My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

In Your Neighbourhood Scripts - Intro

This is the second incarnation of a series of magazine news bulletins that I used to produce and present for Newsradio 938. "In Your Neighbourhood" followed right after "Words of Arts" and it preceded "On The Grapevine". "In Your Neighbourhood" like "On the Grapevine" dwells mainly on social issues while "Words of Arts" looks at the arts scene in Singapore from a social critic's point of views.



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Friday, September 10, 2004

The Big Picture - (Changi Prison) - Part 3/3

(Duration: 06’09.1)

Whenever I am feeling low I look around me and I know there’s a place within me, whenever I choose to go. I will always recall the city, know every street and shore[fade out]”

Local warbler Kit Chan sings of how Singapore’s landscape tugs at every expatriate Singaporean’s heart-strings…

But for those who had been away, do they return to the same Singapore in their memory?

Hi, I am Chong Ching Liang with the Big Picture.

The Big Picture in this National Day week went retrospective, we looked at the importance of physical and social landmarks in our country and the measures needed to ensure their survival.

In this last segment, we look at how Singaporeans should and can be more proactive in managing our heritage.

Dr Kevin Tan, board member of the Preservation of Monuments Board on how Singaporeans says everyone can do his or her part:

We are not omniscient. We have not identified every building worth preserving. Hopefully Singapore will be more conscious of their history and then they will come back to us and help us along the road. You know, we are not here to dictate what buildings are to be preserved. We are here to serve Singapore. Hopefully the public can work with us so that we can identify pockets of our heritage that may be unfamiliar to some of us but are certainly worth retaining that make us Singapore.

So what is it that makes retaining quirky places and crumbling buildings important?

Geographer Dr Brenda Yeoh:

We live in a world of change and while undoubtedly, adaptability to change is an important quality to survival, much [of] today is too transient. We sometimes seem bent on creating a culture of rapid obsolescence in the way we relate to things, people and to place. In all these, some degree of stability and consistency in meaning of place are important anchors for us to grow a sense of belonging to each other, to community and ultimately, to the nation. If we fracture and dislocate these places too often or too rapidly, we’ll destroy the social memories which are the intangible threads which help people to connect to each other in concrete ways.

Dr Brenda Yeoh explains more.

Places are repositories of collective memories, of biographies and life-stories which only the passage of times can stitch together in meaningful ways. If change to material places happens too rapidly, it may be for the generations to come, they will find it less and less to identify with, to draw connections to. Indeed it may be, to use the words of a famous poem ‘the past of Singaporeans will become a foreign country’.

It is impossible to arrest change and development in material places in land-scarce Singapore.

Does this mean that the Singapore of our past will become a foreign country?

It need not be.

Creative solutions may provide a life-line to old decaying historical landmarks to our society.

Eminent local architect, William Lim, for one has thought of a possible way to save Changi Prison:

The image of a building can be changed and adapted under certain conditions. If we are using this to try and explore possibilities… Changi Prison may very well become a large exciting international youth hostel. It will be the biggest of its kind, certainly in this part of the world, and unique. They can sell shirts with Prison numbers, you can have all the atmosphere of telling people this was a prison before. If you are able to do that, this may be a big, big scorepoint.

An economic solution to an economic problem.

However, there are criticisms that certain monuments are being inappropriately used.

The Old Thong Chai Medical Institution’s metamorphosis into Lan Kwai Fong is probably a striking example.

The history of philanthropy found in the old Thong Chai building is probably not apparent to the party-goers of Lan Kwai Fong, a night-club.

But, it is still very important to have a physical place present.

We must have “storytellers” to help alert us to the significance of such sites.

Mr Jeyathurai of Singapore History Consultants tells us more:

Very fortunately because of some of the conservation projects, we have kept some of the critical areas like Kreta Ayer. When you see these places, you see them with different eyes if you have the appreciation of the heritage. Without history, without heritage, when our people look at Singapore, at the historic site, they will look at it with the yes of the cow because they have not been given that appreciation. If you don’t understand something, you will never appreciate it and that’s why our job is so important because we get the kids to analyse, look at things, understand them so when they walked past conservation houses, they don’t look at it with the eyes of a cow, they understand that it took a lot of time to be this shop.

The storyteller figure is very important.

In our land of rapid changes, some conservation projects may not even retain the social meaning it had in the past because of the need to make it economically viable.

Hence, we need storytellers to link the present to the past in order to help us acquire the eye of appreciation for our heritage.

And this appreciation is very important.

Jeya elaborates:

So even though there is change, some things don’t change. Your heritage, your history doesn’t change and it doesn’t change because you understand it, no matter what else changes around you.

