Sunday, 30 December 2012

After all the complaints, I apologise for being stupid

No one likes getting complaints.

This year, I received a record number of complaints for this column.

2012 started with complaints about a column I wrote about why I like Christmas better than Chinese New Year.

Being Chinese, I thought it was okay for me to express my distaste for the trappings of the holiday named after my own race. I was wrong.

I apologised.

Then just last month, someone calling me Samantha took umbrage at me making light of the recent baby mix-up at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

I apologised.

But the column that earned me the most haters was the one about the Olympics in August called “My mother says Tao Li is too fat to win”.

The headline alone offended a few people.

Someone commented on Facebook: “My father says the reporter is too stupid to be published.”

That’s actually kind of funny.

A blogger named Andrew Loh wrote a long blog post dedicated to calling me stupid entitled “Wow. This guy is really stupid.

The next day, another blogger named Dotseng wrote a blog post called “Wow... this Andrew Loh is really stupid to call that journalist stupid!

These netizens seem rather fond of the word “stupid”.

Anyway, I apologise for being stupid.

Because of the online flagellation I went through, I was in probably a very small minority of people who actually sympathised with Ms Amy Cheong two months later when her racist Facebook comments went viral.

But unlike Ms Cheong, I haven’t been fired from my job despite all the complaints. (Yet.)

Which makes me luckier than the taxi driver who was sacked after a woman passenger complained that he was watching a video on his phone while driving.

According to The Straits Times last week, the phone was on the dashboard and the passenger said the video was “not suitable for children”, possibly pornographic.

Would I call the cabby stupid for what he did?

No – although I do have some questions about the incident.

As far as I could tell, the driver was fired for multi-tasking behind the wheel. The porn part seems incidental. Gratuitous even.

Would the passenger have complained if it wasn’t an obscene video?

What if it was Gangnam Style?

Then I would be grateful if the cabby was only watching the video and not attempting to horse-dance along with it.



Over one billion views on YouTube? That would be like the entire population size of Singapore that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the country can accommodate (ie six million) watching Psy's video 166.667 times.

Well, I’ve done my part.

My other question is that even if you are capable of illegally watching a video and driving at the same time, how do you fully enjoy pornography in a moving vehicle?

Okay, maybe the taxi has automatic transmission, allowing the cabby to keep one hand free to, uh, “fully enjoy” himself.

But wouldn’t he feel self-conscious when he has passengers?

I mean, I used to get embarrassed watching the Solid Gold dancers on TV with my mother in the room.

Yes, I’m old enough to remember Solid Gold. You young ones can search for Solid Gold dancers on YouTube. Just make sure your parents aren’t around when you do. Your dad might want to watch the video with you.



Speaking of which, would the cab passenger have complained if instead of a woman, the passenger was a man like me?

My dilemma would then be, on the one hand, this cabby is endangering both our lives. On the other hand, I can watch the video with him. Free show!

And if I’m in the backseat, I can position myself such that I can fully enjoy myself without the driver’s knowledge.

Perhaps the cabby thought he was providing an extra service. He just neglected to display an R21 sign on his cab.

Maybe in the near future, passengers will also be handed 3D glasses. I just hope the cabby won't be wearing them too. Then even I would complain.

On second thought, I don’t want anyone to lose his job because of me.

I’d probably just blog about it.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 December 2012

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Why would anyone see a movie more than once?

After a bad experience, I once swore I would never watch a movie in the cinema again.

I'm a little embarrassed to say that this year, I've seen three movies twice in the cinema.

My excuse is that they were in different formats. I saw The Avengers and Prometheus in 2D and Imax 3D.

Yesterday, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D HFR after already seeing in Imax 3D. I almost fell asleep a few times the second time around.



But I was curious about the 48fps High Frame Rate technology after reading a lot of criticism for the new format.

Some viewers complained that it was too "realistic", making them nauseous. Others griped that it made the movie sets look like movie sets, which takes you out of the movie.



I would compare HFR to watching Blu-ray after a lifetime of watching standard-definition DVDs. It's like watching a giant giant high-def TV in the cinema.

Which I guess is the problem for some people. They don't want to watch TV in the cinema. They want to see a "film".

It's ironic because for years, TV has been trying to look like film and now a film is made to like TV, albeit high-def TV.

I actually prefer the HFR format. Everything is shinier, sharper and clearer.

I don't see it being applicable for all movies though, just like 3D isn't, but I would like to see more of these big CGI special-effects extravaganzas made in HFR. I wonder if that is likely after the technology's mixed reception.



