The Boy From Oz, Sung By The Singapore Boy

It’s Australia Day, and what better way to celebrate it than to help Hossan rehearse for his show – a song from which is written by our favourite Australian songwriter, Peter Allen.

Hossan and I watched the original The Boy From Oz musical staged in Sydney in 1998, before it was tweaked for Broadway with Allen played by Hugh Jackman. It was through this musical that I realised so many songs I love were written by this immensely talented man who lived an incredibly remarkable life.

I’m very glad a Peter Allen song made the cut for Hossan-Ah: Safe & Secure In His Leong Arms, which opens this Wednesday night. Let me know if you need tickets – I got lobang for discount.

Je Suis Singapourien

As with many others in Singapore, I wouldn’t have noticed what was lacking in the local rags’ reporting of the Charlie Hedbo massacre. Once I was alerted to it, I got really upset.

You had to scroll down at least three-quarters of any of the papers’ stories before you saw any mention of the murderers’/terrorists’ ideology driven motives. It’s very easy to think it’s ok to think, “this is a sensitive region, we’re in a sensitive time, some idiot wrote some shit on their Facebook and so we shouldn’t inflame things further, so let’s shut up about religion and ideology for now”.

It is a most shameful silence we are perpetrating if we don’t really come out and speak out against people killing and spreading hate in the name of their religion. So please, come off it, and know that saying it like it is will protect, not harm, our Muslim fellow citizens from people who will by all means take the Charlie Hedbo massacre as a reason to deny them of theirs and our right to practice our religion.

If our press keeps going on like this, you’d imagine they would have described the Holocaust as merely “six million civilians killed in conflict”.

Stand up, Singapore! “Regardless of language, race or religion” doesn’t mean we disregard them.

Thank You Paul La Grua, And See You Next Time

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.

The CPF And How To Pronounce Roy Ngerng’s Surname

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No I’m not going to teach you how to pronounce Roy’s surname. The title is just written in the style of Roy Ngerng’s attention-seeking blog post titles.

Now that Roy has ‘been Davindered‘ and taken down the alleged offending blog post, applied to be an NMP, and raised questions from dozens of my friends who are none the wiser about what happens to our CPF money, I thought it might be timely to address some of the questions.

In 2011, some of my friends and I had a website called ‘You Say I Say Who Confirm’, and we wrote about stuff that were slightly contentious, but we never got Davindered. Take for example, this post I wrote about the CPF. It basically says the same thing Roy said, and you can get all this information from various Government websites.

But, you cannot and should not implicate the PM or the Government and accuse them of stealing from the population.  You’re not doing the rest of us a favor by doing so, although the “hard truths” should be made better known to us – and like I said, most of these ‘truths’ are – you just have to scour the Government, GIC and Temasek sites.

The only real area of contention is where Temasek Holdings says outright that it “does not manage CPF money”. That’s not a lie, but only because by the time the monies in our Fund is in Temasek’s hands, it is no longer in the form of CPF Funds.

The bottom line is this. Although it is in the interest of national security that certain aspects of our monetary reserves are not divulged, there should still be more transparency regarding how our savings are invested.

Meantime, if you’re not sure what Roy said, here’s what I wrote in 2011:

What Do They Do To Make Our CPF Grow?

I imagine the top question at the top 10 frequently asked questions page of the CPF Board would be “What the heck does the CPF Board do to my money to be able to earn 2.5% – 5% interest in an age where banks seem to want you to pay them to keep your money”?

But it is not. It isn’t even an FAQ according to the Board. Does everyone know something I don’t?

So where does the money go? How does the Government guarantee us what they call “risk free interest” of 2.5%? What is risk-free interest?

We’re told that it doesn’t go into GIC for them to invest in UBS and then get annoyed about a rogue trader losing $2bn. (And you never hear about rogue traders making billions, as you can imagine they would, had their coins landed the right side up).

We’ve also been told (Temasek Holdings FAQ No. 8) that it doesn’t go into Temasek Holdings for them to post a 10-year net profit and then spend the last three years fighting off allegations of bad investment decisions because they lost 31% of its holdings in the 2008 financial crisis.

So where does the Board put the money? Under a collective proverbial pillow waiting for the CPF Fairy to pay out 2.5%? Or do they put our money in local banks, saving us the trouble of doing that ourselves and earning a pittance in interest on our own?

