Precious Water

Precious Water
Water, essence of life

Friday, 16 August 2013

Almost killed one foreign talent

Two evenings ago, I visited the company’s doctor at Ang Mo Kio central after work, holding back a throbbing headache, muscle aches and a tad of fever for the day. Physical examination showed nothing serious, perhaps an onset of flu. I was prescribed paracetamol 500mg, told to rest and drink lots of fluid.

It was getting dark as I lumbered out of AMK central 2 car park. I had to turn left onto AMK Ave 8, keep right and then turn right at traffic junction onto AMK Ave 5. The car on my right, some distance away, signalled left to turn into the car park I was exiting. His main lights were off, only his signal light goes tick-tock.

What I did not see was a cyclist ahead of this car. I inched forward to turn left, momentarily stunned to have this projectile whizzed by. I must have missed this flying object by a whisker. I collected myself and ask what I can tell this guy to keep him safe. I picked up speed, lowered my side window, drew alongside him and shouted: “you need lights”. He was cycling a hybrid road bike with no lights, at a frantic speed.

He shot back. It’s daylight! I dipped my eyes, read the time off my digital clock and shouted back: “It’s past 7pm”. We then disengage, he turning left and I turn right. He appeared to be a man in his mid-30s; white caucasian. In the past 3 years, the average number of cyclist fatalities in Singapore stand at 18, way too high.

It is totally daft not to have both front and rear lights on a bicycle when cycling on main vehicular roads come dusk. May luck continue to be on his side and if he does not change, I wonder what he is going to say on his epitaph.    

Friday, 21 June 2013

Whistle blowing, possible solution to road rage

It was reported in the local news that every four days, there is an officially reported case of road rage in Singapore. There must be many cases which go unreported as well, typically accompanied by expletives and finger pointing (middle being the favourite), short of physical blows. 

On this small footprint of 710 sq metres, there are about a million vehicles, inclusive of 606,280 private cars. In 2010, there were 63 cases of road rage. Fast forward 2 years, we registered 97 cases. Why so high? Maybe it is because motor vehicles are so expensively personal that the natural reflex is to flex one’s muscles. That’s exactly what a berserk motorist did recently when he went up to victim vehicle, use back of his right hand and I quote: “rap the front windscreen” as reported in ST 8Jun13.

Thankfully, the victim locked himself in his car. Whatever, the windscreen cracked.

The road bully, with violent track record, was promptly sent to jail for a week. If you, like me, have a short fuse to begin with (although one’s own children and aging have a positive effect on growing fuse length rather quickly), I may possibly have the solution for you before you land up in hot soup.

As a standard procedure, I always have with me a whistle and a small torch whenever I travel overseas. For the Wife, it’s her small alarm clock. Never mind now that smart phone has torch and alarm features. We are all creatures of habit. Just the other day, I asked my cyclist buddy if he brought along his camera for a Kodak moment. He whipped out his iPhone and I felt so silly.  

The whistle would accompany me during the day when I am on the move. The idea is to have ability to draw attention when needed. My torch sits next to my bed, never my hand phone. I am not a great fan of electronic-magnetic-current, real or imagined, doing a slow cook on whatever limited grey cells left. In case of any light related emergency, I have vision, ready on hand.

This is my 1st generation whistle. I believe it is the same type carried by our old Police Force. When blown, it gives a hollow sound. 

Several years ago, we were in a queue, waiting to get past immigration at Taipei International Airport. Taiwanese are orderly and courteous. Along came this man, a tour guide, waving a flag high. He barged in, ahead of the queue, merrily directed his group of passengers to jump queue thinking the rest behind will be too civilised to object. True enough, all kept quiet, maybe shocked to say anything.

A local Taiwanese raised his voice and shouted: páiduì. I was a few places behind and immediately joined in unison. They were oblivious, not caring a s@!% while a few of us were tenors in harmony by then. It did not work because this was a bunch of tourists from mainland China. The guy who shouted Páiduì up the ante, drew out a whistle and man, he blew. I was tempted to pull out my thingy too until the Wife gave a stabbing glare that read: “don’t you ever pull out that whistle of yours”.

Blowing a whistle in an airport must be the most delightful method to draw attention. Before long, a policeman came and asked about. By this time, the tour guide retreated, instructing his guests to join at back of queue. So it was that a humble whistle saved the day, putting a check on unacceptable behaviour.

Following that incident, I upgraded my whistle to a slicker version with a less hollow sound. It was fine but still sounded timid. 

