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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

A Valentine’s Day story – The odd couple

In Society on February 13, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Roses, candlelight and wine. The stuff of Valentine’s Day. Pappy Gee despised such sentimentality. What a waste of hard-earned, carefully-husbanded resources, he thought. Some people actually dug into their reserves simply to get a dining table facing Marina Bay! And what was all this about 50 shades of grey? He himself preferred white, pure white, pristine, virginal, hygienic. But then he had to deal with Wy Yang and her demands…

What a spendthrift! He had had enough! Just last week, she bought a Chanel bag without checking the price. Then she handed over the supplementary credit card he gave her to that so-called best friend of hers. Who knows what next month’s bill will come up to? Did she really expect him to pay for everything?

They’ve been “together’’ for some time now, especially after 2011. Not quite going steady but more or less thrown together by force of circumstances. It was an uncomfortable relationship. You know the kind…He drives the car but she insists on being the navigator. If not for his superior sense of direction and GPS technology, they would have got lost a million times…What a hopeless co-driver she was turning out to be, he thought.

He wondered if he should make his feelings clear to her on their next date. Not that he liked going to her apartment. It was a mess with clothes strewn all over. She was always missing things, looking for this ring or that pair of shoes…Knowing her, she might have thrown them down the rubbish chute! That maid of hers is doubly useless. He had a feeling she was taking things from the house and selling them on her mandatory day off. But Wy Yang seemed to like her so much. Wouldn’t hear a thing against her.

Sigh.

He thought again about what life would be like if they got married. He would have to bear with her whole extended family. He bit his fingernails. They would hammer him and he would have to fight them tooth and nail. It would be a deadly serious fight every day of his life. He would be ruined! Bankrupted! He would have to ditch his car for a Brompton bike.

He caught himself. Have to ditch such negative thoughts, he thought, or their relationship would not survive. Look at the bright side, he told himself. At least, they had enough in their CPF for a BTO flat. He would continue to be productive and strive for excellence. They would have three or more children if they could afford it. They would collect every baby bonus and grant available to the traditional family unit.

Then he thought about his CPF and whether he would have enough of a minimum sum when he retired…Wait a minute! Would he have to top up her CPF account as her spouse? His thoughts turned dark. If only she wasn’t so fussy about taking on a job and insisting that she must receive a minimum wage that would fund her lifestyle. Then she would have more money in her Ordinary Account. Instead she wants to be her own employer, run a blogshop and become a social influencer…

He shook his head. What in heaven’s name do they have in common anyway? She doesn’t like taking selfies. When he asks her questions, she sulks and won’t answer. She says she will have to “think’’ before replying. Or she needed to clean the ceiling fan first. Or attend some trade fair she helped organise. When she talks, it was always to oppose him. Anyone would think he bullied her. Of course, he’s no bully. He was simply trying to set her right… He tried to recollect their last decent conversation…and couldn’t. Then again, at least she’s not like that distant cousin of hers who is always hobnobbing with the human rights types abroad. That girl is such a pain…and like a butterfly too, flitting from lover to lover

For the last two days, he had said some harsh things to Wy Yang. She fought back, and even broke one of her manicured nails. He wasn’t sorry for what he said. And she certainly wasn’t going to give in either.

And tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. She would expect to be taken out to some place nice. Or maybe not. She wasn’t answering her WhatsApp, email, messenger or text. Maybe he should actually call her…But she would definitely hang up. Maybe drop by her place? Nah. She won’t open the door. Maybe he should just send her a card.

He stopped at a gift shop, looking at the variety of sickly sweet cards on display. So expensive! In the end, he picked out one. Given her current state, he thought it was just the thing she would appreciate. It said : Get well soon!

CPF minimum sum – in Small, Medium and Large

In Money, News Reports, Politics, Society on February 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I was thinking of doing a listicle, a brainless but, hopefully, funny way of conveying information. Except that the CPF review panel’s recommendations have left me brain-dead and I am not feeling terribly funny. Bear with me please because I think this is too big an issue not to destroy some brain cells over.

Now, the panel wants us to leave this gawdawful term “minimum sum’’ alone for the moment and work backwards. Let’s not think about how much money we have in our CPF when we turn 55, it says, but what we hope we will get when we turn 65, when monthly payments kick in.

Here’s how the panel wants the changes framed:

If you are 55 now, in 10 years, you’ll need about $650 to $700 a month. The panel has factored in inflation AS WELL AS rising standards of living. So it’s not just for bread and water, but kaya and kopi as well.

To get this kind of payout means leaving $80,500 in your CPF. That is, if you own your home. Why? You can rent it out if you need money. If you sell it because you prefer to rent a home, the CPF money you used to pay for it will still go back into your CPF – so it’s back up again. (Forget everything that has been said about being able to pledge your property ecetera. Serious.)

If you do not own property, that $80,500 is doubled to $161,000 (Yup, that’s the minimum sum for those turning 55 next year) It means higher payout which is also to cover for expenses like rent, which a homeowner wouldn’t have to worry about.

If you actually want to put in more money into your CPF, you can. Up to $241,500. Now, why would anyone want to do it? Because, hey, the CPF pays better returns than the banks or even commercial insurance companies. And yes, even higher payout of close to $2,000 a month

So that’s why the panel doesn’t want to use the term “minimum sum’’ anymore but RETIREMENT SUM. Besides sounding like a ransom demand, it now applies to three different S/M/L sizes – Basic, Full and Enhanced.

To recap:

Basic is $80,500

Full is $161,000 (doubled)

Enhanced is $241,500 (tripled)

In case you’ve forgotten everything about what happens at 55…

  1. You can take out everything in excess of Basic if you own your home. If you don’t even have a Basic, you can take out $5,000. Yup, nothing has changed.
  2. What’s new: that Basic sum will increase by 3 per cent a year so that you wouldn’t be so suddenly surprised by an announcement when you’re 54.

But quite a lot can happen in 10 years time when you hit 65.

  1. You can decide to withdraw 20 per cent of the sum you left inside. It’s been accumulating interest after all (and you need to pay for your son’s wedding or your daughter’s overseas education). Remember though that getting a lump sum early means smaller monthly sums later on. So you can expect some incentives from the G to get you to leave your 20 per cent alone. Now, for those with really really low balances, it’s no-go.
  2. You can decide to leave your money in there because you really don’t need it yet. Instead, you can accumulate even more interest and get a bigger pay-out – about 6 to 7 per cent more – later. You can do this at most for five years. (The CPF isn’t supposed to make your fortune but provide for retirement after all.)

