Mozzie menace during field trips

I don’t appear to get bitten by mosquitoes so wander most areas comfortably in shorts. However, I have field and teaching assistants with me who look like they have been mugged after accompanying me without an application of insect repellent. The forest areas, even the mangroves are fine, but when chatting at an urban site at the edge of a forest or prior to entering a field site, I have seen them grab their ankles when everything else is covered in proper field attire!

So I learnt to be alert to the vulnerability of others. Which is useful when you send loads of students (about 300 over two modules) to the field repeatedly. One of things I do is check for updates on the most common mosquito-borne viral diseases. Students (even the vulnerable ones) will forget to bring or apply repellent and get mauled by mosquitoes in the process. At the very least it means they can’t concentrate on the lesson but at the other end of the spectrum is having someone come down with a viral disease. Yes, best avoided.

Besides warning students about repellent application during the lecture, by email and just before we set out for a field trip (the TAs do the latter), I look at the NEA webpage to see if we need to escalate our warnings. It’s easy these days with It has all sorts of useful information and links to relevant, existing pages, e.g. see this about repellent. Only thing I wish it had was a link to the archives, so I have written in to ask.

This week the west appears clear. It’s a guide and not definitive, I must emphasise, but still useful:

Right now of course, there is also Chikungunya to be alert about. Even if their home may be a greater threat than anyplace we visit, monitoring all of this information is part of a standard procedure that helps me prepare for and hopefully avoid problems.

Four more down with chikungunya,” by Sujin Thomas. The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2008. [NEA press release, 19 Aug 2008]

A 62-YEAR-OLD housewife from Choa Chu Kang is among four new people confirmed to have caught chikungunya, officials said yesterday.

The new cases stretched from Kranji to Pasir Panjang, bringing the total number reported this year to 128, according to the Ministry of Health and National Environment Agency (NEA).

The most recent cases were in three areas – Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, Kranji Way and Sungei Kadut – that have been battling outbreaks of the dengue-like disease in recent weeks.

The woman in the latest case developed symptoms last Saturday and was hospitalised the same day. She tested positive on Monday for the virus, which causes fever, nausea and muscle aches. In rare cases it can be fatal.

This comes about a week after her 32-year-old daughter and 61-year-old husband also tested positive for the virus. Her daughter, who developed symptoms on Aug 8, has since recovered. Her husband remains in hospital.

The three had not travelled overseas recently and had stuck around their home and their workplace, the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.

Officers from the NEA have fanned out across the Pasir Panjang fruit and vegetable distribution centre and the surrounding area. So far, they have found and destroyed five mosquito-breeding sites.

In the Kranji Way cluster, a 34-year-old Indian national who works and lives at Kranji Crescent tested positive for the disease. Up to 70 NEA officers have been deployed in the area around Kranji Way, covering Kranji Loop, Kranji Road, Kranji Link and Sungei Kadut.

In the Sungei Kadut cluster, a 36-year-old Chinese national who works and lives at Sungei Kadut Street 1 and a 48-year-old Singaporean who works at Sungei Kadut Street 6 tested positive.

Yang Peiyi, China’s most famous playback singer

I was bemused by the news about China’s Politburo-sanctioned (or ordered) switch of a more attractive kid for the role of the serenading child performing “Hymm to the Motherland” (a patriotic ballad) to the billion-audience at the opening of the Beijing Olympics.

The news reports were rabid of course since controversy sells. What struck me was the fact that the “show’s musical designer [Chen Qigang] felt forced to set the record straight … in an interview with Beijing radio.” (Telegraph, 12 Aug 2008).

Wow, really? Really appreciates talent, he does.

Americans like Jon Stewart are wondering what the fuss is about – apparently this is staple at major events like the Super Bowl.

Mind you, this is beyond lip-synching – not only was the singer not singing live (even if the kid thought she was, in this case), it wasn’t her voice. This setup sounded vaguely familiar until it dawned just now – Indian movies! Playback singers have been a staple in movies from the subcontinent for decades. The actual singers are well known to the adoring masses who enjoy the collusion of eye candy backed by heavenly tones. Just like fans of professional wrestling, they are happy to believe. There is enough reality in life.

The funny bits then were the indignant journalists (“why didn’t you tell us”) and the IOC officer’s defense using a poorly applied athletic analogy. Luckily there actually was sporting action to distract us. And I’ve learnt to cycle with my knees pointed inwards since!

April’s article on Mr Harry Tan

Biology graduate April Chong, now in The Straits Times, joined us at the wake yesterday to pen a remembrance for Mr Harry Tan. We’re hoping the news will reach more old boys now.

The Straits Times is sporting a new look and subscription is free for two weeks now so the link is available to all: Link

“Tough principal had a soft side,” by April Chong. The Straits Times, 08 Aug 2008.

MR HARRY Tan was a throwback principal. He was a strict disciplinarian who pulled schools up by their bootstraps.

But the 67-year-old, who died on Wednesday from stomach cancer, had a softer side, teaching maths – to some of his weakest charges.

It was that passion, along with his brilliance as a teacher, that colleagues and former students remembered most yesterday.

‘He wanted to value-add to those who didn’t give two hoots about (maths) and he chose to spend time with the weakest,’ said Mr Noel Tan, a 38-year-old former student who is now a director of a consulting firm.

Mr Tan spent more than 35 years in education, including 18 as principal of St Andrew’s Secondary School, his alma mater, and three at Whitley Secondary.

His father died when he was young and his mother had to raise five children single-handedly. But that did not stop him from doing well as a student. He went to university on a teaching scholarship, and later became a maths teacher in schools such as Raffles Institution.

But his support and encouragement went beyond the academic; he helped turn St Andrew’s into a powerhouse in rugby and band.

Mr Tan even devoted time to sports that were not very popular. He used to quip that St Andrew’s was the best swimming school without a pool, said former student N.Sivasothi, a 42-year-old biology lecturer.

While he was usually staid, Mr Tan sometimes let slip his softer side.

Former student Yew Chee Chien, a 42-year-old airport emergency officer, caught a rare glimpse of that years ago. When he ran into the principal in a supermarket with his brother and father, Mr Tan told his dad: ‘Those are good boys. Take good care of them.’

While he had his career to take care of, Mr Tan never forgot to give time to the Boys’ Brigade, of which he had been a member since his school days, and turned to a long-time Boys’ Brigade buddy last week when he sensed the end was near.

Building contractor Ong Keng Tian, who has known Mr Tan for more than 50 years, said at his wake: ‘Last week, he called me to help make funeral arrangements. Even now, when I talk about him, I want to cry.’

No matter how busy he was, Mr Tan always made time for his family, taking them out for meals and on holidays, said his wife, Mrs Tan Hoon Hwee, 62.

He died in his sleep on Wednesday afternoon in hospital, leaving behind two sons, aged 29 and 34.

His funeral tomorrow at the Church of the Ascension (St Andrew’s Village) will be attended by more than 200 students from the Boys’ Brigade, school band and prefectorial board from St Andrew’s Secondary School.