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Do we dare to dream (or fail) like them?

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14 Cover STORY



Are we more daring, and less fearful of failure in the pursuit of innovation?




We find some ideas worth spreading from TEDxBiopolis



Jamie Lerner, one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People, tells us how he gets his ideas to work


GOING BANANAS CPF officers dazzle on the getai to spread their message



What makes a good government website? Experts share tips





Word on the Street POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Parenting, not censorship, is the main factor in protecting children from harmful content



Find out what lies beneath the seabed at the Jurong Rock Caverns



Level Up LISTENING FOR FEELINGS Want fruitful discussions with your colleagues or family? Be mindful of their feelings




8 pages of tips and trivia to make that trip fun and hassle-free

Your views on the Sep/Oct issue of Challenge



We ask bartenders to concoct six special Public Service drinks!



We trace its genesis back to the Stone Age

Readers tell us Yay or Nay

16 A Cuppa With… “Like a Midwife Delivering a Baby”

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports Niam Chiang Meng on the inaugural Youth Olympic Games



A different, unforgiving Singapore is emerging, warns veteran journalist P N Balji


Letters to a Young Public Officer DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK

Ambassador Chan Heng Chee shares her insights on what makes a good public officer


The Challenge Pull Out PASSPORT


03 Your Say Will you respond to your boss’s SMS or phone calls after office hours?





Are you INSPIRED? Most people think of public officers as bureaucratic, rigid and unable to think much out of the box – a bit like working with a paper bag over our heads. I have a shocking revelation – I have actually become more creative since I joined the PS21 Office. Believe me? W h e n I fi r s t j o i n e d , I h ad n o i d e a w h a t I w a s i n for. I foggily understood PS21 as “three rings” and “no w rong door ”. All I was armed with were haz y memor ies of WI TS projects from my day s at PSA Corp, hunched over fishbone diagrams with my department, dreaming up improvements.

Who says public officers need to be boring?

Now, 2¾ years on, I’m sold. The idea of creativity and innovation has exploded in my mind, my being, like never before. How? I got inspired. By inventive public officers whose ideas and stories make the Public Service what it is today – such as my favourite story of Staff Sergeant Dexter Chitra, who drew inspiration from his son’s eye checkup, to design a UV flashlight to detect oil leaks in Chinook aircraft that would save MINDEF $4m a year. By countless stories we encounter of innovative companies whose employees transform one idea after another to reality, supported by leadership fashioning the right culture for creative buzz – the likes of Google, Apple and IDEO. By the team in our office whose appetite for cool ideas is insatiable, even in the face of opposition. Sometimes we get so carried away, we forget we are public officers. But who says public officers need to be boring? All this inspires me to transform every piece of work into a canvas where our imagination is the limit. Our cover story on failure highlights an ingredient to risk-taking that most would rather avoid. We speak to Jamie Lerner, named among the world’s top 100 most influential people by TIME Magazine, whose audacity to dream has punctuated urban landscapes with his wild imaginings. Our travel pullout is your handy guide as we approach my favourite part of the year – December! And oh, in a tribute to the fishbone, we immortalise the world’s first-ever on The Irreverent Last Page. So, the next time you find yourself covering your head in a bag and doing things the same way, stop. Here’s to dreaming and creating – never stop!  Happy holidays from all of us at Challenge!


Tay Li Shing


PS21 Office, Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office 100 High Street, #07-01 The Treasury Singapore 179434 Email : Web :

For enquiries or feedback on Challenge, please write to the Challenge Editorial Team at Editorial Advisor

Agnes Kwek Editor

Tay Li Shing

Assistant Editors

INBOX I am inspired by the Letters to a Young Public Officer series, and especially by the recent letter from former HCS, Mr Lim Siong Guan. I still look at it once in a while.

Ong Kian Ann MOF

Edmund Soo & Shaun Khiu Editorial Assistant

Eric Loy

Tuber Productions Pte Ltd

298 River Valley Road Level 2 Singapore 238339 Tel : 6836-4030 Fax : 6836-4029 Email : Web :

Management Director

Lee Han Shih

Managing Director

Weiling Wong Project Director

Liew Wei Ping


Contributing Editor

Bridgette See

Editorial Consultant

Koh Buck Song

Editorial Assistant/Writer

Chen Jingting Contributors

Alexis Ong, Edwin Beh, Wong Sher Maine & Yong Shu Chiang Intern

Shaistah Munawar


Creative Director


Associate Art Director

Jasmine Tan

Graphic Designers

Vanessa Lim, Cindy Anggono, Eva Sunarya & Marilyn Ang Production Manager

Nurul Malik Intern

Trista Sor

Inhouse Photographer

Chris Ong

I was thrilled to

read the feature on work-life integration, with the many positive flexi-work stories. However, the photograph of a mother trying to work on her laptop with one kid hanging off her neck and the other crying for attention did not do telecommuting much justice, and may reinforce some supervisors’ negative mindsets on mothers who telecommute. Having said that, flexible work arrangements are designed to help officers meet their personal and work responsibilities.

Enjoyable & Informative. I’m a fan.

Kuek Yu Chuang MinLaw

The paradigm has shifted, from face-to-face to an outcome-based approach to management. Thus,

I hope that supervisors will empower their officers with more control over how, where and when they work, as long as they deliver on their pre-agreed work targets.

Nina Zafar PSD

Photog raphers

John Heng ( Ryan Kwok ( Jean Qingwen Loo ( Norman Ng ( Challenge is published bimonthly by Tuber Productions Pte Ltd (Registration No: 200703697K) for PS21 Office, Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office. Copyright of the materials contained in this magazine belongs to PS21 Office. Nothing in here shall be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written consent of PS21 Office. Views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of PS21 Office or Tuber Productions Pte Ltd and no liabilities shall be attached thereto. All rights reserved. All information correct at time of printing. Printed by KHL Printing Co Pte Ltd (Registration No: 197801823M) 57 Loyang Drive Singapore 508968

I like your Challenge Sep/Oct issue. The contents are exciting, with lots

wow wow!

of things to I like the feel of the cover too.

Kevin Loo SPRING

(Ed: Thanks! We like how the granulated matte varnish on our cover feels too.)

Challenge Online My congratulations to the team that has revamped Challenge and taken it online in a refreshing new way.You’ve succeeded in

putting a human face to the Public Service and that in

itself must have been a huge challenge!

I really like how we’re not above laughing at ourselves now,

as in the priceless photo of the 1970’s “approved” hairstyles. My daughter and her friends didn’t believe me when I told them we used to do this in the ‘70s and I was very happy that with your new interactive tools, I could email the link to her. I do like the LOL feature as well. In short, great job, guys! You have re-invented yourselves successfully 

Mrs Varalackshmi Durai MOE

Editor: We love to hear from you so do keep your comments coming and help us make this magazine, your magazine, a great read! Remember you can also leave comments at

Your Say03

Will you respond to your boss’s SMS or phone calls after office hours? Readers share their thoughts!

Not anymore! Before I was the ‘nice guy’ saying ‘Yes’ to my boss; this meant responding to his calls and SMSes after working hours. He would pile me with additional workload and I found myself preparing reports throughout the evening! My time with my family was affected. I made a brave decision to turn off my phone. After several failed attempts to reach me, my boss met me to find out why. I trashed out my problems with him and he finally understood! These days, he doesn’t call or SMS me anymore after work. I’m glad I made this decision. It’s a tough one but I never regretted it. In life, we just have to be frank about everything, no point saying Yes to everything but end up hurting ourselves!

Bravo to Mdm Jeannie Chan who wins a holiday hamper, worth up to $100, which she can savour with her family!

NO WAY.... If you could be anybody for a day on New Year’s Day 2011, who would you be and what would you do Tell us at: The best entry will win an attractive prize worth up to


All other

published entries will win shopping vouchers


worth each. Please include your name, email address, agency and contact number. All entries should reach us by November 27, 2010.

If I’m on MC or holiday while everybody is working (hehehe...) I DO NOT reply my SMSes because it ’s my private time and nobody should disturb me.

Loo Lee Eng

Attorney-General’s Chambers

Of course! If there is an upcoming major event, it is fine as we need to settle matters urgently. But after 11pm, my boss would need to engage the services of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Inception team to find me. But do get the architect to create a nice world of liveable cities (and

bring that Inception totem too).

Liew Wen Hwee Centre for Liveable Cities

A resounding YES as my boss’s work requires him to work 24/7 and hence be contactable 24/7 too. Some time ago, he was accidentally locked out and he called me to return to the office to open the door for him.

be testing if I am upholding our service standards! As a Quality Sevice Manager of SPRING, that ’s my role and responsibility. I know that my boss wouldn’t SMS or call if it is not important.

Chew Mok Lee SPRING


Yes as I can then have a good reason to call my boss again after office hours to seek clarifications and report to him on further developments. If this occurs once in a while, it ’s quite acceptable. But if this happens regularly, I might discuss with my boss on the hours he can call, say from 610pm, so that my next day’s productivity is not affected.

Definitely, because my boss may just


Patricia Ng Poh Toye

Attorney-General’s Chambers Yes, because he is the one who pays me monthly and punctually. :D

Erika Hew

Liang Hein Fock

I’ll respond after I’ve let my boss know that I’m having quality time with my family and that I’ll act on the queries at a convenient time.

Chow Meng Yoon MOE

I’ll respond as my Operation Manager has a lot of things to do. Some schools have two OMs but our school only has one. He is a very busy man, he needs help that ’s why I answer his calls.

Shariffa Mohamed MOE

04 Highlights


Coming up...

from the


SERVICE One of the performing groups, Andrew Lum and New Asia

The inaugural event takes place in Paris, France from October 8 to November 28. It will showcase some of Singapore’s best performing artists and arts groups, including T.H.E. Dance Company and The Finger Players that will perform at the Musee du Quai Branly on November 18-28.


Work Life Excellence Awards (WLE) 2010 Seven government agencies snagged the WLE Award this year. The biennial award, conferred by the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy, recognises organisations committed to helping employees balance their work and personal needs. Congratulations to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (above), Land Transport Authority, the Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the Public Service Division, Republic Polytechnic and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Ten YEARS OF THE PRO-ENTERPRISE PANEL (PEP) An array of PEP publicity events targeted at the local business community was held to celebrate PEP’s 10th anniversary. A customised PEP Van even visited the major industrial estates island-wide to encourage businesses to submit suggestions on ways to cut down red tape in the government. The publicity campaign culminated in a Gala event on November 1 with Minister Lim Hng Kiang as the Guest of Honour. Watch PEP’s new publicity videos on their YouTube channel: user/ProEnterprisePanel

Credit: Mr Hilarion Goh from Tanjong Pagar Photographic Club.

