31 December 2006

Four Official Languages Of Singapore

I guess I could squeeze in one last complaint before the year is out.

Every Mary, Mei Ling, Ali and Gopal in Singapore know that our country's 4 official languages are, not in any order of preference, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Since when we were young, this fact had been drummed into us. So much so that our primary school readers all had the four main characters named in the first sentence of this paragraph. I am not being racist here but in my frank opinion, the natural forming of such a multi-racial group of friends, though not entirely impossible, is quite unlikely in practice.

I remember when TV transmission started every morning, we were greeted by 4 people in their traditional costumes speaking 4 official languages. Similarly, when transmission ended in the evenings, we were greeted "Good night", "晚安", "Selamat malam" and "Vanakam" separately by 4 people of different races.

Our Singapore Tourism Board's "Uniquely Singapore" website even proudly proclaims so:

There are four official languages in Singapore: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English. English is the language of business and administration, and is widely spoken and understood. Most Singaporeans are bilingual, and speak their mother tongue as well as English. Malay is the national language.

So does the website for expatriates in Singapore:

Because of its multiracial makeup, Singapore recognises four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. English is the language of administration. Malay is the language in which the National Anthem is sung. In schools, children usually take English as the first language and one of the other 3 as a second language. For all intents and purposes, most conversations and business in Singapore are conducted in either English or Mandarin.

Yes, our national language is Malay and our National Anthem is written in that language although many non-Malay Singaporeans do not understand a word of the language, let alone speak it. As to why this is so, it has a lot to do with our history which I will not delve into here.

I remember that several years ago, there were complaints from the public about the only-English information signboards at our MRT stations. As I drive, I never noticed whether the SMRT has since implemented 4-language signboards at all its MRT stations. Maybe someone can enlighten?

A lot of signs I see now are still in 4 official languages. Here is one example:

And rightly so. When it comes to keeping away from danger, you have to make sure that everybody understands the message.

Just a while ago, I was driving to East Coast Lagoon Food Centre for dinner. What I saw on this sign near the service road next to the food centre surprised me:

I am literate in neither Tamil or Japanese but I can tell that the last line on the signboard looks more like the latter than the former. Whatever happened to Tamil? Has the Japanese expatriate or migrant community become so populous in Singapore that they have ousted our Tamil-speaking countrymen? Or did we suffer yet another Japanese invasion since World War II without even knowing it ourselves? What do our Tamil-speaking countrymen have to say about this?

Considering that we are currently having a Korean invasion in Singapore as well, wouldn't Korean be also on our roadsigns one day?

I hope that this post did not spoil your new year in any way. Happy New Year to everyone.

26 December 2006

So Did The Rubbish Bin Finally Cross The Road? - An Update

I have received an email reply (see below) from LTA dated 25 Dec 2006 to my query on why is the rubbish bin waiting to cross the road?

I sent the query to LTA via their on-line feedback website on 21 Dec 2006.

(Wow, LTA works on Christmas Day! I am impressed.)

Dear Mr Koo,


Thank you for your feedback 21 Dec 2006.

We would like to inform you that your feedback is under the purview of the National Environment Agency (NEA). We will, by copy of this email, refer your feedback to them for their attention and reply to you.

Should you wish to contact NEA directly on the matter, please refer to their email address below.

We thank you for writing in.

Yours sincerely,

Email: Contact_NEA@nea.gov.sg

At around 8 a.m. today, I received the following response from NEA:

Dear Mr Victor Koo

Thank you for your email dated 25th December 2006 Via LTA.

This is being addressed by North West Regional Office. Our Officer will reply to you accordingly.

Please call us or email Contact_NEA@nea.gov.sg again if NEA can be of further service.

Thank you for your time and interest.


Service Officer
Tel: 1800-CALL NEA [1800-2255 632]
National Environment Agency Call Centre

Our Environment -- We Care
It was quite a nice touch and very impressive of NEA to come up with a reply within 24 hours of receiving the email from LTA. But what I read next at the end of the email frightened the shit out of me:

This message may contain confidential information under the purview of the Official Secrets Act. Unauthorized communication or disclosure of such information is an offence under the Official Secrets Act. If you are not the intended recipient of this message, please notify the sender and delete it. Do not retain it or disclose the contents to any person as it may be an offence under the Official Secrets Act.
Whoa, since when have environmental issues become official secrets?

