[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

Sunday, October 29, 2006

[Returning to Zhuge Liang's Temple]
1. I have not been to Chengdu for 10 years. The place is booming. Singapore companies are making inroads, some on a big scale like Surbana and Capital Land. Pua Seck Guan, once an RC chairman, briefed PM about Capital Land's new mall. I proudly mentioned to PM that he was one of our grassroots leaders. There are, maybe, a couple hundred Singaporeans or more working here now.

2. I followed PM on his visit to the 'recently' discovered Sanxingdui site this morning. During the Shang Dynasty, the Chengdu area developed separately with its unique jade and bronze artifacts. Scholars are still not clear at all what the relationship was at that time between Sichuan and the Central Plains. The beginnings of Chinese civilization were more complex than once was thought. Happily, Singaporeans will be able to see some of the objects from Sanxingdui at the Asian Civilizations Museum next year (I think). Watch out for the exhibition.

3. In the afternoon, we visited Zhuge Liang's Temple, Wuhou Ci. Since my last visit, the complex has been greatly enlarged. It is fascinating how the Romance of the Three Kingdoms continues to grip the Chinese imagination. The white cypresses mentioned in Du Fu's famous poem on Wuhou Ci can still be seen. Yue Fei also wrote about Zhuge Liang. It would seem that every dynasty rediscovers and refurbishes China's sacred cultural sites. All over China, these sites are being restored and added on attracting huge numbers of tourists. The signboards at Wuhou Ci are in Chinese, English, Korean and Japanese. This itself is a sign of the times.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

[Discussions, time and money]
I live in a 4-room HDB flat in the Serangoon area (under Jalan Kayu constituency). But I serve in the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol area.

Today (or yesterday, as it is already after midnight) is a long day for me. I had a class in the afternoon and then a short break. By 7pm, I was at the NTUC building attending a event. After the event, I had two discussions - one at Lau Pa Sat and another near Chinatown.

There were many stares as a group of us (all dressed in white) went to the Lau Pa Sat. When I reached Chinatown, some men in the nearby coffeeshop gazed at us again. The two discussions were about workplans. And it was just nice as all of us had to attend the event at NTUC together.

Because I wanted to know whether the P65 MPs (they were guests at the event at NTUC) blogged about the event, I visited the P65 blog for the third time since it was launched. There was no posting. But something else caught my attention.

One comment caught my by surprise. The person had commented that he wanted to serve in other areas instead of his own constituency as he preferred the MP there. Although it is not common for that to happen, it does happen. I am one such example.

In another comment, there was a mention of using money to buy time. That reminded me about a particular artwork at the Singapore Biennale. Instead of having cash values on dollar notes, this artist put time on various denominations of money. Time is money. Some notes represented minutes, others represent hours and on and on.

My prof used to talk about getting rich. He told the class about an outstanding graduate that earned more than $5000 a month. However, that graduate works long hours. His point is that if you want to have lots of money, you have to put in your own time to earn it.

The eventual point that is being driven across is whether one is willing to sacrifice having a life or devoting your life to earning money. My conclusion is to have the right balance.

I won't want to end up having a nice house, a nice pool and have no time to use it. Neither do I want to be poor and spend my time wasting my life away.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

1. It was good to visit Guangzhou again after 5-6 years. The new Baiyun Airport is a splendid facility linked to the city by a beautiful highway lined by shrubs and trees. The entire highway was cleared of traffic for PM's motorcade! Governor Huang Huahua hosted dinner for us at the White Swan Hotel this evening. After dinner, we cruised the Pearl River in a spacious boat. Both banks were beautifully lit up in different colours. Laser lights swept the evening sky. It all looked like a fairy land.

2. I recalled my first visit to Guangzhou in 1983 with my parents. We had just spent a week in our ancestral village near Chaozhou where I met my maternal grandparents for the first time, both already in their 90's. China was still very poor and backwards then. Deng Xiaoping's new policy of reform and opening up only started in 1978. In 1986, I brought my new wife to see Guangzhou on our way to Shantou. We walked through the wet market, which before the era of SARS, was an incredible place to visit. All kinds of sea creatures and animals were on sale. My wife saw a sad-looking dog in a cage. She asked whether it was being sold as a pet or for eating. The vendor said that it was for the buyer to decide.

3. In 1992, I did an official tour of the Pearl River Delta, starting with a ferry ride from Hongkong to Hu Men where Lin Zexu destroyed British opium. From there we visited Dongguan, Guangzhou, Foshan, Panyu, Zhongshan, then to Macao back to HK. The boom had already started. At night, we heard constant explosions as hills were blown up and sites were prepared for buildings and industrial estates. I read a report that 2000 bridges had been built in the preceding years. Today the Delta is a major pole of economic growth, not only in China, but in the world.

4. Each time I come back to China, I see remarkable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. Never before in human history has a transformation so breathtaking in scale and scope been seen. But the developments are uneven. Social tensions are a serious problem and preoccupy the Chinese leadership. When there is justice, it is rough. It is an incredible unfolding drama.

