[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, July 31, 2008

[Photo Session at Blk 424 Hougang Ave 8]
It was supposed to be a dialogue session on Wednesday evening but many residents came down more to chit-chat and interact, The 'makan kecil' helped. Peter's RC ran a photo shop which became a huge success. I had taken pictures with residents when I went door to door at Blk 423 before that. By the time the residents came down, the pictures were ready and I was able to autograph them on the spot. I took pictures with those whom I had not met earlier and they were quickly printed out within a few minutes.

I enjoyed chatting with a 6 year old kid who roller-bladed in complete with helmet, elbow and knee pads. Smart kid speaking fluent Mandarin. I took a picture with him and wrote 'study hard!'. He darted off to his block to show his father and came back again later, without his body armour.

There were some personal requests which I will follow up at MPS next Tuesday at Blk 414.

The new kiosk looks promising but run not by a 'mamak' but by a Korean NTU graduate! I hope the residents will patronize him because the kiosk is an important facility for everyone.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

[Lift Upgrading for Blks 716-725 Bedok Reservoir]
I was worried that Blks 719 and 722 might not clear the 75% mark for the lift upgrading to be carried out. HDB had kept me informed of the state of voting every evening. It would have been a great pity if those two blocks were not included. Their property values would have been adversely affected.

On Sunday night, after attending the Kuan Ti Kong temple dinner at Hougang, I rushed down to Bedok Reservoir to persuade some of the families which had indicated they were not in favour. I was touched when one owner told me that he would vote in favour since I had appealed to him personally. Another owner, a former lady banker, said she would think it over and also voted in favour the following morning. I left handwritten notes for two other families which subsequently also supported the lift upgrading programe.

As our population ages, having the lift stop on every floor becomes more important. One owner who was not in favour immediately changed his mind when a family member fell ill.

This morning, HDB informed me that all the blocks had cleared the 75% mark. All would now be upgraded. That's good news.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Monday, July 28, 2008

[Transcript of 41st AMM/PMC/15th ARF Press Conference]

Moderator: I welcome all of you to the closing press conference by the Singapore Foreign Minister Mr George Yeo. Before we open up the Q&A, the Foreign Minister will say a few words.

Minister: Thanks Bernard. Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the media, thank you for coming. Thank you for following the proceedings over the last one week. It must have been as hectic for you as it has been for the participants. Perhaps a little more for you, because when we’ve finished work, you begin yours. And I thank you for your patience because, sometimes, it is not possible to release information to you early enough until we’ve considered it formally among ourselves. It has been an eventful and a fruitful series of meetings since the last weekend. Our main work was the work of the Charter. We’re hopeful that by the end of the year it would be ratified by all 10 countries. There are only three countries left and we see no major obstacles to their ratification. In the meantime, we are acting in anticipation of the ratification. On November 1st, the Secretary-General will be appointing two new Deputy Secretary-Generals to help him because the workload is growing very rapidly. And the committee of Permanent Representatives to the ASEAN Secretariat will be established on 1st January, and all the countries of ASEAN are now looking at names. We also have two more blueprints to firm up – for the security-political community and for the socio-cultural community. So I would say the work of ASEAN itself is in hand.

In addition, two other topics were high up on our list of priorities – one was Myanmar, the other was the Temple of Preah Vihear issue. On Myanmar, we released the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment Report. You covered it, so you know the details. It showed that good work had been done, that ASEAN did right by intervening, by taking the lead in bringing humanitarian assistance into Myanmar, in building a bridge of trust between Myanmar government and the international community. And this work will continue for one more year. We hope that the countries will continue to support Myanmar in its efforts at recovery. Even though there has been no starvation, no outbreak of epidemics, there is much human suffering and there are vast needs. And to the extent that countries around the world and international organisations can help Myanmar, the plight of the people affected will be alleviated. We also discussed the political situation in Myanmar which was somewhat interrupted by Cyclone Nargis. The Myanmar Foreign Minister briefed us on their Roadmap. They had their referendum. We are in no position to judge whether it was well-conducted or not, because it was an internal process. But we know that they’re working towards elections in 2010 according to the new constitution. And the Myanmar Foreign Minister informed us that election laws will be drafted. Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be the Head of State, but he also said it was not clear whether she would be allowed to stand for parliamentary elections. On her detention, we expressed our deep disappointment, asked for early release for Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. We were told that for Aung San Suu Kyi, the limit of her detention will be, I think, October next year. I and other Foreign Ministers misunderstood the Myanmar Foreign Minister on the first night and gave a different piece of information which I had to correct the following day. We are encouraged that Dr Ibrahim Gambari, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, will be going back middle August, and we hope that his good work will yield good results. And we impressed upon the Myanmar Foreign Minister the importance of the Gambari mission in establishing and in building upon the good work that has been done so far on Cyclone Nargis. Cyclone Nargis, for all the problems that we went through, for all the travails that had to be covered, did create more trust between Myanmar and the world. It turned out that visas were issued and that assistance did reach the furthest corners of the affected areas.

