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Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

Facilitating only….

In News Reports, Writing on October 31, 2012 at 3:45 am

There’s one word which I am beginning to swear at – facility and its plural variant. Things that are physical are now a facility or facilities. It is the case for the mega ITE campus on ST’s page 1. It’s a facility and there are facilities, like a swimming pool, within this facility. And this facility is actually a merger of smaller facilities, which are the standalone ITEs.

Oh, and a productivity centre which was launched yesterday is also described as a facility. Likewise a business centre opened by Boston Consulting Group. You realise there is no longer space for recreation, but recreational facilities. Or space to play sports but sports facilities. I remember the days when facilities was a polite way to ask for the way to the washroom – as in, where are the facilities, pray tell.

And while I’m ranting…there’s also this word called facilitate. Nobody helps anymore, they facilitate.

Okay, I digress. Actually my main beef is about the way the media seems to wow, ga-ga and rah-rah whenever something new is set up. In fact, they actually write that you should go “wow’’ – like how “visitors to the ITE will be wowed by a massive atrium…’’. And how students will “benefit’’ from an authentic learning environment. And how one student is “eagerly’’ looking forward to studying there. A page 1 story on the facilities isn’t enough, readers will be wowed by a massive graphic in the inside pages.

This exuberant reporting extends to any kind of facility, like sports halls, shopping malls and gardens, whether commercial or state sponsored. If it’s state-owned, I wonder why the more critical question of whether these facilities are worth the taxpayers’ money aren’t asked. For example, what is going to happen to the current five ITE campuses that are going to be move to this mega-campus? I read in Today that they will be returned to the state, although what the state intends to do to these five facilities isn’t answered.

When the media goes rah-rah over commercial facilities, I cringe. So we get a blow by blow on how many shops etc there will be and the wonderful play and eating facilities. I think to myself that the developers and private companies should take out an ad.
Look here, I am just asking for neutral reporting that would benefit the reader.

I think Today did the ITE story better. Four new courses, how many students, where they will move to, when, how big etc. Methinks ST tried too hard to factor in the big picture of an ITE that’s super, when it should just give info in some coherent order.

By the way, the ITE said it hoped the mega campus will change the “perception of the public to ITE education’’. In the next breath, the same ITE spokesman said that “locals sometimes still think that ITE is this dingy little workshop’’. Locals??? Gosh. I have to put my grass skirt back into my dingy little kampong house…

A conversation headed somewhere…

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 29, 2012 at 11:41 pm

OKAY, how many of you are old enough to remember the Shared Values era? That was in 1991 when a White Paper on Shared Values was presented. The man who headed the parliamentary committee which put it together was PM Lee.

Now values is all the rage again, except that the reasons for the renewed interest are different. Then, it was very G-driven. It saw the need for Singapore to have an identity, to keep it rooted in Southeast Asia and put up a dam against that terrible Western wave sweeping over the globe. Communitarianism versus individualism. There was a whiff of Confucian values. Some people thought it was an attempt by the G to keep paternalism and authoritarianism as acceptable values, by different names of course.

For the record, here are the five Shared Values
Nation before community and society above self: Putting the interests of society ahead of the individual.
Family as the basic unit of society: The family is identified as the most stable fundamental building block of the nation.
Community support and respect for the individual: Recognises that the individual has rights, which should be respected and not lightly encroached upon. Encourages the community to support and have compassion for the disadvantaged individual who may have been left behind by the free market system.
Consensus, not conflict: Resolving issues through consensus and not conflict; stresses the importance of compromise and national unity.
Racial and religious harmony: Recognises the need for different communities to live harmoniously with one another in order for all to prosper.

These values were supposed to be imparted through the school system and community groups. I don’t remember if they were. But I bet very few people can name the five values today. Or what the five stars in our flag stand for…

Different kinds of values have been thrown up in the current Singapore Conversation. As Lawrence Wong said, we’re looking harder at the intangible aspects of what we think should be “Singaporean’’. The values espoused so far are pretty universal: we want a kinder, more gracious society. It sounds very much like what the ex-PM said he would like Singapore to be when he took hold of the reins of the G. Seems it didn’t quite happen…given that we’re still talking about it.