Now I just have to resist the urge to see The Hobbit in Imax 3D HFR.

I definitely won't be able to stay awake the third time around.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

I’m not so positive these surveys are reliable

At least now when someone wishes me merry Christmas and I say, “No,” I have good reason to do so.

According to Gallup, Singaporeans have the least positive emotions in the world (which some media reports have interpreted as Singaporeans being the world’s unhappiest people).

Gee, thanks, Gallup, for that lump of coal in our stocking.

Well, it’s hard to be positive when another Jack Neo movie has become the highest grossing Singapore film ever. Ah Boys To Men has made over $6.03 million, beating the previous record holder, Money No Enough.



Wasn’t Neo’s career supposed to be over after his 2010 sex scandal?

Hands up, anyone disappointed that it isn’t.

Could it be that Singaporeans are becoming numb to sex scandals after so many?

Just last month, Gallup also declared that we were the “most emotionless” society in the world.

Obviously, the poll must have been done before the Suzuki Cup final.



I wonder if Gallup ever did a poll to find out how seriously people take these polls.

Earlier this month, according to a survey by travel website TripAdvisor, Singapore was ranked second for Best Taxi Services among “40 key tourist cities around the world”. (Tokyo was first.)

Tell that to Mr Chris Reed. Remember him?

He’s the expat who earlier this year wrote quite emphatically that “Singapore has the world’s worst taxi drivers” in his blog.

I mean, did he actually taken a taxi in every city in the world to make this judgment?

I didn’t do a poll or anything, but my guess is that Singaporeans are more likely to agree with Mr Reed than TripAdvisor.

The trouble is that calling Singapore “worst” or “best” or “least” or “most” in anything is hyperbolic at best and specious at worst, even when it’s backed by a survey. Perhaps especially so.

When Mr Reed stated that Singapore’s cabbies are the worst in the world, it was clearly only his opinion. You can choose to agree or disagree with him.

But when TripAdvisor said its survey results were “based on more than 75,000 responses”, hey, that sounded almost scientific.

It wasn’t just one guy’s opinions. It was many guys, plus a few gals too, I bet.

But they’re still only opinions.

Taxi service in Singapore may not be the worst, but based on extensive first-hand experience (especially when it rains), Singaporeans also know that it can’t possibly be the second best among “40 key tourist cities around the world”.

Because if it is, I really feel bad for the 38 other cities.



Speaking of feeling bad, a few months earlier, Singapore also topped the list of healthiest countries in a Bloomberg survey.

That would help to explain why one out of five workers said they had to feign an illness to get a medical certificate to get off work, according to yet another survey, this time by the website JobsCentral.

Most of these workers said they faked being sick because they did not feel like working.

And can you blame them?

They can’t strike because then they would have to give 14 days’ notice, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Who asked Singaporeans to be so healthy?

That is the drawback of being the healthiest country – it forces one fifth of our workforce to malinger.

Could that explain why we’re the least positive despite being the healthiest and wealthiest in the world?

Bear in mind that Singapore also had the highest GDP per capita according to the Wealth Report 2012 published by Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank.

Maybe Biggie was right – mo’ money, mo’ problems.



If money is the problem, then perhaps we should try giving mo’ of it away.

According to the World Giving Index 2011 by Charities Aid Foundation, Singapore ranked 91st out of 153 for donating to charity.

Yes, Virginia, there’s a survey for everything.

Or maybe we’re the least positive because Singapore women have been ranked the fifth most unfaithful out of 36 countries, according to a recent survey by Durex.

Or could the simpler explanation be that these surveys are just rubbish?

We’d be better off relying on the Mayans.

Or believing that video of the eagle picking up a child.



Not that such surveys are completely useless.

If not for them, I would have nothing to write about for today’s column.

But I would rather be Christmas shopping at Orchard Road.



Which, by the way, has been ranked the world’s No. 1 shopping avenue by Presence Mystery Shopping, a Paris-based market consulting company.

That makes me feel a pretty positive emotion. It’s almost merry.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 December 2012

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Headline Of The Month winner

In October, there was a report about another teacher having sex with a student:

A 32-year-old female Singaporean teacher was sentenced to a year in jail on Monday for having sex with a 15-year-old boy in her school, local media reported.

The teacher, who was married with two children, started a relationship with the student last year after she started counselling him.

