Monday, 25 October 2021

ITE College West canteen needs support, so I ordered the cheese balls (among other things)

The Internet is not all bad.

Yes, even Facebook. (Or whatever it’s changing its name to)

Two weeks ago, someone named Wendy Choo posted an appeal in Facebook group Hawkers United - Dabao 2020.

It read:
“For ppl who are staying/ working near to CCK ITE West College ...

“U can visit the canteen located in the school.

“Business had been badly affected as students are mainly having HBL (home-based learning).

“They served a variety of food. Stall owners are barely making to cover the rental...

“Do help to support them if you are around that area.”
The post went viral, having been shared over 4,000 times and was reported by AsiaOne,, and

I first saw the post in the Friends Of Yew Tee Facebook group.

I am in the Friends of Yew Tee Facebook group because, well, I live in Yew Tee, which is near enough to the ITE College West campus that I feel I should try to help out by grabbing a meal there even though it is a bit out of the way.

If you don’t drive, you can get there by taking the train to Teck Whye LRT station. That is two MRT and three LRT stations away from my place.

I decided to make the trip last Friday afternoon with my wife.

At the ITE campus SafeEntry check-in point, I asked the security guard where the canteen was. He told me to turn right and there it was.

At the canteen entrance, there was a big sign that said: “Food court open to public.”

The problem is that the location of the sign is such that not many members of the public can actually see it.

The food court was brightly lit and spacious with tables arranged far apart due to Covid-19 safety measures.

There weren’t many people eating there, but then it was almost 2pm, a little after lunchtime. I saw a few students in uniform and diners who didn’t look like students.

Of the 18 food stalls, only 10 were open. The vegetarian food stall seemed open, but the guy behind it gave me the international hand gesture for “no more food”.

I was intrigued by a stall called Australian Delights, but it looked like it had closed down for good. Did it sell BBQ kangaroo fillet or something?

So I ordered a $2 roti john from the Malay Cuisine stall, but when I found out it contained sardines, my wife didn’t allow me to eat it because of my gout. She ate it instead.

In the end, I had the spaghetti alfredo with grilled fish (not sardine) from the pasta stall. It was only $4, but I added two fried cheese balls for another $1.50 because, you know, I wanted to support the place.

I regretted the balls. It was all a bit too rich for my blood. I was feeling kind of bloated afterwards.

Including a $1.20 iced Milo and a $1 iced tea-O (no straws) for my wife and me, I spent less than $10 on lunch for both of us.

I felt like a hero, having done my good deed for the day.

Then I went home and found out that some local YouTuber named Zermatt Neo had posted a video about spending over $50 buying items from every stall in the ITE College West food court, including the roti john, pasta, fried rice, chicken rice, hot plate, fishball noodles and waffles.

The waffle stall was closed when I was there, damn it.

But he didn’t get the cheese balls.

Anyway, this is not a competition. It is not about who spends more money in the food court and is therefore the bigger hero. Am I right?

It is about supporting the stall owners.

The woman who sold me the roti john told me that thanks to the viral post, more people were eating at the food court.

She said that previously, members of the public were “scared” to go there because they didn’t know the food court was open to the public.

Well, I certainly wouldn’t have gone there if not for the viral post. And that over-eating yet inexplicably not overweight YouTuber too.

So the Internet is not just for spreading misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and alleged sex videos of Night Owl Cinematics co-founder Sylvia Chan.

It can do some good too.

Unlike those cheese balls.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 October 2021

Monday, 11 October 2021

Instead of Helen & Ivan's coins, I propose more relatable PSLE questions for the new normal

Helen and Ivan have a lot to answer for.

Because of them, children cried, parents complained and everyone memed.

This year’s Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) mathematics paper was reportedly so brutal that you almost expect to win 45.6 billion Korean won (S$52 million) in cash for surviving it.

But instead of the deadly games in Squid Game, 12-year-olds taking the exam apparently had to overcome such merciless questions like this one:

No, it wasn’t the terrible English of “more heavier” that reduced the kids to tears.

