Sunday, 19 November 2017

Heritage buff hand-draws Singapore's national monuments in ink

Just call him Mr Monument
Retiree aims to draw all 72 of Republic's national monuments to showcase heritage
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2017

Online photos of the country's national monuments usually fail to fully capture their profile, scale, architectural details and surroundings in a single frame.

Frustrated, heritage buff Steven Seow decided to hand-draw in ink A3-sized perspectives, to share with Singaporeans the sheer majesty of these monuments.

Take, for instance, the Hong San See temple in Mohamed Sultan Road. Mr Seow, 65, has reproduced a sweeping view of the temple with its roof's curved ridges and upturned swallow-tail end sweeps.



Mr Seow has drawn 33 of the 72 national monuments here since he started on his personal project in June.

He adds in surrounding buildings, roads, infrastructure and landscaping features. Most of these are reproduced in exacting detail.

The retiree said: "Drones have their limitations in capturing full details. Photographs don't present our full, complete heritage.

"A more visual and holistic portrayal of the monuments, in the context and setting they were built, might help Singaporeans fully appreciate the country's heritage."

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The iGens - trying to connect from the privacy of their rooms

A new generation bred on smartphones and social media is changing social mores
By Peter A. Coclanis, Published The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2017

Few nation-states anywhere in the world have embraced information and communications technology (ICT) as enthusiastically, intelligently and successfully as has Singapore.

Along with Scandinavia and Estonia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, it regularly ranks highly on league tables relating to ICT metrics, and the futuristic, high-tech character of the city-state is one of the first things that visitors notice and comment upon.

The Government, as usual, has long been out in front of ICT issues, having drawn up and largely implemented bold and far-sighted national ICT plans since the early 1980s. As a result, Singapore has largely fulfilled the goal of the Government's Intelligent Nation masterplan (iN2015), for which it certainly merits high praise.

That said, it might be time for all of us to shift greater attention at the margin to some of the downsides of information technology. Here, I'm not speaking so much of excesses in the political blogosphere, of attempts to spread misinformation and false facts, or even of cyber bullying, for various parties in Singapore and elsewhere have already weighed in usefully on such matters.



Rather, I'm speaking here about what the heavy reliance on electronic technology is doing to both our own moral development and to our ability to connect deeply with others around us.

Last year I wrote a piece for The Straits Times ("Digital natives risk losing empathy for real people"; Feb 13, 2016) where I discussed some of the issues raised by Dr Sherry Turkle in her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power Of Talk In A Digital Age.

In this important work, Dr Turkle, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued that heavy reliance on electronic technology hurts individuals in a variety of ways, not least by reducing one's ability to conduct face-to-face conversations, to work in groups, and to engage productively in civic life.

In iGen, a new book attracting a lot of attention these days, psychology professor Jean M. Twenge from San Diego State University has gone one step further, analysing the deleterious effects of hyper connectivity not just on individuals, but on entire generations in the United States.

Although it is both wise and prudent to take generalisations made about entire generational cohorts with a grain or two of salt, Prof Twenge, at the very least, is on to something about the tendencies of "iGens", the cohort of Americans born between 1995 and 2012.

According to her, this cohort of over 74 million - about 23 per cent of the US population - is the first generation of Americans that grew up completely immersed in ICT. Unlike the millennial cohort that preceded it, iGens don't remember a world without the Internet, grew up with cellphones - most notably, the iPhone, which debuted in late June 2007 - and seem to live by and for social media.

Let's not condemn Singaporeans to extinction

Some European cities have managed to reverse declining fertility rate trends. Singapore, too, must persevere in its society-wide efforts to become more pro-family.
By Paulin Tay Straughan, Published The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2017

As a novice sociologist in 1991 returning to the National University of Singapore after completing my PhD, the very first project I embarked on was on work-life balance for women from dual-income families.

As a young mother and a new assistant professor, I found it daunting to have to manage job expectations as well as be a good mother to my sons. My husband was facing similar challenges at his workplace, and we felt entrapped in a circumstance we seemed to have little control over.

The power of sociological methodologies framed me with lenses that revealed the inter-connectedness of social agencies. Thus began my journey to distil the complexities of our population woes.

That was in 1991.

Along the way, I matured as a sociologist and learnt more about the intricacies of the world we live in. My sociological model for understanding fertility decisions became more complex, and also more focused. Meanwhile, Singapore's marriage and birth rates continue to fall, making it more urgent to devise policies to ease transition to an ageing population.

Some have argued that we should just face the inevitable, and focus on the advantages of growing a "quality" Singapore family, rather than think in terms of growing the quantity or size of the Singapore population. I find that disturbing on several grounds. Let me address these systematically.

That we should accept that the Singapore population would shrink and do nothing about it, to me is nothing short of being irresponsible. This perspective may allay concerns of the present population as we struggle through spatial congestion and economic competition. But it does little to advance the needs of the younger and future generations.

The correlation between population growth and economic health is notable. As a small city state that relies heavily on foreign investment to generate employment opportunities, Singapore's ageing labour force would not place us in good stead to compete with emerging markets in the region with younger and lower-cost labour forces.

