Democracy Doesn’t Mean The Minority Must Shut Up

That is how we work together for the good of EVERYONE in this country. So, please, stop gloating and thinking that that’s the end of the debate on S377A and every other minority right.

I read a post on Facebook which I will not attribute to the author because he put it as private. The gist of his comment was that he thought that people should stop blaming the majority for voting for the PAP, and that:

“Once the votes have been cast, we should all unite again as Singaporeans to work together for the good of the country. That is after all what democracy is all about right?”

My fellow citizen, you are so fucking WRONG. Democracy means we all retain the right to continue complaining and protesting. No matter who I voted for, I will keep speaking up for the things I believe in, just as you did with yours.

That is how we work together for the good of EVERYONE in this country. So, please, stop gloating and thinking that that’s the end of the debate on S377A and every other minority right.

This country was built by Champion Grumblers, and we will all continue to do so.

Bridgestone And The Sound Of My Nose Whistling

I am skeptical and usually ‘discount 50%’ any crafted sales and marketing pitch, and Bridgestone’s spiel about their Turanza GR-100 sounded no different to any other enthusiastic presentation about the technological marvels of say, an electric razor or a rechargeable stylus.

Earlier this year, I met the lovely people at Bridgestone and they asked me about the car I drive and whether I needed a set of new tyres. It was timely because I did need a new set of tyres, the current ones being a bit worn after two years.

My friends would know me as an automobile non-enthusiast, and when I turned 40, I bought a station wagon instead of a sports car. My mid-life crisis came with lots of cargo space. Bridgestone’s Tyre Concierge took this into consideration and immediately suggested a range of tyres to suit my style.

I am skeptical and usually ‘discount 50%’ any crafted sales and marketing pitch, and Bridgestone’s spiel about their Turanza GR-100 sounded no different to any other enthusiastic presentation about the technological marvels of say, an electric razor or a rechargeable stylus.

But the session with the Tyre Concierge and the Tyre Doctor Ken Lim at one of their B-Select retail lounges lounges was thankfully short and I was happy to drive off with my swag of free, brand new tyres, ready to run my errands for the rest of the work day.

Half an hour on the road later (the dealership was quite far out), I realised something. I hadn’t had the radio on, and I had had half an hour of driving without any road noise. It was all quiet apart from the engine and the little whistling from my congested nose (sensitive to car workshop dust lah).

So, everything the Bridgestone Concierge and the Tyre Doctor was telling me about Bla Bla Bla Superior Quietness Bla Bla Silent AC Block Bla Bla Optimising Road Contact Bla Bla was trying to make its way back into my consciousness. It didn’t quite make it. I stopped my car, went online and tried to read the product specifications properly.

I got to 3D Helmholtz Noise Reducing Resonators and I felt my eyes glaze over and the whistling from my nose started to make me doze off. Then I remembered the last words the Tyre Concierge said to me, which were, “I guarantee you will feel and hear or rather, not hear the difference”.

The take away is that proper tyre selection makes a big difference, and people (like me) baulk at spending a few hundred dollars on new tyres without seriously considering the difference this auto part makes in safety and comfort.

But of course the test was whether Naomi would know the difference. I didn’t tell her the tyres were changed – she simply felt I had to go and clear the congestion in my nose cos the whistling was driving her crazy.

If your car’s tyres are a bit worn, contact Bridgestone’s Tyre Concierge here: – The service is free of charge.

Support Lim Swee Say In Spite Of What He Says

TL;DR version: Support Lim Swee Say, but let other voices help in steering the labour movement.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was forged in days of a different political landscape. It had its genesis in the founding of what later became the dominant political party. It served its purpose then, galvanising the rank and file behind the push to take over Singapore on independence.

That was 54 years ago and I am having trouble with the term ‘Labour Movement’ in this day and age, and in this country. If the governing party is for us, with us and for the country, then why is there a need for a Labour Movement, and why is there a third wheel just so we can call something ‘tripartism’? Surely MOM would be working for the workers, and we would be represented by our votes cast?

Plus, a government minister has always been appointed to the post of NTUC’s Secretary General – so I dunno man, it’s like a redundancy department of redundancy. You would think that the cabinet minister / secretary general would have the unions’ and government’s views aligned most times, and if workers had grievances against the government, you wouldn’t trust him to take your side.

