaps because I am not into fashion and things uniquely S'pore. I thought only those food stuff (Hainanese Chicken rice, ..etc) we are arguing with Malaysia to lay claim to their origin is 'uniquely S'pore.' Never knew we make our name in area of shawl creation too. This is something to be proud off.

She shared with us the pain and frustration of being a 'small' enterprise trying to survive in the shark invested market of buyers who 'bully' those without bargaining power. She had to move her little corner away from CK Tang as they were very inflexible about rental during the financial crisis. She now has a little corner to showcase her product in Robinson who is more flexible regarding rental negotiation.

She ended her talk with a show case of her shawls. Wow - they are so beautiful and really unique. Some are collection item as only 1 piece is produced. She demonstrated the many creative ways to wear a shawl. Even men can use them and look good. Many in the audience got excited and started snapping away with their cameras. I am not sure if the ladies in the audience were more excited or the men. Shelley was so gracious and moved nearer to them, posing so that they could get a good picture.

The next time I visit a shop carrying her produce - I will stop by to admire her handicrafts. Shelley is an workaholic, she stays up into the wee hours of the morning like 5 am to create her shawl design. Likely, seldom is a shawl created with so much passion.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Unity Is Strength

My reply to SPCA (self-censorship is exercised as the original letter may be 'sensitive')

Thanks for your email. Please rest assure I will do my part to highlight animal welfare issue. I have been writing regularly to the press, some of the feedback were published.

HDB rules never make sense.

1) Dogs which they allow also shed fur. Rabbits, guinea pigs...etc - all these permitted as pets in HDB shed fur too.

2) 'Nomadic' cats - after so many years of living in urban environment, and some kept as pets for generations (in breeding, etc), whatever nomadic behaviour has been largely tone down.

3) Nuisances - these are the acts of irresponsible feeders & pet owners who never clean up or allow their dogs to shit and urine all over.

4) Noise - what about all those weddings, funerals, grass root events...etc they held at HDB void decks ? What about our neighbours' babies, children ...crying , screaming, running around ? So noise created by human is acceptable but not animals. Is this the intolerance society our govt wish to build ?

Have they ever done a survey to see how many HDB dwellers are already keeping pets ? How many would love to keep pets if the rule is relax ?

Can SPCA takes the lead ? What about working with other animal welfare groups on this project ?

Unity is strength. This is why I suggest a mass petition. They ignore individual letter ! Remember the AWARE saga ? At first MOE official statement was that the AWARE sexual education program is ok. Then those fanatics went around frightening parents and organised a mass petition online. MOE made a 360 degree turn and said they would stop AWARE program.

Government officials do not act until they are press hard. They normally stick to rules like glue (even if they don't enforce it). They do not like to rock the boat until they are force to.

Organise a mass petition year after year until they change the rule, please. Perhaps spread the work load, one year SPCA does it, next year ACER, ...etc.

Do any one know if there is any animal support from our MM Lee family ? Get someone from MM Lee family to speak up - action bound to happen.

As I mentioned before, HDB does not have the manpower nor ability to enforce their own rules. So there is no need to worry about their drastic action.

I still look forward to the day the organisation I believe in - SPCA will stop termination of healthy animals. I only hope it can happen in my life time. I believe I may have another 30 years to go and 30 years is a long time. If all animal welfare organisations combine force to drive HDB hard, I believe changes will happen.

SPCA Reply

Thank you for your email regarding the HDB policy on keeping of cats /dogs. I have discussed with Mary your email. In relation to raising this matter in Parliament, confidentially, I had approached an MP recently (who has raised animal welfare issues previously in Parliament ) about raising the issue of the HDB policy in relation to keeping of cats, but he was of the opinion that it was better not to do it at this point in time, as it may open up a series of discussions and the final outcome may not be better than the current status, (where people do keep cats with authorities acting only if they receive a complaint).

The authorities always remind us in their replies to our letters of appeal on the issue, that they must keep in mind the views/sentiments of the majority of residents in relation keeping of pet dogs/cats.

This is HDB's stand on the keeping of cats:

"Cats are not allowed to be kept in HDB flats as they are nomadic in nature and are difficult to be confined within the flats. Due to the nomadic nature of cats, the nuisances caused by cats such as shedding of fur, defecating/urinating in public areas, noise disturbance etc. would affect the environment and neighbourliness in our housing estates.”

For the record, as recently as this year, SPCA has written in to the Chairman of HDB (with copy to the Minister of National Development) to make known its views in relation to the keeping of pet cats in flats.

As spoken at our AGM last week, the more individuals who can speak up (thereby adding their voices to the animal welfare groups who have already voiced their opinions to the authorities many times over) the better.

I would suggest that you write in your views to the Minister for National Development, as we believe many voices speaking up can make a difference. The SPCA does not plan to give up on its efforts either (i.e. we will always try and lobby for cats and medium-size dogs to be kept in flats), but we defintely need the support from many more individuals such as yourself. We would recommend individual letters, rather than a petition at this point in time.

Thank you for supporting SPCA and for coming to the AGM to let us hear your views on these important issues. We look forward to you helping us in our efforts, by writing in to the authorities to press for a change in the HDB rules.

HDB Policy on Cats & Dogs Ownership

This is my letter to SPCA. (some self-censorship is done as the original letter may be too 'sensitive')

I wish to feedback on the HDB rigid policy with regards to cats and dogs ownership.

SPCA has been doing its best to push for amendment to the illogical law. However, it has been many years and there has not been any progress. Perhaps there need to be a change of tactic and bold steps taken ?

We all know how government officers work - they do not like changes, afraid to take on responsibility and cannot decide on anything without consulting 'higher up'.

It is not that they are 'kind' and close one eye to the cats ownership in HDB. They basically do not have the manpower nor resources to implement and enforce their own rules on cats & dogs ownership. Thus, I do not think it should be a concern that they will implement the ruling strictly if 'push', as SPCA seems to fear.

It could even be a blessing in disguise, for I am sure you will get protest from HDB pets' owners. Remember the AWARE saga ? When people feel injustice is done - they will give their support and speak up to correct a wrong.

Perhaps a top down (support from MPs) approach combine with a bottom up (animal loving citizens) approach would work ?

