Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ugly business considerations

Scenes such as this can be quite distressing.  I walked round the Square, completely lost and unable to recognise it until I saw the Astronomical Clock.  I could hardly believe that this was the famous Old Town Square.  Gone is the spirit of fun and festivity that this Square was famous for.  There are still the horse-drawn carriages but everything seems somewhat subdued and very sad. 

Here's a pic I took two years ago:

Such a huge difference, don't you think?

I'll go down to the Square again in a while and see if it gets any better towards the evening.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Farewell, folksies!!!


I'll soon be travelling but I thought since I have been blogging almost daily, which is quite uncharacteristic of me, I should post a note to inform my readers that I'll be away for a couple of weeks.

There is a reason why I have been blogging more assiduously lately.  I started keeping a diary since I was 7 and since I turned 9 or 10, I have kept to the present day a DAILY diary.  Yes, every day of my life is meticulously recorded.  But recently, instead of keeping a detailed diary, I have turned to blogging.  I have always intended this blog to be personal and a record not just of my musings but of my life as well.  I am aware that personal matters will bore readers who do not know me personally and even those who know me personally probably aren't interested in my personal life and so I will label all posts that are personal as "PRIVATE" both in the blogger label and on top of the post itself, as I have done for this post.  Readers who aren't interested in my boring personal records may simply skip any post that has this label and title.

Well, folksies, it's time for me to put the finishing touches to my packing.  Cheerio and have fun always!

Important lesson from the Kong Hee Affair.

We must not forget one uncomfortable fact in the Kong Hee Affair.  4 other persons are slapped with charges, some of whom received more charges than even Kong Hee himself because they were in charge of the financial books.  The charges relate to the allegation that monies were diverted illegally for the purpose of boosting and supporting the singing career of Kong Hee's wife.  Nothing is said about the 4 receiving any benefit from their actions.  Now, these 4 persons who have not received any benefit from their actions are charged for offences that carry sentences of life imprisonment.

Even if they are found guilty of doing what they are alleged to have done, the question that looms in my head is "Why the heck did they do it when there's no benefit to them at all?"

People are prepared to incur heavy costs to themselves for their families and loved ones.  A Singaporean actor was willing to go through a hazardous surgery and give half of his liver to his girlfriend (who became his wife) because of his love for her.  I remember reading in the papers about a father who threw himself in the path of a charging rhinoceros in the Terai jungle to divert the attention of the rhino from his young son.  The father died but the son was saved.  But such self-sacrificial acts are perfectly understandable and laudable in that the party performing the acts do so to protect or benefit their loved ones.  These are instances of heroic actions done by someone for his family.

But there are also instances of people who commit crimes for their families and loved ones.  I can think of mothers who steal to feed their children.  I've read of drug runners who risk getting the death sentence to give their families a good life.  But in a normal situation, nobody would do anything illegal and hence expose himself to heavy penalties when that act does not benefit himself and his family but it benefits someone else totally unrelated to him.

But obviously there are people who do sacrificial acts that don't benefit themselves.  Suicide bombers are a good example.  Many Palestinian suicide bombers in fact harm their own families because Israel takes reprisals for every suicide bomb incident and would send the bulldozer to level the homes of suicide bombers' families.

There is only one reason why anybody would do anything insanely sacrificial and even criminal and that does not benefit himself or his family and the reason is always religious.

I must make it clear at the outset that I'm not against religion.  I must also make it clear that I am not commenting in this post about Kong Hee's particular case.  He has not yet been tried and nobody knows if he is guilty or innocent at the moment.  I am only drawing a lesson from his arrest and I'm focusing on the broader picture and it doesn't matter if he is totally innocent; a lesson can still be learnt from the whole episode.

As a devout Christian myself, I'm naturally aware of how the average believer thinks and acts.  When Lee Kuan Yew gave the advice in his book that in his opinion, Muslims should learn to be less religious, I thought it was an excellent piece of advice that he should extend to people of all religions, including mine.  Religion is based on faith and I won't go into the details since I have written extensively on this elsewhere in my blog but in a nutshell, religion is not based on fact and reasoning.  As Martin Luther rightly points out, "Reason is the greatest enemy of faith".  Once a person goes into a system that requires him to lay aside his powers of independent reasoning, he is in fact entering dangerous territory and there is no telling what the outcome may be.

I know too little about other religions so I'll just concentrate on my own.  This is the sort of advice that I'll give to myself and people who bother to listen to me but it's of course extremely personal and lots of people will probably disagree with me.  Basically my advice is simple - if I have to be religious, I must be as moderate as I can and I must choose a time-tested church, particularly a church that has checks and balances in place.  The head of my parish church shouldn't be the overall head.  He must be answerable to someone else.  If he says he is answerable to only God, that's not a good answer because, as we have seen in reality, that usually leads to all kinds of abuses.  It is always possible for someone who is the overall head in a parish church (I use the term to mean a single church building as opposed to a whole church or denomination) to be idolised the way Kong Hee was idolised by his parishioners.  For an understanding of the extent of how he was hero-worshipped, see the video of his birthday celebration in my previous blog entry by clicking this.

So, the pastor of my church must be answerable to someone above him and ultimately the bishop who doesn't run any particular parish church.  There are other checks and balances that can be put in place.  There is something that my church does which I think is really quite good.  They rotate the pastors round the different churches in Singapore.  I've heard stories of parishioners being really upset by this because they have got used to a particular pastor and they want him to remain but of course the parishioners have no say (as should be the case) and the head or bishop has ultimate say on the matter.  But that's precisely how you can prevent a "cult leader" situation - by rotating the pastors every now and then.   Don't forget - religion is antithetical to reason.  It's very easy for people to hero-worship someone when they aren't using their heads.  Incidentally, in the birthday concert the church held for Kong Hee (if you have seen the video link in my blog), they called Kong Hee their "hero".  But independent churches can't rotate pastors because they exist on their own, ie each parish church is all the church they have.  So there must be other mechanisms they should come up with that can remove this potential for hero-worship.

It's very easy for someone to obey without question a hero-idol even if the obedience may lead to a situation where his own interest is seriously compromised.  But alas, the law does not recognise this as undue influence and my fear is the 4 people who are charged with Kong Hee will have to stand on their own.  But it is sad particularly when these 4 did not benefit one bit from whatever they were alleged to have done.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rumour: Ho Sun Divorces Kong Hee

[For the background to this post and some information on what news item the whole of Singapore is abuzz with at the moment, please see my post yesterday by clicking this.]

There is a vicious rumour making its rounds on the internet at the moment that Ho Yeow Sun is going to divorce Kong Hee.   I know enough of human nature to know that there isn't a grain of truth in the rumour.   But of course you won't just take my word for it.  So, let's get to the bottom of this. 

What is the source of this rumour?  If you do a search on google for "Kong Hee and Ho Sun", you get a pop-up that says "Kong Hee Sun Ho Divorce".  And when you click on it, this is what you get:

The first link leads to a forum on Channel News Asia's website.  But when you click it, all you see is this:

"Invalid Forum specified. If you followed a valid link, please notify the administrator".

The second link is to Hardwarezone which anyone familiar with the internet will tell you, is best ignored.

The third link is to the Huffington Post which leads you to this (sorry for the overlap - I used the screen shot on my MacBook rather inexpertly):

If you click "Read Whole Story" at the bottom, it just just leads to a page that talks about the charges against Kong Hee and other details which have already been splashed on the local newspapers.  There is absolutely nothing about a divorce even though the word appears in orange on the title page.  I suspect it's a technical glitch in the Huffington Post although I must admit this is the first time I have seen anything like it.