LIMITS OF IMMIGRATION

One argument suggests immigration as the solution to our population woes. Carefully calibrated immigration strategies do help in mitigating our ageing demographics, and a globalised workforce adds significant value to our cultural diversity. But relying primarily on immigration for population augmentation is not sustainable in the long run.

First, to rely on surplus labour from the region puts our economic stability at high risk as we cannot control the supply of manpower inflow as and when the need arises.

Second, the 2011 elections and conversations on the Population White Paper revealed how Singaporeans might be nervous about the inflow of immigrants. If we over-compensate through immigration to address the needs of the economy, we may aggravate social tensions and jeopardise racial harmony on home ground. For a multi-ethnic nation like Singapore, any attempts to segregate by national identities will inadvertently lead to dangerous discourse on race relations.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

MRT collision: Signal fault to blame as trains collide at Joo Koon Station

Signal fault to blame for Joo Koon MRT collision
Stalled train hit by another train at Joo Koon after software glitch; 29 injured
By Maria Almenoar, Assistant News Editor and Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2017

An unprecedented software glitch in the signalling system of the East-West Line resulted in a stalled MRT train being hit from behind by another one at Joo Koon station yesterday morning.

This resulted in injuries to 29 people, three of whom were still in hospital yesterday evening.

The collision took place at 8.20am during the morning peak hour and disrupted train services between Boon Lay and Tuas Link stations through the day.

Train services between Joo Koon and Tuas Link stations will remain suspended today while the authorities carry out their investigations. Bus bridging services will be provided to the affected passengers. Other trains on the East-West Line will run at slower intervals.



In the accident yesterday, the first train had pulled into Joo Koon station when it stalled because of an anomaly in the signalling system, and its passengers were offloaded, save for a solitary SMRT staff member who remained on board.

The second train, which had stopped more than 10m behind and was carrying more than 500 passengers, unexpectedly lurched forward and collided with the first train.

At a press conference later in the day, Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT officials explained that the signalling system had mistakenly profiled the stalled train as a three-car train, instead of the six-car train that it really was.

As a result, the second train which had stopped 10.7m behind the first "misjudged the distance" between the two, resulting in a collision.

"It is an awful day today. Commuters were inconvenienced, and some even injured. We are deeply sorry for that," said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who showed up at the press conference and spoke to reporters after it was over. SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek was present, but did not speak.

The incident was the latest in a series of mishaps that have hit the train operator, including tunnels between Braddell and Bishan stations being flooded last month.

Sharing their preliminary findings yesterday, SMRT and LTA said the first train departed Ulu Pandan depot with a software protection feature, but this was "inadvertently removed" when it passed a faulty signalling circuit.

Passengers got off the stalled train and the second one halted at the correct, safe stopping distance behind it. However, the second train moved forward a minute later when it could not properly detect the stalled train as having six cars.



Mr Alexandru Robu, 35, who was in the second train, described how it came to a sudden halt after its impact with the first one, causing passengers to lose their balance and fall. "I have experienced sudden stops before on the MRT, but this time, it was really bad," said Mr Robu, a service coordinator.

One MRT employee on each train and 27 commuters were hurt. Several were taken to hospitals, and most were discharged with minor injuries. The remaining passengers were taken off the train through the driver's cabin at the front - a process that took some time.

Thales, the firm supplying the new signalling system for the North-South and East-West lines, said it had never encountered a glitch similar to yesterday's before.

Mr Khaw said after the press conference: "Thales is confident of their system, but I advised the team, let's play doubly safe, where safety is involved, that is why I want them to suspend the Tuas West Extension tomorrow, so we have a whole day to do a thorough check before we resume the Tuas West Extension."



Asked if a committee of inquiry will be convened to look into this, Mr Khaw said the investigation should be allowed to take its course.

On whether commuters' confidence in the MRT system had been undermined following yesterday's accident and last month's MRT tunnel flooding, Mr Khaw said: "Obviously people will be upset... I am equally upset."

New 130/80 high blood pressure guideline by American Heart Association means more people in Singapore - 1 in 3 - have hypertension

New US standard redefines high blood pressure
Stricter limit of 130/80 means action should be taken sooner, including adoption of lifestyle changes: Report
The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2017

LOS ANGELES • High blood pressure was redefined on Monday by the American Heart Association (AHA), which said the disease should be treated sooner, when it reaches 130/80mm Hg, and not the previous limit of 140/90.

Doctors now recognise that complications "can occur at those lower numbers", said the first update to comprehensive US guidelines on blood pressure detection and treatment since 2003.

A diagnosis of the new high blood pressure does not necessarily mean a person needs to take medication, but that "it's a yellow light that you need to be lowering your blood pressure, mainly with non-drug approaches", said Dr Paul Whelton, lead author of the guidelines published in the AHA journal, Hypertension, and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Healthy lifestyle changes include losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, not smoking, avoiding alcohol and salt, and reducing stress.


The new standard means nearly half (46 per cent) of the US population will be defined as having high blood pressure. Previously, one in three (32 per cent) had the condition, which is the second leading cause of preventable heart disease and stroke, after cigarette smoking.

