29 May 2016

Singlish debate redux: Dr Gwee Li Sui is the new Phua Chu Kang sia

Dear Dr Gwee Li Sui,

Congratulations on your article about Singlish in The New York Times on May 13.

Congratulations, too, on the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Ms Chang Li Lin, responding to your article on Monday.

In her letter to the editor, she said you were making “light of the Government’s efforts to promote the mastery of standard English by Singaporeans”.

Wow, a letter from the PM’s press secretary. I’m jealous. For my column, all I get is hate mail from Adam Lambert fans.

As one of my editors used to say: “I don’t care if people hate you as long as they read you.”

Sure, but I bet he has never been called an “ignorant asshat” by an angry reader.

At least you, Dr Gwee, are being read by a higher class of people — not that Glamberts aren’t high-class people. (I’m terrified of them.)

The last time a Singaporean made such an impact at The New York Times was in 2014, when cartoonist Heng Kim Song was accused of being racist for depicting the country of India as a turbaned mustachioed man with a cow.

Way to keep the Singapore flag flying high at the Old Grey Lady!

But the reason I’m writing to you is that I am worried about you, doc.

Reacting to Ms Chang’s letter, you wrote at various times on Facebook:
  • “Alamak.”
  • “Kena marked liao lor.”
  • “Uncle kena buak gooyoo :(”
  • “Sigh. Why must so mee siam mai hum?”
I don’t know exactly what you mean by these comments since I’m no Singlish expert like you are, but these posts, especially the sad face emoticon plus an illustration of a man being flagellated, suggest that you are in distress.

I’m here to reassure you that everything will be okay.

You see, I’ve been there. I’m a survivor of the Great Singlish War of 1999.

Back then, I was the executive producer of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd.

The popularity of the sitcom and its use of Singlish started a debate much like the one that’s raging today but even more intense.

And we didn’t have the Oxford English Dick to back us up then.

Be thankful that all you got (so far) was a letter to the editor from the PM’s press secretary.

What we got was an epic lecture from then PM Goh Chok Tong during his National Day Rally speech about how PCK was leading the youth of Singapore astray.

He said:
“One of the problems MOE (Ministry of Education) has getting students to speak standard English is that the students often hear Singlish being spoken around them, including on TV.

“So they learn wrong ways of speaking.

“Teachers complain that their students are picking up catchphrases like ‘Don’t pray, pray’ and using them even in the classroom.

“The students may think that it is acceptable and even fashionable to speak like Phua Chu Kang...

“So in trying to imitate life, Phua Chu Kang has made the teaching of proper English more difficult.”
And that’s just an excerpt.

I thought the show would be cancelled and banned by the Government.

Worse still, someone warned me that there could be a knock on my door late one night and I would never be heard from again.

Paranoid much?

As Gurmit Singh, who played Phua Chu Kang (and still does for hire), recently recalled:
“PCK was brilliant and won all sorts of awards…

“Then one parent wrote, saying something like ‘I don’t appreciate this, my child is talking like PCK, something has to be done.’

“Boom, that was it. I thought I had to pack my bags and migrate.”
But the TV series lasted another eight years by sending PCK for English lessons, making it Singapore’s longest running sitcom, and Gurmit didn’t have to flee the country.

Looking back, I realise Mr Goh’s speech was, in a way, a blessing in disguise.

For years after that, any discussion about the Government’s policy on Singlish had to namecheck Phua Chu Kang.

This helped PCK transcend from being a mere sitcom character to a national icon — which in turn helped Gurmit pay for a Lamborghini.

Mr Yellow Boots probably wouldn’t be a wax figure in Madame Tussauds if not for the Singlish controversy. (You don't see Tan Ah Teck from Under One Roof in the wax museum, do you?)

And now it’s your turn.

Because of Ms Chang’s letter, any discussion about the Government’s policy on Singlish will henceforth have to namecheck Dr Gwee Li Sui.

You have essentially become the new Phua Chu Kang, thanks to the Great Singlish Skirmish of 2016.

And you don’t even need a wig or a fake mole.

I can’t guarantee you’ll get into Madame Tussauds, though.

Well, at least not without buying a ticket.

And if you get extremely lucky with your Toto QuickPick buy, you could have a Lambo too.

Do pray, pray.

SM Ong

- Published in The New Paper, 29 May 2016

A photo posted by Gurmit (@gurmitgurmit) on

26 May 2016

#tbt Were you invited to join the Inconvenient Questions debate too?

When I first read this news, the name Inconvenient Questions sounded familiar.

So went through my old e-mails and found this from a year ago:

So I was invited (along with my "society and its members") to join a debate that Inconvenient Questions was organising.

My first reaction was, what the hell is Inconvenient Questions? I had never heard of it before.

