[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 28, 2008

[Youth Olympics Mural at Bedok Reservoir]
1 The Olympics Games represent a high ideal. The ancient Greeks would lay down their arms and stop fighting for the period of the games when individual athletes competed for honour and glory. Perhaps more than any other civilization, the Greeks celebrated the physical and intellectual ability of the individual. No wonder it was in Greece that the idea of democracy first germinated.

2 Unfortunately the modern Olympic Games have become too much of an exercise in competing nationalism. In 1980, the US boycotted the Moscow Games and the Russians boycotted in return the Los Angeles Games four years later. This year, the Olympic torch became a lightning conductor for all kinds of anti-China grievances. The IOC worries about this and has rightly taken the position that the Games should not be politicized and should not be organised with too much extravagance. We should go back to the original ideal which was competition to bring out the best in individual athletes.

3 It is a great honour for us to host the world's first Youth Olympics in 2010. We should hew close to the ideal, playing host without boastfulness, and welcoming foreigners into our midst as we would close friends and relatives.

4 Inspired by the coming YOG, students from Damai Secondary School painted a wall mural at Blk 706 on the Olympic theme. We had a little ceremony on Saturday morning to unveil the mural organised by Bedok Reservoir Rise RC. We also unveiled another mural in a neighbouring block done by the students of Bedok West Primary School. The event concluded with a breakfast of nasi lemak and mee siam.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Friday, June 27, 2008

[Dialogue with Residents at Blks 467-468 Hougang Ave 8]
1. The weather was kind on Thursday evening when I visited flats at Blk 468 and held a dialogue with residents living in the area at the void deck of Blk 467. A light cool breeze blew continuously making it a pleasant evening.

2. Many were pleased with the CCTV cameras installed in the lifts enabling what goes on inside to be viewed at the groundfloor landing outside. This should help stop the urination problem. I assured some residents that the sunshades for the west-facing windows would soon be replaced.

3. Cost of living, especially the electricity price, was a major concern. I explained government's policy of helping less well-off families through U-Save rather than subsidising electricity rates which would only encourage greater consumption.

4. At the dialogue session, the hot topic was surprisingly education, partly because there were a few articulate residents who were from the educational field. We talked about the pressures on our students and the lack of emphasis on moral education. Someone asked whether it would be possible to replace the wet market in Hougang. I replied that we are building a two-storey block next to Hougang Mall which would sell both fresh produce and hawker fare.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Thursday, June 26, 2008

[Arty farty]
One of the reasons why I feel working at the National Arts Council is fun is because of the ambience. When I brought my friend who is interning at Media Development Authority on a visit, he mentioned how the colourful walls and artworks could nurture creativity.

Greeting visitors at the main entrance of the NAC office at The Adelphi is an artwork by Agathe de Bailliencourt. She was one of the artists for Singapore Biennale 2006.

There are alos video works on Singapore to provide entertainment in the waiting area. Each has an individual headset as well.

Near the pantry, there's a painting of fish without heads falling.

Inside the small meeting room, there's a work made up of torn pieces of paper images stuck on the wall.

Apart from the artworks, the office has an abundance of publications to pour over, to devour. It has been an experience of a different kind here at the NAC.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

[Kicking start Singapore Biennale 2008]
Tomorrow evening, one of the important foundations of Singapore Biennale 2008 will be laid. In an email invite, I labelled it a prelude to the actual opening night on 11 September.

Earlier this week, almost all of the biennale staff went to the Central Promontory Site near One Raffles Quay for a site reccee.

It was breezy and the majestic towers of The Sail (it is a new condominium in the business area) overlooked the grass patch that we stood on. Something is brewing along the water banks.

Trying to be artistic, I decided to do a shot comparing our group with the nearby buildings. The site offers a panorama of the area along the Esplanade.

So what's the fuss about the Central Promontory Site? More that what meets the eye. The Central Promontory Site will house a structure called the Containart Pavillion. Made up of 150 shipping containers and cardboard rolls, this manificent artwork by Shigeru Ban will host some of the more expensive artworks from international artists around the world. This site-specific pavillion was specially customised for Singapore.

