[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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

[Auspicious Ode to the Jade Buddha]

When the ancestors of Chinese Singaporeans came to Singapore, they brought Buddhism with them. Many Buddhist monks in Singapore were ordained in China. In recent years, with the re-opening up of China, the political, economic and cultural relations between China and Singapore have been revived. It is natural that our Buddhist connection should also enjoy a new flowering and bring fresh blessings to both sides.

The Singapore Buddhist Lodge and the Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple are jointly organizing a charity show titled “Auspicious Ode to the Jade Buddha”. The temple’s Buddhist Orchestra, the first to be owned and managed by a temple in Mainland China, will perform for the Lodge’s Chinese Physician Free Clinic on 23rd and 24th November.

The Singapore Buddhist Lodge enjoys good relations with Buddhist temples and organizations in Shanghai. Mutual exchanges and visits have become common. After China opened up in 1978, we received a visit by Venerable Zhen Chan, the Abbot of Jade Buddha Temple who was also the Vice-President of the China Buddhist Association. He re-established the links between Chinese and Southeast Asian Buddhists after the difficult years of the Cultural Revolution.

We welcome the visit of the current Abbot, Venerable Jue Xing, who is one of the most influential Buddhist leaders in his generation. He was the first to send Buddhist monks to learn computer science, foreign languages and business administration in Chinese universities. His ideas to make 21st century Buddhism human-centric are very important. The performances by the Jade Temple Buddhist Orchestra in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia will help create friendship and goodwill between the peoples of China and Southeast Asia.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Monday, November 26, 2007

[Teo Ann Huay Kuan]

1. Two weeks ago, I visited New Delhi for a day to talk to the Indian Foreign Minister about the situation in Myanmar. After the meeting, our High Commissioner brought me for dinner at a Chinese Restaurant run by a Chinese family who had lived in India for a few generations. When the eldest son saw me, he said, "I am a Teochew. You've come to eat rice (have a meal)." I was pleasantly surprised and replied that I am also a Teochew. But I wasn't sure whether the food would be good. We ordered three pomfrets that night, one for the soup cooked with radish, and two steamed with ginger and soy sauce. Someone told me it was hard to get salted vegetables in India. I must say the food was very good and the pomfrets were absolutely fresh. With a full stomach, I slept well on the overnight flight back from Delhi to Singapore.

2. For any group of people, culture is important. The strength of a people is very often dependent on the strength of its culture. Because China is a very large country, there are differences in regional cultures. The Wenzhou people from Zhejiang Province, for example, have a strong entrepreneurial culture. Sometimes they are described as the Jews of China. Many years ago, a trader from Wenzhou did business in Africa and settled in Gabon. He married an African woman and his son is now the Foreign Minister of Gabon, with the surname 'Ping' (for peace). We are good friends and he told me how on his first visit to China, a delegation from Wenzhou went to Diaoyutai to meet him when he was on an official visit. Since then, there are over one or thousand Wenzhou people who have migrated to Gabon contributing to the local economy. When President Hu Jintao visited Africa a few years ago, he received a warm welcome when he landed in Gabon. When Gabon Foreign Minister visited Singapore visited Singapore early this year, Singapore's Wenzhou Clan Association hosted him to dinner.

3. The Teochew people also have a strong culture which helps them to do well in business, in intellectual work and in the arts. Among the Teochew people, the Teo Ann people have the longest history going back to the period when Han Wengong of the Tang Dynasty spent 8 months in Teo Ann. The most successful Teo Ann person today is of course Mr Li Ka-shing. Never forgetting his roots, he continues to do a lot of good work in the Teochew area. The Medical School of Shantou University which has been completely financed by Mr Li has become a leading medical school in China. Recently, Mr Li made a $100 million donation to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Adminstration in Singapore.

4. In Singapore, the Teo Chew people have always played a major role in Singapore society in all fields - in business, in government, in the armed forces, in the universities and in the cultural field. Among them, many are Teo Ann people. I am naturall proud to be a member of this community. But what is important is not how rich or successful we are but how much we are able to contribute to our society. In this regard, I would like to thank Ngee Ang Kongsi, the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, the Teo Ann Huay Kuan and other Teochew organisations for their good work. I congratulate members of the Teo Chew Huay Kuan on its 43rd Anniversary and wish everyone good health and every happiness.

