[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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

[Tomorrow.sg biased?]
Is Tomorrow.sg, the online version of The Straits Times?

I kindof think so. If many think the mainstream media is biased, well, there has to be a certain bias to online media too.

It occurs to me that once I say something that is pro-government, Tomorrow.sg tends to pick it up. But when I make some not so pro-government comments about certain policies or issues, they usually don't get published.

I must admit that I was too fast in commenting about the GST hike. But the crux of it was not whether it should or should not be raised but the point that I was driving across was on the policies the government would make or amend to help the lower income groups. Or those that they claim need the most help.

Sadly, Tomorrow.sg quoted me as saying: "My view is that raising the GST to 7% is just a little 2 points up so no big deal. Although if it keeps getting up, up and up, it may be too hot to handle. Perhaps it should be capped a a certain percentage - maybe 10% or something."

And you know what the backlash on Tomorrow.sg is? Very 'constructive'.

But I must thank those that have left the comments on my post - I will try to understand the bigger picture.

Many have said that the "new poor" of Singapore, which are those in the middle income group, should be helped too.

So let's sit back, wait and listen to the policies that will be announced come budget day.

I read about a closed door discussion about university fee hikes on Tomorrow.sg. And there was a trackback to a post by Mr Wang about 4 in 10 foreigners in NUS receiving bursaries.

So here's a letter that I wrote sometime back on NUS alumni donations:

I refer to Bob Chua’s comments (ST, Nov 7) urging National University of Singapore alumni to contribute more of their time, not just money, to the university to act as mentors and career coaches to graduating students.

When money is involved, issues of transparency will also come into play. Many will start to question where the money goes and whether it has been used appropriately. The guidelines on who receives what will also be scrutinised. So will the process of selecting the recipients.

If universities are more open on how such donations are used, it will seem to be a more transparent process for potential donors.

Perhaps only then will alumni be encouraged and not have a conservative attitude with regard to donating money.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

[Doha Asian Games]
1. Tomorrow, PM will be visiting our athletes at the Asian Games Village. The Qataris have done an amazing job getting everything done in time. When I came here in May earlier this year, they were working like mad. Many projects in the country ran out of cement as every bag was diverted to the construction of Games facilities.

2. Since my first visit to Doha in Nov 2001 for the WTO Ministerial Meeting (which launched the Doha Development Agenda or Doha Round), the city has been transformed. It is now a beautiful city with handsome buildings and green parks lining the corniche. The GDP growth rate in Qatar over the last few years has probably been the highest in the world at well over 10% a year. Real estate prices have shot the roof.

3. We are seeing a growing presence of Singaporeans and Singapore companies in Qatar. Keppel has just secured a sizeable waste management project. The Qatari Government is keen to see us do more. We have to compete of course but we do have a good reputation as being reliable and honest.

4. Our former PAP Branch Secretary Halim Kadir has been helping the Qataris on the organisation of sepak takraw for the Asian Games. I hope to see him and other Singaporeans on this visit. Ephraim who owns this blogsite told me that he has enlisted as a volunteer and will be coming up in one or two weeks' time, after his exams.

5. It is good to see Singaporeans fanning out to various parts of the world for fun, fame and fortune. It is never without risk but then what is life without risk. Many Singaporeans must be wondering why there has been such a flurry of official visits to the Middle East recently - President Nathan to Egypt and Jordan, MM to Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, and, now, PM to Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Well, there are interesting opportunities in this region. By paving the way politically, we make it easier for our businessmen to explore possibilities.

6. When China was all the rage, non-Chinese Singaporeans wondered whether the Government was being even-handed. Then we had the Indian fever and now the Middle East beckons. Within a relatively short period, we have restored all the links which created modern Singapore, the same links which brought many of our forefathers to our sunny island. These same links will take us far this century.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

[North East Music Mix]
What do you call a female DJ? Apparently, according to the hosts of the North East Music Mix, they are called Dee Janes.

So yeah. The North East Music Mix is a DJ-ing competition organised by the North East CDC.

They put participants through a 12 week long course and thereafter, the participants compete among themselves.

Last night, I was invited to the event at Ministry of Sound's 54. It is the second visit there in a week. I was invited on Tuesday for Surge@MOS. And twice, there was no alcohol served. It is a good move by the organisers. Anyway these young kids that are as young as 16 may not have the chance to see what MOS is about if not for the event.

I liked the artwork along the walls on the flight of steps leading to 54.

Each guest received a 91.3 and 100.3 goodie bag. Cool notebooks, a few pencils and stuff. And a free non-alcoholic drink.

There were eight contestants - four in the student category and four in the open category.

The students had 15 minutes to spin their stuff and work the audience with their nifty handwork and showmanship.

The winner for the student category was this hot chick. First time I saw a female at the turntable. But yeah, if men can do it so can the women.