About 1 year ago, I chanced upon someone who bought a whistle at National Geographic store at Vivocity (exited since then). I was curious and took a close look at the packaging. It reads: “Extremely efficient and easy to blow with a superior clear loud blast. It’s multi-coloured with an attractive lanyard”. The real clinger for me was the phrase “EXCEEDS 120dB. Do not whistle directly into a person’s ear”. At 120dB, it’s about the sound of an ambulance siren or at a loud rock concert. 

Based on specifications and for someone with a minor hearing impairment, this is my perfect whistle short of an air-horn. It’s rubbery based, rust proof, maintenance free, made in Canada.

I bought 10 pieces, gave most away to my daughter’s friends (ladies only) studying abroad. It makes for a great personal safety companion because the pitch will scare the s*&$ of anyone who tries to be funny.    

This is my ultimate whistle, guarantee to draw attention. 

Exceeds 120 dB. Remember not to blow into  your spouse's ear! 

Several months ago, on our way back to Singapore from Hǎikǒu, Hainan, a handful of passengers tried to cut queue, getting into the plane. Instinctively, I shouted: páiduì. Sheepishly they backed off and I missed putting my new found weapon to use. The Wife smiled, nodded approvingly.

Another reason why I needed to upgrade my whistle is that I have to drive pass Aljunied Rd/Lorong 22, Geylang on work days. Food is wonderfully good there including 24 hour “tau huey” at Lorong 24A.

The traffic eco-system there is chaotic and stressful. You have pedestrians who attempt to cross roads even when signal is not in their favour. Pedestrians who are caught on middle island of roads. You have cyclists who salmon-ed against normal traffic flow. It is also common to have cyclists glued to handphones talking, cycling one handed. And, yes reckless e-bikes.

If you happen to spot a motorist in Geylang area in the evening with what looks like a pacifier in the mouth, it is quite likely to be me.  Car honks pale in comparison to my new found whistle. Here, no one cares a hoot about car toots.  

So back to the issue of road rage, what can you do to curtail that temptation of throwing a punch when your ego is challenged and possibly bruised whilst driving? Here is my step-by-step recipe to stay out of trouble.

  • Go get yourself a FOX40 whistle, under $10.
  • Give away the colourful lanyard.
  • Give whistle a wash using water and vinegar.
  • Place whistle in your car, preferably a spot readily within reach.
Every time you feel you need to scold or swear at an idiotic motorist, stuff that thingy into your mouth and blow till your heart’s content.  

Imagine or use whatever expletives you like; no worries. All will be safely translated to one tone. If you are absolutely disgusted, simply blow hard and loud, preferably holding on to that whistle so no fingers are pointed in the wrong direction. Just remember to lower your side window and try not to blow in the direction of the Wife! 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Bicycles will be here to stay

The humble bicycle was invented 200 years ago. The modern automobile was invented in 1885, 70 years later. By 1960, Singapore had 268,000 bicycles and 63,000 cars and 19,000 motorbikes (quoted from The Evolution of cycling in Singapore by Koh Puay Ping and Wong Yiik Diew) . In the 1970s, bicycle usage started to decline as both car and motorbike ownership shot up. Walking, cycling and public transport became second class compared to private cars. Soon cycling tracks were removed to make way for roads. By 1981, the Government stopped registering bicycles altogether.

Sales of bicycles enjoyed double digit growth in the past 5 years. If we take into consideration including bicycles owned by foreign workers, it is conceivable there is at least half a million bicycles island wide. As part of the National Cycling Plan, 7 HDB selected towns will enjoy a network of 50 km intra-town off-road cycling paths. Such short-trips may include cycling to the market, school, bus exchange or cycling the first mile to catch the MRT.

When it comes to cycling between towns or into CBD, the challenge of off-road paths, tracks is more daunting in space constraint SG. Thanks to NParks years of building park connector networks, strategically positioned here and there, the opportunity to link these existing 210 km of PCN into our heartland cycling paths is happening. It is projected that Park Connector Network will be extended to cover 360 km by 2020 (Designing our city: planning for a sustainable SG by URA). The “icing on the cake” includes a 150 km round-island-route. We have not even discussed developing the North-South Rail Corridor of over 25 km of contiguous distance. So, yes there is no turning back as bicycles will be here to stay.    
Cyclists in Singapore continue to be a sandwiched class; between motorists and pedestrians. Pedestrians want cyclists to be on the roads, not pavements, and motorists want cyclists “out of their way”. The common gripe of most motorists (having to pay road-tax and high COE) is that cyclists don’t belong because they pay next to nothing! Hence this tension continues unabated, exacerbated each time there is near miss or an accident involving motorists and bicycles.

