Thursday, July 27, 2006

Maids in Singapore- not humans?

Dear friends,
I have just sent the following letter to the Strait Times forum page today. I feel that in certain segments of our society, maids are not considered worthy of normal human rights. What do you say? Is it a non-issue?

Dear Editor,

I refer to the Straits Times article “Compulsory day off in new maid contracts” by Radha Basu dated 21 July 2006.

Despite the upbeat tone of the heading, there will in fact be almost no improvement in the welfare of our domestic maids as it is still not mandatory for them to have a weekly day of rest.

MP-elect Madam Halimah Yaacob, has correctly pointed out that even with the new contract which supposedly stipulates that maids should be “given a compulsory day off every month - or cash in lieu”, a maid would find it tough to go up against her boss “because the power relations are uneven”. And that is for a day off per month, not even the weekly off that she needs.

Ex- Nominated MP Braema Mathi, also said that the new contract offered too many options for potential “recalcitrant employers” who will exploit these loopholes. For example, she said, the clause on accommodation offers three options on where a maid will sleep - in the children's room, in a separate room and 'others'!

To me, contracts with words like “ others” and “or cash in lieu” are unenforcable and hence just a waste of ink.

In this day and age, when even the civil service has implemented 5-day weeks, is it so hard to understand that these 150,000 maids are just like you and I, requiring relaxation and rest?

These workers, who are an asset to our national economy, are not slaves and should be accorded the same human rights that you and I take for granted.

How can even a monthly day-off not be mandatory? I just cannot fathom the logic!

Abusive employers use threats of repatriation- when the maids stand to lose their life-savings, to ensure that the latter “toe the line” and not report maltreatment and other infringements.

The fear of forfeiture of the compulsory $5000 security bond, has caused many employers to keep their maids under lock and key. To them, this $5000 far exceeds the maids’ need for freedom.

I do not disagree with Consumer Association of Singapore president,MP-elect Yeo Guat Kwang who says that “rogue employers were more the exception than the rule” and that most Singaporean employers treat their maids humanely.

How then do we ensure that the recalcitrant “exceptions” get punished?

The mechanism for maids to report infractions in their contracts must be clearly spelled out so that all employers know that no abuses of their workers would be tolerated by the authorities.

However, many of us still hope for the day when all in Singapore, even oversea foreign workers, are treated equally- as fellow human beings.

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

I am attaching the article for your convenience:

Straits Times 21 July 2006 “Compulsory day off in new maid contracts “
By Radha Basu
(Dr. Huang: I personally feel that the heading is misleading)

EMPLOYMENT contracts for maids will soon spell out that they be given a compulsory day off every month - or cash in lieu.

This will apply to contracts between maids and employers that are signed or renewed from Sept 15.

The contract, aimed at protecting maids from abuse, was unveiled yesterday by CaseTrust and the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore, which accredit 500-odd maid agencies.

The two bodies have also drawn up a second document - a standard service agreement binding employers and maid agencies, which requires transparency in fees payable and refund policies.

All accredited agencies have agreed to use both contracts from Sept 15.

Till now, contracts between employers and Singapore's 150,000 maids have been inconsistent. Reports of maids being denied days off or sufficient rest and food have surfaced, drawing ire from maid welfare advocates and human rights groups.

Calls for a day off to be enshrined in law have been made, but the Government has said Singapore laws provide enough protection, and urged maid agencies and accreditation bodies to design a standard contract to make rest days and other terms an industry standard.

Consumer Association of Singapore president Yeo Guat Kwang called the two documents 'a big step forward' in wiping out ambiguities about hiring maids.

The contract entitles maids to between one and four days off a month; if the maid gives up her day off, she must be paid.

Maid welfare advocates say the contract is a right move, but see more room to tighten some of the rules.

The president of civil society group Transient Workers Count Too, Braema Mathi, said the contract offered too many options - and thus, too much manoeuvring room - 'which may turn into loopholes for recalcitrant employers'. For example, she said, the clause on accommodation offers three options on where a maid will sleep - in the children's room, in a separate room and 'others', so 'an employer could make his maid sleep in the living room and still not breach the contract', she said.

Ms Bridget Lew, who heads the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, pointed out the contract still offers less protection than the law can, and that domestic maids are not guaranteed rest days under the Employment Act, unlike most other workers.

'Enforcing a contract will be far more difficult than enforcing a law,' she said.
Member of Parliament Madam Halimah Yaacob, another maid welfare advocate, said that even with the contract, a maid would find it tough to go up against her boss 'because the power relations are uneven'.

Mr Yeo, however, said rogue employers were more the exception than the rule, and that the Manpower Ministry would come down hard on that minority.