So maybe Kit Chan is right.

Perhaps, there will, always, be a place that will stay within us.

…river of life, winding through my Singapore. This is home, truly, where I know I must be. Where my dreams wait for me…

This is Chong Ching Liang, signing off for NewsRadio 93.8.

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The Big Picture - (Changi Prison) - Part 2/3

(Duration: 05’36.4)

Help us remember,

Save the old buildings so that we can have bridging landmarks in our national memory.

But can we afford them?

Hi, I’m Chong Ching Liang with the Big Picture.

Last session, we looked at the complexities that surround the decision to designate a building as “historical” and therefore worth retaining.

In this part, we talk to the Preservation of Monuments Board and Historic Sites Unit of the National Archives of Singapore on what the government is doing to ensure historic buildings are preserved.

But before that, let’s look at the single most important factor in the decision to conserve or demolish a building.

Historian Kwa Chong Guan on why considerations in preserving Changi Prison cannot be of just architectural and social concerns:

In our instance here, the case for preservation of any monument must be weighted against the costs of the land on which it stands. So in all our preservation projects the economic factor weighs heavily so it will likewise, in this case here, the costs of a huge amount of land that Changi sits on, is it justifiable to preserve it and what are the economic spin-offs and returns we can get. This again has been a major factor when we looked at our preservation of Chinatown, Little India, or now we also looking at Kampong Glam.

Simple economics.

It would be costly to maintain, for example, a building like Changi Prison economically.

Eminent local architect William Lim explains:

I don’t think we can afford to have a building of this scale to be a white elephant. I mean, if you can find it can be reused for anything else than I suppose it’s got to be pulled down.

So there you have it.

If a historic place costs too much to maintain, then we must reluctantly let it go.

Let’s take a peek at what goes on in deciding what keeps and what goes.

Two government units are involved.

These are the Preservation of Monuments Board and the Historic Sites Unit of the National Archives of Singapore.

Christina Choh of the Preservation of Monuments Board.

The Preservation of Monuments Board or the PMB, was established in 1972 with a 3-pronged objective. One: to preserve monuments that is of exceptional historic, traditional, architectural or artistic interests. It also aims to protect and augment the amenities of these monuments. And the third role of PMB is to stimulate public interest in the preservation of these monuments. The Monuments Board is comprised of a technical committee and a research and publicity committee. Together these two committees serve to evaluate building that has been short-listed for their historical and architectural merit.

Guidelines are drawn up once a building has been designated as a Monument site by the PMB.

Specific guidelines are drawn up for each monument. Over the years, buildings would have changed, renovations would have been made. These guidelines serves to help monuments owners restore their monuments architecturally to its original glory and to guide future renovations and up-grading works to the building. These preservation guidelines are legally binding to the owners be they private or publicly owned buildings. These guidelines serve to protect the buildings which means that these buildings cannot be torn down at will, and cannot be changed or renovated without the prior approval of the PMB.

While the PMB deals with physical buildings, the Historic Sites Unit within the National Archives of Singapore deals with something more intangible.

Sarin Abdullah tells us more:

The Historic Sites Unit was established on 1 October 1996. The marking of historic sites is under the directions of the committee on historic sites which is chaired by the Chief Executive Officer of the National Heritage Board. There are also representatives on the committee from Ministry of Information and the Arts, the Land Office, National Parks board as well as several ministries. What the committee does is to identify historic sites and buildings worthy of marking and it helps to oversee the marking of these sites. At the same time, we also gather feedback from the general public. Our marked sites may actually be buildings or they could actually be places which commemorated an event which took place.

Sarin explains further on the rationale and on what happens when a site is marked as historic:

When a historic site is being marked, what we essentially do is to place a plaque there which contains information on the history and significance of this site. We do this to preserve the memories of Singapore historical places for future generations.

The setting up of the two bodies shows that the government does try to protect certain buildings identified as having historical value.

However, not all buildings can be assessed and saved.

The two units just don’t have enough people to make the rounds.

So perhaps, just perhaps, you can do your part.

Tell them which sites and monuments are important to the community and the reasons why.

It will go a long way in helping preserve our past.

Once the site or monument has been identified, how does one retain its significance and yet make it economically viable?

Tune in to the next instalment of the Big Picture.

For Newsradio938, this is Chong Ching Liang.

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The Big Picture - (Changi Prison) - Part 1/3

(Duration: 04’30.3)

Changi Prison.

Is it an icon of wartime human inspiration, or is it merely a place of incarceration?

Hi, I’m Chong Ching Liang with the Big Picture.

This week, we take a look at the whole business of preserving our nation’s memories through buildings.

