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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

[Young Sikh Association]
1. I had an interesting dialogue at the Meritus Mandarin this afternoon at a session organised by the Young Sikh Association. It started ten minutes late because traffic was heavy. Someone attributed it to the last day of the Great Singapore Sale and the impending rise of the GST by two percentage points. Orchard Road was full of people and alive with activity.

2. I spoke about the challenges faced by a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. While we place great store by national efforts to promote harmony, in reality, there are always tensions in daily life. A Tamil asked why we still needed to categorize Singaporeans by race in our Identity Card, suggesting that it encouraged discrimination. Another spoke about the stresses created by the influx of foreigners. A few raised issues faced by members of minority communities in Chinese-dominated Singapore.

3. With globalisation, human beings are travelling as never before. In Singapore, new Chinese and new Indians lack some of the instincts for racial harmoney which local-borns have but have other strengths. To a greater or lesser degree, all cities are confronting similar new challenges. When the Mayor of Dalian asked for our help to attract Indian software companies to his new IT Park, I mentioned the particular needs of Indian programmers including the need to provide Indian vegetarian food. As an illustration, I told him that Indian vegetarians generally did not like Chinese vegetarian food unless it was well spiced. He took what I said seriously. If Dalian is able to accomodate foreign communities the way we are able to, it will succeed.

4. Cities which find ways to manage the new diversity will attract more talent and become more international. They will be better able to seize new opportunities. Communities which are set in their ways and uncomfortable with foreign intrusions will be less able to. In a sense, Singapore's multi-ethnic and multi-religious character gives us an advantage because we learn from young to live with diversity. We are able to switch channels depending on whom we are dealing with, often sub-consciously.

5. A sense of humour also helps to defuse problems when they arise. Kumar loves to crack Indian jokes when he performs, which immediately relaxes the audience. I recalled how the temple official in Amritsar who showed me around was quick to crack Sikh jokes. Some of those jokes were already in my mind but I could not utter them of course.

6. In the coming years, like countries, cities and companies, some ethnic and religious communities will do better than others in a new age of globalisation. The Punjabis will do well because they are used to living among others all over the world. The ease with which they network globally will give them an advantage.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Friday, June 29, 2007

1. At the launch of the $20 commemorative notes by Brunei and Singapore, with a common back face, the Sultan said that, while many people might not understand international finance, they readily understood the significance of our currency interchangeability agreement. Without a deep relationship based on trust and responsibility, such an agreement would not have been possible. It was right that both sides celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Agreement on Wednesday in a special way.

2. The new $20 note will be a collector's item. Entire sheets which printed the Bruneian and Singapore versions alternately were snapped up in Brunei, I was told. Pairs of notes, bearing the same serial numbers are being sold for $88 which is not a bad profit for the two Finance Ministries. I'm sure special numbers will fetch higher values.

3. Many of our soldiers train in the jungles of Brunei. We also have a helicopter detachment there. It is unusual for two countries to have such a close relationship with each other. At PM's call on the Sultan, the royal family turned up in full force.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Sunday, June 24, 2007

[The Rising Tide Will Not Raise All Boats]
1. I had an interesting session with YP members of Aljunied GRC last Saturday. We were briefed on the visit to Taiwan late last year by Yeo Guat Kwang, Cynthia Phua and other Aljunied Party members to observe the elections.

2. I spoke about the challenge of globalisation to countries, companies and different social groups. With some three billion people joining the global marketplace after the end of the Cold War, global GDP will grow for years to come. The global pie will become much bigger. However, whether a country or company or social group will get more or less of the pie will depend on how it responds to globalisation. Those who see the trends and seize the new opportunities will do well. Others who are unwilling or unable to do so will be disadvantaged and may become worse off because of competition from China, India, Vietnam and other countries.

3. Being a city-state, Singapore has been quicker to react and our economy is now taking off to a new level. Foreign interest in Singapore has shot up. All the international schools in Singapore have found themselves running out of places. Just the other day, the British High Commissioner told me that there is a line of 600 students waiting for places at the British School. The American School and United World College are already filled to capacity.

