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Jul 29, 2010

Ageless Retirement

Photo Credit: Don Wong
Source: TODAY, Thursday, July 29, 2010

This is a blog topic which is close to the heart of yours truly at age 62 this year.

Towards the end of this blog after quoting the newspaper report on TODAY, July 29, 2010 and an earlier report from The Straits Times, January 14, 2008, I would like to share my humble and frankly personal experience.

"Live, learn and venture overseas Minister Mentor Lee on not retiring, and how Singaporeans gain new ideas from going abroad". By Esther Ng

SINGAPORE — Fifteen years ago, when he was asked why Singaporeans were reluctant to venture overseas to learn new skills, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said it was because Singapore
was too comfortable.

However, in 15 years or so, the Minister Mentor expects that the Republic will have an intellectual class "maybe three times as big as what we have now". The war for talent is turning on two counts here, it seems.

Speaking at a dialogue on the leadership challenge in productivity and sustainable growth, Mr Lee said firstly Singapore was getting “a lot of talented people” from China, India and Malaysia.

“I’m quite sure that in 15, 20 years, when all these bright kids we've attacted from overseas grow up and mature - educated here and maybe educated also overseas - we’re going to have an intellectual class maybe three times as big as what we have now,” he said. These talents will accelerate Singapore’s development.

But a change is also happening among young Singaporeans, he assessed when asked by consultant Philip Merry the same question he asked Mr Lee 15 years ago.

Young Singaporeans now know the value of overseas experience in moving up the corporate ladder and for learning new ways to do things, said Mr Lee, the special guest at the Singapore National Employers Federation's 30th anniversary CEO and
Employers Summit, which ends today.

“I think the young have taken a different approach. They know it adds to their CV for the next promotion, or in a different company, to have experience abroad,” he said.

Mr Lee himself gained new ideas from spending time in Britain as a young man in his 20s, and later in the United States. For instance, he had noticed in Boston that planes took off and landed over water, and hence created “no footprint of sound of
the aircraft over the city”. So he opted to reclaim land in Changi for a new airport, where planes would take off over water, instead of building a second runway at Paya Lebar.

Mr Lee also compared Singapore to Japan, which he said is ahead in productivity levels due to the latter’s greater employee-company cooperation and bottom-up rise through the ranks.

But the Republic makes up for it "the Singapore way": Being a safe, clean and liveabloe city, well-connected to the rest of the world, with an English-speaking environment, and by embracing foreigners.
The following topic on retirement by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was shared with insight of working experience for elderly Singaporeans publicly as follows:
'Retirement means death'
Source: The Straits Times, January 14, 2008


'With nothing to do, no purpose in life, you'll just degrade, go to seed. The human being needs a challenge.'

THE three words 'retirement means death' reverberated around the Suntec Convention Centre theatre yesterday as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew addressed the problem of an ageing society at a dialogue.

'We've got to educate those about to retire: Don't retire, work. Retirement means death,' said MM Lee with a laugh.

And he meant every word of what he said to participants at the Silver Industry Conference and Exhibition (Sicex).

'I would not be able to speak to you in this way if I had not led a very active life, connected with many people throughout the world and tried to interpret it to make sense for Singapore,' said the elder statesman, who turns 85 this year.

Like many developed and fast developing countries around the world, Singapore has an ageing population due to longer lifespans and declining birth rates.

'Maybe if we had not started family planning, it would not have been so bad. But then we would not have (economic) growth,' quipped Mr Lee to much laughter from conference participants.

Earlier in the 70-minute dialogue, which revealed a light-hearted and more personal side of the MM, he said that Singaporeans who believed they could stop work at 55 to drink wine and play golf were 'done for'.

'If the mindset is that 'I'll reach retirement age at 62, I'm old, I can't work anymore, now is the time I enjoy life,' I think you're making the biggest mistake of your life.'

Research has shown that those who retire and lead sedentary lives 'die off very quickly', said the man who started jogging regularly in his 50s and now also keeps fit by swimming and cycling.

'With nothing to do, no purpose in life, you'll just degrade, go to seed. The human being needs a challenge.'
How do we define "ageless" or "ageist"?

There is no such thing as an "ageist"...the junior citizen 40 years ago will become a senior citizen 40 years later...just a matter of time!
- Anonymous

Regardless of every people everywhere, nobody can claim how long a person can live for how long for how when.