Then we had the Preah Vihear Temple case suddenly erupting. It became quite a big issue during the meetings. We discussed it at some length on the opening night, and following an appeal by the Cambodian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong to me the following day, I organised a lunch with all the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. And because the Thai Deputy Prime Minister had no mandate to attend any additional formal meeting, we had what in diplomatic language we call a non-meeting. At that non-meeting, I as Chairman of ASEAN, consulted intensively all the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN about their views on the request by the Cambodian Foreign Minister to establish a contact group. That idea found favour with many ministers, but there was no consensus, and Thailand said that they should be given a bit more time to work the bilateral approach. And in the meantime, Cambodia has taken the issue to the UN Security Council, on which two ASEAN members sit – Vietnam, now in the Chair, and Indonesia. There’s a view that this may be a little premature but since it has been raised, it will be discussed. But the matter should come back to ASEAN and both sides will be asked to pursue the bilateral effort first, and not allow what is really a small issue, which was a non-issue in the past, to suddenly become a big issue.

Then, on our external relations, we had our two important regional groupings – ASEAN+3 which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. It is maturing, and for the first time, we decided to meet in retreat format, which is a format we reserve for our more intimate meetings, and also with an agenda where ministers could interact with each other in a more natural and spontaneous way. All of us also agreed to establish a US$3 million ASEAN+3 Cooperation Fund.

Then, for the first time, we had the first Informal Consultations of the EAS Foreign Ministers meeting. Again, loosely structured so that people could speak freely, and there is a growing sense of the importance of a wider grouping which brings in India, Australia and New Zealand. It is a leaders-led organisation, but it is important that what the leaders agree on should be followed up, and the leaders may sometimes be guided on the important issues that are affecting the region as a whole. So that was a plus.

After that we had our various PMC meetings with many countries, taking place back-to-back one after the other and simultaneously. They were useful. We had very good attendance. From the US, we had Condi Rice. Although she could not come to the last two meetings, we understood why. In fact, I made the point that we want only a modest claim on the attention of the US. If the US Secretary of State spends a lot of time on ASEAN, it must mean that ASEAN is a problem area. Her time has naturally to be focused more on problem areas like the Middle East and Northeast Asia. But we had a good meeting, and one in which issues were freely raised, including Myanmar. And we’re very appreciative that many of our Dialogue Partners were so unstinting and so immediate in response to the tragedies in Southeast Asia after the tsunami, after Cyclone Nargis, after earthquakes and so on, and we thank them. And I believe that ASEAN’s omni-directional diplomacy is succeeding, and perhaps succeeding beyond expectation. And so its culmination in the ARF – 27 ministers with ASEAN as the core. Now, that’s quite remarkable. I was in the chair and I looked around. We had the US, the most powerful country on earth. We had Russia with, I don’t know, maybe 15 or 18 million square kilometres. We had the two most populous countries, China and India. And we had small countries, like Singapore and Brunei, sitting around a table on the basis of sovereign equality of nations. And we had good discussions this morning, going over the issues confronting Asia. We talked about the Six-Party Talks. We talked about terrorism. We talked about Preah Vihear and East Timor, the success of Truth and Friendship Process. We talked about the counter-terrorism. We talked about problems of food and energy security, disaster management and so on.

On disaster management, we went quite deep into things that we must do – establishing coordinating nodes, linking up these nodes, establishing procedures, defining closer procedures governing the use of military resources, exercising the procedures that we have in place in small groups and in larger groups. We will even be having designated forces on stand-by readiness so that countries know what the things they can call for are and at what timeframes should there be such a need. Of course, we recognise at the same time that every country is autonomous and no aid can be forced on any other country.

We discussed Northeast Asia and it is a tribute to ASEAN that the first ever Six-Party Foreign Ministers Talk should be held on the sideline of ASEAN meetings. We did not play host in Singapore. We merely provided chairs and tables as well as some refreshments, but we bathe in the reflected success. Last night, when those six ministers came to the Istana and as I shook their hands, I saw a certain relief and I saw smiles on their faces. By all accounts, the talks went much better than any of them had expected before the meeting. I believe that is a feather in ASEAN’s cap. It shows that we have been able to turn our weakness into our strength.

We are 10 countries and an unlikely collection of countries, big and small, at different levels of economic development, and very diverse. But 10 countries in between the two big civilisations of China and India determined that we should maintain our own autonomy and position in the world, and clumping together, convinced that if we do not hang together, we will hang separately, but neutral and open to all, and making ourselves useful to everybody. And so they come here and they use our facilities for their own meetings because their own meetings are very often not as relaxed as ours, and that is something that we in ASEAN should be proud of.