Do you have memorabilia of the old Drama Centre or the former National Theatre? You can donate or loan them to The People’s Exhibition which aims to reconnect people with memories of old performing spaces. It will tour libraries from December 2010 to June 2011. Email: nac_artsfestcommune@

Responsible Pet Ownership Roadshow 2010 Come to the Singapore Expo Hall 4B on November 13 and 14 for a fun, educational road show. Organised by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, the event will hold talks and demonstrations on pet care, training and health. Visit www.

Applying for leave will be a breeze from July 2011 when the new Human Resource Management System (HRMS) replaces PM2S. Its Employee Self Service (ESS) function will let you update personal information easily. Amending your leave application? HRMS lets you select specific days to delete instead of having to re-apply for leave. View the Team Calendar for coworkers’ leave periods and calculate your earned leave. Other ESS functions include updating your skills, qualifications and resume whenever you want. To find out more, log onto PM2S and click the HRMS logo.


Looking for Answers? Try Looking Elsewhere! TED Talks is a conference devoted to ideas worth spreading. On September 11, 2010, the A*STAR Postdoctoral Society hosted the f irst TEDxBiopolis talk in Singapore. The topics ranged from science to social issues. We extract a few gems from the session. by

Shaistah Munawar

If the switching of the surface coat is done slowly, your immune system will be able to catch up and clear the infection. – Oliver Dreesen

A*STAR postdoctoral fellow, Institute of Medical Biology

Why chromosomes are like shoelaces When we tie shoelaces, we normally pay no attention to the protective plastic caps at the ends of them. B u t , a c c o rd i n g t o D r O l i v e r Dreesen, just like our shoelaces, the ends of our chromosomes are also capped by protective repetitive DNA sequences called telomeres which are very significant. Telomeres are involved in many cellular processes and play a critical role in human disease and ageing. Humans are made up of many cells and when our cells divide, the telomeres get shorter. In Trypanosoma brucei, a deadly parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, telomeres play a fascinating role in enabling the parasite to persist in its host. This parasite outwits the host immune system by frequently changing its surface coat in a process called antigenic variation. Intriguingly, the genes that encode the surface coat are located at the telomeres. Dr Dreesen’s research demonstrated that telomeres play an important role in regulating the frequency of antigenic variation: parasites with short telomeres switch more rapidly than parasites with long telomeres. Thus, in this parasite, telomeres play a rather unexpected role in sustaining the infection and ultimately killing their host. Understanding how antigenic switching is regulated and initiated is important: if the frequency of switching is reduced, the immune system could catch up and clear the infection. These findings might have important implications for other parasites that evade the host immune system by antigenic variation. Dr Oliver Dreesen received his PhD from Rockefeller University, USA, where he studied telomerase and telomeres in Trypanosoma brucei, a type of parasite that causes African sleeping sickness.

A large amount of failure is required for just a few drops of success. – Isabelle Desjeux

Artist, Founder and director of Isadora’s Workshop

Seeing is not believing

Using failures to predict the future

What you see is not what you get with physical measuring instruments, says Professor Dale Purves of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.

Why is it that when we fail, we tend to give up even without wanting to try again? The simple reason: no one likes to be associated with the word FAIL.

For example, a coloured patch (that reflects the same amount of light measured by a photometer like the one in a digital camera) would look very different to the eye in different contexts, such as backgrounds with different luminance values.

But for Dr Isabelle Desjeux, failures could help predict how science would look like in the future. With this in mind, the former scientist has taken artistic means (such as the use of ‘Pataphysics’- the science of imaginary solutions) to study and try to make sense of failure patterns.

This strange relationship between what we see and the physical world has come about because sense organs such as the retina in the human eye do not act like a photometer; they do not (and indeed cannot) give us access to physical reality. As a result, what we see is a world quite different from the real one, because of the way human sight has evolved over time. These sorts of observations imply that vision is not based on analysing the features of images, but on connections of cells (neurons) that link patterns of light on the retina to behaviours that have worked in the past.

What we see is a world quite different from the real one, because of the way human sight has evolved over time. – Dale Purves

Director, Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders programme, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School; Executive Director, A*STAR-Duke NUS Neuroscience Partnership

Thus, what we see always provides “more than meets the eye”. Professor Dale Purves received his B.A. from Yale University in 1960 and an M.D. from the Harvard Medical School. He is also professor in the Department of Neurobiology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University. Find out more:

Scientists go through different types of failures. Through that process, they either reject or throw away data they do not need. She wonders how all the rejected data can be turned into success. One such success story is of Sir Paul Lauterbur who came up with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in the ‘70s. Believe it or not, his first paper was rejected and it took him a while to be accepted and to win the Nobel Prize. The message behind this: what has failed before might succeed later, and failure is an inevitable part of the scientific process and progress. Science aside, just imagine if we all studied our rejected ideas, we would better understand how and why we failed. Dr Isabelle Desjeux received her PhD in Molecular Biology from Edinburgh University, UK. She is also the founder and director of Isadora’s Workshop, an art workshop for children and adults. She is currently studying in Lasalle College of the Ar ts and this presentation is the result of her research towards attaining her Masters in Arts (Fine Arts). Find out more:

Feature07 Try starting at the bottom

City life in the countryside

Most people think you need a lot of capital to start a business but actually, sometimes all it takes is a big idea. This is what got Jack Sim started.

Our grandparents tell stories about village life and how different cities have become. Well, such nostalgia could soon become history – with Mr Tay Kheng Soon’s good idea of Rubanisation.

His big idea: to ensure there were proper toilets worldwide. Mr Sim has since worked on sanitation projects in India, Indonesia, China and other countries. Companies starting a new business usually target potential customers in the middle or upper class. Mr Sim begs to differ. Studies done on the “bottom of the pyramid” by the late Michigan University Professor C. K. Prahalad in 1998 suggested that businesses should stop thinking of the poor as victims and instead see them as creative entrepreneurs and valuedemanding consumers. Similarly, Mr Sim believes the poor can offer good business opportunities. “If companies are able to design low-cost toilets, then they have 2.6 billion customers waiting to buy these toilets.” So, instead of always focusing one way, try to change your perception and look in a different direction. Mr Jack Sim was named by Time Magazine as Hero of the Environment 2008. Find out more:

Rubanisation is a re-conceptualisation of human settlements in which the city and the countryside are considered as one space, not two separate realms. This integration allows for a traditional yet modern lifestyle, using plus points from both rural and urban lifestyles. An example is a school Mr Tay built in Lam Plai Mat, a district in northeastern Thailand, that was made of preserved bamboo but had Internet access for the students.

This idea will benefit future generations, as they can live in a city and a village at the same time. Sri Lanka, where Mr Tay is working on a Rubanisation project, may be the next beneficiary. Mr Tay Kheng Soon is Principal Partner of Akitek Tenggara. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Architecture at the National University of Singapore.

Every $1 you invest on sanitation, you get $9 back because the person would be healthy enough to work and earn more money. – Jack Sim

– Tay Kheng Soon

Principal partner, Akitek Tenggara / Adjunct Professor of Architecture, National University of Singapore

Rubanisation might solve a lot of the problems in the world today. Slums in city outskirts would decrease as fewer people flock to cities looking for employment; villages would receive more attention and be developed. Villagers would be more educated and get the same opportunities as city dwellers.

Find out more:

Founder, World Toilet Organisation

I’m not saying that we should go back to the early examples of village life, I’m saying that we should go forward to the new high-tech village so that your living environment is for working, living, learning, playing and farming.

MEET TED TED is a small non-profit foundation devoted to ideas worth spreading. It started out in 1984 in America as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Speakers have a maximum of 18 minutes to share their ideas in the most innovative and attractive way through TED Talks. TED’s current curator is the former British computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris Anderson. TEDx is a new programme that enables schools, businesses, libraries, neighbourhoods or groups of friends to organise, design and host their own independent TED-like events.





Is risk-taking, and risk of failure, less of a taboo in today’s Public Service? Are public off icers daring to risk more to embrace innovation? by

Yong Shu Chiang

Cover Story09 IN Apollo 13, a Hollywood film about a moon mission that turned into a mission to save three astronauts trapped in a crippled space vessel, one famous line stands out: “Failure is not an option.” The line from the acclaimed 1995 movie may be artistic licence, but the spirit of the message from mission control is relevant to any discourse on risk-taking and innovation. Is failure an option – or acceptable outcome – in pursuit of innovation in the Public Service, where responsibility comes with the added weight of public funds? The famous inventor Thomas Edison, who perfected the electric light bulb, said: “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” This is a variation on the axiom that one must always learn from one’s mistakes. But would Edison’s success rate (or wastefulness, depending on your perspective) fly with the Public Service? Would his level of risk-taking be accepted or encouraged? If perception is reality, then perhaps not. The pervasive ingrained public service culture seems to suggest that “failure” is a dirty word. To tolerate, or seem to be soft on, failure would suggest a blasé attitude in an achievement-centred economy. Better, then, to be safe, than sorry? Are the preceding two paragraphs a fair assessment or a persistent stereotype? How do public officers today approach innovation; where do they draw the line between daring and foolhardiness, responsible and irresponsible? Mr Lim Siong Guan, Head of Civil Service from 1999 to 2005, wrote in a 2002 commentary: “The fear of failure is the single most important reason people hold themselves back from thinking and trying. But we cannot expect to be an innovative, forwardlooking, enterprising, energetic Public Service full of people who are alive,

brains ticking, hearts beating, if we cannot forgive mistakes.” FORGIVING (GOOD) FAILURE Mr Chan Yeng Kit, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, and chairman of the PS21 ExCEL Committee, thinks that risk-taking, and inherent risk of failure, are more encouraged today. “I believe the message is getting through that... senior management accepts the risk of failure as long as due diligence has been done and we have done whatever is reasonable to mitigate the risks. Indeed, the greater failing would be not to try at all.” To stand pat and do nothing, for fear of failing, is to ensure “zero chance of success”, he pointed out. This tack also invariably leads to negative consequences such as failing to keep up with the times and society’s needs. At the passing of former Deput y Prime Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee in May 2010, Mr Lim Siong Guan recalled Dr Goh’s inspiring pronouncement on failure, that “the only way to avoid mistakes is not to do anything. And that... will be the ultimate mistake.”

tive must have a worthwhile payoff and reasonable chance of success, said Mr Chan. In other words, there may be the “good failures” that result from good intentions, sound strategies, appreciation for resources and opportunity cost, as well as the application of experience and knowledge. He cited the e-government projects a few years ago on the then-popular virtual-world platform, Second Life. Later, as the Second Life fad waned, so did these projects. “We just have to learn from these efforts and move on,” he said, pointing out that there are currently e-government projects on popular social networking platforms. “No one will know (if cutting-edge projects can work) until we have tried it.” So long as risks are understood, and due diligence exercised, “officers will not be blamed if things don’t work out as anticipated due to extraneous reasons,” he added.

If I may say, failure is at times somewhat of a seed of inspiration.