I shall not spoil the fun by naming all the works. However, what I will say is that information on the artists and their displayed works would be revealed at our groundbreaking event tomorrow. I am feeling excited about that too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

[Jogging at Hougang Stadium]
1. For a change, we jogged at Hougang Stadium this evening. I did twelve laps or 4.8km in 30 minutes. It is a different experience from jogging around Bedok Reservoir or along East Coast Park. In the middle of my run, a man came up to thank me for helping him at MPS. I recognised him but could not remember his case until we chatted later at the exercise corner. It cheered me up that my appeal on his behalf was successful. A few regular joggers encouraged me to run there more often.

2. Another gentleman doing his sit-ups asked if I could get one of the exercise equipment fixed. It was rusting, had dangerously sharp edges and collected stagnant water inside. I said I surely would. Someone has not been doing his job.

2. The Sengkang-Punggol soccer team was practising hard for its match later in the week with Woodlands. When I wished the manager 'good luck', he said, 'get me sponsors'. That's a tough one.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Sunday, June 22, 2008

[Arts Fest at Bedok Reservoir]
1. The title was "Hydro Sapiens" performed by a Dutch group called "the Lunatics". I attended Saturday's performance not quite knowing what to expect. There was a big crowd estimated at 7000, a few even perched on trees. The weather could not have been better with a cool, light breeze blowing. It turned out to be quite entertaining although I could not figure out bits of the storyline. The performance was both on the stage and in the water which was novel. It was nice to see fireworks and a big monster made of water bottles spewing out flame and water.

2. Watching the crowd enjoy themselves, I felt happy that Bedok Reservoir is indeed becoming a 'happening' place. Some came all prepared for a picnic. We are now on the map in the minds of many Singaporeans. And when the Berlin Wall is unveiled next year, we will be on the world map.

3. One grassroots leader told me that all the coffee shops at Reservoir Village did a roaring business that night. With more activities around the reservoir, I hope there'll be more business activity with the outlets nearer the water's edge going up in value. A posting on the website had one restaurant owner complaining about the lack of support from regulatory authorities. I've asked the shop committee to find out what can be done but I must say that, on the whole, the authorities, especially PUB, NParks, HDB and URA, have been helpful in the last few years. Otherwise we would not be seeing all these activities now. I must also acknowledge the good work of Koh Hup Leong and his Reservoir Village Shop Committee.

View the full set of photos of the performance here
Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[London Sinfonietta]
I wanted to select a mixture of performances when I looked at the various programmes for the Singapore Arts Festival. The three main categories were theatre, dance and music. From each I selected two performances bearing in mind also the venues. I wanted to choose the venues that I seldom get to go to as well.

It was my first time going to the Esplanade Concert Hall last night for Modern Tales: Stravinsky to Adams performed by the London Sinfonietta. As defined by Wikipedia, a sinfonietta is a work for orchestra that is generally considered to be smaller in scope than a full symphony. It is also used to refer to small symphonic ensembles which are considered too large to be chamber ensembles.

Six works of various lengths were performed last night. Here's what I thought of them:

Tango Seis - I enjoyed this piece. During the whole rendition, I felt that the violin bits were good. There were occasions where the violinist went solo with minimal accompaniment.

Rain Coming - I felt that parts of this piece were somewhat squeky. Perhaps because of the flute notes which were high-pitched.

The Soldier's Tale - The Soldier's Tale (the name implies the length of the piece) was a combination of a few short pieces and full of emotion. There were times of sadness which I could detect. I noticed that there was no conductor as well. The musicians just sat down and started playing. It is supposed to exude folk and jazz elements but I was unable to pick those out.

Octandre - A short and sharp piece. It was good to slot that in just after the 20 minute intermission to warm the audience up for more to come.

Shades of Oil Lamps - The best piece of the night. The composer Ho Chee Kong was present in the audience and he stood up after the piece leading to another wave of applause. I liked it because of the "cheena" and Indian feel that the piece portrayed. Thoughout the piece were the clinging and clanging of the percussion - mostly xylophone sounds - that teased the audience. It felt like a cultural piece - one that described Singapore to a tee. There's actually a storyline as well. It is about a storyteller in the streets and the depiction of the scene that has lamps and religious elements.

Chamber Symphony - Again, the violinist delivered in this piece with his superb handwork. He pulled at the bow of the violin gracefully. This piece was supposed to reflect pop culture but I felt it to be more like a chasing tune that ended abruptly.

The performance by London Sinfonietta concludes my adventures at the Singapore Arts Festival. I'm still contemplating whether to go for the last installment of the closing performance at Bedok Reservoir tonight.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

[Swan lake ballet]
The sounds of Tchaikovsky's spruced up ballet Swan Lake took centrestage at Amjad. I was there on Friday to catch its Asian Premiere.

