Beauty in the eyes of the beholder

Daughter Week

Daughter Week

I chanced upon the above photo in a friend’s Facebook share today. Apparently, there’s such a thing as Daughter Week and it was early last month. An image struck me as I read the quote on the photo, “If you have a beautiful daughter…”. It was not an image of a beautiful and cute child like the one in the photo. It was the image of a lady, probably in her 30s that I had met yesterday in my weekly walkabout at Keris Estate, off East Coast Road.

Keris Estate is a quiet residential estate that was built over 50 years ago. I had blogged about the beauty of the landscaping by residents almost three years ago.

Yesterday, we came to a house that is almost in the original condition, as built over 50 years ago. As we called out our usual house visit line from the front gate, an lady in her 60s slowly emerged at the door. I introduced myself, as loudly as I could from the gate so that she could hear me from inside the house. She asked me to wait. And we waited. A minute later, the lady in her 30s struggled to the door, supported by the elderly lady and another elderly gentleman.

The elderly lady apologised for our wait, and shouted out that the younger lady wanted to come and see us. The young lady is apparently having some physical disabilities from the distance that we were at but managed to wave at us. I thanked them for coming to the door and said I would leave our reading materials in the letterbox for them.

After two hours in the humid weather, we were done with our house visits around the estate for the day. As we walked to my car, I saw the same elderly couple (I presume they are the parents) supporting the young lady walking on the street. It was already evening and the weather was cooler. The mother said they were doing the regular evening walk with the lady. The lady struggled to stretch her hand out to me and I shook her hand. She asked who I was and I introduced myself as the NCMP who had contested in this neighbourhood at the last General Elections. She immediately replied, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord”, to which I thanked her for her blessings.

She appeared to have Cerebral Palsy. She could not walk on her own and her speech was slurred. The elderly couple must have spent considerable time and resources to care for her all these years. I could see their patience in wanting to involve her in the daily routines of life, including getting her to come to the door to see who was visiting their house, and getting her to walk around the neighbourhood daily. These are simple tasks for the able-bodied, but require immense efforts for her and her caregivers.

This is parents’ love. I am sure they must have wished for a normal and beautiful child. Instead, the child has Cerebral Palsy, a condition that will take a lifetime to patiently care for. To them, I believe they still see their child as beautiful, a gift of life no matter how imperfect in the eyes of others. And these are the people society can provide better support for because of the deep struggles they have to go through on a daily basis just to attempt to do the ordinary things.

Let’s count our blessings, however imperfect and less than beautiful the blessings may seem to be.

A park with an address

No. 61 Lor N, a newly constructed park

No. 61 Lor N, a newly constructed park

Last weekend in our weekly house visits, I came a park with a regular house address, No. 61 Lorong N, Telok Kurau.

It was a beautiful park, with the address displayed brightly at the entrance. There are many parks in Telok Kurau and in Singapore, but that was the first that I have come across with a regular address.

According to residents in the neighbourhood, this park was completed at the end of last year, around half a year ago. Indeed, I checked online and found that a government tender was called in mid 2012 for the construction of this park. A neighbour said the place was abandoned for at least 2 decades and was a burnt out structure. Another said it used to store “木炭” (charcoal). They think that there could have been some uncertainty over the ownership of the land and hence after a certain number of years of abandonment without any legal claims to the premises, the land could have now been possessed by the government. In any case, residents now have a brand new park in their neighbourhood. One said it was quite well used, with many walking their pets there.

Another view of 61 Lor N Park

Another view of 61 Lor N Park

Residents immediately around this park were lucky. They have a brand new open and landscaped space in front of or beside them. Lorongs N and M which I had visited last week were packed with construction sites. Some were huge low-rise condominium developments which residents said will have many shoe-box (small-sized) apartments. When completed and when residents have fully moved in, there will be a lot more congestion to a previously quiet neighbourhood.

Indeed, Telok Kurau where I had once stayed in, is not quite the same as before. From Lorongs G to N (Telok Kurau streets start from G and end in N), many compact walk-up apartments and condominiums have cropped up over the last decade. Spacious bungalows and semi-detached houses have been torn down and turned into dense housing. This has caused parking problems on the roads and prompted the government to finally impose new rules to prevent crammed housing.

