Sunday 27 December 2009

Post-PSLE anxiety: After six years, it comes down to this

At exactly 6.14am on 22 Dec, my wife was woken by the frenzied opening guitar riff of the song Wonderland by Big Country.

The 1984 UK top 10 hit was coming from her Walkman handphone which she had placed beside her on our bed where I was still snoring away.

The song meant that she had received an SMS. We had been waiting for this SMS for three weeks.

But in a way, we had been waiting for this moment for six long years – from when we balloted for the place in my son's primary school to agonising over whether his PSLE score was good enough to him into his first-choice secondary school.

A few months ago, he had taken the selection test to get into NUS High School of Math and Science.

When we were informed that he had failed to qualify for the next round of selection, the blow was like a death in the family. Our hopes had been raised - then snuffed out.

After a few days of mourning, we regrouped and re-evaluated our options.

I said let's forget about trying to get him into a supposedly "good" school and just go for the nearest. I was aiming low to avoid another heartbreak.

My wife baulked at the idea.

This is even though she had sometimes regretted not sending our children to the primary school that is right next to our home and opting instead for the supposedly "better" neighbourhood primary school, which was farther away.

My wife quickly did some research and came up with Bukit Panjang Government High School, which had perfect blend of reputation and "nearness".

Being a casual parent, I never heard of the school before. For one thing, I didn't know it's not in Bukit Panjang, but in Choa Chu Kang, which is where I live.

That was three weeks earlier.

Barely conscious, my wife instinctive flipped open her clamshell phone, cutting off one of my favourite songs, and read the message:

"From MOE: S97XXXXXJ is posted to BUKIT PANJANG GOVT HIGH SCHOOL, Exp course. Please report to the secondary school on 23 Dec 2009 at 8:30am."

She immediately leapt out of bed to tell our son the good news. Meanwhile, I was still dreaming about being a pro golfer.

Then she came back to wake me. "We got Bukit Panjang!" she said excitedly.

"Oh, good," I replied, closed my eyes and went back to my 14 mistresses.

At exactly 7am on 23 Dec, my wife was woken by the frenzied opening synthesizer riff of the song Strange Love by Depeche Mode from her handphone.

That was the alarm that she had set to wake her up and get ready to be at the school by 8.30am.

She immediately leapt out of bed to go wake our son, before coming back to wake me. “You going with us?” she asked.

“No,” I replied and went back to my 30 mistresses.

By the time I woke up at lunchtime, my wife and son had already returned from the school with a folder containing several lists of things we had to pay for.

Apart from the usual uniforms and textbooks, there were two name tags ($5.40), a school tie ($7.40), a yearbook, an organiser, a locker, a padlock and passport-size photographs.

I'm glad I'm a citizen so that I don't have to pay higher school fees from 2011.

Also in the folder was a flyer promoting a blood donation drive organised by the school. Talk about bleeding us dry.

At least, we didn’t pay for the folder.

My wife then told me that she found out Bukit Panjang is the National Science Challenge 2009 champion - after beating Raffles Institution and NUS High School on TV!

And that somehow made it all seem worthwhile.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 December 2009

Saturday 26 December 2009

Why Ris Low is my Singaporean Of The Year

When it was recently reported that CNN had named Ris Low as one of Asia's 25 "most influential" people in 2009, a few Singaporeans I know threatened to renounce their citizenship.

But then when the Government announced on Monday that non-citizens will have to pay higher school fees, those same Singaporeans realised that a 19-year-old dethroned beauty queen is perhaps the least of their problems and kept their pink IC.

I would contend that Ms Low is not only one of the most influential Singaporeans of 2009, but is Singaporean Of The Year

Actually, the CNN report was somewhat inaccurate.

In the first place, it wasn't CNN, but a CNN-affiliated website called CNNGo. You may say it's the same thing, but it's like equating American Idol with the Singapore Idol website. There is a huge difference.

And it wasn't a list of the "most influential", but of "Who Mattered Most" - which only trivialises the list even more.

Regardless, it served to add to Ms Low's notoriety and extend it beyond our coastlines.

On top of that, the ex-Miss Singapore World also made it to Yahoo! Singapore's 2009 top 10 most searched list.

Interestingly, the CNNGo list and the Yahoo! top 10 had one thing in common apart from Ms Low - the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

And the only thing that Ms Low and Aware have in common is that they're female.

One of them has seriously tarnished the image of Singapore women this year while the other ... uh, okay, maybe they have two things in common.

But Ms Low's singular achievement, as correctly identified by CNNGo, is the coinage of the word "boomz" and its proliferation in local popular culture.

Even the catchphrase king himself, Phua Chu Kang - who popularised "Don't play play" and "Use your brain, use your brain" - got into the Ris Low act.

The sitcom character, played by Gurmit Singh, spoofed Ms Low's now iconic "leopard preenz" RazorTV interview in a series of MediaCorp-produced videos that also went viral, but on a smaller scale.

Remember "Shut up and sit down"? It was the most memorable quote that came out of the Aware saga.

"Shut up and sit down" T-shirts were printed, but unlike the "Boomz" T-shirts, they weren't sold at New Urban Male and the would-be catchphrase never really caught on.

Hoping that lightning would strike twice, Ms Low herself tried to introduce another buzzword with "shingz", but failed because it was too self-conscious and calculated.

The "boomz" boom was a happy accident. (Okay, maybe more of an annoying accident for some.) No one planned it, least of all Ms Low herself.

Of all her mistakes, from linguistic to the credit card fraud, I thought the dumbest was her not getting a cut of the New Urban Male T-shirt sales.

One of the year's greatest ironies is that it all started because of protests that the "bipolar" teen was unfit to represent our country in the Miss World pageant, which eventually led to her representing Singapore on CNNGo's "Who Matter Most In Asia 2009" list.

If only those protesters had shut up and sit down, Ms Low would've faded into obscurity just like the woman who eventually took her place in the Miss World pageant did.

Instead, Ris Low is now, by my estimation, 2009's Singaporean Of The Year.

