Monday, October 31, 2005

Comic Relief

The following blog entry of Singapore's notarious blogger resulted in her loss of income from (at least) two sponsors (ST, 30th Oct 2005):

"Woah, woah! HOLD ON DUDE. You mean only handicapped people can use handicapped toilets?

Didi was smiling away and telling his story as if it is very funny (which it is lar, if your point is to laugh at that suay man), but I was really quite pissed off because this is the second time I heard a story about handicapped people scolding others for using their toilets.

Another one was my friend who was using a cineleisure handicapped toilet... When he walked out, he was severely lectured by a man who was wheel-chair bound, the latter chiding him for making him (latter) wait.
I don't know if it is the same grumpy, crazy person who did these two scoldings, but if it is not, then it seems a little too much of a coincidence.

When I expressed that this siao-eh (as an individual) was ridiculously unreasonable, my brother said, "No, the man shouldn't have used the handicapped toilet what, it says on the door that it is for the handicapped."
How come people have this notion that only the disabled can use facilities for the disabled?"

The blogosphere was livid in acrimonious negative reaction, but the best response came in what must be a stroke of genius in toilet humor:

XX came home from school one day and said to her mom, 'I can count faster then all the kids in my primary six class, do you think it is because I am smart?'
Her mother replied, 'Of course it is, dear.'

The next day, XX said, 'I can say the alphabet faster then anyone in my class, do you think it is because I am smart?
Her mother replied, 'Of course it is, dear.'

The next day XX came home from her gymnastics and asked her mother, ''I have a larger chest then all the kids in my class, do you think its because I am smart?'
Her mother replied, 'No dear, I think it is because you are eighteen years old.'

XX was headed to KL. She got on the plane and sat down in business class.
A few minutes later, a flight attendent came up to her and told her that her ticket was for economy and she had to move from the seat. She refused. The flight attendent was persistant, but XX replied, "No, I want to sit here, I've always wanted to see what it is like in business class."

The flight attendent was getting frustrated. Finally, after quite some time, she convinced her to move. Another passenger who overheard the conversation asked the attendent, "How did you get her to move?"

The flight attendent replied, "I told her that business class doesn't stop in KL."

XX was swerving all over the road and driving very badly, so she got pulled over by a police.
The police walked up to her window and asked, "Miss, why are you driving so recklessly?"
XX said, "I'm sorry sir, but wherever I go, there's always a tree in front of me and I can't seem to get away from it!"
The police looked at her and said, "Miss, that's your air freshener!"

Q: Why can't XX dial 911?
A: She can't find the eleven.

Q: How do you drown XX?
A: Put a scratch-n-sniff sticker at the bottom of a toilet bowl.

Q: Why did XX climb up to the roof of the bar?
A: She heard that the drinks were on the house.

Q: How do you confuse XX?
A: You don't have to. She is born that way.

Q: What does XX and a beer bottle have in common?
A: They're both empty from the neck up.

Q: To XX, what is long and hard?
A: Primary Six.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Hangman Cometh

25 yr old Nguyen Tuong VanA 25-year-old Australian drug trafficker will be hanged after the Singaporean Government rejected pleas for clemency.

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, unsuccessfully made representations for the death penalty, imposed after Nguyen Tuong Van was found guilty of carrying nearly 400 grams of heroin, to be lifted on compassionate grounds.

Nguyen, a salesman and former boy scout who lived in Melbourne, was arrested while in transit at Singapore's Changi Airport. He said later that he was carrying the heroin to help pay debts of his drug-addicted twin brother.

"He will be hanged as a result of this decision," the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said yesterday. "There is no further appeal."

Hopes were raised that Nguyen would be spared after he co-operated with police. Australian Federal Police interviewed Nguyen in jail and he reportedly gave them detailed information about the Sydney drugs syndicate involved. Singapore's constitution allows for a Presidential pardon if an accused furnishes information that leads to the arrest of key figures.

Amnesty International believes more than 400 people have been executed in Singapore between 1991 and 2003. That’s approximately 30 a year. Singapore's Think Centre said that in the past five years 101 Singaporeans and 37 foreigners had been executed - 110 for drug-related offences and 28 for murder and arms-related offences.

18 hanged in 1 dayExecutioner Mr Darshan Singh will lead Nguyen Tuong Van to the gallows, and utter the last words that the Australian drug trafficker will hear: "I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you."