I beg your pardon to mention "unkindly" that if a person were not to live long enough the mandatory retirement age which varies the labour law from country to country, there would not be any issue for those who die younger before a person reaches retirement age is unpreditable.

I would like to blog to express what I have learnt, not for comparison how a person live, not for judgement on the life standard of the individual at whatever era.

My father passed away at age 60 after he migrated from China to Singapore at the age of 18 years to work as a book-keeper (an expert abacus before the invention of electronic calculator). His employer of the import and export company at Amoy Street did not follow the law at what age to retire. The boss of his former employer was of my father's contemporary.

The traditional company policy is simply, "to work for as long as the employee can work as long can live and as healthy the employee can be useful to the company. No such a thing as retirement". Whatever that is manmade (eg setting retirement at age 62), can be man unmade.

Thus I believe that Minister Mentor has a similar philosophy on retirement, didn't him? However, the boss of a company is different from MM's policy on a national level.

There may a myth most people hold is: "Of course, Minister Mentor is different in the type of job he is capable of performing".

How then the difference of a less educated or non-literate person with hawker assistant, dish-washer, security guard, insurance campaign telemarketing sales, etc.

"Ageism" in the workplace is a serious issue for many elderly. Seniors often face hiring discrimination because employers think that they are not worth training, or not fit to perform a job; when they offer employment based on a fixed age for "retirement".

Related to a classic discrimination experiment of brown versus blue eyes, the "Colour of Harmony (2) " perceived "ageist" attitude should be certain employers in both public and private sectors in Singapore, which hopefully a mindset change of younger human resources of westernised corporates and ask them as Minister Mentor had mentioned: "Before you discuss your future, remember how we got here".

How many the younger employers will consider themselves when they are affected by the "aged retirement". Work is a human dignity to whatever menial workers. Its not for them to tell themselves whatever others decide to continue working whatever he could contribute, earn a living for the compassionate human beings.

The reply to the following comments are added on to the main blog for your convenience:

Thanks to Philip, Chun See and yg for sharing your personal views and inputs.

The personal decision of each elderly individual's circumstances for monetary reasons, to help charity organisations for volunteerism, to contribute community services and to be helpful in any ways to society without the needs as a salaried work.

Philip contributes actively to various organisations which would otherwise be a loss to these benefactors if he is unable to serve the community beyond the official retirement age?

Not by legislation. In fact, that is the reason why an age could be set for retirement. Is the correct age is 55, 65 or until death? For that matter, the age to die is never legislated by anybody in anywhere in the world.

On the contrary, the German nation of Hitler had been subjected for many years to the ‘God-is-dead’ atheism of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900).

Nietzsche believed that Darwinian evolution would eventually produce the Übermensch, ‘a superman whose distance from the ordinary man is greater than the distance between man and ape’.Then a ‘super-race’ of such beings would impose its will on the weak and the worthless.

Obviously, those who prefer to retire which an ex-colleague mentioned: "For so many years to be working for people under the official retirement age, they want to do things for themselves, not for others".

My elderly neighbour who works as a hawker cleaner told me: "I need to earn some pocket money by working no matter how little money she earns as a dignified work ...who else to just as a "paiseh" handout or for begging". Elderly people are encouraged to work with dignity and not to think that a hawker cleaner or even those who collect discarded cardboards or a " karang guni" as a form of recycle business in a legal way.

As Chun See mentioned: "spend time with family and serve in the church and try to do work which I enjoy". The choice is the right of the individual.

Thanks to yg whom I share his sentiments in many ways:

"i will say to each his own. if you are happy working beyond your retirement, carry on. however, there are those who know how to make good use of their retirement. let them be".

The active age is at any age, not to be determined by anyone. My 73 year friend is an active line-dancer and enjoy himself. Should he be stopped to be happy as "retired"?

"Wise Old Owl" unk Dicko said... need to over react over MM's "Retirement means Death" headline-catching news. MM is the Master when he wants to capture an entire audience and I don't mean those inside the hall. He wants to ensure that people everywhere at the least talk,think, debate and discuss about it...just like what James and all of you are doing here (me too).

Obviously, simple retirement does not mean early way! If that is indeed TRUE then the converse must also be TRUE (although left unsaid)...that as long as you work on and on and WILL live to a ripe old age, maybe to the 90's.

No need to do deep research here. We all KNOW that can't be true at all.

So many of my really good friends in different fields of work have DIED while still at work and they were not even 60 yet!!! Not accidents by the way. Mostly poor health generated by TREMENDOUS WORK STRESS that exacerbated their once super-fit physical shape.