- Published in The New Paper, 26 December 2009

Sunday 20 December 2009

How TVMobile lasted longer than two Glenn Ong marriages

It's a time for joy and celebration. And it's not just because it's Christmas.

What all Singaporeans are celebrating this week - regardless of race, language or religion - is not the birth of Jesus Christ or Singapore’s SEA games medals or the opening of the Uniqlo megastore at 313@Somerset, but the death of TVMobile.

Last Tuesday, as a Christmas present to commuters, MediaCorp announced that it will finally be putting the much loathed mobile TV service out of its misery on New Year's Day - after nine long, baffling years.

Baffling because ever since its multi-million-dollar launch on 1,500 air-conditioned SBS buses in February 2001, TVMobile has been reviled as a service that no one asked for and no one wanted. Yet, it managed to outlast Glenn Ong's second marriage.

And if you take into account that the public trial for TVMobile started in 1999, it actually outlasted both of Glenn's marriages to Kate Reyes (2000 to 2003) and Jamie Yeo (2004 to 2009).

Yes, MediaCorp was more committed to its troubled digital TV platform than Glenn was to his two hot wives.

In its 15 Dec media release announcing the long overdue euthanasia of TVMobile, MediaCorp described it as "a rich source of entertainment and information to commuters".

Commuters would beg to differ. For much of the new millennium, they have written to the press complaining that they could not "switch channels, lower volumes, or turn off the broadcast altogether".

A day after the 2001 launch, one letter writer even wished for its "early demise". His wish didn't come true. Nine years later is not what you can call "early".

MediaCorp's response at the time was: "As with any new technology and service, there will be some teething problems. It may also take some time for people to adapt to the new service."

And how people adapted was by plugging in earphones and looking out the bus window.

Then came the gripes that when TVMobile wasn't rerunning Just For Laughs ad nauseam, it was showing too many Chinese programmes, which didn't reflect Singapore's multiracial society. If there's anything worse than noise pollution, it's noise pollution in a language you don't understand.

Some have suggested that TVMobile is so annoying that it has driven people away from taking public transportation and forcing them to buy cars, thus increasing our carbon emissions.

So in a way, TVMobile is also responsible for killing the Earth. Is it a coincidence that MediaCorp announced the discontinuation of TVMobile in the same week as the Copenhagen climate talks?

Or maybe MediaCorp just realised how lame it is to have communal TV on public transport in the age of PSPs, iPods and other ubiquitous portable personal entertainment devices.

Actually, it's simply because MediaCorp's contract with SBS Transit is expiring.

Whatever the reason, with TVMobile flickering out for good, many commuters will be having a merrier Christmas and happier new year.

But now what is SBS Transit going to do with the 3,600 dead screens on its buses?

- Published in The New Paper, 20 December 2009

Saturday 12 December 2009

iPhone again? I'd rather talk about hunky vampires and werewolves

On Wednesday, a friend asked me if I was getting the iPhone since prices are going down because of the telco war that broke out last week. He already has an iPhone, but was thinking of getting one for his girlfriend.

Not again. It seemed like every other conversation I’ve had recently – or overheard – was about whether someone was or wasn’t getting an iPhone.

So I just rolled my eyes and tried to steer the discussion to something less banal – like whether Robert Pattinson or Tayler Lautner is hotter.

Then my friend mentioned that to fight off M1 and StarHub, SingTel was offering the iPhone for $0 with its lowest-priced plan, which is $39 a month.

I said no way. If that were true, then everyone would get the iPhone – SingTel might as well not bother selling any other handphone models.

My friend insisted that he saw the SingTel ad in the newspaper. I insisted that he must have misread the ad.

So we made a bet that if he was right, I would buy him a meal. We hooked each other’s pinky finger to seal the wager and went to find a copy of a newspaper.

And there it was – a full-page SingTel ad with a huge picture of the iPhone 3GS. The copy read: “$0 on iFlexi Plans.”

I couldn’t believe it – I had to pay for someone else’s food. The horror.

The iPhone ads that day by the other two telco didn't say how much they were charging for the handset. SingTel had clearly trumped them.

For $39 a month, it would be remiss of me not to get an iPhone for myself – and my entire family.’

All of a sudden, my beloved iPod Touch, bought only two months ago, seemed hopelessly inadequate. Why couldn’t I make phone calls with this damn thing? It was like owning a black and white TV when everyone else had full HD.

I felt sorry for the suckers who paid hundreds of dollars for the iPhone just before the war broke out.

My friend decided to get the iPhone for his girlfriend and called SingTel to apply for the $39 iFlexi plan right there and then – with his iPhone, of course, which he paid hundreds of dollars for.

That was when he found out that he had to pay over $500 for the phone. Huh?

But didn’t the ad say $0?

We had failed to notice the fine print at the bottom of the ad. The $0 price only applied to the $95 and $205 iFlexi plans, he was told. Alamak! Who’s the sucker now?

This is what I call "LPPL", an abbreviation of a Hokkien phrase I picked up during NS regarding the collision of the male genitalia.

If you compare the iPhone plans of the three telcos now, they are actually not that different from one another. Both M1 and StarHub are also offering $0 iPhones with the higher priced plans.

I don’t know if my friend is still getting an iPhone for his girlfriend – but at least I got a free meal out of him.

- Published in The New Paper, 13 December 2009

Sunday 6 December 2009

Revenge of the potato eater: Speak English or don't work here

During my full-time national service, someone once asked me in English: “You eat potato?”

I thought to myself: What a strange question. Neither of us was even eating anything at the time.

As I pause to ponder if this was a serious or trick question, my tuber-fixated interrogator repeated the query, insisting on an answer: “You eat potato?”

Hasn’t everyone eaten a potato at least once in his or her life?

So I said: “Yah, I eat potato.”

“You eat potato?” he repeated with bemusement, as if I confessed to masturbation.

“I eat potato.”

“You eat potato.”

“I eat potato.”

This went on for a while until the person was satisfied that I had indeed confirmed my potato-eating and left to tell everyone very loudly that I said I ate potatoes like it was the funniest thing in the world.

