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    After skipping 30, 30 next most recent entries
    Thursday, March 25th, 2010
    5:06 am » Aedh Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
    One of my favourite poems:

    Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

    – W.B. Yeats –

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    § Location: Singapore

    § current mood: quixotic
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    Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
    5:02 am » The true measure of a man
    The true measure of a man is not by how decently he treats the people he chooses to be decent to.  Anyone can do that.  Even mass murderers have families who love them and vice versa.

    You can be the nicest guy in the world to the people you want to be, so what?  Rather, the true measure of a man's person and nature is in how he treats perfect strangers.  And the greatness of a man is measured with how much dignity and respect he accords even his enemies.

    People are not here to be your playthings.

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    § current mood: nauseated
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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 8 "

    Monday, March 15th, 2010
    2:43 am » I really feel like going back to London this year
    This is why:

    You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.  No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
    – Dr Samuel Johnson –

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    § Location: Singapore

    § current mood: "London is my favourit-est city in the world!"
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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 2 "

    Monday, March 8th, 2010
    4:27 am » The J-thing's Guide: How To Jam At A Teeny-bopper Concert
    Just came back from the Paramore concert, thanks to marajaded who got me tickets to go (woohoo!)

    When I asked around whether people were interested in going, most of the answers went along the lines of: "Who's that???"  So I was quite surprised when I turned up and saw quite a big turnout:

    Ah I know why... because they're all kids! -_-  EL was saying that if we took the median age of the crowd and multiplied it by 2, we'd be just below that.

    My goodness, Hayley Williams can really jump around a lot.  I was also pretty amused by the large number of teenage girls who had to be carried out after they got crushed in the almighty scrum at the front centre of the mosh pit.  And of course, by the Constellation of the little white squares:

    As expected, the moment they started 'The Twilight Song', the crowd went mad:

    But what I found most amusing of all, was how the kids were jamming to the concert, teeny-bopper style.  So if ever you're again caught in a teeny-bopper concert surrounded by kids nearly half your age, don't be alarmed and just do one of the following to fit in:

    The J-thing's Guide to Jamming at a Teeny-bopper Concert
    1. Sway hips to the right
    2. At the same time, point both hands to the left
    3. Sway hips to the left
    4. At the same time, point both hands to the right
    5. And repeat as required
    1. While keeping upper body straight, bend both knees together
    2. At the same time, point both hands forward while rocking head forward
    3. Straighten knees and swing hands back
    4. And repeat as required
    1. While keeping lower body straight, bend at the waist to lower upper body forward
    2. Ensure that head is still facing forward even when body is bent forward
    3. Keep hands by your side at all times during manoeuvre
    4. Straighten body to vertical position and repeat as required
    1. Bend left knee while keeping right knee straight
    2. At the same time, point left hand upwards
    3. Alternate to bending right knee, keeping left knee straight
    4. Lower left hand and point right hand upwards
    5. And repeat as required
    1. Jump up and down
    2. At the same time point hands forward twice above head
    3. On each jump, ensure that hands are at least pointed forward, then back, then forward again before contacting ground
    4. And repeat as required

      NB: All the above upper body actions can be alternated with clapping hands together above head.
    Have fun and tell me if it works! :D

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 5 "

    Sunday, March 7th, 2010
    4:40 pm » Of Gamblers and Speculators, Part II
    In recent news, Singapore's first casino Integrated Resort opened 3 weeks ago.  However, it was largely a non-event for me because one of the principles I live by is that I do not gamble.  Nope, I've never gambled in my life and don't intend to (I don't even buy 4D/Toto).  Even my Club Burswood card was signed up for to become a souvenir (and so that I could get 5 free coffees while waiting for friends to be done at the tables).

    Although the opening of the IR itself was a non-event for me, I am still rather interested to hear how the IR is doing (which from what I've heard, it's losing money).  The reason for this seeming disparity is because contrary to what you might expect, I do have a vested interest in how successful the IR is.  In fact, all non-gamblers have a vested interest in it.

    Back in 2005 when PM Lee first mooted the idea of having a legal casino in Singapore, the intent behind this change in mindset was to attract tourism to Singapore and bring in the tourist dollar.  So from the outset, the concept behind the casino developments was for Singapore (and the Singapore Government) to make money.

    I'm not sure how casino revenue translates directly to revenue for the Government but I'm sure it happens somehow—whether in the form of a tax system on casino revenue or if GIC/Temasek owns shares in both the IRs.  From the Government's point of view, the casinos would only be a success if people lost more money there than the casinos have to pay out.  The more money the casinos make, the more money goes to the national coffers.

    Now what I'm interested in is the source of this casino revenue.  It may come from foreign tourists, but that's rather straightforward: rich tourists come here, spend money, lose money at the casino, Singapore wins.  What is more interesting is the revenue coming from Singaporeans themselves.  First you have the uncles and aunties who are either hooked on gambling or have nothing else to occupy themselves in their retirement, so instead of going up to Genting or sailing out to sea on cruise ships literally waiting at the casino door for the ship to go past the 12 nm territorial waters limit, they pay $100 cover charge to enter and gamble in the IR instead.  This is good for us because it keeps the money circulating within Singapore instead of losing it to foreign tourism.  But that's not so interesting.

    What I find more interesting are the rich folks, those who wouldn't bat an eyelid at paying the $2000 annual membership and who bet sums that have a few zeroes behind at any time.  Casinos are after all a profit-making venture, and are designed as such.  There just isn't a casino which doesn't make money because otherwise it'd go bust.  So that means that more people are losing money there (or people are losing more money there) than they are winning.

    It is to our interest then that more and more rich folks patronise the casino and lose hordes of money there.  Because the way I see it, since casino revenue translates to Government revenue, the casino operates as a means of a redistribution of wealth.  The more money the Government makes from affluent private individuals at the casino, the more money they will have to pour into healthcare, subsidies for the elderly, and other public good projects like law enforcement and upgrading of public transport.  Instead of spending their time playing mahjong, all these rich tai-tais should be given special incentives to come play at the casino instead (after all, they are the best target audience since they are very free, very rich, and money is no object since their rich husbands are the ones paying).  Instead of hoarding all their wealth to themselves, losing money at the casino will serve as entertainment for them to while away their time while allowing them to do their part for community service by benefitting the less fortunate.  It's really a win-win situation.  So here's to the 2 IRs—may they flourish and prosper!

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 4 "

    Friday, February 26th, 2010
    4:01 am » Of Gamblers and Speculators

    Aalto by Hong Leong, Meyer Road
    My mum's friend's son is a year or two younger than me.  He's a naval officer.  I know roughly how much he earns because I figure that we should have been the same rank when I was still in uniform.  However, he owns a HDB flat and 2 condominiums.  Now how did he achieve that?  Simple: he flipped.

    I'm sure everyone here is familiar with the word 'flipping'.  You buy a property at, say, $750,000, but you have no intention of staying there—instead, the intention is to sell the property quickly for a profit.  If you manage to sell it for $1.2m, hey presto! you just made $450,000 from almost nothing.

    The way payment schemes work, this allows you to buy property with comparatively little money put down, and if you manage to 'flip' the property successfully, you can make a lot of money from this little bout of speculation.  For this navy guy's case, if I remember my mum correctly, he bought his first condo for $600,000 and made almost half a million dollars off it.  He then proceeded to use this money to flip another condo before buying the current two he has.  And all this while, where did he live?  In a HDB flat.

    As little rules exist as to the eligibility of people to buy private property, this has resulted in the private property market spiralling up, up and away.  Everywhere you go you see condo developments being launched with a '75% SOLD!' banner followed shortly by a 'FULLY SOLD!'  It really made me wonder: where are there so many Singaporeans with so much money to buy so many condos around the country???  This was before I found out about flipping.  And we can see the result of such speculation: with such overbearing demand, there becomes a shortage of supply.  Simple economics will tell you that with demand outstripping supply the price curve will move towards the higher side.  While all these 'flippers' keep 'flipping', the nett result is that it drives property prices out of the reach of genuine home-seekers: the flipped property always rises in price, and since flippers don't really need a feasible way of paying out $1.2m for a condo unit, they are willing to buy at high prices hoping to make a quick buck—which results in developers jacking up prices.

    The industry may term this 'speculation', but the way I see it, it's really just gambling: you're laying a wager that you can sell this property for more than you bought it for before you actually have to pay too much money for it.  There's no telling if this will actually work and turn you a quick profit, or whether you'll be stuck with something you have no intention or means of paying for, and have it blow up in your face.  All this has to do with only one word: greed.  It's the same thing that caused the Great Recession in the first place, and it seems that people will never learn.  However, I don't really feel like flogging a dead horse today about how greedy people are (especially in this kiasu nation of ours); I am more concerned about how to solve this problem and how we think we're solving it.

    Belatedly, the Government has tried to control this exuberant speculation by announcing a slew of measures.  On 19 Feb, they surprised everyone with an announcement that a seller's stamp duty will apply to all properties sold within 12 months of purchase.  At the same time, housing loans would be limited to only 80% of the loan-to-value limit.  More recently, in the Budget, the Government announced a shift to a progressive property tax regime to tweak the property tax from a flat 4% for owner-occupied properties to a 3-tier system of either 0%, 4%, or 6%, depending on the Annual Value (AV) of the property.

    Even with my limited weak grasp of financial sense and economics, I can tell that these measures will not work.

    I. The new property tax system only applies to owner-occupied properties; non-owner-occupied properties are taxed at 10% and there is no change to this.  Nobody speculates using their residence property, only with their non-owner-occupied property.  Not tweaking the latter is not changing anything, which won't alleviate the situation.  In fact, by reducing the property tax on the first $6000 of the AV of your residence property, you are only going to give people more money (even if just a little) to speculate in property if they continue living in a HDB flat while dabbling in the private property market.  As the increase to 6% only affects "the top 3% of private owner-occupied residential properties, or the top 0.4% of all owner-occupied homes", its effect on dampening property speculation will be negligible.  So the measures in the Budget won't work.

    II. By limiting housing loans to only 80% of the loan-to-value limit, what you are doing is a broad tarring of the brush: tarring both genuine home-seekers and property speculators.  Unless you tell me that the Government's strategy is to push home prices even further out of reach in order to precipitate a bubble burst, what is the point of making it more difficult for people seeking homes to buy them, when you should be trying to specifically target those who buy homes with no intention of staying there?  That's why I think this measure might work, but it might jolly well be doing the right thing the wrong way.

    III. While imposing a seller's stamp duty on properties sold within 12 months might appear to be the way to go (you are after all targeting the ones causing the speculation: those who buy and sell quickly), I wonder if policy-makers have actually considered how this is going to affect the property prices.  What I think will happen is that flippers will simply factor this seller's stamp duty into the price of the unit.  If everyone is facing this stamp duty, everyone will be jacking up their prices using the same formulae.  Besides, how much will the stamp duty be?  $9000 is only scratching the surface of a $1m price tag.  In effect, I would liken this more towards doing the wrong thing the right way.

    Waterfront Key by Far East Organisation, Bedok Reservoir Road

    What I think the Government should do instead is to pinpoint what is causing the problem and implement measures to tackle it specifically.

    The overriding basic principle should be this: each person only needs 1 residence to live in.  Singapore is not very big, so what do you need more than 1 residence for?  The solution therefore should not be a blanket policy on home buying/selling per se, but measures specifically directed at curbing the entrepôt trade of non-owner-occupied residences.