But we’ve had the late President Ong Teng Cheong proving otherwise when he was NTUC Chief, authorising a strike in 1986 (yes, they are legal) without the approval of cabinet, earning the ire of his peers.

A couple of appointments later, we had Lim Swee Say, now Minister of Manpower. Now this man is easily ridiculed for his wacky turns of phrases (cheaperer and betterer, circa 2013), off-colour jokes (kiasu, kiasi, kia-SARS, circa 2004) and non-sequitur anecdotes (toothpicks 2014). But take a look at his tenure at NTUC – he pushed for all manner of schemes to be financed – oversaw the formation of two institutions aimed at making our citizens more skilled and competitive – WDA and e2i, and pulled at the Government’s purse strings to build a sizeable war chest in the millions of dollars to throw at the unions’ charters of making workers’ lives better.

There’s a story I like telling my friends and clients about how e2i funding helped an old and small noodle making factory retain their loyal but ageing staff by forking out almost 90% of the costs of machinery and a freaking brand new and larger truck because it would make the workers’ lives easier – the staff don’t have to carry loads of flour because machines the e2i bought do it for them, and the driver makes fewer trips because the new truck is larger.

Despite this and other happy stories, the main problem with e2i funding is, incredibly, that not enough businesses know how to access it.

From what I’ve seen at NTUC, I venture to say that there is no other country in the world with this kind of labour movement. And you have to give credit to Zorro Lim Swee Say for some of the things currently in place, just don’t let him sing his Upturn the Downturn song.

For all the admiration I have of the former Secretary General Minister, there is a caveat. The third prong of tripartism is still too tied to the PAP for my liking, and if it remains this way, will be the main obstacle to it being a truly independent, worker-centric player in our labour troika.

I attended the May Day Rally in 2014 and this year, and both times I was disturbed by the rally cry of ‘Majulah PAP’ at the end of the event. I finally brought this up at a online media session last month featuring the new Secretary General Chan Chun Sing, who dismissed it as mere ‘form’, and that he was ‘more concerned with substance’.

I suggested that since it was mere form, then get rid of it. He parried and changed the subject somewhat, so I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. I believe what the NTUC and Lim Swee Say has done – like our version of minimum wage – is working, and we’re nimble enough to tweak stuff as we go along. But I really want the NTUC to cut its umbilical cord from Mother PAP – it’s time to let other minds join the work on getting the right mix.

A Few Things About Tan Chuan-Jin

TL:DR version: If I lived in Marine Parade and it was an SMC, I’d vote for Tan Chuan-Jin, because he’s the real deal. Too bad he’s got ‘Self-Check’ Goh Chok Tong as his GRC mate.

I lost touch with Chuan-Jin, or CJ as I remembered him in school, the moment he left for RJC. He was the high flying sort while my friends and I preferred (or were consigned to) treetop skimming.

Over the years I read or heard about a Guardsman officer who led by example, was extremely likeable, inspiring and compassionate. He wouldn’t ask his subordinates to do something he wouldn’t be prepared to do himself, it seemed.

In December 2004 and the first few months of 2005, Chuan-Jin’s face appeared in the news as the colonel in charge of the rescue operations in the aftermath of the Great Tsunami. A few of us treetop skimmers remembered him, and noted that among all the officers who were involved in the operations, he was the only one that kept his full battle order (LBV or whatever you call it these days) and headdress on, no matter if a press event was being held in the officers’ mess or on the ground. It was an Operation, and he had to be seen to be operating.

Us Treetop Skimmers also knew that it was only a matter of time before our former classmate would be called to tea, and would be asked to don a different kind of battle order. And so it was no surprise that when the 2011 elections were called, the then Brigadier General resigned his commission from the Singapore Army and accepted the invitation to be elected to Parliament.

CJ the MP threw himself into his new job with glee, and I remember him being on Facebook at 2am on most nights, trying to answer with the sincerest of efforts every stupid question thrown at him. No ‘admin’ or ‘PA’ for this MP. He’d sleep at 2.30am and be awake by 6am because he was determined to respond to everyone that reached out to him.