潮安会馆庆祝成立43周年纪念晚宴,豪晶酒店, 晚上8时
主宾 杨荣文外交部长演讲词






Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Sunday, November 25, 2007

[New Soccer Field]
1. Last Saturday, the new soccer field next to Punggol CC at Hougang was officially opened. The ground is still a little uneven with the smell of fertilizer still in the air. But it was a happy day when we saw the kids running up and down the length of the large field.

2. Victor Lye and the members of the CC Management Committee have exciting plans for the coming years. Promoting soccer will be one. A samba band composed of SMU alumni may also use the CC as its base. There is already a toastmasters' club. As the community centre exists to serve the local community, I hope that more ideas will be proposed by residents in the Punggol-Hougang area.

3. We need to refurbish the existing facilities as they are rather dated. The CC also needs to be more weather-proof against rain and heat. Unfortunately, construction costs have shot up with the economic boom and more money has to be raised. We may also have to scale back the plans. Many people have come forward to help. The more the merrier, of course, because many hands make light work.

Ngee Ann Poly students helping in the organisation

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

1. Many Singaporeans feel terrible about the death of five of our national dragonboaters in Phnom Penh. Our hearts go out to the bereaved families.

2. I am sure there will be a full inquiry into safety procedures particularly the use of life jackets. We are now making use of Bedok Reservoir for all kinds of waterborne activities including dragonboating and canoeing. The organisers must make sure that safety procedures are closely adhered to. No activity can be risk-free but we can minimize the occurence of accidents.

3. When a fire killed a pair of siblings recently in Hougang, enforcement against illegal placement of combustible material along common corridors was tightened throughout Singapore. Some shopkeepers pleaded for flexibility. There should be flexibility but it must not be at the expense of public safety.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[Tree Planting at Bedok Reservoir]
1. This morning's tree planting at Bedok-Reservoir Rise RC was novel. Instead of only MP and grassroots leaders planting trees, we had, in addition to that, many senior citizens helping to plant a row of hibiscus. The larger participation created a much greater sense of enthusiasm. After that, the mee siam and nasi lemak tasted particularly delicious.

2. Recently, we signed an agreement with China to help build an eco-city in Tianjin. This is going to be another iconic project, taking our cooperation with China beyond Suzhou. Chinese leaders at all levels like what they see in Singapore especially the quality of our living environment. What we have achieved is the result of years of painstaking effort and the involvement of large numbers of Singaporeans keeping Singapore clean, green and in harmony with nature.

3. Our annual tree-planting ritual is a reminder to all of us that this requires continuing effort. Not only is a pleasant environment good for our well-being and morale, it also helps Singapore to attract talent and investments. It was interesting reading this morning's papers about China's PM Wen telling Hongkong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang to keep up with Singapore. CE Donald Tsang replied that he visits Singapore regularly to monitor the competition!

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Saturday, November 24, 2007

[The last lap]
Over the last two Saturdays, I have been at the National Stadium attending briefings for Singapore's largest marathon that is set to have 40,000 runners this year.

For those for know, that is the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.

Apart from listening to my role (I can't reveal it due to security issues as yet) and managing a team under me, I also took time off to take photos of the grand old dame - the National Stadium.

This is my first time involved in sporting event with such a big scale. The organisation charts of the various staff and volunteers of the whole marathon are enough to confuse you. The last time I was involved in something like this was a few years back for the F1 Powerboat Championships.

Of course, I am not ruling out the possibility of volunteering for the marathon next year. I feel my time is more productive there and I learn quite a bit. Logistics alone is a nightmare.

I'm limiting what I'll be doing next year to a few large scale events so that I can concentrate and focus fully on those as well as my studies. It ain't easy being a full-time volunteer and part-time student. You get the drift.

2008 will be a year of my foray into the international sporting volunteer scene. And I sure hope it takes off well.

Friday, November 23, 2007

[ASEAN Into The Next Lap]
1. It was a hectic eventful week. Leaders and ministers have come and gone. Next week, MFA will organise a thank-you function for the hundreds of people working on stage and behind the scenes to make the meetings a success.