5. We are not simply observers of this drama. The Teochews, Cantonese and Hakkas in Singapore come from Guangdong Province. So too the Hainanese before Hainan became a separate province. We are linked by history, by blood, by culture and, now, by economics.

[Block visit]
Minister had a block visit just now. It was probably the first one after the General Elections.

Some 10 RC volunteers, senior grassroots leaders, town council officers and HDB officers followed. I felt out of touch because I haven't been doing it ever since after the elections. But Minister did his part with panache.

It is not easy being one. You get residents in your face about issues. Then there are those that don't even want to see you. It's tough sometimes. But overall, it is not too bad. Of course, if you are trained to handle them all the better. One mentioned that the opposition had visited.

The huge group trawled through two blocks in the constituency. The design of the block made it a challenge. To cover one block, we had to go to the top floor a few times to cover the different stairwells. For modern estates like mine, block visits are a breeze but are few and far between.

After the visit, Minister had a little discussion at the foyer of one block. He was concerned about certain issues.

I guess it is time to start jogging again. Perhaps when the haze and after my impending sore throat clears.

I wonder why my own MP (who is the father of RJC elite and Humanities scholar Wee Shu Min) hasn't been dropping by my flat. Maybe he's busy. Perhaps my MP is an elite and that is why we have no problems here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

[Of blogging and censorship views]
1. Words matter. Words said to your face matter. Words overheard also matter. Kind words can lift our spirits. Cutting words can be demoralizing. For this reason, all communication in human society is regulated to a great or lesser degree.

2. I showed the ST article on Wee Shu Min to my daughter this morning. She assured me with a smile that she did not blog. I was taken aback by her reply because it was certainly not my intention to stop her from blogging. Sooner or later, what Ephraim wrote about in his last blog must be confronted. I never believed that the Internet or the blogosphere represented communication without frontiers. In a sound-proof bathroom maybe. But then it's not communication when no one can hear you.

3. Let's go back to common sense. Since words matter, the utterer has responsibility. If you defame someone, he can sue you. If you cause a riot, you may be arrested. If you shout 'fire' in a cinema when there's none, you can be thrown into jail. If your father or your principal takes offense, well, you're going to hear from him. If you are anonymous, you will not be credible, and the Police may still be able to find out who you are. The issue is therefore not whether there should be regulation, but what kind of regulation is sensible. Good regulations facilitate communication making civilized society possible. What we need in Singapore is a good balance between freedom and responsibility in this new age of globalisation and narrowcasting.

[Of blogging and my favourite cinema for now]
There has been lots of blogging news lately.

In today's edition of The Straits Times, China may ask its blogging community to register with their real names. In the article, it was reported that this might hinder freedom of expression. However, bloggers could still blog under a pseudonym after registering with the blog their real name. The Straits Times quoted Xinhua saying some bloggers had used their anonymity to disseminate "irresponsible and untrue" information, and called them a "bad influence". Further in the article there was mention that China had formally charged two Internet writers last week with "inciting subversion of state authourity", said Reporters Without Borders.

A discussion on YouthINK group for the past week had been on the case Digest Number 206, which was also reported in The Straits Times today. Turns out that the Raffles Junior College student, Wee Shu Min, is the daughter of my MP (which I have never seen in person before, in fact, I see Aljunied MPs more often than my own). She was reported to have criticised many Internet users for being insensititve and elitist.

Then when you look just above, SCV fined $10,000 for airing lesbian acts. The Straits Times reported that the "Media Development Authority said that the cable TV broadcaster had breached the Subscription TV Programme Code by airing scenes of women having sex in an American reality TV show called Cheaters".

Just below, the WP Chief files a police report for a fake net posting on Sammyboy forum. The Straits Times report says "the police are investigating the matter".

These four articles are timely since I am working on my Censorship project for my political science module.

The main viewpoints here from the Government are mostly hierachical, perhaps with a little trade-off here and there. I am taught in class that a good policy must have a combination striked balance of the four perspectives of policy-making - namely hierachical, individualist, egalitarian and fatalist.

So while I spend my holiday reading 18 pages of opposing viewpoints and my team mate Joshua reads the other 18, we hope to come up with a solution that entails the different perspectives.

More light-hearted news to follow.

I am beginning to love Cathay - for more reasons than one. Later in the afternoon I'll be going to the new Cathay building for a little discussion. I have been checking out various cool locations too. Places that are youthful and places that youth like me would love to go. I visited The Balcony yesterday. So if you have any cool locations to recommend, please email me.

Another reason I love Cathay is because movie ticket prices from Cathay are reportedly lower. True. I paid $9.50 for my movie ticket last Sunday. Actually they have this package deal - $18 for two tickets with a pack of small (really small) popcorn. There's another deal - $38 for four movie tickets, two popcorn and two drinks (only available at The Cathay at Handy road). Cathay seats are comfy, they don't rock when you sit on them unlike Lido's. And the whole cinema is fully-carpeted unlike Lido. Perhaps Lido needs a revamp of its premises. GV also has fully carpeted cinemas but I don't think they have lowered their prices. They have a new outlet at VivoCity which I have yet to visit. Hence, I would patronise Cathay for now.

