Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A remarkable MM (medical mentor) and a critique of medical tests too many...

'Putting the patient first' (ST, 29 Feb, page A12)

Here's how to write a compelling introduction to a story. ST senior correspondent Chang Ai-Lien's opening anecdote is so well-crafted, the reader is hooked!...

It was a taste of medicine that Professor Tan Ser Kiat will never forget.

Doing rounds with his mentor, Professor Gordon Ransome, and fellow medical students in the 1960s, the group stopped in front of a diabetic patient.

"How do you tell if someone has diabetes? You taste their pee," said Prof Ransome, who dipped his hand into the man's urine bag and licked a finger in front of the horrified bunch.

The squirming students mirrored his action, only to be told after each had a sampling that he had put one finger into the acrid liquid, but a different one into his mouth.

"He was teaching us the importance of observations, one of the most important lessons in medicine," recalled Prof Tan, chuckling.

[Prof Tan, 66, went on to cover the whole spectrum of medical care: From his early days as an orthopaedic surgeon revolutionising treatments to re-attach severed limbs, to running SingHealth, the country's largest healthcare group, for the past 12 years. Recently retired as the group's CEO, he is still active in practising medicine.]


'Early diagnosis is the sickness' (TODAY, 29 Feb, page 10)

This New York Times article (hyperlinked here, below), by H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice --  on the issue of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of people who are well -- is a compelling read in its entirety. Here's an extract:

The truth is, the fastest way to get heart disease, autism, glaucoma, diabetes, vascular problems, osteoporosis or cancer ... is to be screened for it. In other words, the problem is overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Screening the apparently healthy potentially saves a few lives (although the National Cancer Institute could not find any evidence for this in its recent large studies of prostate and ovarian cancer screening). But it definitely drags many others into the system needlessly - into needless appointments, needless tests, needless drugs and needless operations (not to mention all the accompanying needless insurance forms).

This process does not promote health; it promotes disease. People suffer from more anxiety about their health, from drug side effects, from complications of surgery. A few die. And remember: These people felt fine when they entered the health care system.

It was not always like this. In the past, doctors made diagnoses and initiated therapy only in patients who were experiencing problems. Of course, we still do that today. But increasingly we also operate under the early diagnosis precept: Seeking diagnosis and initiating therapy in people who are not experiencing problems.


Leap Year footnote... when something  goes awry.

Here's the story for the pic above:

I too was a victim of a Leap Year glitch. My trusty watch went straight to 1 March, skipping 29 Feb!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Don't leap into using big words...

I am sure many a parent in exasperation or in a fit of anger, must have scolded a child using the word "hopeless", as in, say, "You're hopeless!". Colloquially, we may have used the expression "You're a hopeless case!" on each other.

But the word "hopeless" used in conjunction with people depicted as disabled in an MCYS poster offended many netizens and created an online storm, as reported in this story below (pic here also taken from the story):

As I have tried to show in yesterday's blog entry when I highlighted a number of print ads, a wrongly chosen word or phrase can result in anything from hilarious to ridiculous to even offensive (remember "Chink in the armour?").

One TODAY reader, ex-Malaysian Hwa Shi-Hsia (24 Feb, "Words are tools, but how do we use them?"), wonders if there is a penchant here for using "big words" without the user really knowing the words' precise meanings or contexts:

I refer to the letter "What values and from whose perspective?" (Feb 23) where the author was puzzled at hearing another teacher discuss pole dancing to "connect with ... a class of disenfranchised 15-year-olds".

I too am puzzled, not by the story but by the choice of words. Fifteen-year-olds are disenfranchised by definition, as they are minors and certainly too young to vote in elections.

Even if one were to take the word in its looser meaning, something like "disempowered", that is irrelevant to telling the students racy stories.

I suspect the writer meant "disenchanted", or what an ordinary person might call "fed up and bored". Why not just say so?

Since moving here a few years ago, I have noticed that while most Singaporeans do speak English fairly well, in writing, they tend to choose peculiar words with little regard for context, suitability or euphony (what my secondary school Malay language teacher would have called "bunyi tak sedap", or not sounding nice).

I have been told by many people that this is because students in English classes are rewarded for using big words.

The only way to build up a really good vocabulary is by reading widely to gain an understanding not only of the literal, basic definitions of words, but also their connotations and usage in context.

Attempting to expand one's vocabulary by memorising lists of words is like owning a big toolbox with the barest idea as to what all the tools are or what they are for.


Last item... since 2012 is a Leap Year, with an extra day in February (29 Feb), how did the Leap Year come about? Here's an interesting link that sheds light on its history, traditions and folklore:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Er, say that again?

This headline (ST, 27 Feb) below is perfectly all right, highlighting the story's point:

But there is an unfortunate juxtaposition with the writer's name!

For a cheeky word play, how about "Lucy Lawless arrested"?...

As for this ad below, extolling women:

Everything's fine, until I got to the punchline... "Because without women, life simply wouldn't be as interesting". Er, without women, hor, life ends with Adam. No Eve, finis.

And then there's this sandless sand, which leads to sandless sandbags...

I've no idea what is a qualified dating practitioner...

These are men's "bottom"?...

