Wednesday 31 December 2008

Shop like it's 2007

This story was in The New Paper on 23 Dec:

"Tis the season to spend, spend, spend. When it comes to shopping, it seems nothing can dampen the spirit of Singaporeans. So what if the global share market is in the doldrums?"

This seems like an apt description if you've been to the crowded malls around Orchard Road, Marina Bay and even the suburbs the last few weeks.

Except the story is from 23 Dec 2007 - a year ago.

Compare it to this Channel News Asia report just last week:

"Economic woes aside, Singaporeans are still spending big on electronic items and toys as perfect gifts this Christmas. With most companies still handing out year-end bonuses, Singaporeans are in high spirits to shop."

Funny no matter how things change, they remain the same. It's almost as if the past 12 months never happened.

Singapore's annual inflation rate didn't hit a 26-year high of 7.5 per cent in April.

Oil prices didn't surge to all-time highs of almost US$150 a barrel in July, only to plunge to a four-year low of below US$40 in December.

There was no global food crisis.

In September, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG didn't collapse.

Singapore isn't in a recession.

Hundreds of local workers weren't retrenched by DBS, NOL, Panasonic, Yahoo, Philips and other companies.

All that didn't happen.

What did happen was the Traffic-Stopping Sale at Robinsons. If the queues at the cashiers were any longer, they would've indeed spilled onto the road and literally stopped traffic.

Travel agencies are actually reporting an increase in year-end bookings because crisis or no crisis, to many Singaporeans, travel is an "essential".

The biggest surprise about the Singapore Flyer wasn't that it broke down or its absurdly impractical rescue plan, but that as many as 173 people were on it at the time - a Tuesday afternoon, not even a weekend - willing to pay $30 per adult for what is ostensibly a glorified extended Ferris wheel ride.

"Recession? What recession?" is the cliche of the day.

Yes, many Singaporeans are cutting back. But considering what has been hyped as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, are we cutting back enough?

Perhaps we're merely heeding the advice of Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who said: "If you have sufficient savings and can afford to spend, you should continue to spend on life's little pleasures."

Or perhaps this is our last hurrah before the year is out because as much as we want to pretend 2008 didn't happen, all signs indicate that 2009 is going to be worse.

Why don't we just skip ahead and wish each other a happy 2010?

- Published in The New Paper, 31 December 2008

Sunday 28 December 2008

Singapore flyer's bad fengshui: Going wee-wee in the wheel of misfortune

In April, The Straits Times published a letter from a reader who asked:

“Each rotation of the Singapore Flyer takes up to 30 minutes. What happens if someone requires emergency medical help while he is stuck at the top?”

Well, now we know.

Never mind medical emergencies. What if you just need to go to the bathroom?

If you're lucky, you have some spare diapers with you. But if you're really lucky, you wouldn't be stuck in the Singapore Flyer in the first place.

One of the 173 passengers stuck in the $240 million Flyer for seven hours on Tuesday evening had to resort to going wee-wee in her 4-year-old son's extra diapers.

“I couldn't take it, so I went to one corner and slipped one into my underwear,” the woman told The New Paper. "I felt very uncomfortable."

She felt uncomfortable? There were two visitors from London in the capsule with her.

How do you think they felt, being trapped 40 storeys above ground in a confined space no more than 7m long and 4m wide with a 32-year-old pregnant mother peeing into her child's diaper?

“Uncomfortable” would be a gross understatement. Even “gross” would be a gross understatement.

From now on, whenever the two London visitors see anything resembling a Ferris wheel anywhere in the world, all they can think of is this Singapore woman wetting herself.

What if those two visitors also happened to be among the 400 people stranded mid-air on the London Eye back in March? Now that's real bad luck.

Or maybe it's just bad fengshui.

Which was why five months after its official opening on 1 March, the Flyer was reconfigured to go in reverse at the reported cost of five figures.

According to the Flyer's chairman Florian Bollen, a number of feng shui masters said that the Flyer was turning in the wrong direction as it “was going against the sun and taking fortune away from Singapore”.

That was in August. Since then, the country has slipped into recession and Singaporeans have lost millions in investments.

But thanks to those fengshui masters, at least we know the giant wheel isn't to blame for this massive loss of fortune.

Too bad they couldn't prevent the Flyer's own misfortune.Now that it's shut down because of Tuesday's incident, the Singapore Flyer won't be turning in any direction for a while. Perhaps that's the best fengshui of all.

But when it does re-open and you decide to take a chance and go for a spin, just remember:

Pack extra diapers.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 December 2008

UPDATE: Flyer re-opened the Singapore way - cautiously

Sunday 21 December 2008

Running out of places to smoke? Go out to sea

Thanks to the National Environment Agency (NEA), smokers will have more incentive to keep their New Year’s resolution to kick the unhealthy habit next year.

This is because from 1 Jan onwards, the NEA will extend the current smoking ban to include lift lobbies, exercise areas and playgrounds.

Playgrounds? If you’re hanging around a playground, aren’t you too young to smoke anyway?

If you are old enough to smoke and doing so at a playground, you’re either an incredibly irresponsible parent or a suspect on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

According to NEA, smoking will also be prohibited within 5m of entrances and exits outside buildings. How is this enforceable when we can’t even get people to stand behind the yellow line on the MRT platform?

As any non-smoker who has suffered second-hand smoke knows from first-hand experience, many smokers care little about where NEA says they can or cannot smoke – if they’ve even heard of NEA at all.

Clearly, the Government needs to do something much more drastic to protect non-smokers.

Remember a few months ago when foreign workers housing became a hot topic because Serangoon Garden residents were upset about plans for a foreign worker dormitory in their midst?

One proposed solution was to house foreign workers on floating platforms. Taking the idea further, why not house smokers on floating platforms as well?

Actually, there may be even more reasons to put smokers out to sea. With the way things are going, there will be fewer and fewer places on land where smokers can indulge without breaking the law.

But so far, NEA hasn’t announced any plans to extend the smoking ban to floating platforms.

Another benefit is that this will also help eradicate the persistent litter scourge and fire hazard caused by improperly disposed cigarette butts.

On the floating platforms, smokers can conveniently and safely throw their used cigarettes into the sea. Sure, it’s bad for the environment, but out of sight, out of mind.

And of course, the smokers’ floating platforms will have to be segregated from the foreign workers’ floating platforms because some of the smokers may be from Serangoon Gardens.

Furthermore, to protect non-smoking foreign workers from second-hand smoke, the foreign workers’ floating platforms will also have to be segregated into the smoking foreign workers’ floating platforms and the non-smoking foreign workers’ floating platforms.

Yes, that’s a lot of floating platforms. Let’s just hope they’re downwind from us.

- Published in The New Paper on 21 December 2008

Sunday 14 December 2008

Why condoms - even Hard Rock ones - make a bad gift idea

Previously in this column, I described how I accidentally exposed myself while jogging in my Goldlion boxer shorts.

I then escaped to Korea – only to have my family traumatised by the all-nude public baths there, which I believed was retribution for the jogging incident.

Looking back, I realise that the jogging incident might have been retribution for an earlier incident.