If we could get MPs to speak up on this issue in parliament and petitions from ground level, we would be able to make headway.

In 1992, our then BG Lee S L said "Let reason prevail....a golf course would have to be built on nature reserve land if there was a need." He was referring to Pierce nature reserve.

NGO groups lead by Nature Society S'pore got enough support through petition to stop the senseless project.

This is a critical factor affecting the adoption rate and termination numbers in SPCA. I am a life member and look forward to the day where SPCA is not associated with mercy killing of healthy animals due to the many constrains the organisation face.

Perhaps if the SPCA set a target time frame just like a business plan - only then will there be well thought out strategies to get the HDB ruling change. We must never accept NO for an answer where the welfare of animals is concern.

After all the law have been amended even in more sensitive issue like organ donation.

Basically, this issue needs to be highlighted frequently enough for changes to materialise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is Mandarin A Mother Tongue ?

I refer to Ms Yeo's letter to MyPaper dated 1 Dec 09.

Ms Yeo is proud of the fact that she is at least able to speak and write in the same language as her ancestors. This is because of her mastery of her 'Mother Tongue' which is Mandarin.

If Ms Yeo goes back just two to three generations of her family tree, she would find that her ancestors likely did not understand the Mandarin that she speaks, as they used Chinese dialect. Neither could they read the simplify Chinese characters Ms Yeo is familiar with. Her ancestors probably read and wrote in the traditional form of Chinese characters.

In other words, she neither speaks nor writes in the same language as her ancestors. Her ancestors mother tongue is not Mandarin.

Mother tongue is the first language that we learn when we are a baby, rather than a language learned at school or as an adult. Thus, unless Mandarin is the language one speaks at home with family members, it is not the mother tongue for all Chinese. It is certainly not the mother tongue of most of our ancestors.

In modern day context, likely English is the mother tongue for many regardless of race. Most of my friends speak to their children in English. English becomes their mother tongue. Mandarin is therefore still a 2nd language they pick up either in school or from the community.

In the early days, the term 2nd language was used to refer to Mandarin, as for most Chinese, our mother tongue is dialect. Then, the government started to use the term 'Mother Tongue' to refer to Mandarin, in their hard drive to promote the use of the language. Though they struggle with the bilingual policy, but they certainly has been pretty successful in brain washing the new generation of S'porean in believing Mandarin is the mother tongue of Chinese.

Ms Yeo also mentioned that Chinese language is a window to our roots and identity. I would wish to add this should include dialects. Chinese culture is rich, vibrant and colourful due to its many dialect groups. Each group has its own unique traditional practices, music, songs, dances, operatic repertoire....including culinary delights.

I am afraid that only culinary delights manage to 'survive'. This is thanks to S'poreans favourite pass time - 'Makan' (eating) and our fascination with with all things edible.

However, without the linkage bridge provide by dialects, other aspects of our rich Chinese cultural heritage are slowly making an permanent exit from our cultural scene and fading away.

This is one of the direct consequences of our years of Speak Mandarin campaign - the lost of our rich cultural diversity.

Every coin has 2 sides. We have been bombarded by the positive aspect of government policy. However, there is another side of the coin which we need to reflect upon and acknowledge the negative impact. The speak Mandarin campaign, has sounded the death knell for dialects and has cause irrevocable damage to part of our Chinese culture intricately link to the use of dialects.

Friday, November 27, 2009

AVA - The Exterminator

One would have thought that S'pore Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) would be the active voice in animal welfare. But the reality is far from it.

Many animal care givers associate AVA with animal extermination. This is especially so after the SARS incident where AVA went around killing all stray cats including those sterilised with their ears clipped for identification. These cats were looked after by care givers with the understanding that AVA would leave them alone. These care givers have been looking after their area strays for years. Imagine the emotional turmoil they went through to find them gone.

AVA reputation has never recovered since then. Till today, animals caregivers are wary of them. Even the general public who wanted strays remove from their environment would call SPCA rather than AVA. This is because they trust that SPCA will do it humanely, while they have doubt about AVA. Why ? SPCA staff selection process goes for those who care about animals. AVA ??

There have been reports that AVA rough handled animals subjecting them to unnecessary stressed. Even if these animals are to be ultimately put down, they should be treated humanely and terminated without undue suffering.

AVA's Corporate Vision is - "To be a premier organisation known for our professional expertise...", and some of their goals are :
* Develop a cohesive, innovative and professional workforce.
* Build a positive image and enhance community outreach.
* Promote animal welfare.

Have the organisation live up to its corporate vision and goals ? I think not. How could AVA be professional if instead of advising our government during the SARS period, they acted blindly on instruction given to them ? Civet cat with unconfirmed speculation to be carrier of SARS virus is a raccoon and NOT even a cat. Our innocent cats died because of word association ! Staff in AVA do not know about animal classification ? They are suppose to be the Veterinary Authority in S'pore !

Positive image ? They are S'pore official Animals Exterminator. Their policy regarding termination of strays and abandoned pets has not changed after all these years. They don't even try to get them adopted nor re-home. Only NGO animal welfare groups are struggling to do so.

Promote animal welfare ? Perhaps more to surface dressing. Just like our ministers going around planting trees and reserving carpark lots for their cars. More carbon footprints left behind while promoting a green movement. Then S'pore recent refusal to be part of the global initiative to reduce carbon emission.

If AVA really wants to promote animal welfare, then they should initiate if not actively support other animal welfare organisations trying to get HDB to change its outdated and illogical rule on cats/dogs ownership in public housing. HDB's restrictive rules have resulted in low adoption rate. This means more than 90% of the abandoned animals and strays are put down.

Due to AVA mass culling of cats during SARS, it is hard to erase the misconception that stray cats cause hygiene problem and civet cats carry SARs virus from the public mind, even after so many years. This is because most will think that if such cruel mass killing exercise was carried out by the government authority 'specialising' in animals welfare, then what they said must be true. Sigh..nothing is further from the truth !

Their community outreach has only produced lasting damaging negative consequence. Civet cat is an endanger species, and AVA has further endangered its status by engraving negative image of it in the public mind.