Okay, so far, the panel hasn’t said anything about those with not enough to meet even the Basic. First off, they aren’t going to be penalized or have their homes taken away from them. They will still get an income until they die, albeit a smaller sum. Still, what can be done to help them?

There are some things in place already such as an extra 1 per cent interest for those with $60,000 in CPF balances. Plus there is the Work Income Supplement for the lower paid which also goes into their CPF. (I guess we have to see what the Budget will bring but there is a Silver Support in the offing in which the G is expected to give cash/CPF bonuses to older folk)

The good news is that increasingly over the years, more and more people will be able to meet the Basic sum. Right now, 55 per cent of CPF members can. And by 2020, 70 per cent will be able to do so. Hey, that’s what the panel says okay…!

Those are the panel’s key recommendations but it also raised other matters for the G to consider. For example, the panel…

  1. Agreed with the NTUC’s suggestion to bring back up the CPF contribution rates of those aged 50 to 55 who are working. This was cut to encourage employers to employ older workers and it’s working well enough already it seems.
  2. Like the NTUC, it wants the salary ceiling for CPF contribution, which is now $5,000, raised. In two swoops, voila! More CPF money! (Although how employers will react to this I don’t know)
  3. Wants spouses to be allowed to start CPF Life accounts for their non-working partners.

As you can tell, I am not commenting on the changes because I am still trying to wrap my head around them! At first glance, they seem populist, a bid to satisfy as many differing demands as possible (except the Return my CPF at age 55 lobby). Or it can be framed as a matter of choice and giving people a bit more control over their money. The panel prefers to use the word “flexibility’’. Flexibility is so complicated isn’t it? And that’s just Part 1 of the recommendations. Part 2 will be about “flexible’’ payouts.

Don’t forget that there isn’t just one CPF Life plan, but a few…you pick one. I’ll bet anything that most people have forgotten this.

Over-REACHing

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 31, 2015 at 7:45 am

If the G’s REACH people had rung me to ask about the Liquor Control legislation, I would have answered this way:

  1. No, I do not support the restrictions.
  2. No, the restrictions, if imposed, would not affect my lifestyle.
  3. Then comes the third question: Whether I consider public drunkenness a serious problem that has to be countered. I would have said yes…Because on PRINCIPLE, I would have to agree. But then I would have stopped to ask: You mean public drunkenness here? Now? Is it a serious problem? This country with the lowest alcohol consumption in the world? Seriously?

So we finally get to hear some statistics about public drunkenness – at the second reading of the Bill. Just about the last chance for anyone, or rather only MPs, to reflect on them and ask questions.

Last year, there were 47 cases of rioting linked to the consumption of liquor. There were also 115 cases of serious hurt, which were related to drinking. These cases included stabbing, cutting using dangerous weapons, and inflicting severe bodily pain. Nine in 10 occurred after 10.30pm.

Please let me hiccup a few times.

Hic! The rrreview over liquor consumption was started in 2012, and brought into focus after the Little India riot the next year. And all this while, public consultation was going on without the benefit of some numbers to ascertain the seriousness of the problem? What kind of rrrreeeeview is this? Hic!

Hic! We don’t know if these rioters and slashers were all drinking takeway beer after 10.30pm or had emerged sloshed from a licensed premises or got booted out by bouncers onto the public space. But, hey, hic!, So what rrrrright? All the crimes were committed after 10.30pm. Therefore it makes sense to make sure all “public’’ drrrrinking – whether or not it becomes public “drrrrunkenness’’ – stops at 10.30pm….

I have been trying to find the overall statistics on rioting and can only refer to an ST report, released on Thursday, the day before Parliament approved the Liquor Control Bill, saying that rioting involving youths had gone up from 283 arrested the year before to 322 last year. Please note that these riots involved only youths who may or may not be old enough to drink.

So what’s the BIG, national statistic?

I know what some people will think: Why am I nit-picking? Isn’t enough that people are hurt after some people had one too many? Didn’t you hear all those MPs going on and on about the pee, the vomit and the noise? You are in no position to speak because you don’t live in those places where there is public drunkenness.

Really? If it were me, I would be calling the cops all the time and insist that they do their job instead of asking for an omnibus law that affects everyone. My question would be: “Why aren’t the cops doing anything???!’’ Not: “We need yet another law.’’

So I hear this from a lawyer-MP who said that “of course’’ the law is a curb on personal liberties. But the “right to drink where and when you want is not a fundamental liberty’’ if it affects the public interest.

Because it IS a curb on personal liberties, this requires us to be rather more circumspect in imposing the law. This is not like a quarantine order to confine people in their homes to stop the spread of infectious disease. In fact, while others in developed countries might balk against such orders, we’ve shown ourselves pragmatic enough to deny ourselves freedom as was the case during Sars. That was a BIG problem that should be solved. The citizens here agreed.

Then you have the G saying this: “When does the Bill stop being blunt and over-reaching, and when does it start being comprehensive and effective? We can have a lot of rhetorical flourishes and pose interesting questions, but at the end of the day, we need to make a decision, and that decision applies not just to general principles, but also to specific steps that need to be taken on the ground.”

I really think that was not a nice thing to say. Rhetorical flourishes and interesting questions? When it comes to fundamental rights, the questions are merely “interesting’’? Or is the word “academic’’? I suppose the subtext is that this is merely the concern of liberal loonies who put Western ideals of fundamental freedoms above the heartlanders’ law and order concerns.

By the way, hic,,..I am not a liberal loonie, I am a member of the hic! HIC!.. intelligentsia – a term which is practically un-used in Singapore. And it is normal everywhere that the much despised intelligentsia would raise such uncomfortable questions especially if it touches on the extent of State power

As for that REACH survey. So the G denys that it governs by polls, never mind its feedback arm had the poll done. I guess it had to be done to counteract the ST online poll which had more people against the restrictions. The REACH poll, which is “scientific’’, mind you, showed otherwise. In fact, you have the usual suspects saying that the online views are just those of a vocal minority while the REACH poll is a REAL reflection of public sentiment.