2. I am also linking a "tongue-in-cheek" rebuttal to another forum writer about this issue (more than one year ago). I was very sarcastic and caustic! Ouch!! It was entitled: " Insatiable? Lock them up then!"

3. Link to Human Rights Watch article

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cambodia Holocaust: The Killing Fields revisited

Dear friends,

Even as Singapore mourns the passing of one of her founding fathers this past week (for the late Mr. Lim Kim San), there was another wake of sorts somewhere in our ASEAN neighbor of Cambodia.

Ta Mok, a former Khmer Rouge leader nicknamed "The Butcher" had just died. He was the regime's military commander and together with the Khmer Rouge leadership, were linked to many atrocities of the 1970s where about 1.7 million people died under the Khmer Rouge, through a combination of starvation, disease and execution. Unfortunately, many of these accused, including its leader Pol Pot has since died.

The Vietnam war and its aftermath is all too real for me as the 1970’s was a time when the concept of “Domino Theory” held sway in American foreign policy circles , and this led many of us to believe that after Vietnam and Cambodia had fallen to the Communists, Thailand ,Malaysia and Singapore would be the next dominoes fated to fall.

Words and names such as Pol Pot, the “Killing Fields” etc inexplicably trigger poignant memories of my days at medical school in the National University of Singapore. I remember vividly the day when the news came.

I was studying at the old medical library (now College of Medicine Building-the Ministry of Health), College Rd.

The news was that the British charity, Oxfam, has finally got into Cambodia for the first time in years. Dr. Fletcher, our physiology lecturer (from the UK) was helping to coordinate the collection of funds for the charity.

One must remember that up till then, there had been no news at all about Cambodia since the xenophobic Khmer Rouge seized power at about the same time the American-backed South Vietnam had fallen to the communist North Vietnamese (1975). Cambodia (now renamed Kampuchea) continued to remain incommunicado even after she was invaded by Vietnam in 1978.

At that time in 1981/82 (I cannot recall the exact month), we were third year medical students. Although not rich, my fellow classmates and I emptied our wallets and purses in response to this urgent call for aid. I remember helping to fill cylindrical glass jars (loaned from our labs) with notes of various denominations. We must have collected at least a few hundred Singapore dollars.

I am not sure if those measly dollars helped much, but that was our only way to share our humanity with those fellow human beings who had been through worse than Hell on earth.

It was only a few weeks later that the magnitude of the catastrophe was made known to the rest of the world via the world’s media.

And most of us only fully realised the extent of the Cambodian holocaust from the 1984 Academy award-winning movie “The Killing Fields “,which was based on the experience of the journalist Dith Pran, who survived the Khmer Rouge regime. Dr. Haing Ngor, himself a real-life survivor of this tragedy starred as Dith Pran.

In 1996,the Oscar-winning film star was himself tragically murdered senselessly in his adopted city of Los Angeles by an Asian street gang.

Another noteworthy mention about Cambodia was that even after the Khmer Rouge were evicted from power by the Vietnamese, ASEAN and its western friends, through a series of diplomatic manouevres, ensured that the murderous Khmer Rouge (rather than the Vietnam-backed communist government) held on to Cambodia's seat in the United Nations!

In foreign policy ,your enemy’s enemy is your friend. We would rather be in bed with the Khmer Rouge even if there were the world’s most barbaric regime.

I will never understand the senseless cruelty and inhumanity we show towards other fellow human beings in places like Cambodia, Auschwitz, Srebrenica ,Rwanda and the Sudan.

I will bet my last dollar that Cambodia and other tragedies like her would be repeated till the end of time. And all Khmer Rouge’s leaders (who are now awaiting trial for crimes against humanity) will inevitably die natural deaths and their victims remain buried in those Killing Fields, unavenged!

And somehow, at the passing of these human monsters, there will still be those who will mourn their deaths! Just as Ta Mok is mourned.

Life sucks.

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Links to Cambodian Genocide:

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ngiam Tong Dow: Singapore the Nation is Bigger than Singapore the Country

Addendum:Report of Mr. Ngiam's talk plus Q&A session available here (from SIIA website)



Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address and interact with a younger generation of Singaporeans. I have just celebrated my 69th birthday, so I am really of your parents' generation. My generation of Singaporeans were born just before or during the Japanese occupation of Singapore (1942-1945). We went to school and grew up into young adulthood in the immediate post war years in the 1950s.

Singapore: Then and Now

Living today in clean and orderly HDB eats, or spanking new condominiums with swimming pools and gymnasium, it is even difficult for my generation to recall the fetid slums of Chinatown or the swampy unsewered mosquito-infested kampongs of Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio or Geylang. Other than Raffles Institution and the five leading mission or community-based schools of AGO, St Josephs and St. Andrews, Chinese High and Chung Cheng, most of us went to what we would be known today as neighbourhood or vernacular schools.

