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

If Malaysia is 'Truly Asia', then my mother's chicken rice is ...

"Hainanese chicken rice is Malaysian."

My Hainanese-Singaporean mind boggles at the stunning self-contradiction in this reported statement by Malaysian Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen.

Isn't Hainanese chicken rice Hainanese? It's right there in the name! Would it make sense if I said, "Penang laksa is Singaporean"? Or "Hokkien mee is Teochew"?

Or "French fries are American"? No, wait ... now I'm really confused.

Speaking of Americans, when I was living in the US many years ago, I came across a place called Singapore Restaurant in the phone book in Denver, Colorado.

I was so excited by my find. At last, a taste of home half a world away from home! I even looked forward to meeting the Singaporeans I assume would be running the place.

But when I got to the place, it turned out to be just another generic American Chinese restaurant, dispensing kung pow chicken, low mein and fortune cookies.

No satay. No roti prata. No char kway teow.

There wasn't even any attempt to decorate the place with a Singaporean theme. No Singapore flag. No orchids. No merlion. No portraits of Lee Kuan Yew.

I asked the American-Chinese waitress if there were any Singaporeans there. She said the restaurant was started by a Singaporean, but he had left a few years earlier.

I felt cheated. Singapore Restaurant was a fraud. Then like most people who realised they had been conned, I felt stupid.

How could I be so foolish as to expect that anyone in Denver, Colorado, would know or care what Singapore food really was?

The restaurant might as well had been called "Hong Kong Restaurant", "Taiwan Restaurant" or "Great Wall Restaurant". "Singapore" was just another Oriental-sounding name to the Americans.

I was not the target market. But since I was already there, I just ordered the fried rice and egg rolls. The fortune cookie came free with the meal.

Clearly, Singaporeans are also not the target market of any Malaysian tourism branding campaign that claims chilli crab is Malaysian.

When Singaporeans go up north for chilli crab, it's not because it's a national dish of Malaysia, but because we are willing to risk getting mugged just to save a couple of bucks on seafood.

Keep in mind that Malaysia is the country that brands itself as "Truly Asia".

Isn't every country on the Asian continent inherently "Asia"? If Malaysia is "Truly Asia", are the other Asian countries "Dubiously Asia"?

Of course, our own "Uniquely Singapore" tourism tagline is no better. It has about as much meaning as "Singapore: Just do it" or "Singapore: I swallow".

I think Malaysia's "Truly Asia" tagline is meant to imply that the country somehow represents all (or at least a few countries) of Asia in its multi-racial society.

Actually, this can be applied to Singapore too, but we're magnanimous enough to let them have that one.

Anyway, to build this pluralistic brand image, it makes sense for Malaysia to claim dishes from as many different ethnic origins as possible as the country's own.

And while Singaporeans - and many Malaysians - are baffled by these claims, to most people outside South-east Asia at whom the campaign is probably targeted, the question is more likely to be "Is Malaysia the same as Malawi?"

Wait a second, I just remembered something.

My Hainanese mother cooks chicken rice. She is a Singapore citizen, but she was born in Terengganu, Malaysia. Does that mean her Hainanese chicken rice is ...?

My brain just exploded.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 September 2009

Sunday 13 September 2009

Going through the five stages of grief - over a hard drive

When my one-year-old Western Digital 500GB external hard disk drive died last week, I went through the usual five stages of grief.


I kept turning the computer off and on, unplugging and plugging the hard drive in different sockets, cajoling it - then waited a day and tried again. My hard drive wasn't dead - it was just playing hard to get.


When sweet talk failed, there was always verbal abuse. Then physical abuse.


OK, I just needed the hard drive to be revived long enough for me to rescue my 19,044 iTunes tracks. And then it could go to hell as far as I was concerned.

I tried the Western Digital website and found a number for its "Data Recovery Partner" in Singapore. The woman who answered my call said the company charged a minimum of $500 to recover my data. That was nearly three times what I paid for the hard drive itself.

I hung up and sobbed.


Years of ripped and (legally) downloaded songs - gone, just like that. That would teach me not to back up regularly.

My wife was more upset by the loss of hundreds of family photos stored on the hard drive, including those of our children's birthdays. Her priorities were somewhat screwed up.