Construction site on Lor N

Construction site on Lor N

A soon-to-be-completed apartment

A soon-to-be-completed apartment

In the meanwhile, while many previously approved sites are being furiously constructed, residents have complained of mosquitoes, dengue, dust, noise and even cracks in their houses. Near many of the construction site, some drains have become clogged up. An unlucky resident whose three sides (back and immediate two neighbours) are being built into dense apartments complained of cracks and sunken ground, and the lack of help provided after chasing authorities and the developers. I dispensed some advice on what she could do and I hope she will get a satisfactory response to her woes.

Clogged up drain

Clogged up drain

A very large 200-plus units housing project that stretches from Lorong N to Lorong M

A relatively large 200-plus units housing project that stretches from Lorong N to Lorong M

Interesting homes along Changi Road and in Siglap

Walkabouts can be fun, especially when you enter into houses that are unusual.

David Wee and his wide collection of antiques and quant stuff

David Wee and his wide collection of antiques and quant stuff in the front of the house

In our walkabout today, we came upon several interesting homes. First was the house of David Wee, a Temasek Polytechnic graduate-turned-entrepreneur. David was wearing his TP T-shirt and he proudly declared that he still go back to the polytechnic once a while to help out. His was an interesting trade. He had started to collect antiques and quaint stuff. Besides selling them, he actively rents them for community events and other activities that require quaint decorative pieces.

We were attracted to the house when we saw from the gate, a vast array of old things such as signboard, fans, wooden tables, the frame of a sewing machine and cupboards packed with bowls, plates, cutleries, telephones and many more.

We were invited into the house, where we saw an even more impressive collection of old clocks, records, containers and more that he termed as the “Wee’s Collection”. His home along the busy Changi Road is also his store and office.

After graduation, David first worked in the community, doing mainly event management. He is now busy supporting events with his huge collection of ‘toys’, some of which he also trades.

Clocks galore

Clocks galore

More clocks and stuff

More clocks and stuff

Even more stuff - decorative dolls and collectibles

Even more stuff – decorative dolls and collectibles

A couple of houses down, we came upon a house full of fish tanks. The owner was watering the plants and she invited us in. The tanks belonged to her father, who rears fish as a hobby. There were many glass tanks, cement tanks and jars. The jars were for the fishing fish. It turned out that she is the cousin of David, whom we had just met. Unfortunately, some of the fishes had recently died, so the collection was not as big as before.

Some of the glass tanks on the front porch of the house

Some of the glass tanks on the front porch of the house

Cement tank of fishes

Cement tank of fishes

More tanks

More tanks

White House Letter Box

White House Letter Box

Next was a house that the owner had termed as ‘The White House’ along Siglap Avenue. Besides being white and quaint, it had a letterbox shaped as a white house. Often, owners are not at home when we visit on the weekends. No one was at ‘The White House’ and so our literature went into the ‘White House Letterbox’.

Finally, after 2 hours in the hot sun, we knocked on the last house and was invited in for refreshing drinks by the owner. Amongst other businesses, the family collects and trades old art collections, mainly large statues. Several were human-sized pieces from the 17th and 18th century from Myanmar and Thailand. She patiently explained each piece to us and how one can tell where the pieces originated from. I certainly learnt quite a bit from the conversation.

Team WP done with the day's walk

Team WP done with the day’s walk

A hometown kampong spirit in Opera Estate

Earlier this month, we made our weekly house visits to my familiar home ‘kampong’. Opera Estate is where I had spent the first 27 years of my life before I moved out to my matrimonial home.

Much has changed in the two decades since I have moved out. Single storey houses have been torn down and three storey houses have come up in its place. Houses have changed hands and neighbours have come and gone. These were the streets I had spent my childhood afternoon roaming around, making maps of the place, kicking football around, and zipping around in my old trusted bike.

In the middle of Jln Terang Bulan street where I used to live in, I had noticed many plants had sprung up by the road. I found that a family that had moved in several years ago had planted these in the area outside their house. They even helped their immediate neighbours establish their gardens outside their homes and help them tend to these gardens.

One of the neighbours calls the head of this household the informal ‘village chief’ of the street. She told us that this family would prepare delicious home-cook food for them once every few days. Once, when she wanted to renovate her house and had to move out, this ‘village chief’ knew exactly which house along the street was vacant and able to rent to her for that few months.

