Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Behind the scenes: Jack Neo speaks to bloggers on his upcoming movie, Ah Boys to Men

Why is film maker Jack Neo so tanned?

And who is the Enemy in the upcoming comedy, Ah Boys to Men?

Find out what Jack Neo had to say when he spoke to bloggers on the sidelines of a film shoot along Robinson Road on Sunday 19 August 2012. His production crew turned a street in the heart of Singapore's Central Business District into a battlezone, complete with Singapore Army motorised infantry, Terrex infantry carrier vehicles and pyrotechnics to simulate an urban shootout.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sneak preview: Fight scenes from Ah Boys to Men

These clips provide a sneak preview of the battle scene for Singaporean film producer Jack Neo's upcoming movie, Ah Boys to Men. The day-long shoot took place along Robinson Road on Sunday 19 August 2012.

The two soldiers are actors playing the part of Singapore Army motorised infantry sent to investigate a bombing in the heart of Singapore's Central Business District.

In this battle scene, Terrex infantry carrier vehicles are stopped along Robinson Road by building debris. The vehicles halt and motorised infantry debus to advance on foot. After debussing from a pair of Terrex ICVs, the duo (part of a larger section) come under fire from Enemy combatants emplaced on a skyscraper.

The Terrex ICVs and real motorised infantry were provided by the 4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment. The motorised infantry battalion is part of the 6th Singapore Division.

Some comments:
1. It would have been nice if the Terrex ICVs were given a more dynamic role rather than made to sit by the roadside in an overwatch position.

2. The wire cutters on the roof of the Terrex ICVs should have been deployed. They were fitted for urban ops and operations in closed terrain to cut wires and other hazards strung across the road.

3. The weapon detection system with its multiple microphones should have been fitted onto the Terrex. This is the platform's film debut and the war machine should make an appearance with all the bells and whistles fitted.

4. Rather than have the Terrex ICVs halted by building debris, the scene would have been more impactful if a Buffel ARV with dozer blade was ordered forward to bash its way through the obstructions.

5. The Enemy is never clearly identified in this scene or throughout the movie. It is possible that all fight scenes are part of the recruit's day dream. See the interview with Jack Neo, to be posted tomorrow.

Ah Boys to Men is a two-part comedy made by J Team Productions. Episode 1 is due to be screened in November 2012. Episode 2 follows around Chinese New Year 2013.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Making of battle scenes for Jack Neo's upcoming movie, Ah Boys to Men

Ready for the shoot: Film crew from J Team Productions prepares to film a firefight scene for the upcoming movie, Ah Boys to Men, a comedy by Singaporean producer Jack Neo. The scene was staged by motorised infantry and a Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle from the 4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (4 SIR). The day-long session marked the first time part of Singapore's Central Business District was turned into a film set for a battle scene.

When the Singapore defence ministry lends its weight to a movie, it's a pretty safe bet which side will win the scripted war.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) quite predictably saves the day in the work-in-progress movie, Ah Boys to Men, but not before a few close calls in set piece battle scenes audiences will be treated to. About 80 per cent of the movie, due for release this November, has been filmed.

One firefight for Ah Boys to Men was played out in Robinson Road in the heart of Singapore's Central Business District (CBD) on Sunday in front of skyscrapers that would have given thousands of office workers a ringside seat to Singapore Army motorised infantry performing an urban operation, had it been a work day. On location on Sunday, the place was deserted. That said, the location was ring fenced by security guards hired to keep gawkers away.

Robinson Road battle scene
Three months of back-and-forth negotiations with authorities like the Land Transport Authority, Traffic Police, bus companies and building landlords finally gave director Jack Neo the green light to film to turn a 300-metre stretch of Robinson Road into a "war zone". A night's preparation and a full day of filming should result in an action sequence lasting just two to three minutes on the big screen, said Mr Neo yesterday when he allowed the media and bloggers to watch the film crew in action.(Which essentially means if you decide to take a pee break at an inopportune time during the movie, you'll miss it.)

Tonnes of building debris was trucked in and scattered onto the road to give the impression of a bombed out area. Assorted office furniture like filing cabinets and junkyard cars added to realism along with pieces of styrofoam sliced and painted to mimic damaged building structures like walls and pillars. Throw in about a dozen heavily dusted extras wearing zombie-like make-up and the scene was prepared to bring Mr Neo's movie script to life.

The stage was set for the "stars" of the show - actors playing the part of SAF full-time national servicemen who go forth to go battle. Ahh, I hear a question: With whom? But we'll get to that in a moment...

