30 November 2006

A Walk After The Talk

Immediately after Chun See's talk on "Blogging For Senior Citizens", I went home to pick up my family. We were eating out because it was our 17th wedding anniversary. We ate at an old nondescript eatery in Chinatown, Lee Tong Kee:

The eatery is famous for its sar hor fun.) Its prices are quite reasonable. A simple meal for the 4 of us costs less than $50, an amount which even a kiam siap (stingy) civil servant could afford. What's more, there's no "plus-plus" (service and GST charges). However, that amount does not include desserts or drinks.

After a very satisfying meal, we decided to have dessert at a very famous dessert shop nearby. Since we only heard of the shop before but had no idea where it was located, we asked some shopowners. The first one we asked actually pointed us in a wrong direction. While we went astray, we ran into this famous grilled sausages stall set up by Mr Erich Sollbock, an Austrian who was one of the 40 honourees of the Spirit Of Enterprise Awards in 2005.

We also visited the Chinatown Heritage Centre where we bought two old games:

The above photo shows the chatek which I paid $2.50 for. I used to make my own chatek for free. After my mother slaughtered a chicken (in the olden days before bird flu, this practice was common), I salvaged a few long wing feathers for making my own chatek. Of course, I left the colour of the feathers as au naturel, i.e. brown. I used to be able to kick the chatek more than 100 times at one go when I was a kid. Now, I am lucky if I can manage 5.

The above photo shows the $3.00 see sek (4-colour) cards which I used to see adults play when I was a kid. Up till now, I still don't know how the game is played.

After a short walk, there was still no sign of the dessert shop which we were looking for so I asked a second shopowner. He directed me to the shop just round the corner:

In our opinion, the desserts were not that fantastic but were passable. After my family had their desserts, they were unanimous that it was my just desserts to walk all the way back to Sago Street where the car was parked and drive it to Temple Street to pick them up. I had no choice but to oblige. Whilst taking a short cut via a backlane, I found out that food and childhood games were not all that Chinatown had to offer:

Too bad that the children missed an opportunity for an early lesson about the bird and the bees. (I have blogged about a 'not so traditional shop' in Chinatown before.) I conclude this post with a quote from an article in Today dated 27 Nov 2006, written by Mr William Lim, a 74 years old architect and thinker:

"Chinatown for example is culturally dead, it's a theme park and tourist trap today. The tourist board has had a hand in cleaning it up, and that's the point - you want the genuine chaos and excitement, not the tourist catering stores."
Chinatown has been cleaned up? Far from it. In my opinion, it is getting as sleazy as Joo Chiat, if not more. And these sleazy businesses may not be 'tourist catering stores'.

26 November 2006

Talk On Blogging For Seniors

Last Saturday was the day of Chun See's talk on "Blogging For Senior Citizens" at the Queenstown Community Library. The talk was conducted from 3 pm to 4.30 pm but I was released by my "vehicle commander" only at 3.00 pm. Driving along the PIE, it started pouring. I was wondering how many of the participants would be deterred by the inclement weather.

I reached the library at almost 3.30 pm and was told that there were no more seats. I stood at the back of the hall at first. Then I realised that there was a front door that was opened so I sneaked in through there. I was quite impressed by the turnout. There were about 100 people in the audience. I think their ages ranged from 40-90.

I eagerly scanned around the audience for Elaine, my "blogo-god-daughter". (I said "eagerly" because I haven't met Elaine in person yet and neither has she seen me before. Yet, I know how she looks like because she has posted her photos on her blogsite before.) Elaine had earlier said that she would turn up for the talk. When I could not find her in the audience, I smsed her and found out that she had thought that the talk was on Monday instead. She apologised for her oversight. (Hmm... seems like her memory is even worse than mine. For her, it must be due to work stress, not age.) Too bad that she didn't turn up. If she did, the age range of the audience would have been from 22-90. (Elaine is turning 23 next month.)

