Regardless of how cliché this introduction is, I have to say that citizen journalism is in its infantile stage of growth in Singapore. The Internet is an idealized conduit for many to air their opinion, and perhaps as a ripple effect many are clamoring for their views to be heard. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media is quick to latch on this trend with a host of online portals for the hoi polloi to participate in and for them to subsequently score some column inches in the local newspaper.

This of course bodes well for a nation often accused for its apathy towards current affairs and societal matters.

But what many fail to discern is the difference between positive citizen journalism and negative citizen journalism. Of course, the underlying motivations behind citizen journalism is the same, that is, to push for a greater good in Singapore and to air otherwise unheard opinions. Yet in the pursuit for voices to be heard are we neglecting better methods that lie within our own fiefdom?

The main source of my ire, specifically, is budding citizen photojournalists who ostentatiously play the shame game by whipping out their handy camera phones. All this, without seeming to hold a modicum of respect for other individuals and the capability to posit a thought of the consequences of their actions. Though their motivations may be positive, their actions indicate otherwise.

Let me first clarify that I am NOT a victim of these budding citizen photojournalists, nor do I stand in the camp of the people they have photographed with regard to their wrongdoings.

Take the oft-photographed incident of seat-hogging on public transportation. Yes, it is a moral and ethical issue for youths to give up their seats to the needy. But for people to turn against them via the shame game through photography such that these individuals can be lambasted on Internet forums and lampooned on local newspapers is a shameless act by itself.

It makes infinite more sense for these self-supposed vigilantes to approach these guilty youths themselves and to politely request for them to give up their seats. It is, at the end of the day, NOT a right but a courtesy issue. What’s wrong with leaving the comforts of the ‘cushy’ MRT seats, going up to the person, nudging him awake (if he’s pretending to be asleep) or catch his attention (if he’s pretending to be oblivious) AND asking them to give up their seats?

Wouldn’t that be more likely to create an immediate, positive effect? Would wantonly uploading a photograph onto national portals yield the same effect? Are these people even members of these portals? Even if they are, couldn’t a “this-won’t-ever-happen-to-me” attitude be omnipresent?

Ditto, to some of the photos that appeared on a local tabloid newspaper over the past week.

A woman openly eating on the MRT: photographed and published, rather than kindly warned about the repercussions. Wouldn’t it be a better deed for the keen watchdog to approach her, and inform her of the possible fines in case of sheer ignorance?

A bus driver guiding traffic along the KPE and subjecting himself to danger: photographed and published. Okay this does not go along with the main throttle of my argument but for the driver to stop along the side of the road just to take that shot – isn’t that a case of a pot calling the kettle black?

While the motivations of these purported vigilantes are inherently positive, what is the point when it insinuates a lack of conscious courtesy and politeness in a nation that is quick to infringe on the privacy of other people? All this, at the expense of what could be an immediate and positive resolution to the conflict one views upon. Or could the root of the problem be incommunicado, a sheer ignorance of the perks of open communication?

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It has been widely reported that certain American food manufacturers have turned to downsizing package sizes on the quiet in a bid to cut costs, fuelled by rising production costs due to soaring oil and food prices (what’s new).

Of course, the hush-hush game is being played so as not to repulse consumers who may not be observant enough to notice the downsizing at all. After all, in a world where prices of everything else is going up, it will be a promotion of the items of some sorts should their prices remain stagnant. Such coy marketing ploys at work, albeit underhand. Who cares about honesty being the best policy if profiteering is affected at the end of the day?

Though, with the latest reports, these ploys are likely to have been foiled and the companies have some answering to do to their customers.

Then again, are consumers that blind not to notice the surreptitious marginalising privately at play?

As Ms Deirdre Cummings, legislative director at consumer advocacy group MASSPIRG aptly puts, “So many times, they put ‘new improved package’ on the label but they would never put ‘new, improved and smaller’.”

