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.