Selected, too! And I didn't know cross-dressing is in vogue:

Figuring out such ads can give a headache, which can strike anywhere -- not just anyone anywhere!


Ok, I'm done with quibbling and I'll end with this mirth-inducing story from today's ST (page A17)... note the "This Way Up" painted on the aircraft:

This South African budget airline, Kulula, has been making its passengers laugh since it started business in 2001. "In case you have two children, choose the one you love the most to help him or her first," one safety announcement says.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Know the pills you pop, walk fast, and eat more curry!

Supplements... caveat emptor!

Many people pop off-the-shelf health supplements in the belief that they need them and, more importantly, that the products actually work as advertised.

I found the following excerpt from a Mind Your Body column titled "Choose supplements with care" (16 Feb, page 6) by Dr Toh Han Chong, a cancer specialist, thought-provoking:

I recall a young man diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to only two small areas in the liver.

Combining chemotherapy and surgery, he had a four in 10 chance of becoming cancer-free in the long term.

At every consultation, he would flatly refuse chemotherapy, saying, “chemotherapy is man-made poison”.

Over time, his two liver lesions grew from cherry-sized to grapefruit-sized and then melon-sized. Eventually, they grew so profuse that when he finally requested for chemotherapy, he was incurable. He died, leaving behind a young widow and baby.

I found this young man’s thinking hard to fathom.

Many chemotherapy drugs come from nature... These drugs have gone through years of rigorous, systematic scientific testing, safe manufacturing and thorough clinical trials that establish drug safety, side effects, dosage, ability to control and shrink cancer and to prolong the lives of cancer patients.

Overall, supplements undergo less detailed scrutiny to prove their objective worth.

Supplement users commonly relate anecdotes like, “Auntie Jane took supplement A and has been cancer-free for 10 years” or “I read on the Internet testimonials of cancer patients who have benefited from supplement X”.

The public must guard against false, flimsy and fuzzy claims of anti-cancer promises of certain supplements.

This is true even for vital nutrients.

A study of vitamin E and selenium use in 35,000 normal men assessing whether their risk of prostate cancer could be reduced, instead found that the vitamin users had a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer.

Another United States study of 38,000 women taking multivitamins and other supplements found that older women taking the multivitamins and supplements had a higher risk of dying than those not on these supplements.

A 2004 Danish review of seven randomised trials of beta carotene, selenium, vitamins A, C and E either taken alone or in combination in patients with oesophageal, stomach, pancreas and liver cancers revealed a 6 per cent higher death rate in the users of these supplements compared to the placebo group.

A January 2009 editorial in The Journal Of National Cancer Institute stated that most studies of vitamins had not demonstrated any benefit against cancer and some even showed unexpected harm.

Vitamins are truly essential for a healthy mind and body, but too much of a good thing may not be good.

Cancer specialists do witness surprising benefits of alternative treatments like traditional Chinese medicine in terminal cancer patients who have exhausted conventional treatment.

While these ancient potions have centuries of treatment history, more research is needed to understand their true value.

As supplement use rises with our growing wellness culture, the number of contaminated supplements is also rising. These may harbour undeclared pharmaceutical ingredients such as anabolic steroids, which can cause problems such as heart overdrive, aggressive behaviour, growth of a beard for women and growth of breasts for men.

They may also contain stimulants and harmful toxins like heavy metals. Hence, great care must be taken when choosing supplements.

What about beverages? Coffee drinking has been proven to reduce liver cancer risk by Singapore and Japanese researchers.

But beware the lure of a good cuppa.

An eminent professor of medicine in his 80s recently recounted the story of his childhood in the Serangoon area where he could smell the lovely aroma of coffee being ground the traditional way from across the street. He said there were always huge crowds of customers drinking kopi at this coffee shop.

“Do you know why this kopi was so popular? They put opium in it,” he chuckled.


For health's sake, walk quick, quick, eat curry, curry!

I also like this Daily Telegraph article (hyperlinked below) in TODAY (17 Feb, page 4) titled "Slower walking speed more likely to lead to dementia, but eating curry may stave it off". I can't stand people who dawdle and I love curry! So read it:,-but-eating-curry-may-stave-it-off

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Case of the online jerk, and a sampling of the witticism of Siri.

A Webscam story

Boy meets girl online. Girl lets him see her dancing naked, but her face is not shown. She then invites him to use his webcam to show her how he masturbates. He is happy to do so, and -- silly fella -- must have shown his face too. Girl later tries to blackmail boy but he -- finally retrieving his brain from his lower region -- makes a police report. Seems now that the culprit may not even be dancer girl, but might be a man!

Here's the (originally New Paper) story, from


Also from is this commentary on recent lawyers' letters that were served on socio-political website Temasek Review Emeritus:


Siri's funny-bone side has a story on a compilation of Siri's answers to cheeky questions put to her ("Funniest things Siri says"):

Here are some of the Q&A...

* "Talk dirty to me."

Siri: The carpet needs vacuuming.

"Talk dirty to me."

Siri: Humus. Compost. Pumice. Silt. Gravel.

** "Will you marry me?"

Siri: My End User Licensing Agreement does not cover marriage.

"I love you."

