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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

[New Year Reflections]
I have been on local leave in the last week, still having to drop into my office occasionally, but having more time for myself and my family. Before Christmas, we stayed at a government chalet in Changi for a few days. It was nice to be able to sleep in in the morning, and go for leisurely swims and runs with my kids.

Oei Hong Leong's advice for the new year in Straits Times was good. He said that while one might lose an arm or a leg, one should never lose one's head. Be cautious, stick to cash and spend more time with the family.

The global financial crisis is leading to a steep economic slowdown. Tens of trillions of dollars have been wiped off global assets in the last few months. With rising unemployment worldwide, some countries will be politically destabilised. In many countries, governments are wobbly and unable to do what is right for their people.

I expect MFA will be busier next year. We have to support the reform of global institutions, push ASEAN integration and maintain good external relations generally. With the Doha round in jeopardy, it is just as well we have our FTAs. Negotiating a new climate change treaty will be an uphill struggle. I hope our neighbours will pull through this economic crisis because their well being affects our well being. It is so sad, amidst all these challenges, to see unending strife in the Middle East and the looming prospect of conflict between India and Pakistan.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Monday, December 29, 2008

[Prof Wong Hock Boon - Father of Paediatrics]
Prof Wong passed away at the age of 85 leaving a huge legacy in the many doctors he has mentored and inspired, and in his contribution to medical knowledge. Putting newborn babes with jaundice under UV lamps, for example, was but one of the many innovations he introduced.

He was my neighbour down the street where I lived. When my kids were young, my wife and I would trot them over to his house for consultation when they were suddenly taken ill. He was always helpful and, despite all his achievements, totally without airs. He was all his life a workoholic, going to hospital early in the morning when it was still dark.

My wife and I visited the family on Monday evening. We met some of the many students he taught, not a few of whom are now senior doctors in the medical profession. Everyone had the highest regard for him. We have lost a great man.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Since it is the term break it is time to add value to my life. It means reading up more and doing that stuff that I do not normally do. I used to take art for "O" levels so when I was asked to do some illustrations, I took up the brush again.

It wasn't easy trying to look for paint. I ransacked my drawers and found a box of watercolour paint. Wanted to use poster colours but I realised that they dried up in the tubes.

My first attempt was bad. The shadows and textures were not right.

Then I tried a second time using the same drawing but a recoat of paint. It looked slightly better.

My second self-enrichment assignment was to catch up on reading. I bought "The World is Flat" last year and did not have time to start reading it. But I picked it up again en-route to Kuala Lumpur and finished the first chapter. It is really interesting especially the part on new media and the Internet. Journalism students would know the power of fourth estate - the media. Thomas L Friedman describes the Internet as the fifth estate.

in Singapore, there is no such power embedded in the fourth estate because of how the media is shaped. Increasingly the fifth estate is booming and there is no way to control the widespread of the Internet.

The book also shares about the changing dynamics of politics - top-down politics is eroding, bottom-up methods are scoring. What strikes me most is the section on outsourcing. The reality is the truth. With India and China booming, jobs are trickling out of the US and other developed countries.

What is important is the value add because human routine work can be easily replaced by machines. There is also a lot about the evolution and the birth of the Internet - some of which I have not read about or chanced upon in the course of my research. That is why self-enrichment is important these days.

Friday, December 26, 2008

[Christmas with the CEO]
Although I had to work on Christmas Eve, it was well spent because there was a office party. I was quite surprised that our CEO dropped by and joined us.

It was another surprise when I received presents from my colleagues. And one from a friend. The lovely Christmas tree is from Eunice and Ramona. It seems tiny compared to the presents but it is quite cute.

I did not prepare any presents this year due to travel so I went last minute shopping after work. The streets were crowded but some shops were not.

Last minute shopping before Christmas is fun. I had almost walked the entire Orchard Road starting from Plaza Singapura down to Ngee Ann City and to Far East Plaza. I finally ended at Paragon after looking and buying the correct presents.

