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    SINGAPORE - A sea of yellow and orange bicycles in Singapore's public spaces shows how quickly the city-state has embraced the shared-bike culture since major operators such as Chinese firms Ofo and Mobike first rode in a year ago.

    Bulgarian piano teacher Zhivko Girginov, who has lived on the island for nine years, has not been impressed by the broken bicycles he has encountered abandoned by roads and footpaths.

    "My friends complained there were damaged bikes scattered everywhere and there was nothing that can be done," he said.

    "But I did not agree." The 32-year-old decided to take matters into his own hands, pulling together a team of like-minded individuals to round up and return the bikes to the warehouses of the respective companies.

    Started in September, Girginov's Volunteer Bike Patrol initiative has taken off, collecting over 400 damaged bikes in about seven trips.

    The group gathers the broken bicycles in one neighbourhood, moving them to a central location. Girginov then rents a lorry for $150 a trip to pick up and carry the bikes back.

    Girginov has funded the effort until now, but expansion might prompt him to consider crowd-funding or seek sponsors, he said.

    Singapore's three main shared-bicycle operators, Ofo, Mobike and domestic firm oBike, appreciate his work.

    "We're talking to Zhivko about how we can work together to build an even stronger bike-sharing environment," said Sharon Meng, country manager of Mobike Singapore, adding that Mobike has given Girginov an unlimited usage pass to help him retrieve its bikes.

    Singapore has sought to discourage indiscriminate bicycle parking in public spaces. In 2017, the Land Transport Authority marked out 4,000 additional yellow bike parking areas around public housing estates, bus stops and train stations.

    The initiative is one of many similar projects Giriginov has embarked on, and he considers the time and money well-spent.

    In his opinion, such "social experiments" provoke people to consider how they can make an individual contribution to society.

    "Some of my friends tell me my efforts are futile," he said, after devoting New Year's Day to a bike retrieval expedition.

    "But I believe we are part of a community and we should do what we can."

    Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 15:34

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    Within the past year, Rebecca* has developed crushes on a lawyer, a cafe owner, and a freelance writer.

    They shared interests and talked about "normal things" like feeling miserable after watching La La Land and discovering that a particular nasi lemak restaurant which initially seemed overpriced turned out to serve good food.

    But Rebecca holds back.

    After all, these are her clients, whom she met in her line of work as a social escort, not men she crossed paths with queuing for Starbucks or in a bookshop.

    "Playing the part of a loving, fun girlfriend is not hard, but during times like these - it becomes a little too easy. I don't act on my crushes because I like to remain professional, but can I really control who I develop a crush on?" shares Rebecca.

    The first time it happened, she wondered why they had to meet this way.

    Quit and live happily ever after a la Pretty Women you might think, but Rebecca points out that privacy and trust are core issues.

    "Pursuing this vocation comes with dealing with the stigma that comes with it. Protecting my identity is the most important thing to me. What if we have an ugly breakup and the ex-client threatens to expose my real identity to everyone? Conversely, it would also be extremely unfair to date a client in a purely non-work context but for him to never get to know my real name or meet any of my friends."

    In reality, Rebecca is 21 this year, a university student pursuing a bachelor's degree.

    "I felt that I wanted some excitement in my life, and as an escape from strict conservative parents, where I could relax and let go," says Rebecca.

    An eye-opening experience, it allows getting pampered and experiencing new things that would normally be out of reach for her.

    Personal details aside (think: real name, home address, and university), she is as real as it gets - "I don't like being fake, in the sense that I share things about my perspective and my opinions on things, which don't change."

    Initially a sugar baby, she realised that the boundaries weren't as easily enforced and asserted throughout.

    "I very quickly realised that it was too much for too little. The sugar daddy had several emotional issues that he could not work out on his own and projected them all on me."

    As someone who is very clear and upfront about what she loves, enjoys, dislikes, and hates, the escort life better suited her.

    She treats it as a brand, posting both professionally taken and candid photos of herself on her website (using Tumblr when she first started out before moving to a proper website host) and social media account.

    Rebecca could have as many as eight requests per week.

    Pre-screening names, birth dates, and occupations aside, she's a firm believer of trusting intuition, especially her own because her gut instinct has never failed her.

    "I think my biggest indicator is how clients approach me over email. Tip-top etiquette goes a long way."

    Her clients mostly consist of professionals with mid to top level positions. With a regular client whom she meets whenever he is visiting Singapore for instance, it's a mix of dining at fine dining establishments and/or couples spa sessions.

    Her most peculiar request to date?