I am really quite sick and tired of such dismissals of contrarian views. The G should give us the FACTS, not the views. And give us the FACTS early, not at the last minute.

Isn’t the key question this: Is the state of public drunkenness such that it is beyond the ability of the police to cope? Are there not enough specific laws in place to handle this?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot help but recall how the Little India Commission of Inquiry had repeatedly asked for statistics on public drunkenness in the area and whether the Miscellaneous Offences Act was being enforced against those public drunks who became a nuisance. These statistics were given out then: 60 arrests in 2013 and 27 in 2012. Then nothing heard.

If rioting cases fuelled by drinking had gone up over the years, I certainly didn’t know this despite being an avid follower of local developments in the media. The only time liquor became a problem was the Little India riot, which left the police black-and-blue in the face.

MPs of affected resident say it is about giving back the residents their “space’’. I don’t suppose affected residents think that getting back their “space’’ also means restricting their own and that of other people? Why aren’t they asking where the law is during those times? All those cameras everywhere and it can’t be used to direct officers to clear drunken loiterers or put them behind bars under the Miscellaneous Offences Act?

Then comes this cop-out from the G: Let’s not worry because the law is really about nabbing the really very bad drunks. The police won’t bother to strip search you (even though they can) or break up your beach barbeque (but please get a permit) or arrest you because you were drinking a can of beer at 11pm (but please bin it when told to) In other words, light touch. Or another decorative piece in the law that will be utilised with utmost discretion by the executive. Which sort of begs the question of why the law is there in the first place.

Also there is this crazy point about how the definition of workers’ dormitories as “public places’’ is really just a “technical’’ thing to conform to another piece of legislation. Pttfff…Dismissed.

Sheesh. Shouldn’t we be more careful about protecting ourselves against over-reach by the G? Or should we laugh it away in a drunken fit? Maybe we should say: For more than 20 years, we’ve always had no problems with the G abusing any process. We assume that everything is done according to our expectations. Now this (fill in the blanks) has happened. But never mind, we can always unwind the process. Let’s drink to that!

But now that the Bill is LAW, I can only suggest this for licensed premises to consider: Please start your happy hour earlier.

A deadly serious business

In News Reports, Society on January 30, 2015 at 2:12 am

So Eternal Pure can’t build its temple-cum-columbarium in Sengkang after all. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the G didn’t know it was a purely commercial company and had nothing to do with religion. Here’s a peek at what happened from the point of view of the company 

They were dead on the money. What could be better than going into real estate in Singapore? Shoe-box apartments for the living might go empty, but a shoe-box for the dead? Everybody needs a shoe box sooner or later, unless they prefer to be set adrift in the sea. And in Singapore, with its ageing population, people will be queuing up to see the showflat. Plus, this niche property development won’t be subject to the vagaries of G controls, or debt servicing ratios. Yep! A columbarium it is!

The members of the Living or Dead company based Down Under congratulated themselves on hitting on the idea. Their underground cavern shook. Claws were sharpened. Bones jangled. Saliva dripped. Until someone intoned zombie-like that private columbariums were already in existence and buying land would drain the company’s coffers. It might prove a dead loss. What the hell!

There was a deadly silence, until a bony one suggested bidding for land intended for a religious purpose. Why not build the shell and rent it out to a religious organization? And then build a columbarium on the side?

Somebody guffawed, clapping his paws. What a heaven-sent idea! These temples and churches don’t have much money (and City Harvest is busy in court), they could out bid any one of them for the land. A small, cautious voice piped up: Is this allowed? Won’t the G check to see if a religious group was bidding for the plot? Then it would a dead end…

The fanged one looked up from his red liquid diet. Private companies were already allowed to bid for land for religious purposes, he said. These G fellas assume that the companies are set up by the religious organisations or in some kind of joint venture…

“Assume? They don’t check?’’ asked a clawed one.

“Naah. Haven’t done so in 20 years…’’ replied the fanged one.  “But we will need a name that sounds religious…’’

After some brain-storming which did not include the headless one, they decided on Heavenly Life. They dug into their pickets and unearthed $20m, setting aside $5.2 m for the bid. Of course, they won. The Living or Dead members thought they would be safe for all eternity, drawing an income from Singaporeans’ obsession with real estate. They didn’t reckon that their plot would be undone by….Singaporeans’ obsession with real estate.

The members met a second time to discuss the dark forces massing to attack their proposed columbarium. The living was unhappy about living next to the dead. The homes of living were their places of rest, the living said, and they can’t rest easy next to the resting places of the rest. Plus, the value of their homes would go down.

The fanged one, draining his cup, insisted that the Singapore G was good in the way that it would refuse to climb down despite the noise. “It is not in its DNA,’’ he said knowingly. “I’ve had a taste of it.’’

The clawed one wasn’t so sure. He preferred to slash the residents and accuse them of nimby-ness. “Let’s attack that front, and hopefully, we will keep our plot and our other plot won’t be discovered.’’

But things were not to be.

It wasn’t nimby-ness that killed the plans of the Living or Dead. Residents had discovered the plot and raised a stink to high heaven about the G awarding the plot to a commercial company.

The G said it had never intended the plot to go to commercial companies. It just hadn’t caught up with private sector’s dark and nefarious ways of making money and didn’t think to ward it off with any garlic, wooden stakes or special incantations. You know, it’s like how you wouldn’t expect a woman disguised as a man to attend a function that is clearly for men. The word most commonly used: ASSuME

Plus the religious groups were pushing back – and they were people that the G could not afford to antagonise.

The Living or Dead had to stop its shares trading on the stock market Down Under. They re-grouped. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Their underground cavern shook. The fanged one demanded blood. The clawed one broke up the furniture. Only the zombie remained unfazed. He intoned: They could pick a religion – Taoism, Buddhism or any Chinese diety – become converts, start a religious organisation and bid for the land legitimately.

The rest looked up, be-witched by the idea. Until a small, cautious voice piped up and said that the nimby issue would still be an issue. Did the Living or Dead want to waste precious time combating these would-be neighbours? It would drain the life out of them…

The headless one nodded with his foot.

The fanged one picked his teeth.

The clawed one started his manicure.

The bony one rattled.

They wanted revenge.

They turned to the small, cautious one.

With one voice, they said: “Go infest the place.’’

