Who said that ?!

I nearly choked myself to death laughing, when I read a certain letter from a certain civil servant about what the role of Singapore’s journalists should be. Shortly after finding a sharp streak of painful humour in her answer, I actually felt relief. Relief that while I am glad that my newspaper days opened many doors for me, I am so very thankful I am not a part of it now. I would have bowed my head in shame if I am still in the thick of it, with a Big Brother cloud hovering above me because of this:

“It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government’s standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.”

Press Secretary to the Minister for Information,
Communications and the Arts

Her name, imprinted so boldly in the letter published in the newspaper Today – rang a familiar tone. I think I have met her before in some party, if not cajoled my way to interview one of the people she fervently served. Right now, however,I am having problems dealing with how bold and incredibly ignorant a reply from an experienced press officer has been in giving retorts to the newspaper. I assume she knows full well that it will be read by many beyond the Singapore servants circle. There is life outside of servitude, Ms Bhavani. It is called Living.

Let me begin this way. About a decade ago, I had my first brush of nanny-dom when a news editor who interviewed me for a radio journalism job said with a straight face – “You have great potential. But let me remind you that journalism is not about championing issues. We just report.”

I nodded unknowingly, chiding my young mind at the same time for being a tad smart-alecky by choosing to vocalise my opinions unabashly about some global issues then. Unsolicited opinions is not well regarded in Singapore’s journalism, oops, I didn’t know.I am convinced that I would have gotten the job if only I had shut up.

I moved on, and eventually ended up with the national daily. Those were very happy days, especially when you have a band to jam with every lunch hour 🙂 But those were learning days too – because there were times when I was told to source for reaction views from the public after the premier’s speech on national TV, thinking that it was indeed for a reaction story. I realized later that it was for the editors to report to the premier’s office, not to the public. I didn’t know I was a double agent. I should have asked for extra pay then, stupid me.

I still have a few friends who are championing issues in the Singapore media, or at least who still think they are. Many have left. I was an inch close to diving back into the world of newspaper journalism when I returned from Canada in 2004,with the same newspaper who decided to suspend the blog of a particular Mr Brown after he criticised the rising cost of living in Singapore. Mr Brown’s entry triggered that Bhavani reply you see. It must have been difficult on a very individual level for the newspaper staff to embrace such a decision. For most of them are conflicted, yet drawn to the sexy,juicy life of having a journalist tag to their name. It is a very seductive power, albeit amassed in a messy clump of false confidence.

The day the letter was printed in the papers – it was a national slap on all our faces – us Singaporeans who were educated well, travelled the world, opened our hearts and minds and embrace what’s best for our beloved country. It was an insult to think that we will gulp that sort of reply and not think anything of it.

I never thought I would diss an industry I love, and one that I had grew very much on as an adult in my own blog. But that reply Ms Bhavani, is the straw that broke this camel’s back. I wish you never wrote it, because I love my Singapore and want to be proud of it even when I am thousands of miles away.

To raft or not to raft

I am a sucker for things I cannot do well. I gravitate towards it, spend months psyching myself that I CAN do it, fail brilliantly – and then pat myself on the back and said to myself that I tried. By some curious self-study, I realise that all these gigs involve the water.

Having an intimate love-hate relationship with the water is something that grew out of a deep fear of it since I was 6. I was swimming in the then East Coast Lagoon, somehow managed to reach the wooden platform floating in the middle of the lagoon and climbed on it like any curious 6-year old would. I was with my sisters and cousins, and I remembered sitting on the edge of the platform and hanging my 2 liitle legs out into the water, singing away. The next thing I know, someone pushed me from behind and splash I go into the water, struggling to keep afloat. I was saved by my cousin, but I swear to you, even till today – within the 15 seconds or so I was submerged inside the water, I saw an octopus. I did. I really did. I told everyone when I was ashore, but no one believed me. Now that I am older, I can rationalise it as hallucination since I must have been in deep fear when I was in the water, but the fear remains – never mind that the octopus is obviously gone and barbequed somewhere.

Anyway, since then, I was fearful to swim. A mandatory class to learn swimming in secondary school did not help me, I failed it because I could not take the test. When I was 24, I was determined to not let this water fear ruled my life, and this was when the water-challenge mission came to my life, and never left until today. I learnt how to swim from a lady whom I interviewed for a diving story for the paper I worked for, and she was the most patient instructor I know. Despite the fact that the night lesssons at the Anglo CHinese School at Barker Road meant eerie conditions due to the big, menacing, creepy-looking trees – I persevered, along with a few other friends. I wouldn’t say I am a good swimmer, but enough to gain some confidence to challenge the water again.