Former Head of Civil Service Mr Peter Ho, who stepped down this September, has also talked about the need to “act boldly” in the face of opportunities. “We must be prepared to experiment, even if we cannot be entirely certain of the outcome. In the complex, even chaotic, space that I believe we are operating in now, the approach is to probe, sense patterns, and to act, even in the absence of complete information. “The biggest failure will be the failure to act, because we fear to fail. We must learn not to operate in a “failsafe” mode, but instead to operate in a “safe-fail” mode.” The senior management in the public sector know that “no one plans to fail deliberately” and that any new initia-

Inspired Despite setbacks, Dr Lee Mun Wai has gone on to create eco-friendly biocomposites (above) to replace conventional plastics.

A BRUSH WITH SUCCESS An innovation success story is the Happy Brush project of the Health Promotion Board (HPB), where a team from the HPB’s School Dental Service spent three years to invent a speciallyshaped toothbrush that made it easier for children to clean their teeth. The affordable and effective Happy Brush, launched in 2008 at $2.50 each, was the result of a Work Improvement Team (WITS) project for the eight-strong team of dentists and dental therapists, led by Dr Eu Oy Chu, Senior Deputy Director, School Dental Service.

Happy Inventors The Happy Brush team from HPB’s School Dental Service (from left): Jeevamony Antonette, Mabel Goh, Eu Oy Chu, Chan Yeng Peng, Satya Bhama Devi, and Ong Bee Lian.

WITS, a public ser vice innovation platform since the early 1980s, brings public sector officers together in groups FLOATING A GREAT IDEA Lifejackets help save lives, but are not foolproof. This was the observation of a group of concerned Singapore Armed Forces personnel at the Special Operations Tactical Centre, who dubbed themselves Team Ironman. For their WITS project, they noted that personnel in emergency situations – unconscious or injured – could fail to activate manual lifejackets.

Their solution? They created a sensor-equipped device plugged into existing lifejackets that would automatically inflate at a pre-determined depth under water – a feature not found in commercially available auto-inflatable lifejackets.

to identify work areas that need improvement, before brainstorming to come up with relevant solutions. The Happy Brush team stated that “failure is no longer a dirty word” but is considered “a stepping stone to new discoveries and greater achievements.” Team members noted the poor oral hygiene of school-age patients; they also wanted a solution accessible to less-privileged children. They struggled at times with the project, yet persisted, receiving timely aid at several key turns. The Innovation Activist Group within HPB, tasked with promoting innovation, earmarked the project for

additional funding supported by the Ministry of Health. The team also sought expert help from a computer-aided design firm GIM Solutions and another designer to verify and illustrate the toothbrush’s viability. Then, one of the team members had a chance meeting with a friend from A*STAR that led the team to approach the research development agency for assistance. This ultimately led to the product going to market. For the Happy Brush project, the intricate system that nurtures innovation within the Public Service worked well,

even involving inter-agency co-operation in an organic manner, with quality contributions from external parties. Dr Eu believes that the current public service culture also helped. “There may have been some red tape in the past, and a common perception was that getting things done differently was difficult and tedious... it is more conducive now to embark on such initiatives.” MITIGATE, NOT ELIMINATE The “no risk, no gain” philosophy has long resonated with Mr Yap Chin Beng, Deputy CEO (Estates & Corporate) and Chief Innovation Officer at the

011 Cover Story Housing Development Board (HDB). “Between acceptable risk-taking versus chasing a lost cause, my advice to staff is to take ‘calculated risks’ which require the guts to try, as well as knowledge and experience.” Mr Yap acknowledged that stigma used to come with failure, but this was no longer so. “I would say people are currently more willing to accept failure as a part of the learning process.” Asked about the apparent conundrum of encouraging risk-taking without appearing to encourage failure, he reiterated the need to do the necessary research and analysis to better understand the risks involved and how

to mitigate those risks, as part of the due diligence expected at all levels. “It is not about avoiding mistakes and failures altogether, which, we know, is not realistic at all.”

flats so that extended families can live together in separate but adjacent units. The scheme was very well-received with almost all the flats sold at the end of the selection exercise.

Mr Yap cited two pilot projects that HDB had carried out to meet the needs of extended family living: the multi-generation flats introduced in 1987 and the two-room “granny” flats in Pasir Ris in 1991. Both projects did not achieve the intended results. Despite this setback, HDB enhanced the scheme and introduced the Multi-Generation Living Scheme in Dawson in Dec 2009. Under this scheme, HDB paired studio apartments with four- and five-room

The team ran several experiments over a period of one year to find the most suitable pump, processor chip, battery and waterproof casing before creating their first successful prototype, recounted team leader 1WO Francis Toh. Thereafter, they decided to enhance the first prototype, making it slimmer and more compact by December 2009. Their determination paid off, winning the team the Gold award at the 2010 ExCEL Convention, with the help of funding from the Innovate@ MINDEF Fund and partnership with Nanyang Polytechnic, to tap their engineering expertise.

THE SEED OF INSPIRATION If there is anyone familiar with failure, it has got to be a scientist who often conducts a large number of experiments while seeking breakthrough discoveries. Dr Lee Mun Wai from A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology is no exception. The associate research scientist has always wanted to help save the Earth. Trained in polymer science and technology, she has recently succeeded in creating eco-friendly biocomposites to replace the use of conventional plastics. The biocomposites are made by compounding wheat bran (by-products of

a flour milling process) with recycled plastics, and made into biodegradable cutlery and packaging. In the research sector, she has found, failure is not taboo, as only through failures can researchers understand their subject better. “Failed experiments are informative as well, and serve to direct us to look at issues from other perspectives. They can give a lead to solving some other related issues. If I may say, failure is at times somewhat of a seed of inspiration.” Indeed, her career crowning achievement thus far, winning the Outstanding

Paper Award for Young Engineers/ Researchers (International Category), was based on a painstaking scientific process and several stinging setbacks. Once, she spent 28 hours in a lab on an experiment that yielded no reliable results, because it had fallen victim to contamination. “At that moment, I was really in great despair. Looking back now, despite the painful process, I am happy that this piece of research was recognised by international judges.”

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison, best known for his work on the light bulb, only learned to talk when he was four; his teacher was convinced his brains were “addled”.

Editor: Do ure you We s t o r h a v e re y a by you to s fail yo a ny e ve h a re ? u“ ca one r tol psd E m a n’ t d t h a t d _ch i l u o i t alle s a ” ? go nge@ t v.s psd g .

Try and try again After numerous trials and errors, Dr Jason Liow has found a balance between risk-taking and efficiency.

Dr Jason Liow, a senior research engineer at A*STAR’s Institute of Microelectronics who works in the area of silicon photonics – using silicon as an optical medium in various systems, including microchips – thinks that failure is unavoidable in research. When he first started working on a silicon optical modulator, he and his team were stumped as to why it did not work. After many tries, they eventually conquered what initially seemed an insurmountable task. Dr Liow made a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic factors for failure. Unexpected, perhaps unpredictable, outcomes intrinsic to the research materials or conditions are acceptable. But extrinsic factors outside of the experiments, such as poor planning of research methods and other human errors, should be avoided. In Walt Disney’s early days as an animation producer, he was cheated by a film distributor and filed for bankruptcy in 1923. Four years later, his small studio created Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney

Without risk-taking, research results would be ‘incremental’ and not ‘breakthrough’ in nature, he reckoned, and finding the balance between risk-taking and efficiency comes with experience. “Personally, I prefer to execute experiments with two or more parallel paths with different amounts of associated risks. If the higher-risk path lead to failure, the lower-risk path can still yield good results.” NO BYSTANDER EFFECT Organisational culture and leadership, according to experts, have a big part to play in embracing innovative strategies and encouraging calculated risk-taking. “I would say the biggest stumbling block is the nature of the senior leadership in a company, and where and how they view the relative roles – theirs and their employees – in creating change and innovation,” said American innovation guru Dr Alan Robinson. He advocates ‘ideas systems’ where management sets the direction for a company and frontline employees

contribute the bulk of innovative ideas, as much as 80%, and help move the company forward, as opposed to traditional ‘command and control’ top-down hierarchies, where management does all the thinking and issues orders. Having worked with organisations in Singapore’s public and private sectors, Dr Robinson noted the strong topdown culture here and the ‘loss of face’ issue when problems are raised. “With Singapore companies, when I mention a problem, everybody freezes. It’s like they’re thinking ‘Oh dear, a problem. Somebody’s in trouble,’” he said. “For me, a problem is the first step towards an idea; they’re opportunities. But if people bury problems and don’t want to talk about them, they can’t come up with ideas.” He noted that Brazil’s most innovative company last year, a steel-can manufacturer called Brasilata, received an average of 185 ideas each year from frontline employees, of which 92% were implemented. One employee submitted an astonishing 16,000 ideas – and he was a forklift driver!

013 Cover Story municating to a large group of people; for instance, an organisation’s leaders to the rank-and-file. Hence, to create a culture that embraces experimentation, it is important to be explicitly clear about what behaviours organisations wish to promote, and expect from employees. “Once we are clear what desired behaviour(s) we want to establish as a behavioural norm, it makes it easier to establish what might be hindering or helping people exhibit this behaviour, say being experimental or risk-taking,” he said. If it were made known that experimental mindsets and actions were desired, and these were then found lacking due to a dearth of skill and knowledge, training could be introduced; if, say, the existing behavioural norms within an organisation inadvertently penalised even measured risk-taking, then something has to be done about those norms.

Any company in the world could encourage ideas like this, he believes. But tolerating a degree of failure is required. “When you create a culture of wanting ideas, you create a culture of tolerating small failures because the only way you can test an idea is to try it. You have to simply do it to find out what unintended consequences are. “(Famed management consultant) Peter Drucker said that you should never design an experiment so that if it fails it will ‘kill’ you. Always design a lot of small experiments, so that you can get the learning without the failures ‘killing’ you.” Mr Christian Chao, deputy director of the Centre for Organisational Development at the Civil Service College, noted the inherent difficulties in com-

Then there is the ‘bystander effect’, a social phenomenon in groups of a certain size where responsibility is not explicitly assigned and gets ‘diffused’. The larger the group, the greater a shared presumption that someone else is going to respond to a situation requiring intervention. In an organisational setting, the less responsibility is communicated and assigned in an individualised way, the greater likelihood of inaction, Mr Chao said. “Instead of adopting generic or blanketapproach communications, it is better to ‘individuate’ communication. That is to communicate on an individual basis with direct instructions as to what you want him or her to do.” So if we want a culture of experimentation and risk-taking (one that supports innovation), employees had better know, without any doubt, what their individual roles are, and what actions they will be held accountable for.

When I mention a problem, everybody freezes. It’s like they’re thinking ‘Oh dear, a problem. Somebody’s in trouble’.