I searched further and I found what I think is the source of this rumour:
Click here

Or rather, don't bother to click on it.  It's so obviously false and untrue.  No sources are given and a cursory glance at it is enough to tell you that it's unsubstantiated nonsense.  I won't even give it any credence by publishing its screen shot here.

Now, that is probably the source of this rumour circulating on the internet and I hope I have quashed it.

It's funny that the Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had to assure the public that the police action was against an individual and not against the church.  From my observation in Christian circles, people are crying out for their pound of flesh from Kong Hee.  Most Christians are stunned when details are given of the luxurious lifestyles of Kong Hee and Ho Yeow Sun.  And their $28,000 a month house in Hollywood isn't the only thing luxurious they can boast of.  Asia One Business traces the couple's amazing rise from a $127,000 HDB flat to a $9.3 million Sentosa Cove penthouse.  Click here for story

I've been told by quite a few devout Christians that they are pleased to note that the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.  But their greatest worry is Kong Hee might have connections in high places and his sentence would be very much reduced.  Of course I assured them that the Singaporean courts were just and the correct punishment would be meted out if he was found guilty.  I had to remind them that he hasn't yet been tried.  But the fact that many Christians I know are clamouring for the maximum sentence even before the poor chap has been tried is an indication of how the general population feels about Kong Hee who will no doubt take the spot that TT Durai (of NKF fame) used to occupy.

Obviously, Teo Chee Hean did not have to assure Christians of the pure intentions of the police.  If the court finds that a crime has been committed, the guilty party must be punished to the full extent of the law.  And as most Christians will agree, if the guilty party happens to be a church pastor (who should have known better and who should have set a better example), our Christian conscience will demand that he be given the maximum possible punishment.  Of course, as in all cases, Kong Hee will have among his parishioners his diehard supporters but from what I know, even within his church, there are many who are getting pretty disgruntled with what's been going on.  They together with the larger Christian community and together with the rest of the citizenry are crying for blood.  Yes, false rumours should be quashed but as for justice, not only must it be done, it must also be seen to be done.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kong Hee in the limelight

Standing in the limelight on a stage is not uncommon for a self-styled clergyman of an independent church, City Harvest, which is said to have the largest pool of parishioners of all the churches in Singapore (if you count each church as an individual building and you don't group them by denomination).  Nor is it uncommon for his wife, Ho Yeow Sun, who is an entertainer.

But what Kong Hee probably didn't bargain for is getting arrested and charged with criminal breach of trust.

Let's look at what the Straits Times has to say:

Source:  Straits Times:

I did a search on youtube and I found this video of the church celebrating Kong Hee's birthday in a big way.  (blogger doesn't seem able to link this video to the blog).  But here's the video:

I'm just amazed at the huge differences between the average parishioner in one of these independent mega churches and a parishioner in a traditional church.  For traditional church goers, if the church decides to hold a birthday celebration of this proportion for any clergyman, all of us will feel that something is seriously amiss.  The giving of glory to a clergyman is totally unheard of.  Come on, I don't even know when my bishop's birthday is.

I'm not interested in whether Kong Hee is guilty of the charges against him.  That's for the court to decide.  What I'm interested in is what makes a worshipper in one of these independent mega churches so different from the rest of us.  I did a bit of search on the internet just to understand what makes them tick and I think I have the answer.

We all know that the Bible can always be used to justify anything.  Matthew 10:41 says this: "Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward".  It's not difficult to include the pastor into the definition of a "prophet" or at least a "righteous person" and by increasing the ambit of "welcome", one can almost accommodate that sort of a birthday celebration and parishioners will think it's all perfectly in order to glorify their leader in a way that will make a traditional Christian frown.

I've heard many stories about mega churches and their pastors but I can't be sure they're all true.  I was told that one of them bought a million-dollar sports car (I'm sure it's probably a cheaper sports car).  Another goes skiing in the US once a month with his entire family (again, I'm sure this is an exaggeration).  Ho Sun herself is no stranger to the good life.  She rents the house she lives in in Hollywood for $28,000.00 a month.

The Bible is hardly where you can find justification for wallowing in the lap of luxury.  What Jesus says to the rich young ruler about wealth and Jesus' statement that you can't serve God and Mammon (ie money) are all uncomfortable sayings that the church has to live with.  These verses don't attract worshippers who like the rich young ruler in the Gospel story, aren't prepared for a change of lifestyle.  Mega churches need to preach a new kind of gospel if they really want to be mega.

Prosperity gospel which is preached in many of these independent mega churches teaches that wealth is a symbol of righteousness.  He who obeys God and is righteous will be blessed by God with wealth.  With that sort of teaching, it is no shame for a pastor in one of these churches to throw away his cassock and strut around in the most fashionable outfit styled by award-winning designers.  Pastors in these independent mega churches don't wear cassocks anyway.  To those who preach prosperity gospel, the trappings of wealth are but a symbol of one's inward righteousness.

That may go some way in explaining why nobody bats an eyelid in City Harvest Church despite the publicity given to the lifestyle of Ho Sun in Hollywood.  These are all God's blessings to reward her for her righteousness.  If Kong Hee were a clergyman in a traditional church, his wife would have at least had the decency to choose a more modest place to stay in.

When these independent mega church pastors or their wives make forays into an arena which is usually dubious by Christian standards and would normally be viewed as secular, the reason given is that Christians must "claim" everything for God.  Ho Sun's involvement in the entertainment industry is one such example.  She's doing it for God so that the entertainment industry is not monopolised by non-believers.  And there are believers who really believe that.

A friend who worships in another independent mega church tells me that his pastor has put in a lot of time and effort (not to mention money of course) to turn his magic show into a huge success. What? A pastor has a magic show?  There is a lot of heavy equipment which has to be bought for the magic show and it's not just a simple pulling of a rabbit out of a hat kind of trick.  It's more like a David Copperfield kind of magic show.  His pastor has even had performances of his magic show in the Esplanade and all the church members eagerly bought up the tickets.  What possible religious motive can there be?  The magic show is totally secular, so my friend assures me.  What the church says is that the entertainment industry has gone too much the way of the world and it's now time for the redeemed of the Lord to claim back the entertainment industry from non-believers.  This is their rallying cry which of course will be answered by the pious with fervour as they buy tickets to the magic show and invite their friends to the Esplanade.

Some supporters of Kong Hee say the same thing in the newspapers today (see page 7 of today's Straits Times - 27 June 2012).  They say that it's a way of reaching out to the secular world through the music of Ho Yeow Sun.

I just did a simple search on youtube for one of Ho Sun's pious videos and I have linked below the first video of hers I came across.  Let's get our Bibles, sit back and enjoy this delightful video performed by Kong Hee's wife.  Observe her revealing clothes and the implication of her being a bar girl in a bar frequented by Afro-American customers. 