4. Within Singapore itself, not all Singaporeans will benefit as much from globalisation. This will create new social tensions in Singapore which must be addressed politically. I talked about how we had lost a strong leader in Nithiah Nandan. When I was responsible for the restructuring of the power industry some years ago, which was critical to the efficiency of energy use in Singapore, Nithiah played a critical role in the unions, explaining to the workers what we were trying to do and helping them. At that time, I offered to go down myself to explain the policy changes. He said, no, that was his job. It was precisely at such difficult moments that the union leaders themselves had to take charge. I respected his decision and asked him to come back to me if he felt we needed to adjust our policies. Right to the night before he passed away, he felt a deep sense of responsibility for the people he led.

5. Many countries find it hard to shift position because of difficult domestic politics. The leaders know what they should do but are afraid of losing votes. As a result, important long-term moves are sacrificed to short-term political considerations. Very often, there are vested interests who hold back change because they stand to lose from it.

6. I also talked about how some social groups are more 'global' in their mentality than others. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many of those who saw the new opportunities and seized them were Jews. In Indonesia, it is the Chinese who often react more quickly to a fast-changing environment. We see the same phenomenon in India where certain social groups consistently do better. Sometimes, as in Uttar Pradesh, there is a strong reaction from the lower castes which makes it harder for the community as a whole to benefit from globalisation. In Singapore, we must make sure that the relationship between different groups stay soft and harmonious. We need a good balance between equity and development.

7. When the tide rises, the boats which are leaky will take in water. Those which stay anchored go nowhere. It is the boats with the ready crews with sails unfurled which will streak ahead.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[Another weekend]
I have to tahan one more week of in-camp training. But it does not make me less active in other things.

I still do the weekly stuff like attend meetings and events.

For the first time yesterday I was in the heart of the dragonboat action at Kallang River. I didn't know that it was so cool to be rowing a dragonboat flanked with beautiful waterfront condominiums and huge bridges above.

The breeze comes and goes and the sun's rays are just in your face. But the heat is compensated by the magnificent view. The one thing that you have to do before you start the actual rowing is to bring the boat into the water. In Bedok Reservoir, our boats are already in the water - the things one usually takes for granted.

Instead of appreciating what one has, one starts to complain. I do that sometimes. I am Singaporean. I love to complain about things. Now they call it feedback - it sounds nicer lah.

After having being doused with salt water during training in the river, I took a quick shower and headed on to a close door Young PAP retreat for Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC. Was involved in the ice-breaker portion so my role was to make the group interact with the rest.

In the later part of the afternoon, I went down for the National Day Parade's first combined rehearsal. I met several friends there who were my superiors during my active NS days. Throughout the rehearsals there were many cue runs. Artistes who were no present were demarketed by placards.

Some hilarious ones were the simulations of MPs, Cabinet Ministers and our Prime Minister. There were placards that read 'first MP', 'last MP' and so on. However, the simulation of PM and President's motorcade was close to the actual - a black mercedes and traffic police scooters with flashing red lights.

I remember during the preview last year the stand-ins even did the PAP wave thing - the imitation stuff you only get to see during rehearsals.

The President's armchair (similar to the one that he uses at the Istana for official functions), which always appears at the actual parade, was not present for the rehearsal yesterday. However, his human stand-in, a plump nondescript Indian man dressed in a red shirt, was there.

Kudos to the girl with long black hair who played Kit Chan. She was good with her emotive expressions during the singing of the NDP song.

Monday, June 18, 2007

[Crafting messages]
Powerful messages that are crafted into ordinary media or medium like videos take lots of skill to and creativity to conceptualise.

And the music video for this year's NDP song "There's No Place I'd Rather Be" has subtle messages for Singaporeans.

Read the nation's papers - The Straits Times. Sales for the paper account for 70% of SPH's revenue.

Have babies. Don't just stop at two like in the past. Have more - twins and perhaps even three children. Procreate.

Get married. A subtle way of asing and showing that marriage is an important first step to create and replenish talent in Singapore.

Lastly, there are two cameo appearances by our dear friends - Dr Faishal Ibrahim and Michael Palmer - who are both ruling party MPs.

A kopi session at the coffee shop - Dr Faishal interacts with a multi-racial community.

Michael Palmer is all smiles and is spotted at a wedding celebration.

I love the video and have watched it countless times. I sure hope Singaporeans will love watching it on TV too.

Because there's no place I'd rather be.

My emotions run high this week as there are ups and downs with people that are close to me. But I shall not share more. That is very private.

These days I handle several projects of different genre. I attend several meetings. Some are back to back. Couple those meetings with the occasional event that I have to attend.

Each project has a specific post-it where I pen down notes. It's like having a separate project file and makes everything more organised.

