Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Season 1 of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd on Netflix is not actually Season 1 — it's Season 3

So Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd is now on Netflix.

Netflix lists the first episode called Cast The First Scone as Season 1 Episode 1, but it's actually Season 3 Episode 1.

I should know. I wrote it.

Of the 26 episodes available on Netflix, I wrote (or co-wrote) 16 of them. And they're all from seaon 3 when I first took over the show as executive producer. I came on as a writer the previous season.

It's strange that Netflix didn't start with the first season. It's especially jarring since the first Netflix episode opens with a recap of the cliffhanger from the end of Season 2.

Below is the two-part season 2 finale if you care.

The cliffhanger scene was tacked on at the end of part 2 after then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong dedicated part of his 1999 National Day Rally speech to the show. That speech cemented PCK as a national icon.

PM Goh said:

If we want to be an education hub, attracting good students from the region, then we must provide a good English-speaking environment, i.e. one where people speak standard English, not Singlish. Our schools must teach standard English, and our children must learn and speak standard English.

Most of our pupils still come from non-English speaking homes. For them, English is really a second language, to be learnt almost like a foreign language, and not their mother tongue. For them to master just one version of English is already quite a challenge. If they get into the habit of speaking Singlish, then later they will either have to unlearn these habits, or learn proper English on top of Singlish. Many pupils will find this too difficult. They may end up unable to speak any language properly, which would be a tragedy.

Gurmit Singh can speak many languages. But Phua Chu Kang speaks only Singlish. If our children learn Singlish from Phua Chu Kang, they will not become as talented as Gurmit Singh.

We learn English in order to communicate with the world. The fact that we use English gives us a big advantage over our competitors. Parents send children to English language schools rather than Chinese, Malay, or Tamil schools, because they hope the children will get jobs and opportunities when they grow up. But to become an engineer, a technician, an accountant or a nurse, you must have standard English, not Singlish.

And then:

One of the problems MOE has getting students to speak standard English is that the students often hear Singlish being spoken around them, including on TV. So they learn wrong ways of speaking.

Teachers complain that their students are picking up catchphrases like: "Don't pray, pray." and using them even in the classroom. The students may think that it is acceptable and even fashionable to speak like Phua Chu Kang. He is on national TV and a likeable, ordinary person. The only character who tries to speak proper English is Phua Chu Kang's sister-in-law Margaret, and she is a snob. Nobody wants to be a snob. So in trying to imitate life, Phua Chu Kang has made the teaching of proper English more difficult.

I asked TCS why Phua Chu Kang's English is so poor. They told me that Phua Chu Kang started off speaking quite good English, but as time passed he forgot what he learnt in school, and his English went from bad to worse.

I therefore asked TCS to try persuading Phua Chu Kang to attend NTUC's BEST classes, to improve his English. TCS replied that they have spoken to Phua Chu Kang, and he has agreed to enrol himself for the next BEST programme, starting in a month's time. If Phua Chu Kang can improve himself, surely so can the rest of us.

Maybe that's why Netflix chose Cast The First Scone as its first episode since it's the episode where Phua Chu Kang talks about completing the BEST programme as the prime minister instructed. So it's quite a landmark episode.

I mean, can you think of another sitcom where the storyline was dictated by the the guy running the country?

PCK also got another mention in next year's National Day Rally speech.

PM Goh said in 2000:

We must therefore bring about a culture of lifelong learning. You are never too old to learn. Even if you speak Singlish, you can learn to improve your English. Look at Phua Chu Kang. He attended BEST classes. He is speaking better English already, although still not as good as Gurmit Singh. Whether Phua Chu Kang wishes to improve his English further is up to him. But if he is wise, he should keep on learning, for example, how to use the computer and e-commerce to expand his business.
About two-third way into the production of the third season, I left the show and Mediacorp in 2000 to join the ill-fated TVWorks in the ill-fated SPH Mediaworks start-up.

I would return to Mediacorp a few years later and somehow ended up as executive producer again of the eighth and final season of PCK Pte Ltd because no one else wanted the job.

Actually, if you want to watch all the Phua Chu Kang episodes in the original telecast order, they're available for streaming on Mediacorp's MeWatch streaming platform. Having the show on Netflix is kind of redundant, but I guess more people watch Netflix than MeWatch.

Why you no watch MeWatch?

EARLIER: Educating Phua Chu Kang - and failing

Monday, 27 July 2020

Cancel culture is coming to our shores, warns Xiaxue, but is it already here? For years

What is cancel culture?