What will the other cineplexes offer? Until they start to think of ways how to earn my bucks, I will stick to, you've guessed it, Cathay.

Monday, October 23, 2006

[Happy Deepavali and Selamat Hari Raya]
While waiting for my sons to have their haircut yesterday at Loyang Point, I was greeted with a "Happy Deepavali" by an Indian shopper, Mr Prem Singh. (He told me he contributed regularly to ST Forum page.) I thought over his greeting and asked myself, why not? Deepavali is the festival of light and I don't have to be an Indian or a Hindu to celebrate it. So, this morning, when I visited one of our ambassadors at SGH, I greeted him and his wife "Happy Deepavali". They were slightly taken aback but responded with good cheer. Christians and non-Christians thinking nothing of wishing each other "Merry Christmas" nowadays. Exchanging "Selamat Hari Raya" with non-Muslims has also become more common. Next Chinese New Year, I will wish non-Chinese a "Happy New Year" as well.

[Podcasts on blogging]
How does Foreign Affairs Minister, George Yeo, view the role of blogs in society and the media? And what made him foray into blogging? If those were the very questions you've always wanted to ask, then you should listen to some cool podcasts (courtesy of Radio Singapore International)!

Keep your ears peeled on Minister's comments on role of blogs in society and the media and an honest perspective on his foray into blogging on Blog Watch with George Yeo.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

[Clarification on P65.sg]
I haven't been reading the widely talked about P65 blog - I only went there twice, once when it was first launched and another when Zaobao had asked for my comments on politicians blogging.

In Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma (http://commentarysingapore.blogspot.com/2006/10/mps-new-blog.html) there were comments by Merv on a particular El that gives "nauseating pleasantries" on the posts on the P65 blog.

Another comment by Anonymous said: "Ephraim Loy is the resident pap asskisser on the blogosphere, so it don't take too much to deduce El is none other than him."

And yet another by wanwen said: "That EL fellow makes me sick...he's so obviously trying to bootlick them! I think I'll have to go throw up before I can continue reading their blog..."

I would like to clarify that the El on the P65 blog is not yours truly and that I have no relation whatsoever to the El fellow on the P65.sg blog.

I have since written an email to Merv to clarify. I did not write to wanwen as he/she did not imply that El is me. I also didn't reply to Anonymous because, Anonymous is well, anonymous. That's the recurring problem of anonymity of the Internet but that's the way it was made to be. I recall because I had to read a whole chunk of 20 pages about the Internet for one module.

I hope this clarifies. And so let me carry on.

I went to catch The Departed today and one question, after watching the movie, I would want to ask is "what was in the envelope". For those who haven't caught it yet, you probably might not want to as it is somewhat like Infernal Affairs abeit with a sadder ending.

Because I had walked past the new Levis store on the opening day (which was ironically, closed for a private opening launch), I decided to visit it today. Cool stuff they have. I've identified what to get for my birthday next month already (since I have discounts due to some club Levis card).

When I bring up the topic of the club Levis card, I remember the lousy service and effort that I had to take just to correct an error to my name in the card - three trips and a few phone calls. But that was settled quite easily. The incident has not made me give up buying Levis products - I think they are nice - and I'm still quite a supporter of Levis jeans (I used to like Stussy sometime back). But that does not give them reason to provide poor service again.

A mini bus outside The Heeren caught my attention today. It was promoting some Nike products. It piqued my interest and I went in to take a look. They were promoting some new line of shoes and everyone who went into the bus was given a slice of waffle. Creatively tongue-in-cheek (I think they were promoting a new range of "waffle" footwear).

They also gave out Nike badges to people who walked by. There were three designs - white, red and green. One girl on duty there took her green badge off from her outfit and passed it to me. Thank you! I will check out the new range when I have the time again.

The Stussy store at Pacific Plaza has a new range too. A pair of pants caught my eye.

Then at the adidas store, I saw a pair of shoes going for 200 bucks! My that's expensive. The design is army-print-like. Perhaps I shall check out the store near SMU for more designs.

It's been busy - mid-term exams, projects, meetings, community involvement - so it was a good break for me and an opportunity to get a stroll down town although it was another hazy day.

Growing young adults need a lot of nutrients. Similarly for dragonboaters.

To reward the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol dragonboat rowers from Temasek Polytechinc for their performance in the North East Cahmpionships 2006, Minister George Yeo hosted them to a dinner at a restaurant on the fourth floor of Park Mall.

There was plenty of food, buffet style, but most importantly, it was time to catch up with the team mates that had been training with us for a month or so.

Let's hope there'll be more of such races in the future.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's a not so hazy today (sing to U2's Beautiful Day).

I'm reflecting about all that's happened. Whirlwind. Many factors have played a part to make me what I am today.

It's tiring.

I want the simple things in life, like now I'm sitting on a sofa listening to my cousin playing the piano.

