BERLIN: Sarah Darwin, the great-great granddaughter of British biologist Charles Darwin, was sleepless in Berlin when, to her "enormous surprise", she heard a nightingale warbling merrily outside her window.
"It's very, very rare in the UK, so to be living in the middle of a capital city in Europe and hearing a nightingale singing outside your bedroom window is quite an extraordinary experience," the Berlin-based British botanist told reporters.
The trills got Darwin thinking, and led to the launch of a citizens' project examining why the non-descript-looking brown bird, with its distinctive song, has been flocking to the German capital.
The project by Berlin's Natural History Museum, where Darwin works, asks city dwellers to go out and record nightingales' song with their smartphone and upload it onto an app.
Through the sound clips collected, scientists are also seeking to map out whether the birds take on "different dialects" in different parts of Berlin.
"What's really exciting in Berlin is that, unlike for instance in England, where the population of nightingales has plunged by 90 percent in the last 60 years, in Berlin there's in fact a positive trend," said Silke Voigt-Heucke, who is coordinating the project.
Scientists estimate that the population has grown by 6 per cent annually over the past 15 years in Berlin. There are believed to be between 1,200 and 1,700 nightingale pairs in the capital now.
"A LITTLE UNKEMPT"
While urbanisation has forced wildlife out of most European city and town centres, in sprawling Berlin large areas of often prime land are still green.
But more attractive for the nightingale may be the German capital's general scruffiness.
"We keep our parks and gardens in Berlin slightly more untidily, and the nightingales need this," said Darwin. "They nest on the ground, they need thick vegetation to protect them from foxes, cats, birds, dogs.
"If you clear your gardens and have nothing but grass and the occasional tree, then there's nowhere for a nightingale to breed.
"So Berlin is very special in that way - a little bit unkempt - and we have to keep that. We have to learn to see the beauty in this kind of wildness."
Take the 210-hectare Tiergarten park right in the centre - just steps away from the German parliament, the extensive park is home to between seven and 10 nightingale nests.
One recent spring morning, a fox slunk past as Voigt-Heucke took a group to check if the Tiergarten nightingale inhabitants had returned from their winter hideout in Ghana.
Standing before an untidy patch of thicket, she sounded a single-tone long whistle four times, and immediately received an agitated reply - composed of a variety of trills, whistles and what sounded like throbbing beats.
"In the daytime, the message is aimed at potential competitors, telling them to 'get lost'," said the scientist of the loud riposte from the nightingale inhabitant.
At night, the nightingales' song is aimed at attracting females to nest with them, with some birds known to sing for hours.
One of the research's early findings is that the bird's repertoire may be far broader than initially thought.
Voigt-Heucke said the catalogue consisted of 2,300 different so-called stanzas submitted as recordings by the public and confirmed by scientists but "the potential is that it could end up containing 8,000 stanzas".
Scientists are now hoping to determine whether the birds adopt regional dialects.
"What we can already show is that some of these stanza types are more frequent in Berlin and Brandenburg," the state that surrounds the city, said Voigt-Heucke.
"We hope that we can show that other stanza types are seen in Bavaria or in the Ruhr region."
While the citizen's project is running into its second and final year, Darwin said that she was already hatching related plans.
For the scientist, the project has served a key purpose of "engaging people with nature".
Over 18 months, "we've collected this extraordinary community of people who are celebrating the arrival of the nightingale and we are literally changing people's lives," said Darwin.
"One man said to me: 'When I used to walk to work, I'd put my headphones on and listen to my music. Now I take them off and I listen to the birds'.
"This is the sort of a big life changing thing that people are doing."
SINGAPORE: A Vietnamese national been arrested for her alleged involvement in a series of gold investment scams, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said on Friday (May 24).
"Preliminary investigations revealed that the woman is believed to be involved in at least five cases of gold investment scams where victims were cheated of a total of more than S$5.4 million," the police added.
Nguyen Thi Thu Lan, 49, was charged in court on Friday with cheating one of the victims by deceiving him into believing that she had 12kg of gold bars to sell to him at S$666,048.
Between January and February, the police received several reports of victims who were approached by a woman claiming to operate a gold brokerage company that sells gold at discounted price.
They were told to make payments through bank transfer ranging from S$261,000 to more than S$3.5 million, purportedly for purchasing gold, the police said.
