Liveable or not?

Channel NewsAsia dutifully informed the world yesterday that Singapore is the most liveable city in Asia, according to the Global Liveable Cities Index. This is a new index created by the Centre for Liveable Cities, which was established in Singapore by the Ministry of National Development and Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Regardless of what you make of that, Singapore was also named Asia's most liveable city by Mercer Consulting in May this year. Last week, it placed #21 on Monocle's 2010 list of the world's 25 most liveable cities, pipped in Asia only by Tokyo and Fukuoka.

Leaving aside the matter of what "liveability" is (and I hope it doesn't merely come down to how many Starbucks and Zara outlets a city has), I found myself a little discombobulated by the following sequence in which I read the respective news:

Sunday, 27 June
"Tuna's End" in the New York Times Magazine, which focuses on what might be the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna. To wit:
By some estimates, there may be only 9,000 of the most ecologically vital megabreeders left in the fish’s North American stock, enough for the entire population of New York to have a final bite (or two) of high-grade otoro sushi.
Monday, 28 June
"Restaurant dishes out giant garoupa" on Channel NewsAsia, excitedly reporting that Johnny Tan, the owner of 2nd Kitchen restaurant in Singapore, had landed a 150-kg, 2-metre long garoupa and planned to feed 600 customers with it. In case you were wondering about the math:
... every 200-gramme serving will be sold at S$20. That could amount to a S$15,000 profit for the restaurant! Over a hundred customers have made reservations for a share of this deep sea wonder. [emphasis mine]
Miyagi points out that the news report fails to mention that the giant garoupa has been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species since 2006.

Tuesday, 29 June
"S'pore emerges as most liveable Asian city in new Global Liveable Cities Index" on Channel NewsAsia. See above.

I don't know about "liveability", but I know we'll be a nicer place to live when there's more responsible news reporting on even non-political matters and when people are not encouraged to fetishise the consumption of something just because it came from the biggest/fattest/most expensive/rarest/most unlikely source.



New books

Joining the growing pile of Books I Really Need to Read About Singapore are two new releases this week: Singapore in the Malay World by Lily Zubaidah Rahim and Beyond the Blue Gate by Teo Soh Lung. Now that I think about it, that makes two new books by two very passionate women, about Singapore-related issues that don't usually get a proper airing.

Singapore in the Malay World is, as the title implies, about Singapore's relations with its Malay neighbours, i.e. Malaysia and Indonesia. Not that there isn't a library full of material written about these particular foreign relations, but from what I heard Dr Lily say at the book launch on Thursday, I think what she's drawn in about cultural (not just political) angles and issues of representation should be a kicker to read.

Beyond the Blue Gate is Teo's account of her detention and imprisonment without trial under the Internal Security Act first in 1987 (part of the alleged "Marxist conspiracy"), then again in 1988-1990. I've read the first chapter, which is a chilling account of her 1987 arrest --- and I really do mean that it gave me the chills, over just five short pages, even though I read it during the day surrounded by a roomful of people. There is an energy and honesty to Teo's voice that makes me want to devour the book immediately, although it's not quite what you'd call bedtime reading.

At the latter book's launch on Saturday, I couldn't help looking at the slight yet spirited person that Teo is today, and marvel at her strength and clarity of mind. She dared first to write, then to prepare the manuscript, in what I imagine must have been an incredibly painful process. The least we can do is to read it.

(My friend Cheng Tju has another story about Teo, this one related to censorship.)



A nice surprise this morning

Hot off the press

Singapore: A Biography has won a Gold Prize at the Asia Pacific Publishers Association Book Awards 2010. Woo!

I wish I could ferret out more info on these awards, but all I know is that the prize is in the category of general books and the Association is based in Korea. Also, it does not seem to come with a gold statue that I can put on my (nonexistent) mantel.

But still: chuffed! Thank you to National Museum director Lee Chor Lin and her curators (past and present), and great job by our tireless editor Ibrahim Tahir, book designer Annie Teo, marketing folks Antoine Monod and New Bee Yong, and everyone at Editions Didier Millet. And of course, my co-author Mark, who was the first one to dream big about what this book could be.