Shouldn’t it be made clear for consumers that they are paying less for the same amount? As buyers, we definitely have the right to know about such changes. Well, at least the Singapore market is not that badly affected yet, although even if it is, we can probably trust our Consumers Association (CASE) to set things straight.

In the meantime, however, has any other fellow local readers noticed a possible covert shift taking place in the fast food restaurants here, in terms of the food portions? I was having supper with a friend recently when he commented, rather aptly it seems, that “unlike 10 years ago when the Big Mac was so huge that we have to split the hamburger into two layers to eat it, the Big Mac is more like a Small Mac now”. Apart from which, the sizes of the burgers at McDonald’s, the fried chicken at KFC, as well as the meat at Long John Silver’s certainly seem to be shrinking by the year, while the prices of their meals are still going up.

As consumers become savvier while the business world gets tougher, it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh.

Tourism in Sports

June 28, 2008

The world of sports is certainly a lucrative one, giving the recognition being placed on it, whether as a barometer of human progress, a showcase of indomitable human spirit, or simply, a chance to earn bragging rights on an international or regional platform.

This is further exemplified by how numerous countries have invested money into building up their burgeoning sports industries, amplified more so by the efforts and incentives of the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) in attracting foreign talent to Singapore, as well as the carrot being dangled in front of our sportsmen as motivation for them to perform.

The number of sporting events which capture global attention is countless, with the Summer Olympics, World Cup, Euro Championships and Commonwealth Games being some of the few large scale events with a lot of hoohaa attached.

The prestige of hosting a major sporting event has therefore grown leaps and bounds over the years, as a nation welcomes the best athletes from around the world for approximately a month of friendly competition. The benefits are boundless – a chance to build political ties and to gain recognition, as well as the promising tourism revenue which is bound to come along.

The onus lies with the host country to invest hefty sums of revenue to refurbish pre-existing infrastructure, as well as to construct new systems and to erect supportive tourism promotion campaigns so as to ensure the successful execution of the event.

Euro 2008 logoVia Euro 2008, Austria and Switzerland is bound to reap rewards from the European fans that are expected to descend on the countries during the championships, with an estimate of $358 million gained by the Swiss economy and $369 million gained by the Austrian economy. In Austria alone, overnight bookings have hit the 2-million mark during the campaign, which is well above the usual rates for the month of June, while almost 11,000 temporary jobs have been created to cope with the visitor influx.

However, while it may still be too early to tell, things do not look especially rosy for the upcoming Beijing Summer Olympics and Singapore’s Formula One Night Race.

Both events have been in the news lately in the run-up till the kick-off of the events.

The Beijing Games have been fraught with controversy surrounding the Chinese-Tibetan rule and the subsequent exile of the Daila Lama, and as a result, an unprecedented spotlight was shone on the global torch relay.

Formula One Grand Prix posterThe Singapore Formula One Night Race has been vigorously marketed as a world’s first-ever F1 night race.

Yet, recent reports have shown that the Formula One hotel booking is looking sluggish, while there is no sign of Olympic boom for Beijing hotels.

So, what ticks and what does not?

In the case of the Beijing Games, fingers are being pointed at wildly inflated prices within the country in view of the impending games despite a global economic slump, tighter visa regulations (ironically to keep out excessive visitors, a plan which has since proven to backfire), as well as possible anti-Chinese sentiments in the wake of the deadly Tibetan rioting. Tourism figures have dropped by 12.5% comparing May this year to a year ago.

As for Singapore, it is speculated that the sluggish outcome is a result of escalated hotel rates, especially for the hotels surrounding the race track, so much so that hotels have started pushing down their prices. But seriously, could there be an over-estimation for the demand? Ardent F1 fans would have snapped up grandstand tickets when ticketing sales first open. And, who would want to watch miniature-sized cars zoom by at a fraction of a second from, say, the thirtieth floor? Where is the kick in that?

The sciences behind generating revenue during a major sporting event may not be that simple, but the works are easy – for money to be earned, people have to come, and apart from placing too much focus and reliance on the sports itself, perhaps there is also a need to sell the country per se as well.