Training for the PAYM dragonboat team which I am part of has started. Then I was at Zouk on Saturday for a gaming event and also had a short site visit for my upcoming grassroots project.

Then this morning I was touring the Old Police Academy at Thomson Road for another event.

My life is not stagnant.
Everything is moving fast and furious.

My life cannot be stagnant.
I like change and new adventures.

My life is not stagnant but I still appreciate the past.
I look back and think about the memories of my past.

P.S. I know my handwriting is atrocious.

[Reservist and more]
I have been on reservist for two days of last week. And there will be more fun in the coming weeks.

Our lives should not be stagnant. Just like what has happened in my camp. Many changes have taken place - things have moved forward although some people still have same ranks.

When I walk back to my camp, I see new facilities, new people but deep down inside, I recall the memories of my days in army as they are triggered one by one.

This year is the 40th anniversary of National Service. So when we went back to camp, the reason why we must serve NS was drilled into us. Accompanying that was a speech on what we have achieved so far. It's inspiring but sometimes a little funny too.

We have hidden identities. When I don my green uniform, I am an NSman. When I wear my white shirt and pants, I am a party member. When I don my orange tee, I belong to the PAYM. We all have many roles and each role has different demands and challenges.

On Friday, I caught Wong Kar Wai Dreams at the Drama Centre. The set is not very elaborate but there are many hidden messages inside the play. And these undertones make it stand out from a straighforward story.

The play, which is part of the Singapore Arts Festival, has this particular scene that I enjoy. It talks about Singapore.

The female lead is standing at a traffic light waiting to cross the road but there's a red man and she keeps standing by the roadside. Sometimes this feels like Singapore - too much red tape - and people are afraid to take the plunge.

It begins on the set of a movie. There is a cameraman, sound grip and crew. Then it shows Wong Kar Wai sleeping on the set. He dreams.

In between, there are short narrations of Wong Kar Wai's different movies - In the Mood for Love, 2046 and Happy Together - set in a series of shadow cutouts projected on a white screen.

Then there are dreams and fantasies. And subtle references about wet dreams, sex and the act of self-pleasure as the story unfolds. There's a fusion of past and present coupled with dreams (you don't know which is a dream and which is not) as the lead character looks back into her past.

So you see two versions of the same person, Ling - a young Ling and the older version of Ling. There are several kinky scenes of humping (with clothes on of course) in bed and fantasies of adultery - having sex with Bernard, Ling's best friend Trish's husband. They call it 'rampant sex' in the play. One scene has three of them in bed together.

There's also the essence of planning in the show. The actors act out a birthday surprise which has already been scripted by the birthday girl herself - what she wants, what she does, what to buy, how she is to react. It sort of has reference to the things that happen in Parliament - everything has been pre-planned and the MP just has to act his part - surprised? angry? upset? Just choose the correct one.

As the story progresses, I start to think that both the female leads are in a relationship. The married woman, Trish, does not communicate well with her husband. They rarely have sex and rarely spend time as a couple. More often that not, Ling is always in the picture.

In the end, Ling is given the option to 'cross over to the other side'. The same traffic light scene is replayed. The lights are red. Trish is on the road asking Ling to join her on the other side. She stays put.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

[A Magical Evening]
1. I have just come back from a short vacation in Johore. We took a boat from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Sebana Cove where we had excellent seafood for lunch and dinner at Sungei Rengit, visited an ostrich farm (run by an ex-RSAF C-130 pilot) and sailed in a small boat into a mangrove-lined tributary of the Johore River to see fireflies in the early evening.

2. It was a magical evening. With no moon, the fireflies made the mangrove forest look like Christmas trees. When our boat came alongside, the fireflies were all around us. We collected about ten of them and put them into a plastic bag. They were not difficult to catch. (But how the legendary Chinese scholar was able to collect enough to study at night by their light, I don't know.) Up above, the clear sky sparkled with stars. Throughout our excursion, the Southern Cross stood sentinel. When we looked down, we thought we saw fireflies underwater. But they were not insects but countless dots of phosphorescent plankton. It was as if they and the fireflies were in competition with each other and with the stars overhead.

3. Living in a brightly-lit city, we lose our sense of the night. Only an hour away by boat, we entered another universe that night at Sebana Cove.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Thursday, June 14, 2007

[Inspiring waterworks]
Watching a few impressions of the show segment of this year's National Day Parade (NDP) will make your jaws drop.