THE FEAR FACTOR A key message public officers need to keep in mind is that while failure is less desired

than success, fear of failure and inaction is worse. “The world around us keeps changing. If we refuse to learn anything new, we will be left behind. The smart way is to be open to new ideas,” Mr Lim Siong Guan wrote eight years ago. “Even better, each of us should feel free to come up with new ideas and try them out. If we do this, there is a fair chance we will make mistakes. But this is the smartest approach to take, provided we (and our bosses and colleagues) are prepared to always treat mistakes as learning opportunities.” American filmmaker James Cameron has twice made the most expensive film, first with Titanic (1997) and then Avatar (2009). Both featured ground-breaking visual effects – hence the enormous budgets – and were extraordinary spectacles. Despite naysayers and their ominous predictions ahead of release, both Cameron’s works trumped expectations, 12 years apart, to become the most successful box-office hits of all time. (Avatar still holds the honour.) Perhaps he put it best during his speech at a TED conference this February: “Failure is an option, but fear is not.” Words worth remembering, as the Public Service continues to embrace potentially great ideas, and the calculated failures that are their foundation.

Bill Gates

He was a Harvard dropout whose first company, analysing traffic flow, flopped. But that did not stop Bill Gates from setting up Microsoft Corporation and creating a global software industry.

To Jamie Lerner, the secret to innovation is in starting. He says you can’t always have all the answers before you begin something. “Of course, I [have] had failures because all my life was a commitment with imperfection… I like to say, better the grace of imperfection than perfection with no grace,” shares the 72-year-old architect. After one has begun, he says, the next step must be to reshape and correct mistakes. “But if you don’t start, you have nothing.” It is not that Mr Lerner rushes into projects impulsively. In fact, a lot of thought goes into his plans. “Planning takes time and it has to take time,” he concedes. “But sometimes through focal ideas, you can provoke new energy in the city [very quickly] that will help the process of planning.” Mr Lerner calls this “urban acupuncture” – pinpointed interventions done quickly to benefit people and set off positive ripple effects. This could apply to physical infrastructure or even policies. The best urban acupuncture in New York, he says, is the city’s smallest park at East 53rd Street, a mere 13m by 32m.

One of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People

The audacity to dream He’s been named one of the world’s top 100 most influential people by TIME Magazine. Jamie Lerner – architect and city planner – has been hailed for his efforts in urban sustainability spanning 40 years. The former mayor and governor of Brazil shares how he gets his ideas and makes them work. by

Bridgette See

There is the now famous story of how Mr Lerner, as a young mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, in the 1970s, transformed a bustling central street into a pedestrian mall in 72 hours. Unable to persuade store owners to his plan, he decided to put it into action. After careful planning, his staff moved in on a Friday night – digging up the road, putting down cobblestones, setting up streetlights, kiosks and potted plants – and by Monday morning, had made the street a pedestrian mall. The risk paid off: store-owners were so happy they even asked the mayor to extend it. Guerrilla-type city planning may seem bizarre and unacceptable elsewhere, yet his derring-do convinced the people of Curitiba and Paraná (where he was governor) that his audacious ideas would work. (See Pg 15) He went on to transform a disused quarry into an opera house in two months; built the botanical gardens in three months and a museum in five. Sustainable living The advocate of urban sustainability spends much time sharing ideas on improving public transport systems. In the 70s, faced with limited funds, he pioneered an aboveground bus system that worked like the subway. Dedicated bus lanes, tubular bus shelters where passengers prepaid their tickets and high frequency cycles helped move millions quickly and affordably. The Bus Rapid Transit idea has since been replicated in more than 80 cities. Mr Lerner likes to joke that cars are like mothers-inlaw: “We have to have good relationship with her but we shouldn’t let her command our life.” It is food for thought for car-loving cities like Singapore. He praises the French Vélib system that rents out bicycles as public transportation and envisions a similar one for cars. “I’m not against the car,” he explains. “[But] owning a car

015 Feature is not important [because] you can have a car without owning it.” The ideas man has designed a mini electric car, the Dock-Dock (picture on left), that city slickers could use to run errands. “You pay only for your consumption.”

Making ideas work He knows very well that his eccentric ideas could not have worked without the people ’s support. “The city is a collective dream. To make a collect i ve d re a m happen, there has to be a shared vision.” This was how he got cashstrapped Paraná to clean up its polluted bays. “We didn’t have the money so we had an agreement with the fishermen: If they caught fish, it belonged to them, if they caught garbage, we bought the garbage... The more garbage, the cleaner the bay. The cleaner the bay, the more fish. So they knew they could make a difference.” He says his wild ideas stem from asking a simple question: “How can I make your life easier?” This kicks off a logical process culminating in practical, innovative solutions. “Creativity is not by sudden inspiration. When you’re stuck and don’t know how to, it ’s because your brain is asking ‘Feed me, feed me’. When you’re stuck

Better the grace of imperfection than perfection with no grace.

Buying rubbish When garbage trucks couldn’t get into the narrow alleys of Curitiba’s slums, the mayor introduced a plan that paid slum dwellers for the garbage they collected.

Vita the Turtle Mr Lerner believes urban design should

it’s because you need more data, you need to know the problem better,” he says, emphasising the need to be on the ground to understand issues better.

emulate Vita the turtle, a character in

And that ability to “know better” came from growing up in a neighbourhood in Curitiba that had a bustling railway station, teeming industries and a phantasmagoria circus. “On that street, I had my course of reality and my course of fantasy. I think that helped me to understand about needs and about dreams.”

create vibrant neighbourhoods. Living

Mr Lerner was a speaker at the 2010 World Cities Summit co - organised by the Centre for Liveable Cities and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. He was a finalist of the inaugural Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize.

“municipal sheep” that kept the parks’

a children’s book he has written, as it is the ultimate example of integrated living and working. When people work, live and play in the same areas, they close to your workplace also means less commuting and pollution. Imagine how sad the turtle would be if we cut it up into different enclaves, he says. “And that’s what we’re doing to our cities.”

Animal lawn mowers Lacking funds to buy tractors and fuel to mow parks, Mr Lerner introduced vegetation under control and whose wool funded children’s programmes.


“Like a idwife delivering ababy”

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports Niam Chiang Meng talks to Wong Sher Maine about organising the Youth Olympic Games in A Cuppa With…

Known to be publicity-shy and reticent, Mr Niam Chiang Meng takes several months to finally agree to speak to Challenge.

And then, all preconceptions are blown away. The 52-year-old is disarmingly frank about this interview – “I have no choice, right?” – meets head-on all questions about the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) and even cracks a few sporting jokes. “We are in the Civil Service. We work 24 hours a day,” quips the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). This seems plausible, based on his work record. In nearly 30 years as a public officer, he has been Permanent Secretary of the Ministries of Law and of Information, Communications and the Arts, the Singapore Broadcasting Authority’s Chairman, the Housing and Development Board’s CEO, Deputy Secretary with the Ministry of Health and Vice President of News with the Television Corporation of Singapore. It is a long way for someone who never wanted to be a public officer. “I wanted to be a lecturer in the university,” said Mr Niam, the recipient of a merit bursary. “I told that to the Public Service Commission and they said, the Public Service needs people too, you know?” What he speaks about most passionately is a project he spent over two years on: the world’s first YOG. From the time he and his team helped put in Singapore’s successful bid,

We are in the Civil Service. We work 24 hours a day.

017 A Cuppa With... through the recent conclusion of the 13-day games, he is clearly still fired up with adrenaline from watching the Games come to fruition. “It’s been wonderful and a huge relief, like a midwife delivering a baby. What we have done is quite historic. We will forever be mentioned in the same vein as Greece’s Athens and Chamonix in France,” said Mr Niam. Athens and Chamonix were the inaugural venues for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games respectively. And the Singapore 2010 imprint will be on the Olympic flag which is handed over to all future host countries of YOGs. What some Singaporeans will remember, however, are YOG organisational lapses such as when volunteers fell ill from food poisoning or when people could not get tickets into sold-out venues with many empty seats. “I suppose in a massive operation like this, I’m genuinely surprised that more things that could go wrong did not quite go wrong,” said Mr Niam. “The staff did a tremendous job. They managed to tackle most of the issues. I would say the important thing is how fast do you recover? We tried to recover very quickly.” But what about the YOG budget? The $387 million spent, above the original bid of $104 million, cannot be recovered. Mr Niam, who first announced the expenditure on July 6 during a YOG briefing, to some anger from Singaporeans, said: “Yes, there was a gross underestimate, but that’s because we had very little information… we had nothing to rely on.” He explained that as a world first, some Games requirements were firmed

up only after the bid, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) consulted with international sporting federations. The competition formats for archery, basketball and rowing, for instance, were all changed. One thing he never expected: “ We had to buy 38 horses for the Equestrian event. This was not the case for the summer Olympics and certainly not something on our radar screen!”

outside the MCYS building – “that was quite something, imagine, we got to be Olympic torchbearers. How many others can say that?” – remains a fond memory.

The YOG team also had to spend on costly equipment unexpectedly. One example: “Results had to be transmitted to the media centre within two minutes of event completion to meet World Junior Championship standards, which meant we had to buy or lease expensive equipment.”

As for sports, he plays any racquet game – “anything that involves a ball”, from tennis to badminton to squash and occasionally, golf.

The committee also had its hands tied on sponsorship. “When you deal with a huge animal like the IOC, which has years of history behind it, they have a whole lot of do’s and don’ts.” Companies keen to sponsor could not use words like “Singapore 2010”, “YOG” or even “Blazing the Trail” in their branding. Old Chang Kee, sponsor of all the curry puffs for YOG committee meetings, found out that they could not put up their brand anywhere. Said Mr Niam: “The IOC wanted to avoid ambush marketing. All the venues must be ‘clean’, we had to strip venues. We wanted to use The Esplanade but we could not as there were existing sponsors everywhere.” He hopes Singaporeans will focus instead on the spirit of the games. “There are many wonderful experiences. Seeing our athletes compete and trying their best with a never-say-die attitude. The sense of pride in our people when Singapore does well. ” Being a torchbearer himself for the Thomson Road stretch

Outside of work, he plays strategy video game World of Warcraft and DOTA (Defence of the Ancients) with his sons aged 18, 16 and 13. “I tried to teach my wife that but I failed miserably.”

He also rollerblades, and leaves you with a nugget about a senior politician he occasionally bumps into at East Coast Park, who took up rollerblading at the behest of his wife and children. “When he started, his bodyguard would walk behind him. When I next saw him, his bodyguard was behind him, on a bicycle! So, take up rollerblading! It’s good for strength and balance!”

The official “A Cuppa With…” Cup

What’s usually in your cuppa? Coffeeshop coffee with their roast beans, the stronger the better

Your favourite flavour or brand? Kopi si, kopi-O, kopi-kau

Where do you normally have your cuppa? At any heartland kopitiam. And please don’t convert them all to Starbucks!