I stopped talking to the hard drive, disconnected it for the last time and decided to buy a new 1TB hard drive at Comex. Ah, the miracle of Moore's Law.

Then I came home from work the next day to find my wife unnervingly happier than she should be.

"Good news!" she said. "I fixed the hard drive!"

Huh? What was she talking about?

"I just put it right under the air-conditioner."

I seriously thought she lost her mind. Maybe she was in the sixth stage of grief - bonkers.

Then she showed me how she had already transferred my iTunes and our photos from the now undead hard drive.

I seriously thought I had lost my mind. Was I in some sort of alternate reality? The air-conditioner?

My wife explained that she had read in an Internet forum a suggestion to place the dead hard drive in the freezer. But she was reluctant to put a dead thing that wasn't meat next to the durian ice cream,, so she put it under the air-conditioner instead. And to her amazement, it worked.

Apparently, when the hard drive turned cold, its "metal parts contract, freeing anything that was stuck" and voila - it lived again! (Thunder and lightning!)

I was never more impressed by my wife than at that moment. Giving birth and raising two kids were nothing compared to this. She might've saved me 500 bucks.

"I used to be an IT professional, you know," she reminded me.

Yes, I tend to forget that before she became a full-time mother nine years ago, my wife used to write programming code for mainframe computers at HDB and National Computer Systems.

Now her hobby is sewing bags.

When the hard drive warmed up, it died again.

This time, I skipped the four stages, accepted it and made a mental note not to buy Western Digital again.

Comex, here I come!

- Published in The New Paper, 13 September 2009

Sunday 6 September 2009

Going mad at MAAD over dog sketcher Edwin Yeo

I'm dreading today because like yesterday, I have go to MAAD.

MAAD stands for the Market for Artists And Designers, a monthly bazaar held at the Red Dot Design Museum, better known as the old Traffic Police Station on Maxwell Road.

That's where my wife has set up a stall selling her handmade bags and I have to be there to buy kuek kueh for her and Milo when she gets hungry.

You know how a husband has to hold his wife's handbag when she goes to the loo? Well, I have to look after about two dozen bags.

As emasculating as that is, that's not why I'm dreading today.

It started when my wife first joined MAAD in April. In between my kueh-kueh-and-Milo runs, I was exploring the museum when I made eye contact with a skinny, bald-headed guy who looked familiar. But I couldn't place him and he didn't seem to recognise me, so I ignored him.

Seconds after walking away, I realised - hey, that was Edwin Yeo!

As long-time New Paper readers may remember, Edwin used to write for the paper for years before I came along.

I met him once a few years ago after he joined a public relation company that represented Crazy Horse.

Yes, that Crazy Horse, the one at Clarke Quay with the legally naked busts that went bust in 2007 and is now home to The Bellini Grande.

I was arranging to shoot a Phua Chu Kang episode with the Crazy Horse topless dancers and that was how I met Edwin. (By the way, you can watch that PCK episode on YouTube.)

Now years later, in the Red Dot Museum, I was wondering whether I should say hi to him, but the moment had passed. He probably didn't even remember me. Anyway, it didn't matter because I figured I wouldn't see him again.

I was wrong.

As it turned out, Edwin has a regular stall at MAAD where he offers to draw a portrait of your dog. Not you, the human being, but only your dog.

So every month when my wife took part in MAAD, I would see Edwin there with his pooch portraits, but I couldn't bring myself to say hi to him because I had failed to do so the first, second, third, fourth and subsequent times. It just became way too awkward for me.

But eventually, Edwin and I settled into this unspoken relationship where we would ignore each other every month at MAAD, which was fine - until three Saturdays ago.

That was when Edwin started writing a weekly sports column in The New Paper - where I'm also writing a weekly column! How do I pretend not to know him now? Talk about awkward.

This weekend's MAAD is the first one since his return to these pages.

You know, I've fantasised about how I'd say hi to Edwin, shake his hand and joke about how I couldn't say hi to him before. Then we'd reminisce about Crazy Horse, trade gossip about The New Paper newsroom and giggle like little schoolgirls.

There's no way the actual event could live up to the hype I've built up in my head.

I've managed to avoid him at MAAD yesterday and that's why I'm dreading today because he's going to read this and ...

- Published in The New Paper, 6 September 2009