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