18 Thinking Aloud

The honeymoon is ENDING Singapore’s Public Service is entering a very trying stage as it marks half a century. In the new book, Pioneers Once More, words such as audacity, derring-do, smart regulation, mindset change, what-if, gumption, gall and managing risks are sprinkled liberally to show the game-changer needed. These will remain motherhood statements if public officers lack an intimate understanding of the current transformation in nearly every aspect of Singapore. One eyebrow-raising ideological shift has been announced – moving away from a high-growth strategy. “Over the next decade, I think 5 per cent will be a stretch,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in January. What does this mean for Singaporeans who grew up tasting only success? The other big change: immigration being allowed to go unchecked. From 750,000 in 2000, the foreigner population rose to 1.25 million last year, nearly double in just nine years. All would have been fine if last year’s recession had not blown up with a ferocit y and suddenness not seen since World War II. Rumblings about foreigners crowding roads, trains and buses, taking away jobs and pushing up prices of resale HDB flats have suddenly become real, with the government forced to announce a slew of measures to reduce the perks foreigners used to enjoy. But the real test is the mood of the media reflecting the people’s frustrations. More eyeballs are drifting to online news, with mainstream media circulation revenues dropping, especially for The Straits Times and Sunday Times. A study of coverage in these two

Public off icers must face up to the challenges of a society in transformation, argues P N Balji.

publications of recent events like the floods, long-haul bus routes, the town council report card and the security breach at an MRT depot shows that the mainstream media is taking its gloves off in reporting such events. How should public officers prepare for this new world? First, those who run public organisations must rethink priorities. Mas Selamat ’s audacious escape, the floods, the MRT security breach and the sudden supply-demand imbalance in public housing are all Third World problems – due to Public Service leaders taking their eye off the ball on basic issues.

Appeals can be made to look at the big picture of how hosting the Games is historic for Singapore. Previously, a public with a shared pride would have accepted that. But a different, unforgiving Singapore is emerging, drilling down to nitty-gritty like never before.

A different, unforgiving Singapore is emerging.

Second, the honeymoon with a compliant population and media is ending. Used to a culture of dealing with an obedient citizenry and media, the Public Service must take a big leap and square with these stakeholders in a transparent way. The Youth Olympics tickets issue has at its root a system of cut-and-paste textbook solutions. The YOG committee sold 80,000 tickets to the Education Ministry, which then gave the tickets to schools. But nobody asked: Will stadiums be filled? The YOG budget tripled in just a few months. How could that be, if not for wrong calculations by somebody? No corporate board would accept this.

The public is not going to accept wishywashy answers. They are demanding in-depth responses to issues of crowded trains, overflowing drains and canals, if online discussions and letters to forum pages are any indication. They are in no mood to see sandbags stac ked outside Liat Towers as a solution to the floods and keep quiet about it. The faster the Public Service comes to grips with this new Singapore, the better. P N Balji has 40 years’ experience in Singapore journalism. He is the director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, a joint initiative of Temasek Foundation and Nanyang Technological University.

er /Decem Novemb

ber 2010

Passport Standing Seats Only How far would you go to save money on a flight? Ryanair’s CEO David O’Leary is proposing to charge passengers less for “barstools” with seat belts. A further slew of cost-saving ideas includes charging for toilets and “fat tax” for heavy passengers. Wow. TRIVIA The world’s longest scheduled flight The world’s longest scheduled flight is Singapore to Newark, New Jersey, a trip which takes over 18 hours. That’s the equivalent of watching the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Twice.


pages of tips to get you ahead

19 -26 Suffering from wanderlust? Or anxious about that next official trip with the boss? Fear not for Challenge has compiled eight pages of tips and trivia to help you deal with either malady. For something different, hop onto a train for some slow, rail travel. And don’t forget to pick up essential phrases that’ll come in useful, especially when you need the loo! Now, if you would first get off that couch, and bravely go forth to navigate the unexpected.

Travel reminds us who we are and what we aren’t. We aren’t jobs, currency, automobiles, or textiles… We’re never more in touch with our identity than when we’re navigating the streets of a new city whose language we can’t understand, using a map we can’t read. We can be nothing but ourselves when we travel. – Juliane Huang,

Travel writer and blogger (

Airplane Toilets Rivalling the discovery of flight was the ability to relieve yourself in the sky.

Poop goes straight from the toilet to the sky

If you always thought that it goes straight from the bowl to the sky, think again. Any holes that allow poop to fly straight out will cause the depressurisation of a plane. Rather, poop, or any waste for that m a t t e r, go e s i n t o a holding tank in a plane.

Source: www.howstuffworks. com/question314.htm

Getting stuck on an airplane toilet Airplane toilets employ an alarmingly loud vacuum flush, which does conjure fears of being stuck on the seat should one flush while still comfortably enthroned. Fortunately, the human body does not provide a perfect seal for the toilet seat. Also, the suction generated is insufficient to trap a perfectly rounded bottom. So go in peace. Source:

It hits the fan

A Canadian was left in shock as chunks of ice measuring 15cm came crashing through the roof of her home. Tests revealed that the ice was, in fact, frozen waste ejected from the lavatory of a passing airplane due to a malfunctioning holding tank. Fortunately, such incidents are extremely rare. Source:

Effective Ways to

Pack for Business Pay attention to these essentials to make a business trip that much smoother. Things to bring

All these things should fit in a single carry-on bag. It really helps to reduce anxiety over lost baggage.

Copies of important documents Keep originals safely at home Dress jacket Everything just looks better with a jacket on it String of pearls Add a touch of class when meeting and greeting Sewing kit For those loose buttons Safety pins When those loose buttons go missing US dollars Always useful to have some handy ALARM CLOCK Set the alarm clock, your phone’s alarm, get morning calls... NEVER be late ever Universal travel adaptor Juice up your gadgets on the go Extra pair of spectacles Being unable to see in a foreign country is just tempting fate Long-sleeved shirts Select only one or two colours to mix and match; every piece of clothing should match at least one other Common medication Just enough to keep yourself going scarf Dresses up an outfit. Works as impromptu head covering for religious places

TIPS Don’t dress too casually, even on free time. You never know when you might be needed. Resist the urge to shop or sightsee unless explicitly stated in the itinerary. Be well-versed in developments back home, including social, political and economic issues – you never know when you may need to represent your bosses in their absence. Read up and familiarise yourself with your destination. Learn how to address others, paying close attention to personal titles and other protocol. Keep a list of useful contacts at your destination and at home.

Organiser pouches Reduce clutter, avoid embarrassment opening your bag at immigration SHOE IN Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off for security checks

Magic Cone


For desperate times when a toilet just can’t be found and the ladies really need to tinkle... Buy it

05 Charging Mat for Devices

Shirt Folder

Charge multiple devices without wires. So cool!

A nifty device to help fold just about any piece of clothing.

Prices from USD$99.99 (about S$135)

Prices from USD$18.99 (about S$25.59)

Buy it from:


TRAVEL MATES The slew of travel paraphernalia is endless and mind-boggling. Try these out on your next trip! 04

02 03

Luggage Scales

Save the hassle: weigh your luggage before leaving home. It’s so small you can even bring it along on your trip. Prices from USD$13 (about S$17.50)

Buy it from:

Toothbrush Covers

Keep your bristles hygienic with a toothbrush cover. Prices from S$3.

Portable Water Purifier

No more worries of diarrhoea w h i l e a b ro a d . No w yo u c a n sterilise water on the go! Prices from USD$99 (about S$133)

Buy it from:

Buy it from any pharmacy.

Protect your Collar You know what they say about men with a stiff collar... but when it comes to official business, a stiff collar it must be. The most important part of a shirt is the collar. Yet keeping it looking crisp after being hauled halfway around the world is no mean feat. Recently, more shirts have small slits tailored underneath the collar for small pieces of plastic (or metal) to be inserted into them. These collar stays help prop up an otherwise lacklustre collar and give a sharper appearance. If your collar lacks these slits, your next best option are those plastic rings around the inside of a brand new shirt. Tuck those plastic rings into your shirt collar before you pack them in your bag!

av o




( o r h ow

n g ers )





s p e a ki n g

If your shy and sensitive nature prevents you from engaging strangers in a bout of witty banter, fret not, there is hope.

Strategy 1: Take focus off yourself – Be interested in the other person i.e. why are they going on a trip? – Smile (it’s not an interrogation).

But if you end up with a chatty neighbour who just won’t stop, there are ways to disengage from conversation gracefully.


Out of sync

Jet Lag Travelling across time zones can really mess up your body clock. What to do about it?

You could pop the melatonin pills, drink lots of liquid (except alcohol!), and walk about the plane to avoid jet lag. But a radical (and safe) strategy to combat jet lag is to be single-minded about one thing: SLEEP. Say no to food, drinks and in-flight movies. Tell the person next to you, and the crew, not to wake you up for meals. Don’t worry, you can always ask for food later if you change your mind. We do wonder if fighting jet-lag is worth giving this much up, though. Source:

Strategy 2: Come prepared – Put your headphones on. – Bob your head to the tune (or whatever’s in

Strategy 3: Be nice – Indulge them for a minute or so, just long enough to convey your good manners. – End the conversation with a yawn and thank them for their time.

What if your neighbour persists in wanting to know your family history?

your head).

Tipping POINT

– Close your eyes immediately once seated.

1. As a rule of thumb, tip if the service was great. 2. Tip the bellhops who truck your luggage to your room: about one or two US dollars per piece. 3. Always ask a local if in doubt.


In general, tips are not expected; they are meant to convey your appreciation for excellent service. Only tip at restaurants if you really like the people serving you. About 5% of your total bill would do; anything above is excessive. Country-specific advice in Europe:


As there’s a high minimum wage in Australia, tips are generally not expected.

But it would be nice to tip the bellhops who lug your stuff up to the rooms. A dollar or two per piece of luggage should be enough.


We don’t usually tip in Asia, so tip only if you think the service was smashing. An exception to this rule: tips are expected at the more westernised and up-scale restaurants.


Tipping is expected here. Waiters are usually paid at or below the minimum wage, with the bulk of the salary earned from tips. Tip about 15% on average; 20% if you’re feeling generous. Leave US$2 to 3 on the bed every morning for the housekeepers. Cabbies get about 15% too, with an extra dollar or two when they help with bags.

Travel Footwear The best trips deserve the right companions. Choose your footwear wisely! TIPS Make sure your shoes fit comfortably: brand new shoes aren’t always good company. Avoid shoes with metal strips in them unless you’d like a tour of airport security.

01 Chiang Mai

The Eastern and Oriental Express

South East Asia

02 Sawankhaloke & Lampang

It’s time to slow down and experience Asia all over again. This time, the journey is very much part of the experience: Chiang Mai to Singapore over eight days by train. 1. Chiang Mai (Thailand)

Depart on your journey in the afternoon, just in time for tea as you admire the beauty of Northern Thailand.