In a matter of weeks, he will place a rope around the 25-year-old's neck and say those words he has spoken to more than 850 condemned prisoners during his 46 years as Singapore's chief executioner.

Mr Singh has officially retired from the prison service but is called on to carry out executions, for which he receives a fee of $400. Until now, his indentity has been a closely guarded secret in Singapore.

Officials rarely comment on capital punishment, which is carried out without publicity behind the walls of Changi prison.

But The Australian revealed that the 73-year-old grandfather, who lives in a modest, government-owned apartment near the border with Malaysia, has been asked to execute Nguyen unless the Singapore Government gives an unprecedented last-minute reprieve.

Mr Singh told The Australian that under the Official Secrets Act he was forbidden from speaking about his work.

A colleague and close friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Australian that Mr Singh wanted to give up his hangman's responsibilities and live quietly in retirement but the authorities were having trouble finding anyone to replace him.

"He tried to train two would-be hangmen to replace him, a Malaysian and a Chinese, both in the prison service," the colleague said. "But when it came to pulling the lever for the real thing, they both froze and could not do it.

"The Chinese guy, a prison officer, became so distraught he walked out immediately and resigned from the prison service altogether."

Nguyen will meet Mr Singh a few days before he is executed and will be asked if he would like to donate his organs.

On the day before his execution, Mr Singh will lead him to a set of scales close to his death-row cell to weigh him.

Mr Singh will use the Official Table of Drops, published by the British Home Office in 1913, to calculate the correct length of rope for the hanging.

On the day of Nguyen's execution, Mr Singh will be picked up by a government vehicle and driven to the prison, arriving at 2 a.m. to prepare the gallows.

Shortly before 6 a.m., he will handcuff Nguyen's hands behind his back and lead him on his final short walk to the gallows, just a few metres from the cell.

Mr Singh joined the British colonial prison service in the mid-1950s after arriving from Malaysia. When the long-established British hangman Mr Seymour retired, Mr Singh, then 27, volunteered for the job. He was attracted by the bonus payment for executions.

Mr Singh is credited with the dubious record of being the only executioner in the world to single-handedly hang 18 men in one day - three at a time.

They had been convicted of murdering four prison officers during a riot on the penal island of Pulau Senang in 1963.

He also hanged seven condemned men within 90 minutes a few years later. They had been convicted in what became known as the "gold bars murders", in which a merchant and two employees were killed during a robbery.

One of the most controversial executions in his career was the 1991 hanging of a young Filipina maid, Flor Contemplacion, who was convicted of the murder of a co-worker, Delia Maga, and her four-year-old charge, on what many claimed was shaky evidence. Diplomatic relations between Singapore and the Philippines were soured for many years as a result.

He carries out the executions wearing simple casual clothes, often just a T-shirt, shorts, sports shoes and knee-length socks.

To mark his 500th hanging four years ago, four of his former colleagues turned up at his home to celebrate the event with a couple of bottles of Chivas Regal.

Mr Singh boasts that he has never botched an execution.

"Mr Seymour taught him just how long the drop should be according to weight and height and exactly where the knot should be placed at the back of the neck," his colleague said.

"Death has always come instantaneously and painlessly. In that split second, at precisely 6 a.m., it's all over."

When his colleague asked him why he had stayed so long in such a gruesome job, he replied: "It's all I know. It has become my bread and butter."

"He also used to cane convicted criminals after training in this cricket field," the colleague said.

"The pay then was 50 cents per stroke. He could wield a cane as well as he could wield a cricket bat."

Mr Singh lives happily with his second wife and is close to their three adult adopted children.

His first wife left him years earlier because she could not accept what he did. He had kept it a secret from her for years.

Mr Singh reportedly spends time getting to know the condemned prisoners, especially those who do not receive visitors or religious support.

"He is a very kindly man and although it's his job to end their lives he does feel for them," his friend said. "Mr Singh tries to comfort them if they are completely alone in the world at such a horrible time."

A disraught mother after the last meeting before the hangingDespite the personal efforts of Australian Premier John Howard, and both Pope John Paul and his successor, Pope Benedict, interceding for Mr Nguyen Tuong Van, the latter's fate was sealed in the following letter sent by post to his mother, Madam Kim Nguyen, who fled Vietnam alone in a boat in 1980 and gave birth to her twin sons in a transit camp in Malaysia, before the three were accepted as refugees into Australia:

18 Nov 05

Ministry of Home Affairs
Changi Prison Complex.

