Archive for August, 2007

Letter Rejected By ST Forum

Update: This letter has been published, slightly edited, in Today.

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to the report “Esplanade reaches out to young” (ST Aug 16) on reasonably priced arts events targetted at toddlers and students. While the Esplanade should be commended for these contributions to the arts education of youths, they are not as helpful on another important front of arts education. One of the most important ways in which youths become interested in the arts is by watching artistic performances. One particularly inspiring performance has the power to seed an interest that lasts for life, while ten uninspiring performances may simply lead the audience to think that the art form concerned is overrated. Therefore, if we are sincere about wanting to educate the young about art, it is insufficient to ensure that there exist some events, of however low quality, that students can afford to attend. World-class performances are much more likely to show students the true potentiality of art, and hence inspire them to pursue it further. At the top of the list of experiences that got me hooked to classical music are a couple of mind-blowing performances by foreign orchestras at the Esplanade that took place about four years ago. Then, one could attend those concerts for about $30. If I was a student today, however, I would not be able to afford the tickets for performances by foreign artistes at the Esplanade this year. The cheapest tickets for all of the Russian National Orchestra’s non-gala performances and Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s solo recital cost $58. Lang Lang’s piano recital has a minimum ticket price of $68, as does the Soweto Gospel Choir’s concert. The cheapest student tickets available for the Wiener Staatsoper’s concertante performance of Le Nozze di Figaro cost $40.

But surely an organisation that claims to promote arts education must provide affordable opportunities for poor students to attend potentially life-changing artistic events. It is probably no coincidence that artistically thriving cities offer extremely cheap student tickets for performances by both visiting and resident artistes. For a more robust analogy to the Esplanade’s pricing for foreign acts, I looked up the ticket prices for performances by visiting artistes at various major artistic centres. At the Barbican in London, you can watch Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra for £9, less than half the $58 the Esplanade is demanding for Hvorostovsky’s recital here. At the Royal Festival Hall, you can watch, amongst others, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for £5.50 each if you are a student. The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam offers last minute seats for EUR7.50 to people under 27 years of age, regardless of who is performing. Carnegie Hall in New York City and Orchestra Hall in Chicago offer US$10 student tickets for all non-gala events. At Vienna’s Staatsoper and Musikverein, you can get standing tickets for EUR3.50. If these venues can provide such concessions to students for visiting acts, why can’t the Esplanade?


The Old Holland Road

On Friday evening I had to bike from Buona Vista to Bukit Batok. It turned out to be a gem of a commute. Yeah, Holland Road, Bukit Timah Road and Jalan Jurong Kechil aren’t much to write home about, but I cut through the old Holland Road area to get from the new Holland Road to Bukit Timah Road, and it was absolutely lovely. Greenleaf Road is undulating but not unduly steep, and the old Holland Road is on the edge of a huge (by Singaporean standards) unmanicured field, with no visible fauna on it save one or two people walking their dogs. The long (though slight) uphill grade on one stretch was physically taxing but the scenery more than made up for it. I suppose in a few years the whole damn area will be torn up for a new condo. You know how it goes. But while it’s still uninhabited, I would certainly ride that road again just for fun. Tomorrow would be a good time to do so — I gotta get my ass to Chestnut Drive, so old Holland Road will be right on the way there.

Up Chestnut Drive tomorrow, on a 46×17 fixed gear — my thighs tremble at the thought.

A Watershed in Bike Commuting?

For me, that is. This week I was able to commute only twice due to weather and scheduling concerns. I was itching to commute on Wednesday and Thursday, and positively delighted to get on my bike Friday morning. Enjoyed the commute too, hardly cursing the lack of bike friendly drivers and infrastructure. Taking public transport seems like such a waste of time in comparison.

I took Coronation Road instead of Cluny Rd today, just for a change, and didn’t even particularly dread the climb over the ridge* the way I used to do when I was more demoralised by the commute. Except for the part passing NYPS it’s a pretty good route, less steep than Cluny Rd too. And if I’m early enough filtering to turn right into Buona Vista Rd from Holland Rd is quite possible. The NYPS section can be bypassed by taking Princess of Wales Rd in instead, although I’d still have to deal with the big luxury cars cutting in in front of me to turn left into Coronation Rd. But flat, straight Bukit Timah Road was a nice change from the slightly snaking and definitely hilly Holland Road.