When the emcees interviewed her, guess what she said?

"The difference between man and women is you know what". And so they laughed.

Participants in the open category had to do it for a longer duration (I forgot how long but the music was great).

But you had to give it to last year's winner, and also judge for this year's competition, DJ Inquisitive.

He spins without headphones, changes records faster than you change clothes and scratches like nobody's business.

In between drinks, I managed a few pictures of the surroundings like the bar.

And some photos of the audience having fun.

This DJ-ing thing is not new to me. Lest I get labelled a mountain tortoise by not so kind people. In fact, I've tried it before.

Guest-of-Honour Ong Kian Min had a hand at it too. He pressed a few buttons here and there on the mixer. And the songs were played on time to the beat.

To the organisers: I wouldn't mind being invited again next year but please let me bring a few friends.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

[The Dubai Miracle]
1. Each time I return to Dubai, I see new developments. Some of the developments are out of this world like a ski centre in desert country. After Sep 11, this Sheikhdom received huge inflows of money from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, India and elsewhere. Once upon a time, the Dubaians said they learnt from Singapore. Now, with a smile, they say they have overtaken Singapore which, in some ways, they have.

2. Yesterday, on transit in Dubai on our way to Riyadh, we visited the site of the Dubai Mall which was designed by a Singapore team for the Emmar Group. When completed, it will be five times the size of Vivocity, our largest mall. One entrance will provide a drop-off for very well-heeled customers. If you don't drive a Porsche or better, please use some other entrance. Dubai is becoming a playground for some of the wealthiest people in the world. The Burj al Arab hotel (don't know how many stars it gets) is luxurious beyond belief. At the main entrance were parked, maybe, ten Rolls Royces. No one knows how long this boom will continue.

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

3. In all countries, income distribution is stretching out. Increasingly money flows where it wants to, not where governments want it to go. The rich can choose where to live and play, and some come to Dubai. We want them to come to Singapore too. Our IRs should make us more attractive.

4. Our advantage is a better functioning system which enables Singaporeans to earn a premium over the 'international rate'. But there is a limit to that premium. If we over-price or under-pay, the investment goes somewhere else. With hundreds of millions of hungry Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese and others joining the global marketplace, many workers in more developed countries including Singapore come under downward competitive wage pressure. In Dubai, most of the workers are from India and the Philippines. They outnumber the locals.

[The project]
The biennale has gone to the heartlands.

For the finale of my community service project, we gathered close to 40 kids for a little party. The food from Four Seasons catering was awesome. As usual, the eclairs ran out pretty fast - they're very delicious.

To make the kids feel a sense of belonging, we engaged them in art. Four different coloured paints, many hands and a few hours later, the complete picture emerged.

I present, Kids Art Work, November 2006, Team Hercules.

The title's kindof corny. It's sounds like a pun on 'Kids At Work'.

One last lap to go - to source for a computer, buy software and settle the accounts for the project.

I believe we are on track.

Friday, November 24, 2006

[The smoking ban]
When I read the letter "Smoking ban seems to be hazy in some places" from Elena Lau in today's edition of Today, I laughed. It was a loud laugh.

The funny part that tickled me was the way she poked fun at the PSI index. Or was it the work of creative editors at Today?

Here's what she wrote:

A few months ago, the government implemented Non-Smoking Zones in all coffeehouses and hawker centres.

During that time, plainclothes officers went around the island’s eateries to keep tabs on people violating this new law. Fines were imposed on those who were found guilty.

Since then, fewer offences have been reported in the newspapers. Or has the law been simply forgotten?

Consider this instance.

I was having breakfast at a coffeeshop in the east recently. Being heavily pregnant, my husband suggested that we find a table away from patrons who had packets of cigarettes on their tables.

I told him confidently that they would not smoke here as there was a no-smoking signboard that could be seen by all patrons. I was wrong.

Shortly after we sat down, the woman at the next table took out a cigarette and lighted up. Her partner followed suit. Moments later, patrons at another table next to us also took out their cigarettes and joined in.

It was as if we were back to the days of the hazy season when the PSI index soared to 80.

I could see that the coffeeshop’s assistant was grappling with the dilemma of whether to inform the smokers about the law and risk having unhappy patrons, or simply to ignore them.

In the end, nothing was done. My question is, has the smoking ban gone up in smoke?

Are you laughing already? Not yet?

Perhaps the people in the coffee shop in the east were having a cigarette-lighting competition. Fastest who lights up wins - but win to a fine?

Does not sound fine to me.

I always wanted to write on this topic but was afraid to offend the smoking population in Singapore. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against them. In fact, I have many very close friends that are smokers.

The thing about the ban is that there is no proper enforcement or control. Yes although there is a hotline to report errant smokers, how effective is that hotline? By the time the officers come, all that is left are cigarette ashes.