It wasn’t until later when I found out that is to say a Chinese Singaporean “eats potatoes” is to mock him for being so Westernised that he speaks English rather than Chinese.

The assumption here is that the potato is a Western food, like the fries in a McDonald’s meal.

But when I was asked the potato question, the first thing that came to mind was the spuds in my mother's chicken curry – not a Western dish, I believe.

So it never occurred to me that "eating potatoes" had anything to do with my language preference.

That was when I realised that being a English-speaking Chinese Singaporean, I was in the minority.

But we are a big enough minority – or big enough spenders – that last week, the Government announced a new rule that will hopefully reverse the trend of a growing number of service workers recruited from abroad who can’t speak English to customers like me.

From the third quarter of next year, new foreign workers have to pass an English test before they can get a work permit as a skilled worker.

We felt vindicated after MM Lee Kuan Yew’s admission that Chinese has been wrongly taught in our schools for 30 years, turning Chinese Singaporeans like me off our mother tongue.

Many potato-eating Singaporeans has treated MM Lee’s mea culpa as licence to openly condemn the Government’s oppressive bilingual education policy for screwing up our lives and the lives of our children.

Some complain about how they were forced to emigrate because of the policy. Hey, at least they had the option to emigrate. No other country would have me.

So it’s almost fitting that foreigners now have to learn English to work in our country. Why should we be the only ones to suffer?

I don’t even mind being called a “potato eater”. Take that, you Chinese helicopter.

Suddenly, I feel like curry.

- Published in The New Paper. 6 December 2009

Sunday 29 November 2009

PSLE: Why can't my son be a China girl who could hardly speak English?

My son got his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results on Thursday and he wasn’t Singapore’s top scorer. Which is fine.

But then my son was not even Singapore’s second top scorer. Which means his life is as good as over.

He might as well become a loan shark runner. Too bad the Government decided last week to clamp down on the vocation.

I guess as a last resort, he could go into banking. I read in the papers last week that banking as a career choice is not as hot as before.

My son is certainly qualified since he’s good at maths and has little sense of moral responsibility.

Who knew that to be the national PSLE champ, you have to be a girl from China who couldn’t speak English when you first came to Singapore?

Which means that the waitress who couldn’t understand my ribs order at Cafe Cartel the other day has the potential to be a top scorer.

I should’ve adopted. Madonna and Angelina Jolie adopted kids from overseas. And I’m almost as famous as them.

My son even went to a neighbourhood school like the top scorer did. Maybe I’m just living in the wrong neighbourhood.

The top scorer is from Qifa Primary School in West Coast. But I don’t want to live in West Coast. No MRT.

You know what? I blame myself. Why couldn’t I be a physiology research fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS) like the top scorer’s father? I even know what “physiology” means (I think).

And why didn’t I marry a physiology research assistant at NUS like the top scorer’s mother?

My wife likes to sew bags. No wonder our offspring turned out to be such an academic cream puff.

But to have both parents who are such super-geeks is just stacking the gene deck to produce a super-duper mega-geek bred to take over the world and rule us all!

Talk about parental pressure. Imagine if the kid hadn’t become the top PSLE student. Then rain would fall up and Adam Lambert would like girls.

Should I reveal my son’s less than world-dominating PSLE score?

Let’s just say I added a zero, bought 4-D with the number and was disappointed once again.

Neighbourhood secondary school, here we come!

- Published in The New Paper on 29 November 2009

UPDATE: MOE to stop publishing names of top-scoring students

Sunday 22 November 2009

Obama surprise: Apec's photo finish

It was news that broke the heart of a nation. Or at least one eager-to-impress fashion designer.

When it was announced during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum that US President Barack Obama wouldn’t make it to Singapore in time to don Singaporean Song Wykidd’s Peranakan-inspired design for the group photo, the Lion City’s shoulders sagged in collective disappointment.

Remember the photo of the Apec leaders in those wacky ponchos in Peru last year?

Apart from a sombrero, the only thing missing was a little donkey by their side.

Those ponchos provided much needed comic relief during those dark days in 2008 when it seemed like we were heading into the Worst Depression Ever.

So was it really necessary to abandon the costumed photo shoot and deprive us of this year’s “poncho” moment just because of the tardiness of one guy?

Well, yah, if that guy is Mr Obama. Otherwise, it would be like a Destiny’s Child reunion without Beyonce. No, no, no, no, no.

Mr Song even created the Apec attire specifically with the US President in mind. The designer had told The Straits Times: “When (the organisers) first approached me, I thought, great, it’s Obama... but now I’m starting to think if it will look good on him.”

Notice how Mr Song didn’t seem to care how his design might look like on the leaders of the other 20 Apec member countries. Starstruck much?

If Mr Obama couldn’t make it, the photo shoot would be pushed back to a day later when everyone would be in their boring business suits.

Two months of painstakingly hand-embroidering the flower motif with its 21 petals representing the 21 Apec economies on the attire designed by Mr Song and the Apec leaders were going to wear freakin’ business suits for the photo shoot? Why even bother?

Mr Song must have been crushed.

But he stoically told The Business Times that Apec leaders wearing his design for the photo shoot “was not important from a creative perspective”.

Yah, right, that was his main concern – the “creative perspective”. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

Blame it on Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 people and wounded many others at Fort Hood in the worst shooring tragedy on a US military base.

Mr Obama’s trip to Singapore was delayed because he had to attend the memorial service for the victims. So it wasn't like his dog Bo ate his homework.

But he must have known about the hearts he was breaking in Singapore or maybe he was just really into Peranakan culture after catching Little Nyonya on DVD because last Saturday night, Mr Obama and his entourage reportedly “rushed” to the Esplanade after landing at Paya Lebar Airbase and made it in time to put on Mr Song’s design for the photo shoot we thought wouldn't happen.

We got our “poncho” moment. Hallelujah!

And one fashion designer must be mighty relieved – even from a “creative perspective”.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 November 2009

Sunday 15 November 2009

Tired of reruns on TV? Stop watching them

A couple of weeks ago, The Straits Times published an entertainingly caustic letter complaining about Channel 5 showing the same movies like Lord Of The Rings and Broken Arrow over and over again.

