Monday, 18 March 2019

As a Chinese who can't speak Chinese, I don't know what's Bayfront in Mandarin either

Three weeks ago, I went to a barbershop and asked for the Kim Jong Un haircut to commemorate the US-North Korea summit in Vietnam as normal people do.

The woman at the reception counter asked: “Who?”

I was shocked that she had never of the man with the most famous haircut in the world – and she worked in a barbershop.

It wasn’t like I was asking her to name her favourite Watain song. I would understand if she had never heard of the Swedish black metal band because their concert here wasn’t cancelled yet.

They weren’t in the news at the time, but Mr Kim was. You know, summit and all that. He’s easily the planet’s most famous Korean not in a K-pop band or a sex scandal.

Watain have a song called Nuclear Alchemy. The Supreme Leader has actual nuclear arms.

But in the eyes of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Watain is probably more dangerous since Mr Kim was welcomed to Singapore last June with open arms – but Watain, not so much.

“Kim Jong Un,” I repeated. “The North Korean leader?”

The woman still didn’t know what I was talking about.

So I took out my iPhone, found a picture of my man online and showed it to her.

She said “Ohhhhh” and something else in Mandarin which I presumed was Mr Kim’s name in Chinese.

I got my haircut.

This is sort of the reverse of what happened to Mr Timothy Bon last week – except I didn't shame the woman for not knowing Mr Kim's name in English.

But as someone who can't speak Mandarin very well myself, I empathise with Mr Bon. Big mood.

The 22-year-old had a rough week.

It all started last Tuesday at Jurong East MRT station when a “China lady” approached Mr Bon and asked him in Mandarin how to go to Bayfront.

Like many Singaporeans, including me, he didn’t know the Chinese names of all the MRT stations by heart.

So Mr Bon, who got a C6 for his O-level Chinese, took out his phone to Google what station the woman was referring to.

Seeing him fumbling with his device and the language, she said in Mandarin: “A Chinese person who doesn’t know how to speak Chinese, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Here he was, trying to help, Mr Bon was taken aback by the sudden scorn. So he pointed her to the train heading towards Tuas Link, which is the opposite direction of Bayfront and civilisation in general.

The woman walked off without saying thanks, according to Mr Bon.

Later that day, he went on Twitter to rant about the incident because “it’s cheaper than therapy”.

Well, his tweets went “Jovina Choi during Chinese New Year” viral and were reported by Mothership, AsiaOne, Lianhe Wanbao and even China and Taiwan media.

It got so cray that on Saturday, Mr Bon went on Instagram TV to “clarify the entire situation” and “milk his 15 minutes of fame dry”.

“Guys,” he said to the camera, “I was just complaining. Stop. It’s not that big of a deal. Stop.”

In the two-part profanity-laced IGTV video, he described how on the day after the tweets, it “started spiralling out of fucking control”.

“I was on Facebook just basically replying to goddamn trolls,” he said.
“I just want to make it clear this was never meant to be an attack on China tourists because I’ve been getting so much hate over this…

“I was rude to her because she was rude to me. Was it petty? Yes. Was it what she deserved? Yes. Is it because she’s from China? No. Okay?

“I guess why Singaporeans think this is an attack on China tourists specifically is because I probably tapped into this repressed rage Singapore has as a collective towards rude China tourists.

“So they just took it and this entire thing morphed into a life of its own and it’s just so fucking messy.”
Mr Bon didn’t expect his tweets to go viral.

He said: “I thought it was going to be like a C-average tweet. I have better tweets out, but nobody fucking gets the humour. Okay, sure.”

But at least one good thing came out of it. He said he “freaked the fuck out” when big-time celebrity Hossan Leong replied to him on Twitter: “YOU ARE MY HERO! Mandarin pfft! F9 for me all the way!”

Oh. So we’re now just openly bragging about how low our O-level Chinese grades are, are we? I got B4!

We can start a Chinese Who Can’t Speak Chinese support group, or CWCSC for short.