 

The past year has seen an NSF going AWOL from camp with a SAR-21 rifle and live ammunition, a limping JI terrorist making a toilet break from custody, and an attempted breakout from the Subordinate Courts making headlines around the world.

A new addition to the fray, however, is a security lapse at Changi Airport, though thank goodness this did not arise as a result of a deliberate escapade. Interestingly, Singapore is so well-known for its security that this lapse even made the papers in Azerbaijan.

Here’s a quick recap of the story:Changi Airport - Security Passport Lapse

  • Retiree Ang Heng Soon (61) checked in at the Tiger Airways counter using his son’s passport, which he had grabbed by mistake in his hurry to catch the flight
  • The counter officer issued him a boarding pass in his own name.
  • The Certis Cisco Airport Police officers on duty checked Mr Ang’s boarding pass and the passport he was holding before clearing him for entry into the restricted area
  • Mr Ang failed the fingerprint verification checks at the enhanced Immigration Automated Clearance System and could not pass
  • The Immigration Duty Officer did a ‘face-to-face verification’ and cleared him to go
  • Mr Ang realised the folly only on his flight to Ho Chi Minh City where he owned up to immigration authorities there and he was placed on a return flight to Singapore.

Deputy Prime Minister / Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng is naturally, not a very happy man. It is difficult to foresee him actually being happy with the recent unfolding of events which has tarnished Singapore’s squeaky-clean reputation as a security-tight state.

Obviously, he should be taken to task for this (as well as the many lapses which occurred under his charge), instead of delegating the blame down the command chain and emerging relatively unscathed, which is probably akin to soldiers trying to fight a war with their commander retreating to his bunk and watching primetime television.

Have all calls against complacency and for utmost vigilance gone unheeded in the wake of the recent escapades? It remains to be seen the punishments which will be meted out for the airport officers, though some sackings and demotions will certainly be in the air.

Instead of talking about the “should have”s or “should have been”s, what next for the ICA? What will the “review” of the security systems and processes which DPM directed the Ministry HQ’s Homefront Security Division to front throw up?

These are definitely questions which have to be answered.

With Singapore’s wish to establish and sustain its status as a nation with burgeoning nightlife, it has spent much effort in forging an active clubbing night scene.

However, one area of neglect is to have major shopping malls open later into the evening instead of closing prematurely at the godforsaken early time of 9.00pm or 9.30pm. And by major shopping malls, I refer to the malls along Singapore’s premier shopping district that is Orchard Road, such as Paragon and Takashimaya, not just Mustafa Centre (Singapore’s only 24-hour shopping centre till date, which sells mid-range products at cheap prices and is located away from the city area).

With tidal changes in the lifestyles of Singaporeans, late-night shopping ought to be the norm, instead of the exception that is marketed as a weekly event.

The implementation of the five-day work-week has resulted in students staying back in schools later into the day with their co-curricular activities and extra tutorial commitments. Similarly, professionals are knocking off work later and later into the evening as well. All this translates into a lack of retail time should shops continue to close early.

Great Singapore SaleThis is especially so with the current Great Singapore Sale (GSS), a prime opportunity to milk the wallets, of both incoming tourists and local Singaporeans alike, dry.

How is Singapore going to gain an edge as a retail haven over regional shopping districts which offer a wider range of products at cheaper prices continue to baffle me. Furthermore, shops in these districts such as Hong Kong and Taipei open later into the night catering for the late-night shopping crowd. True that they may open later in the day instead, but who’s complaining?

It is apparent that crowds flock to shops later in the night as opposed to earlier in the day, evident from observing crowd flow along Orchard Road.

With the impending opening of the Integrated Resorts and the annual Formula One race promising to draw a flurry of crowds to our sunny garden city, many tourists could find themselves disappointed with the minimal amount of time there is for shopping, or, for the lack of activities to do after shops close at 9.30pm and before midnight, when crowds start to pack local clubs.

