berthahenson

Posts Tagged ‘Breakfast Network’

Feet planted firmly on the ground

In News Reports on June 11, 2015 at 11:44 pm

The Middle Ground – quite self-explanatory methinks. It’s the space between two extremes. It’s broad. It’s moderate. A space that isn’t about ranting or raving or shoving people to a point of view. So….it’s neither here nor there? I suppose the idea is to cover many viewpoints, but it doesn’t mean that TMG per se won’t take a position. That position will be based on this principle: We believe in the development of an active and accountable citizenry which needs to be equipped with more, not less, information to make decisions for themselves.

We live in an era of too much information. We are so overwhelmed with information and detail that we can’t tell what’s relevant or significant or what gems are hidden in the sand. I’m always frustrated by incomprehensible news reports. I grit my teeth at unanswered questions or worse, questions that were not even asked. I have always thought that if an information junkie like me, who reads news reports voraciously, can’t fathom the what and especially the why of developments deemed worthy of publicity, then how can most other people?

What is the significance and implications of, say, Medishield Life or China’s threatening noises in the South China Sea or Dr Mahathir’s diatribes on Malaysian PM Najib? Important news, boringly-written, makes the reader go “…again..same/old…same/ old….So why should I care?’’

I’m hoping TMG will be able to cut to the chase and yes, make important stories interesting. I have always maintained that news is exciting; it’s the journalist who made it boring. Hands up those who have been following the City Harvest trial. I confess that I’ve left off reading the reports although it is significant that a megachurch is in court and you wonder if followers in other churches and religious organisations have been similarly, allegedly, duped.

Capturing reader interest accounts for the many different story-telling styles that have emerged especially with the facility of online tools. Therefore, let me give you 10 things you need to know about the City Harvest trial… I’m sure people will appreciate this. But guess what? It means some other people would have to read through all the reports and come up with the 10 points. And you would have to trust those people to get the most important 10 points and not just give you a dumb list. You would also like it better if the 10 points were beautifully written, even funny. That sort of work, however, takes even more talent than long-form, boring but accurate writing.

So that’s one of the things The Middle Ground will do: make the news manageable enough for you to declare yourself at least halfway informed on most things, and fully informed on the critical stuff that we think you should know about. (Yes, it has to be “we think’’ because there must be selective curation and editing of stories or we’ll die typing).

Of course, there will be plenty of space for opinion. By that, I mean, informed views. TMG will have plenty, put forth in a way that hopefully doesn’t grate on too many nerves or sound too self-righteous. Tone is everything. A little wit and humour is good. You can pack a lot in a humorous or satirical line but you’ve got to hope that your readers are on the same wavelength…

If there’s one big section that will mark TMG as different from Breakfast Network, it will be the News-U-can-use section. Here’s where I should elaborate on the other meaning of The Middle Ground. It’s also about the needs of the middle income group of Singaporeans – working adults with school-going children and elderly parents to support. They need help to lead their lives, work at their careers, bring up children and take care of the elderly. These are busy people torn in several directions with varied responsibilities. TMG will try to keep them happy, healthy and wise…

I end here by telling you that I am NOT the prime mover of TMG. I had to be persuaded. Reason: I was torn between maintaining my current relaxed lifestyle and the lure of being in the hectic business of news, views and news-you-can-use. So nice to just be a blogger or even a “social influencer’’ and write what I want whenever I want. But it is not to be…

Tomorrow, you will be introduced to the prime mover of TMG.

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I’m in the middle of something…

In News Reports on June 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm

I have been off blogging for a while because I have been thinking about how to do a new news/views website. I miss Breakfast Network – that pro bono passion project which almost became a business until bureaucracy got in the way.

I like blogging, I do. I like the ability to say anything about anything with no one standing over my shoulder. I like breaking out of the usual news report/column/long form styles that restrict journalists’ ability to play with the language. Content is king, but story-telling can take different forms.

Plus, as a blogger, I don’t always have to draw a line between news and views. I can get self-righteous and indignant and emo. It’s just my take. It’s personal! You can tell that I’ve never really cared about getting eyeballs. I use a free WordPress platform. I don’t ask for ads. I don’t even care about putting up a visual which I have been told time and again would increase the number of eyeballs to my blog.

I just want to write.

If blogging was more “professional’’, I would add links to sites so that you will have more information. I would even spell-check (!) and re-write my pieces.  Instead, I am sorry to say that most of what you read are first drafts – and I do wish sometimes that I had someone who can cast a second eye over my work. Every writer needs an editor.