Over-protecting the people

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 21, 2015 at 3:12 am

The proposed alcohol curbs don’t affect me; I’m usually in bed by 10.30pm. And I drink on licensed premises anyway. My days of drinking on the beach staring at the stars are long over. As for take-away alcohol, nothing prevents anyone from buying it earlier and stocking up at home as the Home Affairs ministry put it: “members of the public can continue to consume liquor at home during the restricted hours’’. Sheesh. You would have thought such a statement was un-necessary. Surely, no one thinks the State can start imposing on what we can do or cannot do in the confines of our home? Then again, foreign worker dorms have been designated as “public spaces’’…

Never mind all that.

My problem with the restrictions on boozing that are making its way in Parliament is simply this: Are they even necessary? So, they have come in the aftermath of the Little India riot because alcohol was a “contributory’’ factor. We had thought that too many liquor licences had been given out to retailers over there – so a cap on such licences looks reasonable. But we were then told that other areas, such as Chinatown, had even more such licences. Restricting the number of licences would have been good enough surely? Just make sure there is no such ready – and cheap – supply. Instead, the whole population have now been told that they can’t buy takeaway liquor after 10.30pm and can’t drink in public areas during “restricted hours’’.

The penalties for infringements: a fine of up to S$1,000 for a first-time offender, while jail of up to three months and a fine not exceeding S$2,000 can be imposed on repeat offenders.

The promise from the G is that it will be “flexible’’.  Just dispose of that beer can if you are caught with it in public; nothing will happen to you.  If there is one thing I do not like about some of our laws – it is the amount of discretion it gives to the executive arm to enforce…

So the G has come up with two ways to convince people that the legislation is okay.

  1. It has the support of the people, or at least most of the 1,200 people it consulted. I sure hope they do not comprise mainly the residents of Little India and Geylang.
  2. The proposed rules are less draconian than those in other countries, including the developed countries. (Except that most of the laws do not blanket a whole country. And I don’t know the historical circumstances which led to their rules in the first place.)

People have been asking for more convincing evidence that the legislation is needed. It is not a question of people wanting to drink till they are light-headed or stoned out of their minds, but that new laws that affect the public must be grounded in something more solid than a poll of 1,200 people.

I recall the Little India Commission of Inquiry which kept asking if police enforced the Miscellaneous Offences Act. Particularly this section: Any person who is found drunk and incapable of taking care of himself, in any public road or in any public place or place of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of any court or of any public office or police station or place of worship, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.

So there is a law already in place dealing with drunkenness. Thing is, has it been enforced? How many people have we thrown into the brink to sleep it off? Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Ho See Ying, the Commanding Officer of Rochor Neighbourhood Centre, told the COI that there were 60 arrests made last year and 27 arrests in 2012. That is only for the area. Do you think the figure is too big or quite small? Surely, the Home Affairs ministry can give the full statistics island-wide? We have yet to hear the numbers. Have the cops used this scalpel? Why wield a sledgehammer when you already have a specific weapon dealing with drunken behaviour?

I can’t help but think that some people wanted things all neat and tidy. So bits and pieces of legislation scattered in the books relating to alcohol have all been grouped under this Liquor Control Bill. I sure hope the people’s representatives would do a better job of asking about the need for this Bill during the second reading.

I also happen to agree with NGOs on another part of the Bill which designates the foreign worker dorms as a “public space’’. That is, the liquor restrictions would apply. Surely, the dorm operators know how to come up with their own rules? Do we need the law to enter into such private spaces? Or are we saying that foreign workers have no right to privacy at all?

Then there is the other law covering foreign workers in their dormitories. MSM seemed to have focused on how they are intended to make the workers’ living conditions better with a Commissioner empowered to look after their needs. Yup. Wonderful. Great. But there is also this part which I read in TODAY: The Commissioner will also have the power to order operators to restrict the entry and exit of dorm residents if there is a serious health threat or risk, or if there is a risk that incidents outside and within Singapore — including civil unrest, hostilities, war, and elections — could generate ill-will or hostilities among or between residents.

My goodness! Isn’t this rather too broad and sweeping? If there is a hotly contested election in say, Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi workers will be confined to their dorms? Or if ethnic groups in China start fighting each other, we’re afraid that the Chinese workers will start an altercation with locals here? Bear in mind that the foreign workers do indeed come from countries which aren’t as politically stable and sedate as Singapore…I guess the response from the State will be that it will be “flexible’’ and not resort to such measures willy-nilly. That is, can we please place more trust in executive “discretion’’.

I read about the MPs going on about why the smaller dorms aren’t covered by the law which is only effective against those with 1,000 beds or more. I wish they didn’t put cart before horse. Shouldn’t the Bill itself be scrutinized properly before we even start asking for an extension? Or do we treat foreign workers as a different species altogether because we want to put Singaporeans first?

Again, I view both pieces of legislation as “convenient’’ for the State rather than necessary for the people. So what if Parliament has to be convened time and again for the G to ask for specific temporary powers to maintain law and order, such as the Public Order Bill? Too messy and time-consuming? But that’s democracy isn’t it?

The Government is there to protect the people but I think sometimes, we also need to ask if getting too much “protection’’ is a good thing for us, the people.

Bad memories

In Politics, Society on January 19, 2015 at 10:11 am

A couple of weeks ago, my publisher asked if he could play an excerpt from a video made during the launch of my book, Troublemaker. He was interested in the portion where I had been asked about the worst time of my journalistic career. I had replied that it was during the Marxist conspiracy of 1987.

His company, Ethos, had a book coming out, by Father G Arotcarena, one of four Catholic priests who had been named in so-called plot. The Frenchman had written Priest in Geylang, about the establishment of the Geylang Catholic Centre which had to be closed down during that time. I had described it as a terrible period when journalists twiddled their thumbs because an editorial decision had been made to simply run material from the Internal Security Department in full. There was to be, in journalistic parlance, no value-added reporting.

As a rookie reporter who was so pleased to have been recalled to work in anticipation of covering news of an Internal Security Department operation, the assignment was such a let-down – journalistically. We were not to ask questions of anyone nor can we do what we usually do with verbose reports – write it journalistically. I was too low in the hierarchy – and much too green – to give vent to my views. We did what editors, who presumably were better-informed than we were, told us to do – which was nothing.