Siri: I hope you don't say that to those other mobile phones.

*** What are you wearing?"

Siri: Aluminosilicate glass and stainless steel. Nice, huh?

**** "How do I look?"

Siri: How do you look? With your eyes...

***** How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

Siri: A woodchuck would chuck as much as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.



Thanks, Nick, for your comment about persimmons. Indeed, taste is a powerful memory trigger!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Always be curious...

I referred to persimmons in yesterday's blog entry. I love the fruit and as far as I know, Singapore only imports the Israeli produce (Sharon brand) and the yucky, tasteless Korean variety (who cares about the brand).

That's why -- tongue in cheek -- I worried more about not getting my Sharon persimmon fix than any fresh global instability erupting if the current sabre-rattling between Israel and Iran tips over into a hot war.

I think sanity will prevail, though. But, still, I did get a stockpile:

Meanwhile, curious to learn more about this fruit that I had never eaten fresh in my childhood (apart from the preserved variety sold in Chinese provision shops and which is used in cheng tng dessert), I went on the Net and found this interesting YouTube video clip. Not only does the persimmon have health-giving properties, it is a versatile fruit (the dogs love it too) and it can be used in curry dishes too! Here is the link:


My curiosity and over-imaginative mind also led me to become piqued by this movie title:

Again, I did a check, and found out more about the movie's storyline... not telling here, but it has nothing to do with toilet humour. Still, I'm not passing up on the chance to have a "gas" by way of juxtaposition (below), using a short but interesting Mind Your Body article I had filed away in my trivia collection (note the little bubble about how many times we fart a day):

Speaking of bubbles, I also had this headline filed away for occasions like this!...

I am not sure if it is idiomatically correct to say a bubble is "losing air". The usual phrasing is the "bubble has burst". But if I were to render "losing air" into Hokkien, it becomes "pang hong" which is a euphemism for farting.


Last piece of "toilet humour" here... the latest Occupy is "Occupy Men's Toilets" and it's happening in Guangzhou, China!

Gender equality starts... in the toilet (ST, 22 Feb, page A24)

Female college students in Guangzhou held an Occupy Men's Toilets protest this week, demanding more cubicles for women, the Guangzhou Daily said.

A group of college girls stormed a male toilet in Guangzhou's Yuexiu Park on Monday in the name of gender equality and shorter waiting times for female toilets.The students carried signs saying "Greater 'convenience' for women, greater equality between the sexes".

[The organiser, a Ms Li, said the plan is to next occupy the toilet halls of power in Beijing. Way to go, Ms Li! Start a new Loo-ng March. It should be a peaceful event, of course.]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When Israel and Iran rattle sabres, I plead, 'I want my Sharon persimmons!'

There is a saying attributed to Clemenceau, "War is too important to leave to the generals". That's because the military was seen as being too inept, or too gung-ho in wanting to escalate war objectives, and the politicians had to rein them in (think of US President Truman having to sack General MacArthur during the 1950s Korean War after the Chinese stepped into the breach).

The nuclear age kind of messed things up when contemplating war, as people -- including the military and the scientists -- began to understand more about the paradox of nuclear deterrence. They came to realise that two sides that have nuclear weapons are basically deterred from using them on each other.

That made a pre-emptive strike tempting (for the already nuclear-armed side) if the other side is poised to, but has yet to, acquire a nuclear war-fighting capability (for simplicity, I'll ignore this contradiction in terms here).

This tipping-point moment is apparently the reason why Israeli politicians are publicly telling the world Israel may have to carry out pre-emptive attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities -- with or without American acquiescence -- before Iran enters a "zone of immunity" (that's when Teheran acquires a nuclear capability, which the Israeli politicians claim is pretty soon).

Bear in mind too that it's an American presidential election year, and Israel has friends among American politicians and lobbyists, particularly those on the political Right.

Iranian politicians continue to insist that the country's nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. (If you believe that, you've gotta start reading the disclaimer preamble in our local Noose TV series.)

But Iran may be playing a game with Israel, baiting it with "come and hit me if you dare" provocations. Still, Iran, blessed with oil and holding strategic sway over the Strait of Hormuz but vulnerable to economic sanctions, holds the key to the first steps in diffusing tensions.

So, is an international crisis building up, and will the Israelis move beyond sabre-rattling? Will oil prices shoot up? Will Israeli Sharon-brand persimmons become scarce if Israel is forced into a prolonged war footing (I hate the alternative... those yucky Korean varieties)? Will Iranian dates disappear from our supermarket shelves too?

The current crisis may pass. The military on all sides have no choice but to draw up warfighting plans. But it is the politicians who are making the unnerving noises. Today, war may be too important to leave to the politicians.

For some insightful recent analyses, see:

David Ignatius, "Is Israel preparing to attack Iran?"

Fareed Zakaria, "How history lessons could deter Iranian aggression"

John Mueller, "False nuclear fears cloud judgment on Iran"

New York Times, "Iran may be just out of reach"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Headlines gone wrong, and those that hit the sweet spot and soar...