Or does our CPF Board, by strength in sheer numbers, get a fabulous deal from our friendly local financial banks that allows them to guarantee us this “risk free” return of 2.5%?

According to the Accountant-General’s Department, there are these things called Special Singapore Government Securities, which are bonds issued only to the CPF Board to, in the Accountant-General’s Department’s own words, “meet the investment needs of the Central Provident Fund”. The AG-D also states that “The investment of CPF funds by the Government relieves the CPF Board from taking on the investment risk of a fund manager to concentrate on its primary role as a national social security institution”.

In other words, our Government borrows our CPF money, guaranteeing the Board at least 2.5%, and in exchange, takes on the risks of a fund manager, and logically, the benefits as well.

In addition, the money that the CPF Board lends to the Government is put into this thing called the Government Securities Fund, where they are blended on high setting for one minute together with proceeds from investment returns, other securities issuances and seasoned to taste. Once that’s done, voila! You can no longer call it CPF money per se, and can therefore confidently tell everyone who asks, that 1) CPF money is not invested in Temasek Holdings, 2) CPF money is not invested in the GIC.

The other stuff I gleaned from the AG-D’s document was that the Singapore Government doesn’t have any external debt. The only people they owe money to are the people they govern. The Government also owes every other nation on this planet zilch, nothing, or as the aunty who runs the kopitiam across the street would say, jilo. And that probably has something to do with the fact that we have AAA ratings across the board from Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poors, although logically, even if we dropped an A or two, it wouldn’t matter to the Government because they can technically still borrow money from the CPF at 2.5%.

So, how do we answer the burning question that is also not on the CPF Board’s Top 10 FAQ list, “How safe is our CPF money?”

As good as gold? As safe as houses? Solid as a rock?

We’d need a whole lot more information to be able to get something definitive. But still, on a hunch and some good old fashioned agak-ration, I think it is.

Your Grandfather’s Mother Tongue Is it?

I had great fun at the last minute pop-up Talkingcock In Parliament 3 organised by Colin, Yen Yen and others on Saturday evening. There was a great variety of speakers anyhowly hum-tumming what Mother Tongue means to us because it’s been anyhowly hum-tummed into our lives.

This is what I said:

My Hokkien mother spoke no Mandarin, was educated in ACS in Malaya, and my father taught himself English, but spoke Hainanese mostly. Although most days you couldn’t tell which he was speaking. Older Hainanese men have accents as thick as the slab of butter in your kaya toasts.

But my father spoke just enough rubbish for people in Australia to lump him together with other East Asians and he scored a job as a translator with the Japanese Olympic team in the 1956 Melbourne Games.

That did not end well. He was fired before the closing ceremony because a Japanese boxer was taken to hospital for an emergency appendectomy he didn’t need to have. He had simply tried to tell my father that he needed to lose some weight to get down to the weight class he was supposed to compete in. That’s my father. Accidental pioneer of weight loss surgery.

My mother, a slightly better English speaker, joined my father in Australia and together they lived there between 1957 and 1965. That’s a lot of time for them to pick up enough Aussie slang to scold my siblings and I with.

So my early childhood years were marked by my parents’ Aussie nicknames for me, which were all prefixed by the word “bloody”. They called me bloody fool, bloody idiot, bloody nong, once in a while, bloody bastard, before they realised the implication of what they were calling me, and retracted it and instead called me a bloody chink.

I have a five year old son and sometimes when he whines or whinges about something, my wife would tell him, “Use your words, Kai”. And he would compose himself, and make his request known in a full sentence.

My mother was slightly different with me when I was a kid. If I whined or whinged, she said, “Bloody Chinese boy cannot speak english properly issit?”

I understand now that they were scarred by their experiences Down Under, and passed on that anxiety to their kids.

So that’s my heritage. Outcastes of empire, speaking in the tongues of the former convicts of our former colonial masters. It’s a rich heritage, full of stolen riches.

So you can imagine I wasn’t surprised when I discovered just last week, that our National Heritage Board is the governing body of the Speak Good English Movement. I’m actually working on this year’s Speak Good English launch. Director of Speak Good English? Is Eck Kheng here? Movement nochet launch this year, so this event not counted hor?