"After payments were made, the woman did not fulfil the victims' purchase orders," said police.
Police identified Nguyen and arrested her on Wednesday, while a 24-year-old man is also assisting with investigations.
If found guilty, she may be jailed for up to 10 years, and fined. Nguyen will appear in court again on May 31.
SINGAPORE: It is “not tenable” for Singapore to go easy on Malaysian drug offenders who are caught on this side of the Causeway, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Friday (May 24).
Speaking at the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) Workplan seminar, Mr Shanmugam mentioned the case of Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, the Malaysian who was granted a stay of execution on Thursday by the Court of Appeal, saying he was accorded full legal assistance.
He added that the 31-year-old, who was found guilty of carrying 51.84g of heroin at Woodlands Checkpoint in September 2014, is a drug dealer.
"There’s no two ways about it," Mr Shanmugam said, but did not comment further as the case is before the courts.
Malaysia’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong said on Friday in a Malay Mail report that he was "pleased to know of the stay of execution" for Pannir Selvam and had liaised with counterparts in Singapore with the blessings of Malaysia's Foreign Office.
Mr Shanmugam gave some observations about drug traffickers coming from Malaysia. He said that there are some from Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition party who are “ideologically opposed” to the death penalty.
Singapore received three requests from Malaysia to intervene last year, and two of these were related to drug traffickers, he added.
While he said that he respected their views, he also pointed out that a majority of Singaporeans supported a tough anti-drug stance, including the use of the death penalty against drug traffickers.
The results of a study by the Ministry of Home Affairs, released last week, showed that 69.6 per cent of Singaporeans polled indicated that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for criminals who traffic a large amount of drugs.
"It is not tenable to give a moratorium to Malaysians" on certain punishments, while Singaporeans have to face the full force of the law, Mr Shanmugam said.
The minister added that nearly 30 per cent of drug offenders caught in Singapore last year were Malaysians and, based on the statistics, he said it was not possible to "go easy" on Malaysians.
MORE PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS NEEDED
Mr Shanmugam said he intends to write back to Mr Liew to discuss ways to address this issue of cross-border drug offences.
One of the things he wants to bring up is to find out how many drug offenders are picked up by Malaysian authorities on their side of the Causeway.
He said it would be good for both sides if drug traffickers were caught by Malaysian authorities, as the offenders can be dealt with according to Malaysia's laws and not have to worry about Singapore’s capital punishment.
He would also ask about efforts to catch drug kingpins operating from Malaysia who are “too scared” to turn up in Singapore, saying it would be good for them to be picked up as well.
Another thing he wants to suggest is to publicise Singapore’s laws regarding drug offences to communities in Malaysia that may be more susceptible to being lured to bring drugs into Singapore.
“(The message would be) don’t traffic drugs into Singapore, or else these are the consequences,” Mr Shanmugam said.
He reiterated that it is "not tenable to keep asking the Singapore Government to intervene when the courts have decided" on the outcome, and the issue needs to be addressed with practical measures.
Taipei - Lawrence Hiew, dubbed as Asia's most good looking Chef from his variety program 'Chef Lawrence', recently put his looks and cooking skills to test. His job was to perfect a bowl of handmade shaved Noodle in Sesame sauce as well as baby squid pan fried angel hair noodles.
The CEO of NoodleMix (禮面作) invited Lawrence to try his hand on perfecting a bowl of handmade shaved noodles in Sesame sauce. Every steps is in precision- time for boiling the noodles and noodles tossing techniques.
After looking at the chef going through the full process, Lawrence began his quest. So far so good at boiling the noodles. But things got tricky when he was at the tossing portion of the cooking process. It requires a special technique to toss the noodles inwards to allow the texture of the noodles to be more tangy and have a better biting texture.
After a round of cooking expedition with the shaved noodles as well as the pan fried noodles, Lawrence concluded it was not as easy as he thought.
"The Baby Squid Pan Fried Angel Hair noodles is indeed challenging. The control over the fire has to be right so that the noodles do not burn yet cooked on the inside. I'd better in recommending the delicious food instead," joked Lawrence.
The CEO also generously prepared many other signature dishes for Lawrence to try out. Just by looking at the presentation of those dishes, they looked mouth-watering.
Lawrence was delighted to have found this gem store which served traditional Taiwanese handmade noodles and he hoped to revisit them again to savour on their other newly created dishes.
