Sunday 30 August 2009

Googling Paik Choo: The Bahamas? Oh, mama!

Tomorrow is my friend and colleague Paik Choo's last day of her contract with The New Paper. So naturally, I decided to Google her.

According to Wikipedia, on which my knowledge of the universe is based, Paik Choo “now lives in the Bahamas”. This came as a shock to me.

For the last 20 months since I joined this publication, I've seen Paik Choo in The New Paper newsroom several times a week. The commute from the Bahamas to Toa Payoh must be a nightmare.

Then I realised “The Bahamas” could be the name of her condo in Singapore, which makes perfect sense – except for the inconvenient detail that she lives in an HDB flat in Farrer Park, which I've visited.

This leads me to the unavoidable conclusion – reality is wrong.

Otherwise, the implication is that Wikipedia is wrong and that’s just plain silly.

Wikipedia is on the Internet and everyone knows that everything on the Internet is true. Even Paik Choo knows that.

A few weeks ago, she told me a publisher wanted to reprint her two Goondu books from the ’80s.

But in this age of the World Wide Web and the 140-character Twitter tweet, she wondered whether the whole idea of publishing a book is somewhat quaint, if not embarrassingly obsolete.

That is why millions around the world nowadays don’t publish books, but blogs. Even I have a quasi-blog at

Heck, even my wife has a blog called Projects By Jane where she blathers on and on about her oh-so-exciting hobby - sewing bags.

But to my chagrin, she gets more page views than I do – not that we’re competing or anything like that. (Just between you and me - yes, we are.)

The most addictive thing about having your own blog is finding out how many visitors you get each day and how they end up on your website.

To my chagrin again, the stats reveal that most of my visitors found my site not because they Googled “handsome gloriously-maned New Paper On Sunday columnist”, but “ladyboy breasts” and the search results would include a link to an article I wrote in February about a transsexual I met in Thailand. I'm not proud.

Paik Choo doesn’t have a blog, so she is spared such humiliation.

At the risk of unravelling the fabric of space and time, I bit the bullet and asked her if she really lives in the Bahamas as stated in Wikipedia.

She replied: “In my mind, I do.”

- Published in The New Paper, 30 August 2009

UPDATE: Paik Choo's New Paper contract was renewed after the publication of this column. She finally retired from the paper at the end of August 2012.

Sunday 23 August 2009

How I saved the Singapore economy with my green jeans

When it comes to life, there is one good advice that I can never seem to follow:

“Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean you have to buy it.”

Yes, I do. I have to.

And I’m not the only one, judging by last week’s MasterCard report revealing that credit card-holders spent almost as much at this year’s Great Singapore Sale as at last year’s GSS despite the recession.

And during that last week of the GSS was when I really should’ve heeded the advice because right now, I’m staring at a new pair of green jeans on my legs I bought during the last week of the GSS and wondering: What was I thinking?

Who wears green jeans except leprechaun cowboys? And there's no such thing as leprechaun cowboys.

And it’s not even a nice, solid green. It’s a wimpy, faded, kai-lan green. I can’t call it puke green because that would be an insult to puke. Even puke has more character.

Why the hell did I buy green jeans?

The short answer is, well, they were 50 per cent off.

The long answer is, well, it was between the green jeans and the red jeans – and I don’t shop for Chinese New Year until the year-end Christmas sale.

Of course, there were also other less circus-appropriate jeans on sale in more socially acceptable colours like blue, black, grey and brown that weren’t crimes against nature, but I already have all those “normal” colours.

Actually, I had another option – which was not to buy any jeans at all.

It was such a crazy idea that it just might work. I mean I already have enough jeans in black, grey and every shade of blue imaginable, even in Can-you-hear-the-’80s-calling? acid wash.

I was about to walk away when I remembered Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s words from last November: “If all of us go into a power save mode, then the economy will really go into a recession!

“This is what economists called the paradox of thrift. If you have sufficient savings and can afford to spend, you should continue to spend on life’s little pleasures.”

And that was how I ended up with green jeans, although whatever little pleasure I got turned into regret the moment I signed the credit card receipt.

But wouldn’t you know it, Singapore is now technically out of the recession.

