Thursday, March 31, 2016

Renowned architect Zaha Hadid dies of heart attack aged 65, Europe News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Renowned architect Zaha Hadid dies of heart attack aged 65, Europe News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Renowned architect Zaha Hadid dies of heart attack aged 65

LONDON (AFP) - Zaha Hadid, the world's most famous female architect who attracted plaudits for works of sweeping curves and controversy for huge cost overruns, died on Thursday at the age of 65, her company said.

Iraqi-British Hadid, the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture, was best known for her designs for the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the aquatics centre used in the 2012 London Olympics.

But she faced criticism last year after her futuristic US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) design for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic stadium was scrapped amid spiralling costs and complaints over the design.

Born in Baghdad in 1950, where her father was a politician, Hadid forged a career in the male-dominated world of architecture bringing her curvaceous, radical designs to life in glass, steel and concrete.

"It is with great sadness that Zaha Hadid Architects have confirmed that Dame Zaha Hadid died suddenly in Miami in the early hours of this morning," her firm said in a statement, adding that she had suffered a heart attack after contracting bronchitis this week.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi paid tribute to Hadid describing her death as a loss for the "whole world".

She "served the world through her creativity, and in losing her, the whole world has lost one of the great energies that served the community", Abadi said in a statement.

Hadid's other notable works included the Italian National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, the Rosenthal Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, and The Peak in Hong Kong.

Zaha Hadid poses inside Maxxi museum of contemporary art and architecture in Rome in 2009. PHOTO: REUTERS

"I believe that the complexities and dynamism of contemporary life cannot be cast into the simple platonic forms provided by the classical canon," she said in her speech accepting the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious in architecture, in 2004.

"The initial sense of abstractness and strangeness is unavoidable and not a sign of personal wilfulness." 

Hadid studied maths at the American University of Beirut before going on to study at the prestigious Architecture Association in London, where her professors included leading Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

She established her own practice in London, Zaha Hadid Associates, in 1979 but it took some time before she got a building constructed.

The first was a fire station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany, in 1993.

In 1994, she won a competition to construct an opera house in the capital of Wales, Cardiff. However, the design was eventually scrapped amid fierce local opposition.

"Honestly, we were like a leper colony here after Cardiff," Hadid said in an Observer newspaper interview in 2008. "For about six years after Cardiff, we had no work and all the money I made was through teaching or lecturing or competitions."

But by the turn of the millennium, her practice was taking off and she became one of the world's most famous architects.

She was twice awarded Britain's top architecture award, the RIBA Stirling Prize, in 2010 and 2011.

Queen Elizabeth II honoured her with a damehood in 2012 and only last month she was awarded Britain's Royal Gold Medal, joining Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Frank Lloyd Wright in receiving the architectural honour.  

Hadid was known as an architect who pushed the boundaries of architecture and urban design.

Her first high-rise residential project in Singapore was the d'Leedon, at King's Road (below).

An artist's impression of the d'Leedon condominium project in Singapore by developer CapitaLand. The project is on the site of the former Farrer Court estate. PHOTO: CAPITALAND

Hadid had a reputation as a sometimes daunting individual.  Last year, she walked out of a BBC radio interview after angrily denying there had been deaths of construction workers on the site of a stadium she designed for the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar.

Speaking in February (2016) to Britain's BBC Radio 4, Hadid said: "I don't really feel I'm part of the establishment. I'm not outside, I'm on the kind of edge, I'm dangling there. I quite like it."

She added: "I'm not against the establishment per se. I just do what I do and that's it."

But her talent and determination drew praise from peers and the public alike.

"We are deeply saddened by the death of Zaha Hadid, the world of architecture loses a great," the 2022 World Cup organising committee wrote on Twitter.

Architect of the Pompidou Centre Richard Rogers told The Guardian newspaper: "Among architects emerging in the last few decades, no one had any more impact than she did. She fought her way through as a woman... It is a great loss."