As promised, here is the final part of the trilogy and yes, it’s a prequel.

A few years ago, I was in the Thai seaside town of Pattaya, about 165km from Bangkok, for shore leave during a naval exercise.

One of Pattaya’s most distinctive landmarks is the Hard Rock Hotel. Like any tourist, I couldn’t resist the gift shop.

I was looking for something special I could give my colleagues back in Singapore. I could have easily bought some snacks, which is what most people do, but that would be so “uncle”.

And then I saw the perfect gift: Hard Rock condoms.

They were cheap enough that I could buy as many as I needed to give my whole department.

They were compact enough that even in large quantities, they could still fit into my luggage.

They had the Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya logo on each individual packet, which made them ideal souvenirs as well as hip reminders to practise safe sex.

And most importantly, they were on sale.

So when I returned to work after my trip, I distributed the condoms to my colleagues, including my boss.

The typical reaction: “Why are you giving me a condom?”

My reply: “It’s from the Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya. See the logo?”

The response: “Why can’t you just buy some tom yam-flavoured snacks like normal people do?”

My gift of prophylactic wasn’t as well-received as I had hoped – and it was about to get worse.

A few days later, I was confronted by my boss: “What did you give me the other day?”

“Uh...” I was confused. “Don’t you know?”

“Well,” she said, “now I do!”

What had happened was my boss, a slightly older woman with the failing eyesight of one, didn’t read the words on the packet clearly and simply left it on her desk.

She then had a young female guest in her office and my boss offered the guest the little packet on her desk.

Stunned, the guest said, “But this is a condom.”

“What!” My boss was horrified. “I thought it was chewing gum!”

What if it had been a male guest?

If I remember correctly, I didn’t get a very good performance bonus that year.

So this time, when I came back from Korea, to be safe, I just gave my colleagues Korean seaweed.

I feel like such an “uncle” now.

- Published in The New Paper, 14 December 2008

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Not another made-in-China product recall - no, really

When you first heard that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is recalling another food product yesterday, did you think, "Oh great, what is China poisoning us with now?"

Were you surprised when it turned out China wasn't the guilty country this time?

It's the luck of the Irish. Bad luck, that is.

Last Saturday, Irish pork products were recalled because they were found to be contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin, creating another international food scare.

I was relieved.

And it's not because only a small percentage of pork in Singapore is imported from Ireland. The AVA has announced the recall and suspension of import and sale of all Irish pork products in Singapore.

The AVA also advises consumers who have bought Irish pork products to discard it and not consume the product.

In the first place, I didn't even know that Singapore imported anything from the Emerald Isle apart from U2 CDs and Irish pubs.

In the second place, I have no idea what country the meat I eat come from because it usually reaches me fully cooked without any accompanying documentation to indicate its country of origin. It's not like I can check the meat's passport.

Anyway, the reason I was relieved was that for once, the food scare was caused by a food product from somewhere other than China.

Because for a while, it seemed that everything made in the Middle Kingdom could kill you, either by lead or melamine poisoning.

I was further relieved that the poisonous pork wasn't from anywhere in Asia, but an "angmoh" country.

Not that I have anything against Ireland, mind you, as I'm deeply fond of leprechauns, Boyzone and the colour green, specifically in that order. I'm even hoping for a Sinéad O'Connor comeback.

It's just that every time some unsafe made-in-Asia product makes the news, I believe it also affects the reputation of Singapore in some way because we are part of Asia.

I cringe whenever an American comedian makes fun of another killer China product ("killer", get it?) because I would feel like I'm the one being denigrated.

I may be hopelessly Westernised and repulsed by anything "cina", but I'm still Chinese - even though I'm Singaporean.

To the American comedian, it's probably a distinction without a difference.

Now if there's any justice, there should Irish jokes about "ham-rocks" and such, but the reprieve will only be temporary.

By default, consumers around the world still thinks the words "Made in China" on a food label is synonymous with the word "poison". And this is not likely to change anytime soon.

In spite of the Irish.

- Published in The New Paper, 9 December 2009

I found the article written my S M Ong to be regrettable. He has missed the point that any food scare in the wold is a disaster. To say that he is relieved was thoughtless.

He should educate himself and find out that there is more to the Irish economy than exporting U2 CDs and pubs.

Ireland handled the problem as soon as it was discovered and I am not going to get into any discussion on how the Chinese government handled or did not handle the regrettable issues that have hounded them.

Neither am I going to discuss the fact that Singapore left an open window for one of South East Asia's most dangerous terrorists.

These problems are world-wide and we should never be happy to see them happen.

S M Ong should not tar all us "ang mohs" with his opinion as he seems to have a problem with an American comedian.

As an Irish citizen that has lived in Singapore for 14 great years and been here through the good and bad times, I will be leaving at the end of this year with a negative impression after this article.

I wonder what type of ambassador I will be for Singapore in my next posting.

Wayne Pohl

Sunday 7 December 2008

Korean trauma: Beware of hair-raising public baths

Previously in this column, I described how I went jogging in my Goldlion boxer shorts and accidentally exposed myself.

This week, the sequel.

Afraid of retribution for my inadvertent public indecency, I decided to lay low and leave the country until things cool down.

Since my sister was studying in Seoul, that was enough of an excuse for me to go to Korea on a packaged tour with my family.

And things cooled down immediately as Korea was winter-cold. So we were wearing a dozen pieces of clothing each just to keep from freezing to death. No danger of me accidentally exposing myself there.

On the itinerary was a place called Aqua World, located in a resort at Danyang. It was a huge indoor water park complex that included heated pools and public baths.

The tour guide informed us that to get to the main pool, we had to go through the changing area and public baths which were segregated by sex.

So my wife and daughter went to the female side while my son and I went to the male side. We would meet later at the main pool.

After changing into our swimwear, my son and I made our way to the main pool and walked past the public baths.

Although we were forewarned by the tour guide, nothing could've prepared us for the all-out male nudity suddenly in front of us.

Hair - lots of disgusting hair. On every part of the body that could grow hair.

Even my 11-year-old son, who was accustomed to all manner of psychological abuse simply by being my son, was traumatised by the horrific sight.

We quickly escaped the public baths and eventually reached the main pool area, where we met my wife and daughter who looked similarly culture-shocked.

"There was so much hair!" my wife wailed inconsolably. "And sagging!"

This created the unfortunate image in my mind of naked old saggy-breasted hairy Korean women lounging around the baths, which was even more gruesome than anything I had actually witnessed earlier.

Enough was enough.

That was when I shook my fist at Fate and said:

"I get it! You're punishing me for indecently exposing myself in Choa Chu Kang by indecently exposing Korea to me. I accept that.

"But when you mess with my family, you're crossing the line!"

My family looked around frightened and confused, wondering who I was talking to.

Next week in this column, the climatic conclusion to the Indecent trilogy, The Return Of The Boxers.

Or you can wait for the extended cut on DVD.

- Published in The New Paper, 7 December 2008

Saturday 6 December 2008

Flame war at Lo Hwei Yen's Facebook online memorial

Imagine you're dead.

And you died in some sensational way that makes front page news. Not by taking illegal sex pills or getting mauled to death by white tigers on video. But by having the dubious distinction of being the first person from your country to be killed by terrorists.

