[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Saturday, September 30, 2006

[The coup in Thailand]
1. The coup is a setback, both for Thailand and for ASEAN. I was in New York at the UN General Assembly when it happened. ASEAN Foreign Ministers were embarrassed and expressed their concern. Our continued support for Dr Surakiart's candidature as UN Secretary General became a little awkward because he was no longer Deputy Prime Minister. The key was the attitude of the King. Once he signalled support, everyone felt more relaxed. PM Thaksin's acceptance of the situation from London also helped.

2. Thai society will recover from this. It enjoys what scholars call 'deep stability'. The monarchy is a pillar of Thai society. Thai Buddhism too. This recent coup was bloodless and quickly accepted by the majority of Thai people even though some naturally had misgivings. I told a minister from the Middle East that the Thai economy would be largely unaffected. Quick as he was, he asked whether I meant that he should 'buy'? I smiled replying that he should not sell.

3. Our relations with Thailand will not be affected. They go back a long way to the 19th century. Ourtside our old Parliament building is an elephant statue given to the people of Singapore by King Chulalongkorn. Last year, I brought Foreign Minister Kantathi, a good friend and colleague, to my Meet-the-People session at Hougang Block 414. After that, we went to the nearby kopi tiam for supper. One stallholder greeted him with a sawadee khap. Another spoke to him in Thai! He enjoyed himself and I felt very proud presenting him to the residents there. One interesting point: he was surprised that none of my helpers received payment. Disbelieving me, a few of the Thai officials accompanying him separately asked them the same question in different ways.

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

[Less tickets for National Day Parade 2007]
Next year, National Day parade tickets will be reduced by a whopping 28,000. Instead of the 55,000 (which is the capacity of the Kallang Stadium), the new quota for NDP 2007 will be 27,000.

It is simple mathematics.

I was passing by Marina Bay en route to Esplanade to catch Forbidden City - Portrait of an Empress, and I came across the new temporary structure for next year's parade.

Meanwhile, construction for the structure has already begun.

A write-up on the facility states that this state-of-the-art project is designed for outdoor concerts, exhibitions, boat shows and sporting events.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

[Coffee shop talk]
My favourite haunt these days when not having class in the coffee shop. I go there late afternoon and late at night.

I used to have people telling me that they used to visit the coffee shops to suss out the latest news or information on how votes for the elections would swing and what the "market prediction" would be.

Although I have been visiting coffee shops lately, I don't hear much political chatter. The last I heard was about investments in Taiwan. Conversely, blogs have been getting my attention.

This I would say is perhaps a cultural difference then and now. Blogs, I would say, is my source of getting information - although most of the time I still read newspapers for the more accurate information. That is not to say that blogs are not accurate. They may be accurate but sometimes the papers are more accurate albeit a tad slower.

Chatter on blogs will provide me with a different perspective. When reading, I question myself - is this a fact or fallacy - and then if I am unsure, I bring it up during my frequent discussions and interaction with people. By doing this, I get a broader perspective and keep an open mind.

One such issue that is on my mind as I blog now is about the Thailand coup. The country has suddenly been overtaken by the army in a coup just last week. Even though Prime Minister Thaksin had garnered a landslide victory in the last polls, people think that he may not be a good leader.

Corruption is perhaps one of the more important reasons why the situation has been aggravated. But until the truth is out, shouldn't Thaksin still stay in power?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

[Singapore Idol]
1. It was fun being there when the results were announced. The crowd had a good time. Some stood up to rock to the music.

2. Singapore being Singapore, there were sensitivities. Having only come back from New York that morning, I did not know that the dark blue shirt I wore indicated support for Hady. Lucas Chow, the CEO of MediaCorp, who was dressed in a white jacket, said he would 'balance' me since white was for Jonathan. I was given two clappers, one white and one blue, to be politically correct. Boy, sometimes I wish I weren't a minister.

3. But I did observe the audience critically to see whether the support for Hady and Jonathan was divided along ethnic lines. I was glad to learn later that the results showed a decisive 70% win for Hady, meaning that many Chinese Singaporeans voted for him. He had the better voice although I thought Jonathan had stronger stage presence. My wife said he had the Korean K-pop look. But the murmurs persist in social conversations. Some say that Hady received support from JB which I find hard to believe. One Chinese friend said that we can't have Malays winning every time. Well, this is multi-racial Singapore. Anyway, 70% is much better than my 56% win in Aljunied.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

[TP dragonboaters rock]
Warning: Very long post with photos

When was the last time you achieved something for the first time? Well, for me it was today.