My publisher, Hoe Fang, wanted to play the video during the book launch on the Saturday. The book reprised quite a lot of never-before-revealed details of the time. I said okay (in return for a free copy of the book!) I finished the slim volume in a few hours on Sunday,  surprised that Hoe Fang had several mentions in it as well.

We’ve heard many views about Operation Spectrum (I certainly didn’t know at that time that that was its codename), including from those who had been incarcerated. But the Catholic church had kept a studious silence. Now a priest whom I knew from way back when I was a teenager, has spoken up.

I remember Fr Arotcarena as a very energetic priest who surprised people by breaking out into fluent  Mandarin. He preached often in my Siglap parish as he was based at the next nearest church in Katong. When the names of four priests were released to the media, he was the only one I knew. I also knew that he ran the Geylang Catholic Centre which was well known for its work for abused Filipina maids. You could say it was the fore-runner of the groups which have since sprouted up looking to protect the interests of foreign workers against unscrupulous employers here. At that time, there was hardly any form of “civil society’’.

The book is a narrative of Fr Arotcarena’s attempts to put the faith into practice, whether by relating with prisoners in Changi or the marginalized, such as foreign maid population here. He wanted to do more than just preach from the pulpit. There are several accounts of the people he met. He told stories of robbers and thieves he’s met, as well as those on death row. Of abused maids with bosses were so unreasonable that one of them even wrote on her passport indicating that she was a carrying a bomb on the plane that she was about to board for home. (The employer was later convicted of disseminating a bomb hoax). Of the reformed and the un-reformed and those who couldn’t get their life back on trach. There was even a “kidnapping’’ that he was called to when one of his charges brandished a knife in front of another priest and some layman.

Fr Arotcarena also had his own personal tales. Of the centre being broke. Of warnings by friendly parties that his centre was being watched. Of attempted seductions which, he thinks, had been “officially’’ sanctioned to trip him up. Also, of course, of continued visits by officials, whether in uniform or plainclothes, his own call-up to ISD and a few cloak-and-dagger scenes which involved an ISD officer named Charly.

In a chapter titled Inside the Catholic Church in Singapore, he recounted how the Church had issued an official statement asserting that it had the right to intervene on social matters and to uphold its moral values. It was read out at all masses. One weekday evening, a solemn mass was organized in my parish church to pray for the detainees and their families.

I was there, in my capacity as a journalist. The church was filled to the rafters and beyond. Thousands crammed into the space. The atmosphere was so silent and tense you could have heard a pin drop. The congregation was clinging on to every word of the Archbishop who had 30 priests in attendance. I was recognized by fellow church-goers and endured the hostile glares sent my way. Still, that wasn’t as bad as the tongue-lashing I received from a priest in my parish a couple of days later. He had some choice  swear words for me. I went home crying.

Fr. Arotcarena thinks that the mass mass was the trigger for the scaling up of official activity. A meeting between Church and State was organized and the Archbishop was surprised into holding a press conference. The Prime Minister had ushered him into a roomful of waiting journalists, something that was not on the agenda of their meeting, said Fr Arotcarena. I can still recall the Archbishop’s face and posture on “live’’ TV. He looked beaten down, especially next to a vigorous Lee Kuan Yew who even finished some of his sentences on his behalf. As a Catholic, I felt tremendous pain for the gentle bishop. When the dust had more or less settled, he suffered a heart attack.

There were some things Fr Arotcarena said which were new to me, like the kind of pressure the ISD asserted on the Church authorities to have the four priests not just resign from their respective posts as they had offered to, but to be officially suspended with no contact allowed with each other. Despite the bishop’s protestations that such ecclesiastical sanctions took time, Fr Arotcarena asserted that the bishop was forced to make a statement almost immediately. “That was the end of the resistance of the Catholic Church,’’ said Fr Arotcarena. He left town for Paris that same evening.

His departure, and that of another priest, was the subject of the only exclusive story I wrote during the whole period. I had heard about their departures the next morning and had proceeded to the Church of St Peter and Paul where I knew the Vicar-General, right-hand man of the bishop, would be. He was in church, deep in prayer on his knees. I waited for what seemed like ages for him to get up from his knees and emerge, feeling more wretched by the minute. He was kind enough to confirm the story and I had my exclusive printed on the back page of ST. (At that time, the front and back pages were the premium pages.) It was picked up the world over.

There was one other instance of reporting I was involved in. We had been told that the G had met leading Catholics, including the late Dr Ee Peng Liang, over the matter. The media made a beeline for Dr Ee’s  home late that night after the meeting was over. He tried oh so carefully to answer questions, mainly to reiterate that “yes, we met’’ and trying very hard not to say more. He looked wretched. And I felt wretched.

Truth to tell, I have never found the ISD’s reasons for the arrests convincing. What Marxism? What liberation theology? The detainees seemed to be a bunch of people who wanted to do good. Maybe it was because Fr Arotcarena is French, despite being a PR, and we can’t have foreigners interfering in local politics? But what “politics’’ is this? Were their actions really subversive? If so, plenty of groups today should be locked up by the ISD for doing more or less what the “conspirators’’ did.

I doubt that the G won the political battle for the people’s hearts and minds over this issue then. Although the ISA was in place to nab people “before bad things happen’’, the evidence produced was simply unconvincing and the actions taken, too high-handed, to put it mildly. Even Mr Goh Chok Tong who was then-DPM, said the next year that the G could have been gentler.  Of course, several more things happened after the first round of arrests. Some of the detainees who were released recanted and got thrown back in.

Then came a tip-off that one of the priests involved was seeing a woman. My bosses wanted the story “broken’’ – and assigned it to me. I said no. I suggested to him that it would better to move the assignment to another journalist, maybe a non-Catholic. I got a dressing down from my boss for being “unprofessional’’. Still, the job went to someone else. Now, a rookie reporter getting such a drubbing from a top boss is a big deal. But I really did not want to be the one who hung up my church’s dirty linen, if there was any, to dry. My church is bigger than my job. (The priest has since left the church and married the woman.)

Reading Priest in Geylang only made me feel wretched. It was one period in my reporting career, and even in Singapore’s short history, that I would rather forget. Older Catholics will remember how we felt under siege at that time. It left a deep mark on the Catholic psyche.

Then I think about the celebrations being drummed up for SG50. Yes, I agree that this little red dot has come a long way. But I don’t think we should ignore the parts of history that aren’t so agreeable or politically acceptable. We have warts – and they too make up the face that is now Singapore.