The values conversation today looks like more bottom-up. Excellent. Not good to have the visible hand of G in something as fundamental as values. Let’s not politicise this, the way it sorta became in the 1990s.

The conversation seems to be headed this way:

We want to be competitive, but just enough so that we can still smell the roses at the Gardens by the Bay which we must be able to afford to enter.

We believe in meritocracy, but not if those with merit think they did it all on their own and thumb their noses at the less meritorious.

We want to be a more equal society, but wonder if this conflicts with our pursuit of excellence which now seems to be measured by how big a car and house we have.

We want to be kind and compassionate, really, but we’re so caught up with looking at our cellphones that we really didn’t see that old lady who needed the MRT seat.

We want to be No. 1 in the happiness index, but we’re not sure if we can be happy if we are also No. 110 in cost of living and No. 111 in economic growth.

We want to be nice to our neighbours regardless of race, religion, language or place of origin but we can’t help being irritated by some of their practices.

Tough huh? The five shared values look easier to uphold.

Anyway, I’m glad that the Singapore Conversation is getting down to a more “focused’’ approach. I hope one of the themes would be to craft some sort of vision/mission values statement for us. Good luck!
What we now know is that one of the themes will be education. I can see where this is headed from what the G has let fall:
We want a less stressful education system. Parents will know what is the basic level of accomplishment needed when their tots enter primary school. Kindergartens will be “sparked’’ and accredited. Primary school teachers will be told that the word “private tuition’’ is banned. Parts of the curriculum will be replaced so that there will be greater emphasis on character development, in other words, values. Students in elite and neighbourhood schools will mix more. Oops! There is no such thing as a neighbourhood school. (Media, please note) Every school is a good school. We are not going to split hairs over who has 1 mark more than the other in the PSLE – which will be kept because we still need some kind of measurement of achievement. Secondary school ranking has been done away with already, you know. Never mind if your kid is in poly or JC, he/she has a better chance of getting a university education because we are going to have more uni places. The undergrads won’t be learning abstract or esoteric stuff. Subjects will be integrated, multi-disciplinary and practical. This is so we won’t have unemployed grads protesting on the streets, demanding that Workfare be extended to them.

Okay, I am meandering. But I do think the Singapore Conversation is getting somewhere. Where, though, I don’t know.

Swinging the other way

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm

ST had an interesting column today on the three missed opportunities in the population debate. The three:
a) No one wants to talk too much about the plight of SMEs who suffer a shortage of manpower especially with the squeeze on foreign workers. Many want to re-locate.
b) Not many want to assert the old Singapore must be No.1 maxim, going for break neck economic growth to outpace competitors. Even past advocates now sing a different tune.
c) Not many, including new immigrants, want to talk about the benefits of having foreigners in this country.
It’s so strange. It used to be that speaking for fewer foreign workers was anathema given that going for slower growth was taboo. Making noises about immigrant influx was likely to be countered heavily too. The counters came from officialdom and ministers. That being the case, what they said carried weight. I reckon people decided that it was better to keep quiet than to think carefully about whether their words had “holes’’ which should be pointed out and debated. The “robust’’ response that is the habit of the G achieved its objective of keeping people in line. Now the opposite is true. We’re hearing more of the other side of the conversation. It’s a pity because some arguments – maybe not all – for the “old ways’’ could still valid. It’s just now politically unpopular to say that we need more foreign workers, more immigrants and should grow as fast as we can. Does anyone want to risk being flamed?
I am not in favour of more immigrants and would not mind sacrificing a percentage point or so in growth to achieve social harmony. But then again, I hope I am not so obtuse as to close my ears to countervailing points and arguments. The pendulum cannot swing so far the other way. That’s no way to conduct a reasoned debate. If there’s one thing the Singapore conversation should be clear about, it is to ensure that even unpopular views (by that, I mean the G’s point of view, I’m afraid) should surface. Sometimes, I find that the “defending’’ is all being done by the G and those who repeat or espouse the views are immediately labelled lackeys. Speaking for the establishment is not trendy.
It might be worth asking how it’s come to this point. I would suggest that it’s all due to what I described earlier as the habit of robust response that the G is so proud to proclaim. With its superior intellect, extensive information and multiple platforms, when it talks, it outshouts all others. That’s the trouble with a strong G; even clever people are in awe. And those who are not clever but think they have a legitimate grievance don’t have the words or the information to argue a point. They know getting emotional is irrational. And no one wants to lose face. This is too small a country to find a private place to lick your wounds after being lambasted or even gently chided. We are so thin-skinned.
I don’t know what the Singapore Conversation is suppose to achieve given its current unstructured format. From what the G has let fall, maybe we shouldn’t set our expectations too high. Maybe it’s just an ideal we are reaching for rather than concrete policies. Like achieving 6 million people in Year X. In this case, what is the Singapore Conversation suppose to achieve in Year X, whatever that might be?

