[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

Monday, March 30, 2009

[Cambridge 800th Anniversary]
After delivering my lecture, I met members of the Cambridge University Malaysia Singapore Association (CUMSA) over tea. Many moons ago, I was the Secretary, then President of CUMSA. The following morning, some of the students joined me for breakfast and accompanied me on a short tour of the colleges. We had wanted to go punting on the river but it was raining and windy. I enjoyed talking to them. Quite a few were interested in what life was like when I was a student there in the 70's.

The Pro Vice Chancellor Dr Kate Pretty hosted me and my wife to dinner at her own college, Homerton, which I had never visited before. At the lunch hosted by the Master of Christ College Dr Frank Kelly, I was glad to meet the former Master Dr Alan Munro and my old tutor, Dr V Navaratnam. After lunch, the Master showed me Darwin's old room, the exhibition of Darwin in the college library and the new statue of Darwin as a young student sitting on a college bench at New Court. This year is Darwin's 200th birth anniversary and the 150th anniversary of the publication of 'The Origin of Species', a book which changed the way we look at ourselves, a huge leap in man's understanding of living things.

Tea with Singaporean students

Breakfast with Singaporean Students/Walkabout

Dinner hosted by Pro Vice Chancellor for International Strategy Dr Kate Pretty

Lunch hosted by Master of Christ's College Frank Kelly

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

[Increased stakes for the opposition]
I was posed a question in class about liberalisation in Singapore today.

Essentially, the model that was drawn up showed that economy, state and civil society are separate entities. And there is little way of overlap.

One of my classmates then brought up the topic of the recent cabinet appointments and noted that a huge proportion of salaries would be paid for additional staff in PMO.

I offered a different view. I said that come next general elections, the stakes for the opposition would be raised. It would now cost a lot more and a single vote cast against the PAP may very well contribute to a loss of PAP wards with more than a minister. For example, in the last general elections, Aljunied GRC had only one minister. The promotion of Mrs Lim Hwee Hua to a full minister brings the number of minsters in Aljunied GRC to two. Provided that the boundaries of Aljunied GRC remain, then any opposition party who wants to contest Aljunied GRC will then have to pit their skills against two ministers. Will residents of Aljunied GRC want to vote for the opposition then and risk losing two cabinet ministers in the process then?

Careful consideration has to be put in before one hits the ballot box.

[How to stay ahead together]
There was more to Earth Hour than Earth Hour.

Last night, many congratulated Mrs Lim Hwee Hua on her promotion as Singapore's first "full fledged" woman minister. While I was escorting her into the hall after her arrival, we were flanked by boys and girls screaming their lungs out. It felt like NDP mood once more. Except that this was a closer encounter.

I remember asking Mrs Lim a question last year in private. Is Singapore ready for a woman minister, I asked. That was after speculation of a cabinet reshuffle was rife. That did not happen. The answer Mrs Lim had gave was very coy. She said that Singapore is always ready.

When the reporter from Straits Times asked her if she would be able to juggle her new duties, she retorted that "it would continue to be juggled" in a cheeky manner, smiling.

Honestly, her promotion was not a surprise. The timing of the announcement, however, was unexpected. Speculations of the General Elections had tainted the judgement of political watchers. It was not something expected. When my friend had told me about news of Dr Lee Boon Yang's stepping down, I replied that it had been hinted long ago. Even though I did not expect RADM Lui Tuck Yew to take over, the transition into the new position would have made sense.

So while feminists in Singapore rejoice with the shattering of the invisible glass ceiling that prevents women from rising in the ranks, a more pressing issue lies ahead.

PM Lee has assembled a stronger team coupled with new blood. The question that lies at the back of our head is this: Will Singaporeans stay together and move ahead in this seemingly bad economic downturn? How would the markets fair in the next few months. Can we ride out of this tide together? And what is the essence that would allow that to happen?

Remember that this crisis is not our fault. It is something not within our control considering the complicated relationships in the world's open economy. How shall we respond and what would we do to soar to greater heights?

It is an exciting time to watch.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

[Glad to be part of Earth Hour again]
Being part of Earth Hour again this year was another great experience. We started with the inaugural event last year and we will continue to build upon the event for many years to come. I hope one day, everyone will be so attuned to this and observe Earth Hour without even having the event.

It needs to be translated from attitudes and beliefs to action. First we need to understand how this contributes to the big picture of conservation of energy, be convinced that any little effort would help. I also learnt about the big picture from the government's point when Mrs Lim spoke to the media. How apt to have someone helming the finance and transport portfolio to tell you about energy conservation. It was a long and informative interview which I hope will be published tomorrow.

But for the time being, here's my speech for the event.


Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport,
Mr Adrian Leow, Vice Principal, Damai Secondary School,

Thank you for taking time off and making the effort to be part of this year’s Earth Hour in the North East Heartlands.

