Sunday 28 June 2009

Back to school! Thank you, MOE, for saving our lives

I received the most terrifying news last week - and I'm not talking about the threat of a Singapore Grand Prix without F1 star Lewis Hamilton. He's so dreamy.

No, this news shook my wife and I to our very core. The global scourge that is the H1N1 flu finally hit home.

Although it wasn't confirmed, the mere possibility of it was horrifying enough, the two of us considered a suicide pact: The Ministry of Education (MOE) might not reopen the schools after the June holidays because of H1N1.

The thought of spending more time with the kids at home after surviving the past four weeks of hell with them - oh my god, MOE, just point the gun at our head, pull the trigger and put us out of misery right now.

Throughout the June holidays, all my two kids, who are in Primary 4 and 6, wanted to do was play computer games and watch reruns of reruns of The Nanny.

Any attempts to get them to do anything else, like their homework or even eat their meals, would result in bitter acrimony - screaming, some kicking and prolonged sulking afterwards. And that was just their mother.

I would like to say we didn't travel because of the flu pandemic, but actually, we simply couldn't afford to. Apparently, there's a recession going on.

Our sole solace was that the school holidays would be over in four weeks, which is why we lost all will to live when we heard that the break might be extended. Damn you, H1N1!

Of course, what was devastating news to us was Christmas morning for the kids. Whoopee, more time to make their parents' life miserable! Oh, how they celebrated - with more computer games and Fran Drescher's nasal cackle.

So you can imagine our relief - and the children's disappointment - when it was announced that MOE wouldn't shut the schools after all. It was our turn to laugh in their faces. Boom boom boom!

My wife and I literally danced for joy. I believed we krumped. Boom boom boo-oom!

But my 10-year-old daughter wasn't giving up so easily. She suggested we should lie to the school that we did visit one of the H1N1-affected countries so that she could attend e-lessons from home. More computer time for her!

Stop the music. Okay, so now we have another problem: a daughter who saw nothing wrong in lying.

Oh, well. She's going back to school tomorrow. She'll be the teacher's problem. Ha!

Crank up the Black Eyed Peas - time for the parents to have a holiday. I like that Boom Boom Pow!

- Published in The New Paper, 28 June 2009

Michael Jackson's not dead - he's hanging with Elvis

Michael Jackson is not dead. And neither is Elvis Presley.

The King of Pop and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll are kicking it back in a secret bunker buried seven storeys under Presley’s Tennessee home-cum-tourist attraction, Graceland.

Or so reported the Daily Mail, quoting a blog called “68comeback special”. As if citing a website named after a Presley career landmark wasn’t inane enough, the UK paper also reported post-death sightings of Jackson disguised as a nun and flying to the airport using a jetpack on his way to Greenland to live with Eskimos.

No wonder he was turning himself white. He wanted to blend in with the ice.

At least nobody is saying he died on the toilet eating a burger like Presley did. Jackson was a vegetarian.

Although some also claimed that Presley was abducted by aliens, the movie Men In Black II hinted that MJ himself was an alien, which actually helped explain a lot about Wacko Jacko.

But can we still call him Wacko Jacko now that he is in heaven... uh, hell... uh, no longer on this earth? Is it being disrespectful to the “alleged” recently deceased?

The producers of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new comedy Bruno would probably think so.

A scene mocking former Playboy cover girl and Jackson’s even wackier sister LaToya was removed from the movie at the last minute before its Los Angeles premiere.

So Cohen, who frenched his “prostitute sister” and wrestled with his manager in the nude in his previous movie Borat, is suddenly afraid to offend because LaToya’s most famous brother has just “allegedly” died?

Let’s not forget that Michael Jackson is single-handedly (insert your own glove joke here) responsible for pop satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic’s entire career.

Yankovic first hit the charts in ’80s with a parody of Jackson’s classic Beat It called Eat It, accompanied by an almost exact copy of Jackson’s music video but funnier.

When Jackson released the album Bad, Yankovic followed with an album called Even Worse, featuring the single Fat.

All with Jackson’s approval.

Which seems to indicate that for all his eccentricities, Wacko Jacko at least had a sense of humour about himself.

Which is more than can be said about the other eccentric black ’80s mega-pop star, Prince, who refused to grant Yankovic permission for any parody.

Who knows? Jackson could be giggling at all this hubbub over his “alleged” death in Presley’s underground bunker right now. Or back on his home planet.

Farrah must be so jealous.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 June 2009

Sunday 21 June 2009

Happy Father's Day? Um... I think I killed mine

I think I killed my father. Since today is Father's Day, I figure this is a good time to mention this.