You also saw earlier the accession of DPRK to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which is quite an unexpected development. When we first broached it to them, we were not quite sure that they would be interested. But they were interested and they were very careful in going over the language and checking with us what it meant, and then agreeing to come and expressing their desire for closer relations between the DPRK and countries of Southeast Asia. We are not a major player in the Korean peninsula, but we can offer them an alternative path into the future. Vietnam, for instance, should really be a model for them because Vietnam, like North Korea, is a Communist country with a centralised organisation with a single political party, but is opening up its economy, growing very fast with a growing middle-class. And if North Korea can travel the same path, it too can derive the same benefits.

So today, and it is a relief to all of us in the Singapore team, we hand over the chairmanship to Thailand. Thailand will be in the chair for a year and a half because of the re-synchronisation of the ASEAN calendar to the ordinary calendar starting 1 January 2009. Although a Foreign Minister has not yet been appointed in Thailand, Thailand was well-represented by Deputy Prime Minister, Sahas Bunditkul. Some people asked me whether the domestic political difficulties in Thailand will affect the quality of its stewardship of ASEAN. I remind them that among the countries in Southeast Asia, the country with the oldest foreign policy establishment is Thailand, going back over a 100 years and one which kept Thailand independent while the rest of us were colonised. You could not have achieved that position without a very strong foreign ministry with a very professional core group of officials and with its own discipline and traditions. So we have reasons to be confident that the chair of ASEAN is in good hands.

So I end here and I will be happy to take your questions. Sorry it was a bit long, but we had a lot of meetings.

Q: Ramesh from Channel News Asia. Taking up your last point, Minister, about Thailand now in the Chair, what is ASEAN’s hope for Thailand and Cambodia as far as the Preah Vihear issue is concerned. Definitely Thailand would now be seen as a shining star of ASEAN and surely ASEAN would not want Thailand to be embroiled in this issue far too long, affecting the grouping’s credibility.

Minister: I think both the Thais and the Cambodians are very aware of this, and the glare of ASEAN interest and international publicity would act as a restraint on extremists on both sides to behave in an irresponsible way. Preah Vihear was discussed at almost all our meetings and it will be discussed at the UN Security Council, so both sides know that they are being watched and that their arguments are being carefully analysed. And everyone who is watching will be making his own judgment of who is right and who is wrong, who is reasonable and who is not. Next question please.

Q: I'm Jim Gomez from the Associated Press. Sir, we heard that during the ARF discussions, there was a proposal by the Philippines and the United States to conduct a region-wide disaster response training, including the possibility of moving military forces across borders to respond to disasters. Can you tell us more details about this proposal, and in particular, how this can prevent the problem that occurred in Myanmar when the international assistance was stalled in the crucial initial weeks during the cyclone?

Minister: It makes a lot of sense to conduct such exercises. You do not want to be working together for the first time when there is a disaster. If you've practised before, if you know the radio frequencies, if you share a common language, if you have common procedures, then you can act so much more effectively in a disaster situation. And I think many of us are very pleased to hear that the Philippines and the US would be conducting such an exercise, and as the Chair I tried to encourage as many countries to participate as possible. In the same way, the reason why Singapore was able to play an effective role in Aceh after the tsunami, was because between the Singapore armed forces and Indonesian armed forces, we have a long tradition of joint exercises. In fact the officers knew each other, spoke the same language, and were therefore able to act effectively together, almost as a single unit. And that's what we want. But we don't have to include everybody, because some may have reservations, some may not yet be ready, but as many who are prepared to work together should come together. After all, it is for a very good cause.

Q: I am Jason of Agence France Presse. Was the Thailand-Cambodia dispute officially tabled in the ARF meetings?

Minister: Yes, it was raised by Cambodia, and responded to by Thailand, and a number of countries expressed their views.

Q: And what were the other Dialogue Partners' reactions?

Minister: As to be expected, all counselled restraint, speedy resolution, and a return to status quo ante.

Q: And said earlier it's a bit premature for the UN Security Council to take the issue? Could you expound on that please?

Minister: It should not have to go to the UN Security Council. It was not a problem, even a few weeks ago. It has suddenly become a problem. Why has it become a problem? Well, we know the background. In fact, the idea was, because this is a very interesting site, a world heritage site, both sides should promote tourism. And it's something which should enhance Southeast Asia as a whole, not become a source of conflict between two countries.

Q: Augustine from Channel News Asia. Just picking up on the earlier question, but not so much on military forces in countries and ASEAN countries coming together for exercises. In my conversations with your Dialogue Partners, there is a keen interest in setting up, perhaps even a centre in the ASEAN Secretariat for expertise on training to come in, to get this much talked about disaster preparedness off the ground, because Mother Nature sometimes just doesn't give us warning. What are your personal thoughts, Minister on how this should take shape and form?

Minister: We will need many nodes in the region – some for training, some for command and control in an emergency. And these nodes should be linked up together, so that if we need emergency resources we don't have, we can call upon countries further away. There will certainly have a big node in Jakarta because we have established a disaster management centre, and it will have to be enlarged, it will have to be fleshed out, it will have to be properly established with procedures, exercises, and it will link up with the national centres. I think all countries have national centres. And then the other centres in China and the US and elsewhere, we should link up with them. So they can help us, we can help them, and we can share information. And such a node may well be very valuable, should there, for example, be a pandemic crisis and we need to act in concert. What you want is better coordination, common frequencies, and a common vocabulary, so that we don't misunderstand each other when we are in a hurry.

