Saturday, 14 October 2017

Harvey Weinstein's Singapore connection: Forever Fever

Talk about box office gross behaviour.

By now, even non-movie buffs should know who Harvey Weinstein is.

But did you know Weinstein has a Singapore connection?

Back in the late 90s, Singaporean theatre maven Glen Goei made his fiim directorial debut with Forever Fever starring Adrian Pang.

It was the first time I heard of Pang.

Goei financed the film with credit cards. According to a 1999 New York Times report:
Then, through serendipity, someone saw his film in a lab in Sydney and asked if he could take a copy and try to market it at the Cannes Film Festival.

"On the very first day, Harvey Weinstein happened to stumble into a screening and bought the film," Mr. Goei said.

"He called me up. At the time, I didn't know who Harvey Weinstein was."

Mr Goei soon found out, and the check from Miramax helped him pay off his entire credit-card debt.

"It was all quite surreal," he said.

Weinstein was reported to have said: “Forever Fever has heart.”

Goei wrote in 2015:
Harvey Weinstein from Miramax, who later picked up Forever Fever for an international release, said it was the music that allowed him to connect with the film.

Fortunately, screenings in international audience markets ensured a healthy profit for Forever Fever - its local takings would not have come close to breaking even.

The movie grossed over $19 million, making it the first internationally successful Singaporean film.

At one point, the movie's title was changed to Don't Call Me John Travolta. It was eventually released internationally as That's The Way I Like It.

The poster didn't even show anyone from the movie, just random Asians.

Goei recalled: "In its North American release, Forever Fever was dubbed over by American actors because of fears that audiences would not understand the Singaporean actors."

You can hear the American accents in the trailer below:

Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a C-.

Miramax reportedly signed Goei to a three-picture deal, which appeared to have lapsed by the time he made his second feature, The Blue Mansion, in 2009.

Goei has yet to release a statement about Weinstein.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Not infinity and beyond: How high can the Burger King Stacker go? I found out

It’s like 2008 all over again.

But infinitely bigger.

But not quite.

In November 2008, Burger King introduced the BK Quad Stacker, a burger with four layers of beef patty and cheese plus some turkey bacon.

It would have been the tallest burger I had ever seen except that McDonald’s stole Burger King’s thunder by introducing at the same time the Mega Mac, which was basically a Big Mac but with four patties instead of the usual two.

And because the Mega Mac had the layer of bun between the meat, it was actually taller than the BK Quad Stacker.

I wondered at the time, why did Burger King stop at four?

Why not a BK Quin Stacker? Or a BK Sex Stacker? No, wait, that sounds like something NSFW.

Because of that restraint, the Home of the Whopper got whopped by the home of Pennywise in the Great Mega Burger Battle of 2008.

That was nine years ago.

This time, Burger King is not repeating the mistake it made in that historic food fight.

You might even say the fast food chain is overcompensating a bit.

Forget the Quad Stacker. Kid’s stuff.

Last week, Burger King announced the return of the Stacker with pictures of burgers as tall as 10 layers high!

One ad suggests that you can get as many layers of patty and cheese as you want at $1.50 per additional layer.

So in theory, you could order a burger with an infinite number of layers — an Infinity Stacker, if you will ­— which just blows my mind.

Could this be fake news? Like Stefanie Sun’s death? Or the overly optimistic additional travelling time SMRT tells you to add every time there’s a train fault? (That is, unless it’s a flooding-in-the-tunnel fault.)

As a fake journalist, I had to find out for myself.

So I went to the Burger King outlet in Novena Square last Friday.

First, I tried using the electronic self-order kiosk, but the tallest burger I could find on the onscreen menu was the quadruple. What was this? 2008?

So I went to the counter and asked a human being whether I could get a 10-layer Stacker.

I was told I could order as many layers as I want, but the tallest burger they could make for me was a five-layer Stacker with the remaining layers of meat patty and sliced cheese packed separately.

Some assembly required.

I was crushed.

What was the point then?

Was I buying a burger or Ikea furniture?

I felt so disillusioned that I just ordered a five-layer beef Stacker with onion rings and a small Fanta Grape to go.

But as I was leaving, I thought to myself: “No, I came here for a 10-layer Stacker. I’m not leaving without a 10-layer Stacker even if I have to assemble it myself.”

So I went back to the counter to order what I guess you could call the Deca Stacker.

True enough, I was given a Quin Stacker with the five extra patties packed separately in a flat plastic container and the five extra slices of cheese wrapped in wax paper.

Of course, I realised that if I included the first Quin Stacker I bought earlier, I actually have the ingredients to build a 15-layer Stacker.

But the question was, should I?

A 10-layer burger seemed reasonable (because of the nice, round number) and maybe a little too predictable even, but creating a burger with 15 layers of meat and cheese felt wrong.

It felt like a crime against nature. An affront to god. A blight on humanity.

It certainly went against everything Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech about eating healthily.

But I did it anyway.

Behold, the Pentadeca Stacker!

That was what I called it.

Even the name sounds like the devil’s work.

No wonder after eating the monster, I felt like I was going to hell.

Your move, McDonald’s.

- Published in The New Paper, 9 October 2017

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Here Today, gone tomorrow: Remember the time Mr Brown's column got suspended?

There will be no Today tomorrow.

