In 2003, a strange sit­u­a­tion arose and led to my busi­ness part­ner and I help­ing to sal­vage a busi­ness that cul­ti­vated a love for chil­dren that I pre­vi­ously never possessed.

The two peo­ple I met while fix­ing up this busi­ness became fast friends, and they taught me the joys of teach­ing gym­nas­tics to kids, and for the next few years, we had an adven­ture that I will for­ever remem­ber fondly.

Paul La Grua, his wife Cassi and their two young daugh­ters became a part of my daily life. Always incred­i­bly resource­ful, he some­how helped my busi­ness part­ner and I become the first two NCAP (National Coach­ing Accred­i­ta­tion Pro­gramme) qual­i­fied gym­nas­tics coaches in Singapore.

I taught classes in pri­mary and inter­na­tional schools, com­mu­nity cen­tres and coun­try clubs, always encour­aged by the bound­less energy Cassi and Paul brought to their lessons.

We finally made enough money one day to be able to afford a beer after a class at an inter­na­tional school on Orchard Road. And that was when Paul said he wanted to give back to the com­mu­nity by organ­is­ing free gym­nas­tics classes for spe­cial needs children.

We rented Bis­han Sports Hall (one of very few gym­nas­tics halls in Sin­ga­pore) for a weekly Sat­ur­day ses­sion, and adver­tised by word of mouth, and the help of an ST jour­nal­ist, free (after decid­ing to foot the costs our­selves) gym­nas­tics for spe­cial needs children.

The response after the first les­son was tremen­dous. The line out­side Bis­han Sports Hall snaked around the com­plex. It was dif­fi­cult to organ­ise, and we were on our toes every sin­gle sec­ond — and to this day I remem­ber how we had to have Spider-Man’s reflexes to han­dle two autis­tic chil­dren who ran up to com­man­deer a trampoline.

The pro­gramme ranks as one of the most reward­ing things I have ever done, I remem­ber mrbrown bring­ing Faith for a ses­sion too. The joys of the kids and their par­ents at these ses­sions were so pal­pa­ble and sim­ply freak­ing great that it made all the extreme exhaus­tion that fol­lowed later worth every ache and pain.

Paul La Grua was a cham­pion youth gym­nast in his day — he almost made the Olympic team in the 70s. But more impor­tantly, he shared with me the same sat­is­fac­tion of bring­ing the joy of move­ment to chil­dren who yearn the same, but have dif­fi­culty doing and enjoy­ing so.

Paul passed away in the U.S. this week. He is sur­vived by Cassi and their two children.

I hope to be able to remem­ber him by reviv­ing the gym­nas­tics ses­sion for spe­cial needs chil­dren. I chal­lenge Sports Sin­ga­pore to give me Bis­han Hall rent-free for this pur­pose. I will find the coaches who will be able to help. Par­ents of spe­cial needs chil­dren who are in sup­port of my idea, please con­tact me here and let me know how you can help.

See you next time, Paul. I’ll get coaches who can catch two autis­tic kids on a tram­po­line when we organ­ise classes for them again. And I’ll remem­ber that the coaches need to have long arms.

 

To every teacher who taught me, including:

The one who said the school’s chem­istry lab was so old, the pipette was donated by Sir Stam­ford Raffles;

The prin­ci­pal who asked if the Head Pre­fect enjoyed his trip after the lat­ter tripped and fell while walk­ing to the micro­phone dur­ing morn­ing assembly;

The eco­nom­ics teacher who insisted on pro­nounc­ing it KEE-NEE-SIEN the­ory, the his­tory teacher who believed that “the more civilised we are, the donkey-er we become”, and the geog­ra­phy teacher who started every semes­ter by draw­ing a per­fect cir­cle on the board and say­ing “The world is round, is it not?”;

The frus­trated Chi­nese As A Sec­ond Lan­guage teach­ers, includ­ing the one who became less frus­trated when we stood up in class and replaced our “Lao Shi Zao An” greet­ing with, “Lao Shi Ham Sum”, and gig­gled to him­self for two Chi­nese com­po­si­tion periods;

The Math teacher who was so short-sighted that the class thought they pranked him good by replac­ing chalk with chicken bones, only to be pranked back when he insisted he could see what he wrote on the board;

The Addi­tional Math­e­mat­ics teacher who knew that the stu­dents nick­named him — based on his ini­tials F.S. Leong — “Fuck Spi­der Leong”, and didn’t care.