How has Ho Sun or Kong Hee, through her music, reached out to the secular world?  How instructive, profitable or edifying is this video that you have just watched?  It seems more to me that Ho Sun simply wants to realise her dream of becoming a successful entertainer of Hollywood proportions.  I have no objection to that.  But placing a self-righteous veneer over an otherwise legitimate secular dream just sickens me.  And it puzzles me to no end that Kong Hee's parishioners can't see this.  Do they really think she was glorifying God in this video?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Is it really Canada or is it only Justin Bieber

Everyone is now talking about how dumb Justin Bieber is.  See this video from youtube and elsewhere - it's really gone viral:

David Letterman jokingly blames it on the Canadian High School from where Justin received his education.  How would Singaporean students rank here?  I checked with both my kids but that's not fair because they have been to the Sistine Chapel. But they insist that they knew about the Chapel long before they went there.  They are also absolutely certain that all the kids in their schools know about the Sistine Chapel.  That's one up for our schools but then schools in Singapore do rank very high in international assessments.  One school in Singapore beats all the top public schools in England when it comes to entrance into Oxford and Cambridge.  Outside of the USA, this same school in Singapore has the most number of students enrolled each year in Ivy League Universities.  So I suppose the answer is clear - our schools don't produce a Justin Bieber.  I'm talking about brains, not fan appeal which is so arbitrary a village idiot could hit the fan charts tomorrow.

But Justin really has a history of serious intellectual lapses.  In this interview with David Letterman last year, he showed himself to be not just dumb but also incapable of understanding simple English words.  Again the audience laughed and David Letterman had a good time.

But I suppose the moral of the story really is you don't need brains to be rich and famous and Justin isn't the only one.  Just look at Beckham.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Will Europeans stop eating dog meat?

When my daughter attended classes in Germany some years ago, a German girl asked her if she ate dog meat.  My daughter was of course horrified and said she had never heard of anything so disgusting.  The girl insisted that she had read on the internet that people in China ate dog meat.  Of course my daughter found it hard to believe since most of her friends were of Chinese descent and the thought of eating dog meat was so repulsive to the collective conscience of the people of our country that she was certain the girl must have read about some isolated minority tribe in China.  But the girl insisted that all Chinese people ate dogs.  My daughter was annoyed and responded by asking the German girl if she used soap made from Jewish fat.  She said she read accounts of Nazis in Germany gassing large groups of Jews and using their fat to make soap.  That shut the girl up.

My daughter then asked me if it was true that there were Chinese people who ate dog meat.  I do not know a single person who eats dog meat.  Honestly, I would find it very hard to be friends with anyone who eats it.  Call me prejudiced or bigoted if you must but I really would find it very hard to have a chat over a cup of coffee with a dog eater.  Every Chinese person I know has never eaten dog meat.  No relation of mine has eaten this forbidden meat.  I know someone who is very adventurous and has eaten exotic food including crocodile meat, snake meat and wild game.  But he would never dream of eating a dog because as he rightly points out, dogs are pets and friends.  Eating a dog is like eating a human child.  It's repulsive and an absolute taboo.  And he is of Chinese descent.

Why then do some Westerners insist that Chinese people eat dog meat?  A simple search on the internet reveals posts of Chinese, Koreans and Japanese eating dog meat.  How reliable are these posts?  I have also seen a photograph of a Chinese-looking man eating a well-formed human foetus.  Of course there are all kinds of strange people eating strange meat but they are not limited to Chinese people only.  Jeffrey Dahmer was a cannibal wasn't he?

I did a search on the internet and guess what?  Many Europeans have a tradition of eating dog meat too!  Let's look at what different Europeans do with man's best friend.

 1910 photo taken in Paris.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Let us explore this dog-eating habit country by country.  Let's begin with.....


The terms "sausage" and "dog" have been used as synonyms since 1884 and accusations that dog meat was used in the making of sausages dated to at least 1845.  These accusations were sometimes justified.


Dog meat has only become taboo in France today.  In the past, it was not so.  See the photo above of a dog butcher in Paris taken in 1910.  French Press described dog meat in the late 19th century as "beautiful and light" and ran stories of people buying dog meat in France.


Germans have eaten dog meat since the time of Frederick the Great and it's commonly called "blockade mutton".  Dog meat continued to be eaten in the 1920s.  Even a meat inspection law in 1937 mentioned the following animals as commonly used for meat: "pigs, dogs, boars, foxes, badgers..."   It was only in 1986 that Germany prohibited the consumption of dog meat.


In the early 20th century, dog meat was widely sold in Belgium.  The average price was 12 francs a kilo ($1.30 per pound) in 1916.  Even the Council of the Veterinary School of Belgium recommended dog meat for human food.


In Poland, the meat of dogs is culturally not eaten; it's considered taboo.  However, in some rural areas in Poland, there is a tradition of eating dog fat in place of lard.  Dog fat is considered beneficial to one's health, particularly the lungs.  As recently as 2009, a farm near Częstochowa was discovered to keep dogs which were subsequently killed and turned into lard.


Switzerland has a long tradition of eating dog meat.  Eating dog meat is not illegal in Switzerland.  Less than 7 years ago, Switzerland enacted a law merely to prohibit the production of food from dog meat for commercial purposes.  This is provided for in Ordinance of 23 November 2005 on food of animal origin. 

Wikipedia puts it most succinctly and I attach a screen shot from wikipedia:


So, the next time you are asked by a European if you eat dogs, you should feel perfectly justified in turning the tables on him.  After all, he has a rich tradition of eating dog meat whereas for the Chinese, it's a recent madness that has affected only a few people.

EDITOR (added on 29 November 2014):

See this news article on the BBC about the tradition of eating dogs and cats in Switzerland:

Stop eating cats and dogs say animal rights campaigners in Switzerland

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Double Joy

This is what I had for dinner, a chicken murtabak.  The murtabak originates in the Middle East - in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and it's a pancake with a rich stuffing of chicken or mutton.  Although it's full of calories and artery-clogging cholesterol, it's really something you won't mind dying for.  You can tell when you're anywhere near a place that sells murtabak.  The aroma just hits you right in the face and you know you have to eat it and everything you've ever read about what constitutes a healthy diet is quickly forgotten.

Arab traders brought the recipe to the East, beginning with India, in the region of Kerala and then to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.  Probably because of its origin, the best murtabak in Singapore is sold by Indian Muslims.  Come to think of it, I don't know of any murtabak seller who is not an Indian Muslim.

There are variations of the murtabak in places outside Singapore and Malaysia.  I understand that there is a sweet version in Indonesia.  When I was a student travelling in Thailand on a shoestring budget, I had a sweet murtabak that had condensed milk in it and it tasted heavenly.  It's hard for me to be certain now whether my delight for this milky murtabak was attributable to the unreliable tastebuds of a famished unguided youth as I was then or whether it was really delicious but I'm inclined to think that it must have been pretty good.  That was the only time in my life I ever had murtabak with milk as a filling.  I recall the bus that I was travelling in on a cheap ticket to Chiangmai made a pit stop in one of those little towns that had only one major road passing through it.  It was past midnight and there was this street vendor selling the milky murtabak.  It was more like a rolled up prata with condensed milk in it.

Whatever its variation, the murtabak is decidedly unhealthy.  Here's where I can sneak in the second joy, now that I have talked about the joy of eating murtabak.  That's the joy of cycling.  I cycled to dinner and as I approached my favourite murtabak joint, I saw what I felt I had to take a pic of.

Yes, that's how you can enjoy a huge plate of murtabak and still not die of a heart attack.  Plus you get to enjoy the fun of cycling, take lovely photos and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you're not burning up fossil fuel.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Is life in Singapore all that bad?

I've just read some of the blogs listed on the Singapore Daily and I'm amazed that most of the bloggers take the view that life in Singapore is pretty bad.  Gintai, in his account of his conversation with Shanmugam (the Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs), mentioned the better salaries of train drivers in the UK.  But would he really swop places with a UK train driver?

Well, here's a silly little ditty I have just composed.  The photos attached are all shot by me personally and I own the copyright, so google (the owner of blogger), don't mess with them or ask me if I am entitled to post them.  This is all just for a good laugh, so please take it with a shovel of salt.