I want to relax on the beach, with a glass of wine in my hand. Frockling in the sun with one that I love, just passing time.

But no, I am have to mug for exams, prepare for projects and all that stress in my head.

I have to discern, between what's right, what's wrong. All the rules that make society. We have to understand why such rules are in place.

Singapore, a small fishing village to what we are today.

We are fortunate. Yes, we may not like authourity - I don't either. But why, the rules, to do this and that - we're so restricted.

We are so driven by money, by power, by material things. Why did our society evolve into what it is today?

Why the competition? Why do we have to outdo each other - back-stab, jealousy, selfishness, all that evil in the world.

It's tiring being human, more tiring to stay humane.

[The haze]
I went down to the coffeeshop just now for a cup of teh.

And it was really hazy. While Christmas is approaching and it is time to sing "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas," I started thinking of what I could sing for Hari Raya and Deepavali then?

Something lame but pretty relevant. "I'm dreaming of a hazy DeepaRaya."

Because everywhere I go, the sky is shrouded with a layer of particles making vision opaque.

While I am not feeling the ill effects of the haze yet, I guess it's better to be safe than sorry and I'm staying put at home to do my research for my projects.

Friday, October 20, 2006

[Ramadan Prayer at Blk 707 Bedok Reservoir]
1. I was invited to meet the Muslim residents of Bedok Reservoir last night after their evening prayers at the void deck of Blk 707. Every Ramadan, they gather nightly under the leadership of Haji Marzuki. Covering the floor with mats, the men and boys sat in front; the ladies sat at the back, separated by a low curtain. The Residents Committee (RC) under Woon Tek Fah has been very supportive of the group. In fact, the RC applied for the permit on the group's behalf even before they asked for it.

2. Hj Marzuki introduced me to the gathering. He thanked the RC members for their support and remarked what a great blessing it was to have racial and reigious harmony in Singapore. Only with harmony can there be development and improvement in the lives of our people. He emphasized the importance of tolerance and a spirit of 'give and take'. I was very touched when he said that my overseas visits had brought benefits to the people of Singapore.

3. I thanked Haji for his leadership, adding that the harmony we enjoyed was very precious. While we had no control over what went on elsewhere in the world, here in Singapore, we can look after one another and protect what we have. I then presented a few boxes of dates and wished everyone peace, happiness and good health. Nearby, a Chinese temple group celebrated 'jiu huang ye' which takes place every year in the ninth month of the Chinese calendar. The leader had joined me in my meeting with the Muslim prayer group. I went home last night feeling cheered and uplifted. What we sometimes take for granted in our society is so rare in the world.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

[What's in store at the National Museum]
There was once when I was in school till very late. And because I was on the 5th floor, I had a breathtaking view of the National Museum at night. The view during the day is great too.

I went there on Tuesday again to check out the Cartier exhibition. Very glittery. But mostly women stuff so I sort of just walked through taking a glimpse of everything.

The rest of the museum is still under utillised - the main structure is ready but there are parts that are not open to the public yet - until December 2.

For the biennale, there are three exhibits on the 2nd floor.

One's an iceberg structure.

Another is a carpet that looks like it has Chinese words. But if you look closer, it is actually in English.

There's also a display of 16 flags from the rooftop (I had talked about that during the opening ceremony recently).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

[Chicken rice]
I love chicken rice. It is a dish close to my heart because I'm Hainanese. Chicken rice made by the Hainanese people is delicious - my mum does it very well.

When I was asked to go down to the coffeeshop to take photos for Minister and the Hougang Merchants Association (I reckon that they are the people at the Hougang part of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol), I didn't expect to be asked to have dinner together. It was a surprise. At first I didn't want to eat as I already had my dinner at home. Terry then suggested that I take half of his share.

Minister asked me why I was not eating. I told him that my mum had cooked and I had eaten at home. He smiled.

And since I had a smaller portion and finished earlier, I decided to take some videos of the rest tucking into delicious chicken rice.

The unusual thing is that by the time we had our dinner (about 10 of us), the coffeeshop was almost empty. Perhaps it was already late.

[Meet-the-People Session]
1. There were not so many cases at my Meet-the-People Session (MPS) this evening at Hougang Blk 414. Maybe it was because Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali are around the corner. Maybe it was because of the haze. As a result, the number of residents who came were outnumbered by my helpers.

2. After the GE, we have completely revamped the MPS at both Hougang Blk 414 and Bedok Reservoir Blk 713. With the help of senior grassroots leaders (Anthony, Chin Mong, Victor, Johari and Terry), cases are now seen more quickly. Usually by 10.30pm, we are able to close shop. We've bought a TV set at each location to entertain those waiting to see me. Mineral water is also provided. To improve service quality, all of us wear name badges. Bee Lan, the Branch Secretary, has been a most effective change manager. The youngsters who've joined us are a breath of fresh air.