Unless we have a STOMP citizen journalist around who captures the smoky incident on tape. Or maybe these citizen journalists can be rewarded when they turn in errant smokers (remember our anti-piracy campaign) - earn cash when we nab an errant smoker based on your tip-off.

Once, during my political science class, a group suggested having a smoke-only zone. It was wacky idea but it may work. This smoke-only zone will be a well ventilated room for smokers to smoke. Smokers can smoke till the PSI ratings in the room hit 1000.

To protect the environment, there will be a proper filtration device to expel the smoke. Non-smokers will not be present in that area (or building), and cigarette smoke will not whiff out of and take non-smokers by surprise. And everyone will be happy. No second-hand smoke. Those who like to smoke can have a smoky time.

The only thing is that 'smoke gets in your eyes'. The eyes of the smokers that is. (I remember one of mrbrown's podcast having that corny song). Oh, it was about PSI ratings.

So while there is a youtube clip (MTV is passe, but the staff at MTV have cool namecards) that has the tune "Money, money, money" with a subtle Singaporean flavour of PM's 'mee siam mai hum', maybe it is time for a 'Smoke gets in your eyes' clip.

But then the subtle humming of 'mee siam mai hum' in the background will not blend well with 'Smoke gets in your eyes'.

We'll leave it to them then.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

[PAYM's 35th Anniversary]
I was invited to the People's Association Youth Movement's 35th Anniversary Celebrations this evening at the new Cathay cineplex just opposite SMU.

It was a special screening of the movie Happy Feet (which I will talk about later in the post).

I must say the seats in the new cineplex are noticibly larger that those at GV at Plaza Singapura. Not sure about those in VivoCity as i haven't been there yet. But I was more than content chilling out in hall 7.

Surprisingly, there was no birthday song, candles or a big cake. Instead every guest received a cake from Polar cakes and puffs. It's very personalised with the logo and all. As I will only have it for breakfast tomorrow, I can't tell you whether it is delicious as yet.

The movie Happy Feet starts with a chrous of songs and has scenes of a globe, landscapes and then finally, the stars of the show appear - the penguins.

It is quite similar like most animated (a la Ice Age 2) movies and the plot's generally the same. A penguin couple falls in love and they have a baby penguin named Mumble (voiced by LOTR star Elijah Wood) who is different from everyone else. It's just like the ugly duckling story - great for kids. No prizes for guessing, Mumble saves the day in the end.

There are a lot of adventure elements throughout the entire movie with elephant seals and whales. And even an encounter with eagles. There is no shortage of surprizes.

So while the clan of penguins that Mumble grows up in woos their other half with songs, Mumble who is different only manages with his off-pitch screech. And is the nightmaire of every headmaster. But then far from the madding crowd, there lies another species of penguin - that well, keep themselves happy with their, you guessed it, feet. And they break out spontaneously in song with their 'hip hop' moves (there were no P65 MPs present in the movie) and footwork.

The adventure element is not lacking in this one. Lest you think it is all about adventure, there are also lots of breakouts into songs - oldies and top hits - no less. I felt like singing when i watched it. Maybe next time when they release the DVD version I can sing along.

Interstingly, this is the first animated movie that I've watched that features real life humans with close interaction. There's even a 'UN debate' on the interference with the food chain of the penguins (halfway in the movie, the entire generation of penguins are deprived of their source of fish and a curious Mumble vows to find the root cause).

Are there really aliens around? Are they the ones responsible for the disapppearing fish?

You have to watch Happy Feet to find out.

Okay. On to serious stuff - the impending (yes it is impending) GST hikes.

My view is that raising the GST to 7% is just a little 2 points up so no big deal. Although if it keeps getting up, up and up, it may be too hot to handle. Perhaps it should be capped at a certain percentage - maybe 10% or something.

VAT in Thailand is 7% and other countries have much higher tax rates. And by the time it is our new GST is passed during budget debate next year, we would have had sufficient time to adjust to it. Those who had saved their progress package payouts would be the ones laughing now - it's a good idea to save up for rainy days.

Apart from listening to the grouses, I believe what needs to be done is to formulate policies that will really benefit the people in the lower income range. Our Gini coefficient has been rising through the years (I know this and it is thanks to my attentiveness during sociology class). It is no doubt that the income gap in Singapore is widening.

Singaporeans are very good at formulating policies. But how efficient these policies are, we have yet to see. Maybe to be more transparent, policy makers should have varied solutions for the different groups. What's most important is to let Singaporeans know that the process is one that is all encompassing and transparent. That is what leaders have to do - to convince those on the ground that what they are doing is for their benefit.

This way, everyone has a fair share in know what goes behind the debates and the stand of the Government and how these new or add-on policies will really benefit needy families (or those that are in the lower percentiles of the income range).