Apart from the hectic schedule of having three back-to-back events (I'm pretty drained now), something more deserves mention. I guess most of the people who visit know that I am trying to train myself in a watersport. More specifically dragonboat. And today was the finals of the SAVA Sprints International 2006.

I digress.

The word "international" tends to make it interesting. So in Bedok Reservoir, aptly where the Foreign Minister is the MP, we saw a culmination of "foreign talent" (I quote our Prime Minister), and foreign talent does not necessary mean bad. Okay, apart form the 8 out of 10 foreigners that score almost perfect scores in my class for the last Maths quiz, I see it as pretty healthty competition - to keep us on our toes.

So there they were. People from Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand to Malaysia, Philippines to the USA.

Japan - didn't see many Japanese around

Philippines. Oh Thailand had their own drummers even.

Apart from the many races (pun not intended) present, it was a diverse blend of culture - the British (ang mo) and Filipino emcees who had pronounced Eunos as "Eunice" to the ang mo and his accent. But in SMU, you get it too. You have profs. from different countries and yes, that reminds me that last Friday, the school just had a International Day of Peace get together with friends from various countries around the world - a global village as Marshall McLuhan described.

For the last three weeks and two days the cool/hardworking/enthusiastic/punctual/upbeat TP rowers, our Captain (CSM where the letter S stands for short) Shern Whey, Alvin the front left rower, Joey the muscle don't need to flex still can see bulge, Ming Huei, Joel one of the bigger guys, Zhi Hao the gold hair boy, Benjamin another big guy, Derek the "model" who wears specs without lens, Nora-zami, Teck Meng the always like very stern guy, Yao Hao the guy always with Zhi Hao, Puay Boon you can call me "ah boon" the one who kena scratched by Melvin and Hui Yuan "my name means member in Mandarin" and last but not least, Aloysius the one who always kena disturbed by me, have been working hard at training, TP rowers train doubly hard as they still have their school training.

And this entry is a tribute to them and a toast to our success.

So we blazed the train during the heats and garnered a timing of under one minute for the 200m race - 53:59 seconds to be exact.

Returning, the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol team emerged 2nd at the finals. That makes us one of the top few teams among the NorthEast.

Apart from that, people were checking out future developments at the reservoir.

Taking a peek at the future and also the hunks (me not included) and babes (oh yeah, I did steal some glances albeit from behind a tree).

Somewhere along, I spotted this wierd paddle lying on the grass. Honey, who shrunk the paddle?

Taking a closer look, it's just the special token of appreciation for participation. One cool innovative souvenir.

But most important, it's my first medal. And pehaps the next time when "When was the last time you did something for the first time" is asked, I hope it be a post about my experience striking gold. Till next time.

The champion team from Tampines GRC with their advsier Mr Ong Kian Min

The red team, Bedok Reservoir-Punggol. Oh yah, forgot to youtube our BRP woosh - the signature cheer for the team.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

[Missing home]
It is almost close to a month and a half after national day. But the tune of "My Island Home" is ringing in my head.

Last week, I watched this video titled "Mini Dragons". It was about Singapore some ten years ago. In it showed a segment about producing the national day song for Singapore's 25th anniversary. There were scenes of the composer Jeremy Monterio writing the song "One People, One Nation, One Singapore".

In between scenes was a story about three girls wanting to join Singapore Airlines as an air stewardess. There were also several scenes documenting the country's progress. The video also showcased some campaigns that the country had had. One was about encouraging Singaporeans to have a family complete with children.

I've never really had the feeling of missing home - perhaps a tinge of in while in my BMT days. My two trips overseas, one to Thailand and another to Philippines - were pretty short and lasted at most three days.

I'm not sure if I would miss Singapore if I travel for a long period. Perhaps I'll miss my family and maybe my lifestyle.

I guess I'll have to personally experience it for me to know.