Q: Naoko Nishiumi from NHK Japanese Broadcasting Corporation. I would like to ask what kind of discussion was made in the ARF on the North Korean denuclearisation. What kind of wording would you use in your statement?

Minister: I think the ARF statement will be released to you. As was to be expected, quite a lot of time was spent talking about the situation on the Korean peninsula. The nuclear issue, the six-party talks, the Japanese raised abduction, the South Koreans were naturally concerned about the recent shooting of a woman tourist in the Kumgang mountains. But this time, the mood was different. This is my fourth ARF, and the discussion on Northeast Asia was a very different discussion from those that I've heard in the past, and I attribute this to the progress that's been made in the Six-Party Talks, and to the good meeting which they had yesterday. I said after the North Korean Foreign Minister's made his intervention that I heard in his speech many positive points and many sitting around nodded their heads.

Q: Good afternoon, Minister. My name is Pastelero Mogato from Reuters. So you said a while ago about this stand-by ready force to respond to disasters in the region, what was the sentiment of the ARF partners? And would that cause any problem because of the presence of military forces in some of the countries, because some of them do not want foreign soldiers on their soil? How would this be resolved? Is the template based on the UN Humanitarian Assistance a good model for ARF? Thank you.

Minister: It is for the country in need of help to decide, we can't force help on that country. In Myanmar, the warships which were carrying supplies anchored outside their territorial waters caused confusion, created distrust, which in fact impeded the flow of international aid into Myanmar at that time. In the case of Indonesia after the tsunami, foreign military forces were welcomed with no impediment, and the result was great speed in bringing assistance to the affected areas. So it is for the countries affected to decide whether or not they wish to accept foreign aid, and in what form. But from the perspective of the aid-providing countries, it is good that we exercise different combinations, so that we can deploy in different combinations. And certainly, to be effective at a high level, we will always need military forces. Someone said that of course, the ultimate command in a disaster situation should be a civilian command, which I felt was a very fair point. But we did identify, clarifying the relationship between the use of military assets and the use of civilian assets as a key issue for discussion and elaboration by officials. And this they will follow up on in inter-sessional meetings.

Q: I'm Raphael Minder. I’m with Financial Times, Asia Correspondent. A couple of questions following up on this, when do you think such exercises, led maybe by the US, will actually take place? Do you have any sense of a timetable? Do you think, given your last remark…

Minister: Surin just told me 2009.

Q: 2009.

Minister: Yes.

Q: Given your last remark, is it a problem in any way that the US should be behind this initiative, having seen what happened in Burma when US warships led the way in terms of trying to…

Minister: No, not at all. In fact I think we are grateful to the US for taking this initiative. But there could be other initiatives, led by other groups, other countries, and these can go in parallel, and I believe they're complementary. And like inkblots, let each grow, and eventually overlap one another.

Q: And then, just coming back to the Temple dispute, can you just perhaps detail… there seem to have been some countries quite firmly opposed to the idea of acting as a regional broker. What was their argument?

Minister: Acting in the regional…?

Q: Using ASEAN as a regional broker, a peace broker for an agreement. Who were these countries and what was their main argument? Did they think that ASEAN should just keep out of that sort of conflict?

Minister: No, no, all countries agreed that should there be a need, ASEAN stands ready to assist, and that facility should be on the shelf and ready to be used. But whether or not we need to reach out for that facility on the shelf must depend on the two countries which are directly involved. Cambodia wanted it to be used immediately. Thailand felt that bilateral meetings should be given a chance to succeed, and they felt, with some justification, that perhaps the next meeting should be held soon after this Sunday's elections in Cambodia, and perhaps the results would be better. But in such bilateral disputes, you've got to listen to both sides, because both sides have their cases to make.

Q: And just the idea of a food security summit in Indonesia in December, is it now a reality and is there any prioritisation of the issues for that summit?

Minister: We discussed that, the officials are working on this, the agricultural people. They've got to decide whether there is sufficient agreement for there to be deliverables at the summit. The leaders should not meet unless we are reasonably confident that there are concrete deliverables. So the officials will work on this first.

Moderator: Final question?

Minister: Oh, looks like we're done.

Moderator: Thank you very much, Minister.

. . . . .

Watch the video here

Sunday, July 27, 2008

[St Anne Feast Day]
I arrived just before Archbishop Nicholas Chia for the 11am Mass and so got to be part of the receiving party. The church and the church grounds were packed. The altar was full of beautiful flowers. The last prayer to St Anne was said in Teochew, which is the tradition. We also prayed for Fr James Yeo's brother, Fr Lawrence Yeo, who is suffering from terminal cancer.

Food was an important part of the celebration. My cousin, Nancy, told me that some 12,000 sticks of satay were roasted. I ate char kuay teow, mee siam and poh piah which were all excellent. By the time I left after 1am, much of the food had been sold.

