Sunday, 2 December 2012

All Aboard!

This video has gone viral - the Singlish Minister addressing China Bus Drivers' Strike in Singapore.  The 'lead man' a great little actor.

 The thought of striking bus workers is enough to send shivers down the spines of older Singaporeans, many of whom have memories of the Hock Lee bus riots of May 12, 1955.

The Communists had organised a series of regular strikes and disputes and on that occasion four people were killed and 31 injured in a bloody riot.

Little wonder then that the government has come down hard on Chinese bus workers who have recently staged an illegal strike. They have just announced that they will deport 29 of the mainland Chinese bus drivers and prosecute five who were apparently the instigators.

Chinese bus drivers get their one-way ticket back to China
Singapore's last strike occurred in a shipyard in 1986 and the powers that be have no desire to see it repeated, even though there is some popular sympathy for the conditions in which the Chinese drivers lived and worked. But the country did not appreciate the way they went about sharing their grievances. Nor will they  tolerate any further disruptions to public transport on which so many of them rely.

44% of bus drivers in Singapore are from either Malaysia or China; about 22% from each country. So 275 of mainland Chinese drivers did not strike while 175 chose to.

The Ministry of Home Affairs issued this statement and concluded:
"The actions of these SMRT bus drivers disrupted an essential service and Singapore's industrial harmony. While the SMRT bus drivers may have had grievances, these should have been raised through the legal and proper means available. 5 persons will face charges in court for the offences committed, and will be dealt with in accordance with the law. 29 persons who were blatant and persistent in their unlawful acts have had their Work Permits revoked and will be repatriated. Those who returned to work upon realising that this action was illegal will be issued warnings by the Police."

So the industrial harmony on which so much of Singapore's prosperity depends has been restored and the economic bus can resume its forward momentum.

In the words of the immortal duo Flanders and Swan in their Transport of Delight song "Hold very tight please, ting ting".Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, 26 November 2012

Flying the Way it Used to Be

From Brisbane to Singapore 1937
Refueling at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory
In this day of A380's and Changi's terminals it is easy to forget how far travelling by air has advanced in a very short space of time.

This image shows a refueling stop in  Australia's Northern Territory.  In 1937 when this photograph was taken aircraft has to stop several times on long flights to refuel.  It was only two years earlier, on 7 April that Qantas operated its first overseas passenger flight from Brisbane to Singapore.  It was a  four-day trip in those days and the aircraft (partially pictured at right) was a four-engine DH86.

Demand for the service was such that two years after this journey was captured on film the DH86 was replaced by Short C Class Empire flying boats, which also operated out of Sydney.

1937 was clearly a watershed year in Singapore aviation as the Wearne Brothers launched the first commercial air service between Singapore and Malaya that year using a de Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft called (quite appropriately) the Governor Raffles. It flew from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

It was also the year that Amelia Earhart departed from Lae in Papua New Guinea en-route to Howland Island. She never made it.

No Frequent Flyer points in those days and only the well-to-do could afford air travel. Qantas has also become an airline consigned to Singapore's history as it recently stopped flying there, preferring instead to go through Dubai.
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Friday, 23 November 2012

A Passionless People?

I am somewhat gobsmacked by a report that claims that 64% of Singaporeans don't feel positive or negative emotions on a daily basis.

"Singapore is the most emotionless society in the world, according to a new Gallup poll, beating the traditionally po-faced Georgia, Lithuania and Russia in a survey of more than 150 nations" states the article.

Clearly the writer has not had a recent conversation with the locals about "foreigners" who fail to observe local customs and courtesies, nor the relative merits of chicken rice at recommended eateries.  Such topics tend to raise the temperature both literally and figuratively.

The counter balance in Asia is the Philippines which apparently is the world's most emotional society.  Having seen the excesses of the Marcos shoe collection I can well believe it!  Not that the collection is much of a national treasure these days as it has molded away due to neglect.

Mind you, just look at the questions: Did you feel well rested yesterday?
My answer would probably have been: Yesterday has come and gone - I deal with today.  Well rested; well I was on a packed MRT coming into work after two bus trips to get the station, what do you think?

But does this response make me less emotional than my fellow passengers - I don't think so.
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Monday, 19 November 2012

Yale Vitriol and the Middle East Crisis

One has to wonder at the vitriolic commentary being directed at Singapore by associates of Yale University in recent times.  While it is common knowledge there is an academic faction that believes a campus of their ivy league institution should never have been established in Singapore, more moderate and balanced individuals can see the benefits to both parties.

The latest attack is an attempt to try and shift the blame of the latest Arab-Israeli war on Singapore!  The aptly named Jim Sleeper attempts to link recent survey results that found that Israel was world's most and Singapore the second-most, with the current spat between the two Middle East neighbours.