I think I shall go celebrate with ice cream.

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Have you applied the Cringe Test today?

As Internet tools are making it easier for everyone to publish their every thought and action, whim and fancy online via Twitter, Facebook or (don't say it's passé!) blogging, I think it's handy to also think about "Self-Editing: The Cringe Test". Carol Fisher Saller writes:
... we’ve all had the same experience at some point, of trying to ignore a subpar passage that we hoped would escape our editor’s/agent’s/reader’s notice.

When you aren’t certain, how do you decide whether a particular chunk is good enough?
She offers three "cringe tests", which you can find in her blog post. I would add a fourth, which is: what if that passage/tweet/Facebook update/blog entry is the first thing people find when they Google your name?

(In related news from Saller's Twitter feed, I'm gleeful that the Chicago Manual is finally going to permit the word "website" to be left in lower case.)

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News stories

Thank you, xkcd, for putting a finger on how I feel whenever I see Channel NewsAsia quote anonymous people-in-the-street sources in their news reports:

The other meta-news piece I liked today is from TechCrunch: "NNSFW: A Column Written In Five Minutes About Stuff That Mattered Years Ago". Funny also to read it as I'm updating my iPhone to iOS4. As my friend hanshoots tweeted yesterday:
Comparing the specs of a 2000 iMac to a 2010 iPhone 4 makes you think: Where will we be 10 years from now? - http://is.gd/cXgAQ [permalink: http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1114049]

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Viva il farniente!

Modern hot spring baths

Today I came across the Italian term farniente in Caitlin Kelly's post, "Got Time To Read This? Two Meditations On How We (Should) Use Our Hours". It's her response to news stories about two superwomen who believe in not "wasting time". Kelly writes:
I love the Italian phrase farniente -- literally — “do nothing” and aspire to a life with far more undirected time. I also love the British expression for day-dreaming — wool-gathering. We all need time to fantasize and imagine, to stare into the sky and let our weary, overcaffeinated brains….chill.
Very apropos for the weekend, and very apropos also because lately I've been trying to make myself unlearn the notion that time not spent doing something is "wasted time". I once had a colleague who would exult in weekends when she could just stone (which in Singlish refers to doing nothing in a mindless fashion, not a narcotic-induced state), and I would boggle at her because I always have to be doing something. Stoning is not something that comes naturally to me, all the more so now that I use an iPhone.

However, there have been times in the last few months when I get tired of whatever the iPhone or laptop has to offer, and I don't particularly want to watch anything on TV, and I just --- what's the verb for melting into a puddle of gooey suspended animation sans any coherent thought? I wish I could coin "muddling" for it, because that's how it feels: not muddled but a muddy puddle. Nothing to do with how hot the weather is or how tired I feel, just a simple desire to stop doing other things.

I tend to resist the muddy puddle because it feels like I'm "wasting time". But then I remind myself that I have to change my own attitude about that. Deep breath, skip the judgement and embrace the farniente.



Regulate, don't censor leh

A group of arts practitioners in Singapore known as Arts Engage (full disclosure: some of them are my friends) is proposing to the government that it regulate, rather than censor outright, the arts. Why?
Censorship entails proscribing content, prohibiting its public presentation, and/or preventing its creators from working towards its realisation. While conducted by civil servants who may sincerely believe they act in the name of the public good, censorship is often politically motivated, and always arbitrary. It fosters a culture of dependency on the part of the public, timidity on the part of institutions, and resentment or self-censorship on the part of content producers. It is costly, inefficient, and dignifies no-one. [source; emphasis mine]
As for regulation, on the other hand:
Regulation entails the disinterested classification of content according to publicly available guidelines. It enables access to the widest choice of content for the greatest number of individuals. It promotes responsibility on the part of all stakeholders, and transparency and accountability within and between institutions. [same source as above; emphasis mine]
I like the idea of responsibility, transparency and accountability. As a writer, I realise that some of the things I write may not please everyone, but I'm not forcing anyone to read or publish it. I prefer to live by the apocryphal line attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

(Yes, even for people in Singapore who make wilfully ignorant statements. And yes, I still think we should talk about the issues instead of siccing the police on them.)