AVA needs to do something positively 'wonderful' in order to regain the trust of animal caregiver community in Singapore.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why does it take so many years ?

The law on money lenders to deal with the illegal lending activities of 'loan shark' has finally been amended and likely to be pass in parliament. Why has it taken so many years before the government decided to act on this teething problem ? After all our skyline and landscape change at 'eye blinking' speed ?

Likely the government would be still 'pondering' over this issue, if not for the two Integrated Resorts which are opening soon. The problem will be compounded with the addition of the two legalized gambling venues. Thus, they needed to act now.

Perhaps it is also because the general election is just round the corner. It is good to appease the long suffering innocent victims of loan shark activities which are increasing in numbers over the years.

MM Lee leads the pack in needing years to come to a conclusion on the effectiveness of a policy before making a change. It was reported that he took 40 years before he realized that he made a mistake in our Bilingual Policy.

This is the same for the population policy which result in our current dilemma of falling birth rate. Only decades later they admit they made a mistake to effect another change in the law to encourage more babies.

Same goes for the law on organ donation. We need to have a high profile widely publicized lawsuit of illegal organ trading before the law is amended.

Can't the government exercise more initiative to effect changes. Must something 'drastic' happens before they can be propelled into action ?

Beauty in Simplicity

There is beauty in simplicity (most of the time).

Take for example the powerful equation of E = mc2. It takes a genius like Einstein to present the world with an elegant and simple relationship between energy and mass.

I have never thought of equations are like poetry until I came across this book, ‘Five Equations That Changed The World’ by Michael Guillen. In the book he said, “In the language of mathematics, equations are like poetry. They state truths with unique precision, convey volumes of information in rather brief terms, and often are difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend.”

Another example of beauty in simplicity is Chinese ink painting. Just a few stroke of the brush, we have fishes coming ‘alive’ on the drawing paper. The black ground is usually blank unlike Western style of painting which normally goes for details and richness in colour.

However, where Chinese characters are concern, I find beauty lies not in the simplify form but the ‘original’ form, though complicated to write. This is especially so for Chinese calligraphy. For example, the beauty of the words ‘longevity’ and ‘stork’ is lost if written in simplified form. Besides the simplify form cannot capture the three essences of Chinese characters : thought, sound and form. These elements make Chinese words an artistic medium in calligraphy.

In my previous post I mentioned that my 6 years of foundation in Chinese at primary school level was in the 'traditional' form. When the government switched to the simplify form - I was lost. Some may think that it should be easier to learn the simplify form, after all the strokes are minimum. But we have to understand how the brain works. It difficult to unlearn ground work. Besides, after the age of 9, to pick up a language (in my case to relearn it) is very difficult for most people, unless they have a flair for it.

For me the traditional form of Chinese characters have meaning attached to them - pictorially and auditory through the 3 essences of thought, sound and form. Thus, in a way it is easier to learn because of this reason. Simplify characters often lack these and I find it difficult to remember due to the missing 'meaning' element express through form.

40 Years of Language Experimentation

MM Lee has announced that he made a mistake regarding our Bilingual Policy which has resulted in generations of students put off by Chinese language. Besides, there is also lost of bright talent who went overseas to study when they could not make the grade for 2nd Language. Many of them never return to S’pore after completing their studies aboard.

So after 40 years of experimentation with our students, we are ready to start another round of experimentation – different learning strategy. Is there anything new to this ? I though we have been experimenting with different teaching methods all these years, not only with Mandarin but also the English language.

I am one of the 'causalities' of our government bilingual experimentation. I can speak Mandarin quite fluently, but this is after I took up Chinese instrumental, martial arts and Taiji in my adulthood. For this, I have my friends to thank, not the school education system.

I have great difficulty in writing and reading Chinese characters. If I have any regret in life – this is it. I wish I have master the Chinese language during my school days. I think I am able to immerse myself better in Chinese cultural appreciation if I could read up on the subjects of interest written in Chinese. Instead, I have to depend on the translated versions in English.

I was doing well in my Chinese subject at primary school level. I liked the subject. It was during my secondary school days that MOE did some major experimentation. We were introduced to ‘simplify’ Chinese characters and it became a compulsory passing subject in order to make the grade.

Many familiar characters became unrecognizable in their simplified form. Six years of grounding foundation uprooted ! The relearning process was difficult as Chinese characters are not easy to master. A single dot or a dash can change the meaning of the word.

Besides during secondary school days, the number of subjects taken is often double the numbers taken in at primary level. Many of these are new subjects. Then the stress of knowing that all the studying will come to nothing if one failed in the 2nd language.

To add to my woes, our Chinese lessons consisted of hours of monotonous reading and explanation by the teacher. It used to be my ‘napping’ time as the soothing voice the teacher hypnotized me into perpetual slumber during 2nd language period. Chinese had became my least favorite subject.

Besides, some of us do not have the flair for languages. MM Lee just realized this, after being enlightened by his neurologist daughter. I wish his enlightenment has come earlier. After all, I thought Dr Lee W L has been a neurologist for decades ? Why did she not enlighten her father earlier ? They live in the same household, don't they ?

I used to have Hokkien speaking neighbours and classmates, but I never pick up the dialect. During my adulthood, I have Malay colleagues and friends. I try to learn the language but have not been successful.

I know my limitation in learning a 2nd language. Though I passed my final Chinese examination, but it is regrettable that after studying the language for 10 years, I end up only able to speak it. And it is only because of my immersion in Chinese culture related activities in my adulthood

I often wonder if I could have a better grasp of the language if there had been no major changes in the education policy and more creative teaching method employed during my school years.

I have learnt to live with my limitation. We need not be the master of everything. We just need to be the master of our fate.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Singapore Strays

Why are our Singapore strays always being blamed for everything? During SARS period, stray cats were rounded off to be killed, though they were free from the virus. In Singapore, we human were the carriers and transmitters of the disease.

Stray cats are also often blamed for cleanliness issue which is caused by irresponsible feeders and pet owners.

Now the strays are in the spot light again, though indirectly. The caption in the Straits Times regarding the increase in the number of folks being bitten by dogs is accompanied by a photograph of a stray dog in the foreground and kids in the background. Sigh...I am sure its life is coming to an end soon, as AVA will be targeting it and other strays for termination.