Finally, the facts…

In News Reports, Politics, Writing on October 20, 2012 at 4:04 am

My ex-boss has written a tell-all book. I read it yesterday evening and closed the book with mixed feelings. Cheong Yip Seng was the man who brought me into journalism, and to this day, I have always considered him the top newsman in Singapore. Not by virtue of his position as editor-in-chief of the Singapore Press Holdings English and Malay language newspapers division, but as a consummate professional. That is, if politics didn’t get in the way.
I would ring him at home after office-hours when I find difficulty angling a story or was unclear about how to proceed with the reporting or writing. My colleagues were aghast that I would bother Cheong, as we all called him. But a short conversation answering a few sharp questions he posed would always set me right. I would hang up and start banging away at the keyboard. He missed news reporting and editing; that was clear to me. One weekend many moons ago when I was helming weekend coverage of the sinking of navy ship, RSS Courageous, he actually called me to ask if I needed him to come in to help. He was the only editor who offered to do so – and he was my top boss. I told him how much space I was giving to the story and he told me this: “Let it rip! Open more pages!’’ I was stunned. Anyway I doubled the coverage.
Cheong is the only journalist to have survived the bruising media environment and to retire gracefully. He did so by navigating the political environment skilfully. And because those who worked with him trusted that he would still do his utmost to ensure we practised good journalism, albeit within the OB markers. Of course, younger journalists wanted wider fairways and chafed when we thought them to narrow. Cheong would do his best to persuade us to his point of view, especially at his famous coffeebreak editors’ meetings. Sometimes we agreed with him, sometimes we did not. Sometimes we wished he would simply order us to toe his line. After all, he was editor-in-chief. But he never laid down the law. Always, in the end, we did as he wanted. He allowed feedback and dissent to surface and, in my case, I would do what he wanted because I appreciated his frankness and his earnest wish to get us over to his point of view. Also, I knew that Cheong was usually right. Butt heads with the G over one incident and risk the fairways becoming so narrow that we couldn’t do very much?
Cheong’s book, OB Markers, is remarkable for the revelations that senior editors had thought should be closely guarded secrets. The phone calls from ministers, slap on the wrists, face-to-face meetings were something that we do not talk about in public. Now here is Cheong telling all. It is a factual account and I myself was party to some of the discussions which took place. I wonder how the reading public will view the book. Here are some scenarios:
a) Ahah! I knew it!
Patrick Daniel, Cheong’s successor, had wondered if this would be the reaction. Will the book only confirm a perception/misperception that the ST is a “docile’’ press, one veteran had asked. Cheong replied that there wouldn’t have been so many run-ins if the ST was docile. Truth to tell, there have been occasions when I thought the ST reactions to G’s overtures (that’s the mildest term I can use) could be more vigorous. But you know something? If you are not in the business and not privy to some information, it is easier to shoot from the hip. I have always tried to take the view that Cheong was thinking for the long-term, hoping that time and technology and the unstoppable trend towards political openness would allow journalists to better practise their craft. Actually, journalists do have a lot of room to do good journalism which does not touch on the politics of the day. Over the years, there was less “interference’’ over non-political stories. On these stories, we “went’’ with the newspoint as well as with Cheong’s three principles firmly in mind – accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.
b) Wow! The G really doesn’t trust the media
That’s true. Even to this day. The catchphrase civil servants threw at journalists when the reporting does not go their way is: You have an agenda. My usual response would be: “Where got so much time to come up with an agenda? What’s the agenda anyway? Bring down the G?’’ It’s laughable. Most times, the accusation comes from thin-skinned civil servants and politicians who want only favourable stories that put them in a good light. On several occasions, I have had to face newsmakers who do not “like’’ my questions, considering them too aggressive or do not “like’’ my writing because it was too racy. The flip side happens as well. They also “like’’ some of my stuff, which almost makes me wonder if they thought I was their PR machinery….I try to comfort myself when we get hit at by both the People’s Action Party and the opposition – if we are equally disliked, we must be doing something right!
c) The media people are really cowards….
Then there will be those who think the media should have “fought’’ back. That we should report “everything’’ and let the people decide how to view the articles. After all, as Cheong himself said, it is not likely that the Internal Security Act would be invoked against the media or that its publishing licence would not be renewed. True enough, but the G’s hold over the media is far more sophisticated. You should read Cherian George’s Freedom from the Press for indications. Editors have come and gone. But more importantly is what these people who advocate a “fight’’ really want? Too often, they are the first people who will say “don’t quote me’’ when asked to put their views in print. They expect others to lead while they watch on the sidelines. I always say “I am not going to be martyr for you’’ and will just do the best journalism I can. In any case, I will say that I don’t believe in full freedom of the press. On bilateral relations, for example, I will be guided by the G. When you do not have full possession of the facts, you put your country at risk by running uninformed accounts. I am not about to be responsible for Malaysia turning off the water supply!
d) The media here has such a tough job…
The thing about journalism is that we do not write about the difficulties of the craft. We just tell you about the information we have, not about how we got it or the hoops we have to go through, the telephone calls we have to field, the late night changes. It’s all part and parcel of reporting and writing. Cheong’s book gives a good insight into this. Sometimes the job is so tough that good people leave. Too narrow a fairway, too controlled an environment, too many considerations before even the writing starts, too many missed dinners PLUS the constant heckling that journalists have to endure, now tuned louder because of the Internet. I have on too many occasions had to console younger journalists upset at the jibes they receive – from both the G and the vociferous, nameless netizens – even as they try to do the best job they can under trying circumstances. I tell them to keep doing their job and trust that their bosses will take the flak and not deviate from ethical journalistic principles. As a senior editor, I try to convince them to “trust’’ us. That we do not roll over all the time. That we hold firm against the tide. But even I find it tough. Which was why I quit.
I am now waiting for public reaction to the book. Which scenario will pan out? Cheong said that if it resulted in some re-calibration of G-media relations, it would have done some good. Maybe it will realise that too controlling a hand will simply drive thinking people away from journalism. Maybe it will realise that this control, however subtle, puts ST’s credibility at risk especially with a better educated people with better access to information. The G should trust that journalists are not out to undermine Singapore. But it, too, should not undermine their editorial integrity.
Thank you, Cheong, for the book. It must have been tough for you to write it. The wonder is that you got Lee Kuan Yew to endorse it as “worth a read’’! Times, they are a-changing…