If you have not heard of the "Lin-sanity" fever, you are -- as they say -- from another planet. But one ESPN headline writer must have wished he had not heard of the New York Knick's new poster boy, the Taiwanese-American basket ball player Jeremy Lin. Trying to be clever, that person wrote this headline:

That unfortunate person was sacked, after protests charging racial slur flooded in. I agree that the "Chink in the armour" headline was in really bad taste, but I can also see how tempting it was for the writer to come up with a pun. He might probably have previously even come up with award-winning headlines. Sad. Perhaps a reprimand might have sufficed.

From xinmsn's site is a similar it's-wrong-but-let's-not-get-overboard view:


Just to give lay people an idea of how headline writers can get carried away is this sub-headline from a British university journal, in early February:

In an apology to their readers, redfaced editors of Suffolk University’s Suffolk Journal wrote this explanation: "In today’s issue of The Journal, we published an inappropriate sub-headline in the article “SLI Involvement Fair a success.” We want to apologise profusely for the mistake and make it clear that we in no way harbour ill feelings towards the Student Leadership and Involvement [SLI] Office, nor any of the students and staff that work there. The sub-head was put in as a joke, by editors, that unfortunately slipped through our editing process later in the night. We want to make it clear that the reporter who wrote the article had no idea or anything to do with the subhead."


Having said that, headlines must make sense. This one does not...

The story is a sad one; the pregnant dog that was hit later died. As for the headline, what was the person who wrote it thinking of? Unless you are Superman, you can't just pick up a car to do that action described!

This alternative headline, from another newspaper, got it right:

Outrage after national bowler's car hits dog


I felt the headline writer for the story below missed out on a chance to come up with something more catchy:

 I would have written this:

Boeing, going, gone...
on March 24; that's when SIA flies
its final B747 jumbo service


I thought the headline writer did a very good job with this one:

Very creative! The aircraft doing the aerial stunts at our recent air show are from the Royal Australian Air Force (Down Under), and one of the planes is in a "down under" position.


Here's another great headline, commenting on the recent sinking of a cruise ship off the Italian coast:

On a related theme, one British paper found itself with two stories that deserved to be put on Page One, but which would then likely lead to an unfortunate juxtaposition. Its editors chose to go ahead (full steam ahead?):


Finally, I like the clever fade-out effect for this headline:


Sunday, February 19, 2012

A cautionary poem about time...

No time? A cautionary poem

Found on a church's notice board:

Just one more CEO joke...

Arriving in a hotel in KL Sentral (Malaysia), the man everyone calls Uncle Tony went to the bar and asked for a pint of draught Guinness stout.

The barman nodded and said, "That will be one ringgit (one Malaysian dollar) please, Uncle Tony."

Somewhat surprised, Uncle Tony said, "That's very cheap," and promptly handed over his money.

"Well, we try to stay ahead of the competition", said the barman. "And we are serving free pints every Wednesday evening from 6pm until 8pm. We have the cheapest draught in Asia."

"That is remarkable value," Uncle Tony said.

The barman spoke again: "I see you don't seem to have a glass, so you'll probably need one of ours. That will be 3 ringgit, please."

Uncle Tony scowled, but paid up. He took his drink and walked towards a seat.

"Ah, Uncle, you want to sit down?" said the barman. "That'll be an extra 2 ringgit. You could have pre-book the seat, and it would have only cost you a ringgit. By the way, I think you may to be too big for the seat, sir. May I get you to sit in this frame for a moment, please."

Uncle Tony attempted to sit down but the frame was too small and when he could not squeeze in much as he tried, he complained: "Nobody would fit in that little frame."

"I'm afraid if you can't fit in the frame, you'll have to pay an extra surcharge of 4 ringgit for your seat, sir."

Uncle Tony swore quietly to himself, but paid up as he had had a long day.

"I see that you have brought your laptop with you," added the barman. "And since that wasn't pre-booked either, that will be another 3 ringgit to use it here."

Uncle Tony was so annoyed by now that he walked back to the bar, slammed his drink on the counter, and yelled, "This is ridiculous, I want to speak to the manager."

"Ah, sir, I see you want to use the counter," says the barman, "That will be 2 ringgit, please."

Uncle Tony's face was red with rage.

"Do you know who I am?"

"Of course I do, sir. You are the well-known CEO."

Uncle Tony: "I've had enough, What sort of hotel is this? I come in for a quiet drink and you treat me like this. I insist on speaking to the manager!"

Barman: "Here is his email address; or if you wish, you may contact him between 9am and 9.10 every morning, Mondays to Tuesdays on this phone number. Calls are free, until they are answered; then there is a talking charge of only 10 sen per second provided you use Tune Talk. Using other mobile carriers will incur our normal charge of 30 sen per second."

"I will never use this bar again!"

"OK, Uncle Tony , but remember, we are the only bar in Asia selling pints for one ringgit... so that now everyone can drink."

Compliments are soooo nice!

I have been receiving a few compliments this past week! Someone wrote a very nice comment at the bottom of my 15 Feb blog entry ("70 years ago today... when S'pore became Syonan-to").

Then, at work at the weekend, two reporters (separately) messaged me to thank me for improving their copy. The two Sunday Times stories in question are "Nightmare after D&D nights" (page 14) and "Are law students cut from the same cloth?" (page 21).