In early 2012, when he was holding the two Minister of State portfolios (MND and MOM), we met over lunch a few times at his office (not sure if it was picked for him, but it was in the MOM building), and reacquainted ourselves with each other. I was the short fart who sat at the front of Mrs Evelyn Wee’s class because I was a short fart, while he was the most talkative person that ever lived on the islands of the main.

We chatted, and I must disclose here that myself and Hossan Leong, my best friend and fellow Treetop Skimmer, had an agenda for wanting to meet – we were having trouble with getting temporary work visas for a few Australian actors selected to perform in local musicals. These actors had previously studied in Singapore, at LaSalle, and were very talented, and perfect for the roles they had auditioned for.

They had previously been granted visas, but on the second try, were rejected on grounds that they were ‘entertainers’ in the same class as entertainers who would perform in KTV lounges and ‘hang flower’ bars. These entertainers were not allowed to return to work in Singapore for a second time, for the same employer, once their passes expired.

Of course, we were indignant about real artists being lumped together with KTV hostesses and other artistes, and made it known to our former classmate, now that he was the big man in charge of such things. We proposed a scheme – where foreign students of local arts schools were to be given a one year work experience visa so that they’d be enticed to study here, and we’d be richer for having more talent to work on our shows.

The short answer was ‘no’. The protracted one was that he heard our view, and that he could not grant such an exception to current regulations because every other damned industry would clamour for an exception.

Over our long lunch, we chatted about other things critical to the nation – like the declining birth rate, and I remembered something a friend said I should bring up if I had the chance to speak with someone in cabinet: that one way to solve the declining birth rate is to start supporting single parents, teenage mothers, and do away with the legal notion of an illegitimate child.

So I brought it up, and was met with silence at first, and then I added, “I’m not asking you to encourage teenage pregnancies or single parenting – just support”.

CJ then said something to the effect of, “I see what you’re getting at, and I see many cases in my ward where teenagers are stuck in the same cycle. We must not let them fall through the cracks”, before going on for at least another 30 minutes about the residents he had met recently.

Among the people he had met were a few elderly folk who had taken to collecting cardboard for recycling, earning a few dollars each time. And this is where he learned, to his surprise, that to help these people wasn’t as easy and straightforward as asking if they needed help, and helping when they would invariably accept your offer.

Pride, embarrassment and suspicion pushed some to deny and reject offers – some saying they were doing this, as you’ve probably heard and read from some websites, as a hobby or for exercise.

What’s not reported in media offline and on, is how the Minister perseveres in ensuring that help reaches every single household in his ward, whether they reject it at first offer or not. Ask his MPS volunteers and they’ll tell you he makes sure he leaves no stone unturned. This is what he’s done, and what he hasn’t accomplished troubles him no end.

I was very happy to read, in just his first month being transferred to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), he announced that he was looking into measures to bring benefits for single parents up to par with married couples’, and that he’d used, in among the rambling, long-winded explanations, the words ‘support’ and ‘encourage’, and that it was something he believed in, and that it was the right thing to do.

Inexplicably, this intent has been, and is still being twisted beyond recognition – with some accusing the government of still stigmatising single mothers, and others coming forth with the usual floodgates argument. I blame it on Chuan-Jin being Cheong Hei. Dude. Summarise.

Fortunately, the other thing going for the Minister is that he’s got a bunch of schoolmates, peers, Army brothers-in-arms who would tell it to him like it is. Because it’s way too easy, in his company of men in white, to be surrounded by enablers who won’t.

There are a few videos and photo sets going around showing Tan Chuan-Jin the tireless candidate running from house to house, with testimonials from residents showing how much he cares. This self-promotion is not what he’s about, and besides, these videos and photos are not going to sway voters who have half a mind to vote for the WP in Marine Parade.

Tan Chuan-Jin is a genuine fella, not prone to contriving a folksy demeanour like some of his colleagues. He’s also someone I’ve known since Secondary One. We used to joke that at 13, he already knew he wanted to become a cabinet minister. He’s always been outstanding and a leader in every aspect – and possibly the only times I’ve witnessed him being downcast was when he was in cabinet, being pilloried by the public for having said something that didn’t go down well.

If I manage to squeeze a few more words in sideways before polling day, I’d tell him simply (again), “You can do this, you’re very good at this job, and if you’re ever discouraged by naysayers, hecklers and people who simply disagree with you, suck it up, dude, you’re earning a million bucks. Deal with it”.