Deeply saddened by the news of Zaha Hadid's death. She was an iconic architect who pushed the boundaries to another level xx #ZahaHadid

— Kelly Hoppen MBE (@kellyhoppen) March 31, 2016

Being around #zahahadid was to feel close to something special. Whatever you think of her work, it changed the world as we see and use it.

— Martyn Evans (@martynuandi) March 31, 2016

Devastated by the loss of a great architect & colleague today. Her spirit will live on in her work and studio. Our hearts go out. #zahahadid

— Studio Libeskind (@DanielLibeskind) March 31, 2016

"Surely her work is special," renowned architect Peter Cook said on presenting the Royal Gold Medal.

"For three decades now, she has ventured where few would dare.

 "How lucky we are to have her in London," he added. "Our heroine." 

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

28 injured in accident between bus and tipper truck on MCE, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

28 injured in accident between bus and tipper truck on MCE, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

28 injured in accident between bus and tipper truck on MCE

The jam on the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) at about 7.26pm on Tuesday (March 29) evening.
The jam on the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) at about 7.26pm on Tuesday (March 29) evening.PHOTO: TWITTER / @DOLORESPICOT

SINGAPORE - The driver of a private bus was trapped in his vehicle after it collided with a tipper truck on the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) tunnel yesterday evening.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force, which said it received a call for assistance at 6.17pm, had to free the man using hydraulic rescue tools. There were 28 casualties but no fatalities, it added.

The victims, who were all conscious, were taken to three different hospitals - 13 to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), nine to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and six to Changi General Hospital.

The incident happened on the fifth lane of the MCE in the direction of East Coast Parkway, after Marina Coastal Drive.

The Straits Times understands that the wreckage was cleared only after 9pm. The police are investigating.

Analyst Lim Boon Kai, 26, who was on his way home from work and passed the crash site at about 6.30pm, said the accident looked serious. "The windscreen of the bus was smashed and there was glass everywhere on the ground. The passengers were standing in a line by the side of the expressway and some of them looked hurt," he said.

When The Straits Times visited the scene at about 8.30pm, two lanes were closed and traffic was heavy but not at a standstill.

At SGH last night, some of the bus passengers, believed to be tourists from China, appeared injured. One was in a wheelchair while another had an arm in a sling.

When approached, one of the women in the group said in Mandarin: "I'm not sure what happened... whether the vehicle in front suddenly slowed down."

She was interrupted by a representative from the bus company. He said he had given information to the police and declined to comment on the accident.

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LIVE BLOG: Hijacker of EgyptAir flight arrested, authorities to question man for motives, World News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

LIVE BLOG: Hijacker of EgyptAir flight arrested, authorities to question man for motives, World News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

LIVE BLOG: Hijacker of EgyptAir flight arrested, authorities to question man for motives

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

No explosives were found on EgyptAir plane, AFP reported citing Cyprus police. Earlier, Cypriot authorities said no explosives were found on the hijacker either. 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Egyptian hijacker's suicide belt was fake, Cypriot authorities have determined. The belt worn by the Egyptian man who hijacked the EgyptAir plane on Tuesday did not contain explosives, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. "Security in Cyprus confirmed that the explosive belt worn by the man who hijacked the plane was fake," it said.

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades congratulates police and foreign ministry after the hijack drama ends.

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

The EgyptAir hijacker is "unstable", the Cyprus foreign ministry has said after the man was arrested on Tuesday (March 29). Meanwhile, the passengers, and crew of the hijacked EgyptAir plane were safe, Egypt's aviation minister said in Cairo, AFP reported.

Passengers check the screens at the departure lounge of Larnaca airport which was closed down following the hijacking. PHOTO: AFP 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Police had yet to enter the aircraft 30 minutes after the surrender of the hijacker, AFP reports. The man emerged from the aircraft and then walked across the tarmac and raised his hands to two awaiting counter-terrorism police officers, an AFP correspondent reported. They laid him on the ground and searched him for around two minutes before taking him away.

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Official sources at EGYPTAIR declared the release of all the hostages and the arrest of the hijacker.


UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

The hijacker has emerged from the aircraft with his hands in the air, Cyprus state TV said. 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Cyprus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tweeted that the hijacker has been arrested. 

Its over. The arrested. # Egyptair

— Cyprus MFA (‎@CyprusMFA)

BREAKING: EgyptAir hijacking

BBC is reporting that Cypriot TV pictures show a person climbing out of the plane from the cockpit window, after three people leave the plane via the staircase.


UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

EgyptAir has tweeted that a plane is leaving Cairo for Larnaca to pick up the passengers who were headed for Cairo before the hijack drama and that Egyptian authorities are working on landing authorisations.

Update: the concerned departments are working on issuing the landing authorization for an aircraft to depart from Cairo Airport to Larnaca.


UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Cairo airport has delayed the departure of a New York-bound airplane due to security fears related to the hijacked EgyptAir aircraft diverted to Cyprus, Reuters reported citing two security officials.  

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Egypt's foreign ministry has issued a denial that its spokesmen gave the colourful and much-quoted statement, "He's not a terrorist, he's an idiot." 

Reporter Ruth Michaelson said the quote came from an official, not a spokesman, in an electronic chat message. 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that the hijacker of EgyptAir flight MS181 is Seif Eldin Mustafa. 

The of is Seif Eldin Mustafa. The situation is still ongoing.

— Cyprus MFA (‎@CyprusMFA)

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

The minister was asked why the pilot reacted to the hijacker's demand even though his belt might have been fake. He answers that this was for an investigation to find out, after the current situation has been resolved. 

The press conference has ended. 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

Egyptian minister says that while officials do not know if the explosive belt the hijacker claims to be wearing is real or not, they are treating the threat as real. 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

The press conference with Egyptian civil aviation minister has begun. He answers a question from a reporter about Control Risks, a global consultancy hired by the Egyptian government to study the country's airport security. He says the company has yet to submit its report. 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking 

Egyptian civil aviation minister says seven people remain on plane, including three passengers, according to Reuters. Egypt is reportedly sending plane to Cyprus to pick up the stranded passengers. 

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

President Nicos Anastasiades addresses a joint news conference with the visiting president of the European Parliament Martin Schultz. The Cyprus government has done everything it could to ensure the safe release of the passengers, most of whom were reported to have been set free, he says, AFP reports.

UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

BBC is reporting that all the hostages have been freed and the hijacker is on his own in the plane. Egyptian officials are due to hold a press conference at 5pm, Singapore time. 


UPDATE: EgyptAir hijacking

EgyptAir has tweeted emergency contact numbers. 

Emergency Call Center
Within Egypt 0800 77 77 000
International +2 02 25989320-29


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Monday, March 28, 2016

Suicide bombing in Lahore kills at least 72; Pakistani Taleban claims responsibility, South Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Suicide bombing in Lahore kills at least 72; Pakistani Taleban claims responsibility, South Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Suicide bombing in Lahore kills at least 72; Pakistani Taleban claims responsibility

LAHORE, Pakistan (REUTERS, AFP) - A suicide bomber killed at least 72 people, mostly women and children, at a park in Lahore on Sunday (March 27) in an attack claimed by a Pakistani Taleban faction which said it had targeted Christians.

More than 300 people were hurt when explosives packed with ball bearings ripped through crowds near a children's play area in the park, leaving dozens dead or bloodied, officials said.  

Witnesses described children screaming as people carried the injured in their arms, while frantic relatives searched for loved ones.

"We had gone to the park to enjoy the Easter holiday. There was a blast suddenly, I saw a huge ball of fire and four to six people of my family are injured. Two of them critical," 53-year-old Arif Gill told AFP.

"This is not an attack against Christians, everybody is victim, there are many Muslims among the victims, everybody goes to the park to enjoy," he added. "This is an attack against everybody." 

The explosion occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park close to children's swings. The park is a popular site for members of Lahore's Christian community, many of whom had gone there to celebrate the Easter weekend holiday.

