Infinite Space



When I’m flying, one of my favourite things to do is to read the in-flight shopping perfume ads. Perfume is a tough sell in print–I always imagine it’s some poor, drunk copywriter sitting in a dark, smoky, unkempt room who can’t get work doing anything else (his small poetry compilation did poorly) who has to write them. His phone will ring he’ll pick it up, some bored intern from the perfume conglomerate will read out a list of ingredients and he’ll hack out some hyperbolic description on a rusty old typewriter while he chugs a bottle of warm whiskey with a cigarette butt inside.

Something like:

Top notes of gentle jasmine mingle playfully with a smoky woody base of burnt oak and umber. A rush of citrus and watermelon follow through, reminding you of summer days of leisure and fun with your friends and family. Truly, a scent for the season that will bring out the active, dynamic side of the modern woman.

I didn’t really expect to come across hyperbole on something as banal as the HDB description for a 3-room flat, though:

Infinite Space

Really, HDB? “infinite space”?

Maybe if by “clever touches”, you mean “become a Time Lord” and renovate your little HDB flat such that it’s internal spacetime exists on a separate dimensionality from the rest of the universe. I suspect even Phua Chu Kang, best in Singapore and even JB might find that a difficult job.

Clever touches don’t need to extend to your wardrobe

Syonan Jinja

So I’ve been doing some research trying to find some interesting trekking sites in Singapore. One of the less mainstream walks seems to involve finding the derelict Shinto Shrine which was built in 1942 following Singapore’s fall to the Japanese.

Now, quite a few people have visited and blogged about it, but I just thought this particular resource was a little funny: it’s from a blog for a luxury condo developer, selling the “Thomson Three” at Bright Hill:

Infested by various snakes, scorpions, spiders and mosquitoes, superstitious trekkers who lose their way in search of the Syonan Jinja would blame it on the haunting of the Japanese spirits who protect the Jinja its treasures from intruders.

Because that’s what every potential luxury condo investor is looking for–proximity to ancient ghosts guarding war loot.

Scores of foreign workers skip Little India

From ChannelNewsAsia – Scores of foreign workers skip Little India

Some of his peers chose to watch cricket while others took the time to get fit at the gym, or engaged in leisurely pursuits at their dormitories.

That’s right–despite working gruelling hours at construction sites doing manual labour, our migrant workers are still spending their spare time GOING TO THE GYM. It’s not enough, lifting heavy things during their day jobs.

*I* skipped gym last weekend because it was raining and so the air conditioning in the gym would be uncomfortably cold.

I am ashamed.


Singapore Riots

The Little India riots have left Singapore’s media, traditional and new, in a flutter. The causes prescribed are varied and far ranging, and seem to depend largely on the agendas of the analysts. The xenophobes blame it on poor integration and the large number of immigrants; the liberals blame unhappiness wrought by poor living conditions and employer abuse; the government insists it’s an isolated incident fuelled by alcohol; the anti-PAP-groups insist it was due to the lateness of our civil services, which as usual are evident of our terrible leadership.

Who to believe? Perhaps they’re all correct. After all, the xenophobes and liberals are both arguing opposite sides of the same coin and alcohol definitely played a role. As for the anti-PAP comments–those hold true for any event in Singapore for those who can’t stand the PAP.

I suppose what’s important is what comes next and what actions are to be taken. And something has to be done–after all, if Singapore has any “natural” resources to speak of, it’s the peace and stability of our little island, and a forty-year record has died together with poor Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu.

In a bid to boost Singaporeans’ and investors’ faith in the continued placid continuity of Singapore’s safety and prosperity, there has been no small PR effort, with ministers of all stripes reassuring everyone that it’s business-as-usual.

In an odd little bit of news, the heroism of our boys in blue has also been highlighted by DPM Teo:

“We knew we were going into a very hot situation, and were mentally prepared.

Our troopers had encountered real-life situations dealing with unruly and violent groups, but not on this scale. We had faced such situations in training and this prepared us to deal with this situation. We had some young troopers, including NSFs, among us who had recently graduated from their course, and we were pleased to see that they carried out their duties well.”

It’s prepared and unexciting, but exactly what I’d expect of a professional who makes his living wrestling with rioters rather than writers’ block. Maybe in a couple of years, when things have settled down enough someone can write something with a bit more (literary) blood. Perhaps with a tongue-in-cheek title, like “300: Singaporean Warriors”.

Less Transients

In a bid to solve the problem of transient workers, the government is trying to boost productivity in the construction industry by promoting automation and reducing building complexity.

Now, this might indeed bring down the number of transient workers and reduce the total percentage of non-Singaporeans in Singapore, but isn’t it an “obeying the letter, but not the intent” solution?

The main source of malcontent is hardly due to blue-collar construction workers. These guys don’t compete with Singaporeans when it comes to salaries, housing and risky investments. They do jobs at prices Singaporeans wouldn’t touch and short of the racist comments from Little India bus-takers, landlords and curry-haters I don’t think there are many complaining about them.

This policy makes no tran-sense.