The Singapore Army's 6th Division contributed two Terrex infantry carrier vehicles which provided overwatch as the NSFs went about their work clearing Robinson Road of the Enemy. (SAF numberplate collectors would recognise Terrex 99269 MID "Blitz" as the vehicle displayed at this year's Army Open House.)

Blue screens erected on either side of the film set were a telling hint that live action would be complemented by post-production computer generated imagery. No, not Godzilla but  "maybe more explosions" said Mr Neo.

It is fortunate that Ah Boys to Men is a comedy because the light-hearted movie theme and comical script means moviegoers should not take what they see too seriously.

So when the section commander leads his men in the middle of an open city street with practically no cover, purists should not cringe that this goes against lessons learned from urban operations in past and current wars (Grozny, assorted Middle East Wars, former Yugoslavia).

Neither should the lack of a named enemy threaten to unravel the plot. In Mr Neo's words:"The enemy, we are not specifying who they are, where they are from. As long as you know the enemy can be from anywhere."

A nice, poltically-correct statement that probably made the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF decide that it could safely support the movie's storyline without incurring the wrath of anybody.

Yesterday's battle scene is one of several involving SAF hardware. The film includes a fight scene in housing board flats (filmed in Neo Tew training area) and a sequence involving Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warplanes scrambling into action (hopefully against something more potent that a Cessna seaplane).

According to Mr Neo, the story of four NSFs going through Basic Military Training on Pulau Tekong will include flashbacks showing NS of yesteryear.

Will it be worth it? You decide come November 2012 when episode 1 of Ah Boys to Men premieres at a cinema near you.

Ah Boys to Men: Battle scene along Robinson Road by numbers:
One: Full day of filming at Robinson Road to produce a fight sequence lasting just two to three minutes.

Two: Number of episodes Ah Boys to Men will comprise. Episode 1 screens in November 2012. Episode 2 follows around Chinese New Year 2013.

Three: Months needed to get approval to film the battle scenes along Robinson Road.

Six: Bus services diverted for the battle sequence filming on 19 August 2012.

Six: The number of the Singapore Army division that supported the filming along Robinson Road. The Terrex ICVs came from the 4th battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (4 SIR).

10: Tonnes of building debris scattered onto Robinson Road to turn it into a "war zone".

70: Filming days needed to make episodes 1 and 2

Many thanks to J Team Productions for the access to the film set on 19 August 2012 and to the MINDEF Public Affairs media team for being there.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Filming at Robinson Road Sunday 19 Aug'12

Received a surprise invitation to watch the filming of "Ah Boys to Men" along Robinson Road tomorrow. Understand there will be Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) war machines involved.

The street in the heart of Singapore's Central Business District will be closed to traffic, according to this note on One.Motoring found here.

Location Filming of Ah Boys to Men

Date and Time: Sunday, 19 August 2012, 12 midnight, to Monday, 20 August 2012, 5am
Organiser: JTeam Productions Pte Ltd
Hotline: 8426 9386
Location: Full closure of Robinson Road from Maxwell Road to Mccallum Street

May get a chance to speak to movie director Mr Jack Neo. If you have any questions on his movie, please post them here before 12:30pm Sunday because that's when the action starts.

Will post an update after the excursion tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Command presence after SAF training incidents

It has been noted that some Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training incidents result in a high-level presence either at the hospital bedside, the wake or the funeral.

SAF Service chiefs have done so in the past. So have various political office holders.

The protocols followed by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF that spell out when and at what level the command presence should be calibrated are indeed a puzzle to me.

The then Defence Minister, Dr Tony Tan, was at the hospital bedside of infantrymen from the 1st Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment after the incident involving the Armbrust blind.

The then Chief of Air Force, Major-General Lim Kim Choon, attended the wake for RSAF F-16 pilot Lieutenant Brandon Loo.

The then Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Lui Tuck Yew, attended the funeral for RSN Second Lieutenant Daryl Loh.

There must be many other instances involving army, navy and air force personnel where the presence of MINDEF/SAF big shots helped Singaporean families cope at a time of grief.

To have big shots appear during some situations and not at others makes SAF servicemen wonder what more they have to do to earn recognition for their service to this country. Families and loved ones of servicemen who paid the ultimate price should never be made to have that question cross their mind.

If it is a matter of choice where families prefer to have some space and privacy, then MINDEF/SAF should give some indication that the presence was offered but declined by the NOK.