My second reaction was, Inconvenient Questions is such a terribly awkward and self-important name.

My third reaction was, they must be pretty desperate to be cold-emailing someone like me with this copied and pasted invitation, which was also copied and pasted in the comment section of at least two websites:
Even worse, on the latter website, Luke Phang embarrassingly forgot to delete my name after copying and pasting the invitation.

Anyway, I didn't respond to the e-mail.

The debate went on without my attendance and here are the videos to prove it:

I haven't heard or read much if anything about Inconvenient Questions since then.

That is, until the news about its shutting down.

Ironically, by announcing that it will cease operations next month, founder Viswa Sadasivan is probably generating more interest in Inconvenient Questions than its actual content ever did.

I mean, even I'm writing about it in this blog post.

Still, you got to hand it to these Old Media types like Viswa and Six-Six News' Kannan Chandran, who are at least trying to adapt to New Media, albeit probably not as successfully as they hoped.

Like me.

22 May 2016

Daydreaming? How a drive to get people to drive less is backfiring on LTA

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) just can’t seem to catch a break.

Last month, The Straits Times published this headline: “Rise in major breakdowns but MRT gets more reliable.

Minds were blown.

It was like saying there were a rise in bedbug bites at the Esplanade, but there were no bedbugs at the Esplanade.

When I first read the headline, I thought I had been zapped to an alternate universe where words have similar but slightly different meaning.

As someone pointed out online, the headline is an “oxymoron to anybody who can understand simple English”.

And “oxymoron” doesn’t mean an imbecile with too much pimple cream on his face.

Taken literally, the headline could just mean we can now rely on MRT more than ever to provide us with major breakdowns.

But that would be a rather odd, though self-aware, thing for LTA to announce.

So what was LTA really trying to say?

According to a PDF titled “Performance of Rail Service Reliability” on its website , what LTA wants you to know is that, yes, the number of service delays lasting more than 30 minutes for the overall MRT network has increased from nine in 2011 to 14 last year.

That’s the “rise in major breakdowns” part of the headline.

But the mean distance travelled between delays lasting more than five minutes has increased from 58,000km in 2011 to 133,000km last year.

I guess that’s the “more reliable” part that LTA wanted to brag about.

A month later, as if to show LTA up, lightning struck somewhere between Yio Chu Kang and Khatib MRT stations causing a delay on the North-South Line. The affected train was reportedly pushed by another train to a station.

Someone commented online: “Now even the Lightning God is telling SMRT to wake up their idea.”

Another blamed the Government, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Singaporeans who voted for it:
“You vote PAP means you vote lightning party. See logo for reference. You voted for the lightning to strike the train. Blame the Government. Blame PAP.”
If the train were struck by a giant hammer, then could we blame the Workers’ Party?

But even before the MRT was struck by the PAP logo, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said that in terms of rail reliability, we are “way below” the much-acclaimed Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR).

Yah, but has the MTR ever been struck by lightning?

Oh, it has? In 2014? And we’re still losing to them? How can?

“We want to catch up with Hong Kong, and we will,” said Mr Khaw. Yah, as long as we don’t get hit by any more lightning.

As if the task isn’t hard enough, LTA is promoting a “car-lite” society and wants more commuters to switch to our already overburdened public transport system.

“Hmmm, the MRT is breaking down more often than before. What should we do? Get more people to take the MRT!”

And even that LTA can’t seem to do right.

As part of its Walk Cycle Ride campaign, LTA has put up a series of banners with illustrations of a woman not driving a car with taglines such as “The only rubber I’m burning is on my shoes”.

One banner showing a woman riding a bicycle with the tagline “Freedom to come and go” has been likened to a sanitary pad ad.

Another showing a woman on a bus with the tagline “Someone else is driving, I can daydream” has been criticised by no less a personage than poet and playwright Alfian Sa’at, who co-wrote Hotel, which won Best Original Script and Production of the Year at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards last month.

He posted on Facebook last week:
“LTA, why you Fail. So. Hard. Intended meaning: ‘Because someone else is driving, it frees me up to do other things’. Frustrated-by-cost-of-living Singaporeans will read: ‘Some other rich folks are driving their cars, I can only daydream of owning one’.”
The woman is probably daydreaming about placing a $1 Toto QuickPick bet and winning $8 million so that she can afford a car — like all of us.

And this is how LTA’s innocent attempt to encourage more people to use public transport turns into class warfare.

The sanitary pad ad doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

LTA needn’t have bothered.

On Thursday, Traffic Police announced new speed laser cameras to catch speeding drivers from even farther distances in 44 locations around Singapore day and night.

That should scare off more people from driving than any sanitary pad ad.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 May 2016


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...