    It is simple common sense that the purpose of a home is to live in; that is the basic premise of all housing [q.v. 1].  HDB was set up in 1960 to "provide affordable, quality homes" for Singaporeans.  Naturally, many people took advantage of the promise of cheap public housing as well as the high subsidies and so now 80% of the population reside in HDB flats.  While the mission of HDB has not changed, the target demographic certainly has.  In the 1960s and 70s, HDB catered primarily for low income earners who would otherwise not be able to own a decent housing unit and would live in squatter settlements such as pre-1961 Bukit Ho Swee.  Today, however, majority of HDB owners are middle-class families who might even be far from being classified as 'low income earners'.  You have families living in HDB flats owning 2 or more cars, and even some driving expensive cars like a BMW 7 series.  Perhaps the reason why people are able to so boldly speculate in the property market is because they have some spare financial ability and are allowed to buy private property while still retaining ownership of their HDB flats.  After all, if the Government can impose such stringent rules on the eligibility of buying a HDB flat, surely they can impose rules on the eligibility of owning one.

    So these are my proposed measures instead of the 3 measures the Government announced:

    I. Subsidies for HDB flats should come with strings attached.  HDB subsidies are meant to help lower income earners own flats, not a free gift.  Should these owners subsequently become financially ennobled enough to buy private property, this subsidy should then be rescinded by the HDB.  After all, since you're rich enough to purchase private property and maintain your payments for the HDB flat, you certainly don't need the help of the HDB to pay for the flat.  There could be criteria set down to avoid penalising genuine HDB owners seeking to upgrade to private property as their domicile, e.g. once you buy private property, you have 3 months after TOP to move there or legally reside there and the HDB flat must then be put on the resale market, otherwise any subsidies granted previously when purchasing the HDB flat are void.

    II. Increase property tax on non-owner-occupied properties.  As I said earlier, the basic premise should be: you only need one home to stay in.  Therefore, any other properties owned that you do not reside in only serve to deprive genuine home-seekers of a chance to buy and own it.  By increasing the property tax on non-owner-occupied properties, this measure is not detrimental to genuine home-seekers but would penalise instead those who are seeking to purchase property for speculation.

    The tax should also increase exponentially based on the AV of the non-owner-occupied property, as well as the total number of properties owned by the family nucleus.  For example, my mother's friend's son might have to pay 20% of the AV on each of his 2 condos, but a businessman who owns 3 bungalows and a condo in addition to the house he's staying in might be taxed 30% on each of the 3 bungalows and 25% on the condo.

    III. This tax on non-owner-occupied properties should also be restructured on a decremental basis.  When this second property is purchased, the first property tax paid should be rather high and then the tax will reduce over time.  For example, instead of a flat 20% of AV throughout each year, the initial property tax could be pegged at perhaps 22% for the first 3 years, then reduce to 20% for the next 5 years, then reduce to 18% from then on.  This would then give owners genuinely seeking property for investment an incentive to hold on to property longer and would stop speculation because it means you must have enough resources to see it through for the mid- to long run before you can buy a second property.

    IV. Purchasers of condo developments should just not be allowed to sell them before TOP.  If you are purchasing a condo unit for living in or for long-term investment, this would not be a problem.  However, if your intention is to flip it quickly (especially before TOP since, as I understand it, you only need to make payments at specific milestones in construction), this rule would severely hamper your chances of making a quick buck (which would drive prices up) because it effectively locks you in until the unit is completed.

    V. The 1st tier of the 3-tier property tax should only apply to owners of one property, i.e. their owner-occupied property.  If you are rich enough to pay 10% (or more if my Idea II is taken up) on your non-owner-occupied property, you can jolly well afford to pay 4-6% on your owner-occupied one.

    I'm sure that these ideas are not foolproof but I think you can see what I'm driving at and from a conceptual point of view, this should be the problem area you should be targeting.  As long as the basic premise—you only need one home to live in—holds true, the Government should strive to make it easier for people to own homes to live in, and harder for people to deprive others of a home by jacking prices up from unnecessary property speculation.

    § Quod vide:
    1 Homes are for keeps: PM"Property is for people to buy to live in, not for speculating."

    § Addendum:
    Review housing policies"There were calls to review housing policies such as allowing private property owners to buy HDB flats or to sublet them."

    Preempt property distortions"Dr Ahmad Magad, MP for Pasir Ris Punggol GRC, called for a review of current property market policies.  He was particularly concerned over the policy of allowing private property owners to also own HDB flats.

    "'While the policy clearly stipulates that they must live in the HDB flats, I suspect, judging from anecdotal cases in my house-to-house visits, that many of them are not and are renting the resale flats out,' he said.  'If no stern action is taken, it will encourage more dual property owners to do the same,' he noted."

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 7 "

    Friday, February 5th, 2010
    3:32 am » Of Greed, Bankers, and Greedy Bankers

    Feb 4, 2010
    Fury over AIG bonuses

    WASHINGTON - A NEW furore erupted on Wednesday after AIG revealed plans to pay US$100 million (S$141 million) in bonuses a year after similar payments by the bailed-out insurance giant ignited a political firestorm.

    The White House said President Barack Obama was 'frustrated and angry' about the hefty payouts while the government's pay czar in charge of compensation at bailed-out companies called the payments an 'outrage' that were nonetheless legally binding.

    AIG said it would make the payouts under a deal in which employees agreed to accept less than they were owed in exchange for early payment.

    Asked about the new bonuses, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said: 'Obviously, the president is frustrated and angry that Wall Street continues to have the sense that excessive compensation should reward some of the excessive risk taking we've seen over...the last couple years on Wall Street, things that brought us to the brink.'

    Kenneth Feinberg, the pay czar designated under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, said the payments were part of legally binding contracts that must be paid despite the outrageous nature of the bonuses. 'These are old grandfather contracts that have the legal force of law,' Mr Feinberg told the ABC television program Good Morning America.

    He said that the government was working to recoup part of the payments under agreements reached with AIG employees. 'We are making some progress,' he said. 'I do not for a minute ignore the outrage out there which I share. But the fact of the matter is we've got to abide by the law, we've got to work as best we can to get as much of this money back as we can and frankly we are doing a very very good job I think in getting as much of this money as we can pursuant to the rule of law.' -- AFP
    Last year, AIG accepted a bailout of US$170 billion in taxpayers' money.  They then proceeded to give up to US$218 million in bonuses to their financial services division—the same people who were largely responsible for landing the company in such a bad state in the first place.  This came after AIG reported a US$61.7 billion fourth quarterly loss and an total annual loss of US$99 billion in 2008.

    Fast forward one year, and in 2010 they are planning on paying US$100 million in bonuses this year.  Now I don't know about AIG's performance in 2009, but I don't think it's anything stellar.

    When I entered the workforce, I always had the impression that bonuses were paid to you based on how well the company did, and then how well you yourself did—if your company did well, you get a bonus, if it doesn't, too bad.  Taken in context, when I first started work, I was a civil servant and my first year was 1997—the year of the Asian Financial Crisis.  Even though my 'company' was not in danger of massive losses, I remember my year-end bonus was quite measly, like ¾ months or so, and we all accepted it because we knew that the economy wasn't doing well and we were thankful that we weren't in danger of losing our jobs, unlike many others out there in the private sector.

    This mindset carried on to my present job, and although it was painful to experience a pay cut on our measly allowance, we understood that it was still better than being told to pack our bags and go home.  It's quite simple logic and you don't need a Ph.D or a CFA to understand this.

    So I don't understand why is AIG still paying its executives millions of dollars in bonus?  These millions of dollars are not surplus profits that the company made but taxpayers money loaned to the company to bail it out from bankruptcy.  If the bailout didn't happen, AIG would have gone bust and all those executives would be out of a job, let alone no bonus.  I also don't understand how a bonus can be contractualised; if it's actually in your contract that you will going to get $100,000 in bonus, that's not a 'bonus', that's part of your annual salary.  And if there was no bonus instead, what horribly bad thing would happen?

    It all boils down to greed.  The whole mess started because all these bankers and financial types were trying to see how much of the pie they could grab, so much so that they starting making plans based on pies that weren't really there.  Now that the Federal Government gave them more pies to get their act together, all they can see is the pie and they're back to seeing how much they can grab again.  If I were an American taxpayer, I'd be mighty pissed as well.

    § Quod vide:
    AIG Bonus Payments Controversy

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 11 "

    Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
    5:13 am » Pay budget money, get budget service/timing/everything
    Anyone who writes in to complain that they flew budget and their flight got delayed (or multiply delayed) should get a reply consisting of just four words: "YOU ASKED FOR IT."

    Jan 25, 2010
    Honeymoon marred by terrible Jetstar experience

    I AM writing to share my recent experience with Jetstar as a warning to other passengers, and to express my concerns over the dismal level of service, as the airline has limited the channels where customers can give feedback.

    My wife and I were due to return home from Bangkok to Singapore after our honeymoon, on Jan 3 on flight 3K516. Our flight was scheduled to leave Bangkok at 1.45pm (local time) and arrive in Singapore at about 5pm (local time).

    We reached the airport at least an hour before departure and saw the departure time changed to 4pm. Without offering any explanation, the Jetstar ground staff checked us in, and told us the gate number could be confirmed only at about 3pm. Our slight displeasure with an 'acceptable' two-hour delay changed soon after we checked in, when we realised the departure time had been changed to 10pm. This meant we would reach Singapore in the wee hours of the morning, not to mention the thought of work the next day.

    We could not access any Jetstar staff as we had already passed Customs. The information counter staff in the airport could not help us as calls to the Jetstar hotline went unanswered.

    Later, we found out from a fellow passenger that some Jetstar staff were giving out meal vouchers at an isolated gate D5. There was no Jetstar flight at that gate, so why were staff handing out vouchers there? Several disgruntled passengers failed to obtain vouchers as the staff had run out of them.

    The terrible experience did not end there. The flight was further delayed, despite assurance from the ground staff that the 10pm flight was confirmed. We managed to board the plane only at about midnight, and reached Singapore at 3.45am.

    I travel frequently on other budget airlines but this is the first time I have experienced such an extreme lapse of service from a carrier owned by a reputable parent company.

    Jetstar made no attempt to assure passengers that all was well and we would make it home on time. Our honeymoon trip was marred by this ugly experience, which we will never forget. We will still travel on budget carriers, but will skip Jetstar for good.

    Sim Joo Jin
    Ummmm... Mr Sim, I have a newsflash for you: it's not just Jetstar, ALL budget carriers are like that.  If you really wanted a good air travel experience, the only way you can be reasonably assured of one is on a full service carrier.  After all they are called 'full service' for a reason.  What else did you expect from a budget airline?

    When low cost carriers first emerged on the market, weren't there lots of newspaper and magazine articles which explained what set them apart from full service carriers?  People only see the apparent differences on every flight: less baggage allowance, no aerobridges, no assigned seats, no food, no Inflight Entertainment, cramped seats, out-of-the-way airports, and of course, much cheaper tickets.

    A lot of people seem to have the impression that a budget airline is essentially a full service carrier without meals and assigned seats—that's like checking into Hotel 81 and expecting a smaller version of a room at the Ritz without room service and a swimming pool.  There are also quite a number of differences that people don't realise until it hits them.  Mr Sim just found out one of them the hard way: budget airlines utilise their aircraft so heavily and stretch their schedules so tightly [turnarounds can be planned for as short as 25 minutes] that it's very often that delays are experienced simply because the aircraft coming in is delayed.  And when flights get delayed, it's your problem.  In fact, of the few times I've taken budget airlines to and from BKK, I don't recall any occasion where there wasn't a delay to the departure time "because the aircraft isn't here yet".