In my opinion, command presence is needed most when parents have to send off their child for their final journey. It should be an SOP whenever our country has to send off one of its sons or daughters who died in the line of duty. It underlines that senior leadership shares the family's pain and sorrow and that senior leadership never takes a training death for granted.

As a citizens' armed forces, it is vitally important that Singaporeans know their leaders - civilian and military - will be there for them unconditionally. This social support will earn MINDEF/SAF immense goodwill from citizen soldiers and SAF regulars who, knowing their leaders will stand by their families in times of crisis, will do the same for our army when duty calls.

Many parents would never have seen or met, let alone talked to, the SAF's senior leadership. Ditto political office holders in MINDEF like the DM, MOS and SPS. One should therefore never underestimate the impression it makes on citizens, especially during a low point in their lives.

Where was that command presence yesterday?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Death of full-time National Serviceman Lance-Corporal Muhammad Fahrurrazi Salim

Nothing moves without their green light and they can cancel a war game if they feel training safety is compromised.

Safety teams who oversee Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) peacetime training serve a vital role that comes into the spotlight whenever the SAF loses someone in a training incident. On other occasions, they are taken mostly for granted by soldiers, sailors and airmen they are assigned to protect and safeguard.

We see them around training areas and in prominently-marked safety vehicles, but do not know their names.

The death of Lance-Corporal Muhammad Fahrurrazi bin Salim, a full-time National Serviceman with the 1st Transport Battalion, turns what we have experienced with such sad incidents upside down because the trainees ended up providing aid to the safety team. It is usually the other way around.

Just 20 years old, LCP Fahrurrazi's mission brief saw him prepare to support a river crossing exercise in Brunei by adding one of two assault boats - 5.4-metre long aluminium craft powered by an outboard motor - to two others carrying medics and safety personnel. The third and fourth assault boats were spares for boats 1 and 2 that would be stationed near the water crossing site to ensure all went well.

Now, to have one spare assault boat for each craft on active duty underlines just how much HQ Lancer's training cadre values training safety. The soldiers who would have taken part in Sunday's river crossing would probably have been in good hands. Not only were safety elements outlined in training safety regulations in place, contingencies such as immobile boats were catered for thanks to NSFs like Fahrurrazi and team. He was more than just a boatman but an integral part of a safety apparatus dedicated to making sure trainees are kept safe.

LCP Fahrurrazi disappeared en route to his assigned mission under circumstances which are now under investigation. As fate decreed, some of the soldiers he would have watched over ended up searching a 12-kilometre stretch of Brunei's Batu Apoi river to find his body.

In a matter of days, that feel-good sensation many Singaporeans felt watching our country's 47th National Day Parade seems to have disappeared. Although many netizens do not know Fahrurrazi, how many of us felt disappointment tinged with a sense of hope - however faint - that the search would not be fruitless?

Many non-Muslim Singaporeans would have been only painfully aware that Fahrurrazi's family was only a week away from one of the key celebrations on the Muslim calendar.

For those of us who have seen firsthand how Muslim servicemen endure military training during the holy month of Ramadan, the quiet determination of NSFs like LCP Fahruzzazi in carrying out his duty quite possibly evokes feelings of admiration for what the NSF had to go through during fasting month.

Early this morning, the SAF search party found the young soldier they were ordered to find.

While the end result is not what many of us had prayed and hoped for, his homecoming today may help his loved ones eventually find closure.

Related post:
When a member of the SAF dies in service. Read the post here.

Found: Body of full-time National Serviceman missing in Brunei

Full news release from the Singaporean Ministry of Defence here. Sad news.

Body of Full-Time National Serviceman Found. LCP Fahrurrazi to be flown back to Singapore in C-130 for military funeral today
Posted: 14 Aug 2012, 1315 hours (Time is GMT +8 hours)

The body of the late Lance-Corporal (LCP) Muhammad Fahrurrazi Bin Salim, 20, was found at 2:55am on 14 August 2012 in the Sungai Batu Apoi river, Temburong. One of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) search parties, which had continued the search throughout the night, found LCP Fahrurrazi's body about 200 metres from where he was first reported missing.

LCP Fahrurrazi's body will be flown back this afternoon in a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 transport plane for a military funeral in Singapore.

On behalf of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the SAF, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, has written a letter to the family of the late LCP Fahrurrazi expressing deepest condolences for their loss. MINDEF is assisting the family in their time of grief. A full investigation will be conducted on the incident.