Instead of writing off late-night stragglers, why not offer them the opportunity to shop by opening doors slightly later, till about 11.00pm instead?

The Sunday Times editorial (22/06/2008 ) on “Stars at home or aboard – let’s cheer them both” threw up the quandary of how Singaporeans are generally apathetic in showing support for talented local individuals.

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall overlook local born-and-bred MediaCorp TV artistes, who generally film local drama serials without any real opportunities to break into the overseas market. These artistes naturally appeal to the mainstream masses, as watching television forms one of the most popular pastimes in the country. This is especially so for the local evening drama serials filling both the 7pm and 9pm slots. Of course, there are instances when local drama serials are marketed overseas (for instance, The Return of the Condor Heroes in 1997, which ignited regional fan bases for local stars such as Fann Wong and Christopher Lee), but that is another story. As such, it is hardly surprising that most of them make their mark and are popular among locals alike.

On the contrary, for other Singaporeans pursuing other fields, reception from fellow countrymen, as mentioned within the editorial, is generally lukewarm.

It certainly takes more than sheer luck for Singaporeans to make it big overseas as compared to making it big within the country itself. For once, on the international arena, these artistes will have to compete with the global talent cohort for a chance to make their mark in their respective fields. It is no longer about standing out to a crowd of 4 million people, but about leaving a deep impression on the world.

Naturally, there will be both hits and misses. Let us take a look at the Chinese pop scene first, where the number of local artistes seeking breakthroughs is countless.

Stefanie Sun, Tanya ChuaThe likes of Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Tanya Chua, Kit Chan, Mavis Hee and A-Do have all become household names around the region. On the contrary, they all have one thing in common – all of them based themselves in Taiwan first, gaining considerable success there, prior to turning their focus onto the Singaporean market. It remains to be seen how successful would they be if they had based themselves locally first instead. Meanwhile, in 2005 when Tanya Chua clinched the Best Female Vocalist award at the acclaimed Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, she had griped at how she was widely regarded as the shoo-in for the award in Taiwan, but was regarded as a dark horse in local reports.

Singing competition “Project Superstar” produced alums such as Kelvin Tan and Kelly Poon, who are widely popular within the country, having emerged victorious in the competition where audience polls are a decisive factor in the results. However, they have failed to emulate their success on the regional arena as their debut album in Taiwan failed to create ripples.

Kaira GongHowever, lukewarm reception to singers such as Jones Shi Kangjun and Kaira Gong has resulted in similarly lukewarm reception here.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans seem to be a forgetful bunch as with the case of Joi Chua. Her story is a roller-coaster one with her debut effort based in Taiwan in 2000 falling prey to poor sales. Neither did that effort raise her popularity locally, resulting in her being dropped by her record company then. Venturing into the local music scene again in 2004, her breakout release was a success locally with a number of chart topping hits. However, her popularity seemed to have fallen here as she turned her attention to the regional market instead for her subsequent albums. While she is currently widely popular in China, her latest effort translated into critical acclaim but not sales in Taiwan.

It is worth noting that in the forthcoming 19th Taiwan Golden Melody Awards, Singaporeans Stefanie Sun, Tanya Chua and Joi Chua have all been nominated for the Best Female Vocalist, an unprecedented first for the country as locals take up half of the nominations for the category.

Olivia OngIn English music, will local songbird Corrinne May shift albums off the shelves in Singapore had she not been successful in the United States? How about Olivia Ong, a jazz singer based in Japan? What about the lukewarm reception which local bands such as Electrico, Ronin and The Great Spy Experiment receive at their gigs?

While young local designers are setting sights on international runways, these ripples are not being felt by Singaporeans who subscribe to tried and tested fashion labels such as Gap and Topshop. As reported in the International Herald Tribune article in the previous link, a new generation of young Singaporean designers is “trying to break away from the cosy domestic market, where it is relatively easy to be a big fish in a small pond”. Designers such as Jonathan Seow (head honcho of design label Woods & Woods which has been presented in Paris but remains relatively unknown in Singapore), Andrew Gn and Ashley Isham have their own influences in Europe before venturing back into their home countries.