Mr Bon also has a message for my bread and butter:
“Hi, newspapers. Thanks for using my tweet. I hope you enjoy the engagement you get on your page. I hope you enjoy your increase in readership. Let’s talk about compensation. I would like to see it.”
LMAO! Increase in readership? Compensation? That’s hilarious. Who says no one gets his humour? I get it.

He said his “endgame” was not to defeat Thanos but get a Starbucks sponsorship.

Okay, I can’t give him that, but here are the three causes he wants to plug: “Repeal 377A, fuck Islamophobia and get your damn kids vaccinated.”

You can follow his Twitter @Timothy_Bon.

How’s that for compensation?

If that’s not enough, I may be able to afford to buy him a cup of Starbucks coffee after I withdraw my money from CPF.

I’m feeling generous. How do you say “venti” in Mandarin?

- Published in The New Paper, 18 March 2019

Monday, 4 March 2019

Hair peace 2: Kim Jong Un haircut is free in Vietnam - but not Singapore

In January when it was reported that Singapore and Vietnam were shortlisted for the second US-North Korea summit, I was low-key hoping that we would get it again.

While some have complained that Singapore wasted too much money hosting the first summit last June, the historic occasion was the perfect opportunity for me to get Mr Kim Jong Un’s iconic haircut – for the second time.

The first time was in April 2016 when I was in North Korea for the Pyongyang marathon. I hadn’t cut my hair since.

So as far as I was concerned, it was $16.3 million well spent by our Government to play maître d'hôtel to President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim’s first date because I got a haircut out of it.

And if the two leaders should swing back to Singapore for a second summit, I would have an excuse to get another Kim cut since my previous Kim cut had grown out in the months since the first summit.

Also, maybe Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will get a chance to take another selfie with Mr Kim and hopefully this time, The Guardian newspaper in UK won’t identify Mr Ong as “an unknown man” in the photo.

Alas, to the disappointment of Mr Ong, myself and millions of Crazy Rich Asians fans, Mr Trump announced last month that Summit 2: Endgame would be held in Hanoi, not Singapore.

I couldn’t have been more crestfallen if I had fallen out of bed and fractured my arm. It was like I was punched in the face by an angry cyclist.

Then as if to rub it in, in honour of the second Trump-Kim summit, a Hanoi salon started offering a free Kim cut or Trump dye job to anyone who wanted one.

Except you had to be Hanoi, of course.

And I wasn’t.

But I wanted the free Kim cut.

If only Malaysia had already built its flying car for me to drive to Vietnam.

I went online and found out a return flight to Hanoi would cost at least over $200. That was a lot of money to pay for a free haircut.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

I was about to click the button to book a flight when it occurred to me that I could just get a Kim cut in Singapore for somewhat less than $200 and I wouldn’t have to apply for leave from work to travel to Hanoi.

I also didn’t want to risk deportation from Vietnam for being a Kim impersonator after the haircut. (Yes, I know I’m not fat enough. Thank you very much.)

Anyway, I can’t go to Vietnam because I have a bone spur in my right heel. Seriously, this a real thing. It’s the same as what Mr Trump got that excused him from a whole war in 1968. I’m not malingering. It hurts when I walk.

So last week, I went to the LA Barbershop in Vivocity where I got my commemorative summit Kim cut last year and asked for same. The shop charges $40.66 for a “premium cut, shampoo, scalp massage, hot towel, styling”.

My barber, Tenny, said the Kim cut is basically a half fade and tried to explain to me the difference between a half fade and a soft fade.

But I was too preoccupied wondering whether I should use the $200 I saved by not going to Hanoi to buy the McGriddles hoodie on Carousell.

I told Tenny that someone in Vietnam was cutting people’s hair like Kim Jong Un’s for free, subtly hinting that he could perhaps not charge me too. He said he never heard of such thing and took my credit card.

Well, I tried.

Perhaps I was too subtle.

But now that I’ve had the Kim cut three times, I have to admit, I’m getting a little tired of it. It does not spark joy like it used to.