I am racking my brains for something to write
In my blog to set things right,
The grass here, they say, is not green, you know?
In the Land where the Palm Trees grow.

I have prata at eight with some curry beside
 And char kway teow to immediately follow
I can do that only because I reside
In the Land where the Palm Trees grow.

Across the Straits is a different place
Where the people are grouped by race
Is that what you want? I should like to know
Let's remain where the Palm Trees grow.

 The Land up North, has its Buddhist king
And its people do dance and sing
But they haven't got our kopi-O
so let's stay where the Palm Trees grow.

The Isle of gods have their temples galore
And white beaches from shore to shore
But they haven't got the security to show
So it's back where the Palm Trees grow.

I have gone far abroad, to another clime
 Where huge clocks tell out the time.
But the city is cold and surely you must know
It's not where the Palm Trees grow.

They have freedom, they say, they can do as they please
 They can do all things with ease
But that's not what I like and in my dreams I still go
To the Land where the Palm Trees grow.

In one land, they serve beer with smoke in it,
And it's drunk in one gulp as a habit.
They have there a quaint house with water below
But it's just not where the Palm Trees grow.

We have floods and the haze and it's humid and hot
We have ERP, GST and whatnot
There are cameras by the roads all in a row.
In the Land where the Palm Trees grow

But if I vow to be good, whatever my mood,
Not just me but the rest of my brood.
Then life is good and to all I'll crow
That I'll stay where the Palm Trees grow.

Mind Your Language

I've said it before many times and I'll say it again.  I'm not a stuffy pedant and I'm not bothered about grammar in speech and writing as long as the meaning is clear.  There are exceptions though and one of them is this - if you are going to write an article about grammar and you are going to highlight the errors of "the masses" (as some of these arrogant pedants would put it), you jolly well make sure that your article is something that won't make a grammarian frown.  For this reason, I used to write to the Straits Times to complain about grammatical errors in articles that talked about grammar.  I'll say a little more about the Straits Times later.

Sometimes an error is just screaming its head off.  It may be the sort of error that no person with an elementary knowledge of basic English grammar would make.  It's particularly bad when it appears in an official document.

That's what I noticed yesterday on a form that I had to submit to the hospital before they would remove a device that had been strapped to my body for 24 hours.  While waiting for my turn (waiting for hours is what you usually have to do in the Singapore General Hospital; see this), I took a shot of the form before submitting it:

What excuse can a hospital possibly come up with for such a glaring error?  One doesn't need a good education to notice the error.  Anyone, from the cleaners to the nurses and doctors, should have noticed the error and have it corrected.  So why has nothing been done?

It's different if the error appears in an email or a personal blog or some other medium that is not an official document.  Most email writers and bloggers are very much like me.  We don't go through what we have typed before we click "Submit" or "Post" or "Publish".  When Singapore Daily included my blog in their list a few days ago and my visitor counter started to jump to giddy heights, the first thing I did was to go through all my photos and remove those that might show me in various stages of undress.  This was supposed to be a private blog that nobody ever read and I had taken the liberty of including photos that I thought nobody would ever see.  But going through the two posts highlighted by Singapore Daily to check for errors was something I just couldn't do.  I can't understand why I have such an aversion to reading what I have written but I certainly have it.

I'm not alone in not reading what I've written before posting or publishing it.  I was just reading someone else's blog this morning (after clicking on a link in the Singapore Daily) and I spotted many errors that the blogger would not normally have made.  It didn't take me long before I noticed that the blogger was one of the journalists I corresponded with a long time ago when I complained to the Straits Times about serious grammatical errors in their articles on grammar!  I don't want to go into the details of my exchange with the Straits Times since I've mentioned them in a few of my previous blog posts and if you want to read them, click here or here or even here.   I will just say that in all the years that I have written to the Straits Times about such errors made by their journalists, they have stoutly refused to publish any of these letters.  They might acknowledge their errors in their replies to me and declare that they would alert the newsroom but they always refused to publish any letter that would show up their journalists' inadequacy in the language.  The only time they published my letter on such a matter was when I wrote on why I disagreed with Jenadas Devan's take on English poetry and the Straits Times editor probably thought that a difference in opinion on poetry interpretation was not so embarrassing as an outright blunder in English grammar.

Errors in her personal blog are of course excusable.  But errors in her newspaper are not, especially when the errors appear in articles on grammar. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Medical costs in Singapore and how to get the best deal.

 The queue in the Blood Test unit at the Heart Centre, 
Singapore General Hospital. I took this photo at 8:15am.
There were already about 50 other people ahead of me when I arrived at 8am.

If you need to do a simple investigative medical test, say, a blood test to ascertain the level of your cholesterol, where would you go in Singapore if you want it cheap?  Such tests can't vary very much in quality.  After all, how different can a blood test be?  Most people will assume that a public hospital like the Singapore General Hospital will be the best bet for a cheap blood test.  And they can't be more mistaken than that.

A friend of mine has naturally high cholesterol from birth.  It's a congenital condition and he has to go for a blood test at least twice a year.  He tells me that he goes to Gleneagles Hospital for his regular cholesterol blood test because it's the cheapest.  I know that sounds surprising to you just as it did to me when I first heard it.  Gleneagles is a private hospital and one would expect blood tests done there to cost a lot more.

I just did my blood test for cholesterol at the Heart Centre in the Singapore General Hospital yesterday and the bill for the test alone came up to $62.49 (SGD).  Now, that's about twice what my friend pays for his blood test in Gleneagles Hospital.  I had to wait for an hour and a half just to get a sample of my blood taken.  In Gleneagles, the waiting time is probably about 10 minutes.

So, next time, don't just rule out a private hospital because you think everything there is bound to be more expensive.  It may not be.  Some of the investigations may be a lot cheaper than in public hospitals and the waiting time is always much shorter in private hospitals.

But there can be many other factors that will determine which hospital you go to for your blood test. I chose a public hospital because my cardiologist is there.  I have a lot of faith in my cardiologist who is honest and competent.  That rare combination of competence and honesty in a medical practitioner is very important to me and when I have found one who has it, I usually stick to him.  It's just that when I was waiting for my turn (and let's not forget that I waited for an hour and a half - from 8am to 9:30am) and I looked at the huge number of patients also waiting to have their blood samples taken, I could not help wondering if they were aware that at least for the blood test alone, they could get it faster and cheaper in a private hospital.

The Story of Garvan Byrne

Garvan Byrne was a 12 year old Irish boy who died in 1985 of a rare leukemia.  In this video that has been circulated widely on the internet, he talks to a nun about his faith in life after death.  He believes Jesus will look after him and his family.  He speaks with conviction and confidence and without the slightest trace of doubt in his voice.

There have been quarters in the RC church that are asking for Garvan to be considered for sainthood.  See this blog, for an example.  That's of course an indication of the sort of inspiration he has been to lots of people.

It's impossible not to be inspired by this boy who knew perfectly well that he would be dying.  It's only in a religious context that a boy this age can speak of his impending death with eagerness.   Garvan spoke cheerfully of the people he would be meeting in heaven, a grandma he had not seen, a favourite uncle and so on.  When asked if he would miss his family, he looked mildly troubled for a moment but his furrowed brow was smoothed instantly when he spoke about how he would be there in their midst.

This is what Garvan said and I quote verbatim:  "Where two or more are gathered, there I am in the midst of them.  And I will be there in the midst of my family.  They might not see me but I'll be there watching them, looking after them all the time".