As someone who went to a neighbourhood school, no general science was taught. My classmates who aspired to be doctors studied general science at the privately run Singapore Institute of Science. Additional mathematics was taught only to the "A" class long before the concept of streaming in school was introduced. However all classes did elementary mathematics. There was no stigma being in the "B" class.

Forty years later, I glowed with pride when I was privileged to be the guest of honor when my alma mater, the Serangoon English School, moved into its state of the art new school building at the end of Upper Serangoon Road. The school is now teaching life sciences, instead of plain biology.

The British Colonial Administration

The British colonial administration which returned victorious to Singapore in 1945, quickly re-established the English medium schools. The Chinese clan and the various Christian missions followed soon after, restarting their schools. School fees at $2 or $4 a month could be considered high when household incomes were probably less than $100 a month.

Fees were waived for children from poorer homes. Schools operated on two sessions. To make up for the lost war years, my classmates and I were given double promotions so that we could complete Primary I and II, and Standard I and II in two, instead of four, calendar years. We were none the worse for the accelerated promotions.

Equal Opportunity in Education

I believe that a key foundation for Singapore's success is that we have been able to give equal opportunity and access to education to all our children Imagine where we would be today, if half our population is illiterate. We would be nowhere in the global rankings of a knowledge-based world. Knowledge is now the very essence of globes competition.

Asian cultures have always placed the highest priority on education. However didactic and doctrinal teaching alone will not help to position a country to compete in today's knowledge-based world. Knowledge for survival has to embrace more than just science and technology. Some of Singapore's research institutes may excel in the acquisition of hard original scientific knowledge.

However Singapore can probably do better in the integration of knowledge to provide what modern management calls holistic solutions.

Unglamourous, Unsex, Infrastructural Projects

In any case, application of technology does not require rocket science. Singapore has in fact invested heavily in several highly advanced though unglamourous, unsexy, infrastructural projects.

Our Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) System built in the 1980s, our four incinerator plants costing half-a-billion dollars each, our ongoing deep tunnel sewerage project, are all state of the art projects. My regret is that after paying billions of dollars to build them, we remain only as users and operators.

Unlike the Japanese and the Chinese we did not organise ourselves to design these technologically advanced systems for export. This was brought home to me vividly when I visited the Tuas incinerator plant as PS (Finance) In the 1990s.

The representative of the German consulting company which designed our incinerator plants shook my hand and thanked me profusely for what I thought was his consulting fee of $50 million. Being German, he was direct in telling me that he was thanking me not for the fee but the operating data he was able to collect from our plant burning wet rubbish. Our data would help his engineers to work out the optimum injection of fuel to bum the garbage. This data would position his company to win similar design consultancies in other humid tropical cities such as Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta.

Without diminishing the excellent work of A*Star in life sciences. I would think that it would serve Singapore better if we encourage more down to earth applied research in meeting the basic infrastructural needs of our neighbouring countries. Our water reclamation companies are doing just that.

Knowledge-based competition is an unavoidable reality in today's world. Let us learn to choose the areas where we have a comparative advantage.

Connections Connectivity and Affinities

International competition for national survival is not just knowledge-based in the narrow sense of the word. It is also about connections, connectivity, and racial affinities.

The country of Singapore with a population of 3 million, even doubling to six, will not have the depth of talent that countries like China, India, Japan, Indonesia, or Brazil with their billion-sized populations will have. Though I believe firmly that the individual Singaporean is as competent and as talented as anybody else in the world, the law of numbers will challenge us in a knowledge-based world.

We can however take comfort in the model of biblical Israel. It is said that the Jewish race is Gods chosen people. The funny thing is that there are mare Jewish people living outside Israel than inside. The nation of Israel is therefore larger than the country of Israel.

Singapore: The Nation Is Larger Than The Country

Can there be a nation of Singapore larger than the country of Singapore? How each one of us answer this question will determine our long-term future as a people.

Mr Robert Kuok, the Malaysian Chinese entrepreneur par excellence, in reply to a question asked at a private function at the National University of Singapore said unequivocally that Singapore as an economy would survive. More so now that economic competition is knowledge more than resource based.

When Singapore separated from Malaysia in August 1985, barely two years after we merged with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. to form the Federation of Malaysia, we lost the prospect of a Malaysian common market. Whatever the unspoken agenda of the political leadership of the four states seeking merger were, the compelling rationale for Singapore was to form a common market to enhance our chances for economic survival.

Import Substitution and Infant Industry Protection

In the 1960's, third world oriented UN economists, such as Paul Prebisch, the first Secretary General of the United Nations Commission for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), advocated a policy of import substitution and infant industry protection for developing countries. The idea was simple and seductive.