The court was told that she wooed the boy with gifts including a copy of the bestselling book Eat Pray Love, which dealt with a divorced American woman's adventures and was made into a film starring Julia Roberts in 2010.

The two continued their relationship for more than a month, during which they had consensual sex at the teacher's flat before the student's parents found out about the affair and reported her to the school.

It was another one of those stories that would make great material for my movie script for Eric Khoo - if I were still writing it.

The most interesting detail in the story is of course the part about Eat Pray Love.

I've never read the book. I tried to watch the movie on video but gave up a quarter way through.



Anyway, one of my jobs at The New Paper apart from writing the column is coming up with headlines.

After almost five years at the paper, I found out this week that I've finally won a Headline Of The Month award.

My award-winning headline:

"Teach, Prey, Love?"



So thank you, 32-year-old teacher who had sex with a 15-year-old boy.

UPDATE: I win Headline Of The Year.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

I am not my cartoon (I hope)

This was how my last column appeared in The New Paper last Sunday.

.

Originally, the accompanying visual was a photo of Michael Palmer. It was then replaced with a photo of Eric Khoo, which was finally replaced with a cartoon of me that you see above.

I had no say in any of these decisions.

The artist who drew the cartoon is my New Paper colleague, Chng Choon Hiong.

He's the guy who drew the cartoon of the pandas which went viral a couple of months ago when Jia Jia and Liang Teh came to Singapore.



(UPDATE: Chng has won the 2012 SPH EMND Illustration of the Year award for this cartoon.)

He also drew the little cartoon of me at the top of this blog, which I took from this in-house ad he created for a mock advice column that Paik Choo and I (we are the "humorists") did a couple of years ago in the paper.



You can see more of his work here.

Anyway, back to me.



I want to point out a few things about this cartoon.

First of all, my hair doesn't look that wild. Okay, I try to prevent it from looking that wild. But I can accept that Chng drew it that way for effect.

What is not so acceptable is the depiction of me using a pen and paper to write. Hello, I use a computer.

Also, I hope my face doesn't really look that fat, but that may be a fat hope.

Finally, what I find most troubling of all is that Chng drew me with my mole still intact on my face after all the money  (about $300)  I spent to get it removed more than a year ago.

If you look closely, you can just make out the tiny grey circle below my left eye in the cartoon.

I understand that he probably drew it based on an old pre-mole removal photo of me, but then he sees me practically every day in the newsroom.

You mean he doesn't notice I don't have that mole any more?

I guess I wasted 300 bucks.

At least the look of anguish on my face is pretty accurate.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

So many sex scandals & my biggest regret of 2012

It’s that time again just before the end of the year when we look back with regret.

All the things we should’ve said. All the things we should’ve done.

All the things we shouldn’t have said. All the things we shouldn’t have done.

Like upgrading to iOS 6 before the release of the Google Maps app last week.

Like ordering the region-free Blu-ray of The Avengers (called Avengers Assemble in UK) from Amazon.co.uk because it’s cheaper only to find out too late that it doesn’t include the director’s commentary.

But my biggest regret of all? Giving up on the movie script that Eric Khoo asked me to write.

And the cause of this regret? Mr Michael Palmer.

Yes, the recently resigned Speaker of the House and Member of Parliament who wrote to a People’s Association employee: “I hope you are having a good massage. I have some mangoes for you.”

It all started eight months ago with an out-of-the- blue e-mail I received from Eric, whom I hadn’t spoken to in years.

I had a small cameo in his feature directorial debut Mee Pok Man back in 1995. A few years later, I tried and failed to persuade him to direct an episode of Phua Chu Kang which I was producing.



But it was my column in The New Paper on Sunday in April about another unforgettable Channel 5 show, VR Man, that prompted Eric to get back in touch and ask me if I would be “free for some coffee or booze”.

I was pleasantly surprised – thrilled even – by the e-mail.

Several days later, I made the pilgrimage to Eric’s luxurious lair in Goodwood Park Hotel (which his family owns) like I had done a few times before.

He was already waiting for me by the hotel’s swimming pool with two of his producers.



Eric offered me Japanese sake, but since I’m allergic to alcohol, I asked for plain water instead, which is another one of my big regrets of 2012.

I mean, this guy’s family is one of the richest in Singapore. I could’ve at least asked for iced tea.

Between reminiscing about the old days, he pitched an idea for a movie he wanted me to write.