[Meeting Singaporeans Overseas]
1. The Singapore tribe is spreading worldwide. I meet Singaporeans everywhere I travel, even in distant countries like Brazil and Kazakhstan. Some get into trouble and we have to find ways to help them. A few months ago, two Singapore students travelling in Armenia were detained because their papers were not in order. Our Embassy officers in Moscow got in touch with Armenian diplomats there. I offered to call the Armenian Foreign Minister whom I had met earlier. After a few days, they were able to fly out from Yerevan much to the relief of their parents in Singapore. When the war in Lebanon broke out, we had to evacuate a few Singareans stranded in Beirut. Our Honorary Consul General in Lebanon, Mr Habis, did a great job.

2. This week in New York, I met Singaporeans working in UN agencies over lunch (quite a few) and Singaporeans living in NY over dinner (many). The UN Plaza Hotel where I'm staying is owned by a Singapore company. The wife of the company's CEO here cooked us local breakfasts every morning which lifted our morale for the day. Last year, I 'bungkus' some nasi lemak for the Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid whom I was meeting later that morning. This morning when I met Syed Hamid, he asked whether I had my nasi lemak this year. I replied sheepishly that I had it two days earlier. I must remember to 'bungkus' him some next year.

3. With the Internet, instant messaging and the mobile phone, keeping the Singapore tribe connected around the world is no longer a problem. Food is one item which is very important to Singaporeans and Malaysians wherever we are. It must occupy many giga-bytes in the brain of the Singaporean. Even as we are eating, we are talking about the next meal. I used to tell my officers in MITA (now MICA) that it was one important way to keep overseas Singaporeans together. I'll be leaving for home tomorrow evening and already I'm thinking of the food I shall have when I return home.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

[Preparation for university life]
I used to loathe Maths. I wondered why I was taught graphs, transformations, probabilty and the like.

I didn't really like English classes either. I didn't understand why we had to summarise a whole chunk of text and why we had to deduce the meaning of words in a sentence.

Now I understand why. It is preparation for the future. It is preparation for university life.

Graphs, transformations and probability is a good foundation for preparation for Calculus and Statistics, modules which I have taken in polytechnic but will taking again for university.

As for English, I feel that what I had studied and learnt is applicable to the texts that I have to read for every lesson. For political science and sociology modules which I take now, it is not uncommon to have to read at least 20 pages of text. Some written is old English and others in modern times.

Interestingly, I find political science modules quite insightful. My current module is titled plural perspectives on political issues.

Today is International Day of Peace. After so many "demonstrations" involving 30 people and many other silent protests (I won't say if these are good or bad), I guess it is apt to just have a "peaceful" day for everyone. So here I am at home slacking and blogging on this peaceful International Day of Peace. I pity those in Thailand though. Hope order is restored soon.

Looking at foreign affairs, Minister George Yeo's latest topic is on the Middle East. In his latest post on beyond sg he writes about two interesting meetings - one with the Gulf Cooperation Council and another with the American Jewish Committee.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

[Twin Hubs at Opposite Ends of the Globe]
1. Remember the palindrome: a man, a plan, Panama? (It reads the same backwards.) Well, there's a new plan to widen the canal so that it can take larger ships. The bill is huge at US$5b. On October 22, there will be a referendum to settle this. If the vote is 'yes', which is likely, the project will take many years to complete, around 2014, a hundred years after the canal first opened.

2. When the Panama Canal was built, it was an engineering feat. The French tried it earlier but failed. De Lesseps, after cutting the Suez Canal in 1869, thought that cutting the Panama was a piece of cake. It wasn't. Over 20,000 workers died from malaria and yellow fever. Because of the financial losses, the French government of the day collapsed. The present canal was built by the US Government for strategic reasons at the beginning of the twentieth century so that warships could move from one ocean to the other. It was only in 1999 that the canal zone was returned to the Republic of Panama. Till today, the biggest user is the US. The second biggest user is China.

3. Panama and Singapore share important similarities. Both are situated between two oceans, critical points along global shipping routes. Like Singapore, the Panamanian government wants to develop it into an intermodal transportation and logistics hub. Earlier this year, the FTA between Panama and Singapore was signed. It is now operational.

4. Our FTA with Panama came about by chance. During the Cancun WTO talks in September 2003, the Panamanian Trade Minister asked to meet me. Earlier, US Trade Rep Bob Zoellick suggested that he consult Singapore about Panama's proposed FTA with the US. We had concluded our FTA with the US a few months before and Zoellick thought that the Singapore experience would be useful to Panama. I agreed to help. As we chatted over breakfast, I proposed an FTA between us. Being so far apart, we could not possibly be competitors. An FTA would help us strengthen each other's hub position. My counterpart agreed immediately which was how the process began.