Witnesses said they saw body parts strewn across the parking lot once the dust had settled after the blast.

"When the blast occurred, the flames were so high they reached above the trees and I saw bodies flying in the air,"said Hasan Imran, 30, a resident who had gone to Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park for a walk.

Officials said 72 people were killed and about 300 wounded. Police Superintendent Mustansar Feroz said most of the casualties were women and children.

The Taleban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack.

"The target was Christians," a spokesman for the faction, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. "We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won't be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks."

Islamist militants in Pakistan have attacked Christians and other religious minorities often over the past decade. Many Christians accuse the government of doing little to protect them, saying politicians are quick to offer condolences after an attack but slow to take any concrete steps to improve security.

Mr Salman Rafique, a health adviser for the Punjab provincial government, said many of the wounded were undergoing emergency surgery in hospitals. "We fear that the death toll may climb considerably," he said.

TV footage showed children and women standing in pools of blood outside the park, crying and screaming as rescue workers, officials, police and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars.

Dozens of women and children were wheeled into hospitals, covered in blood. Many of the injured were transported to hospitals on taxis and auto-rickshaws due to a shortage of ambulances. Hundreds of citizens arrived outside hospitals to donate blood.

Local television channels reported that many of the dead bodies were being kept in hospital wards as morgues were overcrowded.

Malala's statement on the tragic today.

— Malala Fund (‎@MalalaFund)

"We were just here to have a nice evening and enjoy the weather," Ms Nasreen Bibi said at the Services Hospital, crying as she waited for doctors to update her on the condition of her two-year-old injured daughter. "May God shower his wrath upon these attackers. What kind of people target little children in a park?"

Mr Javed Ali, a 35-year-old resident who lives opposite the park, said the force of the blast shattered his home's windows.

"After 10 minutes I went outside. There was human flesh on the walls of our house. People were crying, I could hear ambulances. "It was overcrowded because of Easter, there were a lot of Christians there. It was so crowded I told my family not to go."

Mr Yousaf Masih, a father who was searching for his family, said: "My kids came here (to the park). I was at home, I saw the news on TV, but my wife and children were here."

Witnesses said the wounded were first rushed to hospital in rickshaws and other vehicles before dozens of ambulances arrived on the scene.

A Lahore rescue official confirmed the toll and said the number of injured stood at 340. The attack was the year's deadliest, with officials saying the toll was set to rise. There was no official confirmation of who was behind the attack late Sunday.

Sunday's blast was condemned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who "expressed grief and sorrow over the sad demise of innocent lives", according to a statement by his office. He was later phoned by his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, who said "the people of India stand with their Pakistani brethren in this hour of grief", according to state media.

Pakistan's Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai tweeted: "Pakistan and the world must unite. Every life is precious and must be respected and protected."

A military spokesman described the blast as a "suicide attack", adding that intelligence agencies were chasing all leads. Lahore officials said the army had been called to the scene of the attack. On social media Pakistanis were retweeting the call for blood donations, while Facebook activated its "Safety Check" for Lahore.

The government of Punjab province declared three days mourning.

Christians are a minority in the Muslim giant of around 200 million people, making up an estimated 1.6 per cent of the population, and have long faced discrimination. Attacks targeting children carry a special resonance in Pakistan, still scarred by its deadliest ever militant assault in which Taleban gunmen killed more than 150 people at a school in Peshawar in 2014, the majority of them students.

A military operation targeting insurgents was intensified after that attack, and in 2015 the number of people killed in militant assaults dropped to its lowest since the Pakistani Taleban were formed in 2007.

Lahore, capital of Punjab province, has been relatively peaceful in recent years. But the insurgents have demonstrated a chilling ability to continue attacks on soft targets. In January 2016 the Pakistani Taleban launched an assault on a university in Charsadda, near Peshawar, that left 21 dead and spurred a call to arm teachers as parents spoke of fears for their children.

Soon after the attack, the Punjab government ordered all public parks to be closed and announced three days of mourning in the province. The main shopping areas were shut down and many of the city's main roads were deserted.