Noodlemix 禮面作 台北新生店Taipei New District
No. 3, Lane 48, Section 2, Jinan Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, 100
Noodle Mix 禮面作 台北芝山店
No. 128 Lane 1 Section 2, Fuhua Road, Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan 111
WASHINGTON: John Walker Lindh, dubbed the "American Taliban" after he was captured fighting for the Islamist insurgents in November 2001, will be freed from prison Thursday amid concerns he has not forsaken the radical ideology that took him to Afghanistan.
Known as "Detainee 001" in the US War on Terror, Lindh's release after 17 years in prison is resurrecting memories of the Sep 11 attacks and underscores the fact that, almost two decades later, the US continues to battle the Taliban with no end in sight.
Images of Lindh - bearded, dirty and disheveled and strapped to stretcher after his capture - came to symbolise the country's enemy.
While Lindh's family and supporters say he never took up arms against his own country, others say he remains a committed jihadist and a danger to society.
In a letter this week to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, two senators asked how his alleged threat would be contained, citing unproven allegations that he "openly" supports extremist violence.
"We must consider the security and safety implications for our citizens and communities who will receive individuals like John Walker Lindh," they said.
And on the eve of his expected release, a Los Angeles television station, KNBC, said it had received letters from Lindh during his incarceration in which he allegedly praised the Islamic State group and called himself a political prisoner.
It was unclear however why the letters, dating back to 2014 and 2015, came to light just now.
But they could complicate any effort to settle back into American society.
Lindh, 38, is being released from the high-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana three years early for good behavior in a 20 year sentence.
The quiet son of a middle-class couple who lived north of San Francisco, he converted to Islam at 16 years old and travelled in 1998 to Yemen to study Arabic.
After returning home for several months, Lindh went back to Yemen in 2000, and then on to Pakistan to study further in a madrassa, or religious academy.
In mid-2001, ostensibly drawn by stories of the mistreatment of Afghans, he enlisted in the Taliban's fight against the Northern Alliance.
After the United States intervened in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Lindh was one of hundreds of Taliban fighters captured by Northern Alliance forces on Nov 25.
He revealed his American identity to two CIA officers.
One of them, Johnny Micheal Spann, was killed in a prisoner revolt hours after he interrogated Lindh, making him the first American killed in post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan.
While Lindh had no role in Spann's death, his case became politically and emotionally entwined with it.
Once back in the United States, he was branded a traitor and accused of murdering Spann.
Lindh was charged with multiple counts of terrorism and conspiracy to kill Americans, with politicians and generals demanding he be given the death penalty.
But in July 2002, Lindh pleaded guilty to much-reduced charges of illegally aiding the Taliban and carrying weapons and explosives in the commission of that crime.
His 20-year sentence was declared a "victory for the American people in the battle against terrorism", but raised early questions over how US officials were physically and legally treating War on Terror detainees.
REMAINS A DEVOUT MUSLIM
By most accounts, Lindh has clung firmly to Islam throughout his imprisonment.
He spent years with a few dozen other Muslim prisoners in the Communications Management Unit of the Terre Haute prison, where their contacts with outsiders, media and information were tightly controlled.
An internal 2017 report from the US National Counterterrorism Center, obtained by the Foreign Policy website, said that Lindh "continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts".
The claim was not supported by any public evidence. But Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, a researcher at the George Washington University Center for Extremism, says that while in prison Lindh became close Ahmad Musa Jibril, an Arab-American who since his 2012 release has preached an extremely conservative version of Islam popular among jihadists.
Lindh's family and attorney remained silent ahead of his release, giving no hint of where he will go and what he will do.
But he will face extremely tough conditions in his three-year probation.
Lindh, who gained Irish citizenship while in prison, cannot obtain a passport or travel abroad.
He can only possess or use an internet-capable computer or phone with official permission, and the device has to be monitored continuously by authorities.
The reports about his still embracing jihadism will increase the pressure on authorities to maintain a full-time eye on him.
"Lindh served his time," said Karen Greenberg, head of the Fordham Law School Center on National Security, who has studied Lindh's case.
"It would be important for him to go on record declaring his intentions to live a peaceful/constructive life and to renounce terrorism/violence," she wrote on Twitter.