Developing countries should produce their own consumer products instead of importing them. They would also impose high import duties to protect the new infant industries from foreign competition. The problem was that the infants never grew up. The crony capitalists of the licensing bureaucrats grew fat by exploiting the highly protected high-cost domestic markets.

Like all developing countries at the time, Singapore also adopted the strategy of import substitution. We merged with Malaya, hoping for a protected common market to grow our infant industries. Separation in 1965 took us back to square one. We had to start all over again.

Being the First Global Economy

Without a common market, we made a virtue out of necessity. We took the plunge, removing all our import duties leaving many small Singapore-owned industries in the lurch. We decided on an export-oriented industrial policy. In plain language, we were forced to compete with every other country. Without recognising it at the time, Singapore was the first original global economy. We never looked back.

I am amazed therefore when some Singaporeans continue to cherish the thought of re-merger with Malaysia. In the two years we were in Malaysia, we lost our freedom of action. Economic decision-making was in the hands of the Treasury in Kuala Lumpur, without any countervailing advantages for Singapore.

Over the last forty years since 1965, Singapore has survived economically without the Malaysian hinterland. In fact, in a WTO ruled world, the concept of economic hinterlands has become redundant.

Singapore will thrive as an economy and as a state if we are able to apply knowledge intelligently. This is the challenge for our succeeding generations.

My book is very much about being a successful economy and a nation. Can we be more than just a place? Can we become a nation?

(End of Talk)

My comments:

Hi friends,

Attached above is the transcript of Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow's talk on :


held this morning at the Grand Hyatt Singapore (18.7.06)

I find that the talk today was less intriguing to me than the interview which Mr. Ngiam gave to Susan Long ( of Straits Times) some time back.

I have thus linked the interview here for your enjoyment: (this is mandatory reading for all who are interested in Singapore current affairs)

1. Part One:

Singapore, bigger than PAP

2. Part Two:

Stop dancing to the tune of the gorilla

I find the above interview very significant for what Mr. Ngiam has to say about various issues including political atrophy; need for alternative political elites;danger of Singapore becoming a Sparta which started as a meritocracy and crumbling after it became a dictatorship etc

What is even more surprising is that the above interview is recorded in the opening chapter of his newly-launched book, " A Mandarin and the making of Public Policy".

This can only mean that Mr. Ngiam feels that those concerns are still very relevant now.

There was also a Q & A session after the talk. I will try to recall this and post salient comments when I have more time. But the questions were generally mundane and quite forgettable stuff ( to tell you the truth)


Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Does Myanmar deserve ASEAN?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Edmund Burke Irish orator, philosopher, & politician (1729 - 1797)

The quote by Burke aptly describes the situation with regards to Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the rest of the world.

I will be using the name "Myanmar" instead of "Burma" for the sake of uniformity.

Amongst the notoriety associated with the military dictators of Myanmar, the one that sticks out most has to be the inhuman way in which Daw (Mdm) Aung San Suu Kyi has been treated.

Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong San Soo Chee), Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, was born on June 19th, 1945 to Myanmar's independence hero, Aung San.
She was educated in Burma, India, and the United Kingdom and while studying at Oxford University, she met Michael Aris, a Tibet scholar whom she married in 1972.

On March 27 1999, while Aung San Suu Kyi was in Myanmar, Michael Aris died of cancer in London. He had not seen Aung San Suu Kyi since Christmas 1995 and was refused one last visit with her before he died.

Aung San Suu Kyi had returned to Myanmar in 1988 to nurse her dying mother and was immediately plunged into the country's nationwide democracy uprising. Joining the newly-formed National League for Democracy (NLD), she was literally involved in a life and death struggle for freedom and democracy.

The military regime responded to the uprising with brute force, killing up to 5,000 demonstrators. Unable to maintain its grip on power, the regime was forced to call a general election in 1990.

Unfortunately, the elections, which was won by the NLD with a staggering 82% of parliamentary seats was never recognized by the regime. And Aung San Suu Kyi has been in and out of arrest ever since.

The latest instalment in the long litany of injustices was played out only this year.

On 20 May 2006, Ibrahim Gambari, UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the first visit by a foreign official since 2004. Her house arrest term was set to expire 27 May 2006, but despite initial hopes, the Myanmar government extended it for another year,flouting a direct appeal from U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan to Than Shwe.

Such is their disregard and contempt for justice and the opinions of the rest of the civilised world.

