Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

This troublemaker thanks you

In Reading, Society, Writing on August 3, 2014 at 3:29 am

I had a magnificent time last night! All that stress started dissipating as the night went on. I want to thank those who were at the launch of Troublemaker. I don’t even know most of you personally! I am gratified you came. (More importantly, got buy the book or not?)
The book is available at all major bookstores from mid-August or you can go to to order. Anyway, here’s the introduction to the book.

“Troublemaker’’ was the word Professor Tommy Koh used to describe me when we were talking about the demise of the Breakfast Network site. “But you are a good troublemaker. We need more good troublemakers,’’ Singapore’s veteran diplomat added.

Well, that was a relief!

I came to thinking that the phrase would be a good title for this book, a collection of blog posts and columns I had written in my post-Singapore Press Holdings days. I started on the day after I left my job of 26 years, when my free SPH newspapers did not appear on my door step. The absence of my morning reading material impressed on me firmly that I was no longer a journalist – at least, of the employed kind.
So I started Bertha Harian; the name was given to me by a top level civil servant some years ago. An alternative, he suggested, would be Berita Henson. I didn’t think it had quite the same ring.
People ask me why I write and have variously described my writings as that of a disgruntled ex-journalist, a Trojan horse set by the Government to infiltrate the online community, a political opposition supporter finally free of the fetters of the establishment that my career had imposed on me.

I laugh.

For some people it seems, content should not be assessed on its merits alone. Questions must be asked about the “motivation’’ and “agenda’’ behind the content. I have never seen the need to take an ideological standpoint, whether anti-this or pro-that, although there are certain principles I cherish. I believe strongly in transparency and access to information, which will allow citizens to make informed choices. I prefer less government, not more, with governance underpinned by the rule of law, not the discretion of executives. I uphold the ethical principles of professional journalism especially the need for accuracy and context, because it is the prism through which most information are presented regardless of the widespread use of social media.

After so many years in the practice of journalism, I thought I possessed enough institutional memory, knowledge of the workings of government and media and the ability to “read between the lines’’. I thought they would help me become a useful moderator or filter on issues that affect citizens.
Much of my content is based on mainstream media reports. I regard them to be the best source of information, properly researched and verified. Most of the time. They are my jumping-off point for further reflection. That is why I cannot abide unprofessional work such as sloppy reporting or a lack of reporting which result in incomplete and half-baked reports that misinform the unwary reading public. When I spot them, I feel cheated.

My writing inspiration is a column that used to be published in The Straits Times on Saturdays close to three decades ago. It was titled Look back in wonder by Ms Tan Sai Siong. She didn’t always attempt single-issue columns to fill up her allotted space. Sometimes, she just gave her “take’’ on three of four news items that had appeared over the week. When she did so, the column was extremely readable. Why spin so many words to fill up space when you only want to make one point?

This is one of the freedoms I enjoy from writing online: Freedom of space. Short or long, content must dictate space, not the other way round.

The second joy is freedom from editors who sometimes draw the OB markers far closer and tighter than I think necessary. Sure, I take a risk when I make critical comments about the Government, or the G, as I call it. But I weigh every risk, and right every wrong in my posts when they are pointed out. I have never been afraid to say sorry. Should I equate this with freedom of speech? Perhaps the right phrase is freedom of responsible speech, from a citizen with no greater agenda than advancing the cause of rational thinking for the collective good.
Third is the freedom to experiment with writing styles. The mainstream media’s methods are outdated – news reports with facts framed in a reverse pyramid or in blocks. For print and broadcast, there is that newsprint and airtime space to fill. Frankly, squeezing out regular columns in a regular style in a regular spot of a regular size is a draining exercise and terribly uncreative.

Now, of course, story telling has gone beserk with Twitter, storify, listacles and memes. They cater to people with short attention spans. But not everything can be short-formed. The long form should not be consigned to the Internet trash bin because sometimes it does take a lot of more words to make or argue a point – not pithy one-liners.

Did I make trouble? I gather I did. Civil servants and politicians have me on their radar but, hand on heart, none have ever gone beyond a “aiyah, why you write like that?’’ when commenting on specific posts which affect them. Some have even tried to engage me by giving me the heads-up on policies to be introduced, like they did in my past life.