Garvan was of course borrowing the words of Jesus in Matt 18:20. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."  Only a heartless pedant would say that Garvan was theologically incorrect in appropriating the words of Jesus in that way.

But while the story of Garvan illustrates the beauty of religion and the comforting image of Jesus standing with his outstretched hands towards us, his sheep, it does not address the question why Jesus didn't do a thing to heal Garvan in the first place.   Many will say the question is irrelevant for none of the faithful will allow that minor fact to stumble him in his faith.  It doesn't even matter that Jesus didn't do a thing to lessen the pain that Garvan had to go through but no doubt the doctors would have given him a painkiller.  It doesn't matter too that Jesus in his sovereign goodness, mercy and compassion would only guide the hands of surgeons, doctors and nurses in the healing process but only in places where the slow progress of human knowledge and medical advancement have reached.

When I was a boy, I used to wonder why everyone in Pride and Prejudice treated Elizabeth Bennett's common cold with so much concern and fear.  That was only less than 200 years ago but at that time, doctors couldn't even treat a cold effectively and many people died from something as mild as a cold.   Presumably, God could heal the common cold but he must have, in his infinite mercy and love, chosen not to.  God's miracles are strangely always kept in pace with the state of medical progress and when doctors heal the patient, we thank God for guiding the doctor's hands or for breathing efficacy into the medication prescribed.

But there's one thing religion can do that no amount of rational thinking can.  It gives us hope even in the face of utter hopelessness and the story of Garvan demonstrates that.  Highly rational people can be insensitive when they say it's all wishful thinking.  But what is wrong with wishful thinking?  I don't know about you but when my time comes and I'm down on my deathbed with multi-organ cancer and I'm about the breathe my last, I will cling to the hope that is in Christ Jesus and I will think of the love of Christ and the beauty of heaven and I will die with Kyrie Eleison on my lips and a smile on my face.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My mortality

I'm always reminded of my mortality when I have to go for my blood test and general medical check-up.  The time has now come for me to have my cholesterol level checked.  In moments like this, I'm reminded of the frailty of my life.  As Tennyson writes after his dear friend died of apoplexy (whatever that means today),

From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, `A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.

That's precisely it.  Billions of species have come and gone and what's another life?  Who am I that nature should fashion and treat differently?  But we are all egocentric beings and we want to think we are different.  We are meant for higher things and when we die, we're not really gone but we'll be reborn or we go to heaven or whatever it is our religion tells us.  All that may be comforting but the fact is we are going the same way as billions of species that have not just died but become extinct.

It's only a cholesterol test, you may say.  But one thing leads to another and there's no telling when the old heart may decide to stop beating.

I am quite familiar with Bertrand Russell's "Why I am Not a Christian".  It was the first atheistic essay I've ever read.  But for me personally, it's precisely my mortality that gives me the strongest reason why I am not an atheist.  You may say only a fool will believe in something fanciful to give himself a false hope.  And of course you are right.

Each one of us has a different way of dealing with our impending death.  I deal with mine in the way I am familiar with since my early childhood.  Naturally, I have lost the trusting gullibility of a child and I see things differently today.  My faith today, if faith it can be called, has been long beaten, buffeted and pummelled to a pulp by knowledge and truth and what remains is a faint glimmer of hope.  Tennyson's lines best encapsulates what I feel:
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

Note: I will be recording my hospital visit tomorrow together with all photos in the private pages of this blog. These details will be of no interest to anyone except those very close to me and even then, those close to me won't be interested in the pics and detailed account except maybe the results of the test but there will be some time spent sitting down and waiting for my turn and I might as well occupy my time taking pics and blogging.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The passage that makes me cry.

We all have our favourite passages or poems that make us cry.  I recall asking my vicar a long time ago what I should do if I found myself unable to believe in God and the teachings of my faith.  My vicar was an old man from the north of England and he spoke with a quaint accent that wasn't that different from a variety of Indian accent that I have heard since.  He said that I should pick up the Bible and turn to the passage that affected me the most.  A passage that would make me cry every time I read it.  I told him there was no such passage.   I said the only passage that might do that was probably the start of one of the gospels that had a whole chapter on who begot whom and I might cry for sheer boredom.  He thought for a while and he replied that I was still young and no passage would move me all that much but there would come a time, he assured me, when my eyes would not fail to tear every time I read the passage.  He said any Christian who had lived to a ripe old age would most certainly have such a passage that would hit him with such a force that it was sure to make him shed tears.  I laughed at him and thought he was just babbling nonsense and I forgot all about it.

I lost my faith a year or so after I left university and became an atheist.  For three years, I was as firm an atheist as Richard Dawkins himself.  But I returned to my childhood faith after three years and it was a combination of factors that brought me back to the faith.  One of them was Leon Morris' excellent commentary on St John's Gospel in that wonderful Commentary series called the New International Commentary of the New Testament (the General Editor is none other than the great FF Bruce).

I taught Sunday School in my church when I returned to the faith and although I was orthodox in my teaching I myself had secret doubts that plagued me throughout my service in the Sunday School ministry.  It was then that I studied Koine Greek which was a great asset since the New Testament was written in that language.  I thought of studying Hebrew but I gave up before I even began.  For some reason, Hebrew frightened me.  It looked too difficult and since I was too lazy to put in the requisite effort, I gave Hebrew a miss.

One day, as a part of my Greek study, I was doing a translation of a chapter from the New Testament from Greek to English.  My head was busily getting into the correct declensions and conjugations and I wasn't even paying much attention to the full purport of the passage when suddenly, something hit me hard.  It was like a blow to my face and as I continued translating the verses, my vision began to fail and I found that tears had blurred the page before me.  I had to stop and look away, so ashamed was I to even admit to myself that I had shed tears.  It was then that I remembered what my vicar told me a long time ago.

This is the passage in Greek:

οτε ουν ηριστησαν λεγει τω σιμωνι πετρω ο ιησους σιμων ιωαννου αγαπας με πλεον τουτων λεγει αυτω ναι κυριε συ οιδας οτι φιλω σε λεγει αυτω βοσκε τα αρνια μου
λεγει αυτω παλιν δευτερον σιμων ιωαννου αγαπας με λεγει αυτω ναι κυριε συ οιδας οτι φιλω σε λεγει αυτω ποιμαινε τα προβατια μου

λεγει αυτω το τριτον σιμων ιωαννου φιλεις με ελυπηθη ο πετρος οτι ειπεν αυτω το τριτον φιλεις με και ειπεν αυτω κυριε παντα συ οιδας συ γινωσκεις οτι φιλω σε λεγει αυτω ιησους βοσκε τα προβατια μου
αμην αμην λεγω σοι οτε ης νεωτερος εζωννυες σεαυτον και περιεπατεις οπου ηθελες οταν δε γηρασης εκτενεις τας χειρας σου και αλλος ζωσει σε και οισει οπου ου θελεις

τουτο δε ειπεν σημαινων ποιω θανατω δοξασει τον θεον και τουτο ειπων λεγει αυτω ακολουθει μοι

επιστραφεις ο πετρος βλεπει τον μαθητην ον ηγαπα ο ιησους ακολουθουντα ος και ανεπεσεν εν τω δειπνω επι το στηθος αυτου και ειπεν κυριε τις εστιν ο παραδιδους σε

τουτον ουν ιδων ο πετρος λεγει τω ιησου κυριε ουτος δε τι

λεγει αυτω ο ιησους εαν αυτον θελω μενειν εως ερχομαι τι προς σε συ μοι ακολουθει

Since to most of us, this is all Greek to us, I will quote from the NIV this same passage which is John 21:15-22:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’

Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’

Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’

He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’

Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’

The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’

Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.  Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’). When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’

Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ 

When a student translates the passage into English, he encounters several problems.  The main problem is there are words in Greek that are not available in English.  What's interesting is all our English translations are inadequate when they try to translate Jesus' question to Peter, "αγαπας με" as "do you love me".  And they translate Peter's reply "φιλω σε" as "I love you".

