National Gallery

The Singapore arts scene seems to be breathing in life again, gradually getting in sync with the bustling economic growth this city state is well-known for. The opening of the newly refurbished National Gallery – a building reincarnated of the historic Supreme Court and City Hall buildings – adds some pizzazz to City Hall’s landscape of austere-looking State Courts and other functional buildings like malls, hotels and churches.

Most big cities have monumental museums boasting intricate and elaborate architecture to be valued as national treasures, such as the Louvre in France or the Smithsonian in the States. Ours is humble in comparison, but it’s a good first venture into housing Southeast Asian- and Singapore-themed visual art. Each museum stands out for its individuality. For example, you can find artifacts associated with the French Revolution or their history at the Louvre, but not an ancient statue of Buddha with Southeast Asian origins. There is wisdom in delving into a niche, no other country has explored in-depth, which is Southeast Asian- and Singapore- themed visual art. Moreover, being in the heart of ASEAN, Singapore has the weight to steer her in this direction. Kudos to the people who envisioned this gallery a decade ago. To commemorate its opening, the National Gallery opened its doors to all for free from 25 Nov – 6 Dec 2015.

I managed to drop by yesterday afternoon after a downpour with the intention of avoiding crowds. As always, Singaporeans and free things have an inseparable affinity. I had forgotten too soon floodgates of people during the free-entry period for local attractions for the SG50 celebrations. The place was relatively packed, with schoolkids and families in tow, the elderly as well. I also saw Catherine Lim and Low Kay Hwa browsing around the exhibits.

Here are some of the pieces that caught my eye.

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Education of the next generation during the post-war years
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This is a 6-foot long rectangular box propped up standing, with the Malaysian Crest draped over its surface.

 

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A giant tower of bak chor mee bowls – something all Singaporeans identify

 

And some other shots of the general layout inside the building.

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The entrance
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HTHT space
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One of the exhibition halls.
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Mesmerized crowds.
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The link bridge conjoining the originally 2 separate buildings into one.
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The venue LKY had his first cabinet sworn in.
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Posh hallway reminiscent of a scene in some Ivy League.

 

 

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Shampoo Analysis

What goes into an everyday and innocuous product like shampoo? What comes in contact with the scalp at every wash could potentially affect your health, so alternatives to off-the-shelve brands should be considered.

Harmful Chemicals

1. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a harsh detergent. SLES is frequently contaminated by a carcinogen called 1,4 dioxane, which is a manufacturing process by-product.

2.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a detergent that causes foaming lather.

Both SLES and SLS are surfactants in commercial shampoo. Sulphates strip off the hair’s natural protection, like essential oils, and causes dullness and brittleness, especially in coloured hair.

3. Sodium Chloride (table salt)  is a thickening agent. When used in combination with SLS, a dry and itchy scalp can result, as well as hair loss.

4. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) are ammonia compounds used as foaming agents. Though found in small concentrations in shampoo, it is useful to note that the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for these substances state that contact with the skin can produce chemical burns and may cause inflammation. Prolonged exposure can result in liver, kidney or nervous system injury. Scalp irritation and dry hair may result.

5. Parabens are preservatives to prevent microbial growth, prolonging the shelf-life of shampoo. Chemicals like methylparaben and propylparaben are known to be toxic. The US FDA has limited the usage or parabens in cosemetics up to 25% of the product. A study published in 2004 (Darbre, in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) detected parabens in breast tumors. The estrogen-like properties of parabens could cause breast cancer as estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer.

6. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and a preservative in some shampoos.  It destroys the scalp’s natural protective oils. Frequent or prolonged skin contact with formaldehyde solutions can cause dryness, cracking, and skin rash. On a side-note, this chemical is used for embalming bodies.

7. Synthetic Fragrance or Parfum are formulated in a commercial lab and mass produced. A fragrance essence could contain as much as 3000 chemicals. The synthetic material may not be skin-compatible and could cause scalp irritation.

8. Synthetic Colors are used widely in hair-care products for aesthetic purposes. Color pigments may cause skin sensitivity along with scalp irritation.

9. Mineral Oil supposedly acts as a conditioner for ethnic hair, but it offers no real moisturizing benefits. It weighs the hair down and prevents the natural oils produced by the scalp from being absorbed by the hair shaft.

In view of the chemicals discussed earlier, here are some of the ingredient lists of various off-the-shelve shampoo brands:

Pantene

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The first 3 listed chemicals: SLS, SLES, and Sodium Chloride

Surprisingly, the marketing team for Pantene listed SLS, SLES and NaCl (Sodium Chloride) as the first 3 chemicals, instantly violating the no-no list above. An informed consumer would have picked up those terms and reconsidered his/her purchase.

