That was the question I was asked the most often at last weekend's All In! Young Writers Media Festival, where I was a panellist with author and fellow New Paper columnist Neil Humphreys.
Okay, I was asked the question only twice, but that was enough to make it the most asked question.
I'm assuming the enquirers were asking me what subject matter, if any, I avoid writing about (and not the meaning of the word “taboo”).
Because of time constraint, my short answer was any subject related to race, religion and gay sex.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) last week told a student group, the Campus Crusade for Christ, to cease all activities on campus precisely because of one of those subjects and I’m not talking about race.
Now that I have a little more time, I would like to expand my answer and add a few other things I also avoid writing about.
1. Anything that would result in me getting a letter from the Prime Minister's lawyers and a letter from the Prime Minister's brother’s lawyers.
That was what happened to Mr Richard Wan, editor of the website Temasek Review Emeritus.
I suspect Mr Wan will receive a letter from the lawyers of the Prime Minister’s dog next.
2. Speaking of which, I would also avoid calling Singaporeans "dogs", even though I'm not a foreign student studying at NUS on a scholarship.
But I have some mixed feelings about this. Is being called a dog that bad?
On the one hand, being a dog means I could get run over by a Porsche driven by a national bowler. (Boo, Remy Ong. Can't afford a Lamborghini, is it?)
On the other hand, it could be worse – I could be a cat.
What’s so bad about being a cat? Apart from getting stuck in a glue-board trap and dying a horrible death, you mean?
Apparently, in Singapore, it's against the law to hit a dog and not stop to help. But if you run over Garfield, hey, no problem. Keep on truckin'!
Besides Odie, the Road Traffic Act also favours cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, goats, mules and asses (which I think are different from "arses"), but not cats, monkeys, rabbits, birds or snakes.
(By the way, unlike Tampines MP Baey Yam Keng, I was born in the year of the horse.)
The law doesn't mention donkeys, rats, armadillos, dolphins, dragons, pokemons and monitor lizards mistaken for crocodiles.
Indeed, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. (Wow, studying George Orwell in secondary school finally paid off.)
Dogs versus cats? No contest. Dogs rule, at least according to the Road Traffic Act.
I expect cat lovers to protest this law at Hong Lim Park soon. Snake lovers can come too. (But no snake eaters.)
3. The phrase “chink in the armour”.
An ESPN editor was fired for using that in a headline for a story about Chinese-American basketball wonderboy Jeremy Lin.
Maybe the editor should’ve used “ChiNkBaLLa88 in the armour”.
(“ChiNkBaLLa88” is an online nickname Lin has used for himself.)
4. Okay, this has nothing to do with writing, but it’s a new taboo: walking near an MRT track where dislodged metal rail clips could be falling on your head.
5. I previously thought this was taboo until it was broken by singer Rob Halford of UK metal band Judas Priest last Monday at Fort Canning Park: performing in concert while wearing the Singapore flag draped around your shoulders.
He was about five months too early for National Day. (Or was it six months too late?)
Did anyone call the fashion police? Was he singing Breaking The Law at the time?
Who does Halford think he is? Jacintha Abisheganaden?
Did I mention that Halford is openly gay?
Oops. That’s taboo.
- Published in The New Paper, 26 February 2012
the plural of pokemon is pokemon