Helping out the library

I recently joined the National Library Board’s “Friends of the Library” programme as a volunteer. So far, I’ve gone for the orientation briefing and helped out with one story-telling session/lesson.

Things I have learned:

  1. Kids love volunteering with the library. Some of the Secondary school kids I volunteered with last Saturday informed me that they have to perform a compulsory 30 hours of community service a year. The library is a great place to volunteer for them as it is relatively easy, clean and effortless compared to old folks’ homes or flag days. Plus air conditioning and free food almost every single session.
  2. Other than the kids who need to fulfill a quota, adults really love volunteering with the library. There are over 15,000 volunteers according to the Volunteer Programme IC, of whom evidently there are several hundreds who perform over 15 hours of service a year. Top contributor last year did several hundreds of hours of service (to be fair, she is retired).
  3. Because of the glut of volunteers, library volunteer sessions tend to be very easy. I spent last Saturday with seven – eight other volunteers helping out with a story-telling session/lesson for the 10,000 Fathers Read! programme. From the attendance sheet, I think there were supposed to be more, but some didn’t show up. Still, there were more than enough of us to go round–only about three people were really required. Still, given that it’s a volunteer-thing and that there’s no gurantee that the people you ask for will show up, I guess the redundancy is a good thing.
  4. Our public library is very well-funded. The National Library Board gets a cool $180 million a year from our Budget. Which is why there are so many programmes about to encourage literacy and reading, and also the fancy new buildings and shiny new machines. (to my surprise, in terms of percentage, we spend relatively little on our library–only about 0.1% of GDP compared to South Korea which spends 0.31%, and the UK which spends 0.2%).
  5. Given its budget and size, library volunteers are frankly unnecessary–but I’ve think one of the reasons for the existence of the programme is to draw Singaporeans to become more involved with the NLB and help provide some kind of informal personal outreach. Hell, they’ve got me blogging about it so that’s got to be worth something.

On a somewhat related note, the guy doing the story-telling and giving tips was Roger Jenkins, a professional story-teller (I wonder how you end up with that job) who was really good, considering he managed to get a bunch of kids all excited and happy with nothing other than his voice. I don’t think he even had any props other than a tasteless star-adorned vest. Although I kept thinking “Leeroy” thoughout the session and imagining him telling some kind of fantasy story involving some idiot charging in at impossible enemies. He didn’t, but I was somewhat surprised that his stories featured quite some amount of violence (to an anthropomorphic chicken). I guess I’m just a wuss.

Bizarrely, he chose to end the tips on story-telling session with a story about “baby snake” and “baby frog” who become friends and teach each other how to slide and hop, respectively, but are torn apart by their parents who insist that they are mortal enemies (a little one-sided towards the snake’s side, I should think). Then he started talking about how important it was as parents to teach our kids to love rather than to hate, and to look beyond superficial differences so that we could all get together, muslims and jews, blacks and whites, indians and chinese. I almost thought he’d go for “Israeli and Palestinian”…

Whoa. Pushing the envelope for cultural relativism and racial harmony at a kids’ story-telling session? Heavy. The predominantly-upper-middle-class parents looked a bit stupified. I wanted to laugh, but I figured it would be a little bit rude, especially since it was a pretty good way to teach valuable life lessons to little kids. Also probably would have made future volunteering a bit difficult.

In any case, I’m actually considering a career with the library, which explains the volunteering. As far as I can tell, it seems like a pretty nice organisation, though I’m a little uncertain if I could fit into the backdrop of female motherly-figure-types.

Organic Growth

We’re removing the upper-age limit for organ donors, it seems. Now, even those over the age of 60 can expect their bodies to be recycled upon death. Why the Ministry of Health thought this was necessary eludes me. Surely elderly organs are not particularly suitable for transplants? Or perhaps there just aren’t enough young people in Singapore dying in ways that can allow for body-part-reuse?

In any case, I had no idea that we were recycled quite so… efficiently.

From Channel NewsAsia:

The amendments approved by Parliament in March this year is expected to increase the number of organ donors by about 10.
This would mean some 70 patients could potentially benefit from the move.

That’s an average of seven organs per donor? That seemed like a lot, until a wikipedia search for common transplantable organs and tissues:

  • Bone
  • Bone marrow
  • Corneal
  • Face
  • Hand
  • Heart
  • Heart-lung
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Lung
  • Pancreas
  • Penis
  • Skin
  • Spleen
  • Uterus

So it turns out that we’re only transplanting at less than 50% efficiency here and we’re not even taking into account things like Islets of Langerhans. So uncharacteristic of our little technocracy.

Dr Albert Winsemius

Goodness gracious me. I had no idea that the reason we have that Raffles statue still standing, even after our neighbours pulled down their respective colonial masters’, is due to the advice of one Dr Albert Winsemius, whom it seems we owe much of our current financial sucess to.


One of his earliest pieces of advice was not to remove the statue of Stamford Raffles as it was a symbol of public acceptance of the British heritage and could alleviate concerns that investors have toward a new socialist government. With his help, Singapore attracted big oil companies like Shell and Esso to establish refineries here.

And I always thought it was a symbol of the uneasy legitimacy the chinese leadership here have forged for ownership of the island.