2. The high point was the signing of the ASEAN Charter. The implications of this will not be felt immediately but in 5, 10, 15 years' time, the effects will be profound. When we embarked on this exercise over two years ago, I was not sure that we could reach this point. But, along the way, it was clear that the collective political will was there. Although there were difficult issues like what to do with serious breaches and the establishment of a human rights body, we were able to overcome them, sometimes quite creatively, and always in a spirit of goodwill and compromise. Not bad at all. The Charter is the best 40th birthday present we could give to ourselves.

3. On Myanmar, we have achieved clarity. As Chair, we tried very hard to achieve consensus, first within ASEAN, then with our neighbours, principally China, Japan and India. On my visits to Beijing, Tokyo and Delhi, and in my conversations with all the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN, I thought it was doable. Unfortunately, a few days before the meeting, the Myanmar leadership took a hard position that the country's problems were its own domestic affair. At the 'family dinner' hosted by PM for the leaders of ASEAN on Monday night, many ASEAN leaders pleaded with the Myanmar PM but to no avail. Myanmar did not want ASEAN to play any role. It was disappointing and sad. Late that night, PM read out a statement flanked by all the leaders of ASEAN, except the Myanmar PM who preferred not to be in the picture. We will still support the Myanmar people but through the UN and not as an ASEAN family. Change must eventually come to that unhappy country.

4. We will not let the Myanmar issue hold us back in ASEAN. The ratification and operationalisation of the Charter should be done quickly. Beyond the formal aspects, we must get a younger generation in ASEAN to feel a greater sense of ASEAN citizenship than their parents. What the Europeans have achieved is a great inspiration to us even though we are not likely to go as far as they have done in creating a union.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

[Short breaks]
While the 13th ASEAN Summit is going on in town, I am at home doing my term paper for Democracy. And getting bits of rest here and there.

I've been very tired. Tired is an understatement though. Imagine sleeping only one hour. Imagine getting home at 1am and sleeping at 4am. And waking up at 5am.

But when you are given a task to do, you gladly do it. And the results are overwhelming.

I am particularly proud of my YEC and the SLC. People like Kenny, Kumaran and the Montfort Secondary School boys. Well, pictures speak for themselves.

The YEC had set up a booth for Sunday's carnival for the New Year countdown thingy at the Esplanade. And our Punggol CC YEC has a mark in the waters of Marina Bay.

Minister dropped by to pen his wishes. Peace and happiness to everyone was his message.

Mrs Lim did her bit as well. It was raining very heavily when she was around and the marker wasn't really staying. That explains the double marks on her happy new year message.

Of course, kudos to Gordon, Damien, Edward and Ryan for helping out as route marshals for the walk-a-jog.

More on Ryan's birthday party soon. He's getting old but still looks like he is twenty-plus.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

[CHIJ 50 Anniversary]

Ms Teo Lian Geok, Cluster Superintendent
Sr Deirdre, IJ Supervisor and Members of the IJ Board
Mrs Liu Seok Noi, Principal, CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity
Distinguished guests
Teachers, Parents
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am delighted to join all of you this evening for CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity’s 50th anniversary.

2. The theme for the anniversary, “I AM the Difference” captures the underlying philosophy of the IJ schools. When all is said and done, the judgment of an individual life is how much difference it has made to the world around her. A child may be very talented but if, when she grows up, she lives only for herself, that’s not a very good life. On the other hand, a child less talented, who becomes a loving adult caring for others, lives a much better life. It has always been the mission of the IJ schools to bring out the best in the child so that she can make a contribution to society. Whether the contribution is big or small is not the point because we are not all the same and each has a different calling. The point is to make a difference, to add and not to subtract.

3. We all know that a school is much more than bricks and mortar. Good facilities are helpful but they are neither necessary nor sufficient. What matter most are the quality of the education and the ability of teachers to inspire young minds. Every child is unique; every child is special. Each has to be cared for as an autonomous individual. Over 50 years, CHIJ OLN has educated thousands of girls, many of whom became fine adults, as mothers and grandmothers, as wives and daughters, as upright citizens of Singapore. Generations of board members, principals and teachers have done this work with dedication and love. We thank each and every one of them. Many are of course here this evening to join in the celebrations.

4. In many ways, the history of CHIJ OLN mirrors the history of Singapore, in particular, the history of the Hougang-Punggol area. With economic development, school buildings and facilities have improved, teachers are better trained, parents are more knowledgeable and demanding, and pedagogical methods have become more advanced. What is most important is for our girls to be equipped with the necessary skills to fit into a society and an economy that have become more sophisticated. The life of a school cannot be divorced from the life of the community which it serves.