Garden in the middle of Jln Terang Bulan

Garden in the middle of Jln Terang Bulan

A patch of garden outside a house helped to be maintained by the informal 'village chief'  of Jln Terang Bulan

A patch of garden outside a house inspired and assisted by the informal ‘village chief’ of Jln Terang Bulan

Another garden patch in the same vacinity

Another garden patch in the same vacinity

A copper tooling piece by Mr Wong, fully lit up. He installs the lights himself into his art pieces when they are done up.

A copper tooling piece by Mr Wong, fully lit up. He installs the lights himself into his art pieces .

Directly across the road, I found an elderly couple living in a house full of colourful and beautiful art pieces on their porch. We were invited in to have a look at the copper-tooled art pieces by Mr Wong, who is in his 70s. He does the art pieces purely for leisure and was happy to explain his works to us.

Marina Bay by Mr Wong

Marina Bay by Mr Wong

I had the opportunity to meet Mr Mustafa again at his home. During GE2011, he had taken down one of my campaign posters hanging at a nearby lamppost and hung it on his gate. He recounted to me a story which my dad, who still lives on the street, had told me during GE2011 as well. As my dad went past the house one day, he stopped and starred at the poster. Mr Mustafa noticed that my dad was starring hard and wondered if he was unhappy that he is a WP supporter. So Mr Mustafa smiled, pointed to my poster, gave the thumbs up and said, “Vote for this guy!”. My dad then replied, “Hey, that’s my son!”. They had a good laugh over that incident. After GE2011, I gave a brand new signed copy of my poster to Mr Mustafa, which he proudly pointed to me that it is still in his house.

A friendly Golden Retriever enjoying a grooming session with his lawyer owner by the road on a lazy Saturday afternoon

A friendly Golden Retriever enjoying a grooming session with his lawyer owner by the road on a lazy Saturday afternoon

This was the ‘kampong’ that I grew up in. The memories are precious because of the nice neighbours and things we did as we grew up. I am glad that even as new neighbours move in and buildings change looks, the kampong spirit is still strong. People could tell me about their neighbours and about nice things that their neighbours had done for them. I am reminded of the yearly Jln Bintang Tiga street party that has been held every year for the past 14 years, just one street away. I had been invited for the past 3 years to this annual street party and had blogged about it. It was a party organised because neighbours got together to solve a community problem, threw a party to celebrate the solution and continued to party every year even as new families move into the neighbourhood. This is the kind of hometown kampong spirit that we should maintain in Singapore.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2014 from WP Team Joo Chiat

Team Joo Chiat 2013 in photos

Team Joo Chiat 2013 in photos

We had a great time in the greater Joo Chiat area (Joo Chiat SMC and traditional parts of Joo Chiat) in 2013; the weekly house visits, WP Hammer magazine sales, attending parties, casual chats with residents and the carolling. Thanks for all the hospitality and feedback.

See you again in 2014! Have a great year ahead!

Here’s our song for you.

Joo Chiat, an ‘Arty’ neighbourhood

Yesterday, our walkabout team decided to visit old Joo Chiat, which stretches between Still Road and Joo Chiat Road. Although this area was redrawn into Marine Parade GRC during the last General Elections, residents there still strongly feel they belong to Joo Chiat. After all, this is the area which Mr Chew Joo Chiat, whom the place was named after, had built and had lived there himself. It contains the rich history of Joo Chiat with the Peranakan houses and historical buildings, and won Singapore’s first Heritage Town Award in 2011.

Conservation Peranakan houses on Joo Chiat Terrace

Conservation Peranakan houses on Joo Chiat Terrace. The big signboard on the first house belonged to a F&B business and the house is now undergoing renovation to be converted back to a residential unit.

Architectural Heritage 2012 Award

Architectural Heritage 2012 Award

It turned out to be a wonderful and enriching experience. The first segment of houses we visited turned out a house that won a Architectural Heritage Award in 2012 by the URA. The owner was kind enough to invite us in to take a look and to take pictures.

From the outside, it looked like an ordinary 2-storey Peranakan house. Inside, it was very clever use of limited space. Peranakan houses are long and narrow. The toilet at the master room at the back of the ground floor was long to match the structure. Cupboards were neatly hidden into the walls. Art pieces lined up the walls throughout the house. The back of the house has a spiral staircase leading up to an extended four-storey structure.