Reading the article, there is no mention of strays biting human. If pet dogs are the culprits, who is responsible ? The owners of these pets.

How did stray dogs become strays in the first place ? Many were abandoned by their owners who either have no time for them or cannot handle them any more.

Are we becoming a country of 'intolerance'?

Even our homeless and dissolute instead of seeking help have to hide from the authority to avoid being rounded off. Oh yes, they exist but they have to remain 'invisible' if they wish to have their freedom. If this is how we treat our fellow human beings, what hope is there for the stray animals in Singapore ? They are just 'sore eyes' to the authority.

It has not been many years back when we folks live harmoniously with animals around us. Does development mean having a 'sterile' place devoid of humanity ?

POST NOTE : I attend SPCA meeting on 24/11/09 and confirm that the increase in biting incidents is from pet dogs. The strays are innocent.....Sigh !

Right To Dignity - Part 2

In my other post, I was wondering if the law on Euthanasia will materialize in my life time.

I suppose it depends on the economic situation in S'pore. As citizens, most of us will base our decision on moral and religious considerations. But for the government, it is more of a political game base on the country's economical well being which can affect the party's votes during election.

It is just like our government's decision to have an official public gambling den in S'pore. Our government do things the grand way, we build not one, but two casinos at a the same time. We call them by some fancy name like Integrate Resort. This is to disassociate it with the word gambling and instead conjure up an image of fun for families - highlight the theme parks and play down on the gambling.

Should one day our government find our terminally ill aging population taxing our country's financial resources, there is a likelihood the law on Euthanasia will be passed.

Energizing Soup

Food for thought - the 4 ingredients to brew an energizing soup :

1) Contentment
2) Gratefulness
3) Tolerant
4) Self Help (or self-awareness / understanding)

The last item I am not sure since this is translated from Cantonese.

Drinking it everyday would improve our mental and physical well being. To be shared with others for harmonious living all around us.

Country of Scarcity .....S'pore

This is a continuation from my previous post on my visit to PUB's plant in Bedok.

We were told that in land scarce S'pore, we have to 'sacrifice' a large portion of our land to building water catchment so as to provide water for our ever growing population.

If this is so, why are we having so many golf courses in this tiny speck of an island ? I still recall in 1992, our then BG Lee S L said "Let reason prevail....a golf course would have to be built on nature reserve land if there was a need." He was referring to Pierce nature reserve. NGO environmental groups gathered enough support to defer this project.

Let reason prevail indeed - since when is there a demand for golf course which cater to a minute population of Singaporean ?

However, we were not so lucky when it comes to Kranji nature reserve few years later. Kranji nature reserve is turned into a golf course inspite of its rich biodiversity.....sigh !

Then there is the question of population growth. This is insane, sacrificing quality of life for quantity in numbers which tax our water resources.

It could well turn out to be another costly political mistake - the Stop At Two resulted in population decline, now the relax immigration policy could well result in population explosion. Six million over people packed into a country of scarcity - land scarce, water scarce, food resources scarce.....

S'pore may be the Mother of All Hubs, but we are also a Country of Scarcity. We may be rich in human resource, but human resource need many other resources for sustainability. What happens if there is a world wide drought and famine due to global warming ? Even we have the financial muscle, who will be selling water and food to us if they do not have enough for their own population ?

Mother Of All Hubs - Part 2

Just learn that S'pore has added two more hubs to its 'portfolio' :

1) Accountancy Hub (as reported in the papers this week)

2) Water Hub (from my visit to PUB's NEWater plant organised by SIM)

Accountancy Hub - should not this be under Financial Hub ? Perhaps 'parking' it under accountancy is just to add to the number of hubs under our portfolio ?

As for Water Hub, my first though is how could it be, since our water resource is not even self sustaining for our population. The honor of this hub status is based on our water reclamation technology, which we are now the consultant for other countries.

When we think of NEWater, we think of Hyflux founder and CEO, Ms Olivia Lum. Her life story is a motivation one. It is about hard work, self motivation and entrepreneurial spirit.

During the PUB visit, it was highlighted to us that Marina Barage is our 15th reservoir and there are 2 more in the pipeline making it a total of 17 freshwater catchment area in S'pore.

Marina Barage is another milestone for S'pore as we are one of the very few countries and certainly the 1st in Asia to build a reservoir in the city. It is a challenge as water drainage from the city is high in pollutant content.

S'pore being the Mother of so many Hubs, perhaps Water Hub should be our most outstanding achievement. A country lacking in natural water resources even to sustain its population, and now we are helping other countries with their water management.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Animal Abuse - Part 2

I read with horror in yesterday papers that a collar was threaded through the cat's body. A cut of about 4 cm was made on the cat's right shoulder to insert the beaded collar.

Just imagine someone doing it on us - how painful it is. SPCA believed that likely there are more than one person involved in the cruel act. How people can derive fun from inflicting pain on helpless animal is beyond me.

Luckily there is a happy ending to this episode. After 2 surgeries, it is recovering well and put up for adoption by SPCA.

According to SPCA - this is one of those friendly and trusting nature cat which makes it vulnerable to people with cruel intent.

Yes, from my personal observation of strays, there are mainly two kinds - approachable and unapproachable. Those approachable ones will run towards you and enjoy being stroked, purring away happily. The unapproachable ones which likely have had bad experience with human before, are very wary, running away to avoid contact.

Darwin's theory of survive of the fittest. In modern context - survival of the cautious.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Racial to Nationality Harmony

Perhaps it is time our national pledge be amended to read :

We, the global citizens of Singapore
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of nationality, race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society,
based on justice and equality,
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.

It takes us years to achieve racial harmony. But now it looks like we have to start the cycle all over again, only this time to strive for nationality harmony.

With the high influx of immigrants and foreign workers from various countries, it is not so much of race, but nationality that is becoming the 'dividing line'. At ground level, there is discontentment from both locals and PRs/new citizens due to perceived 'privilege' the other is getting. One thing leads to another - stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination... due to differences in nationality.

A typical example is Chinese nationality (especially pretty young female) is often associated with involvement in vice trade by local Chinese. So now we have people of the same race, language and often even same religion- stereotyping each other.