Finally, at church, someone asked me: "Are you still writing your columns in the newspaper?" I replied that I have been rather busy and also told him about my blog. He then said: "I enjoyed your commentaries. They are well-written and insightful."


Saturday, February 18, 2012

A CEO joke

This joke below originally made fun of a certain Irishman who became the CEO of a large Asia-Pacific company. But I shall turn it into a generic CEO joke...

A large Asia-Pacific company advertised for a CEO. There was only one applicant. The board was not impressed with his CV but it decided to give him a test anyway.

The Maths Test

"Here is your first question," the Chairman said.  "Without using numbers, represent the number 9."

"Without numbers? That
is easy," said the man, who proceeded to draw three trees. 

"What's this?" the Chairman asked.

"Have you ain't got no brains? Tree and tree plus tree makes 9," said the applicant smugly

"Fair enough," said the Chairman, humouring him. "Here's your second question. Use the same rules, but this time the number is 99."

man stared into space for a while, then picked up the picture that he had just drawn and made a smudge on each tree... "Here you go." 

The boss scratched his head and asked, "How on earth do you get all that to represent 99?"

"Each of the trees is dirty now. So, it's dirty tree, and dirty tree, plus dirty tree.  That makes 99."

The Chairman was now getting worried that he actually had to hire this m
an, so he said, "All right, one last question.  Same rules again, but represent the number 100."

man stared into space once again. Then he picked up the picture and made a little mark at the base of each tree and said, "Here you go. One hundred."

The Chairman, perspiring, stared for a long time at the picture. "You must be nuts if you think that represents a hundred!"

The ma
n leaned forward and pointed to the marks at the base of each tree and said firmly, "A little dog comes along and pooped by each tree. So now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, which make ONE HUNDRED!"

He got the job! And the chairman quit the company.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Just 2 more reflections on the Japanese Occupation...

I just want to include here two more reflections on the Fall of Singapore in February 1942 before I move on. One (excerpted) is from a Westerner now living in Singapore (Straits Times, 16 Feb) and the other is from a local historian (TODAY, 17 Feb).

The fall of S'pore casts its shadow -- by Jane A. Peterson

Seventy years ago this week, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival marched a white flag to the Ford factory [in Upper Bukit Timah Road] where he surrendered Singapore to General Tomoyuki Yamashita... For many Westerners, this British defeat remains a footnote. But when you live here, you come to understand that it’s more than that....

Singapore looked like a sitting duck in February 1942. Japan had bombed the island and British Malaya within hours of bombing Pearl Harbour. Japanese tanks then rolled towards Singapore, ramming through British defence lines....

Westerners believed what locals believed: Singapore was Britain’s “impregnable fortress” of superior military might. Percival must have known better. The Japanese had sunk the HMS Repulse and the [HMS] Prince of Wales in December due to a lack of air cover; Churchill needed the Royal Air Force in Europe. In the last week of January, retreating British troops from Malaya poured over the Causeway into Singapore....

[Percival] blew a hole in the Causeway [thereby cutting off Singapore's mainland water supply as well!], though he left Johore's lookout tower intact, giving the enemy a bird’s-eye view of Singapore’s defences.The Japanese picked the narrowest portion of the Strait and attacked, blowing through a thin line of inexperienced Australian recruits. They rolled on....

Percival made the call to surrender after losing the reservoirs....

Three years of horrendous Japanese occupation followed. Captors staged the Sook Ching massacre straight away, lining up Chinese males deemed “anti-Japanese” and shooting them. Meanwhile, Westerners and some locals were jammed into Changi Prison, the island’s first prisoner-of-war camp.

“I was 11 when I went into this prison,” Ms Louise Branson, 81, [a Eurasian] told me when we met at Changi last week. “We could smell bacon and eggs for the Japanese, but we were starving. At night I could hear the ‘boots’ coming for women. ‘They’re coming, change places!’ My sisters and I would lie over my mum to hide her.” Like many Singaporeans, she grew to hate the Japanese, and lost respect for the British who had actually bombed her family home by mistake while trying to defend the island.

Disillusionment with Britain continued after the war. I asked a retired teacher how she felt when the British returned: “We renamed the Royal Air Force ‘run away fellas’.” Her comment seems to sum up one reason why Asia decolonised, and why the fall of Singapore still casts a shadow today.

So what shadow do Westerners see? Vigilant security tops the list: officials paid well to keep the “tiny red dot” on secure footing; missiles capable of hitting enemy aircraft 24/7; a nation keen on alliances [actually, security pacts short of formal alliances; Singapore has no military alliances], including the deal to bring United States Navy [littoral] combat ships here....

Relations with Japan appear amicable... But hard feelings linger. I once asked a taxi driver to take me to a Japanese gravesite near the Old Sime Road camp. He abruptly stopped the taxi and told me to get out. (The writer is a freelance journalist who has lived in Singapore since 2007.)


Keep lessons true to history -- by Dr John Kwok Jung Yun

I refer to Mr Gopinath Menon's letter "Lessons from 70 years ago" (Feb 15). We all should learn from history so long as we do well not to change history to fit the lesson.