    If the flight gets cancelled, be prepared to wait ages for the replacement aircraft (and crew) to arrive, because they don't have a spare aircraft that can easily just fly up to get all of you back.  And the extent which they push their aircraft, it's a gamble whether any particular flight is going to depart on time or not.  "Jetstar made no attempt to assure passengers that all was well and we would make it home on time"?  Maybe it's because they can't.  At least Jetstar kept Mr Sim waiting for 10 hours in the terminal... unlike a US budget airline, who kept their passengers waiting in the plane for 10 hours whilst on the ground.

    And don't get me started about safety, and how yes it's true that safety is not compromised by slashing their costs... and yet, still not exactly completely true.

    I find it rather amusing that Mr Sim makes it a point to mention that he didn't expect this "from a carrier owned by a reputable parent company" (in this case, Qantas).  Who owns the budget airline isn't important—it's still a budget airline, so be prepared for budget service.  What did you expect Qantas to do?  Appropriate some of their budget to beef up Jetstar services?  Where else do you think budget airlines save money from to become so cheap?  After all, they claim say it's not from safety and they use the same fuel (which costs the same everywhere), so it has to come from somewhere.

    If you're going to fly budget solely because of cheaper fares, be prepared to give up all the other reasons why people fly full service carriers: reliability, quality, flight schedules, connections, frequent flyer programmes and comfort.  If you expect those latter requirements, the only place you can reasonably expect to get them is on a full service carrier.  You choose.

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 16 "

    Sunday, January 24th, 2010
    6:22 am » $100,000,000
    Nah sih gua uh pa pa ban....

    Jan 22, 2010
    Govt won't fund World Cup

    THE Government has signalled that it would not fund the 2010 World Cup on free-to-air television, as it looks like Singapore will be denied the live telecast because SingTel and StarHub will not pay the price demanded by football's world governing body, Fifa.

    Responding to recent letters and commentaries in the press on the ongoing World Cup telecast rights negotiations, a spokesman for the Media Development Authority (MDA) said late on Thursday night: 'While the telecast of World Cup 2010 is a commercial decision as with previous World Cups, MDA understands the anxiety of football fans and has been monitoring the developments closely as well as encouraging SingTel, StarHub and MediaCorp to continue their negotiations with Fifa to telecast the World Cup in Singapore.

    'We hope the negotiations will reach a sensible outcome that will benefit all football fans.  We also urge fans to be patient to allow the negotiations to take its course.

    On government funding, Ms Eileen Ang, MDA's Head of Competition and Market Access, said this is meant for content on free-to-air TV which goes towards a large number of public service broadcast (PSB) programmes that 'promote social objectives and national harmony'.

    'It would therefore be difficult to meet requests for funding the World Cup broadcasts which do not meet these objectives,' she added.

    In the latest turn to the saga, national broadcaster MediaCorp has submitted a bid to telecast the four key matches of the 2010 World Cup on free-to-air television.  These are the opening game between host South Africa and Mexico on June 11, the semi-finals on July 6 and 7, and the final on July 11.  MediaCorp confirmed that it has been in discussions with Fifa, the world football body which holds the rights to all 64 games played in South Africa.

    SingTel and StarHub have put in a joint bid for the broadcast rights for the tournament which kicks off on June 11 and ends on July 11.  Negotiations are still going on.  Fifa is reportedly asking for $100 million for the matches to be shown here—a sum both telcos have baulked at, given that it is an $85 million increase over what StarHub reportedly paid in 2006.
    I'm actually not just relieved that the Government is not only going to fund WC2010 but that they even explicitly stated that funding the broadcasts do not meet the objectives of promoting "social objectives and national harmony".

    Seriously, I can think of a lot of better ways to spend $100 million.

    When I first heard that SingTel and StarHub were having trouble securing the rights to the World Cup, I didn't really follow the news.  I don't have cable at home and hardly watch television anyway.  I do follow the World Cup when it's on even if I don't actually watch every match faithfully, so it's not like I'm totally ambivalent about it.  But I think it's totally absurd that people should be writing to the ST Forum suggesting that Singapore Pools or even the Government fund the $100 million FIFA is demanding.

    I sometimes wonder why do people place such a big deal on sports.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I don't see the point of sports, nor the point of supporting teams you like.  I just don't see what's the big deal if you're not the one playing it.  Of course when the games are on, you want your country to win because you support your own country, in the spirit of competition—but after the games are over, what remains?  We spend so much money training athletes, rewarding them for medals, etc. all for what?  Just so that we can indulge in some chest-thumping to say that my people are faster/stronger/better than yours.  When Singapore won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, we went: "Yes!  We won a medal!"  Now fast-forward 1½ years and ask yourself: how does it make you feel now?  Our water-polo team has been unbeaten at the SEA Games for 23 years, so what difference does that make to your life?  How different does it make you feel compared to the people of Thailand, who won the silver at the 2009 SEA Games?

    I understand even less when your country isn't even playing.  Yes, we have our affiliation to clubs or other national teams, just like how we had our affiliations to our houses and schools back in our student days, but the way some people pursue it, it's like a religion.  How many football widows do you know?  I knew someone who couldn't plan any dates/events/anything on nights when her boyfriend's favourite team is playing.  It's like it could be the Bolshoi's 'one night only' performance, but no, the match comes first.  To these people, it's unthinkable that they are not going to be able to watch every single World Cup match this year.  Is $100 million really worth it?

    That's why even if FIFA is going to demand $100 million, the Government should not be spending our taxpayers' money paying this ransom when it's not a national good.  To put it in perspective, we donated only $50,000 to the Haitian earthquake relief efforts; it's ludicrous to ask our Government to pay 2000× of that just so that we can have a month of football matches on the TV.

    Someone wrote to say that Singapore Pools should chip in for the $100 million.  After all, he reasoned, Singapore Pools makes a lot of money from football betting, so they have a vested interest.  This letter reveals perhaps one reason why people are interested in sports: not so much for the game, but more so that they can have something to bet on.

    Even if SingTel or StarHub had agreed to FIFA, just think of what else this $100 million could be spent on?  Upgrading our schools, subsidising healthcare, improving public transport, building shelters for the destitute, even establishing an elderly fund so that old folks don't have to trawl hawker centres for empty drink cans or collecting cardboard boxes in the wee hours of the morning.  What else can you think of?

    That's why I don't see what's the big deal if we really don't get to watch the World Cup this year.  Seriously, we won't die without the World Cup.  Nobody will die if Singapore doesn't get to watch it.  But if the Government had caved in and paid FIFA $100,000,000 instead of donating it to Haiti, people will die.

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 6 "

    Monday, January 18th, 2010
    3:06 am » What inclusiveness and racial harmony really is
    This evening, I went to have dinner at a neighbourhood kopitiam.  Right in the middle of the kopitiam was a Malay food stall selling Nasi Ayam, Briyani, and other Malay food.  The stall to the right sold Char Kway Teow with Lup Cheong.  2 stalls to the Malay stall's left was a Western Food stall selling Pork Chop.  3 stalls to Malay stall's right was a Bak Kut Teh stall.

    I know that news gathers and loses interest pretty quickly, but I thought it was pretty interesting that a Malay food stall could exist right in the middle of a kopitiam, surrounded not only by stalls which used pork as an ingredient but even a stall that serves only pork.  This is real pork we're talking about, yes the confirmed non-halal kind.  Yet nobody seemed to bat an eyelid at the prospect of eating halal food at the same table as a non-Muslim eating Bak Kut Teh.

    After a few letters to the ST Forum1 2 3 4 5 and an article in the newspapers, not to mention all the videos and articles on STOMP, RAZOR TV, etc., I find it strange that McDonald's still has not issued a press statement or even a reply to the ST Forum page on their Doraemon fiasco.  All they needed to say was "Ooops, sorry we screwed up.  We thought that it would be a good thing to do but we didn't think it through carefully enough," and the issue would be over, everyone would forget about it, and life would go on.  Even from a purely logical and financial point of view, it doesn't make sense to go through such deliberate measures to avoid pissing off 16% of your consumer demographic, then when another 45% of your consumers get unhappy, you don't do anything about it.

    But that's not so bad.  After all, no one likes to admit that they're wrong.  What really irritates me is how McDonald's not only keeps silent about the issue, in whatever replies they have sent to individual members of the public, they seem to think that we're stupid.
    Thank you for your interest in McDonald’s Doraemon Lucky Charms collection.

    As part of our ongoing efforts to provide customers with exclusive collectibles only available at McDonald’s, we brought in a Doraemon collection that consists of 12 designs.  With Valentine’s Day coinciding with the 1st day of the Lunar New Year, we decided to include a Cupid Doraemon in the series.  We seek your understanding that the Doraemon Lucky Charms promotion was never intended as a zodiac collection.

    We thank you for your feedback and wish you a prosperous new year.

    Yours sincerely,
    Veronica Tan
    On Behalf of Claudia Yeo
    Communications Department | McDonald's Restaurants Pte Ltd

    [In another letter]
    We excluded Doraemon “pig” design in the collection with the intention to be sensitive to the Muslim customers.  It was also decided to include the “cupid” design to commemorate Valentine’s Day which coincides with the first day of the Lunar New Year.  We seek our customers’ understanding that it has never been our intention to be disrespectful towards any religion or culture.
    "Was never intended as a zodiac collection"?  Then how coincidental is it that of the 11 animals featured, ALL 11 are part of the Chinese zodiac, and are even issued in the same order as the Chinese zodiac beginning with the Tiger, which is the animal for 2010?  The 'Cupid' one isn't even the first or the last toy issued but the tenth in the series—which is exactly where the Pig was supposed to be.  In the first place, the fact that they had to say that they decided to "exclude" the pig design means that its original intention was based on the Chinese zodiac right?

    Does McDonald's really think that their customers are that stupid or what?

    Or maybe McDonald's thinks that we'd buy this lousy excuse because they're that stupid themselves; after all, did they really think that they could simply tweak the Chinese zodiac like that and nobody would notice/complain/get unhappy or offended?

    If McDonald's was really that concerned about sensitivity to Muslims making sure they keep their Halal obligations, all they needed to do would be to ask MUIS.  If MUIS says it's okay, if any Muslims complain (which I'm sure there will be none, or at least it would not boil over into a controversy of this nature), all they need to do is to say: "We asked MUIS, they said it's okay."  If MUIS said no, then even if they replaced the Pig with Cupid, when people complain, all they need to say is: "We asked MUIS, they said even Pig toy also cannot."  Then nobody will fault McDonald's for anything right!  As someone commented on the ST Forum letter: "Why the [McDonald's] so kay kiang to create controversies out of nothing?"

    Personally, I have decided not to eat at McDonald's until the Doraemon promotion is over, and I encourage those of you who feel insulted by McDonald's opinion of our intelligence to do the same.

    [ X-posted to sg_ljers ]

    § Quod vide:
    Beef Meatballs & Beer

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    Friday, January 15th, 2010
    4:14 am » Before you're so quick to complain...
    ...sometimes you should take a look at what it says about you.

    ST Forum Online
    Jan 9, 2010
    No apology from SilkAir crew after seat belt comes off

    A COUPLE of days ago, I took a SilkAir flight from Malaysia to Singapore. Five minutes before touchdown at Changi Airport, a flight attendant reminded passengers to fasten their seat belts. I tried to do this but my seat belt simply fell apart on the right side.