The context of this passage is this - Peter has just denied Jesus three times just before Jesus was crucified.  Earlier, Jesus has declared to his disciples that those who deny him "will I deny before my Father in heaven".  In other words, Jesus will deny those who deny him.  This passage takes place after Jesus' resurrection and it's usually seen by scholars as a reinstatement of St Peter in his apostolic position when Jesus says "Feed my lambs" and "Shepherd my sheep".

When Jesus says "αγαπας με", he is asking if Peter has αγαπη for him which is the highest form of love imaginable; it's a love that is sacrificial, a love one is prepared to die for.   But honest Peter who has just denied Christ three times is not prepared to be so bold as to claim to possess such a love and he merely replies that he has φιλíα for Jesus.  That's a love between friends.

Christ asks him a second time "αγαπας με" to which Peter replies in exactly the same way.

Then comes the touching part.  Jesus descends from his demanding question to the simple question "φιλεις με" which is best translated, "Do you have φιλíα (friendly love) for me?"

Naturally, it's easy to see why this passage had such a profound meaning for me.  Peter may have denied Christ three times when faced with extreme danger to himself.  I, on the other hand, denied Christ for three years.

Of course my head tells me that this passage was concocted by the writer of the Gospel.  Peter would have spoken in Aramaic to Jesus and the linguistic niceties that Greek has are not found in Aramaic.  The conversation could not have taken place in that manner.  This is the same reason why that particular part of the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus could not have taken place in John 3 - see what I wrote in an earlier post:  The ανωθεν problem

But I want Jesus to have this conversation with Peter, so let's put all doubt to sleep and pretend they were speaking in Greek.

Jesus then goes on to prophesy that Peter would die a martyr's death.  Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down.  Peter then sees John passing by and he jealously asks if John will be similarly martyred.  Jesus basically tells Peter it's none of his business what happens to John.  And then comes the part which is a huge problem for me and my faith.

You see, in the next verse, we read in the Gospel, "Because of this, the rumour spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?' "

I'll explain why this verse is a huge problem for me.  In all three Synoptic Gospels (these are Mark, Matthew and Luke), there are many problem verses that show quite indisputably that Jesus promises to return in glory on a cloud with the angels (his Second Coming) within the lifetime of the early disciples, the people who listened to Jesus in the first century.  When Christians in the church in Thessalonica started to die, the rest of the Christians were terrified because Jesus had not yet returned and what was going to happen to those who had died?  St Paul, in writing 1 Thess had to address this problem.  In his epistle, even Paul himself did not envisage that Jesus would fail to honour his promise to return in the lifetime of the Apostles.  If you want to read a full explanation of this, please see an entry I wrote more than two years ago on another blog by clicking this: Christ will come again

Scholars tell us that St John's Gospel is the last gospel to be written.  It was written long after the Synoptic Gospels were written and it was probably written by someone after the death of John the Apostle, who was probably the last Apostle to die.

When everyone started to die off and one by one of the Apostles passed on and yet Christ had not returned, a rumour must have spread among the early Christian community that St John the Apostle, who was by then the only living contemporary of Jesus, would not die before Jesus' Second Coming.  But John soon died and so what was to be done?  The Gospel of John had to be written and that rumour addressed.  Notice that the Gospel of John does not have the verses in the Synoptic Gospels that specifically talk about Jesus promising to return in the 1st century?  By the time of writing, it would have been apparent to the writer of John's Gospel that Jesus certainly wasn't in a hurry to return.

Let's bust that myth No. 1 - Kuwait's shark tank collapse

Most of you would have received an email with this photo:

The photo is always followed by an explanation that the shark tank in Kuwait's Scientific Centre collapsed and sharks were all swimming on one floor of the centre.  While it is true that Kuwait's Scientific Centre does have a shark tank, there has been no incident of the tank collapsing.

Here is another example of myths perpetuated on the internet.  What really happened was a recent flooding in Toronto's Union Station and here is the photograph that was subsequently doctored by people with loads of time on their hands:

Click here to see many other examples of funny photoshopped pics that came about from the Union Station flooding.

Here are excellent reports of the flooding at Union Station: National Post and CBC

Well, obviously, flooding happens everywhere.  The next time we in Singapore experience a heavy downpour and Orchard Road begins to flood, let's remember we're not alone in our troubles.

Singapore's nooks and crannies

One tends to think that one knows everything there is to know about an island so small you can't run a marathon in a straight line in without hitting the sea. But is that entirely true?

Is the picture below all one can associate with the island of Singapore?

But it's a beautiful picture nonetheless. It speaks of progress, efficiency and development which are all hallmarks of this amazing country.  But is that all there is to Singapore?

Below are photos taken in Singapore and I bet most people won't be able to tell me where exactly they were taken.  I have blotted out my image from the pics for privacy.

 Doesn't this look like a photo taken in Narnia?

 A water-spouting dragon.

Most people would have thought this pic was taken in Malaysia if they had seen it in the context of this post.

Somewhere in the Netherlands?  Haarlem, perhaps?

Bali, of course!  Without a doubt, you would say.

Friday, June 15, 2012

One final word on Teo Chee Hean & the boy

I don't want to belabour the point but I thought I should put in one last word on this matter.  In my earlier posts (see One More Silenced and Cowed into Submission), while deprecating the silencing of a teenager when we should do all we can to encourage the young to speak up and express their thoughts in words, I was clearly disapproving of the boy's use of swear words.

I would be untruthful if I said that profanity was all right to me because it certainly isn't and I personally detest all forms of profanity.  But the world was not formed for me alone and there are others living here too and I do try to understand how others think and the context in which the profanity was said.  I have said in one of my earlier posts (see the links in the preceding paragraph) that the boy's other posts in his blog also contained the word "fuck" and its derivatives, chief or which is the word "fucking" used as a modifier.

One point to note is the boy's blog was in  Anyone with a tumblr account should know that for reasons I cannot understand, the use of "fuck" and "fucking" is extremely common in tumblr culture.  If you haven't got a tumblr account and you try to think of your facebook postings as an equivalent, forget it.  Tumblr is very different from facebook or twitter.  For example, I like cycling and I follow cycling groups in facebook and cycling blogs in tumblr.  In facebook, a typical cycling group is simply called "Cycling".  In tumblr, the best cycling blog to follow is "Fuckyeahcycling".   Everything is preceded by Fuckyeah.

I'm not trying to excuse the boy who seems to have been at the receiving end of everyone's rebuke but we must look at everything in its proper context.  Of course you won't catch me going "Fuck yeah!" in my speech and writing even though I have a tumblr account and I do blog there regularly.  But I'm not an impressionable 17 year old and I cannot be so presumptuous as to measure everyone else by my own yardstick.

When we look at the entire circumstances in which the boy used the offensive word, we have to admit that it was hardly offensive at all.  We should also not forget that he was addressing a public figure.  If I say "Fuck you" to a cashier in a supermarket, that is highly offensive but it is much less so when someone says the same thing in a blog to Obama.  Obscenities directed at the US President or the British PM are so common that nobody bats an eyelid.  It would be shocking to hear of a schoolboy being summoned to meet Obama with his teacher and father because he wrote an obscenity directed at Obama in his blog.  If Obama did that, he'd be out of office by November this year.