It also helps if you're a cute 20something female lawyer with lots of pictures of yourself that the press can use when reporting your death to death.

So you become an overnight media celebrity, albeit posthumously.

People you have never met before when you were alive attend your wake, moved by your story in the papers. Gawkers. Maybe they'll get some 4D numbers too.

Would you feel exploited?

Consider this:

Three Facebook groups have been created in Lo Hwei Yen's memory, the biggest of which has over 10,000 members.

Ms Ho might have been a very popular woman, but who has 10,000 friends? Even on Facebook, she has only 313 as of yesterday.

One of the other Facebook groups has over 1,000 members and is called "Memorial for Lo Hwei Yen, the Singaporean killed in Mumbai terrorist attack".

Talk about attacks, there is a ferocious flame war going on in this group.

On the group's discussion board are the topics "Micah Lim and Aaron Yeo have no shame" and "Michelle Quah is slandering people here".

Who are these people?

Micah Lim is the group's creator. He and Aaron Yeo are listed as the group admins. Both of them seem to know Ms Lo only through press reports.

Michelle Quah claims to be a former colleague of Ms Lo's.

The "slandering" began when Ms Quah called Mr Lim and Mr Yeo "shameless" for putting links to their online businesses on the "memorial" page.

"How touching that your 'memorial' to Ms Lo Hwei Yen must include a sick attempt to publicise a business," she writes in a post and wants the links removed.

Mr Lim's defence is that Facebook also places advertising on the page and he is upset that Ms Quah didn't message him privately to ask him to remove the links. He called her a "pathetic lonely attention seeker".

Ms Lo's tragic death may have reminded us of the preciousness and frailty of human life - but apparently not of civil discourse.

Other posters agree with Ms Quah that the links are inappropriate. However, one of the links remains up as of the end of last week.

Is this exploitation?

At least, unlike Mas Selamat, no one is selling Lo Hwei Yen t-shirts at


- Published in The New Paper, 6 December 2008

Sunday 30 November 2008

Am I the 'sex pervert uncle' of Choa Chu Kang?

It was vandalism as a public service. Scrawled on the seats at a bus stop near my Choa Chu Kang home was this warning: “Beware of sex pervert uncle in New Paper.”

At first, I thought someone had recognised me from my weekly column in The New Paper on Sunday, which is accompanied by a regrettable photo of myself.

Yes, I look like a human poodle, but how can you tell from the photo that I’m a sex pervert? Is it the caveman hair or the leery grin?

And then I thought, wait a minute, do I look so old in the photo that I’m an “uncle”? To me, that was even more hurtful than being called a sex pervert.

And then I realised the graffiti wasn’t a warning about someone who worked at The New Paper, but someone who was reported in The New Paper.

To my relief, I might not be the “sex pervert uncle” after all.

That is, until I went jogging one morning.

You see, I’m a rather lazy person. So instead of changing into a proper pair of sports shorts, I simply went jogging in my black boxer shorts and a T-shirt I had slept in. I had done this a few times before without incident.

I figured, why add to the laundry my wife had to do? Save the planet and all that.

Yes, basically I went jogging in my underwear, but it wasn’t like they were thongs or briefs. They were long, baggy Goldlion boxers that hid everything that needed to be hidden.

The trouble was that these boxers also came with a button fly.

So I was happily running around my neighbourhood, listening to my iPod and going past a number of schoolgirls when I happened to look down and to my horror, saw that my little penis had somehow slipped out through the gap in the button fly, swinging freely as I jogged.


No wonder I felt so cool down there.

For how long I was indecently exposing myself, I don't know, but I quickly put the bird back in the cage while I kept jogging.

I tried to remember the schoolgirls I had run past. What were the expressions on their faces? Were they looking at my crotch area?

Were they going to report me to the police? “It’s that sex pervert uncle in New Paper!” they would say.

When I reached home, I immediately told my wife, who surprisingly didn’t seem all that concerned about it. Her reasoning? My penis was so small that most likely no one noticed anyway

But in case anyone did notice, I hereby apologise to the residents of Choa Chu Kang for my shortcomings.

I really don't want to be the "uncle", sex pervert or otherwise.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 November 2008

Dear Ong,

We have read your column last Sunday. You are gifted with excellent humor and has great confident!

Thank you for supporting our boxers. We are happy to have a great customer like you. For your information, we also have boxers without button-fly and draw-string boxers. In which, you may find them in all leading departmental store.

From comfortable boxers to anti-bacteria socks, and quality shirts to fashionable shoes, GOLDLION presents everything that a man's needs. We have new product launches quarterly and I would be more than happy to arrange discounts, exclusively for you. I can be contacted at my mobile or drop me an email, anytime.

Desiree Lim
Assistant Manager (A & P)
Goldlion Enterprise (S) Pte Ltd

Sunday 23 November 2008

At long last, a burger as big as my head?

When I was living in the US years ago, a new Mexican eatery opened near my place. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but its slogan was unforgettable:

“Burritos as big as your head.”

How could I resist?

All my life, my greatest desire is to eat food as big as my head. And let me tell you I have a pretty big head.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I ordered the “burrito as big as your head” only to discover that the burrito wasn’t really as big as my head.

Yes, it was a pretty big burrito, maybe even the biggest burrito I had even seen – but was it as big as my head? No, it was not.

The burrito was at best as big as a baby’s head. However, it was my fully grown adult head I was concerned about.

I was so grief-stricken that I blocked the painful experience out of my memory for years – until last week.

I was flipping through The New Paper on Wednesday and there it was on page five.

An ad for Burger King's BK Quad Stacker.

In the ad was a picture of a burger that frightened and excited me in unspeakable ways. It was four obscene layers of beef and cheese inside a sesame seed bun, topped with a few slutty strips of bacon.

Suddenly, the memories came rushing back. Was this the head-size food I had been waiting for ever since my ill-fated dalliance with that Mexican heartbreaker?

Frankly, the BK Quad Stacker didn’t look big enough. There is also a BK Double Stacker and a BK Triple Stacker.

Which begs the question: Why stop at four layers? Why not a BK Quin Stacker? Or a BK Sex Stacker? No, wait, that sounds like something else.

How many layers would it take for it to be as big as my head?

I hurried to Burger King to view the BK Quad Stacker in the flesh when I passed by a McDonald’s and saw something that stopped me in my tracks.

The Mega Mac.

Basically, the Big Mac but with twice the beef.

I was dumbfounded and torn. Which one should I choose? The two burgers are virtually alike except that the BK Quad Stacker has bacon and more cheese while the Mega Mac has that slice of bread in the middle.

Then I was struck by an Obama-like epiphany.

There was no Burger King. There was no McDonald’s. There was only the United States of Burgers.

To build a burger as big as my head, I combined the BK Quad Stacker and the Mega Mac to create the Mega Octo Stacker! Behold!

And it still wasn’t as big as my head.

Like I said, I have a pretty big head.

Anyway, I bought some extra bread and managed to make 10 separate sandwiches out of the Mega Octo Stacker, which was enough to feed my family for two days.

And the search continues...