Not know what to expect, I went to read the media reports and found out that one thing the audience should catch is the guy that dances on pointe. When he appeared, I was elated and zoomed in on the nifty footwork. I noticed that his ballet shoes were gold in colour.

Amjad is the second dance performance that I caught since the Singapore Arts Festival opened last month. I had tickets and wanted to catch a work by the Singapore Dance Theatre but was unable to do so due to a family gathering. I heard they did well too. Well, maybe next year.

I felt that out of the two ballet shows that I caught, I preferred The Architecture of Silence to Amjad. Perhaps it was how The Architecture of Silence was depicted in the programme booklet - the descriptions were rich and managed to explain the concept of the dances.

For Amjad, I was particularly awed by the video projections and set that was designed by French-Canadian sculptor Armand Vaillancourt. The projections were showcased as transitory elements between dance routines.

The routines were choreographed by Edouard Lock, Founder, Artistic Director and choreographer of La La La Human Steps. Nine dancers took to the stage which I suppose is about love. Not to forget the people behind the music - there were many string instruments used including the violin.

Apart from the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, I loved the ending. The bass boomed throughout the hall with heartbeats, a female dancer lays still on the stage then the projected visuals flash through and then the whole performance ends in darkness.

[Class Enemy]
I caught a play with foreign dialogue on Thursday. Titled Class Enemy, this Bosnian play, directed by Haris Pasovic, is an adaptation of Nigel Williams work set in a South London classroom in the early 1980s.

The only difference is an addition of a few scenes.

When I read the synopsis, it likened the show to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The story is about the interactions between a group of British schoolboys stuck on a deserted island.

In Class Enemy, a group of seven students are in a classroom waiting for their teacher but no one turns up.

When I watched the show, I was transported into a country where little emphasis is placed on educating the worst of the lot. The violence and vulgarities of these students let me to think of our own class of students that are forsaked and abandoned. The show starts with students doing what students would do - misbehaving, switching the lights on and off, and rearranging the tables and chairs - and then dives into a taboo topic in conservative Singapore - sex.

The main bully of the class, Iron talks and acts out his sexual escapades with a female social worker. He goes around the classroom touching his crotch area and throws his body at the girls. The students act out how they are abused by the teachers who used to teach them.

Through the show, they find things to do to kill their time. They speak about their actions, trials and tribulations using metaphorical stories in their lectures at the suggestion of Iron. Stories range from what sex is about, growing flowers in flower pots, racial prejudice and throwing bricks in shop windows.

I was particularly moved by the actress who played Sky - Maja Izetbegovic. She played her role very well. Her lecture was about throwing bricks at windows and vandalism of walls. I felt she was trying to show her pent up angst. There were notions of breaking free and self expression, something that students at the lower rung grapple with.

In fact, all the lectures struck a chord in my heart. I really felt for their plight and gained a better understanding of their characters though their show-and-tell.

Another aspect I liked was the hip-hop beats of the funny guys in the show - Kitty and Cat played by Samir Karic and Amir Muminovic from the group AS Dreamers from Hajvazi in North-East Bosnia. It reminded me of the hip-hop culture and the negative association and stigma on the Singaporean hip-hop culture.

Throughout the show, attempts to enforce order by the Deputy Headmistress turn to naught. In one scene, she is blocked by the barricade of tables and chairs constructed by the students.

In the last few scenes, the students turn against the Deputy Headmistress who finally manages to enter the classroom. She gets involved in a scuffle between two students. A thunderous shoot-out follows (real blanks were fired from the guns) and she lies dead on the ground.

Self-defence was being played out in the finale when the students barricade themselves from the audience. And then the school day ends.

It leaves many questions and thoughts like gun control, violence and shoot-outs in schools and issues that students grapple with everyday - from sex to self expression. Most importantly, it established that connection between youths.

[Singapore Arts Festival]
The Singapore Arts Festival is coming to an end this week. And this week is probably my busiest at the different venues. I have and will attend a total of five performaces by the end of this week. That means I get home almost at midnight daily and still have to wake up early the next morning to prepare for work. That explains why I have not been blogging.

It has been a smooth sailing week except for an incident that happened during the performance by Quartet New Generation. I was scheduled to be a Duty Assistant for the recorder performance and it was eventful.