But it isn’t journalism. It isn’t original content. It isn’t pure reportage. It isn’t neutral. Of course, you can argue that professional journalism isn’t “neutral’’ or “pure’’ either, as it is grounded in editorial directions, government policy, corporate interests and the narrative of the day as dictated by ….someone else?

So can blogging and journalism be combined? Can aspects of social media be “professionalised’’?

I think so. Some of the rules of journalism can and should be imported, especially attribution and verification. There is one other principle that online journalism should apply: putting things in context and giving perspective. Very few things are really “new’’ or “astounding’’, yet a rape case or an administrative blunder takes on the proportions of a Titanic disaster (even in MSM) when the truth is, not all women are rape victims and the administrative wheels do run very well most times.

But I think that sticking to pure reporting and pure commentary might be going the way of the dodo. Why? Because most people don’t want to read TWICE – and you’d be lucky that if people read one piece from start to end. So news and views (of others and even the writer) have to be married and the baby would have to be presented in the way that best catches the eye of the beholder.

Social media leads the reading pattern with its click-baits as “headlines’’….such as….I didn’t think I would go crazy until I read this…This is the most amazing thing you’ll ever see in your life…ecetera. Buzzfeed et al think that listicles are the way to go. Then there are sites which believe extremism works best – always get angry and make people angrier. There are also sites which think making a mountain out of a molehill is the way to go – as well as  repeating old news because they worked the last time …so why not again?

How does one even begin to conceptualise a news site then? The easiest way is to set it up as a foil. Just put it against MSM and make sure most of the angles and types of stories are different. Then tout the site as “alternative’’. Better still, as anti-establishment. Or as a useful addition to the parched MSM landscape.

Nothing wrong with it.

But then a person who wants to be fully-informed would have to read both mediums – and make up his or her own mind about what he or she feels about what they have read. Yes, feel. Most times, reading/watching is more about “feeling’’ than about being “enlightened’’. (Tip: Always make sure you end the piece well, rather than let it taper off….)

The other way is to curate or edit effectively, selecting topics of interest to the readership or alerting them to news that they will make them lead better lives. The trouble today is that we have too much news and too many facts – and we don’t know what to do with them. In fact, sometimes we’re so numbed by the news that we become indifferent to happenings elsewhere. A news organization should make sense of the news – especially what they mean.

So what is this new website going to offer? More Breakfast Network stuff? Actually, I have been describing it as Breakfast Network plus plus. The people behind it, which includes me, have decided to name it The Middle Ground. We start on Monday.

To be continued tomorrow…

Turning 50 – ME, not Sg

In Society, Writing on November 27, 2014 at 2:26 am

Old is gold, so I’m told

It’s a line which leaves me cold

Turning 50 is to me

Living half a century

Creaky knees, eyes can’t see

Flesh aligned with gravity

Turning 50 is to me

Living life more crazily

Thank you all for your best wishes

I’m getting ready some fine dishes

Hope they will erase your frown

Age will NEVER get me down!

Twenty years ago, I wrote a column about coming to terms with turning 30. I went into the third decade kicking and screaming, looking with alarm at the mirror and wondering if that’s yet another grey strand on my head. Now, my head is camouflaged, courtesy of good hair colouring and the expert snip of my hairstylist’s scissors. I take off my glasses to read, realizing that I am not just short-sighted but long-sighted as well. I wonder if I should have had Lasik surgery but I gather I’m past the age for it. It does allow me, however, the excuse to collect an array of spectacles to fit clothes for various occasions.

Half a century later and what have I done? At a gathering of ex-classmates recently, all of us celebrating our 50th birthday, I count the number of the “girls’’ who are married with children. “Doing NS’’, “now taking A levels’’, “going abroad to study’’, ‘’empty nest’’. Very mother-like statements which leave this single woman nonplussed. I suppose at age 50, you would have chalked up some achievements, both materially, mentally and, ah, biologically. Then the “girls’’ turn to me, expecting I don’t know what sort of a riot of a life accounting…

I suppose at age 50, it’s natural to take a look at your balance sheet. How far have you climbed up the corporate ladder? How are your kids doing? What’s your bank account like? Who are the friends you have collected? How’s your cholesterol? Are you still as stressed out at age 30 or 40? Have you fulfilled your childhood dream or are you still caught up in the rat race, operating day by day in this tedium that is your life?

Accounting is a fearful thing. I mean, what if you fall short? Are you going to spend the rest of your short life making up for mistakes and mis-steps of the past? Get yourself into some mid-life crisis and buy a fast car? (I can’t do that because I don’t drive) Quickly see what you haven’t got done, and go do it? I suppose some people will do that because they hear the clock ticking and want to get as much out of life as they can.

Am I different?

Some years ago, I wrote a column on the end of life. Nothing morbid. I just think that everyone must have an end goal or what they would like carved on their tombstone . I want to be remembered as a good daughter, a good sister, a good boss and a good friend. Fulfilling all four is good enough for a good life for me. Then. Now I add a fifth: A good citizen.

That probably sounds corny to people, like some national education or civics lesson. It probably doesn’t figure on most people’s radar because being a good citizen comes naturally no? Pay your taxes, don’t break the law…don’t spit, litter or defeacate in public places… But I am talking about being invested in this place we call home and getting involved in the big discussions of the day. It’s one reason I keep writing. I do it for pleasure and out of passion. I am glad that I have time for this pursuit, even though people ascribe all sorts of motives to what I do.

Frankly, I don’t care what people say. That’s the good thing about being old(er). There is no more the neediness of youth, this keeping up of appearances (just use good skin care products). You develop enough self-confidence to both stay the course and accept other points of view graciously. You know the importance of growing old gracefully. You become pretty zen.

I think I am pretty zen – and that is helped admittedly by my not being tethered by mortgages and re-payment plans. But on top of zen, the other important thing to me now that I am late in my life, is not to take things too seriously. I see people online ranting unreasonably, irrationally and rudely, casting a sour pall over everything and I wonder if they think they are smart or realize that they are just very, very unhappy people.

At the end of the day, and of your life, that’s really what we wish for no? To be happy.

Besides the five “goods’’ listed above, here’s what will make ME happy

  1. Going on a rail holiday in India, one of the few places I haven’t been to
  2. Getting myself a very, very expensive designer bag because I can surely afford it since people half my age can….
  3. Mastering the Chinese language
  4. Resurrecting Breakfast Network

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 http://www.ethosbooks.com.sg 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.

Wishfully thinking wishb

In News Reports on April 5, 2014 at 3:16 am

I was angry yesterday. Today I am just sad. I had banked on The Straits Times correcting its inaccurate statement on the closure of Breakfast Network.

It didn’t.

It had said in yesterday’s edition that the Media Development Authority ordered the site and its Facebook page closed after my crew and I “refused’’ to register. This was inserted as background in an article on the MDA telling news site Mothership to register: In the same month, Breakfast Network was ordered to close down its website and Facebook page after it refused to register

The fact is, the MDA never ordered us to do so. We opted to do so because we knew we couldn’t meet the registration requirements. We didn’t wait for any order.

TODAY newspaper got it right in its article: Last year, two websites with a socio-political bent were asked to register, sparking an outcry from some who were concerned that would dampen online debate.  The Independent complied with the request, while the Breakfast Network opted to shut down, citing the onerous requirements for registration.

I said on my FB wall yesterday morning that ST had got it wrong and that I would like a correction and an apology. No one contacted me. There is no apology.

I suppose some people might say that the ST was not wrong in saying we were ordered to shut down because it’s a fait accompli. Well, I disagree. The implication of ST’s phrase is that we were recalcitrants who had to be told to shut down. Not so. We volunteered. We made that plain, on the record. MDA didn’t need to exercise its regulatory powers; we saved MDA from looking like a bully. We didn’t want a prolonged battle.

As for the Breakfast Network Facebook Page, it’s still alive. You can go check it out.  

 You see, what MDA was concerned about in this whole business of registration of sites which discuss local politics and religion, was that a company had been set up to run the site as a business and therefore supposedly more susceptible to the receipt of undesirable foreign funding.

I shut the company down.

I can think of a few reasons/excuses ST declined/refused to run a What It Should Have Been, never mind that one of its cherished mantras is “accuracy, accuracy, accuracy’’.

  1. She didn’t come to us officially, but chose to make a statement on her Facebook wall. So no formal complaint, no correction.
  2. MDA didn’t say anything (this is an assumption on my part) and MDA is far bigger than Bertha. So if MDA is okay by it, no correction.
  3. It’s regulatory. So whether Breakfast Network volunteered or not, it was still under orders to close if it doesn’t comply. So no correction.
  4. MDA wanted to know who was behind the FB page, indicating that it should be closed down if run by the people behind the company. Never mind that it’s still alive. It is technically accurate. So no correction.
  5. What’s on social media is crap anyway, so why even bother to check with her or anyone else? No correction.
  6. When is that crazy woman going to stop this? This has-been, washed-up, disgruntled, ungrateful ex-journalist whom we’ve fed for 26 years….Not enough that she trashes our stories almost every day? Who does she think she is? Let her stew. Make her beg. So no correction.

 

I suppose there will be some arguments about a “clarification’’, rather than a correction which would have saved ST from making an apology. But since no one contacted me – whether on FB, through email, by SMS, phone call or What’s App – the instruction was probably “Don’t’’.  I don’t know if it corrected its “files’’ – no one told me.

It’s painful to know that not a single ST journalist bothered to reach me, not even to find out “what’s happening’’. No one is recorded as “liking’’ the FB post although there are plenty of ex-journalists who did so (all of them are disgruntled?) So many on my FB wall, and a studious silence from all. It makes me wonder …. 

I write the things I write because, among other things, I believe strongly in upholding professional standards of journalism. I know how hard it is for journalists and editors to navigate the politics of the country and still do a professional job of reporting. I know how hard it is to fend off commercial interests which want to influence editorial work. I know how hard it is to hold the line. But as I keep telling journalists and anyone who is interested, 99 per cent of the time, you can still do an excellent job of doing your profession proud every day.

Today is not that day.  

Anyway, this is my formal letter to The Straits Times because I gather it will stand behind a “write in officially if you want to complain’’ SOP:

To

Editor/Accuracy Editor

The Straits Times

I am writing in to point out an inaccuracy in your article yesterday, News site told to register. In it, it was reported:  In the same month, Breakfast Network was ordered to close down its website and Facebook page after it refused to register.

I wish to point out that Breakfast Network opted to close down its site because it was unable to cope with the regulatory requirements. Its Facebook page is still operational.

Please publish a correction.

Yours sincerely,

Bertha Henson

 

Why is MDA making a meal out of BN?

In News Reports on December 17, 2013 at 7:19 am

 I am going to KPKB here. I will make sure that I do not defame anyone, including the MDA (even though you can’t defame a G agency). I will not touch on the judiciary. And I will not advocate disobedience – civil or otherwise. 

In other words, I will do my best to be nice. 

What the (insert your choice swear word here) is MDA up to? Why me? Why BN? Isn’t it enough that we write responsible stuff? With bylines and all? We even correct mistakes openly!!! What makes you think we want to take foreign funding?!!! We’re Singaporeans, for crying out loud! We just don’t want to sign your papers! Cannot ah?  

Sorry. I simply had to get that out of the way….

I am floored, flummoxed and flabbergasted at the MDA’s twists and turns. So its replies have NOT been “curiously vague’’ but crystal clear? Gimme a break. Anyway, I leave it to readers to cut through the bureaucratese below:

Image

Image

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I think almost everyone, including the MDA, thought BN would register. I was given a two week deadline (please remember that The Independent was notified in July) to think things through and get my people to agree that we should be registered. 

All I have gotten so far is grief from MDA.

I asked for one month, it gave me one week, because it reckoned the forms were straightforward. You’ve seen those forms on BNFB.  

You would think that with a two-week notice, it would be able to give you quick replies to calls for clarification. It would know what to do/say. I can only guess that it didn’t cater for a “rejection’’. Instead, it was a step-by-step dance. If it had said BNPL should close, then we would have closed it. Instead we closed the site, and left social media to function.Then comes this silly tango about mode of operation, corporate entity etc etc.

So I closed the company, and now it says I should have told them who owns and runs BN’s social media platforms? Well, it’s not BNPL. It’s not me. I’ve quit. As for who the people are, I am tempted to say, what business is it of MDA? If the problem is whether the volunteers are getting foreign funding to run social media, then may I respectfully point out that there are plenty of social media groups which have political and religious content? 

So what in heaven’s name is this? Persecution?

Is MDA making up rules as it goes along?

Frankly, everything is getting stranger and stranger or curiouser and curioser. So if it’s not a company behind it, but an association, a society or an individual– foreign funding issues will not arise? It knows that this would be crazy, and maybe that’s why it wants to know who owns and runs BNFB and Twitter as well. 

If so, then it really has to net every site, social media platform that has political and religious content – never mind that there is no corporate entity behind them.

Is this why it hasn’t answered the critical question of whether the main BN site can be resurrected? Or that BNFB and Twitter can be continued by volunteers using the BN name? Is it still figuring out the answer?

I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at this state of affairs.  

Personally speaking; No fund intended

In News Reports on December 14, 2013 at 1:39 am

First, let me declare that this is my personal blog. It is not owned by any company, including Breakfast Network Private Limited.

Second, I don’t know how come advertisements are sometimes pasted here; I think that’s a WordPress thing. Definitely no money comes to me, whether to write articles or in the form of other revenue for this blog. Swear.

Third, I do have a personal Facebook page. It’s PERSONAL. I am not paid to put up my posts. As for those ads, I think that’s a Facebook thing. I have a personal Twitter account, which I seldom use. Again, no money changed hands. If it did, I think that’s a Twitter thing.  

Finally, below is a satirical piece. Satire. I’m not sure if it counts as political and religious content but I am banking on the above three declarations to ensure that I am the right side of whatever regulations, at least the current ones.

I can’t predict the future.

————————————————————————————————

There was once a man who thought he should open a soup kitchen. You know…like those free meals that churches, temples and mosques dish out to followers and others? (Oops! I better re-write in case this is defined as religious content…)

There was once a group of people (all Singaporeans) who thought they should step up to the nation’s call to contribute to society by providing free food to the under-privileged.

They borrowed pots and pans and even filched some from home to set up a kitchen and dining area. A company called WordPress gave them premises for free. A company called Facebook did their public relations work for them. Twitter, another company, also said it could post short messages for them as a marketing tool. Both pro bono.

They found it tough. They didn’t know who was poor because there was no poverty line. But never mind that. They thought they would just start a kitchen anyway for anyone who wanted free meals, whether rich or poor, foreigner or local, pro-G or anti-G. One of them said he would make kueh lapis.

They started serving breakfast; plain, simple fare of the bread and butter kind for a start. That was tough too because they were volunteers who held down jobs or had school assignments to do. And most were not “morning’’ people.

Their silly and demanding leader wanted food to be served every day, sometimes three or four times a day. Because, she said, people need to eat lunch and dinner too. Sometimes she wanted more elaborate dishes, which required some in the group to spend their weekends gathering ingredients from exotic places like Hong Lim Park and foreign worker dormitories.

People came to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even supper if there were still crew members silly enough to stay in the kitchen after dark.  Okay, okay, sometimes they served leftovers.

More people started coming and the kitchen had to be expanded. A microwave oven replaced the charcoal stove. The group also ascended to cloud nine, moving some servers to the Amazon basin. That required money. The silly and demanding leader broke her piggy (halal) bank and paid some kopi money to starving undergraduates trying their hand at being poets, writers and journalists and other silly, salary-short occupations. They wanted to be Junior Chefs

The silly and demanding leader, who called herself Head Chef , thought she could stick her piggy bank together by turning “corporate’’. Cover costs, she thought. Pay for some chefs who had at least been Shatec-trained and can do more than slap a sandwich together.

That was when some big burly guys came into the restaurant and asked to see the crew. They started waving some papers. The kitchen crew got rattled. Some wondered if the Head Chef had gone to a loan shark ; others wonder if they had to put up protection money. But no, the guys wanted to inspect the kitchen for bugs and other stuff that could lead to food poisoning of patrons.

The kitchen crew swore that they used only the best ingredients, locally sourced. They even fumigated the kitchen every week for cockroaches and rats. They didn’t intend to charge for the food but they did wonder if people could stick posters on the blank walls of their premises, also known as advertising space. In fact, they were in the midst of enlarging their premises when these outsiders came barging in.

The big burly guys wanted to take down the names of key kitchen crew staff, like the Pastry Chef and Soup Chef. They said they could come by time and again to look at the cash register. They wanted the Head Chef to sign up to join their fast food franchise – and left behind some forms with a deadline and blank spaces for signatures.

The kitchen crew wondered about becoming a franchisee which served fast food. They wondered if the kitchen invasion had to do with the food they served. Not tasty enough? Too spicy? Or was the restaurant really the problem? It was sited on prime land, you see. Little India. (No, they didn’t serve alcohol.)

So they closed the restaurant and said thank you very much, but no thanks. To continue serving loyal patrons, they did some catering on the side. But the big, burly guys came round again and said you have to join the franchise – or else!  The kitchen stopped catering operations. The crew decided to break up and do some personal catering through this home delivery system called blogs. They did wonder if they should use Jeff Bezos’ drones but realised that the big, burly guys would shoot them down from the sky.

The Head Chef decided that she should just wind up the company and end all dreams of becoming a mini media magnate. She decided to go on holiday.             

   

The big Little India clean-up

In News Reports on December 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Just testing.

I’m back.

Crazy huh?

After trying to get readers of this blog to move over to Breakfast Network, I’m now trying to get everyone back here…What’s the difference you say? Well, when I blog, I can get “personal’’. I tried to write differently for BN, adopting a more business-like, professional-sounding tone. Now I am going to be entirely MYSELF! Yeehaaaar.

So what’s the news today?

Well, if you are thinking of going drinking in Little India this weekend, don’t. No alcohol will be served – or sold over the counter. It’s an expected move by the G, after it proposed curbs on alcohol sales hours and the establishment of no-alcohol zones last week. The G twisted itself into knots trying not to pre-empt the police investigations into Sunday’s riots by saying that alcohol could be’ a “contributory factor’’ leading to the riot on Sunday night. What it made clear was that the 33 year old Indian national who died after being knocked down by a private bus was stone drunk. As for the 400 others, or 27 arrested….

The intoxicated man had boarded the bus and dropped his pants when he was told to get off. When he did, he was knocked down somehow and pinned under the bus. Not decapitated, as some people have been saying. That was when all hell broke loose.

So is the G doing a knee-jerk by banning alcohol? It’s only for this weekend though, before it finalises what it wants to do about alcohol sales. The G and MPs for the area said too many liquor licences have been given out to the shopkeepers in the area. No number was specified and you would have thought someone in the liquor licensing department had been keeping count…

It seems, however, that Little India has been a messy, chaotic space for some time, going by what residents there say. One resident penned a letter published in TODAY citing the number of times news reports have surfaced about the state of the area on weekends, with jaywalking and jammed-up roads. Some 20 private buses would unload foreign workers there on weekends – and park along the roads as well. It’s like a weekend excursion: from dorm to Little India, and back to dorm. It seems that the G response has been to step up policing, checking for identification and so forth.

So should the G have acted earlier in response to residents’ grumblings and foreseen that a powder keg was in the making? If it did and tried to impose curbs on activity, it would have been attacked for high-handed treatment of those who do hard labour in Singapore.  Residents might chafe, but for others, Little India is neither chaotic nor messy. It is spontaneous and exotic. It bustles with a different sort of life every weekend, not at all like other parts of Singapore. And that is because it is brimming over with foreigners of a different culture. Can you imagine Singaporeans dancing in the streets unless they are specifically allowed to, like the South Asians did on Deepavali?   

Maybe the announcement of an impending alcohol ban or the constant police checks are what got their backs up. Others point to different cultural attitudes towards authority. Singaporeans are respectful towards those in uniform, and wouldn’t dream of hurling dustbins at them, much less pelting them when they are trying to rescue someone. They might brawl in coffeeshops after several beers and even resist arrest, but you won’t get others joining in the fray against the cops.

So is an alcohol ban of sorts in Little India going to help? It will be a “contributory factor’’ in the pursuit of peace, methinks.

The Prime Minister has convened a committee of inquiry to look into “ the factors that led to the incident and how the incident was handled on the ground’’. “It will also review the current measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate, whether they are adequate and how they can be improved.’’

It seems that the G is looking at the riot as a pure law and order issue. Presumably, the “factors’’ are immediate factors and the “measures’’ are intended to ensure safety and public order. So no deep probing on possible root causes? A very self-contained probe?

What I know is that I got angry reading The New Paper which has the best on-the-ground coverage of all the English language newspapers. It had an interview and a picture of the female bus co-ordinator who was attacked. The 38 year old  had a wound on the left side of her forehead, her left eye was swollen and her limbs bruised. The poor woman was trapped on the bus with the driver as rioters smashed windscreens and ripped off  whatever they could. Six policemen later escorted them to safety.

Then there was the account of a resident who had a bird’s eye view of what was happening and gave a blow-by-blow account of how the riot unfolded. How the police couldn’t hold back the rioters and disappeared into a fire engine which sped off, along with an ambulance. How rioters flipped a police car against an ambulance and paramedics opened the back door to flee. How they cheered and danced around a burning police bike.A TNP photojournalist was almost attacked. Restaurants pulled down their shutters, with diners still inside. Shopkeepers had their goods used as missiles.   

This should never happen again. Ever.

So I say: Dear G, do whatever it takes.