When absolute freedom of speech meets threshold of tolerance

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 9, 2015 at 2:12 am

So 12 people, including two policemen, at the office of a French satirical magazine have died, shot by two armed men one of whom was known to the authorities for his nutty views.

The reaction in France and worldwide was spontaneous – who, after all, would not condemn killing? There’s no sound from militant groups which use Islam as their banner either, even though reports said the two terrorists invoked Allah during their shooting spree. (Note: I did not say militant Muslim groups because it seems too crazy a description and a little insulting to the religion to have its name pinned on people who kill people.)

I am upset at what happened to my former French counterparts. But I confess that I can’t help tut-tutting as well. The things that Charlie Hebdo got up to with its depictions of Islam, other religions and politicians – more like denigration than satire – would never see light of day in Singapore. So finely-tuned is the journalistic antenna here, even though years have passed since the Maria Hertogh riots were sparked by the publication of a newspaper photograph of the girl taken from her Muslim foster-parents, kneeling in a church.

Race and religion were (or are still?) subjects most journalists we would rather not touch with a 10-foot pole unless it is to document the various festivals. Which is why some people felt some consternation when the G broke its own unwritten mantra of dissociating race and religion from national life. Like when it encouraged the setting-up of community self-help groups and started releasing examination results of the various races. The justification was pragmatic: people in the same community would do more to help and accept help from their own kind. (BTW, did you know you can’t touch on race and religion in Hong Lim Park?)

It became so that one American consultant remarked to me a few years ago that it is wonder that religion and religious issues were not widely reported in the media given the extent of worship here with its mosques, temples and churches. Tentatively, I set up a religion “beat’’ in my old newspaper. Tentatively, I say, because I wasn’t sure what would count as religious news in a secular paper. How to avoid stepping on some religion’s toes if there was too much coverage of the happenings in another religion? How to get around accusations that individual journalists or the paper as a whole might be religiously prejudiced?

I digress. Back to Paris…

If Charlie Hebdo did what it did here in Singapore, I can just imagine the weight of the G bearing down on it, with accusations of threatening the social fabric of this multi-racial, multi-religious society. Any combination of the Penal Code, Sedition Act and Internal Security Act would have been invoked. Licences stand to be revoked. Apologies, retractions and reparations would be demanded. That would be the State reacting.

What about the people here? I think they too would agree with the State action, because we simply can’t conceive of being rude to another religion in such a public space. Sure, words have been exchanged between some church groups and civil society types in recent time, but there have remained, well, online and among individuals. No broadcasting or publishing institution would devote its work mainly to making fun of what is sacred to some groups. Not even the satirical online sites operating here; politicians are the preferred target.

I look at the French and I think about how different their society is. It prides itself on freedom of expression. Its own politicians have tried to get Charlie Hebdo to tone down – but in the way a parent would chide a child. It gave police protection even after the newsroom was firebombed for its issue with the prophet as “guest editor” in 2012. Here, it probably would have been closed down. Even in the United States, that bastion of freedom of speech, the White House spokesman then wondered about the “judgment’’ behind decisions to publish offensive cartoons.

Of the massacre, Financial Times columnist Tony Barber wrote that the magazine exercised “editorial foolishness.” He went on: “If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech.” Of course, “this is not in the slightest to condone the murderers… it is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications… which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.”

(BTW, FT clarified later that this was an opinion piece, not its editorial. Interesting huh?)

In Malaysia, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohammad said: “I do not support the killings. But we must be mindful that when we purposely provoke others, we cannot be sure how they will react.’’

Charlie’s supporters can say that it pokes fun at the Catholic church and the Jews too, so why should it not be even-handed with Islam? In other words, why is the threshold of tolerance so low when it comes to Islam? And must the magazine deviate from editorial policy because of “sensitivities’’ of a particular group? Among the responses advanced is that besides Islam, other religions are not do devoutly or obsessively held by their followers, particularly in Europe.

The French might want to consider that its own social dynamics have changed over the years, with the advent of immigrants of other religions particularly from North Africa. The French might have held firm to absolute freedom of speech as a cherished principle all along, but this might not be the case for the “new’’ French. With increasing self-radicalisation among the Muslims in France (they form the biggest European contingent which have gone to fight the cause of the Islamic State), adhering to principle of absolute freedom of speech might well be like waving a red flag at a bull. With consequences that are dire for the rest…

I guess people will now ask me for my own bottomline…

Here goes: Killing cannot be condoned. It is the most extreme form of extremism. There are other ways to seek redress, particularly in a liberal democracy. Go protest in front of the newspaper office. Bombard the editor with letters. Get a petition up. Tell people not to buy or subscribe to it. Set up a magazine to counter Charlie Hebdo. If you are living in a country where the value of freedom of speech has been forged over the years, then try to live by it. Or work at changing the value system to include greater respect for religion.

As a Singaporean citizen living here, I value peace and civility towards each other, regardless of race, language, religion, economic class and sexual orientation. And I believe this to be the case for most people. If there are some restrictions on speech about religion to preserve social harmony, I can live with it. Religion is not worth killing over.

A life-and-death conversation

In News Reports, Society on January 5, 2015 at 8:47 am

So there’s a row about a columbarium to be built by a private company next to a  BTO development called Fernvale Lea in Sengkang. Prospective residents who’ve put down money say that the publicity materials gave more focus to the building of a Chinese temple rather than its attached columbarium. Unfair, they said. They might not have bought the BTO flat if they knew. Some want their money back.

Here’s the story:

Dead: Wow! What a beautiful home I will have in this new housing estate. Did you see the architecture? It must be because a private developer is doing this. Life Corp. How nice, the name…I’m dying to move in.

Living: Please lah. I am going to move into the area too. Why can’t you stay at some ulu place far away like where the foreign worker dorms are sited?

Dead: Eh, you didn’t read the brochures properly ah? Anyway, you won’t be able to see my home. I think I am going to be underground – as usual. And my neighbours and I are just taking up 20 per cent of the place.

Living: Doesn’t matter! Fact is, I didn’t know you were going to be my neighbor. Never mind if you’re out of sight. The fact people know you are there is going to push down my resale price!

Dead: Oi! This is going to be my permanent home! You already thinking of selling yours ah? Plenty of other residential areas have columbariums. Next door at Anchorvale, there are three Chinese temples with columbariums! So what’s your problem?