I wasn't really paying attention to Chun See's talk, not because I don't consider myself a senior but because I was busy snapping a few photos for this post. Nevertheless, Chun See came across as a very professional speaker - proficient, knowledgeable, but yet humble. (This is not a surprise because as a management consultant by profession, he often conducts training at work.) He started off by explaining why he started his personal blog called "Good Morning Yesterday". He also mentioned how our PM had, in his last National Day Rally Speech, exhorted to older Singaporeans to share their stories and experiences with the younger generation via blogs. In that speech, the PM had mentioned "Bullock Cart Water" blog as one example. (I personally think that Chun See's blog stands a good chance of being mentioned in the PM's next National Day Rally Speech.) Chun See was able to connect with the audience. (Erm... maybe there was no generation gap?) The audience laughed at his humorous and amusing stories.

Chun See then described his blogging experiences, the comments he received and the overseas blogo-friends he made. Through blogging, he got to know the children of the ex-British servicemen who were stationed in Singapore in the 1950s - 1960s. (Click here for an example of such a website.) Many young people also commented on his blog. One comment which Chun See particularly liked was "Uncle, you rock." (Actually at Chun See's age, he not only rocks but rolls too.)

I heard Chun See mentioning about me. He pointed to me in a group photo taken at a yesterday.sg gathering and said, "This guy's 50-year old." (People usually think I am much younger than my age. Now thanks to Chun See, my age is no longer a secret.) At the end of his session, some people asked questions. (It is always a good sign when people ask questions. It shows that they have understood the topic and are keen to find out more.)

Sunny asking Chun See a question

Then Ivan gave a live demonstration on how to register for a free blogger account, posting the first entry and editing it. Finishing everything in less than half an hour, Ivan proved beyond all doubt that there was nothing technically intimidating about blogging. I hope that the audience was convinced.

When the talk ended, some people came up to personally thank Ivan and Chun See. You could see the satisfied look on their faces (both of the participants' and the speakers').

It would be interesting to see how many in the audience had been moved enough by the talk to take up active blogging. For those who do, I hope that they will also post their entries in yesterday.sg. Even if they do not blog, I would be very happy to see more of them commenting on yesterday.sg or Chun See's blog. Since signing up is not necessary for commenting on a blog, it is really easy for people to share their views and personal accounts of those old times.

You can read more about the talk from posts by Ivan and Walter.

18 November 2006

Does Forgetfulness Come With Age?

I start this week's post with a joke quoted from today's New Paper. The joke was entitled Three Sisters:

Three sisters, aged 92, 94, and 96, live in a house together.

One night, the 96-year-old draws a bath. She puts her foot in and pauses. She yells down the stairs: "Was I getting in or out of the bath?"

The 94-year-old yells back: "I don't know. I'll come up and see." She starts up the stairs and pauses. Then she yells: "Was I going up the stairs or down?"

The 92-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea, listening to her sisters. She shakes her head and says: "I sure hope I never get that forgetful." She knocks on wood for good measure.

She then yells: "I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door."

To me, the above joke is so relevant that it seems to be on me. You see, although I'm a long way from 90, this morning I forgetfully left my keychain at a food court which I visit almost every Saturday. I was walking back to my car when I realised that my keychain was missing and that really freaked me out. I wasn't afraid that someone would break into my home but rather, replacing my car's keycard (which unlocks car as well as starts the engine) costs more than $400! And it had to be specially ordered from France. Meanwhile, if you lose the only other spare keycard too, you'd better get used to using public transport for the next two months because it takes that long for the replacement keycard to arrive. Fortunately, one of the staff at the food court had kept my keychain safely. I thanked her profusely when she returned the keychain to me.

Like a 90-year-old, the wife yelled: "This is the second time that you lose your keychain in past week. Next time always remember to check first before you leave a place, okay?"

Ridden with utmost guilt and remorse like he just murdered someone, the husband could only think quietly to himself: "Yes, I remember losing my keychain last week but thankfully for my poor memory, I've already forgotten about that unhappy
incident until you reminded me now. And I totally agree that if I always check first before I leave a place, such an incident could be avoided. Obviously, I also forgot to check, right?"

(Note: The preceding 2 paragraphs are NOT a continuation of the joke quoted from the New Paper.)