Let me say that I strongly support the speak good english movement. I have one every morning. Usually after breakfast. And my family doesn’t let me bring the newspapers in with me.

Eh… It could have been worse. I could’ve demonstrated what a Speak Good English Movement sounds like.

Last week, I read about our Air Force and how they outfoxed American counterparts in war games, although I don’t believe they used the word outfoxed.

We all know that our Armed Forces have had this advantage over the years. I mean, come on lah, which other military can boast having marching commands in Malay, instructions in English, and at one time really had a platoon that spoke only Hokkien?

And they say the US got drones, we also have! How many did you see in the Young PAP video? That video? It was supposed to be a secret weapon, to be used when our enemies are making their way to invade us. We will jam their networks and the video would be transmitted to all their smartphones and tablets, so when they watch it, they’ll U-turn and go back because, wah lao, really? This is the prize? Dowan lor.

There were three bids for this defence weapon. This was one of them. The other two were of course the STB ad and the Singtel nipple ad.

“Honey, look! You know the expensive seafood dinner we had last night? We really got screwed, I’m even pregnant!”

Ten years ago, I was in a reservist In camp training – see that’s another word that’s been ingrained. 20 years after changing the term to NSman, we’re still calling it reservist. You call up some business to look for someone, and they’ll say, “oh, got reservist, won’t be back until next week”.

I think we love the word reservist because we really don’t want to be on the front line. We’re reserved. Of course, my ten year cycle has long since been completed, so I’m an even more reserved reservist.

So anyway, this was in 2004 and we were still transitioning from the old conventional ways of warfare to a post 9-11 Al Qaeda-JI doctrine. We had training to tell us that it was no longer ok to clear a room with grenades and put our weapons to full auto to finish the job. We had to look out for civilians and enemy combatants.

So part of the training package consisted of being shot at from a simulated HDB block, and being shot at from a simulated market. The second round got worse. We got grenades thrown at us by a simulated pregnant woman played by one of our own reservists on Attend B excuse heavy lifting.

We didn’t know how to react. We were tired, hungry and getting frustrated.

As we ran up one last HDB stairwell we encountered a simulated couple in close embrace, just as you would in real life, only this time it turned out to be a terrorist-hostage situation. Our training kicked in. We trained our weapons on the party and opened negotiations:

Our section commander shouted: “Terrorist har? What the fuck you want, you ninabeh cheebye motherfucker?”

The simulated terrorist replied, “er…. I want an airline ticket”

Because we are a considerate 3G army, our section commander asked him, “airline ticket? Cheebye what airline?”

The terrorist considered this quickly and shouted his preference, “Emirates!”

Something snapped in my section commander. He flicked the safety catch on his SAR-21 to full auto and opened fire, emptying his magazine of 30 rounds of blanks as he screamed. “Emirates hah? SQ not good enough for you is it? Nabeh! Limpehshootjiliaphorlisee!”

Security Association Shooting Themselves In The Foot

T. Mogan and Friends: Do these guards know that they’re posing for a photo accompanying an interview which asks NOT to raise pay?
T. Mogan and Friends: Do these guards know that they’re posing for a photo accompanying an interview which asks NOT to raise pay?

I read with some dismay last month the Security Association of Singapore’s chief’s statement about proposed progressive wage model guides for security professionals.

It is positions like that which pose the biggest obstacles to better jobs and working conditions for lower income workers which NTUC has been calling for. Security guards remain one of the lowest paid workers in Singapore, and it is damn sian to hear people complaining that “gahmen don’t care about low wage workers” while at the same time railing against proposed improved wages.

Mr T. Mogan’s complaint in the ST interview, that “flexibility” is needed in place of Progressive Wage increases are a disservice to his industry.

The whole idea of progressive wages (as opposed to a wholesale minimum wage system) is flexibility. You don’t raise wages just ‘cos you think you need to – the work that is tied to the wage increase has to be improved.

Furthermore, security companies have also been complaining that since the rule was implemented several years ago to restrict security professionals to Singaporeans and PRs, “cannot find security officers – nobody want to work”.

As a friend in the HR business puts it – “then pay them more lah, wah lao.”

Before you get more shrill in your protests about higher overheads and needing to shut your businesses down, please, read on:

Your security business is in need of a serious revamp. The entire industry is. This dependence on low wage workers to service clients in a 24hr a day service is so very obviously not sustainable. I’m sorry, but you have to be the ones, together with your customers, to bite the bullet.