Likewise, when a cyclist pedals on pavement, he risks chastised by pedestrians who think they owned all walk ways. In addition, cyclists may be fined for a “traffic violation” cycling on pavements although the authority always applies a “light touch” implementation on this matter. Increasingly, more towns are reforming to be more cycling friendly, be it on dedicated cycling paths or shared paths in the form of park connectors introduced through NParks.   

The reality on the ground is as follows (again by Koh Puay Ping and Wong Yiik Diew)

* So there is hope still that pavements can be shared without being territorial as is the case for most park connectors. 

In this urban jungle, temper flares especially when user exhibits bad behaviour. Extracted from STOMP

What then is a cyclist in Singapore and should he/she be a perennial rub on the other users, be it on road or pavement? Hopefully, you will understand we need to co-exist as bicycles will feature more in the years to come.

Cyclists come in many forms. As a photo is worth a thousand works, I will show you that cyclists are ordinary people trying to get from point A to point B safely in the most time efficient manner. And yes, some depend on this humble invention for work purpose.

Here, I must qualify that I am not referring to those “men or women in spandex”, typically week end warriors, charged on high octane on a cardio work out. The law of physics exempts no one and the faster they go, the higher their risk. I will also exclude some (minority) uncouth, including foreign workers, who have absolutely no regard for other users; be it motorists or pedestrians.  

Clearly on our roads, the most vulnerable include motorcyclists and cyclists. Speed kills and last year alone, there were 169 road deaths. The more vulnerable cyclists suffered average of 18 deaths over three years as was reported in parliament in Sep12. I have not come across any documented fatalities of pedestrians/cyclists combination on pavements, other than some reported bruises, falls or shouting contests.

So how do we stack against other cosmopolitan cities including New York and London? At 18 cyclist deaths, we fare poorly. 

If we use London as another comparison, 18 cyclist deaths are equally appalling. 

If you refer to Straits Times 16 May, 2013 B1 by Christopher Tan, our Traffic Police issued 83,735 summons in first quarter of 2013 for traffic violation, up from 68,176 for same quarter last year. Speeding alone accounted for 64,628 tickets, up from 46,654 last year; an astronomical 38% jump. This first quarter of 2013, we clocked 54 road deaths, compared to 49 last year. At this rate, we will revisit the dark ages of over 200 road deaths per year and a 28% increase in fatality rate over 2012!

The extrapolated fatality number of cyclists is correspondingly grim. First quarter saw 5 cyclist deaths (including 2 young boys) and 1 hit-and-run case. The latest victim was an expat roadie who dashed into a stationary lorry along Changi coastal road. He was dead right whilst the lorry awfully wrong. We claim to be first world, but our behaviour makes misery out of hundreds of related parties from these unfortunate victims.

So please remember, spare a thought before you step hard on your gas pedal. That split moment of madness can only bring grief to the slow and vulnerable. What are we to do? Whatever? Bicycles will be here to stay. Enjoy the photos.

* Here’s a mum cycling outside Wheelock place with a child, probably after kindergarten class. She is sensible, cycling on pavement and waiting for light to turn green.

* Here is a worker, picking up litter. He has got all his tools loaded on his bicycle. 

* Here is another worker pedalling his “cargo bike” collecting litter in the city, 
along Singapore river. 

* A lady I see quite often in my neighbourhood, cycling to work. She is waiting to cross traffic lights. 

* Husband and wife team, waiting for air; not gas. 

* Dad coaching the next generation cyclist.

* A mum cycling home after dropping kid at school.

* Photo of a cyclist at -25 degree C in Harbin, China. 

* Elderly man probably on his way home after his kopi fix at nearby market.

* Multi-modal commute to address both the first and last miles. No real estate needed at both ends of train stations. 
Extracted from Tern.

* Err..that’s my foldie and stomach on our local MRT. It was a good emission-free day, 42 train stops, 24 km of first and last miles, 3 errands and lots of Vit D. 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Dialects, mandarin and hanyu pinyin

There I was giving a safety briefing to 12 CEOs before we set off on our discovering Singapore on bicycle tour a few months back. I highlighted several points of interest along the Western Adventure park connector. For the uninitiated, you may like to know we have 210 km of park connectors where you can walk, roller blade, cycle safely. Refer to: for Western adventure route, a circuitous route of 23 km. Do visit for all other park connectors.

