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