While we may wish to make use of this episode to teach the young the importance of writing good and polite essays, we should stop making this boy a scapegoat.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why I don't read the local papers regularly

Time is limited and reading the papers does take up some time.  But everyone has to read the papers to keep himself abreast of current news.  All the major newspapers are available for free online.  My main online newspaper is the BBC.  It has the best coverage and gives the latest news fastest.   I am signed on the best newspapers in twitter and I find the BBC gives more news and is a lot swifter in getting its tweets to me than CNN or NY Times.  The local papers are of course good for local gossip, if one has the time.

In my earlier blog post (see the last paragraph of this post), I alluded to some serious shortcomings of the local press but I didn't give any details.  In this post, I will give a proper account to justify what I have said of the local press.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about the serious language errors in the local papers such as the Straits Times (for an example, click here).  I have on numerous occasions written to the Press about them but the local press is averse to publishing letters on its wrong use of words and other grammatical errors.  They usually thank me for my letters and they inform me that they will alert the newsroom but they don't publish the letters.  In many instances, I wrote to them only because the articles that contained grammatical errors were articles about the importance of good English.   Surely if a journalist has the ruddy cheek to write about correct English usage and criticises the general public for its common errors, he must at least ensure that his article does not contain grammatical errors!   But this is what Straits Times journalists have failed many times and despite the effort I put in to point out the errors, the Straits Times is only willing to "alert the newsroom" but not the rest of its readers.

Language matters are for another post.  I have written extensively on them and I will write more in the future.  I have saved all my letters and Straits Times' replies on my google plus and so it's easy to blog about them but they don't concern us here.

Language errors don't stop me from reading the newspapers.  But inaccuracy and irresponsibility in reporting are far more serious lapses.  And these are part of the failings of local newspapers.   It is common to hear how lacking in independence the local press is.  The opposition parties are always accusing the local press of being controlled by the government and most people do believe this is true but I'm not interested in politics and in what the government controls or doesn't control.  I'm only interested in ensuring that the newspapers I spend time reading are accurate in their reporting and it doesn't bother me in the least if the agenda is political or religious or racial.  I want full information and if you hold back information for whatever reason, you aren't responsible in your reporting and I'm not going to waste my time reading your articles, especially when I have free access to the world's best newspapers that don't hide information.

Let me give an example.  I will pick a local news item and compare the reporting of it in the local papers with what appears in a foreign press.  There will be less excuse for the local press since the news item is local in nature.

I first read about the death of JB Jeyaretnam (an opposition leader) in the Straits Times.  They had a write-up on his life and upon reading it, I knew something was missing.  I looked up the news online and the same chunk was strangely left out in the Channel News Asia article.  Channel News Asia is the publisher of Today newspapers and produced by the same team.  Here's the Channel News Asia article which is substantially the same as what appeared in the Straits Times (you may click on the image to enlarge it):


I have produced the article in full because I want to show you what's missing in it.  Now you may want to see what the BBC has to say.  I'll just post the screen shot below.  The link to the article appears at the bottom.


What made me unhappy with the local newspapers is they totally left out the fact that the Privy Council ruled in Jeyaretnam's favour.  The Law Lords in London made scathing remarks about the judgment of our local court.  I remember what a foul mood the then Chief Justice was in for weeks after the Privy Council ruling.  Shortly after, appeals to the Privy Council were discontinued.  Surely this fact is worth mentioning in an article that announces the death of JB Jeyaretnam and makes direct reference to his 1986 conviction?  Why should we have to read a foreign newspaper for such information when one would imagine that it should be readily available to local journalists?

My view is simple - if I want current and comprehensive news, I wouldn't look to the local papers.  I don't blame the government for this.  I don't believe the Ministry of Information is to be faulted.  The government of Singapore is actually quite liberal and easy-going.  It's the people of Singapore who have misplaced fears and they are the ones who exercise self-censorship.  These people include journalists.  I recall years ago a talk between Lee Kuan Yew and a group of young journalists.  They told Mr Lee that the people of Singapore were generally afraid of voting the Opposition.  When asked by Mr Lee, they admitted that they too were afraid if they were to vote in favour of the Opposition. I remember poor Mr Lee looking shocked and he mumbled in disbelief that these journalists had had a good university education.  But that's precisely what I've observed and what the foreign press always misses.  It's the people with their misplaced fears that give a false impression that a benign government is draconian.

I will say no more.  Politics is not what I'm interested in and all I want to say is if you want responsible, fair and comprehensive reporting, go for the foreign press. There are many different newspapers to choose from and they are all freely available online.  But if trash is your cup of tea, go for the Straits Times.  A good example is this scandalous article complete with the filching of someone's photograph from her facebook account:


It's a vile thing to do to that poor woman but that's the local press for you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cum dumplings in Singapore

In my earlier blog entry, I talked about a food stall that had a signboard that declared to the whole world that it was selling "INDIAN CUM".  Here's the link to the entry:  Indian cum

But that was an excusable mistake made by a food seller who was not comfortable with the English language.   What I saw this evening was totally unexpected.  Here is a photograph of it:

Notice that this is something organised by the Community Club.  In Singapore, it means this is a government-sponsored event.  There's to be a Cum Dumpling Making Competition on 16 June.  To enter the competition, you have to be in a team of two to three persons, presumably, one has to be a man.

This is not a misprint.  There are two other banners in different locations that say the same thing:

 Coincidentally, I had 4 different types of dumplings tonight for dinner.  As you can see from the labels, none of them is a cum dumpling.  Others may eat cum dumplings for all I care.  I'll just stick to the traditional dumplings.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cowed into submission

So I was right in my conjecture about Reuben Wang, the blogger who used profanity against Teo Chee Hean.  It's all in the papers now.  I had surmised that his school probably forced him to close down his blog.  The local papers say he was "counselled" by his school.  As late as this week itself, he stood by what he had written although he acknowledged that his use of profanity was in poor taste.  On Wednesday (2 days ago), his entire blog was deleted.  On Thursday (yesterday), he had a meeting with Teo Chee Hean with a teacher from SAJC (his JC) and his father.  Teo Chee Hean gave him a book autographed by himself.  How sweet.  Strangely, despite the quick pace of events that followed immediately after he posted his blog, his principal had something to say about the whole event and even the Ministry of Education had time to say something about the student's post.  "Rude and unbecoming", says a spokesman for the Ministry.

The Ministry of Education and the principal of SAJC have made it clear that this is a good teaching tool for students in general.  What lesson can we draw from this?

A cardinal rule is this - NEVER use profanity.  I said in my blog post yesterday that the boy's swear words detracted from the elegance of his general writing style.  It is not just a matter of style.  It involves one's credibility and effectiveness too.  Logically, it should not affect the writer's credibility but we live in an illogical world and people generally lay less store by articles that contain vulgarities.

But let's be clear about one thing and all students and young people should bear this in mind.  Reuben Wang is perfectly justified in forming his opinion about Teo Chee Hean or any other persons.  It's perfectly acceptable for him to say that Teo did not answer the questions of the students if in fact he had failed to do so.

After all, Reuben is only 17 and we ought to cut him some slack.  He had something to say about the Pre-U Seminar.  He was most unimpressed by Teo's handling of the seminar.  He may have expressed himself inappropriately but we should give him another chance to say what he wanted to say about the Pre-U Seminar, this time without profanity.