At the time, everyone was talking about the dozens of men charged with having paid sex with an underaged girl, including a former school principal and Howard Shaw, a scion of a wealthy family not unlike Eric himself.

The director of 12 Storeys, Be With Me and My Magic was fascinated by the dichotomy between the growing sex scandal and Singapore’s “clean” image.

The Cultural Medallion winner wanted to make a movie – a “mockumentary”, he called it – to show the world the true perversity beneath the Singapore Inc facade.

The first question that popped up in my mind was: Why me?

What was Eric thinking?

“Okay, I need someone to write a movie about sexual perverts in Singapore. Hmmm... I know! Smong! He should be an expert on sexual perverts. He’s practically one himself.”

But Eric explained that he thought of me because he wanted the movie to be a comedy and he liked the humour in the VR Man column.

Also, since I’m working at The New Paper, I can get access to all the sensational stories we could use for the movie. He even suggested a possible tie-in with the paper.

But mostly, it was for old times’ sake. Eric and I have known each other for almost two decades now and we have never really collaborated on a project.

Over the years, we had discussed at different times making a horror movie and a movie about food, but this time, we were really going to do it. I mean, really!

That was eight months ago.

The only scene I’ve written is based on a 2010 news report about a guy who worked for the Singapore Police Force and secretly put his semen in a female colleague’s bottled water for her to drink – and she did.

In August, Eric SMSed me: “Guess i wont ever get anythin fm u” (sic) and I haven’t heard from him since.

He had finally given up on me and I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to finish the script. It was almost a relief.

The irony is that since that meeting with Eric by the pool, there have been one sex scandal after another, from a law professor having sex with a student to a secondary school teacher having sex with a student to Cecilia Sue to a primary school teacher having sex with a student, providing me with so much juicy material for the script – that is, if I were still writing it.

As if to rub it in my face, Mr Palmer had to come along with his extra-marital affair just before the year is out to remind me of my failing.

I apologise to Eric for once again letting him down. I have some mangoes for him which I hope will make up for it.

By the way, does anyone want to buy a region-free six-movie Blu-ray boxed set containing Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Avengers Assemble?

I’m asking $70 for it. E-mail me. (Maybe?)

- Published in The New Paper, 16 December 2012



Thursday, 13 December 2012

I saw a movie today



Everyone's talking about it.

He's no lord of the ring, especially the wedding ring.

How's this for irony? Back on Feb 28, The Straits Times reported:

Sacked Workers' Party (WP) member Yaw Shin Leong has officially vacated his seat in Parliament, announced Speaker Michael Palmer on Tuesday...

The party had expelled Mr Yaw on the evening of Feb 14 for repeatedly refusing to come clean on his alleged extramarital affairs.

Just as a by-election was called to replace Mr Yaw, there may be another one to replace Mr Palmer. I'm not looking forward to a fourth election in 24 months.

By the way, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey kind of drags, especially the Bag End scenes in the beginning.



But the pre-movie 9-minute Star Trek Into Darkness preview rocked. See it in Imax 3D.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Quarter-decked



A navy regular Jason Chee Weng Fai, 29, has reportedly lost both legs and an arm in a shipboard accident on Monday.

He was doing a routine check on the berthing ropes on the quarterdeck of a landing ship tank (LST) when he was caught between a motorised winch and a rope.

For you landlubbers, quarterdeck is usually at the back of the ship.

According to The Straits Times: "The area where he got hurt is one of the riskiest areas on board the landing ship tank. Former navy servicemen described the warship's quarterdeck as 'crammed' and 'slippery'."

Yes, the quarterdeck can be a dangerous place.

I was in the navy during my national service, though I have never worked in the new (to me) LSTs, but I've worked on the quarterdeck of other big ships during my in-camp training.



For some reason, even though I was a medic with zero seamanship training, I was usually assigned to assist the crew in handling the ropes on the quarterdeck when the ship was slipping off or going alongside.

You have to be very careful where you stand or you can get caught in the ropes. The trouble is there's a lot of waiting around and you may get bored and wander off and unwittingly end up where you shouldn't be.

I had one or two close calls. I remember getting yelled at a lot on the quarterdeck.

That's why that was the part of my reservist training I hated most.

It was also the scariest... well, not counting the time I was asked to "drive" the ship.

I've also been on night watch duty on the bridge where I was supposed to look out for vessels in the dark and call out their positions so that the ship wouldn't sail into them. I could barely tell port from starboard.

Once again, I wasn't acting blur, but was really blur.

