Friday, 24 March 2017

Keeping Hainanese culture alive

Singapore is a tapestry of languages, each with its own unique syntax and history. Some are endangered and others are thriving. In the ninth instalment of a weekly series, we look at Hainanese.
By Abigail Ng WY, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2017

In some ways, things have not changed all that much at Chin Chin Restaurant in Purvis Street.

After half a century, it still serves up traditional Hainanese favourites such as chicken rice, pork chops and mutton soup.

What has changed is the language one hears as servers take orders and kitchen staff call out that a dish is ready: It is Mandarin.

It was not like this 50 years ago, according to Mr Kenneth Sng, 68, who helps run the family business.

"All our staff were Hainanese until around 30 years ago, when it became difficult to find Hainanese to work in our restaurant," said Mr Sng. He is married to Madam Janet Lim, 67, the third-generation owner of Chin Chin, whose grandparents started the business in 1935.

"Now, though the family still speaks the language, our staff communicate in Mandarin."

The restaurant is situated along what was previously known in the Chinese community as "Hainan Second Street", as many immigrants settled there.

Middle Road and Seah Street were "Hainan First Street" and "Hainan Third Street" respectively.

The Hainanese form the fifth-largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore, numbering more than 170,000 in the 2010 census.

Originating from Hainan island, a province in southern China, the Hainanese arrived in Singapore later than other dialect groups such as the Hokkiens and Teochews.

In the early days, they gained a foothold in the food and beverage industry and remain associated with it.

While Hainanese influence lives on in dishes that have become national favourites, such as chicken rice, Hainanese culture has not fared as well.

In its heyday, Hainanese puppet troupe San Chun Long could be booked for shows every night for a solid month leading up to the seventh lunar month.

Now, it is one of two remaining troupes in Singapore and its members are in their 50s and 60s.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

New 500-bed Tan Tock Seng Hospital rehab complex to open in 2022 at HealthCity Novena

Integrated Care Hub to be built next to TTSH; opens in five years
As part of HealthCity Novena, it will add to growing facilities for ageing population
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2017

Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) new 500-bed rehabilitation complex, right next to the main hospital in Novena, opens in five years and will add to the growing number of healthcare facilities that cater to the needs of an ageing population.

The new Integrated Care Hub will be part of HealthCity Novena - a mega health complex scheduled for completion by 2030 that will include a hospital, medical school and step-down facilities, as well as the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

TTSH's hub will take in patients who have complex rehabilitation needs, such as those who have suffered spinal cord injuries or lost their limbs, and also care for those who no longer need the acute services of a general hospital but still require a degree of medical care.

In doing so, it will provide what Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor described as "the crucial link between the acute hospital and community care".

Speaking at the hub's ground-breaking ceremony yesterday, she noted that TTSH will also move its current rehabilitation services - including those in Ang Mo Kio - into the new centre when it is ready.

A fifth of the beds at the hub will be used by the Dover Park Hospice, located nearby in Jalan Tan Tock Seng, to care for the terminally ill. The rest of the beds - managed by TTSH - will be for those who need rehabilitation and sub-acute care.

"The Integrated Care Hub is part of our efforts to move beyond hospital-centric healthcare to care in the community," Dr Khor said.

"The elderly are more likely to face complex health issues and are at risk of being readmitted into hospitals if they do not receive proper care within the community and at home."

PM Lee: Singapore's ties with Vietnam prospering

There are opportunities there, he says, urging Singaporeans to venture out into the region
By Joanna Seow, In Ho Chi Minh City, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2017

Singapore's ties with Vietnam are prospering and there are opportunities for Singaporeans in the country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

And as Singapore undergoes economic transformation, it is crucial to seize opportunities in the region in order to grow, he told about 280 Singaporeans living in Ho Chi Minh City at a dinner reception.

"If we are to prosper, we have to be able to go overseas and venture and take opportunities and uncertainties," Mr Lee said.

Deepening Singapore's international connections was one of the strategies set out by the Committee on the Future Economy in its report released last month.