5. Looking ahead, it is essential for our girls to have a sense of the big changes taking place in Asia and the world. The re-emergence of China and India on the global stage, for example, will affect every aspect of our lives here. We have to prepare the young for new challenges. It is right that CHIJ OLN should have an active overseas programme including student exchanges with Beihang Primary School in Beijing and Oyake Elementary School in Osaka.

6. With rapid technological progress, what knowledge we learn in school quickly becomes obsolete. In this new world, an individual must never stop learning. She must never lose her childlike curiosity to discover and try new things. For this reason, CHIJ OLN constantly emphasizes the education of the whole child, imbuing her with a sense of responsibility, a love of knowledge and a concern for our multi-ethnic and multi-religious community.

7. I know how much the school involves pupils in community activities because I am the Member of Parliament here. For example, every year the school organizes a Mid-Autumn celebration at Punggol Lake together with neighbouring residents’ committees. The pupils also help repaint void deck walls. They take part in cleanliness and other campaigns. They put up performances for local residents. I thank the teachers and parents for fostering this civic spirit which is so important for the well-being of our society.

8. The school’s vision to provide a nurturing and supportive learning environment where pupils are developed to their fullest potential with a passion for life-long learning and a readiness to serve other is a beacon shining the way forward for girls passing through its portals. On this 50th anniversary, I congratulate the IJ Board of Management, the Principal, Staff and Pupils on your contribution to the Hougang-Punggol area and to Singapore. You are justifiably proud of the school’s many achievements. May CHIJ OLN continue to provide its hallmark education for girls helping each to make a difference. God bless.

Message from Foreign Minister George Yeo
CHIJ 50th anniversary commemorative magazine

Education is about our future. It is about shaping young minds, instilling values and nurturing spirits so that the next generation will be able to pursue dreams and contribute to society. CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity has always been faithful to this mission of its founding Infant Jesus sisters. It has a strong tradition of providing a high quality of education that is balanced and holistic so that the child is well-prepared for adult life.

The vision of the school is: to provide a nurturing and supportive learning environment where pupils are developed to their fullest potential with a passion for life-long learning and a readiness to serve others. To realize this vision, the school organizes a wide range of activities beyond the academic curriculum. It stresses social work and national education so that pupils develop an affection for the community to which they belong. It has an active overseas programme in China and Japan so that pupils are exposed to different cultures and environments. In doing all this, the school works closely with parents and community groups whose support is vital. CHIJ OLN has been an organic part of our lives in the Hougang-Punggol area in the last 50 years.

As the school marks its 50th anniversary, I congratulate the IJ Board of Management, the Benefactors, Principal, Staff, Pupils and Parents on their many achievements. May CHIJ OLN continue to provide a good education to its pupils, scale new peaks and make an even greater difference to the lives of many!

Mr George Yeo
Minister for Foreign Affairs

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Friday, November 16, 2007

[So many things to blog about]
I have been missing.

Missing in a lot of ways. Doing too many things.

First was a presentation to the participants of SSEAYP. It is short for Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme involving some 50 youths from all over Southeast Asia and Japan. I din't see any kawai girls during the presentation last Friday.

Then it was off to class followed by the SMU dialogue session with Foreign Minister George Yeo.

In between was the preparation of the editing and design phase for The Blue and Gold. This is SMU's first campus newsletter. Being the Editor-in-Chief ain't easy man. Especially since this is the first issue and it has been an avant-garde experience. The debut issue (Issue 0) was launched last Saturday and it has been flying off the stands ever since.

There have been compliments and brickbats but I deal with them all the same.

Add to that a series of three projects that encompass three reports and three presentations, one can almost get pretty drained. It's like I have meetings every other day - Saturday, Sunday and even on Public Holidays. My birthday inclusive.

But once the work is done, it's time to pig out. To give myself a reward, my computer as an analysis tool team had lunch at Crystal Jade while my communications project team had a pig-out at The Soup Spoon.

I must say you get a real deal there. The soup's pretty ok tasting - chunky and creamy at the same time.

I actually ordered a meal cause it's really cheap. It's like under 10 bucks for both the soup and the sandwich. I'll bring my bro there someday. He needs a treat soon.