Dove

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SLS, SLES, Sodium Chloride, TEA, Perfume

Dove shampoo did not fare too well either. Some 5 of the listed chemicals were found in its ingredient list. Chemical jargon aside, the bottom line is, these chemicals have a molecular size small enough to get into our skin and scalp, resulting in health issues with prolonged use. The analysis on salon-stocked shampoo yielded more promising results, in terms of the absence of harmful chemicals, such as this brand:

Aliparf

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All kosher ingredients:)

Aliparf is a shampoo and hair product range from the salon I frequent. It is free from sulphates, paraffins, mineral oils, colorings  and allergens, and has none of the unsafe ingredients mentioned above. Every salon has their own line of hair products, so it would be advisable to check with your hairstylist on what’s best for you.

Also, 100% PURE® is an American brand that bridges the gap in the off-the-shelve shampoo market by providing 100% natural bath (shampoo) and body products. Completely free of all harmful toxins, 100% PURE® is 100% natural and 100% cruelty-free. All products are completely free of artificial colors, fragrances, synthetic chemical preservatives and all other toxins. Despite their shorter shelve-life, their products are very much in demand due to the long-term health benefits. Consumers include cancer patients who are allergic to synthetic chemicals due to chemotherapy treatment. Some of the interesting shampoo scents include Honey and Virgin Coconut Shampoo and Kelp and Mint Voluminous Shampoo:

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Honey and Virgin Coconut Shampoo
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Kelp and Mint Voluminous Shampoo

In Singapore, their products are not commercially available in pharmacies or supermarkets, but they can be bought online and shipped to any stated address, or bought from the licensed vendor at this address: 2 Kallang Pudding Road #09-06 Mactech Bldg Singapore 349307. More information can be found at their website :

http://100percentpure.com.sg/index.php?route=common/home

Alternatively, you could make your own shampoo if have the luxury of time and love concocting one-of-a-kind creations and relishing the fruit of your handiwork. Besides avoiding all harmful chemicals, you have the freedom of customizing the formulation according to your needs or preferences.

DIY Basic Shampoo Recipe

  1. Half cup distilled water
  2. Half cup of liquid castille soap (unscented)
  3. 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
  4. Mix the above in a bottle, and shake before using
  5. For dry hair, add an additional half cup of aloe vera gel + 2 tablespoons of glycerin

DIY Shampoo for thicker hair

  1. 1 cup castille soap
  2. 1 cup of distilled water
  3. 6 chamomile teabags
  4.  One and half tablespoons of glycerin
  5. 1 lemon

Boil the distilled water and add the 6 teabags in. Top up the mixture back to the volume of one cup. Add the castille soap, lemon juice and glycerin and shake before use.

DIY Shampoo for lustrous hair

  1. 1/4 cup distilled water
  2. 1/4 cup of liquid lemon castille soap
  3. 2 tablespoons of dried rosemary
  4. 2 tablespoons of sweet almond oil
  5. 1/4 teaspoons of lemon essential oil

Boil the distilled water and let the rosemary leaves steep for 4-5 minutes. Add the remaining above ingredients and shake well to use.

Video for DIY Shampoo (Credits : Mother Earth Living)

In all the DIY recipes, castille soap is the surfactant used, in contrast to commercial ones that use sulphates, as mentioned earlier. Unlike commercial shampoos, it is safe for all hair types and does not strip away the hair’s natural oils. And yes, they clean the hair satisfactorily, making all those chemicals listed above unnecessary and avoidable.

The Haze and PSI

Another spate of deaths to ponder on. It’s unthinkable that 19 people in Indonesia have lost their lives due to the haze. For PSI levels to soar all the way to 2000, suffocation is probably imaginable. Here in Singapore, a PSI of 300 could mobilize mass-closure of schools, sending parents scrambling for urgent makeshift childcare arrangements on breaking news as such. People who run outdoors on a regular basis have to scale back on outdoor activities. For three months the country was shrouded by a choking smog blanket, while the mask-manufacturing companies were making a quick buck cashing in on the public anxiety over the PM 2.5 particles.

PM 2.5 sized particles are the main culprit in a haze, as they breach the respiratory tract’s natural defenses, penetrating deeply into the alveoli of the lungs and possibly entering the bloodstream. These particulates can enter air-conditioned buildings through the fresh air intake and by infiltration through openings and gaps. These particulate levels indoor can accumulate to unhealthy levels, resulting in undesirable health effects on the occupants. Therefore staying indoors or working out in a gym is not a complete respite from the air outside. The brunt of the haze is borne by people with existing health conditions, such as asthma or pre-existing chronic heart diseases.

The PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) measures air quality and determines the severity of a smoke haze. It takes into account the concentration levels of 6 pollutants listed below, with the spotlight on particulate matter (PM2.5).