On the other hand, I know of so many who have retired in very good health age between 55 to 60 BUT WENT ON THE DECLINE MENTALLY and PHYSICALLY soon after retirement. They developed all sorts of medical problems and some died before their time...2,3 years after retiring.

What's the answer and solution to this? No,not MM"s extreme view.

You have all got it right...Phillip,YG, C See, James.

The answer is you must know yourself first.

What do you want out of life?

Then create a Life Plan to help yourself along. That may include retiring at 55,60, or whatever...and followed by your Chapter on post-retirement Plan. SEE?

In Life we need to have a good BALANCE to achieve the things we want, to ENJOY life to it's fullest. That requires some planning not simply working till we drop dead in the office,shop, street corner...

So MM's 3 word term should be elongated to perhaps "People who retire WITHOUT anything else to do, to occupy themselves...might die prematurely."


Jul 21, 2010

Colour of Harmony (2)

"How can color blind people be without racial discriminations?"

Jane Elliott (born 1933, Riceville, Iowa)[citation needed] is an American teacher and anti-racism activist. She created the famous “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” exercise, first done with grade school children in the 1960s, and which later became the basis for her career in diversity training.

Please read Jane Elliot, origin of the idea at Wikipedia here .

An interesting article I found on the Internet:

"Just out of curiosity, are there any color blind people here? I've always wondered what it would like to be color blind and how it would affect the saneness of an individual. With the issue of racism and skin color being a ongoing issue, do any of you people who are color blind have trouble distinguishing race sometimes? what are some of the major issues you guys deal with in everyday life or have you guys adapted to a certain point where your color blindness doesn't hold you back at all?"

When I was schooling many years ago, I came across a "first person" article in the Reader's Digest contributed by a school teacher located in the United States.

Unfortunately, I had lost that Reader's Digest issue published over 45 years ago. Any kind soul who has a copy of that article, or know how an archive available in Reader's Digest, please loan it to me and to reproduce it on this blog, with permission.

Without the Reader's Digest published article (month, year, title issue unknown), my "memory aid" is based on my vague memories with the gist below:

The contributor was an American junior school teacher working on an experimental educational project.

I couldn't find the same Reader's Digest article. However, the wonders of the Internet with the help of a Google search found me the following:

Brown vs. Blue Eyes:
A Class Divided. The photo herein is of a child during a famous experiment in the psychology of racism and prejudice. This blue-eyed child reacts after a collar is placed on him, and informed brown-eyed people were actually superior.

The day prior blue-eyes were superior, the brown-eyes had the collar, and within minutes the brown-eyed children were enduring a crippling dehumanization.

This is one of the most requested programs in FRONTLINE's on video entitled "A Class Divided" , A Classic Discrimination Experiment .

It is about an Iowa schoolteacher who, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, gave her third-grade students a first-hand experience in the meaning of discrimination. This is the story of what she taught the children, and the impact that lesson had on their lives.

Check out the result of the classroom experiment which was implemented in March,1985 and the same experiment I read in Reader's Digest, with adults 14 years later to view the video.

If you have the time, please do. The unpretentious tone, voice and emotion, the facial expression, the body language you could view from the video at a seminar which was produced without script and unrehearsed.

Alternatively, the "transcript" is available from Frontline: A Class Divided.

Please print the "to-go" or "take-away" version of the script for easy reference and convenience. Thank you for reading.

Previous: Colour of Harmony (1) .


Colour of Harmony (1)

Racial Harmony Day is celebrated on 21 July, 2010 in Singapore. The event is to commemorate the 1964 Race Riots, which took place on 21 July 1964.

This year, Uncle Dick Yip’s posted his latest "Wise Old Owl" blog topic “Racial Riots or Racial Harmony…Your Choice!”

Some people may wonder why the need to highlight about racial riots on a sensitive issues in a multi-racial Singapore. Would it be better to just pretend that there was such a thing which happened? Can people not mention about life and death when attending a funeral wake or burial as an associated link of thoughts on this subject?

While the phenomenon in every life’s death (as well as birth) is unpredictable and beyond a person’s control, the malice of hatefulness, hostility and vindictiveness for the human destruction of one man or a group of men for the conscious acts of the society. This is an universal human affairs and events, not specifically for Singapore.

Thus “Racial Riots or Racial Harmony…Your Choice”.

The choice to have peace and prosperity for racial harmony, or war, fighting and poverty for racial unrest and disharmony. The lessons are taught through history and until today in the world.