So why was I asked to do something I wasn't trained for?

Because of all those guys who managed to get out of ICT, there was always not enough hands. And what else do I have to do as a medic onboard except sleep in sick bay all day and occasionally wake up to dispense some paracetamol?

I was happy to help out to be part of team, but I was seriously concerned about my safety - and the ship's.

I once suggested to an officer during a post-ICT interview that navy medics should also be formally trained in some basic seamanship, but nothing came from it. I suspect it's because officially, medics weren't supposed to be performing the sea duties that I was doing.

Fortunately, I haven't been on a quarterdeck since my ROD six years ago.

I miss the trips to Thailand, but not getting yelled at.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Protesting? Forget Speakers’ Corner, climb a crane



So the Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park isn’t good enough any more?

Two construction workers climbed two separate tower cranes on Thursday to protest not getting paid (or so they claimed).

But was it a strike? They were lucky not to get struck by lightning.



The duo have since been charged with criminal trespass.

I guess registering for Speakers’ Corner is just too much trouble compared to climbing a tower crane.

Perhaps Hong Lim Park is too low key – literally – being at ground level and all. Maybe NParks should install some sort of podium at Speakers’ Corner. Like a 10-storey-high podium.

Did you know there was a candlelight vigil and memorial service for a dolphin at Hong Lim Park last Sunday night?



You know how much people love dolphins, right? Apparently not much as they love pandas.

I don’t recall reading about the dolphin event in the news the next day.

Although that could be because my memory isn’t what it used to be after my brain temporarily went dead after reading that the CNNGo website had listed Ng Chin Han and Fann Wong among Asia’s 25 greatest actors of all time. Stay classy, CNNGo.

Where was I?

Oh yah, I don’t recall reading about the dolphin event in the news the next day. But the day after the crane protest, the two construction workers were front page news.

Which puts me in a dilemma.

There are a few things I want to protest, but now I can’t decide whether to do it in Hong Lim Park or up on a tower crane.

What do I want to protest?

For one thing, I want to protest Chin Han killing the US TV series Last Resort. A week after it was announced that he was joining the show, it was announced that Last Resort was cancelled. Coincidence?



Speaking of death, I also want to protest any news story with a headline containing the name Muddy Waters and it isn’t about a dead blues singer.

Speaking of singers, I also want to protest Justin Bieber getting zero Grammy nominations despite winning three American Music Awards, including Artist of the Year, last month.



Not that I’m a die-hard Belieber, but this means the American Music Awards can’t be trusted at all as an indicator of artistic merit if the Grammys don’t agree with them.

Next thing you know, the Golden Globes could also be rendered irrelevant and then it would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

Speaking of the civilisation’s end, I also want to protest the villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the upcoming Star Trek movie, Into Darkness. In the trailer released online last week, he says: “Enjoy these final moments of peace for I have returned to have my vengeance.”



Wasn’t Nero, the villain in the previous Star Trek movie, driven by vengeance as well? It makes me long for the humpback whales of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.



Speaking of the voyage home, the biggest thing I want to protest is all the protests against the announcements of MRT station names in Mandarin on some trains.

As if SMRT doesn’t have enough problems.



SMRT has just announced that it will stop the Mandarin announcements.

Some people complained about the awkward translations while others felt that there should also be Malay and Tamil translations – just to be fair.

SMRT responded that the Mandarin announcements were to “assist passengers, especially older citizens, who rely on announcements during their journeys”. What SMRT didn’t say is that the only passengers the Mandarin announcements assisted were Chinese-speaking passengers.

And if SMRT really wants to help older citizens – actually just older Chinese-speaking citizens – then the announcements should be in dialect, not Mandarin.



I dread the day when for the sake of equality, the elderly and what-have-you, MRT station names will be announced in English, Malay, Tamil, Hindi, Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka and of course, my personal favourite, Hainanese.

Did I leave anything out?

Oh yah, Singlish for Phua Chu Kang.

By the time the station name is announced in all the languages and dialects, you would already be two stations ahead.



I just hope it won’t cause me to miss my stop when I take the train to Clarke Quay MRT station. It’s the one closest to Hong Lim Park.

Yes, I’m likely to stick to terra firma for my multi-prong Chin Han-Muddy Waters-Justin Bieber-Star Trek-multi-language MRT station names protest.

But I wonder, if I protest at Speakers’ Corner and no one cares, do I make a sound?

If only I weren’t afraid of heights.

And getting arrested for criminal trespass.