Mr Lee added that Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City have progressed since his last visit to the city more than 10 years ago, and he hopes there will be more flights between Vietnam and Singapore.

He arrived in Vietnam yesterday morning for a four-day visit, and joined Singaporeans for dinner at the InterContinental Asiana Saigon hotel, where they tucked into favourites such as nasi lemak, satay and pandan chiffon cake.

There are 937 Singapore projects and more than 2,000 Singaporeans working in Ho Chi Minh City. "The fact that you are all here shows that the adventurous spirit in Singapore is alive and well," said Mr Lee.

Singapore overtakes Silicon Valley as No. 1 for global start-up talent

Startup Genome Global Startup Ecosystem Report and Ranking 2017: Singapore No. 1 in world for start-up talent
By Ann Williams, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2017

Perhaps the biggest surprise coming out of a 150-page research report covering 10,000 start-ups and 300 partner companies worldwide is that tiny Singapore has overthrown tech centre Silicon Valley as the world’s No. 1 for start-up talent.

The report by Startup Genome, a US-based organisation, credits Singapore’s innovative policies for its great start-up ecosystem.

While Singapore’s overall ranking this year fell two notches to 12th, this was due to two new Chinese entrants, it said. Singapore’s performance numbers are solid and will probably continue to rise, it added.

Along with a geographical location that offers easy access to up-and-coming tech markets in South-east Asia, Singapore’s 1,600 to 2,400 tech start-ups enjoy significant government subsidies.

Strategies here are working to establish local tech start-ups as globally relevant firms, said the report.

Dr Alex Lin, head of ecosystem development at SGInnovate, said the Republic is evolving at a pace like no other ecosystem.

“Within three years, we are a sustainable ecosystem of accelerators and corporate co-innovation, resulting in a six-fold increase of start-ups raising series A (a type of funding); in a year, venture capital money doubled to US$1.7 billion.”

Singapore’s access to quality talent and its relative cost put it ahead of rivals.

The average software engineer salary here of US$35,000 (S$49,000) per year, for example, is below the US$49,000 global average. High pay is one reason Silicon Valley lost its top talent ranking.

Also, while Singapore trailed behind below the average top 20 nation, in ranking 10th in terms of talent quality, it more than made up for it by being the fourth- and second-best ecosystem for start-ups to access experienced software engineers and growth employees, respectively.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Government moves to speed up smart nation projects

GovTech and two technology planning units to come under PMO to improve coordination
By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2017

Smart nation projects such as e-identity, e-payment and an islandwide wireless sensor network have been earmarked for some "turbocharging" following an announcement yesterday to fold a government agency and two technology planning units under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

From May 1, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) - the 1,800 people-strong crack team behind tech transformation in the public sector - will come under the PMO. GovTech is currently a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

Whole-of-government technology planning teams from the Ministry of Finance and MCI will also come under the PMO. The teams will join the Smart Nation Programme Office - formed in late 2014 to spearhead smart nation project planning - to form a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), which will have a combined headcount of 40.

Both GovTech and SNDGO will report to a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG).

"In this way, we will be more coordinated and move forward on the key digital government (and smart nation) programmes in the coming year or two," said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He added that the reorganisation will provide better central management and accountability, and will have "a greater ability to pull together all the government agencies".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month at the annual Camp Sequoia tech summit that Singapore was not moving as fast as it ought to on digital transformation.

A ministerial committee, chaired by DPM Teo, will oversee the new SNDGG. The committee's deputy chairman is Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim. The committee also comprises Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung and Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Psychological first aid training for grassroots leaders and volunteers in fight against terror

Overcoming trauma of terror attack
Grassroots leaders, volunteers will be taught psychological first aid in new move
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2017

Grassroots leaders and volunteers across Singapore will be trained in psychological first aid, to help residents overcome the shock and mental distress following a terror strike.

Psychologists and counsellors from the newly formed Human Emergency Assistance and Response Teams will teach community responders how to identify and support those suffering from psychological trauma after an attack.