    "A client booked me as one of his final wishes was to see me before he passed on. He felt that something about my website and the way I carried myself professionally resonated with him. We went out for dinner and he just wanted me to listen to his life story. It was all super touching and way more emotional than I expected it to be as I was struggling to hold back my tears by the time it was time for me to go. The moment I got home, I bawled my eyes out. Maybe I was mourning," she says.

    "Being a social escort has done wonders for my confidence. It's my way of letting my hair down," says Rebecca.

    It helped her realise that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and she doesn't have to consciously think or behave a certain way just to seem more "ideal".

    Not to mention it has been great for her finances. With some prudent planning, she found herself with a very decent amount of savings.

    "It's improved my life in the sense that I now have some sort of focus - by having a full life, it forces me to prioritise to do the things that I really want and need to do in order to achieve my goals."

    But her double life has meant missing out on friends' and relatives' birthdays, shopping dates and countless dinners.

    Rebecca lives with her parents but they're in the dark about her double life.

    "My family is pretty conservative, and I attended prestigious schools my whole life. I suppose it mostly has to do with maintaining one's personal reputation amongst peers and maintaining my family's reputation. I've also not thought it necessary to share this at all, considering that I'm just trying to lead a private life, creating my own private space where only I can access, like special memories that I'll hold onto when I'm older," she explains.

    "On a darker note, the societal stigma against my profession means that people automatically believe I'm unworthy of basic human respect."

    Adventurous and business-savvy as she is, Rebecca is acutely aware of how people get ostracised from their family and friends.

    "I do not wish to subject myself to such treatment, be on the receiving end of violence."

    "The biggest challenge is convincing people that what I do is considered real and professional labour. It can be hard to see past the champagne, the Michelin stars, and pretty lingerie as a non-sex worker," says Rebecca.

    "People tell me all the time, 'damn! I've failed in life, I think I should just be an escort!' as if it's so easy."

    What they don't see is the months spent brainstorming on a brand identity, answering numerous emails, as well as the physical and emotional demands when it comes to managing one's time and money.

    Not to mention the amount of effort and money she spends on this - going for healthcare checks, investing in advertising, and personal grooming.

    In short, according to Rebecca, it takes a high level of adaptability to do it all, while maintaining professionalism on the job. Can't say that's everyone's cup of tea.

    *Rebecca is a moniker.

    This article was first published in Her World Online

    Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 19:30
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    Friday, January 12, 2018 - 09:32
    Temperature falls to 21.9 deg C in parts of Singapore on Thursday evening
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    A tourist from China got to know four new friends in Singapore while having bak kut teh and went with them to drink before going to a hotel swimming pool, where she subsequently drowned.

    The incident happened at Novotel Clarke Quay Singapore, on May 6, 2017, around 3.50am, reports Lianhe Wanbao.

    The death of the victim, Ms Fan Xiaojing, 23, was ruled a misadventure by the coroners on Oct 17.

    Ms Fan's mother arrived in Singapore on Monday (Jan 8) to retrieve her daughter's belongings, which included her daughter's itinerary that detailed her plans during her stay in Singapore.

    Sobbing as she spoke, Ms Chen Yan said that her daughter had reached Singapore on the night of May 4.

    Ms Fan was supposed to visit Universal Studios Singapore and Orchard Road on May 5, before having her dinner at a branch of Jumbo Seafood restaurant.

    Ms Fan's plan for May 6 included a tour around Little India and Sungei Road and lunch at Song Fa Bak Kut Teh restaurant.

    However, for reasons unknown, Ms Fan chose to visit Song Fa Bak Kut Teh restaurant on the night of May 5 instead.

    There she met four friends, including a Taiwanese fitness trainer, Mr Cai Zhongru, who later accompanied her to the hotel pool after their drinking session.

    The heartbroken mother lamented that if her daughter had not changed her schedule, she would not have gone drinking with these new friends, or lost her life.

    Investigations revealed that Ms Fan had drunk at least two bottles of spirits with the group and downed another pint of beer by herself.

    Ms Fan who was drunk at this point, was unsteady in her steps and had to lean on Mr Cai.

    She told him that she wanted to swim in the hotel's pool,

    When she reached the pool, she jumped in and even wandered to the deep end, measuring between 2.5m and 3.35m in depth.

    Ms Fan attempted to swim but later drowned.

    Ms Chen said that after Ms Fan died, her daughter's company expressed their condolences and gave the family $10,000.

    Unfortunately, Ms Fan did not purchase travel insurance, as it was regarded unlucky by local customs to buy insurance.

    After the incident, when Ms Chen's lawyer sought compensation from the hotel, a spokesman said that the hotel would await a verdict from the coroner first, before deciding on an outcome.

