berthahenson

About a mother

In Writing on May 10, 2015 at 10:47 am

My mother turned 70 in February although you wouldn’t be able to tell her age if you meet her. If she’s captured on one of those websites which gives her age, it will probably say 50 – which is what I am. I weep every time I get mistaken for her sister or her friend.

When I grow old(er), I want to be like my mother, an active, healthy and I believe, happy, septuagenarian.

People have described my mother as quite a character. I agree.

This is my mother:

She zips around in her, or rather, my car, but only when I am with her or if she needs to ferry me or her grandson somewhere. (I don’t drive). Most times, she drives to a “cheap’’ carpark to take the bus or MRT. Saves on ERP and parking fees, she says.

She takes care of her appearance with her round of mani/pedi, exercise, facials, face and eyebrow threading, at neighbourhood places which she deems cheap and good. She colours her hair only when I do so she can “steal’’ some dye from my hair-stylist for free.

She needs so little dye. I, on the other hand, am a full head of grey.

She is a fantastic cook (she’s a nonya) and sometimes bakes cookies and mooncakes for “extra’’ money. Now, this is NOT because her children do not give her a big enough allowance. They do, but she says nothing beats making her own money. I end up being her kitchen helper.

She’s a frugal shopper who will make a trip to Shengsiong supermarket to demand a 50 cent refund for something she was over-charged. When she bargains, I tell her I will go walk around for half an hour and so and meet her back at the shop. I’m usually too early because the price negotiations wouldn’t have ended. She is so happy with her Pioneer Generation card that she flashes it everywhere she goes, asking if it entitled her to any discount. Times like these, I look away.

Despite her frugal nature, she presses me to buy expensive, designer clothes that I don’t want – because she thinks I need to splurge on myself. “Girl, you like, just buy,’’ she tells me like it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to reach for my wallet and pull out dollar notes. If I decline, she goes: “Mommy will buy for you’’, forgetting that her money is mine.

When she got twinges in her hip which made it difficult for her to shop for three households (hers, mine and my brother’s) and to do her own household chores, I got her a live-in maid to help. But she complains about the invasion of her privacy because she now locks her bedroom door when she sleeps. She thinks it will be better to move into an old folks home, forgetting she will get even less privacy there. (My brother and I know she doesn’t mean it…)

She did not have much of an education but she is an avid newspaper reader. She would call me or my brother whenever she comes across words and phrases she doesn’t understand. I bought her an electronic dictionary when she started reading my book, Troublemaker. She seldom uses it because it is so difficult to type the word and “telephoning’’ is faster, she says. It was she who taught me my ABCs and 123s. She caned me when I attached two zeros to make an 8. Yup, I still remember my kindergarten days.

Now in the twilight of her years, I want her to be a tai tai, to have lunches with her church kakis and to play mahjong. She is beginning to do so. I want her to be clear of any worries and never have to re-live those days when money was short and life was tough. She deserves as much rest and happiness as possible because she has spent her whole life looking after her younger brothers and then, looking after her own children.

I am still “girl’’ to my mother and she still tells me to be careful while crossing the road. But I wouldn’t exchange her for anybody else in the world. Who else will drive me around, fill my fridge, buy me health supplements, brew me yucky medicinal soups, sew me my pjyamas and become, in effect, my all-round concierge? Who else will keep calling me to remind me of things I have to do myself – because it is impossible for her to forge my signature?  Who else will be my best friend, scold me, laugh with me and weep with me? Who else knows everything about me?

Okay, I take back the last line.

She is NOT internet-savvy and so she doesn’t quite know what I do online. She knows that I “write’’ and worries incessantly that my writing will get me into “trouble’’. I will probably get into trouble, with her (!), for writing this. But I think I might just escape the sharp end of her tongue. You see, I am going away for a two-week holiday with my mother tomorrow so, hopefully, no one gets to tell her about it before we get out of Singapore.

It’s my mother’s day present to her.

I love you mom.

PS. Can those of you who know mom PLEASE SHUT UP?

Caught in the middle: Residents in AHPETC

In News Reports, Politics on May 5, 2015 at 8:14 am

What do you think?

Can you live with the consequences of your vote? So if your town council runs out of money, you will just have to suffer lift breakdowns and dirty corridors until the next general election? That’s the Workers’ Party position. How it operates is something between the party and the voters – not for the G nor the courts to intervene in, it said.