My wife and I watched Twilight, the teenage vampire movie, on Christmas Day with our teenage children three of whom had watched it more than once or twice. I might have protested too much when I told them I was watching it for sociological reasons. But it is weird how such a movie should have taken the teenage world by storm. I remember seeing the Rocky Horror Movie Show years ago in Boston with some classmates which was (maybe still is) a fascinating cult movie. The professionals tell me that in the show business, trust not your own taste but the ratings.

Because my Branch Secretary Bee Lan had told me she wanted her money back after watching Twilight, my expectations were suitably low. That was perhaps the reason why I found the movie 'not bad' (as in Chinese). Even among vampires, there are good and bad ones. The struggle between the bright and the dark side continues. My sons told me the songs in Twilight are very good (I didn't notice as following the plot was hard enough). They didn't notice that the grand piano Edward played on in his room (which I certainly won't mind living in) was a Kawai.

The trailer for the second part of Red Cliff was exciting. I'm looking forward to it.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

I decided to make this holiday break different from the rest of my other holidays. Instead of the hectic and planned schedule, I decided on something that is quite random - a road trip - where I just go to a different country and wander aimlessly. So I took a day off to go to Kuala Lumpur on the KTM train.

Life has indeed been hectic for me. 2008 has been a great year. But having said that, it means getting caught in the cycle of work. The start of the year kicked off with a new semester. Then immediately after the final exams I interned at the National Arts Council. The term of work was extended twice. By then it was time to go back to school for another hectic term. And now I am back at work again. It has been a gruelling cycle - study, work, study, work.

Luckily, my one day trip has helped me recharge a little.

Disappointment, doubt, distress and depression - the four dark sides that mankind fears. At City Harvest church's Christmas Day service, that was the four 'Ds' that Pastor Kong Hee shared about in his short sermon. But not all is lost because Christ came to the world through virgin Mary to save us.

I usually do not attend service at my usual church during the Christmas season. It is a different experience to see and join in the activities that other churches organise other than your own. And City Harvest is one awesome place - it is as though you are attending a concert of sorts. The lights, the impeccable sound system and the big crowd. It's a good place to lose yourself and fall in love with church again.

I must say I was deeply touched by what had happened this afternoon. It was an experience that blew me off my feet.

Monday, December 22, 2008

[Merry Christmas and Happy New Year]

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Sunday, December 21, 2008

[School Books Recycling]
Gay Chee's Harmony RC organised a very successful school book project last Saturday. Thousands of old school books were donated, sorted out and made available to families which needed them. Obsolete books were put aside. A few sponsors donated some new books as well.

With the economic situation getting worse, we should do all we can to help one another. I've asked RC members to keep an eye out for families which are in trouble. Some are too proud to ask for help, which says a lot about their sense of dignity. But we must extend helping hands to those in need so that we can all pull through this crisis together. I was moved by this spirit of gotong-royong at the school book event. We had Sec 2 and 3 students from Bowen Secondary helping out as well.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Friday, December 19, 2008

[Ustaz Haji Marzuki Abu]
Every year during Ramadan, Muslims at Bedok Reservoir Rise RC would meet in the evening at the void deck of Blk 707 to pray. Ustaz Hj Marzuki has led the prayers all these years. I would visit them on one evening after prayers, present some dates from the RC, sit on the mat next to Hj Marzuki and exchange views. Usually I would talk about some of my foreign visits. The session would always end with a prayer by Hj Marzuki for me.

Although I noticed that Hj Marzuki had become frail in the last two years, it was still a shock for me to receive an SMS from Hussein Bapputy on Wednesday night telling me that he had passed away at Changi Hospital. With Woon, the RC Chairman, I visited the wife and son at their flat the following morning to express my condolences. He was a good man and a leader of the local Muslim community.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

[ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting]
The ASEAN FMs met on 15 December at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta to mark the coming into force of the ASEAN Charter. The event was supposed to have been celebrated at the ASEAN Summit in Chiang Mai which was unfortunately cancelled because of the political situation in Thailand. In the middle of our meeting in Jakarta, news broke that Abhisit had been elected by the Thai Parliament to be the new PM. There was a wave of relief around the table not because we supported one side or the other but because we needed political stability in Thailand to advance the ASEAN agenda. Thailand is in the Chair till the end of next year. Personally, having known Abhisit for many years, I was happy to see him become PM but he has a tough job ahead of him. Anyway, we did settle on 24-26 Feb next year for the ASEAN Summit. With the global financial crisis getting worse, it is important for Leaders to meet early.