    When the hotel found out that Ms Fan had been drunk, any offer of compensation was off the table.

    Ms Chen said that Ms Fan was her only child, and she had always been an obedient and loving daughter.

    The pain of losing her was unbearable and Ms Chen has to depend on sleeping pills every night so she can rest.

    Friday, January 12, 2018 - 14:52

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    A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular was sentenced to 15 months jail for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

    The girl's parents had found Tan Yong Jin, 24, along their daughter in their flat.

    They were already dressed when the girl's parents had found them, reports The Straits Times.

    The teenager, who cannot be named, admitted to having taken part in sexual activities with him.

    Her mother then alerted the police.

    Officers then turned up at the flat to arrest him.

    Tan was sentenced yesterday (Jan 11) after pleading guilty to two counts of performing consensual sexual acts with the child, who was a Secondary 2 student at the time.

    The two had met on Facebook in 2016, where they became friends.

    Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong said he was aware that she was under 14.

    The pair stayed in contact after meeting for lunch later that month and began to exchange sexually charged messages.

    On Jan 8 last year at around 11am, the girl asked Tan to meet her at Clementi Mall. Two hours later, they went to a nearby cinema.

    After the movie at around 3.30pm. they took a bus to the girl's home in Jurong to have sex as her parents were out.

    DPP Chong said: "They were not in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Upon reaching her residence, the victim made a check to confirm her parents were not at home before leading the accused up to her residence. Inside her residence, she led the accused into her parents' bedroom."

    The SAF sergeant then had unprotected sexual intercourse with the girl and she also performed oral sex on him.

    District Judge Wong Li Tein said that Tan "should have known better".

    For each count of sexually penetrating the minor, Tan could have been jailed for up to 20 years and fined or caned.

    Saturday, January 13, 2018 - 17:52

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    SINGAPORE - Malaysia and Singa­pore will sign an agreement on the Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail track linking Johor Baru and Woodlands in Singapore which is expected to commence in 2024.

    The signing of the agreement tomorrow will be witnessed by the two prime ministers - Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Lee Hsien Loong - after their eighth annual retreat here.

    The RTS is another notch in connectivity links between Malaysia and its southern neighbour which will also see the High Speed Rail (HSR) between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore starting in 2026.

    The RTS, first announced after Najib and Lee's annual retreat in 2010, will integrate with public transport services in Johor Baru and Singapore. It was originally targeted to be operational by 2018.

    The RTS will connect Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru and the planned Woodlands North MRT station, which is part of the upcoming Thomson-East Coast (TEL) Line.

    Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk Zulkifli Adnan in a media briefing yesterday said while waiting for the rail link to start operations, there must be efforts to reduce the congestion at the Causeway.

    "We have seven more years to go, so what are we doing to address the present congestion?

    "Transport ministers of the two countries have been discussing the possible solutions, including increasing the Tebrau bus shuttle service from 26 trips to 31 each way and reviving ferry links," he said.

    Najib, who is arriving today, will be accompanied by seven Cabinet ministers including Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Rahman Dahlan.

    Zulkifli said a memorandum of understanding on educational co-operation will also be signed.

    The Prime Minister will pay a courtesy call on President Halimah Yacob who was sworn in as the eighth president last year.

    Lee and Najib will also launch the Marina One and Duo projects jointly developed by Khazanah Nasional Bhd and Temasek.

    The two projects are part of a land swap deal for KTMB land in Singapore, with Marina One in the Marina Bay area and Duo in Ophir-Rochor Road boasting of office space, retail shops and luxury apartments.

    Monday, January 15, 2018 - 10:38
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    SINGAPORE - The head of Singapore's central bank said on Monday he hoped the technologies underpinning cryptocurrencies such as blockchain would not be undermined by an eventual crash in the digital money.

    Singapore has been positioning itself as a hub for fintech - or financial technology - but has urged "extreme caution" about buying cryptocurrencies.

    "I do hope when the fever has gone away, when the crash has happened, it will not undermine the much deeper, and more meaningful technology associated with digital currencies and blockchain," said Ravi Menon, the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

    Menon added that he would not rule out the possibility of the MAS issuing a cryptocurrency directly to the public but that he was not sure it was a good idea.

    Monday, January 15, 2018 - 12:36

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    Residents of various HDB flats across Singapore have experienced cracking floor tiles over the last few days, with cases reported at Toa Payoh, Fernvale, and Woodlands.

    Stomp contributor Bala, who lives at Block 407B Fernvale Road, was watching television in his living room on Sunday (Jan 14) night when he started hearing a 'popping' sound coming from his floor.