St Anne is not just a parish. It is a community which extends beyond the parish, a big family. On the feast day, those with roots in the Hougang/Punggol area come back to their origin.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Saturday, July 26, 2008

[Office blogging Saturday]
I am blogging in the office. But it is a Saturday so it is fine.

It has dawned on me that more people appreciate the arts (or so I hope). I think as a National Arts Council, that is/should be our objective.

Last night, Rendezvous Hotel invited some of us to Ballet Under the Stars. Well, apart from the punctuated moves, the food ws really good too. I should try the food there one day.

Pity there were no photos.

We climbed up Fort Canning Hill (via the steps of course), and headed to Fort Canning Centre. Right below us was the lawn where the audience was seated. We had wines, red and white, as the performance unfolded in front of.

Ballet Under the Stars was presented by the Singapore Dance Theatre. The night was a collection of classical yet pieces that are widely familiar. They danced to two pieces by Queen (the people who brought us We Will Rock You). I am quite a noob at dance, so I had plenty of questions throughout the show. But Ballet Under the Stars was far from being avant-garde (ordinary people like me could understand it). That means the performance was not too abstract.

I then headed to the opening of International Symposium on Electronic Art at the National Museum. It was crowded. People filled the areas all the way to Singapore Management University for the Night Festival. I zipped through and made my way to The Butter Factory for a night chill out.

This morning, I gave another short presentation at The Arts House on my volunteer experience for the inaugural Singapore Biennale in 2006. I think it was a good shot.

I spoke about how ordinary Singaporeans should be involved in appreciating the arts. Using the Night Festival as an example of how arts can reach out to the masses, I related it to two instances where I worked hand-in-hand with other like-minded individuals on bringing art to the masses.

That said, Singapore Biennale 2008 is one such platform to bring arts to the masses. And I hope Singaporeans from all walks of life, young and old, can be part of Singapore's largest international contemporary visual arts exhibition.

People tell me that I am a superman. Long hours of work, grassroots work and other committments. They must think I have good time management skills. Maybe.

I'm going to blog a lot today because there are so many updates in my life.

F1 training just started last weekend and I am straddling reporting duties at National Day Parade. Then there is the usual day-to-day work.

I cannot talk too much about F1 because there are a lot of confidential stuff. But I am learning a lot. I am beginning to understand the different flags and hand communication signs used in the race. That's the first part to being a good race official. This will not be the first I must say. It will go on for a few years. I assume that I have signed on already.

It is my second year covering NDP at the floating platform. I've did it for the longest time since early 2000. In fact, I have watched almost every NDP from 2000 onwards. It is a patriotic display. I mean the parade and not my actions. This year, I'll be at the Press Stand. I was there last year too and the view is fantastic. I'm gonna take more snaps.

Working on NDP stories means that I get to go behind-the-scenes too - the things you do not get to see on TV.

This is the makeshift makeup unit area of the wheelchair dance performance which is located outside the media briefing room. It is where people from the media gather every week before the parade begins. Well, 9 August 2008 is gonna be a memorable one.

[Containart Pavilion]
Some of you who have read my previous posts should have come across the Containart Pavilion. It will be part of the Singapore Biennale 2008 and is one of the three main exhibition sites.

I heard the estimated value is a few million dollars.

Over the last few weeks of July, our construction people have been toiling to put this together, rain or shine.

I'm almost into my last lap for my internship at National Arts Council. One thing I will miss is my desk! I shall talk about that soon.

The past week has been whirlwind. Simply because of the fact that my internship spans three areas: Marketing, Sponsorship and Publication. Lots to learn but lots of work too.

I'm currently working on a brochure for the Singapore Biennale 2008 as well as doing bits and pieces for the short guide. More on that soon when it is finally sent for print.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

[Meeting Residents of Blks 503-506 Hougang Ave 8]
1 I was so touched by a family at Blk 503 who received me with a cup of iced ribena and two pieces of Ferrero-Rocher chocolates on Friday night. Many residents were still not back but those that were were happy to chat and take pictures. At 9pm, I went down to one of the void deck of Blk 506 for a dialogue session. As residents were more comfortable speaking in small groups, I went around to meet them informally. I invited some of those with specific problems (like citizenship applications) to see me at my MPS.

2 One resident lamented the unplucked mangoes in the vicinity and asked if the RC could organise harvests so that the mangoes could either be shared or sold for charity. Another asked if some land could be set aside for residents to plant things. Cleanliness was again one area of complaint. I keep hearing that the area only gets thoroughly cleaned when the MP comes around. Unfortunately, with so many blocks to visit, I can only come around once every few years. The Town Council staff got a earful from me.