- Published in The New Paper, 9 December 2012

Monday, 3 December 2012

Bugger! And me without my KY jelly

Spotted in the basement of Yew Tee Point.



I'm not sure, but Sod Time may still be considered illegal in some countries. Singapore used to be one of those countries until 2007.



Winter has come early indeed.



Time for me to sod off.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Call a spade a spade, but don't call me Samantha

It’s like “ponding” all over again.

Remember how after flash floods hit Orchard Road in December last year, PUB said “there was no flooding at Orchard Road”?

But “water ponded at the open area of Liat Towers, the underpass between Lucky Plaza and Ngee Ann City, and the basement of Lucky Plaza due to the sustained heavy downpour”.

“Ponding” became the joke word of the day.

Why did Noah build an ark? To prepare for The Great Ponding.

A couple of weeks later, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament: “As far as I’m concerned, I call a spade a spade. A flood is a flood.”

I totally agree.

I think it’s about time we call a spade a spade in the dispute between SMRT and some of its employees who did not show up for work last week.

Actually, just about everybody is calling the spade a spade except for one contrarian organisation – SMRT.

This is from a press release issued by SMRT on Wednesday:
“On 26 November 2012, 171 Service Leaders from China did not report for duty.

“At dialogue with the Service Leaders yesterday, SMRT assured the Service Leaders it will look into their concerns, while the Service Leaders agreed to return to work the next day.”
Huh? What the hell are “Service Leaders”?

As if the term wasn’t obscure enough already, SMRT then abbreviated it in the next sentence.
“However, despite the agreement, 68 and 20 of the SLs who were on the morning and afternoon shift did not show up for work today (27 Nov).”
Who are these “SLs” and why should we care about them?

We should care about them because these SLs drive buses and if they don’t return to work, we might have to wait even longer than usual for the bus.

There is another name for them – they’re called “bus drivers”.

Or BDs for short. (Not to be confused with Triumph Bee Dees.)



To paraphrase Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which SMRT calls a Service Leader by any other name would still strike.”

I understand the desire to give the BDs a title that’s more aspirational, but “Service Leader” is just too generic and sounds like it could mean anything from someone who leads a church service to a head waiter.

SMRT is apparently aware of the problem because in an online job ad for Service Leaders, the company felt the need to add the words “bus drivers” in parentheses.

This is why you should call a spade a spade. Otherwise, you have to put “spade” in brackets, so people know what you’re talking about.

If the term “bus drivers” is too low class for SMRT, the company can follow what SBS Transit does and call its BDs “bus captains”, which actually sounds kind of cool and at least has the word “bus” in it.

The other option is “pilots on wheels”, but that may be a bit of a mouthful. Well, you can always shorten it to POW... oh, I see the problem. (POW is already short for prisoners of war.)

Unfortunately, it seems the BDs themselves have little control over what they're called.

I know the feeling.

Last week, I received an e-mail complaining about my column lamenting the end of the Twilight movies.

I suggested that the film-makers could continue the movie series without following the books.

I wrote: “The next Twilight movie could be about Jacob and Renesmee having a werewolf-vampire-human triple-hybrid baby who accidentally gets swapped with a very realistic-looking doll at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.”

That was the only mention of the hospital in the 773-word column, but it was enough for the e-mail writer to complain:
“So you thought that a movie about a baby-swap at a named maternity hospital was funny?

“It is okay to ridicule a hospital where a genuine human error has occurred?

"You know that in the current climate, the institution is not going to respond to your stupid comment. And so, you took a cheap shot.”
Ouch. I think I need a doctor.

The writer continued:
“So, you chose to ridicule the hospital and in the process, the good people working behind the scenes to do good for future generations.”
That wasn’t my intention, but I see the writer’s point. So I apologise to the good people of KKH for my stupid comment.

But what I don’t understand is why the e-mail began with “Dear Samantha”.

Who’s Samantha? Am I Samantha?

I know my hair is long like a beautiful woman’s, but do I look like a Samantha?

Did the writer think that S M Ong stood for Samantha Ong? (Then he should address me as Ms Ong.)

Even if I look like a beautiful woman in my byline photo, I had stated quite specifically in the column that “I’m a middle-aged man who likes Twilight”!

And the SLs from China think they got problems.

It’s almost enough to make me want to cut my hair and jump into a giant pond.

- Published in The New Paper, 2 December 2012

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

SMRT bus drivers' strike: Who's the villain?



