Monday, 18 September 2017

Art, sports & dollars: Award-winning artist Sonny Liew & gold medal-winning athlete Soh Rui Yong put the money where their mouth is

Both had highly publicised money-related issues with authorities.

One involving a state grant. The other, sponsorships.

Both overcame those issues to win in their respective fields.

And last week, both used money to make a statement about how the arts and sports are run by the state.


In 2015, the National Arts Council (NAC) withdrew its $8,000 grant for Liew's graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye due to “sensitive content”.

Boosted by the resulting publicity, the book became a local publishing phenomenon and went on to win three Eisner awards in July.

Last Friday, it was revealed that Liew had returned a $19,000 Creation Grant he received from NAC last year for his follow-up book.

While he explained it was "partly about scheduling", Today newspaper also got this stunning quote from Liew:
Bureaucracy can be a good thing in trying to ensure there are regulations and institutions in place to try to ensure transparency, accountability and fairness. But my sense (is) that it is also often a shield for the opposite - to obscure motives, to rationalise weak positions.
In response, NAC wished him all the best.


Last month, before the SEA Games, Soh was given a formal warning by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) for failing to comply with Team Singapore's membership agreement on the personal sponsorship blackout period.

He explained on Facebook:

He told
I took down my posts because SNOC had repeatedly stated that the comments on the posts were damaging their reputation even after the posts were edited. It was an ultimatum they were giving.

This is something that I believe in fighting for, but it is not worth the risk of being bumped off the team because the pride of Singapore is at stake. I will go to Kuala Lumpur, win a medal, then come back and continue this debate. That is how I believe I can best represent my country.
And win a medal he did - a gold, no less - in the marathon for the second time running.

On Saturday, Soh sent an e-mail to SNOC and Singapore Sports Institute to protest giving 20 per cent of his $10,000 reward for winning a SEA Games gold medal to Singapore Athletics (SA) in accordance to SNOC rules.

He explained on Facebook:
The reason I'm doing so is because I believe that the 20% of gold medal prize money that every athlete requires to give back to the NSA should not be taken for granted.

Common sense dictates that this 20% is meant as a gesture of goodwill to the NSA (National Sports Association) for helping the athlete achieve the success at the SEA Games, while also acting as a future investment in development.

For the 2017 SEA Games, SA has not only failed to adequately help our athletes, but they have also hindered the performance of several athletes with continued infighting, turmoil, and poor administration.

The lack of concrete development plans for the future also cast serious doubts over the future of the sport. As such, I believe that Singapore Athletics is underdeserving of the $2000 (20% of $10000) that SNOC takes out of my MAP (Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme) award money to give to them.

Perhaps once SA has figured out their development plans, they can submit their receipts to me to seek reimbursement. Please allow for 2-4 months for the processing of claims.

So two talented Singaporeans from different fields, Sonny Liew and Soh Rui Yong, share the common experience of getting shafted by the state.

But both succeeded in spite of poor support from the state.

And within days of each other, both pretty much used their success to basically tell the state: "Up yours!"

Talk about butthurt.

Monday, 11 September 2017

No holiday in DPRK: Who exactly is MFA's North Korea travel advisory for?

Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued an advisory:
“Given recent developments and the unpredictable situation arising from the actions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Singaporeans should avoid all non-essential travel to North Korea. Singapore has no diplomatic representation in North Korea, which constrains our ability to extend consular assistance to Singaporeans who travel there.”
Isn’t this kind of redundant?

It’s like issuing an advisory to avoid all non-essential travel to Florida, given Hurricane Irma.

Or an advisory for coulrophobia sufferers to avoid all non-essential viewing of the movie It, given killer clown.

I mean, even before the “recent developments” — which is just MFA’s calmer way of saying “Kim Jong Un has the hydrogen bomb and we’re all going to die!” — did many Singaporeans travel to North Korea in the first place?

I believe many, many more Singaporeans visit South Korea.

So MFA should really be advising against all non-essential travel to the land of Gangnam Style because if Supreme Leader Kim starts nuking people, the first to go would likely be his US-allied southern neighbour.

But even without the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, there are other reasons North Korea is no longer the irresistible tourist destination it used to be.

The Wonsan Air Show was supposed to be held this month but was grounded.

The month-long Taedonggang Beer Festival, which was supposed to held last month, was also cancelled. It was North Korea’s answer to Oktoberfest — but in August and with fewer lederhosen.

North Korea tourism has also been hampered by the lack of a promotional campaign with the slogan “Passion made possible”.

Pyongyang could probably use a Formula One night race more than we do.

But judging by its missile tests, North Korea seems less interested in getting the people of the world to visit than bombing it to Kim-dom come.

So with North Korea being an unlikely holiday getaway for Singaporeans, who exactly is the MFA advisory for?

It could be for someone like Mr Aram Pan.

The Singaporean photographer was in the news recently after he posted a 6½-minute video called Flight Over Pyongyang on YouTube on Sept 2.

Showing aerial footage of Pyongyang shot last year, the video was featured on several foreign news sites last week. said the footage reveals “a city full of skyscrapers but streets largely empty of cars and people”.

In the video description, Mr Pan wrote: “It’s a rare treat that a foreigner is allowed photography and filming over the skies of North Korea and even rarer to be doing so in a Piper Matrix PA-46 light plane.”

He has been uploading videos shot in North Korea to his YouTube channel since 2013 and has a website called DPRK 360, dedicated to the country.

Mr Pan sounds like someone who does a lot of “non-essential travel” to North Korea.

I e-mailed him yesterday and asked whether he is affected by MFA’s advisory.

He replied:
“The advisory is expected in lieu of the current global political trends. I think it will primarily just affect travel insurance coverage. Singaporeans who do projects or businesses there will likely still go as and when they need to. As of this conversation, I haven't been to the DPRK since September 2016 and haven't made any plans to travel to the DPRK so I still won't be directly affected by it.”

Of course, the advisory could also be meant for me.

The last place I had a haircut was in North Korea last year when I was there for the Pyongyang marathon.

I swore never to have my hair cut again because I want to be able to say forever that the last place I had a haircut was in North Korea.

In the intervening 17 months, my hair has grown long and unsightly. My family and co-workers are begging me to cut it.

And frankly, I, too, am getting annoyed by my own hair.

I figured the only way I could cut my hair and still be able to say that the last place I had a haircut was in North Korea was to actually return to North Korea to get another haircut.

Then came the travel advisory.

I think going to Pyongyang for a trim counts as “non-essential travel”.

Looks like I’ll be cosplaying as Kylo Ren for the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in December after all.

Thanks a lot, MFA. Look what you made do.

- Published in The New Paper, 11 September 2017

EARLIER: Why I'm grateful North Korean leader's half-brother wasn't assassinated in Changi Airport last year


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