Living: I don’t care. Maybe those stupid residents there bought and didn’t know until they moved in. But now that the rest of us who haven’t moved in know, we die, die want something done! I bet the G just gave the land  to the highest bidder which happens to be a private developer. What kind of private developer builds temples?

Dead: Don’t confuse the issue. If it’s some Chinese society which builds my home, you’ll still kao peh, kao bu. (Oops! They not alive ah…sorry…did you put them in some ulu place…?) Okay, okay, you just don’t want to live with the dead. I assure you I won’t be any problem at all. I won’t make any noise, won’t spit, won’t litter. I am not even a foreigner. You will hardly see me. And remember that it’s a columbarium, not a crematorium!

Living: But what about your relatives and so who come and visit you? There will be traffic jams during Ching Ming! This is a deadly serious issue!

Dead: Your relatives don’t visit you ah? Public holidays no jams ah? I thought the Government wants family members to stay tight knit! You don’t want my relatives to visit me ah? How many times you visit your parents?

Living: Not the point! Not your business how often I visit my parents. I want my money back. Refund! Of all things, put a columbarium there… Why not a hawker centre or childcare centre or something? The space is supposed to be for community use right? This is a new development, probably plenty of young families…why remind us of what will happen to us eventually?

Dead: Are you superstitious? Or it’s just resale value you worry about. So other people are superstitious but not you…Got find out whether resale prices near columbariums really go down or not? Anyway, where you expect me to go? Bukit Brown already gone. Chua Chu Kang…hmmm…landed property. Already filled and maybe even some re-settlement… My children should have scattered my ashes into the sea…..waaaaiiiilllll

Living: Stop this rubbish! Not blaming you! Blaming the government! The HDB! The MP! Money grubbing capitalist corporations! All trying to hoodwink decent hardworking residents!

Dead: Anyway, you go see what your MP can do lah. You keep the issue alive, maybe the government will go soft and relent. Or maybe the deal already signed and sealed in concrete. Dead in the water liao.

Living: It’s very simple. We don’t have enough land for the living and the dead. The living must take priority. The dead should remain dead silent. So shut up and stay dead!

The influential crowd

In News Reports, Society on January 4, 2015 at 8:09 am

In the realm of social media, there is this creature known as the “influencer’’. It’s a new term that refers to people with an online following; supposed trend-setters who can shape the behavior and opinions of many. The term is now in vogue because of a spat between blogger diva/social influencer XiaXue and a social media marketing firm known as GushCloud.

It’s over the whole business of “influence’’ – whether faked or not in terms of the number of followers and the kind of analytics used. It’s over whether influencers are really peddling products without telling people that they have been paid to do so. It might also be over getting publicity for sponsors and influencers by generating “news’’ that also made it into the offline media. If so, social media has managed to trump mainstream media. What is news on social media is also news on MSM, expanding exponentially the influence of social influencers….

And there is now the term “style’’ influencers – this refers to trendy IT (not info tech) people who pose in various items of dress and undress and which have thousands of people drooling over their Instagram pictures. MSM readers have since been introduced to four of them, all of whom profess to be simple and down-to-earth girls in their glam outfits. Now whether young people rush to get the same outfits or not is not clear. But in the SunTimes, the sponsors say that this does happen – although you wouldn’t think they could say otherwise.

I congratulate these “influencers’’. Seriously. They’ve shown that you don’t need to join a beauty pageant, learn how to model or enter some Star Search contest to be a star. You just need a sense of style, willing sponsors and a good social media marketing firm. The young ones have achieved in a much shorter time than what their older counterparts took to make the spotlight and become “brand’’ ambassadors. They are making big bucks although no one is on record for saying how much – but I guess it’s more than they would get in an “ordinary’’ full-time job starting at the bottom of the ladder.  It’s a new way of making money off big business.

I suppose there are also eating (gourmet?) influencers and tech influencers who tell you about good places to eat and what high-tech gadget to buy. Whether they have been paid to put up a good review, fed well and given freebies, is something else. Xia Xue, an ex-journalist claimed that some of GushCloud’s “influencers’’ don’t declare this upfront. I know of one such blogger/influencer who told an open forum that she doesn’t do it because “my readers don’t like it’’. Ouch!

I haven’t wrapped my head around the phenomenon. I dislike the term influence because it is too broad and all-encompassing. Can an influencer really change behavior and shape opinion? Or do they simply influence buying trends? Whatever happened to the term “style-setter’’ or “trend-setter’’ or even “social butterfly’’ and “fashion promoter’’? It strikes me as really odd for an 18 year old to be known as an “influencer’’ of young people and crowing about her ability to “impact their lives’’. A little humility and restraint, my dear girl, is more becoming…

It’s all in the power of marketing, I suppose. As someone who used to work in MSM, I have always been wary about using made-up terms that convey more than they actually mean. I would have set some standards in terms of quantifying “influence’’, size and type of fan base before dignifying someone as an “influencer’’. Maybe I would even make a distinction between whether they are “paid’’ influencers or not. The second is more credible than the first of course. Just as a paid newspaper like ST should be regarded as more credible than a free paper like TODAY or My Paper – because its readers bother to pay money for it and it is not totally dependent on advertising. (Go ahead…hit me)

According to Sunday Life, The Influencer Network Communications has about 200 influencers while Nuffnang has 60,000 bloggers but says about 100 of them are the more influential ones. Gushcloud says it has 200 influencers. So all in, there are at least 500 influencers, many more than there are Members of Parliament.

MP: Hi, I am an MP for XX. I have 60,000 constituents.

Influencer: So few? I am an influencer with 120,000 fans.

MP: I speak for the people in Parliament and influence or try to influence policy. I get a monthly allowance.

Influencer: I pose on Instagram and influence or try to influence people to buy stuff I wear. I get paid by sponsors.

MP: Are you more influential than me?

Influence: Of course! Get your party to sign me up as an “influencer’’! I will make sure I mix-and-match everything I wear including eye shadow and lipstick in your party colours! Sure win election one!

(Okay, I was being naughty there…)

Now…to get to the point. Frankly, I don’t think we should be all het up about the influencers. These young people are having fun being in the limelight and their fans are enjoying themselves vicariously through them.

