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.

To Every Teacher That Taught Me

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 TEACHERS’ DAY, wherever you are.

In All Seriousness, The National Day Rally

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’.

One Shy Of Fifty: 49th National Day

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.


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.


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.


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!

Don’t Be A WTF Wendy

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)

Robo-cutter To Change Landscaping Landscape

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

My Paperless Pledge

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(r).

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 ( For every 20 wishes placed on the Kleenex Wishing Tree, a real tree will be planted.

My Birthday Wish? A Sea Of Tranquility

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 A Fascist Chief Librarian

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