Living Room at ground floor

Living Room at ground floor

Entrance to master toilet at the ground floor

Entrance to master toilet at the ground floor

Family area at the landing of the second floor

Family area at the landing of the second floor

Kitchen and dining area on the second floor

Kitchen and dining area on the second floor

It also turned out that the owner’s mum stays just a few doors away. The family has lived in Joo Chiat Terrace for decades and had grown to love the place. Three of the family members have since bought houses on the same street to live near one another. Her mum’s house had an interesting hand-drawn picture of a cat besides the house number. It turned out to be the neighbourhood cat who would come back each night to sleep at the house.

Hand draw house unit number depicting the neighbourhood cat

Hand draw house unit number depicting the neighbourhood cat

The neighbourhood cat on Joo Chiat Terrace

The neighbourhood cat on Joo Chiat Terrace – see the similarity with the canvass drawing

A couple of doors away was another hand-drawn sign, this time warning people to beware of the dogs. We later found another hand-drawn piece of dogs in the house directly opposite this house. Seems someone had started a trend of drawing on canvass door signs and information.

Dogs on canvass

Dogs on canvass

Another dog painting on canvass

Another dog painting on canvass

While I was there, the neighbour had dropped by as well. From what I could tell, there appears to be good neighbourliness as neighbours gathered in the narrow walkway between the houses and the road. We had the good fortune that someone had turned up with some home-made kuehs (Peranakan cakes), which we happily accepted the offer to have one each.

House where there will be a party for The Children's Society the next day. I forgot to ask what the sign "Jln Intan" meant but I presumed it could be where the owner had previously lived at.

House where there would be a party for Singapore Children’s Society the next day. I had forgotten to ask what the sign “Jln Intan” meant but I presume it could be where the owner had previously lived at.

I could feel an air of generosity in the neighbourhood. This was confirmed by the residents when they told me there will be a party the next day by the resident of unit 69, a Mr Alvin Yap for Singapore Children’s Society. When I met Alvin at his house later, he told me he does this every year for different groups of children. There will be a choir performance and activities for the children.

Peranakan potteries on the window of unit 69. Inside the house, there are many more Peranakan furniture and art pieces.

Colourful pots on the window of unit 69. Inside the house, there are many more Peranakan furniture and art pieces.

Plants outside a home

Plants outside a home

Plants are a common theme in the houses, despite the limited walkway space. Some homes have cleverly used plants to shield the house from the road just a few steps away from the door.

Just round the corner opposite the Joo Chiat Park is a freshly painted wall mural on a corner house owned by a lawyer. He told us he had invited Penang street artist Ernest Zacharevic to do the piece. He had found Ernest through his Facebook and liked his style of art. He felt the side wall of his house was too boring. As it faced the park / playground and the road, it was the perfect spot to have an exciting mural.

The mural depicts two children playing on horses. The children faces are those of real persons, neighbours of Ernest in Penang. Ernest originally wanted to paint realistic horses but the house owner felt it should be more playful. So Ernest took actual drawings of horses by children and used it for the mural.

Wall mural by famous Penang street artist Ernest Zacharevic

Wall mural by famous Penang street artist Ernest Zacharevic

Check out this minion's brains

Check out this minion’s brains

At the back corridor, some artist felt inspired to paint 3 Minions on the bollards. These were so creatively done, taking into even the cracks on a bollard to create an exposed part of a Minion’s brain.

Bollards turned into Minions

Bollards turned into Minions

 

 

 

 

 

A few short steps away, a terracotta warrior with a pair of sunglasses guards the entrance to a beautifully decorated house. Houses along that same row were artistically decorated too, with one that almost look like an art gallery in the entire ground floor.

Snapping picture of a terracotta warrior guarding a beautifully decorated corner house

Me snapping pictures of a terracotta warrior with sunglasses guarding a beautifully decorated corner house

Opposite these houses is the Joo Chiat Park. Children were starting to come out to play as afternoon gave way to evening. A resident told me one of the neighbours had lobbied the government hard for years until they finally decide to turn this vacant land into a park cum playground for the benefit of children in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the resident who lobbied for the playground was not at home and I would have to verify this story another day. I could see why this playground was necessary as Joo Chiat has narrow roads with few areas for children to play at safely.