What’s the choice for the people and for the nation?

First Racial Harmony Day

The first Racial Harmony Day was celebrated on 21 July 1997. As part of the National Education Programme, it is celebrated yearly on the anniversary of the communal riots of 21 July 1964.

In the year of the launch, Racial Harmony Day was celebrated only in schools but three years later, in July 2000, all nine Community Development Councils (CDCs) joined in the observations. Multiracial festivals and fairs with festivities extended to the end of July.

Racial Harmony Day also represents a day for schools to reflect on, and celebrate Singapore's success as a racially harmonious nation and society built on a rich diversity of culture and heritage. Students are encouraged to be dressed in their traditional costumes such as the Cheongsam and the Baju Kurung. Traditional delicacies and sweet meats are also featured in the celebrations. Traditional games such as the Top and Zero Point are played in schools, where inter-class competitions are sometimes organised.

Schools are also encouraged to recite a declaration on religious harmony during the celebrations.

Declaration on Religious Harmony
We, the people in Singapore, declare that religious harmony is vital for peace, progress and prosperity in our multi-racial and multi-religious Nation.
We resolve to strengthen religious harmony through mutual tolerance, confidence, respect, and understanding.
We shall always
Recognise the secular nature of our State,
Promote cohesion within our society,
Respect each other's freedom of religion,
Grow our common space while respecting our diversity,
Foster inter-religious communications, and thereby ensure that religion will not be abused to create conflict and disharmony in Singapore.

Racial Harmony Day reminds our pupils that racial or religious provocation costs us dearly and that race relations are potential fault-lines in Singaporean society. It is a day for schools to ponder, appreciate and celebrate our success as a nation. We uniquely stand together as a society built on a wealth of input and wisdom from different cultures and heritages. There was a time when not all was harmonious.

The racial riots on 21 July 1964 went down in Singapore’s history as a cautionary tale of the fragility of race relations in Singapore. A holy day that was meant to celebrate Prophet Mohamad’s birthday ended on a grim note for Singaporeans when the riots left 461 injured, and 22 dead. It looked like the social fabric in Singapore was going to be torn apart without hope of being mended. The outbreak of the riots revealed that planning, clever use of the media and a well-colluded provocation caused the darkest suspicions and distrust among Singaporeans. On 16 August 1964, Racial Harmony Week was inaugrated to respond to the mayhem and put on notice that every race and religion mattered to the government and social inequities were to be addressed.

The common spaces where racial harmony can be nurtured and flourish are in National events such as National Day and Racial Harmony Day. The common spaces that Singaporeans share is one important building block for racial harmony. Common spaces, as the term implies, simply refers to avenues and platforms that we have to enhance, cultivate and deepen our understanding and relations with fellow Singaporeans of different races.

In Singapore, the Racial Harmony Website is found "here" .

The theme for this year's Racial Harmony Day is “Embracing Diversity, Building Community”. It reminds us of the different races, cultures and languages in Singapore, especially with the transformation of Singaporean society over the years. The Racial Harmony Day celebrations are a reminder that promoting social cohesion and racial harmony requires constant effort from our educators, students and stakeholders, such as parents.

This is the double page spread of the story and interview which appears on Page 10 and 11 of MIX Magazine July 2010 issue. Titled " Different Races, Same Kampong ". It was written by Justin Zhuang the Deputy Editor of the same Magazine.

Find out more about the 1964 Racial Riots directly from Unk Dicko's first person account based on what he had meticulously recorded in his diary of July, Aug and Sept a 16 yr old schoolboy.

As mentioned by Unk Dicko:

"In the next few days, I shall expand on the rioting and the curfews and what life was like as seen from the eyes of a 16 year old schoolboy ( Unk Dicko's age then ) helped in this modern time and age by his precious personal diaries”. Please read on his blog.

Unfortunately, I don’t have diaries from Unk Dicko for me as a “memory aid” to remember about the 1964 racial riots when I was younger than the Wise Old Owl.

As a young urchin of Bukit Ho Swee at that time, I was still interested in catching spiders. Perhaps I was immature and still childish. I enjoyed showing my kampung buddies to learn the ropes to catch spiders in my favorite spots at the bushes in the Nathan Road area to spend hours after school to share this to feed the spiders, train them, play them. As a matter of principle, the weaker spiders are left in their bushes to survive. Not to kill them.