News headlines of the future

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 16, 2012 at 1:49 am

I thought that first Singapore Conversation session threw up an interesting way of looking at what sort of country we want: by putting up newspaper headlines people would like to see. That’s good because a headline is a “bottomline’’, the chief point that encapsulates what the article is about. So rather than having to articulate the problem in our inarticulate way, discuss a million solutions and get tangled up in the whys and wherefores, let’s just get to the point of what we want.
So here’s my non-exhaustive list of headlines of the future with a brief a summary of what the news is about, with tongue only half in cheek.
HD: ITE student is President’s Scholar
Chin Jia Gou, 19, hails from the Normal (Technical) stream of Kampung Kana Secondary School, didn’t take his O levels but went on to ace the electrical and mechanical engineering examinations of the Institute of Technical Education. The only son of duck rice stall owner Chin Jia Cham is also an under-18 national soccer player who led the team into the World Cup finals for juniors. He credits his secondary school discipline master for getting him to knuckle down to study. “He shaved my head bald when I turned up for exams with tinted hair,’’ said Jia Gou who will also make history as the first President’s Scholar to opt for study at a local university. “My parents saved on a haircut but I was so psychologically scarred that I stayed at home and started studying.’’
HD: Repealed: Maintenance of Parents Act
Parliament has decided to do away with legislation that compels children to pay for their parents’ upkeep, after the watchdog tribunal reported zero applications over the past three years. MPs on both sides of the House supported the move, long considered a blot on the nation’s conscience. Minister How Hai Zhi said that the tribunal would now turn its attention to dealing with errant parents who pressure their children unreasonably to do well in school. “Too many tuition classes, enrichment programmes will rob the children of their childhood,’’ he said as he gave details of how children from the age of five can apply to have their parents reprimanded. “Caning is being considered,’’ he added.