The teacher who made us recite, “I refuse to take out the refuse”, and “The police car could not patrol because it ran out of petrol”, so we would know the impor­tance of empha­sis­ing the right syllable.

The teacher who told me I couldn’t use words such as “bitch” when describ­ing Jane Austen’s characters;

The teacher who instead of assign­ing essay top­ics dur­ing two-period Gen­eral Paper lessons, screened pirated VHS copies of Woody Allen’s movies, Monty Python episodes and the occa­sional rugby test match between Wales and every­one else.

HAPPY TEACHERSDAY, wher­ever you are.

 

There will always be things to poke a fish­ball stick at, and it’s become a tra­di­tion for mrbrown and myself to watch the National Day Rally speech with intent. For those who haven’t, here’s what you should take note of:

Hon­or­ing Yusof bin Ishak

Not least because he was the country’s first Yang di Per­tuan Negara (Head of State), but by doing so, I’m hop­ing we’ll also get to remind our­selves that our national lan­guage is Malay, and our her­itage as a nation is indeli­bly linked with that of our clos­est neighbours’.

Munic­i­pal Ser­vices Office

About bloody time some­thing like that was set up. I’ve talked about the inef­fi­ciency of a uni­cam­eral leg­is­la­ture, where our poor MPs dou­ble up try­ing to fix the nation’s macro woes while doing OT at weekly MPS. The fish ball stick is most def­i­nitely felt across the island. Thank you, lit­terer, for prick­ing the con­science of a nation.

Pio­neer Gen­er­a­tion Card

You’ll prob­a­bly keep hear­ing about the Pio­neer Gen­er­a­tion ad nau­seam. The day before #NDRsg, I got a pack­age in the mail con­tain­ing the PG Card. Now, if my dad wasn’t bedrid­den and suf­fer­ing from Parkin­sons and demen­tia, he might have been able to flash this priv­i­lege card at var­i­ous med­ical ser­vice providers and got­ten gen­er­ous sub­si­dies. It’s just a ges­ture, but one I will be eter­nally grate­ful for. My father vis­its the A&E once a quar­ter on aver­age, and that $800 annual top up into his Medis­ave? That’s my lifesaver.

Chi­nese Cul­tural Cen­tre

The Prime Min­is­ter said it was to cel­e­brate our unique Chi­nese cul­ture in the “Nanyang” style. I think it’s right we finally stand up and claim as our own the many ways we order our bev­er­ages at the kopi­tiam, and stand tall and defend the kopi­tiam aunty when she scalds a for­eign Chi­nese per­son, because every­one should under­stand that when she says, ‘lai, sio’ in Hokkien, she means, ‘fuck off, I’m car­ry­ing a shit load of hot drinks’.

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It’s National Day, not quite the big one, which is next year (good luck Dick Lee).

But know­ing us, this year’s NDP will be a spoil mar­ket spec­ta­cle. If there’s a lesser known Sin­ga­porean trait, it is this: We are good at shoot­ing our­selves in the foot.

Just look at our Sin­ga­pore Air­lines — ever since they launched their “biggest busi­ness class seats the world has ever seen”, first class pas­sen­gers who are not on the A380 Suites have been won­der­ing why they’re pay­ing dou­ble for essen­tially the same sized chair. (OK, nicer cham­pagne and all that, but you get my point).

So, after today’s parade is done and dusted, we should get down to plan­ning what we want to see for next year’s SG50 NDP, to make sure it’s bet­ter than this year’s.

MILITARY ITEMS

The Com­man­dos (whose motto must surely be changed from “Who Dares Wins” to “Every Year Also Best Unit”) and Armour units get all the glory every year, march­ing and rolling down the tracks in their fierce machin­ery. Enough ok? It’s time we got the Gen­eral Sup­ply & Main­te­nance Base PES C,D & E mechan­ics and other non-combat NSmen to march in the parade. They deserve their day in the set­ting sun. Any unit that once had the motto “Strive To Main­tain” does.

CIVILIAN ITEMS

There should be a Hello Kitty Queue con­tin­gent, spon­sored by McDon­alds, because it’s their fault for start­ing the craze. The con­tin­gent marches in sin­gle file, and the high­lights include spo­radic fight­ing between con­tin­gent members.

Park­ing Aunty Con­tin­gent — because now with LTA and Cisco out­sourced offi­cers who don’t “pung chan” as much as the Aun­ties do, they’re soon to go the way of the Sam­sui Women. We salute you.