People came up to me to feedback that some people were laughing in the Jubilee Hall. And there was someone trying to look for food - she was literally rummaging through some bags searching for food. Nearby, an annoyed member of the audience tried to get her to stop disrupting the show by flinging a programme booklet at her.

The bottomline: the whole incident was recorded by a Straits Times reporter present and appeared in the papers two days ago.

Well, it was difficult to deal with the troublemaker who spoke loudly outside the hall during an encore performance. I tried to ask her to simmer down but was met with a little verbal abuse.

I think patrons of arts performances should have proper behaviour as a sign of respect for both the artists and members of the public.

More on the rest of the other shows that I have attended soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

[Sunset at Bedok Reservoir]
1. After many weeks, I found time to run around Bedok Reservoir this evening with my usual group. Henry was able to mobilise everyone in the middle of the day. Although the weather was hot, we managed to complete the round in slightly over 27 minutes.

2. At the exercise station, I did my chin-ups and some shoulder lifts. While resting, I was invited by a group of regular runners to sample their braised duck wings. Since they insisted, I tried one and it was delicious, restaurant standard, I told the man who cooked them.

3. At the far end of the reservoir near Reservoir Village, many people were hard at work preparing for the closing event of the Arts Festival this weekend. I'm looking forward to attending this Saturday. It is nice to see so much life around the reservoir now.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Sunday, June 15, 2008

[National Youth EnvirOlympics Challenge]
1. Over three days, more than a thousand students wearing eye-catching lime-green T shirts raised high a touch as they ran a relay all over Singapore to remind us of the importance of living in harmony with nature. Over 40 schools and JCs took part. The event was organised by the Youth Executive Committee of Ci Yuan CC supported by PA Youth Movement, the CCC, NE CDC, the National Environmental Agency and others. I was asked to carry the torch for the last stretch which was a short distance from Punggol CC to Hougang Mall.

2. I was very impressed by the organisation. Ong Chee Siang, who led the effort, told me that the organisers slept very little over the three days to make sure that everything was in order.

3. Caring for the environment is one cause where younger Singaporeans will have to play the leading role. It requires a change of attitudes and habits. The call to 'reduce, recycle and re-use' has to be internalised in everyone. And this is a cause which cannot be confined to Singapore alone. All citizens of Planet Earth have to play their part. If we don't act together, our future will be harmed. Climate change, for example, may not affect adults living today but it will certainy affect their children and grandchildren.

4. Governments have to show greater responsiblity for the environment and we urgently need a new international agreement to replace the Kyoto Accord which will expire in 2012. For there to be a deal, there has to be a fair sharing of the burden and a regard for the developmental needs of poorer countries.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[GRC Dragonboat Event]
1. Sunday's dragonboat event at Bedok Reservoir opens a new chaper in our GRC. With the new boathouse and five beautiful dragonboats, we are now in business. Paya Lebar outclassed the other divisions this year. It was well-deserved with all the training they put in. Aljunied-Hougang wasn't far behind. My own team from Bedok Reservoir-Punggol put in a valiant effort but showed a lack of coordination. Well, we'll just have to put in more work next year. Happily, the weather was perfect and the spirit was excellent.

2. Two years ago, all five MPs of Aljunied GRC enjoyed our first experience at paddling and decided to make dragonboating part of our programme of activities in the constituency. We hope that every RC will eventually have its own team and inter-RC and inter-divisional competitions will be regularly organised. Dragonboating creates a strong sense of bonding because everyone has to row together in unison. Cynthia Lee and Tan Bee Lan led the GRC effort to build the physical facilities. Now that we have the hardware, it is time to build up the software.

3. The new boathouse is airy and functional. TP students did a good job designing it. We encourage the students to make use of the boathouse and the boats. The TP community can help bring life and activity to the reservoir. We also launched the dragonboats officially by dotting the eyes, one of each division. I thank our many benefactors and grassroots leaders for the funds raised.

4. We also launched Old Chang Kee's curry puff van which the company is using to sponsor events organised by grassroots organisations. We are delighted that Old Chang Kee has decided to start with Aljunied GRC. It was the first time I attended an event where delicious pregnant-looking curry puffs were freely available, as many as you can eat.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[Time out]
Over the last three days, the SAF called for a time out.

Our unit was supposed to go for a IPPT test and route march on Thursday and Friday respectively. On Thursday afternoon, the duty specialist informed some of the other specialists of the cancellation of IPPT. Together with a few others, we were supposed to be the station ICs for the test in the afternoon.