Wang Po & River Kwai 04

03 Bangkok


2. Sawankhaloke & Lampang

Explore the ruins at Si Satchanalai, part of the northernmost citadel of the ancient Khmer empire. Enjoy tea at the Lampang Baan Sao Nok, a house built in traditional Lanna Thai style and supported on 116 teak pillars.


3. Bangkok

Enjoy two days in Bangkok and savour the food, vibrancy and shopping.


4. Wang Po & River Kwai

Board a local raft and cruise along the picturesque Kwai Yai river, passing under the River Kwai Bridge. Visit the Don Rak War Cemetery as you tour the infamous “Death Railway”.


Penang 05

5. Penang (Malaysia)

Tour the Kho Kongsi clan house built in the baroque style of the late Ching dynasty. Enjoy a refreshing drink in Farquhar’s Bar at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

6. Singapore

All good things must come to an end as you cross the Causeway from Malaysia into Singapore.

Singapore 06

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express The setting of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, this classic trip from Istanbul to Paris takes you through Budapest, Romania and Bulgaria in six days, and is only available once a year. Prices (per person) start from US$9190 (approx. S$12,426) for a Double cabin, to US$13870 (approx. S$18,754) for a Suite cabin. Source:


8908675 1236EFQ

Booking No.

Ticket No.


Cultural No-Nos

Social B&B:

Gestures really don’t mean the same thing to everyone. Thumbs up could be a thumbs down

Think you’re being friendly? Think again. While you may think that the thumbs up sign means “good” or “ok”, that gesture is actually offensive to Iraqis. So if (for whatever reason) you find yourself in Iraq, keep your thumbs to yourself and flash a big smile instead.

The famous “peace” or “victory” sign made with two fingers might mean something else if your palm faces inwards. Peculiar to England, this sign actually means “up yours!” when combined with an upward jerk of the hand.

Peace (*#%@)

A new(er) way to travel

It all began with Couchsurfing: a network which connects fellow couch surfers with a spare bed or sofa (well, just about any surface for that matter), all for free. With over two million members in 238 countries, Couchsurf ing has been a great success.

Filling the gap between a couch and a hotel room, new social bedand-breakfast networks such as AirBnB allow travellers to rent a room from a local without the trepidation of sleeping on a stranger’s couch (hey, it ’s free after all).

Ok. The OK sign means (Not ok!) many things to many

people. It signifies that something is worthless in France; it’s a symbol for money in Japan; and is a symbol for a body part in Brazil, Russia and Germany. So be careful where you flash those fingers!

Exotic Foods

Sup Torpedo

Currently the most popular site

(Bull’s Penis Soup)

Rooster’s testicles

Specialises in big events e.g. South Africa World Cup

Malaysia Taiwan

Isaw Manok


Focused primarily in the UK

Smoked bats


Mexican huitlacoche

(chicken intestines)

For New York City’s pricier real estate

pronounced “wee-tlah-KOH-cheh” (purple corn fungus)


al Team’s Challenge Editori

TO DIE FOR destinations

Nodding means Yes. No?

Seemingly counter-intuitive, nodding your head means no in Albania, while shaking your head means yes. To emphasise your point, raise your eyebrows slightly while nodding your head if you mean NO.

Today’s specials

It’ll have to be the Land of Football – Brazil, when they host the World Cup Finals this 2014. Brazilian babes and samba football, here I come! :)

Iceland. I can’t get enough of cold weather, and even better if there’s snow! With its promise of the rugged outdoors, geothermal spas, volcanoes and glaciers, my dream would be to do a trek there!

The Andaman Mine would be Sea where there is Paris because great diving on a I love cities, live-aboard boat, especially cities so that the first that are alive and thing I see in the rich in history. morning is a wide Now if I could only expanse of ocean. improve on my atrocious French...


For someone who has lived in temperate Singapore all his life, it’ll be ‘cool’ to stay at the ICEHOTEL in Sweden...



Black market passports When you’re on the move, your passport is probably the most valuable item on you. Keep it in a hotel safe or on you at all times. Did you know that a United Kingdom passport is worth about £8000 (approx. S$17,400) on the black market? Imagine what a Singapore passport might fetch! So hold on tight to yours.

Language quick fix Pick up essential phrases from 36 languages at the BBC’s Quick Fix website. Download the phrases onto your MP3 player to learn how to say “Velkommen” (‘Welcome‘ in Norwegian) or “Malonu su jumis susipažinti” (‘Pleased to meet you’ in Lithuanian). Going to the Czech Republic? “Kde je záchod, prosím?” (Where is the toilet, please?) is a must.

Pre-trip Checklist Things we forget to do before leaving. Clear out the trash House the pets Check the rice-cooker (don’t feed the maggots!) Clean the toilet Clear stagnant water (yes, if they breed, you bleed.) Clear the fridge Water the plants Stop newspaper delivery Switch off appliances Notify MINDEF (for NSmen)

Keeping Pets What’s to happen to your pets when you’re on the road (and you’ve called in one too many favours)? Check Fluffy into a pet hotel, where it ’ll be well taken care of by professionals from as little as $12 a day!

Woof ? !

Letters to aYoung Public Officer 27

by Chan Heng Chee Ambassador to the United States

DEAR YOUNG OFFICER, I hesitate to give you advice as our careers are so different. Instead, I’ll share some observations, and if you think they are valid, you may want to do something about it.

I had given away state secrets. But to be effective, diplomats must trade information. In time, I learned the right balance between talking too much and not at all.

I have been Singapore’s chief diplomat in Washington, DC, for 14 years and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) 1989-1991. Before that, I taught political science at the National University of Singapore. The university emphasises autonomy and inner-direction but within the rules of the organisation.

To persuade other countries to accept ASEAN’s position on Cambodia, I spoke to many delegations and was very “active”, a good word in UN diplomacy. My reward was getting Saudi Arabia to sign on as a sponsor for our resolution, something it had withheld for 10 years. I was to repeat this work of persuasion in Washington, lobbying Congress for our Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

So when I entered laterally into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take up my post as Perm Rep to the UN, I was quite inclined to do just what I thought needed to be done. Only, I was very green in diplomacy and the civil service. I took a lot of advice and talked to many people. I was not afraid to ask questions and did not worry about whether I looked stupid. My predecessor Kishore Mahbubani generously shared his trade secrets and I learned a great deal from my First Secretary Vanu Gopal Menon who had been at the UN before. It was all learning on the job. I remember I would talk at length to other diplomats, only to stop myself suddenly, wondering if

These two stories illustrate five points. First, you must not be afraid to ask questions and learn. I worry that this art of asking questions and exercising the mind is disappearing among young Singaporeans. There is too much concern with not appearing stupid. Second, working hard always impresses. Being persistent towards a solution, bit by bit, explains 90% of success. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is admired for her hard work and persistence at working a problem. Third, communication skills are vital. You must explain to others what is there

in it for them. Frequently, young officers write very well but cannot carry out a sustained verbal presentation. We need to overcome our fear of talking. Fourth, people skills are absolutely important. In an organisation, it helps forge ties and promote better management. It begins with eye contact and a real desire to reach out to others. Finally, what gives pleasure and satisfaction in work is a sense of mission. You can say I belong to the lucky generation; we had purpose and mission thrust upon us. On August 9, 1965, I left for the US for graduate studies on a scholarship at Cornell University. On campus I was often asked to explain Singapore’s independence. As I told my professors: “I must go home. My country needs me.” I wrote my master’s thesis on “The Politics of Survival: Singapore 1965-1967” so I could feel the tense developments in Singapore palpably even in the small collegetown of Ithaca. All these come together in my work. I would like to believe I am a better public servant as a consequence.

g n i Go

Bananas Public off icers ditching their strait-laced image for garish costumes and dialect humour on getai to publicise a policy. Sounds outlandish? Well, it might just get the message across. Text by

Chen Jingting

Photos by

Jean Qingwen Loo

Against the flashy neon lights of getai live stage shows, two public officers sashay in yellow sequined dresses and feather boas to the tune of the Hokkien song Hua Hi Jiu Ho (“As long as you’re happy”). Meet the new Banana Sisters, stars of a 10-minute skit by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. They are joined by a boisterous taxi-driver and haughty tai-tai (socialite) wannabe. A coffee shop assistant, looking like a female version of comic TV character Phua Chu Kang with a big mole and curly wig, completes the motley crew. The Banana Sisters are CPF Board officers who educate the other characters on the Board’s Workfare Income


Supplement (WIS) scheme. Introduced in 2007, the scheme provides incentives for older and low-wage workers to stay employed by supplementing their income and CPF contributions.

Here is a taste of the action: Banana Sisters (with megawatt smiles and saccharine sweet voices): “Welcome to CPF Board! We’re the Banana Sisters *wave feather boas*! How can we help you?”

Coffee shop assistant (in bored tone): “Hey Bananas. My hubby drives a taxi and I serve coffee. He wants to know why I have WIS but he doesn’t.”

Ah Jiao of the Banana Sisters:

“Oh… (coquettishly). That is because you are employed. Your boss gives you CPF every month, that’s how we know that you are working. Hence we will auto[matically] qualify you for WIS. But Uncle, you drive taxi right? That means you are a self-employed person. Unlike your wife, you need to tell us that you have worked and you need to contribute to your CPF.”

The cast are from the Self-Employed Scheme and Workfare Department. The y have per f or med f our times to a public audience, including at Ang Mo Kio in September and Kovan in August. Previously, the department tried public education through other media such as newspapers and radio. But some people are still confused, especially the illiterate, says Ms Janice Lai, 40, the department’s deputy director and one of the skit’s producers.

N o w, t h e y w a n t t o target elderly and lowincome workers, many of whom cannot read the papers, through this kind of getai-style shows. “I don’t think they like the usual boring briefings [in a classroom setting]. Hence we need to get the message across in simple and subtle ways, usually through entertainment,” says senior manager Maple Chang, one of the Banana Sisters.