My blogging segued into the establishment of Breakfast Network, on which I have devoted a section in this book. Suffice to say that I was glad to be back in harness, as a news editor, columnist, reporter. Even temporarily.
The start of my online writing adventure coincided with the post 2011 GE and the “new normal’’. It was an era which tolerated and, in fact, welcomed and fostered the discussion of big and small issues. Much of the news happenings post-2011 are unprecedented. An illegal strike? A riot? A philandering Member of Parliament? A dead prisoner?

So much content.

Why do I write?

I write to be read.


Two daddys and no mommy….

In News Reports, Reading, Society on July 13, 2014 at 9:30 am

I asked my mother yesterday if she kept watch over what I was reading when I was growing up. She said no. She said she was happy enough that I was reading something – whether it be crime or romance novels or comics. I think she would have flipped if she had come across I book I had bought in much younger days which had a homosexual theme. Not that I knew. I just grew increasingly uncomfortable until I reached the pages which graphically described homosexual activity. I shut the book, totally embarrassed. I never spoke of it to anyone and it was at least a year before I re-read the book. By the way, this is not a trashy book of pornography or a book in the children’s section. It’s by Tom Hollinghurst, mind you.

My second introduction to the LGBT community was way back in the 1980s when I was in San Francisco, perambulating along Castro Street at night. After catching sight of a few same-sex couples openly kissing along the street, I took a taxi home to my hotel. My companion, an Israeli, was shocked that I was shocked by the scenes as well as my explanation that I have never seen such sights in my own country. “What sort of country is Singapore?’’ he asked. Would that he came down to our little red dot a couple of weeks ago to see a park filled with pink! How far we have come…

I wonder how I would react if my five-year old nephew starts asking me questions about Tango Makes Three. “Godma, how come there are two Daddy penguins and no Mommy penguin?’’

I read him plenty of fairytales and bedtime stories as well as made-up ones with plenty of giants, dinosaurs, monsters and aliens. He laps them up, asking me why there is a man named Friday in Robinson Crusoe and why the Lady in the Lake in King Arthur doesn’t drown. Parents know better than me about the questions children ask. There’s not enough time to google the answers and so you come up with your own made-up answers. Because Friday appeared on a Friday, I said, which is what the book says. And the lady of the lake (here’s the cop-out) has very special, magic powers. Monsters are, of course, “very bad’’, witches and wizards are “evil’’ except Merlin in King Arthur who is “good’’. Dinosaurs are usually very big but there are also smaller ones which do not eat people. I think I confused the poor boy thoroughly.

I pity parents. The world is not so black and white but how do you explain the shades of grey to a mere child? Or should you paint the world in black and white while they are young in a “foundation-laying exercise’’, and leave them to figure out the colours in-between as they get older? That’s what happened to me anyway. I don’t think I turned out too badly.

So what is this fuss about penguins and swans all about really? Am I worried that my five-year old nephew reading the books will start thinking that homosexuality is a normal way of life? And what if I get asked the question? I might resort to a made-up answer that they are “special’’ people, different, not like your mommy and daddy. Not like me. Then cop out with “when you grow up, you will understand’’. Better, I suppose, than “when you grow up, don’t be like them’’? Then again, I am not a parent. It would be well within a parent’s right to bring up their children in whatever way they want. So long as they don’t teach them to hate.

The thing, though, is just that the world has changed, and Singapore too, so has the variety of books available for children and adults. Books with homosexual themes are more prevalent than ever. As adults, we pick what we want to read. It is a choice. Read or don’t read. The National Library Board’s concern is that unsupervised children may unwarily pick up books that it deems “unsuitable’’ on its premise. I suppose it is worried about some insidious brain-washing taking place. It is therefore policing morals, and using the State’s position that this is reflective of moral values of the mainstream to justify its policy. I suppose it can go further and say it is funded by the State, therefore…you know how the argument goes.

But the flip side is what the role of a library should be. Should it be a mere repository of words, both informed and uninformed and whether right or wrong (in whoever’s point of view)? Or should there be other social and even political objectives grafted onto its being?

The whole NLB kerfuffle boils down to playing “nanny’’. The NLB/G doesn’t think parents supervise children well enough and so makes the decision on what it believes are on the parents’ behalf to make books unavailable. Of course, you will have people jumping up and down at this presumption that the G knows the right stuff for children to read. (It’s not unlike how the G thinks we don’t know how to invest our money to make better returns than what the CPF/GIC can.)