5. After meeting a number of ministers and officials today, it is clear that the Panamanian Govt is holding up Singapore as a model for its own development. We already have a few companies operating here. The new baggage handling system in the airport is being built by InterRoller. The upgraded software system of the Canal was provided by Crimson Logic. ST Aerospace is taking over some hangars at the old US Airbase to build a facility for the maintenance of aeroplanes. PSA is interested in port operations; SembCorp in power generation.

6. Panama has a sizeable Chinese community. The first wave came as coolies building the first transcontinental railroad in the Americas. Over the years, a significant Taiwanese community has grown. Panama still recognises Taiwan instead of Mainland China. But Mainland China's presence is growing. The local Chinese community gave me dinner this evening. Many turned up to honour us. Everyone wanted to take pictures. I believe the Chinese connection will help our SMEs enter the Panamanian market. It is not a big market but for those interested in exploring Latin America, this is a soft point of entry.

Friday, September 15, 2006

[Short and sour]
I attended my first play in SMU last night, specially went cause my friend Jack was performing. When I asked him what role he was, he told me that his was a small role.

At first as the story went, it looked as though his role was a supporting one. Until the halfway mark.

Ladies and gentlemen, short and sour.

It's a play about love. Different people's views on love. Good ways of loving and bad ways.

The play starts out with the six characters masked - they give their takes on, well, love.

Commitment, sweet, no future, schizophrenic, too much effort and something about tasting a man inside out.

It discussess falling in love, breaking up, apprehension towards love and giving up love for other more important things.

The nicest and most lovey dovey part was towards the climax - where two characters Bruce (played by Jack) and Geraldine express their takes on love through a series of songs.

But instead of finding love or staying in love, the several couples end up despondent as the story develops.

And by the end of the play, all the characters have fallen out of love.

It's not your usual happy ending sort of play. But one that will make you question yourself about love and loving.

Is it sweet? Or sour? Or just short and sour.

[Intervention at the Non Aligned Meeting in Havana]
1. Mr Chairman, allow me first to thank Malaysia and my good friend, Syed Hamid, for Malaysia’s able leadership of NAM in the last three years.

2. Let me also congratulate you, Sir, for taking over the chair. Since the last time Cuba was in the chair, the world has changed dramatically. The Cold War is over. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, bipolarity became, for a while, uni-polarity, but that is inexorably giving way to a multi-polar world.

3. Ideology has become much less important. All of us are committed to democracy in one form or another. With globalisation and rapid advances in technology, we need each other as never before. Without solidarity, and in its essence this is what our Movement is about, we cannot solve many of the challenges which confront us collectively like protection of the environment, the fight against diseases and terrorism, non-proliferation and inter-faith and inter-ethnic harmony.

4. We have to respect diversity. But we also need solidarity. It is the tension between diversity and solidarity which is the very lifeforce of NAM.

5. The central issue before us is human development. With the widespread availability of mobile phones and the Internet, with knowledge so easily accessible in all four corners of our world, we have the possibility now to uplift the lives of people living in every continent. There is no reason why the rapid development we now see in China, India and elsewhere in Asia could not spread to other parts of the world.

6. We need peace of course before development is possible. For there to be peace, there has to be compromise and goodwill. We certainly need compromise and goodwill in the Middle East, for there to be a 2-state solution in Palestine and peace in Iraq. Despite our disagreements here in NAM, I am glad that, on many issues, we are prepared to compromise in the interest of solidarity. We need to compromise too in the UN and in the WTO. For example, it is not in the interest of any of us to see the Doha Round collapse. Globalisation and the international trading system can greatly facilitate our development. In this regard, we join all our NAM colleagues every year in the UN in calling for an early end to the US embargo on Cuba.

7. Despite the US embargo, it is remarkable how Cuba has been able to make such progress in recent years. After going through a very difficult period in the early 90’s, the Cuban economy has recovered its strength and is now better diversified.