Tis­sue Aunty / Uncle Con­tin­gent with their fanny packs will wave three pack­ets of tis­sue paper in your direc­tion as they march past.

School kids will be rep­re­sented by a TAF Club Con­tin­gent. Because fat kids should be shamed nation­ally just as they are at school level — run­ning and exer­cis­ing while their fit­ter peers enjoy their recess / pub­lic holiday.

STAT BOARDS

Parades and other spec­ta­cles should include things to jeer at — so there should be a tax col­lec­tors’ con­tin­gent from IRAS.

And given the increased chat­ter about and aware­ness of our Cen­tral Prov­i­dent Fund, the CPF Board should also have a con­tin­gent. Imag­ine the commentary:

“And right at the end of the parade’s march past, because you have to wait long long before you can take out your money, is our very own CPF con­tin­gent, led by Madam Min­nie Sum, who has been with the Board since its incep­tion. She doesn’t look like she’s retir­ing any time soon”…

Happy National Day!

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So I saw this poster at Orchard MRT station:

Give Way Glenda

Give Way Glenda

And I thought it was a great cam­paign to make peo­ple more aware of their behav­iour on pub­lic trans­port. There’s even a “Stand-Up Stacey”, exhort­ing peo­ple to er… stand up when they’re sup­posed to, I suppose.

But then, this LTA cam­paign should also include neg­a­tives, and intro­duce posters such as:

1. Don’t Be A WTF Wendy
2. Don’t Be A KNN Karen (via @mrbrown)
3. Don’t Be A Cut Queue Cas­san­dra (via Derek Foo)
4. Don’t Be A Siam Lah Saman­tha (via Derek Foo)
5. Don’t Be A Forget-To-Tap Frankie (via Robin Low)
6. Don’t Be A Teeko Ter­ence (via Selena Soh)
7. Don’t Be A Pre­tend To Sleep Paul (via Selena Soh)

All your grass are belong to Robo-cutter

All your grass are belong to Robo-cutter

I was invited to check out a demon­stra­tion of this machine called the “Robo-Cutter” and I got really excited because, WTF, it’s a robot that cuts grass, right?

No it wasn’t what I expected — there wasn’t any arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence about it, and it couldn’t deploy itself auto­mat­i­cally where it sensed the grass was tall. It was really just a remote con­trolled grass-cutting tractor.

I put my dis­ap­point­ment aside, and spoke to the per­son who was head­ing the demon­stra­tion, Mr Neo Say Hwee of Ho Eng Huat Con­struc­tion Pte Ltd.

He had pur­chased the Robo-Cutter for some­thing close to $100,000. Close to half of it was sub­sidised by the Employ­ment and Employ­a­bil­ity Insti­tute (e2i), which has a grant called the Inclu­sive Growth Pro­gramme (IGP).

In one fell swoop, Mr Neo cut down on his reliance for cheap for­eign labour, which was utilised in land­scape main­te­nance tasks for the old grass cut­ters. The Robo-Cutter can now do the equiv­a­lent job of half a dozen masked men (grass-cutting nin­jas), while using only one trained operator.

While I don’t have the exact num­bers to crunch, I think that while the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to tighten the sup­ply of cheap for­eign labour, com­pa­nies like Mr Neo’s will still stride for­ward when grants like IGP are applied judi­ciously to help inno­v­a­tive addi­tions, like the Robo-Cutter.

More impor­tantly, the employ­ees trained to oper­ate these smart machiner­ies will be able to be paid more. The job is also made eas­ier and safer as they are able to oper­ate the machine from a dis­tance under the shade, low­er­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of heat and other injuries.

This, I think is the best way to go about the increas­ing required wage. A manda­tory min­i­mum wage level with noth­ing else is just going to see com­pa­nies like Mr Neo’s being forced to pay more for grass-cutting nin­jas, and the costs inevitably will be passed on to their clients.

Unfor­tu­nately, many main­te­nance con­tracts in this par­tic­u­lar sec­tor are still mired in old terms and require­ments. They restrict com­pa­nies’ abil­ity to take the leap and inno­vate, like how Mr Neo has done with his company.

Con­tracts still stip­u­late how many per­sons are required to do the job, and buy­ers tend to want a dis­count when you tell them you are going to use fewer men. Worse, some may be shocked and not want to award you the con­tract when you tell them you are going to use a robot and one man.