The Joo Chiat Playground on Joo Chiat Terrace

The Joo Chiat Playground on Joo Chiat Terrace

It felt good seeing the spirit of neighbourliness in this community; from people casually chatting with neighbours, organising events for the community, painting wall murals and putting up art pieces to spice up with neighbourhood, lobbying the government to setup a park and more. This part of Joo Chiat is indeed an arty neighbourhood with its unique character.

Good evening! Workers' Party on a house visit.

Good evening! Workers’ Party on a house visit. Visiting an old house with mainly the original design

PartyBrochure2

Even doors tend to be more interesting in this neighbourhood

PartyBrochure

One of the homes with owner out for the afternoon

A walk around the (Telok Kurau) park

The weather was cool. The showers had come and gone. The clouds sheltered us from the sun. It was the perfect weather to visit houses in the afternoon.

I picked the area around Telok Kurau Park for yesterday’s visit. It was after all, an area I had spent 13 years living in, and my children grew up playing at the park.

It was a pleasant surprise that the very first house that we visited turned out to be the home of a pair of cute twin boys whom I had taken photos with 2 years ago when I also visited the same park. The twins were then babies with their grandpa who lived just across the park. I wouldn’t have recognised them if not for their dad who told me I had met his children before and had blogged about the encounter (http://joochiattoday.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/telok-kurau-park/). The twins are now running around like active boys and not shy to interact with me. And how they have grown!

Photos with the twins, two years ago and now

Photos with the twins, two years ago and now. They posed showing off their muscles.

Newly completed covering of drains

Newly completed covered drains

One thing that I noticed was the covering of the drains. Works are still on-going and most parts of the few streets around the park had the drains covered. I recall drains were a big complain of Telok Kurau residents during GE2011. There had been floods during heavy rainfall previously. Some drains were badly clogged or cracked. I wrote a few times to PUB since then over drainage issues and was pleasantly surprised at their speed of response.

Today, the drains are mostly covered and I supposed also widened to better handle water flow. That has allowed more space in front of the houses. Residents have started to creatively landscape the extra spaces. One resident confidently told me that there are less mosquitoes now. He believes the exposed and clogged drains were the main problems for mosquitoes in the past.

Many pots of plants already laid out along this recently completed covered drain

Many pots of plants already laid out along this recently completed covered drain

Work in progress on covering this drain

Work in progress on covering this drain

Resident hard at work creating a new garden patch outside their house after drain has been covered

Residents hard at work landscaping a new garden patch outside their house after the drain had been covered

A multi-coloured plant, formed by gardener grafting different plants together. Freshly planted by a resident of Joo Chiat Walk.

A multi-coloured plant, formed by gardener grafting different plants together. Freshly planted by a resident of Joo Chiat Walk.

Examining the fresh plot of plants as the resident explains his and his wife's hard work and investment on this plot outside their house.

Examining the fresh plot of plants as the resident explained his and his wife’s hard work and investment on this plot outside their house.

Stagnant water in a sunken and clogged drain in a photo taken 2 years ago. This drain is now repaired and covered.

Stagnant water in a sunken and clogged drain in a photo taken 2 years ago. This drain is now repaired and covered.

There’s the gate along Lorong J which had fascinated me during my first visit here in GE2011. It has musical notes on it. I was told by someone that it is the tune of the Chinese song, “我的家庭真可爱” (that is “My lovely family”), though I am not sure.

Musical gates

Musical gates

There was also the home of an amazing animal lover we met whom we chatted with for some 20 minutes. She has lots of tales of animal rescues and advice for us on how we should handle strays. I had met her previously during GE2011 too. This time, it was more leisurely and we could talk for longer. A minute after we had left, she and her daughter came running with drinks which we gladly took to quench our thirst from some 2 hours of house visits.

Photo taken at the animal lover's home

Photo taken at the animal lover’s home

We ended the evening chatting with residents at the park. It was wonderful catching up again with people I had met during GE2011 and making new acquaintances.

Chatting with residents in the park

Chatting with residents in the park

A solar powered home

Last Saturday was punishingly hot and scorching. A group of us were visiting homes in the Telok Kurau area from 3 pm. We were glad to be invited into the home of a good doctor who served us cold drinks.

Pulley-basket

Checking out how the pulley system worked

The house was interesting on two counts. First, we noticed a basket dangling off the staircase with 2 sets of ropes attached to it. It allows the person on the ground floor to place objects into the basket or in a zip-lock bag to be moved to the 2nd or the 3rd floor. Pulling on one set of the ropes will get the basket to the 2nd floor while pulling on the other rope will get the basket to the 3rd floor.