8. Mr Chairman, I took the opportunity of your hospitality to arrive a few days earlier in Havana for a bilateral visit. Although Singapore took a very different path of development from Cuba from the beginning, there are some important values that we share. The most obvious is the emphasis put on education and healthcare, and the full development of our people as individual human beings. What Cuba has been able to achieve in universal education, in reducing infant mortality and in increasing the life-spans of its citizens is an inspiration to all of us. 3 days ago, I visited your Health Ministry and I thanked your Health Minister for agreeing to assist Singapore in the control of dengue which is endemic in both our regions. There is much that we can benefit through greater cooperation.

9. In a sense, the friendship between Singapore and Cuba, despite clear differences in our political systems, expresses the NAM ideal. Among the 118 countries of NAM, we do not expect to agree on everything. We will always have different beliefs and political systems. But we can cooperate on the basis of mutual interest and human solidarity. And let us always give the highest emphasis to people-centred development so that every child can grow up living to his fullest potential.

10 Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

[School and routines]
It has been four weeks since school started and I'm getting pretty used to it. One of the many places that I like to study on campus is the Li Ka Shing Library. There's this area that overlooks the green campus and it is a great place to bury your face in books especially before class.

There's also a new feature - this wooden structure housing the media centre of the Singapore Biennale.

From the library window, you can see almost eveything that goes on there - tourists queuing, media queries and even ticketing.

I mentioned in an earlier post about Minister George Yeo's trip about London (he's now in Cuba). Now here's an account of Minister's impression and thoughts about Cuba. Read beyond sg (click on the link on the sidebar).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

[Cuba and the 3 B's]
I've just arrived in Cuba and clearing my emails before going to sleep. A great relief that they have broadband here. It is 12 hours time difference.

My elder brother Jim once told me that, to succeed in life, one needs the 3 B's. What are the 3 B's? They are Brains, Balls and Breaks.

Brains - well, it always helps if one is smart, alert and able to spot trends. One also needs a sense of social situations. We need both IQ and EQ.

Then you need Balls. Guts, the courage to take calculated risks and persistence. Balls without brains is dangerous. Brains without balls doesn't get you very far. The person who is passionate is more likely to succeed.

But the most important things in life are often not within our control. Who our parents are, which genes we inherit from them, the country and times we are born in - all this is not for us to decide. Life is never smooth. Suddenly we can come down with an illness or meet an accident. When you have a family, it is not only yourself but also your spouse and children whom you worry about everyday. Breaks means all that. Some see it as luck; others as divine providence. Academic qualifications help. Napoleon said that the most important thing is to choose a lucky general. When Liu Bei persuaded Zhu Geliang to help him, his response was that the times were out of joint and there was little one could do about it.

No one likes exams. Well the Chinese invented it. Mao abolished exams during the Cultural Revolution. The result was a wasted generation. But exams are not everything. You still need the 3 B's.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

[The Singapore education system]
I am a product of Singapore's education system.

The society around us sets the structure – what we have to do, what we have to learn. And we follow.

It starts out with kindergarten. Then to primary school. I was rebellious then - used to annoy my teachers and bully my classmates.

When it was time to enter a secondary school, I decided to be an angel. I served in my class committee and in the school library.

My 'O' level results weren't fantastic enough to qualify for a place in the junior college - perhaps just enough to make the cut.

In polytechnic I worked hard. I managed average results but yet not good enough for a local university. Until now. After working for a year, Singapore Management University accepted me. It was a miracle, a dream come true and a gleam of hope.

So we progress up the academic ladder we yearn to be the best. Our parents want us to be the best. They want us to score and top the class.

Sometimes we so much driven by results that we sometimes forget why we study in the first place. Do we want to just study for the sake of grades? Do grades really matter?

We stress ourselves out. We do our homework. We research till late at night. We memorise important information for exams. It does not matter if we forget what we memorise after the exams.

There is no room for mistakes. Once we do, we get lost in the rat race. We lag behind.

Making mistakes is all part of learning. We make mistakes then think of ways to improve. Life is not smooth sailing. One cannot not make mistakes. It is only human.

In the world today, competition is the key. We are a society based on merit. You perform then you advance. Fail and you may be condemned.

Perhaps that is why we stick to the safe route that is laid out for us. We dare not try new things. We follow what our predecessors have done – things that they think are the best for us.

We are boring. No one dares to be creative - to be different. Most tend to want to take the well-trodden path.