Hmm... does it look like LTA is passing the bin buck to NEA who in turn is passing it to its North West Regional Office? Meanwhile, I passed by the zebra crossing this morning and the rubbish bin was still there. So Alex was right when he commented that LTA would probably get another department to look at the problem. Smart aleck Alex. How did you know? You worked in LTA before ah?

24 December 2006

'Tis The Season For Giving, Forgiving, Forgetting And Remembering

During this Christmas and New Year season, it is appropriate to reflect on some wise sayings by some wise men (and women).

My fellow blogger and friend Chun See once quoted Shirley MacLaine (US movie actress, 1934-?): "Fear makes strangers of people who should be friends". Chun See also likes to quote song lyrics, e.g. from Andy Williams' song, May Each Day - "May you make friends with each one you meet" in my blog entry here.

I will return Chun See his favours by quoting him a few more good ones:

"It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend".
- William Blake, English engraver, illustrator, & poet (1757 - 1827)

"He hasn't an enemy in the world - but all his friends hate him".
- Eddie Cantor, US comedian & singer (1892 - 1964)

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."
- Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist, novelist, & poet (1854 - 1900)

In addition, when ushering in the New Year, we usually sing Auld Lang Syne. I have always been wondering what the song title means. Frankly, I also find the lyrics "Should all acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind" quite a weird and even bad thing to say to your acquaintances. The song seems to be persuading us to forget our friends in the New Year, although I am pretty sure that this is not what is really meant.

So I googled for information about this song. Below is what I found and extracted from a 4 Jan 2006 entry of JustJane's blog about the same subject:

What way better to begin the year than to sing this confusing if not contradicting lyric? Should we remember or forget them? Perhaps this is a case by case basis. It is kind of phrased like a question so maybe we should remember what is worth remembering and don't waste time on those you care to forget.

Also, we sing this every year but everyone gives me a puzzled look when I ask them what the phrase "Auld Lang Syne" means. I looked it up and found it is a very old Scottish song from the 1700s that loosely translated, means "for times gone by"

It is pertinent to cite here two recent incidents about making friends and enemies; and about forgiving and forgetting.

First Incident

Date: 20 Dec 2006 (Wed)

Venue: East Coast Park

Persons involved: A colleague/skater (whom I shall call CS in short, and I don't mean his height) and a middle-aged couple (whom I shall call M for the man and W for the woman).

CS has just changed into his in-line skates while sitting in his car. The car door was still ajar and the adjacent few car park lots were empty. Before CS could move out on his skates and close his car door, a Volvo car came along and parked in the adjacent lot, coming very close to CS car's open door. W in the front passenger seat could not get out of the car so she wound down the window.

W: Would you mind moving away so that I could get out?

CS: Can you please give me some time? You see, I am a learner skater and I move quite slowly on skates. Anyway, there are so many other lots available, I don't understand why you must park right next to my car.

W: This is a public carpark you know? I can park anywhere I like. Since you don't know how to skate, Why can't you go elsewhere to learn your skating?

CS: I will skate anywhere I want, including this carpark which is public for skaters as well, you xxx [word deleted, meaning 'donkey' or 'backside']



M (speaking for the first time): That is too much. Apologise to her or I will call my lawyer to sue you.

CS (after much thought and deliberation): Okay..., I am sorry.

W: Sorry for what?

CS: Sorry for calling you an XXX [with wilful emphasis on the last word].

W (even angrier): WHAT?

CS: [Repeated the same answer in defiance.]

W (extremely angry): Your eyes are twitching!

CS: My eyes twitch even when I am not angry. You want to see a letter from my doctor?

W: Okay next time don't do it again.

CS: Do it again? Please lah, I hope I won't ever meet you again.

W: !!!???