SINGAPORE: A man who appears in a viral video with his friend who was filming the police was charged on Thursday (May 23) with molesting a woman.
Chinese national Yu Zhiyong, 41, was charged with one count of using criminal force on a 30-year-old woman, intending to outrage her modesty.
He is accused of using his left hand to slap the right side of her buttocks once at 9.35pm on Saturday (May 18), his charge sheet showed.
According to videos showing Yu and his friend with the police that were uploaded online over the weekend, he was accused of molesting a beer promoter.
Yu's friend, who was dressed in blue, was shown filming the police while an unidentified person taking the viral video told him to respect Singapore's law and police officers.
Yu, who was in a red top, was sitting down in the video, with a few police officers nearby.
If found guilty of outraging the woman's modesty, Yu could be jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these punishments.
He was offered bail of S$5,000 and will return to court on May 30.
SINGAPORE: The registration of children for admission to Primary 1 next year will start on Jul 3 and end on Oct 31, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Thursday (May 23).
Primary schools will open for registration on Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 11am and from 2.30pm to 4.30pm.
Those registering under Phase 1 – for children whose siblings are current students of the school – can submit the registration form and relevant documents through the older sibling.
For Phases 2A(1) and 2A(2) – children whose parents are alumni members or are former students of the school, as well as children from the MOE kindergarten co-located with the school – parents can submit the forms at the school.
Phase 2B, which is for children whose parents have volunteered in schools, have affiliations to churches or clan associations, or are active community leaders, parents can also submit the forms at their school of choice.
Phase 2C and 2C Supplementary, which is for children who are Singapore citizens or permanent residents and have no links to the school, parents can either register at the school or online using their SingPass at the Primary 1 Internet System (P1-IS).
Online registration runs from Jul 29, 9am to Jul 31, 4.30pm for Phase 2C, and from Aug 12, 9am to Aug 13, 4.30pm for 2C Supplementary.
More information on the different phases of registration can be found on MOE's website.
NORTHSHORE PRIMARY NOT PART OF THIS YEAR'S EXERCISE
Northshore Primary School and its co-located MOE kindergarten, MK@Northshore, will not be part of this year's exercise, MOE said. The ministry previously announced that the school was built to meet the demand for primary school places in Punggol.
"As residents are expected to move into the estate only in the later part of 2020, MOE anticipates demand for school places in Northshore Primary to be very low for 2020. We have thus reviewed our plans and will open Northshore Primary and MK@Northshore in January 2021," it said.
Valour Primary, also built to meet the demand for school places in Punggol, will operate out of Punggol Cove Primary when the school term begins due to delays in construction. The school and its co-located MOE kindergarten will move to its permanent campus from Mar 23 next year.
"Punggol Cove Primary and Valour Primary, as well as their respective MKs, will conduct lessons and programmes independently, while sharing common facilities such as the canteen, library and art/music rooms," MOE said.
REGISTRATION FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS, CAREGIVER DECLARATION
Children born between Jan 2, 2013, and Jan 1, 2014, must be registered at this year's P1 registration exercise so that they can begin school in January 2020. Parents may seek approval for deferment from MOE's Compulsory Education Unit if a child is assessed as not ready or suitable for P1 on medical grounds.
International students at Phase 3 can only register after all Singapore citizens and permanent residents have been allocated a place.
They are required to undergo a two-step process which involves submitting an online application to indicate interest before registering in-person at their designated schools once they have received an offer from MOE by October.
The address used in the registration exercise should reflect the one in the parents' NRICs. This will be used to determine the home-school distance, which is required when considering priority in admissions.
Children can also be registered under the address of their caregiver, if applicable. From this year, only one parent needs to be present to make the declaration. Both a parent of the child and caregiver were previously required to be present for the declaration.
Singapore – Amidst the scorching heat here, Japanese artiste Yuhei Shirakawa has taken a liking towards Super Dream’s Purple Rice Yogurt drink at Bugis Street, thanks to Friends of Super Dream Lawrence Hiew and Danielle Gan.
Super Dream is the first store in Singapore to introduce Yogurt Drink that has Purple Rice as their topping instead of the usual pearls or jelly that we often see. This further increase the health benefits while just drinking a cup of beverage. The Purple Rice has good anti-oxidant properties while yogurt can aid in digestion. It is no wonder Yuhei love the cup of goodness.