So who has "netizens" vilified most in the dispute between SMRT and its mainland China bus drivers?

FOREIGNERS?

I was bracing myself for another round of foreigner-bashing online, now an entrenched local pastime.

While this may not be the first time foreign workers have stopped work en masse in recent times, this is the first time a public service has been affected.

Maybe this will finally force the Government to seriously re-examine our over-reliance on foreign workers for essential public services and beyond. Then these foreign bus drivers would've accomplished with one strike what all the online foreigner-bashing couldn't.

Surprisingly, there is actually some sympathy and even admiration for the bus drivers for standing up to the establishment.



SMRT?

The Chinese bus drivers complained about unequal pay and poor accommodations provided by the company.

Most of Singapore already hate SMRT for the train disruptions. Where are you now, Saw Phaik Hwa?

But surprisingly again, SMRT isn't the big butt of jokes this time round.

So who is the big butt of jokes?



MAINSTREAM MEDIA!

Of all things, "netizens" have chosen to focus their weekly outrage on the reluctance to use the word "strike" in news reports of the dispute.



It's another "ponding"!

I'd rather make fun of SMRT's increasingly ironic insistence on calling its bus drivers "Service Leaders".



So "netizens" actually hate local media more than they hate foreign talent and SMRT. Now that's saying something.

Anyway, here's proof that The Straits Times isn't afraid to use the word "strike" where it's warranted.



Headline on Stomp today: See how badly this auntie wants to score a bowling 'strike'.

COLUMN: Call a spade a spade...

Monday, 26 November 2012

I finished the 10km Pioneer Road Run & got a banana



So I joined my second organised run this year and my first since July's Jurong Lake Run. That was 6km. For yesterday's Pioneer Road Run, I ran 10km.

Actually, it was only about 9.8km according to my iPhone running app, although it was advertised as 10km.



At the finish line, I was given a finisher's medal, a can of 100 Plus and a banana.

A banana? Yes, a banana.

I was surprised because I did not get a banana or any other fruit at the Jurong Lake Run, where I got a finisher's T-shirt, which I prefer because it's non-perishable.

It was a nice banana though.

The Jurong Lake Run was a much bigger event just in terms of number of participants.

It was also more pleasant running around the lake than running around the industrial area along Pioneer Road.

There's nothing like the smell of pollution in the morning - while you run.

The first Pioneer Road Run also had too many traffic junctions along the race route, much of which was narrow sidewalk. The organisers didn't even close the roads.

Too bad I've limited my options by choosing to join only 10km events not too far from my home in Choa Chu Kang, which is one reason I didn't sign up for the Salomon X-Trail Run also held yesterday morning.



That looks like more fun, but it's all the way in Tampines.

Next Sunday is of course the big one, the Standard Chartered Marathon, which is way out of my league and my Choa Chu Kang area.

Perhaps someday...

For now, this is me at the Pioneer Road Run starting line.



If only the back of the shirt is true.



The road fears me? I think the road has better things to worry about.

Like strewn banana peels.



UPDATE: I came in at 92 out of 305 in the 10km men's category.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Real men watch Twilight (with their daughters)

Maybe we’re Vulcan.

According to Gallup, Singapore is the least emotional society in the world.

Like Singapore, the people on the planet Vulcan are not very emotional – that is, before the planet was destroyed in the 2009 Star Trek movie.



But it’s a common misconception that Vulcans have no emotions. In fact, they have plenty of emotions. It’s just that they have learnt to suppress their emotions. Some Vulcans are better at it than others.

The most famous Vulcan of all is, of course, Spock, who is actually half human since his mother is from Earth, which would suggest that he is more emotional than regular Vulcans.

It was his "ability to see beyond pure logic" that led Ambassador Spock to seek the reunification of the Vulcan and Romulan people in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation.



After all, Vulcans and Romulans already have the same pointy ears and bad haircuts.

I’m sorry, what were we talking about?

Oh yah, according to Gallup, Singapore is the least emotional society in the world.

That doesn’t mean that we have no emotions. It just means that we’re not as demonstrative as those drama queens in the Philippines who top the Gallup survey as the most emotional.

Which is a good thing or otherwise, I would be bawling my eyes out right now. And it’s not because we’re at the bottom of that survey.

Or because the Ministry of Education will no longer name the top scorers of national exams to end PSLE envy.


Or because McDonald’s has stopped selling the Samurai burger.

Or because Ms Cecilia Sue is not testifying in the sex-for-contracts trial anymore.