You’re welcome.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 August 2009

Sunday 16 August 2009

Latest: I was out-Foxed by Cheryl's fake NDP newscast

In the middle of last week’s National Day Parade came a moment right out of The War Of The Worlds.

No, not the 2005 Tom Cruise movie about aliens invading New Jersey, based on the H G Wells novel.

I’m talking about the 1938 Orson Welles radio play that reportedly caused real-life panic because some listeners actually believed that aliens wanted to invade New Jersey.

According to The Straits Times, some viewers of last Sunday's NDP telecast were “startled” when MediaCorp news presenter Cheryl Fox cut into the parade broadcast to report a terrorist attack in Singapore. “Some netizens even posted a news alert on their social networking website accounts like Facebook,” reported The Straits Times. How gullible.

I was one of those “startled” viewers.

I was in The New Paper newsroom at the time. The television was tuned to the parade to ensure that the patriotic TNP staff working that night would not miss the all-important Pledge Moment.

I was busy picking out a wardrobe for my little blue cartoon cat in Pet Society on Facebook at my work computer when I overheard a clipped female voice saying: “We interrupt our broadcast to bring you an important announcement.

“A series of explosions has rocked a neighbourhood estate in Singapore.”

Huh? I quickly left my naked pet and wheeled my swivel chair to see what was happening on TV.

In what looked like a legitimate newscast with a news crawler and the words “Latest: Singapore under terrorist threat” at the bottom of the screen, Ms Fox continued her report: “The source of the blast is still unknown. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest.”

Was this for real? Did it mean we were skipping the Pledge Moment? The atrocity! Damn terrorists!

It seemed my poor kitty was going to have to stay unclothed for just a while longer. Damn, damn, damn terrorists!

If I had paid more attention, I would've asked: If the source of the blast was “unknown”, how do they know it was a “terrorist threat”? Maybe someone just microwaved their leftover sambal chicken a little longer than they should have.

And then I saw Michelle Chong on the screen.

That was when it hit me: “Wait a second. This isn’t the news. It’s The Noose! I’ve been punk’d!”

It was just another NDP Total Defence presentation. Knowing that I was previously involved in various MediaCorp productions, a colleague sneered: “That's about as cheesy as your typical MediaCorp drama.”

On the contrary, this was more authentic than any MediaCorp drama. For one thing, we would not have been allowed to use real news presenters like Cheryl Fox precisely because it might confuse viewers.

In past MediaCorp-produced Total Defence dramas, the Cheryl Fox-y role was played by actress Phyllis Quek and former New Face Angel Teo. Talk about cheesy.

As the rehearsed chaos unfolded on the Marina Bay floating platform on TV, I wondered: What if terrorists actually attacked Singapore during this simulated terrorist attack at NDP? Imagine the confusion then.

What if aliens invaded at the same time? Even Tom Cruise wouldn’t have been able to help us.

Hey, my cat looks really cute in a retro green polo shirt and hanbok pants. Ooh, a ten-gallon Stetson hat!

- Published in The New Paper, 16 August 2009

Sunday 9 August 2009

Don't lie down on the job, iron your pants for NDP

I've reached the age when looking back, I realise that life is nothing more than a series of stupid little decisions that haunt you for a far longer time than you ever anticipated.

Like jogging in your Goldlion button-fly boxer shorts, shaving your eyebrows and eating the white part of the watermelon in an eating contest.

And then there is that one bad decision that is broadcast for all to see on the country's highest rated TV show - the National Day Parade.

Yes, for the third time in The New Paper, I'm going to write about the one time I marched in the NDP back in 2001. It's a well that has yet to run dry.

I was part of the navy's Third Flotilla marching contingent forming the number "2" of "NDP 2001" on the field.

There were a lot of rehearsals, from March when I attended the first briefing until the day itself on 9 Aug. And during the rehearsals, there was a lot of waiting. And during the waiting, there was a lot of lying around - literally, at least for me.

As anyone in The New Paper newsroom can attest, I like to get as horizontal as I can, as often as I can. Even as I'm typing this right now, I'm leaning so far back in my swivel chair I'm practically parallel to the floor.

So whether the NDP rehearsal was held at Khatib Camp or National Stadium itself and no matter how filthy the surface was, as long as it was dry and I wasn't marching, you could find me supine somewhere.