I think parents today can no longer take the position that my mother did with me given the variety of books unless they hahaaha ban their kids from going to the library unsupervised! (Quite different from “buying’’ books, because there will be “parental supervision’’. I don’t think any parent will pay for a book without flipping through it.)

It is not politically correct to say so, but I bet there are plenty who just let their children be when it comes to reading material. Just like those who leave their children free to use the Internet or watch whatever television programme they want. I figure such parents would happy that the State will do the policing, any sort of policing, because they don’t have the time, cannot be bothered to or don’t know how to.

I am not in favour of the G being a nanny. But I can see how some parents would be quite happy for the G to make decisions on their behalf. Educated parents can fuss over what their children read, and explain or advocate for the values that they want their children to grow up with. But there are those who can’t.

Just as we have different grades for movies and theatre, I don’t see why supposedly non-conformist books for children need to be destroyed. Put them in a section which calls for parental guidance – not to be loaned out. Wouldn’t that solve the problem of parental choice? It’s a compromise between those who want them banned and those who want free circulation.

But, hey, we are all feeling our way around this brave new world.

Ban these books too!

In News Reports, Reading, Society on July 9, 2014 at 1:16 am

So three books have been pulled from the National Library shelves because they went against the “pro-family’’ values. In other words, they talked about same sex couples and other variations of the single family unit of father, mother and child. I suppose those against such books see them as a slow, insidious undermining of values that they hold dear. An attempt to corrupt innocent children. I also suppose they see parents as irresponsible idiots who do not care about what books dear boy-boy or girl-girl brought home from the library.

I think the following books are “suspect’’ too.

a. Little Red Riding Hood. I think it should be banned because the big bad wolf is too scary for children and the woodsman was rather bloody with the axe. On the flip side though, it shows the value of living close to the elderly so that you can check on them easily instead of trekking through the woods. Endorsed by the HDB.

b. The Three Little Pigs. Should be banned because it encourages vandalism. But then again, a great endorsement of good construction techniques. Build homes of straw and wood and you risk getting the house blown down. Endorsed by the Building and Construction Authority.

c. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Methinks a bit too kinky to have a single female living in a house full of small men. No redeeming quality. Biased against apples which we know keeps the doctor away, says Singapore Medical Association. Should be banned immediately. Not sure. What if she ate a banana instead?

d. Hansel and Gretel. Health Promotion Board is against this book because the duo stuffed themselves with cakes and sweets much to the detriment of their teeth. Plus they baked an old lady in the oven. Should be banned immediately. Agree.

e. Cinderella. Hard work scrubbing floors pays off for young woman. Endorsed by the Manpower ministry. But the National Trades Union Congress noted that she worked without pay which is against collective bargaining rules. The final call was made by SDU: Get out of the house once in a while and you might find your soul-mate. Commercial sponsor: shoemakers Jimmy Choo and Ferragamo

f. Sleeping Beauty. Encourages belief in superstition because the witch’s curse comes true. Plus, imagine what it is like to kiss someone who has been asleep for 100 years. Tussle in court now as mouthwash companies seek to trademark and copyright the lass for their products. Verdict to come.

g. Jack and the Beanstalk. Absolutely no redeeming quality. Trades family’s last belongings for a bean – no regard for his mother. Steals stuff from the giant – he’s a thief. Chops down beanstalk – environmentally unfriendly.

h. The Emperor with no clothes. Pornography. ‘Nuff said.

The “other” Singapore

In Politics, Reading, Society on March 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal about Singapore – and it’s a place I don’t recognise. It is about glitzy nightclubs, private jets, fast cars, high fashion and high-life. It talks about beautiful people togged up in clothes and shoes with names I can’t pronounce. About people who jet into Singapore to play and foreigners who decide the little red dot is the best place to park their money.

It’s about a lifestyle that isn’t reported for local consumption. It sounds like Vegas, but it is actually buttoned-down Singapore. My eyes go wider than wide when I weave through the article. Singapore has a nightclub at Marina Bay Sands which is just a year old, but Pangaea (how do you pronounce this anyway?) is now considered the most profitable club in the world with revenues of more than $100,000 per night in recent months.

It’s also one of the most expensive clubs, with tables costing as much as $15,000, with the uber-rich regularly chalking up six-figures. The jet-set of the world jet in on really serious jets, including n A380 which was converted to include a pool and basketball court, according to its owner, Michael Ault, a blue-blooded pedigreed American who moved from Manhattan to Singapore three years ago.