    I was unable to call a flight attendant as the plane was descending and I tried to figure out what to do. I then pulled the seat belt around the arm of the seat to support me. Fortunately, the landing was quite smooth but if it had not been so, there could have been serious consequences.

    When I disembarked, I told the flight attendants about my problem but they didn't even apologise. SilkAir is lucky I was not injured and I will think twice before flying with it again.

    Stephen Powell
    This ang moh has obviously picked up a very bad habit from staying in Singapore: just because the service provider screwed up, he expects them to kowtow to him.  He was so intent on complaining about not receiving an apology that he didn't realise:

    1. If he had buckled his seatbelt properly for takeoff, that means it was working perfectly when he first sat in the seat.  That not only means that any inspection before embarkation would not have detected anything, and since it was working during takeoff, is it not possible that he was the one who damaged the seatbelt?  Unless of course, he is insisting that the seatbelt was already damaged when he first sat there—which would only mean he didn't buckle up his seatbelt for takeoff.

    2. On that note, notice he said that he only buckled his seatbelt five minutes before touchdown?  Seatbelt signs come on at top of descent, which is at least 15–20 minutes before landing.  If he had done so then instead of waiting until the absolute last minute before landing, he would have had enough time to bring the defective seatbelt to the cabin crew's attention and he could be changed to another seat or some other measures could be taken.  There is a reason why the sign comes on at top of descent and not just moments before landing.

    You don't really need STOMP when you have gems like this on the ST Forum as well.

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 4 "

    Monday, January 11th, 2010
    2:28 am » Ladies, if you have big boobs, you might want to read on
    Fill My Cups with DCUP (Australia)
    Big girls most definitely won’t cry

    DCUP (Australia)
    Tyler Made (USA)
    Sat, 16th Jan 2010
    9pm – Late

    This One’s For The Ladies

    Step right up to the Boobie Booth and flaunt what you’ve got, we don't care if they're bite-sized or swollen, droopy or perky, silicone or saline, papayas or even raisins – everyone's a winner. But trust us, big girls most definitely won’t cry.

    A Cups – 1 Free Drink
    B Cups – 2 Free Drinks
    C Cups – 3 Free Drinks
    D Cups – 1 BOTTLE OF VODKA

    * Claim your coupons from 9pm - 11pm
    * Drinks by Belvedere
    * Female members of The Lo & Behold Group get DOUBLE the number of drinks

    DCUP (Australia)

    The next big thing to come from Down Under and the latest signee to Ajax’ record label, Sweat it Out, Dcup has already drawn comparisons with Treasure Fingers, Miami Horror and Shazam, from influential names in the industry. Doling out funk-fuelled disco for right now, he joins Sweat it Out’s cutting edge roster which includes Gameboy/Gamegirl, Act Yo Age, KillaQueenz, Yolanda Be Cool, and Pablo Calamari. Already climbing the ropes, his music combines keyboards, old drum machines, and records from the 80s, as well as his own special touch. Already being played on the national party circuit, his remixes have also been picked internationally in the UK, Europe and Asia.


    No I won't be there, but I'm curious to know:

    1) How many women are actually going to step up to the Boobie Booth.
    2) How they are going to determine the cup size (like are they going to do it arbitrarily?  Or just check labels?  Or have those Triumph or Wacoal sales people around to do private fittings?).
    3) What size is the "bottle of vodka" for the D Cups (notice they didn't say anything about mixers).

    But most importantly, I'm waiting to see if some disgruntled feminist will lodge a complaint about this, like the Muttons FHM Braless Day thing...!

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 11 "

    Sunday, January 10th, 2010
    5:18 pm » A tale of two crime sprees: Malaysia vs Australia
    Compare these two news articles [emphasis mine]:

    Jan 8, 2010
    Cartoon angers Aussie cops

    […] Accounting graduate Nitin Garg, 21, originally from the state of Punjab in northern India, was stabbed to death last Saturday night on his way to a job at a fast food outlet in Melbourne.

    The killing followed a series of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney in 2009, drawing diplomatic protests and travel warnings from New Delhi.

    Indian media have labelled the attacks against Indian students in Australia as racist, but police and the government have insisted the attacks are purely criminal.

    'The identity of the offender from the homicide in Footscray isn't even known at this stage, so we don't even know what nationality the offender is. To say it's a race-based crime is not only premature, but stupid,' Mr [Greg] Davies [secretary of the Victoria Police Association, the police officers' union] told Australian radio in criticisms backed by Victoria Police Minister Bob Cameron. -- REUTERS


    Jan 10, 2010
    2 more churches attacked

    KUALA LUMPUR - TWO more Malaysian churches were targeted by arsonists on Sunday, police and church officials said, as a row escalated over the use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims.

    The latest attacks in Taiping, in the northern Perak state, brought the total number to six since Friday but there were no reports of injuries, according to state police chief Zulkifli Abdullah.

    He said a Molotov cocktail was thrown at All Saints Church early in the morning before worshippers attended their Sunday service while church officials found a bottle of kerosene in another church.

    'There were black marks on the wall (at All Saints). We believed there was a small fire earlier but there was no damage as the wall was intact,' Mr Zulkifli told AFP. He said a bottle of kerosene was thrown into St Louis Catholic Church but added that the building wasn't damaged.

    Four churches in the Kuala Lumpur area have been hit by firebombs since Friday, leaving one badly damaged with its ground floor gutted, and prompting Prime Minister Najib Razak to promise to crack down on race crime.

    Mr Hermen Shastri, secretary-general of the Council of Churches, said officials had stepped up security in the wake of the fresh attacks. 'The attacks show they are more just a prank as it does not appear to be a major (attack), someone is trying to send a signal that they are unhappy,' he told AFP. -- AFP
    The identities of the attackers in the Malaysian string of attacks are also not known.  However, the Malaysian authorities felt that it was readily apparent that churches were being targeted due to the fact that the targets were all churches.

    In the Australian cases, there have been a string of attacks on Indian students, but police are saying it's not a race-based crime because they don't know yet who the attackers were and so until they determine that the attackers were all non-Indians, they aren't treating it as a race-based crime.

    Who do you think is the one being stupid?

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 3 "

    Friday, January 8th, 2010
    1:06 am » Beef Meatballs & Beer
    We live in a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural city-state.  In this tropical melting pot, it is very important to have some sense of sensitivity and tolerance for all races and religions, including their unique beliefs, practices, requirements, and taboos.

    One religion with such unique requirements is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Now, if I were a Pastafarian, I would subscribe to the Church's belief that heaven contains a beer volcano, and I would drink beer at every meal to display my steadfast belief in this heaven.  Also, meatballs would be a staple diet of mine, and I would eat spaghetti with beef meatballs every Friday to honour my god (though we would be encouraged to eat this also on other days).

    Now religious tolerance and sensitivity would be providing all Pastafarians with an opportunity to drink beer at any time, and beef meatballs with spaghetti would be allowed to be sold.  There would be specific stalls set up that specially sell beef meatball spaghetti and beer, so Pastafarians can partake of their holy meal easily.

    But because beef meatball spaghetti and beer is the Pastafarian holy meal, should we also mandate that beef meatball spaghetti be sold in all restaurants?  Should Pastafarians start to petition/clamour that even vegetarian restaurants should sell beef meatball spaghetti?  After all, a central tenet of the religion is Meatitude, and men must spread their meaty goodness about the land.  Should all fast food outlets now sell beer to cater for Pastafarians?  Should KFC be made to sell beef meatball spaghetti in addition to fried chicken?

    No we shouldn't.  Because as long as Pastafarians have ample opportunities and locales to obtain their holy food, we have been sensitive to their needs.  Being sensitive doesn't mean that we have to make everyone eat the same thing, or that we all have to drink beer when we eat with them.  Similarly, Pastafarians should not take offence if at the same dinner table, a friend wants to drink fruit juice, or eat chicken meatballs instead, because we don't believe in what they do, and we aren't forcing them to abandon the tenets of their faith.  Religious sensitivity works both ways: we don't compel them not to eat beef meatballs, but they shouldn't compel us to eat only beef meatballs either.  Because in the first place, it's not that Pastafarians can't eat anything else, even if most Pastafarians choose to eat exclusively beef meatballs with spaghetti.  You know people have really stopped thinking straight if the day comes when we can't even print a photo of chicken meatballs, simply because we want to avoid offending the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, r'amen!

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 7 "

    Monday, January 4th, 2010
    5:24 am » The most important thing I wanted to see in Hong Kong

    You might wonder why the first photo I'm posting of my recent HK trip isn't of the HK skyline, or The Peak, or Victoria Harbour, or my most favourite building in HK, but of this strange hill with a barely discernible white pattern on it.

    This hill, however, is one of the most important things I came to Hong Kong to see.  HK, in certain ways, was like a pilgrimage—as a true-blue Cantonese, I wanted to come to a place where everybody around me spoke Cantonese.  It was like the equivalent of visiting a hometown!  In another way, finally coming to HK was also a pilgrimage to come see one thing: the old Hong Kong Kai Tak International Airport.

    Before 1998

    Some of you might know that HK is one of those places which I've always wanted to go and wondered why I've never been, so I have absolutely no recollection of Kai Tak Airport.  I can't even remember when was it that I first heard that Kai Tak's approach to land was infamously challenging.  All I can recall is someone telling me many years ago about how landing at HK was very exciting because the plane will make a sharp turn before landing, and it was so low that you could even see the televisions on in the apartments below.  This was before the Internet of course, so I didn't think much about it.  My fascination with Kai Tak only began after I found out online why exactly the approach was so difficult!

    Basically, because of the topography of Kowloon, unlike other airports, planes could not align with the runway to land from far out.  So to land at Kai Tak, the pilots have to approach Kowloon from the west, and the Instrument Landing System does not guide the planes down to the runway but instead of being installed on the runway, it is installed on this small hill that has an orange and white checkerboard painted on it and aircraft are guided down to it (hence it's an Instrument Guidance System, not ILS).  Just before reaching the hill, the pilots will then have to execute a sharp 47° turn to align with the runway and land on Runway 13.  This turn is normally executed at a height of around 650ft (200m) and completed at just 140ft (43m), upon which you land almost immediately.  It's quite hard to visualise this so let me show you through pictures:

    Kai Tak closed on 6 July 1998; the new Chek Lap Kok airport is next to the NDB marked Sha Lo Wan

    You can see that you basically have to fly down to Checkerboard Hill and then make that sharp right turn.  Sounds pretty straightforward, but imagine doing this at night, or in a thunderstorm, where you can't see the runway properly.  Also, not forgetting that the winds around Kai Tak are notoriously shifty due to the mountain range directly northeast of Kowloon.  Shooting the Rwy 13 approach is already tough enough with constant winds because the crosswind would change as you made the 47° Checkerboard Turn.  It would be worse during typhoon season, when the winds would be strong, gusty, and shifting.  The winds sweep down the hills towards the harbour and vary greatly in speed and direction, which affects the lift of the aeroplane.  Despite this, the Rwy 13 approach was used most of the time due to the prevailing wind direction.

    It's pretty telling too that Kai Tak's difficult approach is infamous not only within the aviation community but amongst the general public as well.  When the airport was still in operation, hordes of spectators would throng the rooftop of Kowloon City Plaza, the roof deck of the airport car park, or Checkerboard Hill itself, to watch the big jets bank steeply and take big crab angles in strong crosswinds [you can see the video later for examples].  Thankfully, they left us a large collection of photographs to remember this unique airport.

