20 February 2017

Syonan Gallery: Naming stuff is hard

Has this ever happened to anyone else?

I once told a taxi driver I wanted to go Marina Square and was driven to Novena Square instead.

I was nonplussed.

“You said Novena Square, right?” he said.

Did I?

That was when I realised how similar “Marina Square” sounds to “Novena Square”.

For a split-second, I half-considered getting out of the taxi and taking the train from Novena station just to avoid the awkwardness.

I felt foolish. And I was about to make the cabbie feel foolish too.

“No, Marina Square,” I said.

The driver was not having a good day.

“Aiyah, next time can say properly or not?”

So the cabbie very resentfully drove me to Marina Square while I sat in mortified silence.

Yah, I definitely should've taken the MRT instead.

You know who I blame for this? Whoever decided there would be a place in Singapore called Novena Square when there's already a place called Marina Square.

Why are we so bad at naming stuff?

Yes, that taxi anecdote was just my roundabout way (literally) to get to the topic of Syonan Gallery.

The name of the permanent World War II exhibition at the Former Ford Factory museum was criticised, you know, because Japanese Occupation.

It's likely the same reason my father refused to buy a Japanese car. We had a Volkswagen and then a Ford. I doubt he had ever eaten sushi. He’s dead now. I’m not sure how he would feel about Hello Kitty or Syonan Gallery.

On Wednesday at the exhibition’s opening, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim defended Syonan Gallery, saying the naming did not express approval of the Japanese Occupation.

He said:
“Some among older Singaporeans who lived through that dark period feel that the name legitimises the Occupation. Others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and we should call it what it was.”

But two days later, the name was gone.

Dr Yaacob said:
“I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation.

“I have therefore decided to remove the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ from the name of the exhibition, and name it Surviving The Japanese Occupation: War And Its Legacies.”
He also apologised “for the pain the name has caused”.

So sayonara, Syonan Gallery, we hardly knew ya.

Also this month, it was reported that Changi Naval Base will be renamed “RSS Singapura — Changi Naval Base” to help commemorate the Republic of Singapore Navy’s 50th birthday this year.

Apparently, our navy is going through some sort of mid-life crisis.

Can't it just buy a sports car and have an affair like everyone else?

The backstory is that RSS Singapura is the name of one of our navy’s first ships half a century ago.

At least one person has written to The Straits Times to complain about the naval base’s new name.

Dr Sunny Goh wrote:
“Most people — visitors and taxi drivers included — will pick either RSS Singapura or Changi Naval Base. No one is going to blurt out the entire mouthful in everyday situations.”
Yah, Singaporeans already have enough trouble deciding whether to say Espla-naid or Espla-nard.

Dr Goh also pointed out that the abbreviation of the new name, RSSSCNB, is “unwieldy”.

I would add that at first glance, it appears vaguely vulgar too.

(KNNBCCB, anyone?)

Remember the uproar over Eunoia Junior College?

It may annoy ya to know that’s it’s still Eunoia JC.

Remember the outrage over 1 Sengkang Mall?

The name has since been dropped despite it having nothing to do with the Japanese Occupation and the mall is now Compass One.

And yet people are okay with Tampines, the spelling of which is so close to tampons but it’s pronounced Tam-penis. That’s wrong on so many levels.

Is the problem the names or is it sometimes our overreaction to the names?

Whatever happened to sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never cause me to go on a social media rant?

Just remember, the next time you tell the taxi driver you want to go to Marina Square, enunciate.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 February 2017

17 February 2017

Friday flashback: 10 years ago, Phua Chu Kang ended (and then it didn't)

It started with a lion dance because Chinese New Year was a week away.

And, you know, because it was so fittingly cheenah.

The series finale of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd aired on Channel 5 on Feb 11, 2007.

This month is the 10th anniversary of that last episode.

I was executive producer of the eighth and final season of the show. I wrote a few of the episodes too. (I was also involved in seasons two and three.)

When I die, my orbituary will likely say I was a "former executive producer of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd". Mothership.sg has already described me as such in a recent article.

Admittedly, the TV series was probably the most impactful thing I worked on in my career. I've spent the last 10 years doing nothing of note except wait to write this blog post.

Producing that last episode was tricky. Although the show was ending, we knew it wasn't the end of the Phua Chu Kang character(s). We knew we couldn't, say, kill him off. Or have PCK and Rosie get a divorce.