About 16 years ago, my father was rushed to hospital after suffering a possible stroke. I thought - and hoped - he was going to die. But he seemed to recover and regained consciousness.

He said something to me in his usual obnoxious way, but because his speech was impaired by the stroke, he was barely comprehensible, which made him sound even more obnoxious.

I don't remember what I said, but in my own obnoxious way, I made it very clear I was tired of putting up with his obnoxiousness.

That was the last time I spoke to him because he subsequently relapsed into a coma and died a day or so later. He was 58.

Part of me still feels a little guilty that I might have killed him with my last words to him - he lost his will to live after realising his oldest child and only son would rather he didn't.

As you may have surmised, my father and I weren't very close. The only conversation we had late every night when he came home was he would ask if I had brushed my teeth and I would say yes. That was it.

He often came home late because he taught art classes in the evenings after his office job in the day - all to afford a decent life for my mother, my two sisters and myself. (He also authored a few books on art under the pen name Ong Yih.)

An unfortunate consequence was he was a more beloved father figure to his students than his own children.

When he was home, he lost his temper easily and yes, he was quite obnoxious. I don't recall my sisters and me ever celebrating Father's Day.

Even though I knew he loved me as a father should, I had this vague feeling he was disappointed with me.

Alas, that's also where my relationship with my own 12-year-old son appears to be heading. Despite my intentions to the contrary, I have become my father.

Except instead of dental concerns, every night I tell my son to stop watching reruns of The Nanny on cable and do his homework.

I've come to accept that he'll probably wish me dead too one day - if he hasn't already (damn you, Fran Drescher!) - and I don't blame him.

For now, my consolation is he still wishes me happy Father's Day every year. Plus I have healthy teeth.

My one regret is my dad didn't live long enough to meet his grandson - so that he could rub it in my face in his usual obnoxious way: "Not so easy being a father, is it?"

- Published in The New Paper, 21 June 2009

Friday 19 June 2009

I think I know who will be the next Singapore Idol

Okay, I'm going out on a limb here and predict who will win the next Singapore Idol even though the latest singing contest has completed its auditions only last weekend and won't air until National Day.

Ready? Here goes: The next Singapore Idol is going to be... revealed after the commercial break.

Just kidding. It's going to be a Malay guy.

The two previous Singapore Idol winners, Taufik Batisah and Hady Mirza, are both Malay guys. So the odds are against anyone female and non-Malay winning.

A mere coincidence, you say. Two doesn't necessarily make it a pattern. I have just one word for you: Fendi.

No, not the overpriced handbag. Fendi was the winner of Live The Dream, MediaCorp Channel 5's 2007 attempt to recreate the success of Singapore Idol without having to fork out the hefty licensing fee to Fremantle, the company that owns the international rights to the Idol brand.

Apart from the similar but different-enough-to-avoid-a-lawsuit format, Live The Dream also retained two Idol judges, Dick Lee and Ken Lim.

The reason you've never heard of Fendi is probably because you never saw Live The Dream since the ratings were so abysmal, one former MediaCorp colleague working on the show referred to it bitterly as "Live The Nightmare".

Even though the second season of Singapore Idol rated lower than its first season, it remained the highest rated programme on Channel 5. Live The Dream, on the other hand, was among the lowest.

Is it any wonder MediaCorp eventually caved and paid through the nose to use the Idol name again?

Anyway, my point is Fendi is also a Malay guy.

So given that the winner has been a Malay guy in all three singing contests where the winner is voted by Channel 5 viewers, why should anyone who's not Malay or a guy even bother joining Singapore Idol?

Because you don't have to win to get showbiz career boost. First season finalist Olinda Cho became a slimming company spokesmodel. Maia Lee became Singapore's most infamous tattooed single mom. And Sylvester Sim appeared with Taufik in a promo for Triumph BeeDees girls' underwear. I don't know what happened to second season runner-up Jonathan Leong though.

Of course, there's always a chance the next Singapore Idol may not be a Malay guy.

Just as there's a chance the winner of Channel U's Idol rip-offs Project SuperStar and Campus SuperStar may not be a Chinese guy.

No, wait...

- Unpublished

UPDATE: Sezairi Sezali, a Malay guy, wins the third Singapore Idol

Sunday 14 June 2009

PCK promoting graciousness on MRT? In Singlish?

So here I am at an underground MRT station, waiting for the train and staring at the cut-out of Phua Chu Kang pasted on the glass door.