If there’s a third summit, I think I’ll go for the Trump dye job instead.

- Published in The New Paper, 4 March 2019

EARLIER: How I got my commemorative summit Kim Jong Un cut in 2018

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Creature feature: My first Safari Zoo Run

I haven't been to the zoo in years and I've been looking for a new race route.

So I took part in the Safari Zoo Run 12km challenge this morning.

Flag-off was 7.10am for the second wave.

The 12km route was two loops around the zoo. My right heel hurt in the beginning due to plantar fasciitis but less so later in the run.

The runner in front was wearing a ostrich suit but didn't fully commit.

Not actual animals.

Chawang the elephant.

Miami Vice flamingos.

"Pandas" at the start of the second loop.

For the second loop, I decided take more photos of the animals since I was getting too tired to run continuously anyway.

White Lion had a big hit with When The Children Cry in the late 80s.

A hippo and a failed hipster (me).

5km to go.

Rubbernecking with the giraffe.

Crossing the zebra.

Cheetah Rivera.

4km to go.

Horny rhino.

Them again.

2km to go.

Trunkin' on.

End of second loop.

Almost there.


Relive 'Safari Zoo Run'

After the race, my heel really hurt.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Dear side boob-revealing tank top woman in ATM queue at Somerset MRT station...

Dear Ashley Garcia,

Clothes maketh the man while the lack of clothes can make a woman famous.

Sometimes unintentionally.

I mean, you were just queuing for the ATM at the Somerset MRT station and minding your own business – except that you were wearing a low-cut, side boob-revealing tank top with no bra, which apparently made it everybody’s business.

Someone took pictures of you and posted them online, where they went viral and it’s easy to see why.

People get to share photos of a hot babe letting it all hang out in a public place while taking the moral stance of questioning whether it’s appropriate for the hot babe to let it all hang out in a public place.

It’s like having your tart and eating it too.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that also last week, a buaya was spotted at Lower Seletar Reservoir. (“Buaya” is Malay for crocodile and also means… maybe you can ask a Singaporean friend to explain that joke to you.)

Lianhe Wanbao even put your picture on its front page because, you know, slut-shaming is news.

At least no one is accusing you of a cover-up.

You probably beat the Hyflux CEO as the most controversial woman in Singapore last week. Congrats.

I suggest you avoid Gojek if you don’t want to get any more famous. And it’s not because you’re Chinese.

Last Tuesday, it was revealed that you’re a model from the Philippines, thanks to your Facebook post:
“Yes, this was me waiting in the ATM queue. I was not aware that somebody took a photo of me (I don’t personally know his purpose).

“I apologize if I offended any culture on this outfit, but, please understand that I do not have any obscene or malicious intention by wearing it. I am sorry if you think that this was an ‘indecent exposure’ but, it was not my intention.

“To those people who are already hitting me below the belt and criticizing me of something, I respect you. You are already telling things which are too personal that is already outside of what you see in the picture.

“I was already cyber shamed, bullied and threatened by several people because of this.

“PS. I was wearing shorts and nipple tapes during that time. Peace, mwah!”

As someone who has often been criticised for my appearance (by my own family) and cyber-shamed (for this column), I sympathise.

Singapore is so hot. You have to dress for the weather, right?

To show my support for you, I am posting photos of myself queueing for the ATM at Somerset MRT station wearing a side boob-revealing tank top with no bra.

Except I have no side boob to reveal (just the complete boob that I am and some armpit hair). So I went without nipple tape.

But I did wear shorts because I didn’t want to get arrested.

Peace and mwah back.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 February 2019

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Go-Jek 'hostage' situation: Can you actually drive from Bishan to Coleman Street without paying ERP charges at 7am on a weekday?

The Go-Jek driver picked the passenger up from Block 251 Bishan Street 22 at about 7am on Tuesday and was heading towards Coleman Street.

The passenger wanted to avoid ERP charges. The driver said he didn't know how. The passenger didn't know either, but said she had taken the route "every morning".

She accused the driver of pretending not to know to cheat her.