At this point another colleague intervened and a disastrous Third World War was narrowly adverted. As fate would have it, it turned out that later that evening, CS really bumped into (and I don't mean it literally) the couple again on the cycling track. (CS was skating while the couple was training for the marathon.) At MGC's persuasion, CS shook hands with M and waved and smiled to W. All unpleasant exchanges that happened earlier that evening were forgiven and forgotten by everyone involved (except me). Like MGC, I admire CS for having the humility, courage, magnanimity and initiative to make up with the couple. Well done, CS.

Second Incident

Date: 21 Dec 2006 (Thu)

Venue: Maxwell Food Centre

Persons involved: Three colleagues (including MGC), another middle-aged couple (I shall call the man M1) and I

It was lunchtime at the food centre. As it was very crowded, we requested to share a table with the middle-aged couple. I noticed that the man was drinking coffee in an antique-looking cup. It smelled very fragrant.

I: Excuse me, may I know which stall did you order the coffee from?

M1: Oh it's from this stall just behind us. I tell you, his coffee is good. Other stalls' coffee cannot make it one.

(Convinced, I ordered a cup of coffee. It was indeed very good.)

M1: Do all of you work around here?

I: No we work in Science Park. How about you?

M1: Me? I am retired.

MGC: Retired? Just being curious, in your opinion what is the ideal age for retirement?

M1: I am a retired civil servant aged 57 who left service several years ago. You should not be thinking about retirement if you don't have a total of S$2 million in retirement savings for husband-and-wife.

I (slurping my 60-cents rickshaw noodles): I think it all depends on what standard of living you want. If your lifestyle is very simple with meals consisting of only rickshaw noodles, I don't think you need that much. By the way, where did you work?

M1: I was with NPB.

I: NPB? Do you know Chun See?

M1: Of course I know him. I was his boss for a number of years.

I: Good. Then you can join us at yesterday.sg.

With that, I asked for his name card. I look forward to the start of a new friendship with my new-found friend.

I hope that the two real stories that I related above managed to warm your heart a little this holiday season. Please find it in your heart to forgive anyone (including me) for all the wrong things he/she might have said or done that could have offended you.

Incidentally, the young man (my elder son) was born today 15 years ago at around 9 pm. As he was delivered in Mt Elizabeth Hospital, the gynaecologist must have abandoned his Christmas dinner and braved the massive Orchard Road jams just to rush down to deliver my boy. A big thank you to Mr Teoh S H. And thank God for blessing me with a healthy and brilliant child, an invaluable Christmas present which I will treasure and love forever. (This does not mean that I treasure my younger son any less. He is worthy of a separate blog entry which is no less inspiring. I will certainly blog about it, maybe at his next birthday in October.)

I remember carrying my elder son for the first time in my arms when he was a newborn. The feeling as a first-time father is simply ecstatic. It is very difficult to describe in words but those of you who have had the same experience will know what I mean.

Before I forget, here's wishing a very Happy Birthday to the young man.

My gratefulness also goes out to my dear 干女儿 (blogo god-daughter) Elaine who gave me a very meaningful and thoughtful Christmas present. I will blog about it when I am done with it. (Maybe by Christmas next year? Haha.) As Elaine's birthday comes in 5 days' time, I also wish her a very Happy Birthday. Have an enjoyable Bangkok trip too.

Last but not least, I wish one and all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

21 December 2006

Why Is The Rubbish Bin Waiting To Cross The Road?

Despite the title, this post is not intended to be a riddle.

Last Sunday at about 5.30 pm, I noticed that a small tree on the central road divider just outside Punggol Plaza had been uprooted, probably by the strong winds of the prevailing Northeast Monsoon. It was blocking all of the right lane of the two-lane road. So I called the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on their hard-to-forget 24-hour Hotline - 1800-CALL-LTA or 1800-2255582. When the duty officer answered the call, I informed him about the fallen tree. He said that someone else had already reported the incident. Alright, so I was slower than others in reporting this one. Not minding that, I took the opportunity to inform him of another potentially dangerous situation on the road which I have noticed for several months already. So far in this case, it seemed like nobody was interested in competing with me in calling LTA.