MINDEF has also thanked the Royal Brunei Armed Forces for their assistance in the search operations.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Missing SAF serviceman in Brunei: Who watches the watchers?

While Muslim families count down to Hari Raya, the loved ones of missing Singapore Army soldier, Lance-Corporal (LCP) Muhammad Fahrurrazi bin Salim, have a greater weight on their mind.

They are not alone in this trying moment. Their concern is shared by many Singaporeans of all races, many of whom do not know LCP Fahrurrazi but read with a heavy heart the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) announcement that he had gone missing in Brunei.

It is telling from the two MINDEF news releases issued thus far that all training safety regulations (TSRs) appear to have been followed to the letter.

Life jacket. Check.

Safety boats. Check.

Individual elements mandated under the TSR for a river crossing exercise appear to have been moving into position on the Batu Apoi river on Sunday morning.

But as the safety watchers are deployed, who watches the watchers?

According to MINDEF, LCP Fahrurrazi was piloting one of four boats "to provide safety coverage for the water crossing segment of a jungle training exercise". "It was daylight during the incident with clear weather and water conditions were calm," said the MINDEF NR issued today (click here for the full NR).

Sunday's NR (click here) said that at 8am that morning, LCP Fahrurrazi's boat "was noticed not to have followed the convoy". From this statement, we build a mental picture that his boat was last in line in the four-ship convoy powering its way up the jungle-fringed river.

Stringent TSRs for water activities mean all trainees will have several eyeballs watching over them. But incidents do not pop up fatefully during the mandated training period.

Extreme vigilance is needed for all activities, including but not limited to those that take place on brown water in open country where weather conditions, water currents and wildlife are beyond the control of any safety officer. If the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has lost people even in swimming pools, it goes without saying that any activity in open water must be monitored and watched carefully.

Whatever the end result, MINDEF/SAF needs to reflect on safety protocols for safety parties en route to making sure TSRs are fulfilled.

Would we need safety boats for safety boats, safety vehicles watching over safety vehicles? How about extra medics to watch the medics assigned to watch the exercise proper? If the point man in a jungle training exercise has his back watched, who watches the back for the rear scout?

Hindsight is always 20:20. Pending more information on this episode, it is easy for armchair warriors to say this or that should or could have been done better.

One immediate takeway is driving home the safety first message, especially for SAF safety marshals. These safety guardians watch over SAF personnel and owe it to themselves to always watch out for one another.

One would hope this story will have a happy result.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Miscarriage of opinion: Credible feedback process needed on population issues

The call for feedback on Singapore's population issues should be preceeded by a call for feedback on the feedback process itself.

The public relations (PR) exercise tied to the National Population and Talent Division's Issues Paper July 2012, titled "Our Population, Our Future", appears to elicit feedback on a fait accompli.

Even if there is massive objection from citizens to the republic's immigration policy, Singaporeans will have to live with a done deal as the non-resident population has already depressed the number of citizens to 62 out of every 100 souls on this island. You may well understand the scepticism that has greeted the release of this report even if the intent to garner feedback is genuine.

One need only surf to the online feedback form tied to the report to wonder how officialdom intends to filter comments. Your name and email is all that is asked for. This begs the question how the web administrator can tell if feedback is from a Singaporean/SPR or a foreign entity out to create mischief or suck precious man hours from the feedback process by planting troll bait that saps the resources of the web master.

Winning hearts and minds
Even with the best intentions, the report's authors have to contend with decades Singaporeans have endured with a policy-making machinery that purports to know it all, knows best and acts on their behalf while paying lip service to what people think about a policy or how they feel about its aftermath.

This is why credibility in the feedback process need to be restored built before asking people to share their points of view. In past years, we have seen Singaporeans speak up on assorted national issues only to learn the hard way how officialdom treats such feedback. It would be naive for the report's authors to think the call for feedback will be taken at face value without officialdom first addressing the historical baggage that robs the feedback process of its credibility.

Are you then surprised at the (generally) negative reactions the population report has spawned in cyberspace?

For a report that aims to promote greater consultation, the report's tone and language drops the torch in instances when it could have wowed netizens with glasnost. For example, the 40-page report describes how the intake of "new citizens" rose from an average of 8,200 people per year from 1987 to 2006 to 18,500 per year in the last five years (page 6). But you and I are offered no clues as to how these magic numbers were calculated or the screening process for our new citizens. Why?