Initially, we were speculating what had caused the call for a time out. Some had said it was because of the death of two servicemen over the two days. Others mentioned that there were some technical problems with the IPPT devices.

It was until Friday that we briefed by our Commanding Officer of the three-day time out. Like every game, he said, there are time outs. Further, he reassured all men present for our cohesion activity that such training has been carried out for many years and that the time out was not a result of safety lapses. It is a time to re-examine the training and see if there are any other areas to be looked into.

And that secured the fate of our last two days of realistic training - no physical activity.

It also marked the fifth year of my service which was commemorated with a good service medal from the SAF.

Friday, June 13, 2008

[Meeting Residents of Blks 508-516 Hougang Ave 10]
1. After going house-to-house at Blk 516, I joined residents of the other blocks at the void deck of Blk 515 for a dialogue session. At Blk 516, residents who were in received a bag of 3-in-1 coffee sachets donated by Tan Wang Cheow of Food Empire. Wang Cheow is an old NS-mate from 3 Signals Battalion who is now a successful entrepreneur.

2. At the dialogue session, I reported that the IUP-plus programme will begin in November this year. This had come as a relief to an anxious father worried for his son's O levels. Needless to say, all residents are looking forward to the lift upgrading.

3. High energy and food prices were a major concern. The poor receive various forms of assistance. But the middle classes feel the squeeze too. I assured them that Government was very seized by this issue. I asked a few who had problems to come see me at my Tuesday MPS.

4. I was pleasantly surprised that many residents came down not because they had problems or complaints but because they just wanted to chat and be part of a neighbourhood gathering. That was nice. Some were on their way home from work.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

[Rising Food and Fuel Prices ]
1. The No 1 issue today is rising food and energy prices. Although everyone is hit, poorer Singaporeans are affected much more. At our dialogue session in Karimun, one grassroots leader asked what Government is doing about this problem.

2. For poorer Singaporeans, we help them directly through Workfare, Comcare, food vouchers, bursaries for their kids, hampers and ang pows at festive seasons, and so on. Every week at MPS, I attend to a few such cases. If anyone knows of families in trouble, please direct them to me. We can't solve all their problems but we can ameliorate some of them. One lady who owed Singapore Power $2000 asked why we should be helping victims of the Sichuan earthquake and the Myanmar Cyclone instead of helping her pay off her debt.

3. For middle class Singaporeans, higher food, petrol and electricity prices have increased the cost of living. Switching to generics help. Some drive less. But it is painful watching the dial turn at the petrol kiosk and receiving monthly electricity bills. From the beginning, the Government has made it a matter of principle not to subsidise food and fuel. Countries which have done so are now in trouble. In Indonesia, the recent 30% increase caused widespread demonstrations. In Malaysia, many people are upset with the sudden raising of pump prices. But the subsidies, over US$10b in each country, can no longer be sustained. In the Philippines, fuel prices are not subsdised but rice is. The Philippine Ambassador said that they are praying for a good harvest this year. But so many typhoons hit them and they just can't be sure.

4. At times like this, profiteering has to be curbed. When there was panic about rice supply some weeks ago, MTI stepped in to calm public fears. Our anti-profiteering council and CASE are on high alert although it is not always easy to distinguish normal market adjustments from profiteering.

5. The worldwide increase in food and energy prices is causing havoc around the world. In many countries, there will be civil unrest. The global system will come under strain. It will become much harder to conclude the Doha Round now even though keeping markets open when supply is short is really the best solution. Anger against OPEC will grow as and gas-rich countries accumulate all this wealth. What is causing all this to happen? The main reason is of course the growth in the middle classes of countries like China and India, which is a good thing. They are now consuming more food, more meat, and using more oil and electricity. As cities grow and link up, all kinds of raw material are now in short supply driving up commodity prices. Those who can't afford the new prices will suffer. Many countries in Africa will be badly hit.

6. These trends will persist for a while. We are only beginning to feel the effects. It is as if we have received reports of heavy rain having fallen in the mountains and now waiting for the water to flow down the valleys.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Sunday, June 08, 2008

[Karimun Links]
1. I did not expect that so many grassroots leaders and their family members were interested in our 2-day trip to Karimun. As it turned out, there were about 85 of us and we had a wonderful time.

2. The one and a half hour boat ride to Tanjong Balai was easy enough. We were greeted by the Deputy Bupati and committee members from the Karimun Yeo Clan Association at the jetty. The hotel we stayed in, Maximilian, was much better than I had expected. It was clean and comfortable with excellent reception of Singapore TV channels.