No, it’s because there will be no more new Twilight Saga movies.

Yes, I’m a middle-aged man who likes Twilight.

I’ve never read the books (and don’t plan to) and I got into the saga only when I saw the first movie on video out of curiosity long after its initial theatrical release and after it became a worldwide phenomenon.

Like many straight men, I was dismissive of the Twilight Saga for being derivative drivel aimed at teen girls just as I was dismissive of Sex & The City for being a wish-fulfilment fantasy for pre-menopausal women.

But when I saw the first Twilight movie, I realised that it’s actually a thoughtful character study about a teenage girl, Isabella Marie Swan, growing up and dealing with the changes in her life.



All that vampire stuff is just colour, even though the Caucasian vampires themselves don’t have much of it.

Despite criticisms about her acting, Kristen Stewart as Bella is the sympathetic emotional core of the saga.

She plays the character with just enough self-aware kookiness to justify some weird decisions Bella makes (like, for instance, falling for a vampire) yet not alienate the audience.

Unfortunately, as the movies went on, they became less about character and more about plot. When you’ve seen one climactic battle between good and bad vampires (with or without werewolves), you’ve seen them all.



Still, you care what happens in the movies because you care what happens to Bella.

But you know who my favourite character in the saga is? Bella’s dad, Charlie.

Maybe it’s because I’m also a father of a teenage girl.

For five movies, Charlie has been unaware that his daughter was dating a vampire, became a vampire herself and gave birth to a vampire-human hybrid.

He makes me look competent.



And on top of that, he’s the chief of police!

The next time I meet my boss for my job appraisal, I’m going to point out that at least I’m not as bad as the top law-enforcement officer in a town overrun with bloodsuckers and werewolves fighting each other out in the open – and he has no idea!

(Insert your own Cecilia Sue-Ng Boon Gay joke here.)

I’m going to miss Charlie.

But what I’ll miss most of all is watching the Twilight movies in the theatre with my daughter – even though we did that only for Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2.

She also became a fan a little late – around the same time I did. It was perfect synchronicity. Twilight became our thing.

After watching Breaking Dawn Part 2, we once again argued over whether Kristen Stewart can act. We have never been closer.



And now Twilight is no more.

I would cry if not for Singapore being a Vulcan society.

Why can’t the Twilight producers just make more movies and disregard the books like what the James Bond producers have done?

The next Twilight movie could be about Jacob and Renesmee having a werewolf-vampire-human triple-hybrid baby who accidentally gets swapped with a very realistic-looking doll at KKH.

I guess I’m still in denial. I just have to reach that final stage of grief and accept that it’s really over.

My daughter and I tried to get into The Hunger Games, but couldn’t. Damn you, Josh Hutcherson for being too short for Jennifer Lawrence.



On the other hand, my daughter is now getting into Star Trek. The new Star Trek movie is coming out next year. It better not suck. (Get it? "Suck"? As in vampires suck?)

May the franchise live long and prosper.

For I have run out of tears.

No, I didn’t cry and you can’t prove that I did.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 November 2012

Dear Samantha,

So you thought that a movie about a baby-swap at a named maternity hospital was funny?

It is okay to ridicule a hospital where a genuine human error has occured? You know that in the current climate, the institution is not going to respond to your stupid comment. And so, you took a cheap shot.

Did the following ever occured to you?

a. KK Hospital is a tertiary perinatal centre where other institutions refer complicated pregnancies for further management? Their team of dedicated obstetricians and paediatricians look after nearly two-thirds of the complicated pregnancies in Singapore?

b. KK Hospital has a great history?

- Pioneering work in IVF in Asia was done in Singapore?

Did you read the article about the woman who conceived through IVF carried out by Prof Ratnam in KKH. Her son conceived through IVF is now studying Psychiatry in Melbourne.

- A surgical technique in Gynaecology is named after one of former Presidents, the Sheare's operation.

So, you chose to ridicule the hospital and in the process the good people working behind the scenes to do good for future generations.

As humans, we make mistakes. So processes and systems must be in place to prevent such mistakes. The best processes and systems can never reduce error to zero. If errors can be reduced to zero, then we will never have nuclear disasters, airline crashes, wrong site surgeries, cable-car accidents etc...Good systems can only reduce these errors but never eliminate them.

What if someone ridicules the quality of journalists in SPH? Would you or your management be happy about it?

Disappointed
COLUMN: Don't call me Samantha

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