3. Going around, one trend cheered me up, which is the growing number of kids who go to polys and universities. I can see that many of them are smart and self-confident. For them, the job market is good. I hope more of them will come join our RC activities and help look after our local communities.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Thursday, July 17, 2008

[Nasi Lemak @ 6 milestone, Upper Serangoon Road]
1. Finally, I got to try this famous nasi lemak and found it equal to its reputation. I was having dinner with some RC members before MPS. We tried a little of everything - the fried fish, eggs, long beans, otak otak, ngoh hiang, fried chicken, sayor lodeh, acar acar. There were durian stalls nearby but we were too full. Throughout the time we were there, there was a long line of customers. I was told the oyster omelette next door is also outstanding.

2. The stall owner's daughter and her mother came by to chat. They suggested some improvements to the traffic flow. I have since discussed the matter with the MP responsible for that area, Yeo Guat Kwang. Problem is that the business is so good, some customers park their cars indiscriminately, causing traffic jams and inconveniencing nearby residents. Traffic management is always a matter of balancing competing and conflicting needs. One improvement I suggested was a timer at the traffic lights crossing so that pedestrians know how many seconds they have left to cross the road.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Sunday, July 13, 2008

[Racial Harmony and the Olympic Spirit]
1. The MPs of Aljunied GRC took part in a racial harmony event on Sunday morning. Residents from different parts of the GRC converged by foot on Hougang Stadium where we had fun and games. The mood was good reflecting a certain confidence that racial harmony is now an integral part of our society. But it is best we don't take this for granted. Feelings of race and religion are never far beneath the surface.

2. The Olympic spirit recognises that all of us share a common humanity; hence atheletes compete as equals. The values associated with the Olympic spirit are unity, friendship, progress, participation, harmony and dream. These are all values which help build multi-racial and multi-religious societies. Since we'll be hosting the YOG in 2010, it is right that we promote the Olympic spirit as part of our Singapore spirit. That was the gist of the short speech I gave.

3. But, amidst the fun and games, the worrying news of the collapse of mortgage lender IndyMac Bank in Pasadena and the panicky sell-off of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shares played in my mind all day. This is a major financial crisis which will affect the whole world. Fortunately, the organic growth of China and India will provide us some buffer.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Saturday, July 12, 2008

[Teochew Opera]
The Chaozhou City Teochew Opera Troupe is performing at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre. The opening night was a selection of excerpts from famous operas. The final presentation saw the artistes in lavish regalia.

2. After Singapore, the troupe will go to Batam where it will perform a few nights. There is a sizeable Teochew community in the Riau islands. It is good that cultural groups are travel freely from one country to another. It was not such a long time ago that Chinese language material was banned in Indonesia. The Batam Mayor wanted to attend the opening night's performance in Singapore but had to pull out at the last moment. However, he did send a senior representative.

3. For the souvenir magazine, I provided the message below:


Teochew Opera is part of Singapore's cultural heritage. However, with the decline in the use of dialects, there is a danger that Teochew Opera will wither away as an art form. That would be a great pity indeed.

To preserve Teochew Opera in Singapore, we need to modernize the way we manage the opera companies, the way we recruit and train artistes, and the way we reach out to younger audiences. Over the years, such efforts have been made with varying success. I remember many years ago being brought by Kuo Pao Kun to see a Teochew Opera staged in a traditional way but with the sides of the wayang backstage rolled up so that audiences could see artistes preparing for their roles. It is also important for subtitles to be provided in Chinese and English to facilitate understanding.

Without a strong culture, a people cannot be strong. The voices of ancestors expressed in literature and the arts are part of the collective memory. Teochew culture is one of the many streams flowing into the modern culture of Singapore, making us what we are. Let us therefore make a special effort to keep alive Teochew Opera.

Even before the days of Raffles, Teochews settled in Johore and the Riaus fishing, farming pepper and gambier, and doing business. The Teochews in Singapore and Batam are linked not only by cultural and economic links but also by blood. I hope the performance of this Teochew Opera in Batam will help bring the peoples of Indonesia and Singapore closer together.

I congratulate the organisers and Kreta Ayer People's Theatre for this important contribution to our cultural life."

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Thursday, July 10, 2008

[Why Can't We Be Like AMK?]
1. At my dialogue session on Wednesday night with residents of Blks 417-418, 433-434, I received a few complaints about the quality of facilities. One lady, with a smile, asked "why can't we be like Ang Mo Kio? After all, we pay the same taxes." I tried to explain the poor layout of the estate which did not anticipate the construction of the NE Line and Hougang MRT station. But understanding the point she was making, I assured her that we got our fair share of the budget and that there would be improvements.

2. As always, lift upgrading was the No 1 request. I hope that our application would be approved soon. Unfortunately, many of the blocks have a design problem with large internal voids. We will need creative engineers and architects.

3. Many residents were just happy to come and chat. Although tidbits were provided, most had already eaten. One group of senior citizens at Blk 434 where I visited door-to-door walked across the road with me to Blk 417 for the dialogue session.

4. Sitting in front was a young man in NS uniform with his parents. He had just come back from camp and gave me a smart salute. I had met his parents and brother earlier in their flat and talked about his application for a university place.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

[NDP Media Brief 3]
The NDP organisers held a Media Brief to reveal the Pre-Parade and Show segment on yesterday.