It’s so interesting. The WP lawyer in court even backed it up with past ministerial exhortations about the consequences of the vote. Residents shouldn’t expect to be bailed out if they voted in people who can’t manage the estate.

Anyway, some background:

The G wants the court to let it appoint independent auditors to go over the WP town council’s books and reclaim funds that have been wrongly disbursed. It will only release $14 million in grants to the town council, if the independent auditor is in to see that the money is managed properly. For example, if the WP wants to spend $20,000 or more, the independent auditor has to sign off on it.

Things are getting critical because there’s only enough money to sustain the Aljunied, Punggol East and Hougang estates till June. And that’s because it hasn’t made two sinking fund payments for cyclical works, according to the G.

The WP looks to be trying to head off the installation of an independent auditor (if the court says okay) by having its own external accountants and a financial consultant. But the G has dissed its efforts as “lukewarm assurances’’ citing the lack of experience of at least one of them.

What a state of affairs!

What’s interesting is that the WP is throwing back to the PAP its own argument about voting the “wrong’’ people. It’s the PAP G which said residents are responsible for their vote, so why is the G turning to the courts to intervene? In fact, it is up to the G to decide how to disburse the funds and it has already said it would review the Town Council Act. So why doesn’t it just do so and make the system more robust?

Another argument: Only the Housing Board and residents can go to the courts for redress.

Hmm. Quite smart.

The G wants to deal with this as a “legal problem’’ which needs the court’s adjudication while the WP wants to portray it as a “political dispute’’ that shouldn’t be any business of the court.

The problem with long sagas is that most people have short memories. So did the WP do any wrong that required such action by the G? Here’s what people reading about the court saga will remember: There was something about arrears, its managing agents having conflict of interest and some unaccounted money somewhere. Oh. And the Auditor-General’s report which said that there were plenty of “lapses’’ but didn’t say anything about a crime being committed.

They might remember the WP saying how no one wanted the job of managing agent and how it had just 90 days to sort the groundwork for the enlarged town council – and wasn’t this a bit tough on them? And the WP said it would fix its internal problems by itself while the G said it would fix the Town Council Act.

I am going to say it again: This is all sooooo interesting. It’s like the days of the late Ong Teng Cheong who wanted to test the elected president’s powers vis-à-vis the G. That took place in the courts too. Now we have another unique experiment in Singapore taking the same route.

I wonder what the residents in the opposition ward think? The elected presidency challenge was more hypothetical. This case, however, affects the lives of people living in one GRC and two single-seat wards. There hasn’t been much of a ruckus raised by residents, not even after the PAP put out fliers asking them to take the WP to task – or at least get answers from the party. Nor has any noise been heard about a petition that was initiated. The community groups in the area haven’t said a thing either.

Actually, I was thinking that if the WP had a case and the court agrees that the G shouldn’t bring the issue to court, what if a resident did so instead? Remember how a resident went to court to try and force a by-election in Hougang?

It would be good to know the mood of these hundreds of thousands of people in the opposition wards. How would they react to their own MPs’ position: You voted for me, so you have to live with me until the next GE when you have to decide whether you should keep me or throw me out. You know that don’t you?

Some possible answers:

  1. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. It hasn’t, so I have to live with it. Never mind rubbish piled up to the nth floor.
  2. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. Even if the WP doesn’t, I reckoned that the G wouldn’t just let things be because we’re all taxpayers aren’t we? And that grant is really taxpayers’ money.
  3. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. But it’s been hobbled so much that it can’t perform and now it’s being bullied and we, the residents, have to suffer. If the PAP didn’t try to “fix’’ the party, we’d all be okay.
  4. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but it didn’t matter to me whether the WP did a good job of running the town council or not. I voted them to speak up for me in Parliament. The estate is a bit smelly and dirty but that’s the price you pay for exercising your vote.
  5. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote which was why I DIDN’T vote the WP. So why are PAP voters being penalized? Should I move out?
  6. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but I thought all those other checks by grassroots organisations which purport to represent us would keep the town council in line.
  7. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but this is too high-level for me to intervene. How can I make a difference? I am powerless – and that’s why the G should intervene to protect me. It’s no longer a party thing, but a national issue.
  8. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and I also know that at the very last minute, the G will still rescue us because it risks looking heartless if it doesn’t.