And thus a viral sensation was born.

But can you actually drive from Bishan to Coleman Street on a weekday morning without paying ERP charges?

People seem to assume that because Coleman Street is in the CBD, you can’t.

I went to to find out and this was what I got:

I posted this route on Twitter and someone pointed out there are ERP gantries on Thomson Road and North Bridge Road on the route:

This is true. The Thomson Road gantry is near the Caldecott MRT station and the North Bridge Road one is near Bugis station.

But according to the One Motoring website, the Thomson Road gantry starts operating only at 7:30am on weekdays and the North Bridge Road one at 8am.

So based on this information, yes, you can.

EARLIER: Is this the reason she asked 'Is it because I'm Chinese?’

Monday, 4 February 2019

Go-Jek 'hostage' situation: Is this the reason she asked 'Is it because I'm Chinese?'

To answer the question that everyone is asking – no, it’s not because you’re Chinese.

It’s because everyone has been repeating the line from the Go-Jek “hostage” video since it went viral late last week. There are even music remixes now.

The joke is getting played out. Soon, it will be like saying “boomz” or “stunned like vegetable”.

And “stunned like vegetable” was how some people reacted to the behaviour of the woman passenger in the video who accused the Go-Jek driver of trying to cheat her and then kidnapping her, culminating with the “Is it because I’m Chinese?” line.

On Saturday, the driver, Mr Kamaruzzaman Abdul Latiff, who posted the video, thanked “everyone for the moral support” on Facebook.

The passenger, on the other hand, has received, let’s say, less support. She has reportedly removed her Facebook account and left the country for a holiday.

Online commenters have described her as “crazy” and “mentally disturbed”, which I think she is not and perpetuates the stigmatisation of mental illness.

Yes, she kinda over-reacted in the situation, but I can understand why she got so triggered.

Put yourself in her shoes and the backseat of the Go-Jek car.

Let’s say you have taken a ride to this place “every morning” and drivers gave you the option of going the faster way with Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges or “the way where there are no additional charges”.

Then one day, this driver says he doesn’t know the non-ERP way. Having little faith in humanity because of the HIV data leak, errant postmen and The Bachelor TV show, you assume the driver is trying to cheat you.

The trouble is, as someone who doesn’t drive, you also don’t know the way, just as you don’t know that car doors have an auto-lock system.

All you want is to get to Coleman Street (without paying for the ERP), but now you’re being driven to a Toa Payoh police station against your wishes. So you’re going to be a little out of sorts.

The video also shows Mr Kamaruzzaman speaking to an unseen male Certis Cisco officer in Malay, a language the passenger may not have been able to understand, which exacerbated her distress, making her feel like the two men were ganging up on her, a vulnerable lone woman auto-locked in a car against her will.

Thus when the Certis Cisco officer appeared to take the side of the driver by mansplaining the auto-lock system to her, I can see how she may have felt like she was being persecuted due to her race being different from the two men’s, resulting in her utterance of everyone’s favourite line from the video: “Is it because I’m Chinese?”

Within a day of the seven-minute video going viral, memes and parodies abound.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force jumped on the bandwagon with a post advising people not to call an ambulance for non-emergencies, adding: “Psst, our ambulance doors auto-lock for your own safety. So do not be unnecessarily alarmed. Please!”

Meanwhile, Caltex Singapore posted this seatbelt advisory: “Your cars may have auto-lock functions, but your seatbelts don’t. Remember to put on your seatbelts!”

Zansan Digital Lock posted: “Your cars may have auto-lock functions, but your homes don’t. Starting from $299, you can have this auto-lock feature for your house door too.”

And gaming computer company Asus Republic Of Gamers, of all things, promoted its laptop with the tagline: “When even laptop has auto-lock feature. #NotTakingYouHostage”

Even the Republic of Singapore Air Force posted something about “canopy auto-locks” yesterday.

Can we stop with the auto-lock already? It’s enough to make me almost miss the “Is it because I’m Chinese?” jokes.