The way I see it is that the Government wants each and everyone to be self-reliant. Although there is no real safety net, there are policies drafted to help those that sincerely need the assistance.

[GST Again]
1. Since PM announced GST going up to 7%, there has been an avalanche of negative comments. Some funny cartoons are also in circulation. However, I believe that once the details come out, Singaporeans will have a clearer picture of what the Government is trying to achieve.

2. This is not a zero-sum game robbing Peter to pay Paul however deserving Paul may be. It is a much larger exercise to put Singapore on a better financial footing to address some very big challenges ahead of us. To address these challenges, we have to make sure that the great majority of Singaporeans stay competitive in the global marketplace and the minority among us who face difficulty are given help.

3. The big challenge is the rise of China and India. Just engineers alone, these two countries will produce a million new graduates a year. A million!! In the last 10 years, China has poured billions of dollars into upgrading its universities. In all the major cities, the Chinese have built enormous parks housing many universities for all kinds of subjects. India is starting to do likewise. Whether we like it or not, this has a huge impact, not only on us, but on every other country. This is the reason why protectionist sentiments are on the rise.

4. Now China and India are moving closer together. President Hu Jintao in his recent visit to Delhi said that the world is big enough for both China and India to grow and develop. Indeed, their growth will open a new era of prosperity in Asia. Many people are already talking about this being the Asian century. But the question for us is where Singapore stands in this new Asia. No one owes us a living. We have to meet the competition head on. If we don't keep up with the competition, we'll be left behind. This is the reason why we have to continue investing in education, retraining, R&D and making sure our infrastructure is tip-top. Our greatest advantage is our pro-business environment - no corruption, fast response, efficient logistics, law and order. Only with investments coming in will our people have good jobs.

5. In the last few years, the workload in MFA and MTI have shot up because of the need to create new external space for our businesses to expand and create jobs. This evening, I'm following PM to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Middle East is an exciting new frontier for us. Many countries in the Middle East look up to us and want us to work with them. Now is the time to seize the opportunities.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

[School's out]
It's been a great first term. Though the going was a little tough, with lots of projects and group work, it went well. So there goes four months of life in SMU.

Last Friday was my last day of term and it was spent having a little chill out session at Spinelli's at Raffles City. As the sun was setting while I was there, I decided to capture a few shots. I love this one with the dark cloud in the sky!

Haven't been blogging as much as I'm still mugging for my exams that are next week. I'm looking forward to my exam because after my papers, I will be on two stints out of the country. More on that soon.

P.S. Do join the Coffee Talk with Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo. It's gonna be fun!

Monday, November 20, 2006

[Words of Encouragement]
1. I was at the Eurasian Association last night to meet the new Management Committee. Over dinner, an old colleague from the Air Force expressed discomfort at the way the Government presented the problem of an ageing population. Coming to 60 himself, he thought that portraying old people as a burden to society was demoralizing. Had they not contributed to Singapore society and did they now not have a right to be supported? I thanked him for bringing up a point which set me thinking.

2. How a message is conveyed makes a big difference to the way it is received. It is not that older people are inconsiderate of those who are younger; they just do not want to be put down because of age. Quite a few Singaporeans in their comments on my blogs have lamented the way we seem to be playing up foreign talent as if local talent are not as good. Most of us could applaud those who do better than us but only provided we are ourselves are not diminished in the process. By encouraging some, we should not inadvertently discourage others.

3. At church two Sundays ago, my parish priest cited the wisdom of a Jewish rabbi who said that giving was part of human dignity whether we are rich or poor, in health or in sickness. Giving, loving, understanding others, caring for others, all this makes us human. It is not enough to receive or be cared for. My old friend said that while he was able to, he would continue to work and contribute to society. I will always remember his words.

Friday, November 17, 2006

[APEC Meeting in Hanoi]
1. It has been almost two years since I was last at Hanoi. This must be my tenth visit since the early 90's. Each time I come, the city looks better. It is a charming city dotted with lakes and old French colonial buildings. The Vietnamese are making steady progress and has been growing faster than any other country in ASEAN, right through the Asian financial crisis till now. In 15-20 years time, Vietnam will be a major force in ASEAN. They are an intelligent, hardworking and determined people. Many young Vietnamese will head off to atttend night classes after work. Thousands of them study in Singapore.

2. Singapore has excellent links with Vietnam. We are one of their major investors and trading partners. There is now a sizeable Singapore community in Ho Chi Minh City number over 2000. Tiger Beer is big here.

3. In a methodical way, Vietnam has been upgrading its capability, step by step, to hold conferences from the ASEAN Summit to the Asia-Europe Summit to, now, the APEC Summit. The new conference centre is spacious and well-equipped with an attractive architectural design. It has a huge forecourt of fountains. 25 Leaders from around the Pacific will descend on this city with a history of a thousand years from tomorrow, among them President Bush, President Hu Jintao, President Putin and PM Abe. We have just completed the ministerial meeting which the Vietnamese Foreign and Commerce Ministers co-chaired with great skill and diplomacy.