3. Before MPS, I had dinner with members of the Hougang Merchant Association at a chicken rice shop near Hougang Mall which serves a plate at $2. Good and cheap. We ordered vegetables as well. Hougang Mall and the surrounding shops are seeing more shoppers traffic now. It is a sign of the improving economy. Car parking has become a problem especially during weekends. We'll have to think of a way to ameliorate the congestion.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

[Why the lack of babies]
Singapore is short of babies. Many, many babies.

So Minister George Yeo conducted this dialogue on Singapore's Population challenge last night. And may others will be doing so too.

But why?

From a sociological perspective - the women are getting more career minded, they want to focus on their jobs, earn money and then don't get married. Another is that they do not have time for a family because of heavy work commitments. Therefore, they don't want to give birth.

Or is it due to the stressful nature of life in Singapore? Are we too driven by own goals? Is the Government not doing enough to help? Does more assistance need to be given to families that have children?

From a political point of view - is it the Government's duty to ask people to make more babies? Is it a personal decision? Should the Government in the first place encourage people to give birth?

Because of the different perspectives of people, there will be different views to this issue.

Just like what I used to say: "Many life experiences have shown that you can't please everyone be it what you do or what you say. As long as it is constructive nothing else matters. You can't force everyone to agree with you."

This is the Government's view on how to have more babies - from a hierarchical perspective.

What's your view?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

[Of flyers and the biennale]
I spent the last day of my holidays doing something different for the Singapore Biennale - promotions. It was a total involvement of seven full days since Monday.

I stationed myself outside the MRT station giving out flyers to passers-by. Another volunteer was almost mobbed by the kids and adults alike. She was giving out the badges.

I jokingly told her that she had become a superstar for a few minutes. The crowd, with outstretched hands, formed around her. She later said that she wasn't used to the attention and was overwhelmed.

Even though the haze was reported to be considerably bad in the papers, there were still many people at Orchard Road. I wonder why.

There were maids, tourists and locals.

The sky in town did seem much clearer than at my home. Perhaps it was due to the many trees that are aligned along the road.

1. The haze has gotten worse again today. With President Yudhoyono committing himself to solving the problem, the recent meeting of environment ministers in Pekan Baru should lead to concrete steps being taken. I was glad that Workers Party finally took a clear position on the haze a few days ago. I had hoped earlier that the Opposition would also say something about the Malaysian and Indonesian response to MM's remarks during the World Bank/IMF meeting, but they chose not to. Opposition MPs are not under the same constraints as PAP MPs and can speak more freely about such issues.

2. I attended another Iftar this evening at Masjid Alkaff near Bedok Reservoir. Mayor Zainul also attended. The mosque was originally on the site where Bedok Secondary School stands today. When the old mosque was demolished, then DPM Lee Hsien Loong promised that a better and bigger mosque would replace it.

Race and religion are sensitive topics not only in Singapore but in the world. From the Danish newspaper's publication of Prophet Muhammad cartoons, then the comments made by the Pope on Muslims and finally that quote on how minorities in other countries are "significantly marginalised".

Religious beliefs, when provoked, can erupt into hate and anger. Race remarks can cause spats between two countries.

Our efforts to promote a multi-racial society have paid off through the years. Be it educating the young in school on the various customs and religions, dedicating a day for racial harmony and even organising cultural exchanges. These are just some of the various ways to facilitate better understanding of religious beliefs.

Similarly, the recent Singapore Biennale has exhibits at several religious sites form Indian temples, mosques, churches and Buddhist temples.

Having worked in an organisation that promotes a inter-racial activity has given me the opportunity to understand other races in greater depth. I've been to Little India for Indian cuisine, I've worked closely with Malays and even tried their ethnic costumes. I've learnt a little Malay, learnt about their customs and titles that Muslims have. And I am still brushing up on my Mandarin. I used to read the Chinese newspapers at work daily though most attempts had ended with me just looking at the photographs accompanying the stories.

I'm still thinking how we can successfully bond different races at a community level. I've thought of an interesting game to play. But it is far from maturing. Maybe soon.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

[Iftar (Breaking of Fast)]
1. This evening, my wife and I participated in the breaking of fast (iftar) at the Istiqamah Mosque in Serangoon. In the traditional way, we started by eating one or two dates followed by a few mouthful of porridge. That's the small makan. While the Muslims assembled for prayer led by the Mufti, we went upstairs to observe the proceedings from a balcony. Then we had the big makan consisting of yellow rice, chicken in tomato sauce, mutton curry, dalcha, gado-gado, cucumber/tomato salad and dessert.

2. It was nice of the Mufti and the President of MUIS, Alami Musa, to join me and fellow MPs Zainul Abidin and Lim Hwee Hua. Many of my grassroots leaders were also present. The non-Muslims felt very welcome. There was a journalist from Berita Harian at the iftar. I said it would be nice if students of different races and religions invited friends to their celebrations. By doing this, we learn to understand one another better from a young age. But this has to be done in a natural, unforced manner.

3. I have just come back from Qatar where the Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad gave me some Tunisian dates which were gold in colour and transluscent. I brought some to the iftar. The Mufti knew his dates. When he picked one up, he said, look, you can see the seed. This is from Algeria. Someone said, 'close enough'.