Dear Madam,

1. This is to inform you that the death sentence passed on Nguyen
Tuong Van will be carried out on 2 Dec 2005.

2. We will arrange for additional visits from 29 Nov till 1 Dec 2005.
Approved visitors may register for their visits between 8.30am and 9.30am and between 12.30pm and 1.30pm at the Prison Link Centre, Changi (990 Upper Changi Road North Singapore 506968).

3. You are requested to make the necessary funeral arrangements for him, however if you are unable to do so the state will assist in cremating the body.

Please do not hesitate to contact our officers in charge if you have
any queries.

Yours Faithfully,
Chiam Jia Fong
Institution A1, Cluster 1,
Singapore's Prison Service.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jail Bait

First it began with an itch. Then there was bleeding. And pain. Panic? Fear? Not Amy - she was nonchalant, just as she is about teenage, unprotected sex. Amy (not her real name) is only 17 but already claims to have had sex with more than 10 men.

At the polyclinic, the Government doctor told her she had contracted genital warts, a form of sexually transmitted infection (STI). "He gave me some medication. After that, the swelling went down," said Amy.

At that time, she said she had a steady boyfriend who was four years older than her. He was a friend's friend whom she had met at a chalet gathering. They had been dating for four months and were sexually intimate.

Since then, Amy said she has had sex with other partners. Despite her past experience with an STI, Amy remains nonchalant about the need to practise safe sex. They usually have sex at the boy's place. Amy said that most of them are older and are working. Sometimes, they buy her things, like clothes, bags and handphones. She lives with her parents in a four-room flat. Amy's father is a taxi driver and her mother is a housewife. She has a brother and a sister, both younger and still in school. All are blissfully aware of her sexual escapades.

Said Amy: "I'm usually out, either working or with my friends. I don't really talk to my family much. We have nothing much in common. My parents are quite conservative so I don't think they can accept my life and what I do."

"Get 'attached' in less than a week. And have sex in less than a month. That is what some young, reckless Singaporeans are doing," according to Ms Theresa Soon, a senior executive at the Department of STD Control (DSC) Clinic. They change partners at 'an amazing rate', have unprotected sex and are at risk of contracting a myriad of sexually-transmitted infections.

School kids in SingaporeMs Soon told The New Paper on Sunday that most of the young Singaporeans she sees have had more than one sexual partner. "They would befriend someone, become steady in less than a week, and have sex in less than a month. They would break up shortly after, and the cycle continues," she said. "Sex to them is just part and parcel of a boy-girl relationship. Most of the time, when we ask if they have been 'forced' into having sex, their reply would be no. It was a mutually agreed upon decision."

Such behaviour is worrying, even as the government is continuing to bring in the "buzz" to the once stead island. Following the "bar-top dancing" will be the Crazy Horse nude review, and the twin "Integrated Resorts" with the hospitality services casinos worldwide are renown for. Community centres routinely offer dance classes on "how to move like a hooker".

In 2002, there were 238 youngsters between the age of 10 and 19 with STIs. Last year, the figure nearly tripled to 653, say statistics from the DSC Clinic. Between January and August this year alone, there have been 468 cases. In particular, female patients are almost twice as many as male patients. This year, for example, there were 297 teenage girls with STIs, compared to 171 males.

On Wednesday 12th Nov 2005, a court was told that a 14-year-old girl who needed money to pay her bills had sex with at least five men. Five delinquent girls at the Pertapis Centre for Women and Girls off Yio Chu Kang Road also admitted offering sex for money. The oldest was in her late teens and the youngest, 14.

Social workers blame their nonchalant attitude on several factors: neglectful parents; the lack of stigma of losing one's virginity and having pre-marital sex as well as the pervasive message of one-night stands on TV and the Internet; and widespread consumerism and advertisements that encourage instant gratification.

Ms Ong Lea Teng from the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association is especially critical of Internet chatrooms, which makes it easy for girls to befriend teenage boys or men. "The thinking of some girls is that since they are doing it, they might as well get something out of it."

Sociologists blame parents. Said Dr Paulin Straughan from the National University of Singapore: "Why would a 14-year-old prostitute herself? The family must take responsibility. We cannot expect society to police the young for us... We cannot expect the schools to be the moral guardians."