*I would probably have never discovered that there is a continuous ridge between Holland Rd and Bukit Timah Rd if I’d never started commuting by bicycle. You don’t notice small slopes in a car; but they add up all too obviously when you have to pedal yourselves over them. My mother has never noticed that there was a steep slope on Cluny Rd near the entrance opposite Nassim Rd; but for me it is the most dreaded part of my usual commute. And there is no way around it. You have to cross a ridge if you want to get from Bukit Timah Road to Holland Rd, stretching from at least the slope from Stevens Rd towards Newton Rd to Clementi Road (I’m not familiar with the terrain farther west than that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the ridge continues further). I myself had been to 6th Ave several times but had never noticed that it has a huge bump in the middle of it, steeper than Coronation Road, probably because 6th Ave takes a shorter trajectory over the ridge.

We’re Not Always Groups

One of the reactions to my suggestion that we begin a Critical Mass in Singapore was that it would constitute illegal assembly. I retorted that there was no reason why the ride should be regarded as any sort of organised assembly; in fact, many Critical Mass participants in Chicago were adamant that they never be viewed as part of any organisation. They were just individuals who liked to bike, and who especially liked to bike on the last Friday of every month, beginning at 5.30pm from Daley Plaza. You would not find any single socio-political opinion that all of the participants held. Enjoying riding your bike on the last Friday of every month is not a socio-political opinion.

It is therefore a little heartening to read that the Pink Run was allowed to proceed after it was re-labelled as a group of individuals. Now if only people would stop saying that “it will never happen because our culture is such-and-such, so I don’t think you should even try”. Critical Mass depends on individuals like you turning up, dudes. Your justification for not turning up is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I last tried to lure participants for a Singapore Critical Mass just two months ago, so I think I’ll wait a little longer before waving my pathetic flag on again. If anyone knows of a better way to spread the awareness of at least the possibility of Critical Mass, do let me know.

Things That Make Me Feel Better About Cycling in Sg, Part n

A columnist at Gristmill:

A partial rundown of my own misadventures in bicycle-motorist interactions include being run off the road thrice (Loveland, Colo.; Durango, Colo.; and Skokomish Indian Reservation on Hwy 101, Wash.), hit by cars twice (Seattle, Wash., both times), and had the following items tossed at me from moving vehicles:

* pop bottles (five different times — a favorite of younger kids)
* part-full glass beer bottles (missed both times)
* empty vodka bottle (hit)
* all kinds of trash, including one fast-food bag set aflame
* one full-sized fireplace log

Honking: A Guide

Fair Use
The car horn is a rather jarring and unpleasant sound. Not the kind of thing you want ringing your ears every so often. But it does have its uses. For example, if the car in front of your vehicle is slipping backwards on an incline due to improper application of brakes, and looks like it’ll hit your vehicle soon if you don’t take action, then lean on your horn to alert the driver of said car to the situation. Fair use of the horn, in my book. If someone is trying to cut dangerously into your path and you think you can’t brake fast enough to avoid colliding with him if he actually does cut in, then honk at him to try to alert him to the danger of the situation. In short, any use of the horn in which you are alerting another road user of an impending collision is fair use.