The old Changi Prison, which has stood since 1937, will be torn down and resurrected in 2008 in an entirely different form.

Local media had not specifically covered the demolition of Changi Prison building.

They used soft words like “redevelopment.”

Only a foreign newspaper used the phrase “will be torn down.” The South China Morning Post suggests:

Few will be sad to see the old prison go.

The lack of coverage in the demolition of Changi Prison suggests that Hong Kong paper may be correct in saying that Changi Prison does not figure very much in our national psyche.

It is not simply enough to say a building is old or unique and therefore it should be preserved.

Eminent local architect, William Lim, assessed Changi Prison as a potential historic building.

I think the first thing to clear is there important architecture merit in this building. The answer is very neutral. I am sure most architects, art historians will agree this is not a great building however it is a big building. It has impact on the landscape. Not many prison of this scale has been done in this part of the world. So from that point of view when we look at it, when you say important buildings, sometimes the building itself need not have great architectural merit. For example is Fullerton Building or the Supreme Court have great architectural merit. I mean, I don’t think anybody even wants to debate that, but the fact that they are there and have important functions, therefore they should be preserved.

However, setting the criteria to preserve or to demolish a building is a difficult task.

It’s very difficult issue what you should preserve and the criteria of assessing that because at this moment we have the Monument Board. Monument Board lists building of architectural, historical merit for preservation. Maybe the authorities should consider expanding the terms of reference to also look into places and buildings where memories, collective memories are important.

A prison may be a building where we locked away our prisoners but some will say that a prison with a so-called “bad memory” also has a place in our historical memory.

I think the issue of memory is very complicated. You can have a memory of a particular group of people or community, or a larger historical perspective. One can talk about, for example, a massacre, an event which is quite unpleasant, a riot, etc. Those events are also a collective memory of the nation

Thus, for a place like Changi Prison, where it has more meaning for the Allied POWs than for Singaporeans, the question of whether should it be considered an historic site becomes problematic.

This is because the fact that it is an old building with unique architecture in this region does not necessarily render is as an historic site.

We must attach meaning and national memory to it and make a social choice to accord it an historical site status.

Historian Kwa Chong Guan tells us more.

The case of whether we preserve Changi Prison as a historical monument would very much depend on the kind of history we want to read into it. The architecture merit will follow whatever historical significance you want to read into it. So, for example, a number of other societies and countries have decided that their prisons are worth preserving because they see it as part of their history. Therefore we will have to make a similar decision on our part here.

However, Changi Prison is just one building.

Everyday around us, our landscape is changing dramatically because of the rapid progress in our land-scarce country.

The questions that come to mind are…how is the loss of historical places affecting us as a nation?

More importantly, is it affecting our national memory and our ties to the country?

To be sure, assigning a building or place to be an historical monument is not an easy task.

In the next segment, I shall look into how government bodies have been working to preserve buildings and places of historic importance…

For Newsradio 938, this is Chong Ching Liang.


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The Big Picture - (Changi Prison) - Intro

This three parter was first broadcasted on July of 2000. I had done this series in a bid to set the Singaporean public thinking about the impact of the forthcoming demolition of Changi Prison. Changi Prison is perhaps the only structure in Singapore that is a world historic icon. Many Allied POWs were interned there by the Japanese during World War 2.

Socially, it has many significance as well. A country social memory is the aggregate of its good and bad. One remembers the heroes but also villians. Perhaps, that's why the Alcatraz became such a tourist magnet. Changi Prison is also where a number of Singapore's politicians were imprisoned by the British colonial government.

This three parter on Changi Prison became my very first radio documentary when I first joined Newsradio 938 in the year 2000.


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Thursday, September 09, 2004


Hi everyone,

My name is
Chong Ching Liang. Getting rid of my tech-phobia and entering this strange new world of blogging maybe the best thing that happened to me this year. It is a step towards banishing the ghost of procrastination. I have been procrastinating for some time to put some of my old radio scripts on the web. From 2000 to 2004, I was a broadcast journalist with Newsradio 938. Newsradio 938 is the only news and talkshow based radio station in Singapore.

My main interest is the Singaporean society and I wrote a whole slew of radio features and documentaries on the various aspects of Singapore. You will find within this collection, many stories that focused on providing a greater understanding of what Singapore was like from a reporter's viewpoint. The stories ranges from loss of built heritage to SARS to multi-level marketing etc.

I am currently a lecturer at the
School of Inter-Disciplinary Studies at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic and I am still figuring out what is the best way to filter out the sounds of screaming jets from my flat in Boon Lay :c) .

Happy reading and cherish your comments on some of the issues that I have touched on about Singapore.


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