So many of the world’s rich and famous have moved here, as permanent residents or new citizens. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Australian mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler. India telco tycoon Bhupendra Kumar Modi. New Zealand billionaire Richard Chandler. US investor Jim Rogers, who set up shop there in 2007. Indonesian-born millionaire Frank Cintamani. According to the article, Gina Rinehart, one of the world’s richest women, slapped down $46.3 million for a pair of Singapore condominium units last year. Gosh! And we gasp at $1m price tag for an executive condo!

I suppose we have always known that some of the rich and famous have moved here, (remember the fuss when Gong Li became a citizen?) but they were never put under the spotlight as a collective group. This is probably one of the advantages of re-locating to Singapore. Celebrities, billionaires and luminaries are left alone to do as they please; no paparazzi, no protestors, in a place where it is safe to park their money, pay low taxes, with order strictly enforced. (I wonder if they had to go through a Singapore Citizenship Journey, visiting places of civic interest and attend a block party. Whether their children had to do national service.)

I guess we should be glad that we are such a playground, an Asian Monaco. Hopefully, these rich people-turned-PRs, or PRs- turned-new citizens will leave some business or money behind to filter to the rest of us. That they wouldn’t keep to themselves, but would put what they can into a country that provides them with better comforts than their own home country. Wealth-X, a private consultancy that provides intelligence on the world’s uber-rich, estimates some 1,400 ultra-high-net-worth individuals now hold more than $160 billion of wealth in Singapore, reported WSJ.

I mean, there should be a price of entry.
How did they get through the gates in the first place? Up to last year, there was a programme that allowed wealthy foreigners to “fast track” their permanent residency if they kept at least $8.1 million in assets in the city-state for five years. Investors who plan to dedicate a few million to help companies in Singapore grow are still welcomed, according to WSJ. So some big money has to be sunk here first, and hopefully, jobs created.

Do I sound envious? I am – and I don’t quite know why.
Part of the reason is probably that that sort of lifestyle is out of my reach, like I am on the outside of a fish tank looking in. Another part could be a sense that we are building a city for “other’’ people to live, work and play in. Could such PRs and new citizens ever become part of the Singapore core?

This is not to say that as a country, we have not done well for ourselves. WSJ reported that one in six homes has disposable private wealth of at least $1 million, excluding property, business and luxury goods. Add in property, with Singapore real estate among the most expensive in the world, and this number would be even higher. Now, that must include quite a few citizens, I should think. Singapore also now has the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world at $56,532.

Then I think about the debate we are having about the way we should go. All that talk about income inequality (second highest in the world), social safety nets and the need for an inclusive society. We talk about $50 pay increments, jammed roads, trains breaking down, unaffordable cars and the salaries of cleaners and drivers. We live in HDB, travel by MRT, shop at NTUC. We have a sandwich class.
WSJ reported Garry Rodan, a fellow at the Asia Research Center at Murdoch University as saying that the rich in Singapore now find themselves with “new avenues to display their wealth,” while “aged Singaporeans with grossly inadequate savings can be seen on the streets collecting plastic bottles for recycling.”
Ouch! That hurt.

Sometimes I think it’s good that the rich keep to themselves, ring-fenced by high entrance fees. That we see only their cars; 449 Ferraris now and 469 Maseratis.

Now, they should make sure they do not crash them – and stay invisible.

Read for
– So you don’t give a sh** about Lit
– A young Malay’s view on racial strait-jacketing

Where is the “no Lit” camp?

In News Reports, Reading, Society on March 3, 2013 at 6:11 am

I have been waiting to read a view that opposes the “pro-Lit’’ camp who bemoan the dismally small number of students pursuing Literature as a subject. No dice. Perhaps, the volume level of the “pro-Lit’’ camp has drowned out the “no-Lit” camp; or perhaps, they can’t out-argue the pro-Lit camp, even though there must be oh, so many more of them who think that Literature is, well, rubbish. And even if not rubbish, the subject is simply not good enough for my child to take for his or her O levels.

I wonder why the silence? All this will do is show that the pro-Lit camp is correct. Their views go un-challenged because, having studied literature, they can analyse better, critique better and write better. That’s why the rest, illiterate louts better at the computer or calculator, simple have no response.