I’m surprised Scoot and Ikea, who are usually so quick to capitalise on the latest viral sensation, haven’t posted their own spoof ads.

Have their social media managers gone on holiday too?

Is it because it’s Chinese New Year?

- Published in The New Paper, 4 February 2019

READ: Can you actually drive from Bishan to Coleman Street without paying ERP charges at 7am on weekday?

Friday, 1 February 2019

Soya milk: 'Unsweetened' doesn't mean no sugar - except FairPrice brand

I've been trying to reduce sugar in my diet (you know, because sugar is poison) by choosing "unsweetened" soya milk at the supermarket.

Until one day, I happened to read the nutrition information label on the carton and learnt to my shock and horror that even "unsweetened" soya milk contains sugar.

Marigold Power Beans' "unsweetened" soya milk contains 0.7g of sugar per 100ml.

I felt so deceived.

Another brand, Nutri Soy's "no sugar added" soya milk contains 0.8g of sugar per 100ml.

In their defence, both brands didn't say "no sugar". So it's my own fault for being so naive.

Except FairPrice brand's "unsweetened" soya milk actually contains 0g of sugar per 100ml!

So it is possible to have no sugar.

The lesson here is that not all brands of unsweetened soya milk are created equal.

Only FairPrice is truly sugarless.

And it's the cheapest too.

Consumers, be aware.

Monday, 21 January 2019

I bought $3.50 towels from Mr Yoong in Chinatown because of viral post

As Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the towel “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”.

And for the past few days, the towel has been the hottest selling item at Chinatown Complex, though most of the buyers don’t look like interstellar hitchhikers as far as I can tell.

It’s all thanks to an online post that went viral late last week.

In case you haven’t seen it as you’re one of those heroes who swore off social media because the Internet is evil, this is what the post said:
If you’d like to buy bath and hand towels, floor mats and handkerchiefs, do consider getting them from stall No 183 at the ground floor of Chinatown Complex.

This stall is run by Mr Yoong, who is the sole breadwinner, supporting his disabled twin sisters who have muscular dystrophy and are unable to communicate, let alone support themselves. Mr Yoong has been operating the stall since his parents passed away.

One of the Yoong sisters is in Cheshire Home, a charity nursing home giving full time care to the disabled. The other sister, who used to struggle to move about, is also having mobility problems as her muscles have weakened and she cannot move around. They stay in a flat above the complex.

Chinatown complex will close for 3 months from March 2019 for repair works, and it will be tough for this family of 3 without any income.

CNY is around the corner, so if you’d like to get some new towels, do head down to the shop to get some reasonably priced cloths!

Did the story about Mr Yoong and his sisters bring a tear to your eye?

Because I know a place where you can get a towel to dry it.

As an unrepentant bandwagon jumper, I decided to check out the Chinatown Complex stall myself on Saturday afternoon and possibly buy a towel or two to help the guy.

But it seemed the guy didn’t need my help as a crowd had already gathered around Mr Yoong’s stall when I got there.

Was he selling towels or BTS merchandise?

The man had practically become an idol himself because of the viral post. That’s the power of social media for ya.

But his was a one-man operation. What if he needed to eat or go to the toilet? I wondered.

Looking a little overwhelmed but still in good humour, the spindly 55-year-old was telling people that all the big bath towels were sold out, but everyone made it a point to buy something before leaving.

Mr Yoong has told Lianhe Wanbao he didn’t want donations – just buy his towels.

Which was what I was trying to do as I finally squeezed my way to the front of the crowd.

I spotted a pack of hand towels marked $3.50 and indicated to Mr Yoong that I wanted to buy one. I thought it was $3.50 for one towel, but he handed me the whole pack of six.

That’s like 58 cents a towel. I haven’t bought many hand towels in my life, but I suspect that’s a pretty good deal.

Except I’m not sure what I’m going to do with six hand towels.

Well, I am planning to use GrabHitch for a trip to Alpha Centauri next week.

Anyone wanna come along?

I have spare towels.

- Published in The New Paper, 21 January 2019


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