Society: Last weekend to explore Dover Forest East

On Monday, October 31st, Jom expects Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB) to cordon off Dover Forest East, before it begins razing it for a build-to-order (BTO) project. Dover Forest is a 50-odd-year-old secondary forest that is home to globally critically endangered species, such as the straw-headed bulbul, Pycnonotus zeylanicus, and locally endangered ones, such as a banyan, Ficus virens. Among other highlights, Dover Forest’s tiny, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, Filoboletus manipularis, drew the attention of The Guardian for a piece on bioluminescence. Over the past few weeks, we have spent much time there. Today we’ve published an essay and a video, both titled “One person’s quest to save Dover Forest”. You can enter the forest at the bend of Ghim Moh link (dropped pin here). Wear high socks, tuck your pants in them, and spray lots of repellent on your shoes (to ward off the ants). For those who just want a faraway view of “Singapore’s Central Park” without the mud, go to the top floor of Block 31 Ghim Moh Link, and enter the stairwell of Staircase A.

Society: If truth be told, we lie

A next-generation, contactless lie detector is being developed in Singapore that aims to have an accuracy rate of more than 70 percent. HTX, or the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, is building this portable device that Home Team officers can use across the island. It believes that there are six measurable metrics to tell the difference between guilt and innocence: frequency of eye blinks; pupil dilation; eye fixation; breathing rate; heart rate; and response time to questions. HTX says that preliminary findings are looking positive, but it still needs to design a more mobile set-up that can be easily deployed. The polygraph machine was invented in 1921 in Berkeley, California, and its reliability has long been disputed. It’s been argued that innocent but nervous subjects—an increase in heart rate—could fail a test, and guilty ones—adept at the art of fibbing—might pass it. In Singapore, the results of a polygraph test are inadmissible as evidence in a criminal case, but if you’re ever asked to take one, it might be in your interest to say, ‘yes’. Passing it could give you a better chance of clearing your name. On the other hand, declining to accept the invitation could make you appear more suspicious. Behavioural analysts and body language experts say that there are other ways to tell if someone is lying. Promise.

Politics: Richard and Rishi, the British invasion

Richard Branson and Rishi Sunak have, in quite different circumstances, irritated Singaporean conservatives this past week. Branson again criticised Singapore’s harsh drug laws, mentioning the recent execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, a heroin smuggler with an IQ of 69, which many say qualifies as an intellectual disability (the government disagrees). The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in a snarky response, referenced the British Empire’s 19th-century opium wars in China, and invited Branson for an expense-paid trip to Singapore for a televised debate with K Shanmugam, its minister. It’s puzzling why the taxpayer is being asked to fund a politician’s chest-thumping exercise. Sunak, meanwhile, has unwittingly been dragged into the long-running debate over whether Singaporeans are “ready” for a non-Chinese prime minister. It began when Tommy Koh, ambassador-at-large, wrote on Facebook that “I did not think the UK would be ready for an Indian Prime Minister before Singapore is ready. Singaporeans should reflect on this irony.” Cue passionate rebuttals from two People’s Action Party (PAP) stalwarts: Bilahari Kausikan, a former diplomat, and Calvin Cheng, a former nominated member of parliament. Kausikan, with characteristic contempt, seemed to refer to Liz Truss, outgoing British prime minister, as “a white fool”. He denigrated leadership transitions, saying Sunak was chosen “by a small group of Tories”. Ironically, it’s a process the PAP may be familiar with.

Arts: Singapore Biennale

The seventh Singapore Biennale has a name: Natasha. According to the four co-artistic directors—Binna Choi, Nida Ghouse, June Yap and Ala Younis—the act of naming the Biennale serves as a prompt to artists, collaborators, and audiences to re-discover ways of seeing and relating to the world. Over 50 artists and collaborators, local and international, are showing their works at Natasha. This year, several artists (including Singapore’s Zarina Muhammad) are exhibiting on the offshore islands. Visitors can begin at the Sentosa Cove Village before taking a ferry to both Lazarus Island and St John’s Island. Other locations include Tanjong Pagar Distripark, Yan Kit Playfield, Regional Libraries, SAM Residencies and SAM Hoardings. The Biennale runs to March 19th 2023.

Arts: Playwrights’ Cove

Local theatre institution The Necessary Stage is presenting the 2022 edition of Playwrights’ Cove, a development and mentorship programme for contemporary playwriting that it first launched in 2001. Notable alums include Natalie Hennedige, artistic director of Cake Theatrical Productions, and Jean Tay, artistic director of Saga Seed Theatre. This year’s Playwrights’ Cove will see the participants present their newly written plays as live dramatic readings. The programme takes place over the next week with each of the 10 plays only performed once. Tickets are S$12 and are available via BookMyShow.

Arts: Perspectives Film Festival

Nanyang Technological University’s student-run film festival is on this weekend at Oldham Theatre. Perspectives Film Festival, now in its 15th year, is organised by undergraduates from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. This year’s programme features various international films that challenge notions of time as represented in cinema. Highlights include Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang’s “Goodbye, Dragon Inn” (2003) and Thai director Ananta Thitanat’s “Scala” (2022). Ticketholders for Scala will also get to attend a post-show panel with Thitanat and Singapore-based film experts Chew Tee Pao, Ben Slater and Wong Han Min. Tickets are available from the festival website.