The normal limit for blood pressure is considered 120 for systolic, or how much pressure the blood places on the artery walls when the heart beats, and 80 for diastolic, which is measured between beats.

Once a person reaches 130/80, "you've already doubled your risk of cardiovascular complications compared to those with a normal level of blood pressure", said Dr Whelton.

"We want to be straight with people - if you already have a doubling of risk, you need to know about it."

The new guidelines are expected to lead to a surge of people in their 40s with high blood pressure - once considered a disorder mainly among people aged 50 and older.

"The prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to triple among men under age 45, and double among women under 45," according to the report.

Damage to blood vessels is already beginning once blood pressure reaches 130/80, said the guidelines, which were based in part on a major US government-funded study of over 9,000 people nationwide.

PM Lee Hsien Loong outlines Singapore's key goals as chairman of ASEAN in 2018

Grouping a vehicle for 10 nations to manage issues and improve lives in South-east Asia, he says
By Charissa Yong Political Correspondent In Manila, The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2017

ASEAN is a lifeboat for all 10 countries in South-east Asia to come together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, on the cusp of Singapore's helming the group.

ASEAN, which turned 50 this year, is a vehicle "to have our voice heard on the world stage and to be able to manage our own issues among ourselves, and to cooperate to improve the lives of the people in South-east Asia", he told Singapore reporters.

He also outlined Singapore's key priorities as chair, captured in its tagline "Resilient and Innovative", in a speech at last night's closing ceremony for the 31st ASEAN Summit, the last major event on ASEAN's calendar this year. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the host, gave him a symbolic gavel to mark the hand-over of the rotating chairmanship.



PM Lee said Singapore, as ASEAN chairman next year, will seek to ensure the group promotes and upholds a rules-based regional order.

This is to better deal with emerging security challenges in the neighbourhood, such as cyber security, transnational crime and terrorism.

Singapore will also steer fellow members to press on with regional economic integration and enhance connectivity, so as to keep the region competitive and prosperous.

And it will find innovative ways to manage and make use of digital technologies, and equip ASEAN citizens with skills and capabilities.

The goal, he added, is for ASEAN to remain a central and dynamic driving force in the region that can deal with challenges and opportunities.


Singapore will also continue to build relations with ASEAN's external partners, PM Lee added. If it can make ASEAN more effective and strengthen cooperation with its neighbours, this will benefit the man on the street, he said.

"It means for Singapore a stabler world to live in, a safer South-east Asia in which we can operate, a more prosperous region in which we can grow our economy, expand our markets and seize opportunities which will be there," he said.

PM Lee also congratulated the Philippines for its successful chairmanship. A major highlight was a framework for the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

More children hurt in road accidents in first half of 2017

By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2017

A total of 132 children aged 12 and below were injured in road traffic accidents in the first half of this year, up from 128 in the same period last year.

"We can avoid and prevent needless tragedies, and more can be done to educate and instil road safety habits in young children," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim.

He was speaking at the closing of the 37th annual Shell Traffic Games - which tests pupils' road safety knowledge - at the Road Safety Community Park in East Coast yesterday.

In his speech, Associate Professor Faishal noted that children are vulnerable as they may not understand the dangers present on the road, and their size makes them less visible to motorists.

He cited a video that went viral in October, showing a six-year-old boy dashing across Leedon Road and being hit by a car. He was flung off his kick scooter.

"Fortunately, the boy suffered only minor injuries. This is why I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to teach children about the dangers on our roads," said Prof Faishal.

Three educational animation videos for children were also launched at the event.



The videos are a collaboration between the Singapore Road Safety Council, students from Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Interactive and Digital Media, the Traffic Police and oil company Shell.

The videos will be distributed to all primary schools and can be found on the Singapore Police Force's Facebook page and YouTube channel.

They aim to educate pupils on key road safety practices - the kerb drill; looking out for blind spots; and the dangers of crossing the road while distracted.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Why public sees foreign workers as more helpful than Singaporeans

By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2017

In September, a group of foreign workers were hailed for helping to move a car that had been stuck on a flight of stairs at Waterway Point in Punggol - while Singaporeans looked on and snapped pictures with their phones.

After the video circulated online, there was an outpouring of goodwill from Singaporeans, many of whom compared the foreign workers favourably against locals.

The workers, The Straits Times understands, had in fact been asked to move the car. But public response was telling, with many Singaporeans saying that foreign workers here are helpful and friendly - perhaps even more so than locals.

People ST spoke to suggested reasons that foreign workers are seen in such a positive light, although they were cautious not to generalise.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, from the National University of Singapore's department of sociology, said: "It could be that we tend to be generous in our views of people who are no threat to us. Here, we are speaking of foreign workers who perform the menial tasks that we avoid doing ourselves."

An unequal relationship of power could affect the way foreign workers interact with locals.

"Because the foreign workers see themselves as of lower status to middle-class Singaporeans, they may tend to display what could be deemed to be deferential, even subservient, behaviour, but manifested as friendly or helpful behaviour.

"Consequently, we may actually develop some positive stereotypes about them... along with some negative stereotypes. The latter could be activated should they, for instance, compete with us for public space or amenities," Prof Tan added.