4. The Chairman of the Mosque Committee Hj Mohd Suhaimi Mohsen is an editor in Berita Harian. He spoke in Malay and English, and then invited me to say a few words. I remarked that our racial and religious harmony is a great blessing. We have beautiful threads woven into our tapestry. Like a good carpet, the more knots per inch, the finer and stronger our society becomes.

[The Singapore Biennale gift shop]
Tucked in the corner of the Information Centre at SMU is a little shop. And next to it is a secret room.

There's also the Plasma TV that the winner will receive on completing the badge hunt.

And here's what you can buy at the gift shop.


Miracle water from the miracle tree

Belief tees

Biennale tape

And when you drop by, don't forget to ask for a biennale badge - there are two available here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

[Behind the scenes]
What really goes behind the scenes of the facade of the Information Centre? Though the counter looks neat and tidy from outside, inside is really very different.

Behind it all are notes, information sheets, log books and a walkie talkie just so latest and up-to-date information can be disseminated to the public.

Then there are also the guide books that provide information about all the artworks.

Beside the counter there is a gift shop, air-conditioned and free from mosquitoes. There's so much to blog about about mysterious City Hall. Behind the lion lies an intriguing assortment of artworks.

It is a different ball game altogether. For one, you have to handle large groups of people. Yesterday, a huge crowd of students from the National University of Singapore visited.

They we so out of order that a fellow staff commented on their behaviour. "I can't believe they are university students," she lamented. I just kept to myself and smiled. Having had a middle finger pointed to me in the course of work elsewhere, I felt numb to the NUS saga (well, not all NUS people are that atrocious though) that was unfurling before me.

On the other hand, nice people do exist. I spoke to one exchange student who'll be in Singapore till December. He's only 21 but he's already in his fourth year and studies at California. I nearly broke into a song when he started singing Ca-li-for-nia, Ca-li-for-nia - California was where he used to study. I resisted stretching my vocal chords, just smiled, kept the conversation going and tried to hide my face.

Another visitor, a cool Dutch guy - his hair had locks with bangs - chatted about the cost of living in Holland. When I griped to him how expensive alcohol is (I mentioned paying $72 for six shots of Tequila at Ministry of Sound), and he agreed. That's suicide to me.

But well, money's for parties too. So heck. He added that a beer in Holland costs two to four Euros. Though I don't know the exchange rate, I guess it must probably be about the same price.

Good thing I don't party that much. And most parties I go to are free. Thank you Singapore Biennale. Lots of hugs, kissess and wine.

[Power of the media]
1. When Lynn Lee from Straits Times interviewed me about blogging last week, I told her that I would blog about her interview. It was an impish idea that suddenly came to my mind. I think it troubled her a little. Later that afternoon, she emailed Kok Tian, my special assistant, to request that I hold back my post until her interview was published. She did not want to be out-scooped. Since she was writing to tang chiak (make a living) while I was writing for fun, I readily agreed. A few days later, Yih Ching from Zaobao emailed me some questions about an article she was writing on politicians blogging. I said I would only answer her questions after Lynn's article came out. Hey, look, we've got to look after each other's rice bowl

2. The media commands more power than many people realize. At a party, the guy with the microphone has power. The photographer has power too, and he becomes uncomfortable when you photograph him photographing. Terence, Lynn's phtographer, promised me that he won't make me look bad. (Thanks, Terence.) The journalist affects informality but he or she, too, has power. I notice the photograph of Cheong Yip Seng with Alan Chan and Dr Tony Tan in the papers today. While Alan and Dr Tan wore suits, Yip Seng was casually dressed. Well, journalists are allowed to do that. I wonder how much power bloggers have?

3. I've just written a letter to Cheong Yip Seng to thank him for the good work that he has done all these years as editor and editor-in-chief. It was not an easy job at all but he did it well, in his soft, humble way. I've always enjoyed my interactions with him in MITA, MTI and MFA. Media relations are always important because the media has power. To Yip Seng's credit, he never let it get into his head.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

[Of badges and scarves]
Come tomorrow visitors to the Singapore Biennale with have more reason to visit. Cause you get to win a Plasma TV when you visit the exhibition sites.

And it is done in a fun manner. For those who love to collect stuff, here's something for you.

Instead of the current batch of four black badges, you can now collect badges from every artist at the biennale.

They come in many designs and colours and can be found at exhibition sites all over Singapore.

And come this weekend, do look out for several of the volunteers (me included) around town distributing these cool stuff.

Did I mention that there are altogether 95 to collect?

I mean, who would want to miss the chance of walking away with a super flat screen Plasma TV?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

[Tanglin Camp]
For the last two days of my volunteer work with the Singapore Biennale 2006 (I still have to double check the spelling so I don't get it wrong), I've been stationed at Tanglin Camp which used to be the old CMPB for the army.

One visitor mentioned to me that her dad used to work there. I figured it must be eons ago.

They have this column of words at the entrance - politics, love, trust and the list goes on. And it ends with belief.