Terms need to be changed. Buy­ers need to know that the essence of the con­tract is in whether a job can be done well and quickly, regard­less of how many peo­ple are used. With the labour sup­ply crunch sev­eral indus­tries are fac­ing, it will make the most sense to do this, and make the best use of every worker by giv­ing them the best work oppor­tu­ni­ties and do the best to reward them once the job is done in a safer and more effi­cient way.

As you can see, it takes an effort in con­cert — the buyer, the con­trac­tor and the worker have to change the way things are done in order to move this along, in order for all three par­ties to benefit.

When I’ve worn my other hat as a small busi­ness and start up con­sul­tant, I’ve heard excuses like “I dowan to take Gah­men money sekali got strings attached”, or “Cus­tomer don’t want to change con­tract”, even when pre­sented with really, really attrac­tive grants and cash incen­tives which have no strings attached (unless you think that “strings” include pay­ing taxes).

It is exas­per­at­ing. If these com­pa­nies don’t revisit the oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able now to ben­e­fit every­one, they’re going to be in for a rough ride when they’re left behind, while the early adopters reap the ben­e­fits of a trans­formed economy.

It is timely this National Day (the one before the Big 50) that we pay heed to these steps and not just wish for it to hap­pen. We need to work towards this trans­for­ma­tion. The buck stops with everyone.

Proposed Structure

Pro­posed Structure

Not too long ago, I insti­tuted a paper­less pol­icy for my office — I have another hat I wear as a start-up and com­pany con­sul­tant — where, as far as pos­si­ble, I’d force my clients to go paper­less as well.

There is no rea­son to get some­thing printed out on paper when the elec­tronic ver­sion was and is the orig­i­nal doc­u­ment of author­ity. For exam­ple, an ACRA (Account­ing and Cor­po­rate Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity) con­fir­ma­tion on a suc­cess­ful reg­is­tra­tion of a com­pany is sent via email, and there is absolutely no need to print it out to make it any more successful.

Yet, every sin­gle audit firm (and their staff) that I know insist on pho­to­copy­ing or print­ing these things, because they need to ver­ify the document’s authen­tic­ity and orig­i­nal­ity. This is what I will never under­stand. But since they’re doing a job for clients of mine (and they’re paid by my clients), I can’t do much except charge them 10 cents for every page printed.

Then there was this client who insisted on hav­ing paper invoices sent to him even though he had com­put­ers and a work­ing email account, because he claimed that IRAS, ACRA and his audi­tors required him to col­lect and keep orig­i­nal paper invoices.

So I told him that IRAS and ACRA had no such rule, and “keep­ing of accu­rate records” did not mean that they had to be paper records. He dis­agreed, and ter­mi­nated our ser­vices for another provider who hap­pily gave him as much paper as he liked.

There are so many tools avail­able to SMEs to keep every­thing accu­rately and safely stored in the cloud that there really is no excuse these days to keep files and reams of paper in the office. With this year’s intro­duc­tion of FAST inter­net bank trans­fers, post­ing a cheque to pay for a bill is becom­ing a mere excuse to pay that bill late®.

Detrac­tors point to the dan­gers of online fraud as a rea­son not to adopt elec­tronic trans­fers, even if it’s clear that it’s eas­ier to forge a cheque than to escape the var­i­ous elec­tronic trails that pre­cede and fol­low an inter­net bank­ing transaction.

So, I actu­ally made this “Paper­less Pledge” a year ago, and despite get­ting fired by one client, I’m deter­mined to keep this pol­icy intact. I’m glad to even report that I’m look­ing for ways to ter­mi­nate my hire-purchase of my office mul­ti­func­tion printer because we now use it so infrequently.

If you’ve got a sim­i­lar pledge to mine, let me know, and together we can help plant trees instead of killing them. This is just a small choice to make — whether you print some­thing out or not — but it can make a world of difference.

Make a wish and take the Pledge for Change with me and Kleenex Sin­ga­pore — You can sub­mit your pledges on Kleenex Singapore’s Face­book Pledge App (https://www.facebook.com/kleenexsg/app_283737521804501). For every 20 wishes placed on the Kleenex Wish­ing Tree, a real tree will be planted.

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When I was in kinder­garten, I told my friends I was born on the moon, because I was con­fused by what my mother and rel­a­tives told me.

The Apollo 11 mis­sion had landed on the moon about three hours after I was born, and the excite­ment was such that my mother said she was asked by the doc­tors and other peo­ple if she’d name me after the mis­sion or parts thereof.

