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.