“Don’t play, play. Let me come out first!”

Out of what? The closet?

This new Land Transport Authority (LTA) campaign using Singapore’s most famous Ah Beng contractor is problematic on several levels.

For one thing, it gives me the impression that I should let PCK come out of the train first. But what if PCK isn’t on the train? What do I do then?

Which brings me to another issue – why would PCK be on the train in the first place? He is not a real person. How can a fictional character take the train? Would he be using an imaginary ez-link card?

Okay, let’s say, for the sake of argument and whimsy, PCK is an actual person and not Gurmit Singh wearing a wig and a fake mole.

I was the executive producer of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd the sitcom for two seasons and I’ve never known PCK or his family to take the MRT or any other public transport apart from a cab. I don’t think the characters have even heard of the ez-link card.

PCK drives a Mercedes Benz and his wife Rosie is a taxi-taking tai-tai. But if the two of them were somehow forced to take the train, they would be first to rush like bulldozers for the seats – old folks, pregnant women and crippled old pregnant folks be damned.

Which brings me to another issue.

Knowing how kiasu the make-believe Beng is, how can I possibly believe PCK when he urges passengers to not “cut queue” and “be gracious” in the LTA-produced rip-off of the PCK Sars rap video?

It’s like getting Under One Roof’s Tan Ah Teck to advocate a moderate diet and regular exercise. Or me to promote skincare. There’s simply no credibility.

Didn’t LTA learn anything from a similar abortive MRT campaign starring the unholy trinity of crass – Jack Neo, Mark Lee and Patricia Mok – a few years ago?

Hasn’t SMRT gone down-market enough when it replaced the classy Juanita Melson as the voice making the train announcements with some bimbo who stresses the wrong syllable in “Clementi”?

Which brings me to another issue.

Isn’t “Don’t play, play” Singlish? Did I send PCK to attend BEST English classes a decade ago as instructed by then-PM Goh Chok Tong for nought?

The train arrives and the door opens. I wait for the passengers to alight before boarding.

Just as I suspected – PCK not on the train.

(The stickers of him reminding passengers to “give up this seat to those who need it” don’t count.)

- Published in The New Paper, 14 June 2009

Sunday 7 June 2009

Why doesn't this recession feel like a recession?

It was the first weekend of the Great Singapore Sale and Orchard Road was deserted.

There was no queue outside the Luis Vuitton outlet at Ngee Ann City. You could get a parking spot and a table at KFC without waiting. And oh, by the way, pigs flew.

But no swine flu because it has been renamed Influenza A (H1N1) flu. In reality, Orchard Road was of course the opposite of deserted and pigs didn't fly.

For the umpteenth time: Recession? What recession?

After looking for a cheap present for my son's 12th birthday in the packed malls last week, I agree with MP Sam Tan, who said in parliament two weeks ago: "Today, as we go to some of the mid-priced restaurants like Crystal Jade and Ichiban Boshi, do we feel that there is a recession?

"Even at Mezza9 in Hyatt Hotel, a fairly upmarket place, there remains a sizable lunch crowd on most days."

I've never been to any of these restaurants, which are a little more upscale than KFC, but yah, I've eyed the throng at Crystal Jade enviously through the glass pane. Don’t they know there’s an economic crisis now?

And then I wondered: Why am I surprised that Singaporeans are still living it up during a recession?

Sure, unemployment may be up to 3.2 per cent, the highest in three years, but that means 96.8 per cent are still working. Although more will likely lose their jobs in coming months, even more will not. So for the majority of Singaporeans, life goes on - meaning "Great Singapore Sale, here we come!"

And then it hit me - Sars.

The last time Singapore faced an economic crisis, we were also struck by Sars. And because of Sars, the malls and restaurants were virtually empty for a few apocalyptic weeks in early 2003.

Now that felt like recession (even though technically, it wasn’t). In fact, it felt like the end of the world.

Instead of just abstract statistics, you could actually see how bad things really were when you went out - that is, if you even dared to venture out for fear of catching the deadly disease.

Like Sars, H1N1 struck in the middle of the current economic crisis.

But I survived Sars. I knew Sars. Sars was not a friend of mine. H1N1, you're no Sars.

So now whenever there’s a recession, I expect to see tumbleweeds rolling down Orchard Road like back in the bad old days of Sars-struck 2003.

Otherwise, no matter what scary economic numbers they throw at me, I’m going to say it again and again: Recession? What ...

Do I really have to say it again?

- Published in The New Paper, 7 June 2009