Okay, before you get me wrong, I belong to the “pro-Lit’’ camp although I can’t say that I fell in love with the subject in secondary school, where my teachers usually just made us read prose or poetry aloud and asked us to write essays. It was the teachers in junior college who showed me that literature is more than just reading the classics and Shakespeare. That language can be used in many ways, to appease, deceive, placate or outrage. That a story can contain many messages, even contradictory ones. And that there can be many points of view, and all of them could be right.

This is the reason for the perception that it’s hard to score in Lit. Unlike mathematics, there is no formula that leads to just one answer.

I’m glad that the teaching of Literature has advanced somewhat, going by what The Sunday Times reported. One article gave two examples of how lit is taught. For Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, for example, the teacher got his students to compare the “taming’’ with the taming of women in other societies through stories and plays by Jamaica Kincaid, Kyoko Mori, Maxine Hong Kingston and Stella Kon.

Academic Suzanne Choo gave the best reason for the study of literature: “While literature education does foster aesthetic appreciation and a taste for good writing, what we often forget is that when students are asked to respond to questions such as “What makes us sympathise with Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart”, “Is justice served at the end of Macbeth”, or “How does the writer develop the sense of irony in the poem Dulce Et Decorum Est”, they need to consider the underlying beliefs determining a character’s intentions and behaviour, thus affecting our feelings towards him or her, the different social-cultural values influencing how concepts such as justice are perceived, and the ways in which literary techniques contribute to the implied author’s philosophical proposition in the text. In short, these are questions requiring critical engagements with values.’’

The study of Literature isn’t about reading old books with old words. Or even new books with new words. It is about learning to read “critically’’ and to appreciate the way language is used to convey different meanings. I will go so far as to say that a background in literature makes you a bit more media literate (now.. that’s a term that’s terribly in vogue for those who think literature belongs to the Middle Ages or for the middle-aged).

We are surrounded by media and it takes a critical eye to sieve the wheat from the chaff, to grasp underlying messages and to spot flaws in logic. This is a useful skill in any economy. Someone who can do so will usually be able to formulate their thoughts better, organise an argument better or present a case better. They are open to differing views and have the language capacity to take it all in, so to speak. They are comfortable with “uncertainty’’; that there is sometimes no right answer, and we can all agree to disagree. Now if that is not a useful skill in any profession, I don’t know what else is. What is knowledge if you do not have the skill to communicate what you know and make yourself understood?

Enough of that.

I really want to hear from the other side of the fence. The schools which discourage literature as a subject, the parents who prefer that their children do mathematics, the students who think literature is a waste of time – where are you?
If you believe that literature is a “soft’’ subject and waste of time, as compared to say, a “hard’’ subject, tell us why. If you think there’s no money to be made specialising in literature, well, that’s probably true, but what about a basic grounding? If you think the problem is the way schools teach literature, then share with us your story.

We should hear from you too.

Draft of an unpublished story

In News Reports, Reading, Society on December 31, 2012 at 1:59 am

I suppose MSM is waiting for PAP’s Teo Ho Pin’s response on the sale of the town council’s computer information system before it decides to publish anything on the matter. Typical move, except that too much of the action is taking place online to be ignored. Even if sources are un-named, they are worth reporting for wider public consumption. Better still, if the MSM can go out and GET them named, or at least get confirmation of the facts.

So, here’s my attempt to piece the story together from what’s online. Moderately. Carefully. Oh, so carefully….

MORE questions regarding the sale of a town-council developed computer information system to a People’s Action Party company have surfaced, with one individual purportedly escalating the matter to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

The unnamed individual has asked the police to look into how the tender was awarded to Action Information Management, according to documents mailed to TR Emeritus.

Another individual, who declined to be named for “professional purposes’’, has also dug out what he claimed to be the original tender notice announced on June 30, 2010. He charged that it was lacking in details compared to other tender notices. The notice also levied a a $214 fee for interested applicants to “find out more’’, he wrote on The Online Citizen.

These disclosures, which have yet to be confirmed by the CPIB or the town councils, are the latest of a series of questions that is being asked by the online community, which was first alerted to the circumstances of the sale by blogger Alex Au.
The issue came to light after a report card on town councils’ work was made public with Workers’ Party run Aljunied-Hougang TC lagging behind conspicuously behind in the corporate governance category. This was because, WP MP Sylvia Lim said, it had yet to develop a computer information system after the vendor, Action Information Management, terminated its services following the WP win in the ward.

