9 January 2017

Shocking celebrity deaths not 2016's fault (Was George Michael's death predicted by Last Christmas cover photo?)

Finally. It’s over.

2017 is here.

We can’t blame everything bad that happens on 2016 any more.

Yes, David Bowie died last year. Then Prince. Muhammad Ali. Mr S R Nathan. Daniel Ong and Jaime Teo’s marriage.

Not to be confused with Glenn Ong and Jamie Yeo’s marriage, which had perished a few years earlier.

I was more stunned by the news of the former couple’s divorce than a driver encountering a vehicle going against traffic on the expressway.

The lesson here is that if your name is Jamie or Jaime or Jiame or Jaemi or Jimea or, hell, just starts with the letter J, you shouldn’t marry a DJ with the surname Ong.

But 2016 didn’t kill those famous people or anyone’s marriage. Not even Brangelina’s.

2016 was just an innocent bystander who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It got to the point where right after I woke up every morning, I would go to Facebook on my phone just to check what other celebrity had died while I slept.

2016 couldn’t catch a break even in the last week of the year, which was probably the most brutal in terms of celebrity deaths.

George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds died within days of each other.

No, I’m not including the reported death of Mariah Carey’s singing career after her abortive performance on a live TV show on New Year’s Eve. All she wanted for Christmas was for the audio system to be working properly.

But for me, the most shocking death was Michael’s.

It was shocking because he was only 53. That’s just three years older than I am.

It was shocking because he died on Dec 25 when you could hear his song, Last Christmas, being played all over the place and thus, the world’s most morbidly obvious pun was born on Christmas Day

It was George Michael’s last Christmas.

Except that, officially, the 1984 song is actually credited to Wham!, the pop duo Michael was in with Andrew Ridgeley before Michael went solo.

So it’s actually Wham!’s Last Christmas.

Except that as far as I know, Ridgeley is still alive.

But should he be?

If you look at the inside cover of one of the original 12-inch single versions of the song, you will see a photo of Michael in Santa costume fake-crying over Ridgeley in reindeer costume playing dead.

This was 32 Christmases ago.

It is almost as if the photo predicted that a member of Wham! would die on Christmas Day.

Someone more insensitive than I am would say the wrong member did.

Which makes you wonder what kind of secret pact Ridgeley made with the devil.

Is your mind blown yet?

Wait, there’s more.

I have a 12-inch single version of Last Christmas and it was given to me by someone special.

Actually, it was my friend Stewart from the navy, although I do think of him as someone special. We sailed together to Thailand once.

I would like to say he gave it to me last Christmas, but it was actually two years ago and closer to Chinese New Year.

(I’m talking about the 12-inch.)

The vinyl record has been on display on my work desk since 2015 as an ironic homage to 80s kitsch, but now that Michael has died, it has become a poignant reminder of how we take a certain time in our lives for granted until it’s gone.

So as badly as we want to forget 2016 after it took away so many people who meant so much to us, at least it helped us remember why they meant so much to us in the first place.

So for 2017, our new year’s resolution should be to let those who are still with us know how much they mean to us while we still can...

I love you, Stewart!


- Published in The New Paper, 9 January 2017

19 December 2016

There's real news, there's fake news & then there's satirical fake news

I’m sorry.

I did not start it, but I may have contributed to it.

Earlier this month, you might have read this headline on your Facebook timeline: “President Tan invites Thailand’s new king to visit Singapore to eat KFC.”

As much as I like KFC (especially the Red Hot Chicken coated in paprika batter), there is some incongruity in the notion that our head of state would invite Thai royalty to eat fast food that is readily available in the king’s home country.

You might have at first dismissed this as fake news from a local satirical site like New Nation, whose tagline is “50% real news”.

But then it’s not from the New Nation — it’s from The Straits Times.

So your next thought was that someone at The Straits Times was going to get fired.

But as it turned out, anyone could’ve copied the link to The Straits Times article, pasted it on Facebook and changed the headline.

The paper finally addressed this issue last Monday:
“The users could have verified the veracity of the headline by simply clicking the Facebook link through to the article.

“Not only was the headline to the linked article different, the story made no mention of fried chicken or any invitation to consume it.”

But KFC doesn’t sell only fried chicken. You could have the Fish Ole Burger too, you know?

Alas, the article also doesn’t mention the Fish Ole Burger or any invitation to consume it, so the KFC headline is obviously fake.

Fake news has become such a problem that last week, Facebook announced plans to fight fake news because every day is not April Fool’s Day.

In a way, I blame The Onion.

Started in the late 1980s in the same US town where I went to college — Madison, Wisconsin — the Peabody award-winning satirical newspaper became well-known for its humorous fake news stories like “Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012”, which the Chinese Communist Party took seriously.

The Onion begot New Nation, which begot whoever thought it was funny to embellish The Straits Times headline.

I once laughed at former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Hwee Hua for sharing on Facebook an Onion article as fact.

But when a man shot up a US pizza restaurant two weeks ago after believing a fake news story, it’s not so amusing any more.

At least it wasn’t a KFC restaurant.

While it may be unfair to lump The Onion and its satirical ilk with the conspiracy theorists who claimed the pizzeria harboured a child abuse ring, it’s tricky enough to tell real news from fake news without having to make the distinction between fake news and fake news intended as satire as well.

And here is where I have to take some responsibility too.

In July, when radio DJs Glenn Ong and Jean Danker announced that they had finally set a wedding date five years after announcing their engagement, I wrote a column pleading — I mean, asking to be invited to the wedding.

You know, since I missed his first two.

Ong was previously married to fellow DJs Kate Reyes and Jamie Yeo. Not at the same time, of course.

That article might have given the impression that I wanted very badly to be invited to Ong’s third wedding, which was on Friday.

For that, I apologise.

It was fake news. It was satire.

For the record, I don’t really care whether I was invited to the wedding.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m deeply hurt that I didn’t get a invitation.

I mean, everybody was there! Hossan Leong, Beatrice Chia, the guy who used to date Joanne Peh before she married Qi Yuwu — everybody!

A photo posted by Hossan Leong (@hossanleong) on

A photo posted by lobinhoot (@lobinhoot) on

A video posted by Glenn Ong (@glennn) on

Except me.

But like I said, just because I devoted an entire column to listing all the reasons I should be invited, it didn’t mean I actually wanted to be invited.

How hard-up do you think I am?

I had better things to do on Friday night.

I had a very delicious KFC Red Hot Chicken meal.

And that’s not fake.

- Published in The New Paper, 19 December 2016

EARLIER: Please invite me to your wedding, Glenn Ong (I missed your first two)

18 December 2016

Final Performance Series race at Kranji: The smelliest run ever

This morning was the fifth and final race of the Performance Series and also my last race of the year.

The race was held in Kranji going past several fish farms.

It was called a "farm run". My wife called it the smelliest run ever. I knew she would say that! The early morning rain didn't help.

But somehow, I achieved my best time of the five Performance Series races, which was a nice way to end my running year.

As with previous Performance Series races, there were some logistical problems, this time mostly due to the rural location of the race.

But for all frustrations, you can't deny the ambition of organising five races around Singapore over eight months:

And you got to hand it to the organisers - they actually pulled it off.

My wife put her five finisher's medals together and made this map of Singapore.


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