Stereotyping is common and exist even amongst our kids at primary school level. It often leads to prejudice against students from China.

It is frightening that children at such a young age start to discriminate against others. They are our future generation of Singaporeans. Will we still be a united people that we pledged to be in the coming years ?

This issue is compounded by the fact that Singaporeans will form only about 25% to 30% of the population in 30 years time! With such high percentage of the population who migrated here from various countries, even without discrimination rearing its ugly head, where will the emotional allegiance of these new citizens be? Their motherland or adopted country ?

Besides, there are many PRs not taking up citizenship. They just want to work in S'pore but spend their retirement years in they country of birth. Likely in event of unrest, these folks will fleet to their homeland.

Will we still stand as one united nation in times of trouble ? In time of peace, will there be national harmony amongst us ?

On chatting and walking

I always thought how nice to take a walk with your dog. Perhaps because I don't have one, that is why I 'envy' those who walk with their dog. Well, the field is always greener on the other side, isn't it ?

Apparently some dog owners may not have time or find it a chore to walk their dogs, because to see maid walking the dog is pretty common nowadays.

Often, the dog is not 'walk' but stand around while the maid chat away on her mobile phone. Or we can see two maids chatting merrily together while their dogs hang around looking 'bored'. Or could it be a look of 'disappointment' ? Oh, yes - animals can feel bored, though perhaps it is my imagination that they look disappointed.

I wonder could not the maids walk the dog and chat at the same time. I am sure they can multi task. Why must they stand around or be seated at a bench to do the talking ?

Perhaps the maids are over work ? Thus they are saving their energy as they still have tons of household chores to do after walking the dogs.

I suppose I will never know why. All I know is - those poor doggies are deprived of their daily walk.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Of Crying Game and Weeping Camel

I bought an 'old' movie DVD recently - The Crying Game. I remember the title because it was one of those 'unconventional' film years back in S'pore, but I cannot recall the story line at all. There is this narration in the movie about the frog and the scorpion. I heard this before. I am not sure if this narration originates from this movie, or the movie uses it to illustrate a point - innate human nature is hard to change.

The word 'crying' makes me think of weeping camel. Last year, there was this film cum documentary based on Mongolia and camels - titled Weeping Camel. It was fascinating. What happened was this Mongolian family living in the desert was attending to their camel which was giving birth for the first time. The whole family, from grandparents to children were out in full force. The camel was having a difficult birth and had labored for more than a day. Finally, they had to help it by pulling the calf out as the female camel was not able to pushed anymore.

Then came the problem - the female camel refused to nurse the calf. It kicked her calf everytime it came near her or moved off. So they had to squeeze milk from the camel to nurse the calf. After a few days, they decided they had to resolve the problem once and for all. There is this belief that music and song can help to bond the mother to its calf. But there was no musician around. (theirs is the only family for miles)

They send 2 of their kids to a distant town to get a musician. Woh - one of the kids was only around 9 years old - they are so independent. Makes me think that our local kids are over protected.

The kids got a musician playing a 2 strings fiddle to ride back with them. The 2 strings fiddle has a body that looks like a cello but it reminds me of the Chinese Er-hu.

The whole family gathered around the camel and its calf again. The mother of the family sang a song to the accompaniment of music from the fiddle. The camel cried listening to the song. I too was moved,- not sure by the camel crying or the tune of the song.

After this, when they pushed to calf to the camel, it let it suckled willing. Talk about music being able to move the world. No doubt about it as it can move even animals!

This film has a very simple story line but I was touched by the unity of the family and the care their shown to their livestock.

In our current commercialized farming - it is all about profit maximization - animal welfare is the last thing on the mind of these businessman farmers.

My Sister's Keeper...continue

I completed reading the book - the movie version is very different from the book. Even the ending is different. I am caught by surprise as I expected the movie to stick to the most 'critical' aspect of the book. In the movie, Kate who suffered from cancer died. In the book, Anna the healthy child died instead.

The last chapter got to me - it tug at my heart string. It just seems so unfair to have a healthy child who suffered both physical and emotional pain due to her sister to died so young. But I think the author did a great job, for otherwise the book would not live up to its title - My Sister's Keeper. Anna gave Kate a new lease of life with her death...her kidney was transplanted to Kate. She continues to be her sister's keeper even in death.

This book makes one ponder over questions which are uncomfortable to most :

1) We should learn to let go of our love one when the time come. Kate's mother refuses to let her daughter died - even if it means grasping at the last straw and having a genetically conceived child to be Kate's life long donor.

2) We should have the right to die (not legal though in S'pore). Kate wanted to die as her whole life is revolved around hospital and ill health. She has no childhood to speak off. She begged her sister Anna to take up a law suit against their parent for right to her own body so that Anna need not donate a kidney to her. Without a kidney transplant, Kate will die and this is what she wanted. She knew her death would release her family from pain too as they have no life of their own, because all their activities revolved around her.

3) Organ donation - this topic has been given a new 'angle' in recent years in S'pore. The law now allows donors from none family members and compensation to donors. I think the law on organ donation would not have been amended if not for Dr Lee Wei Ling (MM Lee's daughter) thinking out of the 'moral and religious' box and advocated for it due to practical needs in saving lives. We need more courageous folks like Dr Lee who is high profile and yet dare to go against the norm.

The book offers a new perspective - should not children have a right to their own body ? Parents make all the decision for their underage child - even life impacting decision such as organ donation. Would the child as an adult understand or blame the parents for it ?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

VJ - Myanmar Through The Lens

Even though Myanmar is the official name of the country, but most Burmese still hold dear to the formal name of Burma.

Burma VJ - a touching documentary filmed by video journalists (VJ) who are ordinary citizens risking their lives to capture the events in their country. This is one of the few powerful documentaries screened over 2 evenings at Orchard Cineleisure to highlight the plight of the people in Burma.

These courageous VJs riskd torture and imprisonment to document the political turmoil in Sept 2007. They were armed with little more than small handy cams to capture dissent dramatic days when Buddhist monks together with ordinary citizens demonstrated. It is mind boggling to see the whole street and every building along the road filled with people cheering the monks marching by. Even the roofs of the buildings were lined with people. It is like after years of suppression, the lid has suddenly blown to let off steam.

