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...

My response to e-mails

Sunday 7 September 2008

Will Gong Li be first 'Singaporean' to win Oscar?

So Gong Li is a Singaporean now?

OK, she may (or may not) have become a Singapore citizen, but does that make her Singaporean?

It's not like she's going to start eating prata, buy 4D and end her sentences with a "lah".

Or even play table tennis for Singapore in the Olympics like some other imported China girls you may have heard of.

Speaking of the Olympics, why would anyone give up her citizenship of a country who has won a gazillion medals to become a citizen of a nation that has won a grand total of two in all its history?

Perhaps she heard about our new baby bonus scheme.

Perhaps it's because the actress can finally make that biopic about JB Jeyaratnam she has always wanted to make now that the ban on political films has been lifted.

Or perhaps since public demonstrations are now permitted at Hong Lim Park, she can protest how her role in Miami Vice was grossly overlooked by the Oscars. After all, she had to pretend to be attracted to Colin Farrell. Now that's acting!

Which brings up another point:

If Gong Li is indeed eligible to apply for a new HDB flat, should she ever win an Academy Award, would it now be "Singapore's" Oscar?

The closest she came was when she won the American National Board of Review best supporting actress award for 2005's Memoirs Of A Geisha on top of other little Asian and European awards she has earned throughout her career.

At least she has a better shot than Royston Tan and Jack Neo.

Her latest movie is called Shanghai, which also stars Chow "Welcome to Singapore!" Yuen Fatt and one-time Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe. Unfortunately, the movie's main lead is John Cusack, who while likeable enough, has yet to be forgiven for Must Love Dogs.

But regardless of whether Gong Li even gets an Oscar nomination next year, she is more likely to win an Academy Award in her lifetime than a Singaporean (China-born or otherwise) winning another Olympic medal in yours. (UPDATE: I was wrong. In 2012, Singapore won two bronze medals in table tennis.)

Let's say one day in the future, Gong Li finally wins a well-deserved Oscar for her moving performance in Farewell My Concubine Part Deux: The Concubine Strikes Back.

Are we going to be so thick-skinned as to say Singapore has won its first Oscar?

Will NTUC Fairprice hold an autograph-signing session in the middle of a supermarket to celebrate "our" Academy Award triumph? Will Gong Li be a no-show again like at the Singapore citizenship ceremony?

Will buzz-killing, parade-raining wet blankets point out that she's not a true Singaporean because she can only sing our National Anthem phonetically?

Will some MP fire Gong Li's acting coach, only to backtrack later and apologise to the country after a chat with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan?

To paraphrase Princess Leia: "Help us, Eric Khoo, you're our only hope!"

- Published in The New Paper, 2 September 2008

UPDATE: Gong Li's Singaporean husband confirms divorce rumours