At any rate, the folks at Arts Engage have put together a very cogent statement about what they are proposing and why. You don't have to be an artist or to "appreciate art", in order to read or understand the statement. If you've ever enjoyed something imaginative and creative and it has made your life better in some way, please have a look at the website and think about why it's important that the arts not be censored, controlled or prohibited in Singapore. There are also accounts of previous incidents when the arts have been censored by the government.

Separately, comic artist Otto Fong has written a succinct appeal for support for this position paper (and drawn a simple comic too).

And if after reading you agree with what Arts Engage is proposing, please sign and support the position paper. Lots of arts practitioners have signed it, but it'd be great (as always) to have audience support as well. We thank you.


A little Orchard Road drama

If you missed yesterday's flash flood at Orchard Road, Darren Bloggie has compiled some images and videos here. budak explained it to me as something of a "perfect storm" situation, produced by the timely combination of a spring tide and intense tropical downpour.

Note: It was not a "disaster", for reasons that ought to be obvious, and people need to stop cavilling about how the government didn't plan for it. I suppose the fact that people are cavilling reveals just how much in Singapore people tend to think that the government can (and ought to?) do everything to keep every aspect of Singapore life chugging along nicely. But hello, that 100 millimetres of rain (or 60 per cent of the total average rainfall for the month of June) fell in three hours, producing a flash flood that lasted only about an hour, sounds about as best as can be expected in most developed countries.

I think my friend Cien said it best on Twitter, though:
The sweet, sad irony in the ST photo of foreign workers helping a local save his BMW from the floods. Let's hope he pays it forward.



Oh yeah your head ah!

My TV at home isn't wired up for terrestrial or cable TV service, but accidental TV exposure at a friend's house over the weekend has caused my brain to become infested with the godawful earworm that masquerades as the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games official cheer.

This is simply unacceptable.


A dream, properly

On Sunday night I dreamt I went to the moon. It was one of the most vivid dreams I've ever had. The spacecraft pulls into the docking area, something goes click (not audibly but there was definitely a moment when the giant mechanisms connect with each other), and then there was cheering in the cabin. There were eight people and much whooping. I hugged a woman who was, in the dream, my friend. Even though travelling in space must already have been a treat, it was somehow in this moon landing that we had really done something difficult and unexpected. I remember feeling like I had finally made it to the ultimate off-the-beaten-track destination (must be the Lonely Planet mantra kicking in).

I woke up, ecstatic. I wanted to go right back to sleep again, to relive that moment of pure jubilation. But of course, it wasn't there anymore.



Dreaming of

Time to go home

G-man and another buddy are on vacation in Hoi An --- currently my favourite town in all of Vietnam, despite its touristy tackiness --- and I'm rather jealous that they get to chill out with all the Vietnamese coffee, cheap beer, pho and morning glory salad they can muster. Especially since someone has set his heart on becoming the Foursquare mayor of the Sleepy Gecko before I can.

I wonder if I'll have time to squeeze in a Hoi An getaway before I move to London.


Dormus interruptus

It's one thing to start awake at about 9:40 a.m. from a dream wherein I was dashing madly for a train, in an impossibly large yet overcrowded MRT station It is quite something else to have my attempt to fall back asleep rudely interrupted by hammering from the flat downstairs.

The flat downstairs, I know, has been undergoing renovations for some weeks now. Usually the noise level is tolerable, except for the three days when they were permitted to carry out demolition works and I had to flee to the library in order to be able to get any work done.