[Dragonboat training]
Today was the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol dragonboat team's second training.

And I wasn't very much in form today. Plus, the training was a little tougher than last week's.

So twenty rowers and a small camp of supporters were at Bedok Reservoir.

We have a cool group cheer too. But more on that nearer to the competition.

What's more interesting is this unexpected happening. As you all know, Minister George Yeo is in London with our Prime Minister. And he did mention that he may not be able to blog from there. I was not expecting any entry at least for the next few weeks (after London Minister will head to Cuba) so imagine my surprise when I received his email.

Read beyond sg (click on the link on the sidebar) for Minister's thoughts on his trip to London. And his visit to the new Churchill Museum.

Friday, September 08, 2006

[Straw buildings and toy cars]
For leadership and teambuilding class today, our group was asked to build a structure to store toy cars and a tower to put an egg.

Guess what fun we had.

We nominated Justin to be the leader. He explained to the group the task at hand. Then work on our tower started.

We had to follow strictly to the time. So we built and laughed and played. We were having lots of fun. And we did manage to complete the structure. Completing it was not enough though.

And there were other more impressive ones. Some met the objectives. Some failed. Ours did.

Failure, however, is not final. So we challenged the laws of gravity (just look at the overturned car) to add in one more car (we had to park six cars in the structure). But still did not manage to get the egg on top of the tower. Someone even asked if we knew how an egg looked like (because our tower's design did not seem to be able to accommodate an egg).

Well, winning isn't everything sometimes. So take it easy I tell myself.

On a side note if you have anything to confess and if you are Singaporean, confess anonymously your deepest and darkest secrets at Alvin's Singapore Confessions site.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

[Gala dinner at National Museum]
In case you haven't noticed, the new National Museum has opened its doors to the public.

And it is not because the museum is just opposite my school that I take notice. It's because of the Singapore Biennale. The gala dinner was held inside the museum last week. And the decor is very nice. But first, the food.

There was pasta. Two types - the cream based and tomato based. The cream based one was delicious. My mouth is watering as I type now.

And other than Thai desserts, funny tofu, agar agar and sliced meat there was also a wide variety of sashimi!

Not forgetting the exhibits as well. This magnificent piece in the main hall was one of the many few artworks on display.

Of course, there was also the usual red wine, punch, lime juice and beer. Artists do like to party man. Everyone does?

Photos courtesy of Republic Polytechnic's Dennis who is also a volunteer for the biennale.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

[Beyond SG]
Beyond SG is a blog about Singapore and our social and business connectivity with the world. It is about what's happening in Singapore and outside Singapore and how we can thrive and survive in an increasingly flatter world.

So while Minister blogs about his daily life and more light-hearted local issues here, the Beyond SG site tackles more serious topics but with a light-hearted approach.

Today, he blogged about Global Connectivity and Friendships.

Do visit beyond sg here.

[Goal Setting]
You raise an interesting point. All armies run on tight discipline so that the fighting units become like machines. To instil this discipline, soldiers are drilled - stand by bed, parade square bashing, and other seemingly mindless activities.

But we are not machine parts and each person has his own strengths and weakenesses. The Israelis have psychologists in every unit and squadron so that every individual is carefully profiled - who is the risk taker, who the skeptic, who is calm, who is nervous, and so on. They try to fit square pegs into square holes. This can make the difference between life and death.

Then, which is the point you raise, is how we motivate the individual within the larger framework. An inspired individual has a much higher productivity than one who is not. Goal-setting definitely helps and the SAF should allow more room for this. For the SAF, the overriding mission is the defence of Singapore. Everything else, IPPT, NDP, are just means to an end. If your recommendations show a clear understanding of the mission, they will be well-received.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

[National Service]
I was thinking particularly about this topic with regard to National Service (NS). How can the SAF make two years well spent?

Many view NS as a waste of time. But how can we make NS more relevant to our lives? Apart from the loyalty to country, leadership, discipline, professionalism, fighting spirit, ethics and care for soldiers - there's more to NS.

One idea I had was to allow people to indicate what they would want to achieve in their 2 years of NS.

Perhaps one would like to be a scout. Yet another wants to be a medic. And one more wants to be part of the NDP. All of us have different dreams and aspirations.