At least in print form.

On Friday, Mediacorp published the final print edition of Today newspaper and Singapore Press Holdings is back to being a monopoly, albeit in a sunset industry, thanks to the Internet.

I interviewed for a job at Today in 2002 after I was retrenched from SPH Mediaworks but didn't get it.

Ironically, the Today editor who interviewed me was PN Balji, who had jumped ship to Mediacorp from SPH where he was editor of The New Paper, which I would join six years later.

Apart from my abortive job interview, what I remember most about the 17-year history of Today are two names, Val Chua and Mr Brown. They starred in separate (but linked) Today sagas that serve as chilling reminders of how individuals can be punished when the press (unwittingly?) missteps in the eyes of the state.

On Nov 3, 2003, Today published this seemingly innocuous front-page report by Chua:
Emotions ran high on a balmy Sunday night as the normally stoic Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew nearly broke down while recounting the ordeal his wife went through in London recently.

The troubles that the couple faced - including joining a queue in a free hospital - when Mrs Lee was hit by stroke two Sundays ago, revealed how differently two systems worked.

"I cannot tell you how restless and unhappy we felt," he said at a community event in Jalan Bukit Merah yesterday.

"We run a (healthcare) system where you have to co-pay ... but you get the attention. There, no attention, just join the queue," he said grimly.

The first sign of trouble was that there was no private hospital with CT scan facility at night in London, he told residents and community leaders.

So, Mrs Lee had to go to the NHS hospital nearest to the Four Seasons Hotel where they were staying - a free facility called the Royal London Hospital - and join the queue.

"We waited 45 minutes for the ambulance for a 10-minute drive," said Mr Lee in his first public appearance since the couple returned on Friday.

"In Singapore, within half-an-hour, you would be in SGH (Singapore General Hospital), TTSH (Tan Tock Seng Hospital) ... and within one-and-a-half to two hours flat, you'd know what went wrong."

When Mrs Lee reached The Royal London Hospital at 12.30am, it happened to have three cardiac arrest patients.

Mr Lee was told his wife's brain problem was "not as important" as the cardiac arrest cases, he recounted solemnly. She would have had to wait till 8am the next morning for her CT brain scan if 10 Downing Street had not intervened to get her early attention. High Commissioner Michael Teo had sought help from 10 Downing Street at 2am on Sunday and she received treatment at 3.30am on the night itself.

"Once upon a time, it was a wonderful hospital. But after 40 plus years ... the system cannot deliver. There's no connection between those in the system and the patients," he said.

But it's the way free healthcare systems work, he added, noting that Singapore must not go down that path, even though there are calls for free C class wards in public hospitals here.

"It's how the system works ... They did not discriminate against us," he noted of his London experience.

This contrasted sharply with how quickly Singaporeans - including national carrier Singapore Airlines - reacted to the situation.

Even though doctors initially advised that Mrs Lee stay put in London for three weeks, Mr Lee decided fly her back once her condition stabilised.

And then there was the big worry that she would get a spasm onboard, he recounted.

But he needn't have worried. Within 48 hours, SIA had fitted out SQ321 with medical support of oxygen tanks and other fixtures for a drip.

"No other airline would have done this," Mr Lee said, looking visibly touched.

On board were also two Intensive Care nurses from Changi General Hospital, two doctors, as well as officials from SIA who made sure all the equipment worked.

"Everyone knows his job," said Mr Lee. "Within 12 to 13 hours, we'd reached Changi Airport. It was a big relief," he said. "Twelve to 13 hours. Your heart stops beating sometimes. We landed at Changi Airport. Great relief. I had my granddaughter (Li Xiuqi) with me. She is very fond of her grandmother. She was so relieved."

Mrs Lee was whisked off in an ambulance to Singapore General Hospital, where she is recovering.

"I think this experience has changed my granddaughter's view of Singapore," Mr Lee said.

The overseas ordeal has made him even more assured that Singapore has what it takes to succeed, despite the downturn. "It's how we respond in an emergency that determines how we fight back. And I have enormous confidence that we can fight back."

The Singapore system - with its efficiency and fighting spirit - must be kept, he said.

"You slacken, you choose the easy way, and you'd be finished," he said.

Choking back tears, he added: "I have immense confidence that in an emergency, our people respond ... If we can do that, we can succeed."

I actually remember seeing the story that day and didn't think anything of it, but apparently, it caused an international incident.

AFP reported:
Singapore's Senior Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, admitted Wednesday he was mistaken to claim that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office intervened to ensure his wife got quick treatment at a London hospital.

The elderly Lee caused a mini furore when he told a public gathering here at the weekend that 10 Downing St helped ensure his wife was given a brain scan four and a half hours earlier than doctors had initially said they could.

Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, 82, was taken to the state-run Royal London Hospital at 12:30 am on Sunday October 27 after she suffered a stroke while the couple were travelling on official business.

Lee, 80, initially said Singapore High Commissioner Michael Teo had called 10 Downing Street at 2:00 am and asked them to help ensure Mrs Lee was given the CT scan more quickly.

"Because of 10 Downing Street, the CT scan was done at 3:30 am. And then the blood clot could be seen clearly," Lee told the weekend community event, adding the incident highlighted the problems of Britain's free health care system.