To top up the whole week, I recorded my first radio show for the SMU Campus Radio station yesterday. I've requested for a transfer from Campus TV to Campus Radio cause I wanted to try my hand a doing radio news.

It was cool (not because the temperature was very low) producing the show. I think I talked less than my eloquent co-host and mostly gave the um and the ah kind of reponses. But pretty enjoyable. Daily news next perhaps.

So here's the long awaited update.

Monday, November 12, 2007

[SMU Dialogue]

Q: Just a question about the event first, summing up some of the students questions and concerns, what are your thoughts about some of the questions?

Minister: They are a lively lot and I have always enjoyed coming back to SMU. The school has a great spirit. Even though it is a new university, it has very quickly developed its own character and I'm glad to see the energy of the students and the questions they were asking.

Q: There were a few questions about Myanmar and you said that you spoke with Mr Gambari earlier. Can you give us some more updates and also with the ASEAN Summit coming, what do you expect, how do you think Asean can actually help Myanmar move forward as well?

Minister: I think Gambari had a reasonable visit this time, it was not as...it did not go as far as some of us would have hoped but there were some progress. He did not get to see all the people he wanted to see but he did meet Aung San Suu Kyi and she did ask him to issue a statement on her behalf which he did last night when he arrived in Singapore. So Prime Minister Lee invited Special Envoy Gambari to come brief the East Asian leaders at the coming East Asia Summit on the 21st of November and I think it will be very good for the leaders of Asia to listen to him directly and then to affirm their collective support for his good offices.

Q: Do you find that the three way talks is still possible – (the talks proposed by Gambari) between Gambari, the Myanmar military and Aung San Suu Kyi?

Minister: Oh Mr Gambari said that these talks were not ruled out by the Myanmar government; what they were saying is it's too early and these are considerations which will take time to evolve...

Q: What's your personal hope or confidence level on that?

Min: I think eventually the process works and the different parties will have to talk. The presence of an intermediary from time to time may well be helpful. So instead of Gambari hurrying back and forth between the two sides; at some point in time, it will be more convenient for everybody to sit in the same room.

Q: When you see it happening…is the process as encouraging as what you have described earlier?

Minister: It will be a protracted process but we hope it will not take forever. It's important to have some sense of timing.

Q: What's a reasonable timing?

Minister: It's not for me to say. It's a complicated situation but I share the view that it should not take too long; it should not be an unending round of talks and promises not kept.

Q: Minister, with the ASEAN summit coming up, do you expect the issue of Myanmar to hijack the summit?

Minister: It will be an important item on the agenda but I don't see it hijacking the Summit. The most important item on the agenda is the signing of the Charter which will set the region on to a new course. On Myanmar, it's important for the ASEAN leaders to have a frank exchange of views with Prime Minister Thein Sein and for the East Asian leaders to express support for the good offices of Ibrahim Gambari. Climate change will also be a major item on the agenda because the various meetings all lead up to the coming UNFCCC conference in Bali.

Thank you very much.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[A Strong PAP – Keeping The Miracle Going]
Do We Still Need A Strong PAP?

1. Without the PAP, we would not have today's Singapore. That an independent majority-Chinese city-state should thrive in the heart of Muslim Southeast Asia is a miracle.

2. Singapore today has achieved a certain international reputation. In fact, it is held up as a model by many developing countries. The question is whether Singapore still needs a strong PAP to take it forward. Now that the PAP has performed its historical duty of giving birth to Singapore and raising it up, does it matter very much if the PAP is weakened or replaced by another political party? After all, Singapore has good civil servants, a strong private sector and established institutions.

3. This question cannot be answered out of context. If Singapore were a big country, we would certainly enjoy more latitude. If we were like Switzerland, occupying the same Alpine region for centuries, our political instincts would be different. Some people compare us to Israel. But we are not Jews and Southeast Asia is happily not the Middle East.

4. To answer the question, we have to do a concrete analysis of Singapore's concrete situation, borrowing an expression from Lenin. Like all other societies, we have to make a living and we have to protect ourselves. Let us consider each in turn.

Making A Living

5. Since we are a small island without natural resources, the only way to make a living is by providing a service to others. This has been our history since 1819 and cannot change. Singaporeans know that if we don't work, we don't eat. No one owes us a living. To make a good living, we have to be better than our competitors. As individuals, we are not all that exceptional. There are many in other countries who are cleverer and more hardworking than we are. What makes us special is our spirit and our system.