There's also this room beside the booth near the entrance at the Tanglin Camp that showcases six photographs.

It's titled Fire, Flesh and Blood. Dark images. Shadows that contrast with hues of red and yellow.

A cool car that screens videos on Fridays lies parked parallel to the merchandise counter.

The most interesting one so far is this floating exhibition. But don't get sea sick though.

Today's a pretty quiet day at the Information Centre at SMU. But there are lots of mosquitoes drawing blood from me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

1. I arrived in Doha this morning by Qatar Airways for a bilateral meeting co-chaired by DPM Wong Kan Seng and the Crown Prince. Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. The goal is to make Doha a major aviation hub, a rival to Dubai.

2. I first came to Doha in November 2001 for the WTO ministerial meeting which launched 'the Doha Round'. Coming soon after Sep 11, there was a certain anxiety because it was within Scud range of Iraq. At the end of September, Singapore was asked by the US and EU to be an alternative venue for the WTO meeting. We were reluctant because there was so little time to prepare for it. But PM Goh felt that we had a responsibility to the global trading system and so we agreed, laying down restrictive conditions. This caused some misunderstanding with the Qatar Government which thought that we were undercutting them. In the event, the decision was finally taken not to shift venue. During the WTO meeting, I got to know my counterpart, Trade Minister Yusuf Kamal and we became good friends. He is now the Finance Minister.

3. Our bilateral relations are now growing from strength to strength and cover many areas including security and economic cooperation. There are good opportunities for Singaporeans. We already have a small community here.

4. Qatar is a remarkable country. It has the third largest reserve of natural gas in the world (enough to keep all the power stations in the US going for 50 years) and exports both liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquids converted from gas. It also produces about a million barrels of oil a day. For a small population of less than 200,000 Qataris, this is one of the world's wealthiest countries on a per capita basis. Hundreds of thousands of foreigners work here including many from South Asia and the Philippines. In the coming years, over US$100 billion will be invested in infrastructure and facilities.

5. The Emir and his wife, the Sheikha, are determined to make use of Qatar's wealth to raise the educational and cultural level of Qataris, and to build the best infranstructure any country can have. Their interest in Singapore is principally because they like the way we have been able to raise the quality of our people and build up our capabilities without natural resources.

6. Qatar's external environment is complicated. As Foreign Minister, I can't go into more details. It is also the home of the well-known if somewhat controversial Arabic TV station, Al Jazeera.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

[Term break]
Tomorrow is the start of term break and I will aim to continue to serve hours for my Community Involvement Project. I still have about 50 more to go out of the 80 compulsory hours.

So do drop by the Singapore Biennale. Some of the sites include City Hall (quite a few political exhibits), National Museum (religious and X-rated artwork), Tanglin Camp (very artistic pieces) and the Information Desk at Singapore Management University's campus green.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

[Mid Autumn Lantern Festival Celebration Dinner]
Singapore is held in high regard in other countries Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo said at a dinner to celebrate Mid Autumn Lantern Festival in his constituency last night.

His mood was particularly jovial and he was happy that the festival is now celebrated in Singapore by the many different races.

In his opening address, in both English and Mandarin, he spoke about the praises for Singapore in the recently concluded IMF and World Bank meetings.

Rallying Singaporeans, he emphasised the need to stay strong, stay disciplined and stay united.

Well after all, the slogan for Aljunied is United and Strong.

[Team BRP]
Jogging at Bedok Reservoir is going to be part and parcel of Team BRP. And perhaps even maybe a weekly thing.

Henry emailed me one photo of team BRP in their inaugural jog yesterday albeit the haze was a little daunting.

So here, on behalf of the runners, I shall introduce to you joggers from Team BRP. Don't be surprised next time when you see Minister George Yeo jogging at Bedok Reservoir flanked by men. It's probably Team BRP doing their rounds, literally.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

[Run at Bedok Reservoir]
When I saw a clear sky this morning, I called up Henry from Waterfront Condo to arrange for a run around Bedok Reservoir. Like a good SAF reservist, he quickly mobilized Richard, Kelvin, Chye Huat and Teo Joo. In the afternoon, the blooming haze returned. You could smell it. We were undecided whether to proceed but, I thought, let's press on. Happily, there was a light breeze in the late afternoon and the run turned out to be quite pleasant after all. Our timing was not bad, 26 to 27 minutes to cover a distance slightly less than 5 km. There were many others walking or jogging. Near the shop area, we bumped into Andrew with his big black dog, properly muzzled. He was as pleasantly surprised to see us as we to see him. I chatted with a fisherman from Tampines. He did not catch anything but did not seem to mind.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

1. There is a revolution in T-shirt design in Bedok Reservoir-Punggol. In the past, the T-shirts made for community events were so un-cool, few of us wore them again after the event except perhaps as pyjamas. Well, the older grassroots leaders have decided that T-shirts should henceforth be designed by the cooler, younger generation. The results are not bad at all. At the last dragon boat race at Bedok Reservoir (see Ephraim's blog on TP dragonboaters rock), the sleeveless T was designed by students of Temasek Polytechnic (who did the heavy paddling during the competition). It had to have a fierce-looking dragon and be red in colour to stimulate the qi. Made in dry-fit material, it was a bargain at $10 each.