The head of the household explained that his children first started by tying the basket with raffia strings attached to the 3rd floor to make it more efficient to take things from the ground floor. The solution worked but was not so elegant. He thought it was a great idea and decided to buy two pulleys and some ropes, which he used to create his own DIY pulley system. It is a good example of a family working together to innovatively solve problems with common tools.

http://joochiattoday.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/solar41.png

DIY-Pulley System in Action – photo by owner

As we chatted about the scorching weather, the home owner broke into a smile. He said that on a hot day like that, most people would be complaining about the heat, but not him. He would be very happy with hot weathers. He pulled out his smartphone and showed us an App which monitors the amount of electricity already generated that day up to that point in time. It was already at 52 kwH, more than what he could use for their own consumption.

Since moving in a year ago, he found that the previous owner had already installed a solar powered water heater which he found to be very useful. He decided to go for solar panels to power the entire house. The system feeds into the national power grid on the fit-in-tariff scheme, which allowed power generators (including private households) to sell electricity back to the power company. On a typical month, he would receive more than $100 from the power company as the panels would generate more electricity than they could use (It generates over $300 worth of electricity each month, of which his own consumption is around $200+). He had invested over $30,000 in the system of forty two 290-watt Solar panels. He had worked out that the payback is about 10 years while the system can last for 25 years.

July 2013's SP Bill

July 2013’s SP Bill

Aug 2013 SP's Bill

Aug 2013 SP’s Bill

I was excited to hear of his solar panels installation. It is an area I have interest in and have been lobbying in parliament for the government to make a bigger push in this area. I did a quick check of the parliament records (www.parliament.gov.sg) and extracted the six speeches and questions I had presented on this topic since 2012 (http://yeejj.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/renewable-energy/). The topics I had spoken about ranged from test-bedding of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in HDB and public buildings, government support and innovative schemes to promote solar usage in privately owned buildings, and developing local know-hows on renewable energy.

Fit-in-tariff at the moment is only possible with private landed property and with owners of buildings. Joo Chiat SMC is almost entirely private houses, with the majority of buildings being landed housing. It will be good for these households to consider making their homes solar powered. Already, this good doctor has inspired a neighbour to follow suit to also install a similar solar setup. While the payback of investment is still quite long, it is also a commitment towards a more sustainable Singapore.

Solar panels and solar water heater installation in the house in Telok Kurau

Solar panels and solar water heater installation in the house in Telok Kurau – photo by owner

I hope too that Singapore can promote the renewable energy sector more aggressively, both to lower our dependence on traditional energy sources and to build up the local industry to be able to export renewable energy know-how in a rapidly growing global market for such solutions.

Note: The house owner sent me images of the last two months’ utility bills and photographs of the pulley system and solar installations after reading this article. He hopes to inspire more to adopt renewable energy.

An Opera Estate Street Party Gets Bigger

The Big Makan

The Big Makan

Two years ago, I was invited to the Jalan Bintang Tiga street party. That party had started out as a gathering of neighbours that united together to lobby the government over flooding on their streets. With the street closed for drainage work, they started a party in a small way 14 years ago and it has continued yearly since.

Things just got bigger and better this year. The organisers told me that the Singapore Kindness Movement this year decided to sponsor their party. From a small street party 14 years ago, it has now grown to full closure of the road from 4 pm – 10 pm with LTA’s approval, tentage, live screening of the National Day Parade and media coverage, all thanks to the Singapore Kindness Movement. Even the food was sponsored. However, the organisers insisted that the kampong spirit must still be there, so neighbours were encouraged to bring their potluck food there.

Road Closure Sign

Road Closure Sign

The event received good coverage from ChannelNewsAsia and in the Straits Times.

It was unfortunate that I could not make it there this year as I had to attend the National Day Parade. Nevertheless, I dropped by before the start of the event to pass some sponsored prizes to be used for the games and managed to swing back again after the Parade to catch up with the organisers and a few remaining residents at the close of the party.

This street party just shows that when there is good neighbourliness, news spread and things can just get better. I sure look forward to the next Jalan Bintang Tiga Street Party.