You see, I am talking about this huge brown rubbish bin (dimensions about 4 x 4 x 4 feet) placed at one end of a zebra crossing at the filter road from Holland Road turning left into Queensway. The presence of a large tree at the same location made the situation even worse:

The road leading to the dangerous filter road (at left of photo).

The huge dustbin circled in red behind the large tree trunk.

A taxi slowing down only because it had to give way to a vehicle from the right.

Now imagine a 10-year old child waiting behind the dustbin to use the zebra crossing. His/her presence will be completely obscured by the rubbish bin from the view of approaching motorists. And you know how some 10-year olds just love to dash across zebra crossings without looking out for on-coming traffic. You are probably also all too familiar with the fact that most motorists do not slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing.

Even if a tall adult were to use the zebra-crossing, his/her presence could still be blocked by the large tree trunk. Therefore, a nasty accident is just waiting to happen at this location. It is a potential deathtrap for pedestrians. The inattentive motorist would also get into serious trouble if he/she hits a pedestrian at a zebra crossing.

The duty officer seemed convinced by my persuasive arguments and assured me that LTA would "look into" the situation. I remember that he asked for my handphone number, "just in case". However 3 days later, the rubbish bin is still there.

(Ah, maybe LTA really "looked into" the rubbish bin, found nothing, so did nothing?) I have the following questions for the LTA:

1. Is LTA waiting for an accident to happen first before it will do something? Must innocent people lose their lives or limbs before something is done?

2. Why does LTA provide a convenient feedback channel but yet seem to take its own sweet time in acting on the public's feedback?

3. On the other hand, LTA seems to be very efficient in other matters that do not involve life and death. For example, when I crossed a double-white line at Braddell Road some months ago, I was given a ticket demanding payment almost immediately. Has LTA got its priorities right?

4. And the final few questions - I know that the tree is not waiting to cross the road but is the rubbish bin there to do the same? If it is not, then may I suggest that it be removed?

Note: An email has been sent to LTA with an HTML link to this self-explanatory blog post. If there is still no action by the LTA, I will give up trying to be a civic-concious citizen. Instead, I will just let the powerful Internet do the work for me. But then I will have a new riddle to solve, i.e. how could the LTA be so indifferent?

18 December 2006

Another Parking Idiot

I never expected that within one week, I could encounter a second parking idiot. Yesterday (a Sunday), this off-peak Hyundai car, reg. no. SFP1330K, was parked in Deck 4A of Blk 171 Ponggol Field, a multi-storey HDB carpark just next to Punggol Plaza. When I parked my car there at 5.30 pm, the car was already parked this way. When I went back to get my car at 7.00 pm, it was still parked this way. (Sorry that the timing on my camera was probably showing GMT time.)

Parking at this car park on Sundays and public holidays is free, like most other HDB car parks. However, non-residents must park on Deck 3 and above. Lower decks are reserved for residents. Because of its proximity to Punggol Plaza, many weekend visitors to the shopping centre take advantage of the free parking in this car park. (I checked - this car did not have a resident carpark disc and hence probably belonged to a visitor, like me). Parking a car in two lots is a despicable act which no sane driver would condone, even more so if this selfish act is done in a popular car park like this one.

Unlike the driver I encountered earlier in the week whom Chun See thought could have been a victim of circumstances, this driver clearly had no excuse for parking the car this way. If you refer to the above photo, there was a passage way to the right of the car. The driver had left a very wide clearance of at least 4 feet away from the edge of the passage way. In fact, he/she had parked the car more than 1 foot into the next lot.

A free car park does not mean a free-for-all car park where drivers can park any way they like. Alright, so he/she was driving an off-peak car which meant that he/she probably drove only once or twice a week. He/she may lack some practice in parking but still, it is no bloody excuse to park this way. Clearly an idiot, no doubt about it.

17 December 2006

Yet More Ugly Singaporeans in E-auctions

This post is a sequel of sorts to the last one about disgraceful Singaporeans.