3. Tanjong Balai has the feel of Singapore in the 50's or 60's. The town itself has many Chinese, mostly Teochews. The contrast with Singapore made our visit a pleasant escape from the hustle-bustle of home. Everything seemed cheap. The food was good especially the seafood. Tanjong Balai is of course the place which gave the name to our best ikan kurau and pomfret. The steamed crabs we had on the first night was sweet and had lots of roe. The local durians were in season but those served at the Bupati's residence the following day to some of us were much better than those we bought for ourselves the night before. Before we boarded the ferry for home, a few members of the delegation, despite the heavy lunch, could not resist trying the bak kut teh and proclaimed it of high standard.

4. At the Yeo Clan Association, we were given a warm welcome complete with lion dance, three bows before the ancestors, tit-bits and lots of photo-taking. I had met some of the members two or three times before in Singapore at Mong Hing Teochew Restaurant where members of the Singapore Yeo Clan Association had given them advice and assistance. I felt as if I was visiting relatives.

5. The Governor of KEPRI Province, Bapak Ismeth Abdullah, came by fast ferry all the way from Tanjong Pinang in order to have lunch with us at the Bupati's residence and to accompany us on our tour of the new Free Trade Zone. He is an old friend from BIDA days. The Bupati, Bapak Nordin Basirun, and his officials facilitated our visit. His wife is Singaporean and used to a member of our Malay Activities Committee in the CC before. Halimah greeted her with a big hug like a long-lost sister. The Bupati's son was a schoolmate of my sons at St Stephen's School.

6 Looking ahead, I am quite sure the old links which connect Karimun and Singapore will become an asset. Sembawang Shipyard has a major operation in Karimun. An Italian shipyard, Saipem, will be opening in early 2010. Karimun FTZ status will help it attract more investments.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[Drifting in mid-air]
Drift, a play about love and extra-marital affairs spanning four generations, is one confusing theatre play. It ended its run last night at the Drama Centre.

Already the plot is confusing. It is a story about Boon Teck and revolves around Singapore and China. Furthermore, the four actors on stage take turns to play different characters. Well, this could showcase their acting skills though but could end up causing some confusion to the audience. I managed to grasp it nonetheless.

There are many political undertones in this play. The three generations span 40 years - a time where communism was still widespread in China.

I recall a scene comparing Singapore and China - Gerald, played by Lim Kay Siu visits Shanghai. Gerald finds that Shanghai is no different from Singapore until he sees some Chinese demonstrating against the Japanese. Immediately, he gets fired up and joins in the riots. He then questions himself and asks why he suddenly felt a strong bond with the Chinese in China.

Boon Teck's wife was caught for being involved in leftist activities and had promised a meeting at Waibaidu bridge in Shanghai 40 years later at 7.05am. That never happened.

The earlier scenes focus on the plight of mainland Chinese in Singapore - discriminated, taunted and laughed at for their habitual behaviour. A mother loses her job as a massuer because of a police crackdown. Her daughter goes missing. She was the one who made the police report. I could tell that she felt ashamed of her mother and did not feel welcomed in a place like Singapore. So they quit and move back to China but still face the same sort of discrimination there.

But it is not all about poking fun at the Chinese. There were also several local jokes. One was the weaving of Sang Nila Utama into the thoughts of Victor, also played by Lim Kay Siu. The character often uses that as a charging force - the thoughts that provoke his actions.

The set is simple and makes use of video projections for the 11 scenes. One has to have imagination to understand several nuances in this play as the use of props are minimal - most items are invisible and often left to be imagined.

One thing to note. An actress is still in mid-air thoughout the play. There are several references to the word mid-air as well. I am not if my interpretation of the character in mid-air is correct but I thought that it speaks of "being watched". She might have been the ghost of Boon Teck's wife - still and watching.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

[Organically on Facebook]
I seldom do two posts in a day but this time, it's history in the making yet again.

Obama has it. So does Wen Jiabao. Very soon, our very own Foreign Affairs Minister would join the ranks of these politicians on Facebook. Yes, you heard it loud and clear.

I am not sure how well received this would be but it is worth trying. Anyway, technology moves at such a fast pace such that if it is not harnessed, one may end up lagging behind.