4. In 1975, the North took over the South. In 1978, Vietnamese Army divisions crossed the Mekong to vanquish the Khmer Rouge, threatening Thailand and the rest of us in Southeast Asia. In 1989, they pulled out and, not long afterwards, Vietnam joined ASEAN. With the Cold War far behind us, we are entering a new phase of peace and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. The North Korean nuclear problem is still a headache but the prospects on the whole are bright. APEC is now a premier organisation and, for the first time, the Leaders will be talking about a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific encompassing over half the world's economy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

[Coffee Talk with George]
For the past few months the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Young PAP team has been hard at work planning for a slew of upcoming events.

And on 4 December, we will kick off with the first one.

Aptly titled Coffee Talk with George, this event will be of a different concept unlike other dialogue sessions. Do participate to find out what's different about it.

The team will be inviting 40 Singaporean youths - from either a local Polytechnic or University - to join us in a special discussion with Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo.

To be invited for this inaugural session, email us your name and contact details to ypap.brp@gmail.com for an invite. Successful participants will be notified by email.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

[Higher GST]
1. Many Singaporeans are unhappy with PM's announcement of an increase in GST to 7%. This will increase the cost of living and affect everyone. Why is the Government doing this? Almost immediately, I received negative feedback. I'm sure many MPs will be raising this subject in Parliament.

2. The reason for increasing taxes is to allow the Government to do more for poorer Singaporeans in the coming years. There is a significant segment of our population which will need help. Many of them are older Singaporeans who did not have high education. With globalisation, their wages are being kept down by competition from countries like China, Vietnam and India. With the rapid ageing of our population, the problem will become much worse in the future.

3. Our society will become divided if the majority continues to make good progress while a sizeable minority is unable to. The increase in GST will help us reduce the severity of widening income levels. It is the least harmful way to do so. Protecting jobs creates new problems because investors might pull out and go elsewhere. Increasing direct taxes will have the same effect. The most important thing is to keep our economy growing. With growth, we can always find the resources to help those who are less well-off. If growth slows, the problems will become much worse which is the case in many countries around us.

4. Implementing this shift in our policy involves a lot of details which will be discussed in the coming months. The GST increase is only one part of it. PM's speech yesterday covered many areas. If we are able to make this shift in a way which strengthens both our economy and our social unity, we will be in a much better position to face the challenges ahead of us. Asia is on the move, China, India, Vietnam and other countries are making rapid strides. Singapore is actually very well-placed to benefit from their growth. We must make sure that all Singaporeans benefit, and not just the majority.

Monday, November 13, 2006

[Closing parties]
It's the season to party. Just because it is the end of the Singapore Biennale, there were parties to thank the people behind the scenes and all the guests and the people that made the event possible - artists included. I was at two such parties over the weekend. As usual there was wine, beer and great food.

The first was a party at City Hall Chambers. It was an eye-opener. Some of the guests present include famous artists, musicians and even ambassadors. I also met the Australian High Commissioner (I recognise him because he came to SMU for a talk before). He's a friendly man and was surprised that I knew his name.

In between, I managed an hour on Sunday to check out the Singapore Regetta. One of the Temasek Polytechnic rowers, Hui Yuan, had asked me to go down to support the team. It was good to find out that they were in the finals.

Last year I was there as well to support the People's Association team and a friend.

At night, I went for the closing party for the biennale volunteers. It was interesting because I met many familiar faces - from a total stranger in the beginning. One sign at the biennale party poked fun at the theme of the biennale. Instead of the word 'belief' some cheeky person cancelled the letter 'b' and replaced it with the letter 'r' making the word 'relief'.

There are talks that there will be another biennale in 2008. I have decided to volunteer for that too.

Art is not just for the high class. It is good to see ordinary Singaporeans visiting the exhibition and expressing their thoughts.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

[Life Upgrading]
1. I have just sent off a letter to the residents of Blks 403-412 Hougang Ave 10 informing them of the outcome of the recent vote on lift upgrading. All except one block, 407, voted in favour.

2. Blks 408 and 409 narrowly cleared the required 75%. I knew earlier from HDB that the support level among the eligible residents in those two blocks was not as strong as the other blocks because the residents of a number of units would still have to climb half a staircase to get to a lift landing. Also, the $3000 payment was a lot of money despite Government's subsidy of $27,000. I visited many of the residents of those two blocks to explain the importance of voting in favour. Apart from the convenience for those with weak legs, it would affect the resale value. It would have been a great pity if the residents in that block did not get the lift upgrading for lack of one or two votes.

3. Blk 407 was precisely short of one vote. There are 14 eligible executive maisonettes in that block. But because it is low rise, the need for lift-upgrading was less keenly felt. I have to respect their choice.