Questions posed under the header "For views and suggestions" seem crafted to elicit only a certain kind of response. Look at the way this question on page 22 is phrased:"The Government has reduced the inflow of immigrants significantly since 2009. Should we reduce the inflow further even if it means that our citizen population will age and shrink, and foreign spouses and dependents of Singaporeans may find it more difficult to become PRs or SC (Singapore Citizens)? [Emphasis is mine]

One would have thought ending the question at "Should we reduce the inflow further?" would suffice in encouraging the reader to think about the issue. Afterall, any reader who made it to page 22 would have ploughed through facts and figures that explain why our immigration policy is structured the way it is.

The average Singaporean is not a born debater. And when you come across as attempting to put down people in the guise of asking a question, you can bet responses won't be forthcoming. The words in italics are, in my opinion, unnecessary because it looks like they are forcing the reader into a corner with one point of view rammed down their throat. If you are invited to a friend's dinner and the host asks "Would you like some more food because if you do I have to bust my dinner budget just because I have to order more dishes to satisfy you?" Would you dare say "yes"? This isn't the way to facilitate a proper dialogue, let alone engage in winning hearts and minds.

Give Singaporeans the latitude to think about the issue for themselves. Guide them by all means but a try-too-hard approach may come across as desperate. In my opinion, the strongest form of buy-in comes when people convince themselves the course of action proposed is really the best available.

And while the report concedes "pockets of friction between Singaporeans and some foreigners and new immigrants" (page 6), one major social bugbear - the issue of National Service - is not mentioned in the main report at all. The reader has to wade through the entire report before reaching the single mention of NS in Annex A that states that second generation male PRs are required to enlist for NS (page 33).

By including greater mention of what constitutes "pockets of friction", perhaps in a space-saving editorial device known as a fact box, the authors could have demonstrated that they have a good grasp of ground issues and know what is bothering heartlanders. This absence social empathy allied with a we-know-best line of questioning hints of an ivory tower mentality that we can well do without, especially with an issue as grave as national birth rates.

If this report was a university academic exercise, it would probably score well for its use of statistics to support the core argument that falling birth rates will reshape the Singapore that we know from 2030 if nothing is done. But what the report's logic does for one's head, it does not do much for one's heart.

It is a pity because the numbers shared in the report sketch an ominous future for us and crunch time is now, considering the lead time needed for infants to become economically active.

Incidentally, there was only one typo spotted and a minor one at that. Footnote 1 on page 34 reads "Dependency Ratio refers to the proportion of foreign works (S Pass and Work Permit) out of a company's total workforce. Should read as foreign workers.

Kowloon Club
There is a precedent to the current immigration policy. Before Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, Singapore courted Hong Kongers to consider moving to the Lion City. The report's thesis would have been strengthened with a box story indicating where these ex-HKG families are today. What is the membership profile of the Kowloon Club in 2012 compared to 1997? If they came and left, tell us why new citizens will not be tempted to do the same years from now.

The report would have done its job better had it been couched as a FAQ that explains why Singapore has thrown open its doors to immigrants rather than attempting to serve as a catalyst for feedback because the feedback process in Singapore isn't as robust as it should be.

In this regard, Singaporeans are screwed either way.

If we treat the report as a wayang (Malay for stage play) and decline to participate, officialdom may respond that no one took up the offer to speak up when asked to do so.

If we do send feedback, it's anyone's guess how such feedback will be received. Indeed, certain civil servants have been known to take feedback poorly. So why risk one's rice bowl when the decision has already been made for you? Would you even bother?

Related posts:
In power in the real world, out of favour in the virtual one: Why the PAP has few friends in cyberspace. Please click here.

Sing Gov't's pledge for more openness requires rewiring of the system's sensitivity to feedback, removal of vindictive mindset for views it dislikes. Please click here.


We seem about due for an Open Mobilisation exercise, according to past mobex activation patterns.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Safe haven, safe house

The following are two short accounts written with no particular situation in mind. If you know, you know. Cheers.

Safe haven
All his military life, he fought for the privilege of wearing the coveted red beret.

Now, deployed on a real operation, his unseasoned headgear was that of another service.

Newly issued by the CQ, the navy blue berets and crests crowned the heads of some of the republic's toughest fighting professionals as the operation of ironies unfolded.

They were trained for long-range reconnaissance patrols and deep strike missions but found themselves on sentry duty in a static position.

Their Milan 2 anti-tank missiles were acquired to knock out enemy armour or battlefield strong points. But Milans joined them for anti-ship duty - a task which they trained for in reservoirs in the western part of the island, launching missiles against targets across the water, tracking each Milan as the wire-guided missile sped down range trailing a wire in its wake.