Dengue hotspot in East Coast / Telok Kurau

The following is reproduced from parliament records (www.parliament.gov.sg) of my parliamentary question regarding Dengue in East Coast Road / Telok Kurau area on 25 Feb 2013:

Recent Spike in Dengue Cases in East Coast

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) what steps have been taken to counter the threat from the recent spike in dengue cases, especially in the biggest hotspot area in East Coast Road/ Telok Kurau; and (b) of all sites found to be breeding mosquitoes in the past one year, how many were in (i) residential houses (ii) construction sites (iii) public outdoor spaces and (iv) other areas.

The Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (Dr Vivian Balakrishnan): Mdm Speaker, there has been, unfortunately, a significant increase in the number of dengue cases over the past two months, particularly in the eastern part of Singapore.

Please allow me to share some medical facts to set things in context. There are four types of dengue virus. If a person has been previously infected by one, he would usually develop life-long immunity to that particular serotype, but not to the other three. In fact, if that person is subsequently infected a second time, but by a different dengue serotype, the chances of complications become much higher. A change in the predominant dengue serotype that is circulating in our population can often lead to an epidemic because, by definition, if there is a change, the population lacks the immunity to this new circulating serotype. In the past, in fact, we had observed that the probability of a major epidemic breaking out increases every time you detect a serotype switch. This occurred in 2005, when Singapore had the worst incidence of a dengue epidemic.

At that point in time, in 2005, the predominant serotype changed from Dengue Type 2 to Dengue Type 1. Two years later, in 2007, we saw a smaller scale dengue outbreak when the predominant serotype switched from Dengue Type 1 back to Dengue Type 2. Thankfully, in the years since 2007, we have managed, through some very intensive efforts, to prevent a major dengue epidemic from breaking out. However, I must stress that this very success poses a potential problem because it means that the Singapore population has relatively low herd immunity against dengue and, therefore, each passing year that goes by without an epidemic paradoxically means our risk of developing an epidemic increases.

To complicate matters further, we have now seen more cases of Dengue Type 1 and Dengue Type 3 cases emerging over the last two months. This potential change in serotype has contributed to the latest spike in dengue cases.

The largest dengue cluster recorded so far is at the area around Telok Kurau and East Coast Road, and this a Dengue Type 1 cluster. Seventy per cent of the breeding sites in this cluster were actually in residential homes. NEA has worked very closely with the local grassroots organisations and, in particular, with the local MP, Mr Charles Chong, who has tirelessly knocked on doors to urge residents to empty their flower-pots, pails, containers etc, in order to protect themselves and their neighbours from dengue. NEA has sent out advisories to all residents and put up dengue posters in the public areas. We have also sent SMS alerts to the residents and visitors in the area.

Breeding sites can also be found in other outdoor spaces, like construction sites. We have alerted LTA, HDB, PUB, NParks and Town Councils as well the local contractors, to step up their inspections of the areas under their respective charge, and NEA has helped to coordinate these efforts through an Inter-Agency Dengue Taskforce. We have been paying particular attention to construction sites, and there have been a few cases of irresponsible contractors failing to take adequate measures and we have subjected these contractors to composition fines, starting from $2,000 for first offence, and escalate thereafter. In fact, repeat offenders can face a maximum court fine of $50,000 and/or a jail sentence not exceeding six months. Last year, 900 mosquito-breeding offences were detected in construction sites, of which 626 were first-time offences.

Let me conclude by saying that this is a clear and present danger confronting Singapore. Remember that mosquitoes do not usually fly very far − on average, 150 metres, 200 metres. What this means is that if you have a dengue infection, you almost certainly caught it from another family member or neighbour living close by. The mosquito is simply a go-between. What this means then is that it requires individual and collective responsibility to eliminate mosquito breeding in your own home and in your own neighbourhood, in order to protect yourself, your family members and your neighbours.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): I would like to thank the Minister for the answer. I have two supplementary questions. But, first, I would like to declare that I live just next to the biggest hotspot area in East Coast Road. The first question is that, as an interested resident of the area, I would like to do my part to fight dengue. Other than making sure that there is no stagnant water at home, I would like to know what else can people do. I read that the Ministry had in the past given ovitraps to residents in some pilot schemes to trap the eggs that were being laid. I would like to know what has happened to that project and whether there is a plan to carry it on, and whether that has been effective.

