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