Anyway, it’s in court now. Even if the residents decide to band together and say something, would it be subjudice? I don’t even know what subjudice is anymore.

TRS kena Part 2

In News Reports on May 4, 2015 at 2:14 pm

I was a little puzzled by the Media Development Authority’s order to The Real Singapore to shut down. Not that I would miss TRS. I am puzzled at the way the law and media regulations look like a badly sewn patchwork.

The kindest thing I can say about the G’s move is that it is still wondering how to handle the wacky online world.

So the MDA couldn’t do a thing about TRS in the past because it based its operations abroad. That means it didn’t come under the ambit of the Broadcasting Act.  Until December that is, when Yang Kaiheng, a Singaporean, and his Australian fiancé, Ai Takagi, started “running their operation from Singapore’’, said the MDA.

I wonder if running an operation FROM Singapore is the same as running operation IN Singapore because I gather that the couple were nabbed while on a trip here from Australia in February. So, they weren’t based here but the servers were? Administration? What?

In any case, a couple of months passed…before the cops, not the MDA, acted. Why didn’t the media regulations kick in first (in December?) if the MDA is so keen to protect the reading/viewing public? Instead, it gets into the act after the couple got the book thrown at them.

I can’t help but wonder if somebody made some mistake here… Did someone think that TRS would automatically shut down or suspend itself after the couple got charged? And when it didn’t and continued to have those allegedly seditious posts accessible online and operated business-as-usual, that someone realized that TRS wasn’t going to play ball? Or were the criminal charges levelled simply so as to keep the couple in Singapore? (By the way, Yang has been allowed to leave Singapore to attend to his sick father.)

I had a look at the Sedition Act which can be used against any person who “ prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication’’. The penalty: fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

I am not going to say more about this because the case is before the courts. And that is what makes the MDA move even more puzzling. By ordering a shutdown, hasn’t it prejudiced the sedition case against the couple? Or is it going to split hairs and say that it was not referring to the seven charges which refer to specific posts when it made the order – but on other matters posted on TRS?

There are too many questions surrounding this issue which I am sure is being watched by anyone who has a website.

In its statement, MDA said TRS published “prohibited material as defined by the Code to be objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order and national harmony.’’ I looked at the Code on what was considered “prohibited material’’ and I guess it would be this one:

(g) whether the material glorifies, incites or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance.

It also said that “TRS has deliberately fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties. TRS has also inserted falsehoods in articles that were either plagiarised from local news sources or sent in by contributors so as to make the articles more inflammatory.’’

You know, I didn’t know the MDA also policed a site’s errors and plagiarism…But I suppose if a site does so with the intention of inflaming passions and increases eyeballs while raising eyebrows, then there’s a reason for its intervention.

The statement goes on about how “at least two out of TRS’s three known editors are believed to be foreigners – Takagi is Australian, while another editor Melanie Tan is believed to be Malaysian’’. “The foreign editors were responsible for several articles that sought to incite anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore.’’

Hmm…Is the problem one of having foreign editors? Is this something all websites must guard against? Or is this about foreigners trying to incite anti-foreigner sentiments here? How does the MDA know that the foreign editors were responsible when it is so tentative about how many editors the site has in total and even the nationality of the third?

The landscape is way too complicated.

Even though all websites come under the statutory class licence requirement in the Broadcasting Act, the MDA decided two years ago that some big sites which report on Singapore to Singaporeans should be licensed with a $50,000 bond. If TRS was based in Singapore, maybe this licensing route would suffice to keep it in line given its 1.2 million unique visitors a month.

Then the MDA also decided that some websites, never mind how fledgling, should register once they decide to go commercial (I declare my interest here as the former editor of Breakfast Network), I thought, ah, maybe TRS would be cornered here, given that it charges six figures in ad space a month. Then again, no, because, I think, it didn’t have a Singapore-based company.

Then TRS moved here.

It’s a bit ironic that it was the good ole Class Licence requirement that was held against it after all the fuss made about earlier tweaks in regulations.

Some people have said that the unprecedented application of the Class Licence requirement reflected the “light touch’’ of the G. In other words, it waited till “now’’ to actually use it. But they forgot to say that the Sedition Act charges came first.

We need a lot of clarification here…but how to ask/answer questions when the court is involved? The court action and the MDA move are not separate issues – or are they?

Sigh.

Where oh where is that promised review of the Broadcasting Act?

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