Then tragic struck, the unarmed demonstrators were gunned down by the military. Many were rounded up and thrown into jails. Temples were ransacked and left eerily empty as all the monks were rounded up or killed. Blooded bodies of monks were seen floating down the river.

Some of the VJs died, others jailed, and a lucky few escaped - but only to become political exiles.

There is no happy ending to this day for the 'Burma story'. Power corrupts. Nothing is more frightening then absolute power in the hands of a few. A country rich in natural resources and yet has its citizens living in poverty due the greed of the powerful few. Sigh.....what is life like without freedom and to live in perpetual fear.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Mahatma Gandhi : My nationalism, as my religion, is not exclusive but inclusive, and must be so consistently with the welfare of all life.

If only we could live by his belief, perhaps the ugly face of discrimination has less chance to surface. Discrimination is DISCRIMINATION in whatever form it takes, even if it is legalized (eg Section 377A).

Nationality, religion and race are three of the most forceful triggers of discrimination, besides other factors such as social status, educational level, sexual orientation....

In local context, differences in nationality seems to bring on nasty jokes and remarks even at primary school level. Our local Chinese kids are passing unpleasant remarks on China nationality students. Those being discriminated against experience emotional stress.

Where did they learn to discriminate at such a young age ? Perhaps they overheard their parents discussion ? Do parents realise that their kids are picking up acts of cruelty unconsciously ?

The high influx of foreigners has caused some discontent amongst locals, besides the unfortunate bad publicity caused by some folks from China. But these should not be excuses to discriminate against others.

On global context, differences in religion and race are bringing out the ugly side human being. The recent high incidents of terrorism being undertaken mainly by people of the Muslim faith, have resulted in ordinary citizens suffering because of the acts of some fanatics who happen to share the same faith and/or the same race as them.

“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason.”... Barack Obama

Perhaps Obama may be another Gandhi ? But then they are different, as Gandhi believed in passive resistance, while Obama will use military force, hopeful with restrain. Perhaps different times call for different measures to resolve conflicts.

'Hate the sin but not the sinner', said Mahatma Gandhi. If only we can be objective enough to focus on the issue, perhaps there will be more harmony instead of friction when we relate to others.

Right To Dignity

Recently our PM Lee mentioned that S'porean should get use to the idea of hospice care due to our aging population.

We got over the 'sensitivity' of organ donation issue in recent years, I wonder when we will get over the issue of Euthanasia.

What we have is Advance Medical Directive. It has been around for ages and few years back, the government tried to revive it with little success. Not many know of its existence nor what is all about. Why - because it is neither here nor there - just beating around the bushes. It allows us to reject medical intervention but does not allow us to die with dignity.

Euthanasia allow us the right to dignity by choosing when we want to end our lives, when it becomes meaningless and causing and emotional stress to our love ones as well. It is painful to see our love ones wasting away day by day.

At the other end, it is also about us letting our love ones who is suffering to have a choice and learning to let go when the time comes.

When we are in uncharted territory and uncomfortable with certain 'sensitive' issue, we like to hide behind 'Morality and Religion' to justify our stand.

The common argument is we should not intervene with nature. Is not all the current medical treatment intervention ? It is for saving life - as the argument goes. Yes, I agree on saving life, but not to prolong suffering when it is just a matter of time before the person dies in the case of terminal illness.

We think it is humane to practice mercy killing on suffering pets and animals, however it is a different matter when it comes to human being. Is it that different ? Are we practicing double standard of morality ? Could it be due to our own selfish need and fear of religious guilt that we refuse to let go of our love ones ?

I am speaking of my personal experience. My father died when I was six. My memory of him is one of hospital and lying on the sofa at home resting. He was in pain, I knew that even as a child. Then there were my 2 uncles - all suffering from terminal illness. Those of us who have been with people suffering from terminal illness would know how bad the last stage can be. They are not able to attend to their basic personal needs (bowel movement, feeding, bathing....). Besides physical and emotional pain, they loss their sense of dignity and being engulf by helplessness. I think to know that your love ones are suffering because of our deterioration is even more painful.

It is the quality of life that matters. Perhaps one of the reasons most want to live a long life is because of fear of the unknown and difficulty of letting go of the familiar.

I know I would choose euthanasia to end my life in dignity and to spare my love ones from pain if the law permits it. Will it happen in my life time ?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

I came across this book by Jodi Picoult many times while browsing in bookshops. I did not get it until recently. Not sure why - perhaps the line 'There is a time for everything' explains it.

Normally if the book I have read is later made into a movie, I will go and watch it out of curiosity. More often than not, I will be disappointed with the movie version. This time - the movie is 'ahead' of me - I am only half way through the book.

I decided to catch the movie first. I think the movie impact is better than the book. I may be giving my judgment too early, since I have not complete reading it yet.

This is base on my emotional response. I know the story line is touching, but I have not shed a single tear so far reading the book. Watching the movie, I was sobbing away. The man sitting on my right was crying too. So was my friend sitting on my left. She told me before the movie started that it is hard for sad movie to draw tears from her. Surprise, surprise. Perhaps she having 2 daughters of her own make her identify more easily with the family portray in the show.

My Sister's Keeper has an interesting story line. Anna, a 13 year old girl is suing her mother to the right of her own body. She does not want to be an organ donor to her elder sister any more. Anna has been conceived specially to be a donor to her sister, Kate, who is suffering from a rare form of leukaemia. She has been a donor to Kate since birth.

The movie version is definitely different from the book, as one of the main supporting character is missing. I am not sure the extend of re-scripting done until I complete reading the book. At least I am sure of one thing - I am not disappointed this time.

I suppose for good books, I should watch the movie first before reading them in future. But then, I cannot predict if it will be make into a movie. So I am back to square one.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wishful Thinking

Sometimes I think getting people to do their part in environmental conservation is just wishful thinking. Take for example - car ownership. For most folks, what matters is convenience of getting around in your own vehicle and perhaps the status symbol associated with it too, in the case of local context.