If I go back further in time and remember correctly, there were also a few occasions when I left my keychain hanging from the keyhole of my flat's front door after unlocking it. On one or two occasions, this careless act was discovered by me and hence I was spared a woman's fury. However, at other times, I was not so lucky. There was even one occasion when I had left the key dangling from the letter box at the void deck at my block - it was like sending an open invitation to a burglar to pay a courtesy call to my flat. Luckily, a good neighbour found the keychain and returned it promptly to me. Once, I dropped my keychain in Chris' car while lunching out with him and had to trouble my wife to come to my office after work so that I could drive the car home with the spare keycard.

Then recently, I nearly missed a turn on the expressway while sending my younger son for tuition class. The expected yells followed. (Funny, I don't remember ever marrying this woman.)

Could it really be that I am getting forgetful because I am getting old? Does age inevitably comes with forgetfulness and weak ankles? My mind refuses to believe that. For proof, just look at people like MM Lee and our President. They are well past their 80s and yet their minds are easily many times sharper than mine. Of course, I know that I am making an unfair (to me) comparison here. Yet, we cannot deny the fact that countless of our brain cells are dying every minute and our bodies are getting physically weaker as we age. Eventually, all of us cannot escape death when our bodily functions fail us permanently, whether from old age or from illness. As they say, the mind may be willing but the body is weak.

A recent research concluded that forgetfulness was due to stress. Chris will vouch that I appear to be one of the least stressed persons in the office. But as another colleague MGC said, I could be like a duck swimming in a pond - looking very calm above the surface but paddling frantically below the waterline. Perhaps I am getting stressed up due to all that yelling at home.

The mind works in mysterious ways - while there are some things which we want to remember but find it hard to do so, there are other things which we want to forget but find it just as hard. Some of us find great difficulty in remembering the 3 F's - facts, figures and formulas - especially when we are studying for exams. However, we have no problem remembering pleasant experiences. For example, I could remember very clearly my personal experiences that happened during my honeymoon in New Zealand more than 17 years ago. I could recall events that occurred in the day time as well as in the night but I shall not go into details here (as there are young people reading my blog). One thing I remember very distinctly is that there was no woman yelling at me at that time. But then again, I don't think that I was so forgetful then that I deserved a yelling or two.

At the other end of the scale, people also find it very hard to forget unpleasant incidents. For instance, it is never easy when we suddenly lose someone close to us, regardless of whether he/she is a loved one or "a loved once". (Those of you who did not marry your first boyfriend/girlfriend will know what I mean.) Let me illustrate with a real life example by citing another article from the same day's New Paper:

A woman died in hospital in July last year after developing a skin disease as a result of a drug allergy. The state coroner had ruled out any criminal negligence on the part of any medical staff who treated her. Yet the woman's father found it very hard to accept that nobody was found responsible for his daughter's sudden demise. He even stripped himself in protest at the College of Medicine building recently in a bid to get the Health Ministry to reopen the case. Counsellors and psychiatrists advised that in this case, the father needed to go through the mourning process, however long. He should try to get over his grief by not constantly dwelling on the past. Of course, that is easier said than done but the father must try to forget the past, not her daughter.

One good thing - despite my forgetfulness lately, I think that I still remember to update my blog at least once a week. (I just checked and found that this is indeed true.) Maybe I am suffering from selective amnesia. Whatever the case, if one day you find that I fail to update my blog for 2 weeks or more, it could be that one or more of the following things happened:

1. I am really busy (with my other "obsessions");

2. Someone has been yelling at me not to spend so much time on the computer;

3. I actually forgot (unlikely but can happen); and/or

4. Something worse has happened (don't know whether likely or not, but can't be ruled out either).

In any case, for all of the above scenarios, Chris will surely update you via his blog or via a comment on my blog. (He usually pens a poem about spider webs and the like.) Provided that he too didn't forget to do so.

12 November 2006

A Weekend Outing Into The Past

Last Saturday, my wife, the young man (my 15-year old son) and I were pining for the toasted buns and hot drinks sold at a coffeeshop at the corner of Purvis St and Beach Rd:

The coffeeshop had a retro decor - it had marble tables and wooden chairs which were common in coffeeshops of the 1960s. The setting reminded me of the Heritage Road Show at the National Library. The 2-day show was part of a series of events called Explore Singapore!, "a multi-faceted campaign which encourages everybody to embark on fun and fascinating journeys to discover our island's colourful past, rich heritage and vibrant cultures". (The campaign is jointly organised by the National Heritage Board, National Library Board and Media Development Authority and lasts from Nov 2006 - Jan 2007.)