MediaCorp has always been an easy target for criticism, particularly Channel 5. I should know – I’ve worked there on and off since the early ’90s.

The writer asked: “Are there no other movies that can be shown ... besides (those about) talking dogs?”

Talking dogs? I didn't know there were talking animals in LOTR and Broken Arrow. Maybe Channel 5 can repeat those movies again so that I can look out for the talking dogs.

He also asked why Phua Chu Kang was “resurrected" in KL and “shoved back on our screen”? I puzzled over this myself, especially since the entire Malaysian series has been available on the web for months.

Then I saw Gurmit as PCK fronting ads for Courts. Ah, sponsorship. So that's why.

The letter then asked why Channel 5 isn’t airing such new “hot shows” like Dexter, Gossip Girl and Mad Men.

My reaction is that if you're media-savvy enough to be aware of such “hot shows”, you should also be media-savvy enough to find alternate channels – cable or online – to watch them rather than rely on free-to-air TV.

Which according to a recent ST report, fewer and fewer Singaporeans are doing so, falling from 41 per cent in 2005 to 36 per cent this year.

The writer also asked: “Is this what I get for diligently paying my TV licensing fee on time?”

Interesting how people feel that paying for their TV licence to gives them a right to demand newer movies, hotter shows and even English football on local free TV.

As PCK might say: “You think you’re $110 so big ah?”

Does anyone honestly believe that Singaporeans will stop complaining about MediaCorp if the TV licence fee is abolished? It's like asking us to stop complaining about foreigners. (UPDATE: In 2011, the TV licence fee was abolished!)

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has pointed out time and again that the money collected from the fees go to funding programmes that “keep Singaporeans informed about issues affecting them, promote racial harmony, foster social cohesion and cultivate a sense of national identity”.

This excludes the latest Hollywood blockbusters, but oddly enough, not Sayang Sayang 2, which the letter writer felt had “failed badly”.

The letter’s punchline – “It (Channel 5) might as well dig out Donny & Marie Show reruns” – made me laugh out loud, betraying my age.

A week later, Channel 5’s written reply was less amusing and still laughable in parts.

The broadcaster’s stand is basically as long as viewers keep watching these movies (with or without loquacious canines), it will keep repeating them.

So in its own clever way, Channel 5 is actually blaming its own viewers for its hoary programming.

This means that if Donny & Marie reruns can get enough ratings - and sponsorship from Harvey Norman - the toothsome twosome from Utah could conceivably return to Channel 5.

There was a girl, there was a boy ...

- Published in The New Paper, 15 November 2005

Sunday 8 November 2009

Singlish 'sounds like chattering chimpanzees fighting over bananas'

As a narcissist (a pre-requisite for being a columnist), I frequently go to YouTube to read the comments on the videos of Phua Chu Kang episodes that I produced.

The comments are usually positive because it’s mostly only fans and narcissistic columnists who would search for PCK videos on YouTube.

So I was taken aback a week ago when I came across this comment by someone called KaydenKolldy.

He wrote: “What kind of language is this? It sounds like chattering chimpanzees fighting over bananas. Do Singaporeans speak this? I don't know how you gooks understand anything.”

For the kicker, he ended with: “PS You Asians are fucking ugly.”

KaydenKolldy posted this same comment on at least three different PCK videos, which suggests that he was trolling for a fight – and found it.

One YouTube user responded in kind: “You Australians are fucking stupid.”Another wrote: “Fuck you asshole...don’t be a racist douche bag.”

Another managed to address KaydenKolldy’s query without any expletives: “This is ‘Singlish’, a kind of English mixed with Hokkien and Malay.”

To which the alleged "racist douche bag" responded: “Geez, it sounds horrible. You Asians seem to rot everything you touch. Languages included.”

According to his YouTube profile, Kayden John Koldy is 23 and from Australia.

He reminds me of someone I know from university in the US who called me “ricehead” all the time. His name is Darren and he became my best friend.

I was too young and innocent then to know that “ricehead” was a racial slur. I just thought it was funny.I was more offended when supposedly “politically correct” Americans referred to me as “people of colour”. I have a colour?

For all his white supremacist posturing, Darren had befriended me because he was interested in Asian martial arts and thought that since I'm Asian, I could teach him some kungfu.

Unfortunately for him, the only Asian art I know is the traditional Japanese art of paper-folding, origami. I don’t want to brag, but I can fold a mean paper crane - blindfolded. So you really don’t want to mess with me.

Darren and I used to shoot pool with a couple of freshmen from Japan whom he called "nips". He explained to me that "nips" was short for Nippon, which was another word for Japan. I didn't know that. I thought Nippon was a brand of paint.

I believe Darren learned these, uh ... "nicknames" from his father who fought in the Korean War. I have met both Darren's parents and have become very fond of them.

I lost contact with Darren for a few years after I returned to Singapore, but he got in touch again recently through the miracle of Facebook.

To my surprise, the guy who used to call me “ricehead” is now not only teaching English in Taiwan, he even married a Taiwanese woman. My guess is he doesn’t call his wife “ricehead”.

I can only hope that one day KaydenKolldy will see the light too. What troubles me about his comments isn’t so much his vicious bigotry, but the viciousness reciprocated by those attacking his comments. Hate begets hate.

Even PCK would be appalled.

- Published in The New Paper, 8 November 2009

Sunday 1 November 2009

Wet market versus supermarket: Beware of topless butcher

Let's say you have a big fancy soirée to attend tonight, like one of those you read about in the "Fly On The Wall" pages of The New Paper on Sunday.

So you decide to get your hair done in a salon. You discuss with your hair stylist which celebrity look suits you best.

Your hair is washed, cut and processed just the way you want it.

You admire the stunning new you in the mirror and feel like you're ready for the red carpet and those pesky paparazzi.

You open the door of the salon and the first thing you see is a fat middle-aged guy clad in nothing but flip-flops and short shorts, chopping raw meat in the butcher stall so close to the Super Trim Beauty & Hair Salon that a stray piece of animal entrails could cannonball into your face as you step out.