A few years later, I remembered how I had missed the fun my hostelmates had during their divijng trip to Tioman just because I was fearful of it. It took months for me to brave myself for it, and finally I did – not without its drama. During one practice session, I stood for 20 minutes on edge of the RIver Valley Swimming Pool – all suit-up, oxygen tank in place, regulator in my mouth – but I couldn’t. An old boyfriend then, along with my diving instructor were already in the pool and coaxing me to overcome my fear of jumping in – but all my 6 year old fear, octopus included, came rushing into my mind. I ended up sitting by the side of the pool – crying. By the way, I never had that diving license. I finished the entire course, but did not take the test. Wimp.

And then now, living so close to the Rockies and right in the heart of beautiful British Columbia – another water challenge came peering into my face. I have been telling DH that I WILL do the white-water rafting, even if I had to start with the Class 1 rapids (rapids come in categories of classes from 1-6 . CLass 6 being something like the aggressive gush of the Niagara Falls). There is a nearby white water river called the Chilliwack River and another one called the Thomson River which seems to be beckoning, but by my own record – I would need at least a few months to psyche myself up. By then, summer will be over and the water level may be too high or too low to raft. So how?

I don’t really want to see myself ‘fail brilliantly’, but I know I may just will. Maybe I should borrow SIL’s rubber dingy and practice floating on it in the river next to our house instead, that would be more methodical and gradual in building rafting-confidence wouldn’t it? Then again, thats boring – cause I am setting myself to successfully conquer the water. Its weird, but it seems the fact that no one believed my octopus story became a motivation for me to always do something which I know I cannot do so easily.

Look at what a 28-year-old incident did to me.So when your child said they saw an octopus in that pool or lagoon, please, do believe it.

Fireworks from a Mountain

After all these years of chasing fireworks – braving mosquitoes in a secluded undeveloped portion of Sentosa Island, hustled through bumper-to-bumper traffic at Marina Park, driving across the viaduct many times over between 7-7.30 pm to make sure the precise timing of the first bursts, nearly trampled to death while standing up at Harbour Quay in Sydney during the Olympics, climbing onto the top of the light tower at the National Stadium after cajoling the military marshalls and exploting my press pass – I thought, watching the fireworks from a moutain would top it all off, and what a smart decision I made for both me and DH to view the Canada Day fireworks splendidly yesterday.Not.

I realise how dumb it was for me to decide that we should view the fireworks (which is happening in downtown Vancouver) from Burnaby Mountain, some 20 km away. We were not the only ones of course, there were at least 200 people there – with a good mix of people showing what Canada truly is. I was amazed when I looked around and saw a potpourri of Chinese, Indians, Caucasians, Muslims, Eastern Europeans and many others I cannot instantly recognise. From the slopes of Burnaby Mountain facing the entire sprawl of Vancouver, it is a gorgeous view – including the waters between Vancouver and the Gulf islands, as well as the lights lining the summit at Mount Seymour Ski Resort. It was breathtaking, but it is no way a place to view fireworks – not the way I am used to.

Since young, fireworks is BIG, HUGE and LOUD. I am also always trying to get to it as close as I can – there is something so powerful and magical to be so close to the majestic thumping of each burst, and how small it often makes me feel. I like that feeling, that smallness – to be able to see something so full of grandeur and be completely marvelled by it.

Little did I realise that viewing fireworks from the top of a mountain will only make the firework seem, err….small. Its basic physics really – you are far, AND higher than the height of the firerworks – so the bursts seem like small sparks (macam bunga api) from where you are. As I watched the first few bursts of the fireworks last night, some distant away, minus the thumps because we were so far away – I was dissapointed. Literally, it was like someone ripped away my childhood firework fantasy – something that I have been chasing and gratified by everytime I seek it.

The chilly air, the breathtaking view and the romantic company (yes it was romantic, amidst the screaming children running around 🙂 – did make up the dissapointment a bit. Next year, DH says – we are going to go to another location. Fireworks CANNOT be smaller than you are, it is just wrong. That’s the whole magic of it.

Viewing fireworks from a mountain is bad, bad decision on my part. I thought I was clever, priding myself to DH saying I have been chasing fireworks all my life and so I know what is best. Yeah right. I forgot I did not grow up in a place where there are super-high mountains around, except for 12-storey flats.

Think like a Canadian when you are in Canada, girl. Fireworks from a mountain doesn’t work.