These professionals from the Home Team, Ministry of Social and Family Development and Institute of Mental Health will train responders from all 89 constituencies, to ensure each area can support affected residents and their families.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the initiative yesterday at an event in Teck Ghee to raise awareness about SGSecure, the national movement to increase the public's preparedness and resilience in the fight against terror.

Recent terror-related incidents in the region show the threat is serious, Mr Lee said, calling on Singaporeans to strengthen community bonds to minimise the repercussions of an attack. Terrorists would aim not just to hurt people, but also to divide Singaporeans, he said.

That is why Singaporeans should get to know their neighbours and make friends with people of other races. Every little act counts, he added, from holding the lift door open to offering snacks to others.

"The stronger our kampung spirit, the less able the terrorists will be to break us," said Mr Lee at Emergency Preparedness Day in his Teck Ghee ward, organised as part of the SGSecure outreach to neighbourhoods.

He encouraged residents to acquire life-saving skills such as using automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which have been installed at 55 housing blocks in Teck Ghee. The Government aims to install one AED for every two blocks islandwide eventually.

General manager Chong Hwa Heng, 48, was among the residents who learnt how to use an AED yesterday. "It's good to be prepared just in case of emergencies, you never know when you might need to use this skill," he said.

Mr Lee also urged residents to download the SGSecure mobile application, which has been updated with new features. The app can now provide users with customised alerts on emergency incidents occurring in specific locations in Singapore - such as office buildings, shopping malls or residential blocks - by keying in the relevant postal codes. This will inform subscribers of any emergency situation near the specified location.

It will also send subscribers news alerts on terror incidents in specific regions that Singaporeans have key interests in, for instance South-east Asia, East Asia and Europe.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Healthcare Reform: Make America Singapore

By Ross Douthat, Published The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2017

I have been devoting this space to deliberately implausible ideas lately, and the time has come to turn to an issue that our politicians are actually debating: healthcare reform. Though "debating" might be a strong word, since the politicians I'm talking about are all Republicans, and it's hard to have a serious argument when almost everyone involved really, really wishes that they could just stop and talk about tax cuts instead.

In theory, there is a coherent vision underlying Republican healthcare policy debates. Health insurance should be, like other forms of insurance, something that protects you against serious illnesses and pays unexpected bills but doesn't cover more everyday expenses. People need catastrophic coverage, but otherwise, they should spend their own money whenever possible, because that's the best way to bring normal market pressures to bear on healthcare services, driving down costs without strangling medical innovation.

This theory - along with, yes, a green-eyeshade attitude towards government expenditures on the working poor - explains why conservatives think a modest subsidy to help people buy health insurance makes more sense than Obamacare's larger subsidies.

Republican politicians may offer pandering promises of lower deductibles and co-pays, but the coherent conservative position is that cheaper plans with higher deductibles are a very good thing, as they're much closer to what insurance ought to be - and the more they proliferate, the cheaper healthcare will ultimately be for all.

Is there an existing health insurance system that vindicates this boast? Yes, in a sense: There is Singapore, whose healthcare system is the marvel of the wealthy world. Singaporeans pay for much of their own care out of their own pockets, and their major insurance programme is designed to cover long-term illnesses and prolonged hospitalisations, not routine care. The combination has produced genuinely extraordinary results: The island state has excellent health outcomes, while spending, as of 2014, is just 5 per cent of gross domestic product on healthcare. (By comparison, a typical Western European country that year spent around 10 per cent; the United States spent 17 per cent.)

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Singapore rebuts Economist report on free speech for misrepresenting protesters

Government rebuts Economist report
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 18 Mar 2017

The Government has refuted an article in The Economist on free speech in Singapore, which said critics continue to be penalised for speaking out even as leaders called for more naysayers.

The magazine, in its March 11 issue, cited the High Court's recent upholding of the conviction of three people who protested against the CPF in Hong Lim Park in 2014.

In a letter published in The Economist's March 18 issue, Singapore High Commissioner to Britain Foo Chi Hsia said: "They were not charged for criticising the Government, but for loutishly barging into a performance by a group of special education-needs children, frightening them and denying them the right to be heard."