“It is so refreshing. The purple rice is not entirely hard to chew and it gives off another kind of aroma. The combination with the yogurt drink is just perfect.”
Lawrence and Danielle expressed that they were glad Yuhei liked the yogurt drink that they recommended and also mentioned their favourite were the yogurt drinks with purple rice.
Remember to visit Super Dream conveniently located at Bugis Street (in front of bus stop) for a cup of yummilicious yogurt drink which comes in different fruity flavors. Also available are milk tea and other beverages.
MELBOURNE: An Australian man who was based in Singapore pleaded guilty in a Melbourne court on Tuesday (May 21) to sexually abusing dozens of children over a period of 16 years, filming the acts and distributing the pictures and videos.
Boris Kunsevitsky, 52, groomed children from across four countries, including Singapore, and took photographs and videos of himself performing sex acts with them, reporters reported.
Police found more than 3,300 images and videos on a laptop and two hard drives that showed him abusing or sexually exploiting 47 boys. Most were teenagers, although some were 12 and others possibly younger.
He also distributed the images of the depraved acts, while downloading another 37,000 images and videos showing other children being abused.
Kunsevitsky pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court of Victoria to maintaining a sexual relationship with a child, 25 counts of engaging in sexual intercourse with a child outside Australia, 12 of inducing a child to engage in sex with a child, child pornography charges and other offences.
The court was told he had migrated to Australia with his family from Russia when he was 12 years old and he moved to Singapore in the early 2000s.
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) said it was in touch with Australian authorities regarding the matter.
"When required, SPF will act and render the necessary assistance within the ambit of our laws and international obligations," the force said in a statement.
ABUSED CHILDREN ACROSS FOUR COUNTRIES
The court heard that Kunsevitsky had travelled through Southeast Asia on supposed work trips, but those trips were used instead for “sex tourism”.
Prosecutor Krista Breckweg said the videos and images showed Kunsevitsky had either engaged in sex with boys or instructed them to perform demeaning sex acts.
Australian police had been investigating him since 2016, reporters reported, and searched his phone in 2017 when he visited Australia from Singapore.
They found child exploitation material on the phone and police had his possessions shipped over to Australia.
It was in the laptop and two hard drives that investigators discovered video footage and thousands of pictures showing Kunsevitsky abusing or sexually exploiting 47 boys across four countries.
They include children in Australia, the Philippines, Singapore and one in Indonesia, reporters reported.
The footage, which dated back to 2001, had been distributed and one was later detected by German police, Ms Breckweg is quoted as saying.
One victim, now in his 20s, told the court he was groomed by Kunsevitsky and the abuse left him confused and isolated from those close to him. He reportedly turned to drugs and tried to take his own life while he was in his teens, and later lost his marriage.
EXTREMELY SERIOUS OFFENDING
Kunsevitsky’s defence laywer said the man had endured an abusive childhood and had been bullied in school in his native Russia. Her added that Kunsevitsky disputed some of the allegations, such as the seriousness of the sexual activity against Melbourne boy and the ages of the others.
But Ms Breckweg said the man’s claims showed he lacked remorse, calling the offences against the Melbourne boy “depraved and despicable”.
“Clearly, this is extremely serious offending,” she is quoted as saying by reporters.
The 52-year-old, who was diagnosed with a paedophiliac disorder after his arrest, was remanded in custody and is set to be sentenced at a later date.
SINGAPORE: Ticket applications for this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) held at the Padang will open from Thursday (May 23) to Jun 2, the parade’s organising committee said on Wednesday.
Singapore citizens and permanent residents can apply for two, four or six tickets to the two preview shows on Jul 27 and Aug 3, or the NDP on Aug 9.
Successful applicants will be notified on Jun 24 via the email address given in their application. They can collect their tickets from Jul 5 to 7 and Jul 12 to 14, between 10am and 9pm, at Raffles City Level 3 Atrium.
Those interested to ballot for tickets can do so at the NDP website or at SAM and AXS stations.
Each person is limited to one application, regardless of the mode used to apply. Tickets will be allocated via an electronic ballot system supported by GovTech and audited by KPMG.
Each ticket admits one spectator to the parade, so children - inclusive of infants - must hold a valid ticket to be admitted to the parade.
Singapore citizens and applicants who were not allocated tickets for the NDP last year will get priority, the committee said.