Sure, there is the harm that over-consumption can occur with young ones wanting to emulate dressing and lifestyle. One academic said young people and prospective consumers need to consider conflicts of interest, source, credibility and quality of information when considering what an influencer recommends. To translate: Do you know if the influencer is paid to say/do/eat/wear/use those things? Is all the info coming from one source – the sponsor? Is the info accurate and can comparisons be made? Is there enough information anyway – or is the product, hmm, cancer-causing?

But advertising (whether disguised or product placement) melded with a sort of hero worshipping has been around since the age of communications…think radio stars and television icons and the Beatles. Except that instead of just so many “big heroes’’, we have plenty of “small heroes’’. The problem will be when everything important revolves on status and style – rather than substance. When people want to emulate what is on the outside rather than inside. When style, eating and possessions are what people talk about, not anything heavier that would strain the brain. What’s worse….when we strain the brain just so that we can achieve style and status. When we hanker after good jobs and big salaries not to give our work and life meaning, but to acquire the adornments and accoutrements of status. To say…we have arrived!!!

So I do hope that the influencers of style will also temper their displays with an influence over the mind. You know what they say about having power also means taking responsibility. That is more difficult, methinks, than looking good.

Is this home – truly?

In News Reports, Society on January 3, 2015 at 1:09 am

I have been thinking for weeks about writing a “look forward’’ blog post – and now it’s too late. It’s Jan 3. So many people are crystal ball gazing or putting forth personal or national aspirations that I was flummoxed last night when a friend asked if I had a resolution for the new year. I realized that I don’t have one.

But a thought struck me when I was scanning today’s newspapers. I think the article in ST would have caught readers’ eyes: how a Duxton Pinnacle flat fetched $900,000 in the resale market. It’s a 95 sq m flat bought for $340,000. Woooah! So the iconic (or ugly, in my view) Pinnacle flats were finally allowed on the resale market a month ago after meeting the HDB’s ownership deadline rules. The article tried to dampen any feelings of envy by talking about how unique the flat is, and how neighbouring similar sized HDB flats were already going for three-quarters of a million bucks.

First thought: What a windfall for the couple who sold the unit! It doesn’t seem to have been affected by the fall in HDB resale prices,  by 6.1 per cent for the whole of last year! Then again, we wouldn’t know since the Pinnacle@Duxton is a new product on the market. Which leaves me to think: how many others in this HDB estate would be off-loading their flats for such a windfall? I see a green-eyed monster growing in me….

How many people actually age in place? According to HDB, six in 10 people are still living in their first flat. That’s good – because it is their home, truly.

Apparently, most of them are concentrated in the Tanjong Pagar (where Duxton is) and Chinatown areas. I don’t think anyone is surprised by the places named. That’s where quite a few of the elderly live, and they would want to age in place, as many elderly people want. In fact, a survey last year showed that about 81 per cent of those above 65 want to age in their existing flat, as they found it comfortable, had an emotional attachment to it, or want their children to inherit the flat. I think the HDB upgrading projects are magnificent moves to get people to stay in place. I can’t imagine my mother, for example, negotiating the stairs at her age without a lift that stops at every floor. Perhaps, the upgrading programmes contributed to the six in 10 ratio of people staying put. Or it could have been smaller.

But staying put for ages can be viewed as quite silly because the residents didn’t take advantage of buying and selling, upgrading to a bigger flat and reaping profits. That’s what most people think about – the future gain. That’s why you have people who bought BTO flats in Sengkang grumbling about the siting of a columbarium. They haven’t even moved in, and they’re thinking about resale prices…

So the HDB wants to come up with more ways for families to live near each other. If the elderly wants to age in place, and the younger ones are attracted by market incentives (read: subsidies/grants) to live near them, hopefully the younger ones will want to age in place and the cycle starts again with their children. Except I am now reading about people asking for home distances to be “widened’’ for incentives to live near each other. (I was thinking to myself, maybe the HDB should give incentives for parents and children to live in the same constituency/GRC…that’s a wide enough distance…)

Professor Tommy Koh wrote about his three wishes for the new year published in ST today, and worried that Singapore was becoming a “market society’’ which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  He hopes that Singapore will be less obsessed with money and less materialistic.

Maybe we can start by not thinking of the place we live in as something we can make money from. But as a home.

According to a five-yearly HDB household survey released last week, fewer HDB residents are satisfied with their flat, a drop from 96.4 per cent in 2008 to 91 per cent last year. Residents’ main concerns were related to the condition of ageing flats, HDB stated. Additionally, resident satisfaction with their neighbourhood stood at 92 per cent, down from 95.1 per cent five years ago. Respondents cited inconsiderate neighbours as the main reason, HDB said. (So either we’ve become more inconsiderate over the years or we have new types of neighbours…I don’t think I want to go there…)

About 25 per cent of the complaints that HDB receives concern ceiling leakages in flats, according to MND minister Khaw Boon Wan.  Now, the responsibility for maintaining the flats and addressing such leakages fall on both the upper and lower floor flats. The problem arises when the upper floor residents refuse to allow HDB officers in to fix the leaks, which could take as long as three months or even a year to fix. I think the problem is also the cost which the upper floor residents will also have to bear – the HDB funds half, the other half is split between upper and lower floors. Since the upper floor residents aren’t affected, they would view it as an imposition…until THEIR own ceiling leaks.

Mr Khaw wants more power for the HDB to enter flats. It’s a reasonable request for power even though I don’t like it at all. I guess we have to get used to living in older structures and know where responsibility lies…and maybe more emphasis on this should be placed. I don’t just mean promoting neighbourliness, but a DIY culture.

I have always been amazed at how westerners fix up everything in the house on their own without resorting to cleaners, painters, plumbers, electricians and carpenters. I suppose it’s because it is cheaper to do so. Here, it might well be cheaper and more convenient or even a habit to just sell and move out to a newer place. We don’t have a DIY culture, but a disposable one.

My own place is getting old. I have to fix one air-con unit, lights in the living room and my book collection has outgrown the shelf space I have. I need to change my sofa and television set both of which have been with me for more than 10 years. I am getting annoyed at the surrounding construction work which will block my view of the neighbourhood when the buildings are up. I suppose I can also look for a newer place since I will get a good profit from my home despite falling resale prices. But I think not.

So my new year resolution will be: This is my home, truly – and I will make it beautiful.

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