Similarly, it seems, for movie directors. Eric Khoo is the only Singaporean film-maker to have three movies premiere in Cannes, with the latest offering “My Magic” up for the prestigious Palme D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, but how many Singaporeans have seen them? It appears that the more “arthouse” or critically-acclaimed the film is, the more turned away the local crowd is towards actually supporting them. The key, it appears, lies in mass appeal. Jack Neo is certainly mainstream in his films which depict the everyday lives of Singaporeans in an everyday manner. On the other hand, his films have yet to make much of a critical impact. Royston Tan had debilitating box office results with his earlier releases such as “24” and “4:30”, but earned a box office hit with the mainstream “881”.

In the meantime, Kelvin Tong and the Pang brothers hit big time with box office hits in their respective horror movies, “The Maid” and “The Eye”, with the latter even going on to their directorial debut in Tinseltown. However, does it seem strange that they were not promoted as local directors in the first place?

This article also highlights the success of local comics artist Foo Swee Chin whose works are being published in a monthly manga magazine in Japan, but alas, she is not a household name in Singapore.

It remains to be seen when, as our auteurs and artistes find their voices and identities and live their mark in their respective fields, the rest of us learn to be willing to discern and advocate their works, instead of following the crowd in supporting tried and tested formulae. Or when, the rest of us will discard our skepticism and bias towards performances which may break the mould, and readily accept local art ventures and local bands as well. All this will definitely go a long way in promoting a unique Singapore.

We start to ponder what the Singapore government can do to ameliorate the situation for all locals alike.

China recently joined in the fray to jack up its oil prices, while global oil prices press near USD140 per barrel even as Saudi Arabia has promised to increase output. With all these recent happenings, the prospect of oil prices actually taking a dip looks bleak at the moment.

On the downside, the elevated oil prices have also translated into rising food prices and electricity bills. This is especially evident should one decide to take a walk down the aisles of supermarkets and food courts (especially the latter, with the new prices, under makeshift signage, taking precedence over the old. Some nasi padang stores have also gone so far as to charging $2.00 for a portion of assam fish)

The resounding calls for a cut in petrol taxes are growing louder as an interim measure, but the government has stood firm in its resolution that cutting petrol duties and giving out subsidies are not the answer to soaring global oil prices.

But are subsidies the way to go to ease the situation? Minister Mah Bow Tan has mentioned that even countries such as China and Malaysia have started to re-think their policies on this. In the meantime, nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines are now in trouble due to subsidies.

In any case, not everyone can be pleased. One thing is for sure, though, that Singaporeans, unlike its neighbouring counterparts in Malaysia and Indonesia, are not renowned for being loud-mouthed in protests or demonstrations against government policies. Worst come to worst, bad policies will rankle throughout the state at first, before local citizens come to terms with them. Hence, in my humble opinion, such rationalizing against giving subsidies is in a sense, rather flawed.

Instead of subsidies, one interim measure, I suppose, the local government could possibly consider an increase in the GST Offset Package and Growth Dividends payments which was introduced during its 2007 Budget in subsequent years, to ameliorate the situation for citizens. This will leave the onus with local citizens to find ways and means to adapt to the rising cost of living themselves.

Saving Gaia

Also, it remains true that cutting the duty of about 40 cents for every litre of petrol will definitely send wrong signals to consumers about the real prices of oil. In any case, lifestyle habits have to be changed to increase the sustainability of our natural resources and to prevent oil prices for surging through the roof any further. For instance, turning off lights and air-conditioning at home when not in use, or by using public transport more frequently, are some plausible courses of action to take, for the good of the future. To promote environmental conversation, MediaCorp’s “Saving Gaia” is back for its second year as well.

It will certainly take a collective effort of not only the Government, but individuals themselves to tide over this pressing crisis.