T he

na a n Ba

rs e t Sis

t Vai n Po ak a Th e Ah Ji ao s Si m , 27 , (I ri ec u ti ve ) se n io r ex an d a lo o d o ks W it h g o e, sh e sw ee tic sw ee t vo xi -d ri ve r in to e ta e p ay ta lk s th M ed is av . m ak in g IS W r fo m en ts

er h e Le ad g ak a T Ah X ia n le C h an g , 3 0 , ap (M an ag er ) se n io r m n te ra ct io e s th in Sh e le ad au d ie n ce an d e w it h th y ch id es th e tl co n st an st er fo r an an a Si B er o th in . b ei n g va

Support for innovation But first, the team had to overcome some mental blocks. They feared the Board ’s upper management might reject having the Banana Sisters as representatives for dressing flamboyantly and singing in Hokkien. “ There’s still a stigma attached to getai, so we were also a little concerned about how the public would see the CPF Board after watching the skit,” explains Ms Chang, 30. But this fear proved unfounded, and instead they were given courage to innovate. “My CEO (Mr Liew Heng San) even joked about changing the uniform of our Customer Service Officers to that of the Banana Sisters!” shares Ms Lai. Another issue: dialect. But their deputy CEO, Soh Chin Heng, surprised them by telling them to “speak and act like the public, so that we can echo the ground sentiments,” says Ms Chang. “He even told us that the taxi-driver is too compliant [to the government] and encouraged us to make the character ‘fiercer’. If the taxi-driver is so pro-government, the audience would

‘switch off ’... we don’t have to be so politically correct and give motherhood statements all the time.” Mr Maverick Guo, 28, the department’s assistant manager and lead producer of the skit, explains: “We want to reach out to uncles and aunties who would be more comfortable with vernacular languages.” In one scene, the taxi-driver expresses disbelief in Mandarin and Hokkien that the government would give money to the poor. And so it proved that the use of dialect struck a chord with the public.

ian l ao H n Ji

-O ff Th e Sh ow ) Li an ak a iv e of fic er ut Ji n H ao ec ex ng , 37 e re al is es (C or in a Yo sh l ti un ta i- ta i e W IS , be a ri ch g fr om th en ds to be ne fit in ri ng s an d re al Sh e pr et ld no t be ke fa ou r w e th at sh re ve al he . am st re ss ad s he r to on as a se w hi ch le oc cu pa ti

Mr Tan Chwee Poh, 54, a resident who watched the show in Ang Mo Kio, says: “I think that this [the skit] is a good way to publicise a government policy. It is good that the characters spoke in Hokkien which helps more people to understand [what the policy is about].”

have acted before in other shows at the workplace.

Team synergy The team camaraderie is palpable. Asked if they had difficulty getting into character, most said no as they

Also, they were assigned roles similar to their own personalities, says Ms Chang, who teases Ms Iris Sim, 27, a senior executive and the other Banana



Kopi Soh


r aka Th e Conver (J o se p h t Kopi La Soh aka ex ec u ti ve u, 41 , Th o ff ic er ) (A n g el a e Stingy One Kw ek , In it ia lly m an ag er 27 , sc ep ti ca l ab o u t ) sc h em e, th e h Pr u d en t w o n ov er e is ev en tu al ly an d d ow b y th e b n -t o ea rt h o f W IS an , th e co ff en ef it s ee d ch ar m as si st an o f th e t en co u ra sh o p Ba n an a g h es Si st er s. u sb an d , h er th to fi n d o e ta xi -d ri ve r, u t h ow h e ca n q u al if y fo r W IS .

S ister : “ Ir is can act sultry very well, in a way that makes guys sit up. It’s her forte!” Executive officer Joseph Lau, 41, adds: “I’m always asked to be the taxi-driver as I use a lot of Hokkien in my daily speech. Because that is how I am like in person.” Executive officer Corina Yong, who plays the snooty tai-tai, says: “I don’t know why they sabo[tage] me [to act this role]. I’m not haolian (showy)!”, and Mr Lau interjects playfully: “But she’s jin (very) haolian!”

The cast have fun onstage and off, and made the roles their own. Manager Angela Kwek, who plays the coffee shop assistant, suggested the mole and wig. Ms Yong, 37, got her own props, such as the shiny gold rings, to complement her outfit. Some performers literally ‘broke a leg’. Ms Kwek, 27, who fractured her ankle in July, had to get another colleague to replace her, and was nursing her ankle at the show in Ang Mo Kio. Mr Lau aggravated his slipped disc injury during rehearsals but carried on despite the pain. The whole department chipped in as ‘ backstage crew ’. A team of six designed props such as the mock-up

taxi and billboard featuring the WIS scheme’s hotline number. Ms Lai adds: “Even colleagues not involved in the skit helped by covering the workload of those who are, without complaints. Everyone in the department was part of the project.”

Getai, or live stage per formance, is held throughout the Hungry Ghost Festival to “entertain the spirits”. During this period, many Chinese believe the gates of hell are opened and ghosts would roam on earth. Getai performers, clad in dazzling costumes, would sing, dance or act, usually in Mandarin and Hokkien.

Go to for exclusive pictures of the cast!

32 Level Up

Listenin g for feelin gs

on O ng

Here, the listener must be careful not to hear this as an announcement of “persistent conflicts” and “affected my ability”. It is in reality a confession of anxiety, and perhaps fear.


MOST OF US want better communication skills, especially in difficult situations related to performance appraisal, bad news, or actions beyond the call of duty. Our communication tends to focus on problem-solving, we forget feelings are inevitably involved – frustration, arrogance, indifference, anger, helplessness and anxiety. Bosses issue orders in a vacuum, without any attempt to understand how recipients feel. Family ‘discussions’ play out the same arguments over and over – because feelings are ignored. Feelings have three general types: happy, angry or sad. Happy makes a person feel good. Angry or sad makes a person feel upset or threatened. When feelings get in the way, participants ‘solve’ the problem through fright, flight or freeze. None is a good solution. Our most common way of listening is not listening. We listen to our own talk. Even when we do listen to others, if we focus exclusively on content, we miss detecting feelings.

t ar I. W

Listening to, and for, feelings can make or break a difficult discussion. A good listener will hold back on offering advice until he is clear about the other person’s feelings. He can help the other person verbalise the issue he is facing and his feelings. This helps clarify the issue and move ahead with options that are available.

Here is a simple example:

The listener now has three options.

Ignoring will put the other person in the dark as to what to do next. Resentment builds up and the relationship becomes an unauthentic one.

Confrontation typically fails to influence the other to change his actions. No progress is made. The best option is to acknowledge and understand. Say: “I understand that you feel stressed by the situation. How do you think I can help you perform better?” Remember to use “I” often. It shows you recognise and are affected by other’s feelings. It helps bring others on board. American autobiographer Maya Angelou aptly sums it up: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” There is virtually no business without difficult communication.

Listener Speaker Listener Speaker

How is work? Stressful and I’m overworked. When you are stressed, what happens? I am not able to concentrate and I face persistent conflicts with others. This has affected my ability to perform my supervisory functions effectively.

But if we make the simple, practical shift to listening for feelings, we can create a more open, participative way of addressing our challenges. I. War ton Ong is an associate trainer with the Civil Service College. He conducts classes on The Art Of Effective Listening.

Right clicks What makes a great website? Challenge f inds out from the experts. The inaugural Singapore Government Web Excellence Awards were presented in June this year to agencies whose websites won top marks for user-friendliness, content presentation, overall website management and effective delivery of electronic services. In addition to a panel of judges, the Web Excellence Awards included public voting as a key scoring component. More than 26,000 votes were cast for their favourite agency websites. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) won one of the three Outstanding Awards for its ONE.MOTORING portal at Challenge asked website exper ts from Digital Boomerang, XM Asia and Qais Consulting for their take on the portal and how government websites, in general, can be even more engaging. The three companies have worked with government agencies such as the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the Economic Development Board and the Civil Aviation Authorit y of Singapore to design and/or revamp their websites.

Which feature of the ONE.MOTORING website is your favourite? How does it enhance the website? LTA e-services

Traffic camera

I was surprised to discover that LTA e-Services had easy access to all the critical functions that motorists intuitively need. I especially like the way ‘non-login’ LTA e-Services was organised, based on user types – ‘car owners’ and ‘aspiring carowners’. The above features position as the gateway to all things related to car ownership and road users. It is an aggregator of useful, relevant and usable content.

It’s great because both (the camera and traffic news) offer close to real-time information. It solves my problems, for example, how to get from point A to point B without getting caught in traffic. – Charlotte Ong

Digital Boomerang (DB)

– Vince Lui

XM Asia (XMA)

Updates of COE prices

The specific page that provides live updates to current COE bids is almost like a stock market chart. The COE prices updated ‘live’ show great transparency by the government, while making sure potential buyers have managed the ‘right’ bid. – Tripti Lochan

Qais Consulting (QC)


Government sites don’t need to be boring and ugly.

What is the most important feature of a good government website? Credible source of information

DB > Government websites are authoritative and credible sources of information. I think that accurate and up-to-date content that solves users’ real-life problems is most important for government websites.


QC > It has to be easy to find in terms of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), easy to understand (good navigation), easy to work (intuitive), open to all ages and groups (content that appeals to all races and uses) and convenient (users can access this site from any place on any device including on mobile phones).

Tailored services

XMA > A good government website should provide e-services and information tailored to different target audiences. When users land on the website, they should be able to immediately identify the journey required in order to get to the desired service or information.

What can government agencies do to improve their websites?

tion architecture and explore other ways to present text-heavy information.

Optimise and standardise

QC> Technically and creatively ensure the platform can deliver a site that is optimised for search. If we cannot find it, we cannot use it. Also, ensure the process, interface and customer experience online is as consistent as possible with one another.

What are some of the features that can draw more people to a government website? Killer apps

DB> Any feature that makes accurate, updated content (that solves users’ problems) more accessible will draw people to use a website. For instance, an app that helps you chart or visualise government statistics so you can assess the data quickly and make decisions.

Good design

XMA> A good government site should constantly strive to have a contemporary look and feel. With the increased popularity of devices such as the iPhone and iPad, people have become more sophisticated in terms of what they expect from user experience.

Understand users

DB > Find out who your web users are and the problems that they have. Then you can create content and eServices/ applications that solve their problems without creating new ones. Once you have the killer content or application, you can cross-sell or promote other government messages.

Make it easier

XMA> Understand target users, develop effective informa-

Gotta look good too

All three experts agree that userfriendliness and being aesthetically pleasing go hand-in-hand. “At the end of the day, looking good and working good is the aim,” says Charlotte Ong of Digital Boomerang. Tripti Lochan of Qais Consulting thinks that “one without the other suffers” as it is all about customer experience, which is determined by the visual experience (how something looks) and the content and user experience of the functional aspects of the website (how something works). “Government sites don’t need to be boring and ugly,” she adds. There is no need to bring out all the bells and whistles like Flash or large image files to make a site look good. “A website can have a clean and contemporary look and still provide good usability by using the right technology such as Ajax, advanced CSS and HTML5,” says Vince Lui of XM Asia. “With a web platform such as an advanced content management system that tracks and profiles users and serves out relevant content – similar to Amazon. com’s – a website can still be both userfriendly and visually desirable.”

A Few Tips DOs


• Get to know users and non-users.

• Avoid shortcuts, especially by shovelling on content users can’t understand or don’t want to read.

Conduct in-depth research to understand problems, questions, issues and tasks that users face while seeking information on government websites.

• Provide tools, utilities and content that your users trust only you for.

• Steer clear of being someone your audience won’t believe you are; keep it simple, don’t try to cover too much. • Try not to make your users think (too long). A well-designed website lets users instantly get what they want. A badly designed one creates confusion, leading to frustration.

to the people by

Alexis Ong

Empowering parents, consumers and artists are key focus areas of the 2010 Censorship Review Committee (CRC) report, and this “is always a good thing”, says sociologist Terence Chong.