And I haven't even mentioned the smell. Ahhh, the glamourous life.

Welcome to the Choa Chu Kang Street 62 wet market near my home.

It was one of a number of wet markets in Singapore supposedly in danger of being displaced by supermarkets, sparking a farm-fresh debate with stale themes long past their expiry date.

New versus old. Progress versus heritage. Big business versus community. Star Trek versus Star Wars.

Been there, done that, bitched about it on Twitter.

Accept it: The days of the wet market are numbered - along with music CDs, service staff who speak English and my six-pack abs.

It's doomed by its name, "wet market". How can it possibly have a chance against "supermarket"?

Imagine pitting Superman against Wetman.

One is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The other is able to make you slip and fall on its wet floor with a single step.

One is faster than a speeding bullet. The other is quick to overcharge you if he senses you're a wet market newbie.

One is more powerful than a locomotive. The other, uh ... doesn't wear a cape.

Or a shirt, like the aforementioned topless butcher at the Choa Chu Kang wet market.

According to news reports, supermarket chain Sheng Shiong, which is interested in buying the wet market along with four others, said it no longer plans to convert them to air-conditioned markets.

The company is prepared to continue renting out the wet market stalls to the existing stall holders, presumably including Mr No-Shirt, who brings new meaning to the term "pork belly".

But if the wet market does close down, I know of at least one hair salon customer who wouldn't shed a tear.

Now please excuse me, I have to go to my movie premiere - after I wipe the pig fat from my eye.

- Published in The New Paper, 1 November 2009

SM (is that Senior Minister perhaps?)

loved the story on the topless butcher, had conversation with the topless (and for all I know bottomless as well) fisho at Geylang Serai this morning.

Watched the guy (perhaps he should be Botak Ikan-man) expertly chopping up fish of all types and sizes for different dishes, quite the sight in his surgical green coroners apron, bare skin and bald head.

Wonder if the cause of death of the fish was at all considered, still too late, one of the lovely fresh and pink ones (looks like a small schnapper) if already being currified in the kitchen as we speak.

Love the column, compulsory reading, especially the shorts at the wedding! A true Singaporean.

Peter Coleman

Sunday 25 October 2009

iPhone-crazy? Not so kid-friendly apps in Apple's online store

Everyone seems to be a little iPhone-crazy these days.

When M1 announced two weeks ago that it will be the second telco to sell the hot Apple gizmo in Singapore, it was big news.

When I mentioned to a colleague that I was succumbing to the hype and considering getting the iPhone, she went into a rage. She threatened that if I set my iPhone to have the same ringtone as hers, she would take my iPhone and pee on it.

When I said I haven't even decided to get the iPhone, much less what the ringtone would be, she said she couldn't care less and reiterated her urination threat. She was that possessive about her ringtone.

Like I said, iPhone-crazy.

But even precluding the fear of my telecommunication device being doused with my colleague's DNA, it is unlikely that I will get the iPhone anytime soon.

For one thing, I've recently already recontracted with my mobile carrier. Plus I have little desire to pay data charges.

Actually, all I really wanted was to replace my old second-gen iPod Nano that I lost a while ago.

So what I did do?

I decided to get the closest thing to an iPhone I could get without a contract - the iPod Touch.

Why I chose it over the new iPod Classic or Nano, which now comes with a video camera, can be summarised in one word: games.

I figured when I'm not using the iPod Touch, I could let my children download free games onto it after their exams.

So to try it out, I went online to see what's available in Apple's Singapore Apps Store. I browsed my way to the "Entertainment" category and my eyes popped out of my head.

Mixed in together with such kiddy apps like Kitty BubbleWrap and Burping Pillow were somewhat more adult titles, specifically Bikini World, Blonde Bikini Girls, Asian Boobs, A+ Japan Busty, 1001 Sex Life Stories, Alexis Texas Strip Tease, Body Sushi - Sexy Match-Up Game, Naughty Hotties: Video To Go, Asian Hot Sexy Model Premium Series #1 Free and Pocket Girlfriend.

What if I hadn't found this out before I let my kids log on?

Where was the parental warning? It was only after I clicked on the adult app that I got the message: "You must be at least 17 years old to download this application."

By then, my children would've been exposed to more semi-clad oversized chest than I was comfortable with. They have already been traumatised enough by my moobs.

Why can't the adult apps be segregated into a "Mature" category that I can tell my kids to avoid?

That was when it hit me - I should've bought my kids a PSP instead. For sure, there would be no danger of my colleague going No 1 on it.

- Published in The New Paper, 25 October 2009

UPDATE: Apple Removes Some Adult Apps (23 February 2010)

Sunday 18 October 2009

I want to be 'up in arms' over PSLE maths paper too, but...

Every few years it seems, parents are “up in arms” over how ridiculously hard a Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) paper is.

This year, it was going to be my turn. My oldest child took the PSLE two weeks ago.

I’ve never been “up in arms” before. I was looking forward to it. I even started working out.

And right on cue last week, parents were up in arms over this year’s PSLE mathematics paper.

One parent complained in the AsiaOne forum: "My son was so sad and lost his confidence when he finished the paper.

"Why make it so tough for kids in Singapore? Every year, we hear about how PSLE Maths kill the children's confidence and drain them so much that after the paper, they would lied flat on the bed."

Another one wrote: "My daughter cried the moment she came out of the school gate after the Maths paper.

"I understand that even if the question is super tough, it is still a 'fair exam' as all student are subjected to the same question.

"However, the issue here is what is the rationale for setting questions far beyond a reasonable level ... and if this is 'fair' to a kid."

I want to join in this indignation, but...

Okay, there’s no way I can say this without sounding like I’m bragging even though I’m not, but here goes: My son thought the PSLE maths paper was easy.

Not “so-so” or even a non-committal shrug, which is how he usually communicates nowadays. He actually used the word “easy”. And he's not that good a student.

