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