But after the Royal London Hospital denied on Tuesday it ever gave preferential treatment to anyone and his comments made front-page headlines in Britain, Lee's office issued a short statement clarifying his comments.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew regrets he was mistaken that 10 Downing Street had anything to do with his wife getting a CT scan at 3:30 am," the statement said.

"Earlier, at 2:00 am, he was told that it would be done at 8:00 am because they had cardiac patients to attend to.

"The hospital authorities may have decided on their own that they could do the scan for Mrs Lee earlier and she was scanned at 3:00 am, completing it at 3:30 am."

The Royal London Hospital is part of Britain's huge state-run National Health Service, which guarantees free health care to all but suffers long waiting lists, excessive red tape and a shortage of doctors and nurses.

Lee's weekend comments that were critical of Britain's health care system compared with Singapore's part user-pays method also caused controversy.

"We run a system where you have to co-pay... but you get the attention. There, no attention, just join the queue," local media reported Lee as saying.

He described The Royal London Hospital as a "wonderful hospital" a long time ago.

"But after 40 plus years... the system cannot deliver. There's no connection between those in the system and the patients."

Lee also praised Singapore Airlines for fitting out a plane with two intenstive care nurses, two doctors, oxygen and a drip to bring his wife back to Singapore, despite a British doctor telling them it would be better she stayed in London to recover.

"We weighed the odds and decided to take the risk," Lee said.

Mrs Lee is recovering at Singapore General Hospital.

By then, Mano Sabnani had replaced Balji as Today editor. The following behind-the-scenes account was circulated online:
LKY's press secretary summoned Shaun Seow, Mano Sabnani, Rahul Singh [actually Rahul Pathak], Bachchan Singh and Val Chua for a tekan session at the Istana. He chided the newspaper for running provocative stories that are out of bounds.

Today was asked to explain what service it does to the nation and why it shouldn't be closed down. Mediacorp was ordered to supervise Today more closely or it will be punished too. Also, all reports on local news must be written by locals, no foreigners allowed.

The chief editor, Mano Sabnani, has been demoted. He still holds the title, but he must now report to Shaun Seow, CEO Mediacorp Channel News Asia.

Shaun was previously in the news when his wife Zahara Latif poured boiling water on her maid and pushed her down a flight of stairs. Zahara paid a huge sum to the maid and pleaded mental unsoundness and got off with a light sentence. Maybe she was a White Horse or really kuku after so many years at Channel News Asia. Look at what happened to the rest of the lot.

The deputy editor Rahul has also been demoted to night desk to be together with the other night editor Bachchan Singh.

The reporter Val Chua now writes advertising features for DBS and other banks.

Her press pass is withdrawn and she cannot report news. She keeps her job and now reports directly to an old ex-Reuters editor hired in September by Today to consolidate operations.

Today has been told it has crossed the line and the media license will be withdrawn if it writes in such a way as to provoke bad feelings which may lead to public unhappiness.

Now, what the **** is happening?

Was Val Chua's report factually wrong? Was it slanderous? Was it biased?

Nothing. She reported what SM said at the Tanjong Pagar makan session, straight reporting, no twist. She added some background about the healthcare system and how different Singapore and UK are, mentioned by SM in his talk.

A young girl's career is ruined when she did no wrong. Where is justice?

Chua appears to have since bounced back and is now the director of communications at Marina Bay Sands.

Three years after the Val Chua saga, Mr Brown (aka Lee Kin Mun) wrote a column for Today headlined "S’poreans are fed, up with progress!" published on June 30, 2006:
THINGS are certainly looking up for Singapore again. Up, up, and away.

Household incomes are up, I read. Sure, the bottom third of our country is actually seeing their incomes (or as one newspaper called it, “wages”) shrink, but the rest of us purportedly are making more money.

Okay, if you say so.

As sure as Superman Returns, our cost of living is also on the up. Except we are not able to leap over high costs in a single bound.

Cost of watching World Cup is up. Price of electricity is up. Comfort’s taxi fares are going up. Oh, sorry, it was called “being revised”. Even the prata man at my coffeeshop just raised the price of his prata by 10 cents. He was also revising his prata prices.

So Singaporeans need to try to “up” their incomes, I am sure, in the light of our rising costs. Have you upped yours?

We are very thankful for the timing of all this good news, of course. Just after the elections, for instance. By that I mean that getting the important event out of the way means we can now concentrate on trying to pay our bills.

It would have been too taxing on the brain if those price increases were announced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability to choose wisely.

The other reason I am glad with the timing of the cost of living increases and wages going down, is that we can now deploy our Progress Package to pay for some of these bills.

Wait, what? You spent it all on that fancy pair of shoes on the day you saw your money in your account? Too bad for you then.

As I break into my Progress Package reserves to see if it is enough to pay the bills, I feel an overwhelming sense of progress. I feel like I am really staying together with my fellow Singaporeans and moving forward.

There is even talk of future roads like underground expressways being outsourced to private sector companies to build, so that they, in turn, levy a toll on those of us who use these roads.

I understand the cost of building these roads is high, and the Government is relooking the financing of these big road projects.

Silly me, I thought my road tax and COE was enough to pay for public roads.

Maybe we can start financing all kinds of expensive projects this way in future. We could build upgraded lifts for older HDB blocks, and charge tolls on a per use basis.