The army was called in to control crowds outside the park. Some distraught, sobbing relatives clashed with police and rescue officials.

The United States, a strategic ally of Pakistan, called the incident "cowardly" and "appalling" and said in a statement: "The United States stands with the people and government of Pakistan at this difficult hour. We will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region... to root out the scourge of terrorism."

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people, is plagued by a Taleban insurgency, criminal gangs and sectarian violence. Punjab is its biggest and wealthiest province but has traditionally been more peaceful than other parts of Pakistan.

Sharif's opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he strongly denies

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Why Jackpot Auntie gave away windfall - twice, Lifestyle News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Why Jackpot Auntie gave away windfall - twice, Lifestyle News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Why Jackpot Auntie gave away windfall - twice

Nearly five years ago, Madam Choo Hong Eng became the talk of the town when she won more than $400,000 from a casino slot machine at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), and then proceeded to give it all away.

It was not the first time she had hit the jackpot only to donate the money to charity. Four years earlier, she had parted with more than half of the $280,000 she won from pulling the one-arm bandit on a cruise ship.

Her generosity is all the more impressive, given her background.

No heiress with oodles of spare cash, the 61-year-old was abandoned at birth and never had the privilege of an education.

Instead, she works hard for her money by running a vegetarian food stall which she started in Geylang 30 years ago.

So why did she give it all away?

"I have all that I want," says the woman nicknamed Jackpot Auntie.

Some people said she was stupid or crazy for doing what she did but many others described her as a remarkable woman.

Madam Choo certainly has presence as she sits in a private dining room at Kwan Inn Vegetarian Restaurant in Tanjong Katong Road. The cosy eatery, which opened a few months ago, is her new undertaking with two business partners who are in the coffee business.

That she is a woman of action is obvious from the purposeful and animated way she moves and talks. She radiates charm and has an easy likeability, made even more pleasing by her sharp wit, keen intelligence and refreshing candour.

One can easily imagine her, with her smarts, running a successful business or corporation if Fate had dealt her a better hand at birth.

Shaking her head, the straight talker says she does not waste time grappling with such a scenario.

"It's not something you can change," she says in Cantonese.

Her real parents, she was told, were Shanghainese and worked on ships. They left her in an orphanage in River Valley when she was born.

When she was three, she was adopted by a devout Buddhist who had left Shanghai for Singapore after becoming disappointed with her husband's philandering ways.

Her adoptive mother, whom she called Ah Por, or grandmother, also took in two boys from the orphanage, which was forced to close because of a lack of funding.

Ah Por was the head of a tontine, an informal micro-financing scheme where members make regular contributions to a common pool and bid for loans.

As she did not have a birth certificate and other documents, Madam Choo was not enrolled in a school.

"It didn't bug me not having an education. I knew I could still have a career and not go hungry. My Ah Por told me that only the lazy starve," she says.

Not only was she never lazy, but she was also entrepreneurial to boot. By nine, she already knew how to make money.

Each time an opera troupe performed in her kampung, she would peddle guava, rambutans and sugar cane. "In those days, opera performances sometimes lasted a week. We lived in a kampung, so there were all these fruit trees. Whatever was edible, I'd raid to sell. Or I'd reserve seats for the villagers for five or 10 cents," she says.

Her leadership qualities surfaced early. "I was known as the samseng girl," she says, using the local slang for ruffian.

"All the village boys looked up to me and did my bidding. The villagers all said I would be the first to marry because there were always boys around me," adds Madam Choo, who is single.

Her hyperactive nature so exasperated her adoptive mother that she was packed off to a school for novice Buddhist nuns in Telok Kurau when she was 12.

While the feisty girl agreed to attend classes on Buddhist scriptures, she told the principal that she was illiterate and would not do homework or take exams.

For more than two years, she would attend classes daily from 8am to 4pm.

"That is why I can recite sutras by heart," she says with a laugh.