Did the Ministry of Education (MOE) hire Phua Chu Kang to set the exam after he finished shooting Covid-19 videos and Shopee ads?

The question went so viral that all sorts of organisations jumped on the trendwagon by creating memes about what Helen and Ivan did or should do with all those coins:

Even MOE weighed in (so to speak), posting on social media:
“We met up with Helen and Ivan this week to solve their weighty money issue. Some found it challenging while others found it familiar from work they had done in class before.

“Like every year, the examination paper has a balanced spread of test items of varying difficulties ranging from easy, moderate to challenging questions. We would like to assure parents that this year’s paper was set to comparable standards (to) past years’ papers...

“Some parents also mentioned that the Helen and Ivan question included the phrase ‘more heavier’, which is grammatically incorrect. We would like to clarify that the question in the PSLE paper did not use this phrase.”

So MOE didn’t hire PCK after all. He must be too busy telling people to get your shot.

Still, the ministry can’t deny that Helen and Ivan walking around with all that loose change isn’t exactly the most relatable of scenarios.

So here are a few proposed questions for next year’s PSLE to reflect the new normal:
  • Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported a total of 3,562 new Covid-19 cases in the community and migrant worker dormitories. If the number also came in second in the 4D draw that day, how much do you bet on the number of new local cases the next day?

  • On Saturday, Singapore announced that those who are fully vaccinated can travel to eight more countries: Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the US. How soon after did the Singapore Airlines website crash?

  • Of Singapore’s population, 83 per cent have received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines and 85 per cent have received at least one dose. How many who refuse to be vaccinated will eventually take ivermectin because their “church friends” in Telegram chat groups tell them to?

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks for 25 minutes on the Covid-19 situation using 3,063 words. How many times does he drink from his magic cup?

  • Helen and Ivan are dating. She is vaccinated. He is not and doesn’t want to be. From Wednesday, only those who are vaccinated will be allowed to enter malls and dine in (with a one-week grace period for malls). How long before Helen finds a new boyfriend? Oh, Ivan is also a cheapskate who always seems to have only coins with him.

- Published in The New Paper, 11 October 2021

Dear Mr. Ong

I refer to your cheek-in-tongue article in today's TNP. It is as humorous as ever.

On a more serious note, I wonder why some parents are so upset about the difficult Maths question. Firstly, it is just one question out of so many questions. Secondly, isn't, by having a few difficult questions, a means to differentiate those students who are strong academically from the rest? Thirdly, why are students so weak emotionally nowadays that they will cry over things like this? Is it the end of the world? Fourthly, shouldn't we, including those parents who voiced their displeasure and concern for their children, be helping the children to take challenges in their stride instead of over-protecting them?

Obviously there will be different views about it. I guess this is one way to make further improvement in the education system (or for that matter, any topic or subject).

BTW, as I mentioned to SEAB in the email below, even though they were not the ones who made the grammatical error, it is still their responsibility to ensure that the parents and children will learn to use proper English now. Otherwise, we will definitely have bigger problems in the future.

Another observation. There is a tendency for most, if not all of us, to make more assumptions nowadays. Just like in this case about the grammatically wrong question. Almost everyone, including me, assumed that it was SEAB who made the mistake. In many cases, no one bothers to seek clarification before jumping to a conclusion. Making assumptions is a double-edged sword. It can help in improving efficiency and help to separate those who have better means of reading the intent of an instruction, programme from those who need to be told of every minute detail (which will help in identifying managers and leaders). On the other hand, it can also lead to wrong implementation of programmes and processes which lead to big issues subsequently. Won't it be great if someone has a solution to this?


Monday, 27 September 2021

What do PSLE parents fear most – Covid, clowns or going to a ‘lousy school’?

It’s that time of the year again.