You walk into your new lift ovn the first floor, and the scanner reads the contactless cashcard chip embedded in your forehead. This chip would be part of the recently-announced Intelligent Nation 2015 plan, you know, that initiative to make us a smart nation?

So you, the smart contactless-cashcard-chip-enhanced Singaporean would go into your lift, and when you get off at your floor, the lift would deduct the toll from your chip, and you would hear a beep.

The higher you live, the more expensive the lift toll.

Now you know why I started climbing stairs for exercise, as I mentioned in my last column. I plan to prepare for that day when I have to pay to use my lift. God help you if some kid presses all the lift buttons in the lift, as kids are wont to do. You will be beeping all the way to your flat.

The same chip could be used to pay for supermarket items. You just carry your bags of rice and groceries past the cashierless cashier counter, and the total will be deducted from your contactless cashcard automatically.

You will not even know you just got poorer. And if your contactless cashcard runs out of funds (making it a contactless CASHLESS cashcard), you just cannot use paid services.

The door of the lift won’t close, the bus won’t stop for you, taxis will automatically display “On Call” when their chip scanners detect you’re broke.

Sure, paying bills that only seem to go up is painful, but by Jove, we are going to make sure it is at least convenient.

No more opening your wallet and fiddling with dirty notes and coins. Just stand there and hear your income beeped away. No fuss, no muss! I cannot wait to be a Smart e-Singaporean.

I also found out recently that my first-born daughter’s special school fees were going up. This is because of this thing called “Means Testing”, where they test your means, then if you are not poor enough, you lose some or all of the subsidy you’ve been getting for your special child’s therapy.

I think I am looking at about a $100 increase, which is a more than a 100 per cent increase, but who’s counting, right? We can afford it, but we do know many families who cannot, even those that are making more money than we are, on paper.

But don’t worry. Most of you don’t have this problem. Your normal kids can go to regular school for very low fees, and I am sure they will not introduce means testing for your cases.

We need your gifted and talented kids to help our country do well economically, so that our kids with special needs can get a little more therapy to help them to walk and talk. And hey, maybe if the country does really well, the special-needs kids will get a little more subsidy.

Like I said, progress.

High-definition televisions, a high-speed broadband wireless network, underground expressways, and contactless cashcard system — all our signs of progress.

I am happy for progress, of course but I would be just as happy to make ends meet and to see my autistic first-born grow up able to talk and fend for herself in this society when I am gone.

That is something my wife and I will pay all we can pay to see in our lifetimes.

Two days later, Today published a response from Ms Krishnasamy Bhavani, press secretary to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts with the headline "Distorting the truth, mr brown?" and the subhead "When a columnist becomes a ‘partisan player’ in politics":
YOUR mr brown column, S’poreans are fed, up with progress! (June 30) poured sarcasm on many issues, including the recent General Household Survey, price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares, our IT plans, the Progress Package and means testing for special school fees.

The results of the General Household Survey were only available after the General Election. But similar data from the Household Expenditure Survey had been published last year before the election.

There was no reason to suppress the information. It confirmed what we had told Singaporeans all along, that globalisation would stretch out incomes.

mr brown must also know that price increases in electricity tariffs and taxi fares are the inevitable result of higher oil prices.

These were precisely the reasons for the Progress Package to help lower income Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.

Our IT plans are critical to Singapore’s competitive position and will improve the job chances of individual Singaporeans. It is wrong of mr brown to make light of them.

As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown’s disappointment as the father of an autistic child. However, with means testing, we can devote more resources to families who need more help.

mr brown’s views on all these issues distort the truth. They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions. His piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency, which can only make things worse, not better, for those he professes to sympathise with.

mr brown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government’s standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.

Three days later, Mr Brown announced on his blog:
I have been informed that TODAY has suspended my column.

It has been a trying few days for me, my family, my mum and my friends. Thank you all for your emails, letters, calls, SMSes, blogs and comments, I don't know what to say.

The suspension of Mr Brown’s column was widely criticised.

Three months later, Mediacorp announced:
Mr P N Balji has rejoined the group as Editorial Director to help raise journalistic standards across the group.

He will also directly supervise the TODAY newspaper after the resignation of Mr Mano Sabnani.
Then came the juicy behind-the-scenes account of how Mano "resigned":
Mano is not a bad person. He may be dull and unexciting, even a coward before the civil servants who oversee him, but he was treated as pariah by his peers.

On Oct 31, Today had a senior editors' meeting which Shaun Seow presided. Mano lost his editorial independence not during the recent Mr Brown affair, but some years earlier, during the Val Chua affair. For those of you not familiar with the matter, just do a Google search on Val Chua, Mano Sabnani and you will find a lot of material on the Net. Since the Val Chua affair, Mano had to report to Shaun within the Mediacorp stable. All reports involving cabinet ministers must be vetted by Shaun and his team at Mediacorp HQ, not at Today.

There are no real editors at Today, they are all a bunch of word processors. They send good reporters like Derrick Paulo and Ansley Ng to cover political happenings, then censor and rewrite everything to suit their political masters.

In fact, Derrick Paulo mounted a campaign within the Today office to protest the newspaper's suspension of Mr Brown. He got many of his colleagues to wear brown on a day when Shaun was to give a talk to the staff there. What he did not know was that had severely undermined Mano, who was already being pushed out by the other senior people in Mediacorp. They saw how weak Mano was in front of Derrick and took full advantage of the situation.