HD: Netizen, name thyself
One million members of Singapore’s internet community have signed a pledge to be “transparent and open’’ when they post comments online. This will start with posters giving their full names instead of relying on email handles like imsexy and cannotdoit. Ms Ai Am Mee, who is spearheading the move, said that netizens should stand up and be identified or sit down and shut up. “Why be such cowards?’’ she said. “You can still be as vulgar, extreme and as racist as you want. Nobody says you have to control what you say. You just have to give your name.’’ She said one idea was to also have netizens post their ages, addresses, occupations, race, language, religion, household income, housing type, marital status and sexual orientation but thought that this was too much personal detail that could be exploited by telemarketeers.
HD: 100,000 Singaporeans return home
Singaporeans the world over have heeded the call of home and are returning in droves to power the nation’s economy and raise citizen numbers. Sources say that half of the 200,000 living and working abroad are uprooting themselves to solve the chronic manpower shortage here and solve the social problems of having too many foreigners. Drawn by housing vouchers and priority school places, they are trading their big homes, cheap cars and relaxed lifestyle to live in studio apartments, squeeze into buses and trains and join the rat race for Singapore to be No. 1. One of them, Mr Goh Bak Ken, 42, an investment banker based in Darwin, Australia, said he was going home for the food. “I mean, have you tasted the Hokkien prawn mee here?’’
HD: Housing vouchers for all
The hot property market’s lukewarm response to cooling measures have prompted the Government to propose giving every Singaporean a housing voucher once they hit 25. This one-time voucher will be distributed to all regardless of whether they are married, to appease singles who clamour for the same treatment as married couples. It will also assuage those who claim they are forced into buying private property because they do not qualify under the income criteria. A Housing Board spokesman said singles can choose to combine the vouchers and apply for a flat jointly. Those who do not want to live in public housing can also choose to donate the vouchers to those who do. Mr Tie Koon Kin, 60, a property developer , said this move signalled the death knell of the private property market unless it was matched with offers such as free renovation, furnishings and a luxury car.
HD: PM is GOH at gay function
After years of being sidelined, the gay community was finally accepted as part of the mainstream community when the Prime Minister graced its fund raising dinner last night. The PM told reporters he was glad to be part of an effort to raise money for orphaned children, including Jia Jia and Kai Kai. Clad in a long-sleeved pink shirt, he said he did not adhere to the function’s dress code as he did not own a pink V-necked tee-shirt. It was also because he did not want to encourage too many people to come out of the cabinet, he added.