Just as it was Chris who introduced me to blogging last year, it was also he who introduced me to the mechanics of e-auction about 2 years ago. (Come to think of it, I do have a lot of reasons to be grateful to Chris, don't I? I really ought to treat him better.) The first item that I sold via auction was a 17-inch CRT monitor which was still in good working condition. It had been lying in my storeroom for weeks, gathering dust and at the same time occupying precious space in my small HDB flat. It suddenly occurred to me that electronic items would go out of order if not used for some time, just like our brains. So why not try to sell the item via auction and get back some pocket money? It makes very good sense, doesn't it? So put it up in Yahoo auctions I did and the item was sold for $60 in a matter of days - not bad at all.

Since then, there is no turning back for me. I have sold various items via auction and have also bought quite a few. Among the other items I sold were a 14-inch CRT colour TV, a 19-inch LCD monitor, a VCD player and a brand new wireless keyboard and mouse which I won in a Sitex lucky draw last year. Among the used items I bought were an XBox set with games, a mini-mahjong set, a pair of PC speakers with subwoofer and even an electronic book about the Linux operating system for only 50 cents. In fact, you can buy or sell almost anything via auction, whether old or new. For example, if you have mistakenly bought 5 copies of the Singapore Encyclopedia (like I have, thinking that you could make some money since you got them at only half price due to your 'connections'), you can sell the extra copies via auction. But whether you make money or not is anyone's guess. The only items you are not supposed to sell are illegal items like firearms, pornography, state secrets, your blood and organs (not the type that play music), yourself, your spouse, your children, etc. It is also unethical to sell perishable items that are past their 'use by' dates. Used items in good condition are generally acceptable for sale via auction, except for used underwear and condoms, no matter how good their condition.

Just as in a brick-and-mortar business, you will encounter all kinds of people in e-auction. The Chinese has a famous saying with obvious meaning - 'one type of rice will grow one hundred types of people'. Here I share some of the more interesting experiences with you.

I encountered a buyer who wanted to return a perfectly good item the very next day because he found out that it didn't quite suit his purpose. I had every right not to take back the item but he was quite apologetic and offered to compensate me for transport cost. Basically I am quite a soft-hearted person. In the end, I took back the item and charged him only a nominal transport fee.

Then there was this buyer who changed his mind the very next day after winning my auction item:

His sms: "So so sorry, I have 2nd thoughts about buying this item. Need to consider again. So sorry again."

My sms: "Maybe you can let me know what you are using the item for and I can advise if it is suitable?"

His sms: "At first, I want to use it to connect my PC to the TV set. But the wires will be messy."

My sms: "*Rolling eyes* Okay, then convince me why I shouldn't give you a bad rating?"

His sms: "Go ahead and give me a bad rating. I deserve it."
(For those who don't know, once a deal is done, buyer and seller can give each other a rating. There are 3 types of ratings - good, neutral or bad. The rating counts and accompanying comments are recorded for the whole world to see. The purpose is to give potential buyers and sellers an idea whether that individual has a good track record so far and hence would be considered safe or unsafe to deal with accordingly.)

Again, my soft-heartedness did me in - I gave that person a neutral rating.

Then there was an interested buyer, probably a member of the fairer sex, who posed some very funny questions regarding my VCD player which was on sale for only $12. She obviously didn't know that I like to respond to funny questions with equally funny answers:

Interested buyer: Barter trade?

Me: Huh barter trade? Pay me with 10 kg of rice ah?

Interested buyer: Now is 20th century, exchange my auction item.

Me: Correction, now is 21st century NOT 20th century. Exactly my point - still got people do barter trade meh? Anyway I took a look at your 35 items on auction - they are mostly ladies' handbags. Being a man who is straight, I have no use for a handbag. So sorry lor.
Needless to say, I didn't hear from her ever again.

12 December 2006

Other Disgraceful Singaporeans - Parking Idiots

This article is written as a timely response to Chun See's post yesterday about disgraceful Singaporeans.

Yesterday, I was at East Coast Road for dinner with my family. I was looking for a hard-to-find parking lot when what I saw next made me flew into a rage - I saw this car parked at the roadside occupying two parking lots. The car was parked this way for at least half an hour. When the idiot driver came back for his car, I saw that it he was a man.