There was a long fashion runway but for what I will not say. You have to make a guess for that.

I think the two main highlights of the day will be seeing Joi Chua and Hady Mirza up close and asking them about their NDP involvement this year. In case you didn't know, they will be the singers for this year's theme song. It is kindof catchy but I really like the chorus part but NDP songs would always trigger emotions for me no matter how good or bad they are. I think it has got to do with national pride.

When Hady took to the runway to perform (Joi was supposed to do a duet but she was unwell at the media brief), I was humming to the songs and it struck something in my heart.

You can read more about what happened on Youth.SG when the article is posted. Expect some surprises.

[GY on Facebook]
My young friends from Youth Empire have helped me start a Facebook account and are guiding me along. I hope readers of this blogsite can become friends too.

Add me as a friend to your profile (you have to be logged in to Facebook first)

[Trendy Kovan]
1 Before Tuesday's MPS, I had dinner with members of the Constituency Sports Club at the New HK Cafe (ÐÂÍú) at Heartland Mall. It is quite hip with mostly young customers. The food was simple but tasty. We did not order dessert but looking at those ordered by others, the desserts were quite fancy. I had an iced milk tea which came in a generous stainless steel mug. Fruit juices came in tall glasses.

2. The young man who served us was enthusiastic and helpful. I was impressed by the way he held himself. He had been working there a year, saving up money to further his education.

3. The relocation of the bus terminal out of Kovan was a blessing in disguise. It freed up land for a big car park which has brought in a different clientele for the shops and restaurants in the area. At that time, however, the dislocation caused by the change of traffic pattern created a lot of unhappiness. Change is never easy even when it is for the better. Good thing we had Cynthia Lee there to ease things along.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

[Bro Joe Kiely]
1 The memorial mass at the new chapel of SJI International was a celebration of Bro Joe's life. For reasons not clear to me, he is one of the teachers whom I'll always remember even though he only took a few lessons at St Pat's Secondary One. That's 40 years ago. I can still do the alphabets with hand sign language that he taught the class, a curiosity with no practical application.

2 On the front page of the mass booklet was a saying from Bro Joe that a good teacher must love the child he teaches, and the child has to feel that love. In his eulogy, Bro Visitor Levitte recalled Bro Joe's two conditions for a child's education: love and success. The second condition is interesting. A sense of progress encourages the child to make the effort. In 1994, Bro Joe worried about the deadening uniformity of Singapore's education system. A core principle of Lasallian education is the respect for every child's uniqueness. Everyone is different and each blossoms in his own way.

3 I met Bro Joe off and on over the years. After his retirement, he went back to Ireland. I met him twice there: once, for the launch of Bro McNally's posthumous exhibition in Dublin; and the second time when we unveiled the outdoor statue honouring Bro McNally at County Mayo. I can never forget that morning. It was raining and gloomy. I gave my speech; Bro Joe gave his. Then, as we walked out, the weather cleared, the sun broke through. Both Bro Joe and I knew there was divine intervention. When I took leave, it started raining again. I last met Bro Joe a few months ago at Lasalle College. He looked well then.

4 Goodbye Bro Joe.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

Sunday, July 06, 2008

[NDP 2008]
Last night I caught a preview of NDP 2008. I can't say too much here yet but I will do so once I can over the next few weeks.

[Eunos Visit]
1. Aljunied GRC MPs visited some blocks at Eunos Division on Sunday afternoon. Although many residents were out, those who were in were happy to chat and take pictures. At the block I visited, lift upgrading was often raised. There were also complaints about residents at a lower floor keeping or feeding cats giving rise to a terrible stench and possibly causing a health hazard. Despite warnings and a recent fine, the problem persists. We promised to follow up.

2. Crows were another problem raised. Crows are scavengers and multply when food is available. I've passed the complaint on ENV.

3. We dropped by a tent set up by a temple for its devotees. The headman remembered me from Kembangan days. While waiting for Mayor Zainul to finish his block visit, I chatted with a lady who was preparing the ingredients for vegetarian bee hoon she was going to fry in the evening.

3. I met one resident who said he saw me running at Bedok Reservoir. He said he was a marathon runner and ran round the reservoir regularly, probably many rounds each time. I told him I wish I could.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[Racial Harmony Run]
1 NECDC's Racial Harmony Run on Saturday was an interesting fusion of multi-racial harmony and the Olympic ideal. The basic idea is that we are all members of the human family; so let us live together in peace and friendship.

2. Mayor Zainul asked me to take the last leg from Punggol CC to Serangoon JC. I took over the torch from Michael Palmer who had cycled, kayaked and ran before that. He must be a triathlete. Boy, the torch was heavy. I put on my best effort when the cameras were taking pictures, then passed the torch on to the others, before taking it back for the final run into the stadium. We ran 2 km at a relatively slow clip.