- Published in The New Paper, 23 November 2008

Sunday 16 November 2008

Fellow retrenchees, welcome to Between Jobs Hell

I laughed.

That was my reaction when I was first told that I was being retrenched.

I laughed out of relief because after weeks of speculation among my colleagues in my troubled company, the uncertainty was finally over. It was almost anti-climatic.

This was back in November 2001, two months after 9/11. But even before that, the economy was already reeling from the dotcom bust, and it would get worse with the subsequent Iraq war and Sars.

My company laid off 73 employees, nowhere near the 900 that DBS started retrenching last Thursday. With Singapore now in a recession, more such retrenchments are likely to follow.

I laughed when I was retrenched because I was amused by how my boss managed to retrench me without using the words “retrench”, “downsize” or even “rightsize”.

With an HR woman sitting beside him to make it official, he said: “As you are aware, the company is going through a restructuring exercise and unfortunately, you are one of those affected.”

That was it.

If I wasn’t expecting to be retrenched, I might not have realised I was being retrenched.

Fortunately, the word “unfortunately” gave me a clue that something bad was happening to me.

I laughed because I was in denial and possibly oblivious to the direness of my situation.

A month later in December 2001, Singapore’s unemployment rate of 4.7 per cent was the highest in 15 years. I had become a statistic.

According to the latest Ministry of Manpower figures, the unemployment rate for September 2008 was around 2 per cent. Let’s watch how much this number goes up in the coming months.

To keep myself busy during those long months of unemployment, I created a website to consolidate the links I found useful for my online job search.

I called it

To my surprise, other retrenchees started writing in to the site to share their stories and commiserate.

I learned that the biggest enemy of the retrenched was not that we couldn’t find a job, but the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that threatened to keep us from trying.

There was a need for some sort of support group for the retrenched that provided not just job-seeking advice, but also genuine empathy and moral support.

Sadly, for many at the time, was it. I have since shut down the website because, well, I found a job.

But with the way things are going, who knows? may be back.

I laughed when I was retrenched to keep from crying, which was what a few of my colleagues did when they received the news.

To them, being retrenched was no laughing matter.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 November 2008

Sunday 9 November 2008

Who needs vowels when you're related to Obama?

With Barack Hussein Obama winning the US presidential election, this is the closest I’ve come to having a relative in the (now ironically named) White House.

How is Obama related to me?

His half-sister is married to someone with the surname Ng. My surname is Ong. Take away one letter from my surname and the president-elect and I are practically kin!

Hey, if some little Japanese town can claim a connection to the guy just because the place is coincidentally called Obama, why can’t I do the same just because my surname somewhat resembles his half brother-in-law’s?

I’m so jealous of those of you whose surname is actually Ng, even though it doesn’t have any vowels. Did you ever imagine that your vowel-less surname would be so closely associated to such a historic world figure – who isn’t Chinese?

Much less the president of a country where the people couldn’t even pronounce “Ng”, due to that very lack of vowels – at least not without sounding incredibly constipated.

I suppose it’s as likely as someone who shares a name with Saddam Hussein and has a surname that rhymes with Osama replacing George W Bush, who went to war against those two, as the new Commander-in-Chief.

If Obama’s name is exotic, his half-sister’s name is positively extra-terrestrial: Maya Kassandra Soetoro-Ng. When I first saw her last name, I thought it was a typo. So did most Americans, I would think.

Soetoro is the name of the Indonesian man Obama’s mother married after divorcing Obama Sr. Maya is married to Konrad Ng, a Chinese-Canadian whose parents were born in Sabah, Malaysia.

Thus, Soetoro-Ng.

Being thoroughly Westernised, both Maya and Konrad pronounce “Ng” as “Ing”. That’s right. They added a vowel.

I have no idea how Konrad’s father pronounces his surname. But if he is Malaysian, I would guess like a Singaporean – vowel-lessly.

Before Maya and Konrad, arguably the most famous Ng in the US was Ana Ng, the title of my favourite song by the American geek-rock band They Might Be Giants - which is to say it's not that famous at all.

You’ve probably never heard of the song, but that’s okay. Neither have most Americans.

In the chorus of the song, “Ng” is pronounced as “Eng”. That’s right. They added a vowel.

Because sounding constipated in a song is never cool.

- Published in The New Paper, 9 November 2008

Friday 7 November 2008

US elections: Is Singapore a Republican or Democratic state?

I was on the way out the other day when I saw an Elephant and a Donkey fighting in the void deck of my block.

Because I didn't want to get involved, I pretended not to see them and tried to walk quickly past the ruckus.

But Elephant noticed me and shouted, "Hey, you there!"

Oh, fish.

The two quadrupeds galloped up to me and blocked my way.

Elephant said, "Excuse me, can you help us settle an argument?"

Donkey said: "Yeah, I'm the US Democratic Donkey and this is the US Republican Elephant. Can you tell us whether Singapore is a Democratic or Republican state?"

"Uh," I havered, "I think we're officially called the Republic of Singapore."

Elephant turned to Donkey, almost accidentally knocking my head off with its trunk, and scoffed: "I told you!"

Donkey brayed in protest: "Everyone knows Singapore is a nanny state! Everything is heavily regulated. That means they believe in Big Government. That's Democratic. "

Elephant: "But the Government also supports Big Business and the free market. Singaporeans love money. That's Republican."

Donkey: "But they hate guns."

Elephant: "But not the death penalty."

Donkey: "They have legalised abortion."

Elephant: "But not same-sex marriage."

Donkey: "They believe in diversity and multi-culturalism."

Elephant: "But not welfarism."

Donkey: "If Singaporeans were voting in the US election, they would vote for Barack Obama."

Elephant swung its trunk towards me - this time I ducked: "Is that true?"

"Well," I stammered, "according to a recent Gallup Poll, 21 per cent of Singaporeans preferred Obama while only 11 per cent preferred John McCain."

"I told you!" said Donkey to Elephant.

"However," I continued, "an overwhelming 68 per cent majority also didn't know or refused to say who they preferred.

"That means we're neither Republican nor Democratic, but Singaporean.

"And being Singaporean, most of us don't have an opinion one way or the other."

Elephant turned to Donkey: "Why do we even bother with these people?"

Donkey shrugged and they went to look for some place to eat where the food wasn't too spicy.

I hope no one blames me for the animal dung in the void deck.

- Published in The New Paper, 7 November 2008

Sunday 2 November 2008

Full disclosure in travel ads came too late for me

From yesterday onwards, travel agencies are required by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore to disclose the full cost of travel in their advertisements.

And not a moment soon, but about a week too late because I had already booked my first family vacation last Sunday – under great duress.

You see, I have a sister studying in Seoul. So I thought, hey, why not take the kids to visit their aunt in Korea this school holiday?

So I searched the newspapers for the best travel deal. My budget was $1K per person for my family of four – that was how naive I was.

I saw this huge ad for a Chan Brothers event at Suntec City, offering a number of Korea tour packages for under $900, right within my budget.

Except the price of the tour I was interested in was listed as “from $868”, which meant the actual price would be more. How much more? Who knew?

But I figured I had enough wriggle room in my budget to cover the difference.