I feel sorry for Primary 6 kids and their parents. How stressful it must be for them right now. The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) starts this week. More children are getting infected with Covid-19 and so far, none of the Covid-19 vaccines available in Singapore have been approved for use in children under 12.

But despite all that, you know what parents could be more afraid of more than the coronavirus?


And Singapore tested positive for them last week.

The bad news is there is no vaccine against them either – for children and adults. Pfizer and Big Pharma are sleeping on the job.

But then who could’ve predicted we would have an outbreak of a Stephen King movie? And I'm not talking about The Stand.

Last Monday, Singaporeans woke up to the bizarre reports of clowns terrorising children outside their schools.

It turned out to be maybe just one clown sent by an education company called Speech Academy Asia to promote its classes.

No, it isn’t bliss and no, we don’t approve. And yes, it is kind of queer.

Sondheim aside, not everyone is down to clown around town.

What the company probably hoped to be more like Ronald McDonald turned out to be more like It, prompting multiple police reports and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin to post on Facebook last Monday: “Whoever is doing what I assume to be some viral marketing nonsense, stop it!”

Or at least wait a month until Halloween if you want to frighten children with your budget Pennywise cosplay.

The story was even picked up by overseas media outlets such as The Washington Post, South China Morning Post and Vice.

The Sun had this headline: “Parents terrified after creepy ‘killer clowns’ spotted lurking outside school and asking kids to ‘follow them’.”

Fact check: Unlike the coronavirus, the supposed “killer clowns” didn’t actually kill anybody, although safe distancing from clowns is still advised, preferably a lot more than 1 metre.

Speech Academy Asia has since apologised, posting on Facebook:
“We would like to clarify that; although indeed, the promoter is an employee of Speech Academy Asia, our team does not offer any form of monetary rewards for children to follow them.

“Additionally, our promoters strictly do not take any children out of the vicinity.

“We truly understand your concern for the safety of your children; hence we will be putting an immediate stop to our roadshows.”
And thus, the clownoravirus cluster was quickly closed to the relief of all.

Taking the PSLE in the middle of a pandemic is harrowing enough without having to fend off circus acts too.

Well, at least you no longer have to worry about your child not making it to Raffles Institution (RI).

I remember my parents really wanted me to go to RI. But after my PSLE, I was posted to Bukit Merah Secondary School.

For a long time, I felt like such a failure for disappointing my parents.

But I don’t anymore, thanks to Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Or at least I think it’s him.

About two weeks ago, Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook:
“I called Mr Leong Mun Wai today to apologise for my private comments to a colleague in Parliament yesterday.

“I disagree with him on the issue, but I should not have said what I said. Mr Leong has accepted my apology.”

However, the minister did not specify exactly what comments he was apologising for.

The Straits Times reported that during a Parliamentary debate on Sept 14, after Mr Leong spoke, a voice could be heard saying “he’s illiterate”.

Later, a microphone picked up someone saying: “Seriously, how did he get into RI?... Must have been a lousy school.”

Mr Leong, who is a Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party, was an RI student. ST said that it is understood that these remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was from Anglo-Chinese School.

However, there has also been some conjecture online that not all the offending remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was sitting next to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament.

Last Wednesday, in Mr Wong’s Facebook Live post about jobs, someone daringly went off-topic to write in the comments section: “Actually I think people are more interested to know whether you were the one who made the ‘lousy school’ comment in Parliament.”

And Mr Wong actually replied: “Thanks for the question. I assure you that I did not make any of those comments.”

And there you have it.

I believe the minister, who was from Tanjong Katong Secondary School.

So yes, it is thanks to Dr Balakrishnan that I no longer have to feel like a loser for not going to RI. I can feel like a loser for other reasons.

And parents don’t have to pressure their PSLE-taking kids to go to RI anymore.

Tanjong Katong will do. You can even become Finance Minister.

Or Bukit Merah and become a famous alleged humour columnist like me.

Just don’t call me a clown.

As for the pandemic, is it ever going to end?

Well, maybe next year.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 September 2021