6. Singapore's operating system cannot be set on 'auto'. As the external environment changes, the system has to adapt. In some ways, the competition between countries is a competition between operating systems. In many countries, the operating system cannot change because of domestic politics. Vested interests block change even though the country as a whole may suffer as a result.

7. Adapting to a changing environment can sometimes be painful. For example, reducing direct taxes while increasing GST affects many Singaporeans. But not doing so would make us less competitive because high direct taxes drive away investors. Bringing in foreign talent can be unsettling because some Singaporeans may be displaced. But not doing so would lower our overall capability. Paying public servants competitive salaries is not a popular measure. But not doing so would degrade the quality of our public administration which is a critical success factor.

8. To make a good living, we need a can-do spirit and a system that is clean and efficient. Good political leadership is decisive. It matters a lot whether that political leadership is provided by the PAP or some other political party.

Protecting Ourselves

9. As for protecting ourselves, it is fundamental to the survival of a country, as Sun Zi recognized in the first sentence of the Art of War. We are doubly insecure. First, we have no geographical depth which makes the defence of Singapore a difficult challenge. Second, we live in a region where minority Chinese communities experience up's and down's in their relationship with indigenous communities. From time to time, we get dragged into their domestic politics. And, if we are not careful, our own domestic politics can also be infected.

10. We try by our foreign and security policy to create as favourable an external environment for Singapore as possible. A strong ASEAN community is good for us. An ASEAN that is neutral and friendly to all the major powers enlarges our economic and security space. Both our foreign policy and our security policy require the active support of Singaporeans. Our people (including our media) has to be calm and disciplined in times of crisis. Our NS men have to be operationally ready.

11. We need leaders whom Singaporeans trust instinctively. Without public trust, it is hard for the Government to act firmly against extremists, or to respond to emergencies like SARS. Without the full support of Singaporeans, the Government may buckle under external pressure of one kind or another. To the credit of our opposition parties, on matters pertaining to foreign and security policy, they usually stand behind the PAP Government. Why? Because even they trust the Government to do the right things.

One Singapore Or Two?

12. The PAP is not an ideological movement but a cause. Our approach on issues like democracy, ethnic and religious diversity, foreign relations, the market economy, the ageing of our population and welfare is a practical, hard-headed one. Our start and end point is always the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans. Not surprisingly, NTUC has a similar orientation.

13. Globalisation, however, is stretching out incomes in Singapore as in other countries. If we are not careful, we can become two Singapore’s. While the majority of Singaporeans benefit from the internationalization of our economy, a sizeable minority is in danger of being left behind. Among them are some older Singaporeans who are either less educated, in poor health or just unlucky. A disproportionate number of them are Malays and Indians. If instead of one Singapore, we have two, our politics will turn sour and our decline will begin. For this reason, we are putting in place a whole set of measures including job retraining, Workfare and CPF reform. But government is only half the story. The other half is better-off Singaporeans helping poorer-off Singaporeans out of a sense of family.

Our Strength

14. The PAP derives its strength from the people of Singapore. It is composed of ordinary men and women of different races and religions who rise above personal interest to take a higher view of Singapore’s overall interest. Working at the grassroots, it is they who hold our society together. Many are extraordinary in their dedication to the cause. They form the hard core. If we succeed in keeping that core healthy and vigorous, the PAP will stay strong and the miracle of Singapore will continue.

This article appeared in the November/December 2007 issue of Petir.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Thursday, November 08, 2007


His Excellency Minister for Education, Bapak Bambang Soedibyo
His Excellency Governor of Aceh, Bapak Irwandi Yusuf
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

1 This is my third visit to Aceh in as many years. In June 2005, I visited Meulaboh for the groundbreaking ceremony of the pier Singapore was building as part of our contribution to the reconstruction effort after the tsunami. I returned to Meulaboh in April 2006 to hand over the completed pier to the Meulaboh authorities. At that time, the Meulaboh pier was one of the first major reconstruction projects to be completed ahead of schedule and within budget. I am very happy to be back in Aceh again today, this time to participate in the opening of the Fajah Hidayah Boarding School.