My one concern was that the price in the ad was crossed out. What the hell did that mean?

But if the purpose of the ad was to get people to attend the event, it worked. Because that was exactly what I did – along with thousands of others.

Recession? What recession?

Because of the crowd, my first instinct was to say forget it and go do some shopping at the Suntec City Mall with the inflation-beating Snip & Save coupons from this very paper you’re reading.

But then I rationalised that since I was already there, I might as well just wait for my turn to speak to an agent. Besides, I had a mission to accomplish and I couldn’t let the family down.

It took almost exactly an hour before I was able to sit in front of an agent and wearily ask how much the $868 tour package would cost for two adults and two children.

The agent looked up some figures, did some sums and showed me the total price on her calculator: $5,328.

Oh. My. God.

I just wanted to curl up in a foetal position and cry mummy.

The amount was way beyond my budget and then some. It was nowhere near $868 per person.

I should’ve just gone shopping.

But I had already wasted an hour waiting. I was tired, worn down and now reeling from the biggest sticker shock of my life.

I simply didn’t have the strength to say no.

Why couldn’t my sister have just gone to study in JB?

- Published in The New Paper, 2 Novoember 2008

WE REFER to SM Ong's column, 'Full disclosure in travel ads came too late for me' (The New Paper on Sunday, 2Nov).

Mr Ong made a purchase with us totalling $5,328 for two adults and two children for the '6-day Fun-filled Korea Package Tour'.

His total price should be broken down into the following:
- $1,088 per adult x two adults
- $908 per child with bed
- $848 per child without bed

Airport taxes, airline fuel and insurance surcharges $349 per person x four persons.

Mr Ong's adult price varied from the advertised price of $868 (slashed due to a further $20 discount) due to the shoulder season surcharges for both airfare and land components amounting to $240 per person.

However, had he chosen the earlier available departure date of 9Nov, he would have obtained the lower than advertised price of $848 per adult, excluding airport taxes, airlines fuel and insurance surcharges.

Had Mr Ong requested for travel during the peak season, the peak season surcharges would have been even higher than the shoulder season surcharges that he paid.

We need to highlight at this juncture that these surcharges are not imposed or determined by us, the travel agents who play the middleman role, but by the principal suppliers such as airlines and hotels.

As travel packages are a combination of air and land components, there is no one-price-fits-all as flights/accommodations have varying charges for different departure dates.

The 'from $XXX' is an indication of the best possible deal a customer could obtain should their travel arrangements fit the relevant promotional requirements, being the departure date of 9 Nov in the above case.

Additionally, airport taxes and airlines surcharges are subject to constant fluctuations depending on exchange rates and oil prices.

These costs are adjusted by the airlines as and when necessary and can be as frequent as thrice a week, hence we are unable to fix a flat fee for these components and factor them into our tour prices.

With so many price components and variables inflicted by the principal suppliers, and so many possible combinations in flight and land arrangements for a single travel package, the 'from $XXX' is really only an indicative lowest price of the package tour.

The most accurate price can only be ascertained when the traveller conveys his full travel requirements to us.

As much as we would like to display more price information in our advertisements, we are constrained by the high advertising costs.

However, we offer various channels through which a customer may obtain further information, for example, our website, our hotlines or our sales offices.

For customers who find fighting the value-hunting crowd at our travel fairs too daunting, we always encourage them to head to our sales offices prior to make enquiries or bookings.

That said, we do appreciate hearing from our valued customers as their interest is our topmost priority.

Complying with the Advertising and Standards Authority of Singapore's new guidelines, we will be including airport taxes, airlines fuel and insurance charges in our subsequent advertisements, although these prices are but still only indicative prices at best.

We sincerely thank Mr Ong for his patience and continued support.

Jane Chang,
Marketing Communications,
Chan Brothers Pte Ltd

Thursday 30 October 2008

Pasar malams dying? I hope so

I don't understand the appeal of pasar malams.

Is it the ungodly over-abundance of handphone covers for sale that is further proof of an inevitable man-made environmental apocalypse?

Or the forest of shoddy counterfeit branded goods openly displayed on makeshift racks, belying our country's law-and-order rep?

Or the life-shortening deep-fried food-on-a-stick prepared in possibly, if not alarmingly, unsanitary conditions?

No. I know what it is.

It's the Ramly Burger. That damn fried egg-wrapped grilled meat patty in a sliced sesame seed bun.

For people who think that a regular cheeseburger is just too healthy, the Ramly Burger is euthanasia with your choice of sauce.

And you worry about melamine?

If anything should be put to sleep, it's pasar malams, which have been a blight on the Singapore heartland for long enough. Now, they already appear to be on life support.

The Straits Times reported on Tuesday that the number of night market vendors have fallen in recent years due to the high cost and poor business.

Should we be concerned? Do we really need pasar malams?

Sure, in the pre-shopping centre '60s and '70s, pasar malams were our Takashimayas and Suntec City Malls.

Nowadays, we can get cheaply-made merchandise and fat-laden snacks in any of the suburban shopping centres conveniently located around the island.

There was a time when I would go to pasar malams just to check out the latest pirated movies and computer software. But the authorities eventually put an end to that, which is fine because we now have the Internet.

And whatever nostalgic or 'heritage' value pasar malams once had has been squandered, like the way the Star Wars prequels squandered our once dependable gullibility to watch anything with 'Star Wars' in the title. Clone Wars, anyone?

So I, for one, look forward to saying good night to the night markets for good.

For no other reason than to be free of the evil Ramly Burger once and for all.

- The New Paper, 30 October 2008

Sunday 26 October 2008

Not in my neighbourhood: Forget foreign workers, Singapore is going to the dogs

I came across this reader's letter in My Paper last week:

"I refer to the letter, 'Ban foreign workers from HDB'. I empathise with the writer when he related his bad experiences with foreign workers.

"However, I was greatly disappointed that the letter called for a ban on foreign workers in HDB flats. I do not think it is fair to call for a ban on foreign workers in flats based on a few bad experiences with foreign workers.

"The correct approach, if one feels that foreign workers are creating a disturbance or dirtying the neighbourhood, would be to speak to the foreign workers.

"Foreign workers should not be tarred with the same brush because of the few black sheep who are unable to discipline themselves.

"Tolerance and kindness help in the building of a gracious society. It is time for us to exhibit some of these qualities when it comes to our treatment of foreign workers."

Wow, what a great letter. The writer basically articulated everything I want to say about this whole "I don't want foreign workers living in my neighbourhood" issue.

Except I cheated. The actual letter wasn't about foreign workers. It was about dogs.

The writer was responding to an earlier letter that wanted the authorities to ban HDB residents from owning dogs.

All I did was simply replace a few words like "dogs", "dog owners" and "animals" with "foreign workers", and voila - a level-headed plea for graciousness and compassion for our fellow human beings, rather than pets.

It's ironic that someone could write so persuasively to defend the rights of dogs, the same rights that some Singaporeans don't even see fit to grant our foreign workers.

If you think it's inappropriate for me to equate dogs with foreign workers, b-b-baby, you you ain't seen nothin' yet.