Kancheong over Amy Cheong Part 3

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 10, 2012 at 5:52 am

I repeat: Go buy TNP. It’s got Amy Cheong again. Except that it looks as though some deal has been struck with her to give her a platform for her side of the story. I wish the TNP would get tougher with her. It might actually do her some good because what she told the newspaper doesn’t do anything for her. It doesn’t excuse nor explain her intemperate words. In fact, her words don’t match her past actions.
She claims to be sensitive when there is a need to be. She claims to be open-minded after having been exposed to many different cultures. She says she sees everyone as the same, regardless of race colour.
I don’t understand then, why she said the things she did about Malays. If it’s just about noise, then there was no need to link Malay weddings to divorces. No need for that cheap shot about cheap weddings. She claims to be a private person but makes her feelings public and describes herself as outspoken. She wants to “make it clear’’ that she was speaking about “the situation and not about any racial group’’. Eh?
The only thing that made any sense was what she said about how everyone has, at one time or other, said things without thinking. I just think she should stop thinking and stop talking.
While it was good that TNP got an exclusive, it let her get away with words. There were just that, words. In fact, they were words that would irritate any reasonable person further.
Never mind all that then. What’s more important is this “witch hunt’’ for a certain Eve and a certain Ivy. For crying out, can we please stop this? Can we stop to think that the bigger problem is how people use social media? Not just that, but how people VIEW social media as well.
So there are plenty of unthinking people who spout whatever they want on the spur of the moment, revealing deep-rooted prejudices that had hitherto been concealed. And there are malicious people who hide behind funny names who deliberately stir trouble. The second type is worse than the first, I think. I would write off Amy as the first type who are plain stupid and careless. If she thinks that Malays hold “cheap’’ weddings and therefore have high divorce rates, there’s not much that can be done to change her mind – no matter how many Malays show her their wedding bill. I view the second type, however, as terribly dangerous and deserve to be shouted down and even locked up.
Then there is the question is how we manage our own reactions to those people who abuse social media. How much vitriol to pour on their heads? How to distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2? Do we really want to be the first to throw stones at others for thoughts that we too might be holding deep down inside? What line should we draw around what is politically acceptable and plain outrageous?
There are reports today about a local film that has had its film classification revoked because it was “demeaning and offensive to Indians’’. The interesting thing was that the G allowed the screening but a panel of members of the public said no. This, the panel says, is the “community standard’’ – no matter how well-intentioned the motives of the film-makers were, or how sharp and witty the script, or how many foreign accolades it has won.
Clearly, the panel was thinking about the sensitivities of a minority community. If a Malay castigates the Chinese and call them names, would the reaction be as bad? A majority community can afford to be magnimous. It’s like how we get angry when we think foreigners here are poking fun at us. It’s because we’re beginning feel like a minority community here…
Clearly, the people behind the film aren’t happy, especially with the late notice. But the film went through the usual process – a local process by locals here. The panel might have been ultra-cautious, but maybe it was right to be given how we can’t control our reactions to one Amy Cheong.
Time for that newly convened Media Literacy Council to do some work.

Kancheong over Amy Cheong Part 2

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 9, 2012 at 1:22 am

Go buy TNP. It’s the only newspaper this morning with an interview with Amy Cheong. Seems she’s no spring chicken (she’s 37) and she’s flown the coop (to Perth). Seems also that she can’t understand the fuss – she was just irritated by the noise not just of Malay weddings but funerals, karaoke sessions and her neighbour’s drilling. Seems she had a hard day at work and wanted to rest when the din started. Seems she regrets not being better at Facebooking – she should have set her account to “private’’.
Seems she meant everything she said but expects everyone to understand that it was a mis-step borne out of noise irritation.
Oh dear.
I’m glad she left the country.
Face it. We all have stereotypes about community groups. When people look at me, they assume I studied at a convent school (I didn’t); I like partying (used to, but getting old now); I sing (I can’t, but my brother can); I can’t speak Mandarin (hey, it’s my mother’s tongue!); I can cook feng (peranakan dishes more my taste). So I do take offence when people presume to know me when they don’t. Doesn’t mean I mind the jokes: 1 Eurasian is a solo performance, 2 Eurasians is a band and 3 is a lawsuit. That came from a fellow Eurasian, by the way. I heard a tonne of jokes about Sikhs – from a Sikh undergraduate who tells me he’s allowed to tell me such jokes because he’s Sikh. Quite different coming from me, or a non-Sikh.
I’ve always loved this ability to laugh at ourselves.
Thing is, it’s laughing even though there might be a grain of “truth’’ in the jokes. Not disparaging. Not putting the other person down.
I suppose it’s too much to expect Amy Cheong to change her mind about her stereotypes about Malays, linking them to high divorce rates and “cheap’’ weddings. I wish TNP questioned her on this. As Law Minister K Shanmugam said, it’s not just racist but showed contempt for the less well-off and those who don’t wish to spend money. So it’s a class thing as well. So it’s a race thing coloured by class, or a class thing coloured by race?
Interesting that she doesn’t see her comments as racist. If she takes aim at the Chinese for holding funerals at void decks instead of a funeral parlour, would she be considered racist? I think people would start looking at it from a religion point of view. That she can’t understand Chinese traditions because she belongs to some church group. Hey, things could get really really bad…
Would it have been more acceptable if she just took pot shots about noise? Condemn both funerals and weddings of whichever ethnic group. Castigate RC block parties with loud karaoke sessions. Call for senior citizen’s corners and kindergartens to be moved because the old people and the kids are too noisy. I suppose that’s just being a bad neighbour – and not too bad. She might even have people flocking to her cause – can we have a void deck that is void please?
I am going to cut Amy Cheong some slack – and ask that others do so too. It’s good that the online community weighed in against her, but there’s really no need to go post pictures of her family online is there? And why be as foul-mouthed as she was? She has been sacked – and hounded out of the country. Being a national pariah is enough punishment I think, more than anything the legal system can mete out. Enough already. No need to exact pound of flesh.
I’m glad the Malay community has kept silent. Thank you for your tolerance.