Hopefully in 50 years’ time, we will have developed and matured enough politically to be more tolerant of contrarian views.

Word on the Street 37 After a year-long review of Singapore’s media regulation policies, the CRC – a 17-member citizen panel – released 80 recommendations in mid-September. It called on parents to take on greater responsibility for control mechanisms to filter content on the Internet, TV and films in particular, and to educate their children on social ills such as violence and drugs. Dr Chong, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, agrees that this is a positive move, because “this means that other people who might not be offended get to watch it, so it ’s not a blanket ban”. But he is critical of how parenting here has been “outsourced”. “Many people leave it to maids and grandparents and don’t have conversations with their children about what is acceptable, whether their children feel comfortable with their bodies, their sexuality, or what they see on TV… until parents start to do some real parenting, they’re going to feel uncomfortable… in effect, the state does the parenting. By relying solely on state censorship to determine what their chil-

Pr od uc ti Sc en e


dren can or cannot see, parents are abdicating their responsibility as parents.” The new CRC report also emphasises providing consumers with enough information on a film, play or TV show so they can make informed decisions whether to allow their children access. While technology has made it tricky for the authorities to stay on top, the government is moving towards a more enlightened approach to media regulation. Nonetheless, even in the age of iPads and microblogging, Dr Chong feels that many artists in Singapore still look to the state for guidance. This ties in with the general belief among Singaporeans that censorship is a given, as “we are trained to think it ’s needed because we buy into the idea that people should not be offended – that people have a right not to be offended. This belief is often at the root of any argument for censorship”. In the end, the creative community, despite recent lobbying by the group ArtsEngage, will have minimal impact on policy, because the CRC was not set up to consider whether censorship is fundamentally needed

Kid s can loo k at vio len ce, sex and dru gs on the Int ern et any wa ys, so it’s the par ent s’ pro ble m, you kno w? No t the gov ern me nt’s . Ta ke

nge asks Challe what they p oreans p Singa censorshi think about

- Me lan ie, 19, stu den t

in Singapore. Dr Chong does not think artists will change much in their approach to self-censorship. “You are always trying to figure out what the authorities might allow or disallow… (which) is never a good starting point for creativity or artistic work. Many times, people tend to misread the political winds. People might self-censor too much, to err on the side of caution, and that ’s never good.’ The CRC 2010 report is moving Singapore on the right track in opening up more space, and the country has come a long way since the days when the police vetted theatre scripts. Dr Chong is optimistic about the future, suggesting that, following the same sociopolitical trajectory, “hopefully in 50 years’ time, we will have developed and matured enough politically to be more tolerant of contrarian views”. Meanwhile, that evolution can perhaps take a cue from Speakers Corner, which, as Dr Chong puts it, is “a bit like the United Nations… it ’s better to have it than not to have it. We’re not going to create a revolution from Speakers Corner or change policy, but it ’s good to have.”

The Government needs to regulate T V programmes, but parents need to take responsibility for what the kids are doing – you can’t blame others if you let the kids stay up until midnight and they watch something they shouldn’t. - Joey Fong, 45, limo driver

The government should set the

Standardisation is good.

standard for what we see in the media.

Then artists don’t waste time

If the government doesn’t care, then

because they won’t end up

anyone can watch anything. I think the

writing something that is not

government should do something about


things like violence on T V. - Jane Eng, 29, banker -Kng Poey Choo, 63, retiree

Text by

Bridgette See Photos by

UNDERGROUND Challenge went down under to see what lies beneath the seabed at the Jurong Rock Caverns.

Norman Ng

Somewhere on Jurong Island is a hive of activity – unseen and unheard – beneath the surface. Carefully planned explosions take place daily as workers, in 24-hour shifts, blast rocks away to carve out the first underground rock caverns for liquid hydrocarbon storage in Southeast Asia. Welcome to Jurong Rock Caverns, where the sun never shines. They lie 132 metres deep, beneath the water table and seabed, which explains the constant trickle of seawater everywhere. Keen to work here? Don’t apply if you are faint of heart. The first time Project Manager Melvin Ng took the wire-cage lift down to its depths – “I didn’t expect the shuddering” – he felt his heart skip a beat. Since that day in 2007, the civil engineer has overcome his fear of heights to make daily trips down. Working in confined spaces and breathing thin air are other challenges. But “there’s never a dull moment”, says Senior Project Manager Teo Tiong Yong, who first delved into subterranean work in 1996. His deputy, Project Manager Chong Pui Chih, sees the sun a lot more, being in charge of building facilities such as the jetty and pipelines that will send tonnes of oil down to the caverns. The earliest among the three civil engineers to join the JTC Corporation project, she has been involved in feasibility studies as well as the design of the entire facility.

Project Managers Melvin Ng and Chong Pui Chih go underground to view the work in progress.

The Caverns, to be completed in 2014, reduce surface land use by 80%, freeing it up for higher-value operations. Risks identified early on included the possibility of flooding, the safety of underground explosions and the issue of ventilation. But a thorough risk management strategy gave JTC the confidence to embark on what has been described as an “innovative” and “bold” project.

Perspectives 39





05 1. One of the two access shafts that lead to the caverns below. 2. The man-lift that brings workers down to the bottom of the shaft. 3. Project Manager Chong Pui Chih briefs colleagues before they enter the caverns. 4. An excavator clears out the blasted rocks and debris. 5. A supervisor directs a specialised jumbo machine that is used for drill and blast rock excavation. 6. Senior Project Manager Teo Tiong Yong gives a briefing to JTC colleagues about the project.

Keen to know more? Join us for an exclusive photo essay at


Raise the

No Wrong Door by

Alex Tan of dbl O What’s in it:

Bacardi Breezer Peach 60ml, green apple vodka 30ml, Violette Viot 1883 Philibert Routin 20ml, Bombay Sapphire Dry Gin 15ml

Alex’s idea:

The party season has arrived so here’s the chance to throw a good one to impress your bosses and colleagues. Drinks are a must if you want to loosen up those stiff shoulders and straight backs. Clueless? Fret not. Challenge asked six bartenders to concoct drinks that are sure to break the (Public Service) ice. Learn from the best and bottoms up!

Text by

Chen Jingting Art Direction by

Jasmine Tan

Photos by


Just as public officers don’t reject queries from members of the public, it’ll be hard for anyone to resist this looker of a cocktail – tall, slender and alluring. And it’s supposed to taste even better than it looks, promises Alex, a champion in the creative cocktail category of the National Cocktail Competition 2008.


Red Tape of


Dominic Lee

Chit’s Bar & Restaurant What’s in it:

Top: Peach tea 180ml, Martell 45ml, Bols cassis 45ml, peach syrup 30ml, with a rind of beetroot peel Middle: Fresh mango puree 30ml, evaporated milk 30ml, passion fruit syrup 15ml Bottom: Canned peach 1/2 slice, fresh mango puree 30ml

Dominic’s take:

“My impression of the public servant is more of a ‘tea’ than ‘alcohol’ person”, says Dominic, so he used a tea cup-like shooter glass to serve up Red Tape. This fresh, fruity drink rewards the red tape-slashing public officer who follows through to the mango and peach at the bottom. For an olfactory oomph, rub a kaffir lime leaf against the cup.

Red Ocean, Blue Ocean of


Lau Wei Jin

eM by the River What’s in it:

Outside (blue): Grey Goose L’Orange Vodka 40ml, ripe apple juice 30ml, 100plus 30ml, Vok Blue Curacao 10ml, peach syrup 10ml, frosted longans Inside (red): Smirnoff Vodka 10ml, ripe mango juice 10ml, Ribena 5ml, grenadine syrup 5ml

Wei Jin’s take:

Tired of battling your rivals head-on in the Red Ocean? Try plunging into the inventive unknown of the Blue Ocean. If you’re feeling brave, down both together but Wei Jin suggests you “take the blue liquid first as it is more refreshing and has a lighter taste than the red one.”

Watch the world’s best bartenders pit their skills at the International Bartenders Association Congress 2010, held in Singapore from November 22-27. The event is supported by the Singapore Tourism Board and Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.


Smoke Detector

Shah Dillon of BottleFlipz What’s in it: Kahlua 30ml, lychee liqueur 30ml, Cointreau 15ml

Shah’s idea:

Raise the alarm with this Smoke Detector. The fanciful swirls of dry ice will wow your guests but once the smoke screen fizzles out, what’s left standing is a plain but powerful drink.


Monday Blues by

Kazuhiro Chii of Bar 84 What’s in it:

Absolut Ruby Red 20ml, Teichenne Peach Schnapps 20ml, Vok Blue Curacao 10ml, fresh lime juice 10ml, Marie Brizard White Pepper Mint 1tsp

Kazuhiro’s take:

“The grapefruit flavour provides you comfort and its peach taste makes you happy. The peppermint also brings a pleasant cooling sensation,” promises Kazuhiro, a Yokohama native who has been a bartender for 15 years. If we had this every Monday, the blues sure won’t be there.

You’re fired! by

Kenny Hong of Zirca What’s in it:

Bacardi 151 5ml, La Fee Absinth 5ml, Midori 5ml, Cointreau 5ml

This drink burns your throat and leaves a bitter aftertaste – probably how you’d feel after getting the boot. The high alcohol content (more than 20%) will also help to drown your sorrows. But steer clear if you want to keep your job. Editor’s note: This drink should really be banned from festive year-end parties. But we couldn’t resist including it. If your staff can take a prank, this will be a drink that’ll leave a burning impression.

44 The Irreverent Last Page

Need We Say More?

Here’s where we let the humour loose, and learn to laugh at ourselves a little more. Have ideas or jokes about the Public Service? Email us:

1. The Excellence through Continuous Enterprise and Learning (ExCEL) initiative was launched in __________. A. May, B. May, C. May, D. May,

1990 1995 2000 2005

2. The theme for PS21 ExCEL Convention 2010, held at the School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA) from November 2-3, 2010 is ___________. A. Capture It! B. Be the Agent of Change! C. Sparking Innovation, Spurring Productivity D. Small Idea, Big Returns

3. The __________ system (also known as “Six Thinking Hats”) is a thinking tool for group discussion and individual thinking. It provides a means for groups to think together more effectively, and a means to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way. A. de Bono Hats B. pro bono C. Bono D. Al Bono

4. __________ diagrams were first proposed in the 1960s. They show the causes of a certain event and are commonly used to identify potential factors causing an overall effect. A. Pork bone B. Dog bone C. Chicken bone D. Fishbone

5. The famous inventor__________ was once quoted as saying: “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” A. Wilbur Wright B. Steve Jobs C. Leonardo Da Vinci D. Thomas A. Edison

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Submit your answers by

December 13, 2010 at: Website



6333 4010 Please include your name, email address, agency and contact number. All winners will be notified by email.