Shaun is a former president scholar and his entire career is scripted to perfection. As long as he serves his political masters, his career will be smooth. Even the conviction of Zahara Latif for maid abuse within the Seow household did little more than embarrass him. Goh Chok Tong wrote a letter to support Zahara during her mitigation hearing.

During the Oct 31 meeting, Mano was not able to speak because his ex-gratia payment was held back unless he played ball. Shaun humiliated Mano by paying lip service to his contribution and saying how the newspaper will move ahead without him. Most of the editors were too afraid for their jobs and kept generally quiet as they watched Mano run to the ground and abused. This coming from Shaun, was no surprise, for like Zahara, he is an abuser. Shaun is many years younger than Mano and behaved like an arrogant brat wielding too much power for his own good.

Worse was to come. After a polite round of applause for Mano's three years in the newspaper, they proceeded to the newsroom where Mano's resignation was announced to all the staff. All of Today's staff gathered outside Mano's room. Shaun announced the changes and talked about new directions, while Mano sat inside his room (glass walls) in full view to all the staff, with his face buried in his hands in front of his computer screen.

Somebody in the crowd interrupted Shaun when he felt that Shaun had gone too far. He asked for the real reason why Mano was leaving. Shaun then said that there are many confidential things that cannot be publicised.

Slowly there was a pair of hands clapping, then more and more. They wanted Mano to come out and address them. Mano came out, and keeping in mind that his payment has been withheld, said he had nothing to say. They wouldn't let him go and kept clapping. Mano had no choice but to respond. So he said to the staff that they should not worry about him and move on. His voice was shaking, then he went back into his room a sad and broken man, humiliated and traumatised.

Led by Shaun and director Philip Koh, Today brought back PN Balji, who was the founding editor of the paper. Balji is a much more colourful character than Mano but is of questionable character. Balji is closely tied to TT Durai, the disgraced head of the former National Kidney Foundation. The auditor's report into the NKF fraud and deception showed that Balji was one of the parties who flew first class with Durai. Together with Durai and his gang, they abused the charity's funds, but while Durai is now in the docks, Balji has gotten away scot free because he knows how to butter up his political masters.

More worrying for many of the Today staff is that a new guy named Walter Fernandez was brought in from Channel News Asia where he was a faithful lap dog of Shaun Seow to oversee Today's day-to-day operations. Walter is a scholar and another spineless idiot who is where he is only because he knows how and whose balls to carry.
Part two:
Days after the shocking staff reshuffle in Today, the "resignation" of Mano Sabnani was used as a warning to others in Today to toe the line. On Nov 12, P N Balji and some senior editors were told by Mediacorp Deputy CEO Shaun Seow that Today should tone down its alternative streak at least for the moment until the coast is clear.

During the half hour meeting in the morning, Shaun reiterated that Mediacorp had top-down and bottom-up pressure to remove Mano, who was a lousy people manager.

The final straw was Mano's handling of the Mr Brown affair and his anxious decision to terminate Lee Kin Mun's popular weekly column. Mano had over-reacted and misread the government's anger after his experience in the Val Chua incident. As a result of Mano's action, the public became incensed with what they saw was the strong interfering hand of the government in removing their favourite columinist from Today.

The topic then changed to editorial hooks. While no names were mentioned, Shaun said that the angles by certain Today editors during the 2006 General Election were touchy and it should not become a habit. Shaun tried to reason with his increasingly uncomfortable audience that his hands were tied and everybody better play ball or they might suffer an even worse fate than Mano. Mano had at least an ex-gratia payment upon his departure.

Shaun reminded them that the political masters have them sighted and keeping their heads down was sensible.

After the meeting, everyone trooped out with dark looks and a worried Balji, Today's returned founding editor, was frustrated that he had to deal with more morale problems, although Today was already turning profitable.

By afternoon, whispers soon began circulating about their spineless leadership who dare not stand up and insist on editorial independence. Derrick Paulo is one reporter who feels that he might be the next sacrificial lamb. Balji is just the seat warmer for Walter Fernandez, the new number two in Today. Walter is eager to please but is trying not to attract too much attention to himself in Today's management mess. He is bidding his time and letting Balji take the heat.

So, don't expect Today to be like what it was.

That was 11 years ago.

Walter Fernandez became Today editor in 2012 and remained so till the bitter end.

Shaun Seow became Mediacorp CEO in 2011 and was replaced last month by Ms Tham Loke Kheng.

Mano started his own company, Rafflesia Holdings, in 2008 and gets to call himself chairman and CEO.

Balji eventually left Today for the second time and in 2013, co-founded The as a "responsible, intelligent" website that was "a middle ground which offers the best vantage point for an independent analysis".

Yes, hard to believe that The ever cared about being "responsible, intelligent".

Balji reportedly left "to spend more time with his grandchildren" and The abandoned the "middle ground", now the name of the website co-founded by SPH refugee Bertha Henson.

In 2015, Balji joined RHT ARC Comms & Relations as a media consultant along with another Mediacorp refugee, Woon Tai Ho. What happened to the grandchildren?

As for Mr Brown, he is, of course, still Mr Brown.