Since the National Library was just a stone's throw away from the coffeeshop, we decided to drop by for a visit. When we reached the Plaza of the National Library, it was past 5.30 pm (the show was to end at 6 pm):

(I just heard from the news that the show attracted the public to contribute over 700 old documents. You could read about the top 10 rare finds on 11 Nov 2006 here.)

By the time we reached the library, we must have missed the crowds:

However, I still participated in whatever way I could - I went up stage to kick a chatek (which is a type of shuttlecock). It was a game I used to play as a kid and I was very good at it. I could manage more than 100 kicks at one go... but that was more than 4 decades ago! To win a prize, I had to kick the chatek at least 5 times at one go:

(The man in the above photo was not me but someone who went after me.)

Although my ankle was still hurting from a bad sprain, I managed to kick the chatek 6 times and was awarded a keychain which reminded me of a landmark that no longer existed:

If you have missed this event, don't fret because you still have time to catch the others. Just refer to this website or the posters at some bus-stops for more juicy details:

11 November 2006


An article in the 9 Nov 2006 edition of the Straits Times caught my eye. It was titled "Singapore's customer service rating takes a drop. Survey ranks Republic 26th despite its efforts to improve standards". The World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual competitiveness survey ranked Singapore at 26th spot this year, down from 17th a year ago. This ranking is even lower than the previous low of 23 in year 2001. The nationwide Go the Extra Mile for Service (Gems) movement was launched last year to develop a culture of excellent service in all sectors of the economy. So is Gems really "Go the Extra Mile for Service" or "Gone's the Excellent and Marvellous Service"?

I have previously blogged about my personal encounters of different standards of customer service when buying an LCD TV. It was quite amazing that the salesman who provided a "less than acceptable" standard of service found my post the very next day. He wrote a comment which offered an "apology of sorts" although he did not exactly say "sorry". As Elton John sang, it seemed that "sorry is the hardest word" for him. I feel that the advice given in the above poster is especially appropriate for him.

Lest you think that I am a demanding customer, let me state that I do understand that a sales person's job is no piece of cake. Sometimes I empathise with members of this profession. They have to work long hours and also on weekends and holidays. They have to stand most of the time. On top of that, they are supposed to smile and remain friendly even when dealing with difficult customers. Most of them earn a low basic salary, with the rest of their pay made up of commissions from sales. If they don't sell enough, their pay packets suffer. And so do their families whose mouths they have to feed.

It is a mistaken notion that providing good service only involves sales people and those working in the hospitality industry. In fact, providing good service should be of concern to all working people. Even if you do not serve your customers directly, it is not wrong to say that anyone who has a job is in effect selling his services to his employer. Civil servants are also ultimately performing a service to the public, whether directly or indirectly. Hence, loosely speaking, the majority of us are working in the service industry and we should constantly strive to do our jobs well and provide good service at all times.

To conclude, here are more posters containing sayings regarding good service which all of us should know very well. However, sad to say, putting the adages into practice is a very different matter altogether for most of us:

06 November 2006

When We Walked On Water

A flood in Telok Blangah - Photo Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Before the mid-1960s, Singapore was very prone to floods. The situation was especially bad during the monsoon season when rain is heavy and prolonged. Since those early years, the Government has done a lot to improve the drainage system and reduce the flood-prone areas from 3178 hectares in the 1970s to only about 134 hectares now. Even so, our national water agency PUB still issues flood advisories - the last one was only as recent as in April this year.

People who stayed in kampongs at that time were particularly hard hit by the floods. You could be forgiven if you thought that Singapore was hit by a giant tsunami:

Flood waters that turned a kampong into a kelong

A living room that became a huge bathroom

A policeman rescuing a boy in a kampong near the Police Training School along Thomson Road

Even city folks were not spared the wrath of the floods. The following two photos dated 13 Nov 1964 show the flood situation in the Telok Blangah area. Ironically, Singapore had water rationing in the 7 months just prior to this flood:

It was fortunate that we lived on the fourth and topmost floor of an SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) flat. Hence we were relatively unaffected by the floods. However, I remember a bad flood in 1965 when my sister Lilian was studying in Sec 1 in Whitley Secondary School. I interviewed her for this story:

My school was located at the junction of Whitley Road and Dunearn Road. (The building has since been torn down and replaced by Singapore Chinese Girls' School.) I was in the morning session. The rain probably started sometime in the morning not long after I had arrived in school on a Green Bus.