Hands up those who think it refers to stuff getting cancelled because of Covid-19.

Like the disease, the term “cancel culture” first emerged last year but in the last few months, started spreading like, well, the coronavirus.

And there’s no vaccine to protect you from it either.

I’m actually afraid to explain what cancel culture is because I will probably get cancelled for getting it wrong.

So I shall cowardly point you to Macquarie Dictionary, which defines the term as “the attitudes within a community which call for or bring about the withdrawal of support from a public figure, such as cancellation of an acting role, a ban on playing an artist’s music, removal from social media, etc., usually in response to an accusation of a socially unacceptable action or comment”.

Recent targets of the woke cancel culture warriors include Mediacorp for its Channel 8 drama My Guardian Angels, which depicted a gay character as a paedophile, and Marshall Cavendish Education, puublisher of "an astoundingly racist local book" titled Who Wins?

Both have apologised and the textbook is being recalled. My Guardian Angels ended its run two months ago, so it’s too late for the show to be cancelled, but its stars Kym Ng and Brandon Wong have been receiving “abusive messages”.

This kind of online behaviour has of course been around for years since the rise of social media. Just ask Amy Cheong and Anton Casey.

It’s just that now there’s a fashionable name for it. Also known as “call-out culture” or “outrage culture”, “cancel culture” was Macquarie Dictionary’s 2019 word of the year.

No, I’ve never heard of Macquarie Dictionary either. It’s a dictionary of Australian English. This is where I might’ve made a gnarly joke about Australian English, but I don’t want to get cancelled from Down Under.

Closer to home, local influencer Xiaxue posted a 19-minute video on Instagram last week warning Singaporeans about the encroaching scourge:
“Cancel culture is coming to our shores and right now, it may not affect you, but trust me, it eventually will.”
Yeah, just ask Mediacorp and Marshall Cavendish Education.

In the video, the enfant terrible also known as Wendy Cheng began: “Recently, people have been trying to cancel me. What’s new? But this time around, it’s definitely a little bit more serious.”

By “a little bit more serious”, she meant a “small group of people making police reports against me, resulting in the police coming to my house”.

This was over tweets that her accusers dug out from years ago and claimed were racist.

This was after Xiaxue threw some online shade at Workers’ Party then-candidate Raeesah Khan after police reports were made against the now MP-elect.

This was over tweets that Ms Khan’s accusers dug out from years ago and claimed were racist.

This was after Mr Ivan Lim withdrew as a People’s Action Party candidate, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attributed to “a culture of trial by Internet”. He could have just said “cancel culture” for short.

Hey, at least no one accused Mr Lim of being racist. Just “arrogant and elitist”.

In a way, he started the sequence of events that led to Xiaxue’s video.

In response to it, playwright Alfian Sa’at posted on Facebook:
“Ugh. Stop it already with ‘cancel culture’. It’s just a backlash and a boycott. Don’t make it sound bigger than it is.”
The playwright made news last month when PAP attempted to cancel WP chief Pritam Singh by questioning his support of Alfian. I don’t think it worked. By the way, Xiaxue is a PAP supporter.

He concluded:
“But hey, you’ve decided to build a career out of pissing on the marginalised and engaging in flame wars with other personalities. You’ve made your bed out of pee and gasoline. Now, why complain about having to lie in it?”

Could this finally be the end of Xiaxue’s controversial 17-year career many have long wished for?

Not only are advertisers shunning her, YouTube channel Clicknetwork also announced on Facebook that it had dropped her as host of an upcoming show. In the same post, the company said that it is “against racism, bigotry, and hate”, which sort of implied that Xiaxue isn’t.

Clicknetwork has been producing videos with Xiaxue since 2007 and pretty much built its channel around her. It’s like the company suddenly realised who Xiaxue is after 13 years. Way to throw her under the cancel bus.

Her blog and Twitter account have since been set to private – but her Instagram and Facebook page remain accessible.

I still remember her going to war with K-pop fans in 2017 after she likened Monsta X to a “group of trannies” and tweeted that BTS sucked.

If she can survive the fearsome BTS Army, she can survive anything.

Cancel culture... cancelled?

- Published in The New Paper, 27 July 2020

Monday, 20 July 2020

I have been invited to SDP thank you dinner: Confessions of a polling agent vol 2

Last night, I received an unexpected message on WhatsApp.

It was from SDP. Yes, the Singapore Democratic Party.

