Sunday 31 January 2010

I rode on a Harley with the Sultan of Johor and survived

When I read about the death of Sultan of Johor Iskandar Ismail a week ago, my first thoughts were of his love of motorcycles and my disinclination to hug another man.

In 1994, even though I have never ridden a motorcycle in my life, I recklessly accepted an invitation to cover the Singapore Harley Owners Group's first road trip to Desaru.

Accompanying us was the Sultan on his own Harley-Davidson Road King motorcycle.

And accompanying him was a phalanx of motorcycle cops, who rode ahead to ensure that all traffic on the Malaysian roads parted before us like the Red Sea before Moses.

You know how when you go to Malaysia, you'll inevitably get stuck in a traffic jam? Maybe, just maybe, it's because you're not the Sultan of Johor. Or part of his 30-strong motorcycle convoy.

All the riders were warned not to overtake the Sultan or they would be arrested on the spot.

But His Highness sped off so fast that we only caught up with him when he stopped for his numerous cigarette breaks

Hey, he was the Sultan - who was going to give him a speeding ticket?

I was assigned to ride pillion with Harley's Singapore motorcycle manager, Mr Richard Park.

As a motorcycle virgin, I was terrified for my life. Two things my mother had forbidden me to do because they would kill me were smoking and riding a motorcycle. The Sultan enjoyed both and lived till he was 77.

My other, bigger problem was that being a hetero albeit wussy mummy's boy afraid of motorcycles, I didn't want to hold on to Mr Park's ample torso, which was what riding pillion entailed.

In the first place, I had just met Mr Park. In the second place, I already had a girlfriend.

But I couldn't back out for fear of appearing wussy or homophobic.

So I managed to get on the bike behind Mr Park without touching him and leaned back as far away from him as physically possible on the small seat while I held on for dear life to the railing at the back.

But I was nervously aware that my crotch was mere millimetres from his buttocks throughout the long journey. If he should step on the brake suddenly ...

Thankfully, we reached Desaru without incident in time for a buffet lunch.

In a good mood, the Sultan then invited all of us to his palace for a visit. But this time, at Mr Park’s request, I rode in the standby car instead because I was cramping his riding style (or so he claimed).

After some royal snacks and a group photo at Istana Bukit Serene, the bikers headed back to Singapore with me in the car again.

Without the Sultan, we naturally found ourselves stuck in a massive traffic jam.

I missed His Highness - and strangely, also Mr Park.

- Published in The New Paper, 31 January 2010

Hello SM,

Read you funny article in The New Paper on Sunday. LOL

You have a good memory. I forgot all about you on the back of my bike, it was so long ago! My wife asked me about it and I recall now how totally scared you were when you were riding pillion. That was really funny.

Of course we were all much younger then and I joined BMW Asia 2 years ago.

I miss the rides with the Sultan too! He used to make me laugh, he was actually quite a fun to talk with.

Take care
Richard Park

Sunday 3 January 2010

Would you pay to see a Phua Chu Kang movie?

I have an announcement for regular readers of this column – all 18 of you, according to on the number of my Facebook fan page.

There’ll be no column for the next three Sundays because I will be away in Kuala Lumpur being a nuisance on the set of the new Phua Chu Kang movie.

Yes, Virginia, there is going to be a PCK movie – for real this time. It’s scheduled for release on 12 Aug 2010.

I’ve heard about movie plans for the fictional contractor since the ’90s, but cameras will finally roll tomorrow on the big-screen version of Singapore’s longest running sitcom, based on a script by me.

When I first landed the gig a few months ago, my greatest challenge was figuring out how to make the movie different from a TV episode.

What I don’t want is for someone in the cinema to stand up and complain: “I can’t believe we’re paying to see something we get on TV for free. If you ask me, everyone in this theatre is a giant sucker!”

Which is exactly what Homer Simpson did in The Simpsons Movie, possibly the most profitable movie based on a show you can still watch on TV for free.

The feature-length 2D cartoon grossed $700 million worldwide in 2007, even though it was basically an oversized TV episode that recycled story elements from previous episodes.

The first X-Files movie, also based on an ongoing TV series, did so-so in 1998, but it wasn’t a comedy.

The highly successful Sex & The City movie – already sequelised – doesn’t count because the comedy was produced after the HBO series had ended.

Not being a fan of Sarah Jessica Parker’s nose, I turn mine up at both the small and big screen versions, but asked a scriptwriter friend how was the Sex & The City movie different from the TV show and she said, “Bigger locations.”

That is something I wish I could do with the PCK movie, like Phua Chu Kang Goes To Alaska! (which was where the Simpsons ended up in their movie).

Unfortunately, this being a Malaysian production, the budget doesn’t even allow me to have Chu Beng and Margaret – apologies to Pierre Png and Tan Kheng Hua – much less locations outside the state of Selangor.

At least I have Ah Ma (Neo Swee Lin) and Frankie Foo (Lim Kay Siu), along with PCK’s tauhuay break-obssessed worker, Kingkong (Charlie Tan), all of whom weren’t in the recent PCK Sdn Bhd on TV.

But the main advantage of a PCK movie over the TV series? More Singlish and Hokkien than you can shake your yellow boots at.

So hopefully, you won’t feel like such a giant sucker when you actually pay to see it.

Maybe just an average-size one.

- Published in The New Paper, 3 January 2010

UPDATE: I’m scared to watch PCK movie because it may kill me