Years ago, I saw a painting by a student depicting Singapore in World War II, featuring the modern flag of Singapore beside the Union Jack. That is anachronistic. Singapore was a British colony during the war.

[Mr Menon's] letter and the [student's] painting suggest that Singaporeans see the war here in an ahistorical way.

Mr Menon wrote that Singapore was "entangled unwittingly" in someone else's war and that when the war came, the British "forsook the friendship" with Singapore, which suggests a bilateral type of relationship between nations, and left.

The Pacific War was between empires. The war started, and ended, with Singapore on the British Empire's side as a colony. Friendship mattered little between the colonial British and local subjects. The colony was on the Empire's periphery.

As far as the British were concerned, Singapore, like Australia and Hong Kong, were the "Far East" in every sense of the expression.

As we remember the suffering of the locals during the Japanese Occupation, let us not forget the Indian, Australian, British, Gurkha and local volunteers who fought bravely but vainly to defend Singapore. They were marched off to three-and-a-half years of brutal life as prisoners of war. Many never returned home.

When WWII was declared in 1939, all of the British Empire was at war. The people of Singapore immediately donated money towards the colony's ambition of funding a bomber squadron for Britain, no small feat for a colony at the time.

Imperial loyalty was a powerful sentiment in the days of empires. For the Chinese here, there was imperial loyalty of a different kind: Ethnic kinship. From the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, many Chinese here condemned Japan's aggression towards China. They boycotted Japanese goods and raised funds for China's war effort. Many cheered when war was declared between Britain and Japan.

After the Fall of Singapore, it mattered not if one was a Singapore-born Chinese or a Chinese immigrant, or whether one supported the local anti-Japanese campaigns or not: The Japanese singled out the entire Singapore Chinese community for punishment.
Only the Chinese population were screened; many were massacred.

The Japanese demanded from them a S$50-million donation for loyalty and obedience to their new masters. Singapore was anything but a bystander unwittingly caught in the maelstrom of war.

There are lessons from the events 70 years ago. But when we remember the past to learn from it, history must be able to bear the weight of the lessons we put on them. (The writer is a social military historian.)


Friends with benefits

I had meant to write a blog entry that would touch on the special and still evolving"military and strategic" relationship Singapore has with the United States since it began to host limited US military facilities and deployment of forces since the pullout of American forces from their Philippine bases in the early 1990s.

Formally, Singapore still refers to itself as non-aligned and it does not have formal military pacts a la NATO with any nation. But I was going to liken the current state of Singapore-US military and strategic ties with that of "friends with benefits".

I felt pretty smug about having thought of using that phrase in that intended context.

Then I read a commentary piece by my colleague William Choong in today's ST (17 Feb, "A deliberate denial of choice", page A35) in which he credited British academic Tim Huxley, the author of Defending The Lion City: The Armed Forces Of Singapore, as having recently used that phrase in the manner I meant (but had not got round to putting it online or in print).

Ah well, great minds think alike, eh?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Japanese woman's tribute to a remarkable Singaporean.

This orbituary ad (below) appeared in ST on 2 Feb. Mr Jimmy Chew died on 1 Feb, aged 88:

What struck me was the array of medals on his chest, indicating that he was a wartime veteran. But, as far as I am aware, none of the English-language press did a story. Only the Chinese press did.

Then, a Japanese school teacher from Tokyo, Mrs Yoko Natsume, sent a letter to ST, which was published today (16 Feb). I will let her tell her story about this remarkable man...

Japanese teacher's gratitude to Singaporean POW

I was saddened to learn of the death on Feb 1 of Mr Jimmy Chew, 88, a World War II prisoner of war (POW) during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

A group of Japanese high school students and I owe him a debt of gratitude for describing to us his personal ordeal ("Remembering the thousands who lost lives"; Dec 9, last year).

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the Occupation and many Singaporeans must have bitter war memories.

Unfortunately, relatively few Japanese of my generation or younger are familiar with the Occupation, when an earlier Japanese generation inflicted untold misery on the people of Singapore. It was not until I had a chance to live in Singapore in 1992 that I learnt of the suffering inflicted by the occupiers: renaming Singapore "Syonan-to", forcing Japanese culture on Singaporeans, and committing many atrocities.

All Japanese citizens remember Dec 8, 1941 as the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in the United States.

But there is little mention in Japanese history classes of the simultaneous strike on the Malayan peninsula and the subjugation of Singapore.

When I returned to Japan in 2002, I was convinced that my fellow Japanese, especially the younger generation, should learn about the dark years of the Occupation because we cannot close our eyes to the past.

I organised study tours to Singapore for my students, which included visiting a survivor of the Occupation.

Mr Chew willingly accepted my request and for six years until his death, he invited me and representatives from my school to his flat each March to share his experiences as a POW of the Japanese.

He courageously relived the dark years to inform and educate us. His telling inevitably filled us with guilt and remorse.

Yet, he would assure us unfailingly that while he remembered the suffering, he no longer harboured ill feelings towards the Japanese. He said he realised that the Japanese must have suffered in their own way; that the trauma and absurdity of war made victims of both Singaporeans and Japanese.

His remarks never failed to move us.