[Bright Hill Temple]
1. I visited Bright Hill Temple this afternoon with Yeo Guat Kwang and some grassroots leaders and had a vegetarian lunch with Ven Guang Sheng, Ven Fa Zhao and Ven Guang Pin. Mr Lee Bock Guan from the Buddhist Lodge was also there. I have not been back at Bright Hill Temple since the Venerable Sek Hong Choon died many years ago. The complex has grown and the new meditation hall is beautiful. The heavy rain created a special mood. The food was of very high standard and elegantly presented. Ven Guang Sheng expressed surprise that the Temple's kitchen could produce such fare. It turned out that the food was specially catered.

2. Tomorrow night, the delegates to the Nalanda Symposium on Monday will be hosted to a welcome vegetarian dinner at Bright Hill Temple. The Singapore Buddhist Federation is a major sponsor of the Symposium. President Abdul Kalam of India will be participating 'live' by video-conference. It is a strange but happy coincidence that I should be visiting Bright Hill Temple two days in a row after an absence of more than 15 years.

Friday, November 10, 2006

[Serving the community]
Every first-year SMU student has to go throught this - a leadership and teambuilding module.

The class is divided into groups and each group has to do a project that benefits the community.

So the team that I am part of - Team Hercules - had been in discussion with Sunlove Neighbourhood Link in Chai Chee to revamp one of their rooms.

And last Saturday - which was also my birthday - the team spent close to a whole day making the room nice and cosy for the kids there.

The room before the revamp

The room after the revamp

[Regulating Blogs]
1. I read the ST reports of the recent debate within Workers Party with some interest. The exchanges must have become so heated that WP Leaders decided to regulate them. In Parliament today, Mr Low Thia Khiang made it clear that it wasn't censorship. I am not at all surprised that this should have become an issue even for the Opposition. When I was the Chairman of the Young PAP, I got a group of YP members to start a website. While I gave them plenty of room to experiment, I told them repeatedly, please, don't get me into trouble. There is no such thing as freedom without responsibility because one man's freedom can mean another man's un-freedom.

2. All this reminded me of my time in MITA when the Internet was just taking off in Singapore. We had heated debates in Parliament with many MPs asking for the Internet to be censored. In 1995, the Chinese Government sent a very high level delegation to study the media in Singapore including our regulation of the Internet. I only found out later that the Chinese Government was settling its own framework for the Internet and wanted to study our experience. A year later when I visited Beijing, the leader of the delegation hosted me to a private dinner at Zhongnanhai. I was delighted to discover recently that one member of that delegation is now the Party Secretary of Guangxi Autonomous Region, Mr Liu Qibao. Guangxi was where the recent ASEAN-China Summit was held. Now China may have more Internet users than the US, as Negroponte from MIT Media Labs predicted ten years ago.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I dropped by one concert this afternoon at SMU. I was late because I was held up at Chai Chee doing my leadership and teambuliding project.

But I still managed to catch Ronin upclose. And I dare say they are very daring. There was a little "stripping". The lead singer changed into a frock on stage in front of the audience. But I was fine with it, afterall, SMU students are different and they can handle such stuff. My political science classmates are a good example.

The other one was the Kindergarten Graduation Concert by PCF Bedok Reservoir-Punggol & Aljunied Hougang. They profess: "it's a wonderful world".

It was like an animal kingdom - you have chickens, rabbits, snakes, elephants, bears, mice, birds and the list goes on. The elephants were great. It brought back memories. Many years ago, when I was in kindergerten, I was one of the many elephants on stage. So when I saw the kids dancing, tapping and sashaying to the music I was smiling to myself.

Graduation concerts seem to be part and parcel of kindergarten life. It's like a rite of passage. It was overall an enjoyable experience and a change.

I'm sure parents the parents enjoyed the night there - the NUS University Cultural Centre was a conducive place to sit back relax and enjoy some light-hearted fun.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

E.I.C and Ronin will be rocking the perspective of SMU students tomorrow at 12.30pm.

And everyone has to be a star - a recycling star that is.

And I'm looking forward to their performances. But the coolest thing is the area that organisers of the event have done up. Made from cardboard boxes, the event is set to instil the recycling habit in SMU city.

There'll be free free tea, a free tee and loads of fun, fun and fun.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

[Views on public transport in Singapore]
The review of public transport is a bold move. After all, public transport is an everyday issue that affects most Singaporeans.

I believe Singaporeans want a system of bus service where fares are kept as low as possible. Of course other than when increasing oil rates cause fares to go up.

While there have been measures to help low-income families with the introduction of monthly unlimited bus passes, more can be done. For example, the disbursement of the Public Transport Fund vouchers can be extended to help needy families on a case-by-case basis over a period of a few months instead of only on a one-off basis.