    Air Canada A340 and Korean Air B747 doing the Checkerboard Turn

    Checkerboard Hill (格仔山), as seen from Cathay Pacific B744
    Apparently 格仔 actually means 'checkerboard' in Cantonese

    The view from the other side, overlooking Kowloon City

    B747 rounding out from the Checkerboard Turn onto short final
    See that orange building at the bottom centre of the photo?  I'll show you why it's so special later....

    Overview of the Kai Tak Runway 13, with B747s coming in for a dusk landing

    Checkerboard Hill is on the left, and a B747 is doing the Checkerboard Turn on the right
    You can see how low the aircraft is over the city at this stage, and it's still banking!

    JAL B747 over densely-packed Kowloon City
    Any mistake in the Checkerboard Turn would really have disastrous consequences

    Indeed, the approach plate itself reminds you of how important it is to fly this correctly through a couple of terse lines:
    Continued flight on the Instrument Guidance System flight path after passing the Middle Marker will result in loss of terrain clearance.

    Missed Approach is mandatory by Middle Marker if visual flight is not achieved by this point.  ... the right turn must be made at the Middle Marker as any early or late turn will result in loss of terrain clearance.  After passing the Middle Marker, flight path indications must be ignored.

    I always thought it was really funny how they make it sound so sterile: 'result in loss of terrain clearance', when actually it means 'you will hit the ground or something else similarly hard'!
    Basically what this means is that the guidance system will guide you down to the checkerboard even if you can't see anything because of heavy rain or cloud.  But once you fly over this marker beacon, you have to be able to see the runway itself and start the turn visually.  If you can't, you had better turn anyway but climb up to get away from the mountains, otherwise you'll smash into the ground!  But turning any earlier than the marker beacon will probably result in you smashing into the buildings of Kowloon City, because after executing the turn, you come screeching literally over the rooftops of Kowloon City, for scenes like this which were world-famous but will never be seen again....

    Street view, Kowloon City

    Surprisingly though, for all its difficulty, there were relatively few accidents at Kai Tak throughout its history.  In the 24 years since the IGS was installed, there have only been 2 major accidents at Kai Tak because of the IGS Rwy 13 approach, with only 7 fatalities.  Of course, this is not including the numerous cases of hard landings, damaged landing gear, engines and flaps scraping the runway, or small excursions off the runway, like this one:

    Then of course, there is the matter of stopping the aircraft before you run off the little sliver of runway into the harbour.

    Trying to round out the turn before they get too close and too low....

    An example of how the shifting winds can easily make your Checkerboard Turn go awry....
    Better press that TO/GA and go around!

    On top of the challenging approach, the controllers had to play a delicate jigsaw puzzle as Kai Tak was really a very busy airport
    A Dragonair A330 is just departing after the Thai Airways B747 landed, and Tower has cleared the China Southwest B737 for an immediate departure while a Cathay Pacific B777 is already on short final!

    A300 thundering in to land over the Prince Edward Road flyover

    TRIVIA: Everyone speaks of the "the checkerboard" but in reality there were two checkerboards: one faced west towards the IGS 13 approach, the other faced south towards the runway (presumably this was for the benefit of pilots doing a departure from Rwy 31).  Currently only the south-facing one can be seen; I could find no trace of the west-facing one as that side is overgrown with vegetation. :(

    My own journey to Kai Tak and the CheckerboardCollapse )

    Goodbye Kai Tak.  It is my eternal regret that I never flew into you whether as a passenger or behind the controls.  And now the only way I can give a shot at one of the hardest approaches in the world would be in the simulator....

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 36 "

    Saturday, January 2nd, 2010
    3:24 am » 10 Words You Need To Stop Misspelling
    This reminds me of my J-thing Grammar Correction Stickers, and is too good (and important) not to share, so I'm reproducing it here not as a link, but in its full glory.

    I know some of you whose offices look like they need this printed out, enlarged, and pasted on the wall of the pantry/common area, so let's start off 2010 with a worthy project: eradicating (far too) common English mistakes!

    Lose/Loose, Weird/Wierd, They're/Their/There, Your/You're, Its/It's, Definitely/Definately, Effect/Affect, Weather/Whether, A lot/Alot, and Than/Then!Collapse )

    Also check out this one:

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 2 "

    Friday, January 1st, 2010
    You know, the hallmark of a wonderful night where you have 2 social events, one after the other, is that when you're at the first, you wished that you didn't have to go to the other, but when you reach the second, you wished that you'd come sooner.

    Last night I was preparing to go meet burbur and cheshirefeline at Siloso Beach Party when triciaseow called and asked me if I could come to the Eurasian Ball because 2 of her friends were under the weather.  So OK I went down to the ball, which was at the Shangri-La.  I was having a lot of fun there gorging on the food with triciaseow, mfluder, misawong, and not to mention the many Eurasian babes who were in attendance and dressed to the nines!

    At 10 p.m. though, I had to go, so I hopped back into my car and drove down to Sentosa, where I did a quick change from my long sleeves, pants and shoes into my t-shirt, board shorts and crocs, grabbed my 3 bottles of beer and sat at the beach station with burbur and cheshirefeline.  After the fireworks celebrating the end of 2009, we went down to Siloso Beach which was like ZoukOut, only better!  Yes, lots of beach babes around, but we just sat at the bar with the rest of the Sentosa staff chatting, people watching, and downing beer like anything.  There was a band on stage at the main arena, and they were quite good, playing many old school rock hits that I liked, like Don't Stop Believin', Shook Me All Night Long, and Pour Some Sugar On Me.

    And so I wished I had the abovementioned ability, for I wished then that I had come to Sentosa earlier!  But I'm glad that I spent NYE with 1 of my favourite couples and the early morning of NYD with the other!

    After leaving Sentosa, we stopped by our favourite LAN shop to shoot zombies in L4D2 until 6 in the morning.  What better way to usher in 2010? :)

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 8 "

    Thursday, December 31st, 2009
    3:09 pm » Protect yourself in hotels!
    When we were KO-ing after ZoukOut, we asked for late checkout but unfortunately couldn't get any.  I was telling triciaseow, mfluder, burbur and cheshirefeline that I was so tired that I didn't even mind just knocking out for a few hours in the 'special room', the existence of which I learnt about from this email that was circulating amongst my coursemates some time back.  It apparently originated from another division, and one of the guys who crossed over from there shared it with us.

    I think Tricia was very amused at the existence of this 'special room' so I managed to dig the email up and now that the holiday season is over and none of my friends reading this should be in hotels at the moment, here it is:
    OK, here are some beliefs of the hoteliers:

    In every single hotel, there shall be at least a permanent room which should be left vacant at all times.  No matter how full the hotel is, they are not to sell that room(s) to any guest.  It was said that special room was 'reserved' for those 'special visitors'.  So, if you plan to stay in some hotel, always book in advance.  Try to avoid walk-ins.  If the receptionist tells you there's no more room available, do not insist one any more or try to bribe them to give you a room.  If you do that, most of the time the room you have will be that 'special room'.

    Sometimes those 'special visitors' might go to other rooms also, so here are some tips on how to protect yourself:

  • Before entering your room, always knock on the door first, even if you know the room is vacant.

  • After you enter the room, if you feel very cold suddenly and have "chicken spore" [I think the writer means goosebumps], leave the room quietly, immediately and go to reception to request to change room.  Most of the time the receptionist will understand what's happening.

  • After you enter the room, immediately switch on all of the lights, and open the curtain to let the sun light in.

  • Before you go to bed, arrange your shoes so that one of them is upside down.  Some say this is representing yin & yang to protect you while you're asleep.

  • Always leave at least a lamp on while you're sleeping, preferably the toilet's lamp.

  • If you're staying alone and they have give you a twin bed, do not sleep with the other bed vacant.  Try to put your things like luggage on the other bed before you sleep.  And if you're sleeping on a queen-size bed, always sleep in the middle... and do not sleep by sleeping on either side as this means inviting them to sleep next to you.  You don't want to wake up in the middle of the night to find out there is something sleeping next to you right?

    Another tip to protect yourself....
    When you enter your hotel room, look for the BIBLE.  Most hotels place the Bible inside a drawer.  However, if upon entering, you see the Bible on the table, DON'T STAY IN THAT ROOM!  It means 'special visitors' are there.

    If you see the Bible opened up on the table, LEAVE THAT ROOM IMMEDIATELY and request a change of room!  It means the 'special visitor' is really creating trouble in that room!

  • According to my friend, the worst case he has heard of involves 6 of his colleagues who had gathered in 1 of the rooms.  Apparently they saw something and went quite berserk.  It got so bad they all requested to fly home immediately!  It's somewhere in Japan, either Osaka or Tokyo.  And apparently Jakarta and LA are high on the haunted list too!

    Any comments?  vixette7, true or not?

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 17 "

    Sunday, December 27th, 2009
    11:30 pm » Happy Flight
    [This is a long overdue entry; supposed to have been posted 2 weeks ago but busy stuff got in the way, not to mention HK and what happened to me there, owwww....]

    I know it's just a movie, but if this is the way ANA command trainees fly, I'd think more than twice before I ever fly ANA!  Seriously, if your pilot behaved like that, you will fly meh?

    Anyway, since it's a rather obscure film, for the benefit of those who have no watched the movie, there is a plot synopsis here.  In short, it's centred on an ANA flight from Tokyo to Honolulu, which goes awry first when the aircraft develops an instrument problem a couple of hours into the flight due to a bird strike, then when a typhoon threatens Tokyo after the plane turns back.  It's funny how the online synopses/reviews mention that the emergency is due to a new computer system malfunctioning; in the movie, the pitot tubes broke away so they lost their airspeed indications—it has nothing to do with computer systems!

    Anyway the movie is really a good insight into the commercial aviation world, providing a sneak peek into the everyday life of the airline industry: from aircraft maintenance, air traffic control (both tower and terminal), weather forecasters, flight dispatchers/ops centre team, ground check-in team and even to the bird strike man!  The bulk of the movie is centred around the technical crew (pilots) and cabin crew of the airliner—which include a First Officer on his last check ride as a command trainee before he qualifies for captaincy and a group of stewardesses on their first international flight flying under a purser with a fearsome reputation—along with some of the challenges and stress that comes with the job.

    Being a Japanese dramedy, I was expecting some hilarious exploits bordering on the realm of disbelief, along with exaggerated cutesy antics.  I attribute most of the inaccuracies and exaggerations to this reason so I don't exactly regard them as faults or negative points about the movie.  After all, it is meant to be entertaining—which it is.  However, one thing that I thought was rather inappropriate were the antics of the pilot.  I mean, I wondered whether people would actually find it unbelievable that a qualified pilot (on a B744 nonetheless) would be that klutzy, that irreverent, and react in such a flustered manner when put on the hot seat, but I'm surprised that ANA allowed their pilots to be portrayed in that way.  I had expected hilarious situations to occur to a hapless crew while still maintaining the poise and decorum of the profession.  After all, it is true that in emergencies, pilots are expected to be the calmest and coolest minds on board.

    On the whole, the movie is rather entertaining and enjoyable.  I know I will probably sound biased (because I am) but I will still rate this movie one of the best that I've seen this year.  If you base it on how many movies this year I have voluntarily paid to watch more than once, then it would be the best movie of the year, haha!  Needless to say, I will probably get the DVD when it comes out.