You may well protest against even that – saying you have done everything you can – improved the workers’ wages and trained them – but the fact remains that your customers still need to have 24hr a day security guarding, and that has become a lot more expensive with the wage increase, and therefore a wage increase does not and cannot create an increase in productivity.

But what if you exercised the other letter in the acronym PIC (Productivity and Innovation Credit – see also “free Gahmen money”): “Innovation”?

What if you took the shocking step of telling your customer, “eh boss, acherly hor, you no need 2 shifts x 12hr x day security guard – we can use centralized CCTV so you share one team of 2 roving security guards for this 16 square km area. Any sign of trouble – like somebody forget to close security door, the alarm will alert the guards to come and investigate. Around the same price. Can?”

Who will foot the bill, you say? That’s too radical, you say?

There’s a Swedish company in Singapore that’s already doing that – Securitas. Roving guard teams, state-of-art surveillance systems, centralized security details, highly trained and certified officers who are paid higher than industry standard. Smart, happy security guards backed by technology. Who dowan?

The more Singapore security companies start to innovate, the more customers will get round to understanding what they need. It’s the same like in 2007 – people didn’t know they needed a smart phone which could do everything else apart from making voice calls, and which in fact has reduced the number of voice calls.

For instance, most condos don’t actually need security guards if you think about it. You don’t even really need a doorman or a carpark attendant – which is what most condo guards double and triple up as. Replace this staffing with one daytime caretaker and a security surveillance system like the one described above. Double confirm can one.

As to who will foot the bill, sorry friend, you have to put some money down into the industry you’ve known and loved and want to see improved. But don’t worry, got free monies in the form of PIC, NTUC’s e2i Inclusive Growth Programme and more.

If you take a look here, you’ll see that in some instances, if you wanted to invest in $100,000 worth of equipment/software, you may only end up effectively paying $5,000 of the total cost, and think that Christmas has come early.

Meantime, tolong please, raise pay – gahmen will pay 40% of your wage increase.

The Bravery

When I went to uni with this bunch of fellas, we used to dare each other to do really stupid things. Like playing football at night in winter, topless, or diving into the surf at Bondi at night in winter with clothes on – this went on even after we left uni and returned to Singapore.

Once when we were at some expensive bar, we dared each other to do a runner. We all ran, but in wrong directions, and no one stopped us because we were shrieking like girls.

If we had a motto, it would have been the commando-like “Who Dares Wins”, but localised: “Who Scared Who? (Nabeh!)”

A nicer way of putting it would be that we all got along because we liked giving things a shot. My friend Shakir played in a Sydney rugby club with me before even learning the rules, and we both went abseiling precisely because we were scared of heights.

Once a student of aeronautics and a licenced commercial pilot, but who had the worst timing when it came to graduation – in 2002, Muslim trainee pilots held (and still hold) the world record for most number of planes flown into skyscrapers – Shak never once saw work as a pilot.

But always on the lookout for something interesting to do, the dude I’m proud to have been friends with for 18 years is now co-running this new joint in the newly hipster Jalan Besar Stadium neighbourhood, Shak revealed that the name, The Bravery, came about because “if you want to open cafe, must be damn brave man”.

Besides the damn kok etymology, The Bravery’s other noteworthy pedigree is that it is set up by the people who opened The Plain, on Craig Road in Tanjong Pagar. With that comes super coffee (they don’t roast their own beans, but that’s more than made up for by expert baristas who make sure your coffee is never burnt or sour), great sandwiches, and this breakfast item you have to have:

The Brave Bergedil is poached egg on bergedil corned beef hash with avocado and turkey bacon. Apart from the turkey bacon (which tips it over to the halal side of breakfasts), this combo works – I don’t care what this blogger says.

People who work nearby and who are familiar with Chye Seng Huat Hardware and Windowsill Pies (you know who you are, you Mad (Wo)Men) must come here for your coffee and light lunch fixes. And because they’re open all weekend, it’s worth coming out to Match-Fixers’ Central. Apparently it’s packed on weekdays but Sundays see crowds smaller than a regular S-League match.

The Bravery
66 Horne Road
Singapore 209073

What? There’ve Been 10 JB Arts Festivals Already?