This is the second time in a week that the Government has responded to a foreign publication that misrepresented the case.

On Saturday, Reuters news agency wrote that six people "were charged with creating a public nuisance while protesting against a compulsory tax savings scheme".

But the police clarified a day later that their protest had disrupted a charity event at an adjacent lawn. The six, who included blogger Han Hui Hui, were charged with public nuisance with common intention in October 2014, and later convicted.

Last month, the High Court upheld the convictions and sentences of Han and two others .

In her letter, Ms Foo said The Economist's report, titled "Grumble And Be Damned", had "alleged a lack of free speech in Singapore".

But she noted that Singaporeans have free access to information and the Internet, including to international news outlets such as The Economist and the BBC.

Opposition politicians have also successfully gone to court to defend their integrity and correct falsehoods purveyed against them, she noted.

"In no country is the right to free speech absolute," she said. "When this right is extended to fake news, defamation or hate speech, society pays a price. Witness the Brexit campaign and elections in America and Europe.

"Trust in leaders and institutions, including journalists and the media, has been gravely undermined, as have these democracies. In contrast, international polls show that Singaporeans trust their government, judiciary, police and even media," she added.

"Singapore does not claim to be an example for others, but we do ask to be allowed to work out a system that is best for ourselves," she said.

Custody of elderly woman: Family finds closure after viewing police video

By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Mar 2017

The woman whose 73-year-old mother was arrested for a municipal offence viewed police footage yesterday and accepted that it clearly showed her mother was not physically restrained at any time while in police custody.

Madam Gertrude Simon, 55, who had all along maintained that her mother had been handcuffed by the police, attended a briefing with her mother at the Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC).

Madam Simon said: "I appreciate the unprecedented gesture made by the police to show me the video recordings of the sequence of events during the time when my mother was in police custody."

She added: "Based on the police video shown, it is clear that my mum was not physically restrained at any time when she was in their custody."

Singapore Prison Service (SPS) officers, who were also at the briefing, had clarified that physical restraints were used by their officers in accordance with current SPS procedures during the two occasions when her mother, Madam Josephine Savarimuthu, was transported between the State Courts and Changi Women's Prison.

Madam Simon said she was gratified by the transparency displayed by the authorities in coming forward to share their footage and information.

"It has helped to bring a good closure to this unfortunate episode of events," she added.

Friday, 17 March 2017

HDB artists: Authorisation does not kill creativity

One resident who sought official approval for his displays even got support from the town council
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2017

The authorities must be informed if artists want to build public displays responsibly, said Woodlands resident Tan Koon Tat.

The 56-year-old carpenter has been constructing festive displays at the carpark near Block 179, Woodlands Street 13, for the past decade, even making artificial snow last Christmas.

All these were done with the blessing of the Marsiling-Yew Tee Town Council, said Mr Tan.

In Mandarin, he told The Straits Times that he knows the authorities have to account to residents if it goes awry.

Said Mr Tan: "They are in charge of the space, and they have to take responsibility if something bad happens. These rules are meant to protect the residents and we must respect that."

It is also not true that support from officials mean the work is any less genuine, he said.

The town council does not dictate how he conducts his public decorations as long as they fit certain safety and hygiene requirements and do not inconvenience others.

"The town council even volunteered to provide electrical points to power some of my displays, such as the snow machine, which I rejected because I don't think the public should pay for my decorations," said Mr Tan.

While the tableaus may be subjective and might inevitably offend others, Mr Tan said he tries to mitigate this by talking to various neighbours and sharing his plans with them. If there are any concerns, he would alter them.

Every year, he designs and builds displays to celebrate five occasions - National Day, Deepavali, Hari Raya, Christmas and Chinese New Year.

This is so that it is inclusive of all races and religions, he said.

When it comes to the clean-up, he knows he cannot shirk responsibility because of the assurances he has given to the town council, as it should rightly be.

Said Mr Tan: "How do you think the authorities would react if the artist left a mess? Or if the decorations were done improperly and cannot be removed easily?