At first, I was somewhat relieved that this could be one of those years when the Ministry of Education decided not to kill the children’s confidence – then I heard about the complaints that the exam was too hard. Was this the same exam that my son took?

So I asked him if he was sure the maths paper was easy. “Yes!” he snapped, annoyed by my incredulity.

Now I’m really worried. Why can’t he lose confidence like the other kids?

The trouble with my son is that in the past, whenever he thought an exam was easy, he usually did worse than expected. And when he thought the exam was tough, he did surprisingly well, possibly because he was less complacent.

Unfortunately, as parents, we can’t really gauge whether a PSLE paper is actually “too” difficult.

Usually, someone would cite an exam question that most educated grown-ups couldn’t answer to show how unfairly difficult the paper is for the children.

But this is hardly a reliable indicator because as an educated grown-up, I can’t even do my daughter’s homework – and she is in Primary 4.

“Didn’t you go to university?” she would sass me.

“Yes, but I got only a basic degree in journalism,” I would retort. “Not a PhD in primary school maths!”

“Then what are you good for?” she would ask.

I wonder that myself.

As for my son, I can’t do anything about his PSLE now, except wait for next month’s results and cry then.

And in two years, I’ll be doing it all over again with my daughter. It will be my last chance to be “up in arms”. I have a feeling she won’t let me down.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 October 2009

Sunday 11 October 2009

Revenge of a nerd who doesn't care about football

For over a week now, there has been a surprising spring in my step and a blissful smile on my face. Why is that?

Is it because of the ongoing one-woman teen soap that is The Ris Low Show? At least it’s easier to follow than the other long-running telenovella earlier this year called The Aware Saga.

In that one, there were too many characters to keep track of and let’s just say they weren’t exactly beauty queens. Plus Ris is funnier. Insert your own “boomz” joke here.

But no, the erstwhile Miss Singapore World 2009 is not the reason for my good cheer.

There’s a word for what I’m feeling – it’s called “schadenfreude”. I can't pronounce it, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word of German of origin means “pleasure derived from the misfortune of others”.

In this case, the “others” are the football fans in Singapore and their “misfortune” is SingTel winning the broadcast rights for the English Premier League.

Oooh, just typing that line sends a tingle of delight all over my body. I’m going to type it one more time just to get that feeling again.

SingTel won the the broadcast rights for the English Premier League.

Oooh, there it goes again! Shiok, man!

As you may have guessed, I’m not a football fan. And to a non-football fan, football fans can be a rather overbearing lot. Obnoxious, even.

This obnoxiousness was abundantly demonstrated in the aftermath of the Singtel news. All that whining. All that over-weaned sense of entitlement. Why so drama? Bipolar, is it?

“I already have StarHub set-top box. Now I have to pay for a mio TV box too? Oh, woe is me!”

Cry me a river.

Some fans are even arguing that the Government, in the form of the Media Development Authority, should step in to protect their interests.

Who do they think they are?

We pledge ourselves to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality – not on reasonable subscription rates for the sports packages.

Even without the latest Singapore population census report on hand, I can safely say there are more non-football fans than football fans (though maybe not in The New Paper newsroom).

But given the Sturm und Drang (yes, German again) over the SingTel news, you would be forgiven if you thought the vocal diehards outnumbered the quietly apathetic.

I suggested to a particularly emo Liverpool fan I work with who lives in Bukit Panjang that he could watch the S-League on TV for free .

He yelled at me: “Who cares about local football!”

Oh, that reminds me, please send my best wishes to Dollah Kassim.

He’s a reminder of a bygone era when Singaporeans actually cared about football played by Singaporeans - rather than how much we have to pay to watch it played by wealthy foreigners in a faraway land.

The Singapore football icon is in the hospital after suffering a heart attack – a couple of days after the SingTel announcement.


- Published in The New Paper, 11 October 2009

UPDATE: Dollah Kassim dies

Monday 5 October 2009

Tie a Yellow, Silver & Pink Ribbon round Ris Low

If you go to the official Miss World website, you will see no mention of Miss Singapore.

However, on the "Miss World 2009" Wikipedia page, you can find the names of all the 90 delegates from around the world - except, of course, for one.

Instead of a name for Miss Singapore World 2009, there are three letters: TBA. Maybe they stand for "The Boomz Attack".

Oh, Ris Low, what have you wrought?

Many have opined that the convicted credit card fraudster, who has also been accused of murdering the English language, should not be allowed to represent Singapore in December's Miss World pageant because she would "tarnish" our country's reputation.

What reputation? You mean "Disneyland With The Death Penalty" where you can get flogged for spraying graffiti and chewing gum?

Heaven forbid, our nation's integrity be compromised by a 19-year-old diploma student with a declared penchant for animal prints.

Last week, a New Paper reader wrote in to suggest that the dethroned Miss Singapore World could instead be "Miss Yellow Ribbon" and a role model for other young ex-offenders.

It's an incredibly enticing idea, partly because it conjures images of all those vintage low-budget babes-behind-bars B-movies with lots of catfights and shower scenes.

Imagine Ris bitch-slapping another female prisoner and then they rip each other's clothes off and then the prison guards turn the water hoses on them — hot.

Except Ris went on probation, not to jail, so all that slammer stuff doesn't quite work.

Still, there's no denying the unique cachet and trashy mystique of a teen beauty queen with a criminal history. She's beautiful — and baaad.

Instead of trying to cover it up, Ris could've been upfront about her troubled past from the start and used it to her advantage as a platform for her Miss World campaign.

While the other contestants mouth platitudes about world peace, human rights and blah blah blah, our Miss Singapore can go up there and say in her exotic Ah Lian accent: "I'm here to represent those who have made mistakes in their lives and should be given a second chance to succeed — because I'm one of them. And if you don't let me win, I'll boomz you."

Wait, isn't she bipolar as well?

That means she can also represent sufferers of brain disorders. She can be Miss Silver Ribbon.

Yes, there is actually a Silver Ribbon Coalition, whose mission is to promote awareness of the problems faced by the mentally ill.

Hey, why not just give Ris a hat trick by making her Miss Pink Ribbon too? She qualifies because Pink Ribbon promotes breast cancer awareness and she has breasts.