Now that Mr Chew is no longer with us, I feel it is my duty to pass on what we learnt from him to my fellow Japanese. May he rest in peace.    

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

70 years ago today... when Singapore became Syonan-to.

Today (15 Feb) marks the 70th anniversary of what has been referred to as The Fall of Singapore. The island was renamed Syonan-to by the occupiers.

ST blurbed its various stories on this momentous event under this rubric: "The Japanese caught British troops by surprise as they swept through Malaya, and Singapore fell on Feb 15, 1942. For more than three years, all races suffered under the hardship and brutality of the occupation, leaving an indelible mark on a generation that would go on to fight for independence."


My late father nearly died at a Japanese soldier's hands; he had failed to bow down low enough when passing the sentry at some checkpoint. Fortunately for me (ie, I -- born in 1950 -- was not even a concept then!), my dad was wearing a hard hat, the safari helmet type. So, when the son-of-a-seaweed scum-of-the-earth soldier used his heavy rifle to hit my father on the head, the hat took most of the blow.

My late mother's brother (ie my uncle) was not so lucky. He was among the young Chinese men rounded up in the infamous "Sook Ching" ("purge through purification" -- a reign of terror tactic aimed at eliminating anti-Japanese resistance). My uncle was never seen again. My mum griefed for the kin I never knew.

A baby sister (Siew Hiok) died during those years. The infant had fallen ill and there was no medical care available for her.

My late eldest sister (How Lui) never had a normal, teenage childhood. She helped care for four other surviving siblings and joined in the daily scrapping for food. But she was never bitter about her wartime experiences. She was a remarkable lady.

My other sister How Eng and I were the two postwar babies. We were the fortunate ones.


I think Wikipedia's write-up on the Japanese Interregnum is a fair "in a nutshell" account of those years:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

'Viper' redux (now aka 'Thorn')...

I'm back from Oz! And, as is my habit, just had to plough through the newspapers. But it is something online -- from AsiaOne's DivaAsia -- that I want to put here today. It updates my "When Charlie met Viper" blog entries (28 and 30 July, 2011).

Here is the story, headlined "A Thorn on our side" and with this intro, "S'pore's first and only female fighter pilot started flying when she was in JC (junior college)":


Two other quick updates as well...
* The US federal judge hearing the lawsuit in San Diego claiming that SeaWorld's five killer whales (orcas) were being "enslaved" and that these five "plaintiffs" deserved the right of liberty of humans, has thrown out the case (8 Feb). Shucks, guess it's back to just making sure the apes don't overrun the humans!

* Uggie the Jack Russell terrier, and acclaimed canine star of The Artist -- but cruelly snubbed by the selection panel for the Oscars -- has since been winning awards, the latest being crowned top dog in the Golden Collar Awards. Go, boy, go pee on the legs of those Oscar panel members! Uggie even wore a tuxedo for the grand occasion:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why it's never a dull day (for the animals)...

Forget Planet of the Apes, we should be watching the Orcas!

From the AP wire service comes this TODAY story (8 Feb, "Five Seaworld Orcas sue US Government")...

For the first time in US history, a Federal judge heard arguments Monday (6 Feb) in a case that could decide if animals enjoy the same protection against slavery as human beings.

A district judge called the hearing in San Diego after Sea World asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that names five Orcas as plaintiffs in the case.

PETA claims that the captured killer whales are treated like slaves, forced to live in tanks and perform daily [without wages (fish treats don't count!), I should add,] at its San Diego and Orlando parks.

Sea World's lawyer said if the court were to grant the orcas constitutional rights, such a ruling could impact everything from the way the US government uses dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs to how zoos and aquariums operate.

[Hmm, I better start being extra accommodating to my dogs' demands... see last item below.]


Meanwhile, the monkeys (hic, hic!) in Kazakhstan...

Also in TODAY is this Daily Telegraph story: A zoologist -- the chief animal specialist at Karaganda zoo in central Kazakhstan -- says "red wine is good", ie if it's good for her monkeys, it's good for humans too. She doles out a daily ration of red wine to her monkeys to help them cope with the winter temperatures.

Karaganda is one of the coldest places on earth in winter [-30 deg C is pretty common there]. The monkeys, though, live inside where the temperature is closer to 27 deg C. Oh, pregnant and baby monkeys don't get to imbibe. [Hello, what's PETA's hotline in Kazakhstan?]


Forget 'Occupy Wall Street'! It's "Occupy Sofa' here in my house...

The two dogs, Brady the beagle (aka "Senior Dog") and Killer the mini schnauzer (aka "Dog Without Portfolio") have decided to Occupy Sofa. I'm still trying to locate the hotline number for People for the Ethical Treatment of Fuming Folks (PETOFF)!


I'm making an overseas trip and will be back by Tuesday. Will resume blogging by mid-week.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nostalgia about a Singapore long gone...

I was a child in the colonial-era 1950s, a teen in the politically tumultuous '60s which also saw Singapore become part of Malaysia before separating from the federation to become an independent mini-nation, and a young adult by the early '70s -- when the die was being cast to create the Singapore we see today.

All I want to post here today is this nostalgic YouTube video that captured scenes of my Singapore when life was, to quote Charles Dickens, "the best of times, the worst of times"...