If I were Reuben Wang, I would write a fresh blog and give clear reasons why I think Teo failed in answering the students' questions.  I would give specific examples of questions, Teo's answers, if any, and my assessment of the entire scene.  I would do it in polite language.  That would certainly give Reuben Wang more credibility and the respect he deserves.  And I'm sure Teo Chee Hean would be happy to have honest feedback from a student who attended his Seminar.  Neither the school nor his parents have the right to stop Reuben  from expressing his thoughts.  Otherwise, all we have is the story from the local newspapers (which I tend to read with a pinch of salt - and I can justify what I have said with an article that appeared in a local newspaper in 2008 but that is subject for another blog post). 

Since I have made a snide remark about the local newspapers, my next post or my post in the near future should be "Why I don't really read the local papers" and I will give my reasons.  Without profanity.

Land of the gods

Saw 3 temples within 100 metres of one another. Here are two:

The Synoptic Problem

Oldest surviving sarcophagus portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd (a reference found only in John's Gospel)
Photo taken from Bart Ehrman's The New Testament - A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.
This is an excellent book every Christian should read.

I first read of the "Synoptic Problem" when I was a boy but the text was not easy to follow and so rather than read up on it (this was a time before the internet) I did the next best thing - asked my vicar.  He told me this was not something for the lay person and it was huge ground for theologians to cover and we who were devout parishioners in Christ's Holy Church should be thankful for the work of these experts. They have grappled with the problem and they have solved it.  However, it would be too arduous a task for each one of us to try to understand such a difficult subject and we should rest secure that these brilliant scholars are there before us.

But what my vicar said to me was nothing unique.  I have since met many Christians including a good friend of mine who takes precisely that route in their belief - he actually said to me as we were drinking coffee after lunch that the scholars were more brilliant than both of us combined and if these scholars could believe, why couldn't we?  When my vicar first told me that, I knew he was talking rubbish and I realised that there were problems in the church that priests and scholars wouldn't want the laity to know.   So I did a bit of research on my own.  And boy, what a can of worms you can open up if you really want to peer into the Synoptic Problem.  The similarities of the Synoptics aren't all there is to a problem larger than the entire Church.  When you start examining the differences in the Synoptics, it becomes even more interesting.  How Luke changed Mark's stories, for example, (Mark was written much earlier than Luke) to suit his idea of Jesus being in supreme control as opposed to Mark's very different Jesus and how different Synoptic Gospels copied the sayings in Q (a sourcebook that scholars are certain was used by the Synoptics but has never been found) cast such a spell over me as a boy in a way that Treasure Island could not.  Of course when you go further and start to compare the Synoptics with the Gospel of John, you fall right into the deepest quagmire imaginable.  As someone close to me once said, he could not understand why the church did not get rid of 3 Gospels and left only one as the word of God.  Even a common burglar knows better than to carry his tools out in the open for all to see.

For a long time, I dismissed the existence of Q and I forced myself to think that the similarities (even where the verses were copied verbatim) were all due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  In my late teens, I joined a fundamentalist church and I firmly rejected any book that did not accord with the Baptist belief of biblical inerrancy.  For two years, my mind was shackled and I utterly refused to read any book that argued against biblical inerrancy or that questioned the canon of scriptures.

It's very hard to be a fundamentalist because you can't chain the human mind for too long.  Deep down, you know it's all bunkum but you are taught that such thoughts come from the Devil and the correct response is to reject them in Jesus' name.  But how many years can you fool a child into believing nonsense?  There will come a time when he will want to read those books written by the Devil himself and decide for himself who the real Devil is when it comes to lies, deception and falsehood.

To me personally, the biggest obstacle to faith must be the Holy Gospels themselves.  Elsewhere in the Bible (except for a few Old Testament books where two books tell the same story), each book has a monopoly of the story it tells.  Some tell the most fanciful tales but hey, you've got to accept them because they're inspired by God and besides, nothing is impossible with God, you of little faith!

But the Gospels tell largely the same story.  They all talk about Jesus and his ministry on earth.  But they disagree with one another like crazy.  And of course when you bring in John's Gospel, you are as good as supplying non-Christians with nuclear warheads and begging them to blow you up.

Theologians always come up with great names for serious problems with the Bible.  For example, instead of saying there are huge similarities and dissimilarities in the first three gospels, they talk of the Synoptic Problem.  This is sure to make the average parishioner lose interest.  Next, everyone knows how different John's Gospel is from the rest.  John's Jesus is a very different Jesus from the other Gospels.  In John's Gospel which was written the latest - as late as towards the end of the 1st century, Jesus is almost equal to God; in fact, a plausible argument can be made that he is equal to God! How else can we have our doctrine of the Trinity firmly entrenched if not for John's Gospel?

But instead of saying this, scholars merely say that we see in John what they choose to call "high Christology".  Wow, you've got to give it to these scholars.  When it comes to covering up problem areas, they are second to none.  High Christology sounds so lofty and correct.

You may think this isn't something you can fool anyone on but the average parishioner is fooled.  In the first place, most Christians aren't at all interested in their religion or the Bile or problems in the Bible.  They are more interested in the stock market, cheap deals and the latest tv programme.  They are more interested in, if I may borrow biblical language, the things of this world.  When you haven't the slightest interest in the Bible, why should you care if someone tells you there are huge problems with it?  You'd be more interested if he's letting you in on info concerning an imminent collapse of the stock market. 

But for those who are interested in these problems, the church has its apologists whose job it is to defend the faith.  There are many books written to reconcile what they call "apparent" inconsistencies.  I've read many of these books and I'm quite familiar with how they go about doing this.  I'm talking mainly about the Gospels because like I've said, for all the other books of the Bible, they usually have a monopoly over the stories they tell so there can be no contradictions there.

Broadly, this is how you reconcile the differences:

1.  Choose the greater number.  For example, in one Gospel, only one woman was at the Crucifixion of our Lord, another gives a different number and yet another gave about 4 or 5 (I don't recall the precise number).  The apologist will always take the larger number to be correct.  The Gospels that said fewer attended the Crucifixion were merely zooming in on these few without excluding the presence of the others.  Sometimes, you can't employ this ruse.  For example, John tells us the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 and one of the Synoptic Gospels says it was 4000.  Some apologists are quick to point out that one of the Synoptic Gospels specifically explained that the 4000 did not include women and children.  Difference harmonised?  No, I'm afraid not.  In John's Gospel, Jesus used 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed the 5000 and the crumbs filled 12 baskets.  In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus used 7 loaves and a few fish to feed the 4000 and the crumbs filled 7 baskets.  Now, this calls for a different method:

2.  Say they are two separate events.  The feeding of the 5000 is a separate and distinct event from the feeding of the 4000.  Problem solved.

3.  Confuse parishioners with Greek.  Because the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, it's easy when one encounters a problem to say that the Greek word allows for a different meaning.  One example is our Lord's promise that his Second Coming would take place in the lifetimes of the Apostles, his listeners in the early 1st century.  This is one of the major problems of the faith because technically, Christianity should have died out in the 2nd century AD when Christ did not come again. Scholars tell us that some scribes in the early church even tried to alter some biblical verses to remove this promise of our Lord because it wouldn't look good for God to make a promise he didn't fulfil. In one verse, our Lord said that "this generation" would not pass before the end of the world came and of course he (Jesus) would come on a cloud with the angels.  Scholars have brilliantly shown that the Greek word for "generation" can also mean "race" and since the Jewish race is still around, phew! we can't say Christ didn't fulfil his promise.  Alas, there are at least 5 other verses where our Lord didn't use the word "generation" and he still made it clear that he would return in the 1st century when his 1st century listeners would still be around.