Points of interest within Western Adventure include 小桂林 (Little Guilin, China), Wallace Centre, farmlands of Sungei Tengah, heartlands of Choa Chu Kang, Bt Panjang, Pang Sua park connector and finally the rustic, narrow, undulating turns within Zhenghua park. The last section of Zhenghua is high-octane stuff, exhilarating for those looking for an adrenalin fix.

As an aside, this year is the centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace death. He spent eight years travelling New Guinea and the Malay Archipelago, including Singapore. Without him, it can be argued that maybe Darwin would not have surfaced. The centre is located about 8 mins walk from Diary Farm carpark.

Back to the topic of dialects, I have always thought “Pang Sua” park connector in Hokkien (one of several dialects) to be “releasing sand” as in “Pang” (release) and “Sua” (sand). A learned CEO from public sector corrected me at that briefing saying it should be “Fragrant Hill”; as in “phang suah” pronounced in a particular intonation and valid across several dialects. 

So momentarily, I had my tail between my legs. If it’s “fragrant hill”, so be it. I quickly moved on to another point of interest. 

That same week end, I just had that burning desire to get to the bottom of this after being publicly bruised. I was not completely convinced it is “fragrant hill” in Hokkien. So I googled and lo behold “fragrant hill” turns out to be a common name for many popular places in the world. But I could not find any reference of “fragrant hill” to Singapore, only fragrant hotel! 

In terms of intonation in Hokkien, “Pang” or “Phang” could well be “fragrant or release”. I asked around and someone more suitably qualified in Hokkien said. If it is “fragrant” then maybe “Phang” is more accurate; I felt vindicated. Likewise in mum’s native Teochew, “Phang” would be more acceptable than “Pang” for “fragrant”.

Then again in Mandarin, the unifying language for all dialects, “fragrant” is and pronounced Xiāng; nowhere near “Pang”. And if it is “Phang”, then there is no hanyu pinyin equivalent. Going by “Pang”, there will be 4 intonations to the same word. So which to pick? The 4th tone would read as Pàng ( as in fat!).

As a digression, using Chinese hieroglyphs to explain Chinese characters is logical on most occasions. In this instance, the character (fat) consists of two parts, left and a right representation; (moon) and (half). Take a half-moon or full-moon and you still get a rotund figure!  

Let us move on to “Sua” (hill or sand). In both Hokkien and Teochew, “Sua” is good enough for both “hill” or “sand”. In Pinyin, we will be hard pressed for “Sua”. It would be as if two words instead. In Mandarin, hill would have been , pronounced as Shān in the 1st tone. Sand would have been , pronounced as Shā, also 1st tone. Likewise (kill), shares the same tone as sand. Then again, “Shan and Sha” is nowhere near “Sua”!

It is, therefore, not surprising to have standard Mandarin Chinese as a unifying mechanism to get all dialects onto same page. Thanks to Hanyu Pinyin, good standard pronunciation is achievable. Of course, there is still the complexity of same tone for different words. 

Extracted from e-guide

I then went back to the e-guide from NParks on URL provided. It said “Pang Sua” means “weighing sand” in Hokkien. In the early 1900s, there were lorries transporting sand all over the island. Lorries suspected of carrying more than stipulated weight were escorted to this location for a weight test.

So it’s back to the drawing board with the word “Pang”. I again asked around both native and hybrid Hokkien. No one can explain “Pang” as “weighing”. A smart Teochew said maybe it is “Pong” which then evolves to “Pang”! “Pong” is colloquial and our guess is that it came from the British ‘pound’ (as in weight pound). Anyway, we are still none the wiser.   

I went back to NParks. It drew a blank. I am told it’s now escalated to National Heritage Board awaiting their response. At this rate, they are scratching themselves bald on one side. I will, for now, accept “Pang Sua” to be “releasing sand” and NOT “weighing sand” or for that matter “fragrant hill”. If a lorry is overweight, then sand has to be “released” to bring it down to stipulated weight. So I am satisfied to have “Pang Sua” as “releasing sand” as long as it is not “Pang Sai” (defecate). We will leave that for another day

So while it is true that hanyu pinyin (romanised alphabets) is great for learning Mandarin, there is another argument that it conflicts with learning English. Take for example, the word “bang”. There are at least 25 different words in Chinese across four intonations. In doubt, google translate is good!