The college I am attached to, one of the teacher is just staying right across the college, around 5 mins walk. She drives to the school everyday. Another teacher used to cycle to work, but got a car too. She too stays just 2 bus stops away from the school, with many bus services plying the route. These 2 ladies are single without family. Their nature of work do not require much traveling. Besides, for school activities, there are coaches to ferry the students. But the teachers prefer to drive their own vehicle. In cases where there a few teachers accompanying the students, they normally prefer to go in their own car. Convenience takes priority, forget about car pooling and being environmental friendly.

One would have taught that environmental awareness would be activity promoted in schools. Perhaps it is to a certain extend, but the action by the occupants review otherwise. More just to lips service.

If our government actions are politically driven where environmental issues are concern, we cannot expect much from those sectors under its wings.

Business organisations are profit driven. In cases where being environmentally friendly help to cut cost, we will see more positive response. Where it affects the bottom line, then they may not be too receptive, especially for those small and medium enterprises.

Perhaps large multi-national corportations (MNC) are more likely to be the driving force in environmental issues. Most of them subscribe to international standards related to environmental, safety and health. MNCs do their part on compliance to these standards. Besides, there is a global 'trend' on corporate social responsibility. MNCs give heavy weight to their corporate image and branding. Thus, MNCs will jump into bandwagon which helps to uplift their corporate image. MNC also has the financial muscle behind them to support environmental causes.

Another silver lining comes from non-governmental organisations (NGO). These folks come together to act with passion for their common cause. Often they are the 'push' factor behind government actions.

It is time we push for Government Global Responsibility and Individual Social Responsibility.

Is The Government Always Right ?

We are familiar with the phrase 'Customer is always right'. Perhaps in our local context, our politicians are trying to have us believe that 'The government is always right'. Are they ? We know that customer is never always right, it is just a 'make belief' that is being drummed into sales folks.

My point is directed at the recent decision of S'pore not being part of the global signatory to reduce carbon emission. We are told that due to the 'small size' of our industries, our emission is negligible. I find it difficult to believe. Some years back, we were one of the signatories to reduce ozone emissions. Our industrial activities, population growth and even vehicles have increase substantially since then. Apparently we could make a difference years back in the ozone reduction, but now our impact has become negligible because of the size of our nation.

USA used to 'shy' away from anything to do with carbon emission reduction issues because of the impact it will have on their industries and economy. Large country with great impact is not signing, small country claims it has negligible impact....sigh !

One of my students from China said that if everyone in the whole population in China is to spit on Singapore, their saliva would 'drown' us. She was upset by her classmates passing 'nasty' remarks on her - discrimination, another topic to ponder over.

Never underestimate the tidal wave of change that could be generated by the cumulative effect of individual's contribution. Every little individual effort does matter.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good grief - 13 million want to live in Singapore !

It was reported in the papers today that Singapore has become the 'green' pasture for immigrants. According to the migration survey, 13 million people would like to live here. Good grief, we are already cram as sardines even now. Pack in more and we will definitely suffocate.

I suppose I should be proud of the achievement of this tiny red dot of a country. But the recent high influx of foreigners, be they talented or otherwise has definitely affected the quality of life here. Even thinking of a population target of 6 million our government has set, already send shivers down my spine.

This is a great contrast compare to the mid 1990s. I was with Chartered Semiconductor then (Fab 1 - their first plant in Science Park). The company was like a mini United Nation as we had staff from various countries - China, Philippines, Scotland, US, UK, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Taiwan...... Most had one common 'factor' - they had no intention of residing in S'pore in the long run nor taking up citizenship.

Many came to here to work and then returned to their homeland after their contract ended (average 2 to 3 years). This is with exception for those from China and HK. Those from China, mainly from Shanghai and Beijing were treating S'pore as a stepping stone to go to US. While those from HK had their eyes set on Canada.

Planting their roots in S'pore was never in their mind. How time has change.


This week, an ex-VP of the college came over to give a presentation on a home water filtration unit. She looks happy and cheerful. Not sure if it is job satisfaction or part of her nature. Likely a combination of both factors. Well, being your own boss is definitely more satisfying than working for others, especially if it is under the government sector. Unless one is 'immune' to red tape and rigidity.

I enjoyed her presentation - educational. Lots with demonstration - seeing is believing. She is trying to get folks to 'buy' her product instead of trying to 'sell' it to them. She reminds me of what I tried to achieve back in safety profession. It is always an uphill task trying to 'sell' something - be it in material form or a concept to people. However, where people have intention to 'buy'- then selling becomes a breeze. Where the workforce has high safety awareness they willingly 'buy' into safety practices.

This lady is able to make people want to buy her product. Her focus is on the benefits of drinking good quality water free of chlorine and mirco organisms. Chlorine kills micro organisms but when heated turns into carcinogenic compound. We washed our vegetables,...etc to clean them. She demonstrated with cabbage leaves and rice grains how they soaked up chlorine compound. Thus, by cleaning our food, we end up consuming chlorine.

Not sure which is worst. But likely I rather have tummy upset than develop cancer. Luckily in recent months I took to drinking unboiled water. This is mainly due to my faith S'pore high water quality standard and my believe in conservation of energy (every effort counts).

She also show us that some brands of mineral water is in fact distill water as there is no mineral content in them.

A water filtration unit would remove chlorine and micro organisms from our tap water, without affecting the mineral content. The side benefit is the water taste better (without chlorine and other contaminant).

The unit is compact and aesthetically design. Easy to set up and consume little electrical power. Think this is another key selling point.

Even though she is selling a product, she is helping people to improve their health through education at the same time. If I were ever to be in a sales line (which is not my cup of tea), I would like to sell a 'meaningful' product like this. It gives a sense of satisfaction.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What is happening ?

Few months back MM Lee said that our national pledge is not a pledge but an 'aspiration'. Then in July 09, he said Singapore is not a nation yet, but 'in transition of being one.'

Now we have our Law Minister Mr Shanmugam saying that we are not a country but a 'city.'

On 30 Oct 09 in The Straits Time, it was reported that he said :
‘This is where most people make a mistake…I have tried to explain that we are different. We are a city. We are not a country,’ he told 200 lawyers, many from America, at the New York State Bar Association International Section’s meeting here.