Last year, the Punggol Community Club Youth Executive Committee marked Earth Hour in a big way. This year we made a shift to reach out to our residents in Bedok Reservoir.

I am also heartened to know that this initiative has been picked up by the Community Development Councils in Singapore this year. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also pledged their support towards this initiative by switching on only the minimum lighting required for operations and security as we mark Earth Hour in a few minutes.

Our collaborative efforts with various organisations last year have cemented relations with the Punggol CC YEC. I also hope that through this, students have been able to benefit from this interaction within the neighbourhood.

Let me share an anecdote:

A few years back, I was involved in a project to examine the attitudes of youth towards global warming. The findings of the project revealed that youths do not make special effort towards conservation of resources. The solution to this then lies in the individual: It is the effort and sacrifice that counts.

Small acts like turning off the lights when not needed and not using the air-conditioner contribute towards the bigger picture.

I hope that you would put into practice what you have learnt today and take this experience a step further by sharing your knowledge on energy conservation with others in future too.

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Kephren and his team for making this event a success. I would also like to thank our guest-of-honour Mrs Lim Hwee Hua for her presence tonight.

Thank you.

[Visit to the UK]
Singapore's relations with the UK are excellent. In my meetings with Foreign Secretary David Miliband and FCO Min of State Lord Malloch-Brown, we reviewed our bilateral relations and discussed the G20 meeting, Russia, Kosovo and Myanmar.

Meeting with Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, David Miliband

Lunch hosted by Minister of State at the FCO, Lord Malloch-Brown

On Thursday, I had a good session at Chatham House and visited the interesting Shah Abbas exhibition at the British Museum.

On Friday, I went up to Cambridge to give a lecture in conjunction with the University's 800th anniversary and met Singapore/Malaysian students over tea. On Saturday, I'll be hosted to lunch by the Master of Christ's College. Flying back to Singapore after that.

Meeting with Shadow Secretary for Foreign Affairs, William Hague

Meeting with Minister for Trade, Development and Consumer Affairs, Gareth Price

Dinner hosted by Lord Powell of Bayswater

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

Friday, March 27, 2009

[Earth Hour 2009]
Tomorrow the Punggol Community Club Youth Executive Committee would join in several hundred students from Damai Secondary School, Temasek Polytechnic and other schools to mark Earth Hour 2009.

We made the first step in 2008 at the Punggol Community Club. And we will do it again this time at Damai Secondary School in Bedok.

Earth Hour is about making a personal effort. And if many people do the same, the difference will be vast and great. Just one person, but what would you do?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

[Official Visit to Russia]
1 Singapore's relations with Russia are growing. SIA now mounts daily flights to Moscow. The Russian community in Singapore is some 2000 strong now. To serve their spiritual needs, a Russian Orthodox parish has been created. When I called on Patriarch Kirill, he expressed interest in building a church in Singapore which I hope will come complete with golden cupolas.

Call on Patriarch Kirill

2 FM Sergey Lavrov and I had good discussions on how to take relations to a higher level. In November this year, President Medvedev will be making a bilateral visit to Singapore back to back with the APEC Economic Leaders meeting. An Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement has been negotiated. Other agreements are being negotiated.

Meeting with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov

3 Although the economic downturn will slow things down, the long-term prospects are good. Russia is a huge country with rich natural resources and a talented people. The Singapore brand name enjoys a certain reputation in the country.

Lunch with Russian Businessmen

Wreath-Laying Ceremony at Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Observing silence

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

[Our tribute to Kuo Pao Kun]
It's over.

Last night, my Theatre class put up our version of Kuo Pao Kun's The Eagle and The Cat. After weeks of rehearsals and lots of sacrifices, the whole thing pulled through. At the post-show dialogue, Prof Margaret Chan had revealed that it was Pao Kun's wish to stage The Eagle and The Cat before he died. He had told our Professor about it.

In essence, The Eagle and The Cat is layered with many meanings. One such meaning is about walking the well-trodden path or pursuing one's dreams, hence the parallels with the cat and the eagle. But there is more to that dichotomy.

There is also an element of class in the portrayal of the cats - various types such as the "high class" cat, the "sewer cat" and the passing cat (the observer) who is also the protagonist who turns into a cat and is introduced to the life of various cats.

Another take is that Kuo had depicted his life in the play - about the silencing, the giving up of ideals and the sacrifices.

I also liken this to the life of politicians during the Japanese Occupation. During World War II, many of such politicians like Soekarno were faced with such a situation. Should they go all out and fight against the Japanese, to fight for their own country, or would they give up and serve the Japanese?

There are several parallels that can be drawn from the Japanese Occupation anecdote to Kuo's trying times during the communist era in Singapore. Many, including Kuo, were thrown into jail because of the supposed links with the communists.