He was invited to lim tea (not lim kopi) with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana in 2012, so all seemed to be forgiven.

But as a newspaper columnist myself, I'm always aware that what happened to Mr Brown could happen to me.

The getting suspended part, not the going to Istana part.

Although, frankly, I wouldn't mind losing the column that much because it has become a chore, but the fear is that I might lose my job because of something I wrote.

Never mind self-censorship because you can never tell who will get offended by what. So for every article, I just brace myself for the worst. I'm getting tired of living like this.

Actually, I'm surprised by some of the stuff I've gotten away with in the last nine years, but my luck could run out any time.

That's partly why I asked to reduce the frequency of my column from weekly to biweekly after The New Paper revamp late last year.

I still wonder sometimes how differently my life would've turned out if I had gotten the job at Today.

I guess I could be unemployed tomorrow.

Monday, 25 September 2017

I want to protest Kingsman: The Golden Circle because what kind of ridiculous made-up Singaporean name is Wu Ting Feng?

I want to make a protest.

Not to sound like a dotard, but I’m not sure how.

Hong Lim Park? You mean outside? But it gets so hot. And what if it rains?

And suppose I held a protest and nobody came. So pai seh.

Like Donald Trump and the organisers of the recent “silent protest” at Hong Lim Park against the reserved presidential election, I can be very sensitive about my crowd size.

And this being Singapore, I can’t even blame the smallness on cold weather.

I wish I can do what Soh Rui Yong did.

He’s the marathoner who won the gold medal at the SEA Games last month, which earned him $10,000 from the Singapore National Olympic Council under the Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme. Under a Team Singapore agreement he signed, Soh is supposed to give 20 per cent of the amount to Singapore Athletics (SA).

But he is not happy about it.

He wrote on Facebook:
“I have submitted in writing a protest against the rule which requires me, and other SEA Games gold medal winning athletes, to give a 20 per cent cut of our award money to our National Sports Association (NSA).

“The reason I’m doing so is because I believe that the 20 per cent of gold medal prize money that every athlete requires to give back to the NSA should not be taken for granted...

“For the 2017 SEA Games, SA has not only failed to adequately help our athletes, but they have also hindered the performance of several athletes with continued infighting, turmoil, and poor administration.”

Who needs Hong Lim Park to protest?

All you need is a gold medal and $2,000 to withhold from the entity you’re protesting against.

So what got Soh so triggered?

A singlet.

Allegedly, on the day of the SEA Games marathon, SA technical director Volker Herrmann shouted at Soh before the race because the runner had cut holes in his singlet to cope with the heat and humidity in Kuala Lumpur.

Soh told The Sunday Times: “I think the fuss that SA kicked up over the holes in my singlet was the last straw.”

Well, $2,000 can sure buy you plenty of new singlets.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a gold medal and $2,000 to withhold from the entity I want to protest against.

And the entity I want to protest against?

The movie Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

The reason I want to protest against the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service is not the controversial scene where a GPS tracker is inserted into a woman’s vagina.

Or that Channing Tatum is in the movie less than the ads would have you believe.

Or that the original Rocket Man, Sir Elton John, doesn’t sing Rocket Man in the movie.

No, it’s because the movie depicts Singapore as an illicit drug haven populated with nefarious dudes named Wu Ting Feng.

It’s like Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders all over again — but with Halle Berry.

How can I not protest? It’s a matter of national honour.

I mean, what kind of ridiculous made-up Singaporean name is Wu Ting Feng?

Everyone in the cinema laughed when they heard it. The name might as well be Sum Ting Wong.

No, wait, I just googled it.

There’s actually someone in Singapore named Wu Ting Feng.

Oh. Never mind then.

Is it too late for me to cancel my online application to protest at Hong Lim Park?

- Published in The New Paper, 25 September 2017

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Tomorrow would be my parents' 52nd wedding anniversary — and I have their 1965 marriage certificate to prove it

So I recently came across my parents' marriage certificate — from 1965!

The date stamp on it is more than a month after Singapore became an independent nation and nine months before I was born. Ahem.

I'm impressed by my mother's old address. I didn't know she used to live in Orchard Road!

When I was born, she had already moved to Koon Seng Road and now lives in Jurong West, which is okay but it's no Orchard Road.

According to Google Maps, 289 Orchard Road is somewhere around Orchard Central.

Notice how different the old NRIC numbers were with one fewer digit, the reference letter at a different place and the space after it — but they still start with an S.

I am surprised to find that under Religion, it was typed "nil" because I didn't know my parents were atheists. I mean, what with all the joss stick burning, praying and the giant altar in our living room.

But the most interesting thing about the document is probably the Condition column.

If I were to fill this cert myself, I would have never guessed that under Condition, I was supposed to write "Bachelor" and "Spinster".

Who knew that being a bachelor or spinster was a "condition" 52 years ago?

Was there a cure?

Yes, marriage.

Hence, the marriage certificate.

My father died in 1993. So if my mother were to re-marry and had to fill this form again, I presume under Condition, she would now be a "Widow".

Uh... happy anniversary, mum?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Art, sports & dollars: Award-winning artist Sonny Liew & gold medal-winning athlete Soh Rui Yong put the money where their mouth is

Both had highly publicised money-related issues with authorities.