No amount of my vocabulary will be able to describe the experience so the best way out is to provide a video.

And I am pretty priviliged to do so cause I was invited for the media preview of the parade. I have media invites because I'm covering the NDP for Youth.SG. So do read follow my coverage of the NDP there. I found myself sitting in between a journalist from Berita Harian and Today.

After the exclusive preview, all those media personnel were invited to the media booth.

The exterior is pretty cool - you need to push aside the curtains to get in. On the left are the five elements of this year's show segment.

The show culminates and hits a high note when all the performers gather for a curtain call amid pyrotechnics and jets of water. It's a spectacular theatre-style performance not to be missed.

Inside the media kit are two discs. One contains the two inspiring music videos and the other has digital information on the parade proper. I shall not reveal too much as there are embargoes that I need to adhere to.

Well being press is not that bad after all. But it is sheer hard work and a lot of waiting involved (we waited almost an hour for the show preview to start).

Monday, June 11, 2007

I wish I have more slack weekends. But no, they are few and far between.

Last weekend was pretty fine - not too hectic and not too many places to go to - with only one event a day.

On Saturday, I was at Tropica condominium attending a swimming carnival. I wish I could live there cause the view and the pool is simply fantastic.

We were also treated to free flow of kaya toast, coffee and tea.

Although the sun was scorching hot, it was a luxury to admire the nice scenery and sip piping hot rich coffee.

On Sunday, I went to church to do my usual duty - biamp (or the so called cheem term for sound system duty). The view from the control room makes you feel like the captain of a plane - you get to control everything that is on stage (from projectors, screen, display, sound and the list goes on).

There are many controls on the panels and you have to tweak the correct ones. Make a mistake and the outcome is very serious - someone's voice can't be heard, the video has no sound or the slideshow is at a wrong position.

As usual, the view from the top is all-encompassing and gives one a bird's eye view of things - a whole new perspective.

But just as I say, we can't always be on the top looking down.

Sometimes we have to experience what it really is like below - to feel the pulse of the ground and the consequences of certain decisions. No point being atop the mountain and out of touch.

Welcome to the real world guys.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

[Lao Jiu]
I am currently working on a review for the English version of Kuo Pao Kun's Lao Jiu (or ninth born in English if so you may).

The acting was superb during the preview but I haven't seen the full dress rehearsals yet.

It is different yet brings back memories of the Chinese version that I watched last year.

Well, I'll save the best for the article and shall not reveal too much here.

On the NYC scene, I'm nominated for the Stars of SHINE Award. I'm under the Leadership category and I hope you readers out there can leave your comments and/or vote for me at the website.

Look out for the picture that is similar to the one in my Blogger profile.

Do spend some time to register and cast your vote. I hope that it is not too much of a hassle and hope it would not deter you readers from voting.

P.S. I forgot to mention that four lucky voters stand to win a Nintendo WII. So start clicking and vote for me here!

[Why I am not blogging again]
The reason why I have not been blogging much is a simple four-letter word. Work.

But though i have not been very free to blog, I've been trying out lots of delicious food.

Thai food from Siam Kitchen

Think this is Korean food. Aloysius jioed me to try this vegetable and rice dish after my dragonboat race.

This is the crispy crab from the Japanese food stall at the basement of The Cathay.

Chocolate fudge cake from TCC.

Laksa from Katong. Yeah. That famous stall that has a lot of celebrity photos.

And the mango pudding from Ding Tai Fung.

Although I have been pretty satisfied from the gastronomical delights, this has caused a huge hole in my wallet. But well, money can be earned back but food is ever-changing.

I eat to live not live to eat. But nothing is gonna stop me from enjoying good food.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

1. Over the last two days in Seoul, I've been taking part in the Asian Cooperation Dialogue involving 30 Asian countries drawn from East, Southeast, Central, South and West Asia. Russia is also involved. It is quite a remarkable collection of countries all eager to join the global network.

2. At the official dinner last night, menu cards were marked with coloured dots to guide the waiters on dietary requirements. Muslims of couse had halal food. There were vegetarians. Some didn't eat beef. Others didn't want shellfish. The Kuwaiti Foreign Minister toasted with a glass of plain water before wine was served. All this showed the diversity of the gathering. Yet, we were all Asians and one could see a continuity of facial types, east to west, from square-jawed Koreans to mixed-looking Central Asians to Arabs in their flowing robes and Indians in Nehru jackets.