    I think it's rather cute that Japanese pilots still fly with pristine white gloves

    Friends who have watched Happy Flight have commented on how accurate some of the procedures portrayed in the movie seem, especially with regard to jargon, and that the movie gives the impression that they appear to be very faithful to what happens in reality.  So they have asked me to watch it and provide a breakdown of what is true and what is not.  Of course I was more than happy to do that, being ever eager to dispel myths and increase awareness about what actually happens in my most misunderstood profession!  I must stress again that what is not true should not be regarded as mistakes, but more along the lines of dramatisation for the purposes of making the movie more entertaining and engaging.  Also, some of the points that I have marked as not true may in fact be due to differing procedures by ANA which I am obviously not familiar with.  If anyone is familiar with ANA procedures, comments are more than welcome!  In addition, since I do not have any experience on the B747-400 aircraft, if anyone knows this aircraft well, please feel free to correct me!

    [Info crosschecked with the following B747-400 documents that were in effect today: Flight Crew Operations Manual Vols 1 & 2, Flight Crew Training Manual, Flight Planning & Performance Manual, Quick Reference Handbook, Minimum Equipment List.  Most links are to photographs or Wikipedia articles to provide additional elaboration.]

    What's TrueCollapse )

    What's NotCollapse )

    JA8096, the B747-400 used in the movie

    Yup that's it!  If anyone is curious about anything they have seen or which I've said that they require further explanation, I'd be glad to elaborate!  Anyway a lot of this is written from memory so I will certainly be editing this entry should I obtain the DVD one day and realise that I've remembered wrongly!

    Happy landings!

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 20 "

    Thursday, December 24th, 2009
    2:08 am » The J-thing goes to Hong Kong!
    It took the J-thing 31 years to finally visit Hong Kong, but he is back from a wonderful trip.  Good things and not-so-good things happened on this trip, but overall the J-thing has no regrets about choosing HK as the first destination of his free ticket.

    But in any case, it will be some time before the J-thing blogs about his HK adventure (those of you who know why will know why lah), so keep a lookout for it later!

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 6 "

    Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
    11:55 pm » Gambling with our sons' lives
    I read this in the news today:

    Dec 16, 2009
    Cheating in SAF contest
    Two SAF officers and a specialist convicted; unit was disqualified
    By Jermyn Chow

    THREE Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regulars have been convicted in a military court for doctoring their unit's test scores for this year's annual best unit competition.

    The two officers and a specialist from the 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery (24 SA) falsified soldiers' results for the standard obstacle course, which requires troops to clear a series of 11 obstacles like a low wall and parallel bars in under 10 minutes.

    As a result, the unit was disqualified from the annual competition and the trio - former commanding officer, Major Thomas Wee Swee Tat; operations officer, Major Sim Siang Ju; and specialist, First-Sergeant Lau Soon Teck - were convicted and fined by the General Court Martial on Nov 25.
    I spent 6 years in active service with the armed forces, and I am not surprised at this piece of news at all.  In the course of those 6 years, I have worked with the Army closely on various opportunities, mostly when I was at SAF Careers Centre.  The 2 years at SAFCC really left me with a bad taste in my mouth on how underhanded the Army can get, how to them manpower is merely a resource, and what is it that they really value or care about.

    However, the event which left the most distinct and indelible impression on me of all my dealings with the Army occurred before that and what brought it to mind was reading this article, because suddenly I realise that there could perhaps be another dimension to it.  I have written about it before in a comment, but I feel this story deserves a top-level entry.

    When I was Manpower Officer of an Air Force unit, one of the duties I had to perform was to appoint an officer to sit on the Court Martial Panel whenever a serviceman from my brigade was being court-martialled.  Nobody wanted to do this thankless task so on every occasion I was the one who went since, being a CPT, I could sit as both the junior or senior member.  During these panels you see cases from all services of the SAF and it was on these occasions that I saw the bottom end of the spectrum, how the system can be so stupidly inflexible that it drives NSF boys to desperation, to do silly things like go AWOL for trivial reasons, just because their commanders did not care enough about them.  But the worst injustice of all was the one which I felt compelled to fight.

    This was the case of an NSF from an Army unit charged with losing a live round of ammunition during patrol on Jurong Island.  Now most courts martial are open-and-shut cases: the accused pleads guilty, and the panel is tasked simply by listening to the statement of facts and any mitigating statements, and then deciding on the appropriate penalty using a pre-determined matrix table as a guideline.  So in this case, the NSF boy intended to plead guilty and would be sentenced to detention for a few months.  But upon hearing the statement of facts, I started to doubt that he was actually guilty as charged:
    • The serviceman was part of a platoon assigned to patrol the island.
    • At the start of his duty, he was issued a SAR-21 rifle and a magazine of 30 live rounds.
    • Now one feature of the SAR-21 is that the magazine is translucent, with markings on the side to indicate how many rounds were loaded in the magazine.
    • However, instead of being issued 30 rounds, the NSF was issued a magazine preloaded by the armourer.
    • He was also ordered by the armourer not to physically count the rounds in the magazine one-by-one because there was no need to; he could just look at the 30-round marking.
    • As per SOP, he put the magazine open-end down in his magazine pouch so that any rounds which accidentally drop out would fall into the pouch and not be lost.
    • Throughout the course of his duty, he never fell asleep, and only took his battle webbing off twice, and he was right next to it on both occasions.
    • When he returned the magazine, they found that there were only 29 rounds in it.
    • They searched every inch of the island he was patrolling, along with all vehicles and personnel leaving the island, but could not find the missing round.
    Upon hearing this, I started to ask the Defending Officer a few questions; what I uncovered made me even more unsettled.  It turns out that the round marking on the magazine works by means of spring-action: the spring that holds the rounds in the magazine determines where along the marking the last round lies.  If there are 30 rounds in the magazine, the last round would fall squarely on the 30-round mark; if there are only 29 rounds, the edge of the last round would still touch the 30-round mark.  Before being allowed to handle any weapon, every serviceman is expected to pass a technical handling course—it turned out that the NSF had never been trained on this technical handling.  So it is not inconceivable that the magazine was loaded with only 29 rounds, and since the NSF was told not to count it, he obeyed orders, saw the edge of the last round touch the 30-round mark, and signed out for 30 rounds.  What makes things worse was that due to differing spring quality, sometimes you could load a magazine with 29 or 31 rounds and the last would still fall squarely on the 30-round mark—in fact, the Defending Officer himself said he had almost made the same mistake before because of that exact reason.

    Now you don't need any form of legal training to realise that the case has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.  So upon conferring with the president of the court martial panel (a trained district judge), I recommended that the case be thrown out.  The president agreed and told the Defending Officer (a 2LT from the NSF's unit who was probably arrowed to just write a mitigating statement) to investigate more thoroughly and to prepare a defence for him.  When the next trial date approached, I called up the Defending Officer and realised that he had done absolutely nothing at all—because the unit CO and Manpower Officer instructed him to "just get it over with quickly".  They didn't seem interested at all to uncover what really happened, but would rather send him packing off to DB for a few months just to close the case without much fuss.  I was horrified.  This was a few months of a man's life we're talking about here, and they didn't seem like it mattered a lot to them.  I told the 2LT that as an officer, it was his job to stand up for and defend his own man from his own unit.  You can't be expecting an Air Force officer from another unit to be doing that, I told him.

    I didn't want to see a miscarriage of justice, so I called up the Court Martial Centre and requested to specifically sit in the panel on the day the case would be mentioned again.  On that day, the NSF wanted to plead guilty because he "didn't want to drag the issue", also I suspect because he was afraid that by fighting for his innocence, he would incur greater wrath from his superiors.  The Defending Officer (as expected) did nothing.  Unfortunately the term of the judge at the previous mention had elapsed and it was a new judge who was presiding.  I told the new president about the facts of the previous case, but apparently, military legal procedure states that if the accused insists on pleading guilty, even if we suspect a miscarriage of justice, nothing can be done.  We were compelled to record a guilty verdict and we sentenced him to the barest minimum allowed.  Nevertheless, a man went to the Detention Barracks for 3 months because of an offence he most likely did not commit.

    This is just one of the incredible things that you will never find in the Navy or Air Force.  I'm sure many other ex-regulars will have their own equally disturbing stories to tell.  The unit in question was an armour battalion.  This incident was seared in my collective memory from that day forth and after many other encounters with people from Armour, of all the branches of the Army, I despise Armour the most.

    After reading the news today, I just realised that the evaluation criteria for the Best Unit Competition most likely also includes the number of disciplinary cases, including the number of courts martial the unit is involved in.  By throwing the first case out I had made 1 case appear at 2 sittings—if I had thrown it out again, that would probably have been 3.  The CO probably told his 2LT to "get it over with quickly" to provide minimum fuss and to contain the damage to the unit's chances at winning the best unit competition.

    It is amazing enough that senior Army officers will think nothing of falsifying records in order to win a competition, but it is certainly very distasteful that they gamble with people's lives in order to do the same.  It really makes you wonder what is more important on their list of priorities.

    For more info on the General Court Martial system in the SAF, you can read this article.
    You will notice the line: "The SAF has about 200 trained defending officers."  I don't know if the system has changed in the past 3 years, but if it hasn't, these "200 trained defending officers" are merely those who have gone through the basic manpower officers course, where you get a package on the roles of a defending officer and a rough guide on what is expected of you.  Don't expect top-notch legally-trained officers skilled in rebuttal.  Nevertheless, even this little bit of "training" is better than having an NSF officer of your unit just arrowed to do the job—like the hapless 2LT in this case.

    [ X-posted to sg_ljers ]

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 15 "

    Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
    2:39 am » Mulan
    I have wanted to watch Mulan since I heard that Jingle Ma (I can never get over his name) was filming a real life adaptation.  Finally there would be a film that would do this tale justice, without talking dragons, crickets and horses (thanks to Disney).  Of all the Chinese fables and tales, I have always liked the story of Hua Mulan.  Moreover, the fact that Vicki Zhao Wei was cast as Mulan made it all the more appetising.

    Before watching the film, I was warned by several reviews not to expect too much from the battle scenes, and that it is primarily a love story set on the battlefield.  Also, Yun Huei warned me that it was going to be very emo, even too emo.  Nevertheless, I decided to give it a shot.

    In the end, I felt that it didn't disappoint on both counts.  The battle scenes were filmed quite well. Of course they don't match up if you compare them to Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven, but it was adequate to the film.  The gem of the movie is really the acting.  Both Zhao Wei and Chen Kun display very believable chemistry and perform their roles to a very high standard.  Even the acting from Jaycee Chan and previous unknown Liu Yuxin were good.  The film also had a couple of scenes which if, taken as a snapshot, I liked quite a bit.  One example of this is the scene where Mulan regains control of her senses and restarts training of the army.  I quite liked the shot where as she walks up to the platform, they show for a moment the fact that she is wearing not just her own but also Wentai's dog tags on her belt.

    Perhaps the biggest complaint I have about the film is the jerkiness of the plot advancement in the beginning.  It was as though Jingle Ma rushed through the starting just to establish the frame of reference for the events after Mulan becomes a general.  One moment she enlists in the camp, the next moment she's in training, then the hot spring scene, then she gets arrested, then suddenly she breaks out and rejoins the army in battle.  It's like everything flashes forward in scenes of two minutes or so each.  After a while it gets very disjointing.  Also, in terms of the plot, the believability of the conclusion is really sketchy.  They don't explain what this 'poison dragon' is (I gather that it's a sandstorm of sorts, but why the funky name?)  Also, the part about Mulan breaking into the Rouren camp incognito and then killing their Danyu is a little too far-fetched; and after that, how did they break out?