At 14, she found work in a wig- making factory in Geylang Lorong 3. So adroit was she at her job that she could do the work of three people.

"My bosses loved me because I was fast and precise, but my colleagues resented me. I asked for overtime work every day because I wanted to make money," says Madam Choo, who could rake in $1,000 - no mean sum 40 years ago - each month.

When the wig industry fell on hard times, she took on two jobs. By day, she worked as an assistant in a shop selling vinyls and stamps; at night, she was a ticket seller at the now-defunct amusement park Gay World. "In those days, a lot of Taiwanese singers such as Teresa Teng and Yu Ya performed at Gay World," she says.

Quick to spot money-making opportunities, she persuaded her day boss to place big orders for records by visiting artists. She would then get these singers to sign the records during their rehearsals and flog the vinyls off in her ticketing booth at night, earning a commission for each one she sold.

Vivacious and sporty, she attracted quite a few suitors, among them a jockey. "Many who went after me were married. And my Ah Por told me never to get involved with a married man," she says.

Surely there were eligible ones too. "Yes, but no feel lah," she says, suddenly lapsing into English.

"Anyway, I'm not marriage material. I'm too independent and headstrong. I like to make and spend my own money."

And she did. Over the next two decades, she made a more than decent living at different jobs.

For a spell in the 1980s, she was chauffeur to Hong Kong celebrities such as Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Anita Mui whenever they were in town.

On weekends, she made a lucrative living cooking vegetarian dishes for busloads of tourists, who would eat in the spacious compound of her adoptive mother's house in Ceylon Road.

"I cooked for three seatings of 15 tables each on weekends. I could make a couple of thousands each weekend. I stopped when the Government passed a law requiring all caterers to be licensed," says Madam Choo, who also ran a photostating business in a local university.

In the 1990s, she started a vegetarian stall in Geylang East.

Although she has turned it into a thriving business, she did not have it easy at first.

She had to contend with sabotage attempts by jealous competitors and had her fair share of accidents.

Once, her hands slipped and she tipped a wok of hot oil onto her face and chest. She was in agony. Her scalded face took on a bright red hue and her clothes stuck to her chest.

She prayed to the Goddess of Mercy, imploring that she be spared disfigurement. When she emerged unscathed from the episode, she resolved to devote her life to charity and helping others.

Madam Kwan Seck Mui, 69, has known her for nearly 40 years.

"She really lives by her principles. If a person genuinely needs help, she will help," says Madam Kwan, a former entertainment journalist.

That probably explains why Madam Choo adopted her friend's two daughters about 20 years ago.

"My friend went on her knees and told me that she could not afford to raise them. Her husband was a gambler and they had just got divorced," says Madam Choo.

The two daughters are now 21 and 24. One will be completing her business studies at Singapore Management University, while the other has a certificate in hospitality.

Madam Choo has been donating to charity for most of her working life, although her altruistic streak came to public attention only after her jackpot win at MBS.

She made headlines in October 2011 when she got involved in a dispute with the casino, which initially refused to pay her the winnings of more than $400,000, claiming that there was a computer glitch.

She was given the full sum only after she complained to the Casino Regulatory Authority.

Upon receiving the money, she gave it all away to nearly 30 charities, including the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the National Kidney Foundation.

She has not been to a casino since. She says: "You will never win again. I don't gamble. But (at the time) my friend, who was visiting from China, wanted to see what the casino was like. I decided to change $50 for tokens to play the slot machines while waiting for him.

"It was the same on the cruise ship. A friend invited a few of us on the cruise. It was just meant to be."

She insists the episode has not changed her life much.

"My branding has probably become stronger," she jokes. "And I get recognised. People point at me and whisper, and taxi drivers ask me if I am the Jackpot Auntie."

The attention does not bother her much. Neither does the fact that she has lost a few friends whose requests for help - to settle credit card bills or start businesses - she did not entertain.

"My philosophy in life is simple. Don't hurt others to benefit yourself. And as long as what you do is proper, do not worry about what others say."