When older, I realised that spiders for fighting competition is as cruel as bull-fighting. After reading Ernest Hemingway's book "Death in the Afternoon", I stopped harming lives of spiders for fun as a childhood hobby since then. Toy spiders made of rubber or plastic material to frighten some friends is ok.

I could only remember my neighbours spreading in rumours (pre-Internet days) and the shown on their faces appearance tension, fear and anxiety, people gathered in small groups in the kampung to gossip all day and night. I only heard bits and pieces whispered from the neighbours, "heard from the black bird in the night" which I know little to understand the situation.

For the first time, I learnt the meaning of "curfew" and the phrase "Don't spread rumours. Rumours are dangerous". That slogan was rampant and repeatedly broadcasted on Rediffusion and Radio Singapura.

Next: Colour of Harmony (2) .


Jul 17, 2010

"Patchwork of Reminiscences”

Join the Book Launch " Here "

Following the previous "Blog on Clogs" posted, I received an email from Miss Cheryl Quek, of Patchworks, a special projects committee under Nanyang Technological University's Welfare Services Club (WSC)regarding the "Patchwork of Reminiscences". Her blog as follows:

The launch of "Patchwork of Reminiscences" on 25th July 2010 at Jurong Point Shopping Centre.

"Patchwork of Reminiscences" is a heartwarming compilation of true and inspirational stories from the lives of 17 Singaporean senior citizens. Each story is a unique account of how ordinary men and women survived life’s battles and have emerged strong. From surviving the Japanese Occupation, going through the trials and tribulations of life to pursuing their dreams and passions even at their golden age, the stories of these elders will inspire you and touch your heart!

The 17 elders featured are the very epitome of courageous men and women who braved the trials and tribulations of life and have emerged strong. ‘Live.Learn.Experience’ is the very essence we hope to bring to you. Let their passion, determination and zeal for life inspire you!

The book is produced entirely by student volunteers of NTU. It is also our pride and honour to have His Excellency S R Nathan pen the foreword of the book. “Patchwork of Reminiscences” is our second project following “Patchwork of Flavours” – a compilation of recipes contributed by elderly.

Patchworks is delighted to present you this meaningful project for a worthy cause. Each "Patchwork of Reminiscences" book sells at SGD$15. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Asian Women's Welfare Association (AWWA) and Kheng Chiu Loke Tin Kee Home.

Please visit the "Patchwork of Reminiscences" blog.

On Patchworks

Our club Patchworks is a special projects committee under the arm of Welfare Services Club, Nanyang Technological University. Fully run by student volunteers, our objective is to raise funds through various social entrepreneurship ventures, where proceeds from the ventures will be donated to selected beneficiaries. Through the projects, we aim to provide a platform to encourage interaction between different generations.

The main website at "Patchworks'" .

Patchwork of Flavours”

“Patchwork of Flavours” is our first major project launched in 2007. It is a recipe book consisting of 38 traditional recipes contributed by elders from all walks of life. “Patchwork of Flavours” was well-received by the public in both our English and Chinese editions. Over 3000 copies have been sold since its launch in 2007 and a sum of $10,000 is donated to the beneficiaries in 2009. The beneficiaries were AWWA Community Home for Senior Citizens, Kheng Chiu Loke Tin Kee Home, Geylang East Home for The Aged and Retired & Senior Volunteer Programme.

For more information on "Patchwork of Flavours"
Group photos of Patchworks, a special projects committee under Nanyang Technological University's Welfare Services Club (WSC).


Jul 10, 2010

Blog on Clogs

The banner on the stage of The Plaza, National Library Building from afar, I was attracted by a colourful picture of a pair of wooden clogs.

The event, "Colouring Lives, Painting Futures" was bustling with young students, volunteers and participants on Sunday, July 4, 2010.

I was undecided whether to use the blog topic title as "Down Memory Lane in Clogs" or "Colouring Lives, Painting Futures". Both titles reflect an inter-generational bond, the old and the young, the modern and the traditional ways of life. For a candid choice of simple words for "Blog on Clogs" as the title.

Incidentally, "Down Memory Lane in Clogs, Growing up in Chinatown" is the title of a book written by Si Jing.

Both footwear blogs are related to "When You Have No Shoes (2)" and "The Chinese Clogs - Cha Gia" posted by Victor Koo and Victor Yue respectively.

Most modern, well-groomed, young ladies and young gentlemen are trendy, fashion-conscious today.

If you have worn the Chinese clogs in Singapore in the past, please share your experience with us this blog on clogs. These clogs were made for walking, not boots!