The geopolitics of Burma and her neighbors (ASEAN, India and China) are highly complex and here are some links readers will find relevant.(ASEAN and China & India)

So What's ASEAN to do? (11 July 2006 Channel Newsasia)

What piques me no end is that although our Foreign Ministry acknowledges that this dictatorship continues to be a problem, and from time to time, ASEAN and Singapore do make perfunctionary calls for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and for an earlier roadmap and time frame for democracy, there is no political will by Singapore and our ASEAN partners to do the obvious, viz expel Myanmar on grounds that she does not deserve to be a part of us despite the geographical proximity.

Her regime's poor human rights record puts Myanmar a gulf apart from the rest of ASEAN (not that we are exactly exemplary in that aspect).

My guess is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will remain incarcerated until the end of her life.

And, none of our national leaders will do anything more than spew out hot air, now and then.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has called on people around the world to join the struggle for freedom in her beloved Burma ( she probably prefers this name) , saying

"Please use your liberty to promote ours".

Let us not forget her. One day, we may need people like her to help us!

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

relevant links:

The Burma Campaign UK Home Page

Wikipedia on Myanmar(Burma) & Aung San Suu Kyi

Addendum: (I add here a useful comment by a reader KiweTo)

KiWeTO said...
The root question is: What ideology does Singapore as a country subscribe to?

Do we build upon the civic structure left behind by our own colonial masters?

Do we worry incessantly about being destroyed by our neighbours for existing as a little red dot?

Do we attempt to shame the world into action by being the best example of a modern society?

Do we even know if we have an agenda at the international politics arena, or are we just another pawn, reacting to ever shifting sands?----------------

ASEAN was never designed to be political. For some reason, when ASEAN was formed, there was this policy of non-intervention in internal issues.

How one can divorce economics from politics of human societies, I do wonder, but hey, that's what ASEAN was founded upon - economic cooperation, not political solidarity.

To expect ASEAN to ever come out with a strong political statement, is to expect the European Union to stop harping on human rights. Its just not in their reason for existence.

At the end of the day, if Russia can get away with economic murder (see the Yukos fiasco), and there are always people (even BritishPetroleum) willing to forget the past, principles will be compromised for the sake of economic profit.

ASEAN is not a political creature. It is an economic creature. It is perfectly fine for ASEAN to "get into bed" with Myanmar because that is ASEAN's purpose.

At the core of all international politics, it must be "beggar-thy-neighbour" that ultimately rules self-interest. Simply put, not my house, not my problem. That is the basis premise of SG's official stand on non-intervention.E.o.M.

My comments to Kiweto:

Hi KiweTo,

We started as a socialist country ( yes, can you believe that?) but then we got kicked out of Socialist International ( but to be fair, we had discarded our socialist credentials long ago & would have resigned sooner or later).

What then are we now? A crass Capitalist? I don't think so, with so much state intervention from Temasek-linked firms and monopolies.

We don't have any ideologies and even more frightening, we don't have any IDEALISMS!

We are pragmatists that appear to bend with the political winds and erstwhile, the western wind seems suitable for us now.

Next century, my bet is that we will be bending the other way with the eastern wind of China!

Did you say Shaming the world by being a example? I think not.

Now Sg convenient cites "non-intervention" as the reason for inaction. Some big wigs in the party are probably wary that if we interfer with Myanmar now, might not our neighbors kick us out of ASEAN if they deem our human rights record not as shiny as their own?

Thus, safer to mind our own business right?

I also intend to post something about Cambodia, another ASEAN back-water and human tragedy.

How all of us ( in ASEAN and the world) twiddled our thumbs and sat on our behinds whilst hundreds of thousands of S E Asians were exterminated in our own backyards.

Cheers. Have a happy weekend,

Dr. Huang

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nothing is impossible! You can do it ! Yes, you!

If you had told me 3 years ago that I could complete a full Marathon measuring 42.195 km (26 miles), I would have referred you to the Woodbridge Hospital (the predecessor to the Institute of Mental Health).

Although I was always the sporty type- having been active in athletics and rugby, I was convinced that I was made more for the sprints and jumps than for long distance running.

Like the West Africans of Nigeria, my muscle fibres must be predominantly the white fast-twitch type, ideal for short distance. (Till then, I could not run more than 200m to save my life!). If you must know, red slow-twitch muscle fibres are found more in endurance runners like the great Kenyans and Gebrselassie of Ethiopia (who are coincidentally all East Africans).

To cut the story short, I started with 3 km in Dec 2003; by July 04, I ran the full MacRitchie Track (11km) and then some, and in Sept 04( the Army Sheare’s bridge half-Marathon) and finally completed my first full Standard Chartered Marathon in Dec 2004.

Yes, I know Temasek has invested in Standard Chartered Bank and if I have the Stanchart shares, I would definitely sell them ASAP unless my investment goals are very loooong term! (joking) But the Stanchart Marathons are very well organised affairs and their “pom-pom girls” are attractive too!