Unbeknownst to many, and especially unbeknownst to me, there is a JB Arts Fest, and they’ve had it for ten years.

This is a bit surprising given all the horror stories we read in our papers about JB and crime – where it’s always “Singaporean Shot While Shopping”, or something like that. Although after speaking with several Johoreans, one suspects the context might have been “Singaporean Shot While Shopping Because He Insisted On Pushing A Trolley Full Of Cheap Groceries Through The Single Basket 10 Items Only Checkout Lane”.

Yes, JB-siders dislike us. If you’re still clueless as to why, think about the nasty things you say about foreigners in Singapore. That’s right. We make everything expensive in JB, we’re loud, crass and rude about it and we don’t care if the locals need to move up north to Yong Peng or Machap to be able to afford a house.

Over the weekend, Hossan and I ventured across the Straits to prepare for his performance at the Arts Festival, and we were stumped by the graciousness and hospitality of our hosts. And for the first time in a long time, we witnessed a bunch of people putting together a festival for the love of the arts, and not money – JB doesn’t yet have an Esplanade, or Drama Centre or Victoria Theatre, but the organisers managed to cobble together what was an impressive line up of events, from comedy to classical music to art and literature workshops.

We did one performance at a restaurant called Eight Lido – al fresco, by the Straits, and another one on a gaudy multi-coloured LED lit boat. Both were sold out to audiences who laughed at every joke, and dare we say, even harder than Singaporean audiences did at our recent shows. To be sharing the stage with an extremely talented troupe called M.A.C.C. (Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians, not to be confused with Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) was also a treat. These fellas were frikkin’ funny lah, can?

I am honoured to have been a small part of the JB Arts Fest (writing Hossan’s script), and am very grateful for the fantastic hospitality of the organisers – especially Allan Fernandez, owner of Eight Lido. Thank you for having us over.

The JB Arts Festival 2013 runs till 5 October. Check out their programme booklet.

 

Eric Khoo’s Recipe – A Film About Dementia

Recipe Poster

I was invited to watch an Eric Khoo telemovie last Tuesday called Recipe. It stars Zoe Tay, Li Yin Zhu, Moses Lim and Jayley Woo, and deals with the topic of dementia.

Why is this important? Dementia affects our aging population, and our aging population is growing. In 2005, there were about 22,000 recorded cases of dementia among the 65 and older in Singapore and this looks set to double even before 2020.

What this means for people with dementia, caregivers and the healthcare network cannot be underestimated. And yet, there are many of us who don’t know enough about dementia to even begin to know how to deal with it.

For example, dementia is not normal aging. In whichever form it takes – either Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia (which is caused by strokes), it is an illness that needs medical attention, and it is a condition that needs care and monitoring.

I wish I had known even this basic information years ago, because this subject matter is something I feel very strongly about – my family is dealing with it. Nonetheless, I am glad I’ve learned from the wealth of information available in our healthcare system. Being the immediate family member in charge of managing my father’s illness also presents an educational opportunity – telling my friends, and my father’s friends what’s going on with him is something I seldom tire of.

But I am glad that there are attempts made, like this telemovie, to put the issue up for education and discussion.

This film tells the story of the journey of Madam Ching, who’s been running her hawker stall for several decades selling scissor cut curry rice.

Trouble starts when the snaking queues for her famous fare begin to shrink after her culinary skills take a dive and become erratic. Her daughter Qiu Yun steps into the picture when an accident occurs at the stall. And at follow up medical appointments, it is discovered that Molly has the beginnings of dementia.

The other players in Madam Ching’s journey are her family, friends, workmates and customers, and they all share in her pain, fear and at times outright terror at the unknown.

It is a sensitive portrait of people dealing with and trying to make sense of the sometimes unpredictable family life that dementia brings.

It is something that is close to my heart, and you know I would never encourage anyone to watch Channel 8, but here it is, I’m telling you now – when they screen this on the telly on 29 September, 9pm, WATCH IT. Or record it to watch later.

For more information on dementia and on Recipe the telemovie, please click through: http://hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB055017

 

With HRH The Queen of Caldecott Hill. Zoe Tay's performance in this tele movie is her best ever, IMHO.
With HRH The Queen of Caldecott Hill. Zoe Tay’s performance in this tele movie is her best ever, IMHO.