I could’ve been Neil, Arm­strong, Eagle, Colum­bia, Apollo or Eleven. I don’t think Sea of Tran­quil­ity was in the mix.

But I remem­ber really believ­ing I was born on the moon, and always dreamt that by the time I turned 30, there’d have been real bases built on the moon for peo­ple to, you know, visit and stuff. (I was a big fan of Space 1999).

But it’s been 42 years since the last man walked on the moon. Maybe it’s time we went fur­ther.

 

And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express were taken off the shelves by The Chief Librar­ian Tay Ai Cheng because they were not “pro-family”, which is now the same thing as anti-gay and anti any­thing other than “1 father + 1 mother + 3 or more chil­dren (if you can afford it)”, as stated in the com­plaint by Teo Kai Loon.

Please, all who are on the side of com­pas­sion and even san­ity, nobody is forc­ing you or your fam­i­lies to be pro-gay or gay. Nobody is ask­ing you to pro­mote teenage preg­nan­cies. Nobody is ask­ing you to pro­mote sin­gle parenting.

But I beg you to wake up and look around you. These things hap­pen. Please SUPPORT, not PROMOTE, teenaged, sin­gle, wid­owed par­ents and what­ever is left of their fam­i­lies! These books are part of a com­mu­nity life­line for chil­dren who through no fault of their own, have been labelled “illegitimate”.

You don’t have to bor­row these books if you or your chil­dren don’t need these sto­ries. But don’t deprive oth­ers who do, and for cry­ing out loud, Tango Makes Three is a true story.

 

The last major train­ing exer­cise I was part of was held in Shoal­wa­ter Bay, Queens­land. On the night before the end of the exer­cise, (which was also an assess­ment known as ATEC that deter­mines whether a com­bat unit is fit for oper­a­tions) the com­mu­ni­ca­tions radio in my armoured fight­ing vehi­cle crack­led with a higher than usual urgency. Our vehi­cle com­man­der pleaded with us to keep quiet so he could lis­ten better.

When some­one yells or screams into a radio comms, what­ever mes­sage that per­son is try­ing to send is usu­ally dis­torted and gar­bled, and because you don’t know what it is that is mak­ing the per­son so fran­tic, it tends to scare you a little.

All we could hear was fran­tic yelling on the radio com­mu­ni­ca­tions — some­thing about “No Duff”, which was code for “Not Sim­u­lated”.

We worked out that one of our tanks had over­turned. And when that hap­pens, chances of injury to the crew are likely to be high. There is a vehi­cle over­turn drill which we prac­tice before every exer­cise, but we had been on the move for over 36 hours and this had been our battalion’s final mis­sion in the assess­ment. We were exhausted and car (tank) sick and more likely to slip up.

We pan­icked a lit­tle in our vehi­cle, not know­ing if the crew of the tank was ok. There was a bunch of us that night who were from my orig­i­nal NSF unit, and who must have had flash­backs of an exer­cise in 1989 where one of our unit mates was killed when his vehi­cle overturned.

That exer­cise was halted, for about 12 hours, before our com­mand­ing offi­cer explained that as oper­a­tional sol­diers, we had to carry on. We stayed on and trained in Thai­land for the next 2 weeks.

You never for­get some­thing like that — and I remem­ber being unable to con­trol my trem­bling even when it was finally announced that the tank crew was safe because they’d just man­aged to duck into the com­part­ments as it flipped over.

The other mem­o­rable moment of the exer­cise was when my com­pany com­man­der calmed everyone’s jan­gled nerves that night by call­ing over the comms: “Two-Niner to all sta­tions Two-Niner, if your Zulu (Armoured Fight­ing Vehi­cle) dri­vers or com­man­ders are tired, I will stop and let you rest! I promise you! We will fin­ish this mis­sion safely! …Two-Niner, out!”

To my broth­ers in the 46th Bat­tal­ion, Sin­ga­pore Armour Reg­i­ment (1989–91) and 433rd Bat­tal­ion, Sin­ga­pore Armour Reg­i­ment (1999–2008), I’m proud to have served along­side you. And, even as eras pass and doc­trines change, here’s to every sol­dier, sailor and air­man of the Sin­ga­pore Armed Forces.

Happy SAF Day.

Ex Wallaby 2005 - Somewhere in Queensland

Ex Wal­laby 2005 — Some­where in Queensland

Ex Crescendo 1989 - Somewhere in Thailand

Ex Crescendo 1989 — Some­where in Thailand

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