The HDB dog ban debate has moved online to the AsiaOne forum where it took a bizarre turn when one poster reasoned that if dogs were to be banned, then children should be banned as well since children are as much a nuisance as dogs.

Yes, someone actually equated dogs with children.

He or she could be in show business because there's an old showbiz maxim that goes, "Never work with animals and children." (Thank you, W C Fields.)

All I can say is some people must really really really love their dogs - and hate kids.

If only foreign workers can be put on a leash. After all, we already have leashes for kids.

- Published in The New Paper, 26 October 2008

Friday 24 October 2008

How to afford growing old? By not retiring

I have a friend who used to be an insurance salesman, then a 'financial planner', then a 'wealth manager'.

Next week, I expect his job title to be simply 'money god'.

He was trying to sell me some long-term financial product and said that while it was good that I already had a life insurance policy (which he had sold me), he added sombrely: 'The bad news is that you're likely to live for a long, long time.'

That was bad news? Since when was living for 'a long, long time' bad news? What was good news then? My death?

I was deeply creeped out by his morbid sales pitch.

Now I realise he was right. You know why?

Growing old sucks.

Your eyesight leaves you. Your grown-up children will leave you. And eventually, your employer will ask you to leave - except it's called 'retirement'.

As if to add insult to creaking bones, with the collapsing world economy, nowadays your life savings could be leaving you as well, thanks to some long-term financial product you bought from the likes of my friend.

But even if your life savings aren't saying bye-bye, how many of us will ever feel financially secure enough to retire anyway?

Which is why we make such easy prey for the likes of my friend.

In a recent Government survey, about half of Singaporeans aged between 43 and 60 said they want to work for as long as they can. Only half?

Right on cue, the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort started its massive recruitment drive on Monday with retirees as one of its main targets.

So if you want to spend your remaining golden years as a security guard, waiter, butler, bellman, doorman or restroom attendant, you're in luck. The website is

If only there were openings for wealth managers.

So, did I buy that long-term financial product from my friend?

How could I not?

What if - the horror - I do live to a ripe old age? How do I afford it?

Is it too late for me to start smoking now? I could stop exercising and eat all the oyster omelette I want.

Last week, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan wondered aloud if the Government should legalise euthanasia.

I can take a hint.

- Published in The New Paper, 24 Oct 2008

Hi S M Ong,

I refer to your above article dated 24 Oct 2008.

I do not know who you are, male or female? I am a 52 year old lady working in a hospital and my husband, 62 is retired. We have a son, a daugher-in-law and very young 3 grandsons.

I wish to commend on your great sense of humour. My husband and I cannot help laughing with what you have written. We do not know how true in terms of your friend who has sold you so many many products. It made a lot of sense of what you have written. It ended so nicely/coincidentally about legalising euthanasia.

After reading everyday of all the bad news, your article is quite a change to bring some laughters to our lives. Personally, we are fortunate enough not to be stuck with any Lehman, Minibond or jubilee products.

After having sold our 2 houses (fortunately, we sold before the collapse of Lehman), and started renting a house in mid 2007, we thought we were very smart but now realise not so smart after all because we bought too much unit trusts. The senior relationship manager of a foreign was very smart in selling their products and we were greedy enough to take the bait. We are now down by more than 40%. We are also stuck with a couple of share counters which we bought a long ago. Therefore, a big chunk of our cash is gone.

We are now renting a house and hopeful that the property prices would go down real low so that we can buy them at a good price. This way, we can say "you win some, you lose some".

SM Ong, keep up the good work. We look forward to reading your article so that we do not have to feel so gloomy.

Kind regards,
Rose Goh

Sunday 19 October 2008

How I solved credit crisis with just one phone call

Forget the global economic turmoil. I faced my own personal credit crisis when I received my credit card statement from DBS last week.

It said I owed $353.10 even though I didn't use my DBS Black American Express or my DBS Platinum MasterCard last month. In fact, I hardly used them at all.

So why did I owe $353.10? Because of the annual fees - plus GST.

My wife was furious because she didn't want me to get those cards in the first place.

It all started when I received one of those annoying cold calls from strangers peddling various financial products.

My wife would hang up right away, but I would let them finish their scripted sales pitch - and then say no.

I figured, hey, if they were willing to waste my time, I was willing to waste theirs. The trouble was sometimes I said yes.

That was how I ended up with a couple of credit cards I hardly use.

I figured, hey, since the annual fees were waived for the first year, what did I have to lose? I would enjoy the card benefits for one year and then cancel the cards.

The trouble was I forgot to cancel the cards. So now I was stuck with a $353.10 credit card bill and a pissed-off wife.

She insisted that I cancel the cards immediately so that I wouldn't forget and owe another $353.10 in 12 months.

So I called the DBS "hotline". When I finally reached the customer service officer, he asked why I wanted to cancel the cards. I told him about the annual fees but not the pissed-off wife.

Then the guy asked whether I would keep the cards if he waived the $353.10 charge.

What? You mean this guy on the phone could magically make my $353.10 debt disappear just like that?

What if I hadn't called? What if my wife hadn't insisted on cancelling the cards? I would've stupidly paid the bill and be out of $353.10 for nothing!

I was angry - yet not that angry because I just saved myself $353.10.

Are other people stupidly paying their credit card annual fees or would I have been the only one?

Anyway, I decided to keep the cards and when they bill me the annual fees next year, I would simply call again and threaten to cancel the cards.

If only the world's credit crisis could be solved just as easily.

I just had to figure out how to tell my wife.

- Published in The New Paper, 19 October 2008

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Did MediaCorp blow it with Shopgirl?

Most of you probably didn't catch Channel 5's telecast of the movie Shopgirl on Saturday afternoon. So you missed the scene where one female character gave this tip to another on snaring a man:

"And fellatio, the sooner the better - and a lot. Act like you love it. After he's addicted, cut him off. That's when you got him."

While that was undoubtedly sage advice, since when did oral sex become appropriate weekend daytime television fodder?

There are a few possible scenarios.

Whoever vetted the movie at MediaCorp simply missed the fellatio reference. This is highly likely, considering the endless hours of programming that have to be cleared by our national broadcaster.

There's also a chance that the MediaCorp censor actually didn't know what fellatio meant, which would be very sad. Right up there with Zoe Tay's "I swallow" goof.

Or maybe the censor did know what fellatio meant, but was under the impression that the movie would only air late at night when more adult-oriented content was permitted.

So MediaCorp erred not in the non-excision of the dialogue, but in the time slot that the movie was shown.

Then again, perhaps there is absolutely nothing wrong with discussing a sexual albeit non-reproductive act on free-to-air television during family-viewing hours. There are worse things on TV, like the S-League.

Who watches a movie like Shopgirl anyway, whatever time it's on? Certainly not children.

Starring and written by Steve Martin, based on his novella also called Shopgirl, the low-key 2005 film is no slapstick Pink Panther remake. There's a reason it aired on Saturday afternoon when most people are out having a life.

This wouldn't be the first time something has slipped through the MediaCorp censorship cracks and it won't be the last.

Earlier this year, the broadcaster was fined $15,000 by the Media Development Authority for airing a show that "normalises and promotes a gay lifestyle".