So is this a case of those in authority twisting logic to suit the situation ?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Entrepreneurial Spirit

During the SIM Annual Convention, the most interesting talk for the day was the one given by this retired gentleman, Mr Yasuo Yokoi. He is a Japanese who has worked in S’pore for the past 10 years. Now he has set up his own media business. Doing a mental calculation of his potential return from his new venture after his presentation, I think it is likely that it is much more lucrative than what he had before his retirement. It could potentially reach a figure of $400,000 per month !

I learn a new term from this talk – ‘captive audience’. This term is his main marketing strategy. He observed that patients waiting at clinics and hospitals in S’pore could spend up to 1 to 3 hours before seeing a doctor. Meanwhile they have nothing to occupy them but to stare at the TV screen at the waiting room. Normally what is shown on the screen is News. But most of the time the volume is turned down or off. He had us laughing when he said he could never understand why, since who could understand what is being reported when one cannot hear the newscasters.

He sees potential in this – using this platform to educate the patients on health issues and slot in advertising time in between. The advertisements are also health related products which are educational too. He showed us samples of the educational clips, they are interesting and informative. Every detail is well thought out, from the duration of the clips, content and layout of display.

Each clip last no more than 3 minutes, with the health topic (eg Cataract) display at the top of the screen throughout the duration of the clip, so that patient who just enter the waiting room will know what topic is about. The main points are summarized and display next to the pictures and the dialogue is display at the bottom of the screen. This is in case the volume is turn off.

Next he informed us of his marketing strategy – impressive. From his statistic, there are 9 million visits to Polyclinic alone per year ! So what we have here is a huge group of ‘captive audience’ - they have no where to go and has nothing to do during the waiting period. All we need is their attention by screening topics of interest to them.

No wonder he has already captured the attention of advertisers, major hospitals, polyclinics and GP clinics. He is doing the health clips for free for the medical professions on condition that they screen his programs. His income is mainly from the advertisers. He pointed out that that exposure time from his media advertising is more than from newspapers, magazines..etc. Besides, it is more cost effective. Compare to TV advertising – the rate is very competitive. Besides, what is lacking in all these media is the ‘captive audience’ factor.

Well, this is a good example of entrepreneurial spirit which benefits society. He will be the pioneer in being the first to show healthcare TV program in locally. I look forward to seeing his ‘masterpieces’ in the future. Ok, not that I like to go for medical consultation, but at least the waiting time will be more meaningfully spend, as we will be feed with health educational information.

Changi Airport Shooting Down Endangered Birds

I was upset to read that Changi Airport is engaging S'pore Gun Club members regularly to shoot down birds. One of the bird species being shot down according to members of Gun club is the White Belly Sea Eagle. It is an endangered and protected species and there are only 50 of them in S'pore !

There are many ways to keep birds away from Airport area. We could fall back on research done in other countries and effective technology available. This is highlighted by an animal NGO in response to the report.

AVA the governing authority has failed in their duty by issuing the shooting permit. Changi Airport management has fallen short of discharging their corporate social responsibility towards nature conservation.

This is in contrast to the pleasant experience I had while working in SingTel years ago. A pair of White Belly Sea Eagles had nested on top of a telecommunication tower at Sentosa. The staff notified the Safety Dept, instead of calling the pest control. I checked with the Bird Park and upon learning it is a endanger species, we got the blessing of SingTel management to leave the eagles alone to hatch their eggs. It involved going out of the way not to disturb the birds for months until the chicks learn to fly. Management could have taken the easy way out and shot down the birds and destroyed their nest.

Doing the right thing may not be easy, but this is what corporate social responsibility is all about. Changi Airport management team's callous attitude towards endangered wildlife is a great let down !

Gone With The Wind

On Sunday, Channel OKTO was showing Gone With The Wind. They were also running some contest for viewers to see who could come up with the most creative suggestion on how to survive through such a 'marathon' movie. A creative way by the TV station to get folks to tune in.

Well, this is a movie masterpiece in the past. Due to its strong story line and historical background, likely it will keep its place in movie history in the future too.

The scene that leaves the greatest impression in my mind is not the 'kissing' scene where they loved to use to advertise the movie, but the scene where the female lead asked God to witness her promise to herself that she would never go hungry again. Before this scene she was digging up something from the ground to eat as she was so hungry. After which she threw up.

From the close up view of her determine facial expression when she spoke those lines, the camera zoom out and showed her against a backdrop of the setting sun. In the foreground was barren land and a withered tree without a single leaf. Then we have the familiar theme music playing in the background. Perfect composition to heighten the emotional impact of the scene !

I admire the survival instinct of the female character and her will power. I suppose audience can relate to her because she is very human with so many imperfections.

Being an animal lover, there is a scene that upset me. She gave little thought to the horse that carried her and others out of danger war zone. The horse was foaming at the mouth and she kept hitting it with a stick to get it to move faster. When finally the horse collapsed and died, all she cared about was how far were they from home. She did not even gave the poor creature a second look but ran towards the house.

Nowadays movies are different. Characters in the movie would risk arm /leg and even their life to ensure their pet escape with them.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

On Addiction, Medical Check Ups &........

The power of addiction is fearsome. It can over right logic and common sense. Let us just take the example of smoking. One of my uncle smoke his way to near death before he gave it up (he had since joined his creator some years back).

His health had been deteriorating over the years due to his habit. His doctor had warned him about it but addiction overcomes logic. It took a near death incident where he was gasping for breath before he gave up smoking.

Apparently to a smoker, the horror pictures of rotting lungs, tongue...etc have no impact. Scientific evidence relating smoking to health carries no weight either.

I have this friend who goes for 'tons' of medical examination every year - voluntary. The reason is - she wants to carry on smoking. Instead of taking preventive measure by having a healthy lifestyle, she chooses to have early detection instead.

Sometimes I wonder if some folks confuse prevention with detection. With medical advancement, there are so many medical tests available and being 'marketed' as part of healthy lifestyle. Now going for medical checkups is just like taking health supplement.

Do we really need all those health supplement if we are healthy and our diet is balance ? Do we need all those medical examinations (more tests done than necessary) if we are healthy ? Perhaps this is part of the trend and lifestyle of a developed nation.