3. A hundred years ago, Asia was carved up by great empires - mainly Qing China, Czarist Russia, British India and the Ottomans. All have long collapsed and the fragmentation created a collection of nation-states. After the end of the Cold War, a wave of globalisation is sweeping the entire continent bringing an unprecedented new era of economic development. There was a touch of triumphalism about the rise of Asia which I found troubling.

4. After dinner, there was a short entertainment programme starting with traditional music. The B-Boys put on an energetic acrobatic performance which woke up those who were nodding off from jet lag. There is a Korean wave sweeping the world now. Korean companies and artistes are steadily staking out their places on the global stage.

5. Singapore-Korea relations are excellent. I called on the Trade Minister Kim Hyun-Chong and a Presidential candidate, daughter of the late President Park Chun-Hee, Ms Park Geun-Hye.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

She's leaving on a jet plane today. So it'll be appropriate to blog about something that is related to flight.

So here's a little short post on Changi Airport's MRT station. It's my first time visiting cause I usually do not take the MRT to the airport.

There's a tunnel feel and an element of space.

Check out the cool flight information display panels.

High ceiling that emits natural light. I hear the new Terminal 3 will have such a feature too.

The Changi Airport MRT station. So big and so empty.

Monday, June 04, 2007

[Missing Dreams in Flight]
It's been slightly over a week and I'm missing the fun that I had at the opening peformance for the Singapore Arts Festival. Whether it was the rehearsals or the actual shows I'm missing them just as much.

It is not everyday that you get to be suspended in mid-air some 40 meters above the ground. And this was a great once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.

In the past (during my army days) I really dreaded rehearsals, whether it was for a parade or a show. I used to think that we can "do it once and do it good". But now, after being a performer, I appreciate rehearsals. Practice makes perfect and that is so aptly true. I get more adept at executing my moves as I go through more and more performances in mid-air. In fact my last performance was my best. I'm sure if I practice more I'll do even better.

Next time if there's the chance to perform again, I'll definitely take it up.

Photo credit: mypaper.sg

Sunday, June 03, 2007

[The finals]
I guess one of the reasons why the championships involved the word 'paddle' is because there's an added element of kayaking this time. A paddle is the instrument that you use in dragonboating as well.

So apart from dragon head and tails (and boats of course), you get to see the occasional kayak here and there travelling up and down the paths in Bedok Reservoir.

Well before I start my story on our performance today, I shall preach.

1. Decision making
The decision that one makes is important. The decision that you make can make or break someone, something and cause different outcomes. It's just like the words you use. Words are like glass. Words can cut and can hurt a person. It is not easy to stay calm and collected and make important decisions in a split second. The repercussions are tremendous. But it is this test of decision-making that sieves out the leaders. It is how you react to circumstances on the spot and not the way you flare up when everything does not go right.

2. Winning is not everything, the process is more important
Our team scored the silver last year in a similar race. But this year, we didn't do as well. However, the success is worth a mention. We didn't have as much young players this time but our co-ordination as a team for the training sessions complemented each other. Through the many mistakes that we make, we learn. We learn who to trust, who does what best and who can perform.

3. Leadership
Leading a team to success is not easy. The administrative part is easy. Managing relations is not too difficult. The crunch comes when it is the motivational part. In any sport, motivation is necessary. I think I will need to learn how to motivate a team well.

4. Teamwork
Teamwork is an important key in dragonboating just like in soccer. There are no solo players. Each one has to keep up with his/her mates in front and beside. Going solo does not pay off.

Many had felt that our entry into the finals was a surprise. I thought so too. But since we managed a place, we would give off our best. In fact, within the whole of Aljunied GRC, our team was the only team to make it to the finals. That itself is worth mentioning.

I think that during the final race today, our co-ordination needed an additional boost. We were totally off key. Paddles clashed front and back. Synchronisation was totally off beat. There were no shouts of victory. The tune was just unfit to be heard.

But I guess sometimes we have to learn from our mistakes. How can one learn if we do not make mistakes?

Even though our team emerged the fifth out of six boats we were cheered on by onlookers. Many of our other rowers came up to us and gave us handshakes. It made me felt like I achieved something big as I flashed a megawatt smile. It was a good race.

Although when I receive my medal soon (I did not stay for the prize presentation) and see that it is not gold, silver or bronze, I will remember the effort, the blood and the sweat that I put to win it.

Winning is not everything. It is the process that counts, really.