What the Horn Is Not
It is not an outlet with which you vent negative emotions like frustration, anger, impatience, annoyance, etc. Leaning on your horn because you are annoyed about being stuck in a traffic jam will not resolve matters. Everyone in the jam is annoyed by the traffic jam. No one is creating or exacerbating the jam on purpose. Your leaning on your horn during the jam is not going to cause anyone to stop jam-exacerbating behaviour. Honking at road users whom you are annoyed with does not help either. As I said, the car honk is a rather jarring sound. It does cause people to literally jump in their seats if deployed at close quarters. So if you are passing another road user at close quarters, and you are annoyed with that person for some reason, and wish to transmit that annoyance by honking as you pass that person, you may risk causing an accident. For road users that jump in their seats temporarily lose concentration and control of their vehicle. You don’t want your shiny paint to be scratched by a pathetic bicycle, do you? Then don’t make cyclists jump by honking as you pass them. The horn is an instrument to alert other road users of imminent danger that could be avoided. It is not an instrument with which you use to create otherwise non-existent dangers. From this, you may also infer that honking at cyclists because you don’t have enough room to pass them even though they are already as close to the curb as is safe is not fair use of the horn. This may be hard to believe, but cycling close to the curb requires concentration. If you honk at them when they are already doing so, they are likely to momentarily jerk a little away from the curb, simply out of sheer shock. This will not help you to pass them. It may cause them to crash into you if you’re already breathing down their necks. Guess what. We expect to be passed. If you think you can pass, then pass, and pass quietly. If you think you can’t pass, wait quietly. Honking when we’re already fully compliant about keeping left is equivalent (and perhaps this is the intended meaning) to you yelling “get on the sidewalk!” to us.

I apologise for inadvertently switching pronouns mid-paragraph again.

Imbecility and Skill

My commute was 10 mins shorter today, and at first I was happy at the thought that I was actually getting fitter. But on further thought, I realised it was probably because I was lucky with the traffic lights today. Remember waiting for a significant amount of time at only six junctions. Somehow that ten minutes seems to make a big difference (even though it would only be spent waiting otherwise): I feel significantly more perky than I would after a normal 1-hour commute.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but I am beginning to observe a correlation between the cycling skill of cyclists and the imbecility of their behaviour on the road. By imbecility, I don’t mean clumsy mistakes that they make due to their lack of cycling skills. I mean completely avoidable, deliberate floutings of traffic rules or engagement in risky behaviour. I had mentioned recently the boys who meandered the wrong way down Yio Chu Kang Road without lights, even jumping from the pavement onto the road before a busy left turn. Today, I passed an astonishing three cyclists along Thomson Rd (usually I see none; at most one). The first was a complete imbecile. I was stopped at a red light, with cars from the perpendicular road turning left or right. I had planned to run the red light once all the cars in the queue had finished turning. I heard a furious ringing of a bell from the back, and this imbecile, cycling quite slowly, came up from behind and just rode through the junction brazenly, cutting in front of a car that was about to turn. Dear Imbecile, what makes you think the drivers in their sealed metal boxes can hear your bell at all? Furthermore, even if they could hear your bell, they have the right of way when their light is green.

Near the Thomson Sec. School area there was what seemed to be fog. I muttered something to myself about the oddness of seeing fog in Singapore, before I entered it and realised that it was fumes meant to kill mosquitoes. Oh great. Can’t be too healthy to gulp large volumes of those in. That was probably why the roadie I passed in that section was going so slowly. Probably trying to minimise gulping. Then again, you have the same dilemma as with getting caught in rain: do you run for shelter and hence run into more raindrops, or do you go slowly but let more raindrops fall on you because you spend a longer time in the rain? I went for the former strategy.

The third cyclist was your typical foreign worker on a badly maintained, unlit mountain bike with a seat that is way too low for efficient cycling. Usually they stick to the sidewalks, but this bugger was on the road, and, as with most cyclists on mountain bikes with too-low seats, was not doing a very good job of cycling in a straight line (or perhaps was not even trying). He made a mistake that perhaps is not an obvious mistake to novice commuters: sticking to the left side of the road so religiously that you even enter the bus bays and emerge from them the way a bus would. This is a mistake because the point of emergence is dangerous. Cars expect to see buses emerging, not cyclists. And they simply won’t see you if you’re unlit. Better to just continue cycling on the left edge of the lane; at least you keep in sight, trace out a predictable trajectory, and avoid surprising drivers with your emergence.

Final example of imbecility on the part of incompetent cyclists: cutting in front of drivers when coming off sidewalks to cross an intersection. Guess what. Drivers don’t expect to see cyclists coming off sidewalks into their paths, full stop. They have some greater expectation of slower-moving objects, known as pedestrians, coming off sidewalks. But even those they expect to give way to the cars. So you’re actually risking your life a lot more riding across an intersection after coming off a sidewalk than you are riding across it on the road itself. For drivers are looking at the roads they want to turn into.