2. Last night, at our Meet-the-People Session at Hougang Blk 414, I saw a YP T-shirt being designed on the branch computer. The YP members asked for my views but I said I defered to their superior taste. Watch out for it!

Monday, October 02, 2006

[One RC helping another]
Minister emailed me a little touching story just now. I shall call it a tale of two Residents' Committees.

But first let me introduce the two characters in the story. First one, uncle Carlinn. He is the Chairman of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol's Garden RC. Second, is uncle Woon, Chairman of another RC, Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Rise RC.

Reading the letter made me think about our grassroots leaders as a huge family helping one another. But most important, it is how we work together to serve residents. I guess all of the time residents benefit (I can't think of times where they don't).

Compliments for what we do are part and parcel of serving the community. Anyway, here's the touching story:


Dear Mr. Carlinn

I am greatly appreciative to you and your members of Garden RC for rendering the service of sourcing for a second-hand wheel chair for one of my handicap resident.

Last Sunday, 24th September 2006 at 7:30pm a resident of my precinct called to inform me regarding Mr. Abdul Kadir bin Mansor who had some difficulties, therefore on that same evening I went on a home visit to Mr Kadir's flat (Blk 708).

After the visit, I soon found out that Mr. Kadir had Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis for many years, and is currently unemployed. He has two family members; his wife, who is working temporarily to support the family and his daughter, who is currently looking for a job. Without his wife and daughter's attendance at home, Mr Kadir was having difficulties moving around.

Hence, I tried to help him on his mobility by sourcing for a wheelchair for Mr. Kadir. Through a mass SMS, we managed to secure a second-hand wheelchair from Mr. Carlinn.

Mr. Kadir and family had also approached MPS for financial assistance, and I am now currently helping him and his family to
apply for the North East CDC financial assistance and MPS Home Care.

On behalf of my Welfare Sub Committee, Rise RC, thank you very much.

Best regards

If you'd wish to help out for our constituency events, or better still if you are a resident in Bedok Reservoir-Punggol constituency and would like to voulunteer your time and services, please email me at ephraim@singnet.com.sg for details on how you would like to contribute. You can also send me suggestions if you have an idea for a community project. I look forward to receiving your mail!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

[Mid-Autumn Harmony Nite 2006]
1. I was surprised by the number of people who joined us this evening for the Mid-Autumn lantern festival at Punggol Park. There must have been easily over 2000. Some were watching the show. Others brought their kids to the stalls where you could learn how to make mooncakes, prepare bunga manga or brew Chinese tea. There was a long queue for henna tatoos. A few families with young children preferred to be on their own by the lake, lighting lanterns, playing with sparklers and candles, just enjoying themselves. A group of young men and women lazed on a mat with their fancy dogs, two wearing jackets which the owner told me were a fashion statement and not for insulation. The weather was pleasant except for the slight haze. I bumped into an old NS colleague from 3 Signal Battalion (1978). He was shocked that I could remember his name. Actually I surprised myself.

2. Harmony RC and CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity were the joint organisers. The CHIJ kids were wonderful, patiently teaching adults how to do this and that. Behind them were of course their dedicated teachers. The Principal is a bundle of energy.

3. The highlight of the evening was our procession around the lake (slightly over 1 km) led by the dragon and lion group from Punggol Community Centre. I felt like a kid again leading everyone with my little paper lantern. It was fun. One pretty Damai schoolgirl, dressed and made up as Chang E, accompanied us. The young men and women of the dragon and lion group were with me earlier that evening at Hougang Mall at another Mid-Autumn celebration. I admired their spirit and stamina.

4. It's nice to see the way the Mid-Autumn Festival has evolved in our urban environment drawing in children of all races. In the old days, we had our processions along dark tracks in rural areas, sometimes accompanied by ducks and geese. Things are more organised now but the spirit is the same.

[Grassroots events and a biennale party]
The past two days has been hectic.

Because of back-to-back events, I'm fully drained. Never mind if next week is an exam week.

First up, the North East CDC Appointment Ceremony in the heartlands yesterday evening with our Prime Minister.

Dragonboat team mate Melvin and I pose with Minister George Yeo sporting our silver medals. An exclusive get-together with the rest of the team is in the pipeline.

The Pre-Annual Constituency Workplan Seminar at Suntec City this morning.

And the Mid Autumn Harmony Nite 2006 at Punggol Park just now.

Also, there was a special Singapore Biennale dinner last night at Tanglin Camp.

So I took some time, after downing a glass of red wine, to view the exhibits. There was also this otah mantou that was delicious. And I never get bored trying out new food.

It was my first time visiting the Tanglin Camp site and the walk through the path to the site was spooky. It was all dark and silent as I tread the path and there was a chill down my spine.

Most of the rooms are not air-conditioned there but a handful are. A good venue to visit if you have the time.