Mr Au and other online commentators unearthed a trove of information about the vendor: That it was a $2 company, which bought the system which the 14 town councils had developed for $140,000. It leased the system back to the town councils for a fee of $785 a month. Ex-MPs S Chandra Das, Lau Ping Sum and Chew Heng Chin were named as directors.

PAP’s co-ordinator of town councils Dr Teo Ho Pin confirmed that the company was People’s Action Party owned, while the company declared that its action to terminate the contract with the opposition-run TC was in line with a contractual clause that it allowed it to do so if there were “material changes in the composition’’ of the TC.

Dr Teo charged that the WP was already developing its own information system, had asked and been granted two extensions and could have asked for a third extension to the lease if it wanted. Ms Lim hit back, accusing Dr Teo of not addressing more fundamental questions of the contract termination.

Online commentary appear to be focused on the following issues:
• Accountability – Whether residents’ funds were used to develop the computer system and the logic behind having it sold to a third party, which happens to be PAP owned, and re-leased for a fee.
• Transparency – Of five interested applicants who paid the fee for more information on the tender, only AIM put in a bid. Drawing parallels with the Brompton bike case, comments included whether the tender process could have been extended to allow for more bidders to take part and whether there was any impropriety in the process.
• Political connections – Implicit in the commentaries is whether AIM’s move to terminate the Aljunied-Hougang TC contract is a purely partisan decision rather than motivated by business or public interest considerations. If so, the on-going saga raises the question of the role of political parties in business and how these businesses operate in the political sphere.

Said former journalist Bertha Henson: “It’s disquieting to read what’s online. The Government has always maintained that its tender processes are above-board. A political party too should maintain the same strictures lest it be accused of using business for political or private gain – at the expense of the public interest.’’
PAP’s Dr Teo said he would give a fuller accounting soon.

PS. I interviewed myself as a quote but apparently the technique just puzzled people…hence, deletion

A hair-raising tale

In News Reports, Reading, Society on August 23, 2012 at 5:59 am

I don’t know what I am more amazed by – the mother who made a police report against a teacher who cut her kid’s hair or that his hair cut cost $60. (Mine costs less than $30) Must be a dry day for two newspapers to have the story placed so prominently in their pages. Page 1 of TNP (okay, tabloid fodde) Page 3 of ST (hmm…weak news file?)

You have to read both papers to get the full picture. The kid had his hair cut just minutes before his oral exam. Mother says her permission should have been sought. Mother says his hair-style (by Reds salon) ruined. He was too shy to go for wushu class, so hair got to be restyled. He was threatened by teacher who said I cut your hair or else I cut marks from oral exam!

Apparently, the kid have a note from the school to his parents about getting his hair trimmed before the exams. Kid did not tell mother – dyslexics are forgetful, says mother. Two days’ notice – too short, says mother.

Wonder how the police will deal with this. Haul the teacher up for hair-styling without a licence? For making threats against the kid’s hairstyle? Fine the teacher $12, I mean, $120 to compensate for the ruin? Add 10 points to his score to compensate for his stress? I have a suggestion: Get the mother and teacher together for a hair-pulling match.

Anyway, I hope I won’t have to read a followup story on hair length and hair style rules that schools have and the penalties for flouting it. Or the Education ministry weighing in on the hairy issue. So many more important things to focus on, like who would want to a parent…when you can’t control your kid’s hairstyle? Right? And who would want to be a teacher, when you can get frazzled this way?

Boat Quay in the dock

In News Reports, Reading, Writing on August 21, 2012 at 9:24 am

I have to say that I thought ST’s Page 1 story today on cleaning up Boat Quay a little strange. So auxillary police are going to be patrolling the area soon to discourage touting. You mean, they haven’t been? Or are we making a distinction between auxillary and “real” cops? With Boat Quay always in the news for bad news, you would have thought the men in blue were walking around every night. I mean, there are even cameras there to keep out undesirable activity. Maybe they HAVE been patrolling, but not to discourage touting? You mean, the nice restaurant owner can’t go up to the tout and say stop doing this – because they risk being punched or knifed?

Another thing, what is touting? So those women/men at the front of restaurants aren’t supposed to say “Come try us?” Okay, I know touting turned aggressive is terrible for those who just want a quiet walk. But hey, they add some colour. I think tourists quite like the idea of touts – or have they been complaining. What is aggressive touting – when they start manhandling you, I suppose? I draw the line there.

More important, is Boat Quay unsafe? I mean, the phrase is “clean up”. So whats the crime rate like? Those cameras aren’t working to deter criminals and make for a safer environment? Waste of money then?