I was involved in the lighting design for this play and honestly it was unexpected. Initially I wanted to do the sound instead but was arrowed into handling the lights - an aspect in which I had no experience in. It was an enriching experience nonetheless.

Attending rehearsals took up a bulk of my time and there were many things that had not been confirmed. I also did not anticipate a change in the venue. Originally the play was supposed to be staged in SMU's Arts and Culture Centre. But we were fortunate to have a smaller but more conducive environment. The Substation was kind enough to lend us their premises and it is a very cosy setting.

However, this meant that the lighting plans had to be tweaked to the new location. Further, the lights team had only one day to adjust to the equipment.

It was a steep learning curve. You learn a new skill today and you execute what you have learnt the next.

And yes, there were many sacrifices too. At the end of the day, one has to feel that it was worth the effort. I did.

Of course, it was such a waste that we only staged it once. Now that the cast and crew have assimilated into their roles, an abrupt end makes the heart yearn for more. Like they always say, the means is more important than the ends. in this case the means is the process of learning and sacrificing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

[When silence means so much more sometimes]
I have been doing a lot of research lately on various topics ranging from ASEAN and human rights, Internet censorship, democracy in Singapore and research on the Penal Code.

During the course of going through readings (academic journals), I realised that the problem of engagement with citizens on the Internet has been there since 1995 already in a paper on Internet control in Singapore.

Then Minister for Information and the Arts, George Yeo had said of the entry of PAP into cyberspace: "We must have our battalions there all ready to engage in that debate."

The paper further emphasised that few individuals have been spreading falsehoods about Singapore and the PAP and that a response is warranted in order to make a stand for the PAP. It had been understood that a lack of response could be undermined by opposition parties.

Yesterday in my Digital Media class, we discussed the issues of managing external relations of two agencies.

One had failed to learn from building relationships with bloggers and tried to pay bloggers to write good things about their client. Next was a marketing event that had gone wrong because of conflicts of interest, disclosure and lack of transparency. And the way the agency responded was to keep silent.

Two recent cases in Singapore seem to be walking down this track: the NTU stabbing incident and the eight-month bonus of a certain NorthWest CDC staff. I am wondering if frank and online engagement is too difficult sometimes.

Rumours have been spreading like wildfire on the Internet. If we do not address the rumours and put an end to it, others will make use of such rumours to undermine our credibility. An NTU student had told me that the Professor who was stabbed wasn't that angelic either and that Professors had often used students' work to build upon their own research. Other sites had cast doubt on the reportage of mainstream media.

It is not that I am doubting the role of the press nor the organisation but what makes me think is not what that was said but what was left unsaid. For me, I would appreciate a sincere and open response towards such issues. Maybe it could be the way the incident was handled. Maybe it could be handled better. Or maybe that was the best they could have done.

The point is this: Sometimes it is not good to be silent because silence can mean something more.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I realised that I haven't been doing much of blogging. That is because Plurk has taken over some of my life. Plurk is a sort of micro-blogging tool and there's a community of Singaporeans on Plurk.

Last week I met up with a group of Plurkers. It was my first time going for such a gathering and it turned out pretty well. We went for dinner, drinks and more drinks. Alcoholic.

Luckily everything's under control. I hope.

So far, I feel that it is quite fun to interact and share stuff with people on Plurk. And I can even segment my audience. Way too cool.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

[Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Garden Precinct Major Upgrading Programme]

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

[From Stuttgart]
My brother who is in Stuttgart had sent me an email to update me about what he has been doing there.

Global opportunities, though expensive, are useful especially if they are study trips. In recent years, I think polytechnics are constantly differentiating themselves from each other by offering exciting attachements and exchanges to places like Germany. Such opportunities were few and far between in the past while I was at a polytechnic. We have globalised. And yes, we live in a globalised world.

Monday, March 09, 2009

[Is it election time yet?]
There has been a lot of talk about elections in the media. While some expect it to happen this year, there are others who feel that the economy should be utmost concern.

Earlier, I had quelled rumours of early elections. I still feel there are insufficient signals. The Prime Minister is still keeping mum about any impending elections.

If it is to be believed that there would be elections this year, the earliest would be after April 30 for reasons that are obvious. Speculation has thrown up September as a likely time.

My question is: Do you think the economy will be better over the next months? What would be the fear that would cause a snap poll?

These are some things to ponder before the announcement is made.

And when it is made, the anticipation would be on how the boundaries are redrawn. That is if they would be redrawn.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

[Marley and Me]
After watching the movie, we went home appreciating our own lab, Brownie, more. Somehow he sensed it welcoming us home with an energy we had not seen for some time now, snatching my son's sock and refusing to let go, dunking himself in the fountain, flinging water all over the patio and barging into the house which he is not allowed to do. It is strange how dogs have this sixth sense. The movie was sentimental, even soppy. I did not know that labs could misbehave so badly. For a while, I thought mine was abnormal. 'Marley and Me' is good family entertainment.