Having found out and indicated what goals they want from their NS stint will set them in a right frame of mind. For example, the one who wants to be part of organising the NDP will put in his heart, mind and soul dedicating time to do his best.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

[We are a fortunate bunch]
I was on my way to church this morning and I forgot to bring enough cash.

By the time I was in the taxi, it was too late to realise that I had insufficient money - I was already on the CTE.

Thank goodness the driver was not calculative and brought me to my destination for the money I had with me.

Just like every Sunday, church service today was no different except that we had a guest - the Bishop of Kondo.

My youth pastor commented today that the lights on the stage were too strong and it was affecting the words flashed out by the projector for the hymns.

Then I thought in my heart that we are such a fortunate bunch.

Christians that are in third-world countries are happy to do their worship on a grass patch, in an attap house or even by the river. And here we are in Singapore, worshipping in air-conditioned churches, having the best audio system and a nice structure.

Less is always more so they say. Once someone told me you can have everything and yet end up with nothing. But to some people having nothing is everything.

The rest of the day was spent under the hot sun rowing for my upcoming SAVA Sprint dragonboat race at the end of the month.

And I was partying quite a lot the previous two days at the Singapore Biennale - the opening night, the lunch at City Hall and the gala dinner. The invitation cards are pretty nice.

The balloon project - several balloons flew away from the main body that night.

Do visit the exhibits at City Hall. Thought-provoking, religious and very much related to what I am studying. Actually social sciences is quite related to art too. I could gather more information about certain issues expressed through the artists.

[Mass at Punggol's Nativity Church]
I attended Mass at the Nativity Church in Punggol with my family this morning. It was the Feast Day and there was a food and fun fair with lots of good food. The kueh paiti was reputed to be the world's best. Someone said the laksa was almost as good as the one in Katong. My former RC Chairman Robert helped make the arrangements. I was delighted to bump into my old secretary Pauline from the RSAF and the parents of my security officer Anthony.

The Nativity Church with its elegant gothic architecture is a landmark in Ponggol where many Teochew Catholics live. They were Catholic in China before emigrating to Singapore. Without the Hougang boys and girls who became priests and nuns(including Archbishop Nicholas Chia), the Catholic Church in Singapore would face great difficulties. Father Augustine Tay gave a strong sermon during Mass about goodness coming from within us. We chatted over brunch. Fr Tay was ordained together with Father Lawrence Yeo and Father Joakim Kang in 1974, all local boys from the area. It was a special year. Fr Kang, sadly, is now in prison. I knew Fr Kang when he was the Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Church and was happy to learn that Archbishop Chia visits him occasionally.

Like the rest of Singapore, the Nativity Church is nurturing its next generation. The first and second readings and the collection for the poor were all done by schoolboys and schoolgirls. For the older folks, there is still a Teochew Mass at 4.30pm on Saturday. I think I will attend it one of these days out of nostalgia. I used to hear my mother say the rosary in Teochew but that was a long time ago.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

[Nervous, stressed and a huge party]
A lot of people have been asking me this and that. I don't think there is a need to explain the negative stuff.

Some have commented that it is a good start. And yes, my blog is not the only site in the blogosphere. In fact, Minister reads Gayle Goh too.

Despite the positive comments - pretty nice people there - and many negative ones on Tomorrow.sg, I feel that having a Minister blog here is a decent (no more ingenious) idea. But anyway, this is still quite a low profile thing and it is still manageable.

I am now a first year social science student at Singapore Management University. And I am proud of it. I have good and supportive friends. And yes, friends are special people.

But enough of dispelling the remarks. Back to serious stuff.

I guess this will be a pretty different style of blogging - need to tweak it a bit now that I've got a great guest. Minister will share his side and I'll try to share mine - so far so good. You can call it diversity.

So one word to sum up the visit today - stressed.

The planning was whirlwind. And because I am only in year one, I don't have much contacts. Thanks to Melvin, things got done pretty easy. We just had to only discuss a little and the plan fell into place.

I find Sheikh Mohamed (we had to address him as "your excellency") a very easy going person and friendly. He mentioned to me that this was his third or fourth time visiting Singapore and even stayed in Singapore for a while. He is also allergic to chocolate stuff and therfore only ate a little of Edmund's delicious brownies.

I loved the cheese cakes though. Walloped two. And I will visit them in future for more.