The story, in journalistic parlance, is a bit thin.

Then there is this thing I have about revenue/business figures. So often we see phrases like business/sales/revenue/profit  is down 60 per cent in the last one/two/three years. If I were a tenant, I would pluck any figure out of the air to get my landlord to get rents down. Especially if I am not using my name or the name of the restaurant (as is the case in this article). Down 60 per cent from $1m three years ago? Or $100,000? Maybe the three years ago was an anomaly. In any case, you think any businessman is going to open his books for verification? I think a much better way is to see if the restaurant is full – or empty. And ask what it was like in the past. Easier for the reader to relate to such matters that they can “see”,  rather than a 60 per cent of goodness knows what base figure from three years ago.

So, here’s to a sanitised, safer and quieter Boat Quay, with plenty of men-in-blue walking around. Not sure that I’ll enjoy it. But then again, I’m weird.

A reading life

In News Reports, Reading on June 16, 2012 at 12:41 am

I so identified with Richard Lim’s column in Life! today about his introduction to humanist books. Actually, I identified with his friend, Kenny, who retired early because he wanted time to read. I am not retired but I do have plenty of free time which I spend reading, reading, reading. I can’t think how anyone can live life without reading something. Errm, preferably a proper book and not just Facebook.

It was my late grandmother who introduced me to books. It was Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven. You know the trajectory from there…you move on to Famous Five, Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. On her death bed, she gave me $50 to buy books, My parents rushed this 12 year old to Katong Shopping Centre to make sure I fulfilled her last wish. By then, I had graduated to Agatha Christie. I hadn’t finished Five Little Pigs when she died. It was my habit to always relate to her the stories in the books I’ve read.

The trajectory continued. I saw my Sec 1 classmate engrossed in a book and asked her what it was. A Mills & Boon. That was it then! I borrowed from her stash (she had plenty) and moved round second hand book stores for them. I kept them hidden from my mother, who didn’t like those sexy pictures on the cover and probably thought it was porn.

Book reading took a break in my university days. I stayed in a hostel…and where got time? with tutorials and games and plays and exams to mug up for. That, I know now, is an excuse. No one should give up reading – it keeps you informed, entertained and raises your writing and creative abilities.

I got back to books with a vengeance a few years after I started work. And started scaling up when I had my own place. Finally, I could have my own library. My teenaged books are at my mother’s place, and the rest of the 1,000 or so are jostling with each other for space on custom-made shelves. I arrange them in alphabetical order and in genres. Once, my part-time maid decided to shelve them according to size. I freaked out.

People ask me if I speed read. I am a certified speed reader, but employ the technique only professionally. It was useful when newsmakers threw speeches, statements and bulky press kits at the last minute, expecting journalists to digest them in five minutes before taking questions…Good trick, I thought.

People ask me when I find the time to read, especially when there are daily newspapers and weekly periodicals that I have to consume professionally as well. My ex-colleagues used to think that I only work all the time… Well, I make what time I can. There’s always a book in my bag. A few books by the bedside, in the loo, in my ex-office. I read while eating, watching TV, before I sleep, waiting for a ride, when I drying off by the pool. There’s always time to read.

People also ask me to write book reviews. In my whole career, I’ve only done a handful. And only for those books by authors I know inside-out. That is, I had read the author’s whole collection. I part admire and part resent book reviewers, wondering if they really “know” their stuff when they write about them. I also part-admire and part-resent film reviewers, who review films based on books which I don’t think they’ve read. I once interviewed a Canadian author who was in Singapore and had four books out already. I knew more about her books than she did! During the interview, she said: You must be a news reporter, not a reviewer. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or not, until she said she was a news journalist too and could smell a news person a mile away.  Actually, maybe I should NOT be pleased.

This entry is a digression from the other content on my blog I know. I’m sorry. But I do so love writing about reading…So I think I will start a new tag on this blog on Reading. You can read or don’t read.

Never mind.

Where’s the picture of the picture?

In News Reports, Reading on May 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

I know we should run pictures of winners like ST did for the PA awardees. But I would really have liked to see a picture of those Van Gogh murals at that void deck in Pipit Road! But My Paper saved the day. Was thinking they would be really really big mural-like reproductions, but it’s really just a painting. Funnily enough, the picture used was taken by ST. Should have used leh, and give people an art education….