20 July 2014

Germany had Nazis, we have... NLB?


That was the one-word headline for The New Paper report about Germany rolling over Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final over a week ago.

I almost felt sorry for Germans despite their victory.

It has been almost 70 years since the end of World War II and we are still referencing a military tactic Nazi Germany used during the war.

That’s barely a hop, skip and a panzer division from evoking Hitler again. Tanks for the memories, Fräulein.

And evoking Hitler is something you don’t want to do or you may be forced to apologise like Malaysian politician Bung Mokhtar Radin did. That’s the guy who tweeted “WELL DONE.. BRAVO... LONG LIVE HITLER” after Germany’s semi-final blitzkrieg.

Everyone knows who Hitler is. I don’t even have to mention his first name. He’s like Shakira. One name is enough.

But I wonder how many non-World War II history buffs really know what a “blitzkrieg” is, apart from it sounding German.

If I put a bayonet to your head and force you to name things associated with Germany, maybe you’ll come up with Oktoberfest and a few car brands.

But the first thing that comes to mind will always be Nazis. And no amount of beer and fahrvergnügen can wash that away. By the way, I don’t recommend mixing those two together.

Like Germany, Singapore has a similar image problem. Both are perceived to be cold and efficient.

At least they have Oktoberfest. What do we have? ZoukOut? Not any more if Zouk closes down.

But Singapore is famous for really just two things – caning people and banning chewing gum. (Sorry, Merlion.)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the caning of Michael Fay.

It has been two decades since Singapore made international news by giving the US teen four strokes of the rattan for spray-painting a few cars and other offences, but the rep stuck.

Even Weird Al Yankovic, who just released a new album and a bunch of viral videos last week, dedicated a whole verse to the incident complete with caning sound effect in a song called Headline News back in 1994.

There’s a new music video called Singapore & Malaysia by Asian-American comedy duo Fung Bros where our country is introduced as “In Singapore, caning is a widely used legal form of punishment” and someone sings, “Heard they can’t chew gum.”

The rest of the video is mostly about food and plays like an extended commercial for Ayam brand.

Like the video, we like to tell people that chewing gum is not actually banned in Singapore, although the import of chewing gum is (with certain exceptions), but such nuance is usually lost on the rest of the world.

We may not be Nazi nazis, but we’re nazis against graffiti and chewing gum.

But lately, Singapore has also become well-known for other things after making international news at least three different times in the last two weeks.

First was the anti-gambling ad where the kid’s dad clairvoyantly bet the kid’s savings on the eventual winner of the World Cup.

Then came the National Library Board (NLB) saying it will pulp withdrawn copies of the gay penguins children’s book And Tango Makes Three.

And finally, news of the Media Development Authority banning the gay wedding Archie comic book last week makes three.

So in the eyes of the world, we’re no longer just nazis against graffiti and chewing gum. We’re also nazis against publications with gay stuff who happen to have an awkward penchant for predicting World Cup winners in our anti-gambling ads.

I was a little upset that a panel called Humour Is Serious Business at the Central Public Library was cancelled last Sunday after the participating writers pulled out in protest of NLB removing the books.

Why wasn’t I invited to be on the panel? I was very available.

Do you see the prominent orange word in all caps at the top left corner of this page you’re reading?

What does it say? That’s right – “HUMOUR”.

So I think I’m more than qualified to be on a panel called Humour Is Serious Business.

I’m going to boycott NLB just for not inviting me.

No, on second thought, I’m going to borrow a random book from the library, return it a day late and to top it off, not pay the 15-cent fine. That’ll teach ’em.

I’m sorry if it may appear like I’m going all nazi on the library, but my feelings have been hurt and you just can’t unring the gay wedding bells.

So what if NLB has now said it won’t destroy the books and will reinstate them in the adult section?

All the world will remember is, there goes Singapore again, banning more shit.

Last Tango In Paris was banned. And Tango Makes Three was withdrawn. Is Tango & Cash next?

(That’s the 80s movie where Sylvester Stallone wears glasses to look smart.)

We’re just gay for banning stuff.

Let’s say against all odds and reality, Singapore makes it to the World Cup in four years and beats Brazil 10-0, what do you think the headlines in foreign newspapers would be?

How about “Singapore ban Brazil from goal”?

Or maybe just one word.


- Published in The New Paper, 20 July 2014

14 July 2014

Sorry, World Cup fans, today is not a holiday

This picture surfaced online yesterday.

The message reads:
My fellow Singaporeans, I Tony Tan Keng Yam, President of the Republic is declaring a Public Holiday on the 14 July 2014 to allow Singaporeans to have a chance of watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina.

At the same time, this allows all Singaporeans to bond with their family members, neighbour and friends to make Singapore a much more bonded society. I have discussed this with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and he agreed with me. With that, all Government offices will be closed on 14 July 2014. I wish you all a happy holiday.

Best regards,
Tony Tan
President of the Republic of Singapore
I believe some Singaporeans believed this to be the real thing. I'm sure many wish it were.

I'll go out on a limb here and say it's not.

But I guess Andy's father can give himself a holiday.

As a result of this picture, my last blog post about schools starting later today because of the World Cup final has received about 3,000 page views from people googling "tony tan keng yam declare public holiday today", "14 july singapore holiday" and other variations.