History weekly by Faris Joraimi

This weekend, the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC) will close its doors for refurbishment, reopening only in 2025. The closure follows a month-long farewell party, ClosingFest, featuring performances, events, and workshops by both local and regional creatives. Opened in 2004, the MHC had a troubled beginning: the building it occupies was the palace of Hussein Shah, the British-recognised “Sultan of Singapore and Johor” who held power for all of five years, 1819-1824, when he ruled Singapore jointly with the Temenggung and East India Company. His descendants however continued to reside in the compound until 1993, when the government declared Kampung Gelam a conservation area and earmarked the Anglo-Malay-style istana for “restoration”. Even though the site had legally been state property since independence, its royal residents’ removal from the site caused much controversy, symbolising for many the further erasure of Singapore’s Malay origins. The matter was even raised in Malaysia’s parliament. Over the years, however, the MHC became a focal point in Singapore’s “Nusantara” cultural revival, where Malay scholars, artists, activists and heritage enthusiasts gathered and formed a community. The curation of its permanent gallery has been noted for its subtle critique of the narrow image of Malays prevalent in official race discourse, showcasing the community’s diversity, richness and complexity. Despite the transformation of Kampung Gelam into a commodified tourist trap, places like the MHC and the nearby Sultan Mosque help anchor its continued importance in Malay urban life. You miss it if you only go to Haji Lane.

Tech: Your data is going around

Security breaches and cyber-attacks have made data security a top concern in the business world. But is our data truly protected? Carousell, an online classifieds marketplace operator, announced on Friday that a major data security breach occurred on October 14th. It affected some 1.95m users in Singapore, compromising e-mail addresses, mobile phone numbers, and dates of birth, but luckily not passwords, credit card, and payment-related information. Carousell said that the incident is unlikely to result in identity theft since it does not include users’ National Registration Identity Card numbers. Based on Carousell’s investigation, a bug was introduced during a system migration that was exploited by a third party to gain unauthorised access to data. Carousell has now taken action to fix the bug and prevent further breaches of personal information by notifying and working with relevant authorities, such as the Personal Data Protection Commission, for further investigations. Given that financial penalties for data breaches have also increased from October 1st, Carousell will be the first company to potentially face a higher penalty of up to 10 percent of an organisation’s annual turnover in Singapore, up from the previous maximum financial penalty of S$1m. The new financial penalties seem significant, yet many companies will still struggle to keep up with the tensions between ensuring maximum security and ease of data access for business purposes. Afterall, we wouldn’t want companies to end up like the public service where computers are air gapped from the internet.

Tech: GrabKitchen closes in Indonesia

As people start eating out more, is food delivery going to suffer? Grab will close its cloud kitchen operations, GrabKitchen,in Indonesia on December 19th. During its four years of operations in Indonesia, GrabKitchen experienced inconsistent growth, including a shift to an asset-light business model that necessitated the difficult decision to close. A cloud kitchen is a delivery-only restaurant with no physical dining space. It relies entirely on online orders placed on food delivery platforms, such as Grab and Food Panda, lowering operational costs. Amid the pandemic, cloud kitchens sparked great demand. The Asian cloud kitchen market was projected to grow 14.2 percent annually from 2021 to 2027, while the South-east Asian food delivery market was expected to reach S$49.7bn by 2030, up from S$15.2bn in 2021. However, with ebbing food delivery demand in the post-pandemic world, the future looks bleak and the industry will have to adapt.

Tech: UOB’s Greentech Accelerator names 12 start-ups in first batch

The Greentech Accelerator by United Overseas Bank (UOB) named its 12 inaugural start-ups. Formally launched in May, the accelerator will invest up to S$150,000 in total funding to deploy environmental solutions in the areas of energy efficiency, zero-waste supply chains, and carbon management and reporting. The first batch of start-ups are from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, and Indonesia. The start-ups have access to the accelerators’ 14,000+ network, and some companies have already tapped into these synergies for partnerships. For example, Pantas, a fintech, has collaborated with Stacs, an environmental, social, and governance company; Resync and, energy efficiency start-ups, have discussed possible pilot projects with UOB. It is heartening to see a local bank leverage its reach to accelerate the efforts against climate change through innovative upstarts—who now have an additional accelerator option, following the recent launch of Google’s circular economy accelerator.

Tech: In debt or indebted

Singapore-based buy now, pay later (BNPL) players in the fintech industry launched a BNPL code of conduct that would establish ethical practices and protect consumer interests in the industry. The group, led by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, developed it to protect consumers from over-indebtedness through a variety of measures such as: creditworthiness safeguards that limits a consumer's outstanding payments to S$2,000, unless they pass an additional credit assessment; transparent fees and clear disclosures; ethical marketing practices to prevent misleading/deceptive advertising; customer voluntary exclusion to receiving BNPL services and promotional materials; and financial hardship assistance, during which BNPLs and customers will make mutually acceptable payment arrangements and providers will not allow any further transactions or initiate bankruptcy proceedings. Singapore's BNPL industry is expected to record a compound annual growth rate of 25.5 percent between 2022 and 2028.  It’s important to understand the trade-offs involved with such codes of conduct and regulations. One the one hand, BNPLs serve a financial inclusion purpose, offering services previously unavailable to lower-income people. On the other hand, it is this very group, partly because of lower financial literacy, that is most vulnerable to predatory behaviour. Striking a balance is important in any society, and this code of conduct seems like a great start.

If you enjoy Jom’s work, do get a paid subscription today to support independent journalism in Singapore.

Share this post