"These are all things that he or she should expect and the best way to avoid these issues is to inform the town council first."

RSAF's new surveillance drone Heron 1 now combat-ready

NSFs to help fly RSAF's new drone, Heron 1
The drone, which earned combat-ready status, will have NSFs as co-pilots alongside regulars
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2017

Singapore's new "eye in the sky", the Heron 1 drone which earned its combat-ready status yesterday, has full-time national servicemen (NSFs) serving as pilots - a first for the airforce's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it was revealed.

In a ceremony held at Murai Camp, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen marked the Heron 1's achievement of the Full Operational Capability (FOC) status by the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) 119 and 128 Squadrons. "It's a significant milestone.

The FOC of the Heron brings RSAF's (unmanned) aerial capabilities to the level of advanced militaries globally," Dr Ng said in a speech. He called the deployment of NSFs as UAV pilots in the airforce a "significant first". "We have the same exacting standards for NSFs as we do for regular pilots," he added. The NSFs serve as co-pilots, alongside the regulars, who are aircraft captains.

Major John Samuel, the commanding officer of 119 SQN, said the airforce has been looking at tapping on NSFs to fulfil its "manpower needs over the longer term".

The RSAF declined to reveal how many NSF UAV pilots it has, but said it started training them in 2014.

Candidates have to undergo medical and psycho-motor tests and interviews, and it takes about 18 months to be trained as an operationally ready UAV pilot.

NSF Lieutenant Marcus Chia, 20, a UAV pilot, said: "It has been special and meaningful for me. I get to be an aviator (and) operate such a highly advanced platform."

Earlier this month, the Defence Ministry announced that a new cyber-defence vocation for NSFs and operationally ready NSmen had been created with deployment from August.

The Heron 1 provides ground forces with a real-time, bird's-eye view of the battlefield with its advanced imaging sensors. Using its laser designator, the drone can also work with attack helicopters and fighters to guide munitions to targets precisely.

PM Lee opens SMU's School of Law building and Kwa Geok Choo Law Library

School lawyers of tomorrow in many fields: PM Lee
Encourage more cross-disciplinary learning to keep up with changing law practice, he says
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2017

Singapore's law schools need to produce lawyers who are prepared for the demands of a new working environment marked by disruption and new technologies, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking at the official opening of the Singapore Management University's (SMU) new law school building, Mr Lee said the way law is being practised will change in the future, and more cross-disciplinary learning should be encouraged.

He said the Government will be supporting the bigger law firms to venture into new areas of legal practice while helping the smaller ones raise their productivity and deliver better services to clients.

Mr Lee said the SMU School of Law, Singapore's second law school, was set up in 2007 not just to increase the number of law graduates. "We wanted a law school that would provide a rigorous legal education, coupled with exposure to other disciplines, such as business, economics, accountancy, social sciences or information systems."

He added: "We hoped that the graduates will be more versatile, able to apply their knowledge of the law in many different fields, and to contribute to our economy."

He was speaking to some 800 guests at the school's function hall, where future convocation and commencement ceremonies can now be held in-house for up to 1,400 people.

Mr Lee later toured the new 23,000 sq m School of Law building, located at the junction of Armenian Street and Stamford Road. The building was completed last December at a cost of $165 million.

Previously, law students and faculty members shared facilities across the road with SMU's accountancy and business schools.

The building features the Kwa Geok Choo Law Library. Madam Kwa, a lawyer, was one of the founders of Lee & Lee, one of Singapore's oldest firms. Madam Kwa, who died in 2010, is PM Lee's mother.

SMU chairman Ho Kwon Ping, in his speech, said the 2,200 sq m Kwa Geok Choo Law Library will be "at the heart of legal education and scholarship in Singapore".

He added: "Universities around the world are known for their iconic libraries, and this one is strategically placed at the high point of the site next to Stamford Green."

The three-storey library, which can seat more than 500 people, will focus on developing special collections in commercial law, dispute resolution and ASEAN law, among other areas.