In Singapore in the 1960s, the wooden clogs are common footwear among men and women, young and old. The wooden clogs are not confined to Singaporean Chinese only. They were worn by all races for convenience and inexpensive. The wooden clogs are suitable during the flood on monsoon days in the past. (Remember the recent flash floods at Orchard Road?)

I was wearing these clogs during my young days at Bukit Ho Swee kampung. These clogs were uncomfortable and noisy though.

Thanks to blogger friend James Kwok who reminds him of the Clickety-Clack Song "Four Little Heels" sung by Brian Hyland.

In the photo above, the clogs sold by the vendor are not painted with fanciful stuff. These handmade, no-frill wooden clogs with no commercial brands.

Photo of the book on a pair of cute clogs which Miss Charmaine Tan, a student of Nanyang Technological University, presented me the souvenir with compliments. The clogs, not the book :)

What a better way to describe Si Jing's book "Down Memory Lane in Clogs" as a first person experience and memories than to rewrite the blog or reinvent the wheels. The excerpt here:

Half a century ago, people's lives were wretchedly impoverished, and few could afford expensive leather, beaded or embroidered slippers. At that time, low-cost rubber slippers had yet to be produced, so the masses could only wear cheap wooden clogs on the street...

At that time, clogs were a necessity in every household. It was the case even in wealthy families, where clogs, if not part of proper street wear, would at least be worn while cooking in the kitchen, or going to the toilet or bathroom...

The clog trade flourished during those times, and a forest of clog shops sprang up along the streets. There would be several stores along any one street. I remember a store opposite People's Park Market on New Bridge Road, which opened branch after branch of clog shops. Opposite the Irom Market on South Bridge Road, among the row of shop houses where the Golden Dragon Store used to be, another clog shop set up business in the corner shop house. If you crossed a narrow lange and walked another few steps, you would reach yet another one. So you can see how the clog industry was proliferating then.

At that time, the Cantonese called buying clogs "nailing clogs" - a term which nailed the meaning precisely, since clogs had to be hammered and nailed before they were ready for wear.

...The "walls" below the shop's ceiling were all actually tall tiers of wooden racks. More racks, as tall as a man, took up much of the floor space. On the racks, colourful and dazzling clogs were displayed together with plain, unpainted ones. Some of the clogs already had straps nailed on, and they came with a complete range of colours and sizes for customers to choose from or try on. Some of the prettier clogs with flower motifs were strung up and hung at the storefront. They were charming decorations and helped to attract customers to the store.

Clogs came in separate designs for men and women. Those with a rounded front and rounded heel-end were for men. They were monochrome, lacking in variety, and couldn't compare to women's clogs, which were much sleeker. Most commonly sold were the cheap red clogs. If you wanted to save even more money, you could buy plain clogs in their original, unpainted condition, with straps made from coarse rubber tyres. But women who were more vain preferred to splurge a little more on a pair of clogs with hand-painted flowers. Together with floral straps, these were certainly much prettier.

The first thing about buying clogs is to pick those of heavy wood quality and free of decay. Straps came originally in white rubber but were painted over with a bright coat of colour - these were called painted covers. Thick painted covers were of good quality, but these were expensive. Thin ones were cheaper but tore easily.

After a customer had picked the clog and strap (or painted cover), the master would press the strap onto the wooden clog. At the same time, he placed a small and narrow rubber strip on top of it. Then he took up a little hammer and knocked in a few nails swiftly and deftly, at a fixed spot at the side of the clog. He would then curve the strap in a semicircle over to the other side of the clog and gently hammer in a couple of little nails, before letting customers walk a few steps in the clog. If the customer was dissatisfied and wanted the strap tightened or loosened, it was easily done. The "uncle" could simply pull out the lightly-hammered nails with a pair of pliers and adjust the strap. After he finished the nailing, he still had to use a sharp blade to trim off the excess length of strap, before the mission was accomplished.

I still recall the two or three clog stores along the rows of shop houses at Temple Street, near South Bridge Road. The stores were directly facing the long stretch of wall on the side of the Sri Mariamman Temple. Employees from these shops made frequent use of the empty space at the foot of the wall to sun and dry newly painted clogs. Under the sunlight, the rows of wooden racks packed with clogs of all hues shimmered brilliantly, adding a splash of colour and beauty to the otherwise rather dull and dilapidated street scene. It also left an indelible mark on the minds of passerby.