I would have loved to join Minister and Sheikh Mohamed on the MRT trip and dinner but had promised earlier to help out for the Singapore Biennale 2006. Prime Minister was there and host Najip Ali had several very corny jokes. He even described the rostrum that MICA Minister Lee Boon Yang would use for his address to the audience.

"You know when Minister's go for events, they give their speeches from the rostrum. No rostrum cannot give speech. You never see them here giving a speech (away from the rostrum)," he retorted.

The balloon thingy went well. Even though I reached around 7pm and the balloons were not inflated yet, we managed to get the structure up and flying. Then I moved on to the Guest Registration counter.

The VIP lounge was cool. It was a tent fully air-conditioned with the specially designed artistic furniture by volunteers. It was party, party and more partying. Of course, by the time I went in PM had already left.

White wine, Carlsberg, red wine, punch and lime juice was the order of the day. Najip joked and asked the crowd: "Do you think Ministers drink (as in alcohol)".

He then answered: "Ministers also know how to party".

To that, I say a rousing yes. Sure they do man. I say that with conviction too.

P.S. On behalf of Minister I'd like to give my sincere thanks to Jonathan, Timothy, Jeremy, Edmund, staff at SMU, security people at SMU, MFA staff, Police and the wonderful SOs and people who made this possible in one way or another - we would not have done it without you.

Friday, September 01, 2006

[Hosting the former Economic Minister of Qatar]
My old friend, the former Economic Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohamed, is in Singapore on a private visit. I persuaded him to join me at a seminar to promote inter-faith peace and harmony at Jamiyah this morning. Haji Abu Bakar Maidin, the resident of Jamiyah, is a remarkable man. Over the years, by action more than by words, he has established close links with non-Muslim individuals and groups, many of whom have become regular supporters of Jamiyah's good work. Sheikh Mohamad spoke from his heart without a script, speaking as a Muslim to fellow Muslims.

In the late afternoon, I brought him on a short tour of SMU. Ephraim and Melvin got two student to play host, one was the President of the SMU Students' Association, Timothy and the other was Jonathan, a friend of Ephraim. Both Sheikh Mohamad and I commented with some envy that the students today are so fortunate to have all these facilities. We visited the radio station, Explor Centre, the gym and Edmund@SMU where the owner Edmund Ng, an alumnus, invited us to sample his chempedak/durian/apple crumbles, chocolate brownies and cheese cake. They were delicious. I was inspired by his entrepreneurial spirit and wished him good luck and continuing success.

We then walked over to McDonald House to take the NE Line to Hougang. Despite it being peak hour, the train was not too crowded. I wanted Sheikh Mohamad to see how Singaporeans live and brought him to the corner apartment of our illustrious water colour artist, Ong Kim Seng, near the Punggol Community Club. I have known Kim Seng since MITA days. He was happy to oblige when I asked him if he would open his home to our foreign guest. His wife, son and daughter were all there to greet us. Even prepared little delicacies which Kim Seng in his earthy way described as 'pretending to be ang mo'. It was always a pleasure to see his paintings of scenes from China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bali and Pulau Ubin. He also showed us one he did of the romantic coastal village of Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Coincidentally, Sheikh Mohamad's wife had always wanted to visit it. He took a shot of it with his handphone to show to his wife back home.

Curiously, we see and understand ourselves better when we show foreign visitors around.

[Party at the Padang]
The Singapore Biennale opening party will be held at the Padang tonight.

And you can expect lots to happen - stage performances, DJs spinning music, several art displays and more.

At the Padang and City Hall area yesterday, artists were finishing up their work, setting up for the shows and performances. But because of the rain, there were a few delays.

As early as 2pm in the afternoon, we were doing the electronic gadgets for the balloon project - Prime Minister will launch that tonight into the air.

Each team had to create a design of 10 molecues and we had to integrate it with the other teams to form the final design huge big structure.

The balloon project will consist of some 1000 helium filled balloons. Each balloon has coloured and synchronous light emitting from it. And it can go up to 50 meters in the air.

The VIP area was also being spruced up. An array of activities that were going on include the fashion show rehearsal, decorating the furniture and briefings, briefings and more briefings.

At City Hall, expect to see a spectacular projection of images on the exterior walls of the building.

All these, just for the big party tonight. What is lacking is your presence.