    Also, the comment about it being too emo was rather justified.  There is a lot of crying in this film, and although at times the emo-ness seemed necessary to the plot, I wish it didn't have to end on such an emo note.  It almost leaves you with the thought that in spite of all her achievements, in the end Mulan ends up back to being just a normal girl who loses the man she loves.  Also, in the middle of the film, I felt that they could have cut down on the emo bits where Mulan thinks Wentai has died and spent that time on more character development in the parts that they fast forwarded through.

    Oh yes, and I totally didn't understand the need for that Vitas Russian fellow in the cast at all!!  Like, his character was so insignificant and could easily have been replaced with a Chinese actor.  The only contribution I felt he provided was comic relief at his ang moh-accented Mandarin.

    I think Zhao Wei especially was very well cast and believable as Mulan, even if it's quite surprising that nobody guessed she was a girl (I mean, since when have you seen someone look so hot in battle armour, and even if she's not smiling?)  In fact, she looks better in the armour than in those scenes when she's dressed as a woman!  I particularly thought she looked really good in the scenes where she was riding into battle on her horse, in full armour and a stern, determined expression.  In spite of that, Zhao Wei is not too fragile that she can't pull off the character properly.  I read that the original choice for Mulan was Stefanie Sun and I'm so glad that Zhao Wei got it in the end.  Honestly, I think Stefanie Sun looks too delicate to pull off the character of a legendary female warrior, and while Zhao Wei's hoarse voice was already barely believable as a man, I don't think Stefanie's voice would suit a woman masquerading as a man at all.  In fact, the voice is very important to the character portrayal.  As the film makers state: "Zhao Wei’s voice sounds full of power, it’s in accordance with the character who is a girl poses as a boy.  Because Mulan has fought in battlefields for many years, and she always dressed like a man, her voice can’t be so gentle, it's necessary to sound baryphonious."

    One theme I liked very much in the story of Mulan is that of female empowerment; in the scene where Mulan convinces the Rouren princess to help kill the bad guy, where she revealed to the princess that the Mulan who was responsible for so many brave deeds and who was so feared by the Rouren army was actually a woman.  In the beginning of the film it started off on the premise that women were useful only for domestic tasks, even something shameful or disgraceful to be hidden away and not to be seen, and it ends with Mulan being recognised as a woman that the entire nation can be proud of.

    I also empathised with Mulan when she realised that there is nothing glorious about war on the battlefield, and that she never intended to have to shoulder the responsibility of being a great general, when all she intended to do was to save her father from having to go to war.  It's another example of Zhao Wei's great acting skills.

    All in all, one of the better films that I have watched this year.

    Next Chinese movie: The Treasure Hunter.  With Lin Chi Ling, mmmmm....

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 5 "

    Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
    12:02 am » The Storm Warriors
    "The fastest way to build up your powers is to use the power of evil."
    Now, hands up who didn't see from the start that that is going to be a really bad idea.... -_-

    10 years ago, I watched a Chinese movie that set a certain standard for Chinese movies for me for some time.  This was of course, the Storm Riders.  The CGI was out of this world, the plot was tight and interesting, and the cinematography, well, okay lah.  Of course, it also starred Shu Qi and Kristy Yang, so those were 2 more plus points.  Even the soundtrack was really good for a Chinese movie!  (We actually used some of the tracks for our Eusoff Hall Dance Production in 2002.)

    Fast forward 11 years, and I found myself at GV Vivo courtesy of angeliatay, waiting to watch how Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng have changed over the past decade.  Before we could enter the cinema hall though, they made all of us deposit our handphones, cameras, PDAs, or any other recording devices.  I was like... WTF.  Surely they could have told us about this earlier?  I would have left my phone in my car lor!

    Review – contains spoilersCollapse )

    (Clockwise from top left) Charlene Choi (yum!), Simon Yam, Tiffany Tang, Nicholas Tse

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 2 "

    Sunday, November 29th, 2009
    9:17 pm » Gubra
    Following how much I loved Sepet the night before, I decided to come for the screening of Gubra, which I had not intended before watching Sepet, but the latter left me inextricably hooked.  Now I want to get the DVDs of the Orked Trilogy, and I was recommended Talentime as well.

    Like Sepet did, the moment the film started, it started to tell its message.  I'm referring of course to the scene where the caller of the azaan walks to the mosque in the pre-dawn darkness, and along the way, speaks kindly to a stray dog, even patting its head.  The message is simple: before you start criticising others or making demands because of your religion, make sure you know your religion well enough first.  Remember the hooha a few years back when this Malay woman wrote to the ST Forum to demand that dogs be banned from taxis, and similar letters appeared calling for bans of dogs from places like McDonald's and the like?  A lot of Muslims believed wholeheartedly that they were not allowed to touch dogs, whereas the correct teaching is merely that if it so happens that a dog's saliva touches you, you need to wash wherever was touched by it.  As the scene was acted out, I noticed very carefully what the muezzin did: he patted the dog on the head, stroked it a bit on the back, but he never touched anywhere near the dog's nose.  After the dog moved off, the muezzin continued walking on to the mosque, as though nothing had happened.

    Other little semi-hidden references included the scene where Alan and Orked are in the pick-up, and she said one thing she loved about Malaysia was the fact that you could switch on the radio, and have a multitude of languages readily available.  Then one of them said something about how they could never imagine living in a place where everybody could only speak the same language.  I saw this as a tongue-in-cheek indictment of Singapore, of how Singaporeans seem to be losing their ability to speak any dialect other than Mandarin, and in doing so, lose a lot of their colour, culture and heritage in the process.  If you notice, the dominant Chinese dialect used in Sepet and Gubra is Cantonese.  Yet when Alan switched on the radio, it played a Mandarin channel.

    Unfortunately, the use of mood music in Gubra, although good, was not as breathtaking as the Song To The Moon in Sepet (the music used here being the Adagio un poco mosso from Beethoven's Emperor Concerto).

    One scene I particularly liked was when Orked discovered what her husband was really up to, and as she went to confront the other woman, Alan and Arif both looked at her walking off.  I really liked the juxtaposition of the current husband who betrayed her and the brother of the former boyfriend, her only link to the man who loved her more than himself, and who broke her heart because he was taken from her even though he promised he would never leave.

    A scene which made me, and the whole audience in particular, laugh out loud was when Alan was explaining that he was divorced from his Singaporean wife and musing that she never thought he was good enough for her, ending off with "serves me right for marrying a Singaporean".  I don't know what the rest of the crowd were laughing at, but I was laughing not because I felt that it was funny how he felt that, yes, he would never be good enough for a Singaporean girl, but because it's a reflection of how many Singaporean women these days tend to aim so high and think so highly of themselves that most men would never be good enough.

    A particularly poignant scene I felt was the ending, which juxtaposed Kiah and Mas at prayers together contrapuntally with scenes of Alan and his daughter at prayers in a church.  This helped to hammer home Yasmin's pet message in case you have not been thinking too much during the film: that despite our differences in practices, in faiths, in customs, beneath it all, we are all the same.  During that scene, Kiah was seen breaking into tears and being comforted by Mas.  Was it because of what happened in her room?  Or was it because Temah had died?  It was never really explained.

    Speaking of unexplained loose ends, Yasmin never really explained why is it that the post-credit scene showed Orked snuggling up to Jason and both were wearing wedding rings; this brought comparisons with the end of Sepet, where Orked is seen finally telling Jason she loved him even though he lay dead on the ground with his phone ringing.  I thought quite hard about it and came up with a couple of plausible explanations of what Yasmin was trying to say.

    One of the comments I received about this not just open-ended but even wide-open puzzle ending was that Yasmin couldn't make up her mind about what ending she wanted and so she gave this ambiguous ending.  But if you think a bit more about the ending moments of the film, you'll notice that Yasmin knew perfectly well what she wanted to say.  Take the scene where Kiah surprises Mas at her home, what was that thing that Kiah had to do back home?  What was she saving the money for?  And later, what happened between Temah's former boyfriend and Kiah behind the closed door?  Why did Yasmin time this event to occur at the same time as the morning azaan, which calls out "God is the greatest"?

    All these things are not something that Yasmin couldn't make up her mind on what she wanted: she deliberately inserted these couple of minutes into the film and if they had been removed, it would not have affected the flow of the film.  In fact, inserting these two scenes created more questions than closure, and that is exactly what Yasmin sought to do: to throw us open questions to which we have to figure out her answers on our own.

    Yasmin has always sought to compel her audiences to think for themselves, instead of blindly accepting what has been spoon-fed to them.  This is a common trait in her films, so in the same vein, it is only natural that she will make you think for yourself to decode and discern her message.  And it is always in the smallest details, or even removed entirely from the process of image and sound.  If you don't think about what you didn't see or didn't hear, you will never get it.

    A good example of this is the short film that she did for 15Malaysia.  It may only be 2 minutes long, but the wealth and intensity of the scene fills much more than that.  Nevertheless, comments from some people were that it was "boring" and "no action".  They just didn't bother to see beyond the image and listen to that message that the pregnant moment of silence was saying:

    If you can see only what light reveals
    and hear only what sound announces,
    Then in truth you do not see nor do you

    The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you,
    but in what he cannot reveal to you.
    Therefore, if you would understand him,
    listen not to what he says but rather to what he does not say.

    – Kahlil Gibran –
    Sand and Foam

    § Quod vide:
    Straits Times review of Gubra, from Yasmin's blog

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    Saturday, November 28th, 2009
    3:38 am » Sepet
    It was really through a stroke of pure luck, that as I was about to leave Suntec, I checked my Twitterfeed and saw that auntyadele had tweeted that she was on her way to watch Yasmin Ahmad's Sepet!  I did a double-take, because of all my favourite films, this is the only one which I have never watched and have always wanted to.  Yes, I know it sounds strange to have a favourite film that I've never seen, but from the trailers, the reviews, and the synopsis of the film—coupled with the fact that it was from Yasmin Ahmad—told me that I would love it.

    I have been trying to watch Sepet many times since I first heard about it just after it ended its short run in the mainstream cinemas back in 2004.  I have been searching for the DVD, even in the DVD shops along KL's Jalan Alor, I have searched online, but the closest I came to watching it was one late night in my hotel room in KL, when I switched on the TV only to see the ending of a film I quickly recognised as Sepet.

    Anyway, I quickly saw the time of the tweet and it was only 8 minutes before I saw it, so after finding out where it was screening, I made my way down asap!  I still couldn't believe how fateful it was that I decided to check my Twitterfeed when I did.  Just 15 minutes later and I would not have been able to make it down.  Maybe it was appropriate that one of the themes of the film was on fate and destiny!

    Even though I had high expectations for the film, it didn't disappoint.  Right from the start, when the opening credits featured Sam Hui's 梨涡浅笑, which was a lovely and nostalgic Cantonese song, I was watching intently.  I loved how Yasmin brilliantly interwove the various languages: English, Cantonese, and Malay.  There was even a smattering of Mandarin and Hokkien.  I loved the fact that Cantonese featured so prominently in the film; needless to say, I'm pretty sick of the inherent Hokkien bias of local Singaporean cinema.