And for good measure he also insinuates that as both Israel and Singapore are 'non-Muslim' countries there is some form of joint agenda or perspective.  Clearly he has never lived in Singapore nor appreciated the efforts that the country makes to assimilate its cultures and give all races and ethnicities a fair chance at succeeding in life.

To label, as the writer does, Chinese Singaporeans as the "Jews of South East Asia" and fire a cheap shot labeling Lee Kuan Yew as a "virtual dictator"aptly demonstrates the personal bias of the article but it is not until we get to the later paragraphs do we fully appreciate that this is indeed another sniping at Yale's association with Singapore. "Can any liberal democracy ever hope to flourish while pacing a gilded but iron cage?"

What is so wonderful about the "liberal democracy" that this Yale academic is so hell bent on defending?

Why is it I wonder that I saw US Vets and mental release patients scavenging in rubbish bins on the streets of San Francisco and I never experienced the same in Singapore?  Why is the USA is the economic doggy-doos and Singapore remains economically buoyant?

Perhaps the much vaunted 'liberal democracy' is not all that it is cracked up to be by political scientists such as Sleeper.

And yes, Singapore did seek the advice of the Israeli military when it set up its own forces after the British departed, but this is hardly a crime.  Faced with very real threats from Indonesia and communist insurgencies there was an urgency to depend the fledgling nation and who could blame them for that.

I personally wish Yale in Singapore every success as it will be mutually beneficial to both, just as it has been for other universities who have forged strong bonds with the country.
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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Thoughts On A Cloud

Straits Times Photo: Kevin Lim
At first glance this photo seems to suggest that some of the large, fluffy clouds that congregate in tropical skies each afternoon, have fallen to earth. Or maybe a neighbour in one of the higher-level HDB's had put too much soap powder into their washing machine, with dire consequences for those who live below.

The truth of the Choa Chu Kang foam is not that far removed from the fiction.  It would seem that 70 barrels of detergent-based concentrate were stored in a warehouse that caught fire.  Three quarters of these barrels were damaged and when the fireman quenched the flames, and water from the hoses was added, instant foam was the result.

The soapy mix also contaminated a stretch of the nearby Pang Sua Canal from which water is taken for recycling and is treated for human consumption.

The event reminds me just how precious a commodity  water is and how Singapore is a world leader in water conservation and recycling; NEWater being a case in point. The country has four operational NEWater factories, at Bedok, Kranji, Ulu Pandan and Changi producing potable water that is treated from sewage waste water and made fit to drink.

Singapore is now taking the eco-process one step further by having the water treatment plants powered by solar energy - a clever marriage of green technologies.

And if you ever doubted the importance of water and its conservation consider this article (and the infographic below) from FastCompany that highlights how important water security is to business.

"If there is one truly arresting sign that our relationship to water is about to shift in fundamental ways, it comes not from the world of science or climatology, not from United Nations officials or aid workers desperately trying to get water to people in developing countries. It comes from businesses like Michell Wool  and other corporations with water-intensive businesses, such as Coca-Cola  but also those whose water dependence is less obvious, like GE and IBM. They all have that same tickle of anxiety about water security. For business, water management is fast becoming a key strategic tool. Companies are starting to gather the kind of information that lets them measure not just their water use and their water costs but also their water efficiency, their water productivity, how much work they get from a gallon of water, how much revenue, how much profit."

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Friday, 9 November 2012

Cows and Whitebait - An East Coast Odyssey

Cow and Cop - Whakatane
To say Whakatane on New Zealand's East Coast is a one-horse town is a gross exaggeration   There is at least one cow as well, albeit a plastic one outside the local vet's practice.

We arrived after a four hour road trip from Auckland.  What a lovely climate the place has and of course the people are  very friendly as you often experience in the rural hinterland.  Locals took the time to tell us where the best places were to go for sightseeing and fish and chips.  The latter being some of the best in New Zealand as there is a fishing industry based in Whakatane and the seafood is literally the catch of the day.

The weather has been typical of late Spring with warmer temperatures but cooler nights. Thankfully there is no rain to spoil the holiday break.

Whitebaiter - Whakatane River
Although it is nearing the end of the whitebait season there are still some keen fishermen lining the banks of the river that reaches it mouth East of the city boundaries.  It seems that the old method of catching the small delicacy remains the same as it was when I was a boy in Waitara.  I used a painted whiteboard weighted down just below the water's surface so that you could see the whitebait as they hugged the banks on their run up river.

This fisherman is using exactly the same method with his scoop net at the ready. He caught less than a quarter of a cupful as we watched, before we moved on.

Lintel Carving on Waka (Canoe) shelter
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