My finishing time was shameful (for a man), but I did overtake two middle-aged (ok, slightly elderly) Thai ladies. And the guy who carried the “float-thingy”- (paper-mache figurines on wire-frames) , was a full 1 ½ hours behind me! He must have been last! (FYI- many didn't finish, so finish considered good already)

In Dec 2005, I did it again! But this time, the same two Thai ladies must have had serious training because they overtook me about 5.6 km from the finish! They were too fast.

What is the point in all this, you are probably asking? Besides indulging in my usual Narcissism and bragging about my mid-life achievements , there are some lessons in this ( somewhere).

1.Life is a Marathon..

Our aim for social justice and equality is a long term one.
We may wish for, but do not expect everything we hope for to be offered to us on a silver platter.
It is a race of endurance. Let’s see who can “tahan” longer. ( Non-singlish readers: “tahan” means to endure or tolerate longer)

2.We need friends to help us along the way.

I trained with JL, SY and IS ( initials used to disguise full names- stating the obvious right?) Actually IS is Indian, so he didn’t really need training. He trained with us to “humour” us. (so nice).
On race day, about 1 km from the start , I told IS,” IS, don’t worry about me, fly… FLY LIKE THE WIND!
We must find like-minded ( and crazy) people to go along this long and winding road. (…. That leads us to your door.. The Hollies right? or rolling stones?)

3.We need cheer leaders amongst the crowd.

Ever wondered why the home team in any sports event gets so much advantage. In soccer, the home crowd is likened to a “12th player”. ( But Germany lost anyway! So there goes the theory) But seriously, those “pom-pom” girls really motivated me to carry on. When life seemed so meaningless and without meaning, I plodded on because of them. ( Also my manhood was at stake!)
We need people to say positive things to us like, “ You can do it!” or “only 35 km more!”

4.But The End is not the End… but just another beginning.

When I completed the first Marathon, I wanted to shout to the whole world how great I felt.. but most spectators have left the Padang already (only left young girls doing massage on our thighs). I wanted to shout “ I am a finisher of the Marathon, it feels GREAT!

About 5 minutes later… I was saying to myself,”so this is it?” ( mildly crest-fallen)

Sometimes the end is an anti-climax.

Even if we ever get a great victory ( eg. Smaller GRC/ upgrading for all/ PAP admitting that there were very naughty and not nice), we will realize that life goes on. There will continue to be irritating people ( eg in internet forums ) and work problems, new challenges etc.

Let’s keep our chins up. Don’t hate anyone ( you can love them if you want). They are Singaporeans too.

PS: I really did run the Marathon. If you start now ( and were a couch potato), you can still do the half-Marathon by Dec 06- seriously)

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan
( I feel better already)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Singapore-Malaysian relations: Time for reappraisal?

Dear friends,

Many of us have relatives in Malaysia and in fact, many Singaporeans are ex-Malaysians. I am born and bred in Singapore but have friends and relatives up north.

I am sure all readers are familiar with our two nations' chequered history (merger, explusion etc).

Fortunately, on the whole, there is no argument over the issue of sovereignty unlike in the Middle East, where the legitimacy of Israel’s existence is still questioned by some of her neighbors and numerous wars have been fought over this. And to think that Jews and Arabs were descendants of Isaac and Ishmael, the children of Abraham.

I have always thought that Malaysia would be Singapore’s most natural partner in business and other ventures. Unfortunately, there is so much apparent animosity between the two sets of political elites that nothing concrete ever gets out of the starting blocks.

As with relatives who live too close to each other, there arises from time to time, pettiness and misunderstanding over the most trivial of incidences.

The bad blood, which originated in the 60’s, makes interesting reading, but is a hindrance to any constructive dialogue. I opine that until the original players all leave the public scene, there will be no quickening of pace to come together to explore further our collective strengths.

Personally I feel that a closer economic partnership could be a win-win for both sides. Mr. Chiam See Tong ( opposition- MP for Potong Pasir) had brought this up several times, but I fear that, it may be precisely because this has been lobbied by an opposition MP that the government would at best ignore it, and at worse, ridicule Chiam as being unrealistic and naïve and that present geo-poltical tensions between the two neighbors will not allow any rapprochement. (meaning- they will ensure that any initiative remains dead in the water).

Well, some people will cut off the nose to spite the face ( or some expression like that).

What do readers think about the below proposals (about the high speed train)? Is there anything that ordinary folks like you and I can do to build bridges between Malaysians and Singaporeans? Is some form of partnership a realistic possibility in the foreseeable future and should we pursue this ( or even think about it?) ?