Kancheong over Amy Cheong

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Poor Amy Cheong. Said something silly. Got flamed. Apologised. Got sacked. Now got police report against her. Plus two Cabinet ministers weighing in; one Indian, one Chinese. I am now waiting for a Malay politician to do the same to give it some racial balance. Then again, maybe not. Best to let those of other races tackle this young woman who takes offence at the noise emitted at Malay void-deck weddings.
Now, I am speaking for myself here, let me make this clear. I am not speaking for the Eurasian community; any organisation past or present and I am not a member of the NTUC although I shop at its supermarket. This is me being supremely kiasu, which these days seems a prudent thing to do. I mean, I don’t know who’s reading me. But if Amy Cheong is, this is what I will say to her.
Dear Amy, (you don’t mind me calling you Amy do you? I don’t know your Chinese name)
Bet you regret what you said eh? Wait…I mean, did you regret the responses you received or did you really, really regret what you said? I mean, did anyone manage to change your mind about Malays and weddings or are you simply apologising because you didn’t realise what sort of flak you’d attract? Or is your line really: I regret it happened. It should not have happened…
Anyway, here’s something I’ve learnt from long years in journalism – engage brain before keyboard. And keep your opinions to yourself or at least to your own circle of friends. Remember Facebook friends aren’t really friends. You do realise that don’t you? Maybe you did but didn’t think the message would go viral. And the response would be so vitriolic. Here’s the thing girl, your post is a “public’’ post.
There’s this piece in the Wall Street Journal that talks about coming studies on why people are so rude online. You should read it. The Straits Times re-printed it today. It’s especially hard on FB users. Apparently people like you and me can’t get ourselves under control and derive esteem from the number of “likes’’ we get. Our “sense of entitlement’’ makes us upset when people don’t agree with our views….so we blow a gasket. Wait a minute, I should be talking about you …not the people who responded to you. But you were quite rude you know… I can take the guys being vulgar coz of NS and all that but a sweet-looking thing like you from a politically-correct organisation like the Singapore labour movement?
I’m sorry you got sacked. Really. I think the NTUC has better things to do like championing the needs of workers and wondering how come the wages of our lowest paid are, well, so low. I don’t think anyone thinks you were speaking on the NTUC’s behalf. I guess you were just an embarrassment to the establishment. As it said, it’s supposed to be “inclusive’’, so how can it have you championing “membership’’? You do see the irony right?
I wonder though if you can take your employer to court… Did you have a look at your employment contract? Does it say: Thou shalt not cast aspersions on the other race or risk dismissal? Don’t try going to MOM. Its minister has already spoken against you.
What would I do if I were your employer? Maybe a suspension without pay, to allow you to go on holiday and out of everyone’s sight. We can’t have you wandering around HDB void decks. Or maybe you should, just to see if Chinese funerals are noisier.
Maybe you should face your accuser from Hougang’s racial harmony circle and engage in a two-hour discussion on the use of void decks, whether for weddings or funerals or Meet-the-People sessions. Maybe you should ask him what sort of crime you’ve committed and whether community service would suffice as a sentence. Pledge to attend every Malay wedding ceremony in the vicinity, for example. Do it as part of Singapore’s experiment with different rehabilitation processes. They are said to be better than jail-time.You can pay your way; consider it a fine. I’m sure it costs less than $50 per wedding. Oh, was that bad of me? It just came out. You know what it’s like.
In any case, I don’t think you should be lynched. I’m sure several of us have our share of racist jokes and stereotypes. Just that we’re not silly enough to have it broadcast. So we exercise self-control. It’s this thing we call tolerance.
You know, we don’t have to like what other people do. We don’t even need to understand the whys and wherefores. We just have to remember that other people may not like the things we do, too. That they may have even more colourful expletives for us. So we rein ourselves in. We treat other people the way we’d like to be treated. It’s this thing we call good citizenship.