And what perfect timing because this month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - plus World Mental Health Day is this Sunday.

So who needs Miss World when Ris can be Miss Yellow, Silver and Pink Ribbon all rolled into one?

And somewhere out there, someone must be producing a women's prison movie with a role for her in it. One can only hope.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 October 2005
hello mister I just want to say that what you wrote about that Ris person on the new paper today was hella funny! But to be honest, i think that anything criticizing Ris is hilarious. xD so to sum it up, YOUR COLUMN VERY BOOMZ .

TinkerHell raddxcore

Sunday 4 October 2009

Not sure how much hongbao to give for wedding dinner? Don't give!

“Don't try to make money from your wedding.”

This was the advice from a wedding consultant in last week’s Straits Times report about wedding hongbao.

The advice was flagrantly unheeded by Christopher Lee and Fann Wong, whose sponsored wedding was telecast live on Channel 8 a few days later. They could've sold tickets.

The couple’s matching outfits were supposedly inspired by Bollywood, but were more Bolly-wouldn’t.

I didn’t attend “The Wedding Of The Year” because presumably, my invitation was lost in the mail. On the bright side, I didn't have to worry about the hongbao.

According to the wedding consultant, a guest should “give at least 30 to 50 per cent more than the cost of his dinner”.

If I followed this guideline for Christofann’s bejewelled Shangri-La Hotel affair, I estimate that the hongbao alone would cost more than my own wedding and possibly my parents’ combined.

The first celebrity wedding I ever attended was that of pre-PCK Gurmit Singh and his wife Melissa back in the mid-’90s. The dinner was held under a giant tent on Fort Canning Hill. Since it was outdoors, I wore shorts and sandals.

Actually, that’s not true. I would’ve worn shorts and sandals even if it was indoors in Shangri-La Hotel. So Christofann may have dodged a bullet there.

I remember at Gurmit’s wedding dinner, Pyramid Game host Darryl David and his date were assigned to my table, but then he quickly found an excuse to sit somewhere else, perhaps repulsed by my bare knees and naked toes. I tried not to take it personally.

I remember going up on stage during the dinner in my shorts and sandals, and making a funny speech, except for the part about Gurmit’s mother, which Gurmit didn’t find funny and told me so. He didn't seem to mind the shorts and sandals though.

What I don’t remember is how much I put in the hongbao. Wait, did I even give one?

According to the wedding consultant again, it would be “impolite” to “under-give”. So sometimes I sidestep this problem by not giving a hongbao at all.


Usually, people are so shocked by my shorts and sandals that they forget about the hongbao. I have no face to lose.

I understand giving a hongbao as a form of congratulations, but not as compensation for the cost of the meal - or worse, a donation.

Aren't the bride and groom working adults? Why is it on their wedding day, they suddenly turn into a charity case?

If they can’t afford to hold a big fancy wedding dinner at the Marriot, then maybe they should do it at McDonald’s. I love the fries!

If I invite you to my wedding dinner, all I want from you is that you arrive on time, enjoy yourself and the food, and don't insult my mother. Hongbao, long pants and shoes are optional.

But I probably wouldn’t invite Darryl David though. Nothing personal.

And if I myself don't ever to a wedding dinner invited again, well, I'll try not to take it personally.

I forgive you, Christofann.

- Published in The New Paper, 4 October 2009

UPDATE: Wedding hongbao market rates 2015

Sunday 27 September 2009

Interest in Miss Singapore World, not Universe, hits new high, thanks to Low

Since Mas Selamat was captured, Singapore has been in need of a new villain.

Hello, Ris Low!

Thanks to her highly quotable misspoken English to her recently revealed rap sheet, she couldn't be any more infamous now if wanted posters of her adorned every bus stop, MRT station and bikini (or "bigini") shop on the island.

But to her credit, Miss Low has accomplished something no other Miss Singapore World has managed to do - actually make us care who Miss Singapore World is.

For far too long, it has been the other Miss Singapore pageant - Miss Singapore Universe - that has been hogging the spotlight.

Like when we bitched about how the national costume sucked, that was for Miss Singapore Universe, not World.

And it's not because "universe" is bigger than "world" since I don't recall ever seeing a Miss Mars or Miss Alpha Centauri in the Miss Universe swimsuit competition and that is not something I'm likely to forget.

It's because the one that was shown on TV annually until last year was Miss Singapore Universe, not World.

It's because former nominated Member of Parliament Eunice Olsen was Miss Singapore Universe, not World, in 2000.

And oh, Donald Trump owns Miss Universe, not World.

And even when I produced an episode of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd a couple of years ago where PCK's nemesis Frankie Foo married an ex-beauty queen, the character was a former Miss Singapore Universe, not World.

On top of that, she was played by a real-life former Miss Singapore Universe, not World, Cheryl Tay, who won the crown in 2005.

Unlike Miss Low, Cheryl was a veterinarian who was more likely to save a leopard than wear its prints. But that was not what impressed me most about Cheryl.

There was a scene in the episode where I wanted Frankie, played by Lim Kay Siu, to hug Cheryl and grab her buttocks. It wasn't in the script. I just wanted to see it.

But I had a problem: How do I ask a former Miss Singapore Universe, not World, to let her buttocks be grabbed on national TV?

Cheryl wasn't an actor by profession, unlike Kay Siu, a dedicated professional actor whom I'm sure was happy to grab anyone's buttocks - or let his buttocks be grabbed - as long as it was "artistic".

In my infinite wisdom, I decided to ask an assistant director to ask Cheryl. To everyone's surprise and delight, she agreed to do it.

Unfortunately, even though we shot it, the MediaCorp censor ordered the derrière-fondling edited out because Frankie looked like he was enjoying it way too much by prime-time TV standards.

If I was producing that episode today, Miss Low would be my first choice for Cheryl's role. The ratings would be huge! Bigger than Singapore Idol's, although that's not saying much nowadays.

I would change the character to a former Miss Singapore World, not Universe. I would even throw in a "boomz" or two in the dialogue.