This idea has not been one that was crafted overnight. In fact, even before the mainsteam media had reported about the Facebook profiles of famous politicians in the US and China, this decision was already on the agenda. Just that it happened to only be confirmed last night after reaching a consensus on how this should be managed. I won't bore everyone with the details but would be glad to share if I am asked to.

It was good to see some regulars from the Youth Empire - people like Sheikh Haikal and those behind the scenes of the Kings of Freedom project such as We King, Sheryl and Steve. Sheikh Haikal, being his usual self, brought laughter to those present. Well, I guess once you are an entertainer, well, you entertain. He happily told Minister that he wanted to be the one and only rapper on the Facebook account.

Many felt that Minister should share a more personal side of him - which you often read about here. Throughout the night the conversations never stopped - there were questions asked in a no-holds-barred fashion. Each of us took turns to engage in face-to-face dialogue amidst good food and wine as usual.

In fact, such honest interactions are great food for thought and some were intellectual comments. Some were outright hilarious though.

Since it was my first time at House@Dempsey, I was quite priviliged to get a short tour of the various rooms on the second floor which is a combination of thematic spa rooms - quite an interesting and engaging canvas of artworks are showcased there. It was almost like an art gallery of sorts.

For those who have been there, you must know how the rooms are like. Each room has a special name (can't really remember what they were called) and when one enters, each presents a different experience.

I must say the hospitality of the staff at House@Dempsey deserve the thumbs up. That is what I call service.

[Dempsey Hill]
1. I am really surprised by the transformation of the old CMPB complex at Dempsey Hill into a lifestyle complex of bars, restaurants, spas and antique shops. When I worked at the old MINDEF (now MFA) in the 80's, that area used to be part of my jogging circuit from Tanglin Officers' Mess.

2. On Friday evening, I had dinner at House Restaurant (also a spa) with a group of young friends who are helping me set up a Facebook account. It was a pleasant setting with a nice view of the lit-up jungle. We talked about the Obama campaign, Malaysiakini, the response of Chinese netizens to the Sichuan earthquake and what all this means for us in Singapore.

3. Sheikh Haikal ordered a metre-long hot dog (no kidding). I taxed a few inches of it with a few french fries to accompany. We congratulated him for his new contract with FM 91.3. They were all curious to hear about my visit to North Korea.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[What's your point of view?]
This is one overdue post but is something that I really want to talk about.

I was invited by my colleagues at the National Arts Council to view Matthew Ngui's exhibition titled Points of View at the National Museum. Matthew is one of the curators of the Singapore Biennale - the project that I am currently working on for during my three month stint at NAC.

Matthew Ngui is the first Singapore artist to be invited to exhibit at top international biennales like the 23rd Sao Paolo Bienal 1996 and Documenta X 1997. He was also one of four Singaporean artists presented at the first Singapore Pavilion in the 49th Venice Biennale 2001 and the 4th Gwangju Biennale 2002.

Before I ask why artists have to be recognised out of Singapore, I would like to answer it. My fellow intern who's a student at LASALLE tells me it is because Singaporeans do not know how to appreciate art. I guess that is partly true. But could it be the amount of artistic suppression in Singapore that forces artists to venture abroad? One cannot rule that out as well.

I was reading about contemporary art and of the famous saga in the arts scene about theatre plays without scripts known as forum theatre. From then on, because of an obsene act, the government was pushed into regulating theatre as they were concerned such new forms of art may "encourage spontaneous audience participation pose dangers to public order, security and decency, and much greater difficulty to the licensing authority."

Scripts for theatre plays today may be subject to government regulation but groups "who have through the years developed a close and trusting relationship with the government, are exempted from having their scripts vetted beforehand."

It could be argued that since some of such plays are supported using government grants, the government may have the right to regulate. Then again, they expouse self-regulation in place of government regulation.

A colleague once asked me which is more potent - self-regulation or government regulation. I have not reached a decision on what my answer will be.

I didn't know that I digressed so much.

If you remember two childhood stories that have been widely told – one about effect of teamwork when ten fingers work together and the other a tale of sticks that band together into a stronger entity, you would probably understand Matthew's Points of View. Both play on the paradoxical notion of things that are together but yet separate.

The exhibition is a collection of different works from the late 1980s to the present - although it is one exhibition, it's a combination of many works.

Ngui’s use of anamorphosis in several works forces visitors to interact and fully understand the works in a fun manner. Anamorphosis is a technique in which the artwork (comprising several pieces) can be seen in full from only one point. Therefore, one has to figure out the single point of the fragmented images in order to view the full picture. This is a dialectic of illusion and reality and further questions the stability of representation and the singular point of view.

