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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Spin II

A letter published today in The Straits Times Forum:

Be grateful, S'pore

I AM writing to share many things Singaporeans take for granted.

Thanks to years of budget surpluses, when the global financial collapse hit, Singapore was able to use more money as a percentage of gross domestic product than any other country, rich or poor. Now, with its economy rebounding at a 20 per cent rate this last quarter, Singapore has recovered from the collapse faster than any other country. This is something only Singapore, with its deep pockets and years of good economic management, could pull off.

My home city, Toronto in Canada, has its rubbish collected only once a week, yet it is considered one of North America's cleaner cities. It is in the 36th day of a rubbish collectors' strike, with rubbish and foul odours on its streets and an increasingly serious problem with rats and insects. Some people even store rubbish in their refrigerators.

In Singapore, our rubbish is collected every day, no questions asked. For a $40 conservancy fee, we get a clean-up that would cost hundreds of dollars a month in the United States or Canada.

Most buildings in the US and Canada have no sheltered walkways to protect residents from rain or snow, unlike most HDB blocks. This is so even though there are Americans and Canadians who freeze to death outside in the cold every year.

Most North American cities I have lived in are cutting bus and train services just to balance their budgets. Singapore plans to add a new MRT line this year and more lines and stations over the next three years.

If a poor person lives in a building without a lift in the US or Canada, that is his tough luck. In Singapore, the Government is upgrading our four-storey HDB blocks with a new staircase and a wheelchair-friendly lift that stops at every floor.

If a poor person cannot afford to pay his mortgage in the US or Canada, he can be turfed out and left homeless. If an HDB dweller cannot pay his mortgage after he loses his job, he can seek a moratorium on payments from his community development council. This mercy, to the best of my knowledge, has no equal anywhere else in the world.

After living and working in six countries, I have known for a long time that no country takes care of its people the way Singapore does.

Eric J. Brooks

(Brooks, Eric J. Letter.  "Forum."  The Straits Times [Singapore] 29 July 2009: A22.)

Now, contrast that with a post from a local schoolteacher's blog, Trisha Reloaded:

2 hours that changed me

I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time visiting a one-room HDB flat. I had agreed to help bring a few students to visit a few of these homes that the school had adopted as part of the CIP (Community Involvement Programme). This should be good, I thought.

I wasn’t prepared for this. The walls were dotted with black splotches of what we were told were the droppings of bed bugs. We were warned not to remove our shoes, lean on the walls or sit on the floor. Mr Y sat on a stool and seemed nonchalant about the infestation in his home. The mattress he slept on bore testimony to the nightly battles he had to endure. The bed sheet was clouded with blood stains. Mr Y used to be a coolie who carried sacks of rice. The bachelor now lives alone in his decrepit rental flat, his emaciated body racked with sickness, the money he earned in his younger days long gone to feed his parents’ opium addiction many years ago. He gets $260 from the welfare agency every month, of which about $100 goes into paying his rent and utilities. The remainder he has to magically stretch to cover his food and medical costs.

The bugs had spread from next door to a few flats on the 5th floor where Mr Y lived. You could see them flitting about on the wall, on the floor, among his clothes, even along the corridors. Nobody there could afford a professional pestbuster, and the town council wouldn’t do such favours anyway. So living with these parasites has become a fact of life. Residents living on the other floors talked about the 5th floor as if it was Purgatory and it didn’t seem an inappropriate description.

Then there was 92-year-old Mdm C – so small and wiry she couldn’t have weighed more than 35kg. She had a hole in her neck where her voice box had been removed, so she couldn’t talk. When she saw us, she simply gestured with her hands that she wanted to die. Looking at her forlorn looking home, who could blame her for feeling that way? The food in her kitchen had all gone bad so we gathered she hadn’t eaten for days, or perhaps she had been eating all the rotten stuffs. When you are sick and have to depend on the kindness of neighbours to help you buy even the simplest food, what other choice do you have? She has 2 daughters, one who visits her occasionally. Another, we heard, comes by and steals the NTUC vouchers that volunteers give to her. Is it any wonder Mdm C would rather die?

In all, we visited 7 homes, each one with its own sad story to tell. My heart is exceedingly disturbed by the scenes I saw today. On the one hand, we live in a country that’s boasting of having island-wide free internet access soon and building world-class integrated resorts and yet, in pockets of this land which worships success and one-upmanship shamelessly, there are the forgotten lot who live in homes with rotten food and bug-infested beds.


Picture related.

Don't piss on my shoes and tell me it's raining, Mister Brooks.

Related post

Apropos the heretics

Shaken but not stirred by stadium-rock spirituality

Catherine Deveny
July 29, 2009

THE promise of awesome worship. That’s what got me rocking up to a Planetshakers meeting. And I wasn’t disappointed. They said ‘‘awesome’’ 20 times.

Planetshakers is a megachurch, which is like a spiritual mega-meal deal. Pizza, Coke, chocolate bavarian. If we could masticate it for you and pump it into your stomach, we would. Because we love you. And so does Jesus.

Standing outside Planetshakers surrounded by chirpy, bogan-cool teenagers fizzing with excitement, one of the two gay atheist friends I was with described the crowd as "very Australian Idol". [Some pictures and a video here.]

It was the first time I’d been excited about going to church. I spent every Sunday of my first 18 years sitting on wooden pews listening to a bloke talking about his imaginary friend in the sky who did magic tricks. Women were virgins, saints or whores. Men were the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Outside Planetshakers it felt as if we were about to see a rock concert. And we were. As the band fired up and went off like a frog in a sock, I thought: "I don’t care what they’re selling but I’m buying it."