Why is SDP inviting me to a thank you dinner?

Well, if you read my column last week, you know that I was a polling agent on Polling Day. But I didn't say for which party.

Here are some details I left out.

It all started one day when I was walking home and noticed a QR code on the SDP poster hanging on a lamp post.

Out of curiosity, I scanned the dotted square with my phone. I was disappointed that the QR code just led me to the SDP Facebook page.

But the first thing I saw on the page was a call for polling agents. That was when I first had the idea of becoming one.

One thing that concerned me slightly was that being a polling agent meant that I was representing the political party that appointed me. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable to appear to be supporting any particular party.

Since the People’s Action Party (PAP) was also contesting in my constituency (duh), I went to the PAP Facebook page to see if PAP was also recruiting polling agents. It wasn’t.

To ensure a fair election, all parties should have their polling agents at all the polling stations. I rationalised that if SDP needed people, I could volunteer to help SDP even though I’m not necessarily an SDP supporter.

I would be doing it for democracy.

So a couple of days later, I went to the SDP office in Link@AMK to register to be a polling agent.

I expected to get some training but was just given a list of instructions and told to watch a YouTube video.

Then I signed an Oath of Secrecy, which sounded very scary, but it just meant I couldn’t “communicate” to “any person” certain voter information.

Sadly, I did not get to meet Dr Chee Soon Juan or Prof Paul Tambyah. I did see plenty of SDP merch though, including Dr Chee’s books. I was tempted but didn’t buy any.

I read somewhere online that parties might give volunteers a party shirt, but I didn’t get one.

One of the instructions on the SDP list was: “If possible, wear red polo and khaki pant/skirt, which is our party colours, BUT DO NOT wear any shirts with party logo or campaign materials. That is not allowed.”

I thought this was a bit contradictory. You couldn’t wear party symbols, yet you could wear the colours that represent your party? Wouldn’t the end result be the same? Even without the party logo, you were telling people what party you’re representing with the colours you were wearing.

Then I read this on Reddit:
“You are there as a party representative to show the public that the polling station is a neutral zone, with equal representatives from both sides.

“frequently (especially in the past), polling stations will be dominated by PAP representatives wearing the party colour - white. while the opposition party contesting in that ward will not have enough volunteers and therefore be unrepresented.

“and voters walking in might see the whole place decked out with volunteers in white get the impression that ‘this is a PAP place’ and it might cloud their minds. you are there to ‘show’ people that the electoral process is fair and equal.”
So the party colours do serve a purpose and that was why every party should be equally represented at the polling station.

I wondered if I could wear a red singlet and khaki shorts with slippers.

Unfortunately, the Elections Department (ELD) has its own dress code for polling agents: “Polling agents should be properly attired. Polling agents dressed in singlets, shorts, slippers or other inappropriate attire may not be allowed into the polling station.”

So on Polling Day, I wore a dark pink polo and olive green cargo pants with brown slip-on shoes. Close enough, I thought.

When I got to the polling station (which was in a primary school just beside my block) at 1.30pm to start my shift, there was no other SDP polling agent working the morning shift for me to take over.

It appeared that if I hadn’t volunteered, SDP would have no polling agent at all at that polling station.

Two PAP polling agents were there, all dressed in white. I wouldn’t have been able to be a PAP polling agent because I don’t have white pants.

I asked one of them if they were given lunch. He said he had a curry puff.

Before 2pm, two white-clad women arrived to replace the two men.

One woman sat with me – while maintaining social distancing, of course.

She was friendly and we chatted a bit at first, more as the hours wore on. She even talked about getting her wisdom tooth taken out.

I learnt that the PAP polling agents were residents’ committees volunteers living in the neighbourhood. She said that I might be the oppostion, but we were all the same.

She insisted that they were not PAP members, yet was surprised when I told her I was not an SDP member too.

She asked if I had noticed that people coming into the polling station were all looking at me because they wanted to see what an opponent member looked like. I hadn’t.

My constituency had always been under PAP, so I guess an openly opposition-supporting resident was not something they saw every day. I mean, if I saw someone in a red top watching people vote at the polling station, I would be checking him or her out too.

So my initial concerns came true. Everyone thought I was an SDP supporter. (Thank god I was wearing a mask to hide my face!)

The PAP polling agent couldn't believe that all I was doing for SDP was be a polling agent for that day and nothing else.

I was amused that I gave people such wrong impressions.

The voters came in waves. Sometimes there was a queue. Sometimes there was no one at all.