But today is Sunday, so after the hammering continued for more than five minutes, I got up, changed clothes (but did not comb my hair or brush my teeth, so as to indulge the "pissed-off crazy neighbour" appearance), marched downstairs to the flat in question and yelled at the man who was working alone in there. He was at first merely sheepish, so I yelled some more and made sure he understood that if his boss or the owners of the flat were the ones making him work on a Sunday, I would yell at them as well, have no fear.

(My voice cracks a little when I get angry and start yelling. I'm not actually going to cry, but I sound like I am. I suspect it works to my advantage, though I can't summon the effect consciously.)

Then I marched back upstairs and went back to bed. No more hammering. I can't wait till they complete the renovation works (supposedly by the end of June) because all the noise is making Sisu jittery.

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Seeing Singapore

Old Singapore, new Singapore I

I'm working on a travel essay about Singapore this week, which prompted me to ask friends where they like to bring their guests from overseas to sightsee (or perhaps "look see, look see" is the more appropriate verb). I wasn't thinking necessarily of places totally off-the-beaten-track, like the dragon kiln off Jalan Bahar or the ruined Shinto shrine I've yet to visit in the MacRitchie Reservoir jungle. More like places that provide a nutshell experience of the "real" Singapore (inasmuch as that term can be meaningful).

One friend suggested drives past the HDB landscape and several people specifically mentioned Tiong Bahru (which makes me think there's a separate essay I could write about that notion of an idealised, "real" Singapore). Mustafa came up several times too and it's a perennial favourite of mine anyway. No one said Orchard Road, of course.

Not that I'm fishing around for specific places to name-drop, by the way. My essay is more about feelings and vibes, so I'm talking to people to get stimuli more than anything.

If you live in Singapore, what would you like to show (maybe even show off) to a foreign visitor?



iPhone 4

And lo, the new iPhone and new iPhone OS were announced to great rejoicing and adulation (at WWDC, anyway).

What I want to know, dear Mr Jobs, is whether you'll fix the keyboard dictionary to stop autocorrecting "me" to "mr", "reading" to "Reading", and "market" to "Market".

Also, you know I'm a schoolgirl nerd at heart because the only bit that got me really excited about the iPhone 4 announcement was that iBooks will be available on the new OS and you only have to buy a book once to be able to read it on your iPhone and iPad, and you can sync your reading and annotation across both devices. As I've said to several friends, what would be really neat is if enough textbook and academic publishers start making their books available for the iPad, so that the iPad is all I need when I start classes in September.



Hear ye, hear ye

Singapore literary publisher Firstfruits publications is looking for poetry for a new collection, Storm Glass: Singapore Poets Before Their First Books.
Firstfruits publications seeks submissions of poetry in English from Singapore poets who have yet to publish a full-length, single-author collection of poetry. Selected work will appear in an anthology to be published next year. All submissions must be sent before 1st September 2010.

Only email submissions will be accepted. Send 6-8 poems to [email protected], either as a single attachment (.rtf or .doc only--no .docx files, please) or, if your poems' formatting will not suffer for it, as text in the body of your email. Title your email "SUBMISSION: [Your Name Here]". Send your best, most representative work. At least half the poems submitted must be previously unpublished. Simultaneous submissions are permitted without reservations.
Questions? Check out the Facebook page for more information.

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And then it was June

I thought I would blog on Monday after G-man and I tramped our way to the ruins of the Japanese Occupation-era Shinto shrine at MacRitchie Reservoir. But what I didn't bank on was:
  • My lunch appointment for work ran late, so it was too late for us to start off by the time we met.
  • It was raining, so it would be extra-(tr)icky.
  • The path to the shrine is an unofficial one, not signposted or maintained by the National Parks Board, so it looked like it was a little more overgrown and potentially more obstructed by fallen vegetation than I would be able to help G-man move out of the way.
We shall return! With more guys and on an afternoon when it isn't raining. Also, I will wear full-length pants the next time.

The ruins of the Shinto shrine are something I've been meaning to see for the better part of a decade, and with London looming on the horizon (about three months to go), I thought I'd better do it soon. The other walk I've been meaning to do is the 9-kilometre Southern Ridges, which Kevin did last weekend.