    My favourite scene was quite early in the film: the scene where Orked and Jason first meet, at a quite random, chance moment.  One thing I find about Yasmin's films is that if you only see what the eyes see and hear what the ears hear, you're missing a lot.  She has this way of infusing so much underlying meaning and undertones in a scene that you have to process and decipher in situ to be able to understand.  As it is, I know there is some significance to the father's narrative that starts the film, but I'm still trying to figure it out.

    Anyway, back to the meeting scene, I really loved how the couple first look at each other, and then the ambient sound starts to slowly wash away, like how it is when you're in love and you become oblivious to the rest of the world... until someone brings you back with a snap.  Yasmin managed to take a clichéd scene, apply a cliché, and yet make you really feel as though it was the only right and natural thing to happen.  And yet, at that moment, when a young Chinese boy and young Malay girl meet each other's eyes and fall in love, you start to feel the bittersweetness of the moment, for that would bring them both down a path which would lead to a lot of pain and sadness that you start to wonder if it would have been better for each of them if they had never met at all.

    One disappointment I felt in the film was that it seemed all too easy for Jason and Orked to fall in love.  Being a Chinese boy and a Malay girl, I was expecting and hoping to see a bit more drama on the social pressures/obstacles standing between them, especially from both their families.  But it seemed just so easy that it appeared more like an oddity or novelty rather than a taboo that's frowned upon.

    I like how Yasmin fitted in social commentaries in small, innocuous places, like the scene where Jason's family is having dinner, and I noticed that while the Peranakan mother spoke Malay and the father and the brother spoke Cantonese, the sister-in-law spoke Mandarin.  Moments later, it was revealed: the sister-in-law was from Singapore.  It was a simple, yet effective reflection of the reality that Singaporeans are dialect-impeded due to the Speak Mandarin Campaign.

    When Orked and Jason met for their first date, I was quite intrigued to note that she interspersed her speech with Cantonese terms.  It is really quite interesting to hear a Malay girl utter familiar Cantonese phrases like 'ho doke' [好毒], and she delivered her lines very well.  I felt that Sharifah Amani and Ng Choo Seong really had a lot of chemistry in the film, such that you could really believe that they were blissfully in young, unjaded love.

    From the initial warm, fuzzy feeling that the budding romance gave, it started to turn dark at the point where Yasmin used the Song To The Moon from Dvořák's Rusalka as accompanying music, which I felt was chosen very well.  If you are familiar with this work, you will know that it is a very lyrical, emotive, and yet hauntingly bittersweet tune.  I pay careful attention to mood music, and like what Wong Kar-wai said, during this scene, the music was indeed the front and the image the background.  Perhaps it was a silent tribute to wkw's style that Orked first meets Jason when she turns up at his stall looking for VCDs and the VCD that Jason gives to her with his number inside is wkw's Chungking Express.

    Sepet really tugged at my heartstrings during the final part of the film, especially that scene in the car when Orked read Jason's letter where he pleaded with her, telling her that he didn't know for sure whether she loved him because he never heard her say it.  I was like... "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.........!!!!!!!"  A film has not made me feel that way in quite some time.

    Malaysian cinema, if not the world, has lost a great talent with the passing of Yasmin Ahmad.  They are screening Gubra, the sequel, tomorrow, and although I initially wasn't that interested, I think I'll be going down tomorrow too.

    Scenes from SepetCollapse )

    If you have never seen or even heard of this film, do check out the trailer:

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    Friday, November 27th, 2009
    1:33 am » The one thing about this country I can never agree with
    People may say a lot about how chao kuan this country is.  While we can all differ about the veracity of that statement, one thing to me is so chao kuan that I can never possibly agree with it.

    Amnesty International frequently issues urgent action appeals for condemned prisoners at imminent risk of execution.  While these mostly refer to prisoners in countries like the US, China, Japan, or Iran, this time I saw that the country in question was Singapore.
    Yong Vui Kong was arrested in June 2007, when he was 19, by officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau.  He was charged with trafficking 42.27 grams of heroin, and then sentenced to death in January 2009.

    He had been working as a messenger for a man in Malaysia who often asked him to collect money from debtors or deliver packages as "gifts" to people in Singapore and Malaysia.  At his trial, Yong Vui Kong said he had not known what was in the packages, and when he asked, he had simply been told not to open them.  The judge, however, ruled that Yong must have been aware of their contents, saying in his written summation, "I found that the accused had failed to rebut the presumption against him.  I am of the view that the prosecution had proved its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt, and I therefore found the accused guilty as charged and sentenced him to suffer death."
    Did you notice the use of the term 'presumption'?  That is because Singapore law states that when it comes to drugs, you are guilty until proven innocent.  The burden is on you to prove that you did not know that there were drugs in the package you were carrying or in the vehicle you were driving.  All the prosecution needs to do (if anything at all) is to show that you should have known that there were drugs in the sealed package or hidden under your car.

    Regardless of whether Yong was indeed trying to traffick drugs or not, even if he really was guilty, what is more serious than the death penalty itself is this presumption.  If you remember a couple of years ago, there was a young Nigerian named Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, who was also hanged because he "should have known"—even though the judge noted that there was no direct evidence that he did know or that he had found out on his own.  Indeed, his actions were consistent with someone who didn't know what he was carrying.  I have no idea whether anyone at all has ever managed to prove that he did not know and should not have known that there were drugs on him or in his vehicle, but certainly I have never heard of any case where the accused succeeded.  Furthermore, there is also another presumption which states that unless you prove otherwise, they can presume that you are carrying it for trafficking, not consumption, which can lead to a mandatory death sentence with no alternative and is almost an absolute certainty.1

    Those are two pretty amoral presumptions to make, aren't they?

    1 After the single appeal is rejected, the final recourse is to appeal to the President for clemency based on the mitigating circumstances of the case.  Since 1965, the President has granted clemency only six times; the last clemency was in May 1998 from President Ong Teng Cheong for an 18-year-old convicted of murder, with the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.  Between 1994–1999, Singapore had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world, estimated to be 13.57 executions per one million population.

    [ X-posted to sg_ljers ]

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    " Squawk 0912, you are Number 12 "

    Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
    11:47 pm » Our Army: Another Proud Cluster Bomb User

    Nov 18, 2009
    SAF tests new artillery
    Troops get more reach, firepower; delivery of weapons begin next year
    By Jermyn Chow

    FORT SILL (OKLAHOMA) - A NEW rocket artillery weapon system acquired by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to give its ground troops greater reach and firepower went into action on Tuesday.

    Read more...Collapse )

    Mounted on a truck are six rockets, with each warhead packing 644 armour-piercing bomblets. Firing a salvo of all six rockets would rain about 3,800 bomblets over targets 70km away.

    Guided by a Global Positioning System, the rockets are more accurate and powerful than the current big guns in the SAF - the 155mm artillery guns and 120mm mortars.
    The Army and our mainstream media are trying to hype up this latest 'achievement' of theirs, but when I read this article, I didn't see it the same way.  Rather than something to be proud of, I felt this was very disappointing and something to be ashamed of.

    In recent times, the campaign against landmines and cluster munitions has garnered the same level of publicity as the campaign against global warming or sharks' fins.  I don't think I need to go into the specifics of why, but to date, 101 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions obliging them never to use cluster munitions.  Singapore, unsurprisingly, is not a signatory to this convention.

    I don't see why we need to procure such a weapon.  After all, if as the papers claim its vaunted accuracy of always hitting within 5m of the target, what the hell do we need 644 bomblets for?  Or do they mean that with 644 bomblets, at least one of them is guaranteed to hit within 5m of the target?

    [ X-posted to sg_ljers ]

    § Quod vide:
  • Wikipedia: Cluster Bomb
  • Wikipedia: Convention on Cluster Munitions

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    Thursday, November 12th, 2009
    4:04 am » Glen Goei's The Blue Mansion
    I caught The Blue Mansion earlier this week and I really liked it a lot, though I must say that you really need a lot of patience to watch this film.  It builds up rather slowly but when the ending comes, it comes with a punch.

    I particularly liked Louisa Chong's portrayal of the elderly matriarch who is left to take over running the household, how she tried to maintain her dignified composure and poise even in the face of family politics and external gossip.  I thought the acting by Tan Kheng Hua was particularly good as well, and fwah nobody told me she had such a MILF-like figure (which Glen Goei showed off to good effect, along with, er... Emma Yong's).  My favourite scene though was the one with Sebastian Tan, hahaha!  I also grew to empathise with Neo Swee Lin's character even though I initially did not like her very much due to her fanatical Christian beliefs.  Patrick Teoh acted quite well too, especially in the scenes after Emma Yong appeared [if you watch the film you'll know why].

    Being titled The Blue Mansion, I knew it was a reference to the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, part of the Penang UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I also noticed the abundant use of colour, together with contrast and shadow, in the cinematography.  Indeed, blue is the predominant colour in the film (and since it's my favourite colour I liked it quite a lot!)  Throughout the film, the character Wee Bak Chuan is wearing gold (a reference to his position as the Pineapple King and being reminiscent of the imperial yellow, also a subtle hint at his dictatorial style, perhaps?)  In the scene where he speaks to all his children when he was alive, if you notice carefully, they are all wearing blue.  Emma Yong's character appears throughout the film dressed in a dazzlingly white wedding gown.  I'm not sure but the symbolism I got from that was that it was to emphasise her purity of heart and that what happened to her was a direct result of her marriage, I think.

    All in all, it is a very well-shot film, could have been better written, and acting was good although I don't get the highly contrived accents. Why can't they just speak like real people?  I think it's ending its run soon so catch it when you still can!

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    Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
    1:08 am » The J-thing's Observation of the Day: Love Is
    When you think you love someone, you love him because of all that he does to make you happy.

    But when you really love someone, you ask not what he can do to make you happy; instead, you know you love him because you're thinking of all the things you can do to make him happy.

    Immature love says: "I love you because I need you."
    Mature love says: "I need you because I love you."

    – Erich Fromm –

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    Sunday, November 8th, 2009
    6:00 am » Drunk People Say And Do The Darnedest Things
    So tonight marajaded and I were at Timbré 1 watching The Goodfellas, and somewhere in the middle of their 3rd set, they get this on a request form:
    Hi guys,

    I'm a lawyer and I'm really drunk.
    I love your band, I want to come up on stage and sing with you, goddammit.

    [OK I don't remember what exactly the second sentence said, but it was along those lines, with the "goddammit" at the end.]
    Now this is something you don't get every night!  So the band actually gets him to come up... and we realise that our drunk lawyer isn't a he but a she.  And she's really high.  Firstly, she tells everyone her name (I was waiting for the name of her firm but alas she disappointed).  Then when The Goodfellas start to choose a song, she tells them that she wants to sing Don't Speak, because it's the only No Doubt song she knows.  Bear in mind this is Goodfellas, the band that sings Queen, U2, and Coldplay (they also do Wondergirls and Earth, Wind & Fire, but that is another story....)

    Now, if she could actually sing, that wouldn't be so bad.  But we all know how predictably drunk people sing.  I was quipping to marajaded that if you have real friends, they wouldn't allow you to do that kind of public harm to yourself, but apparently, not only did her 'friends' let her do it, while we were cringing, they apparently tried to disassociate themselves and pretend that they weren't with her.

    (You'll get how jialat it is when you see the video but it's quite mean to post it up so unless you guys really want to see it, I won't lah.)

    Anyhow, I'm so glad that whoever was at my birthday party were friend enough to not allow/prompt me to do something as horrifyingly embarrassing as that!

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