My second supplementary question is this. I have read that the Ministry has stopped fogging because it is said that it is not effective. I would like to know: why is it not effective, based on what sort of data, and would it be a plan to fog if there is a need to?

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I thank the Member for those very relevant questions and also for reminding me that he is an interested party, as a resident in a hotspot. The first set of questions was: what else can you do? As I said, the most important strategy is still source eradication. So, you will be surprised at the creativity of the mosquitoes in finding new breeding spots. I will give Members an example. Even if you were to take a holiday for five days, and your home toilets are uncovered and unflushed, mosquitoes will happily breed in your toilet bowl. They will happily breed in gulley traps. They will happily breed in roof gutters if you have not secured them and you have not cleared them. And it only takes five to seven days. And it just shows you that you may think they have done a complete clearance, but there is always a possibility we have missed something, and there is always a possibility in that space of five days to a week another life cycle has begun.

The second point is that this is, in a sense, a proximity disease. As I said earlier, mosquitoes do not fly very far. Therefore, you catch dengue from a neighbour or a family member. If you have a fever, it is worth remembering that you are a potential reservoir of infection. And this is relevant because, in fact, the majority of people who may carry the virus may not be diagnosed with dengue. And it is a clear reminder that if you have a fever and you are living in a hotspot, please see a medical professional who can make a specific diagnosis. And nowadays with the more sophisticated tests which are available, a diagnosis can be made within the space of hours or a maximum of a day.

The next point is, if you have been diagnosed or if there is a significant possibility that you are infected, your responsibility, first, is to get well yourself but, equally, remember you do not want to pass on that same virus to your family members, so prevent yourself from being bitten by mosquitoes using repellants or even good-old-fashioned mosquito nets. In the past, we used to do that but, nowadays, you hardly ever see a mosquito net. I think you probably have to go to the Beach Road surplus stores to find a mosquito net which we used from our army days. But, in fact, mosquito nets are very effective barriers to the transmission of the virus by mosquitoes. And I am not talking about preventing you from being infected but preventing you from infecting other people; similarly, with the use of insect repellants.

The Member also asked a question on the use of fogging. We do not believe in fogging as a first-line of defence.

Study after study has found that source eradication of breeding areas is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. In extremely high risk areas where we think that there is a significant pool of adult mosquitoes which are infected, we would use fogging in a concentrated and targeted manner. Generalised fogging – where you see more smoke rather than real impact – is not something that I would recommend.

The question on ovitraps, we actually use that more as a surveillance because it will give us some idea of the prevalence of mosquitoes and whether those mosquitoes that we trap are infected with the dengue virus.

I just want to conclude that in fact, although we focus on mosquitoes, actually the real primary host for dengue is us, human beings. If you were a mosquito, your perspective would be that human beings are the problem. The human beings are the reservoir for the virus. Of course, we will take the human-centric point of view. I just want to emphasise: take all sensible measures to protect yourselves, your family and your neighbours; eliminate all breeding areas. If you have any doubts about your own potential to be infected, please do the responsible thing: Get yourself diagnosed and take appropriate measures to isolate yourself from your friends, families and neighbours with mosquito nets and repellents.

Dr Lam Pin Min: Mdm Speaker, the fight against dengue has been on-going for decades. So has the research on dengue vaccination. Can I ask the Minister if he has any update on dengue vaccination research?

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I thought I will show this chart. It goes back to the 1960s. In the earlier years – in the 60s and 70s – there was very low incidence of dengue. It picked up mainly in the 80s and 90s. Before Members jump to the wrong conclusion and say that this is a Singapore problem, this is a global problem. For some reason which we still do not fully understand, there has been a global increase in dengue, particularly in areas of the world bounded by 35 degrees north and south of the Equator. Dr Lam is absolutely right. The only long-term resolution to this problem is a vaccine. There have been some trials going on, but I would say at this point in time, it is not yet ready to be rolled out on a full scale basis. Basically, my strategy in Singapore is to keep buying us time; keep intensively eradicating mosquito breeding within our city; and then, if and when the vaccine is ready, we can embark on mass vaccination. At that point in time, NEA can redeploy the 1,000 inspectors who are currently knocking on doors every day, checking on mosquito breeding. I also want to make this point that I am very grateful to the residents and citizens of Singapore for cooperating with this effort and for their patience over these years. Once the vaccine is ready, we roll that out, and we build up immunity in our population, then this problem will be resolved.

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