3. At the stadium, many school kids put up performances reflecting our diverse heritage. I must say they did very well. Masagos told me that our kids do much better than kids in other countries. I remember the school performances put up when I was a kid which were a far cry from those we see nowadays.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG

[Bukit Timah Hill]
Two of the youths in my Youth Executive Committee had initiated a Bukit Timah Hike yesterday morning.

Having not climbed Bukit Timah Hill before, I joined them. We brought a total of 18 students on the hike.

The ascent was steep. And the navigation of the different paths deep in the woods were tedious. It had many bends and goes up and down. Luckily I had followed a group of climbers to Mount Ophir in Malaysia as part of my garang reporter days in Singapore Polytechnic many years ago. I think it is an enriching experience for reporters to be actively involved in something and not just report. If only I can be one.

After the two hour expedition, we made our way to the Hindhede Quarry. The view was surrel. The air was breezy particularly because of the water that cooled the air. It was a fun trip.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

[Accidental award]
One of the reasons why I enjoy doing volunteer work is because I get to learn a lot of new things. When I was with Team Singapore, I learnt more about the various sports and how each game is being played. Now I am learning a lot about arts.

During the presentation at Republic Polytechnic, my fellow intern spoke about how we should stop and stare and question the very things that we take for granted each day. How true.

In May this year, I managed to try my hand at rowing an open-top kayak. Kayaking is very different from dragonboating. For one, the paddle is two sided. This allows the strength to be distributed to both the sides (i.e. left and right).

I just found out last week that this joint event by my Youth Executive Committee won an award for organising this event considering the skeptism that I had initially. We bagged a bronze for the Family Life Champion Award 2008. Looks like 2008 is peppered with a medal and an award so far. I wonder what will be next.

It was a pity that I was unable to bask in the limelight during the prize presentation ceremony last Sunday due to a bout of fever after hosting the launch of the SHINE Youth Festival. I managed to be share the stage with Wu Jia Hui, the guy who sang the 881 theme song 一人一半. He did three of the songs from his album 无家可回 during a segment which I hosted.

The composer of the song, Eric Ng was also present and songwriter Xiao Han as well. We chatted about pursuing dreams and how to break into the music scene in Singapore. Eric shared his thoughts on how Singaporeans could transfer knowledge and tips on their experiences to help other Singaporeans for the future development of the Singapore music scene.

Friday, July 04, 2008

[Lecture at RP]
Yesterday, I became a lecturer at Republic Polytechnic. No kidding.

I was asked to complement a session by my outreach and education manager by giving a short overview of my involvement in Singapore's inaugural biennale held in 2006. I spoke about how I was involved in Open Burble, an opening night artwork which involved about three days of work.

I felt I could have delivered it better if I had prepared some slides. But I'll have another chance next week when I do a full-fledged 20 minute long presentation on volunteer work.

Over the last three nights, I have been preparing a set of slides for my presentation next week. It would have photos and even some videos. I hope the students enjoy it.

[Launch of Containart Pavillion]
I have not been able to post stuff on my blog because I do not a camera phone at the moment. And photos are a must because I think photos are a great complement to what I write. Unless of course it is a serious piece on politics which I weave in once a while.

As mentioned earlier, there was a groundbreaking ceremony of one of the three main sites of the Singapore Biennale. And here's what had happened sometime back in end June.

The Central Promontory Site will host the crown jewels of the Singapore Biennale. Some of the most extensive and expensive artworks will be showcased here. One will be able to witness snowscapes by Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck.

Key sponsors of the project were invited to witness this important milestone in a short and simple ceremony. The National Arts Council's Chairman and CEO were also present.

At the touch of a button, a beam was lowered into place by a crane in the background. That marked the launch of the Containart Pavillion project.

I was awed by the future developments of the Marina Bay area. The Urban Redevelopment Authority's plans for the area are extensive and awe-inspiring.

[Neighbourhood Get-Together]
1. I visited the homes at Blk 532, Hougang Ave 6 on Wednesday evening and had a lively dialogue session with residents of Blks 531-533 after that. They were happy to hear that there would soon be lift upgrading. One resident was concerned that there could be less than 75% in favour which would disadvantage older residents. With the population ageing, creaky knees are a growing problem.

2. I forgot to announce that that particular area had been selected for Neighbourhood Renewal, which is a new national programme. The RC will be gathering feedback on the improvements residents would like to see. We'll need a sense of the priorities because there is always a budget constraint.

3. The lack of cleanliness was raised by a number of residents. I've asked the Town Council to increase supervision because of frequent complaints that cleaning workers are not doing their job. I also hope that residents will do their bit to keep the place clean. Those living at lower floors often dare not hang their clothes out to dry because of rubbish thrown from higher floors.

4. One group asked for more such get-togethers, saying that it was the first time that they got to meet their neighbours. That surprised me. Kent, who is our new RC Chairman, said he would follow up. Poor road safety was another concern raised.

5. The new soccer field with the running track around it is a hit. It is nice to see residents jog in the daytime and at night.

Do also read my posts on Beyond SG