By the time we were dismissed at around 1 pm, the flood waters around the school had risen to more than 1 metre deep. As the roads around the school were not passable to vehicular traffic, all bus services were suspended. All pupils from the morning session were instructed to assemble in the canteen and wait for the flood to subside. It was a long wait - we were stranded in our own school.

The rain continued to pour and we were cold and hungry. None of us were prepared for this to happen. Most of us had brought only enough pocket money to buy food during recess. In any case, by the time the afternoon recess was over, most of the stalls had run out of food. To make matters worse, there was no public phone in the school. Even if there was, most families did not own a telephone then so there was no way to contact them. I could only hope that my parents were kept informed via media reports.

Nightfall came and still there was no sign of relief. The passage of time seemed excruciatingly slow in such circumstances. After what felt like ages, help finally came at 9 pm - in the form of an army 3-tonner. Somehow, the men-in-green could always be counted on for emergencies like this. I boarded the truck gratefully with scores of other school mates. That was my first and last time that I rode in a 3-tonner. Although the ride was not very comfortable, I can safely say that it was the best ride I ever had in my life. I had to alight at the Rex Cinema and walk another 15 minutes back to my home in Cheng Yan Place near Queen Street.

It is indeed a good thing that we now have Civil Defence exercises to prepare for such eventualities even though that Singapore is now less prone to such massive floods. Thanks goodness and the Government.

That was a story on how we used to walk on water, rather unwillingly. Therefore, I still cannot bring myself to understand how "walking on water" has now become such a privilege that it can be used to sell a condominium.


Thanks to my sister for the above story and also to National Archives of Singapore which supplied all the photos used in this post.

05 November 2006


Today, on the recommendation of my wife, I bought a comic book published last week by Lian He Zao Bao in conjunction with the yearly Speak Mandarin Campaign. It is entitled 新加坡啦 (Singapu-lah). The title is a play of words linking our country's Malay name "Singapura" and Singaporeans' habit of using "lah" to end almost every spoken sentence. The book has a forword by Mr Wong Kan Seng, no less. Therefore its contents must have been officially sanctioned (including topics about sex) and it should be safe for me to blog about it.

The book comes with a CD-ROM containing 30 of the 118 articles. The book could improve your Chinese as well as your sense of humour. You will also appreciate the lighter side of local social issues. At only S$8.80, it is real value for money.

The book's satirical cartoonist is Mr Wu Jia He (吴嘉禾). His cartoons mostly poke fun about local social issues. Here is one example that I found very funny and is an issue close to my heart too. In fact, I had earlier blogged about a similar topic:

My amateurish translation of the Chinese in the above cartoon is as follows:

Wife seated at the table tells elderly husband: "You must be careful. Don't let your Central Provident Fund (公积金) become 'a fund for prostitutes' (供妓金)."

The beauty of this cartoon is in the pun of the two Chinese phrases. They sound very similar to each other but have very different meanings. Yet, they reflect the true situation that's facing many local elderly men who have collected their CPF.

Here's a rough translation of the short article below the cartoon:

The redlight district around Geylang has always been an area where prostitutes solicit for business. However, these foreign women have recently infiltrated into the HDB heartlands. The women's main targets are the elderly retired men who have just withdrew their CPF savings. The women would first approach the old men to strike up a conversation. Next, they would try to negotiate a sexual transaction.

There are some men who, despite of their advanced age, could not resist the temptation to dally with women. After having their fun, they are even foolish enough to handover their CPF savings to these prostitutes. Ultimately, they ended up without the women and without their money.
Hmm... maybe my wife is hinting to me to be careful about my CPF too. After all, I'll be collecting mine in a little over 4 years' time.