And no, it wasn't The Ellen Degeneres Show. Despite recently marrying her lesbian partner and being quite public about it, openly gay Ellen is still very much on Channel 5.

At least we know she won't be advocating fellatio on her show.

- Unpublished

Sunday 12 October 2008

Daddy, why is that man wearing a dress?

It was not a pretty sight.

No, actually, at first I thought the picture of TheatreWorks’ Ong Keng Sen wearing heavy make-up, pearls, a black dress and a blue wig in The Straits Times recently was quite pretty.

Until I realised it was Ong Keng Sen - a man. And suddenly I had to explain to my 11-year-old son why it’s not all right for him to try on his sister’s clothes – at least not without his sister’s signed consent.

Ong was promoting his new play, Vivien And The Shadows, where he will be acting as a guy who “imagines himself” to be Vivien Leigh.

I told my son: “That man is acting as a woman in a play. That is the reason – and only reason – he is dressed like a woman.”

Then my son asked: Why didn’t they just get a woman to act as a woman?

“Because,” I said, “the character is not really a woman, but a man who is acting as a woman.”

“But why is the man acting as a woman?” he asked.

This was going nowhere.

So I went into this spiel about how in Shakespeare’s day, women weren’t allowed to act in theatre, so men had to play all the women’s parts as well.

Then it occurred to me it must have been damn confusing back then for audiences watching The Merchant Of Venice when the character of Portia, a woman who pretended to be a man, had to be played by a man pretending to be a woman who pretended to be a man. It was like a reverse Victor/Victoria without the big musical numbers.

My son’s response: "What is a Shakespeare?"

I sighed and decided it was time to just make something up.

I said the Government wanted Singapore women to have more babies, but all these women were too busy working. So the Government was phasing out all these women’s jobs so that they could stay home and have more babies. One of these women’s jobs was acting as women in plays.

My son stared at me blankly. Then he asked, “Is he like Kumar?”

I said yes.

He said, “Oh” and returned to bugging me to get him a PSP for Christmas.

A few days later on Tuesday, my 9-year-old daughter saw a picture of Ivan Heng in drag in the newspaper and wanted to lend her brother her clothes.

- Published in The New Paper, 12 Oct 2008

Saturday 11 October 2008

What? Me worry about the economy?

"Hell in Asia"?

After reading the front page headline in The Straits Times yesterday morning, I looked out my window, expecting to see Haw Par Villa come alive, only to be disappointed by the blithely sunny day. Sure, it was hot, but not that hot.

The world economy may be going down in flames, but the kids still have to prepare for their year-end exams and I have go to work. In short, life goes on.

If I didn't have a job to go to, then maybe I'll start dusting off my hellfire-retardant suit.

I’m with the 51 percent of the 100 people surveyed who said that they were not concerned by the financial crisis in The New Paper yesterday.

Why am I not panicking when all these apocalyptic headlines and news pictures of stock watchers with their hand melodramatically covering various parts of their face appear to suggest that I should?

If I were on the Qantas plane that suddenly plunged 2.5km, I would be the first to yell, “We’re all going to die!”

But the stock market in freefall? Shrug.

I’m either too poor or not poor enough to feel affected by such macroeconomics.

I'm too poor because my entire investment portfolio consists of some SingTel shares the Government gave out years ago.

I’m not poor enough because although the cost of everything has gone up, that just means that the next time the teen behind the McDonald’s counter asks if I want to upsize my meal, I will regretfully decline.

Having lived through Black Monday, the dotcom bust and Sars, I believe in reverse gravity: Whatever goes down must come up – eventually.

Hey, even the passengers on that Qantas flight survived.

My hero is Oei Hong Leong who bought stock in fallen giant AIG and two weeks later, made $7million in these “hellish” times, seemingly without any sweat. And then he gave it away!

Maybe he can also take my life’s savings and turn it into a couple million overnight. How many AIG shares can I get for $3,072.28?

- Published in The New Paper, 10 October 2008

Sunday 5 October 2008

How I became an F1 fan overnight, thanks to a dangling hose

All it takes is that one great moment.

That was how The Matrix became my favourite film.

When the camera pulled back from the close-up of a single human foetus to the insane wide shot of an "endless" field of foetuses being harvested by machines, I thought to myself: "My god, this is the most awesomest movie in the world!"

I experienced a similar epiphany watching my first F1 race on TV last Sunday night. When Felipe Massa drove out of the Ferrari pitstop with the fuel hose still attached his car, ejaculating petrol and pulling a mechanic forcefully to the ground, I thought to myself: "My god, this is the most awesomest sport in the world!"

Admittedly, before that, I was one of many Singaporeans nonplussed by the hype surrounding the "rich man's sport" coming to our little dot, where we pride ourselves in our poor man's version of a football league, also known as the S-League.

Why would anyone pay hundreds of dollars just to watch a bunch of cars go round and round? For that kind of money, I would also expect a full body massage from one of the SingTel Grid Girls.

So when I turned on the TV to watch the Singapore Grand Prix, it was more out of patriotic duty than any actual interest in the motor sport. Also I didn't want to miss it in case someone crashed.

And there were indeed a couple of crashes in Sunday's race, but they were hardly movie-worthy. What, no giant fireball? Michael Bay would've been ashamed.

Then came the Ferrari pitstop farrago of foul-ups.

After being given the premature green light, Massa drove to the end of the pit lane, dragging the flaccid fuel hose with him, before stopping and waiting impotently for his pit crew to run up and help him.

And then they couldn't detach the hose from the car!

I was literally squealing with unadulterated delight.

This was Ferrari, last year's winning team and a brand-name multi-million dollar operation with Massa, who had been leading the race for 16 laps, not some no-name loser from Force India.

And here they were, reenacting a scene from Mr Bean Joins F1 Pit Crew.

Forget drama. I want to nominate the Singapore GP for best TV comedy. If only we had gotten Tina Fey to make a guest appearance, we would be a shoo-in for next year's Emmys.

Massa eventually finished the race - sans fuel hose - in unlucky 13th place. By then, I was already a Formula One convert.

I can't wait for next year. I hope it rains. Imagine the comic possibilities then!

- Publish in The New Paper, 5 October 2008

Sunday 28 September 2008

Go Dutch - unless it's made in China

It is the biggest decision I ever have to make. It's the difference between life and death. More importantly, it's about saving 60 cents.

There is a pack of Dutch Lady chocolate milk left in my fridge and I have to decide whether to drink it or throw it away.

Dutch Lady is of course one of the brand names affected by China's tainted milk product scandal.

China-made Dutch Lady strawberry, banana and honeydew-flavoured milk in plastic bottles were found to contain melamine - a chemical that has been blamed for several infant deaths in the 2008 Olympics host country.

After getting over losing my innocence upon learning that Dutch Lady products aren't manufactured anywhere near windmills and dykes (the kind that prevent flooding, not Ellen and her bride), I'm relieved that my Dutch Lady milk, bought weeks before I even heard of a chemical called melamine, is not fruit-flavoured, bottled or made in China.