With the ASEAN Charter in force, every ASEAN country will now appoint a permanent representative of ambassadorial rank to the ASEAN Secretariat. Two additional Deputy Sec Generals will also be recruited. The FMs agreed that the Secretariat's budget will have to be increased. A new ASEAN anthem has also been selected. It has a nice tune. I hope that all school children in all ten ASEAN countries will learn it so that we share a song of hope in common.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Monday, December 15, 2008

[Debate on new media]
Since I am a new media advocate here's something that I think will interest people who blog or use new media. And that includes almost all youths out there. And some from Gen W (the generation before Gen X and Gen Y).

You can tap on MP Irene Ng's background of being in mainstream media (she was in SPH most of the time of her career) and could be speaking on the challenges of new media. Ditto for Mr Cheong Yip Seng who is also on the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society.

If you ask me, new media is a boon. Technology makes things better but one needs to know how to deal with it. More often than not, the law lags behind as technology advances.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

[PAP's online presence developing]
We are slowly getting there in terms of new media engagement. In 2006, I remember being a panellist for Campus on 938 LIVE a live radio talk show. During the edition that I was part of, we had youths from my alma mater Singapore Polytechnic participate in a discussion on the topic "Mainstream Media Vs New Media - Who Will Win the Battle for the Young?". That was probably my very first foray into providing my thoughts on blogging. Well, the verdict at the end of the show was that mainstream media would compliment new media.

For last week's Straits Times YouthINK article on new media engagement I decided to do a small experiment. We were supposed to write about YouTube videos and the PAP website as well as engagement in general. So I went to YouTube and did a search on videos on names of ministers in the cabinet and opposition MPs.

It was an interesting find. Most videos of the Lee Family were satirical. But this simple experiment illustrates online presence.

I hope the government adopts the recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society with regard to political films. Hopefully it will be favourable for all parties - let's give everyone equal standing (one of the PAP's four values are fairness).

I also did a Facebook experiment. More in the next perhaps.

[Cultural exchange]
If there was one word to sum up my day it would be the word culture.

But before talking about culture, let me first say I am grateful to my superiors at NAC for allowing me to take some time off to prepare for my installation art at SMU next year. So far the discussion has been very deep. It's my first attempt at contemporary visual art and I wanna make the most out of it. Really, it is not the end in itself but rather a learning process. I will be collaborating with a Singaporean artist this time. More on that in the following weeks.

So, what culture was it all about? To be precise it was Malay culture.

I was invited to the opening of an exhibition presented by Singapore Art Museum and Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya - it's an association of various Malay artists. This year, the association celebrates its 46th anniversary.

I wasn't really able to take a look at the artworks because usually opening events are the time to network with people in the art scene and the actual viewing takes place on another day. But looking through the exhibition guide, there's a chronology of various generations of Malay artists since 1949. Some of the paintings are scenic (I would classify them as realist works), some on religion - Islam, and there are some installation pieces and ceramics. Iskandar Jalil, one of Singapore's most famous potters, is participating as well. In fact, he is probably the only one that I am familiar with.

I spent only about 15 minutes there and left just after Speaker of Parliament Mr Abdullah Tarmugi arrived. He was the guest-of-honour. I then took a slow jog to The Cathay for the movie Muallaf.

The show was shot in Malaysia - Ipoh and Penang (there are some references to Singapore too) and it is about religion - the buzzer seems to go off once religion pops out. Is it taboo? But I think and feel that we should be open and frank about it. And one of the ways to appreciate religion is to have access to such movies.

The story is about two girls Rohani and Rohana who are very much into religious studies. Their mother was a lecturer and would teach them. Until she passed away.