On 8 Aug 2001, I was ironing my No 3 navy uniform in preparation for the big day when I made one of those stupid little decisions that I would regret for the rest of my life.

After finishing my white navy shirt, I was about to start on my navy blue pants when I thought:

"There will probably a lot of waiting before the actual parade tomorrow. The creases will smoothen themselves out when I lie down on them. Even if they don't, no one will notice them anyway."

And so the next day, I reported to the assembly point in my unironed pants. A senior officer noticed them and frowned. "What happened to your pants?" he asked

I shrugged as if I didn't know what he was talking about.

He sighed and said, "Too late to do anything now."

I was beginning to feel a little self-conscious about my pants.

Anyway, I was right. There was a lot of waiting and lying around before the parade. After five gruelling months of rehearsals, it all came down to this.

When it was finally over, I rushed home to watch the parade on TV, thanks to the miracle of home video recording. I fastforwarded to the part where my navy contingent marched onto the field, hoping to see myself on TV.

And there I was in the back row and even though it was a shot of my back, I could tell it was me - by my crumpled pants.

To my horror, even from a distance, the web of ugly creases in my pants was as clear as day (and this was before HD TV).

Even though the shot lasted barely a second, it was enough for me to feel that I had embarrassed the entire Republic of Singapore Navy.

I noticed that every subsequent shot of the navy contingent would be from the waist up.

I could imagine the TV director yelling desperately into the cameraman's headset: "Tilt the camera up! Don't show that idiot's crumpled pants! Hasn't he heard of an iron? For the sake of the nation, TILT UUUUUUP!"

Let this be a lesson for all you participants in today's parade.

After five gruelling months of rehearsals, don't let your big NDP moment be ruined by your laziness to iron your pants.

Unless of course you're one of the pole dancers, then you won't even be wearing pants. Lucky you.

- Published in The New Paper, 9 August 2009

Saturday 1 August 2009

They can open Ion Orchard, but they can't open my handphone

It's the biggest thing to hit Orchard Road since Fiona Xie's bouncing boobs back in 2004 when the bikini-clad actress ran in front of Wisma Atria for the drama series The Champions.

Ahhh, good times.

After months of sidestepping the street vendors camped outside the construction site above the Orchard MRT station, we can finally see what the hype is about when Ion Orchard officially opened two weeks ago.

The freaky curvy exterior makes it look like a cross between the Guggenheim Museum in Spain and the Esplanade's deformed younger brother on steroids.

Isn't it a bad idea to have the Louis Vuitton store entrance outside the building where the label whores are queueing to get in? What if it rains? There's hardly any shelter there. I hope LV bags are waterproof.

As I was exploring the mall's lower levels, I spotted a handphone shop and decided to upgrade my phone.

The young saleswoman unwrapped a brand new handphone for me to test, but she couldn't remove the cover to put in the SIM card.

I figured she had probably been working there for only as long as the mall had been open - less than two weeks.

She turned to her more experienced colleague, who thankfully managed to get the phone open.

The woman then asked for my current phone to take out the SIM card to put into the new phone.

But she couldn't open my phone too - and embarrassingly, neither could I. She turned to her colleague, who came to the rescue once again.

Finally, with my SIM card in the new phone, I turned it on and ... it didn't work.

At this point, I would rather be standing in line outside the LV store.

So the woman took out other another new phone and we had to go through the whole thing again.

Fortunately, the second phone worked fine. So I signed the documents she gave me to sign and asked her if that was all.

She said yes and was probably as relieved as I was that I was finally leaving the shop.

I barely made it to the escalator when I suddenly heard a strange sound. Oh, my new phone was ringing.

It turned out that my first call on my new phone was from the woman asking me to go back to the shop to pay for the phone.

When I returned to the shop, she greeted me like we were old chums and wisely let her colleague process my payment.

Now I understand why 313@Somerset is providing free service training for those working in the yet-to-be-open mall.

For all its confounding architecture and fancy designer brands, what I'll remember most of my first visit to Ion Orchard is the young woman who worked in the handphone shop who didn't know how to open a handphone.

Where's Fiona Xie when you need her?

- Published in The New Paper, 2 August 2009

UPDATE: The phone shop has since closed down.