Perhaps the only thing this operation had in common with what they were trained to do was the lack of publicity. Total news blackout. No news releases announced their arrival in their area of operations. They could expect no official nod from HQ acknowledging their part in this operation, not a word in newspapers nor could they ever reflect this on their resume of military achievements.

That patch of territory was deemed worth defending during a period of tension (POT) which all parties kept below the radar of public awareness. The thrust and parry of military diplomacy still took place out at sea and out of sight of civilians who were none the wiser.

Patrol boats flirted with unresolved territorial limits, with intrusive probes using binoculars that kept defenders on their guard. In return, weapon optics framed the interlopers with range and bearing data constantly updated in case the birds needed to fly.

Had it been for real, the Milan anti-tank missiles would have punched through the thin aluminium topsides and unarmoured steel hull of the intruder. However, the defenders had to balance missile accuracy against the speed of response of quick firing dual-purpose cannon and MGs fired against their position at point-blank range if the POT escalated into a hot and nasty situation. It did not as interlopers were observed to have kept their A guns under weatherproof coverings most of the time.

Thankfully, diplomacy was allowed to run its course and one of the more unusual military operations soon drew to a close with all "live" ammo returned to the armskote.

Safe house
He could never afford this place, not with his salary in this lifetime nor several working lifetimes added together.

The double storey colonial bungalow that the Caretaker was hired to oversee was kept spick and span for his landlord.

It was easy enough work, albeit a somewhat lonely one. His "landlord" had given strict instructions that his friends and family were never to be allowed onto the premises. He readily complied - as the landlord knew he would as a pre-employment check revealed he had almost no family or close acquaintances to speak of. In terms of temperament, the Caretaker was the type specimen of a social recluse who was happier being left alone and had no big ambitions nor sense of self pity. He was perfect for the job the landlord had in mind.

The detailed background checked paved the way for the Caretaker to land this job of keeping the bungalow's front yard swept clean of leaf litter. All rooms had to be kept dust free and the floor mopped to showroom standard. The bungalow was in a quiet part of the estate and mature trees kept it shaded most parts of the day. It was far enough from the main road that pedestrians and vehicles would not pass its porch. The house received almost no mail, but the Caretaker still made a daily ritual of checking the mailbox just in case.

Keeping snakes - the bane of estate residents - off the property was one of the Caretaker's few excitements in an otherwise mind-numbingly routine duty roster that made each work day almost a facsimile of the previous one and the next and the day after that.

Occasionally, the landlord would call and the Visitors would arrive. Sometimes one car load sometimes in two vehicles.

The Caretaker's job was then to get the air conditioning in one of the rooms running and make tea, before retiring out of sight and ear shot.

As with most human beings, his natural instinct for curiousity made him wonder what sort of enterprise his landlord was running. His nagging concern that he was part of the world's oldest profession was put to rest as rooms in the house were not the kind used by that sort of seedy business. The screening process had worked perfectly as the Caretaker's curiosity did not stretch very far.

Polished parquet floors and rooms almost devoid of all but the most basic furniture - a meeting table, several wooden uncushioned chairs, a white board - that was all that adorned the rooms that kept the Caretaker gainfully employed. For a colonial era property diligently maintained in pristine living condition, it had almost no household electronic devices.

The Visitors would come and go, rarely staying more than an hour or so before exchanging basic courtesies and leaving the house of solace behind them.

Some faces he recognised as they came more frequently. Others were one offs whom he never saw again.

The Caretaker knew better than to ask questions - this the landlord already knew as his personality and intellect made him the sort of person who avoided all but the most necessary social contact.

The Caretaker did an exemplary job. He would perhaps never discover that he was part of a much larger organisation with employee perks and benefits, a proper career ladder and an exciting mission statement.

He may not have been part of the world's oldest profession. But some might argue the Caretaker was part of the world's second oldest one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Note of thanks: Interns

Am grateful to all the interns who helped put together this short clip. It has a home-made feel to it but is still meaningful. Thanks to Nanyang Polytechnic student Ong Kah Jing for conceptualising and producing the clip.

Though your respective industrial attachments will soon end, we intend to keep you all updated of developments as you go through National Service or pursue further studies from 2013 onwards.

To our former interns who enlisted this week: Good luck, stay safe and keep in touch.

There will be a post on the National Population and Talent Division's Issues Paper "Our Population, Our Future" this weekend. Am still going through the paper. Download your copy at