Undertones of Catholicism and Islam are peppered in the film. Several scenes have reference to the holy text of Islam - the Quran. The verses provide deep meaning and made me reflect a lot.

Like in most movies, it is difficult to run away from romance. But Muallaf gives a little twist - there in an inter-racial romance unfurling between Rohani and Brian (Rohana's teacher).

Both Rohani and Brian recall their painful childhood as the story develops. Simple events make the recall the past and mend present relationships.

Do also look out for Singapore's very own Yeo Yann Yann who stars in the movie.

Overall, I feel this film effort by director Yasmin Ahmad is a sincere and heartwarming take on issues we don't stop to ponder about. Apart from the constant fade-to-black after each scene, it scores well on the whole. No jittery scenes as far as I remember.

Friday, December 12, 2008

[Deinstallation of the Singapore Biennale]
The next stage after the official closing of Singapore Biennale 2008 is deinstallation. While the buzz remains outside, what is left is quiet on the inside. It's the end of the hundred years of solitude and the start of some attitude.

Photo credit: Apryl Tan

The boxes from Address are sent back home to where they belong - well, if I may be lame, preparing to be sent to another address. Now you know how it fits together.

Photo credit: Apryl Tan

Portraits of the moon gets taken off the walls. And almost everything gets packed and sent back.

Photo credit: Apryl Tan

The people from HeluTrans, the Official Freight Partners for Singaproe Biennale 2008 work their magic. They even unassembled the helicopter. It was fitted into a large container.

Photo credit: Apryl Tan

But some don't get shipped back. Like September Sweetness. By now, it would be December Destroyed.

Photo credit: Apryl Tan

Very soon the dust will settle but before you know it, it will be time for another edition of Singapore Biennale. And with each passing year it gets better and better.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

[Pak Ali Alatas]
Indonesia lost an outstanding patriot and diplomat in Pak Ali Alatas. All his life, he served his country and his people with utter dedication.

Under President Suharto, first as a senior diplomat, then as Foreign Minister, he worked tirelessly for ASEAN integration. I first knew him as a young Minister of State. He was like an uncle to me. Accompanying President Wee Kim Wee on his state visit to Indonesia around 1990, my wife and I got to know Pak Ali and his wife.

Before we embarked on the drafting of the ASEAN Charter, I sought his help in Jakarta over a private dinner at a Japanese restaurant. He had already retired but responded enthusiastically. He never rested, never turned people away.

He was a good friend of Singapore who contributed much to our excellent bilateral relations.

My wife and I visited him at Mt Elizabeth last week. He was in good spirits. I talked shop with him because I knew that was what interested him. We discussed the global financial crisis, the situation in Thailand and the importance of ASEAN. More than once, he expressed satisfaction at how close Indonesia and Singapore have become.

At the Bali Democracy Conference, I recalled my conversation with Pak Ali which prompted President Yudhoyono to thank Singapore later for taking good care of him. The following morning, we received the sad news that he died from a sudden heart attack. We shall miss him.

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account

Friday, December 05, 2008

[Meeting the President of Singapore]
Every trip to the Istana is different. And every meeting with the President of Singapore is different.

The recent Tea with the President event was special. It was held inside the Istana building at both the Dining Hall and State Room.

The Dining Hall is usually open to the public during Istana Open House. However, the layout of the room is different. During Istana Open House, there would be a display of items presented to the President from visitors around the world. Other times, parties are held on the open lawn at the Istana grounds.

At the Prime Minister's recent swearing-in ceremony, I was at another room on the side of the Istana. The main function was going on in the State Room.

Here's a group photo of the six most influential people in Singapore taken after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was sworn-in for his second term.

But one thing to note, most of the decor in the rooms are similar - chandeliers, paintings and the wooden furniture.

As for close encounters with the President himself, there were many. But the one that I recall most vividly was during Singapore Polytechnic's 50th Anniversary Celebrations where I had the chance to interview him.