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

[SMU Open House]
The crowd at the SMU Open House yesterday was awesome.

I was there for my mid-terms and promised to drop by to help. And there I was from 2pm till it ended at 6pm. And thanks to Sharon for the awesome photos (more on Facebook).

Photo credit: Sharon Neo

A majority that I spoke to were junior college students, considering that the A Level exam results were just released on Friday. I made it a point also to ask them whether they were from JC or Poly in order to explain the admission criteria which suited them.

One of the prospective students came up to me and asked if I was a lecturer or student. I asked the student to guess.

Photo credit: Sharon Neo

It's the first time that I have been involved in the SMU Open House. Last year I helped out at the Social Science Tea Session (which should be happening anytime soon before applications close). But sadly, this would be my last time being involved as I am likely to complete my studies by the end of the year.

There's no ruling out the possibility that I could go back as an alumni though.

Friday, March 06, 2009

[On the train to China]
I love trains. And one day, I hope I can travel to China from Singapore. It is not something that is impossible.

I was reading about the first Thailand-Laos rail link today in The Straits Times. Having tried to travel by train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in December, I am game to go a little further - to Thailand first. It was a long ride of about seven to eight hours but still enjoyable for the budget conscious.

Within the mainland areas of South East Asia, there are some disconnects too. There are no links Myanmar, Thailand to Cambodia and Vietnam.

Going beyond South East Asia, an ever greater dream awaits - the dream towards a pan-Asian railway. Travelling to Turkey, Russia and South Korea by rail may eventually become a reality.

[Meetings with Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Trade Minister Mari Pangestu]
After Makassar, I spent a day in Jakarta for meetings with VP Kalla, Trade Minister Mari, intellectuals and media analysts. Election season has started against the backdrop of a looming economic downturn. VP Kalla whom I've known many years since 1999 was his usual perky confident self. Unlike Singapore, Indonesia's export dependence is only 30%. Ten years ago, few expected that Indonesia's transition to a democracy would be so smooth after the sudden collapse of the Suharto administration. The devolution of power to local authorities means much greater responsiveness to local needs but it has also led to a fragmentation of power in the country which has made the business environment more complicated. Interestingly, election spending has given a helpful boost to the economy.

Meeting with Jusuf Kalla

Meeting with Trade Minister Mari Pangestu

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

Thursday, March 05, 2009

[The future of the digital ecosystem]
In Digital Media class yesterday we were discussing the contents of a World Economic Forum. And what I realised was that the fundamental baseline was profits in which conglomerates could make. Well, how could I not understand that? It was not a World Economic Forum for nothing.

The report titled Digital Ecosystem : Convergence between IT, Telecoms, Media and Entertainment, had summed up three scenarios for the future of the digital world.

And I had moved over from my earlier thoughts of censorship. I used to have individualist ideas about censorship. I still do but I do not know why I made the switch.

In essence, the diagram below illustrates the three possibilities that the system can evolve to - Safe Havens (red), Middle Kingdoms (blue) and Youniverse (yellow). Well if you have studied plural perspectives of political systems, this would be familiar.

Safe Havens are hierarchical where citizens rely on Governments and experts for the way to move. Middle Kingdoms are more egalitarian where support is dependent on each other. And lastly the Youniverse is what you want and is tailored to your needs - individualist.

Source: Screen grab from Digital Ecosystem Community, Envisioning the future of the Digital Ecosystem

If you look at it from an economics view, the left wing would be Safe Havens where there would be a lot of state intervention and control, the Middle Kingdoms are left-of-centre or right-of-centre and lastly, the Youniverse is a free market economy there is little or not control.

Another interesting part of the report was about "netroots". It is not your mere grassroots on the ground but if you may call it, a grassroots organisation in cyberspace.

"... there was the frighteningly strong showing from Congressman Dean Dennis, an anti-corporate ideologue, in the Democratic party presidential primaries. All of his support came from the so-called “netroots”", according to the report.

"Netroots" in Singapore are springing up haphazardly and there is no central strategy nor basis for coordination yet. Maybe we should look at developing some coordination between different "netroot" communities. But until the benefits of doing so hits us (as we are pragmatic people) would it be translated into action.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

[Theatre preparations]
Work on a production for my theatre module has begun and I am particularly excited because I would be doing lighting design for the first time. Something new for me. And I hope it will be an exciting time.

The second role that I have is a scriptwriting role as well. I have not tried my hand at acting yet but maybe a small bit part would be good.

I love to work on stage productions. When I was a little younger I used to play with Lego sets and tried to model them into settings that look like production sets and stage performances. It seems now that I will be working with real people and real stages and sets!

Now that is cool.