Some time after 5pm, my phone rang. It was an unknown number.

I hesitated to answer it because the ELD guide for polling agents said we were not allowed to use mobile phones within the polling station. But my PAP counterpart told me to answer it.

The caller was someone from SDP who wanted to know where I was. What a weird question. Where did she think I was? I was where I was supposed to be. I wondered if someone complained that I was a no-show. I replied at the polling station.

The woman on the phone asked whether I was following the ballot boxes to the counting centre. I said I hoped to, but I didn’t have the required Indemnity Form to do so. She said that someone was bringing “the letter” to me and told me to wait for it.

Around 6.30pm, the assistant returning officer (ARO) came to tell us polling agents that at 7pm, we should leave the polling station as that was when the people on stay-home notice (SHN) would be coming in to vote. It was for our own safety. The presiding officers were already putting on their protective gear.

But weren’t we (the polling agents) supposed to observe the sealing of the ballot boxes after the polls closed, I asked. The ARO said we could come back at five minutes before 8pm to do that because he was going to seal the 8pm regardless of our presence.

And then the ARO received a call and found out that voting had been extended to 10pm.

I was confused by this.

Were these two extra hours for people on SHN or non-SHN people? Did it mean that the SHN people could still vote from 7pm or two hours later? Were non-SHN people allowed to vote after 7pm or only after 8pm?

Meanwhile, I was still waiting for my Indemnity Form. I was worried that I was going to miss the person coming to the polling station with my “letter”.

To my relief, just before 7pm, I saw a guy in a red polo and khaki pants rushing into the polling station.

He spotted me in my dark pink polo and green cargos, and knew right away I was the person he was looking for.

He gave me a fist bump and the Indemnity Form to sign. He was one of the SDP candidates running in my GRC.

I don't remember anyone else ever giving me a fist bump.

When he learnt that I had been told to leave the polling station for the special voting hour, he went to tell the ARO that at the other polling stations, the polling agents were allowed to stay “around” the polling station during the period.

The ARO said he was unaware of such an arrangement, but the SDP guy insisted that the ballot boxes should not be out of sight of the polling agent at all times.

The ARO made a couple of phone calls and eventually agreed to let me stay in the school but moved my seat just outside the cordon tape where I could still keep an eye on the ballot boxes but not technically in the polling station?

Satisfied, the SDP guy departed, leaving me with a styrofoam box of chicken rice and a bottle of water for dinner, which I didn’t consume because ELD forbade polling agents from consuming food and beverage at the polling station.

Although I might have been technically outside the polling station then, I didn’t want to take the chance.

Both the PAP polling agents had left at 7pm. Unlike SDP, PAP apparently didn’t feel the need to have its polling agent keep an eye on the ballot boxes at all times.

I was the only one there not wearing protective gear, but I wasn’t worried about getting infected.

You know why?


No one on SHN came to vote. No one not on SHN came to vote. No one. The last person to come to vote was maybe around 6.45pm.

So the ARO and presiding officers put on their protective gear for nothing.

One of the PAP polling agents came back at 8pm, not knowing about the 10pm extension. She was shocked I hadn’t left the polling station all this time.

We chatted a bit as we waited for another two hours. It was kind of surreal. Like someone threw an election and nobody came.

As 10pm approached, the presiding officers started packing up. I watched as the collapsible voting booths were folded up and put away.

After the ARO declared the polls closed, I stood by to observe the sealing of the ballot boxes. This was the moment I had waited more than eight hours for.

Even more exciting, I got to sign one of the boxes while the PAP polling agent signed the other.

We then boarded the bus with the boxes accompanied by police officers who had also been at the polling station all day.

No one asked for my Indemnity Form.

The bus picked up ballot boxes from two other polling stations nearby before heading to the counting centre in a secondary school.

There, I met the SDP guy again. He gave me another fist bump and thanked me for my help.

By the time I left the counting centre, it was 10.45pm.

I ate the chicken rice after I got home and showered.

It was one of the longest days of my life.

In the end, PAP won my constituency again.

The guy who gave me the chicken rice and fist bumps lost. I feel a little bad for him. He seemed like a nice guy. And not just because he brought me chicken rice.

If I go to the SDP thank you dinner, I may see him again.

Even though I am notoriously unable to resist free food, I don't think I will be attending because I’m afraid I could be breaking some social distancing rule.

And if I go, people will really believe I support SDP.

EARLIER: Not everyone working at polling station was a polling agent (but I was)