Visit the exhibition and then try to find that point of view. People who do not know of this technique will be amused when they see you shifting around and searching for that point. They will be baffled at first but will understand why later.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

[About reservist]
Blogging about the army may be taboo but I think commenting about reservist is worse. Nevertheless, I shall go ahead and talk about what I have observed today - it's my first day back in my unit. One of the reasons why it is so sensitive to talk about my reservist is because I am in a classified unit. I shall not reveal which unit I am in but I shall talk about something related.

Four of us in a small department in our unit were given a briefing of changes to the army. One of such is the privatisation of training schools in the army. Our superior spoke about one such school that will be privatised soon.

He told us that in privatisation, only one in three survive. The other two leave the service and are re-employed back in the same place but with a pay cut. Most of these are people that are old and have to have a job to survive.

Similarly, years ago, when I met my former Chief Clerk, she had a similar story to tell. They grouped all the Chief Clerks together in one entity and each year a certain percentage will be asked to leave.

I think whoever is at the Ministry is very creative. And this is a good move to correct the iron-bowl mentality in the army.

Firstly, it brings about competition. When individuals compete, the best are retained and those that do not make the cut are fired. In fact, this is something that the civil service has started to do years back. I remember the cut back by 5% each year on manpower initiative to make the civil service learner and meaner.

Secondly, it keeps people on their toes. People try to find better methods of doing things to improve productivity. With better productivity, these individuals can do more in less time. Now you know why so many civil servants hold multiple portfolios in various committees.

Another smart move by the people at the top is to engineer their own promotions. It's a nice trick. Know the functions of various units, observe the manpower savings then try to integrate several units together. By doing so, you cut back on additional manpower and resources. But that is not the best I have heard so far.

The best one is to merge several divisions (of which one you were in charge of previously) to form a larger division and then assume command of that whole newly-merged division. That is something that is happening here now.

During my national service days we had the vision of an ideal workplace - one that has high technology functions and features - a leap from what we used to have. Today, almost four years later, I see that we have made that leap. My superior tells me that it is because of the various deliberations and efforts to convince the higher ups. Well, I am glad we have moved ahead.

I think the ultimate point to make is that decision making takes time. For the outcomes to be felt takes time.

Moving ahead, there are more plans for the future. I gladly punctuated the conversation with my superior that by the time these future plans have given the go ahead, I would have already completed my 10 cycles of in-camp training.

Unless of course I do volunteer national service which I have been asked to do before. That is something that I may consider in the future.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

1. Last Saturday, I gave out certificates of appointment to grassroots leaders serving on various committees for two-year terms. I was surprised at the hundreds of certificates I had to sign. So many volunteers beaver away, often unrecognised.

2. Unlike many countries, grassroots leaders in Singapore do not enjoy financial reward. All they get from me is a New Year card and an occasional meal. Many are out of pocket. I remember hosting a visit from the minister of an Asian country at my Meet the People Session about three years ago. He and his staff could not believe that my helpers were not paid. Separately, the same question was asked of many who were present.

3. Our grassroots leaders play a big role holding our society together. At critical moments, like during SARS, they reach out to every segment, keeping people informed and problems under control. Our old CCC Chairman Teo Juay Kiang still keeps the CCC peace card issued during the racial riots in 1964.

4. During the presentation ceremony, I stressed the importance of bringing in younger volunteers especially those in the 20's and 30's. Every generation has its own hopes and fears which we must try to address. It is not always possible for older residents to understand younger ones, and vice versa. It is also important for our grassroots leaders to work with those who are not in the 'official' grassroots organisations. There are many NGOs doing good work in our constituency, including temple, mosque and church groups. We should work with them and help them where we can. After all, we share a common objective in helping our residents especially those in need.

Bedok Shops Sub Committee

Building Fund Committee

Citizens' Consultative Committee

Civil Defence Executive Committee

Community Club Management Committee

Constituency Sports Club

Crest Residents' Committee

Education Fund Committee

Harmony Residents' Committee

Heights Residents' Committee

Hougang Shops Sub Committee

Indian Activity Executive Committee

Malay Activity Executive Committee

Rise Residents' Committee

Senior Citizens' Executive Committee

Tropica Neighbourhood Committee

Vale Residents' Committee

Women's Executive Committee

Youth Executive Committee

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG