Tuesday, 22 July 2014


ARE YOU PREPARED TO BE POOR?  Heck,... what absurdity is this to be prepared to be poor.
I am slapping myself too, but this is as sincere and real as I can be.....are you prepared to be poor?

The poor has no fixed mould and they are as varied and subjective as in the same way poverty is being argued.

Officially Singapore has no poverty, but those who are not so fond of this government are out of their way gathering proofs that this isn't the case.

Poor by definition is not having sufficient money to live by normally nor comfortably.  Looking at the many schemes available and managed by different government agencies to supplement livelihood give attestation to the existence of many in Singapore needing welfare assistance.

The extreme poor, those having no absolute means to sustain their daily livings are officially categorized as "destitute" and therefore qualify for full state assistance. Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWO) in Singapore look after the destitute by providing them basic livable comfort, healthcare, and some form of social integration, all paid for by the government. No one will be without a home in Singapore.

Partial welfare assistance are rendered to individuals and families who are struggling with livelihood but are not in extreme dire state. These are generally termed as "low income" individuals or families.

There's of course another group that surfaced recently over national discourse, the "cash poor" but possesses some form of valuable fixed asset like real estates. Broadly, this group consist of retirees in or around their 70s, no longer gainfully employed but possesses properties whose value averages about a million or above. They attracted much sympathy, but also an equal amount of critics too.  Question is, are they poor or are they not poor?

But the most controversial group is the "ordinary poor".  And who are these "ordinary poor" people?

They are ordinary Singaporeans who once used to enjoy some level of social status as a working professional, drawing a decent high salary but got laid off and possibly unemployed now or driving a taxi. Others may still be tracking their career but somehow felt that their upward mobility is being thwarted by the emergence of intense competition in the form of foreigner employs. There are also those who run their own small businesses but are suppressed under rising costs and extreme competitions.

You just can't say that they are not poor, they are.  At the least they feel that they are poor and the feeling is real.  They also fall within defines of "not having sufficient money to live by normally nor comfortably", except that the twist happens to be with the acceptable standard of normal and comfort.

Owning a car was once a normal standard of Singapore living, but are forced to give that up as overall cost of car ownership has skyrocketed.  They are no longer rich enough to own a car, and therefore poor. They were once on track to move from public housing to private housing, but that hope is dashed for reasons ranging from escalating property prices, the tightening of credit qualification etc.

Another reason why they feel poor is because by contrast their living standard is not rising in tandem with official economic figures.  This thinking is being further reinforced when they see more people getting to drive expensive sports cars and owning luxurious bungalows over at Sentosa, not one but many. A small group of people are seen as privileged by opportunities to surge faster and higher in the social hierarchy.

It is only natural that when you look at someone taller than yourself, you will feel short. And when you see people richer than yourself, you'll naturally feel poor.

And this is the social architecture, a state of mind in the masses was looming for too long, not unnoticed; but unattended.  Now we are caught unprepared to be poor.

Could we have been better prepared? Perhaps. But then we were really in the thick of excitement, grabbing opportunities and trying to fulfill dreams of success than to spare time thinking what if one day we have to be poor. Would speeding drivers noticed the doomsday prophet standing in the middle of the highway urging slow-down and be careful.  He would probably have been knocked down for jaywalking.

Thursday, 10 July 2014


The National Library Board has stood firm on the removal of three children books from their shelves namely And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express, and Who’s In My Family.  The books were removed as a result of an email complaint from a parent about the contents of these books being not pro-family.

The stage is set for a confrontation between pro-family and pro-LGBT groups of people in Singapore.  Pro-family group We Are Against Pink Dot in Singapore are urging its members to scrutinize NLB's catalogue for unsuitable titles and notify NLB to remove them.  On the opposing side newly formed  Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship is organizing an event this Sunday at the National Library premises in protest against the removal of the books.

Local writers, bloggers, and supporters of LGBT are coming out in force to register their displeasure over the books' removal.  It's plain simple they said : "If parents find the books objectionable, just don't borrow.  You don't have to remove them wholesale to deprive others their accesses and rights to such books."  and they do have a point.

Pro-family Singaporeans have no case to ask NLB to remove the books in view that the NLB's role is to provide as wide and diverse a spectrum of information for Singaporeans who depend on it as a hub for intellectual resources.

It is definitely a lost case if the books are meant for grown ups except that these are for children, and children are often encouraged to visit the libraries unaccompanied, and choose their own books to borrow.  Many parents also lack the ability to scrutinize the kind of books and had trusted the expertise of NLB staffs that books made available to children are appropriate for reading within that age group.  

It is absolutely onerous on the part of the NLB to ensure that materials made available to children are consistent to their ability to understand and discern.  An argument by one parent that she has no problem allowing her kids access to LGBT materials is understandably out of sync with reasonable parenting.

Here diversity seems to be the key point of contention between the groups.  There are certain assumptions that our society is overly conservative in every aspects and not just that, it refuses to accept and embrace fresh perspectives of what an open and diverse society should become of. 

I have always known diversity to be a good thing, and it should flourished.  But if diversity is bringing us one against another, either we have the concept of diversity all wrong or the way we go about it is wrong.


You should not be a stranger to this advertisement.  It has not just gone viral here but was made an international joke.  Still the relevant agency responsible for this ad says it stands by the ad and it will continue its run.  Well that's a corporate decision.

What came to mind was what may go on behind the production of this ad.  Indeed the choice of the world cup theme made it relevant to world cup betting, or if you may gambling.  Both agencies, the one providing the bets as well as the one calling for stops to problem gambling are under government purview.

We must also be careful to differentiate between problem gambling and "social betting" in that I could not find a better way of describing, and as in social drinking, or social smoking.  In any case this is the principle held by both agencies.

All fine and good to this point.  Except that I am taking to task the one who crafted the story took to gambling as well.  Whoever crafted this story betted, took sides, and disregard consequences.  Could they have avoided the element of speculation (betting)?  Is this carelessness, lacking in professional supervision, or there are other reasons?

Brazil was almost guaranteed a place in the final according to soccer pundits around the world.

Did you see how Germany destroyed their rights to the finals?  Not just their rights to the finals, but also their dignity with 7 easy goals.

I don't know why I had this feeling, but seven symbolizes perfection, and I can't help but be reminded that there is only one who can claim perfection in all the earth.  OK that's my personal belief.

The German players were seen laughing to themselves in total disbelieve.  Nobody in their right mind believed what they saw happened.  

There is one lesson I can take away from this episode.  Someone else who is more powerful, more able, and not necessarily need to make earthly sense or by convention can create the greatest victory or the greatest defeat for me, for us, and we will be left in total disbelieve.

Sunday, 6 July 2014


I wonder how many of us can remember that we once had an annual event called "Sing Singapore", and another "Swing Singapore".

To those whe think ZoukOut is the only great outdoor, it only happened long after Swing Singapore decided to go into hiatus.

Swing Singapore was a big thing then where the whole of Orchard Road was closed and turned into a party ground.

Sing Singapore was an annual festival of songs when many beautiful songs that we are familiar were written during that period.

Maybe it is because the event coincided with National Day festivities, the songs took on the identity of being National Day songs rather than Singapore songs.  The music essentially were catchy, more towards folksy and the lyrics were pictorials of the Singapore life.  Today, you may want to categorize them as evergreens.

Just yesterday afternoon, 6th of July 2014 at the Bras Basah Complex, Singaporeans gathered to pay tribute and celebrate a very special era in Singapore's history of music and entertainment, the Xinyao 新遥 movement.  Xinyao 新遥 translates as Singapore Songs or Songs of Singapore.

The.Xinyao 新遥 movement had its heydays in the 1980s.  It was at a time when Singapore's Chinese music scene was highly influenced by Taiwanese Mandopop, and the Hong Kong Cantopop, and Xinyao 新遥 was able to permeate society on equal footings with the two.  Key figures of the movements were Liang Wern Fook 梁文福,Eric Moo 巫启贤, Li Feihui 黎沸挥, and many more seen in the picture above.

They were young, energetic, and flushed with ambitions.  Each went on to succeed in their respective music career during a period when the music industry is flourishing, particularly in Taiwan.  With each going their way, a vacuum emerged in Singapore.  However the Xinyao 新遥 movement  is extremely resilient and able to survive the perils of oblivion and this is because it is not a passing fad but a unique culture in the lives of Singaporeans. 

Despite parting ways, pursuit of career and the separation of time and distance, each of these pioneers of the movement; a unique generation at that era never at any one time forgot where they started, what held them together, and where they had wanted to go.  And it was this unbreakable bond that brought them together again and again.  To the audience, Xinyao 新遥 was what they grew up with, and inseparable part of their lives.

Notably Cai Yiren of 弹唱人 had helped keep the spirit of Xinyao active in recent years through his annual concerts 重逢.

It was really at yesterday afternoon's celebration at Bras Basah that we saw the Xinyao 新遥 spirit truly resurrected to its original beauty, casual and unfettered.

At the celebration, performers and audience were gelled together not just by music and songs alone; but also by lots of fond memories and endearment; and also a strong common belonging between them.  That's the reason why I call it a celebration and not a concert.

The theme title and the venue was so aptly chosen, that by no mistake these were "The Songs We Sang" and symbolically of ordinary Singapore folks, in the concourse of Bras Basah Complex.

May I wish  Xinyao 新遥  as a movement, as a culture to fully blossom, and take this part of the Singapore Identity to a new generation of singers and song writers, creating new hopes and aspirations for all.

Best wishes to one and all in the Xinyao 新遥 movement.

Friday, 4 July 2014


Entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, Jesus was met with a multitude of Jews laying down their garments and palm branches in a public demonstration that surely must have discomforted the Roman authorities at that time.

The Jews were free to practice their religion and customs with little interference from the Roman government.  Even with that amount of freedom, the Jews resented Roman rule and has always been harbouring a Jewish state with rulers of their own choice.  But while the Jews were indigenous, they were divided by much differences.  Ordinary folks, pharisees, and those working with the Roman government as tax collectors saw themselves as different class from each other.  John the Baptist, a relative of Jesus had a sizeable followings before he was arrested and beheaded, and so was Jesus who was also preaching repentance of sin for the Kingdom of God is near.

Many saw Jesus as the answer to the overthrowing of the Roman rule as he has the ability to perform miracles that even the Romans as well as the Pharisees marveled, though with jealousy and alarm.  Indeed the people saw Jesus as the hope and restorer of Jewish supremacy.

But earthly politics and the establishment of a Jewish state was never in the mind of Jesus as we understand from what Jesus said written in the book of Matthew chapter 26.

“for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

“Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”

Clearly there was a conflict of mission between the people and Jesus.  Man's mission as of the beginning is to multiply in numbers and subdue the earth, as written in Genesis chapter 1.  That of Jesus; to fulfill what was written in the scriptures, which revealed that He must die a death of shame on the cross in order to reconcile man with God.  Man was looking for political grandeur, and Jesus was looking at eternal glory.

Surely the scriptures said more than Jesus having to die a death of a criminal, and His subsequent resurrection.  They also said a lot more other things including the reappearance of Jesus, the raising of the saints, and the final judgement and the ultimate state of the devil and his followers.

While man will continue to navigate and negotiate their way to increase in numbers and to dominate the earth, the scripture will also continue to be fulfilled.  Just that for man, the ideal concept of unity was put to perpetual confusion and disarray at the Tower of Babel.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


This is a mere pair of hands, more like an old lady between the age of seventy or eighty, hardly beautiful, hardly worth a mention.  Other than lots of bulging veins, wrinkled skin, and some blue marks, signs of old injuries; well still a fine pair of ordinary hands.  

Or is it?

I used to make regular visits to the Baptist Golden Age Home, and stepping inside each time is like changing radio channel.  The heavy rocking of the outside world disappears suddenly and a sense of calmness gently takes over.  How do I express this sudden contrast?  Out there everyone was kind of in a rush, doing something, and constantly moving.  Inside the home, time jammed its brakes and almost stalled.  I am surrounded by people who do nothing, sitting still staring at something, or simply playing with their own fingers.

For a while my mission for the day was directed to care, my behavior gentle, and my voice soft.  The usual me talking loudly, sometimes aggressively had to be forced change.  I suspect there is a switch of duty between the heart and the brain, taking control of the functioning faculty.

But each time before leaving, to return to the mad mad competitive world, I would turned back and look at all those who had walked a little longer of life's journey than I do, and likely to see more of life than I ever had.  Each time I felt a mission unaccomplished, a sense of having to leave empty handed, for not having explored the richness behind those wrinkled hands stories.

I am not sure such what effects such prolonged regular mood changes had on me, but here I am still sanely writing a story about a pair of wrinkled hands.

This is my mother, a lady of strong will.  Born into a family of business owners who also dabbled in politics, and her youth was a tumultuous period of fighting between the communists, nationalists and Japanese invaders.

She often spoke about a rice mill, and an oil mill where kids during her time would play around, and fondly of a family dog named Ah Yick (阿益).  Those were fond memories of her childhood that she was proud to share.

She too mentioned about hard times when she was left in China, and her parents (my grands) fled to Singapore.  Don't blame the old folks.  There was someone who loved her, too old to flee, and she being the eldest in the family needs to stay behind.  I guessed that's the making of a survivor.

To fend for a living, which is the first story of that pair of wrinkled hands, she cuts timber and pile them up to be sold in the market place some distance away.  It's like leaving home just before dawn and returning in the evening, all on foot.  There were occasions she would come across fugitives, or lepers, and she would use the timber pole and expletives on them to challenge them away.

That same pair of hands would one day be holding a branch to hit her uncle, an elder brother of her father.  It was not a family feud, nor her naughtiness, but to save her own life.  When the communist prevailed over nationalist, my fourth grand uncle who was a nationalist member and went around with guns and bodyguards was caught.  To free themselves of trouble, family members had to verbally renounce him, hit him with a branch and spit on him.  They were careful not to shed tears or that would put their renouncing into question.

During the war, by which time she's married with kids (not me yet), with the same timber pole that she used to peddle dried wood over her shoulder and a cane basket on each end that is big enough to put my sisters inside; she would run from shelter to shelter, and once up a ship headed for Singapore.  It was just frantic packing, hiding, running, back and forth.

When in Singapore, the family was temporarily housed in a small rented room on the third level of a shophouse in Tras Street, while my father worked in the soya sauce shop and factory set up by my mother's father.  The factory was later burnt down during the Bukit Ho Swee fire, and a new one was subsequently built at Tanglin Halt.

My father decided to buy a house then and almost all his salary had gone to servicing the mortgage as well as supporting my eldest brother and family who were still left in China.  Household expenses was once again left into the hands of my mother.  She would make a few bucks by sewing 大盛蓝, a type of tough fabric much like denim, made in China and worn by traders during those time.  Soya sauce peddlers would buy the material and ask her to sew them into a jacket and pants.  She also sew jackets inlaid with 猪肚绵 a type of superior quality cotton that is supposed to be cool in summer and warm in winter.  She did it for people who would send them back to kins in left in China through 水客 couriers who traverse between Singapore and China.

When my sister found a job as a seamstress somewhere in the neighbourhood, they also needed someone to sew sequins on the dresses.  These dresses were worn by singers in cabarets and revues.  Because there was 新生歌台 New Life Revue inside New World at Kitchener Road, the neighbourhood became a popular spot for singers to live in, and that was probably how the street name Starlight Road came about.

Her pair of hands was so skillful that she was much sought after and had done dresses for 冯宝宝 Fung Boo Boo and sisters, 吴碗雯,张来来,潘绣琼, 樱花 Sakura Teng  and others.

No one can escape the closing of window of time and opportunity; but if one who is determined enough, she will find another opportunity in a brand new era.

Her skill for sewing sequins on dresses had helped to bring up her children, and educate them.  But the winds of change has wiped out the need for hand sewn sequins.  She found a way out by making sequin embroideries into strips and sell them to shops in Arab Street, and at times make butterfly buttons for nearby tailor shops.

She had also become a letter writer for relatives living nearby.  Once she fried a big Horlicks bottle of pickled vegetable 大头菜 mixed with pork for a relative who was admitted to Little Sisters of The Poor.  Any relatives who were admitted to TTSH, she would cook something and bring it to them.

With her pair of hands, she made rice wine, rice cakes (sweet cake roll made of fried rice flour and peanut).  Whenever the roof leaks, she would climb into the attic and get it repaired.  So does my father.  

I remember holding my mother's hand and they were exceptionally warming.  It was softly dry and yet feeling secure with lots of love and care.  It was this pair of hands that shielded me from much hardship, and gave me a memorable childhood and the making of a confident person.

During her closing years, she made this piece of framed sequin character of 福, "Blessings" as shown below for each of her children, to bless each of them, and to remind them of the life she had lived.

My life is much an extension of hers, and her skills I had learnt a few.  The bulging veins and the blue marks on her hands were testimonial of pure human resilience of a woman's struggle against adverse circumstances of her time.

It is this pair of wrinkled hands that made me.