How can like that?

In News Reports, Writing on October 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

I wonder what John Lui has against the word “How’’. I happen to think it’s one of the most versatile words in the Singapore English lexicon (note: I didn’t say Singlish) So how to explain Cecilia Sue’s text message which went: How? How? How? It’s a plaintive How can you do this to me?! How can you be so heartless? How am I supposed to cope now? Wonderful word, very textured.
Foreigners would have great difficulty figuring out the Singaporean’s How? I know some of my ex-colleagues did when I blithely ask “How?’’ It can mean How are you today? How about that update you promised? How’s it going with that problem? Context is everything. That, and the tone of voice of course.
Another good word is “Can’’. It can be used with and without a question mark. To the uninitiated and ignorant, it means yes, with and without a question mark. Put how and can together, you get a very distressed How can. How could this have happened to me????? This is so unfair! I can’t believe this! You know, the usual lamentations…
You can also divide How can, as in How? Can? You are expected to reply Can, not Cannot.
I agree with John Lui’s take on the word “like’’. I so dislike “like’’. In the past, I got all het up when it’s used to substitute “such as’’. Now, Facebook has just inspired my total hatred for the word. Why, in heavens name, would anyone “like’’ some silly post, picture? I am, like, so upset with such inanity.
John didn’t talk about this other word “nice’’. Which I happen to think is not nice at all. What’s nice about this? Is that the extent of your vocabulary? No other way to describe what you like about this? I mean, how can?

Yooohooo, Pruuudence….

In News Reports, Politics, Society on October 8, 2012 at 8:13 am

I wondered who Prudence was when I stared at the copy of ST at my doorstep. So this Prudence is supposed “to guide rise in local varsity enrolment’’. I don’t recall a time when I have seen Prudence in a headline. I think she must have been just brought out of hiding. Okay, it’s a sound word. Prudence. Prudent. Prudential. Although I think Caution would do just as well …but no one calls his kid Caution…
Anyway, I kept reading for evidence of Prudence but all the article really says is that varsity spaces will keep pace with employment so we don’t have too many unemployed graduates on our hands. Pesky people. They will expect to land jobs and won’t like it when they can’t and cause a ruckus…like they have elsewhere. The PM has talked about graduate employability before, so I wondered what’s new. I thought what he said about going for applied disciplines was a better point. He emphasised this by referring to how poly grads trained for practice might be better off in the job market. Which makes me wonder what will happen to the study of pure Humanities….Useless subject? Unless you want to be an academic?
In any case, Singapore has been weighed down by numbers recently. Big numbers like 6.5million on this island, 40 per cent in university by 2020. I think it’s good to have a government which thinks long-term, confident that the people would always return it to power. It doesn’t need to plan the infrastructure to fit some four or five-year election cycle. At least, not the really big ones like roads and train systems…
But what’s better is that it is able to chop and change according to circumstances, even before target is met. I am referring to the second story on ST’s page 1 on the foreign student population here. Seems that we’re NOT on the way to making 150,000 international students in three years’ time. The tap has been tightened and the numbers are going the other way. The “hub’’ planner Economic Development Board has nothing to say about a “new’’ target, if there is one at all. Maybe it’s too embarrassed to say that it, like the rest of the G, didn’t reckon with the tide of anti-foreignism here.
Well, it shouldn’t be.
Sometimes, I think we are fixated by numbers. If we don’t meet some target, we’re deemed to have failed in planning. But people change, aspirations change, economic and social conditions change. And policymakers must be courageous enough to admit to making U-turns or changing course. At the same time, the people have to refrain from condemning them for making bad judgment calls every time this happens. Because if the people keep doing that, then we risk staying blindly on some long course, simply because we’ve said we would.
I mean, 40 per cent of the cohort in university by 2020, up from 27 per cent today?

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