I have just submitted the photo to parkingidiots.blogspot.com with the following accompanying text:
This Fit driver is not fit to park!

His car (reg. no. SGK8416R) was caught on 11 Dec 2006 at about 6 pm along East Coast Road. His car was occupying two lots in East Coast Road where there is usually a shortage of parking lots especially during dinner time. He was parked there like this for at least half an hour. Meanwhile many car drivers like me slowed down while driving by, thinking that there was a space to park but moved away after realizing that this inconsiderate idiot had occupied two lots.

I hope that parkingidiots.blogspot.com will publish my entry. Through this "blogo-community policing", especially for matters falling outside the jurisdiction of the blogo-policeman, I hope that Singaporean drivers will gradually be educated not only to drive safely but also to park considerately. It is a slow process but with the power and the reach of the Internet, I believe it can be done. Singaporeans will be more graceful with some effort - our combined effort, that is.

09 December 2006

A Peek Into The Life Of A Foreign Talent

Last Monday, I was at my office canteen for breakfast. After buying my food, I sat down at the same table where one of the canteen staff was also having her meal. She had served me several times before. From her accent and her fair complexion, it was obvious to me that she hailed from China. She appeared to be around 25-year old. I started a conversation with her in Mandarin. It went like this:

Me: You are from China aren't you?

She: Yes.

Me: Do you need to apply for a work permit to work here?

She: Yes, a two-year permit. I've been here for 6 months already.

Me: Do you have to pay any agency fee to come here?

She: I paid almost $10,000 in Sing dollars in advance.

Me: Wah, so much? By the way, what is the minimum education level for applying for a work permit?

She: All levels, from primary level to university graduate also can.

Me: How about yourself?

She: I am a university grad.

Me (quite surprised): Really? What did you study?

She: Hotel studies.

Me: Then why didn't you apply for a job in a hotel.

She: Gain some working experience first. Maybe later.
After talking with her, I felt very lucky but at the same time, very humbled. She could very well have been my superior, if only she had been a Singaporean.

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:

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6

31 October 2006

Taking Humorous Photos

Chris' comments on my previous post prompted me to write this one. In that post, Chris had accused me, albeit only jokingly, that I must have photoshopped that sprained ankle photo to falsely show a swollen foot. His insinuation, although he might not have meant it, was that I must have done so to justify my medical leave from work. How suspecting of Chris! I would like to state in no uncertain terms that I would never stoop so low, even when limping from a sprained ankle.

I like to take humorous photos. (However, that is not to say that my swollen left foot was a funny photo.) To capture a funny photo, you need to be quite observant and have an eye (actually both eyes) for detail. Take for example this photo I took of an unusual car:

Before Chris starts getting suspicious again, let me state categorically that save for my personal watermark, the photos in this post are all 100% original. They were all taken by me and not "ripped off from the Internet" as Chris likes to put it. Can you guess how this "hybrid" car photo came to be?

I also like to take photos of funny signboards:

This signboard was sighted at the hospital where I went for the treatment of my ankle. Obviously someone, likely a smoker, wasn't too happy with the restriction.

This cafe seems to pride itself in its slow service. It might as well add "Only for the patronage of the very patient who will not fall asleep while waiting for his 'wake-me-up' coffee".

Does this hawker know that he may be driving away "newly health concious" customers like Chris?

To be fair, I also came across signboards that were quite creative in the choice of words. One prawn mee stall at Dunman Food Centre was named "Old King Koh's Prawn Mee". People of my generation will recognise that as a play of words of the nursery rhyme "Ole King Cole". The stall owner was probably a Mr Koh. Sadly, his creativity and humour seemed to have outlasted his business - the stall had stopped operating since several months ago.

Then there was this pub in Joo Chiat Place called "Old Man's Pub". Great! Finally a pub to cater specially for my generation, I thought. I was curious to know if the drinks were served by old bargirls to match the clientele. However, I did not get to find out because the pub closed down before I could patronise it. Maybe that's because they really had old bargirls, heh.