Before the interview, I was briefed on the questions to ask him. "Ask only questions related to the event," said a polytechnic staff. So I did.

I recall that during the event, my co-reporter Valerie Low, had asked him something that is still in my mind ever since.

She asked the President which performance he enjoyed the most. But the President did not specifically answer her. Then, she said: "Surely there must have been one performance you enjoyed better than the rest?"

Guess what the President said?

He said: "I love all of them."

So diplomatic.

There are other instances though which I also remember.

I was photographed with the President with a firm handshake during an Istana art event. This was an abrupt one because my colleagues went to have breakfast and when we walked back into the Istana the President was in front of us.

The other was when I asked the President to autograph the article which had my interview with him. It is framed up somewhere in my room. That was while I was volunteering for the President's Challenge.

My first Istana Garden Party. Garden parties are an exciting experience because you get to see a lot of people.

During my second Istana Garden Party, the President walked right into Minister George Yeo's path. And one of the President's aides came really close and nearly knocked him off his track. That was shocking.

Then there were two encounters with the President during SMU's Patron's Day over the last two years.

Every encounter with the President is different. Some are more similar than others.

I wonder when the next one will be.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

[It's My Life]
Last night I went to catch the musical It's My Life at the NUS University Cultural Centre.

The first thing that surprised me was that the musical was held in the theatre. I never knew that there was a theatre there even though I have been there quite a few times for the Prime Minister's National Day Rally. It was tucked in the corner and very much hidden.

The second was that I felt some of the elements resembled Kuo Pao Kun's Lao Jiu- about chasing dreams, about the education system but It's My Life stuck a heavier chord. The musical is about a group of 10 teens from different backgrounds and their individual struggles - school, love, sex and chasing dreams.

Initially the first few songs were quite bland with some of the singing not spectacular. But as the plot went deeper into the lives of the ten teens, it sounded all too familiar. I could identify with them because I went through some of the events myself.

There are two excerpts which really provide a little information about what the musical is about:

Don't tell me I lack direction
I can't say sorry for the things I haven't done
I've not walked far away to leave a trail

Take me back to the place I was young and free
Don't push and make me into a person I'll never be
This face is not what I want to see

There were set changes too! I feel that in any musical or theatre set changes are important. I love seeing how the backdrops move up and down and how the lights change colour to suit the mood.

The stories are sometimes funny and some can make you cry. It is interspersed with their sharing of issues close to their heart and is also about their journey as they prepared for the musical. The sharing sessions were sort of a dialogue with the audience.

There were stories about teenage pregnancy, the divorce of parents, being forced by parents to go into Science instead of Arts, how parents can be such a nag, living alone in Singapore and falling in love. One of the many funny parts involved Facebook. I laughed non-stop.

The five-piece band played well too. Loved some of the songs especially the love ones.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

[PAYM Policy Forum on Environmental Sustainability]
How much do you know about the challenges faced by our environment? Why should you be concerned about our environment? What can you do to sustain our environment?

Find out more on what really matters to other youths on the topic of "Environmental Sustainability". Join us at the PAYM Policy Forum @ Aljunied GRC & Hougang SMC on Environmental Sustainability organised by the Youth Executive Committees in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC.

[Lo Hwei-Yen, RIP]
I attended the funeral wake of Lo Hwei-Yen last night and told Michael how helpless we in MFA felt. Our hearts go out to Michael and the family. All of us feel both sadness and anger.

The objective of the terrorists is to incite hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims and between India and Pakistan. If we fall into that trap, they would have succeeded. Ratan Tata's comments on the inadequacy of India's counter-terrorism infrastructure struck a resonant chord among many of his countrymen. I was initially surprised but fully understand why Chidambaram was asked to take over the Home Ministry when his steady hands are still needed at the Finance Ministry. As Home Minister many years ago, he tackled terrorism in the Punjab with great competence and success.

For us in Singapore, we should draw strength from Hwei-Yen's sacrifice. We will never know why the Lord called her back so early. But in our grief, we should renew our determination to fight the terrorist scourge and always cherish our racial and religious harmony.

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