But would Miss Low let Frankie Foo grab her buttocks? Sadly, we may never know.

Hmmm, I wonder if Mas Selamat would like to guest star. Would he let Frankie Foo, uh ...

- Published in The New Paper, 27 September 2009

Saturday 26 September 2009

Garlic chilli sauce-haters of Singapore, unite!

I admit I’m someone who doesn't like to get involved.

For example, if I come across a dead body, all I would do is Twitter about how gross it is – and then maybe write a column about it.

Civil society, schmivil society,

But there comes a time when a man must take a stand for what he believes in, even though he may be one against thousands.

And this is an issue that has divided our nation for far too long, affecting the lives of millions of Singaporeans on a daily basis.

I am of course talking about the garlic chilli sauce at McDonald’s.

For years, I’ve put up with the offensive condiment, just like I’ve put up with the pickles in the McDonald’s burgers. Hands up, those of you who remove the pickles before eating the burgers. Come on, I know I can’t be the only one.

But then about a year ago (I think), to my pleasant surprise, the fast food chain quietly replaced the garlic chilli sauce with a non-garlic one.

At last, I thought, Ronald The Clown had finally came his senses. It was a long time coming, but better late than never.

But then a few weeks ago, I was at the Yew Tee outlet when I noticed a little sign on the chilli sauce dispenser with a little anthromorphic cartoon garlic and the two most disturbing words I had ever read: “I’m back!”

I couldn’t believe it. The clown had flip-flopped.

I was upset enough that I wrote to the company to complain.

This was McDonald’s reply: “We recently re-introduced garlic chilli sauce at all our restaurants in response to strong customer preference, and have since received extremely favourable feedback. ”

“Strong customer preference”? If there was such “strong customer preference”, then why did the company remove the garlic chilli sauce in the first place?

So I Googled “McDonald’s garlic chilli sauce” and found an old online petition asking for the sauce back. It had a total of 19 signatures. That was it? That was the “strong customer preference”? Ha!

Then I searched Facebook and – holy bad breath! There were 14 pro-garlic Facebook groups, the largest of which had 2,813 members.

Oh. So this was what McDonald’s meant by “strong customer preference”.

I sighed. I was clearly outnumbered – but I refused to give in. I decided to fight fire with fire. Or to be more exact, Facebook group with Facebook group.

I’ve created my own Facebook page, along with an online petition, both called “McDonald’s garlic chilli sauce sucks”. I’m considering a demonstration at the Speaker’s Corner in Hong Lim Park too.

But as one who also believes in diversity and tolerance, I’m not demanding that the garlic chilli sauce be banned since so many people obviously but inexplicibly prefer it (possibly due to a resistance to change).

All I’m asking is for McDonald’s to at least provide an alternative non-garlic chilli sauce as well.

But until then, I guess I’ll just have to settle for ketchup with my fries.

Maybe I should get a Whopper instead.

- Unpublished

Sunday 20 September 2009

I may not be Gurmit’s ‘friend’, but I can stalk him on Twitter

When people learn that I used to work on the series Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, I'm sometimes asked whether I'm friends with Gurmit Singh.

I don't want to say no because people may think we hate each other. I also don't want to say yes because people may think we hang out together regularly in KTV bars with hookers and booze.

The boring reality is somewhere in the middle. We won't avert our eyes if we happen to see each other in Geylang, but we won't be inviting each other to our kids' bar mitzvahs either (mainly because we're not Jewish).

I have known Gurmit since 1994, when both of us started our TV careers on the variety show Live On 5. The irony is that I've never felt closer to the host-turned-actor in those 15 years than when I started following him on Twitter a few months ago.

Now I know when he's taking aikido lessons, when he's doing Singapore Idol and when he's going to the gym because he doesn't want to "rot".

So I'm no longer just his ex-colleague, but also his online stalker - along with 800 others.

That was how I first found out a PCK movie is in the works, although between you and me, a PCK movie has been in the works since the '90s.

Then on 10 Sep at 12.14am, Gurmit tweeted this: "Looks like one of my followers is a reporter for 8 Days mag. Cos my twitter was quoted in said mag. Tsk tsk tsk, u hv to stoop this low to get an angle to slime me?"

What 8 Days reporter? How did he or she "slime" Gurmit? I desperately wanted to know.

Two minutes later, he tweeted again: "To that 8 Days reporter, do what u hv to do to slime me. If u can sleep at night, then there is nothing I can do. Your call."

Ouch. Harsh.

What has always impressed me about Gurmit is that he always tries to stay positive where others (usually me) would lose their cool, but when he does lose it ...

Naturally, I had to rush out and buy a copy of 8 Days. What brilliant cross-promotion - both Gurmit and the magazine being MediaCorp products.

When I saw the cover story titled "The Annoying List", I said to myself in my best ebonics accent: "Oh no, they didn't!"

And actually, they didn't. Gurmit wasn't on The Annoying List.

I kept flipping until I found the offending article (I think) on the "Boos And Bravos" page by Jasmine Teo and Douglas Tseng.

I assume one of them wrote: "Boo to Gurmit Singh's hosting skills on last week's Singapore Idol. The good news is, he has trimmed his '80s' Richard Marx mullet. The bad news is, well, him.

"He tried too hard to be both a comedian and an emcee, and fell flat on both fronts, ending up unnatural, irritating, unamusing, and even baffling sometimes (please don't ad-lib)."

Ouch. Harsh. Maybe not so brilliant cross-promo after all. No wonder Gurmit is upset.

However, I'm not sure which was the "twitter" that Gurmit claimed was quoted in the mag. The closest I can find is 24 Aug tweet: "Going to Mahogany salon and cut hair short for Idol. Five months of hair length say bye bye."

No mention of Richard Marx anywhere. Hell hath no fury like a mullet scorned.

Now I'm so intrigued I may just overcome my fear of rejection and "friend" Gurmit on Facebook - even though he already has over 1,200 "friends".

If he clicks "Ignore", well, we'll always have Twitter.

I will be right here waiting.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 Sep 2009