A status quo had to be preserved to allow the possibility of PCK returning in some future form if need be.

This was before we knew anything about the Malaysian series or the movie or the webisodes.

For the final two episodes, I brought back Ah Ma, played by Neo Swee Lin, who was in seasons one to four, to complete the circle.

I wasn't around when Neo left the show, but from I was told, it wasn't on good terms.

Of course, I had to also bring back her husband, Lim Kay Siu, to play PCK's arch enemy Frankie Foo (albeit without a leg) for that last episode.

I got the idea for the show-within-a-show from the series finale of the US sitcom Cheers, which I saw in America in 1993.

For the PCK series finale, I got Adrian Pang to host the show framing the last PCK episode and interview the cast at the end.

The episode itself wasn't a particularly good one. It tried to do too much and was too big and unwieldy.

But overall, I was happy with that final season of PCK. It ended the series on a good enough note that there was a demand for a sequel, which was produced two years later in Malaysia, called Phua Chu Kang Sdn Bhd.

The show aired in Malaysia first, then in Singapore. PCK is apparently more popular in Malaysia than in his country of origin.

Along with returning stars Gurmit Singh and Irene Ang, the new series also starred Malaysian Harith Iskander, the comedian who was named World's Funniest Person last year (but not for PCK Sdn Bhd).

Then came Phua Chu Kang The Movie (2010), which I was involved in and didn't turn out so well. I have yet to see it and frankly, I don't want to because I didn't have much creative control over it. While the script I wrote wasn't that great to begin with, it was made worse by trying to turn it into a Jack Neo movie, which was all the production company knew how to do.

Like PCK Sdn Bhd, the movie was set and filmed in Malaysia to cut cost.

Over the years, I have observed the ebb and flow of the popularity of PCK.

I first knew about Phua Chu Kang when he was just a recurring character in Gurmit's World in 1995 after I heard some kid say "Use your blain, use your blain!"

The first season of PCK Pte Ltd was like a breath of fresh Beng air amid the proper English-speeaking Under One Roof and Three Rooms.

Then second season reached a new ratings high with an episode I wrote called Bloodline.

Then came the Singlish backlash with then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's 1999 National Day Rally speech.

Season three's ratings sufferred because people believed the show wasn't as good anymore after PCK attended BEST English classes.

But the 2000 President Star Charity featuring the first PCK musical was well-received.

So was the timely 2003 PCK Sar-Vivor rap.

But the 2005 stage musical at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was not.

In 2006, I was asked to be executive producer of PCK's final season because the brand was so damaged, nobody else wanted the job.

I helped rehabilitate the brand enough that people wanted to make the Malaysian series and the movie.

And then I helped kill the PCK brand again by writing the 2010 movie, which was about as poorly received as the 2005 stage musical.

But the PCK character remained iconic enough to join Madame Tussauds Singapore in 2014.

In the same year, Mediacorp's Toggle also started streaming the 10-part online series, PCK Walkabout.

Yes, as long as Gurmit lives, Phua Chu Kang will never die.

Even though the original TV series ended a decade ago.

14 February 2017

AVA versus PM Lee in Year of the Cock: Bird flu or lovebirds?

Yes, we're still talking about chickens.

So Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted this picture of chickens for Valentine's Day, writing:

"It’s quite the romantic period, with Chap Goh Mei and Valentine’s Day just a few days apart.

Thought this photo of a pair of lovebirds especially fitting this rooster year."

Unfortunately, this comes a day after Today newspaper published a letter from Agri-food & Veterinary Authority director-general Yap Him Hoo, which said:

Various media reports may have given the impression that the AVA is taking action solely because of complaints about noise.

But that is not the case. Our concern is not about noise but about public health and safety.

The noise issues only serve to bring attention to the relatively high numbers of free-roaming chickens in certain areas, which in turn raise 
the risk of exposure to bird flu in these localities.

So one day, the chickens are potential carriers of disease to be culled.

The next day, they are "lovebirds".

In just 24 hours, the poor birds have been both vilified and romanticised by our Government.

It's like KFC's heart-shaped Chizza for Valentine's Day.

On one hand, it's supposed to represent love. On the other hand, it's also dead chicken meat.

Way to mash up Valentine's Day, chicken culling and Year of the Cock.

EARLIER: In defence of the KFC Chizza (sorta)


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