Christian pop, ’80s power anthems, Metallica meets Cheap Trick. A mosh pit for Jesus was jumping with teenagers in rapture and a balcony of Planetkids went off for Christ. Music blared from the stadium sound system while the screen seduced us with slick videos edited so fast the phrase ‘‘subliminal image" kept popping into my head. Lyrics flashed up: "Come like a flood and saturate me now." I wondered what Freud would have made of the disproportionate use of such words as ‘‘come’’, ‘‘touch’’ and ‘‘feel’’, and the phrases "move within me" and "being filled". My favourite was "King of Glory, enter in".

Sexual psychoanalysis aside, the Planetshakers are clearly awesome, with lyrics such as: "How can I explain the way u make me feel ’cos Jesus your love for me is so unreal." Several references were made to not being ashamed of Jesus (despite no one having suggested they were).

The room was buzzing with anticipation. I felt like a kid expecting Santa to arrive. It felt as if Jesus was going to turn up any minute.

Then out came the pastors. Middle-aged blokes peppering talk about Jesus with constant references to the footy, reality shows and McDonald’s. Almost swearing with ‘‘flipping angry" and "What the heck?" and plenty of ‘‘awesomes’’ thrown in to convince everyone they were down with the youth.

A pastor banged on about sacrifice and said it wasn’t important how much we sacrificed just as long as we gave as much as we could. No matter how small it was. I didn’t know what he was on about until the giving cards came round. And a little bucket for coins. No lid with a slot. A big open bucket, so you could be shamed by your paltry donation.

Then there were the plugs for the Mighty Men’s night and Beautiful Women Seminar. Male volunteers were encouraged to get involved with the ladies’ seminar with the promise of ‘‘being able to tell 3000 women what to do’’. Beautiful women. Mighty men. Note: not mighty women and beautiful men.

Then the headline pastor came on, all charisma and awesomeness. He spoke of worship, sheepgate, building in salvation, sheepgate, sacrifice and a bloke called Eliashib. And more sheepgate.

As people yelled, "Yeah!", "Amen!" and ‘‘Awesome!" I wanted to yell, "I don’t get it". I love the way religion convinces people by making things deliberately incomprehensible and you feel too shy to say ‘‘I don’t understand’’ lest you reveal your stupidity.

After ‘‘sheepgate’’ the pastor asked us to close our eyes and bow our heads. He urged people who had left Jesus, had never had him in their heart, or were confused, to raise their hands so they could be prayed for.

He sounded like a real estate agent. "One over there, thank you, sir. Anyone else? I’ll wait a few moments. Yes, one down the back." Dummy bidders anyone? Then bewildered-looking new disciples were led out by the old hands.

The crowd left believing they had been moved by God and touched by Jesus. They hadn’t. They had been seduced by slick video packages and had their emotional desire for love, community and certainty met by manipulation. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit; it was just people.

Aren’t we awesome enough?

(Deveny, Catherine.  "Shaken but not stirred by stadium-rock spirituality."  The Age [Melbourne] 29 July 2009.)

You might as well be Rickrolled, the promises are the same.

Personally, I prefer this.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Engrish IV

Or, continuing from Alexis' post, "Random Photo(s) of the Day:

The Singaporean version of this?

Related posts

Engrish III
Engrish II
World-class eDUHcation

Apparently, on a certain island city-state, neither matriculation nor graduation has any effect on the grasp of the English language. (Hat tip: Ganga)

Also related, why spelling matters:

Swedish tourists miss island due to GPS typo

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

(07-28) 12:07 PDT ROME, Italy (AP) -- Officials say a Swedish couple looking for the pristine waters of the popular island of Capri ended some 400 miles (660 kilometers) away in the northern industrial town of Carpi after misspelling the destination on their car's GPS.

Angelo Giovannini, a spokesman for the Carpi town hall, near Modena, said Tuesday the couple drove into the main square last week and asked the local tourist office how to reach Capri's famed Blue Grotto sea cave.

Giovannini said "we thought they might mean a restaurant. Capri is an island, they did not even wonder why they didn't cross any bridge or take any boat."

He said the couple, who were not identified, arrived from Venice and later set off to their planned destination at the other end of the Italian peninsula.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Boker tov

Branka Parlić's interpretation of "Morning Passages," Philip Glass, in Novi Sad Synagogue, Serbia, 5 July 2005.

The instrumental passage is complete and lovely beyond measure (or description) on its own, but lyrics from another tune, another time, another reality, echo in my world:

Shalom, Shalom,
You'll find Shalom
The nicest greeting you know;
It means bonjour, salud, and skoal
And twice as much as hello.
It means a million lovely things,
Like peace be yours,
Welcome home.
And even when you say goodbye,
You say goodbye with Shalom.

It's a very useful word,
It can get you through the day;
All you really need to know,
You can hardly go wrong,
This is your home as long as you say:
The nicest greeting I know;
Means twice as much as hello.
It means a million lovely things,
Like peace be yours,
Welcome home.
And even when you say goodbye,
If your voice has
"I don't want to go" in it,
Say goodbye with a little "hello" in it,
And say goodbye with shalom.
         (Jerry Herman)

Shalom, shalom, ve'od nitra'eh.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You don't have to be a house to be haunted*

(Original video)

* = paraphrase of a poem (670) by Emily Dickinson.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Illa mihi patria est, ubi pascor, non ubi nascor

I never tire of the fog, I find it consoling, like the rain. It is another layer between me and the world. The light is softer. Sounds are muffled. It pushes one inward.
         (August Kleinzahler)

How I miss home.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I have seen dogs with more style than men.*

* = (Charles Bukowski)

For those who missed the memo...

Last fall's Auzzy ride reports are finally complete.