One involving a state grant. The other, sponsorships.

Both overcame those issues to win in their respective fields.

And last week, both used money to make a statement about how the arts and sports are run by the state.


In 2015, the National Arts Council (NAC) withdrew its $8,000 grant for Liew's graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye due to “sensitive content”.

Boosted by the resulting publicity, the book became a local publishing phenomenon and went on to win three Eisner awards in July.

Last Friday, it was revealed that Liew had returned a $19,000 Creation Grant he received from NAC last year for his follow-up book.

While he explained it was "partly about scheduling", Today newspaper also got this stunning quote from Liew:
Bureaucracy can be a good thing in trying to ensure there are regulations and institutions in place to try to ensure transparency, accountability and fairness. But my sense (is) that it is also often a shield for the opposite - to obscure motives, to rationalise weak positions.
In response, NAC wished him all the best.


Last month, before the SEA Games, Soh was given a formal warning by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) for failing to comply with Team Singapore's membership agreement on the personal sponsorship blackout period.

He explained on Facebook:

He told
I took down my posts because SNOC had repeatedly stated that the comments on the posts were damaging their reputation even after the posts were edited. It was an ultimatum they were giving.

This is something that I believe in fighting for, but it is not worth the risk of being bumped off the team because the pride of Singapore is at stake. I will go to Kuala Lumpur, win a medal, then come back and continue this debate. That is how I believe I can best represent my country.
And win a medal he did - a gold, no less - in the marathon for the second time running.

On Saturday, Soh sent an e-mail to SNOC and Singapore Sports Institute to protest giving 20 per cent of his $10,000 reward for winning a SEA Games gold medal to Singapore Athletics (SA) in accordance to SNOC rules.

He explained on Facebook:
The reason I'm doing so is because I believe that the 20% of gold medal prize money that every athlete requires to give back to the NSA should not be taken for granted.

Common sense dictates that this 20% is meant as a gesture of goodwill to the NSA (National Sports Association) for helping the athlete achieve the success at the SEA Games, while also acting as a future investment in development.

For the 2017 SEA Games, SA has not only failed to adequately help our athletes, but they have also hindered the performance of several athletes with continued infighting, turmoil, and poor administration.

The lack of concrete development plans for the future also cast serious doubts over the future of the sport. As such, I believe that Singapore Athletics is underdeserving of the $2000 (20% of $10000) that SNOC takes out of my MAP (Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme) award money to give to them.

Perhaps once SA has figured out their development plans, they can submit their receipts to me to seek reimbursement. Please allow for 2-4 months for the processing of claims.

So two talented Singaporeans from different fields, Sonny Liew and Soh Rui Yong, share the common experience of getting shafted by the state.

But both succeeded in spite of poor support from the state.

And within days of each other, both pretty much used their success to basically tell the state: "Up yours!"

That's double the butthurt.

Monday, 11 September 2017

No holiday in DPRK: Who exactly is MFA's North Korea travel advisory for?

Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued an advisory:
“Given recent developments and the unpredictable situation arising from the actions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Singaporeans should avoid all non-essential travel to North Korea. Singapore has no diplomatic representation in North Korea, which constrains our ability to extend consular assistance to Singaporeans who travel there.”
Isn’t this kind of redundant?

It’s like issuing an advisory to avoid all non-essential travel to Florida, given Hurricane Irma.

Or an advisory for coulrophobia sufferers to avoid all non-essential viewing of the movie It, given killer clown.

I mean, even before the “recent developments” — which is just MFA’s calmer way of saying “Kim Jong Un has the hydrogen bomb and we’re all going to die!” — did many Singaporeans travel to North Korea in the first place?

I believe many, many more Singaporeans visit South Korea.

So MFA should really be advising against all non-essential travel to the land of Gangnam Style because if Supreme Leader Kim starts nuking people, the first to go would likely be his US-allied southern neighbour.

But even without the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, there are other reasons North Korea is no longer the irresistible tourist destination it used to be.

The Wonsan Air Show was supposed to be held this month but was grounded.

The month-long Taedonggang Beer Festival, which was supposed to held last month, was also cancelled. It was North Korea’s answer to Oktoberfest — but in August and with fewer lederhosen.

North Korea tourism has also been hampered by the lack of a promotional campaign with the slogan “Passion made possible”.

Pyongyang could probably use a Formula One night race more than we do.

But judging by its missile tests, North Korea seems less interested in getting the people of the world to visit than bombing it to Kim-dom come.

So with North Korea being an unlikely holiday getaway for Singaporeans, who exactly is the MFA advisory for?

It could be for someone like Mr Aram Pan.

The Singaporean photographer was in the news recently after he posted a 6½-minute video called Flight Over Pyongyang on YouTube on Sept 2.

Showing aerial footage of Pyongyang shot last year, the video was featured on several foreign news sites last week. said the footage reveals “a city full of skyscrapers but streets largely empty of cars and people”.

In the video description, Mr Pan wrote: “It’s a rare treat that a foreigner is allowed photography and filming over the skies of North Korea and even rarer to be doing so in a Piper Matrix PA-46 light plane.”

He has been uploading videos shot in North Korea to his YouTube channel since 2013 and has a website called DPRK 360, dedicated to the country.

Mr Pan sounds like someone who does a lot of “non-essential travel” to North Korea.