2 Every time I visit Aceh, I am struck by the progress and the spirit and resilience of the people. It is wonderful that the Aceh-Nias Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (or BRR) has already constructed some 90,000 houses, over 500 healthcare facilities, more than 800 schools, and over 1500 kilometres of roads. This is an extraordinary achievement and a tribute to the efforts of the BRR, the local government and the central government.

Group photo after dinner with the Director of the Aceh Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency, Pak Kuntoro Mangkusubroto (third from left)

3 The progress here is not confined to physical reconstruction alone. Aceh has also made remarkable progress on the political front. It is a great achievement that there was a smooth and successful direct election for Governor so soon after the signing of the Helsinki Peace Agreement in 2005. Governor Bapak Irwandi Yusuf has said that his priorities for Aceh include job creation, attracting foreign investments, protecting the environment, and reintegrating former GAM combatants into Aceh society. I would like to wish Bapak Irwandi and his government all the best in their efforts to achieve these goals.

4 As Indonesia’s close friend and neighbour, Singapore has tried to help in the reconstruction of Aceh within our capabilities. Apart from the Singapore Government, many Singapore NGOs and ordinary Singaporeans have made contributions in resources, time and effort. For instance, the Singapore Red Cross Society has restored the Madani Orphanage in Medan, which is home to some 1,000 orphans. The Singapore Red Cross Society is also currently involved in the refurbishment of the Meulaboh General Hospital. When completed, the hospital will provide better health services to the people of Meulaboh. Another one of our NGOs, Mercy Relief, helped refurbish the Muhammadiyah school and the Muhammadiyah Girls' and Boys' Orphanages.

5 Today, I am honoured to be here for the opening of the Fajar Hidayah Boarding School. This project symbolises the spirit of cooperation between our two countries. The school is the fruit of the close collaboration between the Singapore International Foundation (or SIF), its Indonesian partner Yayasan Fajar Hidayah, and the local government. SIF helped raise more than $5 million for the construction of the school. The local government donated half the plot of land the school is built on, and Yayasan Fajar Hidayah will run the school. This boarding school cum orphanage can eventually house up to 300 children and provide education for up to 600 day students. This school is a symbol of friendship between the people of Singapore and the people of Indonesia, in particular, the people of Aceh. I am delighted that this classroom building where we we are assembled today will be named the "Singapore-Aceh Learning Hub".

6 The SIF is one of Singapore’s most active and established NGOs, and SIF volunteers have been working in Indonesia over the last 15 years, since 1992. Over the years, SIF volunteers have participated in a wide range of projects in Indonesia, ranging from running medical courses, teaching information technology and languages, to social welfare and reconstruction projects. SIF also conducts programmes to acquaint Indonesians with Singaporeans, hosting exchanges of people from all walks of life. Through these activities, stronger ties are built between the peoples of Indonesia and Singapore. I hope that SIF will continue its good work in fostering better understanding and closer relations between our two peoples.

With Aceh Governor Bapak Irwandi Yusuf (third from left) after the launching ceremony.

7 Singapore and Indonesia are close neighbours. Our bilateral relations are generally very good. We cooperate in many areas including the development of Special Economic Zones in Batam, Bintan and Karimun, in preventing the spread of avian influenza, and in promoting sustainable land clearing practices in Jambi province. We also work closely to strengthen ASEAN. On many international issues, Singapore and Indonesia share identical positions.

With Indonesian Education Minister Bapak Bambang Soedibyo (extreme left) at the launch

Group photo with the Imam at the Black Mosque

8 I hope the Fajar Hidayah Boarding School will provide a good nurturing environment for the children, for they represent the future and hope of Aceh and Indonesia. Let this school also be a symbol of what the gotong royong between neighbours can achieve. Thank you.

Visiting a kindergarden built by Singapore International foundation and the Ayer Rajah-West Coast Citizens Consultative Committee (picture courtesy of Grace Ng)

9 Please allow me to say a few words in Bahasa Indonesia.
Yang terhormat, Bapak Bambang Soedibyo, Menteri Pendidikan Nasional, Republik Indonesia

Yang terhormat, Bapak Irwandi Yusuf, Gubernur Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam

Yang terhormat, Bapak Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Ketua Badan Rekonstruksi dan Rehabilitasi (BRR)

Yang terhormat para tamu sekalian

10 Ini adalah kunjungan saya ke Aceh yang ketiga kali. Saya sangat senang dapat kembali ke Aceh, kali ini ikut meresmikan pembukaan Sekolah Fajar Hidayah.