A screen cap of my stats is below:

As you can see, someone even searched "malaysia world cup public holiday".

Please disregard the two hits for "ann kok porn".

The President's Office has since released this statement:
It has come to our attention that there is a letter circulating on mobile and online platforms in the name of President Tony Tan Keng Yam declaring today (July 14) a public holiday. We would like to clarify that the President’s Office did not issue such a letter.

Public holidays are announced by the Ministry of Manpower...
Well, at least now that the World Cup is over, we can stop cheering on foreign talent and focus on celebrating ourselves for National Day.

And go back to arguing over gay penguins.

EARLIER: World Cup final: Late school start is for Andy or Andy's dad?

13 July 2014

World Cup final: Late school start for Andy... or Andy's dad?

On Thursday, I received this SMS from my daughter’s secondary school:
“All students are to report to school at 8.45 a.m. on 14/07/2014 (Monday) as SDL will be cancelled in view of the World Cup Final.”
The message raised a few questions.

So I asked my daughter.

What does SDL stand for?

She said Self-Directed Learning, which means a period where students are given worksheets to do.

What time does she usually have to be in school on Mondays? She said 7.55am.

So school will start 50 minutes later “in view of the World Cup”? It makes the World Cup sound like the equivalent of an MRT breakdown.

Hey, since people are going to be late anyway because of the cup final, which kicks off at 3am Singapore time, let’s plan for it. Let’s just cancel the first period.

But why should our children’s education be compromised because of a sporting event that we don’t even have a stake in?

It’s not like it’s a cup final between Singapore and Malaysia. If we were to beat Malaysia, I would even understand if the Ministry of Education declared the next day a school holiday.

But it’s a final between Argentina and Germany... oh, I know who has a stake in the match.

Andy and his father.

At this point, it seems the whole world knows about Andy and unseen father, who bet Andy's savings on Germany in an ad that is supposed to discourage gambling.

The month-old National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) ad went viral after Germany brutalised Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final.

Even US comedian Jimmy Fallon made fun of the ad on The Tonight Show, although wisely, unlike one Malaysian politician, Fallon didn’t make any Hitler jokes.

Some have commented that Fallon mocking the ad made Singapore famous again.

Actually, I watched the whole show and he never mentioned Singapore.

Before bringing up the anti-gambling ad, Fallon was doing a gag about Brazil’s goalkeeper tweeting during the match.

Then the talk show host said:
“Have you seen this? Before the World Cup started, they played this anti-gambling commercial. Gambling addiction is a serious problem. But obviously, they wrote this commercial before yesterday’s game because it doesn’t really make sense anymore.”

Who is “they”?

In this context, viewers were likely to assume that “they” means Brazil since Fallon had just been talking about the Brazilian keeper in Brazil.

The NCPG ad itself doesn’t mention Singapore anywhere.

And if you have never been to Brazil, you might even believe that the kids in the ad are Brazilian.

Maybe I’m loco, but Andy looks vaguely Latino to me. His father could be Ricky Martin.

But then if Andy’s father is Ricky Martin, who is Puerto Rican, then the singer would probably bet all of Andy’s savings on Puerto Rico, not Germany – and Puerto Rico isn’t even in the World Cup.

Then Andy would really have reason to be sad.

Anyway, my point is, Fallon mocking the ad didn’t make Singapore famous again, but it certainly made Fallon famous in Singapore.

While I’m at it, I also want to correct a Facebook comment about the ad by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, who posted:
“Germany beat Brazil 7-1! Brazil need to find out what went wrong and I need to find the scriptwriter for the gambling control advertisement.”
I’m sorry, but as a former TV and movie scriptwriter, I can’t let this pass.

While the actors in the ad may be saying lines from a script, the person who wrote the ad is called a copywriter, not a scriptwriter.

This is an important distinction to me because if I had become a copywriter and gone into advertising, I could’ve made more money and afford to become a gambler like Andy’s father, who is probably not Ricky Martin.

So on the one hand, the NCPG ad is telling us to “kick the habit” and “stop problem gambling” by showing a boy lamenting about his father betting on Germany.

On the other hand, my daughter’s school is cancelling a period because of a football match where many fathers could very well be betting on Germany.

Talk about mixed signals.

Actually, it may not be even for the students. My daughter said that when they were asked during assembly how many of them watched the World Cup, the response was “underwhelming”. She suspects that the later reporting time is more for the benefit of the school’s adult staff.

Of course, my daughter’s school is not the only one.

Serangoon Garden Secondary School is delaying its reporting time to 11am tomorrow. Other schools have gone so far as to organise late night screenings of the cup final and sleepovers.

Is this the new community norm?

So there are parents complaining about a children’s book about gay penguins in the library (Fallon should be making fun of Penguin-gate on The Tonight Show soon), but everyone is okay with this?

I think I know why.

One of the toughest jobs as a parent is getting the kids to wake up early every morning to go to school. So the later they can go, the better.

For parents like us, we wish there could be a World Cup final every night.

We don’t even care who wins. Well, as long as we’re not Andy’s father.

But for one night tonight, we’re livin’ la vida loca.

- Pubished in The New Paper, 13 July 2014

UPDATE: Despite this declaration by "President Tony Tan Keng Yam", the day after the World Cup final is not a public holiday. Sorry.

Also, NCPG updated its website after Germany wins World Cup.


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