Business was most brisk at year-end

The peak season for clog sales came at the end of the lunar calendar year. Starting from the 12th (and last) month, more and more people began to get their clogs nailed in preparation for the Lunar New Year. According to an old custom, you should discard the old on the Eve and welcome the new. Then, wearing your new shoes or clogs, you should go out on the streets and step on villians and evil spirits. Once you did that, you would be able to overcome obstacles and sail smoothly through the coming year. For large families, it wasn't unusual to purchase over 10 pairs of clogs at one go. But there was no need for the whole family to troop down to the store. Just one representatives would pop down to the store, bearing some old clogs as samples. The master would then cup his fingers and slot them beneath the straps of these old clogs, gauging their width. With that one simple test, he would be able to nail the clogs to the exact same fit. During that period, clog stores would open for business before seven in the morning. The customers streamed in and out ceaselessly, and often, workers had to toil past midnight before they could get any rest. Because the year-end business was too overwhelming, the masters and their assistants had to start preparing way ahead, in order to cope. This they did by spending what free time they had during the regular season nailing a large quantity of straps onto the clogs. When it came to peak season, these premade clogs would be trotted out for customers who were less picky and couldn't spare the time to wait for their clogs to be measured and nailed.

...Those who have worn clogs know very well the good and bad about them. The good being that clogs are thick and high, so there's no fear of water splashing on your feet, and that makes it convenient to work on wet ground surfaces. It's not easy to fall and slip either. The bad part, however, is the fact that clatter noisily wherever you walk. Furthermore, the thick and heavy front and heels of clogs knock against the ground and wall corners all thoo easily, causing the shiny paint coat to crack, and the ugly plain wood beneath to be exposed. If you happened to be just the slightest bit careless when wearing new high clogs, you would stumble and twist your ankle. And when you walked on streets riddled with puddles, the clogs would send muddy water splashing, leaving exasperating stains on the hems of your trousers and bluses.

On rainy days in the market, lots of people often stepped on the heels of others' clogs, and such encounters were disastrous. The ones in front would trip and crash onto the ground, sending their baskets flying. Their trousers would be ripped and muddled, their kneecaps bloodied, and their clogs ruined. Strings of curses would explode from their mouths even as they limped to the nearest clog stores with a ruined clog in hand, to get a new one nailed. Later on, although new and more durable straps in transparent colours replaced the old paint covers, the many disadvantages of clogs still resulted in its diminishing popularity.

After the end of the war, most people switched to slippers, and clogs were worn only at home or when going to the market. But most hawkers on the street or in markets, as well as coolie labourers, still wore them. Subsequently, even when factories began to manufacture clogs in large quantities, they couldn't compete with the light Japanese slippers and cheap plastic flip-flops that had begun to emerge on the market. The clog industry finally went downhills.

During the 1960s, there were still two little clog shops on Temple Street. Later, only one was left operating in half a store-space beside Zhi Bao goldsmith situated by the entrance of a nightsoil alley. I have known that clog-nailer "uncle" since young; from the time when was was a young lad to an old man, from when he was still a store assistant to when he became the boss. When hordes of Western tourists swarmed into Chinatown and saw, for the first time, handcrafted clogs being nailed manually, they thought it a novel and amusing sight. One by one, they took out their cameras and clicked away merrily. But the flurry of flashlights blined the master hard at work, annoying him to no end. From then on, the first thing he did before starting work each day was to erect a sign, with large words painted in bold black ink, declaring: No Photos Allowed. Now, even this one remaining clog shop has vanished.

The clog closet installation presented by NTU "Challenge ur Limits" (CURL).

With the vanishing trades of clog-nailing, the young participants had the opportunity to experiment with creative and fun to paint and nail the clogs; to learn and to play.

A participant using an electronic blower to dry the painted clogs.

With an innovative themes and creative concept for volunteerism,
"CURL" called "Challenge ur Limits".

[Each and everyone of the clogs on the installation is personally designed by the less fortunate in our society.

Through clog painting and a series of activities, they challenge them to complete tasks which they did not perform well previously on lacked confidence in doing so.

Inspired by heritage, we have transformed otherwise lacklustre wooden footwear traditionally worn by Straits-Chinese from the 1950s to the 1970s, into the colourful artworks on display. By doing so, we hope to bring across the message that should each and everyone of us be willing to consider the less fortunate in new perspective and actively acknowledge their roles in the society, we can look beyong the apparent "drabness" and help bring out the best in them.