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

“Forget Singapore, stop at Johor”Johoreans believe Republic will probably impose expensive conditions. BernamaJul 8, 2006

Johoreans have called on YTL Corporation to revise its fast-train proposal connecting Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as they are convinced there will be obstacles coming from the republic.
They say if the government agrees to bring up the plan for discussion with Singapore, there will be a repeat of the episode, which had brought negotiations over the Johor Causeway replacement project to a deadlock.

This is because of the republic's attitude of always demanding quid pro quo, they say.
Gelang Patang Umno division chief Abdul Aziz Sapian said he was sure Singapore would impose various conditions before agreeing to the project to ensure it obtained multiple gains from it.

"That is why we suggest to the government for the company's proposal to only connect Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baharu.

"If it were to reach Singapore, we will face various difficulties. The price to get the republic's proposal will be very expensive. Therefore, it is better that we forget Singapore's involvement," he said.

Johor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry deputy president Soh Poh Seng supported the idea of having the high-speed train ending at Johor Baharu.

He said that based on historical factors and previous experiences, Singapore was not a partner ready to cooperate, especially in projects worth billions of ringgit.

"Why should someone in Malaysia struggle to provide a service which in the end will bring benefits and profits to Singapore?" he asked.

Johor Baharu Member of Parliament Shahrir Samad, who is chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, recently said if efforts to get Singapore to agree took a long time, it was better for the bullet train to only connect Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baharu.

The New Straits Times last Wednesday quoted YTL Corp managing director Francis Yeoh as saying that the company planned to introduce the M$8b fast-train link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore which would cut travelling time to only 90 minutes.

Businessman Mohd Salleh Ali, 35, questioned the intention behind the project.

"With the fast-train service, will it make Johor Baharu less attractive to Singaporeans? Will their tourism money shift to Kuala Lumpur after this? These are questions that need answers," he said.

After what happened to the negotiation over the bridge project, he is sure that the republic would take advantage by imposing various conditions before agreeing to the project.

The Singapore government Thursday issued a short statement saying that it had not discussed with Kuala Lumpur over any proposal to have a fast-train service between the two countries.

There have not been any discussions between Singapore and Malaysia on YTL Corp's proposal to build a high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.Bernama

Thursday, July 06, 2006

brown vs bhavani: how the drama unfolded

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Regarding TODAY

Some of you have been asking, so here goes.
I have been informed that TODAY has suspended my column.
It has been a trying few days for me, my family, my mum and my friends. Thank you all for your emails, letters, calls, SMSes, blogs and comments, I don't know what to say.

3rd July 2006
Distorting the truth, mr brown?
When a columnist becomes a 'partisan player' in politics

Letter from K BHAVANI

Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts

Your mr brown column, "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.

The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.

There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.

mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.

These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package — to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.

Our IT plans are critical to Singapore's competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.

As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.

mr brown's views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.

30th June 2006


Moving ahead is great but it would be even greater to be able to make ends meet

THINGS are certainly looking up for Singapore again. Up, up, and away.

Household incomes are up, I read. Sure, the bottom third of our country isactually seeing their incomes (or as one newspaper called it, "wages")shrink, but the rest of us purportedly are making more money.

Okay, if you say so.

As sure as Superman Returns, our cost of living is also on the up. Exceptwe are not able to leap over high costs in a single bound.

Cost of watching World Cup is up. Price of electricity is up. Comfort'staxi fares are going up. Oh, sorry, it was called "being revised". Eventhe prata man at my coffeeshop just raised the price of his prata by 10cents. He was also revising his prata prices.

So Singaporeans need to try to "up" their incomes, I am sure, in the lightof our rising costs. Have you upped yours?

We are very thankful for the timing of all this good news, of course. Justafter the elections, for instance. By that I mean that getting theimportant event out of the way means we can now concentrate on trying topay our bills.

It would have been too taxing on the brain if those price increases wereannounced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability tochoose wisely.

The other reason I am glad with the timing of the cost of living increasesand wages going down, is that we can now deploy our Progress Package topay for some of these bills.

Wait, what? You spent it all on that fancy pair of shoes on the day yousaw your money in your account? Too bad for you then.

As I break into my Progress Package reserves to see if it is enough to paythe bills, I feel an overwhelming sense of progress. I feel like I amreally staying together with my fellow Singaporeans and moving forward.

There is even talk of future roads like underground expressways beingoutsourced to private sector companies to build, so that they, in turn,levy a toll on those of us who use these roads.

I understand the cost of building these roads is high, and the Governmentis relooking the financing of these big road projects.

Silly me, I thought my road tax and COE was enough to pay for publicroads.

Maybe we can start financing all kinds of expensive projects this way infuture. We could build upgraded lifts for older HDB blocks, and chargetolls on a per use basis.