    At first, he thought that the noise was coming from the unit below his.

    Concerned about the sound, he went down to warn his neighbour.

    As they were talking, the next-door resident overheard their conversation and told them that he too heard the 'popping' sounds and there was nothing to worry about.

    Bala then went back to his house but the sounds became increasingly louder.

    It went on for about three to four minutes, as the tiles on the floor started 'swelling', before cracking.

    Bala said : "My children were all panicking. They thought the whole ceiling was going to come down. I have never encountered this before."

    Bala contacted the Ang Mo Kio Town Council the following morning (Jan 15) and also called the estate manager who visited his unit to survey the damage.

    He added: "She (the estate manager) said that she will speak to a contractor about the tiles. She got workers to help us clear the broken tiles.

    "The broken tiles have sharp edges so they can be dangerous. In the meantime, there are parts of the floor which are bare."

    Stomp contributor Eve also encountered the same problem in her flat at Woodlands Drive 75.

    She told Stomp that she and her husband were talking to a neighbour about their cracked floor tiles on Sunday (Jan 14) afternoon.

    After the discussion, the couple headed back to their living room and started hearing a cracking sound.

    It lasted for about 10 to 15 minutes and became progressively louder.

    Eve said: "I was walking to the kitchen when the tiles ballooned and then burst.

    "The sounds were quite soft at first. We realised later it was the sound of the tiles getting detached from the floor."

    After the incident, Eve spoke to her neighbour and discovered that they were not the only ones affected.

    According to Eve, over 12 units in the area were affected and residents have since formed a WhatsApp group.

    Upon inspecting some discarded tiles from the units, they realised that some of the tiles had only been partially glued.

    Said Eve: "We have arranged to meet the MP (Member of Parliament) tonight. Most of the residents here are second-hand owners, so we don't know when the warranty will end.

    "All these could be due to poor workmanship.

    "My house's tiles were done through an HDB-approved contractor."

    Stomp contributor Shui also took pictures of a pile of shattered tiles at the corridor of his block in Toa Payoh.

    Shui said: "Tiles falling apart! Please be careful."

    Stomp has contacted the relevant authorities for more details on the incidents.

    Monday, January 15, 2018 - 13:09

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    SINGAPORE - A Singapore court on Monday filed additional charges against nine men accused in a large-scale oil theft at Shell's biggest refinery, the latest development in an extensive investigation in the city-state.

    The nine Singaporean men, eight of whom were employees of the Singapore subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, faced initial charges in court last week alongside two Vietnamese nationals, who are due at court on Tuesday.

    At least one additional charge was brought against each of the Singaporean men on Monday, court documents showed.

    Charges against three other men on Saturday accused people at Sentek Marine & Trading Ptem, one of Singapore's biggest marine fuel suppliers, of participating in the scheme, which involves incidents going back months.

    The public prosecutor, Stephanie Chew, said on Monday the three men charged on Saturday were not part of an initial 17 the police arrested early last week, bringing the total number of known arrests in relation to the case to 20. Chew would not comment on the remaining six arrested who are yet to be charged.

    The Singapore subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Plc first contacted the authorities in August 2017 about theft at its Pulau Bukom industrial site, just south of the country's main island.

    Police have seized millions of dollars in cash and a small tanker in the sting operation involving simultaneous raids across Singapore, one of the world's most important oil trading centres and a major refinery hub.

    Experts say illicit oil trading is widespread in Southeast Asia, where stolen fuel is sold across the region, often offloaded directly into trucks or tanks at small harbours away from oil terminals.

    This is the second high-profile case of wrongdoing at companies in Singapore to hit headlines in recent weeks. In December, Keppel Corporation Ltd's KPLM.SI rig-building business agreed to pay more than $422 million to resolve charges it had bribed Brazilian officials.

    Monday, January 15, 2018 - 15:04
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    A total of eight women were arrested during a six-hour joint enforcement operation by the police and Central Narcotics Bureau last Thursday (Jan 11) at three entertainment outlets at Cuppage Plaza.

    During the operation, three women were arrested for appearing nude in a public place. According to Stomp, the women were found naked at entertainment outlets in Cuppage Plaza. Out of the three, two were also arrested for employment and immigration related offences. 

    In addition, five women were arrested for suspected drug-related offences. Three public entertainment outlets were also found to have breached the Public Entertainment Licensing conditions.

    Investigations against the suspects are ongoing, said the police.

    a1admin@sph.com.sg

    Monday, January 15, 2018 - 16:36

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