We have also deliberately included some wornout clogs at the bottom of the closet installation as a reminder of the current state of the less fortunate in our society.]

The photos below may not appear every clog a perfect pair , as rejected or "imperfect" clogs, as no man is perfect.

"A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault". ~ John Henry Newman

[Rejection and isolation need not be the only words associated with them. By committing ourselves to volunteerism, we can help usher the less fortunate back to society. Much like how worn-out clogs can be transformed to look like the colourful and seemingly pristine ones at the top rack of the closet, beneficiaries of volunteerism can also be given a new lease of life.]

The text-printed information above within [brackets] were displayed at the public event by NTU WSC as shown in the poster beside the clog closet installation.

Well Done, young NTU Welfare Services Club (WSC) active volunteers! Strive on for a meaningful community "Colouring LIVES, painting FUTURES" to create an inclusive society for a future and our nation. Keep it up!

Related Posts

Thanks to blogger friend Lam Chun See of "Good Morning Yesterday" blog: "My Memories of Chinatown (Part 3)" by Simon Chu Chun Sing.

The following from Miss Sim Hui Hwang's email dated 15 Aug, 2010. Thanks to Miss Sim's email reproduced below:

Thanks very much, Mr Seah. I went into your blog to check it out and was drawn to the story on clogs. I have not heard this Four Little Heels song before and when I clicked on it, oh was I transported to a another realm, so sweet and balmy it is. I have enjoyed myself thoroughly and learnt who Brian Hyland is, and the clog business, all in one.

In fact, when I was very very little, I thought I had the chance to slip into a pair of oversized clogs belonging to a some folks living at this village house in Cha Sua - yes, this was a place located along Jalan Hock Chye at Upper Serangoon Road. My father used to work there and I recalled walking in the courtyard of this Mazu temple and someone asking me to put on a pair of cha kiak as the yard in the kitchen area was often wet and slippery.

I did not know how to walk in them as the toe area was carved to dip down and I imagined I would lunge forward if I didn't walk with care. True enough, I slipped and fell, landing on my bottoms. Thereafter, I had a phobia of wearing cha kiak. No, cha kiak is not for me.

Curiously, I happened to catch sight of this man who was dragging his cha kiak around. As usual, being the head of the family, he sauntered around in a manner to frighten little ones like me. He would often come into the temple to take his lunch of Teochew muay and fried bean curd sticks. I discovered that he had six toes on his left foot and the last toe could not be squeezed into a normal clog. I got to see the extra toe 'kiapped' (wedged) outside the gigantic red cha kiak, pared down through constant wear. Ah... Mr Seah, that's my memory of cha kiak.

Warm regards
hui hwang


Jul 8, 2010

Beautiful Rainbow at Simei

How often in our lifetime could we watch the beauties of the rainbow?

I have seen quite a few rainbows in my sixty years in Singapore and travelled overseas, but this is the first time to have this chance to take a few photos by coincidence and share them with pleasure to enjoy.

This is a natural phenomenon created by God to show us the beautiful things we see and meet by pure Creation.

Not faked, unnaturally, commercially or artificially created by media technology like Photoshop. Those are not the real stuff for us to believe.

To watch the rainbow is a rare experience of beauty and heart of truth.

Few school teachers could show their students during Nature Study to have a look at a rainbow, except for occasional photos taken in magazines or on the Internet for photographers to share.

Whilst walking home at about 7:10 pm today on 8 July, 2010 from Tampines Central to Simei, a young lady passerby pointed to me the beautiful rainbow in full arc sevenfold red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet so distinctly seen to us at the appearance in the sky.

The photos were taken with my Treo 680 thus the reproduction is not as good the quality taken with a better camera. The beauty of the wonderful rainbow in the sky for a fleeting moment, unanticipated or timed. Unlike as sure as the sunrise. Unlike the slogan of a church "If you miss the sun today, God will make you one tomorrow". So there must have hope for the moon, the sun and all things created by God. The sights of the rainbow is a coincidence though.

The "Rainbow Poems and Quotes" at the Internet are here

Another blog about rainbow at "there are many things i wish to say but i am really not good with words " is a beautiful blog to express here .

Come share your beauties of the rainbow and post them to this blog. Thank you.

Blog update on 19 July, 2010
My blogger friend Victor Koo share with us the rare sights of his beauties of the rainbows here . Check out the most UnUsUal photo, as you scroll down to the bottom of his blog. Thank you, Vic.