Friends, she says, she does not lack. One of them is Singapore artist Tan Swie Hian, 72, who has been patronising her vegetarian food stall in Geylang for years.

"She is just a pure soul. She is so kind-hearted that she devotes her life to bringing happiness to other people," says the Cultural Medallion winner, whose ink-on-rice paper work, Portrait Of Bada Shanren, sold for $4.4 million at the Poly Auction in Beijing two years ago.

"Like all kind people, she is taken advantage of by others, but she doesn't let it get to her."

When Madam Choo opened her Kwan Inn restaurant last year, Mr Tan, Singapore's most expensive living artist, personally gave her a calligraphic plaque which doubles as a signboard for the eatery.

The restaurant is a lifelong dream. "I've always wanted to find a successor and a legacy for my recipes," says Madam Choo, who has a repertoire of more than 100 dishes. "If it does well, there are plans to open branches."

She chuckles when asked what goes through her head when she looks back on her life. "There have been ups and downs, but I have to say I have a happy life."

And she does not worry about the future. "I'm not lazy. That's why I'm here," she says.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Singaporean couple convicted of starving maid whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg, Courts & Crime News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Singaporean couple convicted of starving maid whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg, Courts & Crime News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Singaporean couple convicted of starving maid whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg

SINGAPORE - After three days of hearing, a Singaporean couple who claimed trial to charges of failing to provide their former Filipino domestic worker with adequate food, causing her weight to drop by 20kg over a 15-month period, threw in the towel on Wednesday.

Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, weighed just 29kg when she was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital in April 2014, compared to 49kg in January 2013.

Her former employer, freelance trader Lim Choon Hong, 47, pleaded guilty to a charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012 which requires employers to pay and provide adequate food and medical treatment for their domestic helpers.

Lim's spouse, Chong Sui Foon, also 47, admitted to a count of abetting Lim in committing the offence, which carries a maximum punishment of 12 months' jail and a $10,000 fine.

The couple's newly-appointed lawyer, Mr Raymond Lye, told the court that his clients are undergoing assessment by a psychiatrist. He requested for more time to prepare the psychiatric reports.

District Judge Low Wee Ping adjourned the case to April 20.The couple are out on bail of $3,000 each.

Their trial, which started in December last year, had been scheduled to resume with Lim's cross-examination on Tuesday. Five more days of hearing had been set aside for the trial.

But Mr Lye, who was appointed after the couple discharged their first lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Liang, told the judge on Tuesday that his clients would be pleading guilty instead.

While on the witness stand last year, Lim said his wife had previously suffered from anorexia nervosa - an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat - and from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Due to her preferences, he said their lifestyle "revolved around food and cleanliness".

Lim and Chong provided Madam Gawidan with only two meals a day at their previous condominium home at Boulevard Residence in Cuscaden Walk.

The first meal, which was usually provided at around 1am to 2am, comprised two to three slices of plain white bread and one to two packets of instant noodles. Occasionally, Chong would mix small portions of vegetables and meat with the instant noodles.

The second meal, which was provided in the late morning or early afternoon, would consist of five to six slices of plain white bread.

Lim bought Madam Gawidan's food. Lim, Chong and their children ate different food, which was greater in quantity and higher in nutritional value than what their helper was rationed with.

Madam Gawidan also had to ask for permission before drinking water, and Chong would give her water from the tap. She stopped menstruating after February 2013 and her hair started falling out a few months later.

Chong also forbade the helper from using the toilets in their home. The domestic worker had to use the common toilet in the condominium. Madam Gawidan was also allowed to shower once or twice a week and Chong would stand inside the toilet while she showered.

Madam Gawidan also testified that her salary and mobile phone were kept from her and she was not allowed out of the home.

On the morning of April 19, 2014, she fled from her employers' home after she was left alone near the condominium's lift area.

She made her way to Far East Shopping Centre nearby, where she borrowed a phone and called a friend who then took her to a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home). Home reported her complaints to the Ministry of Manpower.

Madam Gawidan, who has three children, now works for another employer.

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