03 November 2006

An Article in Zao Bao About "Grandfathers Telling Stories"

On 31 Oct 2006, an article about "grandfathers telling stories" was published in the "zbNOW" section of Zao Bao (早报):

打开博客/网站的狮城旧相簿 阿公讲古也e了

● 林方伟

龙国雄 李白娟(摄影)






  一“打开”林镇思的博客,耳边就仿佛传来保罗安卡(Paul Anka)的《早安,昨日》,让大家掉入浓浓的旧日情怀里。









  宜中宜西的古洪镖记得,每周日下午2点,及晚上6点是李大傻讲古的黄金时段;星期六下午2点则是美国DJ Casey Kasem美国40大流行曲排行榜的转播,这是当年赶流行的男女必听的节目。


  他还在博客写过旧国家图书馆、旧国家剧场、结霜桥(Sungei Road)的旧货市场(他说,这是林镇思交给他的功课),还有旧日办公室里的工具。他说:“我要用娱乐的手法把这些‘历史’传下去。”





  开放一年多,yesterday.sg 的内容完全由民众提供。除了有老人家来话当年,还吸引许多20多岁的e生代上来分享故事、留言等。

  目前yesterday.sg 共有15名志愿的编辑,来自各行各业,有网页设计者、社工、前讲师、自然爱好者等,从20多岁的后辈到60多岁的阿公都有。






  为期3个月的40多个活动,包括:林益民主持的节目"Explore Singapore!"(12月14日,5频道7点半启播)及约27个独特的博物馆活动。














  和“Goodmorningyesterday”一样,这今年5月设立的博客专缅怀新加坡黑白时光。“第13座”原来是取自他当年居住Jalan Merpati的地址。


  由一名新加坡历史学者蔡爱琳(Chua Ai Lin)设立的网上社群,网集许多纪录、展出新加坡文物的地点的专属网址。





  五六十年代英殖民地时期,跟随英籍公务员及军事人员父母住在新加坡的英国人,他们戏谑自称为Britbrats,设立了“回忆新加坡”(Memories of Singapore)网站,网集超过1000多张“明信片”般的照片,提供红毛看古早新加坡,缅怀童年的另一番观点,包括当年的诗家董!



  网站里写道:“在新加坡的童年,每一天都是夏日假期!”,听了好羡慕哦!网站名字取自新加坡南部布拉尼島(Pulau Brani)上的一所小学。

You could have guessed it by now - Chun See and yours truly are both mentioned in the article. The portion in blue is about me and here's my amateur translation of it:

50-year old blogger and civil servant, Victor Koo (http://victorkoo.blogspot.com/) is one of the passionate nostalgic writers. He and Chun See became friends through blogging.

But his is a passion different from that of Chun See's - he blogs on anything that interests him but he still writes more about nostalgia. His latest post is about the old Rediffusion broadcast which had a large following before the TV arrived.

Victor, who is bilingual, remembers that 2 pm and 6 pm every weekday were prime time slots for Lee Dai Soh to narrate his stories while on Saturdays at 2 pm, American DJ Casey Kasem would count down the American Top 40s, which was a "must hear" programme for trendy people of that time.

Victor said that when he could find the time, he would write about TV culture in the 60s: "In the late 60s, one or two years after TV was introduced into Singapore, my family bought a TV. At that time, most people did not own a TV. We were staying in an SIT flat. The neighbours' kids would just enter our flat, sit down and watch TV, without asking for permission. They would be glued to the TV set till the end of the last TV program. That was a completely different living culture. Nowadays, flats have their doors securely locked most of the time."

He also blogged about the old National Library, the National Theatre, the second-hand goods market of Sungei Road (he said that this was an assignment given by Chun See) as well as old office equipment. He said, "I want to pass history down in an entertaining way."

Although it is only about nostalgia, Victor felt that if we wanted to record history on the web, we should have our facts and figures right. "Initially in the Rediffusion post, I mentioned the decline of Lee Dai Soh's storytelling was due to the Speak Mandarin campaign being introduced in year 1982. Later I realised that I had made a mistake - the year should have been 1979. The error was promptly corrected."

For the record, the article too had a glaring error - neither Chun See nor myself is a grandfather yet.

The article is also available via the following links:

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