11 Setiap kali saya berkunjung ke Aceh saya sangat kagum dengan kemajuan, semangat dan ketahanan warganya. Upaya rekonstruksi yang diselenggarakan hingga kini adalah suatu kinerja yang luar biasa dan penghormatan kepada BRR, pemerintah setempat dan pemerintah pusat.

12 Kemajuan yang saya maksud disini tidak hanya dalam rekonstruksi Aceh secara fisik. Akan tetapi Aceh telah menunjukkan suatu kemajuan yang sangat luar biasa dibidang politik. Ini dibuktikan dalam kesuksesan penyelenggaraan pilkada yang lancar yang diadakan tidak lama setelah penandatanganan Perjanjian Perdamaian Helzinki.

13 Sebagai sahabat dan tetangga yang sangat dekat dengan Indonesia, Singapura dengan segala kemampuannya telah membantu membangun Aceh kembali. Selain pemerintah Singapura, banyak organisasi Lembaga Swadaya Masyarakat (LSM), dan warga Singapura telah memberi sumbangsih mereka dalam bentuk sumber daya, waktu dan usaha mereka.

14 Hari ini saya mendapat kehormatan untuk hadir disini meresmikan Sekolah Fajar Hidayah. Proyek ini menandai semangat kerjasama antara kedua Negara. Sekolah ini adalah hasil dari kerjasama yang erat antara SIF, mitra Indonesianya, Yayasan Fajar Hidayah dan pemerintah setempat. Sekolah ini adalah lambang persahabatan antara rakyat Singapura dan Indonesia umumnya, dan khususnya warga Aceh.

15 Singapura dan Indonesia adalah tetangga dekat. Hubungan bilateral antara kedua negara secara umum sangat baik. Kita bekerjasama dalam berbagai bidang, termasuk pembangunan Daerah Ekonomi Khusus, Batam, Bintan dan Karimun, usaha pencegahan berkembangan flu burung, dan juga dalam mempromosikan praktek pembabatan lahan yang mendukung di Jambi. Kami juga berkerjasama dengan erat dalam memperkuat ASEAN. Dalam banyak bidang internasional, Indonesia dan Singapura mempunyai pandangan yang sama.

16 Saya berharap Sekolah Fajar Hidayah dapat memberikan lingkungan pengasuhan yang baik bagi siswa, karena anak-anak ini adalah masa depan dan harapan Aceh dan Indonesia. Mari kita tunjukkan sekolah ini sebagai simbol apa yang dapat dicapai dengan gotong royong antara kedua tetangga.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Monday, November 05, 2007

[Race spirit]
Today, was my second time rowing for the PAYM Central Youth Council.

It's not the different crew that makes the difference nor the number of crew - it's a 10-men boat again. But the difference is that it's the first time I'm rowing on my birthday. Not that I don't usually spend my birthday celebrating.

My birthday falls on 4 November. Since my schooling days, this is usually the hot period for exams so sometimes I have to really just skip celebrating it altogether. Like in one year I had to go to the Zaobao office for an interview after having lunch with my family.

But the day started on a lovely note. The sky was lovely, that is.

Our heats was the second race of the day. And we did really badly. One of the reasons is because given the nature of the committee (mostly chairmen), we don't really have the time to train. We came in last at a timing of 2:14. But like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, two teams in the earlier heats were disqualified. This allowed us to advance to the grand finals at a timing of 2:14.

Perhaps, this can be attributed to the "never give up spirit". Even though we were last and lagging by more that two boat lengths, we continued and persevered and gave our best.

Tingwei says if only I can apply this to my schoolwork.

In the end, we made it to the fourth placing (again!) this time. Hopefully, things will get better next year.

Apart from all that, there's something more interesting. You have seen a 20-men boat, a 10-men boat but have you seen a 5-men boat? It was my first time seeing that.

And I think 5-men boats are really cute and cool at the same time. They are very versatile too - one went out of course even.

Well, after my race, I stayed on to support the TP dragonboaters. It's been a long time and you see the old faces and even more new faces.

Although I had to rush to school during the break for a meeting, I guess it has been one of the best birthdays ever - being close with my family and friends. And that is how I wish life could be instead of the back-stabbing and stepping on each other. But, well, that is a different game altogether.