Agreeing, Mr Alfred Tan, executive director of Singapore Children's Society, said: "Often, kids who get into trouble have no relationship with their parents. How do you bring up the subject of sex or values when you don't even talk to your children about everyday things in the first place?"

And parents have no way to shield their children from undesirable influences.

Said consultant psychiatrist Brian Yeo: "Society evolves and becomes more liberal and open. What parents can do is be good examples themselves, teach their children from young what's right and what's wrong and be aware of what they are doing."

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Rare Public Rebuke

"US envoy slaps Singapore over freedom of speech"
By John Burton in Singapore,
Updated: 1:42 p.m. ET Oct. 12, 2005

The outgoing US ambassador to Singapore has criticised the city-state's restrictions on free speech in a rare public rebuke by a US official of one of Washington's closest Asian allies.

Ambassador Frank Levin said Singapore's 20th-century political model may prove inadequate for the 21st century, warning that the government "will pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of its citizens."
Singapore bans demonstrations of five or more people.

The ambassador told an audience at a farewell dinner that he was "embarrassed" when police asked him if he wanted to press charges against six demonstrators protesting the Iraq war in front of the US embassy in 2003.

[ The six Singaporeans had wanted to register their unhappiness over the impending war in Iraq in front of the US embassy in Singapore. They were prevented by the police from doing so and ended up "helping the police with investigations." The police authorities investigating the source of SMS messages that were apparently being transmitted, asking protestors to go to US embassy, issued a statement "urging" people not to send such SMS messages and reiterated that public protests in Singapore were illegal. ]

"I said 'no.' I mean, go ahead, hold the signs and say something if you want to," said Mr Lavin, who will become under-secretary for international trade at the US Commerce Department.

Mr Levin said it was "surprising to find constraints on discussions here" given Singapore's strong international links in the economic sector. "In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression?"

Singapore's one-party political dominance provides "enormous strengths," such as "very high quality leadership," but it also has weaknesses since "the lack of open and vigorous debates might reduce a government's popularity if it doesn't let ideas or views be properly aired."

Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister, said last week that he did not believe that Singapore should adopt an "idealised form" of liberal democracy, explaining it was unsuitable for the country.

US-Singapore ties have strengthened during Mr Lavin's four-year tenure as ambassador, including the signing of bilateral free-trade agreement and a new security framework that might lead to an increased US military presence in the city-state.

Recent US ambassadors to Singapore, including Mr Lavin, have normally been highly supportive in their comments on Singapore. Mr Lavin's predecessor, Steven Green, left his post to become head of a Singapore-listed venture capital fund and was appointed a special advisor to the Singapore government and its honorary consul-general in Miami.

But Patricia Herbold, Mr Lavin's successor, has suggested that the Bush administration might be preparing to take a tougher line on Singapore's human rights record.

Ms Herbold, a lawyer and Republican fundraiser, told a US Senate hearing on her confirmation that she would continue a dialogue that Washington has with Singapore regarding the openness of its society and its political system.

US-Singapore relations have improved steadily since late 1980s, when Singapore accused the US of interfering in its internal affairs by alleging that the US embassy had secretly provided financial support to an opposition politician.*

At the time, Singapore relaxed its ban on demonstrations and allowed a large protest rally to take place in front of the US embassy.

Click here for a different take on the same speech.

Authorised Protest Activities:

*In May 1988, the government sanctioned a protest by the NTUC (Government controlled National Trade Union Congress) against the US because it accused the Americans of supporting former solicitor-general Mr Francis Seow. The then Deputy Prime Minister, Ong Teng Cheong, led a noisy demonstration against American interference in Singapore's affairs. It was the deceptively unassuming Ong who marshaled 2,000 trade unionists to stand in approved areas with anti-Uncle Sam banners. "Don't smile," said the DPM. "This is serious business." Unfortunately, a cameraman caught Ong doing just that.

Also in early 1988, some 4,000 NTUC members gathered outside the United States Embassy in Singapore to protest the decision to remove the GSP. Until 1989 Singapore and the three other NIEs enjoyed trade preferences with the United States under the United States Generalized System of Preferences. In 1989, the four Asian NIEs were removed from the program because of what some observers have seen as their major advances in economic development and improvements in trade competitiveness.