The two transport operators, SBS Transit and SMRT, should work together to offer alternative schemes to provide assistance. Among that could be a universal transport pass that can be used for travel on all buses and trains. The rental fees of taxis can be reduced so that taxi drivers can earn enough to cover rising diesel costs. Several taxi drivers have said that even though fares are raised, their income remains more or less the same (maybe due to rising rental fees).

Quality checks can be conducted on buses to ensure that they are in good condition to travel on the road. There was once I had an enocunter with a silent alighting 'bell' which made me nearly miss my stop. Another time on service 132, there was this bus that had a noisy engine.

There's been a lot of talk about the enhancements on public transport too. TV Mobile is paid by MediaCorp but I wonder if those real-time information systems are sponsored. The GPS tracking system on buses was launched but is seldom used - I wonder if it is outdated and maybe has it become a white elephant. Yes, harnessing technology and implementing high tech stuff would enhance and provide better customer service. However, these costs should not be translated to the general commuters which in turn cause fares to rise - I hear the two transport operators made a tidy profit last year.

The transport operators also need to constantly ensure that waiting duration for buses to arrive is kept at a minimum especially during peak hours. My 103 has been arriving quite on the dot, so no complains as yet. Having frequent arrival of trains during peak hours alleviates the problem of overcrowding during peak hours - I wait not more than 5 minutes for my crowded train on the NEL everytime but it is still bearable although I have a little room to stand.

Taxis companies have to work together and strive to warn (or punish, is it too harsh?) errant cabbies that consistently avoid picking up passengers. There was once I saw a cab that was parked at the taxi stand close to midnight. He didn't want to pick up anyone. I wonder if the engine started roaring after the clock struck 12.

Singapore wants to have a world-class transport system for its world-class citizens. A world-class transportation system is one that not only caters to the man on the street but also to needy families that find it difficult to make ends meet. Hey, it rhymes.

I think with new transport Minister Raymond Lim on board, things will get better. Let's give him some time.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

[I do disagree sometimes]
Being in the party doesn't mean that you have to sing the PAP tune all the time. There are sometimes disagreements during discussions and policy forums.

What members are able to provide are alternative viewpoints for consideration. After all, that is the one of the reasons why we are there.

One particular issue I have strong views about is the Progress Package. Although the package consists of many parts, I had felt that it was a better idea not to confuse residents with the different schemes. Perhaps, it should not have been done concurrently.

There was the growth dividents, the workfare bonus and so on. It was a power package for everybody. But that meant a huge confusion. Many were confused on what they should apply and how to apply. Others had applied but heard that there was more. They rushed to apply again and were disappointed when they were told that they were not eligible.

Then there are residents that are illiterate do not read newspapers. So they rely on hearsay. And they totally have no idea what they are applying for.

"Government give money. So take lor," was the most common reply. It was pretty sad seeing all that going on.

When I had the opportunity to meet Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, I mentioned this to him. He sort of agreed that it was too concurrent.

It is feedback from a wide spectrum that allows improvement. If everyone paints a rosy picture and only says the good things, then we are doomed. Leaders will get the wrong impression of the ground. This will in turn become dissent and make the society apathetic. And this is not the way forward.

On the other hand, the people on the ground have to be frank and honest about their views. Only then can we become a better society.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

[Reply to Blog Comments]
1. Let me apologize for not often replying to comments on my blogs. This is because of my time constraint. Answering some comments would also require me to do research or check details with officials which I rather not do. Blogging for me is personal and should be fun, not more work at the end of the day.

2. I would like to respond to my earlier remark ('Words Matter' in 'Of blogging and censorship views' posted on October 24) that anonymous comments are not credible which offended some people. I should have qualified myself. In my work, I sometimes receive anonymous 007 letters about this officer or that. Some are not to be taken seriously. A few could be malicious. There are occasions when the writers have good reason to want to stay anonymous. If I think that there could be something to a complaint, I refer it for further investigation. Otherwise the letter is just filed away. I do read comments on my blogs when I have the time including the anonymous ones. But, because they are anonymous, I have to make the same type of judgment about their seriousness. But please continue to give me your comments, anonymous or not. Nothing is worse than blogging when no one is interested.

3. This afternoon, I did the official opening for ARK (Adventure and Recreation at Kovan), a new adventure park built on vacant land next to Paya Lebar Community Centre. The youth group which led this project did a great job. I felt so inspired by their spirit and creativity. My fellow MP, Cynthia Lee, encouraged them on and provided some resources. The youth leaders encouraged me to try out some of the stations. I could not say 'no' in front of so many cameras. As always in such matters, you are glad you took the plunge. I, Cynthia, Hwee Hua and Guat Kwang enjoyed ourselves. Check it out.

[Up close with Dim Sum Dollies]
It was an arty farty day for me.