You walk into your new lift on the first floor, and the scanner reads thecontactless cashcard chip embedded in your forehead. This chip would bepart of the recently-announced Intelligent Nation 2015 plan, you know,that initiative to make us a smart nation?

So you, the smart contactless-cashcard-chip-enhanced Singaporean would gointo your lift, and when you get off at your floor, the lift would deductthe toll from your chip, and you would hear a beep.The higher you live, the more expensive the lift toll.

Now you know why I started climbing stairs for exercise, as I mentioned inmy last column. I plan to prepare for that day when I have to pay to usemy lift. God help you if some kid presses all the lift buttons in thelift, as kids are wont to do. You will be beeping all the way to yourflat.

The same chip could be used to pay for supermarket items. You just carryyour bags of rice and groceries past the cashierless cashier counter, andthe total will be deducted from your contactless cashcard automatically.

You will not even know you just got poorer. And if your contactlesscashcard runs out of funds (making it a contactless CASHLESS cashcard),you just cannot use paid services.

The door of the lift won't close, the bus won't stop for you, taxis willautomatically display "On Call" when their chip scanners detect you'rebroke.Sure, paying bills that only seem to go up is painful, but by Jove, we aregoing to make sure it is at least convenient.

No more opening your wallet and fiddling with dirty notes and coins. Juststand there and hear your income beeped away. No fuss, no muss! I cannotwait to be a Smart e-Singaporean.

I also found out recently that my first-born daughter's special schoolfees were going up. This is because of this thing called "Means Testing",where they test your means, then if you are not poor enough, you lose someor all of the subsidy you've been getting for your special child'stherapy.

I think I am looking at about a $100 increase, which is a more than a 100per cent increase, but who's counting, right? We can afford it, but we doknow many families who cannot, even those that are making more money thanwe are, on paper.

But don't worry. Most of you don't have this problem. Your normal kids cango to regular school for very low fees, and I am sure they will notintroduce means testing for your cases.

We need your gifted and talented kids to help our country do welleconomically, so that our kids with special needs can get a little moretherapy to help them to walk and talk. And hey, maybe if the country doesreally well, the special-needs kids will get a little more subsidy.

Like I said, progress.

High-definition televisions, a high-speed broadband wireless network,underground expressways, and contactless cashcard system - all our signsof progress.

I am happy for progress, of course but I would be just as happy to makeends meet and to see my autistic first-born grow up able to talk and fendfor herself in this society when I am gone.

That is something my wife and I will pay all we can pay to see in ourlifetimes.

There is no need for comments from me.
Everyhing is self-explanatory here.
Draw your own conclusions.
Cheers and have a great day ( including mrbrown)

Dr. Huang

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Let us Heed the message, Not shoot the messenger


I have just received a reply that my letter to the forum page (TODAY) has been rejected. I do not take issue with being rejected ( if you write enough letters , you will have rejections sooner or later), but it is the way the rejection is worded.

The editorial assistant said in the reply, that "We will not be publishing any correspondence on this issue. Shoud you feel strongly, you may want to wish to redirect your views to the source of the letter."

Now I know why there has been zero-coverage of the Mrbrown vs Bhavani debate in TODAY as there has been a near "news blackout" on this issue. TODAY has chosen the easy way out and abdicated its role as a neutral objective feedback channel for the people. It is "washing its hands off" the problem. How convenient but..SAD! Who is imposing the self-censorship, I wonder? The editorial staff itself?

Dr. Huang

(Below is the original post- also the letter sent to TODAY)
Dear friends,

I read with interest Ms Bhavani’s retort to mrbrown’s column (Distorting the truth, mr brown ? 3 Jul 06).

What is particularly informative was her assertion that journalists (especially in Singapore), should not “champion issues, or campaign FOR or AGAINST the Government”.

Is this is a new dictum, I wonder, as there were many articles by our journalists in the past which appeared an “awful lot” like campaigning for the Government, but I do not recall anyone getting their knuckles rapped for that.

Seriously, is a journalist expected to be just a “human” tape-recorder recording verbatim the minutes of a board meeting like a company secretary? Anything more could be misconstrued as campaigning for or against an issue.

Let us be reasonable. People (journalist included) will have opinions and these are the sum-aggregates of different sub-cultures that make up Singapore. No one person or organization knows all the answers and feedback of all forms (especially those that seem unpalatable) help us, as a nation, to steer the right course, away from potential calamities.

Let us heed the message, NOT shoot the messenger!

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

( The above was rejected by TODAY forum page - see above comments)

I will attach the relevant articles for your info ( Bhavani vs Brown) below (as soon as I sort out the bugs in this blogger software- but it is the usual articles which you would have read elsewhere).