It's a pity that the clip ended abruptly, though.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Want to speak better than 90pc of native English speakers?

Haha, that's the claim made in the header above!

The full title of the YouTube video below is "Want to speak better than 90 per cent of native English speakers? Then learn to pronounce every word here!"...

Actually, the poem -- dubbed "The Chaos" -- that inspired this video is available on this great website:


But if you would rather read about and watch a local spoof video about a Singaporean "mother" nagging her "daughter" to study hard so as to snag a rich husband, here's the link:

I love the part when the "daughter" scored 45/100 for her English test, got scolded for not passing the test; then scored 55/100 (pass) but still got scolded; and finally scored 98/100... and was still scolded for not getting those two marks that would make it 100/100!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ads: The good, the bad, and the amusing.

I'm still putting the spotlight on ads that I've noticed. There are good ads, some of which I have posted here now and then.

The Good

This is a UOB Bank ad. It is refreshing because most ads will tout "free gift/s" bundled with the purchase of so and so product/s. Think about it... there is no such thing as a free gift. Even if you are given something without having to make a purchase, it is still just a gift, period. Kudos to UOB Bank (actually, its ad agency, I guess) for resisting the temptation.

Engineers have been the butt of jokes for lacking in a sense of humour. I beg to disagree (although I have put up jokes about them). I like this "madcap" ad here...

Vacuum cleaner ads can be creatively done too, as seen in this example...

The bad

But one famous Swedish vacuum-cleaner maker received brickbats when this ad -- whether intentionally sexually suggestive or otherwise -- appeared...

This last "bad ad" is a real howler. My daughter Liane spotted it in her friend's Facebook page:

The amusing

I suppose the ad above would qualify for this category too. Here are a few others, although none is a double entendre...

This one is strictly not an ad, since it is the packaging for a brand of kitchen wipes. But don't you think these folks here are such decent people, even when they declare war on germs? Next...

We're not talking niggling itches here. We're talking itches here, itches there, itches everywhere!

The only missing pain in this new year is the pain of an empty wallet, after disbursing ang pow packets here, there and everywhere. As they say, "Do you feel the pain?"

A holiday trip to North Korea... exotic, for sure! But for a while, I got worried about the one-way train journey, followed by the one-way flight. Er, will we end up in Hotel California, Pyongyang-style, with lifetime meals consisting of kimchi? Silly me, I had glanced over "international flight" and "Shenyang", which is in China.

This one, above, has to do with my literalitis syndrome flaring up again. How do you liquidate carpets? By "massively reducing" them until they, poof!, disappear?

A bit macabre, this last one. How do you qualify to be a "master hanger"? And is his clothesline business a sideline, or is it the other way around? Whatever, in this case, give a man enough rope and... he'll make a business out of it!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The great equalizer... a cautionary tale?

Someone sent me this supposedly cautionary tale about capitalism vs socialism. It is based on black-and-white and false or unproved assumptions about human nature and motivations, etc, yet it seems so "commonsensical". So just enjoy the story...

With the "Occupy Wall Street" protest movement still fresh in people's minds, an American economics professor told a dinner gathering that, while he had never previously failed a single student before, he recently failed an entire class.

That class had insisted that socialism worked -- no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A."

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The typically A-grade scorers who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.

As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and a fair number of the ones who usually studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy now.

When the third test rolled around, the average was now an F -- the rock bottom "failed" grade.

As more tests proceeded, the average scores stood at F and never increased. There was now much bickering, blame and name-calling among the students, amid accusations that no one was studying for the benefit of everyone else!

Eventually, everyone failed, ie, all the students in that class received an F grade because no one was studying. The professor told them that this was how an economy would end up under socialism, which would ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the rewards away, no one will try or will want to succeed.

The professor then summed up his classroom "findings", applying them to the economy:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy
out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without putting in work, another person would have worked without receiving his or her dues.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does
not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any economy.


So, is there any professor, schoolteacher or policy-maker out there who wants to try out this "experiment"?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Strange, steamy, sexist, soleful...

It's the weekend and we shouldn't be pondering over weighty stuff, so let's lighten up.

First, here's another strange name for an entity:

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore.

It must be that problem I keep having with, say, "plastic surgeons" and "child psychiatrists" whenever I'm down with literalitis. Newspaper ads, like this one below, always make my affliction flare up...

Pigeon Steam Sterilizer? There must be something here about pigeon's steam (whatever that is) but I don't think I want to know more. So, next...

Fresh salmon, so fresh because they are "air-flown". But, hey, is there any other way to fly, or be flown? "Sea-flown"? "Land-flown"?

Ikea often has catchy ads, but I wonder if some people will find this one here sexist:


It's still a catchy ad, I say. This next pic -- not an ad, but a screen grab of a xinmsn page -- IS definitely sexest:

There are, of course, good, tasteful, ads that use the "woman angle", such as this one from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD):

 This SUTD ad makes the point that it was a woman who came up with the world's first effective windscreen wiper design for motor cars. Clever!

To wrap up, here's a streetside shoe repairer's clever play on words:

It sure gives a new twist to the term SOS -- Save Our Soles!