I went to the school early in the morning to search for material for my sociology project. I had to look for information on deviance, crime, tattoos and piercings. I chanced upon this book titled Fish! for Life - a book that can motivate and inspire. I'm halfway through and I should finish it tonight.

I had spent half of the afternoon after class reading the first part. Inspiring. It teaches how to get into the right frame of attitude and to play. The TCC in school is a good place to hang out. I have been there two days in a row. And just now, I visited the TCC at Boat Quay for dinner. They should have this most number of TCC visits in a day award man.

After ploughing through half the book, I decided to take a walk and a breather near Parliament. The Arts House at the Old Parliament projected a refreshing change - I recalled my younger years when I used to visit.

It was still a tad too early to go to victoria Theatre for the Preview of Dim Sum Dollies, Little Shop of Horrors, so I sat by the Singapore River and contiuned to bury my head in my Fish! for Life book.

The sunset with Boat Quay in the foreground was awesome. I watched the sky turn orange then blue. By then, it was time to journey to the theatre.

Selena Tan, Pam Oei and Emma Yong rocked the audience at the preview show of Little Shop of Horrors. They were hilarious. I loved their Melayu accent during one scene.

Although the plot was nothing new - boy meets man, buys a pot of plant, miracles happen and he gets famous overnight. It was pertty predictable although the ending was abrupt and unexpected. But you've got to give the actors credit for their slapstick jokes and digs at certain daily Singaporean issues - like getting a parking fine parking by the side of the road for 1 minute.

Lim Yu Beng scores with his jives and although he is a veteran, he still can shake his booty very well. Robin Goh's costume changes were fast and furious too - he had a few roles to play. In the programme guide, his role is "everyone else". Electrico's Dave Tan also did well in the different genres of songs - I think he did the rock and roll very well. The songs are catchy too.

The best part was getting to meet the cast up close. Only nine main actors were involved in this production and it was a pleasant overall experience.

So after watching the musical, I shall follow what the cast says. Word of mouth is very powerful - so go catch Dim Sum Dollies, Little Shop of Horrors. It is bloody (excuse my French) funny.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

[Foreign talent]
Singapore wants to attract more foreign talent. You would remember PM's speech at the National Day Rally.

It is good in the service sense. Can you imagine having a Singaporean serve you at let's say a particular jeans store?

You walk into the shop. The sales person stares at you. Fakes a smile. Then you walk around.

Staff: Can I help? What you want?

You: Can I try this stylo piece please? (Xiaxue will do her intro with all the ^%#&# and %@$^%, as usual)

Staff: Nah. Here. Fitting room there.

You try the piece on.

Staff: How? Cannot fit ah? Try another one lah. But this one more expensive. You can afford?

You: ....

I am not trying to say that Singaporeans make bad sales/service staff. But yeah, the foreigners do it better.

Look at Thailand. Look at the Philippines. I know a few that work in food outlets in Singapore. The Filipino nurses are very friendly too. Is it their culture?

Then can you imagine if you ask a Singaporean to work in a refuse collection industry? Most don't even want to be security guards!

In various sectors, we see a considerable amount of foreing talent. So in a sense, let's keep foreign talent.

But there is an alternative view.

I once spoke to a degree holder from India. He is now doing a diploma at a local institute. I asked him why. He mentioned that to get PR status, he had to upgrade and study to become more marketable.

I chatted on and on. Then suddenly, I popped that question. Would you want to be a citizen after your PR expires?

His answer was an outright "no".

I probed further. I asked him if it was because we are a controlled country and whether if it was due to the lack of freedom of expression in Singapore?

No was his answer (good thing, or politically correct I don't know).

After probing further, I found out that he feels that living in Singapore is "too stressful". Too much competition, he says. The pace of life is too fast. He'd rather earn enough and relax at a nearby luxurious island.

I mean but then, Singapore is stable, peaceful and safe. He declined to say more.

So this is my view with my encounter with foreign talent in Singapore. Okay, don't force me to talk about dual-citizenship next man.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

[Rain and school]
It is 8.30pm and I'm still at school. I can't believe it, I'm starting to be a mugger - the word that is used to describe SMU students.

It has just started raining heavily so I still a little longer till the rain subsides. It been another busy week because projects and presentations are due in the next two weeks. I almost don't have enough time to have a good sleep.

Today I tried the mee siam at my school's kopitiam - I added some ingredients to it (won't say what only that it is a very healthy). And the whole time in class I was hyped up.

Too hyper for that matter. Plus I had two cups of coffee - an overdose of caffeine.

My comments during class participation were way too extreme. An after effect of excessive drinking - drinking coffee that is.

This Saturday is going to be another whirlwind adventure. I've been asked to go for four events that are back to back. The thing is, Saturday is my birthday and to celebrate, I've got to skip some.

I have made up my mind to go only for two. Until then.