Judging by the Malay words printed on the pack (which I can't read), I believe the milk is from Malaysia, which for all its political wackiness, is harmless compared to the indigestion China has been inflicted onto the world's consumers.

My two children have already consumed five packs of the six-pack and they have not suffered any ill effects - yet.

But my wife isn't taking any chances. As long as it says Dutch Lady, she wants to get rid of it. I won't let her. The expiry date is in 2009. I don't believe in throwing away good un-expired food.

I paid $3.65 for the six-pack at NTUC FairPrice, so each pack costs 60.189 cents. Sixty point one eight nine whole cents! I can buy Lehman Brothers stock with that kind of money.

My wife says she's not letting our kids drink the milk and if I want to drink it, don't go crying to her when I die.

So I have a decision to make - death or throw away 60 cents?

I detach the little bendy straw from the pack, unwrap it from its plastic covering and insert it into the foil-covered hole.

I'm now sucking on the straw and drinking the milk, accompanied with an Oreo wafer stick.

Wait a second, didn't I read that Oreo wafer sticks could be tainted as well?

Die! Choke! Spit!

Good thing I didn't terminate my AIA life insurance policy.

If you don't see this column next week, please tell my mother I'm sorry to be such a disappointment to her, but at least I gave her grandchildren.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 September 2008

Monday 22 September 2008

Readers write in about class, condo investors and my hair

Let's get this out of the way upfront: Yes, I suck. Condo owners don’t suck. I do.

I suck because judging by the emails I’ve received, I failed to get across the point I wanted to make about “middle-class” Serangoon Gardens in my column last week. (I was too busy professing my love for David Cassidy.)

One reader wrote:
“If you are living in an HDB, get real – you are the lower class of the Singaporean society.

“Who did you think were at the bottom rung of Singapore? Foreign workers? Stop hiding in your cave already.”
I want to point out that I have a rather spacious, Ikea-furnished five-room cave and it’s near an MRT station.

Another reader asked:
“What’s with the inferiority complex?”

Yes, I do have an inferiority complex. Wouldn’t you if you were “at the bottom rung of Singapore”?

The email continued:
“Don’t you know people living in ‘ang mo chu’ can be as poor as those living in a kampung? Go and Google the meaning of wealth. Middle class or not is in the mind. Upper class can even behave like no class."

I’m now Googling “wealth” and what do you know? It’s there in Wikipedia as well.

Wikipedia says:
“Wealth derives from the old English word ‘weal’, which means ‘well-being’. The term was originally an adjective to describe the possession of great qualities.”

Wow, I didn’t know that.

Nowadays, “wealth” is an adjective to describe the possession of the great quality of possessing great quantities of possessions of great quality.

And then there’s Kelvin who introduced himself as “married and living in a four-room HDB flat”, but surprisingly wrote in to defend the honour of condo owners.

“By saying condo dwellers or buyers are suckers is not appropriate. Many of them are investors and know what they are doing. Please do not be a sour grape. By the way some condo have leases which are freehold or 999 years. HDB don't have this.”

Yes, I did call condo owners suckers in a regrettable moment of sour-grapery in my article, but Kelvin might have missed my apology at the end of the same article. In which case, I apologise again.

Kelvin also wrote:
“Just like your hairstyle, with one look, can I say that you are...”

He did not complete the sentence. I’m guessing he meant to say “low class” but is too polite. I’m hoping he meant to say “sexy” but is too shy. Doesn’t he know I have an inferiority complex?

Evolution of my byline photo and bad hair #actblur

A photo posted by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

Anyway, the main point of my column wasn’t to insult condo owners or to lament my “lower class” status.

My aim was to question the casual use of an insidiously loaded term like “middle class” to describe Serangoon Gardens just because it’s a private estate.

On a brighter note, I also received an email from a reader named Kal, who wrote: “I quite enjoyed your article in TNP today. Thanks.”

Step aside, David Cassidy. I think I love you, Kal.

- Published in The New Paper, 21 September 2008

Dear SM Ong

Keep writin', keep smilin' and keep cool. You're doing a great job and BTW , your hair sits nicely on your head. Talk about one's crowning glory. You've got it.


EARLIER: If Serangoon Gardens is 'middle-class', what am I?

Sunday 14 September 2008

If Serangoon Gardens is 'middle-class', what am I?

I was watching the news on TV the other night about how plans to turn the former Serangoon Gardens Technical School into a hostel for foreign workers were creating "an uproar in the middle-class estate".

I was deeply upset by the report. And it was not because of the undercurrent of racism and xenophobia.

I noticed the residents in Serangoon Gardens all seem to be living in private homes, ie "ang moh chu". And they're considered "middle-class"?

I live in an HDB flat, so does that make me - gasp - "lower-class"? The horror!

I feel faint. Quick, someone get me some water! And make sure it's Evian. None of that generic crap. I am not lower-class!

And then I realise "lower class" doesn't necessarily mean "low class".

Whew. That was close. I'm OK now, thanks.

You know who I feel sorry for? People who live in condos.

Here they are, paying so much more for their homes than HDB flat owners, but because they don't live in a private estate like Serangoon Gardens, they're not even "middle-class". Ha! Suckers.

Wait a minute. If living on landed property in supposedly land-scarce Singapore only makes you "middle-class", where do you have to live to be "upper-class"?

The Istana?

Well, obviously it has to be some place where they're not planning to convert a unused school building into a foreign worker dormitory next to your house. Or mansion. Or palace. Or castle. Whatever.

No, no, no, it can't be. I must find out what's behind this "middle-class" Serangoon Gardens myth.

So like any other lazy journalist, I'm Googling it. And there it is in Wikipedia. (And if it's in Wikipedia, it must be true. It's not like anyone can just type in whatever they want.)

Wikipedia says:
"The estate was originally built to house the British soldiers based in Singapore. ... In the 1970s, when the British military left Singapore in 1971, Serangoon Gardens was known as an estate for the middle class."
Now I get it.

Sure, Serangoon Gardens could be considered middle-class way back in the mediaeval 1970s. That was when most of the rest of Singapore was living in kampungs.

Nowadays, we have indoor plumbing and lifts that stop at every floor. And property prices certainly aren't what they used to be in the decade of T Rex and The Partridge Family. (I think I love you too, David Cassidy.)

So Serangoon Gardens is definitely no longer middle-class - I am. I think.

For some reason, that doesn't make me feel much better.

My apologies for calling condo owners suckers.

Where's my Evian!

- Published in The New Paper, 14 September 2008

Dear Mr.Ong/Editor,

First of all, I like to introduce myself, I am Kelvin, married and stay in a 4 room HDB flat.

By saying condo dweller or buyer are sucker is not appropriate. Many of them are investor and knows what they are doing. Please do not be a sour grape. By the way some condo have leases which are freehold or 999yrs. HDB don't have this. Just like your hairstyle, with one look, can I say that you are........, do consider other people feeling, a writer not only write to make money but to be responsible for what he write.

Do consider other's feeling when writing....

Best Regards

To SM Ong

What's with the inferior complex?

Don't u know people living in Angmo chu can be as poor as those living in kampong. Go and google what is the meaning of wealth.

Middle class or not is in the mind. Upper class can even behave like no class...

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