  • Particulate matter (PM10)
  • Particulate matter (PM5)
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Ozone (O3),
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)

I was fortunate to have been overseas for two weeks to avoid the start of the haze. This picture looks misty and somewhat blurry because I was caught up in the clouds near the peak of some snow mountain in Yunnan, taking in the crisp air.

Near the peak of Yulong Xueshan in Lijiang, Yunnan, nestled among the clouds at 3 degrees celsius.

Upon landing in Singapore, I was greeted by a dense smoke stench and a visibility challenge, an albeit unpleasant one, that looked like this:

PSI at 371 on 20th June Credits : The Straits Times

The haze was still hovering over Singapore’s skies during the F1 World Championships.  I tried to take a picture of the Marina Bay skyline overlooking the race track but the fog somewhat got in the way of taking a good panorama, with the 24-hr PSI at 66-69, within the moderate range. I tried my best to get a shot atop the Singapore Land Tower at the 42nd story but the picture quality did not turn out too fantastic:

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View from rooftop of Singapore Land Tower on 2oth September

These few months have seen a fluctuating PSI, bordering around the unhealthy range of 101 – 200, at times closing up to 300. The PSI even shot up to above 400 on one night in October. Changing directional wind patterns and increased rainfall typical of the end-of-year season temporarily stopped the haze. On one of the good days after the haze abated for a consistent few days, the skies and scenery around Bishan Park looked like everything was back to normal:

Clear skies.
Family day out.
Every cloud has a silver lining.

For now we can hope for favorable wind directions and wetter weather from now till the end of December.

This annual ordeal has brought us to the realization of Singapore’s vulnerability. Despite petitions to the Indonesians to promote sustainable farming in place of slash-and-burn crop cultivation, which causes the haze, it has persisted for years. While NEA is currently working with ASEAN to combat the haze problem, more strategic decisions have to be taken for the common good of its members. A transboundary problem should involve all members in haze-management affairs to tackle a recurring environmental problem.

Economic costs, such as the loss of businesses, tourists and healthcare costs, have been incurred. The Haze Subsidy Scheme has been implemented as a result, which subsidizes treatments for haze-related illnesses like asthma, bronchitis and conjunctivitis for low-income earners, old folk and persons below the age of 18. It was recorded that in 2013, 500,000 SGD worth of subsidies were given out for haze-related treatments.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C, a lesser-heard variant of the Hepatitis virus umbrella, has been making the waves in the medical circle here. Less than 1% of the Singaporean population is affected by it, in contrast to Hepatitis B, which affects 1 in 35 Singaporeans. To date, 25 patients admitted to SGH between April and June had been diagnosed with the same family of Hepatitis C virus. Eight patients have died, with five deaths linked to the virus.

Hepatitis C is a virus that causes liver inflammation, which can lead to chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is primarily spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. In this saga, it was purportedly spread through multiple-use medical vials, though allegations have not been confirmed. Sufferers of Hepatitis C are vulnerable to other strains of the hepatitis virus like Hepatitis A and B. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.

Though the outbreak happened earlier this year in April, SGH told MOH of the news in end-August, and MOH only released news of the outbreak in October. The information lag does raise eyebrows on their response to management of the outbreak. What exactly was done that resulted in the spread? Who are the persons accountable for the way medication is dispensed (multiple-use vials)? Why was news of the causalities held back so long? The consequences could have been mitigated if the situation was dealt with earlier.  Important questions were not addressed clearly. The authorities responded with a string of neutral statements, reiterating their stance on taking the situation seriously through thorough investigative work.

In the aftermath of the outbreak, some measures have been put into place.

An independent review committee has been set up by the government to look into the findings of its investigations but concrete conclusions or statements have not been made known to the public. International experts were too roped in to provide analyses and interpretation of the findings. One of the recommendations include extending the screening to verify if precautionary measures put in place in the wake of the outbreak had been effective. The hospital had originally screened only patients who stayed in the renal wards between January to June. Thus, SGH took further action to screen more patients, 849 of them, for the Hepatitis C virus, of which 777 tested negative and 3 positive, with the remaining 69 test results pending. SGH staff were also screened for the virus, and were given the all-clear.

Kidney dialysis centers across the country were reminded to use dedicated dialysis machines and stations for those with Hepatitis C. Dialysers and bloodlines (dialysis tubes) are not be shared among renal patients and can only be used once and discarded. Some dialysis centres like the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) have also separated Hepatitis B and C patients at separate centres to prevent cross-contamination.

Hepatitis C can be cured with early detection and appropriate treatment. However for 10% of those infected, the virus continues to live in the blood, which could lead to problems like liver cancer or cirrhosis. Hepatitis C if left uncured, is reminiscent of a life sentence, where patients are bound to a lifetime of symptom-regulatory medication to keep afloat relapses.