I e-mailed him yesterday and asked whether he is affected by MFA’s advisory.

He replied:
“The advisory is expected in lieu of the current global political trends. I think it will primarily just affect travel insurance coverage. Singaporeans who do projects or businesses there will likely still go as and when they need to. As of this conversation, I haven't been to the DPRK since September 2016 and haven't made any plans to travel to the DPRK so I still won't be directly affected by it.”

Of course, the advisory could also be meant for me.

The last place I had a haircut was in North Korea last year when I was there for the Pyongyang marathon.

I swore never to have my hair cut again because I want to be able to say forever that the last place I had a haircut was in North Korea.

In the intervening 17 months, my hair has grown long and unsightly. My family and co-workers are begging me to cut it.

And frankly, I, too, am getting annoyed by my own hair.

I figured the only way I could cut my hair and still be able to say that the last place I had a haircut was in North Korea was to actually return to North Korea to get another haircut.

Then came the travel advisory.

I think going to Pyongyang for a trim counts as “non-essential travel”.

Looks like I’ll be cosplaying as Kylo Ren for the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in December after all.

Thanks a lot, MFA. Look what you made do.

- Published in The New Paper, 11 September 2017

EARLIER: Why I'm grateful North Korean leader's half-brother wasn't assassinated in Changi Airport last year

UPDATE: It seemed Mr Pan went to North Korea anyway:

Monday, 28 August 2017

Sugar! Less, please (Apologies to Maroon 5)

Sugar was a major topic in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent National Day Rally speech.

Sugar is also the title of the song I wrote in response to his speech.

Just as Taylor Swift has given songwriting credit for her new song Look What You Made Me Do to members of the group Right Said Fred of I’m Too Sexy fame, I too must give credit to Maroon 5 because I basically used the tune from their song, Sugar.

Nobody wants to get sued like Robin Thicke.

Here are the lyrics to my song:

I’m hungry, PM, what did you say?
I need to switch to brown rice
Must I today?
White rice taste better, but high GI
Don’t want no diabetes
I guess I’ll try

I don’t wanna be buying soft drinks
I just wanna do more brisk walking
But it’s killing me to exercise
(No chendol)
’Cause I really don’t care how it tastes
I just wanna be watching my waist
So I gotta eat more brown rice

Less, please
Just 1 per cent for my bubble tea
I’m obese, I could lose
Little weight, more than a few kgs
Yeah, you gave me a tracker
Count the steps I take
Need to get 10,000 — in a day
Less, please
PM says it may cause diabetes

My broken diet, I couldn’t fix
I just kept eating, eating
I have the pics
When I eat healthy
I don’t feel full
Pizza’s the one thing, one thing
That always rules

I don’t wanna be needing more food
I just wanna be in a good mood
And it’s killing me to abstain
(More durian)
’Cause I really don’t care if I’m fat
I just wanna have no regrets
So I’m hitting the buffet again

Less, please
“Siu dai” is how I order my teh c
More water, I should drink
Little bland, a little too boring
Yeah, I tried the diet drinks
No calories
Artificial sweetness, not for me
Less, please
PM says it may cause diabetes

I want that roti john
I want that Hokkien mee
Don’t let nobody makan
Unless that somebody’s me
I gotta tell PM
There ain’t no other way
’Cause, man, I’m craving for
sambal barbecue stingray

I’m still hungry for some rice
Don’t have to be all white
Mix in some of that brown shit
No more of that… sugar!
Less, please
I still wanna try to go sugar-free
Even if, no Big Gulp
It’s so hard to avoid corn syrup
Yeah, the doctor just told me
My blood pressure’s high
Need to cut down on salt — in my diet
Now salt too
Think I might as well just stop eating food

- Published in The New Paper, 28 August 2017

Monday, 21 August 2017

Safra S'pore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon: Running with Achilles tendinitis — again

For the first time, I ran a half marathon on back-to-back Sundays.

For the second time, I limped to the start line.

Yesterday was the Safra S'pore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon.

A week after The Performance Series run at Punggol, my right ankle still hurt when I walked.

The Army Half Marathon has long been my Moby Dick since I first joined the event in 2013. It was my first 21km race. I joined again last year. Both times, I felt defeated by the distance.

I told myself that this year, I was going to kill the White Whale. Then my Achilles tendinitis happened.

But having survived the Punggol race with the bad ankle, I was a little more hopeful yesterday morning.

Flag-off was at 4:30am.

There were over 40,000 ruuners, about 10 times more than at the Punggol run.

The hydration points were rather chaotic because of the crowd.

Approaching the finish line:

For the first time, I managed to run (or jog) almost all the way from start to finish in a half marathon, walking only at a couple of hydration points. My ankle actually hurt less when I ran (or jogged).

I made it in just under three hours, which was 20 minutes slower than my personal best and six minutes more than last year's Army Half Marathon.

But it was also nine minutes faster than last week's Punggol race. I consider that a win.

For that reason, I'm actually quite happy with yesterday's result (even if I didn't look it in the photos).

For the first time after the Army Half Marathon, I don't hate myself.

I like the new route much better too. A few minor bottlenecks but the dreaded Republic Avenue U-turn was no more.

A post shared by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

I may not have killed the White Whale, but I'm okay with that now.


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